Sunday, 25 November 2012

"A Musical Interlude" - a NaNoWriMo excerpt

It's NaNoWriMo time again, and at ~27,000 words on Day 25, I'm well behind par. But I'm in an excellent mood, because after 3 weeks of struggling with motivation, the prose is coming more easily now. I'd like to share a half-chapter with you that I wrote in a sleep-deprived state, in the early hours of this morning.

Is this a typical excerpt?  Not exactly. My first drafts are usually a little less prosy, and a little more 'by the seat of the pants'. I just had one of those rare moments, when the writing comes out slowly, but hardly in need of editing. It also happens to be a scene without any major plot spoilers, and these seem to be rare when I go searching my manuscript for suitable excerpts. So of course I had to share it!

This scene is the second half of a chapter from Book One of my epic fantasy trilogy. Tam hasn't declared his love to his crush yet, and, in between scenes of training and fighting, he takes the opportunity to share a moment of joy with her:

(Apologies for any grammar or formatting mistakes. I have to try to ignore these things during NaNoWriMo you know! Also, 'Dr Holmes' is a place holder name.)

* * * * *

“Ugh! Curse that infernal noise!” Dr Hughes said, as a remarkable sound started up in another room. It sounded like many musicians playing. Tam couldn't understand why Hughes didn't like it - it was beautiful. He struggled to remember what his mother had called such a thing. Was it... opera? It was a slow and haunting tune, which reverberated around the curved walls. Tam was about to go toward the source of the music, but he saw that Suzanne had also become entranced by it. He waited for her to go first, so that he could follow her, watch her. A few others moved to listen at the doorway. Tam realised that they would all see him stalking her. But they all knew about his obsession anyway, and he no longer cared if they knew. Something about the minor key of the music and the passion in the male singer's voice, made the faces of his fellow soldiers fade into the background, until all he could see was her. She strolled around the curve of the wall, brushing it lightly with her fingertips. Tam followed, doing the same, the smooth limestone cool as water. He was mesmerised by the picture of her pale hand against white stone.

They came into a circular room, its walls covered from ceiling to floor with bookcases, full of books. Rows of desks were also covered with piles and piles of books, some of which he recognised as the ones they had rescued from the flooded basement of the library. Tam had never seen so many books in one place before, and it gave him goosebumps just from thinking about all the knowledge that was packed into this single room. The music, which was coming for a gramophone, only added to his awe. For a moment he loved this room almost as much as he loved Suzanne. Almost. He tore his eyes away from the books and looked at her. She wasn't looking at the books, so perhaps she had seen this room before? She didn't seem to have noticed that Tam had followed her, even though he must have been standing at the edge of her vision. She gazed into the horn of the gramophone, and listened intently. The singer was better than any Tam had heard in real life. His voice glided effortlessly between soaring high notes, and brooding low notes. Tam couldn't understand the language he spoke, but he was certain the lyrics must be something to do with love, or perhaps something tragic.

“Lovely, isn't it?” a familiar cut-glass voice said. A headful of eccentric curls appeared over the top of one of the desks, then the gangling frame of Dr Nathaniel Holmes, unfolded to its full height. He held stacks of index cards in his arms and dumped them on the desk, adding an avalanche to the mountain of paperwork. He grabbed a small handful of the cards, and rifled through them rapidly with his dexterous fingertips. He was an engineer and an infantryman all in one, and now he also appeared to be humanity's last librarian – and for that, Tam was intensely jealous.

Dr Holmes noticed Tam skulking but didn't draw attention to him. He spoke to Suzanne, “What can I do for you, Captain?”
“Do you know what he's singing about?” she said.
“Well, it's in Italian, what do you think it's about?”
“I don't know! I've never heard anything like this before.”
“It's about love, of course!” said Holmes. He stopped faffing with his index cards and grinned at her. He explained: “It's from an opera called 'L'elisir d'amore' – 'The Love Potion'. It's a particular favourite of mine. I heard the whole thing on an electronic device, a long time ago. This man who's singing, he's a simple peasant – a bit of a fool.” Holmes glanced at Tam when he said 'fool', although Suzanne didn't seem to have noticed.
“He gives his beloved a love potion,” Holmes continued, “It's only wine, but he thinks it's real. He's convinced that it's working. He says he feels her heart, and his heart, beating as one... and at the end, he says, uh, 'Si può morir d'amor,' - 'I could die of love!'”

Tam watched his Suzy being transported to a higher place, as she breathed in the music that filled the air. She, like everyone else that day, had undone half the buttons of her shirt, to stay cool in this ridiculous heat. Her chest rose and fell, rose and fell, her deep sighs keeping time with the rhythm of the lyrics. The singer rolled his 'r's, and pronounced his vowels precisely. The climax of his highest notes, was a roar of pure emotion. He held it, impossibly long and perfectly true, and Suzanne seemed to have forgotten to breathe for a moment.

Tam tiptoed over to her, and came as close as he dared. He stood behind her, and thanks to the advantage of being a head taller than her, he had a perfect view of her cleavage. As the singer belted out the final notes, Suzanne shook with the kind of hysteria he had only ever seen women lose themselves in, when they were making love! She looked back at Tam suddenly and was laughing, with tears in her eyes. He shared the moment of abstract joy with her. The music, and the inviting scent of old books – had transported him to that higher place too, and it took his breath away. He decided he did believe in Heaven after all, and he was in it. He wished he could be alone here with his angel, but the sudden recollection that Dr Holmes and several others were watching, brought him crashing back down to Earth. The song had finished, and the gramophone hissed and hiccoughed quietly.

Suzanne wiped her eyes. “You must make copies of this.”
“Oh, I intend to. As soon as I figure out how to do it without worrying about breaking it!' Holmes pulled over the gramophone's arm, and gingerly handled the disc by its edges, slipping it into a brown paper sleeve. He replaced it at a particular place on a shelf, which held perhaps an hundred similar sleeves. “Was there anything in particular you wanted, Ma'am?” said Holmes.
“Umm...” She blushed and put her hand to her chin. “If there was anything, I've forgotten it! Well, thank you for making my day, Doctor.”
“It's my pleasure to share this wealth of culture with anyone who shows an interest. Good day to you, Captain.”

As she left the room, Tam could have sworn she walked with more of a swagger in her hips than usual. He wondered if there was a hidden side to his Suzy, that had lain dormant and unheeded, but which - in the true nature of all humans, everywhere - could be awakened by the right atmosphere? He hoped that he was not simply seeing things he wanted to see, like the peasant in the song, believing in his 'elisir d'amore'.
“Thank you for making my day too, Doc.” Tam said.
Holmes looked disgusted at him. “Isn't she... your sister?'
“Adopted!” Tam protested.
“Hmm. But even so... the Captain?” He smirked. “I think you might die of love, my friend.'

Dr Llew Hughes shoved past the soldiers that were still milling around near the doorway. He held aloft a modern-looking book, with both hands, like it was a trophy. He slammed it down on the desk in front of Dr Holmes and said, “Pressie for you.”
The book had an illustration of a fort under siege on the front cover. Dr Holmes gasped, and flipped through the pages excitedly. Then he skipped to the back pages to search the index. “B-ba-ba...” he muttered.
“I've already bookmarked it for you,” said Dr Hughes. He clasped his arms across his chest in a sort of self-congratulatory hug.

Tam moved closer to sneak a look at the book. He was curious to know what exactly was so exciting about it, that it could make these two fully-grown and highly-educated men, turn into silly boys? Dr Holmes was skimming over the bookmarked page, running his finger over the text. There was a detailed line-drawing of a complicated wooden machine, with a soldier in a plumed helmet standing next to it for scale.
“I knew it... yes... yes!” Holmes squeaked. “Do you know what this means?” He had been leaning over the desk but now his legs sagged under him. He ended up kneeling on the floor, but still melodramatically gripping the edges of the desk.
“Can you do it?” Dr Hughes asked breathlessly.
Dr Holmes looked at his colleague with a fire in his eyes. “Yes. But we're going to need a shitload more rope!”

Tam was about to ask them what kind of machine they planned to use, but unfortunately he didn't get the chance. There was a commotion out in the main hall, and a clamour of whistles – a signal that commanded all soldiers to muster for battle.

* * * * *

You can read all my excerpts here:  Excerpts

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Fantasy hero = orphan?

It seems as though every hero from fantasy fiction is an orphan, or a bastard, or was otherwise abandoned by his parents. It's as common a trope as the ageing guru, or the precious MacGuffin. Harry Potter, Garion from the Belgariad, Fitz from the Farseer trilogy... I could go on and on, naming stable boys and goat herders, who all have their own unique set of fantasy tropes, but the one thing they all have in common is a lack of parental love. 

These unfortunate boys start out their lives alone and afraid. They are brought up by their long-suffering aunts or reluctant foster parents, and spend much of their childhood doing thankless chores and getting in the way. The story of their abandonment is hidden from them, which lends their life story an element of mystery. Just like the mysterious stranger who arrives in a new town in a Western movie, and, having beaten the bad guys, rides off into the sunset - to who knows where. 

As an enthusiastic fantasy reader and writer, I don't poo-poo a cliche. Every genre has its conventions, some of which need to be adhered to, to qualify as belonging to that genre. However, in the case of my own protagonist, I felt this was one cliche I wouldn't be using. Literary fiction and TV soaps show us that family always complicates things. Where other fantasy writers might seek to simplify their characters' lives, I would prefer to complicate them, to make them seem more like a real person.

So, the protagonist of my work-in-progress has a fixed family home, which is threatened but never actually destroyed in the story. And although some of his family members are absent and there are secrets for him to discover about them, he has a mother, who is a constant friend to him through the trials of his life - a guiding beacon who brings him comfort in even his darkest moments. Amidst the chaos of civil war and a tumultuous personal life, there are a few gentle moments where Tam goes home to visit his mum! I haven't decided on her name, but I've drafted a few of her scenes, and as you can see from this brief excerpt, she has the beginnings of a personality:

(Apologies for any mistakes, this is unedited first draft material after all! Ellipses show where I had to cut out spoilers.)

Tam's mother was already up and dressed, in a typically strange outfit, of a woollen dress tie-dyed in all shades of purple, and a white apron covered in stains of every colour of the rainbow. Her once raven-black hair, now dark grey, was in a long thick plait down her back... her sleeves were rolled up, and already at this hour she was hard at work in the kitchen, standing over a huge vat full of red dye and wool roving, poking it vigorously with a wooden handle. 'Morning Thomas!' She called out, without turning round. 'How do you do that?' Tam said, dripping on the threshold. 'How did you know it was me?' She looked over her shoulder at him. 'Well, I heard an adult-sized splash and I thought, who do I know that's an adult but who's still daft enough to jump into the river in November? So of course, I knew it must be my son!' She looked him up and down and raised an eyebrow with bemusement.... ... He returned to the heat of the kitchen and his mum reached up to plant a kiss on his cheek. 'Oh you're like a fish! Go and sit by the stove!' ... ... Tam was soon steaming nicely... ... He waited patiently for his mother to suspect something. It was only a matter of time before she noticed the sword, notched from fighting, that he had left leaning against the wall by the back door. This feeling of being home, and not having told her his bad news yet, was too comfortable. He hoped his silence would prolong the feeling, just for a few blissful moments longer. But the moment could not last... She stood with her arms crossed, looking at him carefully. Her eyes - just like his - blue and pin-sharp. 'Are you in trouble?'

Click here to read all the Excerpts.

If you'd like to read more regular updates and chat about writing, why not check out my author page on facebook: Emily Cadwalader and the Tome of Doom


Friday, 9 March 2012

Emily Cadwalader and The Tome of Doom

The 'Tome of Doom' is the (daft, I know) working title of an epic Fantasy trilogy I've been faffing with since summer 2010. I started the first draft during my first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in that same year. Here is the Tome in its ring-binder folder, doing an impression of the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey - 

And here you can see a typical example of my handwritten waffling. Look closely and you may be able to tell that towards the middle of this page, I was starting to fall asleep...

On the grand scale it's about civil war; the magical versus the martial; loyalty and betrayal; drugs and petty crime, and the resurrection of a once-great city. On the intimate scale it's about a family torn apart and then stuck back together again; it's about the fall and redemption of a man, who finds his voice, his true allegiance, and his true love.

Over the next few months I will be doing some major typing-up sessions, finally getting the Tome into a more manageable state ready to start the first stage of editing. As I do so, I will be picking out some brief excerpts to share with you here. Hopefully I won't give too much of the story away! Here's the first:

(apologies for any mistakes, this is unedited first draft material after all.)

'...the beasts seemed to be solid, and viscerally real. They slithered and skittered across the floor, throbbing and thrumming in the air, and they were spontaneously multiplying. Diverse in their form, each one was a repulsive parody of nature's most bizarre experiments. Some squelched as they uncoiled their ooze-drenched tentacles; others gave rattling coughs as they unfurled their leathery wings, and groomed their greasy fur... ... ... wasn't quite sure how he had been expecting to be tortured, but he could never have imagined anything like this. With all his being he wanted to beg for this nightmare vision to stop. But terror had complete dominion over his body, and his throat closed up tight. Something with hundreds of legs crawled up his back and wound itself around his neck, leaving a trail of pin-prick scratches in his flesh. Another beast whispered nonsense at him, spitting its acid saliva into his ear. It prodded his face with its twig-like fingers, prising his eyelid open to meet his terrified stare with its own, single albino eye.'

Click here to read all the Excerpts.

If you'd like to read more regular updates and chat about writing, why not check out my author page on facebook: Emily Cadwalader


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Not all that is dark is sinister...

An antidote to the gentle colours of spring. These eerie imaginings will haunt your midnight dreams, and leave you smiling in the dark. :)

Visit the full treasury list here.


Writing - a lonely profession?

About two years ago I did a little experiment in re-branding myself as 'a writer'. I found it motivated me to begin working seriously towards my neglected ambition.

My dad, my fiancé and I, visited Vancouver in Canada to attend my cousin's wedding. What a wonderful holiday we had! - lots of relatives there that I had not seen for many years, and perfect weather the whole time. However, being an introvert I find weddings terrifying. Add to that the fact I had been unemployed for a while, I was dreading the ice-breaker questions of lots of strangers. 'So what do you do?' they would all be asking me. Uncertainly I would have to reply, 'I sell second-hand junk online and at flea markets. I failed my degree so no-one seems to want to employ me... mumble mumble...' - all the while hoping that my beloved would come and rescue me with his irrepressible Cockney wit.

But I had recently begun mulling over an idea for a trilogy of fantasy novels. I've been a writer on and off since I was about 10 years old. I can remember my teacher (who always complained of my laziness) asking for a two-page story. I handed in ten pages: a science fiction story about a mad scientist and his niece and nephew, and their small scruffy dog, visiting Mars in a hot air balloon. The teacher said something along the lines of, 'Why don't you make the same effort with everything else?' I suppose it must have occurred to my smug little ten-year-old self that I could probably make a living at this writing lark. Many different ambitions and madcap ideas for day-jobs came along over the years, until, at the age of 27, I had come full circle and was day-dreaming about warriors and wizards once more.

Since I was spending more time writing than I was actually making money, why not answer the question, 'So what do you do?' with 'I'm writing a novel'? I resolved to do so at my cousin's wedding, and as the afternoon wore on I got more and more certain-sounding when I said it. At one point I was chatting animatedly to a charming fellow. I was pleasantly surprised when he admitted to being a former player of Dungeons and Dragons, and he was interested to hear all about my warriors and wizards story. Then I noticed that several people standing nearby were listening in to our conversation. I was terrified! And yet it made me realise that being a novelist is thrillingly interesting to most people, even if you're not published yet.

This knowledge has been an incredible motivator for me recently. Most beginner writers can come up with a good idea and make a decent attempt at some flowery prose. But writing a novel of good quality, from start to finish, all on your own, takes a Herculean strength of character! All the time I have been pottering with the outline for my trilogy, I have also been slogging my heart out just to build up my confidence. But even those times when I have heard the same ridiculous derisive comments, such as, 'Anyone can write a novel' and, 'You still writing that bloody novel?' repeated over and over, the comments that have stuck out in my mind have been the positive ones. 'You are blessed, knowing what your vocation is at such a young age,' one person has said. 'Anyone that disparages you is just jealous,' another person has said, 'the people you should listen to are the people who encourage you, because they're the ones who will buy your book when it comes out!'

All I have to do whenever I find my motivation waning, is to picture those people who have said nice things, and how their faces will light up when I tell them one day, 'It's going to be published!' Writing this blog and posting excerpts of the work in progress on my facebook fan page are the next logical step in this process. It's harder to slack on my word count when I know I have fans watching!

Who said writing is a lonely profession?


Spring has sprung, the grass is riz...

It's been a while since my last post, because my beloved and I have been through a rough year. No money! No fun! But now things are on the up. As I am back to Etsying properly again, I thought I'd start off afresh with a refreshing treasury sesh! :)

Spring has sprung early here in the UK. Everyone is determined to get outdoors, even though it's still a bit nippy! Here's a taste of a proper English garden party, in pastels and fresh greens:

Visit the full treasury list here.