In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

All Roar and No Teeth

 Hi everyone, I hope you're all well. I'm doing great at the moment, largely due to developments in my personal life which are taking up a lot of time. Mostly I mean my lady, Caroline, who I love to spend hours with. But that hasn't stopped me writing. Volume two of Troy is still on target to be published in a month's time - the edit and redrafting is nearly done now, there are just some final checks to make to catch rogue punctuation and try to cut out a few more adverbs.

 Next time on this blog I'll reveal the cover design, which as usual was created by Mark Watts. For today, I thought I'd share an excerpt from the text, as a taster. Volume Two, Heirs of Immortality, rattles along at a much faster pace than the first book did, because this is when the struggle really begins. There are some familiar faces in the excerpt.



 "So," Achilles said. Rage bubbled in his voice. "The Lion of Achaea can conquer only a strip of sand, without Achilles."
 Isander was looking at Agamemnon then, and he saw utter hatred flash across those thick features before it could be masked. There was no mistake. Agamemnon would nurse those words as a mortal grievance all the years of his life, even if the Fates spared him and he lived on and on into great old age. They might poison his soul - if he had one - and still he'd hold them close around his heart. Achilles had made an eternal enemy today.
 And he didn't care. That was obvious as well. Achilles wasn't merely angry, he was eaten up by fury. It came off him like heat, baking into the Greeks gathered round. Isander, near the front, began to wish he'd hung back. Blood might be spilled here.
 "Be warned," Agamemnon said. There was rage in his voice too, the anger of a man unused to being defied. "I would not forgive that tone from a king, and you don't have a crown."
 "I have something better," Achilles snapped back. "I have something the High King can gain from no other man. I can kill Hector. Or did you call me back for a different reason?"
 Gulls cried above, but the beach was utterly quiet.
 "I thought not," Achilles said. He was still stiff with anger, a bad-tempered boar which might charge at any moment. "I will do it. Tomorrow I'll challenge Hector to single combat, with the war hanging on the outcome. He wins, and the Greeks sail home. I win, and the Trojans hand Helen over, and half their treasury beside. Will you honour those terms?"
 "Show respect," Agamemnon began.
 He was cut off by Achilles' laughter. "Spare me your bluster. Will you honour them?"
 Agamemnon glowered, lips twisting. "I will honour them."
 "Then know this. And let all men know," Achilles added, raising his voice. His words carried over men's heads and out to sea. "I do not do this for the High King. I don't care of Greece wins this war or Troy does, it's no matter to me. I fight for my own name and my own causes... and I fight for Patroclus. For the memory of my friend, who was cut down while I fought elsewhere, sent from the beach of Troy by the pride of a fool.
 "And after I have killed Hector the bards will sing that this was my war - my glory, my victory. If they remember the name of Agamemnon it will be as an afterthought. The man who tried to keep Achilles from the fight and failed, the man who tried to win without him and failed. Perhaps we should put that on his tomb, do you think? The Lion of Achaea: he was all roar and no teeth, and had to call on stronger men in his need."


 That's all, folks. Heirs of Immortality will be published in the second half of September - exact date to follow.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Hidden Tension

 There was an article posted on Facebook recently by CreateSpace, Amazon's paperback division, asking one question - what is the most important element of fiction?

 I think it's got to be tension. Raymond Chandler once said When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. Anton Chekhov put it another way; If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. Both comments mean the same thing, that an author must keep the tension high.

 Not that you need a gun. The romantic fiction genre survives on the basis of "she will, she won't, she does", as a woman dithers over whether to marry her lover. (Yes, I'm sure there are exceptions, but that's the general rule). Wuthering Heights is a tale of people caught in in their own tangle of love and envy, and destroyed by it, with nary a gun in sight. And so on; you don't need a list. The point is that tension can be created by any conflict, physical or emotional or anything else - but you do need conflict. Without it your story might end up like this;

"OK Dave?"
"Fine, Bob. You?"
"Fine. Kids all right?"
"Not bad. Well, see you."
"Bye Dave."

 Tension comes partly from pace. The fashion today is for fast-paced tales, in which one event is barely over before the next is upon our protagonists. Look at The da Vinci Code as an example. It's not very well written in truth, with cardboard characters and a predictable plot, but it does rattle along at a very high pace. Sometimes that can distract the reader enough that he doesn't realise the book is a bit rubbish, the same way that big explosions do in some films.

 But tension can also come from characters. They can lie to each other, betray friends, plot and scheme together against an enemy. Or they can be driven from their comforts and forced to embark on a journey they never wanted, perhaps to regain their former lives, perhaps to find themselves liberated. If we have the skill, we can create enough tension this way that we don't need a rifle hanging on the wall, or a man with a gun bursting in (Well, not very often).

 The Harry Potter books are a case in point. In the early volumes - up to number four, The Goblet of Fire - there's hardly any clear danger until the end, and not much threat of it either. We all know the danger is coming, but it takes forever to appear, which creates tension for Harry and his friends, and by extension to the reader. And it works: for the most part the Potters are very tightly written indeed. I know it's fashionable to criticise JK Rowling these days - as it is to criticise Dan Brown - but in Rowling's case I think it's unjust. The realisation of the wizarding world is brilliantly done, and as Stephen King says, the books are also cracking good fun.

 But you know. other people will have their own ideas about the most important element in storytelling. God and all the little fishes know there are lots of important things. Tension is only my choice. If you can make a story work another way, then good luck to you.