Tomorrow’s Authors – Aravind Pradhyumnan

Continuing the series of Tomorrow’s Authors, in which I hand over to guest bloggers, the next generation of fantasy writers. These writers are as yet unpublished, but working hard to bring their own version of this great genre to a reading audience. Today our blogger is Aravind Pradhyumnan.

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Recently, I joined a support group for Fantasy writers. It is heart-warming to find there are entire communities of people who want to help their fellow novice writers. I am a Masters student pursuing Aerospace Engineering far from home, and I took to writing as a hobby. Soon, my penchant for the craft turned the hobby into a fierce passion and helped me get back from a dark place. This I did by creating a fantasy world of my own. If not for the incredible support and advice from fellow writers, I may never have turned my outlines into the first draft of my manuscript. On that note, thank you, Russell, for giving me a rub.

 
I would like to say I am the next phenomenon sweeping through the Fantasy genre, and the household name of the next decade. But my name is hard to pronounce, and I am but an aspiring author.

 
But that’s enough about me, let me tell you about my work-in-progress, which has the working title Black Rose Bloodmage.

 
I do not have a cover art or any illustration to give a taste of my work yet. But I do have a song by Opeth in mind that captures the brutal beauty of world I’ve imagined. Listen to it reader and hear what I hear, see what I see. Opeth: “Bleak”.

 
Adrya is a country with a bloody history. Due to the nature of magic, there was tremendous bloodshed and the world saw the decline of powerful creatures that roamed the wild. Men killed one another. This was characteristic of the Magethic Era.

 
However, an ambitious man, Adrian, took the crown along with a coterie of powerful mages at the time, and heralded in the New Era. The country grew more stable as all unaffiliated mages were systematically eradicated. Prosperity was ushered into the years that followed under the rule of the immortal King. However, Enthaumy – the magic system, became forbidden knowledge and was henceforth only shared among a few members of the peacekeeping Justiciary.

 
By the year NE 88, a rogue mage, Gathvel has risen to the upper echelons of the Black Rose Guild. He remains in hiding both from the Crown, as well as his own past. But his life changes when he adopts a nine-year-old girl. After a botched assassination mission, Norman, an Inspector of the Justiciary catches Gathvel’s scent.

 
The first book of a hopeful trilogy deals with this hunt – who will emerge from this ordeal alive? I aim to explore themes of friendship, bonds, and how even men set in their ways can change.

How this project came to be:
Originally I set out to create a magic system that seemed realistic and had a tangible, measurable cost, with world-changing ramifications. I used my Engineering education to help legitimise the workings of the magic system I came to call Anthaumy. As it grew and developed in front of my eyes, they branched into rather specific fields of “science” of Enthaumy and Alchemy.

 
Along with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Second Law of Anmodynamics came to be revered in Adrya. Mages were scholars after all. The law states that the Antopy of Miridian always increases, but its saturation remains infinite. I understand this sounds like gibberish, but the book will ensure it makes sense.

 
So as you can see, I spent the bulk of my time creating the magic system and it led me to create a world for it to exist. Over the course of a year, I had created a country with a rich culture and history, a functioning economy, and quirks specific to this world.
My first attempt at creating a plot set in this world however, was a travesty as terrible as the events of the Magethic Era. It was a piss-poor story, that incorporated all elements of the world I created, but the plot itself held no water. I was disappointed, and all but abandoned the project.

 
Enter Brandon Sanderson. Figuratively speaking. The man has lectures on creative writing that breathed a new life into the fading embers of the passion for my tales set in Adrya. In a matter of weeks I had characters and conflicts that produced elements of the plot I described. I streamlined the magic system and the cut out elements of the world that I felt were unnecessary.

 
I found that I was a heavy outliner and in few more months, I managed to create a solid outline to base my manuscript on. With more advice and encouragement from fellow writers, I finally set pen to paper. Now I am 9000 words into my first draft, and I just wrote my first fight scene. Enthaumy was finally on paper and it read better than I hoped. I know exactly where the book is headed and by my ambitious estimate, I should have a completed first draft by March.

The struggles along the way:
Time has proven to be my best friend, as well as my worst enemy. Writing can seem like a chore sometime and there always may seem like something else is just a little more pressing. Getting past that resistance to start typing into the laptop has been the biggest hurdle I personally face.

 
But this is where the support groups on Facebook help. Good people are all around and they provide motivation to resume writing, whether they realise it or not. And once I’ve entered that headspace, it becomes easier to write and harder to stop.

 
Other times, I’m convinced what I’m writing is digital dogshit, but then accomplished authors tell us that is normal and even they feel similarly at times. When you’re in agreement with Joe Abercrombie, it is likely that you may be on the right track. This hasn’t been a debilitating struggle for me though and I’m confident to a degree that my writing isn’t all that terrible. And hey, that’s not so dreadful, right?

My influences:
It’s hard to point to an author as an influence. I think I just read the right books at the right time which encouraged me to develop my own magic system. These were the popular debut works of authors from the last decade – Pat Rothfus, Scott Lynch, and Lord Grimdark himself, Joe Abercrombie.

 
I like to think I have learnt from each of these authors, and I might have to actually build a shrine for Brandon Sanderson. What I’m writing may be considered Dark/Hard Fantasy and I certainly will not be pursuing my passion if not for these authors.

Fantasy – Its importance and what it means to me:
The human mind is fascinating. We can see with our eyes closed. We can see even without them, in fact. With our mind’s eyes we see into the past and more importantly, into the future. I heard a psychologist lecture that it was this ability to peer into the future that made us the intelligent species that we are today.

 
But this also opened other doors for our mind’s eye. We can look at things that aren’t, we can see things that could be, and we can even see things that couldn’t be. Our mind can create entire worlds where we are gods. We take literary fiction above and beyond its limits, and this is why Fantasy and Science Fiction are here to stay.

 
We humans started out as hunter-gatherers. Adventure and exploration is a part of us. So no wonder we as readers and writers want to explore new worlds and possibilities, and there are few things comparable to being immersed into a fantastic world. People say fantasy is a means to escape reality– yes, that can be the case. But to me it is a means to explore beyond reality.

 
As a reader, this is what I want. As an author, I hope to provide others the same. And if you give me your time, I have a story to tell. Follow me on twitter at @pradhyumnan503.

– Aravind Pradhyumnan

 

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Tomorrow’s Authors: Debdip Chakraborty

 

Today’s post continues the series of interviews with unpublished writers of fantasy. While they are still struggling to finish their works or await publication, they represent the fantasy we’ll be reading in years to come. The interview on this post is with Debdip Chakraborty.

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I was born into a world of books and writing, so I guess I was fortunate enough to be born in a family which had tremendous love and nurture of literature and art. My granddad was an avid reader, which he passed on to her daughter, my mom, and she is the woman who has given me every thoughts and ideas and made my life much more interesting with books.

As I kid, I liked isolation, and my ideas were always too weird or laughable to share, so I used to enjoy more of the characters that I read than the company of people. The interactions with characters in my head made me to pick up writing my own fan-fiction, which later changed into my writing.
Years turned, and after drifting through books, of all genres, shapes and sizes, I felt fantasy is the genre which speaks the most to me, and resonates with me.

 
1. Tell us about your work-in-progress.
Being an unpublished author is hard. You’re stuck in a boat, sailing in a vast sea, your destination is nowhere in sight. And you don’t want to go back to the land you just left. I guess that’s what I feel right now. More so, because I’ve miles to go before I finish my first draft. The dreaded first draft.
Currently, my main project, a planned fantasy trilogy named Ode to the Fallen, is stuck in the first draft.
It is about an Imperial Prince, who never dreams of power for himself but only kills and conquers in the name of his father, the Emperor, even if it means killing his kin. There is also a sorceress, who is seeking to revive a High God, fallen and broken; however, she knows that time is running out. A cannibal and barbarian veteran soldier seeks to wreck vengeance for cleansing the sins of the past. All their paths will cross once the world will be opposed by a far greater and ancient threat that’s beyond their comprehension or power. Hopefully, by 2018, I can end up finishing with the draft of the first novel of the trilogy.
Apart from that, I do have a sci-fi in work, still at the nascent stages, a few ideas of comic books, and a host of poetry.

 
2. Why do you love fantasy as a genre?
The boundaries of this genre are limitless. While most of the other genres do get tamed by having a “realistic boundary”, fantasy (sci-fi is considered as a sub genre within fantasy) provides an author with the concept of endless loops and probabilities.

 
3. Who do you see as your writing influences?
I was a four year old when my granddad introduced me to the world of literature and arts. It all started with the Hindu and Greek epics. Around the age of twelve I discovered my passion of writing and “Papa” Tolkien’s books. Those shaped my genre of writing: fantasy. Over the years, two other primary influences came into my life: Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker. Both of them are towering geniuses when it comes to the genre of fantasy and literature. They’ve pushed the aspects of fantasy and set a new bar where I feel few can reach.

 
4. What is the future of fantasy? Do readers still want the same old thing or are they looking for something fresh and “different”? Are there things about the genre you find worn-out or over-done? Is there a particular direction you’d like to see fantasy take as a genre?
The future of fantasy as a genre really does seem bright. With the old guards of the genre going strong with their new series, fantasy as a genre since the post 2000s has seen a host of new and emerging authors who’re fit to carry on the battalion. Fantasy as a genre has much gained the hype and deservingly so, with the adaptation of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by the HBO popular show A Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin does deserve every ounce of credit for popularizing the genre.
There are readers on both ends of the spectrum. There are some who want the fantasy with tropes, the known tropes, just to get a familiar setting. There are also readers, who want fantasy to be with new ideas/ thoughts. Both does have its pros and cons.
While having the known fantasy tropes does possess the readers with familiar grounds, and not to scramble too much and being clueless, the author does have a fear of being a “Tolkien” or any other author imitator.
However, present things too fresh and new, and the readers may feel clueless as well. Having everything original doesn’t mean that it is going to work as well, and that itself is also a trope.
I feel a proper mixture of good old fantasy tropes, and originality always does the trick. While the fantasy trope will give the reader a familiar ground to focus, the author can show his/her versatility/creativity by planting the original thoughts along the way.
The worn-out processes of fantasy are the same Tolkien rip offs of the genre. For me, as much as I’m a huge fan of Tolkien, I do think the author prevented (for sometime at least) the genre growing. A farmer boy goes out to defeat the dark lord, whose sole person is to conquer the world, guided by a mentor (who dies halfway through the book). Those need to stop. The same old repetitive formula of light versus dark doesn’t really work out these days. Characters should be gray, no shades, multi-layered; not all characters have to be likable.
Also, as much as I love this new wave of grimdark fantasy that’s up and coming, I don’t understand grimdark, gore, and violence, just there for pleasing the masses.
There is a host of fantasy series that I’d love to see come up as shows or movies. So that definitely is a direction where fantasy should head.

 
5. What have been your struggles as a writer? What have been your personal triumphs?
Struggles to cope up with my depression, loneliness and suicidal thoughts have been my real obstacles towards getting my goals done. Although it does help me to project my thoughts on the characters, the plots, and the settings across the writing, it can at times come out as nihilistic, grim, and give a reader an overall sense of bleakness.
The triumphs do include when I try to get my thoughts on the page. The scenes or the characters which were so fleshed out in my mind when they take life in the page in front of me do seem a major satisfaction.
The idea is to keep pushing till you’re exhausted. A blank page sits in front of you, and even if you’ve to write a scene spanning only ten minutes of the story time, you can take at least a lot of time, to think, process and write down in real-life time.

 
6. What fantasy books or films have you enjoyed and why?
Favourite Fantasy Books (In no particular order):
Deadhouse Gates, Midnight Tides, Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson: This is a series which influenced me to take the risks, to go beyond the genre classics that are out there, and makes me want to take risks.
The Darkness that Comes Before and Warrior Prophet by R. Scott Bakker: Such an exquisite piece of literary fiction. A work of such original nature has never been seen in the genre of fantasy.
A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin: The depth of character arc and treatment, has been seldom seen in this scale.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy has to be one of my favourite fantasy film series. The visual aspects of the film, and the grandeur make me become a twelve year boy again, sniffing through the pages of the Tolkien’s epic series.

 
7. What fantasy books and films have you not liked and why?
The Twilight series were pretty dull, and it seemed like a romantic thread, with nothing in it.
The Mythica series didn’t also do much justice with the genre. It took the same old tropes, and there was no purpose in the overall story.
Neither did I like the later Harry Potter films. They scrapped and changed a lot from the books for my liking.

 
8. Why is fantasy an important genre?
The feel of fantasy is that, it speaks to everyone, regardless of caste, creed, sex, orientation. It binds all the readers, under one umbrella. The feeling of awe, and the creation of something original can only be derived by this genre.

 

 

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I wish Debdip all the best for his future writing. His work-in-progress certainly sounds interesting, a combination of different and unusual characters. His insights into the future of fantasy also show someone committed to keeping the genre alive and well. Keep an eye out for his Ode to the Fallen series!

Russell Proctor   www.russellproctor.com

(Featured picture courtesy of Dreamstime and Creative Commons.)

 

 

Tomorrow’s Authors: B. L Sherrington

Today the first of a series of interviews with unpublished fantasy writers. That’s right, those out there still trying to get their fantasy stories read by the general public. I envy them…they have the opportunity to determine what we’ll be reading in the future. This is a chance  for you to learn what to expect from the fantasy writers still to come.

We begin with B. L. Sherrington.

“Opportunity isn’t going to come knocking on your door. You need to break down their doors to take yourself to the next step” B.L. Sherrington.

B.L. SHERRINGTON was born in London in 1989. Sherrington developed a passion for stories following a childhood filled with many nights reading fantasy books, thanks to the influence of Sherrington’s mother. Sherrington delved into an imagination filled with creativity and boundless possibilities using the people as characters and the backdrop of London as inspiration.

“I’ve always been the kind of person, whose head was bouncing around with ideas. As a child I would make up scenarios my toys would get up to and narrate them to my dad who’s blind. This was around the time my mother bought me a typewriter”. Growing tired of reading other author’s stories, Sherrington developed an affinity for fiction and at the age of eight wrote A Fallen Star, about a star who fell from the sky into the arms of a midwife and was nursed back to health before lighting the sky again over Barnet General Hospital.

“Over the past twenty years, I’ve explored writing in a lot of different mediums. I started as a blogger, and then became a journalist. My favourites have been writing film, theatre and book reviews for Exeunt Magazine and Litro Magazine. In 2015, I took my creative writing more seriously. I was penning short stories and poetry daily and a year later, I began my serialised fantasy novel, Wish Upon A Star on Channillo.”

 

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Cover of “Wish Upon a Star” (artwork by Tatev Ghambarian)

 

“Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with. Living on a gold-plated cloud on her planet named Lemsi, she is situated above the planets. With control of the weather, the ability to create and destroy worlds, her reputation speaks for herself. Respected for her ability and fearing her level of power, many try to stay as far away from Mother Nature as possible. All except for Martay, a wizard on Mars who rules it’s colony of Foxous”  – WISH UPON A STAR.

I put some questions to B. L. Sherrington:

1) Tell us about your work-in-progress.

I have quite a few! I have just completed my dark fantasy screenplay for a feature film entitled The Legend of Kuse House and I’m collating my short stories and poetry into two e-books, Orphic and Heart of Lion, to release in February.

I am working on two adult fantasy books: Basilar and The Legend of the Rastafari. A Young Adult book series Bobita and two children’s fantasy books, Akila and Deep Sea.

I’m 20K words into Basilar, a story of a sixth-generation fisherman who during rough seas meets a 50ft sea creature, Basilar, who kills using the elements, travelling in between the different seas. I’m hoping it will be completed by mid 2018.

“A creature emerged from the water . At fifty feet tall, with red scales, a curved tail, a square shaped head and long blue horns, Paul was astonished to say the least. The creature scratched through the ivory flag with its razor sharp ivory thick trunk like nails. Paul, terrified, looked at the creature, examining its face. It’s eyes were enlarged black pools of darkness. Soon the creature backed away breathing out a flood of water to the deck of Diana, disappearing instantly.”  From BASILAR

2) Why do you like Fantasy as a genre?

Reality is filled with boundaries and limits. Fantasy gives the freedom to say anything is possible and as a creative writer, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of creating my own world.

3) Who do you see as your writing influences?

So many! Madeline L’Engle, JK Rowling, Neil Gaiman, L. Frank Baum, Terry Jones, Caroline Thompson, Linda Woolverton and Winnie Holzan.

4) What is the future of fantasy? Do readers still want the same old thing or are they looking for something fresh and “different”? Are there things about the genre you find worn-out or over-done? Is there a particular direction you’d like to see fantasy take as a genre?

I think a bit of both. There are some who like the tradition manner of fantasy writing, but I think the majority are moving towards wanted majestic on a whole new scale. I think Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories, is a good blueprint for where fantasy is going. Blending reality with a combination of fairy tales is where the genre is headed.

So many books get adapted into films within a year or two, I think that needs to be considered in the writing process. How will this play out on screen? Or on stage?

5) What have been your struggles as a writer? What have been your personal triumphs?

Having the confidence to share my writing with the world has been a challenge. But once I did build up the courage to leave myself open to criticism by sharing extracts of my book with my followers on my social media channels, I was pleasantly surprised to the reaction.

I’ve been told Wish Upon A Star is gripping, Bobita has inspired other writers to start their own story and The Legend of the Rastafari, made me someone’s muse. So far, the best experience I’ve had as a writer, is managing to navigate my way through my grief by using it as a backdrop to my stories.

6) What fantasy books or films have you enjoyed and why?

My favourite stories are the ones where the authors create new worlds. They inspire me to think outside the box.

Books: A Wrinkle in Time, James and the Giant Peach, The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland.

My favourite films are full of creativity, ingenuity and slightly eccentric, so I love Tim Burton’s films such as Maleficent and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I also love a musical. Both film genre and the theatre. My top two would be Labyrinth and Wicked.

7) What fantasy books and films have you not liked and why?

The Golden Compass and the Twilight series didn’t resonate with me. I felt Twilight was more focused on the love aspect and I didn’t find Lyra in The Golden Compass likeable.

8) Why is fantasy an important genre?

Fantasy goes across religions, age groups, sexual orientations, and race. It manages to unit us all, teaches the power of imagination and in present day when reality is riddled with lies and stress, it’s an escape to bring a bit of happiness.

You can keep up to date with all B. L. Sherrington’s work at www.blsherrington.weebly.com, or follow at @blsherrington on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest & YouTube.

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The Horror of Children’s Stories

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This is repost from an earlier one. It’s still relevant though.

Picture this: a little girl has just thrown a bucket water over a Witch. What happens next is quite disturbing.

With these words the Witch fell down in a brown, melted shapeless mass and began to spread over the clean boards of the kitchen floor. Seeing that she had really melted away to nothing, Dorothy drew another bucket of water and threw it over the mess. She then swept it all out the door. After picking out the silver shoe, which was all that was left of the old woman, she cleaned and dried it with a cloth, and put it on her foot again.”

Now let’s get this straight… a little girl calmly melts an old woman, sweeps the gooey slime she has become out of the door like so much swill, and then calmly cleans her shoe like this sort of thing happened every day.

You might think the extract is taken from the latest gore-filled treat from Permuted Press, but it’s actually from L. Frank Baum’s children’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. A children’s book. Of course, if you are only familiar with the 1939 Judy Garland film, you may remember the witch-melting scene was a little more wholesome. Certainly in the movie Dorothy didn’t have to clean up the disgusting sewage of what used to be a human being like she was doing a simple household chore. And in the movie version Dorothy felt pretty upset about the whole thing as well, even though the witch was evil and had tried to kill her.

Take another story: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Now there are no violent scenes in that timeless classic, surely? Admittedly the Queen of Hearts threatens everyone with having their heads chopped off, but no one is unfortunate to actually have it done. But most of the violence of the Alice books is more subtle. According to Hugh Haughton in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Carroll’s books (1998), there is an underlying theme of eating and being eaten in the book. The characters are in more danger of being consumed by other characters than anything the Queen of Hearts might threaten. Alice eats and drinks various substances and changes size; the baby oysters are consumed by the Walrus and the Carpenter; the Hatter is obsessed by tea and bread and butter. There is also, of course, more overt violence: the Duchess physically abuses her baby son, the March Hare and the Hatter try to drown the Dormouse in tea, and the terrifying Giant Crow threatens Alice in the forest.

It doesn’t end with those books. In Peter Pan by J.M Barrie, the fairy Tinker Bell is a right bitch. Her first act on seeing Wendy is to get Tootles to shoot her with an arrow in an attempt to kill her. He almost succeeds. Tootles is so distraught he asks Peter to kill him.

Now, the point is that these are probably not events most people recall when remembering these tales. But they are there in the original books.

There have, of course, been many criticisms of traditional fairy tales as being too violent. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and so forth contain considerable murder and mayhem. The difference between them and the more modern stories I’ve referred to is that these stories are folk tales, handed down over many years and added to, extended and changed over generations before being recorded by people like the Brothers Grimm. They were not written specifically for children. The adventures of Alice, Dorothy and Peter Pan were.

So what do we make if this? Are these stories in their original forms just too violent? I say “in their original forms” because each of those I mentioned has been “toned down” when made into films. Disney and Warner Brothers made a point of changing things so the stories were more wholesome for tender readers (or, in their case, viewers). Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch, but feels bad about it at least. Admittedly, modern versions of Alice (I refer specifically to the recent Tim Burton CGI extravaganza) may take liberties with the plot in which they do present a more dangerous version of Wonderland than the Disney version. But this is a modern trend, I submit, and I’ll mention it again later.

My point is (and I’ve taken a while making it) is that there is a wealth of trauma available to writers in children’s tales. Quite often where you wouldn’t expect it. In The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Toad not only steals a motor vehicle, he is actually in involved in numerous car accidents and is thrown in prison as a result. And I’m sure most of us remember the Narnia series by C. S Lewis, which tells of children not only fighting in wars but killing their adversaries with barely a nod at any feelings of guilt afterwards.

Writers might well find ideas in these tales. And that’s a good thing. While I’m not condoning the exposure of children to violence, death and horror, it certainly can entertain the adult reader and inspire the adult writer.

Back when these stories were written, I submit the world was a more violent place. There was no such thing as being an adolescent. One went from the caterpillar stage of childhood to the butterfly stage of adulthood without any inconvenient chrysalis stage of adolescence in between. People grew up earlier. Children’s books were violent because life was violent. It still is these days, but we don’t like to admit it and try to protect our children from its excesses. An example of this is the scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where the Duchess throws her baby boy to Alice (who only just manages to catch him) after singing a song about how beating a child was a justifiable punishment for it sneezing. This would hardly have raised an eyebrow back in 1865. Children were beaten. The world was perhaps no better or worse than it is today, but violence was condoned more and seen as an acceptable solution to social and domestic problems. Carroll was using violence as nonsense, and perhaps as a comment on the philosophy of child-rearing at the time: the air in the Duchess’s house was full of pepper, the baby sneezed as a result, and so the Duchess beat him. Problem solved.

We would not condone such a practice today, even as nonsense, which is why this incident has not, my knowledge, been incorporated into any film adaptations of Alice so far ( I don’t include the Burton film there, as it is so far removed from the original story as to be a separate entity).

Burton’s film does, however, seek to make an adult vision of Wonderland (with a bit of Looking-Glass Land added into it). And that is how the horror of children’s stories can be used to good effect. Tales like Frank Beddor’s The Looking-Glass Wars is a classic use of a classic to create something new and insightful.

So horror is there in children’s stories. If you sit and read the originals and wonder why they all seem so different to what you thought they were about, or what you remembered when you read them as a kid, then I hope you can take a whole new delight in these children’s stories for grown-ups. And, as a writer, that they inspire you in your own tales of horror and fantasy.

The Past and the Present

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Ok, so here’s a revelation: unlike every other language in the world, the English language has only  two tense forms. Past and present.

An example of past tense: The girl walked to the shop.

An example of present tense: The girl walks to the shop.

Simple, no? But wait, you say, what about all those other tenses that put fine shades of meaning to our deathless prose? Future? Conditional? Surely they are there, I’ve used them myself!

Yes, they are, but they use the past and present forms. English expresses the other tenses by the use of auxiliary verbs. So the future tense is formed by adding the auxiliary verb will to the present tense.  She will walk to the shop.

There are arguably (and that’s one of the things I love about the English language, that people can actually argue about the grammar of it) eighteen English tenses:

  1. Present simple. She walks.
  2. Present continuous. She is walking.
  3. Past simple. She walked.
  4. Past continuous. She was walking.
  5. Present perfect simple. She has walked.
  6. Present perfect continuous. She has been walking.
  7. Past perfect simple. She had walked.
  8. Past perfect continuous. She had been walking.
  9. Future simple. She will walk.
  10. Future continuous. She will be walking.
  11. Future perfect simple. She will have walked.
  12. Future perfect continuous. She will have been walking.
  13. Conditional simple. She could/would  walk.
  14. Conditional continuous. She could/would be walking.
  15. Conditional perfect simple. She could/would have walked.
  16. Conditional perfect continuous. She could/would have been walking.
  17. Imperative. Walk!
  18. Infinitive. To walk is a pleasant activity.

Notice something? All of the tenses are based on just two forms of the verb. Walk and walked. With a host of auxiliary verbs such as has, have, been, will, be, could, etc these two forms create all the other tenses.

“Ah!” I hear you say, “but there is a third tense form in that list. The  -ing form.”

Well, yes, there is. But actually, no, there isn’t. Walked is the past tense, but walking is…well, what is it?

The  – ing form is the present participle. English has two tenses and two participles. With a regular verb, like walk, the past tense is formed by adding -ed. Walked. But with an irregular verb, like sing, things get more complicated.

Walk (Regular verb)

Present tense: Walk (I walk)

Past tense: Walked (Yesterday I walked)

Present participle: Walking (I am walking)

Past participle: Walked (I had walked)

Sing (Irregular verb)

Present tense: Sing (I sing)

Past tense: Sang (Yesterday I sang)

Present participle: Singing ( I am singing)

Past participle: Sung (I had sung)

So we use the auxiliary verbs with the participles. Of course, with regular verbs the past participle is the same as the past tense. But not with the irregular verbs. And there are many  irregular verbs in English.

So, you know all this. Or at least, you do because you get the tenses right every day, you just don’t know the grammatical mechanics behind it all. So what’s my point?

For some reason, some writers want to write in the present tense.

Why? This tendency seems particularly endemic to YA and teen writing. But it has crept (creeps/is creeping/has been creeping/will have crept…another beautifully irregular verb) into other demographics as well.

It’s actually harder to write in the present tense than in the past. So why do it? To make the action more immediate, I hear some writers say. How is it more immediate? I just don’t get it.

Call me old-fashioned if you will, but present tense writing smacks of pretension in my opinion, except when used for specific effect. For instance, I’ve used present tense to describe a dream sequence. It is also used in dialogue. A lot of dialogue is in present tense except during recount.

But it’s worse than just my opinion. As a teacher I’ve noticed that many students today think that you are supposed to write in the present tense. Or, even worse, they get confused and start writing in the past tense, switch to the present and then back again. Even the other tenses get mixed up because kids these days see present and past tense writing used so randomly.

So stop it guys! Use it for special effect, like a dream sequence, but not otherwise. I know, Charlotte Bronte slips into present tense occasionally in Jane Eyre, and then back to past, but she was Charlotte Bronte.

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Sin of All

The world has never been easy. Let’s face it, there’s a lot out there that’s downright dangerous,  misunderstood and unknown. Even walking to the bus stop can get you killed these days. Terrorism, poverty, global warming, pollution…Homo sapiens has done a pretty good job screwing up a planet that had been just great for billions of years. And we’ve only been doing it since the last few thousand years, since we stopped being hunters and gatherers and settled down into communities.

And there are many reasons why we’ve done that. Not settled down, I mean screwed up the planet. But there is one thing that drives the destructive gene in human beings, that is the seed, as it were, for all the other stupidity we’ve managed to pull off since we climbed down from the trees and decided walking on two legs was a good idea (which it wasn’t).

I’m talking about ignorance.

You know what that is. We’ve all been guilty of it. Hell, I’ve managed to look pretty dumb on the odd occasion. But by ignorance I don’t mean just not knowing something. I mean deliberately deciding not to know something.

There are four types of ignorance. I mention these in my novel Plato’s Cave, but here they are again:

(1)   What we know we don’t know. For example, we know that we don’t know if there is life on other planets.

(2)   What we don’t know we don’t know. Until we know about it, we can’t actually know that we don’t know something.

(3)   What we think we know, but don’t. Maybe apples don’t really grow on trees, it just looks that way. We’ve been fooling ourselves with appearances.

(4)   What we don’t think we know, but do. Maybe we already possess the key to time travel. We just haven’t realised it yet.

Those types of ignorance are fine because they allow the possibility that our ignorance will one day be lifted. If we keep asking enough of the right sort of questions and keep looking for the answers in a practical way, there’s a chance our ignorance will change to knowledge. In other words, the four types of ignorance listed above are scientific. Used properly, they have the ability to lead a sufficiently curious anthropoid ape towards the truth.

But there is another type of ignorance that actually lies beneath these four. And that is the type I’m calling the greatest sin of all.

(5) What we choose not to know.

For many reasons, there are people who deliberately decide not to know about something. The knowledge they eschew might conflict with their own personal beliefs. If they accepted the truth, it would contradict what they choose to believe, and that keeps them ignorant. Or, they might think that discovering the truth is too much like hard work. Or it requires them to associate with people they don’t wish to acknowledge. There are many reasons. None of them are legitimate.

This is what makes that type of ignorance a sin.

A few examples:

  1.  Homophobes choose to be ignorant about why people are LGBT. They think there is a choice in the matter, that gay people somehow, at some point in their lives, choose to be gay. The homophobes don’t want to know that gay people are gay because they are gay. They were born that way. Maybe homophobes object on religious grounds. Maybe they think gay people have some kind of hidden plan to steal children because they can’t have their own. Or that there is some kind of  “gay agenda”. (If there is I missed the memo). All poppycock of course. It’s worth remembering that the word “homophobe” means “fear of man”. That’s what their hatred stems from. Fear. Not knowledge.
  2. Literature.  Love it or hate it, it’s still a necessary part of our lives. I am a teacher and when I teach poetry I tell my students that there are only two types of people who read poetry: other poets, and students who are forced to read it by their teachers. That’s not true, of course, but it breaks the ice. I then tell them that the reason people don’t like reading poetry is because it forces them to think. And who wants to do that? Then I ask them what pop songs they like and get some responses. Their interest in poetry usually shifts after I explain to them that songs are just poetry set to music. They already like poetry, they just weren’t aware of it (see types of ignorance number 4 above). So too with other types of literature. Reading helps relieve ignorance. But some people choose not to read because it interferes with their decision not to think about things, or it’s too much hard work.
  3. Global warming. Most people accept global warming. A few don’t. A dangerous few. They have chosen to be ignorant for commercial reasons. Because the fact of global warming interferes with their desire to make enormous wads of cash they refuse to accept the truth. These people unfortunately have the capacity to influence politicians who decide to accept their dangerous disbelief because it keeps them in power.

There are many other examples. War. Religion. Conspiracy theories. World hunger. Terrorism. Astrology. All of these stem, ultimately, from deliberate ignorance.

That’s why I became a teacher. I help take some of the ignorance away from the world. Sometimes I despair when I go on the internet and find someone touting homeopathy, or warning that the world will end next Tuesday week. But I keep trying, because deliberate ignorance can be fought and defeated.

Russell Proctor   http://www.russellproctor.com

 

The Next Book

This year, 2015, has been an interesting one for me. I have two novels published, with a third due out in December. I have also had three short stories appear in print, with another two also due in December. So as far as writing goes, things have been going pretty well. More than a lot of writers achieve, less than others, but for me, very credible.

However, lately a couple of darker matters have reared their heads to remind me that life isn’t always the way you’d want it.

First up, yes, I have had two novels published with a third one on the way. However, I have my fair share of rejection slips and some stories and books that have been completed but have yet to find a home. This always leaves a writer frustrated, especially those stories that have gone out several times and been knocked back with polite “no thank yous”. You start to feel just a bit sorry for them, as well as yourself as a writer.

I’m working on it.

On a more personal level, my mother has Alzheimer’s and requires more and more care as time goes on. I am her full-time carer, so quite a bit of my day is taken up looking after her and coping with her inability to remember things. This leaves less time for writing and even when I am writing means a lot of interruptions.  Not that I begrudge her need for ongoing care, but I think you know what I mean.

Besides, I’m not the picture of health myself. I have glaucoma and psoriasis, both of which are inconvenient if not particularly dangerous in us if treated. I’ve had to live with them all my life.

So it isn’t all going my way, particularly recently.

But back to the good things. At the end of October this year I decided to enter NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which is an international writing challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. To save you doing the Math, that’s 1666.6666 words a day. Call it 1667. There’s no prize other than the satisfaction of having completed the challenge. I decided to use NaNo to kick start a new science fiction/horror series, The Scream of Years. Now, on Tuesday 24 November, I am on 54,000.

That’s something to be proud of, with 6 days to go and already four thousand words over the target. Of course, it isn’t necessary to stop at 50,000, so I can keep going and really make a start on the first draft of the first book, which has the working title Shine and Shadow. It’s been a full-on experience, given that my writing technique consists of having some sort of vague idea of what I want and making it up as I go.

So, I have a books and stories without homes at the moment, although they will get one, don’t fear about that. And my personal life isn’t one I’d recommend. But here’s the thing: I’m focusing on the next book.

And that’s really the heart of being a writer. The next book. Not this one, or the ones that have found homes or are still at the orphanage, but the next one. That’s the most important book of all.

A writer should never stop being a writer. Whether you spend a lifetime plugging away and get one short story printed in your local paper, or whether you’re the next John Grisham, never stop being a writer. Always make a start on that next book.

That all that counts.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com