Friday, February 29, 2008

The leading ladies

Well, it's certainly been an estrogen-centred week over here, what with my little talk on the Hilton of Cadboll stone, discussion of Pictish matrilineal succession(?), a lecture on women's place in early medieval Ireland, and Thursday's tutorial, which had us looking at women in Irish literature. I suppose it's no big shock, then, that all my character developing energies this week have been focused on my female MCs (and not-so-MCs).

I think one of the potential challenges in creating strong, vital female characters in historical fiction is the restricted role women have traditionally been assigned in various cultures, and a history-conscious author will always want to adhere, or at least give some flavour of, the roles and conventions present within their chosen society. Fierce warrior women like Boudica seem to have been the exception rather than the rule. But I don't think "active" necessarily has to mean "charging around with a sword". And physical strength isn't the only kind there is. After all, history is full of strong female figures who never lifted a weapon in public.

So, with that in mind, I examined the roles and personalities of my various female characters more in depth, making sure they fit their societies (of course, I get a bit of leeway when it comes to the early Caledonians!) and yet still remain - I hope - vital, interesting, and engaging. I'm a bit leery of describing characters rather than portraying them, telling rather than showing, but I'll give it a shot. I'll be interested in seeing what you make of them.

First and foremost, and who's already shown up here in an excerpt, is Gairea ní Macháir (hope I've got that genitive right *cringe*), the most prominent female character in The Ancestor Crown and my only female PoV. By birth, Gairea is the daughter of Machar, one of the most respected warriors of Dun na Nighinn, and so her position in the clan is at first linked to his. Unfortunately for her, however, she was born with the second sight (I can hear you all groaning. Stop that.) and has spent all her childhood surrounded by the rumours that she's a changeling, or a bansidhe. By nature, she's restless and unconventional, and feels trapped by society's ground rules even as she tries to respect them. At the start of the book, however, she has a particularly harrowing vision of what's to come, she is approached by Sargaid, the Chief Druidess, who offers to train her as a seer, so she won't end up descending into madness and a horrible death. She readily agrees and joins the Druid order, but as a direct link to the Otherworldly powers, she's also potentially a valuable pawn to those hoping to cultivate such powers (I'll say no more here). Her relationship with the Epidii champion Cathal mac Comgáill ends badly. It's then that she decides to turn her back once and for all on the warrior aspect of her upbringing and make Druidism her life. She finds newfound confidence in herself, realises she now has the capacity to take control of her own future and becomes much more decisive, though at heart she is still a painfully sensitive creature (bad things to come). Her feud with Cathal and also her relationship with Marcus Valerius Laevinus are significant threads in the story. In the end, she becomes pivotal in the outcome of the battle of Mons Graupius, when her spider-senses (lol) warn her of Agricola's reserve cavalry. With that knowledge, it's up to her to deliver the warning to Calgach of the Caledones, which means making a long and difficult journey from Ioua to Mons Graupius (Bennachie). Which wouldn't be so much of a problem, if she wasn't four months pregnant. Which is she more willing to risk, the life of her baby, or the thousands of Caledonians she has seen dying at Mons Graupius? Unfortunately, I don't even know what's she's going to choose; it looks like I'm going to have to wait before I get to that part of the book. Since Tacitus-muse is rather adamant that I stick to his version of events, the eventual decision isn't so much a matter of plot development, but of character.

I like Gairea; she's probably the easiest character for a modern character to relate to, and she grows into a powerful priestess without falling too much into the Mists of Avalon clichés. Female druids are mentioned a lot in the classical histories, so there's not much of a problem there, but as a character whose story involves her - intentionally and unintentionally - breaking the rules, I can get away with slightly more with her than I can with others. Time to look at the other women of The Ancestor Crown who remain in their social bracket, but are no less strong for it.

There's Morwen, who isn't a main character but has a lot of presence. She is the sister of Calgach and the mother of his heir, Garnat. Which means, essentially, that she has had to raise her son with an eye for being the next king - a daunting task, I'd imagine. Also, since Calgach's wife has been dead for several years, she is the one who runs the royal household, including the organisation of all feasts and the like. Considering the strategic importance of feasts etc. to leaders in these times, Calgach's success is partially - and probably significantly - down to Morwen's ability to keep such functions running efficiently. She is also the one who he leaves in charge of his fort, and by extension the tribe, when he starts travelling around Caledonia in his bid to unite the tribes. Which means that Morwen will be the one in danger when Agricola marches on the Caledones' fort in the aftermath of Mons Graupius. I'm sure she'll handle things with her usual level-headedness and wit, though. It's nice to have faith in your characters. :) In a similar vein is Moireach, Cathal's mother and the leader of the clan. She and her son balance things out between them: Cathal takes charge of all the martial aspects, the warrior-training, the cattle-raiding etc., while she busies herself with the day-to-day running of Dun na Nighinn. I have a feeling she and Cathal might end up at loggerheads later along the line, though. I'll be interested in seeing how that pans out. (Let's face it, Cathal is at loggerheads with everyone.)

Other women who have small parts are Agricola's wife Domitia - their married love is one of the nicer parts of the book - and their daughter Julia. I was particularly impressed with Julia when she wandered into my head: she's plucky, sensible, and more than a match for that husband of hers! I'm a bit disappointed she's not going to be in it more. Then there's Eithne, Tuathal Teachtmar's scheming mother, who is using her son in her game of revenge against the kings who killed her husband and sent her into exile (Agricola and Domitia privately refer to her as an Hibernian Agrippina). Another one I'm sad to leave as a cameo.

And just when you thought it was all over...

The Antonine novel (which needs a proper title before I end up calling it Nice Ditch, Shame About the Wall) has its fair share of female leads. My favourite is Eilwen, the younger princess of the Taexali tribe, and the result of her mother's - er - indiscretion with some anonymous at Beltaine. As a result, in the eyes of her half-brother Cinioch, king of the Taexali, she's another blemish on the façade of the royal clan. Still, royal blood is royal blood, and she's very well aware that she's a pawn in her brother's power plays. Like Gairea, Eilwen has been Druid trained, but in the more practical aspects such as diplomacy and lawkeeping. As a member of the king's immediate kin-group, she has a place on his council and intends to make that her vocation, though she knows she might just as easily be compelled by Cinioch to enter into an advantageous marriage contract. Since tribe and kin is everything to her, she resigns herself to this, and doesn't hope for anything more than the reality of her life, which includes not pursuing a romantic liaison with the warrior Edarnan (just as well, really). She faces life head-on, and knows how to endure the bad as well as she does the good. That takes some strength of character. Cinioch finally does offer her to another tribal king in order to form an alliance: he and Eilwen are descendants of Calgach, and Cinioch hopes to eradicate the shame of the defeat at Mons Graupius by imitating their ancestor and driving the Romans out of Caledonia once and for all. Eilwen, understanding his motives, grits her teeth and bears it with minimal complaint. On her way to her new husband, however, she and her escort are ambushed by slave-traders and end up on the wrong side of the Antonine Wall. But while this situation is terrifying at first, Eilwen, by a lucky chance, strikes gold. She is bought by Firmus, a centurion in command at one of the principal forts on the Wall. She ends up at his secretary, and finds herself in the ideal position to do a bit of espionage that may benefit Cinioch's cause, especially when she finds the means to get the messages to him. Firmus, however, is dealing with a mystery which is linked to Eilwen's capture, so she finds herself co-operating with him even as she double-crosses him, which tears at her conscience, especially since Firmus turns out to be a fair and decent man (he's absolutely smitten with her as well).

Eilwen is probably one of the most vulnerable characters in the book, with a deep-set inferiority complex brought about by her childhood, even though her exterior is deceptively composed and confident, if waspish and sarcastic. Because she's used to the contempt of her brother and older sister, she's incredibly suspicious of kindness, something which baffles Firmus. She's also one of the saddest characters, in that most of what she works towards rebounds upon her, and she's betrayed by Edarnan, the one person of the Taexali she thinks she can trust. In the end, she takes the only life open to her: to stay with the centurion and leave Britain with him when he retires, end up as his freedwoman and either keep working for him or marry him. There's a promise of happiness for her there, however: she gets to start a new life away from Caledonia, and she loves Firmus very much, even if she's not in love with him.

Also linked to Eilwen's story is Edarnan's wife, who only took shape recently and doesn't really have a name yet. She's ambitious, especially after becoming pregnant, and schemes with Edarnan to overthrow Cinioch. She knows full well that Edarnan still loves Eilwen, however, and that he intends to rescue her from her servitude on the Wall and take her as his second consort (stealing from Irish law here). Understandably enough, Wife isn't too thrilled at the thought of this - especially since Eilwen's children would have a stronger claim to the throne than hers - and schemes to have Eilwen gotten rid of as well.

The Roman Aurelia is another influential figure in the book. She's a young Roman matron on her third marriage, and has come to Britain with her tribune husband to get away from the rumours that surround her after the mysterious deaths of her first two husbands. When her husband disappears in mysterious circumstances on the Antonine Wall, she decides to risk travelling north to investigate the truth herself, not an easy task since she's a single woman against several garrisons of grizzled war veterans, and eventually finds herself thrust into the inter-tribal politics beyond the Wall. As the daughter of a senator, Aurelia has secretly gained a wealth of political skills, which she finds herself actively putting to use in her search for her husband, and slowly comes to realise just what she is capable of. I don't have quite as good a grip on Aurelia yet as I do on Eilwen, but I know she's going to be incredibly important. On the surface, she's quite a withdrawn, compassionate and demure sort, but she can be incredibly manipulative and/or sometimes authoritative, depending on the situation. Oh yeah, and she's a secret Mithraist. "Wtf?!" I hear you say. Well, because Juno, Isis, Cybele et al. turned out to be pretty deaf to her pleas when she was trying - and failing - to conceive a child with her first husband, and so she appeals to the soldiers' god instead to help her in her search. Like Gairea, she's an unconventional one, except she's just more private about it. ;)

And those are just the ones who have books already. I'm already being pestered by that Pictish huntress for a book, and I wouldn't mind writing something one day about Cartimandua, or Chiomara of the Galatae. So many interesting figures, so little time...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesday's moan

The beginning of The Ancestor Crown desperately needs a jump-start. It's just so bloody slooooow. Chapter eight, and what's happened so far? Agricola has got orders from Emperor Titus to consolidate southern Scotland; Marcus and his cohort have just set off to join the rest of the legion at the mustering point; Calgach has decided to give support to the Novantae; and Gairea has just agreed to join the Druid order.

World-building is taking up a lot of room, I've noticed. I don't know why I'm surprised; I wrote fantasy before this and it was the same with that. And each character has their own separate storyline alongside the main Romans-invading-Caledonia thread. That means a whole individual set of issues for each (apart from Agricola, who seems suspiciously angst-lite), and plenty of secondary characters to introduce and flesh out. As if the main characters didn't demand enough attention as it is.

I'll see if things speed up within the next few chapters. If not, I'll have to knuckle down and see what I can do to give the beginning some impact.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pictish art and culture: the Hilton of Cadboll stone

Here's a long post for the weekend.

Thursday's Celtic tutorial was very good. Half of us were to do small, five-minute presentations on an example of Pictish sculpture and we all had a discussion of Pictish symbolism. It was interesting, and we also got a bit of a laugh out of it.

I chose the Hilton of Cadboll stone for two reasons. The first, because it's one of the most exquisite examples we have of Pictish art; the second, because it might contain some clues regarding Pictish culture, social and material.



Hilton of Cadboll is a Class II stone, that is, that the designs were carved onto a dressed stone, rather than simply carved onto a handy boulder. Class II stones also usually bear crosses and other Christian images, and this is true for the Hilton of Cadboll. Unfortunately, the cross side of the slab was defaced in order to be used as a gravestone. (For more on the history of the stone's location and movement, see here, from where I also stole the picture.) The reconstruction drawing on the GUARD site is notable because the cross is not of the "Celtic" style. This suggests that the slab may date from the eighth century onwards, as it was the English kind of Christianity endorsed by King Nechtan in 710, rather than the Celtic Christianity of Iona.

Looking at it, it's obvious that the stonemason who crafted this slab was extremely talented. Craftsmen were held in high regard in early mediaeval Ireland, and I imagine sculptors must have done extremely well for themselves in Pictish society. It's unlikely that our talented mason simply came up with this remarkable piece of work just for fun, rather he was probably commissioned by some high-ranking individual. He (or maybe even she?) might well have been a client of this individual.

Now, let's have a look at the images.

Hilton of Cadboll bears two of the most popular of Pictish symbols. At the very top can be seen two connected circles with a Z-rod slashed across the join. The Z-rod has been interpreted in many ways (perhaps a broken spear, perhaps a thunderbolt, etc.), and occurs commonly with the connected circles. Like most of the Pictish symbols, this one is impossible to interpret with any certainty. The panel below the circles and Z-rod is a panel bearing a V-rod superimposed upon a crescent shape - another distinctive Pictish symbol. The crescent is most obviously interpreted as a lunar symbol, but since it's turned over that way, I think that's probably unlikely. It does, however, appear over one hundred times in Pictish art, so it's evidently significant. Perhaps it's an emblem - of the Pictish royal house, the Picts' symbol for themselves (if they actually had any idea of themselves as one cohesive nation), or maybe a symbol representing a mythological ancestor or a deity... we really have no way of knowing. Below the crescent are two circles, unconnected, and again, they're impossible to interpret.

The sides of the slab are bordered with interlacing scrollwork of the type you would expect to find in, say, the Book of Kells. This typically Gaelic design is indicative of the influence that Scottish culture had on the Picts. Birds can be seen entwined with the knotwork: I think the animal motifs would have especially appealed to the Pictish sculptors, who really liked their animals. :) Also, interestingly, on the very bottom panel and also within the crescent symbol, there is a pattern that includes a variant of the triskele, the triple spiral, which is a common feature of La Tène art (a style considered almost synonymous with Iron Age Celtic culture). In this respect, by combining the knotwork and the triskele, the Hilton of Cadboll stone is very "Celtic" in its design.

Now, finally, let's look at the centre panel of the stone, which is the most interesting by far. Here's a nice close-up of it (pinched from here):



As you can see, it depicts a hunting scene: there are two men on horseback armed with lances, and the two sleek hounds in the bottom-left corner seem to have chased down a young deer. The animals, as usual with Pictish art, are beautifully realised (more so than the humans, who always look a bit cartoonish). Perhaps the Picts' attention to detail in their animal figures reflects something of their pre-Christian beliefs?

The mounted figures also bear small circular shields. Small shields, circular and square, seem to have been a very Pictish thing; they appear elsewhere on Pictish sculpture (like at the Brough of Birsay), and Tacitus mentions the small shields of the Caledonians at the battle of Mons Graupius in the first century. In this respect they are at odds with the typical longer shield of Celtic Europe (of which the Battersea Shield is a good example). The figures also give us a clue as to how the Picts looked. The riders' hair is roughly shoulder-length, and looks like it's been tied back with a little "bob" at the end. Interestingly, the trumpeters in the top-right don't seem to have the long hair. Perhaps this was limited to warriors (if that's what they are) - a sort of Pictish equivalent to the top-knot of the samurai? Or maybe they've just got it tied up so it doesn't get in the way while they're hunting. Also, we should note that all the men, including the trumpeters, are dressed in tunics, with what looks like some sort of short cloak or mantle over that, effectively banishing the stereotypical notion of the naked Pict. ;)

While the riders and the musicians are detailed in themselves, they're obviously not what we're supposed to be focusing on in this scene. The main figure on this panel is the one in the top-left, whose horse is noticeably larger and finer than those of the other two riders. What's striking about this rider, however, is that she's a woman. Looking at her, it's obvious that she's the focus of the picture, the one who seems to be leading this hunt. And she's clearly a woman of some status. For one, the hunt has always been a pastime of the wealthy. Secondly - it's hard to make out - but she seems to be wearing a large brooch of penannular style at her breast, and brooches appear to have been a recognisable symbol of status in early medieval Ireland. It's likely that the sculptor has exaggerated the size of the brooch to emphasise that it's there, that this woman is important. She certainly looks like a noble lady: she's sitting very primly side-saddle (as does the goddess Epona in Celtic sculpture, by the way), and is wearing a long dress or skirt beneath a long outer garment, probably a cloak. It looks like it might be pleated, or those might just be the folds of the material. Her hair is long and looks almost like it's been curled or crimped. That doesn't really mean anything in itself, but it could be that curled hair was fashionable among the Pictish nobility (for example, a slab at the Brough of Birsay in Orkney depicts a line of three warriors, and their leader has noticeably curly hair). It's a thought. I'm throwing it out there. :)

So, what does this tell us about Pictish society? Well, nothing really, but it does leave room for some intriguing speculation. One of the most unique aspects of the Picts is their alleged and hotly debated system of matrilineal inheritance, which leads onto the question of women's place in Pictish society. (Edit: Carla Nayland has posted an article on Pictish matrilineal descent here.) Celtic women in general seem to have had a better deal socially than their classical counterparts, though it's hard to say exactly how much. The Hilton of Cadboll woman, however, seems to be very well appointed. She's clearly got class and status, and seems very much to be leading the hunt. Also, if you look carefully, it seems that there is another horse hidden behind hers. We talked about it in the tutorial, and most of us thought that the rider of the hidden horse is probably the lady's husband - which, if that is the case, very much suggests that the lady is the dominant partner in this relationship! The limelight is firmly on her. That doesn't necessarily mean that the Picts exalted the feminine above all, but it does hint that Lady Hilton of Cadboll is an important figure in her own right, that she doesn't require the image of her husband next to her to affirm her rank. Perhaps she was the one who commissioned the slab in the first place? Also significant is the mirror and comb symbol that appears next to her. This rather common symbol is usually assumed to have something to do with women, and since it appears here next to a female figure, that seems to me very likely. Perhaps it stood, almost like a hieroglyph, for "woman", whose meaning in this context could extent to the title "lady"?

As for the hunting, in Dark Age societies it seems it was strategically important for the nobility to be able to entertain clients and patrons alike through feasts and hunts, etc. If we apply this to the Hilton of Cadboll slab, then perhaps it means that Pictish women had the right, not only to be involved in such activities, but to host them as well, which perhaps gave them a firm footing in Pictish politics, maybe an active role?

There are other things to consider as well. We don't know for sure what this scene really depicts. Is it celebrating the life and times of the woman and her companions? The slab was found near a mediaeval church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which gives us two very prominent female figures being celebrated in close proximity. Is there perhaps some sort of link? (Granted, my knowledge of the Bible is quite scant, but I don't really remember anything about Mary leading a full-blown hunting party.) Given the Christian context of the slab, the scene may be from Pictish mythology (whatever that was), which the sculptor found to have allegorical similarities with Christianity. Perhaps the woman is meant to be an old Pictish divinty of some kind, bestowed by the artist with contemporary symbols of status?

Who can say for sure? Though I have a feeling our huntress may soon find herself in a book. :)

Does anyone have any thoughts on the Hilton of Cadboll slab, or Pictish symbolism in general?

(Btw, a short list of references and further reading, since I think I should:

- The RCAHMS entry for the Hilton of Cadboll stone.
- Surviving in Symbols: A Visit to the Pictish Nation, by Martin Carver (Birlinn, 1999). A good introduction to Pictish history.
- A Wee Guide to the Picts, by Duncan Jones (Goblinshead, 1998). Nice, short little book which gives a quick history of the Picts, a guide to the individual symbols and possible interpretations, and a list of where to find the Pictish stones.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It lives!

Just a rundown of the last week or so, to explain my absence.

Thursday, as I've said, saw me at the doctor's. Not good, since Thursday's a pretty full day at uni, so I missed a lot of stuff. Anyway, I had this livid, sore rash on both shoulders and over my collarbones, which was creeping towards my chest. I got a prescription for two creams from the doctor to see if they could help. The good news is: they did, within the first couple of days. :) Some patches of skin are still a bit dry, but at least the redness and rawness has disappeared, and it's not sore when I wear a long-sleeved top, wash, or generally touch the affected area.

The weekend was spent doing an essay for Celtic Civ, on the changes in Britain during the period AD 400 - 700. I made the mistake of putting off my visit to the library until the Friday, so I didn't get many of the books on the recommendation list. I did get some very decent ones, though. Unfortunately, the essay was a complete, f**king shambles, despite that virtually sleepless night I spent trying to get it tidied up. A sleepless night with bad PMS. You can imagine how that went. (grimace)

(Btw, have you noticed that almost every single book on the Anglo-Saxons has the Sutton Hoo feller as the cover illustration? By one in the morning I was sick of the sight of him.)

Good news, however, I got As for both my Latin and Celtic exams! Archaeology of Scotland won't be tested until the end of this semester.

My Archaeology tutorial yesterday was great! We're doing stuff about materials and their properties, so they had some artefacts from the Hunterian Museum out for us to look at. Lovely things like Stone Age flint arrowheads, Bronze Age socketed axeheads, decorated shards of Samian pottery, leather from a Swedish lake village... things so delicate I was almost too scared to touch them.

I haven't been writing much, unfortunately. Or reading, apart from uni books. I have been listening, though. I've fallen in love with the audiobook section of Waterstone's. My mum's just finished listening to The Children of Húrin read by Christopher Lee (talk about the voice of Saruman, lol!) They also have Seamus Heaney reading his translation of Beowulf. *drools* My sister's birthday is coming up, and I think I might get her I, Claudius read by Derek Jacobi. I got her hooked on the series - she absolutely loved Augustus! - and she liked the sound of the audiobook when I told her about it. She's not really got a lot of patience for reading long books.

As for me, I've now got all the volumes of Old Harry's Game, so I'm very happy. :)

And I've got a Latin test coming up. Better start revising all that new grammar, and I think I should check over the basics as well, just to be on the safe side. Relative pronouns were a bit bewildering at the start, but at least I've got my head round them after today's tutorial. The perfect tense, however, is going to need a lot of revision.

Anyway, that's you filled in on my misadventures. I'd better go; I have a small presentation on Pictish art to prepare. Need to find some decent pictures of the Hilton of Cadboll stone. Uni's such a drag. :)

I should be back within the next couple of days, hopefully with something halfway interesting or entertaining.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Hope you all had a better one than me. I spent mine alone. In a doctor's waiting room.

Anyway, I got nothing today, so I'll just leave you with this little scene from Scrubs, one of my favourites. Yes, I'm a sap. :)



And now, in honour of the occasion, I'm going to go and "play" with the love lives of my characters. Especially Cathal's. Seriously, never test your author by boasting to your armour bearer, "No woman has ever left my bed unsatisfied." That's just asking for trouble.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A writing meme

Filched from Marie. I thought the questions in this one were rather interesting.

What’s the last thing you wrote?
What I'm working on now. The Ancestor Crown, a novel about the Agricolan invasion of Caledonia. Historical with some fantasy touches.

Was it any good?
I like to think so. But then, I am biased. ;)

What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?
I think that would be the Bubble and Shell books I wrote with my cousin when we were small. They were stories about the comical misadventures of two mermaids. We tried to write at least one per sleepover and had a whole stack of them by the end!

Write poetry?
Oh God, no. I did when I was a lot younger, until I quickly realised I just didn't have it in me.

Angsty poetry?
See above.

Favourite genre of writing?
Historical, fantasy, and science fiction.

Most fun character you ever created?
You know, I think it would have to be those two mermaids. After them, I started to create characters laden down with issues.

Most annoying character you ever created?
At the moment, it's Aulus Mamilius Vitulus, a tribune of the Twentieth Legion (The Ancestor Crown). At least the rest of the cast seem to agree with me, though.

Best plot you ever created?
I would say the one I'm writing now, except I really owe it to Tacitus. I do like the embellishments I've made, however. :)
And I very much like the mystery that forms the basis of my Antonine novel.

How often do you get writer’s block?
Is that writer's block as in don't know what to write next, or do know but can't seem to invoke the muse to let me write it down? Because I don't really get the former, but I frequently get the latter. :(

Write fan fiction?
I did, for a few years. But not for about a year now, ever since the muse for my Caledonian series returned. It overpowered the fanfiction muse and locked it up in a cupboard somewhere.

Do you type or write by hand?
I prefer to type, that way I can do it quickly and get the story down while the ideas are still fresh in my head. When I'm writing by hand, I'm so busy making sure that every letter is the right size, that every i is dotted and every t crossed, that I often lose the thread of the prose before I get to the end of the first sentence. But I always make sure that, wherever I go, I have a notebook and a spare pen with me, just in case I need to scribble something down.

Do you save everything you write?
Yes.

Do you ever go back to an old idea long after you abandoned it?
Yes. The Ancestor Crown is actually an old story that I went back to after almost ten years. I was obsessed with Roman history when I was very little, especially the Romans in my locale, and when we came to do the Romans and Celts in primary school, I came up with the characters Marcus and Gairea (though they didn't actually have names at that point). I put them away for many years, focusing instead on my fantasy stuff, then, two years ago, I was thinking about the stories I'd made up when I was small and suddenly remembered them. I wrote down the first scene I'd came up with, then another, then another, spent several months reacquainting myself with the Romans and reading in-depth about Agricola and the Flavian occupation, then started reading and writing in earnest. All because I was at a loose end one rainy Sunday afternoon!

What’s your favourite thing that you’ve written?
Probably The Ancestor Crown. Though my fantasy/sci-fi effort, The Shadow of Thaya-fel, will always have a special place in my heart, despite its flaws.

Do you ever show people your work?
A select few.

Did you ever write a novel?
I started loads. To date, I've finished one. :(

Ever written romance or teen angst drama?
Not as a genre, though most of my books tend to include an element of at least one!

What’s your favourite setting for your characters?
At the moment it seems to be Roman Britain and Caledonia, though I've got ideas for the Neolithic and the Early Historic period.

How many writing projects are you working on right now?
At the moment, two: The Ancestor Crown and its semi-sequel, set eighty years later.

Do you want to write for a living?
Yes, I do. But I also want to be an archaeologist.

Have you ever won an award for your writing?
No. I've never entered anything into a competition.

Ever written something in script or play format?
(grins) Yes. When I was ten I wrote a pantomime-style script for Rapunzel. Some of my friends and I actually got to put it on in front of our class. It was a shambles, but it was a good laugh!

What are your 5 favourite words?
I don't really know.

Do you ever write based on yourself?
Not consciously.

What character have you created that most resembles yourself?
So far, the first two heroines I created (Aoife from Shadow of Thaya-fel and Gairea from The Ancestor Crown) turned out a lot like me. Studious, self-conscious, self-critical misfits. Thankfully, they both grew into their own characters, but I suppose they are quite a bit like me.

Do you favour happy endings, sad endings, or cliff-hangers?
I like mixed endings, with some happy and some sad elements. Sometimes there is a bit of a cliffhanger.

Have you written based on an artwork you have seen?
Not that I know of.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Absolutely obsessed.

Does music help you write?
Very much so. The type depends on what I'm writing at that moment. Emotive, powerful vocals like Chihiro Onitsuka are a must, and I listen to film soundtracks and Celtic artists a lot. I've built up quite an extensive "soundtrack" in my head, including music for certain scenes and some character themes. :)

Quote something you’ve written.
(from the untitled Antonine novel)

The first he knew of an attack was the spear - the high whine, the lash of air as it sliced past, barely a handspan in front of his face. His horse reared, screaming, and he pulled sharply on the reins, digging his legs into its flanks to avoid being thrown off. He reached across, clinging to the reins with one hand, and wrested his sword from its scabbard. A war horn shrilled from the covering of the woods, in the same instant that a cry of "Picti!" went up from behind. Firmus turned his head, just in time to see a pack of blue-skinned wildmen burst, howling, from the trees.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Outlines and character profiles

Well, it's official. I can't for the life of me do a plot outline. I am a degenerate. :)

I got thinking about this after talking with a friend (also a writer) and she told me she was doing outlines for each chapter, and had written up a profile for her MC.

I've tried - several times - but I think, essentially, I just don't have the patience for it. Since I like to have a good idea in my head of where I'm going before I start writing, it felt like I was telling myself what I already knew. And I've got a good memory for minute details, so I can hold the finer plot details in my head. Even my unfinished fantasy series - which I've not touched for three years now - I can remember every tiny twist and turn. It's the same with essays. I try to write up plans, and I never stick to them. Do my essays suffer for it? Well, judging from all the markers' comments about how well-structured they are, apparently not. :D

But will this necessarily apply to my novels? That's what I'm wondering. So far, my biggest challenge isn't keeping all the various subplots and plot twists straight, but more being able to do them all justice. Would an outline help me there any?

I wonder... maybe I was going about it wrong? Am I better doing what my friend did, and outline the story chapter by chapter, rather than all at once? Or is an overview of the plot as a whole the way to go?

And it's the same with character profiles. I tried doing them, but again got that feeling that I was just repeating to myself what I already knew in detail. Not to mention lists of character attributes and quirks look very dry and lifeless when set down on paper by themselves. I did, however, read elsewhere that "interviewing" your characters is also a good idea. I've started that with my Roman MC, Marcus, and actually having quite a fun time of it. :)

Any of you got any advice on this subject? I think it's probably a personal thing, but I can't help the feeling it's something I really ought to do.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

No subject, just insensible glee. :)

Well, it took a while for the echoes of my shriek of utter joy to die away, but now they have I can tell the cyberworld my news!

I got the email through this morning from Andrew Birley, Director of Excavations at Vindolanda, accepting my application to spend two weeks down there in the summer as a volunteer excavator! I have officially never been so excited to spend a fortnight getting wet, sweaty and muddy, in all my life.

*squeals happily and dances around the house before crashing into a wall*

I'll probably be back later tonight to do some non-memeing (lol, Crystal), and maybe get a second excerpt posted up - I'll see - but that'll have to wait until my family can scrape me down off the ceiling!

VindolandaVindolandaVindolandaVindolandaVindolanda...