I like writing about all sorts of things; flash fiction, poetry, short stories, novels… And these pieces of writing are in various genres; horror, romance, children’s, literary fiction, mystery… With over one hundred different projects, either completed or in process, I like to think that I’ve managed not to repeat myself when it comes to plot and characters.
I try not to anyway.
But there is one thing that I do mention a lot, and I’m completely aware of it. It’s not always intentional (although at times it is integral to the plot), but whether I mean it to be there at the start of a story or not, ‘the woods’ often pops up.
What do I mean? I mean actual, literal woods. Deep, dark places full of trees and animals and scary things. Or peaceful places full of beauty and clearings of dappled sunlight and twinkling, tinkling streams that lead on to adventure.
I love to read about them. When I was younger, The Faraway Tree was one of my all time favourites, and the two poems that are stuck on the wall by my writing desk are “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare, and “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.
I love to write about them too. Sometimes my stories are set within the trees. My recently completed novel, a children’s horror entitled The Waldgeist of Wanderal Woods, focuses the entire story in the magical world below a lush, green, leafy canopy. Another of my short stories is called “The Woods Today”, and is about a rather nasty teddy bears picnic. And another, “Miles To Go” details the shock and confusion of a man who awakes naked in a snowy wood.
Equally, some of my stories just touch on the woods. In “Fairy Lights” the protagonists camp by the edge of a wood, not daring to enter. “One Man and His Dog” has the eponymous man looking towards the woods, but eventually going in the other direction. “Careful of the Castle” involves a woman sitting on a hot, sandy beach; but she wishes she was wandering through the shaded woods of her home town.
There is something so fascinating, so elemental, so mysterious and exciting about woods, inside or out, that I find myself drawn to them. Of course, it helps that I’ve lived near one for almost all of my life. Or rather, near a few of them. The very first house I can remember backed onto woodland. I have a distinct memory of playing in the garden, sitting on a swing that my dad made and which hung from a big old apple tree, and staring, hard, hard, harder, over the back fence and into the woods. I wanted to see something move. I never did, unless wind-waving leaves counted.
A few years later we moved, and this time the garden was bigger, and at the bottom of this one was a large meadow on which horses roamed. That was nice. That was fine. But it was what was beyond the meadow, just on the horizon, that delighted me – a patch of trees that I was happy to call a wood. I even climbed over the back fence on a few occasions and ran across the field, dodging manure, to reach the trees. But fear of what (or whom?) I would find forced my back home. I never did go in.
The house after that, the one in which I spent my teenage years, had an even bigger garden, and this time woods came with the land. Just a little bit, but my excitement was at intense proportions, and I spent a lot of time at the bottom of the garden, just inside the woodland, daring myself to go further.
I still dare myself. My parents still live in the house. Every time I visit, I think about it. Maybe one day I’ll venture in.
When I married, we moved to a pretty little end of terrace in a village. And yes, right outside our front door, was a patch of woodland. It was beautiful, but we outgrew the house and had to move. I now live in an old cottage in the countryside and all around me is farmland. But just down the road are the woods. The real deep, dark woods.
Will I go in? Or will I leave it up to my intrepid characters, as I usually do? Maybe that’s why I write about the places so much – my stories let me do the one thing I’ve always wanted to do, but been afraid to actually go through with.
One day, though. One day…