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Towering Statues and Weeping Angels

or Creating Mood in Your Story

Last time I got around to writing a blog post, I rabbited on a bit about the power of immersion and the different ways we learn. If you read it, you might recall that I learn better when I can read and experiment - I’m not much of a listener and you can’t really show me anything because my mind goes off on it’s own tangent and I lose track.

Earlier this week, I sat in on an online masterclass. The presenter was talking about how she writes and I really enjoyed hearing about her different way of pulling a story together. I even found myself nodding along as I scribbled down copious notes – we had things in common.

This particular author thinks very visually – even more so than I do – and uses pictures both as references and as a planning tool. It was very enlightening.

I started thinking about how much mood plays a part in how I write – I’m not saying that I have to be in the right mood to write, by the way (although it does help), it’ s more about how what I observe affects my ‘mood’ in the story.

I see pictures when I write – kind of like a movie playing out in my head.

Unlike the author presenting the masterclass, I don’t collect photographs or pictures quite so much, but I do draw on things I’ve seen or experienced to create the scene or the character’s actions or reactions.

This morning I was out walking.

It was lovely.

As I headed down the track, the sun was shining through a light mist, creating an ethereal scene bathed in golden light.

All the colours were rich and vibrant, droplets of dew glistened with crystal clarity, and the seed heads on the native grass practically shone. The story idea I was mulling was bright and cheerful.

By the time I was returning, things were… different.

The mist had thickened and the angle of the light had changed.

The rich colours were now simply dark, and the ethereal scene had become dank and gloomy – where golden light had shone before, it was now eerie and mysterious. The seed heads simply drooped – heavy after a night’s rain – and a myriad of silvery cobwebs that I had barely noticed before now appeared to cover every branch on every tree or bush.

It suited the story much better, and my mind whirled with possibilities.

My mind also whirled back in time to an event in my childhood.

We were living in a newish sort of estate on the edge of a village – a lovely house with roses over the front porch and the most amazing raspberry patch that you could ever wish for in the biggest of back gardens – but that isn’t what I called to mind.

No, I called to mind a dark winter’s eve...

It began when I joined – very briefly – the Brownies.

I had the beret, but the other dress

Not because I was particularly interested in all the usual things that Brownies did, but because my friend told me that they were going to do a Christmas play. I wanted to be in that play but my friend didn’t, so my joining in and taking part was a win-win all around. I got to be a shepherd and she got to make props.

I learned my promise very quickly, and was soon decked out in the little brown dress (and more importantly, the beret – I really like the beret). I was an elf, and every Tuesday evening, my mother drove me to the other side of the village where we all met in the church hall and did loads of craft activities and learned our parts for the play.

It was fun, and very cosy inside with all the bright lights and big colourful cushions around an old wood stove type heater pumping out plenty of warmth against the increasingly crisp, dark evenings. I enjoyed dressing up in an old dressing gown and wearing a stripy tea-towel held in place on my head with a suitably shepherdy looking head band. I even got to wear bare feet. Joy!

We learned our carols and we practised our words, and, from memory, I also got to cart around a long shepherd’s crook (made from an old walking stick) and a knitted lamb.

And then, one Tuesday, as Christmas approached, we were told we would be practising in the church.

We were so excited.

A quick aside – this was a village not quite right on the Welsh border, and this was mid-winter. It was already pitch black by the time we were leaving school at four o’clock of an afternoon and there would almost doubtless be a fog hanging somewhere just above head height for a wee elf like me.

Now, to get to the church from the hall, we had to go around the back of the building and through a tall gate into… the graveyard.

I had seen this graveyard many times before, during daylight and from the other side of a wall as we drove by. It was a pretty, park-like stretch of grass with well-tended headstones and paths meandering amongst garden beds that in spring and summer were filled with gorgeous flowers.

It was not at all scary.

Not one bit.

But... I had never seen it at night.

And, oh, what a night. It was black as ink and there was a gauzy fog drifting between the shadowy headstones and billowing around us, back-lit by a flickering streetlamp.

Brown Owl had sent us off, assuring us that the Vicar or the Deacon – or somebody – would let us in, and we set out, Joseph and Mary, carrying a suitably swaddled baby doll, angels, shepherds, wise men, and a variety of animals.

Brown Owl, we learned, was not going to walk through the graveyard with us. She was going to drive the props around in her car, and she would see us there.

To begin with, we strode through the gate with confidence and daring – we knew this place well – but step by step we all found ourselves huddling closer and closer as towering statues and weeping angels loomed out of the gloom.

Oh, yes, there was some bravado as is wont with seven year old girls – we weren’t frightened, no, it was just so dark, we couldn’t quite see where we were going – until a ghostly shape swooped across the path in front of us, swirling the fog and swooshing through the twiggy branches of a nearby yew.

It was an owl.

Of course it was.

You knew that.

We didn’t.

Half of us went screaming back towards the hall, the other half made a headlong dash for the church door, scattering gravel in our wake and clawing at each other to be first into the sanctuary of the church.

I lost my headdress.

Mary left the baby behind.

Joseph arrived at the door first, grabbing the handle and pushing – and we all catapulted into the back of her.

The door was locked.

There was no Vicar or Deacon – or Somebody – as promised, and we all cowered there, stricken, until Brown Owl arrived and told us to stop the nonsense.

Mary was sent back for the Baby Jesus and I was elected to go with her to get my headdress.

It took us quite a while to find the doll which had been flung unceremoniously and without reverence into the darkness as we took flight, but my tea-towel was sitting jauntily on one of the headstones and it only took a little bit of extra courage and several heartfelt prayers to retrieve it.

I don’t remember how the rehearsal went.

I don’t remember how the performance went, come Christmas Eve.

But I will never forget that journey through the graveyard.

Has this experience ever turned up in my writing?

You bet.

Perhaps not moment by moment, but certainly the mood, the terror, and the eventual feeling of warm relief.

My time with the Brownies did not last long.

Not long after that we moved to an even smaller village, on the other side of town, just beyond Battlefield…

... and one day, I might tell you about that place, if you’re up for another ghost story.


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