mjhearle

Month: May, 2013

Lune Diary: Chapter One

And we’re off and racing.

Well, maybe not ‘racing’. More like walking at a brisk pace.

Subtitled, The Boy in the Tree, Chapter One begins with our hero, Howard Lune, unsurprisingly in a tree. Why is he in a tree? He’s hiding. Lune, you see, is not the most popular boy in school. In fact, he might just be the least popular boy. There’s nothing really wrong with him he’s just one of those unfortunate souls who has trouble fitting in. Perhaps if he’d been born a year later or earlier he would’ve found more accepting peers. Perhaps, not. Sometimes an individual just has a way about them that marks them as ‘other’ and if there’s anything that can make school a living hell it’s being different.

Growing up I was lucky enough to experience the full gamut of the school social strata. I was never bullied to the same extent as poor Lune, but I was definitely teased and made fun of. When the tides turned and for whatever reason I found myself shunted several rungs up the popularity ladder, I never forgot what it was like to be on the outside looking in. Pain shapes us in unexpected ways and there are few pains as acute as loneliness. Especially for an adolescent.

It’s important to me that Lune is in no way charmed. In the opening pages, he’s persecuted, mistreated, punished unfairly. He is by no means a golden boy. To a degree, this is a well trod Dickensian conceit – readers need to be invested in a characters fate and starting them off at a low point is a good way of doing this. Empathy is a powerful bonding agent. Typically, a Dickens character begins in the darkness and the drama comes from watching them strive towards the light. Pip and Oliver both end their stories in much happier circumstances than where they began. I don’t know if Lune will though? Nothing’s guaranteed.

English: Detail from photographic portrait of ...

English: Detail from photographic portrait of Charles Dickens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lune is attacked by a gang of bullies early in the chapter. I’ve changed the lead bully’s name three times already. He began as Corbin, then Morley, before I settled on Crawley. I went to school with two guys named Morley and Crawley. Both had a reputation for being tough and mean. I never really had a run in with either of them but they definitely made me nervous. I’m sure they’re lovely blokes now. It’s a little ridiculous how much time one can spend agonising over names, especially, over secondary characters, so I try and steal from life when appropriate.

So the chapter begins with Lune hiding and ends with a fight. Initially, I planned on the story beginning with Lune drawing in his bedroom on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Why change it? Pace concerns. I want this story to move faster than the Winter novels which were (justly) criticised for dragging in places. This is a book aimed at younger readers so I need to be mindful of holding their attention. I don’t need to spend paragraphs establishing atmosphere and delving into psychology. In some ways this is a more complex story than either of my first two novels but I think I’m a better writer now and can achieve what I want with fewer words. Less waffling.

Speaking of words, I think I’ve got a handle on the book’s voice. A kind of sophisticated-fairytale style, not dissimilar to that found in Barker’s The Graveyard Book or Gaiman’s The Thief of Always. I’ve been listening to Gaiman’s audio recording of Fragile Things on the journey to and from work, so his voice is clear in mind. If I can imagine him reading my words aloud then I know I’m doing something right.

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My main concern with this chapter is the lack of magic. There is no element of the fantastic, no real hint of the kind of adventures ahead. Harry Potter begins with the odd appearance of owls, The Thief of Always has Rictus float in through the window – I have a boy in a tree drawing monsters. I suppose that’s something but I’m hoping something else will occur to me.

Until then, it’s on to Chapter Two.

MJ.

Lune Diary: What’s in a name?

The title ‘Lune’ first occurred to me somewhere between Fethiye and Efes in Turkey. I was on a pre-wedding honeymoon with my soon-to-be wife and the weather was apocalyptically hot. With skin paler than milk, it’s hard enough for me to endure the Australian summer let alone endure the middle east’s seasonal heat, so I was spending a lot of time indoors. While my wife was off exploring, unbothered by the malignant orb in the sky, I took to writing.

I’d been toying with the outline for a children’s fantasy story – a story I had initially called Sebastian Wolf and The Clockwork King until I discovered there were a million books with ‘clockwork’ in the title (not the least Cassandra Clare’s bestselling series) – and needed a title. Some writers can work without titles. I can’t. Even if it’s going to change, I need a title to hang the story on. And there ‘Lune’ was. A title that suggested the mystery and magic I hoped my story would possess.

Would ‘Lune’ have occurred to me in Australia? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Travelling has a stimulative effect on my imagination. It has something to do with being outside my comfort zone and breaking up the usual routines. Nevertheless, I don’t think the word was directly inspired by my travels. No, if I think deeply about ‘Lune’ I can identify a couple of clear antecedents. 

Dune2

The first one is Frank Herbert’s, Dune. I’ve always found this an enormously evocative title. ‘Dune’ spoke to me of otherworldly vistas and adventure. Phonetically, I like the way ‘Dune’ sounds. There’s no real explanation for this. I simply dig that particular combination of vowels and consonants. Swapping the ‘D’ and ‘L’ doesn’t change that. If anything, ‘Lune’ sounds even more melodious in my head. 

Going back further, I think I can spot another signpost on the neural pathway leading to ‘Lune’. When I was a kid, I was mad about video games. I didn’t actually have a computer until I was eleven or twelve but I was well into video games before then. I used to pour over video game magazines in the newsagency and visit video game stores where I would spend hours staring at the box art, imagining the most stunningly crafted games inside. Games that were far beyond the processing power of nineteen-eighties computers. One of the games I never played, but whose box art has lingered with me over the decades, is Loom

loom-fmtowns

It’s so strange. Who is that figure in the hood? What power does he possess? Who are those odd looking characters suspended in space? I could probably find the answers to those questions somewhere online but I’d rather not. I want the game to remain in my imagination. Unchanged. Perfect. Magical.

Dune. Loom. Lune. Seems like a pretty obvious progression. Or maybe I’m just imposing logic on something that is defiantly illogical.  

Whatever the case, ‘Lune’ felt right the moment it occurred to me. It would refer to the magical land I intended to have my character, Sebastian Wolf, explore. But before I could go ahead and lock ‘Lune’ down there was something I needed to check. You see, I’m a bit of a storytelling magpie, constantly stealing bright and shiny things from the various different media I consume. Sometimes I’m aware I’m recycling someone else’s idea, other times my thievery comes as a complete shock to myself. It’s always depressing to discover you’re not as clever as you think you are.

Fearing this, I jumped onto Google and did a search for any other books called ‘Lune’. Google didn’t turn up any. What it did reveal, however, was that ‘lune’ was most definitely not a word of my own invention. For one thing, it’s both French and Latin for ‘moon’. This shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. I guess I’d never drawn the connection between ‘lunar’ and ‘Lune’? Everyone has blind spots. I’ve got plenty of them.

Delving deeper into Google, I discovered ‘Lune’ is also the crescent-shaped portion of a plane or sphere bounded by two arcs of circles. So, not only does it mean ‘moon’, it’s a mathematical term. Apparently, it’s also a river in England. Sorry, two rivers – one in Cumbria, one in Durham. Oh and, the character, King Lune, appears in The Chronicles of Narnia. Discovering this, I no longer felt comfortable using ‘Lune’ as the name of my story’s magical lands. The ‘moon’ association in particular bothered me. I kept imagining the confused expressions of French children as they read the book – how could the characters breathe in space?

But still, the title felt right…

When I closed my eyes and imagined the cover of my book, it remained Lune. I had to figure out a way to justify the title. So, I looked to my own work. Winter’s Shadow was named after Winter Adams, why couldn’t this book be named after its lead character? I wasn’t married to ‘Sebastian Wolf’. It had always struck me as a little mannered. Of course ‘Lune’ was a weird first name for a thirteen year-old London boy, but I saw no problem in it being his last name. It emphasised his ‘otherness’. Most boys at school call each other by their last names so it wouldn’t be strange if he was referred to in the story as ‘Lune’, though he needed a first name too. I settled on ‘Howard’. It’s got a nice rigid formality to it that contrasts with the oddness of ‘Lune’.

So the boy who had been named Sebastian Wolf became Howard Lune and I got to keep my book title. Of course, once the book goes to the publisher that could change. Winter’s Shadow was called Shade right up until the final stages of publication, when it was discovered there was another book coming out at the same time with that title. This could happen again. There might be a book called Lune sitting in a publishing warehouse right now, waiting to be shipped to bookstores. For now though, ‘Lune’ belongs to me. 

MJ.

Lune Diary: Chasing Clive Barker’s Thief

On first sentences:

“The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.”

So begins Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always. It’s one of my favourite opening sentences. Both lyrical and menacing it perfectly encapsulates the dark fairytale tone of the book. This is what an opening sentence should do.

Cover of "Clive Barker's The Thief Of Alw...

Cover of Clive Barker’s The Thief Of Always

Here is my first attempt at matching Barker’s eloquence.

“A tree stood on a small hill overlooking the football fields of St Josephs Secondary School. It was an old tree with knotted grey bark and thick twisting branches and on the lowest branch of this tree there sat a boy.”

Not quite right. The main problem is ‘Lune’ doesn’t appear in the first sentence. It feels like he should – like Thief’s Harvey. He is our protagonist. It seems almost rude to hold off introducing him.

This is my second attempt:

“Of all the hiding place in St Agnes High School, the one Howard Lune favoured the most was the fig tree which overlooked the soccer fields.”

It’s better, though still a little unwieldy. I like the drama that ‘hiding place’ conjures. I’m not sure about including the school’s name but I can live with it. Another option will inevitably occur to me later on. I must have re-written the opening line of Winter’s Shadow a hundred times.

Originally, I had the opening scene begin with Howard sitting in his room on a rain February afternoon drawing monsters. I scrapped this when I realised I was emulating Barker’s Thief too closely. I want to write a book as good as Thief but not simply mimic it. There’s a particular timeless feel to Barker’s language I find particularly attractive. Thief could have been published fifty years or five days ago. Lune should be an easy read for a twelve year-old but no less enchanting for an adult. However, if I write too simply then I’ll risk alienating sophisticated readers; pop into too many flowery adjectives then younger readers will be turned off. 

It’s a tightrope act. 

So much of this is instinctual. Or feels instinctual at the time. It’s only in the re-write that any miscalculations reveal themselves. At the moment I should just push on ahead, get the story down and trust that the tone will work itself out. It usually does. I guess that’s the magic part.

On influences:

I do not want to give the impression that The Thief of Always is the primary influence on Lune. It is one of many. Some of the others are: Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, A Wizard of Earthsea, His Dark Materials, The Magician’s Nephew, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and The Graveyard Book. Enid Blyton will probably work her way in there as well, though I promise never to write the phrase ‘lashings of ginger beer’.

Re-reading A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin I was struck by its greatness. This is an important fantasy novel. Curiously, I remember being bored senseless when I first read it as a teenager. I can only imagine this was because the novel’s action is predominantly of a philosophical nature – Ged’s greatest battles are with himself rather than some external force. This is a much more exhilarating concept to me as a man, than it was as a boy. Le Guin’s poetic prose is frustratingly beautiful. I will never have her facility with words. Her description of Earthsea is evocative, the archipelagos easily imagined (I wonder if this was an influence on Barker’s Abarat series?) and I love the rich ethnic diversity of her characters. Earthsea is a benchmark of world-building. When I create my own fantasy world I will endeavour to do so with the same level of care and detail. 

The dragon Yevaud on the cover of Ursula K. Le...

The dragon Yevaud on the cover of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Cultural Cringe:

Lune’s school is in London, though its name is taken from the one I attended in Port Macquarie. Why aren’t I setting the book in Australia? Moreover, why isn’t Lune Australian? Is this some kind of fundamental cultural cringe on my part or a sensible stylistic choice? I don’t know? I plan on writing stories set in Australia in the future. It’s just that this country has such a strong cultural voice. I feel like it would clash with the classic form of storytelling I’m attempting. Clive Barker, J. M. Barrie, Enid Blyton, Lewis Carrol, Neil Gaiman and C.S. Lewis are all English writers and their stories (for the most part) have a distinctly English feel. They are the the forebears of Lune so it follows that Lune should be an English story. Maybe I should worry less about my cultural heritage and just concentrate on the story. Let it be what it wants to be.

Back to the words.

M.J.

Lune Diary: An introduction

I started this blog with the best intentions. The idea was to create worthy content, not just blather on senselessly about the mundane minutiae of my life. There’s enough of that sort of navel-gazing stuff already out there. I wanted to write articles, not just posts. Thought pieces, editorials, critical essays – the kind of writing I liked to read online.

As I comb back through the archives, re-reading scattered posts here and there, I’m pleased to discover a couple of pieces that fit that description. I wish there were more but the reality is, serious writing requires serious thought which more often than not translates to time spent thinking said serious thoughts. If the last couple of years on this blog have a through-line it seems to be this: there’s never enough time.

And so, I’ve decided to take action. I don’t want to spend weeks pulling my hair out while I try to write a lone blog article of literary merit. This seems like a misuse of time and effort. I should be pouring those energies into the books. Why not abandon the blog altogether? Well, I don’t want to do that either. I enjoy blogging, especially the immediacy it offers. Also, this blog allows me to engage directly with you, dear reader, so for this aspect, if nothing else, I won’t be abandoning it soon.

In the interest of being more prolific, however, I’m going to try and treat this blog as a diary. This doesn’t mean I’m going to be writing about what I have for breakfast (I still find such stuff pretty grating). Instead, this diary will be focused on the creation of my next book, tentatively titled LUNE.

Lune is a fantasy novel about about a boy who travels to a magical world where he must undergo a perilous quest to defeat the forces of darkness. Don’t worry, I am thoroughly aware of how generic this logline sounds and can assure you I am endeavouring to avoid or invert every cliché I can. For one thing, Lune is resolutely not about ‘a chosen one’ or ‘prophecy’ or any such thing. In other words, Lune is not Harry Potter, nor would he probably be friends with Harry Potter. He’s that weird kid standing in the corner who mysteriously draws your gaze.

I’d go into a more detailed synopsis but the truth is I haven’t figured it out. The story is still trapped in a metaphorical block of marble. I can vaguely sense the shape of the beast within but won’t know exactly what it looks like until I begin chipping away. This diary will be an attempt to chart that process in all its panicky, self-doubting glory. I’ll be writing in a stream of conscious style replete with grammatical and spelling errors so don’t expect sparkling prose. Hopefully, though there will be the occasional valuable insight. Maybe, you’ll learn something? I hope I do. If nothing else, it will keep me honest. After all, I can’t very well keep a ‘writing diary’ without writing.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

M.J.