Evil Eyes, Black Feathers – Birds in Dark Fiction

Here’s a reprise of a blog I wrote recently for Short, Scary Tales, publisher of Five Feathered Tales:

Time and time again, I find I’m working on something new, only to discover that birds have somehow fluttered their way into the manuscript. Sometimes I’m not even sure how they manage it. My next novel is about a mad-doctor in nineteenth century Yorkshire, increasingly obsessed with a patient with strange hypnotic powers. Near the asylum is a graveyard for unclaimed patients, which I ended up naming the crow garden because of its avian residents. And those crows, the portents of death, started to take over. They grew in importance, in fact, until the book demanded to be called The Crow Garden.

Another novel, Path of Needles, is where fairy tales and a police procedural meet. And yet the characters are caught up in a fairy tale of their own, heralded by another bird, a blue bird, which they may choose to follow into the woods – at their own peril, of course.

Then there is Five Feathered Tales from SST, a collection of short stories involving birds, gorgeously illustrated by my good friend Daniele Serra.

So why this interest in birds? I’m not a bird spotter. I wouldn’t say I’m especially obsessed with our feathered friends. And yet there they are, strange and even rather alien, and working their magic.

Birds often appear in fairy tales too. They help or hinder: they peck up Hansel and Gretel’s trail of breadcrumbs, yet later help them escape across a lake. They can be princes in disguise, agents of vengeance, symbols of transformation, bad omens, or the dead returning to this world. And I’ve always loved fairy tales; perhaps that’s why birds lurk at the back of my own mind too.

It’s something I’ve puzzled over and never really come to any conclusion, which is why it was so lovely when the question was answered – not by me, but by another good friend, Peter Tennant of TTA Press, when I asked him to pen the introduction to Five Feathered Tales.

Look up the word feather in a thesaurus, he says, and you will find the word quill. ‘And so the stories are identified with the act of writing itself, with creativity in its purest distillation.’ He associates birds not only with flight in the literal sense but with the flight of the imagination, with storytelling, with the longing to escape the bounds of this world and learning to soar.

Aha, I thought, So that’s it.

Which is a rather roundabout way of saying I’m lucky, not only to have worked with such talented people on the book, and indeed to have them as friends, but that they have the insight to pinpoint exactly what it was all about in the first place.