Category Archives: Poetry

Noveling: The Four Seasons Quartet

Or I think it’s a quartet. It might be a trilogy. I am reasonably certain it will not turn into a quintet.

It consists, at present, of two books, tentatively titled Summer and Autumn. The latter I wrote during National Novel Writing Month ’09 and have barely touched since. Naturally it’s a mess.

The former I took a solemn oath to have edited and straightened out by the time I finished university – which gives me, as of the time of writing, er, negative-eight days. I may have forgotten about my oath. I’ve extended it till September – but I’m honestly not sure I’ll make it.

I also have vague plans for Winter and vaguer plans for Spring. They’ll get written. Some day.

Summer

Summer started with a couple of disparate elements: reading Conrad’s Fate by Diana Wynne Jones and falling in love with the setting; a watercolour pencil drawing of a house with red, white and green stained glass windows; and (unusually for me) a dream.

The dream, as best as I can piece it together, went something like this: it was set in a Victorian-esque world populated by wizards. The wizards were having a contest in an arena to decide who was the best. A young man who was not a wizard somehow blagged his way in and did an act with either talking horses or talking dogs who could turn into cloth. (Which, according to dream logic, was better than what all the actual wizards had come up with.)

The only other part I remember was a climactic scene in which a little blonde girl had to choose between the young not-wizard and her family. Somewhere in the mix was a sinister lady dressed in black. I woke up with an intense feeling that it would make a good story.

One frantic November later, I had a disjointed but relatively solid novel draft on my hands.

The facts are these: Lord Glasswater is a Wizard (with a capital W) who specialises in the art of ‘magical animation’ – making inanimate objects animate (magitech robots, essentially). As the story begins, his household is about to play host to the Festival, the officially unofficial most prestigious contest of Wizardry. Because his specialty is somewhat looked down on by other Wizards, Lord Glasswater has never won. He attempts, in a mad gamble, to learn weather magic (his father’s specialty) in the year leading up to the Festival – only to realise, when it’s too late to change his mind, that no matter how much research he does, he just can’t make his spell work.

Enter Olsson, Lord Glasswater’s footman, who unbeknownst to anyone – up to and include himself – might just be the most powerful wizard (with a little w) in the country, or even the world. After accidentally stumbling on his abilities, Lord Glasswater coaches him to perform weather magic, wins the festival by cheating – and completely without meaning to sets Olsson on the path to unlocking his full potentially.

Unfortunately for Lord Glasswater, one other Wizard is savvy enough to work out that he cheated. Fortunately, it’s the Wizard Wheright, the country’s only Lady Wizard, generally agreed to be scheming and untrustworthy. She wants to prove Lord Glasswater’s guilt – and for whatever reason she wants to get her hands on Olsson.

Meanwhile, Lord Glasswater’s only child, Caitrin, is just beginning to learn lady’s magic from her mother and is beginning to realise she’s not satisfied. Caitrin has some natural talents of her own and they are not for mixing magic with sewing.

Hijinks ensue.

There’s lots of Wizards. Lots of lonnng descriptions of fancy spellwork. Lots of fancy parties. Lots of Olsson being socially awkward and Caitrin being miserable and Lady Glasswater being fabulous.

At present much of it is still using the structure I adopted during NaNoWriMo – which is an issue because it means there’s a number of scenes which are only there because I needed to fill out my words-per-day quota. And I’m struggling to properly integrate Caitrin’s subplot. But it’s coming along.

Autumn

I started writing Autumn the same November I wrote most of Summer – not so much because I wanted to write a sequel as because November wasn’t over yet and I had some vague ideas knocking around as to what should happen to Olsson next.

I used it for the following NaNoWriMo and it is how I came to write eighty thousand words in thirty days. It’s about as much of a rambling, convoluted mess as you might expected. It’s not just that I was writing very fast – when I started out, I did not know how it was going to end. When I finished, I still did not know how it was going to end. I now know how it should end, but I’ve not written the ending yet.

The facts are these: Olsson is now training with the Wizard Wheright. She might want to teach him magic, or she might just want to use him to expose Lord Glasswater as a cheat – or she might just want the glory of ‘discovering’ him, he’s really not sure. He’s also been having vivid dreams about standing stones that might be magical out-of-body experiences.

After their first time out in public together, at a Midwinter party, proves disastrous, Olsson decides to strike out on his own to see if he can find the standing stone he’s been dreaming about. Hijinks and side-quests ensue. When he finally finds the standing stone and comes to understand what his dreams mean, he finds the truth so uncomfortable he makes every effort to hide himself.

Meanwhile, the Wizard Wheright finally manages to get the Wizards’ Council to listen to her accusations – a week or so too late. Olsson is long gone – they’ll just have to try and hunt him down.

And the Glasswater household is slowly crumbling apart under the weight of Lord Glasswater’s sin.

Autumn was a blast to write but not that well suited to NaNoWriMo. The unity of it is more thematic than narrative, so rushing it made for a disjointed experience. But writing it was one of the best experiences of my life, so I can deal.

The third book, when I write it, will be the ‘bring all major characters together’ kind of third act, and see Olsson being forced out of hiding and attempting to use his powers for good. I have, in my head, a kind of ‘book trailer’. There’s colourful flags involved somewhere.

Summer is a much more straightforward project than the Ever-Present Trilogy. I’m hoping it’s also more publishable, being, as it is, a more conventional fantasy trilogy. But I need to do that editing first…

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A Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama

This ‘review’ was originally intended to be submitted to The Flaneur, the website where the bulk of my Fringe reviews from this year are going to be posted (eventually), but I decided it was a little too personal, plus, well, barely a review. A Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama is a spoken word and performance poetry group based out of Peterborough.

As it happens, I grew up just down the road from Peterborough, and yet I was still surprised by some of the facts I recently learned; that Peterborough is, apparently, the birthplace of Pizza Express, which I’m not sure whether or not to believe since for most of the time I lived there Peterborough did not actually have a Pizza Express; that Warwick Davis runs an acting agency from Peterborough; and that Peterborough has a performance poetry scene.

In retrospect I’m not all that surprised that this passed me by, since I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly in my teens, but the fact remains: Peterborough not only has a spoken word scene but apparently a big enough scene for it to be possible to showcase the highlights of it.

A Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama – or A Pint of Poetry and a Dram of Drama, as they prefer to go by in Edinburgh – runs monthly open mic nights and, very occasionally, performs at the Edinburgh Fringe. This year they put on two shows, of which I saw only one, on Monday 13th August.

So what did I make of the poetic highlights of my home city? Well, for those not familiar, I should probably give some context: Peterborough is not the most cultured city. It’s home to some of England’s most spectacular sixties architecture, created by bulldozing much of its historic city centre. It has an extremely dilapidated arts centre. It has two theatres, but I don’t remember either ever putting on anything interesting. My memories of Peterborough mostly consist of chain stores, pound shops, motorways, and an endless, monotonous beigeness. I’ve always thought of it as a somewhat soul-less city. (And before anyone takes offence, I must remind you again that I’m a local.)

So what are its artistic outpourings like? I’m not sure if ‘better than I expected’ is quite the right way to put it, because I’m honestly not sure exactly what I expected. Patchy quality? Most definitely. Clever wordplay? Not really. Tinkerbell, robots, and fabulous waistcoats? Almost certainly not.

As with any group that grows out of open mic nights, the quality was variable. Many of the poems rested more on wordplay than on ‘deep’ meanings and not all of the poets had the necessary stage presence to make their poetry exciting and interesting to listen to.

But the highlights of Pint of Poetry were actually some of the most memorable poems I’ve seen so far this month – and I’ve been to see two sets of published poets perform their work. I saw some poets I’d happily watch for a full hour-long show. My favourites were Tim Goodings and his poem ‘Massive Beard’ about the most beardy of beards he one day plans to grow; a poet in a fabulous waistcoat whose name I didn’t catch who invited the audience to share his love of Tinkerbell; J.S. Watts, the group’s only published poet, with her surreal and funny poems about the ‘mechanoid female’ scrapyard Sue; and Mark Grist, Peterborough’s poet laureate (another surprise for me) and his ‘love poem’ to Peterborough, warts and all.

I suppose the final question is: do I have a new appreciation for Peterborough and its artistic merits?  If I’m going to be honest, not really. Do I have a new appreciation for A Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama? Quite definitely.

As a final note, the point about it being the most memorable poetry I’ve seen so far this month still stands – the other day I went to a poetry reading I shall not name that almost bored me to sleep – and though the Festival of Spirituality and Peace’s five-day poetry event is about to start so my feelings may change, there’s something to be said for the uninhibited, amateur poetry of groups like Pint of Poetry and its total lack of pretension. Because if there’s one thing we all hate it’s pretension.

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Filed under Edinburgh Fringe, Poetry, review