Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Where do you get your ideas from?

It's a question writers get asked. There is no one answer. To begin with, the question applies to many layers of the writing process. I am going to assume, for convenience, that in this case the question applies specifically to Story ideas. It's a big enough question and it happens to be what I'm thinking about. I'm going to use the two book Fey Worlds series, being The King's Ward and The Heir Reluctant as examples. Here's where the ideas came from. I say ideas in the plural, because there is never one idea. It takes two ideas. You bang ideas together and look for sparks, and the sparks are stories.

Here is the initial idea. It's very visual, but nothing much on it's own. A car exploding, coming apart in slow motion. A young girl, an immature telepath/telekinetic is caught in the path of the explosion. She is gripped by the far distant mind of a mature telepath and her body moved rapidly to avoid all the swiftly moving parts of the exploding car. All the while, during this very graphic, matrix like sequence, a calm voice reassures her that everything is fine. Someone is trying to kill her. Someone else won't have that. Guess who wins?

On it's own, this idea wasn't enough for a story. I held it one imaginary hand and grabbed other ideas to bang against it and got no sparks for months. No story. Not yet. I answered some of the questions that come from any idea and found some answers that kind of worked. Who are the telepaths? Where are they? How come she is immature and alone as a telepath? I decided that they are here in our world, few and isolated, and most importantly that the parents of telepaths don't nurture. Later, this last became one of the other ideas, but not yet. Why don't telepaths nurture? Easy, a child would be imprinted with the mind and memories of the adult. This idea has consequences; one of he most obvious being that female telepaths can't reproduce. Their children would be miniature copies of themselves, imprinted with their minds by proximity during pregnancy. That struck me as a little unfair but it is such a logical consequence that it had to stay. No fudging allowed.

So, for a while, I banged these two ideas together and still didn't get any sparks. The exploding car and the absent parent telepath didn't produce any stories. I toyed with scenarios; our young girl at school, puberty bringing the onset of telepathic development, witch-hunters to provide conflict. It wasn't enough. Nothing gelled. No sparks. No story.

Monsters. I wanted monsters for conflict. I certainly needed something better than witch hunters. But how do you get monsters from telepaths? Well, there was a novel I read a long time ago where a far future street gang projected illusions of monsters by wearing chains shot through with prisms that generated the illusion. I forget the writer and the novel now, but the image is nice and made me think of monsters generated by illusion. Illusion maybe made manifest by telekinesis. Telepaths as mythological monsters. Better, maybe, than witch hunters. So, bang the ideas together; telepaths don't nurture, mythological beings are actually telepaths. They have always been here. Okay. Nice.

Still no sparks, though. Not quite there with the ideas. Maybe turn the ideas some and bang them together again. Sitting around and thinking is pretty much half the writers job – and answering questions that earlier ideas generate is a good deal of that thinking.

So... If telepaths don't nurture their young because proximity triggers a link which would imprint the immature mind, which we have established, then at what point does that stop being a factor? Obviously when the child has developed a personality of their own. Might not it the be the case that proximity, perhaps a touch, is a catalyst to telepathic development? Okay, nice. That felt solid enough and became an idea in it's own right, but leaves a question of its own. What is to stop a telepath triggering that development accidentally or intentionally, and early? Lets call that sudden onset breakthrough. Say then that the young telepaths are camouflaged by their own developing powers, that they are effective invisible, easily overlooked, unremembered, hidden by their own minds so no one remembers them, no one touches them. A picture of the childhood of our young fey, our young telepath begins to emerge. It's a whole new idea, really.

Now, remember the young girl from the exploding car scene? Now she is isolated, walking though her own life like a ghost, unremarked upon, unseen, unremembered. Even her own mother has to be prompted to remember who she is. She is a cuckoo, unaware that she is hiding from humans who will know her for what she is and maybe burn her as a witch (or whatever) but is also hiding from her own kind whose mere touch will trigger a breakthrough, a breakthrough which an experienced telepath can use, a sudden burst of power which can be used to... to fashion reality, to build worlds, mythological worlds where fey beings live apart. She is unaware of any this, though; the whole process is subconscious.

Sparks. Sparks everywhere. We have a story.

Calista, the teenage protagonist of The King's Ward stepped into my mind right then, stealing new clothes from a store, more or less invisible to normal people, and on a quest to find her father, to find out who she is, why she is different. Don't touch me, she thinks as people come close; don't touch me; because an errant touch can trigger breakthrough and the injunction to avoid physical contact has been instilled in her from her mother, her mother's own mind coerced (yes, the telepaths can coerce people to obey their will, redact their memories, heal bodies, project illusions, farsee and hear, and move objects with the power of their minds) so... yes, her mother coerced to feed, clean, look after the baby until the child can look after itself, and frequently repeat the injunction, the command, the reproof and rejection.... don't touch me.

So, if Calista is looking for her father, where is he? How is she looking? Well, he would leave clues, wouldn't he? The fey, the telepaths aren't so common that they can afford to leave one of their number isolated forever. At some point they have to be triggered, achieve breakthrough by a touch and join their peers. So, a photograph of her father, and a clue in the picture. The only clue she has. As to where he is, well we already have a mythological aspect that has crept in, and the idea that telepaths can create reality, that the most powerful can create whole worlds. Pocket universes tucked away, where the fey and maybe others live. Albion, Nifflheim, other worlds. Fey worlds.

From here, The King's Ward came to me in a rush and I pretty much started writing. Calista in the clothes store, stealing something to wear, knowing no one would see her if she stayed still even for a few seconds, knowing no one would remember her even if they saw her. Then Byron, another young fey on the same quest, with his own picture. I made Byron just a little older, mainly because I wanted to answer a question and embody that answer in a person. What happens if no fey triggers the breakthrough? Turns out a fey will begin to develop abilities anyway, empathy, telepathy to begin with, and then an uncontrolled breakthrough that usually leads to a burn out, leaving no abilities at all. Byron, then, has begun to develop some abilities.

I can't say much more without going into the story itself, and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you. It's a good story, I think. Certainly I like it, like it well enough to have written a second novel set in the same world and featuring some of the same characters, and well enough to already be planning another.

Where do you get your ideas from? The image of a young girl moving in slow motion as she avoids the burning bits of an exploding car. That and other things.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Responsibility At Last (Oh, Good)

I am selfish and irresponsible. No one who knows me would be able dispute this with a straight face. But it has been fine, simply because no one else is effected by any consequences and I myself can handle my own life perfectly fine. I have been able to afford to be irresponsible, and have enjoyed it a great deal.

Imagine my joy in realising this has changed.

Putting aside my own feelings about the recent sudden death of my father, the consequence is that my mother needs someone to look out for her and look after her. And that would be me. I am quietly horrified to realise that it is I who must be responsible. Someone has to be. No one else is available. Including, sad to say, my mother.

Over the next couple of months I am going to be working to fix a long term sustainable situation for my mother, one that includes me being right there to look out for her. It's certainly something I can make happen, and I will. But transition periods are always tricky, as I'm sure most of you know full well. They bring added expense and stress, which stress and expense I'm going to try and keep all for myself.

I might need a little assist with that.  Here's what I would like you to do, if you feel so inclined. Pick a book of mine that you like, or think you might like, and give it a little simple promotion. A facebook post, tweet or whatever seems easiest for you. A quite small sales boost over the next couple of months would make a surprisingly large difference in helping me keep this change stress free, which is why I am asking for the help.

My dad, bless him, would probably not approve of my asking for help. He never asked anyone for help, despite childhood illnesses that left him physically disabled for life; the medics at the time were surprised he lived and told him flat out that he would never walk on the makeshift version of a hip they had managed to cobble together with bone grafts and pins. He did walk, being determined and stubborn and content to accept the pain involved. He worked physically demanding jobs for most of his life (one shoulder joint was also a cosmetic fix that didn't work at first, and never worked perfectly). He was quite extraordinary man, really. In the last couple of years he would sometimes, if I asked if I might "have a go" at what he was struggling with, grudgingly pass me the hammer or whatever and say "I suppose you could, if you like." I loved him and will miss him.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Heir Reluctant – in edit

I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find the right environment for work, which leads to delays. But, despite the demands of normal life (as much as I can be said to have one - see earlier posts and interviews and such), The Heir Reluctant is finished and now in edit, which is a process that can take a while in itself. I would guess that it won't see release until the new year, judging from past experience, and that no shot in the arm for December sales.

The Heir Reluctant is the working title and may yet change. The story is set in the same universe as The King's Ward – an Urban Fantasy world where fey derive their power from psi abilities, where the strongest fey can create small worlds of their own. The King's Ward focused on Albion, and The Heir Reluctant takes a look at Nifflheim, with a couple of other worlds visited along the way. Nifflheim has passed through Ragnarok and is slowly dying in an extended period of Fimbulwinter - I'm taking liberties with the mythological sequence of events, and many other things; the fey, after all, are not exactly mythological beings.

In Other News

The audio book of Evolving Environment is now available to buy in all the usual places. It has taken a good while to find a narrator that I'm happy with. Matt Franklin did a good job and the result is attracting some attention, which is good.

The Last King's Amulet is the next project we are working on together and the release for that audio book is looking for for early next year. I know a few people have been waiting for this and I'm glad to be able to report that progress is being made.

The less good news is that the next Sumto book is not progressing as fast as we would all like. It will happen, though. Right now I'm still writing a few thousand words and then deleting; at some point I will write the correct few thousand words and the story will work – at which point, with luck, the story will fly.

Break Time

It's the holiday season, and I'm spending it in the normal way. Not much work will be done until the new year. Probably. Unless I'm possessed by a muse or something.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Kelly Smith Reviews - The King's Ward

Thought I would share this with you. As reviews go, this one is pretty hard to beat. Just as well, perhaps, that I am in the closing stages of finishing the sequel.

Below is just a snippet. I recommend a visit to Kelly Smith's site for the rest and other cool reviews.

Chris Northern’s YA fantasy novel The King’s Ward is a delight to the mind. Full of vivid scenes, strong emotions and strong, young characters.

But it’s not just for teens. I think many adults will love this strange, unique story just as much as their kids!
It’s about loneliness, abandonment and finding oneself, but doesn’t sound at all as psychological as I just described. It’s a fantasy journey of magic and supernatural abilities.

While I read this, the world melted away and all I saw was the land of Albion and its inhabitants. This story will linger with you long after you’ve finished it

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Writers To Watch – A Writer's Choice #2 Just One Damned Thing After Another

The General Idea of Writers to Watch

To begin with, I am only selecting what I myself believe to be the best of what I myself have read. Seems clear enough to me. If you are an indie writer and don't appear here there is every chance that it is because I have not read any of your work. It happens. It may also be that I have and for one reason or another, have decided not to include it, or have you on my list to include as I go along. I only plan to do this every now and again, after all. I'll number them in the title.

What I am primarily aiming at doing there is bringing to the attention of readers work I myself think readers will enjoy. The criteria are exactly what you would expect: a good story written with skill. These are books that I think publishers would be wise – or perhaps would have been wise – to pick up if and when they were available. These are writers to watch. Writers who can do the gig, have the skills, have stories to tell that are – in my own opinion – original and fun. I will only recommend books that I have absolutely no reservations about.

If the books I list here are free then it is a fair bet that other books by the same author are not free, and I would encourage you to buy at least one book from the same author if you enjoy the book I recommend here. Encouraging good work is always a worthwhile thing to do. The gratitude of the author may never be expressed directly to you but will be real and sincere. Writers do need paying if they are to continue to write. The better paid they are, the more they will write, which sounds like a win/win to me. So, with all that in mind, here's the next offering.

This book is a delight. Nicely whimsical, pleasantly engaging, eccentric, charming characters and locations. The story never falters as the delightful Madeleine "investigates major historical events in contemporary time."

The opening of the book leads fairly swiftly to Madeline interviewing for a job at as a Historian at St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, a position her mentor recommends. We already have a feel for her character; she is smart, eccentric, and wryly funny.

No surprises that she gets, and swiftly enters training for the job as Historian; a Historian being someone who travels in history, commissioned to get the story straight. More fun and games and the first hints at the underlying plot

It isn't all fun and games. There are some pretty dark moments, but Madeline is resilient and bolstered by being in her element for what seems to be the first time in her life. Friends and enemies develop and change, all nicely paced and well drawn. Madeleine belongs to St. Mary's, and if you feel inclined to trust me, Just One Damn Thing After Another belongs on your reading list.

Quote: ‘Don’t panic,’ said Sussman . ‘Why would they fail you for something so trivial? They’ve invested hugely in us. And it’s not as if you actually set her on fire, which is what I would have done. You put her out. Don’t expect any gratitude from the rest of the human race.’
     And so we came to the dreaded Outdoor Survival, appropriately scheduled for Friday and all over the weekend. It was November! It was freezing! It was pissing down! I was going to die!
     I had already made some plans . Actually, I’d been making provisions since they first told us. We would be dropped off separately and make our way back somehow, to arrive before Sunday lunchtime. That wasn’t going to be a problem because I planned not to leave the building in the first place.
     I acquired (!) a black jumpsuit, one of Barclay’s. She was such a Grade A bitch that I had no qualms at all. People see what they expect to see. Take away the greys and I was no longer a trainee. If I put on a techie-style baseball cap, grabbed a clipboard, slipped my scratchpad in my knee pocket, and looked as if I knew what I was doing, then I might just get away with it.

Taylor, Jodi (2013-11-21). Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary's) (Kindle Locations 501-510). Accent Press. Kindle Edition.

I love this book. I am glad I read it. It is my belief that you will also be glad to have read it. I recommend it.

I would have wanted to include a brief interview here but sadly time is pressing and my schedule full to bursting.

From The Cover

“History is just one damned thing after another” - Arnold Toynbee

A mapcap new slant on history that seems to be everyone's cup of tea...

Behind the seemingly innocuous fa├žade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process.

But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from eleventh-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake ...