On The Origins Of Tim

‘St Mallory’s Forever!’ Trivia: Episode 1 ~ In which Miriam takes you ‘behind the scenes’ for some trivia and amusing information about book one.

Warning: this post may include mild spoilers for St Mallory’s Forever! for those who haven’t yet read/finished it.

If you’ve read the reviews of St Mall’s that have been left on Amazon and Goodreads (some are excerpted on the “St Mallory’s Forever page and in the right-hand sidebar of this blog, which I redesigned because I was procrastinating on writing a Classics essay last week. Which, for the record, is also what I’m doing right now), you’ll see that a lot of people have commented on our use of geek culture etc throughout the story. It’s true – there are overt references to Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Star Trek, among other things. There are also covert ones, and most of them relate to Tim Morrigan.

I’m responsible for naming him. This wasn’t a deliberate decision – we didn’t sit down and say, “Hey, Miriam, do you want to invent the antagonist of book one?” (Collaboration over distance means I don’t think we ever ‘sat down’ and discussed anything, although Charley and I did meet up in the summer and we talked about book two then.) I don’t even remember if he was originally meant to play the role he played: I think we had some inkling that he’d be a significant ‘baddie’, but nothing concrete.

So his introduction happened to fall in a chapter that I wrote, which meant I needed to name him. He’s introduced to us as Tim Morrigan, but as those who have read the book will know, he is also known as Ben Phillips. For the benefit of those who haven’t, or haven’t yet got that far, I won’t go into the details of how that came to be – simply why those names were chosen in the first place.

And it’s at this point that I display what a total nerd I am, since his name is actually a threefold joke.

Joke one: it’s a play on Jim Moriarty.

With all the Sherlock references that went into St Mall’s and the fact that we wrote it at a time when I was working my way through all the Sherlock Holmes books, it seemed like a good plan for the bad guy to evoke the idea of Moriarty. I went with the BBC Sherlock “Jim” instead of “James”, though, and that’s where Tim came from. “Morrigan”, on the other hand, has a similar phonetic structure to “Moriarty” and is also an Irish word.

Joke two: it’s a reference to the Morrigan.

The Morrigan is one part of the Irish triple goddess of war, death, destruction etc. She’s a shape-changer, which is fitting for a devious and mischievous character. She’s associated with general misery, and interacts with the hero Cu Chulainn. Some theories associate her with the Welsh Morgan le Fay, though they don’t have a lot in common, even taking the French ‘Vulgate Cycle’ of Arthurian legends into account.

… I think my nerd is showing. I recently wrote a research project about women in mythology, so I was examining that particular comparison. Don’t worry if that went straight over your heads.

Basically, the Morrigan is a troublemaker, a shapechanger, and a nasty piece of work.

Joke three: it’s another Sherlock reference.

You know we were talking about BBC Sherlock? Well, that means Benedict Cumberbatch is involved. And you see, his full name is Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch, which meant that Tim/Timothy was easily paired with Ben/Benedict. He references his older sister as a factor in the name choice, and given that she’s probably about the age of most Sherlock fangirls, it makes perfect sense that she would have done that deliberately.

I mean, I’m neither confirming nor denying that she did, or that she even likes Sherlock. But it’s a possibility, isn’t it? (The answer is right there in the book, if you’re looking for it. I was wondering if the others would notice.)

Okay, but what about Phillips?

I don’t remember where the Phillips came from. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t motivated by a desire to include the dreadful amazing pun in the title of chapter 64 (or 65 if we ever fix the fact there are two chapter 12s in that edition, hee hee): “IT’S PHILLIPS, TIM, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT.” Being, of course, an extra-nerdy joke on the Star Trek quote, “It’s Physics, Jim, but not as we know it.”

Like I said, pretty sure that wasn’t the motivation – just a result that I was very pleased with. I remember sending Charley that chapter and babbling incoherently about the title because I was unbelievably proud of myself, despite knowing that 90% of people wouldn’t even pick up on my genius.

She appreciated it, though.

It might have been that it went well with Morrigan, because it does. It might have been an entirely random name plucked from the ether. Possibly I was looking at my bookshelves and saw the Mortal Engines quartet by Philip Reeve – I have a habit of naming characters after authors. Helen and her mother both owe their surname to Jonathan Stroud, as it seemed appropriate and fit well with both their names, and it’s probably just as well nobody else’s surnames were left up to me or we’d have an entire library of them.

Notably, Philip Reeve and Jonathan Stroud used to be on the same bookshelf which was opposite my desk, although it’s now moved, and I think they were named at about the same time, so I’m going to assume that’s the reason. It’s not quite as entertaining as the rest of his name, but hey, we got four jokes out of it and that’s fairly good going for a single character.

This has been St Mallory’s Forever! trivia. Next time, I’ll probably be talking about Helen, unless there’s anything else you want to know – in which case, please feel free to leave comments!

To Hack Or Not To Hack?

Hello out there. Miriam here, writing to you from Edinburgh where it is, to my great surprise, very sunny. Okay, so it’s night time now, but it was sunny all day. Most strange.

I’m convinced that the only way to solve mysteries is to hack websites and find out about evil villains’ shady pasts by uncovering some great dirty secret. For the last few years, I’ve been telling myself that I can’t be a detective unless I learn to (a) deduce things in an instant like Sherlock Holmes or (b) hack government websites.

And so it was understandable that I thought St Mall’s resident computer whizz, nicknamed Don Pedro for reasons unknown/forgotten to me, would be able to help out our team of intrepid detectives by hacking into websites for them so that they can get the information they need.

Imagine my surprise when I sent a few chapters – drafts, just ideas, nothing definite – to Charley and she came back with this (edited slightly to remove spoilers):

I’m a little wary of the illegal hacking business, though. Perhaps we could get into the system in a more roundabout way, or at least have some explanation for how DP could get at it. We don’t want to be insinuating that breaking into websites is a good idea, after all 😛

Seemed like a good idea to me. I’ve only ever hacked into one website and that was to retrieve some pictures from it, but that was hardly difficult and wasn’t at all illegal. I was just accessing an earlier version, that was all. Seriously, it was totally legit.

But then I started thinking: whatever we write here, people are going to associate with us. I mean, I’ve considered that idea in the past, when trying to decide if something was good enough for other people to read, and have always concluded that I wanted the first manuscript they associated with me to be a good one, rather than a bad one. But this was more of a moral one.

I’ve not kept it a secret that I’m a Christian, but I don’t tend to shout it from the rooftops of the internet as it tends to lead to haters sending you rude messages and to be honest, I got bullied enough at primary school for my faith. I thought I left that behind when I grew up a bit. It’s something that has subtly influenced my writing.

For example, am I going to allow my characters to say “Oh my god”, when it’s something I never say myself? Should they swear, when I don’t if my parents are in the room? (Obviously, no one is swearing in St Mallory’s. They’re far too well-bred for that.)

And then there are a few more important things. Antagonists, I guess, are allowed to do whatever they want because it’s being portrayed as a bad thing. But should the heroes of the story resort to illegal means to solve the problems they’re having, or could that be seen as promoting breaking the law to young, impressionable readers?

I haven’t yet come to a conclusion about this, so any comments on the subject would be welcome. My main reasons for not insisting that characters keep within the law is that, for starters, sometimes the law is wrong, and no one changed the world by keeping to unjust laws; at other times, it may be that something is right in that circumstance. One must consider relative morality as well as absolute morality.

But with this particular quibble of Charley’s in mind, I’m rewriting that scene to be a little less morally ambiguous.

And also, I guess, more realistic. After all, our detectives are very clever, but they’re only teenage girls. And if I haven’t worked out how to hack into my own computer (I’m trying to persuade Voice Recognition to answer to ‘JARVIS’ instead of just ‘Start Listening’, but can’t find the code for that), they’re not going to be busting through firewalls left, right and centre.

Should our characters reflect our moral values, or do you not associate how a character behaves with how you imagine the author to behave? Comments would be much appreciated 🙂

— M

What counts as ‘too many’ with pop culture references?

Good morning, readers! In case you’ve forgotten who I am, as it’s been that long since we last had any posts here, I’m Miriam. I’m the one who isn’t at boarding school – the Londoner 🙂 I’ve just escaped from exams, am working my way through a bunch of shows that I’m playing or dancing in, and redecorating my room. Nevertheless, I caved to Charley’s nagging this morning, sat down at my desk, and did some work on St Mallory’s Forever this morning. And then remembered we had a blog.

We’re good at this whole blogging thing here, I swear.

So, onto the actual post, which is what you want to read, rather than listening to me ramble on about nothing.

Generally, when writing, I steer clear of pop culture references. There are exceptions (my wonderfully hardcore Welsh character, Bronwyn, gets compared to Gwen Cooper on more than one occasion), but I tend to avoid it. It dates the book. It makes it clear when it was written and if it’s still around in twenty years’ time, that’s not always a good thing.

But I guess with e-books it’s different. After all, you can always update them in a year’s time, or two years’, to accommodate that sort of thing, can’t you?

My conclusion when it comes to St Mallory’s, therefore: you can never have too many references.

I don’t know who was responsible for the first Sherlock Holmes references but after that sprouted in the middle of an early chapter, several more followed, some more obvious than others. We’ve had a Doctor Who marathon and a dalek alarm clock. Miss Marple has been mentioned, as has Saruman’s bad singing and the peak of Caradhras.

Oh, and Yoda’s backside, but we don’t talk about that.

We had an absolutely brilliant (though I say so myself) Star Trek related pun for a chapter title. Okay, so the others haven’t seen that yet, as I only just sent it to Charley, but I thought it was brilliant. It took me, like, five minutes to think of it. In fact, I think it was a stroke of genius. My magnum opus. I will be remembered for that chapter title. Except that no one will know I wrote it as opposed to, say, Charley or Mark or Saffi. *sigh* But it was good. Honest.

Not to mention the fact that one of our major characters’ names is a hidden reference in itself, and if anyone picks up on it, I will like them a lot and will send them virtual cookies. But not real cookies, because I have no money to pay the postage. Sorry.

But Miriam, how can we pick up on it when we haven’t read St Mallory’s yet? Um, yeah, we’re working on the whole finishing-the-book thing. Honest.

Keep your eyes peeled for announcements. I think we’re getting there with the plot and we’ll be tying up loose ends before too long!

— M

Do Your Research

“I’m not a pyschopath, Anderson, I’m a high functioning sociopath. Do your research.”
~ Sherlock, “A Study In Pink”, BBC (2010)

Always do your research. Otherwise you’ll find yourself being snapped at by Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and that would, obviously, be tragic. Although, I wouldn’t mind that much. I mean, fictional characters TALKING to me? Who spiked my drink and where do you get that stuff from?

As everybody knows, the key to writing a realistic and generally more interesting novel is to do research. It doesn’t matter whether your novel is a modern crime novel or a historical romance: you’re going to have something you need to look up. By the way, what is the difference between an Inspector and a Detective Inspector? Anyone who knows, leave a comment.

But I digress.

Research is very important, from world building to clothing to social hierarchies, and when I was asked to join in with St Mallory’s Forever I knew I was going to have to do some work. I had several issues to investigate:

  1. I didn’t know anything about life in a boarding school, and it wasn’t really fair to leave all of that to Charley, though we would probably go to her for reference on any point anyway.
  2. I had read very few mystery/crime/detective novels and didn’t know quite how they worked out. I’d also never written one.
  3. The idea of writing as blog posts or diary entries or letters was something that I hadn’t done in about six years and I couldn’t see how it could read as a coherent narrative without sounding forced or incongruous with what it was supposed to be (the blogs of three teenagers who all think they’re the only ones blogging about this and so cannot refer to each other’s posts or miss things out themselves… always a challenge!).

The first was relatively easy to solve. I asked Charley lots and lots of questions.

Actually, I didn’t have to ask her all that many, because when I first found out she was at a boarding school I interrogated her quite thoroughly, until she gave me a rough timetable and everything, just to shut me up (so, nothing’s changed…*grin*). I was also so intrigued I went on her school website and read up on it. That’s not stalkerish, because she went on mine too.

In addition to this, I’d been doing some research into vocational ballet training, such as the Royal Ballet School or the English National Ballet School. The RBS in particular has some really great information in their ‘documentation’ on the website, including approximate timetables, rules, and details of rooms. This was very helpful for getting an alternative perspective.

More recently, I was on a course with the Royal Artillery Band and while hanging out in the rest area of the band block, I was perusing the stacks of army-related magazines and found one entitled “The Service Parent’s Guide To Boarding Schools”. Although this didn’t give me particular information that I didn’t already know, it was very useful to look at what army families would want in a school, and what activities there were relating to that sort of world within schools. Since boarding schools are very often populated by a lot of ‘army brats’ (Charley’s words, not mine), this seemed like something to remember when working on St Mallory’s, as students whose parents are soldiers are quite likely to be at the school and should be mentioned.

So, the first one was pretty much nailed. I knew about timetables, uniforms, rules and regulations, dormitory layouts, House arrangements, sports activities, grades and Ofsted reports, and Forces discounts.

Next we had my lack of mystery reading / crime reading / detective stories etc. Easily solved. Work on St Mallory’s resumed right in the middle of my Sherlock obsession, just after series two of the BBC series had finished and I was consoling myself by reading all of the books, one after the other in totally the wrong order. I knew how detectives worked, obviously. We were doing well.

As for writing as blog posts, although my own are very rarely narratives, one of the blogs I read has some really good examples. The blog is My Pajama Days and she often writes her posts as mini stories almost, with dialogue and description. This was a really interesting style to study when considering how to work on this project. There are other blogs I could name, but to share them all would be to reveal what an odd combination of interests I have… ha ha!

It’s also something you learn by doing. I write for a blog. In fact, I write for three blogs – four if you count the guest posts I sometimes do for Mark Williams International. My own blog is Miriam Joy Writes, but I also have a book blog, Books – Lost and Found, and then there’s this. My blogging style now is very different from how it was when I started, so I’m developing a ‘voice’ that I hope comes through (although not too much!) in the characters we write.

Research can be anything, though. When writing one of my novels (still a WIP, after two years), I was constantly referring to ‘A Guide To Irish Mythology’. Another novel needed much highlighting of passages in ‘The Pagan Celts’, a great resource. I wrote tonnes of notes on old Celtic legends from several websites, too.

I’ve had conversations with ex policemen on NaNoWriMo forums about how the Force works, discussions with fencers and kick boxers about what it would be like to be a modern day knight and how much they’d have to train. I’ve read blogs and magazines in army barracks and the websites of private schools. I’ve badgered friends and strangers to tell me everything they know on a subject.

Yeah, it can make people think you’re weird, and yeah, your search engine history may get you arrested by the end of it (especially if you’re writing a crime or murder mystery novel), but research is important.

Next time you’re reading a blog that seems irrelevant, remember it might be useful as research in the future. When people have an interesting background or hobby, ask questions – even if you’re not writing about it at the moment! You never know. Either it’ll be stored in your mind palace (aaaand there goes another Sherlock reference. But it’s too awesome not to share) for later, or it’ll spark off an idea that’s so amazing you have to write it NOW.

When you’ve finished researching it, that is.

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to research, and how did you go about it? Do you like this stage of planning or does it hold you back? And can you please answer my Inspector/Detective Inspector question? It’s getting on my nerves.

— M