On Introducing the Carnivorous Dahlias

These guys were quite fun to draw. They’re only appear in two paragraphs of chapter seventeen in the first book of the Standingground Chronicles – The House of Petunia, but creating them was enormous fun. These are dahlias which the hamadryads have persuaded to wear fake joke vampire fangs and pretend to be dangerous. As you can see, they’re throwing themselves into the part with enthusiasm and starting to enjoy themselves WAY too much.

They sulked when Petunia took their fangs away…

Carniverous Dahlias

On New Strings to Bows

pencils

Again, its been a while…

I have been tired… very tired… The kind of tired where you can’t even get out of your own way and the thought of trying to use your brain, let alone trying to be creative is… well…

Ugh.

You know the feeling.

Never the less strange unexpected things grow in these kinds of places and the inspiration arose to try out a skill that I thought had been left behind at high school.

I decided to start illustrating.

I took art to 7th Form level in high school (thats either 12th Grade or Year 13 in current speak, I think) and when I graduated it seemed to get packed in a suitcase under the bed and never used again. Until lately…

I got out the metaphorical suitcase, dusted off my skills and had a go at drawing some of the characters in The Standingground Chronicles. I started off with Grumble which may or may not have been a good idea. Grumble is a griffin which meant I had to learn to draw an eagle head… then a lion body… then wings… Then assemble them all together like some outlandish exercise in drawing lego. Then I hit upon the idea of posting them here. It’ll give you some idea of what my brain has come up with. They may never get into my published work but this is a special treat for my potential fans. Just follow the link or click on the page ‘Character Art’.

And so I reveal my first character: Ta Dah

Grumble

Grumble von Humboltshire, Knight of the Second Order of the Talon Gard, is the guardian of the Standingground family. He takes his position seriously. Perhaps a little too seriously because of traumatic past experiences.  He gets rather paranoid about Petunia’s safety which results in the unfortunate habit of him shoving Petunia under his wing and sitting on her whenever he gets in a panic. Still, he is a fearsome guardian. He first appears in Book 1 – the House of Petunia, and will take quite an important role in book 4 of the Standingground Chronicles – The House of Scathland.

More character art will be forthcoming soon. (When I get ’em finished and figure out how to work this benighted sketch program I’ve downloaded…)

 

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…

 

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 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 New Shiny Books!!

Weeeee! I just feel like a piece of my childhood arrived in the mail!

English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs…

English Fairy Tales

I used to own this book when I was a child. We’d bought it at a book fair held at Caroline Bay.

I loved it.

And then, as children sometimes randomly do, I gave it away to a friend. And poof, it was gone from my life. I really missed it after a while but didn’t think I would ever find another copy again. This is in the age before the internet thingy…

I started thinking about it again just a few weeks ago because now I’m an aspiring novelist I search for resource books on mythology, folktales and magical creatures to fuel my own work. Suddenly I remembered my old fairy tale book and did a google search and behold! There it was in Book Depository!!

Now it has arrived!

This inter-web thingy ain’t half useful..

 

On Comfort Novels

bunny slippers

I recently started a conversation thread on my Writer’s Guild website asking what books or series of books (I was kind) they could comfortably be stranded on a desert island with. Most of them cheated and said they’d bring notebooks instead and write their own stories.

That’s authors for you…

As for me I did NOT cheat and reckoned that the series that would see me through getting trapped on a desert island would be The Narnia Chronicles by C S Lewis.

I know this for a fact.

In 1994, as part of my college course, I went on a trip to Vladivostok, Russia, for three months. You need to understand… this was the age before kindles, before internet, before laptops. I wrote my college assignments on an electronic typewriter!  Even email was a new fangled thingy…

I know… I know… how did we even remain walking upright…

If I wanted reading material I needed to take actual paper books with me and because you really don’t want to be lugging a library around Russia in a suitcase I was forced to choose a few books that were likely to last me three months.

I chose the Narnia Chronicles.

The Narnia Chronicles

I read and re-read and re-re-read and re-re-re-read them. Mind you when I got home I didn’t pick them up again for years. But I did pick them up again and I’m still re-reading them to this day.

The Narnia Chronicles are what I call Comfort Novels. For me the story isn’t spoiled by knowing what will happen.

The joy is in reading a tale well told like Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

Howl's Moving Castle

Or Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley.

Spinlde's End

These books are the literary equivalent of comfy slippers. The good old stories that you turn to again and again when you want something easy to read. Sort of like your Mum’s apple crumble. It’s the same recipe but you know it’s gonna be delicious. My father however reads a book, donates it to the local library and never refers back to it again! How can anyone do that!?

Still working out how I’m related to him…

My go-to comfort authors are Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Robin McKinley, Rick Riordan, Sharon Shinn, C S Lewis and Ilona Andrews. In fact the only books I’ll buy now are the ones that I’ll re-read.

Ah-ha you say! But how will you find good new authors if you only buy books that you will re-read?

Thats what libraries are for, silly…

And Bookbub…

So what book would you be happy to take to a desert island with you? No Cheating!!

On Critiquing Tamora Pierce…

Nothing produces more bowel knotting terror in an author, than having their work critiqued.

For those of you who have no desire to produce any kind of prose, it is difficult to describe just how precious a piece of writing becomes when you have slaved and sweated and spent countless hours staring at a computer screen. Its almost like producing a child.

You know what happens to a Mamma her offspring are threatened…

dragon

But writing is not a sport for the soft of skin needing their ego’s stroked. If you want your work to improve you have to toughen up, buttercup, and take it on the chin when someone,( who knows what they’re talking about that is), tells you that some piece of your work isn’t working. Kinda like submitting your carefully crafted dish of food before the Masterchef judges.

I did mention the bowel knotting terror didn’t I? Just making sure…

But critiquing is a two-edged sword. When I joined the writing site Scribophile I was expected to critique other people’s work.

You end up doing this quite a lot. It takes a LOT of concentration, so much so, that you can sometimes find yourself going cross eyed with the effort.

It also starts doing weird things to your brain…

At the end of an afternoon of critiquing prose for fellow writers, I took a break to eat some food and read a book for fun. I was doing some comfort reading because my brain had flopped into a gooey sludge from ALL THAT CONCENTRATION! My book of choice was Tricksters Choice by Tamora Pierce.

I started reading.

Hm, she needs to tighten up that sentence…. things seem to be moving a little slowly here…Oh thats and effective metaphor… Yeah, I’d reword that…

0_0

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME??!!!

Holy Cow I’m critiquing Tamora Pierce!!!!!!!

Arrrrgh!!!

I often wondered if the Masterchef judges have spoiled their palette’s so much with fine dining that they’re incapable of sitting down to a plate of ordinary egg and chips without feeling the need to critique the consistency of the egg and whether the flavours blend effectively.

Thankfully it wore off.

Like a mosquito bite…

So dear reader we can learn two things from this week’s scrawling.

  1. Always be thankful for any critique you get (even the mean ones – they still have a truth buried in the manure somewhere) because a lot of time and effort has gone into it.
  2. Never read a book right after you’ve been critiquing other peoples work. Watch Pokemon instead…