Posts belonging to Category The Aldabreshin Compass



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.

My thoughts on concluding a series over at Gail Z Martin’s blog

You’ll recall me mentioning I’d been swapping thoughts with Gail Z Martin about the challenges of ending a multi-volume story? By way of a companion piece to her guest post on this blog , she’s hosting some conclusions I’ve drawn over on her own website.

When the end is nigh, take another look at your characters’ “victory conditions”

There’s a fine line to tread between ‘and they all (eventually) lived (more or less) happily ever after’ and ‘they all came full circle and hit the Reset Button’. The first can and arguably should be satisfactorily achieved, because ending a series with overall failure is hardly rewarding the reader for their time and commitment. On the other hand, hitting the Reset Button treats the reader just as badly, when an entire series ultimately fails the ‘So What?’ test. What was the point in following those characters through all that travelling, learning and struggle if nothing has really changed?

Eastern Tide – the ebook’s now available online across all major stores!

Thanks to Wizard’s Tower Press successfully navigating the various arcane procedures demanded by Amazon etc, the ebook edition of Eastern Tide can now be purchased from your preferred e-retailer.

EasternTide_150

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble Nook – US only

Google Play

Kobo

Enjoy!

Eastern Tide – the ebook cover art!

Wizard’s Tower Press will be rolling out the ebook edition of Eastern Tide to the usual online retailers this week. Exactly where it appears and when will largely depend on their arcane processes, so I’ll post updates when sightings are confirmed.

Meantime, here’s the fourth of Ben Baldwin‘s superb illustrations to whet your appetite 🙂 And do feel free to contact Ben if you’re interested in having prints of these wonderful covers to hang on your walls.

Eastern Tide  Artwork by Ben Baldwin

Eastern Tide
Artwork by Ben Baldwin

A new Aldabreshin Compass short story – Distant Thunder

Click here for the pdf of Distant Thunder

This is the second of the new short stories I’m writing to parallel The Aldabreshin Compass series, coming out in ebook from Wizard’s Tower Press.

This particular tale sheds new light on what’s happening in the Daish and Ulla domains during the events of Northern Storm, continuing the adventures of Dyal, the young swordsman who so nearly lost his life in Southern Fire, and whose escape is detailed in Fire in the Night.

Enjoy! And spread the word!

artwork by Ben Baldwin

artwork by Ben Baldwin

Western Shore. Mapping the Aldabreshin Archipelago and beyond.

ac-map-sm

‘Where did this unforeseen enemy come from?’ That’s the central question in this third novel of the Aldabreshin Compass quartet. Swiftly followed by ‘how did they get here?’, ‘why did they come?’ and ‘why are they so brutal?’

Kheda and his allies, old and new, discover most of the answers as Western Shore unfolds but before I could write any of that, I had to work out all these things for myself. Not only deciding where these unknown invaders did come from but establishing what had changed to enable them to cross the vast western ocean, since they’d never been seen before. ‘Well, they just decided to,’ simply wasn’t an option, any more than ‘because they’re just evil,’ is ever a satisfactory answer to ‘what makes the bad guys so bad?’

At least I had a map of the Archipelago to start with. I’d learned my lesson after having to reverse engineer the original Einarinn map from accurately calculated travel details in the text and my (literally) back-of-an-envelope sketch not long before The Thief’s Gamble was published. Okay, my husband had to do the actual work – I was and remain thankful that he’s an engineer whose apprenticeship including training as a draughtsman. Incidentally, he’s the one who insisted the Einarinn maps have projection lines, when I explained I needed a map which I could put a ruler on anywhere to measure distances on the same scale. He naturally felt thoroughly vindicated when we got an enthusiastically appreciative letter from a Geography Ph.D student in Washington State, USA, for whom flat-earth fantasy maps were a personal bug bear. But I digress.

As you see from this far more extensive map, I had the upper half of the Archipelago mapped by the end of The Tales of Einarinn, so extending the island groups and chains southward was easy enough. But then I had to decide what lay out to the west. ‘Here be dragons’ might be literally true but I needed to know where and why, and crucially, why they were on the move for the first time in more than living memory.

Because ocean and atmospheric currents had changed somehow? That looked like a promising possibility so I went off to do some research, including but by no means limited to buying The National Geographic Atlas of the Oceans and doing detailed searches through my National Geographic Archive CD-Roms. I learned all sorts of useful facts about jet streams, thermohaline circulation, deep cold water flows, tectonic plates and undersea ridges, as well as weather patterns, and what causes trade winds, the doldrums and El Nino. All fascinating and all terms and systems it would be impossible to reference directly in an epic fantasy novel without ruining, well, the atmosphere. This is definitely a situation where the Iceberg Rule of Research applied. Only a tenth of this work shows above the surface, which is to say, appears in the final novel, but that couldn’t be there without the other ninety percent.

maps in progress

Now I had the key information which I could add to my map and integrate into the story. More than that, I was now seeing more ways in which wind and sea currents and the distribution of islands would affect travel and alliances within the Archipelago. This work was already influencing the course of the events I had planned for Eastern Tide. It ultimately contributed to The Hadrumal Crisis as well but that’s another story.

But all this work stayed on the papers on my desk. When the Aldabreshin Compass was published in paperback in the UK, we were all forced to agree that the scale and layout of the Archipelago meant reproducing the whole thing at that page size could only offer readers a scatter of uninformative dots. When Tor produced the US hardback, they had more room to work with and included a very handsome map but that could still only offer a section of the Archipelago, unable to show its relationship to the mainland.
tor compass map small
So only a limited number of fans got to see even that much. And as with the admirable Einarinn maps in the Orbit paperbacks, the copyright for that specific depiction of my original material remains with the publisher, not with me.

Well, that was then and this is now. As those who’ve bought Southern Fire and Northern Storm already know, these new ebook editions include a map of the entire Archipelago and now I’m adding it to the website. This time I have my elder son to thank, who took on the not inconsiderable task of cleaning up the digital scan of my master paper copy, with all its creases and pencil scribbles, as well as collating all the other bits of information jotted on sections I’d enlarged and printed off separately to cover with more coloured arrows and notes. Finally he added his own bit of artistic flair, deciding it needed to look like something found in a Hadrumal wizard’s archive, maybe left by some ambitious cloud mage seeing just how far up he could take a scrying spell. I reckoned he’d earned the right to do that.

So is this it? Well, as you can see, there’s still an awful lot of this world still to be mapped – and we haven’t even found out what might be happening in those lands we can already see but haven’t yet visited…

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

Here Be Dragons! Northern Storm’s new cover and associated thoughts

As you can see from the second of Ben Baldwin’s superb new covers for the Aldabreshin Compass series, this book has dragons! Big dragons. Dangerous dragons. As those who’ve already read The Thief’s Gamble can tell you, dragons in Einarinn can be truly devastating. And for those who’ve read The Thief’s Gamble and still have a whole load of unanswered questions about dragons in this world, rest assured you will find answers in this book. Some answers, anyway.

artwork by Ben Baldwin

Artwork by Ben Baldwin.
Click to see more detail

Dragons really are the archetypal epic fantasy monster. They feature in some of my very favourite books and series, as far back as I can recall. Was Smaug the first one I encountered? Smaug the Terrible, as proved by his merciless destruction of Lake Town, for all that he amused himself chatting to Bilbo beforehand. Or was it the Ice Dragon, Groliffe, in the Saga of Noggin the Nog? He’s Honorary Treasurer of the Dragons’ Friendly Society, you know. So dragons that communicate and co-operate were among my earliest childhood encounters as well.

That duality’s been there through my subsequent fantasy reading. Anne McCaffrey’s dragons on Pern; mighty beasts yet telepathic and empathetic. On the other hand, the massive, murderous creatures of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince and subsequent books. The devastating dragon out to destroy Ankh Morpork in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!, alongside the pathetic swamp dragons of Lady Sybil’s Sunshine Sanctuary. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series has any number of breeds of dragons, ranging from the brutish and violent to the intelligent and cultured – and just as many different ways for humans to interact with them. Dragons in the Harry Potter universe on the other hand, all seem to be terrifying and lethal, whatever their breed. Robin Hobb’s dragons will co-operate with humans as long as doing so suits their own purposes, or just their current whim, but any ‘keeper’ who thinks they’re in charge is likely to get a surprise. Morkeleb the Black offers Jenny Waynest untold gifts in Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane, but at what cost? We’re still waiting to see which side of the scales George RR Martin’s dragons will come down on, in A Song of Ice and Fire, but Daenerys Targaryen really had better keep her wits about her, don’t you think?

What about the myths that spawned all these fantasy beasts? Manifestations of the Universal Monster Template? I’ve been reading about them in books of folklore for just as long as I’ve been reading fantasy fiction. Not only the tales of Fafnir and Siegfried and such which inspired Tolkien and CS Lewis in varying ways, or the umpteen variations on St George’s story. Every English county seems to have its own local subspecies of dragon – The Lambton Worm (County Durham), The Mordiford Wyvern (Herefordshire), The Wantley Dragon (Yorkshire), to name but a few. The iconic red dragon of Wales, intertwined with the myth of Merlin and Arthur, is only one Celtic dragon myth, alongside the Dundee dragon, the Oilliphéist in Ireland fleeing St Patrick, and many more. Towns and villages right across Europe have tales of similar local beasts, usually spreading blight and destruction, with an appetite for young maidens. All so very different to ethereal oriental dragons with their ties to nature and the elements.

It sometimes seems a wonder that any fantasy author would write about anything else. I’ve only mentioned a few of the best known books on my shelves here, so feel free to flag up your own favourite books with dragons in comments. Fellow authors, by all means offer a brief introduction to your own take on the beasts.

What does using such an iconic monster mean for a fantasy author? Well, as with so many of these archetypal genre elements, the challenge is staying true to the core tradition while still finding something at least a little new and different to bring to the mythology. Above all else, as a reader, I find it’s essential for the beast have a convincing role within a fantasy world and an integral reason for its presence in the story. Not just being shoehorned in because someone once said a book with a dragon on the front sells more copies…

So what’s this particular dragon’s role in Northern Storm? You’ll have to read the book to find out, and all being well, the ebook edition will be rolled out across the various sellers over the next week or so. Keep an eye out for updates.

Work in progress and the value of constructive criticism

I’m currently revising a piece of short fiction in the light of a test reader sending a draft back with numerous comments on bits that aren’t as clear as they might be, things that seem clunky etc.

I’m not complaining in the least. Not even hinting that this is a hardship. Quite the contrary. I’m feeling a whole new rush of enthusiasm for this story now that I’ve got a fresh perspective on it, thanks to someone else’s eyes.

Especially since, to quote the accompanying email from the test reader “I’ve been setting the comb’s teeth quite fine.”

Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted. Exactly what this piece of work needed.

When people ask for writing advice, I’m inclined to reply with the qualifier, ‘well, this works for me…’ because no two writers I know work in exactly the same way and some things which work for my favourite authors would never suit my writing in a thousand years.

But if there’s one universal rule for writers, this is probably it. No matter who you are, no matter how long you have been at this game. Get feedback. No piece of work is so good that constructive criticism can’t make it better.

What’s the story? Well, do you recall many months ago, I was wondering whatever became of the young Daish warrior who fell off a battlement to be lost in the night’s shadows below…?

Right, back to it.

Building the world of The Aldabreshin Compass

while searching through the dusty attics of the hard drive for something else entirely, I came across this piece from 2005, summarizing the research I did for this series. Hopefully of interest to those of you who like to know where we writers find the smoke and mirrors for creating our illusions.

The Aldabreshin Archipelago first appears in The Swordsman’s Oath, second tale of Einarinn. To paint a convincing civilization where autocrats enjoy absolute power within their borders and face ruthless rivals beyond them, I blended what I knew of medieval sub-Saharan states with elements from Japanese, Polynesian and Meso-American history. But far more detail was going to be required to sustain a whole series set among the Archipelagans. Fortunately, I’m a history buff, and with research habits learned as an undergraduate ingrained for life, wider reading was no hardship.

I updated my knowledge of medieval Africa. I read books on the courts of the caliphs, a history of the Arab peoples and another on the rise of Islam. To ensure variety within the Archipelago, I studied the Byzantine Empire, finding influential queens as paradigms for the powerful wives of Aldabreshin warlords. Eunuchs are mentioned in The Swordsman’s Oath, so I found analysis of their role in Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire. The ruthless methods those Emperors used to be rid of surplus sons also suited my purposes. I learned some Persian history and went as far as Moghul India. Archipelagans keep slaves, so I added reading on medieval Islamic servitude to my knowledge of Greek and Roman slavery. With conflict between the mainland and the Archipelago set to be significant, I read more on Mayan and Inca interactions and clashes with Spanish conquistadors, and about the spice trade that first prompted Columbus to sail.

Archipelagans condemn wizardry as abomination, punishable by death. In The Swordsman’s Oath, I’d explained they believe it corrupts the natural order, distorting omens to be read in the flight of birds or conjunctions of stars in the night sky. To build a coherent belief system supporting that, I researched Babylonian and Egyptian astrology, combining that steady-state cosmology with Greek Pre-Socratic philosophy as well as aspects of Middle Ages scholarship where astrology, astronomy and science converged. I read up on prediction and portent from ancient Rome through to New Age mysticism, as well as symbolism, to create an original zodiac, or compass of the heavens.

Needing colours, textures, sounds and sensations to bring everything to life, I visited museums to look at art, artefacts and textiles from the historical cultures I’d researched. I read Lonely Planet and Rough Guides to Indonesia and the Pacific. National Geographic’s CD-Rom archive supplied travellers’ recollections of exotic places and peoples before the advent of mass tourism. The Internet supplied David Attenborough’s books on his Zoo Quest expeditions of the 1950’s and Michael Palin’s travels similarly stimulated my imagination. I discovered a book about Robert Drury, enslaved in Madagascar in the early 1700’s, who published his memoirs in 1729. Friends and family who’d visited Indo-China, Africa and Polynesia were encouraged to share photos and stories.

Don’t worry. You won’t be bored rigid by all this. If first drafts stray into irrelevancies, my test readers and editors soon get me back on track. Research should be like icebergs: only a fraction ever showing above the surface. It’s the telling detail, the vivid image, the logical underpinning for the fantastic briefly revealed that convinces readers that imagined worlds are real. And much as I enjoy doing my research, I know as a reader myself that the finest created world is an empty façade without vibrant characters and an engaging plot. As a writer, that’s where the fun, and the challenge, really starts.

Robert Drury Journal Title Page (1729)
Click here to learn more about Robert Drury