I have been thinking a lot about Magic recently, probably because I am working with children and they believe in the magic of stories. By accessing their imagination, and what I call their story brains, they come up with stories which are bold, inspiring and joyful. It has refreshed my belief in storytelling; in the magic of stories, and the magic in stories.
Which brings me to my current work in progress. I am writing the second book in the Ruby Sixpence series.
The Magic of Ruby Sixpence
When I first started writing Ruby Sixpence, I knew that I wanted to write about a wiser, older woman – a WOW. In traditional folklore, she would be the wise woman whom people would visit for advice, support and a little bit of magic. She probably lived in a cottage or even a cave somewhere away from the village or town, where she could practice her arcane arts without interference.
Because I write for a savvy 21st century reader, however, I wanted to root my character in a modern world where the magic goes unnoticed in the background of our lives. I thought about the magic of being alive; the magic of love and the difference between love and romance. Magical Romance is what I call it – a close cousin to Magical Realism.
Next, I asked my favourite question:
WHAT IF …?
That little phrase which can spark ideas, develop fresh ideas and
dig a struggling plot out of a hole.
What if … Bridget Jones had a Fairy Godmother?
She didn’t and she could have really done with one, so I created Ruby Sixpence. If you haven’t already met her, then here is Ruby in her own words:
‘When people ask me my name and I say, ‘Ruby Sixpence,’ they often add; ‘That’s an unusual name,’ and I smile politely and don’t explain that my father bet a silver sixpence that I would be born on February 29th, leap Day; a day when magic can happen, and usually does. I am still paying the price for that successful gamble.
‘So, what do you do?’ they continue, and that’s where I come unstuck you see, because it’s hard to say. What I do is; I watch, I wait, I plan, and then I step in and shake things up a bit. If I had a label, I would say, I am ‘The Catalyst’, with a bit of back seat driving and chaos management thrown in.’
I wanted Ruby to be a powerful, older woman, but not the suited and booted type of power or a caped crusader. I wanted her to appear to be ordinary; to blend in; to be the sort of older women in communities everywhere who are overlooked and often ignored. I wanted to empower older women to be magnificent!
‘No one seems to see me anymore which makes me feel invisible. I get ignored and patronised, which is all the better to find out what I need to know. I can melt into the background and no one takes offence or gets suspicious. People look at me with benign indifference; an older woman, not even well off if my appearance has anything to go by, and I hide behind flattened vowels, homespun clichés and lots of ‘yes dearies,’ and ‘sorrys.’ It gets me the information I need and makes me unthreatening; almost invisible, except for the colourful clothes, which are eccentric when you are my age and creative in a younger woman.‘
I had to discover how Ruby works her magic in an age of technology, and to be honest, she doesn’t cope well with the electronic signals which fill the air and interfere with her esoteric skills. And in response …
Oops. It happened again; my natural tendency to interfere with fine-tuned electronic signals. It’s not deliberate … but I got distracted when I noticed Katie and Joe smile at each other as she lightly touched his arm in greeting. So, I focussed my energy on them, and that has mangled the TV signal. Progress always gets me excited, so I have to be careful not to blow the TV channel’s entire output.
Ruby’s main tools are of course, words
Words are powerful, and although Ruby doesn’t cast old fashioned verbal spells, she uses words to work her magic. So, for example, when Ruby wakes up in the night, troubled by her thoughts, she writes them down, but being Ruby, she weaves words to make magic happen. And in this case, to help our two protagonists fall in love.
Usually, my thoughts run left to right like a page of well-ordered text. Tonight, however, they run riot, pushing and shoving and falling over each other. It is neither playful, nor malicious, just a delicious brand of benign chaos. I reach for a pen and notebook to silence pandemonium and restore order. Words are often the most powerful form of magic. Troubled thoughts like scattered mice scurry across the page, bumping into the punctuation marks and laughing dismissively, jumping over the full stop, and crashing several together into an ellipsis … the thought turns and laughs at the chaos it has left on the page … a string of dots in a line holding the idea in limbo … still going nowhere. I focus my intention and spin some words into air and send them out, then I can happily fall asleep. And when they wake with their parachutes of dreams woven with stars? That is where my work begins. I sow the seeds in their sleeping minds, set the stage and let their story unfold.’
Ruby working with Children
Weaving thoughts and ideas into stories is a simple act of magic and we can all do that. But Ruby uses many other methods to work her magic, and one of them is to harness the energy which is flying around us all time; and especially when she works with children. For example, in Ruby Sixpence Whistles up a Storm, Ruby works with the children in a holiday drama club at the Haywain Community Arts Centre in Suffolk. (Sound familiar? Yes, okay, I base characters on my own experiences; indulge me!) She understands how to harnesses the power of children’s imagination to focus magic; in this case she uses a snow globe which one of the children has brought along.
‘I gather the children in. I have an alarming dose of the Oh-Be-Joyful’s today. That secret joy which wells up from nowhere, everywhere and anywhere and permeates everything I think and do. If I could bottle this secret joy, I would be a wealthy woman. I spin the children’s high spirits quickly and without fanfare, into a circle. Did I mention that circles are great for conjuring? But I don’t want to do that here; the children’s energy is volatile, and summoning can go horribly wrong if someone breaks the circle. So, I weave a circle of sight and place the snow-globe into the centre. I gather the children around. ‘Shhh…what can you see?‘
Ruby’s magic also involves water – lots of water and in this case, it goes horribly wrong. When she ‘Whistles up a Storm’ she doesn’t mean to flood the Suffolk countryside, but she turns it to her advantage:
‘It seems however, that whistling up a storm has backfired slightly. The truth is, I hadn’t intended that to happen, but things have a way of running away from you and taking a turn for the worst. I was careless I admit. The rain continues relentlessly and is pouring from the water spouts in cascades, causing flooding in the car park, the road and the fields around The Haywain. Water is a powerful element; it cuts through rock, eventually. But I’m working to a tight deadline and I have been trying to speed things up.
Occasionally, Ruby has to give characters a hard time to make things happen, but as she would say: ‘you don’t get to paradise on a feather bed.’ And there are others in the story who try to foil her best efforts to bring these two unlikely lovers together. They are what the children might call the ‘baddies,’ an essential part of any story and often great to write.
But she also has a magical accomplice called Bluebell who supports her work; and magical places, like her cottage and The Little Inn in the Mist. And there are other methods she uses to work her magic, which I will talk about in future posts.
Meanwhile, Ruby should have the last word…
So far so good, but I can’t guarantee ‘forevers’. I am just The Catalyst and kick things off where things need …. kicking off. I turn my attention back to the children and share their joy at being alive, but time is tight, so I shake the snow globe again to speed things up, and ensure that the fog is thickening.