Influences on Story (2)
On June 23, I first wrote about influences on story in terms of festivals such as Matariki, the Maori New Year, which is marked by the rising of the Pleiades constellation into southern hemisphere skies; May Day; and the related festival of Valborgmassafton (May Day’s Eve) in Sweden. (This festival is also known as Valpurgis Night in Germany). Part of what sparked that reflection was writing an episode in the second book of the Wall of Night quartet which dealt with a festival called Summer’s Eve, which is “always held on the first new moon of summer.”
Earlier this week I received an email from Finland, from “Seregil of Rhiminee”, the pseudonym for a reviewer and moderater for the RisingShadow website, which has sections in both Finnish and English. Well worth a look if you’re interested in Fantasy, because I understand the English language site has over 28,000 fantasy and science fiction listings (although not all have been reviewed). This—of course!—got me remembering Finland, which I visited when I was living in Sweden: taking a summer boat trip through the archipelago adjoining the old capital of Turku (or Abo), and making the winter train journey from Helsinki to Leningrad (as it still was then—before the name of St Petersburg was restored).
The summer trip was wonderful, but I have to admit that it was my winter journeys that made the most enduring impression on me, both in Finland and Sweden—perhaps because they were so different from anything I would encounter in temperate New Zealand (except in the very high mountains or exceptional circumstances, such as the Big Snow of 1992.) I made two journeys into winter country, the first being the trip along the Gulf of Finland through snow covered forests of fir and birch; the second to the far north of Sweden in the very heart of winter. I still remember the tremendous depth of snow lying, the vast forests stretching away beneath whitewashed sky, the air like dry ice in your lungs when you went outside—and the stillness was profound. I saw elk and reindeer for the first time, as well, and visited the small museum in Arjeplog with its account of the Lapps’—or Sami’s—history in the north.
Years later, those memories are still working their way through my writing. It’s there in poems such as North and also in the Winter Country and the Winter People in my new novel, The Heir of Night. Heir is coming out in the USA, Australia and New Zealand in October (UK folk have to wait until March 2011) and although the Winter Country is not Sweden or Finland, my vision of it has definitely been influenced by my personal experience of those landscapes. Similarly, the Winter People are not Lapps or North American Indians, but some of what they are has definitely evolved from my reading about/understanding of those cultures and their histories.
I find that story, characters and the landscape of my stories all evolve out of myth, imagination—I hope you will agree, once you get a chance to read Heir, that the Wall of Night is almost completely imagination, and the Gate of Dreams steeped in myth—but also from experience. My vision of the Winter Country, especially when writing passages like the one immediately following, has undoubtedly been shaped by my winter experience of both Sweden and Finland.
“It had been one of those bright-as-diamond days between blizzards, with the sky pale blue crystal and the snow stretching away forever, white and gleaming. She had been out hunting and come upon him some distance from the camp, a solitary figure in the circling world of white and blue, staring at something far up in the sky. Rowan had stopped, following his gaze, and seen the hovering speck that was a snow falcon, riding the currents of the air.
The Earl had watched it for a long time and when at last he turned his head he had looked straight into her eyes and smiled, an expression as rare as winter sunshine in the grimness of his face. “It is Winter itself that hawk,” he had said, “the brightness and the wildness and the freedom of it. I could watch it forever.”
from The Heir of Night, The Wall of Night Book One
What about you? Writers—are there landscapes that have strongly influenced your work? Readers—are there landscapes in fiction that you have either particularly enjoyed or thought shaped the work?
Just to get the ball rolling—and in the spirit of this post—I would cite the wintry north of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, with its snow, northern lights, and panzer bjorn (love those armoured bears!) Also the alternative University of Oxford that opens the book.
By way of extra encouragement, everyone who comments will go in the draw to win a signed cover flat of The Heir of Night.
Oops, late addition(!): Because tomorrow is Tuesday Poem day (where landscapes of Mars will feature) the commentary and giveaway opportunity for “Influences on Writing (2)” will run until 9 am Wednesday morning, NZ time.