One of the potential panels we have lined up for BristolCon this year is on the subject of Doing It in public. People in Bristol have no shame about Doing It in public. In fact the Council positively encourages large groups of people to get together and Do It, while the rest of us stand around watching, drinking cider and muttering our encouragement.
I’m obviously talking about art. (What did you think I was talking about?) You can’t chuck an empty spray can round here without hitting the next Banksy. The pavement artists of Montmartre have been getting theirs out in public for years. And now we have the internet, a vast, multinational blank canvas perfect for scribbling on. Artists have been using sites like DeviantArt for years, and now writers are catching up.
One of the central questions of our proposed panel is – does it add or subtract value from your act of creation if people can watch you creating it? Does it take away some of the magic?
(Remember Bob Ross? That was some magic there…)
I’m all for opening up the process of creation. Not the boring part where you get to watch me add and remove commas for hours on end, but the part where I can put out a first draft written less than an hour ago, knowing it’s going to be changed, knowing it might not make the final cut. Where I throw it open for discussion about how I got there, and how I could make it better, and where I stubbornly refuse to tell you where it’s going while at the same time making out I know more than I actually do….
I’ve said before, without using naff words like “journey”, that I want this blog to be a place where you can come to see a WIP in all its mewling, messy infancy, and watch it slowly turn into a Proper Book, unveiled like a Bob Ross painting but probably not half as pretty. Maybe more of a Rolf Harris cartoon, only with blood and swearing.
So here we are, poked and prodded into the limelight, spell checked but otherwise unedited (first draft disclaimer, yadda yadda yadda, you know the drill) is the end of Chapter Five, and Asta’s first view of the Scattering.
She would suffer any discomfort to feel the sunlight on her face again, and she waited, shifted her weight on her bruised leg as Turgesu lifted the hatch and thrust it aside, spilling light into the gloom of the hold. He clambered up, heels flashing close to her face, and stretched down to haul her out on deck for the first time since she had been carried aboard, a lifetime ago.
Even with the veil, the sudden light hurt her eyes. The sky was deeper blue than it should be, the sun hazy, and she screwed up her face and lifted her hand without thinking to the cloth. Turgesu snatched at her wrist and pinned it down to her side, with a hiss of warning.
“Not here! Not yet!”
“Where then?” She could hear the sounds of the town beyond, but she could see nothing over the high sides of the boat. The deck was neat, rope snaked in coils around cylinders that stuck up from the wooden planks, and she could see housings that she assumed led to more entrances to the hold. Pulleys for moving cargo, and sails, folded neatly where they lay. There was no human in sight, and the abandoned ship felt eerie. It had been a living thing, bouncing across the waves. Asta had felt it tremble under her hand like a horse after a good run, but now it was so many tonnes of dead wood, bound head and tail by ropes that stretched beyond her sight. She tried not to shiver.
“Can you climb?”
Her knee felt stiff, unbending. “Of course I can climb.”
Turgesu pointed. “Up there. I’ll be behind you in case you slip.”
She followed the line of his finger, up into the dazzling sky. It was impossible to see what he was pointing at, but there was a long pole with branches, a strangely symmetrical tree, growing from the deck of the ship, and it had staples hammered into it to form a ladder. She hoped they held firm. If she slipped, if they came loose, it was a long fall back to the deck. Asta didn’t want to think about how far.
She nodded, spat on each of her palms, and took hold of the ladder. The rungs were slippery, cold and damp to the touch, and Turgesu’s heavy breathing at her heels was no comfort. If she kicked out she could take him in the chin, send him hurtling through space. But who would catch her then? Turgesu wouldn’t let his precious sumri gudienne fall.
She climbed on, gripping the bars until her knuckles stood up like tight knots. She didn’t look around, concentrated on the snagged wood in front of her, the bars, the places were some enterprising sailor had carved something that could be his name, or an obscenity. The sun beat down on the back of her neck, and her hands were growing sweaty. If she slipped, Turgesu wouldn’t be able to hold her. Empty air yawned beneath her, and she struggled not to look down.
“Not far, not far, not far….” He repeated it like it was a chant, whispered on laboured breaths. Asta wondered which one of them he was trying to convince.
There was a platform above her head, and the ladder disappeared through a hole in it. There had been other platforms that they had passed, but this one was wider, and beyond it there were no more rungs. Asta scrambled sideways to avoid Turgesu as his head emerged through the gap, looked around, and the world lurched beneath her feet. She uttered a short scream, and grabbed for the pole behind her as the world dropped away.
“It’s all right.” Turgesu extended a hand towards her. “You’re quite safe.”
“Safe? You call this safe?” One of her father’s curses was all she could muster in the situation. “Fuck am I safe! Why have you brought me here?”
His brow furrowed. “You said you wanted to see.”
Asta could see, once her head stopped spinning at the dizzying distance unveiled before her. Below, impossibly tiny, was the deck of the boat that had stolen her and brought her here, white sails like discarded cloths. Behind her was the sea, vast, endless, brilliant blue and hazy through the scarf that shrouded her eyes. In front of her lay Mikligard, and the Scattering.
Mikligard was a grey-and-brown city of square houses, few more than two stories high, hugging the curves of the island. The ship stood against a grey wharf, and there were others in the harbour, loading and unloading. Unloading timber, fabric, cast metal, mysterious crates. Loading hides, live goats, driven bleating up the ramps and into the belly of the black-and-gold ship beside them that dwarfed Turgesu’s vessel. Loading slaves.
She could tell they were slaves, even from that height, shuffling together, linked by a long chain that ran from one neck to the next. There were children there too, she could tell by their height. She would have started forward if she hadn’t been balanced so high, on such a small platform. She could only stare helpless as they vanished into the hold of the ship, just behind the goats.
“You can’t do anything about it.” Turgesu spoke close to her ear. “What do you think of the Scattering, my goddess?”
She tore her eyes from the ship and stared out over the city, wind whipping at the scarf across her face and dragging it loose on one side. The city was square, the roads laid out in geometric lines that made her eyes hurt. There were no straight lines where she came from. Beyond the distant city walls, the island rose, craggy and bare. Not one island, she noticed, but dozens, maybe hundreds. A land held together by bridges, and by the will of Turgesu’s people to stamp order on the wild places of the world. It made her feel sick.
“Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It looks like shit,” she snapped. “I want to go home.”
But she didn’t want to go home at all. She wanted to go wherever the black-hulled ship was taking its brutalised human cargo. She wanted to go where Rhodan was.