The Jolly Old Business of Writing

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

I took this photo upon our arrival in London, through the window of the taxi. I loved the flower pots at the doorsteps of many London apartments, like in this one. More photos of our trip to come ;)!
It is so easy as writers to be bogged down in the struggles of writing and creating stories. Now and again, I happen to have a peek at the outside world, and catch a rare glimpse of our calling from the wider perspective, and not just from the safe comfort-zone of writing friends and die-hard bibliophiles. 

And in thinking about my love of stories, and then talking about it to friends whose passion generally doesn't lean towards the written word, it struck me the other day how very uninteresting and bizarre the life of a writer and novelist must appear to them, in our very "bookish" pursuit of tales and scribbles and ink-stains. Being the imaginer that I am and rather sensitive to other people's perspectives, it isn't hard to figure that it can be a totally bizarre and eccentric thing to be a writer (from their point of view); of course, all they see is the outward stuff - an obsession with books (always carrying a classic-tome to choir practice) and rambling on animatedly about C.S. Lewis and The Hobbit movies to friends at get-togethers or on facebook. Regularly pointing out with great thoughtfulness how the Christian-era that Dickens and Jane Austen wrote in influenced their works in a positive light, and then launching into the rather self-defensive "why fiction is so powerful an influence on culture" monologue. All the stuff that can honestly get me very awkward and embarrassed, and probably bores people terribly. I wouldn't dare trying to show them the stuff that goes on in a writer's head and imagination! Oh, you know - the mechanics of story-telling or description, or the way my mind works, running over and over on certain plot points and dynamic philosophic and human as well as faith themes and engaging in intense internal dialogues with made-up people. . . 

It is a jolly old business, and so hard to explain, especially if you have no current writing you're ready to flaunt at them confidently and urge them to read!

Humans always can best understand what is tangible to them in their fingertips and praise what looks like a proper accomplishment; so it is easy for all of us to underestimate and belittle something until it becomes a familiar tangible "something". A published novel anyone can pick off Koorong or Angus and Robertson shelves is something they might connect with for a few hours in their year, and so means just a little bit more to them. But a few odd bits of description, a witty phrase and a stack of unedited manuscript paper lying under your bed--WORDS THAT YOU WROTE AND CRIED AND BLED OVER-- those amazing little, diamond things that bring such wonderful thrills to the life of a writer. . ?. are downright strange and boring for everyone else, besides seeming rather idealistic and trivial. We'll glory in the conquests of a figment of our imagination, and cry when our fingers cramp and the words get glued to each other till we sob in delight at a turn of phrase or a light through a stained-glass window playing prisms of drama and wonder through our pens. 

So maybe folks do wonder about us, writers, and think us some rare breed; they only see the dry, dull stuff - we are the Jane Fairfaxes to the Emmas who puzzle them by reading 100 titles and learn the elvish language, for fun ;). It makes little sense why we would voluntarily give time on some old classic tome that was forced upon them at high-school literature class. I don't mean to say that people are trying to be mean or uncaring!  They can be really interested and intrigued - nor do I want us to sound snobbish and proud of our interests. We are all made very differently, with different interests and passions. But, I suppose what I mean to say, is that what seems to them like stuffy old literature and writing deadlines to run-away-from, are the things that are actually brimming with wonderful hidden joys and gems that probably only a writer or someone who really loves stories will get a glimpse of!

Our lives as writers is not dreary or trivial. It is amazing! People may underestimate the life and work of a novelist, of a storyteller, and think that in the "real-world", a novel will do no-good. But don't forget, that the Lord Jesus Himself is a Storyteller! He spoke to the people in parables and brought them to understand the Truth through simple tales.

The love of stories is a gift.
You are blessed to be a writer. 

The writer's life, filled with hard-work (for it really is hard work), tears and toil of years writing away in silent lonely rooms, is filled with something beautiful, adventurous and romantic; filled with imagination and wonder and fun - we have the privilege of writing about people, events and lives, not just to make people understand us better or anything so egocentric as that, but for ourselves - to write so that we too may understand, may know, may catch a glimpse of the mysteries of life, and the loving, faithful Hands of our dear Father in Heaven
Oh, it is a jolly, wonderful thing - to be a writer!

"That Penslayer Girl" // Interview with Jennifer Freitag - Part 1

Thursday, 9 October 2014

#Plenilune - Jennifer Freitag
On Monday, there was a cover-reveal of the novel, Plenilune, and today. . . well, today, I am very excited to say that here is an interview with its authoress, Jennifer Freitag! Or, to be precise, the first half of an interview, as it was Jenny's idea not overwhelm you all with a gigantic long question-and-answer session and hand you an excuse not to read this interview (Isn't she so nice to you all?). Next week, Lord willing, Jenny will be posting the second half of the interview questions on her Penslayer blog, and I will leave a link to it over here so you won't miss out on it. But fiddlesticks! If I had known it before, I might not have kept some of my favourite questions till last. . . hopefully, this at least should keep you on your toes. After seeing the wonderful cover of Plenilune and hearing all about it, an interview with Jennifer Freitag is just the sort of thing that we need to help us keep calm till October 20th. . . 
Don't you think? Or Not. . . 
But first, for any folk around who are still unsure what "Plenilune" book must be about, then here is a little to help you along :).
The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war. 
To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.
En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.

"That Penslayer Girl"
Part 1

Hello, Jenny, what a delight it is to have you on Fullness of Joy blog for this interview today! To start this off, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and how you first started writing as a profession, and then also some of your hobbies/interest/ random happy details of your life?

To cut to the chase, I started writing when I was very young, probably not much beyond eight years old.  I actually vaguely recall my first story—something about very colourful ponies, and one particular mare that was jet-black with tiny coloured flecks on her hide.  I wrote it up on an old Gateway which, as time and technology progressed, became my own computer, and in the end I was the only human being who could make the dinosaur work.  Poor thing. 

I must say, I don’t have any hobbies.  I am not usually interested in anything, and those few things that do strike my fancy, I don’t do by halves—such as writing, or fashion.  As for a random happy detail, I know it is a little cliché, but I am particularly pleased with my nursery.  Everyone always asks about colour schemes: I go for a white wash with yellow and light grey geometric patterns.  It’s not super feminine, but it’s tasteful. 

Without giving too much away, could you be persuaded to tell us a bit about your newly released novel, Plenilune and how it fits into the whole “planetary fantasy” series you’re writing?

In terms of being written, Plenilune is the first book, obviously.  Like C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, it is not the first chronologically within the timeline.  In a sense, Plenilunar history happens and I’m just on stand-by to write it all down for your enjoyment. 

I call it a fantasy, because that is technically what it is, but my approach to fantasy is generally very down to earth.  Like more historical accounts, Plenilune hinges upon a political struggle—a political struggle very personal to those involved.  In many ways, this made writing Plenilune all the harder for being so true to human life and human society: unlike many fantasies, one can’t simply “make stuff up.”

Cast your mind back if you can; at what age did you first start writing and develop a love for wordcrafting? Was there someone or something that influenced you to start this journey?

I’ve always enjoyed reading.  My house was full of books, my homeschooling curriculum was book-centred.  I was also born with an avid imagination and, what with one thing and another, writing seemed inevitable.  The only difference between myself and other imaginative youngsters who naturally take up writing as an expression of creativity is that I stuck with it for the long-haul, and became an author. 

This is always rather a difficult question, but can you recall what inspired the plot of Plenilune?

The desire to writing something planetary fantasy had been in me for awhile, but did not germinate until I happened to read E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros and Rosemary Sutcliff’s Knight’s Fee.  It is no secret that I love The Worm Ouroboros.  I had been putting off Knight’s Fee for some years simply because it was not Roman, and because I had a few negative attachments associated with it (these had nothing to do with the plot at all).  In the end, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the story, and I suppose it is a piece of justice that the book I had avoided for so long wound up being such a catalyst for my own novel. 

Isaac Newton was known to have said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Who have been the literary giants or “Greats” that have inspired your writing and perhaps even your life thus far? 

There are too many and they are too diverse to enumerate, and the fact of the matter is that I learn intuitively more than I learn concretely, so what I take from other authors is generally subtle and not always remarked by myself.  Honestly, my learning process is pretty boring for the outside observer.  I just read and absorb.

Now, if you could have been the author of any published book besides your own, what would it have been?

I know I just recently mentioned Lew Wallace, but the truth is that I wish I could write on a scale and with such cohesion and depth as he put into his world-acclaimed Ben-Hur.  The grace and majesty of the prose, the sense that all these scenes are real and that you are really living in those situations, the dynamics of the characters, all are exquisitely executed in multiple dimension off the page.  To claim such a title to myself would be wonderful and terrifying.

Readers of “The Shadow Things” and followers of your “Penslayer” blog would probably cheer me on when I say you have a truly beautiful gift of capturing details in a flame of gold, and in the way you write your world with colours of emotion and poignancy. How do you feel you may have matured and developed in this gift with “Plenilune” and your latest works? Is there ever a time in writing when you feel that too much detail can remove some of the power of storytelling? (A little tip or two about writing description won’t go amiss here!)

I’m flattered that you think so!  I confess, it is often a struggle, and the struggle is compounded the more people fixate on my “ability” to write colourfully.  I become very self-conscious and shy. 

It’s true, too much detail can rob the passage of its impact, and that happens to me sometimes, in which case I have to go back, cutting and culling.  As with sleight of hand and martial art, the glamour must turn the reader’s attention just a certain way and no more, the impact must have such force in such a place and no more.  Everything must be balanced: this goes especially for description. 

What part of the writing process do you dread the most? Can you tell us what your favourite part is?

Rewriting from scratch is my nightmare.  Once I get into the swing of it, I am sure I will do passably and even make something better than the original, but the thought of completely rewriting a novel is galling.

My favourite part of writing is probably going back over something I have written which I feel is actually quite good.  On the first pass, I am so wrapped up in the writing that I don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the writing as writing; going back and reading over it can be encouraging when I find I like what I have written.

Can you imagine your novel being adapted into a movie? In the stuff of your day-dreams, who would you choose to direct the films, and who would you cast for your main characters?

I would probably make a very bad director and a nuisance as an author-on-set, although I would definitely want to be involved in the event of this story being put on screen.  As for actors, I can say I would be interested to see how Eva Green portrays Margaret.  In terms of the film, I think a story of such scope would probably be best served in the format of a mini-series (take “North & South” for example) rather than a single film or even chopped up into several films.  The mini-series seems to find that happy medium between feature length and a story gone on too long.

While writing, did you find yourself learning any lessons or going through any of the journeys/struggles that your characters went through yourself?

I tend to learn in retrospect.  I usually discover, after the fact, that some aspect of a character’s life or behaviour sheds light on some circumstance I may be going through.  I am something of a fan of Plato’s notion that a great deal of what we know is actually recollection, especially since this is borne out by my personal experience.  I find examples for myself looking back on my own writing.

As a Christian as well as an author, how do you feel your faith affects your writing generally and your Plenilune novel with its sequel stories in the series specifically?

Eh, that is a two-edged sword.  Being a Christian automatically causes people to assume my writing will conform to a certain fad-shape.  I think there is always a running “norm” at any given time, but it makes it awkward for those who don’t fit the mould.  One is unfortunately and unavoidably pigeon-holed until such time as one can obviously be shown to not belong to the majority standard.  In that sense, being an author as a Christian is almost a drawback.
On the other hand, it is of course an invaluable advantage over the unbeliever.  While unbelievers can hit upon truths, and even grasp them with a terrible clarity, these pale in comparison to the vision which can be attained through the lens of a redeemed mind.  There is no question of how my Christianity impacts my writing: it cannot be divorced from anything that I do.  It is the mind with which I process and create. 

In writing in the fantasy genre, do you hold to any convictions or guidelines on how you approach things like magic, sorcery and allegory in your books, as well as drawing the distinction between good and evil?

Honestly, it is not something I think about.  There appears to be a massive terror surrounding these aspects of “flights of fancy” which I fail to comprehend.  Hamlet once pointed out, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt about in your philosophy.”  This world is wild and baffles us with things like magic.  It is dominated by powers (including our own) which defy our comprehension.  It is full of picture upon picture which better represents itself from differing angles.  This world and human life are not accidents.  This is a superb, elegant story, chock-full of magic and sorcery and allegory, and Christian community does itself no favours by cutting loose from these terms and confining them to the devil.  If it would take a closer look at the mind of God and the nature of the universe, it would be surprised to find a glittering dimension of wonderment which it has made itself unequal to appreciate because of its current terror of anything which defies materialism.
Do you have any strange writing habits/quirks (like standing on your head for research or plotting assassinations in the shower)?

To my knowledge, no.  I am an exceedingly boring individual.  Too many people suppose that, to write exciting fiction, you must have an exciting life.  Naturally you shouldn’t have a cloistered, uninformed life, but the greater the stability of the artist’s life, the better able he is to create.  That is the story of my own life.

Since planetary fantasy is not the most common of genres, could you tell us a little about it? How much of a similarity in genre-style is it to C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy?

Planetary fantasy is simply what it says on the tin: rather than creating an alternate world, or working with magical realism, planetary fantasy is removed from our ordinary earth but still remains within our plane of existence.  In terms of genre, it bears a similarity with C.S. Lewis’s works in that both the Space Trilogy and Plenilune deal in terms of medieval philosophy.  Other than that, they are very different story-types within the genre of planetary fantasy.

Out of all the characters from Plenilune, which one do you connect with and love the most?

Unfortunately, if you have not read the book, that is not a question I can answer without spoiling it.  Suffice it to say that I believe the answer to be twofold, and that my love and connection are not confined to a single character.

 * * * * * 
Thanks so much for talking with us, Jenny, and sharing your thoughts on Fullness of Joy! It’s been a joy having you over, and I truly look forward to reading “Plenilune” come October 20th – I am sure it will be marvelous.

Jenny Freitag is an author of historical fiction and fantasy (largely fantasy), the wife of her childhood sweetheart, and the mother of an as-of-yet unborn child.  She lives in the piedmont of South Carolina with her burgeoning family and two cats, and currently spends her days working on her current project Talldogs and self-publishing her planetary fantasy Plenilune (October 20th, 2014)Her debut historical fiction The Shadow Things was published in 2010 and continues to entertain readers today.

Now, friends, don't forget to stay tuned for Part 2 of this interview on The Penslayer blog next week!

Wild Geese Flying + Plenilune Cover Reveal

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

"All men--all peoples--rise in the east like the sun, and follow the sun westward. That is as sure as night follows day, and no more to be checked and turned again than the wild geese in their autumn flighting."
- The Lantern Bearers, Rosemary Sutcliff

Though through the wind-blown passage of time, like the wild geese flying away in the sky, acute moments of pleasure, and joy as well as grief and sadness grow more dim and vague over time, and yet there is a whole host of memories to treasure and soak up as well. I have always longed to be a recorder of such memories, through little gleams and iridescent scratchings of my pen, halting though they may be. And though I am not able to always write up such memories faithfully as they happen, I should like to share them by and by on Fullness of Joy with you all. So here are a few things, a few updates, both happy and sorrowful. Yet all filled with the Lord's comfort and strength! 

Last week, my grandma (Dad's mum) passed away, after many years of illness and suffering. Dad, Mum, and my sisters and I will miss her so much! But now she's with the Lord Jesus in rest, in His Arms of healing and joy, and be with Him is far better, and that gives joy to us as a family in the sadness of her passing; and trusting that one day, we'll see her in Heaven is something we look forward to very much. The Lord is indeed a wonderful Comforter! Also, it has been really touching, with the encouragement He has given to us through the support and condolences of sweet friends. Thank you all, very much! 

For a more happy memory, back in July of this year, our family went on a three-week trip to England, staying over in London, Oxford and Cambridge throughout the course of our stay; it was such a memorable, rich and joyful time and I can't wait to share with you on my blog soon more about what we did while we were there, along with a load of photos! It might take a while to write and upload the photos though, as my computer is rather slow-loading, and also I am quite pressed for time these days with lots of school-work and such. But anyway, without exacting any promises, I shall definitely try to come up with a few stories and photos of our time in Britain for you to enjoy :).

And on a totally random note - I have started driving. 
permission to freak out on my behalf given.

Also, I am trying to stay calm trying to finish some twenty-something PACE's before the end of November; enjoying perfecting my violin pieces into great pieces of music while pressing on with E melodic minor scales and fine tuning octaves and thirds; still scrubbing pans; furthermore I'm thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo again this year as "a certain glee has overtaken me to write", you know? I have just finished the first three "Love Comes Softly" books by Janette Oke, which I enjoyed surprisingly well. Now I am reading "The Moral Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ" by J. G. Ballet, "All Creatures Great and Small" by James Herriot, and "Lantern Bearers" by Rosemary Sutcliff.

Speaking of books, I have something rather special to share with you all today. Ever since I first met her and her sister Abigail through their blogs, Jennifer Freitag-- or Jenny as her friends mostly love to call her-- author of the historical novel, The Shadow Things, has had a great influence on me as a writer over the past few years, and in the way she's inspired me (as well as many other young writers) to view words and stories, faith and literature in a totally rich and meaningful way. I'd be fibbing to say I've always agreed with her point-of-view on some points, but the stuff I have learnt from her on the art and glory of stories and a faith-inspired worldview that colours one's tales with glory and beauty has far outweighed those points, I can tell you! To Jenny, I owe her my love of Rosemary Sutcliff (who has become a favourite historical-fiction author), Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Tales of Goldstone Wood series (which is a favourite modern fantasy series for me), and a growing interest in ancient legends and mythology (born initially from Tolkien and Lewis' stories). I can well remember the lengthy comments I used to leave on her Penslayer blog asking her about the topic of faith in fantasy, and the element of magic in myths and fairy-stories. Some of the things Jenny would share helped me grasp the difference between "recapturing the wonder" of life in a way that brings back glory to God, versus a twisted pagan form of sorcery and worshiping the created rather than the creator in modern fantasy stories. Another thing that I have learnt, though not exclusively, from Jenny was through her encouragement that I should read and educate myself in reading different books of  philosophy and history; ignorance is rarely a virtue! I think what I have most enjoyed and learnt though in knowing Jenny has been through her own writings, and seeing through snippets of her own novels "in-the-making" how she puts to practice those things, and writes with a rare golden pen and blaze of flaming colour stories of battle, legend, glory, suffering, blood, crowns and faith. For a long time, we readers of The Penslayer blog have been reading glimpses of her "planetary fantasy" books with bated breath, eager for the actual, whole live thing. . . 

And now, finally, we can all get this chance! Plenilune, the first in her planetary fantasy series is coming out on the 20th of October, and today we actually get to see the cover-reveal! 
I actually really love this cover - it is both intriguing and pleasing to the eye and while mythological and grim-of-face with the flames and helm on the woman's head, I have to say that I appreciate that the cover is not overly dark or improper. I would have been disappointed if it was; instead it captures something of the ancient legends in the woman's upright stance, in the shield by her, and the flowing leaf-branch on her shoulder that makes me want to read this book so much. And to match this wonderful cover, here is what Plenilune seems to be about. . . 
The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war.

To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.
En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.
I am definitely looking forward to owning and reading Jennifer Freitag's novel, Plenilune, come the release date - if the reviews are anything to go by, it will be well-worth being penslayed yet again by Mrs. Freitag!

JENNIFER FREITAG lives with her husband in a house they call Clickitting, with their two cats Minnow and Aquila, and their own fox kit due to be born in early December.  Jennifer writes in no particular genre because she never learned how, she is make of sparks like Boys of Blur, and if she could grasp the elements, she would bend them like lightning.  Until then, she sets words on fire.
Living with her must be excruciating
by Jennifer Freitag
October 20tth

Stay tuned for an interview with Jennifer Freitag on Fullness of Joy on the 9th of October!