Helen French’s story “Two Villains, a Notebook, and a Lump of Coal” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 18 January 2019.
The very basic origin of this story is rather straightforward – it was the phrase ‘Fired up’ as a story prompt for a writers group that I’m in. It’s fascinating to see how people can interpret the same prompt in so many different ways.
I decided to go with a character fired up with anger, and a literal fire. A fantasy world came into life from there: a magician’s college burning down. Then the main character Leora popped into my head – angry at everything, and happy to see a building on fire and lives at risk.
Why? I knew she’d have a sympathetic story to tell, and that we’d see bits of it leak out gradually, revealing how she came to be inside the building just before it caught fire, and why she’s so unapologetic about her part in it.
However, I didn’t want to write a story that was all darkness and no light. I enjoy friendships in fiction, so I added in her best friend Martin and a relationship that was truly solid and platonic. These are two people who have been through a lot and would do anything for one another.
The hardest bit was incorporating flashbacks in a natural way. Leora had three significant moments in her life that led her to being outside the college, watching it burn down.
Titling a story isn’t easy either. The title for this – Two Villains, a Notebook, and a Lump of Coal – is part-description of the story, and part-lie. The villains aren’t really villains, the notebook is much more than that, and the lump of coal is [SPOILER] something else altogether. Assumptions are dangerous and it can be fun to play with them too.
In the end, I aimed for a story that was part-darkness, part-hopeful future. I want to leave readers with the idea that Leora can go on to live a good life, even if we’re not there for it. I think I managed that.
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