Thursday, 17 October 2013

Where Echidna came from

Six or seven years ago, my wife and I lived next to a couple of hospital buildings. One was disused and had been for at least ten years by that point. Probably longer. Back when it was in use, it was for terminally ill patients. They'd be transferred from the main hospital (which was built on a road running parallel) and taken to the ugly chunk of concrete that screamed 1960s. Next to that was another building - a maternity unit. Still pretty 60s and therefore still ugly but obviously a happier place. Both buildings were visible from our house. The forgotten one for the dying could be seen from the front of the house while the maternity unit was at the back. I could look out of the window in the spare room where I'd be writing (the first draft of 'Set was written in that house) and see the maternity unit and car park all around it. And one day, I started thinking.

It's often the case in horror that a building becomes a trap for those inside. They're stuck there for whatever reason, but what happens when those outside can't get in? And what happens when the building contains the most vulnerable people? What then?

I kicked the idea around for a while and finally settled on an opening one Saturday afternoon when I was on my way home from the local shop. Following the entrance to the car park and walking alongside it past the maternity unit entrance was a short cut back to our house, so that's where I was when I pictured a bunch of people desperately trying to get into the unit and being blocked by nothing more threatening than a cloud. A perfectly ordinary cloud that just happened to be as solid as a wall. Cool or what?

So I wrote the first draft of Echidna (then called The Mother), polished it and shared it with people for critique. One of those people was the crime writer Jennifer Hillier (that thud you just heard was the sound of a name being dropped). It's fair to say she really liked it. While I liked the idea, I didn't really like the story. As people pointed out, it took too long to get going. I left it alone for a while, but never totally forgot about it. Last year, I dug it out for a read and still liked it. Being a better writer now meant I could see its problems and knew how to fix them. I rewrote it, made some improvements and changed a couple of things (mainly to do with pace and how the barrier works) and subbed it. It sold and you can buy it here. And it's no lie to say if Jenny hadn't liked it as much as she did, I might not have gone back to it.

One last thing. While the cloud envelopes the maternity unit and it's that entrance that everybody obviously wants to get through, I had the other building in mind for what's inside. The exterior of the maternity unit leads, in my mind, to the interior of the other one. The building for the dying people.

Which is probably the best way of summing up the story.

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