Works in Progress
Updated: Aug 31, 2021
I am currently working on a second YA fantasy titled Dule. Updates coming soon.
THE DULE TREE
There is a tree with sacred boughs
Hidden in the depths of an ancient wood
Grown from the kernel of a far-flung seed
From the cosmos of a world unseen.
Its trunk grows fat, its height is tall
Its branches scrolled, unfurl a pall
No Sylvan heart does it possess
No sticky sap, no heartwood crack
Yet hides a door sealed tight shut
Against those who have no need to look
Watered by a sacred spring
With roots that seek and knots all trees
A web connecting all that is
Casting wide from where it sits
Waiting for wrongs wrought of slaying and shame
Sucking up the ether of human refrains
It knows what deeds of sin be done
Tortures them with fevered drum
Brings them to the opening door
For severing life breaks natural law
O you sinner, you must pay
For spilling blood where Dule’s brethren stray
And should you die before you pay
Or crushed by madness, leave your roots
Dule will prosper in its wait
For no soul escapes their fate
Historically, the Dule tree is also known as the Hanging or gallows tree, a place of sorrow and grief for obvious reasons. Known gallows trees still exist, although not in use! Dule in my imagination is more of a Judgement tree, a place where sinners pass through and pay their debt. While my tree is exacting in redressing wrongs, it is not an evil tree. How can it be, if its function is to settle karma? While drafting Dule I wrote a poem (see above) exploring the tree's purpose. I find poetry a good way to make inroads in designing a novel. Poetry frees up the brain's processes in ways that outlining and note-making don't. The fluidity of poetry allows ideas to float up, and I find that it generates an atmosphere that I can cultivate, which I can later work out in prose. The poems may or may not appear in the final story. In the Dule's current draft, part of it appears as a song sung in a scene.
In Dule the wood is very much a character too. It has its own wants. It desires to spread out from the woodland it occupies. Its goal is retribution. Of its goal, the Dule tree is confident it will make sinners pay. What is more difficult for it to do, is to spread. The locals keep to their special custom of Forefending as a way of removing the main wood's errant saplings. The custom has built upon layers of legends and superstitions. No one has seen the Dule tree as such. It's invisible, operating in another realm. Hands once built a water mill and a tower, structures now lost inside the wood. As far as the locals are concerned, it is hearsay. But they know not to touch the trees.
I've set the story across two times: 1930s War time Britain, and a more contemporary 21st century setting. One half of the narrative follows five-year-old Celie Baxter who is evacuated from the Birmingham slums during WWII to a family on Dartmoor, the Bendelows. It is while she is waiting to be collected by the family, exhausted as she is, that she dreams or has a vision of a strange wood . . .
Celie is taken to her new home and is introduced to the Bendelow's sons, twelve-year-old Joe who has learning difficulties, and ten-year-old Tristan. Joe immediately takes to having a new sister. Tristan does not. He harbours a secret hate. A hate that gets out hand with terrible consequences.
I haven't settled on a name for the scattering of houses where the Bendelows and neighbours live, although when I'm imagining, I'm seeing a version of Swincombe, on Dartmoor.
Swincombe is a beautiful place to visit although it does get very marshy (quite deep in places), so be careful if wandering off the path.
Like the river in The Night of the Hunter, the river in Dule that passes through the wood is symbolic of a journey taken, both physically in the body, and metaphorically of the spirit.
In Dule, it's known that the wood had swallowed a village, leaving behind a few ruins claimed now by tree and grass. The saplings of the main wood had been allowed to amass at times over the years, and much was done to bring the wood back under control. The people revere it, are a little scared of it, and only do enough that they will not lose their homes and land to it. They avoid touching any part of the trees, including especially the saplings, trees as to do so cause symptoms and mental angst, especially to those who had harmed an animal or human in the wood's vicinity.
It's been discovered that there is a whole system working beneath the ground that connects trees via fungi called mycorrhizae. In Dule, this is how messages are passed back to the Dule tree. I enjoyed writing the details of the custom of Forefending. Influenced by folk horror, and The Wicker Man I've crafted my own version of the strange village and its alien customs: the bonfire, the drum, the singing, the ritualistic element of removing the saplings without touching, the blurring of reality - are the characters drugged or is it the atmosphere evoked by drum and dance? Or is it both? Is it the wood walking towards the fire or is it men dressed as trees?
Of course, I can't give too much away, it'll spoil the story! But, suffice to say, something terrible happens in the Bendelow family.
Skip forward to the more contemporary time, which was originally going to be the 80s as I require some of my 1930s characters to still be alive. But, I've brought it forward to the early 2000s as I want to make use of the mobile phone. Anyway, the main character in this time is a girl called Seraphine Flowers. When we first meet her, she is ten-years-old and on holiday in Dartmoor. While unpacking, she has a vision of flying over a wood that hides a tower. When she wakes, her mother tells her she's had another fit, asking her if she's taken her medication? Seraphine has a firemark or port wine stain that interferes with the blood vessels in her brain. Her condition is known as Sturge–Weber syndrome, whereby enlarged blood vessels place pressure on areas of the brain, which results in fits. Except, Seraphine doesn't quite see it that way, not when these fits make her friend, a little girl called Seeds, appear.