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I found an old notebook on the shelf.

It’s not dated, but judging from the handwriting and some of the things that are referenced, I’d say it starts around sixth form (that’s age 17) and goes up to some time after I went to university.

It’s a fun read – it begins with what I think was my first real attempt at properly planning a story – character maps and notes on the world government and all.  There are even some notes on architecture and little drawings – to scale – of some of the physics involved.

The story plan concerns the (highly probable) situation in which the moon’s orbit has started to decay.  Scientists managed to find a way to prop it up on giant struts, but clearly in the process some damage was done to the Earth’s atmosphere.  Now, everyone has to live in the shadow of the moon, otherwise they die of radiation poisoning.

Shadowland plot

The radiation has caused strange mutations in the twilight lands, where people get a reduced dose of the sun’s rays.  They don’t die outright, but they have mutations in the genes which cause features such as white fur to reflect the rays, dampeners in their eyes to reduce glare, etc.  These twilight people feel bitter because they are thought of as freaks, when in fact they are better suited to life now.  They grow crops which have also mutated, and try to sell them to the shadowlanders.

My main character was called Tim, and he was an “ordinary person” in his late teens/early twenties, who was claustrophobic – a problem since the moon hangs so low in the sky and everyone lives in a tightly packed space with lots of tunnels.  Apparently his parents were accountants!

For entertainment’s sake, I thought it would be interesting to take some of what I wrote then and compare it with what I would do now.  I reproduce it complete with spelling errors, amendments and so on.

Then:

Tim stepped out into the clear night air.  A slight breeze stirred his short brown hair.  Involuntarily, he glanced upwards, and shuddered.  His sad blue eyes closed, and he swallowed.  He could see the moon’s craters with his naked eyes.  It was too close, too close.

He looked out across the city, taking in the skyscrapers which rose tall as far as he could see.  Some of them were so tall you could almost reach out and touch the moon from the top of them.

Walking briskly down through the concrete jungle, Tim wrinkled his nose at the all-pervading stench of moon dust.

I bet they first men on the moon didn’t realise how bad it smells when the first put man on the moon, 2 centuaries ago, he thought bitterly.

And now:

Tim stepped out of the airlock and listened to the door swish closed behind him.  Within moments he was covered in a fine layer of moon-dust.  He cast a glance over his shoulder to check that the green ‘ready’ light had come on, confirming that he could re-enter the complex whenever he wanted.  It shone brightly, cutting through the gloom like a beacon welcoming him home.  With a slight pang he thought of his sister, left behind for now.  I will come back for her, he vowed, once I’ve found them.  We will be together again.

He settled his dust-mask more firmly on his face and squinted at the world.  Around him, towers rose high into the sky, packed tightly together.  Windows were few and far between, especially at ground level.  There was nothing to look at, after all, apart from dust and more towers.  He deliberately didn’t look up.  Tim had heard that from the highest towers you could see amazing views, even as far as the edge of the Shadow.  He’d heard that from the very tallest towers you could reach out and touch the moon.  He’d never been that high, of course.  Only the richest citizens were able to afford to live above the dust.

The gully he was in now was one of several that ran throughout the complex.  They were designed to give access to the outside of the massive building, for the maintenance crews.  In reality they were hardly used.  The complex was given the minimum maintenance possible to keep it standing.  There was no money for anything else, and no spare materials to do it with.  All of the dwindling resources of the planet were focused on one thing: the Struts.

He moved forward to the first cross-gully and looked to the left.  In the distance he could just make out Strut Three.  There were eight Struts in all, spaced evenly around the edge of the complex.  Each one was a couple of miles wide at the base, able to support massive weights on its own.  It still took eight of them to hold up the moon.  He shuddered as he considered what would happen if (when!) the Struts failed.  With the ozone layer and most of the upper atmosphere stripped away when the moon descended, the entire human race was packed tightly in the shadow lands.  If even one Strut gave way they would all be destroyed.

Tim smiled grimly.  Not all, not if the stories were true.  He hoped, needed the stories to be true.

Making sure his rucksack was firmly settled on his back, he set out towards the distant structure.  Soon he was breathing heavily.  Each breath in caused more dust to settle on his mask, clogging the filter.  Every time he breathed out he tried to dislodge some of it, only to have it settle again moments later.  He forced himself to carry on.  There would be less dust further out.  Everyone said so.  He tried not to think about how “everyone” knew such a fact when “no-one” went outside.

He wished he could have made this part of the journey inside.  The complex was interconnected all the way to the twilight lands, and even the broken-down air conditioning units and recycled oxygen would be better than this.  Ever since the corn riots last year the towers had been segregated, though, and coming up with good enough reasons to cross further and further from his home would be difficult.  He did not want to get arrested for travelling without permits or whatever made-up crime the government had come up with this month.

He plodded on, trying not to think.  After what seemed like hours he was jolted out of his half-doze by a sudden increase in the light.  He flinched, cowering towards the walls.  How had they found him so quickly?  He thought he had hidden his departure well enough that nobody would even be looking yet.

When nothing happened he looked around and laughed.  Along the walls of the gully lights were flickering on, illuminating everything.  It was night, and the lights were on a timer.  Almost every other bulb had blown, but the light was still brighter than the dust-filtered sunlight available during the day.  Why the outside lights were on when nobody worked out here he didn’t know.

Now that he had stopped he realised how tired he was.  Sinking down against the side wall he leant his arms on his knees and rested his head on them.  The movement knocked his dust mask sideways, and he breathed in a face full of moon-dust.

So there we go!  Leaving aside the totally plausible science behind the situation, I think my writing has improved. What do you think?

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Today’s word of the day was nemesis.  Just a little snippet of real life.

*

Nemesis, noun.  A source of harm or ruin.

*

“And now, my fuzzy nemesis, your time has come!”

Jasper looked up at the human looming over him.  She was going away again, he could tell.  He stretched slightly and snuggled deeper into her lap, starting to purr.  She sighed and stroked his head.

“Really, Jasper, I need to go to bed.  You’re going to have to get up.”

He lifted his chin and she obediently started to stroke his throat.  She was so easy to manipulate it was ridiculous.  On a good evening he could hold her in place for half an hour or more past the time she first started trying to leave.

“I mean it,” she said.  “I’m going to bed.”

She stroked his head and sides for a few more minutes and then sighed.

Gently she started to insinuate her hands under his body.  Rebelliously, he went as limp as possible, almost sinking into her legs as she struggled to remove him.  Eventually, though, she managed to get enough of a grip to lift him, and then he knew it was over.

He shook himself slightly and stalked a few paces away before sitting down and looking reproachfully back at her.

She laughed and stroked his head again.

“Sorry, darling, but you should be used to this by now.”

Two sentences have caught my eye recently.  Firstly, this:

Calculators from the approved list are only permitted in the exam room.

As it is said:  I do not think it means what you think it means.  I’m particularly impressed by the way that the emphasis makes the whole sentence just that little bit more wrong.

And secondly this:

This advice must be taken.

If it must be taken, is it advice?  Or is it an instruction?

Choosing the correct word or phrase to convey what you mean is an important part of writing – not just fiction, but in general.  The two examples were taken from documents that had been written by supposedly educated professionals, and checked several times.  I take two lessons from this.

1) Proofreading is important.

2) Even if you do proofread, you won’t catch every mistake.

 

The mirror swirled with green and yellow, a confusing vortex of colour whirling around a central point.  Slowly, a face emerged from the chaos.  It was the face of a young man, exotic looking but not what any would call handsome.  There was just something slightly off about the way his eyes sat, the angle of his nose, the tilt of his chin.  Nothing that you could put your finger on, but it all added up to something less than pleasing.

He tilted his head and considered the woman before him.  Her question was the same as it had always been, but there was something tugging at his mind.  He cast his thoughts out across the land until he found the source of his troubles.

‘Thou, queen, art fair, and beauteous to see,
But Snow White is lovelier far than thee!’

“What?  It cannot be!  Why, just last week you declared me to be the prettiest in the land.”  The Queen paced back and forth in front of her mirror, frowning.  This would never do.  She was queen, so she should be the fairest!  What if the King’s eyes started to stray?  Or worse, he saw through her trickeries and potions, and realised that he didn’t love her at all?

“I shall send the huntsman to kill her,” she thought.  “He could take her into the woods and do the deed away from prying eyes.  But he might be seen leaving with her, and he might tell someone what he has been asked to do.  He has a softness about him which I do not like.  No, the huntsman will not do.  Far better to arrange for some slight… accident to befall my stepdaughter.”

So thinking, the Queen summoned Snow White to her chambers.  When the girl arrived she stood and smiled.

“My dear, I feel I have not had the chance to really know you since I married your father.  Would you take a walk with me?”

She smirked inwardly as the confusion and hope showed plainly on Snow White’s face.  The silly chit probably thought she wanted to be friends.  Ugh.  It was sickening, how much trust this girl had.

Fighting the urge to sweep majestically out of the room, she consciously slowed her pace to give the impression of an afternoon stroll.  She started a conversation about some trivial matter of palace politics, and paid only enough attention to the girl’s reply to know when it was appropriate to nod and smile.  Fortunately, given a prompt, the girl seemed able to witter on without stopping.

Slowly, they wound their way through the gardens.  After stopping to smell the roses and admire the size of the fruit developing on the apple trees, the Queen suggested they look out upon the city.  They climbed the outer stair to the walls, and there the Queen’s plan had an unexpected boost.  Snow White herself suggested that the view might be better from the top of one of the towers. The Queen was careful not to sound too eager in her agreement, but inwardly was gloating.  There was even a guard close enough to have heard who made the suggestion!

At the top of the very tallest tower, it was a simple matter to manoeuver the girl close to the edge.  A slight distraction, a sharp push, and the matter was concluded.

The Queen was sure to sound suitably shocked when she screamed for help.

 

Epilogue: The Mirror Swirls

The mirror swirled with green and yellow, a confusing vortex of colour whirling around a central point.  Slowly, a face emerged from the chaos.  It was the face of a young man, exotic looking but not what any would call handsome.

It was the same face that the Queen had looked at many times since she acquired the mirror, of that she was certain.  And yet, there was something different.  Was the skin perhaps paler?  The hair darker?  The lips a touch redder?  There was nothing she could put her finger on, but the face was not quite as off as it had been.

She shook her head irritably and asked her question.

The Daily Prompt on Monday challenged everyone to pick a letter of the alphabet and write a blog entry without it.  I picked the letter between R and T, and even up to now I have needed to re-word a lot!  I think the current writing will not be very long.

In a vain effort to write about an intriguing topic, I want to examine the employ of new grammar in fiction.

I have before tried to write a piece in which the main character was of a third gender – neither male nor female.  The third gender appeared a third of the time in that world, rather than only once in a while, and I had to build a new grammar to account for it.  I needed a new pronoun.  I found it hard to remember to utilize it where needed.

Have you ever changed language to better tell a tale?  How did you find it?

I’ve always wanted to feel like a movie star.

The thought popped into her head as she ran through the meadow towards her lover, causing her to laugh.  The wind whipped her hair around her face and the sun lit the scene with all the ferocity of a newborn kitten.  Beneath her feet flowers danced among the grass.

Suddenly her foot sank deep into a rabbit hole and she fell, cursing, into the mud.  She picked herself up and tried to stand, but her ankle collapsed and she fell again.  Choking back tears she saw her lover start to sprint towards her.

She didn’t look back, but she knew it was hopeless.

The zombie horde would reach her long before he did.

Like many others, I have recently discovered that it is December.  Which means it’s no longer November.

Here, in no particular order, are some things which I learnt (or had re-affirmed) during this past month.

  • Practice helps.  My writing, I feel, was distinctly better at the end of the month than at the beginning.
  • If you’re behind on your word-count, and you actually have a deadline, somehow blogging doesn’t seem quite as important any more.
  • Even when typing fast I still can’t leave spelling mistakes uncorrected.
  • If you know vaguely where the story is going it’s easier to write it.
  • With my life, 1667 words every single day is pushing it slightly.  But I can write 6000 words in one day if I don’t have anything else to do. (I know this because on Friday evening I was at 33,175; 5,166 behind par.  By Saturday evening I was only 825 behind par.  And also exhausted.)
  • The more I write, the more I want to write.  Up to a point.
  • Having someone else in the house who is also writing a lot helps.  But if that other person spends less time at work than you do, you shouldn’t even try to keep up.
  • Scrivener counts words in a very similar way to the NaNoWriMo validator.  I gained only 34 words during the transition.  Mr H, using another program, gained several thousand.
  • The prize is lots of words on a page, not this:

NaNoWinner-180x180

 

Of course, 50,000 words is not enough for a proper novel these days, so my story is not yet complete.  Some of the characters haven’t even met each other yet (though to be fair, they aren’t scheduled to until very near the end).  Without the pressure of deadlines, will I be able to keep up a reasonable pace?  Only time will tell.

This week’s fiction comes from the roughly 20,000 words I have written so far this November.  In the true tradition of NaNoWriMo, it has not been edited, refined, fixed, or in any way amended, and is therefore mostly drivel.  Make of it what you will.

 – – –

Seth moved through the town searching for a tavern.  The darkness was swiftly falling and he was worried about the warning the gate guard had given about sleeping outside.  The first tavern he came to was called “The Witches Love”, and after a moment’s thought he passed it by.  It wasn’t safe for him to be mixing with witches, even if the chances were high that no witches were actually in the inn.

“The Bonny Lass” was a better bet, and he pushed his way in to the bar.  The place was only moderately busy, and he could see a barmaid lazing against the wall near the fire, so he didn’t hold out much hope of work.  With no money he needed to find somewhere that would allow him to work for his bed.  Sure enough, the innkeeper laughed in his face when he asked about work.

“Look around you, lad.  I’ve not enough work for those I already have.”

“I don’t suppose you know anywhere that’s looking?”

“No.  Now are you going to buy ale or leave my tavern?”

Wondering at the rudeness of the man, Seth left to continue his quest.  He wandered down several streets which contained nothing but houses, and a street entirely of shoe shops.  Imagine having so many shops all selling shoes!  How many people must there be in this city if all of these shoe shops could stay in business?

Around the corner from the shoe shops was the “Cobblers Arms”.  Seth stuck his head through the door and immediately left again.  If there were only three people in the tavern there would be no work there for him.

“The Lazy Shepherd” had a sign with a picture of a boy sleeping while a wolf stalked the sheep.  Seth wasn’t sure he liked the image or the implication, but there was light and noise spilling from the door.  Even as he watched a large man fell through the doorway, his lip bleeding and one eye rapidly blackening.  Another man followed him and started to pound him with his fists.

Seth was moving before he knew it.  With the number of well trained fighters who lived in his home town, brawls could quickly get out of hand, and he was used to taking his turn in the prevention details.  He grasped the second man’s collar and yanked to the side, forcing him to use his hands for support or crack his head on the pavement.  With one hand he pulled the man’s arm behind his back, and with the other he grasped his shoulder.  Kneeling in his back he leant down and spoke seriously to the man.

“I could easily break your arm.  I suggest you calm down before I decide I want to.  I don’t know what that man did to you, and frankly I don’t care.  If he broke the law, report him, and if he didn’t then deal with it like grown men, not like children.  Do you understand me?”

He gave a little squeeze on the man’s arm and watched as he winced.  The man began nodding frantically.

“Good.  Now, go home.”

He released the man and sprang backwards.  Sure enough, the man flailed out as he rolled to his feet, expecting to hit him.  When his fist met air he looked confused for a moment before his eyes focussed on Seth.  He looked him up and down, and suddenly the fight went out of him.  Seth nodded.

“Go home,” he repeated.  “Before you do something you’ll regret.”

The man nodded and stumbled off, weaving from side to side along the street.  Seth turned to the other man.  His confrontation had taken place so quickly that man had only just staggered to his feet.  He was dabbing at his lip with a scrap of cloth.  When he noticed Seth looking at him, he put it away.

“Thank you.  I really thought he was going to do me in.”

“Go home,” said Seth in exactly the same tone of voice he had used to persuade the more violent of the pair to leave.  “I don’t know what went on between the two of you, and I don’t care, but I do know that you aren’t in a fit state to be moving around.  Go home, put a cold cloth on that eye, and sleep it off.”

The man stared at him.  “But I’m the victim here.  Why should I go home?  Who are you to be telling me what to do anyway?”

Seth just met his eyes steadily until he reddened and looked away.

“Fine,” he muttered.  “I’ll go.”  He wandered off along the street in the opposite direction to the first man.

Seth watched him go, and shook his head in bewilderment.  He’d never understood what people found so wonderful about fighting while drunk.  In his experience it just made you sloppy and easily defeated.  He turned to go into the tavern and suddenly noticed that he had an audience.

Not yet, but the time is coming, apparently.

Philip Parker, a professor at Insead business school, has over 100,000 titles listed on Amazon, all non-fiction on a huge array of subjects.  Each one supposedly took less than an hour to write, because most of the work was done by a computer.  There’s nothing new there, it’s all existing information, just compiled into one place.*

But it’s not just non-fiction that has to worry about competition from computers.  Poetry written by machines already exists, and in some cases is hard to tell from the work of humans.

Is it possible for a computer to write a novel?

There are any number of “easy methods” to write a novel out there, but can they be written into a computer program?  For some genres, I can see it working.  The easy-reading type of books that people read just to relax – they don’t want complex or surprising storylines or new styles of writing.  They just want to sit down and allow the cares of the world to fall away.

But for some genres, especially those where innovation is key, I can’t see it happening.  Can you imagine a science fiction novel, dealing with a completely new concept, being written by a computer?  Or an emotion-driven, heart-wrenching tragedy which brings tears to your eyes and an ache to your heart?  I can’t.

Some day, perhaps, when we have true AI, but not yet, and not for a long while.

It’s a good job really, or there might be a revolt among authors!

 

 

* On a side note, I went to look, and “Philip M Parker” does have a rather large number of titles available.  They range from Webster’s Faroese – English Thesaurus Dictionary to Ankylosing Spondylitis – A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients, and The 2007 Import and Export Market for Toilet or Facial Tissue Paper Stock and Towel or Napkin Stock in Finland.  A riveting read, I’m sure.

Each one sells for at least $20, so even if he’s only making 20% on each sale, and selling one copy of each book every two years, he would be making $200,000, or around £125,000 per year.  Not a bad payoff for a computer program, although one has to wonder what the point of some of the titles is.

 

Apparently I have been tagged in a thing.  How exciting!

Here’s how it works:

1.  Give credit to the person who tagged you.

That would be Matt Williams, whose blog contains vast quantities of posts about science fiction, advances in technology, books, and movies.  Not to mention his own fiction, which is an exciting read.

2. Explain the rules.

Ok, so I’ve done two of them now.  You should keep reading to find the rest.   There are four.

3. Answer the ten questions about your current WIP.

I would point out at this point that in the post I was tagged from there were only nine questions…  Also, “Work In Progress” may be too strong a phrase.  “Work Only Just Commenced” would be a closer description.

  1. What is the working title of your book?
    The Three
  2. What genre does the book fall under?
    Fantasy Adventure
  3. Which actors would you choose to play your characters for the movie rendition?
    Hum.  Well, the three main characters are identical, so it would have to be someone with a good repertoire.  Perhaps Kyle Schmid – clean-shaven and looking young.
  4. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
    Three young men, physically identical but otherwise wildly different, must find each other and unite to save the kingdom.
  5. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
    In an ideal world, represented.  We’ll see.
  6. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
    Come back in a few years and I might be able to tell you the answer to that.  Alternatively, if you can provide me with a time machine and a few days to experiment, I’ll be sure to let you know.
  7. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
    I would like to compare it to anything by David Eddings, but I think that might be insulting to Mr Eddings.
  8. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
    Weirdly, Harry Potter.  I’m not quite sure how that happened.  They really have very little in common.
  9. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
    The book is about balance – good and evil, male and female, magic and science.

4. Tag five other people and link to their blogs so we can hop over and meet them.

Ok, five people…  Hmmm.

Rosie Oliver (because I want to know if there are any more sequels to CAT coming)

David Higgins (yes we are related)

Sieni Madison

Miriam Joy

Kari Fay

So there we are.  I hope you’ve all had fun.

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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