Subverting the writing rules and risking being misunderstood - a soda bread with seeds to prove not everything is what it first looks like
Last week saw me finishing the first draft on my current wip. It's the second volume on an epic fantasy trilogy - a genre I've often wanted to tackle, have attempted and given up, as I seemed to be distracted by other shiny new ideas, including a mystery novel, a vampire series and a dark urban fantasy trilogy. The elusive epic fantasy was left behind inside a forgotten folder, in all its (non) glory. I opted for writing and publishing in English, in order to reach a wider audience - so sue me! - and the epic fantasy was in Portuguese, hence the dismissal. I've also gone off dragons big way, and yes, you guessed it, it was a dragon story... But the thing is, that little bug of the epic fantasy novel, has always been inside me. From an early age, that has always been the thing I've wanted to write. I've mentioned it before, and say it again. The seed was there from my childhood days, my early teens, but got stronger when I was fifteen and listened to a certain Iron Maiden album that has sparked the idea for the story I'm now commiting to paper. It's a story I've mused on and plotted in my head since I was sixteen and jotted down the first few foundations of it - none of the original cast of characters remained, nor did the world it was set on, but the main idea is still there, and the main goal also. It's just suffered the changes time and age are bound to bring. Last year, I decided it was about time to try and write it. I tackled book one and part of book two during 2018, right after having finished writing the dark urban fantasy and a paranormal historical fantasy series, so to say my brain was tired is putting it mildly.
Still, I was ready and eager for it. And am quite satisfied with how it's turning out. More than satisfied, I'm bloody proud of it. Despite having amassed every single faux pas in the epic fantasy department into one single series. Because half way through writing it, I decided to read a lot of blogs on fantasy novel writing. And they all said pretty much the same things. How awkward it was to realise I had done all the things those blogs told you not to do. For instance, I used a Norse setting, in my world building. Well, not vikings and what not, but there's a trace of that. Worse, I used Finland as major inspiration - and one particular blog stated no one wants to read crap like that anymore! But everyone knows I have this thing for the land of a thousand lakes, and frankly, a thousand lakes (or thereabout) were necessary for my storyline. Then there's a chosen one (I can seel the eye roll from here). Ugh, not another prophecy bound young bloke who is destined to save the world because a seer said so! Sorry, not sorry, but yes. A prophecy exists, named the bloke as the only one who could save the world, and he is the chosen one because the seer said so. You don't really think it's as simple as that, do you? Prophecies can be other than that, it depends on how you interpret them... But I guess the worse no-no I managed was - besides having a large-ish cast of characters and several POV's (apparently you can only do this if you're George R.R. Martin, according to writing advice blogs) - naming the characters similarly! Yes! I have done that (I can see the horror stricken faces from here). Suffice to say they're a family of eight siblings and their parents were oddly unimaginative where it came to names, so they all sound alike and are written alike. Although it was done on purpose, I am well aware this is one of the things certain types of readers will pick on and point out as a writing no-no, therefore naming me a lousy writer and the book utter crap. Aside the immensitude of other 'bad' things I threw into this storyline - unlikeable characters, men who demean women, sexism and what not, people who come into sudden magical powers and actually know how to use them, you name it. I did it all and it was quite consciously. I know I'll get heat for it.
The fact is, I don't think I'll ever publish this series, at least under my own name. The fact is, I do feel a lot of readers have a very hard time differenciating a character's behaviour and beliefs from the author's morals and lifestyle. If my characters are conceited arseholes who treat women as their property or a minor thing they can use and dispose of, doesn't immediately mean this is what I believe in. Then why would you write that? you ask. First, because these people exist. Second, because it's part of the world building, the context in which the characters grew up, what they were taught, what they were allowed to believe. Third, because I get tired of perfect characters out there, those who can do no wrong and are immediately loveable and relateable. I want to push myself and actually write characters I can't relate to, in a way to force myself into other mindsets, other beliefs, other morals. I want to expand my mind and my knowledge, and I want to explore the immense spectrum of thought that humanity has. I want to start by not quite liking my characters, but diving so deeply into them that I begin to see where they come from, why they are how they are, why they act like that, why they believe those things. And then I want to fall in love with these characters. If I manage to make readers love them too, that's a plus. But I want to explore their flaws, their failings, I want to get inside their head, where they believe to be right, where they believe they are the good guys, where they believe they're the heroes of their own stories. Every villain is the hero of their own story, I once read, and this line resonated so much in me. So I wanted to write the villain's own story. And I have fallen in love with it. Even though there's all these tropes and cliches and writing faux pas in my book, I do think I've twisted them round enough to make something new. If anyone else but me understands this, it's a bonus!
Like this bread. You'd think this is a complicated, labouring kind of bread, the kind that has to proof for days, or be kneaded until you can no longer feel your arms. And you'd be wrong. This is a basic soda bread recipe, pimped up by the use od seeds and loaf tin. It looks amazing, it tastes amazing, and yet, it was simple and easy to bake. It's not quite what you'd think at first sight, and I like to believe that's what happens with my books. But here's how you can get this delightful bread done:
- 250 gr flour
- 100 gr oatmeal
- 50 gr mixed seeds
- 1 tsp soda bicarbonate
- 1 level tsp salt
- 2 natural yogurts
- 50 ml buttermilk
- 1 small cup of seeds - we have a pack of mixed seeds but you can use whatever you prefer
Start by preparing the buttermilk in advance, fifteen minutes in the least, by mixing a dash of cider vinegar or lemon juice to 50 ml of milk. Once it's ready, turn on your oven at 190º. On a large bowl, mix the flours and the grains with the salt and the bicarbonate. Prepare the buttermilk, yogurt and egg mix by beating the egg lightly and then adding it to the yogurts and the buttermilk, mixing the lot thoroughly. Now, with the help of a fork, whisk the wet mix into the flour mix and stir everything together. Once it starts to come together, lightly flour your hands and a cold working surface and pour the batter onto it. Pat together until you form a rough ball, but do not knead it. Transfer the dough onto a loaf tin lined with parchment paper and flour, and sprinkle the seeds over the surface, pushing them slightly into the dough. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about forty to forty five minutes. Allow it to rest at room temperature before attempting to take it off the tin, then you're good to go, dive in and be happy!