Dramatis Personae - Plenilune

Dear jolly goodness, it's been awhile since I've done anything like this. I'm not sure what prompted me to resurrect this little exercise of madness, save that I have been having trouble "seeing" one of my characters. The wretched bloke is positively slippery - like a fish. I say I only want to dissect his character and get a better look at him, but he remains unconvinced, and squirts out of my grasp almost before I have closed it on him. Honestly. It's as bad as Peter Pan and his shadow.

All right, all right. I don't own any of these pictures except - nope, I don't own any of these pictures, but I do own the characters. Very wibbly wobbly. Anyway, enjoy the creative endeavours of a girl overdosed on sea-salt and cracked-pepper chips. Cheers!

Avaunt, sire, avaunt!


Margaret Coventry

The main character of Plenilune. English, twenty, too reserved to be pretty and too pretty to be left alone, Margaret steps onto the scene as the dutiful if unwilling victim of her mother's insistent attempts to make her marry and marry well. She has very little faith in her skills at procuring a husband, she has every intention, all the same, of doing so - partly to spite her own mother. What she had not expected was that a suitor has already had his eye on her for some time and, under the very nose of a rainstorm, without family or friends ever knowing, whisks Margaret clean away to woo her with an iron hand occasionally hid inside a velvet glove. Stubborn, English, proud to her core, Margaret resists with all the will she has and seeks to return home. Even less expectant is the discovery that she has no real home at all.



Rupert de la Mare

Every inch and more a match for Margaret's demure stubbornness, Rupert meets her with chilly gallantry, chipping away at her defenses by the sheer impact of his presence, sudden kindness, and equally as sudden ferocity. He has no little plans for the future of his Honor; his temperament and station allow him ample ambition. Unfortunately his temperament is one that rubs people's fur all wrong, and his cousin, in a desperate bid to stop his head-long career for power, lays him a wager which, if he cannot win, he cannot hold power. Smarting from the insolence, and remembering with a grudge his cousin's move, Rupert nevertheless undertakes to win the wager.









Skander Rime

Skander is a sharp if rather young lord, holding the Honour of Capys from his seat in Lookinglass. His ready wit and gentle, amiable demeanour belie a taste for hunting and war. Though friendly he is not particularly sociable, and after his first distrustful encounter with Margaret he finds a kindred sort of spirit in her coy but stalwart personality. Though he is not sure she feels any sort of friendship in return, he feels sorry for her and sticks his neck out for her, trying to dissuade Rupert from his course - earning him only a deeper enmity with the young lord of Marenové. With the future of Plenilune appearing more and more uncertain on the horizon, Skander feels caught in the middle, concerned for Margaret's welfare and at the same time loathe to spark strife with so powerful an Honour as Marenové.





Dammerung

He was nicknamed War-wolf at a young age for his natural skill in war, his flippant, almost thoughtless ability to see and deliver a crushing martial blow, and his propensity for stalking, with a mirthless sort of cheer, through the ranks of everyone and everything as if only he were material, and everything else but mist. Though counted by age among the young bucks of Plenilune he stands by his own consent and the common consent of the other lords at the head of them all, a living sort of legend-figure with the shadow of death following after him.







The Fox

The fox is a diminutive character, but armed with immense cheek and irreverence. He styles himself as Rupert's ex-jester, though, contrarily, he makes more fun of himself than of his grim master. Being a creature as much chained as she, among all Margaret's acquaintances the fox understands her best and makes himself her closest friend. He is twice as protective of Margaret as Skander Rime, but significantly less capable of doing anything about it, which irritates him extremely. Cheeky, irreverent, dashing (and knowing that he is dashing) he does his best to keep up Margaret's spirits until such time as they can find a way to save her.

* * * * *

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, but here are the pivotal characters, at the very least, with all their thinly-sketched portraits of personality and two-dimensional analysis covered in little crumbs of chips and tasting unusually strongly of salt. I am proud to say I did not waste time at this exercise, as my novel boasts of an additional near-two-thousand words, which is all I meant to write today. I even got a nap in. Not bad.

Le douce, mon amy, le douce.

The Regime

"Furthermore, I think that Carthage must be destroyed."
Cato the Elder

I have a horrible memory. Everything blurs together after awhile when your mind is travelling at breakneck speed through half a dozen time periods and as many stories at once... I'm sure you know the feeling. It must have been somewhere between watching the Harry Potter films and some of the recent Marvel productions (real high-brow entertainment, I know, I know) when it dawned on me the wastefulness of these villains. If you insist on barking "Avada Kedavra" left and right, or smashing up whole sections of a town (and the people in the town), when the day is over...who will be left for you to rule over? It suddenly seemed stupid. If you kill a whole people you won't have a people to rule over - and isn't that what you want? Power, recognition, control, fame, the heights of worldly aspirations? But when chanticleer has killed all the other roosters with his spurs, there is no one to applaud him when he stands on the top of the dung-heap. There seemed to be no good point in killing so many people. Even such magnificent works as The Lord of the Rings bothered me with this apparent lack of purpose.

Puzzled, bewildered, I put the question to my husband. Now, my husband can bluff like the devil and I can be as gullible as a child who was born yesterday. I complained that it made sense to decimate a conquered people to teach them who was boss, but you didn't just wholesale slaughter them unless they had proven really stiff-necked (see Cato). He told me this was because these recent stories are built off the Nazi regime and the fixation, not just on world domination (that's an old one) but on the wholesale slaughter of otherwise innocent people groups.

Let's not kid ourselves. Politics until a fairly recent era has always been full of back-stabbing, double-crossing, cloaks and daggers, smoke and mirrors. Politics still has all that, but in our country, at the very least, you are unlikely to find an appointed member of government communally stabbed to death beneath a statue of one of our founding patrons. But what about politics on an economic and inter-provincial scale? We are going to assume that the reason for invasion of a people is for conquest, not for an escape from a depleted farmland or displacement by other moving peoples. We are going to assume that the sword is being used to gain greater power for the hand that wields it.

In general, if I were to invade a people in a large, lush river valley, do you think it would be expedient for me to slaughter them all because, well, they aren't of my people and I want the land for myself? It might be. I might wipe them out and plant my own soldiers there. But I need my soldiers and they aren't time-expired from the army yet, so what do I do? Leave a contingent to hold the peace and let the natives continue farming, harvesting, breeding and slaughtering, and make them pay with the fruit of their land (my land) as tribute. Ta da! National income.

I'm addressing this to fantasy writers because historical fiction often has a lot of parameters laid out already. When you make a villain, and you want to go on the war-path, you have to ask yourself: "Why? And how?" Is this for world domination and rule, or a psychopath's need to kill everything that doesn't say "Yes, sir"? (These are not always mutually exclusive.) Does your villain have a god-complex, or an ego the size of Anatolia, which makes him think that he is the best thing that has ever happened to his country and that he, and he alone, will bring it ultimate glory? Remember, it is unlikely that anyone will act passionately thinking that what he is doing is wrong. I am not going to kill Caesar thinking that killing Caesar will damage the Republic. I am going to kill Caesar because I believe in my heart of hearts that Caesar is a menace to the Republic and that he must be put away. (I might do it for money, though.) I'm not going to secede because I want to break up the Union, I'm going to secede because I think the Union is unfair and oppressive. I'm not going to hunt down and kill the Scarlet Pimpernel because I hate Englishmen, I'm going to hunt down and kill the Scarlet Pimpernel because I believe the aristocracy is a plague upon France (and because I'm French and I've always hated the English). I may be dead wrong, but by golly I'm going to think I'm right. So half the trouble is making your villain reasonable, making him more than a mere power-hungry killing machine, making him more than the poster-child of the Regime. Villains are more than people out to kill everyone else.

Rationality, purpose, a political and economic arena. The regime that stories like The Lord of the Rings were inspired by wielded the sword with purpose too, and it had a reason for what it was doing, a reason it thought was right. But we have to go back and make our reasons in our stories; we can't just hang our stories upon the horror of a massive steam-rolling villain trundling across the landscape, leaving needless and brainless desolation in its wake. And the stronger the validity of the villain's reason, the stronger the villain himself. He may be wrong, he may be unjust, he may be completely blinded by his false ideals, but at least he is more than a marching killing machine. If he wants to be king, he needs people to rule; if he wants his way, he must fight with ideas. He can be a complete devil, but even the devil knows how to be cunning.

" 'Bout fifty percent of the human race is middle man, and they don't take kindly to being eliminated."

I Would Sooner Summons Pan

as I walked out one evening
to breathe the air and soothe my mind
I thought of friends and the home I had
and all those things I left behind
a silent star shone on me
my eyes saw a far horizon
as if to pierce this veil of time
and escape this earthly prison

fernando ortega

Never fear! I haven't forgot Ask Jeeves. You all just have a devil of a knack for asking questions that take some conniving to answer. For a while I wasn't sure I was going to be able to answer this particular question adequately without giving too much away, or boring you to tears, or confusing you so that you rip out your hair. I like to think I hold that kind of power over people, but I wouldn't want you to be bald.

Gwyn: are you planning on posting any excerpts in the near-ish future?

"Near-ish" is open to interpretation. I would say "I call all times soon," but I am perhaps the most impatient person of my acquaintance with the exception of my two-year-old nephew, and even then I think I give him a run for his money sometimes. But near-ish or far-away, the day has come at last, the opportunity has come at last, for me to present the house with an excerpt from my novel Plenilune. By all means (legal), do enjoy!

* * * * *

It was her first clear day in almost a week. There was no time to dawdle. She put on a frock of fawn-coloured corduroy and stepped out of doors, following the sound of the slow, incessant chopping.

It surprised her how very much old Hobden looked just as she had left him. His bent, wrinkled, nut-brown body was encased in the same cotton shirt, the same tattered leather vest, the same corduroy trousers and boots. He made the same soft, irritated grumbles as he always did. For no reason she could explain, she thought he ought to have changed; for no reason she could explain, she was glad he had not.

“Good morning,” she said graciously, finding a seat on a giant block of wood. Her fingers dug into the hard, sun-warmed bark and she felt the rough rings of the tree’s heart under her palms. In this little southern corner of the House the sun of late autumn, the sun of early morning, dreamed of being warm.

With a slow, circular, ambling movement Hobden swung the axe down and away and gave a little salute, tugging with thumb and forefinger on his forward tuft of hair. “G’moornin’,” he rejoined in that rich, raspy, walnut tone of his. He squinted northward and added, “Mus Rupert’s gone away for the day, hmm?”

Margaret nodded.

Hobden turned away and fumbled with his handle on the axe-haft, grumbling under his breath like a badger all the while. “ ‘Tain’t for me to say, but I knowed Marenové took a breath of relief when ‘e passed beyond t’intake.”

“Marenové and I both,” murmured Margaret, with her head turned away so that Hobden would not hear.

Old walnut Hobden went back to his work, swinging slowly away at the wood while the wood fell away beneath his blows, sheering off in even twos so that he was presently surrounded by so many large split almond-looking pieces of wood. He did not seem to tire, but went on with all the steadiness of an engine. Margaret watched him absentmindedly for some time, wrapped up in her tartan against the November chill; but presently, as he showed no signs of stopping, she began to grow tired of the monotony and she got up, skirting him carefully, and began to wander along the southward arm of the home-meads which were less cultivated and bore the stamp of the wild encroaching fells more clearly than the other gardens did.

Broom and furze, whose flowers had long since fallen, and bramble, whose berries had long since been picked, made a kind of wild hedge at the end of the low slope that took and channelled the little stream. It seemed to be the very oldest piece of garden of all; there was no foot-bridge over the stream, which Margaret would have expected to find elsewhere on the grounds, but a mere loose collection of flat stones rising out of the stream-bed. She took the stones without another thought, crossed a bit of grassy, unkempt soft turf that might have been a flower-plot once, and squeezed gingerly through the thorny gap in the intake hedge.

After that there was a thin, short wood of alder that did its best to sink its roots into the stream. She climbed through it and out, with the suddenness of stepping from one world into another, upon the tawny shoulder of the fell. The wind was all around her as it had not been in the low hollow of the House grounds; it boomed and galloped, thundering, brushing, lunging and kicking like a stampede of horses round her shoulders. It was a golden wind, golden and bronze like the wings of an eagle and the bright colour of it swelled around her with a potency like water. She moved through it, borne and buffeted by it, with the House falling away behind her like a bad dream.

A narrow goat-path, a mere thrush-coloured thread in the tawny turf, stretched upward before her, skirting the steep side of the fell, but always stretching upward, upward and around and out of sight behind the distant shoulder of the fell. There was no question of following it. Without a thought she struck out on it, climbing upward with the swell of the air all around her. It became a bother to wrestle her wrap around her shoulders and she let it go, holding onto it with only one hand, so that it flew out before her like a multicoloured banner of primitive war, fierce, free, its snapping and billowing the very laughter of its genius. She felt it stirring something in her blood.

After a quarter-hour of walking the wind had slackened into a soft constant rush and she paused on the goat-path to look back. She had come far and high; Marenové House lay below her, the view of it unobstructed by trees—if she strained she could just make out the tiny toy-figure of Hobden still at work. If she was very careful, if she stood perfectly still, with one hand up to shove her wayward hair out of her eyes, she could almost imagine she was not wearing Rupert’s collar and leash.

It was a cruel trick, she thought, to be trapped in a land that seemed so high and wild and free.

With prim deliberation she gathered up her wrap and skirts and continued on. She rounded the swell of the hillside and found herself above a flock of sheep, quite a large flock, overseen by two squat calico dogs. They ranged all down the slope and into the finger of a green stream valley. To Margaret, walking along to the tune of their thin bell-notes, they looked like a spray of blackthorn blossom flung across the fell’s slope. Quaint and picturesque, pastoral, uninhibited by the torments and cares of the young woman poised above them, they went on grazing—and would go on grazing, she thought with a pang of strange longing, time out of mind, as they had always done, no matter who sat at Marenové House.

And suddenly from somewhere high in the folds of the fell’s flank, high up above the flock of sheep that was like the blowy white blossom-fleece of a blackthorn, high and clear there came to Margaret at that moment of consideration the sound of a panpipe playing. The sound stopped her in her tracks, frozen like a bird, and she listened to that sound as she had never listened to a sound before; and it seemed to her, as she listened, to be the very calling of a soul. It spoke across the dale, silver and thin, but full-bodied like wine; a pianoforte and its notes, a harp and its notes, were all separate things, but to Margaret the panpipe and its song were a living and eerie one.

Just as quickly as the song had come to her she ached as she had not let herself ache in weeks. It was not for home, it was not for her family. She did not know what it was for. She only knew that she had to turn and get away from that free, melancholy voice among the fells—which was the very voice of the fells themselves—before it crushed her.
plenilune, jennifer freitag

I'm running out of questions. Some of them are still in the queue, and I'm not ignoring them, but I'm still thinking about them. I would love to continue answering questions so if you have anymore, don't hesitate to post them! Otherwise I'll just keep trucking. Thank you for the fun!

Behynd the Name

My neck is thinnish. Not Audrey Hepburn thin, thank goodness, but a bit on the delicate, feminine side. Yes, it wouldn't take anything to chop my head off, I dare say. And I'm sticking it out there alongside Katie's in the matter of fantasy. She had a real bang-up post on the topic the other day that I couldn't help agreeing with, amending (or clarifying) her statement of "I don't really like fantasy" by saying "I don't like fantasy that is cliche, overdone, overbaked, overwrought, unimaginative..." It was a good post; you should read it. And I heartily agree with her, though I'm sure one could make the same assessment of just about any genre out there. There is the mighty mass of bad, and there are the good few.

But we know this sort of thing! We're good, educated, literatured citizens, some of us positive bibliophibians. We're trained to sniff out the good from the bad. I was happy to leave Katie's post and trundle on, whistling a happy tune, content that a fellow writer had struck a blow in favour of decent reading and writing.

And then I tripped on it. Walking across the blogosphere, I went and put my foot in it, and nearly my face, and after a brief and horrified stare at what I saw I felt the resolve harden in me. Something had to be done. No one had said anything yet. Something had to be done. I sailed into the living room, yardstick in hand doubling as a walking-stick that was very elegant in my own mind, arrested my poor unsuspecting husband, and told him in no uncertain terms (save that the fury in my head was tangling my tongue up) that some thing had to be done! My poor husband, taking me in stride as always, absolutely the best ever, laughed at me in a way that I took to be encouraging and my mind was made up. For better or for worse, for axe and for block, for liberty and the right to name characters, I was going to speak up.

It's the Y.

Have you noticed? Have you seen it? It's a cad, it really is, sneaking into one's fantasy, worming its way into the names of your characters, displacing otherwise law-abiding i's, all the while assuring you that it is making your character's name look "foreign" and "elegant" and "fantastic." That Y could sell washing machines to the devil. In the blink of an eye it becomes the defining, the tell-tale, the betraying mark of amateur fantasy. Oh, don't think I'm exempt. I keep a list of names I have invented over the years, most of them from my very early years. I don't use the list anymore because the names are so outlandish and painful, but it's a good example of what I am talking about. Take a look.

Ranviyer
Erynion
Elyason
Vanayel
Ithylen
Althya
Kyrry
Ryne
Jyny
Tym

I'll cease abusing your eyes. As you can see, these names are ridiculous, some of them positively unpronounceable, but all of them somehow distinctly belonging to a fantasy story. The fantastic, the otherworldly, hangs, not upon the character's personality or upbringing or nationality or customs, but upon the weirdness of his name. That's a slender and amateur thread on which to hang the fantasy of your story.

In favour of the Y I will say that its use is not a universal cop-out. Koby and Brandewyn, which are also in my list, manage to get away with it because Koby is a name you might find anywhere and Brandewyn is that sort of pretty faux-princess name a couple might give a daughter even now. And the Welsh are completely exempt from this principle because long ago they decided the alphabet didn't have enough vowels and they needed to make more. However, if you are not careful you are liable to have your story pegged as a fantasy (even if it is a fantasy) merely on your use of the Y. I find it to be either Welsh or amateur, and while I don't mind the one I'm not hankering to be pigeon-holed into the other, how about you?

My neck may or may not still be intact at this juncture. Like Katie, I like a good, solid fantasy and I don't like to waste my time on anything less than that. I don't think I read as much as she does, my natural taste tends more toward historical fiction, but I do have an array of fantasy in my library. So what about them? What are the names of their characters? What are the names used by authors who have "made it"?

Eltrap Meridon
Brandoch Daha
Roverandom
Puddleglum
Caspian
Curdie
Gorice
Tirian
Puck
Juss
Una

None of these make use of the over-fantasized Y, but all of them belong to fantasies. They all manage to be in their own way unique, decent, even strong. It is absolutely possible, and recommended, to find names for your characters that don't make use of the Y. Fight! Win! There are excellent names out there just waiting to be used. There is a wealth of imagination in your own brain just waiting to be tapped. Don't settle for the mediocre Y.

Beautiful People - A Compendium

Sky and Georgianna Penn's Beautiful People challenge this month happens to coincide with one of my Ask Jeeves questions - which makes a pretty little loop-hole for me to dive through and a nice structured set of questions with which to answer the one I have been given.

If you don't know what "Beautiful People" is, it's a month-by-month series of questions posted by Georgie and Sky (ten each month) for writers to answer about their characters. A full list of the questions can be found on Sky's blog in the archives here. For those of you who don't know what Ask Jeeves is, it's an opportunity to throw questions at me and learn more about my current work in progress Plenilune. Don't be shy! I like answering your questions, so if you think of any more, please feel free to post them!

Morgan J: what is the main character [of Plenilune] like?

Once again I have the pleasure of introducing via Beautiful People the main character of my novel-in-the-making -

Margaret Coventry

1. What is her full name?

Margaret Elaine Coventry

2. Does her name have a special meaning?

Not at all.

3. Does your character have a methodical or disorganized personality?

Margaret is very methodical, but not habitual; she can be impulsive, but she is rarely illogical.

4. Does she think inside herself more than she talks out loud to her friends? (more importantly, does she actually have friends?)

Margaret has many acquaintances, Margaret allows herself to have few friends. She never talks out loud to herself but she is equal to conversation with others.

5. Is there something she is afraid of?

No; she might hate and she might loathe, but there is little that Margaret truly fears.

6. Does she write, dream, dance, sing, or photograph?

Margaret has been taught to sing and dance. She does well at these diversions and enjoys them.

7. What is her favourite book (or genre of books)?

Margaret is not an avid reader and perhaps the biggest and most famous work she can boast of having read is The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. In general she is either too busy to read or the reading puts her to sleep.

8. Who is her favourite author and/or someone that inspires her?

This is an oddly-phrased question. Or perhaps it is just me. She does not have any favourite authors, though it is quite possible that the sentiments of the philosopher-emperor have made the stoical cast her face can take.

9. Favourite flavour of ice cream?

Margaret has never had ice cream and I could not tell you for certain whether she would like it or not if she did.

10. Favourite season of the year?

Margaret dislikes winter, but she has no objection to any of the other three seasons; she does not give them a great deal of thought.

11. How old is she?

At the time of writing, Margaret has lived just over twenty and a half years, but her height and natural grim temperance of nature might impress a stranger with an older age.

12. What does she do with her spare time?

Margaret hates having spare time; she feels like a marble kicking around a kettle. If there is nothing else to put her hand to she will go for a stroll and reflect, or, in very dire cases, she might read a book.

13. Does she see the big picture or live in the moment?

Margaret is used to looking at the big picture, but for the most part that picture is relatively small. At the moment she does not know what she sees or what to do about it.

14. Is she a perfectionist?

Margaret is not a perfectionist, Margaret is defiant. What she puts her hand to she must yank bodily into tidiness and goodness, so help her!

15. What does her handwriting look like? (round, slanted, curly, skinny, sloppy, neat, decorative, etc.).

Margaret’s handwriting is fast and illegible.

16. Favourite animal?

Margaret has a weakness for owls, though she has only seen them in picturebooks and has only heard them at night from a distance.

17. Does she have any pets?

She has no pets, nor does she have a real use for them as they are hairy, smelly, and lap-dogs (which are acceptable animal companions for young ladies) are rather pathetic, useless creatures.

18. Does she have any siblings? How many? Where does she fit in?

Margaret has two sisters and a cousin whom life has forced to be close to her family, but she gets along with none of them. She makes an effort to be friendly to her cousin, whose temper is not as cutting her sisters’, but in general she keeps herself to herself and the four of them are happy to leave it that way.

19. Does she have a 'life verse' and, if so, what is it?

Margaret does not have a ‘life verse,’ or a ‘verse for life,’ but if she did it could very well be “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.”

20. Favourite writing utensil?

A charcoal pencil.

21. What type of laugh does she have?

Margaret’s laugh can be very cutting and quite sarcastic, if she chooses. When she is genuinely and pleasantly diverted, her laugh is very sweet and quite becoming.

22. Who is her best friend?

As I said before, Margaret has few friends, and even fewer people she considers her equal. She is on companionable terms with a labourer, but he is no match for her in wit, education, and station; her closest friend could very well be a half-tame fox.

23. What is her family like?

Well-to-do, leisurely, respectable, a touch educated with a gloss of old aristocratic pride, very much into “society,” if not a major player there; in short, one of those unbearably dull, wealthy, landed families which has as much bad blood and sentiment in it as it does coinage.

24. Is she a Christian, or will she eventually find Jesus?

I think the best answer to this question is yes.

25. Does she believe in fairies?

Not in the least, but she does believe in the supernatural.

26. Does she like hedgehogs?

Margaret has never seen or heard of this “hedgehog” thing.

27. Favourite kind of weather?

Margaret is fond of clear, dry, sunny weather. Alas, she is English.

28. Does she have a good sense of humour? If so what kind? (Slapstick, wit, sarcasm, etc.?)

Being very frequently the wallflower and outside observer of gatherings, she is a student of irony and sarcasm.

29. How did she do in school, or any kind of education she might have had.

Margaret, like most ladies, had a governess—with whom she did not wholly connect and whose passing she did not regret, but from her she learned her French and German, her piano and harp, her needlepoint and script, and the basics of geography, mathematics, government and natural science.

30. Any strange hobbies?

Strange hobbies are discouraged. Margaret does not indulge in them.

31. What kind of music does she like?

Margaret is quite a hand at the piano and harp; she enjoys folk songs and ecclesiastical music and even plays an eastern piece that a relative brought her from Anatolia.

32. Does she like to go outside?

Whenever the weather is clear Margaret will go for a stroll. She is not much of a naturalist by bent, but her walks are a means of useful solitude and reflection.

33. Is she naturally curious?

Margaret is really only curious in that which piques her interest. She is not curious universally and she is not even curious energetically.

34. Right, or left handed?

Margaret is right-handed.

35. Favourite colour?

Burgundy.

36. Where is she from?

Margaret is from the northwest of England.

37. Any enemies?

Margaret’s temper, inadvertently abrasive, has a way of making enemies.

38. What are her quirks?

Margaret makes a point of not having quirks. The worst that she could be charged with is mixing a sense of chivalry with a cool reserved nature.

39. What kinds of things get on her nerves?

Her suitor’s presence, conversation, existence…

40. Is she independent, or does she need others to help out?

Not able to find anyone she considers her equal among her family or her family’s acquaintances, Margaret has long since become an independent individual.

41. What is her biggest secret?

It’s about the size of a large domestic cat.

42. Has she ever been in love?

Before Plenilune, no, Margaret has not.

43. What is her comfort food?

Margaret does not have a comfort food, but a glass of wine before bed she finds generally soothing.

44. Does she play a musical instrument? If so, what?

Margaret was taught to play the piano and the harp; she does well with both and does not consider either more of a favourite than the other.

45. What colour are her eyes? Hair?

Both Margaret’s hair and eyes are of the brown, nutmeg-coloured persuasion.

46. What is her favourite place to be?

She has several places that she enjoys being: alone, with old Hobden, or with the half-tame fox. She does not think of them as “favourite” places—in a way, they are sanctuaries.

47. What are some of her dreams or goals?

Margaret is not much of a dreamer, nor does she tend to set goals for herself. Her challenges consist of accomplishing the next task. The soothing English temper got lost in her when the old strains of Norman conquest and Saxon fury decided to reawaken.

48. Does she enjoy sports?

Margaret is a good rider and she is game enough to enjoy a hunt.

49. What is her favourite flower or plant?

She likes the English oak, whose strength, durability, grace and grim demeanour she identifies with.

50. What is her biggest accomplishment?

It’s the size of a wine-bottle.

51. What is one of her strongest childhood memories?

Getting hit in the face with her sister’s doll. And hitting her sister in the face after that. She was six years old.

52. What is her favourite food?

Margaret likes the traditionalism as well as the taste of Christmas plum pudding.

53. Does she believe in love at first sight?

Margaret has never given thought to the prospect.

54. What kind of home does she live in?

Margaret lives in a large, old, rambling Norman-style manor house which has been built on to by successive generations, its parts and portions attempting, but not quite managing, to all appear as if they were meant to go together.

55. What does she like to wear?

She likes to wear black, just to spite her suitor.

56. What would she do if she discovered she was dying?

If she had time, she would continue her routine; if she had little time, she would sit quietly, and perhaps broodingly.

57. What kind of holidays, or traditions does she celebrate?

Margaret’s family is a member of the Anglican Church; they observe all of the major ecclesiastical days; Christmas, though not often very jolly, is at least one that Margaret looks forward to.

58. What do your other characters have to say about her?

Her mother considers her a headstrong nuisance; Hobden calls her “like sum queen of old” and says she “might do rightly;” her suitor calls her “a precocious little chit” and considers her fit to be a queen; her suitor’s cousin calls her a force to be reckoned with; the half-tame fox, perhaps alone of her acquaintances, can smell and appreciate Margaret’s desolation.

59. If she could change one thing in her world, what would it be?

She can change one thing, and she does.

60. Does she have any habits, annoying or otherwise?

Margaret is a paragon of good behaviour. She has worked hard to become a model young woman, though on occasion her behaviour seems forced, which can grate against the nerves, and her personality is often cold and reserved, which is not a wholly commendable trait in a young woman.

61. What is her backstory and how does it affect her now?

Margaret is the eldest daughter of a sonless family and a great deal depends on her marrying well. Having watched the behaviour of her two sisters and cousin nearly ruin those chances completely, Margaret feels the weight of her responsibilities very keenly, the keenness helped in no small part by the constant reminders of her mother. As a child she was always quiet, reserved, and introspective, to which she added a touch of resentment and, incongruously, a rough kind of justice and mercy as she came into her adolescent years.

62. How does she show love?

A cold and constant sort of hate is an emotion Margaret is more accustomed to showing. She is not one to lose her temper easily in any direction so that it takes a great deal to draw out passionate love or hate from her. What she hates she is liable to hate until she dies, what she loves she is liable to die for without stopping to count the cost.

63. How competitive is she?

Margaret is extremely competitive, but she doesn’t choose her battles without being sure of some hope of victory. When she is faced with a challenge (i.e. marrying well) she rises to it with grit and poise.

64. What does she think about when nothing else is going on?

At home she keeps her mind busy with needlework and reading, and in particularly good weather she will go out for a ride on horseback. Abroad, Margaret spends her time taking walks in solitude and waging her own private war with the torn soldiers of her emotions and convictions.

65. Does she have an accent?

As a girl Margaret had a local Lancashire accent, but she has struggled hard to replace it with the southern and more refined accent of the Home Counties. As a result, her voice nestles comfortably and a touch alluringly between the two.

66. What is her station in life?

Margaret Coventry comes from an old Saxon family which originally settled in the Midlands; around the reign of James I a branch of the family moved to Northern England and settled down comfortably, which branch Margaret is from. Her family has contained anything from petty earls to landed farmers; her father receives income from her grandfather’s mill investments and they enjoy a well-to-do middle class estate.

67. What do others expect from her?

Margaret’s family, and Margaret herself, expect her to marry well and continue to support the social and financial dignity of the family. For this Margaret has no complaint, if only she were not pushed so, and she resents the difficulty the very personalities of her family members present her as they push her to make a good match.

68. Where was she born, and when?

Margaret was born in the northern English town of Aylesward in the Year of Our Lord 1822.

69. How does she feel about people in general?

In general, Margaret does not usually expend any emotion on people. On an individual level, she thinks of people in extremes, though she may not show it. This cool, subconscious façade is taxed rather sorely in her travels abroad and her temper is worn thin both for and against people, but her basic opinions, once founded, rarely change.

* * * * *

She brought her eyes down from the squat, stupendous bulk of the tower and followed the line of his waved gesture. The roses, rather splendid, thick, full roses whose age she did not dare to guess had flung themselves over the stable yard wall and clung to it in a thick mass, dark reddish-green in the gloom, fish-scale shining in the rain—but bud-less and barren. What colour would they be, she wondered, if they were to bloom again? A dormant spark of imagination thought their last bloom ought to have been crimson, and any resurrecting bloom ought to be white as York.
Plenilune, Jennifer Freitag

There is Margaret Coventry, in a very odd, small, and fractalled image. Cheerio!

Horn-Song

'It is good to hear the trumpets sounding again, Cottia.'
The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff

Side by side, in fawn-brown and peat-coloured corduroy, we sat on the bare hill slope, watching as from a god’s vantage—and with a god’s detachment—the movements down below us. The tawny flanks of the hills were covered in long mottling patterns by the creeping scarlet pimpernel, which gave the hills a grotesque bloody cast; I sat with a shock of the humble wayside flower in my hand, twisting it absentmindedly around my fingers while the little spark of russet bloom faded in and out of my far-seeing vision. We had been speaking a moment before, my companion and I—about what, I don’t remember—and we had fallen silent again. The big upland emptiness around us discouraged conversation. So we sat in the windy quiet, I tailor-fashion, he with his knees up-drawn to his chest and his arms draped over them.

From far below, thin and angry and defiant, came up the sound of a war-horn baying, breaking up the quiet.

My companion did not move, but I saw his eyes flicker sidewise, southward, as if he could follow the sound of the horn’s song. I watched him carefully, but no other betraying shadow chanced across his features.

“Does it do anything to you?” I asked of a sudden, rather surprising myself with my own question.

He, too, looked faintly surprised; I could see the odd-shaped dove-coloured reflection of my image in his quizzical eyes.

“The horn-song.”

“Ah.” He turned back to the far-down chess-board view below us, but the dark thought had come into his face and I knew he was not seeing what was before him anymore than I was seeing the red jig of my scarlet bloom. Funny odd thing that, now that I thought of it: the horn-song was much the same colour as my bloom.

“Do you mean past-ward or forward?”

His question, in turn, surprised me and I said, “Well, both, I suppose!” with an awkward laugh that I did not mean and regretted the moment I made it.

My companion unlinked his arms from around his knees and ran his fingers soothingly through his hair, which the wind had taken and ruffled, which the wind took and ruffled again as soon as he put his arms back down. “I always thought them mocking, especially the brass-throated horns—these are bull-toned beasts that they have here. When they are the church-bells of your people, a people of a religion of annihilation, they sound fair mocking to the discerning ear. I had a strange and loathing love for them, for long and long.”

He reached over and took from me my shock of scarlet pimpernel, as if there were not enough around us for him to pick his own, and began twisting it as I had been twisting it, idly, staring at it without really seeing it, his brows drawn close to darkness over his eyes.

“For long and long,” I prompted, “but not forever long?”

He flashed a smile at me which did not turn up the corners of his mouth. “For long and long, but not forever long. But they conjure an altogether different feeling in me now, when I hear them.”

From a thick stand of beech below us came the yelp of another horn just then, silvery and collared in scarlet, as it seemed all horns had a veining of scarlet in their voices, and it sent a strange longing shiver down my spine.

“It calls up something in the blood, doesn’t it?” asked my companion, as if I had said something by my shiver. “Sometimes I think it is a sunset—the last sunset—calling out to me…” His voice had grown soft and far-off, then with a sudden intake of breath and hardness to his tone he said to me, “Do you remember that book of yours of when hell was at large in middle earth?”

“Yes.” I took back my flower. “I remember.”

“And do you remember that scene in which the champion of hell broke through the citadel gates, and he and the hero stood at odds with one another, waiting to see who would move first, and you did not know who would win or if the dice were loaded—”

“And then a cock crowed,” I said, and said it through a sudden tightness in my throat.

“And then a cock crowed.” He smiled mirthlessly.

I said, “Funny odd thing, isn’t it, that it is always a cock-crow?”

He nodded, and for a moment we were both thoughtful-silent, waiting for him to find his thoughts enough to go on. Presently he did so, arms across his knees once more, staring down unseeing and unblinking into the land below us, eyes a little wide as if in a kind of fixed horror at what he did see. “And then a cock crowed, as it seems it is their lot to crow at such a moment, mockingly—did I not say they had a mocking sound?—mockingly for hell does not know, as a simple dung-hill rooster knows, that dawn is breaking.”

“I am thinking it is not the colour of a sunset after all,” I said in a kind of rush, staring at him as he stared out at the valley, “but of sunrise.”

A madman’s light flashed upward into his eyes. “A dung-hill rooster crowing, crowing up the dawn, and then the horns!—horns! horns! horns! The vanguard of the ally come to turn the tide. That is what horns do to me—church-bells do it to you: they catch me looking for heaven’s vanguard to come through the mountains of the clouds and aid us—and outstrip us—in turning back the enemy tide. It grows weary fighting here, and long times between hearing our own rallying call, long times hearing the mockery of hell-horns; but the funny odd thing is that our mortal horns break through that, though far less powerful than the trumpets of either heaven or hell…”

His voice drifted away, broken off by a sudden confusion as if he had got lost in his own spate of words. I was looking now at my poor crumpled flower: crumpled, and yet the scarlet of it still burned against my palm.

“It is as though heaven calls out through our mortal horns, saying to hold fast, not long now…”

“Yes,” he said. “It is like that.”

And we were silent for some minutes after that, sitting in the tawny and scarlet of the hill’s slope, looking down at the movements below, hearing from time to time the bark and scream of the smaller horns calling out the movements. It was a funny odd thing… I caught it, too, the half-checked straining to hear if one of those horns had a voice you have never heard before, but have always known. I had always thought the horn would call us home, and maybe that is the part of it, but only the part of it. I thought now, seated by my companion in the blowing emptiness of the uplands, that perhaps it would be a horn calling us to the last charge; the Battle of Death, I thought I would call it—or the Battle of Life, I was not sure. Either way, something in me ached with a raw and uncovered aching to hear that horn.

With a heavy sigh my companion unfolded, climbing to his feet and holding out his hand to me. “There’s a moral somewhere in that,” he sniffed, “if you like morals.”

I let him pull me to my feet, and in the standing open the wind hit us full, feeling as if it would pull us clear away, blowing us into fawn-brown and peat-colour on the high blue of the moorland skyline.

“And I think he knew so,” I called down the wind: “the man who wrote that book of mine.”

The smothered thunder of a headlong fight boomed up to us on the wind. We began walking away, but the horns kept calling after us—scarlet, tell-tale, faintly mocking.

Like Love and Thunder

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig a grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And lay me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
"Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill."

Requiem, R.L. Stevenson

Sparrow: what are the general plot-shaping elements of Plenilune?

This is one of the more serious, and possibly more betraying, questions in this oddment-of-questions that I have got from Ask Jeeves. Whether or not Jeeves can answer you, Sparrow, remains to be seen.

There is hope (and I think I have grounds to hope) for a layered plot with multiple influential elements running through it. But I think the strand that I had best pick up is a strand that will not only open a door into Plenilune, but perhaps others of my works as well, a strand which perhaps shows through most strongly in Plenilune. That strand is keeping faith. I am prone to misjudging how well people will understand me from the outset, so I will explain and say right off that what you understand when you read "keeping faith" may not be what I mean by it. I do not mean, necessarily, faith in God, though that is most certainly the pinnacle of it.

This is an idea, really a way of life, that I had to learn from people long since dead. It is not something you will stumble over often today, I think, this idea of keeping faith. Ours is a disposable age - we make things, we make everything, even our ideas, our loves, our lives, to be disposed of and replaced with something new. We do not have three-hundred-year-old yew-hedges rooted deep inside our souls. Everything is transient. Everything. And when everything is transient, nothing has value. We no longer hold anything dear - nothing trusts us to remain true.

By "faith" I mean allegiance, by "keeping" I mean the endurance in it even to the point of shedding blood. And by all this I mean something deeper than mere spoken oath, something that is woven into the very fabric of a person's being, something that, if broken, would kill them. This is the honour of the servitude of love. It is usually unspoken, and there are often no words to explain it, though perhaps Peter said it rather well when he said,

"To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

In the object there is a frank and unspoken value, in the person a frank and unspoken faith. This is something I hold with a fierceness, and it comes out in my stories - in Plenilune, perhaps, most of all so far. It looks like white-bronze harp-strings. It looks like a holocaust cloak. It looks like love and thunder.

Keeping faith. It is something so deeply ingrained in the characters, so deeply ingrained that it moves the plot, that they would die if they broke it, and they would die to keep it. It is sometimes called patriotism, or heroism, but it is far more primeval than that: it is love-serving that holds fast, love-serving that does not dream of ceasing - it is itself: it is keeping faith. And this, with all that it entails and all that it circumscribes, is what drives Plenilune and the people within it.

* * * * *

‘If they want this Eagle back; if they fear that it may harm them, where it is, let them send someone else for it! Why need you go?’

‘It was my father’s Eagle,’ Marcus told her, feeling instinctively that that would make sense to her as the other reasons behind his going would never do. A personal loyalty needed no explaining, but he knew that it was quite beyond him to make Cottia understand the queer, complicated, wider loyalties of a soldier, which were as different from those of the warrior as the wave-break curve of the shield-boss was from the ordered pattern of his dagger-sheath. ‘You see, with us, the Eagle is the very life of a Legion; while it is in Roman hands, even if not six men of the Legion are left alive, the Legion itself is still in being. Only if the Eagle is lost, the Legion dies. That is why the Ninth has never been re-formed. And yet there must be more than a quarter of the Ninth who never marched north that last time at all, men who were serving on other frontiers, or sick, or left on garrison duty. They will have been drafted into other Legions, but they could be brought together again to make the core of a new Ninth. The Hispana was my father’s first Legion, and his last, and the one he cared for most of all the Legions he served in. So you see…’

‘It is to keep faith with your father, then?’

‘Yes,’ said Marcus.

Time Is of the Essence

The Saxon is not like us Normans.
His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious
Till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow
With his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, "This isn't fair dealing,"
My son, leave the Saxon alone.
Norman and Saxon, Rudyard Kipling

Gwyn: what is the time period [of the novel]? Even if it is fantasy, what era is it most like?

I wonder sometimes (though I don't envy the position) what it must be like for an individual, a single person, to be so influential, so important, so looked-up-to and regarded, for better or for worse, by so many that the individual's name becomes identified with an entire block of time in history. So many of us, some of us important, some of us influential, blink through this tiny span of time God has given us, many of us leaving behind only the mark of a gravestone - and even nature works to scrub away the writing on our stones. The weight of carrying so many years seems crushing to me. Times and epochs are frequently carried on the shoulders of states and nations: how many single persons had to carry all that weight themselves?

Plenilune begins in the Year of Our Lord (he carries all time, and what a weight that must be!) 1844, on an October afternoon. Despite the specificity of the date, the decision to write during the Victorian era was rather arbitrary. It was decided while I was writing Adamantine, and I chose it only because of a reference to a literary work that was published the year before. You might say I chose the Victorian era because the Georgian one (Regency) seems so very belaboured among the scribbling womanish class these days, but I'm afraid that did not cross my mind until much later. While it has little to no influence on either work, I can at least admit to a partiality to Victorian dress which (when not ridiculously posh) can be quite beautiful and rather dashing. Pardon the idle whims of an author.

Gwyn, rather astutely (or by pure accident, I don't know) added the possibility of fantasy in her question. Both Adamantine and Plenilune are fantasy, but so widely divergent in their fantastical nature that don't suppose the exposition of one will suffice to explain the other.

The territories, or Honours, of Plenilune which Margaret has occasion to come into contact with are overseen by family houses. The Honours are generally divided into manors or villa estates which sons of the family or close friends of the family hold and oversee for the head of the Honour, who was generally the patriarch or, in some rare cases, a particularly strong widow. All Honours are held under a single Overlord (to be seen more like the ancient British king than the Latin rex) who is elected by the vote of the Lords of the Honours - his position was maintained for life. This position has been held by the men of Marenové for so long that it has become effectively hereditary in the minds of all.

The Honours and even individual manors are largely self-sufficient, agricultural-based, and have a high level of autonomy. They look to the Overlord for judgment and leadership in war, and while the Overlord is more than just first among equals and while he does technically hold absolute power over the Honours, the temperament of the people of Plenilune, including the temperament of the Overlords, does not tend toward this extreme.

So much for the political face! I dislike going into long monologues on clothing, but as I typically segment eras by what clothing was worn I suppose I shouldn't avoid mentioning it altogether. Broadcloth and linen are the staple fabrics used; nobility enjoy velvet; corduroy and cambric are enjoyed by all. Men wear trousers, and may wear either tunics or shirts and jackets as they please; women's wear tend to be layered single-piece dresses or frocks depending on the use. Outerwear can be either full-length coats or cloaks. Swords tend to be cruciform in shape and pattern welding is used almost universally.

the fork is used with relish

Thank you for this question, Gwyn. It helped me shake out a lot that was heretofore nebulous in my own mind.

You Will Hear the Beat of a Horse's Feet

"...seeing as you are forced to meddle with horses, don't you think that common sense requires you to see that you are not ignorant of the business...?"
Oikonomikos, Xenophon

Here's the answer to another question posted on Ask Jeeves for my new novel Plenilune! Again, if you think up a question that hasn't been asked yet, just go post it in a comment on Ask Jeeves.

Gwyn: does [the novel] have any prominent horses or specific breeds?

This is a particularly fun question, especially for me, and I wish I had the opportunity to do it justice. Unfortunately, due to a rather important detail that I feel disinclined to give away, I am not able to go into any kind of detail about breeds in the story. Adamantine, too, is like this. And, in a way, this is a good thing, because otherwise I might be far too tempted to go into ridiculous detail about horses and give them overly elaborate names and purposes in the plot.

The difference, perhaps, between the two novels is that in the former horses are, in a sense, a mere means of transportation - not a means taken for granted, but still not lavished with a great deal of affection either. In my current novel, which takes place among nobles and lords, horses are a stamp of prowess and extremely important for war and sporting.

The detail regarding breeds I go into is minimal. At present I have only four types: destrier, courser, hunter, and palfrey. The last three, because of the terrain in which the story takes place, often have mingled hill-pony blood in them to give them sureness on the slopes, but you are equally likely to find a horse without the stockier blood in it, it all depends on what the owner wants.

Destrier: This is your "Great Horse," the kind that looks like any number of draught breeds you will see today: your freckle-tending Ardennais, grey Percherons, blond Schleswigs, Shires, russet Suffolk beasts. Generally docile, termed "gentle giants," destriers are moving battering rams. Though common enough for knights of the history we are familiar with, they are somewhat rare in Plenilune's universe as heavy armour was neither developed nor wanted.

Courser: This is your more typical gentleman-warrior's horse. They are bred muscular and strong, usually with stock that is naturally obedient and good-natured with a propensity to learn quickly. Some are kept almost like dogs, fondled and made much of by their masters, which creates an invaluable bond between master and horse that can mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield. Light-boned horses are not typically used. The category depends largely on admirable personality and dexterity mingled with presence of body. Coursers are not always distinguishable from the hunter class.

Hunter: Hunters differ from coursers really only in training, and then it is usually most economical to train your "light" mount to jump both fallen tree trunks and fallen human bodies. Hunters are firmly built but fluid in movement, unafraid, and tend of all the Plenilune breeds to have the most amount of hill-pony in their blood. Hunters must have a comfortable ride as well as stamina and quickness - unusual comfort is not always looked for in the courser, but if you manage to get a good hunter you are likely to have a good courser in him as well.

Palfrey: I discovered that this horse-type's name, coming out of the German, means "ambler." This type has a gait like a winged trot, frequently very smooth, and can cover a lot of ground by its fluidness and persistence. The lateral gait, not unlike that employed by the camel, is left hind-left front-right hind-right front; less camel-like, and the one I enjoyed more when I tested it on my protesting hands and knees, is the left hind-right front-right hind-left front; the point is that there is at least one hoof on the ground at all times, making for a liquid forward movement that can be startlingly quick and is sometimes called "the flying pace." Because of this unusually comfortable gait they are frequently used for travelling and for ladies. A famous modern breed that exhibits this is the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Cows and not horses are used among farms for ploughing. Hill-bred ponies, which are often half-wild, are used for carting, carrying, and droving. These will look most like the modern reconstructions of the Tarpan breed, but can be as large and even elegant as any one of the stocky old breeds that can be found in the corners of Britain. They are often unlovely, tough, temperamental, and among the most doggish of the Plenilune breeds.

Through the stable doors stepped the first of the horses. It was the Master of Marenové’s, as was fitting: a beautiful amber champagne creature with loose white feathering about the fetlocks and the soft mizzle striking white sparks off the copperiness of its hair... Next out came Margaret’s own horse, a darcy-coloured grey palfrey that seemed, emerging from the dark interior of the long low building, to emerge from the otherworld itself.
Plenilune, Jennifer Freitag

I Have Reached These Lands But Newly

Hurrah and huzzah with brightly polished brass knobs on. I asked in my post Ask Jeeves for people to level questions at me concerning my new novel Plenilune. Bethany got her question in first, and thankfully her question is the sort I can start off with without too much confusion.

If you have any questions you would like me to answer (or to try to answer - again, I can refuse if I think it would give too much away) just post it in a comment on Ask Jeeves. Your questions can be thought-provoking - for myself as well as for other blog-readers. Fresh blood (or new eyeballs, if that is a little less grotesque) is always welcome when addressing a novel.

Bethany: where is [the novel] set?

Plenilune is set in dale country. If you have read or seen any of the James Herriot stories, you will know how lofty, mysterious, and splendid this kind of countryside can be. Wide pasture country, looped through with rivers, furred with woods, broken up into farm garths and ploughlands and sudden runs up hidden arms of land in which nothing moves but the fox and red deer is the sort of country in which Plenilune takes place. But with the dales comes another piece of land, just as important: the fells. Everything in the dales goes on under the tawny shadows of the big barring fells, and everything on the fells goes on under the enormous colourless sky. Everything is up.

Unfortunately, everything is also in mid-October at the moment, and the year is drawing to a chilly close. The finches are in the wild blackberry bushes, pretending there are still more berries, and whole clouds of swallows are on the move, making a racket under the stable-eaves as they roost for the night before continuing their southward migration in the morning. Pretty soon these beautiful dales will be smothered in snow and the fells, ever ominous, uplifted against leaden grey skies. At about that point the story will be set in front of the fireplace, with perhaps a pan of hot chestnuts to boot. But at the moment it's still fine enough to ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross (only, there is no Banbury Cross) to see a fine lady upon a white horse (which horse is dark grey, in reality).

Be sure to bring your wellies.

Ask Jeeves


"You really are quite mad, you know that."
"I have said as much."

The Phoenix Requiem

Poor Penslayer, all abashed, is very much disliking this new novel of mine. I started this blog as The Shadow Things was trundling out upon the book market, and as Adamantine was grinding slowly toward the finish. All in all, they were both very "done" things. I could talk about them a little more freely (though perhaps Adamantine not so very much, because I should hate to give spoilers). With my new novel Plenilune that is not the case. She (she? he? it?) is a mere 20,000 words at present, and yet the deathly hallow of its shadow lies long and big behind it. Plot is fairly jostling in my head. Characters, all of them a little frightening and sharp at the edges, and dark in their own way when you look them in the eye, are all gathered at the round table of Lookinglass House staring at me, waiting for me to keep writing - and to hurry up about it. They are most of them warriors, too, and you have no idea how unnerving that is.

Well, maybe you do.

I am like a child in a candy store, willing to run about wildly and give far more spoilers than is good for me (and you) because of the sheer raptures I can get into while in the throes of a story. And Penslayer, like the arch-typical butler, keeps "hem-hemming" at my elbow, reminding me not to give too much away while at the same time keeping up a writing blog. It's all very difficult, when at this stage everything is all very hush-hush. But I want to hear from you, because what you think at this stage is very helpful. It helps keep my brain churning, it helps me look into things that I otherwise wouldn't have thought to look into. So ask questions! Ask me about, oh, I don't know - the dress of men and women, do horses wear shoes, what about architecture, plants, how many characters do I have so far, what in the world is the plot? I want to know what you want to know! Though I do retain the right to refuse to answer if I think it would give too much away. (Gee, Jenny, what a stick-in-the-mud.) I'll answer them to the best of my ability with as much humour, dodging, hem-hawing, vagueness, and interest as I can possibly muster.

"People often ask me if I'm working on a book. That's not how I feel. I feel like I work in a book. It's like putting myself under a spell. And this spell, if you will, is so real to me that if I have to leave my work for a few days, I have to work myself back into the spell when I come back. It's almost like hypnosis."
David McCullough

On second thought, let's not go to The Penslayer.
It is a silly place.

Breathing Ink and Ilex

I see all these bloggers posting about how it is autumn in their part of the world. A lot of us live in the States, so I've been wondering anxiously, "When will it get to be our turn for autumn here?" Well, I think our time has finally come. Our weather between seasons is fickle and unstable, and changes as I might try to change gears on a stick-shift. But I think, as October rolls in (where did the year go!) it is finally autumn. I lay awake the other night thinking about the upcoming months: apple-picking, birthdays (so many birthdays) involving food and cake and presents and people getting together and laughing, Thanksgiving dinner, the onset of really cold weather and Christmas... (Most of my family's celebrations centre around eating food. It's the Sicilian in us, I suppose.) Nearly twenty-one autumns, each one like amber and held up to the light, lie in my memory, and I took them out as I lay awake the other night to look at them, and they are so very beautiful. They are full of romping in the short crisp grass, playing in the leaves, taking walks down windy roads, eating and talking and laughing with my family, arriving at the church Thanksgiving dinner in the suit of Roman armour my husband made for me... It's a crazy, blowy, amber-coloured time. And here I am at last, standing on the brink of one more autumn.

I sat the other day on my parents' patio, soaking in the late sunlight and autumn wind, reading Knight's Fee, and I could sympathize with Randal's feelings of strange homecoming as he arrived for the first time at Dean. Autumn always feels a little like homecoming to me, and at the same time as though home is a long way off. Maybe it is the Sabbath-feeling, that the whole part of my world has come to the twilight of the year to rest, and that's what makes me think of home. The dogwoods are changing into their best garnet colours; the hollies are putting out their little scarlet berries and the crows are screaming over them. Everything is so beautiful, so varied, so jewel-like. The leaves are all dying on the trees; it's strange that death can look so lovely as that, blood-coloured and fierce. I wonder if there is a moral somewhere in that.

"Pray that thy last days, and last works, may be the best; and that when thou comest to die, thou mayest have nothing else to do but die."
Vavasor Powell

Flowers are pretty in spring, and green is a fine colour, but nothing compares to the last burst of show the trees put on in autumn. They quite outdo themselves. Soon the maples will be turning, and the gumball tree, and the pecans will be littering the driveway with little banana-peel leaves, and I'll be able to sit in the heart of all that colour, reading and writing (because these things are done best in autumn) underneath all that surf-sound of wind in the trees, cleaning out my veins with the cleanness of autumn.