The seed of a story can be found anywhere, sometimes as easily as seeing something outside your window or overhearing a conversation. It is a bit of standard advice to “write what you know”, but to my mind that really should be expanded upon to explain that what you know doesn’t just mean what you have personally experienced. Vicarious experience, from reading, from watching films and television, from listening to other people — this is all part of “what you know”.
Some non-fiction books are particularly good at providing curious pieces of information that can form the seed of a story, or be useful ingredients to help make a story richer and more interesting. I particularly like old encyclopaedias and reference works, but there are three books I find particularly inspirational and interesting.
Where else, opened at random, might you find an entry on “Burkers. Body-snatchers; those who kill by burking” or the rules for the playing of the card name known as “Gleek” or that a “Jeremy Diddler” is someone adept at raising money on false pretences. The older editions are the most interesting, my favourite is a Cassell two volume set from 1898. You can also look it up online.
2. A Dictionary of Chivalry by Grant Uden
Illustrated by Pauline Baynes
This wonderful compendium of all things medieval is chock-full of interesting details about armour, weapons, castles, significant historical figures and so on, but is made extraordinary by the wonderful illustrations of Pauline Baynes, which feature on every page. Baynes is probably best known for illustrating the original editions of the Narnia books, but her work in the Dictionary of Chivalry is even better, if that were possible. It is out of print, but there are usually quite a few second-hand copies available.
3. The Book of Weird or The Glass Harmonica by Barbara Ninde Byfield
Originally published as The Glass Harmonica, later re-released as The Book of Weird, I read about this book when I was 10 or 11 in a piece by author Andre Norton, but wasn’t able to find a copy for many years. This charming and idiosyncratic book is subtitled “A Lexicon of the Fantastical. In which it is determined that: Wizards see best with their eyes closed; Torturers reek of mutton, cold sweat and rust; It is Unwise to take a Herald on a Picnic; Like Owls, Bells comment; Apprentices cost but little to keep: Bats consider sunlight vulgar, and other revelations of the mystical order of things . . .”
Illustrated by the author, the book begins at “A” with entries on advisors, including soothsayers, fortune-tellers and oracles, and concludes not at “z’ but with appendices on weights and measures, simples, specifics and sovereign remedies, including things like the prevention of scorpion bites (wear forget-me-nots).
Also out of print, but second-hand copies are readily available, particularly of the later paperback The Book of Weird. However, if you can find one, the original hardcover is a larger format and a more attractive book.
Thank you Garth for taking the time to share your ‘Three Inspirational Non-Fiction Books for Fantasy Writers’ on the Booktopia Blog.
Cool Stat: As of December 2011, Garth’s books have sold in excess of 5,000,000 copies internationally.
A Confusion of Princes
By GARTH NIX
A grand adventure that spans galaxies and lifetimes, A Confusion of Princes is a page-turning thriller, a tender romance, and a powerful exploration of what it means to be human. Bonus Garth Nix short story ‘Master Haddad’s Holiday’ exclusive to the ANZ edition.
I have died three times, and three times been reborn, though I am not yet twenty in the old earth years by which it is still the fashion to measure time. This is the story of my three deaths, and my life between. My name is Khemri.
Taken from his parents as a child and equipped with biological and technological improvements, Khemri is now an enhanced human being, trained and prepared for the glory of becoming a Prince of the Empire. Not to mention the ultimate glory: should he die, and be deemed worthy, he will be reborn…Which is just as well, because no sooner has Prince Khemri graduated to full Princehood than he learns the terrible truth behind the Empire: there are ten million princes, and all of them want each other dead.
About the Author
Garth Nix grew up in Canberra. He studied for a BA in Professional Writing at the University of Canberra and has travelled to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Garth has worked as a public servant, bookseller, book editor and literary agent. In 2002, following his outstanding international success, Garth returned to full-time writing (despite his belief that this contributes to the strange behaviour of many authors).
As of December 2011, Garth’s books have sold in excess of 5,000,000 copies internationally. His books have appeared in the bestseller lists of the New York Times, the Sunday Times (UK), Publishers Weekly (US), The Australian, The Bookseller (UK) and Bookseller & Publisher (Australia). His books have been translated into more than 39 languages. Garth lives in Sydney with his wife Anna, who is a publisher, and their two sons.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, was published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.