by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Writing”

The Little Princes: Chapter One

Posted 10 September 2009 in by Catriona

This, as promised, is the first chapter of the novel. Be gentle (but critical) with it: it’s only a baby. And, yes, the title is horrible, but it does as a working title.

1 In Which the King and Queen of the Tiny, Deep Kingdom are Introduced

This is the story of two little princes from a tiny kingdom at the far edge of the world, who left one day on an adventure.

The kingdom was at the bottom of a valley so deep that some people said it was actually under the ground.

But the queen, who was a sensible woman, pointed out that she could see the sky provided she stood in the very middle of the kingdom (which was also the middle of her garden) and tipped her head back as far as she could.

Tall mountains surrounded the valley. They were so tall that, rather than having snow on their peaks, they had a thick white belt of snow around their middles. Even the snow found it too cold on the tops of these mountains, which were just bare, grey rock.

The queen admitted that living in such a deep valley meant that her kingdom was cold, and dark, and damp. But, she said, this meant that it was a lovely place to grow mushrooms, and she and the king did like fried mushrooms on their toast on Sunday mornings.

(The king would have eaten fried mushrooms on his toast every day, but somehow he could never manage more than marmalade on a Monday morning, when he had all the business of the kingdom to worry about and another five days before the next weekend. The queen told him that most kings and queens—kings and queens who ruled big kingdoms, not tiny, deep kingdoms—even had to work on the weekends. But the king didn’t believe her.)

The king and queen’s castle was the smallest castle they had ever seen. They’d bought the kingdom when they were very young and newly married. The king’s family had always been poor, but he’d longed to be a king since he’d been a young child. The king’s parents saved up enough money to send him to the right preparatory schools and then to the university that offered the best degree in kingship, and he’d eventually graduated as a newly anointed king.

The universities hadn’t been offering degrees in kingship and queenship for long. They’d started them to exploit what they called “a gap in the market,” and then they’d had to explain to everyone what they’d meant by that: where some of the old-style kings didn’t have children to carry on the royal line, they argued, citizens could have a king who, without being technically royal, was highly trained in kingship.

And, they added, anyone—provided they could afford the rather steep fees—could become a king. (“Even if they’re a woman!” an early advertisement added, until someone convinced them that that was a little tactless.)

And it worked.

But it worked a little too well for the old kings’ liking.

The new kings might not have been of royal blood, but they were very good at their jobs. They were never to be found carousing all night, or off hunting while their citizens were waiting to petition them.

Suddenly, people whose kings didn’t have a degree began to complain. Why, they asked each other, should they have to wait hours to see a king who would only come storming into the hall, surrounded by panting hounds, and then demand ale, when their neighbours had a polite, quietly spoken king with neat handwriting and a diploma on the wall?

The old kings were appalled. They sent their sons and daughters off to the universities to collect degrees, thinking this would calm the citizens down.

But the citizens didn’t want just any king with a degree. The universities has advertised the degree widely, telling everyone that this was the way for them to get the best possible king—and that’s what the citizens wanted.

So when the kings’ sons and daughters came home with their degrees (having done as little work as possible, thinking to inherit the kingdom anyway), they’d found themselves confronting polite, quietly spoken young kings, who’d answered the citizens’ advertisements and already hung their own diplomas in the Great Hall.

And there was nothing that the old kings could do. The universities had simply thought to make a little money, but—with their shiny advertisements and their promises that their kings would listen to any problem—they’d started a revolution that changed kingship across the world.

In some kingdoms, the hereditary kings hung on, the ones who were too young to need to name an heir and too established to bother getting their degrees. But their citizens didn’t mind: they knew that one day they’d be able to advertise for their own accredited king, and they were willing to wait.

The king of the tiny, deep kingdom had found that his troubles started when he left university.

The university was now turning out more kings every year than there were kingdoms in the whole world. The university forbade their graduates from conquering existing kingdoms by force. Any king who started a war with one of their fellow graduates would be stripped of their official university crown (the one with the five golden points) and forbidden to mention the university in any official letters. This was a serious threat: no one wanted to be ruled by a king who didn’t have a degree in kingship.

In the absence of the most traditional method of winning a kingdom, the dozens of kings who graduated each year were forced to find new ways to rule. So new kings were forming little coalitions that allowed six kings to rule one kingdom, each ruling for one day a week and taking turns on Sundays.

(Despite the university’s policies about fighting, vicious arguments took place between new kings about who would be third king and who would have to settle for being fourth or fifth king. But as long as there wasn’t an official declaration of war, the university pretended not to know about these little squabbles. They made most of their money from the kingship programme. Each year, they printed dozens of shiny badges and garish posters with slogans like “Kingship Doesn’t Need Kinship!” and “Want to Fly High? Give Kingship a Try!” They didn’t want to discourage people from enrolling at their university.)

But joining a coalition cost a great deal, and this king was very poor. Six months after he graduated, he was still living in the small attic room he’d rented when he started at the university (where he paid his rent by performing small chores around the house, and helping his landlady carry her groceries home every Friday) and he still only owned one pair of trousers. He could never have afforded to join one of the big, prosperous kingdoms.

But he did have one advantage over his classmates: he had the queen. Unlike the king, the queen hadn’t always known what she wanted to do for a living: even when she was studying queenship at university, she thought she might like to be a gardener. (The queen’s mother had wanted her to study to be a king, but the queen had insisted on enrolling in the queen course, instead. It was more work, but she didn’t have to spend as much time signing papers, so the queen thought it was worth it.) She was delighted when she met the king, because (quite apart from loving him just for himself) she realised that he was so poor she wouldn’t have to choose: she would have to be both queen and gardener.

It was the queen who suggested they look for a kingdom so small that other, more ambitious kings would never want it.

The real-estate agent who sold the kingdom to the king and queen had told them that the castle wasn’t really a castle.

“Really,” said the real-estate agent, “we’d have to call it a cottage. Look, there’s an herb garden. And roses around the door. And it only has three bedrooms. And there’s a pig in the garden.”

But the king said, “No.” He said it firmly. The king liked to say things firmly, because he wasn’t always confident that what he had to say was important.

“No,” said the king. “If I am living here, then it must be a castle. After all, am I not a king?” (The king hadn’t been a king for very long, so he didn’t sound as sure about this as he would have liked.)

And the real-estate agent looked around the tiny kingdom. It had taken him three days to get there, following a trail over the mountains. (He worked in a cosy office in a city by the sea, where he could walk on the beach and feed the seagulls on days when he didn’t have to sell houses.)

He looked up at the mountains.

He stood in the garden—next to the pig, who was optimistically digging for potatoes in the strawberry patch—and he tipped his head back as far as he could, so he could see the sky.

And he looked at the king, who was wearing his graduation crown, the one with the five golden points.

(The queen was wearing the trousers she wore when she was gardening, because she knew they’d have to clean out the castle before they could live in it. But then the queen was much more sensible than the king.)

And the real-estate agent agreed that the king was a king and the cottage was a castle. And when he’d sold them the castle, he went back to his seaside city, where he shared a packet of fish and chips with the seagulls, and thought that at least here he didn’t have to stand in the middle of the garden and tip his head back as far as he could to see the sky.

Post Of Overwhelming Briefness

Posted 9 September 2009 in by Catriona

So, one of the things I’ve been doing this semester—apart from convening a course for (really) the first time ever, and endless live-blogging—is writing a novel.

I don’t know if it’s any good. I’m fairly sure it’s not.

But, since I’ve been blogging, I’ve been less reluctant to show my writing to people. (I never was reluctant to show my academic writing to people, but then that’s the nature of the genre.)

So, I’ve been thinking, diffidently, and the result is this diffident post.

Essentially, I’m asking a question here: would people be interested in seeing some of this novel (a gentle fantasy for children, if that helps, which I’m writing with my nephews in mind)?

I’d love some feedback from people other than Nick, though I’m not sure I’m robust enough to take severe negative criticism.

I have to ask, though.

If you’d like to read such a thing, let me know in the comments, and I’ll post the first chapter as it stands.

And forgive the diffidence: this is the first piece of fiction I’ve written in many years, and I don’t know whether to send it out in the world or not.

Categories

Blogroll

Recent comments

Monthly Archive

2012
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
2011
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
August
October
November
December
2010
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
October
December
2009
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2008
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December