Monday, 29 August 2016

Mercury and Glass

Starting Sparks is a monthly writing link-up to jumpstart your creativity, AKA that thing Ashley and I host. If you'd like to link up for August, there is still a smidgen of time. The August prompt:

This month was Ashley's turn to choose and when she sent me this I went:

Image result for excited smile gif

because you know metafiction! My mind immediately jumped to a story I started in January. If you can remember that far in the dim and murky past, the SS prompt was “Write a story based on the lyrics of your favourite song." I started a piece based on “Me, I am just like the books upon my shelf / You have never read my cover, I have never read myself"*, but gave up when it got too confusing. However, when I saw this I knew I had to resurrect it, and I'm having a whale of a time.
*from Literature Lovers by Jose Vanders, which I cannot for the life of me find on Youtube, but is beautiful. Hit up Spotify, thank me later.


Mercury and Glass

She didn’t cry at books, but this one was proving a test. Annika sniffed and wiped her eye, caught between the compulsion to read on and the pain of it. Character death was bad enough; to watch the other characters’ grief was too much. She blinked, twice, and wondered if, should she reread the last two pages, the plot might change. Perhaps Dara would not be missing – dead – on his quest. Perhaps she wouldn’t have to witness Hector’s heartbreaking sorrow. She looked back at the book. There, in an unforgiving serif font, Hector sank to his knees in anguish, sure his best friend was dead. Annika sniffed again and fished in her pocked. No tissues, of course. She never had tissues when she needed them.

She downed her tea and turned back to the book.

There were only pages to go. First in a series, though she’d been unable to find it on Goodreads; she had bought it, secondhand, in a labyrinthine bookshop in the city. She remembered that day like a talisman, coffee and book-shopping with Cam: meeting not in a sticky-table, stale-cake chain coffee shop like the one in which Annika now sat, but the kind of tiny, yellow-lit café that features in rom-coms and daydreams. They stayed for ages, the conversation flowing in great leaps, and when they emerged the street was silver and rain-cleansed beneath the pink December sky. They found the bookshop and got lost in its shadowy aisles: a huge, sprawling shop, books piled three deep on the shelves, spilling from boxes and over the floor in oceans of colour and unread words. It was the kind of shop where looking for a specific title was laughable; the kind of magic shop where you forgot time and simply browsed, until a book whispered your name from some dusty corner. Annika had discovered the book just so, sitting as if left for her, a moment of serendipity. Cam had bought Hemingway, she remembered, Green Hills of Africa, and they went down the dusky street like two ghosts beneath the orange lamps and Christmas lights. It was a perfect day, and to her the paperback became a lucky charm. Half-consciously she thought of it as Cam’s book, and, if she was very honest, it was he who had stopped her picking it up until now. Cam, a marvel, a bright light through the autumn, had been different these past two months. Something was preoccupying him, though Annika couldn’t work out what, and some of the glow had left him. He was anxious, often seeming to be on the verge of telling her something before stopping himself, and though she tried her utmost to regain the magic quality of that day in December, she never could. So it was she left the book on her shelf, because she wanted to keep the memory of buying it whole and untarnished. It didn’t make much sense, but when did she ever make sense to herself?

She sniffed again, a tear falling onto her cheek.

It was called Mercury and Glass, by SG Madden. Annika had never heard of Madden, but she intended to track down all her books and swallow them. She shook her head, routing thoughts of Cam, and returned to the book.

Dara, Hector and Eveleen were best friends, living in a vaguely steampunk fantasy world ruled by evil fae. Dara – the driven one, the classic hero – was searching with steely will for the man who killed his mother. Hector – the oddball, prone to tripping over his feet, and Annika’s favourite – sat now on the floor of an abandoned house, weeping as he realised Dara wasn’t coming back.

Annika wiped her eye again, aware that the woman on the next table was looking at her.

Two pages left. She calmed her breathing. Eveleen had gone out to buy food for her and Hector. She didn’t yet know the truth. Any minute she’d return, and Hector would have to spell it out, and Annika thought her heart would probably shatter.

She hadn’t seen Cam for four days. On Friday he’d suggested they hang out next week after school. I feel like I’ve hardly seen you in ages, he said. Annika jumped at the suggestion, of course, and she didn’t think she imagined an extra significance in Cam’s request. He was finally going to tell her the truth of these past two months, she was sure of it. At the weekend Annika had started Mercury and Glass, because she felt that now she and Cam were on course again, like stars realigning, and the book was an integral part of that. It immersed her straightaway, perfect and heartbreaking. Through Monday morning classes it commanded her mind, intertwining with the excitement of later with Cam. It wasn’t until English after lunch that she realised he wasn’t in school.

She should have texted him, she knew, to see if he was all right, but in her mind the date – was it a date? – was going to be perfect like the day in December, and that meant it had to happen without hitches. To text beforehand would break the spell. So she donned her red coat anyway and took the train into town, and waited for him beneath the clock in Central station, as arranged, hoping desperately he’d be there despite his absence from school. He wasn’t. This was definitely the moment to ring him and find out what was going on, but Annika was still clinging to her stupid hope of how the day should be, and so she went into the rain, to the café they’d chosen, and bought a cup of tea. Maybe he would still appear. She sat in the window, rain blurring the city lights outside the glass, and started to read. Now there were only two pages left, and Cam wasn’t here, and Dara was dead, and Annika was crying.

One page. Eveleen had returned, singing, and Hector was sobbing with a raw and aching grief. She was about to enter the room and find him. Annika scrubbed at her face with a napkin. She didn’t want to be the stood-up girl crying in the coffee shop.

“Hector?” Eveleen’s voice came to him as if through a mirror or water or a storm. He could hear her light step by the door. He looked up at her through his tears, and she gave an involuntary cry. “Hector!” she said, running and crouching beside him.

“Dara’s gone,” Annika whispered.

“No,” Eveleen said. “No, no, no. He can’t be. He’s not dead. We’re going to find him.” 
Hector looked up at her with hollow, miserable eyes. “How?”

“How?” Annika echoed.

Eveleen took his hand and pulled him to his feet. “We’re not giving up,” she said. “Come with me.” Outside the wind buffeted them, rain stinging Hector’s eyes. The orange lights of the city blinked back at them.  
Eveleen said, “I have a plan.”

“Excuse me,” said the woman on the next table, “but are you all right?”

Annika summoned a smile. She gestured to Mercury and Glass. “I’m fine, thanks. Just a book.”

The woman smiled and looked back at her phone.

Just a book. As if it was just a book. It had been a beating heart for three days, and would stay with Annika for years. It had been as real as real life to her. She loved these characters like real people. Just a book. She shook her head. What a thing to say.

Annika reread the last few pages – because who can finish a wonderful book and not go over the ending a few times? How is it possible? – and finally shut it. She ran her finger along the spine. Outside the rain was getting harder. She wished she had an umbrella. Or a text from Cam.

She left the café and walked back towards the station, rain slithering through her braids and over her face like a second onslaught of tears. She couldn’t stop scanning the crowd for him; at every blond head a finger of hope leapt inside her. But it was always a stranger, head bent in the rain.

Cut-out paper hearts in red and pink hung on strings from the window of Paperchase. Annika looked away. One week till Valentine’s Day. Was Cam sick? Had something happened to him, to one of his family? Awful images came to her, unbidden, of car crashes and funerals. She tried to push them away but they persisted, Cam’s face smiling from a newspaper, Schoolboy’s tragic death. Annika bit her tongue. She was being ridiculous. He would text her later. He probably had the flu. Maybe he’d lost his phone.

She thought about Hector and Eveleen, their grief, and felt more tears welling behind her eyes. They were the same age as her and Cam. Losing your best friend, Annika could barely imagine, and once again she was seeing funeral cars and a wreath of white flowers—

“Stop it!” she told herself. It was the book, the book was upsetting her and making her morbid. She shivered as she turned the corner. Around her was a sea of umbrellas and raincoats. A flash of white caught her eye: the rain-drenched sleeve of a shirt. Its owner wore a waistcoat and brown trousers. He looked like an extra from Downton Abbey. Annika blinked. A cosplayer? The Infernal Devices? She hadn’t heard about any conventions. It was a shame his costume was getting soaked.

They drew level and he glanced at her, brown eyes from a confused, upset face. At once the hairs stood up on Annika’s arms, because his face was like something from a dream, a ghost seen once and erased by her memory until it was seen again. Unable to stop herself she said, “Hector?”

The boy started. A man with an umbrella walked into him and said, “Watch where you’re going!”

The boy said, “How did you know my name?”

Annika’s eyes widened, shock rolling over her. Impossible. It couldn’t be. Completely impossible.

“Miss?” he said. “Are you all right?”

“Sorry.” She shook her head. “I’m fine. I just thought you were someone I – knew.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Listen, I’m sorry to be a trouble, but I’m lost – could you tell me where we are?”

Annika swallowed her disquiet. “Gordon Street. Just by the station.” She gestured with her head.

“Right.” He didn’t look illuminated. “And, what’s the city called?”

Annika frowned. How on earth could you be in a city without knowing its name? “Glasgow,” she said. 

He was still mystified. “Sorry, I’m sure I sound a bit dim, but … which country?”

“Scotland.” Annika was trying not to stare at him. Even if fictional characters existed, she told herself, you don’t actually know what their faces look like. “Where are you trying to get to?” she asked.

“Well, see—” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not really sure. I was with a friend, see, not long ago, and then it gets a bit hazy … I think we, uh—” he dropped his voice – “got mixed up in a fae spell.”

Goosebumps raced across Annika’s skin. She wrapped an arm across herself. Most people would say, “A what?”, or maybe roll their eyes and walk away, but Annika said, carefully, “Fae aren’t real.”

The boy’s brows drew together. “What on earth?” he hissed. “You shouldn’t say things like that!”

Behind them a bus honked its horn and roared past in a shower of dirty water. The boy jumped. “What was that?”

“That was a bus,” Annika said, frowning. She was tired, and upset about Cam, and not up for a slightly deranged cosplayer pretending not to know what buses were. “Look, can I help you? Can I phone someone?”

“Can you what?”

She sighed. She didn’t want to deal with this. “Listen, I’m sorry, but I need to go or I’ll miss my train. Excuse me.”

“Wait!” Rain-soaked, he looked a bit pathetic, like a lost puppy. “I’m so sorry, but what was the country called again?”

“Scotland!” Annika didn’t try to keep the contempt from her voice. She shouldered her backpack and turned away.

“But that’s out of a book!”

She stopped. The rain was running down her neck and her heart was pounding. She turned, slowly.

“My friend Eveleen,” the boy said, “reads these fantasy books set in a place called Scotland. The main characters are called Cam and Annika …


AHAHAHA! I am so into this idea! It has a ton of problems! Oh well!

The biggest question is about time. Obviously, the events of Mercury and Glass are not happening as Annika reads it, otherwise she wouldn't be able to go back and reread the ending, say. My big idea here is about parallel universes, in which the writer of fantasy is not a creator but a conduit, looking through a rip or a peephole in the fabric of time/space to see another world parallel to our own. Presumably both SG Madden and the author of the Cam/Annika books are able to look through said peepholes. But, importantly, rather than SG Madden seeing absolute events in Hector's world, she's seeing one possible future. This is the same as the author of the Annika/Cam book. Annika and Cam (Camika??) are Evaleen's OTP, and I think more has happened between them in the book than in real life. The author of that book saw a story in which Cam does not go missing just before the date, but turns up, tells Annika the truth (you may have worked out by now that the problem that's preoccupying him is a dark mystery of some sort involving the fae from the other world) and they solve the mystery together. Either the author doesn't realise that the villains in her “fantasy" world are the same fae that rule her own world, or she changes them into different, “fantasy" villains in order not to offend said evil fae. 

Which brings us onto another thing -- the author changing reality in order to make a better story. Polishing dialogue. Increasing drama. Giving Cam/Annika a romance that doesn't actually exist. (That's the reason I made Cam a boy. I did want to give Annika a female best friend because, y'know, crushes are dumb, but I am interested in the idea of Evaleen shipping them.) It's just like in Sherlock, especially The Abominable Bride (the most recent episode), wherein John Watson gives himself and Holmes lines they don't actually say in his write-ups of the stories. And then reality and fiction blur (just as, in that episode, 1895 blurred with 2015) as we start to wonder what is real and what is fiction, and whether anything can be both ...

So, basically:

Me @ myself re this book.
We'll see, anyway! The idea of writing about going into a book world (a la Inkheart) has always excited me ... the idea of not knowing which world is actually reality ((is there even such a thing??)) is even better. The moral is this: never have a DMC with me because I will end up theorising about parallel universes and existentialism for quite some time. Friends can testify.


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Why You Should Be Reading Wolves of Mercy Falls

Three weeks ago I met Maggie Stiefvater.

She came to Glasgow on The Raven King book tour and spoke for about an hour. She was not, in fact, speaking about TRK, but rather giving us a whimsical and hilarious batch of stories from her life. I mean, she was really doing stand-up. Needless to say, it was brilliant.

Afterwards there was a signing, and CHECK THIS OUT:

AND I SPOKE TO HER! I thanked her for TRC, and told her she'd inspired me as a writer, and told her I had just started my second novel (it was Day 2 of SITC when I saw her). And she told me that writing books gets faster! I was like

Anyway. Whilst I could just fangirl incoherently about Maggie until kingdom come, I am going to give my fangirling a shape: a list! I know it was the TRK book tour, and I could talk about TRC until I were blue in the face, but a) I've done that a lot already and b) we all already love TRC. So instead I'm going to talk about her other, less famous four-book series, the one we may slightly have forgotten amidst our cries of “GANSEY! GANSEY!" I just finished these books recently, and now I shall inform you Why You Should Be Reading Wolves of Mercy Falls.

1. The Characters
Seriously, though. Increasingly I feel that YA has about two male characters and one female and they just get recycled with different names and stupid eye colours. (You know. Turquoise and gold. Pine green. Onyx. Not that I'm looking at anyone in particular on the eye colour thing COUGH THRONE OF GLASS COUGH COUGH.) Not so Wolves! Stiefvater's characters are all completely individual, pulsing on the page.

Sam is completely adorable, and I love the contrast between him and Grace.

“Sensitive," I tried.
“Squishy," Sam translated.
“Dangerously emo."
“Feng shui."
I laughed so hard I snorted.
“How did you get feng shui out of thoughtful?"
“You know, because in feng shui, you arrange funiture and plants and stuff in thoughtful ways.”
// Shiver

He is an artist, she a scientist; both have struggled with their parents in different ways, which has led them to be the people they are. Grace wants to have her own flat with a red kettle. Trust me, THEY'RE THE BEST.

Instagram Analytics:
Then we have Cole and Isabel. In many ways, they are very similar to each other. Isabel's sass is second to none -- she is an inspiration:

“Here, when I say panini, people say bless you." // Shiver

but oh how much wreckage she also carries with her:

The others slithered and crawled ... unaware that in order to really get my look, you had to accessorise with death in the family and generalised heartbreak. // Sinner

Teresa. Nearly.:
Cole is the same; the confident rock star, beloved of millions, and a train wreck underneath.

He had the best smile in the world, and lots of people had told him about it. His awareness of the smile's charms should have diminished its power, but that casual arrogance was part of its glory. // Sinner

Neither Cole nor Isabel are, perhaps, as easy to like straight off as Sam and Grace, but they are both so incredibly real. They work their way into your heart, unstoppably.

30 Amazing Neon Light Typography Designs:
Then we have the minor characters, my favourite being Leon.

His eyelids were half-hearted tents pitched over his red eyes. He was a dismal inhabitant of a suit unhappy to house him. // Sinner

Stiefvater's minor characters are not just placeholders, they're not just names, they're not just one sentence descriptions or family members she shoves in there for some sham facsimile of reality. Every single one is unique and excellent. I love Leon so much, seriously. He only has about three scenes.

2. The Setting

The first three books take place in Mercy Falls, Minnesota, the fourth in Los Angeles, and every setting in every place feels completely, immersively, tangibly real.

Maggie Stiefvater, Shiver:
AND THIS IS IT, LOS ANGELES BY NIGHT, CONCLUSIVELY. This is the first page in the art journal I've been promising to start for about three years.
Anyway, setting is one of my favourite things about Wolves of Mercy Falls. Stiefvater's writing is transportative. 

3. The Romance

You're like a song I heard when I was a little kid, but forgot I knew until I heard it again." // Shiver

The two romances are totally different from each other; I cannot work out which one I love more.

Maggie Stiefvater - "He'd only been gone two seconds, but the room got brighter…:

Sam and Grace are a really refreshing couple, because their love is sweet and beautiful and not the angst-ridden torment that seems to be YA standard. And then you have Isabel and Cole, whom I can best describe as asdglkjgadg///.

by Jane W. Sheldon:
[source] // Jane W Sheldon // I properly love this illustration

4. The Magic

Shiver gets marketed as “for fans of Twilight", and when I say werewolf you may well think Jacob Black. But this could not be further from the truth. Wolves of Mercy Falls is not about hot boys who keep ripping their clothes off to reveal their abs, and also sometimes turn into wolves. The wolf aspect is very interesting, because it's really about humanity; what does it mean to be human? What is love? Is love inherently human? If part of you is a monster, are you still human? What is the essence of your humanity? It's so well done.

5. The Music
Both Sam and Cole are songwriters. Which is, you know, awesome.

Sam Roth. SHIVER. My all time favourite chapter.:
[source] // Sam's lyrics in Shiver

Fire on Ice:
[source] // this picture makes me think of Cole
Lovers and lawyers
Lips and teeth
Tally that memory
Give it a price
Is that your dream?
// Cole's lyrics in Sinner

6. The Poetry

As if he weren't a babe enough, Sam loves poetry and quotes it often.

And leaving you (there aren't words to untangle it)
Your life, fearful and immense and blossoming,
so that, sometimes frustrated, and sometimes
Your life is sometimes a stone in you, and then,
a star.
// Rainer Maria Rilke, as quoted in Shiver

by pedroyarbide:
Wolves of Mercy Falls is a very important series, and whether you want beautiful writing, beautiful characters, beautiful romance, beautiful setting, it's all there. I am convinced that Maggie Stiefvater is the best YA writer around. It's not just hype. I promise.


Remember that time when I didn't blog or read blogs for three weeks? As in ... I haven't blogged or read blogs for three weeks. This is not what I meant to happen, but I've been working full weeks (I have a new job) and also led on an SU camp. I am absolutely Chinese lacquered (my fave expression), but tomorrow I'm going to Skye for two weeks -- bliss! -- so hopefully I'll be showing my face around the internet again. General updates from my life: work is meh, SITC is powering ahead and I've read some great books. Thank you and goodnight.

Monday, 1 August 2016

July // Starting Sparks: August

I return from the unknown! I do have actual stuff to say in this post, but really before I say anything I must tell you that I just started Stay in the City!!!!!!!

Surprising as it may be, I do try to keep my blog posts slightly professional, as in, no emoticons, no asdfghjkl-ing and no multiple exclamation marks ... so can you tell I'm excited!?!!!!!


It is the 1st of August, friends, and that means it is one year to the day since I finished the first draft of TCATT. Now I'm starting the sequel, and there's a nice symmetry to that, isn't there?

I have loved the redrafting process of TCATT (really!), but I returned to it at the weekend to fix a fairly massive plot hole (more of a plot canyon, to be honest. Imagine Fourth Draft Me, squinting at her laptop as she realises that part of the ending makes no sense), and I was just gripped by the feeling of being so done. I love it with a burning passion, of course, but I've just rewritten and reread some of those scenes so many times and I really want and need to continue the story. Being without TCATT -- in those six weeks between drafts, or for the past six weeks since I finished the fourth draft -- is horrible. “I'm not living, I'm just killing time." (Spot that reference.) So the past two hours spent writing the first chapter of Stay in the City have been a dream. Returning to my kids characters! 

I use this gif far too often but there it is it's true!
I can't stop grinning inanely.


Do you want to know what I read in July?


Career of Evil was so good. I talked about it a fair bit in this post, but to recap, JK Rowling is my QUEEN and I completely adore everything about this series. This book stunned me and I love the characters so much it hurts and just-- do yourself a favour and read The Cuckoo's Calling, and then The Silkworm, and then Career of Evil, okay? Okay.

I LOVED SINNER A LOT. I am actually seeing Maggie Stiefvater in Glasgow tomorrow! Anyway. I might post about Wolves of Mercy Falls, because they are kind of like the slightly less lauded younger siblings of The Raven Cycle, but Sinner was just so good. Wonderful characters, beautiful writing, amazing setting, every. single. word. was perfect. 

Then there's River, which was stunning from start to finish. You know Ted Hughes is my favourite poet and this book did not disappoint. Never before have I been interested in salmon fishing, but there you are.

Hurry up. Join the love-orgy
Up here among the leaves, in the light rain,

Under a flimsy tent of dusky wings.

~ from Caddis

I see that The Aeneid is a conspicuous absence in these gushing paragraphs. I really, really liked it, and it's a very important book, but I did have problems. More thoughts here

Raven boys:
[source] // TRC, because it kind of relates to the Aeneid but also because, you know, Blue. Gansey.
July involved working for two weeks and then doing two Christian camps back to back. Work is fine -- slow, and not at all what I want to do with my life, but the people are lovely and it pays OK -- and both camps were great. I was a leader on the first and had far too much fun to have been any help teaching the gospel ... ! OK, I am kidding, but it was a delight: a lovely week in a beautiful place (a Scripture Union venue to which, I counted, I've been sixteen times over the past seven years. It is the home of my soul). We did Exodus and the campers were a joy and the team was lovely (all from my church, so just a lot of great friends, really).

On the second I was a camper (no actual tents involved, I hasten to add) and we did Leviticus and have you ever studied Leviticus?? Well me neither until last week and DANG it was so good! Did you know that Wycliffe, the Bible translator, couldn't find a good English rendering of the Hebrew word for atonement, so he made one up: at-one-ment, ie, a sacrifice enabling us to be at one with God???

Also, did you know that when the High Priest had finished making atonement he would take off his linen garments and leave them there? Do you know who else left some linen lying in his tomb after he'd finished making atonement?

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:19-23

Both camps were in Perthshire, which is a really pretty part of the world. I took this picture when, on the second camp, I went for a walk and attempted to hash the Plot Canyon out in my mind. I love writing walks. They're the best.
Since my return I have a) gutted my room -- putting out old clothes and throwing stuff away is such a good feeling! -- and b) gone for two lake swims and c) possibly got a job today for after the summer? Oh yeah and I started a book, I am now writing a book lalalalalala.


Can you tell I'm a bit all over the place?!

Starting Sparks August

Starting Sparks is that thing Ashley and me host. Have a look at the Starting Sparks page for more info. The basic idea is to help us all, as writers, to go forth and write! (And have a great time. That too.)
August prompt. Last month saw my embarrassment as I accidentally chose Vance Joy lyrics as the prompt. I was glad that August meant Ashley's turn to take the reins ...
I am excited about this one! You say metafiction, I jump to your side.

I hope you've all had wonderful Julys. I cannot wait to a) read your lovely blogs and b) reply to the lovely comments you left in my absence (thank you for doing so!). If you have a monthly recap post, link me up to it! Also, what did you enjoy reading in July? And are you excited that I'm seeing Maggie?!