The great lady herself
I follow Susan Cooper’s fan page on FB, and when I saw a couple weeks back that she was going to be doing a book signing/reading/talk in Cambridge, MA, I gasped in delight and immediately told my husband we needed to go. After a bit of comic misunderstanding of him thinking I meant “our” Cambridge, Cambridge, England, and trying gently to remind me we didn’t have money or time for unexpected trips across the channel, and me trying to figure out why he thought we needed to plan so far in advance for a town less than an hour’s drive from us, we got it straightened out and scheduled it in our calendars.
It was rich. It honestly would have been worth flying to Cambridge, England to experience it (plus, you know, Cambridge. You wouldn’t have to twist my arm to get me back there; I’ve missed it every day since we returned from our visit last year). She was so full of warmth and wisdom, joy and humor. I couldn’t even think of any questions to ask during the Q&A session; I just wanted to sit and soak in whatever she had to say, from children’s instinctive aligning with the land and nature versus the adult idea of progress, to her anecdote of CS Lewis and Tolkien teaching them at Oxford to believe in dragons, to her advice for helping reluctant writers.
One thing she said that really struck me was when she spoke of how much her writing is all rooted in a sense of place. The best writing, it’s always seemed to me, does have a rootedness in something beyond the immediate story or theme. For Tolkien, it was language (and myth, and Story, and … look, he had a lot going for him). For Lewis, it was the notion of Truth beyond religious packaging. For someone like Lloyd Alexander, I believe it was joy. Madeleine L’Engle’s work was rooted in the idea of names and naming.
What, I mused on the way home, and that night, and the next day, and on into the next week, is my writing rooted in?
Oh, there’s lots of themes that wind their way through my writing. Joy is a big one (there’s a reason LA is my favorite author of all time). The notion of Story is another, most especially Truth as Story. Finding one’s own place is something else that comes in to most of my stories, whether overtly (as in From the Shadows, where it’s pretty much the whole plot), or more subtly (Magic Most Deadly isn’t quite as blatant, nor is Candles in the Dark, but the idea is there with both of them). Still none of those felt quite like the answer.
The answer in fact came to me just a couple days ago, as we were walking through the nearby bird sanctuary. The setting sun shone a golden, warm light on the fields and trees as we made our way back out of the woods, and I found myself stopping to take pictures, just like I always do, despite the fact that I have dozens if not hundreds of photographs of different qualities of light already.
And that’s when it hit me. Light. That’s what my stories are all rooted in. The idea of light. That’s why I write, to be a light. That’s what I most deeply resonate with. This is what my self is rooted in, so of course it is what my writing springs up out of.
Sometimes it’s a warm light. Sometimes it might be a harsher one, even blinding. Sometimes it’s the sun on the water, sometimes a candle in a window. Whatever the type, that’s where my stories are born.
It seems rather fitting that this revelation should be inspired by the woman who wrote an entire series based around the struggle between the Dark and the Light. Even more fitting that one of the books she signed for me was The Dark is Rising, the first book in that series I ever read.
I am grateful.
(Also on that same day we went to hear Susan Cooper speak I got in the mail the edition of FrostFire Worlds containing my short story “A Spot of Orange”! It is available to purchase at the Alban Lake Shop, if anyone is interested in a copy of their own. It was a really good day.)