Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing’ wrote that we shouldn’t worry too much about themes as we’re writing, that the themes will become apparent as we progress. I was glad to read that. I had started writing my novel with no real idea of any theme at all except that my main character would go on some sort of spiritual journey cut off from the people and place he loved.
Actually the story idea started with a dream. In my dream, a huge tree provided the people who lived beneath it with everything they needed. I played around with that idea in my head for a long time. Then I watched a TV programme starring a Scottish actor that I thought would make a perfect leading man. I tossed him into the mix and stirred some more. At the time I found myself in the middle of a painful transition in my own spiritual life. In went all that angst and a glimmer of a story began to form.
I was well into the writing, though, before I realised what themes were arising. Firstly there was the environmental theme. I actually had someone on Critique Circle tell me that he wouldn’t be reading any more of my story because he didn’t like ‘tree-huggers’. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I’ve always loved anything Celtic, so there is a certain amount of druidism in there, I suppose. But there’s a bit of Aboriginal dreamtime thinking in there too I’d say. Yes, I do believe we’ve over-used the world’s resources and need to find better ways of doing things, but I didn’t consciously set out to write about it. The ironic thing is that the only place I have ever felt claustrophobic was in a forest. I actually prefer being able to see the horizon.
A second theme that I’ve been told I’ve followed is that of communism versus democracy, though I think communism versus materialism would be more accurate. Either way it surprised me. I’m not a particularly political creature. I’ve certainly never considered myself a Communist. Ideally I’d like the Christian idea of communism, as the Apostles lived, to work. I’m too cynical these days though. Wherever there are people there’s someone who’ll destroy the ideal. That comes through in my novel too, I think.
Then there’s the spiritual theme, of course. I’m not going into that though. It’s a personal thing and too hard to explain (maybe if I could explain it I’d be happier). Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of me in my main character, even though he’s male. It really makes me look at other people’s books differently. How much of their own personal life do they hide in those pages?