I’ve been trying to do a lot of research into the world of Aelyria, in order to help create the fantasy version of Patrick Lenton, ie myself. And not fantasy in the sense that I have at least two abs and my adult-onset acne has cleared up, but fantasy in the sense that I rub shoulders with elves and could learn magic if I wanted to and there’s been a whole bunch of invasions by bug people recently which I need to somehow get my head around.
To start off the backstory, I want to work out where I’m from. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my exhaustive creative writing classes and watching The OC on repeat, is that your protagonist has to come from somewhere. In real life, I also come from somewhere, which may surprise anyone who thought I appeared only when you look into the bathroom mirror and say the word ‘dicksticks’ three times.
But it turns out it’s hard to make comparative choices between real world locations and places that literally don’t exist. My own background is this: I was born in Australia, I grew up for a time in a mining town in the desert, and then I spent the majority of my primary school years over in the Middle East. I then came back to Australia for high school and have lived in Sydney ever since.
So – the easier option is the Middle East part, because as with a lot of Tolkien-esque western style fantasy worlds, there is a clear ‘exotic Arabia’ counterpart. The city (and province?) of Arakmat will do. Pity it’s been in ruins for years, since a certain dude who I met IRL at the beginning of this project roasted it with his magic. Still, I can have grown up there. And not as a local.
Finding a clear counterpart for Sydney is harder – how to reproduce all the different strains of identity that a city has on you? It’s looking more like I’ll have to settle on it being near the water, so perhaps Port Alyxandrya.
At the Junket conference I was at recently, I attended a discussion on Australian cultural identity. It was super interesting for me, because I discovered that the way I feel about being Australia is shared in one way or another by a lot of other people. It can be summarised as being ‘uncomfortable’ about it. I’ve always felt that having grown up overseas, I look at Australia very much from an outsiders point of view – however unlike a foreigner, I have nowhere that I actually feel comfortable calling home. This is further exacerbated by specifics – for example, where I went to high school in Sydney and lived for years with my family have the dubious honour of being the host of a big race riot. I’ve always felt the desire to separate any of my identity from that place. But I also discovered that lots of people having that discussion felt a dislocation – whether it was Indigenous Australian’s who felt like they were denied ownership of their identity, or immigrants who are treated as outsiders, or people from minorities who are viewed as different, which is more obvious. But the uncomfortable notion of Australian identity persisted – and I came to the realisation that instead of using this as a cue to write generally, to write in places that could be literally anywhere, to write in vague brushstrokes that could mean the US or the UK or maybe Australia why not, I should be navigating that feeling of uncertainty, and writing about Australia from that perspective.
So yeah, Port Alyxandrya? I don’t know.