The HERE BE DRAGONS Blog Tour – Post Five: The Darkest Hour

Here be Dragons

Title: Here Be Dragons
Author: Sarah Mussi
Series: The Snowdonia Chronicles
Publication Date: September 1st 2015
Publisher: Vertebrate Publishing
Source: The Publisher

Ellie Morgan wants a boy who’s all hers. Just for once, it would be nice to meet someone that Sheila the cow hadn’t got her claws in to.

A remote farmhouse on Mount Snowdon is hardly the ideal setting for meeting anyone – unless, of course, you count her best friend George or creepy Darren (which Ellie doesn’t). But when a boy, glimpsed through the mist and snow, lures her up to the Devil’s Bridge, Ellie realises the place she knows so well still has its secrets …

The stronger her feelings for this strange boy become, the more she is in danger: a battle as old as Snowdon itself has been raging for centuries and now Ellie’s caught in the middle.

Something has left its lair.

It’s out there stalking her.

Who ever said true love was easy?

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Post Five: The Darkest Hour

Hi – The Perks of Being a Book Girl! Thank you so much for having me on your blog.
Hi everybody and welcome back to my blog tour to celebrate the launch of HERE BE DRAGONS, book one in my new trilogy: THE SNOWDONIA CHRONICLES!

I have been interviewing myself about the process – like this…

How did you write HERE BE DRAGONS, Sarah? So far on your blog tour you have told us about:

  1. The Hook
  2. The Inciting Incident
  3. The First Turning Point
  4. The Point of No Return

So, Sarah, what comes next?

Right, as you say, so far on this blog tour we’ve had a look at how I used those classic three- act structures to create drama and order the story-beats in the narrative. Now as we are getting close to the last act – the major third act in which we are metaphorically on the rock face of the story, in a perpetual cliff-hanger – we will be looking at the darkest hour. We can compare this stage to climbing the higher reaches of Everest:

Camp 3, Lhotse wall
6800m – 8000 m / 22300 ft – 26300 ft.

Imagine sliding a fun, icy slope on a sunny winter’s day. Only this one is 1,200 meter (4,000 ft) high. This is not a place to play. The dangerous part is to hang on to rope of dubious strength and to change carabiners between the ropes. You might feel not too clear in your head, especially upon coming down, but it’s crucial to concentrate. One slip and you are gone, far higher up than you had intended really

So tell us about the cliff face in HERE BE DRAGONS – the darkest hour and how you constructed it, Sarah?

Well, I thought you might be interested to know about the process, the ideas (and the structuring of them) and what goes through a writer’s mind when they are in the middle of writing a story and looking forward to finishing it! Because this is the point at which all the buzz and excitement of the story idea has worn off, real life keeps getting in the way, suddenly there is no time to sit down and write anything, and the story is nowhere near finished. Plus you’ve got your protagonist into a very tight situation and don’t know how to get them out! So obviously you have to eat a lot of chocolate!

So there I was approaching the darkest hour in HERE BE DRAGONS, looking forward wistfully to a future time when I had finished writing the story and could go off and do the re-edits – tweak with words, tinker with phrases (such bliss) – and look back on the brilliant structuring of the story with glowing pride! Ha! Think again I was nowhere near!

So I tried to forget my nightmares of fighting many-headed fire dragons and rolled up my writerly sleeves and took stock: now, the darkest hour is a kind of the moment of truth point, at which everything appears to fail, everything is bleak, all hope seems lost and there is a death-like experience (from which there should be some kind of rebirth – but that comes later). The darkest hour is the tomb in the cave after the crucifixion – or in the last book of Harry Potter, when Harry actually dies and has to find the out truth – the darkest hour, I think, in a novel anyway, needs to work on absolutely every front. It needs to be not only complete hopelessness, but also a complete change of belief system in the protagonist, in which everything they believed might happen – won’t. All hope up to that point is dashed. And there is a great volte face.

 The Darkest House is the grave of all hope
There should also probably be some physical or dramatic example of this death – some entering into a tomb-like setting (going underground or through a veil) and there should (or could) be some sort of pathetic fallacy going on too, in the weather, all dark, bleak, and the nature of the Cosmos all fractured, black hole-like – everything in short, should reflect that darkest hour.

 This can be handled, of course, in various ways. You could have a major thunderstorm going on, or you could have night falling – with the night getting darker and darker, colder and colder, stars blinking out, no moon … as a way of foreshadowing and a metaphor for entering into that darkest hour.
And, of course, the darkest hour had to test the resilience of my main character, so I had to get Ellie into a place where everything she had hoped for, worked for, believed in, would fail. But not only that, she must face some kind of death.

 Now what is weird is that this part of the story is paralleled often too, in the writer’s journey – when I reached the ice-cliff, the moment of truth, Lhotse’s Wall, I was – myself – in what I refer to as The Shadow of The Valley of Death. This place haunts many a writer and that particular valley can come up at any point when you’re writing your novel. You feel bogged down and hopeless, as if there is no way out and your story has literally ground itself to a halt, gone underground and may never surface again! You’ve tried all the usual remedies, gone for a long walk, sat and had a long chat with a fellow sympathetic writer, opened a bottle of wine and tried the Ernest Hemmingway approach, eaten MASSES of chocolate – but still you can’t seem to see a way to save your story.

 This is interesting, so what do you do then?
Well you don’t give up, because just like a climber on the Lhotse Wall you CAN’T give up, you’ve gone past the point of no return, so you can’t go back either (well, I guess you can give up – but if you do – well, it kind of means that you accept you are not a writer, which is very hard for a writer to accept), and, very much like your protagonist, you have to hang on in there, keep going, hoping for a breakthrough, and you have to find new sources of resilience inside yourself.
So like Robert the Bruce, you can keep coming right back at the story and you never give up on yourself, your story, or your ability to make things come right in the end. I needed to plunge Ellie into such a deep, dark place she would be really tested. Like me though, she had to believe she could get through, that Amor Vincit Omnia, that life without love was not worth having, that her love was not hopeless and she could succeed.

So in order to rescue her, I had to look backwards into the story and see if I could give her a Sam Gangee-style handy rope to shin down the cliff with, (funny how cliffs come up a lot in stories at this point) something, anyway, that I could seed in beforehand – some method of getting her out of that deep dark place.
And as I looked around in the novel for a way to get her out of the deepest, darkest hole in which she was trapped, I found her two heroes: George and Henry (he obvs should be the bigger hero as he is the object of her love).
So I had to seed in a hope that Henry might rescue her (this was mainly to help the reader have hope that the ending would be happy, because, as we know, any girl hero must save herself these days, from dragons and the like – and not rely on any old chauvinistic story – telling trope – like a knight in shining armour – sob). So I thought about fairy tales and happy endings and came up with Cinderella’s slipper. Brill. See what you think – I have included an excerpt from Ellie’s darkest hour – when she is snatched away to certain doom by the dragon…

Around us the night howled. The mists from Gyder Fawr swept down to the top of the Pass. My head spun. My mind was jumbled. I cast around trying to fasten on something – anything. How could I save myself? I struggled, but the monster’s hold tightened with every twist I made. A disembodied voice seemed to whisper in my head, ‘You cannot fight. You have been waiting for this. You know it’s what you want. Give up. Give in…’

But deep inside there was a spark that was still me. A spark that would not go out. It struggled and fluttered like a tiny flame. And I knew what I must do: Find A Way To Tell Henry.  But how?

The wind wailed across the empty terrace. Even if I could manage to scream again, would he hear me?

The white dragon leant closer. It stared into my eyes. Its hooded lids sliding down so low that its irises, pale polar blue, were almost completely hidden. My heart nearly stopped. My throat closed. I twisted in panic against its steely grip.

‘You cannot fight. You can never win. Give in…’

It dragged me to the edge of the balcony. But I was thinking fast. You can’t break free. You can’t scream. Nobody will know you’ve gone until it is too late. You must leave some clue, like Hansel and Gretel, like Cinderella, and as I was dragged relentlessly to the very edge of the veranda, I slipped one shoe off.

One of my little star-speckled slippers that Henry had so admired.

And there it stayed, sparking in the moonlight, tiny on the veranda. Yet I knew when Henry came to look for me, he would find it, and he would understand.
So if every girl has to rescue herself, how did you get Ellie off the ice-cliff, away from the dragon?
Well, just because Ellie rescues herself that doesn’t mean she can’t have a few heroes around to help out! And I didn’t have to look far in HERE BE DRAGONS to find one – because I had already created a hero/best friend/sidekick character who could be tasked with the necessary knowledge to turn up and help her rescue herself. Tada: George! However, as in Greek drama, if you drive your hero or heroine into the darkest hour with no hope of escape, and then have somebody else just show up and sort it, that is not good. The Greek’s would actually wheel a mechanism onto the stage and lower gods who would then rescue, forgive or punish as things needed and definitely resolve the situation. It was called Deus ex Machina and is considered literary bad form (and def. ugly).
So how did Ellie resolve her darkest hour then?

Well, I can’t actually do a spoiler on this blog tour, can I? So you will have to read the story to find out, but I can give you the scene where she is entering the underground, symbolic death chamber – the cave under Snowdon to meet her doom – and she is hoping George may have figured out she needs help and Henry may have found her slipper. I put in lots of references to death and dead things to get that DEATHLY feel!

Before we reached the entrance to the Lair, I saw four more sheep carcasses in varying stages of disembowelment. The air was stale with their decomposition. I wanted to vomit. And inside the entrance to the cave were the remnants of other kills. Tufts of blood-stained wool, chewed particles of limb and hoof, a torn off jawbone still half attached to a bony skull.
Feeling sick, I tried to pick my way over the mess, my one unshod foot – half numb with cold – recoiling from the touch of frozen entrails.
Further inside, it was worse. The stench of animal hung so heavily on the air, it would have made even the strongest stomach turn. In addition, the winter’s chill hadn’t managed to keep everything frozen. Every surface was slippery with putrefaction. I hugged my arms around me, my teeth chattering, my ears aching. I searched the ground for traces of George, but there were none. I gave up. George hadn’t been here – and if he arrived now, it would be too late.
The dragon dragged me inside. I slipped and cracked and crunched over God knows what. All around, rocks hung precariously. They looked so fragile: one shout, one misjudged thump, and the whole lot might come tumbling down.
At length we reached a huge cavern, deep underground. Something in it shone strange and brilliant. Although I could not make out the source of the light, I was glad of it. The floor was littered with sharp stones. My one poor shoe-less foot was cold and torn and bloody, and every step hurt.

Will Ellie escape? That’s the big question, and if so will she be re-united with Henry? That’s the next big question, but before you reach the end of the book, the summit of the story, you have to pass successfully through the Death Zone!


My next and penultimate post Blog Post Six of my tour will take us there into the heart of how I navigated the Death Zone in HERE BE DRAGONS.
See ya there!
Okay, gotta go! Bye for now, see you at Blog Post Six: Act 3 & The Climax – with Once Upon a Bookcase!

Thank you once again for having me, The Perks of Being a Book Girl

XXX Sarah

About the Author:
Sarah Mussi
Sarah Mussi was born in Gloucestershire. After her education at a girl’s school in Cheltenham, she completed a post graduate degree at the Royal College of Art before leaving the UK for West Africa. She lived in Ghana, West Africa for over eighteen years, marrying a Ghanaian and teaching in Accra. Sarah now lives in Brixton and teaches in Lewisham, splitting her holidays between England and Ghana.

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