ARTICLE (May 2018)

Continuing a current theme here at Horla – psychogeography – one of our contributors considers the ‘uncanny’ source of her own creativity when it comes to writing short stories



Where do stories come from?

That for me is the mystery, the uncanny nature of creativity.

As a hybrid psychogeographic-fiction writer, tramping rural Gower (the South West Wales peninsula that is my home) on a daily basis affords a creative larder to plunder.

The experiences of doing so feed into all the senses: visual, aural, tactile, and kinaesthetic. Researching a place on foot reveals marks other than those that can be seen with the eye: walking brings about a reconnection with the past and a resurfacing of personal memories that leave imprints lodged deep in the mind. This intimate, and indeed passionate, method of researching is integral to my writing. My psychogeographic moochings also endorse what I feel but find difficult to articulate: that magic link between walking and creativity.

Walking affords me a new way of seeing – a writer’s way of seeing, and countless opportunities that enable me to process fact into fiction. When I walk for the purpose of psychogeography, I walk alone. Though I have never thought of myself as ‘lonely’ or consciously felt ‘loss’, when I sit at my desk to write later, I venture once again into that very intense and lonely mental space that walking the landscape evokes for me. In this state of mind, I create characters who seem to carry an inner loneliness.

All my stories have been born out of the reality of personal experience. They have started with a walk, an object found, a memory stirred, a conversation overheard. They have often been shocked into being by the discovery of something I least expected, such as the maggot-crawling carcass of a horse in a field off the beaten track. The stench of rotten flesh lingering long, as did the buzz of flies, the image of the distended abdomen refusing to go away until I had written it away in a story called ‘The Grey Mare’:

‘He would wake with a start from the dream at the sound of the shotgun and he would sit bolt upright in his bed, sweating and shaking just as he’d done on the night it had happened. For this dream told him, repeatedly, that it had all actually happened.

There were never any scenes in the dream of his brother: he found that strange, that the consequences didn’t play out. All he saw was that damn mare. He saw it where he had left it in the wet meadow, swelling and distorting, the belly distending. Saw crows and magpies perched on its back, beaking and bobbing its drying hide, pecking into the meat below. Saw buzzards gorging on the carrion. Watched the flies taking hold of the flesh, the maggots crawl and feast. Saw the beast picked clean until only a dried heap of bones remained and a skull with the eyes gouged and the sockets hollow and exposed.’

Stories have quite literally come out of nowhere, dropped from the sky as did the hang-glider who descended at dusk into the birch trees in my garden. It ignited a spark that burned long in the imagination until it found itself many years later on the page in ‘The Devil’s Spit(published elsewhere in Horla’s pages: see Horla fiction).

Stories have urged themselves into the telling. Once, prompted by a ‘For Sale’ sign, I veered off the path to look through the window of what I called ‘the last house on the road to nowhere’ here in my village.

I knew the house was a holiday home but what I didn’t know until I gazed through the glass was that my old oak furniture from a previous house (and a previous marriage) was in place in the parlour. Furniture that held the past in its grooves and scratches, furniture that prompted me to buy the house and willed me to tell its story in ‘The South Westerlies’:

‘It is as though she gives the kiss of life to these relics of her past. When we sit down to eat I notice how the chair arms are somehow smoother and silkier, how the grain at the side of my place mat stands out in stark relief to the rest of the wood. Sometimes I think I see faces in the patterns as I used to in the wallpaper and curtains of my bedroom when I was a child. Sometimes I think I see his face, leering at me; though I’ve never seen a picture of him.’

Stories have often been carried on the wing-flap of birds. Buzzards hovering over still-born lambs in local fields, magpies beaking fermenting apples, and black crows at dawn rapping at their reflections in my bedroom window. And there have been birds that have come as portends: a white owl that appeared on three consecutive evenings, allowing me a fleeting glimpse of its heart-shaped face in the bare blackthorn, the sight of it swooping across the stubble, that held my gaze with its amber-eyed stare at dusk. That left a single feather on the step outside my front door, prompting my story, ‘Just in Case(published elsewhere in these pages: see Horla fiction.

Psychogeography is a way into writing for me, the facts gleaned are frozen and static. My job as a writer of fiction is to process the facts, embellish and embroider, imagine and shape, to make story. And fiction is a temporal art because time is irreversibly passing. Time moves the story on. Things are never the same again and that’s the mystery and that’s the loss. As a writer I have to know where to make that incision in time and then progress the narrative. And who knows where that might lead me? What songs, as my mentor, the late Welsh poet Nigel Jenkins, so memorably put it, ‘await their singing’?


Jane Fraser lives, works and writes in a house facing the sea on the Gower Peninsula, Wales. She is interested in walking as a way into writing, and the relationship between pscyhe and geography to make fiction. She has been a finalist in the Manchester Fiction Prize (2017), a runner-up in the Fish and Rhys Davies prizes, highly commended in the ABR Elizabeth Jolley short story prize and winner of BHS and Genjuan prizes for haibun. Recently she has been runner-up in the Fish Short Memoir Prize (2018) with her story ‘Where the Track Forks Left and Where the Track Forks Right’. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Swansea. | Twitter @jfraserwriter

Photographs by Philip Griffiths