My writerly month, September 2017

Salvete, readers!

I trust we all made it through September intact? It was another frantic month for me, but I accomplished a few things I’m proud of.

A few months ago I mentioned that I had co-written an article on mythography with two amazing co-authors, Dr Greta Hawes and Prof Minerva Alganza Roldán. Guess what? The article passed peer review with only a few minor amendments, and will be included in Polymnia this December. Keep your eyes peeled for: “The reception history of Palaephatus 1 (On the Centaurs) in Ancient and Byzantine texts.” I’m really excited by the opportunity to share some cool things my co-authors and I have discovered. We are now among the select few who can honestly proclaim themselves experts regarding the gastronomic habits of Centaurs. And guess what? The best bit is that it’s an open access journal, so it won’t be behind a paywall. Huzzah!

I got a few other things done. During my holidays I managed to bang out more on the middle-grade novel I’m working on with my seven-year-old. Or rather, I’m working on it, and he passes me notes like some Hollywood producer. It’s getting harder as it goes along, to be honest. He was so enthusiastic early on, and we built up great creative energy as we constructed a world together and populated it with characters and creatures. It all started when he wanted a sword-and-sorcery style adventure which featured automatons and submarines. Why not? From there I built upon my knowledge of medieval folklore and combined it with my interest in Roman Britain. The result is basically Celtic myth meets steampunk, with bonus talking animals. It’s absolutely as bonkers as it sounds, and I’m loving the journey. More than that, I loved the experience of creating a world together and reading him a chapter every second night.

Problem is, he was under the impression the whole book would be written in a day or two. Three, tops. And then it would be in the shops a couple of weeks later. Wouldn’t that be nice? Nothing I said would convince him otherwise. When he finally realised how long it takes to write a novel, he decided it would be much more fun to create his own comic book about surviving on a deserted island. In the meantime, he’s moved onto other bedtime stories (Mission Fox! Beast Quest! Yay!) and I’ve lost my deadline. Damn, blast, botheration! I was counting on that deadline. It stopped me dithering over the chapters, as I had to produce one every two days. That’s okay. He still wants me to finish the story and read it to him in full when it’s done. He’s still excited about it, and I think he appreciates me writing a story for him. I need to give him the room he needs to become his own creative person.

In the meantime, the story’s become more of a hard slog. I think that’s pretty normal for a writer, isn’t it? I’m two thirds of the way through draft 1, and I want it out of the way by Christmas. There. That’ll be my deadline. It’ll have to do.

I also spent a bit of my holiday reading the ARC of Back to Reality by Mark Stay and Mark Oliver. I’ve been listening to their podcast, The Bestseller Experiment, for a long time now, learning along with the two Marks as they set out to write, publish and market their novel in just a year. The podcast itself is pure gold—it’s like getting free admission to a writer’s workshop every single week as they interview various authors (both indie and traditional) and people who work in different aspects of the publishing industry. I’ll admit that I had some trepidation as I opened the file on my e-reader. What if, after looking forward to the story for so long, it turned out to be a complete car crash? I needn’t have worried. The book is good. Really bloody good. I’ll post a full review when it’s released on October 16. For now, I always gain a sense of accomplishment from helping out fellow authors. We’re all in this together.

Until next time,

Valete

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Literary purgatory

Perhaps there is a literary purgatory where characters from early drafts wind up. They’re sent there when they are rewritten beyond recognition, replaced, or written out entirely.

Here you’ll find Bilbo’s son Bingo Baggins as well as his friends Odo Bolger, Frodo Took, and Marmaduke Brandybuck. They dolefully gaze down upon Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. The warrior-hobbit Trotter glares enviously at Strider. It’s so unfair that they shall miss out on their adventure. All of them give the evil Treebeard a wide berth, though they are perfectly friendly to the sweet-natured imp, Gollum.

Beside them sit Hermione’s parents, who are deep in conversation with a ghostly figure called Pyrites. They wonder aloud why they lifted so cleanly from Harry’s backstory.

And oh, here are twelve-year old Ashla Starkiller and her little brother Luke. Their loving father, Mace Windu, chats with a green-skinned alien by the name of Han Solo.

It’s a strange place.

Movie confessions

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been… a while since my last confession.’
‘Speak on, my child.’
‘I have never seen one of the Die Hard movies.’
‘I see.’
‘Nor have I seen Ghostbusters. Or the Alien films.’
‘That is quite the confession.’
‘Nor have I seen the Godfather movies.’
‘My word.’
‘But Father, it gets worse. I have seen The Amazing Spider-Man… And I liked it. Well, the first one, anyhow. And not even in an ironic way. It was just a fun movie, especially if you could pretend it wasn’t a soulless reboot.’
‘I have not had to perform an exorcism in many years…’
‘That’s another one I haven’t seen. The Exorcist.’

 

My writerly month, August 2017

Salvete, readers!

August is over? Really? *checks calendar*

It was another busy month in which I had to remind myself that reality is ultimately more important than fiction. I’ve had to deal with some health-related issues. They haven’t stopped me, though. I’ve been productive, but not as much as I’d like to be. No point wasting time berating myself about that. If you don’t look after your health and that of your family, then what’s the point?

That said, the work doesn’t stop. I’m about at the halfway mark on this children’s novel I’m co-writing with my seven-year-old. Given this project has to fit around my day job and looking after two sick kids, I’m happy with that. The manuscript is continually growing and developing, like him. He gets so excited at bedtime when I read to him from the book. A few nights ago, though, I had to tell him that I only had half a chapter to read him, and I thought he’d be upset. ‘It’s okay, Dad. I want to give you time to write more, so I’ll read to you from one of my books.’ What a great kid! I’m really proud of him. I’d like to do a blog post exploring the process of working together in greater depth.

What else? One of my close writer friends read over the draft of one of my earlier novels, and gave me some very encouraging feedback. It’ll be good to revisit that project, but for now it needs a little time to gestate. I in turn had the privilege of reading a manuscript for a member of my extended family. Being invited to read an unpublished manuscript is really special, isn’t it?

And finally, I made a couple of really important decisions about where I’m headed as a writer. More than anything, I want to write for a living. That doesn’t mean just sitting around waiting for the ‘right opportunity’ to come along like a kid with a band. It means making smart choices, forward planning and being willing to learn from mistakes. Over the last twelve months or so I’ve established a solid author platform. Now it’s time to start building on it. I’ll share more in the not too distant future.

Until next time,

Valete

Coffee adventures

Salvete, readers!

Sometimes ordering a coffee can be an ordeal…

‘Your name, please?’
‘Julian.’
‘Dulian? With a D. That’s unusual!’
‘Um, no. Julian. With a J.’
‘Oh. Isn’t that a girl’s name?’
‘No, it’s not a girl’s name.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, I’m sure.’
‘Because we don’t really like it when people give us fake names. It makes things confusing.’
‘It’s an Italian name… A very old Italian name. You know, like Caesar.’
‘The salad?’
‘Can I have my coffee, please?’

Until next time,

Valete

On being a wizard

Salvete, readers!

I didn’t last long as a teacher, for a few reasons. Long hours, lousy work-life balance, low pay. It wasn’t doing good things for my family. That, and it often felt more like being a prison warden whose job was to crush the spirit of the inmates. That’s not me. That said, the experience of working with schoolkids did much to shape me as a writer. There’s one memory in particular that always makes me smile.

I’m on playground duty, watching to make sure the kids aren’t running on concrete or throwing the football on the roof or smooching or punching each other.

A bunch of boys are casually talking about me after class. I don’t remember their names now, so let’s call two of them Jim and Baz. They don’t know I’m in earshot.

‘That guy?’ says Jim. He’s a tall kid, gangly. Fifteen, maybe sixteen. ‘Gave me a detention for being two bloody minutes late. I hate him.’

His mate Baz pushes his long, stringy hair out of his eyes. ‘What? Mr. Barr? Nah, man. He’s cool. He’s a wizard.’

‘Hey? The fuck you on about, Baz?’

‘He’s a fucking wizard. Got the little glasses and beard and talks all posh. And he knows all kinds of shit and he’s chill. Like, I’ve seen him lose it maybe once. He’s like Dumbledore.’

One of the boys spots me and nudges Baz to shut up.

I walk on, pretending I can’t hear them. When it comes to behaviour, there are many worse things than bad language. Why get reactive? Generally, it only makes the situation worse and kills any possibility of establishing a rapport. And to be honest, I’ve worked with these kids for a while. They act tough, but there’s no real harm in them. Rough kids are generally okay. It’s the bullies I can’t stand.

As I continue on my rounds, Jim yells at my back. ‘Oi, sir! Are you a wizard?’

The other boys guffaw.

I turn, put on my most guttural voice. ‘Young knave,’ I say. ‘I answer not to a mere apprentice, for I am a Fire-Mage of the North.’ Not very good, maybe, but the best line I can conjure up on the spot.

The kids stare for a second. ‘Was that, like, a quote or something?’ says Jim.

‘Nah,’ I say. ‘Just made it up.’

‘Jesus,’ says Baz. ‘That totally sounded like you were quoting an actual thing.’

‘Why the hell you teaching, sir?’ says Jim. ‘You should be a writer or something.’

He’s right, of course.

Anyway, from that day onward, I’m ‘Mister Wizard’ with those kids. Never had a problem with them again.

Until next time,

Valete

 

My writerly month, July 2017

Salvete, readers!

Sorry I’m a little late with this update. It’s mostly because things have been going really well on the writing front. Hooray!

The upper MG historical fantasy I’m working on is growing little by little. It’s in good shape thus far. Marching ever forward and still on track to complete the manuscript by the end of the year. The story is set in a world very much rooted in Norse myth. I’m half-tempted to brew my own mead for, um, research.

In the meantime, a new and unexpected project has come up. My oldest son (aged 7) asked me if we could write a story together. He is really creative and I want to nurture that side of him, so of course I said yes. Together we brainstormed some ideas for a junior fantasy novel aimed at his age range. Think of Emily Rodda’s Rowan of Rin or Kate Forsyth’s Impossible Quest, and you’ll have a good idea of what I’m aiming at. The notion is that he comes up with ideas for the characters and I basically run with them. I read a chapter to him every second night and get his feedback.

Egads, what a challenge!  Collaborating on an extended project with a 7-year-old is interesting in itself. But you know what? I love the experience of building a story together. I don’t even care whether it leads to publication, it’s bringing us closer. When it’s finished, he wants to print copies for all the kids in his class and give it to them for Christmas. As for the story itself, I’m in the honeymoon period. I’m pantsing it with only the vaguest idea where the story is going, which I’ve never really done before. And having the deadline of completing a chapter and have it ready to read aloud every two nights certainly drives the story forward. Reading it as a serialised bedtime story also helps me to resist the urge to go back and edit earlier chapters, otherwise it’ll make no sense to him. Basically I’m laying track in front of a moving train. There are far worse ways to tell stories. I’ve never written for this age range before, and I’m learning a lot of new techniques. All in all, it’s good preparation for the day when I transition from ‘aspiring’ to ‘professional.’

As a matter of fact, I should probably get back to it.

Until next time,

Valete

Modern political discourse

Salvete, readers.

I was walking along, and I saw a rock in my path.

It wouldn’t get out my way like a sensible rock, so I kicked it aside.

The rock slightly bruised my toe. The wound was mild, but the pain brought tears to my eyes.

I was so angry, I went out and found some more rocks and kicked them.

Again, the rocks hurt me.

Therefore, I am oppressed by rocks.

Until next time,

Valete

Museum memories

Salvete, readers!

One of the best experiences of my life was working as an education officer at a small antiquities museum. I loved seeing how different people reacted to artefacts…

Archaeologist: Well, we can clearly see the fertility motif, and our most accurate dating technique puts it somewhere in the late Archaic period, and the decorative style and clay are consistent with Attica. But without knowing the exact provenance, I’d hesitate to identify the artefact more precisely. Let’s call it a ‘ritual object.’ Please don’t cut my funding.

Historian: I can’t find any reference to this object in the literary sources. Are you sure it exists? Please don’t cut my funding.

Historian 2: Wait! If we interpret it *this* way, it fits my hypothesis! And this obscure German scholar published a paper on it 84 years ago, and that proves it! Please don’t cut my funding.

Philosopher: Well, existentially– Oh, I’ve lost my funding.

Museum patron: Gosh, how much is this stuff worth?! Your discipline must be really, really well-funded! Wait! Are you sure you should be displaying that in a museum? Think of the children!

Adolescent museum patron: When’s lunch?

Pre-adolescent museum patron: Hee hee, doodle!

Thirty-three year old museum patron: Hee hee, doodle!

Until next time,

Valete

LOTR: Three is company

Salvete, readers!

We continue our epic quest with chapter 3 of The Fellowship of the Ring.

This chapter, when you get right down to it, is about friendship. And, um, procrastination. It’s not the greatest start to the adventure, but it does feature some important character building and foreshadowing. After receiving the mission to save the world, Frodo’s responds by shilly-shallying a bit: ‘To tell the truth, he was very reluctant to start.’ A couple of months go by. Then eventually our hero sets out with Sam and Pippin on a walking holiday to Mt Doom, after he gets Sam away from the beer, of course. Soon, they have a close call with a wraith. The tension builds! Our heroes are very nearly in danger! But then they are promptly rescued by an infuriatingly cheerful band of elves, who by coincidence fate happen to be passing by. Their leader, Gildor, advises Frodo not to go alone on his quest, but to take a few trusted friends with him.

There are many moments in this chapter whose significance only really becomes clear upon re-reading. For instance, Frodo looks at himself in the mirror and worries about his weight, and later declares that a bit of walking will make him ‘thin as a willow-wand.’ Given how much the quest will wear upon him down the track, this seems ironic. Sam offers to share Frodo’s load and lies that his own burden is light. That little moment tells you everything you need to know about Frodo and Sam’s relationship. The theme of their friendship will continue throughout the story.

Ah, the elves. They are strange, and deliberately so. Their power is such that dark creatures flee before them, but superficially at least they seem… Frivolous? Jolly? And incredibly self-absorbed. The elves initially dismiss the hobbits as dull, and only offer help when Frodo reveals he knows their language and lore. He asks Gildor, the leader of the band, for advice on how to elude the wraiths. Gildor responds with a knowing shrug and tells Frodo that he is walking toward certain doom, but he’ll find his courage. Somewhere. Thanks, dude. Tolkien goes to great lengths to show the elves are not human, to the point where they aren’t really relatable as characters. But is that the point? If we can relate to the otherworldly, then perhaps it’s not really otherworldly at all. Perhaps I should be more like Sam, and just appreciate the opportunity to visit Faerie.

Stray observations:

  • The weirdest moment in the chapter is when we suddenly switch to the viewpoint of a passing fox, who is surprised and confused by the sight of hobbits napping, but not as surprised and confused as I am. This feels like a holdover from one of Tolkien’s early drafts, when he meant the story for children. If TLOTR received structural editing, this probably wouldn’t have made the cut.
  • Say what you will about purple prose, but Tolkien’s descriptions of nature are beautiful: ‘Away eastward the sun was rising red out of the mists that lay thick on the world. Touched with gold and red the autumn trees seemed to be sailing rootless in a shadowy sea.’

Until next time,

Valete