Tag Archives: fantasy

Reflections of a Fantasist (Part 2)

This is the second of my series reflecting on this book I was bought…

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In my previous post, two weeks ago, I focused on the value reading Fantasy has for children’s development and for their understanding of the world around them. You can read that post here if you missed it.

This week, I’m going to reflect more on the writing of children’s Fantasy fiction and how what I read in Diana Wynne Jone’s book has influenced my thinking on my own novel.

Part 2:

The Structure of Writing a Fantasy Novel.

Let me start by saying that when  started writing my novel, Prophecy of Innocence, I had no idea how to write a novel, let alone one in a specific genre. One, which I have since learnt, is a much loved genre, a genre which readers and writers can be very precious about. There are purists and then there are progressionists and I have discovered no writer of Fantasy will please both factions.

Dianna Wynne Jones seems to my mind (having read none of her novels, yet having read Reflections) to be very much a progressionist with a touch of the classical about her. In Reflections there is a whole chapter entitled ‘The Shape of the Narrative in The Lord of the Rings’, (a wonderfully inspiring read). In it she reflects deeply on the clever and classical narrative shape Tolkien’s book takes. She writes about ‘movements’ and ‘codas’, things I know absolutely nothing about when it comes to writing. I’ve never studied writing as she did, and she had the great fortune to attend lectures by the great Tolkien himself (even if he did stand mumbling at the board for the most part…apparently).

Later on in Reflections she talks about the ‘Value of Learning Anglo Saxon’ and she speaks with an authority on texts (original texts that is) of such greats as Beowulf and how it taught her about how to orchestrate and shape a narrative more than anything else she’s ever read. This from the original poem, not, as she say,s from any translations. From this and other chapters in Reflections you discover an extremely intelligent well read woman to be admired and listened to. A woman who knows how to weave a narrative in the correct way.

Me? Well it seems I’ve just been going on pot luck. I knew my story and most importantly its end point first of all. (The end is always in mind first.) However, I do not, and never have, consciously think about how, for example, the weather in the first ‘movement’ might foreshadow an event in the third, (as it seems Tolkien did.) I wonder if, in this modern age of writing, anyone does? (Waits for droves of writers to set me straight and tell me they do.)

Both chapters in Reflections which I refer to above could probably explain why I love both of those stories (despite my never having read the original Anglo Saxon version of Beowulf) and why they have had so much influence on why I write the type of Fantasy I do. In fact, is was Beowulf and other quest stories of a similar ilk which  led me down the writing of hero quest Fantasy for children in the first place.

During the winter of 2009/2010, I was teaching writing quest stories to a class of 10 year olds. We had studied a translated version of Beowulf. (I remember a particularly fun drama lesson where tables were turned upside down to create still image scenes of when Beowulf first appears at the Great Mead Hall at Heorot and chaos ensues.)  Anyway, once we got to the writing process, I had to model writing an opening to a quest type story, as is the normal process in teaching writing at primary level. I found a title prompt on a teaching website entitled ‘Land of the Forgotten.’ I ended up, with the help of the children through various modelled and shared writing sessions, writing a whole short story rather than just the beginning. It was very Anglo -Saxon/Celtic /Medieval in its feel. (I blame my obsession with Robin Hood for my tendencies towards the medieval.)

In the story I had a giant half-fish, half-snake like monster called a Flotsaith which had hollowed out eyes. If a person looked into these eyes then the person would lose all memories.

The said Flotsaith (or at least its head)

Of course our hero, Balathar, has been sent, with his companions, to a remote island, (a version of the tiny Isle of Staffa off the West Coast of Scotland) where the beast dwells, on orders to slay it. The beast has caused the Princess Pathadtch (with a silent d) to lose her memory, and, as the hero loves the princess, he risks all on the quest to save her. Yes, it’s full of every Fantasy trope and cliche you can think of, and the characters are completely two dimensional, but the point of the exercise was to help children build a narrative and a plot. (I may still take the story and build it into a full blown novel, now I know what I’m doing more. I’ll see. It wouldn’t be original enough to sell, but I wonder whether children might just enjoy stories of monsters, whatever the cliches involved!)

Anyway, six months later, having enjoyed the process of writing ‘Land of The Forgotten‘ so much, I reached into the depths of my psyche and started writing Prophecy of Innocence from the glimmer of an idea I’d had when I was twelve.

Now, I know my novel and ideas are heavily influenced by the likes of reading The Lord Of the Rings and Beowulf and the Narnia stories and so forth, although the story itself is quite different and unique in premise. Some may think the fact I have characters who are two inches tall is borrowed from The Borrowers. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve never read it and couldn’t tell you what it was about other than there are little people in it. If the idea of small creatures living under the ground came from anywhere it came from Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock, so there! (I used to imagine we had Fraggles living through the split in the wood between the skirting board and door frame of our lounge when I was growing up.)

Reflections however, made me question everything I’ve written in Prophecy as being almost fraudulent, because it seems, completely unwittingly, I have committed cardinal cliched sin after cardinal cliched sin. Oh dear.

Jones says in Reflections that she wrote a book called The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land because she was “exasperated with the way too many fantasy books, deriving ultimately from Tolkien, were so much the same.” She says her book “pretends to be a tourist guide and starts with a map – like all the conventional fantasies do.” (Oh dear, strike one Joanne! Oh and George R.R. Martin, but we’ll skim over his huge success.) Jones’ book is laid out very much like a dictionary or encyclopedia, and is based on highlighting, in a satirical manner, the tropes and cliches that some Fantasy writers put into their books. From the excerpts I read in the two essays ‘Inventing the Middle Ages’ and ‘Freedom to Write‘,  it seems to me quite scathing in places, rather than simply “poking fun” as she says.  Her vitriol (for this is how it came across to me) seems to have come about from stereotypes writers were making in adult fantasy novels about the Middle Ages. However, maybe stereotypes about fields been burnt by armies and monasteries with thick walls set high on hills aren’t stereotypes at all but used in adult Fantasy books because traditionally Fantasy books (Tolkien’s included) have leaned towards Medieval setting and culture. Those things did happen and were there in the Middle Ages.

So I have another problem as some of my novel leans towards this time culturally (albeit with completely made up characters, i.e the elflings. Probably not entirely made up as you know there are elves in traditional Fantasy stories, so there would be something else to slate me for. Ho hum.)

Anyway, this leads me to my disappointment in reading about her derisive attitude towards adult Fantasy writers who write in this purist, “conventional” form. First of all she mocks books written in trilogies. “Aren’t they always trilogies?” – oh damn, another ‘rule’ broken by yours truly.

I then read more and realised I’d followed quite a lot of the same cliches she so berates these other writers of adult fantasy.

Here are just a few:

1) Clothing: “Apart from robes, no garment thicker than a shirt has sleeves”. (Guilt flooded me as I wrote about my character’s robes and tunics and braise. Oh goodness, did they wear such things in Medieval times? Am I allowed to dress them in such or am I being too cliched?)

2) Colour Coding: section 3: eyes. There is a whole section, too long to write in here, about how colour of eyes means something, but the one which stuck out was: “Black eyes are invariably evil.” Oh well darn, darn, darny darn. My antagonist has onyx eyes. I did not do this on purpose. It suited him to have small, dark, mysterious eyes. He has a lot of stuff to hide!

Also eye colour and eyes as a physicality are important in my book. My characters are two inch high elflings. They live under the ground. Their eyesight is, as such, adapted to the darkness of the underground and to reflect this fact I used gemstones to describe eye colour. I did this also as gemstones are an important part of the magic in the novel and so there is that element. I’ve not gone on about it and repeated the eye colour stuff continually in heavy description. (I did, but I’ve culled a lot…one lives and learns. ) Nevertheless, their eyes are important. They do shimmer and sparkle like gemstones because if they didn’t then the elfings wouldn’t be able to see.

3) Crystals: Oh crap, I have crystonal which is a  made up compound of various crushed gemstones which give longevity of life to the elflings and is central to part of the plot.

4) Missing heirs: “blah blah blah de blah”….Oh ooops. Now mine’s not missing strictly speaking. They (for there are two of them) just don’t know they are heirs. (Oh dear, now I’ve strayed into Star Wars territory.)

5) Slaves. Oh I give up! Damn it!  I do have some of my characters end up becoming sort of slaves in Book 3. (Not yet written, so could change.)

Despite all this use of tropes she berates, I do hope I’ve not overdone any of them. They are afterall just stuff from my subconscious. So much of that background stuff is. Subconscious from my own cultural references. (Maybe that’s the problem, perhaps I need to work harder as a writer to take out any cultural references and be completely original. Though I’m not sure true originality exists anymore.)

One chapter in Reflections goes into great detail about a time when Jones was judging for an International book award. She talks about one particular Fantasy book, using words such as “absurdities” and “worrying”, as though her type of fantasy writing holds more merit than any other and this really got my back up. I’m not excusing sloppy writing, not at all but, as she says herself though this didn’t seem to be the main issue for her. It was more to do with the use of cliches of the genre. This despite conceding that “many readers of Fantasy would expect them [the same cliches] and be highly dismayed not to have them. The fashion for so called heroic fantasy, derived ultimately from Tolkien, has been going so long  it seems quite unalterable.” As though this is a bad thing? She goes on to say: “The unalterable convention is now getting incorporated into books for children and young adults.”  Oh no! Whatever shall we do? Bring back some tradition to children who may never have read this type of book? (Let’s face it The Lord of the Rings may be heavy going for your average ten year old these days!) “Oh dear”, she says. I say why shouldn’t it spread to children’s books?

Finally and more importantly for my writing, Jones speaks about why she doesn’t write historical fiction for children, and this includes this medieval conventional type of fantasy. Oh no, I thought. My book is set at the time of the Industrial Revolution and the underground world of my elflings is almost medieval in feel as they are a more ancient species. I’m about to break another sacred rule of Fantasy writing by actually following the rules of fantasy writing. Jones argues that, as children are forward thinking they are “not going to be interested in anything other than the here and now and moving forward to what will be.”  (I can see the point as a valid one, yes. But do all children not like history, even if they don’t fully have a sense of it as she suggests?) I, for one,  loved books set in the past when I was a child, so I don’t think her argument holds too much weight. Anyhow, this is why she wrote Fantasy as she did, without the conventions of adult fantasy or a historical slant (despite, it seems, many of her cultural references coming from Greek mythology, Chaucer,  and Anglo Saxon legends such as Beowulf amongst others….Hmmmm. ) In “the guide” she says:

“History [in medieval fantasy] is generally patchy and unreliable. Any real information about the past is either lost…” (oh here we go again; I’ve done that in my book too, for good reason related to plot..) “or in a scroll… jealously guarded…” (uh oh…). “All that can be ascertained is…that there was once an Empire” (monarchy in my case, damn!)  “…that ruled the continent…” (Trelflande) “and…that there was once a wizards… (tribal) “…war that occurred earlier still.”

Oh deary deary me. My book is doomed it seems. However, my view is this: It was exactly like that for historical records  in Medieval times or before. It was patchy, of course it was, by very nature of not having much of it recorded. I can’t see her issue here at all. Also those of us who write about times set in the past do so because it allows us to play around more. As science fiction writers or dystopian/ futuristic Fantasy writers do. There are things which historical culture and settings allow us to do as writers as is the case with other forms of writing. Take detective fiction written by Agatha Christie. Very different to modern detective fiction as there were no computers, mobile phones, ways of tracing DNA. Not even finger printing it seems in the 1930’s, so what you get is a very different feel to the same genre. And anyway, when writing fantasy who says history has to be completely accurate? Especially when simply referencing fields, castles, shacks, clothing etc.. You are writing fantasy! The reader knows this.

But of course all this made me feel as though my novel is doomed.

First because of the fact I have written in this ‘conventional’ style FOR CHILDREN! For children who must be protected from medieval fantasy tropes as all cost!

Furthermore, I have written in some actual history, which of course Jones says children “are not going to be interested in books that are not about the here and now or what is to come.” (I’d argue sometimes you have to understand exactly what’s been before to understand what’s happening now and what will come, er…surely this is how The Lord of the Rings works, but then I’m a historian and believe in the power of history, so I would say that wouldn’t I?)

Thirdly of course I go and write every medieval Fantasy trope going into the story. Jones would rip my book apart if she was still alive and it’d been entered for an International book award as the one she slates was.

She seems to basically be saying that: anyone who writes fantasy for adults is trying to write Lord of the Rings and that it is a travesty if we do this for children too. Now I’ve never written a fantasy like LOTR intentionally, but I like the fantasy hero quest genre. For me it has a neat, familiar structure and I don’t think authors can help being influenced by what they’ve read. She was, but she seems to damn other writers for the same. She took names of characters from Dante, I take mine from UK motorway service stations. Does this make me any less of a writer? Okay perhaps it does. Perhaps Jones was just an incredibly skilled author at taking what she read and what she learnt from her Oxford University Education in English and being able to mould them into progressionalist, original Fantasy works for children.

And I’m not. But that’s perhaps because I can only take what I can from my readings and from my bog- standard Secondary State Education and very small University of Birmingham Bachelor of Education degree with honours in History. Perhaps I’m only capable of  writing tropey Medieval traditional fantasy as that’s what I enjoy.

Hopefully some children will enjoy it too.

Thanks, as ever for reading. Phew, that was a long one!

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections of a Fantasist (Part 1)

I’ve just finished reading this book:

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Reflections by the (predominantly) children’s fantasy author, Diana Wynne Jones.

Reflections is a collection of… well, her reflections on writing and, in particular, writing fantasy fiction and writing it for children.

The book was a wonderful surprise gift from a Twitter friend from across the pond who chose perfectly. Thank you again, Siofra Alexander! 🙂

Now before you groan and shut down the blog thinking ‘this is going to be a book review’, please allow me to assure you it is not.

I wanted to blog about this book because, having read it, it has become a great big missing part of the jigsaw puzzle of this journey I’ve embarked on of writing a children’s fantasy novel.

Reading this book made me fall in love with Jones and then despise her all within the turn of a page! Reading this book made me fall in love with my writing, gave me inspiration and hope and then, in the next breath, snatched it away, making me doubt virtually everything I’ve put down in the last 132,000 words. Quite a powerful book, wouldn’t you say?

Now, I have never, much to my chagrin, read any of  Jones’ novels. I  will confess I am not widely read in general compared to most people I know who enjoy reading, not by any stretch of the imagination. Reading Reflections made me realise just how little I have actually ever read. In terms of ‘pure’ children’s fantasy I’ve read the most obvious as a child: The Chronicles of Narnia (and then only three of them as I got bored half way through Prince Caspian. ) The Harry Potter series and of course The Lord of the Rings. Oh, and I used to read those Choose Your Own Adventure books which were around in the 1980s. Other than that, my fantasy reading is pretty much limited to the above. Shocking considering what I am writing now. I did, however, gorge on fairy tales as a child. I owned a large number of Ladybird books which I cherished and read over and over and over, delighting in the beautiful illustrations. Cinderella, Chicken Licken, Snow White… the list goes on. How I loved those books! I also was the lucky recipent (I bought it with some birthday money one year if I remember correctly) a huge volume of The Brothers’ Grimm Fairy Tales which I also loved to pieces. It was a brick of a book and I have no idea  what happened to it. However, five years ago I was staying in a B&B in Loch Lomond and in the guest lounge was an exact same copy of the volume I had. It was like coming home. I sat and read as many as I could that evening. I wish I’d asked the owner now if I could have bought it from her. But oh, well never mind. I think that demonstrates the power and magic of the early reading of fantasy stories before I even get much into this post.  Anyway, I intend to read some of  Jones’ books as, I feel as though I ought, given she’s a bit of an authority on the subject.

So the main reason for this post is because I wanted to highlight some of the points Jones made in relation to writing Fantasy and how that relates to what I’ve written so far. Also to comment on what she has to say about writing for children specifically and how that relates not only to writing but also to teaching children. There were many places in the book I was shouting “YES! YES! This woman talks sense; she knows children; she knows writing! I love her!” At other points I found myself shaking my head at the condescending attitude she appeared to have towards teachers and actually towards other writers of Fantasy. (More on this in another post.) She came across as quite narrow minded in some respects. She also came across as extremely intelligent and well read, but narrow minded in some instances, nevertheless.

Anyway, I’m going to break this post into a few posts as I have quite a lot of thoughts and reflections of my own, so here goes with Part 1:

On Children, and the Value of Fantasy

In the first essay in Reflections, ‘The Children in the Wood,’ Jones writes about overlooking the woods near her home and watching the local children play there. She says they always played some version of ‘Let’s Pretend’, i.e the children were being knights or princesses, or soldiers or what have you. She says she noted how often they played that type of game: “it seems to be something they need to do. You can see they need to because they are all so happy.”   She writes about how these games always involves the children splitting off into groups to be the ones dying or killing or just ambling though the action, taking little notice. (though she acknowledges that children play Let’s Pretend games on their own in their heads all the time too.) She notes how, when engaged in this type of play, there are no quarrels. “quarrels happen when….the children are trying to play a game like hide and seek or building a tree house, which does not involve make-believe.” She surmises that they need Let’s Pretend to make them combine together as a group.

Now, as a primary school teacher who has stood on countless playgrounds over the last seventeen plus years and watched children, I can absolutely vouch for this. The times I have had to settle disputes are when the games with rules are played. Like football. Oh, football! How I despair. But never have I had to speak to a child (other than to say ‘get up off the wet floor or else your mother will be cross with you having dirty trousers‘ [it’s always boys rolling around on the damp tarmac, never girls I’ve found!]) when they have been “killed” by another whilst they are involved in ‘make believe’ games.

So what does this mean? Why do children need to play these games and why don’t they fall out over them like in other, more structured, games?

Well, I believe, as does Jones, that fantasy and make believe is the one way children learn to understand the confusion of the world around them. So many adults worry that children cannot separate reality from fantasy. Many adults belittle or make fun of their children for indulging in make believe games beyond a certain age. Many adults are keen for their children to grow up and get a grip on the real world and real life far too soon. Some even actively discourage reading or watching of Fantasy saying it will confuse their minds as to what is real and what is not. Well what a load of hogwash that is.

This idea that Fantasy feeds into reality and becomes a blurred boundary becomes evident these days in the headlines where the effect of computer games and violent films is discussed widely. “Oh that boy/girl committed those awful crimes because they couldn’t separate fantasy from reality.” True, they couldn’t. However, I would suggest, strongly argue, that this may be because these children can’t separate the two simply because they didn’t partake in make believe or Let’s Pretend games at an early age. Their first dalliance with fantasy most likely was to be dumped in front of a computer or TV screen, in front of age inappropriate material, with no adult interaction or explanation to guide them through the confusion. To tell them those graphics in Grand Theft Auto are not real.

However, to have read fairy stories from a young age, with an adult, a child knows it is a story. They know it is make believe. They know that it is safe. Then they are able to go and act it all out in play and explore the ideas safely with their peers. That is why I believe they need it and partake in Let’s Pretend play: to test the world out, to unravel its rules and confusions. As for the argument that this sort of indulgence in Fantasy will lead to a muddle of what is real and what is not, I say this: Do all young children who swish a wooden or plastic sword around as a knight, or aim a plastic blaster gun at a friend in play, go on to kill and maim all across the land? I don’t think so. I haven’t. Jones makes the point more eloquently than I ever could about this aspect to the value of fantasy reading:

“Your story [as a writer] can be violent, serious and funny, all at once….Fantasy can deal with death, malice and violence in the same way that the children playing in the wood are doing. You make it clear it is make believe. And by showing it applies to nobody, you show that it applies to everyone.”

Later on in Reflections, Jones goes on to talk about the influx of ‘Real Books’ for children which flooded the market on the back of new trends in children’s literature. ‘Real Books’ being those where the protagonist (a child of target age group) is real, lives in the real world and has had some social problem to deal with, for example, the divorce of parents, racism or bullying at school. In these ‘Real Books’ she says the rules stated: “you wrote about this Problem in stark, distressing terms. Then – this is the rule – you gave it to the child with that problem to read. The child was supposed to delight in the insight.”

Put like that it does seem ludicrous anyone would want to publish books for children which are like that. “Here you go. This is your distressing problem and here’s a fictional tale about it to tell you how to deal with it.” Quite preposterous really, when you think about it. What fairy tales and Fantasy fiction do is allow children to explore all these confusions of the world at a distance. Through a character or characters who are not them. They begin to understand the world as it is, a multifaceted place where there is good and there is evil and they then try to work out how to deal with that. In fact, isn’t this what we as adults do when reading fiction, really, truly, honestly? We often say we read to ‘escape’, but I often find I  solve problems from reading fiction. Not necessarily consciously, but I  truly don’t think we are looking to escape by reading, I think we are always searching for answers, trying to learn more about ourselves and the confusing mess of the world. Otherwise why would novels have common themes running through them?

Now, the sad fact is, many, mainly adults it must be said, still sneer at Fantasy as a genre and at writers who choose to write Fantasy novels, as though it is somehow a lesser craft than writing about “real” things.

To that I have to say: but we all start with Fantasy really, don’t we? The first stories we are introduced to are traditional fairy or folk tales, even if we don’t stick with them. Fantasy, as I’ve said above, which allows us to see that the world does indeed have bad present in it. (In stories bad is disguised as wolves or foxes, or witches or giants or similar.)  These portrayed ‘bad’ characters  which children know, or learn fairly quickly, don’t exist or are not actually ‘evil’. However, they learn that those evils are overcome and that the hero, whether that be prince, princess, wizard, ie, the children themselves (as that is who they identify with) are good and they are able overcome those bad things. Children don’t need the real version of anything they might be going through given to them in a story to work it through. Fantasy stories allow children to do just that at a distance as I’ve already said.

Furthermore (and I don’t know if any research has ever been done on this) but I’d reiterate my argument from before and say that perhaps it is the children who are devoid of Fantasy stories and Fairy Tales or this Let’s Pretend and make believe play using the innocent characters an early age, who may be the ones more likely to drift down into the darker alleyways of life. They may become the ones who cannot work through traumatic childhood issues such as parents divorcing if they arise, and they are more likely (to my mind at least) become the ones unable to separate fact and fiction and work out those confusions in much darker, sinister ways. Who knows? It’s just a theory. Perhaps there are studies. Perhaps I shall conduct one of my own.

However, for my part I know it was the stories I could escape into, the ones so far removed from my own childhood which are the ones which have stayed with me. The ones whereby I learned to imagine and play and pretend.  The ones where I learned most about the world and how to cope with it. Those are the same stories which have allowed me to write.

And if I have one wish as a teacher and as a parent it would be that all parents and teachers see the value in promoting Fantasy stories for children at an early age. I believe they hold more value and worth than many people realise. It’s why Jones says she wrote Fantasy for children, she utterly believed in its power. I know I write it for similar reasons. I understood the power and pleasure it gave me as a child. I understand the power and the pleasure it still gives children now.

In Part 2 I’ll look at the rules for writing Fantasy and writing for children and how many I’ve broken or not broken!

Thanks, as ever, for reading and feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below.

 

*disclaimer: The  ‘Fantasist’ in the post’s title is in reference to me, not of Diana Wynne Jones. Just to clarify! 🙂

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U is for…Underground and Under-developed

One of the biggest challenges of writing my current WIP, Prophecy Of Innocence, is that it is set, largely underground. This was not something I gave due consideration to when embarking on the project, (hence under-developed) simply because it was an idea I had when I was twelve. All I had was  an idea about characters who lived under the ground. That was it. Inspired by Jim Henson’s Fraggles. If Fraggles could live in the rocks under a lighthouse, why couldn’t there be other beings living under the ground? The logic of a twelve-year old’s imagination. I didn’t give an awful lot of thought to the practicalities or reality of writing such a setting.

Of course, I could have completely disregarded every single “hmmm, that could never actually be possible” scenario as it’s a fantasy novel, however as I’ve said many times before, I am something of a realist and so where possible I have tried my utmost to ensure there is a certain element of believability in what I have written. I also couldn’t help but think every time I wrote something which seemed a little incredulous :”Well ‘Journey to the Centre of The Earth’ could never happen without Axel burning up in a second.” Okay, okay bad example as Jules Verne wrote that in 1864 as a sci-fi novel and it hasn’t stood the test of time so well due to what we now know about the interior of the earth. Still, I ploughed on.

So what have been the challenges when writing about a race who live under areas of British woodland? Other than the fact I don’t actually live under the ground so have absolutely no clue what it looks like or know for certain what can be found naturally there or what could, in the world of physical law be possible for living creatures to achieve under the ground? All I know has been gleaned from what I have seen on wildlife documentary programmes or digging in my own back yard. So not a lot.

Well the first  challenge is the issue of light. Or lack of it. How the heck do the elflings see? Well, first their eyesight has evolved to be able to see better than a human in dim light, (though not in pitch blackness). They have eyes which are highly iridescent, like precious jewels and gemstones. So often when describing their eyes I do use words such as amethyst, diamond, emerald, sapphire, amber or even in one case onyx. Not in order to use a better word for blue or green but because their eyes really are like that. (You’ll notice I use amethyst – yes an elfling can have purple eyes.)  But their iridescent, luminous eyes are not enough for them to see in total darkness therefore they need help and the help comes in the form of fireflies (also sometimes referred to as glowworms).

Now, before you say anything about “ah but insects live above the ground,” well, of course, I did my research on this too. Fireflies, at the larval stage, actually hibernate underground over the winter and as all larvae glows it is perfectly feasible (in my head at least) that the elflings take advantage of this fact and use fireflies for lighting. They can be found in temperate climates in wet wooded areas, so Britain is a perfectly plausible location for them. Although this is not all fully explained in the novel otherwise flow would be lost and it would be rather dull to explain, it is important these details for me are at least almost believable and are there in the background.

Problem number two. If you dig through soil there is nowhere for little beings to roam about, building toadstool factories and homes etc…And yes, you’d be right. However, some animals tunnel and burrow their way around underground and in my mind this is what the elflings do. The roof of their world is the soil surface we have under our feet, but they have, over generations, tunneled out openings to live in, a little deeper down. So there you go, open up your imagination. That’s what I did. Would this be possible? Who cares? Is it believable in the realms of fantasy? Hell, yes. If the back of a wardrobe can magically disappear and reveal a snow covered country I don’t see why a made-up race can’t be happily digging out tunnel systems.

My third problem concerned the supply of natural products the elflings would be able to find underground. Mushrooms and toadstools and nuts and flowers are not found under the ground so how is it the elflings get hold of this stuff without ascending above ground? (Which they don’t.) First off, the elfings do in effect what we do when we want things from below ground. They extract them. We extract oil up from the depths, so why can the eflings not do the reverse? Plants are easily extracted down by pulling on their roots. Fungi is not so easy as their are not roots as such but mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus which consists of masses of branching thread like hyphae. The elflings have had to develop an extraction process to bring the mushroom or toadstool down into Trelflande, or rather I had to develop it on their behalf. It is totally made up, but still had to be on the side of believable and ‘doable’. Other things such as nuts and seeds find their way down naturally from animals overturning the soil. At least this is how I explain those things in the story.

There are many other challenges which setting a story underground has presented, but which I will leave for another time as I really want to get back to my WIP now!

I’d be intrigued to know what challenges you think you’d face if you set a story in a world under the ground? They may be things I’ve not thought of! 🙂

 

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Q is for…Quest

Ah see now, I bet you didn’t think I’d come up with anything for Q did you? Well I have. Ha ha!  (I still haven’t fathomed out X yet but like with most of my writing I’ll worry about that when I get to it. This is supposed to be a challenge after all.)

So Q is for quest.

My whole writing journey actually began with writing a short quest story with my class of 10 year olds. At the time we were studying fiction genre and the children were to write their own stories. To make life easier, from a teaching point of view in this day and age where technicality of writing is measured and assessed and deemed more important than creativity, I decided we would all write in the same genre. I found a story prompt for an adventure quest story and duly set about modelling writing one with them ready for them to write their own. Mine was called “Land of the Forgotten”. It was about a quest to slay a beast which I named a Flotsaith. The Flotsaith was a snake-like beast with oily black skin and which rose over three metres into the air on a strong, fish-like tail. Its jaw was full of fangs as big as elephants tusks and it could take away a person’s memories if they looked directly into its hollowed out eyes. I will go back to that story and polish it up one day because it was great fun to do but it was fairly basic as a modelled piece of writing for ten-year olds and I’ve learned so much since then. But it was through writing that which led me to go back (as I’d really enjoyed the creative process) and resurrect that idea I’d had lurking in the back of my mind for ‘Prophecy Of Innocence’ since I was twelve years old.

Prophecy, I believe at least, is essentially a quest story. Not a traditional quest story in that the elflings are not searching for an object of any kind and they do not send their weakest, most unlikely hero to do it. (I’m clearly thinking of The Lord of The Rings here.) Neither is the main quest to defeat a foe or a terrifying beast of some description (although this does become part of my main protagonist’s personal goal, contrary to the goal of the community of elflings).

The main ‘quest’ in the first part of Prophecy of Innocence is for the elflings to find out what it is which is destroying their land. I put quest in inverted commas here because some may argue that this isn’t a quest at all but more a mystery which needs solving. I’d agree in part. However, this is only a piece of the over-arching quest to find out who the ‘innocents’ are. The ‘innocents’ are mentioned in an ancient prophecy which declares these so-called ‘innocents’ will come to save the elflings. But the words are vague and so the elfings press on initially with more immediate goals, such as the quest to search for other elfling tribes and to re-build their own community as they fear they are in danger of extinction.

The main quest, to find the ‘innocents’, is an ongoing one. It is not resolved entirely in Book 1. This is because the three books are not completely stand alone. They are in fact one book divided into three volumes and although Book 1 does have resolutions and neat enough tie-ups at the end there are of course a few questions left dangling for the reader because I never intended for this to be one volume. It’s too big a story.

However, I will stress the main quest is often sidelined throughout the three books when other events take over the elfling’s lives. But then isn’t this like life itself? We all have a main goal or ‘quest’ in life but sometimes our quest might change. At other times, quite often in fact, other things happen and side track us onto mini quests or adventures before we get back on track with our main goal. Sometimes those mini quests feed into our main quest. I certainly have found my writing journey to be like this as I’m sure other writers out there find too. I know my main quest is to finish and publish Prophecy Of Innocence. In the meantime I write short stories or blog posts or Friday Phrases micro-fiction, all of which help me along on my journey to the bigger main goal.

I suppose, by that premise we could conclude most stories are quest stories, couldn’t we?

 

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B is for… C is for…

Ah so I arrived at the alphabet blog party a day late therefore as catch up I’m combining B and C together. My alphabet blog challenge (if you missed A is for..)  is to be an alphabetical journey through my debut children’s novel Prophecy of Innocence. Already I’m regretting this as I fear it’s going to make it seem as though I actually am a bit crazy and that the novel itself is just…well…weird. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. Here goes with…

B is for… babies.

Babies become an integral part of the plot in Book 2 (which is still in first draft form). Orphaned babies to be precise. Orphaned babies from workhouses of the Industrial Revolution. Orphaned babies from industrial workhouses who are subsequently shrunk down to elfling size. (Elflings? Elflings? See here) I told you this would make me seem crazy. Which takes me swiftly on to the letter C…

 

C is for… Crystonal. 

Crystonal is an imaginary compound made by the elflings which gives them a longer life span (they live up to one-thousand years) and ensures they do not age physically. It is a compound made by crushing up gemstones mined from deep in the rocks underground into a shimmering fine dust. Crystonal is kept by the parents of an elfling until an elfling’s eighteenth birthday when they are sprinkled with the dust. This means that all elflings above the age of eighteen still look eighteen. The only way other elflings can determine another elfling’s approximate age is through the way they dress. It is later on in Book One when another use for crystonal is found that the elflings realise its positive potential. In Book 2, however, crystonal becomes even more important to the overall plot development and the elflings come to realise not just its true potential but how, if in the wrong hands, it has the power to damage.

And the name crystonal? Well it didn’t have a name for about 2 years. In my WIP it was simply referred to as magic dust. When I decided to name it (because I hadn’t even originally thought to do that bizarrely!) I thought of how gemstones are sometimes called crystals and that was it. Crystonal was born. The start of the word made me think of kryptonite but I didn’t want ‘nite’ on the end because of this association. I think Crystonal as a word just popped up in my head and I do remember Googling it to make sure it didn’t actually exist. And no. It definitely isn’t a UK Motorway service station.  🙂

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