15 Feb 2017

Conflict and Writing

Hello readers!

Alex must firstly apologise for the rather lengthy interlude in which he has not written here on the Magical Realm. You can blame it on his extensive responsibilities: university, his writing commitments in the field of journalism (firstly with Scriptus and now with Red Pers) and of course his work on Fallen Love.

Speaking of which, the topic of today will in no small part be related to Fallen Love. What am I talking about, you ask? I am of course talking about conflict. I intend to answer what conflict in literature is, and why it’s important.

So: onto business.

Defining Conflict

In principle, the definition of conflict ought to be a simple one: it’s when a character’s aims are being frustrated, and they have to engage in a series of actions in order to resolve this. A romantic conflict may involve resolving relationship difficulties; a paranormal conflict may involve coming to terms with supernatural powers; a historical book would likely involve political conflict; a thriller can be about beating the bad guys.

Nevertheless, conflict in a book is not always so straightforward. For one, it varies by genre—as you can already see, some genres tend to employ different kinds of conflict from others. For two, a distinction can be made between internal conflict (such as doubts about a romantic partner) and external conflict, which usually involves more obvious things like ‘catching the serial killer’.

Where it gets especially complicated is when the multiple types of conflict mix and interact. A character may struggle with inner conflict about identity, romantic passion, or his past; while, at the same time, struggling against an external force. Genre crossing is especially prone to this: a book that combines fantasy, mystery and romance will often feature three distinct conflicts, one internal, two external. The former would be sexual feelings; the latter would be uncovering a mystery and fighting off supernatural beings.

Now that we’ve established the ground rules of what conflict is, let us turn our attention to what conflict does.

Conflict in Fiction

Conflict makes stories. To put it simply: without conflict, there would be no plot, and no reason to write (or read!) a book.

This is the reason why I (and many others) dislike the genre sometimes named ‘literary fiction’. Any work of fiction requires an aim: something to which the characters aspire to, something that makes the reader bite their fingernails and anticipate the next page. Aimless literature is pointless literature. I’m not interested in hearing excuses about ‘oh but my characters are so developed’ or ‘but the world is such an interesting exposition into X’ or—my personal favourite—‘but I’m making social commentary!’

No. Developing characters requires putting them through conflict, and convincing conflict at that; it’s what tests their mettle and shows the reader what kind of person they are. World building is just expositional word vomit without plot. And as for social commentary? Please, write an essay.

Anyway, I am digressing. My point is that conflict is the essential part of a story—it makes plot, it develops characters, it breathes life into unfamiliar worlds.

Conflict in Fallen Love

So far I have written a general account of what conflict is and what purpose it serves. But now, I wish to address the question that is most pertinent to me: conflict specifically in Fallen Love.

You may have inferred that I am of the opinion that conflicts needs to be powerful; it needs to reach into the reader’s heart, and speak to their soul. To that end, Fallen Love has several avenues of conflict. There’s the romance—a Fallen and an Upperclassman, an unlikely and forbidden union. There’s the Party: a malevolent power, its eyes seeing all and its arm as long as the country is wide. And finally, there’s the supernatural powers; the darkness within Casey, the force that animatest the mutants, and the source of Kaylin’s magic.

The trouble is, you see, having multiple avenues of plot also involves multiple avenues of difficulty. Romance is especially tricky: it’s meant to be gentle, and passionate, but also fraught and problematic. The Party is meant to be evil, but rational. And as for the supernatural, well—they have their own agenda.

Striking a balance is no easy task. The book needs to be edgy and dark; but it must also have love and devotion. The light, and the dark.

Anyway, leave yours truly to battle his demons. The Magical Realm will see some more politics next...

Until then!

30 Jan 2017

Quelle Président?

Hello readers!

Aujourd’hui Alex will give will his opinion on the French presidential elections. Why, you ask? Because Alex has a strong focus on international and, especially, European politics; and France is a key Member State. The French Président will make decisions regarding the terms of Brexit, the European response to both a revanchist Russia, and to Trump’s America. Moreover, this election is important in symbolic ways; it will give us a taste of 2017 and what it will mean for the forces of liberalism, conservatism, Marxism, and far-right nationalism.

So who is competing to become president of the République? The character cast comprises the following: a fascist, the male re-incarnation of Margaret Thatcher, two mad leftists (a post-scarcity utopian and a Marxist, respectively)... oh, and Tony Blair.

Well, not quite; this Tony Blair is French, for one. And although Blair did have fond feelings for the French—he addressed the country in French, and was given a very cordial greeting by the UMP—he was never, well, French.

Anyway, the man’s name is Emmanuel Macron. He was an investment banker before becoming an adviser for Hollande (the current president, if any of you don’t know); he was then subsequently promoted to being a Minister for the economy. But now, seeing how dismally unpopular the current president is, he’s decided to jump ship and form his own campaign (“En Marche!”).

As for the others, let me give you a quick rundown. We have Marine Le Pen, who is likely to obtain the largest number of first-round votes. She is the daughter of a fascist, and is of course a fascist herself. We also have François Fillon—the surprise candidate for France’s mainstream right, Les Républicaines—who is a Thatcherite. Lastly, we have Benoît Hamon—surprise candidate for Partide Socialiste—and Jean Luc Mélenchon, who, though an outsider, is de facto the candidate for the Communists and associated far-left politics.

So who does Alex think the French should vote for? Tony Blair, of course...

Mais Pourquoi, Alex?

This is not a particularly easy decision, in part because none of the candidates (as you may have guessed) are really ideal. But perhaps I can share my reasoning with you, and convince you to vote as such.

Let me be clear: Macron resembles Blair in more than just centrist policy and vague, feel-good rhetoric. The two are also similar in that both are quite dishonest politicians—they are masters of spin, however, and both convinced their electorates that they’re the Good Guys (TM). In Blair’s case, it was convincing everyone that he was a great, progressive politician, not beholden to corporate interests or neoliberal ideology; and in Macron’s case, it’s been about convincing the French electorate that a former investment banker is really an outsider ready to stir things up.

But even so, Macron remains the best option on the table. Allow me to firstly deal with the two main alternatives: Le Pen and Fillon.

Le Pen, as I have already said, is very, very, very bad. Her policies include (but are not limited to): dragging France out of the EU—likely destroying both entities—waging Cold War on Muslims, and ushering in an era of chest-thumping economic and political nationalism. The woman is essentially a Vichy collaborator, only her preferred foreign power is Putin’s Russia.

Fillon is basically a throwback to 1980s conservatism. Aside from his plans to cut 500,000 public sector jobs, ‘liberalise’ the labour market, and Thatcherise the economy, he also has another odious goal: to undermine gay marriage. It seems Section 28 continues on from the grave.

Once you understand who the two main candidates for the French presidency are, you will also understand my key imperative: anything but. Any of the other three candidates are preferable to these two execrable politicians.

Now, finally, onto the two remaining candidates. Hamon has been recently elected by the PS as their presidential candidate, scoring a surprise win against Manuel Valls, Hollande’s prime minister. On the surface, Hamon looks cool: he’s a radical leftwinger that beat the established candidate—a triumph of socialism over confused social democracy. But then, you look at his policies and his poll ratings. Hamon wants to a) tax robots b) reduce the working week to 32 hours and c) bring a system of universal income.

All of which would be great—if we lived in a post-scarcity society dominated by automation. Unfortunately, we don’t live in Utopia, and Hamon’s policies don’t make a whole lot of sense. Universal income would be impossible to afford unless it acts to replace social benefits, which would be idiocy: there are disabled people who need more than €750 a month to live on, and instead UBI would send money to millionaires. Taxing robots seems hard to implement, and pointless at best or Luddism at worst.

The last candidate, Mélenchon, is a nice enough guy. His platform is basically moderated Marxism: he wants to nationalise companies and regulate banks; he wants an increase in the minimum wage and also previously campaigned for a wage cap; he is a firm environmentalist, even supporting ‘degrowth’; and he wants to legalise cannabis.

I agree with most of his positions except cannabis and—more importantly—Europe. Mélenchon’s position vis-á-vis the EU is Marxist to an M: he thinks the concept of the EU is a great idea. As a supporting group, In Defence of Marxism, puts it: “Only a Socialist Federation of European States will unify the continent on a progressive basis, paving the way for a world socialist federation.” link

But, he thinks the current EU is contaminated by neoliberal economics; there needs to be a revolution, to replace the EU with the United Soviet European Socialist Republics.

Aside from being a bit bonkers, Mélenchon is polling at just over 10% of the vote. Recall the maxim I stated previously: anything but. It might be nice to have Mélenchon as president, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be elected.

And this is the important bit: to keep Fillon out of winning the first round, Macron needs to get as much of the left vote as possible. The race is very close. The latest polls put Le Pen on around 25%, Fillon on 22%, Macron on 21%, Hamon on around 16% and Mélenchon just below him. (Poll by Kantar Sofres)

Of course you might wonder whether the latter two can team up. Unfortunately, Mélenchon is reluctant to join the PS campaign (the party is considered toxic in leftwing circles) and so this is sadly improbable. Even if it happened, there is unfortunately no guarantee that Mélenchon would beat Le Pen. He probably will—most French people don’t like her very much— but Macron is more likely to succeed in this regard. If this changes (and there have been some surprises in this election) I will reevaluate my position.

Until then, my message is this. The last thing France needs is a run off between a homophobe and a fascist. So, to the French left, I say: vote tactically. C’est la vie.

22 Jan 2017

Writing a book at 14

Hello everyone!

Since I am terribly busy with my Dutch lessons, various administrative tasks, and of course my writing, I have decided not to write any original work at present. However, the piece below was originally published in the university journal, Scriptus; and I believe you will find it to your great interest...

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.

17 Jan 2017

Hallo Allemaal!

Hallo allemaal! Ik ben deze maand Nederlands aan het studeren!

If you’re scratching your head, wondering whatever has possessed yours truly, rest assured that Alex has not fallen prey to a bout of logorrhea. Rather, he is learning Dutch this month; and he has decided (since he has been terribly busy and unable to write on the Magical Realm) to give you a rundown on his activities over January.

Firstly, I shall address my experience learning Dutch thus far; and secondly, I shall address the many other important aspects of my literary life, with particular regards to my progress with Fallen Love and my beta readers. But yes, before I go into that, allow me to explain a few pertinent elements of Dutch.

Nederlandse is Gezellig!

The full complexities of grammar, spelling and other such tedious details I shall not be overly concerned with here; I intend, rather, to speak about Dutch in a more general sense. What is the character of Dutch? What does it sound like, feel like? Languages, I believe, are more interesting in the broad sense—in the way they communicate meaning and in the cultural character that they reveal about their speakers—rather in the technical minutiae.

So: what is Dutch like? I think the word gezellig—which translate rather approximately as ‘cozy’—is a good example. A Dutch man or woman, when speaking positively, will often describe a place (or indeed numerous other entities) as being gezellig. In English, there is no real equivalent. We might say cozy, or comfortable, or moody, or characterful; but such words are encompassed by a single word in het Nederlands.

Gezellig can also be used to describe the Dutch character. The Nederlanders are a laid-back, conversant, and expressive people. In conversation, they can seem curiously joyful, with such expressions as ‘dat is moi!’ or ‘Lekker!’ (The former translates, again approximately, as ‘that is pretty’; while the latter means ‘it is great, nice, pleasant’).

I believe part of this impression also stems from the way the language sounds.

Dutch Phonology (and Orthography)

The Dutch language is melodious. In fact, I would say it is the most melodious language I’ve heard, surpassing English and even Italian. (And for the record, French, which isn’t at all as romantic as it’s cracked up to be.)

But you would never guess that from the orthography. No doubt some of you, when seeing the word gezellig, incorrectly tried to pronounce it as /gɛzɛlɪg/ (a bit like geezer) instead of /ɣəzɛlɪɣ/. The Dutch pronunciation of the g grapheme is very unfamiliar to modern English speakers. It is known in the technical parlance as a ‘voiced velar fricative’; basically, it’s like having a sore throat. If you gyrate your vocal cords together, you’ll get it.

You’d think this would make the Dutch language sound harsh, like German or Scandinavian languages. But you’d be wrong: when the voiced velar fricative is introduced in a language that has very pronounced vowels (e.g. as in alleen or allemaal) it sounds quirky rather than harsh.

But yes, Dutch does have a lot of elongated vowels. Duur and straat are examples; indeed in any case where there are two a’s or e’s, the vowel is elongated. But, even in words like deze (this) you still get pronounced vowels, being realised as /deːzə/.

Grammar

I admit I am still very much unfamiliar with the grammar, so I shall make only a minor observation regarding it. As with many languages, the word order can change depending on context: in the main clause (hoofdzin) the verb comes second (Dutch, like English, is an SVO language: we say ‘I love you’ or ‘Ik houd van jou’). But, in the subordinate clause (bijzin) the verb comes last: Ih heb hoofdpijn, dus ik wil een ibuprofen hebben.

In English, the meaning can be subtly changed by the word order as well—particularly when yours truly is writing poetry. For example:

Deep in mountains great and terrible \ O’er the frozen wastelands of the north \ There lies the dwarven hinterland.

What is the significance of saying ‘deep in mountains great and terrible’ instead of ‘deep in great and terrible mountains’? Perhaps nothing, you say. But notice that in the former I use asyndeton (there is no connecting word between the noun—mountain—and the two adjectives, great and terrible). This can give the prose a different character to ordinary conversation.

Het Diminutief

Another curious aspect of Dutch is the use of the diminutive, i.e. ‘little words’. These usually (albeit not exclusively) terminate in -je. Examples would include e.g. kopje or broodje.

It is difficult to describe what exactly a diminutive is for English speakers, but perhaps I can peruse an example from Scots English instead. You will sometimes here a Scotsman using the word wee, as in ‘a wee lad’. The word wee in Scots English acts as a diminutive.

Dutch is in fact not the only language where diminutives exist. In Romanian, a similar rule exists: you can say ‘un scaun’—a chair—or ‘un scăunel’ (a wee chair). In Romanian the use of the diminutive is complicated by the presence of gendered words, so ‘o masă’ (feminine word) has a diminutive form ‘o masuță’. Moreover, there are even some words that have irregular diminutives, so ‘un copil’ (a child; masculine word) has the diminutive ‘un copilaș’.

As you can see, Dutch isn’t the hardest language you can learn!

Writing

And now, finally, I shall address my writing progress.

I have written 22,000 words in Fallen Love so far, and will continue to write more. I have already received feedback from my two beta readers for the first 10K words; and I will receive more soon.

As for the Necromancer, I have finished reviewing the books allotted to me, and I have received the reviews I was owed. I shall seek more reviews for it, though with writing, reading, and learning Dutch, I have more than enough on my plate.

To Finish

The month of januari will be a busy one for me, as you can see, so my blogging will alas cover only the essentials. But, you can expect to see two interesting pieces published in the coming weeks. The first is another poem I have written (but not published); and the second is a piece I wrote for Scriptus, the university journal.

Very well; that is all for now. As the Dutch would say: Doei!

30 Dec 2016

A New Year’s Eve...

Hello readers! A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year as well.

You may wondering what Alex has been up to. He did, after all, promise he would write on Christmas day here on the Magical Realm—a promise he has, alas, been unable to fulfill. This is entirely because of Alex’s lack of access to a reliable Internet connection. My parents here in Glasgow have been waiting weeks for BT to activate their connection; and for weeks they have heard excuses that wear thinner every day.

Anyway, renationalising BT—while a tempting proposition for Alex—is of course not the subject of today. Rather, it will concern something else entirely: his writing. A little will touch on the Necromancer (including the Kindle Countdown deal that is still running!) but most will be about what has happened to the Ark. Read on!

The Necromancer

As part of his commitment to review four books in exchange for four reviews, Alex has now finished reading and reviewing the books allotted to him; if you’re interested, you can see his reviews on Goodreads (the ‘Reviews’ tab on top has the links). Two of the books Alex awarded 3 and 2.5 stars; to the other two, Alex gave 4 and 4.5*.

Although somewhat time-consuming, this process does have two advantages: it gives Alex free books, which he reads carefully, reviews in depth, and thus learns more about the art of writing a book. And of course, Alex gets reviews in return.

Alex has received his 3rd review of the lot. The reviewer spoke fondly, calling it ‘a well developed tale with lots of interesting battles and events to keep readers interested and rooting for Linaera and her comrades’. The fourth review Alex is expecting soon.

Anyway, the Necromancer has been written. Alex has fond memories—of the many days he spent laboriously working, of the many nights he dreamed and the many others in which he despaired. (If he sounds a little melodramatic while saying this, do excuse him.) But, as beautiful as that tale was, a writer must move on. And this leads us to...

The Ark... Now Know as Fallen Love

This is more than a title change. I have a shocking confession to make to you: I’ve changed the course of the story formerly known as the Ark. I’ve changed it so much, in fact, that I’ve decided to re-invent it as a new book.

Before you rip my head off, allow me to explain. Conall and Casey (as well as Kaylin) remain the main characters; it is, in that sense, the same story at its heart. But Fallen Love is also very different from the Ark. For one, there is no ship—the conflict is entirely different.

Perhaps the new (work in progress) blurb can do some of the explaining...

I’m Fallen. That’s what they call us—the members of the underclass. We’re the cleaner you look down on. We’re the grunts of the army; the cannon fodder for the Party’s wars.

I’m not allowed to love a man. I’m certainly not allowed to love an Upperclassman. But I love him all the same—and I know it’ll doom me.

Maybe I don’t care. After all: when you’ve already Fallen, there’s nowhere left to fall...

Of course, this being an Alex Stargazer novel, there’s more to it than just forbidden love or class warfare. Kaylin is here, seeing the future, plotting nefarious schemes—overthrowing the government being the chief among them—and concocting various other wonderful plot ideas. And behind it all, there’s the same antagonist as in the Ark. It’s called the Entity; it’s mysterious, malignant, and Casey has a connection to it...

Since I am writing a new book, I have of course had to start from scratch. But, I am over 10,000 words into it; I am writing as fast as I am able. The date of completion will be set back, inevitably, but if progress continues I hope to finish the book by around Easter.

If you have any advice to give, I am looking for more beta reading. My work email (work DOT alexstargazer AT gmail DOT com) is always open to interested beta readers; please do consider it. Writing a book is tough work.

This leads me onto one more thing I should clarify: I did not take this decision lightly. I spent a significant amount of money on my editor. I made a significant number of revisions to the Ark. But in the end, my editors’ advice rang true: there wasn’t enough conflict. If one thing is clear about Fallen Love, it’s that there’s plenty of conflict.

I will write more on this quest of mine. For now, allow me to wrap things up...

Parting Thoughts

Alex has been busy this Christmas, especially with reading and writing. On top of that, his family have desired his attentions: we have gone to visit some of the surrounding Scottish countryside, which I’ve taken pains to photograph ((link)[https://goo.gl/photos/dAdZWuU6b4MwGx656]).

Christmas has also seen Alex escape the clutches of the university teachers, and all their assignments, papers, and tests. The resulting free time Alex has tried to make use of wisely—hence his frantic writing.

Soon, however, Alex will be back in Amsterdam (this time learning Dutch). Until then, do keep following the Magical Realm! On top of my many essays, humorous anecdotes, and writing-related remarks, I also have a substantial collection of poetry available.

Finally, below is the blurb and link to the Necromancer. Give Alex a New Year present!

In the frozen heartlands of the north, a dark force is reborn; his power is great, and his army swells with every monstrous recruit. In the Arachadian capital, Dresh, a string of mysterious kidnappings leaves the Great Mage puzzled. And in the mage academy of small town Renas, an unwitting apprentice is plunged into a quest: it will prove a fight for her life, a fight for the man she loves, and – ultimately – a fight for the future of the land.

Delve into this dark world of mystery and magic; of beings that walk the great forests and haunt the alcoves of the night. The necromancer awaits you...

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Necromancer-New-Alex-Stargazer-ebook/dp/B01N3UGDEQ/ref=sr11?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1483110548&sr=1-1&keywords=the+necromancer+alex+stargazer

12 Dec 2016

And a Brexit in a Pear Tree...

Hello readers!

It has been sometime, alas, since I have been active here on the Magical Realm. This is due to several reasons. Firstly, university has taken a great deal of my time: I have two substantial papers to write; there is preparation for two exams; and there are assignments on top of it. The Wednesday of last week also required me to travel in order to be present in a lab session. All in all, this has proven time-consuming and demanding.

I have also been busy with several other necessities, including applying for huurtoeslag (rent benefit), tuition loans, and seeing the doctor.

Anyway, I have found a window of opportunity to write to you, dear readers. The topic of this post? Brexit. (Yes, it’s overdue.) But before I go into that, allow me a quick recap of the writing situation.

The Necromancer and the Ark

I am undertaking a ‘read and review’ session on Goodreads for the Necromancer. This means that I review 4 books from different authors, in the space of about 2 months; in return 4 authors (none of them the ones I’m reviewing) review my own book.

There are two benefits to this approach. Firstly, I get free books. Free books are always great. Secondly: I get reviews from people who are at least half-way competent at reviewing. The downside, of course, is that this process is rather time-consuming.

As for the Ark, I am concocting something special (and surprising). I will say no more than that.

Finally, do remember that the Necromancer will be getting a Kindle Countdown deal on Christmas. As I say—give someone a gift. I’m sure we’ll both appreciate it :)

The Brexit Bus

Some developments have occurred since I last blogged on this issue. Many of them are unsurprising. Theresa May is calling for hard Brexit—just like I said she would. Boris Johnson is making a fool of himself as Foreign Secretary: his undiplomatic remarks regarding Saudi Arabia’s proxy war in Yemen, while justified, are ultimately stupid, since the Tory government policy is to ignore it.

The Brexiters have also managed to come up with some more vacuities (I guess I ought to be surprised, but the Brexiters have shown limitless imagination in that regard.) One such is that the ‘Remoaners’ (what a charming neologism) ought to stop moaning; instead they should keep quiet and work for a successful Brexit.

The idiocy of this viewpoint is too great to unpick point by point; we would be here all day. Instead, it can be illustrated much more simply using an analogy. A bus is driving across a mountain road. Half of the people in the bus are shouting at the driver to drive the bus off the cliff; the other half is begging him not to. The former group, 52% to the other’s 48%, wins out. The bus drives over the cliff, killing most of the people onboard.

You cannot blame the 48% for shouting at the driver. It is not their fault that the bus is lying in ruins and several people are dead. Driving the bus off the cliff was a stupid idea. There’s no such thing as ‘successful Brexit’; it’s an oxymoron.

Another vacuity trotted out—this one favoured by Unionist Brexiters—is that Scotland voted for the UK to remain in the EU. The Unionists then go on to say, through a disingenuous reductio ad absurdum, that if the SNP had their way, why—we’d expect London, Bristol, Oxford, Liverpool and Manchester to split off from the UK!

The first argument is an exercise in desperate pedantry. The second argument is disingenuous because it assumes Scotland is a region, a bit like London or the Midlands—it’s the only way the argument from analogy can work. Of course Scotland is not a region; it is a nation. A nation with hundreds of years of history, its own devolved government, and the right to self-determination.

But how would Scotland, in practical terms, actually manage it? I have not addressed the constitutional, political and economic challenges of continued EU membership for Scotland, until now; and therefore these will be the last topic of this post.

Tough Choices for Scots; but a Bright Future Ahead

Economically, EEA membership and EU membership are, as far as Scotland is concerned, identical. The Accession procedure however is different: to accede to the European Union Scotland must meet the criteria (it already does, obviously); and it must be agreed unanimously by Member States. Some have floated the possibility that Spain might veto Scotland’s entry. I personally am skeptical of this; thankfully, as far as economics is concerned, this shouldn’t be a problem. To join the EFTA (and by extension to participate in the EEA) Scotland’s entry needs only to be agreed upon by Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.

These countries have not suggested that they would oppose Scottish membership; indeed, considering the similar size and economies of the countries involved (Scotland has the same population as Norway, and an oil and gas sector) it is probable that such an arrangement would go smoothly. There is good will politically between the countries as well—and that’s just as important.

To be honest, I think most people in Scotland would be happy with this arrangement. The other problem that remains is the same problem that Scotland would have faced had it gone Independent back in 2014: currency.

The rUK has already clearly stated that Scotland cannot use the Pound Sterling. So Scotland has two choices: it can issue its own Scottish pounds, or it can join the euro. (There’s also a possibility that it may have to do the former before it does the latter, but I’m not too sure.) Obviously this decision will have to be thought through, but I think the evidence clearly points to the latter as being a better option.

Scotland would be a small country facing a period of uncertainty: this would likely mean that its currency would start out weak (which would cause problems with inflation) and subject to volatility as international money speculators assess and reassess its position. Moreover, two other serious problems present themselves. Scotland’s oil sector would likely—after the initial years of uncertainty—cause the Scottish pound to appreciate. Scotland will then suffer Dutch disease. On top of that, the volatility would make it more difficult for Scotland to trade with the rest of the EFTA.

Scotland could try and peg its currency to the euro in order to ameliorate these problems, but as Black Wednesday showed us—this is not so easy as it appears in theory. It is the forex that decides exchange rates, not central banks, and especially not the central banks of countries with a few million people.

There’s also a personal side for me. My parents are funding me to study in Amsterdam; I don’t want them to earn a weak Scottish pound. It would be far easier if their salary were paid in euros.

The last economic issue I wish to address is rUK trade. Unionists like Ruth Davidson (and some in my own party) proudly point out that most Scottish trade—64% to be precise—is with the rest of the UK. Presumably UK membership would be more important than EU membership, at least as far as economics is concerned. Right?

Well, not quite. For one, as autonomy Scotland claims, that 62% figure is questionable; it’s very difficult for companies to separate Scottish and rUK business operations. (And it is business operations we’re talking about—exports don’t just include physical goods.)

Leaving that aside, the trouble with percentages is that they can change. The 64% is a metric of Scottish exports now, as they stand with this constitutional arrangement. But may I remind Unionists that the rUK has 60 million people; the rest of the EU has 450 million, and EU trade agreements cover nearly the entirety of the rest of the world (population 6.5 billion, albeit most of them poor).

It is hardly inconceivable that Scottish exporters could export elsewhere—Europe after all is a huge internal market, with a highly streamlined regulatory framework, no tariffs, passporting rights, and countless other benefits the likes of which no other trading zone can match. And it’s close to Scotland too, and already well integrated, unlike Brexiter fantasy trade with countries that are thousands of miles away and lack anything close to what the EU is. (Just look at May’s bumbled trip to India.) Plus Scotland might benefit from rUK companies relocating to maintain preferential EU market access.

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s look at the deeper questions of politics and constitution.

Clearly, Scotland wants to stay in the EU. And not just for economics—as Nicola Sturgeon has shown us, the EU means more to Scotland. There are, dare I say it, patriotic feelings involved. The EU represents something: the European Dream, openness, human rights, prosperity—take your pick.

So how does Scotland stay in the EU? As I’ve already mentioned, the Accession process requires Scotland to meet criteria (which it mostly already meets since it’s already in the EU, obviously). Some of these of course are to have a government and central bank, and for this reason Scotland would need to be independent.

The other side of the coin is unanimous agreement. Spain might veto Scotland’s entry because of Catalonia; but this should not be taken as granted. I’m sure Rajoy will not veto it if he gets Gibraltar. Or, Scotland can join the EEA and then simply wait. Rajoy’s position as Spain’s head of state is extremely fragile, and he could quite plausibly no longer be head of state within a few years.

Another possibility is that Scotland gets to stay in the EU by becoming the successor state to the UK. Apparently, this is legally feasible.

Anyway, let’s assume Scotland keeps its place in the EU. What about its relationship with the UK? There are some complicated problems to work out. If Scotland joins Schengen, it will have to have border checks with England. If Scotland doesn’t join Schengen, then again—it’s complicated. Scottish citizens would have freedom of movement to the EU, but UK citizens wouldn’t. But would UK citizens have freedom of movement to Scotland?

To be honest, I don’t see why Scotland can’t have its own arrangement with the UK. It could offer UK citizens freedom of movement (though only to Scotland, unless the UK citizens claim dual nationality) and the UK could reciprocate to only Scottish citizens.

Also, bear in mind that freedom of movement does NOT mean there is no hard border; that’s what Schengen is for. When I go to Romania by car, I have to pass border checks. But being a Romanian citizen I obviously have free movement, as do all other EU citizens.

Can Scotland therefore maintain an open border with the UK? I believe the answer is no, for a number of complicated reasons. The UK will likely be out of the customs union, so goods would have to be inspected. As for people, EU counter-terrorism is one thing to think about. Freedom of movement is another: UK citizens could enter Scotland then (if Scotland is in Schengen) head illegally to work in the EU.

Anyway, let’s not get worked up about this. So long as freedom of movement exists between the UK and Scotland, people will be fine to go to either country. A ‘hard border’ sounds scary but it’s really not the end of the world—it’s just formality, no different from passport checks at the airport. I do it all the time. Heck, UK citizens do it all the time when they go to Europe.

Final Thoughts

This has proven a long and complicated post on what is a long and complicated issue. I hope you have found me intelligible (do leave a comment if anything is unclear!) and interesting. Now, work calls. Keep following the Magical Realm for a Christmas special!

1 Dec 2016

December Fun

Hello readers!

Alex did promise you that he would be hosting an event this Christmas. And he can, thankfully, confirm that this is so; the commencement of this month is the beginning of the Indie Christmas Calendar, hosted over at Kay Macleod Books The Necromancer—along with a bit about me—will be there on the 3rd of this month.

Additionally, the Necromancer will have a Kindle Countdown Deal! This will last from the 22nd–29th December (around Christmas) and will be available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk If you haven’t already, go and grab and a copy!

Anyway, with that out of the way, what I have been I doing over the past weeks? The answer is that I’ve generally been busy—very busy. As I’ve already mentioned, I am heading to Scotland—and my parents—for two weeks this Christmas. I have, of course, had to go through the motions of buying plane and train tickets, planning, and all the other necessities of travel.

Another cause of my busyness has, of course, been university: I have had multiple tests and assignments to do over the past two weeks or so.

The Necromancer

As for the process of marketing the Necromancer, I have another glowing review, this one from Jayde Kemsley: ‘The Necromancer is an adventure through an old school fantasy world, and I enjoyed it immensely.’ See the full review on Goodreads.

One of the beta readers who helped me with the Ark has also given me some feedback on the Necromancer, primarily in the form of minor corrections; his advice I will implement before Christmas.

I am also thinking about bringing the new version into print, and various other such schemes.

Finishing Thoughts

As you can see, things have been rather slow here at Alex Stargazer HQ. The best I can offer you at this stage is a promise: I will be busy over Christmas, working on both the Necromancer and the new novel. I will be faithful as a blogger once more—and will finally be writing another politics post.

Until then, why not check out the Necromancer (along with other delicious books) in the Indie Calendar? Or, why not buy a copy of the Necromancer for just 99¢/99p this Christmas? It will make a great Christmas gift (bias alert!)