T H E   F L A M E   T R E E   B L O G

Flame Tree Independent red


Flame Tree Fiction

Shadows on the Water | Author Q&A | Story Inspirations

Posted by Gillian Whitaker

Our latest anthology, Shadows on the Water, gathers together short stories selected from open submissions, along with classic fiction, myths and folklore from around the world. With tales of rivers, lakes, bogland and the sea, there’s a fascinating mix of mysterious creatures, guardian spirits and elemental forces at play in stories both old and new. In this Q&A, authors reveal the inspiration behind their contribution, offering a glimpse into the range of tales to be found in the book…


What was the inspiration behind your story in this anthology?

Gustavo BondoniPale Reflection

My inspiration was that one day I sat down and really thought about Patagonia. My actual memories of the place are of broad, sunny expanses bordered by wooded mountains that are great to hike in. But there’s more to it if you stop to think. It’s a huge place… and it’s mostly empty except for the howling wind. It’s never been heavily populated, not now, and not before the European settlers arrived. Weird things have to be happening out there where no one can see them.


Melinda BrasherVodník

I found inspiration for this story in the Czech Republic, where I lived for four years, soaking up local lore and rural customs. I never did see a vodník, but their statues lurked around lakes and ponds, and the mythology and imagery surrounding them fascinated me. Sometimes translated as ‘water goblin’, the vodník is mischievous in some tales, evil in others, and always at one with the water.


Ramsey CampbellRaised by the Moon

The inspiration for this was a local location, the marine lake in West Kirby on the Wirral. It’s much as described, encircled by a narrow walk just above water level, one section of which separates the lake from the sea. The seed of a tale was planted by a passing speculation. As Jenny and I walked around it one day I thought what if (as so often) – in this case, what if you were halfway around when an ominous figure made for you from each end?


Lyndsey CroalThe Loneliness of Water

I’ve always lived in Scotland, often by the sea and in remote places, so the inspiration, like a lot of my Scottish folklore-inspired tales, very much came from this atmosphere and setting. The story was also inspired by the Sea Mither or Mither O’ the Sea, a deity from Orcadian folklore. She is said to have dominion over the seas and is responsible for calming and warming summer waters. In ‘The Loneliness of Water’, I imagined what she may manifest as in a post-climate change impacted world, becoming the ‘Sea Witch’ in the story.


Jess GoftonMalefactor

A few years ago I read N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and was enamoured with how she sustained a second person perspective throughout an entire novel. I challenged myself to write something in second person and wrote the first 400 words of ‘Malefactor’ with no idea where I was going or who this character was – about three years later, I stumbled across those 400 words again and finally understood what the story was really about.


J.E. HannafordThe Last Dance

The selkies I write are heavily inspired by darker Finfolk and Orkney myths of selkies and the legend of Kópakonan, from Mikladalur in Faroe which is referenced in the story. ‘The Last Dance’ is a prequel to the events in my Black Hind’s Wake series. This was an opportunity to explore the reasons why the northern selkie pack abandoned their most sacred site. It also allowed me to set up the centuries-long conflict between the selkies and humans in the region.


M.K. HardyTo the Sea

In ‘To The Sea’, we wanted to unpack and subvert the disturbing core dynamic at the heart of the classic folk story of the selkie: her status as the captive of her human lover. Our chosen setting was inspired by our love of the Scottish coastline, and our despair at the ongoing pollution of the oceans.


Derek HeathIn the Mouth of the Eel-King

I must have written sixty-odd short stories set in rivers, lakes, oceans, and I’ve experimented before with the idea of entities that can follow you through any body of water. The ending came first (as is often the case), but inspiration for the creature itself largely came from the Ancient Greek myths of Charon and Triton; the rest, of course, came from a perfectly natural distrust of eels.


R.J. HowellBetwixt Sea and Sky

Though it’s a little fuzzy (I first wrote this story back in 2019), I attended a graduation seminar on selkies after having read an unusual number of sapphic fantasy novels that ended without the two women getting together. These elements combined with the recognition that I had never written a short story where the romance is the driving force before. I then listened to Heather Dale’s The Maiden and the Selkie on repeat until the first draft of ‘Betwixt Sea and Sky’ was born.


Mackenzie HurlbertLady of the Lake

Near my hometown, there’s a pond where many people have drowned over the years. I hike the trails there often, and from the shore, the pond and surrounding woods look idyllic, but knowing the tragic history of what’s happened there, I can’t help but wonder what is under those still waters that has dragged so many people to their deaths.


Rachael K. JonesWho Binds and Looses the World with Her Hands

This story originally came about when I was playing around with what a sign-language-based magic system could look like. Around that same time, I saw a beautiful photograph of a dead tree on a lonely island, and I wondered who might live there, and how the tree came to grow and die. Eventually, these ideas came together in this little story about a Deaf lighthouse keeper who is secretly the most powerful sorcerer in the world, kept captive and ignorant of her true nature. The descriptions in my story are specifically based upon ASL, which fascinatingly is based upon French and not English, even though it’s the predominant sign language in the USA. As a nod to this unique linguistic history, the characters and locations in my story have French names instead of their English equivalents.


Amanda Cecelia LangOn the Muddy Shores Where the Oracle Writhes

Summer vacations spent visiting coastal attractions like Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier, especially boardwalks with the neon carnival aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s. There’s something seedy yet almost mystical about the little shops on those boardwalks. They sell everything from seashells to tattoos to crystal ball fortunes. As a landlocked tourist, it’s fun to imagine that those coastal shop owners, those lucky beachside residents, possess some secret transcendent connection to life and the sea.


Frazer LeeTo Take the Water Down and Go to Sleep

I visited Long Beach for the Stokercon convention and stayed in a cabin aboard the haunted ship Queen Mary, now a hotel. On deck one evening, I glimpsed a woman standing alone, her silk scarf like a flag in the breeze. A group of us horror authors went on the ship’s ghost tour and I discovered the true meaning of submechanophobia when confronted by a huge underwater propeller. The two images converged while I was on the plane home. I was listening to The Sisters of Mercy on headphones and the story ‘To Take the Water Down and Go to Sleep’ began percolating in my brainpan (the story’s title is an homage to my favourite Sisters song ‘Marian’).


Samara LoAfter Me, the Flood

My short story is inspired by Shuimu Niangniang (Old Mother of the Waters) from Chinese folklore. She is a water demon/spirit guardian (there are different versions) accredited with devastating the city of Sizhou in the Anhui province of China with years of floods before finally submerging it in what is now the Hongze Lake.


J.M. MerrytShe Who Devours

I have always loved archaeology and true crime, and the concept of bog bodies really ticks both boxes. I’m fascinated by the concept of a human sacrifice (or a murder victim, or both) being forever preserved. Like an insect trapped in amber. This got me thinking: what are the victims being sacrificed to? Moreover, how hungry would the thing in the bog be if the sacrifices, if the veneration and the sustenance, suddenly stopped?


Wendy NikelSilver Spears and Sea-Songs

I wrote this story as part of a challenge for my online writers’ group. One of the prompts we were given was the question: “How do new holidays get started?” When I sat down to think about it, I realized how many holidays function as a celebration of a group’s shared history or in remembrance of past events or to acknowledge shared values. In this story, I opted to explore the shaping of a holiday – how a group that may have at one time celebrated one set of values and one part of their history may grow and change, deciding as they do that other values and other parts of their history and culture are more worthy of honor and celebration.


Jessica PeterThe Bittersweet Glimmer

In ‘The Bittersweet Glimmer’ I started with a question of how memory makes meaning, and what would it mean if a supernatural entity couldn’t remember themselves? Then I decided to focus that idea on the traditional German folk tale of the Lorelei of the Rhine (also included in this anthology!), and asked what it would be like if she had dementia. My father is an immigrant from Germany, so I also wrapped that up too for a resulting story of memory, nostalgia, immigration, and the supernatural.


Marisca PichetteThe Jewels of the Mermaids

‘The Jewels of the Mermaids’ had its initial seed of inspiration one evening as I was lying in bed. I thought about the words ‘werewolves’ and ‘mermaids’ and wondered what might happen if they were combined: ‘merwolves’. This simple etymological curiosity led me to write an early draft of this story. When I turned it in to my MFA mentor, he wisely advised me to drop the invented term from the text, as it served to draw the reader away from the chilling tone of the narrative. In my mind, though, they will always remain my chimeric merwolves, innocently stringing vertebrae together on the rocks.


D.S. RavenhurstThe Sea Inside Her Skin

My story is a love letter to sad Irish and Scottish songs. In particular, there is an image in the traditional Irish song A Bhean Udaí Thall involving seaweed that I couldn’t get out of my head, and that sparked the story. I wanted to explore the image from the song in a way that avoided the conflict of two women fighting over a man, and the haunting version recorded by Bláth na hÓige helped bring the atmosphere to life for me as I was writing.


Abhijeet SatheLeviathan

My inspiration for this story came from news of a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench, and wondering what kind of miracle it would take to reverse course. ‘Leviathan’ is about the god of the sea and his steed seeking retribution against everyone responsible for it. Written as homage to Puranic lore, this story represents my beliefs that eco-fascism is dumb, that the invisible hand isn’t going to clean up after itself, and that ‘think about the children’ is actually a pretty good idea.


Amal SinghWaiting for Karaga

My story ‘Waiting for Karaga’ is about a festival that’s celebrated in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Also known as Karaga Shakti Utsav, it’s a celebration of Draupadi’s promise to the Veerakumaras, while also being a festival respecting water. However, during the last few years, lakes in Bangalore have borne the brunt of pollution, spewing poisonous froth everywhere, making the festival itself meaningless. In my story, a lake mourns this decline, while also savouring her last meaningful connection with the society.


Lucy ZhangLeftovers

I was partially inspired by the anime (adapted from a manga) called To Your Eternity. I wrote the first line of my story while thinking about the transformations that Fushi undergoes from rock to wolf to boy. The rest of my story, however, completely diverges from the anime.

Untitled (1020 × 788 px)-3

To read these stories and more, buy the book from our website here!


Subscribe for email updates