Tag Archives: #amwriting

How to make a primitive torch

One of the things that distinguishes the iVokh Traders from the normal iVokh is that Traders aren’t afraid of fire. In fact, they light their underground cave system with burning torches. This means the colour of the light is different – yellow flame vs blue glowworm – and the smell is distinctive.

That all came from my imagination, but now I’m writing scenes that require a more factual approach, so how did primitive peoples make torches?

I was extremely lucky to find this fabulous article online: http://www.junglecraft.com.my/index.php/how-to-make-a-burning-torch/ Not only did it explain which, easy-to-find materials were used, it also included a video showing exactly how the torches were made:

The whole video is fascinating, but the highlight for me was around the 6 minute mark.

So, what are these primitive materials, and would the iVokh have access to them?

The main ingredient in primitive torches [in the Malaysia jungle] is rosin. If any of you have played the violin, you’ll know that rosin is vital for the bow [thanks Dad]:

Rosin is a solid form of resin, the sticky substance that comes from trees that is not unlike sap….Violin rosin is made by heating fresh liquid resin, until it becomes solid. It smells a bit like pine and has a glassy, orange look.

Quote taken from: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/violin/what-is-rosin-why-violinists-need-it/

I underlined the bit about the smell of ‘pine’ because that too is a distinctive feature of the Traders’ caves.

But wait…there’s more. I did ballet as a kid and I remember putting rosin on the soles of my ballet shoes – for grip . In fact, as I went from link to link, I discovered that rosin has a million and one uses, even today. Not so primitive after all. 🙂

Anyway, rosin is only one of the ingredients used to make primitive torches; ‘punky wood’ [dried rotten wood] is the other. Crumbled together in a 50/50 ratio, this mixture will burn quite happily for a couple of hours.

In the Junglecraft video, the presenter used bamboo as the locally sourced ‘container’ for the torch, but I’m pretty sure most of the inhabitable parts of Vokhtah are savanah rather than jungle, so I think the iVokh would have used animal horns instead. I haven’t actually created a horned creature per se, but I’m sure there must be a few somewhere in Vokhtah. Maybe down south where where only the Traders have been… 😉

So there you have it, my latest bit of research. I had fun, and I hope you did too.

Before I finish though, I have a small rant to get off my chest: I HATE the new preview function in WordPress. With the old Preview function, I could preview my post in a new tab and can jump back and forth between the two tabs, fixing typos as I find them.

With the new Preview function, I get a floating [sic] pane that can’t be moved. As the ‘edit post’ screen is underneath the preview pane, I have to close the pane each time I find a typo. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit. Then reopen it to continue proofing. Then close it to edit…

Grrrr! Do none of the ‘Happiness Engineers’ ever test run their ‘improvements’? Or do none of the testers bother to fix bloody typos? Ahem… Okay, end rant.

cheers
Meeks


My Favourite Bits…Vokhtah

It’s that time. Sorry. Rather than posting an excerpt from Vokhtah today, I want to talk about language, and how it is the true, living history of a race or culture.

Think about Shakespeare. The Bard died in 1616, yet many of the words he made up…yes, made up…are still in use today. According to litcharts.com there are 422 words that almost certainly originated with Shakespeare. Many are nouns turned into verbs, or two words smooshed together, but they did not exist in that form until The Bard made them so. Want some examples? Here we go:

https://www.litcharts.com/blog/shakespeare/words-shakespeare-invented/

You can find the complete list by following the link to litcharts.com, and I guarantee you will be surprised.

Yet why should we be surprised? We know that jargon/slang changes from generation to generation. Who would have known 30 years ago that ‘my bad’ could mean ‘I apologise/I’m sorry/I was wrong’? Language always changes to reflect the needs or concerns of the time. It’s just a different way of looking at history.

So why am I making such an issue of language? Well, it’s because one of my favourite bits of Vokhtah is the language I created to express who and what the characters are.

There’s a Vokh-to-English dictionary at the back of the book, but in reality I didn’t use many of the words in the actual story. Readers quickly work out that ‘ki’ means ‘no’ and that a wingspan is fairly wide in relation to the size of the body. Fingerwidth is pretty self explanatory too, but the pronoun ‘it’ is where the conlang [constructed language] becomes most noticeable.

Remember how I explained that all Vokh and iVokh are hermaphrodites? Well, how can you use ‘he’ and ‘she’ when the character is both? Take away the gendered words and all you have left is ‘it’. Once you start using the word ‘it’ though, other words become problematic…like ‘I’ and ‘you’.

I solved that problem by using ‘one’ or ‘self’ instead of ‘I’, and just for fun I turned the word ‘you’ into a very nasty swear word. But then I really started to dig myself into a hole. How on earth could I write dialogue without pronouns? Try it. ‘Tain’t easy, and sounds really…ugly.

I’m not a linguist, but I do speak a smattering of seven languages [only two properly!], so the sound of the language was really important to me. I was seriously thinking about not having any dialogue in the story at all when Hungarian, and to a lesser extent Japanese, came to my rescue. Pronouns do exist in both languages, but who is speaking is often obvious simply by the form of the verb.

This is what the present and past tense of the verb ‘To Go’ looks like in Hungarian:

https://www.verbix.com/webverbix/go.php?&D1=121&T1=megy

For more on Hungarian grammar, please follow the link to the website.

Hungarian is my mother tongue so I’ve always known that in common speech, you almost always leave off the pronoun because it’s obvious from the form of the verb. In the graphic above, if you ignore the pronouns [shown in green] and just look at the verb forms, you’ll see that the verb changes… for each pronoun. In fact, the form of the verb is unique for each pronoun.

Thus, if I wanted to ask where you [plural] are going, I’d say:

Hova mentek?
[Hova is ‘where’. Mentek is the plural form of [you] go because the ‘you’ is known from the verb form itself]

From there, it was a fairly easy step to reach: ‘”Where going?” it asked.’ The number of iVokh ‘going’ is understood from the context of the paragraph. If you’re talking about multiple iVokh then the question implies more than one. If only one other iVokh is present then the question implies the singular.

From the Japanese, I borrowed the short, sharp form of the men’s language to allow for commands. Thus: ‘”Hold!” it cried.’

And then, because I’m a bit of a masochist, I added a bit more biology in the form of the cilia. Cilia are like tiny pipe organs, and they are how my aliens breathe and speak [the mouth is used only for eating].

But what is the most noticeable thing about pipe organs? It’s that they play chords – major [happy], minor [sad] and variations on discord. Thus the words are automatically coloured by an emotional element, making it unnecessary to say “Self feeling sad” etc.

Finally, I added one more bit of biology – scent glands at the base of each cilia. I blame Golli for this one. Golli is a cat, and when I pick him up for a cuddle, he always rubs his cheek against my shoulder. Yes, it’s a sign of affection, but it’s also his way of scent marking his territory via the scent glands in his cheek. So he’s really saying “I love you, and you’re mine!”.

The Vokh and iVokh never show signs of affection, but those scent glands do produce cues that sometimes ‘leak’ into the air as they speak. Think a whole range of sneaky farts that all ‘mean’ something different. So the spoken language of Vokhtah – the actual words used – can be quite rudimentary because two other emotional cues provide richness and context.

On the cultural side, I decided to make life even more difficult for myself by not having public ‘names’, only titles or ranks. There are strong biological and cultural reasons for this, but I can’t tell you what they are because the published story hasn’t revealed them yet. Suffice to say it’s all because of the big, nasty Vokh. 🙂

The cover of Vokhtah, book 1 of the Suns of Vokhtah series

One of the very first people who read Vokhtah said that I should change the dialogue into everyday English. I did think about it, for about five, very unhappy minutes. Then I realised the obvious: Vokhtah was going to be a difficult book to read no matter what, so asking Readers to get used to the dialogue was peanuts. And really, how could I change the language without changing the very core of the story?

Inevitably, this begs a whole slew of uncomfortable question: why bother creating such unappealing, difficult aliens in the first place? Why go to so much work and effort to write a story only a handful of people are likely to read? Why not use the tried and true trope of having a human main character who could ‘explain’ the bits that really needed explaining?

I guess the most honest answer to all those questions is the same as for the question: why climb Mount Everest? It’s because I wanted to.

Like almost every speculative fiction author I know, I wanted one shot at creating something new. Something that hadn’t been done before. A world that was not Earth, and an alien that was not human.

There’s a lot of ego involved in trying to climb the writing equivalent of Everest, but it’s also a rite of passage because it’s hard, bloody hard. For that reason alone, Vokhtah will probably remain the best thing I ever write. Also the least commercially viable. C’est la vie, n’est ce pas? [That’s life, right?]

Thank you for following me down this linguistic path, and if you know anyone who might be interested, Vokhtah will be free for five days starting on March 16, 2021 [that’s not until tomorrow for Southern Hemisphere readers]. I’m not expecting to make money out of Vokhtah, but I would dearly love to see one more review to bring the total up to 20.

Okay, that’s enough honesty for one day! lol

Much love,
Meeks


That dark scene I mentioned…

I know I should be writing a post about Vokhtah, but I haven’t been this inspired in a long while, so here’s that dark scene from my latest WiP instead. And because so much of that inspiration has flowed from Lucas King’s incredible compositions, I’m including another dark track that I discovered today. It’s called The Grinning Man:

Excerpt from ‘Kahti’, book 2 of the Suns of Vokhtah

The Escapee took a long time to die, and all the Messengers stationed outside the door breathed a sigh of relief when its wordless keen finally stopped. All, that is, except for Death; it stayed silent and unmoving until the Yellow opened the door and ordered it inside.

Once inside, however, Death could not suppress a hiss of disgust as the melange of blood and body wastes assaulted its cilia. The stench grew progressively worse as it followed the Yellow down the short passage from the door to the main cavern.

“Throwing in pool,” the Yellow said, pointing a long finger at the body curled up in the middle of the floor. “And not forgetting…head first.”

A wet stain had spread around the body, blurring its outlines, but there was no sign of a wound until Death grabbed the Escapee by the ankles and flipped it onto its back. Only then did it see the bloody ruin where the groin sack had been, and the two eyeballs lying orphaned on the sand.

Jumping back with a hiss, it stared at the body in shock. It had seen bodies, or parts of bodies before, out in the Wild, but never anything to rival this deliberate, careful savagery…

The Yellow’s mocking laughter echoed from the passage until it was cut short by the slamming of the door.

Quivering with hatred, Death dragged the body into the bathing cavern and hauled it into the pool. Wrestling it into the correct position, however, proved to be an exercise in frustration as the current kept trying to suck the wings in first. In the end, it was forced to pull the body out of the pool and roll it up in its wings before feeding it into the fissure again. This time the Escapee was sucked away without a trace.

Once the body was gone, Death grabbed the slop bucket and returned to the main cavern where it sank to its knees beside the stain. It had almost finished digging out the filthy sand when it noticed a glimmer of white on the floor, near the Yellow’s perch. The glimmer turned out to be a jagged shard of ceramic, roughly the length of a finger…

And sharp“, Death thought as it hurriedly withdrew its hand. A drop of fresh blood dripped from its finger as it scurried back to the bathing cavern. Grabbing a drying cloth, it hurried back to the main cavern where it kept one eye on the passage as it wrapped the shard in the cloth and placed the bundle in the bucket. It had just shovelled the last of the dirty sand on top when a voice said, “Still smelling bad.”

Startled, Death spun around and saw one of the Messengers standing at the end of the passage.

“Yellow wanting to know how much longer being,” the Messenger said, its cilia retracted to half their normal length.
“Just finished,” Death said as it reached for the bucket. “Only needing to empty rubbish.”

Out in the main passage, the Yellow and the other Messengers flattened themselves against the walls as Death edged past with the bucket.

“Pah!” one of the Messengers cried as it fell in behind Death.

As expected, both Messengers stayed well back to avoid the smell, and neither followed Death into the waste pit. The moment they were out of sight, Death put the bucket down and hurried over to the edge of the wooden platform that jutted out over the waste pit. The platform had been part of the ramp building project, and each plank rested on two massive beams that had been attached to the walls of the shaft with arm-long starrock spikes. Some of the spikes stuck out more than others.

Dropping to its belly next to the wall on the left, Death dug the claws of its feet into the gaps between the planks and hung its upper body over the edge. If it twisted just so…

The small ceramic pot hung in a cradle of sturdy leather that was hooked over the end of one of the spikes. Unhooking the cradle, Death pulled the pot up onto the platform and quickly undid the knots.

It had stolen the pot of fast acting poison four years before, soon after being assigned to the Yellow. But the Yellow had never eaten anything prepared by its Assistant, and so the pot had remained unused. But not discarded. Death had thought about the pot many times during that first terrible year, but things had never been quite bad enough…

And now having something better,” it thought with glee as it held the pot out over the void and opened its fingers.
The pot fell for a long time before a distant smash signalled that it had finally met its end. The easy way out was gone.

Hurrying back to the bucket, Death dug the shard out of the sand and hissed in dismay when it saw that the soft cloth was already worn through in spots. The fat end of the wedge would have to be blunted or it would useless. Luckily sand was an excellent abbrasive.

Wrapping the cloth around the tip of the wedge until it formed a thick, padded lump, Death dug the fat end into the sand, again and again, until the sharp edges were scraped away. If there had been more time, it would have bound the blunted end in overlapping layers of leather, but there was no time so it cut a rectangle of cloth instead and wrapped it around the blunted end of the shard before securing the lot with a strip of leather.

The knife was far from perfect, but Death’s cilia quivered with joy as it gently inserted its new weapon into a crack and hid the end with a couple of pebbles. Messengers did not use weapons, but Tellers did, and whatever else Death may have become since entering the Settlement, it still knew how to use a knife.

“What taking so long?” the Junior Messenger demanded when Death finally emerged from the waste pit.

Death knew it should ignore the question, but as it pushed past its escort, a daemon of mischief made it say, “Trying to escape, of course.”

The two Messengers snorted in contempt, but when Death finally lay down on its pallet and closed its eyes, it slept like a newborn.

For those who haven’t read anything about the iVokh before, they’re humanoid-ish aliens who are all hermaphrodites. Because of their biology, they only ever refer to each other using gender neutral pronouns. And because the iVokh are distant cousins of the much bigger, aggressive Vokh, they follow the Vokh custom of keeping their personal names a secret. Thus they refer to each other as either ‘it’ or as the position in society that they occupy – e.g. Healer, Acolyte, Teller, etc.

Oh, and they all fit somewhere along a continuum of sociopathy. A subset of iVokh called Traders are the least sociopathic and have a strong sense of community, and honour. Death was once a Trader, but now it’s a Messenger, one of the enforcers of the Guild of Healers.

I hope most other things in the excerpt you can work out for yourselves because now I want to talk about this music! Widds commented in the last post about the bass notes of The Silent Place, and how it made us feel ‘wibbly-wobbly’. 😀 Well, this piece is very similar in that the melody is carried by the bass notes, all of which have a…resonance…that is almost visceral.

In most of the music we’re used to, the melody is carried by the higher notes while the bass provides a kind of ‘rhythm section’; it’s subordinate to the treble. In the Grinning Man this pattern is almost completely reversed with the higher notes [played by the right hand] being an almost hypnotic accompaniment to the growling melody played by the left hand. Most of that melody is also in a minor key – the ‘sad’ key. Put it all together and you have a piece of music that you, or at last I, cannot forget. 🙂

I’ve come across some brilliant Indie composers since I discovered SoundCloud, and I’ve showcased some of them on this blog, but Lucas King is the only one I would unashamedly label a ‘genius’. His music is classical but different, yet he isn’t going all atonal just to be seen as ‘different’. He’s simply writing what he feels, and boy does it speak to me. And he’s still in his twenties.

Okay, I’ll stop gushing now. Thank you for reading, and listening.

Love you all,
Meeks


A dark song for a dark scene

This is not the post I’d planned, but I’m utterly taken with this music and just had to share. It’s another one of Lucas King’s piano compositions, and it’s called The Silent Place. It also happens to be perfect for a scene I just wrote about Death [Vokhtah 2].

Enjoy,
Meeks


Music – epic violin

Piano is my first love, but my Dad played the violin and this piece would have made him smile and the sheer virtuosity. The bowing is pretty amazing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

have a great weekend,
Meeks


Glorious music!

Apologies for overloading you with music today, but I’ve just discovered Daniel Beijbom, a Swedish composer, and I’m in love!

cheers [again],
Meeks


Composer – Harry Lightfoot

I’ve just found this track by Harry Lightfoot, and it fits the mood of what I’m writing perfectly:

I know music is intensely personal, but do you have music in your life? To write to? To dance to? To just hum along to?

cheers
Meeks


New Composer – Nick Murray

Just discovered Nick Murray via Soundcloud, of course. 🙂 This video clip is from the 2018 Winter Olympics. It’s called ‘Born to Fight’:

There are heaps of other tracks as well but Born to Fight is my favourite at the moment. Awesome music to write to!

cheers
Meeks


Shigeru Umebayashi – composer

This track from Ghost of Tsushima introduced me to Shigeru Umebayashi :

Thank you Soundcloud!

Then, like a hound dog on the scent, I went looking for more and found the soundtrack for In the Mood for Love. Now I am in love.

Enjoy,
Meeks


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