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Friday, 28 March 2008

Revising Rising Fire (again) and wax modelling...

I've just finished making the goblet on the left for British Silver Week, and while I wax modelled the snakes it occurred to me that this has a lot in common with revising a novel.

You get the outline right, then change some major bits - for instance the snake necks where they meet the foot of the goblet, so as not to show the internal rod. Then there's a lot of smoothing, texturing, measuring and checking it looks good from all angles. Really very like revising Rising Fire.

I have no idea how long it will take in either case. I just go on until it’s done. Which can take ages.

There's another connexion too. I got the idea for the goblet from the design of Tor's dagger, that you can see on the book cover above.

(By the way, I do know the author does not design the book jacket - I did it for Youwriteon, where you can display a cover image).

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Show don’t tell…

I read an excellent screenplay, Nightshift, by Oliver L. Jeffery (read it here) which got me thinking about the way writers tell their stories, and the advice one is often given, 'show, don't tell'.

The novel is in a direct line from the storyteller beside the fire, with his listeners gathered around him, who would naturally be doing more 'tell' than 'show'. 'Once upon a time there was...' is pure 'tell'.

Films and television, on the other hand, are relatives of the stage. They deal only in 'show'. With their universal availability the public have got used to pure 'show', and this has infiltrated our attitude to novels.

A hundred years ago Bram Stoker wrote, ‘The Count…was very courteous and very cheery in his manner’ – today you’d be told to show his courtesy and cheeriness by his speech and actions. And indeed, it's often better to do that. But have we gone too far in this direction? I think perhaps we have. A novel is not a film. Actors will not be fleshing out the written words.

Novelists have to make it happen in the minds of our readers, and 'tell' is a useful weapon in our armoury, along with everything else.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Dragons and bikes

In Rising Fire, I describe the first time the dragon, Xantilor, takes Tor for a flight. I've never flown on a dragon myself, so imagination was called for. I wished I hadn't passed on the opportunity to take a microlight flight a couple of years ago (unlike Tor, I am not good with heights).

I looked up aerial photographs of castles and countryside for Tor's view. Thinking about birds, I realized you'd go up and down with each beat of the huge wings.

Then it occurred to me that riding a bike has something in common with riding a dragon. You're experiencing the sun or rain, the rushing wind, the speed, and in London enough danger to make it exhilarating.*

Though not, thank goodness, the dizzying distance from the ground.
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*Sometimes I wish my bike had a fire-breathing feature...

Monday, 10 March 2008

If in doubt, go with your gut feeling...

It's your book - write it your way, you're the only one who can

A few years ago I invested 25p at a school fete buying a paperback called, rather clunkily, Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead...But Gutsy Girls Do, by Kate White. It turned out to be one of the most inspiring and thought-provoking books I've ever read.

Its main argument is that girls are brought up to be pleasers, to play by the rules, and while this works just fine at home and school, take this attitude to the workplace and you will never be a high achiever or fulfill your potential.

But it also discusses the importance of trusting your gut feeling. When Kate was editor-in-chief at McCall's, one of her jobs was to select the cover photo, knowing that her choice could make newsstand sales fluctuate by several hundred thousand copies. Deliberating her first cover for September, she saw a paparazzi shot of Demi Moore; 'it practically took my breath away and I decided in that instant, "This is the cover".'

As she showed the touched-up photo round the office, people voiced concerns. Demi did not have the usual 'buy-me' smile; the background was black; a pregnant Demi was about to appear nearly naked on the cover of August's Vanity Fair. Kate began to have doubts.

Then she remembered her initial 'oooooh' reaction. She decided to go ahead.

The issue sold 300,000 more copies than the September issue of the year before. She said she learned how easy it is to get talked out of going with your gut when the pressure is on.

The moral of this post? Listen to the advice of others, but go with your gut feeling. Don't let people talk you out of your own certainty.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

By my faith, but you're a bold rascal!

This is Sir Tristram speaking in that great book, Le Morte d’Arthur, finished in 1469 by Sir Thomas Malory:

‘And fair knight, and well proved knight, thou shalt well wit I may not forsake thee in this quarrel, for I am for thy sake made and gotten upon a queen; and such promise I have made at my uncle’s request and mine own seeking that I shall fight with thee unto the uttermost, and deliver Cornwall from the old truage.’

Beautiful; but would a book set in the Middle Ages (or an alternative Middle Ages, as mine are) get away with its characters talking like this? I think the reader would find it hard going. I took the decision to have my characters speak in contemporary language, and sometimes get told off for it. Some readers want what they are used to from films and historical romances; a sort of pastiche, which bears little resemblance to the language used by Malory or Chaucer, but which they feel comfortable with. It's no more authentic than modern speech, of course.

I had a go at writing a bit:

‘Prithee, fair maid…’

‘Unhand me, my lord! Fie, for shame, I am promised to another, as well you know!’

‘Nay, lady, be not so intemperate. What lies, I wonder, beneath that haughty mien? Perchance you are not as cold as you seem…’

‘Sir, if this be jest tis an unseemly one! Take care; my brother rides hither apace, and will wreak vengeance for any affront.’


Hey, that was easy – I wonder if there’s a market for a medieval bodice-ripper?

N.B. I'm sure you all recognized the title as a quote from the Errol Flynn Robin Hood of 1938.