I haven’t done a Sparks post for a while, but with Deborah Kalin’s collection “Cherry Crow Children” coming out soon from Twelfth Planet Press, the time seemed right. I’ve loved Deb’s writing since we did a workshop together years ago. She has a magically original voice and she creates worlds with such depth you can smell them.
Here’s what she had to say about the spark for “The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood”.
“There’s a distinction for me between ideas and Ideas.
The former are odd little beasts, which come at me all the time. A chance overheard phrase will strike my ear; an image will catch my eye; a news story will sail straight on by an intriguing mention or even the whole point. Everywhere I look, listen, or turn, I pick up fragments of stories, and I squirrel them away, along with the thoughts to which my mind immediately run, in an online notebook.
Mostly, they sit there, mouldering in secret. Every now and then, usually when I have a new Idea, or when something I’m working on is stuck and I can’t quite fathom what’s missing, I trawl through that notebook, looking for inspiration – something that, on the surface, doesn’t fit at all but, when juxtaposed with the story I’m telling, helps jolt things forward. Because that’s what ideas, lower-case, are for me: facets, a corner of buried treasure peeping through the soil. They’re never the story itself, they’re just glimpses of something deeper, or a lens through which I can bring something distant or obscure into focus.
Ideas, capital-I, are different. They have heft to them, enough to withstand the scrutiny of a drafting process. Whereas ideas are shiny and make me stop a moment in admiration, Ideas unpack when examined, always yielding up more and more story, often sending out feelers in multiple directions, like a plant taking root. Ideas grab hold of me and won’t let go.
They’re much, much rarer, and usually I have to work harder to unearth them in their entirety.
Sometimes, they arrive as a dream. My first published novel did, as did “The Wages of Honey”, the first story in my upcoming Twelfth Planet collection. For that, I dreamt of a foreigner and a local, standing atop a precarious mountain path while he stared down at terraced fields, and something was coming for them. I woke with their twinned emotional states clouding my mind: the happy awe of the oblivious tourist, and the worried local’s sour, helpless dread.
More often, even if my dreaming subconscious provides me some starting material, I still have to chip away, questioning everything about my starting elements, questioning why my brain insists they fit together.
“The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood” arrived coyly like that. For that one, I had three elements: the title, which brought with it images of birds flitting through forest byways, their swift black shadows a thing to be feared; a dream of a hotel where the admin staff, all women, shared the same doctor, who had stitched up their stomachs with red thread, sewing signs and symbols into their skin to keep them calm; and a memory of a Paul Klee painting I saw while I was in Lucerne, Switzerland. I’ve no idea of the painting’s name, so I’ve never been able to find an image of it, but it featured some stick figures (among trees, I think?), one of which was twice as tall as the others and bore a bright red heart. When I went to scribble that description down, I found a one-line character précis I’d written down four and a half years earlier which meshed in my head with the painting: a boy with a small, round, open wickerwork basket instead of a heart.
Putting all those in the one place together gave me everything I needed: I knew the setting was the hamlet of Haverny Wood, with its huddled inhabitants and its many predators, and I knew two characters: the village girl, and the wild boy of the woods, with his wickerwork heart. And I knew someone in the village was stitching up spleens (I picked spleens because I was in Switzerland when I was brainstorming, and there was a local legend about creatures who stole the spleens of children to make them light enough to climb mountains), which gave me the idea that there was something about dreams the villagers feared, which in turn gave me the idea for the crop by which the village made its living and, of course, the conflict that would surround my village girl.
It still took me nigh on 100,000 words and at least seven false starts to write the story, though. And to figure out who, precisely, were the children of the cherry crows.”
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