I’m thrilled, and a little chilled, to bring you this hauntingly beautiful guest post by author Matthew Fox as part of The Lovely Dark blog tour. Matt’s gorgeous new middle-grade novel is a gripping read right from page one – read on to see why you should ‘fetch’ yourself a copy ASAP!
Negotiating With The Dead
The Lovely Dark is a book about a twelve year old girl called Ellie Newton, who dies and travels across the river of death into Hades. Shortly before that, while sitting on a London Underground train, she sees a girl who looks like her – exactly like her, in fact. The girl is her double.
And this means trouble. As Margaret Atwood notes in Negotiating with the Dead (her book about the craft of writing), “to meet your own double was a sign of death: the double was a ‘fetch,’ come from the land of the dead to collect you.”
Ellie believes this: she believes she’s going to die – even while her best friend Justin tries to persuade her it’s nothing more than a medieval superstition. But in this case – in this story – he’s wrong, and she’s right: she dies in an accident, and Justin dies with her. The two friends are quickly separated in the underworld – for some reason it seems they are doomed to spend eternity without each other – and it becomes Ellie’s mission to find Justin again, to see him one more time…
It’s ten years since I read Negotiating with the Dead – but reading through the notes I made at the time I see that Atwood’s book is one of the sources for The Lovely Dark. It’s one of the books in the background, so to speak, even though it’s a craft book, a book about writing, a book about story; even though I had almost forgotten about it. It’s a book about the journey into fiction, about a long walk in a dark forest, about being lost, and thinking if only I could find this one person…
There are other sources for The Lovely Dark, other books in the background – notably Astrid Lindgren’s The Brothers Lionheart(recently voted one of the greatest children’s books of all time), fairy tales, and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. But if you’re a writer who wants to understand why it is we do what we do, why we have this urge to get things down on paper, I recommend Negotiating with the Dead.
Here’s Margaret Atwood again (it’s one of the darkest statements I know of the why of fiction): “All writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down, by a fear of and a fascination with mortality – by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.”
The Lovely Dark is precisely that: an attempt to bring someone back from the dead. If failure is inevitable (which it is, in the end) then perhaps there is still some consolation in capturing their likeness on the page, in fiction.
Some consolation in painting on the cave wall, or carving in stone, or writing it down on paper: here she was, and here she lived, and now she’s gone.