“There is another sky”

Andy Cooke, author of the Shadowlands Chronicles

Published 17th October 2020

“How do you come up with your stories?”

It’s a question every author is asked. Quite understandably.

More specifically, how did I come up with the Shadowlands?

The answer is almost a cliché. It was in a dream. Or possibly a daydream. (I’m prone to both).

I woke up (or blinked and started to focus on what I should have been doing) with some words going through my head: “There is another sky.”

I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction since I was tiny. Narnia, Middle-Earth, The Dark Is Rising – all stories we know and love. My mind was well prepared to run with it.

This highlights one thing that comes out from virtually every author interview I’ve ever known: read a lot, and your mind sets itself to start writing. Or at least to tell stories. If you ever want to be an author, first read a lot.

How do you get to another sky? It’s a fantasy question, so – some sort of portal? But I felt it had to be a natural portal.

A portal is a gateway or a door. What’s a natural gateway or door?

The opening of a cave mouth. This meant that I was looking at a cave between worlds.

(That’s a good name. “The Cave Between Worlds.” Maybe I could do something with that).

What does it all involve?

It went from there. I started mentally freewheeling.

  • Who was involved?
  • What were they doing?
  • If it was a cave between worlds, I wanted to emphasise the difference, so one of the worlds was ours.

There’s another thing they tell budding authors: write what you know. This answered where in our world we’d be starting. I was living in Uxbridge, in London, as the time, so that’s where our boys started out. We were just moving to Oxfordshire, so I guess that’s where the Cave is found.

Why “the boys”? Partly because I was a boy, once upon a time (write what you know). Partly because I wanted the sense of wonder from someone younger going into another world – and I wanted to have experienced that when I was a boy.

I knew there would be an autistic character. My son is severely autistic. I, myself, am on the ASD spectrum. The character of David in the book is partway between the two of us, and I can explain how he thinks.

The fact that one of the characters is autistic explains the main antagonist. Why? For the excellent reason that I didn’t want to focus on the usual areas authors focus on with an autistic character, but on one aspect that is fundamental to almost all autistic people but which a lot of non-autistic people seem to overlook: the subtext in any conversation or interaction between people. All the stuff that gets implied or understood while not being explicitly said.

I won’t go into more depth right now, because I’ll spoil the story for you. There’s more to it, of course, but that’s a blog entry for another time. This, though, was how it all started.