News on the next two-volume story in the Shaihen Heritage series, ‘Leaving on the Tide’ and ‘The Hills of Gold’ is that I’ve done two or three passes through both books now, and I think I’m nearly ready to commit them to print. I would welcome some other critical eyes on the manuscript before that stage, so if you would like to read an advance copy, email me email@example.com and I’ll send you a pdf manuscript. The quid pro quo is that if I do, I need your comments in the next few weeks – let’s say, by the end of April.
Writing these two novels has been an emotionally-charged journey. It’s taken a hell of a long time, and there has been a hell of a lot of Life in between, personally, politically, spiritually. The world we now live in is all but unrecognisable to the world of the mid-1980s when I first amused myself with the adventures of Therro the Pirate under the title ‘Leaving on the Tide’. Incidentally, I am sure that there will be those who think Therro is modelled on Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean. He isn’t. I invented my pirate years before Disney dreamed up their franchise – they stole my idea, I didn’t steal theirs!
I’ve said before that for me, writing is an intellectual exercise, an exploration of ideas. Shehaios itself started off as a joke – a feudal anarchy. It has morphed into an attempt to reflect the reality of a chaotic adaptive system – which when you think about it could kind of be described as a feudal anarchy – through a rose-tinted lens.
Therro started out as a joke, too – or at least a rather 2-dimensional character from an adventure novel. Leaving on the Tide circa 1980 rambled across hundreds of thousands of words, a series of adventures written for my own amusement, and not really shaped into any kind of narrative. But at some point in the saga, the idea of Shehaios, the Fair Land, emerged. And it was clear that Therro’s life was at odds with it. So as a storyteller, there’s my conflict. There’s my drama. That’s the story I started to tell. And it took me to places I didn’t expect. Out of it came the concept for the Cloak of Magic trilogy, taking the history of Shehaios back in time to where the natural magic ran up against a powerful human civilisation.
I always had the idea that I would return to Therro’s story for the next books in the series. Some of the adventures were worth telling – at least I thought so, and I hope you’ll agree that the thrills and spills, the humour and the energy of these pirate tales is entertaining and you’ll warm to Therro’s indomitable spirit and stubborn independence. But when I reached the point where the story got serious last time round, I hit a problem. I couldn’t re-tell Cloak of Magic. I had to go somewhere else.
‘Somewhere else’ is recorded in the books in the counter-point to Therro’s story, Myo’s quest for the Fair Land. Myo’s quest is my quest. How do you reconcile the fantasy dream of the Fair Land with the reality of how humans behave? This extract from Leaving on the Tide sums up Myo’s dilemma, and mine:
“The first time Myo received a request to address a group of students about his work he was both astonished and slightly terrified. He knew he had such an obligation under the terms of his project funding, but he had never imagined he would actually be called upon to deliver it. He spent several weeks in a sweat of apprehension, seeking advice from anyone willing to give it, and most especially his father, whose lessons he still looked back on with pleasure. When the day of reckoning came around, he took [his father’s] approach, sharing the insights he had found on his journey and inviting comments and opinions from the students rather than standing in front of them pontificating. The enthusiasm and feedback he got in response slightly overwhelmed him. They asked questions that hadn’t occurred to him, set him off on new trains of thought and rekindled his faith in the Fair Land all over again.
… It was only when he returned to his solitary apartment and shut the door on reality that he began to feel like a fraud again. Because, as the newspapers reminded him on a daily basis, the glorious idea that inspired all that creative energy was only that. An idea. As rare and fragile and beautiful as a snowflake. Exposure to the briefest dose of reality was enough for it to melt away into nothing.”
And that’s kind of how we all feel at the moment. The future has never looked more uncertain. Everything we thought we could rely on is disintegrating beneath our feet – the economy is lurching from crisis to crisis, democracy as a force for social justice is proving to be a joke, the glorious dream of a free internet is turning into a tool for hate, deceit and predatory behaviour. The Lie is rampaging around the world while Truth is still desperately looking for her knickers. And we’re destroying our own environmental niche, along with that of a large percentage of life on planet Earth. Nice one, humanity. Tell me again why you call yourself “Wise Man”?
How the hell do I write a positive tale about the quest for the Fair Land against that background? It wasn’t easy. I’m not entirely sure I’ve achieved it. But the young magician who features in Hills of Gold is a practical joker. He’s the kind of guy who, given a large red shiny button marked “do not press this button!” will press it just to see what happens. And he likes making people laugh. But he’s also intelligent, compassionate, gregarious and ultimately humble. He loves indiscriminately and appreciates people for who they are, without judgement. He knows his own limitations. He recognises how much he doesn’t know. Both he and the magical powers he wields are grounded in the Fair Land.
The term “sense of humour” originates with pre-scientific medical thinking which held a theory that health was governed by the various ‘humours’ of the body, which had to be maintained in balance. You got sick as a result of them being out of balance, and someone who had a ‘sense of humour’ was therefore someone with a healthy, balanced outlook on life. Which is why the leaders of Shaihen communities are called Holders. They hold the balance that keeps us on the tightrope of life in the chaotic adaptive system. Somehow, we have to persuade our leaders that’s what they need to be doing, too. Or we’re all going to fall off into oblivion.
As I said, Shehaios started out as a joke. Hope lies with the joker. And maybe with the pirate, too.