longing for elsewhere

Today I watched this spellbinding lecture about fantasy literature by Terri Windling, and - just as spellbinding - the follow-up q&a. She speaks beautifully about so many things I believe, and that I wish for as a reader, and indeed also for as a writer striving all the time to grow closer in ability to my dream of the stories I want to create.

She also restore me to the small girl I used to be, small-boned and barely-spoken, staring out of classroom windows even at five years old and longing for the wild, magical elsewhere. Those windows were set in a high hill-wind, overlooking woodlands, and through them I could see the breathtaking loneliness of what the world used to be. It did not feel like imagining, but instead somehow looking through to prehistoric place, wilderness silence, as if the landscape was a palimpsest book. My teacher would tell us stories about cats in boxes, foxes in socks, and I would sit as far away as possible, reading the view.

Down the hill, in my forest valley home, elsewhere was a more secretive and shadowy thing. A closer place, just beneath the skin of light; it slid against me as I walked the path through trees to our house. There, my longing changed. I didn't need to wish myself into magic, because it stirred and whispered and rained. I longed instead for everyone else to understand. But when I spoke of ghosts, fairies, something branch-boned and black-eyed in the undergrowth, people just thought I was talking in the way of a child. Telling homemade fairytales. Their lack of understanding in some way created the barrier between me and elsewhere. I knew it was a real place, I could see and hear it - but the pragmatism of ordinary people, adults, was like a magic spell keeping me grounded in this world.

As I grew up, that pragmatism became stronger. The entire culture seems to be a spell preventing us from wilding ourselves. Even so many of our popular fantasy books are, as Terri says in her lecture, rule-bound. I want to fall into a wild, brambled book ... and the fact that so few exist these days means that I constantly read old favourites, or resort to history tales, which have a special enchantment of their own. It's also why I often mention the writers I so love - Patricia McKillip, Ursula le Guin, Sylvia Linsteadt, Melina Marchetta, Robert Frost, Megan Whalen Turner - because they offer a rare beauty, an uncouth rose, a true fairytale wrought from vines and half-songs and memories of the lost wild home. We need that desperately to keep open the heart of the world.

I was privileged with the opportunity to contribute a piece to the latest issue of Earthlines magazine. I can't tell you how delighted this made me. If you're interested in reading my thoughts on drain-dragons and the vital importance of magical stories, (as well as the writing and art of many writers far more amazing than I), please do go and preorder your July copy. 

Art by Kinuko K. Craft


  1. That art!! Wonderful! (It is in a style that is quintessentially "me" ... Charming to see it (the style) here on your blog.

  2. I have loved Kinko's art since seeing it in children's books and on the cover of Patricia McKillip novels. It's so magical, isn't it?

  3. We all need magic and the wanting of its unknown.
    Your writings are beautiful, stirring my emotions and my imagination.

  4. Ooh, yet another reason to be excited about the next issue of EarthLines arriving in my letterbox. I look forward to reading your piece, Sarah.

  5. i so understand staring out the windows
    and i still do that
    hoping to glimpse a bear or today a pregnant doe
    yes, wild stories
    and cheers to wild lives
    rules are made to control the people so that some may have their way
    no good for spirit and for all life

    lovely art
    beautiful thoughts
    i will look up your writing

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