Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
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  • November17th

    I Have a Guest!

    For this tenth and last episode in the current series of The World Below the War in the Heavens podcast, I have a very special guest. Dr David Threshton, the head of the Department of Anaquist Studies at the Hallmark University. This means we have an actual expert discussing the mystery of King Sayn’s Treasure, a staggeringly rich hoard accumulated by Anaquist’s fifth monarch. Soon after his death, his treasure vault was opened to find that every gem, every gold statue, every piece of lavishly decorated furniture and every magnificent scale had vanished. Treasure hunters, assemble!

    Don’t forget – you can find The World Below the War in the Heavens podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe and like!

  • October29th

    We Won

    Posted in: Articles

    I’m one of those people for whom a love of sport and a love of the arts aren’t mutually exclusive. Loving one doesn’t mean that one necessarily hates – or is indifferent to –the other. I’m a writer who has published thirty-nine books, more than sixty short stories, some poetry, some plays sort of course I’m invested in the arts. I love cinema, going to the theatre, dance, visiting museums and galleries and I know that the arts are some of the finest expressions of the human spirit. At the same time, I love sport. I played sport for a long time, so many different types, and enjoyed the experience immensely. Being in the zone, experiencing true flow state, is breathtaking and to be treasured. I’ve been a spectator in multiple sports and risen to my feet in shared exhilaration at magical moments. The arts and sport are both wonderful manifestations of human endeavour and both can move us in ways that are profound.

    I was reminded of this when the football club I have followed for fifty-seven years finally won a premiership – fifty-seven years after the last one. Yes, I jumped on board as a young lad when the Melbourne Football Club were premiers in 1964, thinking that they were obviously so much better than all the other teams and by becoming a supporter I was guaranteed many years of success and triumph.

    Narrator: he was not guaranteed many years of success and triumph.

    Fifty-seven years is a long time to wait for anything, and especially for something when you’re invested in it. I find there’s no point in declaring your allegiance for a sports team if you don’t ride the highs and lows with them, and I have, with far more lows than highs. I don’t shy away from the fact that for most of the last fifty-seven years the Melbourne Football Club has been a laughing stock. Oh, there have been a few moments of brilliance where I got my hopes up only to have them dashed, and there have been many wonderful individual players who warmed my heart – Robert Flower, what an extraordinary champion in a benighted era – but for most of that time the Demons have been the easy beats, the cellar dwellers, the team who could be counted on for valiant defeats, good efforts but falling short at the last, and more than a few shellackings.

    Eventually, it becomes a test of strength for a supporter, point of honour to remain true to a team that was almost always utterly disappointing. The easy way out would have been to sidestep, abandon the Demons and choose another team who wouldn’t cause so much heartache, but I told myself that was never an option. After all, when success came it would be all the sweeter because of the trials I had endured.

    As twenty years ticked over to thirty, then forty, that sort of mantra began to sound hollow. Instead of a promise of glory, it became an albatross too heavy to shuck. Giving up was a bad idea, sticking with them wasn’t much of a good idea. Ultimately, it becomes a point of pride, or stubbornness, or endurance or something.

    Golf is a strange sport – stay with me, here, it’s not a complete non sequitur – because most of the time most of us hack and nurdle our ways around the course achieving some sense of satisfaction about getting the damn thing in the damn hole at all. But occasionally, once in a while, we manage to swing that club just right, make contact so exquisitely that it feels like a kiss and the ball soars into the heavens in an arc so perfect it would make a geometer weep. We watch, open-mouthed, as the ball rises and rises before it hesitates at the top of its ascent, trembles, then swoops back to the mundane earth again. That one glorious moment makes all of the hacking and nurdling worthwhile because we fool ourselves into thinking that if we can do it once we can do it all the time – while knowing full well that this is nonsense, otherwise we’d be on the professional tour and wearing plaid trousers.

    Supporting a poor football team is something like this. The occasional win is uplifting and we cling to it through the dark times, week after week in the middle of winter sitting in those grandstands that actively leach the heat out of our bodies.

    With the modern corporate approach to sport and the consolidation of so-called “power clubs” in the Australian Football League, I had almost resigned myself to accepting that I’d never see a premiership in my lifetime. After all, the established order was well-established and less successful clubs were condemned to always be less successful so that the larger clubs could enjoy continued rewards.

    When you support a team for decades and decades and they have no ultimate success, an attitude comes upon you, a protective shell that you adopt that helps insulate you from despair. Somewhat. You don’t get your hopes up, because the past has been a sure indicator that this is a bad thing to do. If small successes come, you deprecate them knowing that disaster is just around the corner. It’s a survival mode, I guess, but it brings with it a certain distortion of perception. For instance, this year, 2021, was one where the Demons began the season with a handful of wins. While pleasant, the long-standing MFC supporters knew that each win only brought us closer to a loss and, most likely, a heartbreaking string of them. When this winning streak stretched to nine games end on end it was astonishing and bewildering. What was this? We weren’t simply beating lower ranked teams, either, we were taking on some of the teams favoured for the flag and we were defeating them comprehensively. It was like going on a holiday and coming back to find that every item of furniture in your house had been nailed to the ceiling. It was sort of familiar but completely confounding at the same time and I didn’t know how to behave. Supporters of traditionally successful teams are accustomed to win after win after win and they know how to conduct themselves – and it’s mostly to assume that this will continue. Supporters of the Demons? Unfamiliar territory.

    With a few slight hiccups, this performance continued right through to a time when playing in the finals was guaranteed, again, not a situation that I was accustomed to being in. And then in the lead-up finals to dispatch the opposition so thoroughly? It was as if we were in an alternate universe, a mirror world where norms are reversed.

    And so to the Grand Final. I may write something about the experience of that day at another time but for the moment I’ll simply say that we won and I was a supporter of the premiership team.

    My overwhelming feeling was one of relief as the burden of fifty-seven years fell away. Oh, I may have been a little misty but the complete and entire sobbing collapse wasn’t mine, at least, not on the day when the Melbourne Football Club experienced ultimate success and won the Grand Final. Relief, joy, exuberant exhilaration, disorientation, disbelief and shock all bumbled around inside me, trying to establish dominance but failing because they were assailed by new feels – satisfaction, amazement, dizziness and, very strongly, vindication.

    The arts and sport can both make you feel very strongly if you invest in them. It’s easy to remain detached and therefore unmoved by them, but by doing so you miss out, you deny yourself a human experience where you can be elevated and dragged low in utterly unequal ways.

    But, I hear you say, isn’t sport trivial and unimportant? Isn’t it a meaningless pursuit channelling atavistic competitive urges? Yes. Maybe. Perhaps. But if you want to be like that, nothing’s important and everything is futile and isn’t that a really boring way to be? The arts are trivial and unimportant pursuits channelling atavistic urges to daub, grunt, squash and blunder around if you want to look at them like that which, again is a really boring way to consider something so sublime.

    Some people can’t understand other’s passions. That’s human, too. I can’t understand someone’s passion for slugs, or offal, or collecting matchboxes. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to denigrate what is, after all, a harmless interest. Sports enthusiasts who disparage the arts, or arts aficionados who belittle sports are showing a certain paucity of spirit, I say. Sneer at someone’s innocent enjoyment? Haven’t you got anything better to do?

    I’ve been a proud member of the Melbourne Football Club for decades and a supporter for longer than that. We – and I use that pronoun deliberately – won the premiership in 2021 and it was very enjoyable.

  • October27th

    This was fun – trying to give an overview of the animal life and its ecosystem in an entirely imaginary Fantasy land. This shows what Worldbuilding can be all about.

    Here it is – or you can get it wherever you find your podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, like and comment!

  • September24th

    Omir: warrior, thinker, a man of both action and reflection, a monarch who never thought of himself as ruler of Anaquist but more of a protector of its people. Plus, the Autumn Plot!

    For more, see the podcast website: https://theworldbelowthewarintheheavens.podbean.com/

  • September13th

    Episode 6 of the World Below the War in the Heavens podcast explores Kenlill 1, the second monarch of Anaquist. Kenlill Anaquist had large footsteps to fill and she had to compete against her siblings to show that she was the best person to succeed to the throne. How did she do it?

    And here’s a link to the podcast website.

  • August23rd

    It’s here, personally curated for your listening, Episode 5 in my podcast ‘The World Below the War in the Heavens’. You can hear me explore, uncover, investigate and probe an imaginary land in a depth you wouldn’t believe possible. Truly. ‘Entertaining and entrancing’ – The Podcast Compendium. ‘Startling, innovative, diverting’ – The Podcaster’s Guide to Podcasts. ‘Unique. Undoubtedly ground-breaking. A landmark series’ – another made up critic. Get on board, subscribe and/or review. Say nice things. It’ll do us both some good. You can find it wherever you usually get your podcasts, or listen via the player below.

  • July23rd

    Episode 3 of The World Below the War in the Heavens podcast examines one of the most extraordinary figures in the entire history of this remarkable place: Ucantha Anaquist. Buccaneer, adventurer, entrepreneur, leader, military genius, architect nonpareil, visionary, exploiter, arch-manipulator and founder of the richest, most powerful realm in the entire World Below the War in the Heavens. She’s the stuff of a thousand stories, countless ballads, quite a few sculptures and even an opera or two. Can we separate the woman from the legend? Or is it worth bothering since the legends are so juicy, so wildly romantic that they don’t just make the heart beat a little faster, you might just need to keep a fan or two handy, in case of imminent swooning.

    Listen below, or pop over to podcast website.

    Don’t forget to subscribe and like!

  • July1st

    Episode 2 of my ‘The World Below the War in the Heavens’ podcast is live now, and things are getting even juicier as I delve into the history of the ancient realm of Anaquist, which is full of strife, betrayals, false alliances, glorious triumphs, dazzling artistic achievements, humane advances, dark treachery, petty personal vendettas and extraordinary magical phenomena.

    Cool.

  • June17th

    After the teaser/preview of a few weeks ago, here’s the true first episode of my brand new podcast, The World Below the War in the Heavens where we dive into this imaginary land of magic and adventure and explore its wonders. Enjoy!

  • June7th

    Indiana: THERE’S A BIG SNAKE IN THE PLANE, JOCK!
    Jock: Oh, that’s just my pet snake Reggie!
    Indiana: I HATE SNAKES, JOCK! I HATE ‘EM!
    Jock: Come on! Show a little backbone, will ya!

    In the classic movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, after Indiana Jones’s death-defying encounters after he loots the golden idol, dodges poison darts, avoids the giant rolling stone ball, flees from angry locals and a nasty rival archaeologist, this exchange in the plane that provides his escape is welcome bit of comic relief. Indiana Jones, afraid of snakes? After all those heroics he’s upset at a harmless python giving him a cuddle? He has a weakness after all! How human!

    Yes, it’s comic relief and it’s perfect timing after the breathlessness of the helter-skelter opening but it’s also a magnificent example of a very useful writing tool, that of Foreshadowing.

    Foreshadowing is the art of dropping in something early in a story that turns out to be important later. Done well, it’s immensely satisfying for the reader/viewer, especially the ones who’ve been paying close attention and can feel rewarded for their efforts. And if they haven’t, it’s an ‘Oh, yeah!’ moment as the connection clicks. It’s a useful technique, and one well worth adding to your Writer’s Toolbox.

    In Raiders of the Lost Ark the rewarding moment comes much, much later, when Indy and Salah have found the Well of Souls, the keeping place of the Ark of the Covenant. Once they uncover the way into the Well, Salah is puzzled by the way the floor far below is moving. Indy tosses in a burning torch and glumly says, ‘Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?’

    Imagine if those lines were said without the earlier scene. Having to wade among deadly snakes is no picnic, but because it’s been established that Indy has a particular fear of snakes the ante has been upped. He has to face a special, personal, challenging – possibly disabling – fear and so the scene has even more tension than it would otherwise have had.

    Indy could have peered into the Well of Souls and simply said. ‘I have a lifelong fear of snakes, Salah’ which would have served, but the cleverness of the foreshadowing technique is much more subtle, much more artful, much more adroit.

    We see foreshadowing all the time in books, TV and movies, but it’s often heavy-handed. For no obvious reason, the camera lingers on that piece of jewellery, basically announcing that it’s going to be stolen later, and at the same time the soundtrack rises to draw your attention to it. A big neon sign – invisible to the characters but clear to the audience – may as well be blaring ‘Pay Attention to This!’

    How does Raiders of the Lost Ark avoid this ham-fisted approach? The secret is that Indy’s fear of snakes is revealed in a scene that has its own integrity in the context of the narrative. There’s a reasonable rationale for him to state this fear in the context of the scene – he’s discovered a big snake crawling into his lap! At first, it looks like it’s another trap/challenge/danger he has to overcome in order to escape with his life, on top of the aforementioned crushing stone balls, poison darts, spiders, bottomless pits and so on, but that’s turned on its head by the revelation that it’s a pet and we laugh – and we remember.

    Foreshadowing is a useful and potentially impressive writing technique, but like all writing tools it can be implemented well or it can be implemented poorly.

    When the object/person/situation is first introduced to your narrative, give it a rationale in the context of the scene, a reason for it to appear above and beyond ‘It’s going to be important later on’. This way, the reader is likely to accept it as integral part of that moment in the story and not see it as an obvious ploy, shoehorned in just so it can play a part later in the story. When it does appear again, the reader will be both surprised and delighted.