Author Commentary: Winter’s Shadow Chapter 3

by M.J. Hearle

Standing over one of the graves, dressed in
a simple grey suit, was a young man.

This is the scene that gave birth to the entire Winter saga. Three years ago I was living in London working as a graphic designer. In my spare time I was writing screenplays –screenplays that were never completed or never good enough to garner an agent. One day the image of girl taking a photograph of a strange boy in a cemetery popped into my head. Because of my genre inclinations (and probably because Twilight was all the rage) I decided the boy was a vampire and I had the beginnings of a story. I wrote the scene down and was pleased with myself but something was wrong. The writing was surprisingly solid (well surprising to me because I’d never tried to write a conventional novel before) but the subject matter didn’t excite me. Really? I thought to myself. Another story about a girl and a vampire. That’s all you’ve got, Mike?

It turns out it wasn’t. I started thinking more deeply about the characters, specifically about that strange boy in the cemetery and what he might be other than a vampire. By challenging myself in this way, the story began to evolve into something much stranger and more interesting than just another vampire book. From this relatively prosaic paranormal scene (girl, graveyard, mysterious man) sprouted a fairly outlandish tale about inter-dimensional soul suckers, scissor-wielding malevolent agents of fate, and much psuedo philosophical patter about life forces and the inevitability of death.

When I first started writing the book, Blake was little more than a mechanism I needed to kick the plot into gear. He was good-looking and mysterious, and that’s about the sum total I knew about him. Probably because that’s all Winter knew about him. It wasn’t until I was well into the first draft that Blake started coming into focus. I discovered he wasn’t as stoic and strong as he appeared. He was full of insecurity. Full of fear. I think the diary passages in Winter’s Light further illustrate just how damaged a person he is but in these early paragraphs all we get our Winter’s impressions of his superficial qualities. Which is fine and as it should be.

Her eyes traced the contours of the man’s superbly
wrought face, searching for a flaw and finding none.

This is me operating at about 50% bodice-ripper intensity. Be thankful I didn’t go to 100%.

It was as though watching the man had
lulled her into a kind of dream state.

Apart from their shadow-jumping talents, the Demori also possess an inherent ability to glamour their prey. They need to consciously dial it back or risk enchanting everybody they meet. Unaware that he is being observed, Blake’s glamour is operating at full strength in the graveyard hence Winter’s swooning.

The man was as much a trespasser in
this forgotten place as Winter.

Sometimes when re-reading my own stuff I cringe. Occasionally, I’ll come across a sentence or paragraph I’m proud of. This is one of them.

Winter raised the Nikon and framed
the stranger 
through her lens.

I own a Canon 7D. It’s an impressive camera that I use far too infrequently. I had the camera when I started writing Winter’s Shadow but for some reason gave Winter a Nikon. I can’t remember exactly why but suspect it has something to do the word ‘Canon’. Whenever I see it written I can’t help but think of firearms. Silly I know, but it’s a distracting association for me.

Silently, she shifted the focus until the stranger’s
exquisite features were brought into sharp relief.

This is me playing ‘Movie Director’. I might as well have written: NIKON POV, rack focus on BLAKE’s face.

A strange thought flashed through her mind –
he was seeing her! He was really seeing her! – and
behind this was another, much clearer thought –
what had she done?

Of course we learn that Blake really is seeing her. In that split second, he spots her Occuluma and concludes she’s about to die. He also discovers that Winter is a Key – catnip to the Demori. No wonder his gaze is so intense. For the flip side of this encounter read Blake’s diary entry in Winter’s Light.

Mid-step her foot caught on a piece of
fallen timber and she lost her balance. 

The roof collapsing sequence took a couple of passes to get right. It’s the sort of action sequence that works great in a movie but is more difficult to convey with the written word. I fall back on a lot of ‘sound fx’ and short clipped sentences to convey a sense of urgency.

Above her the church’s roof continued to groan
and shake, dislodging
timber struts and hurling down
fragments of wood like some enraged god.

I don’t often have fun while I’m writing. Most of the time, getting the right words down is like pulling teeth. Only more bloody. Every now and again though I’ll write something that makes me grin. This sentence made me more than grin. I actually chuckled aloud to myself. Moments of pure pleasure like that are worth just as much as any royalty cheque.

Winter spared one last look upwards, just in time to see
the blunt wooden face of a beam rushing towards her.

And so I finish the chapter with a sentence that virtually guarantees the reader will turn the page. If I could do this with every chapter I might have had a worldwide bestseller on my hands. The technique certainly worked for Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code. Go ahead – try and resist the impulse to keep reading. I dare you.