How a wet footprint became a secret labyrinth
(This article first appeared on Natasha Reilly’s blog: Creative Nachos)
In November 2014, I was invited to teach a workshop as part of a Creativity Tent event for Marianne Cantwell, creative entrepreneur and author of Be a Free Range Human. During that workshop, I connected with two incredible women, Pat Donovan and Jackie Stanley. Based upon their creative styles, I believed these two women who lived in two different countries not only needed to meet, they needed to work together.
What follows here is the story they wrote about what happened after the workshop. It is a truly inspiring tale about what can happen when we take a risk, allow our creative heart to be seen, trust the process even if we have no idea where it leads and not only believe in ourselves but believe in one another. I love this story and the book that was created because it is a true celebration of the creative spirit.
Thank you ladies for the magic you share with the world. Your book is wonderful. You are both an inspiration.
How a Wet Footprint became a Secret Labyrinth
written by Pat Donovan and Jackie Stanley
How can we describe ourselves differently? If you were asked to say who you are without the usual responses – your name, job or marital status – how would you answer? Natasha Reilly-Moynihan was asking this question in a creativity workshop back in November 2014, and the answers led to a surprising trans-Atlantic creative collaboration.
Jackie: I am the strange light of the midnight sun, a water nymph, the mist above a waterfall, a northern breeze, the atmosphere of a wild place, a wet footprint on a flat rock, the prickle in the air before a storm, a peaty malt whisky with a seaweed tang.
By the time she got to the wet footprint, Pat Donovan, who had always wanted to be a writer, knew she would love to work with this person who was so immersed in the wild, the watery and the mysterious. Pat, who lives in Florida, had been writing regularly in her journal and was collaborating on a picture book with a neighbor, but had never considered writing a novel for older children. Inspired by the workshop, Pat overcame her natural reticence and told Jackie Stanley, from the UK, that she wanted to write with her. Jackie was surprised into saying yes, but neither of them had any idea this unusually bold step would lead to a contemporary fantasy for pre-teen readers, The Secret Labyrinth, being published eighteen months later.
Natasha to Pat: I truly believe you are meant to team up on a creative project! I love your idea about collaborating with Jackie on a wonderful new adventurous world!
Natasha to Jackie: Imagine what you can create and do. Imagine that anything you dream can come to life. I love that you and Pat are getting to know one another. That’s a brilliant collaboration. And you know you don’t need to know how it will all look yet. You just need to start to play with ideas, images, thoughts, and words. You need to have fun with one another and I promise you, things will happen.
Neither Pat nor Jackie understood the full meaning of Natasha’s words when they began to work together. They started feeling their way through, step by step, and as they couldn’t meet in person they relied on emails to get things underway.
Jackie: So, tell me, what do you have in mind, writing wise?
Pat: I started thinking last night about a story called Halley and the Mermaid. She needs to have a lot of imagination because she’s named after a comet she won’t see until she’s 40 years old. Because you seem so intrigued with the sea and swimming I thought maybe it would spark something for you too. What wild adventures did you dream of when you were five?
Jackie: I was obsessed with books about children who went off on adventures in the countryside, exploring mysterious islands and castles with no grown-ups in sight. Mainly I dreamt of going north. I remember lying in bed at night listening to the cars passing and imagined they were heading north to Scotland.
Pat started writing a story in her journal and set it on a Scottish island. As she had never been there she used a handy Lonely Planet guidebook to provide background details. Jackie had realized her dream and had spent lots of time in the north, and once she knew where the story was going to be set she emailed Pat to explain what kept drawing her back to Scotland.
‘Maybe it’s the weather – the mists, the ever-changing skies, the vibrancy of the turquoise sea when the sun shines, maybe it’s the weird bumps and hollows of faerie glens or perhaps it’s the cascades of fairy pools connected by waterfalls. Maybe it’s the deserted villages of tiny stone houses crumbling on hillsides above the sea, where there remains a whisper of the life energy of the people who lived there. Or a mirage of islands from below the horizon seen from a mountain in the Hebrides. Perhaps it’s a treeless landscape blasted by constant winds in the Northern Isles, where streets are named after Nordic kings and midsummer sunsets last all night during the ‘Summer Dim’. Or stone circles, brochs and ancient settlements looking out over huge horizons and sparkling lochs. Or the call of the rain goose, the red-throated divers that visit the lochans of the north briefly in summer. This why Scotland is under my skin. I don’t know anywhere else that holds so much magic in its landscape, in its skies, in its water.’
The guidebook was put back on the shelf, and from that point Jackie became the Scotland consultant.
Pat’s original intention was just to write a story for her nine year old son, but Jackie saw how the story could be developed into something longer and more complex, while keeping the pace and adventure that younger readers would enjoy. They each discovered their own flow, Pat as a natural storyteller who inhabited all her characters as if they were part of her, and Jackie as a descriptive writer and editor. These complementary qualities sustained them as the months went by and when, at times, it felt like it was falling apart. The writing felt sluggish, the story stalled, both the writers were under pressure from other things in their lives. But writing the story was the easy bit. Getting the book to the point where it could be published involved dozens of rewrites and revisions, editing it line by line, finding a cover designer and agreeing on a design, learning how to format the text, illustrations and cover, working out how to get it on-line and taking care of the financial and legal side. And each step had to be agreed by email or Skype, working round the five-hour time difference and the trials of speaking a not-quite common language (wigged out? half cut?).
Despite the difficulties, Pat and Jackie kept going. They believed in the story, and both wanted to publish something that would help girls to see that enjoying their own company and wanting to be in nature is as valid as being social and having loads of friends. These themes are central to the story of twelve-year old Halley, who has moved with her parents from Florida to the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. A self-reliant, adventurous and independent girl, one day she sees what could have been a mermaid in the sea near her home. Halley’s attempts to discover more about the mysterious woman lead her to discover secrets about her ancestry that have been hidden for generations and draw her into adventures that lead to the ultimate question – does she really belong to the human world? Over time, Halley had become what the authors wanted to be when they were girls. They had rediscovered their passion for water, wild places and adventure, and through that rediscovered something of themselves.
Although The Secret Labyrinth is aimed at young people, adults also get drawn in by the story. It works on different levels – an adventure full of intrigue and tension, a coming of age story, a history of love, loss and sacrifice and an evocation of a wild landscape in which the economic reality of life can be very hard. It’s about discovering who you are and where you fit in the world.
Natasha’s words finally made sense. It’s about playing and trusting the next step will happen without having to know how it will end up. It’s about not fearing what people will think. And most of all it’s about bringing the magic of imagination into being.
Natasha: Remember there will always be people who won’t be able to see us through their own fear. Don’t ever let anyone or anything stop you. The people who are meant to see you, who are meant to experience the gifts you bring to the world – like me and many others – will find, support and believe in you because we know your magic is needed in this world!
August 26, 2016 / Pat /