Contains spoilers if you haven’t read the book
I gave a talk about the writing of The Story of Stone recently and was struck by how difficult it was to describe the process of writing it in ways that didn’t sound pretentious. As you write various ideas occur to you and unless you are careful they can overwhelm what I see as the thick red thread that is the main plot line. I am happy to embroider round it or twist some other colours into it, but that thread mustn’t get totally obscured.
(I have a feeling this is a really odd image, but then I spent all my needle work lessons reading under the desk, so what can you expect.)
The story began, much like Basilisk, from several different ideas.
I wanted to write a fairy story as if it were history and I had in mind a story about the birth of the human race as descended from Giants and fairies. In the end I don’t think the action takes place on this earth at all because the Neolithic period I wrote about in The Story of Stone isn’t quite the way it worked here, but I was thrilled when homo floresiensis (the ‘Hobbit’ people of Indonesia) turned up none the less.
I wrote a short story about the Stone of Scone (the place where Scottish kings were crowned). It was a bizarre story which involved the transfer of memory from odd flying creatures with limited sentience to the stone which held a kind of race memory. I sent it off to a magazine and got a much deserved rejection. It was written in the first person by one of these flying creatures whose perceptions of what were going on didn’t much help the reader to know what was going on. Anyway the rejection letter praised the language (it was in English – just) but pointed out that it was incomprehensible.
I am an idea recycler though, so I adapted the idea of the stone and of my weird flying fairy creature and it became the first person narrative of my almost human, non-flying Stone.
The idea of the magic of the last resort seems to have come from nowhere. It is the heart of the story for me that someone honest and ‘good’ can do a bad thing for what he thinks are good reasons (but turn out not to be). I was also interested in a situation where everything an individual thinks he knows can turn out to be wrong. All the way through the story a good deal of what Jared believes turns out not to be true.
I was writing some of the story at the time of the Iraq war and, like everyone else, was exercised by the moral issue of whether the war was just or not. This novel is not about that war but certainly, as with all my books, real world experiences and speculations find their way, in disguised form, into the stories.
I am not quite sure how I ended up telling two parallel love stories, perhaps for no other reason than that I am a romantic at heart.