Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Friday, January 26, 2007

Samurai, Rain, Dinosaurs & Cake

Got a great e-mail from Paul Young, the illustrator whose work graces the cover of Winterbirth, in response to my mention of rain, and of Seven Samurai. It concludes:

'we went to the mountains in Snowdonia, and we climbed up a hillside for only twenty minutes, up in the lashing rain and wind, and the feeling was primeval, senses were alive, things half seen through the haze and torrent made me feel like I was in the final scene of some epic film, I felt alive. Yes, I agree, The Seven Samurai is my favourite film as well, because thats the feeling I have when I watch that final scene, I feel the rain.'

Exactly. Couldn't have put it better myself. Wild landscapes and wild weather, singly or together, create moments of great drama, exhilaration, liberation, even here in tame old Britain. And in fiction, the rainstorm at the end of Seven Samurai is an extraordinary, almost physical, presence on the screen, that draws you right in and puts you right there, at the side of the characters, in the mud and downpour and battle. (As Mark quite rightly points out in the comments on the last post, there's some top quality cinematic use of rain at the end of Blade Runner too, but Seven Samurai edges it in terms of impact for me.)

I'm not suggesting for a moment that anything in Winterbirth approaches that level, but such things were at the back of my mind when I was writing it. I did want the landscape, the weather, even the wildlife - the whole environment, basically - to be a strong presence, almost as if they were minor characters in the story.

On to other matters, and further evidence that truth can be as strange as fiction: the biplane dinosaur theory.

And finally, this has nothing to do with anything, but I figured I might as well share the following information: the best ginger cake ever is right here. So now you know.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Real Weather, Fictional Weather

A trivial example of the real world intruding into fiction: the weather outside my window tends to leak into whatever I'm writing. When characters in Winterbirth get soaked by torrential rain, there's a chance they can blame real weather that was going on while I was thinking about the story (except the fighting in a rainstorm that takes place near the end of the book - that's there mainly because Seven Samurai is one of my favourite films).

In Book Two, there's a heavy snowfall that forms the backdrop to some large scale bloodshed. That snow comes from the one and only substantial fall we had in the long ago winter of 2005/06. It was just so cool and atmospheric, I thought I should write it into the story. (Much to my frustration, by the way, Edinburgh never gets much in the way of snow, despite its northerly latitudes. A little fell today, but it was more like pre-formed slush dribbling out of the sky than proper snow).

Some sea mist also gets a walk-on part in Bk 2, which it was never going to do until I woke up one day last year to discover that the world outside had disappeared overnight.

I mention all this because ever since Christmas there have been annoyingly high winds here (and elsewhere in the UK, especially today). It's entertaining now and again, but quickly becomes aggravating when it's every other day. If global warming means winters are now going to consist of one long, warm Force 8 gale, I'm not in favour. Anyway, sure enough, the treetops have started swaying in the Godless World. The flags of the assemblied armies are flapping in the wind, characters are shouting to make themselves heard above the gale. And horses are rolling helplessly across the landscape like so many clumps of four-legged tumbleweed. Okay, maybe not that last one ...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Where the Wild Things Are (Or Soon Might Be)

Mentioning wolves reminded me of this current scheme to return a little bit of Scotland to its original state of wildness, complete with the wolves, bears, lynx etc. our ancestors wiped out (albeit behind big fences). Fair to say, as plans go, it's not met with universal, unreserved approval.

Every so often, someone raises the possibility of re-introducing the wolf to Scotland. The idea never makes much headway, though there's a lot of people, including me, who find it vaguely appealing. Unfortunately, it's my heart rather than my head that likes the idea. It's been a good 300 years since wolves disappeared from the UK, and bringing them back would be trying to rewrite history on a fairly major scale. Even though lots of people think of the Highlands as wilderness, the truth is there are too many sheep, cattle and lucrative shooting estates up there for a big predator like the wolf to be welcomed with open arms. I'm a great believer in the idea that the needs of wildlife should sometimes be given priority over the needs and preferences of humans (seems only fair, since we've spent the last few thousand years prioritising ourselves over all other living things), but the obstacles to wolf re-introduction are almost certainly overwhelming.

It's fun to daydream, though, and it would be a dramatic scene: wolves and red deer stags locked in life or death struggles on the slopes above Loch Ness. That would really give Bill Oddie something to get excited about on his TV shows ...

Anyway, here are some links to other - slightly more practical and important - efforts to help wildlife maintain its toehold on these crowded islands:

- re-wilding and large area conservation, for example this sort of thing

- greening the cityscape

- species recovery projects, for spectacular things like ospreys and cranes

- maybe the odd little bit of (non-wolf) re-introduction, just for fun.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Desktop for January

New Year, new desktop pic staring at me from my PC, for the next little while at least:


Because I like wolves. Some were originally scheduled to appear, in a manner of speaking, in the Godless World trilogy, but their part is amongst the big, sulking pile of material that ended up on the cutting room floor during the revising and rewriting process. Poor doggies. They belonged in a completely different story-that-will-never be, what you might call the 'magic and monsters' version of the trilogy. It had some good points, but overall I couldn't get it to work.

'Be prepared to kill your darlings' is one of those bits of guidance that aspiring writers stumble over everywhere they turn. It's good advice. I came over all brutal while writing and rewriting Winterbirth (with, I should add, the assistance and approval of agent and editor at certain points). Plotlines, characters, scenes, themes, all germinated, grew and then got savagely scythed down by this author in search of a vaguely functional novel. Arguably, the more affectionate a writer feels about a character or a sub-plot, the more critically he or she should probably view its claim on page space. I don't regret any of the changes or excissions I made. But I can't deny a little bit of nostalgia for those wolves.

I got the image from here, by the way.