Down the Rabbit Hole and out the other side

It’s Sunday night and I feel like someone has blasted my head off.

In a good way.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, the Emerging Writers Festival has been rolling all week, and this weekend was my turn to do my part. My job was to act as leader of the online Rabbit Hole group – a team of 20 writers each trying to write 30 000 words in two-and-a-bit days. There were physical teams in Brisbane, Melbourne and Hobart, who got to congregate in quiet rooms to clack-clack their keyboards in peace; my guys, on the other hand, were scattered across the country and writing from their homes and bedrooms, from public libraries and in public toilets. Well, maybe not that last part.

As part of my approach, I decided to start work on a new project and write alongside my team to lead by example. Did I write 30 000 words? No, not a chance. I wrote some stuff, sure, but my focus was and had to be on motivating and encouraging the online team, who didn’t have a space free from interruptions or the constant supporting presence of other writers around them. All we had was Facebook. The EWF set me up with a number of prizes and tools, and I did my best to use them to keep the online team members in the zone and laying down the words – which, in the end, took up way too much time to leave a whole lot for my own writing, and that’s just as is should be. I shucked, I jived, I coached, I cheerleaded (cheerled?), I handed out LOLcats and I USED CAPSLOCK LIKE IT WAS MANDATORY.

And in return, my team… my team…

Man.

There isn’t a word that works here other than incredible. I was gobsmacked by the output of my team members and how they just knuckled down and wrote, no matter what. We started at 6pm on Friday; by 8pm almost all of them had blasted through the 1000 word mark and many of them had written more than 3000 words. Then a bunch of them hit the 10 000 word mark by Saturday evening. Then some of them smashed the 20K mark this morning. And by the time we wrapped up at eight o’clock this evening three of them had clocked the 30 000 mark, which I swear I thought would be impossible. But I was wrong, wrong, WRONG. Because they didn’t let anything short of being thrown out of their space or having to go to hospital to get their appendix out (both of these things happened) stop them from writing everything they could. Writing like it was the one way to find God.

Collectively, my group of fifteen word soldiers laid down more than 250 000 words in twenty-two hours. Short stories, whole novellas, chunks of novels. Most of it’s not ready for prime time yet, sure. But it’s there, and they did it, and nothing can diminish that achievement.

I thought it was going to be an uphill battle. I thought I could lead by example and encourage others to follow along. What hubris. Instead, my team showed me that they don’t need encouragement or spot prizes or cheerleading; all they needed was a chance to put their knuckles up and fight. And everyone single one of them won the bout, no matter how much they wrote.

Getting to be there, to help them, to simply witness their dedication… it’s inspired me.

It’s inspired me to write.

If you’d like to see some of the work the Rabbit Hole team produced over the weekend, we set up a Tumblr to showcase work from the writers who produced more than 20 000 words over the course of the event.

Also, now I know how Tumblr works. Hmm.

Also at the EWF this week I did a quick walk-on at the Revenge of the Nerds slide night to sing for a few seconds about Community with my awesome friend Ben McKenzie. Then we had beers. It was good.

And today I rocked up to the Future Bookstore Open Mic, where the host graciously gave me enough time to read the entire first chapter of The Obituarist to the audience. Which confirmed for those present that I am terrible at reading aloud – I talk too fast, I slur my words and I try to use different voices for different characters and just end up sounding drunk. I got some laughs towards the end of the piece, which possibly means there were more jokes in that bit – or that I’d slowed down enough for people to understand what I was saying. Hard to be sure. Anyway, that wasn’t my finest hour, but it was worth the try.

And while I didn’t manage to write 30 000 words over the weekend, I did manage something – I started a new novella! Called Raven’s Blood, it takes inspiration from two of my favourite things – Batman and Dungeons & Dragons – to kick off a possible trilogy of pulp-fantasy-YA-adventure stories. I think it’ll be YA.

Look, to be honest I’m not entirely sure what makes a book YA or what that label actually means, and I think that’s something I’d like to discuss in a future blog post. But it’s a story about a teenage girl trying to find her place in the world and I’m not using any of the usual swear words, so that’s probably a start, right?

Raven’s Blood is the story of Kember Arrowsmith, a seventeen-year-old tearaway in the city of Crosswater who’s in constant trouble as a member of a scandalous and semi-seditious theatre troupe. The only thing that saves her from harsher punishment is the fact that her father is Roland Arrowsmith, hero of the War Against the Host and now Mayor of the city. But when a dead man in a cloak of feathers gives her a message and then burns to ashes, Kember must find out what evil is stirring under the bridges of Crosswater – and what happened to the Ghost Raven, the masked avenger that once fought supernatural terrors and crime lords in the city’s shadows.

Here’s a slice from halfway into the first chapter:

The dead man was wrapped in a cloak of feathers, mostly black but speckled here and there with shades of grey or white – and all tinged red with spatters of blood. Two crossbow bolts protruded from his side, plunged deep into brown leather that had proved too thin to deflect them. The hood of the cloak had fallen back to show his face, but it was hidden under a black mask, a broad domino that flared sharp at the sides of his face.

The younger watchman took a step forward, slowly, almost like a step to genuflect in Chapel. ‘He’s dressed like… do you think it’s him?’ he asked.

‘Pull your head from your arse, boy,’ Jerrick snapped back. ‘He’s been gone for ten years and more!’

‘But I’ve heard stories…’

‘Swive your stories! Do your damn’ed job! Here, hold this rascal girl while I take a proper look!’ And with that Jerrick thrust Kember forward into his subordinate’s arms. The watchman staggered back, his grip loose as he fumbled with his sword, and if there was a time for Kember to escape it was now.

But she did not take it.

Jerrick bent to the side of the corpse, pears and witchberries breaking to pulp under his knees, to peel away the mask from the man’s face. Under the black felt was the face of a man in his mid-twenties or so, his eyes closed, his forehead marked with a scar.

‘I know this man,’ Jerrick said under his breath. And Kember said nothing, because she thought she recognised the face too. The face that suddenly sprang to life, eyes snapping open to fix on her, mouth opening to gasp and then croak, ‘Tell him! Tell him! The golem-men of Bridgedown, they found it! They –’

Whatever he had left to say choked off in his throat, though his mouth stayed open. More, it opened wider and wider, as did his eyes that rolled in terror and agony. He locked eyes with Kember and she could not look away as a light began to burn in his sockets, in his mouth, through his skin as it outlined his bones.

A light that blazed white through red, so bright and pure that Kember had to pinch her eyes near-shut to stand it. A light too bright for the world to tolerate.

She knew what would happen next. Every child knew what would happen next. The light would burn and burn, burn away the flesh and blood of the man, burn his bones till they fused to red glass, and then the skeleton would rise to its feet and kill and kill and kill until smashed to glittering pieces. Just as they did during the War.

The language is going to need a thorough revision; I want to make it a bit more ornate, possibly by incorporating some classical thieves’ cant terms, while at the same time keeping it direct and clear. But there are the bones of something here (irony intended) and I think I can have a lot of fun with it.

Not going to jump the gun just yet on how fast I’ll write this or when it’ll be ready; I think I can get a good draft done by the end of July but I’ve also got a lot on my plate over the next two months, including a week in Fiji(!). I’ll talk about it some more later, though, promise.

Next week – Continuum! And a look at what’s been happening with The Obituarist in the month since I published it and what to do with it next. With graphs!

5 thoughts on “Down the Rabbit Hole and out the other side

  1. Very thankful for your leadership during the event, Patrick. I may not have accomplished as much as I wanted to, but I had a blast with what I did. 🙂

    1. Don’t be too hard on yourself, Phill – circumstances beyond your control cut things short.

      I’m glad you had a good and productive time. Now take what you started and keep working on it!

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