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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Stranger in a Stranger Land: Guest Blogger: Anne Barwell

So this was supposed to go up yesterday. But due to my actual life getting thoroughly in the way the last week, it didn't. I'm a horrible person. Anne is a wonderful, patient kind person who never says a bad thing about me or any body else even when she ought to. Please read further to make up for me being an asshat. - Real Life Dean


Thanks, Dean, for the opportunity to be here today J

One of the themes I enjoy reading and writing in fantasy and science fiction is that of a stranger in a strange land. I enjoy the 'fish out of water' scenario in which a character finds himself out his depth in either a land or situation in which he is totally unfamiliar. Half the fun of this scenario is him trying to work out what is going on, and the other half is him coming to the conclusion that what he thought was reality needs a healthy dose of adjustment.

The theme runs with the theory of suspension of disbelief, but with a twist. When viewing or reading science fiction/fantasy, the audience has to be prepared to ignore what they think is 'reality' and believe dragons, vampires or werewolves exist. That's why world building within the genre is so important, and why the 'science' or 'magic' within it needs to follow its own set of rules.

Continuity goes a long way in making something believable. For example if I make up a world in which dragons cannot fly, I can't have a dragon show up three chapters later that can fly. Not unless I have a very good reason as to why this particular dragon can break the rules. Readers tend to notice things like that, and if annoys me as a reader, I'm certainly not going to do it when I'm writing.

But, getting back to the idea of a stranger in a strange land... Suddenly our hero's conceptions of reality are pulled out from under him and it is a scary thing. Even someone who is very capable can flounder when faced with a situation in which none of the rules he's had instilled into him since he can remember still work. Or they might, but with a major adjustment. Arthur C. Clarke once said that 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'. But if thrown in the deep end and with no clue as to how that advanced technology might work, what happens then, especially if the inhabitants of that world refer to their 'technology' as magic?

In order to survive the hero needs to 'go with the flow' and pick it up as he goes along. Opening his mind to possibilities is a good start, and the growing realisation that perhaps his favourite quote about magic and science isn't as simple as he thought.

This is the very situation Tomas from my Hidden Places series finds himself in. He quotes Clarke in a couple of places in the story but the reality of it is somewhat different. In the first book Cat's Quill he meets Cathal, a mysterious man who is a mix of 'old fashioned and other worldly'. Cathal does not know of many things Tomas takes for granted and speaks of the past as though it was only a short time ago. The truth of Cathal's origins is very much outside Tomas's perception of reality. After following Cathal into another world, Tomas is forced to accept the truth, but it's another matter trying to persuade other people that he isn't losing his mind. Telling a friend that a cat isn't really a cat but―sorry, that's a spoiler ;)...

And really for Tomas, that's just the tip of the iceberg. But, after floundering and struggling to get his mind around the existence of magic, and that things work differently in Cathal's home world of Naearu, Tomas decides to trust the man he loves, and go with the flow, relying on his new friends to guide him through their strange land. Even amongst all the weirdness and him being completely out of his depth there's still one thing that holds true and is more important... He loves Cathal and losing him is not an option so he will do whatever it takes to make sure they both survive. Some things are universal no matter what world you're in, and although this world might be unlike anything he's used to, it's part of who Cathal is and where he comes from, so Tomas is not about to turn his back on it and run back to the way things were. It's the right decision, and the only way he's going to survive his new outlook on life, even if it's fraught with danger and plenty of 'you can't be serious' moments.

But that's half the fun of being a stranger in a strange land isn't it? 

Blurb: Cat's Quill (Book 1 in Hidden Places series)
Tomas Kemp has two successful novels to his name and the true belief that a successful sequel is only a matter of a little inspiration. When Tomas meets a mysterious stranger under the branches of an old oak tree, he feels compelled to tell him about a book he holds dear and the sequel he wants to read. But Cathal doesn’t share that deep belief that the sequel Tomas seeks ends happily. Cathal has seen enough of a world where stories are real to know that happy ever after is sometimes the dream that won’t come true.
But stories have never let Tomas down, and as he follows Cathal across the reality shift between their worlds, he learns that Cathal is right: Happy ever after is never just given—but sometimes, it can be fought for and won.
Cathal wiped his palms on his trousers and then turned the page of the journal back and forth, his eyes scanning the words again. “Maybe I could help?” he suggested. “Can you tell me what the story is about so I can get more of an idea of what this kiss should, er… involve?”
“Involve?” Tomas’s voice sounded strained to his own ears. He coughed, clearing his throat before speaking again. “Umm, it’s about a writer who meets someone he thinks might be a muse.”
“I see.” Cathal nodded slowly. “Why does he think that?” He edged closer to Tomas, the book still balanced carefully on his lap.
“He’s drawn to this person he’s not long met.” The explanation sounded somewhat weak now that Tomas had to actually explain it to someone else. “It’s like they have a connection….”
“Like Alan and Roger in your other book?” Cathal frowned. “That doesn’t explain why—” He checked the name. “—Deimos might be a muse though, but then I haven’t read enough.”
Tomas opened his mouth to explain more, how Deimos seemed to appear and disappear out of thin air, how he seemed otherworldly, how Mark kept thinking about him all the time. Cathal placed one hand on Tomas’s knee, his breath warm against Tomas’s face. “Cat? What are you doing?”
“I’m getting into character.” Cathal reached over and brushed Tomas’s hair from his face. “You’re a writer, so you need to be Mark. That leaves me the role of the muse.” His voice was barely a whisper. “This scene is too good for it to be abandoned like the other one.” His eyes dropped to the page and back again. He licked his lips, his fingers tightening on Tomas’s knee. Tomas’s breath hitched.
“Yes, it is.”He swallowed again, reaching out his own hand to caress Cathal’s cheek, echoing Mark’s actions in his book. “I don’t want you to leave,” he whispered, his words following the script, his heart speeding up.
Cathal closed his eyes as he followed Tomas’s cue, slipping into a role that could have been written for him. “I think I’m in love with you,” he murmured.
Their lips brushed together, tentatively, awkwardly. Tomas pulled away, unsure, his breathing growing ragged, Cathal’s skin warm under his fingers, soft but for the slight stubble across his lower cheek, blond facial hair almost invisible. Tomas leaned in again, his lips parting this time in invitation as he pressed their mouths together. Cathal moaned softly, opening his own lips, leaning into it, his fingers threading through Tomas’s hair.
Wet skin, soft and inviting, tasting of coffee and something else Tomas could only describe as uniquely Cathal. It felt right, better than anything Tomas could have imagined. He whimpered, pulling Cathal to him, convincing himself for that moment they weren’t play acting, that this was real, that the man in his arms was someone who loved him.
The need to breathe drove them apart. Cathal’s eyes opened with a start, searching Tomas’s. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Don’t be.” Tomas traced Cathal’s lips with his fingers, committing the scene to memory, allowing himself a photograph he realized he wanted frozen in his mind forever. “I’m not.”

A little about Anne....
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing "discussion," and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as "too many." These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of "spare time" is really just a myth. Livejournal Link



  1. Sounds good! I love a story within a story -- this is going on my Wish List. :)


    1. Thanks, Charley. That was my favourite parts about writing it, the story within the story.

  2. Thanks for hosting me, Dean :) and for the kind comments.

  3. Anne, wonderful post. I've always loved that quote from Arthur C. Clarke, which is actually one of my email "signatures." Another that comes to mind when I think of Cathal an Tomas--a book I loved by the way--is actually Woody Allen, who truthfully isn't one of my fave celebrities. "There is no question that there is an unseen world. The question is how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?" Anyway, this is a great post. Enjoyed it, and thought the "but that's a spoiler" was very tricky.

    Dean, don't demean yourself, even in jest. Life happens. Thanks for putting up this blog!

    1. Thanks, Lou. I must admit to having watching a little too much Dr Who of late in regard to the spoiler thing. To quote River Song 'spoiler sweetie'.

      Speaking of Woody Allen, have you seen Midnight in Paris? If you haven't, you should. Absolutely loved it.