The Story I Found in the Woods: The Inspiration Behind Deadwood
When I’m brainstorming stories, my favorite thing to do is go for a walk in the woods. That’s how I came across the inspiration for Deadwood. I was looking for ideas, and I found a tree.
I had just read Well Witched by Frances Hardinge and Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones, and I wanted to write a book like that – about ordinary kids who stumble upon magic and danger in the real world and have to figure out how to set things right.
All I needed was a unique kind of magic that I hadn’t seen before.
On other days, I had already noticed that just about every beech tree I ever saw was carved with messages, and I always wondered about the people who put them there. Were they still alive? Did the messages of love stay true? Did KT still love JB? At the same time, carving a tree is harming a living thing. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the trees.
But on that particular idea-hunting expedition, when I saw one of my favorite carved trees, I was already thinking about magic. What if the carvings on the tree were a kind of spell or curse? And if the tree could talk, what would it say?
I looked for a scientific underpinning that would make sense in a contemporary novel with kids that seemed like real people.
My reference manual was the 1973 alternative science bestseller, The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, which explores the idea of plant sentience. This was the book popularized the 1970s idea that you should talk to your plants to keep them healthy. Most of the serious-sounding evidence in the book is not real science, but the David Attenborough 1995 BBC/Turner Broadcasting mini The Private Life of Plants is more scientifically rigorous and covers related territory about plant survival mechanisms.
I love stories with magic in them, and when I’m writing, I like to find an explanation that’s somewhat plausible – I want readers to feel like the events in the story could really happen. People all over the world have believed that plants have spirits, but if a real kid came face to face with a talking tree, they wouldn’t just accept it and talk back right away. It wouldn’t make sense. I wanted it to make sense in the book that became Deadwood. The story and characters emerged as I wove together logic, wonder, skepticism, faith, and yes, a little bit of magic.
For more pictures and information about tree carvings (and a bunch of pictures of trees that I think look like people!) visit my tree blog,. Treeandtwig.tumblr.com. For more about Deadwood and me, visit kellandrews.com.