Conjuror Girl… how did it all begin?
For some reason, I almost always remember the very first inspiration for a novel. The two which particularly stand out are the walk I had around Virginia Water in Surrey (for non-Brits – next door to the Queen’s Windsor Great Park) which led to me devising Memory Seed, and the intense two hour splurge in which I put together the entire framework for the Factory Girl trilogy. My first inspiration for the Conjuror Girl trilogy wasn’t quite so all-encompassing as that, but it was pretty good – a mental image of a dark and grim orphanage in Victorian times, set in a gothic version of my home town, and with a particularly awful man in charge. But I did see some light – green light, in fact. As I imagined this orphanage, I caught a mind’s-eye glimpse of a verdant garden in which a French Impressionist painted. These two mental images led me to the whole concept for the trilogy.
Where then does this stuff come from? I have a theory. I think it’s a bit like taking dictation from your subconscious. Finding myself in a position of wondering what next to write, the kernel of an idea which had for some time been lurking in my subconscious presented itself, in the form of two vivid mental images. I noticed those images – over the years I’ve come to know the value of such prompts – and jotted them down in a notebook. The rest of the scenario came quickly afterwards, including the main character Monique, and the central secret of the novel, which of course I won’t reveal here, but which made the scenario particularly attractive from the point of view of Monique and the people she finds herself living with.
This main character, I decided, would be a young woman (technically, an older girl – she’s 15), but as with my Factory Girl trilogy I wanted to follow the “Philip Pullman option,” which is to write about adult themes through younger characters. I find this a good match for my favoured stories of personal identity and finding your place in the world. Monique, young, gifted and female in a male-dominated world, and an orphan to boot, has a Herculean task ahead of her. The trilogy describes her struggles.
Subconscious inspiration though doesn’t begin and end at the instigation of a novel. I find it comes and goes afterwards too, and sometimes with intensity. The climax of the first volume contains a terrible transformation which was not part of the original plot line. However, thinking about the transformed character and her significance earlier in the novel, I realised in a flash that she should become something far more terrible than the mild-mannered, if suspicious shopkeeper of the original concept. And so, as I wrote, the ending of the book played out before my mind’s eye…
For authors, the subconscious is a marvellous tool. Listen to it. Watch it. Await its deeper insights. Never miss a trick. Your subconscious will be there for you, and all the better for you paying it the attention it deserves.
[Stephen Palmer’s new ‘Conjuror Girl’ trilogy is being supported and promoted by a blog tour, the author’s first.
Beginning here, the tour covers a range of authors and official genre venues, including SFF World, Sarah Ash, Keith Brooke, Tony Ballantyne and Craig Hallam. Most of the tour hosts are British, but there’s American support too from Jude Matulich-Hall and Juliana Spink-Mills.
Stephen said: “I’m trying different ideas to see what works in terms of promotion and marketing – by far the most difficult part of having a novel published. Because the ‘Conjuror Girl’ trilogy is set in an alternate version of my home town of Shrewsbury, I am trying local publicity as well as the blog tour. When I was putting together the tour I wrote all fourteen host names down then chose a subject suited to them. These include: attitudes to children in Victorian times, photography, colours, women in patriarchy, and naming characters – a nice big range of subjects, some light, some heavy…”.
I have just started reading this hauntingly lovely trilogy myself and am enjoying it very much. I highly recommend it. I’ll be sharing tour links right here each time Stephen does one, so stay tuned!