Public Reading at Cúirt

So it’s been awhile since I posted (I know, I know, don’t look at me like that). As cheeky as it might be to not post for ages and then do some self-promo here we are, at this intersection of business and cheekiness.

My class is launching their anthology at the Town Hall bar in Galway tomorrow evening (Sat 28th April) at 5pm. I will be reading from my short story “Mrs Culann’s Dog.” And to make up for the aforementioned cheekiness there will be free wine on the night! How about that now? Everybody is welcome to attend, we have plenty of wine and readings from a great variety of writing styles planned. Nuala Ní Chonchúir will be launching A Thoroughly Good Blue.

Next week I will start posting again about other stuff – mainly writing and reading as usual – and hopefully I’ll have a good explanation for my absence. Ta ta for now!

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Christmas Existential Angst (AKA the nativity reborn)

So I’m in the throes of my final edit (scary days ahead), I just thought I’d drop in and share two of my favourite stories that explore what the holiday season is all about: The birth of Santa!

I kid, I kid, but these are somewhat non-traditional stories about old St. nick, enjoy

Nicholas Was… by Neil Gaiman.

I’m very tempted to side step the whole ‘telling your kids the truth about Santa thing’ by just reading them this as a bedtime story one christmas eve. It’s a really short story/poem but for those of you who don’t like following links here is a reading of it:

And here Gift of Ages by JohnSu

feel free to link to your own favourite Christmas Stories in the comments, even ones you’ve written yourself, I need to get rid of my Curmudgeonly Scrooge-like sensibilities before Sunday

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NaNo Reflections

So that was… Interesting, to say the least.

Turns out November is a pretty crap month for getting things done in; there’s fighting the obligatory winter cold, End of term meet ups/parties/shindigs, so much college work, the fact that my class has only just decided we want to publish an anthology of which I masochistically chose the role of associate editor, Christmas money woes and anything else that happens to crop up (such as Terry Pratchett visits, parent wedding anniversaries and the like) so I didn’t reach my goal.

Because about 70% what I was doing was editing, not writing from scratch, I had intended to get the whole thing edited and ready for one final draft, or realistically speaking 60,000 words. I got about 52,000, fraud though I am I’m still sticking the badge up on my profile.

On the plus side I think I’ve got a pretty good system for editing sorted out now and I should have Rapeseed polished to the best of my ability by mid-January, then it’s in the hands of my beta readers.

You may have noticed my new Wordcount-o-meter in the side bar? It shows my various projects that my short attention span has birthed. I have some poetry and short stories in the works, maybe working towards a collection, joint or separate I’m not sure yet. I kind of like the idea of a joint poetry and prose collection a la Neil Gaiman. I also have begun my Creative Writing portfolio for college which will count for 70% of my mark (I think), so far it’s untitled. I’ll blog about that some time in the future. I also suffered a fit of frustration in the face of editing the sprawling mass that is the second half of Rapeseed and started a new novel called The Waiting Place, I intend to continue that sometime after the holidays.

That’s about it for now, as fun as NaNo was I wouldn’t recommend it for those who are editing, NaNo is about quantity not quality whereas editing is the exact opposite. Also for those of you who agree that November sucks I’d recommend A Round of Words in 80 Days instead.

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24 hours stalking Terry Pratchett

I should probably give some background before I’m arrested.

I love Terry Pratchett, absolutely adore everything he’s ever written. When I was about 10 my uncle from Delaware recommended the dragon lance books to me. You couldn’t get them very easily here so they used to send them over to me. Then Mom got me to read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I began to work my way through my local bookshop’s tiny fantasy and sci-fi section. I read Terry Brooks, Douglas Adams, quite a few of the star wars books but I always shied away from Pratchett because his book covers looked so lurid and out there, I was only beginning to get into fantasy and trying to avoid children’s books because I was ‘all growed up,’ and lets face it, his covers did lead me to believe that they were for children. But the books were always intriguing. In my bid to be a ‘growed up’ I even read the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, marginally more disturbing than anything I’ve ever read before or since. Eventually I ran out of other books to read (like I said, they didn’t have much) so I picked up the Colour of Magic and I was hooked.

Professor Sir Terry Pratchett OBE and Blackboard Monitor

A typical Sunday or Saturday back then: Myself, Mom, Dad and my sister walked into town. We’d leave Dad at the square so he could go to the pub and the rest of us would go do the shopping, groceries, clothes, school stuff, whatever we needed. We’d always end with a trip to the book shop. Then we’d join Dad in the pub and me and my sister would sit in the corner reading while the barman gave us free crisps and dairy milks.

It was a small pub, often packed to capacity. I read through all-Ireland finals like that. I read through the hitchhikers guide trilogy of five and a good portion of the discworld. That’s when I stopped trying to be grown up because it didn’t matter at all. Occasionally when I discovered a quote I would run over and recite it to my parents and the barflys that still recognise me to this day but I have trouble telling apart. I’d declare something like ‘Give a man a fire and he’ll be warm for an hour, but set him on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.’ then I’d run back to my corner and keep reading in search of more gems. Terry Pratchett is the reason I write because he taught me the fun you can have with language. He taught me how important it is to imagine how things should be and work towards them.He taught me a lot about people.

His presence as a member of staff in Trinity College was the icing on the cake when choosing Trinity over Belfast or UCD. His inaugural lecture last year was brilliant and last Wednesday night there was a questions and answers session with him and the head of the English Department, the ever-quirky Daryl Jones (I think all English professors are contractually obliged to be eccentric)

It was technically only for alumni and I had an essay and a story to submit that week as well as NaNo, but I volunteered to help out anyway. Myself and my friends were sitting in the front row, a meter, maybe a meter and a half from the genius himself. Afterwards there was a wine reception and while a few people monopolised his time, asking questions and that, we still got a picture with him and got to hob-nob over glasses of wine in the same room.

Then on Thursday we had a class with him. This was definitely the highlight for me. There was only fifteen of us in a room sitting around a table with him and we got to ask him any questions we like about writing. We got world building advice, a debate on genre fiction vs. literary, ideas for novels, the writing process and a truly epic tangent when one guy asked where he bought his hat. He talked about his new novel Snuff, no one else had read it so he turned to me and said “I’m just going to address this to my reader and the rest of you can all piss off.” For the rest of the afternoon he called me “my reader.” Best. Moment. ever. We talked about so much but here are the best bits.

Gems of Terry Pratchett:

  • The hat tangent: When Zach asked him where he got his hat he got incredibly specific details, then a commentary on fashion, praise of Victorian fashion, telling us how Queen Victoria really did like sex after all, then he talked about Victorian birth control.
  • He calls Cúchulainn Cuhooligan
  • he recommended we get jobs in local news papers, it will help writing
  • We need an eye for the serendipitous – if you’re open to ideas and information it will come to you, if you’re receptive towards inspiration it will swarm towards you.
  • he told us stories from his life that stuck with him which he later inserted into his books. He also told us quite a few stories that he hasn’t written yet and gave us full permission to write them first. He took us through one specific incident that fascinates him – the frozen ice trade in America in the 18th century – that stuck with him and explained how one thing can become so many different plots.
  • He doesn’t outline – the first draft tells him what the second draft will be
  • G. K. Chesterton’s work taught him about humour and paradox. The Punch comics taught him about literature and the world
  • “Walking through London is like walking through a kaleidoscope of colours, all golden people and they’re all English.” If you speak English you’ll become English. He reckons Hiberno-English is a particularly rich dialect.
  • I asked him why fantasy has had such enduring appeal for him considering he started off his career with YA and sci-fi. He said fantasy has all the tools, all the colours. You don’t have to mess about with with other colours to get the same effect. Approaching reality with fantasy reveals something new, with it he can turn his hand to anything.
  • He defined magic realism as “a bastard that says’ I’m a proper writer, but I’m going to write some fantasy.'”
  • he didn’t expect The Colour of Magic to be as successful as it was, he was halfway through writing another book called The Long Earth, which dealt with parallel universes.
  • To write you need to have  a love of language, word games and puns. Dramatising the truth for the purposes of instruction is soulless, you need to be able to spin words on the tip of your fingers. Facility with language is half the battle.
  • You need to research both your genre and outside your genre, bring new things to it.
  • Ideas are 10 a penny, what’s difficult is finishing.
  • When world-building don’t give a travelogue. The reader already knows what high mountains look like. Instead use a piece of dialogue or something. Show what’s different about these specific mountains. You can go over the top in descriptions when you describe through perceptions. Use things to describe a storm that you wouldn’t be able to attribute to ordinary weather.
  • He was successful because he made fun of the fantasy that doesn’t understand human beings or doesn’t know enough about reality. In fantasy you have to be real about the things that are real e.g. how long a horse can gallop for. If you make it real, say with a barbarian warrior whose feet still hurt, it’s relatable.

Afterwards he even signed books, I thought he wouldn’t but he signed The Colour of Magic for me.

Occasionally he was grasping for words and there were quite a lot of tangents but the signing was the only time when his alzheimers became apparent, his hands shook and it’s fairly illegible but it’s still one of my most treasured possessions.

There was a debate in the Phil society that evening ‘that the house would legislate in favour of assisted suicide for all adults.’ It was the single most absurdly formal thing I’ve ever seen. They were all in suits an dicky bows, lots of formulaic talking and reading of the minutes, standing up and sitting down at alarming rates. Then the debate began in earnest. All the speakers were very good and engaging and responded to audience interjections and POI’s well (except for the last guy, what the hell was that about?). It was really interesting and the pro-euthnasia side won, because frankly I don’t think anyone there was going to vote against Pratchett. No-one interrupted his talk, he spoke very softly but you could hear everything he said. He said he’s signed the letter to Dignitas but hopes he’ll never have to use it, he’d prefer a more English death. He spoke about his illness and why he signed the letter and that he’s glad he has it in his top drawer for when he needs it.

But fear not, he  said he has a few more books in him and that he’s in the middle of his autobiography.

He is a great man, a genius I’d say, and it will be a sad day when he does make the trip to Switzerland. No matter what I will continue reading and re-reading the Discworld for as long as I am able to read and write.

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10,000 words: take 2

So you may remember the insanity that was last Saturday night. I am doing something similar this weekend, perhaps more relaxed times, a different word count. I haven’t decided the rules yet but it definitely won’t be as late as last week, it’s my parents wedding anniversary tomorrow and myself and my sister are cooking, this could go horribly wrong even without being sleep deprived.

My current NaNo progrees bar says I have 18530 words out of 50,000. If I can get to 30,000, or even 26,000 by tomorrow night I’ll be happy. I’m not sure if Sean’s interested, hang on a minute while I text him…


/ 15000 words. 0% done!

So I’ve decided my playlist for tonight’s event, it consists entirely of Tim Minchin videos, here are a few of the best but the easily offended should not follow these links:

1. Prejudice
2. Peace Anthem for Palestine
3. Drowned
4. F*ck the Poor
5. Canvas Bags
6. Not Perfect
7. Storm
8. The Pope Song
9. If I didn’t have you
10. Darkside

18:47 So after sitting down to write I was almost immediately called and told to pick up Mom from work and take her to Tesco so the wordcount still stands at “0” but I’m cautiously optimistic about the next hour


560 / 15000 words. 4% done!

So I’m actually writing a scene that’s making the obnoxious literary side of me come through, it’s kind of difficult because I want to make it accessible and compelling to read but there’s also lots of pretentious crap I want to fit in too.

Basically the scene is in the 50s in Ireland, Sunday mass, and my main character (a twelve year old girl) is going up for communion. You with me so far?

She has reasons not to like this priest, nothing to do with abuse or that he’s just not a very nice person, arrogant, dismissive etc. and the night before he got really angry at her in confession.
This is where stuff gets literary.

As she’s walking up the aisle I want to compare the red carpet in the church to the purples in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. In the Agamemnon he comes home from the Trojan war and his wife lays out their red silks, representing their wealth. He walks up to his house along this red strip and as soon as he goes in his wife murders him in the bath (as you do). With the red he’s walking on a river of his own blood to his death, showing all the death he caused too… Awesome right? It’s one of those scenes that I get really excited about, it’s an amazing play and I intend to write a blog post about it later on.

So I’m struggling to make it fit and for it to be fun to read but I’m damned if I’m going to leave it out!


1192 / 15000 words. 8% done!

So it turns out this metaphor lark is better than I thought, my MC is burned in chapter one (which could symbolise the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis), the fairies can be the Furies from Eumenides and my wise grandfather character who knows all about the fairies but no-one believes is like Cassandra! Isn’t the subconscious amazing?

But I am working very slowly tonight. I need to hire this guy to stand behind my chair and make me work

22:00 It was pointed out to me that food is a good idea so I was coaxed out of my room with a Chinese take-away (even though I was promised Indian, grr) a lit fire and a glass of wine. I love fires. I’m working on the couch next to the fire and it’s currently so hot in here that I’m in a vest and shorts and I don’t care. If When I become rich and famous I’m going to have a fireplace in my office, a big massive one, like this,

Only bigger!

23:00 Move over coffe, writing has a new best friend and it’s name is white wine! which also gives me an excuse to link one of Tim Minchin’s only non-comedy videos that I like:

Isn’t he brilliant?
(the answer is yes, yes he is)

Also I’d like to point out that since starting NaNo I’ve written:
5,500 words of notes on my novel (stuff to put in later chapters, that kind of thing)
2,500 words of a short story
200 words of poetry
1500 words of an essay
4 blog posts
30 pages of handwritten notes for class

That’s at least 10,000 extra words right there, I’m very tempted to count them. But if we’re going strictly by the rules my wordcount stands at

2066 / 15000 words. 14% done!

So I’ve reached the beginnings of a subplot, I’m pretty certain the entire thing isn’t working though. I need to stop and think for awhile about where to go with this or if I should just cut it out altogether. What better way to ponder it than to go to bed and read A Dance with Dragons? So I will finish the marathon tomorrow(ish)

3000 / 15000 words. 20% done!

Night Night!

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Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair

This is going to be a very brief post because I’m in the throes of NaNoWriMo and college papers but the Irish writers’ centre (near the garden of remembrance in Dublin)  is running a novel fair in March specifically designed for first time novelists to network with publishers and agents.

This is from their website:

The inaugural Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair for first-time novelists will take place on March 10th 2012.  The Novel Fair aims to introduce up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents, giving novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas and place their synopsis and sample chapters directly into the hands of publishers and agents…

…Representatives from Penguin Ireland, Transworld, O’ Brien Press, Lilliput Press, Hachette Books, Liberties Press, Little Island, Arlen House and New Island will be present on the day. Literary agents such as Marianne Gunn O’ Connor, Yvonne Kinsella, Emma Walsh, Ger Nichol, Paul Feldstein and Jonathan Williams will also be present.

They say it’s an amazing opportunity and I agree, there’s some heavy hitters on that list, Marianne Gunn O’Connor and even Jonathan Williams; a lecturer of mine and the first literary agent in Ireland.

The only catch is you have to submit 10,000 words of your novel and a 300 word synopsis BY FRIDAY.

For anyone on top of their NaNo word count this should be no problem. For anyone else I sense an all-nighter is in order.

I apologise for the last minute notice but I only just discovered there’s a submission deadline myself, I thought that we could just show up on the day clutching our manuscripts and dreams in our sweaty little writers hands but that is not the case. You have been forewarned, I am going to need enough coffee to reach a completely zen state to pull this off but it’s worth a shot

I knew I'd get to use all my coffee gifs eventually!

On an not quite separate note I thoroughly recommend membership to the Irish Writers’ Centre in order to avoid last minute confusions like this (I say this as a complete hypocrite who cannot currently muster the €50 annual membership fee)

UPDATE: I’ve just discovered they have a mailing list and a facebook page so that’s a cheaper way to keep an eye on them

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Night of 10,000 words

So there’s a challenge on the nanowrimo forums to write 10,000 words between 8pm tonight and 8am tomorrow. (Unfortunately I can’t find the link so there is a chance the crazy part of my brain made this up…) I’ve tweaked the rules a little, going from 6pm until 6am so I can function on a ‘normal’ level tomorrow

I am doing this with Sean Wills, we will both be live blogging it so come witness our descent into madness! Free ringside seats to the night of 10,000 words and a similar number of coffee breaks!

18:00 it begins

0 / 10000 words. 0% done

19:00  Taking a break to make my first cup of coffee of the evening. it can only get worse from here…

19:22 The local kids are playing outside. What kid plays outside in November at half seven?! They were being really loud so I stood on the balcony and glared at them meaningfully until I realised what an how odd that would look to any parents who were watching…

On the plus side I’m past the 1,000 word mark. It’s all downhill from here, right?

1178 / 10000 words. 12% done!

21:00 my computer is not my friend. After spending ages trying to set up Google + hangout chat thingummy so Sean and I could taunt each other, my computer overheated and turned off. the mike didn’t even work. So I’m a bit behind on ye old word count. On the plus side I think I’ve cleared up quite a lot of the mess from my previous attempts at this chapter.

2075 / 10000 words. 21% done!

22:00 starting to fade a bit now, the words are coming quicker but I’m not sure how much sense they make. Oh well, took a break to read A song of Ice and Fire: A Feast of Crows and then he killed SPOILER, who’s one of the only characters I’m still rooting for. I got really angry and read frantically to see how they would be avenged, then gave up and checked the table of contents. Turns out they’re not dead after all so normality resumed and the word race can continue

3075 / 10000 words. 31% done!

5th cup of coffee today!

23:30 So now I’m pretty much horizontal on the couch, can’t sit up much longer without all my vertebrae compressing into one solid mass. I’m also convinced that this building is home to wild gangs of unsupervised children, they’re playing pokemon out in the hall and it’s taking all my willpower not to join them.

On the writing front I just edited a scene I was very happy with, almost nothing needed to be changed and now I’m stuck in the middle of a scene that could have been better written by someone tap dancing across the keyboard. The excitement continues!

4570 / 10000 words. 46% done!

24:00 it’s officially tomorrow! My bed is looking very comfortable right about now…

01:15 So I’ve fallen prey to the adverb demon, and the inconsistent grammar demon… it’s going to take awhile to exorcise all these from the manuscript. I’m now at the point where I’m writing completely new scenes from scratch. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve written so far, my teeth however are not happy, they’ve been assaulted by coffee, diet coke and most of the leftover Halloween chocolate…

6166 / 10000 words. 62% done!

My teeth can take another one for the team, MORE COFFEE!

We’re not retreating, we’re advancing to future victories!

2:55 Now I’m on chapter three! After weeks of lingering around chapter one I’ve suddenly flown through the rest. I wonder if I should make this a regular thing, once a month or something. Worth thinking about

7065 / 10000 words. 71% done!

3:07 So it turns out if you type ‘askew’ into Google the page appears slightly off kilter. Bet you can’t guess what happens if you search ‘do a barrel roll’
I think all the coffee might be beginning to have an adverse affect on my attention span…

I am going to bed, I have a some college work to do tomorrow, some Gears of War to play, some people to be grouchy at. My final word count is (drum roll please)

7720 / 10000 words. 77% done!

Not to shabby, not 10,000 but I think I’ve earned some sleep, or some catatonia, not sure which it’s going to turn out. Thank you for bearing with me during these hours of madness, we now return you to your regular programming…

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National Novel Writing Month

So it’s been awhile since I finished my novel and it’s sat there ever since, an unedited mass of smelly words that are daring me to edit it while I, with similar tenacity, have ignored it.

I don’t want to launch into a new work because then I’ll never actually finish anything so instead, as per Chuck Wendig’s advice, I’m using this NaNoWriMo as ‘National Edit Your Shit Month.’ I’ll be happy if I have 65,000 edited to the point where they can stand on their own two feet by the end of the month. Then ideally I’ll be finished in time for Chirstmas.

There’s tons of writign advice out there including lots of good resources on the NaNoWriMo site. The forums are great (If a bit of a time sink) and there are regional meet ups and dozens of blogs offering writing advice.

So what am I going to do to this mire of often dubious advice? Add to it of course! Only it won’t always be advice, sometimes it will be narcissistic self-indulgent posts and rants to relieve the stress.

It’s 12:45 on November 1st and so far I’ve edited 266 words. [614 if I count my contents, my title page and all the little notes I’ve made to remind me of things for later chapters – but I’m trying to be fair about this]

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A Cautionary note on “Historical” Fiction

There is one important word in the phrase ‘Historical Fiction.’

Clue: That word is NOT ‘Historical.’

If you want to learn history pick up a text-book, or a first hand account, or watch a documentary. Historical Fiction is fiction, first and foremost.

I won’t deny that some historical fiction novels are extremely accurate while others show brief glimpses of accuracy but you should not come to the genre actively seeking enlightenment on what life was like ‘back then.’

What it is good at is giving you an interest in a particular aspect of history, making you want to learn about certain events or times. For example, I read the first two books in Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series and decided I wanted to know more about Genghis Khan so I looked him up online and I went to the library. At no point did I take Iggulden’s word as fact until I had it confirmed by a historian.

Now I’m not saying this is a bad thing, far from it. I love the Conqueror series but I’m also aware that it’s primary objective is to entertain, not educate. Iggulden is better than most when it comes to historical accuracy (Although he learned it after his Julius Caesar saga)

Here’s a few quick thoughts on historical fiction and some ways it differs from other kinds of fiction:

1. Character:

there’s lots of character driven fiction out there but for historical fiction the centrality of characters is imperative (doesn’t that sound awful fancy?).  The thing with historical fiction is we already know how it’s going to end – except in books that use only a historical setting with completely original characters and plot. if we don’t know a quick search on BBC history can tell us the answer. We know Brutus killed Caesar, we know Genghis invaded China, we know Rome won the Punic wars or that the North won the American civil war, we know that America ‘won’ the space race (Although I maintain that’s because they decided what constituted winning).

Therefore Historical fiction cannot keep us in suspense about the larger plot, especially if the main character is one of the more famous participants in these events. The only remedy for this is to make the characters extremely vivid, make it easy to relate to them, make us care about them so that we grow to care about the specifics of what happens to them. The subplot or romantic interest becomes important, even the details become more vivid. Yes Brutus killed Caesar in the senate house but hat was each of them feeling? How aware was Caesar of what was going to happen? Does the author make Brutus an assertive paragon of the republic bravely doing what had to be done or is he a cowardly senator pressured into it?

All of these are choices made by the author, they are what make it fiction.

2. Learn your history:

Just because the reader should not expect to learn any history doesn’t meant he author shouldn’t either. I’m not denying that people learn stuff historical fiction, I’m just saying it’s difficult to separate the history from the fiction.

actual inaccuracies Vs. Picking a version of history

author’s have to change stuff. They use their own interpretations, they pick specific versions of history or sides of a debate, they take advantage of periods when history is a little fuzzy or biased, sometimes they leave bits out to streamline the narrative, sometimes they make slight alterations to either a person’s character or an event to fit the story they are trying to tell, sometimes they fill in the gaps in history. All of these are choices. To make a choice you must first be informed on the subject.

There is NO excuse for shoddy research.

For example: Iggulden changed/fabricated a  lot of Caesar’s early childhood so that he cold set up his relationship with Brutus and explain their opposition more clearly. That’s fine. Getting simple things wrong, things which do not affect the plot in any way such as the  typical menu at a Roman feast, is just plain lazy(I’m looking at you Napier).

3. characters should not educate other characters!

I cannot state this enough but author’s should not try and catch the audience up or set the scene by having characters monologue the bleeding obvious at other characters (Yeah, I just used monologue as a verb. Got a problem with that?)

I mean that characters shouldn’t have a conversation where they explain to each other things about their world that they should already know by virtue of living in that world. No generals should not explain the structure of the army to each other, I’d have hoped they learned that before they became generals. Characters from the same city/nation/faction should not explain their customs to each other. Basically any conversation that starts with ‘as you already know…’ should set off warning bells.

But however will the audience understand? 

Forgive me if I’m wrong but isn’t that what narrators are for? Telling the story, explaining events, drawing the reader in, all that type of thing? John Stack has an excellent way of fitting this kind of exposition into dialogue without making it sound contrived. He has two main characters, one is a soldier in the legions from Rome. The other is a Greek and is captain of one of the first vessels in Rome’s tiny navy. In this context it would make sense that the characters have to explain stuff to each other as they work together. One doesn’t understand sea tactics, the other doesn’t get footsoldiers. One doesn’t understand Roman customs, the other Greek.

Please, if your characters explain stuff to each other make sure they have good reason to do so. If not ask yourself’ would it be better to leave it to my narrator to divulge this piece of information?’ Or, better yet ‘does my reader actually need to know this?’

I like historical fiction, there’s plenty of good novels out there and it’s a great way to get interested in history and discover things that you might otherwise have never heard about but remember that it’s first and foremost about the story.

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Prostitution in Game of Thrones

There has been much criticism of Game of Thrones, especially of the TV series. It’s been accused of being sexist, racist, sexist, too violent, sexist and sexist again. Now most of this critisim has been levelled at the HBO adaptation so I’ve studiously ignored it but I was at a friend’s house the other day and she said she’d just finished reading the first book. While she thought it was good, it was far too sexist for her tastes. I challenged her on this and her response ran somehitng like ‘Oh the prostitution! it’s everywhere! so many prostitutes, is nobody safe?!’ only less hysterical.

So i decided it’s time to weigh in. I’m half-way through a storm of Swords part 2 so this will only really about the books up until there, not the TV show as that’s covered in more detail elsewhere.


The show added a lot of prostitution that wasn’t really in the original but I found the original quite feminist. Look at characters like Arya Stark, Daenerys Targareyn or Brienne Whatshername, especially in the later books, and it’s clear that there a numerous incidents of strong powerful women being progressive and assertive and all that good stuff in a world that doesn’t necessairly cater for this.

The negative first: Yes there is quite a lot of sex in the books. So? sex on it’s own is not a problem and I never felt that it was used gratuitously. Sexuality is used usually for plot points (i.e. when Sansa gets her period she’ll be forced to marry and sleep with Joffrey), to create a specific atmosphere (How creeped out were you when Robert Arryn was still breastfeeding at age 9?), or for character development (see the numerous scenes between Danerys and Drogo). So where does the negative come into it? Yeah, all the prostitutes are women, the men were too busy dying in various wars to branch out into prostitution. There are scenes of sexual domination over women and men often brag about it to other men because that’s what they do in testorone fueled war filled society. But at no point did I feel the narrator was condoning any of this behaviour, the only time sexual objectification of women felt normalised (for me at least) was when a particular character was normalising it. In this way we learned more about that character and his (or her) world view. Yes there are scenes of violent sex but for them not to take place at all would be implausible. Even in modern warfare and modern civilisation sex is a weapon and a tool and rapes occur all the time. In a society that is arguably more violent than ours it just wouldn’t be believable if it didn’t take place. G. R. R. Martin never claims that this is a desirable state of being.

The positive : As I mentioned there’s strong women (I might cover that in more detail some other time), the sex isn’t always a bad thing, and the prostitutes aren’t crawling out of the walls. It’s more the references to them that are everywhere. Frequently men are bragging about sexual exploits that probably never happened. Again we are learning about the characters themselves, this kind of dialogue doesn’t necessarily denigrate the women in and of itself. In fact there are occasions where it makes more of a show of the man who said it. But what about the poor prostitutes? I hear you ask.  Don’t they get a voice at all? Isn’t pushing them into the background as merely a conversation starter for men just as bad as sexually objectifying them? Well it would be if that was what was happening but it isn’t. In a world dominated by swords chivalry and patriarchy many women use their sexuality as an extremely effective weapon. Look at Cersei Lannister, her incestuous relationship with Jaime was born from love but also allows her to ensure the succession of the throne is entirely in Lannister hands. She was wed to a man she did not love and rather than weep and become a broken woman she took control of her sex life, refused to have his children and proceeds to gain more and more control over King Robert, then King Joffrey as the series progresses. She is effectively Queen of the land. Look at Daenerys Targareyn, how she grows as a character through her self affirming marriage with Drogo. One of the first positive acts in her journey to become Queen is loosing her virginity. Both sold as brides, virtually prostituted to gain power for their male relatives, yet they turn the situation around and claim the power for themselves. The Game of Thrones has room for Queens as well as Kings, and these Queens are just as well equipped using their sexuality in nefarious manipulative and even joyous life affirming ways. Even when it boils down to the prostitutes themselves Daenarys is virtually sold to Khal Drogo, Chataya is a pretty smooth business lady, Alayaya is shown as intelligent and kind, teaching herself to read, even Shae becomes a very important character despite some uncertainty over her motives in being with Tyrion (He pays her wages after all). The fact that Tyrion’s first wife was a prostitute turns out to be hugely important to his character development but again, I did not feel that the girl was necessarily portrayed as beaten down and exploited. She got paid for what she did and paid well, she chose to enter into it and Martin even tells s the story through his voice so that the violent sexual domination that followed is more of a psychological of profile of Tyrion’s inferiority complex than anything else. The girl is removed from the violence itself in this detached account, the narrative did not revel in it.

The setting : Once Upon A Time Tolkien became the god of all that is fantasy literature. And it was then decreed that all fantasy can only take place in a homogenous middle ages European society with magic thrown in. I think it was Ben Yahtzee Crowshaw who blamed Tolkien for the fact that the phrase ‘Standard Fantasy Setting’ can now be uttered without the slightest hint of irony. I mentioned the setting once or twice earlier in the post and I’d like to analyze it here. Despite all the ideology of fantasy as  genre where anything can happen it still has to be believable. That’s why, when author’s throw in tropes like magic, they tend to set their stories in a recognisable place where humans also believed in magic. hence the domination of the medieval from where people legitimately believed this stuff could happen. Along with that belief comes the limited opportunities for women etc.

I want to look at how this specifically functions in Game of Thrones though. Martin’s book is, above all else, political. it’s a character driven struggle for power and dominance over the rest of the land. To fit in all the violence and intrigue and to tie in with what most fantasy fans believe it makes sense that they’re fighting for is a Kingship. Now in a land like this the army and formation fighting is necessary. History has shown that facing this kind of weaponry armour, arms, stamina etc. are required, it takes a hardy bunch of lads. Women genetically speaking are not predisposed to develop the kind of muscle necessary and in societies like this they were not often given the chance to, more on that in a minute. (However Martin includes several female warriors and leaders: Danaerys, Brienne, The free folk beyond the wall, the leader of one of Tyrion’s wild hordes is a woman – So Martin does accept that women are just as good as men on the battle field before anyone gets angry about that). The men dominate in the ranks however, and frankly that’s because most of them are going to get killed. When all the men die the population needs to replenish itself so that’s one major reason why women are largely absent from the frontline in this series, logically speaking you need more women than men to reproduce quickly. Also in a society that has so many wars and conflicts that at this point I’m beginning to lose track, it’s natural that the vast majority of that societies’ wealth will be spent on wars. therefore, no universities. The careers for the common people are limites to trades. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker, that sort of thing. A lot of these trades involve quite heavy physical labour that quite frankly is difficult and dangerous after about the sixth month of pregnancy, why are you pregnant? Oh yeah, because everybody died. However some women do not become attached or tied down, and even the ones that do often have careers in this world. How many landladies, female innkeepers, blacksmith, cooks  etc. are scattered throughout the books? Some of the women who are prostitutes are clearly doing it because they want to, look at Chataya’s in the later books.

Yes there is a lot of prostitution and un-consensual sex but in a series based around a throne, therefore an aristocracy, women are valued for breeding, preserving lines, purity etc. With purely logical reasoning it’s no surprise that the story Martin set out to write requires women’s sexuality has paramount importance to the plot. It simply wouldn’t be believable that a land with this kind of psyche wouldn’t have prostitutes. I think Martin handles his female characters admirably and for me, even the prostitutes have become some of the most memorable characters of the series.

Postscript: Let us remember that there are no equal opportunities for men in Westeros either. I have yet to hear someone saying that it’s sexist that all the men are conscripted into armies, sent off to war and killed before most of them get through puberty.

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