There are key moments and motifs in fiction that we latch onto as readers, and as writers. Symbolic scenes that loom large for us because they connect in some deeper way with our own buried nightmares and past traumas.
For me one of those moments is in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, where every single day, bound to that chair, the prince remembers how much he’s forgotten. Fleetingly, he understands he’s a prisoner and also that he can do nothing about it, imprisoned equally by his own enchanted brain.
I was just six or seven when I read this and the horror of it simply overwhelmed me and then infiltrated me: that moment when you know, and simultaneously know the knowledge won’t last.
I think it terrifies me because the vulnerability and powerlessness of that moment is so crushing and absolute.
In Never Now Always, I set out to explore the terror of that moment. And also to face it and conquer it, putting my characters in the same predicament, yet giving them tools to fight.
So the story centers on Lolo, a child who finds herself trapped in a mysterious labyrinth under the supervision of a horde of voiceless alien Caretakers. She is surrounded by many other children, but none of them know how they ended up there, or what happened before. And as the Caretakers subject the children to psychological experiments focused on trauma and memory, their ability to form short-term memories is limited, too. Everything they learn, or think they learn, just slips between their fingers like water.
Then Lolo hits on the concept of writing — scrawling drawings and pictographs as simply as possible, designed to represent these fleeting pieces of story to her future self. Hoping that she stays the same, that her perception persists enough from day to day that when she sees those scribblings later, she’ll still know what they mean.
For me, as the writer of the novella, it was more complicated. The deeper I got into the story, the more I realized how truly challenging it would be to tell a story where the mechanics of narrative are broken, where one thing doesn’t always lead to another and pieces of story don’t necessarily add up.
In some ways every scene felt like a first scene. There are gaps in this story, and continuity errors.
But I also realized that while I wanted my reader to feel somewhat disoriented, I could not let them remain as disoriented as the characters, because that would really not be an enjoyable story to read.
So I also ended up depending heavily on language to do the work — I tried to anchor everything in touch and taste and feelings, always in the present tense, a language reinvented for children whose sense of time is confined to a narrow slice of perpetual now. Everything that’s happening to them is happening in the immediate, and the present is the only moment that matters.
And in that perpetual now is where I think my characters — and I, myself — find redemption and solace. Because love is deeper than language. Because my dog doesn’t need to remember all the days of his life with me to know that with me he’s loved and safe and home; “yesterday” and “tomorrow” don’t actually mean anything. As always, my dog is wiser than I am. So I gave Lolo a dog, too, to help her figure it out.
In the end, the story returns to the one idea I find most comforting: that in this world and the next, life after life, we always make our way back to protect those who’ve protected us, and to be reunited with the souls we’ve loved.
I hope it’s true.
Note: This post is not appropriate for young children. And the older ones will be all, "Ooooohh! I'm gonna tell DADDY!!" so you might lock them out, too.
Spider-Man's dirty little secret revealed:
Now that's a Dynamic Duo.
Here's one of the lesser-known heroes, Essenem Man:
He may not be much of a fighter, but he is always on the ball.
GRRAAA!! HULK TENSE!!
HULK TRY RELIEVE TENSION.
The good news: little Ryder had no idea why his mom was in such a hurry to cut the cake.
The bad news: everyone else at the party did.
Liz D., Kristen C., Mark F., & Rebecca J., I would tell you who my favorite superhero is, but I'm afraid it's a three-way tie.
Note: If you're wondering, the second cake is supposed to be Batman. Obviously.
I don't know if anyone else has been aware of the hoohah over the Chalke Valley History Festival, an event which has not been on my radar even though it has been going since 2011, though when I see that it is sponsored by A Certain Daily Rag of Which We Do Not Speak, unless we really have to, I would guess that it's NQOSD. Certainly no-one has come begging yr hedjog to address the crowds on ye syph in history (with or without my sidekick Sid, now available as a keyring), Dr Stopes, the inner meaning of the 1820s cartoons of Ladies Strachan and Warwick canoodling in a park or towsell-mowsell upon a sopha, wanking panic over the centuries etc etc.
But anyway, there has lately been a certain amount of OMG History of Dead White Males (and a few queens) and the fact that it is overwhelmingly DWM d'un certain age giving the fruits of their knowingz to the audience:
Historian pulls out of Chalke Valley festival over lack of diversity (and, cynically, I wonder how many of the 32 women historians are Hott Young Thingz researching queens, aristo ladies, and so forth, though I may be doing them an injustice.)
The lack of women and non-white historians at this year’s Chalke Valley festival sends out a worrying message to Britain’s young
There have been defences made of the event by saying that you need to have Nazis and Tudors because that is what pulls in the punters, and maybe eventually get them onto something else not so overdone and ubiquitous.
However, only today there was a piece in The Guardian about the Bradford Literary Festival: Irna Qureshi and Syima Aslam have upended the traditional festival model to create a 10-day cultural jamboree that holds appeal across the city’s diverse communities
(Okay, does have the Brontes, and why not, but does not, alas, have ritual mud-wrestling by the Bronte Society...)
'They have upended the traditional literary festival model and attracted a demographic that is the dream of all forward-looking funders.'
So it can be done.
A song that makes you sad. It's hard to find anything sadder than one of my friends who posted a video of a scratch orchestra playing the European anthem Ode to Joy the day after the UK voted to leave the EU. But the song most likely to make me cry, personally, is the aria Voi che sapete from Mozart's The marriage of Figaro.
( break-up sadness, plus video )