29.6.12 | By: Megan Langham


And I will tell the night,
Whisper, "Lose your sight" 
But I can't move the mountains for you
Mumford & Sons, "Timshel"

“It’s going to rain, you know.”

I peered round the door into the front garden. Dampness drifted gently in the air, settling on the birch leaves and the tops of short grass stalks. It felt more likely to have rained already.

“No, I don’t think it will. At any rate, I shall be back before the weather has had time to make up its mind. You really don’t want me to go, do you?”

“I’d come with you if I thought it would do any good.”

I stole a glance at him. Though his eyes were laughing, something sad and secret had crept in at the corners, like a wisp of grey cloud in the blue of a midsummer sky.

“Well,” I said, putting on my gloves. “At least you’ve learned to pick your battles.” A loose burgundy thread dangled helplessly from my right glove’s wrist; I tugged at it, heedless of disaster. Though my back was to him, I could feel his gaze on me.

“Is that what you’re after, then, love? Crushing my spirit, wounding my soul? God, you’re a heartless girl.”

“Don’t swear,” I said absently, though I didn’t care much whether he did; to be fair, I would have liked to swear a good deal myself just then. Maybe I would do, once we were apart.

“May I at least walk you down to the station?”

I had never seen such a stubborn thread.

“Oh, do whatever you like. It isn’t as if I could stop you.”

His eyes crinkled, merrily, mischievously. “You’ve got a firmer hold on me than you’d like to believe, cariad. Hand me my cap, will you?” He shrugged on his jacket (ghost-green, like my eyes) and took his hat from my hand with a smile. "How do I look?"

You look like a golden glowing sun-star, like a sweet steel flower, like a thing too oddly lovely to have sprung from my mind.

I slipped my arm through his. "You'll do."

For a few moments we walked together in silence. Through my haze of not caring I was acutely aware of the gravel crunching beneath our unified feet, of the chickadee thrilling with song in the hedges beside us, of the gentle yet steady pressure of his hand on my wrist like a tourniquet. 

"You can say it, you know."

I glanced up at him, startled. "Say what?"

"What you're really thinking. What you've hidden away in the dark corners of your mind like a deformed child, like a beautiful monster. You can let it out and let it breathe, whenever we're alone together."

"It's kind of you to say that." I drew a deep unsteady breath. "But I think I am already more revealing than I ought to be for comfort."

"Perhaps, but is comfort really what you want?" He took one look at my face and laughed, merry as the hedge-bird. "Dear heart, I'm not going to lecture you. Not here, not now. Besides, I'd be frightful at it. I only want you to think about what you love the most, and then perhaps to wonder whether your treasures will be worth your loving, in the end. That's all."

"Comfort is a treasure," I said, musing; and then-- "You want me to be brave, don't you. You're trying to turn me from a rabbit to a lion."

"I never said that, did I?" He stopped walking, and his merriment retreated to the corners of his eyes. "You see, I am not brave. I have no answers to give, my love; I can't help you. I can only love you, which is all that any man or woman can do for another. And sometimes I can swear at you, but that is only when I know you won't give me better than I send."

"Oh, come on," I said, laughing. "We'll never get to the station in time if we keep stopping to banter."

He brushed a raindrop from his nose and grimaced. "As you wish, always. And I won't say I told you so."

"I would have forgotten my own hat, of course." 

But I was secretly glad for the rain.
17.6.12 | By: Megan Langham

Medicina: Guest Post from J. Grace Pennington

My dear fellow scribblers, I have something special for you today—a guest post from talented writer and good friend Grace Pennington. I think you will enjoy it; her subject matter is endlessly fascinating. Also, she will be touching on the topic of her new novel, Firmament: Radialloy. After you've finished reading, pay a visit to either her blog or the book's Amazon page to find out more!

in grace's words

I get interesting looks sometimes when I say that I write medical science-fiction.  I don't know if it's a real genre, and I certainly don't know anyone else who writes it.  But it's what I write.  Not science-fiction that has a medical element in it somewhere, but science-fiction that is centered on some medical idea, medical problem, or perhaps on medical personnel.

My recently released novel Firmament: Radialloy is medical sci-fi, with a doctor's daughter and medical assistant as the main character.  The plot is heavily dependent on medical constructs, particularly the idea of a fatal condition called Langham's Disease (no, I didn't name that after anyone I know, why do you ask?).  Mild medical procedures take place at intervals throughout the story, all in a day's work for the main character.

Why am I so obsessed with the human body, how it fails, how it heals, and what we can do to help it?  I'm not sure I know, really.  I've always been interested, and in the past few years the interest has turned into a fascination. I still haven't come upon a definitive reason, but I have a few guesses.

One obvious reason is just the true remarkableness of it all.  The way every little detail works together so precisely and brilliantly, from the life-sustaining heart to the tiny fighters of intrusion and disease, the white blood cells. The intricacy of the work of the red blood cells, on a mission to supply every tissue with oxygen, the instant reaction of muscles to the warnings and information of nerves.  It's absolutely breathtaking, and the more deeply I get into how it all works, the more I love it.

Another reason is the inherent drama in medical situations.  At its most basic level, the science of medicine is about life and death—the preservation and betterment of one and the avoidance of the other.  It doesn't get much more dramatic than that.  As a romantic, I feed on drama, and my novels tend to be built on it, making life-threatening diseases, fractured limbs, and painful wounds a good fit for my storytelling.  Rushing to save a life, working to overcome extraordinary pain, it excites me and provides me with drama to drive my stories.

But perhaps the most important reason I've come up with thus far is how amazingly the human body shows the power and brilliance of its Creator.  We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.  The way every system works together, the way the body repairs and defends itself, the way that everything is so carefully balanced with mathematical precision and yet beautiful creativity, is one of the strongest testaments I know of the love, care, and absolute awesomeness of our God.

I?m sure that all of these reasons are woven together to bring about my attraction to the study and writing use of medical matters, and probably other, smaller reasons that I don't realize.  I try not to let the physiological side of my stories overwhelm the other aspects, but it's very easy to see my affinity for the subject.  My fascination with the details, my perusal of the potential drama, and my awe for what the Creator has done tend to spill over into my writing whether I like it or not.

Thankfully, I like it a lot.

And I hope my readers like it, too.

J. Grace Pennington has been telling stories since she could talk, and writing them down since age five.  Now she lives in the Texas Hill Country with her parents, her eight younger siblings, and her horse, Pioneer.  When she's not writing, she enjoys reading good books, playing movie soundtracks on the piano, and looking up at the stars.  You can find out more about her writing, including the Firmament series, at www.jgracepennington.com

4.6.12 | By: Megan Langham

June's Snippets of Story

I think November is the only month to see me sticking with one project rather than trying to marshal a small army of them into rank. I can manage to focus on a single piece then, but when I try to accomplish the same feat at any other time I fail. So many projects, so many voices, so little self-control.

At least it makes for an interesting collection of snippets.

(Also. Here, if you're wondering, is where the idea of posting glimpses of one's writing progress each month originated. It's a delightful idea, and an even more delightful blog!)

diverse dewdrops

Dust settled around the book; dust of ages long gone and prayers long forgotten. Or, if not forgotten, left so far in the wake of passing years that memory grew vague and pallid, excepting only God's memory, which never waned.
—Volunteer Mission

"Ah, but a girl loves jewels." Rhiannon let the pearls slip through her fingers, a laughing light in her eyes. "And you needn't turn my words against me, Cerdic, for I am not a girl to you."
—The Road to Avalon

When Margery stepped through the door a strong gust of wind caught her by the waist and nearly lifted her from the ground. She gasped, one hand to her head, and like a subdued wild thing the wind faded into little more than a breeze. Beneath her feet the tall grass rippled in the wind's breath like a pale portrait of the turquoise-tossed ocean across the shore.
—Volunteer Mission

"I see now that I was right to hate this place," said Kathy dully. "But I wish I had been wrong." She gulped down the last of her tea and stood up, brushing off her skirt. "Come along, Merry. We've given far more than is gracious."
—Vale of Darkness

Selwin brushed his fingers across Glynnis's pale forehead, gently as if it were made of porcelain. “Evan fights for Wales; she is his mother and child and wife. And that is good, it is as it should be. But it is also the difference between us. When I enter the battlefield, dear heart, I do not see my country as the distant reward. I see only your face, loved and lovely, before my eyes.”
—Volunteer Mission

The world about me blurred and condensed into a small pinpoint of light, red like blood, like a spark of flame flickering between my aunt and the strange shaggy man with the voice of a wounded god.
—The Road to Avalon
30.5.12 | By: Megan Langham

My Neighbour's Good Opinion

If you're a regular reader of my blog at all, you will likely have noticed that I am a gleeful participant in Sky and Georgie's monthly character-building exercise Beautiful People. All of the questions to date have been incredibly insightful and a pleasure to answer, but there is one in particular which stood out to me. It appeared in last year's August edition of BP; I answered it here, for my character Glynnis.

What do your other characters have to say about this character?

The other day I was rereading my answers to this question and it startled me to realise how much it had taught me about both Glynnis and her friends in such a sparsity of words. So, for fun, I decided to answer it for some of my other characters from Volunteer Mission - and the results were unexpectedly revealing. Here are four of them.

margery smalldon

Will (her childhood friend) says she is too often caught up in her own troubles, but a true and tender soul for all that. Lady Elinor (her mistress) says she is a good girl, skilled at her work and with a kind word for everyone, if she does tend towards moping. Rhys says she is always the mad ocean gypsy who bewitched him with her sweetness and sorrow. Evan says she is pitiful, but precious, like a small frightened seabird with a broken wing and a heart to soar. Selwin says she is his charge, though she never asked to be; his heart, though he never aimed for that; and above all a caring and careworn maid who does not know how lovely she is.

rhys ap tuder

Rhoyna says he is not a very handsome man, which is a failing on his part; but in truth, when he smiles, you forget all of that. Glynnis says he’s as good as her brother, always ready with a hand to steady her and a story to make her forget why she needed steadying to begin with. Selwin says he is a puzzle, doleful and cheerful at the oddest times, but a thrilling storyteller and as quietly reliable a brother as one could wish for. Lord Iorweth says he is a good soldier, no better nor worse than a hundred others, though he looks like a milksop. Evan says he is strange and unpredictable and unfairly, ineffably kind.

lord iorweth pengrych

Huw (his manservant) says that his lord is often regarded as hard and wicked, and there’s truth to that maybe, but he was always kind to him. Rhoyna says he is charming and not at all bad to look at - she likes his eyes particularly. Evan says he is a brilliant commander and he himself would give a good deal to be so skilled. Selwin says he’s an intriguing personage and a good soldier, but there is something evil in his heart beyond the darkness of most men. Rhys says he is cruel because he is broken.

elena verch einion

Evan says she is a like a sturdy fairy, ethereal and elegant and excellent in a crisis. Philip says she is too retiring for his tastes, but she cooks like a dream. Gwilym (Evan's friend) says she is pretty in a pale way, though there is nothing vapid about her personality - to the contrary, she has a tongue like a poker. Selwin says she is like the moon, motherly and mysterious and fair. Einion (her father) says simply that he does not know how he could live without her.

"If there is anything more annoying than having people talk about you, it is certainly having no one talk about you."
--Oscar Wilde
18.5.12 | By: Megan Langham

What The Heart Wants

When I was browsing through the 800-899 shelves of our local library, I came across a book that I'd been hearing about consistently for the past three-coming-up-on-four Novembers: No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. In spite of all the recommendations I couldn't be bothered to read it before -- perhaps the title put me off, as I'm an incorrigible outliner. But on an impulse I checked it out, and I'm glad I did. While a substantial chunk of the book was essentially repeating what I had already learned through three years of NaNoWriMo and a lifetime of writing, I did come across some delightful little gems of helpfulness.

One of these was the "Magna Carta" exercise, which involves creating two separate lists gleaned from your experience as a reader. The first is an enumeration of everything that draws you to a book and keeps you there, leaving an feeling of practical enchantment and time well-spent in its wake. The second -- significantly more grumpy but just as useful -- involves detailing the sorts of things that make you cringe when you come across them in a book (or even a book's description), leaving nothing but a bad taste in your mouth and a sickening sense of time wasted. Beyond providing a reliable, if predictable, glimpse of your personality, the resulting lists are meant to guide you through your writing decisions. According to Chris Baty, "if you won't enjoy reading it, then you won't enjoy writing it". The idea is to remember what you love and pursue that, rather than pandering to a popular idea that you can't abide.

These are my Magna Cartas, below.

she loves

melodic writing that flows naturally yet cleverly // intense platonic same-sex friendships // dreams // bittersweet yet satisfying endings // short chapters beginning with quotations // intergenerational friendships // dry wit // evocative descriptions // european history // may-december romances // alternate history // female characters who are strong because they are feminine // male characters who are not afraid to be vulnerable // the ocean // time travel // tortured characters // emotionally jarring yet meaningful death // lengthy and complicated backstory // subtle sexual chemistry // heroic sacrifices // kind middle-aged english professors // enfp characters of any persuasion // warrior priests // non-stereotypical bookworms // sympathetic villains // a strong undercurrent of faith

she loathes

stilted writing // teenage romances // cliché rebellious princesses // one-dimensional villains // unnecessary sex scenes // emotionally frigid businesswomen // stuffy hypocritical evangelicals // crude humour // an unrealistically beautiful cast // unresolved endings // completely senseless deaths // overly scientific explanations // violence described in cringing detail // infidelity portrayed as a good thing // obvious moral messages // mile-long chapters // body image issues as a plot point // polar bears // lack of structure // almost any modern setting

The things that you appreciate as a reader are also the things you'll likely excel at as a writer. These bits of language, colour, and technique, for whatever reason, make sense to your creative brain. These are the Things You Understand."

--Chris Baty
30.4.12 | By: Megan Langham

Beautiful People - Clarissa Malvern

It's been a long time since either Beautiful People or Vale of Darkness... but here they are, both of them, back again! This time instead of focusing on Merry Malvern or Kathy Lewis, I chose to nudge Clarissa Malvern into the spotlight.

Clarissa is Merry's sister, younger than him by five years, and his only real family. The two of them share a flat in Newbury, Berkshire; they also share a bond of loyalty that most brothers and sisters would envy.

Never mind the constant teasing.

fearsome flower fairy

1. What is her favourite type of shoe? It all depends on the outfit she's wearing: most of the time she wears outfits that mesh well with tall boots or wedge sandals. Being just under five feet high and quite small-boned, she needs every additional inch she can muster.
2. Does she journal? When she was younger she started a journal, but after three (painfully vapid) entries, she abandoned it. Now she is inclined to think that for the best, rationalising that daily detailing her emotions is a waste of timeand besides, her brother is the writer in the family.
3. What’s her favourite animal? Clarissa is a cat lover, through and through. She even finds the hairless ones adorable.
4. What does her average day look like? A typical weekday for Clarissa involves an early waking at the hands of the Beatles (thank mercy for radio clocks), a nice breakfast of coffee and fruit, a quick shower and dash of makeup, and then a ride on the bus to her job at an antiques shop. After dinner and washing-up, she might relax by watching telly, chattering with Merry, or (if it's a Monday) choosing her wardrobe for the rest of the week.
5. Night owl or morning person? (Optional: What time does she usually wake up? Go to bed?) Like her brother, Clarissa is an early-to-bed early-to-rise sort of person. She generally falls asleep at around 10 PM and wakes promptly at 7:15 in the morning. Unlike her brother, she never remembers her dreams.
6. Does she have a sweet tooth? Indeed forsooth and verily. Anything sugary is a sure and certain trap for her, as long as it is also of reasonably high quality in other respects. For example, fatty and generic donuts generally fail to move her, but if you present her with a home-made fruit tart fresh from the oven, you will have earned her lifelong friendship.
7. What colours are her bedroom? Her bedroom walls are a light lavender grey with white trim; the curtains are a darker lilac with white polka dots.
8. Can she cook? She is quite skilled at both cooking and baking; moreover, she enjoys both. Merry likes to jokingly lament that she's spoiled him completely for the cooking of any other woman, even his future wife, whoever she may be.
9. What is her favourite household chore? See above. Apart from cooking, she doesn't mind washing up afterwards. The warm soapy water is sweet to her soul.
10. Favourite kind of tea? When she does drink tea (which is only about once a week) she likes a cup of Earl Grey with sugar and lemon. Coffee is her morning beverageshe can't have caffeine any time after noon, or she'll stay awake too late at night.

I have not been Clarissa’s brother for nineteen years without learning that she is most stubborn and implacable when she looks like a fawn-child lost in the wild wood. She is five years younger than I and thin like a water reed, delicately attractive like a flower fairy, but when once she decides on a matter then that is the end of it.
19.4.12 | By: Megan Langham

April's Snippets of Story

I'm afraid this has been rather a sparse writing month for me—at least of the share-able sort, anyway. Mostly I've been doing a good deal of journaling and premature planning. (If there's a cure for planning sequels before the first book is finished, please tell me! I am in dire need of such help.)

However, I do have some bits and snippets of writing to share. They may not make much sense to you, being completely out of context, but at least they will give you a glimpse into what my mind has been brewing over these past few weeks.


A step sounded; he looked up and there she stood, pale and poised, like a statue sculpted from ice. Her thin lips curved in a gracious smile, but her amber-brown eyes glinted cold.
—Volunteer Mission

"Ah," said Selwin. "Then you have noticed it. I was beginning to think I'd gone mad."
—Volunteer Mission

His love for Huw was like a maid’s fond feeling for a little petted animalnatural, easy, taken for granted; undergoing in cycles a long period of forgetfulness before a sudden surge of fierce, protective obsession, gone as soon as it had come and leaving no troubling traces behind. It was not altogether fair to say that Lord Iorweth used Huw as a servant, but it was certainly too kind to say that he loved him as a friend.
—Volunteer Mission

To Evan in that moment he looked like an imp out of Faerie, like a mocking young angel bathed in coloured light. The pictures startled him; he was not given to fanciful imaginings.
—Volunteer Mission

For a time I will give her that. For a short burst of blessing I will let her be happy. And then, when everything shatters around her, she will have the sweet taste of those times to remember, to roll tenderly about on her tongue, to visit again in her dreams at night.
—Moonlight Hill

His black hair fell untidily to his stooped shoulders, giving him the irresolute air of a Romantic poet. He was neither handsome nor young: his forehead lined with perpetual worry, his complexion so pale as to seem almost unhealthy, his speech halting and low. Only his eyes, a startling blue, were young in his face.
—Vale of Darkness

"I don't wear cardigans."
—Vale of Darkness
12.4.12 | By: Megan Langham

Jacinth Song

Do you know how it is when in the course of an ordinary day you stumble across a passage of a book or a lyric of a song or even a previously unheard platitude that seems to have been written for you? It is a strange sensation, as troubling as it is gratifying, to feel that someone has reached into your soul and pulled out a secret thing. But then you remember that it was a thought in their soul before it was in yours, and the quiet horror is replaced with a feeling of trembling kinship.

All of that is how I felt about this little poem by e.e. cummings -- not generally one of my favourite poets, but certainly a genius. And sometimes, as now, a genius who understands. It's only a bit of a thing, this poem, but perhaps you will feel about as I did. At any rate, I wanted to share it with everyone I know, because the possibility of understanding is always there.

you are tired

You are tired,
(I think)
Of the always puzzle of living and doing,
And so am I.

Come with me, then,
And we’ll leave it far and far away—
(Only you and I, understand!)

You have played,
(I think)
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
Just tired.
So am I.

But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,
And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart.
Open to me!
For I will show you the places Nobody knows,
And, if you like,
The perfect places of Sleep.

Ah, come with me!
I’ll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon,
That floats forever and a day;
I’ll sing you the jacinth song,
Or the probable stars,
I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream,
Until I find the Only Flower,
Which shall keep (I think) your little heart
While the moon comes out of the sea.

e.e. cummings
29.3.12 | By: Megan Langham

A Game of Tags

So! There is a new questionnaire floating about in Blog Land. Having been tagged three times with it (by Megan, Joy, and Keaghan), I've settled down to complete it myself. Well, I say "complete" with some caveats: rather than filling out thirty-three questions plus eleven extra facts, I've chosen five questions from each blog and dispensed entirely with the facts. If you were looking forward to them, I am surprised and sorry. Perhaps I'll make another facts-post later.

Or maybe I won't. These look to be great fun, but rather difficult all the same because I'll be talking about myself, not my writing -- and yes, there is quite a difference between the two. I think it is the same for every writer.

megan’s questions

1. Do you have any pets? Our family has a tabby cat (Tabitha), a tortoiseshell cat (Angel), and a border collie (Briar). Angel is most especially mine: she is the gentlest cat in the world and the most affectionate. Tabitha is quirky and rather antisocial, but if you're kind to her she'll warm to you in time. Briar is a beautiful dog with soft black-and-white fur, lustrous brown eyes, and a temperament of rare unselfishness.
2. Do you have any unfulfilled dreams? Heaps, darling! Exempli gratia: I haven't travelled Europe yet, I've never seen Mumford & Sons live, and my little bookshop in the Cotswolds is still a castle in the air.
3. What is one of your pet peeves? It drives me absolute batty when people say "Well, it's all Hubert's affair. I could care less." Nobody seems to understand that if you can care less, it means that there is still the possibility that you might perhaps find a sliver of sympathy for Hubert in your cold hard heart. If you wish to appear indifferent, do so wholeheartedly. You couldn't care less about the other fellow's concerns. What you're trying to say is that it just isn't possible. You couldn't care less.
4. What is your favourite season and why? Autumn is my favourite season because it feels somehow akin to me, as if it were the time of year I ought to have been born. My inspiration is strongest then, when the air is bracing and the trees are all golden lights and fire-flames.
5. What time of day do you normally blog? Whenever the mood strikes me, which is generally late at night. Occasionally I have been known to write in the morning, but that is a rare phenomenon and not to be accepted as precedent.

joy’s questions

1.Which character in John Bunyan’s immortal classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, do you identify with the most in their/your spiritual journey? I don't think I can identify completely with any of the heroes in this story. If I were to choose one of the three it would perhaps be Christian -- he stumbles the most, after all, and he is the slowest to believe in the beginning. But he reaches the Celestial City in the end, even if it is by a long and tricksy route.
2. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, we see that Sam’s and Frodo’s responses to Gollum/Smeagol are different. If you were in their place during the times they had the opportunity of killing Gollum, would you kill him and be rid of his trickery and wickedness, or would you feel pity him having carried the burden (the Ring) yourself, knowing its temptation, and show him mercy? I have stared at this question, taken it apart, hung it out to dry... and I am still not entirely sure of the answer. At the beginning I thought (and I still do tend to think this) that I would have pity on Gollum -- not because I am a good person, but because I possess an inconveniently enormous amount of empathy. I can't hold grudges, much as I might try to. I can't hate people, because no matter how angry they might have made me I can always see their side of the story. So there's that. But I am also extremely loyal to the people I love -- so there's that, too. I think that if I were in the situation described, Tolkien could gleefully have used up a good six chapters just in detailing the struggle between my loyalty and my empathy. It would most likely make for dull reading. But that would be his affair.
3. Which two books of the Bible do you tend to read from the most? From the Old Testament, Isaiah; from the New Testament, John. Lately I've been trying to read some of the more difficult books, and I've also been studying James. (I include him among the more difficult.)
4. Is there a figure in history (outside the Bible) that you love the most? And why? I have many historical heroes, but if I can only choose one then St. Augustine and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd shall have to battle for the position. I adore St. Augustine because his words are like familiar poetry to me, like the soothing balm of understanding that someone else has battled my foes before me and emerged all the stronger for the struggle. As for Llywelyn, Welsh prince -- he had me by the heart since first I heard his story. I could go on about his virtues for days (or perhaps in an entirely separate blog post).
5. What do you love most about the place where you live? Odd as it sounds, I think I love the weather the most. It's damp and grey and foggy and half the time it's deluging, but over time I've learned to embrace all that. These days I'm practically allergic to sun. Besides the weather, I am especially enamoured of the culture here. In the Northwest (particularly Portland) everyone is chic and unique and alternative. We shop at Powell's in slippers and cloches, for goodness' sake, with a vanilla latte in one hand and a murder mystery in the other. (But we seldom carry umbrellas. That's tourist's stuff.)

keaghan’s questions

1. If you belong to a so-called “fandom”, what is it? Actually, I belong to several fandoms. I am, in no particular order, a Whovian, a Sherlockian, a Merlinite, a Downtonian, a Lostie, and a Horatian. I also follow Once Upon a Time, but I don't think their fandom has a name yet.
2. If you have siblings, how many? Are you the eldest? Youngest? I am the eldest of seven siblings:  two brothers and then four sisters.
3. What’s a phrase or word you use often? "Brilliant!", "Oh, you're joking!", and "Thank God, the tea's done!" I live a very ironic and tea-filled lifestyle.
4. Would you rather be barefoot or wear shoes? Barefoot, without a doubt. My feet do not like shoes at all; I am convinced I was meant to be a hobbit.
5. If you could have one item of clothing from any book, television show, or movie, what would it be and what show/book/movie does it come from? This outfit from Charlotte Gray. All the adorations. Also, in a slightly less practical vein, I would like Eowyn's entire wardrobe.

my questions for you

1. What is the last full sentence you read?
2. What is your Myers-Briggs type? Do you think it is accurate/relevant?
3. Which of the seven dwarves from Snow White do you most identify with?
4. How would you (poetically) describe your eye colour?
5. What accent do you find the most attractive?
6. Which world cultures intrigue you the most?
7. What is your voice range?
8. Are you an emotional reader/viewer, or do books and television leave you generally unaffected?
9. How do you unwind at the end of the day?
10. Do you remember your dreams?
11. What is your favourite punctuation mark?

I am going to be that annoying person and tag any and all of my readers who wish to be tagged. Go forth ye and Make Posts!
21.3.12 | By: Megan Langham

With Words They Hewed My Heart

During these past several months I have been doing a good deal of reading. This, in itself, is not at all remarkable. What is remarkable is that within a very short space of time I met three new, popular, widely-spoken-of books and fell deeply in love with each one. I am not a book snob. I don't despise modern literature just to appear dusty and learned. But it's true that the books which capture my attention and retain my affection were most often written by authors who are dead now. So that is why I was so surprised and pleased when each closing sentence left me with the unmistakable feeling of shivering ecstasy imparted only by a book that has become a boon.

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

This is the book responsible for harrowing my heart with horrors, freezing my blood to ice, and then settling me down beside a cosy homelike hearth-fire to melt into a puddle of conflicting emotion. I felt a strong kinship with Margaret Lea and her quiet bookshop life; even when she was plunged whole-hearted into another life of  deception and secrets and sorrow I understood her. But the enigmatic Vida Winter always felt alien to me, and a strange sort of alien at that. She was a Helen and a Bertha and a Mr. Rochester all rolled into one, and her gothic house of fear and familiarity was like a place I might meet in a dream.

"A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth."
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke

This is the book responsible for taking my hand, pulling me through a mirror into the mist, and refusing to let me return to the world until I had come face to face with a Faerie I never knew. It is a delightful book, a deadly book. Imagine the eccentrities of Dickens, the wit of Austen, the emotion of Keats, and the magic of Tolkien all wrapped up in a dark dream of fantasy wound about with historical detail -- and you will have as apt a description of this unusual tale as you can hope to find in this world or the other.

"I came to them out of mists and rain;
I came to them in dreams at midnight."
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

This is the book responsible for ripping out my heart, dancing on top of it, and then slipping it back into my chest with a kiss and a prayer.   Markus Zusak wields words like weapons: stabbing stolidity with his sentences, piercing through veils with his prose. I dare you to finish the final page unmoved.

But in spite of the pain and Death's constant presence, this is not a morbid story. It is a tale of life contrasted with death, love with cruel apathy, laughter with choking tears ... and in the end, life and love and laughter shine all the brighter against their dark backdrop. Beauty lurks in every line, true and tantalising.  Even Death is splendid.

"A last note from your narrator: I am haunted by humans."
9.3.12 | By: Megan Langham

March's Snippets of Story

Eclectic. That's the word to best describe this last month for me—in terms of writing, at least. I did not accomplish quite as much as I'd hoped to, but all the same I'm rather content with what I did accomplish. Which is a good state of mind to be in, or so I have heard.

You are most likely acquainted with each of the stories from which these snippets originate (except for "Moonlight Hill", and I am afraid you never will be acquainted with that one). As to the reason for posting them, I direct you to this post and heartily encourage you to get in on the fun.

this and that

Angharad nodded, catching her lip between her teeth as if she could let her feelings show that long, and no longer. The thought passed through Moridic’s mind that Evan was very like his mother; even their eyes were the same, and the way they moved impatiently when they were feeling a deep emotion that they did not wish to share. But Evan was easier to love, for all that. Perhaps that was because he was not a woman, and one expected women to be gentler, more sensitive, readier to weep or laugh. Strange, that was, when so many women were not like that at all, and when many men found it easier to lay bare their souls.
—Volunteer Mission

Pain stabbed through Rhys’s senses—the disordered pain of a forsaken memory. It was true, and he knew it to be true, and he wished beyond measure that he had not been reminded.
—Volunteer Mission

The brilliant leaves made a pleasant crunching sound beneath her feet, the pleasanter the harder she stepped. Perhaps if she were faster…she caught up the skirt of her dress with her free hand, tightly gripped her basket with the other, and began to run.
—Volunteer Mission

She was hiding bewilderment and pain behind a clumsy mask of careless callousness, that Rhys knew. He hurt for her, but he would not let her confusion sway him.
—Volunteer Mission

I had not wanted to burden him with my heartwrung cares, painfully unsuited to his merry youth, and so I had laughed, and brushed my tears away with my fingers, and reassured him that I was quite all right, long day, hard thoughts, no need for him to trouble himself on my account.
—Moonlight Hill

She was so pale as she stood there, pale but bright as if she had been star-touched. I wondered at the strange transcendent beauty in her face.
—Moonlight Hill

Light and warmth greeted them, mingled with the sounds of loud and earnest conversation. In every place there were little knots of men: some speaking in low voices over a table in the darkest corner, some laughing uproariously at the benches near the fire, some making merry with the serving girls. Two of them were attempting a duet, but one man's voice had gone hoarse and the other man had forgotten most of the words.
—Days of Entwining

“We love a man if even for one moment we see God shining from his eyes, and if it is God we see in all of his words and looks and deeds, then it is that we pronounce that man a saint.”
—Days of Entwining

“Look at him. He's been through hell."
“No, he's been through heaven—a much more harrowing experience, at this stage of his journey."
—Vale of Darkness

“All those nights," she whispered, eyes dark, “all those dreams, and still you are more of a mystery than love itself. And still, strangest of all, I do not love you."
—Vale of Darkness

Pale sunlight glanced off the cobblestones, glistening like marble with the residue of rain at nightfall. Beyond the lush-blossomed trees ahead the light intensified into a golden brightness, still subdued but with a feeling of irrepressible energy lurking among the leaves. Everywhere was the scent of lilacs, fair and faint yet somehow also smotheringly sensual. 
—Vale of Darkness

5.3.12 | By: Megan Langham

The Comfort of These Thoughts

“There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything 
the essence of holiness, a sign that God is implicit in all of creation.”

Anne Lamont

I'm coming in rather late to the party with my collection of "little, blessed things" (as Katie calls them). I did do something rather similar several months ago: similar, but quite different. This idea is more specific, more individual. Rather than vague impressions of beauty, these blessings are like pearls on strings, shining pure and perfect in the moonlight. The choosing and stringing of them has refreshed my soul, because turning towards joy is always a blessed change and a sweet gift to oneself.

my moonlit pearls

rain at the window-panes // irish breakfast in my teacup // kerchiefs over curls // angel, sweetest and softest of cats // the tree that flames vibrant red in the front garden each autumn // that springing thrill when each plot thread is tied up // "greensleeves" playing in the kitchen // the welsh marches // hours spent searching through crammed dusty bookshops // smoked salmon // bonds of friendship that distance can't sunder // selwin ap tuder // john chapter seventeen // tolkien's stirring song, streaked with sorrow // fresh lipstick // long walks by the river // sobbing over a book in the wee hours of the morning // swooning over literary heroes with my sister // my brown-bound notebook // puritan prayers // celtic blessings // faerie // evenings home alone with a book and a fire // obscure historical eras that take hours to research // foods that my characters would have eaten // wind whipping my hair about my face // holding hands in the middle of the ocean // sage green // the books I have read into raggedness (enemy brothers, the lantern bearers, that hideous strength, watership down, the little prince) // earrings dangling near my neck // the thought of a blue box // my celtic knot ring // starshine at midnight // my faith that did not begin with me // the knowledge that each of these is an individual grace borne of love, strong and sure...

"I bless and adore thee, the eternal God,
for the comfort of these thoughts,
the joy of these hopes."

The Valley of Vision
23.2.12 | By: Megan Langham

Beautiful People - Evan Dynge

Yes, yes, I know. My last few Beautiful People posts have been focused on Volunteer Mission's more minor characters, and this particular character, though he does indeed belong to Volunteer Mission, is anything but minor. (Just don't tell him I said that, will you?) Anyway, I have taken this slight deviation from my former course because, in spite of the fact that I mention Evan a good deal in excerpts and such, I've never once given him a Post all to himself. The same for Selwin. And since they are the protagonists of this work-in-progress, I thought that rather unfair.

So, here you are: Evan Dynge (which means "the storm" in Anglo-Saxonthere's quite a story behind that, for he's Welsh as they come), six-and-twenty years of age, soldier and brother and friend.

1. If he could be played by any actor, who would it be? That's difficult, you see, as I have made a vivid image of him in my head which no other face can perfectly match. Rupert Evans (ha) comes the closest, I think. It's the eyes that do it.

2. Does he have a specific theme song? Not as such: at least, nothing that is both distinct and all-encompassing. Andrew Peterson's "You Came So Close" makes me think of him every time it comes on, as does "Darkness" by Blackmore's Night, though the lyrics don't quite fit.

3. What's his worst childhood memory? He has never said, and I don't expect he ever will. Where he is concerned, painful memories are meant to be buried and forgotten.

4. If he had a superpower, what would it be? Evan is a distinctly un-supernatural sort of person. If he were to be gifted with a special power, it would probably be an extension of his already considerable fighting prowess. Superhuman strength, or some such. Invulnerability.

5. If he crashed on an island with a bunch of other people, how would he help the group survive? Since he's an excellent knife-fighter and a good hand with a bow, doubtless he would find himself on the hunt-for-food-and-defend-the-group-from-outside-threats squad. In factunless he happened to crash with someone equally skilled and more charismatiche would most likely be the head of it.

6. Is he married? If not, does he someday wish to be? Evan is not married; for years he has hardly even given marriage a passing thought. All that changed, however, when he lost his strong-shielded heart to the beloved of his friend. Now he only harbours broken dreams of marriage, dreams without either bitterness or hope.

7. What is a cause he would die for? Every day he is prepared to lose his life fighting for his country's freedom: but this feels more like a duty than a sacrifice to him, and not a likely duty at that. For years his skill has kept him safehe sees no reason to doubt it now. This aside, he would die readily for Rhoyna (his sister); for Selwin (his friend like a brother); and also for his mother, though perhaps he does not know that. 

8. Would he rather die fighting, valiantly, or quietly at home? When Evan dies, it will not be quietly. Not if he can help it, that is (which, granted, most men can't). Though he's fond of his life, he would far rather fall young, in a blaze of glory, than wither away respectably with a priest at his bedside.

9. If someone walked up to him and told him he was the child of the prophecy, would he believe them? Evan does not set much store by prophecies, or indeed foretellings of any kind. I think he would assume the stranger was either mad or drunk or both and laugh him off.

10. Does he prefer the country or the city? The country, because it is his home and his familiar place. Towns (the closest thing he knows to cities) are all very well in their way, but he could not enjoy life surrounded by traders and pilgrims and traveling minstrels for very long.

Selwin laughed lightly at the remembrance of Evan’s face, of how dismayed it had been when he learned that his friend, not he, was to have all the dangerous delight. Most men would have been content to dabble in danger; a good many men would have shrunk from it altogether; but Evan was not that sort of man. Everything he did, he did to the utmost. Perhaps he would have violated some vital unwritten rule if ever he were to do something halfway, if ever he were not to finish a task with all the passion and brilliance that had been in his mind when the idea was first born. 
21.2.12 | By: Megan Langham

Wolves on the Moor

This is a Little Thing that came to me last night when I ought to have been sleeping. Perhaps that makes it akin to a dream. Or perhaps it only means that my mind works in mysterious ways and at ungodly hours. (But then I knew that already.)

the wolves

Maddie did not fear the bleakness of the moors. All her life she had known the swooping of the wind about her ears, the keening of the ravens in the brush, the desolate dance of the heather. The barren misted landscape was her home, her highest ideal of beauty—she had no other standard set to measure. But even sixteen years had not prepared her for the dull terror surrounding her now, all the more dark for its familiarity.

“They’re not wolves,” she said aloud, tightening her fingers around her brother’s hand. “Wolves aren’t evil, Geoffrey. Wolves don’t speak.”

Her brother glanced down at her, his face a mask of almost infuriating calm. “But wolves do speak in their own way. They howl." When she merely grimaced in reply he added, gently, "There’s no need to be frightened, Maddie. We’ve lived too long on the moors to lose our way while there’s light left to see by.”

“Perhaps we should not lose ourselves,” said Maddie. “But if there’s something trying to confuse us—several things, an army of things—then what chance have we got? We’re like dolls on strings.”

Geoffrey stopped walking abruptly and swung around to face her, his blue eyes dark. “You’re not to speak so,” he said. “Don’t let fear take root in you, or your nightmares will wake real.”

“But you’re a priest, Geoffrey!” She was almost crying. “You’re a man of God—surely you know evil.”

“I do,” Geoffrey replied. “If there were evil near us, evil of the kind you mean, then I should sense it. But there is none, Maddie. We only strayed too far. We took a wrong trail, and if we double back we’ll be home soon, simple as that. So why are you so afraid?”

Maddie choked back a sob. Her arms dangled at her sides, helpless. She wanted to turn and run, but her brother’s eyes held her. 

“Please,” said Geoffrey quietly. In the silvery twilight his hair shone black, almost blue against his pale face. He looked like an angel, like a spirit of the not-yet-darkness…and she, Maddie, had sunk lower than the earth.

“Forgive me, Father,” she whispered with down-bent gaze, “for I have sinned.”

Her fingers tingled in the cold of the air. Her curls twisted in the wrench of the wind. Across the far stretches of moorland the loudest of the wolves pronounced his judgment.

Geoffrey lifted her chin, gently forcing her to meet his searching eyes.

“I am not your priest now, Maddie. I am your brother. I am your protector… but I can’t protect you when I’m blind to your enemy. What is it turns the wolves to demons in your sight?”

“I cannot tell you.” Maddie ran her hand under her nose and stood up straighter on her heels. You wouldn't understand.

“Wouldn't I?”

“I said, I can't tell you if you're not my priest.”

Geoffrey ran his hand through his hair, sighing in unison with the wind. Very well, then. I'm your priest. Confess your sin, if that is the only way to ease your mind.

For a moment Maddie hesitated, gathering the right words together in her mind, taken from the air that snapped and stung. It was on the night— she began, and got no further before terror struck her dumb. 

Over Geoffrey's broad shoulder she saw a monstrous dark shape, leaping shaggy-grey from the grey-purpling heather, and the eyes glinted gold like the eyes of a demon, and the teeth shone white like an avenging angel. And then she was running, fleet as she had never known she could run, and her brother's voice was calling her name but the fear pounding in her ears like breathing drowned out all other sound.

The moor was dark, the air was dread, and there was nowhere for her to run. But still she fled like a fool until her heart, ready to break in her breast, forced her to a stop. Behind her she could still hear the wolf's heavy tread, but she was too spent even to scream.

My sins have caught up to me. Fresh sorrow is waiting to consume me, and it's right, it's good, it's the rightest thing in the world. I don't deserve to be rescued. I don't even deserve to confess.

She stood alone in the middle of the moorland, her dark head bowed, her trembling arms crossed over her chest. Through the strands of hair in her eyes she could see the wolf. It stood in front of her, watching her with cruel intent in its bright eyes. But for a few lingering traces the fear in her heart had gone now, replaced with crippling apathy. Geoffrey was nowhere to be seen.

“Come, she said aloud, holding out her hand to the wolf. “Why do you wait? Come and punish me.

The wolf took a step towards her, muscles rippling gracefully beneath the silvered fur. The gold glint in its eyes had softened to a shine. Maddie held her breath.

In one fluid movement the wolf swept its head in a bow, touching her feet. Though its mouth never moved, Maddie could have sworn it spoke.

Fool. I can't.

She gasped. The wolf looked up at her, wonder mingled with a strange sort of contempt gleaming in its eyes. Then it turned from her and moved away, swift and lithe as it had come.

Maddie stood staring after it. She did not move, not even when her brother caught her by the shoulder with a surprised exclamation.

“Good Lord, Maddie, what was that? I've never seen you run so wildly—it was as if Death himself were after you.”

“He was, said Maddie, turning slowly to face him. Didn't you see the wolf?

Geoffrey stared. What wolf? There was never a wolf. You and I were standing alone on the path together, and you were about to speak, and then without any warning you turned and fled across the moor like a woman possessed. Thank God you stopped when you did, for my legs were ready to give way beneath me.

Relief swept over Maddie. I think I'm going mad, she said, laughing. “Ought I to feel as glad as I do?”

“What you ought to do, said Geoffrey, with an answering smile of somewhat bewildered relief, is come home with me to your supper and your bed. I can't say what it is that happened to you, but I doubt it can't be cured in part with rest—and in the morning, if you're still troubled, you'll tell me everything. Now come.

Obediently Maddie took her brother's proffered hand. They walked for a few moments in silence before Maggie ventured, timidly: Have you—have you ever not wanted to be forgiven?

Geoffrey wrinkled his brow. Many times, yes. But I have had to remind myself that the decision to forgive my soul was not my choice to make. No man who has set himself up as the judge of his heart can know peace as it was meant to be known.

“Mmm, said Maddie, tucking the thought away to ponder. Then she added, looking up, I'm sorry I was so afraid.”

“No harm done, said Geoffrey. I won't tell anyone that you were frightened of the wolves on the moors.”

Maddie pinched his fingers. You needn't speak so pompous just because you're a priest, Brother Faol. You're not my priest, after all.

The rising round moon beamed down on their laughter, and the raw ravening wind drove their footsteps nearer together.
1.2.12 | By: Megan Langham

February's Snippets of Story

I have a feeling that February is going to be an Inspired Month. Or, shall we rather say, I intend that February shall be an Inspired Month, whether it wants to or not; and what better way to make sure it wants to than to start it out by bringing together bits of my unfinished projects to taunt and tantalise me? (Hopefully they will tantalise you as well, but as for tauntingwell, that would hardly be fair, would it? It's not as if you can do anything about their unfinished state.)

Anyway, this idea is all due to Katie over at Whisperings of the Pen: a delightful little person with a delightful little blog, and I'd love to see each of my readers join in on this scheme of hers. I know you can all write well. But I like to keep being reminded.

without further ado

He was standing alone in the middle of a meadow which seemed to him extraordinarily familiar, though even dreaming he knew that he had never really stood there. All about him were mists and wraiths of fog, like clouds fallen from the sky. Evil danced about his feet, palpable and piercing. In the distance he could see a forest beginning: it was all beeches, beeches and elms as far as his vision took him. Behind him he heard the sound of the sea. 
— Days of Entwining

Margery hesitated. It was one matter to know that Will knew; quite another to form shadowy substance into words. Naked words, defenseless words, words that could be mocked and killed. 
— Volunteer Mission

Evan made another gesture of mild impatience. “Best let it lie for the time being. So long as I am competent enough to lead these men to our commander, I care little about my state of mind.”
— Volunteer Mission

“He’s a fool, and the worst is that he doesn’t know it yet, though I’ve tried to tell him tactfully. But I care about him, Rhys. God help me, I care, and I don’t want this to drive him to desperation. I wouldI want him safe, for Glynnis as much as for myself. Please, Rhys. He’ll hate you, he’ll hurt you, but for my sake and hers keep him safe.”
— Volunteer Mission

He would not have to marry her. It would not be necessary to reach so high. All he wanted to do was keep beside her forever, protecting her as he always had. She would be lost without him, he knew that. This man could not protect her. What had he ever done to prove himself worthy?
— Days of Entwining

Rowan continued tapping with his finger; then all at once he grew conscious of it, and made it dance a funny little jig.
— Days of Entwining

"What does a clinging vine do when the oak tree falls? It finds another tree to cling to."
— Volunteer Mission

And he knew then that he loved her, and he felt neither pain nor pity.
— Volunteer Mission

His eyes, too, shone with warmth like the sky in summer. Gently he lifted Mairead's hand to his lips and kissed it again; then he leaned toward her and pressed his lips to her forehead. She breathed him in, deep and pure. He smelled of meadow grass and wild roses and sand warmed by the sunlight.
— Days of Entwining

“That,” said Kathy solemnly, “is not much of a comfort.” She turned away then, whispering “Good night, Merry” without a second glance; but I had seen the dread of the night in her eyes as she spoke, and for the second time that day I had felt her pain.
— Vale of Darkness

“Are you?” Rhys said, unable to stop himself. “Are you sorry for it?”
— Volunteer Mission

28.1.12 | By: Megan Langham

Beautiful People - Rhoyna verch Griffri

...and just like that, Beautiful People is back. I've missed it tremendously, though each round I have a time of it trying to decide who to tell you about. Before I did the special (and absurdly long) interview with Mairead, I was going through my more minor but still important characters from Volunteer Mission. So far I've covered Rhys, Glynnis, and Lord Iorweth: but there are still several other people who play understated yet immense roles in the plot of Evan's story, and one of them is his little sister.

Her name is Rhoyna Griffri's daughter, and she is fifteen years old.

1. If her house burned down and she was left with nothing but the clothes on her back, what would she do? Where would she go? She would break down for approximately ten minutes, after which she would pick herself up, dry her eyes, and find a friend to take her in. As she has managed to inspire friendship in nearly everyone she has ever met, this course would present few difficulties.

2. Is she happy with where she is in life, or would she like to move on? It is not in Rhoyna's nature to be sad often or for very long. The war with England tires her, but that is a circumstance beyond her control. Though she often thinks that she would prefer fighting alongside Evan to waiting uselessly at home, she won't allow that remembrance to dampen her spirit's sunshine. When she is not particularly missing her brother, she is content enough with her life.

3. Is she well-paid? She does no work to be paid for. Her family, however, sees to it that she does not want for anything.

4. Can she read? If put to it, she could pick out a poem with some difficulty. She's never been properly taught (not having seen a compelling reason to learn) but, being clever, she has learned a great deal from watching Evan when he reads.

5. What languages does she speak? Only Welsh. (That is, for the time being. Later on she may be forced to draw on the quick mind that she has for such things. Maybe.)

6. What is her biggest mistake? Nobody can know what that will be, but within the bounds of the story, her biggest mistake is one she hasn't made quite yet. And to tell you any more would be to spoil things.

7. What did she play with most as a child? Twig-made spears, other children, and theatrical fantasies.  The first is explained by her deep-seated admiration for her warrior-brother, the second by her near-constant desire for meaningful human contact, and the third by her intrinsic inclination to play and perform her way through life.

8. What are her thoughts on politics? She seldom considers politics as such: Moridic's way of explaining them is simultaneously simplistic and confusing, and somehow she does not care to discuss them with Evan. All she knows for certain is that she detests the wars for taking Evan and leaving her.

9. What is her expected lifetime? That is a very difficult question to answer, given the utterly unforeseeable nature of the future and all. Rhoyna, herself, lives her life as though she'll never die.

10. If she were falsely accused of murder, what would she do? How would she react? It is doubtful that such a shocking situation would ever arise, but if by any chance it did, she would turn utterly ruthless on her accusers. Any personal hurt would be swallowed up in her rage against the injustice of it all; she would waste no time in persuading everyone she knows (especially her betrothed and her brother) to defend her name.

Moridic nodded wordlessly and got up, still holding her hand. His promised one seemed so young to him in that moment, so tender and trembling and altogether more fragile than the child who had run into his arms only a few short hours ago. Her red-rimmed eyes shone bright, painfully bright in her pale face, but it was still the brightness of her eyes that reassured him. 
Sorrow or not, she was his Rhoyna; and he had never known her strength to waver.
22.1.12 | By: Megan Langham

Weep for the Wayward

People aren’t either wicked or noble. 
They’re like chef’s salads, 
with good things and bad things 
chopped and mixed together 
in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.
—Lemony Snicket

Did you miss me?

I've not been completely idle during my absence from the blogosphere. For example, I have been on and off ill (which I shall kindly not elaborate on); I have undergone the elaborate agony of having my wisdom teeth ruthlessly ripped from my mouth (can you say chipmunk? I couldn't, for a while); I have read a rather frightening number of books (more on that later); and while I haven't made much discernible progress with my own writing, I have learned some painfully beautiful lessons from the time I've spent with my brain-born people.

One exercise I tried (without initially considering the fact that it was an exercise) involved writing superfluous scenes from the viewpoints of characters who wouldn't normally have a point of view at all. As a character-building activity it was excellent practise, but when I reached the end of the first scene I realised it had become much more than that. I had learned to love the most uniformly evil of my charactersand because of that his actions felt all the more abhorrent and painful. I knew why he had done what he did, I knew how he became the person he was, and I saw those same stirring seeds of darkness in even the purest person associated with him. I saw them in myself.

Some time ago Jenny wrote a thoughtful and engaging post on giving one's villain a reasonable motive for actually being the villain. Well, it wasn't quite as simple as that, but the gist was similar. Villains are people too, you see, unless they are robots (and even then there must have been a human mind and heart behind them) and to reduce a person, no matter how outwardly abhorrent, to the caricature of a cackling devilthat's incredibly lazy writing, at the least. And it makes for a much less meaningful story.

It's so easy, I think, to distance ourselves from the evil in fiction. It's natural to identify solely with the protagonist and the friends who adore himafter all, that's what the protagonist is there for, right? But I think it is equally important for us to see our own failings in the characters who made the wrong decisions, to realise that if it weren't for the grace of God in our hearts we might have followed them down the darkening path, and as a result of that to care for them as people, not as plot devices. 

Because the best and truest books fit their readers for reality.

Silently berating himself for his foolish fancies, Evan stepped back. At the same time the cloaked man turned, and the light from the candle fell full on his face. It was Lord Iorweth. His face was grey and haggard, as if he had aged twenty years in two hours; even in profile, Evan could see the pain etched in every line of his expression. His hair fell loose and curling over his forehead, and his hands were white where they grasped the edges of the table. He looked like a man in the throes of death.
—Volunteer Mission