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Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Bull At The Gate – Writing About Alternate Realities

This weekend sees the launch of Linda Acaster’s The Bull At The Gate, Book 2 in the Torc of  Moonlight trilogy of occult thrillers set in northern England. One of the challenges facing an author is writing with depth, and she’s visiting the blog to explain how she creates multi-layered fiction within a single book and across a trilogy. Do leave a query or comment as a copy of Books 1 and 2 will be awarded to one lucky person.  (Please note; this prize has now been awarded.)

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Thanks, Stuart, for the welcome.

Ever witnessed an event alongside a friend and later listened, incredulous, to their account of what happened? And when you voiced your take on what occurred they stood open-mouthed staring at you? It’s all a matter of perception, and everyone’s perception is different.

I use this insight with varying emphasis throughout the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, which follows the resurrection of a Celtic water deity. Nick carries the novels. In Book 1 he’s nineteen, studying at Hull’s university, and like many of his age believes in the indestructibility of youth; Alice is his true love. Or is she? Is his perception coloured by events, both earthly and occult? The ambiguity is drip-fed from an early stage and encouraged by the use of a historical Prologue through which readers perceive the contemporary events.

This ambiguity is carried across to the two parallel storylines, one contemporary, one historical. Is a middle-aged tutor as lecherous as hearsay suggests? Why has he and a girlfriend from his younger days kept in touch if they bicker like an old married couple? Is the Romano-Briton a Gabrovantices Celt or as Roman as his name? What befell him in his own time to trap him in water he envisages as a blessed Pool, despite it now being no more than a muddy puddle?

As have many cultures, Celtic lore held the power of the indivisible three in high esteem. That number is woven throughout the three storylines, and is the reason for a trilogy rather than a series. Not until the ending of Book 1 does the unnamed deity make a true appearance, yet, like the power of the three, it has resonated within each storyline throughout the novel.

In keeping, newly launched The Bull At The Gate opens three years after Torc of Moonlight closes and contains three storylines running parallel. Dragging himself from the grip of post traumatic stress syndrome, Nick moves to York to work at the university, arriving in February just as the Jorvik Viking Festival commences.

Yet beneath the city’s mediaeval minster cathedral sits the foundations of the Roman fortress that garrisoned the infamous Ninth Legion, and the Sixth Victrix. Across the river stood the colonia Eboracum, its Forum, public baths, temples and cemeteries now buried beneath a modern urban sprawl. For the Romans, Februalia is a time for cleansing, and a retired legionary has a pressing need to cleanse the Temple of Mithras. Christ-men are building their own temple and turning covetous eyes on both dressed stone and a spring sacred to the goddess Luna.

When a female student is reported missing, the police suspect Nick of being involved in her disappearance, and as events from Book 1 return to haunt him, he realises that it’s not PTSS that he’s been suffering. Trapped between worlds, Alice is trying to contact him, and in doing so she may have opened a portal that has closed around the missing girl. But who is going to believe that he’s not an over-enthusiastic historical re-enactor? Can Nick reach and free both the girl and Alice, and is it love or guilt that’s driving him?

Whose perception of reality is correct: the police who believe Nick needs psychiatric help? His work colleagues who think he’s trying to pass reproductions as true archaeological artefacts? The Roman who is convinced an Otherworldly force is bent on destruction of everything he holds dear?

Ambiguity need not slow a novel, but it does add depth because it makes the reader work. Get into the mind of each of your viewpoint characters and truly understand their perceived reality. Where does it state that one, or more, cannot be an unreliable narrator?

Book 3 of the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, currently being written, starts three years after the close of The Bull At The Gate, is set in another university city, Durham, and again has two contemporary and one historical storylines. A sense of symmetry creates a background resonance of its own.
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Linda Acaster has written in a number of genres, and her back catalogue holds seven published books including a writers’ resource, over 70 short stories, and a plethora of articles for writers’ journals. Torc of Moonlight is currently discounted to 99p/99c. The Bull At The Gate is now available on Amazon and in all other eformats from Smashwords while distribution filters through to the iBooks, Nook, and Kobo stores. For more information visit her website.
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