Today I'm welcoming author James Everington to the blog, to tell us a little about what inspires his writing. James writes dark, supernatural fiction, and is the author of four short story collections, as well as one of the creators of the Penny Dreadnought anthologies. His latest collection, Falling Over, is out now from Infinity Plus.
Over to James!
This was meant to be a simple blog post about inspiration; specifically, one in a series of guest blog posts about the key inspirations behind the stories in my new collection of short stories, Falling Over. This was meant to be about The Witches by Roald Dahl. (That was how I originally pitched the piece to Vicky, anyway – sorry Vicky!)
But instead I found myself writing something different, something about childhood, and memory, and time… but still about inspiration, hopefully.
Because here’s the thing: I decided to reread The Witches before writing this blog post and… it was nothing like I’d remembered. It was nothing like the scenes in my head that had somehow inspired me.
I mean obviously, it is set in a creepy hotel and it is from a kid’s point of view; that was all the same. And some of the delightfully horrible details were just as I remembered – particularly the different ways to recognise witches: the toeless feet, the hairless heads, the blue spit. (This part of the book, incidentally, seemed a brilliant refutation of that hoary old “Show Don’t Tell” rule. Dahl tells us things about witches, and because what he has to tell us is so repulsively interesting, we love it. “Show Don’t Tell” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and never trust a rule about writing that isn’t even obeying itself. But anyway, that’s a whooooole other blog post.)
But the feel of the book, the tone and texture of it, was completely different. It was lighter and fluffier and more whimsical. Although there are some creepy moments (and Dahl’s witches themselves are typically inspired and grotesque creations) I found myself smiling my way through it. And really, what was I expecting – it’s a kid’s book, right?
I guess growing up happened.
I read it as a kid, at an age when obviously I wouldn’t have been able to handle the horrors of a Stephen King or a Clive Barker. Dahl has pitched the fear at the exact level that a kid of my age, and upbringing, and sensibility, could take without being so completely petrified that I’d never sleep (or buy a Roald Dahl book) again. So I remembered it being a book that was as creepy as it was possible to be, and because I never reread it, a buried and younger part of me still believed that to be the case all these years later. And good as it was, there was no way The Witches was going to match my memory of it. It’s like if you ever revisit your school as an adult – how small it seems!
I don’t regret rereading The Witches - it is a brilliant book, full of flashes and humour and childhood fears perfectly realised. But I can’t help but feel it’s replaced something else that was there, something more unexamined and personal, that I’d built up in my head over the years, every time my thoughts turned to The Witches. What’s replaced it is a newfound respect for an author who must surely be one of the greatest children’s authors ever - what a lucky generation we were. But I don’t know if it would be much use to me if I was writing The Time Of Their Lives now; despite being from the point of view of a child it really isn’t a children’s story.
Of course, I might be being overly pessimistic. It wouldn't be the first time. After all, who really understands inspiration? One thing that has become clear from writing this piece is that it's certainly not me. Maybe The Witches just needs to find its own place, its own level amongst all the other stories in my head, and maybe one day the real, Roald Dahl version of The Witches will be a jumping off point for another creepy tale for me to tell.
And if that ever happens, I promise I'll come back and write the blog post for Vicky that she originally signed up for!
"Good writing gives off fumes, the sort that induce dark visions, and Everington’s elegant, sophisticated prose is a potent brew. Imbibe at your own risk." - Robert Dunbar, author of The Pines and Martyrs & Monsters.
Find out more at Scattershot Writing.