3 Oct 2017

Writing a Book at 14

Hello readers!

Following from my previous announcement, I can confirm that I’ve sent the completed draft of Fallen Love to my beta readers, and they are presently reading it. In the meanwhile, I have decided to grant you all a treat: an essay, originally published in the student journal, that elaborates on my experience writing the Necromancer.

Perhaps you can interpret it as a reflection on the past—and a guide to the future. For me, it invokes great nostalgia. For you, it may enlighten the sometimes mysterious world of writers.

I will be back with news of Fallen Love soon, in any case. Until then!

What’s it like to write a book at 14?

When I tell people I wrote a book at 14, it would be an understatement to say that I get a lot of responses. But beyond the look on people’s faces, writing the Necromancer changed my life in many deeper (though sometimes subtle) ways.

Firstly, allow me to address the obvious factor here: commitment. Writing a 108,000 word high-fantasy book is not something you do on a whim. Indeed, it took me over six months to complete the first draft—a feat that required writing multiple hours per week—and a whole 18 months to get feedback, edit, seek agents, do more edits, and eventually hire professionals to do the artwork.

This leads me onto the second obvious question: motivation. Why, exactly, does a fourteen-year-old undertake such a quest? In my experience, laymen often draw on analogies with entrepreneurs: perhaps, they think, I wrote because I want to build something. Maybe I want to make the world a better place. Maybe I’m just in it for the money, or the pleasure of throwing down a 500 page book and saying ‘I wrote that.’

But this is only a small part of the reason I write. To understand my motivation, you need look a bit deeper, and trace the origin to my love of reading. I have always loved reading, even from an early age, and this was particularly true of the years just before I began writing. A transcript from the school library showed that I read about 400 books between the ages of 11 and 14.

The old adage is true: behind every writer there is a profligate reader.

So how did my love of reading affect me? It is safe to say that I became enraptured by the world of fantasy. Like the children in Narnia, I had opened the wardrobe and found a whole world waiting for me. Eragon and Northern Lights kept me up at night. I saw myself in their shoes: I fought urgals on the back of a dragon; I met angels; I fought dark magicians and consorted with vampires.

I was, in truth, smitten by the occult. My fascination was endless. It seems almost inevitable that I came to write about it; that my ideas grew, morphed, and took a life of their own.

One grey October afternoon, I began writing. I believe the necromancer compelled me to write that day; that the curve of his arrogant jaw, the icy power held in his ‘cold orbs of sight,’ all but forced me to put him down on paper.

Laymen often ask writers where their inspiration comes from. This, I am afraid, is the best answer I can give you.

The first few chapters I wrote were not worth the paper they would have been printed on, however, so I had to rewrite them from scratch. This is true of nearly all first time writers—you can blame it on the fact that writing fiction is… hard. It is difficult for a non-writers to understand just what kind of challenges writing presents: the elaborate art of writing itself; the magnificent difficulty of capturing whole personalities, often in few words; the intricacies of plot—all to name a few.

The rest of the book was a journey. I followed Linaera—apprentice mage and unwitting protagonist—through her journey into the Northern Mountains. I watched on as Nateldorth, Great Mage, uncovered dark conspiracies in the capital, Dresh. Most of all I followed the necromancer. I was witness to him: to his betrayal, his descent into madness, and his ultimate redemption.

Books are journeys. The journey of my book was in a way my journey: where my characters struggled, I struggled with them. For them it was question of facing up to existential challenges. For me it was knowing their motivation, and building all the twists and turns of plot that made up their lives.

Writing the Necromancer was often a pleasure. I liked the dark, unexpected turns of the plot; the characters’ inner lives; and most of all, I enjoyed writing in the world of Arachadia. I loved the towering mountains, the vast, sprawling forests; the great stonework of the mage buildings and the fine craftsmanship of the wooden cathedrals; the world of dormant dragons and powerful magics.

Of course, writing the Necromancer was often a challenge. I was young, and devoid of experience. I often struggled to write fluently—it took much work to correct the early mistakes. It was as if a vast realm had been entrusted to a young king; a king with many ideas but few ways to actually conquer.

But conquer it I did. Perhaps I did not quite succeed. Perhaps there are other worlds yet unconquered—other vast and distant places full of promise. But writing the Necromancer was not the finishing line; it was only the first milestone of a long journey. I do not know what dragons still slumber in the path I am taking.

Nor does it matter. My advice to my younger self—as well as to other would-be writers—is perseverance. Many monsters lie in wait (some of them are called publishers, critics, and yourself) but the treasures they guard are beautiful.

24 Sep 2017

It is done

Hail readers!

Previously, I mentioned that I was close to completing Fallen Love, my upcoming new novel. Well: there’s no more ‘upcoming’ about it anymore. Fallen Love is finished!

Of course, I also mentioned, in my previous update, that writing the ending does not serve to complete this quest of mine; there is still much work to do, in the form of getting more feedback, making revisions (a sizable number remain to be done) and of course querying agents.

But still: this is a huge milestone. I have turned an idea—an inkling of the character’s desires, the world they inhabit, the circumstances of the plot—into reality. Indeed, I thought it would never happen.

You see, when I began Fallen Love, I had written over 50,000 words on the Ark. It seemed insane to start a new novel, and abandon the old one, even though—deep down—I knew it was the right thing to do. Luckily, I persevered; and now here I stand, my hands holding a much more valuable object than the Ark could ever have been.

It is often said by writers that the second novel is easier than the first one. For me, this was not true. Oh sure: writing the Necromancer was insanely hard, and took two years to get published. Yet I completed the first draft in barely six months, two weeks; whereas Fallen Love took me 10 months, and it’s shorter too. The Necromancer stands at 108,000 words, while Fallen Love is 79,000.

If you consider the Ark to be more than just a false start—since I spent over a year working on it, and created three of the main characters that would later find themselves in Fallen Love—then you really start to comprehend the Goliath endeavour this was.

I only hope that publishing it will be easier. I daresay I am a much better writer now.

In any case, that’s enough for today. I have sent the completed draft to my beta readers; it is time for me to rest, letting my readers digest, and allowing me to charge my batteries for what comes next. University has also not let me off too easily, and I will have work to do in the coming weeks.

But since I know you must be excited, I have made good on a promise: you can now read the first chapter on this page.

Good bye for now, or as the Dutch say: tot ziens!

1 Sep 2017

A New Year (Of Work)

Good day readers, and hallo from Amsterdam!

This summer, I have been away both in Romania, where I visited Vatra Dornei, and Scotland (where I saw many places): if you are interested, you can check out my photos here and here.

Now, I am back in Amsterdam to begin my second year of university. It has, as I have said before, been a long year; yet I have done much, not least quitting the Ark, and beginning Fallen Love. Speaking of which: that is the topic of today’s little update.

I am now on 71,000 words—a significant feat on top of all my visiting, and of course all my university work. I daresay I am quite pleased, especially since I am close to finishing! A couple of thousand words is all that separates me from completion.

And what will I do once I finish it, you ask? Well, at first, not much. I intend to let it sit for a few weeks. Then I will go back; I will read through the novel in its entirety, resolving unfinished business, perhaps adding or subtracting some scenes, and generally getting a feel for my new creation.

In the meanwhile, I will be doing a few other things. Of course there is my university work; that will take up a significant amount of my time, but not all of it by any means. No: I will also be spending some time on Tapas, a fantasy- and comic-book themed platform that can help me gain new readers. I’m not entirely sure what I will put up (it may be new content; it may be some existing unpublished material) but I hope it will be interesting.

Now, onto writing and the new academic year. Wish me luck!

4 Aug 2017

A Wee Poem

Hail readers!

Today I have chosen to share with you a new poem—one which I wrote while away in the Romanian countryside, as I have already mentioned previously. It is entitled ‘the Castle’, and you can read it below.

The Castle

Now, as for what it represents, that ought not be difficult to deduce. The first few stanzas are ‘scenic,’ as one might say; they set the scene with imagery, and make an excellent stepping stone into the main theme of the poem:

There comes a time
A very special, once upon a time
When a castle need be built.
To guard against invaders; to fight dragons
And be home to the ghosts of battle.

The second part of the poem goes onto none other Linaera and Neshvetal themselves. These two, for those of you who don’t know, are the main characters from the Necromancer, my first novel. In that sense, the poem has a certain amount of nostalgia (though ‘be home to the ghosts of battle’ should give that away!)

The girl is tall, and pale
Her eyes bright, blue
Alive with newborn power.
The ghost is beside her:
Formed of shadows and memories.

So different
The living and the dead;
The evil and the righteous.
But so alike, too—
Father and daughter, wielders of magic.

The final part of the poem talks of ‘a time of new enemies’; in that sense, one would be correct in thinking that the poem alludes to a new sequel for the book. That, of course, is still a good long way in the future: I intend to complete Fallen Love, its sequel, and a whole other set of books before I do that. Nonetheless, it gives you a taste of things to be.

I will leave you with the poem’s ending, and a reference to destiny, as is traditional here on the Magical Realm.

The girl turns away;
The necromancer seems sad
Though hopeful too.
“Time to meet your destiny,”
He says, eyes atwinkle.

“Now,” says the girl
“Where have I heard that before?”

1 Aug 2017

A Writer’s Work

Hello readers!

I have been away in my Romanian country home, and have, alas, been bereft of Internet. Please do excuse my lackluster efforts here on the Magical Realm. Nonetheless, this has presented a different opportunity: writing Fallen Love.

I am very pleased to announce that I have written more than 60,000 words on the book; I am not very far from finishing. Another 15,000 words or so will do it, and then I will begin the process of seeking agents, and trying to acquire a publishing contract.

In the meanwhile, I have decided to release some excerpts from the book. They will appear in the ‘Upcoming Books’ page of the blog. If all of my announcements have made you at all excited, do check it out—there is plenty to entertain you!

The blurb, which I have perfected, may do some of the convincing:

When Upperclassman Conall falls in love with Mark—a Fallen boy—two things become clear. First, he’s immediately and irrevocably in love with him. And secondly, he’s biting off more than he can chew...

Ireland, 2620: a world haunted by mutants at night, and by the terror that is the Party at day. A brutal class regime is maintained through secrecy and precisely targeted violence, ensuring the rule of the Party and the economic dominance of the European Superstate.

But one woman is planning on turning it all to rubble. Kaylin, a clairvoyant and spell-caster, is building an army of Familiars—others like her, gifted with strange powers.

Her plans are led astray, however, when two boys mysteriously enter her visions. Why do they matter, she wonders? And what of the dark beings her visions foretell; what of the Fallen Ones? A storm is coming, and it is bigger than any of them...

Still, the rest of this post will not be concerned with Fallen Love directly, but rather with an intriguing and related discussion: what promotes good quality, productive writing?

Inspiration: The Age Old Question

Inspiration is much talked about, both in writing circles and by well-intentioned laymen. The latter usually assume that natural beauty has some contribution to good writing: perhaps, they think, the desolate beauty of the Scottish Highlands has some bearing on the Scottish poets. A few even naively assume that said natural beauty will turn them into great poets and writers.

In writing circles, the discussion tends to be a bit more nuanced: we writers, after all, experience the power of art in a more intimate and direct fashion. We all know that great writing is something far from trivial; that simply gazing upon a desolate peak, or a beautiful indigo sunset, is not nearly enough to turn someone into a brilliant artist.

My personal take on this is that external beauty, while awe-inspiring and wonderful, isn’t really relevant to the internal beauty an artist creates. JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter in a train. And some of my strongest writing, both on Fallen Love and the Necromancer, was not created on the top of a mountain—it was written in much more banal circumstances.

One might argue that seeing natural beauty is enough to instil the seeds of inspiration; that the experience continues even after we’ve left the site. There may be some merit to this idea, but I would nevertheless point out that writing—especially my kind of writing, fantasy—often stretches reality in ways that non-artists cannot see. I believe Sartre had it right when he used the analogy of light. We can shine light on a painting, but this does not illuminate its inner mysteries; and indeed, art itself seems able to shine a light on the world, and one that cannot be emulated by even the sun.

Still, something did allow me to write nearly 10,000 words in the space of a week. Maybe it was the lack of anything better to do (although many people in that situation never become great artists). Or perhaps the star-lit landscape, yet free from the vagaries of modern cities, brought some inspiration from the heavens. Who knows?

In any case, I hope you enjoyed my little philosophical digression. Now, I must leave you, dear reader, to continue my writerly work. I will return—both with excerpts from the book, and even with a new poem I also wrote while away.

Until then!

16 Jul 2017

Fantasy versus Science Fiction

Hello readers!

I have taken a break from my writing on Fallen Love in order to update to you on my latest comings and goings, including my now published essay, Fantasy versus Science Fiction: A Curious Divergence.

You may be aware that I wrote this essay a while back; I did so in order to submit it to a competition run by Issues in Earth Science. I subsequently won that competition—but some edits were requested, and it took a wee while until the essay was finally published (along with me receiving the money!)

Anyway, it’s here now: Fantasy versus Science Fiction

If you have any questions, comments, arguments, whatever—just put them in the comments section below. I always appreciate a bit of healthy intellectual debate.

In other news, I have read and reviewed two books—as usual, you can find them on the Reviews page, though for your convenience, here is the link to the book I enjoyed and the one I hated.

Now, I must return to my work. I will update you with my progress on Fallen Love, along with some photos of my time here in Vatra Dornei, in a few days. Until then!

6 Jul 2017

A Long Year

Hello readers!

It has alas been some time since I have last written to you. But rest assured that a great deal has been going on; in fact, the purpose of this post is to recount on this year’s events. There are many, and I will split it into three broad sections: academics, writing, and a few tidbits about my personal life. In my usual style, these reflections will be paired with a few wayward analyses.

Until then, a quick update regarding my present situation: I am now in Romania, after a long day in airports. I will be visiting Vatra Dornei, a mountain town; there I will take photos (which of course I shall release) along with inspiration. Or, well, that’s the plan.

Anyway...

The Wonders of Academia

Having completed my first year at Amsterdam University College, I have a number of observations to make regarding both the university and academic life in general.

To begin with, the former. The AUC, as it’s handily abbreviated, is uncommon in its teaching model: it has a student body of only 900, and they are rather diverse, ranging from all four corners of Europe—be it Sweden or Italy, Albania or Portugal—and beyond, from the Americas, New Zealand and Russia. Indeed, the AUC’s motto is “excellence and diversity in a global city” (which the students lightly mock by calling themselves “the excellent and diverse people of AUC”).

Despite this, the student body is also remarkably uniform. Partly this is as a direct consequence of its size: with only 900 kids, it’s much harder to capture the smorgasbord of life experiences that a university of 30,000 can. Partly it’s as a result of socio-economics, with few Muslims or people from African descent to be seen (at least relative to other places). And partly it’s as a result of its politics—the AUC is Liberal with a capital L.

Anyway, the more personal question I should be asking is “Have I enjoyed my time here?” And for the most part, I have. I have made very good progress, obtaining a number of As and A–. The workload has been... managable, really. I have after all managed to do a hell of a lot of writing (of which you will learn soon).

It hasn’t been entirely rosy, of course. One reason, as I irrelevantly put it, is the wonder of academia. The prevailing academic culture is dry, formalistic, and devoid of common sense. I should precede that statement with the qualifier “mostly”—there are wonderful exceptions, full of clarity and wit—but they are exceptions.

A good example of this are citations. We learned three types of citations in our academic writing class—APA, CSE and MLA—and all three are a pain in the arse. There’s also Harvard, Chicago, and numerous others; each is more tedious than the last.

To explain, these citation styles all require that the author follow very strict, unhelpful, and inflexible formats for how they cite sources. APA asks for (variable-1 variable-2) where variable-1 is author name—last name, mind you—and variable-2 is the year of publication. MLA asks for (author-name page-number) in the same format. If you need to cite a source written by unknown authors (which are actually fairly common) you have to resort to other complicated rules. If your source is an ebook, MLA is a pain; if your source is historical, APA also looks weird.

An example:

APA: Stupid sociologist A believes that weird concept x is useful in explaining whatever; but stupid sociologist B argues that weird concept y should be used to explain it. (Woodward 1990; Back 1990). However, yet another stupid sociologist C thinks both concepts are needed. (unspellable name 2000).

APA cont.: Marx (1857) in his Das Kapital argued that...

Mises (no page number because it’s a fucking ebook) argued that...

And this is before we even get to the bibliography/works cited/references/whatever synonym your style demands. The rules there are so complicated that it’s impossible for a normal, sane human being to try and remember them; we’re left to using software to do it for us.

Does a solution exist for this? Is it possible to cite academic sources in a pain-free manner? Of course; it’s only a question of imagination, and maybe some good quality software design. In-text citations could be done with a number, like [1], perhaps followed with an optional field for additional clarity. The optional field could be an author name, the name of the work being cited, or really anything that is appropriate in context. So the above could read:

Sociologist A [1][Woodward] believes that... Sociologist B argues [2][Back]

Marx [1][Das Kapital]

Mises [1]...

Bibliographies could be structured logically rather than arbitrarily, so instead of:

Ayer, A. (1936). Propositions about the past and other minds. Language, truth and logic (1952nd ed., pp. 19). New York: Dover Publications.

Berkeley, B. (1710). Treatise concerning human knowledge (Dover Edition ed.). New York: Dover Publications.

Brink, D. (2014). Aristotelian naturalism in the history of ethics. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 52(1), 814.

You could have:

1. Title: Propositions about the Past and Other Minds.
Author: AJ Ayer (Alfred Jules Ayer)
Publication year: 1952
Publisher: Dover
etc...
2. Title: Treatise Concerning Human Knowledge...

This would make it far easier to both produce and read citations. But still, academia continues with this arcane, time-consuming and moronic practice.

I haven’t yet touched on the other absurdities that prevail in academic circles; indeed doing so would require more breadth than I have in a blog post. I’ll just leave you with this little bundle of joy.

This Article, a third in a series of related works, explores the representation of sexual identity within Critical Race Theory and other forms of anti-racist discourse. I argue, after examining representative texts, that anti-racist discourse is often "heteronormative" -- or centered around heterosexual experiences. Most commonly, anti-racist heteronormativity occurs when scholars and activists in the field fail to analyze the homophobic dimensions of acts or conditions of racial inequality and when they dismiss, either implicitly or explicitly, the "morality" of gay and lesbian equality claims. This Article recommends that scholars in Critical Race Theory and related fields adopt a more multidimensional lens for studying oppression and identity -- one that treats forms of subordination and identity as interrelated, rather than as mutually exclusive and unconnected.

—By some stupid academic. Sorry, no fancy citations here.

The Joys of Writing

Moving on, in another perhaps sarcastically titled section, I come to my writing.

Back in November, I made a huge decision: I abandoned my novel in progress, the Ark, and began writing Fallen Love instead. It was not a decision I made lightly—I had after all been working on the Ark for more than a year. But I feel that in the end it was the right one. Put simply, the Ark was not the book I was meant to be writing; the premise was incoherent, the conflict was lacking, and it just didn’t turn out the way I wanted it.

Fallen Love is also a challenging project, but it is one I am enjoying. I still have much work to do, but I am getting there. Partly, this has been result of perfectionism on my part: I am not easily satisfied. But a more detailed explanation will require another blog post.

In other areas, I have been with Red Pers—an online newspaper run by an AUC student—for more than six months now. I have written a large number of articles, many of which I have linked here. To make it easy for you, they can all be found here: http://www.redpers.nl/author/alex/

I am hoping to expand into paid journalism soon, details of which I will be releasing once I have something concrete.

Finally, I have also been busy writing essays. My first, entitled Fantasy versus Science Fiction: A Curious Divergence, will be published by Issues in Earth Science—for which they are giving me a modest prize. I have also written another essay, on university education, which I hope will get picked up.

The Vicissitudes of Life

Living in Amsterdam has thrown some challenges at me. Some of it has been largely predictable; it was Benjamin Franklin who remarked, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I have indeed paid taxes, as well as asked for benefits, and generally wrangled with the bureaucracy.

Another truism that has been proven is “there’s no such thing as free lunch”—because it costs money, and time to cook, both of which have been important aspects I have had to contend with. The financial side has been manageable, due to a combination of my parents, my grandparents, and the state. As for the cooking side, I have devised a number of dishes that meet my requirements: relatively low cooking time, health, animal welfare and impact on the environment. The exact details I may share later, but it has involved lots of wholegrain pasta, rice, lentils, and copious amounts of soy products.

Finally, there has been love, which I feel demands another catchy cliché. Perhaps: “When you’re in love, it’s like the universe revolves around you and the person you love. Actually nobody really gives a shit.” I am exaggerating, of course, but you get the point.

Conclusion

It has been a long year, as the title alludes. I have written countless essays, and taken countless exams; I wrote till my fingers bled; and I lived, experiencing the three permanent features of life: lunch, taxes, and unrequited love. Now, it is time for me to wrap up. I will write again, so keep following!