I visited a historic house this weekend. There had been a dwelling on the site for over a thousand years. The original building had been knocked down and rebuilt multiple times. The house standing there today had originally been built in the 1700's, with additions and changes over the next two hundred years. The interior had also changed regularly. An upstairs library had previously been a bedroom. In one room, the wallpaper had peeled away from the doorframe to reveal the layer beneath. In paintings of the house from the 1800's, fields and rolling hills surround the property. Now, urban sprawl has crowded around and past. The hills are still there, now covered in houses and bisected by roads. What was there before, lies beneath, only now covered in a new scene.
I'm using the historic house as a setting for a new story I'm writing. In my version, the house is neglected, a secret haunt for vampires. As I stood on the front driveway, looking at the house, all these separate layers were overlaid, superimposed on reality. I could see what had been and what might be in an alternate world. Like the old Celtic stories, where the world of the fey is parallel to our own and if you stand in a certain place at a certain time of the year, you might just get a glimpse into that other realm.
I've experienced the same disorientating effect when I've returned to my childhood town. The park is not just a park, it's where I had my first kiss and where my friends comforted me after my first breakup. There's the paddock where my Grandad took me to feed Polo mints to the ponies. There's the café that used to be a hairdressers. There's the school playing field where I can see the ghost of my past self sitting in the sunshine of a distant summer.
The world we inhabit is multi-layered, rich with textures and memories and ghosts. When I'm creating fictional worlds, I try to remember to imbue this sense of multi-dimensionality. The world through which my characters walk is also thick with history, rich with culture. When I'm walking through my local town, I try to remember that this is just a snapshot, just a moment in the timeline. I try to remember all the people who have walked here before me and that how things are now, are not how they have always been, not how they will always remain.