Author Commentary: Winter’s Shadow Chapter 2

by M.J. Hearle

Winter drew her jacket tightly around
her body as she 
crossed the threshold.

Lots of atmosphere building in this chapter. A good trick when establishing location is to list the various sensory stimulations a character experiences. Evoking smells is particularly useful as it’s strongly linked to our memory centre.

“When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory” -Marcel Proust “The Remembrance of Things Past”

Pilgrim’s Lament isn’t haunted but I wanted it to feel haunted. Like a cold hand could fall on Winter’s shoulder at any moment. When the chapters are light on action I try and compensate by ladling on the atmosphere.

It suddenly occurred to Winter that this was the first time
she’d been in a church since her parents’ funeral six 
months ago.

The second mention of Winter’s deceased parents. Exposition is always a bitch to deliver but I think I did okay in this instance. At least it’s relevant to be thinking about her parents in a church. I like the way she pushes the memory away. It’s a realistic human response to grief.

Winter lifted the Nikon to her eye and began
snapping images of the shadowy disarray.

I wish I’d played up Winter’s photography interests more. When I started writing the character I was wary of her becoming just another version of Twilight’s Bella Swan – i.e. a character only defined by her love for someone else. What were Bella’s dreams beyond being with Edward? Did she like writing? Painting? Watching horror movies? What did she want to do for a career? It was important to me that Winter felt like a real person – not just a blank canvas for the reader to project themselves onto. Her interest in photography was an attempt at fleshing her out a little. In an early draft I had a whole chapter devoted to her messing around with photographic chemicals, making artistic prints. This stuff fell by the wayside as I searched for a more direct way to get at the story.

Winter felt as though she was walking through the
carcass of a huge, rotting leviathan – some horrible dead
monster that had been left to decay on the mountain
and was now nothing but bones and dust.

With these passages, I wear my Stephen King influences proudly. He’s the master of infusing dread into environments. While most would probably point to the Overlook as being his greatest achievement in the realm of haunted places, it’s the Marsten House from Salem’s Lot that scares me.

A flash of colour drew her eye to the far eastern wall.

The stained glass window sequence is me playing ‘art director’ again. The church is such a drab and lifeless place I felt like a needed some colour in there. Church iconography is always spooky. Especially if it’s broken or tarnished in some way. When the sacred becomes profane you’ve got the beginnings of a decent horror sequence.

…previously obscured from her view by a large 
column – one of the few remaining roof supports.

This feels like a phrase I added on the advice of my publisher. It’s a bit of foreshadowing for the eventual roof collapse.

She wasn’t alone.

 A nice little narrative sting to end the chapter on. I try and do these whenever I can.  Anything to prompt the reader to turn the page.

Some random observations:

What strikes me about this chapter is that it feels a little over-written. There’s lots of adjectives and long sentences. This slows down the pace. One of the most significant notes I received from my publisher was ‘vary my sentence rhythm’. It’s something I always do now when I’m writing but probably wasn’t too aware of in these early passages. I’m curious to see if I start implementing the technique as the book goes on.

My interest in cinema is very prevalent in this chapter. The concept of a girl with a camera walking around a derelict church probably works better as a visual sequence than it does a written one. It’s easy for me to imagine this chapter as a scene in a movie. I can break it down into series of disparate images and aural effects – a chorus of unearthly voices on the soundtrack, pigeons fluttering in the eaves, dust motes circling lazily in the shafts of grey light, the whir of the camera as Winter takes various shots of the church, a slow push-in on the broken stained-glass window, the coloured red and blue light falling on Winter’s face. If the books ever garner a big enough audience translating them into films will be a cinch.