Summer Reading Series at the Rose Theatre: 10 July 2013 Event

Frog Prince Communication

MFA student Vivienne Raper has been hard at work with several other students and the Rose Theatre in Kingston-upon-Thames to organise a brilliant series of public readings beginning on the 10th of July in the Rose Theatre’s Culture Cafe. The series will kick off with N M Browne reading on the theme of transformations. Short stories, poetry and other short forms of writing on this theme are welcomed from the public! Email vivienneraper@gmail.com to book your open mic slot or turn up on the day to see if there are still spaces left. Pieces should be no longer than 5 minutes in length.

Not to worry if you can’t make this event, there will be events in August, September and October with headline readers and Writers-in-Residence Kayo Chingonyi, Mark Barrowcliffe and MFA lecturer James Miller and open mic slots every month.

This is a wonderful opportunity to meet writers, get involved with Kingston Writing School and to get public exposure if you’re a writer, yourself!

Horror Divas

Alaa El Fadel is an MFA student who is currently working on a fantasy novel. Her blog, Mountain Quill, is where you can follow her journey on writing.

Although people say don’t judge a book by its cover, that’s exactly what I did when I spotted the Narnia chronicles in a bookstore. I thought the unicorn was pretty. I delved into a world of fantasy that mesmerised me. Ever since then, I wanted to create such worlds. Making up stories has been a passion, especially when it came to explaining report cards.

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Fear. Panic. Terror! Sound familiar? That’s what the horror genre used to do before the big monsters were tamed. Vampires, werewolves and zombies petrified the bravest of souls – that is until everyone wanted to date them. Well, except zombies, we can get over necrophilia and murder but rotting flesh is just disgusting.

So what happened? Looking back into the history of the genre, it is safe to say that horror started off in folklore. The superstitious collected unexplained experiences and melded them with cases of unfathomable, human cruelty. Diseases and mental conditions became curses, possessions, witchcraft and divine punishment. How else could anyone explain such things? It was those dang, meddling monsters! Or a deity was upset with you…shame on you.

Then what happened? Just like any ravenous beast with wild imaginings, writers lunged at the tales and Frankensteined them in their narratives. No longer counting on memory, the monster’s immortality evolved on stone, paper and finally, iPads. Yay. At one point, vampires were so feared that bodies were exhumed and staked for those better safe than sorry moments. The horror genre was born and soon obeyed the whims of mass interest; they had their ups and downs over the centuries, even more so when novels and movies partnered on the dance floor. Hollywood reigned in the latest hype when they produced movies like The Exorcist, Blade, Dawn of the Dead, Dog Soldiers, etc.  But who could ignore the literary stars who began or excelled the genre of dread? Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P.Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and many more.

But all was about to change in the land of blood and gore. The first instance I realised not all monsters were created equal was when the comic book character of Blade appeared on film. A half-vampire (Daywalker) who hunted other vampires? My writer’s brain got knocked over. No longer were heroes restricted to virtuous nobles or gifted underdogs, the monsters themselves practised human choice by slaying their kin. Japanese novelist, Hideyuki Kikuchi created compelling novels of a ‘young’ dhampir by the name of D. D travels the nuclear wastelands of 12,090 AD, where the vampire civilization rose and fell. Occupation – vampire hunter…for a hefty price off course. Those mechanical horses won’t oil themselves.

When vampires softened by refusing to ‘eat’ humans and opted for the vegetarian menu of blood substitutes or animals, sorry Bambi, their scare level dropped. Werewolves soon followed in The Sookie Stackhouse Novels by Charlaine Harris and the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. I missed the old monsters. It was a breath of fresh air to read, The Passage by Justin Cronin. Vampires were the lovely, blood-sucking monsters that would sooner rip your head off than give you a smooch. I went back to peacefully worrying about them creeping into my room in the dead of night. John Connolly didn’t disappoint either in, The Book of Lost things and his comedy horror, The Gates. Oh, those rascally demons and their possessings.

So what does this mean for horror? Pretty much anything. Genres shift and change along with people’s interests. Horror coupled with romance to birth ‘Paranormal Romance’ – its own little, gurgling sub-genre of joy. Although the diapers stink, it’s still a whole new adventure that’s going to grow up one day.

Failing at Figuring Out Fantasy

In a creative writing workshop a few years ago a friend of mine had finally worked up the courage to submit her newest piece.

“So what do we have for us today, Eleanor?” I remember our teaching asking.

“It’s a fantasy epic, about twin sisters learning how to harness their innate auras.”

Our teacher let out a long audible sigh. “Well,” he said, “At least it isn’t zombies.”

As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to conquer my literary biases. Most of the time it’s a simple matter of finding an author that speaks to the styles and themes that interest you. Even though I found most science fiction to be the equivalent of wading through countless metric tons of techno-babble, there is the rare author that can make me appreciate the inherent advantages that science fiction can give.

But the one egg I haven’t been able to crack is Fantasy. I’ve done my homework – I’ve read Lord of The Rings, dabbled in Harry Potter, even gave Game of Thrones a go. But even in the best of circumstances my response is always an abstract thought rather than a raw emotion. Scenes that have made my friends weep in Harry Potter leave me thinking “Well, that was competently written.” We are apparently on different wavelengths.

And that would be fine, except I like to give rational reasons for the way I feel. I recognize that a memoir is usually a solipsistic journey into the fraught world of internal conflict. Crime fiction appeals to so many of us because it usually posits a way to confront and deconstruct random chaos. Poetry is meant to hang around your mind for weeks on end, its meaning only revealing itself once your subconscious has wrestled it into submission.

But fantasy? I’m still left cold. I can objectively speak to questions of craft, of dramatic stakes, of giving thematic weight to fictonal landscapes. But subjectively? I am completely at a loss.

In discussing this with another writing friend, he noted that his reason for disliking fantasy (and most genre work) is that the trappings often become more important than the characters. Bad writing runs rampant in amateur workshops because people get hung up on the details instead of realizing that, say, there’s no dramatic conflict for the first twenty pages. And I’m willing to buy part of that argument, but even before I started showing up to workshops I had an innate dislike for the world of fantasy. Bad writing or not, my personal feelings towards the genre have very little to do with the fantasy writing (some good, some bad, and some excellent) I’ve seen in workshops.

So let’s try broadening out the question. For those who like to read fantasy, what part of it appeals to you?

Is it the focus on adolescent/teen empowerment? I fucking devour teen fiction (including the horrible stuff), but the second you give Johhny the ability to flick fireballs from his fingers my emotional reader just switches off.

Is it the ability to explore a world and society alien to ours? I somehow managed to make it through 1984’s longwinded historical section (if you’ve read it, you’ll know it) but found Lord of the Rings to be one of the most excruciating reads of my life. No, I do not care who this characters father, mother, and best friend were. Just get on with it, for chrissakes.

Or is it just about the inherent coolness in getting to shoot fireballs out of your fingertips? Is a love for fantasy tied to our childhood? Did I miss out because my mother used to hand me threadbare copies of Nancy Drew mysteries instead of  Pratchett’s Discworld?

One last note to further muddy the waters. This inability to connect with the fantasy genre extends to multiple mediums. Whether its Willingham’s Fables, NBC’s Grimm, orBethesda’s Skyrim my response mirrors the sigh my instructor once gave.

Rich, Alex, I know that this is your guy’s home turf. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why you write fantasy – what drew you towards it in the first place and what’s made you return to it again and again?

Oh, and I should probably mention – Not much a fan of zombies either, cultural zeitgeist be damned.

Steve Timberman

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