BELLS and language
Oh yay! The beginnings of another exciting story! I love the air spirits inside the bells, and especially how people know about them. They’re important! I love it!
Where is this book in the queue?
Probably next but one: PEGASUS, then ALBION, then BELLS. But I seriously can’t be trusted about this sort of thing. But there’s a lot of BELLS on paper already which is always veeeeery appealing. ALBION is still mostly in my head, it’s just, you know . . . noisy.
Tathtalar didn’t want to go to a zharha and ring creepy bells for years and years. She wanted to go to a dlor, and ride lovely horses… horses were warm and breathing and glad to see you (or not). You knew where you were with horses.
Well, mostly ;p
Sure you do. Count your bruises.
Robin this is soo lovely!!
[It pains me to cut out the rest of what southdowner says here, but isn't vanity one of those things we're supposed to struggle against? . . . struggling . . . ]
Bonus is bells, which I’ve always felt are mystical,
Yes. Absolutely. They are. I blither about this in the FAQ.* They also seem terribly pagan to me although change ringing was only invented three hundred or so years ago. Not that the pagans aren’t alive and kicking and among us, but I feel that change ringing patterns ought to have ancient alchemical meanings–that while practise nights are for practise, formal ringing should reflect something or other cosmological–you know those beautiful medieval charts of How Things Work, with the earth in the middle and the empyrean surrounding everything. Bells are an earthly manifestation of the music of the spheres, bell ringing should be mentioned in Thomas Tusser, that you should plant or harvest after your tower has rung this or that, or in Gerard and Culpeper that bells assist in the healing work of herbs, or Hildegarde of Bingen** declares that the best fast or meditation or retreat begins or ends with bells; that you ring Grandsire during the waxing of the moon, and any of the plain bob methods during the waning, that Stedman is particularly suited to weddings and funerals, and Cambridge to baptisms. . . . I also feel that bells should be rung for more ritual occasions generally. If it were up to me bell ringing would be subsidised so that people who can’t afford us*** could have us anyway.
Meanwhile I’m writing a book where it’s all true.
and well, it’s Damar of course.
I’d be delighted to get back to Damar myself. As I keep saying (wearily) it’s not up to me. I know you regular blog readers know this, but I’m still getting letters and emails from book readers who do not also read the blog† wanting to know (more or less querulously) why I have not gone on with Damar, or SUNSHINE†† or, lately, DRAGONHAVEN and CHALICE.†††
Susan of Athens:
One question about the Damar books I’ve always wanted to ask, Robin, and this lovely piece brought to the forefront of my most untidy mind, was the language of Damar. How did you develop it? I am always fascinated by language. Being bilingual from birth, in two such different languages as English and Greek, it’s fascinating to see how you have created so many words and I wondered if you had used some linguistics basis. For example, I always have to remind myself that sola is male and sol is female, because in Greek (as in Italian and Spanish) the addition of the vowel at the end, and an -a or -y sound would denote the female. Did you sit down at any point and decide on language rules? Did you just go for sounds that were interesting? So I just wondered if and when you had the time, or wanted a new blog entry whether you would care to discuss this?
It’s mostly by ear, I’m afraid–which is to say not terribly discussible–which increasingly appears to be the way I do everything. It’s always been the way I write stories, the way I ‘choose’ names for the people‡ and places (and things) in those stories–when I’m lucky, I ‘hear’ people talking, and pick up the names that way–and it turns out I compose music this way too. Oisin tells me stuff it would be helpful or practical for me to know after I’m already using it, or bumping into it, or doing it the hard (or wrong) way. I’m not a musician‡‡ the way I am a story writer, but it fascinates me that if you can (apparently) ‘hear’ one thing, you’ll probably be able to ‘hear’ another thing, just because hearing is familiar. Before I started composing music I was aware that the way I learn change-ringing methods has an aspect of learning them as ‘stories’ and the fact that they don’t make stories very easily is part of why I have difficulty learning them. My bits of music are definitely stories, even when there are no words involved.
So far I’ve been able to mug or bluff my way through the not-English languages in my books but I’m uneasily aware that I am mugging and bluffing. At the same time . . . the sound of the Damarian language seems to have already been in my ear or my head or my daydreams. It’s like my fascination for the Damarian landscape–it’s not any landscape I’ve lived in (this life, anyway). But it feels familiar. The language feels familiar. The grammar . . . uh oh. I can’t do grammar in English. I do what I do, as I say, by ear. This sounds way too la-la even to me, but the awful truth is that I have a big spiral-bound notebook, and I pull it out occasionally, and let myself go into a kind of listening trance, and write down what I hear–although this is a relatively recent development. It seems so . . . presumptuous. But I’ve learnt a lot of Damarian that way, including, even, a little of the grammar. Some of the long words are killers though: often I’ll get the rhythm but won’t quite have all the letters. I keep my notebook in pencil for rubbings-out and retries.
I can’t remember if I deliberately chose the to-our-ears backwards addition of a vowel to make a noun gender masculine, for sol and sola, or if that ‘came’ the way the names for Mathin and Tsornin and Narknon did. I was writing SWORD in my early unreconstructed feminist phase, however, and it’s the sort of thing I would do–mix it up for the sake of the mixing. But I was let get away with it, if I did: it’s not one of the things that I’m still wondering nervously if I got right. (There are rather a lot of these.)
My linguistic shortcomings have been threatening to catch up with me in BELLS–there seems to be just way too much Damarian language in it. Although I’m having such a good time with the bell jargon that there must be a supervisor at the Story Council with an unexpected sense of humour who snaked the précis of Damarian Bell Vocabulary out from under the noses of the standard bureaucrat types, stamped ‘pass’ on it and filed it hastily before anyone else noticed. And now it turns out that PEGASUS has a lot of other-language in it too–pegasi language. When I started to notice this happening I was worried, because while Damarian is (comparatively) easy for me, I was afraid the listening trance might be Damarian-specific. I do have trouble, sometimes, plucking a word or a name out of the ether–Mirasol, say, or Catu, or Nicandimon‡‡‡–that isn’t Damarian: it’s like the Damarian word or the Damarian name is right there by the door into the reality with paper and books in it, and the moment the door cracks open, it’s through like a shot. But once I settled into PEGASUS I began to find the language coming more easily. It’s hissy and full of vowels, where Damarian is square and full of ‘ar’s.
It’s been a computer-nightmare day to such an extent I don’t want to blog about it; and tomorrow I should know the full extent of the disaster. Meanwhile it wasted the entire afternoon, and I’d better get back to PEGASUS for a page or two while I still have (perhaps) a functioning brain cell. And the biggest reason for the new forum is that I break out a little more writing-writing time. You may remember I said that PEGASUS seems to be running long? I gave up on the end of the first draft because the book has lurched in Yet Another New Direction so many times already that I thought I’d be better off going back to the beginning and sorting it out so it would lie right when I got to the end again: at the moment it’s like a bell rope with too many kinks in it: you can’t ring it like that. And I’ve been barrelling merrily along and only today noticed that . . . it took me five pages of the second draft to rewrite the first page of the first. I think I may have a problem. . . .
* * *
* It is quite extraordinary the things people choose to tell you. I had an email once–years ago now–that went on in the standard pleasing fashion about my books and my FAQ–this was long before the blog–and how enjoyable it was to have a glimpse into a working writer’s life. Except for the bells, she said. The bells were really boring. She skipped over the bells. And I’m sitting there thinking, and you’re telling me this why–? Skipping is free. There is no test at the end of the FAQ.
** Okay, okay, she was historically a little early (and a Christian). But she could have had visions of change ringing.
*** And yes, we’re expensive, although it doesn’t feel that way to us: twelve quid a head is not worth sitting around waiting for the bride to put in an appearance half an hour late. We ring church services for free: I think I’ve already done my rant on this, about people who come to practise nights but never show up on Sunday mornings. We pay for the privilege of ringing church bells by ringing for service. Christianity and I don’t get along too well personally, but I believe in the sound the bells make being to the greater glory of something greater than human, and if the Christian god likes the noise they make that’s a mark in his/her/its/their favour, and common ground.
† Possibly because they, like, have lives, as opposed to fruitcakes^ like us
^ But the very best fruitcakes
†† The SUNSHINE people in particular can get really cross. There are loose ends! I am not fulfilling my contract!
‡ ‘People’ of course includes the furry, feathered, finned, etc.
‡‡ As you are all on to find out suddenly as soon as the Finale software and I come to a slightly more comprehensive truce and I manage to post something I’ve written. I am making progress. I’m not really a tease, about Finale or BELLS or anything else: I’m just slow.
‡‡‡ I suddenly and violently want to write another story about him as soon as I found out his name.
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