Guest Post: Merging the real with the unreal: Dark Vision by Debbie Johnson
If you set out to write an urban fantasy, you have a certain head start. You’ll have a city to work with – in my case, Liverpool. The fact that it’s one of the most famous cities in the world brings both advantages and disadvantages.
On the plus side, people will recognise it, feel at home in it, have an idea of how it looks, and possibly how it feels. How the people might sound, and how daily life there is lived. But that also brings with it responsibilities: what if a street needs to be moved to suit the needs of fiction? What if that historic building there just gets in the way? What if you get something wrong, and the people of Liverpool hold a giant banner-waving protest to complain? Unlikely, I admit, but all of this starts to go through your mind as you are creating a world that merges the reality of an actual, physical location with the magical, mystical world of fantasy.
I faced a similar challenge with the fact that I also chose to indulge my love of Celtic myths and legends in my debut novel, Dark Vision. It tells the story of Lily McCain, a pop writer on her local Liverpool newspaper, who has been socially isolated by the fact that the merest touch can result in her seeing devastating visions of a person’s future.
Into this solitary existence comes Gabriel – a centuries old Irish High King – bearing the news that all is not what she thought it was. The rest of the adventure centres around Lily’s battle to reconcile the reality she thought she knew with the unreality that her life becomes, weaving in and around some of the inspiring tales of Celtic legend to tell a new story. One that takes the very, very old and blends it with the very, very new.
The end result is a millenia-old Goddess walking the streets of 21st century Liverpool in her Doc Marten’s, listening to music on her iPod; worrying about losing her phone while she also worries about saving the world. That mix of modern day life with ancient myth was a tricky one to get right – but also intoxicating.
Now, when I walk through Liverpool myself, I can’t help wondering about the quiet side streets and the hidden entrances to stately buildings; about the unused docks and the hidden courtyards; about the spellbinding paintings in awe-inspiring galleries. About the way that it is a place where the past, the present and the future combine to produce something very unique.
With Dark Vision, I blatantly raided Liverpool’s heritage, and Liverpool’s present. I also rampaged through the Celtic legends I researched, needing to take inspiration but remain original. Into that mix I threw music and TV and film: Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Bill and Ted.
What I was aiming to create was a modern life in a modern world that would be recognizable to readers, but with the addition of brain-stretching concepts of prophecy, fate, and battling to retain your own identity against the odds. Plus, you know, some vampires and witches and evil fairies and bloodthirsty Gods.
It was a difficult recipe to follow, and hard to get the quantities just right before I cooked it in my mind. I hope it’s a world my readers enjoy.
Debbie Johnson, April 2014