Iain M Banks – 1954-2013

A terribly sad day, as another great writer passes. A prodigious talent and by all accounts, a thoroughly lovely chap. Iain M Banks will be greatly missed by many. ūüė¶

Joanne Hall

Yesterday brought the saddest of news. Iain M Banks, author of The Wasp Factory and creator of the Culture novels, has passed away shortly after being given a terminal diagnosis of advanced gall bladder cancer. He was 59, which is no age at all, really.

iain_banks1

I was lucky enough to meet him a few times, at Newcon, where I ran into him outside the toilets and managed to blether something about how much I’d loved Excession, and at Forbidden Planet, where I mentioned Bristolcon to him and he took a handful of flyers from me and handed them out to everyone who got a book signed, urging them to come along (he wasn’t even a guest, and I didn’t ask him to, he just did it. That’s the kind of guy he was.)

The last time was a Q and A at Waterstones in Bristol, where he talked for an…

View original post 65 more words

The joy of writing and building worlds…

file171243264570[1]

The joy of writing is the act of creation.

A whole fantasy world made manifest – turning blank pages into battles of character, plot and the subtleties of prose.

But for me, the joy of writing is not merely the act of creating a story which engages and enthralls its readers but in creating a world I can immerse myself in. World building is a skill and one of the many challenges that fantasy and sci-fi writers face when weaving their tales. When done correctly, it compliments the story giving depth and gravitas to ground the fantasy. When done poorly, it smothers the story Рturning it into an incidental neighbour you forgot to invite to the party, or worst still, jars with the story due to its utter lack of realism.file3121313815879[1]

The temptation for all writers who world build, is simply that it becomes¬†SO enjoyable to construct your worlds, that you can get easily seduced by your own cleverness – by the intricacies of cultures, the development of language, the botany and animal life, geology, geography and rich histories of your creations. Now that’s fine, if you intend being the only reader of your novel. But, if you’re looking for¬†a readership of more than one, you have to curtail your inner nerd…just a little!

I speak from experience here. Being a teacher of phonetics among other things, I love linguistics and the construction of language. As a result, between my love of phonics and etymology, I have constructed a working language for my characters – ancient Dworllish¬†complete with a basic 24 character Dworllian alphabet based on Maori, Old English, Old Norse and African Bantu dialects! Yes…I did mention nerd, didn’t I?

So, did I include this language and all its nuisances in my book? No. Elements, occasional references and words, but that’s all. I want my novel to have as wide an appeal as possible and readers, even language loving nerds like me, simply don’t need all that information and certainly the story doesn’t.file0001006582285[1]

Okay, so you’ve curtailed your inner¬†geek and taken out those character genealogies¬†you were working on, but what makes a world work? If your novel is a fantasy, whether it be urban, steam punk, classic, high, crossover, contemporary¬†or gothic, do you need to make your world real? HELL YES! No matter how fantastical your creations are, if they are not grounded in realism it makes it damn hard for the reader to connect or care about them.

Think of basic scientific laws, gravity, light speed, evolution etc, of course to bring the magic in, you’ll need to break or subvert these laws but you’ll need to bring realism in somewhere else. This for me, is my next joy…research, research, research!file000816536459[1]

SO much fun it should be illegal! If you’re writing about histories, cultures, mountains, desserts,¬†jungles – research. Let me say that again…RESEARCH! (my nerdy self¬†revels in this)

Even if you only use a fraction of your research in your novel, it will give an integrity and depth of realism to your world that you won’t be able to replicate without. But again, don’t overload it, use sparingly.

For White Mountain and the world behind The Darkling Chronicles, my research runs into three or four large box files and a plethora of books. Ancient history Рparticularly Sumeria, the Hittites and the Indus Valley civilisation. Indigenous people Рlike the Chukchi, Nenets, Khanty and Evenki of Russia and the Siberian tundra. The geography and geology of the real locations my characters travel to. Botany and wildlife etc etc. Make it REAL!

Kallorm ‘City of Light’, my subterranean metropolis beneath the Congolese jungles, in central Africa, feels real because¬†so many things¬†around it¬†ARE¬†real, from the colour of the earth in that region to the sapele¬†and iroko¬†trees that grow there.¬†For my Fendellin ‘Kingdom of Dragons’, a lost realm amongst the Himalayas, I based on Tibetan¬†Buddhist myths and Indian folklore about Shambhala – the same legend that inspired James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon¬†and his Shangri-La.

Oh…and any places you travel to, use them for inspiration too. The landscapes of Dartmoor and New Zealand have been particularly rich for me.

So, you’ve done your research, built your world, made it real but not overpowered or forgotten your story (remember – story and characters take gold & silver, setting –¬†bronze), then you are on your way!

Ah…the joy of writing and building worlds… ūüėÄ

For some useful advice on the subject, check out Fantasy Faction and their post ‘Why World Build?’ http://fantasy-faction.com/2012/why-would-build/

file4181288401747

For the love of maps!

mapsoftheimagination

Ever since I was a young child, I’ve had an absolute fascination for maps.

The ‘tone and timbre’ as I call it, of an old map, holds within it such beauty and mystery. The texture of the parchment, the ink used and how it has aged over time like the best of wines. To follow the winding paths and coastlines, the mountain ranges and sprawling settlements. Every mark, every crease, every nuance holds a story. As objects, they are works of art and are simply gorgeous to look at.

file000816536459[1]But of course, maps can and have been highly divisive. History shows us that in the wrong hands they were the latest and most effective tools of warfare, propaganda, divisions of state, ideology, ethnicity. They were the bringers of colonialism and with it, the most terrible atrocities and suffering through the destruction of indigenous tribes, the conquering of nations and the carriers of disease. In a world without the internet, without weapons of mass destruction, the nation with the most skilled mapmakers found themselves at the top of the ruling tree. Empires were made or broken by those who could claim the seas and conquer the new chartered lands. Maps were the driving force of every expansionists dream.

But, in literary terms, maps can be the most wondrous of additions to any story!

Cartography, and particularly fantasy cartography is the stuff of dreams. map-of-middle-earth-lord-of-the-rings-2329809-1600-1200

As a child I would get utterly lost in the detailed maps of¬†Milne’s¬†100 acre wood from ‘Winnie the Pooh’,¬†Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’,¬†C.S. Lewis’s ‘Narnia’, and of course Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord Of The Rings’. Now, maps are just as prevalent and cherished as they ever were, from Warhammer¬†to Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’, Paolini’s¬†‘Eragon’ and George Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’.

map_full

Maps serve as keys to the imagination, holders of knowledge, portals to lose yourself and unlock the greatest flights of fantasy…

Below, my¬†own flight of fantasy, ‘The Lay of Fendellin’ taken from my debut novel, ‘White Mountain’ – Book 1 of ‘The Darkling Chronicles’.

The only limits, are our own imaginations!