Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Bickering Blogfest

This is my short story Briantrap Dungeon for the bickering blogfest, and since people seemed to like my character interview with Brian Northington, it's the next installment of the Brianiad (or the Receipt for a Dragon series, if you don't like pretentious names for these things). The bickering is fairly low level, but they do manage to keep it up even while running away, so they should probably have points for that. Apologies in advance for the length.

‘Cynthia…’ Brian paused from lashing the spiked swivel arm into place and looked over at his companion. Even in a semi-dark tunnel, wearing a boiler suit, with her burgundy hair tied back, Cynthia Williams-Frothes managed to radiate elegant beauty. Of course, at the sound of her first name, she also managed to radiate the sense that she would have really preferred it if the Universe didn’t contain Brian Northington.

‘Spider, Brian, not Cynthia. Only my mother calls me Cynthia.’

‘Sorry, sorry.’ He raised his hands in apology and only narrowly avoided impaling them on the spikes. ‘Why do they call you Spider, anyway?’

‘I climb things.’ Her attention was firmly on the pressure plate in front of her.

‘What sort of things?’ Brian asked, intrigued. Spider sighed.

‘Cliffs, walls, sacred statues with inviting diamonds set in the eyes. That sort of thing.’

‘Why would you do that?’

‘To steal what’s at the top, of course.’ She turned away from her work, giving Brian a long look. ‘What? Not going to say something about me being a thief?’

Brian hadn’t known her for more than a couple of days, but already he knew better than to answer. Sadly, it seemed that even silence wasn’t always safe where Cynthia was concerned.

‘There’s no need for the silent treatment. I was bored, ok? Traipsing around the Multiverse stealing from evil warlords and mad demon princes seemed a lot more fun than sitting at home, waiting for my mother to set me up with some suitable man. Now, give me a moment while I set this pressure switch.’

Brian watched her work by the light of what appeared to be a small, glowing, winged figure trapped within a glass jar. The word that came to mind was pixie. He might have said something about the cruelty of it, except that the tiny person seemed perfectly happy sitting there and reading what appeared to be a very small edition of the Racing Post.

Brian watched Spider link up the pressure switch to a sort of hourglass and cogwheel arrangement, which in turn seemed to be linked to an exceptionally large crossbow. Of the things he’d seen so far that day, it was one of the less dangerous. He’d spent half an hour helping a team of very short, muscular men with greenish skin and too many teeth manoeuvre a large boulder to the top of a chute.

‘Where did the little men go?’ He asked. ‘I haven’t seen them in a while.’
Cynthia shook her head wearily.

‘They’re not “little men”, Brian. They’re goblins. Ugly, mean, and utterly untrustworthy.’

‘You’re just upset because they wolf whistled at you. Besides, they seemed nice enough. They could help us with this last bit.’

Cynthia rolled her eyes.

‘You wouldn’t be saying that if you saw some of the things they do to prisoners. As for helping, they can’t, they’re on their break. According to the Goblinoid Organisation of Builders, I have to give them an hour off every four hours. I told Peter we should have gone with gnomes.’

Peter Edgeborough was their employer. It had been him who suggested that Brian should tag along with Spider to learn the ropes of the dungeon designing business. Besides, there had been a nest of snakes to encourage to the bottom of a pit, and Brian had seemed the natural choice for it. He didn’t know why reptiles liked him so much, but they’d followed him as meekly as mice, slithering into the pit one by one.

He took another look at the giant crossbow as Spider finished connecting up the pressure plate.

‘Isn’t all this a bit… dangerous?’ He asked. Spider raised an elegantly curved eyebrow.

‘It’s meant to be dangerous, Brian. That’s kind of the point of dungeon traps.’

‘But it doesn’t seem right, somehow, rigging all this up when we know what it will do to people.’

‘Nobody makes your average barbarian thief come into places like this.’ Spider retorted. ‘They come in because they know it’s going to be filled with this stuff. For them, it’s like bungee jumping or something. No danger, no thrill. Besides, between you and me, there’s nothing in here that even the most incompetent hack and slash merchant couldn’t avoid. If Graznar the Mad wants a deadly pit of doom, he shouldn’t be paying us peanuts for it.’

She straightened up, stretching casually.

‘Come on, that’s the last of it for now. Let’s head back outside.’

Brian wasn’t entirely convinced by her argument, but he followed in her wake anyway. That was, he followed until something small and brightly coloured caught his eye. Another look told Brian it was some sort of lizard, similar to a chameleon, though no chameleon he’d heard of could achieve an effect of blue, orange and green polka dots. It was perched on a statue where the eyes had been replaced by hollow tubes to fire poison darts, apparently investigating the tubes. Somewhere between his natural concern for all things scaly and his fascination with the strangeness of the creature’s patterns, he forgot all about where they were.

‘Come off that,’ Brian said, edging forward and reaching for it. He lifted the lizard, which made a noise uncannily similar to a kitten purring. It came at about the same moment as a loud click.

‘Brian! Don’t move!’

Brian fought off the natural urge that comes with all instructions of that type, which was to turn towards the sound of the speaker's voice. Given the note of urgency in Spider's tone, it didn’t seem like a very good idea. Instead, he did his best impersonation of a statue. The chameleon didn’t feel the same need, running up onto the top of his head. Spider moved into his line of vision and crouched down, tentatively examining the ground at Brian’s feet.

‘Why can’t you watch where you’re stepping?’ she demanded, and then swore. ‘It’s no good. I can’t disarm this pressure plate with you standing on it. What did you think you were doing?’

By way of answer, Brian held up the lizard, which had changed colour. This time it had achieved what looked very much like a Royal Stuart tartan effect. Spider rolled her eyes.

‘I should have known. Listen, Brian, this whole dungeon is rigged together. Once you step off that pad, the whole place is going to start going off.’

Brian thought about it for a moment. He’d seen this sort of thing on TV, before one of his pet pythons had eaten the remote control. He knew that there was really only one thing to do in situations like this. He pushed the lizard at Spider.

‘You should go,’ he said, in what he hoped was a suitably brave tone. ‘Take him with you, would you?’

It seemed the lizard wasn’t waiting for an answer. It jumped onto Spider’s shoulder and lay there like some strange, tartan parrot. Spider gave it a disgusted look.

‘That’s all I need. Taxi service for some chameleon with artistic pretensions. If you think I’m going to just leave you, you’re stupider than you look. Can you even remember where we put everything?’

Brian shrugged. ‘I can remember where the snake pit was, and that thing with the scythe blades, and… well, I’ll be all right. Really, just go.’

Spider gave a long sigh. ‘Oh, save me from chauvinist, wannabe chivalry.’ She moved closer to Brian, her hands sliding up to his shoulders. For a moment, just for a moment, Brian found himself wondering if she might kiss him. Well, not so much wondering as hoping, he admitted to himself. Spider leaned in still closer, until he could breathe in the scent of her perfume and almost, almost taste her lips on his.

She yanked Brian off the pressure plate.

There was the hiss of escaping air, followed by the thud of darts hitting the wall opposite where Brian had been standing.

‘Don’t just stand there, run!’

Spider all but dragged Brian along with her. There was a twang, and something passed between them. The giant crossbow bolt embedded itself two feet into the wall and quivered like a ruler that had just been flicked by the world’s largest schoolboy. They rounded a corner at full tilt, narrowly avoiding the edge of the snake pit, and kept going.

Brian flinched at the sound of things happening just behind them as they ran. There were more twangs, a couple of thumps, and the swish of a pair of descending scythe blades.

‘Why aren’t they hitting us?’ he demanded, not slowing down.

‘You’re asking now?’ Spider pulled him down as a sharpened discus blade shot overhead. ‘They’re designed to go off as people walk into them coming in, so they’re behind us coming out. Now, shut up and keep running.’

Brian did so, but couldn’t help asking one more question.

‘What’s that rumbling sound?’

They looked back over their shoulders almost simultaneously, and so saw the giant boulder rolling towards them at the same time. This time, Brian didn’t need to be told to run. They made it round the final bend just before the boulder, and set off at a flat sprint with it behind them. They threw themselves through the entrance, coming to rest in a panting, mud spattered mess just outside. The boulder shot by them and continued, crashing through a tent marked G.O.B.- Tea Breaks.

Spider looked up, and Brian braced himself for the explosion that would probably follow.

‘I know,’ he said, ‘I’m an idiot.’

Spider just laughed.

‘Are you kidding? I haven’t had that much fun in years.’

‘Fun?’ Brian asked.

‘Well, obviously. I told you I used to steal from places like this. You think I did it for the money? There’s nothing, nothing, quite like running away from a ton of boulder to make you feel alive.’ Her face sobered. ‘Mind you, I dread to think what Graznar the Mad’s going to say.’

Somewhere through the fog of confusion at not being shouted at, an idea came to Brian.

‘Could we… maybe say we were testing the system?’

‘Testing the system?’ Spider repeated thoughtfully.

‘You know, like an additional, no extra cost service to check that it’s 100% adventurer-proof.’

A slow smile spread over Spider’s face.

‘You know, it might work. And the best part is I… that is we… could offer this to all our clients.’ She said it in the happy voice of someone who was never likely to be short of an adrenaline rush ever again. She turned to Brian with a gleam in her eye that made him hopeful again. ‘You know, right now, I could just… yuck! Get it off!’

The lizard had chosen that moment to lick her face. Hurriedly, Brian lifted it from her. It started purring again.

‘Please tell me you’re not planning on keeping it.’ Spider said. ‘You are, aren’t you? You’re going to keep it.’

Brian nodded and looked back at the devastation. A group of goblin workers were crawling out of the ruins of their tent, brushing themselves off and muttering darkly about Health and Safety.

‘I think I’ll call him Trouble.’

Saturday, 26 June 2010

A little knowledge

One curiousity of the writing game is that too much expertise can be a bad thing in some areas. The usual advice is to write what you know, but is it possible to know something too well?

I think it is, mostly because of my fight scenes. You see, my hobbies have included an assortment of martial arts over the years, so in theory, I should have the interest and knowledge to write great fight scenes in my thrillers. Except...

My experience of these things is that fighting is hurried, brief, and frankly rather uninteresting in the detail. I see one of those complex, interesting scenes in my head, and then I start overruling myself. I let reality get in the way of the writing.

Or worse, I have to overrule the urge to reference specific techniques and ideas that only really make sense to a specialist. I know that happens to other people. Tricia Sullivan's wonderful book Someone to Watch Over Me falls foul of it, as the thriller's more violent scenes spill over into a bit of a discourse on the proper way to do this sort of thing. The difference between her work and mine is that the rest of StWOM is sufficiently brilliant that I can't imagine the average reader minds.

This sort of thing is true of other areas. There is a reason I don't write historical fiction, for example, and that is because I just know that an obsessive need for accuracy would take over. I couldn't finish Philippa Gregory's The Greatest Knight for example. Mostly, admittedly, because it was due back at the library, but partly because she had some intriguing ideas about chivalry being real on twelfth century tournament fields. It is a wonderful book in every other respect (or the first bit is, I assume the rest is too) but sheer pickiness stopped me.

Is this true for anyone else? In theory, our expertise in baking/classic cars/butterflies of the Iberian penninsula (it occurs to me that the last phrase could seriously mess up somebody's search engine results, but only if they were searching for something very odd) should add to our stories, but do you have trouble stopping your sailing scene becoming a how to work for would-be sailors?

Is it, in short, better to write what you don't know?

Guard Duty

My story 'Guard Duty' has come out in the summer edition of Bards and Sages, which seems to be one of my bigger short story publications to date.

Monday, 21 June 2010


My author interview over at Critique this WIP has gone up. Thanks to everyone there for letting me do it.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Bad Boy Blogfest

A little something entered for the bad boy blogfest, a fraction early, since I have just found out that I will be playing cricket for much of tommorrow. Still, given the time difference, that should get me back just as everyone else comes on line. Probably.

The dress code for the annual villains’ ball was not so much black tie as simply black. After much deliberation, Lord Giles the Generally Unpleasant had settled on his second best armour, deciding that the set with all the spikes probably wasn’t suitable. After all, partners generally preferred it if they didn’t get impaled in the middle of the foxtrot.

Not that there seemed to be much danger of anyone dancing with him at the moment. Instead, Giles found himself forced to sit off to one side while that irritating fool Duke Nasty got all the attention, evil sorceresses and witch-queens practically fighting one another for the next dance. Or actually fighting, in the case of a couple of barbarian types who had drunk a little too much.

It had been the same, even at Madam Illiot’s School For Young Darklords. Young Giles would do his best, working away at cheating with the rest of his year, and then Nasty would breeze past with a casual sneer and take top marks. Even in monster wrangling, where Giles had spent ages rearing a Thousand-Handed-Thing, Nasty had managed to go one better. He’d used some of the family fortune to bring in an honest-to-evilness dragon, which had proceeded to eat Giles’ Thing deep fried.

Giles brushed away a tear at the memory. Poor Fluffy…

Ten years of assorted villainy hadn’t changed a thing. Giles had set up his Tunnels of Agony, and Nasty had come up with a dungeon complex that made it look like a Maze of Mild Discomfort by comparison. Giles had plotted to achieve favour with the Great Red Eye, and Nasty had overtaken him by the simple expedient of delivering a tanker-load of eye drops. Nowadays, when heroes fought their way through the cunning traps protecting Giles’ evil stronghold, it was mostly just so that they could ask directions to Nasty’s place. Of course, Giles had them horribly killed, but that wasn’t the point.

And now he was up for the MVV, the annual Most Villainous Villain award, at just the point when Giles had wormed his way onto the nominations list. It just wasn’t fair, even by a standard that normally saw that as simply a description of those maidens you threw to the dragon as a treat.

Giles looked up, or rather down, at his goblin henchman, Tilesbury. He just about restrained a sigh. Giles knew that a proper goblin henchman should be an evil, capering thing, with a name like “Snot”, not somebody who dressed like a particularly green penguin, spoke like an earl, and had twice stopped rampaging troupes of heroes in their tracks by asking them to head around to the tradesmen’s entrance.

‘Is everything in place?’

‘Indeed, sir. I fear I must ask again if this is entirely the best course of action. Stealing the presentation trophy for the annual Most Villainous Villain award does seem a trifle… risky.’

‘Just so long as I can make sure Nasty doesn’t get it, I don’t care,’ Giles snapped, and then realised that, as a proper evil overlord, he should probably add some sort of threat. ‘That is, fetch it for me, or I will take your liver and… and…’

‘Feed it to the Nameless Beast of Phlal?’ Tilesbury suggested.

‘Yes, that.’

‘Very good, sir.’

The goblin hurried off. Giles kept his eyes on Nasty, allowing himself an evil smile. As a result, he wasn’t really in a position to notice that an assortment of other hench-creatures were making their way from the hall.

‘What are we going to do?’ An ogre henchman demanded in a whining voice. ‘What are we going to do?’

‘Oh, hysterics,’ Tilesbury sighed. ‘Would somebody slap him please?’

A dark-elf in frankly not quite enough leather obliged, sparking a brawl somewhere towards the back of the storeroom the assembled hench-creatures currently occupied. Several of the others stepped discretely away. One, a goblin that went by the rather more traditional name of Grag, raised a hand.

‘What are we going to do, though? I mean, your boss wants the trophy, and my boss wants the trophy, and my cousin Snag’s boss-’

‘Everybody’s employer wants the trophy,’ Tilesbury interrupted, on the basis that they didn’t have all night. ‘The urge to nobble one’s rivals through a little simple larceny probably falls under the general heading of “evil”, you see.’

‘Yes, but we can’t all give them what they want.’ The other goblin shuddered. ‘Master gets upset when he doesn’t get what he wants.’

There was a general chorus of assent from the others. Tilesbury grinned, dragging a big box out from among the other boxes in the storeroom. When he opened it, a large number of very shiny, very gold plated, and above all very trophy like objects were plainly visible.

‘It’s just as well I planned ahead then, isn’t it. Now, what shall we say? Three gold each?’


Just a quick couple of links and things. First, I would like to point out the existence of the Bards and Sages yearly writing competition for speculative fiction, which I came across mostly because my story 'Guard Duty' is going to be in their July issue.

Secondly, I'm due to give an author interview over at Critique this WIP on Monday, so I thought I'd better let people know ahead of time.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Character Interview Blogfest

Right. You are...
Brian Northington. I'm in the 'Receipt for a Dragon' stories.

You're the hero of the receipt for a dragon series
Um... I suppose so. If you say so. Mostly, I seem to end up in some sort of trouble. Anyway, Spider says that heroes are mostly adrenaline seeking idiots.

I didn't mean hero in the sense of 'large bloke in furry underwear swinging a sword'. I meant that you're the main character.
No, that can't be right. Isn't Trouble the main character? He's far more interesting than I am.

Trouble is a not-quite-chameleon whose main function is to wander round changing colour to whatever is funniest at the time. He's a lizard, Brian.
Like I said. Interesting.

He hasn't even been in the two published stories. He's in the unpublished stuff.
No, but there was like a dragon thing in the first one, and a sort of basilisk in the next. I thought those bits were very interesting. I'm not so sure about all those bits with people in, though.

Assorted reptiles are not the main characters! You are!
There's no need to shout. Spider shouts at me more than enough.

Yes, about that. When are you going to get round to resolving this unresolved tension between you and Cynthia?
You mustn't call her that. She hates being called that. Anyway, what tension? I hadn't noticed any tension.

No, you probably hadn't. I suspect that might be the problem. Let's talk about your job for a moment, shall we? How are you enjoying putting together various bits of the fantasy infrastructure for P.Edgeborough and co?
It's all right, I suppose, though there don't seem to be quite as many dragons as I'd hoped. Still, it's very varied. I've had to run away from all sorts of people so far. Also a giant boulder. Could we talk about the giant boulder? That one almost killed me.

It's an important cultural reference. Look, what I really want to know is how you might react to having to save the world. I'm thinking of having you do it.
Um... do I have to? I mean, I'm not sure that Peter would give me the time off. He'd probably mean to, but then he would forget.

I was thinking of making it work related
Oh. That's probably all right then. I'm not sure Spider will be happy with it though.

She'll probably be even more unhappy if I decide to include my current "pretty female vampire on work experience" plan
Really, why? I'd have thought that it would be someone for her to take under her wing.

You really don't get these things, do you? Look, is there anything else you want to say?
Well, I did read this great article the other day on the habits of Reticulated Pythons. Apparently-

Oh, right. I'll be going then, shall I? I'm supposed to be putting some new snake pits into Evil Lord Gunge's 'Mausoleum of Mild Disappointment'. He wanted it to be a Tomb of Terror, but I'm not sure it's really possible. Not on his budget...

Saturday, 12 June 2010

We have a winner

Using perfectly random methods (rolling a die from some long disassembled boardgame, since you ask) I have established that the person who wins a copy of my first novel, Searching is:

Lauren, from Book in the Oven.


Like a fool, I have followed my defeat at Sheffield by signing up for the national fencing championships. After all, if I'm going to be beaten, it might as well be by the best people in the country.

Things progress slowly on the novel writing/rewriting front. I've hardly done anything on my own this week, while my work on another ghostwriting project is limited by the time the client has available to produce outlines.

On the guitar, my continuing experiment with a thumbpick... um, continues, with surprisingly good results. The only downside is a tendency to play country guitar at unexpected moments, which wasn't really what I was aiming for.

You'll notice that I have made it through this post without mentioning the football World Cup. Well, until then. England play tonight, and I shall be looking for somewhere to hide to avoid it. I'm considering dragging out the cricket match I'm playing today specially, but I suspect that would result in the other players trying to kill me.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

500 Posts Contest

This is my five hundredth blog post. As a way of celebrating, and since Witch Hunt has recently come out, I thought I would offer a copy of the first in the series, Searching, as a give away prize. If you're interested, just leave a comment below.

A winner will be drawn at random at some point after this time on Saturday (8:30PM GMT), and I'll post a copy straight after that.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Dream Sequence Blogfest

This is taken from my comic fantasy novel Court of Dreams, and is at the back end of a sort of dream vision... thing.

The dream faded into blackness, but it felt more like an interval than a conclusion. A drumming sounded, like the low thrum of a heartbeat, pulsing through Thomas with every note. Thomas didn’t care. He was too busy feeling a bit cheated that this vision seemed to have stolen its dialogue from a soap opera somewhere, while at the same time trying to make sense of the things he’d just seen.

Questions milled around in his head. Had that been his… father? Had it really been his mother? She’d looked so young, so happy, so sad, all at once. Was he going to have to sit through a whole season’s worth of episodes before he woke up? Why hadn’t she told him? The words lined themselves up in his consciousness like lead weights, until they were all he could think about. Thomas was still thinking it when something beside him cleared its throat.

‘Excuse me?’

Pushing the questions away for a moment, Thomas turned to see a huge, hairy creature that managed to look like some unholy combination of a lion and a rabbit, floppy eared and button nosed, but with lion’s paws, and very definitely lion’s teeth. It looked like the sort of thing that might evolve if the carrots started fighting back.

‘What is it?’ Thomas demanded.

‘Well, I was wondering if we could get on with this?’

‘Get on with what?’

‘Well, it’s your basic shamanic type dream vision, isn’t it?’ the beast thing explained. ‘First you have your vision, and then you undergo a sort of rebirth thing.’

‘And how does that work?’ Thomas asked carefully.

‘Well, you see, first we’re supposed to have this big fight, all symbolic of the struggle of man against his darker nature, like. Then I eat you, strip off all your skin and spit out your bones.’

‘To symbolise getting rid of the old life?’ Thomas guessed.

‘Well, that too, but mostly ‘cause I like it. And after that you’re reborn.’ The thing twitched its nose. ‘So, are you ready?’

Thomas looked up at the thing where it waited patiently, hunger evident in every movement of its slavering jaws. Less so in the floppy ears, but definitely in the slavering.

‘Let me just get this straight. I’ve just had a dream vision of what I assume is my biological father leaving my mother pregnant with me, and you’re asking if I’m ready to be eaten by… what are you, anyway?’

‘They call me the Eater. Look, are you ready or not?’

Thomas looked around at the blackness again.


‘Well tough.’

The thing’s muscles bunched, getting ready to pounce. Its claws extended, its mouth opened hungrily. Without even thinking about it, Thomas waved a hand at the Eater. There was a loud pop as the space where the beast had been came to be occupied by a perfectly normal sized hamster. It paused for a moment, before running over and trying to nibble on his shoe. Thomas ignored it.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Witch Hunt

This keeps happening to me. The edits for a book go past, and I wait for a release date, and then suddenly...

I'd like to take this moment to draw attention to my novel, Witch Hunt, the sequel to Searching, which has been out since the 11th of May. Right, how do you persuade people to like things? Exotic mind control? Giant robot armies?

Options for later, I suppose. For now, the back cover blurb might do:

Following the events of Searching, Neilson would like to get on with his life, but things aren’t that simple. His home has suffered what looks like a freak accident, and worse, investigators have arrived to look into what happened on the night Evan Philips died. Lying could mean death, but the truth holds a dangerous secret.

It’s hardly surprising that Neilson ignores the rumours of murder. He isn’t even supposed to be a Tracker any more. But when the finger of blame is being pointed straight at the woman he loves, Neilson has to go up against both the representatives of his old world and the new Tracker, Amy Winter.

Neilson has to fight to keep his girlfriend safe and to unmask the real killer before they can strike again in a series of ritual murders. Worse, it seems they’ve chosen the final target whose death will hurt him most of all. Neilson finds himself faced with a simple question: how do you find a killer when nobody trusts you?

If that has caught your attention (or if my mind control is working. What, you didn't really think I'd do without it?), the book is currently available in all sorts of e-book forms here. The first novel in the series is still available, here.