Author: Diana Whiley
Adelaide, South Australia
Ideas are the foundation of writing. After starting this journal I looked back to the first idea I had that set others in motion.
I’ve always been fascinated by snowflakes. They are all individual and beautifully geometric. I imagine snowflakes bouncing together and making their own music like wind song and water, a slow trickle that can become a cascading roar. Energy. Vibration.
I read about Pythagoras, a scientist and mathematician from 660 BC who believed a vibration and resonance emanated from all planets and combined to from a harmony, a balance in the Universe. He called it “The Music of the Spheres.”
It gave me the foundation of the magic in my fantasy world - music, resonance and mathematics – or more specifically geometric pattern that linked to the elements of life.
For me, I was always going to base my characters on Earth, where magic is not a given but mainly appears in myth. I often wished many myths were true and imagined my characters having special abilities but unknown to them.
My first character was a musician, a violinist. I picked this instrument as I have always been deeply affected by the sounds of violin strings. Believed the emotional connection I felt would help me to express mine, and hers. But being a fantasy novel I wanted more for my character Eryn - another reason for her passion for music.
I gave her the ability to hear Whale song, gifted to her by the Whales themselves, those wonderful sentient creatures. Their song and themes, both haunting and somewhat other worldly suited my thinking and would help form a link to something beyond our world.
Eryn’s character was also haunted by her dad’s recent death but did not suffer alone. Supported by Ben, who she’d grown up with since she was five. Like a brother. Seven years older and a glass artist. One who saw patterns within his creations that stirred within him both longing and echoes of past nightmares.
These two characters were part of my first novel, the one I set aside while I grappled at that time with my own griefs. I still wrote short stories, unable not to create something as well as ideas burgeoning from my interest in biology and science.
In nature there is a golden ratio called the Fibonacci that forms shape and growth; innate properties locked into seeds. These days seeds can be genetically engineered.
I’d first read of the possibility in a science fiction book I read in High School, “The Day of the Triffids,” by John Wyndham. His main character, a scientist modified plants. Not considered very ethical for the time. When they were affected by a meteor shower, they turned into killer plants.
It had me thinking years later of this scenario and I wondered - what if seeds from space came down to Earth instead? Who could have sent them and why? What kind of plants would they turn out to be?
One came easily to my mind - the Amazonica Victortia Lily. A plant I have always been fascinated by and visited in its pavilion in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.
I researched its history. The seeds of the Lily plant had been taken from the Amazon in the 1800’s to England where it was propagated for the first time outside its natural habitat. I could imagine, the Amazon both a mysterious and dangerous place being infused with magic. From it my character Del was born and I started another novel.
I’d written 10,000 words when I had an epiphany. There were similarities and possibilities in the new novel that could marry with my original one and its characters. It made sense to combine them, four main characters, who all had abilities unknown to them.
I could transform the old and meld it into the new. Am now doing so with a plotline and an ending which has given me the room to fully explore the dynamics between the characters and their situation.
As I draw and sketch in the shadows that define the overall image I am currently making, I think of the darkness, the underbelly of emotion and motivation that often drives a story.
Much can drag a person down into the depths of rage and despair, or a cold precision. The reasons, how or why – a slow decline over time or linked to a sudden circumstance that tests core values.
I felt moved by and appreciated the effect of the former, in the first lines of the poem “Family Trees” by the African Poet Tsitsi Jaji.
Mother was a mango transplanted by moon-light, she glowed split cream. On unknown days she would burst into bruises. Or leak tears, but it was just a skin game, fruit do that, seeping out ripe juice. When inside all is sweetening. The real hurt was slower, deeper.
Background information on a character determines reaction and response. I create detailed notes on my characters, which have a flow on affect as I refine my plotline.
In my fantasy novel “Song of Seed and Blood,” one of my main characters Del, transforms into the Victoria Amazonica Lily. The flower itself is pollinated at night by a beetle that turns at first pink then white. Del absorbs people to become the flower. Two lost days then she returns to normal.
Does she like it? No, which forms that core of her - regret, guilt and a wanting to understand and stop it. She cannot. It is part of her and only the beginning of her journey into another transformation.
I had to think about where she came from, her reason for being on Earth. Who knows about her and the ramifications of the act itself – one Seed in the coming rise of darker arts across worlds that affect the balance of dark and light in the universe.
Her partner and love interest Li, in turn has to have the capacity to accept and understand; to be willing to help her. I gave him ancestors both of Druid and Mongolian Shaman, his childhood full of myth and legends. And as such, many of them with a dark underside.
Jared, her counterpart is driven by his mother’s death from cancer. A biologist and scientist with an ability to see patterns where others don’t. He finds out about Del and wants her blood while she is transformed, to create a drug to combat cancer. He is determined to get what he needs but finds himself one step behind her. In his frustration he falls prey to an outside influence who promises the power to get what he wants.
He considers his motives pure. But how far will he go? What else is in store for him?
My job is to keep up the suspense. In plotting I use many of the steps used to create crime fiction. Set up clues and motives; consequences and the result. Usually a death or more. The influence of place on the overall atmosphere and the mood of the characters.
In fantasy, world building and the part magic plays in it are crucial to the atmosphere. Forests that are sentient. The cities and where they are situated. The list is endless. A feast of imagining and one I enjoy.
Note: Poet Tsitsi Jaji and her book of poems “ Carnaval “ part of a series
Seven New Generation African poets By Slapering Hol Press at www.writerscenter.org
As a writer and artist I move from one to the other, each contributing,rounding out my ideas, and as often taking me in new directions.
My favourite haunt in my city of Adelaide is the Art Gallery. At one time I spent three months going each week to view a different painting and responding to it.
Back then my default was writing poetry even as I worked on my novel. But I was also fascinated by the artists, their personalities and motivations – all fodder for background information as character most often drives a story. And woven into its fabric, is its theme, which could be about belonging, a journey into the mind or as many other permeations. Epic journeys and coming of age. All important in understanding the character as he or she moves forward.
Besides writing speculative fiction I have also written literary and general fiction. One story I called, “With These Hands,” was based on my own experiences as a child.
My youngest brother was born with several disabilities. When he was an infant my mother massaged his legs and arms. Pushed them into shape, trying to get his brain to make new pathways.
It worked. When he was three years old he did walk. My mother’s persistence had paid off and I like to think it rubbed off on me. I lost it for a while but it was still there waiting.
Persistence plays a large part in finding an audience; being read, viewed and heard. As do setting goals and creating specific projects.
I am currently making a commitment for the next few weeks to draw every day - a face or figure using many of the pictures I’ve accumulated from magazines. Fashionistas, dancers and musicians, of the latter David Bowie who loved to change his look.
The reason behind the exercise is my intent to write a graphic novel. My figure drawing needs work. The writing I will create and revive from that dialogue I mentioned in radio plays. And once again read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.
As I continue this journal I remember what matters most from my past. How my brother’s love shaped me and does still. He’d always been interested and encouraged me in my writing.
I am not abandoning my first novel but transforming it.
Writing a novel is a learning experience, a journey in itself and of self.
Change too, a vital part of the process. Knowing by adapting, it is not a dismissal of what is already written - more ideas and characters reformed and molded to fit.
My favorite books are those that make me cry, make me think as I experience how others coped through their lives.
I want to give that to my readers. So I am going to write up a plan. One that will help me remember all these things as I write. To remember to draw on my own experiences of loss and love, pain and joy. To face my fears and find that inner core and confidence in my abilities I once had.
After responding to the poem “Catalyst” I thought about all the other forms of writing I’ve done. One in particular stood out - a radio play.
Different from audio books, it can only use dialogue to portray the sense of place. To reveal, the values that the characters hold. And done well, sharply defines emotional undercurrents.
In that form, it actually helped me to see my characters more clearly.
With that in mind, I intend to spend more time reading my writing out aloud. To listen for those hidden nuances and hope I get them right.
By writing this journal I’m hoping to fully immerse myself in my writing again. To express the depth and intensity that I enjoy and appreciate in other writers. To regain my purpose and drive.
I read a haiku poem recently called ‘Catalyst” by Anita Virgil. Only three lines but very relevant to now, to this…writing a journal.
The room is white
Until that red apple
It is often easy to miss what is right in front of us. I am going to put a plan in motion to keep myself motivated as well as tap into my emotions. Creating conflict in writing can, and is often too close to the bone.
I intend to go back to my first love and read a poem every day and respond to it. See how the poem is relatable to my characters, the novel’s flow and plot line.
Here is my response to the poem Catalyst:
Black script curves
Undulates in a river’s meandering ease
Until meaning slaps like a wave.
Immediately after I’d written it, the word hidden sprang to mind. What had I forgotten that is hidden in my characters? What drives them?
Each character is an individual. I will try to regenerate that feeling of discovery, of that first insight into who the character is and the journey they will take - the reason behind the journey in the first place.
I started my writing life as a poet. Its brevity suited me. I loved searching for the right metaphor that I hoped, would convey the emotion I wanted to evoke. I think it was my form of journal writing.
It came to a great halt when my brother, a songwriter, died of cancer in 2002.
I couldn’t get past his absence for a long time. But eventually, with the help of music and a need to write something in his memory I resurfaced.
The knack of writing poems seemed to have deserted me. Luckily I discovered Neil Gaiman and his Sandman series. It hit a chord – his big themes of Universe and myths
Already an avid reader of fantasy I looked at what I loved about the genre and came up with some ideas. Ideas based on that connection I wanted with my brother again, and with music.
Many fantasy books used crystals as focal points in their magic. That appealed to me too. I’d always felt there was resonance in rocks. So, I began my journey into novel writing – a big step for me and wrote 100,000 words.
When I had nearly finished, the drive that had kept me going left me. Looking back, I realize that writing the novel was part of my grieving process. Odd not to know it, but I think I blotted it out. Tried to see it as creating something new, of being constructive.
Even now I struggle at the idea of finishing it. Sacred to let go of what it represented? Probably. It’s difficult. Hopefully I can get past it and believe an ending is not forgetting.
I let work take over for a while. Enjoyed teaching Creative Writing and drawing, after going back to University. Also worked in mental health, looking for answers. My mother had had clinical depression all her life.
I’d always felt helpless and hoped by seeing others, trying to help them it would open a window into my mother’s mind. It didn’t but I came to understand we all have our inner struggles, and by just being supportive we can make a difference.
I kept writing bits and pieces all the way through. Concentrated on short stories but still had the characters from my novel popping up in my head. I had to visually represent them.
I’d previously learnt to draw and dabbled in oils but I wasn’t truly satisfied with the results. That’s when I turned to digital art to see what I could do. It suited my style. I love to grab images, often random - my subconscious obviously telling me which ones, then layering them. I’d often end up with happy accidents just like in watercolour As well as flops.
I have now revisited my original novel and am revising, adding new aspects. But will I finish?