Tag Archives: quest

Faloush saves the day!

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

5 whole years to write a fairy tale? Here are some of the reasons why…

Those who always look for the negative might wonder why it took me 5 whole years to write a 200 page novel.  Some writers claim they can finish a book that length in just a few months.  Then again, there are plenty of writers with unpublished novels lying forgotten in a drawer.

I spent over three years rewriting A Pinch of Moonlight (at least 5 full re-drafts, and who knows how many times I rewrote Chapter 1) because I wanted to get the story as good as it could be.  I was sure that the themes and the characters I had created were strong enough to share with the world, and that other people would be interested in them.  I just needed to keep working on the story so that it, too – every bit of it – was good enough to deserve the time a total stranger would spend in reading it.

I knew I had to approach the story, not as a loving parent oblivious to its faults, but as a reader choosing a book would.  Thousands and thousands of novels are published every year, and every reader only has a limited amount of time and money to spend.  I also needed to think like a publisher, looking for something which could easily be fitted into a bookshop category, and would lend itself to promotion.  Publishers exist to make money, not to make dreamy wannabe author’s wishes come true.

So I rewrote, and developed, and polished, and improved the story.  I kept posting my work on www.youwriteon.com where it continued to get four star reviews, and useful feedback.  When the criticism became mere nit-picking, I knew I was getting there.  I completed the fourth full redraft in April 2012.  At the time I was taking a script writing course at Bridgend college.  A fellow student offered to read my story, and provide some feedback.  I didn’t know at the time that she had experience in the publishing industry.  I emailed her the story, and she responded a few days later with some thoughtful, wonderfully detailed, and overwhelmingly positive thoughts.

She’d picked up on the humour in the story.  The setting isn’t obviously comic, and my SOH is rather dry, so I was glad I was relieved and delighted that she’d noticed it.

She liked all the characters, and made several other positive comments.  However, there were a few areas she felt still needed work.  The first was Demi-Lee’s quest, Walking the Walk.  I’d already rewritten and expanded this several times, and although it had become much more of an ordeal for Demi, Karen felt it still lacked drama, and wasn’t life threatening enough.  A fair point – I was struggling to concoct a situation in which a lazy, not very bright, but incredibly determined 14-year-old could just survive.  There were a few life-threatening moments, but I felt hamstrung by the fact that Demi was a central character – we knew she was too important to die.  I soon realised I lacked the talent for constructing those elaborate James Bond situations where the complexity of the method of execution is used to escape.  Besides, it’s old hat now, and Demi is a very different sort of hero.  I managed it eventually – see this blog post for more info, including the chance occurrence which helped me solve a major problem.

The other section which needed to be rewritten concerned teenage elf Madryn, a minor but pivotal character.  She’s the fanatic who changes sides.  Before Demi can undertake her quest, Madryn has to leave her elfish homeworld, visit our world, and obtain Demi’s ‘last meal’, a Mega Meal from the fictional Burg-A-World chain.  Initially i made it very easy for Madryn to obtain the money she needed for the burger, and Karen pulled me up for this, reminding me that ‘my readers’ (an encouragement if there ever was one) wouldn’t let me get away with such laziness.  Although Madryn was subjected to humiliation and discomfort, and returns to Annwn wet, dirty and dishevelled, she still needed to earn the money to pay for the burger.

But how?   It seemed clear to me that Madryn’s elfish society would have a strong code of honour, and the terms of her quest would forbid lying, stealing, begging or cheating. In 21st century Britain, with every movement recorded and supervised, how could an unskilled, undocumented character find cash-in-hand work which would provide the money?  Not surprisingly, a male friend raised an eyebrow and suggested, ‘Prostitution?’

I had already rejected that  idea for several reasons. For a start, it wouldn’t have fitted the character –  submissiveness and pleasing others aren’t part of her nature, and besides,  she didn’t deserve that sort of humiliation.  Madryn is an obnoxious arrogant bigot, but she’s definitely not just a mobile assortment of moist orifices, available to provide pleasure for a price.  I found it worrying that the most ‘obvious’ way for a woman to obtain money quickly is through selling sex. What does that say about our society’s view of women? Also, I was writing a book that I hoped teenagers would read, and that would provide positive role models.  Undermining Madryn’s ego was totally acceptable; degrading and objectifying her was not.

I don’t remember what sparked the idea that she could infiltrate an ‘Esoteric Fayre’ and pretend to be one of the therapists, but it felt right.  An unusual-looking woman in weird floaty clothes, with a distracted manner and aloof, superior attitude – Madryn would make a fantastic New Age therapist.  I had already established that the people of Annwn had the ability to pick up unspoken thoughts, in the manner of an MRI scanner sensing electrical activity in the brain.  So she could use all these attributes to make some money – and of course she would be rumbled as an imposter, leading to more comedy.  However, I didn’t want to totally alienate readers who may be fans of New Age, Alternative, or Esoteric events, but I did want to remind people that, just because someone claims they can communicate with angels/fairies/ghosts/ Native American Spirits/your dead relatives, you’re not obliged to believe them.  Nor are you obliged to give them lots of money for what will probably be just a standard counselling session with some mumbo-jumbo attached.  You can get really good counselling on the NHS, you know – and a good counsellor will never give you advice or try to sell you anything.

So Madryn takes over Doreen Skye’s ‘Angels and Auras’ table whilst Doreen is indisposed, and makes some money from a consultation with a vulnerable young woman who already knows what she does and doesn’t want to do with her life, but lacks the confidence to stand up for herself.  Madryn doesn’t give advice, she just lets the woman discover her own truth – but with ‘the angels’ supporting her decision, Jenna is now unstoppable.  And Madryn has a £20 tip.