Bill Read is the author of The Fairies in the Wood in Now I Lay Me Down To Reap, the newest anthology from Sirens Call Publications. Wanting to know the inspiration behind his story, we decided to ask him – this is what he told us…
Into the Woods
It all began with a Barbie doll.
For the past 23 years, I have belonged to a story writers circle called The Deadliners which meets every six months to read out stories we have written which confirm to particular conditions or rules that we thought up at the previous meeting. The origins of the unpleasant events described in Fairies in the Wood came from a meeting of The Deadliners held a number of years ago in which the challenge was to write a children’s story suitable for reading out to my daughter (then aged five). For those writers who desired stronger meat, there was also the option of writing a second story which had connections to the first that could be read out later in the evening for an adult audience only.
Like nearly all small girls, my daughter was very keen on princesses and Barbie dolls and I decided to do a story featuring both of them entitled The Princess Who lost Things. The story was illustrated with photos of a Barbie doll princess, a Playmobil Prince Charming and a plastic fairy – none of which were in scale with each other –photographed in appropriate poses in the back garden. In the story, the princess plays a game of hide and seek with a fairy and ends up going through a door in a tree into Fairyland. Here the princess rescues a handsome prince who in turn rescues her from nearly trapped in Fairyland after taking too long to find the Fair Queen’s missing wand.
At this stage I have to apologise to any fans of the ‘fairies are cute and sparkly’ persuasion. I am a founder member of the Campaign for Real Fairies which puts forward the counter argument – which is that there is nothing remotely cute about the members of the Fair Folk. All the evidence of Scottish ballads and legend points towards the conclusion that fairies are mischievous, cruel and devoid of moral scruples – and that’s just on a good day. In short, they’re really not nice at all – as the mini lecture by the librarian in the middle of the story describes.
I therefore decided to write my second ‘adult’ story (originally entitled Fairy Picnic) describing how fairies might really behave, given half a chance. As well as using elements from fairy legends, I also used for my inspiration a recording of a folk tune played on the Northumbrian pipes by a very talented musician called Kathryn Tickell. For some reason, I find this particular tune very unsettling and spooky and it conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images. It also inspired a separate story called Soundbite about a haunted iPod which I wrote for this year’s Deadliners’ challenge. My ‘real fairies’ story also included a guest appearance of The Princess That Lost Things but in a strange mutation which the story changes and gets more unpleasant every time you read it – an literary idea which perhaps could be further developed with e-book technology? My third inspiration was thinking of what was the most horrible thing that the fairies could do which, in my case, was being unable to protect those I love from harm.
While I do write serious ghost stories, my usual forte is towards the lighthearted – which made the bleak ending all the more shocking for the members of The Deadliners who first heard it read out and were expecting everyone to live happily ever after. However, fellow Deadliner Adrian Tchaikovsky, did recover enough a few years later to suggest that I should submit it for publication for this anthology (in which he also has a story).
Given my views of the true evil nature of the faery folk, it has been a somewhat alarming experience to find myself performing in the chorus of York Opera’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe this autumn. In rehearsals we have got as far as a scene in which the men’s chorus of beleaguered British peers are entirely surrounded by the mob of large angry fairies waving wands and threatening us with awful punishments.
I really hope none of the women’s chorus playing the fairies ever read my story.
It might give them ideas.
After hearing the source of Bill’s inspiration, here’s an excerpt from his story The Fairies in the Wood:
Even from a distance, Edward Carter had no problem spotting her. Every other arriving passenger was garbed in suits, anoraks or tee-shirts – but not his daughter. Even though he hadn’t seen her for six months, there was no mistaking the figure in the dress standing next to an out of date poster advertising a talk at the village library on local superstitions. She was even wearing a straw hat – she looked like a character out of a Pollyanna book.
“Sorry I wasn’t here to meet you off the train,” he apologised giving her a hug. “I took the wrong turning on the way to the station – I don’t know the roads around here yet.”
“That’s all right dad,” replied Maribel pecking him on the cheek. “The train got in at 10.30 and I’ve hardly been waiting at all. A few seconds is hardly a matter of life and death.”
If only her mother had been as considerate as she was, mused Edward. Perhaps then things would have turned out differently.
“Is that all your luggage?” he asked.
“Oh yes,” replied Maribel. “I didn’t bother bringing much – just a couple of summer dresses and some overnight stuff.”
Bizarre, thought Edward. Most girls of her age would have brought black tee-shirts and ripped jeans– but then most teenage girls wouldn’t want to have anything to do with their fathers – particularly divorced ones.
They walked to the car.
“Is it far away?” asked Maribel. “I’m so looking forward to seeing it!”
“Only about five minutes,” said Edward. “I think you can walk through the woods to get there but I thought I’d better take the car.”
Two puritanical-looking ladies emerging from a shop across the road shot an invisible wave of disapproval as he opened the car door for her. Edward felt like going over to them to explain that he was sorry to spoil their day but his youthful companion was not only young enough to be his daughter but really was. Admittedly they didn’t look alike. Maribel had got her looks from her mother and her temperament from Enid Blyton.
Which reminded him.
“How’s Lois?” asked Edward, not because he wanted to know but he felt he ought to.
“Lois?” said Maribel absently. “Oh you mean mum. Sorry – I don’t call her by her first name like I do with Rob.”
Rob! So that was Lois’ latest. There was no chance of Maribel calling them anything else until his ex-wife got round to marrying one of them.
“Oh mum’s all right,” laughed Maribel. “She’s still doing her painting and running the art class.”
Oh yes, Edward remembered the art class. It had been because of the art class that the trouble had first begun after Lois starting staying late to help some of the male students with extra-curricular activities…
Wander down the darker paths of the minds of twelve brilliantly talented authors as they conjure stories of retribution, deceit and betrayal.
Would you chance your family’s fate to the gods in return for a favor? Are the finer things in life worth having once you know the cost someone else had to pay for you to indulge in them? Would you give up your most addictive passion so that others might reap the benefits, regardless of the reward? Or perhaps, the chance at a fresh start and a new life appeals to you? Are you prepared to reap what you have sown?
Within this collection, you’ll find tales all too believable and beyond your oddest imaginings. But there is one thing you will not find… In this anthology, there are no happy endings.
Featuring the literary talents of:
Ryan C. Anderson, Thomas James Brown, Aspen deLainey, John H. Dromey, Amber Keller, Christian A. Larsen, Jeffery X Martin, Lori Michelle, Sergio Palumbo, J. Marie Ravenshaw, Bill Read, and Adrian Tchaikovsky