Sunday, September 28, 2008

Recipe For Generating Raw Material

350 words a day minimum. Before breakfast. Before anything, except coffee. don't worry about it being any good, at this time of day it's all about quantity not quality.

You can plot and edit any time, but this will give you a bulk of raw material to play with.

After ten days and 4000 words, read back what you've got. You'll be surprised.

But don't stop the 350 words a day.

Before breakfast.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Random House feedback

Here's what the Random House reader (Gary) said about The Shattered Mirror (did I mention the new working title?) after it finished in the top ten on You Write On in July:

The Shattered Mirror is voyage into Surreality...

Following the story of a deformed pirate, a fairy, an near-immortal witch, two characters of fictional legend and the mysterious Mr Bliss placed in a grim Victorian historic novel.

Very bizarre and yet very readable!

Every character is well conceived and voiced. Thomas Grimes is one of the most interesting characters I have read about in a while. A monster of a man who wears his bitterness on his sleeve; tortured, lonely, yet strong and compelling. It reminded me of a dark, David Gemmell style hero in the making! Also, at one point he is referred to as Tommy Grimes, while also discussing the slave trade to the Americas, and this reminded me of writing “The Death of Tommy Grimes” (A most disturbing piece of writing about Tommy killing his first Negro) and wondered if you were infusing another past fictional character in to the story, or if it was coincidence.

Mr Ebenezer Bliss is also a fantastic and well visualised character. I noticed that the author is good at helping the reader picture the character in great detail, not in huge lumps of descriptive text, but subtle through out the narrative.

There are also some very strong sections of dialogue all the way through, especially between Mr Grimes and Mr Bliss, until the meeting with the Sibyl. The prophecy section, with the supposedly cryptic riddle, were a little uncomfortable for me. I think it was a little forced and did not flow with the same quality as the rest of the piece. When done well this can be a powerful tool (Tolkien was the grand master) but I don’t think it is the author’s strength. I would have preferred more of that great dialog like we see everywhere else in the piece.

My last comment is on the section with Sherlock Holmes. While Holmes and Watson were well voiced, I thought the way the legendary characters were introduced to the piece reminded me of a children’s novel, (the repeated use of 221b Baker Street, for example) as if you were grandly announcing them, which was disappointing. Done with more subtlety, so that the reader slowly realises that it is THE Holmes, would be better in my opinion. You have to be careful when using such established characters for accuracy and placement in that characters timeline. (For example, you set the story in 1888, but I believe Watson was married the year before and left Sherlock’s company for a couple of years before his wife’s death – though I could be wrong)

Still, overall, a very imaginative, bold and surreal story that I found very enjoyable to read. I wish the author luck in developing these characters, and Thomas Grimes adventures further.

Phew! Thanks Gary.

I think he's wrong about Sherlock Holmes timeline, but he's very right about not fanfaring him. Let the reader work it out. He's also right about the duff "prophecy" but I thought I'd rewrite that when the plot is fully worked out.

I love this writing malarkey, sometimes.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Larger Than Life

I've been puzzling for some time about how to include a fairy in a "real" setting. Without it being ridiculous, I mean.

I'm tempted to do two things:

Up the fantasy quotient considerably (as one Larry Harkrider advised some time ago)

Cut the fairy out altogether (as a certain Dave Wardale advised, also some time back)

I think my characters want to expand into the surreal anyway. So it's about time I gave Mr Bliss the white Top Hat and outrageous French/Carib accent he deserves. Who needs a fairy?

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'm back with the plot again. The framework is satisfying enough, and as old as the hills:

Boy is born of odd, dubious or unusual birth/parentage. His mother dies. His father becomes cruel.

He is unloved, ugly, powerless. But the boy makes friends amongst the lowly and downtrodden. He meets a fairy and falls in love. Things eventually things come to a crisis and the boy flees his childhood home and goes to a faraway place.

He grows up, acquires wealth, becomes a great warrior and meets a Princess. He defeats a rival to win her. But he is still not complete. He has not forgotten the fairy, nor has not faced the thing he fears most (his father). He must return home.

His father now casts a great shadow over the land. Our hero is not recognised at first, and is able to move unhindered. But finally he has to reveal himself and slay the Monster his father has become. Now he rules the kingdom and can choose to become a monster himself or not. He must also choose between the fantasy fairy and the real Princess.

That's the bones. I like it, but I can see that many might consider it a farrago of half digested old lumps of meat. So I am going to chew over the ingredients some more before spitting them back into the stew.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A conversation with Mr Ebenezer Bliss

“So, if I can only get to fairyland by falling to sleep or dying, how did the fairy get here? Did she wake up? Come to life?”

“Oh come now, I did not say such a thing.” Mr. Bliss was as impassive as ever, eyes closed against his personal smoke cloud, leaning back in his chair. “A fairy is a creature of dream, of fantasy. A wish, if you like. Somebody thought her up, or made a powerful wish. Perhaps the whole world began that way.”

“But I certainly didn’t make her up. I didn’t know enough about – that is, I wouldn’t have known what to wish for. I was only thirteen, after all.”

Mr. Bliss shook with a silent laugh. “You soon worked out what to do next though, didn’t you! Besides, you are wishing for her now, aren’t you?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Whoever said a wish is granted when you make it? It might be granted to suit somebody else, perhaps. Another plan. That’s assuming that wishes are ever granted.” He appeared to give this careful consideration. Finally he added: “Simple laws of chance would favour some wishes, I suppose. Wish for a girl, wish for a boy, wish to live long, live long in joy.”

Thomas stood up and walked to the window. Sunlight slitted in between the closed blinds. Sounds of carriages and passers-by came as from a distance, or through a filter. Thomas left the curtains closed. The gloomy, smoke-filled room seemed to suit the subject. He turned and peered through the miasma at the indistinct figure on the sofa.

“So are you saying that a fairy appeared ten years ago because I am wishing for her now? That doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t be wishing for her now if she hadn’t appeared then. I wouldn’t have known what to wish for.”

“That’s what you said about then. Perhaps she appeared then, so that you would wish for her now. Perhaps to serve another purpose altogether. And don’t forget her wishes –"

“I thought you said she wasn’t real.”

“Now, Thomas. You really must stop that. Accusing me of utterances that I have not made.” He swung his legs off the sofa, and sat up, flicking a long stem of ash in the direction of table. “I said she was a creature of fantasy. Without getting too obscure, the question of what is real or unreal involves concepts that we really have not time to consider. You must decide for yourself whether your fairy was, and therefore presumably might still be, real. And dream, or wish or fairy-dish, she is very likely to have her own viewpoint on things. So whether you cast a penny in a well, or whether it was all a random cosmic joke, she would very likely have had her own reasons for making a possibly hazardous journey from one reality to another.”

“She said she crossed the Trembling Path.” Tommy said, remembering.

“Did she now?” That near smile again. “Well, that certainly sounds hazardous enough. Did she anything else about it?”

Tommy frowned. He could picture her clear as sunlight in the forest, and later, hair dank, shut in the dark of the foetid cellar …

”I’ll have to think about it. Mostly we told stories about our different worlds. I got the impression that not many of the inhabitants of fairyland ever left. Maybe she was bored.”

“Her mother warned her at the gate,
When finally she left, to seek a mate,
Marry soon ‘fore it gets too late,
Lest Spinsterhood should be your fate …”

Mr. Bliss brushed some white ash from his knee. “There are worse fates than staying childless and unmarried, eh, Thomas?”

Thomas looked at Mr. Bliss. How much did this enigmatic dark figure know about him? Could he know about Sarah and Ruth? Or was he having a jibe that the fairy's fate had been worse than death?

“Is this getting us anywhere, Mr. Bliss? Can you help me find her, or not? So far you haven’t offered anything useful whatsoever.”

“May I remind you that it was you who sought an audience with me. Hunting high and low, including some very squalid places.” Mr Bliss produced a small silver box. A snap of his hand and it flared up into a plume of orange flame. He puffed another acrid cigarillo into billowing life. “Can I help you find this fairy? Possibly. These things are not entirely decided by determination. The three Sisters are not called Cruel lightly. They weave patterns that overlap across very existences, as you have seen. However, I have occasionally remarked that they also have a sort of warped sense of humour, if you could call it that. They like to complexify, as well as terminate.”

“You mean it might amuse the gods if find her? Why should they care?”

“Why indeed? Why bother at all, when after all they are gods, as you say. I suppose that depends upon your definitions of gods, or upon the purpose of things. One either assumes a meaning or meanings to one’s small personal dramas, which seems a ridiculous hubris, or one plunges into the abyss, falling through eternity. Life becomes a messy cycle of birth, breeding and death. The seasons follow one after another, until the moon falls into the sun, and the universe falls back into darkness. There is a kind of story there too …and who knows how the parts would evolve? One can postulate gods, and after all the fates are only personifications, are they not?
“And what do you represent, Thomas Grimes? What are you for? Why would the gods intervene in your shabby affairs?” Mr. Bliss pondered this for a while, and Thomas stayed silent. “Perhaps you met a fairy because you met a fairy. A meaningless event, even sordid. You seek to find said fairy again. Why? Ah! Perhaps to make amends. Perhaps to see what your actions have wrought. Perhaps, perhaps …to give meaning back to your life! Is that it, Thomas Grimes? Has life without your fairy been too grey? Too mundane?”

“I have my reasons. If I believe in a God, it is in Him, one god, not a thousand. But maybe there are a whole host of angels and demons. Perhaps we all have a guardian angel, who knows?”

“And is your fairy an angel or a demon? Do you think she might fall more towards the demonic side, after you schooled her so well?”

“She changed. She became more … real, I suppose. Can a fairy become human? For that matter, can an angel become a devil?”

“The oldest stories insist that that is precisely what happened. As for a fairy, that depends on your sources. There are a thousand tales of dealings between man and Fay. Odysseus had a whole brood with Circe - was she a fairy queen? Men visit fairies in their mounds; mischievous imps play nasty tricks on country folk – the traffic continues in a motley host of colourful tales. Birds talk, frogs are princes, wolves are, well, wolves! Things transform, but the consistent message is, actions have consequences. So, whatever else you can say, your fairy will have been changed by her interaction with you. As you have been, by her. Time changes things, actions alter things. Time in the human realm, they say, moves at a different rate than in Fairyland. Maybe nothing changes in fairyland without interaction with this sphere. Stories need change, they need action, they need time to pass. If Fairyland is a land of stories, then the stories need an injection of mortality to keep them vital.”

“It’s all a bit, well, theoretical, isn’t it? Am I supposed to seek her in a storybook? If she crossed the Trembling Bridge, can’t I just cross in the opposite direction?”

“Possibly. Did she tell you where it is?”

“No, of course not! Why do you think I came to you? Although I’m beginning to think this whole conversation a waste of time.”

“Can you waste time? Is it yours then to fritter away?” Mr. Bliss came over to where Tommy was standing. He was perhaps an inch smaller than Tommy, with skin so black that it either gleamed, or absorbed the light utterly, like a silhouette.

“Thomas.” Mr. Bliss spoke his name carefully. “You need to decide where you wish to go with this. You can pursue your quest without my help. Or you can abandon the whole fantastic idea. These are decisions for you. But if you want to consult me, then understand this: I have no patience for your cynicism or your jibes. If you think our conversation a waste of time, if such a thing is possible, then end it. Go back and reconstruct your life from whatever wreckage you have left.” He turned and walked unhurriedly to door. “There is a school of thought that says that if you have any further part to play in the unfolding of this drama, then somehow the tentacles of the plot will reach out and embroil you anyway.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Patti's Link

A special mention for the blog of Patricia J Delois, author of Bufflehead Sisters and (work in progress) Penguins In Amsterdam.

She is Queen of the BookShed. Long may she reign.

Monday, February 4, 2008

You Write On Book Of The Year 2008 Long List

Yes, here's the YWO Book of the Year 2008 Long List - 12 adult openings and 8 Children's. Look carefully in the Adult category and you'll find - yep! A Monster In The Mirror.

I am still stunned at this. Just the boost a writer needs.

Pleased to see World of Sprot's Dave Wardale, Patti Delois, Mo Fanning and Ben Twemlow, all founder members of the Bookshed in there too. As well as other Bookshed members Perry Iles and Edwain Gorty.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Ok this is about Tommy Grimes. He is fearless, reckless even, or certainly was in his pirating days. Why is he fearless? What has he got to lose? What if he has got nothing to lose?
Let's hunt down some backstory:
His mother Mina (?) was a loving woman. Problem was, she tended to spread the love around a bit too much. Her husband Daniel Grimes was a bad choice. Gothicly passionate and inclined to deep glooms and soaring ecstasies, it is probably the passion that attracted her. He was Byronesque as a younger man, but as a father he became more settled and, er, boring. Which was bad news for our butterfly. So she entered into an affair with the bad and dangerous Sir Jasper Despere. Or did she? What if she was used in another way?
So I will need to know about Mina, Daniel and Jasper. I think Jasper's brother is Bishop and a friend of Daniel's. I think they were all pretty wild in their day (even having their own Hell-Fire Club). They dabbled in Black Magic and in Sex. And in cruelty. Which is how they know Mr Bliss.
So this Hellfire Club (“Abaddon”?) pre-dates the Golden Dawn...perhaps gives birth to it. Maybe the Ripper is a member. Sherlock Holmes. Gladstone? Rich and dangerous people. This is where gentlemen get their kicks. A dungeon downstairs and a bordello up. There is an altar and strange costumes.
So they dabble. But what the magic is mostly is ritual disguising sadism and sex. But in there amongst the charlatans is some serious magicking, perhaps. And lots of books.
Tommy Grimes is the ugly duckling and Pinocchio. Possibly Frankenstein's monster chucked in for good measure.
He is ugly, certainly. His face is unsymmetrical, as though put together hurriedly by an impatient craftsman. His jawline leans one side. An ear protrudes (but not the other). One eye set too far away from his nose. The other eye, darker than its errant companion, is more mobile too. The nose, as compensation perhaps, leans the other way like the mast of a listing boat.
Later, a massive unkempt beard hides the worst aspects of his disfigurement. And his sheer size (he is big, as befits a monster), coupled to his fearlessness, makes others careful of how they treat him. Not a swan, perhaps, but a man to be feared and respected.
But as a boy he is an outsider. There is also a mystery about his birth.
What if?
What if his mother has lost a baby, either before, at or shortly after birth? His flighty mother, possibly a bit mad and certainly very spoilt, she cannot cope without the baby she wants. The doctors says her womb is out of whack and so the Abaddon crew set about making a new one? These are charlatans and chancers, mind, and Sir Jasper sees it as an opportunity to get access to Mina's delectable body. His trump card to gain her cooperation is the mysterious Mr Bliss.
If Abaddon has any real magic, then surely it comes from him. Black, bald, and with strange burning eyes shielded by dark glasses (one lens permanently cracked and starred – the left eye?). A tendency to over-dress, a pimp ahead of his time, he fits into the world view of the Victorian “magician”, half-shaman, half savage, nearer to “animal senses”, but at the same time well schooled in the writings of Eliphas Levi, Paracelsus and all the other the alchemists and wonder workers that had contributed to then paranormal canon. He can be utterly convincing putting together his rituals and more to the point, his magic works. Or seems to.
I've just thought of a great scene to describe Tommy's cruel conception! And the plot starts to fall together too.
What if Tommy's dad is forced to take Tommy in? This is after Tommy's mad mum commits suicide after suckling the thing that she has produced?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Parallel Plots?

Okay. Strictly speaking the next step is to begin a breakdown of each character's storyline. However the extended paragraph has many holes in it and it doesn't really solve many of the plotting problems I have.

The first thing is, I would like there to be two distinct, but equally plausible, interpretations. The first is the rational one, where there were no fairies, homunculi, sea monsters or anything else except as part of Tommy's dream-version of reality. And the other of course is that all of those things happened. So really I need two parallel plots.

The other is I would like Tommy to be a homunculus (and this is also a version of Pinocchio, the boy without a soul). And I VERY MUCH like the idea that Mr Bliss shows up as the boy's tutor.

Hmmm. Back to previous step.