The Last of the Flames

[The following is something I thought up for a <1000 words story challenge on sweek.com. The aim was few characters, but epic fantasy. Enjoy!]

Tara watched as the white bird climbed towards the clouds.

“Just a little further,” she whispered, clutching her spirit stone close.

The slender little bird danced left. A second later, a black claw ripped the air where it had been. Tara breathed a sigh. The talons belonged to a winged serpent, one of the many giving her messenger chase. A haze of arrows from below joined the pursuit. But it wasn’t enough. With one great flap of its wings, the raven stole away. Two heartbeats later, it disappeared from view.

“For the Emperor?” the man beside Tara asked. Gerald, her father’s Captain. His armour was a soft shade of silver in the twilight. His hair, framing his face, was traced with lines of grey. Even after all these years, he still found reason to smile.

“I’ve told him we’ll hold the fortress at any cost,” Tara whispered.

Gerald banged a fist to his chest. “A light that never dies,” he said. His voice was braver than his face, which now fought off a frown. Perhaps he considered that part of his duty.

Tara nodded, turned her attention to the horde ringing her fortress. There were thousands of them, spread out in colour across the land like a patchwork quilt. The noise of their hungry breathing alone was like thunder. All manner of crude steel rose from their ranks. Pikes, spears, swords. They advanced slow across the field. She’d seen something like it only once before.

It was in the months before her mother died, when her father thought to build a garden. The two of them sat there for hours, as though whatever precious breath her mother had left might last longer beneath the trees.

But soon, the Winter Wane took her, as it did everybody else who suffered its chill. The garden then turned to rot before the spring. All that was left there now were weeds. Weeds and half-memories.

The white walls of the fortress, on the other hand, shone even as the sun melted into the horizon. Evredel: her family’s castle, a beacon of heavenly fire known across the north. Among the grasses this far from the empire, it was the last flower left.

“A blood sacrifice,” Gerald said, pointing to a spot in the rabble. “They’re summoning their God to-”
His voice trailed off.

At the front of the enemy lines, an old man sank to his knees. Even from the wall, Tara recognised the blue glow, though it was lost to the shadows of the horde. His name was Verden, the Water Spirit. Tara preferred to call him Dad. She felt the blood throbbing in her ear as the Barbarian King trudged up behind him.

He’d only left two days before, riding out ahead of a great host as the first light of dawn kissed the sky. “Home for dinner, sweet spirit.” Those had been his only words. The saddest part was that Tara had believed them. The same man, now ruined and chained, tried to stumble to his feet. The Barbarian kicked him back into the mud.

Gerald’s hand found Tara’s shoulder. He probably thought she’d try to save him, but she knew he was beyond their aid. Even if she had time to open the gate, it was the last thing Verden would want.

“A river runs the surest course,” he’d once told her. The words of a calculated man.

Her father seemed to give her a moment’s glance, then the axe took his head from his shoulders. Tara collapsed against the battlements at the same time his body met the floor. By the time she had blinked the first tear, the drums had already started.

Over the noise, Gerald was calling to a soldier. But that was only what Tara saw. She’d retreated into her mind too far to suffer sound.

“Your Grace,” Gerald mouthed, and Tara realised she’d just become Queen. She saw a bundle in the Captain’s arms, hugged as close as mother and child. The Inheritance Sword. Gerald was choosing the middle of a war to make her a spirit.

How can anyone be expected to become great at a time like this?

She had her hand on the sword when the answer came.

The first few inches of steel slid free. The metal pulsed with light, flashing with the colours of the elements. Water, earth, wind. The only shade she didn’t see was the one her people needed.

Beyond, the battle had begun. Tides of barbarians crashed into the wall, shrieking as they listed blood-drunk up ladders. Some of the monsters they tamed lapped over with them, feasting on whatever they found. The air carried the song of steel, the smell of fear and the iron taste of blood. Tara could only watch as the garrison crumbled.

That was when she heard the gasp.

“A light that never dies,” Gerald whispered, falling to his knees. “A light that lives!”

The sword in Tara’s hand stole the colour of flame. The fire, white-hot, erupted inside her too, toasting her blood, wreathing her heart, licking every fold of her skin. By the time she’d started to glow, her men were already cheering.

“To arms,” she shouted. Her voice, as though it were cannon fire, boomed across the fortress. Everywhere men rallied and charged back to the walls. A great snake, coiled round a pale tower, was the first to feel their wrath. It took a dozen spears and skewered, fell to the earth.

Out on the plains, the Barbarian King shuffled his hand. His great war machines lumbered forward. Soon, their missiles filled the sky, screaming down on Evredel. A few pocked the gate and blew it from its hinges.

Tara leapt to the courtyard, felt her fiery cloak wriggling behind her. She met the earth with a small puff of ash. She took a deep breath, flexed her fingers on her sword, and turned.

Beyond the ruin of the gate, through the ghost-grey smoke, the barbarians roared.

They were coming.

As I Edit (Mist Rock Chapter 3)

I’ve decided to try give you a better insight into my novel, Mist Rock, as I work on the second draft.4d0e8e5df3e02d2679d57fc15032dcfd.jpg

At the moment, I’m editing Chapter 3, “Leaving”. I finished work on the Prologue, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 last week, and am finally starting to find some consistency in the process.

That being said, I’ll admit that up until now I’ve had it kind of easy. The prologue, where we find Queen Farelia fighting for her life atop the Arakil Mountains, had been planned in such detail that the chapter almost wrote itself. The same could be said of Chapters 1 & 2, which focus on Marke’s decision to leave Mist Rock for the Golden Lance Academy.

Which brings me to Chapter 3, where the plot starts to pick up the pace.

There’s far more direct conflict in this chapter. Not only does Marke have to say goodbye to his family, but we start to see just how dangerous the world around him has become. It’s a sort of “curtain-raising” chapter, a few thousand words that takes Marke beyond the safety of the walls of Mist Rock while also delving into the great war on the horizon. That, in itself, is the first book in the Mist Rock series summed up too, so deep down I feel this is a chapter I have to get right

We’ve all had to leave home at some point, and though it definitely isn’t the most emotionally charged moment in the story, it’s a huge step for Marke all the same. That makes it a huge step for me.

I worked on half the chapter last night-the half that sees Marke say goodbye to his mother (Hylia), sister (Nadia) and father over a few scenes I hope give some feel as to how torn he is. I didn’t want them to be melodramatic, which given my flowery style was certainly a risk. Instead, I tried to say more with fewer words.

As the first book is seen solely from Marke’s POV, we only meet Hylia and Nadia on a number of other occasions. This concerns me, not least because the Golden Lance Academy is an all-boys institution, and so the opportunities for my female cast suffer. It’s doubly annoying as Nadia and Hylia both play major roles as the series progresses. I’ve considered dropping in a “Nadia POV” at some point, but am wary of disrupting the story.

I’ll have to keep it in mind as the editing proceeds.

I’ll leave you with some ‘rough stuff from the middle of the chapter, where Marke and his father enter the Aelia square.

“Do you think it will be open war, Dad? Does it feel like it did before the Uprising?”

His father made another face. “I’m afraid it does. But back then things were different. We had her, for one thing,” he said and gestured to a statue in front of them.

They had just entered the Aelia Square, where kings and queens of old were immortalised in stone. Some of them held swords, others hammers, one a bundle of flowers. The statue his father pointed to was the newest, scarcely two decades old. Even fixed in stone, Farelia Aelia looked impossibly beautiful.

“They still haven’t repaired it,” Marke said, nodding at the fissure that ran down the front of Farelia’s dress. The winter before, a terrible storm had descended on the Mistlands, wreaked the kind of havoc that hadn’t been seen since the famous Wailing Storm centuries before.

“They will in time,” his father said. “She mightn’t have been queen long, but the people loved Farelia. They will remember it before the end.”

Marke nodded, surveyed some of the other faces who were worshipped as Gods. One of them was Dia Aelia, who had been queen during the Aelia War, where her cousin rose up against her, gathering support from all over the realm.

Her statue was clear, the stone polished white as snow. But even now masons worked on it, tried to stop it from crumbling. The same hammers rang all year round, so much so that Marke wondered could the damage ever be undone.

Those cracks, he knew, must have been somewhere inside.

Mist Rock-The Hook

Hi again 🙂

Quick post that came to mind (also check out the homepage it’s fresh)

I often wonder, if my dreams came true, and I had to pick one or two lines to try best sell my story, which would those lines be. I’ve in some ways settled on the end of chapter 8, a chapter entitled “The First of the Thunder”.

Perhaps it’s fitting it ends on a rumbling note, a warning for the story to come. Enjoy!

Marke returned his gaze to the hill.

Soon, one shadow became clear. It was a solitary mounted figure, silhouetted against the pale ghost-light of a green dawn.

He swallowed.

Alongside him, Damir’s expression wavered too, but his eyes never left the hill far-off.

“They are the Exiles,” he said.

 

How to Create the History of a Fantasy World

Hello there!

I decided to upload a quick post to answer a question I received today. It simply read:

How much history does a fantasy world need?

It’s a good question, and one we fantasy writers often ask ourselves at the “worldbuilding” stage. Worldbuilding, which involves creating not only history, but geography, culture, politics, religion etc, can be a tough ask for many authors, especially those who are not well versed in these topics as they relate to the actual world. It can be hard, for example, to imagine the economy of your kingdom if you don’t have a basic understanding of the principles of supply, demand, currency and trade. And if your novel is largely set in the bustling streets of a city port, then the research you carry out in this area becomes even more pivotal to the realism of your world, to the overall success of your story.

In order to create the history of a fantasy world, you first have to realise that every aspect of worldbuilding is secretly hidden within it. Trade disputes start wars, weather changes bring famines, and people migrate to find water and food. Every part of your history-whether it be a timeline (my personal favourite), a “lost book” or a series of ancient texts-should follow this guiding principle, a principle that says people react to the world around them. Wars, for instance, do not start because someone steals Helen of Troy; they start because people lust after power, or land, or resources.

Even so, you should remember that history lends romance to these stories. It talks about heroes like Achilles, and quests, and love, even when the reality is far less inspiring. So when you do write a history, remember that oftentimes the victors will twist the words to serve themselves, or erase parts that undermine them. To put it simply: real history lies; the history of your fantasy world should do the same.

As for how much history you should create, that really depends on the story you are writing. If your main character lives in a nomadic tribe, oral history (songs, poems etc) may be quite important, whereas written text may be reserved for religious purposes. On the other hand, if the world your story is set in experienced a catastrophe (e.g. natural disaster, civil war), then some parts of history may have been lost. Many fantasy authors also use this when there has been a change of power or the extinction of a race. It’s important to note, this technique should not be abused. It frustrates readers when an author hides history for the sole purpose of creating “mystery” where none should exist. Remember, it only takes one person to share a story; history is not so easily lost.

I personally feel you should only create as much history as your story demands. This can be difficult, because worldbuilding is a joy in itself, but it’s also a writer’s sinkhole. If you want to get your story down on paper, you have to accept that at some point you have to stop building your world and instead start delving into it. In many cases, writers admit they don’t get a feel for their world anyway until they let loose a few characters. So rather than meticulously designing a system of currency, write a scene where your main character explores a market. Shouts, bargaining, thieves running through the stalls-this is all far easier to imagine than a page on taxes and coins.

As I’ve said, you should try to avoid writing history where it’s not needed. If your story hinges on a famous sword, for example, then the history of how it was forged will be crucial to your plot. If, on the other hand, you have a space on your map marked “desert lands”, where nobody goes, then perhaps spending hours writing about the culture of the desert tribes isn’t the best use of your time. Like I said, such an exercise can be rewarding, but it won’t get your story down on paper.

I’ll write more about history in another post. But for now, I’m going to leave you with some of my own, which I feel is crucial to the plot which happens 300 years after the event described below. As a result, you’ll see here I’ve explored “The Battle of the Thousand Fields” in quite some detail, switching between an authoritative historian voice and a more poetic first-hand voice as I saw fit.

The pivotal battle is fought outside the ruins of Mistwall. There, in the once-home of Elerend Aelia, the loyalists meet the rebels at the Battle of the Thousand Fields. Queen Dia rides there herself with her husband Owenn Helix, supported by two armies of Mist Rock, the garrison of Cadewall, the troops of Talmoneer, the Nareland King Artador Rakus and his Ember Cloaks, men of the Vaster, and Arlien knights. The rebels, led by Elerend Aelia himself, come in the form of the central Amarin army, Gargrin mercenaries and lesser divisions of Greatbay. All told, the rebel force is said to be over thirty thousand strong. The Queen’s force is known to be much smaller.

For the first three days of the battle, there is little fighting; the rebels defeat Cadewall troops and the Arlien knights inflict casualties on the rebel’s left flank. On the fourth day of the battle, Elerend tries to catch the Queen early. At the last moment, the Ember Cloaks charger a much larger force of Amarin cavalry, leading to a pitched battle amongst the summer gardens. By sunset, the Amarin army is said to have lost half its light cavalry.

On the fifth and final day of the battle, Elerend Aelia rides out ahead of his lines. He holds a red cloak high above him, waving it at the top of his lance. From her own camp, Queen Dia looks through a spyglass, sees the familiar red cloak of her brother Baylian. Eye-witness accounts tell us what happened next:

On seeing her dead brother’s helmet paraded atop the spear of the Rebel-King, Queen Dia ran for her horse. Her husband, King Owenn Helix III, attempted to stop her. Failing, he called for his own destrier and sword. Queen Dia then rode to the head of the column, her hair flying wild, her own  red cloak flapping bold against a pink dawn. And her anger was fierce, her sorrow so deep that all at once the men took up their arms, cheering her name as she turned her steed into the field.

Across the torn gardens, Elerend flew back to his army, the southern hoard screaming as they crawled forward. But our Queen, armourless, drew out her father’s sword and charged. Behind her came King Owenn and the knights of the royal guard and the Arlien and King Artador with his brave Ember Cloaks. And those without horses charged too, down the hill into the Thousand Fields where the rebels cowered before them. Though I saw it not, they say Queen Dia broke first on their lines, shattering spears and casting shields asunder as she cut her way to the treacherous member of her house. And there, amid the ruin of his army, Elerend met his end in fear and in regret, as they say before he fell he cried out to his Queen for forgiveness, and then meeting the dirt, was done. Seeing their general fall, the Amarin forces went into rout, turning swords on each other or on themselves.

And before the setting of the sun, the fields beyond the mist-city were silent and Queen Dia was seen walking among the dead and the dying, her head hung heavy in prayer.”

I’d love to hear about how YOU approach history. Do you write it first, or create the backstory as you go?

Mist Rock, fantasy and why I want to build a community

Hello again!

Have been quiet on the blog front of late. Mist Rock, a fantasy series I am working on, is now in the edit phase and I’m very excited to see that the more time I give to it, the more it starts to look like the world I’ve imagined.

The first book is a story in its own, centred around Marke and his time at the Golden Lance Academy, but it’s also the launch-pad for everything that is to follow. It’s no surprise really that I want to call the story “Rise of the Exiles”, as it very much is an introduction, while the second book, “The Burning of the South”, is exactly the sort of open war that can be expected of epic fantasy.

I’m writing snippets of the latter as I go (yes, it feels like cheating!) solely to try link the two stories as best I can. The second book will involve more characters, more conflict and more of the world I’ve created, so hopefully it will help.

As I edit, I’d love to start building a community to hear about the other fantasy worlds out there. I want to hear what works for your novel, what doesn’t and why you’ll probably leave a few of those guilty pleasures in anyway 😉

I’ll leave you with one of the excerpts from “The Burning of the South” I mentioned, where Captain Damir approaches the camp of the 27th Legion.

Enjoy, and hope it’s a good week in writing! 🙂

“I’m here to relieve Lord Kelvin,” Damir said, passing Sir Primus’ letter into the man’s hand. The sentry quickly scanned the page. “Is he here?” Damir asked.
The watchman looked up at him, gave a faint smile. “He’s here alright.”
“Well, can I speak with him?”
The man shrugged. “That would depend on the Gods you keep.”
Damir furrowed his brows.
The watchman gulped, folded the letter as he’d been handed it. “Evidently, nobody told you that Lord Kelvin is dead.” He made a face. “In fact, he’s been dead for some time.”
“What? How?”
The man cleared his throat. “He died in the field.”
Damir blinked. “I wasn’t told anything about a battle.”
“Forgive me,” the man said. “It was…..a different sort of field.” His gaze wandered to a place over Damir’s shoulder.
Damir turned, stared into the treeline. There was a small clearing in the forest-a patch of earth overgrown with weeds. He squinted, saw the hint of a small mound. A grave.
“You’re joking?”
The man swallowed. “He was drunk, Sir. He fell and split his head on a rock.”
Damir rounded on the sentry. “Don’t call me Sir. I’m a commander, not a knight.” He shot a look back to the mound. “Clearly there’s a difference.” He glanced toward the camp, searched for some sign of life. “Who’s second in command?”
The man in front of him gripped his spear, tried to stand a little taller.
Damir sighed. “This time, please tell me you’re joking.”

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Editing: 3 Uncomfortable Thoughts

Hello again 🙂

I decided to give you all an update, a brief snapshot of the last few weeks.

As those who follow my posts here know, I recently finished the first draft of a novel, the opener in the Mist Rock series. Adhering to all good advice, I set the book aside for a while, let it simmer in a corner of my room as I turned my attention elsewhere. But no amount of poetry or thought-pieces could replace what I hid away in that bottom drawer. Mist Rock was a story, after all, the one good thing I’ll always come back for. And so when April rolled around, I decided I’d fought the instinct far too long.

Last week, I sat down to edit.

So far, I’ve had mixed results. I’ve never edited anything this large before; 117,000 words definitely dwarfs my Final Year Project at university which only just crept over 4,000. That was science, this was fiction, and though there’s a place for those words together, this certainly wasn’t it.

This was fantasy.

As expected, I got lost in the world I’d created, swept off my feet in a Bilbo-esque fashion. But along the way, the lines started to blur, shifting on the page in front of me so that my own thoughts started to speak.

Here are a few things they said.

1. Who is going to share in this story?

An important part of any story is deciding its point of view. Fortunately, I found that part easy. This was Marke Calin’s story. Sadly, I didn’t have the same success when it came to determining who shared the world with him.

A lot of people would say this is a symptom of writing fantasy, of dreaming up worlds with a “cast of thousands”. But while I certainly didn’t lack for inhabitants, the real battle for me wasn’t asking myself which characters deserved to exist, but which 5 simply had to.

In a weird way, the real world (where I’m the protagonist) is the same. So much of life is determined by the company you keep, the friends you chase up, the five or six people you picture smiling at your wedding.

Lately, in both editing and life, I feel like I’m always playing catch-up.

Trying to stay in touch with people is a lot like chasing shadows, searching for ghosts or emptying water out of a sinking ship. It’s a futile effort, a game we play for seventy or so years without ever stopping to ask ourselves can we win. Away from school and college, the levels take on a whole new difficulty. Not only are your chances to meet friends curtailed, but you begin to realise you can’t keep them all satisfied. There are too few pages to go round.

There’s just not enough room in the story.

2. Which Kyle is right?

Another thought I seem to be having more and more as I thumb through the pages is that rarely, if ever, will I come up with the same words twice.

I’ve often found myself reading the same scene one day apart, coming at it from various angles, writing it out in my mind a million different ways. It makes me wonder which way is right-which is the way I really want to use.

Life lately is starting to look similar.

I have a fair idea what the story is for the next few years. The plot is there, as are many of the characters. What hasn’t been written yet are the words themselves, the many little details which one day might matter. The realisation that even a subtle edit here and there could change the ending is, well, “doing me a frighten”. I’d like to believe there won’t be any twists or unwelcome surprises.

But, as I’ve told you, I’m not the author. I’m the hero.

And the hero never sees the twists coming.

3. Is this any good?

Ah yes. This was the one you were waiting for.

Anyone who has ever written something substantial knows the fear that comes with finishing a draft, of realising that the beginning-middle-end is now all there to be judged. And for most of us, we’re streets ahead our own harshest critics.

I can’t decide, all these thousands of words later, if I’ll ever truly make it. That sort of success, the one we dream about as we slap the keyboard, is of course relative, defined by our own expectations and skill. But in a world where bestselling books rise from nothing, where authors sell a million copies with a click, it’s hard not to think we could one day be there too.

I, like many writers I know, still can’t really tell if their words are hot, or if this entire effort, this whole “Oh-em-Gee I wanna be an author”, is just much ado about nothing. I do know I’m still hiding behind the curtain, whispering “It’s just not ready” as I try to will my novel to be better. Admittedly, I’m trying to will it to be brave.

And that in itself is the scariest thing about editing.

Because I’m not sure if Mist Rock ever will be ready, or if it’s just going to have to face the world anyway.

Maybe that’s the only way that it can.

 


 

I’d love to hear about your own editing experiences. What keeps you going? What runs in your mind? How do you deal with that inner critic?

 

How to Create a Fantasy World/Have No Friends in 6 Easy Steps

Hello again!

It’s Sunday, it’s spring and it’s sunny. Most people my age are catching up on their Vitamin D or relaxing at home, staring out the window at blue skies, secretly filled with dread for the work-week to come. Very few (if any) are wondering what the weather’s like above the palace in a land they’ve invented. But for those who’ve always yearned to write fantasy (or for those who are just curious to see the thought process of those who do), I’ve decided to make a quick list of everything you should avoid  stick to rigidly if your fantasy world is going to take its place among the Middle Earth’s and the Narnia’s.

1. Place

The first rule of creating a fantasy world is to take out a sheet of paper, draw two to three medium-sized landmasses and immediately determine which one is ugly enough to be the nation of Evil Villain. Label this country “Blackened McScorchBone” and fill it with dusty mountains. Then, pick the largest country and colour it green. This will be the home of all the nice people, plentiful water supplies and the only functioning agriculture in the entire known world. Over in Blackened McScorchBone, they eat….rocks…scorpions? I dunno.

Next, take out a blue crayon and draw rivers everywhere. In woods, in valleys, in mountains-EVERYWHERE. Ask google on at least four occasions where rivers are supposed to start. Once convinced, run them across the whole map anyway. To be safe.

Now that you have at least 1 x mountain, 1 x forest and 1 x river, you can start adding in cities and other places of interest. Most of them should be huge castles, far from any source of food, water, trade. They ought to have names like “King’s Tower” or “Elfdorm”. In Blackened McScorchBone, names such as “Clawtooth” and “The Dead City” are recommended. For good measure, call something “The Valley of Fear” and something else “The Grey Waste”, and don’t even remotely address the latter at any stage of your writing. Roads should be as-the-crow-flies, even if they cross hills, lakes, whatever. Outside of cities, pretty much the entire country should be abandoned, filled with a bit treasure here and there and a village if you look hard enough.

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2. People

The world might be max half-Europe in size but there should probably be enough races to make the Olympics feel small. If there are dwarves, throw ’em up in the hills or under some mountains. And make sure to put all the pirates and the ugly things in Blackened McScorchBone. Ughh. Everything there has yellow teeth.

In green-means-good country, cities roughly a stone’s throw apart should have entirely different cultures, languages, ways of life. Literally no two cities should share any sort of common value or commerce. There will be one trade per city, please.

If your hero is <18, they must grow up in the only village you’ve got round to. If they’re an adult, they either live in the royal palace or “grow up in sight of it”. None of your characters should be different than, well, you and your friends. Diversity has no place in DragonLand.

Half of all people must actively serve in the military. How a nation like that is supposed to feed itself? Damnit, man, I’m a fantasy writer not a politician. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Politics

All places will be monarchies except Blackened McScorchBone which is obviously ruled by  a dictator  evil itself. The Kings and Queens should be loved by all. Democracy should be shunned especially if it interferes with any sort of century-long conflict. There should never be peace agreements, only BLOOD AND WAR. Legitimately no ambassadors should exist between nations and there ought to be very little reason for anybody to be fighting in the first place. If there is, go outside and kick a football. You will never make it as a fantasy writer.

Have in place what you think is a “Medieval Economy” but under no circumstances actually research what that might entail. Just invent several peasants, as many knights and one lord who will be fat (*elbow* because he can afford to eat).

4. Politics (again?)

Everyone in your world should be religious. There are no atheists allowed. People should practice freely and there ought to be no clear link between religion and state (lolz why would there be?). Evil Villain should be his own religion and should have millions of ugly followers despite not offering much.

Twice per novel, there ought to be a festival celebrating some God. People that live in the mountains will pay tribute to their……Sea God? *Shrugs* Makes sense to me.

5. Purpose

It’s best practice to just drop things all over your world that have no discernible place there. A giant snake monster that evolved out of nothing? Can’t argue that’s not cool.

You might also place huge value on members of society such as poets and ship captains though *glances both ways* literally nobody in the world ever mentions the arts or talks about the importance of the shipping trade. Everyone should have a horse, a sword and a house to their name even if they’re poor and working as a farmhand.

6. Powers

Just dump whatever fantasy you want into the pot and stir for 30 minutes. Dragons, hands that shoot fire, lay-people marrying the Queen. Have as much magic as you like but still have everyone walk around like it’s just another day in the 15th century. Give Evil Villain enough power to destroy the world twelve times over and then just park him in a corner long enough for someone to figure out how to defeat him. Never use magic for everyday convenience. Only use it to solve plot holes and other sticky situations.

And there you have it. If you do all of the above (plus paint your map with coffee-it looks so old!), you too can create your own fantasy world and say goodbye to what’s left of your social life.

 

About a half-mile from where I left you

It’s been a busy month of writing.

You don’t always get to type that sentence. If you do, generally you breathe a sigh of relief, maybe mouth thank fuck or something like that, and hope that the next month is gonna be the same. It rarely is.

I’ve been doing a lot of these “think out loud” pieces lately (find them all here if you’re curious), mostly because they’re enjoyable to write. A part of me also likes the feedback I get, and if anything, most of that comes from within. Sometimes, when the compass doesn’t make sense anymore, you just have to stop, twirl about for a second, and realise exactly where you’re going. I guess you could say these posts provide something similar. After all, thoughts only survive as long as they’re in your head. They’re thoughts; you think them. But sometimes they need to be more than that. They need to be ideas. That means getting them outside, and for me nothing does that like an hour or so on in front of my blog.

As the title of this post hopefully implies, I’m writing this to give a sort of snapshot of where a month hard at it has brought me to.

The first thing I noticed going into June was that I didn’t really know whether the writing goal I was setting myself was realistic. Was it too little? Was it too much? I decided I wanted another 10,000 words by June 30th, along with at least some other work elsewhere. That could have been a blog, a short story, a poem-it didn’t matter. It just needed to be there. You have to understand, for me working on one project alone for any great length of time is terrifying. Without somewhere else to direct my attention, everything just becomes muddled, like TV static or the dwarves in the Hobbit movies. Worse again, the project begins to feel like a chore or a day-job. Even if it’s just one night off to write a blog, or a couple hours put into another story, it makes the whole project feel fresh when I re-visit it. It’s much like taking a shower after lying on the couch for a few hours. You step out your bathroom door and whooosh, when did the world get so fresh? When did it get so cold and energetic and alive and other words commonly used on men’s shower gels? Returning to a project like that is like going IV caffeine before the big race (well, that would see you disqualified so it’s actually a terrible example and a serious risk to your health, but you get my point). Devoting yourself to other work besides your main projects has a lot of other benefits too.

Perhaps the number one has been consistency. For years, I felt like my writing was Tottenham Hotspur. Bare with me. Much like Tottenham, I would have long periods of nothing, where my output on a word processor was about as good as their performances in the premier league. The odd day, without reasonable explanation, I would play a blinder. I’d smash 5,000 words out in a day, and make it look easy. In the background, Tottenham would rage to a 4-0 win over a top side, despite their record having more draws than a Mexican stand off. By and large though, for several years both myself and the London club would trundle to a respectable finish in the table, pat ourselves on the back, and then roll out the following year to do it all over again. What this month has given me, if anything, is an ability to say things when I didn’t feel there was anything left to say. Before, if the going got tough like that, I’d slam down the lid of my laptop, beg the Gods of Amateur Writing for inspiration, and hope that in maybe a week or two I’d do better. Hmm, I’m sure Tottenham used to do something similar. If you want to be a champion though, that just won’t cut it. If history has taught us anything, it’s that a champion’s worst day might actually be their best. When you’re lying on the canvas and cameras are flashing, those ten seconds might be the difference between who you want to be, and who you’re going to be. It may be a little hard to see, but writing is similar. If you can’t drag the words out of you when you’re at your worst, then do you even really deserve to have them flow out of you at your best? I’d wager that if you’re going to build characters, best start with your own.

This June has been exactly three years since I sat down, wrote one sentence on Microsoft Word, and quietly resolved to myself I was gonna write a novel. How hard can it be, I must have thought. The ideas are all there; I’ll just tip away on the weekends after college. Looking back now though, it’s embarrassingly obvious it was never going to get finished like that. I had a passion, but I didn’t have drive. I poured all my grit into college. By the time I got around to writing, I didn’t have a sharp tooth left to bite with. Now that there’s a bit of consistency to work with, the heart of this journey has suddenly quickened. The 10,000 word goal I had set (which works out to maybe 300 words a day after work) has been wiped away in favour of something much larger. It might just be a good month, as I alluded to earlier, but a part of me wants to believe it’s something more than that.

However, before you think I’m going to ride off into the sunset, you have to understand that June has been as full of setbacks as it has been surges forward. Perhaps the biggest of them was rejection. Rejection, or simply, No, is one of the hardest things a writer has to face, even if it’s one of the more common. Perhaps writer’s block outdoes it in terms of which shows up more often, but while you can dismiss that as a passing, silent frustration, rejection is the ghost that’s never banished. If anyone who submits their work anywhere was being honest, they’d say the sting hurts less every time, but it’s still called a sting for a reason. Rejection is like a ship sinking far from port without lifeboats. You just have to wait and go down with it, and hope that the next time you brave the waters you’ll get to the promised land. What makes rejection worse in a lot of cases is knowing it was completely valid. Again, I digress to Tottenham. I’m sure those players had many occasions where they could have said “Oi Ref, yous are bang out of order” or such, but by and large they probably had to hold their hands up, admit the other side was better and wonder how on earth they were ever going to compete.

I mentioned the idea of laying on the canvas, and if rejection is anything, it’s like being a boxer waiting for the count and watching your opponent already celebrating around you. Getting knocked down is bad; not being able to get back up is worse. And so, I suppose getting emails back saying that your piece won’t be considered is all part of those ten seconds. And with writing, it’s a very long twelve rounds, and chances are you’ll be knocked down a thousand times before you even land a punch on that fucker in front of you. That’s the nature of it though, and if you didn’t want it so bad, you wouldn’t be in the ring in the first place.

At the end of it all, June has been a 17K turn around on the project. That’s far better than I could have ever imagined. I doubt Tottenham could have foreseen actually playing well this year, but there they are battling it out with the best of them. And so I think I will continue being them, even if just because they’re no champions yet.

Even if just because they’re still dreaming.

 

A Post has no name

Before I begin a post like this, let me just start my paraphrasing House Stark: Spoilers are coming.

I’m writing this post to be friendly to both book-readers as well as TV viewers, as a lot of the theories dabble between both. That being said, if you don’t want to read something that discusses everything that is out there, now is your chance to run!

Last week, the penultimate episode of season 6 of Game of Thrones, entitled “Battle of the Bastards”, treated us to the kind of action we’d been baying for since the show started. It will no doubt go down as one of the series’ best episodes alongside fan favourites such as “Hardhome” and “The Rains of Castamere”. It brought a final, dramatic conclusion to the Northern story arc that had been building for years. Of course, if you’re a book reader, you know that we’re still waiting for the same action in the novel, which will be featured in “The Winds of Winter” if and when we should get it. The book’s version of events is far more complex of course, and if you are excited to see how George handles the whole affair considering the show has pipped him to it, I’d highly recommend you check out “The Grand Northern Conspiracy.” It’s available as a cluster of entries here. It’s a great way to see how all the little bits fit together since the death of Robb Stark!

Now, onto why you are here!

Who are Jon’s parents?

In either format of the story, Jon’s parents are suggested to be Eddard Stark and a non-noble woman who he met during Robert’s rebellion. One is a fisherman’s daughter, but this is widely doubted. From an email from the author himself, we can see the relevant birth dates of some of the major characters around the time in question. While this confirms nothing in itself, it does allow us to speculate as to where Jon could have come from. When we look at the timeline of Robert’s rebellion that we can piece together from the books, we see one major candidate as Jon’s mother is Wylla, who was a servant of House Dayne. Eddard confirms the name as Jon’s mother in both the show and books to Robert on their way down the Kingsroad, but says no more about her.

However, Jon’s mother might also be Ashara Dayne, who was lady-in-waiting to Elia Martell and the sister of the legendary Kingsguard knight Ser Arthur Dayne. Show-watchers will remember Sir Arthur from one of Bran’s flashbacks, where guarding Ned’s sister for Rhaegar he is killed in combat. After this, Ned returns his sword to House Dayne in his honour, and there it is suggested he may have brought home the child of Ashara Dayne, who committed suicide shortly after hearing the news of her brother’s death (and was known to be with child around the time). It was rumoured Ned and Ashara conceived Jon at the tournament of Harrenhal which preceded the war (which is also suggested by Ser Barristan Selmy), where they were seen dancing together. The time between the tournament and Ned bringing news of Ser Arthur’s death is within the window of a pregnancy. As a theory, it is perhaps second only to the big, infamous R+L=J.

This theory suggests Jon’s parents are Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister) and Rhaegar Targaryen, who was believed to have abducted Lyanna sometime after the Harrenhal tournament. This is after all, one of the major instigators of Robert’s rebellion. Many believe Lyanna actually went willingly with Rhaeger, but regardless she was held at the Tower of Joy during the war, guarded by three knights of the Kingsguard (two in the show). Ned brings five of his northern bannermen to rescue her, with only himself and Howland Reed surviving the combat. It is widely believed the presence of no less than 3 of the 7 Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy, and not at major battles such as the Trident where Rhaegar was killed suggests they were guarding his heir. In the book, Ned recalls her lying “in a pool of blood” asking him to make “a promise” repeatedly which isn’t expanded on. As well as this, it is often noted Jon does not have the “Tully” appearances ascribed to Sansa, Rickon, Robb and Bran, but instead him and Arya look more like Lyanna. While Ned contemplates Robert’s bastards in Season 1/Book One, he also drifts towards Jon and his sister in the thought process. When Daenerys visits the House of the Undying, one of her visions is one a winter rose (noted to be liked by Lyanna) growing from a wall of ice, which would indicate Jon, a relative of Dany in this theory.

The show also plays with this theory at times. In Season One, one very smart viewer caught the initials RL edged into a a piece of wood propped directly behind Jon.

r=

We were tragically cut off during Bran’s flashback to the Tower of Joy, but it’s only a matter of time until we get the rest of that story. If it is as we expect, then it will point to the long held belief that the title of the series: ” A song of ice and fire” referes to Jon himself, who would have both the blood of the wolf and the dragon.

The only living person, of course, who could confirm this theory is Howland Reed, as he was with Ned Stark when they found Lyanna. Ned would never have revealed Jon’s parentage while Robert was alive, for fear his friend would kill the Targaryen heir (as was seen with Dany). In both books and the show, Howland is alive, and so is his daughter Meera….

Is Meera Reed Jon’s sister?

Meera is described as of an age with Jon, and they both share similar features. If Meera was to have been born in a set of twins to Lyanna Stark, then it’s plausible Ned allowed him take Meera, as it may have hid the truth better. It’s a sort of Luke Skywalker/Leia style theory, and definitely far out there in terms of what happens. After all, if R+L=J+M, then another fan-favourite theory is corrupted, and that’s that the dragon has three heads.

Who are the three heads of the Targaryen dragon?

This theory has widespread support. Rhaegar was known to be obsessed with the idea of the dragon having three heads, so much so that people say he got Lyanna pregnant as he could no longer father children by his own wife, Elia Martell.

See this passage from the book itself

The fifth room, finally, shows a man very much alike her brother Viserys, except that he is taller and has eyes of dark indigo rather than lilac. He is speaking to a woman who is nursing a newborn babe, telling her that the child’s name should be Aegon and saying that “What better name for a king?”. The woman asks him if he will make a song for the child, and he replies that he has a song and that “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”. He appears to look at Dany then, as if seeing her, and then he adds that “There must be one more,” and “The dragon has three heads.”.

The Targaryens who came across the sea were three siblings led by Aegon the Conqueror, each riding a dragon, and they took all of Westeros. Safe to say it’s iconic there are three dragons again.

Daenerys will of course be one of the dragons, as a daughter of Aerys. It is also said the Mad King had a daughter by Joanna Lannister, the wife of Tywin Lannister. It has been noted throughout the past that Targaryen’s have been known to breed  what they call “monstrosities”, and as a dwarf Tyrion certainly fits the bill.

The similarities between the three supposed relatives of Dany, Jon anf Tyrion are striking. Just consider:

  1. All three belong to a different group in Westeros history: Andal, First Man, Valyrian
  2. All three are outcasts in their own right
  3. All three are third children
  4. All their mothers died in childbirth
  5. All three have dead fathers
  6. All three have a tragic lovestory (in some way each of them actually murdered their love)

There are other candidates of course, such as Aegon (book only), but these three have stood out the most.

targar.png

What’s going on with Bran’s visions?

To see Bran’s visions slowed down, just look here. They’re slo-mo’d and commentary is added from his flashback splurge in the forest beyond the wall. Another question commonly asked about Bran’s visions is what effect he is able to have on the past? After all, there was a definite interplay with Hodor in the past and present, and at one point during the Tower of Joy scene Ned Stark of the past seems to hear his as yet unborn son.

If you want to gain an understanding of this, check out this video. It goes through the time travel mechanics and gives some handy examples of other works such as Back to the Future!

Will Cersei’s prophecy be fulfilled?

It’s fair to say of late Cersei’s luck has turned. It seems the words of the prophecy she received from “Maggy the Frog” as a child are coming to fruition. Already, two of her children are dead, as was predicted. One of the biggest parts of the prophecy was that she would be killed by what Maggy called “the Valonqar”, which translates to “little brother” in High Valyrian. Now, given the plot, you wouldn’t even blame Cersei for believing this referred to her brother Tyrion.

The next candidate would be Ser Jaime, her own lover and brother. Though they are twins, it is noted that Cersei was born first. Importantly, in Bran’s flashbacks we see the Mad King Aerys and his plot to burn the city and the Lannister forces. This was stopped by Jaime, the “Kingslayer” and the theory suggests he will have to do it again to stop his sister. It should be noted it was mentioned some of the Wildfire was stored beneath the Sept of Baelor, which is where Cersei’s trial would be.

It should be remembered in a wider sense that Valonqar, as with many Valyrian words, may be gender neutral and non-specific.

Could it refer to one of the Stark children?

Could it refer to Dany?

Could it refer to Loras Tyrell, the sand snakes or the Hound (all can fit in some way)

Most interestingly, could it be Tommen Baratheon, the little brother of her own children?

tommen.jpg

 

Rise of Empire-Fantasy made economic once more

It’s been an interesting week in reading.

Just 3 days ago, I published a review of The Three Musketeers, which if you read, detailed how the book was a long, tedious and overall underwhelming read. And so it is funny, that just 72 hours later, I get to write a review that claims exactly the opposite.

It took me just one long weekend to rip through “Rise of Empire”, which comes as Sullivan’s sequel to his successful debut fantasy novel “A Theft of Swords”. Both these books were originally self published, and are each split into two parts. However here, for simplicity’s sake, I will consider them in their commercial format only.

Theft of Swords was actually the novel I dubbed my “book of the year” in 2015, when after receiving it as a gift, I was pleasantly surprised by the simple yet gripping fantasy tale I found within. Sullivan is a master of what I call “Economic Fantasy” (a term I believe I’ve invented). It’s not a ubiquitous skill by any means. Many well-regarded fantasy authors get caught up in complex plot devices, sprawling countries and a list of characters that runs right off the page. Sullivan circumvents this; pushing his plot forward so fast that it is impossible for it to gather dust. He trims everywhere, and keeps only the characters and locations that are absolutely necessary.

And now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say his worldbuilding is simple. Quite the opposite actually. The world laid out before us seems minute in his first installment, where literally one half of the book takes place on what you could call “one set”. But where Theft of Swords is condensed, Rise of Empire is like an explosion. Whole sections of the realm Sullivan creates become focal to the plot. What is perhaps more impressive again is how they are accessed. Travel in any fantasy novel that can stagnate a plot if it is not dealt with carefully. Here, Sullivan wisely blends the plot and the travel seemlessly, so much so that our protagonists Royce and Hadrian cross half the known world without it feeling laborious or drawn out.

These two characters, who form “Riyria”, after which the series takes its name, are perhaps the most enjoyable part of the tale. Characterisation can often be undercooked in plot-driven novels, but Sullivan refuses to let this be an issue. Instead, his main duo almost leap off the page, so much so that a master swordsman and an elven thief can almost be related to. Sullivan leaned his first novel heavily on the quick wit, action sequences and fascinating adventures of his protagonist pair, but in Rise of Empire his cast of characters begins to flush out. Added to the foreground are Princess Arista (given far more scope than the first novel), Modina (originally Thrace in the first installment) and Amilia, who only appears in this book. I’m not often one to point such nuances out, but it is key that each of these characters are female. Up until the last decade, nearly all fantasy novels revolved solely around men. Significant steps have been made since then, but a large amount of these belong to the Katniss Everdeens of the urban fantasy world. High fantasy is still awash with male characters, and so having three well-written female characters is a breath of fresh air. In fantasy, women are often painted as either damsels in distress or super killers without any faults. It is hard to understand how so many great fantasy writers can create whole worlds out of nothing, but find the notion of creating a believable female character impossible. Sullivan shoulders this responsibility well. Arista is endearing, strong, learned and brave, and it is clear the author has moulded her with as much care as he has Hadrian and Royce.

Sullivan treats romance with similar deftness. He achieves a fine balance between the non-existent and the overdone, and has the motivations of love and friendship cleverly intertwined with the traits of his characters.

Action is rife in the series, and where Theft of Swords was brimming, Rise of Empire is drowning. Some may argue it swamps the characters, but with the story driving onwards at such a high pace, the action always dances to the beat and never feels out of place. It is wild at times, but so too are our characters, and though they always seem to escape danger with relative ease, a shadow still hangs over the cast that feels very Game of Thrones-esque. Characters seem safe, but every so often we get the subtle reminder they are not, and as the story progresses this threat only ever looms larger.

The plot centres on the kingdom of Melengar, of which Arista is Princess and our main characters royal protectors, fighting against the newly formed empire. This takes us to the south, where Nationalists are battling the same foe, but not yet in one alliance. Arista’s goal is to unite their forces, but even as they do so, the world at large seems to shrink and more enemies come into play.

It’s intrigue at it’s best, and with so many revelations popping up as the story progresses, the stage is set for the climactic “Heir of Novron”, which should finish this trilogy with the storm it deserves!