Tag Archives: Middle Ages

A Soul Timid, but not Meek

I am frightened by the Devil,
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid…

Image: michaelyung.com

Image: michaelyung.com

Joni Mitchell is a huge hero of mine. I’ve been in love with her music for as long as I’ve had ears (so, quite a long time now), and the lyric above – from ‘A Case of You’, on the majestic album ‘Blue’ – is probably my favourite of her songs. I’m not sure, exactly, why I love this particular set of lines so much; perhaps it’s because it says, to me, that being afraid is perfectly all right – so long as you don’t lose your curiosity, too. It’s natural to be scared of some things, but shutting your mind off from those things forever, without admitting even a thought which relates to them, is bad news.

Maybe.

That’s the thing with song lyrics, I guess. They mean different things to different people.

I’m a fearful type, by nature. Anxious, a worrywart, ‘worst-case-scenario’. If I were a fairytale character, I’d be Chicken Little.

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

I’m afraid of lots of things, some of them rational and some of them (all right, most of them) not. I’m a quietly controlled hypochondriac. I have a lot of sympathy for the guys who stand on street corners wearing ‘The End is Nigh!’ sandwich boards. I’ve often wondered if it comes from my interest in the Middle Ages – those guys lived, teetering, on the edge of instant annihilation for centuries, too. They were convinced, with every passing generation, that this would be the one. This would be the era in which Christ would come again and perform the final Judgement. Millenarianism was de rigueur.

But perhaps that was hope, more than fear. I think there was a bit of both mixed up in there. And maybe that’s a defining characteristic of fear – a tiny, tiny shard of desire mixed into the terror makes it all the more terrifying.

I’m thinking about all this because a close family member is jetting off in a few days to spend several months abroad. While there she plans to gain a qualification in something she hopes will lead to an exciting career, and I’m sure she’ll be successful. As well as that, no doubt she’ll have adventures and experiences which will leave long-lasting memories, and she will do things that I would not do, and things that I could not do, because I would be far too afraid to even try.

But there’s a little spark, deep inside me, which wishes I could just get over myself for long enough to give it a go. A tiny spark, now. Barely there at all, really. But there, all the same.

This woman – the adventurer – has already had a year abroad in which she did death-defying things, with every indication that she was having the time of her life. Fear didn’t seem to come into it, for her. It was all about the exhilaration, the joy, the celebration of what her body was capable of. I have cousins who, when they were children, were like chalk and cheese when it came to facing their fears. One of them would throw herself at any challenge, totally uncaring of how much she could hurt herself if it all went wrong, and another who was stiff and awkward and afraid. The second child would give everything a try, as far as she was able, but would end up causing herself an injury because her fear would get in her way. The first child was lithe and fluid and free – due to her fearlessness, as well as a natural athleticism – and never suffered any physical damage from her exploits.

I think the second child, the fearful one, took after me. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we are both oldest children, and statistically likely to be more cautious and less adventurous than the siblings who come after us.

There are different types of fear, for sure. I have faced plenty of my own personal fears – public speaking, standing up for things I believed in even when I was sure it would spell disaster for me, tackling academic challenges that I felt sure were beyond me – and I came through them all reasonably unscathed. It’s when it comes to physical things, like sport or heights or speed, that my terror overwhelms any desire I might have to take part. Things that would horrify other people are no bother to me, and things that others would do without a second thought are so far beyond my level of ability that I can’t even imagine doing them. I have a friend who lives right by a massive motorway junction just outside Dublin, and she drives around it with carefree abandon – and she always did so, even when she was new to the area. She doesn’t drive dangerously – in fact, she drives far more safely due to the fact that this particular snarled-up collection of high-speed traffic lanes doesn’t make her blood run cold, as it would mine – and she has never come even close to having an accident, thank goodness. If I had to do that drive, I’d cause a multi-car pileup within five seconds, and I know it.

But I’d love to be able to do what she does. I admire her for it. I just know I never will.

Perhaps the world needs all types of fearlessness, both the risk-taking type and the emotional type. I have lived long enough to know who I am, and to be aware that I have limitations, and to give myself a break when it comes to respecting those limitations. I have the desire to be an adventurer, but the flesh is weak.

But I can write about those who are fearless, and use my own tiny sparks of curiosity – my own sense of ‘being drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid’ – to fill in the blanks when it comes to creating characters who aren’t fearful of heights, or the dark, or of throwing off the shackles of the everyday and setting off on an adventure across the world with no real plan of how to get home.

Perhaps my own fearfulness will lead me to create better characters, even. Let’s hope so, at least. It has to be good for something – right?

Image: hybridtechcar.com

Image: hybridtechcar.com

 

Medieval Madness for the Middle-Aged

Recently, I’ve been looking over some of my old notes from university and some of my old teaching material from when I was a tutor of Medieval English Language and Literature. I sometimes wonder whether I was a good tutor, and whether any of my old students remember me. I think the most noteworthy thing I ever did in a class was fall off the edge of a podium mid-speech, but I hope some of the people I was lucky enough to teach will remember enjoying their course, even if they don’t remember me.

I'd say this is how most of my old students remember their years of Medieval Lit... Image: tek-lado.com

I’d say this is how most of my old students remember their years of Medieval Lit…
Image: tek-lado.com

One student once told me that I had singlehandedly made her love Chaucer, and I lived off that praise for a couple of years. It still remains one of the best compliments I’ve ever been paid.

Anyway. Amid all the nostalgia, I’ve realised a couple of things: one, I still love anything to do with the Middle Ages, and two, I remember more about it than I thought I did. It’s like muscle memory, perhaps; the stuff that I spent so many years learning is still there, deep down. Even if I never use it again professionally, it’s great to have that fund of knowledge and folklore, that familiarity with a lost world, that facility with a written language that very few people – sadly – are bothered with these days.

The same goes for all of us. No matter what your background is, what you studied at school or college, what you’re interested in, what you’ve done for a living, what you do for a living, what makes you happy – all of that stuff can be used to fuel your writing and feed your imagination. It can all be mined for inspiration. The more you have in your ‘tank’, the better equipped you’ll be to stretch your writing muscles, and the more agile your ideas are likely to be. I’ve worked as a butcher’s apprentice, as a lecturer and as a bookseller, among lots of other things. So, my imagination-pot is fully stocked.

But my heart will always belong to the Middle Ages.

And – since I’ve done nothing of note since yesterday besides hack away at ‘Eldritch’ and drink at least a litre of decaf, I’m going to leave you with my favourite clip from one of my favourite films – and, it must be said, a clip to which I often referred in my classes, back in the day.

Oh, how many poor classes of students had to sit through my ‘John-Cleese-doing-a-French-accent’ impression…

Work is going reasonably well on ‘Eldritch.’ It’s hard to unpick a plot with which you’ve been intimately familiar for years, only to recreate it slightly differently, but I’m managing. It’s slow, but it’s steady. I’ll get there.

Good luck with all your endeavours today – particularly if it’s repelling the English with flying bovine missiles.

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.