Starry Night Sky with Bow

In Search of Punch for the Page

“Full contact,” the instructor says. My gloves and pads are on, my opponent is a black belt, and the wall is lined with watching students – his friends, not mine. I’m the only foreigner here, and as I look around, that knowledge hits me with renewed force. I suddenly wish I hadn’t trained quite so hard this morning. I’ve been sweating around ten litres a day for two weeks – strength training in the morning, technique in afternoons, and a solid dose of cardio in the evenings. Every muscle is begging for a holiday. An ironic observer in my brain is sitting back, laughing at me. He glances out at my opponent who bounces around with obvious energy. “You’re going to die,” the observer informs me, while strapping on a seatbelt. I’m ready to collapse and sleep for two days, but I paste a confident smile on my face. “More than half of this is psychological,” I say to myself. Ironic observer snorts and gets his popcorn ready.

The thing about any kind of sequential technique is that it has to be so well rehearsed it can be recalled and acted on reflexively. There’s no time in the moment for, “Um, oh, yes – if you hold the knife that way then I need to use this hand and turn this way … no, wait, that way, and avoid, um … ouch!” I wonder if I’m going to be able to execute any of the numerous sequences I’ve been rehearsing.

Conversations subside till all we can hear is the whirring fans. Anyone who has played contact sports will know the rush of mindless adrenaline that takes place as teams surge towards each other. The thrill in a fight is more intense because you know your opponent has more comprehensive plans for you than just trying to stop or get past you. Of course, you have plans of your own for him, or you should have. The unfortunate reality is that the adrenaline keeps welling up and obscuring them. You have the rough idea memorized, though – win.

The fight starts. We avoid the dirty side of things like bending fingers and poking eyes (great for real self-defence), but we fight hard. By the fourth round, my internal observer is having to dive between steam jets from exploding valves and ricocheting rivets that shoot from bulging panels. I take a well-placed hook to the temple that spins my head guard around, covering my eyes. I don’t see the kick. I’m fairly certain it came from a horse. I once took a short flight courtesy of a large, feisty steed, so I make the comparison with some authority. The kick empties my lungs and almost empties my entire abdominal cavity. I half collapse, half dive at where I think my opponent is, and mercifully land on top of him, straightening my head guard as I do so. I just manage to hold in the vomit. Maybe I shouldn’t have – I’m pretty sure it would have won me the round. Spectacularly. Our instructor calls time which is probably a good thing – for both.

In spite of the exhaustion and bruises, I’ve seldom enjoyed myself so much. Very little gets the blood to race through vessels like heavy sparring. But this wasn’t about enjoyment as much as learning, and the amount I learned over the preceding two weeks is as much as I’d hoped for.

I started Krav Maga a few years back, so the style isn’t new to me, but what was new was the intensity of course and the experience of completing it in a profoundly foreign context. This was the main reason for the trip. It was important for me, while writing book 2 of The Wakening, to be reminded what it’s like to be a foreigner. Even when you are prepared for obvious differences – language, rules of the road, food, dress code, climate, and landscape – experiencing those differences, especially when you’re alone, brings a kind of disorientation that can’t really be understood by theory alone. It changes the way everything feels, from fighting to grocery shopping.

Being immersed in these details gave me several ideas about how a foreign setting would influence not just the actions, but also the state of mind of characters in the story. It has given me much to work with in the next rewrite of book 2, as well as in the rest of the series.

After the course, it was time to see Israel, so for a week I travelled. This was the first time I’ve let someone else plan my itinerary, but it was the best decision I could have made. My PR manager researched and planned the week-long tour to perfection. Having that weight off my mind gave me the freedom to just let the environments soak into my thoughts.

Whenever I travel, I’m searching for stories. It’s not just a writer thing – I’ve been doing it all my life. Places inspire, but history does so even more, especially when you’re standing on the ground where the events took place. History, after all, is life, and it is life that inspires stories. Here are a few of the sights that have sent the story-manufacturing cogs whirring.

Perhaps I should just mention here that, when writing fantasy, I never base characters or regions directly on real people or places, because it just spoils that otherworldy experience. Aedan won’t at some point swim across a body of water so salty that it buoys him up like a float, burns his skin, and prevents anything surviving beneath it’s surface – a body of water known as the … er … Killed Sea. What I try to do when writing fantasy is harvest interesting experiences, look at the details that make them so, and use what I’ve learned to create new places and experiences within stories. Sometimes writers can stretch their worlds far past the one we know, but there needs to be some measure of relatability or there is no resonance, so discovering inspiration in the real world is important. Maybe it’s like any craft – you study what exists in order to know how to make something that doesn’t yet.

Bedouin camp in the Judean Desert

 

bedouin-camels-sAs you can see by the postures of the two men leading the group, this wasn’t camel racing, so an adrenaline rush it was not. But the spectacular openness of the desert, the oven-baked gusts of wind, and the complete unfamiliarity of almost everything I could see and touch made this Bedouin experience rich with inspiration. The camp itself is fairly commercialized, but the setting is nothing short of breathtaking in its rawness.

Masada

masada-sqThe best time to climb to Masada is before sunrise, partly to avoid the morning blaze, and partly because of the atmosphere that pre-dawn imparts to the ruins. The tragic history of this desert stronghold is as moving as the setting. Walking through the ancient buildings gives one a sense of privilege, and a poignant reminder of our mortality.

Safed

One of the most arty towns I’ve seen. There are galleries galore, musicians walking the streets, and charming restaurants with exceptionally toothsome food. In my opinion, the best places to stay here are the many small rooms attached to artist’s studios. I was at the neatest little spot owned by Shani and Sheva Chaya. It was literally five strides from an art gallery and a small glass-blower’s workshop where I had a fascinating demonstration of the craft.

Nimrod’s Castle in the Golan Heights

nimrods-castle-sm

There is so much history in a castle. So much of the nature of humanity is expressed in those battlements forever watching the hills.

Can you see them? The band of attackers drifting down through the trees? Even now I can – I think. But if I raise the alarm and it turns out to be just my imagination … I wonder how many times these thoughts or similar ones churned behind arrow slits like this one.

Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee)

lake-tiberius-sm

No, I was not swimming out into the lake at sunset. That would be irresponsible. The lake gets deep quickly and the currents are a little stronger than would be expected … apparently. This is a spectacular place. Sitting here on this sun-warmed ledge, I let the experiences of the past three weeks slosh and slap around like the water against the rocks below. Reading, researching and dreaming are good inspirations, but nothing competes with the texture of real life experience. These three weeks were well spent. I have much to take home with me, to invest into the pages of coming books.

 

21 thoughts on “In Search of Punch for the Page

  1. James

    Im just on chapter one of dawn of wonder and just wanted to check out the blog. I love that you put up that status meter. It’s such a small thing but it makes me feel like good, I like this guy, I really want this to be good and if it’s a slow starter I’m more likely to stick with it if it’s an author I can wanna like.

    Reply
  2. Sara Rosenberg

    Killed Sea 🙂
    It’s actually referred to as the Sea of Salt in Hebrew.
    Thank you for your dedication to research! I’m sure it will make for an extraordinarily rich story. Looking forward!

    Reply
  3. James

    Thank you so much for adding the progress bar for book 2 to your website! That is exactly what we as fans need to keep from feeling discouraged in following the progress of an author whose work we love.

    Its so easy these days, what with certain famous authors whose work is coming along slower than expected, to give up on new books til the series is done, and I know this doesn’t help up-and-coming writers. What makes it infinitely worse is when there is a lack of word on progress. You wrote a blog in May, but 2 or 3 or 4 months later we all wonder how its changed since then; yet i know it must be hard to write the type of blog that says “not yet”.

    However a progress bar (Sanderson does the same, as I’m sure you know) lets us feel a LOT better about things.

    Thank you

    James

    Reply
  4. Rosemary

    I find myself continually surprised by your writing. There’s a quality about it that I, not being a writer, cannot articulate. Yet it’s there. I read quite a bit – probably more than someone with my responsibilities ever should – so I feel experienced. Books I read delight, inspire, enrich, elicit strong emotions, even stronger responses and engross but rarely do they truly surprise as did yours. And now even your simple blog post accomplishes the same. Someone help me describe the utter freshness that practically glitters, the richness that at once satisfies and creates longing for more. What is that? It makes me catch my breath. That is an entirely new and extremely welcome sensation, one that, for the possibility of repeating, I will happily await with patience. May the next book arrive on time, whenever that may be.

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Renshaw

      Thanks Rosemary, but I need to hand a fair chunk of the credit to another. My first four attempts at writing this were awful and I had no idea how to fix it. It was my PR manager who came to the rescue and got me on track. Most can recognise when a piece of writing isn’t quite there and even give a general direction for improvement, but it takes rare skill to find a complete path through the tangle of words and ideas. I have the privilege working with someone like that.
      By the way, I have to disagree with something you wrote – you most certainly can articulate!

  5. Another Justin

    Glad the insight into Israel’s Middle East culture. I appreciate the fact that you aren’t modeling Lekran after real world culture and history. For those of us history buffs it doesn’t add much and things get predictable. I really hope we get so still see some new creatures or at least some human animal interaction in this next book. That is something that is dear to my heart, especially horses.

    Reply
  6. Eric

    I was actually talking with a colleague yesterday at a conference in Savannah, GA about DOW. The first book was amazing and I am impatiently waiting on the release of book 2. Lol. Glad the trip went well!

    Big Fan Eric

    Reply
  7. Johnny

    Hello mr renshaw..thank you for sharing some of you’re real life and pictures. And thank you for you’re book. It started off a little slow for me..and I almost gave up on it. I am so glad I didnt. It was a wonderful story. I am patiently waiting for the next one. I just wanted to say thank you

    Reply
  8. Justin

    Your travels are almost as fascinating as your book. I have some friends who just got back from Israel. I really wanted to go with them, but couldn’t. Maybe another time. Any updates on Book 2?

    Reply
  9. Candace

    So jealous of your travels and krav practice! Is this with KMG? I almost went to Israel this year with them but unfortunately torn my ACL and dislocated my shoulder in krav. -.- Next year for sure!

    Reply
  10. Nick

    Even in your recounting of real life events I almost feel as though I am reading Dawn of Wonder 🙂

    Reading about your experiences makes me even more excited for the next installment in the series, particularly for Liru. Maybe it will not be as significant for her (as Aedan will be the one who actually has to bluff it all out as a Lekran and immerse himself in every aspect of the culture); however, it will be interesting to see it all through the perspective of someone who has been a foreigner and is doing it all over again.

    I also am very excited to hear your descriptions of the hand-to-hand combat (as you had mentioned there was more of it in an earlier update). From having lived it, I am confident that we will all be wincing at the blows that Aedan takes as a result of your masterful descriptions!

    #Toothsomeforthewin

    Reply
  11. Martha

    Yes! Finally an update 🙂
    I really hope you had a great trip. While you’re working on book 2 I’ll just have Aedan take his first journey again and again read wonderfully by Tim Reynolds. Really looking forward to the next step.

    Reply
  12. Ryan Hodges

    Your insight into the customs and cultures of foreign lands is pretty remarkable and I’m sure will aid immensely in the next Dawn book! I’m really pumped to see how these experiences translate over to your fiction.

    I read the first book last week and was very impressed with it. I read way more than I probably should (being a husband and father to three girls), but it gives me an outlet. I also appreciate the fact that your book was “clean,” not resorting to wanton sex or suggestiveness like other fantasy books. That stuff is for some people, but not for me. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Renshaw Team

      Hey Ryan! Glad to hear you enjoyed book 1. We are doing our best to help Jonathan release more books, so that you and your girls can enjoy more good, clean writing!

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