Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Lessons in writing, Internal Conflict

This has come up on several of my talks so I'll pick it up here. It's all part of characte creation. So are you sitting comfortably? Good, I won't be long.
Okay, we all know drama is CONFLICT, right? Simply put all stories are about opposing forces trying to get or do something. You want a good guy, you want a bad guy.
Or do you?
You've two types of conflcit, Internal and External. External is when the hero is out fighting some villain. He doesn't worry about the righteousness of his cause, he knows he's the good guy and it's as simple as that. Most war films and most Bond movies are all about external conflict. See the guy in the Nazi uniform? BAD GUY. You can bomb him, shoot him, do all sorts of violent and socially unacceptable things to him and no-one will mind. Seriously. Ditto anyone with a kaftan, turban and AK-47, KKK hood, Soviet uniform (for those of us who grew up watching 1980's action movies) or gang colours and generally people with a poor grasp of English or (ironically) a very good grasp of English (why are the bad guys always from English public schools*?). These are all codes for 'we're not engaging in any moral conflict issues here, so move along'.
Try and avoid these sort of stories. They are exciting, sure, but simple storytelling. They suit the visual medium better than the literary one, mainly because explosions don't work so well on paper, or Kindle for that matter.
Internal Conflict. That should be your mantra. The ONE THING books do better than any other medium is explore the inner mind of the characters. So give them something worth exploring. Doubts, self-criticism, confusion and moral dilemmas. After all, the entire canon of Russian literarture and most of YA romance is built on this! It works because it's what the medium does best.
There endeth the lesson.
(*Oh, for the Americans reading this, first, let me say 'Hi!' then explain what we in England call public schools you would call VERY EXPENSIVE private schools where the child needs to be entered more or less the moment they're concieved for any chance of getting in, unless they happen to own a country or small European principality, which sort of trumps everything).

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The themes in Dark Goddess, love's legacy

As those of you who read Devil's Kiss will know, Billi suffered the loss of a loved one. I wanted to make sure such an event had deep resonance within Dark Goddess and looked at how Billi would cope.
It made me think hope any of us will cope. Sooner or later, we all suffer the loss of someone we loved. There are no easy answers to why they went, whether it was fair or all part of some divine plan. We try and make sense of their lives and how they touched and made us who we are today. What legacy does the loved one leave behind?
Is it in our nature to take love for granted? That we expect it from those around us who we share our lives?Only to realise what it meant when it's gone?
Billi has a poor role-model in Arthur. A man who could not cope with the loss of his wife so retreated from the world, built tall walls to keep the pain outside, but alas, left his daughter outside those walls too.
Billi has the legacy from him and the one she loved. I think I've made it clear who I believe is the greater hero. Arthur is strong, fierce and undefeatable. But the other was in touch with the world around him, more than he wanted perhaps, but was the greater hero because of it. What's been the best aspect of Dark Goddess is seeing how these two legacies play out in Billi's soul.
Such legacies are subtle at times. We do things unconciously, act on ideas and attitudes absorbed into our hearts from those hearts that once envolved and embraced us. Love wounds us most terribly, but they are the only wounds worth having.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

My Inspirations, Part 2

Wow. I'm sitting here in my hotel in Disneyworld, suitcase packed and passport at the ready. It's been an amazing five days and it'll take me a looong time before I process even half of it. The NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference has exposed me to another side of publishing that is vast and more than inspiring, it's the reason behind what we do.
I've met so many teachers, great librarians and enthusiastic readers from all over and what's clear from each and everyone is the passion they have for writing, for stories and the way they expose the reader to brand new worlds and people. It's all about stepping into another's skin and seeing the world through new eyes. That's pretty damn amazing. Pure magic, actually. There have been so many I'd like to thank for reminding me about all this, but I'd like to mention Margaret, Becky and Claire especially.
I'd like to thank the other authors I've met. Mellisa, Ally, Brent, Cindy, Carrie, Cinda, Holly, Darren, Joy and many more (I'll go into more detail regarding some of the discussions I've had soon). What's great is even the big names 'Oh, I've been No.1 on the NYT and have Hollywood banging at my door' have a huge amount of patience for us novices. There just wasn't enough time to talk to any of them. Ah well.
Lastly, the Disney-Hyperion crew. They've been beyond fantastic and gone well beyond the call of duty on all fronts. Dina, Nellie, LaToya, Molly, Kristian, and most of all, Catherine, my new and extraordinary editor. They are the most wonderful company anyone could hope to have.
Thank you all!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

My Inspirations, Part One

Dark Goddess was, strangely, the first story about Billi SanGreal, though I didn't know it at the time. The first version of Dark Goddess was written around 1993-4. I'd read about the Russian witch, Baba Yaga, and wanted to use her. Back then she was ancient, she was wicked, but also wise and honest.
After that I started looking out for her. But it was 'Women Who Runs with Wolves' by Clarissa Pinkola Smith that gave me the Baba Yaga I'd been looking for.
Chapter 3 is Vasilisa the Wise. Smith reckons the story is about 3,000 years old (but probably much much older), pre-dating Classical Greek culture and descends from a time before gods. When there was only the goddess and one of her names was Baba Yaga.
Vasilisa goes into the forest and meets Baba Yaga. She serves her and in exchange is given fire, a light radiating from a skull, that she uses to go back home and destroy her step-mother and sisters. It's a classic fairy tale and it's about growing up.
Baba Yaga is the anti-fairy godmother. Vasilisa is the anti-Cinderella. She's not waiting for the prince to save her and Baba Yaga isn't here to sew her ballgowns.
Smith's book delves deep into a handful of fairy tales, exposing the female mythology that underpins many of these 'children's stories'.
I think I've learnt more about story telling from that book than any of the others. Myths are hugely important. Always have been, always will be. The story of Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the wise have survived longer than most because they are so important.
It's about journeying into the dark forest and learning from the frightening things that dwell within, hidden from all but the bravest. It's not about being fashionable, about being pretty. It's certainly not about being 'nice'. It's about doing what must be done, rather than what should be done.
Smith explains it best.
"The Wild Woman is the one who dares, who creates and destroys ... Following her footsteps, we endevour to learn to let be born what must be born, whether all the right people are there or not. Nature does not ask permission."

Sunday, 14 November 2010


Passport. Itinerary. Laptop. Transformer (which weighs more that the bloody laptop!). Mobile. Toiletries (shaving foam, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss. Real men don't wear perfume. Unless it's Lancome). Camera. Batteries. Sharpies (2No.). Teeshirts (one black, one white). White shirt. Blue shirt. Blue tie. One suit (One and only. Blue and shiny with wear). Trousers (not blue). Jacket (blue). Shoes. Boots. Trainers. Jeans (yep, blue). Underwear (a variety of colours, some blue). Socks. Swimming trunks (blue). Two belts (black and brown. Make sure your shoes are the same colour as you shoes. It's the only fashion tip I know. If it's good enough for Don Draper it's good enough for me). Jumper. Anorak (blue). Another shirt. Another shirt (short sleeves. It is Florida after all). Books to read (Bluebloods, Blood Meridian and Wolf Hall, which, sadly, has no wolves in it at all).
I tell you this, my backpacking days are way, way behind me when I used to travel with half a towel, a toothbrush with the end cut off, a Swiss Army Knife and a packet of anti-malaria pills.
If you're at the NCTE gig this week and rolling into the next, I'll be at the following places:
Friday 19th Autographing Session (with one of my two Sharpies): 1.00-1.30pm, Booth #920.
Saturday 20th: The Middle Mosaic:Writers and Readers together from 4.30pm to 5.30pm. Coronado Springs.
Monday 22nd: ALAN Workshop from 3.45pm till 4.15pm. Coronado Ballroom.
Just look for the guy in blue.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

What's next?

So kind of you to ask. Well, a trip to Disneyworld. There's a huge NCTE librarian conference there next week and I'll be there with my autograph book, pretending to be a highly respectable author-type.
Dark Goddess is due out in the US in January and the wonderful people in Disney-Hyperion have many treats instore!
Firstly, a multitude of short stories by my own fair hand. They'll be popping up, day by day, on the Hyperion Facebook page, starting on November 15th. Some you might have found on this blog earlier, but one or two are brand new, including one where Billi goes on a date (cleverly titled 'Billi's Date', I am a marketting whizz, aren't I?) and you just know it's not going to go well.
There will be hob-nobbing. I'll be sticking my head into publicity shots like an X-Factor wannabee. Ally Carter, Mellisa de la Cruz and Cinda Williams Chima will be there too, so I'll have a field day stealing, er, borrowing, ideas from them all.
But it's not all fun and games and cocktail parties and afternoons at the bar with the publisher, oh no. There'll be a research trip to Harry Potter World too. Yes, I said research and stop that sniggering at the back. Photos of me being sick on the rollercoasters will follow shorty.
But the writing, Sarwat, what about the writing? Are you not meant to be an author?
Ah, yes, the old word-count per day.
Apparently Darren Shan does like 5,000 words per day. Well, I've done that exactly twice in my career and both times my agent sent them all back asking me to spell them correctly first. Then make them into a story that WORKS. Darren's at the conference too, I think, I'll ask him about that too.
I have written something. I hope to tell you about it soon. Now I intend to write something else.
Supernatural? Historical? Science Fiction? I have no idea! Maybe that teen romance that has been bubbling away for years or that 1st person, told in flash-back literary masterpiece about the Mongolian yak herder doing the 1950's and his struggle against the state monopoly on fermented yak milk?
Oh, I have written a song. No, seriously! There's still a chance to get that UK Christmas No.1 and sod it, I'm going to go for it. Now, I'll freely admit I have no musical talent WHATSOEVER, but did that stop JedWard? I think not. I have borrowed my sister's guitar but I think there's a string missing.
Because the mind-blowing awesomeness of this ditty, I dare not release all the lyrics in one go. Frankly I fear the entire world may come to a standstill.
More on that soon.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Writing Workshops by the Chainsaw Gang

Starting this Sat and running over the next two weekends the Chainsaw Gang will be running a variety of workshops at the Richmond Literary Festival.
In fact, the Chainsaw will be totally OWNING the kids' events!
It'll be the three Alexs (Milway, Bell and Gordon Smith) and myself and we'll be delving DEEP, WAY WAY DEEP, into the art of writing and drawing. We're at the Orleans House Gallery on Sat 6th, Sun 7th, Sat 13th and Sun 14th.
So we'll be discussing plotting, character creation and story arcs, making sure your stories kick butt very hard and talking about those little secret skills you might need to break into publishing. Alex Milway will be giving all you artists out there the chance to create your perfect monster.
My Gosh, if I'd known then what I know now I could have saved myself years of faffing about and trawling through the Artist's and Writer's Yearbook (useful as it is, it is not everything).
I'll be specifically looking at classical story structure, characterization and how to build character arcs in three easy steps. Plus there'll be my usual Templar roleplay extravaganza! The sessions are about 2 hours long so there'll be plenty of time to discuss a range of writing topics. Likewise if you've got any burning questions on the day, I'll do my very best to answer them. The events are ticketed, so do go over to the website and book your place now. I'm on the Sunday gig at 11.30am (right after church!)
So, as of next Sat 6th, the Chansaw will be cutting up Richmond something quite wicked.