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Monthly Archives: May 2012

If you want to see what old Joseph Clark is up to, he’s designed me a snazzy new Twitter layout. You can find me as @Esme_C_Knows, and see my lovely 8-bit computer game layout for yourself!

You can see his, too, at @josephjohnclark. It matches, but in a lovely shade of boy blue. And you can also check his website at http://www.josephjohnclark.co.uk.

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I think the saying goes, ‘to be a good writer you have to be a good reader‘, or something along those lines.

My own experience with reading has been at first voracious and then a little lapsed. When I was younger, I read everything. It was reading that made me want to write in the first place – every writer has a book or author they aspire to, who they may imitate or admire. My first was ‘The Wind Singer’, by William Nicholson. As I got older, it was ‘Sabriel’ by Garth Nix (to this day, I would always say I aspire to be Garth Nix who, not only has the best real name in the world, but it a precise and fluent writer). A few years ago, it was ‘The Killing Joke’, Alan Moore’s epic Batman graphic novel in 46 perfect pages.

During my time as an English Literature student, my reading slipped. I foolishly thought my degree would leave ample time to read for pleasure, which was a naive notion. I managed only to read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in the entire three year period. Someone also once said that the study of literature ruins your reading experience for the rest of your life. I don’t necessarily agree. Yes, you look for things you’ve been trained to look for, and I find nine times out of ten it gives you a better view of the author’s intention (or what may not be their intention, as I will discuss later, rather a happy accident) and a better appreciation of the craft.

I have begun to read again now my job allows me hour-long lunch break. I devoured ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, and then, to my utter delight, I discovered ‘The Hunger Games’.

Now, don’t sneer. Don’t turn your noses up. It’s children’s literature’s latest flavour of the month, I know. But for all the right reasons, refreshingly. The protagonist is no whiny Bella Swan – she can hold her own, makes you proud to be a strong woman. The story is brutal and compelling and quickly told. The narration is oh so clever and perfectly pitched.

I love this book. I won’t lie to you. I finished it today, and I suddenly wanted to write. I wanted to write something as good as ‘The Hunger Games’. I wanted a strong, sturdy female character (although I would argue I have plenty of them). I came straight home and wrote a good 5 pages of Son of Songs.

It feels good to have a book make that impression on me again. It feels good to have that churning in your gut when you stop at an exciting part. It feels good to care about every single character.

So this is an applause for two things. One, for books like ‘The Hunger Games’ which restore your faith in the Young Adult market after all this Twilight nonsense. And two, for books that make you glad you’re a writer.

Or, rather, Life vs. The Author.

In the red corner: the undisputed champion of adventures, experiences and relationships, your closest enemy – LIFE!!

In the blue corner: the King of Cloud Nine, the dreamer of dreams, the bringer of lives, the Doomstress – The AUTHOR!!

Round one! *ding ding*

The age-old author’s problem – when real life gets in the way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Life is throwing you mean punches (Life could actually be giving you a fruit basket or a nice cuddly toy) but it does always mean that great portions of the time you used to use writing end up slipping away.

Your blog suffers. Your novel suffers. Your imagination suffers – especially if Life is giving you information and education, because your writerly brain needs to push out all the interesting stuff and find space for the important Real Life stuff. Sometimes, you don’t even have a spare moment to daydream, and when you do you find you’re too tired to even try to sit down and write a sentence, and instead you want to sit and watch daytime TV.

Life’s biggest attack: The Brain Drain.

This can be unavoidable. For example, I’ve just started a brand new job and got a place at university starting September. Do I have time to write the blog about Circle and Son of Songs that I promised you? Not at all. Do I have time to even consider that they exist? Not right now. Do I have time to even start Chapter Nine of Heath of Fire? Are you kidding me?

But I’m trying. I snuck in a little bit of Son of Songs this afternoon, despite the drooping eyelids. I even spell-checked the last part of Circle that I wrote. It’s important to exercise the muscle.

The Author hits back with a little determination. Life, rather unfased.

Because what The Brain Drain often leads to is – you guessed it –

Writer’s Block.

The Author hits the deck!

Round two. *ding ding!*

Writer’s Block is an altogether tricky subject that I’m largely going to avoid right now. We all know that, eventually, the writer will hit back. Whether or not Life affords us this sudden glint in the darkness with a gem of experience or inspiration, or whether or not you just push on, it’ll pass eventually.

The Author swings round with resiliance! Life stumbles!

Life hits back with Time Commitments! The Author blinks stars from her eyes!

Where does all that time go? Work. Meeting friends. Paperwork. Shopping. Cleaning. Sleeping. Eating. Playing lots of computer games (guilty). Social networking.

Procrastinating. Let’s not kid ourselves. If we spent half an hour every day not going on Facebook or Twitter and actually sitting and doing the damn thing we could stop complaining about how we don’t get to write anymore because of external pressures.

Life uses procrastination! The Author’s down again!

Round three! *ding ding!*

So here’s where we go for the KO.

The Author uses patience and instinct. Life can throw whatever it wants at patience, and patience will always stand true. Today you might not be able to write, sure – but tomorrow you’ve put aside two hours, and you’re sure as hell going to use them wisely. Instinct might pull a great scene from one of Life’s mundanities.

And, before you know it –

One! Two! Three! Life’s outta here!

Sometimes you get a little absorbed in your novel’s world. Who wouldn’t? It’s the best way to write it convincingly. But you should never put your novel in front of your real life commitments. Your novel should be something you enjoy, not a chore. As such, you need to treat it respectfully. Don’t force yourself to write if you can’t. If you have that time, sure.

For me, it’s just a case of upset and balance. My schedule has changed; therefore my writing habits have to change too. It could take a little while but I’m sure I’ll settle again. Right now, though, I have to make the best of the new experiences, and see if I can draw from them later on in my writing life.

 

We return to Heath of Fire, and my social writing experiment.

Heath of Fire is set in a very, very odd time period, which I never really noticed until now. In one corner, you have a tribal, almost cult-run village, the inhabitants of which wear animal furs and yet can mine for stone; in the other corner you have a council that has access to, among other things, metals, mirrors, and literature. On the other side of the mountains there are trade caravans and quartz stones, and tomatoes.

It doesn’t really make much sense. I suppose the novelty of fantasy is that it can be a bit fragmented. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a reason for everything. After all, their world is a lot different to ours. Who’s to say that some cultures have access to books and some don’t? But at the same time it’s unnerving me to the point where I’m considering swapping the whole thing round a bit. I do like to do things a little different, but even I can see where I’m messing things up.

The lesson I suppose I’m trying to teach you is this: it does and can go wrong. If you don’t plan (like I famously don’t) and don’t research properly (which I also, famously, don’t), you can end up mixing timelines and things can get horribly awkward, and people start to ask difficult questions. As long as you have proper answers to those questions (instead of, y’know, ‘because I can’) you can get away with it for as long as you believe yourself. Myself, I’m starting to think that Heath of Fire has a nasty case of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

The other thing that’s really pestering me right now is the language. Sure, it has to make sense to an audience; you can’t just write in a totally made up language and your characters still have to sound like they’re not Spock or an android. But that’s a fine, fine balance. My tribal characters use modern day slang like ‘okay’, ‘all right’, and yet call a heartbeat a ‘life-beat’. I’m struggling with the balance. Everyone sounds like they’re casually throwing fantasy terms in on a whim, and I know it’s my own fault.

The character of Heath himself is also a bit of a quandry. Heath doesn’t speak in proper sentences. In fact, his grasp of language is minimal. Sometimes he uses words that sound above him, or forming really quite complex sentences, and I have to dumb it down and yet keep him coherent. He’s a really fun character but he is presenting some problems.

That, my friends, is what editing is for. Heath of Fire is far from perfect the way it is, and I don’t want to start pulling it apart before its time – I need to finish typing the whole thing up before I even consider going at it with a red pen and a critical eye.

I could throw in weird time rifts. I could say that some cultures fear books, and therefore have no access to literature. I could even just ignore it all. But I’ll cross that tricky bridge when I come to it.

For now, I am perfectly content with drawing a map, which I find is more for myself than for anyone else’s amusement. I have a terrible sense of direction, and have sunrises and sunsets popping up all over the place unannounced. I work very well with pictoral reference and need the map to aid my writing process. As soon as a place crops up in the story, I pop it on the map. That way, I can keep the continuity right. At the moment, I’m finding that that’s all that’s right.

These, of course, are all just thoughts. I am not using Heath of Fire to tell you how to write or indeed how not to write. I’m simply presenting you, the reader, with problems. Ways to overcome them are many and varied:

  • Plan properly.
  • Research properly.
  • Keep track of language used and language not used.
  • Character sketch.
  • Worldbuild before you start to write.
  • Create your own language and stick to it.

It’s all a matter of following rules. They don’t have to be anyone else’s rules, just your own, but they do have to make sense. Cultures will obviously clash within your novel; some pieces of land just can’t exist where you want them to; characters must always make some modicum of sense wherever your story is set. As long as you’re comfortable, and can justify yourself, you’re way ahead already.

Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated on this matter.

 

**N.B. To The Generals, your books arrived at my house today! Expect them by the beginning of next week 🙂

**N.N.B. I actually made a little headway on Circle the other day – I shall comment on that in terms of challenges and obstacles. Son of Songs, interestingly, has fallen by the wayside. Perhaps both will be the subject of next week’s blog post.

A warm, unnatural breeze rushed by the flags and tents of the four armies. It smelled of smoke, and ash, and it made stomach churn and soldiers shiver with anticipation as it passed. The flags danced; the flagbearers stood strong against the wind.

Word eventually came to all camps: Fire’s army outnumbered all others, some by as much as five to one. Uneasy at the news, the armies made their preparations.

Unlikely truces were hatched. Air and Earth, the smallest forces, bore each others’ company just long enough to agree that unless they worked together they would be done for, and they shook on their one-time peace, and marched under united banners. Fire, always brash, saw only its numbers and its strength, and watched its enemies marching on with a quiet confidence.

Water stayed silent, waiting.

The first casualties were at noon. In the high sun Earth and Air hit Fire’s barricades. Earth’s men, weak under the prevailing burning element, fell fast and thick. Air’s soldiers ran over them in the rush to cause equal damage.

Water stayed silent, watching.

The fighting lasted longer than anyone would have guessed. Earth’s general, Richard, broke enemy lines for enough time for his forces to enter the stronghold, and caused significant losses to Fire’s troops; Air’s general, Ellie, fought by his side as Fire regrouped.

On the hill, Water’s general, Rod Bowker, finally ordered his men to march.

Ryan, general of Fire’s army, could do nothing. As his men retreated from the strange alliance, Water’s armies came up behind and began slaughtering all they could see.

Alas, the Elemental War ended as all others: with no clear victor and with many dead. Seeing the futility, and with little chance to capture any enemy generals, the armies retreated at sundown and counted their dead.

**

There we have it: the winners of the Four Elements Giveaway.

Fire – Ryan (blog entrant)

Water – Rod Bowker (Twitter entrant)

Earth – Richard (blog entrant)

Air – Ellie (blog entrant)

To all who participated, it was a long fight, but a good one. Thank you for your continued support and well done to the Generals, who will be receiving their free, signed copies very shortly. Generals, I will need postal addresses and e-mail addresses so I can get to you with further details. Please e-mail me at newsletter@ifwgpublishing.com.

Until next giveaway, folks!