Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Fantasy Scribes

Writing isn’t always easy, but I imagine we have it a bit easier than the scribes in fantasy literature:

1. First, there’s the issue of doing research, which probably means following the adventurers around through the trap filled dungeons, without the benefit of chain mail or advanced weapons skills.
2. Then, they’d probably have to work out some kind of deal with the heroes, and remember these are people for whom a good deal usually goes ‘if I give you all my ill gotten gains, maybe you won’t kill me and all my minions, okay?’
3. And obviously, they’d need interviews with all the villains for a balanced viewpoint, which might mean a quick trip to the Castle of Doom, followed by an even quicker exit when the resident villain takes exception to being asked about being defeated.
4. That’s assuming that they’re still alive, and remember that the heroes our intrepid scribes are working with are conditioned to react in a very violent fashion to those who make use of the necromantic arts, even for research purposes.
5. Add to that the problems of lugging around enough scrolls to write everything down on by hand, the tendency of passing monsters to assume that because you have books and things you must be a dangerous wizard to be dealt with first, and the lack of a literate audience, and I think the poor scribes who schlep along with heroes every day have things much harder than the rest of us.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Aphelion Best Of

It probably says something about what a busy year it has been, but I didn't even realise that I did this poem in 2011. I thought it was earlier. Still, it's in Aphelion's best of 2011 edition, which is nice to hear. Those who have great respect for the poetry of Kipling should look away now.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Just Writing

Listening too much to reviews can be a dangerous business, because of course, you don't know who this person is, or why they're saying it, or even whether following suggestions there will completely wreck other elements of your writing. In the past week or two, however, I have been kind of following some advice that has cropped up once or twice in reviews of Court of Dreams. Generally, so far, people fall into two camps: those who love it, the humour, and the rest of it, and those who feel that the humour overshadows the rest a little. The point where I started listening was when a friend told me that she loved the book, but that she actually agreed with the point that I was maybe trying too hard to be funny. (Incidentally, if anyone thinks it's odd at this point that I'm admitting to there being people out there who don't think my novel is perfect, I don't see any problem with it. I think it's a good novel. I love it. I think you should read it. I'm just willing to accept that my next one could be even better).

So that's kind of what I'm trying at the moment. I'm trying to just write the story a little more, rather than worrying that I'm not getting in enough jokes. Jokes are coming anyway, so if I concentrate on the bits in between, in theory, the whole thing should go wonderfully (somebody remind me of this when I declare that it's all going horribly wrong).

Monday, 13 February 2012

Hook Line and Sinker Blogfest

This is for the hook line and sinker blogfest, which I think I did last year too, and consists of the first few hundred words of something I've been playing with (it's very much a first draft, except that it's not, because I've had several other goes at writing this novel):

Mad Thomas ran. He ran as fast as he could, which still wasn’t anywhere near as fast as he remembered. Once he had been so fast that light had been hard pressed to keep up. Once, he had swooped and soared, so that the wind became something solid with the speed of it. Now though he could barely do more than sprint, and hop, and occasionally jump, looking back all the time for the one who followed him. The one who had come to him with her lies...

One of the more curious things about… well, things, is the number of those things that begin in pubs. Not the biggest things, obviously. Universes only do so, for example, if they happen to be both quite small and exceptionally alcoholic ones. For things more generally, however, pubs are traditional.
This pub, in the middle of the small town of New Wrexford, was called the Frog and Spigot. It sat sandwiched between the town’s theatre, which appeared from the outside to suffer from a typically theatrical excess of architecture, and a small firm of architects, which didn’t. Presumably the landlord found it quite a profitable place to be, so long as he remembered not to offer any credit to anyone about to wander off on an extended tour of the Scottish Play in Madagascar. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Mark Ezekiel Tilesbury was currently contemplating that fact, having been landed with the job of going to the bar for the next round of drinks. It was quite a strange bar, half mirrored and half tiled, but that just went with the rest of the place. The room appeared to have been decorated by a succession of drunken set designers and architects, with the result that no two of the tables matched, there were some frankly strange oddments scattered around the walls, and the centre of the floor was dominated by a stuffed flamingo.

Flamingos weren’t a problem. The fact that it had been Mark’s round for the past three rounds might have been, but he was used to it by now. After all, it had been his round at pretty much every stop of the tour so far. He tried using the mirrored half of the bar to divine exactly what it was about him that made it his round, but all that showed him was the usual: a blond haired man in his late twenties, with slightly more stubble than was strictly fashionable and a rather worn leather jacket that had never been fashionable.

The contrast with the others was obvious. ‘The others’ consisted of two people, wedged into a corner booth. The man with the dark hair and the elegantly cut suit was Greg Rambler, celebrity psychic, one man supporter of the male grooming industry and officially Mark’s best friend from school. His touring show was the reason they were in New Wrexford in the first place. Thanks to a mixture of cold reading, hot reading and most of the temperatures in between, the show had done pretty well so far. Apparently, people liked to be told that the dead were getting on very nicely, thank you, and that they were enjoying things on the Other Side very much.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

What Do You Love About Writing?

Have you ever stopped to think about what you really love, when it comes to writing? It's a useful thing to do, if only because it reminds you that there are things you love about it. Everyone needs reminding of that sometimes (in my case when I'm trying to do four or five things at once, and it starts to feel a little more like work than I ever intended. Though it is work, obviously).

So what is it I love? People go on about the moment of publication, or getting a great review, or getting sales, but those are all down to other people. What I really love is that moment of working something out. Of solving a problem in the detail somewhere that would otherwise make things bumpy. Take just now, when I came up with a solution that allowed me to get in the moment I wanted in my current WIP where the hero finds that he wasn't actually as responsible for an early moment of success as he thought he was. I needed a way to get to that, and to have him making something of that success at the same time. It's such a tiny thing, but those are the moments in writing that feel good, because they're not about craft, or typing away, or anything like that. They're just me and my imagination.

Friday, 10 February 2012


We’ve still got snow, which is fine for me in terms of working, because it’s not like I have to go out to write, but it does have a fairly obvious effect on the writing itself. The whole landscape of what I write changes. Fantasy novels acquire sweeping vistas of snow and ice (or at least irritating sleet and rain the hero can’t do anything about), while even other novels acquire chilly night and characters who have forgotten their coats (note to the chaps who came into the pub last night after fencing, what were you thinking?).

I suppose it’s just one of the ways the real world influences writing without any conscious interference from the author. At least it means some nice variation in material, but I can see a couple of obvious dangers with it. The first is that it rather limits your release dates, since books full of snow traditionally tend not to get released in the middle of summer.

The second is that it takes a while to write a novel. So long, in fact, that by the time you’ve got to the end, it might be a different season altogether. So you start out writing nice wintery scenes, then by the end, they’re frolicking around in sunlit meadows. Continuity error ahoy.

Oh, one more thing. I’ve laid claim to my author profile on Goodreads, mostly because I’m on there anyway and I suspect it’s the kind of thing you’re meant to do. So if anyone wants to say hello there, I’m over there. Also, now I have it, does anyone know what you’re meant to do with that kind of thing?

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Where's the King?

Okay, so you’ve written a fantasy story. The heroes go to the kingdom’s capitol, they go to the big castle in the middle, and they ask to see the king. What did the guards at the gate tell them? I bet it wasn’t ‘sorry, he’s not in.’

Yet maybe it should be. One thing to remember about medieval kingship (you know, just generalising across loads of countries and the better part of a thousand years, as you do) is that kings didn’t often just sit in their main castle, wearing a crown. Indeed, when they did, it was often an indication that they weren’t that strong, and so didn’t have control over a big enough area to go anywhere else.

Kings actually travelled about quite a bit. There were wars to attend to, for one thing. Medieval kings were forever wandering off on them, leaving their countries to be run by assorted regents, and then having to go to war with the regents to get them back afterwards. Between the Third Crusade and his imprisonment afterwards, Richard the Lionheart probably saw more of foreign parts than of his own kingdom.

It wasn’t just wars though. Medieval kings were often itinerant. They moved between castles, palaces, the homes of prominent supporters and the homes of people they thought ought to be prominent supporters and who needed a king sitting in their living room to remind them of whose country they were living in. They stayed the night in monasteries and inns, stately homes and occasionally tents, usually dragging their entire courts around with them. There are whole sections of historical effort that go into using the ‘signed by the king at such and such a place’ bit of charters to work out complex pictures of their travels.

They did this kind of thing for a few reasons. One was that it allowed them to project their power and remind people who was king. Often, the early years of a reign meant that they travelled with an army and effectively reconquered their own kingdom, or at least asked in very pointed tones if anyone had anything they wished to say about them being king. They would go around collecting homage, or the formal acknowledgement of their superior status when it came to bits of land. One particular embarrassment for successive English kings was being made to do homage to the French ones for Normandy, and a good barometer of their relative power is whether they could be persuaded to actually do it.

There was also a simpler economic reason for it, which is that royal courts consisted of lots of people, and thus were terribly expensive to feed and house. It was easier and cheaper to move around than to stay in one place. Especially with other people hosting them (footing the bill).

It wasn’t just kings, of course. Archbishops had pretty regular itineraries, moving between archiepiscopal palaces, the nice bits of minster churches, and their own cathedrals, taking a large staff with them. Bishops did it, and so did some major barons. Lesser lights might have followed a particular court around, or set off on their own journeys around the regular stops on something like the tournament circuit (as William Marshall did for a bit). Even the supposedly stable Cistercian monks seemed to spend half their time going back and forth between General Chapter meetings.

The point is that important people in medieval societies moved around a lot more than people sometimes give them credit for. So the next time your heroes are looking for a king, why make it easy? Send them out trying to catch him up instead. Or better yet, have him show up with three hundred of his closest friends, expecting a bed for the night.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

In times of snow

So we’ve had snow. In celebration, some fantasy adaptations to more unusual weathers:

1. Armour plated umbrellas. Needed when rains of fish, bicycles, etc are common.
2. Nets. In case said rains of stuff contain anything valuable.
3. Rainbow end point predictors. Because those leprechauns owe you money, and they aren’t getting away that easily.
4. Really big lightning rods, to make sure that monster rises on cue.
5. String. Useful for finding your way back when stuck in the inevitable fantasy impenetrable fog, which always seems so much thicker than the real sort.
6. Armour vents. For those villains who want to make the spiky armour thing work in extreme heat.
7. Thermal wizardly robes.
8. Fire extinguishers. Because rains of fire seem to be so much more common in fantasy than anywhere else. Also lightning strikes, sudden magma bursts, and the release of fire elementals into the world.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


It's the snowfest today, where we all put up snow related pieces of not more than a generous 1200 words. This encouraged me to take a longer short story and hack it down to size brutally. It's not from Court of Dreams, but it is a prequel to it (I've always wanted to do a prequel) answering that most important of questions: where does my faerie assassin Grave get his coat from? Enjoy.

In his great black armour, a backpack almost as big as him on his back, Grave trudged his way across the Arctic waste. Each step sank knee deep through snow. Still, he would not let a little thing like that stop him on his hunt. At eight feet tall of faerie Huntsman, he wasn’t about to let anything stop him. It was in his job description somewhere. Or was that the post office? Not the cold, not the snow. Not even the embarrassment of being followed by a female bear Grave was sure had mistaken him for a potential mate.

This whole trip was faintly embarrassing. Tracking down one rogue Figment that had entered the human world? After all the battles of the great war between the Courts? It hardly seemed fitting. Grave was for battle. For hunting the worst foes. For squashing things in his armour, occasionally accidentally.

Grave kept going, trying to remember how exactly you tracked a creature that could potentially look like anything, given its role as an extra for dreams. It might be in the form of a bird or an elk, a mysterious talking rock or a surprisingly well tanned ski-instructor. It had been in the form of a big, hairy thing with outsize feet, going around showing itself to humans, but the footprints had faded some time ago.

Grave was still thinking that when he came to a wooden hut. It was just a rough oblong of timber perched in the shelter of a stand of trees. There didn’t seem to be anyone home, unless Grave counted the snowman outside the place. It was a jolly looking snowman, with three coal buttons down its front, a carrot for a nose, and more coals forming its eyes and mouth. It was holding a broom. It was also wearing an ancient looking brown overcoat with twiggy arms poking out of the sleeves. Why did snowmen need to keep warm? Some things in this world simply made no sense.

Grave shivered. His armour had many fine qualities. It could stop blows, it was easy to clean, and it was always a good option for looking big and scary. You could even, as Grave had found out on the steeper slopes, use the breastplate for sledging. Its thermal qualities, however, lacked something. Grave couldn’t actually die of the cold, or of anything else very much, but at minus twenty, it was getting chilly. Besides, Grave was starting to think that wearing it might not be quite right anymore. Armour was for fighting wars in, and the war was done.

He tried the door to the hut. Finding it locked, he settled down in the snow, unshipping his backpack and fishing out a thermos flask full of tea. To get to it, he had to dig past a sleeping bag, assorted pots and pans, a couple of throwing axes (you never knew what you might find useful) and a hundred feet of climbing rope.

“There has to be a better way of carrying stuff than this,” Grave said to the snowman. “Actually…”

He took a second look at the snowman’s coat. It had deep side pockets. It also had a great many other pockets. Inside pockets, breast pockets… it seemed that there was hardly an inch of the thing that wasn’t occupied by a pocket somewhere. And it was big. Big enough that just maybe…

Grave reached for the coat.

“Hey! Oh… bugger.” The snowman started to inch away from Grave. “It’s not what you think.”

“I think that you are an escaped Figment, trying to fool me.”

“So it is what you think. That doesn’t mean I’m going back!”

Grave nodded. “You’re right.”

“I am?”

“It is the part where I am bigger than you that means that.”

“Oh.” The line of coals on the snowman’s face rearranged themselves into a frown. “Um, can we talk about this? I don’t want any… hiiiya!”

It lunged forward with the broom. Grave watched for a second, and then stuck his hand out. The wood smacked into his palm and Grave pulled, wrenching the broom from the snowman’s grasp.

“Damn! Well, we’ll see about that.” The snowman started to sing, and as it sang, for no good reason that Grave could see, it lifted off the ground. “We’re walking in the… ow!”

Grave hit it with the broom. The sphere of snow that was the snowman’s head rolled off, looking up from the ground at him.

“What was that for?”

“You were trying to escape.”

“Well yes, but now how am I supposed to go around flying around with young men in stripy pyjamas?” the snowman demanded.

“You aren’t,” Grave said. “Why would you even want to?”

“I dunno.” Over where the rest of the snowman’s body stood, its twiggy arms moved in a shrug. “Can we make some kind of deal?”

Grave glowered. “Turn back into what you should be.”

“What, a wispy, insubstantial ghost?” The coals of the snowman’s smile rearranged themselves into a smirk. “Won’t. I saw you admiring my coat. You can have it. All you have to do is
let me go.”

“So that you can be seen by humans?”

“I always moved when took the picture,” the Figment complained. “Fair’s fair. I know you’re tempted.”

“How do I even know it’s real?” Grave demanded. “It will probably turn back when you next change.”

“It won’t,” the Figment insisted. “Honest. I got this off the bloke whose cabin this is. He reckoned it was just what a snowman needed. He was drunk, but a gift is a gift.”

Grave considered it. Finally, reluctantly, he shook his head. “No, I’m bringing you back.”

“Well then,” the Figment said, “if you want to be like that…”

It shifted, the coat falling to the floor. For a brief instant, it was grey and mist like. The next, there was a sabre tooth tiger standing there. Grave ducked as it leapt, reaching up to grab it and throw it head first into the cabin wall, where its teeth stuck like staples.

“Thaffs noff fair!”

“Who said anything about fair?” Grave demanded.

“Thaff doff it!”

The Figment transformed into a lumberjack. Grave threw him into a snow drift. The creature that came out of it was bigger, and covered in white fur. Grave knocked it down again. He could keep this up all day. The Figment seemed to sense it, because it changed to its natural form again.

“See you later, sucker!”

Grave had been ready for this move. He reached down, picking up his thermos flask, swiping it through the space the Figment occupied.

“What are you… no!”

Grave grinned and screwed on the cap. Given a little longer in its natural form, the creature’s personality would fade and that would be that. For now, it was safely out of the way.
Safe and warm.

Grave walked over to where the snowman had been standing. The brown coat was still there on the snow. He picked it up, trying it on. It was a bit tight. Maybe without the armour? Idly, Grave tucked his thermos flask into a pocket. Yes, he decided, this could definitely work.