Of Albion Academy and Coffee Shops

16237739_10154373368938036_1929547110_nI’m currently in a coffee shop between Trinity College and the Department of Manuscripts, enjoying some well-deserved treats before I head over to the Museum (because Bog Bodies!). As it seems every time I go on a trip a friend publishes a book, I’ve been chatting with my friend Elijah David, author of The Albion Quartet, the first book of which, Albion Academy, was recently released. In celebration, I’ve demanded he write even more, and have handed my blog over to him for the day. Thus, without further ado, Elijah David.

Thanks for having me today, Wren!

Since you’re always posting about the wonderful places you’ve traveled to, I thought I could talk a bit about how real-life places show up in my fiction.

I actually have two main real-life settings for most of the stories I’ve published. The John Valley stories (“The Debt-Keeper“, “My Friend the Fish“, “Red: Haunting” and “The Closet”) all take place in a fictionalized version of my hometown in Northwest Florida. Like Ray Bradbury in his Green Town books (Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, etc.), I wanted to capture something of the world I grew up in, while at the same time exploring the strangeness of life. By writing these stories as fantasy and magical realism, I was able to do more than just retell events I experienced; I could create new stories that fit the setting. In fact, I’m not sure there are any “real” events in these stories. Once I established John Valley, the setting and its characters took on a life all their own. (I should probably note that I have borrowed names higgledy-piggledy in some of these stories which have no bearing on the people who owned them, like my Uncle George’s surname belonging to a haunted house in the Red story. Again, that’s the joy of fiction.)

The other main setting that appears is the setting for Albion Academy and its sequels: Ilium, Alabama. Ilium is patterned (in some ways, but not totally) on the city where I attended college. Even the name is a play on the city’s real name. (The city Ilium is based on also contributed some elements to John Valley.) Here again, I’ve taken liberties by having the town be a fictional version of the real-life city. The advantage of using a real-life location in this way is two-fold. First, I already have a general layout of major landmarks and streets available to me, which saves a lot of effort in the worldbuilding stages. Second, I’m free from the constraints of having to stick too closely to a street map that already exists. It’s having my cake and eating it too.

Using fictionalized versions of real locations isn’t always the best course, however. In Albion Academy, I had to include at least one location that can actually be visited by the readers (although I have sadly not visited it myself). In this case, that’s the Glastonbury Tor. Historically connected to Avalon and Merlin, it was the perfect location to slip into the books. (But you’ll have to be watchful; I don’t name it as such in the novel.) How did I use a place I’d never visited in a novel? Google is your friend, my friends. The wonderful thing about modern technology is that you can find pictures and descriptions of foreign (or just distant) places to help you get the details right. Google Earth and Google Maps have satellite imagery for a lot of places like Glastonbury Tor that can help you get a feel for the scenery.

One thing I haven’t done so far in my fiction is utilize a real location as a main setting without fictionalizing it. I have a story in mind that will do this with Chattanooga, but I believe that will have to wait until after the Albion series is complete.

What real-life locations have you used in fiction? Did you keep the setting strictly in line with the actual place or did you use artistic license? Are there any real locations in fiction you’ve read about where the author made you want to visit?

Elijah David works as a copywriter and content editor at a Chattanooga advertising agency. He holds an MA in English (UTC) and is a member of the Chattanooga Writer’s Guild. An avid reader of fantasy, he started writing Albion Academy when a trio of fictional characters grabbed his attention and wouldn’t let go. He is currently working on the second of four planned books in the world of Albion Academy. In addition, he edits and contributes to the Tolkien journal Silver Leaves. As far as he knows, Elijah’s only magical ability is putting pen to paper.

If you would like to order Albion Academy, you can find the paperback here and the ebook here. I would also recommend visiting Elijah’s blog and following him on facebook.

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The Book of Kells and Trinity College

After we finished at the National Library, MK and I headed over to another well known library, which, unfortunately, is more museum than library (but I really wanted to handle and read some of these books! Ah, such is life). Trinity College is only a block or two away, so we swung down to visit the Book of Kells Exhibit.

Let me preface this by saying the only reason I don’t have any photos is because they asked nicely that we not take photos (and all the pictures I took of actual manuscripts I don’t have reproduction rights for, so I can’t share). Technically, I still could have taken photos, because it’s the flash that’s problematic, not the picture taking, but I’ve learned that if one person does something, suddenly everyone else thinks its their right to do it too, and they generally do it wrong. Since I would prefer for old manuscripts not to be damaged, I kept my phone away, like the virtuous woman I am.

The Book of Kells is absolutely gorgeous, and a ticket to see the book also includes a walk-through history of the book and its inks (which includes things like ground lapis) as well as a look at a variety of other historic documents (like the Proclamation of 1916, which is important to the Easter Rising and Ireland’s journey to becoming an independent country once again–it is very much worth reading if you have the time!). The library also has a variety of busts on display, all of prominent literary authors.

Circling back to the Book of Kells, however, the book is one of the most in-tact for its time period, and is also one of the most lavishly illustrated. It was, in a way, like the ultimate picture book, with the illustrations working alongside the story. In other ways, however, it is quite fantastical, as the illustrations often tell the stories through symbolism, and the symbols on their own could perhaps tell a half a dozen different stories. The book itself is significant because it was created as a memorial to Colm Cille’s death, one of the most revered Irish saints (Padraig/Patrick and Brigid being the other two). While usually only one of the gospels in on display at a time, high-quality scans of a number of pages can be seen throughout the display.

The library itself–which one enters after exiting the Book of Kells display–is one that seems it would be quite cozy, if no one was tromping through it. It was an appropriate place to spend a rainy afternoon.

Plus there’s a coffee shop right nearby. It wasn’t as good as the coffee shop at UCC, though.

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White Gloves and Old Documents

I have come to absolutely love old sections of libraries. It’s like a different sort of library, one where time sort of doesn’t exist. Everything is old and new at the same time, and it’s all so startlingly quiet. With the exception of non-internet enabled laptops (in most cases), there is no other electronic noise, and in some places you wouldn’t blink if a Lord of the Rings cosplay walked by, carefully carrying a book. If you do blink, you’re new. I’ve found the people who frequent these areas tend to embrace rather…unique styles. For whatever reason, they are drawn to research something that you can’t find many modern books about, or they need original sources, so they gather where manuscripts are old and vellum abounds. These libraries–usually located in the basements of normal libraries–are like baby versions of the Department of Manuscripts in the National Library of Ireland.

The Department of Manuscripts isn’t what most people think of when they think of the National Library. The main library has a nice big rotunda and all sorts of pretty dressings to make it look nice. The Department of Manuscripts is almost hidden on Kildare Street, along with a lot of other brick fronted buildings. It’s right near the Royal College of Physicians, which has columns and other fun stuff at the front. But the Department of Manuscripts is, itself, not particularly descript. The interior is older, but well kept, with a few non-manuscript historical artifacts wandering about. There are two parts, one being a sort of showcase museum for old manuscripts, the other being the research area.

The research area–or reading room–is not just a place that you pop up to. This is something where people have to plan ahead so they know exactly what sorts of things they will be looking at when they get there, and when they get there, spend their entire day in white gloves, so as to ensure that the oils and dirt on their fingertips do not transfer onto the page (or, in some cases, sweat). This isn’t just something where you wash your hands and are good to go–no oil, no dirt. In exchange, beautiful information and breathtaking books.

This is only the third such library I’ve been to, and I loved it. It has a different smell than other libraries, perhaps because of how careful one must be to keep the books happy. Perhaps this is something of a modern fairy ring. Fairy rings were supposed to serve as a bridge between two worlds, and if you’ve ever visited one, you sometimes do feel like you’re not quite in this world any more. But books–books are an entire series of worlds, even when they are talking about this one. They’re not just portals between worlds, they’re portals in time. So just maybe today’s fairy rings don’t have to be trees and a clearing, or mushrooms. Maybe brick walls will work just as well.

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No Rest For The Weary: Hello, Dublin

So, I kinda lied. You see, we’re going home, but we’re not home yet. One of my professors had offered to give us a personalized tour of the National Library, which…is not something usual. So, of course, we leaped at the opportunity to take a look at a lot of old books. So we’re making a brief stop in Dublin before we continue on back to Cork and the university. Since neither of us have had the chance to spend much time in Dublin (beside visiting the National Museum two or three times), we’ve decided to do our best to make this one a triple header by visiting the National Museum (maybe THIS time I’ll actually make it to the bog bodies!), Trinity College (which is the home of the Book of Kells, FYI), and the National Library. The National Gallery of Ireland is just around the corner, too, and I’ve heard there’s a great blues dancing place around here (because I still haven’t been dancing since I left the US), but I have a feeling we won’t be able to get quite that far, as we do have to head home in fairly short order and, let’s face it, we’re tired. It’s been a long trip. Home sounds good. Home sounds cool.

Also, yet another one of my friends (who all seem to be much more talented at productive things than I am–my talents seem to lie in getting in trouble) has recently had a book come out, so I’ve invited him to write up a guest post to show off how awesome he is, if he doesn’t mind. Other than that, I have nothing to report, so good week, and good night.

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Goodbye, Paris

Today, I am sad.

We got up before the sun rose, packed our bags, turned our keys to our hostel, and took a long bus ride to the airport. And we left Paris.

I know it was time to go (because, well, there are other things that must be done, and one can’t be on vacation forever), but I already miss it.

I miss the L’Ouvre, and wish I had been able to spend a few more days there.

I miss the bookstores, because it is very hard to find good French books.

I miss the coffee, because I’m even more of a coffee snob now than when I arrived.

I miss the history, because while we might make fun of the French, their love of wine and cheese, and their tendency to surrender, the world actually owes a lot to them.

I miss talking with a World War II vet, even though I might have insulted him.

I miss the food, because it was good, and because while we make fun of the French for their love of wine and cheese, they make darn good wine and cheese.

I miss figuring out the corners of the city where the non-famous, but important things are. Like, where the Asian markets are so I can find hot sauce.

I miss the preponderance of rose flavored things.

I look forward to going back home, because I miss school, and I miss my flatmates, and I miss my own corners of my little city, where I don’t have to take the metro to get around.

So here I am, missing two places as once, happy to be going to one, sad to leave the other.

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The Most Expensive Dinner I’ve Ever Bought

As it is soon drawing to the point where we must abandon Paris for our more permanent abode, MK and I have started looking at all the things we’ve been meaning to do, but failed to do. The one thing MK had strongly requested at the beginning of our trip was that we get one nice, expensive, well-made Parisian meal. Which we have now done.

We’ve actually been planning this since before Christmas, and even went so far as to make reservations. It took us a while to find the place, as it was quite small, and we had actually chosen to walk (!!) from our hostel–which was no small feat. Even without stops, it probably would have taken us a half hour. We stopped by the Gallerie de Lafeyette on our way, then finally cut across and found the restaurant (thanks to GPS, because without it, we would still be wandering around, trying to figure out where we were supposed to go). The restaurant itself was beautiful, everything was nicely set, everything was in French and English (which is nice when you aren’t really sure what an item is in English, much less in a foreign language). This was definitely a meal to take your time over (all five courses of it), which generally wouldn’t have been a problem for us except, well…I lost my voice.

img_2163Completely gone. Like, not even a squeak. Just a general low whisper. This makes conversation very, very difficult. But we soldiered on, had some soup, something that was really tasty but I’ve yet to determine what exactly it was (best guess is whipped egg white with grilled onions and garlic in it with the raw yolk just sitting there, eyeing me with one eye). The bowls for the soup came with this sort of crust already baked onto them, with a nicely placed hole to one side, through which the waiter poured the soup. We continued through our meal, finally coming to the one thing we had both been looking forward to the most.



Yes, dessert. Because we’re sweetness addicts.

It was totally worth the wait. It was like nutella, but on steroids. Nutellroids. It was a perfectly shaped little mousse, with the perfect amount of extra chocolate, the kind where you savour each bite and wish it could last just a little longer.

We eventually, however, had to finish. We had been at the restaurant for several hours, and it was now quite late. We took the metro back to the hostel, said goodnight to the Eiffel Tower from our window, and faceplanted into bed.

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Parisian Chocolate Is Hard To Beat

Alright, alright, I admit it.

I’m a chocolate addict.

And Europe’s been no good for me, either. They have great chocolates. Even their cheap chocolates are great chocolates (especially when compared to Hershey’s). But their expensive chocolates? Oh. My. Blessed. Platypus. They taste gorgeous. Back at home (in Cork) I have this weird top shelf in my closet. It’s not large enough to house much of anything, it’s too high for me to see into, but low enough that I can reach things on it without looking. That’s where I’ve been keeping all of my chocolate. My flatmate’s can’t see what’s up there, so what’s out of sight is out of mind, and they’re all too short to reach, even if they could see. My favorite to date is not the Cadbury Roses of yore, although those are quite tasty, but the “turkish” filled chocolate bars. At first they’re a little off-putting (because what on earth is “turkish”? Is it like turkish delight with a chocolate coating? turkey with a chocolate coating? turks with a chocolate coating? You can see why one might be concerned!) but they’ve become my go-to when I want to be somewhat cheap but also fancy (for your information, turkish=rose. I’m guessing it comes from the old-fashioned turkish delight that was made with rosewater. I’ve never had turkish delight, but if that’s where this flavor comes from, I understand why Edmund was tempted!).

Anyway. Back to France and French chocolates, as that is where we are today.

We had, at the beginning of our trip, hoped to take a train ride into Belgium, during which time I was planning to go chocolate-crazy, but that did not work, so we have been perusing the chocolates here. Today, I think I found my favorite chocolate shop in all of Paris. It’s called La Mère de Famille, and their chocolate is amazing. Besides being amazing, they also make specialized shaped chocolates that go with the season. Oh, and pastries. We bought some for now, and then the very nice girl at the counter helped me figure out how I could package some chocolate dipped candied orange peels back to my mother. Without question, they’ll have to actually travel with me, instead of being shipped (the store, sadly, does not ship to the US), but they’ll also have to go through customs twice before they reach the States–once to get back into Ireland, and then once more when I move back to the States at the end of semester. Depending on who you get when you go through customs, if things aren’t perfectly packaged, they’ll confiscate them. I’m not about to have my chocolate confiscated. We worked out a complicated box/bag system, and she sealed the entirety of it with tape and a nice looking sticker, so unless someone looks too closely, it should be acceptable.

Meanwhile, MK had picked out some macaroons. She’s been a on a mission to find the best ones in Paris, with no game plan greater than stopping every time she sees them in a window. So far, she’s found some pretty good ones. We’ll see if she can actually pick out which one she likes best at the end of it all….

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Old Bookstores and Pretty Parks

We went to Luxembourg Gardens today. Of course, the plan was to go to a museum, have lunch, and then hit another museum, but we got our directions mixed up and a)went to the gardens instead and b)got off the metro at the wrong stop.

So that was how our morning started. Once we realized our mistake, we switched gears to the Gardens plan (which was supposed to be a different day) which included some shopping. But first, the gardens.

after-paris-dump-198-2The gardens are absolutely gorgeous and are most definitely historic. It’s one of those slightly odd places, though, because many people go there as tourists and to see the area, while just as many people take their morning run through the park, play chess, picnic, or do jump squats…you name it. So it the midst of the joggers, you take a moment to look at little places of beauty and history. I suppose it strikes me as funny because one is such a treasure, and the other is so basic and necessary. In time, the gardens become just a part of a run, one that’s pretty, but one that is entirely normal. But to others, it’s almost as funny as the idea of opening your living room blinds and looking out at the Statue of Liberty, or living by Niagara Falls.

Anyway, back to the gardens.

We took some time to play with our cameras, not only because the gardens are pretty, even in winter, but because there’s a variety of statues (which tell a historical story, too), but we had figured out that if you work a panorama right, you can actually take multiple pictures of someone, and that is not an opportunity to waste.

img_7576-2We continued through the gardens and finally stopped at a small cart that was selling crepes and drinking chocolate and had some chocolate. It wasn’t the good stuff of Ireland–you could nearly taste the powder in it–but it was warm, and given that it’s, well, cold, warm is good. We kept wandering, sipping our chocolate, eventually finding our way through an interesting plaza with a fountain, and into an old bookstore. Apparently they actually refurbish books there–I only caught so much from the two old men who were discussing what to do about a certain book. It smelled nice, of old books, but was not of the same sort of bookstore as you might visit to put buy a book to shove in your backpack, so we eventually vacated, and headed on to more fruitful pursuits.

Like visiting the chocolate store.

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Some Thoughts on Parisian Protesters

Over the last few days, we’ve been crisscrossing the center of Paris. We’ve been past the Eiffel Tower more than once, and we’ve watched the light show from the Arc de Triumphe. All of this is near the government centers, which means that there is almost always some sort of protest going on. Some are French, but many have little to do with local matters, but rather with international ones. Once, a while ago, there was one about the Black Lives Matter movement (to give you an idea of the span of what the protesters might be discussing). Many of these protests last all day, or for many days, but are generally maintained in a neat and orderly fashion, where no traffic is blocked or people inconvenienced, but spread out and large enough that you can’t help but take notice of what is going on. There are often people with bullhorns or what-have-you, but what has really struck me is how these protests are so calm and stationary.

Really. They don’t particularly move. Even when they’re chanting, it’s a calm sort of thing (although the French are so stuck up about their language that it might simply be calm because they’re all very carefully enunciating everything at the same time, so as not to turn it into an intelligible combination of words). These places also seem to act almost as open-air discussion centers, with small groups clumping to talk out different viewpoints. I would like to imagine this is what the Greeks meant with early democracy, but I’ve a feeling it is not likely. Still, it makes me curious, and it makes me want to ask questions and hang out for a bit.

Which set me to wondering why, exactly, protesting in France seems so different than protesting in the US. Perhaps part of it is I’m only catching snatches, because my French isn’t that good, or that I’m more curious because it isn’t my homeland. Or it’s like a professor once told me, and that the people foreigners are most likely to meet and connect with first are the people on the fringes of the local culture and society, because those are the people who already don’t quite fit, and will be most willing to help you get acclimated. Maybe the protesters are the same in both places, but here as an outsider, I connect in a different way than there, where I’m not.

I don’t know. It’s all complicated.

We probably won’t see the protesters again, as we’ll be leaving Paris only too soon, but it has given me something the chew on. There have been no riots, so that isn’t exactly something I can compare notes on. But still, I wonder. I mean, my favorites will still be the Irish, because while everyone else is fighting and making messes, they’re just generally lovely and cleaning up everyone else’s mess (Euro 2016 is a good example).Because, you know, if the cops are going to get involved, you might as well sing to them and let them know they’re appreciated.

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The Petitioners At The Eiffel Tower (Or, Why You Should Never Sign A Petition In A Foreign Country)

After walking through the park and saying goodbye to our coypu friend, MK and I began heading off to find food (because we tend to do that a lot). We stopped and watched some people doing a photoshoot (I would have said they were cosplayers, because one of them was dressed like Toph, but then they were joined by others wearing the same sort of clothing style who were definitely not cosplayers, so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they were taking professional photos in their traditional cultural clothing. Because, also, who would do an Avatar photoshoot at the Eiffel Tower, anyway?), then moved on. Or, at least, we attempted to, when we were stopped by a some petitioners.

This is never a good situation to be in, and it is one that makes my skin crawl. I generally won’t even stop for petitioners in my home country, nor will I, in general, sign any petition, because it makes you a very easy target for everything from pickpocketing (best case) to racketeering or intimidation for who knows what. For us, it wasn’t a huge deal as I wasn’t about to let either of us sign, and I have the handy fall-back that most petitioners don’t know how to deal with: I could literally lose my university funding if I get involved in anything political in my host country. Paris might not be in my host country, but it is in my host continent, and I’m not about to lose a scholarship because someone wanted a signature (although I doubt my university would be that strict). But either way, petitions are usually a bad idea, mainly because, well, they aren’t real.

You can often tell because of the details that seem painfully obvious when you think about it, but which are lost on you in the moment. A true French petition won’t be printed in English, but in French. Many legal petitions require that the signatories are citizens or subjects of that country. Basically, if it’s a real thing, the petitioners wouldn’t be interested in us at all, because we don’t fit the parameters necessary. Also, real petitioners tend not to scatter like cockroaches when the police come by. I’ve heard from some of my French friends that the police near the Eiffel Tower and other major landmarks regularly remove the petitioners from the area and confiscate their “petitions” since they are usually up to no good.

And sometimes the no good really is no good. Most of the time, the petitioners really want a “donation”, and every now and then (like today) they will push for a donation even if you won’t sign their petition. Many times, however, by signing, you are agreeing to pay a certain amount, and will go to pretty drastic measures to get you to do so. One girl at the university actually had a petitioner follow her for quite some time, until she managed to lose them in a crowded place. She was not happy about the experience, and was rather freaked out. I think I would be too.

This is also why, unless I’ve been caught red handed (red tongued?) I often prefer just feigning ignorance and pretending I don’t speak whatever languages get thrown at me (I’ve found a heavily accented “sorry!” is the best way to deal with that, because they can’t magically know Spanish or whatever else you have up your sleeve). Because, really, I just want to enjoy wherever I am in peace. Without having to worry about pickpockets. Or con artists. Or anything else. I just want to go “hey! It’s snowing and I’m at the Eiffel Tower!”

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