When I was a child, an empty and partially run-down house stood in my neighbourhood, just along the line where the century-houses ended and the postwar bungalows began. My sisters and I sometimes made up stories about ghosts who lived in it. The house was eventually refurbished and inhabited, so the house became no longer scary, so we stopped telling those stories. Some thirty years later, I found a similar old house near my apartment here in Gatineau, similarly surrounded by trees and by postwar bungalows. Then the story of that house in Elora returned to me.
For my seventh or maybe eighth birthday, I can’t quite recall, my dad gave me a copy of Our Universe by Roy Gallant, and I read it so voraciously that the pages started falling out. I still have that book, more than thirty years later, although some of its pages are now missing. Back then I also had a telescope of my own, although I mostly used it to look at sunspots: an attachment projected the image of the sun on to a white metal plate. I liked to imagine that I was a scientist or an explorer, studying the sun from a spacecraft in high orbit. The idea of a story about a magic telescope, accompanied by a magic atlas, secretly delivered to a curious but not necessarily well-behaved child, had been on my mind for many years.
I had other influences, of course. Readers of the first edition noted a similarity with Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. I had read The Golden Compass before writing Jillian Brighton, and it made me want to write a childhood wonder-tale with a hint of adult concern. (But I didn’t want to write ‘fanfic’; I wanted to stay in my own world.) By the way, Jillian’s theft of her mother’s nylons is a tip of the hat, of a sort, to a remark about Susan Pevensie in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. But I leave it to the investigative reader to discover what that was all about.
“A Trick Of The Light” is a spinoff story from the world of Fellwater and The Hidden Houses, my urban fantasy series. I wanted to explore areas of the world not seen in the main series. I also wanted to write something that might bring together my two favourite interests from when I was the same age as my heroine: fairy tales, and astronomy. And after living in west Quebec for several years, I found myself feeling nostalgic for my home town, Elora Ontario, the village which serves as the model for my fictional town of Fellwater.
The real impetus to put pen to paper came in December of 2013, when my partner asked me to write her a story for Christmas, instead of buying her a regular gift. I wrote the first draft in two weeks. With her permission, I later self-published it under the title Jillian Brighton and the Wonderful Cosmographic Telescope. This edition in your hands is what happened to it after I ran a crowd-funding campaign to pay for a professional editor for my Hidden Houses series. The editor liked the main character and the story’s premise very much, but he felt that acts two and three needed a complete overhaul. So, during October and November of 2014, I overhauled them. Jillian’s teacher and parents became less prominent. A dark and perhaps dystopian ending was removed. (Perhaps I should say, ‘saved for later.’) Still, after the editor signed off on the text, the length of the story was about 1,600 words longer than the first edition. This is very unusual in an editing process. But I think the result is a much better story.