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An Interview with Grant P. Hudson, Part Two

In the first part of the interview, Hudson has led us up into a snowy Yorkshire as a precursor to telling us more about the ideas in the book:

So this journey was important to the development of the book How Stories Really Work?

Yes, you’ll have to bear with me, but yes. The adventure in the outer world leads to an adventure in the inner. That’s important, as I hope you’ll see.

So there I was, in the countryside north of Sheffield, in the middle of winter, in 2001 or 2002.

Winding up through icy trees on my right and a rushing steam hidden in a valley on my left, I made my slow way up and up again to a wide scenic road that looked lengthways down a sunny valley, at the end of which loomed a black, alien-looking tower against the sun. A bedraggled sheep had found itself on the wrong side of a wall and in the middle of the road, and, seeing me coming, ran on falteringly until it turned off towards a farm. I decided to head upwards again rather than following a footpath along the bottom of a pine forest, and found that I had soon emerged onto a fairly main road leading through a very silent and imposing private forest, which seemed to stretch on for a long way.

By now, a combination of the sameness of the scenery and the distance I had walked was beginning to make my feet feel weary, so I was glad to come out of the forest to find myself looking at the alien tower side-on: it wasn’t some horrible twentieth century monstrosity as I had imagined, but a Victorian stone folly like a keep - it had looked so black and forbidding only because it had been silhouetted so darkly against the sun. Beneath it, a large Elizabethan-looking house snuggled into fold in the valley above a deep reservoir.

From here the road partly curved back on itself into a narrow ravine and around the slippery edges, grey with shadow, to slowly wind back up the hillsides where I expected, and by this time very much hoped, to find a village marked on the map as Strines - but I found instead only a single inn. Having met no one on the road, and seen less than a dozen cars, I was surprised to open the door on a densely crowded set of hot rooms with no space spare. Reluctant to enter a large group, but with tired feet and cold fingers, I turned back to the road, closed the door and headed off again.

With the darkly-named Foulstone Moor on my right and the shallow valley overlooked by the single tower on my left, this was the loneliest and slowest to change section of the journey -though there were more cars on this section of road, the motorists speeding by uncaringly served only to accentuate the sense of being on one’s own. Eventually I had trudged the necessary distance and reached the junction which was the farthest point of my walk. The sun glared down on a white and empty landscape. Just before I reached the turn, as though to reward the weary traveller, the high ridge of land that formed the edge of Strines Moor sloped away and the even-vaster distances opened out: Whinstone Lee Tor on the horizon, the Hurkling Stones, Crow Chin, all dominated the landscape and made the main road leading down below to the Derwent Valley seem like a small and insignificant latecomer into the country which they had overseen for millennia.

You are in Tolkien’s country now - not the exact Oxfordshire or East Yorkshire which Professor Tolkien himself visited or dwelt in, but a countryside away from the modern world. A traveller gets the same sense of openness and emptiness from walking here as one does when one looks at a map of Middle-earth. But what was happening wasn’t specifically to do with any connection to the world that Tolkien had made: this journey was all about connecting to the World as a whole. That might sound trite. In a few paragraphs, we get there.

Carry on, by all means…

I turned from this long road and towards Ughill, where I really hoped to find some sustenance and rest. The road curved and winded along the other side of the reservoirs I’d circumscribed and one of the satisfying feelings I had at this stage was looking back at the enormous length of road on the other side of the valley down which I’d made my way, step by step. I passed the gates of two manor houses and looked down on them, like miniature Christmas card settings in the snow, then turned around the side of a hill and the distant horizon and the promise of the wild Derwent Valley was gone from sight as I headed back towards Sheffield and into the twilight.

At this stage it seemed that, no matter how many steps I took or how long I plodded, the next corner or the wood at the top of the bend or the next item on the map got no nearer. Eventually, as the sun began to seriously disappear, I came to Ughill to find only two or three houses - splendid houses of grey-green stone, windows trimmed for Christmas, but no sign of life other than a small black cat slinking away and a few dogs barking. So after a pause sitting on a cold stone and peering at the map in the gathering gloom, as though by staring at it I would bring the next town nearer, I set off on the further trek to Dungworth.

At this final stage, the only way to keep going is by overriding the body’s demand to stop, which it is inclined to do at the slightest opportunity - a small stone in the road, a tree branch sticking out, the light on a distant hill, all act to stop the body from moving for a moment before you insist that it keep walking.

The sun, having momentarily fringed the hilltops ahead of me with gold, then topped them with a kind of creamy strawberry pink, then did the same to the clouds that hung low in the east and north, turning white to pink, then tingeing the edge of blue with pink, then finally giving up and letting them go dark blue. There was a moment when, crossing a little stone bridge, I stopped to look over the parapet and into the small gorge full of rushing water and noise, and saw, under the overhanging bank, thousands of yard-long icicles hanging there like transparent swords.

Somehow I finally reached Dungworth, which, funnily enough, actually smelt of dung. There were a few houses - modern houses not charming country cottages - and a bus stop. I’d come to the end of the actual National Park and felt as though I’d formally re-entered the twentieth century. To confirm this, I pulled out my mobile phone and called the number given on the bus stop to check that buses were running, and sat on a nearby wall to wait.

Cold had not been a problem - on several occasions I had been too hot and had had to remove gloves and hat - but now, standing still and waiting, I felt the painful chill in my toes and fingers and began to get seriously worried. To distract me from this, the new moon came out in a purple sky, and alongside it, the bright star of Venus, which was so bright, and so alone in the sky apart from the moon, that at first I thought it must be the lights of a plane and waited for it to move or turn - but no, it was actually Venus. Also, another lost sheep wandered into the road, roaming up and down and baa-ing madly, before finding its way into someone’s garden.

The bus appeared. My fingers were so frozen that I fumbled the change and held up the driver, but eventually I got to a seat and had to endure a very fast and bumpy ride back to Sheffield, the landscape a blur except for Christmas lights in trees in the middle of nowhere near Bradfield.

And that was the end of my outer adventures, but the beginning of my adventures into the world behind the world of fiction. It was on the way back to London on the train that the details of the material behind the books available through the website, and much more, literally flooded into my mind. So many strands and hints and shadowy clues and half-formed thoughts coalesced, as I sank physically exhausted into my seat, that before I had reached King’s Cross an entire notebook was full to overflowing with the beginnings of many books.

Now you can tell us about the book?

Yes. The first book, The Master Authors’ Secret Handbook, was based on those original notes made on the train. It was mainly about the four basic genres that compose fiction: what I have called Epic, Tragedy, Irony and Comedy.

And the journey had been a trigger?

Yes. The outer world, if you like, had prompted a journey of similar magnitude into the inner wilderness. What had been pathless for years opened up before my inner eye like a landscape just waiting to be mapped. Almost by accident, this day-long journey had contributed to a twenty-year investigation to determine the answer to the question 'Why do we read fiction?'

In the Handbook, you’ll see these genres taken apart. Stories de-construct along these lines very easily. And you get the first mention of the concept of rhythm and what it has to do with fiction, and a whole load of other things.

But there are reasons why all these things, as well as the next level of breakthroughs that are described in How Stories Really Work, come about. Having taken you on such a long voyage through Yorkshire, I hope you’re ready for another journey into the significance of these genres and what that reveals?

Yes, please tell us more.

Stay tuned for Part Three of this interview!

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