Monthly Archives: May 2014


I’d read something interesting the other day, when I was aimlessly researching the manifestations of magic in fiction.  It said very bluntly that the only reason magic has limitations to create conflict within the story, as without limits the magic would always win in any confrontation, thus preventing any truly dynamic plot.

As such, the fantastic, a thing which defines the very existence of its genre, is controlled, restricted and answerable to the very novel in which it finds itself.  It’s a genie who created its own lamp.  In order to exist at all, its existence must be limited, otherwise it would be a short and boring story.

So we can’t just create magic, we have to create a whole magical system including its limiting factors.

These are the things I think about while the Munchkin mushes pear slices into his trousers, squealing gleefully to himself.

And Now, Back to the Topic at Hand


About that.

I’m currently being shouted at by a teething infant, so this may be short.  However, I’ve been working steadily on worldbuilding and that’s all fabulous.  I’ve chosen not to write about it much in here while that’s going on because this blog sometimes feels like homework I have to do, while I feel guilty neglecting it I also don’t want to be beholden to it.  And ultimately, if I’m busy writing I don’t want to stop to then come here and write about writing.  The whole point of this thing is to ensure that I do write, not stop me from that very goal!

While working on my world, it’s made me realise how poorly I’ve done in the past in this respect.  I think that this stems from the fact that my own world was very small when I was younger, so when I tried to invent new worlds it was very shortsighted.  Now that I’m older (not sure about wiser, honestly) my understanding of my own world has broadened, both by having developed an interest in what’s happening outside of my own teenaged bellybutton and having moved abroad.

So when I first started writing this novel my world was mostly vague, like a grey mist with a couple of key streets picked out in detail.  I had a vague academic system, a vague religion, a vague idea of where things were in relation to each other.  It was a whole vague mess.  Some things were also arbitrary, decided on a whim.  Things that were important just were, for no good reason.  Why were Geologists being pit against Botanists?  They just were, and that’s not good enough.  Throw that kind of carelessness into the mix of vague wishy-washy nonsense and you get a pretty poor world that I can barely make sense of, let alone anyone else.  I’m sorry, world.  I was lazy, and naive.  I thought the details would work themselves out in the writing, without realising that even if they did, it would mean a whole pile of editing hell at the end of the thing.  But I promise to do better this time.

And it is better.  I’m really enjoying it as well.  I love the sudden eureka moments of, “oh, so that’s why” as I piece this all together.  I wasn’t totally wrong in my thinking that a lot of it would fall into place in my subconscious, I was just wrong about letting that whole process take place during the writing stage.  Implementing key elements while in the middle of chapter twelve means I either have to revise chapters one through eleven, or just hope no one notices the glaring omission.  And that’s just bad writing.  Some of it will happen while I’m in the flow of writing, it’s inevitable, but all the big things need to be known and decided.

I’m also getting better at multitasking.  I can type with one hand, spoon feed a baby some yoghurt with another, and then use my mental third hand to plot mountains and railway line in my mental world map.  I can sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for the 848th time while ruminating on the importance of infrastructure in a capitalist economy.  I can keep a seven month old from drowning in the bath while considering how magic can function in a post-magic world.

So if you don’t hear from me every day, it’s because I’m just a bit busy.


Hello to new readers, brought to my blog by the draw of my last, slightly controversial post.  However, a warning:

You probably aren’t interested in what I have to say.

This is not a blog about controversial things, nor about topical news stories (although sometimes, like in my last post, I’m moved to discuss these things).  This is primarily a blog about writing and its difficulty, and this writer and her creativity-stalling demons.

So hello, and probably farewell.

Gender and Eurovision: Why We Need More Bearded Ladies

I’ve been quiet the past couple of days because I’ve been busy working on the groundwork of my novel.  And also, watching Eurovision.

Last night was the usual pageantry, the usual exhibition of randomness (why was there a man in a hamster wheel for Ukraine’s entry?  why the trapeze for Azerbaijan?  because EUROVISION, that’s why!) and that’s why we love it.  Lyrics ranged from the trite love song (one in fact called “The Cliched Love Song” to the zany, “I want a mustache” (France’s Twin Twin rocked that particular number) and the downright bizarre:

“Looking for a candidate you have an option only one choice. Sipping my drinks looking around, there is so much beauty, oh yes we can. But yet, self-confidence is a fragile concept, that often fades away in the night. And there it comes, that unwanted guest, there is no place for you tonight “

Thanks for that, Switzerland!  The addition of a whistling refrain really added to it.

So when it came to light that one of the entries was Austria’s popular “bearded lady,” Conchita Wurst, no one really batted an eyelid.  Hey, it’s Eurovision, anything goes!  We’ve had dancing grannies and all sorts.

Quite frankly, a more believable and attractive lady than me, on most mornings.

Quite frankly, a more believable and attractive lady than me, on most mornings.

Although in her native Austria, more than 31,000 people liked an “Anti-Wurst” Facebook page following the decision to select her. In October, the Ministry of Information in Belarus received a petition calling on BTRC, Belarus’ state broadcaster, to edit Wurst’s performance out of its Eurovision broadcast. The petition claimed that the performance would turn Eurovision “into a hotbed of sodomy”. In December, a similar petition surfaced in Russia. [Wikipedia]

But we’re the UK, we’re progressive and accepting of nontraditional gender roles.

And then she won.

Suddenly my Facebook news feed blew up.  People couldn’t just sit on the fence about this one anymore, they had to have an opinion.  I’m sorry to say that I saw more than a few comments on friend’s status updates where people (not friends of mine, I’m happy to say, or they wouldn’t have stayed friends for long) have proclaimed distaste for the “he-she” or that “pick a gender, you can’t be both!”  Thankfully the opinions of my friends themselves were more progressive, and among them some true supporters of Conchita Wurst and her message.

So what’s gotten people so hot under the collar?

With the rise in drag-queen normality, with such shows as RuPaul’s Drag Race, the ignorant public have started to get used to seeing men in drag.  But only if the illusion is complete.  If Conchita Wurst had no beard, I think there wouldn’t have been an outcry.  But her choice to display her beard alongside her crystals, her fabulous sweeping gown, beautiful long hair – this is what makes the common Joe/Jocinda Public uncomfortable.  They need the illusion to be completely man or woman.

Personally, I love the transgression of her appearance.  It’s brave and purposefully jarring.  Her very name shows her disdain of what people might think.  From her Wikipedia page:

While in German, Wurst means ‘sausage,’ the performer compares the choice of last name to the common German expression ‘Das ist mir doch alles Wurst,’ which translates as ‘it’s all the same to me,’ and ‘I don’t care,’ stating that the name emerged from the first meaning of the expression and added, “It doesn’t really matter where one comes from, and what one looks like.”

And indeed it shouldn’t matter what one looks like, how one chooses to present oneself, what gender, or lack thereof, one identifies with.  The fact is that Conchita Wurst sang beautifully.  “Rise Like a Phoenix” was evocative of old-movie glamour, with the class and style of a Bond film’s opening credits.  It was big, it was dramatic, and it was Eurovision.

However, what no one has really commented on, apart from the vulgar odd joke, is Poland’s entry: My Słowianie (We Are Slavic) by Donatan and Cleo.  It depicted several provocatively-dressed busty women as traditional milkmaids, churning butter suggestively with their tits hanging out.  If you’re going to get upset about gender issues and turning Eurovision into a “hotbed” of something, there’s a whole host of things to get outraged about there!

But no, the average ignorant viewer is used to seeing women being objectified; rampant sluttery is old news.  Drag queens with beards, now that’s what they don’t like to see!  Just think of the children!  They’ll grow up thinking that gender isn’t binary, while they swan around in their hotpants and flutter their fake eyelashes at the opposite sex.  Gasp, shock, horror, etc.

Really makes you despair for the human race, doesn’t it?  Personally, I think we need more people like Conchita Wurst, she’s a true role model.  In her own words:

“This is about an important message, it’s call for tolerance for everything that seems different.”

Amen, sister.


Today I have mostly been making a world.

In writing fantasy, as I do (kind of, my current novel is more post-fantasy than fantasy), that’s the most important part.  If you can’t write a believable world, then all the rest of your work, however imaginative and inspiring, will be dancing around in front of one of those green-screen sets that used to be prevalent in old movies, and as easy to see through.

As my hero Ursula Le Guin (who I shall continue to quote for a while yet) says of fantasy which utilises unbelievable fakery in its worldbuilding and a noncommittal writing style, in her essay From Elfland to Poughkeepsie:

“It is a fake plainness.  It is not really simple, but flat.  It is not really clear, but inexact.  Its directness is specious.  Its sensory clues – extremely important in imaginative writing – are vague and generalised; the rocks, the wind, the trees are not there, are not felt; the scenery is cardboard, or plastic.”

Real directness, and simplicity, however, I think is vital to a believable world of one’s own making.  As in my previous post, this is a world that you know full well isn’t real.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be believable.  It also doesn’t mean that it can’t be a true story.

In Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?, Ursula Le Guin writes:

“For fantasy is true, of course.  It isn’t factual, but it is true.  Children know that.  Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy.  They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living.  They are afraid of dragons because they are afraid of freedom.”

So I’ve been spending all my spare time today working on this world, because this world needs to be true, and believable, an engaging backdrop to a story which I’ve been working on for half a decade and fighting with for just as long.  I’m hoping this will be the final editing phase required of it so I can make it at least somewhat close to the shining thing I made up in my head.  It’s incredibly hard to express these things and tell the truth of what I’ve seen and felt, because it never comes out quite the same as it is when you’re thinking it.

Again, because she can express this far better than I’ve been able to, from yet another essay, Talking About Writing:

“The writer’s job, as I see it, is to tell the truth.  The writers truth – nobody else’s.  It is not an easy job.  One of the biggest implied lies going around at present is the one that hides in phrases like ‘self-expression’ or ‘telling it like it is’ – as if it were that easy, anybody could do it if they just let the words pour out and didn’t get fancy.  The ‘I am a camera’ business again.  Well it just doesn’t work that way.  You know how are it is to say to somebody, just somebody you know, how you really feel, what you really think – with complete honesty?  You have to trust them, and you have to know yourself, before you can say anything anywhere near the truth.  And it’s hard.  It takes a lot out of you.

You multiply that by thousands; you replace the listener, the live flesh-and-blood friend you trust, with a faceless unknown audience of people who may possibly not even exist; and you try to write the truth to them, you try to draw them a map of your innermost mind and feelings, hiding nothing and trying to keep all the distances straight and the altitudes right and the emotions honest. . . And you never succeed.  The map is never complete, or even accurate.  You read it over and it may be beautiful but you realize that you have fudged here, and smeared there, and left this out, and put in  some stuff that isn’t really there at all, and so on – and there is nothing to do then but say OK; that’s done; now I come back and start a new map, and try to do it better, more truthfully.  And all of this, every time, you do alone – absolutely alone.  The only questions that matter are the ones you ask yourself.”

She paints a rather dismal picture of the writing process, but an honest one.

Writing is hard.

But in how many other careers/callings can you say: “I spent today mostly making a world, completely out of nothing but my mind and a feeling I had once”?


“In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is a nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it.  Finally, when we’re done with it, we may find – if it’s a good novel – that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little.”

Ursula Le Guin, from her essay “Introduction to the Left Hand of Darkness”

As I’ve been spending today between arguing with an infant on the topic of sleep, and actually writing for real in the few spare minutes I’ve had, I leave you with the above quote to consider.  Now that I’ve finally got the wee beastie to bed, Mama has a date with a glass of wine and the Eurovision semi-finals!!  True erudite thinking can wait until the morning!

Mental Bran Flakes

I meant to do some serious writing today, but I need to mentally dust off the curtains of my mind, and find some jump cables to restart my gummed-up creative engine.  I feel befuddled too easily, and slow to start anything; I spend more time considering what I’m supposed to be doing than actively doing it.  Because my time is limited by the capricious circadian rhythm of an infant, I need to take advantage of every spare minute I’m allowed.  I need to snap out of it, and write like I’m turning on a light switch.  Surely that can’t be too hard?

People who aren’t writers think that writing a novel comes easily, maybe because they’ve seen a film about a writer and all it takes is a montage of late-night typing, many cups of caffeinated beverages, some pensive facial expressions, and some vague impressions of the passage of time, and voila! you have a completed novel.  Maybe for some authors it works that way, but never for me.  My first few chapters often have the flow of a well-oiled machine – or literary diarrhoea, to use a less glamorous but perhaps more applicable metaphor.  By the time I hit chapters in the teens, I’m having to make a conscious effort to push it all out.  By the twenties I feel the need for some mental bran flakes.  I’m not sure I’ve ever made it to the thirties.  The novel dies from an internal blockage of creative constipation.

That’s why I’m trying to write every day, even just this boring old nonsense where I whine about much the same problems I always whine about.  I’m hoping that by writing regularly my creativity can become regular again.

This blog is my mental bran flakes.

The Mirror of Fantastic Vanity

A writer who can only write himself into his stories is not, in my view, a writer.  Rather, he is a fantasist putting his own daydreams onto paper for vain purposes, either to relive those fantasies or to self-aggrandise.

Sadly some of my favourite authors fall into this category of the vainglorious daydreamer.  Neil Gaiman, though I think he’s a masterful storyteller, always seems to tell the same story of a man trying to find the fantastic and escape the ordinary.  This man is almost always a middle-aged Englishman of dry wit and awkwardness.

A new favourite, Jodi Taylor of The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series, writes a new take on an old genre, time travelling, and it’s a lot of fun to read.  It has a heroine full of verve, humour and sarcasm, a ginger woman of short stature who loves history, chocolate and tea.  Then I read the author’s bio, and she very much is her main character, minus the actual time travelling.

When I notice the similarities between author and protagonist, it sadly ruins the wonder of the book for me.  I no longer think how creative and inspired the author is, instead I think how sad and boring their lives must be to require escapism on the level of writing themselves into the narrative.  It also brings their writing down, in my estimation, from professional to amateurish.  Mainly because of the sheer number of bad fan fiction and other types of literary works are now viewable, thanks to the internet, where aspiring writers show off their craft by misguidedly depositing themselves into their favourite TV shows, films and franchises.  It is the mark of a desperate soul, clinging to the hope that by writing such a thing they can make its wonders transpire.

I know this, because I did it.  In high school I was forever escaping the doldrums of whatever tedious subject I was supposed to be paying attention to, usually Pre-Calculus or another mathematical discipline, and instead would let my gaze drift out the window.  I was lucky that our school had a nice view of a lake which surrounded it on three sides, which inspired many daydreams.  I’d often imagine the plight of some unearthly creature which, only after my dramatic exit from the classroom via a conveniently open window, could lead to some far-ranging adventure.  These adventures would later be scrawled, illegibly for the most part, across the pages of my notebooks in place of the school work I should have been doing.

It was a period of my youthful writing which showed great imagination and promise, but it was not good writing.  Only later, with experience and the distance of time which lets one be objective and critical, I realised that these stories were only interesting to me.  Or rather, to the me who wrote them at the time, long outgrown.  I was holding a mirror up to myself and manipulating the image to what I wish I had been and what I wish I had been able to do.  The result was only exciting in comparison to the original image, my own awkward, shy and nerdy self, and in reference to my own desires and fantasies.  An objective third party, critiquing me to the standard of all the beloved novels I have always held my own work against, would likely not give a hoot about the dramatic adventures of how I found a wounded unicorn, or magical crow, or fallen angel, and then helped restore a kingdom, or found a sacred object, with its help.

Yet, unfortunately, such is the stuff of many a published work.  There’s a lot of nonsense out there, and plenty of people who enjoy it.  It’s just not for me.

I strive to write real characters from my own imagining in such a way as to hold a mirror up to the reader, and wider world, instead of to my own face.  The novels I dream of writing have something important to say on a wider scale than simple escapism for the writer as she writes.  A novel which avoids sermonising, but has a moral undercurrent, that deals with issues that are at once modern and ancient, everlasting; gender, the Other, mankind’s delicate balance with the natural world.  I want to make my readers think, holding that mirror to their own eyes and wondering if they can change themselves, or change the world.

Ultimately, whether the protagonist of a story has some superficial resemblance to the author writing it is a small facet of the novel as a whole.  Or maybe the author can protest, “Well yes, she may have ginger hair and like chocolate and history like I do, but she’s much sassier than I am so isn’t really me at all!”  But for me, once the fourth wall of the story is broken, and I see the author in the story, it stops being real for me.  I stop believing in it, and that ruins everything.

Not Dead … Again

I often disappear from this blog, but this last one was a doozey.  My last post was December 2012, and it’s now May 2014!  Shocking abandonment, I know.  What have I been doing with myself for all that time, you ask?

Well I was a little busy, and the end result is that basically I made another person.  The Husband helped a little.


Yeah, I made that.

I wish I was one of those people who could obsess over several things at once, but sadly I am not so disciplined.  I got pregnant in January 2013 and started being obsessed with all things baby-related, researching everything from what I should be eating, what we should be buying (or not), and just generally what we had gotten ourselves in for.  The Munchkin was born in October, at which point I realised that 99.9% of that research was a pile of nonsense.  Now, six months later, I finally have gotten to the point where things have calmed down somewhat, we’re getting some decent sleep (finally!) and I have begun to have some free time in the regular intervals that are Nap Time.

Oh, Nap Time, a most sacred time indeed.  Those who dare to disturb the peace during Nap Time shall forever rue the day, as I operate a strict “You Break It You Buy It” Policy.  In other words, if you wake up my child then you get to be handed a screaming infant and told to “FIX IT!!”  I wonder if the postman has any idea just how close he’s come to being given temporary custody of a six month old.

But I digress.  I’m finally feeling mentally sound enough to start writing again, so here I am, back from the dead, with new ideas and determination.  Also feeling the extra pressure to finally finish something, as my maternity leave has ended and with it my paycheques.  Sadly child care costs make my fabulous job untenable, as I’d be paying out about the same per day as I’d be earning and that’s just ridiculous.  So unless I can find a job which magically fits around the constrains of my new responsibilities, I’m calling myself a self-employed full-time writer.

I’m hoping that by using this blog as a tool to make me write every day, even just in my usual wittering way, I’ll start to regain discipline again.  So watch this space for various rants on various random subjects, some of which might actually have something to do with writing.