In the second post on the inspirations behind the stories in State, I cover (unsurprisingly) ‘Pig Boy’, the second story in the collection. There may be spoilers ahead.
The original story was set in a grimy pseudo-medieval village: the basic plot of a boy being bullied and revealing a magical gift was the same, but it ended with him accepting that bullying was his assigned lot in life and carrying on. I was inspired initially by the history of witch trials: rather than the logical belief that those in league with evil would be successful, accusations were most often levelled at the disadvantaged. As I had already played with successfully outwitting villagers in ‘Washed Clean’, I was interested in writing a character who was free of guile.
The then-unnamed protagonist came out sympathetically, but the cuts needed to meet the word limit left the story a very reliant on a basic grounding in Medieval witch fears. So – despite coming second in the competition – I decided to rewrite it.
The first rewrite filled in the detail, allowing it to function better without any prior knowledge; however, it still didn’t feel right, and ended up sitting in an archive file on my computer.
I read it again earlier this year when I started considering possible stories for my second collection. With the benefit of distance, I realised it wasn’t about hiding magic; it was about common cruelty. While the revelation Billy had healing powers might be a surprise to the reader, Billy didn’t change. It needed a more satisfying ending.
The obvious ending was a victory over the bullies. All Billy’s actions were out of a love of life, and his magic was removing hurts, so it didn’t seem plausible he would manage to fight back. And he wasn’t a cunning person, so a prank wouldn’t be in character either. And even if he did manage to fight or prank them, medieval society was very structured: an orphan peasant boy with a mental disability would almost certainly be punished rather than treated better.
The same issue of a rigid society made both pleading his case with adults and leaving the village seem unfeasible: even if he thought of it, trying to change his place would result in, at best, being punished.
While I was mulling in the back of my head, I continued to assemble the rest of the collection; which all had a science-fiction flavour. Rather than put Pig Boy back in the archive because I didn’t have an ending and wasn’t science-fiction, I experimented with making it science-fiction. Instead of a village fenced in by social inertia, it became a post-event settlement fenced in by an actual fence and dangerous wastes.
Without the need to overcome my expectations of medieval society, the ending came quite easily; instead of the very humble acceptance of his place in life, he could find the strength to leave.
With Billy’s magic turned into a psychic effect, there wasn’t the same ingrained moral dimension as medieval ‘magic is of Satan’, so I left the ending open enough it wasn’t clear whether the voices in the wastes had Billy’s interests at heart; ironically, putting in the morals of magic theme that drove the extensive rewrites.
What did you think about ‘Pig Boy’? Would you have preferred Billy to wreak his revenge?