I am pleased to have Narrelle Harris on the blog today to talk about her new release, Grounded and to share with us how she went about building a world with wings. Take it away, Narrelle.
World building with Wings and a Chair
Thanks Leisl. It’s great to be here to share my new release, Grounded and talk about world building. Building the world of Grounded began simply – with wings and a chair.
Inspired by a friend’s experiences with what constituted ‘mobility access’, I’d decided to write a romance where the protagonists were, in their world’s context, disabled – so I set them in a world where humans had evolved with wings, but neither of them could fly.
Clementine Torres, an artist, was born wingless and Benedick Sasaki, a policeman, had been badly wounded in the line of duty and could no longer fly. I knew what kind of people they were, and the obstacles they might face on the road to finding love, but building their world took a lot of double-ended detail.
Why double-ended? Because first I had to build a world made for people who can fly; and then I had to deconstruct it to find out how such a world accommodated (or not) people who can’t fly.
As I sat at my desk to start, wondering what a winged world looked like, the first thing I realised was that if I had wings, my comfortable, high-backed office chair would be entirely unsuitable for everyday living. So, I decided, in the Grounded universe, most chairs were stools.
My next thought was for Clementine. Her biology was built to bear wings, but without them, she might not be comfortable on a stool – her balance might be all wrong, without that extra weight on her back. She might need extra support when sitting for long periods. So in her world, chairs with backs on them might be considered an aid.
Come to that, what did her whole apartment look like? Clearly, for people with wings (even wings that can’t bear a body’s weight in flight any more), living space would need to be much larger to accommodate wings at rest, as well as wings at full span. While most people, therefore, have really roomy living spaces, Clementine might use all that real estate differently. Being sociable, she’d need that space for guests, but not everyone she knows has functional wings (or, like her, none at all).
As part of exploring her personality, I considered how she might express herself as an artist and as a person, in all of that space. If she was anything like the artists I’ve known, she’d either have canvases and art paraphernalia neatly in one room, or all over the place.
Clementine was very clear that she wanted to fill up her home with art. She has to make a point of clearing the way for her winged friends to visit her. A key moment of Benedick feeling ‘at home’ with her is when she clears the space, literally making room for him in her life.
The world kept getting built that way, double-ended, from the inside out. Not only furniture and general décor, but architecture itself, when people could usually simply fly to the floor they wanted. Transport was an issue too – just because humans could fly didn’t mean they’d always do it (people don’t walk everywhere now, just because they have two legs). When was transport appropriate, and how was it designed?
And then I’d have to take those ideas and unravel them to understand the challenges they presented for people who didn’t use the space in the same way. More specifically for Clementine and Benedick, what access did they have to the world made for those who fly, and how did they feel about it?
(Early on, Benedick is struggling with the idea of getting an elevator up to his new apartment in a housing block for the flightless – “like furniture” he thinks.)
From the structures of a world built for flight, I what differences did flying humans have with humanity as I knew it. I’m no biologist, though I looked into wing structures and extrapolated notions of lighter bones and bigger lungs. Flying humans would need more and stronger torso muscles to support wings and flight. This would mean different kinds of physiotherapy for people who had such musculature but were unable to use it.
Wings were part of body language too, whether or not a character could fly with them, and so I was able to explore ways in which wing body language told us things about the characters.
More prosaically, wings, covering backs as they did with feather-shaped hairs, would affect temperature regulation too. Clementine’s wardrobe choices had to respond to this too. As well as needing to sew up the slits normally in clothes to fit around wings, her clothes would need to compensate for the cold she’d feel.
Grounded was never about all the things the flightless can’t do – the story’s theme is quite the opposite! Clementine can’t fly but she can do something people with wings can’t – she can swim! She can also crawl into spaces underneath low trees to draw creatures that winged people rarely see. The candy moth (inspired by the real world’s Rosy Maple Moth) is a motif for this – a pink moth that lives its whole lifecycle hidden, the symbol of how life is full of beauty and value, no matter where it’s found.
Some of the most fun I had in building this world for Clementine and Benedick was in the language I could play with, bringing in all kinds of flight-and-wing metaphors and sayings, like having a ‘blackbird of the family’ instead of a black sheep, and the way that Clementine uses her art and her words to make ‘wingspan’ for herself and others – to make a space in the world where she is seen and heard rather than overlooked or disregarded.
It has been enormous fun to create a world for flying people, and then to open it wide to see how my flightless lovebirds live in it and make wingspan for themselves. I may even go back to visit – after all, Benedick’s cousin Octavia and his brother Peregrine are both still looking for love!
That sounds amazing, Narrelle. Thanks for sharing your process with us – and I look forward to seeing other novels in this fascinating world out there for readers to enjoy. I love a good series.
Book Blurb: Grounded by Narrelle M Harris
In a world where flight is life, will two grounded people find other ways to fly?
When Benedick Sasaki’s wings are wounded in the line of duty, the former policeman doesn’t know if he has a place in a world where he can no longer fly.
Then he meets Clementine Torres, an artist born without wings and a vocal advocate for the flightless who has been subjected to recent hate mail and vandalism ahead of her new exhibition. As Clementine starts to teach Benedick new ways to appreciate the world on the ground, the threats against her art and possibly her life begin to escalate.
To survive, they will need to teach each other that not all beauty is in the air, and that both of them can soar without wings…
- Grounded (Amazon US)
- Grounded (Amazon UK)
- Grounded (Amazon Australia)
- Grounded (Kobo)
- Grounded (iTunes)
- Grounded (Google Play)
- Grounded (Harper Collins)
Narrelle M Harris writes crime, horror, fantasy and romance. Her 30+ works include vampire novels, erotic spy adventures, het and queer romance, and Holmes/Watson romance mysteries. In 2017, her ghost/crime story Jane won the ‘Body in the Library’ prize at the Scarlet Stiletto Awards. Her most recent works include A Dream to Build a Kiss On (2018) and Grounded (March 2019). Coming later in 2019 are her short story collection, Scar Tissue and Other Stories, Number One Fan (the third novella in her Duo Ex Machina MM romance series), and rock and roll meets urban fantasy novel, Kitty and Cadaver. www.narrellemharris.com.
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Thanks so much for hosting me Leisl!
My absolute pleasure, Narrelle. Good luck with the novel.