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  • Harson Gorfanletch

Where do stories come from?

I had been rattling around the planet for nearly four decades before I turned my hand to creative writing. It’s not that I didn’t love words or writing or stories. I did. It just never occurred to me.

I have spent my working life writing in a different form: sentences and paragraphs formed of arguments and reason, of static facts and hard-won numbers. My formal training in this was no more than attempts to read-and-learn from the work of others and a need to attend to the returned red ink. I am not always a great student, and the rules remained incognito. I learnt them unconsciously, but I couldn’t recite them. Time was always in short supply and other dramas called.

At age thirty-nine I found myself living in a castle. Your eyes and your hands will no doubt tell you that castles are built of stone and wood. They aren’t. They are built of stories and legends. Without the latter they are just inconvenient lumps on the landscape, cold and expensive and decaying day-by-day from damp or frost or neglect.

Castles are anachronisms. They have had their time. They no longer serve their primary purpose: they haven’t done so for hundreds of years. They are not defensive superstructures in an age of cherry-pickers, kango hammers and dynamite. With only a modest deposit at my local tool hire I could breach a high curtain wall in a few tens-of-minutes. One could argue that it is all relative: a castle is clearly more secure than a two-bedroom terraced house. But how much more? The effort to break in to a building doesn’t necessarily scale linearly with its mass or footprint. Even with this knowledge of how transient three-meter-thick walls are against today’s technology, you still feel secure inside a castle. The comfort comes from the myths and legends that permeate castles, from walking a hall lined with suits of armor.

There is no way to avoid stories in a castle: they come to you when you peer out of a Gothic window, when you slam a monstrous door shut, or when you creep along a poorly lit corridor. The idea for my first novel came to me as I lay in bed at night in a large room that straddled the gatehouse entrance. The owner of the castle would lock up at 11 pm each night and I would listen to the heavy gates grinding across the flagstones like a beached tanker in a heavy swell. The sound of the eight-inch bolts sliding into sockets in cobble stones made me feel safe. But safe from what? What could be out there? Why do I need to be in here?

My attempts at creative writing taught me that the most important question a writer of fiction can ask is ‘What if…?’ and from there the stories are limitless.

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