Friday, January 28, 2011

William Meikle--guest post

The Valley

The origins of the novella "The Valley" are pretty simple to trace. In Fortean circles there have been attempts to find a picture that many claim to have seen, yet no-one has been able to find. This fabled photograph is said to show a group of Civil-War era men standing in a row wearing big grins. Spreadeagled on the ground in front of them is the body of a huge bird, a being that could only come from pre-history. In some accounts this bird is a giant eagle, in others it is even stranger, a leathery, paper thin Pterosaur. Whatever the case, that image was the thing in my mind, and I had a "What if..." moment, wondering what would happen if cowboys came across a Lost World. From that single thought, the initial concept of The Valley was born.

There's a long tradition of Lost World tales, both in movies and fiction. Over the years I've devoured as many as I can find, from Conan Doyle through Haggard, from Tarzan in Pellucidar to Doug McLure in the Land that Time Forgot. Many of these tales involve dinosaurs, but I wanted something different. For a while I didn't know exactly what "creatures" I needed, but that all changed as soon as the setting clicked. Back in 2005 I had the good fortune to holiday in the Rockies. It was while scanning through photographs of that trip that the thought of the high mountain valley came to me, and when Neil Jackson told me about Montana and the Big Hole Valley, I knew I'd found my spot. And the pictures of the ice and snow from my trip also gave me the era from which I would draw my creatures -- the last Ice Age. I now knew that my protagonists would be heading into a Lost Valley where relic animals lived, and that these creatures would be hairy and large. I had an image of a herd of mammoths by a partially-frozen lake, and that was the image that drove me on in the early concepts.

Now I needed some protagonists. I knew in advance I wanted to write a "western" and some research led me to set the story in the 1860s, when something of a mini-goldrush was happening in Montana. The characters grew on me quickly. I wasn't too surprised at that -- my early childhood was steeped in Westerns. I have my Granddad to thank for days watching Wagon Train, Rawhide, Bonanza and Gunsmoke, then later on, The Virginian and The High Chapparal. He also introduced me to Louis L'Amour and others as I devoured his collection of Western paperbacks. As I started the Valley I already knew that I was going to have six men thrown into peril, and that they'd be almost evenly split between white and black hats. Several of them surprised me as the story went on, but from the start they had a "depth" that reassured me that the story would go to all the right places.

I got them to the mining camp, and the start of the aforesaid perils. Then my muse threw a spanner in the works. I've been a Ray Harryhausen fan most of my life, and the creature that now came to mind was a Harryhausen special, one that I could "see" in my mind's eye, scuttling and "snipping". Unfortunately it didn't exist in the Ice Age, but at a time much longer ago. But I wanted it, so in it went. I won't give the plot away here, but suffice to say I managed to fit it in -- I managed to fit a lot of them in. And as a result the rest of the story immediately fell into place, almost as if I was channeling a new Harryhausen movie.

I wrote the while thing in less than ten days, my brain thinking about little else the whole time. It's one of the most fun experiences I've ever had writing, and I hope it shows in the final product. Even now, more than a year after finishing it, I still find myself thinking about the Valley, and the creatures that inhabit it. Somewhere, the story continues, and one day I might go back to find out what happened next.

William Meikle is a Scottish writer with ten novels published in the genre press and over 200 short story credits in thirteen countries. He is the author of the ongoing Midnight Eye series among others, and his work appears in a number of professional anthologies. His ebook THE INVASION has been as high as #2 in the Kindle SF charts and THE VALLEY has reached #1 in the Kindle Historical Fantasy chart. He lives in a remote corner of Newfoundland with icebergs, whales and bald eagles for company. In the winters he gets warm vicariously through the lives of others in cyberspace, so please check him out at