Amy Guy

Raw Blog

Monday, October 31, 2011

Nanowrimo: Pre-madness

I've never sat up and counted down to the first of November before.

In 2007 I used Nanowrimo as an opportunity to kick myself into writing some more of a novel I started many years ago (reaching 35k new words by the end of the month) and in 2008 I took part in earnest, came up with a totally fresh idea the night before and hit the fifty thousand, two hundred and twenty ninth word of Milo's World before midnight on the 30th. It was, quite simply, the best feeling.

In both 2009 and 2010, my degree objected strongly, and I didn't even try.

This year, I know what being too busy to take part feels like, and I know what missing out feels like. But I also know what taking part feels like, and I know what winning feels like.

This year, I'm writing an old idea in a new way. A short story from around 2007 sparked novel scribblings in 2009, which got left to fester. Looking at these scribblings with eyes two years older, I plan to take the core concept and solidify it into something readable.

That's the theory, at least.

I'm terribly excited about creating some new lives. Then destroying one of those lives, and watching the effects cascade.

I'm mostly nervous because I've never written anything set truly in this universe before. Fifty percent of Milo's World was, and that fifty percent was from the point of view of a child with an enormously vivid imagination, so that doesn't really count.

A good chunk of Currently Untitled will be set inside the main character's head; a head which is subject to the physics and realities of this universe regardless of how much her mind tries rebel against them.

Her name is Harriet, by the way, and her little daughter is Rosy. I'll probably tweet about them as real people, because for the next 30 days, they might as well be. Rosy's dad is called Zeke, and Harriet's inconsequential boyfriend's name is Paul, as far as I know. I'm also aware of the existence of Patrice, a panda with an eye patch, and Arthur, a tiny penguin.

I'll probably post some extracts here. But I can't post daily progress, because of various linearity issues that I may or may not elaborate on in time.

But now, I'm going to stare at the counter on the front page of the Nanowrimo site, and try to figure out that first line...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spells wear out

One of the first lessons Turald learned during his time at Castle Qythe was that spells wear out. They weaken, they lose their power, the more they are used. They were all taught this, he and his classmates, probably in their very first week of study. But few eight year olds take this kind of wisdom to heart. Most are keen to crack on with casting, and nobody thought to question why some of their oldest tutors never demonstrated even the simplest of enchantments.

For as long as he could remember, Turald had loved to explore dark places. He loved to see what was out of sight; to make known the unknown. When he was fifteen, he discovered a whole section of the castle's cellars that had been lost for centuries. To the delight of his wizened mentors, the expanse he found was filled with age-old liquor which had been promptly and enthusiastically excavated. It was from then that his freedom had been unofficially granted to roam and explore the castle grounds as extensively as he saw fit. Recognising his gift for discovery, Turald's studymaster, the ancient but sprightly Professor Chalmak, quietly overlooked Turald's disregard for out-of-hours and restricted-area rules that were strictly imposed upon the other students.

In a broom cupboard, Turald once found a mousehole that lead two hundred metres north and seventy four years into the past. One of the seniors had been able to use this to make peace with a long-dead, estranged father who had been in that classroom, all those years ago.

In the shadowy corner of the library marked 'secret', Turald had found the headmaster's daughter, missing for over forty years.

In a tunnel that he had found through crawling into a large oak chest, Turald uncovered a delicate glass vial containing the last breath of the first philosopher.

When Turald realised that his elders thought him special for his findings, he began to keep a diary of them. Through his diary entries, he noticed patterns in his actions. Or rather, repetitions. The shedding of light was the key. Illumination was all he needed to do to bring something once hidden out into the open. His ability to conjure just the right incandescence became his greatest gift. Thus, he practised with vigour.

Caves, caverns, abandoned ruins: Turald devoured their secrets, consumed their stories. He exhausted the castle grounds, graduated from the Qythe Academy, and ventured forth into the Olde Lande, searching without hesitation for doors to throw open. Eyes aglow with his own special kind of vision, he absorbed the mysteries of a world in shadow.

But spells wear out.

He recalled this first in a forest, under a bristling canopy so thick that the blackened foliage groping at his legs had long since found ways to sustain itself that did not rely on the land's pale sun. He could see the trinkets that had been stowed away by blind magpies in treetrunk nests; the hoards of stolen food secreted into the undergrowth by milky-eyed squirrels. And then, he couldn't.

The flicker in his vision was fleeting, but enough to panic Turald, just for a moment. Enough to make that first ever lesson come rushing back. Still young, still adventurous, Turald shook his concern aside.

Deeper in the forest, he found a well; a man-made hole into the earth, darker even than woods entombing it.

Why had man built such a thing so far into the shade? Turald could not resist.

He descended, uncovering a concealed tunnel with his brilliant sight. Time having vacated entirely, Turald followed the route that stretched before him. No magic nor mystery, nor hidden treasure presented itself, and the rhythm of his steps lulled him into a trance. He walked blind for many hours before he realised he was doing so.

A droplet of water striking the tip of his nose roused him enough for him to realise he saw nothing. Turald stopped. The sudden lack of motion was jarring, dizzying. Turald sat. Water seeped into the hem of his robes, and he sat. Years of advice, words of warning, from teachers, mentors, elders, echoed through his mind.

Spells wear out.

Spells lose their power. Lose their potency. Lose their meaning.

Save the important spells for when you need them the most. Best to leave this world with a spell in your heart, than to leave it because your spells have run out.

Turald's light had run out, so he sat.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Interactive-Bliction: > Investigate door.

> Investigate door.

Your eyes are drawn again to the marks on the small door, and you squint, taking a tentative step forward. A small cloud of powder rises around your foot, and a floorboard creaks. The creak is low, and to you, sounds welcoming. Like the house is inviting you in.

Encouraged by this, you continue. You have to watch out for the things cluttering the floor, and step carefully around an upturned plastic chair. That obviously wasn't part of the original d├ęcor, and despite the heavy coating of dust, you assume it must have been left by the documentary crew. Your foot clacks against something heavy.

> Look at floor.

The dust makes everything the same dark grey, but there are distinct shapes that you can see. Several small plastic chairs are visible, laying on their sides or with their legs pointing into the air. A standing lamp with a wide shade has fallen over at the foot of the stairs, to your left. There's a knee-hight rectangular box against a wall to your right, with what looks like a padlock hanging from the front, and beside it lie pieces of a large and once-ornate vase. At your feet is something long and narrow, and a glimmer of metal peeks through the dust. When your foot made contact, it felt pretty solid. You kick it again to roll it over, and dust peels away to reveal a brassy candlestick holder.

> Take candlestick holder.

You pick up the object, about half the length of your forearm. The metal is cool, but surprisingly not cold. Feeling like you need a souvenir, you tuck it into your coat pocket, and continue to pick your way across the hall.

> Inventory.

In your coat pockets you have the candlestick holder, half a bar of Dairy Milk, and the keys to your flat. In your trouser pocket is your mobile phone, which is turned off so your friends won't disturb you, and some change.

> Investigate door.

The small door is in front of you, and to your left is the sturdy looking bannister that runs up the side of the staircase. You could touch the bannister and the wall to your right at the same time, if you stretched out your arms. It's harder to see because you're no longer in direct line of the light from the entrance (which you left open), but you lean to inspect the front of the door. Cobweb trails curl around your finger tips as you run your hand down the dark wood. You can feel carvings on the surface, and blow and swipe at the dusty layer until the patterns are no longer so obscured.

You suppress a splutter at the thick and itchy air you're breathing. Some of the shapes carved into the door feel like cogs, but there's something else as well. Something winding, with a shape more organic. You only wish you could see all of the details.

Your wandering hand finds a wooden protrusion at waist height, and you try to turn the handle. It moves stiffly, but the door itself doesn't budge. Carefully, you lean your shoulder against it and push harder, but to no avail.

> _

[What do you do next? Comment!]

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Fiction: The Hero of Monarar

[February 2009]

“Ours is but a small existence. We are but simple people. On this planet of ours, superheroes were but stories. Until today. We are gathered here to give thanks to the new Hero of Monarar, the almighty Ora. No-one knows from whence he came or where he goes. No-one knows how it comes that he moves so fast, predicts events with such precision. No-one knows why he has no tail, why his skin is dark, why his ears are sideways on his head. But it is to him we owe our utmost gratitude. It is he who freed us – who will continue to free us – from those that seek to imprison and enslave.

“We must support him as he travels our planet, rescuing villages, saving families.

“Here is to Ora the tailless, Ora the Hero of Monarar!”

The applause was deafening.

“Why didn’t I take the gloves?” Ora mumbled to himself. The rock was grazing his palms as he scrambled up the near-vertical cliff face.

“Because you’re a moron,” replied his subconscious. “Oh, I won’t need gloves. It’s not like I’ll be going anywhere cold, or, or doing any climbing. Moron.”

“Shuddup,” Ora spat. “Either shuddup or get out of my head and help, why dontcha? Huh?”

“Hows about you keep climbing, how about that? Oh, watch out.”

The blast of a laser smacked into the rock an arm’s reach above his head, and Ora ducked in time to dodge the heap of dislodged stone that tumbled down onto him.

“Oh some sixth sense you are. Warn me about a laser blast that’s already hit the rock. Nice work.”

“I warned you! It didn’t hit you, did it?”

“Waste of good coin you were. ‘Revolutionise your life’ my rear end. Just a pity you don’t come with a mute function,” Ora continued to grumble as he climbed. His subconscious reluctantly helped guide his limbs, warning him before he put his weight on unsteady outcrops, or grasped at stones that were not well attached to the surface, and occasionally to hesitate in time to avoid the lasers of those that were targeting him.

In the village, children were crying for their mothers. Mothers they could see, but not reach. A wall of men with guns divided the room into three sections; one for the mothers, one for the boys and one for the girls.

The men had once been fathers, husbands, sons, but now were faceless, armoured robots, unrecognizable to the ones they had once loved. They were hardly men at all.

Two days ago, Millsy and her brother had been collecting berries on the outskirts of the village. Her brother had paused for a rest, falling asleep by a bush beneath the warm, afternoon sun, and Millsy had wandered off alone, in search of adventure.

As she skipped further and further from the village boundaries, her mother’s words had begun to echo through her mind.

“Stay together when you’re out now. When you’re on the edge of the village, always keep one eye on the horizon. Keep a lookout, and if you see them coming, you run back and warn us all so we can get ourselves hidden, you understand?”

No-one had bothered to explain to Millsy exactly who them was, but she had caught enough glimpses of the news over the past few weeks that she knew that village after village on her tiny planet were disappearing off the map.

Her brother said it was invaders from outer space, and that had scared her until he had pulled her tail and run away, giggling “no such thing! No such thing! Millsy believes in aliens, there’s no such thing!”

And so despite her mother’s warnings, Millsy wandered away from the village, encouraged by her childish confidence that there were no alien invaders, and so nothing could be coming that was a danger.

When she saw the lights on the horizon, she stopped to watch. Darting, flashing beams. Bright colours, sparkling, glimmering, dashing through the sky and across the ground. Her neck craned farther and farther back as she watched those in the sky. Soon they were above her and surrounding her. There were straight flashes, like lightning; curling spirals of colour; pulsating circles and tiny pinpricks in the sky.

They overtook her, and Millsy spun around at once, chasing them back towards the village, not wanting to miss out on the display.

“You still haven’t justified why I paid so much for you,”

“Duck – incoming, eleven o’clock. Because I’m the best. There are no other warning systems like a sixth sense.”

“So far you’ve just been an annoyance.”

“Oh, and all those laser blasts, you could have dodged without my help?”

“I wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for you. I’d still be enjoying myself on the Fourth Moon of Rasta.”

“You’re blaming me for your insatiable need to try new, mind-altering technologies? It’s my fault that you got me installed in the first place? And where… Not that one, it’s loose. And where did you get me installed, again?”

Ora mumbled.

“What was that? A back alley in Rasta’s infamous Flea Market? I’m certain you only have yourself to blame if I’m not what you expected.”

Ora growled. “Look, are we nearly at the top yet?”

“Not too far now.”

Then the device attached to his belt began to beep slowly, and Ora smiled. “Right you are.”

The beeps became more high pitched and more frequent as he continued to ascend. The relief was enormous when he could finally see the top of the cliff.

Millsy was whimpering alongside the others. She could see her mother across the room, but her brother was not to be found, and this upset her more.

A small arm snaked around her shoulders. Her best friend, Lella.

“Don’t cry Mills. You believe in the Hero of Monarar, don’t you? You know he will come to rescue us. He’ll set us free and put the men right again, just like he did in the other villages. It was on the news, my Mummy said. You’ll see.”

“How many more do I need?”

“Just one.”


“Yes, really. But what am I, your secretary? You shouldn’t rely on me to know these things for you, I’m an extra sense not more memory.”

“Well you might have to start learning to be memory, it’s a damn sight more useful than whatever else you do, and I’ve already gone over the maximum safe number of extra memory installations I can have.”

Ora heaved himself the last few inches of the climb and rolled over the ground at the top, breathing heavily.

“Move a foot to the left.”

He obeyed at once, rolling out of the way of yet another laser blast.

“Haven’t they given up yet,” he grumbled.

“Apparently not,” replied his mind. “Maybe you should find some shelter while you work out where the next device is.”

He pulled out his frantically beeping scanner. “Whatever, it can’t be far.”

Ora stood up, trusting his sixth sense to warn him of any more incoming lasers, and scanned the landscape. He could see buildings in the distance.

“Looks like they’ve got a fireworks show or something going on over there like at the last place. For a backward developing planet, they sure are celebrating a lot.”

“You should run,” suggested his subconscious, and Ora complied.

“Of all the planets to crash on, I not only hit a backward one, but a backward one that keep their nuclear cells inside yooge great fireworks machines.”

“Did it occur to you that the cells might be powering the fireworks machines?”

Ora was lying flat on his belly beneath what appeared to be a carpenters workbench. The workshop had apparently been cleared out – equipment heaped carelessly against the walls – to make room for the enormous multi-faceted machine in the centre. It was shooting out streak after streak of light in every direction. The beams rebounded off walls and furniture until they escaped through windows, or through the increasing number of holes in the walls.

The machine was slightly translucent, and Ora could see the power source he needed behind a series of hinged flaps leading to the heart of the thing.

“Here we go again.”

“You shouldn’t steal.”

There was a pause.

“Sorry,” said his subconscious. “Still a bit of official programming in me. I’ll work on it.”

Ora rolled his eyes and began to creep forwards. He had ordered a fully stripped down version of the sixth sense; it was all very well programming morals into mindware, but it didn’t half screw them up in conflicting situations.

A number of the women leapt to their feet, squealing and crying as the not-men moved to surround the small huddle of boys. The terrified lads were ushered to stand and guided slowly out of the room. The mothers wailed, pushing against the unmoving wall of men as they tried to reach their children. The boys themselves were silent, too terrified even to cry, panicked eyes staring back for one last time at their mothers and sisters before they were lead across a courtyard to the carpenters workshop.

“There are people coming.”

Ora froze. He had got through two of the compartment doors – there were just two more layers between his hand and the nuclear cell. His fingers brushed the third door, searching for the minuscule lock.

“I can do this. I can’t stop now.”

“It’s too late for you to hide now. But they won’t see you from the doorway. Just hurry.”

The first boy was pushed in front of the machine. He stood there, trembling, staring up at the dark, hulking construction. It was spewing sheets of light from every surface. Ora could roughly make the lad out through the semi-transparent innards of the machine. Nothing else seemed to be happening as Ora scrabbled frantically with the third lock, breaking it, reaching further in to move on to the fourth.

The boy flinched as a rebounding streak of light hit him in the chest. Ora did not see the child crumple to the ground, or begin to twitch as plates of armour appeared from nowhere, sliding themselves over the small limbs. The boy became upright as the armour covered him. He was standing by the time a helmet grew over his head. Then he walked stiffly, as if controlled by strings, to join the ranks of the other not-men.

The next terrified child was pushed into position.

Ora had missed the entire transformation, squinting upwards with his tongue sticking out as he worked the fourth and final lock.

The lock broke, the door swung in, and he pushed his arm further into the machine, straining to wrap his fingers around the cell.

The second boy, hands over his mouth as he awaited his fate, caught sight of movement through the machine. He saw the hand in the centre, followed the arm back to a face wrought with concentration.

His eyes widened. “Ora, Hero of Monarar,” he breathed. The stories were true. The legendary hero was here, was going to save him, as he had saved so many others. The lad watched in awe as Ora’s hand closed around the heart of the lightning beast, and wrenched it directly from its body. The beast shuddered and died, spitting out a final few shards of light as it did so. The not-men crumpled to the floor, armour plates dissolving into nothing as they retransformed.

The boy cried in relief and turned to the others to tell them what he had seen – who he had seen.

“Leggit!” Shouted Ora’s both conscious and subconscious simultaneously, and the hero bolted out of the workshop, back in the direction of his ship.