Peter Bell (author of The Trinket, in The Phantom Queen Awakes) writes:
I’d decided that death was going to be the central feature of my short story. The Morrigan, though powerful and mysterious, was just the delivery system; death itself was to be the true monster, with my poor Roman legionary left to suffer its consequences, alone in a hostile land.
And what better way to deal with the silent, smothering, omnipresent influence of death than in the preparations for a funeral?
The simplicity of the idea appealed to me – my legionary would keep a vigil over the body of a fallen comrade, protecting it from the greedy eyes of the three carrion crows watching from a nearby rooftop. In the morning, the body will be taken out and buried. Meanwhile, my legionary is left to ponder his fellow’s dying wish, to be buried along with a curious medallion of Celtic origin that he was wearing when he was cut down. What are its origins? What is its power? And… what if the surviving legionary were to keep it for himself?
It was great – brooding, atmospheric and tightly wound. It was also extremely dull.
Dead bodies, by definition, are not the liveliest of souls and I quickly found that my plan to draw this second character as an empty space – as an absence of the person he used to be, which is all death is, in the end – was backfiring. I had left myself with practically no narrative drive, no conflict, no interaction. My legionary sat there, alone and in silence, thinking for the entirety of the story. The concept might have been a good one, but it would take a better writer than me to make it work and, after several abortive drafts, I finally admitted defeat.
Life continued for a few weeks.
And then, when I was busy with something else entirely, it came to me – a new angle, a stronger story and, just to get the ball rolling, the opening line. I rushed it down onto a scrap of paper and, within a few hours, had most of a workable draft on my hard drive.
It was rough, ungainly and meandering; certainly not the sort of thing anyone would pay good money to read. But that’s where a writer turns to his editor, and I have one of the best in the business – my wife, Anna. I know they say you should never show your work-in-progress to friends or family, but Anna is a discerning enough reader that she won’t let little things like marital harmony get in the way of honest appraisal. Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier to take.
“I think you should structure it like this,” she said, handing me a page of notes. I spluttered and protested. Who was the writer here? But I slunk away and made the changes anyway, suspecting she was on to something. She was. The story had pace now; it ducked and weaved, it kept the reader in suspense. And I was starting to have fun.
There was a rush to meet the deadline. Any time not spent in work or asleep was sacrificed to the writing. But I tightened it and tuned it and polished almost every word and I’m happy with the finished result. In many ways it accomplishes much of what I was aiming for with that first, abortive effort. Death may not take centre stage any more, but it skulks around the periphery; a constant presence, insatiable and unpredictable.
And dancing to the tune of the Lady Morrigan.