Tag Archives: hero

Slaying the Dragon*

It’s strange how significant everything becomes when you’re facing a mortal threat. Every step, every breath, every thought, every decision becomes invested with new importance. Everything seems slow. Your breathing sounds too loud, and the rushing of blood in your ears makes you light-headed. The morning breeze ripples through the flags overhead as you make your way into the courtyard, already covered with an inch of sawdust, and you feel the weight of your armour pulling on every muscle and sinew in your body. A few yards ahead of you, a sword is placed, point-first, in the hard earth.

Your guts turn to solid ice as you hear the beast’s first roar, loud as a gash being torn in the face of the earth itself. It makes your knees want to bend of their own accord, and it makes your head want to bow. You have to fight the urge to crumple before it. Inside your metal visor, nobody can see you weep, so you let the tears come. Then you remember there is nobody here to see you, anyway; no friendly faces, nobody to guard your sword-arm.

There is only you, and the dragon, and the dragon is coming fast.

Image: john-howe.com

Image: john-howe.com


Sometimes, in literature, dragon-slayers live; most of the time, however, they die. Dragons are the ultimate enemy, the one true test of a warrior’s prowess. So powerful that they get the better even of men like Beowulf, the greatest hero of his age (and ours, arguably), dragons are not to be trifled with. At all times, they are to be taken seriously, and they can never be underestimated. Waking one is a complicated business, and slaying one more complicated still. It’s best to leave them unroused altogether, and let them get on with slumbering and you on with living.

Sometimes, though, they wake of their own accord.

Facing doubt, in many ways, reminds me of dragon-slaying. It’s just you and the dragon, eyeballing one another over a sheaf of paper or the thin film of a computer screen; you hear its hissing voice in your mind, laughing at you for having the cheek to think you are worthy of putting words on paper and joining the ranks of ‘those who write’. The dragon is bigger than you, more powerful than you, and far more frightening than you can imagine. ‘I have slain mightier than you,’ it gurgles. ‘I have devoured warriors who could snap you like a twig!’ There’s nothing you can say to this, because you know it’s true.

It’s all too easy to back down from the doubt-dragon, and let it live inside your computer or – worse – inside your mind for the rest of your life. It seems like the simplest thing to just give in and turn away from its jeering, toothy grin, to walk away while doing your best to ignore its taunts of ‘I told you so!’ It can feel like doing anything else is the height of foolishness, like you’re risking your life by engaging with it. The only safe option, you convince yourself, is to give in and move on.

But if you do that, the dragon wins. It doesn’t even have to lift a claw to defeat you – you’ve defeated yourself.

I feel a little like I’ve been swallowed by the doubt-dragon at the moment. I feel like I’m stuck somewhere in its gullet, not quite inside its foul and noisome stomach (where I will surely perish, prithee), but not far off. Everywhere I look, all I see are dead ends, and there doesn’t appear to be a way out.

Instead of giving up and allowing myself to be swallowed, though, I’m really doing my best to understand that I need to make my own way out. If you don’t see a way to escape, then you need to make one.

St Margaret slaying the dragon by attacking it from within. Image: greenwichworkshop.com

St Margaret slaying the dragon by attacking it from within.
Image: greenwichworkshop.com

My attack of the doubts has come about because I have to do some unpicking of ‘Tider’. I’ve managed to write myself into a place where the story is no longer interesting or holding my attention; it seems too flabby and far-fetched. As well as this, the setting is poor, the character motivations are illogical, and the structure is wrong. I know I’m writing a first draft, which gives you a bit more leeway to make errors like this, but if it leads to you losing yourself in a morass of darkness, then something has to be done before you reach a point where you can’t find your way back. It’s important to complete the first draft, no matter how hard it is, which means I have to rescue myself from the dragon of doubt before I’m lost forever in the labyrinth of its infernal intestines.

So, there’s only one thing for it. I’m hefting my sword, and I’m picking what looks to be the most efficient way out of this mess, and I’m punching on through. See you on the other side, with any luck…



*All dragons used in the production of this blog post were unharmed, and all dragon involvement was monitored by the Geatish Dragon-Lovers’ Association. Any encouragement to harm, slay, maim or otherwise interfere with the lives of ordinary, law-abiding dragons inferred through reading this post is unintentional, and regrettable.

Another Week…

Happy Monday, everyone.

Today, I’d planned to write about a short story I was working on over the weekend. This particular short story was pretty much all that was occupying my mind this morning as I woke up. I was intending to submit it to a major competition, and I thought it was reasonably good; I’ve drafted and redrafted it and it’s probably, in its current state, as good as I can get it. But I re-read it last night and realised something weird: I’m not sure whether I like it, or whether I hate it. Normally, it’s obvious to me whether I like something or not. This was strange enough, I felt, to warrant a blog post.

But then I heard the early news this morning, and learned that a young man from County Kerry, in the far south of Ireland, had lost his battle for life yesterday (Sunday). His name was Donal Walsh. Here’s an article about him which has reduced me to tears this sunny Monday morning. Here’s another. If you’ve never heard of Donal Walsh, I hope you take the time to read about him, and about the courage that drove him in his last months to speak out against the scourge of suicide among the young.

Once I learned that this brave boy had succumbed to the foul disease that has destroyed so many lives, I knew that a blog post that didn’t mention him would be a travesty.

Rarely in my life have I come across a public figure that touched my heart as much as Donal Walsh did. Young people in Ireland (and across the world) have, it seems, been turning more and more to suicide as an answer to the darkness that appears to be besetting their lives, and Donal was a light in that darkness. His message – ‘look, see, this is how beautiful life is. This is why it’s worth fighting for. I want to live, but I have no choice – you have a choice’ – has profoundly impacted Ireland, and, I hope, the wider world. In recent months and weeks, he has been appearing on TV chat shows, and on other media, to talk about his illness and his battle, and his belief in the power of the young to make choices which will illuminate the world. He always looked so well and healthy; I had no idea that he was so close to the end of his journey. News of his death has taken me, I have to admit, by surprise.

For a young man to face his own death so bravely is one thing; for him to spend his last months and weeks trying to save the lives of others is a heroism rare in our cynical old world. I never met Donal, nor did I know him personally, but I am proud of him for all he did, and for all his work will mean in the months and years ahead. Long may his legacy live, and long may his light shine.

RIP Donal. Image: irishexaminer.com

RIP Donal.
Image: irishexaminer.com

You, and I, hopefully, have another week, and another week, and another. We have many Mondays, many mornings, many opportunities to feel so tired we’re barely able to roll out of bed and many days when we’ll bounce awake, full of enthusiasm for the day ahead, many chances to do our work as well as we can, many days to spend with our loved ones, and as many moments as we could wish for to tell them we love them. We have time to achieve our dreams. In Donal’s memory, let’s all be lights in the darkness; let’s do all we can to help others to live. Let’s spend every second we’ve been given doing all we can to make the paths of others a little smoother. Let’s never forget how lucky we are to have a choice.

Have a wonderful Monday.