Part 6: This conversation is in ten parts.
EH: It sounds like your mythology really did spring from your discovery of all these interesting old words. Is that an accurate assessment of your creative process?
OD: Absolutely! You might even go so far as to say that LOME began as an unorganized collection of words. In time it became obvious that I was going to have to start organizing these words or I would never be able to remember how and when I came up with what words and why. And then the next logical thing to do was to start writing a story that used these wonderful words.
EH: So, if your mythology began with collecting odd words, when did you start writing the actual story?
OD: Ah, now we come to the really gnarly and gritty part of the writing process when it comes to describing how LOME came to be in the form you read today.
Again, it all started in 1973 when I first read Tolkien and then became more focused in 1978 when I first went to Scotland. But, it was not until the mid-1980s that the actual structure for the narrative began to solidify in my mind—as a children’s book. So, I thought that my main character, the protagonist, would be a young boy.
EH: LOME started out as a children’s book?
OD: I think so. But, as my pile of research notes grew the story became more complex and layered, more akin to Middle Earth and Tolkien’s expansive writing than a simple children’s book. I quickly figured out that I was going to need more than one book to tell all the stories and adventures that I felt had to be part of the story.
Remember, I first ventured to New York City to try to break into children’s book publishing in 1979. I didn’t even mention LOME to any of the editors and art directors I met. The project was only in its beginning stage of ideas and concepts. I was offered my first set of contracts in 1982. Three different publishes offered me a total of seven book contracts before I had had anything published at all! It was incredible! My first book was published in 1983—Eddy B, Pigboy, by Margaret K. McElderry at Atheneum. Eddy B was my first book published but it wasn’t the first book that I wrote. The first book that I wrote was Ravena, shortly after I had returned from Scotland in 1978. The original title was No One Will Come to Dinner and was published in 1984 as Ravena.
Eddy B is based on my childhood experiences growing up around farm animals. But, it was Ravena that first introduced characters that would become a big part of my thinking about my own mythical world. In Ravena you will first come across characters that are, to this day, part of LOME: bog-trotters, trow-wifes, Elmog, cairns, banshees, standing stones, and Muckle Heog for example.
I am a compulsive mapmaker and have kept drawing maps of my world so that I would know exactly where any one particular picture book is set. With Moel Eyris clearly in my mind I went on to write picture books that are what I call “folk tales” in the larger mythology. Books such as The Trow-Wife’s Treasure; Bear Noel; Mogwogs on the March!; Hanne’s Quest; A Christmas Tree for Pyn and even Old Bear and His Cub.
Each of these books makes reference to a specific geographical location in the mythology or characters. As I wrote each picture book I was very aware of the importance in keeping the chronology consistent as well as geographic locales.
By drawing maps I was able to see how one island’s location would affect characters on another island. The best example is The Trow-Wife’s Treasure.
In this story a kind-hearted farmer comes to the aid of a trow-wife who has lost her baby. He succeeds in helping her get her baby back and she gives him a reward. The reward is a hen that lays golden eggs. It’s interesting that I use this same idea, many years later in Hanne’s Quest, of a hen that lays golden eggs.
So, here’s the logical premise that I must adhere to as a writer: For a human farmer to come into contact with a trow-wife the most lost setting for the story is on Noord Eyris, which is the small island that lies closest to Skrael (Trow Eyris). It makes the most sense that this would be where the two characters could meet and interact.
By the way, Noord Eyr(is) is inspired by North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands. North Ronaldsay is famous for its sheep dyke that encompasses the entire island to keep the sheep off the fragile land. Noord Eyr(is) has its own sheep dyke that serves the same purpose. Again, you can see how my field research and knowledge of the Orkney Islands has influenced my own mythology.
Oh, and Skara Brae is a name I desperately wanted to use in the mythology. Naturally, I didn’t want to use Skara Brae as it is known so I modified the words to: Skara Bree and then most recently decided that I should take one more step farther away from the original words and I have had Skara Bree become Skarbree or Skarbry. This is a really good example as to how I change and modify words to suit my own needs.
And, of course, you can see the problems I encounter when writing LOME. Skara Bree has already been introduced in Hanne’s Quest. So, the question is can it become Skarbree or Skarbry in LOME as the narrative for Cael’s story is told?