Hello! Joining me on the blog today is Rowena House, and I think I’ll say no more and let Rowena take it away!
Journalist me: why did you chose The Goose Road as the title for your book?
Author me: I wrote the story under the working title of The Butterfly’s Wing, which is a metaphor I borrowed from the founder of modern chaos theory, Edward Lorenz, who once asked, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” in order to explore the mathematics of how microscopic disturbances in complex systems like the weather have immense knock-on effects.
In my original story, the actions of my protagonist, Angelique Lacroix, caused terrible, unintended consequences, but my editor at Walker felt that was too cruel to her as a character, and too shocking to the readers, so I let this element of the plot sink beneath the surface in later edits. That meant The Butterfly’s Wing didn’t work as a title anymore.
So your editor told you to change both the book and the title?
She asked me to change them, yes. But that’s one of the great things about working with an editor: they see things in your story that you don’t. They also understand their readership far better than a debut author. Also, I absolutely agreed with her that there’s no point whatsoever in having a title you have to explain to the reader. That defeats the whole point of a metaphor.
Where did The Goose Road come from, then?
I’d read a lot of First World War fiction and poetry while researching the background to the story. The Western Front in 1916 was a terrible place to be. The full weight of industrial-scale artillery shell production was crashing down on soldiers of both sides. So for the new title I went back to the soldier-poets for inspiration.
In 2014, the Imperial War Museums had published a wonderful collection called First World War Poems from the Front, edited by Paul O’Prey. I drew up a long list of possible titles from imagery in these poems.
Is that where the title came from?
No. In the end, none of them were right.
OK. So The Goose Road came from where, exactly?
I wanted the title to have more than one meaning. I wanted it to work on different levels. In the story, Angelique’s flock of Toulouse geese go on a journey, so unlike The Butterfly’s Wing the final title has a literal meaning. I’d also been deeply moved by Pat Barker’s incredible Regeneration Trilogy, The Ghost Road especially, which is the third book. I think it’s probably the most powerful novel I’ve ever read in my life.
Then you chose The Goose Road because it chimed with a book you admire?
Partly, yes. It’s a small act of homage. But The Goose Road has a third level of meaning as well.
There are sad themes in Angelique’s story, as you’d expect from a novel set during the First World War, but there’s also hope, love and forgiveness, and the cyclical nature of history. I wanted to hint at these ideas, at the sense of continuity. How the road goes on…
You’re spinning this out deliberately, aren’t you?
That’s what fiction writers do. Writing a novel is tough, you know. It’s not like knocking out some short news report.
Journalist me: *rolls eyes*
Author me, grinning: I first found a reference to The Goose Road in the enigmatic result of a Google search for Paul Evans’ Field Notes from the Edge which said,“They are part of a mystery of birds and water that travels way back into our culture, certainly to the origins of English. This is a thousand-year-old riddle … to the ancestral north across the sea – which the author of Beowulf, the first great poem in English, called: the swan’s road and sometimes the goose road.”
Intrigued, but unable to fathom what this excerpt meant, I bought the book, hoping that this thousand-year-old riddle might somehow be connected to the West Country witchcraft tradition of the North Road, which is a myth I threaded into my story.
Instead what I found was a beautiful book, which weaves together the roots of our language and culture with nature and our lost wild places.
The thousand-year old riddle is this: “Silence is what I wear when I walk the earth or make my home or stir the waters. Sometimes my beauty and these high air currents take me above the houses and the power of clouds lifts me over nations.”
The answer to this riddle is the mute swan. The swan’s road – or goose road – is their migratory flight path which links Britain’s flooded meadows and winter waterways to our ancestral northlands across the sea.
In fact, this mythical road seems to be older than a thousand years, dating back to the period when the people we call Anglo-Saxons lived in the fens and estuaries of Northern Europe.
“Swans and geese are often interchangeable in the language of legends, part of a lexicon of birds and trees that carry meaning between culture and Nature,” Paul Evans says in his book.
He ends the chapter on mute swans and greylag geese thus: “Across the Bifrost goose-steps the greylag; she shakes thunder from her wings and wipes her beak in the water, the world bigger, more wondrous and hers again.”
I like that.
And your title.
Thanks. Me too.
The Goose Road by Rowena House is out now.