An author’s messy mind

The eternal question: “Where do you get the ideas to everything you write in your books?”… We can never quite answer it, can we? At least I can’t, not off the top of my head. But today, as a special treat as I kick off my blog again (yay! streamers and party horns!), I’m going to give it a serious try. I’m going to go through a whole page of a fanfic I wrote last summer and tell you all about my inspiration for it!

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First, the section I’m going to dissect. We’re on a battle field where God and Satan are fighting it out for the wooing rights of humanity, but our heroes (Papa and Special) are just unwitting pawns in the celestial battle – as they’re about to become aware…

Orange-tinted clouds roil overhead. Bats and ravens circle the swaying silhouettes of trees. Dust swirls in dense pillars, and bright patches of light appear and disappear on the helmets of soldiers. Sparks fly from clashing swords, and the air reverberates with thunder and the whizzing of spears.

All the church bells across the globe are tolling. Every tower of prayer is echoing with proclamations, every cymbal, every drum that calls its disparate congregations together are resounding in an unsupervised cacophony. Nobody at the helm, no one to keep the pace. Voices like choirs, like the dead howling in Hades. The clash of weapons and shields, it’s a din never heard. The air quivers with sulphur and salt, with smoke and blood.

Papa stumbles over the fallen, sword heavy in his hand. Back to back with Special, he parries the blows from monster-faced angels bearing down on them, keening blades flickering with celestial fire. Around them, demons release their giant ballistas to send iron arrows zinging through the sky, ripping through feather and fabric. Bows are smashed, wings are torn. The angels nock and release at a furious pace, slicing through demon skin, spearing their bleeding husks into the ground.

Zhiiinggg, one sharp arrowhead slices Special’s arm, and blood wells from a superficial wound. He clutches it, face contorted by exhaustion and pain, and Papa grabs him by the lapel, an echo of the ritual – how safe and fake that moment was compared to this! “You need to keep your feet. You need to be prepared when –”

He gets no further. A sound reverberates over the hills, and the air brightens to the point of blindness. They raise their arms and shield their eyes, but this is no earthly light that can be so easily warded off. It is a light that shrieks, a sound that descends in a searing halo – the electric storm that once brought the God-seed from heaven to hearth, from the clouds to close quarters, impregnating the very first victim of their creed. The Holy Ghost.

Papa has the time to see dismay shatter Special’s face – there is no way he can defeat that, ordinary man that he is. Now, in this moment, he realizes that the devotion he’s known means nothing. The swaying hands in auditoriums, the raptured faces – they may have seen otherworldly power in him, but he’s still a mortal, still a mere earthly soul with a penetrable husk, and the Holy Ghost is pure aether. Its gaze incinerates, its breath corrodes.

He’s defenceless against it.

A giant wolf comes bounding out of the light, the Devil himself on its back. “I’ll take you to him.” He grabs Papa by the scruff of his neck and pulls him up. Wait, Papa tries to scream, but the wind stops the sound. His throat fills to bursting, his protest a chokehold of air.

Special…

He turns and looks at him, at his minuscule form receding behind them. Alone, a puny blade in his hand, the Holy Ghost descending on him in sparks of white and blue. This is his moment, this is his chance, but it will be his last.

And Papa has his own enemy to defeat. The battlefield rushes past, death and destruction a mere red blur. The Devil drops him off on a desolate spot, far from the fighting. “Make me proud.” The sword is fitted anew into Papa’s hand, the vow is spoken. The time has come to fulfil his mission – but why? Special won’t be there when he’s done.

This is the end of his tether.

Turning heavily, he stands face to face with the Son.

“And so we have come to this.” It’s a sigh on the wind, barely a voice at all. It’s the weariness of eons in auditive form, and the brown eyes in that well-known face are tired beyond resignation.

Okay. Let’s look at the thought process behind all this. I’ll repost bits and pieces and comment after them:

Orange-tinted clouds roil overhead. Bats and ravens circle the swaying silhouettes of trees. Dust swirls in dense pillars, and bright patches of light appear and disappear on the helmets of soldiers. Sparks fly from clashing swords, and the air reverberates with thunder and the whizzing of spears.

The whole description of the battle – and indeed the idea to have a battle between heaven and hell in the first place (you know, apart from the Bible…) – is based on a vague memory of the battle in The Amber Spyglass, the final book in the Golden Compass series. But I sort of felt something was missing there, so I wanted to make my own version. And I did!

All the church bells across the globe are tolling. Every tower of prayer is echoing with proclamations, every cymbal, every drum that calls its disparate congregations together are resounding in an unsupervised cacophony. Nobody at the helm, no one to keep the pace.

Since the fic is based on a band, music and sounds play a big part in the imagery too. Here the context is also religious, hence the church bells etc. The idea is that the world has been abandoned by both God and Satan. As if they’re conductors of a global orchestra but have left it to set both pace and harmony by itself. So I guess it’s my childhood, spent/misspent in concert halls, that gave me the inspiration.

Voices like choirs, like the dead howling in Hades.

Haha, “the dead howling in Hades”… that was nicked verbatim from an early review of a Rush concert. I don’t support the sentiment, but the alliteration and the imagery work.

The air quivers with sulphur and salt, with smoke and blood.

More alliteration. Sometimes I just like the feel of words. Of course, sulphur and smoke is pretty straightforward Hell stuff, but salt got included because it makes me think of sweat. Also it refers back to an earlier part of the story where Papa and Special “embrace in salt and blood”. I’ll leave you to your deductions…

Papa stumbles over the fallen, sword heavy in his hand.

This is Shakespeare’s Henry V – specifically Branagh’s version where the English king struggles through the mud with heavy armour and weapons, seeing his soldiers and boys fallen.

Back to back with Special, he parries the blows from monster-faced angels bearing down on them, keening blades flickering with celestial fire. Around them, demons release their giant ballistas to send iron arrows zinging through the sky, ripping through feather and fabric.

Ripping through feather – that’s an image from Elfquest, where a winged elf’s wing is penetrated by a thick arrow… actually now I think about it, the whole scene here is probably inspired by the Elfquest battle for the palace of the High Ones. I didn’t realize that until now! Even the back to back fighting is from those scenes.

Bows are smashed, wings are torn. The angels nock and release at a furious pace, slicing through demon skin, spearing their bleeding husks into the ground.

Here the angels have taken archery lessons from Legolas in The Two Towers – he was pretty deft with that bow. 🙂 The demons are basically orcs in my mind… and their skin is like charred sausages.

Zhiiinggg, one sharp arrowhead slices Special’s arm, and blood wells from a superficial wound. He clutches it, face contorted by exhaustion and pain, and Papa grabs him by the lapel, an echo of the ritual – how safe and fake that moment was compared to this! “You need to keep your feet. You need to be prepared when –”

The onomatopoeic sound of the arrow is another Elfquest thing, or comic books/graphic novels in general, but Elfquest specifically is my jam. 🙂

He gets no further. A sound reverberates over the hills, and the air brightens to the point of blindness. They raise their arms and shield their eyes, but this is no earthly light that can be so easily warded off.

The Two Towers again, and Gandalf arriving at the top of the hill – but here a bit more sinister and also influenced by… what? I’m unsure. A blinding, evil light… Actually I don’t know where that comes from. Another film?

It is a light that shrieks, a sound that descends in a searing halo

The idea to blur the lines between the senses comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I see a voice: now will I to the chink / To spy an I can hear my Thisby’s face.” But this specific image is also taken from Jonna Jinton, who once described the bright light in hotel bathrooms as “screaming in her eyes”.

– the electric storm that once brought the God-seed from heaven to hearth, from the clouds to close quarters, impregnating the very first victim of their creed.

Here the priority was to create alliteration and tweak existing phrases like “heaven and earth” to be slightly different, and also to turn the idea of the blessed virgin on its head.

Papa has the time to see dismay shatter Special’s face – there is no way he can defeat that, ordinary man that he is. Now, in this moment, he realizes that the devotion he’s known means nothing. The swaying hands in auditoriums, the raptured faces – they may have seen otherworldly power in him, but he’s still a mortal, still a mere earthly soul with a penetrable husk, and the Holy Ghost is pure aether. Its gaze incinerates, its breath corrodes.

This is inspired by the film Frost/Nixon, where Jack Brennan says: “Well, in boxing, you know, there’s always that first moment, and you see it in the challenger’s face. It’s that moment that he feels the impact from the champ’s first jab. It’s kind of a sickening moment, when he realizes that all those months of pep talks and the hype, the psyching yourself up, had been delusional all along. You could see it in Frost’s face. If he didn’t know the caliber of the man that he was up against before the interview started, he certainly knew it halfway through the President’s first answer.”

A giant wolf comes bounding out of the light, the Devil himself on its back.

This is lifted from a Ghost song, Mummy Dust: “I was carried on a wolf’s back, to corrupt humanity.”

“I’ll take you to him.” He grabs Papa by the scruff of his neck and pulls him up. Wait, Papa tries to scream, but the wind stops the sound. His throat fills to bursting, his protest a chokehold of air.

Have you ever ridden on a rollercoaster? That’s the feeling I’m trying to convey here. I can’t breathe at those speeds, so that very physical sensation is the basis of this description.

He turns and looks at him, at his minuscule form receding behind them. Alone, a puny blade in his hand, the Holy Ghost descending on him in sparks of white and blue. This is his moment, this is his chance, but it will be his last.

My mental image here was a typical fantasy novel cover, where the tiny hero with his sword faces an overpowering enemy: a dragon, a balrog…

And Papa has his own enemy to defeat. The battlefield rushes past, death and destruction a mere red blur. The Devil drops him off on a desolate spot, far from the fighting. “Make me proud.” The sword is fitted anew into Papa’s hand, the vow is spoken. The time has come to fulfil his mission – but why? Special won’t be there when he’s done.

Somehow soldiers in films always end up away from the hubbub so we can hear and see properly, don’t they? And I’m not one to change a winning concept.

This is the end of his tether.

Of course, the phrase “end of your tether” is a commonplace, but I took it (and the connotations it carries for me) from Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams, with its symbolically tethered iguana. That play is the reason why I remember the phrase at all. Not that I understood much of it – I was maybe fifteen and saw a great production with Frances Barber – but I was a bit young to get all the subtext, I think. No matter: some things stick anyway.

“And so we have come to this.” It’s a sigh on the wind, barely a voice at all. It’s the weariness of eons in auditive form, and the brown eyes in that well-known face are tired beyond resignation.

The sigh on the wind comes from the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, where the army of the dead are released from their vow and vanish on the air…

So there you have it. A lifetime of media consumption, sprinkled with a couple of personal experiences. That’s what makes a novel – or in this case a fanfic.

3 thoughts on “An author’s messy mind

  1. fernando

    hello Ingela, first of all, say hello and congratulate you for your return, I could not believe it until I entered directly into the link…

    and wow… just an overwhelming surprise when you explain your inspirations…
    It’s really like that, when I read your explanations, I remembered an interview with the director Igmar Bergman, called “Island Bergman”, (on Faro Island, Cinema and Life by Marie Nyrerod), where he talks about his inspiration in the movies, inspired by multiple personal facts and novels, his existential, metaphysical and personal concerns, as well as his own demons, all that he captured in his films…

    you really have a lot of talent…
    I’m glad you’re back on the blog, and have news of you and your husband again.

    a hug from a distance, fernando.

    Like

    Reply
      1. fernando

        hahaha… good decision, do not take it as false flattery, is that while I read your ramblings, I do not know why, immediately remember that report to Ingmar Berman, if you have a time, I would recommend that you could see it.
        Is not it hard to realize that I like his movies? Ha ha ha…
        Greetings, fernando.

        Liked by 1 person

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