"Restoring the Magic" by Ian Creasey — story background

When I had climbed high enough that my breath came in great panting gasps, and the sheep in the valleys looked like tiny flecks of fallen cloud, I heaved off my backpack and looked for the best spot to plant the final sapling.  Birch and goat-willow dotted the exposed slopes, hardy species that withstood the storms and chills of the High Tatras.  My oak required a more sheltered home.  I saw a south-facing escarpment, and scrambled across to investigate.  The grey rock felt warm under my hand, retaining the heat of the autumn sun.  Behind an outcrop, in a small gully, the wind dropped to a light breeze.  I pulled up tussocks of grass to inspect the soil, and found it damp but not sodden, thin but not barren.  An earthworm crawled away into the moss and leaf-litter.  Instinctively, I felt that a dryad would thrive here.

When I was younger, I became a conservation volunteer.  We performed lots of outdoor tasks such as planting trees, repairing footpaths, clearing non-native invasive plants, and so forth.  In 2004, this experience inspired me to write an SF story, "The Hastillan Weed", about conservationists dealing with an alien plant that had been introduced to Earth.

After writing a science-fiction treatment of conservation, my next story was a fantasy version.  Since the SF story had focused on the destructive task of removing unwanted invasive plants, I took the opposite tack with the fantasy story.  I decided to base the plot on reintroduction: bringing something in, instead of removing it.  This idea was inspired by seeing a TV documentary about reintroducing birds of prey (ospreys, red kites, and sea eagles) to various parts of the UK where they'd been driven to extinction.

I crafted a story about a conservationist involved in the reintroduction of fantastical creatures such as dryads and dragons.  The first version was called "Back Into The Wild", and I wrote it a month after the first draft of "The Hastillan Weed".  However, the fantasy story was much less successful than the SF story.  "The Hastillan Weed" became my breakthrough sale to the top markets, marking my first appearance in Asimov's.  Meanwhile "Back Into The Wild" languished unsold.  Eventually I recognised that it was fatally flawed, and I stopped sending it out.

I still liked the central concept, so I didn't give up on the story.  Occasionally I wondered how to rewrite it, until in 2012 I came up with a fresh approach.  I kept the opening scene, but wrote a completely new middle and ending.  This version was called "Restoring the Magic, One Creature at a Time".

I took the story to my writing group, where it divided opinion.  Several people said that the story felt incomplete, and more like the first chapter of a novel.  However, other people championed the story as it stood.  As the author, I'd certainly intended the story to be complete, and I was surprised at the reaction of those who felt it wasn't.  I had no particular desire to expand it into a novel.

Consequently, I made just a few minor tweaks to the text, and started sending it out.  A couple of editors rejected it with the same comment that it felt like the opening of a longer work.  Fortunately, not everyone felt that way, and I received an acceptance from the Neverland's Library anthology.  The purchasing editors liked the story, but felt the title was too unwieldy.  They asked me to change it to the more succinct "Restoring the Magic", which I was happy to do.  That was a much easier change than turning the story into a novel!

Page last updated: 20 May 2018