Thinking about the future, the past, and some of the bits in between.

So this week I have been focusing on my dissertation piece for the summer. Only instead of writing for the story that I’ll be handing in, I’m instead planning out the intricate steps of twenty years before. The main character hasn’t even been born yet, she is currently part of the future of what I am writing, hidden in the mists of what is to come.

And I’m finding out a lot about the characters and setting. I thought I would, but not to the extent that I am. Both of the characters that are in the short story appear in my longer piece. They are, to greater and lesser extents, important to the plot, and yet I’m starting to understand how little I know about them. I have expectations of them, that as I am writing, I change or even go against. So yes, here’s my advice, if you really want to know the motivations of a character that is not your protagonist, then I recommend writing them. I was going to write something sarcastic here about you only need to go back twenty years to understand what’s going on now, but I think I accidentally made a lot of sense. Oops.

I’ve also FINALLY got kindle unlimited, at least the first free month version, and I’ve been running through books by the dozen. I’ve read a lot of poetry, a lot of first books in a series, a lot of obscure new genres that I didn’t know were a thing. It’s been illuminating. And, though this is possibly a mean thing to say, it has made me feel like a much better writer and poet. Especially poet. I’ll probably end up regretting this, especially as, like I said, it seems people are very keen to put the first book up in a series but very reluctant to put the rest of them up where they’re free to read. But I understand that. And I’ll probably fall into their trap, going on to buy plenty of books just because I read the first one for free.

This is especially true as there is a brand new genre for me to explore, I came across it while scrolling through the fantasy section and it fits there as well as anything else. This new genre is RPGLit which is, as far as I can understand it when you have an extra fourth wall between you and your story, a story which is modelled on Role Playing Games. It’s odd, decidedly so, but there are some really well-written stories out there about characters finding out that those adventurers who are running around the countryside are being controlled by creatures from another dimension. It’s a delicious expose on the ways some players like to run around causing havoc, while using expressions like “awesome” and “pawned” to the confusion of the ordinary people surrounding them.

But I’m off now to do some more writing, until next time!

Kirsty

Happy New Year!

So this is my first post in a while, but it’s great to be back!

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” on and off the last few weeks. It is a fantastic book but it can be quite heavy so I’ve been reading little bits at a time to avoid getting tired of it. It’s made me think a lot about the process of writing, about how this is a thing that unites so many people, and yet how differently we all see it.

I’ve also been diving through plenty of comics since Christmas, I got a huge pile and so I have been enjoying myself immensely. One of the best things about reading comics is that it helps you to see where you can tighten up your writing, especially dialogue. The comic with too much text is a rare beast and so you can start to pick up that sparely written style. That’s definitely something that I can learn from, I need to get a bit more comfortable writing what happens with less about what might have happened if the character had done things differently.

Personal projects have hit a bit of a bump lately, the January blues no doubt! But with the University schedule starting up again it’ll be fun to start carving out time for that work and defending it. Of course, I can’t promise that I will always be as productive as I would like, but having a plan, or at least a to-do list of bullet points, seems to settle my mind somewhat.

Anyway, Happy New Year to everyone, I hope you all have a wonderful year and that you get from it everything that you want and need!

History and Wisdom

Hi everyone,

I had a really great chat with Kirsty Gunn last week, we went over my plans for the end of module portfolio and she really got me thinking about my writing. One of the things she pointed out, that I really needed to hear, was that my chosen genre of fantasy is definitely one written at a marathon pace rather than a sprint. Hopefully, that will be enough to stop that little voice in my head shouting, “you should have gotten nine million words done by now, write, write, write!” And she also gave me a great idea for some technically-not-procrastinating work, which admittedly I very rarely need help to find, the idea is to write a faux history book for my fantasy setting. Write from the point of view of a historian many years later and really explore what parts of it all would be remembered and what would be lost. I really love that, and it would be especially helpful as I am writing numerous epigraphs for chapter starts and scene changes. Plus it would probably be a good way to finally settle on what I want to happen. I have tried to outline it before, I swear, it’s just everytime I do I come up with something new to add in.

I’m getting my way through Helen Scales’ “Spirals in Time” at the moment. It’s a really interesting and well-written look at shellfish and their evolution. And yes, I realise that this does not seem like something interesting, but I’m enjoying it and learning a lot. I also have  to admit something rather bad – I totally picked the book up because of its beautiful cover. Which is of course the exact opposite of what we are told to do, but it seems to have worked out this time. Sometimes good books have good covers too!

Anyway I think that will be all this week, my wisdom teeth have made an unwelcome resurgance and I would really love to know why we have them at all. Is it too much to ask that they could just spontaneously disappear?

See you next time,

Kirsty

Hallowe’en And Personal Terrors

So it’s the last hour or so of this years Hallowe’en, did anyone get dressed up to go guising? I was dressed up in a suitably witchy outfit, but I’m now in a snuggly hoody happy in the knowledge that the ghosts and ghouls are off to bed – and I can lay almost sole claim to the chocolates. Nobody came to our door except my flatmate’s parents who were dropping her off after a few days at home. It didn’t take much coaxing to get them to take some sweets. But my flatmate and I will make short work of the ones left.

 

I interviewed Mairi Hedderwick of Katie Morag fame today. She was wonderful and a joy to interview. It felt more like having a really good blether and I hope she felt the same. It was fantastically interesting to hear about how she got into writing. As an illustrator she was told that she should write as well as paint, she loved the idea, submitted some pictures and through a few twists and turns, five years later she published the first Katie Morag book. I also learned a lot about the creative process behind making the books and while I was never likely to go down that path I think I will be even more likely to leave it to those with the patience for it! As great as she was I am glad I don’t have another interview looming over me, I just need to get the essay written for it . . . maybe I should save some of those chocolates as a reward? One every hundred words perhaps?

 

I was also busy making a special Dungeons and Dragons campaign for tomorrow, my friends and (a friend’s younger brother, and) I will be exploring a ruined city filled with zombies and walking skeletons. It’s pushing my writing skills pretty hard. I have a couple dozen settings to come up with, plenty of non-player characters to design and a whole host of side quests to figure out. It’s tough but I can’t deny that I love it. The hardest thing is coming up with a few dozen different ways to have my players fight the same monsters. Skeletons and zombies can get old pretty quickly. That’s where subplots and side quests come in and I’m going to have fun terrifying them in a suitably Hallowe’en fashion. Luckily I won’t have to do one for Christmas as my flatmate has agreed to take over for a one off. For once I am going to get to play!

 

So happy Hallowe’en everyone,

Kirsty

Travelling Has Become A Theme

Well, my weekend was certainly busy, I managed to get home and celebrated my dad’s birthday and managed to get some much-needed reading done on the train. I finished Constellations and got started on the next book on my list, I’ll be writing a review for Constellations so I won’t say much more about it. Just watch this space!

Speaking of space, my attention has been grabbed lately by the idea of multigenerational spaceships. The distances in space are so huge that attempting to cross them in the lifetime of one person is not likely to happen until we can figure out a way of reliably making wormholes. So making ships that are communities with the idea of generations coming and going on the ship, all knowing that the journey is truly for the benefit of their great, great, great (etc., etc.) grandchildren. I just can’t help but feel that such a setting would make for great inter-personal drama. Children feeling as if their choices were taken from them, parents sacrificing their futures for their children (and children’s children), and all taking place in what must be one of the most claustrophobic communities possible. Do they have the chance to communicate with other ships? Or are they limited to the people all crammed into the same tin can flying through the vacuum of space at almost light speed? I just think it’s a setting rife with possibilities. I have not gotten around to writing anything for it yet, I am a bit too busy with other work, but it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to getting my hands on when I can.

I have also taken the time to get stuck into my portfolio project. I’ve managed to overcomplicate it for myself by not just making it an extract of a longer piece as I had planned, but I am also intending on having epigraphs at the start of every chapter – and for the portfolio at least – every time I change the scene. Like I said it means I have to do a lot more work, so far I’ve written a sonnet and a short skipping rhyme that will be put in at the beginning of the piece and at the star of the second scene. I’ve been trying really hard to make them work in the world I’ve built, they’re meant to be from that world, you see. So the sonnet is a piece of work by a poet during the timeframe of the story and the skipping rhyme is briefly mentioned in the work. The idea is that the epigraphs will add to the feeling of a deep and intricate world building, especially the later ones which will include extracts of letters describing scenes in the story from another’s point of view and even, if I can figure out how to write it, a piece written in the style of an academic essay. I quite like the idea of suggesting that a lot of the people in the story will one day be interesting to historians, as, after all, I deal with a lot of royals in it and at the very least they would be remembered. I think this has influenced my reading of Constellations, the book shows how the loss of so many people changes the lives of those who are left behind so perfectly, that I can’t help but be inspired by it.

The World Seems To Be Recommending Dystopian Reading

Hello all,

This week the news would inspire anyone into writing a dystopian novel and I’m afraid what I’ve been reading isn’t doing much to counter it.

An article that recently caught my attention was on a paper about ants that have created a colony in a disused nuclear weapons bunker in Poland. It turns out that they fall down a ventilation pipe from a more standard colony on the surface and once down there they cannot escape. They then make do the best they can in an entirely dark environment with minimal food and a temperature that doesn’t make it very far up the thermometer. The description is fantastic in both the article and the paper itself, it talks about the inches thick ant cemetery that borders the colony and the mystery of what exactly they manage to survive on. I’m sure this could be used as a metaphor in any number of novels and stories, in fact even the article acknowledges that the paper “reads like a dystopian novel from the 1970s”. You can read the article and get links to the paper itself at  http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/09/bizarre-ant-colony-discovered-in-an-abandoned-polish-nuclear-weapons-bunker/

 

One of the reasons it seemed to grab me was because I recently started reading “Constellation” by Adrien Bosc, winner of The Académie Française Prize. It is a biography of the forty eight people who died in a plane crash in 1949. So the idea of falling from one existence to another has been on my mind a bit this week. But then it’s a story seed that I imagine has grown into many trees over the years and I can’t imagine that it comes from a source that will have a famine any time soon.

 

I’ve also decided to have a bit of a reread of some Shakespeare plays, starting this week with “The Tempest”. Not the whole thing unfortunately, not yet anyway, but enough to remember how much I wanted to set Ariel free on my first reading of it. Next up should be a certain Scottish Play, but I’m tempted to save that for Halloween and instead skip to “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. At the moment the idea of mischievous faeries causing trouble seems a lot better than the idea that everything that’s happening right now is a purely human happenstance.

 

I told everyone last week about how I do a little “Dungeons and Dragons” and that seems to have caught people’s attention! Well believe me I am very happy to talk about it. D&D has pulled me in at the moment as it gives me the chance to build a world, populate it with characters and then dump my friends and family in it. It’s very performative, not only do I have to show my friends what’s been occupying my time, but I also have to describe the characters and settings, speak for the characters and sometimes use silly voices for those characters. You lose any preciousness fast, it’s very easy to see a beautifully planned piece of work go completely off the rails because someone decides to ignore the cross roads entirely and go hiking instead. Also, as I don’t want to kill off my characters too quickly I have to keep the foes to within allowed parameters. Much less hand waving of the Deus Ex Machina style is allowed when there are other people who can see the rules. I’m still learning to navigate those rules, but I think I’m getting better. Obviously I would recommend D&D to anyone that has the time and the chance to play it, but another narrative rich game I would point out to any readers looking for something to play is “Fallen London” which you can play online for free. The writing is great and the setting is wonderfully deep and rich.

 

I’m afraid I must leave you now, so good bye and I’ll see you next week,

Kirsty Mackay

A week late, but better late than never?

Hello everyone! My name is Kirsty Mackay and I am a writer, or at least I’m trying to be and I’m hoping this course will kick me into being one. I was supposed to post this last week, however there was unfortunately a bit of a technological snafu so you are getting this a wee bit late.

I write almost exclusively fantasy and science fiction, plus elements of game writing which frequently blend both into a strange and terrifying muddle. Almost all of my characters are women or non-binary, I love writing characters that would be, in more traditional media, ignored, villainised or “fridged”.* I think I write so many characters that usually fall between the cracks of modern media as a way of fighting back. Plus it’s much harder to fall into old clichés when you are actively writing against those clichés. Though sometimes I like to pick up clichés, steal them and give them a makeover. You know, give the bossy mother a war axe and send her after the ravening horde that’s ruining her vegetable patch, or make the nervous schoolgirl secretly a witch with terrifying powers or make the cheerful and pink best friend of the goth girl a vampire who doesn’t take kindly to people being mean to her BFF. Turning people’s expectations around on them is fun, though my friends have started to pick up on my evil smirk being a bit of a hint, so I might have to dial it back a wee bit!

I think that love of twisting people’s expectations partly comes from my love of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books. I adore those books, luckily there are over forty of them so I don’t have to worry about running out any time soon and I’m holding the last few in reserve for days in the future when I really need a good book with plenty of fantastic characters, humour and wonderful world building.

I’ve also been writing for games a lot recently, Dungeons & Dragons especially, as I’ve bullied a few of my friends into playing. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, it has all the best bits of fantasy writing, gambling and dramatic improv. Though I might be a bit biased as I spent four hours last week leading some adventurers through a cave system, a very dangerous cave system it turns out as it was filled with Helmed Horrors and fungus that was both violet and violent. I’m hoping to post a better and more neatly written version of the adventure on the Dungeons Master’s Guild website. Once up there other people can download and play it themselves.

Anyway, I’m sure that’s all you need to know about me for now. Once I get a few more things up on the web I might come back and update this page with links to where you can find them, but I need to actually get things written for that to happen! Well fingers crossed and may your pens never run out and your brains never get the dreaded writer’s block,

Kirsty Mackay.

 

 

* “Fridged” refers to the cliché of killing off a usually female love interest to create DRAMA and ANGST in the usually male main characters. It comes from a Green Lantern comic where a female character was killed off screen and left for the main character to find in his fridge.