On Making Stories

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by Unsettling Wonder

A Guest Post by Claire Dean

This morning, the first frost of winter limned the fallen leaves, and as my sons raced around joy-struck by the deep green of their footprints in the white grass, I thought about frost slippers. I made a pair once from hoar frost and ice flowers scraped from wall-tops and window panes I passed on the school run; from thoughts of life-transforming shoes made of fur, glass and iron; from seven-league boots and ruby slippers; and from a desire to give my Grandma back her ability to walk in the woods she had loved all her life. In the story I made, the slippers allowed an elderly woman to walk on the wind around the world and carry her memories home again.

As writers, we take what materials we can – a feather fallen in our path, a pack of seeds from the bottom of a drawer, a wish for someone we love – and we make something with them to give to others. The old roots of the word fiction, that tie it to physical actions such as to mould or shape with clay, suggest making stories is a tangible act with materials both imagined and real. And so, I gather and make freely from the living, the remembered, the told, day-dreamed and found.

img_20161106_112654982The trouble with, and the beauty of, being a maker of stories is that the real and the imagined can become so entwined in our lives that we can no longer pick them apart. Last week, I found myself in front of a marionette shop window in a distant city just as a character of mine once had. I captured my reflection there and thought of her and the materials I’d made the story from. There had been a marionette shop in a different city, but that moment in front of the window was imagined until then. We may think we bring a character into being, but sometimes, perhaps, we’re the ones following their green footsteps through the white grass. As we give chase, we gather threads of frost and spider silk and words, and tie and knot and weave them from one thing to another until we find ourselves living in a nest of stories, our own and other people’s.

In Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, Margaret Atwood describes writers’ methods as akin to jackdaws’, she says, ‘we steal the shiny bits, and build them into the structures of our own disorderly nests.’ We make nests for ourselves and for our stories too. A book is a good temporary nesting place for a tale. If you take any book of stories from your shelves right now it will be still and quiet, which is deceiving because each story within is at rest in its paper and ink egg, waiting to be hatched by a reader and to live with them for a while. As a story flies off into their new life they will drop a few feathers here and there. With a bit of luck those will be the next feathers to fall in my path and yours.


Claire Dean lives and writes in Lancashire. Her acclaimed new short story collection
The Museum of Shadows and Reflections is now available from Unsettling Wonder. Click here for details.

November 15, 2016


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Unsettling Wonder

We craft and tell stories because we’ve stood on the uncertain edge between the waking world and our imagination, between enchantment and fear. And we remember other stories that help us build our own stories, scraps of lumber and fragments of narrative we gather together to make stories for ourselves.

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Artwork by Laura Rae