Part One, Chapter Four

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Fitze Fitcher was a thin, bright-eyed man who appeared to be in his forties. Although his features were attractive, he no longer had the flush of youth on his hollowed cheeks. He was still a fine sight, elegantly dressed in a fitted black suit, a brocade frock coat, ruffled silk shirt and scarlet cravat. His thick dark hair was swept up and away from his high forehead to reveal a widow’s peak. He kept his hair long as was the fashion in the lands he’d arrived from, and neatly tied into a plait behind his head. He waited eagerly on his front step. It was evening now. The sun had fully sunk behind the darkened trees, but the sky overhead was a blaze of orange and shimmering pink. From where he stood, the laneway disappeared into black shadows. He narrowed his eyes in that direction, trying to detect movement around where he knew the gate to be.

No one was coming yet. He returned indoors, careful not to trail even a speck of dirt onto the gleaming marble floor. Mr. Fitcher employed a butler and a cook in addition to the three brothers. Being a private man, he preferred a house where the upkeep was neglected on occasion in lieu of more staff hovering around. He’d been blessed; the men under him could do the work of forty when needed.

While his butler dusted dust-free ornaments and statues in the entryway, Fitcher resisted checking his appearance in the gilt-framed mirror one last time. He stepped outdoors again. The flower-scented breeze calmed his nerves. Now he could hear a far-off jingling somewhere deep in the woods. He stood erect and assumed the air of an aristocrat. Well-born, he was not. However a benefactor had taught him all the manners and ways he needed in order to mimic the nobler classes. His good health and groomed appearance turned out to be ample enough manifestations of good breeding to suit his purposes.

The sun sank lower behind the hills. The sky turned ablaze. Crimson and incarnadine streaked across greying clouds, the woods below nearly midnight black. He could hear a faint clattering, the sounds of hooves beating up the lane. Fitcher spotted the pale faces of Gunther and Lars Floating like ghosts towards him. The butler lit the lamp next to the entrance, casting the drive in a pale yellow light.

Fitcher’s heart fluttered in his chest at the sight of the approaching carriage. At last, Wilhelm was returning from the inn with his charge. Fitcher leaned closer to his Butler, who had joined his side. In a low voice Fitcher reminded him, “Hilde is her name. A peasant girl, but one of exceptional beauty. She may be tired, as she had a long journey behind her. However she assured me she sleeps as soundly as the dead. She will need little in the way of creature comforts.”

The carriage clattered to a halt in front of the house. The driver smirked at Fitcher as he pulled up the reins. He hopped down onto the gravel and hitched the horse to a post. Only Wilhelm was privy to some of Fitcher’s more delicate affairs, such as courting young ladies from far-off lands with promises he had no intention of keeping. The young man excelled at assuring certain matters remained within the stone walls of the Fitcher residence. As for the fate of the girls once Fitcher grew tired of them, Wilhelm knew not and preferred not knowing.

Lars and Gunther opened the carriage door, and bowed. Hilde, a doe-eyed girl of sixteen and dressed in a clean but very plain brown dress, emerged from the cab. She looked skittishly around the gloaming yard. She was indeed a young woman of exceptional beauty, with wide set eyes of blue the shade of a summer sky. Locks of bronze tumbled down around her shoulders, glinting in the torchlight. Her face was delicate and heart-shaped, with a flush to her cheeks.

Lars gaped at her in a rapture as though she were an angel who’d just descended from the heavens. Gunther swatted the side of his head. While Lars remained dumbstruck, Gunther took Hilde’s hand and helped her down onto the flagstone path. He escorted her up the steps to where Fitcher and the butler were standing, as though she were a small, frightened child being delivered back to its parents after being lost at the fair.

“Come in, my darling.” Fitcher smiled disarmingly. He held his hand out to her. He beckoned patiently for her to take it and at last, she did. “I feel as though I’ve been waiting forever for you to arrive, like a child awaiting Christmas morn already knowing what beautiful gifts have been brought.”

She smiled for the first time. A dimple pressed into her cheek. She clasped Fitcher’s hand and followed him inside with the nescience of a lamb being shepherded into the slaughterhouse.

Hilde staggered into the entryway and gaped up at the chandelier hanging high overhead. Having never seen such a sight in her life, she stood, dazzled, until her neck grew sore. Her eyes followed the grand staircase that swept down around the foyer. Giant tapestries and paintings hung on the surrounding walls. In the various alcoves, suits of armor stood glimmering under the brilliant lights. The halls leading off were wide and carpeted. She’d never witnessed such magnificence in her brief, hard-scrabble life. Filled with sudden shame, she looked down at her shabby frock. She bunched the rough brown skirts in her hands and bit on her bottom lip. She no more belonged here than a feral cat.

Fitcher slipped his arm around her waist. He tenderly kissed her forehead. “Don’t be nervous, my darling. Thorsten, my butler, will take you to your new room and find you something to wear. Anything you wish for, ask for it and it shall be yours.”

He watched the Butler lead her up the staircase. She gripped the finely carved wood banister as though fearful of tumbling back down at the first bad step. She’d seldom mounted a set of stairs in her life. All the way up to the second floor, she needed to be coaxed along. She was equally unsteady as she tiptoed along the corridor. The carpet was so soft beneath her feet and she was afraid of soiling it.

The Butler stopped at the threshold of Hilde’s new bedroom. He held the door open for her. Her eyes widened with delight and she gingerly took one step inside. The room was everything beautiful and luxurious, something the butler was long accustomed to. But for a peasant girl who’d grown up in a one-room shack, this was beyond the outer edges of her imagination. Even the shiny damask papering the walls above the wainscoting dazzled her eyes. To her right, the soft canopied bed was fit for a princess. The Butler wondered if she’d dare sleep on it. He suspected he’d find her curled up in a corner when he came to fetch her in the morning, the covers and pillows on the mattress undisturbed.

She ventured further in, to a room that was thrice the size of the house she had left days earlier. It could take her hours to examine the tapestries and paintings on the walls, and all the finely crafted furnishings. Meanwhile dinner and Mr. Fitcher awaited downstairs. Bemused, the butler watched her explore like an adventurer who’d found herself entering an enchanted realm. The girl was bolder than she had first appeared. She bolted across the plush carpet and up to one of two large windows. She pulled apart the heavy velvet drapes with the force of a maid tearing off used bed sheets. Although there wouldn’t be much to see outdoors at this late hour, she peered out all the same.

The Butler cleared his throat to get her attention. She turned, displaying no outer signs of sudden fright. He strode up to a large wooden wardrobe. He opened each of its doors. Inside were an assortment of beautiful dresses in a motley of colors and fabrics.

She came over to him and gasped. She stood frozen before the confusion of tints and hues, as though afraid to touch anything, as though unable to distinguish where one gown ended and another one began. Everything shimmered and shone like the contents of a treasure chest. The Butler selected a dress of hydrangea-blue silk. He held it up to Hilde’s chest. “The perfect color. Matches your eyes. If it doesn’t fit, there is another that shall.”

She hung her head as he draped it down her front. It was a simple shift dress, billowy, and meant for daily wear. She prodded the fabric with her finger. Soft as the fur of a small animal. The closest to this that she’d ever before possessed was a strand of pink ribbon. She kept it in an earthenware jar back home and would only bring it out when her hands were freshly washed. “It’s so beautiful.”

“Don’t be afraid to put in on. Unfortunately Mr. Fitcher has yet to acquire a maid for you, so I chose one that should be easy enough to slip over your head.”

“I’ll try,” she said, not making any further move to touch it.

“Here.” Losing patience, but trying his best not to reveal his inner distress through either facial expression or gesture, the butler bunched the hem of the dress with the neckline. He held the ring of fabric and eased it down over her head, leaving it to drape around her shoulders like a shawl. “Leave that to hang while you remove your dress from underneath, and then slip your arms into the sleeves as you would your own frock.”

Before he’d had a chance to turn around, she was stripping off her brown cotton dress. She wore no underthings. Shielding his eyes from her artless immodesty, he said, “Dinner will be served in the dining room shortly. Come down whenever you are ready.”

The Butler left, firmly closing the bedroom door behind him.

Half-dressed, Hilde went to a large walnut vanity next to the wardrobe. She pulled her new dress on as she pushed her older dress off like a snake shedding its skin, and with far less difficultly than the butler had presumed. Now she wore the simple though lovely dress as it was meant to be worn. The sleeves were short, with ruching that helped them cling to her arms. The ankle-length skirt billowed out from an empire waistline that made her look as though she were with child. That, she didn’t care for. Although the dress did make her eyes look so very blue.

She stared uneasily into her reflection in the mirror above the vanity, scarcely recognizing herself. A bell rang somewhere below. The dinner bell. For now her growling tummy overpowered her desire to acquaint herself with this finely-dressed stranger who had the same bronze locks as she.

*         *         *

Fitcher sat at one end of the long table in his dining hall. The place to his right was set for Hilde. The room was large and elegant, with sheer drapes covering tall, narrow windows. Moonlight seeped in between a crack. The chandelier overhead remained unlit. The butler set down a single candelabra between them, alight with five white candles. The rest of the room was in shadows. Fitcher hoped the darkness would make the room appear smaller, affording a sense of intimacy similar to curtains drawn around them.

He grinned broadly as he watched Hilde shuffle in from the corridor. She wore a delightful blue dress the shade of morning glories. She’d also found ribbon of a darker blue for her hair, which she’d pinned up and away from her face in long, bronze curls. Although some powders sat on the vanity in the bedroom, she hadn’t touched them. Nor did she need them; her cheeks were naturally rosy, her lips the color of apple blossoms. Make-up would have given her the painted aspect of a whore. She was far too lovely for that.

“I am so happy you came to join me. You are exquisite.” Fitcher rose to his feet to greet her.

Hilde blushed as he helped her into her chair. He watched her take in the room with such young and innocent eyes. The heavy wooden dining table before them was covered in a white tablecloth with a soft tight weave that now struck him as excessively fine. The silverware glinted under the candlelight, showering sparks on the ornate handles. Thorsten should have laid out a plainer setting. Her eyes landed on the cutlery in front of her. She gazed contemplatively at the various utensils for quite some time, as one would watch flames dancing in a fireplace.

The scents of beef and roast chicken filled the air. The butler had just entered. He set down various serving platters. All this for just the two of them. For a moment Fitcher was keenly aware of his embarrassment of riches. “The food smells so good,” Hilde gushed. “And it’s so beautiful here!”

“Only because of you, my darling. You are a second sun lighting up this depressing old place.” Fitcher lifted the lid off one of the serving platters to reveal an entire chicken, its skin crackled and golden, sitting atop a bed of carrots and potatoes. This alone was more food than she’d likely ever before seen in one sitting. He began serving her plate himself. “Tomorrow I will show you around. You must be exhausted from your journey.”

Hilde stared in awe at the spread of food on the table for just the two of them. She barely took notice of him uncorking a bottle of wine and filling a goblets for each of them. “Thank you,” she said in a daze, as though she were not really here, or thinking she was really sound asleep in her cot back at home and all this, an elaborate dream. Even as she savored the tender roast meat, she worried her dream would soon end and she would awake cold and hungry.

Part One, Chapter Three

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Deep in the forest between the Fitcher estate and the village, there was a stone hovel built into the side of a wooded hillock. The dwelling was small but tidy, sheathed in ivy and sheltered by the lowest branches of an ancient oak tree. The front of the house resembled the face of a sleeping giant, with two windows for eyes, both shuttered, a rounded wooden door in-between giving it the appearance of a nose, and a wide stone step beneath curved in roughly the shape of a grin. The late afternoon sun bathed the lands in gold. Puffy white clouds floated lazily across a deep blue sky.

As the village healer, the witch kept an extensive herb garden. She cultivated a veritable medicine chest to cure any ailment, soothe any burn or rash, salve every pain or ward off any curse. She knelt on one side of the dirt path leading to her front door, plucking weeds out of a patch of lavender. She untwisted a beaded vine with arrow-shaped leaves that had threaded its way around the wiry stalks. A wonderfully pungent scent filled the air.

Her daughter Daphne strolled up the front path towards her. She was returning from her daily walk into the village where mother and daughter sold their wares. At her leisurely pace, it was a six hour outing. She’d usually return with small gifts or perhaps a treat from the bakery, but today she was empty-handed. As she came nearer, she raised her arms up high, skipped a step or two and twirled, her cerulean skirt flaring up like a parasol. “It’s so beautiful out! A perfect day!”

“Indeed,” her mother said, sitting upright to stretch her aching back.

A sprig of purple lilac tumbled out from Daphne’s raven curls. She stooped to return it to its place behind her ear. She then crouched to help her mother with the weeding. Too much grass was growing among the valerian and burdock. “Who was that man I spied on my way here? I saw a carriage passing by when I reached the bridge that crosses the second stream. Trimmed with gilt, I’d never seen such a thing! I failed to glimpse his face, but he appeared to be very finely dressed.”

“A man recently returned to the village from far-off lands. Although I don’t recall ever hearing of him before. A very handsome and wealthy and unmarried man, I might add.”

Daphne rolled her eyes. “Oh, mother, I know what you’re thinking! However, your own cards said my husband would be a somewhat handsome man of modest means. Though kind and pure of heart,” she quickly added, not wishing for any potential eavesdropper, such as the spirits of the woods, to think of her as shallow. Although the only potential eavesdropper right now was a blackbird perched on the branch of one of their apple trees and who would he tell.

Her mother was riding an earlier train of thought as she said, “My cards are not always right. Fortunes can change with the wind and they often do.”

Daphne pouted. “I liked that fortune.” She began tearing out the stalks of grass more aggressively from between the ruffled burdock leaves.

“This same stranger saw you the other day, you know. At the potter’s stand in the village.” The Witch stroked her cheek, and then tucked a stray black lock behind the girl’s ear. “He told me he thought you looked like an angel.”

Daphne blushed. The Witch smiled tenderly at her and added, “I told him that is because you are.”

“Oh mother, you’ll frighten men away with that sort of talk!”

“Only the unsuitable ones.” The old woman rose to her feet. She dusted off the grey apron of her dress and said, “He also left something for you. Come.”

… to be continued

Part One, Chapter Two

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Deep in the forest at the end of a long laneway outside the village, there was a grand stone manor. It belonged to Mr. Fitcher. How it came into his hands, only he knew for certain. The property had never been his father’s nor his father’s before him. If the villagers gave much thought to any previous occupant, they never said. Mr. Fitcher had owned it for a very long time. The manor was three stories high with a gabled roof of cedar shingles. It sat in on top of a hill surrounded by lush gardens and orchards. The lands were surrounded by a great stone wall partly hidden in the woods. On a clear day the dwelling could be seen from atop other, greater hills in the distance all around, appearing like an elegant fortress in miniature.

In the front of the house, late-spring flowers grew in a festive motley of blue irises and pink lilies, purple allium and crimson poppies. Budding roses climbed like vines up the ancient stone walls, reaching around the wooden shutters as if trying to steal inside. Some twenty yards to the right of the house, for any observer coming up the rutted lane from the village, there was a small stone chapel with a cedar roof. Behind the grand stone house and the small stone chapel, past a lawn and a well-tended vegetable garden and rows of grape vines, there was a very tiny house, also made from stone.

Inside this very tiny house, in which there was but a single room, lived three orphaned brothers. Mr. Fitcher, being a rich man and having heard about their plight, had hired them to tend his property, guard his house in his absence, and he gave them this tiny house to reside in. Wilhelm was the eldest at twenty-five. He was a dashing young man, strong and tanned and with a thick mane of hair bleached to blond in the hot sun. His features were rugged, yet fine, as though carefully chiseled from rock by a master craftsman. His lively blue-grey eyes sparkled whenever he smiled.

Gunther was the middle son at twenty-two. While he was nearly as handsome as his older brother, he was a little faded, a shadow, with lighter skin and darker hair and eyes. Lars, at seventeen, was still a boy. He was treated as such by his elder siblings. He was a fair lad with puppyish brown eyes and somewhat girlish features. His black, wispy beard made him look even younger.

They’d finished their chores for the day, but work wasn’t completed yet. Mr. Fitcher was expecting a guest tonight. After bathing in a river that coursed behind the grounds of the Fitcher estate, they’d hauled a wash basin onto the table in the middle of their room. All three were occupied with scrubbing whatever remained of the dirt and mud and grime from their feet, behind their ears and under their fingernails.

Wilhelm was the first to finish. He dried himself with a rag. He put on his footman’s uniform, beginning with a pair of pressed black trousers and a crisp white shirt. He then donned a red velvet jacket with gold buttons and golden epaulettes. With his polished, black leather shoes, he wore a very fine uniform indeed. Nobody could accuse Mr. Fitcher of miserliness when it came to appearances.

Gunther dried himself with the rag Wilhelm had discarded. While Wilhelm was always first with every task, Lars was always last. Lars balanced his foot on the edge of the wash basin, rinsing lather off his knobby toes.

“Don’t forget behind your ears,” Wilhelm said.

Lars stood again and leaned over the basin. He splashed water up to the sides of his face, and rubbed behind his ears with his fingers. “A lot of effort for just one girl.”

Wilhelm stood in front of the mirror next to the door. Handsome as always. The mirror had been Fitcher’s Christmas gift to them last year. “He is a man who likes to impress,” he said, looking at himself from the side. He straightened his jacket so that the buttons were perfectly aligned. “Something you still need to learn. If you think this is an effort, wait until the mid-summer ball.”

“Where I assure you there won’t be just the one girl,” Gunther added.

“Plenty for all of us,” Wilhelm said, slapping his shoulder.

Lars sighed. “Do you not find it strange he’s invited a girl to be his bride, and yet he’s planning a party later on with the intent of seeking another?”

“Every man’s dream is to have his own harem,” Wilhelm said, then appeared to think the idea through a little more. More than one wife would mean more than one mother-in-law. He had a dreadful habit of saying things he didn’t mean, his braggadocio a shield for his fragile heart and secretly sentimental ways. “I jest of course. One woman is enough. At a time, that is.”

Gunther reached for his own Footman’s jacket from a nearby hook. Where Wilhelm was insincere, Lars was utterly serious. Gunther’s purpose in life, it sometimes seemed, was to act as an intermediary between the two. He held Lars by his arm while he faced him.

“Someday Mr. Fitcher may find a woman suitable to be his bride. Until then, he enjoys the chase.”

Wilhelm laughed, his chest like bellows stoking a roaring fire. “That man has been on a quest for his soul mate longer than the hills have graced this earth. One by one he seeks, yet somehow never finds.”

Lars frowned, missing the knavish context of Mr. Fitcher’s intentions entirely. “Maybe for some people it takes time to find that one true love.”

“Any willing woman is ‘the one’. Something Fitcher knows all too well.” Wilhelm slapped his back. This was a subject Wilhelm also knew all too well. The surrounding villages were fertile grounds for rakes such as he. “Better Miss Right Now than Mrs. Right, who may never come at all.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you?” Lars asked. “I don’t think it is fair for one man to take so many maidens whereas if one of them were to–”

“Understand this, my dear boy.” Wilhelm clasped the lad’s shoulder. “A key that can open any lock is a master key. A lock than can be opened by any, is not much of a lock now, is it?”

“Well what about where the keys and locks match only each other?” He knitted his brows.

Wilhelm and Gunther laughed indulgently, without any trace of malice at the lad’s childlike innocence. Lars nervously joined in the laughter, aware he was still a boy among grown men. He had much to learn about the world yet. A world he didn’t much like so far, if this was how people were.

Fitcher’s Bird – Part One, Chapter One

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Once upon a time in a small village at the edge of a large forest, there was a little stone schoolhouse next to a little stone Rectory. A blackbird circled high in the clear blue sky above and then swooped down to land on the peaked rooftop. The bird cocked its head to one side to survey the yard below. The reverend’s wife was crossing a patch of lawn between the two stone buildings. She appeared to be in somewhat of a hurry. A stooped beggar, dressed in filthy rags, ambled along the edge of a cobblestone road near enough for the elderly woman to catch his stench of excrement and rotting vegetables. She was too polite to plug her nose. Instead she used the envelope she was carrying to shield the smell. She otherwise took no notice of him and continued purposefully up the flagstone path.

She stopped at the base of the steps leading up to the front door of the schoolhouse. Voices inside were chattering like a chorus of birds at dawn. A bell clanged. The voices fell silent. Lids of desks lifted and slammed shut. According to the hands on the village clock tower just beyond the rectory and the church, she had arrived just in right time. The bell clanged twice more. The black bird fluttered away from its perch and scampered up into the air. The arched wooden door burst open.

Twittering schoolgirls poured out of the schoolhouse entrance and down the front steps. The Reverend’s Wife hopped down onto the grass, watching the waist-high children pass by like a flock of sheep coming out of a gate. She tucked the envelope between her folded arms and her chest, then checked to ensure she hadn’t inadvertently cracked the red wax seal. In gold calligraphy, the name Isadora had been written underneath. She kept glancing at it while she waited for all the children to exit––so fancy! so important looking! She ached to glimpse the contents for herself. All afternoon since finding it on the carpet in the rectory entryway, she’d been eager to learn what it was about.

The last child stumbled out after her friends and the Reverend’s wife helped her back onto her feet. She then hurried up the stairs and into the schoolhouse. Isadora was leaning out of the window next to her desk, waving good-bye to her brood of students passing by on the road outside. She adored each and every one of them. She was a beautiful woman of twenty, with glistening corn silk locks and meadow-green eyes. It saddened the Reverend’s Wife that the girl’d never had any children of her own. She was so suited for it. So kind and patient. The Reverend’s Wife waited for Isadora to turn around. At last, she did. The Reverend’s Wife rushed up to her excitedly, holding the envelope out as if she were delivering a summons from the King Himself.

“This came for you earlier this afternoon. As to who it is from, I can only guess.”

She watched hungrily over Isadora’s shoulder while the young woman opened the envelope, as though it were addressed to both of them. At the sight of the elegant lines inside, it was the Reverend’s Wife and not Isadora who nearly swooned. An invitation to a mid-summer ball at Mr. Fitcher’s estate! He’d introduced himself at the rectory one afternoon shortly after the first day of spring. He was the owner of a large property deep in the forest outside of the village and he’d recently returned from many years abroad. They’d exchanged pleasantries over tea and sandwiches, where the Reverend’s Wife gleaned he was unmarried, and in search of a bride.

“I’ve never heard of this Fitcher,” Isadora said, letting the invitation fall onto her desk.

“All you need to know is that he is a handsome widower of substantial means. Oh, and he’s so very clever!” Being a practical woman, the Reverend’s Wife knew what one should look for in a husband. Fine as Isadora was, she was not a practical woman. All she cared for were looks. The girl’s hand rested on top of the letter but it may as well have been a shopkeeper’s receipt for a sack of potatoes.

Isadora gazed dreamily out the window and said in her soft, lolling voice, “I once saw a man so handsome I was afraid to so much as look at him. I keep hoping some day he shall visit my father’s inn and we’ll catch each other’s eyes across the room …”

“You’ll never meet anyone at all if you don’t venture out on occasion! You must partake in leisure as well as filial responsibilities.” She clasped the girl’s arms and turned her around to face her, hoping to talk some sense into her. “Supposing that man is also a guest at this ball? By dismissing this invitation so readily, you may be forgoing your chance to meet him again.”

Isadora smiled sweetly in the way young people often indulge older folk they suspect are a mite touched in the head. Nor was she about to share with the Reverend’s wife further details about her handsome mystery man, whom she had indeed met up with since. Once, and nevermore, the callous rake. He’d been so heartless he’d stolen hers, and she’d no idea how to get it back from him. “When it is meant to be, he will come along. I know it!” was all she would say in response, regardless of whether she believed it or not. Most of the time, to her dismay, she did not. Keeping hope was slightly more painful than letting it go. She dreaded the idea of ever facing him again, while his eyes wandered elsewhere.

The Reverend’s Wife’s eyes landed on a book that was sitting on the desk. The title read, Prince Charming. “My dear, foolish girl, from where do you get these silly notions?”

“This idea, that things that are meant to be will happen in their own time” she said, throwing up her head, “is one I’ve had my entire life! Your own husband preaches as much to his flock each Sunday. Does not our Lord advise us that our fate rests in His hands? For now, my father needs me at home. He’s not been keeping well lately and so I’ve no time for romance anyway. I bid thee good day sweet friend, and I shall see you on the morrow!” Isadora pecked her cheek and fled out the door.

The Reverend’s Wife sighed. She gazed down at the invitation lying open and forgotten on Isadora’s desk, and then at the book. The foolish, foolish girl.

… to be continued

Hurrah, this site still works!

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And no, WordPress, I have zero interest in trying your new block editor.

I’ve tried it.

I HATE IT.

I’ve posted a novel chapter by chapter here – The Longest Sunset aka The Player, The Thief and The Broken Heart while tweaking formats, etc. Since registering that blogsite, I experimented with an even newer page under my proper pen name Kieran MacCallum for my middle grade fantasy story Escape From Archon Castle

Maybe I’m, as the cool internet kids say, a brainlet, but I’ve yet to figure out a theme without the header image taking up half the bl***y page. That’s on top of not being able to justify the text ‘because of mobile devices blah-di-blah-di-blah’. Or the disappearance of that ever-so-convenient drop-down list of tags. I liked old WordPress so much better so here I am. My other old accounts have been consigned to the internet dustbin, but this one, fortunately, I was unable to retrieve from the blue box.

So if anyone has any tips on re-sizing images or customising themes beyond pay for the premium version ya cheap bastard! I’m all ears and will love you forever.

Trying to be less stupid with Twitter

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I actually first heard of Twitter back in 2006, the first year it was online. Admittedly I thought it was one of the dafter things I’d ever heard of and imagined it would disappear within a few months as yet another passing fad.

Thankfully I’m not paid to be a trendwatcher or I’d have lost that sort of job years ago 😉 That doesn’t mean to say I’ve figured out how to really make use of it yet.

I’ve had an account since 2008 no less, so I’m not exactly a n00b in that regard. At first I found it hard to say anything within the allotted space, but once I got the hang of it and it was no longer a challenge, I got lazy again.

Then I kept forgetting not only my password, but also the email account I’d used to register my profile. Thankfully it wasn’t a work email address. Now I’ve logged on again and have the same feeling I get in a nightclub full of people at once both familiar and strange and lights flashing and music blaring and I can’t help wondering to myself, why am I here?

Currently, I follow 105 people – mostly a mishmash of agents, actors or comedians I like, a handful of people I’ve met online and a few ‘meat world’ friends as well. And on a rare occasion I actually read some of the tweets.

I’ve had exactly two messages in that time. Both were from people I’d love to receive messages from, but unfortunately not they type of message I’d like to receive: hack and spam.

I could be wrong but it seems like one of those ‘all or nothing’ endeavours – to make proper use of it you have to be on there pretty much constantly. 

For now I’ll try to figure out what this ‘lists’ thing is (never noticed it before) and we’ll see…

Gratuitous post

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I’m on various internet forums (including Absolute Write) and under ‘new posts’ one of the threads threads there asks, when did you last update your blog?

Oops…

That’s the thing with writing. It keeps you too busy to write… other things.

At the same time, if I’m getting my arse in gear to submit things to agents and publishers and so on, it’s probably not a bad idea to at least try to keep my blog alive.

NaNoWriMo ‘Winning’

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I did it. My first ever NaNoWriMo and I finished at 61K with several days to spare. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and the goal is to begin writing a novel on November 1st, and write at least 50 thousand words by November 30th.

Of course, I don’t have kids and a full-time job to disrupt me, but it was still quite the marathon.  I’d taken a rough outline for a screenplay idea I’d been toying with (traditional zombies, employed via magic) and decided to turn it into a novel just for the hell of it. Each day I would check my word count and every few hours I’d update it to see where I was.

The NaNoWriMo website has handy graphs to show what your current word count is, your daily average, the average amount you need to write per day in order to hit 50K, and the date by which you should be able to finish, going by your current daily average.

Whew!

The first few days I averaged over 4000 words a day but would hit a wall not long after that. My maximum was about 5400. A five day trip that had been planned long before I even thought of participating in NaNo cut into my time so my daily average for the month ended up being a little over 2300. Naturally my pace slowed as I neared the end of the story and hit the end (gah!) at just over 47K. I had to go back to the beginning and start filling in some scenes to get to the final goal and ended up with basically a second completed draft.

Everyone is a winner for this ‘contest’, no matter what they write, so long as they hit that magic number of 50 thousand. The most important thing is to just sit down and do it. The daily average a person needs write to hit 50K in a 30 day month is 1667 words, which actually isn’t that hard if you can allot an hour or two a day and dedicate yourself fully during that time.

What’s amazing are the people who manage to do this on top of having small children, a full time job and myriad other demands on their time and energy. Proof that if you want to do something enough, you make it a priority.

The website also hosts a forum where you can talk to other writers on a whole range of topics. You can post questions regarding the genre you are writing in, correspond with people in your age group, find tips on dealing with writers’ block or solve problems you’re having with your own characters or plot development.

You find answers to Big Questions like what happens if a Vampire dyes its hair, or what symbols would make the best tattoos for protection spells.

Public libraries in most cities and regions have also been hosting ‘write ins’ where you can meet other writers in your area.

Participating in NaNoWriMo is something I would recommend to every writer, especially beginning writers who might still be struggling with having enough confidence to write anything at all. You become so focused on meeting the deadline that you worry much less about quality or your skill level. After all, the best way to become a good writer is to keep on writing.

 

 

 

 

Blogvember. Naming names…

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Blogvember. Naming names…

According to a relative of mine it is ‘blogvember’. I’m not entirely sure how widespread this concept is because when I googled the term, her post was in the first page of search results. Of course, I had it open at the time as well so I’m not sure whether that made a difference or not.

At any rate it gave me the kick I needed to get blogging again myself. Yes, it’s been a while (kicks self). Nanowrimo and few other things made inspired me get back into novel writing for a bit and it’s been pretty time-consuming. Both projects began as ‘novelizations’ of screenplays I’ve written but one has developed into a full-blown book that I’m already starting a sequel for. The other one will be strictly a novella. Short and sweet. And probably free and self-published just to stick my neck out there, which always feels like I’m putting my head under a guillotine. Chop!

Novel writing got me to thinking a lot more about character names. That and having a bunch of friends and relatives who have had babies over the past few years. In scripts you can get away without even naming a lot characters, at least as far as the audience ever sees. With novels it’s a lot more difficult. In earlier novels I’d sometimes name characters after characters in other books or movies that I wanted to subtly reference. Other times names just pop into my head that I think might ‘suit’ the character somehow and usually they are based either on names I’ve encountered repeatedly in life, or names I just happen to like for whatever reason. I’m certainly not one to ever knock the power of the subconscious.

While I like some characters names to fit their professions or other traits, I dislike when it’s too obvious, even in humour. I would never use the name ‘Gross’ for one who never bathes for example, but it’s fine for a character who is also a very large man, or for the sake of irony, a very tiny one. One of my favorite real life examples is the TV financial analyst ‘Art Cashin’.

Naturally using an ‘ethnic’ name is an easy way to give a partial description of a character and depending on where they live it might go into shaping their world view to a fair degree. One fantastic site I found is http://www.20000-names.com, which gives a huge list of both female, male and last names for a variety of different nationalities.

The site also give the meanings of the various names, which can add depth to the character or the story in more subtle ways. For example, you could have a character who is a psychic and call her ‘Aislin’ which is an Irish name for ‘dream’ or ‘vision.’

Surnames have various meanings as well. Most people are well aware of ones that were once attached to a particular occupation like Miller or Baker, but probably fewer would know that Lowell means ‘wolf’ or Madoc refers to ‘luck’. This site is very useful and has a great search function. http://www.behindthename.com/themes.php

Names don’t just indicate the character however, but sometimes say even more about the character’s parents. Parents who knowingly give their kid a ‘joke’ name or put little thought into it are probably lousy parents in other ways as well. The book Freakonomics delves into this topic. The name a parent gives a child can be a strong indicator of their socio-economic origins, which itself can have a profound impact on that person’s life later on, particularly when he or she has to go look for a job*. It is also another way to add depth or a level of irony to both the character and the story. For example, you’re not likely to find too many debutantes with the name ‘Destinee’. Near the back of the book is a helpful list of different female and male names, along with the average number of years of education the mother had.

According to someone I know who works in the education system, more often than not, kids with ‘low-class’ names tended to have much lower marks and much higher truancy levels. It isn’t just stereotypes.

For background characters, sometimes I want a name that is generic without resorting to something completely hackneyed. The US Census Bureau provides a handy list of the most common First and Last names.

Anyway, to keep me more disciplined I plan to follow up with two more posts on characters: my own personal likes and dislikes for character names just from what I’ve come across, and one where I play with different ideas of how names shape characters.

Happy blogvember! The cold miserable rain is a great excuse to stay indoors and write.

* http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/apr/29/theobserversuknewspages.uknews