Monday, 26 September 2011

A World Is Not Enough

- Or to put it another way, I’d gone to the trouble of creating the world in which the story would happen, but I didn’t actually have the story.

Actually that’s not quite correct. I did have one small part of the story. My original inspiration had been this vision I’d had of the grumpy, grotty old magician trying to register a boy as his apprentice within the guild of magicians on London Bridge. The world of the story grew out of this vision. As I explained in the last post it grew out of a question – what would an England which gave birth to a guild of magicians based on London Bridge actually have been like ? Well, the time had come to start asking more questions.

I think I’d better stop there for a second. Since there’s something which complicated the whole issue of working out a narrative, something which could be summed up in 2 words.

Harry Potter.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, the Harry Potter books are wonderful classic works of children’s literature, fully deserving all of the acclaim and praise that they have earned, and none of the criticism. But it means that the moment that you put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard – to begin writing a story about boys who do magic , you are inevitably inviting comparisons. In fact, if you’re going to write in the genre , you’re probably better off never having read any of the HP novels in the first place. Not because you might be tempted to ape them, but simply that you might be so worried that people will make comparisons that you consciously go too far the other way, and consciously try to write something, anything that clearly ISN’T trying to be Harry Potter. It’s not easy, but what helped me concentrate on MY story without worrying about this was having created the world for the story to happen in.

So as I said, I had to start asking some more questions. A key one to begin with was this – why were he magician and the boy – as yet both unnamed – having so much difficulty with the bureaucracy within the guildhall on the bridge ?

Some questions can act as catalysts to creation . This one certainly did. It led me to draw the conclusion that the two of them probably had no business applying to the London Guild. With the York Guild being the other pre-eminent magician’s guild in England, it stood to reason that they must have come from somewhere within the jurisdiction of the York Guild, which would probably arouse suspicion in London. Which begged another question – why couldn’t they apply in York ? Well, possibly because the two of them shared a secret which would be too easily found out if they applied in York where the magician was well enough known . I’m sure that you can see that this in turn led to another question – what secret ?

I’m not trying to suggest that the plot emerged swiftly through a barrage of questions leading to other questions in a very short space of time. No, it turned out to be quite a long process, but as I’m sure you know, time used in planning is time well spent if it leads to the plot becoming tight, and holding water.

Here’s another short extract from the story.This is from Chapter Three . Harold is the name of the Magician, while Robin Inkpen is a disgraced scribe, whom he has hired to forge the genealogical documents he will need if he is to pass the boy , Ermine , off as a member of his family, so that he can be made an apprentice through the London Guild.

Nothing explained how the boy knew about London, though. Harold hadn’t mentioned it to Robin, so it would have been natural for him to assume that he’d present Ermine to his own guild at York. Of course, this would be impossible. York simply would not do. The whole success of the application would rest upon the guild accepting the genealogy they presented as being genuine. Harold felt sure that the parchment, the ink, and Robin Inkpen’s craftsmanship would stand up to any magical scrutiny . However he did have some misgivings about the scholarship of the bloodline which he’d chosen.

Too many guild brethren took a particular interest in the magical families of the three thrithings of Yorkshire . If there was the slightest flaw in his scholarship then they would surely spot it. So York was ruled out, and Durham, Chester and Winchester followed in quick succession. Too many questions would be asked by these guilds, why a man of York would insult his own guild by coming to them.

Which left just London. As soon as Harold had thought about it seriously he could see that this was the only realistic choice that he had. London had guild brothers in practice all over London, and even beyond its boundaries. In its drive to show itself as the foremost of the five magicians guilds, it tended to welcome members of other guilds, and treat them as their own brethren. It looked unlikely that members of its guild court would worry themselves too much about minute historical details of the minor magical families of Derbyshire.

All of this had been going through Harold’s mind before he even found Robin Inkpen, but he had mentioned it to nobody. A shiver ran the length of his back as he reflected once more on his would-be apprentice’s strange abilities.

It wasn’t just Ermine’s abilities which were on Harold’s mind in the few days that followed. As they collaborated on the genealogy, Harold became more and more impressed with Robin’s skill and dedication to his craft. Even after such a long, enforced break from his trade he was an extremely skilful and knowledgeable scrivener.

Harold had decided to present Ermine as a member of the Havelock family. Like the Halfdans, the Havelocks were a minor family of village magicians. Harold’s maternal grandmother was a Havelock herself, and this gave him a ready excuse for taking the boy in , and wanting to make him his apprentice. It also meant that, by and large, Harold could steal details from his own genealogy to use for Ermine’s. For Ermine’s father, Harold decided upon Samuel Havelock. Samuel was Harold’s distant cousin – they shared a great great grandfather. The other things that Samuel had in his favour were the fact that Samuel had once had a son. His wife had died giving birth to the child, the same year that Ermine was born. The baby had actually died a few days later, and Samuel then disappeared for years, eventually returning to Matlock, where he died in miserable poverty. But these were not commonly known facts, and Harold believed and hoped that in London at least it should be easy to pass Ermine off as the boy Daniel. Always providing that the genealogy passed the tests. “

This took me only so far. The story of what happened leading up to the apprenticeship hearing in London is only really the first third of the book. So I needed more questions. Not only that, but I needed to start thinking seriously about characters. I had my hero, although I hadn’t sketched out much more than his name by this point in time. What I didn’t have, not yet anyway, was a villain.

Ermine Stone and the Iron Spider

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