I’m back! M to S

For various reasons I’ve not been able to blog daily on this challenge as I expected – for one thing, I had 10 days in Scotland without internet access!

Therefore I Must Cover the rest of the Alphabet in Just 2 Days. Eeeek.

So prepare yourself for a whistle-stop tour through the first things that pop into my head concerning these letters…

M – M is for marriage, of course, because I spent this morning on the equally fascinating occupations of writing reports and watching the Royal Wedding (yes, simultaneously. I’m sure the reports will be fine….). The trees in the Abbey were a lovely idea and the bride and groom looked genuinely over the moon. Good on ’em, I say. Despite having been married myself for nearly 19 years (OMG! How did THAT happen?), I’m not an out-and-out proponent of marriage; I don’t believe a piece of paper will keep you together, and in some circumstances I don’t believe it should, either. Staying with someone long-term is all about commitment, determination and accepting change in each other. I don’t necessarily think a wedding day delivers those things.

N- noise. The reason this leapt into my head – well, if you were sitting beside me, you wouldn’t need to ask. Constructo Boy turned 11 this week and he has his two best friends around for a sleepover. They are currently in the opposite room with Arty Daughter looking at aggravating videos on YouTube (currently they’re watching the one that repeats ‘We’re taking the Hobbits to Isenguard, to Isenguard, to Isenguard, We’re taking…’ ad infinitum.
It’s mildly amusing. The first three times.

O- Omar Sharif. You see? Literally, honestly, the first thing that leaps into my head. Now I’m stuck, because I know nothing about Omar Sharif, except that he’s in Lots of Things. Oh, and he was fantastic in the hilarious The Parole Officer (which everyone should see).

P – pennies. Ooh! What can I learn about them? Just scanned the Wikipedia article (thanks, Wiki, I’m proud to donate to you!) and offer these two paragraphs that caught my attention:

Old English versions of the word penny are penig, pening, penning and pending; the word appears in German as Pfennig, in Dutch as penning, and in West Frisian as peinje or penje. These words are thought by some to have common roots with the English word “pawn”, German Pfand, and Dutch pand, words which mean “a pledge or token”.[1]

The penny was introduced into England by King Offa, the king of Mercia(from 757 until his death in July 796), using as a model a coin first struck by Pepin the Short. King Offa minted a penny made of silver which weighed 221?2 grains or 240 pennies weighing one Saxon pound (or Tower pound—equal to 5,400 grains—as it was afterwards called), hence the term pennyweight.

Q – oh no, I have a dilemma. Two of Terry Pratchett’s random thought particles entered my mind at the same time: Queen and quiz. Well the Queen was looking chipper at the wedding today, although personally I would never dress in yellow unless I was threatened with torture. She wasn’t wearing matching shoes, perhaps feeling (correctly IMHO) that yellow shoes were a step (ho ho) too far. But the beige shoes did clash. Sorry, your Majesty.

As for quiz, Wikipedia says:
The first appearance of the word is from 1784 and means an odd person. This sense survives today in the word “quizzical”. It was also used in the term quizzing glass, a common accoutrement of British Regency dandies. It later acquired a meaning of to make fun of, or to mock. How it acquired its current meaning of a test is unknown, but that sense did not appear until 1867 and then it was in the United States.

The OED2 has a citation from 1847 where the word appears: “She com back and quiesed us”, which could be a clue to its origin. Quiz as a test could be a corruption of the Latin Qui es, meaning “Who are you?” American Heritagesays it may be from the English dialect verb quiset, meaning to question. In any case it is probably from the same root as question and inquisitive.

There is a well-known myth about the word “quiz”, which says that in 1791 a Dublin theater owner named James Daly made a bet that he could introduce a word into the language within twenty-four hours. He then went out and hired a group of street urchins to write the word “quiz”, which was a nonsense word, on walls around the city of Dublin. Within a day, the word was common currency and had acquired a meaning (since no one knew what it meant, everyone thought it was some sort of test) and Daly had some extra cash in his pocket. However, there is no evidence to support the story, and the term was already in use before the alleged bet in 1791.[1]

I’d not heard this myth. Fascinating!

R – rabies and rats. Strange but true; these seemingly disagreeable subjects are both mentioned in my light-hearted story, Pop, which appears in the 100 Stories For Queensland. How can this be true, I hear you cry. Buy the book and find out, I reply! And donate money to a great cause at the same time 🙂

S – Scotland. I love Scotland. I don’t love the journey there – not when we’re stuck in the everlasting roadworks near Scotch Corner, or the ones (rife in Scotland at the moment) that last for miles and require you to go at 40 miles an hour for no apparent reason. But I do love the journey up through the Cairngorms to Braemar (via Glenshee and the A93), then on to the in-laws. The only things that ruins Scotland’s beauty, for me, is that darn tendency of theirs to build everything in shades of grey. Lighten up, oh ye architects and builders of Scotland! Some of your houses really are blots on the landscape.

If you’ve survived this far – congrats. You have tomorrow to look forward to – T to Z!

K is for Kidnapping Characters

I was quite tempted to take up Sylvia Ney’s ‘k sound writing challenge’, which I urge you to take a stab at, but since I already had this blog post in mind I stuck with it. I was determined to bring you all over to the Dark Side. To make you walk the Path of Criminality. To make you Dabble in the Depths of Depravity. To-

Ok, that’s quite enough of that. Though I am here to encourage you to kidnap someone. But that someone has to be fictional.

Perhaps you already know a character you want to kidnap – a character who didn’t act in a convincing way (you could have written it better); a character who you wanted to see more of (you knew exactly what happened to them next – why didn’t the author?) or perhaps a character you love so much that you’re keen to give them some new adventures.

So go on – kidnap a character. And now give them either a challenge made up entirely by you, or a challenge from another character’s story. Perhaps even another character in the same book.

How would Lydia Bennet have handled Mr.Darcy?

How would Lyra (Northern Lights/Golden Compass) have dealt with Long John Silver?

The Pevensie children have gone through the back of the wardrobe and met some good-looking vampires…what happens next?

Artemis Fowl is Number Four. Lemony Snicket found the One Ring.

You get the idea. How would these characters react in these situations, or ones you can make up for them? How would that change the outcomes of the original plots?

How would Will Burrows (Tunnels) react if he was in an aeroplane about to crash?
What if the doctors in Sebastian Faulk’s Human Traces had been trapped underground?
How would these characters cope:

Hermione  – with her parents getting divorced
Ron – on discovering one of his brothers was gay
Harry – discovering he had a long lost sister
Miss Havisham – given the chance to travel backwards in time
Christopher Boone (Curious Incident) – breaking his leg? Trapped in a lift?
Robert Langdon – given the chance to travel forwards in time
Rincewind – given a super-power
Henry DeTamble (The TT’s Wife) – winning the lottery? Being trapped in a mine?

Hopefully by now your brain’s already working on one of these. Or one of your own. While I’m not suggesting you should steal a character wholesale (although consider the publicity surrounding Pride, Prejudice and Zombies – perhaps honesty might serve you well!), this kind of shake-up could give you ideas for a best-selling novel of your own.

I’m off to write about what happened to Jack Sparrow when, curious chappie that he is, he prodded open the door of a certain blue police box… 😀

J is also for joy – yay! SHE LIKED IT!

Yesterday evening I got unexpectedly early feedback on my 1000 word novel excerpt (plus commentary detailing where I am so far, how it’s changed etc).

And Yaaaay! My sci-fi/fantasy-loathing tutor liked it!

‘The strengths of this piece include a definite hook’

‘I loved it’

‘Okay, going to give you a big compliment here: I was actually briefly disappointed not to have more. In a marking situation, that is rare’

Just had to share the joy, really. She gave some really good feedback on potential editing/revising to make it better, so I’ve come away confident that I can improve the beginning and go on to submit a really good 4000 word start for the examinable piece (which is worth 50% of this year’s course mark, so the fate of my Diploma pretty much rests on that).


I for Inspiration, J for joke

What inspires you?

It’s a big question.

Some of us can rattle on for hours about what inspires us, whether it be the source for our religion, our art, or our parenting style we’re describing – there are plenty of things, it seems, that people might need, or find, inspiration for.

But for some writers – and artists and musicians as well – it can be hard to ‘categorise’ your inspiration. And the whole subject can feel woolly or pretentious. Those of us with basically lower-class roots can still feel a little self-conscious about starting a sentence with ‘what inspires me is…’ or ‘the inspiration for my novel was….’ It’s not always easy to specify what your inspiration was anyway; sometimes it’s a subconscious thing,  or the interaction of several influences that sparks something. Even then it can be a glowing ember, gradually catching the material around it alight, or an instant explosion of sparks – a real eureka moment. Sometimes we forget what our inspiration was – we just find a few notes we jotted down one day and perhaps we spin them, years later, into a coherent story thread or an idea for a piece of art.

I don’t think there are many people, then, who could give one stock answer to the inspiration question. I’m sure that like me, most of them could name a whole host of things. Sometimes it’s music or a lyric; a film; a phrase in someone else’s story; overheard dialogue; a photo; the view fromthe car window; someone else’s experience or point of view; the label on my cardigan; my past, my future, history, a dog, a cat, a tree, my job, blah blah blah.

Sometimes it’s even a Joke.
For ‘Pop’, my story that’s due to be published in the 100 Stories For Queensland book, the inspiration was a situation-comedy-kind-of-joke – a scene with a speech bubble and caption on the front of a birthday card.

The characters were there. The twist was there. Even a snippet of dialogue was there. It was just asking to be turned into a story! And this is often what it feels like. I wish I could remember who it was that described writing and rewriting as being like sculpting – the perfect work of art is inside the rough stone all the time, you just have to chisel the stone away patiently until you’re left with what you were looking for.

Inspiration often feels the same to me. It’s there all the time. But sometimes we’re just not looking – or listening in the right direction.

So what inspires you? Or is it too hard to talk about? 😀

H is for Hundred, as in 100 Stories for Queensland

Yay! After some hold-ups due to the cyclone that followed Queensland’s flooding, this brilliant anthology to raise money for the Queensland relief effort is nearing publication. And this is what the front cover looks like!

100 Stories for Queensland

So get your wallets, purses, debit cards or credit cards ready for Tuesday 3rd May!

Details of how you can grab yourself a copy will be coming to a blog post near you, soon.

And I’m not just saying it’s brilliant because it contains one of my stories, ‘Pop’.