My Easter treat to myself – along with all the chocolate – has been reading a George R R Martin book that I have been saving since Christmas. I am a massive fan of the Game of Thrones books. When the TV series first started, I was quite attracted to it but we don’t have Sky TV, so I did what comes naturally to me and started to read the books. I was very quickly addicted. The vastness of the stories – the landscapes, the histories, the characters, the family sagas, the mysteries both fantastical and mundane – it all worked its magic on me. Yes, the writing is sometimes hackneyed and clichéd, but the ideas are not and the complexity and depth of the plots is extremely satisfying. All too soon I had read every book in the series and am now waiting impatiently for George R R Martin to get on and finish the last book. It was a bit frustrating that he chose to publish a prequel rather than the final book in the series, but addict that I am, I snapped up Fire and Blood; A History of the Targaryen Kings from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III and am now using my Easter holiday to plough my way through it. It’s great fun.
It is somewhat of a distraction from rural Victorian England, which is supposed to be my project of choice. The world of Westeros couldn’t be more different to the village life that I create; my work is more George Elliot than George R R Martin. But it wasn’t always this way for me. I started out writing fantasy and still remember all my characters and ideas, locked away but not forgotten. And while I’m reading Fire and Blood, it seems that the dragon fire is breathing new life into old ideas and making them smoulder again.
I would still love to write my fantasy stories. I wrote so much of Arris that part of me thinks it would be a waste not to finish it. But there are others. Back when I was still a fantasy fan, there were many other ideas that I once had plans for. Some were no more than characters, travelling around fantasy worlds getting into scrapes with no plot what-so-ever to guide them. Others were too obviously “inspired” by other fantasy writers, like David Eddings and Mervyn Peake. I still entertain myself with these patchwork pieces of ideas, enjoying the characters without any compulsion to develop them further. I don’t mind that they will go no further than this. I do regret leaving Arris behind, but I have to be realistic about it and have accepted its unfinished state. But there are two other stories that I do still think about a lot, ideas that I never even started but still tempt me.
The first one is about a prince, who is in love with a witch who is married to his father, who has been sent by an evil master to destroy the dynasty that protects the realm. It is a story steeped with magic that can be used for both evil and good, but in the end, it is love that holds the power to defeat wickedness. This idea particularly has come back to mind now because it has a lot of similarities with the Game of Thrones world, but the idea came to me in a dream, a very long time before I read the books. Sometime around the year 2000, I was developing a set of characters and plot lines and writing some scenes; Prince Tiyanne, Prince Ennis, Almeida the witch woman, the ancient city of Tallis with its castle full of protective magic. It was good stuff, and it would make a good novel, if it wasn’t for the fact that I will probably never write it.
And even if I was writing fantasy again, I would have to choose between this story and the other idea that I still think of as equally as good. Again, the idea came to me in a dream – I have some great dreams. This is a story about a world with warring gods, and the effects of those wars on the ordinary people who get pulled into the fight. The hero of this story is a woman, a warrior, fighting on the losing side. The victorious god punishes those who fought against him by taking away their loved ones, to live in a beautiful world with no knowledge of their previous lives. The punished ones must live in hardship until the god deems them to have paid off their crimes. The only person who knows the truth about everything is the woman; this is her punishment, to know the full extent of what she has lost and why. And yet this is also a gift to her, from the god himself, who cannot just destroy her or abandon her, no matter what she says against him. I developed the beginning of this story, but I never worked out how it ended, or why the woman had so much power over the god, or why the god was so drawn to the woman. I would love to find out, and I’m sure the answer is there somewhere, just waiting to be discovered, if only I started writing it.
Remembering it all, I am yearning to start writing fantasy again. There is no reason why fantasy fiction can’t be as good as any other fiction. Regardless of magic and gods and legends, it is still driven by people, governed by real emotions, making real mistakes and learning real lessons. That’s what I like best about the Game of Thrones books, and what I like best about my stories. But any fiction about people needs a framework for the people to live in, and in fantasy, it all needs to be created from scratch. There needs to be history behind the living characters, along with beliefs and faith that shape human consciences and values. At the very least, there must be geography to create places for the characters to live. This is what George R R Martin does best. His world is so immense that he can write prequels and histories. But as much as I love reading them, I have no desire to create my own. Maybe I’m intimidated by it, because it is a huge task and very difficult to get right. But maybe I just prefer writing about my characters without the distractions and digressions of creating a world for them to live in.
That’s why I’m sticking to Victorian England. It is a framework that already exists, and it is easily identified and understood. I can get on with writing about my characters. Or at least, that is the plan, though I must admit that it’s still not going anywhere. And it’s not George R R Martin’s fault. Going back to fantasy and revisiting my old ideas has made me realise something. Those stories move me in a way that my current novel doesn’t. They have passion and action and torment, all the things that are missing in the current novel. It might be set in a sleepy 19th Century village, but it still needs passion and pain. I know it can be done – there was plenty in The Most Beloved Boy, and After the Rain, both with very similar settings. But so far, my current story fails to evoke any strong feelings, and I think that is the cause of my writer’s block.
Coming to this conclusion has been a bit of an epiphany; hurrah for fantasy, not a waste of time after all. However, it doesn’t actually provide the solutions. That’s going to take time and even more thought. And even though my novel needs fire and blood, at this moment there is only one Fire and Blood I want to finish, along with some more research on Victorian rural life. What a combination! Happy Easter to me.