WWSD (What Would Shakespeare Do)

I must admit I’m a bit of a Shakespeare nerd. I remember walking around at high school lugging around the school library’s only copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare in my school bag. It was a monstrously sized, hard cover volume, bigger than a dictionary and I’m pretty sure if anyone tried to rob me I could have easily knocked them out with the weight of it. So when I was posed the question of what Shakespeare would think of Twilight, it got me thinking. The idea evolved even past that question and into what would Shakespeare do in today’s literary market.

 As for the original question, I’m sure Shakespeare would be amazed at how such sub standard rubbish could make so much money but, and if pains me to say it, Shakespeare could, if he were a modern writer, be churning out similar books himself.  His works would go one of three ways: amazing books, in depth television shows or tacky paperbacks.

 His tragic love stories would either be brilliant, heartrending tales like a Bryce Courtenay novel or, most likely, be mills and boon romances or turned into Neighbours or one of the cookie cutter dramas common on tv today. He was known as a writer for the masses and from emo poet to romance writer, I fear his work would most likely to the way of the supermarket paperback or television soap.

 Now don’t get me wrong. I certainly hope that if the bard were alive today the works he penned would be merely modern retellings of his works. Prose for the masses; his poetic nature being encapsulated in epics akin to Mr Courtenay’s extensive catalogue. We already see many of Shakespeare’s works being retold in contemporary settings so could we perhaps see a sparkly vampire ridden version of the Taming of the Shrew.

 I hope that if we ever get the ability to bring the past back to life and have Shakespeare able to fill our bookshelves with new works it will be more of the classic works. A Midsummer Nights Dream would work as an urban fantasy or even a True Blood-esqe tale for tv. But if we return to his probably best known and much misquoted work Romeo and Juliet you know this would end up being a teen romance or a Mills and Boon. Sure it could end up being a wistful saga akin to a Colleen McCullough but would marketing hold up for a relative new comer to this genre.

 But returning to the original question, Shakespeare, if writing classic tales would probably think Twilight is the badly written panty-wetting, tween market rubbish… either that or he’d be the author or adapting it for the small screen.





A Spark That Starts a Fire

To all the writers out there, at what point do you think you have enough information to start writing a book? Can you write just off the one idea? Or do you have note books full of plot developments, characters, settings and creatures, before you start writing?

Personally, I have to have quite a bit of story line and ‘nagging’ before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I normally start with a single idea. Most of the time it’s relatively small and made up of only a short scene or plot. About four days ago I had an idea about a group of kids who find an abandoned train hidden somewhere and they try to get it working. I thought, ‘hmm, that isn’t much of an idea, but… what else happens?’ Then I thought, ‘Why would they get this old train working?’ Could it be they all come from awful backgrounds – abuse, neglect, bullying and to escape their tormentors they meet at this train and get it working so they can leave their lives behind. I was so excited, because I could explore each kid’s background and really dig in deep and write some nasty stuff, exercising my writing skills and pushing my boundaries a little further than I’m used to. I sat down and wrote about two pages… and that was it.

I should have learnt from the past that that wasn’t enough information and I didn’t let it grow in my mind before starting to write. I don’t really have rules when it comes to starting books, just a few basic guidelines, and I’d like to go over a few here.

First off, the Idea. If I get an idea for a book, and I like it, or whatever powers that be think I should write it, it will stick. It will be like a thorn in my brain and I’ll find that I’m thinking about it a lot, at work, in the car, shopping. I’ll think of that one idea, then I’ll let it grow. For example, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr. Harlow – the idea was in my head, a girl whose father owns a circus and their magician has lost his magic. Fine, the idea is there, so what? Over the course of a few weeks the idea grew.

I call this stage the Incubation stage. It’s an egg, not much to it, pretty basic. I’ll keep a warm light on it and see what happens. Suddenly one day while sitting on the toilet or in the shower I think, ‘The magician’s daughter doesn’t believe in him anymore because he hurt her during a magic trick’. I think, ‘yeah, that’s good. He can’t do magic because his daughter doesn’t believe in him.’ Another piece of the puzzle is added. But still, not enough to write an entire book. Fast forward a week and while driving or at work, I’ll think, ‘maybe the daughter found another realm, another world where magic is bought and sold and she sold her father’s magic to stop him from doing it.’ Now I have some sort of plot and a few characters. I could start to write now, but more than likely I will stop because I don’t really have anywhere to go. When writing a book I need to have a vague idea of the ending, so I know where to write to. Or else it’s like aiming an arrow at nothing, you need a target. Sometimes I will brain storm, just to see what I come up with. Heather could find the ‘way’ to this other ‘world’ and become stranded. This gives me more characters, an entire world to imagine and make up, and it can take me away from the first part of the story. Heather could be trapped in this world and find people who know about selling magic and help her, at a price. She could join a battle with the ‘rebels’ and break into the ‘evil magicians’ tower to retrieve the magic and get back to her home world, but will she make it? What about the ending? She confronts the Evil magician, and he tells her Mr. Harlow’s daughter sold the magic to him, there’s a fight, she gets back to her home world, just in time and confronts the daughter. She ‘believes’ in him again, his magic is restored and she joins him on stage for a magic show. Her father is almost in tears that he has his daughter ‘back’ and they perform a grand magic trick. The end. Seems simple and basic, and that’s what an outline should be. All I have to do now is join the dots.

I’ve been writing non-stop for about five years, so I’ve always got at least two things on the go. If it’s Everdark stuff, or my adult books, or comic scripts or whatnot, I find that I don’t really have the time to start new books unless I can finish old ones. At the point that Mr. Harlow came about, I didn’t have too much writing stuff that was drawing me to my desk to write. I was rewriting an old book and had lost interest. And here in lies the ‘nagging’ part. Mr. Harlow nagged me. It wanted to get written. I would think about it, think of the world I had to invent, what would it be like? What would the circus be like? What happen to Heather’s mother? How does she get back? Then one day I decided I would sit down and start it. I had the plot, some characters and the time. I thought, ‘Ok, I’ll start writing this, but I’ll write it quickly,’ as I figure Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr. Harlow would never get published. I had no plan on sending it to any publishers until one day, in the future, if someone asked to publish something from me, then, maybe, I would show it to them. I was writing it because I love to write, and if I didn’t put it down, the nagging would continue until I did.

I had a set plan, write quickly, and aim for about 120 pages. Don’t edit it, or maybe edit once, fast, and then leave it. I would move onto the next project, as I’ve started to get the nagging for another book. Sometimes to keep the writing beast in the basement, I’ll write a short story. This way I can get that one idea that never comes to fruition, and write it down. I had an idea about a father and son who drive around the long streets near their home town and pick up lost treasure on the high way that people either leave behind, or throw out their window. One day they come across a cardboard box that has a head in it. Not enough for a book, but enough for about four pages of a short story. Another story I had was an elderly woman who is alone and speaks to spirits through her voice recorder. Not much, but in the end you see she has piles and piles of tapes, all recordings of conversations with ghosts in her house. I haven’t written this one yet, but every few weeks I get the photo-like image in my mind of the old woman sitting in the small, damp, kitchen clutching the recorder in her hands, asking if the ghosts are there.

Sometimes a spark can cause a fire, a wildfire. I’ve spent years thinking about a series of books off one idea. Then again, sometimes I’ve written a paragraph off one idea and the fuel tank ran dry. I’m writing Mr. Harlow because I have the time in my writing schedule. I have Everdark Realms to write, but I have a while to do that, I have my adult book Hexagram that I work on every now and again, piecing it together slowly. I had the entire plot for Mr. Harlow, knew it would be fun to write and was motivated. Once I’m in a few chapters, and the ball is rolling so to speak, I don’t usually stop.

Usually, about a third of the way through writing a book I’ll hit a wall. This wall feels like mud, or quick sand, or like trying to run in water. When I was writing Monster Detention I hit the wall badly. That book is 466 pages long, the longest book I’ve ever written. At about page 300 I got the writing blues, badly. I lost all motivation to write it, I knew exactly where to go, what had to be done and it became too predictable. Every time I sat down to write it I felt depressed, every fibre of my being wanted to write something else, anything else but this. Looking back, I think I may have been apprehensive about finishing it. It’s a long book, one that I planned out, wrote notes, researched, was happy with the characters, connected with them and it was coming to an end. Maybe a part of me didn’t want it to end? This three-quarters-of-the-way-through wall happens every time. It’s that bit of the book were there’s a lot of explaining and dialogue and not much action. The calm before the storm. I knew it was coming with Mr. Harlow and I thought if I hit this wall, I may not recover. I may not finish it, and I wanted to. I don’t often get that far into a book and abandon it. So, I saw the wall coming up, I was anticipating it and I had a plan. I would hit the wall full speed, write through the mud and sludge, get all the dialogue and explanation out of the way, like they do in movies, and move straight on to the action packed ending. I didn’t want to glance over the important reveal or story, but I didn’t want to get bogged down with explanation. It was hard, but I think I did it. I hope it doesn’t sound too rushed or weakened by restricting it to just one chapter. Now, Mr. Harlow is primed right at the gates of the evil Emperor’s domain and there’s nothing but action and suspense to write. I’m excited now to write it, and when I do find an hour or two to sit and write it, I know it will come out fast and furious and it’ll be fun.


Mitchell Tierney

The Eternal Muse

Writers block is something all writers get at some point. Be it for a day or several months it happens to us all. In frustration some of us with curse our muse for deserting us, but how many of us know where the term muse came from?

The muse was actually a group of nine goddesses in Greek mythology each ruling over specific types of arts/skills. Their origin stories seem to vary but my favourite is that they were created when Pegasus the winged horse touched his hooves to the ground in Helicon causing 4 water springs to appear from the ground and it was from these springs that the muses were born.

The muses, as I said had their own skills they ruled over and also had a symbol used to evoke them. They were as follows:

Calliope, muse of epic poetry, symbolised with a writing tablet;

Clio, muse of history, evoked with the image of the scroll;

Erato, muse of love poetry, represented by the cithara (like a lyre);

Euterpe, muse of song and elegiac poetry, shown as the aulos (a type of flute);

Melpomene, muse of tragedy, symbolised with a tragic mask;

Polyhymnia, muse of hymns, evoked with a veil;

Terpsichore, muse of dance, whose symbol is the lyre;

Thalia, muse of comedy, shown as a comic mask; and

Urania, muse of astronomy, represented by the globe and compass.

Now they may seem rather specific but these nine muses were believed to help with the creation and inspiration for everything from dance to art, writing to mathematics and science to music.  The idea of a human being a muse to someone was a much later idea, and one that is most widely known today.

How many people do you hear saying ‘such and such is my muse’? For artists it may be a specific model or idea, for a writer it may be a loved one or a person they look up to. In fact in some fields it may be claimed that any role model that encourages someone is a muse.

But maybe the Greeks were right. Instead of cursing our muse when our minds go blank and our creative flair is having a bad day/week/month, maybe we should invoke one of the beautiful aspects of creativity that they had with their nine muses. Maybe a few kind words out into the realm of imagination could bring forth the gift they bestowed on many through time from Plato to Michelangelo, instead of cursing them away in frustration.

So next time writers block hits, take a deep breath and ask nicely and maybe you will get a visit from one of the lovely ladies known as the muses.


Magnum Opus

I get this feeling that every writer has that craving deep inside to write their grand opera. Something that, not specifically stands out amongst their other works, but has been deemed the writers most adventurous work. Classically, a magnum opus would be work that is longer than the author’s previous works, and most likely any future works. It’s normally more involved, with more characters and settings. The work usually stands out as that writer’s greatest masterpiece in their writing career.

Neil Gaiman has The Sandman. Stephen King has The Dark Tower. Alan Moore has The Watchmen. Joseph Delaney has The Spooks Apprentice. Philip Pullman has His Dark Materials. D.M Cornish has Monster Blood Tattoo.

A magnum opus can come in two forms. Writers that write just one line of books, for example – JK Rowling, Joseph Delaney, D.M Cornish, Lemony Snicket; and writers that write a varied range of books and have one single book, or series, that stands out from the rest, example – JRR Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, Clive Barker.

Terry Pratchett writes the discworld books, (and if you haven’t read one, I suggest you do), all his characters are based on the discworld, but he has many different characters that he has written several books about. Going Postal was about a thief who was hung and turned into an Angel to help out the struggling Postal Company on the Disc. Pratchett then went on to write a sequel – Making Money, where the protagonist is moved from the Postal Service to the Mint. There is even a third book being written called Raising Taxes. You would think a trilogy of books about one character in a long career of writing would be considered his opus, but Pratchett does this all the time. The Tiffany Aching series has four books – Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, The Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight. Is that Pratchett’s Opus? No. He has done it before with his first two books set on the Discworld – The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. These are the books that introduce the Discworld to the reader and many characters that are still present in the series years later. When people started telling me about the Discworld and all the different satire, comical and scientific elements, not to mention fantasy, they were telling me to read his young adult trilogy called The Bromeliad Trilogy, also known as Truckers, Diggers, Wings, the titles of the three books. So, does Pratchett have an opus, I would say his entire collection of Discworld books would be considered his magnum opus.

I was flying to Darwin last week and I wanted to download some interviews with authors to listen to on the plane. I was reading Swamp Thing by Alan Moore and Sandman by Neil Gaiman. So I searched Youtube and downloaded various interviews and noticed that almost all questions during the interviews will lead back to their greatest, known work. One Interview with Neil Gaiman, he was invited to a university lecture hall, sat in front of a thousand people and all questions were led back to the Sandman graphic novels. I didn’t really mind, I liked finding out more about it, but I thought – is that what happens when you write your masterpiece? Neil Gaiman has written many books and comics, poetry and some of his books were made into movies, but everyone wants to know the inspiration behind Sandman and how it came about. Alan Moore’s opus Watchmen has now become a sore point in interviews, as Moore hates the fact that his creations are being destroyed by Hollywood. The comics are amazingly written and wonderfully illustrated, grand and vast with thought and depth, then you get the two hour long splash, CGI, computer enhanced version that skips through every detail worth mentioning and ruins it. They said Watchmen was an impossible movie to make, and after reading it, I would agree, but Zack Snyder did his  best and the movie was very good, just missing a few story lines. After the debacle of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell, Alan Moore now insists his name be taken off the credits for the movies and all monies to go to the illustrator.

I’ve had a few ideas for my own Magnum Opus. A few years ago I was writing a series of children’s/young adult books called S.P.O.O.K.S. (Special Protection Of Ordinary Kids against the Supernatural), I wrote the first book and it just wasn’t what I had pictured in my head. I thought it was good, but not what I had intentionally set out to do. Then I wrote number two – S.P.O.O.K.S – The Ghastly Ghost Train. Through books 1 and 2 I had hidden little seeds for book 3 and 4. I knew where the story was going; I knew characters that would be coming into it and what would eventually happen at the end. I sent it to a few publishers thinking, ‘I have an entire series planned, why wouldn’t they want this?’ But no one did, so I put book 3 on hold and continued writing other things. About a year ago I started thinking about S.P.O.O.K.S again and how I should have done it, how I wanted it to be written, and started again. I wrote about twenty pages, excited to know I was heading in the right direction and stopped. It had been about five years since I wrote the first S.P.O.O.K.S book and I had new characters and a new setting and new story lines, but something was amiss. I think I had grown past that series, maybe it was too fresh still and I had moved on to other ideas. Why stick in the past trying to pump life into something that was happily resting in peace? I will go back to the S.P.O.O.K.S series one day, just not now, as I had another idea…

The idea was two brothers, who come from a broken home, whose mother is an alcoholic, are forced to walk to school one day in the pouring rain. One brother is in a wheel chair while the older brother pushes him. On the way to school they get lost and take shelter in an old book store. While bunkering down in one of the corners of the dusty, cobwebbed, corners of the store the older brother finds a hidden book, bound by thick metal clasps and leather. He opens it and they get transported into another world known as Diass the Mass. I am calling it The Lost Book of the Blood Baron. The premise isn’t original, I know, but it’s what happens there that I was more interested in, and getting them back, if at all. I’ve dealt with writing these books before, in fact I’m writing one right now, but with Blood Baron, I wanted to make it grander, more elaborate and extreme. I had written about two chapters of it a few years ago and stopped, leaving it for a better time when I could concentrate on it, and only it. Since then, I’ve decided to keep note pads and books with ideas in it to flesh out the world of the Diass. I want there to be multilevel dimensions to each city they visit, not just make it up at the time of writing. I wanted each character to be already built and diverse. I want them to mention past wars and people and places, and actually talk like they are real. Sometimes when I write I will invent a city, select some characteristics – non magical city, vast towers, desert encampments etc – and leave it at that. But with the Lands of the Diass, I want it to be more. I’ve created a war called the Triage War against three joining colonies who have agreed to war in 100 years time over the land they occupy. I thought, why not 100 years? Why not a war set for a specific date or time in the future? They’ll be busy getting ready and preparing. Great Walls will have been built between the three cities with mini wars happening already. I thought about a water city built around the snowy peaks of a mountain, peaceful people where the Lost Book of the Blood Baron was once found in the mud. I figured these water people would be peaceful and wouldn’t allow warriors or assassins into their city. They travel by cart and sell water to neighbouring cities. Nothing much to it, probably won’t get mentioned much, but there is already depth there, already building layers and characters. Even if it gets mentioned once or twice, it still builds a greater picture.

I can’t think of Blood Baron as a trilogy yet, it would make my brain fold in on itself. I don’t want to look at a bigger picture because the scale of the first book is enough to look at. I don’t want it to be overly huge, just big enough. The depth I’m looking for would be in the pages, the descriptions and thought and background. Sometimes I’ll spend an hour thinking of mystical creatures, Elves that are addicted to a certain gas – a fantastical drug addiction, or a sort of Elephant-Ram creature that travels great distances to die in a certain area, then I’ll think of where the brothers came from, what would their mother be doing? I wrote an epilogue not long ago where it showed the mother attending counselling meetings with other stricken parents who had lost their children to kidnappings or accidental deaths. She leaves the group one night, this being about a year after they went missing, and is walking down the dimly lit streets of their home town when something starts following her. She panics and runs down the winding streets, getting lost, the thing behind her getting closer and closer. An unhuman shadow, creeping and sneaking between bins and lamp posts. She yells for help but no one hears her, she tries every house and shop door on this empty street, but no one is coming to her aid. Just when the stalker gets close, she tries a door knob and it opens, she bursts inside and watches the silhouette pass the window. She trembles and sits on the ground, curls up in a ball and finds a hidden book. She opens it and a hand reaches towards her and pulls her into the Diass through the pages. I figured that would be a good bit to end on. There are a few other twists already written down, one of the brothers becomes a Witch Hunter, one becomes King. One brother wants to get back, one doesn’t. The actual ‘Lost Book’ contents wouldn’t be revealed until the end, hopefully surprising everyone. I hope The Lost Book of the Blood Baron does become my Magnum Opus, because I’d love to put massive amounts of time into it, build it up and have it layered. Even if it never sees the light of day or the shelf of bookstores, at least I’ll know I would have tested myself as a writer, creatively and experimentally.

Mitchell Tierney