Phantoms, Dollhouses and Easter Wishes

Happy Easter, everyone! I hope you’re all having a lovely long weekend. For those of you who are working over the Easter Holidays, I will keep you in my thoughts! ♥

No writing challenge answers this week. Today’s blog post consists of Important Life Updates:

I’ve moved house!

Yes, it’s true. I’ve temporarily moved back in with my parents whilst I wait for the sale of my boyfriend’s flat to go through. I can’t say how long I’ll be here for, but I’ve been made to feel very welcome and today was the first day since Tuesday (the day I moved out) that I’ve actually begun to feel truly settled. Throughout the whole of March I’ve essentially been AN ENORMOUS BALL OF STRESS and I can only apologise to all who encountered me during that time and had to put up with me and my madness.Sarah Andersen

I’m glad it’s over now and can get stuck back into the thing I love to do most…

Writing

For those who’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m massively behind with the deadline for finishing my WIP, The Mayor. I originally intended to finish Draft One by the end of December, but had to push the deadline back until the end of February for the sake of my mental health (see here). That revised deadline went completely out the window when I started going through the process of selling my home, plus I began having serious self-doubt along with Anxiety-triggering frustration over my complete inability to finish my manuscript. Going on a really nice holiday for two weeks at the beginning of March helped me out a lot; I didn’t touch my manuscript once the whole time I was gone, and when I came back I felt refreshed and excited, ready to finish everything off. I had a really productive week in the middle of March playing around with my deliciously cruel penultimate chapter… only for reality to set back in that I needed to start packing, stat.

Basically, March was a complete write-off as far as writing was concerned, but April is a new month, a new start. I’m in a new place where I have fewer responsibilities to shoulder all by myself (house maintenance, cooking, cleaning etc.), plus I’m genuinely excited to get to grips with the last two chapters and very short epilogue. Wish me luck.

Once I’m finished (please, God, let it be soon), I’m going to take a break — maybe write a novella about my character Jonathan Carson — whilst K.F. Goodacre takes to my work with razor-sharp scalpel and hammers my words into some semblance of a manageable pile.

Dollies!

Speaking of K.F. Goodacre, it seems her talents know no bounds! As a belated birthday present, she very kindly made me my protagonist Melora in doll form… Behold! She is exquisite:

Melora joins another doll made for me by K.F. Goodacre — my character Jonathan Carson. Don’t they look great together? I’m so in love. Raise your hand if you think Kim needs to start her own Etsy account making dolls of other people’s characters for money? *Hand shoots up*. Thank you so much, Parabatai! ♥

Note: The John doll is a couple of years old now. The character’s ethnicity has changed since its creation and as such, his skin should actually be much darker than what’s shown here. Kim’s assured me she will, at some point, flay John’s skin off and replace it with something more fitting. He’s got to match his brother Jaspher, after all. Watch this space…

Lastly…

Kamelot‘s new album The Shadow Theory is out next week. OMG. I’m so, so, so EXCITED!!!!!!!!!!!! Especially since they dropped their (brilliant) new single last Friday entitled ‘The Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)’, featuring Lauren Hart from melodic death metal band, Once Human. CHECK. IT. OWT:

 

Can’t wait. Simply can’t, can’t wait. Will explode from teh squee. Super excite! BRING ON LONDON IN OCTOBER ♥

That’s all for now. Ta-ta!

S.E. Berrow

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#AcresOfInk Writing Challenge ~ Week 9: Questions 7 & 8

Yes, I’m massively behind. WHAT OF IT? You’re not the boss of me. Don’t tell me what to do.

Part of the 52 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

7. Favourite relationship in the story

Telling you my actual favourite relationship (which, incidentally, is a romantic one) would be spoilerific, so today I’m going to talk to you about a non-spoilery relationship instead:

My favourite relationship to write in Book One of The Mayor is the sibling relationship between Jaspher and Jonathan Carson.

As brothers, Jaspher and John could not be more different. Jaspher is calm, level-headed and responsible, taking it upon himself to keep the Carson family afloat despite some serious financial difficulties and his father’s rapidly developing illness. John meanwhile is a notorious libertine, fond of wine, women and song with a penchant for attracting trouble.

In some ways, the two brothers perfectly embody their father, Jeremiah Carson, who is an ex-sailor turned shipwright. Despite his working class background, Jeremiah Carson rose to become a wealthy and successful entrepreneur in New Hardway, and is now a respected member of society. Jaspher seeks to uphold his father’s legacy by following in his footsteps as a shipwright. Unfortunately for Jaspher, John is far more interested in sailing ships than building them, and shamelessly engages in activities one might typically associate with that profession such as drinking, smoking and gambling.

John’s carefree, hedonistic lifestyle is a constant source of embarrassment for Jaspher. His peers make snide and insidious remarks regarding his brother’s behaviour and use it to undermine his authority. Being an ex-sailor himself (and for other, slightly more upsetting reasons), Jeremiah Carson prefers to turn a blind eye, but Jaspher refuses to let things slide. He will often step in as disciplinarian, which naturally causes a lot of tension between the two. This is fun to write.

What I like most about Jaspher and John’s relatonship is the complete juxtaposition between how much they love each other — how they’d do absolutely anything to protect each other — versus their complete inability to see eye to eye. Their relationship is fraught with jealousy and misunderstandings; the inevitable result of conflicting ideologies. As the plot of The Mayor progresses and pressure upon the Carson family mounts, Jaspher and John’s relationship will be tested to its absolute limit.

Fun!

7. Alternative realities: what could have changed everything, and how?

The obvious answer to this question would be, “What if William Kale had never come to New Hardway?” Because there’d be no plot, essentially, and everyone would be a lot happier and be able to get on with their lives.

How boring.

No, there’s actually a moment I can specifically pinpoint as being pivotal. It could have changed potentially everything, and I know this because I actually wrote it out and had to do away with it immediately for the sake of progressing the plot.

~*~ Warning! Minor spoilers to follow – I’ve redacted most of them but you never know… ~*~

In the scene before this one, Jaspher and Melora have a huge, relationship-altering fight. When I originally wrote it, Melora managed to catch up to Jaspher and apologise to him:

“Jaspher, wait,” Melora hurried down the stairs. “About last night, I… I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” Jaspher frowned, sounding as nonplussed as he looked. “Whatever for?”

“For how I reacted [REDACTED BECAUSE SPOILERS].”

She swallowed, tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth. Seeing him flush red at the reminder of his shame, she ploughed on before he could interrupt her.

“I… I was angry and upset. I lashed out because of it. After you’d gone, I had some time to think about what you said — why you did what you did — and I realised… you were only doing what you thought was best for your family. [REDACTED, FIGHT ME] And I don’t know if what John said about Mr Kale is true, but if it is true, Jaspher, then you need to be careful, because we don’t know what else he’s capable of, and we’ve lost so much already [FIGHT ME SOME MORE].

She felt rather than saw the tension ease in him as her voice trailed off. She stiffened as he pulled her to him in a gentle, one-armed embrace, then relaxed as he released her.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said, slipping his hand into hers. “I’m sorry. I swear to you, I’ve never regretted anything more in my entire life. If I could wind back the clock and refuse to sign those damned papers, I would do it. I’d do it in a heartbeat. But it’s done now, and we’ll have to find a way to work through it. Somehow.”

He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and she nodded, forcing a smile to her lips. It warmed her heart to see that smile returned, just the barest flickering at the corner of his mouth.

“But now I really, really must go. We’ll talk about this later, all right?” He kissed the backs of her fingers. “I promise.”

Copyright © S.E. Berrow 2018

Aww, isn’t that nice? Communication! Resolution! A willingness to understand each other and make things right!

Well I’m sorry, but we can’t have that. For the sake of the plot, I needed to carry on driving as big a wedge between these two as possible, so I ended up swapping the above out for this:

“Jaspher, wait,” Melora descended the stairs, reaching out as he yanked open the front door. “About last night… I just wanted to say that I’m—”

The door swung shut just as she reached the bottom, obscuring him from view.

“—sorry…”

Copyright © S.E. Berrow 2018

… Shame.

S.E. Berrow

Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 11: Questions 10 and 11

Part of the 30 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

10. What are some really weird situations your characters have been in? Everything from serious canon scenes to meme questions counts!

Well, one of my characters is in a retroactive, cross-dimensional relationship with a faerie prince from one of K.F. Goodacre‘s stories… Does that count?

I shall endeavour to explain. I can’t remember how the subject came up exactly, but Kim and I were once discussing the sexuality of our characters. I have two canonical LGBT+ characters in The Mayor: John, who is bisexual; and Nell, who is a lesbian.

Mary Read and Anne Bonny
Much has been made of the sexualities of the pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny over the years, but of course never confirmed. I drew a lot of inspiration for Nell’s character from these two fascinating women.

Important note: I am aware I’m applying modern-day labels to characters that have no concept of such things here. Though same-sex relations happened in the 18th century (obviously), academic understanding of sexuality during this period was severely limited. And despite being one of the more sexually liberated historical eras, sex between men was punishable by death. Whilst sex between women was (laughably) seen as an impossibility and therefore not illegal (see here), they could be cornered on some other capital charge like witchcraft or fraud if they got found out. John has a well-referenced relationship with a male character in The Mayor in addition to his relationships with women, and Nell repeatedly demonstrates she cares more for the company of women than she does men. Ergo, I use these labels when talking about their sexuality, because from a modern-day perspective, this is what I believe they would identify as if they were living in this day and age.

During this discussion, Kim remarked on how well-suited her character Huckleberry was to John. I found myself in agreement with her. They’re both extroverted, both fun-loving and adventurous, both have a wicked sense of humour and both are, it has to be said, exactly the other one’s type.

So, being writing partners, what did we do? Well, we wrote about it of course! And because I enjoyed what we wrote so much (as mentioned in my last blog post, John’s character didn’t come easily to me; writing something this fun and wacky really helped), I decided to sneak it into The Mayor. The man I mentioned John having had a relationship with? His name is Henry Squires, and he is loosely based on Huck. Have fun with that, Dear Readers!

11. Who is your favourite character to write? Least favourite?

Speak of the devil and he shall appear…

I love writing about John. I say writing about John — not with — because unlike the other three primary characters in The Mayor, John doesn’t get a POV and has no internal monologue. Readers will only get to know him through the perceptions of other characters. This is fun for me to write, because they all have such drastically different opinions about him: Melora practically hero-worships him; Jaspher frets and rages about him in equal measure; and Kale just sees him as an utter waste of space, barely worthy of his time. The impact he has on the lives of all three however is massive. He is my spanner in the works. A sharp-tongued libertine ahead of his time. I cannot stress how hard I had to work on his character enough, but I got there in the end and it was worth it. I love writing about John. Love, love, love.

S.E. Berrow

Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 10: Question 9

As mentioned on a previous blog post, I missed a week of this challenge. Today I originally intended to answer two questions to make up for it, but my answer to Question 9 ended up being so long, I’ve decided to answer two questions next week instead (sorry!).

Part of the 30 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

9. How do you get ideas for your characters? Describe the process of creating them.

The answer to this question is so complex and so hard to put into words… Bear with me, I will try my best!

The truth is that I have no fixed process for character creation, and ideas can come from absolutely anywhere. Some characters will just show up fully-formed, demanding I tell their story. Others, I will have to go hunting for them for days, weeks, months, even years until at last I am able to trap them, break them, hone them into some semblance of a believable human being. Once a character stops behaving and you start having to work around them to move your plot along, you know you’ve done a decent job of development.

For the sake of being succinct, I’m going to focus on the creation and development of two characters in particular, else we’re going to be here all day!

~ WARNING: Mild spoilers for The Mayor below. I’ll do my best to avoid them, but I can’t promise anything. You can click the character image to be taken through to their profile page ~


William Kale


William KaleA prime example of the first kind of character I mentioned above is William Kale. I’ve touched on this a couple of times before, but he basically walked into my head one day — entirely himself — whilst I was listening to ‘The Mayor’ by Rasputina. The lyrics speak of “a blonde-haired”, morally destitute, insane individual who ruins the town he is then inexplicably made mayor of (“Oh no, way to go, he’s the mayor”). Lots of lyrics in ‘The Mayor’ apply to my story as a whole (mention of sinking ships, insane asylums etc.), however there is one repeated refrain throughout that really formed the core of Kale’s character: “If they take something precious from me, I’m going to take something precious from them.”

Whilst ‘The Mayor’ was perhaps the trigger, with hindsight I think Kale’s conception might also have been heavily influenced by a couple of other things, namely books I was reading around that time (2008). Roger Chillingworth for example is a character from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter who plants himself inside the home of his unfaithful wife’s lover under the guise of a doctor and slowly poisons him to death. Like Chillingworth, Kale plants himself inside the home of the Mayor of New Hardway and seeks to overthrow him. Then there is the duplicitous Captain Kennit from Robin Hobb’s The Liveship Traders who still manages to charm and manipulate those around him despite a total lack of empathy for others; a trait that Kale definitely shares. And then there is Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights who goes away, makes a fortune and later returns to act out slow, painstaking and terrible revenge on those who have wronged him… Kale can certainly relate to that. All of these books and characters seem to have fed into Kale’s creation in some way. Out of all the characters in The Mayor, he has changed the least since I first started.


Jonathan Carson

Jonathan Carson


A good example of the second kind of character meanwhile is Jonathan Carson. Ah, John. John, John, John… We’ve had a long journey, you and I. Though I had his bare bones at story start (I drew heavily on my favourite historical pirates “Calico” Jack Rackham and Stede Bonnet for his storyline/relationships with others/appearance/background etc.) there was just something… off about him that I didn’t like, and neither did a couple of my early Beta readers. He was a caricature. A stereotype. Just your typical rakish handsome sailor fond of drinking, debauching, able to draw women towards him like bees to a honeypot. But he was so important to the plot! He was literally created to fill out the plot. To be Jaspher’s brother. To show Melora that she has other options besides the life her father has chosen for her. To give the story a second half. And yet I couldn’t make him believable, let alone likeable.

Eventually I was able to figure out the reason why: out of the four main characters, John and I have the least in common. Yes, believe it or not, I have more in common with a psychopath like Kale then I do with John. This was of course a problem, because it meant I didn’t understand John. And if I didn’t understand him, then how could I possibly expect my readers to?

After this epiphany, I set about taking as many Character Quizzes for John as I possibly could. You know the ones, the ones that ask things like “What’s been the best day of your life so far?” “Who was your first kiss?” “Have you ever taken drugs?” Gradually the character of John began to develop. He became more three-dimensional. Writing him became easier. I still wasn’t entirely happy though.

Then one miserable afternoon in December 2011, someone told me something really awful that had happened to them. Something that disturbed and upset me so much that I just couldn’t keep it to myself else I’d go mad. So I poured it into my writing, and applied what I had heard to John. Suddenly his character made sense to me. It became apparent why he goes out drinking all the time, why he leads such a hedonistic lifestyle, why his brother thinks he’s off the rails, and why his father continually turns a blind eye to his reckless behaviour.

John’s character has flowed easily for me ever since.

 

S.E. Berrow

Meet The Characters

I have added a new section to The Mayor section of my website entitled ‘Meet The Characters’. Here you can see beautiful illustrations of each of my four main characters –Melora, Jaspher, Kale and John — drawn for me by my wonderful illustrator, Brettarts (read more about him in Affiliates).

By clicking a character image you can read more information about their story as well as discover some fun stuff like what dæmon I think they would have (Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials), what Hogwarts house they belong to (J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter) or what Tarot Card I most associate them with.

I may add to these character pages as time goes on so be sure to check back regularly for updates. In the meantime, click here to get acquainted.

Take care,

S.E. Berrow

“Redcoat Jack is on the tele.”

Well. That’s certainly not a text I was expecting to receive from my writing partner K.F. Goodacre, but receive it I did.

Knowing there was only one programme any respecting English person could possibly be watching on this particular Saturday night, I flipped over to BBC One and low and behold, my character Redcoat Jack was indeed on the television!

Poland, Eurovision 2016
Redcoat Jack appears in my work-in-progress, The Mayor; I talk a little about him and his characterisation here.

OK, not quite… Singer Michał Szpak was at that moment performing in the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest, representing his home-country of Poland. But my God, the resemblance was uncanny (minus the black nail polish). As I said to Kim, he even had the terrible drunken singing down to a tee. It’s like my brain vomited onto the television screen. So weird!

Though Michał finished second to last place with the Eurovision jurors with just 7 points, he shot up to eighth place overall after receiving a massive 229 points from the European public who, I presume, voted for him solely on the basis that he was dressed like a pirate. Arrrr!

If you can bear it, Michał Szpak’s performance is available to view here.

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


For those of you who have no bloody idea what I’m talking about, you can learn out all about the batshit insanity that is the Eurovision Song Contest by visiting the official website:

http://www.eurovision.tv/

La Pomme D’Or

I was asked by my writing partner K.F. Goodacre the other day if I knew of any old English or Irish female given names that meant ‘hero’. She asked me this question because she was looking to name a new character, whom I supposed she wished to embody heroic traits, but in actual fact was named for the Greek myth of Leander and Hero (see here). The husband of this new character’s full name is Oleander, which itself means ‘poisonous shrub’ and is rather befitting of his personality

Unlike parents naming their newborn child, writers have the advantage of knowing their characters inside out, thus can have a bit of fun when assigning names. It provides opportunities for clever foreshadowing, referencing other words or sharing an in-joke with those in the know.

Or, if you’re like me, you just pluck or steal names from all over the shop – friends, colleagues, other people’s characters, gravestones etc. – stick ’em on your character’s forehead like a post-it note and hope that nobody notices your crippling lack of imagination.

Such is the case with The Mayor. I struggled so much with naming these characters that I even had to ask K.F. Goodacre to name one for me (Jaspher, if you must know; there’s no way I could have come up with something that original on my own). When it came to naming my protagonist, Melora, I literally just named her after the woman who inspired her into existence: Melora Creager of Rasputina. Fortunately, when I spoke to Melora Creager about this, she was very excited by the prospect and didn’t mind that I’d essentially stolen her identity; the point is that there was no thought process when it came to giving Melora her name at all.

~ WARNING: Major spoilers for The Mayor to follow ~

John (Tuomas Holopainen)4 APPLE!The same was true of another one of my characters: Melora’s best friend and lover, Jonathan “Redcoat Jack” Carson. John was named after the pirate that inspired his storyline: Jonathan “Calico Jack” Rackham (are you seeing a pattern here? It’s actually quite embarrassing how little creativity I have). When I first started writing with John, I am not sure how or why, but it soon became apparent that he bloody loves apples, especially red apples. He steals them from fruit stalls, swipes them from the family fruit bowl and complains if he has to travel somewhere where he can’t get any.

I didn’t plan for it, it just happened, until it became an integral part of his character to the point that other characters also associate them with him. Whilst the love of the fruit was accidental, the colour I chose was not, as the red foreshadows the colour of the coat he becomes famous for wearing during his piratical exploits. Also, given John’s propensity for hedonism and the passion and love he and Melora share, I also deliberately take every opportunity I can to draw on the historic symbolism of apples and their association with seduction and temptation. After their first night together, for example, the last thing Melora remembers is Redcoat Jack scooping up an apple and taking a bite out of it as he leaves the room.

The point I am trying to make here is that, off the back of my conversation with K.F. Goodacre, I looked up the meaning of the name ‘Melora’. To my surprise and absolute delight, I discovered that it means…

‘Golden Apple’.

The Golden Apple Tree and the Nine Peaheans - Arthur Rackham 1916

Now there’s some accidental subconscious genius for you.

S.E. Berrow


 

The man with the red apple pictured is John’s ‘faceclaim’: a young Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish.

The painting is The Golden Tree & Nine Peahens (1916) by Arthur Rackham.