Sometimes the oddest things inspire, arriving in one’s life at just the right time. I’m working on the first draft of a fantasy fiction at the moment, entitled The Shifu Cloth. Part of it takes place in a Far Eastern inspired country called The Han. My female protagonist, Isabella, meets a character at the time of the Lantern Festival which heralds Spring. And I wondered what this character should look like . . . clothes, mannerisms etc. I had done much research on China and Japan but the research pressed no buttons. And then my dearest embroidery friend gave me a notebook (see left) and suddenly my dilemma was solved. This was my character . . . except in the story, I have given him glasses. He needed to appear myopic and studious, as well as inscrutable and I’ve always liked the way occasionally light shines on rimless spectacles, effectively blocking out eye expression.
I’m a fantasy writer and it was perhaps inevitable that I chose that genre. Although perhaps more correctly, the genre chose me. If I look back to childhood, I can see that fantasy and fairytale always played a huge role in my reading and my thinking and play-acting. As a teenager I moved elsewhere, historical fiction mostly. But then in my twenties I went to Southeast Asia and as I was travelling on my own, I thought I needed a good book for the single seat in restaurants and on planes (you know, so that people would leave me alone). I took The Lord Of the Rings Trilogy. Which sort of took care of my excess baggage and companionship, after all I had Frodo et al to stave off lonliness.
Some days aren’t meant to be writing days, or if they are, the inspiration is so low that one seeks diversion. Time away from quill skill. So the dogs and I go to the beach. They do their obligatory sniff and so do I, although mine is just to breathe in the scent of waves, salt and seaweed with my nose twitching in the air, whilst theirs is at ground level. I look along the beach: 2 kilometres of white sand. And we do it, the dogs and I.
For some reason this year, I’ve had an insatiable desire for historical fiction. I’ve always loved the genre, ever since I was a school reader. But the devil they say, is in the detail, and it’s the more intellectual detail I love, especially from writers of the calibre of the late and most wonderfully great Dorothy Dunnett and the most current and thoroughly popular Phillipa Gregory. I have also enjoyed Sharon Penman, SJA Turney and Posie Graeme Evans amongst many others. Eleanor Of Aquitaine and Henry I sit comfortably with Caesar, with Claes van der Poele and with Francis Crawford of Lymond. Apart from the unique plots, the height and breadth of research is what thrills me. I try and soak up just a little bit more information each time I open the books.
A few months ago, Writer Unboxed had a discussion on the advisability or not of creating names and languages in fantasy. There’s no doubt that Tolkein was the master. But I have put more fantasies by other authors back on the shop-shelves than I have bought, simply because many of the names and languages read like a Scrabble box of letters. My feeling for what it is worth is that the English language, ancient and modern, has a mammoth reservoir of words into which one can delve. In addition, if a fantasy author chooses to model parts of their world on a specific culture, I feel it’s more than okay to pilfer the odd foreign word and use it for one’s own needs. As a reader though, I need to be able to roll words around like a lozenge and taste them. It’s an idiosyncracy and one I use in my own writing.
My vision of tweeting and blogging is of little words flying around in techno-space, rather like the Golden Snitch, and someone as fast as a Seeker has to scoop up a word and make sense of it. If the Seeker misses, then your words continue to fly around . . . unread, unappreciated and with no followers. When a word is caught and a comment is left on the blog, its like a point being scored in the afore-mentioned match of quidditch. Its all about synchronicity I guess. You go seeking for the right words just as I put them up. And with luck and good hand-eye coordination, you catch them in your hands and read and enjoy. This is what I want to happen when I write my books . . . that you the quidditch player will catch my Snitch words and score a goal!
Marius's Mules by SJA Turney
If I wasn’t a fantasy writer, I should dearly love to write historical fiction. And as a reader, this year I have tried to read mostly hist.fict. which includes those I listed in my shopping spree last night as well as a re-visit of the unparalleled Dorothy Dunnett. To me, these top rated authors are paying an enormous compliment to time past, to our ancestors, to the breadth of experience that has brought us to this point in our existence. None more so than those who write of ancient Rome. I have read Marius’ Mules this year and below is my review of it for Amazon.com:
My favourite bookshop had their pre-Christmas sale tonight with wine and cheeses and lots of laughs. I went with the best intentions to shop for others and I did . . . truly. I bought my brother the latest Michael Connolly and I bought my daughter two wonderful books as well. But then there was The Complete Annotated Book of Fairytales and Felicity Pulman’s Rosemary for Remembrance Rue for Repentance, Kim Wilkin’s The Autumn Castle and Sharon Penman’s Time and Chance. And most specially Mr.Bliss . . . beautifully printed and in a dark green cloth-covered slip cover. My altruism went out the window. I had shopped for myself. Hardly the spirit of giving. But then I paid for it all with my mother’s birthday gift to me, so guilt doesn’t weigh quite so heavily.
Jon Evans in 2008 talked on Tor.com about a spectrum with surreal fantasy at the far left, categorized by Marquez and Allende and systematic fantasy moving to the right categorized by books like ‘Little Big’. He went on to say that the far left uses magic to illuminate and explore their characters and their struggles in our real world.
‘She crawled on her knees through the thicket. Prickles began nibbling at her clothes, to be replaced by the unkind tug of cluster of sharp twigs. Across her back, a waft of air caused her to turn and she saw the edge of her jacket caught on a black thorn, lifting away from her as she crawled forward. She tried to reach back to slash at the branch, but in moving her arm another thorn dragged at her sleeve, piercing the skin beneath. She thought she heard a sound, a hissing – some wretched creature bent on enjoying her misfortune. She could imagine the basilisk eyes and the sinuous body just staring, waiting. To drag her away to a lair where it would send her into some deadly sleep and then when its fangs had pierced her skin, to turn her into a creature like itself. She couldn’t retreat, the branches were converging and twisting to form a fedge-like thicket. But she would not be trapped, could not be trapped – there was too much at stake. She thrust against the thorn in her arm, feeling it rip through her skin and she bit her lip at the pain, watching the bright red blood pool drop by drop near her knee. She thrust with her small weapon again, slashing a thick bract, then another, each time inching forward through the dirt . . .’