For The Barrow Rapture, Brian, Tom, Beth and I started a long conversation with Barrow itself. We made trips to the place by car and train. We were researching, I suppose. Not like scientists do - we didn't have strict research questions and I don't think any of us turned up with a hypothesis - but we were, on those first visits, listening and making lists of questions the landscape prompted us to ask. We let ourselves be led by our noses, by getting lost, by turning up at the wrong cafe by accident. I took a left when I should have taken a right, ended up in front of a closed spiritualist church, and started wondering about conversations between the living and dead, between the present and the absent, between the embodied and the remembered. I started there.
We walked until our feet were sore. What does it feel like to be here, in this town? What does it smell like? What does the light look like in the late afternoon, and what do the shapes the shadows of those buildings make remind us of? What stories leak out of pub doorways, or are washed in by the tide? What plots and narratives are suggested by the way we move through the town, the way the roads siphon the traffic through the main and residential areas? What hidden histories and slowly evolving conflicts are embedded in this landscape: the thickening fog, the sea as grey as a draining board, the seagull shit caked on window ledges, thick as concrete?
We were in conversation with each other too - over email, and in some informal workshops we held to discuss the work. It felt important to tread lightly - to be guests in the town, and guests to each other's imaginative interpretations of the journey we'd shared. Plot would emerge if it wanted to. Voice would take care of itself if we listened hard enough and chose the words with humility. As a writer, I'm a control freak and giving myself up to unknowing, learning to respond gently and to edge slowly into the fog was hard on the brain and good for the ego. We wrote our own sections of the stories independently, editing in response to conversations about tone, style and theme and editing again as the first versions of Beth's amazing artworks started to appear.
And a character did emerge from the early morning mist - thank god. She was alone and listening to the town, like we were. Someone curious, someone looking for something in particular. Someone with a backpack and an even heavier burden. In one version of the story, she starts with a visit to the spiritualist church because her mum used to take her there. It was her safe place. The place to go back to and wait if she got lost. We developed a design for the website too - one which would allow Beth Ward's haunting and evocative interpretations of the buildings and landscapes take centre stage and work with the writing to create mood and tension and a design that would recreate or dramatise this sense of open ended exploration, of listening, of motivated but routeless wandering.
The architecture of The Barrow Rapture is fairly simple. The reader makes a series of decisions, deciding which landmarks to visit, and which to avoid. There are many routes and combinations through the work, just as there are many ways to explore a town - even a small one - on foot. Some of the locations are real, some imaginary, and some an amalgam of the two. There are several places to end the journey. And the reader can come home again - and find the town slightly different - as many times as she likes.