Wednesday 29 April 2015

Lairgren and Deoch

By Helena Nelson-Reed

My Facebook post for the day:

Bloody Nora. Some strange things happen when I write books. This ranks high on the list. 
I've been working so much lately, I haven't had half a chance to write. Which is upsetting as I'm within sight of the end of my next novel (longest one yet! Woop, woop!). 
It's a retelling of an Irish legend. The problem with Irish legends is that the time frame is all over the place. Sometimes gods are people, sometimes they turn up in different stories hundreds of years apart. Sometimes they feature prominently then never again. 
This particular story spans a period of 900 years, from the old gods to the new. As with Rosy Hours, I had to take a rough stab at when this story was supposed to have started. And, as with Rosy Hours, I started working backwards. I knew where the story ended, and I knew that location had to have been Christianised by then. Fairly straightforward. Even though working backwards 900 years still leaves me about 1,000 years short of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the legendary God-King this all begins with. 
As so often happens with a good story, let's just gloss over that. Chalk it up to 'creative license' (after all, the Christian scholars did) and move on. 
I've just sat down to steal five minutes' more research. I'm moving into the final chapters. The curse is supposed to be broken when: 'the Woman from the South and the Man from the North will come together.' 
In the translation, this is given as Lairgren King of Connacht, son of Colman, son of Cobthach, and Deoch, daughter of Finghin. 
Now, there is a Laidgnén King of Connacht c. 655, but it makes no mention of a wife and he had no known descendants. Rather unsatisfactory for a love affair strong enough to shatter a 900-year curse. 
Bearing in mind my time frame was a complete guestimate, you can imagine my surprise to look up the High King of Ireland for the end date I'd plucked out of the air, only to discover that the High King of Ireland was not only a Prince of the North, ruling a Kingdom called In Tuaiscert ("the North") but married a woman from modern day County Carlow - undeniably (from the picture below) - in the South. 
Sometimes stories want to be told so badly, they invent themselves.

Thursday 23 April 2015

World Book Day 2015

I love World Book Day, mostly because it isn't actually World Book Day. You get to choose - 5th March or 23rd April? It's also not entirely sure of its name. World Book Day, AKA World Book and Copyright Day, and International Day of the Book.

Either way - hurray for #WorldBookDay

In celebration, I thought I'd mention a few of my favourite reads and paperback romps. 

The book  I have just finished reading:

The Borgias by Christopher Hibbert

I'm quite partial to a spot of non-fiction, especially when it reads like fiction. A truly compelling insight into one of my favourite TV series

Books I'm currently Reading:

He Drinks Poison by Laine Cunningham

Laine gave Rosy Hours an absolutely stonking review, and interviewed me a while back. I adore the cover on her latest novel and couldn't resist picking it up. Don't eat and read. Jam jars - eeew!

Steel & Snow by George R. R. Martin

Losing the battle to catch up with Game of Thrones before season five finishes airing. Reviewed books one and two. Really enjoying myself. Pure escapism.

Author crush of the year:

Smitten by Remittance after finding this erotica writer in Red Phone Box. Beautifully nuanced, intriguing individual. Great Twitter feed, too: @remittancegirl 

Top of my TBR pile:

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

One of my all-time favourite movies. I've been meaning to read the book for a long time. Finally got around to downloading it. 


Brand New Ancients by Kate Tempest

My lovely Aunty Heron sent me this. Blew me away. I read it and watched the live excerpts. Really excellent epic poem for the modern era.

Reading lists:

As a self-taught writer, I thought I'd gain myself an edumercation: Elements of Style, On Writing and 101 Ways to Write Badly Well. Worth diving into for anyone interested in the art of writing.

A selection of my favourite childhood reads, however the children's book of fantasticalness goes to Shark in the Dark by Peter Bently. Kept a bubbly three-year-old highly entertained for an afternoon.
Charity Shop List (AKA The Blue List)

A set of highly diverse books I picked up on a whim in a charity shop in Scotland. By coincidence, they are mostly blue.

I currently live in Rwanda, and we've just passed the 21st memorial of the 1994 genocide. This is my recommended reading on the matter for anyone interested in human rights and world affairs.

And, finally, a shout out to my publishers: Ghostwoods Books, Green Sunset Books and Netherworld Books.

Monday 20 April 2015

The Borgias

Just finished a ripping good read. I'm a huge fan of The Borgias series - intrigue, murder, incest - gripping stuff. 

I was highly entertained when I walked into Nakumatt in Kigali and saw Christopher Hibbert's biography of The Borgias on the shelf. I just couldn't resist. (Also exceedingly sad to learn that he died, apparently just before this was published?)

The name Borgia is synonymous with the corruption, nepotism and greed that were rife in Renaissance Italy. Notorious for seizing power, wealth, land and titles through bribery, marriage and murder, the dynasty's dramatic rise from its Spanish roots to its occupation of the highest position in Renaissance society is a gripping tale. 
The powerful, voracious Rodrigo Borgia, better known as Pope Alexander VI, was the central figure of the dynasty. Two of his seven papal offspring also rose to power and fame: Cesare, who served as the model for Niccolò Machiavelli's The Price, and his daughter Lucrezia Borgia who, alongside Cesare, famously murdered her husband.

Really enjoyed this wild romp through the Romagna. Very easy reading, nice choice of font, cute gold-detailed cover. Read more like fiction than history. Though I see why the television series stopped where it did. The decline was swift and unpleasant. The description of Pope Alexander's funeral was hideous. Apparently he turned black in the heat and no one would touch his body, so they tied a noose around his ankle, dragged him to the cemetery, rolled him up in a carpet and sat on him to get him into the under-sized coffin that had been provided!

And that Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere went on to succeed him! Oh, my.

Yes, they were mad (mostly through syphilis), bad and dangerous to know, but my goodness, they were entertaining. How young people died back then, and how much living they did in such a short space of time.

For me, Holliday Grainger will always be the definitive Lucrezia Borgia. When you hear that name, you think of the cunning poisoner, yet by all accounts she was illustriously (a word much used in them days) lovely, sweet and charming, with a strong bent towards charitable works in later life. As an actress, she delivers that blend very well.

Gruesome as they were, you sort of feel an attachment by the end of the series, even if they gloss over Cesare's debilitating venereal disease and give him far more rationale and conscience than he actually seemed to possess. I really wouldn't have wanted to see the decline portrayed on film, and I was a little saddened to read about it. 

But Hibbert really did write it well. A mixture of Game of Thrones (all that cloth-of-gold) and studious historian. Painted an acute family portrait in vivid colours. An easy, enriching read. 

Saturday 18 April 2015

Green Sunset Rising

Just to mention that Green Sunset Books, who published my novels Georg[i]e and Angorichina, have just re-launched their website. It's looking great, and they're open to submissions, so check 'em out.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Adventures in DRC

DRC Cloud Factory
Nyiragongo Volcano

Sorry for the silence. I've just been on a little road trip to the DRC. 

Done a little video. Please check out SACH. They really do some incredible work.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

100,000 Feathers

I am sitting here with a rather big grin on my face. Just crossed the magical 100,000 word count. For anyone who isn't R. R. Martin, that's a massive achievement. 

Rosy Hours waded in at 100,000 words and that's the longest novel I've written (Lucid coming in second at around 90k). So, it looks like we have a new winner! My swansong is likely to be around 120k by the time it's complete. 

The reason I'm smiling is because I've finally broken through. This hasn't been an easy write. There have been huge swathes, thousands of words long, that I have struggled with. 

I know I recently said 'when it's good, it's easy,' but that isn't the same as saying 'when it's hard, it's crap.' Writing isn't sex. When sex is hard work, it's usually bad sex. But when writing is hard work, that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad writing. Sometimes it's very good writing. It's just the winds aren't blowing your way, and you put your shoes on the wrong feet.

Anyway, the past couple of days I have been glued to the screen. About 10,000 words in three days, and last night I had a sudden brainwave. I feverishly scribbled down my next few scenes, worked out that there were five chapters left between me and the fall, and today wrote three of those.

What's 'the fall', you may well ask. Well, though I'm not religious, I have been known to ring church bells. Without getting too technical about the mechanisms of campanology, when you've finished ringing, you have to 'ring down'. When bells are up, they rest facing up to the sky. When they're not being rung, or when you finish ringing, they rest down, in the classical bell shape with the clapper facing the ground. To get them from up to down you let them 'fall'. After the call 'to the fall,' the bells swing faster and faster and faster until they stop.

I guess, for me, 'the fall' in a novel is that bit where you've finished the middle, and now you're speeding faster and faster towards The End. 

I have two more chapters to go before that point. Somewhere between 2,500-4,000 words.

And I'm excited. I'm looking forward to writing the end of this novel. Not because it's been difficult and I'd like to see the back of it (though I might have felt that halfway through), but because I think it's going to be an engrossing ending.

It seems strange that I've finally fallen in love with this manuscript right at the very end, but we never get to choose the course of our stories. The energy ebbs and flows. There are points in every novel where you want to squeeze yourself with delight, and others where you want to throw your story - and your laptop - off the top of a multi-story car park.

The best you can hope is that even when it isn't easy, it's good.

Monday 6 April 2015

Your Spelling Sucks

There are too many spelling or grammatical errors in [your document]
to continue displaying them.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am living the dream. There are now no spelling mistakes in my virtual paper world. No squiggly red lines, no blue ones or green ones either. Which must mean that my manuscript is perfect, right?

That, or I've crossed the 95k mark and should stop typing when drunk.

This wee pop-up does tend to pop upon me somewhere between the 80-90k count. I wear it as a badge of honour. It means my dedication to my art - to the story - defies convention!

'Least, that's what I tell myself.

Stop judging me.

Saturday 4 April 2015

Murakoze Cyane Nshuti

Regular readers will remember that a couple of months back I ran an appeal to help my housekeeper Damascene to rebuild his family home, which was washed away in a flash flood. We raised over £500 to help him rebuild and put a roof on the house so that the rain can't wash it away again.

Today, I was invited to go with Damascene to his home village in Muhanga, about an hour south of Kigali, where I was treated as guest of honour at his table and got to meet his family. I wish everybody who had donated could have been with me. This meal was in your honour, and the whole family wish me to pass on their heartfelt thanks.

Damascene outside the new house.

New house under construction.

Banana trees from back window.

Surrounding countryside.

We went for a walk through the valley to visit the house Damascene and his brothers were born in.

Family farm animals.

House Damascene was born in, with his older brother.

Local kids.

Special meal in honour of my visit:
ibirayi (potatoes), brochette and beans with rice.

Damascene on the right in the white shirt with red and blue stripes, on the far left is Emelina, his wife, holding son The Best. To her right is Damascene's mother Josephine, sister-in-law Olive, me, Damascene's nephew, friend, elder brother (Olive's husband), Damascene, his elder brother Dominic, nephew Alex and Olive's son. At the front is another of his elder brothers and sister-in-law.

Me and Damascene

Damascene's best friend Cyprien who translated for me.

Damascene with Emelina and The Best

And with mum, Josephine

Cyprien is a little taller than his best mate Damascene.

This was the only time I got close to their son without him bursting into tears. The sight of a muzungu (white person) was just too much to take - scared the bajeezus out of him.

Farewell from the bus!

A lovely day. Although we didn't speak a common language, we broke the ice when someone found one of the children's bouncy balls and we started playing handball with it, rolling it across the table faster and faster until someone missed it. My main opponent was Damascene's mum, who is very good at this game.

Friday 3 April 2015

A Clash of Kings

Just finished reading A Clash of Kings. As mentioned, I'm trying to catch up with the series. Though I'm not sure I'm going to make it. I don't know I'll have the willpower to stave off Season Five before reading the book. I've still got the longest instalment, A Storm of Swords ahead, which was so long that in the UK they've split it in two: Steel and Snow & Blood and Gold. Just downloaded those.

After that, I've still got one more to go before I'm up to date. By which time the fifth will have finished airing, and they're talking about the TV series overtaking the books as R. R. Martin is still writing number six.

That would be a complete dampener. 

I'm still really enjoying it. There are a few variations in the books, mostly elongated battle and escape scenes. Tyrion is true to form, though slightly darker, in that he kills a few more people. I think, knowing how things end with Shae and his father, his darker side puts that into a little bit more context. Makes it more believable.

There's also a lot of people missing on telly, like Lady Tanda and Lollys, who are mentioned by Bronn, but never seen. When adaptations are done well they do make a plot more dynamic, skipping over the bitty stuff. But that's why I like to go back for the books - to get the bitty stuff. 

At least they didn't do a Dexter. That started out so well with the adaptation, but then they completely rewrote Cody and Astor as innocent victims, whereas in the books they were much darker. Potential Dexters in the making.

I wonder how authors feel about that sort of compromise? The compromises so far in the Song of Ice and Fire series have been fairly minor, but that was an entire reinterpretation of Jeff Lindsay's key characters in order to stick to a theme. It did work, I reckon. But I just wonder how quickly he agreed?

[Minor spoiler] I think the biggest divergence in Clash of Kings was that Arya Stark doesn't end up as the serving girl to  Tywin Lannister. She's the serving girl to Roose Bolton! Although Roose is extremely creepy (he likes getting leeched), and it would have helped make more sense of the Red Wedding if we'd known him better (and Ramsay's storming of Winterfell), I do think that the TV show did a very nice job of switching him for Tywin. That was a nice bit of character interaction going on there. 

It does make you marvel at the casting, too. Looking back at Catelyn's description of Jaime Lannister in the dungeons of Riverrun, of Sansa's view of Sandor Clegane, Ser Dontos or Davos the Onion Knight - the actors really are spot on. The main descriptives that didn't quite translate were Arya's nose, Tyrion's eyes and King Joffrey's flowing hair, but I think we can happily agree Jack Gleeson was born to play that part.

Anyway, I am really enjoying this series. Though I'm going to take a little time out as I have a few other things on my TBR pile that I really want to get through. Delaying completion of this even further. It would be sweet to read the book before seeing Season Five, though. Provided social media and my friend Paul don't tell me what's happened first.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

BRIT School Alumni

Hot on the heels of Reading University Alumni, here's an even older trip down memory lane. I went to college at the British Record Industry Trust School of Performing Arts, once upon a time. I majored in Drama. I'm not sure if BRIT has produced many famous actors, but it certainly produced some very famous musicians: Adele, Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash, Katie Melua, Jessie J and Leona Lewis to name but a few.

Anyway, they were kind enough to feature me in their Spring 2015 Newsletter, and they've even stocked a copy of Rosy Hours in the library!