Do dragons dream of limitless gold...
In other news, artist and friend Kirsi Salonen has forwarded the third cover for the series and again it is stunning work. She captures the spirit and the characters wonderfully in this cover art and I am indebted to her for taking the time and care to create the images so masterfully.
I also joined an online inspirational group of writers who spur each other on with writing each week. Tagged as The Ministry for Reformation (nice title, Lee), we share our progress – highs and lows – to remind each other that we are writers, and that writing doesn’t mean factory-line productivity either.
Oh, rose, thou art sick...
Covid. Seven days isolation, last week of school. I did what I could to stay in contact with my Year 12s, but otherwise it was sleep, cough, sleep, eat lightly. Meg copped her infection from me three days in. House locked down. Friends and family delivering food. On day nine, I stepped back into the world, cautiously and masked, because I still had a cough and mucky throat. And then the next round – mouth and throat ulcers – an old enemy. Back inside, sleep, wake, no eating. Anything in the mouth or throat, apart from water, like razor blades. Seven more days pass until now. I’ve lost another month. Hello blog. I’ve missed you.
All of the above slowed, but didn’t stop, writing. In the past five days, the new project, Harmi’s Song, has grown to 8,000 words – not a lot, but at least a little progress. The main parts of the opening three chapters, possibly four, are sketched and some parts coloured in. I thought I would have more to share and discuss, but not so – just a little.
Ajin will become an integral character in his tale. I’ve drafted his first encounter with Harmi, Tam and Jaysin, where he hints that Jaysin’s reputation/existence has been eradicated from Kermakk lore and that there is a sizable bounty for anyone who can locate the wizard (TAM) and dragon (Harmi). Now working out where the encounter leads.
Not much. Sorry. Back to sleep for a while. Later, today, I hope to pick up on the tale. Take care, people.
It keeps changing, over and over...
And still the new world order morphs faster than I can write! Floods devastate the Australian east coast forcing thousands into homelessness and debt, Russians invade Ukraine forcing millions into homelessness, the cost of living escalates as quickly as the price of petrol and the greed of real estate people, forcing people on low incomes closer to the poverty line, two elections loom – one at State, the other Federal, and both will determine the directions of economics, climate change and how protected the rich remain, a new strain of Covid emerges in the communities and my school starts struggling under the impact of absent teachers and students forced into recovery isolation, and this week I’m a daily RAT test participant to show up for work.
On the flipside, the Adelaide Feast, Fringe, Festival and WOMAD events have run their courses, we helped a good friend celebrate marriage to his beautiful partner, my daughters on the east coast are at least safe from the floods (although one was directly affected), and my Year 12 English students have finished their second assessment task. My stepdaughter is reading The Last Wizard for the first time and says she can’t put it down. That kind of compliment always feels good.
I started one new young adult project last week and wrote 1500 words in three sittings, but I put it on ‘pause’ to think through where it will go and my central character’s ‘fate’. The piece has an early twist in the opening chapter that I’m trying to carefully craft. I’ll reveal more on that project’s crafting as it emerges.
I also returned to the fourth book in The Last Wizard series, Harmi’s Song, and that has reached 2000 words. The aim today is to finish the opening chapter and start the second, giving the project impetus.
The challenge with Harmi’s Song is in developing a character who has immense power but whose head is filled with the voices of multiple past generations of dragons, each generation with conflicting views about the place of dragons in the world and their relationship with humans. The story will evolve around Harmi’s loyalty to the three humans who protected her and her legacy, especially Tam with whom she shares an immutable and direct bond, and darker forces driving her to exact revenge on the purveyors of a cruel past.
All four The Last Wizard novels open from the perspective of a character who is not the story’s protagonist. Tamesan’s Song opens with the Harbin dragonwarrior sentry Chasse’s Song with Chasse’s father, and Jaysin’s Song with the Machutzkan watchtower sentry. For the sake of interest, here’s the opening to Harmi’s Song (as yet unedited and without indents):
“Immersed in the tang of ocean, salt and fish, Ajin alighted from the skiff onto the rickety jetty, and surveyed the village bearing the name Apakin Sha. Bemused by the ramshackle collection of wood, stone and thatch buildings, he wondered if his decision to sail so far north into the icy reaches was necessary or wise.
‘Your bag and caruta,’ a rustic sea voice growled beside him. A bow-shouldered, red bearded man with a thick dark grey tunic and brown leggings held a red leather bag and a stringed instrument.
‘Thank you,’ Ajin replied, taking the bag and caruta from the sailor. The man raised his hand, palm expectant. Ajin lowered his bag and fished inside his baggy pants to extract a silver coin, which he placed in the grubby palm, but the sailor’s expression remained unsatisfied as he closed his fist and turned to climb into the skiff. ‘You’re welcome,’ Ajin muttered to the sailor’s back, and he bent to collect his bag.
The ship’s captain assured him before the journey that if he wanted to disappear from the world there was no better place to do so than Apakin Sha. ‘Arsehole of the world,’ the captain told him. ‘Sealers, whalers, prospectors, people like you, and a bunch of old people with nowhere to go and no means to get there.’
‘Why do you sail there?’ Ajin asked, eyebrow raised.
‘Sealers and whalers and prospectors got to ship out their skins and ore and ship in their supplies,’ the captain explained with a broad grin. ‘Profitable for them, very profitable for me.’
‘And you’re sure the Empire doesn’t reach that far north?’ Ajin asked.
‘I doubt the Karudar Marfek has even heard of Apakin Sha,’ the captain replied. ‘Traders along the west coast take in the skins and ore I ship south and make their profits and pay their taxes, and I’m certain they also take the credit for the supply. Apakin Sha doesn’t exist.’
Ajin traversed the jetty, cautiously testing planks that looked suspiciously loose or rotten, and stepped onto the pebbly beach. Several fishermen were repairing nets and boats, and a trader hefted furs onto a trolley from his wagon, but nobody greeted Ajin as he strode up the street, although he noticed surreptitious glances in his direction from men and women when he passed, and two children ran inside a hut as he approached. Spotting the sign for the inn, he veered toward it and stopped outside to look back along the street to the bay. Two ships lay at anchor, the three-masted Ice Maiden on which he arrived, and a smaller two-masted vessel, probably a whaling ship. Grey clouds veiled the sky. He gazed up at the cloud enshrouded mountains towering above the village and an icy breeze touched his cheeks and nose. This will be an interesting place, he mused. A shadow moved through the clouds, vanishing as he witnessed the anomaly, and he squinted, blinked and stared, disbelieving what he thought he saw.
‘Can I help?’ a woman asked.
Ajin lowered his gaze. Plump-faced, hair wrapped in a dark blue shawl, features weathered by life, gap-toothed, with a plain, unwelcoming expression, the woman stared, awaiting his answer. ‘Need a room,’ he said.
‘For how long?’ the woman asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Ajin replied. ‘I can pay. I can also provide entertainment.’ He lifted his caruta.
‘You’ll need food as well, I gather,’ the woman said. Ajin nodded. ‘Follow me,’ she ordered.
As he entered the low-ceilinged inn, Ajin shook his head, his thoughts troubled by the fleeting vision in the clouds. He could play and sing all the popular ballads, but he also knew many of the old ones, and he knew what a dragon was.”
So, that’s a taste of the new project. Next entry, I’ll have more to discuss.
Deep breath and reflect...
Over a month flies by in an instant! The COVID staggered back-to-school strategy certainly altered the workplace landscape dramatically for the areas I manage – ICT and Libraries – creating almost a duplicate start to school separated by a less than a fortnight, along with keeping an entire community of students ELC-12, teachers and parents connected online and in the classrooms. But my teams met the challenge and, providing there’s no dramatic shift in COVID matters, we’re all back on site and slowly easing restrictions. Of course, we can’t complain at all, in comparison to what has been the impact of the pandemic interstate and overseas. And now we have the Russian idiocy exploding into Ukraine and threatening everyone with nuclear devastation if anyone interferes.
While writing has retreated into the background for the past weeks, apart from some editing, this morning allowed time to reflect on what has happened since I started this blog way back in December 2018. Originally intending to record the process for drafting a historical semi-fictional biography of my mother’s life from 13-21, the blog has continued to encompass subsequent projects. In the three years I have managed to draft to readiness three novels – the historical fiction, Girlie, and two teenage fantasy pieces, extensions of original The Last Wizard. They join three existing novel drafts – one apocalyptic zombie novel, All We Have, a fantasy novel, Rising Storm, (and a half of the second in what is currently labelled The Dragon Queen series), and a young adult novel, Shadows – that I’m hoping to finish working on in the next eighteen months. So, despite work and COVID, a lot of writing is done – but nothing published yet. Life plans were to quit work at the beginning of 2019 to pursue all of the above. That has become 2023. This time it is set in concrete. I’ve made it widely and publicly known at work. I’ll be 67. The mortgage is paid. It’s time.
As for the writing, also this morning I penned the plots and notes to three new teenage/young adult projects and I’m excited by the stories they will tell. I’ll write the openings to two of them after this blog entry. Two weeks ago, I wrote the opening chapter to the fourth book in The Last Wizard series – Harmi’s Song – continuing the tale, this time, from the dragon’s perspective. Yes, that means I will have five project drafts on the go. I will settle into one next week as the key focus, but I can’t wait for 2023 and the opportunity to be a fulltime, broke but keen writer. I had a break from education way back in 1993 and wrote the original The Last Wizard and Joy Ride in that period – two novels from concept to full draft in six months – so I know what is possible.
I have ten months remaining of what will be a forty-four-year education career. Already I’m ticking boxes, saying quietly, ‘I never have to do that again.’ I have love education – I really do. I only wish I made an impact on the bigger picture for the benefit of teachers and students, but I was never able to take the right pathways to fight the ignorant politicians and people who insist the education experience can only be the same as it was for them – exams, industrial labelling, grading and leveling practices, cruelty to children, distaste and disrespect for teachers – to consign those people to history. The next generation will have to win that war.
Now for a coffee and then the openings to the new projects.
The more we change, the more we stay the same.
2022. Wow. Here it is. This year we enjoy Soylent Green as a food option. Christmas 2021 is done. New Year 2022 is done. Covid, social media fake news, the conspiracists, right and left wing extremists and inept government continue to disrupt the average life (whatever that is). The draft apocalyptic novel sitting on my device from 2018 looks less and less like a novel and more like a documentary. I will get back to it later this year, especially as life has provided better research than I previously completed for the novel.
The past three weeks were laborious from a writer’s perspective: editing, editing, editing. Back in the October 2021 post I mentioned some of the editing matters I continue to address – especially overused words. I also worked through the degree of adjectival and adverbial description, replacing or eliminating unnecessary ‘ly’ words. In a simple example it means taking a statement like ‘moves quietly’ and replacing it with ‘crept.’ Another simple example is changing ‘passionately cried’ to ‘howled’ or similar, choosing single words that as equally or even better describe the action. It’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach – variety in writing is essential, but it makes me focus on possibilities with expression.
Another editorial matter is ensuring a sense of time and place – season, weather, physical world – is evident throughout the story. This involves exploring where smell, touch/texture, temperature and so on can be effectively included. Jaysin’s travelling aboard ships opens the maritime experience – salty and fish smells, the creaking of wooden planks and spars, the pungent stench of tar and sweat. The visceral effect of snow and rain and heat and dust can be included to enhance the reader’s experience. Marketplace sounds – rattling tins, shuffling feet, ox dung, spices – can be added to bring places alive. This is the current process for the drafts of The Last Wizard series.
sales sit, and I feel as if teachers are the forgotten warriors during the pandemic. I’ll do the little I can do to help them remain amazing people who continue to build the community and our future through our children.
For now, it’s Sunday – back to editing while I have the chance.
It's beginning to feel a lot like...
Life in South Australia is topsy-turvy since the border opening and the vaccination and testing regime ramped up. In a world of lockdowns and closures, I am fortunate to have a job that was uninterrupted by the events – and a job that escalated in pressure each time schools moved to online learning. The school year rushed to a frantic conclusion and today I start a holiday break long sought since the 2020 outbreak.
So, to the writing.
The Girlie manuscript is with a publisher awaiting a decision. I have my fingers well and truly crossed.
I am currently editing the two new drafts for The Last Wizard series – Chasses’ Song and Jaysin’s Song – with the aim of making a first approach for the project to a publisher late January. This will require transferring the physical manuscript edits onto the digital copies hopefully by New Year, and then writing three detailed synopses and a cover letter in early January, a task alone that will consume significant hours.
Now I am churning through ideas for the fourth The Last Wizard book, Harmi’s Song, which is the dragon’s story as Tam, Chasse, Jaysin and Harmi are called to face the threat of the Kermakk Empire that is determined to hunt and kill the last dragon and wizard. I am unsure as to when I will start this project – although it is already nudging me to begin.
I have also completed a draft edit and update of the novel In My Father’s Shadow, written a synopsis for it, pulled it from the Amazon store (it was never promoted and sold maybe five copies to family), will retitle it (the first title is an echo of far too many other works), write a cover letter and see if a publisher will consider publishing it. Recent beta readers have told me it is one of my better works with the exploration of a young man’s coming of age as he unravels a family secret and his father’s terminal illness covering currently important topics around sexuality, faith, identity and love, so I really don’t want it to languish as an unknown and basically inaccessible novel. Like The Last Wizard project, I will make the first approach to a prospective publisher with this novel late January.
And I am trying to work out how to reconnect with the writing world in general. I am planning on submitting different short stories to various magazines in 2022. I have about twenty existing short stories to draw on. While Robert Stephenson published five for me in different issues of his Altair magazine, and Paul Collins published two others in anthologies, I have many more that have never been shared, so a new challenge for me is to start submitting stories.
That’s the update. I promise to make the next entry in January more informative about techniques and approaches and thinking. I’m pretty excited about where the work over the past four years has gone. This entry is just to say I’m working on stuff. Merry Christmas to anyone who reads this. I hope you are all safe and can spend time with family and loved ones.
This mortal round...
You may not have heard of Russell Ebert. He was a South Australian football star and icon, and an integral part of my teen years when I was learning to play the game. As a centre player, I wanted to emulate his style, his ability to read the play and break the lines, his sportsmanship and general demeanour. He died this week, aged 72. Lots of my teenage icons have died in recent years, as have friends and colleagues. I am 67 next year. Mortality walks close beside me and I’m increasingly aware of its presence.
Family history is an imperfect jigsaw puzzle of oral anecdotes, photographs, documents and experiences, full of facts and interpretations, inaccuracies and aphorisms, realities and dreams. I was inspired to write Girlie because of the snippets and tales my mother shared about growing up in the war years with hints of romances and scandals of broken hearts and adventures. When the inspiration became a serious intent on my part, very conscious that if I didn’t capture the stories my mother’s mortality would intervene, I interviewed her over the course of a year, sitting with her in the War Memorial Home on Wednesday afternoons (weekends were for shopping and lunches), asking questions and typing notes, gathering a sense of the identity of the girl and woman who morphed into my mother. Of course, she shied away from intimacies and secrets as she unfolded certain aspects of her teenage years, blushing and giggling sometimes at her admissions, which showed me the sixteen-year-old girl was still running around inside the eighty-year-old woman, so I was left, when I started plotting the novel, with gaps to fill, and deductions to make. Some of the unexpressed secrets became very obvious as the pieces were laid out of the jigsaw. For example, she left Adelaide to go to Melbourne – in itself, not overly unusual – although when you know the side stories (family pressures, a cheating lover – especially the cheating lover, her reasons for leaving become clearer. She would cheekily chastise me for being nosey when I asked her for the truth behind some of her choices and decisions, and then she would laugh when I told her I’d have to ‘make up’ the gaps when I wrote the story, almost taunting me to do so. We had some good times.
The novel is now finished because I ‘found’ the missing pieces – although they were not difficult in every case to find when the puzzle, as a whole picture, lay on the table. Whether I’ve been successful in laying out the overall picture will be the readers’ judgement. I have to modestly say I like what I see. I see the young woman who was my mother, and she is truly a beautiful, naïve human of her time.
Now the work is finished, I have a very different dilemma. The novel is, after all, part biography, part fiction. Many background or supporting characters are not real, although people like them were. But the main characters carry real names of real people, living and not. Many of the depicted events happened; at least they happened in the way my mother said she remembered, but we know memory is often only our interpretation of what we believe happened. My mother’s memories, therefore, will not be everyone else’s truth. And many of the events most likely never happened because they are the gaps, the ‘missing jigsaw pieces’ I’ve had to make to complete the picture. That means real people might read this and say what is written is lies. And that could also be true. Part fact, part fiction. My dilemma. Part of the plan, when I started the project, knowing it would always be an ‘interpretative memory’ of the lives of many people, was to write the draft using real names and then substitute the real names in the final edit with alternatives to mask the reality. For example, while my parents’ patriarchal family names are Eileen Bonney (Mum) and Bill Shillitoe (Dad), it would be easy to substitute the names with the matriarchal line: Eileen Stephens (Mum) and Bill Green (Dad). There are many advantages to doing this. In particular, while the novel could then be ‘marketed’ as ‘based on a real story’, it would remain essentially historical romance fiction and not be seen as a biography. It would also effectively dissociate me, as author, from the characters as my parents, even though family members and close friends know the truth. I don’t know. I will know in the next week or two, when I look to approach publishers. Maybe I already know because I have always leaned toward changing the real names anyway.
A three-year writing project is done (pending the last decision above). I’ve not published with a publisher for more than a decade and the publishing world I knew is long gone. I start from scratch, even down to writing the pitch email. Any recommendations of potential publishers from out there will be gratefully considered.
Vale Russell. Thank you for being a sporting role model, on and off the field. And thank you for reminding me to put my priorities in order this week.
Flicking between projects...
With The Last Wizard project now at three completed manuscripts, and editing and beta reading underway, I returned to visualising the region in the expanding world for Tam, Chasse, Jaysin and Harmi. The original Harbin maps will come from the first novel, but Chasse’s Song draws the party into the mountains beyond Harbin and Dragon Mountain, and Jaysin’s Song widens into the expanse of the Kermakk Empire. I’ve sketched the regions and will insert names and details later this week, but thought I’d share the initial raw maps.
Beta readers have provided good feedback on flaws in Jaysin’s Song and I will commence the next edit of that manuscript in a couple of weeks. In the interim, I’m running yet another edit across the Girlie manuscript, tightening language and double-checking ‘factual’ information in the historical backdrop of the novel. The Girlie project started late 2018 and was finished as a raw draft in 2019, so it’s interesting reading a piece that is now technically two years old since I completed the draft manuscript. The time distance is allowing me to read it with refreshed eyes and spotting stylistic aspects I do need to adjust. I was originally planning to start chasing publishers for this project last year, but I wasn’t totally happy with it and held it back – and then The Last Wizard project jumped to the forefront – so now the plan is to start inquiring at the close of this year.
The fourth The Last Wizard, Harmi’s Song, I’m hoping to commence by Christmas time. Writing from the dragon’s perspective will be a fascinating challenge.
That’s all I have this week.
Three to edit: one to bind them all...
Everything seems to be revolving around fortnights of late. The past fortnight has been very productive, however, partly with the school holiday break being on offer.
Editing. Like, seriously, who would want to do it as a fulltime job? Oh. Wait. I spent 40 years as an English teacher. I’ll park that comment for another time.
I spent the past few days editing and also reorganising the three books now completed in the Last Wizard series into basic manuscript layout – font style and size (Calibri 11, double-space, 5cm margins etc – which turned into a bigger chore than I imagined when I realised that I’d been drafting using a template that corrupted the tab spaces. So, I manually replaced all the tab returns throughout 700 pages!!! Grrr.
Anyway, the editing process is underway. First raw edit is completed. For the record, much of it has been dealing with the following personal foibles: reducing the frequency of overused words, for example ‘said’, ‘turned’, ‘saw/looked’, approached, and reducing unnecessary verbosity/description. I’ve also read through all three texts to ensure any foreshadowing, personal traumas, promised actions are either followed up or at least explained away by characters.
Another challenge is working through to eliminate passive writing eg ‘She had done’ becomes ‘She did’. It’s mainly finding past tense words like ‘had’ and ‘haven’t’ and testing their validity in the sentences.
The editing process is really just starting, despite my observation in the previous blog. I’m envisaging the process will consume my writing time for the next month before I suspect I’ll be sitting here writing I’m starting to look for a publisher.
But it is very nice to have three manuscripts lying on my table awaiting the next round of editing. It feels real.
A new child...
Done. Gestation period, nine months. I wrote the final sentence to the first full draft of Jaysin’s Song today: 108,000 words. That’s the easy part finished. Now I begin the first full edit.
The last month of this project, representing probably around 10,000 words of writing, has proven difficult, moreso because it demanded time to read back over parts of the growing manuscript and reference further back to the previous two books leading to this one. I mentioned that part of the editing process about to commence will be ensuring consistency of all aspects of the story across all three books now. Reaching a conclusion in the third book forced me to do more work on the consistency and linking process than I planned to do, but I should have expected it because this will be the fourth fantasy series I’ve written, and every series demands the care in ensuring characters and places and languages retain accuracy across the series.
But, for now, the first draft exists, and I’m satisfied.
The editing begins almost immediately – well, maybe in a couple of days. Apart from factual consistency and spelling and grammar, what will I be looking for? The far from exhaustive list includes:
I’m laughing, reading the above, because it makes me want to walk away and not do the hard work ahead, but that’s the key part of moving writing from a creative escape exercise into a crafting process, taking the detailed palette sketch and refining it to move it toward a full painting – 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.
Once the first raw edit is done, it will be on to some trusted beta readers who will let me know what extra editing and work is required.
Okay. I have work today.
Writing is my passion. Ideas, opinions, beliefs, experiences expressed through language - through words and images - pervade and create my life. Writing is my voice, my soul, my self. My dream is one day writing will sustain my life...