Monthly Archives: December 2010

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2011

I’ll probably not be online much over the Christmas break so I will take this final opportunity to wish all of the readers here (highest count in a single day at present is 20) a merry Christmas and all the best for 2011.

On reflection I think that starting this blog has really helped to get me back into fiction writing if only through setting public targets for getting short stories finished (new target for the end of January). Next year for this blog will be more of the same advice, articles, updates on fiction, book recommendations etc but obviously my main target will be to increase the traffic through here and get more people reading my work.

See you in 2011!

Conflict as a plot device

I like conflict in prose writing, I like thinking about the endless possibilities and directions that could come as a result of a clash. It is the most common mechanism for driving fiction and the possibilities are endless.

In novels its impact can be even greater than in short fiction and is essential. Sol Stein in Solutions for Novelists describes conflict as “the essence of dramatic action”. Without it, fiction is mundane and directionless and characters are flat and do not develop. Continue reading

Angel’s Mass – A discussion

The idea: I started this four years ago about the time I began my dissertation which was, of course, on the architectural development of Tintern Abbey over its incredible 500 year history. It came about really as the result of two separate things. The first was a desire to write a Christmas ghost story. The second was an attempt to formulate how Tintern might have looked, and how it might have flowed, in the early part of the 14th century. This period saw a redevelopment of the complex which included the building of an immense new church.

Development: Initially, I did not want it to be spooky. My intention was for it to be quite unconventional as far as ghost stories were concerned so I trawled through some academic books on legends from ancient Greece without much jumping out at me as being where I wanted to take the story. I eventually settled on the idea of the ghost as a harbinger and in a way that still features in the final product. Once I began writing in this direction, I hoped the idea would come to me but it never did and the story came to a grinding halt, though in this time I knew how it would finish.

What changed?: Initially the Abbot could see the man (something that would not become apparent until later was that only Edmund and the Abbot could see him) and the story developed in a way that hinted of a calamity to come. This included a couple of shared visions of 18 months hence of villagers asking the Abbot for help in combating the disease and another of a mob at the gates of the abbey.

This is more or less where it ground to a halt and I backtracked and sacrificed everything after Edmund realising the bundle of rags was a man. It was a lot to take out but it simplified the story. It can be daunting at first to cut out great swathes, but you get used to not being sentimental about what you have written.

Imagery and symbolism: Most of my writing has an element of the symbolic and I’m hoping that it is obvious in Angel’s Mass.

The man is one of the biblical Horsemen of the Apocalypse, revealed at the end to be “Pestilence” and he arrived at the Abbey as a harbinger of the arrival of the most cataclysmic disease ever to hit the human race.

The disease is The Black Death.

Rebirth is the common theme here. Many of the pre-Christian traditions surrounding the Winter Solstice is about looking forward to spring. We bring colour and light into our homes at the coldest and darkest time of the year because from here on, the hours of daylight get longer.

The other rebirth in the story is foreshadowing the calamity of The Black Death that would not only kill such a substantial portion of the human race, but would lead to the collapse of the feudal system.

Crossing the Bosporus which today separates Europe from Asia is the symbolic act of The Black Death crossing into Europe and starting the symbolic rebirth on Christmas Eve. We do not know whether it entered Europe this way, nor whether it entered at Christmas Eve. We do know that it entered Europe in late 1347, and its likely route was the Silk Road. This narrative showing the disease crossing the Bosporus is a symbolic event.

tintern church

Tintern Abbey Church
copyright mgm75

Christmas reading list

While you eager readers are waiting for my short story Angel’s Mass to be accepted by the moderators at Elfwood, I thought I’d write a short list of suggested reading material for Christmas. Just 12 days away now so here are a handful of suggestions for reading material.

Obviously top of anybody’s list is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Filmed and refilmed, reimagined and reworked every year, nothing compares to actually reading the original. There really is no point telling you what it is about… is there?!

Next is Terry Pratchett’s The Hogfather. Set in the fictional Discworld at a festive period known as Hogswatch that is remarkably similar to our own Christmas. It is a magical and wonderful tale about the importance of belief and imagination.

For those who like to read essays and opinion, there is no better book to read than The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. It is a collection of essays about losing religious faith, advice about coping with Christmas stress, kindness, ideas, bus campaigns and how you can enjoy Christmas as an atheist without feeling like a sellout.

The Truth About Christmas is a short book discussing the history of many of our traditions and their pagan origins. It is a bit of light reading and ultimately aimed at the younger audience, it is an enlightening look at the festive period nonetheless.

If your tastes are a little more childish then perhaps How the Grinch Stole Christmas! might be more up your street. A tale about a creature that is determined to ruin Christmas for his fellow Whoville occupants, it is basically a satire and a critique of the over-commercialisation of Christmas.

Guardian article – Ten rules for writing

Advice about writing fiction from a variety of writers. Each provides a list of ten rules for writing.

Part 1
Part 2

Some very interesting points here and a very diverse range of writers. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of some of them on occasion.

Taking a break

It is going to be a little quiet here for the next few days as I’m going to be away from tomorrow night and won’t have much chance to write. Keep an eye on Elfwood for Angel’s Mass approval; I’m sure it won’t be too long now. Please read it and please please please please please comment.

I hope to be putting another advice article up sometime next week in relation to my experiences trying to get Angel’s Mass finished.

A new goal

It seems that nobody can read Angel’s Mass until it has been approved by a moderator at Elfwood. Obviously I will notify this blog when that happens.

Onward then to a new goal. I have a number of incomplete short stories that I want to work on (and of course the complete novel needs promoting to agents etc but one step at a time) and I’m setting a new target of end of January 2011. The one I have chosen will be familiar. I’m sure we all remember Big Brother. About 6 years ago I started a short about the contestants waking up one morning to find they have no power, no access to food and the cameras are not working. And as it is in the middle of January, they are cold and worried. For obvious reasons I’m not using the Big Brother name and some elements have been changed.

This may sound a little familiar as Channel 4 did a mini series a couple of years ago set in the Big Brother house where the outside world is plagued with zombies (Dead Set). It was a good idea but didn’t really fulfill its initial promise.

I never could figure out where to take my story and it may end up having no scifi/fantasy/horror elements at all. In many respects it is going to be quite difficult but I’m confident I can finish it in the next 7-8 weeks.