Duncan Bradshaw’s newest book, Hexagram, was just released a few days ago and, in the wake of that release, Duncan has been kind enough to share the following essay with us. I’m not super familiar with Duncan yet, but I will be soon. His essay is very intriguing and I think after you read it, you will also be planning on becoming familiar with him. Check it out, and go buy Duncan’s book.
A Guest Essay By Duncan Bradshaw
Most of the time, when I’m writing a new book, the title isn’t the first thing I think of, this was true for Hexagram. I had the initial premise in August 2015, perhaps I was listening to
too much Moby, as the adage, ‘We are all made of stars’, just fired something in my brain. What if stardust could actually be extracted from people, and that if enough of it was collected, and treated a certain way, it would create something impossible?
Initially, the book was going to be a novella, about twin sisters, who discover this knowledge, and seek to complete the ritual. Typically, when my brain was thinking about the origins of the ritual, I gravitated towards the Inca, and their rather grisly history. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I could somehow link one story with another, across five hundred years to the modern day. It seemed a little crazy first off, but as soon as I decided on a Spanish conquistador stashing it away, all I had to do was find just cause for it to be found and the ritual started anew.
I love the darker crevices of human history, and after deciding to use historical events as the foundation for each story, I wanted to use some which were equally shady. Discovering the ill-fated Treasure Fleet of 1715, gave me my first link. Of the thirteen strong convoy, four ships disappeared utterly, no trace ever found of them, the crew or cargo.
Going from a quite rote narrative with the first setup story, albeit one with a slight supernatural leaning, I wanted to put the reader into the mind of someone who is at their wits end. Before the shipwreck story even starts its recollection, the main (unnamed) character is on edge, having spent the previous two years in a permanent state of unease.
In a way, the storm and the beaching is a mirror of his own mental state, that even when salvation is found, it is tinged with sadness and despair. Like we often find in life, at the moment of acceptance, something reminds us of its fragility.It is at this point in his journey, that the opportunity presents itself, to see if this mysterious text is true. From there, his descent is rapid, as the demons of old take over, and guide his actions.
From there, and by using some old maps of possible crash sites, I wanted to bring it to the American Civil War, and given the location, set during a battle or skirmish towards the end of the war, when the Confederates were on the ropes.
I love a good cult, people who become convinced by one person’s unerring faith in something, that they almost forgo their own existence, just to be a cog in the machines movement. I wanted this to dip into the supernatural elements from the first story, hence the chapter where he is suffering from hallucinations after being accidentally poisoned. Given that this ritual only works on the basis that there is more than what we can see and touch, I felt that those sections helped to transform it into something a bit different.
This story is definitely more of a transition for the overall narrative, but still touches on the overall theme of the misuse of knowledge, and morality. These people, appear to be altruistic, but their actions only serve to work towards their one mission, at the expense of anything and anyone else.
The next tale, set in Victorian England, was one of the most important, as I needed it to link to the final story, so using the Jack the Ripper murder case as the background was something that was really good fun to write. It’s my wife Debbie’s favourite of the six stories in the book, I think mainly because a number of my ism’s are included, and part of it is set on the street that we currently live on.
With this story also being written in the first person, it was the most fun to write as well. Like the other stories, trying to balance the need for historical accuracy, but also within the world itself, meant that the dialogue was intentionally OTT Imperial British gentleman.
Though there are six stories, I didn’t want them to join up in a linear way. I wanted the reader to make the connectionwith how the knowledge is being discovered and passed on. Each story is pretty much its own animal, but when you read how it ties in with something you read one or two stories back, it’s that little glimmer of recognition that makes you smirk.
There is always the temptation to simplify things, to highlight certain plot points, but I’ve always wanted to steer clear of that. I want to let the reader make their own deductions, as that, to me at least, is half the fun of reading in the first place. All I do, really, is relay the events from my point of view, it’s down to the reader to put it together themselves.
With Detective Norton having retired to Calcutta, I had to bring the penultimate story as close to the modern day as possible. The Jonestown Massacre is an event that seems to have left an indelible mark on me. One early reader asked why I didn’t use it directly, replacing it instead with Jim Gimbal, and Gimbaltown. I just felt that with the other events used, they happened so long ago, and were recorded in such a fashion, that there was enough wide open space to do my own thing in. With Jonestown happening relatively recently, and being pored over so much, I felt that it would not make sense to change it to suit my purposes.
Of all the stories, this was the one I had the clearest style on. It’s my Tarrantino homage I suppose. Throughout my formative years, his films have been a big influence on me. The dialogue, music, the characters which are so huge and distinct that they border on being caricature.
The Pastor is exactly that. Brash, louder than life, you kinda wonder how he came about to be this person, this quasi-religious figurehead, when he is blatantly ambivalent to the concept. Then you realise, that it is his force of character, his belief in what he is doing, that carries him through life. He’s an utter psycho, especially on harvesting day, but it’s because this is the pinnacle of what he is about. He wants everything to be just so, perfect, exacting, and when it isn’t, well, he lets them know about it.
Finally, onto the last story, which is the longest of all in the book. This may sound odd, but there are a few paragraphs at the end of this story that make me blub. The events, and notions that I put down in writing were obviously swimming around in me, unsaid for years.
It is about Esther, who feels disconnected from everything and everyone. It is as though she is operating at a different frequency to the rest of the world. She doesn’t get them, and they don’t really get her. I wanted her to appear vulnerable in public settings, but, like the other main characters, she possesses this huge sense of purpose about her. When she is on her terms, she is forceful, passionate and certain.
Yes, she, like her predecessors,aren’t sure what will happen when she completes the ritual, but she believes in it enough to know, unequivocally, that it will set her free, with the one person who has always understood her. Yet even though their reasoning is probably the ‘purest’ of everyone who has gone before them, their actions are still barbaric. It begs the question, ‘should you do something, just because you can?’
Which brings us, neatly, to the wrap around story, which bookends the six stories, each tale a point on a Hexagram, part of the same star. I added this, and thought it might be one of those things which people go, “Huh?” Maybe they will. I wanted to show that all actions, have ramifications, and not necessarily in the way that people would expect. We are all connected, not through some deity, but by commonality. We all share this world, which in turn is but a mere speck, barely even a molecule, in the sheer gargantuan desert of existence. We shout in the dark, we fight, rail against each other and events, yet, if we worked together, would be capable of such beauty.
Actions speak louder than words, and with the actions of the twins at the end of Hexagram, their motive, regardless of its moral ambiguity, shapes what is then created.
I hope too, that once the final page is closed on this book, each piece of this puzzle is in its place, and the path from that dusty Inca temple, through to the modern day, is lit up with the stardust harvested on the way.
Duncan P. Bradshaw