Inspiration: An Unquiet Calm

The An Unquiet Calm anniversary week comes to a close with the inspirations behind the title story. There may be spoilers ahead.

UnquietCover72‘An Unquiet Calm’ was an attempt to fuse British myth with my favourite aspects of Lovecraftian horror.

The Cthulhu Mythos is one of my favourite semi-genres, so I have always wanted to write in it. However – apart from a deliberately over the top Mythos/X-Files crossover I wrote many years ago – I hadn’t found an approach that was both modern and still Lovecraftian.

My favourite stories, both by Lovecraft and his successors, focus more on the mental trauma of realising the universe is filled with powers that aren’t comprehensible rather than the exploding heads and flailing tentacles of, for example, Brian Yunza’s Reanimator. I had been aware of years that the same sense of powers beyond good and evil ran through many of the less-sanitised fairy tales, but in April 2013 I realised that might be my way in: instead of the casual racism of 1920’s Arkham or the rubber-suited horrors of Innsmouth, I could write about truths underlying British myths.

The idea of a childless couple asking the old powers that lived in the hills for a baby came almost immediately. As it was a Lovecraftian tale, the choice of an antiquarian book-dealer as the first person to discover the horror seemed similarly obvious.

Unlike ‘Some Secrets’, the true answer was always the supernatural. However, I was aiming to capture the way that, in the Mythos, the modern world is built on not seeing the horrors in the shadows; so I chose to make the protagonist a police officer investigating a series of deaths that could be explained but left niggling doubts.

The ending of the story came from a second similarity I noticed between the Mythos and folk tales: Lovecraftian creatures leaving only inconclusive evidence when killed, and fairies turning to stone or collapsing into a cloud of butterflies; even facing them and winning leaves no proof of the threat. So, at the end of the first draft the briars are dying back, and Inspector Stevens was last seen running into the hills after Simon Withrick.

Reading it through, I liked it, but the ending didn’t feel right: the briars dying could be taken as evidence Stevens won or explained away as just coincidence; it needed a more significant ending. But I didn’t want to take away the air of uncertainty completely by showing the reader objective truth.

Pondering it further, I realised there was a possible loose end: if Simon had the power to control people then would he just let Stevens kill him? Following on from the idea of forced suicide, I realised there is a huge difference between Stevens shooting Simon in the heat of the moment and being certain he made the right decision later.

So, I rewrote the ending to leave several possibilities: Stevens tripped and his gun went off, and Simon is just lost in the hills; Simon made Stevens kill himself, and left the area; Stevens killed Simon, and couldn’t face the guilt.

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