Monday, 25 July 2011

STORY ORIGINS - Susan Price

'Overheard In A Graveyard' - £1-71 kindle download
                Susan Price has been a professional writer for 40 years, and has published 60 books, for every age from nursery to adult.
 Her first e-book,  Overheard In A Graveyard (£1-71p) is available for download here.
Below, she talks about how she came to write some of the stories in the collection.

          I remember the exact moment that the title story, Overheard In A Graveyard, arrived.  I was watching ‘Silent Tongue’, starring River Phoenix as a simple boy whose Native American wife has died.  Grief-stricken, the boy stands guard over her body, scaring away birds.
          The woman’s ghost appears to him: and the film handles the ghost very simply, but effectively.  She appears from the edge of the frame, or dashes across it – and as what appears within in the frame is ‘reality’ to us while we watch, she is, in effect suddenly appearing and vanishing.  She screams that her body must be destroyed before she can go to the next world.
          My head is stuffed with folklore, and I was reminded of the many stories about grief for the dead keeping them from peace – Who lies weeping on my grave and will not let me sleep?’  I immediately wanted to write my own version of this theme – in fact, I started writing then and there.  I wanted to make it as simple and bare as a ballad, or the ghost in the film.
        I didn’t want to pin it to any period or country, and cut all description.  What you cut out is more important than what you leave in.  I reduced it to a dialogue.  The title, ‘Overheard In A Graveyard,’ did the work of scene setting.
         Even ‘he said,’ and ‘she said’ went.  Which was male and which female, anyway – the living or the dead?  Maybe the voices were both male or both female?  I let the reader decide.
The Gokstad ship
         Having started with an ‘overheard’ story, I decided to end with another – ‘Overheard In A Museum.’  C. S. Lewis’ observed that we write from ‘the habitual furniture of our minds,’ and  when I was 11, I collided with the Norse Myths.  I’ve never been the same since.  They left me with a fixed interest, not only in myths, but the Viking Age.  As a teenager, I read everything I could find about the Vikings, including the Gokstad ship burial (and I'm still learning).  One day, I decided, I would go to Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum and see it – and so I did.  I spent hours in there.  The guards, impatient for home, eventually lured me out by laying a trail of chocolate. 'Overheard In A Museum’ was inspired by that visit, though written two decades later.
        Inanna was originally written for an educational publisher, as an early reader.  It was the publisher’s choice, and not one I was familiar with.  I was a little surprised when I found out what a goer Inanna was – but, hey, I’m just the hack.  I writes what I’m asked to write.
Inanna
      I worked from several versions of the myth, but was most charmed by a close translation of the original (one of the world’s oldest written stories) which I found – where else? – on the internet.   I particularly liked the Great God Enki fussing like an old mother hen:  Oh, what has Inanna done now?  She has Me worried.  What has the Queen of Heaven done?  Oh, that Girl worries Me.  What is the Mistress of All Lands up to now?  She worries Me, She does…'
      That Girl worried my publishers too, when they read the finished story.   She was too sexy, her tale too horrific… Honestly, what were they expecting from a Goddess of Desire and War?  I decided to kindle it, instead of wasting it, because I like it – it’s a very ancient explanation of summer and winter, a forerunner of the Persephone myth.
        Cruel Mother is another story that came in a flash.  I was on the treadmill in the gym, listening to the old ballad through headphones.  It leaped into my head that I should off-set the old ballad’s verses with scenes from the same story, set today.  The result isn’t a barrel of laughs, but it does achieve something of the effect I was aiming for.
        Finally, Mow Top, which I owe to my friend and fellow-writer, Katherine Roberts.  We both belong to the Scattered Authors’ Society (SAS), and I was at the SAS ‘retreat’ one summer when Kath ran a ‘collage workshop.’  First we had to concentrate on the kind of story we wanted to write.  I wanted a ghost story.
Then we riffled through old magazines, ripping out images or words that caught our eye, without stopping to think.
From our rippings, we made a collage.  I had a moorland scene, the phrase ‘buried in an unmarked grave’, and a flight of steps going down into the dark cellar of a ruined building, which I associated with the phrase ‘descending to the Underworld.’
When we had to speak about our collages, I could think of nothing to say, though I felt mine had some significance for me.  But the point of the exercise is that, often, our best ideas come from that part of the brain which has no words.
Anyway, it was lunchtime and I forgot all about my collage.  Hours later I happened to see it again – and instantly had the story, Mow Top, complete in my head.
As I struggle on with the third Sterkarm book, I wish my longer, book length work came as complete!

Overheard In A Graveyard (£1-71p) is available for download here.
And Susan Price blogs at http://susanpricesblog.blogspot.com

14 comments:

Dan Holloway said...

Wonderful title - I learned to read in graveyards so they have always been rather magical places for me. And the story of Persephone is one of my very earliest memories of school, so a double attraction

madwippitt said...

I especially loved that first story. Gives you a real chill. And also a state of mind I could really empathise with. Brrrrr ...

Katherine Roberts said...

How writers handle ghosts is interesting.

Last night I watched the film of "The Lovely Bones" - I read the book several years ago, loved it, and could not think how it could be translated into film. Yet the bright and surreal ghost world seemed to work, and the matter-of-fact approach actually made the whole thing scarier.

dirtywhitecandy said...

I love this sentence - 'what you leave out is more important than what you leave in'. And: 'our best ideas come from the part of the brain that has no words'. And then we spend so much time fretting about with them, trying to express them in words - to make other people understand why they grabbed us so much. You've written a manifesto for writers, Susan!

dirtywhitecandy said...

PS Is the top picture Stokesay Castle?

Debbie said...

I was going to ask that - looks like Stokesay to me. I love that place - it's so atmospheric.

Katherine i watched The Lovely Bones too and was pleasantly surprised. I didn't like the book at all, but the film was delightful, which probably had a lot to do with the lead actress, I think.

Susan Price said...

I'd forgotten my post was up today! What lovely comments - thank you!
And yes, the picture was taken at Stokesay Castle - which I know well because I set part of my book 'Christopher Uptake' there.
Just a bit worried about Dan learning to read in graveyards...

Joan Lennon said...

This is a great collection and everybody should buy it - it was my very first Kindle purchase!

Susan Price said...

Joan - I blush! Thank you!

Susan Price said...

Joan - I blush! Thank you!

Joan Lennon said...

A blush for each cheek!

Karen King said...

Great post Sue x

diebooth said...

I'm wishing I had a Kindle now - this collection sounds absolutely fascinating. I especially like the idea of what goes unsaid being even more important than what's written - that gender and so on become secondary to the dialogue.

Katherine Roberts said...

diebooth, if you don't mind reading on your computer screen (or your phone?), you can always download a free Kindle app from amazon's website - see the link on the right of this blog. Then you can buy Kindle books and read on that. I have the "Kindle for PC" software and find it quite easy to use.

The actual Kindle is kinder on the eyes, though, since it uses e-ink and has no background glare.