jennygordon: (Froud - Green Man)
So, this weekend, I got crafty and completed a project I've been working on for a few weeks now. I thought you might like to see.

First, I gathered together my materials. I wanted to keep it all in very natural materials and colours. Top left is a hawthorn bough from Avebury. (Hawthorn stands for protection, love and cleansing). Looped onto that are circles made of woven willow withies from near where I live. (Willow stands for dreams, inspiration and intuition). The old-fashioned crocheted doilies were charity shop finds, and the rags and taggles of feathers, lace, ribbon, beads tapestry and embroidery thread are treasures I've collected over the years.

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I stripped the bark off the hawthorn, and sanded and waxed it. And sewed the doilies to the willow circles.

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And set out the design for what would go where (large expanse of carpet necessary for this!)

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I spent several hours attaching the various ribbons, beads and feathers to my willow circles. And when I was finally satisfied, I hung it on the wall above my bed where it catches dreams and inspiration and whispers to me as I sleep:

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I'm utterly delighted with it. It's so rare that a plan comes together the way you envisaged it at the outset, and this really has. What's more is that I'll be able to add feathers and treasures to it over time.
jennygordon: (Magpie)
For years, I've hoarded beads, off-cuts of lace and ribbon, bits and do-dads of all kinds of things most folk would toss in the bin. But you see, you never know when a thing might come in handy. It's a mantra I live by. And sometimes, it proves to be right.

What am I waffling about? I've been crafting again, that's what.

From an old lace tablecloth bought in a charity shop for £3, a selection of beads I've long hoarded, and the teardrops from an old Christmas decoration, I made this:


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What on earth? You say. Well, then I added the ring from an old pendant lightshade:


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Then lined the lace with white cotton, and sewed both to the ring:


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So pretty! And at night, when the light is on, it creates a lovely, romantic ambiance:


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jennygordon: (Froud - Green Man)
As I'm sure I've mentioned before, autumn is my favourite time of year, and the Autumn Equinox a festival I like to mark. This year, September in England has been glorious, and I've gathered an eclectic autumn harvest on my rambles. I used some of my collection this weekend to make a centrepiece for my Equinox celebrations:


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Using a PVA type glue (one that dries clear), I pasted an assortment of leaves to an old mayonnaise jar, then smeared the entire thing with more glue, finishing it off with a length of hessian ribbon around the top. It's amazing how bright the colours are once the leaves are coated with glue. I wonder if they'll retain the colour as time passes.

Finally, since it's intended as a tealight holder, I sprinkled a layer of golden linseeds in the bottom to give the tealight a base to sit on. When the tealight is lit, it adds a whole new dimension of pretty:


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Happy Autumn Equinox y'all.
jennygordon: (Blue Butterfly)
Once upon a long time ago, I was forever making things out of ... well, all kinds of stuff. It's a hobby that has gone by the wayside over the years, and is one I've been rediscovering with great pleasure and glee in recent months. My latest project was making curtain tie-backs.

First, I assembled my kit — glue, scissors, an old net curtain (of quite robust material) bought for pence at a charity shop, and a bracelet again from a charity shop.

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I cut off the wide top border of the net curtain (the geese had to go!) Then I dismantled the bracelet and used some of the beads to decorate the tie-back, simply glueing them in place.

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The beads I chose were the creamy pearl-like ones, and the shell ones, which sheen in the light:

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Left it all to dry overnight, and there you have it. Dead simple curtain tie-backs, which probably cost me no more than £2 in total. All that remained was for me to hook them on and enjoy. Plus figure out how to get the glue off my fingers; I really am the messiest crafter!

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Okay *looks around eagerly*. What next?
jennygordon: (Blue Butterfly)
Turns out I had a headache all weekend, so I wasn't up to staring at a computer screen, which meant I couldn't get on with FallingBook. Never mind, I found way to take my mind off the headache. It involved getting glue everywhere, and poking my poor fingers with a needle. The end result looked like this:

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They're tealight holders. The one on the left is made from a ramekin, with twigs glued around it. I think you can just about see from the rather fuzzy picture that there are a selection of twigs from at least half a dozen different trees. I think of it as my Ogham Tree Tealight Holder. The one on the left has hessian ribbon, lace, pearls and sequins glued to it.

And, once I'd cleaned up all the glue, I moved on to making these:

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And these:

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Which I've stored in this little crystal bowl, which I picked up for 50p at a car boot sale, while I'm deciding what I'm going to do with them:
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Come to think of it, they look so pretty I might just leave them where they are.

When I was a kid, I was always making something. I loved crafting. But, as time went by, it was one of many things that got left behind in the rush of life. I'm so glad I've rediscovered my crafting genes in recent years. It's so much fun, and Pinterest is jam-packed with ideas.
jennygordon: (Great Grey Heron)
Have you felt a breath stirring the hairs on the back of your neck?

If you have, it was me, peeking over your shoulder, because I'm still here as often as I can be, reading you all and missing you.

The upsidedownness of my life continues, with all the multitudinous things I must do to affect the changes in it swallowing my time and energy. Which means I don't have time to do more than peek at your blog posts. No time to comment, and even less to post my own.

But I'm still here whenever I can be, and am dropping by today to share a picture of one of my favourite early Spring flowers — because Spring truly arrived here this weekend, to send my heart and spirits soaring.

North Wales 2010 067
(Hellebores in a North Wales garden)

If blogging has been forced to take a back seat of late, so too has much of my writing. I'd say I miss it, and I do miss being able to focus on creating in the way I normally do, but in so many ways, I am still writing, and I know it'll all still be there when life settles down again and I can return to it properly. In the meantime, I'm continuing to toss down whatever comes in my Attic Notebook, and to my surprise, what has been coming has found shape in an idea for a new novel. It's rather different from anything I've written before, and I'm excited to see what comes of it. When I'm able, I'm using Pinterest to explore the idea in visual terms. It's a wonderful twenty-first century way of scrapbooking, not to mention a fabulous way to take my mind off other matters. It's helping me to feel I'm still working on my writing, even if I'm not actually doing much ... writing.

But I will be again soon.

And I'll be back here again properly soon as well.

Until then, I'm here as much as I can be in spirit, if not always in fact.

*Small sigh*
jennygordon: (Clock)
As some of you know, due to a current upheaval in my personal life, I'm not able to post on LJ as often as I usually do, or to write as much as I'd like. In fact, pretty much all writing is on temporary hiatus until my life settles down again. That said, I can't possibly be without writing altogether, so I've been keeping my hand in with timed freewriting exercises as often as I can. It was Laini Taylor who provided my kickstarter. From her blog:

"Attic Notebook"

This is a freewriting exercise I used to do back in college. It doesn't really involve an attic. Here's what it is:

Get a notebook and freewrite in it -- random, undirected freewriting -- for a set time every day until it's full. Just write. Poems, scenes, daydreams, character ideas, thoughts about the sky. Try 30 minutes a day.

The key is this: do NOT reread what you have written. Do not look back. Don’t even peek. Once a word is written you must move past it and forward only. And when the book is full, close it and set it aside for a month, still without peeking. Then read it. When I did this, it was like finding a notebook in an attic -- hence the name. I remembered almost nothing I had written. It was pure discovery. I wrote that? I thought up that? Ideas for stories came up and I felt almost like I was pilfering them. . . from myself! It was a really, really fun and rewarding exercise!


Now, for the past many years, my writing has moved from novel project to novel project, with the odd short story scattered in-between. So freewriting is a whole different ballpark for me, and you know what? I've discovered it's enormous fun, and hugely freeing.

I love not being allowed to go back and correct, or even look at what I've just written — I normally get way too tied up in fiddling with my words. I adore starting with a random thought or prompt, and simply going with the flow to see where it takes me. And almost the best part, given the current state of my life, is the fact that I'm only allowed to do it for 30 minutes. After that, it's pen down time. For a start, it takes the pressure off completely, and for seconds, I have to leave what I'm writing at that 30 minute point. It makes the freewritten pieces feel like treasures chanced upon in the tideline, or snatched off an errant wind.

It's going to be fascinating to go back and read them all once the book is filled, and has been shut away in the attic for a while.

Who knows where some of those fragment might lead in future?
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
*Princess Irulan from the film version of Frank Herbert's 'Dune'

Following yesterday's post about the seeds of inspiration, I found myself thinking more about being at the start of a writing project. Despite the fact that pretty much everyone on LJ seems to have vanished, so I'm probably talking to myself, I thought I'd spill some of my pondering here.

At the beginning of any writing project, whether novel or short story, I only ever have a scattering of pieces: a half-glimpsed setting, a fledgeling character ot two, maybe a vague idea of a significant scene. Sometimes, those pieces are barely-there, ghostly things. At other times, one or more are clearer and more certain of themselves. But what I always, always have — well, it's two things really, each inextricably bound to the other — are the talismaic image that was the original spark, and the feeling, the mood, that image inspires in me, and which I in turn want to create in the story I will write. (Whether I succeed or not is another matter).

For past novels, there's been a painting by Brian Froud, and the sense of dark and dangerous addiction. For another, it was an antique postcard of a stately home, long since destroyed, that I've had since I was a little girl, and the poignant sense of loss and bittersweet yearing for the lives that once played out there.

For SeaNovel, it wasn't a tangible image in that way; rather, it was an image and my related feelings conjured from all the pieces of sea-drenched memories that nestle in my soul.

And for MaybeBook? Well, that would be telling, and I'm far too superstitious to reveal anything at so early a stage of a story. But I will say that this time, it was a mood, an atmosphere, that came to me first. The talismanic images quickly coalesced around it.

What about you? Is there a pattern in the way those first seeds of a story come to you? Is it the plot? A character who walks up and starts chatting? A subject you burn to explore? Or, like me, is it a single, bright image pulsing with emotive power?
jennygordon: (Magpie)
I posted a little while back about how the idea for MaybeBook came from out of nowhere to land in my yoghurt one lunchtime.

Of course, it didn't come from out of nowhere. It was more the case that a collection of random bits and pieces that have been rattling around in the attics of my imagination chose that moment to stick themselves together and bust out.

Moments like that — unexpected and powerful — feel like a gift.

The way the creative imagination works fascinates me. What was it that prompted those disparate fragments to emerge in a new shape right at that moment? Had they been gathering in secret and laying plans to pounce on me when I was least expecting it?

Most of those fragments have lain in old notebooks for many years, and I've played around with many of them in short story form. Three years ago, I wrote a number of shorts, one of which contained the mood I want to evoke in MaybeNovel, while another contained some of the vital story elements, including the setting, a recurring symbol, and part of MaybeNovel's backstory. That short story took place a hundred years before MaybeNovel, and set in play some of the important aspects MaybeNovel will work with.

And as to where the ideas for those shorts came from ... well ... who's to say?

The attics of my imagination are vast, rambling places, full of cobwebs and locked trunks, and piles of old, yellowing newspapers.

And spiders the size of small dogs.

Not to mention a ghost or three.

Oh, and watch out for that dodgy rafter ...
jennygordon: (Naiad)
A graffiti artist who can philosophise, spell, AND punctuate!

(Seen on a disused public toilet block near where I live).

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jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
I've been thinking about Faerie a lot recently, as you do if you're me. Specifically in the context of how I want to convey in my stories what I see as Faerie.

See, Faerie for me isn't about glitter and more-gorgeous-than-life creatures, as so many depictions of Faerie tend to be in contemporary YA fiction. Faerie for me is far more subtle and varied. Like magic in general, it works best for me when it's quiet, half-glimpsed, uncertain, but there all the same. As soon as Faerie, or magic, is pinned down with rules and elaborate show and tell, it loses ... well, it loses its essential magic.

Ari Berk, Professor of Myth and Folklore at Central Michigan University puts it like this:

"Sometimes Faerie is not a country, but a shifting of light upon the land, a wistful song, a moment in-between other moments."

There is something about autumn that makes the borders of Faerie seem thinner than usual to me. I remember one misty early morning last year on my train commute to work, with the sun reaching the most tentative of fingers into the day. That was magical enough in itself, even seen out of a train window, hurtling along at 125mph. But then, in the trees at the side of the track, a deer stepped out of the mist, and I knew — just knew — it was stepping across the threshold of Faerie.

And that reminds me of my first encounter with a deer. That took place in early morning mist too. I was ten years old, and on Guide Camp in the middle of a forest in Southern England. I woke in the early hours needing a pee, and as I crept out to the latrine — the only person awake in the world, or so it seemed — I was suddenly aware that I was not alone. There, in the bracken behind my tent, staring at me as I stared back at her, was a deer.

Fallow deer doe

In mythology, deer are often represented as Otherworldly Guides, showing the way into Faerie. It's moments like those — from the train window, or in the middle of a forest — that give me a priviledged glimpse into Faerie, and which conjure the feel of Faerie encounters for me. Shifting, transient, all the more precious for their brevity in that moment outside of time.

That's the feeling I want to capture on the page: those breathless, mist-spangled dawns when I've glimpsed a piece of magic. Faerie is a place I don't need to go to in order to believe in it. Those treasured glimpses are enough.
jennygordon: (Water Lily)
I'm off on a little holiday next week (yay!). Top of my list of 'Things to Pack' are:





  • folder of inspirational images
  • new scrapbook (with lovely handmade paper pages)
  • glue
  • scissors
  • new notebook
  • handful of notes from old notebook
  • several pens

I guess you can tell what I'm hoping to spend some of my time doing ....

This is actually the first time I'll have worked on a writing project while away on holiday, so it'll be interesting to see whether I can be creative outside of my creative comfort zone at home. I'm deliberately not taking the reams of old notes on ShadowNovel, as I'm hoping not having those notes to hand will help with the reimagining of the story. There won't be the temptation to flick back and copy what went before, so I'll be able to focus on the new without distraction.

I'm also hoping that getting to work on creating my reference scrapbook will help immerse me in the world and the characters and open doors to the story. I confess I'm pretty intimidated at the moment by the task I've set myself in reimagining this pre-existing tale. I need to figure out how I'm going to approach it. I've never reworked an old novel before, and I already know it's going to require a different process from those I've used with others. But that's all part of the fun, right?

At the moment, I'm thinking something like one of [livejournal.com profile] bogwitch64's outlines might work (c.30K of telling the story to myself), or perhaps something like one of Kristin Cashore's Book Plans. I'm certainly feeling the need for something pretty comprehensive in the way of a plan. More comprehensive than what I usually work with. Of course, way back last summer, [livejournal.com profile] bogwitch64pointed out that I already have a story plan: the original version of the novel. Although that comes with the attendant temptation to work too closely to what went before, instead of reimagining it.

It's interesting to look back in my blog to the entries of last summer when I began thinking about reworking ShadowNovel and its sequel, DancingNovel, during time out between drafts of SeaNovel. I was pondering much the same difficulties in how the hell I'm going to approach the thing. I can't tell you how exciting it is that I'm now at the stage when I can focus a good chunk of my writing energies on this new project.

Can't wait!

jennygordon: (Peacock Butterfly)
I'm so sick of feeling low about SeaNovel that I'm boring myself now, so I promise not to moan about it today! I do want to say though that all of you lovely LJ friends who have offered empathy, support and advice are wonderful *kiss kiss*. I so appreciate this little community we have. Thank you all!

So anyway, today I thought I'd talk about the fact that I’ve been enjoying a blissful, wallowing re-read of some of Jacqueline Carey’s Terre d’Ange books (I posted about her delicious work some time back). The main character in the series I’m currently reading has the ability to read the fault-lines in people. That is, to perceive their weaknesses and strengths, and to understand what underlies them. And, more significantly, to understand how those fault-lines can be exploited, for good or for ill.


It occurred to me that it’s what we do as writers.

In creating our characters, we explore where their fault-lines lie, what they are rooted in, and what the resulting behaviour of the character might be. In pushing our characters, and in challenging them through our plots, we are (or we should be) pricking them where it hurts the most, and exploiting those fault-lines. What is it they want the most, fear the most, need the most? And the deeper layer of what is it that they want, need and fear the most, but don’t consciously realise? Once we know what those things are, we must make the character’s desire harder to achieve; put them in a position where they must confront their fear; take away that thing they most need.

In his book, ‘Writing the Breakout Novel’, Donald Maas advises listing the things a main character needs, yearns for, avoids at all costs, and what paralyses them. He expands on this, explaining that every MC needs, among other things: an iron instinct, a consuming fear, an exquisite lust, a visible dream, and inner lack …. It’s a long list that I’m not going to produce in its entirety here.

It is precisely these facets of a character that the author, having developed them in the course of creating the character(s), then goes about challenging and exploiting as the plot impacts on the players and squeezes them into corners in which they are forced to reveal both the best and the worst of themselves. And, of course, sometimes the character will be faced with the choice of how they respond to events; whether they give in to the worst of themselves, or whether they dig deep and find it within themselves to do better.

It’s no great secret that it’s precisely this that creates much of the tension in novels. What has been helpful for me has been thinking of this in terms of what Carey calls “fault-lines”. The stronger we make those lines, the harder we challenge them, the tighter we ratchet up the tension in the plot and the better the story stands to be.
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
I recently came across this wonderful article by Robin LaFevers on "The Writer Unboxed" website. It send me fizzing with enthusiasm, stirring memories of the days when I used to create scrapbooks and mood boards for my books, and do Tarot card readings for my characters. While I still collect inspiring images, I’m far less disciplined than I used to be about collating them in any form, because creating things like mood boards started to feel like taking time away from writing.

However, as Robin LaFevers rightly points out, such creative play isn’t fancy procrastination. Rather, it feeds the creative process. I love the different approaches she shares in her article. So inspiring!

As I read, I found myself jolting out of the rut of my current habits and acquired perceptions of time-wasting. In fact, I remembered my old novel-related scrapbooks with such excitement that I dug one out. It was one of several I compiled as inspirational reference for the original ShadowNovel and DancingNovel books. Simply leafing through it got me buzzing over the stories and their world all over again. Here are a couple of the page spreads:

Scrapbook 2

Scrapbook 1

In fact, I’m so enthused about the idea of rediscovering creative play that I’ve resolved to put together a mood board when I begin serious work on the reimagined version of ShadowNovel. (Soonish, soonish, I hope! SeaNovel rewrites permitting!) I also have an idea for a kind of illustrated travelogue, using extracts from the original novels to help me get back into the world. I'm so itching to get cracking with it that it's hard to concentrate on poor SeaNovel! Willpower, Jenny, Willpower!

I thoroughly recommend you take five minutes to read the article. If you do, I hope it inspires you as much as it has me.

I’d love to hear if any of you use "creative play" as a part of your writing process. If so, what form does it take?
jennygordon: (Hermit)
Oh my goodness, look what's been growing in my hometown!

Beanstalk

It emerged over the course of a week, commencing with a volcano-like eruption from the cobbles, which was followed by - good heavens! - THIS!

The Council have put up warning signs:

Beanstalk 2

Personally, I don't think they'll be able to find out much, since I can't see anyone on the Council having the forethought to check out books of fairytales to find out what it is.

I've watched the beanstalk's progress over the course of a couple of weeks, though sadly, it's now been chopped down. Giant living in the land at the top got to be problematic, I imagine. Chip-chop, down it came and the giant too. Terrible mess everywhere!

Honestly, it's been such fun having it around. It's made me smile every time I went past, even at stupid-o'-clock in the morning!

Turns out the person responsible is a street artist with an imagination and sense of fun of fabulous proportions. Check out his website: http://filthyluker.org/

Ivy Spell

Dec. 24th, 2012 11:23 am
jennygordon: (Angel)
The ivy on our back wall has gone bananas this year, what with all the rain we've had in England over the past ... well ... forever. Added to the washing up water I'd been emptying at the roots back in the spring, which it obviously thrived on, it was badly in need of a haircut. I decided to leave it until last week to do, because I had a plan ...

See, we're not doing Christmas decorations this year. Not because we're a household of festivity poopers, but because we decided to have more natural Midwinter decorations instead.

Which meant that I strung garlands of our beautiful variegated ivy along the bookcases, and made this for next to the front door:

Midwinter wreath

And this for the dining table centre-piece.

Midwinter wreath 2

HAPPY FESTIVE SEASON, EVERYONE, REGARDLESS OF OF OR WHAT YOU CELEBRATE!

See you in the New Year.
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
Thought I'd swing by and share my latest creation with you.

Pickle jar courtesy of my work colleague, Christie.

Inspiration courtesy of Art Nouveau.

These are new paints, which are oil-based instead of water-based like my others - something I didn't realise until I tried to wash my brush! Thankfully I had some White Spirit handy. The colours are more intense than the water-based ones, so I'm quite pleased with them. It doesn't really come across too well in the photos, but I've actually used 2 different shades of blue and pink. Around the top is a ribbon of lace, which I'm pretty chuffed with.

I've recently bought some opalescent outliner, which I'm itching to use. I'm plotting something night-sky-ish at the moment, but we'll have to see how it turns out.

Anyway, without further ado, I give you ... well, another candle-holder ....

BEFORE:

Art Nouveau - before

And AFTER:

Art Nouveau - after
jennygordon: (Blue Butterfly)

I’m very into bright colours these days: the sort of colours India and Morocco seem to be full of – pink and orange and turquoise and gold. Maybe it’s a rebellion against the fact that I was a Goth for two distinct chunks of my life, wearing predominantly black, purple and red all the time. Not that I have anything against black, purple and red, but man, am I branching out now!

I think it’s my colour obsession that’s got a lot to do with the advent of my latest creative outlet – glass painting. See, I discovered this really old set of glass paints I still had, and wow, they included some gorgeous dragonfly wing, gemstone colours, so I simply had to do something with them. So I made this, which I’m pretty pleased with. (It’s a pencil pot.)

*nope - LJ has gone floopy and refuses to upload the photo. Oh well*

Then I branched out and made this tea-light, which I love.



See how pretty when there’s a candle in it ...



Then I made this one, using a ready-made stencil, which is pretty, but not as bright as I wanted it to be.

   

Now I have all these cool ideas buzzing around in my head, and I’ve been to the haberdasher’s in the local indoor market and spent a wonderful hour hunting through all of their ribbons and strings of sequins, picking out ones to tie around the neck of jars to make them look, well, less jar-like. Not to mention trawling local craft shops and picking up a selection of new glass paints in amazing colours. Did you know you can get pearlescent outline pens? Oh my God, I absolutely have to think of something to do with those!

I’ve been bothering work colleagues with requests for their old glass jars, and my manager, Christie, has come through especially well with this top selection of interestingly-shaped jars.



I’m not sure what I’ll do with them yet, but I expect they’ll get around to telling me what they want to be.

Being the fernickety perfectionist that I am, I want everything I make to be perfect immediately, and, dammit, glass is to tricky to draw designs onto, so I’ve had a failure or two, including one with dragonflies on that ended up a complete mess. (I’m not showing you a picture of that one!)

My husband is being very tolerant so far, but I’m braced for the day when he tells me we really, truly have enough brightly-painted tea-lights around the house now, thank you very much, and locks my paints away in a tall cupboard!

jennygordon: (Red Admiral)

Author Laini Taylor has a lovely term for the first draft of a novel; she calls it the Exploratory Draft, likening it to the map you draw when you’re first dumped into the middle of a jungle and have to hack and slash your way to the other side, across rivers and ravines, bogs and snake pits, surviving panther attack and altercations with the natives. By the time you finally reach the other side, you’ll have a sweaty, crumpled piece of paper clutched in your hand that doesn’t look like much of anything, but which will help you find your way a bit better next time you tackle that jungle. You know enough to avoid the snake pit, and to take trade goods for the natives.

My first pass through DancingNovel is very much feeling like map-making. To date, having overcome The Fear I talked about earlier, I’ve made storming progress, picking apart and sticking back together around 35K words, bringing me to roughly the third-way mark.

Since mid-June!

I know!

My map is messy and albeit unintelligible in parts, but it’s helping me to see the underlying stratigraphy of my metaphorical jungle. I have something resembling a framework, though it’s slow in the construction – only a handful of chapters ahead at a time – but I’m definitely developing clearer idea of what I want to do with the plot and the characters.

There’s still a long way to go in terms of developing the story and the players, not to mention the wordage, but I’m feeling pretty good about it so far.

It’s hard, for sure, but it’s such fun too. I’m finding myself living half in the world of the book all the time; I can’t stop thinking about it.

Perhaps the one thing I’m most pleased about is that, so far, I’m managing to go with the flow of the sketching, putting that rough map together without too much angsting about the specifics, and without getting stuck making the language perfect. Those aspects will come later. For now, I want to cut myself a path to the other side; I can go back and clear up the mess later.

And you know, setting it down in writing like this is a little scary, because this is so NOT like my usual novel-writing process. Maybe it’s because I’m working with a novel that already exists, albeit in a different form, as opposed to creating it from scratch. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t want to analyse the process too much, because it seems to be working for me for now.

Onwards, I say. Hand me my compass and machete, Stanley!

jennygordon: (Clock)
When people find out I'm a writer, one of the first questions they'll often ask is, "Hey, did you study Creative Writing at university?" Or even, "You must have an English Literature degree then?"

And to both of those questions I reply, "Hell no; I did something much better than that at university - I studied History!"

I believe all the inspiration you could ever want lies in history. Well, an awful lot of it anyway.

If Robespierre claimed that history is fiction (and, okay, I know I'm taking the quote out of context here, as he was talking about the history he was re-writing as the Evil Genius of the Terror of the French Revolution), then you could equally argue that history is fantasy fiction. The further back you go, the more distant from our own time, the more fantastical it becomes. And once you plunge into the muddy waters of prehistory (that is, any time before a civilisation began documenting itself in writing of some form), the game is flung wide open. Consipracy theorists have a ball romping through all the shadowy what ifs, the mysterious sites and the tantalising fragments of the ancient past where academics fear to tread (or at least to draw definitive conclusions).

"Ritual centre," archaeologists mumble of a strange prehistoric stone alignment, or of giants heads perched on the edge of a remote island.

"Evidence of aliens on Earth!" cry the conspiracy theorists.

What greater fodder then for a writer's imagination?

It's fair to say that the majority of my writing has, to one degree or another, been influenced or inspired by history. Whether it's an obscure British folklore belief, or an entire little-known culture, I've cherry-picked my way through all sorts of gems from a wide sprawl of historical eras.

My notebooks are filled with snippets of historical fact and anecdote; my folders crammed with images of palazzos and temples, ruins and megaliths. A sentence in a book detailing the culture of Minoan Crete will send me spinning off along labyrinths of invention; a Renaissance portrait, or a character from the First Crusade will cry out to be reinvented as a character in my latest story. A map of ancient Mesopotamian trade-routes will inform a novel's backstory, while a sculpture from the ancient Kushan Empire will plant the seeds of an entire invented culture.

In studying history at university, I learned to appreciate context and perspective, and how history repeats, over and again. I discovered that the smallest of details can bring a civilisation to life, and the vastness of mankind's arrogance and vanity can see that civilisation become dust.

Studying English Literature might work for some who dream of writing literature themselves. Studying Creative Writing may work for others. For me, however, it has always been history that has fed my imagination and shaped me as a writer. Not as a writer of historical fiction though; for me, history is a jumping-off point; a depthless cauldron of inspiration that feeds me even when I don't fully realise it is doing so.

"History is fiction," said Robespierre. For me, history has become the very source of so much of my fiction. And without an awareness of our history, our worlds, whether invented or real, are but poor, cloudy reflections of a greater whole.

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jennygordon

January 2016

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