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Monthly Archives: June 2012

I mentioned a few posts ago that I was going to waffle on about my Hell-novel (which is a hell novel in more ways than one), Circle, and how it’s taken the reins back from Son of Songs, my epic-literary-spacey-graphic-novel.

However, I realised there were some far more interesting things going on with Circle than I previously thought.

Elaborate? Why, certainly.

I am primarily a third-person writer. I am very comfortable in my role as commentator rather than character; it’s nice to inhabit multiple heads and travel to multiple places in order to tell a story. I find this method makes a story more well-rounded and eventually more enjoyable. When I had the idea for Circle I knew from the start that I wanted to do a first-person. The voice I had was strong, and it offered a chance to do something different in both a narrative sense and a character sense. But – and this is a big but – I also promised myself it would be short. I knew I couldn’t sustain first-person long enough to make it a viable long-haul novel.

(Note the word ‘knew’. This is where writer self-consciousness comes in.)

I had dabbled in first-person before. Curiosity had drawn me to attempt it. The first real go I had was in one of my time-travel novels, which is half third-person and half first-person (think Jonathon Stroud’s Bartimaeus novels), and I was happy with the way it turned out. I could keep the pace and give multiple accounts, and everything was fine. ‘What can go wrong?’ I thought.

The first mistake I made was giving the first chapter in for workshop. I didn’t realise this at first. I was talking to Laura Clements (my writerly friend, and also the person who did the Against the Elements cover art), and I was complaining about Circle and how long it was taking me and how it felt so stodgy. I normally crack out a novel in about 4 to 9 months. The only exception to that rule was my Epic Fantasy Novel (which took about 15 months in all). Circle has now been in existence for nearly 18 months. After that long, with the same characters to worry about, and having known the ending for a year and a half, I was starting to tire of their tedious problems. I have so many more things I want to write, and know I will enjoy more than Circle.

Laura listened to my complaints and finally said, ‘The only reason you’re worrying about it so much is because you gave it in for workshop, and now you’re convinced it isn’t good enough.’

And I hadn’t really thought about that before. Workshop, of course, was UEA’s main method of editing in its Creative Writing modules. You write something, you hand it in, everyone crits it, you go home and sob over a pint. I made the fatal mistake of handing in something I cared about to a group of realism writers.

I can’t even begin to describe what that crit session was like. I remember feeling like I was about to burst into tears every time someone opened their mouth – nobody liked it. Nobody understood it. Things I had put in intentionally were causes for complaint and dismissal. I was fighting every corner for Circle that I could. At long last, one of the girls beside me said, ‘Who here actually reads fantasy or science fiction?’

Silence. Dead, complete silence.

‘So,’ she said, ‘we don’t know whether or not this is good, do we? How are we supposed to say what’s right or wrong in this piece of work? For all we know, this is perfect fantasy.’

I am forever grateful to this girl. I am also forever grateful to my tutor, who in our one-on-one asked me how I felt the workshop went. I told her I was going to tear up the first chapter and start again, and she looked at me aghast.

‘Why would you do that?’ she said.

‘Because it’s obviously awful,’ I said. ‘Everyone hated it.’

‘I didn’t hate it,’ she said. ‘I think your main character is unlikeable but I think that’s a brave thing for an author to do. I think the plot’s interesting and I like the pace. Nobody hated it.’

The first chapter is now the product of something strange and collaborative, and it set the tone for the rest of the novel. It makes me feel a little uncomfortable reading that first chapter.

I also remember that next workshop, I deliberately handed in something I wrote just for the class. They loved it, lapped it up. Guess what? I got a lower mark for that one than I did for the first chapter of Circle.

But what if that’s why Circle has taken me so long? The ghost of workshop haunting every page, scrutinising every sentence? Maybe it’s a good thing. I certainly feel like Circle is one of my more accomplished pieces – but at the same time, I feel like it’s slowly pulling chunks of my soul away with every week it drags on.

Circle is a big shift away from what I know. It’s a first-person action thriller thing. I usually am content with third-person quest things. I struggle daily with Circle and the shadow it casts. I know in writing people will always judge you and that you can’t please everyone because all writing is subjective. You have to write both for yourself and for an audience; it can’t be one or the other. That’s a difficult balance to achieve.

I know I am coming to the end of Circle now. Those wheels are in motion. I have reached that pinnacle that every novel has and I am coming down the smooth side of the mountain now. I will not be sad to see it go. At least, right now, I don’t think so. Perhaps one day I will look back and love what I did with it. Right now, I’m sick to the back teeth of the thing. And this is all to do with writer self-consciousness.I am aware it isn’t my usual. I am aware it is taking me a long time. I remember every time I write it that workshop session where it wasn’t good enough.

In ten years time, in a perfect world, I would love to be a fly-on-the-wall in a bookshop, watching one of my old classmates peruse the best-sellers. I’d like to see the look on their face when they see Circle up there with my name adorning the front. I’d like to see if they’d pick it up and look at that first chapter and remember the things they said about it. I’d like to see if they bought it.

That’s a nice thought to have.

You can see all details of any events I’m in / running on the ‘About’ page.

This August I’m doing two things.

6th August I’m taking part in a strange and wonderful event called ‘The Going Back and Forth’. It’s been made up by students Philippe Nash and Harvey Herman. Harvey is a long-term friend of mine who is probably one of the most talented individuals alive. The event celebrates local art, music and written word, and invites people to come and share. It’s going to Brighton, but also to York, which is where I come in. I’m going to read a short story for the event and I’m really pleased to be part of it.

6th August, 7.30pm, Basement Bar, York. Entry is £3. Visit their tumblr at thegoingbackandforth.tumblr.com.

30th August I’m reading from and talking about Against the Elements for The Society of Young Publishers. They’re a group of – you guessed it – young publishers and writers who meet twice monthly. I’m going to read and talk about writing and publishing.

30th August, 7pm, The Adelphi Hotel, Leeds. Entry is free for members but is £2 for non-members.

So if you want to see me talk or read, there are two opportunities in August. I hope to see some of you guys there!

Hello all. It’s been quiet on the home front recently because work leaves me physically and emotionally drained, and I’ve not actually done anything I can really call writing recently, but I’ll give you the low down.

Hey, remember Circle, that notoriously long and tedious novel I’ve been working on? Well, I think it’s finally on its slippery slope downwards. Every novel has that pinnacle in it I guess, where you reach a point you’ve been working so hard towards and now it’s just a case of running down to the end. This, more than anything, is a massive relief – not because I’ve not enjoyed it, but because I’ve found this novel impossible hard, probably the hardest thing to write I’ve ever done. It’s also a hell of a lot longer than I anticipated; when I started I promised myself it would be short and sweet. I haven’t done long-haul first person before. I didn’t want to wreck myself. But, slowly and surely, a few pages at a time, I’m getting there.

Son of Songs, my glorious and endlessly fun graphic novel project, has been placed on the back burner and is simmering softly away to itself while I gather my ideas into a good place and while Joe finishes his uni course. Then I’m expecting to do a long meeting. After that, perhaps some news.

The other two things rolling around in my brain, the first entitled Kings and Queens (a pseudo-superhero story involving King Arthur, Morgan Le Fay and some sweet metal hands) and the second brought on by the reading of ‘The Hunger Games’, something with about seven pages about flowers and strange masked men, are rolling around in my brain until further notice.

Heath of Fire is sitting beside me awaiting my attention.

 

In other news, I’m making an appearance at the Society of Young Publishers’ event in Leeds on 30th August, at 7pm. There, I’ve been invited to talk about Against the Elements and the publishing process – it’s £2 for non-members, so if you’re free, pop on down.

I’m also trying to organise an event in Camberley in August, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’m also sorting my uni place, doing my job, and attempting to sleep.

So apologies for the slow reading, ladies and gents, but normal service should resume in a week or two.

Back to Heath of Fire now, where we have reached Hodge, and one of the greatest fantasy plot devices of all time: the triangle.

Think Harry Potter. God forbid, think Twilight. Think Lord of the Rings. Think The Wind Singer. And, pray tell, what do all these novels have in common? That’s right! All of our heroes are bunched in groups of threes, or the magic three, or what I like to call the fantasy triangle.

(Note: we are coming into a realm of my own theories on plot and writing. Bear with it. It makes a disturbing amount of sense.)

Harry Potter has Ron and Hermione. Bella Swan has some dudes. Frodo has Sam and Smeagol. Kestrel has Bowman and Mumpo. Yup. Everyone has one. The question is: why?

The answer is relatively simple, and comes in many parts. Probably the easiest reason is to help the writer. Threes are easy to handle. Any number higher than three main characters and we start to get into a pickle. Even if there are a hundred side-characters, if we bump up the mains, we start to lose our concentration and drop threads all over the place. It’s even quite easy to pick up a three if you have, say, only one or two main characters – like Delphi in Against the Elements, who picks up partners and foils as easily as falling off a log. Three is especially easy to manage in romantic plots, as a love triangle is always a sure-fire way to fill your novel with suspense and intrigue and heartbreak (think The Hunger Games). And threes are great because they manage to combine everything your main needs. There is usually a leader, a follower, and a conflict.

Leader                                       Follower                                      Conflict

Harry Potter                              Hermione Granger                     Ron Weasley

Edward Cullen                        Bella Swan                                   Jacob Black

Frodo Baggins                        Samwise Gamgee                     Smeagol

Bowman                                   Mumpo                                          Kestral

Katniss                                      Peeta                                            Gale

Adeline                                      Hodge                                           Heath

Some of these aren’t apparent at first glance. For example, people probably wouldn’t put Ron under conflict, unless you consider the way he behaves in the latter Potter books. Anyone familiar to The Wind Singer might cry out in horror that I’ve placed Kestral not as leader, but as conflict. Then we reach Heath of Fire, where I have happily placed Adeline as leader, Hodge as follower, and Heath, surprisingly, as conflict.

Heath is our conflict corner of the fantasy triangle because of his unpredictable nature. He is a wild-card, therefore he cannot be trusted to be a real follower, like our newest character, the mild-mannered, ever-helpful, endlessly-loveable Hodge.

Hodge arrives mid chapter 11. He is the step-son of a horrible travelling trader, and half-brother to the sneaky Jinx who will do anything for money and power. Hodge is almost a slave to his half-family. He wants nothing more than leave to somewhere quiet, peaceful, where he can live his life as he chooses. His meeting with Adeline is chance, but quite instantly he trusts her and agrees to help her. Heath, meanwhile, is otherwise indisposed. Part of Hodge’s function is to save Heath.

And that’s where Hodge’s life becomes tricky. Heath is more than a little upset that Adeline has found another man to help her (alpha male syndrome) and rejects Hodge’s help at every turn. As the story progresses, Heath’s insistance to reject Hodge makes everything begin to slowly unravel – and Adeline’s equal insistance to keep Hodge along aggrivates Heath further. I deliberately didn’t want to make this a romance plot, a love triangle. For one, I don’t really believe Heath is capable of love as we know it. For two, Adeline isn’t looking for love: she’s looking for acceptance. Hodge’s dynamic in the friendship of the pair borders on the conflict side, but it isn’t him looking for a fight – it’s Heath.

Of course, in the fantasy triangle characters can border conflict, or follower, or even step up as leader when they choose. If we look at Circle, my novel about Hell, we can see it as:

Leader, Ace; Follower; Christian; Conflict, Oz.

But really, Christian is the conflict – the outsider, unwelcome, alone, ruffling everyone’s feathers. Oz, then, would be the true follower, as a believer and devotee of Ace. But for plot purposes, Christian is following Ace in order to escape his fate, making Oz into the conflict character.

For Son of Songs, nothing quite fits the bill. There are almost seven main characters. Let’s attempt to categorise them in the fantasy triangle.

Leader                                    Follower                                  Conflict

Blake / Ryx                              Miki / Clara / Keil                    Jace / Poena

How interesting! The triangle can split into sub-groups! Fancy that! (Okay, that’s enough of my shock surprise). That’s the other great thing about the fantasy triangle. Your characters can split off into any group of three they choose and still take on a role in the triangle. Simplifies plots, relationships, and dramas. Blake often goes off with Keil and Jace. Ryx becomes leader when Blake takes sick, and leads all followers and clashes with Jace. It helps to have people to step up and be counted.

But as well as being useful for writers, it’s helpful for readers too. Imagine trying to hold onto the dramas and issues of twelve main characters! You’d get bored really quickly, and probably ditch the book. Three is manageable on every level.

Three: it’s the magic number.