Peter Bell (author of The Trinket, in The Phantom Queen Awakes) writes:
I’m not usually a character-led writer.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate just how vital a strong, multi-faceted character is to good story telling but, more often than not, it’s the plot that comes to me first while the characters tend to drift in later, seemingly of their own accord. By the time I’m half way through working my rough outline into something resembling a finished structure, they’ve generally settled into their various roles and are acting as though they’ve been there all along.
This was not the case with “The Phantom Queen Awakes”. Instead, one particular sentence in the submission guidelines leaped out and grabbed me: “All stories must be set in the world of the Celts”. And there he was – a grim faced Roman of the Second Augustan Legion, knee deep in Welsh mud while the freezing rain drummed a relentless tattoo on his helmet.
A bit specific, you might think, and hardly Celtic. But then I grew up a pilum’s throw from Caerleon, which was founded by the Legion about 75 years after the birth of Christ, and which still manages to feel as much Roman as it does Welsh. It’s home to the most complete Roman amphitheatre in the British Isles, along with the extensive remains of barracks, a bath house, and a string of fortifications. (Check out the excellent (and free!) National Roman Legion Museum if you’d like to find out more: http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/roman/)
The Celts left their own, more elusive marks; in songs, in tales of Arthur and Merlin, and of course in the lingering traces of the Welsh language itself.
So for me, the two civilisations have always been inextricably intertwined.
But what to do with my legionary, now that he had announced himself? I spent a while turning the question over while I acquainted myself with my leading lady – the Phantom Queen herself.
If the truth be told, she had me worried – I’d never even heard of her before reading Mark and Amanda’s submission guidelines, which insisted she play a pivotal role in my story, so much of the narrative would depend on how I approached her character. In short, if I couldn’t write the Morrigan, I couldn’t write my story.
Luckily, the storytellers of ages past had made sure she was a nebulous, fluid character, never quite the same from one tale to the next. She was a maiden, a crone, a trinity, a lover, a sister… But there was one thing common to all these disparate depictions, binding them together like a dark and tantalizing thread; her association with death.
And just like that I had the beginnings of my story. Better yet, I had another major character, who would prove to be every bit as influential as the Morrigan herself. There was just one problem; by the time I wrote him down, he was already dead.
To be continued…