Why Did You Write... Devil's Drop?
S P Oldham
A lot of people ask me where the ideas for my stories come from. The answer to that is, from a lot of places, including my imagination and my dreams, as well as other real-world places and people.
I have been thinking about this question a lot lately. I thought about my stories as separate entities (pardon the pun) especially my short stories, and tried to remember the origins of them individually.
Let's start at the beginning then, which according to Julie Andrews is a very good place to start. Although Joe Gallows is the first story in Wakeful Children, it is not the story I wrote first, in that particular collection.
Allow me to digress for a moment, just to say that the entire book Wakeful Children: A Collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales, was something of an organic thing. I don't want to say it happened accidentally, because that would be mildly ridiculous, but it certainly came about as a tentative dip-of-the-toe into first time self-publishing. My youngest son and I were returning home from shopping. I mentioned that I had recently come across KDP and that I hadn't realised that just anybody could submit work for publication. My son laughed, said yes that was the whole point, and that I should give it a go. So I did. Later that day I got together a few of the many short stories I have written over the years, all with the common theme of being dark, supernatural fiction or horror. Weeks later, after some editing, rewrites, amendments and endless nitpicking, I self-published for the first time. I wish I could say at this point 'and I have never looked back' but the fact is, if this had been my only means of earning a living, I would be long dead by now!
Anyway, back to the point. The first story I wrote in that collection, was Devil's Drop. I think this piece is as much prose as it is a short story. It is based on a real place from my childhood, though obviously it is much embellished. We did actually call it Devil's Drop. That said, we kids, and some adults back then, all knew the rumours of evil spirits and the devil himself who was said to be lurking in that scrap of woods, and in the twin caves below. These caves were real, and were apparently something of a challenge to potholers and cavers. A more recent rumour (in my childhood) was that one potholer became stuck in one of these caves and drowned. Whether there was any truth to that or not I do not know, but it only served to add to the mystery and fear surrounding the place.
As kids, we used to swing from a rope hung from a tree above the caves. If you can imagine, the cave entrances were in a bank, atop of which grew trees, bushes, shrubs etc, probably the remnants of woodland. Set into this bank were the mouths of the caves. This bank sloped around, so it was possible to enter the caves almost on ground level. I seem to remember the left-hand cave being more accessible than the right, and that you could see some way in without setting foot inside it. I remember seeing water in there, especially after heavy rainfall, so perhaps the story of the unfortunate potholer was true.Even as kids, most of us knew not to go anywhere near, though a few brave (stupid?) older kids attempted it once or twice.
Our swing swept over the mouths of the caves then, and if you fell you were more likely to end up in a patch of nettles or thorny bushes than into the hands of the Devil, or into the caves themselves. Nonetheless, part of the thrill as children was not only the height of the swing, but the idea of being exposed mid-air above that place, where a hand might reach up to pull us down at any moment...
Looking back, I understand that perhaps those tales were allowed to perpetuate as a means of keeping us kids away from the real danger; the caves themselves. If that was the case, then for the most part, it worked.
It seemed natural for me to set this story in a time early in man's history, when belief in elemental spirits and beings was widespread, inherent in every day life. That two children would be sent out to gather holly for a midwinter festival seemed believable enough to me. What they encounter in those woods would have been well within their understanding in terms of belief, though not in terms of reality. Of course, as the author I am bound to say that if you want to know more, you need to read the book...
It was only after I had chosen the stories I wanted for this book, that I realised they shared some qualities. Firstly, that many of them share dream-like qualities, and secondly, that the endings to many of them are deliberately ambiguous. I did this to reflect the ethereal nature of many of them. After all, in the underworld, in the spirit world, in the realms of the ethereal, is there really a beginning or an end?
Next time I will talk about Century Man, how that story came about and what inspired me to write it.
Until we meet again... keep reading (and reviewing.)
S P Oldham