The keys that bind

Photo: Mr Tickle - Wachoo Wachoo Tribe Congressman
It's with great pleasure that I offer you this wonderful piece by a fellow sci-fi author, Richard J. Galloway, about the stories which may be hidden behind simple objects.

I was going through some old boxes in the garage the other day when I came across a collection of objects from my childhood. There was a leopard shell that had been bought for me in the late 1960's while we were on holiday. My memories of the holiday are sketchy; brief snapshots of a sunny week in my ninth year. I remember it being very hot, so hot that the tarmac on the pavements was soft enough to dig up with a stick. I drove my first motor boat, and I got my first pair of sunglasses. The shell was a simple object and nothing special, but to me it was a key to some very personal memories.
There were other things in the box.
The remains of a draughts set that I'd been given when I was ten. Only the board and a few of the pieces remained. The set had been very old when I got them. The red and yellow squares on the board were worn with age and use. The draughts were made from some sort of hardened resin, either black or reddish brown in colour. For some reason I always associated the black ones with headaches. Finding the set reminded me of how I got it, and who I got it from.

My father was an electrician. As well as working in the steelworks he rewired people's houses. Occasionally he would take me along as the official cable rat. Being small, I could fit under the floorboards, which meant that I could run cables into the far corners of rooms. This wasn't slave labour; it was a paid underground adventure. Once, when crawling in a narrow space between honeycombed walls that meant you had to zigzag back and forth across the room to reach the far corner, I met a plumber coming the other way and had to reverse out. Sometimes it could get crowded down there.
The old man whose house we'd been wiring was in his eighties, and he showed us a piano that was in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
'I asked my son to help me carry that piano upstairs ten years ago,' the old man told us. 'He said that it was too heavy to lift and that he would have to get some removal men in to do it. I told him, I said, I'm not paying for removal men. I'll do it myself.'
'Did you?' my father asked, not really believing that that a man, then in his seventies, could have possibly got the piano upstairs by himself.
'I bet you can't guess how I did it.'
I suggested magic, but the old man was right; we didn’t have a clue.
The old man had been in the merchant navy since the 1890's, and had started his apprenticeship at fourteen on a tall sailing ship. Not much older than I was at the time.
'You haven't lived until you've been up in the rigging of a tall ship while rounding the Cape of Good Hope in a storm,' he said.
Experiences like this had removed the man's fear of heights and no doubt improved his grip, but it was what he learnt aboard ship that had allowed him to move the piano upstairs. To him the solution was simple; he used a block and tackle to haul the instrument upstairs.

I still find this story impressive and inspirational, but it's not the reason I told it. The point I'm making is that I hadn't thought about the old man and his piano, until I found the draughts set that he'd given me. It's the story behind the object that I feel is important. As I write I look around at the ornaments in the room. There is a story behind every one of them. Each one is a key that binds me to the events surrounding its acquisition.

My book Amantarra started out as a story about how I got a silver fob watch. To an extent, the plot in the book is true to the actual event, but I'm fond of hidden histories. I like to take the apparent and create fantastic explanations for them. Alternative twists to the obvious. The twist in the story of the watch became the catalyst for a much bigger story, and the focus switched from the watch to the main character, Amantarra. This led to the birth of Valheel, a city built on the inside of a sphere, the creation of Elleria, the death of immortality, and a second book.

I don't feel the same personal attachment to objects in a shop, or even newly purchased items. Objects only become personal when I know the history behind them, or after I have generated some history; whether that history is real or imagined. I still have the watch my Great Uncle gave me when I was eight. It's upstairs in a shoebox, waiting for Elleria to turn up and activate it.

Richard J. Galloway
Sci-fi/fantasy author

Raised amid the heavy industry of the north east of England on a diet of Star Trek, Doctor Who and fantasy novels, RICHARD J. GALLOWAY rebelled against his schools assumption that heavy industrial work would be his vocation. Having exhausted the only apparent option, the careers master would despair. "If you don't want to work in the steelworks, where do you want to work?" His reply was always, "I don't know." The industry he finished up in would not materialise for another ten years. No wonder the master struggled. From school, via drawing office and architecture, eventually he found himself working with large computer systems. 
Career aside, the thread that bound it all together has been fantasy. He has never lost his fascination with the imagery that a good story invokes. After all it had shown him worlds beyond this one, and possibilities beyond the steelworks. It continues to do so.
Richard still lives in the north east of England with his wife, family, and a large cat called Beano. The heavy industry has shrunk, but Richard's world of fantasy has grown. He often wonders what advice he would have been given if the careers master had read the occasional bit of science fiction.

Amantarra is Richard's first novel.

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