Monday 30 December 2013

Novel Idea: 95k

Actually, 95.7 but who's counting?

In a weird quirk of mathematics, it only took me a couple of hours to bash out 3k yesterday, and it's taken me the whole day to get to 2.5k today.

Funny that.

Perhaps because I really don't want it to end?

Seven months is a long time to spend with a bunch of characters. They are my friends. Which is good, as all of my others got bored and wandered off.

What if I can't get the ending right? I've never written anything this long before, and the longer it gets the more afraid I am of falling down and landing on my arse. I've already written one section that needs completely re-writing because I made it impossible about six chapters back. A lot needs to happen in a short space of words. Will it come together?

The beginning of the book feels so far away, I sometimes wonder if I'm even writing the same story. 

All this angst, it's like reliving my teenage years.

No wonder I'm dragging my feet.

S'pose I'd better get on with it.

Sunday 29 December 2013

The Mystery of the Red Death

Well, that answers that then.

A couple of months back I read Masque of the Red Death by Poe, noting that it's one of the shortest short stories ever.

I discovered they made it into a film in 1964, staring Vincent Price.

My question was: how do you turn a ten page story into over an hour's worth of film?

The answer?

You make up a completely different story!

Obvious when you think about it.

The book's plot summary, pinched from Wikipedia, runs thus:

The story takes place at the castellated abbey of the "happy and dauntless and sagacious" Prince Prospero. Prospero and one thousand other nobles have taken refuge in this walled abbey to escape the Red Death, a terrible plague with gruesome symptoms that has swept over the land. Victims are overcome by convulsions and sweat blood. The plague is said to kill within half an hour. Prospero and his court are indifferent to the sufferings of the population at large. They intend to await the end of the plague in luxury and safety behind the walls of their secure refuge, having welded the doors shut.

One night, Prospero holds a masquerade ball to entertain his guests in seven colored rooms of the abbey. Each of the first six rooms is decorated and illuminated in a specific color: blue, purple, green, orange, white, and violet. The last room is decorated in black and is illuminated by a scarlet light, "a deep blood color". Because of this chilling pairing of colors, very few guests are brave enough to venture into the seventh room. The same room is the location of a large ebony clock that ominously clangs at each hour, upon which everyone stops talking or dancing and the orchestra stops playing. Once the chiming stops, everyone immediately resumes the masquerade. At the chiming of midnight, the revelers and Prospero notice a figure in a dark, blood-splattered robe resembling a funeral shroud. The figure's face resembles a mask that looks much like the rigid face of a corpse, and exhibits the traits of the Red Death. Gravely insulted, Prospero demands to know the identity of the mysterious guest so that they can hang him. The guests are too afraid to approach the figure, instead letting him pass through the seven chambers. The Prince pursues him with a drawn dagger until he is cornered in the seventh room. When the figure turns to face him, the Prince lets out a sharp cry and falls dead. The enraged and terrified revelers surge into the black room and forcibly remove the mask and robe, only to find to their horror that there is no solid form underneath. Only then do they realize that the figure is the Red Death itself, and all of the guests contract and succumb to the disease. The final line of the story sums up, "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."

As I mentioned before, that is the entirety of the plot.

A quick glance at the blurb on the back of the DVD gives fair warning of what goes wrong, and I don't just mean excessive use of exclamations:

Death and debauchery reign in the castle of Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), and when it reigns... it pours! Prospero has only one excuse for his diabolical deeds - the devil made him do it! But when a mysterious, uninvited guest crashes his pad during a masquerade ball, there'll be hell to pay as the party atmosphere turns into a danse macabre!

Stop me if I sound like an arse, but 'crashing' one's 'pad' when the 'party atmosphere' turns sour isn't exactly evocative of Poe's Gothic prose.

And, yes, you probably guessed right - they've made Prospero a satanist. 

The whole story is about him selling his soul to the devil and getting his comeuppance from Death, who rules the universe with Satan.

Far from Red Death having no face at all, he's got Vincent Price's face, as has Prospero, which some bird called Francesca seems to fall in love with after he abducts her from a village and forces her to murder her own father. Absolutely none of which happens in the original story.

They didn't even put the clock in the right place. It was in the main hall, and it certainly wasn't carved from ebony, it was bright yellow. It bonged once, causing a moment's mild unease, before playing no further role. Yet it was pretty much the central key to the whole of Poe's story.

It was a very, very bizarre film.

I think, had it simply been a film in its own right, you probably could have grooved to that. There were some entertaining moments (and a lot of high-pitched women-in-distress-like-they-often-were-in-1960s-horror-films screaming), but it wasn't a film in its own right, it was a rip-off of a rather grand poet who probably spun so fast in his grave that he generated electricity. Just not enough to blow up the box office.

They don't even say 'adapted from a short story by Edgar Allan Poe,' they actually say 'Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of the Red Death.' Totes false advertising, man.


Whichever way you look at it, you have to admire that they took 2,500 words and turned them into one hour and twenty-five minutes' worth of film. It certainly took a lot of imagination - running rampant and wild - to fill in the time.

You can read the original as a PDF online, or if you're able to buy into the whole radical adaptation genre, perhaps try Bethany Griffin's 'sexy, post-Apocalyptic reimagining.'

Goddam it, I've seen it so I'm gonna have to buy it.

Mind you, Vincent Price aside, it wouldn't be the first time a reimagining of Red Death turned out kinda sexy. And, indeed, I can credit Gaston Leroux for granting me the initial impetus to read it.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

The Coroner's Lunch

Christmas Day, where else would you expect to find me than with my face in a book?

Just finished this. I mentioned it a while back. Two of my close friends have moved to Laos, and one of them found a crime series set there. They're written by Colin Cotterill, who has a very funky website, and the first in the series is called The Coroner's Lunch. As I'm planning to visit next year, I thought I'd better have a read.

Dr. Siri Paiboun, one of the last doctors left in Laos after the Communist takeover, has been drafted to be the national coroner. He is untrained for the job, but this independent 72-year-old has an outstanding qualification for it: curiosity. And he doesn't mind incurring the wrath of the Party hierarchy as he unravels mysterious murders, because the spirits of the dead are on his side.

The Denver Post review said "The sights, smells and colors of Laos practically jump off the pages..."  but I must admit that, for me, never having been to Laos, I'm still not entirely sure it gave me a lasting image of the place. Descriptive is fairly brief throughout, but it is wonderfully character-driven. Where I lack a clear image of mid-1970s Vientiane, I very clearly see Dr. Siri with his stoop and his green eyes, his assistants: Nurse Dtui and Mr.Geung, and crazy Rajid. 

A truly entertaining cast, made all the more so because they don't fit the average detective mould. The lead character is septuagenarian, and his lab assistant has Down Syndrome. 

It's instantly engaging, and darkly humorous, right from the outset:

People's Democratic Republic of Laos, October 1976

Tran, Tran, and Hok broke through the heavy end-of-wet-season clouds. The warm night air rushed against their reluctant smiles and yanked their hair vertical. They fell in a neat formation, like sleet. There was no time for elegant floating or fancy aerobatics; they just followed the rusty bombshells that were tied to their feet with pink nylon string.

Tran the elder led the charge. He was the heaviest of the three. By the time he reached the surface of Nam Ngum reservoir, he was already ahead by two seconds. If this had been the Olympics, he would have scored a 9.98 or thereabouts. There was barely a splash. Tran the younger and Hok-the-twice-dead pierced the water without so much as a pulse-beat between them.

A quarter of a ton of unarmed ordnance dragged all three men quickly to the smooth muddy bottom of the lake and anchored them there. For two weeks, Tran, Tran, and Hok swayed gently back and forth in the current and entertained the fish and algae that fed on them like diners at a slow-moving noodle stall.

I'm a nit-picky pain in the bum, so there were a couple of things that made me wonder, such as the implication that someone might fall faster because they are heavier. Three humans, dropped from the same height, would hit the ground together regardless of their respective weights, unless one were wearing a parachute. Assuming they were dropped at the same time. Even if they weren't, Hok would hit the ground first not because he was heavier, but because he was dropped earlier... or something like that? And there was a lot of weight placed on whether things happened to corpses pre- or post-mortem, except for a tattoo, which would probably be the most obvious thing you'd notice post-mortem because of the damage tattoos do to the skin and the length of time that would take to heal even on a living person. Post-mortem, the ink would probably have been washed away and the wound bloated?

But this is me being an OCD nerd. The fact remains, the story was excellent fun. Siri turns out to have second sight (which isn't a spoiler, because you know this from the beginning), which I thought would probably be a real downer on a detective novel. I was inwardly groaning at the idea of Psychic Sally does Death in Paradise. I should have had more faith. Far from spoiling the story, it completely added to it, as Siri himself is fairly scientifically minded and knows how strange it all seems. It also laid the road for a fascinating trip into the shamanic Hmong region to battle the Phibob, the displaced spirits of the deceased who live in the jungle. It brought to mind the Forest Spirits in Ghibli's Princess Mononoke, but with teeth!

There were some wonderful dream sequences:

It shouldn't have surprised him, given all the talk and the setting and the whisky, but his dream that night was a spectacle.

He was dressed as a Hmong of a thousand years hence. For reasons known only to the Great Dream Director, he was riding Dtui's bicycle through a fairy-tale jungle. He didn't see the trees as trees, but rather as the spirits that inhabited them. They twirled together from the roots to high up in the sky. They were kind and welcoming, just as Tshaj had described them. Many were women, beautiful women, whose long hair curled into, and became, the grain of the wood.

It was a happy place; he seemed to know all the spirits, and they liked him. But the bicycle was squeaky and its noise awoke a black boar that had been asleep behind the bushes. Its fangs were still bloody from a kill. The tree spirits called out to Siri, warning him, but he seemed unable to move. The bicycle was locked with rust. Heaven knows why he didn't get off and run for his life.

The boar charged. He looked up at the spirits but they couldn't do anything to help. When he looked back, a small woman was standing between him and the boar. She seemed fearless, even when the boar leaped from the ground and soared through the air toward her. Before it could strike, she held up the black amulet in front of its face, and it turned from muscle and fur into a black sheet of burned paper. It floated harmlessly to the ground and crumbled.

She turned to Siri. He'd expected to see the sweet face of Auntie Saub, but instead it was the same old man's face with its betel-nut red mouth that had lain dead at the feet of the Vietnamese in his previous dream. (He must have been making a guest appearance). He ignored Siri and went from tree to tree ripping down the spirits and the nymphs and putting them into a Coca-Cola bottle. Even before the bottle was full, the trees were empty of spirits, and he vanished. All that was left was Siri on his rust-locked bicycle surrounded by trees that were now just wood. 

He heard the sound of chewing, and looked back over his shoulder to see that the jungle floor behind him was a vivid green. The color seemed to vibrate as it reflected in his eyes. And as he watched, the carpet of green spread closer and closer to him. And when it was close enough, he could tell that this was a swarm of green caterpillars. He looked back; everything in its path had been destroyed, devoured by the hungry insects.

The bark of the trees around him was stripped away, the leaves were gone in seconds, and slowly the tree trunks were levelled. When there were no more trees, the caterpillars caught sight of Siri. They crawled all over him and Dtui's bicycle, and just as they'd eaten everything else, they began to chew their way through him as he watched calmly. It tickled. Very soon, Siri could feel himself inside the caterpillars.

A flock of crows swooped down and ate the caterpillars that contained small bits of Siri. Then whales somehow managed to eat the crows. And whales were swallowed up by volcanoes and suddenly Siri, or at least bits of Siri, was in every creature and every geological feature on Earth. It was one hell of a good finish.

As, indeed, is the last chapter of this book, which really grabs hold of your mind with a sinister 'follow me!' Looking forward to reading some more of Siri when I get the time. Whodunnit with a sprinkle of the spectacular.

Monday 23 December 2013

Novel Idea: 90k


Well, I'm here!

Feeling fairly proud of myself.

Looks as though this is set to surpass my longest work to date: Lucid, at 92,000 pre-edit.

Although I did just get a message like this pop up on MS Word:

There are too many spelling or grammar errors to continue
showing them!

Bloody cheek!

That'll be the 'write first, edit later' effect. I've never completed a first draft without editing as I go. Likely to be one sweet hot mess when I get to it, but looking forward to everything.
Guess it's also time to cut my nails again. Typing with talons does tend to cause your fingers to skit across the keys.

I'm feeling a little uneasy though, as I'm still not sure it'll all end well. I've taken to procrastinating with traditional pen and paper. I find I like swirly diagrams, drawn whilst half concentrating on Strictly Come Dancing. Sort of working out which characters go where to do what. Usually with more doodles than this.

I re-work it on a daily basis as what I write fails to resemble in any way what I planned to write. Then I tick off the bits that get done.

I would not be surprised now if this hits 100,000. 

Last night I realised that I've been at this for seven months, as I embarked on Blood Rose in May. It was already at 10,000 when I made that commitment, so I've averaged around 11,400 words per month. I'm not at all unhappy with that, as there has also been a lot of research involved.

Still, none of that really matters if the ending doesn't come together.

Fingers crossed.

Peri by Edmund Dulac

Sunday 22 December 2013

Novel Idea: New Approach

I took a rather lengthy break from writing Blood Rose.

I spent part of it reading a book, but mostly it's been the usual writer's junk fest of procrastination and social media. This pie chart aptly sums up the creative process.

So, I've changed tack. I've ditched the 1k a day idea, as I clearly haven't written 1k a day for quite some time, and when I have it's never lasted more than about three weeks and resulted in excessive avoidance anxiety.

Instead, I've opted for designated writing days. Instead of stipulating 1k, to be written any time during the day, I've not set myself a writing limit, but I need to get up, get showered, make a cup of coffee and start writing before I do anything else. No social media, only a blank Google page should I require assistance from Wikipedia, Etymology Online, the encyclopedia of Persian baby names or the define [word] function.

It seems to be working. On Thursday I wrote 3,083 words over a couple of hours. Yesterday I added 984 more to that, and today I've written a solid 4,193, bringing the grand total of the manuscript up to 88,990.

Hopefully the next sitting will take me past the 90k mark, which would be fabulous.

There definitely comes a natural break in each sitting where I think 'no, I've had enough now,' but the difference is that I start with enthusiasm. The problem with the 1k routine is that it is exactly that... a routine. Like the contraceptive pill, a 9-5 job and advent calenders (which contain chocolate, so that's really saying something) - I'm just not very good at them.

Routines either have to be habitual, such as blogging (which in my case is more of a mania) or so infrequent that you've forgotten about them by the time you have to do them again (like tax returns).

If I have to do something, I usually will. If I have to do that something on a regular basis, I usually won't.

So, I'm writing again and I'm loving it again. Bit of an irksome plot issue to figure out before my next sitting, but at least I'm confident there will be a next sitting, and I'm even looking forward to it.

For now, I shall leave you with a little excerpt of dialogue I rather enjoyed writing, from about 10,000 words back in time.

Since the boy had disappeared, the garden was once again overgrown. At the far end, next to a tiny rosebush choked by vines, I discovered a circle of white feathers, as though someone had dropped a bag of flour on the ground. It occurred to me that I had not heard the peacock for several days. Either something had stolen into my garden and attacked it, or Şelale had put it in her broth.

“A sad end,” Eirik said, appearing beside me in his brown leather mask.

Shayda’s sickness had so consumed me that I had forgotten Eirik was even there. I assumed he had taken his leave, returning to his building site at Sari, or his fine house in Tehran. I did not know whether he was referring to the peacock or to Sheyda, so I remained silent.

“You know,” he continued, “it would do your friend good to get some fresh air. It’s unhealthy to remain in bed for so long. Let me build her a shelter where she can sit and enjoy the garden, shaded from the sun.”

I stared at him for a moment, uncertain why he should care.

“Where?” I asked.

He thought for a moment, casting his eye across the grounds. “There.” He pointed to a part of the lawn in the east, which caught the best of the morning light but which the trees protected at noon. “A perfect place, wouldn’t you agree?”

I could not see what he saw. To me, it was just another patch of garden. Where he saw a magnificent pagoda, I saw only grass and sky.

“Do you really want to do something to help my servant?” I asked him.

“Of course,” he replied. “If it helps you.”

“Then get rid of the baby,” I said urgently, placing my hand on his arm. “You can do that. You can make anything happen. Perform your magic and make it vanish. Make it never have happened.”

“I cannot do that.”

“You— you can do anything. You can make men silent and still whilst you remove their organs in front of them. You can build palaces with passages that lead to the ends of the earth, you can appear in mirrors, you can make music like the angels, you can speak from the other side of the room and lasso a needle from twenty paces, and you tell me you cannot make one tiny, unborn infant disappear?”

“I will not do it,” he said quietly.

“You can but you will not? You dare to defy me in this matter?”

Tears started to prickle the sides of my eyes. I went to slap him, but he caught my wrist.

“Shahzadi, life is sacred.”

I snorted my disdain.

“You’re an assassin, a murderer. How can you stand there and tell me such a thing!”

“Everything will die, but first it must live.”

“Oh!” I cried. “Really? Even if it is born as ugly as you?”

He released my wrist and lowered his gaze.

“How many nights have you lain awake wishing you had never been born, I wonder?”

“And yet, here I am, so I could not have wished it that hard.”

I bit down on my tongue until I could taste blood.

“Fine. If you will not save her from her fate, then you may as well build her a shelter from whence she can view it.”

“Very well.”

He bowed slightly and withdrew, leaving me to the salty taste of my own turmoil. What sort of friend was he that he could not do this one favour for me – for us? This Prince of Conjurers, this King of Stranglers, who stood quietly by as Sheyda’s terror grew within her. At that moment, I hated him with all my heart.

Friday 20 December 2013

Apollo Collapses

Oh, my! Went to see this on Saturday, six days later the theatre collapses! We were up in the dress circle, too. Just found out my uni mate Nikki was there tonight. Thankfully she's home safe, but says it was 'the scariest night ever.' A full house of around 700 people. It's incredible there were no fatalities, and a real testament to our emergency services and the theatre's Front of House.

Thursday 19 December 2013

White Wine in the Sun

It's yoga night in the house, which is my turn to cook. I was making fajitas whilst listening to Radio 2. They were playing an 'alternative Christmas mix' of songs you don't usually hear played because they get drowned out by the likes of Mariah Carey and Wham. I was truly amazed to hear this. I'm a huge Tim Minchin fan, and I think I joined hundreds of others across the country in a moment's pan-burning contemplation when this came on. Let's blame the tears on the onions, shall we? If you haven't heard it already, have a listen to his address to the University of Western Australia.

Wednesday 18 December 2013


Deep breath.

This is one of the most nerve-racking posts I think I've ever made.

I'd like to introduce to you a delicate project. Something which I have been working on for a while.

Those of you who know me through my writing might be surprised to learn that I have a slightly more serious alter ego, who works as a charity consultant. For several years now I've been telling people how to run their organisations better. So, I thought it was probably about time I practiced what I preach.

Merging my professional skills with my love of all things literary, I founded a small organisation back in October 2012, with two friends I met in Rwanda whilst developing the dictionary. Alongside that, I also opened a publishing account with Ingram Books.

For a year, we did very little with all of this. Life got in the way, other people and projects demanded attention, and there was a dearth of suitable projects to cut our teeth on.

Over the past couple of months, this has all changed, leading to a spurt of productivity and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, we've lost one of our Trustees, who has moved to Laos. However, we have gained Kivu Writers as a potential partner, an organisation striving to kick-start a literary culture in Rwanda. Our two organisations know one another well, and we are striving for similar ideals.

So, I just wanted to mention my embryonic new project.

It's called Nushu (Facebook/Twitter):

The word Nushu was given to a language invented by women in China, in an era when women were forbidden from learning to read or write. They would paint the language on fans, sew it into dresses, and write secret books passed down from mother to daughter.

We have adopted it to remind us that people will always strive to communicate their stories, no matter what the obstacles.

You can read all about what we do on our website, though we're still getting set up and there's plenty more to come soon.

I don't tend to get nervous easily, I'm usually quite at home training other people and helping them to sort out their problems, but I must admit, it feels a little different now the boot's on the other foot. Hopefully it will improve my bedside manner with my charity clients, adding an extra drop of empathy to the mix.

Please do follow along via social media, and let people know we're out there.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Curious Incident on Stage

I was incredibly fortunate to get to see The National Theatre's adaptation of Mark Haddon's much-loved modern classic, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, about an autistic boy who uncovers secrets of his past whilst trying to solve the mystery of who stabbed next door's dog to death with a (garden) fork.

I can hardly believe it has almost been ten years since this was published! I still remember the cover as being cream and red-striped, though it has had many incarnations since. The question on everybody's lips was 'how on earth do you translate such a complex book into a stage play?' Well, the answer is: you give it to the National Theatre, obviously.

It really was so well done. A very clever stage and lots of neat tricks, but not at the expense of a powerful performance. Absolutely worth going to see if you get the chance - booking information online.

Monday 16 December 2013

Feeling the Attraction?

Had a lovely time at the weekend celebrating my dad's birthday with him on a visit to The Shard. However, in the gift shop I happened to notice the following souvenir list. I'm sure if I Google it I will find a logical explanation but, until then, I struggle to see the usefulness of a 'magnetic bookmark'...?

Friday 13 December 2013

Equal of the Sun

I finished reading this at 4am, which was not a strategic move given that I had to be up at 8am this morning to go to London.

The first thing I will mention about this book is the very first thing I noticed when it arrived: the cover is glorious. Yes, the picture is nice and it really does look like you imagine the main character to look, but it's the feel of the cover that's so special. It's like fine grain sand beneath your fingers. I'm not entirely sure what it's made of, but it induces a wonderfully tactile sense of location. Turns something otherwise ordinary into something quite extraordinary.

Iran in 1576 is a place of wealth and dazzling beauty. But when the Shah dies without having named an heir, the court is thrown into tumult. Princess Pari, the Shah’s daughter and protégée, knows more about the inner workings of the state than almost anyone, but her maneuvers to instill order after her father’s sudden death incite resentment and dissent. Pari and her closest adviser, Javaher, a eunuch able to navigate the harem as well as the world beyond the palace walls, possess an incredible tapestry of secrets that explode in a power struggle of epic proportions.

Legendary women—from Anne Boleyn to Queen Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots—changed the course of history in the royal courts of England. While they are celebrated, few people know of the powerful and charismatic women in the Muslim world. Based loosely on Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, Equal of the Sun is a riveting story of political intrigue that brings one extraordinary woman to light. Anita Amirrezvani is a master storyteller, and her lustrous prose brings to life this rich and labyrinthine world with a stunning cast of characters—passionate and brave men and women who defy or embrace their destiny in a Machiavellian game played by those who lust for power and will do anything to attain it.

How I came to discover this book is in itself somewhat of an intrigue. Those who have been following my Blood Rose saga, will know that the novel I am currently writing is also based in Iran and centres around the daughter of a Shah, all be it two-hundred and seventy years after the events of this story.

I hit a slight plot incident. One of the guards took advantage of a serving girl and wound up murdered. This meant that I needed to replace two guards. I realised that the guards couldn't just be men from the palace, not after what had just happened.

My mind turned to eunuchs. I began a Google search of the history and customs of eunuch guards in Iranian harems... which is how I found Equal of the Sun. Its author, Anita Amirrezvani, had written an article for Historical Tapestries titled: Why I Love to Write About Eunuchs. (Incidentally, I wrote one myself two months later titled: Why I Love to Write About Scratchy Records).

My little heart leapt! To find such a wonderful article on the exact subject I was wondering about, set in the exact same country under a similar regime - it was more than I could have hoped for. (Though perhaps not quite as uncanny as unearthing Society, Politics and Economics in Mazandaran, Iran 1848-1914, the exact province and period in history I am writing about - still, pretty amazing).

Once I knew of the existence of the book, I couldn't not order a copy. The big problem was whether to read it before or after I had completed my own novel? Everything in me wanted to dive beneath the pages and soak up the atmosphere of the age, but the jinn over my other shoulder kept whispering fears of plagiarism and unoriginality. As a writer, you want your story to be your own entirely, which can lead to a fear of being influenced by external sources, or being seen to be influenced by them. Which is ridiculous really, as every story you ever write will be drawn from something you've read, seen or heard somewhere along the line.

I worried over whether to read it for about a week. When I realised I hadn't written anything in that week because I was worrying about whether to read it, I gave in. After all, I read Somerset Maugham's Sanatorium several months after completing Angorichina and almost fell off my chair. If anything could ever get me falsely accused of plagiarism, it would have to be that. Things are either similar or they are not, and if they are similar they'll still be similar whether you read them or not. The degrees of separation between ideas are often fairly narrow, so why spend time paralysed by it when fresh stories wait to be written?

My desire to remain (as) original (as any author probably can be) was overwhelmed by my desire not to feel alone. It can be a bit isolating to venture out into history armed only with Wikipedia and a head full of misconceptions about how people might have lived. Although I've always embraced academic works, it felt a little bit like cheating to peek at someone else's fictitious interpretation of ancient Iran, to check whether I was on the right track. 

It also felt incredibly good. 

There was a very real sense of relief to see reference to so many familiar things from my own story: the importance of the Shahnameh, Zahhak and Kaveh, the descriptions of food and beauty and excess, of musical instruments and board games, of sexual dynamics and the conduct of commoners.

Yet there was also enough difference. I learned new words, such as birooni, which I'd love to use, but won't, because I've already developed my own vocabulary around a need to describe a birooni without knowing there was a word for it. Our stories are both very different in pace, style and plot. So there really was nothing to fear in reading it, and everything to embrace in discovering that my imagination had not dropped me entirely on my arse.

Equal of the Sun is a fairly slow burner. It spends time setting the scene. Not so much happens until after halfway, but the prose are technically faultless so you don't notice the passage of pages, and when the action does take off it's riveting.

There was a particularly poetic line on page 277: "As I walked back to my quarters in the harsh morning sun, I felt as if my heart would shred with feeling, like a peony swirling its bloody skirts."

Another part that I thought very touching, at the end of Chapter Seven:

I thanked God for His protection and prayed for His judgement on my soul to be light. I asked Him to look kindly on me because I was a strange creature, one that he had not designed and perhaps did not continence. Feeling the caress of the tablet of dried earth against my forehead, I prayed for the tenderness and mercy that He showed all his creatures, even the most humble

In the bazaar there were always strange creatures like the one-eyed goat that were derided and jeered at, yet I always tried to stroke their noses for a moment or two, because how could they have come to be, without God's hand? Soldiers returned from wars with missing parts - limbs torn off or eyes gouged out. The old lost the powers they had had as youths, becoming as gnarled as branches and as sedentary as trees. My mother developed a fissure in her heart and was felled by sorrow. God had created perfection in man, but time on earth ate away at him, part by part, until finally nothing remained and he vanished into spirit. Yet there was glory in being half, not whole, glory in the task of it. I thought of a blind man who had recited poetry at court and how he cried out the lines of the Shahnameh as if they were seared into his heart, as if the loss of his eyes had allowed him to see more clearly into the soul of the words. He spoke true, truer than a man with eyes could ever speak, and he cracked open the hearts of those who heard his call.

And, finally, this last bit felt particularly poignant, perhaps because Nelson Mandela had just died, and he had been likened to Gandhi, Jesus, and probably even Buddha. It is the narrator of the story, Javaher, dreaming about a great revolutionary warrior, Kaveh, who overthrew an unjust tyrant:

That night, I had a dream I will never forget. It was as if the Shahnameh had come to life and swept me into its stories. The blacksmith Kaveh appeared at my door and asked me to join him on a mission. His face was ruddy from the forge, his forearms as strong as steel. Together we stormed Zahhak's palace, and Kaveh shredded his lying proclamation before his eyes. At the city square, Kaveh lifted his leather apron on the point of a spear and rallied the people against the evil leader. I marched with him, my heart bursting with pride.
"Long live Kaveh!" I chanted. "Death to the tyrant!"
The crowd swelled and yelled, their cheers like thunder. Surely our liberation was at hand! But when the cheers were at their loudest, Kaveh turned toward me.
"I am born in every generation," he whispered. "I protest and die, but still the tyrants prevail."
His black hair was flecked with gray, his leathery face creased with worry. I could not believe that he looked so despondent, and I was stricken with dread.
"How much longer must we endure injustice?" I asked.
But even Kaveh had no answer.

It just seemed to strike a chord, with the booing of Jacob Zuma, after all that could be achieved. There is much in the book that speaks of oppressive regimes, careless of the well-being of those weaker and less fortunate, and that last bit really stirred a sense of injustice, be it against a Shah or the corrupt Western political powers. Perhaps Kaveh was right, perhaps the tyrants prevail in every generation, and will continue to do so in generations to come?

Thank you Anita Amirrezvani for that disturbing thought.

And for a rather good read.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

What Makes Life Worth Living...

Define Yourself

(click to enlarge)

Loving this little post today: Helpful Definitions for Modern Authors

Some of my favourites include:

Internet: The much-feared best advertisement for Books, and their perfect complement: one being a high-tech place where you can go to be connected and somehow feel alone, the other a low-tech thing where you can go to be alone and somehow feel connected.

Self-Published Authors: Treated as Crazy Ranting People: either ignored or pitied by the general public until they do something that is brilliant or threatening.

Crazy Ranting People: Still pretty good at selling traditionally published books.

Oh, the power of observational humour.

Friday 6 December 2013

Christmassy Art by D B Matthews

The lovely Dan Ben Matthews, who designed the logo for Georg[i]e, has a selection of Christmas cards out on Etsy.

Social Media Made Simple

Oooh, I'm a little bit worn out at the moment. Too many projects on the go, too many decisions to make, too much on my plate. 

Wouldn't have it any other way. 

Still, amidst this chaos must come some form of order. 

I mentioned a few posts ago that I was helping out with an organisation in Africa called Kivu Writers. They're just tops, and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. But Social Media is a bit of a sticking point, not just in Africa (where most of the time the speed of internet is set to 'Valium'), but also in the UK, where we've just got far too many options to make sense of it all.

Now, imagine I had an alter ego with a day job. One that I might not mention too often on account of the fact people like writers who have travelled, but not so many people like professionals who also write. It's as though you can be logical or creative, but not both; as though creativity is a threat to logic, or as though one might not be able to draw the line between the two, and thus find themselves unable to function in an appropriate reality. 

I assure you, I am capable of both. 

More than that, I think I need both. 



Anyway, my other half (of me) recently made a post to charity clients about Which social media to choose? I thought I'd mention this because, as authors, we're constantly having to put ourselves out there. Whereas most of us would be more than happy to hide away in an attic somewhere - typing our fingers to the bone, venturing out only for sunlight and sustenance - that just isn't going to wash with most publishers nowadays. 

Personally, I'm very lucky. Thanks to my dad's interest in computers, I grew up with them, and they've always been second nature. But I know this isn't the case for everyone, and there are a lot of authors feeling left behind by the technological boom. 

As I've just finished typing up a couple of very basic introductions to key SocMedia platforms, I thought I'd share. They were written for Kivu Writers, having just set up their Social Media. 

It's worth mentioning that you can also get a free personalised domain name if you're willing to accept the extension .tk - just head over here

These guides really aren't exhaustive, but they try to impart the key things you need to know in order to use each platform. To get a sense of what I'm talking about, you can poke around my examples via Kivu Writers' website/blog (also - clever, huh?), Facebook page and Twitter account

Or, if you'd just like someone to do it for you, I'm always open to offers ;)

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Pagan Writers Community

(click to enlarge)

I'm going to share a strange little story with you, because I live in a state of constant amazement.

Earlier on this year, I was asked if I'd like to become a moderator on a Facebook page called Pagan Writers Community. Being Pagan (loosely, more of a Humanist nowadays) and a writer, I'd been contributing links on and off.

'Go on then,' I said, and was duly opped.

Shortly after I joined, the site manager who opped me, along with the only other moderator, both decided to leave citing not enough positive interaction from members.

On her way out, she was about to delete the group.

'No!' I said 'Please don't do that.'

It had 14,000 likes, which I thought was an awfully impressive number at the time. I felt perhaps the palpable disappointment of 14,000 people might be enough to alter the structure of relativity in such a way as to cause rivers to flow backwards and birds to fall from the sky.

They agreed, and I was left holding the page. 

In just under three months, the number of likes has risen from 14,000 to just over 45,000!

I repeat: !!!

I'm not entirely sure it's anything to do with me or the way that I've been running the page. Facebook is a complete mystery in its own right. Someone said that if a page received a sudden influx of shares and likes, FB will somehow promote it, so even more people see it - sort of an avalanche effect.

Even so, with 45,000 followers, we're extremely lucky if even 10% of those see any given message. We seem to gather between 1,500-3,500 views per post. Not all that social a network, really. Still, it's interesting stuff.

Because of this issue with most of our fans never seeing anything we post, I decided to set PWC up with a more permanent online home and it now has a website

Along with this more stable presence, I've roped in a team of five volunteers (and growing) who help me keep things ticking over. There's Arietta and Nicole seeing to page content and moderation, and Tammie and Joshua helping me float ideas on how to develop the site. Oh, and Alex, who set up a dedicated NaNoWriMo group for this year's shenanigans.

It's proving to be a lot of fun. Ideally, I'd like to get the whole thing up and running in a sustainable, collaborative way, rather than acting as Commander in Chief - seriously, being an Overlord is time consuming.

But it's a truly fascinating project, especially for something I so randomly fell into. I've never experienced anything quite like it with social media before. I think it's safe to say it went viral throughout November. We may even hit 50,000 by New Year.

I'm wondering if we could amass an army and sail for Middle Earth?