#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 8

Full list of questions here.

Week 8: Alternative realities: what could have changed everything, and how?

Hoo boy, let’s say a lot of deaths could have changed the lay of the land. But saying more gets super spoilery (even for the sequel books :P). In fact, very few things I can talk about here that don’t reveal stuff about the plot but I’m going to discuss a pre-book event that’s important.

So we’ve talked in the past about an anti-magic sentiment that led to the enslavement of magic users and their associates, right? That came about from fear and basically the core proponents forced scientists to develop technologies to suppress magic to make it easier to oppress the minority group (there was large military support for it all).

An event called the Liberation was when Laliena the heroine would release the shackles of the enslaved and lead the Three Kingdoms into a new prosperous age … But would happen if she never rose up or was killed before she gained enough support? Suppose now that she was an irreplaceable part of the movement what then for those poor souls?

Well, Alvefia abolished the trade well before the other countries followed suit. The Ivy Throne was a crucial element for the push back, after all, but they were hemmed in by supporters and needed support. If they did not come, in time, they would begin their resistance campaign by persuading their southern neighbours, Elefia, while borrowing some of their military strength and begin the arduous campaign country-wide. The resulting chaos would lead to the eventual collapse of the institution of slavery but with much heavier overall losses.

There are certain elements of the main plot that don’t occur and the structure of the Kingdoms is so, so different.

I like counterfactual situations like these. Naturally I went with the optimistic vision but there could easily be a different pessimistic one.

 

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#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 7

Full list of questions here.

Week 7: Your favourite relationship of the book

This doesn’t necessarily mean a romantic relationship. In the redraft there’s a familial one that I’ve loved to think through in my head. I did struggle with a few: Varim and Roxanne; Varim and Max; Ayene and Kai, the last being a recent love of mine. (Clearly Varim has all the fun.)  I settled on my antagonists who are a couple.

The main action details the large invading southern empire of Anzor and the conflict that ensues.

Respen del Anzor and Luce dal Reine are from the Anzori Empire and lead the campaign to the north of them where the books are set as General and Lieutenant-general of the Army, respectively.

They’ve been together for about thirty years when the story begins. They met as young revolutionaries and have stood side by side, blades soaked crimson with their backs firmly pressed against each other. Respen is a curious boy who ran from home and tried to follow his brother’s example, ending up trying to expel a regime that continued to enslave magic users—and those they associate with; Luce is a girl who does not speak of her past when they meet, her speech broken and heavily accented. But she is a more than capable fighter, arguably self-taught. She would continue to be secretive about much of her past in the ensuing years, even as they grow closer with the eventual romantic slant. There are parts of her past which are too painful to recount: she much prefers her present and future which is her mission and her love. But they were partners before they were lovers, two people who were far from home doing something they believed in—they understand one another. I mean you’d have to in order to be with them for about 30 years!

While they feature a bit less than I think they ought to, I enjoy writing that easy intimacy of a long-standing couple. I think we see a lot of burgeoning relationships in media and sometimes it’s nice to see things a while after the fireworks have died down.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 6

As always, link to the list of questions here.

Week 6: An interview with your protagonist

Okay, so part of this whole rigmarole is actually identifying my main character. Writing Excuses did an interesting dive into a distinction between a main character, a hero, and a protagonist, trying to piece together if you can have different characters fulfil those roles. I think my book is one that does that as I tend to favour ensemble casts but there are naturally key characters. A hero, protagonist, and a main character can be distinct but they often overlap and are collapsed into one, maybe two characters. I have many POVs and the roles they fill in the story likewise overlap.

To distinguish:

A protagonist is the character who undergoes the most change. They’re the one who take action to move the story forward.
A main character is one we spend time with. We see the story through their eyes.
A hero does heroic/cool things.

For more on this breakdown, listen to this episode of Writing Excuses, where I got the idea from.

Generally speaking I have a rough “main three” for the above distinctions: a hero in a character named Varim, a protagonist in Kai, and a main character in Rixa, although since they’re all POV characters they tend to fill multiple roles. Rixa fulfils the “maintagonist” role (listen to the podcast!), without the heroics, and is whom we will be interviewing today. Naturally to avoid spoilers I’m framing this as an exit interview at the Academy, which is a university in the western Kingdom of Onzaria.

Hello Rixa, how are you?

Hel—ahem—hello! Good. How are you?

Before we get into this: can I ask after your name? It’s not a common one in these parts.

No you’re absolutely right! It’s not even common for its origins. It’s actually the feminine form of an old master, Rix. That’s how you say it, too. Ricks-ah. I’m named after two flowers, the rieaus and xalfring, respectively, and they make up my full name: Rieaus Xal Syrill. I think they were my mother’s favourite but I’m not sure.

Beautiful. Okay, let’s jump in. 

Oh—okay.

Just some perfunctory information first. You’ve confirmed your name but can you tell me your birthplace and age, please?

I was born in Tymbroia [country south of Onzaria] but have spent a good amount of my time in Onzaria, especially in Goddess County where my great-aunt Jane lives. Oh, and I’m twenty-three.

Lovely. Out of interest, which do you prefer?

Neither because they offer different things. I liked studying at the Academy in Onzaria but the city life in Tymbroia’s a little more laid back, if I’m honest.

And do you have any brothers and sisters?

Not that I know of.

Favourite food?

Are these really your necessary questions? Hmm, I don’t know. There’s a nice three-cheese salad with tomatoes, olives, yerwin [a sweet vegetable, usually used in salads but common in soups as well] and just a hint of chillies.

A good burger never goes amiss, too.

And to drink?

Any Tymbroian wine and you can do no wrong—even the cheap stuff. Close second’s an ale the Onzarian’s affectionately call “fairy’s piss”.  Oh wait. Sorry! Should I even be admitting this? Do you even want to hear this?

That’s alright. It’s an informal chat. Okay then, what was the best thing about your chosen subject?

I studied anthropology and history, with a minor in botany. Is that what you need for the record? [interviewer nods] Erm, I suppose I got to see the Kingdom’s rich history, of trade and technology, even in the dark periods with slavery … History’s not so clear cut because people aren’t so we shouldn’t think there are heroes and villains so much as nuanced individuals who did good and bad.

Do you think Laliena [heroine who galvanised anti-slave armies] was a hero?

Just like my great-aunt, she was a Liberator, but I imagine if we scrub away at the worship you might see a flaw or two. Except Aunt Jane. She’s perfect.

She isn’t going to see or know about this. 

[Laughing] I don’t believe you.

Do you feel as though you’ve made any meaningful connections here? If not, how could we do more to help? 

Lots! Though, I would say I just got really close to my old friends like Rox, Varim, and Kai—Max too. Sorry. I’m going to miss them. But that’s part of the Academy experience, I suppose.

Absolutely. Great to hear. Do you feel like the experience overall was worthwhile? Any improvements?

Oh of course! I had so much fun. And improvements … Not that I can think of. [Too nervous to express herself there, she would later draft a four-page letter with some suggestions, mainly relating to the teaching content.]

What’s the most meaningful thing that happened to you, do you think? 

It’s a secret. Can it be a secret?

If you want. You don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to.

Thank the Goddess.

Have you read anything interesting recently?

I read in the paper that the actual official animal of Tymbroia is the nirik, not the nymph like the palace would have you believe! It makes a lot of sense but no-one wants to be tied to those strange twisted creatures, poor things.

Speaking of our neighbours, do the growing tensions worry you?

Mmm … not really. Leaders bicker all the time without anything scary happening. Another thing history misses is that leaders always bicker with nothing coming of it. They’re always so dynamic in the tales. [quieter] The conquering and sieges are actually quite rare.

Have you secured employment or know what you want to do next?

Soldier! No, I’m kidding. I was referred to a reclusive botanist named appropriately Mr. Evergreen. He lives on the island to the west. He seems weird but nice. There are a few others already there and when they visited they couldn’t recommend it enough—especially Aunt Jane! I’m going to apprentice with him for a year or so and then use the money I earn and look for an academic role, maybe teach in the Academy.

And that’s your dream job?

I’d love to write history books of my own, actually. Maybe some fiction. But being an academic is a little more practical, you know? The books won’t pay for themselves. I think I’d like to teach, anyway.

Well, we’d love to have you on if you choose to come aboard. And finally: what are you going to do now?

Sleep! Definitely sleep. See my friends. Maybe go to Alvefia [country to the east]. I heard it’s lovely this time of year. They have this tomato-based bread thing that apparently’s lovely.

Have some wine?

Yes! A month to catch up on sleep, read, then maybe go dancing! I haven’t done that in a while.

Is there anything you would like to ask me? 

No but I love your hair! [It’s dyed green.]

Thank you! All the best in the future. 

Thanks, you too. Bye now!

 

That was fun! Later, peeps.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 5

Full list of questions here.

In the updated version of Umbra there isn’t even a fifth chapter; I cut a lot of chaff out and chapter five stands at a whopping 8,473 words of mostly worldbuilding. It’s nice … but needs to go. Narrative economy is something I am still learning. It’s a draft, what can I say?

So here, one of the perspective characters, the knight Dame Kaiyrah Halewood is heading back to her home city of Liax, capital of Onzaria, to report to the King. She is sat atop her lupine creature with plumed ears and two tails called an alvayne, named Sol for his golden eyes. As the world stands, technology is magic-powered for the most part and has seen some decline. Kai’s current challenge is steering Sol into Liax. Alvayne do not like the smell of engines and magic-based pollution so you don’t see them frequent the more modern cities that have been proliferating across Delka. Which is no real bother for those who are not fond of wolf-kin.

With the decline of the amount of vehicles on the roads these days, she knew, at a push, she could manage to steer Sol to set foot in Liax and enjoy the city. She knew his curiosity would get the better of his revulsion and her urgency to get to the capital would lead him to take the first steps onto the white paving stones of Liax.

The day began dreary and cool, showing the first signs of the approaching end of summer.

As far as cut chapters go, it’s not a bad bit of writing. It’s just not a very sexy chapter. Sorry, Kai. You get many more chances to shine in the future.

So the writer friends that I associate with have already done this so I can’t really tag them so I’m opening up the floor. Anyone who is comfortable in sharing this, I would love to see your work. You can also check out their challenges through the links on their names:

S.E. Berrow
K.F. Goodacre
Harli V. Park

That’s it for this week’s writing challenge but I’ll check back in for other stuff very soon. I’m quite excited for next week’s one.

A New Year in Poetry

This might be my most personal set of poems. It’s too early to tell if this is a bad idea or not. Enjoy.

A Journey Can Be A Short Passage Or Long And Meandering Like This Sentence—They Are Both Valid And Meaningful

Some days I want to leave forever
float away and disappear so that you
can stop missing me
and stop wondering if when you
saw me might be the last.
Kingdoms have risen and fallen
while I strutted along the desiccated fields
with no destination in mind.
Had so much time passed between?
Lately I’ve noticed my wholesale disappearance
would only serve to exacerbate
the me-sized gap over there:
I am near but far away,
not in the sky
but in the trenches
part of a phalanx
fighting a war partly of my making,
and still trying to pass it off as something that
couldn’t have been foreseen.
Every spider-web thin apology
seeks to encircle the elaborate fortress I have
built to keep you away;
I love my glittering gossamer, see.
But I remember
I am sole possessor of the key!
I can’t ask you to wait for me to grow sense and yet
I hope that you do.

Keep Calm And Carry On

Flint-lock frowns.
Hearts kept at bay.
Unified indifference.
Private regret.

Keep calm and carry on.
Past rain-soaked sleeping bags
and shivering pleas.

I can’t work out
if it’s worse to meet or avoid
your solemn gaze.
I wonder if you resent me.
(I know I would.)

A gold-ringed coin drops into
your dirty palm.
“Good luck,” I mutter.
It is not a kindness, I assure myself, moving away.
I’m secretly full of shit:
That offering is a token of my guilt.

 

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Sir/Madam,

Mine is a familiar shape, I know
but I am hardworking and diligent
though I suppose all who write you
say something similar.
In truth I have a tendency to
overwork due to my need to
perfect all I do.
I come to work to feed that;
see, I’m afraid of not being competent
because of those who told me I was not
so I will spend too long
working through a problem.

Mine is a familiar shape, I apologise,
but it is a lonely one.
I’ve been prone to bouts of
uncertainty
not only of direction but how honest I should be—
to my friends,
to myself.
I do have a few skills:
These I bring and much more.
I have experience
and patience:
A man can do anything if he has those.

Mine is a familiar shape:
Compassionate,
which I suppose is important for when
colleagues or clients don’t have it in them (for personal issues)
to see the business side of things.
Sometimes it’s best when there is a lot of space,
a place to come back to when they’re done.
Meanwhile I will step in
to help—give them time away.
It helps, however little, I’ve found.
If that is not appealing
I have made giant steps—
not as grand as Coltrane’s, sadly—
in realising my creative goals,
making sure everything’s ready for
when my transformation comes
rapidly like a train.
If I blink I’ll miss it.
But it approaches.
I will step on the platform
and will slice the winds of misfortune.
Every written word
helps me to rationalise:
To improve,
dissect,
extrapolate …
Things every business needs.

Ah fuck,
this cover letter is too damn long;
well, it’s not a cover letter at all!
More like a soapbox,
a signifier of strength
a mast holding through storm,
rain-lashed but puffed out—
deliberately defiant,
come what may.

Yours faithfully,

O.B.

FiNe

“My ills are reticulate/My woes are granular/The ants weigh more than the elephants.”

I seized misfortune by the collar,
raised my black gloved ill-intent
and demanded it tell me why I was chosen.
Fragments and curlicues, I said, feather-light
the most unaccountable
of machinery—
always buzzing,
humming,
roaring
diving,
and then buried in the
mud.
Thoughts filed through,
piled through
without completion, just a merciless
torrent of consideration, deliberation,
consultation, digression,
parsing, reflection,
refraction, inversion,
weak, agreeable,
meticulously footnoted but
inert.
And why? What’s this passion for?

What of the figure of stone over the white cliffs
overlooking the foamy sea?
Its hard exterior, cool to the touch
with inner combustion—
it’s a strange contraption that might take flight.
But you’ll find no warmth in it
though you still might burn your fingers.
It’s best to keep away,
yet still masses find succour from it,
flock without minds—for what?
It’s the strangest contradiction I’ve ever heard.
Reflecting and withdrawn.
Who has looked at its real face?
They circle its mighty frame with
easily reached conclusions:
mere fragments of a whole.

I must stand alone—
There is no longer any fullness;
it has faded,
chipped away by this tool
that seeks to sculpt
Platonic beauty
and fears its
antithesis,
fears that
Darkness sits within
just on the cusp of breaking out—
split the head clean in two
and consume all in hellfire.

“Fool!” he responds,
“that is what makes you strong.
To understand not to agree, that provides
fullness.
And think of your mind as tracing filigree:
Intricate and beautiful,
unbound by dogma, thirst propelling you,
oh my Philomath!
Certainly you might digress
but discovery is around every corner
if you do not protest.
Parsing and reflection are your allies!
Believe in the effectiveness of your considering:
extrovert judgement when you need to,
not a moment before.”

But in industry I require speed!
“And any worth their role will see consideration benefits you best—
Cold calculation does not suit you:
The fire is no weakness, not to be feared.
It should be stoked and used to
give light and here for those who seek it
but do not be rid of it too quickly—
know that the temptation is high,
but save some for yourself:
fire for one, fire for all.
So you see, dear, this passion
is this arc of dawn,
a sonorous whisper,
your foresight and flexibility is a promise of
a bright future.
You’re doing just fine.”

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 4

Week Four of the 52-week writing challenge. As usual, full list can be found here.

Question 4: Your favourite thing that DIDN’T make it into the book (such as a background story, description, or an erased character)

Oh man, there is so much that I wanted to put into the book—like the names of the countries are based on the tribes/ethnic groups that founded them, for example—so I’m struggling to pick just one. I’ll give it a go, though. I’ve elected to talk about a tiny country called Kaska. In the setting, the Three Kingdoms, they’re a small country and state, not really with much influence across the board. On the surface.

IMAG1146
On my shitty unfinished map, Kaska’s this tiny one here.

Across the world of Delka there are titans/giants that have affinities for the various magics across the planet. Kaska has very little except for the existence of the Frost Giant, an ancient spirit with an affinity for ice and tied to the mountain that he lives on, giving a lot of the temperature around an unnatural cold to it all. His connection is so sharp that he would die leaving being separated from the mountain.

Kaska has very little natural resources so they rely on exports almost entirely, but their imports are in the form of people, not products. Kaskans are the Jacks (and Janes)-of-all-trades from lawyers to bankers, doctors, soldiers, courtesans, etc., and most crucially to the Giant’s interests, spies. The history of the Three Kingdoms is turbulent and complex, but the last big event was the Liberation—a wide-spread emancipation of the enslaved who were or known to associate with the magically-inclined—where Kaska were a huge part of, both positively and negatively. Often, Alvefia (or Ispara) to the east is credited with the advancement of the anti-slavery rhetoric. Not only that, but political and military efforts of the Liberation since they abolished all forms of slavery some 100 years prior to the uniform abolition, and this is true, but Kaska actually had a more integral part in it, if much subtler.

IMAG1148.jpg
“Those damn liberals in Alvefia!” (Hallius is the capital)

These come in the forms of two core groups: the Fraternity of Frost and the Sorority of Shivers. Both were single-gendered groups, as the names denote, and they had influence across the entirety of the Kingdoms. They got the name from the cold country they inhabit, but also for the Giant’s blood that stirs in their veins. As a rite of passage, they would have the Giant’s blood in them for certain advantages: decrease their body temperature, lower heart rate, increase their vision (especially in cold conditions), making them indispensible. This became extended only to core members because in time they recruited across the Kingdoms for their wide-ranging purposes. A minority of Giant’s blood owners are his children but we’ll return to that.

Both the Fraternity and the Sorority’s main product was information, and typically they worked as spies and assassins for various courts to advance the anti-slavery movement in the Kingdoms. Mostly they would pass messages between enslaved revolutionaries and abolitionists to help with the organisation of escapes: ships that ended moored on safe shores, like the southern tip of the land to the north.

The Sorority still exists when the story begins, but the Fraternity is dead. As I said before, Kaskans are important figures both good and bad. One of the largest pillars of the slave trade was named Axon the Direwolf who was an information broker turned solider turned war criminal. This happened because the allure of violence was too much. His craving was so vast that it would be the death of him and the Fraternity. He was the Giant’s son, of a “human”* mother.

The Sorority was diminished as a result, for the size of the Fraternity was unmasked when they found ledgers of those in his employ and connection**. Many retreated to Kaska, awaiting the memory of their traitorous and murderous brothers to fade from memory.

The seat of the westernmost Kingdom is a country named Onzaria. When the slavers were deposed, they needed leaders. The would-be king was starting a kingdom from the ground up and it would be advantageous to be in their good graces, considering the size and influence of the wealthy Onzaria. The Frost Giant’s firstborn (and most beloved) daughter Veveril—again of a “human” mother—elected to marry the king of Onzaria in order to secure prosperity for her home. About a year or so before the beginning of Umbra, Veveril is killed by poisoning which would naturally attract the Giant’s ire. But that’s about where the story of Kaska gets to. I have some rough plans but that would be telling.

IMAG1147
Onzaria which if you squint shares a border with Kaska. The capital Liax lies to the far west and you can see just beyond my hand.

The reason all of it didn’t make it in? I didn’t think of it until well after I had begun writing the  book! By then I couldn’t think of a sensible reason for including it. Look at the size of that. I’ve admittedly done it in my drafts for some things (to the confusion of my betas—sorry!) but I wanted to have it down as a reminder to include it in the future, which is usually why things in the latter half pop up: they’re reminders. Hope you enjoyed this lengthier post. I had a lot of fun writing it.

*They aren’t humans in a strict sense but they’re humanoids and saying human—denoting what we mean by people generally but with a jewel in their foreheads with grants them all sorts of benefits like mentally communicating with loved ones, and more (they’re fucking aliens okay?)—is easier conceptually, especially for the layperson.

**Axons, incidentally transmit information to different neurons, muscles, and glands, acting as a centre point of info. I didn’t know this when I named Axon but his character has developed over time and his role was serendipitously aligned with his name. Neat, huh?

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 3

This is the third week of the 52-week writing challenge. Full list of questions can be found in the original post.

Question 3: Who is the book for and why will they love it?

My aim is adults who like fantasy so 18+, though people in their late teens could easily find enjoyment. The only reason I say adult is because of “adult” themes—strong violence, sex, you know the business. Anyone who’s read Sanderson, Rothfuss, Martin, Abercrombie, Hobb, etc. will get a nice cross-section of what I’m about, though I lean more towards Sanderson than any individual on that list. Anyone who likes adventure, conflicting world-views, large-scale battles, magic, and those delicious fantasy staples like royal corruption, betrayals, and death are hopefully in for a treat. Those who dislike orcs and disposable enemies will be well accommodated (although there are elves), as well as those who come to challenge notions of what “good” and “evil” really mean*.

As for why will they love it: A fair bit of the fantastic without compromising on the consequences of conflict and violence more common in the “lower fantasy”, though we’re turning the dial down on the level of grit and grimness. There’s banter, mystery, internal conflict, a rich history three-layers deep—concerning a conflict between twin goddesses, heroes who thwarted an ancient “evil”, and a nation freed from an actual evil, slavery, many years prior, each of these having echoes to the present and future—weird creatures, a diverse cast, a dash of romance (I’m not a heathen**). It’s choc-full of stuff! If all of this isn’t floating your boat I don’t know what to tell you other than this book isn’t for you. And that’s okay. There’s plenty of good stuff you might wanna check out.

*I make no claims of doing it effectively but that is one of the core themes of the series.

**I’m of course joking. I like when the romance is complicated and the people don’t just jump at the chance to hook up but instead agonise intensely over the notion. It’s really funny to me.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 2

This is week 2 of the 52 week writing challenge. A list of all 52 can be located on the original post. I’d say it’s not too late to join and would be interested in exploring other people’s processes. This week is known as “Lord save us” week. *touches hand to forehead* How can a verbose virtuoso (emphasis on the verbose) such as myself do such a terrible task?!

Question 2: Write a paragraph pitching your book and then distil it into no more than 3 sentences (basically, a blurb). Show both

Kill me  I mean, this is quite the difficult thing!

Okay, here goes:

The Three Kingdoms, once known for its beauty and technological innovations, hangs together by a thread, disease and conflict plaguing its once verdant lands. Only the blessing of the Goddess can right this wrong and bring prosperity to all. Far to the south, the great Anzori Empire stands at a tipping point. Their empress is dying of a rare and hardy illness and the ambitious clamour for her throne. They seek the Goddess’ Blessing in the Three Kingdoms, the last hope for empress and empire. Both hope for a miracle, of a magic from a lost age. But only one can wield the power. The War of the Twins begins.

A~and in condensed form:

The Three Kingdoms and the southern Anzori Empire battle over a power that can bring them salvation. But only one can wield its glorious light.

I don’t even think they’re good but I’d risk missing a week if I tried to get one “perfect” (perfect in scare quotes because it’d be “perfect” for when I complete it, inevitably being tweaked again until my body turn to dust and I fade away without actually writing my books). And I’m shirking a third sentence because it says no more than three sentences. I’d like to see who can do it in one or two sentences: that’d be Hard Mode+. Ah well, a good deal of practise for when I need to seriously do it in the coming years.

 

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge Week 1

Happy New Year! I will be jumping into the ring for the 52-week writing challenge devised by K.F. Goodacre to get deeper into the processes of a writer, because why not? It’ll probably push me to engage with this blog more actively and give you more insights into what the hell it is I’m doing when I’m talking about writing. For a full list of questions click here for the original post. I anticipate that I’ll inevitably slip up on the weekly situation so will likely do a double post or three at some point…

I have to confess my complete trepidation of doing an extended soul-bearing about my writing. Usually I adopt a “write and never tell a soul” approach but in recent years I’ve been shrugging off that shier veneer. Some quick stipulations: I cycle through WIPs (work in progress(es)) fairly quickly and my technical WIP is a sequel to the one I’ll be discussing named Umbra: The War of the Twins and I’m doing this to avoid general spoilery content for both you and some of my beta readers. So think of this as a sort of the DVD specials for a film that’s already been released. I’ll do my best to steer clear of spoilers.

Question 1: Your inspiration/motivation for writing the book

I’ve definitely spoken about the development cycle of Umbra before in more depth, but as a short refresher: I read the book Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings after having spotting it and picking it up in WH Smith basically because I liked the cover. It had all I sought at 14: adventure, magic (or sorcery), princesses, swords! It lit a flame in my imagination that’s been burning since.

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The blue cover that started it all.

Authors like Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, and Brandon Sanderson have been huge influences as well as numerous video games, but in particular those helmed by Yasumi Matsuno stick out to me. Mastuno is perhaps best known for his work on Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy XII, although it’s Tactics, XII, and a remaster of the 90s classic Tactics Ogre that I have firsthand experience of. Matsuno typically creates rich, complex, and very dark worlds but neither does he shy from the fantastical either and especially with the presentation of the setting of XII, which combines magic and technology, it’s influenced the setting of my fictional world Delka. I’ve used “diesel punk” before which is a kind of a post WWII/1950s aesthetic—pistols and pistons, lotta smoke, berets, bulky armour, and contraptions—which if you do a Google search you can see what is meant by that terms but picture way less smoke. More this aesthetic or this than anything but in terms of the sophistication, diesel punk is pretty close. You’ll see a lot of swords and lances and the like, still, which is why I maintain the Matsuno-type games as closer to what I have in mind (though many other games do similar).

Matsuno usually partners with musical composers Masaharu Iwata and Hitoshi Sakimoto, and the artist Akihiko Yoshida, so there’s a consistency of tone across the various works they produce. Naturally these soundtracks are common when I am writing in the world of Delka.

(I struggled with what song especially I could sample from XII but I settled on this one.)

I wrote recently in a sort of biography box of a literary submission I made that my motivation to write is out of necessity: akin to needing air, I need to write (while also stipulating the melodrama and cliché of such a statement). The earliest stories I wrote were comics from aged seven, but I see no signs of slowing, even if I never achieve my dream of getting my words published.

December in poetry

Dead Friends Are Your Best Friends, or, The Wolves of Winter, or, The Lost Pups At Dawn Who Find Their Way Through Sunlight Alone, So Know That They Are At Least Trying Their Very Best

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December at last.
This sullen year has
Glutted itself with misfortune,
Rose up on the bladed north winds
And bit through flesh
Like dessert.

I was torn from the womb
Kicking, clawing, scratching, biting,
And howling
Bloody murder,
Afraid and unsure.

We count our blessings
As they say we should.
Luck haunts us like a shadow
But fades if you stare too much.
We’re aware of the little things, see,
The moment we’re awake
We know about
That subtle ache under our fur.

I miss the wolf pack:
They’re dying in twos and threes,
In pools of scarlet
By the road.
Only in death there’s understanding:
There’s no path to go back,
It’s covered in snow.
Only the forest that lies ahead,
A bare-limbed shelter
From the blizzard and away from
Foul whispers that speak of
Failure.
(Know that they at least tried.)

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The others headed east
In search of truth
Backed by internal justice
That thermal concept
And pushed through the icy mountaintops
To a land unexplored
To claim the sun as their own
As the legends spoke.

We did not know
How many we’d lose.
We were promised freedom in the wilds:
Verdant land and fair game.
“Come one, come all!”
They sang,
“We’ve space for many
And fine meats
And fresh waters,”
Their feet light as they danced,
And chorused voices high.

A lack of a North Star or warning call
Makes us drag our paws.
We know the ungentle winter is long and gruff
It’s blunted our mutable fangs.
Bodies in the wilderness,
Bodies overhang like
Bones,
Withered branches
Grasping fingers
That shivered when we passed.

We’re far from the flowers,
Long past last calls
To lie atop unthawed ground—
Scraping away all day but for nothing.
Where next for those that were left?
What of the infirm, the grey—
Their shrinking paws barely lifting
Our spirits and crushing
Our sighs
Long and low?

It’s nights like this that try hardest to kill me.
I’m certain to be next.
How long will it take to see
That there’s no point in being vexed?

“Lie quiet and be still
It’ll be over soon;
Spring is up and over this hill,”
The whispery tune
Puts me at ease at last

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The Tiller’s Gambit

These joyous green fields
With whorls of gold
Of this year’s yield
That made the tiller once feel bold:
Shoots of wheat bowed in the wind
Like masts on the waves at sea;
They’d pricked his fingers on words that pinned
Meaning of how others chose to be free.
The mayor had pulled his joy that thinned—
And silvery moonlight stroking the canopies
Inspired nothing of his former fantasies.

That sea of yellow
Had become dun
To that charming fellow.
Autumn seemed like to run
Dry all his resolve,

So he set off for good fortune into town,
Ignoring the plants that bent and browned
To pick away at moral cotton
And walk past untilled fields,
Alone and forgotten.

Third Fragment: Slow Realisation

Slowly
she realised she wanted
to be loved
but did not know
how to ask.

Fifth Fragment: Presentism

Where we’ve been to
Or where we’re going
Means little to you
As this is growing.
I accused you of being
A presentist
When you stared at my smile after
We kissed.

Seventh Fragment: Truth

There’s anger in her eyes
Behind sweet smiles.
Her honeyed tone
Flavoured the steel of her words
That cut through to
Truth, unfiltered.

Love Like Winter

Now is the winter of our content,
Of a time to be shielded from icy chill
And warm easy feelings not wholly meant.
But it stirs in the heart with a thrill,
Envelops your hands
And interweaves hearts
Like disparate roads leading to the same far-off land!

To the city that stands frozen
Wrapped in shards of crystal—
It is the stage they have chosen
To take shots at each other with emotional pistols
And tame the unsteady beasts within.

They let out a strangled cry
Through the blustery storms, certain they’d die;
Because this is a place for fools to cling,
A shelter where few can bring
A special someone to gaze at
Stars, the silvery reminders that
Must burn for
Eternity.

They let out a sigh on boulevards
Sunset-streaked and moving far
From comfort, into the eye of the world
Searching for the string of love that unfurled
At the dawn of the third day
Along the bumpy, winding way
To an uncomfortable truth.

Notes and errata:

This month I’ll leave it to you to interpret rather than me bash you over the head with my ~intentions~. Go here for last month’s stuff, and here for the post that started me along this path of poetry. I’ll work on getting more photos next time.