As I write this blog post, no-one except me has met Faloush! A few dozen people have met Blackbird, Demi-Lee, Vicky and Heledd, but I’m the only one who knows anything about the blue-feathered archaeopteryx, and that’s weirdly exciting. Zie (Faloush is a member of a hermaphrodite species) was the last character I created in the story, but zer role is crucial.
I had spent nearly a year rewriting the story following the feedback given by my friend Karen. Having solved the problem of how Madryn was going to earn enough money for a Mega-meal, I thought the end was in sight. But I needed to rewrite the Walk, the solo ordeal Demi was tricked into undertaking. I needed to make it truly life-threatening, but at the same time, my daft, lazy, unfit 14-year-old heroine needed to complete it convincingly – and without weapons. *
After several frustrating weeks, I realised a fundamental truth – every hero needs a companion. The sidekick isn’t just someone who needs to be rescued, or carries the hero’s toolbox – the dialogue between the hero and companion keeps things interesting whilst they’re moving through the scenery – otherwise it’s just descriptions of landscape punctuated by occasional bursts of danger. A companion would also allow Demi to articulate her thoughts and feelings more convincingly than those moments where the hero talks to themselves in the middle of nowhere.
So Demi needed a travel companion – but who, and where would they come from? The whole point of Walking The Walk is that it’s a solo ordeal (for Demi – ordinarily the elf walking the walk would take a fairy servant to carry equipment and sandwiches), and that it takes place in an unpopulated, mountainous wilderness. As Annwn is a post-industrial society with a degraded environment, there is little wildlife left, so chance meetings with talking animals, wandering goblins, or yetis were also too unlikely to be plausible.
I remember discussing this problem with a friend over coffee, in November 2012. I wasn’t asking for help, but she decided to offer it anyway, even though she hadn’t read any of the story and knew only a little about it.
‘Maybe a man is driving along the road and stops to talk to her,’ my friend suggested – a situation which was impossible on so many levels that, before I’d even explained half of them, she came up with another wide-of-the-mark suggestion. ‘Maybe the man with the sheeps comes along’ (English is not her first language) As I explained that there are no sheep, or shepherds, or cars, or roads in Annwn, she continued to bombard me with bizarre suggestions. ‘Maybe someone is in a tree. Maybe someone comes down from the clouds, or up from the ground.’ I managed to get her to stop hurting my brain with her bad narrative devices by slapping both palms loudly on the coffee table to the beat of my voice as I talked over her, saying, ‘The world I created does not work like that!’
Fortunately she found my comedic over-reaction amusing, but I was left frustrated that, not only had I failed to solve my problem, but once again I’d been given unwanted advice by someone who was neither a writer nor experienced in publishing, and hadn’t read my story. It’s unbelievable (and unbelievably irritating) how often this happens.
Fast-forward a few months, and I’ve rewritten the walk , and managed to include a bit of interaction with characters who fit the narrative convincingly. But until Demi has completed the third task of four, there’s still no dialogue. I also had the problem that Demi was being guided by a device which gave instructions in Elfish – a language she couldn’t understand.
I’m sitting in Banjica Forest in Belgrade, Serbia. There’s a reason I’m in Serbia, but as I’m assuming only people who know me are reading this, I shouldn’t need to elaborate. I’ll include a link if it seems necessary. Banjica Forest is actually a small park, a lovely patch of woodland with paths winding through it, and lots of benches, picnic tables and odd little hexagonal constructions. It’s also scattered with condoms in its more out-of-the way corners – but, hey, at least people are using condoms. Here’s a youtube video of it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-DiQ2pxJGk
I was sitting at one of the picnic tables, taking a breather and working on what Owina does for a living when I noticed a clump of feathers on the ground, moving slightly. They were hot pink, from a feather boa, obviously long-parted from the bird which grew them, but just for a moment I’d mistaken them for a living creature. I scribbled a few lines in my notebook, starting, ‘She’d been staring at the thing for ages before she realised it was alive…’
As so often happens, I completely forgot the incident until I was checking through my notebook, back home in Swansea. I realised I had a way in which Demi could encounter a lost, damaged creature in the wilds of Annwn, help it and receive help in return. The clump of pink feathers evolved into Faloush, a striking archaeopteryx from one of many parallel universes which occasionally touch each other via portals controlled by the nixies. As a non-humanoid, Faloush could have attributes such as super-sharp vision and the ability to glide and run whilst carrying an object. Zie also has an unusual, non-human moral code, and considers live-births such as Demi to be inferior, food animals existing for the benefit of egg-hatched individuals like themselves.
*Reasons no weapons allowed – 14-year-old Welsh girls do not ordinarily know how to use weapons, or survival techniques and equipment. I wanted Demi to complete the challenge using her own strength, wits and endurance, not by pulling a weapon on somebody and threatening them.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LW1UeZtHk-M a long bike ride through Belgrade, with very dry belgradian commentary