Irrevenant Part 1 [story]

Dear Reader, as promised, here is a little tale that was accomplished in short order, perhaps 10 days with only one round of edits and revisions. In this respect you have become it’s beta readers, and I apologise in advance for any mistakes made.

It was essentially done for a bit of fun and comic relief from the every day affair of working on manuscripts, blogs and biographical memoires. It is likey to appeal to fans of Terry Pratchett and is not meant to be taken seriously.

If there is sufficient enjoyment to be had from it, then I will likely continue to write perhaps a dozen more installments over the course of 2019.

And if you did enjoy, please like and share, or leave a comment and tell me what you thought. You can also follow me on WordPress or Facebook.

[Edit: Thanks to my friend Collette for pointing out many of the typos]

IRREVENANT

The Reawakening & Subsequent Adventure Thereof Regarding the Most Stubborn of Bastards, Thaadrek of Clan Ushentharl, mightiest of all the Clan Chief’s in the Great Northern Wastes & His Most Irreverent Warband of Misanthropes, Outcasts & Assorted Individuals Both Human and Otherwise . . . . .

by

David J Cambridge

2018


A Beginning

(Of sorts…..)

The Most Imperious and Hallowed Omnifex, His Holiness Yladiel Astingius Patrelleaux reclined upon his ivory throne and cast his gaze upon the Legate, his eyebrows arched as if perpetually surprised to find a deed most foul besmirching the sole of his shoe. His expression remained for the entire minute it took the man to come flapping up the candlelit isle, his holy robed billowing, sandals smacking against the bare stone.

Breathless and trembling, the Legate bowed under that aloof disdain of one so infinitely superior, and for all that the man upon the throne was not physically intimidating – being that he was twig thin and bald unto a soft gleam – the Omnifex emanated an aura of cold command that chilled the heart and turned bones to jelly.

“And?” The single word was sufficient to send the Legate to his knees.

With a quavering voice the man replied. “All preparations have been completed for the scouring of wrong-doings, the castigation of the unworthy, and the purification of all that is tainted due to the imminent rise of the full moon upon this unhallowed Midwinter.”

“Very good. And?”

“Unto the very limits of the Blessed Realm have our messengers delivered the Holy Writs informing all blessed Ears, Eyes and Hands of the punishment due to those who engage in frivolity and laxity at a time of such inauspicious and imperilling cosmic alignments.”

“Excellent. Continue.”

“Continued, my lord?”

The Omnifex craned forward with a stare that was like a spear pinning the man to the floor. “You are my Legate, are you not?”

“Yes lord.”

“Then why are you here provisioning my ears with your babble?”

The Legate jumped up. “I am departing immediately my lord.”

“Excellent. You have my leave,” said the Omnifex with a casual wave of his hand.

“Yes lord. Sorry lord. Blessed be the Triune!”

“Blessed be the Triune,” replied the Omnifex, leaning back once more.

The Legate scuttled off as fast as his bandy legs could carry him while the Omnifex pursed his lips and steepled his fingers in contemplation. Midwinter, such a dangerous time when planets and stars aligned in conjunction with the full moon. Such were the mysteries and tests of the Triune’s cosmos, and woe betide any who failed in their vigilance at such a time.

After all, anything might happened on such an unholy night.

CHAPTER I

The Awakening

There is a time and a place to do things, a time and place when the barriers between this life and the next grow thin. Thus, under a full moon on a Midwinter’s night when the stars were in the right place and the planets aligned just so, three men met in a graveyard with everything they needed for an unholy ritual: one spade (freshly stolen), one finger (freshly cut from a hanged man), thirteen black candles, a hefty bag of chalk dust, and one rather scrawny chicken.

The wind moaned long and low…….

“That’s the village cockerel,” Brother Burlev spat, breath pluming in the cold night air.

“Is it?” Brother Asteg held it up by its neck and examined it.

“You berk,” Brother Yeshin cuffed him round the head. “Don’t you think they’ll notice when the morning comes up?”

“I said get a chicken,” said Burlev, grabbing Asteg by the front of his robe and pressing their faces together. Asteg suddenly felt just a little bit sweaty.

“Cockerel’s a chicken, right?” Asteg whimpered. Everyone paused to think about it.

“He’s got a point,” Yeshin shrugged.

“Yeah,” Burlev growled, “But just not THAT chicken!”

“Ha, bit of a cock up eh?” Yeshin sniggered. The two men turned their heads to him. The vein in Burlev’s temple was starting to throb, and his eyes had that red wide, angry look about them. Yeshin’s smile fell, vanishing.

“Well, too late now,” Burlev said as he let Asteg drop to the floor. The cockerel, sensing a sudden lessening in attention made an attempt at escape. Unsuccessfully. It did however managed to lose half its remaining feathers. “Come on,” Burlev waved them onward, “We don’t have all night.”

So they slunk through the shadows with appropriate sinister shiftiness, towards where decaying crypts perched on a ragged cliff edge to overlook the tempestuous ocean far below as it whipped itself to white foam. When they reached the bottom of the hill Burlev, party leader, chosen of the mistress’ coven, and by day respectable pillar of the community of St. Esticaria paused. He cast an eye behind them to make sure no one had witnessed their passage and was satisfied that no one was out taking a midnight stroll in the graveyard on an auspicious Midwinter’s midnight.

“Come on,” he growled. “We don’t have all night.”

“Which one?” wheezed Yeshin as he humped the bag of chalk.

“The one at the top. It’s the oldest.”

“How did I know you were going to say that.”

“Stop complaining.”

“Why don’t we swap then?”

“Cuz,” said Burlev, smartly cuffing his colleague, “You picked the short straw.”

Yeshin stopped dragging the bag along and blew on his hands. “How about you just take a turn and I’ll carry the spade and candles.”

“How about I smack you over the head and leave you to the sodding crows?”

“How about you do that?” Yeshin dared to retort. “Then you’d have to drag the bag up there and carry the other stuff too.”

Burlev considered this new dimension to the problem. “Okay, see where ya coming from. Asteg, give him a hand.”

“What about the chicken?”

“Just keep hold of the cock with one hand and grab the sack with the other.”

“Yeah, that’s just what ya wife said yesterday,” Yeshin grinned, then jumped back as the spade came whistling towards him. He bumped into Asteg who let out a curse as he dropped the chicken. The poultry promptly fled up the hill. A moment later it decided that it would take its chances with the ragged ocean’s fury rather than the three men advancing with the intent of doing evil unto its body, so it leapt.

The wind moaned long and low……

Together they stood on the lip of the cliff and Burlev was of a mind to toss both his companions over the edge and go home for tea. But the Mistress wouldn’t be very happy about that now, would she?

“What are we gonna do?” asked Asteg with a sniff as he wiped his nose with the back of his sleeve. Burlev gritted his teeth, considered what it might be like putting a knife somewhere inconvenient in Asteg’s person, but decided that the dark powers would probably be offended if he attempted to substitute a lesser offering like Asteg instead of the chicken.

“What’s the big deal anyway?” muttered Asteg. “What we need the chicken for?”

Burlev and Yeshin stared at him until Yeshin said, “What do you think it was for? When you call something from….. you know….” – his voice dropped to a whisper – “the otherside, well you need to give ’em something to sate their hunger.”

“What their hunger?”

“Sate! As in, to appease it,” Yeshin explained.

“So why didn’t we bring peas?” Asteg said, scratching his head.

“Shut it!” barked Burlev. “We need to find another offering. Any ideas?”

* * *

If you were to be unfortunate enough to be clinging onto the edge of a precipice with a fiery oblivion below you would almost certainly think twice about letting go. But it wasn’t just the doom that awaited him that kept him holding on for the past five hundred years. Oh no, it was sheer stubbornness because no one got the best of Thaadrek of Clan Ushentharl, mightiest of all the Clan Chief’s in the Great Northern Wastes.

Sure, they’d managed to kill him in the middle of the night, but he wasn’t counting that as a victory for their side. He’d had a lot of time to think about it and this is how he saw it play out in his mind.

A wagon rolls through the barbarian’s territory loaded with barrels. It’s guarded by a company of Hands, the soldiers of the Triune. They looked nervous, and Thaadrek smiles to himself. Like beasts these men feel the primal instincts stir at the presence of unseen danger. The bloody work takes but a moment after the horde arise from hiding and descend upon the prize. The barrels they take back to the village and proceed to enjoy the fine vintage that is contained within. Oh cruel trickery though, for the enemy has no stomach for the heroic deeds of mortal combat. Instead they have suffused the wine with a soporific and while the village lays insensate with sleep, the Triune’s assassin’s creep into the village and do the dirty deed of ending the Clan’s resistance. Thaadrek, with the constitution of a bull still kills three of them before they bring him low.

No, he wasn’t counting that. There was fighting dirty and then there was being a bunch of chicken shits.

Worse, when he awoke not to his own promised and glorious afterlife but rather the Burning Hell promised by the Triune he had been filled with an enduring cold fury. So he had grasped the ledge in perpetuity, a fiery oblivion below and a churning maelstrom of cloud above. With the passing of time he had given him the situation not an inconsiderable amount of thought. There was one conclusion that he had arrive at regarding this unfortunate turn of affairs.

In defeat he had allowed the Triune to extend the dominion of its (so called) Blessed Realm not only over his people’s lands, but over his people’s spirit world as well. This meant that all his people, his kin and clansmen, had gone into the Triune’s Burning Hell. His enduring cold fury became an icy resolve. Thaadrek would not follow, and if there was one characteristic that the relevant people who were asked might say about the once famed barbarian warrior Thaadrek of Ushentharl, it was that he was, without a doubt, most certainly, the most stubborn of bastards. So he clung to the precipice and prayed to the Old Gods that he might right this wrong. By barbarian logic he could see clearly just what it was that he would do to free his people. All he needed was one chance.

When it came, he would take it, and then there would be…… consequences.

* * *

Skiela Drum lay in the darkness on her bed, stomach grumbling from lack of dinner. Beyond the large sheet that served as a thin partition between bedrooms she could hear her father explain just what had occurred today in the market and contemplated the question of why adults were incapable of believing anything that they were told by children.

“….. and when I turn around she’s only talking to the Grand Ear of the Triune as he’s sauntering down the street!”

“What? Why?” her mother asked, voice trembling.

“Bold as you like starts talking to him, telling him that she’s heard this talking crow! A talking crow! And how it’s been saying that the Grand Ear is really deaf as a brick privvy, and a pompous old windbag to boot!”

“By the Burning Hell!” said Skiela’s mother, and she could well see the colour draining out of her mother’s face as the Catechism of Preservation began to roll off her tongue.

“So,” her father continued, never to let another’s discomfort keep him from embellishment, “Like I says, she goes and tells him to his face!” – the words of the Catechism increased in speed and fervour – “And thank the Blessed Protector that the bastard really is deaf, because he’s looking like he was about to send her to the pickling vats there and then!” – her mother actually paused in breathless terror – “But I grabs her and spin out a yarn about how she had overheard old Mr and Mrs Shebbins talking all that blasphemy. He turns red and the sends me over to give the scrivener the details. Ha! Expect they’ll be getting a little visit tonight, mark my words. That’ll teach ’em for stealing my spade.”

Her mother doubled up her prayer, and Skiela could hear the creak of the bed frame as she rocked back and forth. She was probably as astonished and disgusted as Skiela by the satisfaction in father’s voice.

“Triune’s sake woman, knock it off,” said her father.

“You’re truly a reprehensible man,” her mother hissed. “We’ll both be for the pickling vats if anyone finds out.”

“Just keep your mouth shut then.”

“What about Skiela?”

“I’ll have a word with her in the morning. If she keeps up this nonsense she’ll get a good thrashing. That ought to set her mind right.”

Her mother began to weep, but her father just ignored it, rolled over and went to sleep. Skiela listened as he mother’s sobs faded, and she waited in the darkness, mulling over the problem. It was simple. Adults just didn’t have the brains to understand that she had quite clearly witnessed the bird speaking. Why was it her problem if she told the truth to the Ear? They were the ones who were supposed to sort these strange occurrences out, weren’t they?

There was only one thing for it. She would have to go out tonight and find the evidence. That’d show all these damn adults that she wasn’t to be trifled with, all four feet of her with her messy blonde hair and big, blue eyes.

Once she heard the snores next door she was up and slipping into her coat and boots, then out the door and into the dark streets of the village. She’d have to be careful not to get caught by the night watch, otherwise it’d be a flogging, but they were slow and stupid…… like most adults she added.

Anyhow, she’d done this before and she wasn’t afraid of anything.

Out into the dark then, off to find that talking bird.

* * *

“Right, what does it say on the instructions?”

Brother Yeshin, the only one capable of reading (and rightly proud of the fact) guided the other two in the layout of the arcane ritual. The pentagram of chalk dust came first, then the candles accompanied by the requisite ritual mutterings, then finally the finger. Typically rather a rare commodity in the peaceful town of St. Esticaria, the brothers had the good fortune that the Holy Triune’s Holy Writs were in effect. The Grand Ear was here, listening for whispers of dissent, while the Grand Eye scrutinising the masses for signs of deviancy, and finally the Hands were generally acting like thugs with privileges, going around being obnoxious until some poor sod lost his patience and snapped, earning him an instant free ride on the twon gallows. After all, such inauspicious conjunctions demanded extra vigilance against the ever wayward commonality and their grumbling attitudes towards their superiors, thus provisioning those in occult circles nicely.

“How in the Burning Hell does a finger open a door to…… the other side?” Asteg was asking as Yeshin produced the offending digit.

“Don’t ask stupid questions,” growled Burlev.

“Yeah,” Yeshin rolled his eyes. “It’s magic, ain’t it.”

“Oh, I see,” Asteg nodded. “Makes sense.”

“Right, let’s get this ritual started. Then we can get our new servant of the Burning Hell back to the mistress.”

All three quivered in excitement. This could get them more than just a nod of recognition, oh no, this might get them privileges.

“Yeah,” sniffed Asteg, “I’m sick of cleaning out the privy every time you lot take a dump.”

“Quiet. Brother Yeshin, is all prepared!”

“I require only the offering Brother Burlev!”

“I got it here somewhere,” muttered Asteg, patting his pockets. The other two glared at him. “What?”

“Just pass that to Brother Burlev,” Yeshin said. “Right, where were we?”

“I said,” Burlev said through gritted teeth. “Is all prepared?”

“It is indeed Brother Burlev.”

“Then let the summoning begin!”

And with great pomp and ceremony did they recite verse most diabolical.

* * *

Thaadrek felt a tingle. He focused on the sensation. It was the first truly novel thing that had happened in years. What did it mean? Was something happening? Were his muttered prayers to the Old Gods about to give him a chance at redemption, at revenge?

Above him the maelstrom of cloud churned and tingled of lightning flashed within.

Thaadrek grinned.

“Come, show me the Bloody Path once more, and I shall reap a road all the way to the heart of the Triune’s Blessed Realm!”

As if in answer, the thunder peeled.

* * *

The night watch sauntered past Skiela’s hiding place, two of the towns less reputable middle aged men deep in discussion over the finer points of which tavern provided an adequate ration of beer to water set against the relative cost in coin, and following inebriation why it was that women found the former’s charms irresistible a moment before he broke wind loudly.

“Damn bean stew,” he muttered.

“You need to watch that,” said his companion. “I heard that them vapours can be caused by evil spirits.”

“What? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Sure it does. They get in the beans, see?”

“How do they get in the beans?”

“Well, you know, they…. inhabit them.”

“Why would an evil spirit inhabit a bean?”

“Well, when you put it like that, I’m not sure,” and the man scratched his head. Then an idea came to him. “Probably afflicts them like a pox when they’re hovering in the air…..”

Their voices drifted off into the clear, cold night and Skiela Drum kept to the shadows, searching and searching for that elusive bird. It wasn’t long before she caught its silhouette against the moon. She approached slowly, like a cat stalking a mouse, to where it perched on a wall with its head cocked, watching her slow approach with a hint of amusement.

“Not you again,” it sighed.

“You got me in trouble,” she hissed.

“Did I tell you to go talking to that pompous windbag? No, you went and blurted it out, right to his face! Oh my life girl! Are you trying to get yourself pickled? It’s a damn good job that the bastard really is as deaf as a doorknob. And damned lucky your father was there.”

“My father – ”

“Is also a pompous windbag,” the crow interjected. “I heard he was busy today dropping someone else in the proverbial dung-heap for what you said.”

“It was you who said it first!”

“Oh no I didn’t!”

“Oh yes you did!”

The crow was about to reply when it cocked its head towards the mouth of the alleyway Skiela had entered. A split second later she heard the tramp of boots on cobbles. The watch were coming back and she was in a dead end with no where to hide. If they looked this way then she’d be done for. Trembling, she saw the two men step into the moonlight, the closer man’s head turning as suddenly someone said.

“You pillock.”

“What did you just call me?” the man turned to his companion.

“What? I didn’t say nothing.”

“Yes you did, heard you plain as day.”

“You must be imagining it. I haven’t said a word.”

“So what, I’m delusional am I?”

“Probably them beans again. I warned you, didn’t I?”

“Oh, so I’m talking out my arse, am I?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time……”

And so it went. While they argued Skiela had climbed the wall and slipped into the higher shadows, following a dark shape as it fled over the roof tops.

* * *

Something was ascending from the Burning Hell, rising from the depths of oblivion towards Thaadrek. Hanging upon the precipice he could feel the shuddering of the infernal mantle, the cacophonous roar of those in torment like the wail of a a thousand demon mothers giving birth to a thousand misbegotten spawn……

Whatever it was that had escaped the clutches of the pit was headed towards him, a black spot against the bright flames, but surely he was not its intended target. He looked up and saw that the churning storm clouds of the underworld were being drawn up into a whirling funnel, but by what means he had no notion. Below him the black spot was resolving, coming up quickly now and it was not a moment longer until Thaadrek made out the fine features of a young woman, eyes closed and long hair billowing. Her face had a serene expression like she was savouring a rare and delightful aroma……

She was close now, and as she rushed toward him he tensed, then launched himself into the void and caught hold of her as she passed. For a moment he was afraid they’d both go plummeting into oblivion but the invisible force was like a rope hoisting them ever up towards that swirling vortex in the sky.

Into the portal they went, and there was a dislocation of thought and feeling, quickly followed by an awareness that he was suffocating, as if forced into garments far too small for him…….

* * *

“Did it work?” asked Brother Yeshin.

“How should I know? Candles went out.”

“Hang on.”

A match flared, bringing with it sparse illumination. Asteg let out a shriek of horror and they all turned to look at where the finger lay on the floor, stretching and distorting, pulsating and growing rapidly. It was crawling like a caterpillar, then Asteg’s shriek turned to a startled cry of pain as he burnt his fingers.

“Light the sodding candles!” Burlev shouted, spade drawn back in preparation of any necessary swatting to be done. From the direction of the finger came some rather nauseating and disturbing sounds as Asteg struck match after match to no avail. Then something shuffled near Burlev and he let fly with a cry that was half manly roar and half girlish squeal of fright.

“Bloody Hells!” Yeshin shouted as he pitched over in the dark.

“Hurry up Asteg!”

“Yeah, before this bastard kills me by accident!”

There was the sulphurous fizzle of a match and Asteg hastily lit a candle with a shaking hand, then another off that and raised them together to get a good look at the where the crawling finger had been.

“Quick! Find it!” Burlev shouted. They began a frantic search of the crypt.

“Over there!” Yeshin cried, pointing. It looked like the stump of an arm disappearing behind one of the musty sarcophagi. Spade at the ready the three advanced, candles held high, but when they looked behind the sarcophagus there was nothing.

“Where is it?” hissed Burlev as he swept a candle back and forth. In the jumping shadows something was moving, but it was hard to pinpoint where.

“It sounds like it’s getting bigger,” Asteg whimpered.

“Man up!” Burlev snarled, trying as much to convince himself as the others, “So it grew an arm. It’ll need more than that to take on all three of us.”

Burlev’s search came full circle and what he found would have unmanned the sturdiest of souls, for it was now towering before him, a pale revenant shaped like a giant of man, muscles on his muscles with smouldering, dark eyes. It was also totally naked. With a cry that was more surprised panic than savagery, Burlev swung the spade. The revenant caught it and wrenched it from him as simply as if taking a toy from a toddler. Yet it did not attack, and Burlev’s wit, which was a notch above his cowering brothers, kicked in a moment later. “Quick! Bring the offering!”

Yeshin shuffled forth and the cheese was passed to Burlev who promptly proffered it to the thing before him.

“Isn’t it supposed to say something like what is thy bidding?” hissed Yeshin. Burlev shrugged, prodded the cheese at the creature and said, “Maybe it’s not hungry.”

The revenant stared from the sweat beaded face of Burlev to the cheese in his hand, then back. When it spoke it had the voice of a gathering thunder-head about to break. “That is a piece of cheese.”

“And by its power do I bind thee!”

The revenant frowned, then roared with laughter. The three men quailed as the sound echoed in the hollows of the crypt, and watched dumbfounded as the creature handed Burlev the spade and turned to leave, laughing all the while.

“Wait!” blurted Burlev. “I forbid thee to depart!”

His words failed to produce any reaction and the creature, still chuckling to itself, strode out of the crypt, up the stairs and into the moonlight beyond. The three brothers looked at each other.

“What do we do now?” asked Yeshin.

“We better go after it,” Burlev replied reluctantly.

“Did you see the size of its – ” Asteg began, but Burlev cut him off. “I don’t want to even think about it!”

“And it’s damn cold too,” Yeshin remarked.

“Well, at least it didn’t kill us and eat us,” sniffed Asteg as they shuffled up the stairs. “Or it could, you know, have had its way with us and all…..”

“What?” Yeshin frowned and shook his head as if to clear it of any unwanted images. “Why would it want to do anything like that to us?”

“I heard about it from the mistress,” Asteg replied with a touch of pride at his depth of knowledge. “I heard them from beyond the grave has ape-tights, you know?”

“It’s ‘appetites’ you idiot! And I told you that piece of cheese was a bad idea,” Yeshin cuffed Asteg around the head as they emerged into the moonlight. “Obviously not fresh enough.”

“Ouch!” Asteg rubbed the back of his head. “That cheese was almost fresh. I only had it in my pocket since yesterday.”

“Clearly it’s not the freshness,” said Burlev, scratching his chin, “It’s the vintage.”

* * *

The three men departed, and in their wake the darkness gave rise to a vaporous apparition that slipped from the shadows behind a sarcophagus, its form that of a naked woman, her hair a long cascade and her eyes the blank white of blindness. In the silence of the crypt she drifted across the floor, through the stone works to where the cheese lay, her dainty nose twitching as it unerringly drew her to the discarded cheese. With relish, she drew a deep breath, inhaling its aroma. The cheese visibly diminished in size. Delicious. She drew another long inhalation and devoured the cheese with relish, her form attaining some greater sense of solidity.

It was the first sustenance she had had in a good half dozen decades, but the passage of time was akin to the fuzziness of an alcoholic’s morning after. The thought at the forefront of her mind was that it had been the aroma of cheese that had drawn her back, yes….. because, because she had been…… what? A cheese maker? No, that didn’t seem right. She cocked her head and cupped it in the palm of her hand as she searched her thoughts. It was as if she’d awoken from a dream, only to find herself still in one. Who was she? Where was she? And why did she have no clothes on?

She remembered…. ah yes…. being blind. Her nose and ears were her guide. That was why she had definitely not been a cheese-maker. But she knew about cheese. About the way it smelled. And that had something to do with those three men that had just left. She had a clear sense of them in her mind, their distinct minds and the flow of their thoughts…….

The idea seemed to trigger others, the memory of blindness recalled to her the feeling of wearing a strip of cloth across her eyes. With it came the renewed sensation, so real, as if…..

She put her hand up and felt the cloth. So by extension, if she thought about clothes…… and the feeling of a garment draped her.

Who am I? That was the question that went with what am I?

If only she could remember. There had been flames and screaming, hadn’t there? Yes…..

But any time to think on it further was curtailed by a distant sound caught on the edge of hearing, the blood curdling bay of hounds on the loose, and even as an apparition her body trembled. So up the staircase she fled, following her ear and nose to the rich smell of freshly dug graves, the cold chill of a woodland, the voices of three men discussing what to do about the spirit they had summoned.

The howl went up again, closer this time.

She fled on towards those voices, seeking the veil-thin safety of company.

* * *

“Watch out!” hissed the crow.

Skiela threw herself into the shadows as a squad of Hands marched past, between them Mr and Mrs Shebbin. She could hear the eldsters complaining about the roughness of their man handling.

“….. and if it’s about that spade, I told you, I never touched it.”

“Shut up!” barked the sargeant. “This is about blasphemy.”

“But spade theft isn’t blasphemy!” protested the old man.

“No, but calling the Grand Ear a pompous windbag is! So get moving. It’s the pickling vats for you two!”

“Hold up!” Mrs Shebbin protested, trying to dig her feet in without success. “It’s none of my business if my husband’s been saying such things! Serves him right, that’s what I says, but don’t be taking the innocent to punishment!”

“Wife! How can you betray me so?”

“Because you’re the one what stirred up trouble with that Mr. Drum in the first place, calling him a smelly footed turnip molester.”

“I see,” said the sergeant. “So, you have form for this sort of behaviour.”

“No no no,” replied Mr Shebbin. “I said he was an dung eating arse canker.”

“You’re not doing yourself any favours here,” said the sergeant.

“In my defence sergeant,” explained Mr Shebbib, “It was only cuz he says I stole his spade. I’m innocent!”

“You’ll have your chance to plead your innocence later.”

“But we all knows what that means!” shouted Mr. Shebbin. “Ain’t no one innocent before the Triune.”

“So are you admitting to the theft of the spade?” asked the sergeant.

“NO!”

“Well, the spade’s immaterial anyway,” the sergeant waved it aside. “I’m taking you in for blasphemy.”

And he marched them off pronto as the crow hopped down onto the barrel beside her. “Ha, that you father’s handiwork, is it?”

Skiela was frowning. “It’s not right.”

The crow seemed to shrug. “Such is life.”

Skiela was about to pursue the squad, and the crow thought about letting her confront them while it slipped away, but….. “Hey! Don’t be a knucklehead. You’ll be lucky if you just get a flogging for breaking curfew.”

“I’m not afraid of them!” she announced, standing up straighter.

“Yeah, you won’t say that when they put the red hot irons on the soles of your feet and ask you what you know. You’ll be singing like a lark about that spade, I can tell you.”

“Oh yeah, how would you know?”

“Because,” it said as if rolling its eyes, “I’ve been up on the windows of the Triune’s temple. I’ve seen what they do in there with all that castigating and flagellating and purifying.” And it ruffled its feathers as if shivering. “Trust me, you don’t want to know the details.”

They looked at each other for a moment, the girl pouting and defiant, the crow wry as it said, “Anyhow, you’re welcome. Now, why are you still chasing me?”

“I want you to come and see my father.”

“No chance,” and the crow hopped aside as she lunged for it. “What’s the windbag want with me anyhow?”

“They don’t believe me.”

“Probably for the best,” said the crow. Skiela lunged again and the chase resumed as they headed towards the edge of town. Two minutes later the crow was perched on the high wooden palisade staring down at her.

“Leave me alone,” it said. The girl was certainly tenacious, the crow would give her that, but it was getting annoying now.

“No!” she stated, stamping a foot.

“If you don’t stop I’ll…. I’ll – ” Then it stopped and cocked its head as if listening.

“You’ll what?” Skiela demanded.

“Shhh! Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“Something……” and the crow hopped into the air, calling back to her as it headed toward the woodland, “I’ve got to see this!”

“Hey wait!” But the bird was gone.

Skiela pouted, but was not going to be dissuaded from pursuit. Of course she knew where there was a hole out through the palisade that the gates-men didn’t know about. A few moments later she was chasing after the crow into moonlit woodland, breath pluming in the chill of the night. But it wasn’t the cold that gave her the shivers, it was the unearthly howling that rode the air.

And even Skiela Drum, afraid of nothing, paused for just a moment before plunging on into the moon tinged tree line.

* * *

As Thaadrek entered the woodland the three men in black robe dogged his heals with entreaties to halt, but it was not their words that drew him to a halt. He cocked his ear at a sound all too familiar and altogether not of worldly origin.

“Ah…. finally,” wheezed Burlev as they caught up to him. He spared them the briefest of glances, then shrugged and continued to walk. A chorus of protests followed in his wake, and as their repeated entreaties for him to halt failed to elicit any response what-so-ever, they instead opted to arm themselves with whatever improvised weapons they had to hand: one spade, recently stolen, a gnarled tree branch and the half empty bag of chalk dust. One minute later the dust was settling and they lay on the forest floor in a variety of poses with a variety of black and blue hues swelling in lumps across their personages.

Thaadrek, framed by heroic moonlight, thrust the point of the spade into the ground and looked down at them with a mixture of pity and contempt.

“Attempt to stop me again and I shall not be so gentle.”

Burlev, sprawled sideways and half up a tree trunk did manage to raise a hand as he wheezed, “Understood……”

The next howl split the night open and all three men were quickly crawling, limping and shuffling past Thaadrek who stood and stared with a sense of deja vu. The woman who had provided his escape from the infernal precipice was once again approaching him at high speed.

And hot on her trail three hounds of grotesque aspect and improbably large build, with shaggy ruffles on skinless bodies the colour of dried blood and orange fire burning in their eye sockets.

Thaadrek rolled his shoulders and strode forward, thrusting the woman behind him and blockading the path with his considerable frame. The three hounds slowed, paused to assess the threat and growled with malice.

“Come! We shall begin the bloody path this night,” and then Thaadrek roared mightily as he leapt naked into the fray. The spade rose and fell, and blood and meat began to fly. Jaws snapped shut upon the haft and Thaadrek released it so that he might wrestle the beast to the floor before pulling its legs off and giving the final hell beast a savage drubbing. It alone fled whimpering back the way it had come as the two dead slowly dissolved like red candles in a fire.

The mightiest Clan Chief of the Great Northern Wastes reclaimed his spade, recently stolen, and planted it point down between the brace of his legs and roared at the fleeing creature.

“None shall catch me napping again!” and he spat upon the ground.

A wry voice interjected, “Yeah, but they might catch you with your trousers down.”

The revenant did not so much turn as swivel, fixing his eyes upon a small girl that had burst from the undergrowth. She was staring in open mouth awe at the scene. A flutter of wings announced a large, and somewhat smug, crow in the branches above her.

“Who,” Thaadrek point a finger at the crow, “Are you?”

When it simply cocked its head and did not answer he snarled like a angered wolf and the crow ascended a branch or two as it answered, “How about a little you show me yours and I’ll show you mine?”

“You may address me as Thaadrek. Your name crow or I shall enjoy you as a quick repast!”

“Murph,” said the crow.

“And you girl?”

“She’s Skiela Drum.”

Thaadrek nodded. It was as it should be.

“I might add,” said Murph, “That you might want to pop a loin clothe on or something. You know, minor’s present and all that.”

Thaadrek ignored him and turned to the three robed men who were approaching, much chastened. Behind them came the apparition of the young woman. Everyone stood in awkward silence.

“Well, what happens now?” asked Asteg.

“I am for the Bloody Path,” stated Thaadrek.

“Sounds lovely,” said Yeshin as Burlev stepped forward.

“We was supposed to take you to our mistress.”

“If she requires an audience, then she must come to me.” That appeared to be the end of the matter as far as Thaadrek was concerned. He pointed to the apparition. “You, woman, who are you?”

“I… I cannot remember my name.”

“You were summoned by these fools?”

“Hey, who you calling a fool?” Asteg protested, then met Thaadrek’s gaze. “Forget I asked. Obvious really…..”

“I think so…..” said the nameless woman. “I was somewhere bright and dark at the same time…. And hot! Filled with pain….”

“You escaped the Burning Hell,” Thaadrek said and explained what he had seen. Everyone gaped in awe. “And so I grudgingly acknowledge that even these fools have played a part in our regaining of freedom.”

“You’re welcome,” muttered Burlev.

“And where do you go now?” asked the woman.

“Where ever I must to find recompense against the Triune.”

And with that Thaadrek made to leave.

“Wait,” called the apparition. “What of us who also bear grievance?”

“What claim do you make?” Thaadrek asked as he stopped and stared down at her.

“I was burnt at the stake,” said the apparition, shivering. “I was a diviner, a tyromancer.”

“A what?” Asteg interjected. “A tyro-what?”

“A seer of the cheese,” Thaadrek nodded, “An unraveller of paths. Will you join me upon the Bloody Path?”

She nodded. “It is only right that the dead return for vengeance. Beside, I have nowhere else to go…..”

“I am pleased to have a companion on the path,” Thaadrek said, nodding ever so slightly.

“Yeah, and they took Mr and Mrs Shebbin away when they hadn’t done nothing!” added Skiela Drum. “It ain’t right.”

The crow rolled his eyes. “Hell’s Teeth girl, isn’t it time you went home to bed?”

“I’m not going unless you come with me,” and she crossed her arms.

“You bear a grudge against the Triune?” rumbled Thaadrek.

“No,” said Murph.

“Yes!” said Skiela.

“Then do you desire to walk the Bloody Path with me?”

“No, she’ll sod off home and get some bloody sleep.”

“I was not,” growled Thaadrek, pointing a finger, “Talking to you.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Murph, dipping his head. “Fair enough. My mistake.”

“I shall join you on the Bloody Path,” said Skiela.

“You can’t be serious?” It was Burlev’s turn to interject. “He’s talking about murder and mayhem. You’re just a little girl.”

“I’m not afraid of anything,” she stated, three feet tall and staring down a grown man.

“I am pleased to welcome you to my war band,” saidd Thaadrek. “We shall meet the enemy standing tall and heap great ruin upon them!”

“Warband?” Burlev said, holding up a hand. “You can’t go to war with just three people? What do you think you’re gonna achieve?

The revenant fixed him with those smouldering, dark eyes as the moon shone through the tips of branches above to cast crazed shadows over his face.

“They have a god,” said Thaadrek with a grim smile. “I shall kill it.”

An Ending

(Of sorts…..)

A week later the Legate scurried with all due haste into the presence of the Most Imperious and Hallowed Omnifex, His Holiness Yladiel Astingius Patrelleaux who leaned forward in his chair and fixed the quivering man with a penetrating stare.

“And?” The Legate fell to his knees.

“Sire, the scouring of wrong-doings, the castigation of the unworthy, and the purification of all that is tainted was duly delivered unto the masses as per your instructions.”

“And?”

“I err…. that is…..”

“Speak Legate, or I shall have your tongue removed and pickled so that it may reside beside your bed as a reminder of your procrastination.”

“Y-yes s-sire.” The Legate was nearly horizontal on the cold flagstones now. “I regret to inform his holiness that I received a missive from St. Esticaria.”

“And?”

The Legate produced the rolled paper and cleared his throat. “To whit, that upon the most auspicious and unholy night of the full moon one week past the Grand Ear of Esticaria did receive rumour that abroad that night were a host of unclean and malicious spirits.”

“And?”

“He was pursuant of all rumours and with the assistance of both the Grand Eye and our holy Hands, they did extract from the local peasantry a list of all possible demons, phantasms and familiars whom did cause much commotion within and without the precincts of the town, thereby disrespecting all Triunic Authority and compliant with none of the Holy Writs.”

Head bowed the Legate approached and passed the Omnifex the parchment. He perused it for a moment then sat back with pursed lips and steepled his fingers together. “These are most disturbing of tidings that you deliver Legate.”

“Yes sire. My apologies.”

“What measures have been taken?”

“Measures sire?”

“What has been done to apprehend and punish these miscreants and their demonic summonings?”

“I….. er, your servants remain on high alert sire. Companies of Hands are scouring the countryside as we speak in an attempt to root the unclean from their hiding places.”

“Yet this missive Legate,” purred the Omnifex, tapping the parchment with a bony finger, “Claims that the barbaric apparition bested a squad of our men during what is described as a ‘raid’?”

“Er…. yes sire, that is, well – ”

The Omnifex cut him off. “Beside the questionable notion that one man constitutes a ‘raid’, might it be that if a squad of the very Hands that are supposed to apprehend it can be so easily bested, that it need not concern itself with concealment.”

“Sire, surely the efficacy of our Hands in number will suff – ”

“And if they do not?” the Omnifex asked, the volume of his voice increasing by but a fraction. The Legate trembled, now just a puddle upon the floor. The Omnifex sighed. “It would appear that I have no option but to summon the Winnower and her cohorts.”

“But sire – ”

“Summon her. Now!”

“Yes sire,” the Legate replied, peeling himself from the flagstones. “I shall see to it immediately.”

“Very good,” purred the Omnifex as he closed his eyes for contemplation, thus allowing the Legate to escape without further scrutiny. Once beyond the doors of the Omnifex’s chambers the legate let out a long breath and hastily muttered a prayer.

“Bad meeting Legate?” asked the Hand guarding the door.

“Ah, yes. I am…. er, I am to summon the Winnower.”

“The Winnower?” the guard said, turning white as he made a warding sign and muttered a quick prayer. He watched the Legate shuffled off and thanked the Triune that he was just a guard, because if there was one person that everyone feared more than the Omnifex, it was the Winnower.

Her and her merry little band of merciless, deadly and holy eliminators.

© David J Cambridge 2018

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All Aboard The Hype Train

Choo choo! As I’ve alluded to several time, including a couple of weeks back (what? you missed it?) is that this journey as a writer can feel a bit like limbo at times. Sure, I’m on the train and I’ve left the station, rolling on towards my destination. But for some time it seems like the scenery is just rolling on by without me actually getting any closer to arriving.

Perhaps I should be done with the metaphor by now……

The whole affair just seems like the embodiment of how emotional states inhibit ones thinking. Feeling like you’re in quicksand soon makes the world appear to be sucking you down no matter how hard you struggle.  As one modern poet put it, “your enemy is how you think.”

So maybe instead I’ll double down on it, and stoke that engine with a bit more fuel! What’s needed is a head of steam – no, F-that! – what’s needed is a mag-lev, high speed, super sonic bullet train right into the heart of success!

It’s all about positive thoughts, positive thoughts, positive thoughts…….

INPUT vs OUTPUT

All too often I get hung up over-thinking blog post. Then the drafts pile up and I never get around to finishing them, and months go by etc etc. Sporadic posts are the result. I assume that it effects the algorythms because after posting a fortnight ago (and posting a reminder just in case anyone missed the notification) my analytics inform that maybe four people have looked at it. But according to those same analytics Tuesday morning was the best time to post. I don’t know, maybe it just wasn’t worth reading……

I can get with that. I was in a pretty funk. No one wants to hear about self pity. Just get on with entertaining us, right? But that could be harder than I thought. According to the experts, I should be spending 20 hours on one post and writing on a subject that I know so well that I do it better than anyone else. That’s how the pro’s get paid apparently. Yet I wasn’t thinking about getting paid for doing this. I’m doing this because I was advised to build up an online presence. In that respect, there was one thing that the experts said which resonated with me: your social media profile is like a business card on the net, always there, and the aim is to drive viewers towards it.

So the notion that maybe it would be better to just make like infinite chimps bashing type writers, churning out more quantity than quality with the hope that every so now and then something approaching genius pops out, might be the wrong one. Yet a little bit of keyboard bashing does seem to get the ball rolling (such as last weeks post, the Sonographic Sketch #1). Not a great success, but simple and fun and on subject – just what I want, an increase in output and a reduction on the burdens of input.

But…..

PUNCHING THE TICKET

Ideally, I want to have a core of faithful fantasy fanatics following me because the advice offered to prospective writers (by those in the know) is to approach an agent with a prepackaged readership. If you offer them a dowry of a guaranteed money-maker because you have 5000 followers then the marriage is on. It doesn’t even matter whether the book is any good or not, it’s going to get published and that’s just the way the world works.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have to put heart and soul into what I do. I think we can all see that popularity contests don’t produce anything of longevity. Hells teeth! Popularity is no marker of quality either and honestly, I’m not bitter about the reality that shit can sell straight off the proverbial shovel. It is the way it is, and the only thing to do is to keep pushing forward with the work. It ain’t easy, and every step of the way is a reminder that it won’t get any easier. But it’s going to be worth it when it all comes together.

So, to punch my ticket, I’m going to need followers and as much as I love my Facebook friends, they ain’t exactly hard core fantasy fans. No, what needed is to load this hype train with fresh passengers and get it right up to speed before taking it into the station where either the agent/publisher is waiting with a big fat handshake saying “about time you got here.”

However, there is still the niggling problem of publishing vs self publishing lurking here. I recently read that Alan Campbell’s third book in the Gravedigger Chronicles wont be released because of poor sales. Really sucks as I loved the the setting and characters. So the only way us as readers will get to know how it all ended is for the author to self publish the last book. I don’t exactly want to hand over the work if it’s not going to go all the way – I’ve got at least five books here (one near finished, two more draft and exact plans for book 2 and 5).

Either way I need followers, so what’s the best way to attract them? It seems seems a bit chicken and the egg. You want people to follow you because you want them to like your work, but you need to put your work out there and have people like it first, but to get it out there you have to have people read it, and to read it you have to have followers.

SO HOW ABOUT……. TEASERS?

Yeah, so how about it? It seems that for all the time I’ve spent writing this blog I have achieved the first half of it’s purpose – the business card, the social media presence, the writer’s journey stuff with a little bit of biography in it – but what I have avoided is putting any of my actual work up for reading.

So (with some trepidation) I would like to make the announcement that I’ll be posting some work soon. In the run up to Christmas I’ll be posting the initial prologue and chapters of Red Star Rising with a dedicated focus of getting a basic readership on board with a bit of promotion. All that’s required at this time is to do one final proof read. Then the near finished product is gonna go viral on social media, I’ll have them bashing in the e-door trying to reach me…….

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

There’s also a piece of work that I recently wrote for fun which should appeal to fans of Terry Pratchett. I tried to do something contained, but that might flower if there’s any interest, and I kind of hope so because I certainly enjoyed writing it. There was a freedom in just letting my mind cook up something fun, and it turned out to be just the sort of project with low input for high output. A quick test read is being prepped, so expect it soon.

And so, suddenly, it really seems like I’ve actually come a lot further than I thought, that all that time I was irritated was just another one of those troughs that comes along every now and then. Hell, even as I’m finishing this I’ve got a nasty stomach bug but here I am pushing to get things done.

The abruptness is startling, and pleasing. The feeling of not getting anywhere was just an illusion.

I’m rolling on into the station.

Perfection/Impatience And The Nowhere/Somewhere

Once upon a time I rode a train through the Rocky Mountains with my family. I think it was before I had started college. For long spans we passed nothing but scenery. Occasionally we would stop at a town and disembark for a couple of days. Eventually we arrived in Vancouver. It was a series of starts and stops, a journey with intermissions, like alternating beads strung on a necklace. Taken all together it’s a journey, but experiencing the individual moments was the alternation of being somewhere, and then being in between, nowhere, a rolling limbo…..

Inside this limbo I find myself stuck with myself on a seemingly endless series of starts and stops, only ever half arriving.

When will we arrive at the end?

BUT FIRST, A CONSIDERATION: Perceptions Of The Artist

There is a tendency to reflect upon genius and ask what role their mental health played in either helping or hindering the end results, whether it be art or science or whatever field of endeavour they had applied themselves to. It has been suggested that without a bit of craziness some truly monumental shifts in thinking wouldn’t have been possible, and that pioneers in art and science couldn’t have broken free of constricting and conservative patterns of thought, i.e. patterns that society regards as being taken-for-grant and every-day-commonsense.

What normal people might call sanity…..

Artists in particular are amongst those often depicted as being susceptible to manias and depressive troughs, perhaps schizophrenic and struggling with reality, and many are alcoholics, drug takers, hedonists and bohemians. People who are typically associated with anti-social patterns of thought and behaviour; free or alternative thinkers, morally ambiguous and just a little bit…. well, mad. It suggests that a certain level of madness is required to bring forth novel visions.

Who knows, perhaps such tendencies lie at the root of our departure from being just another ape and the beginnings of culture itself…..

But I digress, my point being simply that there is a perceived connection between madness and art. Yet beyond a simple connection, perhaps the question that lies behind it is not whether the madness makes the artist, but rather if the artist finds their madness in the making of art? Do they only crack under self imposed pressure to create?

UNDER PRESSURE: Perfection and Impatience

I put myself under pressure. I’m a perfectionist. What is the result of this? Seething frustration. I’m also an impatient person. I want to be further down the line than I am, to be at the destination already. The end result? More frustration.

And so overall I am unbearably bad tempered; I can snap and be intolerant, I don’t have time for bullshit questions while my work seems eclipsed by the neverendingness of the domestic chores that have to be done every day. Then it feels like the people around me are on my case which only makes it worse. They want to know why I’m so damned irritable, short tempered and obtuse.

It often appears to be hard for people on the outside of the process to understand the pressure that I put myself under, and worse is dealing with the way it warps reality, inch by inch every day. In my mind I see it like this: when I do something, it has to be done right, and that extends into the artistic process. I write, I edit, I write again, I edit again. Like a sculpture it builds in layers towards a finished result, constantly being worked over and over towards a state of completion.

So just as I see the destination, where the process is heading and I want it to be done already, I load up the manuscript to be faced with imperfection and the knowledge that all the work I have already done is only a fraction of what needs to be done. Just like the train entering the station it feels as if the closer we get to the end of the journey, the slower it is going. The train is slowing and slowing, and as it does so all I want to do is get onto the station’s platform, the end of the journey. So the impatience builds.

By extension there is the question of what underlies this impatience? Is it the knowledge that there is so much more work to do after this book? This effort to write one book is hard enough, and I’ve got a damned box of stuff on the shelf that wants to come to life! Then there’s that sense of mortality creeping up through the years. As I get older it feels like years have passed and here I am still complaining to all my faithful readers that I haven’t got anywhere. And it would be nice to actually earn some small income so that I could pay to get a few things fixed up around here……

Other pressing concerns certainly include a precarious feeling when it comes to my families living situation. Our original plan to live in a yurt was supposed to be a short term affair, one that would allow us to get our finances together, but instead its trapped us in a new dilemma. Without my extra income there’s no chance of getting free from the situation. We can only live our ‘alternative’ lifestyle thanks to the patch of land we rent from my folds, and now my father’s retiring there’s a real possibility that my parents will have to sell up and move to a cheaper situation. The complications of this  burns in my subconscious all the time, and so the vicious circle comes around and around: the pressure goes up, it feels like I’m not getting anywhere, and the pressure goes up because I feel I’m not getting anywhere……

It’s a constant, baseline stress that makes me such a moody, short tempered and negative bastard. It effects mind and body and begins to recontextualize day to day life as something that is an unending struggle, as a constant pointless attempt at getting anywhere, that life itself is passing every day while I’m standing still, that time is running out even as I watch my boy growing up so quickly…..

What doesn’t make it any easier is that I am bound by my artistic temprament to write what I am writing, to write something that is actually going to stand the test of time, that will be treasured by the fans who are like me, lovers of fantasy.

LEGACY: Suffering For Your Art?

So, perhaps you can see why I posed the chicken and the egg question at the beginning? As I grappled with the work of writing, and wanting it to be true to my vision, I feel I am struggling against myself. It’s not healthy for the mind. In regard to the train metaphor, it’s like being in the dark tunnel, then suddenly emerging into the light of relief.

The tunnel, of course, is only as long and dark as you make it. But why? Why do that to yourself. There are times that it seems like people make a virtue out of suffering, and there are those that suggest that I could have made life easier on myself by not writing something so damn complex. The irony is that I was attempting to write a more straight forward tale, to do just a basic introduction to the world and the characters. Yet it still came out as something complex. But I don’t think it’s the complexity that is the problem – the structure is all there, the narrative works – no, the problem is the final form, and as I am am making this world come to life I want it to be as perfect as possible, to be an offering to the genre I am compelled to write within.

See, I love fantasy. I want to contribute something worthwhile to it, just like all those classics that I loved so much over the years, to be like the classic fantasy authors who made it into the Masterworks collections. That takes effort, it takes an exertion of pressure on oneself artisitcally, not just to make a living but to make a legacy. Under that pressure I imagine that I’m turning the base carbon of words into something like literary diamonds, something that’ll stand out, something that’ll stand the test of time so that when you re-read it two, five, ten years later it’s still as enjoyable as the first time you picked it up.

So surely it’ll be worth it, right? Or perhaps it’s nothing more that an appeal to vanity? I guess time will tell. For all the perception of being nowhere, I am actually somewhere in this process. We’re closer to arriving than departing, and while I’ve got a new set of problems to deal with, I just need to reapply myself without losing heart or succumbing to the feeling of just getting back into bed. After all, we’re on the right track to be done within a reasonable amount of time: it took some of my favourite authors two years to get their books together. Thinking back it’s been a year and a half, so I’m doing pretty good (and some of that was part time due to child care).

And doing work like this blog helps to unload the burdens that surround me as an author, so for those who keep reading this blog, I’d like to thank you. It certainly acts as a pressure valve; once it’s done and posted there’s a sense of relief and gathering momentum. It’s another inch closer to arriving at the destination, another step out of nowhere and on to somewhere.

UP NEXT: We’re gonna have a little talk about getting on board the hype train. The results of which may very well determine the first steps in publishing.

 

 

 

Initial Criticisms: Three Questions of Flow

Here we are then – 2018: Part 2. The post-Solstice blues and sure, Summer was a nice break. I let myself relax just long enough to stop worrying about the book, but by exhaling in relief I’m now out of breath. The next step, the event that should have snowballed into my life on the heels of the pre-Summer momentum, has simply petered out. Entropy has taken hold and the ball has stopped rolling…..

Oh dear. Instead of results there’s a stasis, and I hold my hand up and say yes, I know, what did I expect? The reality is, as many successful writers will no doubt tell you, that even if you’ve finished your book you’re still only half way there. You can’t just wait for the universe to drop success in your lap without putting in the hard work.

Acknowledged, but…… how does one get that momentum rolling again. It’s not even writers block, more that I’m just not writing what I want to write. Instead I’ve tried to focus on typing up interviews for a biography that I’ve been commissioned to write. Whilst it’ll be nice to get paid (i.e. yeah, I’m not much of a materialist but….), it’s not really what I want to be doing, nor is it particularly satisfying (even if I have discerned the narrative structure linking my client’s disparate sub texts – yes, there IS a pattern hoorah!).

So with my first (near) fully fledged novel languishing in a state of semi-preparedness, and the beta readers are at the task, I’ve been given to thinking about how to break the stalemate.

And the best way to do that is to throw away all the serious considerations and get down to doing what I actually enjoy…..

GET THE BALL ROLLING: OF SEQUELS AND BLOGS

Yesterday I set about writing for the fun of it and sketched out the initial elements of the next book in the series, lovingly entitled “Local Talent” (strictly WIP!).

And it worked. The creeping stasis was dissipated and I got a sense of enjoying the act of plotting and envisioning the way that the characters are going to interact, in working out what the pay off for the narrative will be and how it ties up to the next book. The key experience was to enjoy progressing instead of waiting around, and although I wont be committing to the full writing until my son starts school, I think there’s room enough to start sketching. It’ll give me something to do until I can get the final edits done for Red Star Rising.

What it allowed me was the feeling that I enjoyed working. For those who write, we know that working on our projects can be hard work, but it’s enjoyable in its outcome. Instead I was working hard on transcriptions, and it had taken me over a week just to do three quarters of a two hour interview. Not fun, and the kind of thing that you put off doing. Nor had I written for my blog, but now I was feeling the old magic coming back I felt more like sitting down and writing to the wider world about something.

Thus was the question begged, what shall I talk about today? In the past I’ve written with little notion of a specific demographic; should I focus on articles regarding fantasy or sci-fi? Should it be personal? My first posts were a way to explore procrastination, and then I wrote about the writing process. So why not turn our attention to exploring some of the thought processes that have come with the first round of feedback?

AND THE GOLD STAR GOES TO…..

A big thank you to Mike and Sasha (who got the gold star) for their initial feedback, and Chris who was very positive on the initial chapters. Also thanks to Dan who only had time to read the prologue but was enthusiastic about the style.  I’ll be drawing on these initial reports in the following, as well as one or two others who are in the middle of reading.

Firstly, the initial feedback has been very positive. I might be overstating here, but I think I can say that I’ve written something that people are taking seriously as a professional work. Secondly, there hasn’t been any real complaints about the narrative itself. Therefore, assuming that the narrative functions to deliver a story which is a). not riddled with holes and b). provisions the reader with a satisfactory experience, there are the considerations of how the narrative is delivered and whether or not this delivery flows. The the skill of the narrator lies in conjuring the world without dislodging the reader from their immersion in the flow of the story.

To break it down, we might frame these considerations as three questions:

#1 Exposition (or how much do you spoonfeed?)

The challenge of informing the reader without writing a wall of text is often tricky. Too little and the progress of the story is hindered by a lack of understanding. Here we have the issue that the characters take much of their immediate world for granted and so we must be sparing in the use of text to explain things. Too much and it bogs down the narrative with unnecessary details and can make the author look amateurish.

So, just the right amount…… easier said than done.

This task is arguably made harder in fantasy and sci-fi where there are often many more things that are regularly taken for granted: aliens, technology and magic. However, I would argue that one of the appeals from these genres is the explorations of new worlds, that they provide a sense of discovery as you uncover the layers of reality within them. This exploration is what heightens the sense of adventure. Therein lies the skill of giving the explorer just what they need at each stage of the narrative. Given that this will be a series, there will be plenty of time to explore the wider world, so for now I will have to follow my own advice and investigate this flow of information.

One final note: additional solutions to fleshing out the world might include a glossary of popular terms (perhaps rendered as a pamphlet for new city visitors), a map of the city and its environs, and the oft used trope of exerts from imaginary academic journals, historical documents and mythological quotes.

#2 Description (can you see it/them in your mind?)

The flip side of explanation is the more direct appeal to the reader’s senses via descriptive language. We use the senses to conjure up the feel of a scene or the representation of a character, and again, too much description slows the pace, but too little and it’s just a vague sketch. To keep the pace we must perform a balancing act once more.

What is important is that the reader can get a good sense of a place or character in their mind. One of the criticisms that I received was that I was overly sparse in some of my description, and here I think it’s important to distinguish whether it’s the environment or the characters.

Typically I like to focus on a characters key points with only a brief description because the reader should be able to see the character in their mind given that the palette of character types is usually a replay of similar tropes.

But where I suspect I have been ovelry sparse is with some of the descriptions of the environment, and this goes hand in hand with the explanations of those places. It is the city as character that has not been given due exploration and I’ll be paying special attention during the next round of edits to colouring in those outlines just a little more.

#3 Text (do you need a dictionary? (because my ego doesn’t))

As a writer it might be nice to use sophisticated words, but you’re asking for trouble if your readership isn’t….. ahem, as literate as you are. But seriously, unless you’re writing a philosophical essay, it’s just not needed because if there’s one thing that jars the flow it’s having to whip out the dictionary in mid sentence. You want your reader to be immersed, and those long words are just obstacles.

It’s a criticism that I’ve had from a few people, and every time someone has told me that they needed a dictionary there’s one word that instantly springs to mind: “Mordaciously” (adjective: 1. biting or given to biting, 2. sharp or caustic in style, tone, etc.) No doubt there are others but this one is the one I recall. 

Remember, it’s not necessarily what you’ve got (a giant vocabulary) but rather how you use it (did the reader understand?). If the reader didn’t understand then you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You’re writing can still be artistic, poetical and edgy, and in this it is likely better served by keeping it simple.

And don’t forget, the reader isn’t going to remember every little word, but rather the overall feel and experience of the narrative. It’s best to eliminate the lumps and keep the final product smooth.

THE FINAL PRODUCT (results may vary)

The end result of these initial criticisms has therefore been a nice little framework for looking at the overall form of the narrative, and as writers all over the world know, you will not succeed without constructive criticisms. By taking a step back, putting the manuscript out there and opening yourself up, you should be rewarded with the knowledge of just where you need to focus.

It shouldn’t be too much longer before the rest of the beta readers finish the manuscript, and with the framework outlined above, I have a structured means to interrogate them. No doubt that there will also be things that fall outside of these three categories, but I feel that these are probably the most pertinent to moving forward. So I hope that this might have been some help to those of you out there who are writing.

That about sums it up for now. There’s plenty more to be addressing but for now I’ll leave you with a little video from a series I’ve been enjoying. Please feel free to comment or make a suggestion. Until next time, stay cool.

DJC

Letting It Go

Anyone would have suspected that some kind of happiness would follow the completion of the revised draft, but for reasons unknown it been an anticlimax. It all came together so fast, tied up nicely and then just dropped off. I had arrived at the destination with such speed no one else was there yet. I blinked and looked around, then scratched my head. What now?

LETTING IT GO

I knew it had to be done. I had to let go. It needed reading. Easier said than  done. Just making the announcement was difficult. It’s the acknowledgement that you’re lowering your defences, that the fear inside you is saying “come on, savage my efforts.” It should have been a moment of triumph, but instead was an exercise in gritting my teeth, waiting for the kicking to start.

I sent out the first copy  and the first thing I did upon sending it was spot a small error. Nothing really. Just wording, but I set about fussing over it with a will until I forced myself to stop. So crazy, to have finished yet knowing that I still had work to do….

It reminded me of a video I had watched where the gentleman says of scriptwriting: “Show me someone who is happy with what they have written, and I will show you an amateur.” Just got to remember – IT’S NOT PUBLISHED YET DAVE!

So, resisting the urge I sent out a couple more; paper copies went to friends, family and assorted others. A nice age range and a mix of fantasy/sci-fi fans and people who weren’t. Different perspectives and all…..

I’d let it go. It was out there. All I need do is sit back and relax.

Right?

PRAISE!

Wrong. One of the first readers enthused that it was “bloody good” and that he was “impressed with the writing style.”

Oh my days! I tried to keep calm, but what came to grow inside me wasn’t more confidence. It was the reverse. It was anxiety that it was all going to fall apart, that days later he’s said nothing , well, that first bit, yeah that was awesome! But then you went and did this thing and the story went over here and it all kinda sucked arse in the end……

I’m constantly waiting now for any word, checking email and social media, but more often stopping myself from checking. It’s only been a week I say to myself. People have lives that don’t entail the same level of obsession about the book as I do.

Got to let it go. Sit back, and relax…….

LIMBO

Instead of relaxing, I’m waiting. This is the impatience of completion. It’s a limbo where I don’t know where to direct my efforts, like the energy has sort of bled away now that I have arrived at that point. The party wont start until everyone’s caught me up.

So here I am, floating around in space, directionless. I consider that the reason it’s so hard is that I’ve been travelling in one direction so long it takes time to realign myself.

And it’s certainly not improving my mood as I find myself regularly standing about, wondering what in the Hell am I doing? I’m short tempered and impatient. Worse, I’m resenting my partner even though I have no right. I’m relying on her to not only give me criticism, but to help me gauge how much work I need to do for the book to fit its niche/genre. Her understanding is key…..

But like I said, I have no right to be angry about it. I’m just so impatient because this feedback will be the decider. It’ll determine the next step……

Publishing. Which path to choose? I’d like to say, that with the nice things that have been said by one or two people, that this work deserves to be taken up by a specialist publisher in the field of fantasy. It means they soak up some of the cost (as I have no real money to undertake self publishing) but I’ll need to find a literary agent. It equally means not receiving most of the revenue from sales, but balanced against that is the promotion and returns over time of a series.

It should be exciting, but instead the feeling seems to have drifted off into that limbo zone….

AND IN THE MEANTIME

So, in the meantime? What to do? Time to turn to a task that needs some love. I have dubbed it the Newman Project: several years ago I was approached to write a biography. It’s a long story, but the core of it revolves around false imprisonment, a contract killing and a vendetta, all mixed with a little reincarnation, petty crime and a hangman’s noose outside of Mitcham police station.

I’d put transcribing the interviews off because they’re a real pain in the arse to do, and like most people I hate the sound of my own voice.

But…..

Needs to be done. I couldn’t turn the work down, because it was free material that, no matter what, is gold dust for a writer. It was mainly that I needed to finish my own work first, and that I hadn’t been paid for what I had done so far (there’s often problems of cash flow when your income is from a questionable source and you’ve never had a bank account).

On top of the monotony of catching up on this admin, there’s the next book in the series to contemplate. I’ve got a few neat ideas, a set of characters and a situation that stems from the book I just finished, so it’s already shaping up in my mind. The circle is complete: back to the drafting process. As Burroughs says “destroy all rational thought.” Do it as fast as you can and don’t think about it until you’ve finished.

It’ll be my new rocket to ride, speeding off into my own little kingdom of clouds inside my head…….

OH, ONE LAST THING

I said I’d learn People Are Strange didn’t I? Well, the splint is off and I’ve been getting involved in the local music scene in the nearby town. I’ve made some new musical friends and I’ve started playing guitar again. So, no more excuses. Time to step forward. In much the same way as the book, it’s no good sitting at home practising. I’ve got these songs (even one or two I wrote myself) and if I don’t let them go, if I don’t let people experience them and (hopefully) enjoy them, then what’s the point of it all in the first place?

DJC

(PS, why Parquet Courts? It’s just been on the radio lots. Love that bass!)

 

 

 

 

Absence, Exposition and Pitching

Pardon my absence dear reader. I have been busy, I promise. It’s what everyone says, I know, but the truth is that I’ve been deep in the revised draft. Day and night! Well, at least when I can and I’m not bingeing on Altered Carbon and it isn’t half term for my little boy and I’m not nearly cutting my finger off on a baked bean can…..

It was the Branstons baked beans. It amazes me that in this day and age there are still cans without ring pulls. Lesson learned – always cut the lid off completely.

So, in honour of my wonky finger, I thought I’d stick Dr. John up there as his”fickle finger of funk” has been on my mind of late (I believe that he had it shot off and surgically reattached.) I’m hoping that it will heal up straight and wont effect my guitar playing too much. Hell, Tony Iommi lost the tips of his middle and ring finger and he did alright…..

But enough of that. I thought I’d get back in the groove with a quick update on how things have been going.

Hunting Down Exposition With An Orbital Laser

So, well into draft v3.1, going through my work with a fine tooth comb, teasing out the snaggled prose and working out those little narrative knots. It’s slow going but I’ve found a great amount of reward so far and I think it’s much richer, and it’s in part thanks to the advice I was sent: how to make exposition my bitch.

I received this under the premise that I would find it interesting and useful. The result so far? I’ve been fascinated by the exposition that I have found, and while it certainly didn’t destroy the story, there is little to lose in cutting it out. It sounds strange but removing sections of exposition did little to really deflate the progression of the narrative, and even better, once you know it you can tease it in with references and flash backs and characters remembering that time when this and that happened. Overall, the process has been a great workout, both educational and satisfying.

The funny thing is that when he says remove the back story, well, that’s what I did and it turned into a whole book, the one that I’ve just written a pitch for…..

Pitchapolooza 2018

So I had a go at writing a pitch for my book as the Book Doctors (in conjunction with Nanowrimo) were running Pitchapolooza 2018. Twenty pitches are randomly selected, critiqued and voted for. The winner gets an introduction to a publisher suitable for their manuscript.

Might as well give it a shot right?

I worked tirelessly on iterations of this and then repeatedly sent them to my partner who was busy at work, asking her thoughts on this version and that. Her response was pretty much always “too wordy?”. Every time.

But it helped me. I tried to boil it down again and again, editing and reducing until it retained the flavour without the bulk.

(I mentioned this in a comment on the Book Doctors video about the pitch – they replied with: “You’re partner is a smart woman. Excellent advice!”)

Anyhow, I just want you to know that I’m thinking of you here! You, the reader, checking a copy on the bookshelf because I know you don’t have much time and you want the nitty gritty in under 200 words or else you might pick something else up.

So here it is!

Welcome to Asclepius, trading hub for more than a hundred worlds…..

When a smuggling operation is busted two petty criminals must find a new way to recoup their lost investment. Shale wants to sign up for a prospectors ‘dive’ but her best friend isn’t so sure. Unimaginable riches might be theirs, or at the least a quick death if they’re lucky.

Meanwhile Harlech Truckle, leader of the Birdeaters, makes plans for another illegal shipment or else face the displeasure of his mysterious benefactor. But just what is it they’re being asked to bring in, and who’s toes might they be stepping on this time?

As the consequences begin to unfold, a street hustler, a possessed automaton and a hapless warehouse technician will be drawn into a spiral of duplicity and revenge while in the shadows of the Shining Spires there are those who’s designs had yet to be fully understood…..

Red Star Rising is the first in a series of exciting, modern pulp fantasy novels set against a backdrop of lost epochs, cosmological improbabilities and strange destinies.

So, what do you think? Needs some work perhaps……? Damned if I know. Hell, it was harder to write than the damn book is!

The Future?

With that all out the way I want to say a little bit about future posts – yes, I actually do have some sort of plan – and while I don’t want to say much more, I should put up a post about Alter Ego’s in response to JA Allen’s post and the comment I made. Hope to see it within a fortnight.

I also have a sketch for a pair of world building posts that I’m rather excited about, but – yes, sigh! – it’ll be consigned to the vagaries of the crystal ball as to when those will appear.

So, for now, I’ll sign out and wish you all well.

DJC

The Festive Chasm, The (Alleged) Snub and The Bio

With a toast to you my readers, and a merry commencement of 2018, we begin afresh the vital work of storytelling with renewed vigor. This is going to be the year that I get something finished and out, the year that I move forward with projects to a new level, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll even play an open mic. Meanwhile, on the horizon, there already a few treats to look forward to. Jonathan Wilson brings his new songs to the UK in March, and award for Best Christmas Present 2017 goes to Sam (you better be reading this!) for getting me a ticket.

It certainly perked up the festive period as in recent years I’ve found Christmas to inspire in me a certain attitude of humbuggery, and whilst not being a total curmudgeon, what I usually sense is the yawning chasm of the holiday period in my mental calendar, that dark void of inactivity where I’m in limbo. Thankfully this year there was also a certain levity to it as my little boy reminded me of what it was like to actually be excited for the festive period. Master Bruce oft seems to reveal things that I had forgotten, to clear away the jaded cobwebs of middle age. He is enthusiasm personified.

In the run up to that point I had been working hard to conclude the draft and as I came to the final confrontation between protagonist and antagonist I needed to give shaped relative to the themes of the book. This would make it feel meaningful. So I stopped writing and printed the whole lot out, feeling that by going over it from the start I would be able to simply roll into the resolution with all that I needed to sculpt a satisfying ending.

But…..

I thought I’d find it made more sense. It’s the weirdest thing because I know the story, yet reading it back gave me no idea of whether it worked or not. Certainly I found errors to correct and small plot details to tighten up, but it was strange that it felt so ephemeral. I assume that my understanding of the narrative took away the enjoyment of building an unfolding narrative in my mind. So, with it all marked in red, I’ll just have to go through the rewrites and edits and then give it out to my test readers in the hope that their feedback will furnish me with the knowledge of whether it works or not.

Anyhow, with everything on the shelf for the holidays it was into that temporal chasm I dived with sweet surrender to the festive spirit and nary a thought to liver nor waistline. Amid the tinsel, wine and mince pies I unwrapped a copy of Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, a book that was recommended to me by Kat (the writer I met working for the Council). I’d seen Hobb’s books many times and got the impression that she was another cornerstone of the fantasy genre, but never picked her up.

Then Boxing Day rolled around and off we went to visit my partner’s family where I received two more books: the first was The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway, for reason’s of which I am unsure – it’s fantasy (from the New Weird subgenre)? Or perhaps they had read it and thought I would like it? It’s popular? I don’t know. The second was written by, ostensibly, my brother-in-law and self published through Amazon. It was comprised of two short stories. My first thought was to wonder if it was some kind of snub or dig, inspired by my belief that my partner’s sister in particular is somewhat ambivalent towards me.

Of course I dismissed the notion almost immediately, suspecting that I had just stung myself because of the pressure I feel I’m under;  both from that which I heap upon myself and that which I perceive (rightly or wrongly) to come from the expectation of others (my partner, my family, not to mention ALL THE PEOPLE WHO I EVER TOLD I WAS A WRITER!).

Yet it had sparked a momentarily brief amusement with the initial allegation because I felt a certain….. bulletproofness. It didn’t matter to me if it was a snub because I knew one very important thing: my voice is unique, and that’s what counts. No one can write what I have written. In that sense I’m untouchable, and although it doesn’t mean my work is necessarily good, it did help to diffuse the sullen impatience with not having my work published.

Typically the swirl of thoughts bled into each other as I sat on the Boxing Day couch and whiled away the wait for lunch. Flicking through the two books I read Nick Harkaway’s bio, and then was surprised that the self published book didn’t have one because from what I’m given to understand is that one’s bio will be like a shadow, a spectre haunting a writers every move. It’ll be in my submissions, it’ll be on the inside cover of my book, it’ll be online via social media (and on this blog when I actually settle on what I’ve written) and it’ll be in any press releases about me.

So it appears that I’d better make it good right from the start…….

The inevitable question then is what do I say about myself? Can I make myself sound interesting without come across as a pretentious twat? So begins the examination of my life, and just how interesting a person I am. It feels a little strange to rake across all that has come before, sifting memories and achievements in order to (modestly) boast about them.

And writing the damn thing is almost harder than writing the book itself, despite there being plenty of advice out there. At it’s core I think this is piece of advice is pretty key:

…..your bio should not be a dry, dusty affair. Even more important, it must make the case for why you are the ideal person to write this book and to sell it to the reading public……The bottom lines is, if you don’t toot your own horn (albeit in a way that drips of humble sincerity), who will?

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

So, by way of example, let’s look at the biographies from the two books I’ve mentioned:

Assassin’s Apprentice:

Robin Hobb is one of the world’s finest writers of epic fiction. She was born  in California in 1952 but raised in Alaska, where she learned how to raise a wolf cub, to skin a moose and to survive in the wilderness. When she married a fisherman who fished herring and the Kodiak salmon-run for half the year, these skills would stand her in good stead. She raised her family, ran a smallholding, delivered post to her remote community, all at the same time as writing stories and novels. She succeeded on all fronts, raising four children and becoming an internationally best-selling writer. She lives in Tacoma, Washington State.

And The Gone-Away World:

Nick Harkaway was born in Cornwall in 1972. He likes deckled edges, wine, and breathtaking views. He does not like anchovies or reality television. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

What the fuck, may I ask, is a deckled edge? More importantly, who cares? This bio seems to reflect the book itself, my first impressions from the first couple of pages being that it was all too damn smart for its own good (and perhaps worth mentioning that I later found out he’s the son of John le Carré and had a good amount of money spent on his publicity).

So the big question then is which one sounds better? Which one sounds like someone who’s story is worth reading? It’s amazing to think that there is so much emphasis on building a one paragraph persona that will be your projection into the literary world, and it must clearly be done with some finesse if it is going to shadow my every move.

It’s tempting to put the problem on a shelf for a time, but I suspect that it would be best to keep it in mind and jot down any ideas that crop up during the days, week and months ahead.

And there’s always one’s friends and family to ask about just what it is that makes you interesting…….

Then again, maybe not eh?

Suffice to say dear Reader that if you stick around here long enough you’ll find out just who I want you to think I am.

DJC