My new romance, Grounded, is set in an alternative reality where human beings have wings – by my protagonists can’t fly.
My initial world-building entailed working out how buildings, furniture, clothes, transport and physiognomy worked, and then how that affected Clementine and Benedick, my couple looking for their Happy Ever After.
It soon became clear, though, that another aspect of a reality where most people can fly is how that would affect language. Every community and culture has its slang terms, its metaphors, its insults and in-jokes.
Creating a wing-related vernacular became one of my favourite aspects of writing Grounded, and in fact gave me my favourite metaphor for its theme.
Clementine Torres is an artist who was born without wings, which makes her quite tiny in a world where most others take up room with the span of the wings as well as the height of their bodies. It’s easy for Clementine to be overlooked and people often bump into her.
Clementine is determined to be seen, however. She uses her art and her words to make ‘wingspan’.
Born wingless, she’d never known what it was to fly, but on days like this Clementine knew exactly what it would feel like. It was a rush in the blood, the flavour of air and sound, the uplift of beauty beyond the ordinary, the luminescent spark of life in commonplace things. And okay, maybe that’s not what flying really was, but Clementine didn’t care. This was her wingspan, the way she spread her metaphorical wings and soared through the world, capturing a part of it rarely seen by the winged.
The concept of ‘wingspan’ is only the beginning of course. So many aspects of life can be rendered with an apt bird-related metaphor. In this alternative world, the inhabitants of Australis don’t have eBay, they use Magpie; they have a search engine called Echolocater instead of Google. And if you break the law, you end up in the Cage rather than the Clink.
People who fly would make reference to the elements, I thought. When people are feeling chirpy (aha!) they say they are ‘sunshiney with loads of lift’. If things are going poorly, they’re ‘a sun-blighted mess’.
‘Sun blister it,’ they’ll snarl if they want to swear, or they’ll refer to ‘sunblistering featherheads’.
Humans will forever find insults for other humans, and the Grounded world has its share of ‘entitled featherweights’, ‘feather-pluckers’ and ‘storm-blighted buzzards’, as well as ‘squawkers’ with a lot of flap but no lift.
There are the really nasty insults too. Crawler and grub are both pejorative terms for people who can’t fly, but in turn, fliers can be called ‘flappers’ – a term for a ‘vapid winged idiot’.’ More flap than glide’ says one character, offended by the use of ‘crawler’.
Benedick uses the insult against himself in a fit of self-recrimination:
‘Wind-blighted, feather-plucked, useless flapper,’ he cursed himself then stopped, shuddering, drawing heaving breaths.
He was not having a good day. Luckily, his brother Peri is good at teasing him back to good humour. Peri says Benedick is ‘so chill, like a crow in a blizzard’. He also calls him a stern old puffin.
Clementine is the type to not give a cold, salty crosswind what anybody thinks, while Benedick sometimes feels a-tumble, like a wind-tossed sparrow.
In the end, though, these two lovebirds will find ways to give each other lift and wingspan, and metaphorically fly into a golden sunset.
Narrelle M Harris
I’ve written over 30 novels and short stories, published in Australia, US and the UK. My award nominations include Fly By Night (Ned Kelly Award), Witch Honour and Witch Faith (the George Turner Prize), and Walking Shadows (Chronos Awards; Davitt Awards). My ghost/crime story Jane won the Athenaeum Library’s “Body in the Library” prize at the 2017 Scarlet Stiletto Awards.
My spec-fic het romance, Grounded, is out on 20 March 2019 with Escape Publishing, but I also write vampire novels, erotic spy adventures, het and queer romance, traditional Holmesian mysteries, and Holmes/Watson romances. On Patreon, I write the Duo Ex Machina series of M/M romance crime novellas. Number One Fan is currently being serialised there and will be on general release in around May.
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.