Postface: ‘The Three Billy Groughs and the Owld Goat’

by Brindley Hallam Dennis

I’m not sure where this story came from, but a friend of mine had produced a series of photographs of subway entrances, in which the glowing light of the opening at the bottom of concrete steps seemed to suggest a hidden adventure. Added to that there was the fact that I had been encouraging my Creative Writing students at Cumbria University to construct matrices of characters, and locations from myths and folk tales, which it seemed to me, would imply storylines. And there was the lurking memory of crossing a roundabout via its four inter-connected subways on the outskirts of Birmingham several years before, to get from the place I used to stay to the Chinese takeaway. That crossing seemed fraught with a danger that was never made explicit, but was disorienting enough for me to have surfaced on the wrong road more than once, and to have had to descend into the gloom and reek of it once more. There was also the childhood memory of the song of Three Billy Goats Gruff, and the Troll hiding beneath the bridge, but what brought them all together, at the precise place and time to create this story, I have no idea! One thing I am sure of is that stories do come together, and that it is often the juxtaposition of their disparate, and possibly desperate elements, which makes them work. Perhaps there is a sort of critical mass of ideas that explode into a story. Or maybe one of the ideas is so demanding of a creative response, and I think in this case it was probably those photographs, that it sucks the other elements, the memories, the current sub-texts of our lives, into the vortex of imagination. Not all stories come this way. Some are of a much simpler genesis. They come out of single incidents that seem potent with epiphany, or out of individual voices that demand to be given something to say and to be heard. Perhaps the single most important element in this story was the sense of place, and the idea that places, some places, are stages upon which certain stories must be enacted, and certain characters envisaged.

I’m not sure how wise it is for authors to indulge in these speculations and analyses, nor, if they must, how deeply they should pursue them. What may be more useful to them, and ultimately to their audiences, is that they should be sensitive to the potential stories around and within them, which seems like a cue for me to give way at this point, and to speculate no further.