Distant Thunder – the second free story from the Aldabreshin Archipelago

A brief post to let you know the second instalment of Dyal’s adventures is now available as a free ebook – in epub or mobi format as you prefer.

You’ll find it here, and don’t forget to take a look at the fine selection of other reading.

Dyal has learned secrets that the warlord’s family would prefer not to share. That means he must be drawn into the domain ruler’s inner circle, whether he likes it or not. What use can the young swordsman be? Now he finds himself trusted as a courier – and sent into fresh danger…

Fire in the Night – a free story from the Aldabreshin Archipelago

Revisiting your own work is a curious experience for a writer, in my experience at least. When you’re working on a book, from first outline to final page proofs, that’s pretty much all you think about. You have every detail at your fingertips. You know the story inside out. You’ve been living with these characters for however long the work’s been in progress. Then quite suddenly, that’s done, and you move on to the next thing. This new story may or may not involve the same characters, but regardless, it’s a new adventure full of fresh challenges for you as a writer. As it fills your thoughts, it’s surprising how quickly the fine detail of earlier books fades from your memory. You’ll recall the broad strokes, obviously, but not the line-by-line. By the time I was on the third, fourth and fifth book of The Tales of Einarinn, my reference copies of the earlier volumes bristled with Post-It tags so I could find descriptions and incidents I needed to refer back to. Thank goodness for electronic versions and search boxes these days.

I revisited The Aldabreshin Compass books in 2015, when I was proof-reading the text we’d prepared for the new digital editions from Wizard’s Tower Press. This was the first time I’d really engaged with these stories and characters since Eastern Tide was published in 2006. I’m pleased to say I thoroughly enjoyed the process. The books held up well for me as an author, and as a reader, I found the story really exciting! At a couple of points, I genuinely caught myself wondering what’s going to happen next?! I knew the situation, whatever it was, would be resolved, but I had honestly forgotten exactly how?

Perhaps it’s because I was engaging with these books at least as much as a reader this time around that I began to see other things. There’s a young soldier who falls off a battlement in the first book, Southern Fire. As the writer, I hadn’t given him a second thought, because my focus was on Daish Kheda, the warlord whose personal journey drives the narrative of this whole series. As a reader though, now I kept wondering what had happened to that young man who had disappeared into the darkness…?

As I read the following books, I found I had other questions. Kheda goes on his journey, but life at the home he has left goes on without him. Some of the consequences of this become apparent, as other people’s paths cross his own, but as a writer, my focus always stayed with his story. As a reader though, I found I wanted to know more of what had gone on without him. What lay behind the choices and decisions made by the people he had left behind…?

I am a writer first and foremost. That said, I’ve always found inspiration in the questions keen readers have asked me. Now that I was the curious reader, these questions just wouldn’t go away. Ideas stirred. In between other projects, I began writing a series of linked short stories that sit between the volumes of The Aldabreshin Compass. These can be read on their own, as well as offering added depth and insights for those who’ve read the Compass sequence.

So I started with that fateful night when Daish Kheda was so treacherously attacked, and his faithful retainers risked their lives to defend him. You can find the free ebook here, along with other free reading from Wizard’s Tower Press, and the ‘Colinthology’ which raises money to support Bristol hospitals.

Artwork by Ben Baldwin

Free reading for the cooped-up, from me and other writers

There’s been a flurry of SF&F authors having a look in the back cupboards of their hard drives this week, to see what stories they could make available for free. We know a lot of readers have time on their hands just at the moment, but we are also well aware that they may be finding themselves uncertain as to prospects for their bank balance and bills for the next however-long.

With the always invaluable assistance of Cheryl at Wizard’s Tower Press, and artist Ben Baldwin, I’m offering up The Wizard’s Coming, a short story that stands alone, and as such, should give a good introduction to my style and my approach to epic fantasy. In the overall chronology of my successive epic fantasy series, it sits between The Lescari Revolution trilogy and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, so there’s added interest if you’ve read those books.

You can download the ebook in your preferred format from Wizard’s Tower Press here – worldwide.

You should also check out the BSFA page where a whole lot of interesting things are on offer.

Looking forward, Cheryl and I are also working on making some Aldabreshin Compass short fiction available as ebook singles. Details to follow in due course.

Meantime, happy reading, and hoping you and yours are well.

Once upon a time, Charles Dickens met Doctor Who…

Oh yes, says you, I remember it, Christopher Ecclestone and Simon Callow, great episode! Ah well, says I, it so happens I wrote a different story before anyone knew what Mark Gattiss was doing for the first season of the Doctor’s return.

Back in 2004, Paul Cornell was editing a Christmas anthology for Big Finish, and invited me to submit a story. I really enjoyed writing ‘Who the Dickens…?’, researching all the detail was fascinating, and Paul was very pleased with it. All was well until … the BBC spiked it. Sorry, that particular story was a no go for the forthcoming book.

Everyone was very nice, and thoroughly professional, and I was paid, and so while I felt a bit wistful, I didn’t feel in the least hard done by. These things happen with licensed property work. And when the new series aired, all was explained!

The story stayed in my computer archive because unlike a story of my own, I couldn’t sell it elsewhere, obviously. Then Paul contacted me earlier this year to ask if I’d ever done anything with it. No, as I explained, as far as I recalled without digging out the contract, the copyright and intellectual property rights belonged to Big Finish and the BBC, as is standard for such work. It would never see the light of day unless the powers that were gave their approval. Let me talk to a few people, says Paul…

Well, now you can read that story if you click over to Paul’s website and this year’s 12 Blogs of Christmas, free and gratis, to entertain you as this year draws to a close. Enjoy!

She-Who-Thinks-For-Herself. A story free to read for International Women’s Day

Resurrection Engines - a steampunk anthology with a twist

First published in Resurrection Engines, an anthology of Scientific Romance published by Snowbooks, and edited by Scott Harrison.

We were invited to write a steampunk take on a classic of Victorian/Edwardian literature. I decided it was time for a Suffragette take on H. Rider Haggard.

An audio version is also available here via Far Fetched Fables, at District of Wonders

A Tale of Modern Women in the Dark Continent

My beloved aunt, Phyllis Charteris, has received none of the plaudits lavished on the laurel-garlanded heroes who explore the remote heart of Africa. The Royal Geographic Society might deign to acknowledge Mary Kingsley after the success of her publication, ‘Travels in West Africa’ but there is not one quarter-inch of a newspaper column recording my aunt’s achievements.

Such injustice has galled me ever since my return from the trackless swamps of the upper Zambesi. However I was sworn to secrecy for reasons which this narrative will soon explain.

Now Mr H Rider Haggard has published the reminiscences of his Cambridge acquaintance sheltering beneath the pseudonym “Horace Holly”. Consequently I am free to share my aunt’s achievements with the world.

But I am outstripping my story’s proper order. Our family’s ties with the Cape Colony were first established by my grandfather’s brothers, both mining engineers. When my brother Eustace took up a position with Lloyds Bank in Cape Town, I had recently concluded my studies at Somerville Hall in Oxford. I decided to go with him as his housekeeper but in hopes that this outpost of Empire might offer more opportunities for educated women than dismissing us as mere blue-stockings.

I had no notion of how wondrously my hopes would be fulfilled.

Naturally I was mindful of following in Aunt Phyllis’s footsteps. She had travelled out to marry a dear friend of one of her cousins, met when both young men returned home for their university education. Alas, her fiancé succumbed to malaria while she was on board ship. Declining to return to England, she joined her uncle’s household as governess to his younger children.

Family lore relates that Phyllis found herself ill-suited to such domesticity. When the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were discovered, she insisted on inspecting these wondrous remnants of lost civilisation for herself.

That was the last heard of her for over two decades. Now I am able to take up her story and a marvellous tale it is.

Read more

Rocks and Shoals – the third Aldabreshin Compass short story.

Western Shore  Artwork Ben Baldwin
Western Shore
Artwork Ben Baldwin

I am really enjoying writing these stories – even if fitting them in around other work and obligations can be tricky.

So here’s the next installment of Dyal’s adventures. This one rounds out and explains the shocking events in the Redigal domain referenced in the early chapters of Western Shore.

Click here to read the story – Rocks and Shoals

If you want to catch up with the story so far, the first and second stories are here – along with a few other things, all free to read and enjoy.

Fire in the Night – an Aldabreshin Compass short story

There are always loose threads in stories. This is by no means a bad thing, as long as there aren’t so many the reader ends up confused, and provided they’re not too vital to the plot. Real life never wraps up everything neatly so why should fiction?

Then there are the twists and turns in the action when it would be really interesting to see someone else’s point of view but where the overall narrative needs to stick to its established path, not get lost in some digression or diversion. Once again, this isn’t necessarily a problem. Readers invariably amuse themselves speculating on those untrodden roads.

Then there are the characters who appear to play a small part in some chapter, only to disappear, never to be seen again. They’ve served their purpose and a writer must be ruthless, if they don’t want their novel to sink beneath the weight of a cast of thousands.

Writers often find inspiration for further stories in all these things. I can point to any number of incidents or plot elements in my four series of books thus far which have stemmed from a fan’s email asking ‘What happened about…?’

It’s not just the fans who wonder. While I was preparing Southern Fire, first of the Aldabreshin Compass books, I came across Dyal, who I’d completely forgotten about in the decade since I wrote the books. He’s a young Daish domain warrior who bravely plays his part in defying treachery… and vanishes into the darkness, his ultimate fate unknown…

My work on cleaning up the text came to screeching halt. WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM???

Well that turned out to be one of those questions I just couldn’t let go. So I’ve written a short story beginning the tale of his adventures as he becomes involved in other events that happen during the course of this series of books, which only ever get referred to in passing, given the necessary focus on the main story. It should be fun for those of you who are already familiar with the books and for those of you who’ve just started to read them.

For those of you who are still wondering about this series, it’ll give you a flavour of the Aldabreshin Archipelago and the tribulations and treacheries first encountered in Southern Fire, continued in Northern Storm and still to come in Western Shore and Eastern Tide, all to be published in ebook through the invaluable Wizard’s Tower Press, and available through your preferred online retailer.

Click here to read Fire in the Night , first of the Quartering the Compass stories.

Southern Fire.  Artwork by Ben Baldwin
Southern Fire.
Artwork by Ben Baldwin

Kickstarter 2/3rds funded after a week? Time to relax! Er, no, it isn’t…

Crowd-funding’s a new, wonderful and truly weird thing. I’ve been involved in a couple of these now, though I’ve yet to dare try one on my own, for fear of so very publicly coming unstuck if a project didn’t meet its target. Some writer friends like C.E.Murphy and Laura Anne Gilman have more courage than me, so I’ve watched their experiences as well. The peaks and troughs and ebbs and flows in the way people sign up really is fascinating. I know there are folk out there keenly analysing the patterns, with conversations that almost certainly include the word ‘algorithm’.

Well, all I know is there’s never a time to be complacent, from Day One to Day Thirty. So if you’ve been looking at the ‘Temporally Out of Order’ Kickstarter and thinking, ‘Ooh, that sounds like a really good read,’ and now you’re seeing we’re two-thirds there, you’re thinking, ‘oh, they’ll be fine, I’ll just pick up the book later on,’… please consider backing us now. Because if we don’t meet that target, there won’t be a book later…

And yes, obviously, I have a horse in this race. As a stretch goal author, I really, really want to be involved! I’ve got such a fine idea… and I’ll tell you all about that next Monday, by which time I really hope that first target will be met, the first stretch goal will be secure and we’ll be on our way to my story, Jean Marie Ward’s and Jack Campbell’s.

Meantime, if you’ve come to this website for the first time thanks to this Kickstarter, hello and welcome.

If you’re wondering what my writing is like, you can read the opening chapters of my novels and also download the free ebook of my short story The Wizard’s Coming.

If you’re curious to see a little of what I write other than epic fiction, I’ve collected together a couple of short stories for free reading here.

Enjoy!

While I go and see where you can find a taste of my anthology stable-mates’ writing.

Meantime, let’s see how the project is going?

Identity Theft – a short story I wrote ages ago and the tweet that reminded me of it

At some point over World Fantasy Con weekend, someone, I think it was @gavreads, tweeted something along the lines of ‘do authors realise they own a little bit of our souls?’ I knew that reminded me of something I once wrote but I couldn’t think what… Aha, rummaging around in the back cupboards of the hard drive yesterday, I came across this! Which flips the idea completely, and isn’t really my usual style of thing. Still, you may find it amusing/creepy, according to taste. And no, I’m really not at all sure what I had in mind when I wrote it.

        Identity Theft

     Dear Miss Enstone,
    You are my favourite writer. I am sick in hospital and read your books a lot. My favourite character is Delly. I hope she finds her grandfather. Mummy says she will by me a signed copy of your next book when my chematherapy is over.
    Love
     Amy

    Rubbing his knuckles, he set the sparkly gel pen down beside his card-index box. This immature rounded script made his hand ache. The spelling mistakes were a good touch but was he really thinking himself into the mind of a terminal ten year old girl?
    He slid the pink notepaper with frolicking puppies, their fluffy ears askew, into the matching envelope. A sponge dampened the flap to avoid leaving saliva. Stamps were handily self-adhesive. A second class stamp. Amy’s mother would save every penny. Copying the address from his file card for Annie Enstone, he tossed the envelope onto the pink pile.
    He glanced at the scarred oak door, securely bolted top and bottom. He’d slept late and hadn’t heard the other students bickering over the bathroom or accusing each other of using up the milk. But everyone should have left by now, for their lectures or their labs. They probably thought he was already in the library, dissecting English Literature.
     He shoved the insecure office chair with its fraying seat backwards over blotched carpet originally the colour of cold tea. Reaching down, he fetched out his portable typewriter, and set it on the mug rings marring the varnish of the once elegant table. He threaded a sheet of paper deftly through the rollers and stripped latex gloves off with relief. Typing didn’t leave fingerprints.
     Tossing the flaccid gloves over to the printer, for the next time the paper tray needed refilling, he sighed. Writing the letters was so much quicker with the computer’s mail merge slotting in names and addresses. He smiled. The appeal from the school librarian keen to inspire reluctant readers and gifted and talented students alike was a good piece of work. Her plan to display signed photographs of famous writers was certain to flatter Mandy Oldsworth’s vanity, and those other media darlings.
    But the typewriter was better for these next letters. He picked up another selection of index cards. Let’s see how Edmund Crawley and other reclusive, eccentric writers would respond.

    Dear Mr Crawley,
    I have long wished to tell you how much pleasure your books have given me over the years. Latterly I have been re-reading your earlier works and find them as much a delight as ever.
    Recent publications are unfortunately beyond my means as I currently reside in a home for retired priests in North Yorkshire. I am writing therefore to ask if you might donate signed copies of ‘Angel’s Breath’ and ‘The Baldock Brewer’ to our small library—

    An angry fist hammered on the door. ‘It was your turn to put the bins out, wanker!’
    ‘Dick.’ A second voice sniggered. ‘Sorry, Richard.’
    He sat silently, shoulders hunched, heart pounding.
    ‘What the fuck’s he doing in there?’
    The voices retreated, boots heavy on the stairs.
    ‘Maybe those fucking books have finally fallen on his head.’
    As the front door slammed, he looked around. The faded, dated wallpaper was invisible behind the countless volumes salvaged from boot sales and charity shops to be ordered by genre, author and date of publication on the shelves he had made from scavenged bricks and plundered planks.
    He returned to his work. By the time he’d typed the final envelope the ribbon was fading to illegibility. He scowled. They weren’t that easy to get. Then he smiled. It gave an authenticity to the penurious priest’s plea. Yawning, he swept all the stamped letters into a stack. Should he go and post them now?
    No. He’d worked hard enough, this morning and last night, making his rounds of the derelict houses and tenantless offices that served as his return addresses. It was time for some reward, and the hardest work of all.
    He dragged a battered rucksack out from under the table. As he upended it, board-backed envelopes and jiffy bags tumbled onto the floor. He sat cross-legged, tearing them open. Photographs made one pile, books another. Virgin compliments slips and polite PA’s responses were tossed into the bin with the envelopes. Notes from authors more generous with their time went with the photographs. He ripped signed front pages from the books, desecrated remnants discarded.     By the time he had dealt with everything, his heart was racing.
Kneeling, he reached for a wooden box in the darkness under the bed. Opening it revealed a small book bound in creased cream calf-skin, two knives, one white-handled, one black, and an empty crystal inkwell. In their midst an octagonal blue candle squatted, part-burnt, in a shallow silver platter. Runes and sigils were carved deep into its facets.
    He gathered up the photographs, autographs and notes before lighting the candle with steel and flint. It burned with a greenish flame, oily smoke curling upwards. No problem. He’d long since taken the battery out of the smoke alarm.
    The book fell readily open at the right page. He barely had to look at the cramped mediaeval script any more. Slow and precise, he recited the arcane Latin as he sliced the inside of his wrist with the black knife’s razor edge. His blood dripped onto the first author’s signature. The candle flared, vapours rising, gouged runes glowing eerily bright as if illuminated from deep within.
    The whole room darkened, though the sun beyond the threadbare curtains shone as bright as ever. Shadows under the table and in the corners thickened and spread. The blackness edged closer, overwhelming the stains on the carpet. Harsh breath rasped, not merely his own. Something was crawling out of the darkness behind him. Its cold presence raised gooseflesh on the back of his neck. Look and all would be lost. He focused on the signed photograph, still reciting. Slowly the writing dissolved, sliding viscous down the blandly smiling portrait. He held a corner carefully over the open mouth of the inkwell. The darkness dripped sullenly down. A satisfied sigh behind him sent a curl of cold breath like smoke over his shoulder. He reached for a friendly note. Blood obliterated the kindly thoughts wishing little Amy well. Magic washed black malice into the inkwell.
    By the time he had finished, the unseen presence behind him was breathing slowly, sated. Drenched with pungent sweat, he felt light-headed. The scars on his arm burned where he’d re-opened successive cuts to keep the sorcery flowing. Hands shaking, he laid down the knife and snapped the silver top of the inkwell shut. Reciting the final verses in a hoarse whisper, he snuffed out the candle. The darkness retreated with a faint hiss of disappointment. Alone again, he drew a trembling breath of heartfelt relief.
    But he’d made the mistake of leaving the ink once before, only to find it dried to a useless sludge. He forced himself to his feet, crystal vial in one hand, scrabbling in the box for an old fashioned steel-nibbed pen in the other. Sitting at the table, he reached for a spiral-bound notebook. The place where he’d stopped before marked with a plaited lock of his own long hair. He opened the inkwell and a hint of shadow swirled inside the neck. Dipping his pen, he sat and waited for the words to come.
    They would come. This time there’d be no rejection slips.