My Second Work-in-Progress: The Bondage of The Soil

Church, Icknield Trail, Bedfordshire
Church, Icknield Way, Bedfordshire

I love reading spooky tales at Christmas; M.R. James is a firm favourite, and I usually reread H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Festival” to celebrate the Yuletide season. The idea for a short horror story in the tradition of these greats came to me last December when I was deep into my ghostly reading season; I have a new route to get to the M1 on my commute to work, and the idea was born as I drove past an unfamiliar, isolated and very atmospheric church (pictured above).

Having put together an outline, I found enough historical/geological weirdness in the location in which the story is set, which happens to be near my current home town, to write a longer story; the current outline is for a forty thousand word or so novella. Prepare to be unsettled. I aim to write this up quickly as an exercise in increasing my word count productivity, as the story needs considerably less research than And The Buntings Flew, so I hope to have a first draft by the end of 2016.

“The Bondage of The Soil”

Forty-five-year-old divorcee Stella Travis might be having a nervous breakdown. Her daily prosaic cross-country drive to the nearest motorway junction has taken a very strange turn. Can her visionary experiences be related to the new bypass being excavated from ancient green belt land that lies sleeping alongside Britain’s oldest road?

Brooding and suspenseful, spanning the ages from before the Roman invasion of Britain, the Iceni rebellion led by Celtic Queen Boudicca, the story stretches from the prehistoric earth to beyond the stars.

Why a Novella?

I originally thought of the story as a Horror/Sci-Fi tale, but having looked into these genres, I’m currently leaning towards describing the story as Sci-Fi, with perhaps an element of Low Fantasy, which I recently learnt about; Low Fantasy is usually set in the real world or a fictional but rational world,  but with elements of the fantastical or at least the ambiguous to leave the reader asking; what (in term of the fantasy elements) is reality and what is psychological in origin?

My favourite reading subjects/genres include fiction and non-fiction relating to ancient Rome and ancient Britain; I also love Sci-Fi and horror, and I wanted to incorporate all of these elements into one story, but imbue it with a contemporary feel and a bigger story ultimately about modern people and the challenges they face; dealing with change at an ever-accelerating rate, and finding your place in the world.

I’m in the middle of writing my longer novel “And The Buntings Flew“, and although it’s great to have two projects to work on and alternate when one gets tough, I decided that two full-length novels was a stretch too far for me. In addition, I think that this is at heart a simple tale with a fantastic premise, and a novella is the right vehicle to tell a story that deals with one, maybe two main characters and a single event; the story has a central vision that deserves more than a short story telling, but probably isn’t suitable for a full-length novel treatment. My article about fiction lengths has  a section about The Novella if you’re interested in the standard definitions for fiction based on length.

Where Did The Title Come From?

I read a poem at the end of last year by Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet who became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. The poem is from 1928 and is titled “Fireflies”; it contains the following lines:

Emancipation from the bondage of the soil
is no freedom for the tree.

Tagore’s poem is structured like a series of Japanese haiku; he had translated many haiku into Bengali and “Fireflies” reads like a series of epigrams and haiku dealing with the forces of nature and time as distilled by a wise observer. You can read the unabridged poem here.

I’m about 25% through the write up, and the plot and characters are all fleshed out. Watch this space for updates and news on publication, and the inevitable heartache before I get to that stage! I’ve included a link below to the Pinterest board I’ve created to showcase themes and locations in the story.

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