Seven years ago, I began writing a story inspired by labyrinths. I had absolutely no idea that this creative experiment would result in a trilogy of novels, many talks at schools, libraries and festivals, and a writing residency on a Finnish island!
When you begin walking a labyrinth (which, unlike a maze, has one path to the centre) it seems straightforward. There are no decisions to make. You just follow the path, or so it seems. The centre doesn’t seem too far away at first and the path seems to be taking you straight there, but suddenly it turns. You find yourself continually walking away from the centre, but you have to let go of frustration and trust that you will get there in the end. This is a nice metaphor for writing a book, I think. You set off on the path, are diverted and seem to go backwards, but if you stay the course, you work your way to completion.
Last week I travelled around Scotland and spoke to schools about the inspirations, stories and pictures that are behind The Blackhope Enigma, The Crimson Shard and most recently, The Shadow Lantern. I told them about all the places where my creative path had been diverted and how I often went backwards instead of forwards, but that this is an important part of my writing process.
As I stood onstage at one school, looking out at eighty eager faces, I realised what a long way I had come. At the start of this writing journey, I struggled with reading my stories aloud to listeners (too fast, too breathless!) but now I love it. I couldn’t have imagined the stunning places I would read aloud in, from the Outer Hebrides to the West Sussex coast, from the Great Hall in Lennoxlove House to the cosy tents at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Visiting each place and meeting its readers has been an amazing privilege brought about by the excellent support of Templar Publishing.
I was a bit unprepared for another realisation: that it felt different (and very good) to speak about the trilogy as a completed whole. I had come full circle. Of course I wanted to introduce The Shadow Lantern and to explain why the story excites me so much, but it was wonderful to place it in context. And I particularly loved meeting pupils who brought me a pile of all three books to sign, then ran to sit down and start reading from the very beginning of The Blackhope Enigma. It was a slightly odd and very gratifying feeling to see a row of children buried in one or the other of my books.
After I had answered the last question, signed the final book and waved goodbye to the pupils, I ate a huge piece of cake and drank a whole pot of tea in Edinburgh’s Looking Glass Books. I could have sat there all afternoon but there was something niggling at the back of my mind. The pupils and lovely bookseller had told me about a labyrinth in George Square, very near to the bookshop. I could not think of a more fitting end to my book tour than to walk a new path.
I was the only one there in the pouring rain. Entering the circular replica of the famous Chartres Cathedral labyrinth and following its path, I was once again struck by how it wove close in, then far away from the centre. When I reached it, shoes soaked and umbrella dripping, I paused: here I was at the powerful core of the intricate tiled pattern. Where would my imagination be transported next?
As I retraced my steps and left the labyrinth, I experienced the joy of having come full circle and the anticipation of finding the next point of embarkation on the writing journey.