PERFECT PEACE is the second novel of my PERFECT WORLDS series, and it’s also my longest novel to date, logging in at around 156,000 words. Not only that, it’s the single seed that the whole projected series grew from.
It began as a simple idea that kept surfacing in my mind, usually as I was dropping off to sleep at night. I honestly don’t know where it came from – I like to think that it was a message from the ether, from the place where all true and good creative thoughts emerge. Or maybe it was the result of late-night cheese’n’crackers, or even a piece of undercooked potato. As Dickens has a sceptical Scrooge say of one of his ghostly visitors, “there’s more of gravy than of grave in you...”
But I digress...
In my mind’s eye, I saw a young woman attending a funeral, crying even though she hadn’t known the dead man at all, and in fact hadn’t known that he’d even existed until after he was dead. I was curious about this situation, about what it meant, about who this young woman was, and how she came to be at the funeral of a man she didn’t know, and all the more curious simply because the idea was so persistent, because it wouldn’t leave me alone... it felt like the idea wanted me to follow it, and so eventually, I did.
I took the first conscious, tentative step on what would eventually prove to be a long, fascinating journey of discovery by mentally adding a hymn in the background as the young woman dried her strange, unearned tears, and was instantly rewarded with a find which convinced me I was on to something special, something that was meant to be. In researching hymns that might be sung at a funeral, I unearthed one from the 19th Century called Perfect Peace, and right there was the title for my previously unnamed new project – and not only that, the lyrics of the hymn gave me a couple of beautiful epigrams to bookend my story.
“Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin”, to start, and “It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease, and Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace” at the end. For a novel encapsulating the kind of darkness I had in mind, these quotations couldn’t have been more apt if I had written them myself. But there they had been, floating around in the electronic ether, just waiting for the moment when I needed them.
Synchronicity - you’ve got to love it.
As the novel began to develop, I found that the small seed that had once planted itself in my mind was a fast and prodigious grower – a literary Leylandii. So many characters with so many aspects of their lives pertinent to the underlying plot, all of them budding into leaf and flower before my astonished eyes like time-lapse photography in a nature documentary, and all their back-stories like a gigantic root system just as complex as the above-ground growth, but largely hidden until I started to dig, dig, dig. And dig, dig, dig I did. I couldn’t resist. I had to know.
Couldn’t resist. Had to know.
I seemed to me that this was a winning combination for a work of fiction, and now that it’s completed and out there in the public domain for anyone to buy and read, I still think so. It’s a long story, with a large cast of fully-realised characters, but once you’re fully immersed in the story, it’s difficult to leave. And if it’s a couple of shades darker in a few places than even I imagined at the beginning, I can honestly say that it isn’t my fault.
It’s the ether’s fault. That damned ether...