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


Linda21stBlessing said...

Hi Ajnos
I just read your Susan fanfic and enjoyed it immensely -- hope you have time to add to it during your 15 Day Challenge because I want to know what the writing said and how David gets back in to the story... and how Aslan comes back in, if even under another name. Wonderful job especially in setting things up and getting me to care about Susan (and David) and rejoice in the transformation she is going through!

I am hooked on your story!
Linda/aka Benisse
p.s. Margaret reminds me of Lasaraleen

Ajnos said...

Thanks. I'm trying to work out a way to allow comments after the fic. I had an idea, but I just realised it won't really work. In terms of the story, I'm a little stuck at the moment as to where to go from here.I have an end point in mind but we need to get here. There are a couple of unanswered questions in my mind, which means readers will ask them too. I also don't have a whole lot of spare time to work on it. But I'd like to get a little further before I leave for Oxford.

WriterFreak101 said...

Very interesting Aj.

By the way, I hope you can forgive me if I don't read your Susan fic for a while yet. I have a feeling that with your story, I'm going to want to wait until it is completley finished. That way I don't have to wait for updates. When it comes to good reads, I don't have a lot of faith in my patience. ;)

Ajnos said...

Heh. Sure Wilf, take your time - just don't put it too high in your expectations or you might be disappointed. It's started off well, but I'm not sure I can keep to that standard. Oh, and I haven't actually got to the "treasure hunt" bit yet, so you needn't worry any clashes between our two stories yet. ;-)