Tag Archives: His Dark Materials

In Which I Attempt the Improbable, but not Impossible.

So I’ve decided to try and enter the Kelpies prize competition this year, although the deadline is February 28th and I have a 40,000 – 70,000 word novel to write.  However, as a twice-successful NaNoWriMo participant, I feel it’s not impossible!  But perhaps just a tiny bit improbable?  I guess only time will tell!

The competition is for a children’s novel, aimed at ages 8 – 12, set in Scotland.  I’ve never really written children’s stories before, but I’ve come to realise that some of my favourite novels are in fact aimed at that demographic.  There’s something about that point in a child’s life, when the world starts to open up in a more adult understanding, that leads to compelling prose.

So I’m taking a page, as it were, from His Dark Materials, and will set my story in a Scotland-that-isn’t.  There will be adventure, animal companions, supernatural danger, and young people being pushed to discover their true potential.

Basically everything I loved as a child, and still love now!

I’m being a bit presumptuous to think I can not just write this but also edit it to perfection by February 28th.  However, if I’m not satisfied with it then I can always hold it back until next year’s competition!  And a girl’s gotta have goals!

Now I just have to start writing!  (She says, as if that were easy…)

A Bit of a Whine

I’ve nearly utterly failed to write here today (Wednesday, though now it’s technically Thursday) despite not posting Tuesday either, what with carnivorous birdy play-time.

The reason is that I’m having confidence issues.  Again.  Joy.

I’ve not been writing these past couple of days, and if I’m not writing then I’m not able to post about writing.  I don’t even find myself with a witty anecdotal diatribe to fill in the space.  And because I’ve already written a post about what I term “Writer’s Blah”, I felt like posting a second would just be whining.  And make me look desperate for someone to just tell me I’m awesome to puff up my feeling of self-worth.

Which I kind of am – but don’t do it!!!  I would hate for anyone to comment: “But you ARE awesome!!!” because that’s totally not what I’m getting at.  It’s a totally different kind of vindication that I need.

Let’s get to the gist of my problem:

I know I write well.  But I don’t write well enough yet.  My heroes are authors like Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin and all these others whose novels have always blown me away.  Novels that link beautiful prose with ideas, the sorts of ideas that make you think for weeks, maybe years, long after you’ve finished.

A good story is still necessary, in my mind, but to be something really interesting there needs to be more beneath the surface than just that.  This is where I find that what I write needs to be at the intersection of “literary fiction” and “genre” – both plot and concepts matter to me, and pretty much equally.

So right now I write decent plots, some lovely shading-on-purple prose (mauve prose, if you like), but where are my thought-provoking ideas?!  So far I’ve attempted:

  • Exodus – a retelling of the story of the Biblical Exodus, but apart from some use of gender, race and the theme of the Other, I never really pushed through to anything significant therein.  The Other will always be one of my favourite topics to thread through my novels, but I just haven’t gotten it right yet.
  • Cobault – deals with gender and the Other again, with Wollstonecraftian feminism (which is rather too old-school to be earth-shattering), and class struggle (see above).  Maybe back in the time of Maria: or, the Woes of Woman I could have been onto something.  Not so much in 2011.
  • The Long Road Home was just silly.  A romp through reworking fantasy cliches, plot-driven for the most part with some coming-of-age YA stuff thrown in there.  Fluff.

So when I think about His Dark Materials, when Pullman essentially turned Milton’s Paradise Lost on its head and praised mankind for the very thing Milton damned it for, I think – what the fuck have I been doing with my time???

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for a true Original Idea – I know that’s a long hunt for an imaginary quarry – but I’m holding myself to the high standard of these authors I esteem and hoping I can pull something together that’s inventive and creative with whatever ideas I choose to explore.  It’s just not happened yet.

And I’m seeing the massive gap between my novels and those novels I love.  It’s a depressing abyss.

I had to remind myself recently that all these writers are far older than I am, and were well into their middle age before the works they’re best known for were written.  I know I have time to work all this out, and to feel truly proud of what I’ve made.  But it’s very hard to keep motivated when faced with disappointment in yourself, regardless of what your logic and reasoning tells you.

These are the feelings that make me want to drop what I’m currently doing and pursue something else, an instinct I’ve posted about before, hoping that the next idea will have greater merit than the last, but am I wrong to do that?

I thought I was, and thus I’ve been trying to persevere with Cobault as it’s my most well-realised story, the furthest along towards actual completion.  Do I stick with it or do I give myself free rein to try something new, in the hope of uncovering something that makes me feel the abyss is slowly closing, however infinitesimally so?

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.


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.


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.