Tag Archives: Folklore

Retired Leprechaun and Curious Observer: Jupp Quegley Treatise

I’ve been getting down to a wee bit of writing as of late. Sadly, the actual novel is not moving, but the backstory and framework for Four and Twenty Blackbirds is coming on apace.

character biography: Jupp quegley

Jupp QuegleyOne of the ways I’m putting the backstory together is by writing character biographies. In the case of Jupp Quegley, who is a minor (but important) character and a sometimes scribbler himself, I am writing his treatise. This exercise has been really helpful in getting me to focus on the parameters on my world and how it operates.

The artwork on the right is from The Alchemist by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a renaissance grotesque painter. His work is very dark, and I find it both inspiring and applicable to 4and20BB. I see Jupp in this picture.

By way of a very brief taster, the opening few lines of Jupp’s journal is as follows (depending on how much I reveal about the plot points in 4&20BB, there may be more of Jupp’s treatise to come):

From the Early Treatise of Jupp Quegley (age – old enough to know better, young enough not to care), curious observer, and retired Leprechaun. By way of a record for all who would stop long enough to listen.

Magic. It’s everywhere now. It used to be only ever wielded by the Fae, as the humanfolk call us, and the rare pursuit of those few who were wealthy enough or ruthless enough to pay the cost of entry. But where does magic really come from? Any street rat would tell you that it’s from dust. Fairy shite, they call it, HA! Ignorant urchins, who probably have never been more than half a mile from where they were spawned, let alone ventured beyond the borders of the city. And yet, they still know of dust, harvested from the thorn tree orchards that extend beyond the Tanglewood. There, at dusk, the hundred thousand fairies ducking between the trees create dancing constellations across the evening’s landscape. It is a sight that will never cease to stir my soul.

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Not So Fairy Tale Romances

Stupid cupid“Happy Hallmark Day!” My dry humoured BF greeted me this morning. “And next month on 14 March we can celebrate [the much lauded] Steak and BJ Day.” Colour me romanced.

Fairytale Romance?

With the commonly covered folklore-ish topics in this blog, I find myself wondering when the term “Fairytale Romance” first originated. The term really does seem like a misnomer. The first fairytale-esk romances that pop into my head:

  • Little Mermaid becomes human for the man she loves, but he doesn’t return her feelings so she turns into foam [dies] – romance failed 
  • Snow White and Sleeping Beauty both appeared as if dead, and get kissed by necropheliac princes.  In fact,  in one of the earlier Sleeping Beauty stories, the prince sleeps with [rapes] Sleeping Beauty, and through Sleeping Beauty’s resultant children she awakens – romance failed
  • the so-called Frog Princess hated the frog and threw him against a wall breaking the spell, returning him to a prince. The [masochistic] prince then asks the petulant girl to marry him (no kissing the frog in the original story) – romance failed

There are some tales that have some of the ingredients of a great love story, but would you really want to be taken captive by a hideous beast and who asked you to marry him every day from the first day you meet (Stockholm syndrome anyone?), or want a prince charming who only wanted you for your great dress sense, and wouldn’t recognise you without it (Cinderella). None of this really fits the picture of the so-called fairytale romance.

*Late addition 15.Feb.13* Also, on Beauty and the Beast, it’s occurred to me that Belle (aka Beauty) only accepts the Beast’s marriage proposal after he turns into a prince (before that she only loves him as a friend) Now, as the prince, would you really want a woman who could only accept you for your looks?

Anti-Valentine Reads

In any case, on this very fine [alleged] day of love, We Love this Book has come up with 5 anti-Valentines reads. Their list is a little morose, so I’ve compiled my own (adding these to my expansive reading list, re-reading the bunny suicides is never a chore…):

Sophus’ 5 Anti-Valentine Reads:

  1.  American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: an exploration of the incomprehensible depths of madness and the physical and sexual violence in our time or any other.
  2. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (and *ahem* Jane Austen): It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. Nom Nom Nom.
  3. Wedlock by Wendy Moore: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match – a tale of divorce, violence, madness and scandal (see also How to Create the Perfect Wife)
  4. The Book of Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley: This is dark humour at its best – does what it says on the tin.
  5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy:  a post-apocolyptic tale of a journey across a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm that has destroyed most of civilization and, in the intervening years, almost all life on Earth. Cheery.

Any other suggestions?

Omnipotent World Building: The Troubles and the Triumphs

World BuildingPerhaps this entry should actually be called “The Troubles and the more Troubles…” Creating a world from scratch is no easy task. I envy all of those writers who set their novels in the here and now, or historical fiction authors who, through meticulous research can find the framework for their imagined worlds. Even J.K. Rowling rooted Harry Potter somewhat in the real world, her magical world was an extension of it. The same could be said for Star Trek, where there is the ready made framework of earth (albeit an earth of the future), so at least there are some parameters to follow.

ready-built worlds

I look at Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, or the world in Game of Thrones or MiddleEarth or Earthsea, and all of them have logic and depth. There are political systems, rival factions, creation myths, ancient legends, detailed family histories. All of these points on which I am flip-flopping all over the place. Looking back at the first 2 Discworld novels: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, the structure of the world itself was quite raw, and much less established than it is today. In fact, somewhere in my overflowing library of books I have an early map of the Discworld, and there are definitely some new landmasses that have appeared since the early days. But that aside, the essence of the Discworld were still there in the early books. The gods, the way magic works, where the Discworld came from, the governmental structure, the tribes, etc. All the basic building blocks were there. All the points I am having trouble with.

This is what I know: the world of Four and Twenty Blackbirds is the land where fairy tales exist and evolve. Black and white and primal. I don’t know if there are any gods, but there are definitely monsters, lots of them. As yet, I don’t know how the world was created, how my main city was created, or the many other cities and nations that there are or the rivalries between them, and how they may influence my story. These are all questions that I have to answer.

World building to do list

I am currently working on my creation myth, but I think I should put my world building to do list down here for clarity:

  • Origin of main city, and what is the archtitecture like (building materials, etc)
  • Origin of surrounding cities
  • Political structure of main city and surrounding cities, and rivalries and alliances thereof
  • Trade – what are the traded commodities and who has them
  • What is the monetary system
  •  NGOs that influence city life – street gangs, secret societies, family alliances, pirates, etc.
  • History of important figures, legends and old blood feuds
  • Where does magic come from and how does it operate.
  • Geography and ecology and how that affects the movement of populations
  • Are there any gods?
  • Where do the monsters live?

Don’t get me wrong, I have a thought about some or all of these points at one time or the other, and have worked out the basics on a lot of them. However, I haven’t made any concrete plans or worked around how one point would influence the next. Perhaps I am overthinking it, but I feel that if I don’t get the basics right, my story can’t progress any further than it has. Perhaps this might require further research into the building of worlds…

Any other suggestions of points I should consider and may have overlooked are very welcome.

There’s No Such Thing as an Original Story

It’s often quoted that there are only 7 stories in the world that all basic plotlines can fall into:

  1. Overcoming the Monster: Hero learns of a great evil threatening the land, and sets out to destroy it.
  2. Tragedy: The flip side of the Overcoming the Monster plot. Ourhero protagonist character is the Villain, but we get to watch him slowly spiral down into darkness before he’s finally defeated, freeing the land from his evil influence.
  3. Rebirth: As with the Tragedy plot, but our protagonist manages to realize his error before it’s too late, and does a Heel Face Turn to avoid inevitable defeat.
  4. Rags to Riches: surrounded by dark forces who suppress and ridicule him, the Hero slowly blossoms into a mature figure who ultimately gets riches, a kingdom, and the perfect mate.
  5. The Quest: Hero learns of a great MacGuffin that he desperately wants to find, and sets out to find it, often with companions.
  6. Voyage and Return: Hero heads off into a magic land with crazy rules, ultimately triumphs over the madness and returns home far more mature than when he set out.
  7. Comedy: Hero and Heroine are destined to get together, but a dark force is preventing them from doing so; the story conspires to make the dark force repent, and suddenly the Hero and Heroine are free to get together. This is part of a cascade of effects that shows everyone for who they really are, and allows two or more other relationships to correctly form.

with this rather limited range, it’s unsurprising to find that ideas are often repeated.  This is something that I’m struggling with at the moment. Whenever I think of a cunning new angle to take on fairy tales for my story Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a cursory amount of research informs me that someone has come up with that story arc already (Thanks Wikipedia).

It’s highly frustrating. But I think I’m just going to have to accept that not all of my ideas are “original”, and go with my best ideas even if some of them are already out there. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I can only hope that the angle I take on various folklore will be the best constructed.

Writing 1,000 Words a Week?

One of my belated-resolutions was is to write 1,000 words a week for my book Four and Twenty Blackbirds. As my belated-resolutions began on 1st February, and I’m counting a “week” as a calendar week starting on a Monday (playing it fast and loose, I know)… that means I have until the end of tomorrow to write my week’s quota.

writer’s block

As much discussed in i.am.sophus., I’ve been suffering from writer’s block for a time now. I started this blog to address this, I’ve also attended a drop-in session at an Anne Aylor writing class. Both of these things have helped in revving my mind up. I’ve picked up a pen for the first time in an age and have started working on my novel again: the background, the characters, the world in which it is based. No actual word count increase yet, but I’m moving in the right direction. In writing this blog, I’ve reminded myself of my novel writing rituals, which is helping me get back in the groove. I’ve even gone out and bought a scrub stick because I associate the scent with sitting down and writing.  I’ve included a photo of my sage-burning and character background planning, below.

Char Dev

It’s an outline of the Twelve Families Harbottle – the 12 families that make up the Harbottle tribe of brownies. A brownie is the point of view of a little less than a third of my narrative, so a comprehensive background is really important. By brownies, I do mean the small elf-type individuals (and the fairy tale/ folklore type of elfs that live under toadstools, not the elves from the Lord of the Rings/ Forgotten Realms vein).

slash and burn editing

Writing from a brownie POV for an adult novel is challenging, and my aim is to make the brownies very dark. I’ve written about fifteen thousand words or so thus far, and very sadly, it’s too light and fluffy. I do really like what’s I’ve written. However, having restarted my writing brain and dedicated some proper time thinking about 4&20 (I think that the sage burning helped too), I’ve come to face the fact that it’s going to have to go. I’m going to have to start again. It feels like I’m severing a limb. But better to do it now than later on. Still, it is very dispiriting.

I will be counting my rewrite as going towards my 1,000 word a week count. Not to do so would be far too depressing. I will keep planning this evo, and get cracking on the rewrite early on tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Dark and Brooding Cover Art: Shaun Tan

Outer SurburbiaThey say that you should never judge a book by its cover, but we all know that that’s codswallop. We all do it. The cover can set the tone for the entire book. It can widen an audience, appealing to those who would never otherwise pick it up.

Judging a Book

I feel like I’ve been mentioning 50 Shades of Grey far too much of late, but it is a classic example. On the face of it, with the loosened tie flung casually against the limited blue colour pallette (see picture below, far left), the unsuspecting observer would assume that it was crime-fiction. Judging a book by its cover is the reason that the Harry Potter series begun churning out a simultaneous “Adult” edition and a “Children’s” edition – to appeal to both markets (see picture below, far right). One of my personal favourite set of covers is the original Terry Pratchett covers by Josh Kirby, what a dude (see picture below, second from left). I also recently mentioned a fantastic example of amusing cover art for Fifty Shades of Alice in Wonderland -worth a peek.

Quality covers

My cover artist of choice: shaun tan

As always, my cart is way before my horse, but if I could get anyone at all to create the cover for my progressing novel (or perhaps series of novels), it would be Shaun Tan. Shaun Tan is an awesome Australian illustrator who has won countless awards. He has an amazing dark imagination which always has a touch of humour. I am a huge fan, and am a proud owner of Tales from Outer Surburbia and The Arrival. His illustrations have a real folklore-ish and fairy tale-like quality which I think would match well with my story in Four and Twenty Blackbirds. There is also a touch of steampunk in his work, which is a genre that I really enjoy. I hope my words could live up to his artwork. Ah, to dream.

*The illustration above is from Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Surburbia

Minimalist Fairytale Art

Rowan Stocks 1

I am a huge fan of new takes on old tales. I’ve recently come across the artwork of Rowan Stocks-Moore. He uses a limited colour palette and takes advantage of the negative space in an image to create a stark picture, sometimes coupled with an optical illusion (NB the Snow White image above – with the lovers and the apple core in one). His clever, often darkly humorous takes on classic tales gives a new perspective and new life to well trodden tropes. A path I hope to emulate and perchance equal in Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

Rowan Stocks-Moore’s work is available for purchase via Esty.

Rowan Stocks 2