Hidden Depths

005

The Kikuyu Medicine Man

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For the story behind the photo see The Medicine Man

 

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 Shades FINAL COVERS Set 3_Layout 1

Kenya 1955

When war comes it can rip your

family apart. Then you have to decide

whose side you are on.

Ransom Books

Teen Quick Read/Adult Interest

 

More about this book and extract

Amazon.de

Amazon.com

Bokus.com and ebook Bokus.com

WHSmith.co.uk

Tanum.no

 

Depth

Wind-blown: Thursday’s Special

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I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

We lived in Kenya during the late Moi years, the last days of the one-party state. By then the President was feeling under threat from external pressure to democratise, and whenever the President felt threatened, the crime rate rocketed – white collar crime that is, AK47 operations such as car-jacking that especially targeted expatriate aid workers, and organised by people whose elitist way of life was also at stake. There were episodes of ethnic clashes thrown in for good measure, stirred up in the same quarter. A German forestry consultant was murdered on his front doorstep for complaining about some bigwig chopping down Mount Kenya’s forests to grow hash.

 

In some ways it was fascinating to observe the bloody devices by which some people cling to power – and by fascinating I mean in the way you might stand frozen, staring into the headlights of an oncoming car. It was stressful then, and especially as election time approached, and so one year we decided we’d had enough, and needed a break. We went to Dubai. While we were there we spent a night out in the desert. You will appreciate the bliss we felt, standing alone in all that emptiness, seeing for miles, and with not one thing on the horizon to trigger our internal security scanners. A landscape arranged by the wind, timeless and mysterious, and with a welcome absence of humans.

© 2015 Tish Farrell

Paula’s Thursday’s Special: Arranged

How I write: telling the truth in fiction

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“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”   Lewis Carroll  Alice in Wonderland

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I sometimes feel I know too much about the process of fiction writing; I’d like to unknow it, and begin again from scratch. Sometimes I think I don’t know enough, and will never make it over that learning-curve hump. In between these two positions, there is also the problem of having taken in too much ‘how to’; the ensuing overburden of advice that can make for self-consciousness, and lead to an unappealing tendency to manipulate characters and events in ways that lack integrity.

The narrative content becomes inauthentic. Untruthful. You see it a lot in book-packaged series for children, the kinds of titles that are written by a host of poorly paid writers under the name of a pretend author whose persona has been created by the packager. (I worked on one of those deals once, but you won’t see my name on the Harper Collins title).

But then isn’t that the point of fiction, that it’s fictional; not real; make believe; just a story.

Well yes and no. Mostly no, I find.

Perhaps this photograph might help to unravel the paradox. I will do as the King of Hearts commands, and begin at the beginning: the laying of a story’s foundations.

In any good opening you are quickly introduced to the protagonist(s). In the photo let’s suppose the main characters are the marsh grasses in the foreground. The eye is drawn to them; they are the most obviously defined; they stand out from the crowd. There is also something particular about their disposition, their relationship to/place within their setting which adds to their interest. At this stage we do not yet know them, but they have attracted our attention and we want to know  more.

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Along with meeting the story’s protagonists, and in accordance with the usual conventions of storytelling, the reader will, either  immediately, or very soon, become aware of some conflict affecting them. Trouble is brewing, or has just descended. 

The ‘trouble’ can  come in many forms and moods from gritty realism to high comedy. In the photo it might be represented by the soft focus rock in the foreground. We can see it is a rock, but only the top of it is looming. In other words, we sense the imminent drama, but we don’t altogether know what form it will take, or the full implications for the protagonist. Now we’re hooked: we want to know what is going to happen, and in particular how the characters we have glimpsed will confront and resolve their difficulties.

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To use another kind of image, then, these elements are the storyteller’s warp and weft. They are key to the construction process, but they are not the actual story. What is needed is substance and texture, the interweaving of details that will give life to the story’s characters and their situations.

This all about creating an internally convincing context, a believable world, a setting within which its inhabitants and their preoccupations articulate authentically. Everything must ring true.

And when a storyteller succeeds on all these fronts, then the fiction does indeed become a kind of truth. This is what Stephen King means when he says a story is a ‘found thing’. The storytelling process is about discovering something that already exists. In this sense, it is not ‘made up’. I think the analogy King gives is the retrieving of a fossil from its rocky matrix; how good a specimen you end up with depends on the quality of your excavation techniques and your understanding of the materials involved. You also need a steady hand, and a sharp eye.

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Looking again at the photo, the stream, the marsh, the distant wood and the sky are all part of the context for the foreground grasses and rock. They are the setting. The wood adds depth of field and also a  sense of mystery. It contrasts coldly with the pale sky. Perhaps, after all, the trouble is coming from that direction; the rock in clear sight is just a distraction, or only a foretaste of worse to come. Storytelling requires cycles of tension, building in intensity. The triple helix is a useful image to think of.

While we’re here, we might also imagine the stream as the narrative thread. No matter how the storyteller chooses to reveal the series of events that make up the story (and of course they need not be consecutive or chronological in the way that the King of Hearts demands of the White Rabbit) there must always be onward momentum, pressing the reader along, piquing their interest, not losing them on the journey.

This means creating a balance between revealing and withholding information – adding suspense or a new twist. And it’s at this point the storyteller needs to look out, and  stay true to context and characters – no rampant extraneous invention and manipulation to create gratuitous excitement.

“A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. ”

Raymond Chandler

This does not mean flat writing. Far from it. There must be light and shade, surprise, variety, and glorious detail (though not too much), yet all must arise naturally from within the story, have believable existence within the created story world. It is a form of alchemy. Or conjuring. Or mediumship, and the makings have their source deep within the storyteller’s subconscious.

The narrative that emerges is the result of dialogue between the subconscious and conscious mind. Although, just sometimes, the subconscious will do all the work. And it is then that the writer will say the story simply downloaded/was dictated to their inner ear, and all they did was type.

Of course all I have told you here is the ‘how’ of story, and not the ‘what’. And so where does the ‘what’ come from? All I can say is that any writer must find and stake out their ‘territory’, explore every inch, and command it the best they can, only then will the full story emerge.

Hilary Mantel’s muscular recreation of the Tudor world of Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies) is an excellent example. She has done her homework, and then she has conjured. Most of my own published short fiction has grown from years of living in, and reading about East Africa. A host of characters without stories lives in my head. The gathering process, the interrogation of data never stops. One day I will excavate the perfect fossil.

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But before I leave this photo, I have to say that of course the actual story is not about the upfront grasses or the rock. There is someone in the foreground who does not appear in the shot. A dark-haired girl. I think her name is Eirwen and she has come to the seashore to gather the marsh grasses for thatching. As she cuts the sheaves, she is thinking of Ifor, the seer’s son, and if he will come as promised. She is sad because he won’t, and thrilled because he will. Then a cry of a heron makes her look towards the sea. A fleet of dark ships is heading ashore. She sees the glint of iron – shields, spears, men on horseback leaping into the shallows. The cry of the heron becomes her cry…

 © 2015 Tish Farrell

Related: Also see my post about creating setting/world building at Knowing Your Place

This post was inspired by Paula’s Black and White Sunday: Inspiration

 

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image

Secrets, conspiracies, tragedy,

dark comedy – a fast-paced

novella of interwoven tales set

somewhere in East Africa

Available on ePub Bud

5* Amazon Kindle Review

Shades FINAL COVERS Set 3_Layout 1

When war comes it can rip your

family apart. Then you have to

decide whose side you are on.

Ransom Books Teen Quick Read

Gallery

Guest Challenge: Knowing your place (colour photo challenge)

This week I’m also over at Paula’s blog, Lost in Translation. She kindly asked me to post a guest photo challenge ‘Knowing My Place’. It’s all about finding some cunning new angle that tells you something fresh about a place you think you know very well. To find out more read on, and to see Paula’s own amazing photo response go HERE:

Lost in Translation

tish

 Tish Farrell:

Music: Vaughan Williams On Wenlock Edge song cycle inspired by A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad

January can be a lowering month – at least in the North. We are expected to burst, sparkling new, into the New Year, when we might feel more jaded than go-ahead. Hopefully this photo prompt will have you seeing things in a new light.
I’ve called it ‘Knowing My Place’, and you can interpret it in any way that strikes you. ‘My Place’ will be somewhere that you think you know inside out: your home town or street, the journey to work, your office, kitchen, garden or desk; your state of mind, or work in progress. Now search it with the camera’s eye. Sleuth out an angle that starts to tell you something new about it.
When I first thought of the prompt I was thinking about my home town, Much…

View original post 289 more words

Known outage report for Western Washington

Today, Mak (Makagutu) at Random Thoughts is quizzing us about the length of blog posts: what is acceptable to us blogger-readers. The general consensus so far is that the quality of the writing is the key. So here’s a post from Pinklightsabre’s Blog (whose longer posts I also read with great pleasure). This post is short, funny, zips off the screen and is wholly of our time. So this is my response to Mak’s question: good writing will out every time. Please enjoy! (And when you’ve read this, read the previous post HERE.)

William Pearse | pinklightsabre

We’re sorry. The website <http://pinklightsabre.com&gt; is temporarily out of service in your area and not accepting new patients. This is a Known Outage. If you believe you’ve received this notice in error, we’re sorry again. There are no paragraph breaks in this recording. If you would like to leave a message, please have your Case Number ready and your mother’s maiden name. If you have children, high-resolution JPEGS are safe with us and won’t go any further we promise. Expect a longer-than-normal response time due to longer-than-anticipated call volumes and no urgency it’s your problem not ours. Once you’ve processed your application it will be reviewed by a Human Authentication Wizard with self-guided prompts best experienced on a PC with up-to-date anti-virus protection, autocorrection software, spermicide jellies, caps or sponges. The H.A.W. — aka Human Authentication Wizard — will suss out droids and spam for the mold spores you are and…

View original post 118 more words

Mischief in the Mara

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These photos were taken in the Maasai Mara during a game drive. For more scenes of mischief visit Ailsa’s travel challenge at Where’s My Backpack

And now for a treat, and even more mischievous behaviour: a short film about Daphne Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. The baby elephants you will see in the film have all been orphaned, mostly due to ivory poaching or drought. Sheldrick discovered that orphaned infants will only survive if given 24 hours a day emotional support. At the orphanage each infant has a keeper who becomes its surrogate mother. The ultimate objective of the Sheldrick project is to restore these elephants to wild herds in Tsavo East National Park. This approach has had many successes, and in fact just before Christmas it was reported in the British press that one of Sheldrick’s former orphans had just given birth, back in the wilds with her own herd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvA52oAvcZ0

 

Elephants at Dawn

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There is nothing more imposingly serene than a large herd of unruffled elephants on the move. We humans, on the other hand, may become thoroughly over-excited by such an encounter. The elephants are not impressed though. They note our existence, weighing us up with scant regard. We are quickly aware of being mentally ‘put in our place’. And as we watch, and watch the herd’s slow and steady progress through the Mara thorn trees, we find ourselves succumbing to the collective elephant will. There is the urge to follow, to step out, placing each foot with quiet intention on the surface of the earth, moving at one within ourselves instead of forever rushing about, seeking fresh excitement. As they disappear from view, we are left with a sense that something has changed. Have we been changed? In any event, it seems there is much to be learned from an early morning meeting with elephants.

Later that day, as dusk is descending, we meet the herd again. They are crossing the trail that leads back to our camp. The guide stops the truck, and we stand up, leaning out of the roof hatches as the herd moves all around us. It is breath-taking. This time they are close enough to touch. We can smell their musky hides. They move around the truck as if it is not there, then fade into the darkness as quiet as ghosts.

© 2015 Tish Farrell

Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity

 

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image

Secrets, conspiracies, tragedy,

dark comedy – a fast-paced

novella of interwoven tales set

somewhere in East Africa

Available on ePud Bud 

5* Amazon Kindle Review

 

Serenity

The People of the Birch Bark House

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We came upon this reconstructed Iroquois longhouse when visiting the Museum of Ontario Archaeology in London, Ontario. It stands next door to the museum, on the Lawson site, where the remains of a 500-year-old fortified Neutral Iroquois village were discovered in the 1920s. Since then over 30,000 artefacts have been recovered, along with traces of 19 long houses and a long section of palisade. It is thought that around 2,000 people once inhabited the five acre site.

The village sits up on a flat plateau above Medway River and Snake Creek in northwest London, a good defensible position with access to fresh water and fishing. From the late 1400s there seems to have been an increase in inter-tribal conflict, made worse later by the arrival of Europeans, who among other things, sought to control the fur trade. Around the 1650s the Neutral Iroquois were defeated and dispersed by the New York State Iroquois, leaving south western Ontario empty until the early 1700s when the Ojibway moved into the area.

The Iroquois called and call themselves Haudensaunee. (See the Haudensaunee Confederacy website for more about their culture). I read that this name translates as: ‘People of the longhouse’. It is a fitting name for a culture whose architecture so clearly defines their communal ethos.  Traditionally, longhouses were as long as there were extended family groups to occupy them – between 60 and 300 feet. The frame was made of bent saplings with a span around twenty feet wide and high. On either side the door, platforms ran the length of the house, with one family to every section. Every two families facing one another across the corridor shared one of many central hearths. The Lawson example, though, is apparently more typical of longhouses found in northern Ontario since it uses a covering of birch bark rather than elm that was used in the south west.

It was strange, but the Lawson longhouse felt very lonely. Perhaps it was because there was only one house on a site where there should have been several. Inside, too, there was a curious sense of abandonment, and this seemed odd for a reconstructed exhibit. There was no one else around on the day we visited, just the spring breezes in the surrounding scrubby woods. Even now, several years on, I can still feel the great sense of sadness that I experienced as I walked around the site. I had earlier been told at London’s Fanshawe Pioneer Village that before the European settlers arrived, south west Ontario was a land of monumental trees, and as soon as I heard this I began to regret their loss. It was also a land of peoples whose values and customs were often greatly misrepresented and wilfully eradicated by the newcomers. I felt the loss of them too, and also the sense that we had missed something very important by not understanding better how the ‘first people’ lived in the once majestic landscape, that is now so very cleared and broken in, and in many places, downright ugly with viral shopping malls, diners and freeways.

© 2015 Tish Farrell

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Wood