Apparently, we’re supposed to let themes bubble away beneath story and character, carrying through in a strong yet subtle tide that does not interfere with the narrative thrust. I don’t think it’s part of my particular skill set, as my themes always tend to end up fairly high in the mix. In other words, thanks to my heavier hand (which I like to pretend is intentional) mine are often a little bit Essex – as in a trifle ‘in yer face’, but then I am an Essex girl and you can take the girl out of Essex etc etc…
Theme-wise The Lonely Dark revolves around a nucleus of loss, memory and adjustment to both, or the lack thereof. Predominantly it’s about how loss haunts us. What it makes us do. Loss is formative – whether our first loss is when we are young or when we are older, it saddles us with some profound and profoundly troubling new ideas – and grief, the bedfellow of loss, is a strange emotion indeed. Not in the sense that it exists, but in the way in which it is felt and expressed.
Like fingerprints, it leaves unique marks upon everyone it touches, and often those marks resemble wounds that heal only to form painful scars that pull and catch within the core of us, jolting unexpected pain. Tripping us up. Sometimes forcing us to rash courses of action to get away from that which causes the scars to be disturbed.
Ingmar and Yuri, my two protagonists, both bear these invisible scars. Ingmar is fully aware of hers, having lived very painfully through the loss of a father, with guilty relief through the loss of her difficult Grandma, and with the toxic memory of having been abandoned. She seeks to escape her pain by whatever means necessary. Yuri, orphaned at a young age and raised in a loving adoptive family, is blissfully ignorant of his. Or rather he’s unaware that scars received long ago and thought erased or healed by time can be re-opened to devastating effect.
Which brings me to another theme of TLD, the role of memory in how we present our view of our reality to ourselves and the world around us. The idea of memory as a refuge. We have highly selective memories which enable us to build what might be an almost entirely unrealistic landscape within which we are very specifically situated. A subjective construct we use to both explain and justify the way we are, or rather the way we think we are; a construct that may or may not be true. This reality we construct from the memories we choose – whether by accident or design – however purposefully we design it, is capable of being both a refuge and a prison. It can protect us, or destroy us.
My two Cerenauts are locked out of their bodies, travelling space as consciousness with the body a sort of physical anchor, used only to keep the consciousness from straying. For their safety, their memories have been utilised as dreams for them to re-visit during their designated Rest time, when the body and mind are given time to repair and analyse. The dreams they are given have been specifically chosen to reassure and comfort, a reality constructed for them, with a specific intent. This means that when things start to go wrong and their dreams, therefore their memories, begin to change, they are essentially denied refuge. So what happens when your refuge becomes the source of your instability and terror?
You’ll have to read The Lonely Dark to find out.