Behind the Fiction: White Horses

If you missed the flash fiction story “White Horses” last week, you can read it below before I get to what happened behind the scenes while writing it.

White Horses

Lenie gazed at the waves and imagined Adriaan beside her. In one hand she grasped her hair, broken red strands caught on her wedding ring. In the other she clutched a gold locket her mother found after a tempest ripped apart a merchant ship.

She wanted to believe in happy endings. Like her Adriaan who would become a doctor after almost dying in a shipwreck as a child. Like the tall man on a horse riding into the waves to free those drowning amidst a wreck in rolling waves while clouds poured like devil’s smoke down the mountains.

But other endings also needed remembering.

Like those who nursed broken survivors while the rider grew weary and floundered unseen.

Like brine stinging mortal wounds.

Like shallow graves in fine sand.

Like a body never recovered.

Like those once saved returning to the sea.

Like a figure trapped on horseback dragging Adriaan’s ship beneath the waves.

Behind the Fiction

This flash fiction story was written a few years ago, actually, as part of one of the weekly flash fiction competitions. The photo prompt that week was John William Waterhouse’s artwork “Miranda – The Tempest”.

‘Miranda” by John William Waterhouse (Wikicommons)

While it depicts a scene from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I decided to do a story closer to home, set on the South African coast. (It was only later that I read the wonderful Caliban’s Shore by Stephen Taylor, about the sinking of the Grosvenor off the coast of South Africa in 1783.) 

Initially I’d wanted to include The Flying Dutchman in some way. Unsure as to what to do with it that didn’t smack of Pirates of the Caribbean, I just started writing, figuring that I would just see what happens.

It ended up being one of those stories that just plonks itself down on the page in one go. As soon as I started writing, the figure of Wolraad Woltemade seemed an apt real-life event to steal from.

Wolraad Woltemade, with the sinking of the ship De Jonge Thomas in 1773, actually did ride his horse into the waves eight times to rescue a total of 14 men before both he and his horse drowned when too many of the doomed sailors tried to hold onto him and his horse.

‘Wolraad Woltemade” (Wikicommons)

As my brain usually does, it couldn’t just write a normal story and it turned into a ghost story after all, just not with The Flying Dutchman! How much more creepy, I thought, if the rider in this world ended up as a ghostly figure that made ships sink. And voilá.

I ended up also tipping my hat to the legend of the Devil and Van Hunks having a smoking competition on top of Table Mountain (and causing the clouds — or then smoke — to cover the top of the mountain).

The idea for the gold locket that’s found after a shipwreck came from Kringe in ‘n bos (available in translation as Circles in a Forest) by Dalene Matthee (read it!) in which there is mention of one of the woodcutter families having a porcelain cup that they picked up on the beach after a ship sank and its cargo washed up on shore. I’m actually not sure why that specific detail of the book stayed with me some 10 years after first reading it. And now I find the need to read some of Dalene Matthee’s books again and return to the Knysna Forest…

 I’ll admit that my fiction is usually such a concoction of stuff in my brain that I hardly know where it comes from. And then, sometimes, there are those stories that you seem to start with one idea and then end up adding some Easter eggs for yourself!

By Carin Marais

Bibliophile, writer of speculative fiction, non-fiction, and maybe-fiction, language practitioner, doer of stuff.

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