I proved to myself that I could write a story on demand. What I didn’t count on but which I suspect is actually a fact about story writing itself, is that I found story magic within a (loosely) prepared structure. It makes sense to me that this is so: I have a history as a performance maker and that’s they way it always goes with that, so it stands to reason that a similar creative magic might be attached to writing too. The limits of the structure create the right environment for the story spark to light. It’s kindling.
I started with 8 words chosen from a random page in the dictionary: 1. ravine 2. rattle (1) 3. raven (1) 4. raven (2) 5. ravenous 6. ravage 7. rave 8. rattle (2). (1991, The Macquarie Dictionary, 2nd revised ed’n, The Macquarie Library).
Then the phrase ‘pieces of eight’ came to me (realising I had 8 words) so I researched that term using google. The Spanish empire came up, as did the birth of global currency and the source of all their wealth, the Potosi silver mine in Bolivia. Then it became a matter of mining my find.
I found the devil Tio, the terrible history of cruelty and mass death (mostly Indigenous Bolivians), the slave trade and capture that made it all possible. I wanted a sea journey in there, as the word rattle (2) had nautical connotations, and also I wanted to take up this idea of the first world currency and economy. These things may be history, but they are still solidly present in the world today, which exists the way it does because of the way it was all originally set up, on the back of slaves in this terrible mine. This mine is the original source of the world economy as we know it. This is the model we still live with, the exploitation of resources and people in one place for a distant population elsewhere that has control over the world and how it runs. I’m interested in the roots of things.
But I also wanted to tell a human story, the story of dispossession, of loss, of powerlessness, hopelessness; but also the story of hope, the hope that love will rise above all of our mistakes and find us not lacking. Well, truthfully, the human story was not consciously wanted; that’s the serendipitous and synchronistic part, where the story took on a life of its own. I guess really we only have human stories to tell, and once we create a structure for those stories to stand on, they flourish into being, they exist.
I didn’t deliberately choose the less common story of the African slave down the mine (African slaves were predominantly used to labour above ground as ‘mules’ although in the early days some were used underground). The character chose me. That was his voice, and it was immediate. I was sitting in the garden of the now-no-longer-existing Rainbow Cafe in Nimbin when he just turned up. Which I guess is the importance of sitting down to the task of writing, of just doing it. If we create the right conditions, the story will show up.
You can read the story here: https://talesbytink.wordpress.com/2018/02/26/silver-moons/
(This version is better because it has the breaks in the text that are necessary for the story to make full sense. I was still new to being published at that time and did not know the conventions of how to get spaces in the work.)
Or you can read it here, where it was first published: http://www.fictionalcafe.com/silver-moons-short-story-katinka-smit/