Monday, 31 March 2014

My Writing Process - Blog Tour

Louise E Rule has tagged me in Blog Hop, whereby we discuss our different writing processes. I know Louise through the modern miracle of social media that is facebook. Louise is a reviewer and an Admin in the Review Blog, which I have the pleasure to be a member of. In addition Louise is the author of the autobiographical Future Confronted, a heart rending, but ultimately life affirming, account of a deeply emotive subject.  Louise is currently embarking on a work of historical fiction. You can learn more by visiting last weeks' Blog Hop Here.
So now, picking up the baton, I will attempt to answer the questions we have all been posed during this fascinating blog tour.

1. What am I working on?

I'm currently working on a Flint and Steel, Fire and Shadow sequel to my debut novel The Sun Shard. At present my WIP has the working title of The Dead Gods, but this may well change. It takes off where The Sun Shard left off in a fantasy world, where the prehistoric, modern and mythical freely mix. Whereas its predecessor was a boys' own rollicking yarn, recounting a story spanning a few weeks, in my WIP I'm attempting to introduce more background information, both in the characters' history and the technology and political structure of the different cultures I'm attempting to describe.
In the second half of The Sun Shard I had to switch from one POV arena to another but managed to keep them in chronological order (mostly!). I had two different expeditions journeying to the ultimate showdown with the enemy, one by land and the other by sea. In my WIP I now have more threads from the very start but this means that I have more scope to describe different lands and peoples as well as the sheer pleasure of creating and introducing new characters, both good and bad, or maybe even a bit of both.
I have also had a piece of flash fiction accepted for Felinity a Steampunk anthology, which is due to be published by Kristell Ink soon.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My F&S,F&S is a different fantasy setting; not the usual high fantasy of Elves and Dwarfs, or even straight forward sword and shield action. Instead, the dominant civilisations are roughly comparable to our C17th period in history but the available technology has been taken to greater degree of sophistication. So in this universe ships can be powered both by sail and with huge clockwork engines. Battles are fought with both flint axes and matchlock muskets. While the science of black powder alchemy rubs shoulders with the magical and mythical. Oh and I almost forgot to mention the mammoths, which are ridden to battle by Neanderthals, or the Flint Folk as there are known.
It could be described as Clockpunk, a sub genre of Steampunk, but I like to think that it cuts its own path. So far I'm over 20 chapters in but even now I can see at least one more book taking shape, after this one, before the story is fully told.
I recently experimented a little and wrote 3 chapters as a father recounting his peoples' history to his daughter. I think it worked really well and neatly concluded that story thread.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The simple answer would be because no one else does. There's a saying that everyone has at least one novel in them and I've always wanted to write since my teens. But life got in the way, as it tends to do, and it remained as a teenage whim. I wrote a little poetry for my own amusement but that was it as far as creative writing was concerned. On FB I got to know a lady called Paula Lofting through a mutual interest in Pre Norman conquest history. Paula was in the process of writing her first novel on this subject Sons of the Wolf and I found the whole writing process she was going through both fascinating and inspirational. When her book was published I read it twice and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her experience of writing reminded me of that whim I once had. Later I took up reading GRR Martin's Song of Ice & Fire series and my love of fantasy was refired by his brutal realism. Like many of his readers I was in limbo awaiting the next instalment, while the Game of Thrones TV series continually catches up rapidly. I had devoured his fantasy world and needed something to fill the void it left, but what?
I know it sounds corny in the extreme, but my own writing began with a dream. I awoke with a vivid image in my mind; a scene that featured in The Sun Shard and around which the whole story developed. I discussed it with a work colleague ( a very talented artist in his own right) and he told me, in no uncertain terms, to get on with putting it to paper.  I started writing and I found it satisfied my hunger created by Mr Martin! Time that I once used to spend playing computer games was now spent writing. I couldn't stop, I became frustrated when I wasn't working on the story. It seemed to almost write itself in fact, unfolding on the screen in front of me. I was just the one tapping the keys! Writing is a reward in itself; the perfect escape from the reality of the humdrum 9-5.

4. How does my writing process work?

I think its true that if you spend too much time in the planning, the writing just won't happen. Personally the more I write, the more I immerse myself in my universe and the more ideas come my way. I have a rough plan where the story cycle is going, its the filling in the blanks that I thoroughly enjoy. There is nothing better than when the words just flow. Sometimes it's like I can't write them down fast enough. I love the process of creating characters, giving them little quirks and foibles, and inventing names that have cultural similarities amongst particular tribes and peoples. I love my characters, but sometimes the story demands that they die (sometimes quite brutally!), which can be genuinely upsetting!
I've been told that I describe landscapes and scenes quite well. I try to show the reader what I see and write, in what I like to call a cinematic style. I like to think my mind's eye is a camera and I pan from the distance onto a given scene. I suppose it is a tad unsophisticated but the more I write the more I learn.
I tend to write whenever the opportunity arises, mainly in the evening when the kids are in bed. If I can I will write a little during my lunch break at work. Most of my email traffic are segments of chapters sent to myself from different computers! I usually aim to produce a chapter of 4-5k words a week. I do like slotting in a larger chapter occasionally when certain events in the book are reaching a conclusion (such as a battle) before picking up the pieces and continuing with the story.
I wrote primarily for my own enjoyment and for that of a few friends, but after failing to find an interested publisher, I was encouraged to self publish on Amazon, and in the main its been a good experience. Using fantasy pages on FB I advertised and ran promotions, to get my name out there and see what people thought of my story. That people downloaded it was a humbling experience, but that it got positive reviews and people genuinely looked forward to a sequel was amazing. It proved quite popular in the US, although with the size of the target audience the term is somewhat relative!
Although set in a fantasy world, some elements demanded research, such as nautical terminology and the use of matchlock muskets. As well as lists of characters, I had to create a chart to ensure that the tide times and phases of the moon were correct with the chronology and location of different characters. Such details may have gone unnoticed by the reader but to ignore it seemed like cheating!
The Sun Shard does need a re-edit, before I again embark on trying once more for the Grail-like quest of finding a publisher.
But in the meantime my characters demand that their futures are written. I'm sure its the same with all writers, but it still amazes me how real your characters become. Considering they are merely the products of the firing of the imaginer's synapses; I know their appearence, their mannerisms and accents, even their future hopes. Isn't writing fun?

Now its time to pass the baton, and you're in for a treat. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce the esteemed Glenn Scrimshaw, whose blog can be found in this galactic quadrant; over to you Glenn.

Hello, I'm Glenn Scrimshaw and I class myself as a drunken storyteller due to the fact that I use the whisky writing method. I write what is hopefully comedy Sci-Fi and fantasy and I'm as surprised as anyone that not only did I get published but people seem to like my daft little stories.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

In the Beechwood

First and foremost I love trees, deciduous or coniferous, I love them all. I remember when my family lived on the edge of town. There was a clear border, between town and country then, a road with a hedge with tall trees. My mates and I would climb them; it makes me cringe thinking of the dizzying heights we reached as children.
I remember others nearby; there was a magnificent oak with easily reachable branches, alas it has gone now. A road now cuts through where it once stood, as thee town's border has lost its' definition. There is another  oak that still stands amid the new housing. It once stood guard over a bridge of old railway sleepers that spanned a deep ditch. Now reaching its' lower branches took a certain skill. I remember  the day I learnt the technique, but after that the branches urged me upward and the view was magnificent. I hope the tree will stand for decades more, but more housing is now planned around it and I fear there will be nowhere for its acorns to fall and grow, no other trees' roots to clasp in memory of the lost green.
When I was eleven we moved to live on the Blackdown Hills. What a wonderful upbringing I had. We were never well off but our lives were rich. We lived on the north facing slopes, our fields surrounded by woods of oak, ash and beech.
Beech trees! There are avenues of them on the Blackdowns and they have a dominating presence in every wood there. In spring they are arboreal cathedrals, their leaves cast green light as bright as stained glass windows, their bark is smooth and their trunks and limbs straight. I'm sure Tolkein's Mallorn trees which graced the Elven land of Lothlorien were based on beechs.
Below our fields there was a small wood. It was called a copse, but to me it was fourteen acres of magic and wonder. There were huge Holly trees with green, glossy branches hanging down. You could crawl inside, and if you sat still and quiet you could watch deer wander past you, oblivious to your presence.
At the far end of the copse were fields and beyond those you could see the hulking mass of a Manor House. On foggy days, looking at it through the old rusty railings that marked the wood's edge, the sight of it sent shivers up my spine, imagining what deeds had been done there long ago.
But near the entrance to the copse was a fine big beech. I would sit and lean against it trying to understand its language of creaks and wooden groans. It told me its name, but I wont reveal it here. Words are powerful, with them we shape our thoughts; names are doubly so and are not given lightly.
One summer's day I had finished my chores; the goat house had been mucked out and the chickens fed, so I went down to the copse on a whim. I greeted my Beechy friend and sat with it awhile. It was warm and my eyes grew heavy. A groan and a creak from above shook me from my threatened slumber. Looking up, from where my head had slumped, I saw a deer path, one I'd never seen before. I stood up and resolved to follow it. It was very faint, hardly visible in the dry summer earth. It jumped over fallen trees, the hoof claw marks visible either side, the bark worn away where the deer alighted on the tree stumps.
I kept following the track and suddenly the wood opened up. I looked up and saw a sight that has remained with me to this day. I was in a glade, framed by tall trees whose branches reached up and made a canopy through which sunlight slanted through. The forest floor was green with wood anemones, but in the middle of this forest chamber was the remains of an oak. It was the classic oak tree shape but it had not lived for some years. Its bark had been shed and it was bleached as white as bone. It took my breath away; you could see beams of sunlight slanting through from above, the air alive with tiny insects that danced in the warmth of the rays and brightly lit the skeleton of this tree. It was otherworldly and beautiful. I spent some time just drinking in the sight before heading home, resolving to return. But never again did I find that winding deer path or that glade that the beech tree told me of.
I should visit and say hello to my beechy friend again, I hope it will recognise me; my long, thick hair has now gone and the red beard I strove to grow is now white. What am I worried about? Of course it will recognise me; I know its name...

Friday, 21 March 2014

My ankle hurts.
It still feels stiff from yesterday’s seven miles, despite my pre run routine of exercises and stretches. I concentrate on my breathing and soon I feel a rhythm developing. My feet pound, pound, pound on the ground, ground, ground. The sun is cresting the horizon, although at present it is behind the houses in the street. A quick check that my sunglasses are atop my head. They are. Good, I’ll be running into the sun.
I must press on, I want to catch the beauty of a Spring sunrise.
At the end of the street I cross into the old market car park and crossing a bridge at Firepool Lock I’m on the canal. Rabbits scatter ahead of me and moorhens rush from the towpath into the water. Curling snakes of mist rise from the still canal surface, blurring the boundary between air and water. The pain in my ankle starts to dissipate. I’m going to enjoy this.
I run underneath the railway bridge and the Obridge flyover. As yet the sun is behind a hedge to the right, the hedge is exploding with fresh greenery and, at regular intervals, white hawthorn blossom. A multitude of tiny voices welcome the rising sun as sparrows and blackbirds claim their perches. On the opposite side a weeping willow tumbles a green cascade gently brushing the canal surface. My feet pound, pound, pound on the ground, ground, ground.
Nearing Swingbridge the mist seems thicker and the air colder as I come to the town’s edge. Do I turn off here for a four mile run? I look ahead ,under a bridge ahead, the air is golden with dawn’s light. Carpe deim, seize the day. Seven miles it will be again. The sun is a bright golden ball, it consumes me and becomes everything as I now run straight toward it. The frost of a month ago is mirrored in the wet dew that swathes the fields on the opposite bank.
My appearance startles a heron, who takes flight. It looks prehistoric; a huge, magnificent bird. I silently mouth an apology for disturbing it’s fishing. My eye is drawn upwards to a squadron of crows, ever watchful, on the look out for an opportunity of breakfast.
At Hyde lane the bridge is flanked either side by cherry trees, now bedecked with white blossom as delicate as lace. I remember a ten mile run last summer. Foolishly I didn’t take any water with me and the cherries from these trees helped to relieve my dry mouth… a little.
I suddenly enter an area of thick mist. An otherworldly effect is created. There are two suns now of equal intensity as the reflection bounces of a mill pond still canal surface. The mist has me lost in space and time. As I run behind reed beds. I could be in Avalon with a ghostly hand proffering me a sword from the water, or the ferryman to the underworld could appear pushing his boat toward me over the River Styx.
Beyond the motorway the mist clears, now just wisps hugging the fields either side of me. A thicker line emanating between trees marks the River Tone to my South and just behind, the sun sets the Tower of Ruishton Church aglow. My feet pound, pound on the ground, ground, ground.
Nearing Creech St Michael are the remains of the Chard Canal lock system which had a junction here. The end building ,now bedecked by ivy, was converted into a War War 2 pillbox, part of the Taunton Stop Line built during those dark days when Britain stood alone. Beyond stand old Victorian mills. It is hard to believe that this tranquil place was once a major communication line feeding industry around it. Horses graze in orchards backing onto the towpath. The apple trees limbs are gnarly, their leaves and emerging blossom dwarfed by huge balls of mistletoe.
I turn off from the canal here, through the village over railway lines and onto the River Tone. The river splits to form an island at Creech. Running West now from the village I pass an abattoir. It has a characteristic metallic smell of blood and flesh. "Out to graze they look so sweet, we hate the blood but want the meat"The lyric from "Country Life" pops into my head. The mist is now burnt off leaving a high haze. Dog walkers are in the fields nearby. I can see the wooded crown of Thorn Hill to my left and ahead I come to more of the remains of the Chard canal. The road guarded by another disguised pillbox amongst the foliage that has now claimed it.
I run along Cheats Road toward Ruishton, it’s a long straight road. My feet pound, pound, pound on the ground, ground, ground.. Passing the village hall and rec I enter the village. Rounding a corner I pass old cottages and the village pub. I turn into Drakes Lane, past the church I saw from the canal, jump up some steps and run across a field towards the river. The earth is noticeably softer than the road, spongy but dry. A few months ago it was mud and I almost lost my running shoes. At the river I see a swan, its head and long neck under water foraging amongst the weed. A little Egret suddenly explodes into flight from the river edge. That’s the second angler I’ve disturbed. I mouth another apology.
I approach the motorway bridge. The noise is telling. Whereas the canal waters created habitat this new communication is a lifeless construction of steel and concrete. Certain death awaits any creature that strays in the traffic. When the oil is all gone, will the motorways become enjoyable areas of recreation?
I enter park land on the other side of the M5, though stands of birch, ash and willow. The river lazily meanders to the right and my path loops along side. Sainsbury’s is behind the high hedge on my left, I can’t see it but I can smell doughnuts being baked and bacon sizzling in preparation for a Sunday‘s trading.
Leaving Hankridge water park I run along the Tone by the railway, past Creech Castle and the tumbledown, burnt out remains of Holly cottage. What a waste of an old building, now a relic of an earlier time, besieged by the modern world. My feet pound, pound on the ground, ground , ground.. Atop Creechbarrow Hill are three white crosses marking the onset of Easter. The trees here are Willows, Poplars and Silver Birches; the beautiful white clad queens of the wood. I pass a watchful buzzard perched in a birch tree, he eyes me warily.
I shiver, not through the cold but the rush of endorphins that are now rushing through me. Lovely, the runners reward! Euphoria fills me. All the cares of the working week and money worries are subdued. Any aches in my legs are smothered in its glow. I feel at one with creation, an integral cog in the multi-verse engine of space time. Where did that come from? These endorphins are strong! If we all need a touch of spirituality in our lives, then this is mine. To think that in my youth I strove, illicitly, to reach this feeling. This is more effort than those far off, wasted days sitting in a dingy bed-sit passing the chillum. Certainly a lot healthier! I’m fitter now than I have been for twenty odd years. I wish I’d taken this up sooner, but what will be will be. What is done is done.
Now back in town, through a subway and into Victoria Park. I pass two lads, stumbling along, who look like they’ve been up all night. Rather them than me, I like my bed too much. My home is in sight. I can see the distant wooded slopes of the Quantocks at the end of my street. My God, I love Somerset. What a great seven mile run and the day has only begun! What ankle pain?