The Story Behind the Stories
The English Lakes - a Setting for Mars by Mjke Wood
"The Man in the Pillbox Hat" plays on a number of different ideas that have been
rattling around in my head for some time. I have wondered about celebrity, and in
particular about the impact it has on the innocent bystander who is caught up in
the fringes: the parent, the spouse, the friend. Celebrity is a thing that many wish
for, without, I imagine, realizing the full effects of such rapid lifestyle changes
through public scrutiny. I was reading about the pain and depression suffered by
the original Astronauts Wives Club, and this gave me the idea to play around with
the theme in a Mars story.
The setting came easily enough. I simply looked out of the window. Not from my
study, at home, but from my caravan. Yes, I have a caravan in which I spend the
majority of my weekends touring different parts of the country. It makes a
wonderful writing den for several reasons: The places where we camp are usually
quite remote, so there is seldom any mobile signal, so no telephone calls and no
internet. I have something new to stare at, through the window, for times when I
blank, and when I need to stretch my legs I can step out of the door and take a
walk in peaceful, unexplored countryside. There is little chance of anybody
knocking at the door, so no man-from-Porlock moments. My wife is an artist, so
when we are away she can paint, I can write, yet we share a tiny space, so there is
companionship without either one disturbing the other.
On this occasion we had towed our caravan up to the Lake District, less than three
hours from home, in the far northwestern corner of England. So when I needed a
setting, I glanced out of the window and there amongst the rain clouds was my
mountain, the 2000 ft. Old Man of Coniston. A line of multi-colored fell walkers
were picking their way along the boulder-strewn Walna Scar Road. Perfect.
I found my main character, Owen, later that same afternoon. He was seated in the
Bluebird Cafe, set on the shores of Coniston Water. (The cafe, by the way, is
named after the water speed record boats in which the Campbell family set
multiple records on the lake, and in which Donald Campbell lost his life in 1967.)
So, at a table by the picture window, sipping tea and eating a scone, was Owen --
rugged, intelligent-eyed, assured, introspective, just waiting to be named, back-storied and dropped right into my story.
The final element I needed, to wrap up the story in a weekend, was a catalyst for
kick-starting a new space race. I had this in mind already, though. I do believe that
the rate of progress being made by China right now might one day play out much
as it does in the story. Who knows, after the thrills of the Rosetta mission earlier
this year, it might even be we Europeans who sound the call to arms.
Hey, I'm a writer. I can dream, can't I?
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