Not many people know this, but I have an invisible dog. It's my constant companion, a devoted friend. No one else can see it, but I know it's there. It's been following me around for years — ever since I was a boy, dreaming of becoming a writer.
My dog is my imagination. And, like real dogs, it requires frequent exercise.
Luckily, there's a field not far from where I live, and when I need to stretch my creative legs, I'll head outside, let my imaginary dog off the leash, and allow it to run free. This is how I do my best thinking. As I walk, I toss sticks to my dog. Sticks are ideas. It may be something I'm working on, an image that has caught my mind or a scrape I've gotten one of my characters into, but for a while I'll lose sight of the world around me and disappear into the story I'm trying to create.
I went on hundreds of imaginary dog-walks while writing The Story of Cirrus Flux. My second novel started in an unlikely place: a book on clouds. I discovered all sorts of amazing things about the scientific world in the 18th century — not least the fact that the weather changed abruptly during the summer of 1783, the same year the first hot air balloons took to the sky. I was hooked. My imagination took off...
During the course of my reading, I journeyed with Captain Cook to the edge of the world; I encountered the first Mesmerists, who practiced an early form of hypnotism by strapping their patients to tubs full of magnetized water;I was shocked by the treatment of charity boys at the hands of Electricians, who conducted dangerous experiments for the benefit (and amusement) of a paying public; and I came across the sympathetic plight of children abandoned at the Foundling Hospital in London, whose mothers were often too poor to be able to care for them and who left heartbreaking tokens with their babies, so that they might not be forgotten.
For the longest time, however, my main character had no name. All I knew was that he had dark, unruly hair and a small metal sphere that he carried on a string round his neck. Then, one day, I felt a presence enter the room and stand beside me. It was like being visited by a ghost; there was a definite chill in the air.
"My name is Cirrus Flux," it told me, "and I am looking for a map to the land of the dead."
I knew immediately that I had found my central character — or, rather, that he had found me. And while his motivation changed slightly as I worked on the novel (the map to the land of the dead became an unconscious quest for his parents), it was that crucial thing: a start. But then a plucky young girl, Pandora, leapt into the limelight and surprised me by hiding behind a curtain in Chapter Two, changing everything...
I hope you enjoy their story.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'd better take my imaginary dog for another walk.
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Matthew Skelton was born in the UK and spent most of his childhood in Canada. He has a PhD in English Literature from Oxford University. His debut novel was the New York Times bestseller Endymion Spring.
Books mentioned in this post
Matthew Skelton is the author of The Story of Cirrus Flux