With any luck, I'll be asked to talk about it and will have to answer that most commonly asked of questions: 'Where do your ideas come from?': I've been trying to remember. When was that first seed planted? What other ideas, experiences, added to it? Nourished it? Allowed it to grow out of and over all the other ideas that never got as far as becoming a book?
I think I've found the 'first cause'. In the 1990s, I worked part time at a Further Education College in Coventry to supplement my meagre earnings from writing. I was teaching Wuthering Heights to a group of Malaysian students and as part of the course we went on a trip to The Brontë Parsonage and Museum in Haworth. I'd never been before and I was as excited as any of the students. I love visiting writers' houses and have written about it here before. Indeed, that post details some of the fascinating things owned by the Brontës and on display at the Parsonage, but that post was based on a much later visit. What intrigued me most that first time was the tiny little books that the Brontë siblings had written as children.
In those days, you could buy facsimilies of the miniature books. I remember buying two of them but, of course, when I really wanted them, needed them, I couldn't find them anywhere. They elude me to this day. The little books contain the writing that they did as children and adolescents about the imaginary world that they created and peopled. The world that they called Glass Town.
A few years later, I was in Yorkshire again, visiting The Salts Mill Museum, outside Halifax, not far from Haworth, There was a street market and on one of the stalls was a porcelain figure of a soldier, a Rifleman in a green uniform.
I can't really say why I was attracted to him, maybe I remembered something about Branwell Brontë being given a set of toy soldiers and that being the starting point for the stories the Brontë children began to make up, but I don't think it was anything as conscious as that. Maybe I just liked him and thought there was a story in him somewhere. Whatever the reason, I bought him and took him home and he lived on the shelf in my study while I got on with writing other things.
Years later, I was at a Scattered Authors' Retreat at Charney Manor in Oxfordshire. Different people were discussing ideas for books and stories. Some History Girls, past and present, may have been there. One person described something she'd been thinking about for a book about the Brontēs. I remember thinking, I wouldn't do it like that. Time travel but not back to the Brontës in their Parsonage in Haworth but pitched into their fantasy world and it would be a boy, not a girl making this journey. But how? Why? What could happen next? I didn't have those answers yet. A few more years went by and I found the idea again, or it found me. Another retreat at Charney and I wanted to start something new. I remembered the Brontë idea and thought I might work on that while I was there, so I bought Christine Alexander's: The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal to take with me.
One of the traditions at Charney is the Three Minute Read, when writers read from their work in progress. The proof of the writing is in the reading. The piece I wrote is now in Glass Town Wars, substantially unchanged. It gave me the How? and the Why? Boy in a coma. Let's call him Tom. Best friend is a computer whizz (let's call him Milo) with the ultimate virtual gaming gizmo, a small, thin sheet of graphene small enough to fit in the ear. It allows you to actually live in the game. Only problem is, it's experimental. No-one knows where you'll be going, no-one knows how you'll get back...
I knew where Tom would go. I knew he would go there as a soldier, a Rifleman in a green uniform, I knew he would meet Emily Brontë, or her persona in the Brontës fantasy world, but what would happen then? That was going to be the hard bit...
(To be continued...)
Glass Town Wars by Celia Rees is published by Pushkin Press, 1st November, 2018