Author Commentary: Winter’s Shadow Chapter 9

by M.J. Hearle

Blake sat in the flickering dimness of the study,
writing furiously in his diary.

This chapter, along with the other ‘Blake’ chapters, was a late addition to the manuscript. In fact they, might not have been included until the final draft. Originally, the book didn’t deviate from Winter’s point of view, save for the flashbacks to Madeleine. My intention was for the reader to keep step with Winter for the majority of the story, never be too far ahead or behind.

Good in theory, not so good in execution. Evidently, there’s only so much mystery a reader can take before they lose interest. If I’d engineered a more compelling mystery this might not have been a problem. Unfortunately, for the first third of the book Winter’s curiosity about Blake is hardly an episode of LOST. Nobody is going to start an internet forum about it. I was more concerned with atmosphere and mood than plot which proved irksome to some readers.

To combat this, I invented the idea of the ‘Blake’ chapters. If nothing else they allowed me to flesh out the Demori mythology and also gave Blake some much needed depth. As I mentioned, these chapters were written just before publication so I had a much better handle on Blake. He wasn’t as much of a cypher to me as he’d been in the begininning so slipping into his skin was relatively easy.

In regards to the opening line, it’s intentionally old fashioned. The image of Blake ‘furiously’ writing by candlelight is designed to evoke a Byronic association. I wanted the reader to be thinking about Mr Rochester or Heathcliff. I don’t think the scene would be as evocative if he was clacking away on his laptop or worse yet his smartphone.

If time had taught him anything, it was his
weakness in the face of such compulsions.

Winter’s Shadow was finished so long ago, that I’m having trouble remembering what story elements survived to publication. The above line is supposed to allude to Blake’s failed romance to Elizabetta, his first love. This was a pretty big subplot in earlier drafts – there was a love letter Winter discovered, a whole monologue that Blake delivers to Winter in the Velsaco Place – but at the moment I can’t for the life of me remember if that content still exists? If it didn’t survive than this line is somewhat annoyingly cryptic. Well, until you get to the sequel which delves further into Blake’s tragic relationships.

Already forces were gathering around her, forces that
would soon begin to exert their dark influence.

An allusion to the Skivers. It was a bit of a balancing act, how much information to reveal and how much to hold back. Too much mystery is annoying, not enough and you lose the reader’s interest. I think this toes the line nicely.

She had a shy loveliness, a quality that reminded him of another . . .

I’m doing my best here to make their relationship feel honest, planting the seeds of an attraction that transcends lust. Very tricky and I don’t think I succeeded. It feels too forced. Maybe Blake’s feelings would be understandable if he’d known Winter for a couple of weeks, but there time together has been so short that I’m not sure I buy his instant love for her. I tried to make it more emotionally complex through the idea that Blake’s love grows out of a sense of duty. After saving her life (in the process condemning her to be Malfaerie candy) Blake feels responsible for Winter. I’m sure he’s not the first knight-errant to fall in love with his ward.

Usually the act of writing calmed him, allowed
him to arrange his thoughts and re-examine with cool
detachment them as they lay on the paper.

This is some of myself bleeding into the story. When I was younger I used to suffer from bouts of anxiety and found getting it all down on paper helped me gain some perspective.  I never wrote furiously by candlelight, but there was plenty of scribbling by bedside table light.

As if sensing his master’s conflict, Nefertem crept softly
into the study and rubbed affectionately against Blake’s leg.

Enter Nefertem. Based on some of the messages I’ve received this tubby little fella is a bit of a fan favourite. I’m quite fond of Nef myself. His name came from some studious wikipedia-ing – in Egyptian mythology Nefertem was the son of Ptah, the creator, and the cat-headed goddess Bastet. Ancient Egyptians would carry a little statue of Nefertem around with them for good luck which seems apt because Nefertem serves as Winter’s lucky charm. The whole ‘cat’ element of the Demori mythology just seemed to fit. I saw a Stephen King movie called Sleepwalkers at an impressionable age which features some pretty creepy cat scenes that probably influenced this aspect of the story. I’m actually a dog person but it never occurred to me having dogs be the Demori familiars. Not sure why? Maybe because they’re too simple and good-natured to pal around with supernatural creatures.

A chill ran down his spine as the haunting voice of Vaughn De Leath
crooning ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ echoed through the old Velasco place. 
It was awake.

This is probably one of the best chapter stings in the whole book. The fact that I wrote this line about seven months after beginning the book isn’t a coincidence. I was a much stronger writer by this time and I think that’s evident in the way this chapter gets in, does its job of tantalising the reader, and gets out again before it feels redundant. I wish I could write a whole book of brief, evocative chapters and do away with all that bothersome plot stuff.