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The Birth of a Novel - Proverbs and Destiny 2 -The pregnancy test

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blog photo 2 destiny

Image courtesy of Papija2008 at

October 4th 2014


War does not determine who is right, only who is remaining – Scandinavian proverb.


This is the point when I believe I may have an idea good enough to turn into a novel. Writing fiction gives me a free hand when it comes to imagining settings, characters, epoc and events but, to make them believable, a whole world, based on that world’s social, moral and historical mores has to be created and adhered to. This is as true for ‘traditional’ fiction genres as it is for historical, fantasy and science fiction.

My first consideration, when developing the idea that became Destiny, was the basic premise. Without giving away the plot, it might be interesting to go through the thought processes. I considered what effects would be felt by a people who are displaced, how they would integrate with other people, how their culture would change and adapt, how their religious beliefs might be ‘corrupted’, how much of their history would be passed down by word of mouth, and how that might suffer the ‘Chinese whisper’ effect.

Take the Old Testament – are the stories recounted there racial memories of a global catastrophe? Floods, pestilence, famine… aren’t we suffering these things now? How many present-day problems be remembered, forgotten, or embroidered, in years to come?

Take today’s emigration, due to war, famine and economic pressures – hasn’t this all happened before? In pre-history, people lived a more nomadic life and had the opportunity to follow the food and the climate, or escape warring factions. Today, we don’t have that luxury: borders, over-population, lack of sustainable resources makes ice-age man’s lot seem positively luxurious by comparison.

My second consideration was the setting. I’ve already discussed my choice of location as being roughly in the High Atlas Mountains for reasons that will become clear in the novel. It isn’t an accurate portrayal of the region; I’ve taken aspects and altered them to suit my purpose, easier because the story isn’t set in the present. My need was to present disparate cultures, with totally different religions, political systems and cultures, separated by physical terrain, and throw them together in adversity. What happens? Who will remain?

Characters. They begin as people I don’t know, but the more they dance across my pages, their actions determined by me yanking their strings, the more they become alive and I find they are yanking my strings. I fall in love with them, care about them and by the time I type The End, I have a deep need to have their story told to a wider world.

Kiya presents as a wife and mother, devoted to her small family. She’s of Oromo/Berber descent, from a race that was displaced from East Africa, and makes their living as herdsmen in the high mountains. Her special skill is a knowledge of herbs, taught to her by her mother. Her inner strength is already becoming apparent in the early chapters. She is going to need it, big time!

Raphel, I find a difficult character to portray. He’s a gentle man, a man of peace, a story-teller, not strong, and he feels his perceived lack of strength and courage acutely. This said, story-telling is important in his culture because they have no need of written language, or only that passed from Abbaa Sa’a to Abbaa Sa’a (in my story) for the purpose of keeping records of trade.  Stories tell that, once, the Oromo had qubee, letters, but that the cattle ate all written materials: this was a prophesy come true, an order from Waqqa who lives in the sky, and who wrote not on parchment but on suet. Since then the Oromo have read the mooraa, suet, of dead animals to foretell the future, and their history is passed down orally.

While the Oromo had one of the earliest systems of democracy, Alaric is of Northern stock and comes from a dictatorship that glorifies war. Generations of warmongering has driven all other races and cultures from their fertile, enclosed territory between the mountain ranges. This has left something of a vacuum in their culture and another problem that will become evident as the story unfolds. Given his war-lie upbringing, he is not entirely devoid of compassion: he just thinks he is.

A short excerpt:

A slight wind lifted Kiya's finely-braided hair from the nape of her neck, bringing with it the smell of wood smoke. She breathed in the familiar, comforting smell; ahead of her lay Guddaa Mana, the straggle of dwellings she called home. She raised her head, scenting also the damp earth at her feet: Waqqa had sent rain.

Raphel would walk out to meet her if she delayed, and Jalene was little to be abroad so late. Lengthening her stride, she smiled. Her baby daughter had the darkest eyes and curly hair so like Raphel’s: Jalene’s name meant we loved. She longed to hold her, longed to lie with Raphel after a night away, but her own needs must wait: she brought fresh herbs, from the valley to the west, for her sister, Genet, also blessed by the goddess but overdue with her firstborn.

The track turned east again. The smell of smoke was stronger now: odd that she could smell it strongly so far from home.  Someone in the woods? She trod with greater care, aware of every rustle as the light failed, jumping at every shadowy wing-beat of birds flying in to roost. Smoke wreathed above the trees ahead. There was something other than wood smoke, the sound of crackling. ‘No, please, no.’

She stopped, breathless and heart pounding, at the edge of the trees. Her stomach churned at the horror before her: her head spun and she clutched at a branch stop herself falling. Across the cow pasture, flames silhouetted dark figures. A lighted torch arced onto thatch and the air whumped as it caught light. Smoke billowed, flames roared as they caught, and a donkey brayed in terror: almost every house was alight. A woman, it had to be Temara, stumbled from her home screaming and was dragged to the ground by a figure that dwarfed her. Another villager, running to Temara’s aid, was struck down and lay still. No-one else ran to help. Why did no-one help them?

The wind blew a brief hole in the smoke: dark shapes littered the ground.

‘Sweet Goddess…’ The acrid stench of burned flesh made her gag. She touched her cäle, her string of coloured beads, instinctively. ‘Atete, protect us.’ Dodging from cow to cow to hide her approach, and driving them before her, she ran across the pasture.

Temara screamed again, her legs kicking as a large man held her down. Another man, huge beyond her imagining, hauled at her attacker. ‘Get off her. This one’s mine. I am The Chosen.’

The scream cut short and the struggle stilled. The Chosen held his smaller comrade by the throat. ‘Velik’s orders were to bring back prisoners, not kill them all, you stupid bastard.’ A blade shone redly and flashed upwards into the man’s belly. His body hit the dirt.

She shrank behind a stone wall, shaking uncontrollably. They couldn’t all be dead. Some must have made it to the cave. Please, Goddess, they weren’t all dead. Tears wet her cheeks; bile rose into her throat. Raphel, Jalene, Genet, Mother.

She sank to her knees and vomited. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, she forced her legs to move. She could do nothing here. Keeping low, she followed the wall and hedge-lines that skirted the village to the south, climbed to higher ground and searched for the rock formation that marked the beginning of the track to the entrance to the caverns. The familiar rock morphed out of the darkness and she took a step towards it. A small stone plinked onto the rock beside her and skittered on down the hillside. She froze, and then slowly turned and looked up.  A giant of a man stood before her.

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