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?

 

Mist Rock-Prologue (Excerpt #3)

Hello again 🙂

I’m excited to announce that I’m now ready to start editing the first draft of Mist Rock. I took the last two months away from it, focusing on other projects and reading some advice on how to go about the process. I’ll be sharing some of the 2nd draft with you here, asking for feedback on plot, characters etc. Until then though, I’ve decided to post one last excerpt from Draft 1, which is actually the novel opener! Here we follow Queen Farelia atop a lonely mountain in the snow.

Lots of work to be done yet, but am looking forward to more adventures. Hope you enjoy and feel free to provide any feedback 🙂


Farelia sat at her bedside and watched the red curtain ripple. Thin as a dying breath, the silk sheet trembled, slithered, helpless against the hard winter wind. It was all that stood between her and the mountain cold. She sighed, puffing the sharp air from her chest so that it made a small cloud in front of her face. The room around her was filled with low-burning candles; uncertain as her heart they flickered, casting wavy light over walls, a chair, a desk and a single page resting upon it. She slid the paper into her hands as a gust whipped the red curtain back, revealed the world she was hiding from. Wringing her hands tight on her dress, she peered into the depths of the fortress courtyard.

Night had descended on the Arakil Mountains hours before, a shadow that swift swallowed everything. Outside in the yard it was empty-street black, quiet as a huddled walk home.

A dark that things go hunting in. Go missing in.

She looked down at the page gripped in her pale fingers. It was fine paper-not something found beyond her palace, and noticeably difficult to tear. But most importantly it was empty. She pulled a stoppered vial from the folds of her cloak but then a dull knock came at the door, breaking the unmarked silence. It was a hollow sound, a brief reminder of the world outside-what a prisoner might call music.

And isn’t that what I am, after all?

Farelia crossed the room, paused and rested a thoughtful finger on the handle. As usual, her father’s words were in her ear.

Hesitation is a coin toss between wisdom and fear

“Who is it?” she called out, her voice frail on the chill mountain air.

For a second, nothing, and at her neck the same familiar warmth. Then, as she considered how fast she could run barefoot through snow, the reply sank through the wood. As expected, it was a male voice.

“It’s your cup-bearer, Your Grace,” he said. Another pause. “I couldn’t find olives or cheese,” he added.

She grinned. He never could’ve, of course, because it was only a safe-word for the door. She composed herself quickly and pulled firm on the handle.

On the threshold, a young guard struggled with a tray. A single chalice gleamed as it sat on it, a small meal of figs and honeyed bread arranged like a garden around it. The guard bowed his head so his eyes didn’t meet hers. Orange light washed over the folds of his armour, his clean-shaven face peeking out from beneath his helm. His smile was forced.

“Come in,” she said, gesturing with a soft sweep of her hand. “You can set that down on the table.”

The man bobbed his head and entered, keeping the distance between them as he stepped around her in a circle. She shook her head, laughed quietly as he passed and closed out the door behind him.

“Your report?” she said absent-mindedly as the guard edged the tray onto the table.

The young man turned, his head still sunk into his shoulders. “Nothing amiss on the walls, Your Grace. The watch has been doubled as you requested.” His foot made a slow circle on the floor. “I also did as asked, Your Grace.”

Farelia’s heart hit the wall of her chest. She had been so focused on her work that she’d almost forgotten. “Two different ravens?” she said in a whisper, eyeing the courtyard outside.

The guard’s hands fell to his sides. “Yes, Your Grace.”

At Farelia’s feet, the wind snuffed out one of her candles; forgetting herself, she cursed. She stooped, brought it back to life with a taper, stealing from another flame. A moment later two more of the little lights went out. This time, she swallowed her frustration.

I can’t keep you alive if you’re going to call on me all at once.

“Where did they fly?” she asked as she worked to restore the flames. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the young guard clear his throat.

“One flew south, Your Grace. Down towards the woodlands and the great forests beyond. The other bird flew east, through valleys. I saw it last over water.”

She breathed relief. HopeHope that I’ve sent on wings.


I realise it’s very cagey yet but that’s what first drafts are all about! As a note, if I could recommend a book highly, it would be Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print.

It’s available over here on Amazon and has given me such great tips ahead of the big edit.

More content to follow soon 🙂

Mist Rock-Chapter 1-At Summer’s End (Excerpt #2)

Marke shuffled through the dark streets of Mist Rock, ducking into alleys as city patrols wandered past. There weren’t many guards stationed on the path he’d decided to take to the gatehouse, but those who were would happily elect to stop him, try bleed a minute out of the long shift ahead of them. And if they saw who he was, they could open the whole night up at the neck.

In the lower quarters of the city, the rows of thatched houses bunched together, nestled one another as they slept. It wasn’t quite yet midnight, but almost all of their lights were extinguished, a single candle in a corner of Winden Street the only one left standing guard. In Marke’s own house, he knew his father would be doing the same, sitting on the third step of their stairs with his gaze fixed on the door. That was always how Marke found him. He’d been there when Uncle Derek died, when Nadia fell from Dawnbreaker and when his son came home late after kissing Lynia Duler at the summer festival. That last time, he’d winked, risen without a word and gone off to bed with a smile on his face. In some ways, Marke felt he’d always be on those stairs, watching, waiting for something that never seemed to come.

A couple of dimmed figures moved on the wall overhead, but they didn’t glance down at Marke as he passed beneath the shadow of the gatehouse. He pulled back his hood, wiped some of the trail dust from his clothes, and pushed hard on the oak door into Sir Ritchenn’s accommodations.

***

Inside the fire had sunk down to a few flames, waving lazy side to side, beckoning him into the small office. Marke saw immediately that he was alone, spied another closed door opposite him and wondered was Sir Ritchenn within. The air, heavy with the smell of smoke and charred meat, made his eyes water. He tried and failed not to cough. Listening for a reply, he heard nothing and decided to study the room.

A solitary shelf stretched across one wall, cramped with jars, scrolls and a bag of what once might have been food. A wooden chest sat underneath it, decorated with the marks of the Aelia, though much of the paint had been scratched off. On the wall opposite woven tapestries hung, their sewn images marginally more clear, one of them depicting the Great Northern Storm where the King had fought the rebellious Nareland lords. In the centre, a couple of worm-eaten chairs had been placed around a large table. Marke frowned down at the contents: a few plates of old meals and a cracked mug. Hardly fitting for the captain of the gatehouse, he thought.

Then, as he considered whether he should be there at all, he heard commotion in the room next door, noise like a barrel rolling from a ship. The door smacked open before Marke could escape, rattling its hinges and then the single largest man he’d ever seen stooped into the room.

“Luken, I believe?” he said cheerily.

Marke opened his mouth to answer, but came up with nothing, heard only the crackles in the fireplace. The knight took a step closer, looming up over him, his grin almost child-like.

“No, you can’t be Luken. He passed in yesterday. I presume you are here about the academy though?”

Marke nodded his head, watched the giant of a man turn and poke through his shelf.

“You know I have this list somewhere. I’m sure I can find some ink if you give me-“

“My name is Marke. I want to sign up. I want to be a guard of the realm and pledge my life to the sword.”

He winced. The words had spilled out before he could stop them.

The knight paused in his search, half-turning to look at him, “Yes. Marke. You’re the tailor’s boy. Yes, I do know your father.”

Marke’s heart quivered. Very few people knew his father, not in the friendly sense anyway. And Dad never mentioned Sir Ritchenn, he thought. Suddenly he felt naked, exposed against a man in full armour.

Sir Ritchenn sank into the battered chair, unrolled the long sheet on the table. He looked to weigh it down with a mug, saw it was wet and reconsidered. Casually, he passed Marke the ink and quill.

“Just sign your name and we’re out of here. Well, you are at least,” the knight said, looking around his office with obvious disappointment.

Marke cleared his throat. “On this day-“

“Give the formalities a rest, boy. Especially if you don’t mean them,” he added interrupting.

Marke gave a weak smile and nodded, unsure whether Sir Ritchenn was teasing him. His hands were covered in sweat. Wiping them on his cloak, he uncorked the ink, dipped the quill fast into the black pool and drew it out again before he changed his mind. Only then did he look at the list.

As expected, it was packed with names, none of which Marke could put a face to. He saw second names that were memorable enough: Helm, Dracus, Fletchen, Erden. He knew that a Drimmer served on the council, so it was interesting to see that signature scrawled down there too. He found space at the bottom and added his own, then raised his head to Sir Ritchenn. The knight was busy lighting a candle and kept his eyes on the task. But when he spoke, his voice was soft, almost honey-warm, taking Marke by surprise. “Well, go on. boy. Give your mist to it.”

Marke dropped the quill and knelt at the table. He pulled the list down in front of him and sighed, wondering had his dad been as nervous when he’d signed up. If there was a time to go running to the tailor life-to any other life-this was his final chance.

And then, quick and quiet, the single breath came, a small puff over his signature. It was done.

His hands trembled as he passed the page back to Sir Ritchenn. The knight ran his eyes down the scroll, grinned and gave him a thumb of approval. Marke bowed his head and turned, felt the knight slouch heavy into his seat behind.

“Boy,” he called out before Marke reached the door. “Hold your head up. If you let them think you’re ashamed, you should be”.

Marke paused, considering the advice as behind, Sir Ritchenn fiddled with his pages. Hastily, he made a gesture for him to wait.

“Your family name, does your old man really spell it like that? Always thought he wrote that with a K,” he said.

Marke smiled. In that moment, for whatever reason, he knew he had made the right choice. “As it is written, Sir,” he said, turning so the knight could see the light cross his face. “I am Marke Calin, son of Thyron Calin. It would be an honour to serve here when I finish”.

Sir Ritchenn stacked the pages neatly, measured Marke with his eyes and laughed. “The honour would be mine. Mr. Calin. Now, enough of the formalities. Go! Tell your father!”

***

Marke shivered as he met the night air, but decided not to pull his cloak any closer. Tonight, there would be no hooded disguise.

High above the city, the stars were stirring.

Mist Rock-Chapter 1-At Summer’s End (excerpt)

I’ve decided to post more details about Mist Rock and the world I’ve been working on here on this blog, feeding you pieces of the project for the foreseeable future. Today, that comes in the form of an excerpt.

Writing a novel can be a little daunting, not least because it has to start somewhere. For me, I tried several openings. Some of them started with action, others with lengthy narrative, others again with simple dialogue. Each of these had their merits, the only common ground between them the immediate introduction of the main character. I settled on a Prologue/Chapter 1 combination in the end. I felt it gave the reader the best chance to fall into the story, to wake up in the world of Mist Rock as though it were normal. Below, I’ve pasted a portion of Chapter 1, which follows Marke Calin on the last day of summer. Hope you enjoy!

A fresh breeze breathed life into the red banners hung limp over the gatehouse of Mist Rock. In the Frost Garden, petals drifted to the dirt, leaving the last of the summer growth naked in the dawn. The final patrons of the Long Shadow Inn stumbled out into the morning while beyond, the first rays of light slipped over the east wall and licked up the streets, kicking the city from its slumber. The sound of distant birdsong, the smell of roasting meat and the feel of late summer heat on the skin.

Marke sensed it all from his doorstep on Winden Street and sighed. The early embers of the fire, a sight he’d quick become used to. He’d spent weeks now wrestling with his decision about the academy. But today summer came to an end. By the time the last flame went out tonight, he would need an answer.

One of his fingers picked at a patch of old paint on the doorframe, the crust giving way with ease. He gazed out over the terraces towards the west wall, where far-off spear tips propped up and down on the battlements, guards shaking off the blue blood of the night’s cold. Raising an arm, he shielded his eyes from the red-gold light on the rooftops, saw only shadows where once there’d been men.

And I have to decide whether I’ll become one of them.

In the yard alongside his house, a horse snorted, stamped its hooves in the dirt.

“I’m coming,” he said, grabbing the sack at his feet. “Can’t I enjoy one last sunrise in peace?”

Marke circled round to the back of the house, edged open the gate into the yard. It was nothing more than a small patch of earth between their home and Ms. Redmin’s, a dusty field where they kept their horses. He smiled as Dawnbreaker trudged out of the barn to meet him, the white socks of her feet brown from where her hooves had sprayed dirt. Bowing her head, breathing warm on his face, she rubbed her nose at his shoulder.

“Yeah it’s good to see you again too,” Marke said, emptying the sack of grain into a trough. “Now go on,” he added. “At least one of us should eat a good breakfast.”

Dawnbreaker neighed and stooped to her meal, as idly Marke brushed his hand down her flank. Across the yard, the rope that used to hold Ms. Redmin’s horse lay loose in the dirt. It had been sitting like that for weeks, its charge presumably still returning from Greatbay. He frowned. The horse’s saddle would now be empty.

Alongside him, Dawnbreaker lapped up water, her muscles flexing as she quenched her thirst. He stared at the liquid sloshing about in the trough. It had been a long, quiet summer in the capital. The heat had been nothing short of relentless, the air as dry as the Sarsaril Desert-if the traders were to be believed, of course. And with no storms in the Mistlands, Marke struggled to remember the taste after rain, the shake of his bones from the cold. He’d nearly started to believe it would continue forever, but those who worshipped the stars pointed to signs in the sky, warned that soon winter would be upon them.

Marke risked another glance at the house opposite. Trembling on a plate on the windowsill, a single red light waved back at him, a candle exhausted from its work overnight. He was pulling his gaze away, when from out of the corner of his eye, the smallest sign of movement stopped him. He gulped.

“Good morning Ms. Redmin,” he called, peering into the shadows at his neighbour, his heart sinking low in his chest. The thin woman in the window ignored him, pinched the wick of the failing candle then with a shaky hand slid another one to take its place. Meeting his eyes for the briefest moment, she pursed her lips and vanished into the depths of the house. At his side, Marke felt Dawnbreaker nudge him.

“I didn’t mean to upset her,” he whispered, his eyes fixed on the white slender candle.

The horse threw back her head and snorted.

“Yeah. I worry about her too,” he said.

In the window, the little yellow flame bounced on its wick, swelled against the crisp morning air.

I wish just this once hope like that could mean something, Marke thought, pulling his cloak fast round his shoulders.

It had been nearly two moons since the news of Erek’s death, yet each day the hurt only pressed nearer, a thorn sliding into his heart. Marke had been returning from the market with his mother when he saw Ms. Redmin collapse into the arms of a guardsman, who stood speechless clutching a letter. That had been the last time she’d left the house, only opening the door to let in close friends since. Letting few people in had always been in her nature. Her husband had abandoned her before Marke was born; Erek had been their only child. And so as the visits of Winden Street residents died out, Ms. Redmin was left alone, her last remaining company her grief.

Marke stirred from his thoughts as the gate knocked behind him. He turned to see his sister trudging towards him, her dark hair tied in a plait down her back, her blue dress hanging low at her ankles. She placed her hands on her hips when she reached him.

“Mother said I’d find you out here. You know, it’s not normal to whisper to horses.”

Marke shrugged. “In the Narelands it is. I heard they can talk to them as though they were men.”

Nadia arched an eyebrow, “Slowly then,” she said, grinning as she crossed her arms. Her smile faded as she followed his gaze to the window. “I’m sorry. I know Dawnbreaker’s been there for you since Erek passed. Maybe more than your own sister has been.”

Marke’s hand instinctively found her shoulder. “You know that’s not true. Even when I’m out in the fields beyond the wall, my heart is here at home. I think it always will be.”

Nadia regarded him curiously. “I thought you made your decision last night.”

Marke turned away from her. “I did. Then…..I unmade it. I just-I just need time.” He swallowed.

Time was the one thing Marke didn’t have. The days had slipped by since Erek had left, weeks melting away after word of his death. And when he’d heard they hadn’t recovered a body, years seemed lost in a heartbeat. Marke’s mother told him Ms. Redmin took that especially hard. In the Mistlands, burials were an ancient rite, a custom those in the south hadn’t observed for centuries. But Greatbay was now Erek’s grave, the waters off of Amarin his final resting place. The letter said he was killed in a sea battle near the coast, saptor ships falling on them before they could muster. Raids out of Varen weren’t uncommon, but Erek had sailed with the Kraken fleet, making his murder a declaration of war, another threat to their empty throne.

“Why are you up so early anyway?” Marke said, pushing thoughts of the decision from his mind.

Nadia tapped the bag slung round her shoulder. “I have classes in the Arches again. I like to get there early so I get a good seat.”

Marke sighed. “You know, they’re only compulsory until you’re eleven.”

Nadia narrowed her eyes. Scarce thirteen years to her name, his younger sister carried herself as though she were a queen.

“It might surprise you to learn I like those classes. It’s not often someone from Winden Street does. Some teachers begged me to continue. Even Mr. Overs says I’m the brightest pupil he has, and he doesn’t like anybody. Besides, mother said she’s going to put my name in again for work in the citadel.”

Marke forced a smile. His sister had applied twice already to practice as a scribe. Both times she’d been denied. The last rejection letter had come in spring, filled with the same vague excuses as the first one.

“How can I be too young?” Nadia had shouted as she tore up the parchment.

Marke’s mother offered her a sympathetic smile. “It’s the way of the courts, little bird. One day you’ll understand. Lord Christopher said to apply again next year.”

“What’s the point?” Nadia said, her eyes filling with tears. “In a few moons I’ll still be young, poor and worse off because I’m a girl.”

Her father had been in the room at the time. He’d slammed the door as he returned to his workshop, and for a whole moon, Marke had never seen him work so hard.

“Well we all can’t be great heroes, can we?” Nadia teased, easing Marke’s hand off her shoulder. “That being said, this time of mid-morning is ever so dangerous. If only I had a brave knight to escort me to my classes,” she said in a faint voice, passing a hand to her forehead.

Marke watched Dawnbreaker return to her stall.  He rolled his eyes as he turned to his sister. “Fine. I’m heading uphill anyway.”

The pair of them shuffled out of the yard, Marke fixing the gate shut as they left. “You know, that tongue of yours is going to get you into trouble one of these days,” he said.

Nadia took a deep breath. “Funny. I always imagine it getting me out of it.”

Mist Rock

When I was eighteen, I stood on a hill above the town of Ballyheigue, Kerry, and paused to look through a hedgerow. Far-off below there were houses, a beach, a row of mountains and a dark ocean meeting them. It was august; there was a cold wind pressed hard against me. Above, the clouds struggled across the sky, bloated with the promise of rain.

I stared at the mountains yawning over me and thought of the crown that they wore. Their peaks, so mysterious, knifed the blue-grey ceiling, disappeared from view as though to another world. And there, for a moment, that world was all my mind saw. A pale woman. A bright sword. Snow, blood, poison. A winter storm and a cloaked figure in it. A fortress ruined by time. 

To stop short of melodramatic, I kinda ran home to write it down. I didn’t even know what the idea was but thousands of words came with it. I kept them all, stored them, tried in vain to make some sense of them. It would be another two years before I sat down with it again, finding it by chance on an old laptop. That same night, I decided to start this very blog. Perhaps it’s fitting they one day met again.

The scene I saw in the hedgerow later became the first chapter of this novel, which for now is called Rise of the Exiles. It’s the first installment of Mist Rock, a fantasy series that all spiraled out of those five seconds on that hill in North Kerry. Of course that vision, six years old this summer, now has words to run with it.

Yet here he was now, his eyes as distant as a white winter sun, his smile as foreign as a strange summer flower. She could nearly pretend they were elsewhere and those features might have made sense, might have drawn her to kiss him, to love him, to know him as she knew herself. But they weren’t. They were in the depths of the forsaken mountains, breathing blue cold, waiting for her to die.

Over the next year or so, I’m hoping to edit the completed first draft, sending it out for feedback with the aim of deriving something worth publication. Yes, that is obviously a big ask, but the dreams we chase probably should be. Regardless of how it turns out, I’m currently just very excited to share this with you!

I’ll leave you with a map of this new world, a synopsis of the story and a quote from it that you can take with you 🙂

An empty throne is the best time for a war, they say.

 Farelia Aelia, Queen of Kraken, has been dead for nearly twenty years. The country she left behind, ruled by a council in Mist Rock, teeters on the brink of destruction. Saptors, a reptilian race long banished, look hungrily to their borders, as armies of Varen gather with them. Among these rebels, two claim a right to the crown.

 In Mist Rock, Marke Calin has his eyes set on a place in the Golden Lance Academy, a school that trains guards of the realm. His father was once a student there, though half the city now thinks he’s a murderer. But soon tension with classmates and exam struggles are the least of his worries; it seems the enemy has far greater plans for him.

 The dark corridors of the academy are not as empty as they look. Shadows are growing longer, students are being stalked, guards are sleeping in fear.  Something was lost with Farelia Aelia seventeen years ago.

 It appears the Exiles have come to find it.

You believe in a cause. Now give people cause to believe in you.

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10 ways you can improve a short story for your english class

What is a short story? Much like judging the pieces themselves, the definition can at times be subjective. In general, we’re talking about something in the range of 1,000-9,000 words, though in cases that word count could shoot up to 20,000. We’re looking at small works of fiction; big enough to be able to stand alone, but short enough so that we really only ever see one or possibly two events. In the teaching of the English language in the modern day, short stories have solidified their position as one of the most viable forms of student essays. Realistically they can provide the greatest creative freedom. Whereas speeches and talks require the laborious task of assuming a formal tone, short stories allow the natural writing style to take control. A young mind is an imaginative mind, and what better way to show that than to bring whole new worlds and characters into being. That being said, even with their growing popularity, the short story is commonly viewed as an easy way out; a short cut to a good grade and an easy option to fall back on in any exam situation. Much of this arises from the vague wording of essay questions. Although a speech questions sets out the immediate issue, a short story may only need to draw on a certain theme or sentence for the chance to evolve. Even in an area of endless possibilities, we as story tellers need to play by the rules of our choice. Playing by some of the rules gets you a good standard. Playing by all of the rules gets you much, much further. As a result I’m gonna try my hand at outlining some key issues, which incidentally are all just falling into my head now.

1. See that dream sequence? It has to go…now.

We’ve all done them. Hopefully the older you get the less it arises. Now, before lovers of a good “I awoke in a sweat” smash their hands onto the keyboard, let me go further on this one. Dream sequences are tools used by some of the best writers around, but it’s where you use them that matters. If you can survey your story, and realise the whole thing works without the dream; cut it out now. Most of these openings only frustrate a reader, who thinks they have been landed in something fantastical and cool, only to find out the author was being very clever and painting a false reality. Also, ‘waking up from a scary dream that may come through later’ screams cliché. Writing a good start to hook the reader is important, but don’t fall back on something just for the sake of that. Basically, a lot of the unnecessary dream sequences run like this;

“I stumbled through the darkness(always dark in these nightmare ones), calling out for help and heaving in big breaths. I started to panic. A menacing laugh (I mean seriously) rang in my ears, and then I saw him (the ‘ole don’t give away the villain’ trick). Suddenly I was falling (they always are). I awoke with a jolt (couldn’t just flick your eyes open?). I was covered in sweat (bit OTT but OK). A light was coming in the window; it was morning (Reader is infuriated at both the trickery of the dream start and how the author must point out the obvious reality that it is morning). I heard my mother call downstairs; I groaned thinking of school (twenty euro says the mother is a single mom and that the male protagonist is unpopular in school). I threw on an old t-shirt and some jeans I found on the floor (why do they always insist on putting on terrible clothes from the floor? Oh yes, as usual, his room is messy).

I’m not going to continue, but the rest of this story always follows like this; ‘grabs toast just after popping because the yellow school bus is outside and he is late and he goes on the bus and averts his gaze from the footballers and sits alone and then his one friend comes on who has something quirky about them or is a nerd’. If your short story is in that format, go kick it across the room right now (DISCLAIMER: piece may be good but at this stage we’ve all seen that a hundred times). At this stage, ye get my point. A dream sequence if not needed wrecks any chance of a good opening, and fixes the idea in the readers mind; “The person who wrote this is a massive Richard” (no nicknames allowed).

2. Character description. Please don’t overload it.

Characters are the most important part of your story. They’re what’s main, what the whole thing revolves around and depends on. If the reader can’t see them, they won’t get very involved in your piece. As a result you need to describe them both physically and mentally (if the protagonist). However this has invariably led to a great deal of over description in many stories. Here’s a simple rule to live by: always think of describing your characters as trying to make a friend recollect someone they vaguely know. You never say to your friend, “Oh you know Peter, the guy with the eyes and the nose?”. Nobody can identify with that. It isn’t discriminating. Think of default on Fifa, and try work around it. What you do say to your friend is, “You know Peter, the guy with the scar by his left eye and the big chin?” granted Peter comes off as a bit of an ugly, violent man, but you see my point. as humans we pick up subtle differentiating characteristics. The only run of the mill things we always need to know are height/build and hair colour. For example, if I tell you I am tall, average build and have dark brown hair, you can surely already get someway towards picturing me. What you never want to do in your English essays is have your character stare into a mirror and go “I saw my hazel hair and my electric blue eyes. I was of average build, but hit the gym when I could. My nose was rather slender and long and my ears stuck out to the same degree as a normal human specimen’s would.” OK, I admit I overdone it near the end, but you see where I’m coming from. Anybody writing first person must NEVER say their hair is hazel or their eyes are electric blue. If someone told me that was their features I’d think, “Wow, what an arrogant Richard (seriously I’m going clean on this one).” Anybody writing 3rd person, keep it simple enough. In a short story we don’t need to picture them as well as you do. Leave some up to the reader. It is unfair to assume the reader can’t fill in some gaps themselves, and thus throw in every fragment of visual imagery you can think of. Hair colour and height are usually a must, unless you state an age and we can assume their build. Eye colour is of variable importance. Just highlight their striking features, and all is fine.

3. Keep the pace consistent

Unless your narrative demands it, don’t go cooling and heating up the pace on those words. We need a heightened pace near the conflict, and especially at the climax. We need a slow pace when we’re aiming towards that. Other than that a consistent pace is expected. Nothing is worse than reading of somebody going into massive detail for the act of pulling on a jumper, only to use three lines to get to school, have classes, and eat lunch. It just doesn’t sit right with the reader. It’s fine to skip the boring parts, but make sure it’s consistent. Don’t tell me “His feet shuffled along the floorboards, making small tapping sounds and coming to a rest in the doorway. The doorway was huge and made of mahogany and slightly worn” only to then say “about four days later”. it should write itself naturally in any case, but sometimes when we get nervous and want to jump to the good part, we take a huge leap and wreck the whole thing. Monitoring the level of detail and keeping an eye on how fast time is passing in-story should sort that out.

4. HAVE CONFLICT

Yes, this is an obvious one, but it would surprise people how many stories an English teacher might laugh at when they realise nothing has happened in the 3,000 words that are there. Conflict is huge in any work of fiction, but in a short story, it may as well be the corner stone. People like small stories because they get a small work load coupled with a nice piece of action. One way this might occur is if you go into too much detail at the start; a common mistake that stems from finding yourself in a new world and wanting to explore it (I admit, everyone does this). Make sure you know what the problem is at the start, and always work towards it. If you’re confident of your ability, you might even throw in subtle hints of what the reader should expect; dropping them into dialogue and making use of literary fancies like pathetic fallacy. OK, so pathetic fallacy might not be SO fancy, but it has pathetic in it, it sounds cool. If you plan ahead, the conflict will always arise, and a good grader will pick up on the fact that you had control of the plot all the way through. Never try squash in your action at the end. What you want there in terms of action may be a twist, but never your main predicament.

5. Little language things that go a long way……to ruining your entire story

Language matters. In some cases, up to half the marks might go to your use of it. I’m not gonna try preach about grammar. I myself struggle with that. But the control of your language is VERY important, especially in short stories where description is abundant. At my age, and so at the age of college students and high school finishers, it may be tempting to throw down all the new words you are learning. Please refrain from this. What will drown your entire piece is too much adjectives, too much adverbs and too much ways of trying to say something. Adjectives are great; they help us see the world we’re writing. Sometimes though, it might be best leaving them out. Read the following sentence: “I ran down to the red door which opened into a wide, cold barn which was dark except for the small, wax candle in the centre.” It’s not TOO bad. At times though, especially when the pace is picking up, that looks cluttered. When you’re getting to action, strip back all those big adjectives. The same goes for adverbs; “I ran swiftly down to the door which hung limply. Opening it, I saw a candle burning brightly and faintly lighting the room.” Putting in too many adverbs is telling the reader: “you’re not smart enough to get what I mean. Therefore, I will spell out every action for you. IS THAT..OK…WITH YOU?” Readers, teachers in particular, don’t need your help. Try use something else to show verbs in action. It boils down to the old saying “show, don’t tell”. If you tell me he “ran hurriedly into class”, I get the point but frown on how babyish you treat me. If you say “Glen ran into the room; his bag crashing off the door and his books flying everywhere”, I know Glen was in a hurry. Either that or Glen is a nutjob. As for trying to say something, simple is fine in most cases. It gets painful reading exclaimed, replied, answered, shouted, muttered, murmured, screamed and announced after a while. Unless the person is actually doing these, ‘said’ is perfectly fine. Similar to above, by using these words you tell rather than shwo. By adding different points, you can empower the reader. Instead of saying ‘Glen announced’, try say ‘said Glen, his voice carrying to the far parts of the room’. At times, the word announced is fine; it’s short and we get it. But if you want your work to look less lazy, strive to cut out those little twists on said and embrace the simple form of talking.

6. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

Not my strongest point as far as my own secondary school essays show, but worth a point in this note. As a younger writer, dialogue rarely crops up. This is normal. We are used to taking action over talking, guns over words, and explosions over conversation. But the pen is mightier than the the sword, or the tongue is in this case (that’s why I cut all my meals with my tongue…..OK, sorry, that was being a Richard). By the age of 15-16 though, we begin to appreciate the place of words in our stories. So do correctors and teachers. Why, you may ask? It’s simple really. A short piece of dialogue can explain the details of a situation far more sneakily than your own exposition. For instance, I may tell you “The school was flooded. All the classrooms were out of use and so the students had to crowd into the gymnasium for lessons”. However I could also do the following;

“What’s the rush, school doesn’t start for an hour”, said Richard.

“We need to get there early, our class if flooded, remember?”, said Glen.

“if our class is flooded why are we even going?” (notice here I can leave out the verb, due to the fact that we can tell who is talking)

“Lessons are in the gymnasium, I won’t be late!”

Peter, the boys’ father, broke in, “Will ye two Richards come on? I won’t wait around all day for ye two idiots.”

Sorry about that last part, as well as being ugly and violent; Peter is a terrible alcoholic. As ye can see, I got the same information across in both cases. Either is perfectly fine.However using dialogue we do have the added bonus of character building. Here we see Richard is forgetful and lazy. Glen is studious and on top of things. Peter is….well Peter doesn’t have much going for him does he? Good dialogue helps make your characters real and identifiable to the teacher. They stand out more, and go a long way towards making your grade a better one. Shorter dialogue is all the fashion now. Unless the point is for the speaker to be drawn out and boring, keep it snappy and charged with emotion.

7. Stay in character.

Nothing screams “I was out of ideas” more than betraying your characters. That doesn’t mean killing them off. By all means, kill those imaginary people (a quote from controversial child psychologist Kyle Malone). But as a story progresses we get a sense of what someone is. Even over a page or two we know who we’re dealing with. Don’t have some shy loser suddenly slam dunk a basketball or get the hot girl (I mean seriously if I’m not dunking a basketball there’s no way the other losers get to). Keep your characters..well..your characters. The only time it is excusable for someone to break character is when a)their whole personality was a ruse or b) they experience a traumatic event. I’m sure there’s other ways it can happen, but those stand out. If you have your protagonist wrestle a bear just for some action (and because you also hate grizzlies and all they stand for) then an examiner will know you’re a cheat. It’s be to tailor your action for your characters. Action can be an argument or a small scuffle. Not everybody has to storm Normandy or shoot Hitler (NB Hitler may actually have to shoot Hitler). The more realistic a character’s choices are in the face of adversity, the more likely a teacher will believe them and bump up your marks.

8. Avoid clichés, they’re as old as the bible itself.

Yes, we all do these too. In a short story, keep your vigilance up to make sure none of these slip in. In four-five pages you can make a good impression. In a novel a small cliché goes unnoticed, forgotten behind all the really good stuff. In a short story it stands out; it’s a blemish on your work and your credentials. A cliché doesn;t have to be an overused phrase. If your story is a short story on a boy who attends a magical school with two geeky friends…COME ON. It really needs to be original enough for short story. You only need like one event, so really you have no excuse if you throw in a cliché in the hope a proven track can please your corrector. You need something that wows your reader, something they haven’t seen before or something old in a different light. Original short story ideas always stand well with correctors, and guarantee higher marks.

9. You don’t need a twist

Twists are fine. They end up in a lot of short stories, a final joust to the reader and a lasting memory. It’s a good thing. But don’t throw one in for a two second shock effect if it destroys everything before it. A good story gets a good grade. But if it ends in a twist that shouldn’t be there…no. A wrong twist would be something like having someone being hit by a bus for no reason other than to add sadness to your piece. Or perhaps you will kill off half of a romance just to try make it gripping. Please refrain if it isn’t your original intention. If you get to the end of your work and decide there should be a twist, WARNING LIGHTS SHOULD BE GOING OFF. A twist should be something you decide on initially, and even then should be carefully considered. To sum up, a good twist should add to the piece, not take away from it and leave the corrector feeling sour.

10. Fill your plot holes

These are real deal breakers. If your plot doesn’t make sense, and the whole thing is like four pages, you’re doomed. A short story needs to anchor on a well-thought out plot. Why is Glen running back into that burning building? Why is Richard taking a scary route home from school for the first time? You can’t just throw in a fun plot for the sake of it; the thing has to fit together like a jigsaw. In a small snippet of time, it actually is difficult to make plot holes. That is why they’re so criminal. If peter decides to drive after alcohol, why is that? Is he mad? Is he in a rush? What makes Peter break the law? If the plot is consistent and self explanatory, the whole story writes itself a lot easier. It should flow when you read it. Your teacher or lecturer should never have to ask why this is happening. They should want to ask questions, but about the story itself, never about the design of it.

I might do more of these sometime, but for now, I hope these make your English answers a little easier in the coming academic year.