Reading at Mother Teresa


Many thanks to the teachers and students of Mother Teresa Catholic School in Cambridge for making me feel so welcome as I spent the afternoon giving two presentations around The Unwritten Girl. Presenting before a gymnasium of children is as daunting a task as ever, but the students were very kind to me, and I had a great time.

It was also the first time that I read to a group of students, some of whom had been reading The Unwritten Girl as part of their classwork. This made for some interesting questions. After one student asked me where I get my ideas (everywhere, including books and television), another asked me specifically where I got my idea for the Sea of Ink surrounding the Land of Fiction. Fortunately, I had an answer, and I was able to turn it into an example to illustrate my answer to the first question.

I remember being told that there is a cliché where, at the beginning of the story, the character wakes up in a white room. The Turkey City Lexicon calls this the “White Room Syndrome”:

A clear and common sign of the failure of the author’s imagination, most often seen at the beginning of a story, before the setting, background, or characters have gelled. “She awoke in a white room.” The ‘white room’ is a featureless set for which details have yet to be invented — a failure of invention by the author. The character ‘wakes’ in order to begin a fresh train of thought — again, just like the author. This ‘white room’ opening is generally followed by much earnest pondering of circumstances and useless exposition; all of which can be cut, painlessly.

It remains to be seen whether the “white room” cliche’ will fade from use now that most authors confront glowing screens rather than blank white paper.

I wanted to turn this cliché on its head, and why wouldn’t a journey to the Land of Fiction begin on something akin to a blank piece of paper? And what would bring the Land of Fiction to life? Why, ink of course, and lots of it. In fact, why not a sea of ink? I could call up images of Greek mythology, and journeying across the river Stix. And so you could see that my ideas did come from everywhere. Here’s one whose mother is the Turkey City Lexicon and whose father was Greek mythology.

I completely missed the connections to the legend of Tam Lin, incidentally, where the hero or heroine has to cross a river flowing with every drop of blood ever shed by the human race, until Cameron asked me “so, is this the sea with every drop of ink from every piece of fiction in human history?” “Nope,” I said. “It’s just a sea of ink.”

Quite often our ideas are smarter than the idea makers.

In other writing news, Barry, my editor, tells me that the copyediting for Fathom Five is now complete, and I can expect to see the page proofs either later this week or early next. Page proofs are what the book’s text looks like on the page. I’ve seen these things delivered as sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper, but Dundurn typically sends me PDF copies. Either way, it’s the next best thing to actually holding the book in my hand, as well as the last chance to catch and erase any remaining embarrassing typos.

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