Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What sort of magic?

Posted by: David Bridger
This is my first post here, so I should introduce myself. After twenty years of ocean-based fun, during which I worked at various times as a lifeguard, a sailor, an intelligence gatherer and an investigator, I settled with my family and our two monstrous dogs in a wooded valley on the coast in England's West Country, where I write paranormal and urban fantasy.

My story ideas tend to start with an interesting character or two in a situation, usually a single vivid scene that grows in my mind. I live with the mental plot bunny for a week or two, and if it still excites me I start worldbuilding. By now I'll know my main characters well, but will probably have several storyline options and sometimes the whole thing is still a bit amorphous. So I start pinning things down by asking a series of questions, and one of the first is always: What sort of magic?

There's no system of magic in my paranormal romance Beauty and the Bastard, which takes place in a "hidden in plain sight" urban fantasy world. Magical events occur when supernatural characters use their personal gifts. Demons exercise talents such as super-strength and hypnotic mind control, while the hero, Saul, a fallen angel trying to redeem himself, is a martial arts street fighter whose hands turn into blades during combat.

My urban fantasy novel Quarter Square, coming from Carina this June, explores a world where three physical realities occupy the same space. There's our normal world; the magical realm known as the Wild; and in-between places called havens, where magical people who make their living in the normal world can enjoy freedom and peace.

My hero Joe lives among the magical street performers whose home is the Quarter Square haven, so in this book we'll see different sorts and systems of magic. Easiest and most frequently employed is glamour, which street magicians use to mask the real magic and which hides everyone's true nature from the stare of outsiders. But once Joe ventures into the Wild he discovers the existence of deeper, older, more powerful and far more dangerous forms of magic.

Although Quarter Square takes places in a world that's bang-up-to-date, the magical systems are the most classical I've written so far.

The Weaverfields Heir (coming very soon – the day after tomorrow in fact!) is a different animal altogether, because the magic in this paranormal fantasy novel is a secret science. The saga follows several generations of a strangely gifted family, and zooms in on the lives of a few particularly creative individuals who inherit a supernatural talent to see the net, which is the system of relationships between cells, and the building material of the universe. The net looks like a web of gossamer threads connecting everything, but very few people are gifted with the ability to see it and even fewer can manipulate it to bring about change.

This is how my heroine is affected when a reclusive and estranged relative dies and she inherits the net without warning:

The northbound traffic clogged up to a fuming jam that stuttered past the airport. Kate leaned back against the headrest and stared down her nose at the car in front. One more day. One more day. One more day...

After Roborough, the traffic jam dissolved and she took her place in the synchronised escape from the city. She was up on the moor, five minutes past Princetown, when she suddenly felt very ill. She pulled into a lay-by and opened her door slightly in case she had to throw up, thinking it must be the heat. She turned the engine off and closed her eyes.

Dizziness left her unable to move, as if a big net kept twisting and tangling her up, tighter and tighter. A hot flush spread through her chest, and her mouth tasted sour. Her heart throbbed in heavy, painful waves, making her arms ache and her fingertips prickle. Her neck stiffened. Darkness gathered on the edges of her vision and raced inward.

She panted in pain and panic. She was dying.

She saw her dream home in dappled sunlight. The pool water chuckled and hiccupped over the dam. A big fish swam placidly just below the surface, watching her, and deer grazed the lawn in front of her big house. She was dying and she didn’t care because she was going home.

Her chest exploded. She wet herself and her world faded to black.

* * *

Slowly, a lifetime later, she became aware that she was still alive. Her vision cleared, and she saw blue sky, purple moor, grey sheep and dusty black tarmac.

She saw everything in everything: the tiniest molecules in whatever she looked at. She looked into her windscreen, into the glass, saw every flaw, every colour. The liquid glass flowed in an intricate pattern. She retreated from the windscreen and saw her eyes, saw their colours, saw the cells through which she saw. She looked into her heart. Good grief, she could see her heart, beating her back into the outside world.

A web of gossamer threads covered everything in sight. Kate blinked hard to clear her vision, but it was still there when she opened her eyes. The web was everywhere, like a net, linking everything. Golden traces glowed and stretched to infinity in every direction. She looked through it, concentrated on the moorland, and the everyday world returned to its normal focus. She relaxed and let the net glow again and saw deep into everything.

A nearby gorse bush gleamed and pulsed with life. Patterns spread and contracted within its frame. The moor behind it remained three-dimensional while her gorse bush became its own vibrant world, tiny models of itself forming intricate combinations and multiplying throughout the whole: smaller and sharper, smaller and sharper.

She shut her eyes and fought her fear. What could it be? Epilepsy? A brain tumour? Madness? She filed these possibilities away for later. All she needed to do now was gain enough control to drive safely. A wet seat was the least of her problems.


Now it's your turn. What sorts of magic do you like to read and write?

(Edit to post: Unfortunately, The Weaverfields Heir release has been delayed. It will now be available on the 22nd April.)


  1. Magic of the ethereal kind, of fairies and pixies and brownies. Or the psionic ones where the magic of the mind comes into play and is a hidden element until revealed!

  2. Ah yes, these two are at the front of my brain at the moment. Joe encounters ethereal magic in Quarter Square's sequel, which I'm writing now, and the net in The Weaverfields Heir is all about magic of the mind.

  3. I've a soft spot for the subtle kind. Say the wizard is being chased by bad guys in a car and rather than blow the car sky high he just blows out a tire.

    Over all I like the idea that magic works on the idea, "Reality is what you make it." The wizard imposes his will on the universe, often using focus items such as wands and other fetishes. The Harry Dresden books are the best examples of these.

    My favorite wizard though was one in an almost unknown series called "The War of The Wizards". His name was Pyre of Ice and he was a subtle, scary bastard. I liked how my understanding of him changed over the course of the books. In the beginning it seemed he was the penultimate evil wizard. At the end you realize he was one of a few people standing between humanity and things much, much worse than him. He was personally a very brave and self sacrificing individual as well. I like stories where things aren't quite as they seem.

    Drat, I've gone far afield again. Bad habit of mine.

  4. Great excerpt, David. I love the idea of the net.

    I like physical, flesh based magic. Magic that'll devour you if you use sometimes you have to get it to eat something else :D

    I worry about myself sometimes... lol

  5. @ RH - I like subtle, too. And thanks for the recommendation. Never heard of Pyre of Ice. I'll definitely look him up now.

    @ Kim - Thank you! I'm glad you like it. :)

    I love your image of devouring magic! :D

  6. What an awesome blog! And that was a great post, David. I'm a tarot card reader and I practice candle magic from time time myself. For good only, of course. :)

  7. Thank you, Carolyn. Of course, for good only! :)

  8. Great excerpt! Looking forward to reading Thw Weverfield Heirs. Sadly, my mind has only conjured up one fantasy story so far, but I love to read them, especially ones rooted in the real world.

  9. Any kind, so long as it has some kind of internal logic, a minus for every plus, and consequences.

    As an aside, I admire your transition from the mechanical network to the bio network.

  10. Super excerpt David. And a very interesting question.

    I love mixing magics together, or setting them against each other. We have different languages for example, or different types of music, so why not different flavours of magic?

    I'm also particularly fond of using the elements to define magic and of the idea that magic comes with a price - otherwise everyone would be using it all the time. So I like it when magic corrupts, or weakens, or marks the user in some way.

  11. @ Natasha - Thank you! I hope you enjoy it! :0

    @ Amber - Yes, I like magic to have consequences too, and I'm glad you like the transition.

    @ RF Long - Thank you, Ruth. I love your "corrupts, or weakens, or marks" policy.

  12. Hi David -- As a writer of contemporary romance, i'd say my favorite magic is that of love! But recently, i've started world-building on a book about witches so your question about magic is very timely. I'll be deciding that magic question very soon. : )

  13. Hi Tara. Ah, who could deny the magic of luurve! :)

  14. Nice Blog, David! Paranormal isn't what i write (though I do have a few magical plot bunnies under the bed) but as a reader I like the kind of magic that happens in the everyday world. The kind that alters that world just a tad and makes it so that things aren't quite as they appear.

  15. Thanks, Ute! I love "hidden in plain sight" magic too.

  16. Great blog David, and a very intriuging excerpt. If anyone reading this hasn't checked out the cover for the The Weaverfields Heir, you should. It's beautiful. I can't wait to read this one David. And I'm looking forward to hosting you in on Apri, 11th.

  17. Thank you, Jianne! I'm looking forward to it too. :)

  18. Wow, that excerpt made me forget where I was! I love your imagery describing the net.

    I like reading about magic that exacts a price from the user. It shouldn't be too easy :)

  19. Thank you, Minx! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    I agree. Never too easy. :)

  20. David, I love the excerpt. You've certainly caught my attention!

  21. Thank you, Cindy. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

  22. Great excerpt. Yeah, Kat's experience reminded me a little bit of the movie Phenomenon, where the main character had a brain tumor. Remember that one? With John Travolta. Cool. I love all kinds of magic, and I never tire of exploring new ideas. I like your plot bunny. I think maybe I have a plot elephant. :0) I'm curious, how long does it take you to write a book?

  23. Fascinating how different your worlds of magic are, David, and that you start with character and then look at the character's world. Great post!

  24. Great excerpt! That's a heck of an inheritance.
    I like everything from wizards to psychics. Not picky about the type of magic so long as it makes sense and has a purpose in the story other than to make things easy for the hero/heroine. In fact, the more complicated it makes his/her life, the better.

  25. @ Barbara - Thank you. I haven't seen Phenomenon but I'll seek it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

    It depends on the book's length and other stuff going on at the time, but about a year for a novel.

    @ Jenny - Thanks! :)

    @ Eleri - Thank you! I'm with you all the way on more complicated. :)

  26. Wow, fantastic excerpt, David. Can't wait to read your book! I love the idea of the net; it's kind of how I imagine the universe, only I've never been able to see it myself. ;)

    My stories tend to have very simple magic. In the world of my upcoming novella, the godlike race of Meer have the ability to conjure with their words. That was all I saw at first: a character with no memories standing naked in the snow, speaking garments into being, and remembering only one thing, "to speak is to create." From that, a whole world grew. I was very conscious that I too was creating with words, and while I was writing the first book in that world, I was hyper aware of their power.

    I also think the idea of consequences for the use of magic is very important; I have a book on writing fantasy by Orson Scott Card in which he says magic must always have a price. In the world of my novella, the price is gradual madness.

    That same consequence is featuring prominently in my current WIP, which is set in a totally different world. I wonder what that says about me? ;)

  27. Thank you, Jane. I hope you enjoy the book.

    Unfortunately (see the edit to my post above), The Weaverfields Heir release has been delayed. It will now be available on the 22nd April.

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