12.12.11 | By: Megan Langham

Morning Muse

“You’ve got nerve,” I said flatly.

He quirked his mouth at me, tossing aside the bit of paper he had been fiddling with. “And if I do, it’s only to balance your lack of it! Come now, really. You don’t expect me to believe that you never told that man the truth because you’d rather he heard the lie.”

“As a matter of fact I did,” I retorted, trying not to let myself laugh at the ludicrous memory. “Besides, it doesn’t make any difference. I don’t like him.”

“You don’t?” His eyes grew wide with mock surprise. “I’d have thought the two of you were lovers at the least. He does make you laugh, though, whenever you’re together—that ought to earn him some measure of your favour.”

“Do I laugh so little, then?”

“Oh, no. You laugh often—rather more often than happy people do.”

I bit my lip. His words had pierced a tender place, but they were true, perhaps truer than he knew—how like his facetious wisdom—and there was the sudden stirring tenderness in his storm-blue eyes to be accounted for. He was standing over me now, though I had not seen him move from his chair, and his hand was on my arm.

Cariad,” he said, in a very different voice than before. “Cariad, I am an idiot. Please forgive me.”

“Yes, you are an idiot,” I said, smiling in spite of myself; in that jarring moment I knew I had never loved him more fully. “But it’s only idiots who dare to tell the truth. Thank you.”

His hand slid up to my shoulder and grasped it firmly. I could feel the ridges of his veins against the soft small of my neck. “Do you want to talk about it?”

With a sigh I laid my book down. “Perhaps not about that, not yet. But I’d like to know, if by any chance you care to tell me, why you think I’m not happy. Besides the laughter, of course; that’s no true test.”

He looked down at me for a long moment, his light eyebrows drawn together. Then he nodded decidedly and walked over to the bookshelf. “Just a moment. I’ve seen the answer; I’ll find it.”

“Careful, those are organised!” I tried to make my voice strict, but I couldn’t be strict with him. He knew it, too; his only answer was a roguish grin. After a minute or two of scuffling (during which several of my carefully placed books became dislodged) he made a noise of triumph and drew out his object: a cream-coloured paperback of modest mien.

“Here we are,” he said, flipping through the pages as he walked back towards me. “I was reading it just last night, when you were practising that piano piece—the one with all the arpeggios. Ah, this is it.” Still standing in front of me, he read in clear tones from the open book.

“I had not yet fallen in love, but I was in love with the idea of it, and this feeling that something was missing around me made me despise myself for not being more anxious to satisfy the need. I began to look around for some object for my love, since I badly wanted to love something. I had no liking for the safe path without pitfalls, for although my real need was for you, my God, who are the food of the soul, I was not aware of this hunger.”

He closed the book and smiled at me—not his customary mischievous smile, but with a yearning compassion, rich and rare, in his steadfast gaze.

“Saint Augustine always understands,” I said, painfully conscious that my answering smile trembled.

“True, that is! It was you I thought of when I read his words last night, while you were playing your soul out through your fingers. You reveal far more of yourself than you think, especially to those who already know and love you. Which means—” he laughed, playful again— “you’d do well to keep a watch on who’s listening when you’re at the piano!”

I laughed too, a little shakily…but I was glad. Glad to be free of the unspoken thoughts I’d kept to myself; glad that another had stepped in to share the burden.

“What do you suggest I do with myself, then, in the meantime? Has Augustine got anything more to say on that subject?”

“If he has, I’ve not yet come across it. Not everybody devours books as madly as you do, woman.” He paused, savouring my attempt at an indignant expression, and then went on more seriously: “For what it’s worth, my advice is that you should let yourself be loved. You didn’t build your ship, and you don’t know how to steer it: you don’t know how to see. You struggle to see Heaven, but it is all around you. It peeps through the cracks in the world, sings to you in the sound of the stream, beckons to you in the smile of a stranger. Oh, cariad, stop trying to deserve love. You can’t deserve it. I can’t deserve it. Love is not enfolding us now because it is deserved, but because it is deserving. Lay your head down. Let it enrapture you.”

He drew a deep breath and smiled again at me. “I care for you,” he said, “and you care for me, and if we each thought we had to deserve that affection then we would both be miserable at best. As it is, we’re only miserable when you haven’t had your tea.”

I tossed a pillow at him and missed. Laughing, he sat down next to me on the sofa.

“It’s a good job you’re such a poor aim—and that you’ve only got an unwieldy pillow to attack me with.”

I rested my chin on my knees, glancing at him sidewise. “I could threaten you with far more dangerous weapons. Are you going to repair the ruin you made of my bookshelf, or shall I be forced to tidy up after you again?”

“I’ll do it, of course. But it was a ruin I made helping you.”

Though his words were light, I could see the aching pain of memory in his eyes; and though his very existence was of my own making, gratitude for his goodness surged over me. But I could not let him see how much I felt, not yet, not now…

“You’ve got nerve,” I said again.
4.12.11 | By: Megan Langham

Welsh Discoveries

So I was going to write a post about the wrap-up of NaNoWriMo and what it taught me about my pressing need for closure and my emotional involvement with my own stories, but before I could begin it I was tagged by Jenny (and afterwards Keaghan). This tag involves answering questions about a work-in-progress so that one's friends/readers/mildly interested acquaintances might have their curiosity satisfied. It looked to be an exceptionally well-done tag, and I was eager to fill it out—only I couldn't decide which novel to use. This blog has been drenched with Days of Entwining ever since October, and while I have several other side projects in the works, I've come to the conclusion that, for now, the world of Volunteer Mission is my home world. Days of Entwining has been a wonderful experience, and I do plan to finish it in time, but it's Evan's story that must take precedence. (And no, he isn't standing over me with a knife to my throat forcing me to say that. Really. He isn't.)

There you are, then. My most urgent goals are to finish Volunteer Mission (I'm so close—so close) and while I'm editing it, plan out either the sequel or the prequel or both. I'm not quite sure which I'll write first; the deciding inspiration will come to me when it's needed, I suppose!

volunteer mission (evan's story)

1. Who are the main characters?
 

Evan is the Mainest, followed closely by Selwin. Rhys, Glynnis, and Margery all have their own POV scenes, and I'd say they fall at about that level of relative importance; each of them will have prominent places in the sequel. Lord Iorweth and Rhoyna, while not exactly major characters, each have a more than major effect on the story; Lord Iorweth in particular pervades each chapter with his mysterious presence. Without him there would be no plot and little pain.

2. How did you get the idea for this story? 

I made a blog post on this quite a while back. It wasn't just one idea but rather a whole pack of them, converging on me all at once and practically forcing the story from my pencil. And then when I thought I'd finished it up all nice and tidily I found there was more—enough for a book—and then when I gave in to that realisation I found I'd sold my soul to it. Yes, this is a horror story of sorts. Or a love story, if you like: there's a fine line between the two.

3. What genre is this story? 

Historical fiction. There is a hint of the fantastical throughout it, though: faint, but still visible.

4. Describe your book in three thoughts: 

Old sins cast long shadows. Death dogs love’s footsteps. Whether or not you’re spilling blood, Evan, you’ll always be at war.

5. The bit that describes an obscure piece of real life best:

Oddly drawn by the candle’s eerie flicker, Evan moved closer. Inside the tent there was nothing but silence, and silence of such a dark and heavy quality that it seemed to take on a personality of its own: as if the tent were not deserted, as if the walls were guarded by ghosts… 

6. The funniest line said by a side-character thus far: 

“I would come with you,” said Generys, “but I’m afraid to leave the children too long alone with Llygad. He gets so absorbed in his whittling here that he’d take no notice if one of them tumbled into the fireplace, screaming all the way.”

7. Your favourite piece of description:

They were standing on the outskirts of the village, underneath a grove of birch trees that lifted proud and flaming heads against the pale early-morning sky. The breeze caressed Selwin’s hair with pensive gentleness; the dew on the ground sparkled and reflected the green tips of a thousand grass-stems.

8. Your biggest fear in the writing of this story: 

My biggest fear is that it will never be finished. No, not really; I know I'll finish it. I suppose my real dread is that the emotion I'm trying to convey will come across as melodramatic and obscure the message. I don't want to get in the way of my own story.

9. Last full sentence you wrote: 

He had been hurt so often by Evan’s callous bitterness that he had wanted to give up—indeed, several times he had given up, but after each time he had come pitifully back, drawn by Evan’s obvious need.

10. Favourite character thus far: 

The obvious answer to this is Selwin, and among all my characters he's the dearest to me, but the more I think about this the more I realise that I can't choose one favourite character from this story. I even love the prattish ones. (Well, not love, but you know.) Glynnis and Rhys are special to me because they are so good: the quiet, gentle sort of people who work in the background and keep their own sorrow hidden. Margery and Rhoyna are unlikely tragic characters, in their own ways, and of all that rag-tag bunch they are probably the easiest to understand. Then there's Lord Iorweth, whose presence is the most powerful; Huw, who trails him like a pale shadow; Philip, who's always ready with a witty word and a steady hand at the right moment; Elena, who is mysterious and capable; a good many other characters whose details I'll spare you; and of course Evan. It is his story after all. And I love him in spite of the fact that he's got a knife to my throat.

11. What books have been written or have you read that are similar in style and flavour to your novel?

Edith Pargeter's The Brothers of Gwynedd quartet is set during the same time period and her writing style is similar to mine, though she tends much more towards the descriptive and poetical. Mary Stewart's writing, particularly in her Arthurian trilogy, shares a certain quality with my own: our characters are drawn a bit alike, and we convey emotion in a similar way. As it happens, I hadn't read either of these authors until Volunteer Mission was nearly finished; but there is one other book that I believe has influenced me in this area, and that is C. S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces. The plots aren't the same, and neither is the style, not really... but there's something that seems to have bled over from Lewis' story to mine, somehow. I don't know that I can explain it clearly.

12. If it was destined to become a book on tape, who would you wish to read it?

Tom Hiddleston, because his voice is enchanting and his sense of drama is perfect. (This question hadn't crossed my mind before, but now that I've considered it I'm going to hear every sentence I write in Hiddles' voice. Bother That.)


“It was a death song,” said Rhys, thoughtfully. 
“And this, that touched you, it is a bloody song of battle.
 But still it is good poetry, and more than good poetry. 
It is piercing pain and purest pleasure, as all true poetry ought to be. 
I think that in the midst of battle there is nothing but blood and terror and wishing to be sick—
at least for me, there is nothing more—
but afterwards the poets can take that agony and frame it in words 
and make from it something beautiful and great and glorious. 
That, I believe, will last forever.”


(P. S. I'm not tagging anybody with this post because everybody I was considering tagging has already been tagged. That's what happens when you're late to the party, I suppose! I've heartily enjoyed reading everyone else's posts, though. You're all so talented.)
21.11.11 | By: Megan Langham

Seasong

So, some time ago, Rachel suggested that I commemorate Mairead's birthday by posting a novel-excerpt written from her point of view. Mairead is the protagonist of my NaNoWriMo novel Days of Entwining, if you haven't gathered that yet, and the seventeenth of November was her birthday. Was, because I missed it. Bother my treacherous memory.

I still like this idea, however, and I've decided to go through with it even though it is a bit late. This excerpt was written about a week ago, and though it's not typical of the rest of the manuscript (being noticeably deficient in dialogue, for one thing, and rather dramatically o'erwrought for another) it is the most self-contained and reasonably sized Mairead excerpt I could find. Also it shouldn't require any extra context. And it wasn't edited, because during NaNoWriMo editing temporarily becomes the eighth deadly sin.

Have at thee.

le excerpt

Mairead had risen even earlier that morning than was her wont; earlier certainly than Rowan, who would gladly have slept until the noonday meal if he had been given a choice in the matter. Her sleep had been restful, her dreams pleasant, and now all she needed to prepare herself for the day was a sunrise walk along the shores of the sea. This walk was something of a tradition for herno, more than that, a ritualand though it was only a short way it was unutterably refreshing. Even in the winter mornings, when the winds pierced like cold knives and the very sunlight seemed frozen, Mairead merely wrapped up warmer, walked somewhat more briskly, and returned to her home in the highest of spirits.

She had never understood her fascination with the sea. It called to her like a living thing, sang to her with a voice of its own, melodious and mysterious, enchanting. She loved it in all of its moods: storm-tossed and angry, gentle and melancholy, cavorting and sunlit. Almost, too, she feared it, with a dread beyond the natural fear of a drowning death caught unawares.

"You came to us from the sea," Emma had told her from earliest childhood. When she was very young, she had imagined herself rising from the sea-foam in a oarless boat, her tiny form wrapped warm in a blanket and Rowan beside her, holding her hand. Later, of course, she knew better. She could still remember the moment when Father Aethelwald had taken her apart with Rowan and told them about their mother.

Eagerly Mairead drank in the story of a young woman, alone in the ungentle arms of the ocean, tossed by the cruel fortunes of fate who had doomed her to die with her child's first breath. It hurt with a good, tender ache. Afterwards she had tried to imagine what her mother must have been like: how her laugh must have sounded, how her touch must have felt. She had resembled Rowan in colouring, that much Mairead knewbut black hair, blue eyes, and pale skin went only so far to describe a person. Perhaps sheMaireadhad looked like her father. Like her brother she was pale, but her eyes were more often grey than blue and her hair was a rich brown tinged with redthe colour of ale in the autumn, Brother Eosa had called it, waxing poetic.

Mairead was content enough to imagine her mother and father, but the same could not be said for Rowan. Ever since the first moment of discovery he had asked question after question ("What age was my mother? Did she say what my father looked like? Did she say where they came from? In all the time before she died did she ever laugh?"); and when he had exhausted the monastery's small store of relevant knowledge he took to brooding in odd places and saying his mother's name aloud at intervals. As the years passed he gave this up, but Mairead knew him well enough to sense that he still wondered, and the wonder still hurt him.

All the same, the life Rowan led was a remarkably contented one; and though Mairead could not always say as much for herself she had to admit that she was happy. Lindisfarne did not perhaps grant her everything she longed for, but it gave her everything she needed. Sometimes she wondered what had kept Cynewulf away from the island for eight years entire before he came back. When I leave, she thought, if I leave, I will not stay in another place for long. Lindisfarne will always beckon me back.

But deep in her heart, where the foreboding rested, she knew that she would never be content with her life until she had lost it, given it up of her own accord, traded it in for a different and harder existence. And the sea called to her, restless and fevered, and the premonition of pain ached again in her soul...

8.11.11 | By: Megan Langham

Cast of Characters: Days of Entwining

Of course it's a post about Days of Entwining. What else did you expect from me during this mad month of November?

For those who are interested, the novel is coming along swimmingly (there may be a pun there, though I shall not take the trouble to discern it). In spite of on-and-off sickness, as well as sundry other time-stealers, I've managed to keep a decent word-count cushion. Of course, what really matters is that I finish the thing--but deadlines are just so incontestably helpful.

Since I am not behind, and since it has been at least a week since I last made a Post, I thought I would give you a proper introduction to my mainest characters. It isn't much, but at least you'll have an inkling of them. (Because they really are quite lovely. Even the ones who aren't.)


Mairead

Days of Entwining is Mairead's story, the both of them sea-born and wind-tossed and bright-eyed with far-fetched imaginings. Perhaps the surest thing to be said about Mairead is that she is contradictory. She has an old soul and a naive spirit, strong sensibilities and a horror of sappiness, a nature both deeply critical and painfully empathetic. Though she longs to leave the island that has sheltered her all her life, she is afraid of losing the stability it brings. Despite the love that has always surrounded her, she is too afraid of betrayal to easily give away her trust.



Cynewulf

Long years of lonely suffering have made Cynewulf what he is now: wise, wary, and fiercely protective of the people he loves. A leatherworker by trade and a poet by nature, he has given his whole heart to Lindisfarne and his life to the work of the monastery. He is Mairead's closest friend, though she does not know it yet, and it is for love of her that he makes his greatest sacrifices.

Rowan

Twins are not always alike. This is definitely the case where Rowan and Mairead are concerned: all they share (besides parents and a common birthday) is stubbornness and a similar sensitivity to the feelings of others. Rowan is kinder than Mairead and more easily led, at least before his mind is made. His propensity to trust others will one day prove dangerous to him--but for most of his life it has brought about more good than evil, because his heart is true.




Eanwin

Sweet-souled and sensible, Eanwin has repeatedly proven herself a steadying influence in Mairead's life and an all-round darling--though those who touch a tender place find fire beneath the gentleness. She is talented at quietly manipulating the people around her, deeply attuned to the beauty of nature, and slow to give her love but tenaciously loyal when once she has given it. Like Mairead she has lived all of her life in the same place, but unlike Mairead she is perfectly content to remain there. For her adventure holds no appeal.



Cathal Finn

The average person, on first meeting Cathal, would never guess at the depth hidden beneath his superficial exterior. Handsome and charming and conscious of it, he unfailingly attracts women's admiration and men's grudging jealousy. But to the eyes who look deeper (and there are few enough of these) he is both much more than the light-hearted ladies' man and much less. It is his innocent-seeming arrival at Lindisfarne that changes the course of many lives for good and for ill... and reveals to Mairead where her heart truly lies.



Abrecan

Abrecan is not merely a puffin, but an amalgamation of several puffins. (This is due to the close resemblance he shares with all of his friends and relations.) But he belongs to Mairead, such as he is, and this dubious ownership brings her great pleasure. Because she found him on a stormy evening in early autumn, she calls him after the Old English word for "storm". He appears rather vain of his good looks, but amiable when he wishes to be, and his waddling strut is perhaps the most endearing thing about him.
1.11.11 | By: Megan Langham

Beautiful People: Mairead of Lindisfarne

There will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears
Get over your hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair

—Mumford & Sons, “After The Storm”

This is a special set of Beautiful People questions: special because it is for NaNoWriMo, because it is about Mairead (who is close to my heart), and not least because it is absurdly long. All the same, it was a delight to fill out, and I hope it gives you a clearer picture of the place my heart and mind will be during the whole of November. 

1. What is your character's full name? Mairead. That’s all. Nobody living near her shares the same name, so there has never been a need to differentiate. 

2. Does her name have a special meaning? None that is apparent. In some instances “Mairead” means “child of light”, which could be significant. 

3. Does your character have a methodical or disorganised personality? Both, in a way. She thinks things through in quite an orderly fashion, but it’s the sort of orderly fashion that would look confused to anyone else. Often in her mind there’s a war going on between reason and intuition. 

4. Does she think inside herself more than she talks out loud to her friends? (More importantly, does she actually have friends?) Oh, Mairead has friends. But she’s never learned to open herself completely to them, and even when she does reveal something about herself it’s only after much deliberation. Her mind is much more divided than is good for her. 

5. Is there something she is afraid of? There are many things she is afraid of, both rational and highly unlikely. Among them are her brother’s death, trouble coming to Lindisfarne, and rats.

6. Does she write, dream, dance, sing, or photograph? She doesn’t really write—that’s more Cynewulf’s area. Dreaming, however, is as good a description of her day-to-day life as you could find. Sometimes when her spirits are unusually high she dances; and she has a lovely singing voice that she’s often called upon to use. As for photography, however, I’m afraid that’s quite out of the question. It’s difficult, you see, when cameras haven’t been invented yet. 

7. What is her favourite book (or genre of books)? Honestly, the book she loves the most would have to be the Psalms. Even if she had not been taught from a young age to revere them as part of the Scriptures, she would still have been drawn to their inexplicable combination of grinding agony and giddy mirth; the elegant phrasing of even the most heartbroken would still have touched her soul.

8. Who is her favourite author and/or someone that inspires her? Though I don’t believe she would ever admit to this, it’s Cynewulf’s writing which most moves and inspires her. 

9. Favourite flavour of ice cream? Mairead has never had ice-cream, so this question doesn’t exactly apply. If through some time-traveling anomaly she were to try it out, I expect she would like Vanilla Pecan. But that’s only a guess. 
 
10. Favourite season of the year? Each season has special charms for her, but in the end it’s spring she loves the most; early spring with misty mornings and budding blossoms and pale green grass-shoots. 
 
11. How old is she? Seventeen. 
 
13. What does she do with her spare time? When her time isn’t taken up with learning or housekeeping, she is usually to be found deep in conversation with someone, taking a walk along the seashore, or visiting Eanwin’s family at the mainland village. 
 
14. Does she see the big picture or live in the moment? Nobody lives further from the moment than Mairead; whatever is happening, at least a part of her mind is always elsewhere. 
 
15. Is she a perfectionist? Actually she’s more of an idealist, which is basically a way of saying that she’s a perfectionist who focuses on the grand scheme of things rather than the mere details. The niggling and unimportant things she can ignore, but only if they don’t have a lasting effect on the way it all looks from the sky.
 
16. What does her handwriting look like? It is slanted, narrowly spaced, and adorned with many blots. 
 
17. Favourite animal? She is quite fond of both sea otters and red squirrels, though Cynewulf dislikes them (the squirrels, not the sea otters). 

18. Does she have any pets? Not as such. She has adopted a puffin, but she generally gets him mixed up with the rest of his family, as they all look very much alike. 
 
19. Does she have any siblings? How many? Where does she fit in? She has a twin brother, Rowan. And that’s it. 
 
20. Does she have a 'life verse' and if so what is it? Not specifically, but she has always taken a special joy in the sixteenth Psalm. 
 
21. Favourite writing utensil? When she does write, which is seldom, she uses a quill pen. There really aren’t that many other options, you know!
 
22. What type of laugh does she have? A ready laugh, for sure. It’s more of a giggle unless the thing is extraordinarily funny, in which case her mirth is deep, loud, and well-nigh unstoppable.
 
23. Who is her best friend? Her closest affections are divided between her brother, her friend Eanwin from the village across the causeway, and Cynewulf. 
 
24. What is her family like? Rowan, Mairead’s twin brother, is her only natural family. He is quite a good brother as brothers go: kind, considerate, amiable. Though his stubbornness often annoys Mairead and his indecisiveness tries her patience, she loves him dearly. 
 
25. Is she a Christian, or will she eventually find Jesus? Mairead is a follower of Christ, though her faith needs much strengthening. 
 
26. Does she believe in fairies? In a manner of speaking. She believes in the Fair Folk, or the aes sidhe, who are quite different from the common conception of fairies—not nearly as nice, for one thing, and much more mysterious. 
 
27. Does she like hedgehogs? She finds their round prickliness adorable, though she rather resents the way they boldly steal grapes. 
 
28. Favourite kind of weather? Stormy weather, wind and rain. She’s not particularly fond of sunshine—a useful preference, as Northumbria doesn’t see much of it. 
 
29. Does she have a good sense of humour? Yes. Her laugh is ready, but not too much so, and her own attempts at humor are often sarcastic (not meant to sting, however, unless she is angry). 
 
30. How did she do in school, or any kind of education she might have had? At the monastery she was taught reading, writing, Latin, and ecclesiastical literature; she performed fairly well in each of these subjects, though her penmanship was never excellent (much to the dismay of the brothers who taught her). 
 
31. Any strange hobbies? That depends on one’s definition of strange. She isn’t fond of sewing or spinning; to her they’re duties rather than hobbies, less enjoyable than her studies. Gardening, however, is one of her greatest pleasures, and she likes to help Cynewulf with his leather-working. 
 
32. What kind of music does she like? The short answer to this is “every kind”. She loves the bard-songs Cynewulf plays on his harp, the ditties Eanwin sings for fun, and the shrill tones of Rowan’s piping. 
 
33. Does she like to go outside? Outside is where she spends most of her time. At any given moment she’s most likely to be either lying on the meadow outside the monastery, walking the causeway towards the village (if the tide allows), or standing on the seashore watching the waves.
 
34. Is she naturally curious? Yes. Yes, she is. 
 
35. Right, or left handed? She is right-handed. 

36. Favourite colour? Crimson and midnight blue.
 
37. Where is she from? Well, that is the question. Her mother had an Irish name and accent, but other than that there’s no clue to her birthplace. (Naturally, the answer will be revealed in due course—but I’m not going to give away everything here.)
 
38. Any enemies? Nobody of Mairead’s acquaintance hates her for herself, though naturally she doesn’t get on with some people as well as others (and even her closest friends fall out on occasion). There is one man who causes her a great deal of pain, but he bears her no personal animosity; the reasoning behind his actions is more rational than cruel.
 
39. What are her quirks? As aforementioned, she doesn’t much like sunshine—at least, not when it is prolonged—and she likes to stand in the pouring rain despite Emma’s dire predictions that she’ll catch her death. Also she stays up very late at night and wakes up early in the morning; since she does need a fair amount of sleep, though, she tends to doze off at odd times and places. 
 
40. What kinds of things get on her nerves? Insensitivity. Days that are damp but not rainy. Sudden noises. Hypocrisy. Badly-played music. Betrayal of any kind. 
 
41. Is she independent, or needs others to help out? Mairead is in the uncomfortable position of both needing people desperately and doubting them constantly. 
 
42. What is her biggest secret? That every night she dreams of a fair-haired man who says he is her lover and promises to one day meet her. She hasn’t mentioned it to Cynewulf or any of the brothers because she doesn’t think they would approve, and she’s afraid to tell Rowan because she thinks he would laugh (she’s right). The one person she has told is Eanwin, who believed her but also admitted that the idea made her feel uneasy. 
 
43. Has she ever been in love? No, she hasn’t, but she sometimes dreams of being. (Interpret that answer how you will.)
 
44. What is her comfort food? Strawberries. Even when Mairead is most upset, the promise of strawberries seldom fails to cheer her up. 
 
45. Does she play a musical instrument? She doesn’t play, no, but she can sing quite passably. 
 
46. What colour are her eyes? Hair? Her eyes are grey, darkening to blue in certain lights or moods; her hair is a rich chestnut colour, long and tangled. 
 
47. What is her favourite place to be? On the rocks at the ocean’s edge, gazing out into the pearly gray distance. 
 
48. What are some of her dreams or goals? Her dreams are simple: to marry well, to raise a family, and one day to take a ship across the sea. 
 
49. Does she enjoy sports? There aren’t any sports beside swimming and rock-climbing at Lindisfarne; Mairead mostly gets her exercise by walking around the island and racing Rowan to the village. 
 
50. What is her favourite flower or plant? The dog violet comes close to being Mairead’s favourite, but it is somewhat too pallid and gentle for her taste. It’s the rock-rose that she loves best, since it balances strength and sweetness as perfectly as possible for a flower. 
 
51. What is her biggest accomplishment? She herself would probably choose the time when she made a sturdy pair of leather boots for Rowan with scarcely any help from Cynewulf. 
 
52. What is one of her strongest childhood memories? Her earliest memory, which is also among her strongest, was of the time Rowan got swept out to sea and nearly drowned. She was four. Several times since then she has dreamed of his death; it is one of her greatest fears.
 
53. What is her favourite food? Strawberries, as aforementioned. She is also quite fond of salmon and of porridge properly salted. 
 
54. Does she believe in love at first sight? Though she’s never experienced it herself, she expects it could happen. 
 
55. What kind of home does she live in? She lives with her brother and Emma in a thatched wooden hut: all one room, divided by a fire-pit down the middle. It is large as huts go, but very difficult to keep tidy. 
 
56. What does she like to wear? During the warmer months of the year she wears a thin dress with a short over-tunic; when the winds turn sharp she adds a fur-trimmed cloak for comfort.
 
57. What would she do if she discovered she were dying? It would take some time for the truth to sink in, and then she would be devastated. 
 
58. What kind of holidays or traditions does she celebrate? She observes the traditional feast days of the Church, as well as the Christian replacements for pagan festivals, such as Easter and Twelfth Night. 
 
59. What do your other characters have to say about her? Rowan says she is moody and stubborn and hot-tempered—but she is his sister, and she is a good sister to him, and he loves her. Eanwin says she is a true friend, which is most important, and though she can be easily deceived and angered, she always means well. Cathal says she is a very pretty girl with a tongue like a whip dipped in honey and eyes you could sink a ship in. Bishop Aethelwald says she is a devout child and a clever learner, though he fears she does not apply herself as she might. Emma says she is young and good-hearted and foolish and as beloved as a daughter. Cynewulf says she is sweet in spite of her stubbornness, loyal in spite of her fears, and unutterably dear to him.
 
60. If she could change one thing in her world, what would it be? This is difficult because, though Mairead loves life, there is much about it that she would change—and no matter how many wishes she’s granted, she will never be satisfied. Paradoxical though it sounds, I think she would be all the more miserable if she had nothing to be miserable about. 
 
61. Does she have any habits, annoying or otherwise? When she’s impatient she paces, usually in circles tight enough to make whoever’s watching her dizzy. When she’s nervous she rips up whatever happens to be in her hand at the moment (this is a tic which has caused her some trouble in times past). When she’s excited she talks at a fever pitch, letting the words spill out like a waterfall and constantly interrupting herself. 
 
62. What is her backstory and how does it affect her now? To begin with, she has no idea who her true family is: her mother died after giving birth to her and her brother, in too much pain and confusion to tell the monks her story. Since then she has lived on Lindisfarne under the care of the Bishop’s wife, Emma, and the watchful guidance of the entire monastery. Sometimes she wishes she had known her parents, but she doesn’t let her lack of this knowledge haunt her unduly. Her brother is another matter, but that’s another story. 
 
63. How does she show love? When Mairead truly loves someone, she will always be there for them—no matter how inconvenient it may be for her. She takes time to listen, to encourage, and to appreciate her friends. 
 
64. How competitive is she? Not very. If she’s arguing over something that’s important to her, then she’ll do everything she can to win the argument—but it would be for the sake of her principles, not for the joy of winning. 
 
65. What does she think about when nothing else is going on? That all depends on her mood at the moment. Often she finds herself analysing her own moods, or the actions of the people she’s interacted with. Usually she finds herself worrying. Every once in a while, she stills her thoughts and lets herself take pleasure in peace. 
 
66. Does she have an accent? Well, of course. Everybody has an accent. Hers just isn’t particularly noticeable among the similar-sounding denizens of Lindisfarne. 
 
67. What is her station in life? Technically she would fall into the middle class, between the nobility and the thralls. As a member of the monastery, however, her standing is somewhat different than it would have been if she had been born on the mainland. 
 
68. What do others expect from her? From day to day she’s expected to keep up her studies at the monastery, help Emma with the running of the house, and do her share of the gardening. 
 
69. Where was she born, and when? She was born on November 17th, 721 on Lindisfarne Island. 
 
70. How does she feel about people in general? Oddly enough, she feels much more kindly towards people as an ill-defined group than towards individuals. Perhaps it is because of her fascination with ideals or merely her introverted nature that prefers to observe people from a distance before deciding whether or not to accept them. 


...so that is Mairead. I expect to learn much more about her during the course of this novel; but even these questions have taught me a good deal. 

I am thoroughly looking forward to writing this story. 
26.10.11 | By: Megan Langham

NaNoWriMo Questionnaire: Days of Entwining

By virtue of November's shadow looming in the very near future, they're doing something a bit different over at the original home of Beautiful People. Instead of answering ten questions concerning an individual character, we've been given a short questionnaire involving an entire book: the one we've chosen to tackle during this year's NaNoWriMo.

Off we go, then!



1. Sum up your novel in five words, or less. Young girl searches for answers. (Yes, that's utter rubbish. But do you even know how difficult this question was?)

2. Novel title? Days of Entwining.

3. Sum up your main character(s) in one word. Mairead: emotional. Cynewulf: faithful. Rowan: kind.

4. Advice for newbies in three words? Write. Every. Day.

5. Tell us about your secondary characters, how do they affect the story? Cathal is the disrupting factor, an obviously attractive young man who is both more and less than he seems. Eanwin is the steadying influence, a sweet and sensible girl with fierce and unlikely loyalties. Aethelwald is the current bishop of Lindisfarne, with a good heart and a distractible mind. Emma is his wife and the closest thing to a mother that Mairead and Rowan have.

6. Do you plan on staying up till midnight on the 31st? Only until midnight? That wouldn't do much good. No, I'll start at midnight and keep writing until my eyes go bleary and my mind mists over. It's a bit mad, but then NaNo is a bit mad, isn't it?

7. How many years have you done NaNo? This will be my third year.

8. What came first, characters, or plot idea? Actually, neither: the inspiration for this story was a gloomy and rather gothic image of a young girl kneeling beside a grave. There was a monastery nearby, and a priest with an Irish name, and the sea-waves in the distance were breaking on the rocks. Though this idea has since changed (drastically, I might add), it was undoubtedly the original spark of inspiration.

9. How much prep do you do before November? The answer to this question varies every year. My first year I mostly neglected to plan and I was sorry for it later. My second year I overplanned a bit, but I did manage to leave a little room for last-minute inspiration, which proved helpful and healthy. This year, I have only the scantiest of outlines, five pages of working notes, and two fractals; my historical research, however, is sound.

I'm still waiting for that glorious year when I'll finally strike the perfect pre-NaNo balance.

10. Now be honest, how do you really feel about NaNo? For me, it’s a helpful thing because it balances my well-meaning eagerness with outside motivation and some kind of stricture. I wish I didn’t need that, but I do; and while I can complete projects on my own, an imposed goal makes the completion profoundly easier for me.

(I'm wondering now whether I ought to try for the second challenge, which is one great big Beautiful People post focusing on a single character for whom you answer ALL THE QUESTIONS! I think perhaps I will, if I can get it done in time for a Grand Posting on November 1.)
23.10.11 | By: Megan Langham

The Wine of Blessedness

I'm writing this on a mild, peaceful Sunday afternoon. Nothing spectacular has happened today, no thrilling adventure has presented itself; but it has been a good day all the same. Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in sweeping epics and profound melancholy that one loses sight of the simple things which make life what it is: gentle, mysterious, quietly alluring.

So on this peaceful, mild afternoon I've scribbled down some little things that I tend to take for granted. And I've also tried to imagine my life without them, which is quite a difficult exercise!

the little things
jj
  • Long and loving letters, creased with rereading. 
  • The pungent smell of fresh cilantro crushed between my fingers.
  • My cat's warm tongue on my skin.
  • Lamplight glinting off my silvery ring.
  • A small child's infectious laughter.
  • Steam from my teacup tickling my nose.
  • Ivory piano keys, smooth and polished under my hands.
  • Firm round grapes bursting open in my mouth.
  • The tickling sensation just before a sneeze.
  • "Because you're my sister, and I love you."
  • Long calm walks on a crisp October afternoon.
  • Brown eyes deep with sorrow and alight with strength.
  • The warm drowsy moment between sleeping and waking.
  • Late nights around a crackling campfire.
  • Playful banter between brothers.
  • White-haired couples holding hands.
  • "I'm glad you came."
  • Warm soapy baths by candlelight.
  • Waking early in the morning before anyone else.
  • Finishing a paper just before the deadline.
  • The smell of old books.
  • Salty sea spray on my lips.
  • Leaves crunching beneath my boots.
  • Winter's first snowflakes on my tongue.
  • My mother's hugs.
  • "You have beautiful eyes."
  • The revelation near the end of a mystery novel.
  • Songs sung in Italian.
  • My puppy's nuzzlings.
  • Bright smiles.
  • Afternoons spent writing at a coffee shop.
  • English country cottages with roses climbing the picket fences.
  • Misty forest pathways.
  • Sehnsucht. 
5.10.11 | By: Megan Langham

Beautiful People - Lord Iorweth Pengrych

In my "Beautiful People" post late last month, I mentioned that Rhys had just narrowly passed Lord Iorweth in my choice for character-to-be-questioned. It was a very narrow win.

So here I am, putting Rhys's commander through Rhys's ordeal. I must say, the questions this go-round were even more eye-opening than they were before. There's just something about villains, I suppose--especially the oddly compelling ones.

1. Does he have any habits, annoying or otherwise? His usual conversation is heavily strewn with sarcasm, even at times when sarcasm is inappropriate. When he is hurt or surprised he smiles instead of letting his feelings show, though he can easily feign distress if that is what is needed to accomplish his purposes.

2. What is his backstory and how does it affect him now? His backstory is too intricately bound up with Volunteer Mission's plot to be revealed here. Suffice it to say that it was a tragic story, dark with pain, and that it has shaped his life in ways nobody could have foreseen.

3. How does he show love? By doing. If he truly loves someone, he will go to the ends of the earth to fulfill even their slightest wish. He isn't one for profuse reassurances of love, or even for tender words at all; he is at all times a man of action, in love as well as war.

4. How competitive is he? Extremely. By rights Lord Iorweth should have lost the need to prove himself a long time ago, but it is part of his nature that he will never let go of that restless ambition, that drive to do better than his best.

5. What does he think about when nothing else is going on? He tries not to think much about his own life, particularly his past. Generally his mind is focused on the task at hand--because whatever else may or not be happening, for him there is always a task at hand.

6. Does he have an accent? Nothing but a slight Northern Welsh lilt.

7. What is his station in life? As the second cousin of the Lord of Rhos, he is minor nobility. Due in part to this (but far more to his own abilities) he has become one of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd's most trusted commanders.

8. What do others expect from him? As a high-ranking officer in the confidence of Prince Llywelyn, a great deal is expected of Lord Iorweth. Countless people rely on his decisions every day; in no small way, the future of Wales depends on his discernment.

9. Where was he born, and when? He was born on the 18th of January, 1242, in Gwynedd, Wales.

10. How does he feel about people in general? People in general mildly interest him, but he doesn't care enough to involve himself in anyone's life beyond what is necessary for his work. Though he can be incomparably charming when he wishes, his interest is seldom sincere.

Lord Iorweth folded his hands and looked up at Evan. Even when he was sitting down and Evan was standing up he did not have to tilt his head back far to look straight into Evan’s eyes. 

“You disappoint me, Evan Dynge. I confess I should not have expected to hear such words as those from a man so recently promoted to a position of honor and confidence. If you wish to shirk your responsibilities and trade in your chance of glory for the hope of creature comforts, then I will not stop you. But it will have been the first time in many years that Lord Iorweth Pengrych made an ill choice.”
30.9.11 | By: Megan Langham

Looking For Trouble

If you don't look for trouble,
how can you know it's there?
--Muggles, The Gammage Cup

Last night, having misplaced the delightful book I am currently meant to be reading, I picked up my copy of The Gammage Cup to speed me to sleep. I could write an entire post about how thoroughly I love this charming, clever little book; it is a true treasure, no doubt of that. Beneath the author's simple style lies wisdom in abundance, proverbs to ponder and questions to mull over. And last night one of these questions in particular caught me by surprise. 

I'm a worrier by nature--always have been. It's the backwards blade of creativity, I suppose--being so keen on thinking out trouble for my made-up persons, I naturally tend to do the same for myself. It is a curse of a sort. For as long as I can remember my mother has tried to counter it with the time-tried admonition: "Don't go looking for trouble. It'll come to you on its own soon enough without your trying to find it." Generally I acknowledged the truth of this and stifled the rising urge to panic, but at other times I found myself questioning its practicality. If trouble is going to come, I wondered, wouldn't be in wiser to prepare all one's defenses in readiness to meet it? Why wait, unarmed, for the enemy to strike you first?

My mother's response to this would most likely have been that such an idea is all very well in theory, but in practice it would never work, because there's no possible way we can prepare ourselves for a future we can't see. And that's that.

But is it? 

Then there's another side to this idea, one of even greater import. Suppose that, recognising your inability to fight trouble on an even field, you decide to try another proven tactic. You decide to retreat. To retreat to your fortified tower, protected by your unbreachable walls, safe from grief and fear and pain and all that threatens to destroy you...and there, in your stronghold of safety, you find yourself protected from life itself.

This raises a question I've pondered for years without coming to a satisfactory conclusion: how far is it allowed for a follower of Christ to consciously protect himself? Or, rather than "allowed", how far is it advisable? The idea of this life appears to be as much striking balances as embracing extremes--what is the proper balance between "closing up your heart in a casket" (as Lewis says) and tossing it out into the street to be trampled on?

I suppose the answer has to do with the way one views pain: whether as a kindness, or a cruelty, or both. Again, I'm not sure where the balance lies. I haven't suffered enough to be sure. Neither, I suppose, has Muggles: but if she could not answer the questions in her heart, at least she had the sense to ask them.

Perhaps one day we both will know the answer to these questions and to many, many more. I have a feeling that the answers themselves will only come through pain; but whether pain is a curse or a blessing or a mixture of both, it is undeniably a fact of life, and like everything in life it is there for a purpose. A purpose beyond our understanding, no doubt, but a purpose all the same.

In the meantime, I will take my trouble as it comes, and I will do my best to be ready for it. The pragmatic and distrustful side of me would much prefer to know where and when the trouble plans to strike... but on a deeper level, not knowing is so much more of a thrill. And we all know what life would be without thrills of any kind.

Death, of course.
24.9.11 | By: Megan Langham

Beautiful People - Rhys ap Tuder

Hurrah, it's time for Beautiful People again!

In the interests of continuing with Volunteer Mission's more minor characters, I present to you Rhys ap Tuder: Selwin's brother and Evan's (sort of) friend. I had some difficulty choosing between him and Lord Iorweth; perhaps in a few days I'll give this another go with the latter. If nothing else, I think I would enjoy the process of comparing two characters who are so extremely opposite in everything that matters.

1. Does he have any habits, annoying or otherwise? When he is deep in thought he tends to tap out tunes with his fingers or pinch little bits of his collar. During conversation he has a disconcerting way of guessing what the other person is thinking and saying it right out--made even more disconcerting by the fact that his guesses are generally correct.

2. What is his backstory and how does it affect him now? His childhood was ordinary and relatively happy until his eleventh year, when his beloved father died. Shortly after his mother was married again to a man far less gentle and affectionate, and seven hard years later Wales went to war with England. Rhys fought for two years, watched three of his friends die, and when it was over prayed that he would never have to fight again. Now that he is once more caught up in war, all he wants is for the fighting to be over.

3. How does he show love? Most of his friends, if asked this question, would be hard put to think of an answer. That is because Rhys's love is deep, loyal, and profoundly understated: displayed through quiet acts of affection rather than flamboyant gestures of friendship. He is ready to listen, eager to help, able to reassure (when that is the kindest thing) and to rebuke (when reassurance would be cruel). Perhaps more than anything he is an uncomplaining sounding-board for his friends whenever and wherever they need him to be.

4. How competitive is he? On the surface, not at all. Most people would take him for a self-effacing, peace-loving sort of person, and to an extent he is that, but a deeper look at him will reveal a slightly different side. He is rather proud of his ability to help and counsel others, though he would never admit it; if his standing as a confidant were ever challenged I think he would fight for it rather than risk feeling useless and hollow.

5. What does he think about when nothing else is going on? Many things, seldom if ever in logical succession. Odd, it hasn't rained in three weeks. It will probably rain tomorrow. What did I do with my knife? I hope nothing's wrong with Dafydd--he hardly said a word at supper. Why do we always persist in hiding our pain? I miss Glynnis. Perhaps I'll have a pleasant dream tonight. What is the true purpose of war? I wish Malcolm would keep his things in his half of the tent. 

6. Does he have an accent? Only a typical southern Welsh accent. Unlike Selwin's, it is very much in evidence when he speaks English.

7. What is his station in life? He comes from a decently well-off farming family, somewhere on the scale between minor noble and peasant. At the time of this story he is a lesser officer in the Welsh army, one rank above an ordinary foot soldier.

8. What do others expect from him? Where his family is concerned, very little is expected of him; as the second son, he must make his own way in the world both untrammeled and unaided. In his day-to-day interactions with others, however, his unspoken obligations are higher. Because he is so empathetic and compassionate his friends expect him to help them, or at the very least to listen, no matter what else is happening at the time.

9. Where was he is born, and when? Rhys was born on the 5th of December, 1258 in Gwynedd, Wales.

10. How does he feel about people in general? This is a difficult question because Rhys doesn't see people as a general group. Each person, to him, is fully individual and almost free from stereotype. He can't ignore flaws in the people he loves--but neither can he overlook virtues in the people he hates.

     “I have had doom spoken to me so often,” murmured Evan, “every night and every day, and I am sick with it. Why do these dreams come to me? What is their purpose?”
     “I cannot tell you what the purpose of these dreams may be,” said Rhys, “but I can tell you that they will not last forever. I do not—Evan, there is so much I wish to say to you and I have no words, no way to speak what needs to be said. I am not gifted like Selwin...oh, I wish he were with us now.
     No, Evan thought helplessly. You can’t. You are the strong one, the stable one. Don’t crumble to pieces beneath me...
17.9.11 | By: Megan Langham

Autumn, Muses, and Cafe Lattes

When I woke up this morning it was autumn.

Since the end of August I’d been waiting impatiently for summer to end. It’s not that I’m against summer, certainly not. Summer is beautiful. How could I fail to appreciate the charms of blue skies, delicate breezes, cool water on my sun-warmed skin? But if ever a season stirred my senses and delighted my soul, autumn is that season. I was not autumn-born, though I feel as if I ought to have been (something like how I should have been born Ginger And All--I’ve even got the skin for it). There’s something in the wind, the leaves, the misty rain, the smell of smoke and cider and cinnamon, that sets my heart singing.

...my heart singing, and my fingers itching. I think it must be my muse that is autumn-born. Among other reasons, it despises the summer. (Somewhat related: is it a breach of authorial etiquette to refer to muses as “it”? Weren’t they technically women? These sorts of questions keep me up at night.) I’d promised myself I would finish Volunteer Mission before the summer was out, and ... that hasn’t exactly happened. For one thing, I hit a bump back around the middle of March. It is an insurmountable bump. I am going to surmount it before November comes. I swear that on the gravestone of my muse. (Not really related at all: my muse must take her Greek mythology heritage quite seriously--dying in spring to rise again in autumn? That’s just like Persephone, only somewhat backwards.)

As for November, I’m becoming increasingly more excited about my coming opus (though it’s a good thing all I can do is plan now, as I would feel horribly torn if it threatened to take me away from Volunteer Mission, and what is it, really, with all these parentheses?). It is perhaps the closest I’ve come to writing a romance novel--but that description’s rubbish, because I generally loathe romance novels, and unless something dreadful happens this is going to be nothing like one. It is Celtic, misty, shades of green and grey like primeval Ireland--but not, because despite the Irish names it takes place in Northumbria (there’s historical basis for that, take too long to explain) in the late 700s, which may be ancient but is certainly not primeval. The setting and storyline and general aura are in tune with the deepest part of me yet frighteningly alien, somehow. All in all, it promises to be a thrilling experience.

Also the collective conscious of every Pumpkin Spice Latte everywhere is calling to me. I found a recipe  so I can make my own without having to resort to Starbucks' foamed milk monstrosities (I'm off dairy and a thousand other things at the moment--otherwise I would have no problem with resorting to Starbucks) and as soon as I get myself some canned pumpkin, spiced delight will commence.

All the best of autumn and everything to my fellow writers! Out of comradely curiosity, how many of you are going to attempt NaNoWriMo this year? Let me know so I can add you when the time for Updating Of Profiles is at hand!
1.9.11 | By: Megan Langham

Adrift


I oughtn't to be writing anything for Secret of the Sunrise. It's only supposed to be in the worldbuilding stage, because I haven't got time for one more serious project at the moment. But earlier today, during a sudden surge of rebellion, I scribbled this down. It would probably fit somewhere around the second chapter, after Ishmil (who occupies a sort of minor government position in Versantia) has fallen through into modern-day Kent and practically onto the doorstep of Christopher, a young psychology student. I'd love to regale you with backstory to make this snippet slightly less confusingbut I won't. Instead I will be quiet and let you read.


“Look,” said Ishmil hotly, “I’ve not stumbled into your world merely for the purpose of satisfying your curiosity. You have said already that you do not believe me to be mad, and I am perfectly content to leave it at that, even if you are not. Now please, just let me alone.”

He was not used to speaking in such a high-handed way; during the last few words his voice had faltered, but perhaps the man Christopher would put that down to shock and exhaustion. Certainly he had encountered enough of that in the past day to weaken more than his voice.

Christopher stood up. The lamp from the low end-table threw his face into shadow, defining and sharpening his already angular features. To Ishmil’s weary eyes he resembled an eagle, removed and forbidding as a crag on an ice-capped mountain. Even his blond hair shone like snow in the uncertain lamplight.

“Fair enough,” he said. “You’re not mad—I should make a poor student of psychology indeed if I thought you were—and so far as I can tell you’re not lying about why you approached me, but that’s no reason to trust you. I’ll give you a meal tonight and a place to sleep, nothing more. You can take your story to the professors in my department tomorrow, if you like. They may not believe you either, but at least they’ll listen.”

Ishmil nodded dumbly. All the fire had gone out of him, leaving nothing behind but a grey dull indifference. His head had begun to ache.

Christopher eyed him curiously; when he could see that no reply was forthcoming, he shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

Ishmil leaned back against the sofa with a low sigh—whether of relief or of weariness, he could not tell which. Perhaps both. It had been that sort of day.

His mind returned to Elianna, to her pretty, petulant face as it had looked on the evening before this, on the evening that had promised to be so ordinary. He would have been back with her now, reveling in pleasures both new and familiar, if his mission had gone as planned.

Oh, curse the Fates. His mission.

Why, why had he ever stopped at the tavern? If he hadn’t crawled out as late as he had and gone down the wrong path, befuddled with drink, then none of this would have happened. Or at any rate he would have been possessed of his senses when the warning signs began…

“I said, pretty lad!”

Ishmil started, catching sight of Christopher’s amused amber eyes.

“There was no need to shout,” he muttered, annoyed.

“How was I to know that? I said your name twice in an ordinary tone of voice and both times you didn’t answer—I had to get your attention somehow.”

“By calling me 'pretty lad'."

Christopher allowed himself a wry smile. “Don’t pretend you haven’t been called that before now. I know a ladies’ man when I see him. Ah, and that reminds me. When my sister comes—”

“You have a sister?” Only after the words were out of Ishmil’s mouth did he realize how indiscreetly eager he must have seemed. Christopher glared at him and went on: “When my sister comes with our supper, I want you to behave as though you’re someone I met at uni.”

“But how will I do that when I don’t know—”

“I don’t want you to playact, I just want you to be quiet. Don’t tell her a word of your story—leave that bit to me.”

“Very well,” said Ishmil, taken slightly aback. After a short pause he asked, “Your sister… does she live here? I mean—” hastily, at the sight of Christopher’s suspicious glance— “I was only wondering, because it seems a bit odd that she should bring you supper if she lived elsewhere. But after all, what is one more oddity in this day?”

Christopher drew his pen across the paper in a long line before he answered. “No, Lauren doesn’t live with me. My flatmate’s away for the week, which is the only reason I can let you stay here for the night. Lauren is bringing us supper because there isn’t a thing in the flat to eat; I had planned to go out shopping when I came across you and—well, you know how busy I’ve been since.”

“Does she mind, then, carrying supper to her brother?”

Another wry smile from Christopher. “If she minded, she would not do it. There’s not one person who could persuade Lauren to do good against her will, and so far nobody has ever had to.”

Ishmil tried to ponder this, but he soon gave it up. His thoughts had been all of a jumble ever since that fateful drink; it was all he could do to keep himself afloat in this alien archipelago, this ocean of strangeness and shame. No, he wouldn’t try to think. He would settle himself more comfortably among these warm blankets, closing his eyes to the unfamiliarity around him, and imagine himself back at home, alone or with Elianna, either state would be welcome enough…
24.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Beautiful People - Glynnis verch Ithel

Well. I leave for four days and come back to -- to this! The nerve of you lot, throwing the maddest parties in the blogosphere, with your dancing and carousing and Beautiful People interviews and all...

...at least I'm not shamefully late.

For the entire duration of Beautiful People I have focused exclusively on Merry and Kathy, my two main characters from "Vale of Darkness". Also, for the entire duration of my blogging experience, I've written a good deal about Evan and Selwin, my two protagonists from Volunteer Mission.

But what of Volunteer Mission's slightly more minor characters? I'm willing to bet (or I would bet, if I were the gambling type) that you don't even know their names. And that's a shame, because some of them are really lovely.

So for this month's Beautiful People I give you Glynnis, close friend of Selwin and beloved of Evan. Here's your tea, and here's your cushion-chair, and I hope you're settled in comfortably.

1. What is her full name? Glynnis verch Ithel.

2. Does her name have a special meaning? Her first name, Glynnis, happens to mean "fair, pure, and holy". Pure she certainly is, though neither she nor I would go so far as to call her holy, and her skin is fair but her hair is not. As for "verch Ithel", that means simply "Ithel's daughter" in the Welsh.

3. What is her biggest accomplishment? For all of her eighteen years Glynnis has lived in the same little hut, with the same people and the same obligations: she has never had the chance to perform any sort of outstanding act. One day she will be the voice that recalls a man from certain death and the hand that saves him -- but that is not now. Now she is simply a friend and a sister, a helper and a giver.

4. What are her strongest childhood memories? Mostly she remembers scattered images of sunlit frolics with Rhys and Selwin, pickaback rides from her older brothers, and lying on her back in the meadow of an evening, seeing stories in the stars. Nothing exceptionally vivid springs to mind: her childhood was not more than usually traumatic or adventurous but rather simple and sweet and quietly happy.

5. What is her favourite food? Glynnis is fond of figs, cheese, and gingered bread. She also enjoys leeks-and-onions, but only in small portions.

6. Does she believe in love at first sight? She believes in attraction at first sight. Love, in her view, is not a thing to be determined in the space of one glance; it is gradual, unresisting, and forever. But then she has only once known romantic love.

7. What kind of home does she live in? Glynnis lives with her brother, his wife, and their two children in a thatched hut. It is a good deal larger than a peasant's home on an English manor would be; by our standards, however, it is not at all roomy. Also, since the cow and chickens live in the fenced back and often wander in, it's virtually impossible to keep the place clean and pleasant-smelling all of the time.

8. What does she like to wear? Ordinarily she wears a simple sleeved tunic: long, tastefully embroidered, and belted at the waist. Her favourite of her dresses is the light blue one, which she dyed herself with woad leaves.

9. What would she do if she discovered she was dying? I believe she would take some time to shed her tears, and then she would do her best to face up to the facts. She would live on as she had been, helping her family and saying her prayers, but her suppressed fear would grow greater with each passing day. Despite her devout heart and understanding, she dreads nothing more than death.

10. What kind of holidays or traditions does she celebrate? Along with the rest of her family she observes all of the regular feast days and the other Church holy days, such as Lent.

11. What do your other characters have to say about her? Selwin says she is refreshingly sensible and good-hearted with a wit to match his own (sweet lad, he bears no malice). Rhys says she is his closest friend, as dear as a sister and oftentimes as exasperating. Adam (Selwin's stepfather) says she comes off holier-than-thou but she's not sniveling or frivolous, he'll give her that. Llygad (her brother) says she is a quiet, useful sort of sister and a good friend to his wife, for which he's thankful. Evan says with simple candour that she is as lovely as the image of an angel, but also as withdrawn and unapproachably innocent.

12. If she could change one thing in her world, what would it be? More than anything at this time, she longs for peace between Wales and England -- not for political reasons, but because she detests the grief and carnage that the wars have brought about. Every day she prays for the men who have left their families for their leaders, and every day she fears for the lives of her friends.
15.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Day Fifteen of Fifteen Days: Music

I have been an indolent child.

I apologize.

Anyhow. Here I am, rushing in on this last day of the fifteen-day writer's challenge, ready to respond (as if nothing had happened) to the topic of today. Which is:

Your favourite song to write to.

The thing is, I don't have just one favourite piece of music that inspires me in every circumstance. Generally I make playlists for my current projects. As for those, if I ever were to share them, it would mean an entirely different post. So I think today I will give you some music albums that I've found to be inspiring and versatile, no matter what mood I'm in or what sort of scene I'm writing.

The Bard and the Warrior - Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning

Words can't describe this properly; it is the sort of music you have to hear to understand. Gentle enough to be unobtrusive yet rich enough to be emotionally interesting, it calms the spirit and stimulates the mind. 

Like tea. Yes, I think this album could be compared to a steaming cup of aromatic tea. Except that oftentimes it sounds like a river, laughing lightly to itself as it rushes over silt and stones; or like the breeze of an autumn evening, like the gentle warmth of spring grass on your face, like sunlight reflecting off the blade of a warrior's sword. 

Rock Symphonies - David Garrett

With the exception of "November Rain" and "80s Anthem", this music is much more invigorating than it is restful. Clever classical arrangements lend depth and profundity to pop and rock songs--marrying catchy melodies to an intellectual sound. 

I just love it.

There's something about these arrangements that never gets old. I must have listened to this album fifty times over last November, and in defiance of all expectation I'm still listening. I will always be listening.

Doctor Who Series 5 Soundtrack - Murray Gold

Does this one really need any explanation? While I love all of I've heard of Murray Gold's work, there's something special about this soundtrack in particular. Something gripping. Something enormous and enchanting and free. It, too, runs the gamut from idyllic to intense, offering a track for every mood. Even if you're not a fan of the series, I can promise you'll enjoy the music. With so much variety, there's a beautiful piece for everyone.

Also, it is common knowledge that over time, repeated listening to "I Am The Doctor" will gift any common mortal with intrepid courage, unconventional wisdom, and supernatural powers.
11.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Day Ten of Fifteen Days: Answers

Yes, yes, I know it ought to be day eleven. I'm doing this all backwards and forwards and topsy-turvy, but since the order doesn't matter (each post being quite capable of standing on its own), I won't wax too apologetic.

Now then. This is the question I shall attempt to answer:

What is the most important thing to know about writing?

I could set down a lengthy list of helpful tips here, bolded and bulleted; I could package up reams of advice into neat little dosages ready to down with a glass of lemonade. So extensive is this question that I could easily (well, maybe not easily) write an entire book on the subject--but I won't do any of those things. Instead I'll say what first sprung to my mind on hearing the question, and that is this:

Writing defines not the sort of thing you do, but the sort of person you are.

I am not saying that anyone who was not born with a mine-lode of raw talent inside of him must instantly despair of ever being able to write well. The exact nature of raw talent is disputable anyway: what we do know for sure is that it is by no means the only thing required. Anybody can be born with long legs; this does not mean he is therefore an expert runner.

There are, however, certain traits that characterize all writers worthy of the title. One is the innate ability to see life through the eyes of others. A writer can always look beyond the obvious nature of reality to the ideas and motives and emotions that bring it about. For a time he will be able to step out of himself and into the skin of another person--thinking with her mind, feeling with her heart, seeing with her soul. If he is well-versed in this art, he may slip in and out of multiple minds within seconds. Because, you see, such a trait must be practised as well as inborn. Quite possibly you have that sort of second-sight within you but have chosen, half-consciously, to dull it; and with good reason, as it is not at all a "practical" trait to have. Not practical, but essential if you are going to be a myth-maker.

Another crucial characteristic is the mind to persevere. If the life if a writer is truly your calling, then much of the time you will not really have to worry about this. You will be constantly pressured (from within, if not without) to keep up, to jot down, to birth the character who has been slowly forming, to water the seed of an idea that has sprung into your head. Oh, there is precious little danger that your writing will fall by the wayside--because regardless of your current mood, your instinct to scribble will not let that happen. 

(Of course there is the possibility that you'll simply choose to ignore this internal pressure by drowning it with all sorts of aids to procrastination. We all do this from time to time, but we do not make it a regular habit. If we tried that, we should almost certainly be driven mad.)

Last worthy of mention is the writer's ear, similar to a musician's ear but different in that it is actually a sharpened sensitivity towards the way words sound--alone, in phrases, in sentences, even in whole paragraphs. This trait, like the last two, must be developed even if the seed of it is already yours. It isn't difficult to develop. I'm sure you know how already, but just to be sure: read good books. By "good" here I mean "well-written". Read books by dead people--we've forgotten most of what we used to know. Read poetry, even if you don't care for it--poetry is like music in the form of words. The more you read of excellent authors, the easier it will be for you to differentiate between mediocre prose and language that sings. And when this instinct is sure, when a wrongly-placed word jars you as instinctively as a wrongly-played note, when a simple sentence ebbs and flows like music in your head, then you will be on your way to writing well, and writing with your whole heart.

There, it would seem I've given you an essay! As I mentioned earlier, though, just be grateful it isn't a full-length book. ;)
9.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Day Nine of Fifteen Days: Writing Projects

Welcome back! I'll just give you a quick reminder of what this is in case anyone's forgotten, as we're nearly at the two-thirds mark. Lerowen, author of Eat...Sleep...Write, is hosting a fifteen-day challenge in which the participants are asked to post on topics such as writing style, inspiration, and character development. This being the ninth day, our question is:

What is your current writing project?

...to which I reply, "Project, in the singular? Really? Darling, you'll have to be more specific than that..." but even as I'm protesting, I know the answer. There are two which spring to mind, actually: one on its way to ending (ha!) and one just beginning.

The first, of course, is my war-torn tale of darkness, death and revenge, otherwise known as Volunteer Mission. I've gone on about it often enough that I need only make brief mention of it here--just to say that my first draft is very nearly finished (rather behind schedule, but oh well) and that it really isn't as dismal as I've made it sound. Light, life, and mercy are also intrinsic to the plot. (Oh, and that chap Selwin who keeps popping up where he's least expected and most wanted? That's the story he belongs to.)

Next up is my projected NaNoWriMo novel, Days of Entwining. It is the story of a young girl's life on the island of Lindisfarne during the late 700s--yes, historical fiction again, even after all the scathing things I said last November. I'm particularly excited this go-round because my real-life historical personage is Cynewulf, sometime cleric at Lindisfarne and probable writer of The Dream of the Rood. All in all it promises to be an enchanting, if challenging, experience. I shall be updating my sidebar page for it as I get further along in my planning, so keep a close lookout.

Cheers!
8.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Day Seven of Fifteen Days: Genre

All right, this is a bit confused. It ought really to be day eight, but since I've never watched videos having to do with writing I wasn't sure how to go about posting one; and I also happened to skip day six, because as I don't have a bucket list the challenge wasn't exactly relevant. This one, however, is:

Your favourite genre to write.

(And I believe I am now going to abandon the third person, as it was fun to begin with but has over time grown harder to sustain. Funny, because when I'm writing not about myself it's always the other way round.)

There is an easy answer to this. Which is odd, you know, as I don't technically have a favourite genre. I've tried my hand at a decent few and enjoyed them all (though I must admit that the idea of writing detective fiction frightens me a bit). But there is one that I keep coming back to in spite of all my protests, and it is ...

...historical fiction.

It demands a mind-numbing amount of research, especially before during and after NaNoWriMo. It gets in the way of your brilliant subplots if by any chance you've overlooked some aspect of that same research. It's not nearly as popular or bestselling as romance and fantasy. But for all of its faults, it is (in my opinion) the most glorious genre to write.

I've grown to like research. Yes, even look forward to it! As enjoyable as a fresh new fantasy world can be to explore, there's something so much more thrilling about events that really happened. Time and again I've found the tired cliche to hold firm: truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Also, a certain amount of creative work can be thereby saved: historical events make prime background material for the story your mind is already brewing. 

There are many ways to make the tales of the past your own. My history-based stories, for example, generally bear a streak of the fantastical, a hint of otherworldliness--particularly if their setting already lends itself to the dream-like. Somehow these are the settings I always seem to choose, perhaps because they are usually obscure and difficult to research. (That's a subconscious decision on my part, it must be. I don't torture myself on purpose.)

So, anyway, there it is: instead of my "favourite"genre, the genre I feel most at home with. Every time I branch out, I keep coming back to it. And to my mind that is not at all a bad thing.

(Out of curiosity, why do people always preface their remarks with "in my opinion"? Of course it's your opinion; you wouldn't be stating it otherwise. Hm. Fascinating.)