Starting with a Statue

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pocahonatsI was born and brought up in Gravesend, a town whose greatest claim to fame was being the last resting place of Pocahontas.

When I was little, our biggest treat was a trip on the ferry across to Tilbury Fort (life was simpler in those days). We’d walk down to the river past the statute of Pocahontas in St.George’s churchyard. Even as a very small child I found the sight of this girl in buckskin robes – outlined against the cold grey expanse of the Thames – very moving. When I later learnt her story, I was haunted by the fact that she’d never made it home, and that she had died and been buried on alien soil.

Her image must have sunk deep into my subconscious because years and years later I was having a conversation with my agent and she said something about warriors. The picture of a Native American girl carrying a spear burst into my head, and I started to write Apache.

First sight

Statues are potent symbols. Soldiers on war memorials; gigantic figures of dictators; grotesque gargoyles; stone angels they each have a special kind of power.

The story starts with someone seeing a statue for the first time.

The writer needs to have a very strong idea of what the statue looks like

  • Is it of a person? If so, are they alive or dead? A historical figure or a mythical one?
  • Or perhaps its a statue of an animal? A mythical beast?
  • How big is it?
  • What is it made of? Metal? Stone? Clay? Marble?
  • Is it newly made or ancient?
  • Whole or broken?
  • Beautiful or ugly?
  • What was it made for? Is it an idol? Does it have religious or political significance?
  • Was the statue made as a celebration of someone’s great deeds?
  • Or to commemorate something that shouldn’t be forgotten?
  • What did the sculptor mean to convey? Power? Beauty?
  • What did the maker want people to feel when they look at it? Awe? Fear? Joy?

Next the writer needs to decide on the location of the statue.

  • Where is it? Is it in this country, or abroad?
  • Outside? Raised on a plinth? In a garden? A town square? A graveyard? A clifftop?
  • Or inside? In a temple? A church? A house? A palace?
  • Is it clearly visible or tucked away? Is it hidden by overgrown vegetation? Half buried under rubble?

What is the narrator doing when they first see the statue?

  • Going for a walk?
  • On holiday?
  • Shopping?

What’s happening to it?

  • Crumbling away to nothing?
  • Rusting?
  • Is it being vandalised?
  • Erected for the first time?
  • Being deliberately toppled?
  • Why?