As a child growing up in Cornwall, my imagination was captured by the exciting tales of smugglers and pirates. I loved hearing the tales and would listen to them, spellbound. Then there were the tales of the pixies, those mischievous wee folk who could lead you astray.
We lived in a village which was just a short walk from a lighthouse and above the coves where seals came to play. Wild flowers grew in abundance along the cliff tops and I delighted in picking them. It was an almost idyllic place. The only cloud in my sunny life was a flock of aggressive geese. They roamed the village green and terrified me. As we lived by the green I often had to face them. I ran quickly past them and they ran after me squawking. Heroes face their demons in all the best stories.
Looking back on it now, I realise now that every story needs its conflict or drama, to keep a reader turning the pages. My ‘paradise’ had vipers; Britain’s only poisonous snake. They hid in the rocks of the churchyard which I avoided at all costs, especially at night, when my friend said ghosts drifted up from the graves.
Where do stories live? Not in a magic wood. There are no magic woods. Stories live inside the child who finds and believes the wood is magic, that its trees are alive and that mysterious inhabitants live there. There is an alchemy which takes place between the listener and the story-teller. Stories can amuse us, engage or enrage us. They can transport us to other worlds; magic realms of heroes
Yet all stories are in reality words in our ears, or letters written on the page. We use the term spell for the way that we arrange the letters to form words Yet spell has another meaning beyond the merely mundane; that of a magical incantation, or an enchantment.
Alice Hoffman, the well-known author, believes that ‘books are the only magic’, while Robert Escarpit, French book historian, notes that books are more than merely words on paper because, ‘ When we hold it in our hands all we hold is the paper-the book is elsewhere.’
I believe the place where stories live is in the hearts and minds of readers and writers. Tales heard in childhood peopled our imaginations and live on in us today. We may tell them to our own children. Readers speak of characters leaping off the page. These are the ones who linger in our hearts and minds long after the book is closed. The magic is the transference from one mind to another of those captivating places and people whose exploits, travels and adventures leave us spellbound.
As a writer I want to create that experience for my readers and myself. We writers are the dream chasers who hunt down that elusive story; one that enthralls both ourselves and our readers; the one only we can tell.
Adult or child alike when we sit down to watch a movie, or open our book our implicit wish is to be captured and transported to a different world. Make me believe you. Pull me into in your imaginary world. Make it so real that I can see it, smell it and taste it so intensely that real life fades away.
I lost myself in the pages of books and I found myself there too, in those stories which snuggled me like a warm blanket in front of a fire. As an only child whose parents ran a business, I spent a lot of time alone; I never felt lonely once I learnt to read. I started inventing stories and I found it easy to lose myself in the imaginary world I created.
What do we demand from story tellers? Conviction. We rely on their ability to hold us spellbound. We are their co-conspirators; we take the words on the page and add details from our own imagination, making the story uniquely ours.
Stories connect us to our culture and enable us to explore other cultures, lives and emotions. They pull us into the centre of the action. We can be heroes, if only vicariously. Stories reassure us we are not alone, that other people feel and have felt the way we do. Our lives are enriched through the power of story.