I hate fight scenes!

For the last lifetime I have been trying to sort out the chaotic mess of a book that will be the basis of a series. It will follow on from The Green Woman, which is already written, polished and quite presentable. Angel Haven was going to be a single book, but like Topsy, it grew. The first job was to sort it out, split it, and make two books out of it. Easier said than done. I split it okay, and sorted out the first part. I even expanded the first part to make a reasonable YA length novel (63k). The second part though, is much harder.
The first volume sets the scene, the atmosphere, the new characters, the threat, the new baddies, the things that are going pear-shaped in paradise. In the second volume we get to the conflict. When your antagonists are Goths, conflict means fighting. And I hate writing fighting.


A writer whose skills in writing fight scenes I much admire is David Gemmell. He makes it sounds easy, all those uppercuts and nifty leg work. Swordplay has never seemed so effortless. Much as I would like to emulate him, I have a basic problem. Before we get to the ‘play’ part, we have to deal with the ‘sword’ bit. Fantasy novels are full of swords. Swords and bows and arrows. And horses. I tried to get rid of them, but in a rather makeshift utopia that scorns violence, there aren’t going to be too many surface-to-air missiles, or nuclear submarines to deal with the rampaging Goths. When you’re fighting characters out of Beowulf, you inevitably end up using good old swords, and bows and arrows. In a ‘green’ community nobody is going to reinvent the internal combustion engine, so you also end up using faithful old Dobbin.


So we have swords, bows and arrows, and horses, none of which I have any experience of whatsoever. Nor do I have any experience leading troops in the field. In order not to look foolish I am leaving a lot of the actual fighting to the imagination. While wriggling out of describing how you decapitate a Goth with a homemade sword riding a Dobbin, I am also wondering how many other writers get themselves into similar difficulties. Fight scenes are difficult to do well. How many times have I read the long drawn out ‘action’ scene of a sword swinging down with such descriptive, long-winded prose that a blind, three-legged sloth would have had time to avoid it? Or the other extreme where the skinny kid with a penknife nips into a breach in Goliath’s defence and bingo! Goliath’s dead.

Am I the only one to loathe and detest writing fight scenes? Does anybody else long to be able to sneak into their pre-industrial world an honest to goodness Kalashnikov to rub out the enemy at the pull of a trigger, or a nice, uncomplicated nuclear missile? Is there anybody who actually enjoys writing about sword fighting? David Gemmell obviously did.


Fear of the unknown

Last night we had a storm. Storms don’t frighten me, never have. I have always loved watching the lightning and listening to thunder growling. Jumping at a crash right overhead is the nearest I ever get to enjoying the thrill of fear. My dad was like that too, though my mother was terrified of storms and if ever we were out when one broke she would insist that we hide somewhere until it was over. Only now, forty years later, can I begin to understand her terror when our flight home from a childhood holiday in Rome was delayed because of a terrific electric storm.

The storm last night was a pretty feeble affair, and no doubt wouldn’t have even stirred me from my deep four in the morning sleep. What did wake me though was a very large, very frightened dog bursting into our bedroom looking for reassurance and somewhere to hide.
My husband started humming ‘My favourite things’ from The Sound of Music and joked about the possibility of the children appearing one after the other in the doorway. No chance. An earthquake wouldn’t wake any of them. Dog though was terrified and had to be hugged very tight for the duration. During a storm the cats disappear into their hiding places, as cats do, but Finbar needs physical contact to reassure him that the world isn’t coming to an end.

PENTAX Digital Camera
As I lay awake playing mother to a trembling hound, I thought about the relationship of early people with the power of nature, and whether what was going on in Finbar’s head was in any way similar: with the proviso that human fear was modified by reverence and awe, which I don’t think play much of a part in Finbar’s psyche.
In my current WIP veneration of the forces of nature, especially the destructive ones, is central to the antagonists’ mindset. The Scyldings are based on early northern European people; they don’t have our scientific knowledge, or our modern scepticism. Most of their reactions are pretty basic and brutal, but they fear what they don’t understand and seek guidance, albeit grudgingly, from an adept of the occult.

Sometimes an intelligent animal’s reaction to a phenomenon can be taken as an indication that early people may have interpreted it the same way. The need to hole up somewhere at night, the relief when the light comes back in the morning, the reluctance to go out in the cold or great heat, the fear of thunder, hail and torrential rain, heaving seas and strong winds, all of these seem credible reactions for my Scyldings as well as my fearful dog.
The ancient Celts, if the Romans are to be believed, feared only one thing: the sky falling on their heads. Is that what Finbar fears too? And don’t even we, modern, sophisticated sceptics, feel something similar when we hear about asteroids, or another rogue state installing nuclear missiles?