Tag Archives: howIwrite

Back on the Madcap Trolley!

libraneer

I’m redoing Madcap Library, my series of fantastical stories set in an imaginary library, featuring a sloth with a speed addiction, book hunters, a library pirate, ninjas, book owls and whatever other madness crossed my mind…

The wonderful Hannah Botma did images for me, and I’d honestly forgotten how much I loved these stories and characters! I’m just formatting books 1 and 2, and then I have book 3 to finish – which is going to be ridiculous amounts of fun.

I’m doing a short story, too, so keep an eye out over the next week or two for all of the madness!

sloth

Playing with Voice

So, this came about thanks to a suggestion from Adrian on his blog. I am struggling for voice in my 1920’s necromancy – I just can’t get it to sound right, to feel right; it won’t flow. So he suggested playing around…

~

“Dash it all, sister,” the young man standing by the door said, perusing the invitation he’d been handed by the postman. “What the devil do you think she wants?”

“It’s a social invite,” a light voice said scornfully. The speaker didn’t appear to be in the room, but the voice came from the young man’s vicinity. “Afternoon tea is a suitably nice affair that you could be invited.”

“Why has she invited me?” The young man ambled over towards the table that filled most of the room and dropped the embossed square onto it. “Afternoon tea! Lord. It sounds a bore.”

“Or she’s just unwisely disposed of someone,” the light voice suggested, “and she wants you to speak to them?”

“Sister!” The young man stood up straighter, his dark brows knitting. “Dash it all, watch your tongue!”

“You have to admit it’s likely. Why else would she invite a necromancer to afternoon tea?”

“I hope you won’t speak that unwisely if I do accept the invite…”

“And you are going to accept,” the light voice said decisively. “It would not do to decline.”

“These teas are such a bore.” The young man flung himself into the nearby chair and kicked one toe at the carpet, which was starting to become threadbare. “I can’t eat, you do all the talking…”

“Well, you can’t decline. It’s an invite from Lady [X].”

The young man stretched out a hand and picked up the invite again. “Tomorrow. Well, I suppose I’d better write back and accept. But it’s going to be a rotten bore.”

~

There is no good way to get a summons from the mafia, even if it is an invitation to afternoon tea.

The young man stands in the centre of the dusky room, scowling at the square of embossed card he holds in one hand. His dark hair is cropped to his ears, his jacket missing a button, and one sock is in danger of sliding down his calf. The room around suggests that he takes more care with housekeeping than he does with his appearance, but it also bears signs of regular use; worn floorboards around the large table in the centre, a locked cupboard against one wall with inlaid sigils of protection, and an entire wall of bookshelves containing well-thumbed books. In short, the rather worn young man matches his surroundings – although the scowl on his hawk-nosed face does not sit there lightly, and suggests that it is not as well-used as the rest of the man’s features.

“Well.” The light voice drifts into the room. “At least they were polite.”

“They are sending a car for me.” The young man’s lips shape the words almost absently. “They want to make sure I attend.”

“And you’re going to, of course,” the lighter voice says sharply as the young man sighs. “What did you do to come to their notice?”

“Nothing!” The young man casts the parchment at the table and watches as it drifts aimlessly onto the floor instead. “I have never even met Lady [X] or any of her family.” He bends to pick up the sheet. “Do you think she wants my services?”

“It’s a social call,” the lighter voice says thoughtfully.

The young man straightens and drops the invite on the table, catching the corner with one finger as it drifts again. “An invitation to afternoon tea does not exclude her talking business.”

“Then she has disposed of someone, and requires you to speak with them.”

“Sister!” The young man frowned. “I beg you, do not speak in such terms.”

~

I will be one of the first to admit that my brother is useless in most matters except necromancy, in which he fortunately displays a talent that surpassed – and surpasses – my own. However, in matters of society, etiquette, and – dare I say – the heart, he is something of a fool. The matter of the invitation from Lady [X] was no exception.

He failed to open the invite when handed the envelope from the postman, and instead stood, staring with a most gormless expression on his face, as if the parchment itself would tell him what was contained within.

“Are you not going to open it?” I asked, with some acidity.

He did so, thankfully without further chiding, and we perused the contents. An invitation, by Lady [X], to afternoon tea no less!

“Well, you must attend,” I prompted after a minute of silence.

“What do you think she wants?”

“It is a social invitation,” I snapped at him. My brother’s fancies often take the wildest turns, and I consider it part of my duty to ensure he refrains from daydreaming at inopportune moments. However, on this occasion, I considered that he may have accidentally hit upon a salient point. “She may wish to discuss a matter of business with you while you are there, however.”

“Then why on earth invite me to tea?” My brother sat down gracelessly in one of the chairs surrounding the large table, throwing the invite onto its surface.

“So that she should not be subject to the gossip that would come if she were to invite a mage to the house, and so that she may discuss her affairs with some discretion!” At times I despair of my brother, for he has no sense of social niceties at all, and indeed seems to take pleasure in embarrassing me at every turn with his uncouth behavior.

“So she has had someone killed, and needs me to talk to them.”

“Brother!” I snapped, horrified. “Even if Lady [X] were to consider such a matter, I highly doubt that she would sully her hands with such business!”

“Oh, come off it, sister. You know that she married well, and his money has gone to her ends. Even if you are in ignorance of her business affairs, I am not.”

“I am certainly not,” I snapped, wishing my cheeks would flame to burn out some of the mortification I felt, “but it certainly does not do to discuss it! She is a social paragon and if she heard you speak of such things-”

“I wouldn’t get invitations to afternoon tea,” my brother finished with a certain air of glee. “All right, all right. I just don’t see the point of sugar-coating it, sister. You must be practical. You’re going to be the one doing the talking, anyway.”

“And I consider that a great relief!” I snapped, still mortified. My brother’s silence during public events, and the necessity for me to speak for him, is possibly the only redeeming feature of the whole affair – and, I suspect, the only thing that has saved my brother from social ignominy thus far.

~

I think the last one is my favourite, although it screams more Regency to me than 1920’s, which is unfortunate as I do feel Regency has rather been done to death. Anyway! I’m going to keep playing, and see where I end up…

Worldbuilding: Research Research Research

So my 1920’s book (and my Tudor book) aren’t going too well with the writing part – this is The Thief and The Seer, and Necromancer’s Charm. It’s both the world and the voice – I’ll do a post on that in a bit!

But my reaction to worldbuilding problems? Research.

I, uh, may have also got myself a library card recently. It’s good for me to have a walk every day, right? And at least with self-service machines the librarians can’t give me disbelieving stares when I return six books I borrowed yesterday and take out another six…

Anyway! I’m researching the 1920’s. I’ve got Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers. The Great Gatsby. Nancy Mitford. R.F. Delderfield. I’ve read Brideshead Revisited, Birdsong and some of the other poets already, but I might go back to them. I’ve also picked up Joe Abercrombie on the recommendation of Adrian to have a look at voice and POV, and a non-fiction by Adrian Tinniswood (The Long Weekend) to have an explore of English country homes. I’ve got Peaky Blinders, Gatsby and Downtown Abbey on the list of possible TV shows to watch, and Adrian (that man is annoyingly knowledgeable) pointed out that I can just watch snatches of things to pick up on the voice and style.

Basically, what I’m not trying to do is learn the history of the period – I have picked up a few history books and they’re mostly useless, because they all focus on WW2. What I’m trying to do is get a feel for the period; the voices, the characters, the people. At the moment I’m focusing on Europe – actually, my main city seems to be forming around Amsterdam – and so I’m not going Prohibition or Roaring 20’s. There will be aspects of that, sure, and I want to look into the dance-hall and flapper scene, but because it’s not an alternate universe I don’t need the history part. I need the sense of a country coming out of a devastating war, where everything turned on its head, and look at the reactions to the new world. I also want to play on the class system; at the moment, I’m playing with the idea of one of the gentry falling for a tradesman. The horror!

This is the part I call book-building; I’m still feeling my way through things. If I were writing on paper, I’d likely have notes scattered everywhere – as it is, I have post-its on my dashboard, odd bits in Word files, and bookmarks all over the place. It’s slowly knitting, but at the moment I’m still choosing the colours. But hey, it means I get to read a lot!

Ideas & Inspiration: Portals of London

Portals of London is an absolutely fabulous blog, along with a Twitter account @PortalsOfLondon, that catalogues London’s inter-dimensional gateways. It is, however, important to note that it is not a user’s guide. They are very definite on this score.

St Michael, demolished, from Portals of London blog
St Michael, Crooked Lane. Demolished 1831 | public domain

The blog itself is a record of…oddities. Strange buildings. Places that aren’t quite right. The Mithraeum, maybe, that houses something more than just an archaeologically interesting temple. The path on a common that isn’t often there, but maybe you’ll spend your life looking for it. Temporal anomalies, mysteries on river-beds, and frightening machines…

The blog is definitely in the same genre as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and China Mieville’s “Reports of Certain Events in London” from the Looking For Jake collection (which, by the way, is excellent. And as a side note, I adore being able to reach out and just take the book I want off my shelves. It’s luxury!) There’s touches of Paul Cornell’s London Falling, too, mixed in with Underground London by Stephen Smith and snippets from histories and folklore…

And honestly, I’d say it’s as good as any – or all! – of the books listed above. I adored – and still adore – London; I found myself including Kaerlud in No Man’s Sky, in amongst the Fae-touched world, as a jumble of buildings and history and shops and people. In Portals of London, I love the mix of reality and fantasy, the scientific and questioning nature and the plethora of images and fragments that come together into something unsettling. London is strange, and I love that these fragments pull out that strangeness and make it sharper, turn it into a mystery and a figment and something that I just have the urge to check, just to see, just in case it might be real…

My favourite post so far:

Wren’s Restless Sanctuary: The Church of All-Corners-Within-the-Wall

Writer’s Block: Going Back To Basics

Well, it’s not exactly writer’s block. It’s a feeling that this novel is not the one I want to write; there isn’t a yet a story I can tell. It’s missing spark. I’d be able to write it, sure, and it’d be ok.

And that’s the problem. I don’t want to write an ok novel. I am not in the business of “meh”, darling!

So. Adrian and I had an informal Cake Club meeting last week, as Sophie is chaotically busy with maps; and we ate too much Yorkshire pudding, talked over Adrian’s (lack of) editing progress, I got all of his gossip…and then we spread my novel out, metaphorically, and played with the pieces.

It’s missing a spark? Then one of the bits needs flipping. Something needs adding. Sure, you might have a lot of the pieces – but something just ain’t quite right.

Adrian was picking apart themes, and we settled on a strand of life/death. So…ghosts? Zombies? One of my second themes is essentially WW1, so can I use that existential dread to wind into the horror and enormous impact that the war had on citizens and soldiers? I’ve also got a nice line in necromancy, so ghosts would work well there.

Another strand was looking at tropes. Zombies have been done to death (hehe) but could they be flipped somehow? What could be taken as a baddy that hasn’t been done in my context? What’s the polar opposite of a Tudor society, and can I incorporate it somehow? What would really scare the people of that society – and us?

And a third strand was thinking about voice. Adrian prefers to look at overall voice – after all, you can twist the same character into many different styles – but I have to start with the characters. I had someone I wanted to write, but…could I change them? What voice do they have? What setting do they fit into?

And actually, I might have something there…

It’s all still ideas at the moment; I’ve got a lot of wool, and I’m going to have to wait until I find a thread I can pull that will let me knit the rest up. This is a frustrating point in writing, as I really do just have to let it settle out! I can’t force the ideas; I have to let them come.

But it certainly gave me things to think about!