For some reason this set me thinking about the original inspiration for this story and I realised I had absolutely no memory of that first spark. (Editing this post a couple of days after writing I still don’t – it’s gone.) In some ways that’s not too surprising, I’m five months into a seven month chemotherapy treatment. my blood is inefficient at carrying oxygen, my head is full of sawdust.[i]
But I can still remember the inspiration for pretty much everything else I’ve written, and I wrote Blades before chemo started, so why not this one? Honestly, I don’t know, and it puzzles me. Are these chemicals leaching memory from my brain, has this gone along with all the violin lessons?
Actually, I never had violin lessons – or did I? Doubt surges in my mind, oh, the paranoia! No, seriously, there were never violin lessons. Move along.
Yet I can remember why I wanted to write the story I’m working on now clear as day (whale fall), just as I can for the The Naismith and the Wild Boy, recently published in the latest issue of Parsec magazine.
I’d gone to the Royal Festival Hall in London to hear a story-teller narrate tales from the Kalevala, the Finnish book of folklore, myth, and legend. I hadn’t expected too much but I was captivated by the power of the performance. One of the stories was Ilmarinen’s Bride of Gold, and the emotional intensity, and emotional wisdom of the story moved me greatly. Could I capture those things in my own science-fictional version? While I was pleased with my effort, I think it’s for others to answer that particular question.
Where do any ideas come from, all the words and the stories? From the only place possible – that space behind your eyes and between your ears. We all knows minds need feeding, and if you don’t they may hibernate. So read, live, explore, and be curious. About things, I mean, though by all means be a curious item if that’s who you are. It will inform your writing, but in a different way.
While I can’t remember the inspiration for this story, I can look at it and see things in it that often inform my writing, some of the things I try to keep in my mind while I am creating a written-word story. One thing that makes Blades different from most of my writing is that it includes a fair bit of poetry, very bad poetry (and one good piece, but I didn’t write that bit). Which brings me to that old saw, “Write what you know”.
It’s bollocks, isn’t it?
You write what comes out of that great fermentation of all that you have read, lived, learned, seen, heard, and done in your life. As for the rest, well, you just make it up. Because I’ve never been to another world, made magic, seen a dragon, lived at the bottom of a sunless sea, met an alien, cloned my husband, or any of a thousand other things. “Write what you know” is poor advice. I have an imagination, and I know how to use it.
On the other hand “Don’t write what you don’t know” seems to me to be a sound suggestion in the right circumstances. While I recognize, love, and admire good poetry, I don’t have any confidence I know how to write it. With this story I didn’t even think about trying. If my poesy was inherently mundane, nondescript and exceedingly average, then I would own those qualities big-time and make it bad. Epically bad. In an Epic way.
To my surprise that terrible poetry became a real creative asset, a great hook for the character who wrote it. I found it informed me of their personality (craven), their opinion of themselves (high), their behaviour towards others (condescending and deceitful), and much more. Overall my decision to willfully write bad poetry was a good and useful thing.
It was also a lot of fun to write. And humiliatingly easy.
I don’t think I’ll do it again.
According to the publisher, The Blackhart Blades is a tale of swashbuckling adventure and duplicity, told with wry humour. According to one Goodreads reviewer, it is “a gem of a sword and sorcery adventure … with beautifully drawn characters and neat plot twists”
It is also a fantasy of found family, dangerous magic, good food, war, heroism, betrayal… and, of course, terrible poetry.
[i] Fuck cancer.