I was facilitating a workshop some weeks ago with fourth class and one of the young girls asked me why I had switched from writing for adults to that of children. It is a question that I am asked regularly since the publication of Gold by Little Island in June 2016. It is a worthy question but you might as well ask a fiddler why he starts learning the banjo or the mouth organ. It is because it is a challenge and a learning. As an artist if you stay in the one place you fossilize. Also you go where the creativity takes you. If an idea is handed to you, it is a true gift and to deny it may mean it is never offered to you again.
As a writer I am constantly panning the river for the story behind that image, that intriguing phrase, the look behind someone’s eye. When a nugget of a story ends up in the prospecting pan you want to be as faithful as possible to its telling. If that means switching genres then it behoves you to do that. I have poems that became short stories and a short story that will be a novel someday. Even though I have four collections of poetry and three of short stories, Gold is not the first novel I have written. It just happens to be the first one that has seen the light of day. I have an abandoned adult’s novel that was written way back when but publishers couldn’t find a niche for it. I ended up getting some short stories out of it and chalked up all those years invested in it to experience. I also wrote a children’s novel about ten years ago that didn’t catch the publisher’s eye either.
We live on the edge of Connemara which is a wild and beautiful place. One year a gorse fire on the mountain behind our house raged out of control and engulfed everything in its path. When we walked that place months after, it was still a charred, desolate landscape. Dead tree stumps stretched out their blackened branches in desperation to some god to resurrect them but they showed no sign of ever recovering.
I became haunted by the apocalyptic scene that was so close to home and couldn’t get the image out of my mind. It was an image that, in fact, found its way into a poem in my collaboration with Lisa Taylor, The Other Side of Longing (Arlen House, 2011) Gorse burning up the dark, so loud/we feared its crackle, hear its heat. We had seen the effects that the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland had caused in 2010.The sky became silent for a few months and it wasn’t a great stretch of imagination to consider how easily our fragile ecosystems could be wiped out if something like this happened on a larger scale.
I reminded myself of my discarded children’s novel that was a typical adventure story of two boys who find a book and go on the hero’s quest for adventure.Reimagining this scenario, I catapulted twins Starn and Esperinto an imaginary world in the future where volcanic eruptions have caused most of their world to be destroyed. Trees, animals, birds have not survived, the ash cloud allows for very little light and all aviation is grounded.
When they find a map hidden in an enclosed room in their apartment that promises them gold treasure on the forbidden islands they set up plans to get there. Having no means of travelling they go about designing a glider that will take them there.Because I had set it in the future, it meant that I had to invent a world that would be accepted by the reader. While I would have played with mythical realism in some short stories and poems, here was a new challenge for me. I had to set about creating not just a world but language that was appropriate to this world.Their food is also quite different and so research was demanded in order to find out what foods would grow with very little light and in the absence of insect pollination. For example, einkorn is an ancient grain and goober peas another name for peanuts. Harran bread was used hundreds of years ago and is a mixture of barley and peas.
Perhaps it was the child in me that was released as the story unfolded, a child that has been asked to wash the dishes and ends up playing with the bubbles for it was fun masked as work. There was that great freedom working with a narrative that was plot-driven rather than character-driven and where anything could happen.When I couldn’t find a word that was appropriate then I just made it up. Mythology, books on astronomy and film credits were all researched to find names for my characters.
The only way to learn how to write is by doing and despite all the mistakes I made along the way, Little Island saw enough in it to offer to publish it. That was when the real work started for now was the time to iron out all the problems with it. Without the generous guidance of Siobhán Parkinson and Gráinne Clear it wouldn’t have got anywhere. Their gimlet eyes picked out every bum note in the narrative, whether it was descriptions that were too long, pace that was not pacey enough or structural aspects that would definitely drive a reader to distraction.
The result was Gold. My eighth publication but my first full length novel.
(c) Geraldine Mills
Esper and Starn are twin boys who live in a grim world that has been almost laid waste by massive volcanic explosions. Very little grows in Orchard, which used to be a fruit-growing area, but with the death of insects and birds, pollination of the fruit trees is a tedious and precarious undertaking. When the boys discover an intriguing old manuscript in a locked room in their apartment, which tells of gold on one of the forbidden islands the people can see from the coastline, they determine to go on gold-hunt. They manage to construct a glider that takes them far from their home territory, and so begins a whole new adventure for the boys, as they travel from island to island in search of gold. Their adventures are many and they come close to death. They do in the end, find the gold – but it is nothing like what they expected.
Gold is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!