I’ve spent a good deal of time writing my novel recently. Well, rather than writing the actual novel I’ve been putting together the structure, weaving plot points together and giving the protagonist more things to do during the flow. I’ve created some more characters, and fleshed out the lay of the land in which the story takes place. Now, the land I’ve laid out is somewhat larger than what the story takes place in, so now I feel that I have a rich enough background to make it feel like there are other areas to explore outside this story (indeed, I have several short stories in mind now, of which small parts feature in the main event).
It’s been good fun and I’ve really enjoyed spending evenings doing it. I hope my girlfriend isn’t feeling too left out…
I’m not sure if anybody who reads this has written any kind of novel before, but I’ve taken what might be some weird steps in getting a feel for the main character. First up, I bought a handmade leather, cotton paged notebook that looks rather medieval. This is because there are many diary entries in the story and I felt that writing them in what I imagined my character to be writing them in would inspire me further. It’s worked so far!
(small spoiler of my story there, too)
The next thing I did began this week. There is a part of my book where the protagonist gets lost in a thick forest which is nestled between walls. The place is dark, packed together and claustrophobic, and I really wanted to get into the mindset of being in that situation, even down to the part where I’m pretty damn scared!
There is a forest not too far from me called Devilla. Already, the name conjures up ideas of the underworld and strange goings on (though the name itself simply means”bad land”), and the forest has a history involving witches, executions, unmarked graves, ruins, stone circles and the like. And the best part? It is also a place where there have been several sightings of not one, but two large cats!
Now, I have been lucky enough to see a wild large cat, a black panther in fact, while on holiday in Holland when I was around 15 years old. We had been walking in the national park known as De Hoge Veluwe and on one of the days we had left the main pathways and my dad decided to enter the forest by car down a dirt track that was probably just for the local rangers to drive down. The straight trail was flanked by tall bracken and thick trees, though spread out enough that plenty of light reached below the canopy. We left the car and began a short walk. As we crested a slope, my brother and I saw a large shape walking ahead of us, away from us. It was about as high as the bracken and we could see the way its shoulder blades came up sharply with each step it took. My dad was instantly on the camera to try and zoom in to see it, and the noise we made clearly caught its ears. The panther stopped in its tracks and turned around to look at us. We were at least 50 feet away from it, neither us nor the beast moved for a few moments. Then, the panther made the decision to head in to the bracken, where it was more than likely making good an escape! However, being alone in a forest with a large carnivorous predator that we never expected to see filled us with untold dread. We assumed that the animal would be circling around us and that sometime soon one of us would be the recipient of 200 pounds of feline on our shoulders. My dad started walking back, while my brother and I kept an eye behind us, but not more than 30 seconds into our getaway, a jeep came speeding towards us and two rangers jumped out carrying rifles. They shouted some dutch at us, so I have no idea what was being said, but my Dad made it clear that we were being ushered out of the area. We made it back to the car and carried on our holiday, though ever watchful of the brush for the sight of the black panther.
So, with that story in mind, you can probably understand that while I was absolutely fascinated, knowing that perhaps there is a large cat stalking me fills with absolute terror! I spent the whole of last night reading up on the sightings, and the accounts given by those that had allegedly come face to face with one or two of the animals. Needless to say, I was feeling some good fear at this point and I went to bed firmly believing that I’d be leaving that forest well alone.
This morning I went to Devilla on my own in search of the stone circles. Obviously I made it out alive, as I’m writing this, but the experience was great and has given me buckets of inspiration for my story!
The whole forest was incredibly quiet once I’d moved away from the road. The wide path gave me a good view of what lay ahead, but was also flanked by thick pines on my left, and a slightly more spread out mixture of trees on the right. I had a quick warm up walking around the smaller location at the beginning of the forested area (the only marked path in the forest) and had a pretty nice time walking around the small, completely still loch I came upon. I got a few photos in, left the path to find a ruined wall and then rejoined the larger path that delved deeper into the forest.
As I walked I was getting pretty warm. Despite the rubbish start to the day, the heat was rising and I had to stop to take off my coat and stuff it in my bag. At that point, as I knelt down, a large snap came from within the forest to my left. Now of course this was probably a tree leaning in the wind, maybe a deer being startled, or some smaller bird or animal, maybe even an unseen walker deeper within the trees. However, throughout this walk I had been completely preoccupied with the idea that I might have a large, furry predator stalking me. At this point, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was now being watched, which will probably sound very silly to anyone reading this but was exactly the feeling I had wanted to instill in myself.
I forced myself to go further, as I’d only walked a couple of miles by this point. I checked the map, which suggested that the stone circle was somewhere around the middle of the forested section to my left. Just where the snap came from! In all honesty, trying to find what is probably a small landmark in a large, densely populated forest was never going to be an easy task. I pressed on through the trees, taking care with my steps as the ground was littered with sticks and twigs and I was now actively trying to make as little sound as possible. I realised I wasn’t breathing as much, my heart was pounding considerably and I had no idea where these stones were. After what was probably no more than ten/fifteen minutes walking off the beaten track, I came upon a tree that looked to have been bent in an impossible way. Well, out went the thought of panthers and in came those of trolls! Seriously, have you seen Trollhunter? Check this tree out:
Well, that was about enough for me. I was suitably unnerved and had some good prompts for how to start writing, so I stuck in my earphones, switched on Jon Hopkin’s Monsters soundtrack and started heading in the direction that I believed to be the quickest one to an intended path. No surprises here, it actually was the quickest route and I was back in the relative safety of the open path within a few minutes. Unfortunately for myself, I had left my iPod on shuffle and so rather than get the next song of that glorious soundtrack as I had intended, I got the menu music from Limbo (the indie game).
That made for an atmospheric escape.
Well, I didn’t find the stone circle, which was a bit disappointing. But the photo I took of the reflection in the loch piqued my brother’s interest enough for him to want to pay a visit to Devilla himself! It is a well known fact that panthers are never as scary when there are two of you, so maybe I’ll suggest finding the stones and perhaps the ruins then!
Next weekend, all being well, I’ll be heading back to the Hidden Valley of Glencoe with some friends from work. Mostly for more inspiration and secondly because I can see into the future and know that my free weekends are soon to be numbered thanks to masses of work.
I’ll get back to writing my story, currently I have 52 chapters planned, 25000 words of notes on places, plot points and characters, and I think sometime soon I’ll be ready to write the first chapter proper!