This article first appeared at Upcoming4me
Personally speaking, it’s very rare that a single idea will be strong enough to withstand being written as a novel. It’s far more common that a number of separate incidents, notions and musings will, over time, begin to add up to something more. This is absolutely true in the case of The Black Dawn. Where the series differs in this respect is how long that process took; almost thirty years.
The thread began in school:
When I was fourteen I made a batik in art class. I couldn’t think of a subject so I looked for inspiration in a picture book. I found a photo of three crows silhouetted in a dead tree at sunset and that became the design. The batik was stolen soon after completion. That, and the fact that I received a ‘merit’ for it, makes me suspect it was quite an attractive object. Whatever the case, the iconic design stayed with me and caused me to notice corvids whenever they were around.
In my early twenties, long before I began to write fiction, I met a performance artist who used to dress in a long black coat and black top hat with feathers in its band. He would paint his face white and ‘entertain’ people at festivals. What’s far more likely, I suspect, is that his character unsettled people; especially children. He called his creation the Crowman. As a child, I’d heard the same name in a TV show called Worzel Gummidge, but I never gave it a second thought – I didn’t like the programme at all, quite honestly – until it was spoken in real life. It sparked the idea of a trickster spirit or shaman. My own imagining of the Crowman began to take shape.
A few years later, I began to take more of an interest in shamanism and the way in which people, usually from less techno-centric cultures, interact with nature. It slowly dawned on me that everything on our planet exists in relationship. Whilst we might have the illusion of being separate from the natural world – say, because we live in a city or have no interest in the outdoors – the reality is that our food and the clothes we wear and all the things we use day to day, even our highest achievements in science, are all dependent on what we find around us in nature or underneath us in the ground. I began to wonder how it was that we could have become so apparently unaware of this. Once I started wondering, I couldn’t stop. And I think it’s likely that this questioning has influenced the majority of my fiction.
Here’s a quaint superstition: some people say that if you find a white feather, it’s because you’ve been visited by an angel. What a lovely idea. I wondered, conversely, what it might mean if you found a black feather. Would that mean you’d been visited by a demon? An angel of darkness?
Whilst I’m not religious, I’m completely fascinated by spirituality and how it manifests in human cultures. Messiah stories are particularly interesting. If you look at them as metaphors for the unfolding of the soul in an individual, these holy works become very much like a hero’s journey. It struck me that I could turn that around just a little; taking an ordinary person’s life and chronicling it as though it were the life of a messiah.
These notions, events and wonderings gathered mass over the years, colliding and amalgamating in my subconscious and occasionally leaping into conscious view. That’s the way things usually happen for me but it’s the ridiculous length of that process that was different in creating Black Feathers and The Book of The Crowman.
If it ever takes that long again, I expect I’ll be looking for a new line of work.