“I had a dream, which was not all a dream…”

-‘Darkness’, opening lines, by Lord Byron

I actually managed to dig up the very first version of my book. Something I wrote over ten years ago. I read through it, smiling at how awkward and stilted my prose sounds to me now. I did overwrought drama very well back then. A tad too well, I think, as I reach my first bit of awkward dialogue.

Yikes.

It looks like it was written by a teenager (albeit one with an excellent vocabulary, which is convenient).

After the first rejection letter – which I kept next to the first ever hard copy, I was crushed. (I know, I know, part of the deal of being a writer, but I was new at this, sue me). I went home, began working on something brand new. Unfortunately, back then, inspiration didn’t come as easily as it does now, and I struggled for months. After another year or so, I managed to create something new. And the lack of inspiration was evident. My prose had improved, my dialogue even more so. But the story itself was weak. I needed neither editor nor publisher to tell me that. I scrapped that second work and moved on, retaining some of the core ideas for what would be the true story. All I had was the name of my protagonist and an idea for a holy order of knights who hunted the evil of both men and their nightmares.

5241ebb1-9294-4131-b5ec-7caa0a96bb9e
The Order, a realization of my ideal of what heroism might be. Or a condemnation of it? Time will tell.

I decided I was going about it the wrong way.

Rather than craft a story from the outset, I began to craft the world instead, shaping its nations, its laws, its magic, and hoped the story would manifest that way.

It did, but I needed a lot to find what I was looking for.

The first version of my world was called Real. At the time, I thought it was rather funny. A play on the idea of fantasy worlds. Eventually, I chose a bastardization of our own world’s name – Earth became Erith, and I imagined an eventual reforming of the world of magic into the mundane realities. When Earth would instead become a bastardization of Erith.

But in the end, I decided that that name wasn’t true of my intent. When I wrote my books, I wasn’t thinking of this world at all. I went to distant places, and dreamed of things that never were and never could be in our world. I dreamed of people that could not exist, and would find no welcome in the modern world. I dreamed a voluntary exile, of a life distant from this plane, from this way of thinking, from its increasingly literal ideas of what imagination was and its growing propensity to forgo the suspension of disbelief. I went deeper and further and Lovecraft and Tolkien in my search, afraid too that what I would produce would too closely mirror theirs.

Instead I began reading poetry, and tried to find definition in what was alluded to, rather than what was baldly stated. I revisited myths and legends, marvelled at mighty Achilles and the sheer badassery of Beowulf. I read of Cuchulainn and his ‘warp spasm’, and I studied some of the myths of the far east, finding in them the places where stories have not yet gone.

In fact, I had begun writing a novel inspired by the Warring States eras of both China and Japan – something to return to perhaps, once the story arc begun in Where The Gods Lie Dreaming is completed.

Through the work of TS Eliot I discovered the idea of a Wasteland, the wreck of modernity and its many broken promises.

In Percy Bysshe Shelly, I found the hubris of men, overwhelmed and turned to nothing by the slow march of time.
(Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.)

In Alfred Lord Tennyson I began to find true definitions of a hero,

(to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.)

And of glorious and fruitless sacrifices,

(Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell)

But I soon found my favourite poem – and the eventual dark shape the amorphous mist that was my world was to take. Darkness, by Lord Byron. Something about it got me writing the story again, in earnest, and the story took shape far more readily than it ever had. In the end, the story resembles very little of the poem, in truth. But what he conveyed throughout the poem seemed to have stoked some of the embers of the old story. Rage, fury, pain, fear, despair, the frailty of men. I found the answer and I found my villains in both the opening and the closing lines of the poem. Of a world, dreamt of, a lonely sphere in the darkness.

And the end of all things, swallowed up in an endless night. I wrote of these things as desires, feeding the cynicism I felt at the time, and I found the resistance in what I thought were my abandoned ideals. I seized on those things and forged my heroes – men and women capable of resisting the coming end. I had my story. I had the truth. It was time to shape it into what I needed.

I named the sphere Amarith – a world both far more terrifying than our own, yet also a thousand times more wondrous and beautiful.

Afer I began to write the final version of the story, what would become my first true publication.

And funnily enough, though I had all but forgotten the original work of that teenaged, belligerently optimistic writer a decade ago, the first chapter of the new book bears the nearly same name as the first chapter of that story, all those years ago.

Sometimes you come full circle and begin to write what you’ve always been writing. Tolkien, Lovecraft and others have shaped the writer I became, definitely.

But, the day I began writing what would become my real first novel, was the day I found this poem:


Darkness 

by Lord Byron 

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them:
—She was the Universe.
Advertisements