Guest post: Goldie Alexander on fictionalising history

Last week, I featured a guest post by Wendy J.Dunn, about how she creates her historical fiction. Today, I’m presenting a guest post from Goldie Alexander on a related subject–the importance of fictionalising history.

Goldie Alexander writes award winning short stories, articles, radio scripts, plays and books. Her novels are published both in Australia and overseas for readers of all ages. Her books for adults include: ‘The Grevillea Murder Mysteries’ ‘Lilbet’s Romance’,  Dessi’s Romance’,Penelope’s Ghostmentoring your memoir and ‘Mentoring Your Memoir’. Her first YA novel ‘Mavis Road Medley’ was a Notable CBCA, was shortlisted for by the Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs and is listed as one of the best YA books in the Victorian State Library. Her best known book for children is: ‘My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove’. Her fiction for children includes three collections of short stories and several mysteries, fantasies and science fictions. Her other historical fictions include: ‘The Youngest Cameleer’, ‘That Stranger Next Door’, My Holocaust Story: Hanna’ and the verse novel ‘In Hades’. She has also co-authored a non-fiction book, The Business of Writing for Young People, with fellow writer Hazel Edwards.

Welcome, Goldie!Goldie%20A1

Fictionalising history

by Goldie Alexander

Back in the dark ages the history I was taught when very young consisted of memorising facts and dates. I could recite all the kings and queens of England, though I knew almost nothing of our own history. I recall with wry amusement a first year university British History course made up entirely of 16th Century documents, but with no explanation as to why I was required to understand them.
In a way fictionalizing history is writing about time. Time is the element in which we all live much like fish in water and yet the realisation that time flows on and on and never flows backward is one of the most stunning of childhood discoveries. Time is what makes discovering history so important, because time is the narrative of mankind. It provides answers as to how people lived in the past as well as the roots of contemporary laws, customs, and political ideas. The accuracy of that old adage, “you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been” holds true. Historians realize history does repeat itself, though with different permutations. This repetition has importance in all societies. It teaches younger generations the value of certain social attitudes, it helps social change and gives sound governmental policies. A good example is the Aborigines of Australia who managed to hang onto their history for 40,000 years by word of mouth. A knowledge of history clearly proves early man’s love of the arts and demonstrates that once a civilisation is able to maintain a steady food supply that their creative ideas flowed whether the evidence appeared on rock walls, papyrus, or cedar bark.
A child immersed in facebook, twitter, instagram, or playing the latest computer game, might ask, why lilbets-romance1bother with those old stories? So the challenge for us authors who write historical fiction is to make these stories as relevant and exciting as any Hunger Game or Vampire novel and to write what our youngsters will enjoy, and incidentally learn a lot. I think this can happen if the author is able to turn the story into a compelling ‘here and now’ narrative. The best historical fiction works on the premise of “What if you were there at the time?”
It goes without saying that all historical fiction in whichever medium it appears (film, TV, or novel) must be based on careful research. My favourite faux pas is Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Cleopatra costume’ with its frontal zip and the extra wearing a watch. Does anyone here recall that? Nothing is more irritating coming across a glaring error such as dialogue set well in the past in the past using a contemporary idiom.

There are certain rules we authors keep. We know that good historical fiction has a strong internal logic and is easy for young readers to follow. If the story darts too quickly between ‘times’, unless this is carefully stated, this can confuse even a sophisticated adult. And the story must contain some kind of quest. The characters must have a clear idea of what they desire or fear. They must be wholly rounded, and as three dimensional as if living in the present. The reader must be able to identify with these characters and feel empathy or compassion for their situation.
Some writers worry that readers might not like characters who exhibit typical prejudices of their time. But flawed characters who gain the readers’ sympathy and understanding despite their flaws are a key element of good fiction. Good historical fiction balances a characters’ flaws with qualities we can respect and admire, and gains sympathy for them without excusing prejudice, cruelty and the like.

surviving sydney coveI have written a number of historical novels for young readers. As an Aussie author, I mostly stick to our own history. I fictionalised the lives of our First Fleet in “My Australian Story Surviving Sydney Cove”; wrote about life during the Great Depression in “Mavis Road Medley”; wrote about the little known non-indigenous discovery of Uluru in “The Youngest Cameleer”; explored the First World War for very young readers in “Gallipoli Medals”; and imagined life in Melbourne just before World War Two in “Lilbet’s Romance”. One of my recent novels ‘That Stranger Next Door’ centres on the Australian equivalent of the mid-fifties McCarthy Senate inquiries and can be compared to the Children Overboard incident as both have political overtones. I believe the events I use as my settings have helped shape my country as to what it is now. My most recent novel ‘My Holocaust Story: Hanna’, my only historical novel set in the Warsaw Ghetto, partly shaped what I am now,
Browsing, I came across this comment in Good Reads; “Historical fiction gives me the opportunity to engage with what it would be like to live in those times. It is always great when you find a good source and even more so if that source confirms what you have already imagined. There is so much to learn from the past, it would be waste to just write about our day to day Holocaust Cover Smallpresence.

Writers are often chastised for writing about the past – as if only 21st Century problems are relevant, as if writing fantasy is the only way we will persuade youngsters to read. Certainly there are vogues involving vampires, zombies, super- adventurous girls, and a heap of Tolkien-style fantasy. In the end I doubt they will have a long life. These novels are often commercially driven and may only last until something new takes over. On the other hand history is never out of fashion and fictionalising it, is the best way of ensuring that some understanding of past mistakes might prevent them happening again.

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Guest post: Wendy J. Dunn on writing historical fiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Wendy J. Dunn to my blog, with an intriguing guest post about how she approaches creating the imaginative landscape of her books, whilst also recreating a very particular historical period.

Wendy is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten years old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.

While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder (Tom told the story of Anne Boleyn in Dear Heart, How Like You This?), serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter—named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne.

After successfully completing her MA (Writing) at Swinburne University Wendy became a tutor for the same course. She gained her PhD (Human Society) in 2014.

As a committee member of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia, Wendy was also part of the team who put together the very successful inaugural HNSA conference of historical fiction writers and readers, recently held in Sydney.

Welcome, Wendy!wendy dunn

Some Thoughts about Writing Historical Fiction.

by Wendy J.Dunn

I have now written two novels inspired by the story of Anne Boleyn. My first published novel, Dear Heart, How Like You This? tells her story through the voice of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Elder. A real historical person, he was not only a Tudor diplomat, but also a very gifted and important Tudor poet. Reconstructing him in fiction became my means to explore the nature and cost of love, as well as how Tudor women’s lives were controlled by their gender. The Light in the Labyrinth, my first young adult novel, as well as being a coming of age story, also casts a light upon women’s lives.

Why two novels about Anne Boleyn? Well, she has fascinated me since childhood, from the moment I first watched the movie Anne of The Thousand Days, and came away inspired by its construction of a strong, intelligent and very brave woman. By the movie’s end, Anne had become my hero, alongside my very first hero, her daughter, Elizabeth Tudor.anne boleyn

In my teenage and early adult years, I immersed myself in novels to do with the Tudor period. I also immersed myself in history books to help me learn more about the context that shaped the people of this era. These non-fiction books made it very clear that women in this period had very little ownership of their own lives. Even their identities came from their fathers, and then their husbands. More and more, Anne Boleyn stood out as a woman who was able to claim a true identity. While years of research have helped me to recognise her imperfections, it has also increased my reasons to love and respect her. Through my research, I now believe Anne’s insistence of her right to own and use her voice resulted in her death. This is the woman who lives in my imagination.

And this is the thing. Whilst my characters are birthed through research, and the knowledge I gain by research, I am a writer of fiction. Research is the key that opens the door to my imagination, when I begin typing up my daydream of another time and place. A time and place where my characters step forward and tell their story. For me, doing historical research has four main purposes: it deepens my well of historical knowledge; it gives me ideas turn into fiction; it takes me from the threshold of conceiving my first idea to the actual task of constructing historical fiction, when I build a world through imagination, and, finally, it continually fuels my imagination in the act of writing. It is my response to research that produces an imaginative reaction that takes me deeper into the process of story writing.dear heart

Writing The Light in the Labyrinth, a young adult novel, brought with it particular challenges. Young adult novels tend to be written in first person, and I tried to do this with Kate’s story. However, I decided to challenge myself by switching to third person limited. While the story was still revealed through Kate’s perspective, it was a very different structure to my usual way of writing.
Another challenge was giving voice to a 14-year-old girl from the Tudor period, a time very different from our own times. 14-year-old girls in Tudor England were considered old enough to be married and have children. The life of Catherine Willoughby, the Duchess of Suffolk, provides an example of this. Some historians claim Catherine was as young as fourteen when she married Charles Brandon, a man close to fifty. Kate’s experiences had to evoke that of a Tudor girl, yet also speak to girls today.
History seems to know very little about Katherine Carey’s early years. Like her aunt, Anne Boleyn, even her birth year is the subject of debate. This historical ‘silence’ allowed me imagine, at the start of The Light in the Labyrinth, Kate living with her mother at Rochford, a property owned by the Boleyns, and at least two days of riding from London. My research suggested this property was not well liked by the Boleyns (in the 16th century, it was situated in a very unhealthy area). Yet Mary lived there with her second husband, William Stafford, rather than be too close to her immediate family. I don’t believe it was simply because Mary had disgraced her family by her choice of a second husband – a man without wealth or title. While she seems to have married for love, her marriage could also be also be seen as an act of defiance, the claiming of her own life and identity.
I wondered what kind of mother she could have been for Kate – imagining that Kate saw her as a soft mother, but really Mary was not soft, rather too aware of the hardness of life. Through my knowledge of the lives of Mary and Anne Boleyn, I was able to imagine my Kate Carey, a girl influenced by admiration for her aunt, Anne Boleyn, and rebellious against what she saw represented by her mother.
the-light-in-the-labyrinth-coverThe silences of history offer historical fiction writers those vital gaps to enter by use of their imagination; a time they can use “historical circumstances with the greatest economy” (Kundera 2003, p. 36). In my own practice, I also deepen my understanding of what William Styron means when he writes: “while it may be satisfying and advantageous for historians to feast on rich archival material, the writer of historical fiction is better off when past events have left him with short rations” (2010: 428).
By this I mean I know have done my research about the Tudors and their period. This research has had time to soak into the depths of my unconsciousness. These gaps in historical record are my invitation to allow my imagination free rein, when I can let my characters speak, and re-construct their lives.
This is why the “curious, alluring space between fact and fiction” (Parini 1998, p. B4) is vitally important for me as a writer: it gestates imagination. It takes me “back then” (Thom, 2010, p. 26). And if I am taken “back then”, as a writer, I believe it also follows I have the possibility of taking back my reader through the construction of my text.

Works cited:
Kundera, M, 2003, The Art of the Novel, Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
Parini, J 1998, ‘Delving into the World of Drewww.wendyjdunn.comams by Blending Fact and Fiction’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 27, p. B4.

Styron, W, 2010, The Confessions of Nat Turner, Kindle edition: Open Road.

Thom, J. A. 2010, The art and craft of writing historical fiction, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Wendy’s website: www.wendyjdunn.com/
Like Wendy on Facebook: www.facebook.com/authorwendyjdunn
Goodreads author page: www.goodreads.com/author/show/197156.Wendy_J_Dunn

Follow on Twitter: @wendyjdunn

Interview with Jane Routley

JaneRoutleyToday it is my great pleasure to feature a really interesting interview I did recently with Jane Routley, multi-award-winning author of haunting and gripping fantasy novels, whose earlier books, I’m delighted to see, are enjoying a deserved comeback through ClanDestine Press, but who’s also hard at work on several new fantasy novel projects. And she’s also continuing with another wonderful side to her writing–Station Stories, intriguing non-fiction vignettes inspired by her day job. Read on!

Your new ebook, The Three Sisters, has just been released by ClanDestine Press. It was first published in 2004 under the pseudonym of Rebecca Locksley, and received fantastic reviews, including one from the great fantasy author Sara Douglass, who deemed it a ‘captivating read’. Can you tell us a bit about the book’s journey from its initial publication to its new release now? Did you make any changes to the original book, and how did you approach the question of pseudonyms for this new release?

The pseudonym Rebecca Locksley was an attempt to re-launch me for marketing reasons. At that time big bookshops like Borders were only ordering numbers of books on the strength of previous sales. Harper Collins had enough faith in me to think it might be worth re-launching me and making a big marketing push with posters and dump bins etc… In The Three Sisters I had wanted to write a three sistersprequel to my Dion Chronicles, to deal with the history of the Klementari and their contact with the Aramayans. The name change came when I was too deep in the book to change the story. To be honest even though I understood the reasoning, I wasn’t very happy about it. I changed the names and some of the geography, but the magic system and the characters – everything that mattered -remained the same.
Since the name change didn’t achieve what Harper Collins had hoped and publishing has changed enormously with the advent of ebooks, I thought I might as well consolidate and change my name back for the re-issue.
Oddly enough when Clan Destine offered to re-releaseThe Three Sisters under my own name,I started out changing the world back to that of the Dion Chronicles. Somehow it just felt wrong so I must have changed more than it seemed at the time. Also I was worried people would think I was setting out to deceive.
The Three Sisters has been re-copy edited and I’ve smoothed out some stylistic edges that seem rough to me now but otherwise it’s much the same book that was released in print.
There is a sequel to The Three Sisters which has never been in print, which I spent a lot of time writing and which people still write and ask me about. Fingers crossed Clan Destine will bring it out some time next year.

In both your earlier Dion Chronicles and this book, you have created vivid and intriguing characters, acting in richly-depicted fantasy settings. How do you go about creating the world of your books?

I usually start out with an idea or a character. I’ve always loved the vividness of Angela Carter and Vernon Lee and I’ve tried to emulate it. Fairy tale and history fuel my world building. I tend to imagine my self living in my worlds. I imagine daily life, the smell of fresh bread and the feel of velvet robes. Hence there must always be the sense that there are bakers and seamstresses in the back ground even if they are not described. You need to make sure that everything follows logically.
For instance, your characters need ways to earn livings, which leads to ideas about social structure and economies.
The Three Sisters is set in a kind of medieval world but one in which a country is being colonized. I’ve plundered a lot of my history reading for that. For instance the local women are regarded as valuable slaves because of their skill at weaving. The women captured after the fall of Troy were used in just such a way. Later in Medieval times the work of weavers was the basis of much of the wealth of the Medici’s and the English Monarchy. Hence my history reading fuelled that piece of world building.
On the other hand fairytales are the back ground for a lot of my writing about the Tari. But even though they are magical they still have to eat! And they are human enough to need something to do during the day. I always notice in fantasy books when someone is just sitting round in their castle/cottage/flat waiting for the plot to catch up with them and it always irritates me. Real people,even magical real people, get bored with nothing to do. Even if you never mention it, at least have an idea in your head for what they do every day.

As a writer, are you a plotter or a gambler’? Do you plan your journey into a book, or do you just set out and see what happens?

As a writer I’m more of a gambler than a plotter. I know what I’m interested in writing about and I usually have some idea of where I want to go, but I never have much idea of how I’m going to get there. Every book I start I try to be more of a plotter. It must save so much time and angst. I always get to a point where the book goes dead and I’ve learned that that’s because I’m trying to make the characters do something that doesn’t work. Gee it’s miserable when it happens! I wish I didn’t have to go through it. On the other hand I get bored easily, so perhaps it’s best if I don’t know how things are going to go.
As a gambler, I know I write stories and books to see what’s going to happen if… For instance I’m interested in female roles in fantasy. In The Three Sisters I wanted to subvert the idea of the beautiful woman everyone desires. My suspicion would be that it would be horrible to be so desired. Sort of like that famous photo by Ruth Orkin of an American girl in Italy 1951 running the gauntlet of leering men. Elena’s quality of fatal beauty deprives her of much of her chance for agency and forces her to make a horrible sacrifice that many women in history have had to make. And I wanted to portray what it mage heartwould be like to occupied by a colonizing force, which is an important theme in Australian History. So I keep asking what happens next when these conditions apply and over time I dig into the story and get closer and closer to the story that feels right for me. It’s a bit like being an archaeologist or painting an oil painting.

Are you working on a new novel now? If so, can you tell us about it?
My current project Shadow in the Empire of Light, is an example of the way I work. I was tired of reading traditional patriarchal gender roles and especially tired of the nice girls don’t have love affairs trope that is so much a part of traditional fantasy. It’s Fantasy for heaven’s sake!! Let’s live a little!! So I tried to design a world in which women are men’s equal and gender is less of an issue. At first it came out a bit dull. I hadn’t realized how much the sex war supplied tensions.
So I added the element of class. In the Empire of Light wealth is passed down the female line and all mages become nobles. Those without magic are peasants.
My heroine Shine Lucheyart is well born but she has no magic and no mother to leave her an inheritance. She works as a poor relation in the house of powerful sorcerer relatives. But she’s smart and feisty and in the first book she spends a lot of time getting sorcerer cousins out of trouble.
Her main aim is the cut loose from her family and, with her telepathic cat for company, make her fortune. I had a lot of fun with gendered language and also fun making it a sexy silky kind of book. I’m looking for a publisher now.

You are a multi-award winning, internationally-published author. How do you think the genre of fantasy fiction has changed over the years since you were first published?

The introduction of sparkly vampires and the growth of urban fantasy is one major new part of the genre. Fairy tales seems to have left nature and have become more and more entwined with our grungy urban settings. I’m not sure the type of historical fantasy I write has changed all that much. A lot of it seems just as sexist and humourless as it was when I started out. There are a lot of women centred fantasy novels nibbling away at the edges, but the mainstream….? Women are still being married off to save their brothers from ruination or in constant danger of being ravished by every man they meet. On the other hand there is the Game of Thrones phenomenon which can only be good for all fantasy writers simply because it’s gone so mainstream. Looking at G o T is a great way of looking at gender roles in Fantasy. A lot of women say that G o T is too rapey. That’s true. It’s set in a war and that’s what happens in the chaos of war. But there are a lot of strong women in the book. You have Aya, Danerys and even the appalling Cerci just to name the main ones. On the other hand you could accuse it of exceptionalism since all these ladies are exceptional and not the norm and the rapeiness is a drag to read if you’re a woman. Still compared with Tolkien we are definitely making progress. I guess one should be happy for small steps.fire angels

Separately to your fiction, you have created a wonderful compendium of non-fiction ‘Station Stories’ of vignettes and micro-stories inspired by your work as a station host at a Melbourne station host. How did ‘Station Stories’ start, and how do you see it as developing? Can you share with us one or two stories that stand out?

As a writer I’ve always wanted to celebrate everyday life – to make little photographs of it but with scents and sounds. Because everyday life is full of tiny transcendent jewel-like moments of delight and sorrow and interest. Fantasy writing doesn’t give you much scope for this. When I first started to work at a railway station (unfortunately my writing doesn’t pay the bills)I was delighted by all the little stories that played out on station platforms and kept a diary so that they wouldn’t be lost. Over time and with my discovery of social media these have metamorphosed into ‘Station Stories’. I really wrote them for my own pleasure. People tell me to look for a publisher for them and perhaps I will. But I already think of it as a small weekly column and I try to post one every weekend. I’d love to build up a following for them so that lots of people get this little story maybe on their mobiles maybe on Monday mornings as a bit of a sweetener. Without really planning it that seems to be what I’m working towards.
Here are two of my favourites.
A regular
G, one of our regulars is extremely disabled. He drives his wheelchair with a stick mounted on his head and communicates by tapping out words on a communicator. Were I so disabled, I think I’d be scared to leave the house, but G goes out to his job most days and has a busy social life. Recently I was tasteless enough to tease him about checking out the pretty girls. The way he tapped out “I’m engaged” and the dignified way he looked at me as it sounded out, made me feel rather small. Serves me right!
Yesterday he was waiting for a friend at the barriers and we got chatting. Hundreds of people headed for the Soundwave festival were going past and my task was to call out “Soundwave passengers – buses to the left!” at regular intervals.
I was startled to hear a little mechanical voice repeating my words. G had typed the words into his communicator and helpfully kept pressing the button at regular intervals until his friend arrived and he shot off in his wheel chair to greet him.

Station Heroics
Today the Crystal lady was in great distress (although not willing to miss her train) because she had dropped a container of freshly made organic peanut butter on the train tracks. I leapt in to help like the hero station host I am. Although these days railway employees are forbidden to enter the Pit (this is the evocative name we rail types use for the area of train track between the platforms) I do have a Scoopy Thing. This thing, created by some great hero station officer of times past,is a plastic milk bottle cut in half and attached to a pole. It enables me to fish all kinds of things – mostly mobile phones safely out of the Pit.
The ST performed admirably but to be honest, I’m not sure the Crystal Lady will want the peanut butter as the jar has a big germ emitting crack in it. Still that’s her decision for tomorrow.

Station Stories can be followed at www.janeroutley.com
https://janeroutley.wordpress.com/
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https://www.facebook.com/jane.routley.5

Interview on Wordmothers site

sophie-masson-deskI was interviewed recently by Nicole Melanson of the fabulous Wordmothers site, which features interviews with female authors, artists and book industry professionals. She asked some great questions. Full interview is here, but below is a short extract.

WHY DO YOU WRITE?

As a child, I heard lots of stories—my family’s always told them—and I’ve always seen the world through that prism. To me, creating stories is as natural as breathing, and I need it pretty much as much! That is still exactly what compels me—creating stories, living in their world, and sharing them with other people.

WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?

It’s the same as it ever was—the constant challenge of staying published, of interesting publishers in your work, of reaching readers. I’ve been very lucky as a writer in that I’ve made a living at it for many years now, but I never take anything for granted and I keep an eye out for opportunities; I stay flexible while also never sacrificing my integrity.

Also, I never allow myself to dwell on rejections but simply pick myself up and try again. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do that though! There are always times when you think, what if the publishing dries up? What if I can’t get anyone interested? But I don’t dwell on that either. It sharpens the wits but you can’t allow it to sour the writing!

 

 

 

Guest post: Duncan Lay on the reality of fantasy

duncan lay Last-Quarrel-Episode-1_cover1An interview with legendary US fantasy author Raymond E Feist inspired Duncan Lay to begin writing fantasy. He is the author of two best-selling Australian fantasy series, the Dragon Sword Histories and the Empire Of Bones. He writes on the train, to and from his job as production editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Australia’s biggest-selling newspaper. He lives on the Central Coast of NSW with his wife and two children.

In this fabulous guest post, Duncan explores how he created the world of his new series, by inspiring himself from the real world.

When you begin to read a fantasy story, the author is asking you to put aside your disbelief when you crack open the front cover. What lies inside could include fantastical creatures, magic, non-human characters – really, it could be anything.
Personally I think fantasy is best when it comes with a layer of reality, as it gives the reader something to hold on to, something familiar to ground all the fantastic, amazing other things they are reading.
Part of that comes from the characters, making them as real as possible but I also think part of it needs to come from the world they are from.
I know that some authors lovingly construct a world from scratch and good on them, I say. Personally, I think that a touch of the real world in a fantasy story gives the reader something recognisable and allows them to more easily believe what else is happening.
In my new series, The Last Quarrel, there are two lands. Gaelland, which is based on Ireland and the Kotterman Empire, which is loosely based on the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. In real life, these two countries had nothing to do with each other but this is fantasy, so anything can happen!
The beauty of basing your fantasy country on a real country is you instantly have no problem with character names. Those baby name websites not only offer you endless options but also helpfully say what the name means, which allows you to pick names that offer a hidden side to the character. Place names are also a breeze, although you can also mix those up a little so as not to represent actual places. Thus I have Lagway (Galway), Lunster (Munster), Meinster (Leinster), Londegal (Donegal) and so on.
Best of all, it allows you to learn from history. After all, people survived and thrived in those conditions, in that weather, through war, disease and famine. How they did it gives you an insight into how your characters might live, what they might wear and eat. It can influence their speech, their mannerisms and their history. Of course, being fantasy, you can pick and choose which aspects you keep and which you discard and replace with your own!
I loved the idea of Ireland for many reasons. The thought of a small, proud country that, through no fault of its own, is next to a larger more powerful one is obvious. How it deals with that larger country’s ambition is a matter of history. Ireland has a proud warrior tradition, its own songs and legends and a powerful national character. One of the main characters, Fallon, even uses the shillelagh, the traditional Irish fighting stick. Plus I was fascinated with the story of the sack of Baltimore, an Irish village that was stripped bare by Arab slavers. Putting the two together gave me a strong base for my story.
The Ottoman Empire also interested me. The way it was seen as the “sick man of Europe” during World War I, which led to the battle of Gallipoli and the forging of the Anzac legend, makes it instantly fascinating to anyone in Australia. The idea of a mishmash of an Empire, cobbled together from a variety of countries and held together by willpower and a steel fist, made it an obvious choice for me. Naturally there are heroes and villains on both sides!
History books are a great help with research but I also find books such as the Horrible Histories series are even more helpful, offering a really gritty view of life in different times.
And the best thing is, you can always mix and match things, as well as make them up if it comes to it. After all, it is fantasy and it only needs a little reality!

Duncan’s website: http://www.duncanlay.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/duncan.lay

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DuncanLay

About The Last Quarrel:

The Last Quarrel is a series in 5 episodes, the first of which came out on January 22, and further episodes will be released at fortnightly inteervals in February and March, with Episode 2 coming out this week! Keep an eye on Duncan’s Momentum page for more information as episodes are released.

Episode 1:(out now)

Gaelland is a nation gripped by fear.

In the country, fishing boats return with their crews mysteriously vanished, while farms are left empty, their owners gone into the night, meals still on the table. In the cities, children disappear from the streets or even out of their own beds. The King tells his people that it is the work of selkies, mythical creatures who can turn from seals into men and back again and witches. But no matter how many women he burns at the stake, the children are still being taken.

Fallon is a man who has always dreamed of being a hero. His wife Bridgit just wants to live in peace and quiet, and to escape the tragedies that have filled her life. His greatest wish and her worst nightmare are about to collide.

When an empty ship sails into their village, he begins to follow the trail towards the truth behind the evil stalking their land. But it is a journey that will take them both into a dark, dark place and nobody can tell them where it might end…

Episode2:

Prince Cavan is sure his younger brother, Swane, is behind the children going missing in the city. But his father refuses to listen and sends him away to investigate reports of selkies stealing people from the countryside. A furious Cavan fears this is part of a conspiracy. But then he meets Fallon, a simple country sergeant who has his own theories about the attacks on Gaelland. And what they cannot achieve apart, they must just do together …

Using dreams in your writing

DSCN21310001 DSCN27170001The other day, I had one of those amazing story-style vivid dreams that when you wake up, you know is going to feature in a novel or story. And that’s exactly what’s happened: it’s gone into the Trinity sequel, and in doing so has pretty much cracked a particular problem I had with part of the plot. Those kinds of dreams are gifts, and they come rarely; but even smaller, less powerful dreams can help to enrich your writing, and so today I thought I’d reproduce on this blog, a workshop piece about how to best make use of those dreamy opportunities for your fiction! I first wrote it as a blog post some time ago, and it’s also been republished in my non-fiction ebook, By the Book: Tips of the Trade for Writers.

A short dream workshop

From time immemorial, human beings have dreamed–every night we go into what one of my sons’ friends once referred to as ‘those brilliant eight hours of free entertainment.’ And from time immemorial, writers have used images or scenes from dreams, or entire dreams, to enrich and expand their creative work in waking life. I’m certainly no exception. My night-imagination has always enriched my day-imagination. Several of my short stories have started directly as dreams, for example, ‘Restless’, a chilling ghost story I wrote not long ago, began as a really creepy and unforgettable nightmare. Another disturbing story, ‘The Spanish Wife’, a vampire story set in the 1930’s, started as a dream in which someone said, very clearly, ‘No-one took any notice of him till he brought home a Spanish wife,’ and that turned into the very first sentence of the short story. Images and scenes from dreams have also gone into my novels, and in one case, a very vivid and intriguing dream inspired an entire six-book children’s fantasy series of mine, the Thomas Trew series. It’s not always fantasy or supernatural stories that have sprung out of dream-compost for me, though; everything from family stories to thrillers to historical novels has benefited from it.
Over the years, I’ve learned quite a few techniques on how to best use vivid, scary, tantalising or intriguing dream sequences in my writing, and how to investigate them for best effects. Here’s a short workshop based on some of the techniques I’ve developed over the years:

*Think of a dream you’ve had. Any dream. It doesn’t have to be anything
exciting or unusual. Go back over the dream-scenes, as if you were a police witness being asked to remember an event. Who was in it? What did they look like? What were they wearing?
Were they people you knew or strangers? Were there any animals in it? What sort? What was the setting like? Indoors, outdoors? What could you see? Smell? Touch? Hear? Taste even? What were you in it—a participant, a helpless observer, a godlike figure?

*If you did something supernatural, like flying, what did it feel like, physically? (I’ve often had flying dreams and in them I feel a strong pull in the chest, arms stretching. Once I even woke up with what felt like an actual slight ache in the arm muscles—very spooky indeed!)
*Were there any machines in your dream? If so, what sort?
*Did anyone speak, and if so what did they say? Many dreams in my experience are like silent movies, with thought-subtitles and maybe some music, but a few have dialogue, even if it’s often minimalistic and quite enigmatic.
* Knowledge: Do you know why you were in that particular place, at that time? If you had some supernatural ability, did you know why? If there are interesting objects or gadgets in the setting of your dream, do you know what they can do, and why, and who made or used them? Backstory is very often missing in dreams, but is very important in a story, even if you only spend a few lines on it.
*Now, once you’ve written down as many descriptive details as you can about what was there in the
dream, think about what wasn’t there, and write that down. While you were dreaming, did you
know for instance why you or other people were doing things(even if it was a kind of weird dream-logic?) Did you understand the sequence of events? Was there a sense the dream was moving towards some conclusion, or just randomly jumping about? Motive, continuity and plot—all very important in actual stories—are often missing from dreams.
*Think of your own self in the dream, however you appeared in it: did you
recognise yourself? Did you feel it was fully you or something that was only partly you, or a stranger? Did characters behave randomly? Character development is usually absent in dreams
too though it very much needs to be present in a story.
*What about the setting? Were there things missing: for instance, if you were in a house, were there doors? Windows? Furniture? If you were outside, was anything odd: for instance trees growing upside down, or a wall of water appearing out of nowhere?
*Now put those two things together—the things that were there, the ones that weren’t—and you have the beginnings of a real story framework, where the wild imagination of the night and the more disciplined one of the day cross-fertilise and turn into something amazing and wonderful.

Meet My Character–it’s a blog tour!

Wendy JamesMy friend and fellow author, the wonderful writer Wendy James, has invited me on the Meet My Character blog tour.

Wendy is the author of six books, including The Lost Girls (2013) The Mistake (2012) and Out of the Silence, which won the 2006 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime fiction and was shortlisted for the Nita May Dobbie Award for women’s writing. She currently lives in Newcastle, New South Wales with her husband and two of their four children.

I’ve known Wendy for many years, ever since our youngest and her eldest child bonded at school! We met each other first as our sons’ mothers but soon became good friends, and when we were living in the same town, used to meet once a week for a pub lunch, family and literary gossip and much book talk! (I miss those lunches, Wendy!) We also read each other’s first drafts on occasion, and I certainly felt greatly encouraged by Wendy’s wise and thoughtful advice, and her passion for our craft.

And I enjoyed reading about her character Beth Mahoney, aka Dizzy Lizzy, from her forthcoming novel, The Golden Child.

Now it’s my turn to tag about the next two authors on the blog tour, as well as to write about my own character here. So I’ve invited Felicity Pulman and Michael Pryor to take the blog baton after me.

felicity-pulman-2011Felicity Pulman writes fiction for adults, young adults, and children. Her love of history and legend infuses her books, such as I, Morgana, based on Arthurian legend, and the Janna Mysteries, set in the tumultuous Middle Ages at the time of the fierce dynastic struggles of Stephen and Matilda. Felicity, who has won several awards, also writes crime short stories, and her time-slip novel for children, Ghost Boy, is currently being made into a film.

 

 

 

michael-pryor-colour-portrait-150x225Michael Pryor is the author of over twenty novels and many short stories, or adults, young adults and children. His books have been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Aurealis Awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Ditmar Awards, and several of his titles have also been CBC Notable Books. His love of speculative fiction, the steampunk genre and alternative history led to him creating the extraordinary world of his very popular series, The Laws of Magic, set in the Edwardian period.

 

 

 

Now to my book character!

What is the name of your character?

Maxim Serebrov. He’s one of the main characters in Trinity: The Koldun Code.  I’ve decided to write about him because I’ve already written about the other two main characters, Helen Clement and Alexey Makarov. Maxim is an important character and some of the action is seen from his point of view.

Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Fictional.

When and where is the story set?

Today, in Russia.

What should we know about him/her?

Maxim is a homicide detective in the Moscow police. He is in his late thirties, has been married but now divorced, has no children. He’s a big, powerful-looking man–some people describe him as ‘bear-like’, he’s very intelligent but has something of a temper. He was brought up in a tough part of Moscow, saw military service in Chechnya, and lives in a rather crummy flat. Honest yet disillusioned, he battles daily to do his job honestly in the midst of danger and corruption.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his or her life?

Maxim’s life has been messed up by his job and the demands it places on him, but in the book, he’s also messed up by the fact his boss has taken him off the Trinity case, which he’s been struggling to try and solve. But Maxim is not a man to back down and so behind his boss’ back, he decides he’s going to try and crack it on his own.

What is the personal goal of the character?

To solve the mystery of the deaths of the three Trinity founders and later also to find out what lies behind the strange events that are happening.

Is there a working title for the novel, and can we read more about it?

It’s called Trinity: The Koldun Case, and it’s the first in the Trinity series. You can read more about it here. It’s available in print and ebook formats.

When can we expect the book to be published or when was it published?

It’s been published–in e book format on November 13, and print book format on December 4. And if you’re quick you might also be able to win a copy at the Goodreads giveaway, which lasts till December 17!

Below is a pic of book cover. And a pic of the actor I’d love to have playing Maxim in a film of the book–Alexander Iskakevich, who on screen has the same combination of strength, intelligence and stoicism.

Trinity Koldun Code coverMaxim serebrov alexander ivaskevich