Monthly Archives: December 2012

Gaudete

This is just a tiny note to say ‘Merry Christmas!’

Season's Greetings!

Season’s Greetings!

Thank you very much for reading, commenting, getting in touch with me to let me know how my blog posts have affected you or what they’ve meant to you, and for supporting me in my journey towards Writerland. I’ll be back on the blogging horse over the next few days, and I hope you’ll all be there to greet me.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas season, and that you find the time to relax and enjoy some precious moments with your family and loved ones. Having said that, I know Christmas can be a tough time for some, and I’m thinking of all those who find this time of year a struggle. Please be kind to yourselves.

This is what it's all about, anyway. Have a wonderful Christmas!

This is what it’s all about, anyway. Have a wonderful Christmas!

Gaudete, Gaudete, Christus est natus,

Ex Maria virginae, Gaudete…

The Morning After

So, the world didn’t end as predicted, either for me personally or for humanity in general, which is good news. Even though it took the threat of an apocalypse to make me do it, I’m glad I exposed the bones of my WiP-idea yesterday. I was afraid, in many ways, to make it public – it felt like a world-ending thing, to me. But, of course, it wasn’t. Like so many things, it seemed much bigger before I did it, and once it was done, I realised how small it was in the grand scheme of things.

It can be hard to keep going when you realise how tiny a speck you are, a dust-mote in the cathedral of the universe. Yet, we all manage it – day after day, lifetime after lifetime, we all keep on keeping on. I’m trying to understand my own insignificance as being a good thing; everything is fleeting, and nothing is forever. So, in the long view, it doesn’t matter if you have a bad day or if something doesn’t work out the way you wanted. My favourite quote from a movie is from ‘Terminator’ (1984); it’s not my favourite movie, but the words of the quote have resonated with me for years. The quote is: ‘In a hundred years, who’s going to care?’ It’s delivered by a waitress, who’d been having a very tough day, just before she meets her untimely death. In a hundred years, who’s going to care that I was ever here – it’s a liberating thought, and that’s important. It’s good to have some perspective, because it can be easy to panic and lose sight of the big picture when things seem to be working out wrongly. Perhaps my philosophy is a bit nihilistic, or a little too bleak – but it works for me!

terminator

Anyway. I’m taking my cheery little self off to do some Christmas shopping now. I hope this will be the last of the shopping, as I’m not a big fan of it at the best of times, but when you have to elbow your way through hundreds of people just to grab the last string-bag of sprouts, I think I’d rather be in that restaurant from Terminator, just before the killer android himself bursts through the door. I bought myself some books the other day as a small present to myself, because I intend to do a lot of reading this festive season – whether or not I get time to indulge is a different thing, though. I’m currently reading ‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared’, by Jonas Jonasson – it’s as unusual and enjoyable as its title suggests. I’ll then be moving on to John Green’s ‘Paper Towns’, before (hopefully) getting to S.J. Watson’s ‘Before I Go to Sleep’, Darren Shan’s ‘Zom-B’ and Alan Early’s ‘Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent’.

hundred year oldAnd then, once I’ve devoured all of those, I intend to re-read Susan Cooper’s magnificent ‘The Dark is Rising’ sequence, something I’ve been wanting to do for years. I probably won’t manage to get to it all, but hopefully I’ll get through as many words as possible. I think my well of inspiration needs to be refilled a little with the writings of others, and you just can’t go wrong with Susan Cooper. If you haven’t ever read her, I recommend you rectify that situation at your earliest convenience.

Because things might get a little crazy around here for a few days, and my blogging might not be as regular as normal, I’ll take this opportunity to wish all of you who celebrate Christmas a very happy festive season, and I hope the New Year brings peace, happiness and fulfillment to all of you.

(On a side note: 2013? It feels like we’re living in a Philip K. Dick novel…)

Happy Christmas! Happy New Year!

Christmas Lights in Dublin's Fair City

Christmas Lights in Dublin’s Fair City

The Next Big Thing

So, apparently the world is supposed to end today. I hope it doesn’t, because I have a lot more I’d like to do with my life, but just in case it does, I’ve filled in my answers to The Next Big Thing below. At least I’ll know I got an idea out into the world, briefly, as I hurtle towards the heart of a black hole later. I’m sure it’ll be some consolation!

Anyway – for however long we’ve got left, here are some details about this WiP you’ve all patiently ‘listened’ to me wittering on about for the past few months.

1. What is the working title of your novel?

It is tentatively entitled ‘Tider’. Just that – one word, snappy and concise. I tend towards the verbose everywhere else, so I’m amazed I could come up with a book title as short as this. Having said that, if it ever gets anywhere near a publishing contract, there are no guarantees it’ll be retained, of course!

2. Where did the idea for the novel come from?

I’ve sort of discussed this before, but I’ll revisit briefly: during my Ph.D. studies, possibly as long ago as 2006, I was sitting in a café reading a book (I believe it was ‘Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages’ by Jacques le Goff). It’s a very interesting and clever book, and I was engrossed in it when an idea struck me about the nature of time, and the discrepancies between different methods used to measure it. I had to grab a pen from another table and scribble the bones of the idea for my novel on a customer feedback form, which was a challenge! Though a lot has changed (not least the protagonist’s name), the idea is more or less exactly as I wrote it on that summer’s day over six years ago.

3. What genre does your novel fall under?

‘Tider’ is a Young Adult novel, mainly because the protagonist is sixteen and she finds herself in opposition to her father, and she has to change the plan she had for her life in order to ‘do her duty’, as she sees it, which involves trying to keep her family alive, and together. There is one characteristic of YA novels that doesn’t feature heavily in my book, though, which is the romantic love relationship; YA books seem saturated with female characters who are defined (and who define themselves) by their boyfriend(s), and my protagonist is different. She does meet a boy in the course of her story, but things aren’t as straightforward as they seem with their relationship. At least, that’s my intention! As well as being YA, I’d say it’s probably speculative/fantasy fiction, too.

4. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie adaptation of your novel?

The actress who’d play my protagonist (Maraika) would be the lovely and talented Amandla Stenberg, no doubt about that. This is she:

amandla stenbergAnd if the sequel (currently bubbling in my head) ever gets written/made into a movie, the beautiful (and Irish!) Ruth Negga would be great as the older Maraika. This is she:

ruth neggaMy male characters are harder. For the character of Jan, I’d have Nicholas Hoult (but he’d have to grow a beard):

nicholas hoult

For the character of Gavrok, Maraika’s father, I’d have to have Chiwetel Ejiofor, even though he’s probably not quite old enough:

chiwetel ejiofor

But that’s as far as I’ve got!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your novel?

Maraika’s father (the Tider) has always been her hero, but when she is forced to confront the fact that he has been engaging in some seriously immoral activity, and that there are vigilantes out to kill him because of it, she needs to fight to keep him alive – as well as to bring his actions to an end.

6. Will your novel be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ve entered it into a competition which, if I’m shortlisted, may set me on the road to finding an agent and going down the ‘traditional’ route to publication. However, I’m fully prepared to go it alone, and am not averse to self-publishing. As it stands right now, I have no agency representation nor any plans to self-publish; in January 2013, I will know more.

7. How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This is a tough question, because it’s hard to define ‘first draft’. As I said, the first seedlings of the idea were planted up to six years ago, and I did write a proto-draft about four years ago, which has long been junked. The current book (complete at just under 150,000 words and in its fifth draft) has taken me four months; the first, very rough, draft took about six weeks.

8. With what other novels would you compare this book within your genre?

I’d like to think it’s sort-of similar to Garth Nix’s ‘Abhorsen’ trilogy, with perhaps a smidgen of Catherine Fisher’s ‘Incarceron’ and a dash of Frances Hardinge’s ‘Fly By Night’ and ‘Twilight Robbery’ thrown in. Though that’s self aggrandisement on a huge scale!

9. Who or what inspired you to write this novel?

Well, my fascination with clocks, calendars, time-keeping methods and the Middle Ages, basically. There’s an element of ‘state vs. Church’ in my book, too, which comes straight out of the Investiture Controversy – unlike the ideas at stake in the Investiture Controversy, though, which involved the appointment and deposition of heads of state, my book involves a clash of authorities regarding the measurement of time. So, I guess you could say my interest in the Middle Ages is the primary mover behind this book – but the story as it stands now is not set in a pseudo-medieval world. The original draft, four years ago, was set in a world like that, and it didn’t work. So, the current worldscape is more like a fictionalised late 19th century on another planet. It’s ‘steampunky’ in terms of its technology, but in many other ways it’s not like steampunk at all.

10. What else about your novel might pique a reader’s interest?

Hmmm…. well! It has time-wrangling in it, a feisty and spirited protagonist, and a male ‘lead’ who wears a beard (how often do you see that?); it features betrayal, serious injury, the besieging of a fortress, the attempted theft of the greatest treasure in the world, and an airship; it also features hostage-taking, vandalism and invention. Hopefully that’s about as piquant as any book can be!

Now comes the time for me to nominate other people for this same award. My options are limited because I can’t nominate the people who nominated me, and there are a few others who I know wouldn’t welcome the nomination. So, my list will have to be a short one! I also hope none of the people I’ve nominated will mind my nominating them – there’s no obligation to take part, of course.

 

 

 

 

I hope these links work. I wanted to add a couple of others, but my bullet-points seem to have given up the ghost! Ah, me. The life of a technophobe. I’m amazed my computer doesn’t slap me across the gob with the mouse sometimes!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my WiP, and if you have any comments about it, or questions, I’d love to hear ’em. Happy Friday, everyone – and if it’s the last day, it’s been a pleasure to know y’all.

An Untimely Note

My day is ending, rather than beginning, but I haven’t been able to put a blog post up until now. It’s not that I didn’t have time, but I just… couldn’t. My head is in a strange place today. So, this post will perforce be brief. Maybe we could call it a Post-Ette.

Sometimes my life feels like this.

Sometimes my life feels like this.

Item the First: I’ve been nominated for a Next Big Thing Award twice in the last week (technically), once by Claire over at Written in Haste and once by Michelle at Michelle Proulx Official. (Thank you, ladies). I say ‘technically’ because Claire didn’t actually nominate me on her blog – she contacted me personally to ask if I’d do it, so I’ll count that as a nomination. Basically, this means I have to answer some questions about my Work in Progress, which is a bit scary; however, being nominated twice makes me think that Fate is at work, and I should probably just go for it. So, in the next few days I’ll get to that. You can hold your breaths… now!

Item the Second: my first proper attempt at writing a short story for children. My target audience is probably the average nine-year-old boy, so the story involves snot and other bodily fluids, aliens, and explosions. In fact, quite a lot happens for 1500 words! Hopefully, I’ll tweak this over the next few days; I want to submit it to a Children’s Literature magazine early in the new year, but only when it’s ready. I feel it’s an achievement for me to feel able to submit something to a magazine, so I’m quite pleased with myself on that front.

Item the Third: I had an entirely new idea today, one that wasn’t to do with my WiP or anything else I’ve been turning over in my mind lately. It’s historical (medieval, of course), based around an event that I’ve long had a fascination with, and one which I feel is rich with story potential. Like a lot of the lesser-known events in medieval history, it actually ended up having quite a large effect on the history of an entire country. However, for some reason it’s not considered a huge historical event in its own right, and so very few people know about it. These kind of nuggets from history are gold to a story-teller, so hopefully the bones of the story I’m thinking of will one day form the arc of a new tale.

Item the Fourth: I may not blog tomorrow, but hopefully I’ll be back on Friday. And – hopefully – I’ll be in a brighter frame of mind.

Avast! Enough nonsense. Have a wonderful Wednesday, and take good care of yourselves.

Random Tuesday

I’ve been away from the blog for a few days, mainly because I was with my parents for the weekend, but also because I wanted to keep my distance from the internet for the past little while. I’m glad to see nothing too horrible seems to have happened in the world since I last peeped out over my parapet, so I’m grateful for that. Today, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll wander about a little in the garden of my mind, and maybe by the end of it we’ll have a bouquet of thoughts. They might not be thoughts which are particularly well-connected, and they may make no sense whatsoever stuck together in a bouquet, but let’s hope for the best.

I wish my mind looked like this!

I wish my mind looked like this!

Is it wrong, do you think, to feel so strongly about an event which had nothing to do with you, in a country you’ve never even been in, and to which you have no connection? I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the children lost in Connecticut, and working through my own sorrow. My feelings of loss and grief are real, and I am desperately sorry for the bereaved families, and for the people of Newtown in general – and I hope that these feelings of loss don’t cause any further offence to those who are suffering. Of course, I didn’t know any of the children, and in a way, my sorrow for them is meaningless – but my sorrow is there, nonetheless. What I don’t want to do is stray into the territory of gratuitous horror-mongering, of which some ‘newspapers’ are guilty; at the weekend, someone in my company was flicking through a paper which lingered grotesquely over the injuries inflicted upon the victims of this atrocity, and I felt compelled to ask them to close the paper and put it away. I don’t see how that sort of ‘journalism’ is helpful to anyone. Nobody but the medical examiners charged with the harrowing task of conducting the autopsies should have knowledge of how badly these children were injured, and any ‘newspaper’ which feels it has the right to reprint that information should be ashamed. So, the first flower in my odd little bouquet is a rose – a red one, ideally. It’s for the children of the world. I’m thinking about them all today, and hoping no other child has to go through the terror that was visited upon the children of Sandy Hook. Beside the red rose, I think I’ll tuck a little blue forget-me-not, which is especially for the children of Newtown, Connecticut.

I’m thinking about Christmas, too, because how could anyone be unaware that it’ll be here, this day next week? For the first time in my life, I’m going to be away from my parents for Christmas, and I’m torn in all sorts of ways about that. Of course, I’m looking forward to spending my Christmas with my husband, but I know I’m going to miss my parents and my brother. Christmas was, and is, a special time for my family and it will be strange not to have them with me on the day. Mixed in with the excitement of creating new traditions, and experiencing new joys, will be a sense of loss because my parents won’t be with me. But I have to realise how lucky I am to have too many people with whom I want to spend Christmas – there are so many people who are on their own at this time of year, so I’m very blessed. I’m going to place some daisies into my bouquet, because they’re my favourite flower, and one which my parents would associate with me. I know they’ll be remembering me with love at Christmas, just as I’ll be remembering them.

One of my dearest friends is due to give birth to her first baby in the coming days. It’s so fitting, because my friend is crazy about Christmas; I can’t think of a better time of year for her to become a mother for the first time. My husband and I met one another at her wedding, so she and her husband have a very special place in our hearts and thoughts. She’s on my mind a lot, and we are waiting anxiously every day to hear whether it’s time for the new little person to arrive. He or she will be the luckiest baby in the world – not only will s/he have the most loving parents any child could wish for, but there is a huge circle of people around them, all of whom want to shower the new baby with affection and give every support to the new parents. I feel, in many ways, like this new child will be family to me because my friend and her husband are so dearly loved by me; I can’t wait to meet him or her. So, for my beautiful friend, her wonderful husband and their baby, I’m adding a pink carnation to my odd little bouquet.

I’m also thinking about the new year, and what it might bring for me and my family – I’m wondering about how my life might change, and whether we’ll get by. I’m hoping all will be well. The only flower I can think of which makes me feel like everything will be all right, and which makes me smile whenever I see it, and which feels like a dollop of happiness dropped right into the middle of everything, is a sunflower. So, I’ll add a sunflower to my strange posy. It looks a little odd, but I think it all goes together quite well, after all.

So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed your little stroll through my mental meadow, and that you take a moment to admire my bouquet! Feel free to stick around in here and pick a few more flowers for yourself, if you like. Have a happy and peaceful day.

CT

It’s late where I am, and I’m full of emotion as I write, so it’s perhaps not the best time to blog. But I’m going to, because it feels right. It’s the only thing I can do, so I feel I should do it.

It would be inappropriate to comment on anything today that doesn’t involve the atrocity in Newtown, Connecticut; nothing else matters. What could be more important? I could sit here and waffle on about books, and editing, and characterisation, and the little daily nuggets I like to give about my life and my work. I could try to distract myself by focusing, as I so often do, on the minutiae of my own small life. But when twenty-eight people (as the total currently stands) lie dead tonight, the majority of those victims children, there’s just nothing else worth talking about.

Why do we, as humans, continue to repeat our mistakes? Why do we keep doing the same stupid things, over and over and over again? How often does something horrific have to happen before we realise – ‘Hang on. Maybe there’s a better way to accomplish my goals, here.’ Why does there have to be shooting after shooting, massacre after massacre, before people wake up and realise that guns should only be allowed in the hands of those who are trained, and who are trusted to use them responsibly? I just can’t understand why there are people in the world to whom this doesn’t seem logical. That’s the beauty of the world, though, isn’t it – we’re all different, and we all see things our own way. I champion people’s right to see things whatever way they want, and I’m fully aware that we can’t all agree, all of the time. But surely – surely – we can all agree that a massacre of children is a horrendous thing, and whatever steps need to be taken in order to minimise the risk of it ever happening again should be taken, no matter what those steps are? Even a person who has a rock-solid conviction that guns should be available to all should be mature enough to look at this situation and realise that perhaps, in some cases, their opinion is wrong. Are people really so closed to any other point of view that they could say ‘despite this, and in the face of this horrendous loss, I still think gun laws should be left untouched’? I guess so. And I guess that’s the reason we’re condemned to repeat our mistakes – because we’re not brave enough to change.

I’m not naive enough to believe that changing gun laws in America will stop all crime, everywhere, and rainbows will suddenly appear over the land, and the lion will lie down with the lamb. But I do believe, if I were American and had any say in the matter, that I’d do my best to make it as hard as possible for a person who is deemed unsuitable to own a high-powered rifle to get their hands on one. But I’m not American, and it’s not up to me.

There are no winners in a situation like this. I’m sure the family of the perpetrator is suffering, too – something which shouldn’t be forgotten – and the events of this day will continue to cause pain for years to come, both among the families of those who were lost, and those who lived through it. My thoughts are with all of those people affected by this, in any way. I wish the world was a place where nobody wound up in a mental state where they felt compelled to carry out an act like this (not that I wish to imply anything about mental health here); I wish we lived in a world where children didn’t need to do drills on how to survive during an emergency, or need to pass through a metal detector on their way to class. I wish we lived in a world where everyone knew what it felt like to be loved and cherished, and I wish we lived in a world where we could put aside our own petty, selfish interests for the sake of other people. But we don’t live in a world like that.

All anyone can do is love those whom you love with all your heart, and hope that it’s enough. Maybe – hopefully – one day, it will be.

candle heart

Character Assassination

Last evening, I found myself up to my elbows in a sink full of sudsy water. I was, technically, doing the washing-up, but of course my brain was in a land far, far away, stuck in the land of the WiP, where it lives most of the time, now. I’m going to start answering to the name of my protagonist soon, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, I’d just scrubbed a particularly reluctant plate clean of whatever was determined to cling to it, when something burst, screaming, into my head.

It was a bit like this, but with less horse and more suds. Sort of.

It was a bit like this, but with less horse and more suds. Sort of.

My brain yelled ‘Kill the Guardian!’, which – to anyone else – would have been the first indicator of impending mental illness. To me, though, it was one of those moments of pure epiphany, when everything starts to click into place, and you wonder why you couldn’t have had this breakthrough while sitting at your computer, instead of up to your metaphorical neck in water.

For the Guardian, you see, is (or rather, was) a peripheral character who used to live in the end of my book. Now that I think about it, I’ve no idea why he was ever there in the first place. It just seemed natural, when I was writing my climactic final scene, that our heroine wouldn’t encounter the great unknown, for which she has been seeking, without having someone there to guide her, and to explain things. All the re-reads and edits I’d done up to yesterday had just skipped over this character like he was a piece of furniture – he was just supposed to be there, no question about it. I didn’t even really examine his dialogue in any great detail. But there was something just not… right about the last scenes in my final chapter. It had been bugging me all evening, and I couldn’t pinpoint what was making me so dissatisfied.

And then it occurred to me.

There’s no need to have the Guardian there at all. Our heroine is a strong character by the end of the book. She starts off a bit sappy, maybe, but by the end she’s been through enough to handle this. She doesn’t need anyone there to hold her hand. The Guardian was a redundant character, and when that became clear, things started to work better. I realised that I’d written the Guardian character to suit the type of character my heroine was in my book’s first draft – in the first draft, you see, she didn’t develop as much as she does now. She started off sappy, and she pretty much stayed sappy the whole way through. In the current draft, I think she shrugs off the ‘little girl’-ness of the early chapters when she’s shoved out into the world, and she realises she’s braver and stronger than she ever thought. The protagonist of draft 1 needed the Guardian to help her at the end of the book, but the protagonist of draft 5 (I think it’s draft 5, anyway) does not. This makes me happy for many reasons. It means I’ve trimmed the book of an excess character, who was providing an unnecessary extra layer between the reader and the action right at the point when they’re supposed to be biting their fingernails off with the tension of what’s going on (ideally), and it also means that my heroine has a proper character arc. In other words, she’s not the same person at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. Like anyone going through a huge life-change at the age of sixteen, she changes. And that is, of course, important.

As soon as I’d thought of removing the extra character, before I’d even had a chance to remove my hands from the washing-up, I was already mentally rewriting the chapter without the Guardian’s involvement. I was reallocating some of his dialogue to another character, and just getting rid of huge swathes of it, too. It felt brilliant. When I sat down to make the changes, they pretty much wrote themselves – it was the easiest edit I’ve done yet. I hope the ease with which I made the changes means they’re ‘right’ – certainly, I think the chapter works much better as it is now.

I do have two other big changes to make (another note to fellow writers: make sure you have all the notes you made during your editing read-throughs in front of your face when you’re making your ‘final’ edit, or you’re bound to forget something!), and then – finally – I can give myself the Christmas present of a big pile of paper with some black marks on it. Wahoo! Happy days.

In other news: my husband and I are putting up our Christmas decorations today. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Jingle bells, baby.

Happy Friday!