Saturday, August 18, 2012

Solresol lafi misilafa

....or in English: The language of magick.

I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe that there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything.

Then again, there is synchronicity, and whether you imagine a man with a beard driving the wheel, or the chaos of quantum physics peeling of an infinite set of universes at every turn, there are times when you have to stop and pay attention to events that are connected in fundamentally relevant ways.

This happened to me when I was searching for a language of magick for my book. About a year before I was published, I had stumbled onto the language of Solresol, a musical a priori language designed by François Sudre. It can be communicated through instruments, song, writing, or signing. I found the wikipedia article, and a few other resources hidden in strange corners of the web -- mostly from archived message boards from a time when the internet was still in training wheels.

Everything I found both frustrated and enchanted me. Frustrated, because the incomplete dictionary and rules of grammar were both in French.  Enticed, because the more I looked into solresol, the more perfect it became for my story.

I wanted a language that felt real. I wanted a language that could be written in something approaching runes, and that did not look like bastardised latin when spoken phonetically. (I'm looking at you Harry Potter) Solresol not only ticked these boxes, but gave me ideas I had not considered. Based on the do re mi fa so la ti notes we all love from Sound of Music, Solresol can be sung. What better way to cast a magick spell?

So I tried my best to translate even a simple command into solresol, using faded pdf scans of the dictionary, and stringing words together with what I understood of the grammar. But this taught me one thing. I am no linguist. Tolkien can have his elven tongue, I thought, and after many failed attempts I gave up any hope that solresol would be practical. I decided that I would have my book sans spell, and any time magick was used, it would be referred to, but not literally seen on the page. I was not happy about this, but felt I had no choice. 

And that's when I met Garrison. He was one of the few people I managed to track down who seemed to still be interested in the language, and through him I met others. We made a google group to try an consolidate resources, and then the brilliant Dan Parson came along and put everything in order at the current home of Solresol, 

This was almost a year ago to this day, and once I saw that Dan had coded a solresol translator, I knew it was a possibility again. But one thing had now changed. I had a publishing contract. I had a deadline.

And this is where I will be forever grateful to Garrison, who I have named honorary magician in the thankyous at the end of the Dragon and the Crow. I made a spreadsheet of all the magick spells in my book, along with my simple translation using the tool I linked to above. But that just gave me the words, it was Garrison who inserted the much needed grammar. 

The rest was history, until the other day, when I saw that I was getting a spike of blog traffic from reddit. I followed the link, and found that there is now a solresol sub reddit, and it's building members fast. As if that wasn't enough, a year to the day of the new website being online, with many updates coming thick and fast, there is an article about solresol on io9, one of my favourite SF sites on the web.

Synchronicity sometimes demands we pay attention. 

And so I am writing this, to say thank you to all the people who are helping revive an awesome language, and those special few who are helping me use it in my world.

For a comprehensive list of all the available solresol resources, visit

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Where do you get your ideas?

I did my first author visit to a high school the other week, and will be visiting another next Tuesday. This question came up then, and i'm sure it will come up again. It goes with the territory. The answer caught me out a little, as the truth is not that glamorous. The truth is, my Big Idea for the Dragon and the Crow came to me at a party when I was slightly drunk and very verbose. This is not a tale you can tell to a room full of 14 year olds. 

Then in a moment of that all too rare synchronicity, my publisher asks me to write something about my idea gestation for an extended bio on their website. 

It is time to get my story straight. 

Here is what I sent to my editor, and here is what I'll tell from now on whenever I am asked that horrible question, Where do you get your ideas?

They say write what you know -- except Stephen King who says write whatever you damn well please. I like King, but I like Alfred Bester better, and he said ‘The Book is the Boss’ which really says it all.

I didn’t always think this. At university I suffered through a creative writing course with assessment tasks like ‘write a poem from the perspective of an inanimate object.’ Aside from being an inanimate object myself for most of the time back then, my real problem was that I had turned my back on genre fiction, trying instead to be a ‘serious’ writer -- whatever that means. My poem then was from the perspective of a pencil, as that was the first inanimate object at hand (pun intended) and it was about as bad as you can imagine. Tormented pencil personifies the torment of the tormented writer. You get the idea.

Step back in time. I was thirteen and had written a story heavily influenced by Wizard of Earthsea, The Dark is Rising, and Sword of Shanarra, called ‘The Broken Sword,’ full of monsters magic and mystery. Compared to the pencil story it was Shakespeare, right down to the alliteration and unpronounceable names. Everyone loved it. My english teacher told me I was going to be a writer. Something had gone wrong.

Flash forward and I was at party, long after graduation, with three years of teaching, but no writing under my belt. My friends and I were talking about Robin Hobb’s brilliant Farseer trilogy, but always the pessimist, I was the single voice of disappointment. Perhaps the bitterness at my own inability to have a good idea had turned me sour on the genre I loved, but I could not help but point out how stupid it seemed that so many fantasy books were set in a faux medieval society where people somehow accepted that a)magic is real b)it is to be feared and not embraced. It seemed to me that whether you were a starving peasant or a powerful king, if magic is proven to exist, you’d want to get your hands on as much as possible. The premise in so many books relied on magic being a feared and scarce commodity -- despite all the evidence to the contrary.

My rant at the party went on a lot longer than this, encompassing all the tropes from bullied orphans with untapped power to evil overlords who wanted to kill everyone with their power. If i’d grown up with magic power, I gesticulated, I don’t think worrying about my family or the local bullies would have been high on my agenda. And furthermore, in all of human history the true evil ruler always wants more power, not destruction of the land they rule.  At the end my friend turned to me and said quietly and seriously, well why don’t you write one like that then.

It was the challenge I had both desired and feared since graduating. Somebody had finally called me out. There was really only one response that I could give. Okay then, I will (I like to think I ran away laughing maniacally after that,  but the truth is I found a quiet corner and started to think).

Flash forward to now and I have learned how and idea can turn into a book, and how book can rule your life. It is the boss, not the other way around. At that party I had imagined a boy with no magic living in a world of magicians, and thought the rest would be easy. Both the boy and the world demanded I work a little harder than that. It was after all, the genre that I loved, and once you start writing what you love, you don’t stop ‘til you drop.

And that was where the idea for The Dragon and the Crow came from. Now i’m writing the sequel. Don’t get me started on those.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012