Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On Writing "The Witch At The End Of The World" 

[I came across the above image after completing the final version of The Witch At The End Of The World, for me this captures some sense of what I was thinking of, this looks like it could easily be one of my apocalyptic witches. The image is by costume designer Agnieszka Osipa]

Writing can be difficult. Many writers will tell you so. And there are so many ways to self-defeat, block and distract. For me I got so bogged down in a loop of submissions and rejections, token editing to try and add polish upon polish to things I had already written, that to write something new started to feel impossible.

With “The Witch At The End Of The World”, or “Papa Okid In And The Witch At The End Of The World” as it was originally called I was trying to break that cycle. I decided to write something different, something that would be easy, that would brush away cobwebs and give me a revived compulsion to write. And it did… eventually.

I was going for a fantasy story. Something epic. Compared to my usual near future pseudo-science fiction mixing dalliances with horror. Though more Moorcock or Harrison, was how I saw it. It was an end of the world story – something evil, a group gathered to defeat evil. You know the deal, how it works. The Magnificent Seven, with witches, and a great big alien spider queen witch. Ride into the occupied city, Paris I decided, and fight monsters, defeat the big bad. Yay.

Except my characters decided they absolutely had to ride to this magic tree before they went riding into a snow bound alien tainted Paris. Then they decided that the city thing and the alien witch thing bored them, they’d rather sing and sit around and drink strange tea. So that is what happened. Kind of.

The original themes are still there. A group gathering to ride against evil; ideas of the end of the world, of fallen civilisations, the Anthropocene and how fucked we all are. This is dark stuff, except, hopefully, it doesn’t entirely feel that way.

One of the hard things, one of the reasons the story took so long to write, was finding the voice. Initially I had envisaged this guide bloke, someone desperate enough to go to a difficult place and ask for help – Papa Okid In, or Papa Oki Din as he became. But his voice didn’t work for me. I rewrote the opening scene an infinite number of times, I know, I counted them. Each a variation, on a turn of phrase, on a first step, on finding that damn voice that made the damn story talk. Then I found it, and I won’t say from there that it wrote itself, but oh Iggy, it became so much easier.

I am a member of the GSFWC (The Glasgow Science Fiction Writer’s Circle), a support group of writers. Offering critiques and advice and support to each other. The GSFWC has now been going for 30 years, to celebrate that they have put together an anthology – Thirty Years Of Rain. I decided this story would be my submission, I decided this anthology would be my impetus for finishing the thing that I had been fighting with on and off for a year.

Thanks to the patience and support of the anthology editors, the final version of The Witch At The End Of The World has been included in Thirty Years of Rain – which will have a launch night in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street Waterstones, on the 30th of September, from 7pm. I'll be there, along with a number of the other authors included, hope to see some of you there too.

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