TO BOLDLY ALLUDE…
by Alex Woolf
Last year I was writing a horror story called ‘Soul Shadows’ and I needed a couple of characters whose purpose was essentially to provide fodder for the monster. As well as furnishing my sacrificial lambs with rudimentary personalities (to give their deaths some level of meaning in readers’ minds), I had to come up with names for them. To help me in this task, I started thinking about the role of these two characters in my story, and I was immediately reminded of those 1960s Star Trek episodes, when, if you wore a red shirt and were beamed onto a planet, your death was pretty much a foregone conclusion. It occurred to me that there would have had to be a whole stable of bit-part actors in those days whose sole purpose was to get blasted, vaporised or eaten within ten minutes of materialising on the surface of Exma III (or whatever the planet happened to be called). It was the work of just a few minutes on Wikipedia to dig out the names of a couple of these extras, and guarantee their immortality by affixing them to my own pair of bit players. As well as enjoying this arcane nominal coupling for its own sake, I also felt I was, in my own small way, honouring these young actors of yore for their gallant, unheralded contributions to my Saturday evening entertainment all those years ago.
I love planting obscure references and allusions in my fiction – the obscurer the better. I don’t know if anyone will pick up on them and that’s not really the point. In fact, that may be the opposite of the point. I actually like the fact that I may be the only person in the world who knows why Character A happened to be honeymooning in Hotel B in the summer of 19XX. Many of my allusions are to other works of mine. A major character from one story may make a cameo appearance in another. She may not even be named, but I know it’s her, and that’s enough to give me a tingle of satisfaction. As it happens, quite a few of my stories, when they’re not set in an alternative London, are located in the fictional county of Wintershire – though I rarely mention the fact in the text. With this in mind, it’s less surprising, I suppose, that characters from different stories sometimes run into each other.
There’s no name for this disease of obsessive cross-referencing. Some may view it as unhealthily incestuous, maybe even cannibalistic – but I simply can’t (or don’t want to) help it. And occcasionally it can prove useful. Earlier this year, I wrote a couple of middle-grade stories about a pair of young time travellers. Right at the start of the first story, a German World War II fighter plane crashes into an English church in August 1940. The incident had no bearing on the plot, and seemed pointless at the time, even to me, except that it served to give the story a dramatic opening. The publisher was fine with it, but I wasn’t. I was determined to find some significance in this event, and eventually I did – in the second story. It turned out that the entire motivation of the second story’s main antagonist hinged on the plane crash. A trivial incident in the first story became a pivotal one in the second. So sometimes this disease of mine bears unexpected, creative fruit.
Incidentally, ‘Soul Shadows’ (mentioned above) is due to be published in paperback in April 2013 by Curious Fox. It got brilliant reviews from readers during its first incarnation on the web last year. Here’s a little flavour of what it’s about…
Estelle’s therapist has prescribed her a dose of solitude. So she’s staying in a cottage in the middle of nowhere, trying to come to terms with her traumatic past. But there’s more going on in the quiet nearby woods than she knows.
An army of unnatural shadows lurks among the trees. Unlike those that harmlessly follow our footsteps, these shadows can rise up, they can touch … and they can kill.
Estelle and her old friend Sandor must battle this shape-shifting army and the sinister forces that have called them into being. But how can you defeat your enemies when you’re afraid of your own shadow?
You can read more about me and my work on my website: http://alexwoolf.co.uk