The lying-awake engine hands me a story

by , under thinking, writing

It wasn’t the dream engine because I was wide awake from 2:xx until at least 4:56 (I remember the succession of numbers) thinking this up. Much better than lying awake worrying.

Did I need a story? I feel I need to finish one of the things I’ve got lying around first before I can even think of starting a new one. The chance that I’ll actually write this is vanishingly small so I’m throwing it to the world so (a) I won’t forget it and (b) anyone who wants it can pick it up and use it. Please tell me if you do! I’d love to see it. And even if I do end up writing it they’ll be different anyway.

These are my thinking notes, without much effort to clean it up for clarity or consistency. I seem to have only a setting and a cast for now, no plot (but that’s usual for stories I think up). I’d hate to spoil the setting by having a destructive plot like many another story set in an idyllic village, and I don’t want a romance for the protagonist because she doesn’t want one, either.

Setting: a remote village somewhere in Europe but probably in England, though it might have been Ireland or Wales. One of the reasons I’m not going to write this is that I don’t want to have to deal with Brexit, and I don’t know enough about rural Ireland or indeed rural anything to be able to pull this off. I’d much rather write in a setting I know either because I live or have lived in it, or because I’ve invented it. I thought at first it was going to be a realistic story and that “time stood still in [village name]” — oh, how I wish I knew [village name], I think I never knew it rather than forgetting it — was a metaphor, but it turned out that the village was caught in some kind of time-warp so that it had a village shop, pleasant pub, small school, friendly policeman, people who actually worked there instead of commuting to [nearest big city], et cetera. Sort of like the optimal microclimate in Tadfield in Good Omens.

It started out as “one of those villages where you can’t get without a car” but I resented the protagonist getting everywhere by car so I first gave her a bicycle and then invented a bus with a stop just outside the time-warp limits. Also, the cottage might include a shed with a dilapidated pedal go-kart in it, like the one I used to go to the supermarket on with my daughters on one island holiday when they were small (one daughter at a time, it was a two-person go-kart).

The protagonist: Jane Colby, possibly called Janet before she moved to the village and started calling herself by a more old-fashioned name. Though Janet is already an old-fashioned name! Her mother was a hippy who brought her up on her own until she died in Jane’s late teens, leaving her “with nothing at all except some awkward memories”. Jane is working in an uninteresting (insurance?) office job with few prospects, too much inertia to search for another job, when she gets a message from a [insert country-of-setting relevant law title here] telling her that her father died, who she’s seen literally never, and left her not only his weekend getaway in a remote village but also a decent-sized and well-invested fortune. First intimation of the time-warp is that the [law person] and his office are “like something out of a Lord Peter Wimsey novel, I was tempted to call him Mr Murbles”.

She goes to investigate Rose Cottage and finds it wonderful on the outside but horrible on the inside, “it needs unrenovating”. The only things she does want to keep are mod cons like bathroom/toilet and kitchen fixings. She’s seen a sign “T. Abbott, carpentry and renovations” on her way from the bus stop (or perhaps her friend drives her; I insist that Jane herself doesn’t drive) so she knows who to ask.

Just about the only thing Jane’s inherited from her hippy mother, though she won’t admit to it being a legacy, is that she’s interested in herbs and making her own soap and other natural cosmetics.

Other people:

Tom Abbott: sixtyish carpenter, married to Mary. He has a halo of white hair that stands out from his otherwise bald pate when he’s working hard or excited and defies any effort to pat it down.

Mary Abbott: (retired?) village schoolmistress. She’ll probably want to teach Stephen so he can stay as Tom’s apprentice instead of going back to school, where he’s very much out of place, at the end of the summer holidays. Tom and Mary may have grown-up children, or they wanted to have some and sadly never could.

Lucie: Jane’s best friend “since forever”, petite, French-looking and possibly partly French. Single because she can’t choose (Jane is single for lack of interest; this is a story with an ace protagonist, perhaps I should write it after all). Jane and Lucie have dinner together on the first Wednesday of every month and will keep it up even after Jane moves. Perhaps Lucie drives Jane to the village the first time she goes to look at the cottage. Engineer of the tiny ISP she runs together with Bill.

Bill: business talent of the ISP, “devastatingly beautiful”, “the most monogamous man in the universe”, married (now that they can) to secondary school teacher David. Both of them are friends of Lucie and Jane, and they occasionally all have dinner together, though not on the first Wednesday of the month because that’s reserved for just the two women. They’ve adopted Stephen and Claire from Haiti or some place like that with a lot of orphans (this is probably a reflection of a real-world gay couple I know who adopted two black kids from the US).

Grace: part-time secretary of the ISP, “now with the twins she’s going to be a full-time parent for a couple of years, you [Jane] can have her job if you want” but Jane doesn’t want, she has the income from the decent-sized fortune to live on and is going to do witching in Rose Cottage. Grace is probably from Jamaica or some such place.

Stephen: thirteen, autistic and dyslexic, very unhappy in school. Bill says “I’ll send you Stephen, he’s got it into his head that he wants to be a carpenter”, and when Stephen appears “from the bus stop, with a rucksack on his back and a toolbox in his hand” Tom takes him under his wings immediately, “when I was a lad like you I got prenticed to old [whoever], you can be my prentice while you’re here”. Image of black head and white head close together, Tom and Stephen talking about the work mostly with their hands, not many words needed. (Sudden worry now I write this that it confirms the stereotype that only boys are ever autistic, though Stephen is not a white boy at least.)

What plot there is: The time warp is centered on Rose Cottage. The cottage needs a witch to come into its own. Jane moves to the village permanently, after all she has little to lose in [city] (which I don’t want to be London, but possibly Manchester), and grows into that role.

What the plot needs: Conflict. Or at least something to happen rather than just exist.

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