Casting a Net - Jan Edwards


For a recent story acceptance I was asked to provide a short insight into the inspiration behind my fiction. And as always that question gave me pause for deep thought. Where do those ideas begin?
Most of us will recall being given a word of phrase as inspiration to write a story for homework. It was good practice for spotting a headline or story in a newspaper, or maybe an incident at work or with friends, which sparked that train of thought.
Writing fantasy and horror it is the folklore and local legends that have always been a passion that figure large in my back catalogue. I readily admit to plundering those sources, but the resources are vast and forgiving. That said, a seed of inspiration is needed to even begin to know where to start in such a sea of riches.
Mermaid's Pool -
between Leek and Buxton
The market for this story had the wide open guideline of Folk Horror, which is a vast area that means different things to different people. Think Algernon Blackwood or Alan Garner, or in the origins of British Folk Horror cinema think The Wicker Man.

My original idea was to re calibrate the legend close to where I lived of Mermaid’s Pool, high up in the Peak District (and many miles inland!). But somehow the idea of isolated pools inhabited by mysterious creatures drew me inexorably to my Sussex roots and my story quickly became a product of a childhood steeped in Sussex (UK) folklore.
Silent Pool - nr Guildford
There are tales of pools inhabited by water spirits all over the country but the one that superseded the Peak District mermaid in my imagination was the Silent Pool – situated just across the Sussex border, between Guildford and Dorking in Surrey. Like many of the tales it is reported to be both bottomless and silent; that no birds will fly over it or sing near it. And when the portents are in line the spirit of a young woman, who threw herself into the water to save her virtue from an evil Lord, will appear. 
The Silent Pool story is surprisingly similar to that of the Mermaid’s Pool where a Mermaid was brought home by a love-sick sailor and died of despair because she missed the sea. I am fairly sure most people will have heard a similar tale close to where they live.  Most derive from pagan roots, as are most of the well springs that now bear saints names.
Knucker (Water Dragon) 
Sussex is my home county and water holes of strange origin will inevitable become the domain of Sussex’s very own breed of water dragon - known as Knuckers - which live in those deep and silent pools. 
The most famous Knucker tale comes from Lyminster (nr Littlehampton). 
Knucker Hole, Lyminster
The Lyminster knucker pool is said to be both ‘bottomless’ and fed by a natural spring. Among the many legends in the villages, and continuing with the dragon theme,  St Leonard’s  Forest (nr Horsham) a dragon  was reported in a news pamphlet of 1614 as, “…a nine foot long dragon that killed men with its poison, but didn't eat them, preferring rabbits and smaller creatures. It was coloured black, with a red belly.”
Dew Pond, Chanctonbury, Sussex
Okay, so now I had a knucker and a mystical pool, but being Sussex the pool may also be an especially deep dew pond – connected to a magically imbued spring (both of which abound  in plenty across Sussex and beyond). 
I felt it also required a stretch of Downland and what better to include than the folklore of pagan tree rings found along the downs (Cissbury, Chanctonbury etc), and also that of Downland myths as a whole; a The Devils Dyke (Brighton) being the best known, and which led me to the stalwart of so many legends worldwide, that of a guardian(s) of gate/well/portal. Add all of those elements together and d the stage was set for my folk horror tale, the ‘Devil’s Piss Pot’ (Publication TBA).
Chanctonbury Tree Circle (hill fort)
Yet including all of those elements was not really a conscious act. They sneaked in, one by one, and settled on the page like rooks in an elm tree, squawking to be let in.  
So when asked where the ideas come from, though I usually just reply ‘they are just there’, I tried hard to analyse the inspiration, and how all of those elements seemed to fit. My insight was shorter than this blog, and my initial answer was shorter still.
I just know that when I cast my net toward tales of myth and legend it will always brings me a good catch.
***
You can read more about Jan and her Bunch Courtney books on her blog HERE

IN HER DEFENCE is available through most leading booksellers in print and digital formats.
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Comments

Umberto Tosi said…
Indeed! Thanks for this candid and handy guide to another wellspring - or sinkhole - of inspiration. I can't figure out if cues trigger story ideas or offer them up from their unrealized depths - probably the latter. I had never heard of "knuckers," but I won't forget them now. I can imagine one of them as a slimy dragon that comes in the night to kill the prose I wrote with such enthusiasm the day before and but leaves its carcass (preferring bunnies) - and me wondering how I could have thought what I had written was so great. Excellent post, Jan!
janedwards said…
haha I love that idea! Less water dragon and more word dragon :-)

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