The Realm was my Masters thesis. At the University of British Columbia your thesis must come from work generated while in the program. The Realm filled that brief. And more.
It began in my very first residency class: Children’s Fiction with Glen Huser, writer and teacher extraordinaire. One day Glen charged us with a writing prompt. A prompt is the writing equivalent of stretching before exercise. It’s a ten-minute daily workout that, when done regularly, can prevent you from seizing up when you’re faced with a blank page. The theory is that a prompt will get your creative juices going and make you better ready to face that manuscript you’ve been working on. In my case, the prompt morphed into a novel.
The assignment Glen gave us was to write a character (and a setting) of some extraordinariness. I had read a few books with fantastical or extraordinary settings: Lord of the Rings, I Robot, Harry Potter, Dune and when I was much younger the Anne McCaffrey Pern books, but I had never tried writing that genre before.
I had no idea where to begin. I’d spent the better part of a year avariciously reading the Icelandic Sagas, reading about the history of Iceland and about Snorri Sturluson. That became my jumping off point. What you see below is the actual product, unaltered or edited, of my ten-minute-writing-prompt exercise.
My Writing Prompt Response
Holy smokes. What is this place? It’s huge. How did it get here? I mean, the doorway was really weird the way one minute it was just a wall of books and the next minute there was an opening. It must be a trick. Something to do with computers, or holograms. Or maybe it’s that Mylar stuff they’re always using in the movies for special effects. It’s a pretty cool magic trick hiding a door and making it look like a brick wall with shelves of books. But what kind of magic can hide a room this size inside a library as small as ours?
This place is huge. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s longer than it is wide. The walls are made of wood and it has one of those ceilings that are all opened up, like an attic. This place looks really, really old. There’s a fireplace on one of the long walls that is so big I could stand up inside it if they didn’t have a big fire burning. It’s the end of June. They’ve got to be nuts to have a fire inside when it’s so hot outside. And then I realize that even with the fire it’s kind of cool in here. It’s a natural cool; not that air-conditioned smell. That’s so weird
This place doesn’t have any windows. Not one. The light seems to be coming from the torches in brackets stuck all over the wall. That’s got to be a fire hazard. If this is some whacky dream I hope I can remember enough about it to tell the guys when I wake up.
“Yikes! Where did you come from? You weren’t there a second ago?”
There’s a guy, a really old guy, sitting in an enormous wooden armchair. His hair is long and tangled and grey. Two colors of grey; light and very dark. He has a beard too, a long, straggly fairy-tale beard. He’s wearing a blue tunic with a belt tied around his waist, thick woolen leggings and the strangest boots I’ve ever seen. They look like they’ve been tied on. His arms are resting on the chair’s arms and his wrists are hanging over the edge. He sits like a king on a throne, but his eyes are friendly.
“My name is Snorri. I would like to introduce you to some friends of mine.”
People start appearing beside him. First they are only a glimmer. I can see an outline and some colors but I can still see right through them to the torches behind. When they stop shimmering and start to become solid I count four men, three women and a donkey. Snorri introduces them. They are Geoffrey, Victor, Jonathon and Mark. And Mary, Sigrid, and Beatrice. The Donkey’s name is Dapple.