Author David Budd shares with us how 'The Shadow Man' came into being and what inspired him to write it.
The story of how a book came to be written can often be as long as the book itself, and that certainly feels true of The Shadow Man and the seven long years it took me to write it.
It grew out of another story I had tried to write and then abandoned after the first few chapters because I didn’t know where to go with it. That idea had been inspired by a misheard lyric from a REM song (Man on the Moon in case you’re wondering), and was a coming of age story about a teenager who falls in love with a wild but troubled young woman. For a while I wondered if the woman had something supernatural about her, before deciding that she didn’t. I wanted the chance to write more realistic fiction in contrast to what I usually wrote. It didn’t work out on that occasion, but sometimes good ideas hang around, even when you think you’ve done all you can with them, and I kept thinking about that young woman who perhaps did have something supernatural about her after all. Then one day I found myself wondering what if the woman had a twin brother, what if they both had the ability to control the elements, and what if things went terribly wrong for the brother?
The story that began to develop had the feel of a fairy-tale that also evoked the myth of the Fall. It would be about two teenage siblings, Faith and Thomas, who possess a special connection to nature. As they have grown older this connection has grown weaker, they feel cut off from the surrounding world. This inner state of exile is mirrored in their outer lives. They belong to a group of New Age travellers, recently evicted from their encampment and left to wander on the margins of society. The travellers park up in a field outside a small town where Faith meets Stephen, a local teenager, who is drawn into their closed world. Meanwhile, Thomas, in an attempt to reverse the decline of his and Faith’s abilities, falls victim to a demonic power that brings destruction to their fragile and throws the elements themselves into chaos.
Although the book wasn’t written with the climate crisis in mind, it was intended to show the devastating effects of a mindset that separates itself from the world around it and seeks to manipulate nature purely for its own ends. It looks only at the parts and fails to comprehend the whole. I also wanted the book to have a redemptive quality to it: the characters must find a way to reconcile themselves with the world and find their peace and proper place in it. I’ve no doubt there was an element of wish-fulfilment in this for me: having always lived in cities I feel somewhat estranged from nature. If only on a personal level, the book would attempt to heal that rift.
I’ve come to realise, too, that The Shadow Man is an ecstatic novel. There are several scenes where characters lose themselves in dance. The story opens on a night out. Faith and Thomas and some of the other travellers end up in a nightclub where they take to the dancefloor to forget the difficulties of the last few weeks. Later on, one of the other travellers, Brendan, recalls his early experiences of rave culture and one pivotal moment at the end of a three-day-long rave when, lifted out of himself, he teeters on the brink of revelation. Thomas too has his own experience on the dancefloor, only this time it is a darker more savage ecstasy that takes hold of him. These are moments of transcendence rooted in the mundane. Set alongside them are the truly transcendent, and often terrifying, experiences that Faith and Thomas have out in nature.
This echoes those traditions that sought to experience the Divine, either through dance or in nature, by leading a person out of themselves. This was always described as an ecstatic condition. The word ‘ecstasy’ comes from the Ancient Greek meaning ‘outside of oneself’: it is the exultation we feel when we go beyond the confines of our separate, personal self.
Finally, The Shadow Man is about myth and its power to explain us to ourselves. But it offers a cautionary tale of its own. Stories must change as we change in order for them to continue speaking to us and showing us the way forward. As in so much else, the danger here lies in clinging to the old story when, long after we have outgrown it, the time has come for us to start a new one.
The Shadow Man is available now on Kindle store for £1.99