Jodi Taylor on surviving Cardiff Comic Con

12065486_572493439568125_2619137809296327011_nSorry there’s been such a long gap since my last post – as most of you know, I’ve been to Cardiff Comic Con and what an exhilarating and exhausting experience that turned out to be.

Firstly, thanks to all the people who turned up at our table, introducing themselves and wanting to chat. It was lovely to meet you all and talk about favourite books and characters in the series. It really does seem that everyone takes something different from The Chronicles of St Mary’s.

Secondly – every other person was in costume and they were all amazing. There were Dr Who’s – in every incarnation – together with Daleks, Cybermen, and Weeping Angels. There was every12190103_572493426234793_8529426770089438988_n conceivable character from Star Wars and Star Trek (and unlike Penny in The Big Bang Theory, I do know the difference!) Interestingly, most of the Spocks were women and a significant number of Princess Leias were men. If anyone has any theories as to why that should be so … Game of Thrones was popular and there were several people who’d either come as Transformers or had collided with the contents of their cutlery drawers!

What was most noticeable was the friendliness and enthusiasm of everyone there. A great time was obviously being had by all – even the six-month-old Caped Crusader, beaming at everyone from his dad’s arms and wearing his tiny Batman socks.

Anyway, I arrived home and spent the next few days recovering. I have absolutely no recollection of Wednesday at all. I think I missed it completely. That, my hideous cold and the fact that PEOPLE HAVE BEEN MUCKING AROUND WITH THE CLOCKS AGAIN are all contributing to my already very slender grasp on who and where I am and what’s going on. I suspect that this year it will take even more chocolate than usual to see me through.

I wrote all that last night when my life seemed a little less phlegm-philled than before. Buoyed up by this false dawn of recovery I sallied forth to yoga and spent a lot of time upside down and opening my chakras. Not simultaneously, obviously. Staggering back into the street several hours later with my sinuses blocked and my chakras gaping, I paused only for the traditionally healthy post-yoga treat of egg and chips and a Kit Kat before taking to my bed.

This may be my last blog ever. God knows what I have but it’s pretty nasty so it’s probably best if no one kisses their screens in fond farewell.

Farewell…

 

Did I grow up writing stories?

I wrote a few stories as a child. Mostly they dealt with grand themes such as giant robots taking over the earth. Everyone always died horribly at the end. At the age of ten, I wrote a story for a competition in ‘The Pony’ magazine, which was supposed to be about the future of the horse. In my story, the earth had suffered a nuclear apocalypse and everything had perished. I painted a moving picture of the last horse dying in the icy wind, guarding the body of her dead foal. It ended:

       Earth’s last horse was dead.     

       Earth was dead.

It didn’t win.

I entered a poetry competition at school – no, that’s not true. I was given to understand that failure to enter the poetry competition was not an option. The subjects were typically girlie – Clouds, Magic, Kittens – that sort of thing.

After not very much thought and even less interest, I came up with the following, thus doing for cannibalism what Hannibal Lechter did for flower arranging.

In the jungle dark and deep

A cannibal village lies asleep.

But there among the cooking pots

A man’s dead body hangs and rots.

With bones and blood all strewn around

The village sleeps without a sound.

And then, next morning, they awoke

And took the body down to soak

In blood, for over half an hour.

Then coated it in self-raising flour.

Then the women sat and licked it

But the rival village came and nicked it,

So that was the end of that.

 

A definite improvement in style over Earth Apocalypse, I think everyone will agree. Samuel Taylor Coleridge had Kubla Khan and I had The Cannibal Village. You can see how people would easily confuse the two.

I’d changed schools by this time so a completely different teacher was able to put a red line through my one and only poem and write  ‘See me’ at the bottom. I sometimes think the teaching profession was never grateful for the opportunities I offered them.

Most of my school essays were returned with ‘See me’ written at the bottom. Or occasionally at the top if they were particularly exasperated. I do remember having an entire story rubbed out by my form teacher – we wrote in pencil in those days – because, she said, it was full of slang and inappropriate language. It was my second year at junior school and I would have been seven or eight so I’m not sure entirely sure how inappropriate my language could have been. The story concerned a group of children forming a gang to rescue a donkey and she objected to ‘gangs’.

Out of a desire to be as irritating as possible, I put together a little something in which seven year old children spoke to each other in beautifully phrased, well-rounded and grammatically correct sentences (or as close as I could get at the age of eight) and with the vocabulary of the Poet Laureate.

She didn’t like that, either. I saw her again.

Mostly, however, it all went on inside my head – which I think we have already established is not a tremendously healthy place to foster ideas. I was far too impatient to sit down and physically write anything, so in my head it all stayed. And then I had to go to work. And then I had to work some more and it all just got buried.

It wasn’t until I painted that wall in Harrogate – and I really feel there should be some sort of plaque erected. Or a small statue, perhaps – that it all became too much to hold in any longer and I started to write, the results of which you see before you today.

So while it’s not true to say I’ve always written, I have always dreamed.

Jodi Taylor answers her fan question: Fact or Fiction?

You tend to pick some things out and describe them in detail – smells, weather, etc. Do you specifically try to base these on theories or do you make them up?

Yes and yes.

There – I think that answers that question!

Seriously, if I know the event I’m writing about takes place on a rainy day then I have to say so obviously, but from that moment on, a lot of it comes out of my head. Actually, that sounds quite unpleasant, but you know what I mean. When I wrote about the Great Library at Alexandria burning, I was actually there. How hot would it be? What would I smell? How easy would it be to see? To move? What hazards would there be? What could go wrong? What might go right – because, believe or not, sometimes that does happen. What are Max’s reactions to what is going on around her. What will she do next?

So yes, I was there when the roof came down and she was on fire. I was there when she was slowly roasting in her fire suit, unable to breathe properly, sweat stinging her eyes, panicking because her gloved hands couldn’t unfasten her smouldering suit. I was there.

Sorry – I do get carried away – be warned!

At the moment I’m writing about an event in which the weather conditions were the cause of the historical event, so at the moment, I’m looking at storm surges, flood defences, that sort of thing. Again, pages of notes will probably result in half a sentence, but that’s the way it goes. I will go on to try and establish some sort of framework. I’ll draw up a timeline, what happens to whom, when, and where they were when it happened. I’ll make a plan or map and work out how the characters move around. I’ll make sure, as best I can, that what I propose to do is feasible. Having then established a framework, I close my eyes and imagine the terror, confusion, devastation, the cold dirty water …

“The non-historical events that occur at St Mary’s, of course, are completely fictitious. Mostly. Although yes, I do know someone who did actually run into a horse’s bottom and it’s going to cost him a great deal of money to keep me quiet.”

1783758392This actually sums up what I’m trying to do for (and occasionally to) History. As I said in What Could Possibly Go Wrong, yes, we read about Joan of Arc in History books. The story always ends with – and she was burned at the stake in 1431, but that’s just a statement of fact. Dull, dry and boring. Close your eyes. What would it actually be like? How long does it take to burn a body? How did the people present react, always bearing in mind, of course, that our present day values and principles are not those of 1431. Events that would cause shock and horror today were treated much more casually then. Alternatively, of course, a throwaway joke that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow today could win you a fun weekend for one with the Inquisition and end in having your tongue cut out. A town under siege by William the Bastard (or Conqueror as he probably preferred to be known) thought it would be hilarious to poke fun at his less than noble origins. When the town eventually fell, he continued the joke by having their hands and feet cut off.

Back to Joan – sorry, I do wander. Doesn’t your heart go out to my editor? – I researched the event, dates, times, places, etc., drew up my timeline, built my framework, and then inserted Max and the other historians into the picture. From that moment on, my control over events tends to evaporate because, if I’ve done my job properly, everything should unfold in my head, one scene after another as I frantically scribble or type (depending on where I am) trying to get it all down before it dissolves like so much smoke in the wind. And it does. It only takes the telephone to ring, or a voice in the street and it’s gone. That happens heartbreakingly often.

The non-historical events that occur at St Mary’s, of course, are completely fictitious. Mostly. Although yes, I do know someone who did actually run into a horse’s bottom and it’s going to cost him a great deal of money to keep me quiet. The ideas usually shoot into my head while I’m having a bath. No, I don’t know why, either. Interesting material for someone with psychological qualifications, I should think. I keep a pad and pen on the toilet for these little moments and twenty minutes later, I’m sitting in cold, scummy water scribbling away, damp and wrinkled. And that’s just the notebook. My idea to keep a whiteboard in the bathroom was subject to serious mockery.

Does anyone know if there’s such a thing as waterproof paper?

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Jodi Taylor gets blogging!

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I’m a writer. You can tell by my vacant expression, the mountain of discarded chocolate wrappers, and my lack of social life.

However, these days, I’m an author, too. Let me go further – I’m an embossed author. Before anyone faints with admiration – although feel free if you wish – this only means that my name is embossed on the cover of my books. But – IN GOLD!

Anyway, last week as I was happily cursing my laptop for failing to remember my default font is Times New Roman, an email from my publishers, Accent Press – All Hail Accent Press! – thudded into my inbox. They’d had the happy thought that I might like to write a blog.

I have to say, I stared in perturbation for quite some time. I know I have a blog page somewhere, but it’s been years and I’d completely forgotten about it. I mean – why? I have a facebook page full of lovely people telling me how to get rid of ants, discussing who should play whom in the cracking film that Stephen Spielberg would undoubtedly make were he even slightly aware of my existence, and sending in photos of themselves at Comic Con.

Apparently, however, that’s not enough. I have to blog.

Self: I can’t remember how.

Accent: We’ll help.

Self: Aha! I don’t know my user name.

Accent: Here it is.

Self: I don’t know my passw-

Accent: Voila!

Self: But what would I blog about?

Accent: Anything.

Self: But nothing ever happens to me.

Accent: Um … you just went on a gulet cruise.

Self: But I was horribly seasick, fell down a flight of stairs, was eaten by a mosquito the size of a Cessna light aircraft and my shoulder is covered in suppurating blisters.

Accent: Exactly.

Self: Oh.

At this point, I should say that the gulet was beautiful, the food superb, the crew excellent and the scenery wonderful. It’s just that I don’t operate well when separated from my laptop and I’m not sure it would do my public image any good if that were widely known.

At this point, there was another Accent Intervention. Think Moses on Mt Sinai but slightly more impressive.

Accent: Here’s a list of appropriate subjects.

  1. How I was published.
  2. Where do I get my ideas from?
  3. How do I research?
  4. My writing process.

I’m still not convinced that making any of this information available to a breathless world is a good idea but I don’t want to upset Accent, because, according to the Accent Authors’ Dungeon Rota, I’m entitled to a thirty-second look out of the window the week after next and I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardise that.

I shall, therefore, put the kettle on, sit down with a Twix and consider the series of unfortunate events, mistakes, drunken lunches and serendipitous accidents that clutter ‘My Path to Publication,’ which will appear next week. Possibly in Times New Roman but more probably not. I don’t like to push my relationship with my laptop too far. I cursed it one time too many and it maliciously deleted the very nearly completed No Time Like The Past – all 75 thousand words of it. So I tread carefully…

Just as a matter of interest, does anyone remember Barbara Woodhouse and her choke chain? Is there anyone out there who could do the same for my laptop?

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