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.)
5.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Days Four and Five of Fifteen Days: Inspiration and Least Favourites

Due to a combination of Lovely Warm Weather, Pressing Obligations, and Time Misspent On Trivialities, I missed yesterday's challenge. But that's all right. I shall simply cram the two challenges, both today's and yesterday's, into one post. No worries and no pressure and nothing's the matter.

A novel or author that has inspired something in your writing style.

Dim lamplight falls on Megan's books, scattered here, there, and everywhere, from table to floor (the horror!). She peers across her desk at her bookshelf, squinting to make out the titles. None of them ring a bell; there isn't one single book that she can point to as having had a definitive impact on the way she uses words. Up until a few years ago--four, to be exact--her style was fluid, and not in a good way; it changed with every wind. Then one day when the stars were aligned she wrote a short story based on a fairytale, and there it was: her writing style. It has altered (and hopefully improved) in small ways since, but it has never drastically changed.

It is hard to say what exactly brought about this sudden transformation. Circumstantial evidence points to both Tolkien and Rosemary Sutcliff, as it was about this time that she first encountered their writings (or at any rate took them to her heart). Certainly her writing still bears their marks. 

It would seem, then, that these two authors are the ones most responsible for revealing Megan's innate word-crafting in its truest form. And Megan may consider that an honour, though they needn't. She would give an ear to be as witchingly descriptive as Sutcliff, and the other ear to be as richly detailed as Tolkien; but her style isn't theirs, it's hers, and in the interests of literary variety that's all to the good.

Your least favourite character you've written. 

Megan's most despised character is not her wickedest. He is wicked, but he is not painfully interesting like Lord Iorweth and Jon Davies, who each demand a good deal of sympathy in spite of their sins. Perhaps if Megan had given him some sort of motivation beyond lust and cruelty he might have turned out less despicable, but who is to say? His name is Marius: some of you may remember him as Rhiannon's smooth-voiced seducer from "The Readiest Road". (In fact, a certain some of you expressed a strong desire to make him into little pieces with a bread-knife. Such is Megan's readership, ladies and gentlepeeps! Any blame for her bloodthirsty propensities must attach to them.)

At any rate, Megan fully remembers his beginning. It is not a very pleasant memory. To be honest, it is always startling to her whenever a villain springs into being so naturally, so easily; somehow it feels wrong that tortured evil is easier to replicate than blissful good. Marius was both of these and neither; he was more along the lines of blissful evil, which is profoundly disgusting. Megan can feel pity even for arch-villains, but there is something about the oily and smooth-tongued and deceptively beautiful man that thoroughly repulses her, no less when he is her own creation. 
3.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Day Three of Fifteen Days: First Times

This is going to be nostalgia evening. Everything points that way: not least the title of this day's challenge, which is:

Your first attempt at writing.

It is about this time that Megan wishes she had an encyclopedic mind, somewhat along the lines of Sherlock Holmes', so that she could easily pull memories from the labeled files. Her mind being more akin to that of the moderately intelligent John Watson, however, she must do what she can with what she has. 

You see, many of her earliest memories involve writing. Stories of fictional adventures with her brother, poetry dedicated to her closest friend (who reciprocated with stunning, if smudged, artwork), shamelessly self-centred Narnian fanfiction... there is much to remember, but in the midst of all these blurry colorful images she sees two early milestones: her first illustrated short story and her first attempt at an original fantasy.

When she was eight years old she told her little sister a bedtime tale. This was at the suggestion of her mother, who had been trying to cajole that same sleepless little sister with the promise of blueberry muffins for breakfast the next day. The story was centred around a gentle and benevolent rabbit who went about selling blueberry muffins at very cheap prices to appreciative village folk. All was well and happy until he met a poor little family with no money to buy muffins; being somewhat less than wealthy himself, he faced a conflict of conscience. Eventually, of course, he gave in to his more generous impulses and went without breakfast himself to feed the needy family. Megan's own family remembered this story for years afterwards, perhaps because she often insisted on refining and retelling it.

Three years later she began to write down some of the many fantastical ideas that insisted on swarming about in her mind, and eventually a world of sorts took shape. Much of it was simply a knockoff of her beloved Narnia, but a few of the ideas were quite original for her, such as:

1) A beautiful young queen bound by an enchantment that caused her to drown all of her admirers in icy water. For this reason she always wore light blue gowns and a silver bangle.

2) A stone that caused whoever touched it to teleport to the place they (consciously or subconsciously) least wanted to be. This was before she had read anything on the subject of teleportation, though she must have known what it was.

3) A sort of watch that could predict its wearer's fortunes up until two hours later. It could give no details, merely a general idea of what the wearer would face, such as delight, or urgent need to make a decision.

In all honesty, Megan's writing only began to be readable a few years ago. But she refuses to utterly despise her early attempts, because--unoriginality, clunkiness, poor grammar, and all--they are her stories, and they helped to shape her future as a dreamer with a pen.
2.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Day Two of Fifteen Days: Male Author

It's day two of Lerowen's challenge and here we are with:

Your favourite male author.

Megan has had a day full of challenges, and this is not the least of them. There have been many men-with-pens who have touched her life, so many that--yet again--to choose just one is virtually impossible.

There is C. S. Lewis, but to write about him would simply be to echo Jenny's post--and one can't have that.

There is G. K. Chesterton, but Anna has already expounded on him with exquisite skill.

There is J. R. R. Tolkien--but though he is significant and beautiful, he is not so close to Megan as to be her "favourite".

There is one, however, whose spirit is so delightfully like hers that she feels an affinity for him different from any other, and his name is George MacDonald.

From the first time she read At the Back of the North Wind she knew that here was a man with a truly beautiful soul, and all of her encounters with him since have only confirmed this truth. As a theologian he is not straight-on, perhaps, but it's undeniable that he has a right view of the world and a splendid view of heaven. His poetic phrases inspire her; his glimpses into another life fascinate her; his gentle humility charms her.

He is George MacDonald, and there is nobody else quite like him in all the world.
1.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Day One of Fifteen Days: Favourites

So, it's a challenge. Me being me, I can't resist a challenge--especially one that involves doing what I should already be doing, which is posting more often. This one, hosted by Lerowen over at Eat...Sleep...Write, will have me posting every day for fifteen days. And this is the first day, and this is the name of it:

Your favourite character you have written.

As Megan gazes upon her pen-children, scattered here and there in clusters of varying sizes, her heart twists within her. How is she ever to choose one out of all this rag-tag array to call her favourite? There is so much here that she loves: Merry's gentle protectiveness, Rhiannon's wild emotion, Rhys's poetic purity, Mairead's sea-tossed beauty... even Lord Iorweth's wicked, tragic genius. But while she laments the impossibility, one person fills her eyes, eclipsing all the rest.

Selwin.

One year and three months ago he leapt laughing into her life like a golden god, fully alive from that first bright moment. He still puzzles her, to be honest; among all of her people, he is the most open-hearted and the most confusing. But he is a beautiful enigma, she knows that, and her feelings for him aren't quite like the understanding affection she's given all the others. It is not that she loves him more, nor that she loves them less; it is simply that he is a creature altogether different and removed.

She could tick off numerous adjectives to describe him--charming, stubborn, light-hearted, loyal, witty, compassionate, foolish, devout--but none of those come close to capturing his spirit. In the end, he is just a young Welsh soldier who lived and died six hundred years ago in his author's mind. He is a son, a friend, a brother. He has blue eyes.

He is her Selwin, and that is why she loves him.