WRITING TIP #1: Learn from real people.

WRITING TIPS 1: Real peopleReal people make the best characters

Real people are pretty much more interesting (not to mention hilarious) than any character you’re likely to invent out of thin air.
Listen, look and learn from the people around you. You’re surrounded by a goldmine.

Sianadh the red-haired pirate

In the Bitterbynde Trilogy, for instance, I drew inspiration for the red-haired pirate Sianadh by observing a friend of mine.

PiratesHere’s an extract from The Ill-Made Mute, in which we meet Sianadh for the first time:

The pirate’s crew were thieves and cutthroats recruited
from the dregs of cities, or simple country lads who had been
seduced to piracy by tavern talk and could not now go back,
or disillusioned soldiers; men who looked for rich rewards
preying upon the Merchant Lines or who sailed in the sky
for their own reasons. One of these stood now before the
prisoners, his feet braced apart on the planks, his brawny left
arm roughly bandaged where he had sustained a wound from
a poniard. The lad squinted up at the head outlined against the
sails. Tangled red hair like stiff wire had been randomly knotted
with thin braids; in the thickets of it, a gold disk winked from
his left ear. Blue eyes squinted over a ginger mustache that,
although bushy, was clipped short. A copper torc clasped his
bull-neck, from which also hung a tilhal of amber with two
coupling flies trapped inside. A stained taltry hung from his
shoulders.
The-Ill-Made-MuteHis barrel chest was swathed in a torn shirt that
had once been white, overtopped with a rabbit-skin jerkin, and he wore olive-green breeches belted with gold-worked, purple leather with a wicked-looking skian scabbarded at his side. His feet, ginger-tufted and sporting dirty nails like goats’ horns, were bare and tattooed with scorpions. The nameless youth
had a good view of these feet because he was lying in front of them. To his left lay Captain Chauvond and the cabin boy. To his right reclined half a dozen merchant aeronauts, also bound with ropes.
“Deformed!” proclaimed the red pirate. “Twisted, ugly, and deformed!” He leaned closer to the youth and said confidentially, breathing garlic, “Hogger has one eye, Kneecap’s got a wooden leg, Black Tom is missing three fingers, Fenris be earless, and Gums ain’t got a tooth in his head. A man has to
be ruined to sail on the Windwitch. Fires of Tapthar! You’ll fit in
well here, mo reigh, you’ll fit like an egg in its shell!”
He laughed, revealing gaps in his dentition that seemed to
go through to the back of his head.
“Me, I’m physically perfect. See that?” He flexed bulging
sinews in his right arm, which was tattooed with ravening birds,
their toothed beaks gaping, looking faintly ridiculous.
“I wouldn’t like to meet me in battle, mo reigh. It’s the brain—
the brain that’s twisted. I’m mad, see?” His jutting eyebrows
shot up and down rapidly. “Sianadh the Bear, unconquerable
in battle!”
He roared, a wide grin splitting his weather-lined face. The
cabin boy whimpered.
“What is the matter, tien eun? See, I unbind you and your
reigh friend.” Squatting, he did so. “You two lads are to join
us! You shall be buccaneers on the upper drafts. Every now
and then, such as today, we lose a few hearty hands. Captain
Winch needs to replace ’em with young ’uns nimble in the
rigging. Don’t look so sad! ’Tis better than being sold as slaves
in Namarre like these shera sethge shipmates of yours here.
And you, Captain, are to be ransomed to your Cresny-Beaulais Line.”
Captain Chauvond groaned, licking blood from his lips.
“Now, don’t bleed all over the clean deck. You lads, see
that keg over there? Go and fetch water for yourselves and your
shipmates. Make yourselves useful or Winch will notice you
and you’ll taste the lash. We sink anchor at dusk, then we eat
and suffer.
’Tis a shame we left your cook in a tree—ours is a
sadist and poisoner—’twould have been kinder to our aching
bellies to have swapped one for t’other. Look lively there!”
The two youths hurried to obey.

You can find The Ill-Made Mute on Amazon or at all good bookstores.

Writers you need to read . . .

Dart-Thornton, Reilly, Mieville, Williams.

Here’s a photo by @hartpix. It’s myself with a trio of amazing writers at a Writers’ Festival, pre-Covid.

Matthew Reilly, China Miéville and Sean Williams. Living the dream!

Matthew Reilly wrote his first book, Contest, at the age of 19, and self-published it in 1996. It was rejected by every major publisher in Australia, leading him to self-publish 1,000 copies using a bank loan. He was discovered when Cate Paterson, a commissioning editor from Pan Macmillan, found a self-published copy of Contest in a bookstore. Pan Macmillan signed him to a two-book deal. He has since sold over 7 million copies of his books worldwide, in over 20 languages.

China Miéville often describes his work as weird fiction and is allied to the loosely associated movement of writers called New Weird. He has won numerous awards for his fiction, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, British Fantasy Award, BSFA Award, Hugo Award, Locus Award and World Fantasy Awards. He holds the record for the most Arthur C Clarke Award wins (three).

Sean Williams is the author of over eighty published short stories and thirty-nine novels, including Twinmaker and (with Garth Nix) the Troubletwisters series. He has co-written three books in the Star Wars: New Jedi Order series. His novelisation of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was the first novelisation of a computer game to debut at #1 on the “New York Times” bestseller list. He is a multiple recipient of both the Ditmar and Aurealis Awards.

✨✨✨
Check out these three incredibly popular authors, if you have not yet done so.

And may the new year bring you health and happiness!

Tanith Lee and Kinuko Y Craft

The Silver Metal Lover

This book cover represents the confluence of my favourite female author with my favourite female cover artist. ✨✨✨

I was fortunate enough to be a personal friend of Tanith Lee and her husband John Kaiine, and now that the world has lost the amazing Tanith, I take comfort in John’s continuing friendship. ✨✨✨ @johnkaiineartist

Tanith’s work is utterly glorious, and strongly inspired my own writing. ✨✨✨ I highly recommend The Silver Metal Lover (which ought to be made into a movie) and in later posts I’ll recommend some of her other titles that I love best. ✨✨✨

Kinuko’s art is beautiful beyond description. ✨✨✨ I follow her on IG @kinukoycraft and on Facebook.

Do you have synaesthesia?

synaesthesiaWhat’s a synaesthete?

World Wide Words says, “This word is moderately common in the psychological and artistic fields. It refers to a person who has some kind of cross-wiring in the brain, so that things which ought to be perceived by one sense are instead felt in another. The most common form is for language, sounds and tastes to be sensed as colours.” The term synaesthesia was coined at the end of the nineteenth century by Sir Francis Galton.

I think I might be slightly synaesthetic, but I’m not certain. For me, certain numerals and letters have always been associated with certain colours. The numeral 7, for example, is a beautiful, solid sky-blue, while lower-case “i” is golden-yellow. Not all numerals and letters have a colour, which makes me wonder whether I have true synaesthesia. Perhaps, when I was learning the alphabet in my first year at school, the teacher coloured the number 7 in blue and the letter i in yellow, and this memory engraved itself deeply into my receptive child-mind. . . Or perhaps it’s because “seven” rhymes with “heaven” and the heavens are blue? Or because a lower-case “i” (for me) resembles a chamomile flower?

Something in my mind thinks that some names have colours. “Goldilocks” is of course yellow, for many reasons. My own first name is bright yellow, probably because it contains two “i”s.  “Susan” is blue. “Charlotte” is red, but then, it does almost rhyme with “scarlet”.  “Dominic” is a rich, glossy black.

Wikipedia says,
“Awareness of synesthetic perceptions varies from person to person.
In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme–color synesthesia or color–graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored.
In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may appear as a three-dimensional map (clockwise or counterclockwise). Synesthetic associations can occur in any combination and any number of senses or cognitive pathways.”

It has become popular, almost a fad, for people to claim they’re synaesthetic. If they’re not, how can the truth be proven?
In fact, scientists at the American Psychological Association have been trying to do just that, using questionnaires, as well as processes called “positron-emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging”.  Synaesthesia is real, but you don’t have to believe everyone who claims to have it!

I’ve heard of a professional musician whose synaesthesia linked sounds and smells. She avoided playing the note Middle C whenever possible, because for her it had a foul odour!

There are many fascinating articles about synaesthesia ion the Internet, for example:

Catalyst Synaesthesia

Chocolate smells pink and stripy

A taste for words and sounds

Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes

Do you think you might have synaesthesia?

 

 

 

 

Alan Lee – One of the great Tolkien illustrators

Alan Lee

One of the great Tolkien illustrators.

Here’s a photo of myself with Alan Lee at his home in Devon, a few years ago. This gentleman is famed for his iconic Lord of the Rings artwork, which has defined the look of Middle-earth for generations of Tolkien fans. At the time, he was also working on concept art for the Narnia movies. What an absolute privilege it was to meet him!

“Alan is best known for his artwork inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, and for his work on the conceptual design of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series.”[Wikipedia]

“ALAN LEE was born in Middlesex in 1947. His illustrated books include Faeries (with Brian Froud), Castles and Merlin Dreams, and the three ‘Great Tales’ of Middle-earth: The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin. He has worked on such prestigious films as Erik the Viking (Terry Gilliam), Legend (Ridley Scott), and the acclaimed NBC miniseries Merlin. He is best known, however, for his work on the books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and now the film versions.” [amazon.com]

Poetry – the least popular genre?

Children and Poetry

When I was a child, the walls of our home were lined with shelves of books. Most of them were chosen by our mother. Our beloved father was too busy earning a living to support his family, to have time to visit the local library. (He made up for it by reading to us every evening at bedtime.)

Our household was not affluent. Books were a luxury that had to be borrowed or saved up for. As a special treat, at birthdays or Christmas time, our parents would buy us a book as a present.

We were fortunate that Mum had carefully kept the books she herself had loved as a child. We were allowed to read them whenever we liked. There was no TV in the house, so my sisters and I used to immerse ourselves in books whenever we weren’t playing out in the garden. Mum loved fantasy. Her childhood books included Cicely Mary Barker’s flower fairies series, the Andrew Lang Fairy Books, and a book of children’s poems by Water de la Mare. It was called DownAdownDerry. I still remember being enthralled by the poems in this book, and the exquisite illustrations by Dorothy P. Lathrop. Fortunately for children of the 21st century, you can find the text and illustrations online at Project Gutenberg.

The Romantic Poets

When I reached my teens I discovered other poets, including Tennyson (The Lady of Shallott), Wordsworth, Shelley (Ozymandias), Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) and Keats (La Belle Dame sans Merci). Of these, Keats  was my favourite.  His The Eve of St Agnes and To Autumn remain my most beloved poems.

The classic children’s poets (including Christina Rossetti) and the Romantic Poets influenced my inner world, and my later writing. My focus is very narrow; there is almost no other poetry I enjoy. (That said, I do love Shakespeare’s sonnets.)

But I really do love the words of these poets. The images they evoke, their metre, their rhyme and rhythm, all combine to produce a wondrous reading experience. On the other hand, I actively avoid most other “poetry” (particularly blank verse or free verse), finding it boring, pretentious, unintelligible or all of the above.

The Least Popular Genre

When I was touring bookshops, giving talks and signing copies of The Bitterbynde, I used to ask the bookshop staff, “What are the most popular genres?”
“Self-help” they’d invariably reply, “followed by biographies and autobiographies”.
“What’s the least popular?”
“Poetry.”

And I can understand this! For me, pretty much all poetry that isn’t written by the poets I’ve mentioned, is a turn-off. I know people who actively loathe all poetry – perhaps they have never read the work of the Romantics . . .

My Verses

Poetry may be the least popular genre, but that doesn’t alter my passion for it. I include short verses in my books, usually at chapter openings. This can set the scene for the chapter. Writing verse is invigorating and inspiring, like a mental work-out. You have to choose your words very, very carefully when writing formally structured poetry with rhyming and metre. The structure forces you to think differently. In most cases it improves the quality of your writing.

The Fairies by William Allingham

Here’s a poem that my sisters and I used to sing together, as children. The opening sounds cute and fluffy, but when you read the subsequent verses you realise how dark and dangerous “real” fairies can be.

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!

 

Quote, unquote

Humbled?

WHEN I STUMBLED across some quotes from my work on the website AZ quotes, I felt surprised and deeply honoured.

I won’t say I felt “humbled”, because in the 21st century that word is often skewed to mean the exact opposite of its original definition. Correctly, when someone is “humbled” they are made to feel less important or less proud. Seeing my quotes online did not make me feel less important or less proud. Quite the reverse!

There’s a current fad for using “humbled” in the sense that a person feels they really don’t live up to a compliment. Of course, language is always in a state of flux, and “humbled” has just fluxed big-time. But I don’t have to go along with it! Using a term to mean its opposite is anathema to my pedantic word-nerd instincts.

Pedantic word-nerd instincts

I have no problem with typos. I make plenty of them myself. Typos are generally made by busy people getting things done.

Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, on the other hand, I find annoying, particularly when they’re made by professional scribes such as journalists and authors. So many “trained” journalists are dangling their participles these days that it threatens to derail my sanity and that of my fellow pedants entirely. This keen awareness of the rules of language is part of my DNA. According to some, this means I’m probably an introvert. Who’d have guessed?
I’m not the only one afflicted by this issue – check out Weird Al’s song “Word Crimes” on YouTube. Love ya, Al.

Furthermore, the idea that one should always say “[insert name here] and I”, every single time, no matter what grammatical case one is employing, is a fallacy.

You don’t have to know what the cases are called, just use common sense.

“My friend and I went to the beach”. Correct! “The postman handed the parcels to my friend and me.” Correct! Simply imagine the sentence without the words “my friend and”. Then, if your English is good, you’ll instinctively know which form to use.

“I went to the beach”. “The postman handed the parcels to me.”

Quite the Irritant

Sweeping the English-speaking world, there seems to be another sudden fad for using the definite article (“the”) before the word “quite”, for example, “It’s quite the steep hill, isn’t it,” and “It’s quite the hot day today.” Noooo!

The Cambridge English Dictionary, bless its paper heart, explains that “Quite is a degree adverb. It has two meanings depending on the word that follows it: ‘a little, moderately but not very’ and ‘very, totally or completely’:

A little or a lot but not completely: “It was quite a difficult job.”
To a large degree: “School is quite different from what it once was.”
Completely: “I’ve not quite finished yet.”
Really or truly: “It was quite a remarkable speech.”
Here are two examples in which using “quite + the” is correct:
“He’s not inefficient; quite the contrary.”

Pairing “quite” with “the” was especially popular during the 1920s. In the perfectly grammatically correct and utterly delightful novels of PG Wodehouse, for example, a character could be described as “quite the cad”, (meaning a a man who behaves dishonourably). A trend could be described as “Quite the thing,” meaning “socially acceptable”. In this sense, something or someone  is being compared to a stereotype; the stereotypical cad, or the stereotypical trend.
The steep hill and the hot day mentioned above are not stereotypical in that sense.

Why it matters

As David Shariatmadari writes in The Guardian, “I feel something akin to having a stone in my shoe when I see a mistake. It acts as an irritant.”
Me too. Does this mean that I am an introvert? That I have OCD? I don’t know. The way I see it, language is an exquisite, precise tool for conveying meaning, and when a precision tool is blunted, the result is usually pretty poor. Meaning can be confused or lost. And it need not be!

I don’t correct anyone’s use of language unless they ask me to, because, well, I like to show some respect. Also, I don’t judge people (except journalists and editors) on their use of language. Journalists and editors are trained in language, as the tool of their trade!
By the same token, I am happy to be corrected if I err. Like anyone else, I can make mistakes.

We “Grammardian Angels” have our role to play, as Roslyn Petelin, Associate Professor in Writing, at the University of Queensland points out in her article In Defence of Grammar Pedantry. Petelin includes a light-hearted quote from BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman;

“People who care about grammar are regularly characterised as pedants. I say that those who don’t care about it shouldn’t be surprised if we pay no attention to anything they say — if indeed they are aware of what they’re trying to say.”

I’ll conclude as I began, with a reference to some quotes from my books that are popular on the Internet.

If you are the lantern, I am the flame;
If you are the lake, then I am the rain;
If you are the desert, I am the sea;
If you are the blossom, I am the bee;
If you are the fruit, then I am the core;
If you are the rock, then I am the ore;
If you are the ballad, I am the word;
If you are the sheath, then I am the sword.

 

~ Cecilia Dart-Thornton: Most popular quote on A-Z Quotes.

The Otherworldliness of Elves

Image courtesy of Mysticsartdesign on Pixabay.

ON HIS BLOG “Every Day Should Be Tuesday”, H.P. has posted a piece titled “Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge: Howard, Moore, and Dunsany“.

In it he notes that “One of the things that struck me rereading The Lord of the Rings this summer . . .  is the otherworldly nature of the elves. The movies of course miss this entirely, as do his imitators. [In The Lord of the Rings] Legolas isn’t a superhuman archer; he doesn’t really come off as human at all. The otherworldliness of the elves in The King of Elfland’s Daughter is much more marked. . .

“. . . It is the otherworldliness, evoking a sense of wonder, that most stands out, as distinctive in Dunsany’s tale, present but more subtle in Tolkien’s, and entirely absent from his imitators.”

I must agree with H.P. and extend the idea to cover not only elves, but also the Faêran, wights and vampires. In modern literature, movies and games, elves and vampires are usually depicted simply as good-looking humans with supernatural abilities. They think like human beings. Their emotions are typically human.

Yet Dunsany, Tolkien and students of the great folklore collector Katharine Briggs know that this is as far from the original conception of these creatures as it is possible to be. These magical, non-human beings have a completely different, unhuman mindset.

H.P. writes, “an elf can never understand a human,”  and I would add that human beings can barely fathom the minds of elves, the Faêran, wights, or indeed vampires as they were originally conceived. Even the look of these beings has changed. Vampires, for example, were first described as  being bloated, with flushed or dark faces – very different from the slender, pallid vampires that became fashionable in the early 19th century.

Take, for example, the Drowner in my novel The Ill-Made Mute. This unseelie wight takes the form of Sianadh’s sister and calls to him with her voice, to lure the man to his death beneath the river. When her attempt is sabotaged and she fails:

‘The drowner, cheated of her prey, did not scream in rage. No recognizable expression crossed her delicate features. She reacted in no human fashion.
“Kavanagh, Kavanagh,” she called, or chanted,
“If not for she,
“I’d have drunk your heart’s blood,
“And feasted on thee.”
Having spoken, she subsided gracefully, leaving a faint turbulence.’

Of course, since elves, the Faêran, wights and vampires are fictitious, it could be argued that there is no right or wrong way to depict them, but to discard their otherworldliness is to strip away their most magnetic and intriguing qualities.

It is too easy to transform them into superhumans. Too easy, and far too boring!

 

The true origin of the term “Faêran”

Image courtesy of Dieterich01 on Pixabay.

THE FOLLOWING is probably far too much geeky/nerdy information for most people, but it’s important to me because I invested a lot of time and thought coming up with the term “Faêran” for my books. And it should never be confused with an Old English word that has nothing to do with it!

Question for CDT: What is the correct usage of the term ‘Faêran’? And did you invent it?
Reply: Yes, I did invent it. It first appeared in print in 2001, when The Ill-Made Mute was published. Since then, the word ‘Faêran’ has sometimes been mistakenly confused with the Old English ‘faran’ – ‘to frighten’. The confusion arose due to the normal dictionary practice of using phonetic spelling. The phonetic symbol ‘æ’ represents the short ‘a’ vowel sound, as in ‘sad’, so the word ‘faran’ is shown in dictionaries as ‘færan’, to ensure that it is pronounced properly. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, this letter is called ‘ash’.

Wikipedia: ‘Æ (minuscule: æ) is a grapheme formed from the letters a and e. Originally a ligature representing a Latin diphthong, it has been promoted to the full status of a letter in the alphabets of many languages. As a letter of the Old English alphabet, it was called æsc ‘ash tree’ after the Anglo-Saxon futhorc rune which it transliterated; its traditional name in English is still ash.’

As for my thoughts on the correct usage of the term – it can be used as a collective noun or an adjective. For example, no one is ‘a Faêran’. They must be ‘one of the Faêran’. To get it wrong would be like saying someone is ‘an English’. An artefact can be of Faêran make, but no one speaks ‘Faêran’ – they speak ‘the Faêran tongue’ or ‘the Faêran language’. Ideally the written word should include ê (e-circumflex) – i.e. ‘Faêran’.
If you managed to read through to the end of this post, you are a word-nerd after my own heart.

Tolkien’s House

ON 24 MARCH Locus Magazine reported that the campaign to buy Professor JRR Tolkien’s house at 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford and turn it into a literary centre dedicated to Tolkien, had failed.

He and his family lived there between 1930 and 1947 while he was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, It was there that he wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings.

Some years ago I visited that address and viewed it from the street, it being a private residence. My visit was part of an informal tour ‘In the Footsteps of Tolkien’, organised by a couple of friends, with whom I travelled.

What a glorious jaunt it was. We went to every place he was known to have set foot in the UK. These included the Eagle and Child pub where The Inklings used to gather, the cave houses at Alderley Edge that are said to have inspired hobbit homes, the hotel room in which Tolkien and Edith spent their honeymoon, at The Plough and Harrow Hotel in Birmingham, the old mill at Sarehole, Mosley Bog, the Rollright Stones, King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and 264 Wake Green Road, one of Tolkien’s childhood homes. And there were more.

Along the way we dropped in for a cuppa with Tolkien artist Alan Lee in Chagford, Devon.

I was disappointed to read that the scheme to purchase Northmoor Road had failed, until I read this: ‘The Tolkien Society refused to support the project, noting that “the property itself is a listed building in a conservation area – with a blue plaque proudly showing its connection to Tolkien – meaning the property is well protected under the law and not in need of rescue.”’

This is indeed true, and as Locus states, ‘ the organizers [of the campaign] announced that “we have been offered an alternative home for the first literary centre dedicated to Tolkien in a very suitable venue in the heart of Oxford that fits our needs perfectly for in-person courses and a base for tours visiting the locations that inspired Tolkien.”’

It has, for a long time, bemused Tolkien fans that there exists no centre dedicated to him in the UK, as there is for other authors such as the Bronte sisters, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome etc. Let us hope this oversight is soon rectified.