How does a story begin?

For me, invariably, it starts with a picture in my head. Even if the picture is accompanied by an idea, it is the image, first and foremost, that pesters until I begin to search for the answers as to who or what it is, what it means, what it wants.

And that is how Things of Darkness began to take shape. An image of a strange creature unfurling slowly from the ceiling or the wall of a room like an animal that has been cooped up for a long time.

And in that room a young man sits and waits.

I tried not to think about it too much, I just let it float at the back of my mind. Occasionally I jotted down an idea.

Then, at some point, as I tried to focus on this creature, she began to take shape in my imagination and I wondered ‘well, what if she was a faery?’ Not the type you may find in a Disney version of a Hans Christian Anderson story but more like those of myth or older folk tales, that were mysterious, uncanny, threatening even.

And the young man – who was he? In traditional fairy tales such as The Tinder Box a soldier returning from the war is a central character. So why not do the same for a modern tale? Two apparent opposites. Lost for different reasons. Looking for something. And then, in tales of the uncanny what of doppelgangers, strange coincidences, things that are familiar yet unknown?

As soon as I asked these questions the ideas intrigued and fascinated me. I had already read books by Marina Warner on fairy tales and ideas of metamorphosis. So I re-visited her work and this led me to other writings on the subject. This in turn opened out into ideas around boundaries and thresholds, then Jung, Freud’s article on the Uncanny, the work of the Surrealists, the tales of Hoffmann, Julia Kristeva on abjection and her writings on the concept of ‘the other’, Borges, ideas of magic in different cultures.

Just as I had done with my reading so, when I started writing, I allowed my mind to wander and make its own connections. Taking a cue from the Surrealists approach to creativity I switched off my internal censor (sometimes you have to fight it) and allowed the story to find itself, apparently random connections were made and as I explored further I realised some of the links were through ideas and language rather than any form of naturalistic narrative.

The tale has had many drafts since then; things have been changed, honed and tightened up but it has, I hope, retained the spirit that was there when that image first drifted into my head.

For me, any creative work should be the start of a conversation, not the end, whether that conversation is with yourself, your lover, your neighbour, a hundred other people or maybe more.

I hope that Things of Darkness, in its own small way, is the seed for many conversations.

Things of Darkness: Hope Mill Theatre – 13th – 14th July, 2016.

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