In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Friday, 25 October 2013

Positive Thinking and the Impossible

  So, big month coming up, I've entered NaNoWriMo.

  For those who don't know, that's National Novel Writing Month. It started in the USA but is global now, so I suppose it should be called InNoWriMo, but that's even worse. Anyway, it's a challenge to write a novel in one month, November, of at least 50,000 words.

  It's impossible, really. Occasionally a blitz writer might be able to do it, but nobody else: all we mortals can manage is to put together a decent first draft, and go over the edit later. But that's OK, because the point is just to motivate authors into spending time at the writing desk instead of getting distracted all the time. Finding the space to write can be difficult because life keeps getting in the way. NaNoWriMo gives you a reason to push all that aside, just for a month, and get a good chunk of work done instead of just dribs and drabs.

  So I'm doing my Troy story that I mentioned last time. The amount of research and background work has been astonishing: I have dozens of pages of notes now. I also have the basis for how I want to tell the story. Partly that will involve ordinary people, not just the heroes and kings who dominate the Homeric myth. I'm going to add in a chariot builder in Troy, and a painter who came to the city to make his fortune. From Greece there will be a farmer caught up in the war too. All these guys just want to live through it, but they suffer loss and hope as the struggle goes on.

  Can I do 50,000 words in a month? Probably not, and even if I do it won't finish the story: I'll need 80,000 at least, and that's too many. But I'll give it a bash. Besides the discipline, there's another advantage to NaNo, which is the community of writers who are involved. People in the Devon area meet up sometimes in Barnstaple, which I'm looking forward to already. A chance to exchange troubles and triumphs is always good, and we can discuss the relative merits of similes and metaphors over a mug of mocha too.

  Yes, I know, my idea of fun is dreadfully sad.

  At any rate, this means my blogs might come a bit more often in November, as I post updates on how things are going. I have a horrible feeling I may have bitten off more than I can chew here, but we'll see. Positive thinking, that's the trick. Wish me luck!

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Best Fantasy Ever Written

  I recently had a bit of a setback. Having rewritten Starfire, I published chapter one in a couple of my circles on Google+, only to be told by a few people that it read like an info dump. Which is a wee problem, because that was my way of getting around other tricksy bits in the story. So now Starfire is on the back burner again (i.e. I'm flummoxed and my poor weary brain needs pondering time).

  Normally 'pondering time' means me sitting at my desk and staring out of the window, thinking vaguely about this and that before popping down the pub for a soother. I get a lot of good thinking done at the pub, don'cha know. But not this time.

   I'm taking on a large project indeed, one that other writers have tackled but none to my own satisfaction. It's the Trojan War, to my mind not just the best fantasy tale but the finest story ever told. It has everything; love and revenge, pride, honour, and broader ideas like the clash and change of cultures. We see the idealised warriors fall, while less martial but more thoughtful men triumph, as Odysseus does. It's just a hypnotic saga, so brilliantly brought to life by Homer that it still fascinates us three thousand years on.

  It presents challenges I've never faced. One is that we all know what happens at Troy, we know the fate of the main players. The interest has to lie not in 'what happens next?' but in how it happens, and why. I think I'll also introduce lesser characters, people not mentioned in The Iliad at all - a farmer from Sparta maybe, sucked into a war he doesn't understand or care about: and a horse whisperer who came to Troy to make his fortune and instead has found conflict. There'll be others too, I'm sure. Troy isn't a new story so I have to make it feel new, and this might be how I can.

  Another challenge is the sheer scale of the story. Google 'The Catalogue of Ships' if you like, and look at the sheer number of captains, kings and countries involved. And that's just the Greek side! So far I've got nearly 30 sheets of typed notes, and I'm not nearly done; I'm still reading two different reference books and one other fictional version of the war. To be honest it's pretty scary. I've no idea whether I have the skills to manage a novel (or trilogy, most likely) of this size. But you know, that's part of writing. The day it no longer excites you, it's time to stop.

  So here it goes. Volume one is tentatively called The Long-Haired Kings, by the way, meaning the Greeks, but I have no real idea what to put on the cover except vague thoughts about Greek art. If you know of any painting or fresco that might suit, or where I can see a selection of such art, let me know, eh? I could just do with a bit more research to tackle,