It is a fantasia in hauntings and vocabularies and the speed of time, but the bones of the landscape and the animals in it are real, and it is one of those stories for which I can trace the inspirations.
Here, for example, are the blowsy ginger hens — and the hounds in the wing-backed armchair in the warm kitchen were true, too.
And some of the lighting and energy began with the movement in this illustration by Masako Kubo (an illustration I loved even before I knew it was for The Blue Castle). It reminded me of an evening sitting with a friend in the dark of a natural amphitheatre near an arts centre in England, light spilling distantly and owls in the deep blue night.
From those images, I wrote something that would eventually become the final line (here’s the blog post about that process: Observation journal — picture to story idea). That connected with some ideas I’d been playing with previously about the mechanics of hauntings, and I wrote a few paragraphs, and then let it… sit there.
The trouble was, the idea didn’t quite have a story-shape to it yet. When I revisited my notes, though, I knew wanted it to be a story with a sense of wonder, although lately the things I’d been writing were leaning into grimmer Gothic territory.
So I sat down and thought of stories I liked that felt wondrous, and very quickly jotted down their shapes, using the three-mood structure. I wish I’d kept a list of the stories (although I can guess at a few — I think there are some Eva Ibbotsons, and ML Krishnan’s “Bride, Knife, Flaming Horse” (previous notes on that are here: Story shapes and extrapolation), and Dirk Flinthart’s “The Ballad of Farther-On Jones”).
But this was less about analysis than looking for any common patterns — I’d responded to all these stories with a sense of wonder as a reader, and this was a chance to find out what was making me feel that way. I was working how to intuitively feel the shape of this sort of story, and how to flow the images into something wondrous instead of horrifying.
I don’t recall if I chose any one particular story structure. But those overarching patterns (instability — change — a leaning into something grand and harmonious) helped me to pull the existing story draft into shape.
And at a certain point, as you’ll notice if you read the story, the sound of the words took over. And from there the story began to put on layers and momentum and vocabulary.
Thanks go to Liz McKewin and CSE Cooney for their enthusiastic and thoughtful feedback.
“On the Origins of the Population of Wakeford” is available for subscribers to The Sunday Morning Transport (and for that you get a weekly story, by a wide range of interesting people). I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the Sunday Morning Transport stories, and recommend subscribing. The first few stories on the site, and the first story each month, are free, in case you want to check it out first.