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This week's article: Poetry & Story Settings
Excepting the diner
On the outskirts
The town of Ladora
At 3 a.m.
Was dark but
For my headlights
And up in
One second-story room
A single light
Was sick or
As I drove past
Is for whoever
Had the light on
This poem by Donald Justice was the initial inspiration for my second novel, A Single Light. A "Poem to Be Read at 3 A.M" talks about what a single light in a window, when all else is dark, might mean.
A light in the window evokes stories of travellers coming home, seeking safety, yearning for human contact.
In essence a single light in a window, lights the way to hope.
On reading the poem all this arose with the visual of that lonely traveller arriving to a place she was expecting to find a friend, of seeing the light in the window, and hoping it was for her. Unfortunately for her, I was intent on writing something with a bit of horror, a few evil monsters, and the possibility of eternal death never to be reborn. Our lonely traveller was a bit out of luck on that front. But luckily for her, she would become one of the main protagonists of the story so there was always hope that she would conquer said horrible monsters and go on to live a long and fruitful life.
Hope is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
The monsters in A Single Light are a set of two mysterious races, the Bledray and the Alffür, who inhabit this earth with us, but which we of course know nothing about.
Our antagonists are the Bledray who consider humans their natural food source and the Alffür are the beings that set themselves up as Guardians and protectors of the human race. Interspersed between the chapters are excerpts from the Journal of Malaik, an Alffür leader, which shows some of the history and the relationship between the mysterious races.
Naturally, there is also a requirement for humans to stand up and fight for survival and there is a small group of handpicked “warriors” to join in as well. This story is also about their discovery of the mess they’re about to be landed in, their banding together, and a battle with ghoulish creatures on a clifftop in the Royal National Park.
When you’re starting out as a writer with dreams of being published one of the things we all do is read lots of advice articles on how to achieve our plans. They usually start with “write about what you know”. I do this with the settings in my stories: I’ve spent time on location in order to be able to write what I know.
I’ve been asked a few times why I chose the Royal National Park and the Sutherland Shire in general as a setting. Having grown up in Bundeena, beside the Park, spending many weekends wandering around the bush between the edge of the town and the ocean, I know how deceptively safe the Park can look; wide sandy trails weaving in and out of mini valleys and along the cliff tops make for a relatively easy walk in nature, but in between those trails is thick bush, gullies overshadowed by tall trees, hidden water ways, and lagoons that may not always be full of water but are always covered in sharp grasses growing from marshy slimy ground.
In between Bundeena, Jibbon Beach and the ocean cliffs is a lot of space where things can go horribly wrong. Not much further north are the Cronulla sand dunes. Not as imposing as they once were but they still carry an air of mystery and danger. I was only too happy to make use of the reputation, mystery, and the bush in my local area as a setting. After all, research trips would cost only the price of a tank of fuel or the train and a ferry ride. Much more affordable than my roadtrip to the USA for my first novel, The Ouroboros Key.
The research trips have been essential for me. I could come up with most of a story from my imagination and from reading books and spending too much time on the internet, but you can’t feel the sandy ground, or the sting of sharp leaves and thorns, or hear the roar of cicadas from a book or computer screen. You might see it all on a documentary or in a movie, but the sweaty itch of gritty skin as you walk through bush that traps the noon sun will escape you if you don’t put your hiking boots on and get out there.