Wednesday, March 20, 2019

On Finding a Special Book

This week, when I was browsing in one of my local bookshops I came across a fascinating little book called: ‘Images in the Margins’ by Margot McIlwain Nishimura; published by J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2009.

Fascinating to me because it opened my eyes to all the interesting creatures, tales and symbols found in the pages of medieval European illuminated manuscripts. I’ve always looked at the beautiful text and large initials and I can’t believe I never noticed all the other things –serious and amusing - contained on the pages.

What caught my eye are a couple of categories which have reminded me how far back our interest in folk tales and popular entertainment goes. Themes that I am trying to capture in my children’s books.

Children's Games

Children’s games must have been important in the Middle Ages as they are a main subject depicted in the manuscripts. There are illustrations of children playing checkers, chess and an early form of bowling. There are other games now lost to history including a rough game called ‘hot cockles’. A person hides their face in another player’s lap while another player hits and pokes him. The player will only be freed if they know who their attacker is. It’s a good thing this game died out.

It seems that fantasy was popular in the Middle Ages as it is also a major category in the manuscripts. There are creatures with the heads of humans and the bodies of animals, unicorns and griffins and other strange creatures.

Reynard the Fox

The book includes a manuscript which depicts that cunning creature ‘Reynard the Fox’.  Apparently stories about Reynard were very popular. Wikipedia tells me the stories can be traced back to the twelfth century. I had no idea these tales went back so far.

This unique little book is stuffed full of fascinating information and I’m already thinking about how to weave some of it into my children’s books.

I’m now going to find out a bit more about the character ‘Reynard the Fox’ and also learn what other stories were popular in the Middle Ages. Do you know of any?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Reading and Writing Fairy Tales

What’s In a Fairy Tale?

I’ve always loved reading fairy stories and science fiction so it’s no surprise that I wanted to write a few for myself. And what is amazing is that people from many cultures have been listening to and reading what we call fairy tales for centuries.

So I was very conscious that in writing my two fantasy books that I needed the stories to reflect and build on a long tradition. Fairy tales typically include beings such as dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, unicorns and talking animals. They also usually include magic and enchantment.

I’ve managed to include fairies, gnomes, goblins, elves and talking animals plus other magical beings and lots of magic. 

To make sure I didn’t stray too far from traditional folklore I consulted a really informative book – ‘An Encyclopedia of Fairies – Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures’ by Katherine Briggs.

The Enduring Love of Fairy Tales and Fantasy

Even before the publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (published 1812) and later the stories by Hans Christien Anderson (first stories published 1835) people were reading about ghosts and fairies.

And now the love continues through film, television and computers.

I watched Walt Disney’s animated movies about ‘Snow White’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and later ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Beauty and The Beast’ and so on. And then there’s the great success of the books and films ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’.

It doesn’t look like interest in fairy tales and magic is going to disappear any time soon.

Wikipedia says that the name ‘fairy tale’ was first used by Madame d’Aulnoy in the late 17th century. I’m not sure what they were called before that. Any ideas?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Moving the Story Forward

There are Lots of Challenges

In my stories about The Tenth Gateway the children have to overcome a number of challenges and solve lots of puzzles. It’s how I can get them to move from one situation to the next. It’s also how they can get through the gateways and keep moving forward to finish the game.

Most of my puzzles are either about working out rhyming clues or word games and puzzles.

Difficult Situations to Overcome

To develop the story I have to imagine many different scenarios so that each of the sub worlds in the game are consistent in significant ways but also unique. There are good fairy folk who help the children but there are also lots of nasty creatures that are trying to prevent them from reaching The Tenth Gateway.

In The Spy’s Door, for example, Sophie and Jun have to find there way through the world of gateway five to reach gateway six. The world is a dark enchanted garden with plants that bite, a ‘Dream Maker’ who wants to trap them by making them go to sleep and a huge vicious dog. 

My inspiration for the dog came from the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.

One of my favourite nasty characters is 'The Snout' who guards one of the dungeons in the evil magician's fortress. 

Thankfully Sophie and Jun get through The Sixth Gateway with the help of Morgan, a wandering minstrel who appears several times in the story. The challenge for me was to make him helpful but in a mysterious sort of way.

Having ‘Real’ Characters

My two main children characters are Sophie and Jun. Although they have distinctive personalities, they are good friends so they have to have things in common. They are both intelligent and resourceful but whereas Sophie is a bit bossy and impulsive, Jun is more collaborative and thoughtful. By Book 2 Sophie has learnt to be more co-operative and that there is strength in working together.

Aisha, a close friend of Sophie and Jun, is quiet and not as confident as the other two. She admires Sophie and tends to support whatever she wants to do. The fourth child in ‘The Spy’s Door’ is Basil, Sophie’s younger cousin. 

He is very annoying and questions everything. But even he has something to offer in the end.

Through their different cultural backgrounds, personalities and dialogue I want the children reading the books to be able to relate to the main characters. Although children in the modern day would find it difficult to relate to the adventure worlds and fictional characters created by  Enid Blyton, when I read her books as a young child I found them very believable. 

'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' and 'The Lord of the Rings; were written decades ago, but the series of books and the films based on them are still popular today. What do you think helps them to endure?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Thoughts On Writing aTrilogy

Blog Update

Of course I’ve been very slow at writing another blog. Now that I’ve decided to focus on my writing process for the time being, it’s a challenge to reflect on how and why I got started. I’ve made lots of notes on the story as I went along but not really about my thoughts about the structure of the books. Anyway this blog is how I remember starting the trilogy.

Writing Three Books

When I started to write The Tenth Gateway I knew that I wanted to write a trilogy involving the magic game.

Firstly I had come up with the idea of children trapped in a magic game being pursued by an evil magician in one of the writing exercises I completed in The Australian Writer’s Centre online course about writing books for children.

I remembered some of the classic series favourites, for example: Enid Blyton’s stories of the Faraway Tree (lots of magic and fairy tale figures) and the Barnaby Books (lots of mystery and adventure); Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - I must confess that I've seen the films but haven't yet read the books. A must for 2019.

Some more recent books that I have enjoyed are Emily Rodda’s Three Doors Trilogy. I loved it that if you changed one or more factors in the main story line, a new set of dynamics could unfold

Trilogies by Tolkein and Rodda
How To Do It?

I had never written a children’s book, let alone a trilogy but I had the story in my head and some ideas of what I would need to do.  Here are some of my ideas:

I had to create main characters that would work across three books.

I also had to introduce new characters or magical beings that would develop the story in different directions. 

Although the underlying story was about playing the magic game, the game had to remain a challenge with different pitfalls along the way.

There had to be a valid reason for the children to want to play the game for a second and a third time given it is so dangerous. 

The vocabulary and puzzles had to be at an appropriate level for age 8+ readers with each book adding a bit more complexity and reading challenge. 

Lastly, I had to make it a fun fantasy adventure. A little bit scary and mysterious but good wins out in the end.

The Light at the end of the tunnel....

Upon reflection, I’m amazed that I have actually finished and had published Book 1 (The Tenth Gateway) and Book 2 (The Spy’s Door) and given my inertia over summer, that my first rough draft of Book 3 is almost complete. I’m keeping the working title secret for now, just in case I change it.

I think that coming up with a title that says something about the story and is also enticing is challenging, but also fun to do. But like finding names for the characters finding something not already taken is very hard.

If you have any recommendations for me re trilogies written for children I would love to hear about them.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What's in a name?

Blogging by Myself

I'm still on my summer break in the country and so can't access the help of my 'social media expert friend'. So this is the first blog I am attempting on my own. I've been putting it off but now that it's three weeks since my last blog I thought I should try.

Finding Names for Characters

In a previous blog I mentioned how hard it is for me to find names for the fictional nasty and nice characters in my fantasy books for children. I can spend hours - even weeks - trying to get the right one which reflects the character.

In my story about ‘The Tenth Gateway’, the main characters who play the magic game are three children – Sophie Jones, Aisha Serez and Jun Wu. Their names were inspired by members of my extended family from British, Turkish and Chinese backgrounds.

Malefic – the name of the evil magician in the book is derived from the Latin maleficus, meaning wicked or vicious.

Eda – the name of the good magician is derived from Nordic mythology and means guardian of time and wealth. I thought this was an appropriate name as time has no meaning in the enchanted world of ‘The Tenth Gateway’ which she created.

In my second book ‘The Spy’s Door’, the spy is called Perscrutor. This one took me ages but it’s Latin for ‘search high and low; investigate carefully’ It’s what a spy has to do, so that was my final choice.

I also added a fictional annoying cousin of Sophie’s. Basil just sprang to mind. I actually don’t know anyone called Basil. He is entirely fictional.

Other names I selected are derived from Latin, Celtic, Anglo Saxon and Old German names from the middle ages. For nasty characters I try to think of something unpleasant; for example, Grot - the horrible goblin in ‘The Tenth Gateway’ and The Snout – the ugly goblin jailer in ‘The Spy’s Door’.

Source: Encyclopedia: J.A. Richards Publishing Co., Inc 1947
Making Up Names

When all the good names seem to already be taken (such as in the fairy story about Rumpelstiltskin) and after checking out if any of the ones I think of have been used in films, books, games etc I just make them up. Some examples:

Weezle and Slithe – two nasty goblins in The Tenth Gateway

Gwulfud – a nice gnome in The Spy’s Door

Rotz – a guard from Malefic’s fortress

Source: Encyclopedia: J.A. Richards Publishing Co., Inc 1947

I’m now writing the third book in my planned trilogy. Finding names remains a struggle. The old fairy stories have good names such as such as The Pied Piper, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Puss in Boots.

In ‘The Spy’s Door’, the children meet up with Captain Erluc, one of Malefic’s six horrible goblin army captains.  I’ll let you guess how I came up with his name. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Creating a fictional enchanted world

In my books about the magic game ‘The Tenth Gateway’, the game world was created hundreds of years ago. I therefore wanted the world to reflect aspects of the medieval period. 

So the fictional magical beings and nasty creatures in the books draw on traditional fairy tales and folklore but they live in a world that doesn’t have modern technology. There’s lots of magic and anything can happen but there are no cars, planes, big cities or computers.

Hansel & Gretal
The Brownies
‘An Encyclopedia of Fairies’ by Katherine Briggs was really helpful.  I also trawled through the internet and I remembered all the great fairy tales I have read. 
I love these images that I found in a volume of a very old encyclopedia – J. A Richards Publishing Co., Inc 1947!

Some Writing Challenges

One of the most difficult things to do in writing my stories was the come up with the various challenges and puzzles that the children have to solve to move through the game. Childhood memories also played a major role here.

I remember getting stuck for a couple of months when writing the first book because I couldn’t think how to move the children from one particular world to another. Thank goodness for Eda’s  ‘good magic’ which helps them to play the game. 

I needed to change the gateway worlds and challenges in Book Two – ‘The Spy’s Door’. The growing power of the evil magician Malefic means that he is increasingly able to modify the game to suit his purpose. He wants to escape from the game which keeps him a prisoner. Eda is determined to stop him.

I had lots of fun thinking about how the game would change as Malefic’s evil influence spread.

Book trailers

Alison Tait has a great book trailer for her children’s books ‘The Map Maker Chronicles’. I can recommend looking at the trailer and also reading the books – a great fantasy adventure story. It’s what motivated me to have my first book trailer on ‘The Tenth Gateway’ developed by Austin Macauley (publisher). I (with help of course) included the Youtube links in one of my recent blogs.

I’m not sure how people stumble/find things (like book trailers) on Youtube unless they know exactly what they’re looking for. 

I know about Google. Type in key words and it’s amazing what information you can find. However I’m not sure how people find things they don’t know exist; for example: terrific books or the web sites of other great authors.

I suppose utilising ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ (SEO) helps a bit.  Sounds like something mysterious to include in a children’s fantasy story! What do you think?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Writing my book

Getting started 

As with a lot of people who write I scribbled lots of poems and stories as a child. And of course I was a ‘book worm’. I even wrote fantasy for young children in my twenties. The draft copy still sits here in my study and I’m determined to try and polish it up in the New Year.

My ‘real’ career beckoned.

Therefore it wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided I would like to do something serious with my writing. But I didn’t want to do any more formal study.  So I completed two online short courses with the Australian Writers Centre – they were a great help. The first was in creative writing and the second in writing children’s books. I realised that it was ‘fantasy’ that I really loved. It enables my imagination to take flight.

During the two courses the idea for ‘The Tenth Gateway’ popped into my head. Obviously I was influenced by everything I have read over the years and I included all the sorts of magic, characters and nasty creatures I loved (and still love) reading about.

However the inspiration for creating the story of the magic game was the traditional game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’. Players have to try and avoid landing on something nasty (snakes) and being sent backwards. The aim of course is to land on a ladder and move forwards to the final square. The first one who gets there wins.

It was lots of fun.

I don’t have any ladders in my books so far – although there are some horrible serpents in the enchanted world of the second gateway in my second book ‘The Spy’s Door’. But there is the tension between good (Eda the good magician) and bad (Malefic the nasty magician).

Anyway I had to have different obstacles for the children in the stories to overcome –hence the challenges and puzzles that need to be solved before they can move forward in the game.

Blogging – good news

I’ve surprised myself. I’m actually enjoying writing these blogs. Maybe it’s just like everyone says – you’ve just got to sit down and write.

I still need help from my Social Media Expert Friend (SMEF) on posting blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc but I now feel a bit more confident that I’ll get there in the end.

Why is fantasy  a ‘good read’ for children?

Here is one of my favourite quotes from Dr. Seuss:

Do you have any good quotes about why stories drawing on the fantasy genre is important for children?

On Finding a Special Book

This week, when I was browsing in one of my local bookshops I came across a fascinating little book called: ‘Images in the Margi...