Saturday 28 November 2015

The Prologue from Legacy of the Eldric; a Fantasy Tale by David Burrows

“Lay the body there,” Chanathan said pointing.
The three soldiers carrying the corpse dropped their burden with a meaty thud to the forest carpet. The men looked disgusted by their task. In the distance an owl hooted and one of the men looked around, fear glinting in his eyes as he scanned the hidden recesses between the trees.
“It’s an owl,” one of his companions said. Chanathan could hear the concern in the voice. Only months ago the sight of another man’s fear would have elicited sarcasm or even bullying, but after the recent horrors there was a greater bond between these men. Battle brothers was a common enough expression, but only men who had stood shoulder to shoulder in the darkest moments of combat truly understood what that meant, men who had felt blood splash their hands and blades and experienced the pervading stench of blood, sweat and steel in their nostrils. That was how such close bonds were forged.
Chanathan stepped up to the corpse and spat in its eyes. The body was that of a man in his thirties. He wore a robe whose colour in the dark of the wood was difficult to decide. It did nothing, though, to conceal the bloodstain that marked the deep wound that had killed him.
Chanathan turned on his heel. Coming between the trees in file were others who had fought demons only hours before. It had been close, but Drachar’s death had finished the bloody conflict and even now, men of the alliance were hunting down the enemy as they sought to escape. Many of the approaching men were sorcerers and all were clearly bone tired, stumbling as they came into the clearing. Even though they were exhausted, Chanathan knew that one final act was required to guarantee an end to the bloody war.
Ashona approached Chanathan. She looked close to tears, and Chanathan felt pity overwhelm him. His own tears threatened and he choked down his emotions, but could not stop himself from taking her hand. Victory felt so very hollow, not at all how he had imagined it to be so many months ago—death still befouled his mind like a toxin.
“Swiftly, we must bind his spirit. It must not be allowed to escape or the demons will crown him their king,” Chanathan said.
“Surely not,” Ashona replied. “How can the demons still follow him after what has happened? He failed them. He is dead. We have killed sorcerers by the score. They cannot summon demons—not for a hundred years at least.”
Chanathan shook his head. “You are wrong, I fear. He made a pact with the demons, a pact that even death cannot undo. He has given the demons everything they wanted. Countless souls sent screaming to their world for eternal damnation. If they get his soul too, they will bow to him and call him Lord.”
Ashona sobbed. “Then we have failed!”
“No. Not if we can banish his soul.”
“And how can we do that?” Ashona pleaded. Chanathan looked past the grime of battle and into her eyes. With more affection than he had ever felt before he stroked a strand of hair from her face.
Without replying, he turned to the other sorcerers who by now had spread themselves around the clearing. They looked a sorry bunch, blood-soaked and covered in gore. Some distance away he could hear the army celebrating; men calling out to each other, glad to find friends and relatives alive; drinking away the cold fear instilled by demons only moments before. Abruptly singing filled the air. Only troops fresh from the horrors of war could show such emotion. By comparison, the men around Chanathan were silent, begrimed with blood and barely able to stand.
“We must act swiftly. Until this night is done his shade will be confined to his earthly body. You there, Carlan, Aswall and Harecht, draw a rune of binding around the corpse. Tarlam and Herest, summon elementals at each corner of the rune. Air, fire and water will do for what we need.”
The men set to their activities while the others fell back to watch. As they worked, the din from the army became background noise. Woodland creatures occasionally called out, distracting Chanathan from his musing. What he planned, no one had tried before and he had to think, if this went wrong he would doom his friends, and himself.
Finally, the others were ready. He looked down at the corpse now lying at the centre of a rune, diligently drawn in the dirt. At each of the rune’s corners, tiny elementals glowed; their small voices clear even with all the other sounds around them.
The sorcerers gathered while the three soldiers hovered to one side, knowing they were witnessing a truly significant moment in history. This was a solemn time.
Chanathan raised his eyes skyward. Casting a rune in the air with his hand he called aloud, “Drachar, I summon you!”
Nothing stirred. A breeze caused the trees to sway and for a moment the rustle of leaves drowned out the distant celebration.
“Drachar!” Chanathan called more urgently. “You are summoned to pay for your crimes.”
A pungent smell filled the clearing. Unable to help themselves some men stepped back, fear pounding their hearts like poison coursing through their veins. A silver shape appeared, hovering eerily above the corpse.
“Bind them, both body and soul,” Chanathan ordered and others immediately spoke, casting runes to strengthen their earlier spell.
The glow took strength and the indistinct form of a man appeared. Hollow eyes stared deep into Chanathan’s soul and for a moment he nearly quailed, but then, by his side, Ashona squeezed his hand. All at once he was glad of her presence.
“Foul creature! Abomination!” Chanathan roared.
The spectre laughed. “But I am one of you,” a ghostly voice whispered, grinding the nerves of all present. “I, too, am one of the Eldric.”
“How dare you!” Chanathan shouted, suppressing a shudder. “You forsook us the moment you looked upon the demon world. Your twisted craving for power has destroyed you.  The king banished you. You were unmade and unnamed; the sands of your soul stained forever by the blood of betrayal. How dare you compare yourself to us?”
“You forget,” answered the now mirthless voice. “We were all banished. We left our homeland hundreds of years ago because our ancestors dared to look upon the demon world. I am more like you than you would care to admit.”
 Chanathan was stunned into silence. The spectre faded briefly and for a moment Chanathan thought it was gone.
“Bind it!” Prince Ellard said, stepping forward, looking up at the spectre. “You are a traitor! You killed the King!”
“He killed me first,” the spectre said in a peevish tone.
“Damn you! You betrayed your people! We will not let you find your way to the demon world,” said Ellard. To Chanathan it seemed that his eyes flamed with passion.
“But you cannot stop me! I am Drachar! I do as I will, and I will damn you all.”
There was a silence for a moment. Even the revelry seemed to have stopped as though the world was holding its breath.
“But you are wrong,” Ashona said softly. At the start of the war she had been such a gentle soul, but looking at her now…
Her eyes bored into Drachar’s and her shoulders were set in utter defiance. “We will banish you but not to where you expect to go!  Prince Ellard, give me your sword. Only one of the seven will help with this spell casting.”
Ellard stepped forward and handed his sword over. It was a marvellous weapon, forged from a meteor that had crashed to the earth the previous year. They hade made seven swords and each was proof against demons.
“What are you going to do?” Fear tainted Drachar’s voice, and briefly he appeared to shrink.
Ashona chanted as she drew a rune over the blade. Chanathan realised then her intent. The sword amplified the power of the person holding it. The rune was to open a gateway to another world and for a moment Chanathan feared Ashona was opening a gateway to Hell. He did not recognise the rune at first and then comprehension dawned.
Prince Ellard must also have realised for he rushed over to take back his sword, but Chanathan laid a hand on his shoulder. “It is all right. She knows what she is doing. She is opening a gateway not to another world but between them.”
Ellard frowned. “The nether regions?” he asked
Behind them Drachar wailed. His form glowed brighter and the surrounding sorcerers’ voices became more urgent. At that moment, an elemental expired; its scream echoing into the night air.
“Help them,” Chanathan ordered and others joined the sorcerers about the rune, summoning elementals to bind Drachar in place. Furiously he struggled and then the gateway was complete, purple and green streaming from it.
“Go!” Prince Ellard commanded, laying his hand on his sword. The ghostly shape drifted towards the gaping rent in space as an icy wind gusted, a prelude to the nothingness beyond.
“You shall not stop me!” he screamed. “I will return and then I will destroy you, your children and their children.” The light from his ethereal form faded as it progressed through the gaping wound. Then abruptly it was gone. Ashona stopped casting the rune and the rent slammed shut, Drachar’s final scream fading away.
Night noises about the wood returned as though the banishment had forbidden sound.
All at once, Chanathan sensed that it was too much for Ashona. She sat on the ground as though her legs could no longer support her. Others were leaving but at her collapse, they paused.
Ashona cried out, “I see it! I see the future. Drachar will return! I see the fires! I see the death!”
Chanathan knelt by her side. “Calm yourself. That is not possible.” The three soldiers came over, wanting to help but hesitating, too afraid to come too close.
Chanathan gently took her face in his hand and made her turn to look at him. “We have won. We have banished Drachar’s shade. This land is safe now.”
Ashona stared past Chanathan. He sensed she was seeing into another world.
Her voice was so low that he had to strain his ears to hear her. By his side one of the soldiers gasped. “It’s a prophecy,” he murmured in awe.
When Tallin’s crown once more does shine,
Drachar’s shade will rise sublime,
Three Princes Royal through time will sleep,
An appointment with destiny — three kings to keep,
Trosgarth’s arm across the land will reach,
Of war and famine — his army will preach,
And one will stand to oppose his throne,
A king resurrected from within his mountain home,
Of air, fire and water — he will be born,
To aid the people — when all else is forlorn

“Ashona”” Chanathan wailed, shaking her shoulders, “Ashona!” he sobbed.
The light in her eyes dimmed. She was too close to her shaol, her guardian spirit, and that had always worried Chanathan.
“Ashona,” he cried.
Slowly she shook herself as though waking from a dream. “Thank the Kalanth!” Chanathan sighed, grinning broadly.
Chanathan helped Ashona to her feet. By their side a soldier made a warding sign against evil, his mouth agape. Chanathan turned to him, “Forget what you have just heard. Do not mention it to anyone.” He doubted the soldier would; when she had spoken Chanathan had felt the compulsion in her tone. The man stared back blankly, angering Chanathan.
“All of you!” Chanathan commanded. “Forget what happened, under pain of death.”
Ashona looked at him bewildered. “Why? What has happened?”
Chanathan looked at her, truly glad she was back. “Nothing. We have won a great battle and darkness has been banished from the world.”
Taking her hand he guided her from the wood, towards hope and an uncertain future.
Behind them the three soldiers remained, but for a while only. Sensing the evil of the departed soul, they took to their heels, seeking the company of the living; eager to tell the tale of what they had just heard.

A Gladiator Dies Only Once by Stephen Saylor. A Great Read.

A Gladiator Dies Only Once (Roma Sub Rosa, #11)A Gladiator Dies Only Once by Steven Saylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was more a collection of short stories compared to his usual books about Gordianus, the Finder. It was still enjoyable and the pace was a bit quicker as a result. The tales also fill in some of the gaps in Gordianus' life since his other novels often have several years between tales. The tale from the main title "A Gladiator Dies Only Once" was perhaps a little predictable but good nonetheless and bought perhaps a little sanity to Gladiator tales. As per usual, the depth of knowledge on all things Roman shines through in the smallest details. An excellent author.

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Monday 23 November 2015

Captain of Rome by John Stack; a book review

Captain of Rome (Masters of the Sea, #2)Captain of Rome by John Stack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good follow on story from Ship of Rome. It's an interesting period of history with Rome trying to compete against Carthage's superior navy. There's some great sea battles and it doesn't always go Rome's way. The author has mixed in intrigue with Varro, a tribune, taking a dislike to Atticus, mainly because he is Greek in the Roman navy so doesn't quite fit in even though he is a very skilled Captain.

The writing is good and you feel that you are on the ships, watching the battle rage and soldiers in full armour falling into the sea to a horrible death as they are dragged beneath the waves. There's typical Roman inventiveness and the tactics seem realistic and well thought through. Quite a page-turner and I certainly wanted to finish chapters at a time.

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Friday 20 November 2015

New Star Trek Series in the Offing: 2017

Wow, knock me over with a feather. A new Star Trek series seems likely and after the excellent films I suppose that I shouldn't be too surprised.

Sadly though it's likely to be 2017 - However, the good news is the next film Star Trek Beyond is out in 2016, so a stepping stone in our wait.

Under-Rated Fantasy Writers?

Not sure under-rated is the correct term, but these are good writers who don't seem to feature a great deal:

Ian Irvine -- Well of Echoes and other books
Markus Heitz -- Dwarves

Anyone else think that some authors deserve more credit?

Jekyll and Hyde: TV series, fantasy or horror?

I have seen two episodes so far and it looks very promising, if quite dark. It's not just about Jekyll and Hyde and it has a range of bizarre and quite gruesome creatures as nasty villains. London has a very down-at-heel feel about it which seems appropriate for the time. You almost expect Jack the Ripper to appear at any moment.

If you missed the first episode it's available here:

Tuesday 17 November 2015

New Author Website -- Hope it Meets with Approval

This is my new website. Clutter free and an eye catching banner. Hope it works. Feel free to comment and offer advice. Failing that - buy the books :)

Mockingjay Part 2 - Looks Good

Very excited, only a few days to go. However, the local Odeon adds £1.50 for new films so it's either wait or take a journey elsewhere. I hope the film is good. Not having the Press is a good idea in light of Paris. It could hit their sales though as it's part of the build up.

Sword of Truth Series - the Conclusion

I have really enjoyed the Sword of Truth series. Some books have been a little rambling and Richard always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Looking forward to this - definitely on my to buy list

Friday 6 November 2015

Our Cat Looking Cute

This is our cat, hiding in a very narrow space. How she gets in I don't know as it's a bit of a jump.

Norbert Ramsbottom's Kitchen Nightmares: Reality show -- fantasy style

Trolls don't normally make good chefs. Jason, yes I agree -- an odd name for a troll, hawked and spat whilst stirring a large cauldron, simmering nicely on the open hearth. The smell from the cauldron would hardly make your mouth water, strip the lining from your throat perhaps, but it could hardly be called appealing.

"Is it ready yet?" Art asked, his head appearing around the door as though devoid of a body. Jason grunted. What the grunt meant was anyone's guess. Art frowned. Goblins always frowned so, in fact, Art's facial expression didn't change, but Jason sensed his irritation, hawked and spat again, not caring that his grey-green phlegm went into his culinary delight.

Art shrugged. "I knew it was a mistake taking on a troll in the kitchen."
Jason growled and continued to stir the over-sized pot. Art looked around the tiny backroom. It used to be a busy kitchen, but since taking Jason on as a bottle washer the other staff seemed to have left or ... well, disappeared. Promotion for Jason to chef had been all too swift.

Art raised a clawed hand, "Not that I'm complaining," he offered quickly. "It's just that business has dropped off recently. Do you think our menu is too varied?"

Jason grunted and continued to stir. This was it, the only item on offer and apart from take it or leave it, this was the only choice.

"Perhaps I need a new marketing strategy?" Art offered up hopefully. "Perhaps targeting the Walking Dead or Ghouls. They're not fussy...or so I've heard."

Art peered over the cauldron's rim, careful not to get too close to Jason's reach. Last week there had been four waiters, now there were only two and they were very nervous. Very nervous indeed. Waiters were hard to come by and usually only elves, hard-up on their luck, applied. Still, staff shortages meant profits were up.

"What about that celebrity, Norbert Ramsbottom," Art declared in a flash. "I've heard he's turned around the fortunes of many a kitchen."

"Wot 'e taste like?" Jason asked.

Art was taken aback. Jason rarely spoke. "I think he uses his tongue like everyone else," he said, his eye narrowed in a suspicious manner.

Jason grunted.

Art walked out of the kitchen and was shocked to see that the restaurant was full for a change. At every table sat an over-sized troll. Drool formed puddles on the table tops in anticipation of the coming...feast? Art brightened, things were looking up. He failed to spot the hungry looks that followed him around the room.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Do Fantasy and Historical Fiction Authors Describe Battles Accurately?

My thoughts centered around medieval battles and the use of swords.

A sword must have been a horrible weapon. I saw a clip where a pig carcass was hit with a sword and it's unbelievable the damage it did. Add to that blood and screams and it must have been a terrifying weapon. Apparently in some medieval battles the air misted red, I assume from all those severed arteries.

Do authors truly describe the awesome and horrible aspects of such a weapon? I think when you get to duels with rapiers it's probably a bit nicer but medieval broadswords must have been hellishly messy.

Do we want to know? Or would the real aspects of such warfare put us of reading?

Writing a Book: How to Create Memorable Characters - Tips.

This is not an easy task and the following thoughts are offered:

A good question to ask is what makes a character memorable from books that you've read. In Game of Thrones there are a huge number of characters so making a character stand out is a big achievement. Picking one -- Hound, he is memorable by the way he is treated by others and the name is a great reflection. So a nickname can make a character stand out, especially if it fits his personality. Joffrey is because he is such a loon, that you have to hate him. So making your character an extreme makes them stand out.

A good character author is Michael Sullivan. His two main characters are complete opposites: a thief and a loner versus an idealist. Immediately the two are tasked to work together and initially one tries to kill the other. Gradually, they gain respect for each other, so some form of conflict can make characters memorable.

Bernard Cornwell is great at creating memorable characters and his method is almost a formula; take someone outside their comfort zone. Sharp is an example and he is an officer from the ranks so everyone hates him. In Rebel one character is a Northerner who decides to fight for the South. Why, I can't remember - but you immediately have a character that instills sympathy.

Another method of creating a character is to think of someone you know or have met (and possibly disliked?) and to ask what traits made them memorable. We all know someone that has impacted on our lives in some way and you might be able to use that. I have but mainly for side characters. It helps when writing as you don't forget them easily that way and you stay in role when writing about that character.

My last thought is perhaps random. Not the thought but the method. Create a table of characteristics and roll a dice for each column. Listing the characteristics would be interesting, moody, indifferent, happy, arse-hole...

1. Nickname
2. How others treat/respect your character
3. Put the character out of their comfort zone
4. Make them extreme in some way
5. Chose from a random list and see what you get
6. Think of characters in books (films) that are memorable and ask why
7. Relate to people that stand out for you in your real life and use those traits.

Books Made in to Films, TV Series: Which Works Best, the Book or the Film.

I am rereading and watching the Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell which is quite topical as the series has just started. Not quite fantasy but not far off it either, with sorcerers (skalds) and plenty of gods. I am always amazed how dissimilar films and TV are when compared to the books. I don't always understand though why a TV series or film is made based on a great book, which is then rewritten! Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Last Kingdom is all about Uhtred, a Saxon boy, who is captured and brought up among Danes whereas the TV series after episode 2 has him grown up already. I'm interested to see what is left in the book that they can use to make 3 more of the series. Having said that, the TV series is good and made me want to reread the books so that's also good. Imagination is great and I always think books are better than films but occasionally a film (eg Lord of the Rings) really works and it is incredible to see things become real.

I think you can't beat your own imagination and a book always wins out. However, occasionally it's the other way around and Stardust is my favourite movie and I wasn't enthralled by the book. Does that depend which you see/read first?

Listening to Music Reminds me of Books Many Years on.

How cool is that. I'm listening to Incantations by Mike Oldfield twenty (or so) years after reading Lord Foul's bane and the music still reminds me of the the trilogy. Somehow it captured the mood of the books really well.

If you've not tried it, it's worth doing. Headphones on and music on low and read away. It really sets the mood nicely. Great inspiration for when writing as well. Mike Oldfield used Celtic themes in some of his music and that's perhaps why it's so great with fantasy books.

I loved reading the Hobbit to Hergest Ridge and Lord of the Rings to Ommadawn

Short (Sad) Story for Armistice Day

This is where I had died.
I stood overlooking verdant fields that were alien to me. In my day this was mud and shell craters; barbed wire and death. Even the sky was different, intensely blue and probably crisp on this October day. Ghosts do not feel cold, but I remember it, clutching my rifle which seemed to suck the heat from my hands. My hands white and nerveless, shaking from cold and fear.
I looked to my left; others were appearing. Friends and comrades that I had known so well in a past so long ago. Jack nodded to me, a smile hovering on his lips. I nodded back, a response enacted every year on this day. My actions were not my own, this was how it had happened. I knew what was to come, but I could not change it. I was in a play and we were mannequin's, our strings pulled by an unseen hand, making us dance to a tune no longer remembered.
Corporals dressed the line, there was no sound, ghosts do not hear, but I could see Old Frank's mouth forming the words I knew so well. Old Frank was his nickname, but he wasn't old. Twenty three, whereas I was twenty. We looked up to him; he seemed to know what to do and when and we followed him. That I couldn't hear him was a blessing in anticipation of the hell to come.
To my right others were appearing. Why did we dress the line? I no longer remembered. It was probably important once, but not now. The line was moving and I took a few steps. Tentative at first and then more firmly. We were the second wave and the men in front of us, including Frank, blocked our view. We could afford to be brave for that line of soft, yielding flesh was a barrier against the hail of lead to come. Such an inadequate and over used phrase to describe the reality of war. One throw away line that encompasses all the terror and horror to come. I cried, but tears would not come, the puppet master had not yet decided it was time for tears.
What a waste. I had wanted a wife and children and even grandchildren perhaps. A dream far too distant for a twenty year old boy. All too soon someone fell in the line in front and to my right. It looked as though he had tripped. My eyes were riveted on the men in front of me, praying that my protection would remain. I needed them to absorb the horror to come. Perhaps this time I would live? I remembered hope and prayers. My eyes flickered to the heavens. It was at this point that Old Frank had sworn, his left arm ripped from his body as something unseen violated his body. A preacher had told me that swearing was a sin. I prayed that Old Frank went to heaven and not hell. Swearing was not too bad. Not among all this terror. Please God, forgive Frank and do not commit his soul to purgatory.
His blood and flesh had splattered my face and I ducked, as I had done, so many years ago. I felt the warmth of his blood and remembered the copper taste of his blood in my mouth. I spat and wanted to vomit. This was not how war was meant to be. When we joined up we had talked of heroic deeds and how swiftly the enemy would capitulate.
A gap had formed in the line of men to my front and I could see the barbed wire and beyond that the enemy trench. Terror tore at my heart. I remember I had wailed then, not for Frank but out of fear for myself. I felt the wind of a round buffet my cheek and my wail turned to a scream. That had been close and I looked to my left just as Jack spun on the spot; I watched as he collapsed to the ground; I could almost hear the puppet master's glee as his strings were cut. Jack, a furrier from Blackheath. A man who had comforted me as I crouched crying at the bottom of our trench last night, so long ago. He had given me his chocolate. Such a princely gift in this time of deprivation and squalor.
I crouched as more men in the front line fell. Blood misted the air and again I tasted it's coppery tang. I wiped my eyes, nearly dropping my rifle and having to fumble to hold it firm. I should have dropped it. I should have jumped in a shell hole like some men did. The terror of failure and cowardice outshone the fear of bullets. Why? Bullets are far more deadly; a testimony to the front rank thinning dangerously now to the point that we were the first wave. I could see helmets above the enemy trench and flashes from muzzles. I remember the sound: the din, the screams and the bangs and the thumps. The slap of something fast hitting flesh. Men to my side fell and I stumbled, thinking that I was hit. I remember the screams of incoherent rage from my remaining comrades, the only act of defiance as we walked to our deaths. The enemy suffered then, our screams must have haunted their dreams. We suffered more though. Flesh against lead. It was a very uneven contest.
Simon fell. We had worked at the same hop farm for several summers past. Our summer holiday away from the colourless terrace street we called home. A different life. Cool summer evenings spent outdoors under cloudless skies. Stars rather than shells. I prayed that I was invisible, which I was. I was a ghost and yet terror tore at every fibre of my once body. Memory is a terrible thing. I remember men funnelling towards a gap in the wire. We had been told not to do this. It was a death trap covered by more than one machine gun. Such a terrible weapon where more than one round span bodies around, the puppet master working hard, tugging at strings in time to some forgotten beat.
My time was coming. I remember no longer caring. Death was better than this hell. Was I a coward? I still walked forward, but my rifle was forgotten. I was doing my duty, sacrificing myself for my king. I couldn't even claim that. I had been told to advance. I had been trained to do so. Failure and the fear of cowardice still dogging my steps.
I spun then as something punched me in the kidney and then the other way as something slapped my right shoulder impossibly hard. The sky and the earth exchanged places and I looked up into a blue sky, a bird winging its way as though fleeing the battle. I should have done that. I should have had the sense to flee. I would have had children and spent my summers working at the hop farm. Life was leaving my body. I remembered the pain fading and night surrounding me.

My thoughts turned to my comrades. We would meet again. Next year.

Last entry for Halloween - a trifle late, but awesome

Wow - this is a great and very amusing picture. How did they do that??