Today I want to find out what drives people to start a new writing project. What is it that sparks a story? Some start with a question, a what if?, as Stephen King reportedly does with many of his. Some start with an image, like C.S. Lewis’ picture of the lamp-post in the snow, while for others it’s a mix of the two. Whatever route you take there needs to be some kind of impetus, of in-put in other words, as ideas need material to spring from. For me, my latest story began with this image, of Old Father Time and his scythe and the baby new year with his hourglass.
Its a commonplace image yet seemingly full of meaning and I began asking questions about it. Were the two characters one and the same (as is sometimes suggested, with Old Time representing the past year leaving to make way for the new year who then grows old, thus endlessly repeating the cycle) or was the old man really Time himself? If the baby was really in charge of the universe for a year how might it go awry (recent events account for much here!) and, assuming both are representations of mythical gods, how would the other gods treat this all-controlling child?
There are gods of time in many mythologies but as I searched for the identities of the strange duo, some possibilities came to light. Greek perceptions of Time suggest three personalities, Chronos, Aeon and Kairos, whose roles sometimes merge but who embody distinct differences. Chronos is the classic god of time, a titan sometimes seen as a primordial god who gave birth to the world egg. Aeon is depicted as a youth representing eternity, often accompanied by a golden wheel inscribed with signs of the zodiac, whilst Kairos relates to the idea of opportunity. Might the answers to my questions lie with these three?
As I played around with these characters and questions it seemed clear that a great deal of potential tensions might exist between them, as there are with other characters in Greek mythology. The greatest tension however involved Chronos, a cold and forbidding titan, and Aeon, who I began to see as the young keeper of the new year, and who – in my line of questioning – was about to see in some bad events. Was the boy acting out in reaction to his distant father? Did such a proud god as Chronos resent a wayward son and how far might he go to make him toe the line? The questions intrigued me and as I continued mulling them over other supporting characters began to emerge.
Kairos in my story becomes Kaira, the personification of Time’s clock, a huge machine resembling a sort of geocentric armillary sphere. Other primordial entities suggested more ideas, like Death (Thanatos) and the elements, represented by many gods in Greek myth (Theoi Meteoroi) but which I fused into Tempest, not a traditional Greek god but someone perhaps excluded from the pantheon, thereby developing a host of complex issues. I soon realised that Aeon wasn’t the only bad boy that Mount Olympus took exception to, and more forsaken gods and goddesses appeared, all put out at their rough treatment and ready to unite!
From the short story I had initially thought possible a much larger story began to emerge. What was missing in all this were the humans, who most often bore the brunt of the gods’ spiteful mistreatment. Representing the humans I picked those most maligned; the witches. To me, no single group in the history of humankind were more hated but similarly more likely to rise to our aid (and more able to stand up to to gods) than these persecuted women. The arrival of the humans in all this brought Prometheus, the creator of mankind and yet another banished titan. A theme was emerging, and this god soon became an integral part of it.
By this point I had so many questions and possibilities buzzing about in my head that I knew I had an obligation to the story, a need to see it written and, importantly, to get it right. I felt the weight of all those old writers of Greek mythology looking on in displeasure but here was a story begging to be written. It was heartening to remember that even with the original tales there was a great deal of reinterpretation, of reshaping and re-imagining, from the oldest storytellers to the newest, who even today still find new things to say about these fascinating gods. My story lies on the furthest edge of these, telling an entirely new tale but retaining all the energy of the original stories, all the intrigues and in-fighting which colour them. I had a great deal of fun writing Aeon Chronosson, building worlds for his story to play out in, and I hope some time soon I get to share that story with you.
Let me know in the comments below what drove you to start your latest work in progress; either a burning question, an image, or something else entirely. Has the pandemic given you more time to write or has it put writing out of the question. Either way I’d love to hear from you.
All the best,