When I was a girl, my granda used to take me and my siblings for long walks in Ashridge Forest. We explored acres of glorious beech and oak woodlands, crunching through the bracken and collecting beechnuts and acorns to use as projectile weapons in the eternal sibling rivalry war. Trees have always fascinated me. The garden of my childhood was filled with hardy tree-climbing inspiration; Pines tall enough to see over the town and across the downs, Horse Chestnuts with perfect nooks and crannies for makeshift tree houses and stashing secret conker supplies. So, I guess it’s not surprising for me to link my love of trees and forests with my love of fantastic fiction.
The Gone Gods is one in a series of stories that feature dryads, nymphs, wood elves and other magical creatures. Writers have handled dryads in different forms for many years. Such stories are as old as the gods themselves. We find dryads represented throughout literature; Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Virginians by William Thackeray, and particularly as symbols of nature in; On the Difficulty of Conjuring up a Dryad and On the Plethora of Dryads by Sylvia Plath.
This short novelette, The Gone Gods, is three chapters, which explore the juxtaposition between modern urban life and ancient myth; how these wonderful and alien creatures rub up against the modern Londoner. Hope you enjoy it.
I have always been fascinated with the world that lies beneath London. I guess that travelling through the underground system every day sets off my imagination and so, many of my stories link to underground stations and stops. Getting ahead takes us a little further, literally into the bowels of London.
Although we take it for granted, London Underground uses tunnels originally built by the Victorians and an interceptory sewage system that delivered London’s reprieve from the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858. When it comes to feats of engineering, the Victorians were never short of imagination. You only have to look at the legacy of their work in London to realise that it was an era of industrial revolution and innovation.
My initial approach to research is usually with the people. I love the stories behind people and I’m fascinated by human motivation and behaviour, so I try to link the human stories to a place, then link the stories to each other. I like to get out and write in different places; parks, cafés, libraries, museums, underground stations, benches or anywhere in London where I can soak up the atmosphere and let it spill over into my fiction.
Place is important to me, but my stories are driven by character. I have to say at this point, that I didn’t take my research to the logical conclusion and into the London sewage system, that would be… well, eww. I found this wonderful book called London under London: A subterranean guide, by Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman, which explores the labyrinth of the city beneath our feet. So I let my own imagination run loose and exploited the use of ‘what if…?’
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs… (Rudyard Kipling)
I met him on the tube in the tunnel between Kentish Town and Archway.
The lights dimmed with their flawless flickering,
illuminating the ghost of his smile, in yellow lamplight.
A figure in the window, the dreamer wanders.
The smell of fetid fruit hung ripe in the air as the other passengers sat,
slack-backed with telescopic hearts, dull eyes of slithering killers.
A snorkel splutter splintered the silence, and my heart slammed into my ribcage.
Was it fearlessness or foolishness that made me say,
‘What the fuck are you doing here?’
He smiled all the while, eyes boring a hole through my soul.
The train jerked into motion, lights exploded into being and the passengers stared at me;
the eccentric lone woman, talking to an empty space outside the window.