My first ever request to write a guest blog was for a site called Who Said Pixies Are Rational Creatures? It’s aimed at writers and readers of fantasy and historical fiction. OK, I’ve written a historical novel, a historical short story, some kids’ stories about a fairy called Stanley who lives under the dripping tap in my bedroom and recently, to my surprise, I had a short story accepted for a fantasy/sci-fi anthology. In other words, while not totally ignorant of the fantasy genre, I know precious little about it really. But they trusted me, and this was the result.
A warning, I have difficulty in taking things seriously. Not those which involve compassion, sympathy, tragedy and all the other personal things, but all those heavy outpourings which clog up the news. But I don’t intend to judge, undermine, satirize or otherwise criticize the fantasy genre. I have many friends who write romantic novels and, just like crime novelists, they’re constantly having to put up with seemingly innocent observations which suggest that they’re somehow involved in an inferior form of literature. No doubt fantasy writers experience the same thing. I don’t intend to add to it.
All I want to do is try to imagine myself as someone exploring the genre and give myself a brief fantasy experience. So, without any real experience of writing fantasy, and with an unfortunate absence of belief in anything supernatural, what can I think of as a potential fantastical subject in my immediate surroundings (which is where all my other writing ideas are conceived)? How would I set about finding a story and the characters who drive it?
I imagine that, first of all, I’d have to suspend my normal beliefs and perceptions and that they’d be replaced by others which I’d have to invent. Fantasy no doubt frees you but it simultaneously creates other restraints arising from its settings and conventions. And yet, surely, all I have to do is free the various objects about me and let them be what they want. The paper knife on the desk will shine and glow when I leave this evening and, as the darkness creeps in, it’ll be picked up by the small creature which left it there early this morning. He, she or it will look from the desk’s plateau across the void to the model boats sitting on the little table, bucking and rocking under the cliffs of books. The carved wooden eagle perched among the flowers outside the window will stretch its wings and carry the creature and its sword to the bottom of the garden, where the granite wall will open and show the fires flickering up from its depths onto the undersides of the clouds. And then there’ll be the songs and voices, the cries of prisoners, the gropings of blind, lost sisters, the unearthly growling of the ebony dogs.
And suddenly, I get a sort of intimation of the strength of fantasy. When I draw back from my imaginings, what am I left with? Predictability. Everything around me has a function, a specific, defined purpose. Even me. And it makes no concessions to the magic that makes the grasses and flowers outside appear each spring. The clouds aren’t billowing sails of aerial galleons but mere water vapour. The faint tick of the clock is simply an inevitable, mechanical fact, whereas I now know that, at night, it will separate itself from the clock, become the pulse of something, supply the rhythm of a creature’s advance.
I said I have no beliefs in the supernatural. This isn’t that, it’s natural. We carry all these race memories, dreams, imaginings; we can release people and things from their restricted functions. Maybe fantasy is simply a means of relaxing our grip on experience, a way to deny chronology and inevitability. Maybe it’s just a less uptight reality.