Battle Scenes

Captain Blackadder’s reluctant company prepare to go over the top

Again, this blog contains adult (violent) depictions and may not be safe for work.

If you thought sex scenes were tricky. well battle scenes are an utter and total pain in the backside. (In Richard III’s case, literally; it appears on discovering his remains that of his many injuries at the battle of Bosworth, one of them was a spear in his rump, though it was the blow to the head with a large blunt object that actually killed him.)  The one biggest problem with battles is the following:

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Womentoring 2014 – An Opportunity

Writer Kerry Hudson has come up with a wonderful scheme to connect aspiring women writers to mentors in their field. She has set up a twitter account called @WomentoringP and if you are a female writer and interested in being assigned a mentor (it’s totally free!) do follow that account.  (Apologies to the gentlemen but I will keep my eye out for mixed equivalents in future.) The website is in train and more details will be available for interested candidates in the coming months.

I am one of the people who has volunteered her time as a mentor – check out my bio if you are interested, though there are many other great people there too. If that hasn’t put you off and you’re a woman and like the idea, do follow the twitter account for updates, if you can!

Five Things for the Editing Process

In the tradition of “five things”, I wanted to note five things that are coming in useful now that the novel is in edit stage proper.

1. Decent Hardware

This one I can’t overemphasise. Your editor will probably send you over a MS Word document with annotations in the margin which will appear as comments. You may need to reference another document while you have this one open. And personally I find it hard to work without music in the background so I like to put on Spotify and listen to my favourite pieces, as well as my browser being open when I need to google “1913 rubbish coats”. That’s a lot of memory intensive apps open and the last thing you need is your concentration broken when you’re in the middle of a rewrite. I recommend at the very least 4GB RAM on your machine, and preferably 8GB.

2. Walking

Sometimes sitting at your desk you will get stuck thinking of a way around a plot hole or re-configuring a scene or what-have-you. If you’ve been thinking for a while and getting nowhere, there’s nothing like a walk to come up with a brainwave. Your brain will chew over the problem and often come up with a solution. However if it’s turning into a 10-mile hike, you know it’s just procrastination and you need to get back to your desk.

3. Magic Code

This is a little utility I modified from existing Visual Basic code on the internet to write a macro to download all comments into an excel spreadsheet: this includes comments, the sentences they refer to, and the page number. I find this highly useful as then I can compile a status report in the excel file using all that information. Ask me nicely and I’ll send it on to you.

4. Paper and Pen

This is for scribbling things down as I work along that otherwise I will forget about. Also the notebook doubles up nicely as a mouse pad.  Novels tend to have a lot of dependencies i.e. when you introduce one thing, it has a domino effect on lots of other things way up the line. So if I delete a scene, I might need to write that down in big letters on the notepad so it will stay in my memory. Post-It notes fulfil a similar requirement.

5. Coffee

Or insert poison  of your choice 🙂

Have fun!

Terms of Endearment

You can blame Athena Andreadis – aka @AthenaHelivoy – for this unscheduled blog post. Oh what the hell, nearly all my blog posts are unscheduled! 🙂 But for this one, I’d read a tweet of Athena’s where she had said, in response to another conversation: “English is pitifully sparse in endearments. Most tongues I know say “my soul/light/songbird/heart…”

And I have lots of feels on that topic, and now have the excuse to talk about it. The fact that I’ve been working on a novel that contains a strong romantic element has only encouraged me in this regard. Names, vocabulary and language being used to express feelings that are so strong they become well nigh inexpressible…ah yes!

First, where I’m coming from on this: there are two languages that go back to my childhood: English, my mother tongue, and Irish, which is taught to all children in the Republic of Ireland from a young age. These are two very different languages in their philosophy towards endearments. Athena correctly says that English has a paucity of endearments.  Irish, on the other hand, has loads and loads and loads: grá mo chroí, spéirbhean, a mhúirnín, a stór, etc. etc. Love poetry in Irish, though generally miserable as hell, is slightly more successful than English because its rhythms are incantatory and anapaestic. It’s a beautiful, resonant language in poetry.

So does that mean the Irish language is more romantic? Only if you find romance in utter obfuscation and lack of straightforwardness. Irish does not allow me to say I love you. It permits I have a love for you which, if I may sound British for a moment, sounds like Terribly Poor Stuff to me. I can then say I have a great love for you, or I have an overpowering love for you, if I’m particularly smitten with a Gaelic-speaking gentleman. But the bit where I assume agency for my feelings, that bare, unadorned nominative is never reached. Similarly, I cannot say I failed – the literal translation is “it failed on me”. Suddenly the Celtic Tiger crash becomes clear. We once spoke a Peter Pan language, and we haven’t quite shaken it off.

So, that’s Irish. What about English? It is true that we have the opposite problem there. The magnitude of what I must confess to my Anglo-Saxon beloved is considerably greater, hence more risk. Hence, if I may be so bold, the stiff upper lip stereotype! I saw Parade’s End on BBC a few years back and was touched by the scene between the unhappily married, repressed Tietjens and the suffragette Valentine Wannop. There is an understanding between them, but every time he means “love”, he says “respect” (with an appropriately wobbling lower lip Cumberbatch stylee) and then when he can’t quite repress his feelings, he blurts out “Dear – ” and leaves it there and God your heart goes out to him.

In fact I think in English the power is in the repression rather than the expression. In Jane Eyre, Rochester piles on the endearments – fairy, elf, strange unearthly thing, et al (Good job he doesn’t speak any Irish or we’d be here all night!) but aren’t we straight ladies all more likely to catch our breath when he looks meaningfully at Jane and says “Goodnight my – ” and STOPS THERE, yes? And then there’s the whole big deal about switching from last name to first. Names were a big romantic thing then.

I used to think that “love” was an irritatingly vague term and that a language like Greek defined it better. However I have been reliably informed that in spite of having agape, eros, philos and storge, the same romantic misunderstandings happen in Greece as anywhere else! Which makes me think that in spite of what I’ve just written, maybe these spaces between the spaces are universal everywhere, especially when it comes to love. And I do love when the same word means something else in different languages. Cara  means, I believe, “dear” in Italian and is used in affection; in Irish it means “friend” and is used as a salutation on letters from the Revenue Commissioners.

What about you – what terms of endearment do you like?