Catherine Wilkinson discusses the creative process behind her short story ‘Grey Wizard’, featured in Issue Eleven.
The forensic analysis of a story is an exercise I relish, including the detection of which nuggets have snuck in from what aspects of a writer’s life or research: the ornamental eggs from Monique Roffey’s memoir (With the Kisses of His Mouth) surface in her horny mystical novel, The Tryst; ‘the shard’ in Cynan Jones’ The Dig, ‘a talismanic piece of iron stabbed into the ground’ with its origins in a very different incarnation of the book. And yet, any deconstruction or breach of the fourth wall breaks the spell of the story, so read on only if the dissection of ‘Grey Wizard’ holds any remote appeal.
Sound not sight was the tangent my story took from a task involving primarily visual prompts. Despite a roof-topped and river view, a dawn fox and later, magpies and squirrels vying for the lawn, my focus was almost exclusively sound. Bells were ringing. Incessantly. (They creep into the story). All white noise had to be switched off – as I age, my noise sensitivity issues escalate (‘hyperacusis’ if I were to succumb to the contemporary inclination to attribute medical conditions to all quirks). The clock was banished to another room. Dark, opulent, Baccara roses on the desk however, did register and evoked the voluptuous paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. Bizarrely, that same week, I caught an old lady, literally, as she was toppling backwards on a steep cobbled street leaving the market square. Upon steering her home to a narrow courtyard townhouse, she gave me a book from a recent O’Keeffe exhibition in London. It featured her aural paintings and thus stoked my progressing fascination with synaesthesia. Tasting colours, smelling voices … a mind-cracking jumble. So, yes, the seeds of ‘Grey Wizard’ involved bells and clocks, roses and a fox and then evolved to include an ode to my adored horse, Gryffindor, who did indeed die, with me kneeling beside him, my forehead on his neck.
A subsequent assignment on symbolism bounced me back to this story. My recollection of the term leitmotif was rudimentary: a recurring symbol in a book gaining significance with repetition. A dictionary check revealed it broader in scope with more musical origins: an associated melodic phrase or figure that accompanies the reappearance of an idea, person, or situation especially in a Wagnerian music drama. Instinctively, I returned to the character of Quinn, her struggle to recall sound, and found myself sitting at my son’s piano, poking and plonking at keys and loop-playing on my Mac a recording of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto Number Five.
‘Grey Wizard’ reinforced the advisability of allowing my stories to fester: this capsule of two thousand words took two years from inception to print. A work rate that does not augur well for my retirement fund. The other personal point of note was that whilst I consider myself quite a character orientated writer, this story was concept driven – a lingering, a light exploration.
I think there is a sensual quality to the story, in its execution as well as its premise, and I am satisfied with the ambiguity as to whether the physical playing of the piano assists Quinn in her quest to retrieve even memories of sound. And for me at least, it would be quite something if the story tempts just one person perhaps to pause, steal a little piece of peace, and listen to Bach.
Catherine Wilkinson commutes between a tiny island off Ireland and Shropshire. Following courses with UEA and Arvon, she commences an MA in Creative Writing in October. A résumé that veers somewhat is providing fodder: ex-intellectual property lawyer; racehorse breeder; outdoor event manager; equestrian; mother to a quixotic teenage son; married to an Irish farmer. Written in 2018, her Island Journal is a work of creative non-fiction with aspects of memoir, travel, nature and pyscho-geography. She is working on a collection of short stories loosely and coincidentally based on brain wiring anomalies, one of which is Grey Wizard, and on her first novel, Ghost Apples.
Copyright Catherine Wilkinson, 2019.