Sunday, December 16, 2007

The post long promised, plus some poetry

I keep saying it's been a crazy year, and it has. And I'm a bit tired. When you get to my age (about a hundred and forty two, Bard years, of course) the end of every year is when it all catches up.

But yes, my life as a theatre critic was demanding in '07. It even began to look suspiciously like what other people call a career, when I was appointed Melbourne reviewer for the national daily newspaper, the Australian. (I'm not very good at careers, which is partly how I ended up writing fantasy novels). I finished another book of poems, which will be published next year by Salt Publishing. And - of course - I finished The Singing.

In fact, I'm still finishing The Singing. I'll be finishing it for some time yet - there's copyediting and proofing to go yet, it goes on and on! Sometimes I think anyone who writes a novel ought to have their head read, it is such a lot of labour - and not just for the author, but for the editors, the designers, the illustrators, the typesetters, all the other people who work so hard making the book.

The first and major edit will be completed before Christmas, and I am just now doing the final pieces of writing, including the poems I put before each section. The good news is I am proud of it - I do think it's the best book yet, which is as it should be. The bad news - yes, I fear there is some - is that its UK publication has been put back to September 2008 - I still don't know publication dates for Australia or the US, although it will be out first here and I expect them all in 2008 - so the wait will be a little longer. But the delay takes a little pressure off, which is a relief.

Anyway, a couple of readers have been asking if I will be writing more about Edil-Amarandh. There's a little story which Walker will be publishing as a separate book next year (called The Friends) but, aside from that, I think I'm all spent on that world. I would be very surprised if I did. I have lots of ideas for other stories, and once I fully recover from the shock of actually finishing a quartet, I will probably start one of them. I can only write stories if they grab hold of me by the throat: if I wrote more stories about Edil-Amarandh just because it was expected, I think they would be disappointing.

To be honest, I have made a solemn and dreadful vow that I will never write another series. It takes a lot out of you, you know. But it's a bit dangerous for writers to say things like that. Until last week I was also saying that I had probably finished with poetry, too. And then I started doing a version of Beowulf, an Old English poem that is the beginning of English literature. (Why? I don't know! Writing is like that...) You probably all know that a movie has been made of it. I've been debating whether to see it, even though it's written by Neil Gaiman: the trailers put me off a bit. I just can't quite get my head around Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother. I might catch it on DVD, out of curiosity, and find I'm wrong.

Beowulf is one of the major inspirations behind The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien, who was an expert on Beowulf and, indeed, wrote a deeply influential lecture about it (Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics) that is still routinely referred to by scholars, basically took the Geats and Scyldings and added horses to make the Rohirrim. Want to know where he got the names "Middle Earth" or Eomer? Read Beowulf.

It's a terrific poem, although it's all very, well, manly. (In The Gift, the men at Gilman's Cot whom Maerad escapes at the beginning of the story are a rather sardonic version of the men in Beowulf - they like drinking, boasting and fighting, more or less in that order). It's written in 43 fitts, or parts, and it's more than 3000 lines long, and I am trying to write a translation that reads like a poem, with poetry's beauty and skill, but which is plain and strong, like a good sword. Because that's what I think the Old English is like.

Anyway, I thought I'd post a little of the poem, because it might interest some of you. This bit occurs when Beowulf arrives at the hall of the Danish King, Hrothgar, claiming he will kill the monster Grendel. Heorot is the name of the hall, and for 12 years Grendel has been terrorising the Danes, attacking the hall and eating Hrothgar's thanes. One of Hrothgar's men, Unferth, is jealous and taunts Beowulf. It's a fine piece of manly boasting!

Unferth spoke, Edgelaf’s son,
from the feet of the Scylding king.
Irked by Beowulf’s brave adventure,
he let loose his hidden thoughts,
vexed that any stood before him
to be praised in middle earth.
“Are you the Beowulf who took on Breca
daring to swim the open seas,
risking your lives for a foolish boast?
No man, friend or foe, could stop you
from that sorry venture. You both rowed out
into the strait and embraced the currents,
weaving the water with your hands,
gliding over the winter swells.
For seven nights you fought the sea
but he got the better of you,
being stronger. In the morning
he was cast up on Heatho-Ream’s shore
and from there sought his own homeland,
dear to his people, the Bronding’s land,
where he was rich in land and rings.
The son of Beanstan fulfilled his boast.
And so I expect the worst for you,
however you prevail in war,
if you wait at night for Grendel.”

Beowulf answered him, son of Ecgetheow:
“Listen well, my friend Unferth.
In your cups you boast of Breca,
but the truth is, I am stronger.
I had it harder than he did
out in the ocean. Young and reckless,
we agreed to risk our lives.
We rowed out into the sound
with naked swords hard in our hands
to keep the whales off.
He could go no faster than I,
not a hand’s breadth came between us.
Neck and neck we swam together
for five nights, until the waves
drove us apart. The water surged
in the bitter weather, and night came dark
as the north wind whipped the wild waves.
Then a fish of the deep ocean
wrathfully struck me. My hand-linked mailshirt
helped me then, my braided armour
covered my breast. The monster pulled me
down to the sea-bed, it held me fast
in its cruel grip, but I stabbed hard
with my edged sword. I destroyed
that mighty sea-beast.

“Again and again savage assailants
pressed me sorely, but I served them
proper justice. Those wicked monsters
held no feast on my dead flesh.
In the morning their slashed corpses
littered the shore, and never since
have they hindered unwary travellers
on that sea-road. God’s bright beacon
rose in the east, the wild sea stilled
and at last I saw the headlands.
If courage endures, fate will spare
a hero from death. It was my good fortune
to kill nine monsters with my sword.
I have not heard of more grievous battle
waged at night under heaven’s vault,
nor of a man more wretched than I was
adrift on the sea. Yet I survived.
Weary from battle, the sea-flood bore me
off to Finn land. I have not heard
such stories of you, nor of Breca,
that either of you made such bright terror
in your swordplay. I do not boast of it.
But you have only killed your brother,
saving your sword for your own kinsman,
and you are damned for it. Sharp as you are,
I say to you truly, son of Edgelaf,
that if your heart were as battle-fierce
as your talk is, Grendel would never
have humbled Heorot. There’s no fight,
no storm of blades from the Victory-Scyldings
to spoil his pleasures.
He takes his toll, sparing no one.
I’ll show Grendel the might of the Geats,
I’ll bring him war now, and when the sun
brings the new day clad in radiance,
men will be able to drink in peace.”


Eowyn336 said...

Thank you for posting again, Alison. The poem is very well done and I am excited to hear more!
Congrads for the 50th time on The Singing. Even though it is hard for us to wait much longer for it, it is great there is a little bit less pressure on you.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks, Eowyn! Well, better to get it absolutely right. And it's almost there!

Mallie said...

Hi Alison!
Congrats on The Singing, here's hoping its easier to edit than the last few (and therefore faster :P but no pressure). I'll be waiting anxiously and excitedly for it.

I just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed the series so far. I only picked up the first book last week (at the recommendation of another author, Tamora Pierce) and I proceeded to read them in a way that hasn't been seen since I read the last Harry Potter Book. (That is, I didn't leave my room for days, demanded someone go and buy me the sequels, then proceeded to lock myself in my room again til I had finished the Crow). I have really really enjoyed them immensely, and if you say the Singing is your favourite, then I'm looking forward to it even more.

Thank you so much for writing such an amazing series of books (my family is beginning to agree with me, since I've said "here, read." - Mum, who usually hates my type of books, started complaining when I told her the Singing wouldn't be out until next year). Good luck with the editing!
-- Mallie

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks, Mallie. Well, I can assure you that any fantasy writer who hears a reader saying "I proceeded to read them in a way that hasn't been seen since I read the last Harry Potter Book" is going to go all funny. Authors love that kind of stuff!

I'm lucky enough to have a wonderful editor, which makes working on it very enjoyable. I sometimes think that editing is my favourite work. I'm not anxious, for instance, that I'll never get to the end...!

bard s said...

Awwww,another 9 months to wait!!

How come it take's so long to come out when the book is finished?

Mallie said...

Truly, I haven't enjoyed a book so much in months. *laughs* I can imagine what sort of compliment it is (especially since I'm one of those Harry Potter freak fans who read it in 6 hours and proceed to read it again... a result of having loved the series since I was 9). I've begun sharing the Pellinor love around my friends as well. The first person I mentioned it to (outside my family) only received it yesterday and has already finished it. She says she's officially in love. (also that I have great taste in books :P)

Never get to the end?! Well the end really is here now, isn't it! Goodness, I truly cannot wait for the Singing. Am I right in thinking we're going to have a few chapters in Maerad's perspective, then a few in Hem's, and so on and so forth til they meet again?
I suppose having a wonderful editor and a wonderful editing process makes you want to finish the book faster too :P

Ednella said...

I love this line: "If courage endures, fate will spare/ a hero from death." Beautiful, Alison!


Alison Croggon said...

Thanks, Nella - though of course I can't quite take credit for it, the original being by the nameless Old English poet who wrote it.