Tuesday, 21 February 2012

On 'bad' English and what it reveals

The dwarves of the Land, known here as Duergars, speak Solomon Island Pidgin. I'm still not sure if I've got a decent reason why it should be that in the terms of the book, but that it is some sort of pidgin is because it makes them look dim.
They aren't, but that's the way the world tends to think, isn't it?
They are actually modelled on Philipinos, who do tend to be smaller than Europeans and who also tend to be cheerful, polite, hard-working folk who make things work. Especially here in the UAE.
They speak English with a very distinctive accent, which is a thing that marks you. Geordie is now a popular accent in the UK, from what I've read, but I still remember when Geordies were described as speaking like Scotsmen with their heads kicked in. When I went off to do teacher training in Huddersfied Poly, I was told by someone (who thought it one hell of a laugh) that Geordies were the only ones in the country to do an oral English exam. My copy of Billy Elliott is subtitled in English - possibly for the benefit of Americans, who would have real problems - but as likely for the rest of the English, who were just as much in need of translation.
GB Shaw wrote Pygmalion to point out how much accents propped up the class system in the UK and how easily a person gets slotted into a position in the pecking order as soon as they open their mouth. So some things have changed and that is good, but it's still the idea that 'bad' English equals stupid.
The Duergars speak Solomon Island pidgin for my two reasons that I know it and that it sets up expectations that I can later upset. I spent four years in the Solomons, teaching in secondary schools there. It's a topic for another post, but I didn't see any evidence that the kids I taught there were thicker than any others I've ever taught - they just hadn't seen some things or been taught them before.

Again, as with Phoebe's speech, it's something that puts some people off. They don't understand what the Duergas are saying and start to lose interest because of that. For myself, I can't think of this as a big problem. I've made sure that what they say in Pidgin is both not that important and is comprehensible from context or translation. Later, when  a Duergar needs to say something of importance to the story, he speaks in English. There's a trick to that which I won't go into yet.
For now think on the fact that the servants in this story speak 'broken English' and think why someone would do that.

The harder one to write

I've never had any experience of being a girl on the brink of her first period, or any other kind of girl if it comes to that. So Phoebe is difficult to write as so much of what is going on inside her head is guessed at. And Phoebe is difficult as she speaks in a teenspeak that hasn't been invented by real teens yet, so she is hard for many people to read. Some of the comments I've had back have identified her as a major headache. Others, mind, have enjoyed her perspective and have liked the idea of the teenspeak. It takes all sorts.
A few commenters didn't like the introduction of Tony Blair (though many have loved the idea of him being in jail).
He's there partly because burning him at the stake would contribute to global warming and because he gives a (subtle, I hope) clue as to the time frame of the story. This can't be the far future, as Blair is still alive, though it must either be the future or a different time line in which history has turned out better than we managed it in this one. Phobe says she found out about him when she was eight and she must be around 12 to be on the verge of a first period.
Her teenspeak is built up of parts that should be recognisable to any reader: tres, tres ok being an example; parts that will only be recognisable to a Japanese speaker: mecha, cho, yada; and parts that I made up as I went along. On the grounds that George Harrison claimed 'grotty' as being derived from 'grotesque', I decided that 'gruse' could easily come from 'grusome'.
It isn't nearly as hard to get your head around as either the teenspeak of Clockwork Orange, or Bascule the Rascal's semi-phonetic writing in Feersum Endjinn, or Ridley Walker's purely phonetic script in the book of the same name. They are all bloody difficult when first encountered, though you do get into them. I reckoned I'd be adding a bit of interest with Phoebe's and still not going so far into the linguistic twilight zones that others have entered.
There's one bit of questionable plotting when Phobe realises that she is Malaika. She knows it and recognises the face. Adam, you'll find out later, doesn't recognise the faces of any of the people he sees, though he knows they must be famous. In my own mind I sort this out by thinking that he is supposed to be new, so the computer has suppressed his memories so  as to make the whole experience more 'real' for him. Phoebe couldn't operate on this basis, as Malaika has to know who she is talking to, so the suppression hasn't been performed on her. This is never made much of in the rest of the book, but will be in book two.
Had Phobe been put into the body of a Seeker, her memories of the people would have been similarly suppressed. And so might her memories of the stories. Neither she nor Adam question the fact that she knows what is going on here, so we can guess that no one has told them things will be otherwise. Later, Adam decides that her knowing the plot might be a design feature that would allow anyone coming into the Land to cheat, but it is actually a mistake and the reason why the prologue refers to the moment of her character ID changing as being of so much import.

Thursday, 16 February 2012


I woke up in a bed. I’d expected something more dramatic. The Seekers would come to the Land through a Gate and I thought I’d be a Seeker. I couldn’t remember what Sylvester had said, but it looked like I was already there. Something felt bad though. I had a bit of a headache and a cramping pain in my stomach. I had to pull back the bedclothes before I could see what it was. Blood on my pajamas, down between my legs. Yada.
I knew what it was, of course, even though it was the first time. Auntie ‘Lexie had told me all about it, and Dad had been getting me books and stuff about it for just forever – to help me prepare. My friend Sara had already had hers and all the girls had been talking about it, you’d guess, innit? Didn’t mean it wasn’t just mecha gruse. It was; well, for a second.
Then I thought I could tell Dad and he’d let me have the party he’d promised for it. He’d said it was a change I should celebrate. I think he read that line in a book. Then, of course, I realized Dad wasn’t here, I was well off the range of a GPS tracker, and I couldn’t have a party until I got back. Which made me wonder.
A girl couldn’t get into the Land until she’d started her periods; everyone knows that. So maybe this wasn’t real, and they’d just given me one to make me feel like I was ready, even though I knew I really wasn’t. And (far, far away ikky) even if this was my first time, it wouldn’t be hers. It’s tres freak to feel you’re having someone else’s period, believe me if that’s never happened to you before, and my day was about to go glom when a Duergar came in through the door.
I nearly leapt out of bed and danced around the room! This wasn’t like watching them on a DIV; this was real. Right there in the room with me, carrying a tray. She looked me up and down (mostly up of course) and saw the bloodstains. She nodded and said, “Ah. Me thingim allsame. Me bringim this one for Mma. Makim you better mor. You go cleanim youseleva en dringim thisfella.” She nodded at a door and passed me a cup of something. I got up and sort of hobbled to the door, trying not to let my legs touch. Yada. Big, big ya.
You had to slide the door to the bathroom. I remembered and didn’t try to push it.  The bathroom looked just like the ones you see in the DIVs. There was a big, deep, circular tub made of wood, set into the floor, full nearly to the brim with steaming hot water.
I knew you had to scoop water out of the bath and wash yourself first, so started to strip off the pajamas. I jumped when I saw the dark skinned woman out of the corner of my eye, but sussed I was looking into a big, steamed-up mirror. Then I nearly squealed. I was Malaika! 
There’s a line in Book One where someone asks if Malaika is good-looking, and the answer is she’s too busy being gorgeous to have time left for just good. And there she was looking back at me. From the steamy mirror. With no clothes on.
I really had to look away. I mean, Malaika is tres, tres hot, with a bod to just die for or from, but I was like staring at it. I felt myself blushing hotter than the bath water. It would take a while to get used to that being me. I took just a small peek again and thought, ‘Oh I wish!’
I could get used to it. I could suffer that.
I mean, I have got brown hair and brown eyes and when Dad tells me I am going to be a stunner at sixteen and he’s going to buy a club to keep boys away he always sounds like he means it. That’s my dad though. He once told a friend of mine he was really Tony Blair, and he’d escaped from prison by digging a tunnel with a bent teaspoon.
We didn’t completely believe him, but that was ‘cos we didn’t know who it was. We had to go wiki the name up on a pokkecom to read the history, and find out Blair was still in prison. Well, we were only eight at the time. What did we know?
Anyway, the point is; it isn’t impossible I could look nearly as hot when I’m older. But that nearly would be just like Earth to Moon near, not Earth to Sun near. Sort of comparatively nearer than Sara could get, ‘cos she’s blonde, but not close enough to whisper in an ear kind of close. I’ll never pwn boys.
I grabbed a towel and covered myself a bit and took another look at my new face. I pushed a strand of hair back behind my ear and grinned and just … Like wow.
I had a drink from the cup before starting to wash and the effect was like magic. (Duh!) The headache and cramp just vanished. The stuff must have been chia, but it tasted like the milky tea Dad always makes for me. I still wasn’t keen on getting into the bath after washing – I didn’t think the bleeding had stopped too and just didn’t want to lay there in it; far, far away gruse – so I toweled myself dry and went back to the bedroom.
The Duergar had gone out, but there was underwear and a set of loose, dark grey cotton pants and a top laid out on the bed. Apart from a sanitary pad, it was all senior Mage clothing. I had a feeling I had to get ready for something formal going on.
Then it came to me. I was being dimmy this morning. Naturally, the Seekers would be coming, and I’d have to go and take part in the Opening. All this would have to start with Brendan going through his Initiation, even if I wasn’t doing one. Of course, he’d pass and the Light of the Chosen’d shine from him, but it all needed to happen so Senior Niall would know he was capable of great things. I dressed as quickly as I could.
Good. She’s accepted who she is. Maybe this time things will work out as I want them to.

Monday, 13 February 2012

My first protagonist

The one I found easiest to write, since he is male, adult and a teacher of English in Japan. As this is in the future and I'm a follower of Yogi Berra on predictions, Japan isn't much described in the book. The future generally isn't, though hints are dropped all over the place as to things that have happened there.
Anyway, Adam. The aim for this part was simply to bring him in and make it clear that he is suddenly snapped into a situation which he wasn't prepared for and didn't arrive at by any normal means. There is meant to be a lot of sensory iimpression. He simply records everything that he sees, hears and smells. With luck, the reader gets the idea that he is aware of all of this at exactly the same moment that the reader is, so the transition that the reader just went through to get here - turning the page- is pretty much the same sort of feeling that Adam has.
Since he can't be McLeod's daughter, I love to believe that everyone clued in immediately to the fact that he is the other figure jacked in to the computer. To do that, they'd need to also get the idea that he is now in a simulation like the Matrix, a computer-generated world that doesn't need to follow the rules of our world.
There are a number of (really bad) jokes buried in the story and Adam's entrance to the simulation contains probably the worst of them. Worst in terms of it being a dreadful play on bad opening lines and in that no one has ever spotted it. If you think about what he says, Adam is telling you that it was a dark, but not a stormy night. For those who don't know this one:

It was a dark and stormy night

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"It was a dark and stormy night" is an infamous phrase written by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton at the beginning of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford.[1] The annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest uses the phrase as a signifier of purple prose. The original opening sentence of Paul Clifford is an example:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest was formed to "celebrate" the worst extremes in this style. The contest, sponsored by the English Department of San Jose State University, recognizes the worst examples of "dark and stormy night" writing.
I hope that I don't have too much purple prose and that I also give the signal that games will be played with expectations here. Things aren't what they seem (I think I've said that several times before already).
I actually got rejected by one agent (who was at least nice enough to send me something that was personal and not pre-printed) for this.
The objection was that the story ignored the fact that the reader had expectations and that meant it wasn't working for that agent. My feelings were that I was making use of the fact that the reader had expectations so as to confound them (a bit) and bring a feeling of dissonance in. Can't please all of the people, can you?

Day One

It was night. For some reason, I’d been expecting a storm, but, although very dark, it was warm and pleasant. I was standing near the top of a vertigo-inducing set of stairs. Somewhere outside, in a city with traffic noise. Somewhere with stone walls, cobbled streets and perhaps a faint smell of after-the-pub-piss. I had a moment of thinking I knew this place before the memory clicked and I realized it was the Dog Leap Stairs, going down to the Quayside. Newcastle? Was that right? Was it supposed to start here, or was that just because it was me doing the crossing?
Someone touched my arm, and I got an impression of there being several other people with me. The one nearest ushered me on towards the stairs and started a low chanting. Something about the rhythm made it sound familiar, but I couldn’t place where I’d heard it before.
It lasted for only a moment, seconds at the most, but there was an odd sense of the tone persisting after the voice had stopped.  Something like a finger round the top of a wineglass, but right at the edge of hearing. Then the scene straight in front of me broke, pixelated and flowed away, like watching sand fall through an egg-timer from above. Someone walked into that warp in the air, melted and swirled to nothing.
The hand touched me on the arm again, urging me forward. A voice, a man’s, the accent Northern Irish, said, “Don’t worry, just walk straight into the Gate, you’ll be grand.” I didn’t understand why, but I believed him and walked on before thinking, of course I’d be alright, how could anything here hurt me?
As my foot touched the edge of the swirl, it broke up and flowed away. That wasn’t just what I saw; it was exactly how it felt. I’d have pulled back with the shock, but I had no time. Before I could do anything, I’d become a million grains of Adam, flowing and falling, but somehow doing it straight forward. I would have screamed, but my throat had gone. Then my mind fell away and there was a time of nothingness.

Holding in Abeyance

Orson Scott Card, who has been known to get behind the typewriter and belt out works of SF that people (in large numbers too) were prepared to spend real money buying, once wrote a book on writing SF and Fantasy. (He called it, How to write Science Fiction and Fantasy, which is direct, but always looks to me as if it should be a subtitle. For a really good title, Lawrence Block's, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, can hardly be beaten.) One of Card's ideas about the SF reading community was that they are very good at the title of this piece.
Any work of SF worth the paper it is written on should take you to worlds that you have never encountered, 'cos they don't exist. These will, of necessity, be full of stuff that people have never met before. When you hit one of these things, the writer has two choices. One is to stop everything and explain the thing in full. The other is not to bother just yet, but to wait till there is a lull in the zapping and explain it then.
Choice two is the best thinks Orson, 'cos SF readers would always rather the writer played the advantage and let the story go on raher than blowing the whistle and bringing the fun to a halt. I'm with him on this and I'm sure most other people are too. At least, if they are SF fans. Probably if they like mysteries too. Dunno about you, but I'm pretty sure Agatha Christie wouldn't have got on that well  if she'd rushed to reassure the reader that it was the butler what did it in the first chapter.
There is a place for exposition, and SF readers tend to like being told how the flux capacitor's inability to handle chewing gum can lead to the threat of the universe exploding. Often that's all they need to be told, as it sets up the need to prevent the Garrilian terrorists from throwing gum into the capacitor. (You can have that one as the start of a story if you are desperate. Otherwise, I really wouldn't bother).
Anyway, all this leads up to the secnd part of the prologue. The first part pays off so far into the story that it isn't worth spending much time on. It's my insurance. I've told you about Gaia and that she comes in later. When she does, you'll be ready to believe I had a plan for all this. That's enough.
With McLeod and the scene on the couches, I've tried to set up something that will help the reader get into what is happening next. You know that two people, one female and young, have been joined to a computer, or something similar. You've heard the idea that books and stories are connected with this and you should have picked up on the idea that time is going to be compressed. There is also a strong hint that someone is being lied to here - that bit about the tech waiting for them to leave and then resetting the compression factor and starting the simulation. There is another hint, painted in as strongly as I can get it, that there is something going on here that isn't to anyone's plan.
Bu now I'm hoping that the story is starting to sound a little multi-layered and complex. There is what McLeod has been told is happening, which we might have an inkling for, but will have to hold in abeyance a bit. Then there is what the people who are running this simulation are really doing, which we can only guess is not what McLeod thinks it is. Then there is whatever is going on with the girl's character number being changed, which is clearly not to the plans of anyone and is very, very important.
Small wonder I say that nothing here is what it seems to be. The next post should just be the first part of Day One. More about that after I've posted it.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Second part of the Prologue

McLeod watched as the two settled back onto the couches and were helped into helmets. Despite himself, he felt unease on seeing his daughter’s face covered by the visor. It made her look an insect-headed alien, and, in some way he couldn’t have explained, made the sticking-out wisp of her brown hair look stolen. The techs jacked them both to the central unit and reclined the couches to the horizontal.
Then the guy beside him spoke.
A hushed voice, not whispering, but as if at a bedroom door and not wanting to disturb the occupant.
More respect than that bloody suit showed.
“Here we go.” The tech tapped his touch-screen and both reclining figures took small, sharp in-breaths, followed by soft sighs.
Like her falling asleep. The tension McLeod hadn’t been aware of holding released as both bodies relaxed.
“Well then Mr. McLeod, that’s about it for now. The first stage will take about fifteen to twenty minutes for her, perhaps a few more for him, then they’ll have their day. She’ll be back with you in…” He wiggled a hand in a ‘more-or-less’ gesture, “…fifty minutes to an hour. She might have a bit of jet-lag, because of the time difference.”
“It’s that unsure, is it?”
“It’s case by case. We’ve usually found kids are quicker to connect, so we’ll probably have to hold her back a few minutes while he catches up. The compression is set for a half hour, though, that part’s certain. Once we’ve got them both logged in, we’d be able to do this again in about thirty seconds. And the commercial version will compress much more than this, of course.” He grinned, “No one wants to wait for as long as half an hour to live a day nowadays, eh?”
“Was it like this with the others?”
“Well, not the characters, no.” His eyes glanced back at some memory, while his mouth twisted to suggest a tangled situation. “They all took a minimum of a weekend; some of them two, but those had to be much more detailed readings, being as we don’t have them available real-time, like this. But we’ve all been in there, and for us, yeah, I suppose, pretty much like this. You’ll have to try it yourself some time.”
“Not really my thing; having my mind read and all.”
“Oh, take my word for it, it’s a blast in there, you’d love it. You’ve read the books, I take it?”
“The first two as bed-time stories. After that she read them herself, and I got all the details over the table at meals.”
“Yeah, mine’s nine and we’re at that stage with her too. Well, there’s nothing much more to see here, erm, would you like a coffee or something while you’re waiting?”
“Aye, that’d be grand.”
They left the room. Another tech watched, impatient, ‘till they’d exited, immediately changed the compression factor on both screens, initiated the simulation, and then left as well, his mind on something stronger than coffee. The two on the couches slumbered on, unsupervised, save by the machine.
A watcher might have noticed the girl’s touch-screen reading flicker, and, like a malevolent stagehand removing a vital prop, the character assignment figure change from 1001 to 321. But you are the only watcher, dear reader, and your observation does not collapse any wave form. It will not change the story back.
For, in that moment, history altered. No, please don’t think that melodramatic. I’ve thought about it very, very carefully, and that statement isn’t exaggeration at all.