Dotting the Is and crossing the Ts

Not much actual ‘news’ regarding the book.

I’ve been through the whole thing and made hundreds of minor changes. I’ve decimated* words like ‘that’ and ‘just’ and ‘suddenly’; I’ve worried over using lovely words like ‘itinerant’ and ‘gleaning’ (both of which have been picked up by readers as needing explanation) and ‘kudos’ (which was accused of being too ‘modern’); I’ve puzzled over whether ‘lord’ should be capitalised, and if so, where; I’ve rechecked the bark, leaf, sapwood and heartwood colours of ash, beech, elm, birch and hazel trees, among others – to make certain my Silvanii and woodmaids were appropriately described, as each reflects the appearance of her tree in her own appearance. And so on.

I’m left with three sections still needing work. And they’ve been left until last for a reason – they’re the hardest to deal with:

  • Fabiom meets Gwillon, the son of a birch Silvana. I realised I’ve missed lots of opportunities for foreshadowing exactly what being Silvana-born means.
  • The revelation of why Fabiom had been betrothed to the daughter of the Lord Holder of Windwood, which involves a little of his Uncle Tarison’s backstory. I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent, nevertheless…
  • Fabiom’s two years away from home on service. Originally I began this chapter a week or so before the end, so he was on his way home. We looked back over the past two years. But confusion ensued. I’m still fiddling with the time-line.

I have exactly one week. Wish me luck!

* I use decimate in it’s literal** sense, as in I reduced the incidents of such words by about 10%.

** I use literal in it’s, er, literal (?) sense – having recently read that, according to certain on-line dictionaries, literal can now mean either – well – literal or (drum roll) not literal.


Cover Story

Some time ago, my lovely neighbour and friend, Emma Panting – a brilliant, award winning artist, read Silvana and we ended up having a deep discussion about the characters and the settings.  Anyway . . . Emma arrived at my birthday dinner last year bearing this most wonderful gift – a painting inspired by the first chapter (in which the main character is just four years old and has run away from some older boys who were bullying him):

Fabiom paid the woodmaids no heed. He would be safe here, that was certain; and the roots of one of the huge trees formed a circle, like arms, where he could sleep. He was hungry and sore, but most of all he was tired. With a whispered word of thanks to the Silvana of his tree, he curled up in the woody hollow and fell asleep almost at once.

Dreams came in the night. He was in a dark, tight space, not even sure which way was up. There was no way out. His body jerked and he cried out. Suddenly he was out of the basket and running, but they were chasing him, catching up, trying to put the basket over his head again. He glanced over his shoulder as he fled. They had heads like wild pigs, with tusks and fierce red eyes, and through their piggy mouths, with squeals and grunts, they called his name. A branch lay across his path; too late he saw it and tripped. Triumphant squealing bore down upon him.… And then silence.

He had not heard her sing to him but, from that moment, only soft and gentle sleep was his. And the song remained in his mind – for the rest of his life.



 by Emma Panting

I love all of Emma’s work, especially her angelic hangings. She is also a fabulous portrait painter, and produces unique pieces with her talented ceramic artist husband, Giles (who once attempted to teach me the basics of potting, bless him).

There is something very special about being able to share in other people’s creativity. To be able to inspire such a beautiful work of art through my story-telling is a real honour, and humbling too.

Writing what I know.

Bronwen's Dowry

Bronwen’s Dowry

Write what you know can be controversial (like any writing ‘rule’) but it makes sense – to me at least – if not taken to extremes.

Obviously if you’re writing non-fiction it needs to be taken literally.  But what about fiction writers?

My Ian St James’ winning story, Bronwen’s Dowry, was about a journeyman shearer and his seamstress wife travelling the land, scratching a living while he dreamt of winning a music contest.  Now I don’t pretend be be musical or any good at sewing and, at the time I wrote the story, I had had little hands-on experience with sheep. So what did I know that made me feel that this was my story to write?

Well, firstly, Bronwen’s Dowry is, on one level, a retelling of the Parable of the Talents.  Bronwen has a gift, a talent, that she uses to the best of her ability and it yields many-fold. I am a theologian and, furthermore, that parable – encouraging everyone to realise their full potential –  is my favourite. Secondly, I did actually know a little about shearing, just enough to make the story believable: for instance, I knew that, unlike many outdoor workers, shearers have very soft hands, because of the lanolin in sheep wool.  A simple fact like that can make the difference between bringing readers along with you, or losing them.

Of course, Bronwen’s Dowry was a short story (albeit a long, short story). So when I wrote Silvana, which has far more detail, I needed a lot more knowledge to draw from.  Fabiom is an archer, a poet, a magistrate and the somewhat reluctant owner of a silk mill.  His best friend is a physician who uses a wide range of herbs. The story is set in the woods and the trees and other life there play a huge part in the story. I am not an expert in most of these subjects either. Yet I do know some things. Fabiom is an archer and not a swordsman because I know nothing about swords – how they are made, how they are used – but I do know how to shoot an arrow from a longbow and I know how a wooden bow is constructed. And so on. The details in the book are things I have a keen interest in and some, even if limited, experience of.

My advice to any beginner-writer is to compose a list of ‘What you Know’: every temporary job; every adventure or misadventure you have had; every situation you have encountered that has impacted on your life in any way; any time you have stepped outside your comfort zone; every incident that you thought noteworthy enough to share with friends after the event – if you have ever said, ‘you’ll never guess what happened to me. . . .’ then whatever that was should go on the list. So should the funniest, saddest, most embarrassing things that ever happened. And don’t stop at yourself – if you live with someone who is always regaling you with stories of their working life then you probably know enough about that to set one of your characters up in the same line of work and make it seem real. You will be surprised at how long the list will be, unless you have spent your life in a cave or are under five years old. And don’t just think about it, do actually write this list. The exercise of itself will be inspiring. I defy anyone not to come up with at least 250 entries.


What's for dinner?

What’s for dinner?

(note: this is a mildly edited version of a post from a previous, now defunct, blog.)