Wednesday, 27 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: Forest Brides

Day 27

My current work in progress is a project rather nebulously labelled as 'Forest Brides', and I began working on it in 2009. That's not to say that I'm exactly dragging my feet, but I wrote the first story back then and had no intention of going any further with it. Sacrifices was meant to stand alone, a short story with nothing else attached (though it's more of a novelette, to be honest). It concerns a woman who's sacrificed to appease a god and the discovery that everything her culture believes about the deity is wrong.

The story grew out of a few ideas, including a sexual fantasy and the idea that if the world thinks you're dead then you know true freedom and can shape yourself as you choose. Slowly everything grew together, though, for a long time, it was too explicit and ended up needing a lot of editing to make it fit for purpose. Once I got the story fixed and believing at the time that it was a novella I sent it to Sam Stone to see if Telos Publishing could publish it, and she suggested writing a book of short stories to expand the world. That was back in about 2013, and as I have six short stories and two novellas, yeah I am dragging my feet (in my defence that's partly finding time to write, getting over my tendency to people please, and struggling with my mental health and feelings of worthlessness*). My current work is to write the final two novellas and to start on a novel trilogy.

I wanted to talk a bit about the world, and how I envisage it. This ties very much into my tastes in Fantasy, the fact that I have grown bored of a lot of the standard Tolkienesque worlds, and find a lot of the tropes dull. A lot of my writing heroes are the grubby types who wrote for pulp magazines, who gave us Sword and Sorcery, and I wanted to write that sort of thing, but with a focus on female characters and the roles women adopt during their lives. So the stories not only went out to tell tales but to conjure with ideas like women as psychopomps, or as mothers. The first novella story I wrote, Hyena, set out to flip the scenario over, to show the reader how the women in the forest looked to the outside world (as meddlers in the main).

The other thing that appealed from those writers was that humans were often only the youngest race, and that the past was littered with other, inhuman, cultures. In contrast to what we now call High Fantasy, these peoples were frequently far from good, or noble, and in many cases they were downright terrifying. There was a definite shadow of the Cthulhu Mythos, and I wanted to tap into that. While I haven't explored the idea yet (it's come up briefly in Daughters of the Moon, and will be explored more in the fourth novella, as well as being a central plank of the novels), the world has had various ages that have supported life, even if that's likely to have been impossible according to the laws of nature as we understand them. The 'Oldkin' are those bogeymen that built, prospered, and warred before Man, and in some cases before the Sun's Age started, or even when there were no stars (which look like the Twili from Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess because I felt that was a fittingly terrifying way for them to look). I confess that I do draw quite a lot of inspiration from anime and computer games, and works like Princess Mononoke have been hugely influential for a lot of the things I write.

I wanted to step outside Europe too, as much as I could and focus on the outside world. As I explored the original culture I drew on African cultures, deepening the history as my original character grew and became a different person. The novellas reach out into the world, drawing on the Arabian Nights and ideas about African tribes. The story I'm writing at present is set in an Empire, that's a mishmash of various states from Rome to Persia; I'm not writing history but trying to explore a concept, namely what happens if you have a female led society, and is that really any different to patriarchal ideals? I'm not sure if that's a revolutionary idea or not. One of my friends says she got a strong Indian feeling from the original story, and I've tried to include elements of South American cultures as well. I'm sure I've failed to present my world with as much depth as the real cultures I'm liberally stealing from actually possess, but that's the nature of fiction: truth is always stranger.

Perhaps ironically one of the main challenges I've faced is in dealing with Gods, partly because I wanted to stick to a certain line, the deities I use are essentially idiot savants, they don't necessarily care about anything outside their spheres of influence. So creating gods that seemed to think presented a challenge, were they 'new gods', a more human breed, or were they something else entirely (which is what I went with, and no I'm not telling you how I got around it). The other issue is that, generally, the idea that humans worship the same gods in vastly different places is a modern idea, though admittedly we're taking modern a little lightly there. I think in the West it's first seen in the Roman period and that they managed it by basically conquering people and persuading them that their indigenous deities were basically the same as the Roman ones. Add in the mystery religions, which saw Mithras, Isis and Jesus worshipped all over the Empire before Constantine's conversion to Christianity and you can see how these deities spread. In the time before that happened it seems that you had pantheons, but they were conflations of gods who had been worshipped in specific cities and then spread. Hence, Bubastis in Egypt being the centre of Bast worship, or Athens taking its name for Athena.

I don't feel you can do that with fiction; if you have a dozen different sun gods, how is the reader to keep up, and it just makes it more likely that you'll confuse yourself. I'm sure there are some writers out there who do it anyway, explaining the different pantheons in the appendices, but I don't want to go down that route. As a result I've stuck with one sun goddess, one moon god and so on. They have varying names depending on the culture you're in, but other than that they're pretty consistent. After all, different pantheons isn't my focus, any more than being scientifically accurate is (and I don't feel it's my job as a writer to promote science, sorry).

Anyway, I should, I hope, have the novellas finished by the end of June, and am waiting to hear about a couple of the other pieces as I've sent them over to Sam  (who sent them to her bloke as far as  I know). Fingers crossed we're on and soon you'll be able to buy them with beautiful covers and so on.

*Plays tiny violin.