Thursday, 5 March 2015

Word Cull

I'm struggling at the moment. My current novel is now at 70,000 words. That makes it a novel in itself, but I reckon it's still got about the same to go. Guessing it'll wade in around 120k at this rate. Fairly amusing when you consider the translation of the legend I'm following is just under 6.5k. 

I'm desperate to get it finished. I'm an editing junkie and I'm really excited at the prospect of having another full-length manuscript to work on. I've enjoyed my experience with Ghostwoods so much, it's renewed my confidence. I'm ready to do it all over again. 

Still, things aren't going smoothly. They were. I was at 10,000 words back in October. That's five months to write a novel-length manuscript, which is about right for me. I don't tend to write every day. There was a period of insane productivity in January where I was writing around 4-5k a sitting. 

Then - blah.

There's basically two halves to this novel. Let's say the first half is all about the Age of Man, or at least humans and demi-gods feature quite highly. Then comes Act Two. This is the realm of myth and magic. It has to be. In the original story, not much happens here. The characters spend most of their time sitting on a rock in the middle of the sea, waiting for Godot. So, I need to do something to make it a bit more interesting. Thankfully, that's easy when you weave in other characters from Irish legend - and there's plenty to choose from.

I thought I'd broken through, but today I started out by deleting 1,000 words. Everything I'd written in my last sitting - gone. I've never done that before. It needed to be done. I'd set off in completely the wrong direction, having cogitated for weeks about how to start. Part of me is glad I had the sense to see this blunder, the other part of me is utterly horrified I've just lost 1,000 words. In order for my story to survive, I've had to uproot and, basically, murder another sapling of an idea. It's like topiary in a way, snipping off errant branches that the overall impression may grow strong.

Still, it feels counter-intuitive. I'm sure writers have something like the Hippocratic Oath. Y'know - heal everyone without discrimination. Write every story to the best of your ability. Trashing 1,000 words feels a bit like euthanasia. It wasn't a totally shit story, it could have survived on life support... 

Let me put it this way: it feels like the novel you didn't finish reading.

Yeah. That guilty.

I'm sure I'll get over it. It was definitely the right decision. Onwards and alongwards. 

Now that the cull is done, I'm confident I can keep going, and that most of what I chopped will come into play later down the line. I hope never to have to repeat that exercise again. 

Here's a bit of what I've been working on. Rough and unedited as ever.

Faces drifted like familiar apparitions, stepping out of the darkness and retreating. They offered honey-oats which stuck in our slender throats, and wine which turned the water red as it seeped between the crimped edges of our beaks. 

One night, Caílte mac Rónáin offered my brother a horn of wild raspberry wine. As he drank, it dripped onto his chest. When Caílte lowered the horn, it looked for all the world as though A---’s heart were bleeding, right there for all the world to see.

His heart may have bled, but my eyes bled softer still as Caílte fell to his knees in the mud, his face hidden by his hand.

It was one of the few times anybody wept. Every druid in the land was called upon to attend us, to stretch out our wings, to ruffle our feathers, and to proclaim that they had no idea how to cure us. Yet every day the scent of hog roast and tart apple sauce filled the air. The fluttering fingers of flute players skipped between cheerful notes whilst the drums beat out jigs instead of dirges. Women, both common and noble, dressed in their best dyes, held tight to their partners’ hands and swirled within the cèilidh until they lost their footing and fell down laughing.

It was absurd in its way. A blithe display of good cheer, that we might be distracted. In truth, it was done because it was all that could be done. In those days we still held out hope that in all of Ireland, perhaps all of the known world, there would be one person with the power to return us to our true forms.

My father sat like a black rock in the midst of this madness. Hunched over, wrapped in his thick cloak, chin resting upon the back of his knuckles, he would stare out at us as we swam. I felt safe, knowing his eyes were upon us. A hundred swords and more hid in the hills, sworn to protect us. No man was permitted to approach the loch without first announcing himself to my father. Those that did left via the summerlands. A fine pile of fox furs had accumulated, and each of the Fiana wore bear-claw necklaces that rattled as they walked. 

Every night little clay lamps would light up the shore. Three or four beside each tent, so that we were never alone in the dark. It cheered those who slept there, and allayed my father’s fears that we might drift out into the water and lose our way home. 

After a year and a day thrice over, my father sent for Bé Chuille. Sick of the sound of sages and wise men who knew nothing, he was ready to resort to sorcery. Elatha removed her silver and threw it at his feet in protest. She left the camp that night and refused to return. Some of her sept followed, though most remained. 

Bé Chuille was fearsome. The mention of her name was enough to cause even the Fiana to tremble, for she was no natural woman. When she arrived, she came mounted on a black stallion, its flanks blood-red with hand prints. Her tresses were braided with bright-blue Jay feathers, her eyes as black as her hair, as black as her horse. 

“Witch of Lámhfada,” he said, standing to greet her.

She towered a foot taller than he, bone-white skin stretched taught across sharp features. Her nose and her chin were pinched, yet almost pretty in their exactness. I felt as though she and I were formed of a natural symmetry. Bold sculptures amidst the flesh of men. My form was crafted that I might fly, and swim and sing. What, I wondered, had her form been crafted to?

“L--, Lover of Saltwater.” She bent her knee a fraction.

Was she mocking my father? He had loved the ocean once. Yet the only saltwater he had known these past years were his tears.

“Are these they?” she asked, turning her bottomless eyes towards us. 

“These are my children, yes.”

She walked to the water’s edge and stared at us for a moment.

Pulling her dark brown robes above her head, she stepped naked into Loch Dairbhreach. Her figure was slender, her ribs defined beneath the droop of her bosom. About her neck hung a hundred talisman: tooth, claw and paw, beaded with wood and metal, strung from leather. They tinkled as she came forward, her toes sinking in the mud.

She did not slip, nor falter.

My brothers and I circled her as she swam out into the lake. There was a thick scent to the air, as though the heat of her body formed a perfume so sweet we were drawn to it. 

“Dear swans,” she said, in a language that was not our own. “Do you know who I am?”

“You’re a witch,” C--- said, his seven years now ten since our transformation, yet his experience of the world no different.

She laughed at this and ducked beneath the water.

Some way off a fish leapt, leaving ever-expanding circles on the surface of the lake. For a moment, I thought she had transformed herself, until the dark seaweed of her hair caught between my feet and she appeared before me.

“The last of the great bantuathaig, for my sisters are long dead.”

“You fought for us,” A--- said. “Sorcha used to tell your story. You fought for us with your sisters, Dianann and Bé Téite.”

“Aye,” she replied. “We turned blades of grass into blades of bronze, and made swift horses of the fallen leaves. We helped win this land for the Danann.”

“So why do they fear you so?”

On that, she remained silent, the sound of water dripping from her graceful fingers as she arched one arm above the other, floating backwards with her eyes to the sky.

“Tell me, children,” she asked. “What think you of the form of swans?”

“I miss home,” C--- said. “It’s cold out here, and there are things in the night that wish to eat us.”

“We can’t play at swords, or hunt,” F------ agreed. 

“You would hunt the things that hunt you?” Bé Chuille asked.

“It makes our father sad,” I offered. “He does not see his children when he looks upon us.”

“We are not really swans,” A--- said. “I mean, we look like swans, and we swim like swans, but we are not free to fly like swans. Perhaps it would be different if we could see the world. But we cannot. We are chained here with invisible rope, nothing to do but swim round and round in circles. That is no life.”

“I would agree,” she nodded. “It is no life at all when you do not have your freedom. Whatever form you acquire.”

We continued to float for a while. We felt comforted by her presence. So many had come to the water’s edge to feed us and to ask us to sing, yet none except Caílte ever entered the water beside us. 

“They say you can see the future,” I said.

“That I can.”

“Please, tell us what you see.”

“I see the fall of the Danann,” she replied. “It has already begun. I see an army of olive-skinned invaders, accents thick as ash. I see the thrones of Uisneach and Navan crushed, the throne of Tara hauled across the waves, lost to its people. And, beyond that, I see ships to the East. Supple tree trunks that hurl rocks into walls. Villages aflame, children screaming. I see a shadow rising in place of the sun.”

“What of us?” I asked, quietly. “What of our story?”

“Your story is but one verse in a song sung to the end of time.”

“It may only be a one verse,” I replied. “But I would know the words.”

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