Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oh look! Shiny! Shiny? Aw... shiny gone...

Please welcome Matthew Lang to the Island once again!

Do you miss television on a desert island? I would. Actually I’d probably miss music more. Eventually I’d start writing songs. The thing with music is that unless someone’s making it, you can’t listen to it without electronic power. Unless you have one of those wind up music box thingies I guess. Books on the other hand, you can enjoy without electricity. You don’t have to. But you can. I probably don’t read as much as I should—or as much I’d like (or as widely as I should, as my partner is very quick to point out).

The thing about reading is that it confirms writing as a communication medium...which is supposedly why people write. We write to tell stories, to communicate a message and I find it difficult to understand how a person can hope to be an effective communicator if he or she isn’t familiar with the medium he or she is working in. I was recently asked what I read and why I read, and the thing I love about reading is that it shows you another person’s mental processes. It can expose you to great ideas, sentence structures, give you surprising ways to play with words. If you’re ever surprised at the way a word is used, take note of it. If you’re feeling particularly inspired, write it down. Read more of that author’s works (and hope they remain brilliant), because that will inform your own attempts at communication. I’ll give you new ways to surprise others, or make witty banter, or even write if that’s what you want. I was out on the weekend and had a conversation with a friend that went something like this.

“Oh we’re going back to Misty? Really?” Gordon said as we turned the corner.
“Is there something wrong with that?”
“No, I just thought we wouldn’t still be drinking after the show.”
“Seriously, is there seriously a time when you’re not drinking?”
Gordon scowled and pointed at me with mock anger. “Hey, sometimes I’m sleeping.”
“Really? You don’t have an IV by your bedside to make sure your alcohol doesn’t get a blood problem?”

He lost it. He was pissing himself—or maybe that was just the rain and a lack of an umbrella. But that surprised me. I was expecting a small laugh. Or possibly a ‘Yeah, whatever, really funny man’, and I ended up asking him if he hadn’t heard that expression before. And he said

“Of course I have—but never quite like that. You surprised me.”

In other words, I was unintentionally hilarious and witty in a good way because I played with words. Now you can work out how to play with words from television or other mediums (which is one of the reason I miss TV here on the Desert Island), but there’s some things you can only get from reading because there’s some tricks you can only get away with in writing. And again, it’s one of the few narrative mediums you can enjoy without other people or electricity.

I’ll leave you today with a small excerpt from my debut novel, The Secret of Talmor Manor, which I hope you’ll like. As a bit of background, Jake is a modern day man and Nate...isn’t. Not to give too much away, Nate has somehow found his way into Jake’s time and he’s having to juggle culture shock and his attempts to figure out what happened with the necessity of hiding the fact that he’s a little out of his time from everyone around him. And the likely suspect for the cause of his displacement? A wizard did it. Kinda. Maybe.


The next Thursday found Jake, Nate and Logan in the city, walking through Royal Arcade on their way to Logan’s favorite occult shop. The Spellbox itself turned out to be a small, elegant place with a few “mystical” items in its windows.

“Most of its stock is books,” Logan told them. “Admittedly, most of it seems to be New Age books about crystals and holistic world peace and cosmic harmony, but there are a lot of older books as well—I just don’t think they sell many of those.”

“Why not?” Jake asked. “I mean, I’m assuming that the older books are probably what I’d be looking for, right?”

“Maybe,” Logan said. “But then, they’re not all written in English.”

“What are they written in then?”

“I don’t know. Greek maybe, or Latin. At least one I peeked into had Egyptian hieroglyphs.”

“The way you say that a man might think you did not believe in the power of crystals,” Jake said dryly.

“I don’t.”

“But you’re going to buy some for Katrina?”

“Maybe. Just because I don’t believe in them doesn’t mean she wouldn’t appreciate them.”

“Logan, you don’t even know what crystals to buy.” Jake and Nate trailed along behind his friend as Logan stepped into the dimly lit store, the air inside thick with the smell of sandalwood incense.

“Greetings and blessed be,” said a dark haired lady in a dress of purple velvet. Her demeanor was sultry, and her hair had been straightened to hang down past her shoulders in a fashion that was now considered more emo than gothic. There was a mole on her upper lip, although Jake was almost certain it had been penciled in with the eyeliner that defined her eyes. Around her neck hung a red pendant of glass or crystal in a silver setting on an equally silver chain. Heavy bangles jangled on her left forearm, and three silver rings sat around her middle finger, pinkie and thumb of her right hand as if to balance them out. Unfortunately her look was somewhat spoilt by the plastic nametag pinned to the front of her low cut dress reading “Hi, my name is Jane.”

“Welcome to The Spellbox,” Jane was saying. “Was there something in particular you were after, a love charm perhaps?”

“Ah, no…I’m looking for a gift for a friend.”

“Well, candles are always a good choice. We carry a full range, but we Wiccans prefer the unscented variety.”

As Jane led Logan around to the display of candles, Nate and Jake wandered the rest of the glass display shelves, looking at the various magical paraphernalia for sale. Idly, Jake wondered just how much of it was useful. How much of it was real? It was a strange thought, and one that wouldn’t have gone through his brain even a few weeks ago—but now his mind buzzed with questions. Was magic an extra arm of science that had yet to be “scientifically” discovered and analyzed? Was it fuelled by belief in the arcane, or the spiritual? Did the knives really have to be brass colored and wavy bladed and inscribed with serpents and berries—or were they grapes? And what was the deal with the black book surrounded by fat beeswax candles sitting on a plush red cushion all by itself? Why did it not have a title, just a pentagram on the cover?

“Those are the same runes that Katrina’s notes were in,” Nate said in a low voice.

“I know. I wish I could read them.”

“They look dangerous, do they not?” Nate turned through the pages of the leather bound volume, revealing page after page of cramped runic script.

“Perhaps. Do you think serious magicians use all of this stuff?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m just wondering if magic is a belief system or a scientific system. Does magic happen because you believe it does?”

Nate stepped back and folded his arms. “Did you expect to wake up in Talmor manor? Or for me to accompany you back from your dream?”

“Well…no, I suppose not,” Jake said.

“Did you believe it was real the first time?” Nate continued, his eyes narrowing.

“Okay, okay, point taken.” Jake threw up his hands in surrender. “I was just wondering.”

Nate shrugged. “I don’t understand any of it. It is beginning to look like Katrina was dabbling in this magic—but I do not know how she worked, or even where she learned it.”

“Did she speak any other languages?” Jake asked, glancing to where Logan was looking at ornamental boxes and tarot card decks.

“I…don’t really know,” Nate replied. “I guess I never really spent that much time with her once we left the nursery. We were never that close and we had different lessons.”

“Different lessons?”

“Yes. Father insisted I get an education, so I went to school—but my sister didn’t. I was away most of the year.”

“Boarding school?” Jake asked as Logan walked around to yet another set of bookshelves.

“Yes. I did not see very much of my family at all.”


“Not that the schools were very good,” Nate continued. “They were more interested in ‘refining’ us into gentlemen than teaching us about economics or technology. Engineers were not seen as ‘refined’ gentlemen.”

“They often aren’t,” Jake said.

“Well yes, I suppose so, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unimportant.”

“True. In Australia a trained engineer can make a lot of money—sometimes more than a businessman. We export a lot of the raw materials the rest of the world wants, so there’s money and power in engineering.”

Nate snorted, a decidedly unrefined sound. “Britain certainly never did, I know that. Anyway, that’s what happened to us back then. So I have no idea when or how Katrina learnt what she did about magic.”

“I should have realized she wouldn’t have received an education,” Jake said. “I’m far too used to the way things are now.”

Nate grinned. “I’m not. I’m still trying to get used to the fact that a woman no longer expects you to hold the door open for her, or pull out her chair.”


And that’s all we have time for today. I think I saw Bear Grylls over on the horizon and I’m tempted to see if I can build a raft out of bamboo to go after him... hey, a boy can dream, right?

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