Desert Sands and Silence: Beginnings

29/04/2014 20:20

This is the (provisional) start of the first chapter…thoughts are welcome!
One step. And another. And another.
There was sand beneath her feet, which made every step harder.
Another step. Another step.
The crunch of rock came like a wave of relief, and she pushed back at it gratefully, feeling her leg muscles tense.
Another step, another step, another step, and then it was solid rock.
Moel didn’t even take a moment to breathe before she pushed herself forward again, step by step, into the harsh and empty desert.

There was screaming. There always was screaming. She didn’t even know what they were fighting about this time, although a few words came through above the noise of the city streets outside, and through the solidly closed door. She picked up her shoes, and began to brush the dust off them for the third time.
The voices rose again, sliding over the sound of a cart outside. The bristles moves smoothly over the leather and fabric. She’d have to repair that soon. There was a crash from something in the other room, and she gently tweaked one of the straps to check that it was holding firm. It was, which was good.
“-should never have let you live here!”
Her pack was next. She’d only repaired it recently, and the fabric was still holding up well. The water pocket inside was new, and she felt a small surge of satisfaction that she’d got a good bargain on it.
“Maybe if you didn’t spend so much time-”
The straps of the pack would be the next thing she would need to repair, although they weren’t close to fraying yet. She tucked the laces back into their clips, and then laid the pack down on the sheet next to the rest of her gear. Her clothes had already been brushed down and mended, and all she would need to do was get provisions.
“Why don’t you just leave? Get out of my life! I don’t need you and I don’t want you!”
“You always say that, and then you come crawling back-”
She realised that her hands were still, and began to shift her things into her pack. If she left now, she’d be able to get down to the dispatch office before the shift changed, and they’d have a run that she could take. They always had something available for desert runners.

Moel didn’t notice the cold, or the colours that began to stain the desert sky. It was only the rising light shining off the sand that broke her concentration, and she slowed from the fast, mechanical strides that had occupied the night. Her legs hurt. She could feel the muscles now, burning with their exertion. Her arms were tense too, and her chest was tight from the deep breaths needed to sustain her relentless pace.
She knew where she was, of course. She knew the route so well that she didn’t have to concentrate on it. Up ahead there was a pillar of rock with a series of small hollows in its base; the perfect refuge for desert travellers. The sun was beginning to burn off the morning chill from the sand dunes as she reached the hollow. The rock was still cold for now, and she carefully scouted the entire pillar before picking the least accessible cave, a little way up a narrow crevice in the side of the rock. Even if another traveller did come past – unlikely – most didn’t know of this hideout. She’d be secure for the day period.
As was her habit, she checked over her supplies and then slowly ate a portion of her rations, watching as the heatwaves began to dance over the dunes. This cave also had the benefits of a view out over the desert to the south, if she wanted it. She briefly checked the road for travellers before the mirages swept it away, and then shifted into the back of the cave to sleep.

Packing had been the easy bit. When she stepped out of the small room with her pack slung across her back, Reneé and Jacth were facing each other across the room with shards of pottery littering the ground between them. She guessed that Jacth had thrown the plate. He tended to throw things when he was upset.
“Mater, are you going already?” Reneé said, her voice still in the angry tones of the argument.
“I am.”
“You need to-”
“I don’t need to do anything.”
“So you’re just going to leave again?” Reneé shot spitefully.
“Yes.”
She’d got across the room by this point, and pushed open the door. There were voices behind her again, angry voices, but then the door shut and there was only the city noise in the street outside.

Noise awoke Moel from her slumber in the cool rock hollow. As soon as she opened her eyes, she knew that only a few hours had passed; it was still morning, although the fury of the sun made the distinctions between the times of day irrelevant. Either the sun was there, or it was not.
Voices were disturbing the silence of the desert; human voices, not the shrieks of the vultures or foxes. Someone was coming towards the rock pillar – no, several someones. Moel heard the sand crunch under their feet, interspersed with silences that were the rock patches. She guessed that they were doing the same as her, although their pace was off if they had only just got here.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t have brought a Fliyer to do this.” a voice said grumpily from below. Moel, secure in her invisibility, edged closer to the entrance of her cave. The voice had a Meton accent, which meant the traveller was far from home. And what was a Fliyer?
“Scope the land.” Another voice, this one rough from thirst. Did they not have enough water?
“Pick a cave.” a third voice barked. Moel froze. That was Ecthen, which meant that she was guiding the others. They hadn’t been in Huish, so they must have come from Belmont. What were they doing here?
The two voices below her fell silent and she heard them clunking around in the rock caves below her. From the sounds, there were…five? Six? And Ecthen, of course. A small party to be travelling…
“We’ll start again at dusk.” Ecthen said from below Moel, talking to the people in the cave. “I’ll wake you.”
“I’ll take a watch.” a second voice said quietly a moment later, and Moel froze again. Ray. Two guides for such a small party?
“Why?” Ecthen asked, her voice getting closer. Moel drew back. They’d stepped into the bottom of the gulley below her cave. There was silence for a moment, and then Ray said, “Ziricon.”
“What?” Ecthen demanded in a fierce whisper.
“There’s been a rumour.”
“They made peace. And they wouldn’t attack in Orei.”
“These people are important!” Ray shot back in the same fierce whisper. “They want technology, we’ve got the people who know how to use it-”
“Where did this rumour come from?” Ecthen snapped.
“Juviel.”
There was a long silence, and then Ecthen said, “All right. Wake me to do half the watch.”
Moel breathed out as she heard their footsteps retreat out of the gulley. Ecthen knew of the upper cave, but if they were on watch then they wouldn’t come up here. She heard footsteps crunch, and then the desert silence returned again. Moel wriggled back into her cave, and went back to sleep.

“I’ve got a run.” the Huish dispatcher said, examining the board as the sunlight began to fade into dusk. The streetlights had been lit, and black smoke was beginning to hover over the desert town.
“Where to?”
The dispatcher snorted. “Belmont, where else?”
“What for?”
“Package.”
“There and back?”
“No back yet, but there’ll probably be something when you get there.” The dispatcher pulled the thin package from the box behind the counter. “You want it?”
Moel nodded, and swung her pack off. “I’ll take it.”

Moel woke at dusk, sensing the cooling air as the sun fought to stay aloft. The mirages had gone with the sun, although the road was still hazy. Down below, everything was silent. She debated with herself for a moment, and then silently gathered her pack and swung down the gulley.
Ecthen had taken refuge in the cave nearest to the road, and spotted Moel as soon as the woman emerged from the rock crevice. Moel silently padded across, and nodded as she got close.
“Routine?” Ecthen asked quietly.
“Signal run. Who’re this lot?”
“Meton, for the power line.”
Moel nodded. “Slow.”
“They’re not trained. Road?”
“Clear.” Moel said. “Belmont?”
“Usual. Watch out for the rockslide halfway down the slide.”
“Thanks.” Ecthen nodded, and went back to her watch as Moel settled her pack and walked out into the evening light.

No news is…good news?

23/03/2014 07:35

I haven’t been on here recently, mostly because I haven’t done anything worth writing about. I haven’t done anything worth writing about today either, but I thought I should at least wave vaguely in everyone’s general direction to assure you all that I’m still alive, sane and writing – or at least one of the three. You can pick which one.

 

Madcap Library and The Bibliothecary are still ongoing; I’m finishing the websites and trying to kick my lazy ass into getting them up onto Sam’s server in the evenings. I’ve got a stack of freelance work and I’ve just started my second library job (I’m a librarian by trade for anyone that hadn’t guessed from Madcap Library), so that’s keeping me occupied in the day, and I have a few small projects to finish in the evenings. So writing hasn’t particularly happened recently. Sammy’s still got Green Sky & Sparks and is re-reading it at the moment; beyond that, nothing’s really happening.

 

The only interesting writing-related thing I can pass on at the moment is something one of my feedback-ers said to me…”A reincarnation of Leonard di Vinci is an interesting character that is great to have in the book, but it is difficult to bond to a rich genius Lord.” It’s really interesting – and weird – for me to see my characters through other people’s eyes!

Politics, politics and more politics

02/03/2014 20:32

No, not real-world – although the news about the Ukraine is worrying. This is imaginary politics, which I have to admit is almost as bad.

 

I’ve been working on the plot for Desert Sands again. I have long commutes at the moment, and was talking to my driver (ok, husband) about the plot. I need some baddies, and although I did have some, I wasn’t happy with them (think Reavers from Firefly, except less sadistic). He suggested that I bring back my previous baddies, who are the opposite side in the war I’ve just finished writing. It’s a really good suggestion, and it really works: it brings back a previous plot and ties the new book into a bigger world; it allows me to continue with that line and show what the effects of the war were on a variety of countries and people. But…it also brings a lot of politics into the mix.

I was having a play with the plot yesterday while at my writer’s group, and it’s bothering me. I tend to be very cynical about politics and events: I think it’s because I am a student of history, and I’m very aware of how much easier it is to be defensive and insular than it is to be peaceful. I’m struggling with reasons to get the two sides to disarm; I’m having to think very carefully about how someone would de-escalate the situations that are arriving. I’m forcing myself to think about the benefits of peace, and how war isn’t always the natural progression of affairs. But when I’ve got one country that has just set off a hostage situation, another that’s suddenly got a lot of power at its disposal and is worried that said previous country will attack it again, and a third country that’s stuck in the middle between the two…it would take a lot of diplomacy to defuse it.

I also had to stop myself from – almost automatically – trying to put Toru in the middle of the situation. Instead, I get to bring in Jan, who is a far better candidate for the situation, and is going to be a lot of fun to write into the mix. He’ll work really well, and it will be the first time we’ve seen him in action as a major figure, which I’m also looking forward to.

I haven’t actually started writing yet – worringly, it looks as if I might actually be plotting some of this one! I’m also not sure of my characters; I have two or three who might go into one person; I haven’t yet got the engineers or the diplomats in my head, and they’re a fairly major part. Plus I now need to get my head around the paranoia of a military country, which isn’t the easiest. Still, all good fun.

I don’t know what this one’s called

21/02/2014 19:34

So, I’ve been trying to work out what the next book in the Greensky series is – it’s provisionally titled “I don’t know what this one’s called” (seriously, the word document is named that).  I’ve made a few decisions, but have a few more to make…

 

Setting

I know I want to set it somewhere I haven’t been yet. My world was planned out when I was little – I’ve got a map drawn on my dad’s art paper someplace – and weirdly, it’s worked so far. So, out of my worlds, I’ve set a lot in my rolling farmlands (Quorl –  Green Sky & Sparks  & Changing Winds), one book in forests (Salt Winds – ok, it’s mostly set on the sea, but it is set in Taderah), and one in tropical islands (Empty Skies & Sunlight, set in Tao).

So I have the choice of two deserts. One is complicated and rather nasty – they’re my industrial “baddies” in Changing Winds, and some of my tentative story (Freedom & Fire) is set there. Also, it’s not a society I really want to write about, which possibly explains the lack of work on Freedom & Fire…

Right! Orei it is, which I love. Most of it is desert, but has two beautiful cities – Belmont, which is golden and soaring, and Huish, a centre of learning. It’s also got some nice touches with pseudo-technology, and Anoe comes from there so it’s a ‘place’ in my head. So, bingo.

General events

It will run on from the rest of the series, so the next thing I wanted to deal with was the rise of technology (see this post for more details on a previous line of thought), but I think I’m avoiding dealing with it directly. So, I leave Meton and Toru to sort their own technological issues, and I have a look at what the influx of technology is doing someplace else. Orei’s a likely candidate: it’s just across the mountains from Meton, the two lands get on well, and it’s the sort of society that would welcome technology. Bingo number two.

People

I like to pull across one or two characters from previous stories into new ones. Yeo and Anoe came across from Greensky and Changing Winds respectively to Empty Skies; Obak (from Salt Winds) was originally in the start of Greensky. Toru and S’ian keep bouncing in and out, of course, but I would like to limit them if I can. I adore Toru but I feel like he might be getting over-used, and it seems unfair to keep dragging him away from his work: he’d be in Meton, designing, not running around Orei! So I am determined to keep both of my soulmates out of this one.

The one character I definitely want to pull across is an engineer from Meton, Alenna. She’s been met briefly in two books, but never in a major role. The other who is sitting in the back of my mind is a small boy, Hob, who was in Changing Winds, and he may or may not come across.

Apart from that, everyone’s going to be written as they come into my head! It’s quite fun, and I like the anticipation of meeting a new cast. It’s like meeting new friends.

Plot

I was driving back from Gloucester on one of my infrequent commutes, and it was dark: all I had was the road ahead, my headlights lighting it. And the first scene came: a boy, or a man, running – but not out of fear, not running away; he’s trying to get somewhere. So maybe he’s travelling; he works, on something that means he travels across the desert. Who is he? What is he doing? What effect would a new technology have on him?

Two: what technology? If Meton’s developing electricity, wind turbines, engines, batteries, radio (or at least morse) – what would come across first? And what would be the first priority? Would Belmont like it? Would the desert folk like it? What would it do to the workers who maintain the existing technologies?

 

Result:

A group of engineers from Meton come to Belmont to look at replacing or putting in a line across the desert, connecting Belmont and Huish – possibly electricity, possibly communication, I don’t know yet. My main character, who works with the current line and will be out of a job when the new one goes in, is assigned to guide them; the Meton engineers are led by an incredibly stubborn, undiplomatic twit (the sort you work with – you know the sort I mean. They’re usually your manager) who manages to get the group killed.

The guide is blamed; it suits Belmont to have a scapegoat, but Alenna is sent out to re-assess the situation and find out the truth. She’s dumped in the middle of a fraught situation both with the politics in Belmont and for the workers on the line. I haven’t entirely figure out anything past that, as it will most likely depend on who turns up in my head and what they do. But that’s the basic outline.

 

So there you go! That’s a rough summary of the layout and ideas I have for my new story (with the disclaimer that they will, of course, change a lot). But you read it here first, folks!

Inspiration

07/02/2014 21:44

Inspiration’s a really strange thing. I keep coming across things on Tumblr that I really want to write for, or from, and…the words won’t come. Which is annoying, because some of them are so good that I just want to be able to write the perfect story, or find the words to describe something. But I have realised that everything does go in, and then just sits in my brain to wait for the perfect time to jump out. (On a side note – half the places in Greensky are tiny towns we must have driven through when I was a child: it was only when I drove through again as an adult that I realised I hadn’t just made them up. Such a weird moment!)

 

I’ve been asked (well, ok, I volunteered) to write some short stories for an anthology on a Wiltshire theme. I’ve got lots of inspiration (check out my friend Toby King if you want beautiful pictures to be inspired by!) but nothing had jumped out.

So, essentially, I stopped trying. I stopped trying to plan a story, to start with a scene – and inspiration came out of nowhere (seriously, I have no idea where the story jumped from: I was on Tumblr and listening to Kodaline and then BAM), and I’ve just written a 1500-word short story about, well, a time-traveller. And how the past is always surrounding us.

 

It’s going to be fun to edit, and I might add more. It’s always interesting for me to write something outside the worlds of Greensky or Shadows, and I sometimes feel that I’ve become too immersed in them. Then something like Madcap Library turns up, of course, and I realise I’m not stuck at all. I just happen to be waiting for more inspiration…