Passage by Connie Willis

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult novels lately and think it’s time I read something for adults. Passage has been sitting on my book shelf for some time and the blurb sounds interesting. It’s not fantasy but that will probably make a pleasant change.

The novel is over 700 pages long and as I’m a slow reader, it will be a while before I report finishing this story. I haven’t started it yet but would like to make a start tonight… hopefully.

Doomsday Book by the same author was excellent. I felt as if I experienced life in medieval times that was suffering the plague. It was a real look at a time that would have been awful to live through yet we tend to romanticise.

Preparing a Mummy

mummyWarning: This is not suitable for children or the faint hearted.

The Egyptians believed that there was a life after death. According to them, when someone died the soul went on living and needed its body to return to. So the body was carefully preserved in a process called mummification. High-ranking officials, priests and other nobles who had served the pharaoh and his queen had fairly elaborate burials. The pharaohs, who were believed to become gods when they died, had the most magnificent burials of all.

The dead person’s body was taken to the embalmers, skilled men who treated it so that it would not decay. First they took out the brains and internal organs like the heart, placing them in special canopic jars. The lids of these jars were fashioned after the four sons of Horus, who were each entrusted with protecting a particular organ:

jarsQebehsenuef, the falcon head — intestines
Duamutef, the jackal head — stomach
Hapy, the baboon head — lungs
Imsety, the human head — liver

    Then the body was washed and cleaned, filled with sweet smelling spices and covered with natron, a kind of soda. After 70 days the body would be quite dry and preserved. Then it was cleaned again and rubbed with unguents to aid in preserving the mummy’s skin. If the dead person had been rich, the body was also decorated with fine jewellery.

    TombviewNext the mummy was carefully wrapped in long linen bandages. Fingers and toes were covered with protective gold caps and individually wrapped with long, narrow strips of linen. Arms and legs were also wrapped, then the entire body was wrapped to a depth of about twenty layers. Magic objects called amulets were put between the layers of bandage to give extra protection in the next life.

    Finally, the mummy was put in a coffin shaped like a human figure. These coffins were often richly decorated with paintings of the gods and accounts of the dead person’s life. Only then was a person ready for the journey across the Nile and the start of the next life.

    Egyptian Chronology

    PRE-DYNASTIC PERIOD: c.5000-3100 BC
    This period predates the unification of the northern and southern parts of Egypt. Settlements were established beside the Nile River. By 3500 BC, Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt was the largest Egyptian settlement with the busy town spread out along the Nile for over three kilometres. Hieroglyphs made their first appearance toward the end of this period, around 3250 BC by the latest estimates.

    Toward the end of this time, around 3250 to 3100 BC, a period sometimes referred to by Egyptologists as Dynasty 0, there were kings in Upper (Southern) Egypt with Narmer being of particular prominence. The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt is often attributed to a king called Menes or Narmer, who may be the same person. The so-called Narmer Palette shows Narmer in battle and wearing the crown of Upper Egypt on one side and the crown of Lower Egypt on the reverse side.

    EARLY DYNASTIC PERIOD: 3100-2686 BC; Dynasties 1/II
    It may be that Narmer handed on a newly unified country to his son, Hor-Aha, who is considered to be the first king of the first Dynasty. He took a second royal name, Men, meaning “established” which may be another explanation for the name Menes referred to by Manetho as the first king of Upper and Lower Egypt. Hor-Aha also established Memphis, in Lower Egypt, as the country’s capital – it became one of the ancient world’s greatest cities for thousands of years.

    OLD KINGDOM: 2686-2181BC; Dynasties III-VI
    egyptA Golden Age for Egypt. The king was considered the incarnation of the god Horus and from the 5th Dynasty, the son of Re, the sun god. The first major stone building in the world, the famous Step Pyramid, was constructed at Saqqara for Djoser, one of the kings of the 3rd Dynasty. During the 4th Dynasty, a number of large pyramids were built, including Khufu’s (Cheops) Great Pyramid at Giza – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one still standing. The priesthood of the god Re became powerful at Heliopolis and some of the kings of the 5th Dynasty built solar temples adjacent to their relatively small pyramids at Abusir near Saqqara. For the first time, a king (Unas – the last ruler of the 5th Dynasty) had his pyramid’s burial chamber inscribed with spells for the afterlife. These are the famous Pyramid Texts. A bodyguard may have murdered Teti, the first king of the 6th Dynasty. The dynasty ended with the exceptionally long reign of Pepi II, perhaps 94 years, which saw centralised power dwindle away.

    FIRST INTERMEDIATE PERIOD: 2181-2040 BC; Dynasties VII-XThis period saw a breakdown of central government. Local governors who would not answer to any king governed provinces. Major building projects are not found from this time, indicating the weakness of the kings. Dozens of kings are listed for the period, meaning that perhaps they had either very short or overlapping reigns. Famine affected the country as a result of a number of poor annual inundations of the Nile. Some scenes on tomb walls depict people suffering from malnutrition. Memphis may have remained the principal administrative centre for much of the First Intermediate Period, although by the 9th Dynasty the town of Herakleopolis Magna was producing rulers. They came into conflict with a family line from Thebes in the early part of the 11th Dynasty, which Egyptologists often include in this period.

    MIDDLE KINGDOM: 2040-1782 BC; Dynasties XI/XII
    Reunification of Egypt occurred in the 11th Dynasty under the rule of Mentuhotep I, fourth king of that dynasty, whose family was based in Thebes (modern Luxor). After a series of battles with northern rulers, Mentuhotep I controlled the whole of Egypt by the 39th year of his reign. The administrative centre of the country became a place called Itj-tawy which is believed to have been located near the Faiyum Oasis.

    The 12th Dynasty began, it seems, when king Mentuhotep III was overthrown by Amenemhet I (probably the former’s vizier) who ruled for about 29 years. It was under him that the Theban god Amun began his rise to prominence. Amenemhet began to share his rule with his son Senusret I for the last 10 years of his reign until the former’s murder. Later in the Dynasty, Senusret III pushed beyond Egypt’s boundaries, including campaigns into Nubia to the south. The move was to protect the southern border and safeguard access to trade routes and Nubia’s abundant gold resources. The Middle Kingdom is well known for being the highpoint in Egyptian literature and it also saw a revival in the quality of art.

    A period about which not a lot is known and rulers did not last very long. Invaders (known as the Hyksos) came from Asia and moved into the Delta. They introduced the Egyptians to the horse-drawn chariot, the composite bow and bronze weapons. This period of instability lasted two centuries and was brought to an end by a Theban family, one of whom (Ahmose) finally expelled the Hyksos.

    NEW KINGDOM: 1570-1070 BC Dynasties XVIII-XX
    The New Kingdom’s first king was Ahmose who reunified Upper and Lower Egypt. This was another Golden Age for Egypt as it expanded its empire. Memphis was the administrative capital again. The term pharaoh began being applied to the king. Queen Hatshepsut became pharaoh by default while acting as regent for a young Tuthmosis III. He eventually came to power and became the “Napoleon” of ancient Egypt. The empire spread far to the south into ancient Nubia (south of modern Aswan and into northern Sudan), while in the north the territory under control was expanded well into the Near East.

    It was in the New Kingdom that most of the pharaohs’ tombs were located in the Valley of the Kings and their mortuary temples were separately located. Egypt became incredibly wealthy through trade and foreign conquests. The country’s religious orders also benefited – particularly that of the state god Amun-Re with its powerful clergy and vast temples and estates. The existing religious orders were deposed for a while during the 14th century BC when the heretic king Akhenaten established a new religious order – that of the sun god Aten. The old temples were abandoned and a new capital, Akhetaten, was established to the north. Attention to international affairs waned.

    Soon after the death of Akhenaten, his probable son – Tutankhaten – became pharaoh at about the age of nine. His was a short reign, but the old religious orders rose again and Akhenaten’s city was destroyed. Tutankhaten’s name was changed to Tutankhamun, but his reign was only about nine years. He was followed as pharaoh, by the elderly Ay. Several years later, a general by the name of Horemheb came to power and started a campaign to eliminate evidence of his immediate predecessors for whom he had served.

    His successor was Ramesses I who was the first in a long line of Ramesside kings in the 19th and 20th Dynasties. (Note that some Egyptologists list Horemheb as the first king of the 19th Dynasty.) Ramesses I’s grandson, Ramesses II, is often referred to as Ramesses the Great. He became one of Egypt’s greatest builders and signed the first recorded peace treaty in history. By the 20th Dynasty the power of the pharaohs had waned and there were battles with invaders called the Sea Peoples under Ramesses III, the last significant pharaoh of the New Kingdom. Egypt would never rule again with the same power. Ramesses XI was the last of the rulers of the New Kingdom. The Theban priesthood virtually controlled Upper Egypt by the end of the New Kingdom, while the pharaoh had ruled from the Delta.

    egypt tombAfter the end of the New Kingdom, Egypt was virtually bankrupt. Despite this some of the pharaohs of the 21st Dynasty were buried in the Delta with considerable wealth which came to light in 1939-40 – the discovery did not receive much publicity because of World War II. Smendes, the first king of the 21st Dynasty, ruled from Tanis in the Delta, while the high priest of the god Amun, Pinudjem, ruled from Thebes in the south despite intermarrying between the two lines to smooth relations. By the 22nd Dynasty, pharaohs of Libyan descent came to power in the Delta while the Theban rulers weakened and some unity was re-established for a short time.

    By the 8th century BC, the influence of Nubia on Egypt’s southern border was being felt. Nubia had been strongly influenced by the cult of Amun which had been introduced to them during the New Kingdom. Now the Nubians saw an opportunity to re-establish the old order of Amun in Thebes, which they did by becoming rulers of Egypt in the 25th Dynasty. In the early 7th century BC, the country was ruled by Taharqa who began to have problems with the Assyrians and their expansionist policies. Finally, in 671 BC, the Assyrians, under Esarhaddon, pushed into Egypt and captured the capital Memphis and most of the royal family. Taharqa fled south to Thebes.

    Two years later Taharqa regained control, but Esarhaddon’s son Ashurbanipal attacked and recaptured Memphis. Taharqa’s successor, Tanutamun, managed to regain control of the country, but eventually Ashurbanipal returned with a vengeance and moved to Thebes where the temples were raided of their treasures. Nubia would never again rule Egypt. Psamtik (Psammetichus) was recognised by the Assyrians as the king of Egypt from 664 BC and the country began to enjoy peace for about the next 140 years. The old crafts reached a very high standard again and many of the styles of the Old Kingdom were copied. Assyria began to have internal problems and by 653 BC, Psamtik asserted independence for Egypt which was once again becoming a power in the region, although never like it once was.

    Peace for Egypt ended when it was invaded by the Persian king Cambyses II in 525 BC. When the Greeks defeated the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC, the Egyptians took advantage of the distraction and in 486 BC they revolted. However, Egypt repeatedly had to deal with Persian invasions over nearly two centuries. The last Persian invasion took place in 343 BC during the reign of the Nectanebo II, the last Egyptian pharaoh. Egypt would not see another Egyptian as ruler until AD 1952.

    In 332 BC, the Macedonian empire expanded into Egypt with the arrival of Alexander the Great. The Egyptians welcomed Alexander after all the troubles of the Persian occupations. He ordered the restoration of temples sacked by the Persians in 343 BC. On the western side of the Delta, construction began on the city of Alexandria. When Alexander died suddenly in Babylon in 323 BC, control of Egypt fell into the hands of his half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus and posthumous son Alexander IV. By 305 BC, the Macedonian general Ptolemy I became the first in a long line of Ptolemaic rulers.

    During the 3rd century BC, Alexandria began to flourish as the jewel of the Ancient World. The city became famous for its Great Library and the lighthouse, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ptolemaic rule was stable and a number of major temples were constructed in Upper Egypt. The Ptolemaic line lasted until the reign of Cleopatra VII, the daughter of Ptolemy XII. Cleopatra later became the mistress of Julius Caesar from Rome and bore him a child. After Caesar’s assassination, Cleopatra sided with Mark Antony against Caesar’s heir, Octavian. Following the sea battle of Actium in 31 BC where Cleopatra’s ships fled home followed by Antony, Octavian went to Alexandria but was denied the capture of the two when both suicided in 30 BC.

    ROMAN PERIOD: 30 BC-c.AD 450Egypt came under Roman influence and was ruled by a prefect for Octavian, who became Augustus, the first Roman Emperor in 27 BC. The country was considered a “breadbasket” for centuries under successive emperors.

    In AD 384, Theodosius ordered the closing of Egypt’s pagan temples and adherence to Christianity (although the temple dedicated to the goddess Isis at Philae in the country’s far south continued to function until AD 536). In AD 395, the Roman Empire split into west and east with Egypt becoming part of the Byzantine Empire. This lasted until the arrival of Islam in AD 641.

    Structure & Tension: The Plot

    When writing, nothing should happen at random. Every element in a story should be for a reason. Names, places, actions and events should all have a purpose. If it isn’t going to lead somewhere, delete it.

    Here is what you need for a very basic plot:

    • A likeable lead character who has a desperate need for something, which can be knowledge, success, love, a solution or to avoid some sort of danger.
    • He or she makes an effort to reach success or achieve what he needs.
    • Every effort seems to block him or her from their goal and they just seem to find themselves in deeper trouble.
    • Every new obstacle is larger than the last, and when they finally reach the end, the last obstacle must seem insurmountable, requiring the character to call upon new found strength to accomplish the goal.


    • When things are as if they couldn’t get any worse, the lead character manages to get themselves out of trouble with effort, intelligence and ingenuity.

    Each scene and chapter should have this same kind of plot structure yet at the end of each scene or chapter you should have a question unanswered, a problem to be solved, or a mystery that impels the reader to read on. It is a good idea to have several plots going throughout the story with some of them being solved as you go and other opening up. This keeps the pace and the mystery going.

    Usually there is a surprise or shock set somewhere in the book, sometimes even two. One about a third to half way through and the other at the climax of the story.

    The plot “begins” long before the story. The story itself should begin at the latest possible moment before the climax, at a point when events take a decisive and irreversible turn. We may learn later, through flashbacks, exposition, or inference, about events occurring before the beginning of the story.

    The main plot and every subplot must be dealt with at the end. Never leave the reader wondering what happened.

    In Summary

    The first quarter of the novel is setting the scene – you know, setting the conflict in motion, making us recognise that the main character is in deep trouble.

    The middle is half the book, and that is where the major actions take place. The twists, the turns and reversals happen here — and they MUST happen to keep the reader satisfied. Readers WANT to be surprised (but not confused), so about halfway add the second big surprise, and then at the end of the middle, throw in the third big surprise. The middle is for the rising stakes in the situation — things are getting worse for the hero, they are more committed; in fact, in the middle their motivation shifts. The surprises and failures of the hero should get progressively worse in the middle, and as the middle progresses, start closing off the hero’s options.

    The ending is the last quarter of the book. The forces gathering in the middle must come together, a decision must be reached, a confrontation takes place. The deepest parts of the character are revealed, and the biggest emotions are exposed here. Again, this is where the main plot and all subplots are brought to a final close.

    My Progress

    I’m taking my time working through the steps of the Snowflake Process.

    Step 1 was easy enough. I had to write a sentence in up to 15 words showing the overall story. I wrote several versions and then tailored the one that best describes my proposed manuscript.

    Step 2 was much harder. All I had to do was write a paragraph showing three disasters and the ending. I realised I didn’t know the story well enough to write the paragraph so that prompted me to do some more thinking. Now I have the required paragraph, a sturdy plot, personalities for my characters, a rough chapter outline and a sense of achievement.

    Step 3 is where I’m up to now. I have to do a basic character profile by writing in one sentence what the character’s storyline is (which is a different thing to the actual plot). Then I had to work out what motivated my characters, what their goals are and what they will learn by their experience in the manuscript. By doing this I discovered one of my character’s personality wasn’t strong enough and he’s been given a bit of a shake to get him motivated.

    I’ve only written the basic character plan for one character. I have two more major characters and the antagonist to go but it’s not hard, it just requires some thinking.

    No wonder my brain hurts today!

    Building a Fantasy World

    It’s your story so why not create your own world.

    Personally, the thing I especially like about writing fantasy novels is the opportunity to create my own world. The people and the place can be exactly how I want them to be because it is a fantasy world, I don’t have to follow rules. The world, as we know it, is shoved in a dark corner somewhere and a brilliant new world is built from scratch.

    Some people hardly think about the world in which their story is set and just make it up as they go along. This, however, leave room for major errors unless detailed notes are taken along the way. Others have a wishy washy idea about what they want but nothing set in concrete. Then there are those that believe that this is one area of your writing that you should invest a lot of time and effort into. I fall into the last catagory and I really do believe that you will get a lot of personal satisfaction from doing it right before you start writing your novel.

    During this process, you may discover that you develop something much bigger than you’ll ever use in your novel but that doesn’t matter. The more solid your world is in your own mind, the more you will be able to portray that world to your readers and the more believable it will become.

    How to Get Started

    First, ask yourself the obvious questions like:

    Where will the story take place?
    How much ground will the story cover?
    What are the most striking features of landscape, climate, animals, etc. in this area?
    How will these features affect travel time, communication, etc.?
    Are there are non-human inhabitants and are there any areas they particularly claim as their own?
    Is magic used by the people in general or by a select few? Maybe it won’t be used at all.

    Go here for more world building questions.

    The Map

    This is important, you need a map. If your story stays in the boundaries of one house, you need to draw a floor plan showing each and every room, show windows, doors, hallways, staircases.

    If your novel is built around a town. Draw a map of the whole town. Name the streets, show parks, shops, houses, alleys, local hang outs, schools and all other areas of importance to your story.

    If your novel is based in a fantasy world. Draw a map of the entire world. Show lakes, rivers, towns, mountain ranges, you can mark explored and unexplored territories and any other areas relating to your story. Think about things like how many suns/moons circle your world, the fauna and flora, the animals and the seasons.

    Preparing a detailed map before you start working on your novel makes it easier when you need to know where your characters are heading, or what you’ve said is at the end of the street, or what will be found in a particular room. Basically, it takes the guess work out of the writing and leaves you to concentrate on more important things.

    The Inhabitants

    Who or what live in your world? Are they three eyed monsters who only eat green leaves? Dragons who breath deadly vapours? Wizards who cast many a spell or just ordinary humans?

    Make detailed lists describing each inhabitant and what their role in your story is. If you have non-human characters you will need to know what form they take. You could even draw pictures of what they look like but this is entirely up to you (and your ability to draw!)

    You also need to think about basic things like how time passes and how distance is measured. Do the inhabitants think in terms of days and weeks, miles and kilometres or is their world governed by the passing phases of the moon and distances counted in leagues?


    There are many different people in our world and just as many different cultures so in your fantasy world it would be reasonable to say that the same thing would apply.

    Referring to your list of inhabitants, define their individual cultures. Think about everyday clashes within the inhabitants as well as clashes amongst all of the inhabitants.

    For example, if you have people that use magic but only a selected few have this ability – will there be conflict between the people who do use it and the people who don’t? Will the users feel they are superior? Will the other people (the non users) feel resentful? Now think about another race in your world, perhaps they live underground. They have their own social hangups with each other but they also want to enslave the magicians for their own reasons. Would this dilemma force the community who use magic to stand together or would the non-users turn their backs on their own kind?

    Once you have decided these types of things, you will be providing yourself with a solid foundation for when you start building your character’s personalities.

    Your Characters

    You have a world and the final step you have to take is to populate that world with characters. You’ve already provided the basis of these characters by the conflicts you’ve decided on. Now you can start to build on their individual personalities.

    Go here to find out more on Characterisation

    World Building Questions

    Here are some questions to help you get started:

    Where will the story take place? Will it be a magical world? Will there be demons, witches, ogres, made up animals?

    How much ground will the story cover? Will you need to draw a map to keep things in perspective? How long will it take to travel to whole of the land?

    What are the most striking features of landscape, climate, animals, etc. in this area? What are the dangers? Where should your characters avoid? Where are they safe?

    How will these features affect travel time, communication, etc.? Do you have technology? Is your world more medieval?

    Are there are non-human inhabitants and are there any areas they particularly claim as their own? Are they dangerous? Can you characters defend themselves against them?

    Is magic used by the people in general or by a select few? Are there limits to the powers? Are there consequences when magic is used? Maybe it won’t be used at all.

    Who or what live in your world? Are they three eyed monsters who only eat green leaves? Dragons who breath deadly vapours? Wizards who cast many a spell or just ordinary humans? Write about each variety of creature/human in as much detail as possible so that you know them inside out.

    Do the inhabitants think in terms of days and weeks, miles and kilometres or is their world governed by the passing phases of the moon and distances counted in leagues?

    Think about everyday clashes within the inhabitants and amongst all of the inhabitants. For example, if you have people that use magic but only a selected few have this ability – will there be conflict between the people who do use it and the people who don’t? Will the users feel they are superior? Think about religion and politics too and how these things affect your characters.

    Think about things like how many suns/moons circle your world, the fauna and flora, the animals and the seasons.

    How do your characters travel the land? Are there only horses and wagons, or do they have trains and air craft?

    Think about the neighbouring kingdoms of your land. Are the inhabitants friendly or hostile? Do the kingdoms trade goods, fight, have different beliefs?

    Consider doing a timeline, showing the history of your world for the last 200 or 300 years. Make sure you include at least one major event in each 100 years.

    The Forgotten (Movie)

    The Forgotten – Highly recommended.

    We saw this movie yesterday. Although I’ve seen mixed reveiws regarding the value of the movie, I would say it’s well worth watching and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    The acting was great, the effects were superb and the storyline was original with a interesting twist. Unless you’ve seen the movie this next statement will mean nothing to you but I liked the concept that “we can do nothing about it, we just have to pick up the pieces”.

    I wouldn’t say it’s a scary movie, it’s a suspense with some great “jump out of the seat” moments. I’m glad I ignored the reviews and saw it for myself. I wasn’t disappointed.