The Power of the Written World

I still haven’t read the last Terry Pratchett. I can’t bring myself to start, knowing that when I’ve finished it, I would have read all the Discworld books. I don’t want there to be a time when I know everything there is to know about that magical yet realistic world – not yet anyway… On hearing of Sir Terry’s cruelly sudden and untimely passing, I actually wrote my first ever (and last, to date) piece of fan fiction, a 1 600-word piece that I have included at the bottom of this post for those who might want to glance through my humble tribute – it probably won’t make much sense to anyone who isn’t acquainted with Vimes, Granny Weatherwax et al.

I think, in a way, that is the largest compliment that you can pay a writer: total and complete absorption in the world that they have have created, sinking into the story so deeply that the real world evaporates for a time, and being so bound up in that fictional paper world that you don’t ever want to know it all, you want new secrets to uncover, more characters to meet and that continuing frisson the devoted reader experiences when secrets are finally revealed.

The huge skill that goes into weaving a complete and believable world is both a learned thing: a detailed continuity must be kept to ensure that physical descriptions don’t change and to keep family trees intact, but the writer must also be able to imagine that world themselves, a miracle of inspiration, creating something from nothing in an almost blasphemous event of creativity.

I have never written a full-length novel (one or two fairly amateurish pieces came quite close, lengthwise) but have, in a small way, dabbled with ‘world creation’ for short stories. I can only admire and applaud those authors who, like Pratchett, have brought to life not just one or or two facets of unknown, and otherwise unknowable, worlds but whole universes, fully realised and with an underlying logic that cannot be refuted by a fair-minded reader.

I will read The Shepherd’s Crown. When I’m ready to begin to say goodbye. It’s just that that time isn’t here yet.

In the meantime, here’s a new 101-word story, published yesterday, followed by the above-mentioned fan-fiction.

https://www.101words.org/always-in-fashion/

 

The Discworld Mourns

(all characters the copyright of the estate of Sir Terry Pratchett)

Great A’Tuin threw his great head back and wept, immense tears sliding off his meteor-pocked face and whirling silently into space. The great chelonanian’s grief was so enormous that the four vast elephants upon his shell shifted, softly stamping their great feet uneasily. The sleeping Discworld stirred, their happy dreams broken by the immense slow waves of misery that broke again and again over them.

Angua, in hot pursuit of a cut-throat currently fleeing hot-foot down one of the many noisome alleys that led to The Shades, fought the all but irresistible urge to howl out an elegy of despair. As understanding sank in, she had to fight again, quelling the animal urge to transform, shred the pitiful scrap running in front of her to even further insignificance before running out into open country to rage and wail against this all too human comprehension that was growing and swelling in significance.

Sybil sat bolt upright in bed and thumped Vimes on the thigh, hard, 

‘Sam!’

‘Hsfgl? Wassit?’

‘Sam!’ the insistence in her voice brought him to full panicked wakefulness.

‘Young Sam?!’ He was out of bed and half way across the floor, his hand groping on top of the wardrobe for his trusty Burley & Stronginthearm crossbow, before she could say,

‘No Sam, listen…’

Finally awake, Sam looked blankly at her then cocked his head towards the open window. There was no sound – no sound at all. His face darkened and he growled angrily,

‘Those blasted wizards have done something stupid, haven’t they?’

Sybil slipped out of bed and came to join him, timidly touching his arm, ‘No, dear. This feels … bigger, somehow…’

They stood for a moment, looking out over the preternaturally quiet city, and a sense of deep sorrow struck them both at the same time.

Granny Weatherwax was soaring through the crystal clear, cold night sky, softly riding the mind of a great tawny owl when she perceived the news, both through her own finely honed and complex human mind and through the clearer, simpler understanding of the bird whose mind she was inhabiting. Striving to not break the unbreakable rules of borrowing, Granny began gently guiding the bird back to her small and frugal cottage, isolated on the hill. A short time later the owl glided on silent wings to a feather-soft landing in a tree just outside her bedroom window. A moment later the bedroom window was forced open, screeching a rusty complaint. Granny regarded the owl through sapphire eyes that shone with a hint of liquid and she nodded, not trusting herself to speak aloud, not yet. The owl hooted softly, sadly, and it fell on her ears like a lament.

Nanny Ogg, snoring softly in her soft bed, with Greebo curled up in a tight ball by her feet awakened abruptly. She lay still for a moment, her wrinkled apple cheeks unmoving, as she groped for the reason for her awakening. Greebo sat up too, flattening his remaining ear against his skull and he hissed; a yowling, sorrowful complaint, before he oozed off the bed, slinking, belly-flattened, out of sight under the bed. Nanny sat up, automatically reaching her hand out for the bottle of clear liquid that rested, always, at her bedside. After a brief gurgle, she replaced the bottle and began to fill her pipe. Just before she struck a match on her broad thumb, understanding dawned and she let out a lengthy sigh of comprehension. Then, laying her pipe, still unlit to one side, she hopped out of bed and began to dress.

Agnes was already awake, having been awoken by Perdita’s shouting some time before. Perdita’s insistence that there was something wrong, something big happening had her on edge, actively trawling for psychic disturbances. Therefore as soon as it happened, Agnes knew, but even her unease, which had been growing over the hours, had not prepared her for the momentousness of the occasion.

‘Oh, no, no, no’ she whispered, before readying herself to leave.

For a moment she regarded her detested black hat with loathing before pulling it on – if ever there was an occasion for a witch to be properly dressed, this was it. Then, with a quick glance around her cosy cottage, which seemed alien to her in the face of huge change that the Discworld had just experienced – it seemed incredible to her that the shelf of handwritten books and journals, the colourful cushions and cheerful curtains (the latter two her own additions to the cottage) should look exactly as they had this morning, when the world had been so very, very different.

Magrat awoke and looked over the vast expanse of the marital bed to where Verence was sleeping. Even after all these years, he was still not comfortable with comfort, being all but unable to sleep unless the bed was firm and the pillow so flat as to be non-existent. (Fortunately, in this they were in agreement in this, Magrat being a great believer in the holistic and healthy way of life, and their marital mattress was as firm as a board which allowed Verence to sleep soundly and awaken each day refreshed and ready to rule the small mountain kingdom of Lancre). Magrat climbed out of bed, peeped into the cot to reassure herself that the small princess, Esmeralda, was still soundly asleep (she was, her small fists clenched imperiously near her small face, a frown of concentration showing the intensity of her dreams) then walked quickly to the window and looked out over the vista. She closed her eyes and waited for the knowledge to seep into her psyche. Then her eyes flew open wide and her hand covered her mouth in horror. Then, decisively, she strode back to the bed, seizing the small notebook that she kept on her bedside to record her dreams and ripping out a sheet of paper. She scribbled a quick note to Verence and slipped out of the castle, running sure-footedly down the twisting lethal pathways.

Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Agnes arrived at the clearing simultaneously and regarded each other for a minute, before turning in unison as a rustle announced the arrival of Magrat who stumbled into the clearing, tucking her various necklaces and bracelets back into place after the disarrangement caused by the speed of her flight to the clearing.

‘Your Majesty?’ said Granny Weatherwax, with a hint of steel in her voice.

‘Oh, never mind all that now,’ said Magrat, sweeping her royal prerogative behind her in a manner so suitably witchy that Granny and Nanny both raised their eyebrows, secretly impressed at their wet hen’s progress.

The four looked at each other, none daring to speak the words.

‘I felt it – it woke me up’ said Magrat at last.

‘Perdita knew.’ said Agnes unhappily, ‘I don’t know how, but she knew and warned me’ She added hastily, ‘Not – what – you know… Just that something was – happening. So I was awake when.’ Her voice treacherously tightened on the last few words and she was happy to fall silent.

‘Owl’ said Granny succinctly. The others nodded, no further explanation was necessary – all of them had had cause to be grateful for the large sign ‘I ATE’NT DEAD’ that Granny was accustomed to hold while borrowing.

Nanny was about to speak when her eyes widened and for the first time since any of them had known her she was speechless, utterly stunned into silence. The standing and secretive monolith, that no-one had ever been able to count had sidled into view, standing there with a face of stone. Well, obviously with a face of stone, but if a stone can be said to have an expression this stone had an inscrutable, yet almost pleading, expression on its face.

‘Magrat’ said Granny softly, ‘you want to take this?’

‘No,’ said Magrat, tears standing in her eyes, ‘you do it. I’m better with trees.’

Granny stepped forward and tentatively placed her hands on the stone, feeling the bashful stone quivering under her practised hands. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the stone, which seemed to listen intently for a moment. Then, as much as stone can be said to sag it sagged, misery etched in every striation and crack of its form, before oozing back into the background, and becoming imperceptible once more.

Death clattered angrily back into his small house and closed his study door decisively behind him. Albert dithered for a moment, then tottered back to the kitchen to put the kettle on. A few minutes later he did what would have been unthinkable just a few hours before – he walked into Death’s study without knocking. Death was slumped over his desk, his haplessly grinning skull cradled in his skeletal hands. He did not respond to Albert’s intrusion, showing no sign of being aware that he was even there until he spoke, in a voice more leaden than normal,

‘WHY, ALBERT? WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE ME?’

Albert approached Death, taking his time over the reply, placing the tea-tray precisely, straightening it neatly and thinking over his response as he tried, successfully in the main, to conceal his own tear-aching throat and prickling eyes,

‘You were his favourite, Master. You know that.’

‘MAYBE’ Death sighed heavily, an interesting feat for a skeleton, ‘BUT I DID NOT LIKE IT. WHAT IS THAT FEELING OF BEING SMALL AND COLD AND WANTING THINGS TO BE AS THEY WERE?’

‘It is sadness, Master.’

‘THAT IS FITTING. SADNESS. YES.’

 

 

Distractions, distractions everywhere…

So… our TV broke on Tuesday evening: it was fine one minute, screen completely black the next. Sound was fine, but no picture no matter what we did. We googled the make and model and discovered that this was a common issue with that particular TV. So the other half grumble-grumbled (‘Buy cheap shit, get cheap shit’ and similar) and ordered a new one: to arrive on Monday.

Personally, I like to watch television a) when something really good is on and b) when I have nothing else to do. I tend to have it on in the background – literally the background, my office chair faces away from the television – just for white noise, but actual concentrated watching is rare.

I was quite sanguine about going the best part of a week without the box, but the other half quickly got antsy. While I sat, working on a research project (some of which included the odd video clip from YouTube), making notes and reading up on my chosen subject (The Bell Witch of Tennessee, utterly fascinating!) he sat, tapping impatiently on his laptop or tablet, fidgeting and talking compulsively about all sorts of random topics. All of which was annoying to me, but just shows his need for something to take him out of himself for a while.

His distress culminated in us digging about and finding a teeny tiny television (the one that broke was 42″, the ‘spare’ is 19″!) that we could hook up to Sky for the weekend, at least. As soon as it was ready to go, he politely asked me, ‘What do you want to watch?’ and was astonished (and rather disbelieving) when I politely declined, telling him to go ahead and watch a couple of the shows that he watches alone. During his program, he asked me several times, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to watch anything?’ Eventually, to placate him more than anything else, I moved and watched a show with him.

Television is great: providing news, information, education and entertainment around the clock. BUT I find viewing time can all too easily take over all spare time, pushing aside hobbies, exercise and even simple conversation. What are your thoughts about television and how do you make sure that you have enough time for reading and writing in the presence of multiple, 24-hour-a-day channels?

Time Management

I try to write something every day.

My target is 2000 words, but I have a deal going with my son (15 and also a budding writer) that we will both do at least 200 words per day, no matter what.

This means that even if I write 4000 words one day, planning to skip the next day, I still have to do at least 200 words on my ‘day off’ in order to fulfil our deal.

It might sound silly or trivial, but I’ve found that I DO actually write every day now, even when I think I’m too tired and busy, simply because 200 words doesn’t seem like a lot. Once I begin – get, say, the first hundred words down – I find that my will to write ‘wakes up’ and quite often, I end up getting 500, 1000 or even the magic 2000 words down on page – maybe not perfect but there, something to be worked on.

I used to not have the time to write, being busy with cooking, supervising homework and other domestic duties and waiting until all chores were done before putting on my writer’s hat, but I find, now that I have to do my 200, that I’ve changed when I write. I will turn on my laptop when I’m watching television, while I’m waiting for food to cook, and even between other tasks or during breaks from essays and assignments.

Surprisingly, the quality of my writing has not been affected (I don’t think!), while my productivity has gone through the roof! Obviously, editing is needed, but then, editing is always needed, no matter if I’ve been writing in perfect peace and silence or in the midst of the hurly-burly of family life.

How do you ensure that you meet your daily or weekly writing target? Let me know in the comments below, and in the meantime enjoy a new drabble that I originally posted here: https://drablr.com/lizmilne/drabble/eyw-true-magic.

True Magic

We witches live long lives. This means we have to change often, stay up to date. Take things like racism and homophobia: if we didn’t adapt to shifting circumstances, we’d be in legal trouble before long, so we change with the times.

Or… and this is what I do: we just treat people like people all the time: if they need our help, we help ‘em; if they’re little shits, we tell ‘em so.

Magic is all fine and well, but if you were to ask me what’s the hardest thing about being a witch?

Learning to tolerate everyone’s foibles.

x Liz

 

 

Waiting for Bloggy Inspiration…

I keep a list (well, several lists, actually: two Word docs and the memo app in my phone) of story ideas. Sometimes these are lines of dialogue, sometimes they are descriptions of interesting people that I see. Occasionally, I get a complete story idea with snappy ending included, other times it is the merest hint of an incident that happens to get the story ball rolling – what will happen in the end is anyone’s guess.

I have found that story ideas come to me at any time of the day, during lectures and seminars, while brushing my teeth, and even when cycling to and fro university or in the swimming pool. If I have phone or paper handy, this is not a problem as I can jot down the idea on the spot: if not, I risk completely and utterly forgetting everything except the fact that I had had a good idea!

So far, with this blog I have thought up ideas for the next post, mused on it over a couple of days, then written it up – usually on a Friday or Saturday. This week, I had an idea, mused over it a bit, didn’t like my instinctive direction with it, rethought it and came up with a much better, cleaner way to present it: and then forgot it completely! This is why this post is late (partially at least, my 91-year-old mother-in-law decided to try and get out of bed unassisted for the first time in two or three years and took a nasty tumble, bruising her head and injuring her hand, which led to a very late night while she was checked over in A&E for possible concussion and/ or fractures etc – that did send all thoughts of my blog out of my head too, for much more understandable reasons, I’m sure you will agree?) – I have been waiting in the hope that the idea would recur – so far, it has not.

I will learn my lesson from this, and will now begin to write down blog ideas as soon as they occur to me – how do you ensure that your best inspiration is preserved until you can use it, in a story, blog or other piece of writing?

PS My mum-in-law is fine, just a couple of bruises, and the residential home have already taken steps to ensure that she won’t be able to fall out of her bed again.

PPS No new story attached today as I have been focussing on a longer story, based on the challenge by Stephen King in the text of ‘On Writing’ – I think it’s going quite well, so far…