Them’s Writing Words

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I write in the mornings. I have to: I work in the afternoons and evenings. But I think I’d write in the mornings anyway, given that my mind is then fresh and I have some kind of enthusiasm going for me.

Now I have book contracts out there, I have deadlines. And meeting the deadline is what turns things into a need to churn out a certain number of words a day. I often hear other writers say how many words they do per day: 2,000, 3,000 – even one who boasted she’d done 22,000 in one weekend. Some do 20,000 words a week. Some can churn out a novel in six weeks.

I set myself at 1,000 words a day for five days a week. After 1,000 words my brain starts to scream at me to stop the pain, although the most I did once was 4,000 in one sitting. My first book, ‘Days of Iron’, too me ten years to write. It’s still due for another edit. It could be better.

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Nicholas Monsarrat, author of ‘The Tribe That Lost Its Head’ and ‘The Master Mariner’, wrote 600 words a day. He did this after consuming two beers for breakfast. R. F. Delderfield wrote 23 pages a day. Georges Simenon, 20 pages. Jack London, between 1,000 and 1500 per day; Stephen King, 2,000. It took J. R. R. Tolkein eleven years to write ‘The Lord of the Rings’, which is a hefty 670,000 words. That works out to 245 words a day.

Every writer has their goal of words per day. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter, as long as the thing gets done.

Apart from words per day, writers have their own schedules for drafting, research, editing. I tend to research as I go. My current series, ‘The Jabberwocky Book’, (https://www.facebook.com/writerproctor) needs a lot of research as it’s set in London in 1901. While I’ve been to London, I wasn’t there in 1901. A lot has changed. In the first novel of the series, ‘The Red King’, there is a scene set in a hansom cab – an action scene involving an escape from kidnappers. My heroine (Dorothy Gale from ‘The Wizard of Oz’) fights off an attacker while the cab barrels along the road late at night. Only thing was, some of the things she did to escape were not possible in a hansom cab. I had to research about the design of cabs in order to re-write the scene. The second book, ‘An Unkindness of Ravens’, is set in New York. I have to research carefully as to what buildings were in existence back then.

Research is vital. I read a book recently in which the hero reads ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce. Problem is, the book was set in the Nineteenth Century and ‘Ulysses’ was first published in 1922. Readers will pick up things like that. So, I research as I go. I’ll write something and then stop to do research when the story goes in a certain direction.

Editing is another thing writers have to plan for. I edit my books several times over, changing things a lot the first few times, not so much in the end. And I still find things I wish to change even after the book is out. Getting friends to read what you’ve written and giving advice is another essential thing, although sometimes they take too long.

So, writing is hard work, and the results are not guaranteed. But, of course, we continue to do it. Simply because we have to.

So I write in the mornings and work in the evenings. It’s a good life. I allow myself Sundays off, sometimes. Often I’m doing research or whatever, or trying out other ideas. Or writing a poem.

So, back to the grind. I haven’t done my 1,000 words yet. And I need to research a few things about cathedrals.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

The Red King Characters 1

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I’m writing a book series, ‘The Jabberwocky Book’ about the grown-up adventures of Alice Liddell from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and Dorothy Gale from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, fighting supernatural forces in Edwardian London.

The first volume is titled ‘The Red King’ and is due out later this year.

The second is ‘An Unkindness of Ravens’, and the third will be ‘The Looking-Glass War’.

All three will be horror/fantasy adventures of the two girls – with Alice all grown up and married. They are assisted by the son of Inspector Lestrade from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

I thought I would introduce you to some of the characters from the book. Today, we have our two chief protagonists, Alice and Dorothy.

Alice is now 45 years old, married and living a respectable life in London society. Unfortunately, her dreams won’t let her forget the fantastic adventures she had as a little girl. Except now, they are nightmares.

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Dorothy is still just a teenager, fresh from two adventures in the Land of Oz, but realising that Edwardian society in England can be just as peculiar and dangerous to a simple farm girl from Kansas.

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Look for more about the series in later posts.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Alice in Wonderland v The Red King

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I am in the process of writing a new horror/fantasy series, The Jabberwocky Book. It’s a mash-up featuring Alice Liddell from Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz.

London is being stalked by a supernatural serial killer from Alice’s past, the Red King she met in Looking-Glass Land (Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There). Only our intrepid heroines can stop him, aided by the son of Inspector Lestrade from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Reaction to the first book, The Red King, has been very positive. I am now writing the second in the series, titled An Unkindness of Ravens. The third volume, tying up the whole story, is to be called The Looking-Glass War.

I thought I might publish the first two chapters of The Red King here, to give a taste of what is to come.

The Red King should be out later this year. Keep watching!

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The Queen is dead.

 Long live the King.

The Red King smiled at his wife’s corpse as her blood made a widening pool on the floor. A good kill: he had spared the Queen too much suffering, just a quick thrust through her heart with the Bandersnatch knife. Best to do the deed quickly; he at least owed her that.

Through the tower window, from out of the Forest of Forget, came the clash of metal and the thud of battle-horses’ hooves as the Knights hurried towards the castle.
Curse them! They would know the Red Queen was dead; all the Land would tremble at her passing. The animals in the forest would know, the creatures on the river would know, as would the people in the towns scattered across the chessboard fields. But he was ahead of them all. His escape was ready.
He left the corpse where it was, crossed the room to a thick tapestry on one wall and quickly pulled it aside. Behind was a disused fireplace with a mirror hung above it. A shiver passed through him as the temperature in the room suddenly dropped. He gripped the edges of the Looking-Glass, long crooked fingers wrapped far around the wooden frame, and stared at his reflection for a moment, smiling. He had been asleep too long – for an age and more. This was a good day, the best day. No more sharing the throne, no more chess game. No more Queen.
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, waiting for the last few seconds of the last ten years to run out. The timing was so delicate, so fine…
Under his fingers, the Looking-Glass’s wooden frame shivered for a moment, and was still. The sign.
The King opened his eyes and looked deeply into the mirror. His reflection blurred and faded, colours swirled and shifted, coalesced again to form the drawing room of a comfortable house. His image was nowhere to be seen; the glass reflected neither the throne room, nor the tapestries on the walls. The Looking-Glass’s surface was cold, very cold – there were only a few moments to act. The other side of the mirror waited, but it would not wait for long.
Something behind him – a bright flash of light? He turned his head, but there was no one else alive in the room. Three loud explosions like thunder, in quick succession, filled the air around him. Then silence.
He tensed, suddenly afraid. Had the Knights arrived already? Were they pounding the castle with cannons? But no, that was not possible; the sounds must have been in his head. It was nerves; fear; adrenalin from the murder of his wife playing tricks on him. Fear was irrational, something felt by weaklings, not Kings.
He smiled and faced the Looking-Glass again. It was time to pass through…
Yet still he paused: was this right? Was it the way? While the Knights were in the forest surrounding the castle all was safe, for there they could not remember anything. The trees sucked away memory, drinking it through their roots, using it to confound those wandering beneath them. Even their own names were lost. But when the Knights eventually emerged from beneath the brooding trees they would remember their quest. Then mercy would remain the one thing still forgotten.
He glanced back again at the body of the Queen, at her open, staring eyes: so blue, so deeply, brightly blue – he had never noticed their lustre before. But she was quite dead. Yes, escape through the Looking-Glass was the right thing to do, the only thing. There was no ruling the Land now. The Knights would see the deed and rip out his heart for what had been done to the Queen.

But they would be too late: the Looking-Glass was ready, and once the King passed through, the Knights could not follow. Let the silly creatures hunt all they liked. Now, he was free, and ready to begin again.
He used a chair to climb onto the mantelpiece of the large fireplace over which the Looking-Glass hung, took a deep breath, and stepped through. A moment of darkness as realities collided, a moment of disorientation as his body adjusted to being in a new universe, and he was there. No problem at all – a child could do it.
Once, long ago, a child had.
A room in a house surrounded him now instead of the castle. Richly furnished, with dark blue wallpaper; a fireplace filled with black, cold ashes; a heavy panelled door, ornately carved. Early dawn peeked through the curtains. So this was the world on the other side of the Looking-Glass. The King climbed down from the mantelpiece.
Sudden weakness hit him. His legs were unable to support his weight. Somehow, form and substance vanished here. He grabbed the corner of the fireplace and rocked slightly. An effect of the transition between worlds, perhaps. Life-force drained away.

He looked at his hands. They were transparent. He was becoming a ghost, fading away to nothing. Panic hit him. He turned back to the Looking-Glass, but it was already too late; its power was gone in the transference. There was no return that way, not yet, not until the power built up again in ten years’ time.
The King’s body faded, washed out, until just a shadow remained, an outline of darkness on the carpet, the wan sunlight through the window the only illumination to give any sign of his reality. Was this how forms existed in the other world? It was not right, not the way it should be.
Suddenly, the door opened. He swung to face it, white teeth bared in a snarl, one hand reaching for the Bandersnatch knife in his belt. But his scowl turned to open-mouthed astonishment.
It was her! Older, taller, but there was no mistake – the same long blond hair, the same pale face: the girl in his dreams, the Yellow Child, the one who had dared to become a queen. She stopped with one hand on the doorknob, the other hand holding a lighted candle, looking into the room.
The King drew the knife silently from its sheath, but it, too, was merely a thing of shadow. The blade that just a few minutes ago had sliced between the ribs of the Red Queen could do this woman no harm. He groped backwards towards a small table on which a heavy vase sat, but his hand went through it. Like the rest of him, like the knife, it was as insubstantial as a wraith’s.
The woman stood, peering into the room, the candle held high. Then she saw his faint ghostly outline, made more definite by the candlelight. She could see him: a dim, blurred shape. But there was enough form yet left to define the face and the robes and the crown on his head. They were familiar, coming back to her memory after many years.
Their eyes met for a fraction of a second, and she nodded slowly.
‘You,’ she mouthed silently, and glanced at the drawn knife in his hand. But still she did not move or try to protect herself.
He screamed, a howl of anger and frustration and defiance, but no sound reached the woman. His mist-like body could not distort the air enough to be heard. The Yellow Child just stood and glared back at his mutely howling face. He rushed towards her, and at the last moment she flinched, holding the candle up between them. As his face came close to hers, he took on a more solid form. There was a moment when he might have been corporeal enough to grab her, to ask what was happening, why he was a ghost…

…Alice woke, body twisted under the bedclothes, one arm held up as if to ward off a blow. The bedroom was in darkness, just a thin stream of moonlight leaking through the thick curtains. On the dressing table, a clock ticked loudly: four o’clock in the morning.
She sat up as the last shreds of the nightmare fell away, ran a hand through her long blonde hair and sighed out a breath. Then she rose and crossed to the window. The curtains were slightly drawn. Outside, London lay in the quiet of dawn, still asleep, unaware. Alice remembered her vision.
He was here, the Red King. But why? Why, after all these years, could the Land not remain just a dream? The time was right: ten years. Ten years since the Looking-Glass had last spat out something from the ragged edges of the mind…
Softly, in the darkness of the bedroom, Alice began to cry.

2

There were new worlds everywhere, Dorothy Gale decided. New worlds to go with a new century.
Most strange were the worlds next door, the ones that lay only a few days’ travel away. You didn’t arrive by riding a cyclone or even falling down a rabbit hole, but by boarding a ship and spending a few uneventful days at sea. She stood outside Waterloo railway station and stared about her at the swarm of London, capital of the Old World: as far from Kansas as it was possible to be, she reckoned, without actually going back again. Wonders were nothing new, of course, but even the Emerald City’s grandeur had a rival in this seething metropolis.
Dorothy was used to arriving in a new land unceremoniously, dumped there with no resources; the last time had been by shipwreck with only a hen for company. But this was somehow more disconcerting, arriving with a suitcase borrowed from her cousin and a few other pieces of luggage that Aunt Em had insisted she would need. The train journey from Kansas to New York, the voyage across the Atlantic, another rail trip from Dover where the great ocean liner had docked: it had been an interesting four weeks. But it was not how she was used to travelling at all. Even though it was the way everyone else travelled – the way, indeed, one was meant to travel – it somehow felt wrong.
‘Miss Gale?’
A tall man stood beside her. He was middle-aged, dressed in pin-striped trousers and black jacket, a thin moustache across his upper lip which literally looked like it had been drawn there. She backed away from him a step or two, hugging her handbag close to her chest.
‘I am Cartwright,’ said the man. He attempted to smile, but in Cartwright’s case this was never more than a sucking in of his upper lip so that his moustache disappeared. He nodded self-consciously. ‘Mrs Hargreaves’ butler. I presume you are Miss Dorothy Gale?’
Dorothy nodded. She had never met a butler before: not, at least, a private one to an English person. She had seen pictures of them, and had noticed several valets and maids travelling with their employers on the ship. But a real-life butler who actually came to pick her up at the station – that was another new experience in this new world.
For his part, Cartwright surveyed the young girl dubiously. He was not an expert on young girls, or females of any sort for that matter. The girl’s freckles and bright expression indicated nothing to his mind other than a fairly gormless naivety. The plain blue travelling dress likewise hinted at simple tastes and modest means. The red braids – well, best just to ignore them completely.
‘It is my duty to escort you to Mrs Hargreaves’ home,’ said Cartwright, sallying forth despite his doubts. ‘She sends her apologies that she is unable to meet you in person, and that you had to find your own way from Dover.’
‘Thank you, Mr Cartwright.’ Dorothy found her voice at last, and performed a curtsey.
‘Please, Miss Gale, call me Cartwright. No “mister” is needed.’ The girl was from America, after all. Kansas, apparently. From what he had heard of the place, they had no sense of class at all, no bearing, as his father would have said. Kansas was part of the Corn Belt, whatever that was. Full of farmers, no doubt, all decked out in overalls with pitchforks in their gnarled but honest hands. It sounded ghastly. He performed his sucked-in smile again, the moustache re-appearing afterwards like a moist caterpillar. ‘And I assure you that it is not necessary to curtsey to me.’
‘I didn’t know if I should do that,’ she said. ‘You bein’ my first butler an’ all.’
He sighed patiently. ‘You’re a guest. A curtsey is inappropriate.’ He turned to her suitcase. ‘Is this your luggage? Permit me to obtain the services of a boy who can assist us with that. And we’ll need a growler.’
‘A what?’
‘A cab big enough to take your luggage. The omnibus will be too crowded. Please wait here.’ He strode off, leaving a faint whiff of moral indignation in the air.
A few minutes later he returned with a small but brawny lad in tow and a Clarence cab drawn up ready to receive them. The boy helped the cabbie to load Dorothy’s luggage onto the growler and took the coin Cartwright handed him.
They rattled along in silence for a while, Cartwright staring out of the window with all the aloofness Dorothy had heard they should possess. She shuffled her feet and fidgeted with her purse. Eventually she could stand it no longer.
‘Have you been workin’ with Mrs Hargreaves long?’ she asked.
There was a moment’s pause as Cartwright considered the dangers of entering into idle conversation with a guest.
‘Two years,’ he replied eventually. ‘Mister Hargreaves was good enough to take me in. Now, please refrain from talking. I’ve been asked to acquaint you with certain rules before you meet my employer. So be patient and listen attentively.’
Dorothy had briefly been to school, where she had learned the basics of reading and writing, until Uncle Henry could no longer afford to send her. The teacher had acted just like Cartwright, and said the same sort of things. It had annoyed her then, too.
The butler reached into a breast pocket and extracted a carefully folded piece of paper and a pencil. Dorothy could see lines of meticulous script. Cartwright cleared his throat.
‘Number one,’ he read. ‘On no account –.’
‘Excuse me,’ said Dorothy politely, ‘but are these Mrs Hargreaves’ rules?’
The child would apparently continue to ask questions, despite his enjoinment to sit still and be quiet. How odd. ‘Not all of them. Some are mine. Number one –.’
‘Which ones are yours and which are hers?’
‘Number one. On no account are you to enter the cellar.’ He made a small, neat tick next to that item on the list. ‘Number two –.’
‘Why would I want to go into the cellar?’
They crossed the Thames on Westminster Bridge and headed for Trafalgar Square, then onto Mayfair. Some rows of houses on either side momentarily distracted Dorothy, who gazed out at the identical buildings, all attached to each other, surrounded by high steel railings. What a strange way to live. And so little grass or trees anywhere. Again she thought with a touch of nostalgia about the tiny one-roomed farmhouse she used to share with her Aunt and Uncle. That was odd – she had never felt sentimental about that rickety old shack before. It was far away now, of course, carried off by a tornado.
‘Number two…’
But Dorothy was only half listening as she continued to look at the city passing by. There were quite a few rules Cartwright was reading out, mostly about her not going to places in Mrs Hargreaves’ house that Cartwright did not want her going, times of meals and so forth. It sounded like an enormous house. After the first dozen mundane regulations, however, there were a couple more peculiar ones.
‘Number thirteen,’ said Cartwright, turning the page over. ‘On no account are you to play chess or cards, or request to do so. Do you have any chess sets or cards in your luggage?’
‘Don’t play either of them. Uncle Henry plays cards occasionally, but Aunt Em gets mad if she finds out. She reckons he loses too much money.’
‘I am not interested in your family’s distractions. I am interested in you.’
‘I can understand Mrs Hargreaves not likin’ cards or chess. But why can’t I play ’em if I want to?’
Answering foolish questions was none of Cartwright’s concern, particularly questions to which he did not know the answer. Mrs Hargreaves had forbidden chess and cards – that was reason enough in that weird household. He ticked number thirteen a little more firmly than the others.
‘Number fourteen. Mrs Hargreaves serves tea at four-fifteen each Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon. You will be prompt in attendance as Darjeeling is not pleasant lukewarm. Besides, she often has ladies in attendance who don’t like waiting for guests.’
Dorothy refrained from asking what Darjeeling was.
He double-checked both sides of the paper, made sure that each item on the list had a tick beside it, folded it and slipped it back into his pocket. Another job done. ‘Any questions?’ he asked.
‘I’m allowed to ask questions now?’ she asked.
‘Of course.’
‘In that case, Mr Cartwright, I don’t have any.’
The butler sighed heavily and gazed out of the window for the first time since the journey began, sucking in his moustache thoughtfully. Then he let it out again with a dull pop of wet lips. Dorothy only just prevented herself from laughing.
The rest of the ride continued in silence.

Osteomyelitis goes to the bone.

When I was nine years old (like way back in 1966) I had osteomyelitis in my left ankle. This is a severe bone infection which causes pain, swelling and fever. I just woke up one morning and found myself limping. Fortunately, my father was a doctor and he got a surgeon friend to diagnose me and within days I was operated on. Normally, the treatment for osteo involves antibiotics, and we did those, except cleaning out dead bone tissue is also usually necessary.

As I was only a child at the time, there was some fear that my left leg would stop growing and I would now be an adult with an under-sized leg. This didn’t happen, mainly because Dad’s friend got to it in time, for which I am eternally grateful.

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It wasn’t a pleasant time for me. I was in hospital for what seemed like forever, then at home in bed with a cast on my leg for more months. I missed most of that year of school. My teacher supplied me with work so I could keep up. But it was a lonely and painful time. I became intolerant of people, I quickly grew tired and bored when friends came around to play – after all, I wasn’t in any position to run around the backyard with them. My family was great and caring and loving, but I still remember that time vividly. I still also have a scar on my left ankle that is very sensitive. It is directly over a nerve that still occasionally tingles and if I bump that area the pain is excruciating and debilitating for a while.

One night in hospital the nurse refused to give me pain medication (morphine) even though I was in desperate pain, and despite the doctor having ordered the nurses to give me medication as I requested it. She said I just had a broken leg. I have nothing against nurses: quite the contrary, they are an amazing (and under-paid) branch of the medical profession. But this nurse didn’t do me any favours. The doctor found out the next day and made sure I had as much medication as I needed.

Not everyone appreciated my condition. When I did finally go back to school I was on crutches for a while. My teacher was under orders from the principal to ensure that I wasn’t jostled or bumped trying to go up or down the stairs when class was let out. He didn’t. Mum arrived one day to see me trying to limp down the stairs with other kids crowding around me. I remember one day the principal (who had the delightful name of Mr Death – true story) carried me down the stairs himself.

Other kids could be unthinking, too. I was bullied, hassled, laughed at because I was weak and on crutches for most of that year. Not everyone can understand these things, especially at nine years of age.

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Still, I got over it all – physically, at least. I still feel some of the mental anguish of that time. It wasn’t easy being the bookish kid in the class in the first place, but to be the bookish kid on crutches with a box under the desk to put my foot on and having the principal carry me down the stairs was asking for trouble. I didn’t stay at that school much longer and went to another one where I could make a fresh start and no one knew about what had happened to me.

So if you know a person who has been ill for a long time, give them a hug and ask them what you can do to help. My family was great, but not everyone is as fortunate as I was. Try to see things from their point of view. The world is just that much harder when you are fighting just to be normal.

If you yourself have a long-term illness, I empathise with you. Stay strong and try to find thing sto make you smile. Every little triumph is a major step forwards.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

Hayley Roberts and the Birds

I’d like to introduce everyone to my friend, Hayley Roberts. She’s an artist who lives In Melbourne, Australia. I’ve known her for a few years and we were even work colleagues for a while. She’s pretty damn good both as a human being and as a ‘girl what draws stuff’ as she would put it.

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Hayley has just produced a small booklet called Birds Are Friends which is full of bird drawings and information about birds in Eastern Australia, since Hayley is something of a bird nut. As she explains in her introduction, she has always liked birds since she got a peach-faced love bird as a pet when she was 8.

Her effort is not only informative and imaginative, it’s also laugh out loud funny. Hayley not only gives us information about the birds she has selected but also writes hilarious anecdotes and observations about them, based on her own experiences living with and watching them.

Hayley is happy to mail anyone a copy of the booklet. All you need to do is contact her at hayley_m_roberts@hotmail.com and ask nicely!

Hayley is also doing some fan art and concept illustrations for my upcoming novel The Red King. I like her quirky style and her more abstract ideas when she can let go with whatever’s on her mind at the time.

Oh, and she likes unicorns. So she can’t be half bad.

Russell Proctor www.russellproctor.com

My Early Writings and Other Embarrassing Confessions

 

I haven’t posted anything for a while, as I’ve been hard at work writing the first draft of my new novel, The Red King. For more information about it, and an excerpt of the first chapter, go to my website http://www.russellproctor.com/.

What I want to tell you about here is my writing process and my early attempts as a teenager to write. Because sometimes I like to embarrass myself, okay?

Quite frankly, this is the fastest I have ever produced a first draft. I’ve been trying to write 1,000 words a day of The Red King, which I haven’t quite achieved, but it has been at least a goal to try and move things along.

My last two books, Days of Iron and Plato’s Cave, both took years to write. Literally. Days of Iron was started when I was just seventeen. I wrote a few thousand words (by hand) and thought it was load of rubbish and put it aside. Thankfully I never throw that sort of thing out, and years later I took it out again. What prompted that resurrection was 9/11.

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Days of Iron is about terrorism 400 years in the future. But it wasn’t always. It started out as a book about a future society that keeps its citizens under surveillance rather like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. After 9/11, I thought it might work better (and be more contemporary) as a book about terrorism, so I started writing it again and managed to finish it. It had its critics. There is a scene with a suicide bomber in it and an editor I had look over the book suggested that it might be “too close to home” and I should delete that scene. Thankfully, I didn’t.

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Plato’s Cave began as a result of a lecture I attended at university about the allegory of the cave that Plato discusses in his book The Republic. I was fascinated by the concept and started writing a story based on the idea. It, too, was judged rubbish after a few thousand words and relegated to the filing cabinet. After Days of Iron was published, I was looking for something else to write, and pulled Plato’s Cave out of the cave. It was still crap, but crap with potential, so I completely re-jigged the story, took out some of the quite frankly stupid stylistic experiments, and managed to finish it, too, in record time (well, record for me).

I have attempted other books, like all authors, and have a filing cabinet full of seminal works. Almost all are total crap. I still have the manuscripts, however. My early teens were filled with efforts to write copy-cat fantasy stories based on J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis – but I guess most fantasy/SF writers had teenage years like that, emulating the giants. Two that I remember (and occasionally read to remind myself what a totally untalented wanker I was) were The Horsemen of the Wind (wanker title – sounds like a story about a troop of cavalry on a ration of baked beans and cabbage!) and The Grey Swordsman (better title, although still not good, and generally better story). Both were initially hand-written, but The Grey Swordsman was eventually typed up on a manual typewriter by me over the course of an entire school holidays. It remains unfinished – the last chapter concludes at the end of the cataclysmic battle between titanic armies of demons and dragon-riding warriors over a literally bottomless chasm, but the resolution breaks off in mid sword-stroke, as it were.

The Horsemen of the Wind, written earlier in time, had a half-written sequel, The Quest of Linhir, which actually had some attempts at characterisation, unusual for teenager-written action-adventure fantasy stories. The fact that every character in the book, including the female ones, acted like a teenage boy was beside the point. I was making an effort.

The Horsemen of the Wind was about two teenagers (boy and girl, although their names kept changing throughout) who are transported by some mysterious means (mysterious to me, too) to another world where they meet the only survivor of the Sheerdawn, the eponymous Horsemen, who have been wiped out by an invading army of totally non-scary warriors from a distant land. The teens help the survivor, whose name also changes practically from one page to the next, to warn a neighbouring country that they are the next for the chop from the invaders. There are two major battles, which said teens somehow manage to survive despite having absolutely no ability to fight at all and they stay there afterwards to live happily ever after until the sequel. In the first draft, they return home to our world, but I thought that was too neat an ending.

The Grey Swordsman was set entirely in a fantasy world that consisted of a series of ‘islands’ that were actually the tops of mountains rising out of a bottomless abyss that extended forever. In this story, the hero , the Grey Swordsman, inherits the title from his father, who is too old for the job of guarding The Sword (I was really good at inventing names back then) which had a legendary history of having one been a set of chains that bound an evil monster. The original Swordsman stole the chains and forged them into a sword to defeat an enemy attacking his country at the time. The Sword was then passed down father to son. The hero of this story is called upon by the ruling gods of the world to return The Sword as it is now needed once more because the original monster the chains were keeping in check has returned in the form of a black flame. So he sets off to return it and ends up having to defeat the flame himself with the help of a good-looking witch (who he actually has sex with in one chapter – racy stuff when you’re sixteen) and a rather unfunny bit of comic relief in the form of a wandering minstrel (whom he doesn’t have sex with).

Legendary stuff.

Of course, there have been other attempts by me to write books. Some of them are ideas I keep on the back burner as I may return to them one day. Phosphorus is set in a clockwork universe. Born and Become is a story about a race of time-travellers engaged in a civil war. I’d like to write the story of my climb up Mt Kilimanjaro (I really did that) and the safari through Africa that followed it. That one would be called Up, Down and Sideways.

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But I need to get back to The Red King now. Set in Edwardian London, a serial killer is causing fear and panic through the streets and only two people stand in his way – Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He doesn’t stand a chance!

- Russell Proctor www.russellproctor.com

Things I Love About Brisbane

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If you aren’t an Australian – and I know there are some of you out there – you may not have been to, or even have heard of, Brisbane. It’s the capital of Queensland. Other than that, some people know very little about it.

I knew a friend of a friend from Sydney once who hated Brisbane. Sydney was better than Brisbane in every possible way, he said. It was livelier, had more entertainment, was faster, bigger, more interesting. He had definite opinions about this and expressed them to visiting Brisbaneites such as myself on a continual basis. I could hardly say anything in his presence without him disputing me as an ignorant Queenslander who really had to be pitied for not living in the greatest city on Earth (Sydney).
One day I asked him when he had been to Brisbane, since a lot of his information was out of date. “Oh,” he replied with a straight face, “I’ve never been there.”
He said it proudly, as if visiting Brisbane was like catching malaria.
He had all those opinions, based on no personal experience.
There was another man I knew, many years later, also from Sydney who hated not only Brisbane, but Queensland generally. Everything was better in New South Wales. One day we were standing in line waiting at a work-related barbeque (Australians are good at barbeques, and waiting in line for them is an art form). He was behind me in the queue drinking a particular brand of Queensland-brewed beer. He took a swig, made a face, and looked at me. “Even the beer is bad here,” he said. I made no reply, but he no doubt caught the look on my face and he shut up. I later commented to someone else that if he hated Queensland so much, why didn’t he go back home? Eventually he did, but he stole teaching materials belonging to other teachers and the school in doing so.
Now, I have nothing against Sydney or New South Wales. It was mere coincidence, I’m sure, that both of these Brisbane-knockers came from there. They are just the other side of the tick gate, after all.
(The tick gate is the wonderful border between Queensland and New South Wales that prevents Queensland nasties like ticks and fruit flies crossing over south. Like a gate is going to stop them doing that. It’s probably as effective at keeping out unwanted alien bugs as the US/Mexico border is at keeping out Mexicans.)
Anyway, I’m not wanting to maintain what Brisbane has over Sydney, or any other place for that matter. Brisbane is its own soul. May as well compare London and Lima, or San Francisco and Seoul. They both have people in them, that’s about it.
What I would like to do is list some of the things I like about Brisbane. I’ve lived a sizeable chunk of my life here, and there are some things, places, institutions and attitudes I’ve some to love. So here they are:
1) The Thomas Brisbane Planetarium.

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This is such a cool place it features in my novel ‘Plato’s Cave’. You can lie back inside and see the night sky outside. It’s educational and awesome at the same time.
2) The way public transport passengers say “Thank you” to the bus driver or the ferry deckhand as they leave. That’s nice.

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3) The Brisbane River.

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We are known as The River City. I’ve written about the City Cat ferries before. They are a great way of seeing the place. But the river itself is also very scenic and immensely practical. It floods more often than is desirable, but the city is built on a river plain. It’s remarkably flat and, yes, a wide river flowing through a flat plain is going to flood with monotonous regularity. But the old Queensland-style house, up on stumps, is designed to deal with that. Pity they don’t make those anymore. And while on the subject:
4) The architecture.

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Queenslander-style houses. The Banana State’s contribution to house design. Brisbane is a mix of old and new. I know a lot of cities are, but here we have places like Spring Hill that resist the new to the death and give the old a lovely charm.
5) We beat New South Wales at football every damn time.

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Sorry, I had to slip that in. Queenslander!
6) Mount Coot-Tha.

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This is the highest point around this flat river plain. They put the TV transmission towers up there and they make a distinctive skyline. The mountain is also full of bush walks and waterfalls, etc. And besides, how many other cities have a mountain with such a weird name? Mount Coot-Tha. It’s actually pronounced ‘Mount Cootha’. You can tell who the tourists are.
7) The Story Bridge.

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Another Brisbane icon, also featured in my novel ‘Plato’s Cave’ – look, why don’t you just buy a copy? The bridge’s distinctive shape is eye-catching.
8) Queen Street Mall.

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It’s not large, it’s not the best in the world, it’s not awe-inspiring. But it’s a great place to sit and watch the world go by. I frequently do. People watching can be a great pastime. Street entertainers also make things…well, entertaining.
9) Moreton Bay.

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Coochiemudlo Island in particular. We have had a holiday house there since the early 1970′s.

10) The weather.

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A few weeks ago, in the depths of what passes for winter up here, someone wrote to the local paper complaining about Brisbane people rugging up against the “chill”. There is a bit of a chill here in winter (which usually occurs on a Friday in July). He was from Canberra (which is REALLY cold) and thought we were a bunch of weaklings for dressing like it was cold and complaining about the temperature being below 20 Celsius. Well, you see, the temperature isn’t often below 20, so when it is it makes a real difference. Our weather is great. Warm, sunny (except when it rains, and then it really does rain. Remember that flood-prone river?) and a little hot in summer, but then that’s when all the southern people come to Brisbane for the Christmas holidays, so they mustn’t complain about that too much. But Brisbane’s weather is amazing no matter what it’s doing. Sunshine, storms, rain…it has it all.

There are things I’ve left out, but this is just ten off the top of my head.

Remember, I’m not saying Brisbane is better than anywhere else. It isn’t. But these are just some things I like about it.

And if you want to complain, just go back home.

Russell Proctor – www.russellproctor.com