I have a friend (oh, good for me!) She is eleven, just, and is rather mad about unicorns. Oh, she likes dragons, but if all my dragons were to magically turn into unicorns I would have a friend for life.
So, I have started writing a tale which includes unicorns.
The initial idea I had was just to write a short book about a girl that gets magically transported to a land (Narnia style), meets a unicorn and has fun and frights. But then, in my own way, I started thinking about the girl, about who she was, and about where she comes from. Suddenly, I found myself with a young girl who has been adopted by two mums, has a bad temper, and through no fault of her own is lonely.
Then, of course, I had to think about the land she has been transported to. It is a land full of magic, but is it an Oz kind of land? An early Disney world? Or is it more a Middle Earth?
All of a sudden I find myself with a growing pile of notes in OneNote, fully-fledged characters with issues, and a land which is going to be far more dangerous than any eleven-year-old would be comfortable with. And then to balance it all off, she makes friends; incredible friends. And suddenly, when in the land, she is no longer lonely.
Oh, dear! This is getting complicated...
The name means fair of brow and is Celtic in origin. One of her mums, Mama-Cat (called because she has the cat), has a Welsh background, so when she and Mama-Tea (named because she loves tea) adopted the little apparently abandoned baby (the apparently is important, eventually), she decided on the name. Mama-Cat's much older daughter from an earlier relationship also has a Celtic name; Callwen.
In many ways, Aelwen is a typical eleven-year-old. She is in her last year of junior school in London, and does all the usual things like mess around, eats sweets when she can, and goes to scouts. But, it is not as simple as that.
Aelwen has never been one of those people who has long lists of friends, but rather just a few close friends. Unfortunately, they keep moving away, and she is feeling very lonely.
The girl is incredibly creative. Her room is a complete mess, as is most of the house, but in the corner is her art desk and it is meticulously organised.
Oh, one other thing, she has Heterochromia - one eye blue and the other green. Her mums think her eyes are beautiful, as do her best friends, but you know what kids are like. At school, she often gets teased about them, to the point of being bullied.
She is a strong girl, and though she gets hurt, she will take herself to her desk, look up at her favourite picture of a unicorn, and lose herself happily in some created world.
Unicorns and Strange Lands
For me, the key to any story is the setting. Some of the story is set in London which needs no imagination from me. I was born and brought up in an area very similar to the one Aelwen lives in, even if it was the other side of the Thames. But the bulk of the story is set in the beautiful world called Ferenland in a country called Eadland.
Now, any bright sparks out there might start seeing hints of Anglo Saxon going on. Well, you are quite right, and in this tale, it is very important. But I am not going to tell you why!
All the place names have Anglo Saxon roots and all the names apart from Aelwen are Anglo Saxon. The only compromise I have made is with some of the spellings. So where I have some vowels or consonants with unfamiliar accents or even unfamiliar letters in words, I have used the modern equivalent. Well, this is not a textbook and I want people to get on with the story, not fight with the words!
At first glance, some of my characters may want people to reach for the anti-Tolkein spray. But I have leap-frogged his wonderful variations of people, had a look at what the Saxons thought of it all, and come up with my own variations.
So, for instance, the elves, or elfen, are very common. They live normal length lives and normal style lives. They look a little different. They are much darker skinned than some humans, have the ubiquitous pointy ears, and are a little smaller, though very strong.
Trolls are my big break with tradition. Mine are rather nice. I have based them on bears, or the human that would have happened if a bear had been our distant ancestor. They are very big, pretty furry, and have some bear traits. So, for instance, while females and young trolls live in villages, the males tend to be loners, often living on their own or perhaps with a brother. They only go to the village when they are trading or they are ... well, baby trolls have to come from somewhere! Trolls do know who their mothers are, but rarely their father. And since they are brought up by all the females, they don't have the same attachment to their mothers as we would.
Okay, I am getting too complicated here. Quickly onto unicorns. Or Unicorn singular.
Arien is my unicorn. He is BIG! Twenty-Two hands, which is two hands bigger than the current biggest horse.
Oh, and he is not a horse. He is very adamant about that. Unicorns in my world are created by leftover magic and are very rare. Indeed, he may be the only one. They are immortal, are strong, intelligent and complete loners. They eat meat as well as more horsey stuff, have cloven hooves of metal, and are stuffed full of magic.
When we meet Arien, however, there is a problem. He has no alicorn, his horn (real word, I didn't make it up). He lost it during a war a thousand years before. Without his alicorn, he cannot use his magic. Aelwen, he decides, has been sent to help him find it.
And that is where my story starts.
Friendships and Histories
Whenever I write something, I always sketch out some sort of history, even if just a few lines. Context is important to me and helps me build the story, even if you the reader might never discover what that history is.
The history behind this story is not only important to my writing but will become important to the characters too. With that in mind, for the moment, it is one big secret. But it is not just a little fairy-tale history, this is a long history of magic, of power, of kings and Dru (my version of magicians), and of the unicorn Arien. And Aelwen will have to find her own place in this incredible world if she is to fulfil her destiny and discover who she really is.
But it is also about friendship and being young. Aelwen is eleven, and her new best friend is a short Dunelfen (mountain elf) called Feyerlynn.
Fey is an interesting character. She is very bouncy and incredibly independent. Although only thirteen, just, she spends months on her own travelling around Eadland taking messages for her father to other villages of elves. She is a brilliant horse rider and stunning archer. But she is more complicated than that.
Fey falls out with everyone. She has terrible trouble connecting to people, and says and does the wrong things all over the place. People love her, she is terribly sweet, but they don't get her, and she knows she sometimes drives people away. It is why she volunteers to spend so much time travelling. She can't hurt people or herself on her own.
When she meets Aelwen, everything changes. Here is a young person, someone so out of her depth in this strange world, that she can relate too. So much so, that despite Fey's big mouth, Aelwen refuses to be pushed away. Aelwen quickly works out that Feyerlynn is different, that relationships are a mystery she struggles with, but it doesn't matter to her.
The two become the best of friends, which give Aelwen a problem.
She is missing her home and her mums to the point of heartbreak, and yet with Feyerlynn, Arien and others, she is finding friendship of a depth that she has possibly never had before.
With my fantasy Dirt, although I had evil characters (and there are more to come), we only met them through the eyes and the experiences of our goodies. There was a good reason for this. I was trying to tell a family saga from the main character's point of view; a tale of friendship and striving for a better world. Dirt is not simply a fantasy, and I think that has caused people who were hoping for a shallow sword and sorcery epic a problem. It is a true saga, a fight for freedom and fairness, where the dragons are real characters and the magic is not even very useful most of the time.
The story of Aelwen is different. This is stuffed full of magic that will break all the rules. I have created a clever magic system that I am very proud of, and it will allow for some amazing explosions and gruesome deaths!
But you cant have a gruesome death unless you have someone who likes gruesomely killing people. In my case, I have a whole family of them. King Deyoffen of Egessa and his twin daughters Wulfwynn and Maerwynn. (Note, more Anglo Saxon).
The two girls are only twelve, but oh they are a couple of horrors. Already powerful in magic, they use it to get their way with everybody. They have no problem killing someone in the way, or sucking the life from a slave to give them more power.
Although they are identical twins, one has white hair and silver eyes and the other has black hair and golden eyes. Okay, almost identical then. One is gregarious and firery, while the other is quiet and clever. I fear both of them, to be honest.
I am having so much fun with them. Although the book will concentrate on Aelwen, Arien and Feyerlynn, these two and their family and dark friends will feature heavily and the world will crackle with magic!
Where is this all going?
Good question! As I said, this was only to be a quick tale, but not only has it grown into a solid book, it will probably be a series. I can see this continuing until Aelwen is an adult, at which point she will have some terrible choices to make.
I think this story is going to turn out to be very different to some others. I hope it will tick the action-packed side of things, but I also want it to resonate with young girls and boys, and older ones too, as they watch the young people, good and bad, growing up and struggling with issues that are so very familiar, even if the world is full of incredible beasts.
There are a couple of quirks already. Aelwnen's mothers are, of course, gay. I did not do this to make any sort of point, it was just that the girl the story is originally written for has two mums, though she is not adopted. She is also not lonely without friends, I should point out, and is a happy, fun little brat. But she is getting the story before anyone else, and I am sure she will find lots of bits of Aelwen and Feyerlynn that are her and her sister. Including the temper bits...
I am playing with the artwork as I go along. As with the later Dirt books, I am using Daz 3d for faces and poses, though I will be painting on the clothes. My map-painting skills have improved and the map is much nicer looking. I know it seems early to do all this, but it helps me make the story nice and rich.
I am playing with voices too in my head (thinking of future audiobook versions). The elves are going to all be west country, mostly because I think it sounds dead-cute on the chirpy, unpredictable Feyerlynn.
Arien, in my head, is Anthony Hopkins in Zorro mode. It works perfectly for the huge, serious unicorn that has lived so very long.
I am currently writing chapter eight, which is about eight chapters ahead of where I had planned to be this week.
I have one problem - Dirt. I am still writing a couple of spin-off stories, though I have no timeframe for those, and series three is nagging at me. I have even written part of the first chapter.
I will get this first unicorn tale finished first. It has suddenly become a very important book to me. There are a couple of writers out there who have written for young people without compromising for them. I have discovered the attraction of doing that. Aelwen might not have a love interest at eleven (though maybe the odd passing crush), but she is a complete person, just like my older characters in Dirt. She is as fun to write and to write for as anyone else. But maybe, just a little more innocent.
Look out for more news about Aelwen Jones: The Unicorn Girl.