Just two images

by stephenpalmersf

Memory Seed began with a long walk around Virginia Water in 1988, during which two mental images popped into my mind. Tales Of The Spired Inn began with an unexpected query from Ian Whates of Newcon Press, then an immediate mental submersion into the sights of the doomed city of Kray…

It’s strange how tiny, essentially random mental effluvia can kick-start a novel. I would never have guessed that eight years after imagining a series of moss-covered rooves leading down to a futuristic port surrounded by greenery, and an opulent bordello which was in fact the cover for some other operation, I would be a published author in the SF world. Somehow, themes and characters in my subconscious were stimulated by the sights of Virginia Water: lots of trees, lots of greenery, a ruin, a lake. That was in spring 1988. Soon I had a first draft of the story: clunky, unsubtle, terrible. Four years passed, and the people, sights and sounds of Kray returned to haunt me. In 1992 I wrote a much better draft; the first time I’d returned to a particular scenario for a second go.

Somewhere around the end of the 2000s decade, after a very long period away, I revisited Virginia Water to go for a nostalgic walk. What amazed me was not so much my enjoyment of the sights and the environment, rather that what rose up in my mind was actual memories of parts of the novel and how I put it together – the nuts and bolts of the thing more than anything else. It just goes to show how much is retained in the subconscious; all those images and thoughts which were so vital and so vivid to me in 1988, still there, pristine and available more than two decades later. Even to me, who utilises and values the intuition of the subconscious, and works with it wherever possible, that was a surprise.

So when I came to write the two new stories in Tales From The Spired Inn I had all that stuff accessible, ready, lucid and striking still, three decades on. As the 1996 reviews remarked, I have a vivid imagination, and it was easy to recall various mental scenes from the book: the shape and lighting of the common room in the Spired Inn, the trees and mausoleums of the Cemetery, the rain-spattered, ruined streets. I loved going back!

As I’ve written elsewhere, an author’s subconscious is an essential tool of the job. It should be cultivated, given its freedom, allowed to express itself. That’s when the best art arrives.

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Virginia Water montage