Author Commentary: Winter’s Shadow Chapter 1

by M.J. Hearle

It was the church that brought Winter here.

And here’s another crucial sentence that was re-written numerous times. Why is it crucial? Well, for one thing it’s the first mention of Winter. It’s also the readers introduction to the ‘Present Day’ sections of the narrative. I was conscious of altering my writing style slightly for these bits. Winter’s a modern gal so it made sense to vary my language accordingly.

Originally, Winter wasn’t ‘Winter’ – she was Elodie Winters. The surname was inspired by the heroine in one of my favourite TV shows, a certain Ms Buffy Summers. Elodie was a girl that lived with my fiancee in London. I don’t really remember much about her apart from her name and that she was French. I’m sure ‘Elodie’ will pop up in another book.

So why the name change? Well, it was a knock-on effect from changing the book’s title. Originally, Winter’s Shadow was called Shade. Unfortunately another book with that title was coming out the same time as mine so I was advised to invent another. Winter’s Shadow came to me pretty quickly, but it was my publisher who suggested I change ‘Elodie’ to ‘Winter’. Considering the new title, it made more sense for her surname to be her first name. Interestingly, I have never seen the book Shade on anyone’s shelf or heard a single thing about it. I wonder if it’s any good?

Called Pilgrim’s Lament, it lay somewhere in the woods
near the summit of Owl Mountain and was rumoured to be
one of the oldest buildings still standing in Hagan’s Bluff.

Lots of exposition in this paragraph. A necessary evil unfortunately. I tried to condense it as much possible. Realistically, the myriad of reasons leading Winter to the mountain could fill an entire chapter.

Harry Francis gets a big mention at the front of the book yet doesn’t play a major role. When I first started writing I imagined the school stuff with Harry would feature more prominently. It doesn’t because ultimately I could give a crap about school intrigue. I wanted to get to the monsters and mystery.

There was another reason why she didn’t want to be here.

I’m very proud of the reference to Fantasia. It feels like some of my own personality intruding on the material which isn’t always easy to do. Let’s watch a clip and reminisce about how great this movie is:

Owl Mountain is actually inspired by two mountains – Middle Brother in Laurieton (near my hometown, Port Macquarie) and Buladelah Mountain, which my family and I used to drive past on our way to Sydney.

Here’s a photo of Buladelah Mountain.

And here’s Middle Brother.

Today, there was no sign of any demons or evil spirits
as Winter followed Mr Denning along the winding trail
down from the Heritage Centre’s parking lot.

Mr Denning’s voice was a tricky one to nail. He’s a bit of a clichéd character – the ‘crotchety old man with a warning to impart’ and I wish I’d given him a few more idiosyncratic quirks. Even minor characters should be creatively written.

Pilgrim’s Lament. Finally.

I had a lot of fun coming up with the name of the church. It’s very Clive Barker-ish. You can imagine Pinhead and the other Cenobites hanging out in Pilgrim’s Lament shooting the breeze. In fact there’s a dream sequence at the beginning of Winter’s Light that wouldn’t look out of place in a Hellraiser movie.

I enjoy writing descriptions of architecture, which is interesting because I don’t know anything about architecture. It gives me an excuse to dive into Google. I wanted Pilgrim’s Lament to inspire dread. There isn’t much action in this chapter – it’s all mood so the descriptive imagery is important.

In a movie, Winter’s first view of Pilgrim’s Lament would be scored to Danny Elfman.

Mr Denning shook his head. “No, no trouble at all.
There was a time I’d bring school groups and tourists
down here, but its been a good ten years or so since
Pilgrim’s Lament has had any visitors but me.”

I didn’t put too much thought into the backstory of Pilgrim’s Lament. I needed a creepy church on the mountain so I put one in there. I didn’t care how it became a creepy church. Have I mentioned I’m an extremely lazy writer? However, these things are apparently important to readers so you get Mr Denning going on and on about the fire.

‘Truth be told, I shouldn’t even be letting you inside without signing
bunch of insurance forms first . . . but I won’t tell if you won’t.’

I remember reading one particularly venomous review that suggested Mr Denning letting Winter explore a dangerous church was pretty unrealistic.

It is. So are creatures that can travel through shadows. Just go with it, alright?

Winter shrugged nonchalantly. Locks always opened beneath
her touch.
It was a trick that bordered on uncanny, though one
she’d grown so used
to that she was barely aware of it anymore.

Winter being a ‘Key’ didn’t really occur until the later drafts. Initially, she was just a normal girl with no supernatural abilities. I think it was a suggestion from my agent to make her ‘special’. It was hard for them to reconcile why Blake was drawn to her. Maybe this was just indicative of my misshandling of the romantic aspect of the book. If it was stronger they might not have made the suggestion. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine how I would have written a sequel without the Key mythology. It’s become a linchpin of the series. Funny how these things work out?

A gust of stale air rushed out of the belly of the church,
like a breath that had been held for a long time.

I like this sentence. Indulge me.

Winter wasn’t surprised. Nobody read the Trinity Times except
for geeks like Harry and perhaps some of the teachers.

As with Harry Francis, I expected the Trinity Times to feature more heavily in the narrative. It didn’t and I can’t say I miss it. Initially, I imagined the book would have more of a balance between the school stuff and the supernatural stuff. Kind of like Press Gang with demons. Ultimately, I’m not Stephenie Meyer and can’t write a decent school-based scene to save my life.

Man, there is a lot of backstory in this chapter. I should have cut more. Especially all the Sorensen patter.

‘Be sure to send me a copy. I’m sure Mrs Danvers would like it for her bulletin board.’

Mrs Danvers and Mr Dennings have been in love with each other for decades. Neither has had the courage to act on this love.

With that in mind, Winter turned back to the dark doorway,
took a deep breath and entered Pilgrim’s Lament.

Having a character about to step through a doorway – especially into a dark and spooky place – is a great way to end a chapter. It compels the reader to turn the page and find out just what lies on the other side.

End of Chapter 2.