Random Town People

It’s been a long time since I last shared snippets of my writing on characters and I’m feeling slack today so I’ve dug out portions of my contributions towards an article called Town People which details characters that can be dropped into any medieval town. 

Matron Maranisha Hopsham of St. Margaret’s chapel

Appearance:
Matron Maranisha is a woman in her middle ages who has aged gracefully. Of small slim build, she exudes an air of refinement, intelligence and quiet confidence. She is a figure that can easily melt into the background if she so desires.

Family and Life:
Matron Maranisha was the second of 3 daughters born to Frederick Hopsham and Heather Mayfair, who are both deceased now. Her sisters are Satrina who is married to the local baker Terry and Triasha who runs the apothecary along with her husband Philander. Maranisha also has an elder brother, Winelo Hopsham, who is father to the shrewd Finnea, Ferdinand Lenders’s wife.

From modest beginnings, St. Margaret’s chapel has grown somewhat under the direction of Matron Maranisha and is relatively well-off nowadays. It currently houses 8-9 nuns, several kitchen hands and a resident healer. While Matron Maranisha heads the service every morning, most of her time is spent outside helping the poor and outcasts. In addition, she has the confidence of many townspeople and often mediate in disputes. Most of the administration work at the chapel is now in the hands of the capable Sister Veronica. The two have become steadfast friends over the years. 


Daunton Sedgewick, retired court advisor/mage

Appearance: 

Although once a magician by profession, Daunton is broad shouldered and has a warrior’s physique. Currently in his early 50s, Daunton has blond hair that is just turning to light ash. To most, he might appear grim at first glance, which is partly due to the fact that he is hardly ever seen to ‘smile’. Yet, those who knew him well would notice the slight upturned corner of the mouth that is his signature smile and the glint in his eyes that betrays the warmth hidden behind the stern ‘façade’.


Family and Life: 

Although bearing the title of Court Mage, Daunton showed more capability at military tactics and hence was in effect more akin to an advisor on defence. Tired of court intrigues, Daunton has retired early to lead a quiet and idyllic life. 

Daunton currently lives with 3 apprentices: his niece Yilmina, a free spirited girl on the verge of womanhood; Erik Tinton, a young man with a serious disposition; and a shy boy still in his teens who is only known as Tainu. 

Having come into contact with Sir Midian of Ranulphens during Daunton’s court days, the two have acquired a somewhat uneasy friendship. Daunton now sits on the town council and together with Gavin oversees the defence of the town. Being a capable swordsman, he also closely supervises the training of the local militia and youngsters showing promise at a military career. 

And this is it for May. With June comes my Book Discoveries, a Writing Update and other goodies. So stay tuned. 

What Moves Me (1): Rewinding Time

In general, I don’t tend to display my emotions openly. In fact, it was my wont to suppress tears. But there are some exceptions so I thought it would be a worthwhile pursuit for me to record the sources behind such rare moments. 

I’ve previously blogged about the fast food consumption aspect of my reading. And yet surprisingly, there was an online novel author whose work had brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions when I couldn’t really remember a single published work that had done so (I think this is more of an artifact of the fact that I read more widely for online novels and perhaps the specific life situation I was under when I read them). So in this post, I want to dig a little into what was it about the author that moved me such. 

Let me start by summarising/recapitulating my life situation when I first came upon this author. Basically, this was after I broke off my phD and became unemployed. I became a little lost as to career direction and all that. And to be honest, before that point I was always envisioning life as a linear path and also lived life that way. But then, suddenly my status quo went up in flames and I think at that time I had a deep yearning for having it back for comfort and security. And that’s when I chanced on a body of Chinese online novels where the main characters were given a second chance to live, specifically the opportunity of having their lives rewinded to their youth and basically take another go at it. So due to empathy with the main characters, I had a spell where I was devouring such novels and I think I still maintain a taste for similar themed novels to a certain degree now. 

Now amidst such work, the one that really stuck in my mind was about a main character who had originally died in poverty after her husband who went from a nobody to a best actor award winner ditched her for another woman in his fame. The actual story was about how after finding that she had gone back to her teenage years, she made entirely different choices and eventually became a famous actress who won a best actress award for herself. I think one of the reasons this story really stood out for me was I felt a bit of empathy for the main character with regards to her situation with her mother. The main character was basically estranged from her mother in the previous life when she married that actor but in the second life the estrangement never happened because she avoided that actor like the plague. In reality, I was on the verge of becoming estranged from my Mum after I broke off my phD- well, we had a bit of a Cold War going on. But now it’s all water under the bridge between us and we are much more open about many things, including the large extent that we both love each other. 

Evolution of Moonlake’s Writing Pile

This post is prompted by my whimsical exploration of the statistics to do with this blog. Specifically, I was looking at which of my posts had been shared and one of the top ones was Moonlake’s Work Pile (3) back in 2015.  

So in that post I had talked of 4 different writing projects and the top 3 are pretty much all in the back pile aka rubbish heap/RIP territory now. Why? The top one was this Genghis Khan story that I’ve talked of multiple times and I just don’t feel like it, the Mongolian research is getting too much and the basic idea… it’s a bit unique but it’s also a bit out of the left field for me. At various times, I’ve thought of or attempted resurrecting the project but I really don’t think so, at least not in the short term. The other two all came of an abandoned online novel I read and a mock fan-fiction project I started to dip my toes into novel writing. And I don’t know, I’ve never quite gotten comfortable with the idea of ‘stealing’ someone else’s setting for my own project if I want to commericalise it. 

Under such circumstances, the fourth rose up to be my WIP and it was the one series that I had always wanted to do, based on my fictional ancient China setting that I’ve been calling the Dragon Empire setting. I’ve blogged about it before so I won’t repeat myself here. 

I’ve also blogged about the tentative next project after that, a story about three generations of women from the same direct lineage. And now have a tentative third lined up. But don’t worry, I’m not doing any queue jumping of writing projects anymore so I won’t even talk about the third project. And with that, I better draw this post to a close.

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (5)- Fu Hao

Who is she:

  • A woman whose surname or first name was Hao (Fu is some kind of prestigious title) who was one of the sixty-odd wives to Wu Ding, the Emperor of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC)
  • The first known female military commander in Chinese history, also a politician and overseer of rites/fortune telling ceremonies (a very important aspect of the Shang era, all big decisions were made in consultation with fortune telling)
  • Has one son and one daughter surviving her 

Notable Life Events:

  • Commanded the first recorded ambush in Chinese history
  • Was married to three of her husbands’ ancestors in death to fulfill his wish for her to be taken care well in the nether realms
  • Cause of death unknown: might have been due to the difficult birth of her daughter or during battle or due to a battle wound

Why is she remarkable:

  • Other than being the first female military commander, Fu Hao is potentially the one with most power amongst all well-known ancient Chinese female generals. To my not-quite-extensive knowledge, she was the only one with her own claims to territory. That was partly her era, when power was not yet centralised in the hands of the Emperor, when it was common that nobles or feudal lords were granted separate territory that they largely ran autonomically. 
  • Amongst the well-known Court women passed down in Chinese history (i.e wives and concubines to emperors), I believe she is the only one with a claim for military prowess. My sources seem to indicate that is not true of her particular era though since one of the other wives to her husband apparently also led armies but seemed to be less capable or not completed as key victories as Fu Hao. 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

With the scant information on her (which is understandable given the era she came from), I’m not getting much of a sense on her personality. All I can say is that she certainly seemed to have a lot of initiative both from the particular era she came from and her own capabilities. She also seemed to have a harmonious relation with her husband given the importance of the roles she was given when she was alive and how she was treated after her death. Overall, she seems like a good protagonist to drop into a historical fiction/fantasy story. 

Lockdown, Reading Promotion and Time Usage

The week before last, I blogged about how the lockdown and working from home is having an adverse effect on my writing. But surprisingly, it’s promoting my Kindle reading. Specifically, I’ve been able to consistently read one Kindle chapter per day on one of my broadening horizon reads for this year (they are both Kindles). Contrast that with before the lockdown when I spend 3 hours every day on the train and I tend to turn to reading Chinese online novels on the train instead of books I borrow from my local library, not just Kindle reading but reading comes out ahead at home compared to before. 

And that makes me put in light of time usage in April. So yes, I did whittle away some time from actual processes to do with writing. But as I was talking with one of my FB writer friends today, writing is so much more than the explicit processes to craft a particular piece of story (outlining, drafting, editing etc.). Instead, it’s everything that allows me to write including filling up my creative well with life experiences, stories I read/watch/learn through gaming even. So in that perspective, I think my April is actually spent well in a sense. 

And my writing is also getting back on track. After about a week’s inactivity, I’ve gotten back into free-writing for a protagonist. I’m not good with free-writing in the sense that it does not come easily to me to do (I somehow have a writing block that’s specific to free-writing that I find it hard to conquer unless I find the right prompt). So for a whole week that did not happen but I’ve hit it this week and I have some left to spare. My new short term goal is to finish sorting out what to work on for my next decimal draft- draft 0.8 by June and I will finish draft 0.8 by the end of this year. So wish me luck and I will keep you updated on my progress.

Chinese Punctuation

In general, I think of myself as pretty familiar with Chinese culture. But it was not until I read a Chinese online novel in the last few years that I learnt the following (you never know what you would learn randomly with novels!): in ancient days, there was no such thing as punctuation in Chinese! I’m not sure when did punctuation first come into use in China- I Googled it but the closest information seemed to indicate that in the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD), punctuation marks were still not a standard in Chinese. That is, only occasionally there would be marks printed to indicate breaks in the text and different marks were used between two different texts (but I wonder if the two examples cited were in fact spaced quite far apart from each other in time). 

Anyway, what does this mean in practice? That ancient texts have to be read with ‘interpretations from others’, leading to controversy over the meaning of the sometimes the exact same sentence within the exact same text.  

A famous example (and also the one described in the online novel I read) was over a ten character sentence said by Conficius recorded in the Analects, essentially a compilation of speeches by Conficius and his disciples.  For ease, I’m just going to put down the Mandarin pinyin for this controversial sentence over how to deal with the populace/civilians: 

Min ke shi yong zhi bu ke shi zhi zhi

According to the Chinese Wikipedia, there are 5 variants of how you can break up this sentence with punctuation, now creating slightly different meanings!

Variant 1: Min ke shi yong zhi, bu ke shi zhi zhi

Meaning: Sometimes it’s necessary to only let the populace/civilians follow directions without letting them know about the rationale behind the directives

Variant 2: Min ke, shi yong zhi, bu ke, shi zhi zhi 

Meaning: If the populace have a good grasp, then leave them be. If the populace do not have a proper handle, then educate them.

Variant 3: Min ke shi, yong zhi, bu ke shi, zhi zhi

Meaning: If the populace can be utilised, then let them follow orders. If the populace cannot be utilised, then let them be understanding/rational.

Variant 4: Min ke shi, yong zhi bu ke, shi zhi zhi

Meaning: If the populace can be utilised, then you cannot just leave them be, you have to educate them.

Variant 5: Min ke shi yong zhi? bu. ke shi zhi zhi

Meaning: Can you leave the populace be? No. They need to be educated.

That is my little share for today. In May, I personally look forward to getting back in track with my writing and then in general, a continual improvement in the Coronavirus situation. 

Moonlake as a person and random life update

Ever since the Corona virus lock-down I’ve been working at home and I have to admit that it’s testing my self-discipline (then again, it’s coinciding with the structural edit on my WIP that I realise I have to do and I have to admit that I’m procrastinating because I dread the amount of work I have to do). To be honest, I’m just very lethargic towards writing right now. Today, I completely ran out of ideas of what to write about and in my infinite boredom leading to FB surfing, I took a “which 2 animals summarise your two sides” quizz with the following results: 

You got: Eagle and Owl

You are intelligent and wise beyond your years. Your intelligence is vast, and you have common sense along with book smarts. Above all, you have perspective that always allows you to see the bigger picture.

And this inspired me to write about myself because this should be the easiest thing to write. And let me start off by saying the quizz result above is a relatively good fit for me on an intellectual/mental level. Relationship-wise, I’m loyal and guarded, tending to stick with a small social circle with a few who are very close to my heart but otherwise being very slow to warm up to new acquaintances (Internet excepted). My love life is non-existent as I’ve mentioned before. My medium/long term ambition is to debut with my first Chinese fantasy series and I’m currently working on book 1. 

And this is all I want to share today. See you all next week. 

Sidecast Fascination

Personally, I have got a fascination with sidecast, sometimes even more than the main characters. This is true whether I’m reading/writing a book or watching a TV series. But I will focus on books for this post since I exclusively watch Chinese TV (used to be Hong Kong TV cos that’s where I came from, now mainland Chinese because HK TV had become so crap, rant for another day) even though I live in Australia. 

Now, in terms of my sidecast fascination, I’ve realised that it seems to be predominantly with particular characters archetypes as opposed to specific characters (well, occasionally I like a few that doesn’t fall into the pattern below due to the writer’s skills, I presume). They are, in order of preference:

  1. grumpy female mentor figures (what I come to call auntly): Examples include Aunt Pol (Polgara) from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malleorean and Rosethorn from the Circle Universe setting of Tamora Pierce. For my own work, I had an aunt/mentor figure that I was particularly fond of for that Genghis Khan novel that I abandoned. 
  2. The charming rogue trope: to be honest, I don’t like to read stories where the charming rogue is the protagonist. I don’t think I had ever really bonded to any rogue protagonist ever. But I definitely remember liking a couple of this well-used trope in fantasy, most notably Jimmy the Hand from the Riftwar and Serpentwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist and Silk from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malleorean. For my own writing, I haven’t yet written a story featuring such a sidecast yet. 
  3. The quirky character: I like them as protagonists as well as sidecasts. I might be remiss but the only example I could remember is Nakor from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar, Serpentwar etc. 

Now, what about everyone else? Who are the most fascinating sidecasts you’ve read to date? Let me know in comments. 

Reflection on Moonlake as a Writer- April 2020

I’m going to do another Q&A today with myself. It’s been a while since I last did a reflection on myself as a writer so it’s time for a revisit. 

At what level do you assess yourself to be as a writer now?

Intermediate. 

Weren’t you calling yourself a beginning writer a few years ago? When did that change? 

Yes, well, I forgot exactly when that changed but within the last 2-3 years, I would say. 

What contributed to this change? 

A combination of self-confidence and knowledge. Self-confidence is hard to say anything about but knowledge… I’ve done the usual learning through doing but I’ve also gotten into online writing courses. I highly recommend UBC’s How to Write a Novel set of courses offered through the edX platform. I’ve just finished the last of this set of 3 courses in Feb. 

What are the 3 main lessons about writing you’ve learnt? 

  1. Every writing project is different. I used to believe that I can take a standard novel planning method across all projects but I’ve found that’s not even true. Take my WIP. Yes, I’ve kinda settled down on the default method or methods for outlining but it’s just different in so many other ways from other novels or short stories I’ve written or attempted to write. For example, I’ve had to move between outlining and drafting as opposed to having a clear divider between the two stages. For example, I’ve had to take detours and side tracks in order to get into scenes etc. 
  2. Find multiple points of entry to your work. This is what I learnt through one of UBC courses and I’ve never needed to do that so much as for my current novel. And it really helps. I used to think writing myself into a dead corner was a major problem for me but with this insight/advice, I can start to self-devise ways to tackle my WIP from a different angle. Some of the ways might not be the most efficient but I’ve still gained insights into the WIP from it and writing a novel is really a long game. You want to accumulate as many insights into your characters, your world etc. as possible and you never know which ones might blow your story right open later down the track. 
  3. The interplay between the external journey (the events in the story and its structure) and the internal journey (character growth and all that). This is important knowledge that I learnt through the UBC courses that I’ve never known before and couldn’t have picked up through learning by doing. Not only that, I’ve also picked up a whole set of tools to get these two elements right. 

And that’s all for today. 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- March 2020

I’ve been slacking off in reading published books due partially to the ease of phone reading on the train but also due to some weird conflict between fantasy reading and writing that’s unique to me. Besides the completed reads, I also tried to read The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu but decided I would have a second try this year. I also did not finish the Dragonbone Chair and the associated trilogy as I had intended. I don’t yet have plans to have another go at it in the immediate term. But I do think it’s worth returning to eventually. 

Anyway, below is what I’ve read between July 2019 to now:

Death at the Wychebourne Follies by Amy Myers

I didn’t guess the culprit so that’s good. Otherwise, a little on the cozy side which is not really my thing but overall, solid work.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

This is my 2nd Battle and I still like it a fair bit, not as well as I like my first but it’s still got an interesting lead and I didn’t guess the ending which is always what I’m looking for.

Dreamers’ Pool by Juliet Marrilier 

I almost thought I picked up the wrong genre (romantic fantasy or fantasy romance) again. But actually, while it is a fantasy where romance figures heavily into the main plot, I am relieved and pleasantly surprised that it went beyond that. In fact, this is the ‘perfect’ book of light reading for me featuring magic and mystery and a strong female main character that I can relate to.