Castle Dreams

unnamed2So Derek Murphy, otherwise known as Creativindie, is running yet another contest. A last-minute giveaway of a stay in one of two writing retreats, either a two-week stay in Portrush, Northern Ireland, or a couple of weeks in his NaNoWriMo Castle in Saint-Sylvestre-sur-Lot, France (in Aquitaine, apparently, which is the South of France – I had to google it).

Oh. My. Goodness. The way to enter this contest/giveaway is to post about it on your blog. Here. Doing it. And then you’re supposed to say which of the two you want to go to. Umm, YES. Yes please. Uh, you want me to choose? Sorry… just sorry, Derek, I can’t. Just pick me for either one, and I’ll be there with bells on. Because (and that’s condition #2, to say why you want to come), well, d’uh. Castle. Or Ireland. Ocean shore. British Isles. Europe. History. Stories woven into the very fabric of your surroundings. Wherever you look, there’s stories, tales just for the picking. You walk through a doorway, and your mind goes “I wonder who lived here a hundred years ago…”, and you see a lady with a tight corset crossing the hallway in front of you, her big hoop skirt swinging. And then you turn a corner and look out a window, and your mind skips on to “Did some noble lady ever sit on this window sill the way I do now, looking out for her knight to come back for her?” Or you get off the train (because, of course, you take the train to where you’re going – this is Europe, after all) and you think, “I wonder how it felt for a soldier in 1916 to come home to his family in this little town…” and “How long might this bakery have stood at that corner already, and did children sixty years ago have their noses pressed to the window just the way this little girl is doing now?”

Like I said, stories in every brick and stone, the very air you breathe suffused with inspiration. So of course I want to go on one of those retreats. Just looking at those websites had me spiralling off into dreams; I almost had my itinerary for how to get there all planned out…

Now, the third condition of entering this writing contest is to post a sample or outline of what you would be working on. Hmm. I don’t really like posting outlines or summaries in public before I’ve written the thing. My stories need to hatch in peace and quiet, not be dragged into the spotlight before they’re even able to open their eyes.

However, let’s just say I’d win the castle retreat [crosses fingers and toes, going “Please, please, please!”] [Yes, I can cross my toes. Can’t you?]. Of all the story ideas knocking about in my brain, I think it would be one of the fairy tale retellings that would take shape then, because, castle. That Château de Cadrès is the quintessential fairy tale castle, judging by the pictures. Sit back, close your eyes for a minute, open them again, and you don’t even have to bother imagining – you just describe what you see, people it with some characters, and bingo – story.

Now, as to what kind of story… As I said, a fairy tale. And like every good story, it always starts with a “What if…” In a fairy tale, the plot, the “what”, is already a given. So to turn a fairy tale into a full-length novel, what you want is a “what if…” of a different kind. Sometimes a “How come…” For example, have you ever wondered why the princess in the Grimms'”The Goose Girl” doesn’t try to defend herself when the wicked maid forces her to change places with her? How come she’s like that? Maybe she’s constitutionally shy or has a stammer which makes her afraid to speak up. Or, maybe, when she was growing up, her father and older brother were abusive bullies, and in consequence she’s terrified of men. So when she loses the handkerchief with her mother’s protective magic and the maid bullies her into trading places, she’s helpless, because she would never dare to actually tell the king that she is the real princess – even though she meets the prince in the stables where she’s been sent to sleep in the hay, and it turns out he’s really shy and stammer-y, too, and terrified of this “princess” he’s supposed to marry (because he can tell she’s a bully, and not very refined and ladylike to boot). Now the two of them, the princess and prince, have become really good friends (aka fallen in love), but she can’t say anything about her predicament because the wicked maid has put a spell on her. And then of course there’s Curdie, the gooseherd boy, who wants to pull out her hair because it’s so pretty and golden, and it’s the princess’ friendship with the prince (who, maybe, she doesn’t know is the prince, and just thinks is a nobleman?) which gives her the courage to stand up to Curdie and learn to not let herself be bullied. So when the king finally goes and hears her talking to her dead horse’s head under the bridge, which busts everything wide open, she’s actually got the courage to speak up and let the king know what really happened, and the ensuing happily-ever-after with her marrying the prince is really based on her learning to stand up for herself and have the courage to be who she really is.

There, that’s my outline – or a outline, anyway. It might not be good enough for a contest entry, but now I’ll have to go and actually write that book sometime.

Meanwhile, go and hop over to Creativindie’s site and have a look around (that’s his whole purpose for putting on these contests, to get exposure for his site). I’d love to go on one of those retreats, but if I can’t, I’ll just have to imagine I’m there, dream myself into the castle. I am, after all, a storysmith, mental images come easily.

Life, the Universe, and a Writing Retreat. Here’s hoping.