Frozen Freedom (Part 2)

After my eight year old loved my Frozen fanfic first two chapters, I now present chapters 3 and 4…

Chapter 3
The agitated reindeer was the first sign that all was not well.
“Bernd, what’s wrong buddy?” Kristoff gathered up the small corvine that was now anxiously butting his knee with its tiny horn buds.
Elsa swept ahead, keen to get to her sister.
Opening the door of the Royal Birthing Suite, previously the Green Bedroom, she was greeted by the sight of a troll cuddling one baby while Anna frantically rubbed the back of another.
“Elsa! She’s stopped breathing.”
Kristoff ran to his wife. He put the reindeer on the ground and lifted his baby from Anna’s shoulder, scared at the floppiness. He put his daughter gently on the bed. He placed his mouth over her tiny nose and mouth and breathed gently, while pressing her chest with his fingertips. Nothing happened. He tried again. Then Anna tried, then Kristoff again.
Elsa felt a tug at her sleeve. A short, grey troll in a green dress stood at her elbow, the little prince swaddled securely and fast asleep on her shoulder.
“It won’t work,” said Bulda, nodding at the frantic parents. “She’s almost gone.”
“But, she can’t just die?” asked Elsa.
“Everything dies,” said the troll, calmly. “But it doesn’t always have to be so soon.”
“You can change this? Then why aren’t you doing it?” demanded the Queen.
“It’s not me that can change this,” said Bulda, with a pointed look. “I cannot create life.”
“Wait -what? I don’t understand. I can’t create life.”
Olaf bustled into the room, carrying a large pile of towels and a tiny bucket of warm water. “I got these, Anna said last week that they might be important,” he said.
Elsa stared at Olaf. “Oh. Maybe,” she said. She looked at her hands, and as she did so, a simple snowflake formed, growing to the size of an Arendelle penny and twisting, turning, spinning in her palm. Its fractals were easier to see as it grew, and yet still linked to the progressively smaller versions of itself repeating on into unseeable infinity.
“Oh good,” said Olaf. “I don’t like to go on wild goose chases. I’ve been on those and they’re all hissy and flappy, which is ok if you like that sort of thing, but I’d rather spend time with my best buddy reindeer -” He paused. “That’s you now, Bernd,” he said to the reindeer that sat forlornly in front of the bedroom fireplace.
Bernd rapped a hoof on the floor in acknowledgement.
“Yeah, thanks,” said Elsa. “But you’re wrong -”
“Bulda,” supplied the troll, twisting a large ruby necklace.
“Bulda. I hit Anna with my powers, twice. She nearly died, twice. My powers and humans don’t mix.”
“Don’t they?” said Bulda. “Then why are you still wearing that fabulous dress? I’d love to have that in my wardrobe.” She held out her arms.
Elsa looked down at the violet silk. As if reflecting her mood, the flowers looked shrivelled and frost bitten. “I can make dresses just by picturing the design,” she said.
“A potentially lucrative sideline,” said the troll. “What else?”
“I can control the weather and water. I can create living ice creatures which can live indefinitely.”
“You can do all that, and you still don’t believe you can save your niece?”
“What do I do?”
“A jolt of your powers to her heart will restart it. But Elsa, there will be a price.”
“What do you want?” asked the Queen. “I can give you jewels, gold, cloth, and anything else that my Prime Minister tells me is an asset of my kingdom.” The troll tilted her head as if picking up on the bitter edge to the final words, but Elsa’s desperation shone through and she smiled. “It is not a price payable to me, but it falls to me to tell you of it.
“Long ago, Grand Pabbie Troll asked your father if you were born with your powers or cursed with them. He answered born – and it was a lie. It always is. None of you has ever been born with these powers, but you might as well have been because it is at these moment that your lives begin. You died, Elsa, moments after your birth, just as your niece is doing now. Your father faced an impossible choice. He knew of your mother’s powers, of course. She tried to save the Bjorgmans when they were trapped in the frozen lake, but you know this…”
Elsa’s mouth had dropped open.
“You did not know this,” said the troll.
Elsa shook her head. “I never knew. My mother had powers? Why did she never tell me? And the Bjorgmans? Kristoff’s parents? She tried to save them? This is all too much.” She put her hands to her head.
“But all that is of little matter now. What matters is your choice. Help your niece, and she will live, but she will have your powers. You know what it is to live in fear of them. You will need to raise her, and in so doing your sister will fear that you are stealing her daughter. You may save your niece but lose your sister. And your love for your sister is what has made you ‘you’, as you are today.”
Elsa looked anguished. Then she set her jaw. “Then there is no choice to be made. If the price of saving my niece is me, then it is a price worth paying.”
“Your mother could not live with the price she had agreed”. The troll’s ruby earrings glinted as she turned her head. “They knew there was danger in sailing the winter’s ocean, but they knew it was the only option for their youngest child to survive even if they did not.”
“Wait,” said Elsa. “My mother knew they would die on that voyage? But they went anyway.”
“Oh yes. She had no choice. Any longer and she would have given birth here at the palace, and that would have been impossible. No third child could have survived and the heartbreak would have killed her anyway.”
“Third child?”
Bulda patted her hand. “Your brother. He was born on born the ship. Grand Pabbie can feel that he has survived.”
Elsa got to her feet. “I have to do this. I have to save her. But then, I need to know. I need to know where these powers come from, and I need to know about my brother.”

Chapter 4
Anna was feeding her daughter, while her son dozed in the twin crib at the side of the bed. She felt hazy after thirty six hours awake, and she knew she wasn’t going to be at her most rational.

Something had happened. She had no idea that Elsa even knew how to do first aid, but when her sister had pulled Kristoff aside and then as he had come to put his arms around her, Elsa had picked up her niece.
Miracles existed. She was sure of it now. Her daughter had wriggled in her aunt’s arms the moment that Elsa had placed an ungloved finger over that tiny little heart. It must have been the right sort of cardiac massage or something.
There had been tears and gratitude, promises that Elsa’s debt for the past was more than paid, if indeed anything had ever been owed. Anna had never believed in keeping score on these things, but she knew that Elsa felt it strongly.
Iduna was tiring now, her sucks intermittent and little snuffly snores becoming more frequent. Anna knew she should rock her daughter to sleep and place her in the crib, she knew she should get some sleep so that she was not too tired to feed Sven when he woke. She still wasn’t totally sure that they should have named their son after a reindeer, but it seemed to matter to her husband.
At that moment Iduna opened her eyes, and her mother was sucked deep into the deep blue.  The hypnotic stare of the newborn baby, absorbing love from her mother like a little swaddled sponge, might have lasted moments or a hundred hours. Anna had no idea how time passed. Eventually the beautiful  eyes closed and she reluctantly put her daughter down into the crib next to her brother. Anna turned onto her side, attempting to sleep. It was funny, she thought as she started to drift off, all babies were said to start with dark blue eyes, but she could have sworn that her children had both had turquoise eyes when she first saw them.

Elsewhere in the palace, Elsa wondered a corridor, her head full of storms, shipwrecks and mysterious surviving babies.
“Your majesty?”
Elsa recognised the voice and gritted her teeth. “Prime Minister.”
“Are you ready to release a statement to the public?”
“A statement?” Elsa was momentarily confused. Should she announce to the world that she had a brother?
“The royal birth. The baby? The succession?”
“Oh.” Elsa smiled proudly. “Yes, I’m ready. In fact, I think I’d like to do it personally. Would you like to accompany me to the balcony?”

When the Queen stepped out onto the balcony, the cheer was so loud that it must surely have woken the royal babies.
“Good people of Arendelle, this is a great day. Today, the Princess Royal has given birth to twins.”
She waited for the gasps and coos to subside, and then continued. “Twins, a girl and a boy. And let it be known that the Princess was born first, followed shortly by her brother. As the customs and traditions of Arendelle dictate, we will therefore be welcoming my heir, the future queen of Arendelle at the royal christening in four weeks time.”
As she withdrew from the balcony to cheers and applause, the Prime Minister placed a hand on her arm. Elsa bristled at this breech of protocol, but the Prime Minister did not remove his hand. “It might have been wise, your Majesty, to inform me of the twins before the announcement. Provision will need to be made.”
“I do not see the problem,” said Elsa, coldly. “We will not require two christenings, so there is no added administrative burden to your staff, and all the new babies’ needs are being met out of the Royal List which I believe I can allocate as I wish.”
She turned, forcing the Prime Minister to either remove his hand or to execute a martial arts move. He chose the former.
“You should have informed me nonetheless. As for that little speech, this child may be born first, but she remains heir presumptive.”
“I was clear,” said the Queen, with icicles practically forming the words in the air, “that my niece was firstborn. She will be queen.”
“I did not disbelieve you,” said the Prime Minister, equally frostily. “I merely intended you to understand that, in the case of your marriage and procreation, your own child would take the place of your niece as heir apparent.”
Elsa moved to leave the room, but stopped with her back to the doors. “The only thing apparent here is that you are far overstepping your place, Prime Minister. My head may be on the coins but my private life is my own.”
She spun on her heel, flicking her plait over her shoulder and whisking her purple shawl around her shoulders  so that, as the door slammed behind her, the Prime Minister was left with the impression of a galaxy of icy, twinkling stars.


Frozen Freedom (Part 1)

As my toddler watches Frozen for about the 120th time, I present a fanfic sequel, tying up some of the loose ends… as with all fanfic, the characters are not my property…

Chapter 1
A tiny reindeer calf nudged its way through the market place, crossed the bridge and pushed through the crowd at the palace gate. The guards uncrossed their halberds to let it through, then crossed them again as the crowds surged forward.
As it emerged in the palace hallway, the reindeer munched a bunch of flowers that a lady at the gate would soon discover was now missing.
It clattered up the stairs, took a right along a red carpeted hallway and stopped at a door. A short snowman with a crooked carrot nose was bobbing up and down, attempting to peek through the keyhole.
“Did you find Elsa?” asked Olaf.
The reindeer shrugged.
“Oh, that’s ok, Bernd. I could really have used an icicle, they make great spy glasses. I guess it won’t be long now.”
He leaned forward to peek again, and nearly toppled over as the door swung open and Kristoff ran out.
“It’s twins!” he yelled, pushing his sweaty blond fringe out of his face. As Olaf tried to shove past him, Kristoff slammed the door and wiped his face and then high-fived a surprised Olaf so hard that his middle section separated and he dropped to pieces. As Olaf’s middle tried to catch his escaping legs, Kristoff caught up the reindeer calf in his arms for a hug. He was rewarded with a big slurpy lick on the cheek.
“She did it! We did it! I mean – woah.” His legs gave out and he slumped to the floor, leaning his head back against the blue and white painted door. “What am I going to do now?”
Bernd looked at him with tender concern.
“You’re going back into there to be a father,” it said, using Kristoff’s voice. (Everyone always thought that Kristoff was a poor ventriloquist talking to himself. They didn’t realise that his reindeers used him as a conduit for communication.)
“I know little buddy, I know. I wish I could have done more for your daddy. He was my best friend.”
The reindeer licked him again.”Don’t live in the past. You have to look after the Queen.”
“The Queen?” said Kristoff. “The Queen! I have to go tell her!”
He dashed away.
After a moment or two, Olaf tried the door handle, found it would open and slipped inside to visit the royal babies.

Chapter 2
“So, your Majesty, what I mean to say is…” The Prime Minister paused, and adjusted his collar.
Elsa had her elbow on the tabletop, gloved hand under her chin. Her other glove lay discarded on the floor. She flicked her flingers and little translucent, blue-white skaters appeared in a spray of snow flakes and skated about on the polished table surface. Eventually she noticed that the Prime Minister had stopped talking. “I’m sorry. I am listening, really.”
The little figures pirouetted. The female figure bent and, with a graceful swooping motion, lifted the male figure above her head.
“Your Majesty, this is most unorthodox.”
“I know,” sighed Elsa. “Of course you would expect the male dancer to be stronger and to perform the lift, but with my tiny dancers the skirts seem to lend the females added oomph.”
“Not your ‘tiny dancers’, your Majesty. This briefing.”
“We have to do it. I’m the Queen.”
“You are indeed, your Majesty. And I need not remind you that Arendelle is a representative democracy with you as the Head of State.”
“You didn’t need to, but you did it anyway.” Elsa pointed and the dancers executed a perfect figure of eight.
“Indeed. We kept the show on the road after your father’s death, until you came of age, and now we have reverted to his method of government. What I am suggesting, your Majesty, is that we might try something a little more in keeping with your modern approach to monarchy?”
Elsa looked the Prime Minister in the eye. She saw nothing but honesty radiating off the man. “Are you suggesting that you take control?”
“Only of the small, day-to-day matters, your Majesty. I would of course revert to you for big decisions, matters of state, that sort of thing…”
A tinkly whooshing blizzard like ten thousand tiny arrows cut across his words. The table top was now surrounded by a jagged ice perimeter wall and the tiny dancers were saved from plummeting to the carpet.
“Prime Minister,” said the Queen, “how long have you been working for the Duke of Weselton?”
“I don’t know what you mean, your – ”
Elsa stood. She reached forward and snapped off one point of the table’s ice wall. She turned the flat icicle over in her hands.
It was definitely not a dagger, thought the Prime Minister, and the Queen was not threatening him. And yet, something unspoken hung between them. This fragile-looking, wide-eyed woman could create weaponry from thin air.
This was not the only peculiar thing. The royal tailor was going crazy trying to discover the maker of the clothes and shoes that the Queen and the Princess Royal were now sporting. The Prime Minister had his suspicions. He remembered a pair of ice skates that appeared on his feet out of nowhere at the end of what was now only referred to as the Hansean Attempted Coup. But he couldn’t prove anything. That was what was most frustrating thing.
He bowed low. “With your permission, your Majesty, I shall retire-”
“Well that is good news, I didn’t expect you to agree so easily-” Elsa began, but the Prime Minister raised his hand and continued.
“Your Majesty, I shall retire to my offices and permit my aides to draw up a constitutional settlement to allow best use to be made of Arendelle’s assets, which of course includes the person of your Majesty.”
“My – my person?” said Elsa, uncertainly.
“Yes, your Majesty. As an unmarried monarch without issue, you are of course an asset of the State of Arendelle. It may be that it is imperative that you marry.”
His exit wasn’t exactly undignified haste, but if he had tried to leave any faster, he wouldn’t have had time to get the door open.
Elsa gathered herself up to her full height, prepared to deliver the perfect retort, but sagged realising the moment had gone. “I should’ve just frozen the lock shut,” she muttered.
The door was flung open, and there was her brother in law, Duke Kristoff of the North Mountain. He hadn’t wanted the title and didn’t like it, but protocol demanded that the Princess should marry a man with a title and Royal Ice Master and Deliverer didn’t cut it. She smiled to herself. Cut it. Ice.
“What’s happened to Anna?”  One look at Kristoff’s red cheeks and generally panicked demeanour convinced her that she should have been in the room with her sister. Something must have gone wrong.
“You’re a father!” he blurted out. “Wait. What? No, I’m a father, you’re an aunt!”
“And Anna?” asked Elsa, an icy hand of fear clutching at her heart.
“She’s good, really good,” Kristoff reassured her. “Tired, you know, but Bulda says that’s normal for human females…” He trailed off in the face of Elsa’s ice cold stare.
Human females?” she asked.
“Yeah, uh, Elsa? There’s something I should probably tell you about my family. They’re -”
“Trolls,” said Elsa. “I should’ve guess when they all showed up like that for your wedding. I thought they were just being friendly to me, y’know, one magical creature to another…” She stopped. “Oh my. So you knew, you knew about what happened when Anna and I were little?”
Kristoff nodded. “I watched. That was the night they adopted me. And Sven.”  A small black thundercloud seemed to hover over his head. Elsa waved a hand and it vanished.
“Let’s not dwell on the past, brother of mine. Let’s go and celebrate your baby, give the royal seal of approval.”
They stepped out into the corridor and walked briskly towards Anna’s chambers. Elsa sent a spray of ice magic over herself, creating a vibrant purple dress, decorated with sprays of pansies and violets.
Kristoff smiled. He was not big on fashion, but he appreciated the way Elsa’s magic incorporated living flowers into the clothes that she and Anna often wore. Pink flowered clematis wove itself into her plait.
“So what have I got, niece or nephew?”
“Um, both, actually.”
In the State Room, the tiny ice dancers climbed down a table leg and ran to the window. Scaling the sill, they reached a latch, and opened the window. Then they were out, outside, leaping and drifting down to the ground where they skated off at high speed to the lake on the north mountain which would be their home. They were born knowing this, just like all the tiny dancers before them, created by the Queen during her meetings with the Prime Minister.


Creating our own worlds

It’s been ages since I did a writing course. I wasn’t sure anything could top the last one I did – I persuaded my employer to take one Wednesday afternoon a month off to attend a course at the ICA. I really did not think it would happen, but working an extra week of overtime a month was the norm there for all us bright young things, and developing writing skills was considered staff development, so it worked out well as a way for me to be out of the office and still doing something useful as well as enjoyable.

The course was led by creative writing teacher Greg Mosse, husband of author Kate Mosse, and used as a point of reference a book she was writing at that time. It turned out to be Labyrinth, book one of her now famous Languedoc series. It was fascinating to see how the ideas around research, character development and world building that we explored played out in her novel – and how different that book was from the book I thought she was writing.

Ten years on, I have lived abroad, married and had children, but I still haven’t had a novel published. I have one complete one, which I’m starting to talk about with agents and publishers. I have one that’s nearly there, but I couldn’t decide if my lead character deserved a happy ending and it rather paralysed me. I have one written in partnership with a friend that has a climax at the Beijing Olympics, so its time has passed – or it needs a substantial rewrite. There’s a time travel novel aimed at the Percy Jackson/ Harry Potter market. There’s also a promising series, again for younger readers, on which my son is my main consultant…

So to encourage me, and get back on the developing and editing track, I’m doing the FutureLearn online introduction to creative writing course.  I’m relieved and pleased to find that I have kept up the basics – my writer’s notebook is still beside my bed, my phone full of thoughts and observations, my Facebook status a mess of little notes I know I will one day pull out and use again. I can still respond to a writing prompt, pull meaning from a paragraph of someone else’s text, play the word games prescribed as homework.
I may not “need” a creative writing course after completing such a superior one before, but FutureLearn is free, easy to access online and each module is reminding me how to think about what I am trying to convey.

Of course, the best way to write a book is to write it. Style, technique, creating worlds… these things matter, but – as Dorothy Parker is supposed to have said, “writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat”. Or Kingsley Amis: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair.” Or Mark Twain. Or Mary Heaton Vorse. If you haven’t written it down, you haven’t written a book. It’s that simple.
So I probably better get on…

New for 2012…

Hello again!  It’s been a while, but I’ve had a lot going on that have taken me away from the online world.  If you think the blog has been underused, then my Twitter silence will have come as no surprise…

So what’s new for 2012:
– I’ve tried and failed as yet to get excited about the forthcoming London Olympics.  It might be the greatest show on earth but for me it’s a few months of transport hell;

– My newest novel attempt has reached 28,000 words. Please ask me more about this!

– We have a whole bundle of health issues going on chez Rose22joh, and are praying for a swift and happy resolution;

– I can blog about the EU again if I feel the need – and there’s a lot going on that could do with some reflection.

– I’m TIRED!

So voila: this year’s offerings are likely to be on writing, politics, parenting, faith and of course feminism. Probably.

And the fact that my New Year post is up before February? I’m counting that as a win!

Pondering Harry Potter

Last week I saw the eighth and final Harry Potter film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2“.  I strongly recommend you go and see it – this is one of the many official posters…

Having now seen all of them – and read all of the books, yes, despite being an adult – I wanted to stop for a minute and think about what makes Harry Potter so appealing.

1) Language
No matter the language you read Harry Potter in, the love of language is evident.
From the character names which so neatly fit the personalities to the place names, the background research into meaning is evident (witness the straight forward Madame Sprout the herbology teacher, or the more complex traitorous Malfoys – meaning bad faith in Norman French). Hogwarts itself sounds unpleasant and is beautifully translated in the French version to “Poulards” – a “poule” being both a chicken and a spot, and the “lard” element retaining the hoggish flavour of bacon.
The film vocabulary is beautiful too – from the bright simplicity and dodgy CGI of the first two films, the lights of Christmas and the darkness, mists and pounding music of the later films, Harry’s journey of growing up and his rites of passage are also articulated in a clear but entertaining way.
For me, it is the beauty of the words that draw the reader in. But what keeps them there?

2) A fantastical world
There are very few children these days who board a train and disappear to a school world without returning to their parents at the end of the day – boarding school itself is fantastical to the majority.
Throw in brooms, spells, a castle, and fantastical devices (mirror of Erised, time turners), animals (grindylows, boggarts, hippogriffs, not to mention the more mundane pet owls that deliver the post…) and you have an amazingly attractive world. Enid Blyton with magic and less racism.
It’ll be interesting to see if a love of Harry Potter moves into a love of wider sci fi and fantasy in Harry’s generation kids.

3) Love
The brilliant Mark Greene at the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity has blogged on the enduring theme of self-sacrificial love in the Harry Potter books, citing not just Lily Potter’s sacrifice for Harry (making him “the boy who lived”) but also Ron sacrificing himself during the chess game in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Snape’s journey,  as well as Harry’s own game changing action in the last film/ book.
He mentions too Dumbledore in the context of the father figure raising his son for death (rather like God in the bible).  But he doesn’t mention Dumbledore’s own self-sacrifice – saving Draco Malfoy from becoming a murderer by instructing Snape to take control at the critical moment, even though it speeds his own death.

4) Gender Equality -yes, even here
The Don’t Conform Transform blog has produced a neat overview of why the characters, and particularly the female characters in Harry Potter are different from the classical supporting role character roles allocated to women in other books and films.
Given JK Rowling was basically told to hide the fact that she was a woman in order not to alienate readers when the first book was published, this is a massive achievement, and another thing to love the series for.

5) Growing up
I read the first Harry Potter book quite late, in 1999.  I loved it so much, I bought a limited edition version for my then boyfriend and was one of the sad people up at midnight buying the Goblet of Fire (although in my defence, as a twenty-something it was at a station WH Smith at the end of a night out in London!).
Throughout the books, I’ve been Harry’s generation (more specifically I’ve been Hermione, as I imagine most girls are, particularly those that were a bit too clever and not the prettiest, though I’d hope for a bit better than to end up with Ron).
But in the last couple of films, I’ve felt a change in myself.  It is probably a facet of having a baby, you sort of take on a universal sense of motherhood.
In any case, I found that I was watching Harry, Hermione and Ron and worrying about them rather than cheering them on as they faced more and more dangerous situations.
And when a Weasley died (and I’m shocked that I can’t remember which – I had to use my outsourced-to-Google remote internet brain to check that it was Fred), I didn’t feel it as the loss of a friend as I felt it was in the book, but the loss of a child and the horror for the parents of having to carry on anyway.
Just as in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I found that I cried at what felt like inappropriate moments. For me, it is not the battle that triggers it, but the sure and certain knowledge in the preparations that there will be death to follow.  The scenes preparing for the defence of Hogwarts,  Professor McGonagall’s tiny moment of joy when she finally gets to do the “Piertotum Locomotor”  spell bringing the Hogwarts’ statues to life, those moments made me cry.  I hadn’t realised how much until I had to wash the mascara off afterwards!
And there was a moment in the slightly comical 19 years later coda when sensible-haircut Ginny and the others appeared, I turned to my friend and said “you do realise that’s us”.  Because like it or not, in a couple of years or so, it is.

So it’s not just those that were 10 or 11 when Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone came up that have grown up with Harry Potter.  While some of the books are a bit long, and as Mark Kermode pointed out in his review it did sometimes seem like Bloomsbury were afraid the magic would be lost if an editor were to prune a little, JK Rowling’s novels have been part of life – little islands of escapism, by turns enchanting and disturbing, encouraging reading and inspiring writing.

If you’re having withdrawal symptoms, I recommend Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson series – don’t be put off by the name similarity, the USA setting or the truly dreadful film adaptation of the first book “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief”, if you want to learn your Greek mythology and be thoroughly thrilled and entertained this is a great place to go next.  There’s a 5-book series already complete and the second of the next series is due out this October.
And don’t forget, in September, there’s too…

Today in a Haiku

(image, bizarrely from California State University Long Beach!)

While English haiku tend to be 10-14 syllables, the classic Japanese haiku is 17 syllables.
On Twitter earlier, I took up @MyWordWizard‘s haiku challenge:
“Got haiku? We’d love to read it. Submit @MyWordWizard at #poettalk #poems #poetry #poet #writer #haiku”

I may submit it to their site, but then it occured to me – can you better this?  Can you sum up your day today in a haiku?

Here’s mine:
“Sitting at home with toddler, /toys on floor, food in hair,/
what bliss./And mess”…

Guilty Pleasures – a good read

Part 1 of an occasional series.

This post was inspired by @Dotterel‘s creative writing course.

Just occasionally it is good to go somewhere else, get away from the work pressure, the toddler demands, the housework, the feeling that you ought to be doing something worthwhile with your time.

Reading gives me somewhere else to be, a place to escape to when things are tough, a place to relax in when I need to calm down before bed, a place to find inspiration, to set my mind racing through new ideas, to gain new learning, understanding and new ways of looking at the world, or to make me laugh. 
I can’t imagine not being able to read.  I dread losing my sight and having to rely on audio books where the pictures in my head would always be affected by the voice of the narrator.
Reading is a source of pleasure, a luxury, some time that is just for me in a world that makes so many demands on me.  I’d rather read than watch TV. But often I do both at the same time.

I’m trying to encourage my son to love reading – he already loves Doctor Who and reading is the closest he’ll get to being able to travel to other worlds. It might also buy me some more uninterrupted nights and a bit longer in bed at the weekend, if he can be persuaded to read in his own bed if he wakes up.

But what to read? 
There’s a box on Facebook asking for your favourite books.  Mine lists Terry Pratchett, Jilly Cooper, Philip Yancey, Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams, political fiction and non-fiction stuff.  I really must update it. 
Now I’d add Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Neil Gaiman, Alistair McGrath, Seth GodinLibby Purves, JK Rowling, Maureen Lipman, social anthropology such Watching the English, Andrew Rawnsley… 
Basically, it’s a bit of a mixture of faith, sci-fi, fantasy, classic crime fiction and politics. 
There’s a bit of chick lit too, but old school.  I hate the way that chick lit is marketed to us with the same pastel coloured books and sexy woman covers, Mills and Boons for the divorce and singleton generation. 

I read pretty widely.  But I like faith, politics, anything that allows escapism, comedy.  I like the fairytale and romance, but I like to feel that I’m learning something too – hence why I prefer the Jilly Cooper “Polo” or “Score!” where I learn the rules of polo and about the opera Don Carlos to Jill Mansell, Cecilia Ahern, Sophie Kinsella etc. etc. 
I don’t like in-your-face social realism but real issues wrapped up inside writing I’m enjoying on another level (the Captain Vimes boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness occurs in the middle of a story about dragons…).
I prefer a happy ending, or at least a bittersweet one, but I hate deus ex machina… I want to have had the chance to work out if it is going to happen the way it turns out.  That’s where Agatha Christie is such an inspriation.  It’s always there, from the start, woven throughout the story, not just dropped in at the end.

I don’t want to feel pressured to take on the author’s worldview, or to feel manipulated by the author – Ian McEwan is a particular bugbear of mine, I hated the end of Atonement, and I resented the way Enduring Love equated religion faith with mental illness. 
I want believable characters, or at least characters that react believably to the situations in which their authors place them.  
I have a Christian worldview and as a result I think I tend to want to offer my characters redemption.  I want someone reading it to think about a situation in a slightly different way as a result, even if it’s only to find a pun dropping into their heads…

In fact, literature is to change the world, in the head of one reader at a time. 
It doesn’t matter whether it is for a mind altering two hours on an emotional journey or setting your mind fizzing with a new way of looking at the world.  Literature takes people on a journey and they come back a slightly different person. 
That’s why so many people want to share their reading with others, from reading out paragraphs to an increasingly annoyed husband, to joining a book group, to writing their very own book blogs (like Norfolk Bookworm).

Getting creative…

It’s been a few years, but I want to start writing again.

I’ve finished the qualification I’ve been doing (Assoc CIPD with merit, thanks) and that gives me time on my hands. Well, ok, time that doesn’t involve potty training, new Ministers or a hoover (those three are almost never at the same time, I should point out).

I’ve had a story or two on the go for a while – the Day of the Lemming, a comedy spy novel I was writing jointly with a friend, and Oren and the Art of Onanism, which I’ve posted over at Authonomy.  The latter had some interesting reviews, and just for a little while it was number 2 in the religious books category.

Writing is part of who I am.  I wouldn’t blog otherwise.
A few years back I did a creative writing course – it was a few hours on a few Friday afternoons at the ICA in London.  The tutor was Greg Mosse and we talked about the book his wife Kate was writing set in Carcassonne.  That book was Labyrinth, the post-Da Vinci Code boom novel which was adopted by Richard and Judy’s book club and sold millions.  I guess it’s unlikely they’re still running those courses now…

Plus I work part-time and have a toddler, so getting the free time to attend is just not easy to come by.  So when I discovered Tim, the excellent @dotterel on Twitter and author of the Bringing Up Charlie blog was running an online creative writing course, I figured this might be a good way of getting back into the habit of fiction writing.  

I’m looking forward to critiquing and getting critiques from my writing partners, and hope that I can be fair and honest and that they will be too.

So let’s get writing!

Onanism – or books, popularity and self-esteem

Last week I was at number 2 in the charts. 

 A book I have written – “Oren and the Art of Onanism” – was at number 2 in the Harper Collins Authonomy website chart.  Of religious books. 

Authonomy is the latest wheeze for publishers to find new talent and road test it on the way.  Aspiring authors can upload their books – whether complete or not – as long as there is at least 10,000 words. 
From there, it is up to you to publicise, draw in readers via your participation in the forums and commenting on the books of others etc.  Your ranking goes up depending on the number of people that “shelf” your book (put it on their top 5 list of books they are reading online) or add you to their “watchlist”. 
If you are lucky you get comments from people who read your book, some suggesting grammatical or spelling changes, others commenting on the story arc, some praising it and increasing your ranking. 
Once a month, the top 5 books on the site are considered by Harper Collins editors.  After all, books that have made it into the top 5 have already demonstrated that there’s a substantial number of people that would considered reading and buying them. Ok, the chances of getting into that top 5 are miniscule.  But it beats the slushpile and the soul destroying search for an agent.  
A friend of mine who posts occasional comments here (Spinster of this Parish) has a fabulous book on the site (“Looking for Buttons” – a bittersweet chick lit romp) which reached number two in the chick lit chart and is getting stonking reviews from everyone that reads it.  Seeing this encouraged me to put my own far more esoteric effort onto the site. 
“Oren and the Art of Onanism” is the story of a rather privileged upper middle-class man drifting through life, when everything gets turned upside down by him witnessing the death of a motorcyclist.  Affected by this, by the actions and reactions of his friends and family and other changes in his life, he feels the need to find out if there really is more to life than this. 
And the title?  Well obviously there are some scenes of a sexual nature.  But people get it wrong about the story of Onan in the Bible. 
Onan’s sin is not actually the “spilling of his seed upon the ground”, the act of self-gratification for which his name has become a byword.  It’s going against God’s word  in marrying his brother’s wife, the disobedience to God who had spoken to him that is Onan’s sin – and also Oren’s. 

My friend who read it critically for me felt it was well-written and a very subtle way of telling someone that I once knew that I thought he was a w**ker…  you can judge for yourself.    If you want to read the first 5 chapters of Oren, they are available for free online here

You can choose the categories under which your book can be found.  As my book is “fiction”, “literary fiction” to be more precise, and has a “religious” theme, I put it under those three categories.
So after a week, it reached number 2 in the religious books chart.  It reached about 300 in the literary fiction chart, the one that for me would “really count”.  but no matter.  I was feeling pretty good.  Very gratifying.  1200th most popular book in the whole of the Authonomy, so again, not too bad given that it’s not exactly a mass market publication.  If you loved the Da Vinci Code then this book is not for you. 

But this weekend the chart was updated again.  Loads of new religious-themed books have been added to the chart this week and I’ve fallen 28 places!  Not just out of the top 2 but out of the top 30!   

The lesson in all this is that you can’t set yourself up to depend on other people for your self-esteem.  While I’m immensely pleased that I achieved a top 2 ranking, I’m also sensible enough to realise that it was only going to be until something better, or at any rate more popular came along. 
But it really brings home to me that the reason that popstars appear to have either depression, egos the size of Jupiter, or both, and why politicians often seem to be paranoid, or teflon-coated, or both. 
I’m grounded by my “real life” – I’ve got things in my life other than my attempts to be a novelist (whether my family, my faith or my paid work) that are not solely reliant on selling the concept of “me”.  So a drop in the chart position that my book holds is not the be all and end all – it’s not losing an election and therefore not having a job and it doesn’t directly affect my income (other than furthering me from the dream of one day being published and living in a big house writing for a living…).

But if you have nothing else – if you are completely dependent on the applause and the positive reinforcement… then hanging onto it would become an obsession.  To lose it would either leave you slightly unhinged or deeply depressed.  And if you stayed at the top and became used to that feeling, if you kept getting that public confirmation that you were right, or that what you had to offer then you’d do everything you could to keep it – popstars giving more and more personal, revealing interviews, politicians going for more and more populist policies…  

So it’s ok.  It’s still a damn good book that deserves a wider audience.
And I can choose either to promote it further, or I can switch my focus to the Wuthering-Heights-if-Jilly-Cooper-had-written-it-as-a-bonkbuster comedy chick lit thing that I’ve got underway…