On Writing: A Heroine’s Journey – Writing Through the Dark Tangle

One thing that all writers can agree on is that we are fascinated with the surface of things, or rather, with picking away the veneer from the surface of things. That invisible gauze between thought and process, where all the ‘what ifs’ wait for us to discover them. To decode. To create story, the stuff of good and evil, of life and death. Through the written word, I lean into the path of freedom of expression. My writer’s palette is abundant with words and tones that build worlds around my troubled characters, writing through the tangle of the dark, I like to call the process. I am currently back there, in the beautiful mire of my next novel, a ghost story. My heroine is a complex character with a dark past, similar, yet different to the female protagonist of my last novel, Lady Beth – primarily a suspense thriller, but as the story darkens, a tone of otherworldliness creeps into the subtext.

I am comfortable with the gothic nature of my fiction, my heroines are generally deeply haunted protagonists – but when asked to define what kind of writer I am, I find it a struggle to come up with a single term that fits. I’d rather not be categorised by genre, and just let the reader decide, for like all writers, I just want my work to be read, to be understood, to be impactful, and perhaps, if I’m lucky, to be remembered. The visual artist, without rules or constraints, uses colour and imagination to build his or her vision on canvas. The filmmaker uses images and action. No-one questions the independence or uniqueness of their creations, how they blend and sculpt. As creators, we all have something in common, the universal medium of storytelling. And hero or heroine, we are all unique.

I am one who regularly wakes up between the hours of three and four in the morning, the witching hour, some might call it, when the in-between spaces open up and invite my imagination to step right in. It is between these layers where story lives, a pure form of escapism, like vivid dreaming, and when I go there, however dark the ideas become, I am happy to stay. Many writers develop an intrigue for the dark side of human nature from a personal place; early trauma or a challenging experience. I am no exception. My experiences have become my personal mythology, the stuff that gives meaning to my life and work and helps me to make sense of the world I live in, and all of that directly affects the stories I choose to tell.

Storytellers cherish the power of memory, and the knowledge that even during fractured times, absorbing all of the experiences, good and bad, will grow that innate sense of knowing, of curiosity and empathy, the most essential components for any writer’s toolbox. My understanding of this deepened when I read Joseph Campbell’s books The Hero’s Journey and Pathways To Bliss. In the latter title, Campbell differentiated myth from history, and how myth is transcendent in the relationship to the present, “…any mythic tradition can be translated into your life, it it’s been put into you. And it’s a good thing to hang on to the myth that was put into you when you were a child, because it is there whether you want it or not. What you have to do is translate that myth into its eloquence, not just the literacy. You have to learn to hear its song.”

Serendipitously, while preparing to write this article, I searched for and found an essay that I wrote many years ago when I was studying for a post-graduate diploma in adult education. It was a summary of a learning journal that I had kept through a year of academic study and was filled with self-reflective insights and snippets of free-formed poetry and prose. Looking at it now, I find it quite a revelation to revisit my writing from that time, a bit like peering into the thought processes of another being, someone I used to know, using the written word to navigate and record my personal journey, and all the discoveries that I now realise are continuing to creep into the places and spaces of my creativity.

There is a sense of something tangible between the lines, of brewings, of new beginnings as I alluded to the journey of the heroine and how our paths twist and turn at any age, often without guidance or planned navigation, and sometimes, through circumstances completely out of our control. I quoted Maureen Murdock in the essay, from her book, The Heroine’s Journey which at the time, offered a vital insight from the perspective of my gender, “She is alone at night metaphorically, wandering the road of trials to discover her strengths and abilities and uncover and overcome her weaknesses.” And I see how far I have come, with the beneficial wisdom of that journey so far, writing my heroines into being – through the dark tangle.

 

I wrote this feature article for Booksbywomen.org and it appeared on their website in October 2017. 

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I am a writer and filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland. Author of the novels LADY BETH which won the award for BEST NOVEL at the Carousel Aware Prize and ARKYNE, STORY OF A VAMPIRE, I have also written several feature-length and short screenplays including ADAM [2013] and the multi-award winner, IN RIBBONS [2015]. I have recently written and directed FRAMED, due to begin a festival journey in 2018. I am a member of the Writers Guild of Ireland, the Irish Writers Union and The Irish Film and Television Academy.

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