On Revisiting Old Friends

 

Belgariad cast

Well I’m back. Still querying The House of Petunia. Currently editing The House of Motokazu.

I have successfully added in pixies. They are suitably belligerent.

But today the blog is not about writing. Today is about what I’m reading because what you read influences how you write. Lately I’ve been visiting a very old friend, namely David Eddings.

Well he’s not strictly a friend, but I feel like I’ve known his stories for most of my life. He’s now deceased but for those of you unfamiliar with his work David Eddings is best known for his two epic fantasy sagas The Belgariad, and the follow on, The Mallorean. I keep waiting for these to be turned into a movie, or a TV Series. Waaaaaay better than Game of Thones in my opinion. More humour. Less nudity and ridiculous violence. Humans more likable. A series where being a hero and not a douch-bag actually pays off.

At the moment I’m re-reading through Edding’s entire Belgariad/Mallorean epic saga with a bit of Belgarath the Sorcerer and Pologara the Sorceress on the side.  Thankfully I haven’t succumbed to the ‘I loved this when I was a kid but now I’m an adult I can see just how utterly terrible it is’. ‘Jana of the Jungle’ did that to me. ‘G-Force: Defenders of Space’ did that to me. David Eddings has not. Thank you David! The Belgariad has a clear bill of ‘I still really enjoy this’.

So, for the uninitiated, the world of the Belgariad is your standard medieval universe which seems to remain perpetually medieval in spite of having over seven thousand years to develop historically.

Seems odd, but never mind.

It’s divided into different nations which all share distinctive characteristics. Chereks resemble vikings, Sendarians are practical farm folk, Tolnedrans are kind of Roman and like money etc. Someone has suggested that this makes everything a bit flat and 2D. All I can say is that it never bothered me… The Angaraks are the baddies (divided into Nadraks, Thulls and Murgos) and yes, okay, giving them asian characteristics could be interpreted as racist, but I think the Mallorean softens that somewhat. Your nation would be a nasty one as well if it suffered for millenia under a horrible Grolim priesthood.

Human sacrifice, people. Nuff sed.

The story itself revolves around Garion, an orphan farm boy who is raised in obscurity by his mysterious Aunt Pol in remote Sendaria. He has no idea who he really is or his role in fulfilling ancient prophecy.

Cue ‘coming of age story’ peppered with magic, baddies, prophecy, grumpy sorcerers, spoiled princesses, uppity and overly superior sorceresses, barbarians, horse lords, spies, faithful blacksmiths, brainless knights, a ridiculously powerful and slightly silly orb and a rather smug talking Prophecy and any number of fantasy tropes you care to throw in and you have a rollicking good tale well told which is also FUNNY.  The scene in Guardians of the West when the pregnant Ce’Nedra goes into labour and Garion goes into panic still makes me laugh. Polgara’s threat to feed everyone boiled hay for a week if anyone dared call her ‘Polly’ I shamelessly stole and directed towards Grumble, my griffin character.

Its interesting reading this from my new writer’s perspective. David Eddings isn’t completely perfect. Firstly the Mallorean is a salutory lesson in ‘crutch words’. Crutch words are words or phrases that a writer unconsciously falls back on continually. For instance one author had her characters ‘cross their arms over their chest’ so frequently I wanted to scream. You have to watch for them because they ruin good writing. David Eddings, not so much in the Belgariad and definitely in The Mallorean, has all his characters saying ‘sort of’ with alarming regularity. It irritated me more than Silk’s constant needling or Ce’Nedra’s histrionics. ‘Really’ came in a close second.

Yes David, it really did.

Secondly Eddings tends to get bogged down in detail when he gets to battles and sieges. They go on for pages and pages and pages. I skipped most of the battle of Thull Mardu in Enchanters End Game and most of the seige of Rheon in Guardians of the West. Its the reason I gave up on is later series The Elder Gods. All he DID was describe battles and sieges.

Why me?

I’ve now got as far as The Sorceress of Darshiva in the Mallorean so my David Eddings journey is nearly at an end. I may be inspired to try The Elenium, I may go on to something different. Who knows?

 

Why Me?

It ain’t easy being the chosen one…

 

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On banana’s in August…

 

bananas

I love writing but…

I especially love writing silly things but…

My latest absurdity is describing pixie culture in The House of Motokazu. Pixies, among other things, are horribly easy to offend. They have a philosophical objections to socks and are deeply suspicious of bananas.

This sort of ridiculous can keep me happily writing for weeks but lately I’ve found an increasingly frustrating tendency to sit at my computer and blow raspberries at it.

You see, its winter here in the Southern Hemisphere. August marks the final month before Spring. Its been rainy, in biblical proportions, cold and drear. I’m desperately sick of it. I’m tired and weary and trying to write anything seems like trying to slog through knee deep mud. I know I’m not alone. Many of my writers guild colleagues are suffering the same gloom.

Trying to produce anything with my usual verve seems like trying to grow bananas in August (not that you can actually grow bananas in New Zealand, I’m just trying to make the banana metaphor stretch). I’m even starting to hate the work I’ve actually finished. When you get to that stage you know its time to back away from the computer before you delete the work of years in a fit of pique.

In the words of Monty Python, “and now for something completely different”.

Writing is both equal parts inspiration and discipline, but you have to acknowledge when it’s time to stop forcing the issue and take a writing sabbatical for a month or so. So to that end I’m putting the lot in the metaphorical drawer and leaving it. I’m querying at the moment, which is a process of ‘hurry up and wait’. So while I’m waiting to hear back (if at all) I’ve decided to fuel my imagination with some self directed study.

There are a couple of books that have sat in my ‘to be read’ pile, for a while. Now is the time to dust them off. Just for the record, these are non-fiction study books which require concentration, not novels.

So, here’s the lineup… this should keep me out of trouble for a while…

The mind of the spiritBedeThe element encyclopedia of fairies

Well maybe just one novel …

moominland midwinter

The last one is because I’m feeling very metaphorical about winter at the moment and this charming little story by Tove Jansson seems just the ticket.

I am also knitting a poncho out of an old, stupidly long, scarf.

Hopefully I will be back to my silly best soon. In the meantime The House of Petunia is still being queried… fingers crossed…

On Querying and the Birth of an Author

 

letters 2

So Pitch Wars is about over. Didn’t get chosen so I’m now facing the daunting task of querying agents, hoping that one, just one of them will take on The House of Petunia. I fired off my first one a few days ago and was quite surprised at the butterfly, slightly sick feeling I had when I finally pressed the ‘send’ button.

I’ve read a few stories about some people’s journey to becoming a published author. They vary and they bear remarkable resemblance to birth stories. I have never been through the process of giving birth but most of my friends have. I have one friend who was so traumatised by her terrible birth experience, she suffered PTSD and needed counselling. Another friend’s baby literally popped out in 15mins, giving her just enough time to get into the bathtub and get hubby to ‘catch’.

I think querying agents might just amount to the same thing. Some authors go through an agonising process of endless rejection, revision and disappointment before they land that contract. Some are contracted on the spot. I don’t know where my experience is going to fall, but I’ll keep you posted. But one thing I will keep in mind.

One of the heartbreaking things I read was an author who had an agent who required her to make huge amounts of changes to her manuscript. She made them and the agent still chose not to pick up the manuscript!

Thats just evil.

I will  continue to follow Diana Wynne Jones’ advice and write the kind of story I enjoy reading. Any revision I do to correct story weaknesses will be to satisfy myself, not anyone else.

As in relationships, as in writing – never change yourself to suit another person’s preferences.

Let the querying begin!

On Happy Discoveries…

Today’s happy discovery is Breaking Cat News by Georgia Dunn. Its a cartoon about cats and when I discovered it I binge-read the archives and GOT NO WRITING DONE!!!

Breaking cat news

Breaking Cat News follows the news career of (from the left) Elvis (grumpy siamese reporter), Lupin (manic anchorman) and Puck (sweet and sensitive cat in the field). They cover the news that is pertinent to cats like Kibble Spill In the Kitchen, Its Fuzzy Blanket Season, There is a Strange Cat in the Yard and Pot Plants: Why Do You Do This To Yourself Woman. I love it because it’s quirky, funny and engages in brilliant story telling. The water colour is fantastic as well.

The latest story line about a trip to the vet is hilarious. Click and check it out.

Georgia, if you ever read this humble blog, please be my illustrator!!

BCN lamp

On Self Doubt Fridays.

Welcome to doubt

I wonder if every writer suffers from what I now call ‘get a hair cut and get a real job’ moments? Those moments of panic when you’re driving, in the supermarket or at your day job, when you think about how you’ve devoted you life to trying to make this writing thing work and you think:

“What on earth am I doing?!!! I should be working in an office somewhere earning actual money!”

For some reason this always seems to happen to me on a Friday…

Except when it happens on a Tuesday…

No, I don’t know why…

This is where I deeply appreciate my fellow artists and the people who believe in me who slap me upside the head whenever I get like that. The people who threaten to mug me in a dark alley if I ever give up writing.

You guys are worth your weight in gold.

Thanks.

 

 

On Pitch Wars

Pitch Wars

So I’ve been rabbiting on about Pitch Wars for the last few weeks. Its a writing contest of sorts. The idea is to submit the first chapter of your book and your query letter to a selection of volunteer mentors. Each mentor is a published author in their own right. If they chose you then you’ll spend the next couple of months getting your novel shined up ready for the agent round. That’s where both you and your mentor pitch to a group of agents with the hopes of getting that awesome contract.

I have entered The House of Petunia.

For the experience if nothing else. You get to interact with a lot of writers.

For me it’s now a waiting game…

waiting 2

 

On getting up to date…

Its the last third of winter and that means that sometimes all you want to do is snuggle down by the fire and forget the horrible cold world exists. Normally I like winter. Frosty mornings are my favourite. Foggy days are terrifically mysterious. Rain makes you feel cosy and warm inside. Except when it’s bucketing down for days on end and turning the front lawn into a lake and getting everything soggy!

Which it has.

And as for those grey, chilly can’t-make-up-my-mind-what-I-want-to-be days. Ugh.

I’ve been working hard getting my submission of The House of Petunia for Pitch Wars (more about that later). In a writer’s life there are times when your creativity wells get depleted and you stare at the computer screen and think “I got nuttin”. Or worse, when you look at what you’ve written and think. ‘This is the biggest pile of rubbish ever created. I should delete the whole bally lot!’

Back away. Just back away from the computer…

But after a couple of weeks of mucking around I have found that I’ve gotten dreadfully bored. Now I’m ready to write insulting and silly things about pixies. Plus chip away at my platform, which includes getting a new profile pic up and running.

Bit of a fraught process really. This is my FIRST selfie.

I know, I know. I’m a luddite.

First attempts weren’t so great. Trying to eliminate inevitable double chin and try and tame the fuzzy fringe so that it doesn’t make me look like Donald Trump. And try to take it discretely in Laidlaw Library so that I don’t look like a narcissistic fool.

Must. Avoid. Duckface!

The pic done, I now wrestle with the complexities of trying to get the blasted thing from my phone to my computer. Dunno where Bluetooth has sent the file. End up emailing it to myself after much frustration. It shouldn’t be this hard!

But here’s the end result. Not bad. I don’t look like Donald Trump. Could do with a bit of mascara and lipstick though…

IMG_20170807_120719

On the birth of an author… (aka – finally coming up with a pen name that I actually like).

Hello

I’ve been fiddling with my name for quite some time now…

Andrea Coster just didn’t sound ‘authory’ enough so I embarked on trying to come up with a pen name.Authors do it all the time. J K Rowling used her initials rather than her actual name because she wanted boys to read her stuff. Apparently they wouldn’t if they realised she was a girl. To further fool everyone, when she embarked on a completely new series that wasn’t Harry Potter, she called herself Robert Galbraith. I’m not prepared to go that far. It would cause confusion at book fairs, so I thought I’d just try out the whole initials thing.

I tried that with my own name.

A D Coster…

Nope still not right. The ‘Coster’ bit was still not doing it for me.

Wait a minute! When Dad did some research into our family tree he found out that our family name was originally Costard. Oh, and we owned a pub… but I digress…

So lets try A D Costard…

Nearly there. (Actually I feel a little pretentious about the ‘Costard’. It feels like when Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances pronounces her last name to sound like ‘Bouquet’).

You know I’m not really sold on the whole ‘Andrea’ thing either. However my middle name is Dorothy.

Which I hated growing up because it was my grandmother’s name and sounded so old fashioned. But hey! Old fashioned is ‘in’ right now!

Dorothy it is then. Who’da thunk?

Dorothy Costard… Needs a little extra something…

My other grandmother’s name was Daisy. I really loved her and suspect that I inherited her sense of humour. Now you know who to blame. She should make a decent middle initial.

Righto, so here we go.

Dorothy D Costard!

And there you go. An author is born…

Win!

So when you’re wearing a new name you have to expect it to squeak when you turn around in it too quickly. My main worry is that in public settings when people only know me by my pen name, someone will yell ‘hey Dorothy’ and I’ll either ignore them or go “Who?… Oh Me!”

Could be awkward.

 

 

On What Come From Silly Conversations About Llamas

We had a silly conversation about Llamas today, in the staffroom.

As you do…

Apparently one of the local pet stores had them on display. We speculated how we would get one home. This set off a train of silliness in my brain, which will probably be a scene in the The House of Scathland, the fourth book in The Standingground Chronicles. In The House of Scathland Petunia embarks on her first mission as a Standingground. She is part of a team sent to restore a ecologically ravaged magical kingdom back to its former glory. This means reintroducing extinct species. She gets more than she bargained for when she sends her assistant Feverell, an elf who first appears briefly in The House of Standingground but gets more of a part here, returns back from his visit to the pet depot to get some drakon food.

llamaEnjoy.

I stared in astonishment at the sight that greeted me when I stepped outside the tent. There was a llama all right. It had poked its head out of the sunroof of the SUV and was looking around interestedly. He was chewing in that slow measured pace llama’s have and since he wasn’t anywhere near grass I could only assume that he was chewing on bits of SUV.

Mr. Triptych took one look and collapsed in helpless laughter. He was going to be no help.

“You got a llama,” I said, turning to Feverell who blushed.

“Well yes,” he said. “They were having a sale at the animal depot when I was getting the drakon food and I… well… I thought he’d be useful.”

“A llama.”

“Yes.”

“There aren’t any llamas in Scathland,” I pointed out.

Feverell opened his mouth.

“And I’m pretty sure they’re not a little known extinct species that died out and need reintroducing either,” I continued.

Feverell shuffled his feet.

“He was lonely,” he said. “He gave me a look Miss Petunia. I just couldn’t leave him.”

There was a short pregnant silence. The llama chewed at me.

“He’s called Rama,” offered Feverell.

There was a short pause.

“Rama llama,” I said flatly.

Another pause.

“If you tell me his last name is Ding Dong, it will go hard with you,” I said shaking a finger at the hapless Feverell. Feverell blanched.

I looked back at the chewing hairy mattress thing occupying the SUV. It spat out whatever part of the car it was masticating and honked.

I sighed. This is what happens when I try to do a favour for the elf king. Maybe Rama Llama could be a good diplomatic gift to King Endalon, I thought vengefully. After all Fedalis had plenty of grass.

 

On Forgetting Coffee and its Consequences…

Caffiene

So I woke up this morning with the horrified realisation…

I forgot to buy coffee yesterday and there is none in the coffee jar!

To those who might be concerned about my coffee addiction, let your fears be soothed. I only drink one cup of coffee a day in the morning but its a vital cup of coffee! Of course it’s Sunday, and one of my little rituals is taking a covered cup of coffee with me to church. Yes we are that hip folks…

I arrived at church, groggy and half asleep and remembering that I was on chalice that week (thats giving the communion cup to people during communion for those of you unfamiliar with church speak). So I sit in my usual spot (otherwise it disturbs my shalom)thinking ImustnotforgetI’monchalicImustnotforgetI’monchaliceImustnotforgetI’monchalice.

I forgot… I blame lack of coffee…

“Andrea?” says Andy our Vicar. “Aren’t you meant to be up here?’

I snap out of my dream at the end of the offertory hymn to realise that everyone in the church is staring at me. 

Uh oh…

Quickly scoot up to the front to a chorus of titters as I blame the whole thing on lack of coffee!

Embarrassment! Andy gives me a friendly twinkle.

‘You were deep in prayer weren’t you?’

Yes. Thats exactly what happened. Prayer. Absolutely. Exactly that. Yes.

I have coffee now. All is right with the world.