Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Previous Winners

Liebster Awards Part III

I promise that this will be my last post in my Liebster award series. I wanted to draw attention to some of my other friend's blogs who had already won the award before I did. There isn't strictly a rule against re-awarding but I had decided to give mine to people who had not previously been awarded. So here is a list (grouped according to similarity) of previously awarded blogs.

Scribbles and Inkstains by Abigail Hartman
The Penslayer by Jenny Freitag
These sisters are both authors with one book published each and a couple more in the works. They have some very insightful and interesting posts on the craft of writing amongst other things. If any blogs are truly worthy of this award it is these two. Needless to say, they both have a gift for writing, be it in their novels or a simple blog post.

These are all blogs by some wonderful girls I know from TLC. In the style of my TLC friends, they include musings on writing, faith, life and other stuff. Each of them have a unique and special way of expressing themselves and a gift for creatively spinning words. All enjoyable reads.

Define "Weird" by Hudson
An Autumn Day by Autumn Elizabeth
WriterFreak101's Writing and Other Things by WriterFreak101 (aka Wilf)
These three are some of my newer and younger TLC friends. Hudson is one of the most gifted photographers I have ever met; visit his blog to be awed by his photographs, particularly some amazing ones of running water. Autumn is an avid blogger, with this, her photography-oriented blog being just one of many which she has and contributes to. Wilf is a very good friend of mine (and would have been awarded by me had he not been co-awarded with me by Liz). He is an avid writer (as you can guess) particularly of fanfiction relating to Narnia and Star Wars amongst other things.

Last but not least, I should mention again the blog through which I was awarded:
Imaginational Wonders by Elizabeth LW. A lovely combination of thoughts, pictures and crafts.

Illustration from via

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

New Kids on the Blog

A follow-up to the Liebster awards

I mentioned in my Liebster Award post (which if you haven't read I recommend you do) that there were some blogs to which I would have considered giving the award had they not been quite so new. In this post I want to make special mention of some interesting up-and-coming blogs with less than 10 posts.

The Clashing Of Swords by ShieldMaiden. This is a very new blog by a very dedicated member of TLC and fan of both The Lord of the Rings and Narnia. On it she shares her thoughts on various and random things.

Thoughts From the Fourth Estate by Will. Will, a good British friend of mine from TLC, is not new to the world of blogging. He has already had a Live Journal account for some time. He is about to start his studies in jouralism, and has set up this blog on which he will be sharing his thoughts on current and world events.

Lilly's Scribblings by Lilly. Once again, a friend from TLC. Lilly has also just recently started a blog on blogger after having had an LJ account for a while. Lilly is an excellent and experienced writer of fanfiction, and Narnian-related fanfiction in particular. As her blog title suggests, you can visit her blog where she will be sharing her literary scribblings and scribblings about those scribblings.

Bus Sweet Bus by Alex. Alex is a member of her family's blue grass band, Amber Waves. They have just recently sold their house and bought an old school bus which they will be using to tour the US. This blog chronicles some of her adventures as they prepare for and set off on their tour.

LaughingZebra by Rob. Rob was one of the guys that did my gap year discipleship course, Imitate, with me. He is a paramedic currently working in some of the Kruger National Park camp sites. If you want to get a glimpse of life in "the bush" and amongst South Africa's beautiful wildlife, visit this blog. Rob has a good mixture of serious and fun posts. (And okay, as of today he now has 11 posts, but it's still a relatively new blog).

So take some time to visit and bookmark these blogs. They have great potential and I look forward to seeing their growth.

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Liebster Award

So, there's this award that's been going 'round blogger for a while. I know about it because a couple of my friends were recently given the award. I got really excited yesterday when one of my friends, Elizabeth L W, put my dear Hedgepickle Blog on her list of awardees :-).

For those wondering exactly what this award is all about:

"The goal of the award is to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers." 

The rules of the award are:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all - have fun!"

Thanks so much Liz for giving me the award. It means a lot and I'm so excited to be able to pass it on to others. You can check out her lovely blog Imaginational Wonders which includes photographs, crafts, pieces on writing and personal reflections.

Wow...picking 5 blogs to award isn't easy. I have some really great blogger friends on here. There were a few I knew that I would award immediately. But then the challenge got tough for a number of reasons. Firstly, a number of the candidates I considered have already been awarded before and I had decided not to re-award anyone. There are also a few whom I would have loved to award because I know that their blogs will be very good in the near future (based on what I know of their other writings), but as they are currently rather new blogs, they don't have very many posts yet.

In the end, however, I was able to pick the five. I hearby bestow the Liebster Award on the following wonderful blogs...

1. Be Blessed by Nix
This blog belongs to my best friend from high school. She has a degree in Photography and uses her skills to make beautiful greetings cards. This blog showcases examples of her cards/photos and documents some of the craft sales and other events she has taken part in. It's worth a look just to gaze in awe of her beautiful photos. If you live outside of SA and are interested in buying any of her cards just enquire on the blog and she might be willing to make a plan.

2. Since I Found Serenity by Elspeth
This is a blog by one of my friends from TLC. It is relatively new but already has a good many posts. Her posts so far are chiefly about writing and personal reflections on life and faith. Her posts are enjoyable to read and she has a good way of thinking through and expressing things. She is not new to the blogging world as she also has another review blog on LJ and a business blog for the goods she sells on Etsy (A Whimsical Adventure)

3. The World of a Rhosewen White Rose 
by a lady I who goes by various names (I usually call her White Rose or Wrosie)
She's also a friend from TLC. She has a bleautiful blog where she writes about various things from reading to writing to sharing favourite songs to reflecting on life and faith. Wrosie is also creates beautiful graphics (a sample of which might be seen on the graphics page of her blog). She has recently started an Etsy shop where she sells prints of her photographs (Rhosewen Faerie).

4. Living to Love (formally "telling it as it is") by Shula
She is the daughter of Zambian missionaries to Mozambique and has joined her parents in their community and outreach work. I had the privilege of meeting and working alongside her and her family in 2007 when I went with a group from my church to visit them. Her family really knows what it means to serve God with their whole being and make a difference in the world by doing so. Her blog shares various adventures and thoughts relating to her exciting but challenging life. In the last few posts she shares a little about the recent miraculous recovery of her dad from near death; a story I was privileged to hear recounted from his own mouth.

 This blog is by another one of my TLC friends (also known as Petraverd).  The two of us make up the forum's pair of linguists, although he has a better knowledge of morphology and phonology while I've been trained largely in syntax and psycholinguistics (and am now shifting focus to historical linguistics). Unfortunately he hasn't posted recently on his blog, being particularly busy with life and his new job (here's to hoping the award will produce some further posts). He's also a writer of fiction and plays (having taken part in a good many "National Novel Month" and "Script Frenzy" competitions).

Well that's my list. I recommend you take some time to check out and browse these blogs. I'll be writing a follow-up post shortly in which I list and describe some of my other friends' blogs who didn't make the criteria for being given the award by me, but are worthy and worthwhile blogs none-the-less.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Days 4 (Inspiration) & 9 (Current Project)

This is the third time I am restarting this post from scratch (I feel a bit like Tolkien trying to write the first chapter of Rings, though of course his project was a whole lot more significant).

I figured since my "Susan Fic" is my first serious/intentional piece of writing, I should include these two days' questions together. I thought I would discuss the influences and motivation behind this, "my current writing project". For the most part, however, this post discusses why and how I got started on this project in the first place.

For those who don't know, my "Susan Fic" is about Susan Pevensie from CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, meaning CS Lewis is my main inspiration for this story. I've already discussed my introductions to Narnia in Day 2. In 2005 (my Grade 12 year) I read the complete Narnia series for the second time. It started in the July holidays when I took the Afrikaans translations of LWW and MN with me on my family trip to Namibia (I knew I wouldn't have much time to study for Matric trials finals that holiday, so by reading some Afrikaans I felt that at least I was doing something constructive and beneficial towards those exams). I went on to read the rest of the books (mainly in English as only the first 4 have been translated) throughout the year. The first Walden Narnia movie (LWW) came out that Christmas.

With Narnia still fresh in my mind, that December I read a Christian book: Harry Potter, Narnia and The Lord of the Rings (what you need to know about fantasy books and movies) by Richard Abanes. I was struck in one section where he quotes Philip Pullman (author of His Dark Materials, who has on occasion been referred to as the "Anti-Lewis") as complaining that "one girl was sent to hell because she was getting interested in clothes and boys."

For those not familiar with the story, The final book in The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, ends with all the heroes of the previous books finding themselves, to all appearances in Narnia once again. And yet they realise that this is not Narnia (not the Narnia they know). Everything is bigger, more colourful and more "real". They discover that they are actually in Aslan's Country, and that the Narnia they had all known was really just a shadow of the Real Narnia they were in now (a concept undoubtedly inspired by Plato's theory of Forms or Ideas). All the Narnians who found themselves now in Aslan's country were there because the old Narnia had been destroyed. The people from our world, however, (called in this book "The Seven Friends of Narnia") had come into Aslan's Country by another route.

Lucy, Eustace, Jill, Digory and Polly had been travelling on a train (the older ones accompanying Eustace and Jill to school). Edmund and Peter were waiting for them at a train station. As the train rounded a corner near the station, it was coming around too fast. It derailed or toppled or something, causing a massive accident. All of them had died in this accident and now found themselves in Aslan's Country, which it turns out, is in fact our Heaven.

Susan was not involved in the accident however. She had rejected Narnia as she entered her teenage years and no longer even acknowledged it as a real place where she and her siblings had ruled as Kings and Queens.  Jill says that she is "interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations". One can see where Pullman's criticism is coming from, since Aslan's Country is portrayed as such  beautiful place, and she is not allowed to share in it. But he has completely missed the whole point that Lewis is trying to make in this story.

Most of all he makes an assumption that should not be made. Just because Susan does not join her siblings in Aslan's Country at this point in time, it does not mean she is going instead to hell. On the contrary, she does not die in the train crash. She is still very much alive in our world and has an entire life still ahead of her.

In light of Pullman's comment and with the knowledge I had of the story, an idea began to take shape in my mind. There was a little "escape route" that Lewis had left and I thought of a story which could be written to explain how Susan might have turned back towards believing in Narnia and in Aslan and in the One he represents in our world.

The Seed Lies Dormant
So I had this idea, but I felt I had neither the time nor the ability nor the motive to write it. I didn't see myself as an author, and I knew that for copyright reasons should I ever be able to write my idea into a full story, it could never be published. So I filed it away in my memory.

It was at about that time that my family first got an internet connection, so I was almost completely ignorant of the world of internet and the possibilities it contained. About a year later, I discovered TLC, a forum for fans of Narnia, and mentioned my suggestion in one of the threads there about "What happened to Susan". I discovered that I was not the only one who had thought about this question, and not the only one to suggest (or at least hope) that she somehow found her way back and went to Aslan's Country with the rest of her family and friends when she died.

I also discovered the "genre" of Fan Fiction, a concept hitherto unknown to me. I discovered that many people would write pieces inspired by Narnia, not for profit, but simply for the love and fun of it. I discovered many people had already written various fan fiction pieces about Susan and what might have happened to bring her back to believing in the things she had rejected.

But I never did anything about this new-found knowledge. I had neither the time nor patience to work out my idea. And now that I knew so many had already written on the topic before, I wasn't so sure it would be a good idea.

The Seed Spouts
Then in January this year, as the summer holiday was drawing on, but university had not yet started, I was chatting to Geoffrey F at TLC. I complained that the holidays were dragging and I felt I needed to do something constructive. He suggested writing something, and I mentioned the idea I had for a "Susan Fic". He encouraged me to go ahead with it. That is how it began.

Although CS Lewis was my inspiration for my fiction, in terms of the characters, the initial story and the general direction, I would be lying if I said he influenced my writing style. I have great admiration for Lewis' writing style. He has a gift for moulding words and language that I could never hope to emulate. Some minor influences may have filtered through from him (or any of the other authors I spend time reading), but I wouldn't say any one has consciously influenced my writing.

The story and characters on the other hand, are totally Lewis', at least to begin with. I have created many of my own additional characters and an additional world - but the core elements are his.

The inspiration I had all those years ago, the thing I called an "escape route" was this: In The Magician's Nephew, the second-to-last Narnia book Lewis wrote, he introduced the potential for many more worlds besides Narnia and our own world. In this book, Professor Kirke's crazy uncle creates rings which can take someone to a "world between all worlds" from which all the various worlds can be reached. He even has his heroes visiting a different world called Charn before finding their way into Narnia. At the end of this book, the rings are buried so as to never be used again.

In The Last Battle, Edmund and Peter are sent to dig up the burried rings. The friends of Narnia realise that Narnia is in trouble and decide to send Eustace and Jill back there to help them. The rings, however, are never used. Peter and Edmund were to hand them over at the train station where the accident took place. 

It occurred to me, therefore, that the rings would have been on Peter and/or Edmund's person when they died. If found, they would be passed on to Susan, their only surviving relative. She could use the rings to return not to Narnia itself (which is destroyed in The Last Battle), but to one of the countless other worlds which could be reached from the "Wood Between the Worlds". I thought to create a believable world in which Susan would have an adventure through which she might renew the faith she had lost.

That in essense was my idea. Of course, it turned out to be a lot harder than one would think. To begin with, the story was set in England. I had the idea of Susan staying with her Aunt and Uncle, Eustace's parents of whom we know a little from The Chronicles. Setting a book in London in the mid-20th century is rather difficult when you are familiar with neither the place nor the time. Thankfully I got much advice from Narnia Steward on TLC, who is at least familiar with the place if not the time.

After that, I had to invent my own world - which proved to be even more challenging. I wanted to come up with something unlike anything presented in the Chronicles. This was a little difficult considering that throughout The Chronicles adventures are set in woodlands, beaches, mountains, desserts, islands, marshes and snow-covered lands (among others).

I thought of creating a world in which the entire adventure happened under water (a sea-world), but realised that far too many complications would come of that. Eventually I decided to go for a "canyon/table land" type setting. This itself is challenging considering the only such place I have seen is Fish River Canyon in Namibia, and that only for a few hours one late afternoon (with the setting sun in our eyes). I'm getting through it somehow, but I'm sure there are a few major problems and inaccuracies in my setting. The most difficult part that I found is finding the correct terminology for the geological, geographical and biological environment in which it is set.

My next challenge (and one I'm still working on to some extent) is to find an appropriate adventure for Susan. I didn't want it to be cliché, and also didn't want to repeat anything that had happened in the previous Narnian books. This meant that defeating a cruel oppressor, returning the rightful ruler to their place and going on a sea voyage were all out of the question. I thought of a treasure hunt but that's one of the most cliché of all. While rereading one of my favourite books by Stephen Lawhead, I temporarily thought of having them rescue someone. Then I remembered - oh yes, that's what The Silver Chair is all about. I eventually settled on a hunt, but not one for treasure per se. It's not perfect (and I realise now a little too much like the end of The Magician's Nephew, though at least that isn't what the whole book is about), but it will have to do.

Wow, this turned out to be long. But I don't know how else to do it. I know its a little rambly, this post, but I am not rewriting it a fourth time - so there it is. Virtual chocolate prizes will be awarded to anyone who manages to read the entire thing ;-)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Day Three - First Times

Here there be dragons...

Lèrowen's blog: Eat...Sleep...Write

I was going to skip this one because, well technically my SusanFic is my first intentional piece of fictional writing. "Intentional" in that I decided to write it for its own sake, rather than as something prescribed by a teacher. Shocking, I know. But I told you I'm not a writer.

But while I was reading some of my friend's replies to this question, I realised that just because my previous attempts were prescribed, it doesn't mean they were completely without value. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed creative writing in primary school. It wasn't encouraged quite so much in high school. And with the waning in imagination and growth in knowledge and self-awareness that comes during one's teenage years, my few high school "stories" weren't particularly good. 

Also, while my primary school teachers lauded my creativity and fantastical (i.e. not always realistic) and innocent style of writing, my high school teachers were not so impressed. They wanted something more serious and down-to-earth. My primary school stories never had real villains or evil in them - I was too innocent or ignorant to bring about real danger (which is perhaps why I never pursued writing outside of school - I know know that you can't write a good story like that).

"I first tried to write a story when I was about seven. It was about a dragon. I remember nothing about it except a philological fact. My mother said nothing about the dragon, but pointed out that one could not say "a green great dragon", but had to say  "a great green dragon". I wondered why, and still do. The fact that I remember this is possibly significant, as I do not think I ever tried to write a story again for many years, and was taken up with language." (JRR Tolkien Letters - to WH Auden)

The first story I specifically remember writing in school was in Grade 3, when I was 8. I did write stuff in Grade 2 as well, but that was usually a case of: "stick these pictures in your book and explain what is going on in them", or "listen to this story and then rewrite it in your own words".

We were learning about "the sea" in Grade 3 when we had to write a shipwrecked/rescued type adventure. It even had separate chapters (With a chapter taking up half a page and a massive picture the other half). I still have all my school English and/or Creative Writing books. My mum being a teacher made me keep all my books, especially the books with my stories in. Alas, as Murphy would have it, my Grade 3 book seems to be the only one I can't find. I did find the second half of the story (the centre page of the book had come loose) but without the beginning it makes little sense.

So I had a look at my Grade 4 books instead. I've selected the first "story" in the book which I actually remember writing. There are a couple of earlier pieces but they are either biographical, missing the original context in which we were asked to write them or else they show my complete ignorance and lack of touch with reality at that age - something I would rather not reveal (In one story I stopped an ogre from eating me by offering him multiple pots of mince that I'd miraculously pulled out of thin air O.o)

This one that I will post holds special significance because a friend and I created a dramatised version of it two years later for another school project. It also happens to be about a dragon, and since Tolkien says the first story he remembers writing had a dragon in it - why not?

So this is a taste of what my formative writing was like - not necessarily my first piece:

The Lonely Dragon 
Age 9

There was once a little dragon who lived nowhere, he kept moving. One day he came to a forest. The creatures welcomed him and made him feel at home. (The dragon's name was Spark). This is what the forest was like: There were many types of creatures. There were insects of all kinds such as caterpillars, butterflies and even spiders, worms and bugs. The butterflies and ladybirds liked to flutter about in the treetops. There were also foxes and rabbits that lived in their underground burrows. Weasels, monkeys and other primates were very cheeky and loved playing tricks on the other animals. The forest had lots of trees, that the birds and squirrels liked. Right in the middle was an old oak with four ferns around it. Around the ferns was an opening, but...

...The dragon lived there. Now Spark was a small, cute looking dragon. He was green but had blue eyes and a red nose. I would say he was about three years old but very clever. He had a long, pointy tail, the point was purple so were the spots on his green body (but they were a different shade). The only problem was when ever Spark spoke he puffed a few sparks. This made every body scared of him, so he had no friends. Spark was the loneliest dragon of all. Every day the weasels and primates (Who the creatures called the 'terrible tiresome trouble making ten team', or the T.T.T.T.T.), came and saw the smoke from Spark's breakfast. "Look! Ha ha little dragon's burning his house, ha ha."

One day in winter all the animals were cold, so they called a meeting. "We have to do something," started a baby squirrel..."About the cold," continued he brother. "The dragon too woo woo." said Wiseowl the wise owl. "Rid of the dragon get rid of sparky," said the T.T.T.T.T. or the TEEEE (They said Sparky with a small s).

Out from behind the bush popped Spark. "Go-a a-way," hooted Wiseowl. "To ta tay," said the T.T.T.T.T. Suddenly the whole forest broke into a row, "Go away," "Go away," "Go away." They were making so much noise that they did not see what Spark was doing.

He was lighting a fire. "Oh, it's warm," "Spark did it we are safe." So they danced all night around the fire. "We are all friends, said everyone."

So there is is :-)

Saturday, 20 August 2011

15 Day Writing Challenge

...or something like that

This month, a number of my friends from TLC have taken part in a Challenge started by Lèrowen on her blog Eat...Sleep...Write. Most of my friends who took part are avid writers; two of them have already had books published and others have been writing various writerly things for years: fan-fiction, original fiction and NaNo works.

I'm not a writer like them. I have my "Susan Fic" that I work on during the little spare time I have. I started it as a "keep myself busy in the holidays" project in January, and I don't have much time for more serious fiction writing. But since I enjoyed reading their answers to this challenge (and since some of my other friends have started it late), I'm going to join in too - in part. Since I don't have a writers' history, I won't be able to answer all the questions fairly. So I'm only going to answer the ones that I can, and perhaps more generally than purely from a writer's point-of-view. I hope Lèrowen forgives me for changing it a little.


There are three male authors whose works I love to read. A couple of years ago, I figured out exactly how these three authors fit into my mind and what I admire about them.


I first met Tolkien's works in 1999 (before the first Rings movie came out). I spent a fairly large portion of this, my Grade 6 year, working my way through Rings. I didn't finish it then (for reasons that I'm happy to share, but not right now), but that was how I met him. I also read The Hobbit that year and two years later when we had it as one of our Grade 8 set books (very likely my favourite of all the set books I was ever forced to read in school).

Since then, I've grown to Love Tolkien's works more and more. My favourite of his works, to some people's surprise is The Silmarillion. It is in this book (which requires the patience of a number of re-reads and perhaps some volumes of The History of Middle Earth for one to fully appreciate it) that Tolkien's full genius is revealed. He achieved his goal of creating a coherent mythology (complete with a cosmogony, history and geography) in this work. I admire Tolkien greatly for his creativity, skill in "wordcrafting" (a word stolen from either Jenny or Abigail - I'm not sure who coined it first) and commitment to consistency.

I'm not unaware of the fact that I'm partially following in his footsteps (as a person born in South Africa going to study linguistics in Oxford). I couldn't think of many better sets of footsteps to follow, although technically the comparison isn't so concrete as some people have suggested. After all, Tolkien wasn't really South African (he was born in the Orange Free State before the unification of the 4 South African colonies in 1910, and moved to England at a very young age), he wasn't really a Linguist (or rather the meaning of "linguist", and the things linguists study is significantly different to what they were in his day - today we would call him a Philologist). Oh yes, and I'm hardly a genius with words and creative writing abilities. So the similarity is really only a shadow ;-)

Despite my love of Tolkien's works, he does not get the title "favourite (male) author". Instead I will say, however, that he is one of the, if not the, best fictional writers. He was also an exceptionally talented poet. A skill of his which he is generally under-recognised for.


I first met CS Lewis through the Chronicles of Narnia at a very young age (so young I can't tell you how old I was). But I remember sitting in the lounge listening to audio tapes of the Chronicles that we'd borrowed from the library on our old cassette tape player. While I remember this, I didn't consciously retain any of the stories. In Grade 4, we had The Magician's Nephew and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe as set books. In Grade 9, I finally got around to reading the rest of the series and loved it. During my discipleship course (that I took the year after school) we had to read Part III of Mere Christianity. I'm not terribly fond of reading non-fiction works, but Lewis captivated me so much that I ended up reading the whole book. Since then I've read various of his other non-fiction works in the form of collections of essays (such as Compelling Reason and Fern Seed and Elephants) as well as his Science Fiction "Space Trilogy".

Like his friend Tolkien, Lewis was a master of words. He has a way of manipulating the English language that I can only stand in awe of. I remember that first time I read Mere Christianity noting that you could just "tell" this was the same person who had written the Chronicles. I couldn't point to anything specific, but his style was just so clear. In addition he has such a lovely way of explaining and arguing his points. Some may accuse him of being too anecdotal in his arguments, but that's what I love about him. His arguments are clear and "down to earth" - not overly philosophical (even if in some of his more in-depth works require a fair amount of serious concentration). He knows how to reach the lay audience.

While his fiction works are great, they don't reach quite to the same quality of creativity and coherence that we see in Tolkien's works. It is in his non-fiction work, that Lewis' brilliance truly shines. Here his writing reaches its full potential. For this reason, although he is not my favourite (male) author, he is certainly one of the best, if not the best, non-fiction author of modern times.


As great as these two men are, neither have the honour of being my favourite male author. This distinction belongs to a lesser-known and sill living man.


It's hard to explain exactly why he takes preference over these other two in my mind, except to say that the other two are so great in their own right. They are names one can look up to and admire. Their works are sheer brilliance. But this makes them a little aloof.  They are the "obvious choice", and I hate going with the obvious choice; with the "crowd". Stephen Lawhead is more real, more tangible.

I actually have a few problems with some of his works, which I won't get into now. But on the whole, he has an exceptional ablility for describing. He's possibly one of the most descriptive authors I've ever come across. I first met him through Taliesin, a story about Atlantis and early Britian which set the stage for the rest of the Pendragon series which deals with Merlin and Arthur. In his books he brings these legends to life before your eyes in a coherent and modern retelling that leaves you caught up in a world of Celtic splendour and dreaming too of the Summer Kingdom.

My favourite of his works, are a slightly older series (one of his first) called the Dragon King series. Unlike many of his later works which are legendary/historical fiction rather than fantasy, this trilogy is set in a completely immaginary world. It is not high fantasy of the faerie kind, and lacks mythological creatures, but is set in a land of kings, knights, heathen priests and skilled wood-folk.

There is something that happened to me the first time I read this series. It spoke to my heart-strings so clearly, that at the end I declared unashamedly: "this is the best series I have ever read". That series alone is largely responsible for Lawhead's rise to the position of favourite in my mind.

I was a little worried about the way some of his more recent books were turning - some of which I even refused to read. One that I did read was called Patrick (about the life of St Patrick). I think I'm not the only one who says that that was quite possibly his worst book. It's the kind of book Eeyore or Puddleglum might enjoy. But unless you want to be seriously depressed, and slightly confused as to exactly what St Patrick's religious beliefs were, I don't recommend it.

Lawhead has, however, since redeemed himself by writing my second favourite of his series: The King Raven Trilogy - about Robin Hood and company (transposed a few generations earlier than their traditional setting). He tried a couple of new things in this series, writing the second book, Scarlet, from the POV of a young man occupying the time as he awaits his execution by narrating the last years of his life to a scribe. Tuck, the third book, is also very different. It is rather shorter than usual and lacks the dream or song-sequences which I consider one of the chief hallmarks of Lawhead's works. I'm still deciding whether I found that omission a relief or disappointment. It gave the book something of a fresh feel.

So there you have it, my three favourite male authors:
Tolkien - Best Fiction Writer
Lewis - Best Non-Fiction Writer
Lawhead - Favourite Author

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Linguistic Conundrums in Narnia

I promised myself I wouldn't get into the language issue in my Susan Fic, but try as I might, I have failed. How can I, in good conscience, motivate a new world that just "happens" to speak the same language as Susan Pevensie?

I thought I had a solution, but I've already hit a snag. My initial idea was to do what Lewis did, and ignore the question completely: the people (or animals) in this new world speak the same language as some kids from England? So what? Deal with it. Accept it. The story works.

I guess it does, but I'm not Lewis, and it's already starting to plague me.

Lewis (or perhaps some of his fans) have explained the situation in Narnia quite eloquently. The saving moments come from one of the last of the books written, The Magician's Nephew. In it we learn that Narnia was created in the presence of some English people: Digory, Polly, Unle Andrew and Frank the Cabby Driver (I won't deal with the question of  Jadis at the moment - after all, she was a witch ;-) ), and the Narnian animals became talking animals in their midst. It was convenient that Aslan would make them speak the same language as the visitors. The first King and Queen of Narnia were English too. Aslan was being practical. Problem solved.

But is it really? I recently had a discussion with some of my TLC friends about how it was that the other people-groups in the greater Narnian world also spoke English. The answer to this is given in Mr Lewis' proposed timeline, created after the completion of The Chronicles. In it we learn that the people of Archenland and Calormen are descendants of King Frank and Helen, the first rulers of Narnia. It is only logical, therefore, that their descendants also speak English. That solves that problem. (I have personal reservations about the fact that the Calormene culture so closely resembles aspects of Eastern cultures - Arabian, Turkish or Indian - as does their physical appearance. I'm not sure how this works if their their ancestry and language is purely English/Narnian. But maybe that's just me, and things can change drastically in 1 000 years. So, I won't make too much of a fuss about that issue).

Another question which arises is how it is that the Telmarines also speak English. We know they are descendants of pirates from our world and the natives of an island in the Southern Sea. The nationality of these pirates is unclear, and various suggestions have been made. The idea that they were Mediterranean, Spanish in particular, has been popular since the release of the Disney Prince Caspian film in 2008. Whatever their native tongue, the argument goes that they picked up English after conquering Narnia, since that was the language spoken there and in the surrounding lands. I wonder over such a suggestion, that the conquerors would pick up the language of their conquered (especially since the conquered included few men and mostly talking animals and other creatures with whom they would have very little to do). But such a situation is not completely unreasonable. It was, after all, the most wide- spread language in that eastern part of the world.

Okay, so here we have a few nice little arguments. All lined up, they explain why English was the language spoken by Narnians, Archenlanders, Calormenes and Telmarines. There I have no problem. But language is not that simple. And here I do have a problem.

Language is not static. It never has been. And despite various desperate attempts, it never will be. Every language has mutiple dialects. And as time passes, languages shift and change. The English language is divided into three time spans: Old English (also called "Anglo-Saxon"), Middle English (the language of Chaucer) and "Modern" English (the language from Shakespeare's time until today).

And one only needs to look at the language of Shakespeare to realise that it will not be long before people will accept that Shakespeare's English and that spoken by present day society is hardly the same language at all. Within the next generation I foresee a new category of English: Post-Modern? O.o (lets hope they coin a better name for it).

In sociolignuistics, we learn about two things that lead to the creation of dialects: geographical separation and societal seporation. Add to this temporal seporation and we have three important factors.

People that live in different places, different social groups and different times, (even those who started out speaking the "same" language) adapt their the way they speak to suit their needs. The further apart in space, society and time, the more different their speech becomes. This is why we have the phenomenon we call "dialects". And the longer and more distant the separation between groups that speak different dialects, the more different those varieties of the language become. Given enough separation and time, the dialects eventually loose their "mutual intelligibility". This is the ability of speakers of the one variety (dialect) to naturally understand speakers of the other.

One needs simply to look at the English of Britain and that of America (or Australia or South Africa or India etc.) to see evidence of dialectal differences. Thanks to global connexions brought about through modern technology, these dialects are still mutually intelligible. This is not the case for languages that started out as dialects of Latin. French, Spanish and Italian, though they bear some resemblance to each other, were once mutually intelligable dialects spoken by different groups. Separation has lead them to the point of diverstion they are at today.

So what does this have to do with Narnia? The answer is simple. While I can accept that Narnians first spoke the English of Digory and his companions, how do we explain that when the Pevensies arrived, the creatures of Narnia speak the exact same form of English, the same "dialect" they had spoken 1 000 years ago. That would be equivalent to discovering that, Chaucer's English was actually exactly like ours (and the stuff he wrote was him just having a bit of fun).

It's not possible. Even if we were to argue that language changed more slowly in Narnia, that the White Witch's presence kept language more static. Even an individual's language changes over their life-span. I'm pretty sure that hers would have changed a little in 1 000 years. Even if 1 000 years had passed in our world between the creation of Narnia and the Pevensie's visit, we would expect the English in Narnia to have diverged significantly from the way English had shifted in our world. But there is only one generation between the two visits of English children in Narnia. The English spoken by the Pevensies is not mouch different to that spoken by Digory and Polly or Frank and Helen. But how is it that Mr Tumnus and Mr and Mrs Beaver, speak the same form of English that their ancestors, the crow who was the "first joke" and "Fledge" spoke?

Taking this further, we would expect the Calormenes, living cut-off from Narnia during the 100 year winter, to speak yet another dialect of English. There is no evidence of this beyond slight "stylistic" peculiarities in their speech (and generally only their formal speech). There should be differences in vocabulary, semantics and even possibly grammar after all these years. The Telmarines, if they did speak another language and picked up English from their Narnian captives, should at least have had some affect on changing the language. Look what happened with the Norman invasion. Why don't we see a similar influence by Spannish or "Telmarinian" on the language of the Narnians? They would have at least contributed significantly to the vocabulary. After all English loves to pick up vocabulary from other languages.

And so I find myself in a pickle (no not a hedgepickle, but a linguistic pickle). Not only do I take issue with Lewis' explanations for the language in Narnia, but how in the world (or worlds) do I motivate that 20th Century English is also the language spoken the the world I created for my Susan Fic? There is probably some solution. I'm writing the story for fun, not as a serious writer, and so I could probably go back to my original plan and just "ignore the issue". It may require a few changes to my plot. The reason language is about to become important is because the creatures have a mysterious scroll Susan must interpret. I'll make a plan on that. But there you are. A puzzle indeed. Sometimes I wish I didn't "think" so much! ;-)

PS. CS Lewis is one of my favourite and most respected authors. He himself had an amazing intellect and a way with language that I could never emulate. He does much better justice to the language issue in his Sci-Fi trilogy. I know the Narnia stories were written for children, which is why he doesn't address complicated linguistic questions there. And these questions really take nothing away from the brilliancy of the stories. Some may wonder at all why I even bother to ask them at all. It's only because they interest me and are messing with my own writing. Selfish reasons completely.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Rights for Lefties!


When my right-handed  parents discovered that my brother, their firstborn, was a left-handed child, they tried to find out as much as they could about "left-handedness". I guess since a few generations back, left-handers were simply expected to use their right hand to do handed tasks (such as writing), their enthusiasm was part of the counter-movement.

When I was born, whether purely from genetics, or from some kind of behavioural effect ("copying the big brother") I too turned out to be left-handed. Needless to say, I grew up being taught to be proud of my left-handedness. My mother was always there to promote my rights as a left-handed child - and I learnt not only to write, but also to cut (using left-handed scissors) and knit left-handed.

When I was in Grade 11, our class took part in a Toastmasters course. Each of us had to make two speeches in front of the class on "something we felt strongly about." After a fair amount of struggle and difficulty, I eventually came up with the topic "Left-handers living in a Right-handed World" for my first speech.

I spent quite a bit of time today hunting down a copy of my speech. For some reason, it no longer appears to be saved on the computer, despite the fact that my second speech and numerous other school projects are still there. I knew where a hard copy was stored until my recent "tidy up" in preparation for Oxford. I had a vague recollection of having thrown out all my Toastmasters stuff. Eventually, I did find it - on the pile of stuff to be thrown out.

My initial intention for this blog post had been to simply repost my speech here. But I discovered (something which I suspected might be the case) that I was rather more ignorant 7 years ago than I am now, and posting the speech as it is would be rather embarrassing.

So I've tasked myself with writing something new.

Left-handers living in a right-handed world

Back when I wrote the speech, my main thrust was to complain. Right-handers don't know what it's like to be left-handed. They are selfish about it, and do very little to make our lives any easier. They tolerate us but don't understand us.

As I said, I've grown a little wiser in the last 7 years, and have learnt that much in life is not fair. Being a left-hander in a right-handed world is hardly the worst handicap one can suffer. Especially today, when we don't have our left hand's tied behind our backs as we are forced to learn to write with our right hands.

And at least, unlike in Latin, the word "left" does not mean "evil" or "suspect" (although perhaps is does to some people in a different sense. Hmmm, perhaps we are destined always to be sinister beings).

There are, however, certain irritations we must face as lefties. These are things I suspect most right-handed people, and even some lefties, never think of. Most "things" we use in every day life, if they are designed for use by a particular hand, are designed for right-handers: scissors, knives, cake forks, kettles (the position of the handle relative to the water-level viewer), door handles, can openers, taps, hockey sticks, musical instruments, books, files and garden tools...

Those are just a few of the things we use that are often, if not always, designed to be more convenient for right-handed use. Some of these are now available in left-handed or "hand neutral" forms. Scissors are the most famous and easily available. At least for children. It is quite a bit more difficult to find adult-sized left-handed scissors. And when you get to specialised scissors (hairdressers', tailors', nail and embroidery scissors) they must be ordered from a specialist supplier. By the way, for those who are wondering what the "difference" between left and right-handed scissors is, there is a difference and it is significant. If you look at a pair of right-handed scissors, whichever way you turn them, the blade of the right handle is always on top. In left-handed scissors it is the blade of the left handle on top. This is important for the way the blades work together. Use your scissors in the wrong hand, and you'll see the blades want to "separate".

I mentioned the kettle in my list because it's a little uncomfortable and annoys me picking up a full kettle with my non-dominant hand. (I have, to be fair, seen and used "swivel" kettles, which give lefties the option of swinging them around before picking them up).

One of my chief annoyances in school was arch-lever files. Do you know how hard it is to write on a page in an arch-lever file with your left hand? Try it some time. Right-handers often say to me: "just turn it upside down". I could, but then the lever is at the top instead of the bottom. A similar problem happens with spiral-bound books. The spiral is right where my hand wants to be while I'm writing. It's most uncomfortable.

On the issue of writing, although left-handers are allowed to right with their left hands, we are still expected write in the right-handed way: left to right if you use Latin script. There are two annoying things about this: it covers (and if the ink is wet, smudges) what you have just written. I often rewrite or misspell words, because I can't see the first half of what I just wrote. The second thing is that it just feels unnatural.

I know someone's going to come up with the argument that Hebrew and other alphabets right from right to left, disadvantaging right-handers. The reason for this is that most of these languages were originally written using the "hammer and chisel" method, with the chisel in the scribe's left hand and hammer in the right. But I can tell you from experience in writing Hebrew, that even though the writing was from left to right, my teacher still insisted that I follow the "rules" for drawing each individual letter which was, as it felt to me, a right-hand biased way of writing them.

The final thing I'd like to discuss is musical instruments. Guitars are the least problematic. Accoustic guitars need simply be turned and restrung upside down. Chords must be learnt "backwards", but it's not that difficult. When you start getting to the electric guitars, restringing is a little less convenient, since they are often shaped in such a way, that you can "tell" the thing is upside down. And the worst part is, a left-hander, who has learnt to play the guitar left-handed, cannot simply pick up a right-hander's guitar unless you want to also take the time and trouble of learning to play left handed. Other instruments such as the piano are even worse. It may be possible, with electronic pianos and keyboards to programme the piano backwards for lefties. But it would require specialised training and sheet music. So we must make do with playing music in which the right hand generaly plays the dominant part.

Being left-handed has always been a special part of who I am. I am proud to be left-handed. Right-handers may not understand this. Some lefties may not understand. When I discover something new that is right hand biased, it is often with a sense of amusement more than frustration. Did you know some mugs are right hand biased? they have picture on only one side. Hold it in your left hand and you must stare at the blank "back" of the mug. ;-)

I think I've said enough to make my point. That is, if I have a point. Being left-handed is special and fun. It has it's challenges. Some which can be overcome easily, others endured. I guess most of life is like that. It's kind of nice to get serious about something trivial once in a while. 

Interesting Left-hander's links:
Lefty Lament (written and performed by Ian Radburn)

All pictures (except the second which is my own left hand) were borrowed from the Left-handers' Day website.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Reserved among nature

Living where I do, there are at least three nature reserves within a 10 minute drive from my house. These are "nature" and not "game" reserves, which means nothing larger than a dassie or small duiker will be seen, and they are rather a place for spotting birds and plants. But they are rather beautiful none-the-less. 

We used to frequent New Germany Nature Reserve more often when we were children. It was down the road from my grandparents house and was a favourite spot for parties. I think of the three, this has the most beautiful walks. Not being in a valley, the open grassland views are rather splendid. 

Paradise Valley, is even closer to home, and I have been there numerous times with friends and school groups. One of the pleasures there is taking the short walk to the waterfall. It is unfortunate that this reserve is spoiled by the two massive bridges which serve as on-ramps to the N3, but they are so insanely high above where you are walking, their presence creates a splendour if their own.

The third reserve is the Palmiet Reserve in Westville. As far as I can remember I had never been there (despite frequenting the shopping centre just up the road) until last Sunday. On Sunday we went to Palmiet for a Church braai lunch. (For my non-South African friends, a braai is kind of like a barbecue - but better). Despite threats of rain and miserable cold, and the braai almost being cancelled, the day turned out to be quite pleasant. Not many people came, put off by the weather and semi-long weekend, but for those who did, we had a rather nice time of fellowship.

The Braai

There was a river right next to where we had our braai, and so, inspired by Hudson (from Define Weird), I tried my hand at a few river shots. The red flower, unfortunately belonging to a canna (which I've been taught to consider a nuisance of a weed), was the only flower in sight. Alas, for it being winter and not spring!

The River

The Cliff

I've probably mentioned before that I am not a writer (i.e. a fiction writer). That distinction belongs to some of my more talented friends: Jenny, Abigail, Lilly, Wilf and Will (amongst others - forgive me for not including you all - there are too many). Similarly, I am not a photographer. I have three extrememly talented photographer friends: Nicola, Roswen and Hudson (I suggest you visit their blogs, which I've linked here, should you want to see real photography). But since last Sunday was one of the last times I'd be with my Church family before leaving for Oxford, I took along my camera. I am still rather proud of my new camera, and simple as it is and use every excuse I can to "practice" taking pictures before I leave :-p

p.s. If you click on the photos, you can see them enlarged - that gives you a slightly better feel of the river

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Updates to my "projects"

Click on the link below to read updates on my "holiday projects" that I outlined at the start of winter. All comments are welcome.