Building Worton | A Town Shrinks

Whilst searching through my old files I came across a list of Wortonian districts. In the current books it has twelve districts:

Beiderbecke
Central
Cornfields
Crest
Delton
Eden
Edenbrooke
Gallaston
Hawley
Madison
Remoston
Robinsford (AKA: Hood)
Yogi

 

You can also add two unofficial districts in the form of China Town (part of Beiderbecke) and The Reserve (technically not a part of Worton but under its civic jurisdiction. There’s also Mender Vale, but that’s not part of Worton.

The town has just two more areas (minus the unofficial districts) than Bolton, to which it is comparable in size. According to my notes, however, it originally had an awful lot more districts, in addition to those above, which means that the town would have had to be much, much bigger than actually depicted. It should also be noted that in the original version Crest was split into north and south districts and Robinsford was simply ‘The Hood Estate.’

The other districts were:

Auld Quay
Barbarossa
Bawdsey
Bracken Boughs
Carrisbrooke
Ceaderwoods
Coriston
Coriston Green
Cemetary Hill (*now incorporated into Cornfields)
Derradge
Ermintrude
Feldspar
Fent
Foals Common
Goldly Meadows
The Granges
Hazelwood
Hazelwood Meadows
Holme
Lyme Grove
Marchbanks
Mallowthorn
Merden (upper and lower)
Northgate
Parson’s Green
Pilkington
Pilkingston
Remoston Quays
The Rising
Sander’s Edge
Semprini
Stelmore
St Xavier’s
Tithebarn
Vale Meadows
Vineyards
Willows
Woolwich
Worton Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which makes for a grand total of 53 districts plus the two unofficial ones- FIFTY THREE! That is no small industrial town- That’s a sizeable city. At that many districts it would have been the largest settlement in Lancashire, a place difficult to imagine having a terminal industrial decline.

 

Building Worton is a series of posts going beyond and behind the scenes of my Dark Legend books- Spawn, Swarm, Stop The Cavalry & Sting (with two more to come.) They are available on Amazon in paperback & eBook.

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Picnic at New Brighton Rock

‘Keep to the right and hold on tight,’ numerous signs abounding the escalator descending into the bowels of Lime Street warns. Naturally, there is one man ahead of me who doesn’t, who does neither, but the shaking, rattling and rolling thing beneath us doesn’t send him on a tumble as the sign hints it will. When a sign is repeated as often as this one is you know that it’s best to obey. Bad things will happen to those who don’t, except for some reason, this time.

I haven’t had a proper adventure since March and it is now August. My mood has been on a real down these last few months and only now do I feel up to getting out and about. But despite being August I have to wrap myself up as though it’s still March. Where did the summer go again? Oh that’s right, even the summer has decided that Britain is now a third rate nation and doesn’t deserve its presence, pretty much like most of the rest of the world. I reflect on this, wondering if it will be warmer next year, as I sit on the platform, being blinded by the Chester train coming through. I come to the conclusion that we’ll never have a summer again. That’s it. That one day we had this year was the sun saying goodbye forever. Then I get distracted by a sign on the platform wall opposite. It’s your bog standard ‘don’t run’ sort of sign but the picture above is just of a pair of shoes, no people, and it looks to me like they’re tap dancing, not running.

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Building Worton | Mythological Cheddar

A lot of people utilise mythology in their work. A good example would be American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which transfers the characters of Germanic and Norse Mythology (and others) into the modern world. Success in using mythology often depends on what you are writing and how well you do it. One foot wrong and you’re on the direct, non-stop train to cheeseville. The best way to avoid this mythological cheddar, in my opinion, is to be subtle, to not make any connections overt or in your face. Literally calling your hero Theseus Jones and have him run around a maze in search of a bull like monster isn’t the way to go about things.

Mars. god of seventies porn stars… (Painting by Velazquez, courtesy of wikimedia)

The most obvious mythological connection in my own work comes in the surname of Will and the rest of his family- Morfasson- (Pronounced MORE-FUH-SUN, for those who don’t know). I came up with the name based on my original intent for the first one of them, Marcus. The idea was that two thousand years ago the Roman Gods had fought a massive war against some unknown enemy and lost, ending up either scattered to the winds or dead. Apollo and Mars have been looking for the rest of the gods all that time and one day Apollo (being, as he is, Apollo,) drags a reluctant Mars into a karaoke bar. Mars gets bored and runs off with a woman he meets in the bar. Nine months later she gives birth to Marco and literally names him ‘SON OF MARS’ in anagram form.

That idea would never, never, have worked. It was far too corny and overdone. It was far too Percy Jackson (though I hadn’t even heard of Percy Jackson.) It reeked of cheddar. Fortunately the idea of Marco being a literal son of Mars fell by the wayside when I decided to merge his story with another book I was writing and he ended up with a large (extremely large) family. Originally they were called McCullough, or something very similar, and they retroactively ended up with Marco’s surname because I liked that better.

It was the best move I could have made because it meant that I could, in fact, turn the anagram into a myth of my own, a hint that they were all descended from Mars. This was later elaborated upon, becoming, as Will would so bluntly put it, eighteenth century bullshit (because the anagram only works in modern English and the name (in universe) can be traced back to the eleventh century.) The commonly accepted explanation for the name (in universe) is that it is a Danish-Welsh hybrid; Morfa being the Welsh word for Marsh- The name means ‘Children of the Marsh.’ The anagram becomes an in-universe coincidence, kind of akin to how Clint Eastwood is an anagram of ‘Old West Action.’

Much of the mythology I use in my work is allegorical. Liverinth, which I’m currently working on, gets quite heavy on the allusions to Greek mythology (Theseus, Orpheus and Eurydice & Persephone most prominently) and in some points it’s very clear what I’m trying to do, but it never crosses the line into outright cheese thanks to the fact that I don’t actually shout it from the rooftop. Most of it is incredibly subtle- Like the old Liver Pool (yes, this was a thing, it’s under Paradise Street) becomes analogous to the River Lethe, in Hades. But I mainly leave the audience to do the work and let everything act as its own thing. I’ve also mixed Bulgakov in there, which helps muddy the waters a bit.

Will’s addition to my cannon created a lot of unplanned allusions, but ones which work really well. I never initially intended him to be Marco’s twin but then the whole Dark Legend saga got shoehorned in and it ended up becaming cannon, with Will being the older of the pair. This further emphasises the Son of Mars thing, given that the most famous twins in mythology, Romulus and Remus, were themselves the children of Mars. After Will (re)discovers his identity in the second book he becomes a soldier, a literal child of war, leading the students of Beiderbecke in the first proper pitched battle against the graffe. Those graffe, also, are feral and somewhat lupine. They’re described as being ‘dog like.’ Will and Marco spent most of their early teenage years fighting them, meaning that though they weren’t exactly raised by wolves they did grow up amongst them. There’s also Romulus and Remus’ mortal ancestry to consider. They were descended from Aeneas and a whole lot of other Trojan heroes, just as Will and Marco are descended from people who did all kinds of crazy and heroic things (some of which, even they admit, have been made up or exaggerated.)

I use mythology sparingly. Unless it plays into a major theme of the book (like Liverinth) I don’t deliberately pull from it. But if I’m using a real place I’ll often look up the folklore or use some urban legend around it, if I can fit it in- Stop The Cavalry mentions the Mersey being as sacred as the Ganges, for example- It is rare that I ever set out to build something around a piece of mythology thogh. That, I feel, would lead to almost certain cheddar.

Saying that… There are a few pieces of mythology that I am very slowly building something around. Most of the stuff is only an allusion to the real mythology, it’s my own spin on things, and I’m only taking bits and pieces, but it is there. Sometimes, once you know it, it becomes really obvious. I’m not going to say what it is (that would give the game away) but it turns up in all the Dark Legend books, two of the Aunt Mable stories (so far), Max & Anna, the in progress Eboracvm, Charlie Fuller AND Liverinth. It’s NOT Greco-Roman, that would be too obvious and overdone (even by me.) I will say this though… Will’s favourite Disney film (which is also one of mine, btw) is NO COINCIDENCE.

 

Building Worton is a series of posts going in depth and behind the scenes of the Dark Legend Saga- Spawn, Swarm, Stop The Cavalry & Sting. All are available now from Amazon.

Building Worton | Those Whom We Have Lost

There are a lot of characters in the Dark Legend books. All the books have one main protagonist, Will, and principle antagonist Harris appears in all but the third and fifth books. There are the secondary characters and support characters, who vary from book to book. Secondary includes any character who narrates a section or has a major role whilst I consider support characters as anyone else who features across multiple books or sections or has a big enough impact on the plot but isn’t always involved in the main action. These secondary and support for the first two books are:

-SPAWN: Joe, Dan, Doug, Randy, Eliza- SUPPORT: Harper, DI Fisher, Murdoch, Greg, Amanda, ‘Erac,’ Gertie
-SWARM: Joe, Dan, Doug, Randy, Eliza, Lydia- SUPPORT: Harper, Gabby, Amanda, Greg, DI Fisher, Dr Necropolis, Niamh, ‘Erac,’ Gertie

After this it becomes a bit difficult without a few potential spoilers, due to a lot of secondary character deaths and departures in the second book. So if you want to skip the next section feel free.


-STOP THE CAVALRY: Joe, Doug, Dast, Hailey, Lydia- SUPPORT- Wilson, Visco, Jazz, Niamh
-STING: Joe, Doug, Lex, Dast, Hailey, Lydia- SUPPORT- Visco, Ericson, Jack, Fisher, Dr Necropolis + others


I’m not going to go further than that because that would mean spoilers for books that aren’t even out yet. As you can see there are ten secondary characters, though not more than six in one book. There’s also a sizeable support cast, especially in the fourth book. Just mentioned above are a whopping twenty seven characters. That is before I even get to the one section wonders (guest support I suppose you could call them) and the whole multitude of named and unnamed extras who crop up all over the place.

But there are characters who, in the whole process of creating this thing, got tossed to the wayside.

The character of Wayne (who makes a cameo in book 1 and is a one section wonder in book 2) never existed originally. The whole prologue, where he acts as the audience surrogate, wasn’t there. The thing began in the midst of the action with Randy seeing the graffe chasing Will into Beiderbecke. Where he appears in book 2 was also radically different and instead of Wayne being rescued from a Harris controlled hospice it was a nursing home full of graffe. Wayne was also a weird old lady by the name of Madame Oscilly Rosette. She fulfilled much the same role but the explanation for how she knew everything about Will was much, much sillier- She knew the rest of his family, having cryogenically frozen herself in 1963. The reason she disappeared entirely, beside the whole thing not making a jot of sense, was because I thought it would be better for me to link back into the prologue and to look at the consequences of what happens there.

I guess you could say that the Freddie Mercury impersonators weren’t great pretenders. (Image from Biography.com)

Other characters to fall by the wayside, either because they were too silly to be allowed a place in the new world order or because they weren’t needed, included Dave, a guy who Will promised to avenge after he was attacked in the first section; Mr Ication & Miss Nichols, two Beiderbecke teachers. There were two more teachers, one of whom was a literal child and the other a killer robot- The child went for obvious reasons and the robot when that whole sub-plot was dropped. There were Freddy Mercury impersonators in there, some guy called Tarquin, and a mime artist. All got nixed for not making an ounce of sense. The Freddie Mercury impersonators were particularly egregious and silly.

At one stage the OSW character, Sgt Vaughn, got killed mid way through his section and was replaced for the rest of it by a WPC called Ophelia Varley. She went after Vaughn was given a brief reprieve.

Robert Alderman, who does get name dropped in the second book, was originally an actual character as well. He was the original Magna.

And then you have Wellington. Wellington was a Beiderbecke student who had an obsession with screwdrivers. His only survival is as a complaint from Dan about how one of Harper’s detentions will be ‘a load of geeks and nerds talking about the durability of a screwdriver.’ He would turn up at random moments and behave in a generally annoying way. His most important scene was in the battle during the second book where he let Randy out of the Beiderbecke common room- The remnants of this scene are still there, only now it is Niamh who lets Randy out and it is from Harper’s office, not the common room.

All of those that were dropped were not great characters. Most of them appeared in one scene and shuffled off never to be seen again. Every so often one might stick their head above the parapet but they were still nothing moments. Mr Ication existed in place of Silverman’s role in the second book (Silverman existing elsewhere before getting pushed over to fill the gap) and like Silverman he didn’t do much beyond a couple of scenes. The only time he appeared again was during a car chase when he inexplicably turned up in an ice cream truck.

These characters are gone and they are best forgotten.

 

Building Worton is a series of posts going behind the scenes of the Dark Legend books- Spawn, Swarm, Stop the Cavalry and Sting. All are available from Amazon.

Aunt Mable & The Evacuees | Short Story

If you haven’t read the previous Aunt Mable stories, and you really ought to think about it, (clue- They’re here) then this is the basic gist of what is going on: On the day the Second World War begins Mable Morfasson (one S is silent, remember that) comes shuffling out of the fog and back into the castle of Cythry, much to the annoyance of the boys who live there. With her feet well and truly under the table and with all attempts to convince their absent father of her presence, the six boys (Edward having been dispatched to boarding school) plus friend Seb tried to escape to London. They failed. Only now, after this incident, has their Father decided to return…

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Building Worton | A Local History

The history of Worton is not something that is ever explicitly spelled out during the Dark Legend books, or at any point in the books that surround it. We only ever get snippets here and there and much of that is modern history.

The oldest thing we know about Worton is dropped in the as yet unreleased fifth book and hinted at in the second. The highest point in the Mender Vale forest, north of the town, is called ‘Witch’s Rock’ and it gets its name from a local event where three sisters were hung for witchcraft during the seventeenth century. The hint in the second book comes in the name of the café, The Witch’s Coven where Will, Dan and Joe have breakfast shortly before everything goes tits up (or after if you want to be pedantic, considering the events of that book aren’t exactly portrayed in any linear fashion.) It’s a slight nod to the distant past.

(Image from lancastercastle.com)

The idea of Worton having some connection to witchcraft was a very early one and it fits in gorgeously with the history of the wider  area. Being in the extreme southern part of Bowland, Worton is a stone’s throw from nearby Pendle, a place that is world famous for its witches. In the year 1612 ten women and two men were accused of witchcraft and eleven of them were tried and ten hanged- One was found not guilty. Tried at the same time were the Salmesbury witches, three women, although unlike the Pendle Witches all three were acquitted. Between Worton, Salmesbury and Pendle there is a triangle of witchiness. There is something called ‘The Pendle Witch Trail’ in the area, it’s big tourism business. I like to think that the Worton witches never had a trial (if they had they would have been hung at Lancaster) and that the Wortonians decided to take matters into their own hands and lynch them based on spurious evidence. The story of the Worton witches would be seriously overshadowed by the Pendle withces, to the point where it is almost forgotten.

At that point in the seventeenth century Worton would have been no more than a collection of farms and isolated houses and it’s only with the coming of the industrial revolution one hundred and fifty plus years later that it would grow into the industrial town we see in the books. For the location this is unusual as most settlements in this part of Lancashire are small and rural. Most of the major industrial centres of the north were in a belt between Liverpool and Hull, many of them around Manchester. Worton is quite a way to the north of that and probably only grew due to the River Mender providing navigable access down to Preston and the Ribble valley, an easy, convenient way to get goods in and out. The coming of the railway in the 1830s would have only expanded the town’s industry- Which was based around lead mining and manufacturing.

Burnley- Date unknown. Early C.20. Worton would probably have looked very similar to this. (From Burnleyinthegreatwar.info)

By the time of the books Worton’s industry, like of much of industrial Britain, has severely declined and the town has slumped with it. The river is said to be so poisonous that it’ll kill anyone who sets a toe in there. This is thanks to years of people dumping lead waste into it. Being so far back from the M6 (and the main A5069 road into town not being marked as an A road on major maps) hurt the town and whilst some companies still operated from the town (mainly science based companies such as LUPUS,) many found other places, closer to Preston and Manchester, more economically viable.

Whilst numerous investments and rejuvenation projects are apparent in the books (Police Tower, the shopping mall, the Plaza, Chinatown,) most of them are white elephants or failed attempts to bring in tourists. Worton acts as an embodiment of British industry and industrial towns as a whole, lacking a purpose and looking for some way to adapt and survive. Much of Greater Manchester can be seen as a less extreme example of the same sort of thing- Places like Bolton and Rochdale, towns that once thrived, now struggle.

In the fourth book we get a suggestion that Tolkien may have visited Worton when he was writing Lord Of The Rings- Indeed, Tolkien did write bits of the book in the area- and this leads Doug to speculate that he may (in part) have immortalised the town as Mordor. He almost certainly didn’t. Will also says, in book 3, that Jane Austen stole the town’s motto for the title of Sense and Sensibility. She almost certainly didn’t.

Building Worton is a series of posts going behind the scenes of my Dark Legend books- Spawn, Swarm, Stop The Cavalry & Sting- and the world they inhabit. All are available from Amazon and iTunes. 

Edward Gibbon, the Fall of Rome and Me

Whether it was in my secondary school or college library where I was first confronted by Edward Gibbon’s monumental history of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire I can’t recall. It is likely to have been the former as before they cut it down by half and moved it to a disused classroom across the campus, where it was never open, my secondary school library had a whole wall of ‘classics’ which nobody except the likes of myself ever went near. I am convinced that Gibbon was included on that wall of books. What I can definitely recall is how astonished I was by the scale of it, six incredibly thick volumes of tiny and complex writing which I could never have hoped to understand at that age. Even if I could have understood it I felt that I would never be able to get through all six volumes. It was too vast, too daunting for me to even comprehend. Naturally, I avoided it for this reason. Continue reading