The spark for my debut novel, Black Snow Falling, took place during the long walk out from a bothy in Scotland, through the dramatic valley of Glen Etive. I was there volunteering for Venture Scotland, a charity that helps young people who’ve had tough starts in life.
As we jumped streams and hiked through the heather, one young man was telling me about his life. He was about 20 and had already faced many painful things – and he was sharing his plans for the future. He wanted to be a gardener. Or now that he’d been outside the city for the first time, he’d like to work in a forest. It struck me how strong he was, that he’d faced many more difficult things that most of us would ever have to deal with, and yet he still had hope. It was visceral. As I listened, I found myself wishing that nothing worse would ever happen to him that could snuff out this light in him… snatch his hope away… a chilling What If? struck me.
What if dreams were not just deeply felt and visceral, but actual physical entities that could be snatched away?
What if there were evil creatures at work, systematically stealing these hopes and dreams? They would be dream thieves.
And, when things are really tough, isn’t that how life feels?
In the minibus, on the way back to the city, the leader, Fiona, mentioned that the poet William Wordsworth once called Glen Etive “the valley of rainbows” because of the many waterfalls that crash down those steep-sided mountains behind the iconic Glen Coe. Rainbows are an ancient sign, a symbol of hope that all is not lost.
And like a bit like making pasty – in one second – the heart of this novel whipped together.
White light is made up of all the colours of the rainbow. If dreams existed as physical entities they would, of course, spin around the forehead, the closest to where we think.
They might look like the halos in old religious paintings which symbolised purity, as our deepest hopes and dreams for our lives surely are. Perhaps our hopes and dreams are the pure essence of us, I thought. Putting it together, perhaps these halo-dreams start as mini circular rainbows, then start spinning and whirl into white as they start working.
The idea came together in a matter of minutes and it all felt so simple and clear.
Ruth’s story – her fight against monstrous sexism – emerged soon after.
The heart of the story in Black Snow Falling is about fighting to hold on to your hopes and dreams. With its multi-layered structure working on several levels, it’s a novel for both young adults (age 12+) and adults.