The Bare Necessities – Anne Barwell

The theme for this month’s blog comes from a friend at work. Thanks, Louise. She asked: how much time (book time) do you put in towards the everyday necessities like eating and sleeping? Characters need to eat and sleep, but how much of them doing that needs to be shown in the story?

The short answer is that it depends on the book. For a contemporary story set in our world a lot of those details can be skimmed over, as readers already know how that kind of thing works here, although I might include something local to a specific region depending on setting. For example in Sunset at Pencarrow Lou Sylvre and I had Nate and Rusty eating lamingtons and other local New Zealand fare.

As a writer I often need to figure out where the characters sleep and what they eat in order to ensure the continuity of my timeline. However, the final decision about whether those details making it into the book usually depends on whether they’re necessary to the plot and drive the story forward, or slow it down. Often it’s a thin line between the two.

For an historical, especially if the characters are doing a road trip, it can be a little more difficult working out the details of these everyday necessities. For example, if they’re being pursued across occupied Europe during WWII, they’ll need to find somewhere safe to stay and a way to find the food they need.

Buying food could be a problem especially if the area is under surveillance, and whatever they eat needs be accurate for the setting and time period. In Winter Duet Michel and Kristopher spent the night in a barn on a bed of straw after sharing a meal of Eintopf—thick stew full of beans and spicy sausage—with the older couple who own the farm. Later at another safe house, the meal is stew again but this time out of a tin. Being war time tea and coffee isn’t readily available either, and often what passes for it isn’t very palatable.

With that book being partly a road trip across Germany in 1944, I also needed to figure out where they could sleep without risk of being arrested. Keeping in mind what was going on at the time was important too as Germany was being bombed by the Allies. Having them staying in a town that had been destroyed a few days beforehand wouldn’t have worked very well. Instead I had them at ground zero taking shelter in an abandoned apartment building and sleeping on the floor when the bombs dropped. This helped to drive the story as they needed to get out of there quickly and find somewhere to shelter until the raid was over.

Coffee caused more of a problem than I thought it would in
Shades of Sepia
. Ben, a New Zealander, is working in a cafe in the fictional city of Flint, Ohio. Here in New Zealand, we’d go into a cafe and ask for a flat white. That doesn’t work in the U.S. Ben explains:

I had no idea serving coffee could be so complicated.” He’d referred to coffee with creamer his first day on the job as a flat white. The woman had looked at him blankly and asked why he was talking about house paint. In hindsight, he should probably be thankful he hadn’t handed her the coffee and called it a straight black.

On the subject of coffee, it’s weird that many of my characters are fixated on it, yet I don’t drink it at all.

If anyone else has topics or questions they’d like answered in future blog posts—within reason and I reserve the right to avoid spoilers—I’d love to hear from you.

This month—25 Ocotober-22 November—at Authors Speak we’re offering a rafflecopter giveaway. For more information, check out the post here.

The Protagonist’s Journey

Hi, it’s Anne Barwell and this month’s Authors Speak blog is also my blog post for the Virtual Fantasy Con I’m attending in October.

The organisers had a few interesting topics to choose from, but the protagonist’s journey appealed to me for several reasons. As with all the different genres I read, the thing that makes or breaks a story for me is the characters. Characters and their story is also a big part of the reason I write.

To quote one of my favourite authors—Ursula K. Le Guin: “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”

Within the fantasy genre, a protagonist’s journey can take place on several levels. While they often journey to strange and new lands they haven’t been to before, there is also the potential for internal change. Sometimes the two don’t need to go hand in hand. A character can find new depths within themselves they didn’t know about simply because they view their surroundings in a new and different way. Or find a world within their own they didn’t know existed.

Finding those worlds, or rediscovering our own, is one of the reasons I love reading and writing urban and contemporary fantasy.

Imagine discovering that amongst the world you thought you knew, there are vampires, werewolves and the like. This is what happens to Ben, one of the protagonists, in Shades of Sepia. Although he leaves his native New Zealand, he doesn’t find himself in an alternate world but, shortly after arriving in the United States, discovers that not only are vampires and werewolves real, but most of the myths he’s read about them aren’t exactly true. These vampires walk in sunlight and hold down regular jobs. Ben needs to not just adjust to a different viewpoint of this world but soon finds himself a part of it.

Joss Whedon says that “you take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they are.”

That quote embodies the other reason I love the fantasy genre. It gives great opportunities to take people and throw them into situations where they have to find a part of themselves they didn’t know existed—or have tried to ignore—in order to survive.

Another world existing alongside our own is the theme behind portal fantasies. This subgenre uses the familiar as a stepping stone to take the protagonist on a journey to another world. I really enjoyed exploring this idea with my Hidden Places series, and took it one step further.

Tomas is a writer searching for the sequel to a book he’s sure exists. He’s miffed that the main characters in his favourite fantasy story didn’t get their happy ending. He meets Cathal and the lines between fantasy and reality are very quickly blurred with life imitating fiction. Or is it vice versa? Tomas is very much someone who keeps to himself at the beginning of the story. He’s been hurt a few too many times so he figures it’s safer if he doesn’t let anyone in. However, he’s soon forced into a situation where he needs to take a leap of faith, and find a part of himself he didn’t think existed in order to secure his own happy ending.

The protagonist’s journey can also result in a physical as well as an emotional change. High fantasy set in a land other than ours is a wonderful playground in which to explore that theme. In A Knight to Remember I wanted to play with the idea that not all heroes step onto the page knowing exactly what they’re doing. In the traditional quest story the hero often goes hunting for a relic and kills a magical beast such as a dragon along the way. This isn’t what happens to Aric, crown prince of Astria. His view of the world is quickly upset when he’s confronted by a dragon after he’s been told all his life they are extinct. Then he’s sent on a quest to find a sword, but isn’t told its purpose, just that it will save his kingdom. Where’s the fun of having something that comes with instructions? Finding the sword isn’t the end of his quest. Instead it raises far more questions than it answers. Aric—and his companion Denys—must find something hidden within themselves and learn to embrace it to save themselves and Astria. They’re only just embarking on their journey and I’m looking forward to writing the rest of it as the series progresses.

I love writing series as they provide a wonderful backdrop for a more complex storyline, and the opportunity to build upon the protagonist and his journey.

Who are your favourite protagonists in fantasy fiction, and what it is about their journey that draws you into their story?

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.

Anne’s books have received honorable mentions four times and reached the finals three times in the Rainbow Awards. She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical.

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