Monday, November 27, 2006


They're a lot of critters in Caliban's End. Some are wildly fantastical like the Cabal, a group of arse-kicking monsters. I finished Chapter 8 last week, the climax of which is a fight with one of the Cabal - big ugly bugger called Katcochila. This creature is a little bit like a half-deflated hot air balloon. He has countless legs which struggle to move his fat body around. Katcochila has a few other quirks. He has no skin. His stomach lies on the outside of his body which is rather unpleasant for anyone who falls onto it. He also has a long thin neck with a tiny head at the end of it. Many of my monsters are quirky and hopefully a little bit disturbing. I didn't want to go for archetypal monsters. I want the reader to have the same sense of incredulity as our heroes have when they come across these behemoths for the first time.

This week I also created Puddy who is currently my favourite character which, I admit, is something that changes every week! (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) Poor Puddy doesn't stay in the story for long, but I think I managed to infuse him with plenty of character for his brief stay. He's a huge flying lobstery thing, is very childlike, a bit of a sook, but wonderfully loyal. He's basically a big blue puppy with a hard shell. We meet him in Chapter 7 which I should finish tonight if I have a few cups of coffee.

It's probably worth commenting upon something whilst we're talking about critters. I have a bit of a challenge in this book - I can't refer to any animals in our world. Doing so would break the suspension of disbelief as there are no horses, or dogs, or cats, or lions, tigers and bears in Terra. All the creatures of Caliban's End are unique to the novel. So why's that a challenge? Well, I am quickly discovering how bloody hard it is to avoid animal metaphors and similes. If I have a crab-like creature I can't describe it as having "claws like a crab". That would be too jarring. Perhaps I could emply a word like 'crancriform' instead (which is a word I do like), but this makes the novel a little inaccessible to some. Luckily, they more I write, they more techniques I discover to get around problems like this.

The first technique is to use the sound of familiar words to evoke a sense of a made-up creature's design. For example, Puddy is a lobbsle. Hopefully that conjures images of lobsters because Puddy looks a bit like a crustacean. I have used this simple technique quite a bit. In the novel I have shelps (which are like sheep), snorses (which is kind of a cross between a horse, a snail and a taun-taun from The Empire Strikes Back), squirls, turtla and gillygulls, to name a few. It's turning out to be quite a menagarie. I may have to add a bestiary page to my Caliban's End wiki (

Another technique is to use a sound that evokes something of a creature's nature. For example, in the book you'll meet some grizzum which are melancholy, stubborn beasts of burden. The look a bit like a cross between a bear and a yak (that is if bears and yaks were ever predisposed to mate). I think the name grizzum creates a sense of the creature's grumpy and recalcitrant nature. Similarly, marroks are nasty, cunning beasts and for some reason I can get a feeling of this from their name. One of my favourite animals is a bird called a quawk. It's an ugly, vindictive bird. Out of pure spite, a flock of quawks will shit on any unwary people below. They even do it high above fierce battles. Fortunately the act of defecation is painful for these avian menaces, so they release an ear-piercing shriek just before dumping on their victims. Soldiers have been known to momentarily cease hostilities just to avoid this beast's vindicative noisome deposits.

The last technique I utilise to escape the need to use traditional animal imagery is to focus upon a creature's characteristics to suggest what sort of animal he/she/it resembles. For example, Puddy is a lot like a goofy labrador, so describing him in a way that would also befit a labrador is a way of bringing a little more clarity and definition to this fictional beast.

I am also enjoying placing a twist on conventional and cliched metaphors by using the creatures of Terra to describe people in the book. Phrases like 'cunning as a marrok' or 'as proud as a staggorn' are becoming quite prevalent in the book. Note to self: take care not to overdo this.

Lastly, on a totally unrelated matter, I installed Vue on my laptop today. It's basically 3D rendering software. I've used it once before for a couple of hours and you can get pretty good results from just a little bit of effort. I plan to use it heaps in the year to come. The past few days have seen me writing about Lara Brand's journey up an unnamed peninsula to the Isle of Grisandole so today during my lunchbreak I did a quick picture of Grisandole. It's not brilliant but for 45 minutes' work, it's not bad.

I'm going to sneak downstairs and have the chocolate Drumstick that's sitting in the fridge and then I'm going to finish Chapter 7 before midnight swings around.

Cheers, Paul

Friday, November 24, 2006

Why write things out of order?

I know it sounds peverse but I write out of order to keep things in order. I'm not trying to sound clever. A book of this size can only work when it is cohesive and the way I have tried to achieve that is by writing related parts around the same time.

For example, I might write a chapter that centres upon the witch Lara Brand. Now she might not reenter the story for five chapters but rather than wait for that, it makes more sense to continue my line of thought with her. It's very important to me that my characters develop, but I want this to be realistic so it sometimes has to be subtle. The way to do this is to focus on smaller details that are reintroduced in subsequent chapters. Even if a reader can't consciously remember such details, he or she may intuitively feel that the characters are growing, changing, readjusting and redefining their sensibilities. The development doesn't have to be obvious for it to have emotional resonance.

Ahyhoo, the non-linear approach to writing means that the smaller details don't get lost. It also means that the ending is grounded in things that h
appen in the course of the novel. Hopefully, this means the conclusion will be satisfying because it makes sense.

Also, I find it a lot more fun to write a story in a non-linear way. Occasionally when I've been on a chapter for a few weeks, it's a good idea to take a breather. But I don't want to stop writing just so I can take a break from one strand of the narrative, so the opportunity to get into a latter chapter is perfect. I find it invigorating to reread another chapter that I haven't read for months. By the time I go back to the one I'm having a break from, I'm ready to approach it with enthusiasm. Hopefully that shows in the writing.

The other advantage with my non-linear approach to writing is that stylistically it spreads me across the book. I think I'm improving as I go, but fortunately the first part of the book doesn't reflect this as it wasn't all written in the early stages of the project. Does this mean the last part of the book is weak because I wrote it first? No, as I have constantly returned to the final battles as I have been writing. The
last few chapters are the keystone of the novel and I think they are sound irrespective of when they were written. Others may judge it differently.

However, writing in this way does have its share of problems. Because the last few chapters are locked to some degree, I lose flexibility when unexpected developments occur.

For example, (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) in the final battle, the Ghul use massive catapults to hurl huge creatures clear across the battlefield so the can
also attack the Terrans from the rear. I love the idea of this and it is something that could only be achieved in a sci-fi or fantasy world (as most people and large animals wouldn't take too kindly to being thrown across a battlefield). Unfortunately, I caught wind of some of the latest news regarding Halo 3 today. It includes a weapon called the mancannon which can be used to shoot people and vehicles across a battlefield. So my dilemma is do I remove something from a chapter that is already written to avoid claims of plagiarism or do I keep it in and suffer the consequences? Writing it out of the chapter is not as easy as it sounds - there are hints of the building of the catapults (and to a lesser degree, the existence of the creatures that are launched from them) in a number of preceding chapters and I don't want to go through the whole text removing incidental references. I think I'll end with an update on what I've done this week. Not a great deal as I have been busy writing job applications. However, I have done a few really pleasing paragraphs with poor Defecious. She's a little bit of a comical character, but also one that cops a shelacking (is that how you spell it). I had a lot of fun writing this bit...

A space was made on the wall to the left of the gate. A huge black skitterik stepped forward. This one was not only bigger than the others but was also adorned with bone armour, not unlike that worn by the Ghul, only considerably larger. A fat, sneering figure sat on a leather saddle strapped to the skitterik’s back. She had long black hair that was thick and matted. Her eyes were small and cold. Her face was a portrait of bitterness and discontent. Even though Pylos thought all these warriors were ugly, he felt this one stood out as exceptionally unpleasant on the eye.

“My name is Sergeant Defecious. We are the Ghul!”

She said it as if the very name was meant to instill fear in the hearts and faces of all who heard her introduction. But it had been many centuries since the name of the Ghul had been uttered in Helyas, a country more preoccupied with sport and warfare than myth and legend. None of the soldiers were familiar with the name nor were they impressed.

Pedaeus leaned across to Pylos and asked “They are the what?”

“They are the girl,” Pylos replied tentatively.

“That doesn’t make sense. The girl?”

Pylos didn’t respond. The squat spokeperson atop the wall clearly had more to say.

“We seek one called Wade Grayson. If you harbour this individual, produce him and we will leave your city.” Her shrill voice echoed across the courtyard before the gates.

Pylos turned to Pedaeus had remarked, “I’ve had enough of this already. Semiramus, when I give the word I want all your archers to fire. I want every single arrow on her.”

An incredulous look spread over both Semiramus and Pedaeus’ faces.

“You want all these men to shoot the same person?” exclaimed Pedaeus.

“That’s a f… f… female?” exclaimed Semiramus.

Pylos stepped forward, his eyes fixed on the one called Defecious. He carried himself with authority. His confidence in the face of such overwhelming odds seemed to irritate Defecious who sneered at the man standing proudly in the court below her. “I did not give you leave to approach me upworlder,” she rasped, her eyes glowering from their deep sockets.”

“I will not waste my words upon you, foul thing, other than to say this - there is no such man in the town. And if he were known to us we would not hand him over to one such as you.”

“So be it!” spat Defecious. “It matters not. We wouldn’t have left anyway.”

Pylos turned his back on Defecious and walked back to the Helyan ranks. ‘Kill her,” he said nonchalantly.

Semiramus lifted his right arm and slid his left hand along his forearm. All the archers’ bows bent back in unison. Two fingers of his left hand then pointed directly at Defecious whose small eyes widened to twice their size when she saw his gesture. He closed his fist and the air became a blur as one hundred steel tipped shafts shot across the courtyard and dug their way into her flesh. Remarkably, not one arrow missed. Some had buried themselves in her neck, legs and arms, but the majority tore into her torso, ripping it to shreds in less than a second. A few arrows pierced her cheeks and one had made a complete mess of her left eye. For a second she hung there in a macabre pose as if the arrows had pinned her to the very air.

And then she toppled forward, over the wall and into the dusty courtyard.

(from Chapter 8, Caliban's End © 2006 Paul F Stewart)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Return of the Hero

I moved onto the second draft of Chapter Eight this week. I haven't quite finished polishing Chapter Seven, but it's almost done and I wanted to write some action.

I really like this chapter. I think the main reason for that is it introduces one of my favourite characters - the stoic Pylos. He's really the novel's hero. I have literally fashioned him in the likeness of a Greek hero. Helyas is quite obviously a tribute to the heroes of Greek literature (or in my case Ray Harryhausen films). Although Pylos is your quintessential brave warrior, I think I've avoided stereotypes by adding a few character flaws that become more evident as the book goes on. In terms of Greek literature, he isn't as arrogant as Achilles, and whilst he is perceptive and a good reader of people and situations, he isn't as shrewd as Odysseus or Jason. Nor is a classically handsome youth, the sort the gods would fall in love with. He is neither tall nor beautiful.

The chapter opens with Pylos, the General of Helyas' armies standing before a Senate asking for more money - I haven't yet worked out a currency on Terra - to fund the military's expenses. I go to great pains to highlight the decadence of this particular Senate. Here I fuse the Roman with the Greek and as i wrote images of Caligula and Nero came to mind.

I think I got this bit right. Rather than spend half the chapter extolling Pylos' virtues, I thought I'd put him in a situation where he faced of against cretinous, petty bureaucrats and this would help the reader to grow fond of the hero. I thought it would be interesting to place the hero in a context that was totally incongrous with his strengths and the halls of politics seemed a good choice. Without giving too much away, the Senate refuse to grant Pylos his request and tell him instead that they intend to mothball the military (yes, traces of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country). The rest of the chapter is devoted to the Ghul attack upon Sulis which is deliberately juxtaposed with the Senate scene to highlight the poor decision the senators were prepared to make. In this day and age, the chapter could be read as a pro-military piece, but it certainly isn't written as one. If anything, the chapter is anti-authority and by the end of it, the reader should feel nothing but contempt for the rulers of Sulis. But the focus of the chapter is the individual, and it is more important to me that the reader identifies with Pylos than any secondary socio-political aspects that help drive the narrative forward.

I found this a very easy chapter to write. In a few places I have allowed my dry sense of humour to creep in, evident in numerous secondary and tertiary characters, my favourite being the nervous Captain of the Guard, Quintinius. The structure is clean and I think it concludes well with a number of elements introduced early in the chapter having a significant role in the end. I can see this habit of reintroducing elements in the narrative as being a stylistic bent of mine. It's not surprising - it's a cinematic trait and I love my movies.

Perhaps the biggest influences upon this chapter is an old Avengers comic I read when I was a kid. I don't know what issue it was (no doubt I will be told one days and much kudos to the one who tells me) but the story was basically this: the US Congress (I think it was them) tries to register America's superheroes and limit the number of heroes on the Avengers roster. The outspoken Peter Gyrich, a suit with a lot of attitude (much like Senator Leippa in my tale) almost gets his way to restrict the superheroes' freedom to act, but when the courthouse is attacked, he has to admit that America needs its superheroes. The Beast (of X-Men fame) hands a humbled Gyrich a piece of would so he can fight off "the big bad monster" (I think this quote is correct - I last read the comic over twenty-five years ago) before the heroes step in to win the fight. It's a lovely piece of writing and I can still see John Byrne's superlative art in my mind's eye. For some reason, this issue resonated with me, so its seems the perfect influence to introduce the novel's most heroic character.

It's 10:10 on a Friday night. My family are all asleep. I think I'll get a coffee and write some more of the novel now.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

I don't mean to neglect you

Should I apologise to my blogsite? I haven't paid her any attention for months. Despite this, she was patiently waiting for me when I logged in. To make it up to her, I did upgrade to the Google beta version. I'm really pleased with this version as it has tags! I love tags. I'm addicted to where I tag everything. I can now tag pages on my pbwiki sites too which is pretty cool. Now I'm back blogging, it will make this page a lot easier to navigate.

Where have I been, blog? What have I been doing (apart from playing Resident Evil 4 until 1:30 this morning?) Actually, I've been very busy on the book. I have more or less finished a rough draft of it and last week I finished polishing Chapter 6. I'm really pleased with what I've done over recent weeks as I've sorted out quite a few details that were causing me problems (such as how can Caliban have all these agents up on Terra when he has been locked away in the Endless for 30 years?)

So the second draft of the book is finished up to Chapter 7. What else have I been doing? Well, I did my first podcast and I'm quite pleased with it. It is up on my wiki site: which is the other thing I've been concentrating upon. The site has really come along over the past few months. It has pictures (ones I've drawn and others I have created from Creative Commons Flickr pictures). It also has an incredibly detailed glossary that took me an eternity. I have written quite a few appendices as well. I'm taking a break from the wiki site because I don't want to put up a lot of stuff I'd have to change later based on the drafting I'm currently doing.

I'm currently redrafting a chapter on the Pryderi. These witches have so much potential but they're a little one dimensional at the moment. I currently developing the character of Arinna Brine. I don't want to give too much away but she's one of those seemingly minor characters who returns to the novel in a big way. I don't think that spoils anything, but readers who are paying attention when they read Chapter 7 will see little hints of what is to come.

The preceding paragraph really highlights what I've been trying to do lately - build in hints and clues that foreshadow things to come in the novel. Nothing that occurs in the latter stages of the novel appears without any antecedent. (Is that the right word? It's a good thing I can always go back and edit the blog!) I don't want readers to get to the climax and think 'Well that's just shit! Where'd that come from?' I want everything to be justified, albeit in subtle ways. I want to reward readers who bother to read the novel a second time. Hopefully they'll see all the whispers that preceded the shouting.

That will do for now. I plan to attend to the blog once a week now, so I'll see you shortly. It's a warm November night and I should water the garden. I hope it rains tomorrow. I've almost forgotten what rain sounds like.

Cheers, Paul