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Friday, 15 December 2017

A Story About the Importance of Stories

It is no accident that most of the world’s belief systems are based on narrative. Whether a novel, film, oral folktales, a news story or specifically religious writing, stories help us make sense of our lives. I didn’t set out to develop that theme in The Tides Between. The concept of the novel started with a character. In this instance, a young girl called Bridie who had lost her father in tragic circumstances. I had this idea that a creative young couple would help her to come to terms with her loss during the long sea voyage to Australia. Through a serendipitous process involving my mother’s Welsh heritage and my childhood emigration to Australia, my creative young couple became Welsh storytellers.

I’d like to say that the themes of my novel emerged along with that decision. I read the Mabinogion and a host of other Welsh fairy tales and found myself entranced. These were my stories, part of my heritage, and I hadn’t even known they existed. Despite this, I didn’t quite know what to do with the wealth I had uncovered. In my early drafts of The Tides Between, I simply use the stories to establish Rhys and Sian as storytellers and to forge a connection between them and Bridie. The individual tales were quite incidental to the plot. However, during my re-drafting, I realised that the stories had to work harder if they were to earn their place in the narrative. Rather than being brief and incidental, they had to become central to the novel. In the end, I decided each story had to work on three levels.

1. As a compelling story in itself

2. In revealing something of the characters’ inner journeys

3. Acting as a metaphor for what was happening on the ship

As I re-worked the stories in The Tides Between according to the above criteria, my novel’s themes began to emerge. Here is a section of the novel in which Bridie reacts to Rhys’s telling of the traditional Welsh story of Llyn y Fan Fach.

the-tides-between, elizabeth-jane-corbett, book

Bridie didn’t know how long she sat there after the story finished. An age it seemed - with her chest heaving and her hanky sodden, thinking of babies called home before their time, her dad’s long and bitter illness, his strange, turbulent moods, Ma’s even-now bitterness. She became aware of Siân’s soft humming, Rhys’s dark, considered gaze, the knot of onlookers drifting away. She sniffed, dabbing at her eyes. 
‘Sorry. I won’t cry every time.’ 
‘No need to apologise, Bridie Stewart. There is no greater compliment to a storyteller.’ 
‘But…Rhys? Do you think she wanted to leave?’

‘I don’t know, bach. The story doesn’t tell us. Only that the maiden loved Ianto enough to thrust her sandaled foot forward and that she bore him three fine sons.’ 
‘But, laughing at a funeral, sobbing at a wedding? She wouldn’t have done those things if she’d loved him.’ 
‘We don’t know why the Fairy Woman laughed at the funeral, bach. Or indeed, why she sobbed at a wedding. Maybe she mourned for the bride, seeing problems others could not perceive. Maybe she grieved for her first life, the ones she’d left behind. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t love Ianto. Or that she wanted to leave him.’ 
‘I think it does. I think she hated him.’ 
‘Indeed, that is why you feel the story so deeply. You are not alone in that, Bridie bach. No doubt, Ianto asked himself the same questions. For they are the questions of the ages - how we tell a true story from one fashioned merely for entertainment. For in the plight of each character, we confront our heart’s reasons. Do not fear those reasons, bach, be they ever so painful. Only promise you’ll write about them in your own version of the story.’

Strangely, like its embedded fairy tales, The Tides Between also works on three levels. On the surface, it is a simple coming-of-age story. A girl becomes a woman. But like Bridie, Rhys and his wife Sian, have also been let down by their fathers. So, on another level, The Tides Between tackles issues of failed marriage, blended families, abuse, and mental health breakdown. However, running like a thread beneath these themes is the importance of stories. I didn’t set out to develop those themes. They grew out of the relationship between my characters. However, in keeping with Rhys’ definition of a ‘true story’, they reveal something of my own journey. For example, when Rhys says: ‘Painful, it is, when the words that once brought comfort lose their voice. It’s not the stories that are at fault. Or that we were foolish to believe. Only that we must learn to see with different eyes,’ I am expressing something of my own, evolving relationship with a group of ancient writings commonly known as the Bible. Similarly, when another character reflects: ‘There were no easy answers only love and people who were complex,’ I am speaking out of my own growth in understanding – an understanding that life is not black and white, that some of the easy answers I once accepted are no longer satisfying – and that is okay because love and life and even faith are beyond simple understanding.

To tell a story from the three viewpoints and to break it up with embedded Welsh fairy tales was a risky project for a debut novelist and it may well have fallen flat on its face. Fortunately, I found a publisher who was willing to take the risk and people are engaging strongly with the stories. I will leave you with the beginning of a segment from Llyn y Fan Fach. Though you’ll have to read the novel to see how it applies to Rhys and Bridie’s lives. Indeed, how it works as a metaphor for what is happening on the ship.

Siân began to hum. Arms on his knees, Rhys fixed his gaze on the deck. Bridie saw the nervous swallow of his throat, his too-tight fists, heard the sudden sharp intake of his breath.

‘High up in a hollow of the Black Mountains is a tiny, mysterious sheet of water pressed into the surrounding crests like a giant’s thumbprint. Lyn a Fan Fach, people call it, the lake of the small peak. Once-upon-a-time a widow lived in the shadow of those dark peaks. A poor widow who, having lost her husband to the sword, vowed her son, Ianto, would not earn his bread by soldiering. 
‘Being a gentle, sensitive young man, Ianto had no lust for battle. He liked nothing more than to graze his cattle on the shores of Llyn y Fan Fach. The light was different there, he told Mam, the air thinner. Sometimes, as he sat in the shadow of those dark peaks, he fancied he heard the Fair Folk singing.

‘It happened one day, as Ianto wandered the shores of the lake, that he saw a sight to make him tremble. There, perched on top of the water was a maiden - a most comely maiden, combing her long dark tresses. 
‘Now Ianto might have been a dreamer but he was no fool. Closing his eyes, he counted to ten, certain, this was nothing but a trick of the light on him. Imagine his wonder, therefore, when he opened them, to find the maiden still present. Indeed, if he was not mistaken, she was even lovelier than he imagined.

‘Ianto fumbled in his pack for the hunk of barley bread Mam had baked for him that morning. Burned black along one edge, it was hardly an inducement for one so comely. But Ianto knew better than to approach the Fair Ones empty-handed.

‘The maiden’s scarlet sandals barely rippled the water surface as she floated towards him. She stopped, wrinkling her nose at the sight of his meagre offering.’ 
‘Oh, handsome youth standing so truly,
‘With hard baked bread, you will not persuade me.’

elizabeth-jane-corbett, author

When Elizabeth Jane Corbett isn’t writing, she works as a librarian, teaches Welsh at the Melbourne Welsh Church, contributes articles to the Historical Novel Review and blogs. Elizabeth lives with her husband in a renovated timber cottage in Melbourne's inner-north. She likes red shoes, dark chocolate, commuter cycling, and reading quirky, character-driven novels set once-upon-a-time in lands far away. The Tides Between is available to buy now. For more about Elizabeth and her work, you can visit her website or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Why do you think stories are important? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Reflections on Growing Up: Watching a Childhood Friend Get Married

love, wedding, growing-up

Back in September, I attended the wedding of someone I went to school with.

'Congratulations to the happy couple, but why is that a big deal,' I hear you ask. Well, in itself, it isn't. Weddings are just part and parcel of life, a happy union between two people in love. They're romantic, they're sweet, and they're a fun social event offering a chance to catch up with people you rarely see.

So, with that in mind, why was this particular wedding different?

The answer to that question is a simple one, yet one which I think many people will be able to relate to - this was the first person from my close circle of friends to tie the knot.

The moment that someone in your friendship group takes the plunge and walks down the aisle, the dynamic of the whole group changes. No longer are you a group of young people reminiscing about old times and teenage years, chasing after hopes and dreams and still working on finding your footing in life. Instead, people are starting to settle down, find partners, buy houses and, now, get married.

Of course, marriage is a big commitment, and it's great when a person you care about finds someone to spend the rest of their life with. You're over the moon for them, ready to celebrate alongside them as they exchange rings and begin the next stage of their lives together.

But in the back of your mind, there's that niggling thought - no longer are you children or teenagers, your childhood is gone forever and as a group, you're now entering the next phase of life.

A post shared by Lorna Holland (@themaxdog) on

Growing up is a strange concept; something that is as familiar as navigating the streets of your hometown yet completely new, uncharted territory. As life goes by it's easy to forget that we're getting older - our bodies age while our minds remain unchanged. Often, years can pass without you really understanding how different things have become.

I don't think anyone really realises that they've grown up until moments like this when the thought suddenly crosses your mind, completely contrary and out of the blue, yet blindingly truthful. Growing up isn't reaching a certain age or doing a particular thing; growing up is the realisation that you've come to the next stage of your life.

As we all sat there enjoying that warm September evening, dressed in our finery, laughing, talking and clinking glasses, that was the moment when it hit me - like it or not, adulthood has arrived.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

What Writes Me

Writing fiction is quite weird. Don’t get me wrong, telling stories is as human as putting melted cheese on things, but there are plenty of true stories to be told. Riveting tales of courage, adventure, romance, and all the evil you could ever stomach. Stories that actually happened to real people, chock full of life lessons, that can be far more outlandish than even the most creative minds can concoct. So why is it that we insist on making stories up? And even more confusingly, why, as readers, do we attach to fiction as forcefully as a mother bear superglued to her cubs?

(Quick side note, my great uncle was a famous magician, so here’s a small bit of mind-reading)

What’s your favourite book?

Don’t think, just answer.

Okay, got it?

I’m going to wager it’s fiction. Non-fiction has tremendous value and hey, your answer might be a memoir or business book or something scientific (I said my great uncle was the magician, not me!) but when I ask this of people, ninety-nine times out of a hundred the answer comes back fiction.

Harry Potter.

The Da Vinci Code.

1984.

Twilight.

To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lord of the Rings.


The list goes on.

All beautiful, wonderful, tremendously invaluable lies that someone made up.

So, what the heck, humanity?

I’ve heard it said that writers make things up in the pursuit of discovering truth, and to me that sort of sounds like eating lots of T-bone steaks in the pursuit of lowering your cholesterol; but for some reason, it works.

The reason why it works is above my pay grade, but perhaps it’s because fiction softens truths and makes them easier to brush against the skin. Perhaps fiction distils truths to something palatable so your body doesn’t immediately vomit them all up. Perhaps it’s because some truths are hiding behind the stars and moons and galaxies, and although the arm of nonfiction is long, the reach of fiction is inescapable.

coldmaker, daniel-a-cohen, book

Either way, both sides of fiction - reading it and writing it - have an incredibly large draw to so many people. I can only speak for myself, but I thought it might be interesting to discuss why.

Here are some of the things that have steered me towards a life of writing. Here are the things that write me.

Challenge

Writing does not come easily to me. Pretty much every time I open my manuscript I think: “I’m going to screw this up.” But resistance breeds meaning, and every time I safely return from the soil of fiction I bring back a tiny seed of purpose.

Word Processing (PUN!)

I can think of no better way to deal with the heaviest emotional chains than to pound them flat and stitch them into the page. Sometimes seeing them there is an act of opening up; sometimes seeing them is closure.

Self-Discovery

“You really think you’re in control?” – Gnarls Barkley

There’s far more to your mind that you think, and writing is the best way to send Alice into the vast wonderland of the unconscious. The page surprises me every day.

Empathy

Considering I don’t want all of my characters to sound like me (something I struggle with daily) I actually have to get out of my cave and go interact with human beings. As a chronic introvert, this is invaluable.

Community

Writing a book is more or less the spelunking of the imagination. It’s a vast and illogical place, and it’s nice to know there are others down there beside you, smiling against the darkness.

Historical Record

Looking at pictures is like stepping into well-worn shoes. Looking at old writing is like squeezing into the entire ensemble.
Rounding of Edges

Like seeing the Basilisk through a camera, some traumas are less deadly when viewed through the lens of your own writing.

Free-ativity

Unlike other creative mediums, writing costs practically nothing (other than time and effort). Even if you’re sans computer, pen and paper usually aren’t far away, and neither is a succulent story waiting to be plucked.

Growth

As the manuscript grows, so do you. What’s also interesting to note is that when the manuscript shrinks back down (the dreaded editing process) you still grow, possibly even more. And if your process feels awful, it’s still fertilizing your soul.

'An Ode to Fantasy'

I want to go uncharted 
I want to dig up the X 
I want to sing with the faeries 
I want to tame the T-rex 
I want to wield the sword of the century 
I want to drink magic ale by the flagons 
So I learned to swim the fantastic 
Because only here there be dragons.
author, daniel-a-cohen

Having spent most of his life trapped in the frozen tundra of upstate New York, Daniel A. Cohen decided to dream himself somewhere new. It was from this quest for heat that the scorching world of Coldmaker was born. In addition to his writing career, Daniel is a semi-professional saxophonist in Austin, Texas, spending his days in front of the page and his nights in front of crowds. Sometimes the crowds cheer, and Daniel often wishes the page would do the same. Coldmaker is available to buy now. For more information about Daniel and his work, you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

Will you be reading Coldmaker? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Introducing Almost Autumn

almost-autumn, singer, musician
When the weather is cold and Christmas songs are played on repeat almost everywhere you go, sometimes, all you want is something fresh, exciting and a little different to listen to. Luckily, I have the perfect antidote to cure your winter music blues - say hello to Almost Autumn.

Almost Autumn is the performing name of Joelle-Marianne, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Liverpool, UK. At the tender age of just 20 years old, Joelle is in her final year of studying towards a music degree, an impressive feat considering the high quality of her songs already.

Working primarily within the pop, folk, and indie-acoustic genres, Almost Autumn is an audio diary project, recording Joelle's daily life from a musical perspective and documenting the student experience from a whole new angle. Love, lust and heartbreak are just a few of the signature themes, set against a shining city backdrop to a classic, feel-good pop melody and catchy lyrics. It's fresh, it's different and it's unique - the perfect way to stave off the cold winter weather.



It's clear that Joelle is certainly no stranger to the music scene, appearing in various bands and projects throughout the North-West music circuit for over seven years. She won her place at the prestigious Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts after appearing live on BBC Introducing and from there Almost Autumn was born.

Perhaps even more remarkably, each and every track was recorded from the confines of her student flat in Liverpool city centre, a fact which only further contributes to the homegrown student-led feel of the music.

Almost Autumn's debut release is 'A Little More', the perfect soundtrack for the transition between autumn and winter. It's simple and sweet yet memorable in all the right ways, serving as the ideal introduction to her sound as we enter the New Year.

You can find Almost Autumn on YouTube and Bandcamp, or to catch up with Joelle herself, follow her on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

What do you think of Almost Autumn? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 11 December 2017

3 European Travel Destinations Not to Be Missed Off Your Bucket List

If you’ve been out and about and caught the travel bug, then the chances are that you’ve probably started a travel bucket list. Throwing caution to the wind and wondering how you will ever be able to afford to travel to all of the places you want to visit may be an issue, but with some careful planning and preparation, travel is easily accessible to all. If you are in the process of creating your travel bucket list, here are three destinations that you should definitely not miss off your list. Whether you are a thrill seeker or a relaxation lover, these destinations have that something special and are guaranteed to make you fall in love with them.

Iceland

iceland-travel-scenery, pixabay

If you are a lover of Game Of Thrones and prefer to seek out action-packed moments and thrill-seeking adventures, Iceland is the place to visit. You can relax in a hot spring whilst lying under the stars waiting for the Northern Lights to make their spectacular appearance. There is even a scientific equation for working out the best month to see the Northern Lights, so you have the best chance of seeing them. You can also take an adventure into Langjokull glacier, descend into a dormant volcano, and dive between continents in Lake Pingvallavatn. Your itinerary is sure to be full to bursting with fantastic once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Lake Bled

lake-bled, slovenia, travel, wikimedia

Bled is Slovenia’s most picture perfect, postcard-worthy, place to visit. If it’s not the emerald green lake that takes your breath away, it will be the medieval castle that just holds on to the edge of a rocky cliff. This destination has great activities for thrill seekers - there is cliff diving, white river rafting, stand-up paddle boarding, paragliding and so much more. You can even take a helicopter ride to see the spectacular views from in the air. For the less adventurous, there are plenty of hiking trails, biking routes, and sightseeing tours to keep you busy. No one will be bored at this picturesque destination, and everyone will have some amazing memories to take home, as well as enough pictures to keep their Instagram accounts busy for months to come!

Paris

eiffel-tower, france, paris, travel, flickr

Paris is known as the city of love, and there is a very good reason for this. Standing outside the Eiffel Tower under the stars, just as it begins to sparkle, is one of the most magical moments you will ever experience on your travels. There is nothing quite like walking through the Paris streets at night and experiencing the amazing buzz of culture the city has to offer. For Disney fans, Paris holds the famous Notre Dame - minus the hunchback - and for the musical lovers, you can stand on the airy grates outside The Moulin Rouge and have your own Marilyn Monroe moment. There are also the breathtaking Sacre Coeur and the Champs-de-Elysees for the ultimate luxury shopping experience.

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are top destinations that are close to a lot of travel lover's hearts. If you are struggling to decide on where to jet off to next, going to one of these three destinations will ensure you have a fantastic time with zero regrets about the experience.

* This is a contributed post.

Have you visited any of these destinations? Let me know in the comments below!