One idea is not enough to begin writing a novel. I usually find you need three which seem to have some kind of electrical charge between them.
I got the first idea for my book The Puzzle Ring while flicking through a jewellery catalogue while waiting in a doctor’s surgery. At the back of the magazine was a brief article about the first ever puzzle ring. The story went something like:
‘Long ago, there lived an Arabian king who was madly in love with his young and beautiful wife, and tormented by jealousy she might be unfaithful to him. He challenged the court jeweller to make a wedding ring that would show if the ring was ever taken off his wife’s finger. After many attempts, the jeweller invented a ring that would fall apart into separate loops if removed from the finger, and could only be put back together again if you knew the secret of the puzzle. Of course, the wife did take the ring off one day… and was promptly killed by her enraged husband.’
I thought at once, in an idle sort of a way, what a great thematic device this would be for a quest story… a desperate search for a puzzle ring that had fallen apart. When I got home, I wrote down a few simple words in my ideas book – ‘Quest for a broken puzzle ring’ – which eventually became a novel of 100,000 words.
I would continue to wonder about it in idle moments. Who would be searching for a puzzle ring? Why?
Questions lead to wondering, which lead to imagining, which lead to story.
One day, sometime later, I was browsing in a second-hand bookstore and discovered an old book called The Book of Curses. When I sat down to look through it, the page fell open, of its own volition, at a chapter about the famous Scottish curse ‘The Seaforth Doom’. This is a very chilling and creepy story about a warlock called Kenneth the Enchanter who was burnt to death in the 16th century by a jealous and vengeful woman, Isabella Mackenzie, the Countess of Seaforth.
Kenneth had a magical fairy stone, or hag-stone, and the countess had asked him to look through his hag-stone and tell him what her husband was doing. Kenneth had laughed, and then told her “Fear not for your Lord. He is safe and sound, well and hearty, merry and happy”.
Angrily she demanded to know why he had laughed and, when he would not tell her, threatened him with a terrible death. At last he confessed he had seen her husband on his knees before another woman, kissing her hand.
The countess was so furious that she ordered Kenneth to be thrust headfirst into a barrel of boiling tar. As he was led out to his execution, the warlock lifted his hag-stone to his eye and cast a terrible curse on the Mackenzies of Seaforth.
My own family heritage is Scottish; my grandmother’s grandmother was called Ellen Mackenzie. And so this famous curse seemed almost as if it was directed against my own family. And I thought to myself, what would you do if you found out your family was cursed? Wouldn’t you set out to break the curse? But how?
Perhaps, I thought, you’d need to find and fix a broken puzzle ring…
And so I got the first two ideas for my novel The Puzzle Ring.
The next idea came fast on the heels of the second idea. Because my own family was Scottish, and I’d been inspired by a famous Scottish curse, I decided to set the story in Scotland.
A modern-day girl called Hannah discovers her family is cursed, and so persuades her mother to visit their ancestral home in Scotland in the hope of breaking the curse. Once in the Highlands of Scotland, she makes friends with three local kids … and they soon discover the only way to break the curse was to travel back in time to the dangerous days of Mary, Queen of Scots…
Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au
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