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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Exploring Character and Place: #1

I’m doing a series of pieces on the characters and places featured in my latest release. This will be background information, not covered in the book, but intended to enhance the reading experience. 

For some of my people, there’ll be a character drawing, supplied by Alice Taylor, maybe a video interview, and accompanying scripts. I may include a short piece of fiction, deepening the knowledge of certain minor characters as well.

For the places, I’ll incorporate sections of the map, to indicate location, along with a description of the place, as I see it, and, where appropriate, linking it with characters. I’m not intending to reveal any of the story, either as already published or as written into the series, merely to enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the trilogy by providing more information. 

I hope this will give pleasure to those who’ve bought the book and, perhaps, persuade others to take that step (the digital version is only the price of a large cappuccino, and the print version costs less than a reasonable restaurant meal for one, but it’ll give you hours more enjoyment and won’t expand your waistline.)

Some pronunciation hints:
Aklon-Dji: think of the ‘Dj’ sound in the name of tennis champion, Novak Djokovic.
Shoarhn: show-arhn.
Aglydron: aglih-dron.
Ytraa: it-rah.
Mind you, these are just my take on the names, how I hear them in my head. You may pronounce them any way you wish; reading is, after all, an active rather than a passive occupation.

Dji is a title, which means ‘the son of’ and refers only to high-ranking members of the priesthood. It is reserved for those offspring acknowledged by the priest/priestess as his or her own child. Aklon-Dji is a major protagonist in the trilogy and is introduced here by Shoarhn, one of the many women who loves him.

SA:                  So, Shoarhn, how would you describe Aklon-Dji?

Shoarhn:          Beautiful! He’s younger than me, but not by much. His eyes; they’re amazing. Deep blue and flecked with tiny specks of gold. He’s well built, which suits me as his lover.

SA:                  Aren’t you a married to another man, though?

Shoarhn:          Aglydron cares more about ceremony and rite than he does about me. I don’t know why he didn’t just take a temple slave and join with her for Ytraa. He certainly doesn’t care whether I’m pleased when we join. Not like Aklon; he cares deeply for women.

SA:                  Not jealous of his philandering?

Shoarhn:          Why would I be? Ytraa commands us to join when we can, in worship of Ytraa. But I admit I’d love to have Aklon all to myself.

SA:                  Tell me more about this man.

Shoarhn:          Aklon’s about 30 years old, very tall, with long dark auburn hair. He’s broad-shouldered and strong. His father, the High Priest, Dagla Kaz, disinherited him because Aklon insists on telling the truth. When he learned the buried secrets of the Followers, he was so enraged that he rejected his past. He was made Renegade by his father. There’s a price on his head and he lives precariously, befriending converts to his way of thinking. A growing group of these faithful supporters, called the Few, made up mostly of women, and some of their men, ensure he’s always fed and sheltered.
He has a short full beard, and his olive skin bears many small scars from numerous fights and brave exploits. He’s almost as fanatical about his alternative to the religion, which he calls the Cause, as his father is about the Followers.
Unusually for a man of his age, he’s single, but that’s because the role of the High Priest, which he’d have inherited on the death of his father, is an uninhibited one with no single woman taken as a life-partner.
Aklon loves women, sexually and as companions he can talk to about the things that matter most to him. He cares about justice, equality and truth. Even though he’s trained as a soldier, he hates unnecessary violence.

SA:                  Sounds like a great guy. He must have his faults, though, surely?

Shoarhn:          He’s a man. Of course he has faults. Like the way he insists on speaking very precisely. Can be a bit annoying, to be honest. And he wears the best quality clothes he can, in spite of being on the run. People say he’s vain, but really he’s just trying to keep himself civilised whilst he’s hunted. He enjoys too many women for my liking, but, like I say, that’s what we’re supposed to do. Mind you, he says he doesn’t believe in the ways of the Followers now, so maybe he should be changing his habits. Look, I love him. You can’t expect me to give an unbiased view, can you?

SA:                  I suppose not, Shoarhn. But thank you for this insight. How did you meet him, by the way, if he’s a wanted man?

Shoarhn:          He came to me with information about Aglydron and Okkyntalah, my daughter’s betrothed, when they went missing after the Choosing. He cares about us, you see.

Video interview with Shoarhn:

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Writers’ Earnings

English: J. K. Rowling, after receiving an hon...
English: J. K. Rowling, after receiving an honorary degree from The University of Aberdeen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was recently tempted to make a comment on a discussion forum relating to the earnings of writers and it prompted me to write this post. 

There’s a great deal of inflated expectation from new writers, or those who wish to become professional writers. Many members of the public have grossly exaggerated ideas of author’s earnings, largely driven by headlines concerning such popular figures as JK Rowling and others. If you’re a new writer and you hope to make a living at the craft, please think very carefully about what you’re going to do. It’s true that some writers make a fortune, but the vast majority earn insufficient to make a living.

One way of ensuring a living wage is to become an employee working for a recognised organisation, of course. Journalism is considered a great background for many forms of writing, for example. Look into real job prospects, explore the reality of wages. But, please, don’t give up the day job and set about penning your wonder novel without understand the facts about writers’ earnings. So that you can do that more fully, I’ve attached a few links to recent features below.

Please read these BEFORE you go and tell your boss what he can do with his ******* job, won’t you?

There are more, if you do the usual Google search (or any other useful search engine) but this should give you enough to make you consider your options. Good luck if you decide to go ahead.

Of course, if you're a real writer, you'll write anyway: it's a compulsion for those of us with the disease and we're unable to ignore it, regardless of wealth or poverty. We do it because it's who we are.
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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Do You Employ Redundancy? #2

Another foray into the fascinating world of unnecessary words, repetitions and other heinous crimes of grammar. If guilty, kindly write out the following a hundred times each!

Absolutely certain: You’re certain, are you? Well, if you are, you’re unlikely to be partially so. Certainty is absolute, so the adjective is superfluous: Cut it out.

Basic fundamentals: If it’s basic, it’s fundamental. Tautology is bad for you; don’t do it.

Close proximity: Now, you know better than this. If something is in the proximity of something else, it’s close to it; that’s what proximity means. Chose you word; one or the other, not both.

Definite decision: Not all decisions are final, but all decisions are definite, otherwise no decision has been made. Cut away the inessential.

Estimated at about: Estimation is approximation, so is ‘about’ in this context. You don’t need the extra word.

Invited guests: We call uninvited people ‘gate-crashers’. By their nature, guests have been invited.

Past history: History is a record of past occurrences. If you’re recording the present or a predicted future, it isn’t history. ‘Past’ isn’t needed.

Revert back: If something reverts, it goes back to an earlier state. Leave the back against the chair and lean on it.

Still remains: When something remains it is still there. Let’s keep the still in the shed, making the illegal hooch, eh?

Usual custom: Custom is routinely observed, that’s what makes it a custom. Unusually, however, here it is possible to have an unusual custom, which is a custom practised in one place but not common in another.

Another rant done with. But, beware; there will be more!
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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Courting Contentious Content.

Julian Assange painted portrait - Wikileaks
Julian Assange painted portrait - Wikileaks (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)
Are we subject to a type of censorship that curtails freedom of speech and prevents honest debate of issues of vital importance to civilisation?

In the West, we pride ourselves on our tolerance. This is especially the case in Europe and even more so in the UK, a land noted for its cultural diversity and its acceptance of the beliefs, customs and traditions of others. In order to protect those institutions, beliefs, sensibilities and creeds that differ from our home-grown varieties, government has implemented laws intended to prevent prejudice and insult. But, because of the undeniable threat of terrorism, they’ve also set in place watchdogs to detect activity that may be considered a threat to the State.

It’s my belief that the combined effect of these two factors is to stifle serious debate about religious bodies and/or traditions and customs.

Let me illustrate my point. If I wish to write a feature, or even a piece of fiction, highlighting perceived dangers presented by extremist groups, my first recourse is research, so I can get my facts right. So, I start to  investigate terms like Al-Qaeda, mujahadeen, taliban, islamist, the Army of God, Ku Klux Klan, etc. In common with most modern writers, my first port of call is the web. But wait: if I start typing such words into my search engine, am I going to immediately become a target for the anti-terrorist organisations that filter such words from our emails, texts and online searches? The danger certainly exists. And, I suspect, for many that’s sufficiently worrying to prevent them even taking the first steps.

In writing this piece, I wanted to ensure I spelt the words correctly (many of them have variant spellings, after all). For me, spelling is the prerogative of the SOED, a 2 volume version of the Oxford English Dictionary, which comes as a printed book of 20 volumes with 3 additional volumes to account for more recent words. My copy of the smaller book was printed in 2007. Al-Qaeda has been active since 1988, but doesn’t feature in the SOED. So I went to the web. I used the roundabout route of searching for Al-Jazeera, a respected broadcasting company, and was directed to the inimical Wikipedia. From there, I was more comfortable searching for the other terms.

But you see my point? Fear of the heavy-handed authorities descending on the house to remove my computer for forensic dissection, especially in light of the fate of such protectors of free speech as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, makes me, and many others, wary of even investigating certain topics.

The other cause for concern in writing about such matters stems from the potential outcry and threats of death that may result. We have only to recall the cases of Salman Rushdie and his Satanic Verses (a book I actually read at the time, forming my own ideas about the real reason for the fatwa), and of Jyllands Posten, the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Islamic prophet, Mohammed. But it isn’t just Islam that poses such problems. There’s evidence that raising the subject of Christian, Budhist, Hindu or any other form of religious extremism can cause serious problems for those daring to criticise such organisations.

Even at a less heated level, the criticism of many religious groups, no matter where those beliefs originate, is invariably seen as an attack on faith and belief, so that simply questioning these issues often results in tirades of abuse, threats and even physical atttack.

Those of a rational turn of mind are effectively silenced by a system that was ostensibly put in place to protect the rights of minorities. It’s become very difficult to even venture an opinion on the validity of faith, the truth about religion, or the real value of certain rites and rituals unless the writer couches such ideas in the most delicate language.

Fear of causing offence, coupled with very real concerns over both official and extremist responses, has effectively neutered those who wish to hold open and honest debates about certain religious beliefs, traditions and customs. It takes a brave writer to raise these contentious issues. I suggest that the balance of the law has shifted dangerously toward censorship of those who employ reason and rationality and is now overprotective of those who wish to maintain what are often erroneous and frequently dangerous belief systems. This fear stifles the very necessary discussion of subjects that are often directly responsible for much injustice and harm in the world. What do you think?
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