Posts

Why Fantasy?

It has been some time since I have been able to focus on my writing.

On more than one occasion of late, I’ve said the above words with earnest, though in many ways the sentiment isn’t true. In fact, since July, writing seems to be about the only thing I’ve been doing. But of course, when I talk about my writing, I don’t mean dissertations, or study, or literature reviews. For me, writing has always meant fantasy, and only yesterday did I ask myself why. 

It might seem like an odd time to pose such a question, after all these words and all these years. But as I said, recently I’ve been drowning in academic text, and perhaps it took that shift out of my comfort zone to wonder why I find the damn place so appealing in the first place. And since I’ve not been the only one to ask myself “Why fantasy?” since I first whipped out the pen all those moons ago, here are three reasons that just never seemed to stopped me. 

1. It’s childish

Whatever age you first start to dream up a world of knights and dragons, you’ll likely be told you are too old for it. I was 8, but it didn’t stop the eye-rolls, the snickering, or the constant requests to repeat myself. Even now, near two decades later, I have to assure friends I am writing a fantasy novel, not a fantastic novel (though God knows I hope it’s both).

Part of the reason we all place children and fantasy together is because of the historical role of fairy tales. On top of that, some of the original landmark fantasy novels, from Alice in Wonderland to The Hobbit to the Narnia series, were universally adored by children, despite not all being initially pitched at that level. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for example, was a favourite among high school students, though even the sternest critic would agree many aspects of the work simply couldn’t be discerned by the average young reader. Thus, the association is as much an accident as it is a statement of truth.

In more recent times, the meteoric rise of “Young Adult” (or YA) literature has fuelled this belief. In the wake of the Harry Potter explosion, publishers started to churn out fantasy and sci-fi series by the dozen, all of them marketed for young readers. This ploy was based in economics, though the evidence now suggests a large portion of YA readers are fully-grown adults. You’re almost statistically as likely to buy The Hunger Games at 13 as you are at 30, driving a very large hole into the theory that it’s only a minority of adults who refuse to put the so-called baby books away. Added to that is the fact that, in reality, YA fantasy makes up only one part of the wider fantasy landscape. The success of Game of Thrones has highlighted a very different side to the genre, one that not even the most liberal parent would let their kids near. And again, Martin’s masterpiece represents only one drop in an ever-expanding ocean of fantasy novels, whose range of themes, style, and complexity could only be ignorantly shoved together. 

Overall, the only real link between children and fantasy novels is that they have an appetite for them. Of course, given the demand for an active imagination, it’s hardly surprising they do. But where that association becomes problematic is in the assertion that people must grow out of fantasy novels, as they do behaviour or clothes. Because in a world whose issues demand increasingly creative solutions, any ultimatum to give up imagination should be treated as dangerous.

2. It’s a waste of talent 

Sadly, this too is a response many fantasy writers will be used to. Oftentimes, the insult is veiled, indirect, or perhaps not even consciously given. It may for example, appear as inoccuous as someone asking you whether you write anything else, a question a romance or thriller writer rarely has to deal with. In this sense, fantasy writers are frequently made justify or apologise for their genre, a phenomenon made all the worse by the negative portrayal of fantasy/sci-fi fans in film and television. Conversely, those who produce more contemporary fiction are treated as true masters of the writing craft, an honour which never seems to trickle down to the legions of equally diligent writers of speculative fiction. 

Broadly, there is little recognition for the varied talents fantasy writers possess. The art of worldbuilding for example, is treated as a haphazard process, a mere few hours with a random name generator and a map. In truth, wonders such as Hogwarts or King’s Landing are often painstakingly designed, with an attention to detail approaching that of real life. At the highest level, such artificial creations are so intricate and so subtle that they begin to resemble something natural, like a machine suddenly drawing breath. The very best worlds-the ones we re-visit time and time again in our minds-can whisk a reader away in a sentence. Sadly, it’s perhaps this same therapeutic transportation which gave rise to the notion that fantasy novels are at best easy reads, at worst some form of escapism. In reality, the fantasy novels we consider simple are often the most complex. Arguably, they have no choice but to be. After all, it’s human nature to point out peculiarities, meaning fantasy novels work best when they present nothing no strangeness at all. Of course, fantasy is the genre strangeness calls home, though not in the way people believe. The Game of Thrones TV series, for example, was widely criticised for its most recent season, where all understanding of troop movements, physics, and military strategy seemed to have been thrown out the window. Unsurprisinly, season 7 was also the first to grow beyond its parent books, the success of which were all but built on a meticulously cohesive world. In a way, it has taken this interrupted page-to-screen translation to highlight just how much a fantasy phenomenon like Game of Thrones depends on the talent of its creator. 

3. It’s not literary

In effect, the above two arguments all boil down to one larger criticism of fantasy, which is that it just doesn’t offer any literary merit. At the nucleus of this argument, we find trashy werewolf romances, romping zombie gore, and the swath of unneeded and frankly unwanted straight-to-Amazon money-makers. Even so, the mobs of literary critics are just as likely to come for Zombie Hard-rock-alypse as they are for the works of Tolkien, Le Guin or Wolfe. Why? In 2017, we could lay the blame on the rise of self-publishing, the never-ending release of derivative YA fantasy, or the power of the Marvel war machine. All of those points would be valid, all of those points would be not. 

In truth, it’s the penchant the fantasy genre has for a traditional tale of adventure which probably works against it. In award circles, focus often centres on intimate, character-driven novels, meaning judges are often wary of the fast-paced, plot-heavy fantasy. Awards may only be a single metric of a novel’s merit, but the absence of fantasy winners reinforces the view that it is the genre, and not the system, which is ultimately at fault. 

Fantasy has, and always will be, a genre of literary worth. As far back as The Lord of the Rings, one of the first mainstream fantasy novels, the genre was offering a very accessible critique of New World industrialisation. Sixty years, of course, has changed the world, but not the genre. Today, fantasy writers are at the heart of our discourse, providing fresh views on politics, gender norms, and sexual orientation. Indeed fantasy, a genre home to countless activists, is often the first to detect the pulse of social change. It also remains the most viable entrypoint for young people into such important conversations. 

In some ways, fantasy is the most literary genre, albeit different to those around it. Contemporary fiction is arguably confined to a set of rules, restricted by the scope of earthly possibility. In an ever-evolving world, it is often pointing the finger at yesterday’s problems. Fantasy, perhaps by accident, is pointing at tomorrow’s. None could argue that The Hunger Games, a dystopian piece a half-decade ago, now cuts eerily close to the bone. That, in summary, is why fantasy is my genre.

Yes, it is odd, abstract, at times even juvenile. But it is also where we find the answers to the questions yet to be posed. So far removed from our world, it might be the last place left for the mind to breathe, to watch, to discover. The last place left we find hope.

So if you can no longer see the wood for the trees, perhaps it is time you walked in stranger forests…

The Last of the Flames

[The following is something I thought up for a <1000 words story challenge on sweek.com. The aim was few characters, but epic fantasy. Enjoy!]

Tara watched as the white bird climbed towards the clouds.

“Just a little further,” she whispered, clutching her spirit stone close.

The slender little bird danced left. A second later, a black claw ripped the air where it had been. Tara breathed a sigh. The talons belonged to a winged serpent, one of the many giving her messenger chase. A haze of arrows from below joined the pursuit. But it wasn’t enough. With one great flap of its wings, the raven stole away. Two heartbeats later, it disappeared from view.

“For the Emperor?” the man beside Tara asked. Gerald, her father’s Captain. His armour was a soft shade of silver in the twilight. His hair, framing his face, was traced with lines of grey. Even after all these years, he still found reason to smile.

“I’ve told him we’ll hold the fortress at any cost,” Tara whispered.

Gerald banged a fist to his chest. “A light that never dies,” he said. His voice was braver than his face, which now fought off a frown. Perhaps he considered that part of his duty.

Tara nodded, turned her attention to the horde ringing her fortress. There were thousands of them, spread out in colour across the land like a patchwork quilt. The noise of their hungry breathing alone was like thunder. All manner of crude steel rose from their ranks. Pikes, spears, swords. They advanced slow across the field. She’d seen something like it only once before.

It was in the months before her mother died, when her father thought to build a garden. The two of them sat there for hours, as though whatever precious breath her mother had left might last longer beneath the trees.

But soon, the Winter Wane took her, as it did everybody else who suffered its chill. The garden then turned to rot before the spring. All that was left there now were weeds. Weeds and half-memories.

The white walls of the fortress, on the other hand, shone even as the sun melted into the horizon. Evredel: her family’s castle, a beacon of heavenly fire known across the north. Among the grasses this far from the empire, it was the last flower left.

“A blood sacrifice,” Gerald said, pointing to a spot in the rabble. “They’re summoning their God to-”
His voice trailed off.

At the front of the enemy lines, an old man sank to his knees. Even from the wall, Tara recognised the blue glow, though it was lost to the shadows of the horde. His name was Verden, the Water Spirit. Tara preferred to call him Dad. She felt the blood throbbing in her ear as the Barbarian King trudged up behind him.

He’d only left two days before, riding out ahead of a great host as the first light of dawn kissed the sky. “Home for dinner, sweet spirit.” Those had been his only words. The saddest part was that Tara had believed them. The same man, now ruined and chained, tried to stumble to his feet. The Barbarian kicked him back into the mud.

Gerald’s hand found Tara’s shoulder. He probably thought she’d try to save him, but she knew he was beyond their aid. Even if she had time to open the gate, it was the last thing Verden would want.

“A river runs the surest course,” he’d once told her. The words of a calculated man.

Her father seemed to give her a moment’s glance, then the axe took his head from his shoulders. Tara collapsed against the battlements at the same time his body met the floor. By the time she had blinked the first tear, the drums had already started.

Over the noise, Gerald was calling to a soldier. But that was only what Tara saw. She’d retreated into her mind too far to suffer sound.

“Your Grace,” Gerald mouthed, and Tara realised she’d just become Queen. She saw a bundle in the Captain’s arms, hugged as close as mother and child. The Inheritance Sword. Gerald was choosing the middle of a war to make her a spirit.

How can anyone be expected to become great at a time like this?

She had her hand on the sword when the answer came.

The first few inches of steel slid free. The metal pulsed with light, flashing with the colours of the elements. Water, earth, wind. The only shade she didn’t see was the one her people needed.

Beyond, the battle had begun. Tides of barbarians crashed into the wall, shrieking as they listed blood-drunk up ladders. Some of the monsters they tamed lapped over with them, feasting on whatever they found. The air carried the song of steel, the smell of fear and the iron taste of blood. Tara could only watch as the garrison crumbled.

That was when she heard the gasp.

“A light that never dies,” Gerald whispered, falling to his knees. “A light that lives!”

The sword in Tara’s hand stole the colour of flame. The fire, white-hot, erupted inside her too, toasting her blood, wreathing her heart, licking every fold of her skin. By the time she’d started to glow, her men were already cheering.

“To arms,” she shouted. Her voice, as though it were cannon fire, boomed across the fortress. Everywhere men rallied and charged back to the walls. A great snake, coiled round a pale tower, was the first to feel their wrath. It took a dozen spears and skewered, fell to the earth.

Out on the plains, the Barbarian King shuffled his hand. His great war machines lumbered forward. Soon, their missiles filled the sky, screaming down on Evredel. A few pocked the gate and blew it from its hinges.

Tara leapt to the courtyard, felt her fiery cloak wriggling behind her. She met the earth with a small puff of ash. She took a deep breath, flexed her fingers on her sword, and turned.

Beyond the ruin of the gate, through the ghost-grey smoke, the barbarians roared.

They were coming.

As I Edit (Mist Rock Chapter 3)

I’ve decided to try give you a better insight into my novel, Mist Rock, as I work on the second draft.4d0e8e5df3e02d2679d57fc15032dcfd.jpg

At the moment, I’m editing Chapter 3, “Leaving”. I finished work on the Prologue, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 last week, and am finally starting to find some consistency in the process.

That being said, I’ll admit that up until now I’ve had it kind of easy. The prologue, where we find Queen Farelia fighting for her life atop the Arakil Mountains, had been planned in such detail that the chapter almost wrote itself. The same could be said of Chapters 1 & 2, which focus on Marke’s decision to leave Mist Rock for the Golden Lance Academy.

Which brings me to Chapter 3, where the plot starts to pick up the pace.

There’s far more direct conflict in this chapter. Not only does Marke have to say goodbye to his family, but we start to see just how dangerous the world around him has become. It’s a sort of “curtain-raising” chapter, a few thousand words that takes Marke beyond the safety of the walls of Mist Rock while also delving into the great war on the horizon. That, in itself, is the first book in the Mist Rock series summed up too, so deep down I feel this is a chapter I have to get right

We’ve all had to leave home at some point, and though it definitely isn’t the most emotionally charged moment in the story, it’s a huge step for Marke all the same. That makes it a huge step for me.

I worked on half the chapter last night-the half that sees Marke say goodbye to his mother (Hylia), sister (Nadia) and father over a few scenes I hope give some feel as to how torn he is. I didn’t want them to be melodramatic, which given my flowery style was certainly a risk. Instead, I tried to say more with fewer words.

As the first book is seen solely from Marke’s POV, we only meet Hylia and Nadia on a number of other occasions. This concerns me, not least because the Golden Lance Academy is an all-boys institution, and so the opportunities for my female cast suffer. It’s doubly annoying as Nadia and Hylia both play major roles as the series progresses. I’ve considered dropping in a “Nadia POV” at some point, but am wary of disrupting the story.

I’ll have to keep it in mind as the editing proceeds.

I’ll leave you with some ‘rough stuff from the middle of the chapter, where Marke and his father enter the Aelia square.

“Do you think it will be open war, Dad? Does it feel like it did before the Uprising?”

His father made another face. “I’m afraid it does. But back then things were different. We had her, for one thing,” he said and gestured to a statue in front of them.

They had just entered the Aelia Square, where kings and queens of old were immortalised in stone. Some of them held swords, others hammers, one a bundle of flowers. The statue his father pointed to was the newest, scarcely two decades old. Even fixed in stone, Farelia Aelia looked impossibly beautiful.

“They still haven’t repaired it,” Marke said, nodding at the fissure that ran down the front of Farelia’s dress. The winter before, a terrible storm had descended on the Mistlands, wreaked the kind of havoc that hadn’t been seen since the famous Wailing Storm centuries before.

“They will in time,” his father said. “She mightn’t have been queen long, but the people loved Farelia. They will remember it before the end.”

Marke nodded, surveyed some of the other faces who were worshipped as Gods. One of them was Dia Aelia, who had been queen during the Aelia War, where her cousin rose up against her, gathering support from all over the realm.

Her statue was clear, the stone polished white as snow. But even now masons worked on it, tried to stop it from crumbling. The same hammers rang all year round, so much so that Marke wondered could the damage ever be undone.

Those cracks, he knew, must have been somewhere inside.

Mist Rock-The Hook

Hi again 🙂

Quick post that came to mind (also check out the homepage it’s fresh)

I often wonder, if my dreams came true, and I had to pick one or two lines to try best sell my story, which would those lines be. I’ve in some ways settled on the end of chapter 8, a chapter entitled “The First of the Thunder”.

Perhaps it’s fitting it ends on a rumbling note, a warning for the story to come. Enjoy!

Marke returned his gaze to the hill.

Soon, one shadow became clear. It was a solitary mounted figure, silhouetted against the pale ghost-light of a green dawn.

He swallowed.

Alongside him, Damir’s expression wavered too, but his eyes never left the hill far-off.

“They are the Exiles,” he said.

 

How to Create the History of a Fantasy World

Hello there!

I decided to upload a quick post to answer a question I received today. It simply read:

How much history does a fantasy world need?

It’s a good question, and one we fantasy writers often ask ourselves at the “worldbuilding” stage. Worldbuilding, which involves creating not only history, but geography, culture, politics, religion etc, can be a tough ask for many authors, especially those who are not well versed in these topics as they relate to the actual world. It can be hard, for example, to imagine the economy of your kingdom if you don’t have a basic understanding of the principles of supply, demand, currency and trade. And if your novel is largely set in the bustling streets of a city port, then the research you carry out in this area becomes even more pivotal to the realism of your world, to the overall success of your story.

In order to create the history of a fantasy world, you first have to realise that every aspect of worldbuilding is secretly hidden within it. Trade disputes start wars, weather changes bring famines, and people migrate to find water and food. Every part of your history-whether it be a timeline (my personal favourite), a “lost book” or a series of ancient texts-should follow this guiding principle, a principle that says people react to the world around them. Wars, for instance, do not start because someone steals Helen of Troy; they start because people lust after power, or land, or resources.

Even so, you should remember that history lends romance to these stories. It talks about heroes like Achilles, and quests, and love, even when the reality is far less inspiring. So when you do write a history, remember that oftentimes the victors will twist the words to serve themselves, or erase parts that undermine them. To put it simply: real history lies; the history of your fantasy world should do the same.

As for how much history you should create, that really depends on the story you are writing. If your main character lives in a nomadic tribe, oral history (songs, poems etc) may be quite important, whereas written text may be reserved for religious purposes. On the other hand, if the world your story is set in experienced a catastrophe (e.g. natural disaster, civil war), then some parts of history may have been lost. Many fantasy authors also use this when there has been a change of power or the extinction of a race. It’s important to note, this technique should not be abused. It frustrates readers when an author hides history for the sole purpose of creating “mystery” where none should exist. Remember, it only takes one person to share a story; history is not so easily lost.

I personally feel you should only create as much history as your story demands. This can be difficult, because worldbuilding is a joy in itself, but it’s also a writer’s sinkhole. If you want to get your story down on paper, you have to accept that at some point you have to stop building your world and instead start delving into it. In many cases, writers admit they don’t get a feel for their world anyway until they let loose a few characters. So rather than meticulously designing a system of currency, write a scene where your main character explores a market. Shouts, bargaining, thieves running through the stalls-this is all far easier to imagine than a page on taxes and coins.

As I’ve said, you should try to avoid writing history where it’s not needed. If your story hinges on a famous sword, for example, then the history of how it was forged will be crucial to your plot. If, on the other hand, you have a space on your map marked “desert lands”, where nobody goes, then perhaps spending hours writing about the culture of the desert tribes isn’t the best use of your time. Like I said, such an exercise can be rewarding, but it won’t get your story down on paper.

I’ll write more about history in another post. But for now, I’m going to leave you with some of my own, which I feel is crucial to the plot which happens 300 years after the event described below. As a result, you’ll see here I’ve explored “The Battle of the Thousand Fields” in quite some detail, switching between an authoritative historian voice and a more poetic first-hand voice as I saw fit.

The pivotal battle is fought outside the ruins of Mistwall. There, in the once-home of Elerend Aelia, the loyalists meet the rebels at the Battle of the Thousand Fields. Queen Dia rides there herself with her husband Owenn Helix, supported by two armies of Mist Rock, the garrison of Cadewall, the troops of Talmoneer, the Nareland King Artador Rakus and his Ember Cloaks, men of the Vaster, and Arlien knights. The rebels, led by Elerend Aelia himself, come in the form of the central Amarin army, Gargrin mercenaries and lesser divisions of Greatbay. All told, the rebel force is said to be over thirty thousand strong. The Queen’s force is known to be much smaller.

For the first three days of the battle, there is little fighting; the rebels defeat Cadewall troops and the Arlien knights inflict casualties on the rebel’s left flank. On the fourth day of the battle, Elerend tries to catch the Queen early. At the last moment, the Ember Cloaks charger a much larger force of Amarin cavalry, leading to a pitched battle amongst the summer gardens. By sunset, the Amarin army is said to have lost half its light cavalry.

On the fifth and final day of the battle, Elerend Aelia rides out ahead of his lines. He holds a red cloak high above him, waving it at the top of his lance. From her own camp, Queen Dia looks through a spyglass, sees the familiar red cloak of her brother Baylian. Eye-witness accounts tell us what happened next:

On seeing her dead brother’s helmet paraded atop the spear of the Rebel-King, Queen Dia ran for her horse. Her husband, King Owenn Helix III, attempted to stop her. Failing, he called for his own destrier and sword. Queen Dia then rode to the head of the column, her hair flying wild, her own  red cloak flapping bold against a pink dawn. And her anger was fierce, her sorrow so deep that all at once the men took up their arms, cheering her name as she turned her steed into the field.

Across the torn gardens, Elerend flew back to his army, the southern hoard screaming as they crawled forward. But our Queen, armourless, drew out her father’s sword and charged. Behind her came King Owenn and the knights of the royal guard and the Arlien and King Artador with his brave Ember Cloaks. And those without horses charged too, down the hill into the Thousand Fields where the rebels cowered before them. Though I saw it not, they say Queen Dia broke first on their lines, shattering spears and casting shields asunder as she cut her way to the treacherous member of her house. And there, amid the ruin of his army, Elerend met his end in fear and in regret, as they say before he fell he cried out to his Queen for forgiveness, and then meeting the dirt, was done. Seeing their general fall, the Amarin forces went into rout, turning swords on each other or on themselves.

And before the setting of the sun, the fields beyond the mist-city were silent and Queen Dia was seen walking among the dead and the dying, her head hung heavy in prayer.”

I’d love to hear about how YOU approach history. Do you write it first, or create the backstory as you go?

Mist Rock, fantasy and why I want to build a community

Hello again!

Have been quiet on the blog front of late. Mist Rock, a fantasy series I am working on, is now in the edit phase and I’m very excited to see that the more time I give to it, the more it starts to look like the world I’ve imagined.

The first book is a story in its own, centred around Marke and his time at the Golden Lance Academy, but it’s also the launch-pad for everything that is to follow. It’s no surprise really that I want to call the story “Rise of the Exiles”, as it very much is an introduction, while the second book, “The Burning of the South”, is exactly the sort of open war that can be expected of epic fantasy.

I’m writing snippets of the latter as I go (yes, it feels like cheating!) solely to try link the two stories as best I can. The second book will involve more characters, more conflict and more of the world I’ve created, so hopefully it will help.

As I edit, I’d love to start building a community to hear about the other fantasy worlds out there. I want to hear what works for your novel, what doesn’t and why you’ll probably leave a few of those guilty pleasures in anyway 😉

I’ll leave you with one of the excerpts from “The Burning of the South” I mentioned, where Captain Damir approaches the camp of the 27th Legion.

Enjoy, and hope it’s a good week in writing! 🙂

“I’m here to relieve Lord Kelvin,” Damir said, passing Sir Primus’ letter into the man’s hand. The sentry quickly scanned the page. “Is he here?” Damir asked.
The watchman looked up at him, gave a faint smile. “He’s here alright.”
“Well, can I speak with him?”
The man shrugged. “That would depend on the Gods you keep.”
Damir furrowed his brows.
The watchman gulped, folded the letter as he’d been handed it. “Evidently, nobody told you that Lord Kelvin is dead.” He made a face. “In fact, he’s been dead for some time.”
“What? How?”
The man cleared his throat. “He died in the field.”
Damir blinked. “I wasn’t told anything about a battle.”
“Forgive me,” the man said. “It was…..a different sort of field.” His gaze wandered to a place over Damir’s shoulder.
Damir turned, stared into the treeline. There was a small clearing in the forest-a patch of earth overgrown with weeds. He squinted, saw the hint of a small mound. A grave.
“You’re joking?”
The man swallowed. “He was drunk, Sir. He fell and split his head on a rock.”
Damir rounded on the sentry. “Don’t call me Sir. I’m a commander, not a knight.” He shot a look back to the mound. “Clearly there’s a difference.” He glanced toward the camp, searched for some sign of life. “Who’s second in command?”
The man in front of him gripped his spear, tried to stand a little taller.
Damir sighed. “This time, please tell me you’re joking.”

image

Editing: 3 Uncomfortable Thoughts

Hello again 🙂

I decided to give you all an update, a brief snapshot of the last few weeks.

As those who follow my posts here know, I recently finished the first draft of a novel, the opener in the Mist Rock series. Adhering to all good advice, I set the book aside for a while, let it simmer in a corner of my room as I turned my attention elsewhere. But no amount of poetry or thought-pieces could replace what I hid away in that bottom drawer. Mist Rock was a story, after all, the one good thing I’ll always come back for. And so when April rolled around, I decided I’d fought the instinct far too long.

Last week, I sat down to edit.

So far, I’ve had mixed results. I’ve never edited anything this large before; 117,000 words definitely dwarfs my Final Year Project at university which only just crept over 4,000. That was science, this was fiction, and though there’s a place for those words together, this certainly wasn’t it.

This was fantasy.

As expected, I got lost in the world I’d created, swept off my feet in a Bilbo-esque fashion. But along the way, the lines started to blur, shifting on the page in front of me so that my own thoughts started to speak.

Here are a few things they said.

1. Who is going to share in this story?

An important part of any story is deciding its point of view. Fortunately, I found that part easy. This was Marke Calin’s story. Sadly, I didn’t have the same success when it came to determining who shared the world with him.

A lot of people would say this is a symptom of writing fantasy, of dreaming up worlds with a “cast of thousands”. But while I certainly didn’t lack for inhabitants, the real battle for me wasn’t asking myself which characters deserved to exist, but which 5 simply had to.

In a weird way, the real world (where I’m the protagonist) is the same. So much of life is determined by the company you keep, the friends you chase up, the five or six people you picture smiling at your wedding.

Lately, in both editing and life, I feel like I’m always playing catch-up.

Trying to stay in touch with people is a lot like chasing shadows, searching for ghosts or emptying water out of a sinking ship. It’s a futile effort, a game we play for seventy or so years without ever stopping to ask ourselves can we win. Away from school and college, the levels take on a whole new difficulty. Not only are your chances to meet friends curtailed, but you begin to realise you can’t keep them all satisfied. There are too few pages to go round.

There’s just not enough room in the story.

2. Which Kyle is right?

Another thought I seem to be having more and more as I thumb through the pages is that rarely, if ever, will I come up with the same words twice.

I’ve often found myself reading the same scene one day apart, coming at it from various angles, writing it out in my mind a million different ways. It makes me wonder which way is right-which is the way I really want to use.

Life lately is starting to look similar.

I have a fair idea what the story is for the next few years. The plot is there, as are many of the characters. What hasn’t been written yet are the words themselves, the many little details which one day might matter. The realisation that even a subtle edit here and there could change the ending is, well, “doing me a frighten”. I’d like to believe there won’t be any twists or unwelcome surprises.

But, as I’ve told you, I’m not the author. I’m the hero.

And the hero never sees the twists coming.

3. Is this any good?

Ah yes. This was the one you were waiting for.

Anyone who has ever written something substantial knows the fear that comes with finishing a draft, of realising that the beginning-middle-end is now all there to be judged. And for most of us, we’re streets ahead our own harshest critics.

I can’t decide, all these thousands of words later, if I’ll ever truly make it. That sort of success, the one we dream about as we slap the keyboard, is of course relative, defined by our own expectations and skill. But in a world where bestselling books rise from nothing, where authors sell a million copies with a click, it’s hard not to think we could one day be there too.

I, like many writers I know, still can’t really tell if their words are hot, or if this entire effort, this whole “Oh-em-Gee I wanna be an author”, is just much ado about nothing. I do know I’m still hiding behind the curtain, whispering “It’s just not ready” as I try to will my novel to be better. Admittedly, I’m trying to will it to be brave.

And that in itself is the scariest thing about editing.

Because I’m not sure if Mist Rock ever will be ready, or if it’s just going to have to face the world anyway.

Maybe that’s the only way that it can.

 


 

I’d love to hear about your own editing experiences. What keeps you going? What runs in your mind? How do you deal with that inner critic?

 

10 Lies College Tells You Before You Even Get There

College. There’s just nothing quite like it. You’re probably never going to have another four or so years with the same liberation, the same shoulder-shrug attitude to life. Eating cold pizza, passing out on your friend’s couch, forgetting arguably most of what you went there to learn. Ya….college….definitely just like the movies.

I’ve decided to write this blog to continue pumping the vein of my recent content. Why? Well, partly because I have the luxury/benefit/fear of being on the other side, staring back at my undergrad with an unwelcome hindsight. And if I’ve learned anything from my time on the gridiron, it’s that at first, most people really don’t know what they’re doing, then they think they know what they’re doing, then a year further on they wake up six weeks late to a lecture in someone else’s jeans and finally, they admit to themselves.

In college, nobody knows what they’re doing.

Perhaps the whole thing would run a lot smoother if we didn’t have so many damn preconceptions. Movies, television, friends. They all sell us a different college experience, most of them only half-shadows of the reality. But not all half-shadows are made the same; some fake news just sells better than others.

Here are the top 10 things I wish I’d never been told about college.

1. SUSI, be grand

This of course only applies to the Irish experience, but every country shares in the misery, the sad realisation that college, in fact, costs 1 x arm and 1 x leg.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you could do it all on the cheap. “Student Discount,” they said, waving fliers and free pens and a half-box of caramel Freddos. But in a world where that same chocolate now requires a tracker mortgage, you just can’t do college on a dime anymore.

freddo

Outside of the obvious costs of fees, accommodation, travel and your course itself, the day-to-day expenses are what really grab you, stab you repeatedly in the stomach and mutter “For the Watch” under their breath (seriously, if you don’t want Game of Thrones spoilers, get on out of here!) A cup of coffee might cost you a kidney, a lunch out could do you for a heart, and a night out?

Have you got, like, a twin?

2. Everything from the course is relevant

If working a job in your relevant field during your degree does anything, it’s to remind you that, career-dependent, very little if any of your theory might be relevant. Most students quickly realise that literally no future employer ever is going to swing round the door of their office and say, “Hey Mike, can I get Maslow’s Pyramids of Needs on my desk by lunch? Thanks buddy. You know, you really are the mitochondria of this place. What’s a mitochondria?” *Grabs by the face* “IT’S THE POWERHOUSE OF THE CELL”.

*Cough* Ahem.

Sadly, other students aren’t exposed to the working world until, well, they leave college itself. And it’s only then, facing a swarm of angry customers, that they back into a corner, shaking, tears streaming down their face.

“Pluzz, just form a normal distribution.”

norm

3. Nothing from the course is relevant

On the flip side, some students prefer the cavalier approach of announcing from the very first lecture “Haha, but in the real world x is y not z. Who needs z?” You’ll probably notice they also talk a big game about “making connections” and “engaging with real businesses” (they may forget to mention their parents own one, two, maybe twenty of those same businesses).

Of course, they encourage you to have the same attitude, to just rock up to the roundabout of life in third gear in the wrong lane with no signal and oh God what’s that behind the wheel, is that a baby?

*Cough* Ahem.

Some 9 to 5’s actually share a good deal of crossover with their college counterparts, and while there’s always that one story of “that fella who never hires people who got 1.1s”, it stands to reason to not throw your grades off a cliff just because it’s funny to hear them scream on the way down.

4. The food is great

When I first stepped into college, I kinda imagined it would be a bit like Zoey 101, maybe just fewer scooters and without the same GREAT theme tune.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that they didn’t have dacent sushi bars or foot golf or even that weird energy drink I’d been looking forward to. Instead, we kinda just got stuck with this weird alt-reality where all food came in roll format. Breakfast? Roll. Sausage? Roll. Chicken? *checks chart* Roll.

And at some point I realised that there was probably an Italian man sitting in the mountains above Milan, sipping wine at the pool, counting stacks of Pasta money.

“Ah Irish students, you make-a-me so happy.”

Is that racist? No, it’s Mario Kart. Mario Kart can’t be racist.

mario.jpg

5. The parties are awesome!

If I was let down by the food, then oh dear was I let down by the parties. That’s not to say those four years didn’t see memorable moments, but most weren’t the college dorm ragers I’d imagined. Often, they were nothing more than a few friends, five or six souls sharing a drink in the corner of a bar. A few close hearts wandering the empty backstreets or spread out under the stars, laughing at a joke they couldn’t remember. They certainly weren’t red cups and breakdancing and people swinging from the chandelier while Fallout Boy played in the kitchen.

The [insert college party at classmate’s house here] actually wore on me fairly fast. I’m probably an exception, but I think everyone would agree there comes a point three hours into the night where suddenly, collapsed in a chair, the walls start to look odd and you half-feel Stephen King is about to write you into a horror story. Everything in the house that’s supposed to have legs (chairs, tables, that room-mate who studies med) doesn’t while everything that shouldn’t just gets up and crawls off half way through the night.

You sort of transition from hearing the music to feeling it in your head to tasting it at the end of your drink.

*Spits* “Ughh. Why does Avicii taste like mouthwashed motor oil?”

prty

6. Study is easy. College is easy

I think after Leaving Cert most students feel they’ll never sit a real exam again. Just college ones. LOL. Hand me my A, teach!

Sadly, Leaving Cert sells you a lie. It promises you a world where there’s a limit, where you just have to learn to a certain point and then just hand it all back. In college, there’s no defined limit, just this vague space filled with a lecturer’s voice on repeat.

*Echoes* “How long is an essay? Well, how long is a piece of string?”

College correctors act as though nobody has anything better to do than to wait for Murray et al to drop their fire new lit review 2017. Reference something from over 5 years ago and you might as well hand up cave drawings in support of your answer. Give ’em anything not double-spaced and they’ll look at you as though you just tried to sacrifice them to the flames.

The harsh truth is that most people try for half the first term, give up for most of the middle, and then rush it all in at the end.

That’s weird. I just had this random urge to write the word Arsenal. Anyway.

arsena

7. I’m going to make so many friends!

This is sadly the saddest of all sads that one learns through college. We all pass through those doors thinking we’ve just inherited a fortune. A fortune of FRIENDS that is.

*Sigh* I digress.

Most people I know agree that you definitely make friends, lots of them even, but they’re all just really hard to define. Some are lifelong, others are temporary, and some just sort of hang around long after their expiration date which, to be fair, is very college-esque of them. You could rename college “Acquaintance Land” and very few people would know the difference. Not that acquaintances are a bad thing, but for those who want more, you really just don’t have the time to sincerely commit yourself to 200 people. In fact, it’s not fair on you or those people to try. Choices will have to be made, but with luck, you’ll filter out the racists and the maybe-serial-killers and the ones who won’t participate in pizza at 3 am. Which brings me to my last point.

8. Participate

This is as true about life as it is about college. We’re all sold the idea that people just want to get involved, that they’re on the verge of it, that any moment now there’ll be a coffee morning or a flash mob. In reality, there is Netflix, and tea, and bed. Participating in anything at all requires effort, energy that could be better spent at home enjoying blankets and chocolate and Season 2 of Suits.

But the great thing is that sometimes you can share a pizza  buy two pizzas.

And that in itself is why it doesn’t matter what they tell you about college.

Because nobody talks to you about the times they fell asleep at house parties and missed the night out, or the times they slammed their head on the table in the library, or the times they just sat in a corner of college and watched the other people drift by. Because you just can’t sell those things.

And that makes me glad.

Because you can’t put a price on them either.

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. I lied, number 9 and 10 did not exist.

“What’s meant for you won’t pass you by”

Last week, I talked about the reality of the first six months in the real world. That post was a humour piece, nothing more than a joke, a quick jab at the 9 to 5 lifestyle I’ve become used to. This is slightly more serious, a whole foot further down the rabbit hole. I can’t decide which of the two posts matters more. I know the first was easier. It was a much simpler story to tell. But it makes me wonder.

Which is the story worth listening to?

Anyway, if you read between the lines the last time, you’d have seen it wasn’t all smiles and sarcasm. There’s no doubt about it: life’s tough out here in the borderlands.

We all have our own ways of coping-tea, exercise, music, maybe even a drink or two. When flustered, a lot of people also turn to words, quick little one-liners (like philosophical Xanax) that ground them in something palpable again. Perhaps one of the most well-known (at least in Ireland) goes a little something like this:

What’s meant for you won’t pass you by

It mightn’t seem like much, a bare seven or eight words thrown together, but small sentiments like this have a way of resonating with people, of lasting. A phrase like that simply endures. And yet, of all the soft hopes held dear, this is the one belief I’ve yet to subscribe to.

A part of me thinks the reason reflects the bigger picture, the questions like “Why are we here?” or “What happens to us at the end?”. Spirituality, whether in the form of organised religion or not, requires a great deal of faith. Personally, it’s something I’ve always struggled with. The saddest change of heart I ever knew was realising that one day I didn’t truly believe anymore. I just wanted to. And in my eyes, the above phrase is filled with the same sort of uncertainty. I definitely want it to be real, but that’s an empty argument for someone who founds themselves on logic and gears. It’s as if the sentiment isn’t physical enough, like I’d agree in a heartbeat if I could just reach out and touch it.

Maybe the biggest issue I have with this phrase is that the evidence just isn’t there for it. From where I’ve been standing the last twenty-three years, it sure seems like a lot of things passed me by. Whether they were meant for me or not I don’t know, but I’d like to think that they weren’t. How do I know that? Like I said, I don’t, but I’ve lived by the attitude that if you want something bad enough, you’d better just go out and take it. Life isn’t equal, and it’s certainly not fair. Your aspirations aren’t just gonna pull over, roll down the window and tell you to hop in. Nope. If you’re going to be passive, holding your thumb out and expecting a ride, those dreams are gonna put the foot down and leave you behind, choking on a cloud of dust as they roar down the highway. Of course, if you take the active role in this situation, those dreams won’t get far. Yes, you’re going to have to chase them, running like your life depended on it. You’re probably going to trip a half dozen times and bloody something, maybe even consider giving up and laying down in the shade. But there’ll be a moment when you climb over the last hill, see lights in the city below. There’s every chance that moment will be worth it.

And of course, the above probably sounds awfully negative, but I’d wager the opposite is true. I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting in the back seat of the car, watching fields ghost by, waiting for the journey to be over so you can claim a prize already yours. That’s what happens when life is in charge, when things are meant for you, when years simply pass you by.

But perhaps you’re like me. You’d much rather take the hard road and risk never reaching the end of it. You’d suffer years of stumbling and falling, rising quickly to dust yourself off again, all in a world where we’ll only know a single breath, where we run the road of a mortal life. With time against us, it’s no wonder people want there to be some sort of guarantee. But destiny is a beautiful lie, a cushion for the wary and the unenthused. On the contrary, what was it Robin Williams said: “Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.” Somehow having the responsibility in your hands feels a lot more reassuring.

And yet phrases like “What’s meant for you won’t pass you by” aren’t said as a statement of fact, more like a mantra or prayer. They’re spoken as if to quell the great unknown, put order to the chaos of life and reinforce the fact that in some ways it’s all been already decided. And I don’t blame them. It’s tough accepting the reality that every day you might pass your dream job on your way to work, maybe close the door of a coffee shop five seconds before your true love opens it. But all those maybe-moments are down to chance, and the mathematics are rarely if ever with you. There are just too many variables for you to ever ride off into the sunset with the wind in your hair. Odds-wise, it’s more likely you’ll just fall into a job you don’t hate, pay your bills and some taxes, find someone you love and work hard enough to make it stick. Every day won’t be perfect. In fact, more than most won’t be memorable at all. But somewhere years from now, you’ll realise you needed all that background noise-all that adversity and that grey. After all, the lights over the hill wouldn’t shine half so bright had you not hit a few bumps in the road.

So yes, what’s meant for you may pass you by; I’m almost sure that it will do.

But so what?

Look at all the things that weren’t meant for you, but that you learned from all the same. Things that were never wanted, just needed somewhere on the road. Things that made you curse, tear at your hair, cry in a dark room at 2 a.m. Things that made those few steps a journey. Things that made an imperfect life.

And when it’s all said and done, when you have nothing left but a small audience inside the warmth of a fire, isn’t that the story worth listening to?

6 Things Learned After 6 Months Graduated

If you, like me, are recently graduated and work a 5-day week, you may find yourself spending Friday nights in the corner of the local, hand wrapped around a pint, looking for solace at the end of the glass. That sentiment might sound a tad worrying, maybe even a little problematic, especially if one night lasts a whole weekend. But it’s a ritual some adhere to all the same. Next time you find yourself there, take a sip of your drink and steal a quick glance around you. You may realise you’re not the only one in the real world.

Most likely you’re just the newest.

The reason I’m opening this blog post in the drunk-warm comfort of a pub is because that’s where the idea for it came from. Over the last few weeks, talk at the bar always seems to turn to finishing college, moving on, growing up. Life (the adult mode at least), feels a lot like the big city, that promised land at the end of the highway. It’s a world of car horns and neon lights and ears ringing at 2 a.m. Paradise, sort of.

Yet all we think about are the broken fences and the dry grasses and the dust coughing in our engine as we pull out of that small town called home.

But we’re graduated, and since so many friends asked for it, here are the biggest changes I’ve noticed since I too packed up and left for the big city.

1.You die for the weekdays

I always wondered about this “live for the weekend” hype I saw in Hollywood movies and television and the lives of every other human around me. Newly graduated, youth on my side (ish), I decided this wouldn’t be me. So for the first few weeks I grabbed dinner with friends, stayed up late, went out on a Wednesday night. Then the workiness of work (which is surprisingly high) hit me like a freight train. There really are some nights where you just come home, collapse onto the couch, and wait for hunger to move you. It’s not that work is tiring per se, but there’s just so much of it, and it keeps coming, and it never seems to be done. You cut down one work and six take its place. Makes you feel like Hercules fighting a hydra except you’re not Greek and the only things you lift are pizzas out of the oven. When you were a child, you’d be fully awake by 9, battery life of about twelve hours. Now you’re an IPhone 4 that’s changed hands a couple times. You might be functional by midday. By five o’clock, screen’s gone cold.

6.png

With such little energy, meeting friends becomes difficult, leaving only the dark side of the weekend (the part where you’re not passed out in bed) for some semblance of a social life. Which brings me onto my next point….

2.”Is there anybody alive out there? Can anyone hear me?”

Haha, lol. Yes, that’s a Titanic quote. But come back and laugh a year after graduation when a boat full of friends floats by and you dump your responsibilities in the Atlantic (sorry Jack, should have got on the door) so you can blow a whistle and hope somebody sees you. Ya, that’s pretty much your standard group chat.

61

The scariest thing about finishing college is that you realise how most of your friendships lived off convenience. Now, cut off from their supply, those same friendships go cold turkey and you don’t see your xox besto for six months at a time. When you do, they’re as you expect, rabid and living in the gutter  awkward if you strike up a conversation at all. Think of it this way, for the last four or so years your top 50, 100, maybe even 200 friends were all contained daily within a square mile radius. Now, someone puts them in a cannon and fires them all over the world. I have friends in London, the United States, even a few in the Midlands (I mean seriously, is that even on the map??).

Sadly, you quickly realise you don’t have time to keep up with everyone. Even if you do, they’re most likely not free. And so quietly, and without much fuss, you sort of just lose a few people, a bit like your social life dying of old age. By the time you take stock of the situation, you probably have two groups left, one from home and one from college. If possible, merge them. Safety in numbers. It’s dark out there in the real world.

3.Free time is actually v. expensive no joke

Now that you’ve rounded up the survivors of your life before the apocalypse, you realise the world is crawling with zombies. And you have to pay for them to eat you.

Honestly, nothing is as gut-checking as earning more money than you ever have before, yet still coming up empty. It’s as if you work 40 or so hours a week just to enjoy the thrill of handing out as much money as possible in the four hours after you get paid. And everyone is nudging each other out of the way to get to you first. Since when does coffee cost half an hour of work? Why does the car have such expensive taste?

4.If it’s applicable, it matters. If it ain’t? *shrugs*

A lot of graduates are shocked to find out nobody gives a flying fuck about the time they organised a coffee morning for AdoptATiger.com. Why? Because your boss sells insurance to young, mostly not-tiger, Irish people. Unless evidence surfaces that dwindling tiger numbers are related to road traffic accidents (Ahh, I can’t take it. Such a majestic animal *turns wheel sharply*), then you’d best leave your little token charity points at the door. That goes for, well, most extracurriculars really. If you can relate your love of volleyball back to your work in a call centre, then by all means spike Seamus from the Finance Department to your heart’s content. If you can’t, don’t think selling it in your interview is going to wow employers as though the concept of hobbies is simply beyond them.

62

I sat on maybe a dozen committees in my undergrad, but unlike a solid half of other students, I did it because I enjoyed it, not as some sort of promo video for my CV. Of course, relevant extracurriculars do look great, but as the old saying goes: “If you’re actually full of shit, you will be found out in the end (probs :P)”.

5.Success just ain’t what it used to be

By age 22 or so, you probably thought you had success all figured out. Maybe thought you had it placed in a nice little box, wrapped with a neat purple bow. But you haven’t. Success, much like a Games of Thrones character, is very grey, and just when you think you’ve grasped it, it’s gonna turn around and stab Robb Stark in the stomach (spoiler?).

In school and in college, we’re all pitted against each other, ranked on some sort of scale, given a tasty treat if we sit when we’re told to. In life, there are no such Pedigree Jumbones. There are way too many variables to ever truly know who made it and who ended up crying in their car outside work because their boss called them “the new girl” again after SIXTEEN YEARS. Ahem, anyway, success in the adult world is something that just can’t be defined. LinkedIn would want you to believe so, but everyone is a freak on LinkedIn (me included). I mean for Christ’s sake, Colm, you work as a network engineer in Meath. Why are you adding me?!?

In the end, only you can truly define your own success, your happiness, your satisfaction with your career and personal life. If you have a passion, you should probably chase it, unless it’s like, illegal, in which case you should just take up scrapbooking or something.

And it’s on such a note I leave you….

6.Hope

Leaving undergrad is a weird experience. It’s not quite “Naww you were in sixth class now you’re a little first year”, more “You used to eat chicken rolls daily now you genuinely laugh when your colleague says ‘Is it Friday yet?'”

But it’s not a bad change. Just a change. And like all transitions, you just have to roll with it, hope things level out and that you’ll be able to afford healthcare.

I leave you with a quote by a talentless hack hopeful writer.

A single, honest, familiar-face choice. That’s all there ever is. That’s all there ever will be, and it’s as easy as who you are.