Writing Fantasy


I was interested in written fantasy as a child; the well-known ones such as Winnie-the-Pooh (when very young), the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ and The Hobbit, though Narnia and Middle-earth were not the worlds that interested me most then. And Wind in the Willows is a book that sometimes enchants, and sometimes annoys the hell out of me.

I particularly loved Tove Jansson’s Moomin books – a more frightening and unexplained world than I found in Tolkien or Lewis; Borrobil by William Croft Dickenson (currently out of print) which, though written in somewhat old-fashioned prose, captivated me; and – especially – the ‘Dragon’ books by Rosemary Manning. With both these last two, I have found no one else (other than my brother) who has read them, and their stories happened essentially in this world.

I rarely read much as I entered my teens, but dad had read The Lord of the Ring to us one summer holiday in France, and that – together with the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ – introduced me to the idea of ‘secondary worlds’ (though I didn’t know they were called that then) and the concept of escape as an idea – reinforced when I read James Branch Cabell’s The Cream of the Jest.

Whether I prefer stories set essentially in this world, or wish for a total escape into a secondary world forever, oscillates. The concept of the Mirror Ocean and the barely conjoined worlds of Earth and Kolchin is a highly flawed compromise. It mattered in the early stages of my conception of my fantasy world, but is of only passing note now; and sometimes I feel the restrictions of having to create all the back-story for stories set entirely in a made-up world. (Although at other times I love that creative process.) The chapters of Voice in the Forest set on Earth were much easier to write than the rest of the book (and were the last written). Such things as the Chartist Land Plan, Richard Jefferies’s After London and Robin Hood are areas I knew about before.

It was again on a holiday to France, when the rest of the family had gone off somewhere and I had stayed at the camp site, that I first recall writing a set of verses about a journey of an unnamed protagonist in another world. I was probably fourteen or fifteen. The piece had seven parts, roughly corresponding to the seven sections of ‘Supper’s Ready’ by Genesis, a song I was obsessed with even though I didn’t understand then what it was about.

None of the versions of those poems survive, having been long cleared out. I now wish I had not done that, for all they must have been terribly naive and crude in both form and sentiment.

An early sketch representation of what later became the fastland of Kolcin.

An early sketch representation of what later became the fastland of Kolchin.

These were the beginning of what has so far led to Kolchin.

The first pieces I remember writing that were distinct from my seven-piece-suites concerned being almost alone (from choice) in a cave in a snowbound valley. Early Orestol.

The first comprehensive sketch map of Orestol.

The first comprehensive sketch map of Orestol.

The ideas and memories given to Taru in Time & Sorrow are pretty closely based on my recollections of how I thought and felt about escape as a teenager and young adult.

The first prose pieces I remember writing were in the evenings when I was commuting weekly to Worcester before moving here. And written and rewritten in long hand. And then I went to university in my mid-twenties where they had computers. I wrote my first full-length narrative, then called Ancestral Walls (which I have written about elsewhere). All these pieces were broadly on the same theme, no longer living in a grey world, but with a growing understanding of the wider world outwith the valley of Orestol.

The growing centre of the fastland, with the concept of the Greater Forest beginning to gain its predominance.

The growing centre of the fastland, with the concept of the Greater Forest beginning to gain its predominance.

For instance, the character now called Alentir entered as a distinct entity, and I began to establish his backstory. Also originally from poems, if I recall correctly.

And so I made progress, slowly, really liking what I had written till I came to review it some months later and finding it was all in the style of Tolkien, or Le Guin, or whomever.

It was another fifteen years before I found my own voice.

So the world of Kolchin goes back a long way, though it has changed much. This invented world is much deeper than shown in either The Migrator, Voice in the Forest, or Time & Sorrow, for all that Alentir travels a good portion of the heartland of its main continent, the fastland. For instance, almost nothing is told of Owel’s journey from the Great Sea to the Myrcewald.