April 28, 2011
The other day I was thinking how vastly different the scenery is between my two historical novels, The Soldier's Cross and The White Sail's Shaking, the one set in the 1400s firmly on land (except for a Channel crossing), the other in the early 1800s at sea (except for the frequent pit stops). Many writers tend to stay in a specific comfort zone, like the Wild West or a fictional place nearby where they live, but it is great fun to venture into other places. A great deal of research work is involved, too, I'll grant, but it is also rewarding to try to paint a picture of different lands. There's such a lovely amount of variety to be had in the world.
Fiona, the main character of The Soldier's Cross, has always dreamed of visiting the White Cliffs of Dover; it is the only place she has ever wished to go. She gets her chance when, seeking an audience with the Duke of Gloucester, she travels to Dover. Standing on the cliff top on a clear day, one can see the northern coast of France across the Channel, particularly Calais. An age-old symbol of Albion, the White Isle, the Cliffs have held off many an invasion. Dover was also the site of the Roman fort Dubris and two lighthouses, both called Pharos, the ruins of only one of which still remain.
Most of The Soldier's Cross, however, takes place in northern and eastern France. Fiona follows the coast from north-western France to Agincourt, near Calais in the north-east, visiting such places as Cherbourg and the twin cities of Honfleur and Harfleur. She never gets to visit Mont Saint-Michel, which is a pity, since I would have liked to have written it; her boat lands her a little east of the island. But the photo is pretty and gives a good impression of northern France. I personally would prefer visiting southern France, but Fiona never gets beyond the Marne River.
In her travels she also goes to the ancient city of Reims, the cathedral of which was the traditional place for crowning the French kings. She never goes inside the building, only looks at the impressive and ominous exterior. It frightens her more than anything else, both because of its great size and because its very greatness seems to judge her.
One of the first exotic places in The White Sail's Shaking is the Rock of Gibraltar, which Tip finds very grand and very foreboding. While it has a certain charm, especially to someone who has neither seen nor imagined anything like it before, he is quite glad that the American squadron is only passing by and will not be stationed there. The region of the Straits is extremely windy, either with levanters or westerlies, and prone to gales; ships sailing in and out of the Mediterranean are at the mercy of the weather. The Rock is dull and bare, although providing an excellent view of the sea and the northern coast of Africa.
After Gibraltar, the American squadron moves its base to Syracuse, Sicily. The region is full of ruins from the Greek and Roman periods - an amphitheater, the fountain of Arethuse, and various destroyed or converted temples provide some of the main sites, for those interested in history. It also has a pretty view of the Mediterranean from the bay. At the time of the Americans' arrival, the King and Queen of Naples, having been expelled from the mainland by Napoleon's forces, are in exile in Palermo, Sicily.
And then, of course, there is Tripoli. Tripoli is finely situated in a bay on the Mediterranean with the protection of reefs, shoals, and batteries. It is perfect for withstanding attacks, especially as any ships (in the Age of Sail) must wait for the right wind to be able to sail in around the reefs. The city has some ancient buildings with Ottoman-influenced architecture, particularly mosques, but also other structures. As in most capital cities at the time, while the Bashaw lives in splendor (apparently Yusuf was a bit obsessed with his gold; had it carried around with him wherever he went), most of the town lives in poverty. Enslavement of Christians was a common practice, and seamen whose nations did not pay tribute to Tripoli and who did not renounce their Christianity for Islam could look forward to a lifetime of servitude.
And there we have my eclectic mix of real-world locations. Looking back over them, however, I must say that I didn't realize that bodies of water show up so often in my stories...
April 23, 2011
supply words that proclaim ‘Love lustres at Calvary.’
There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on thy Son,
made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me;
There thy infinite attributes were magnified,
and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due,
and infinite punishment was endured.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I might be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,
stripped that I might be clothed,
wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink,
tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song,
endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
bore a thorny crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,
expired that I might for ever live.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,
All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;
Help me to adore thee by lips and life.
O that my every breath might be ecstatic praise,
my every step buoyant with delight, as I see my enemies crushed,
Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed,
sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,
hell’s gates closed, heaven’s portal open.
Go forth, O conquering God, and show me
the cross, mighty to subdue, comfort and save.
- from 'The Valley of Vision'
April 21, 2011
Note: Mild spoilers ahead. Nothing very major, though, I trust.
Fiona is the daughter of a lesser English nobleman, and has lived all her life in a secluded manor just on the English side of Wales. She is little more than a child still, but her simple life is turned on its head when her brother, Giovanni, leaves England with Henry V's army. Before his departure he speaks to Fiona, not for the first time, of her need for something more than being part of the Church and attending Mass; showing her his cross pendant, he tells her that it will bring her peace. But she is quite comfortable in her worldly sort of peace, and laughs him off.
Then Giovanni is killed at the Battle of Agincourt and his body brought back home to England - without the cross. Mad with grief and believing she has had a sign from God, Fiona sets out across the Channel and a desolated France to find and regain her brother's silver cross.
Fiona is stubborn and naive, but also tenacious and, driven on by an emptiness inside herself that she must fill, capable of withstanding a great deal. She will stop at nothing to gain the peace her brother spoke of.
Giovanni is Fiona's older brother and only sibling. Since their father's mental and bodily failure several years ago, he has run the manor and provided for the family. Unlike most of Christendom at that time, he is a devoted follower of Christ and believes that salvation is something more than going through the motions; although Fiona does not know enough about the world beyond the manor to realize it, Giovanni is a Lollard. He does not believe in Henry V's campaign against France, but he joins the army in obedience to his sovereign.
Pierre [lord of gallandon]
Fiona stumbles onto Pierre's land accidentally, but "accidents" have no influence with the master of Gallandon, and Fiona finds herself a servant to his family. Pierre is the first-born son of the Duke of Alençon, but he is also illegitimate, which means he is not in line to inherit his father's wealthy estate; instead, the French crown granted him the marshy estate of Gallandon. Determined to improve his situation and make a name for himself, Pierre moves on to "plan B" - a good marriage. But he finds himself out of luck in that quarter as well, as the wife he gets has no titles and, in fact, is not even French.
Pierre looks older than he actually is, and maintains that appearance by his manner of speaking and dressing. His insecurities and his obsession with bettering himself make him harsh, but he is in fact little more than a boy. He fought in the Battle of Agincourt and, what is more, made it back alive to tell the tale.
Leah is of Germanic descent, without a drop of French blood in her veins, and is the daughter of a merchant. Pierre was tricked into marrying her, but when he discovered the fact, he was decent enough not to annul the marriage; however, their relationship is an uncomfortable one. Leah's muteness puts her at a distinct disadvantage, too, and one of Fiona's duties as Leah's personal maid is to translate for her. In serving her (a humiliating turn of fortune for a nobleman's daughter) Fiona gradually finds Leah to be something more than "the enemy"; she is beautiful with a beauty that comes from inside and shines out of her, and Fiona becomes devoted to her as a friend.
Christopher, Leah's brother, was the force behind her alliance with Pierre. He is a fortune-hunter, like Pierre; but unlike Pierre, he has no scruples about it and has little interest in working to earn his bread. He has no interest in war, no interest in owning land; he lives by deceit, and does it well. He is allied with neither France nor England and has never fought in any of the battles. Fiona first crossed paths with him at a French inn and then meets him again at Gallandon, and she fears him as she fears the Devil - or more.
(Remember, The Soldier's Cross and Jenny's The Shadow Things are both on sale through April. Purchasing with the PayPal button on the sidebar will get you an autographed copy of each book.)
April 12, 2011
At the same time, however, there is a place for moving on. I won't necessarily say that this point is ever reached because of difficulties alone, but there are other reasons for abandoning a work and continuing on to something else. One reason is stagnation. I spent about a year, and possible more, writing a mystery thingy (thingy is really the best description I can give it, looking back on it) that was very near to my heart, although my actual writing of it was somewhat sporadic and I didn't get far. Still, I toiled over it with great perseverance for a long while...and I believe I can safely say that my writing did not improve a jot throughout that time. It was not until I broke away from the Thing and began working on little bits of an incomplete story based around Stonehenge that my writing actually began to develop. Stonehenge was never a tight novel, per se, and likely never shall be, but it was a stepping stone, and after a while I deleted the Thing forever and moved on to write The Soldier's Cross.
Staying with a story is commendable, but there comes a time, especially if the novel is an early one or even a first, when starting something new is advisable. The comfort zone of the old has to be left for something different, and likely not as comfortable at first, if one's writing is going to progress. The same thing goes for such endeavors as fanfiction, which is another good experiment in writing to start off on, but which should give way to original works at some point.
Another time for moving on is when a novel is finished. In theory it doesn't sound as though this would be so hard - after all, the novel is finished - but it has its difficulties as well. Once a writer reaches the last page of a story he has been working on for months or perhaps years, there is a bond between him and the characters, and the novel has usually become comfortable for the author to work with. Thus it becomes quite easy to keep rewriting and editing and rewriting and editing, rather than starting work on another novel. (This is, of course, not to say that editing is bad; it is quite necessary, but can be taken to extremes.) Not being a fan of editing in general, I can't say that I would rather be editing Wordcrafter than working on anything else, but compared to the difficulties of The White Sail's Shaking, it doesn't sound like such a bad idea...
Attachment to a novel can also lead to series. Not the sort of series that are basically one storyline cut up into several books, but the Nancy Drew or Boxcar Children series that just. won't. die. This would be Disney, who makes one movie, sees its success, and promptly follows it with a sequel or two. This is a way of "moving on," since the writer is leaving one novel for another, but it can easily be as stagnating as staying with one story. The characters become so much a fixation that developing any others is more and more difficult - perhaps impossible - and the plots are often so familiar to the writer that they never bother to break out of the mold. Change, even for those of us who are not fond of it, is healthy.
April 7, 2011
Rudyard Kipling's The Thousandth Man:
One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick more close than a brother,
And it's worth while seeking him half your days
If you find him before the other.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you,
But the Thousandth Man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you.
'Tis neither promise nor prayer nor show
Will settle the finding for 'ee;
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em go
By your looks, or your acts, or your glory.
But if he finds you and you find him,
The rest of the world don't matter;
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
With you in any water.
You can use his purse with no more talk
Than he uses yours for his spendings,
And laugh and meet in your daily walk
As though there had been no lendings.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em call
For silver and gold in their dealings;
But the Thousandth Man he's worth 'em all
Because you can show him your feelings.
His wrong's your wrong, and his right's your right,
In season or out of season.
Stand up and back it in all men's sight
With that for your only reason!
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can't bide
The shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot - and after!
April 4, 2011
The Shadow Things:
The Legions have left the province of Britain and the Western Roman Empire has dissolved into chaos. With the world plunged into darkness, paganism and superstition are as rampant as ever. In the Down country of southern Britain, young Indi has grown up knowing nothing more than his gods of horses and thunder; so when a man from across the sea comes preaching a single God slain on a cross, Indi must choose between his gods or the one God and face the consequences of his decision.
The Soldier's Cross:
A.D. 1415 - Fiona's world is a carefully built castle in the air, made up of the fancies, wishes, and memories of her childhood. It begins to crumble as she watches her brother march away to join in the English invasion of France. It falls to pieces when he is brought home dead.
Robbed of the one dearest to her and alone in the world, Fiona turns to her brother's silver cross in search of the peace he said it would bring. But when she finds it missing, she swears she will have it and sets out on a journey across the Channel and war-ravaged France to regain it and find the peace it carries.
April 1, 2011
While I wouldn't go so far as to declare myself interested in botany, exactly, I have found that poking through Jenny's book on British flora is a great deal more enjoyable than I might have expected. She started keeping a notebook of common British plants a while back, since most of her stories take place in Britain, but it was not until I reread The Eagle of the Ninth last month that I realized how shockingly little I know about the details of the British landscape. So I started my own notebook, sketching plants and writing down their basic information. I haven't gotten very far (right now ships' rigging, cannon balls, and the names of all the ships in the British Navy around 1803 are more in my line of research), but here are the plants I have completed pages on so far.
Gorse (Ulex europaeus): Also known as "furze" or "whin." An evergreen shrub; grows 7-10 feet tall; covered in long spines. Flowers are yellow and pea-like, clustered on stems 2-6 ft tall; blooms March-May (primarily). Extremely common on heath and grows throughout Britain. Falling into it is not advised.
Purple Heather (Erica cinerea): Also known as "Fine-leaved Heath" and "Bell Heather." Low-growing shrub, leaves growing three-in-a-whorl. Flowers are purple, rarely white, and bell-shaped; blooms July-August. Grows on heath; extremely common. Used as ornamental flower.
Broom (Cytisus scoparius): Also known as "Common Broom," "Scotch Broom," and "English Broom." Deciduous shrub growing 3-9 feet tall, leaves silky. Covered in spring and summer with yellow flowers, sometimes blotched with red; blooms May-June. Seed pods are black and mature in late summer, opening with an audible crack. Grows on heaths in sun and dry, sandy soil. Hardy; withstands temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius.
Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare): Also known as "Scotch thistle," "Bull thistle," "Plumed thistle," and "Roadside thistle." Biennial/annual plant growing up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide; stems have vertical, spiny wings. Thrives in light, well-drained, sandy/stony ground. Flowers are deep pink to lavender, blooming July-September. Uses: receptacles are edible and were once eaten like artichokes; oil from seeds used in cooking; hairs on stem used for stuffing pillows.
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris): Also known as "Kingcup," "Mayflower," "May Blobs," "Mollyblobs," "Pollyblobs," "Horse Blob," "Water Blob," "Water Bubbles," "Gollins," and "The Publican." Grows 2-3 feet tall; leaves are kidney-shaped, with waxy texture. Flowers are bright yellow, blooming March-April. Grows in marshes, woodland, fens, and ditches; rare on peat. Thrives in partial shade. Poisonous.
Red Campion (Silene dioica): Grows ~3 feet tall; hairy, sticky leaves and stalks. Flowers are dark pink to red and bloom May-October. Grows in woodlands and rocky slopes, particularly damp soil. The crushed seeds have been used to cure snake bites.
White Campion (Silene latifolia): Hairy plant growing 2.5-3 feet tall. Flowers are white, blooming May-September. Grows in open habitats such as fields and wastelands. Also called "Grave Flower," because it grows in cemeteries.
Cichory (Cichorium intybus): Also called "Succory," "Blue Sailors," "Coffeeweed." Grows ~3 feet tall; stems tough and branched. Flowers are blue, lavender, and occasionally white, blooming July-October. Grows in fields and by roadsides in chalky, sandy soil. Uses: Leaves are edible, cultivated for livestock.
Black Horehound (Ballota nigra, sp. foetida): Hairy/fuzzy plant with strong smell, grows up to 3 feet. Grows in hedge banks, wasteground - England, Wales, local in Scotland and Ireland. Flowers are pale purple, blooming June-September. Uses: medicinal - expectorant and astringent; used to cure motion sickness, prevent spasms, and as a sedative to prevent hysteria.
Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis): Also called "Red Pimpernel," "Red Chickweed," "Poorman's Barometer," "Poor Man's Weather-glass," "Shepherd's Weather-glass," "Shepherd's Clock." Ground plant, stems grow up to 50 cm. Flowers are usually scarlet and sometimes orange; rarely blue. Blooms June-September. Grows in cultivated- and waste-land, prefers sandy soil.
Lesser Wintergreen (Pyrola minor): Most common species of Wintergreen in Britain. Also called "Common Wintergreen," "Snowline Wintergreen." Low-growing, but with tall stalks; grows in woods, moors, dunes, mostly in Northern Britain. Flowers are pink and bloom June-August.