Behind the Book
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Blood Red Road had a long gestation and a prolonged, sometimes painful birth. In the autumn of 2006, I was thinking and worrying about climate change, the finite resources of our beautiful planet, and the rise and fall of human civilizations and societies. It was then that I started to write a dual-viewpoint book about an icebound world, starring a cave-dwelling girl and a boy who lived in a biosphere. In the winter of 2011, some four and a half years later, I put the finishing touches on Blood Red Road. A few elements of that original story remain: the fact that it’s set in the future and the names Saba, Lugh, and Emmi. That’s about it. But Blood Red Road, and the vast, dusty world in which it takes place, grew out of those first 10,000 words about an ice-world Romeo and Juliet and wouldn’t exist without them.
One of my first, and certainly my most important, literary influences was the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz. I first saw it on our black and white TV and couldn’t have been more than four or five. Here, without my knowing it, was the hero’s journey, and it sank deep into my psyche. Blood Red Road is a classic hero’s journey, and I’ve drawn heavily on the work of Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Myths to Live By) and Carl Jung. Growing up on Canada’s West Coast and prairies, I think my internal visual landscape must be large-scale by default, but then I inherited not only a love of Western movies from my father, but also his fondness for epics. A formative childhood experience was seeing Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago, aged eight, on the big screen. The main cinema influence for Blood Red Road is, however, John Ford’s The Searchers.
I guess it’s surprising that the hero’s journey, epic scale, and vast landscapes haven’t erupted from me into a book long before now, especially considering that I wrote my first book at the age of eight or nine. But I’ve been pursuing my own hero’s journey on the way to becoming a writer. I was first an actress and then an opera singer and along the way did many a dull job to pay the bills.
I think that these previous incarnations explain Saba’s voice and the style in which Blood Red Road is written. While I was writing it, I spoke the words aloud. I also thought about music a great deal. I wasn’t listening to it—I work in silence, with earplugs in—but I heard it, nonetheless. Heard it and felt it. The pulses, the rhythms, the balance. Sometimes broad, sweeping, and, at times aching phrases, other times single notes sharp and harsh. A friend of mine picked up the book, opened it to a random page, and exclaimed, “Oh! You’ve written music!” I was thrilled by that, but she’s the only one so far to have noticed. Some people call it poetic. Maybe they’re the same thing. I’m interested in how much can be communicated in a few words. Or even one word. I love words and mispronunciation and idiosyncratic turns of phrase. I’m interested in how the English language is changing all the time, all around us. How it’s degrading in many ways. My decision to use a rough kind of dialect is simply a recognition of this, that English will continue to change as time goes on. It’s not meant to be a regional dialect or accent of either the U.S. or Canada. My first drafts of the book used a much more extreme dialect and I would have loved to have gone on with that, but I don’t suppose anyone would have wanted to read it.
I didn’t plan this book. When I did, mainly it didn’t go according to plan, although sometimes it did. I found that characters did what they did and said what they said and waited, sometimes impatiently, while I wrote it down. But I did have to sit there at the table, at my computer, and write. Even if every word I wrote that day turned out to be a dud. I had to sit down and write. And once I’d finished the first draft, that was just the beginning. Only then did I really start to write the book.