Tag Archives: fantasy

In Which My Mind Decides Things For Me

Where else but the internet can you create a book cover for a novel that hasn’t even been written yet?

It always happens.  My mind never listens to what I tell it to do.

I was all set and ready to write my first literary novel, my exciting new project of awesomeness, but no.  My mind decided I need to be writing a fantasy epic instead…  Yes.  It decided this without my prior consent.

It goes like this.

I’d told myself, no, I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year.  And yet, there I was on November 1st, only just yesterday, logging in to the website and updating my author details.  Sure, that’s fair enough, maybe I will just ignore it from here on out.  I’m supposed to be writing this literary novel, and I don’t think it’s a good NaNo project especially as I’ve already started it a bit.  Blah, blah, etc.

Cue today.  I had one of my shower epiphanies, where I find myself having the best “eureka” moments when in the shower.  Don’t know why, maybe washing my hair kickstarts my brain or something.  Anyways, the epiphany was to do with how I had been struggling with complexity in one particlar fantasy novel, but if I just combined several separate projects into one, then it might just lead itself to inherent complexity.  I then start to fit together various false-start novels, and thus was born my new epic fantasy novel: Three Kingdoms!

Fair enough, I think to myself, I’ll put that on the back burner while I do this literary thing.  But then, I found myself logging back on to the NaNoWriMo website and filling in the novel info page with Three Kingdom‘s synopsis!  Read it, it’s fairly ridiculous.  Just like the mind that created it!

Oh well, in the end it dusts off three projects of mine that had stalled and were going nowhere, breathing new life into them.  I fully admit to simply copy/pasting what I’d written of each project and creating my first three chapters, which is cheating by NaNoWriMo standards, but oh well, I don’t go into NaNoWriMo to “win” – I go into it to make myself write!  So, to that end, I’m already winning.

Huzzah!

Reality, Schmeality

I just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods yesterday, and it’s a little bit shocking I never read it sooner.  But it made me think about why I don’t like setting my own novels in the real world, even if that world is being turned into something fantastic.

First of all, I think my inherent laziness couldn”t handle the amount of research involved in dealing with real places and real things!  It’s absolutely terrible of me to admit this, but it’s so much easier just making things up as I go along.  At least I’m honest about it!

But second, and more importantly, since I mentally inhabit the worlds I write in, I simply have no interest in reinhabiting the real world.  Reality be damned, I want fantasy.  If I could honestly enter the realms of my favourite novels, I’d be there right now.  I want unspoilt landscapes, pre-industrial settlements, wind-powered sea voyages, horses as the state-of-the-art mode of transportation, battles with swords and arrows, leather and chain mail, falconry and hunting, subsistence farming, minstrels and lutes, cloaks and capes as practical outerwear choices, mead and ale, poultices and tinctures, mysterious old women living in the woods, sage old men living in the mountains, animal companions, hijinks, adventure and quests.  No, you can keep your internal combustion engines, your technological advances, medical breakthroughs, kevlar, machine guns, international stock market, breakfast cereals, personal hygiene, internal plumbing, higher education and mass produced everything.  No thanks, 2012, I don’t want it.  Give me 1012.

Back in the real world, that’s honestly why I live on a farming estate away from large population centres, why I own chickens and make a living in falconry.  I’m trying to close my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, and go “LA LA LA LA LA!!” to the modern world.  That’s not to say I want to go joining any Amish-style communes; I freely admit that many of the things I listed above, such as personal hygiene, indoor plumbing, and medical breakthroughs (and let’s face it, I do love my breakfast cereals), are sensible and I’m rather grateful for their existence.  But if, and it’s a big if, I could trade it for living in a fantasy world – I so very would.

And on that note, I’m determined to inhabit one of the worlds of my own making today and spend a serious amount of time on Cobault.  I’ve been lazy and full of excuses lately but today I have nothing else planned and will just have to be strong-willed and withstand the lure of laziness, the internet, and inane television programmes.  Now if only I really lived in a fantasy world, I wouldn’t have these readily-available distractions!  But I’m fairly sure I’d find something else to occupy myself, like hiding subliminal naughty words in my needlepoint, and doing that thing when you lift the body of a chicken but its head stays perfectly still.  Yeah I’d be doing that.

Fantastic Bullshitting and a New Story: The Falconer’s Apprentice

I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old advice people give to writers: ‘Write what you know.’  Now this doesn’t really apply to fantasy writers, because let’s face it no one knows squat-diddly about dragons or magic or elves or whatever.  No, instead of writing what you know, fantasy writers have another, more applicable mantra:

“Bullshit really really well.”

It’s all about bluffing, because so long as you can be convincing enough for readers to believe it actually happened no one actually cares if you’re 100% accurate.

Or so I’m hoping.

I’m actually planning to write something based on both writing mantras, for the subject of this latest endeavor is falconry.  But the bullshitting will come into play because obviously I know modern techniques and in a mediaeval fantasy time period they don’t have cable ties and radio telemetry.

So here’s the beginning of The Falconer’s Apprentice:

*

Tommas was feeling deflated, odd in a boy as large as himself. The days leading up to today had been full of excitement as he readied the preparations for what was to come. But now that it was here, and the long-awaited event had passed, Tommas was left feeling cheated.

He’d waited for this day to arrive for six years, ever since he was sent as an apprentice at the age of eight. His master was an imposing man, stern of eye and implacable when it came to detail, but then he had to be; he was the Master Falconer to their liege lord. And as his apprentice, Tommas had done all and more that was required of him, from scraping hawk shit off the walls to being bitten and footed by hungry falcons when attending their needs. Even so, it was two years before he was allowed to enter the mews where the birds perched, alert and wary of his strange presence. Two more before he was allowed to pick one up. And after another two, he was to be given his own bird to train and care for.

That day was today. But it was not as he imagined.

‘What’s that you’ve got there, boy? A blue-tit for catching flies?’ The men loitering outside the smithy laughed and jeered as he came near. Tommas ground his teeth, but kept quiet.

‘Raffe!’ called the Master Smith when he saw the falconer’s apprentice. His own apprentice answered his call, popping up greasy-haired and coal-streaked from the bowels of the smithy.

‘Tommas, let’s see it!’ the lanky other boy’s face lit up when he saw his friend approach. He knew what day it was. But as Raffe approached, he saw what sat upon Tommas’ gauntleted fist and frowned. ‘Is that it?’

Tommas sighed.

‘You know,’ one of the loiterers called to the townspeople who had started to gather round to see what their laughter was about, ‘they say the size of a man’s hawk tells you the size of his prick!’ The crowd roared with laughter.

‘Well,’ Tommas blustered, red-faced, ‘I’ll have you know it’s a falcon, not a hawk.’

‘Yeah,’ chimed in Raffe, ‘it’s opposite with falcons, you see.’ That just raised a louder roar of hilarity.

‘You’re not helping,’ the large boy groaned.

‘Sorry,’ his friend grinned. ‘Come inside and tell me everything.’

*

Cocky young Tommas is obviously less than pleased with the bird he’s given, but the Kestrel was historically the bird of servants and apprentices.  The conflict of the story will be when his master is given the task of training a young Gyrfalcon destined to be given to the King,  and Tommas steals it for himself.  As this would probably be considered a hanging offence, my task is to now work out plot-wise what this cheeky boy is planning to do now he’s got himself into heaps of trouble.

Eventually he’ll find that the Gyrfalcon is pretty but useless, and the Kestrel he’s abandoned stays his loyal companion and keeps them all from dying of hunger whilst on the run, even if they’re only eating mice and field voles.

The moral of the story: don’t be a twat.

If a Book Sucks in the Forest; Is Writing Worthwhile If No One Reads It?

Admittedly it’s been about a bazillion years since my last post, long enough ago that many of you probably forgot who I am.  But nonetheless here I am, hoping that through my incoherent ramblings I might accidentally say something meaningful to a small, dwindling crowd of transient tag-surfers, Facebook friends, and Twitter tweeters.  Or maybe no one at all – at this point, I might have lost my readership through abject neglect!  Which brings me to the question of this post:

Like the tree falling in the forest which no one can hear, is writing worthwhile if no one reads it?

There are legion after legion of amateur writers scattered about the globe, writing for their own pleasure, triumph and posterity.  And their goal, almost universally, is one thing:

GETTING PUBLISHED.

Dreams of fame, fortune, and multiple houses on multiple continents may dance in their heads – writers are only human after all – but most of all it’s the idea of hundreds, if not thousands or even millions, of strangers picking up their book and being affected by it somehow.  We want that crystal-clear justification for our existence which comes from someone else telling you how great you are.  That your stories put into words the things they wanted to say for so long, but couldn’t.

I had a moment like that last week, reading a book and thinking, I should have written this!  It was exactly the sort of story I always wanted to tell, and the author told it impeccably.  This was Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, and I recommend it to everyone, even non-fantasy readers.  His prose is something to behold.

It was night again.  The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking.  If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves.  If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamour one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night.  If there had been music … but no, of course there was no music.  In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.

It manages to be elegant and meaningful without being snobbish about it, in the way modern descriptive-heavy literary fiction can get.  It’s inclusively eloquent, not eloquence designed purely to show off or make it clear how low and vulgar you, the audience, are.  And it’s a narrative within a narrative, something more stylistically interesting than typical sword-and-sorcery novels.

And it makes fun of its own genre.  Brilliantly so.

‘[…]The truth is this: I wasn’t living in a story.’

‘I don’t think I’m understanding you, Reshi,’ Bast said, puzzled.

‘Think of all the stories you’ve heard, Bast.  You have a young boy, the hero.  His parents are killed.  He sets out for vengeance.  What happens next?’

Bast hesitated, his expression puzzled.  Chronicler answered the question instead.  ‘He finds help.  A clever talking squirrel.  An old drunken swordsman.  A mad hermit in the woods.  That sort of thing.’

Kvothe nodded.  ‘Exactly!  He finds the mad hermit in the woods, proves himself worthy, and learns the names of all things, just like Taborlin the Great.  Then with all these powerful magics at his beck and call, what does he do?’

Chronicler shrugged.  ‘He finds the villains and kills them.’

‘Of course,’ Kvothe said grandly.  ‘Clean, quick, and easy as lying.  We know how it ends practically before it starts.  That’s why stories appeal to us.  They give us the clarity and simplicity our real lives lack.’

This fantasy story stays true to all the elements and themes I ever wanted to explore in Cobault or anything else I’ve written: names having power, unique narrative structure, and above all to treat a fantasy story with all the realism and complexity of real life.  Reading it has inspired me, challenged me to take this example and become better than that which I idolise.

And so The Name of the Wind is a book that has touched me, something that would have never happened if it hadn’t been made possible by publishing and distribution.  A story that no one has read is like Schrodinger’s cat – its state is unknown.  Brilliance and meaning lie in the mind of the reader.  The author is too biased, too close, to know what he/she has created.  Objectivity is needed.

But even if your story’s distribution is limited to close friends, family and a few strangers on the internet, what pleases you more than anything is someone telling you how much they enjoyed reading your work.  And I think that’s what most of us write for, above and beyond fame, fortune, and houses.

However, if your writing is well and truly terrible, maybe it’s just as well if it sucks in the forest with no one around to hear it.

Bad Fantasy: the boils on the arse of genre fiction

Let’s face it, we’ve all read some truly atrocious fantasy novels.  For some people that may be the reason they don’t read the genre as a whole, for which I can hardly blame them.

Neither do I!

To be completely honest: I’ve stopped reading generic High Fantasy novels.  I just can’t take it anymore.  Not only is it generally a reworking of old trite nonsense which is quite painful to read, it also makes me angry.  I get angry that this junk gets published when I know I write better, I get angry that people buy these books (thus propagating the myth that these books are desirable works of fiction) and I get angry that writers write them.

How dare they!

The fantasy genre is snubbed enough in literary circles without these idiots bulking up the shelves with their drivel.  In my creative writing module at university my professor, the author John Burnside, at one point announced something like: “I hope none of you are writing fantasy or any such thing!”  At which point I felt obliged to point out that, yes, I do write fantasy and have done so since my first random, meandering stories as a child.  The whole classroom, of only 15 people or so, suddenly became a little more awkward.

I remember trying very hard during his class to not write fantasy for my assignments; despite my confident assertion he had struck a chord which continued to reverberate throughout the semester.  It was only for my dissertation the following year that I submitted a work of fantasy, a single chapter in what would later become Exodus.  Burnside wrote the comment: “I wonder what she will make of the real world” when he marked it.  I still got an 18/20, though.

So here’s my challenge to any other writers of fantasy, or any much-maligned type of genre fiction: write the best goddamned novels ever to be read by human eyes.

We’ll show those bastards.

On writing GENRE (gaspshockhorror)

Now this will likely be a long-term rant, of which this post will probably be part one of many.  I will tell you now, in the pursuit of full disclosure:

I write genre fiction.

If that statement makes the elitist stick in your arsehole move slightly more north than makes you entirely comfortable, I think we can both agree that this blog is not for you.

I’m going to quote one of my favourite writers now, Ursula Le Guin:

To think that realistic fiction is by definition superior to imaginative fiction is to think imitation is superior to invention.

You’ll find I quote her a lot because she has a lot to say on the subject and is just generally amazing.  As one of my heroes of genre fiction, Le Guin proves that just because something isn’t real that doesn’t mean it’s not plausible.  She makes a big point about the idea of plausibility in imaginative fiction, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

When I write my imaginative world I’m not completely rejecting the idea of realism.  I’m simply rejecting this reality, here and now, and failing to see it as the boundaries of worthwhile literature.  I see that it’s important to live in the real world (as much as I despised that idea as a child), the same way I believe the alphabet is important, as the essential base elements of creating something altogether different.

And here lies the rub, Madame or Monsieur Stick-butt (if you’re still persevering through to the bitter end): all fiction is made up, be it genre or literary.  Imagination is the key to all fiction.

I have issue with the idea that literary fiction is “serious” fiction because it prefers to dwell on characters staring at their own bellybuttons rather than any semblance of plot.  There’s a snobbery involved in the idea that a novel has to stylishly forgo such plebeian nonsense as plot or narrative in order to be “writerly”.  It’s like the modern artist who forgoes canvas altogether and splashes paint upon their own naked flesh.  It’s interesting, makes a point that is certainly worthwhile, but I wouldn’t then make the logical leap that anyone who still deigns to use canvas is therefore less artistic or lacking in value.

I find it interesting to note that the Wikipedia article on literary fiction has a disclaimer: “This article has multiple issues.”

I’d say.

In my opinion the slippery term “literary fiction” does little as a helpful description of what is, undeniably, a genre in its own right.  Perhaps if we got rid of it altogether it might help to finally be rid of the schism in literature that patronises genre fiction as unserious, unworthy and unliterary.

Bollocks to that.