Thursday 18 May 2023

Bringing the Magic - by Lu Hersey

 This week I'm part of a writer panel at Burnham Book Festival, along with fellow writers Sue Purkiss and Alex Cotter. Our event is called Bringing the Magic - a talk about writing for children, why we do it, and the different ways we include some form of magical element in our writing.

So I'm currently busy preparing. Thinking of answers to the questions we've pre-planned, before we open it up to audience Q&As (when, as anyone who does these events knows, likely audience questions will include how old are you? and how much do you earn?)

The main topic I'm preparing for (which simply means thinking of something coherent to say) is how I bring magic into my writing, since that's the theme of the event. My standard answer to this is to reference folklore, myth and fairy tales, the basis of my books. But actually that's only partly true. 

Long before that, something totally random will grab my attention, like an article in Fortean Times (I'm a subscriber - if you've never read it and you're interested in any kind of strange phenomena, from UFOs or ghosts to flying saucers and fairies, take a look), or a snippet on bbc news, or some peculiar story in a local newspaper. That piece of information sits somewhere in my brain, often for years, until a new piece of information adds to it - and BINGO! I have a lightbulb moment. A butterfly emerges from a cocoon and a fully formed idea of great genius (in my opinion, possibly not everyone's) comes to me. And then I find a way to weave in the elements of myth or folklore magic to bring it all together.

The new piece of the story jigsaw almost invariably comes with reading or listening to someone's lived experience of that particular thing. For instance, if you've read something about UFOs over Wiltshire, and then you hear someone talk on the radio about their personal sighting on exactly that night.  Or you hear of a pub famous for its ghosts, then catch a podcast where someone relates what happened to them in that particular bar. Whatever the initial snippet, people's direct experience always has impact. Whether you believe something or not is almost irrelevant - they know what they saw. (Yes, I borrowed that from Danny Robins - who has popularised accounts of the paranormal in his Uncanny podcasts). And that's the key. 

I'd always been interested in myths about mermaids, selkies, and sea gods - and then I read David Thomson's The People of the Sea. His direct experience as a child, and his accounts of people of the Scottish and Irish islands telling him about their own selkie encounters, bring that element of myth to reality. Thanks to him, I began to believe selkies might actually exist. Add that to my interest in weather weaving, and a fascination with macabre poppets (see examples in the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle) and you have the basis for a story - which became Deep Water.

In Broken Ground, Arlo, the main protagonist, is a crop circle maker. My love of crop circles, and extensive knowledge of John Barleycorn/Lughnasadh folklore, combined in a BINGO story moment when I overheard someone saying they didn't think aliens made crop circles, but instead they were made from under the earth, maybe by the goddess Gaia herself. (I chose Andraste, the goddess called on by Boudicca - but kept the idea...)

Whatever you write, I really recommend listening to podcasts, or attending live events with someone talking about their lived experience. Or simply eavesdropping on buses or in cafes. It's not all about ghosts, crop circles, aliens or fairies (they're just my favourite topics). Whatever interests you, from true crime, kidnapping, to failed romance or disaster survival - it's all out there. And there's nothing like a real, first hand account of something to help you see its potential as a part of your book. The extra spark that brings a story to life.

Anyway, back to this week's event. Our next prepared question will be about how we market our books. Sigh. Now that's something I really need to learn about...

Lu Hersey

twitter @LuWrites 


Penny Dolan said...

Hope all of you have plenty of fun with this event!

LuWrites said...

We did, Penny! Obviously none of the stuff I'd thought of came up, and a load of other stuff did. We had a wonderful writer chat and sandwiches provided - so all in all, a grand day out with friends. :)

Penny Dolan said...

That is very good to hear, partly for the pure sociability of spending some time with each other - and the sandwiches, of course!