Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Seasonal Prose, Lack of Productivity and The Scarf That Looks Like A Scarf

*

Before long, Cobault’s streets were swept by the high winds that characterised Autumn’s approach. Debris rattled on the cobblestones, thrown under the wheels of carriages and making the streets somewhat more hazardous than usual. Ladies’ long skirts twisted around their legs, tripping the unprepared and making men stare with knowing smiles to see the outlines of appendages hitherto unseen. These men had to be careful to remain at least somewhat self-aware and mind their hats, however, for not a few were stripped from their wearer’s very heads. Chill fingers of air groped pedestrians, raising gooseflesh in their wake.

This was an unfriendly season, and Euphemia was more aware of that than her peers – because of her peers, in actuality.

*

So I think I can handle moving forward in time, now, to some degree.  It’s been one of my struggles, and I have to say it took reading all of Harry Potter to give me the idea.  Every single book, J.K. Rowling uses the time device of the seasons to shift us through the academic year:

“As they entered November, the weather turned very cold.” (The Philosopher’s Stone)

“October arrived, spreading a damp chill over the grounds and into the castle.”  (Chamber of Secrets)

“Two weeks before the end of term, the sky lightened suddenly to a dazzling, opaline white and the muddy grounds were revealed one morning covered in glittering frost.” (The Prisoner of Azkeban)

And so on.  Notice how much purpler the prose of these descriptions get with every book?  Oh, J.K. Rowlz, I suppose the fame started to get to your head a wee bit there.  Not complaining, mind – I think the word “opaline” is sorely underused.

It makes a lot of sense but I don’t want to rely upon it.  Just like I began to notice that every single HP book relied upon seasonal prose to move forward through time, it can become clunky and expected.

And readers are a fickle bunch, and you can’t let them get what they expect – they’ll get bored and leave you!  Contrary bastards.

In other news, as noted by the excerpt, I’m writing Cobault again!  It’s kind of a big deal, because I’ve been a bit Blah and not writing for a week or so now.  You can generally tell how productive I’m being, writerly, by how many posts I’m posting here in a given week.  I think this week there has been a grand total of two.  So not very productive.

However, I’m feeling rather proud of the scarf I’m knitting.  It’s very fuzzy and actually looks like a scarf.  It’s impressive.

The Witches of Fife, Research and Other Nonsense

As you may or may not be aware, Fife was rampant with witches in the Days of Yore.  In this attempt to write my Kelpies Prize entry I’d been looking for something I can research inherent to Fife, which I can rely on to give me the credibility I lack from not being natively Scottish (and yet trying to write Scottish children’s literature).  And from a half-remembered lecture given back in my student days with the Pagan Society of St. Andrews I recalled this particular bit of information.

I’ve been looking for inspiration with hints of the supernatural, and this might be perfect.  My favourite children’s stories are the ones that escape the bubblegum-pink prose where everything is well-meaning and the danger isn’t really all that dangerous, like bumbling pirates and laughable ogres.  I like slightly Grimmer stuff (as in stuff more like Grimm’s Fairy Tales and less like a Disney film) with shades of grey.

So, witches it is.

I’m not sure if I want to pursue the supernatural angle, or the historic-political angle, but to be honest I bet I’ll end up doing both.  I’m also not sure what time period to set this in, mainly debating whether to set it historically or contemporaneously.

Luckily, there seems to be a wide range of local-interest library books I’ve found in the subject.  For example, The Witches of Fife: Witch-hunting in a Scottish Shire and The Weem Witch.  So hopefully through research I can work out a lot of the details and find inspiration for a plot.

Look at me go, actually researching things before writing them!  Before you know it I’ll be outlining and everything!!!

I’ve also been rereading Harry Potter books, partly as research for what’s expected writing-style-wise for the age group, but also just because why not.  For all that I whinged about J.K. Rowling and her oh-too-perfect ending, I do like reading them.

And I secretly wish I had my own Hedwig!

Not that J.K. Rowling actually knows the first thing about owl behaviour, as I’ve come to realise.  Hedwig was “fast asleep with her head under her wing”??  Pah!  Owls don’t sleep like that!  But hey, maybe magic owls are a whole other shebang, who am I to know??

Algernon Stares, JK Rowling Needs Balls and Some Discourse on Realistic Love Stories

Another randomly selected excerpt from Cobault, for your reading delectation:

*

“Someone catch your eye?” Bertrand nudged him with a sharp elbow to the side. Algernon staggered, off-balance and unprepared. He hadn’t realised he was being so obvious, but then again he had been staring.

“I’ve been trying to work out who she is,” he felt the need to explain. “She seems different from the other girls at Eastward.”

“She is different,” the other boy informed him gravely. “High-born, I’d wager. By the start of term I expect no end to the gossip concerning that one.”

“What do you mean?”

“High-born girls don’t live in dormitories, they live in fancy boarding houses with their fancy friends,” Bertrand was beginning to slur his words, and drained the rest of his wine before snatching up another glass off a proffered platter. “That this girl, fancy as she is, lives at Eastward – well that’s a conundrum, my friend. There’ll be a story, and the story will soon be all over the Academy like wildfire, mark my words.”

Algernon watched as the girl in blue smiled at someone in the crowd, and how that smile froze as its object turned away. “A conundrum,” he agreed, echoing his friend.

“That means puzzle, farm boy.”

“I know what it means, and I’ve never worked on a farm,” he retorted.

“Could have fooled me. Manners like yours belong in a pig yard. Staring after strange girls – shocking behaviour.”

*

So let’s talk about love.  More specifically, love as it’s portrayed in popular films and literature.

The Husband and I were watching (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Harry Potter: The One Where Dumbledore Dies (/SPOILER ALERT!!!)  and both of us couldn’t quite get the Harry-Ginny dynamic.  It just seemed thrown in there.  Ron-Hermoine make sense, it was built up properly, but for H-G it just seemed an afterthought tossed in because JK Rowling couldn’t stand to let her main character be lonely.

Get some balls, JK Rowling!!

Personally, I would have loved to see a lonely, angst-ridden Harry – the lone Chosen One in the face of evil, blahblahblah, doomed to wander lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills… you get the point.

It would have been better.

But ultimately, the H-G pairing just wasn’t very believable.  And unrealistic.  What are the chances of everyone pairing off so perfectly, getting married, having kids – and oh look the kids are friends too, how sweet.

Blech.

My favourite love story of all time is from His Dark Materials.  It was perfect.  Realistic not in the sense that the events in the story could occur in real life, but realistic in the sense that the relationship between Lyra and Will is believable and seems to grow naturally.  And the ending is tragic, beautifully so, but exactly as it should be.

So I’m confronted with the feeling of utter humility I always get when I think of how much I want to emulate Philip Pullman’s amazing trilogy.  Sheesh, makes me want to throw out everything I’ve ever written and put my heart and soul into something worthier.

Ahem.

So that’s what I’m trying to do.  I want to make a realistic, beautiful, tragic love story that doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending because life doesn’t have a happy ending. The end that it has is the end that it needs to have, regardless of sentimentality, fairness or hope.

And that’s why JK Rowling needs some balls.

20,000 League Tables Under The Sea

Today I bought a secondhand copy of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea at a charity shop in St. Andrews.  The store had two copies: one slightly cheaper volume from the sixties, and one newer reprint, schnazzed up with colour illustrations.   But there was something that caught my eye – there was a noticeable difference in the story itself in the newer reprint, changing the way the text looked by making it less dense while also removing quotations and bracketed explanations.  Ultimately I decided to buy the older version, small enough to fit in my purse and £1 cheaper counts for a lot, without really thinking about the implications of the difference between the two.

Now I’m thinking it through a lot more.

I was watching Newsnight Scotland last night, and they talked about the report that Scottish education isn’t improving despite various reforms over the past decade.  One of the specifics they discussed was reading and how students don’t read for enjoyment and it’s affecting performance in that subject because they just don’t want to.

This makes me at once both sad and angry.

I’m sure there are kids who still like to read, but they’re a rare minority; even when I grew up I remember my classmates boasting about how little they read as if it were something to be proud of.  Nerds like me who read for pleasure were teased somewhat ridiculously.  “OMG why do you bring a different novel to school everyday?  You’re so weeiird!”   Um, yeah.  Good one.

Newsnight Scotland continued to discuss the problem that the largest percentage of reading done in schools is from textbooks.  This means that to these children reading mostly consists of blocks of dry text, perhaps divided up by graphs or diagrams.  Of course they don’t learn to enjoy it with that as their idea of reading.  And not only are they not learning to enjoy it, they’re not even learning how to handle reading dense paragraphs and complex sentences of the sort you’d find in a challenging classic novel.  And then if they’re assigned one in an English class they’ll be approaching it with no preparation for how to absorb that kind of literary material, and certainly no reason to think that it could be fun to do so.

I’m now seeing more clearly why this newer copy of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea chose to change the layout of the page and the very wording of the story. And I can’t condone it.  If we decide that all classic literature has to be turned into simpler, colourful versions of the original text in order for children to even begin to pick up that book, well we’ve just put the final nail in the coffin in that issue. If it has to be made easier, then we’re failing to truly educate those children. How will they ever learn that persevering with something dense and complex will lead to a better understanding, and even more ultimate enjoyment, of the story?

Simply, they won’t.

I think the way to initiate a new perspective on reading in primary and secondary schools is to teach novels!  Sure, let’s integrate Harry Potter into the curriculum!  Why the hell not?  If it gets kids to interact with the written word, to begin to think critically about it, it can only be a good thing.