As part of my author guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot.
I am very excited and
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Now without further adieu here is Luke’s awesome guest blog.
And don’t forget to check out his book:
A tour of my secret Laboratory…
By Luke E.T. Hindmarsh
I’m conducting research. Don’t all run for the door – there’s no point I’ve bolted it. Despite the array of surgical instruments you see in my laboratory, I assure you that you are not here as a subject. You are perfectly safe. What’s that you say? Why have I locked you in? Well, what I have to share with you – my research – might horrify and revolt you and I couldn’t have you rushing to the authorities before I’m sure you understand its importance now, could I…?
If you’re a reader of any genre of fiction you may have noticed the difference between some books which twist reality and others that are just divorced from it. You don’t have to be a fan of techno-thrillers to appreciate a healthy dose of real world detail – a bit of grit in the eye, if you will. There’s a novel by a painfully successful Thriller writer that talks about a character clicking off the safety on his Glock. “So what?” you ask. Oh, that was my response too. Until a ‘gun nut’ I know (yes, they read too) pointed out that Glocks don’t have safeties. Hmm. Suddenly, anyone who knows that will be thrown out of immersion in the book and asking themselves what the author knows and why they haven’t done their research. “But I like fantasy”, I hear you say as you edge towards the door. Don’t think I can’t see you checking the locks; I assure you there’s no quick way out.
Fantasy can be a wonderful source of escapism. Getting away from the day to day grind of life. You can ride on dragonback, you can lay waste to empires, and if you’re more inclined to sci-fi then you can travel between the stars or beyond them. How can you research something like that – bringing imagination to life? Well, I’ve failed a few times, if you take exhibit A here this was a sample taken from one of my early subject’s parietal lobe. You can see that even hooked up to a monitor I’ve been unable to generate any images. Rather than waste time with more vivisections – no don’t panic, I promise you the straps on the table are merely for comfort – I need to demonstrate the power of transferred experience to you. Is the headset on? Now, I’ll just apply a little current – please don’t scream so loudly – and we can conjure with your imagination…
Narrow eye slits block your vision and though every part of you is screaming for more air, you can only drag in your breath slowly through the grill of your helmet. The weight of the armour bears down on you but you’ve trained for this. It’s not slowing you, just making every moment a sweating nightmare. If only you could breathe free – the temptation to raise your visor keeps scratching away at you. The sounds of fighting, clash of metal and screams of pain, muted by your helm, still warn you that death is nearby. Your heart throbs and you feel it must be clanging a cadence of your fear against the side of your breastplate. Your every blood vessel feels tightened around its hot flow, laced with the quivering of adrenaline.
Then you see him. Marching towards you across the battlefield. It’s hard to see details through your visor, but there’s no mistaking the savage confidence in the stride of your enemy – armour dented and splashed with mud and congealed blood. Sucking in air in a rasp, you surge forwards to meet him. A flicker of movement flashes low and you try to parry the strike, but it clangs off your thigh. There’s no pain. No commitment. Too late you realise that the blow was a feint -you’ve dropped your guard as the sword flicks up to crash into the side of your helmet. It’s hard enough to knock you off balance and pain flares inside your skull. Your teeth grind together as you clench your jaws with the impact.
Now blood fills your mouth. With its taste you feel the prickling of anger rise in your neck and you lash out with your own sword, once, twice, thrice at your enemy’s head. He tries to block the first blow with his shield, but the ferocity of your attack has caught him off guard. He stumbles backwards under the assault and in that moment you seize your chance. With a jarring crash of armoured bodies you collide with him. Trapping his swordarm between your shield and your body, you close in and smash your elbow into his helmet before bringing the pommel of your sword down on the crown of his head. Then driving the point of your sword’s crossguard through the gap in your enemies visor until you feel the metal point scrape around the bone of your enemy’s eye socket. His scream draws a surge of heat up from your bowels, the burning swell of victory…
Yes, yes. Quite enough. You’ll forgive the crudeness of the experience – experimental equipment and all that. Also probably the only time I’ll ever write in the second person present tense. Once is enough for any lifetime. I hope that you see the need for the grit of real experience to make a scene come to life. Now what you’ve experienced isn’t really what happened – there’s imagination added to memory. In reality, I trained with some practitioners of IMCF, the International Medieval Combat Federation, and had a great time walloping someone with a blunted sword while they did the same to me. I did feel an adrenaline rush and the bloody armour was hot as hell. On the other hand, the rules they work with don’t allow for stabbing and certainly don’t allow for driving a crossguard through the visor of a helm but they do hit you as hard as they can. Being struck with a sword to the helmet isn’t something you can just imagine. You need to experience it – it’s not as bad as you’d think but it isn’t pleasant. All too often in fight scenes either the blow clangs harmlessly off the armour or else it shears straight through – neither’s real. You can read of the impracticality of sword use against an armoured opponent, though in fact someone with the skills could make excellent use of one. Just not in the ludicrous way most films show. That’s the other side of experience – knowledge.
When writing a fight scene the most important thing is the experience of the fighter, isn’t it? If a scene is just a description of the moves, technically accurate and precise but without the flavour of emotion, the mention of the pain and the shock of being hit, it becomes a bit lifeless. Anyone who thinks they can write about violence without experiencing it is, I’m sorry to say, fooling themselves and short-changing their readers. That doesn’t mean you should go looking for a fight, but if you can, you at least need to give a sparring session a go. If that’s not an option, then you need to find someone who has experience and mine them for information. Guessing or reading about it in books will always leave your work lacking that touchstone to reality. Anyone who has experienced violence will read what you have written and find it unrealistic.
But what about the expertise you’d need to portray a skilled warrior or artisan at work? You can’t get it from a couple of practice sessions!
To learn about blacksmithing, I spent a considerable amount of time watching a smith working at a medieval fayre.
He was pleased to have someone show an interest and we chatted while he worked. He told me about his 20+ years’ experience and how few traditional smiths there were in the country. I let him know the reason for my interest – a cunningly crafted lie about being an author planning a fantasy novel. This loosened his tongue further and what did I learn? What irritated him most in the movies whenever there is a scene showing someone forging a sword. He told me that the quenching of the blade as it’s shown in films or TV would likely shatter the blade. He explained all the reasons why the opening to Conan ( https://youtu.be/GVx4LafsvSU ) gets it wrong (heresy maybe, but true nonetheless), from the worthlessness of a steel sword cast as a blank to the shattering effect of quenching the blade in snow or ice. The resulting blade, if it survives wouldn’t be up to much…
‘Interesting,’ said I and asked some more questions. Second-hand experience can be a worthy substitute for doing it yourself, and though I’ve managed to sweet talk my way in to a weekend apprenticeship later in the year, I got enough detail from the smith to give me a solid basis to work from. In fact, the two work best together. I don’t have the time to become a smith, so I’ll never have expertise. What I want is the ‘feel’ of it and then I can get any specialised knowledge from a source, preferably from the experts themselves but otherwise a book or internet search. While I’m forging any scene in my fantasy novel that involves a smithy, I can give a first-hand account of the sights and smells but I can also drop a small detail here and there of what a smith really does. Nothing too complicated. If a description ends up reading more like a technical manual then the research is wasted because it no longer conjures the scene in the imagination. Small touches of reality should act as anchors, not create a dry and boring treatise on how to forge a sword, for example.
Do you hear that? That crashing sound means the authorities have found my lair. Curse their interruption just when I was nearly finished prepping you for my experiment. What’s that? Yes, I said you were safe. I lied, of course. Couldn’t have your anxiety affecting the readings. That’s academic now. All I can do is pass on the last few parts of what I’ve learned and you are my only way. Now, hold still. This won’t hurt… much.
Write what you know is often trotted out. Great. I’m lucky, I’ve spent 10 years in the Criminal Courts in London dealing with crimes from the trivial to the horrific and criminals from the comical to the terrifying. I’ve done martial arts as a sport and then moved on to a practical, more real-world form. I live somewhere near to lunatics who wallop each other with swords. But I know damn all about guns, for example, save what a hungover stag do clay pigeon shoot could teach me and what I’ve read on the wonderful internet. If I want to write a scene involving a firearm, I’ll need to do some research – real world and academic.
You’ll have many valuable experiences of your own to paint with as an author but for the rest you need to go out and find those experiences. What do you do if you can’t go out and get hit by burly men or women in armour? What if there are no blacksmiths within a thousand miles? What if you can’t get hold of your local drug addict without risking becoming a victim of crime? Well, you guessed it. There’s that internet thingy again. Don’t limit yourself just to YouTube or a Google search, though. No matter if you hate social media (sometimes it’s more like anti-social media), it is an excellent resource for writers and those readers who like to expand their knowledge of things they’ve read in a book. Whether you’re on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or any other online group, you’ll be amazed at how willing people are to share their own experiences, if you treat them with respect and engage with them before asking their help. If you can find a HEMA or IMCF group on Facebook, for example, and express your interest in what they do, it’s likely that someone will be willing to talk to you. If you’re lucky or charming enough they might even agree to be interviewed over skype (or meet you in person, though I warn you – that is how I found a number of my previous test subjects…) Getting face to face accounts from someone can give you so many clues to what they’re actually thinking and if you let someone who knows their subject tell you about it, there’s sure to be something, some small detail, that you can take from what they tell you to hang your story off. Most of all, you can ask them how they felt, what they thought of and most of those personal elements that you’d get from first-hand experience.
Ah, the police seem to have penetrated the last of my defences. Quick, before they take me away, let me share with you the secret to research. You have to combine your own experience – old and new – with the knowledge of experts and the experience of others. Ultimately, it is about triggering the imagination. Oh, the writer’s is important, but the living, breathing world that a reader can conjure with the right details… that is the real feat of imagination. Don’t let research bog down a good story with technical detail or get in the way of an outrageous idea but remember that the mind craves a dose of reality. My research and yours should be about finding something authentic to plant as a seed for all the fantastical elements that can grow out of it.
Luke E.T. Hindmarsh was born in Oxford, UK before being dragged all over the world by his parents, courtesy of Royal Air Force. Before starting to write full time, he worked as a Criminal Barrister in London for ten years, which doesn’t qualify him to make good coffee but did mean he had to wear a wig and gown in court. He now lives in the Scandinavian wilds of Denmark with his wife and their half-viking children. When not writing, Luke teaches Shinseido Okinawan Karate, works on his motorcycle and drinks far too much coffee.
Social media links:
Twitter – @LukeETHindmarsh
FB – @LethalAuthor
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