As part of The Feathered Man blog tour, I am happy to have Jeremy De Quidt on the blog, telling us about what inspired him to write The Feathered Man.
The Feathered Man is my second book, and it began (as all worrying stories should) with a gift. The gift was something of an oddity and, to be honest, was given to my daughter Alice, rather than to me, but that’s by-the-by. A friend of ours was wanting to get rid of a sculpture she’d made years ago at art school - a life sized figure of a kneeling man made from chicken wire and white goose feathers. The only room Alice had for it was on her bedroom wall, and each time I went in to say ‘goodnight’ to her I would see its dim shape in the dark and think ‘there’s a story there.’
The actual story changed several times in my head, but I kept finding myself going back to the Vitalism debate of the late 18th and early 19th centuries - the one that was the inspiration for Mary Shelley when she wrote Frankenstein. What is life and where does it go? Can it be re-created? It was a very real moral and philosophical dilemma of the time; that conflict between the new discoveries of science on the one hand, and religious faith on the other.
Having read and listened to other writers, it seems common ground that we tend to vividly remember things - not useful things like where we put our door keys or the letter that needs to be posted, but experiences - we can call them back to mind, after decades, with all the clarity of a living photograph, and there were two of my own that drove on The Feathered Man. One is the memory of seeing a dead sparrow in a flower bed, it was the first thing I ever remember seeing dead and actually wondering where it’s life had gone. The other was a beautiful dead moth that I so wanted to bring back to life but knew that there was absolutely nothing that I could do - that same dilemma of the Vitalists - what is this thing that makes something alive, and where does it go? The story of The Feathered Man is very firmly grounded in that.
It seems pretty common too that writers of scary stories had nightmares and terrors when they were young. I remember some of those dreams even now; the cowboy pegged out to die in the blazing sun, the reflection of a Spanish lady in my mother’s dressing mirror, and a huge Gothic wooden stable filled with tortured horses. They still make me feel uneasy. But they are all grist for the future. I never read frightening stories, I had nightmares enough without them, but somewhere along the line the wonderfully scary tales of M.R. James have seeped in, as have the covers of books in the library all too frightening to read, and the cold dust of Egyptology and Inca legends. They have all been sorted away and are there to be dipped into. It is that unconscious remembering of what it was that frightened me that finds its way into what I write now.
There is a whole thinking that facing bad things in literature equips you for facing them in life, I don’t know if it does. But what I do know is that I like leaning forward and telling a story. And if, later, that story that I left in your head makes you wonder in the dark what that noise was, or what that shadow is by the door, then all the better.
Image from Goodreads