Rowena

  • 180
Relationships
Empty
Rowena
 added a post 

Hey everyone! I know i joined a while ago and never posted anything, but here it is. The prologue to one of my longer works. A fantasy novel, a series of three books, of which i finished the first and need help revising. So please, all critiques on the table! ;)

 i finished the first book but i feel like I'm far from done, with a lot of editing to do and constant new plots and ideas coming up. As i said, ideas and suggestions are really appreciated. 

Here's a summary of the two main characters, the only viewpoint characters through the entire series, with an occasional song from a bard to fill you in with things happening in the meantime:

Lord Fabian Edelric, favored lord and advisor of King Hayden, ruler of the castle Dian Dokedale in the kingdom of the Chandelier. Fabian has the ability to control water, but only because of the ring the king has given him. His parents were suspected to be Silverian, the neighboring kingdom that borders the seas and The Chandelier. Fabian swore his loyalty to protect the kingdom, which has been suffering heavy losses over the years, due to enemies attacking, debts, and the weakness the immortal King Hayden has been showing. Growing more ill over the years and now days, the king has Fabian search for a cure, rumored to be only possible through Fabian's ability to control water with the ring. this illness is a problem Fabian hopes to have remedied before anyone finds out.

Timothy Tilson, a town rebel and gang leader. Took over and now runs one of the four Candles, as the towns of the Chandelier are called. Timothy was born under the two crossing moons, granting him bat like wings and sensing abilites. His parents identity are unknown, but he and his sister, Elisot,  were raised by Luitguard, a sheep-like man of a very distant kingdom, its people known as the folk of wool and deceit. The sheep folk being very superstitious, Luitguard taught Timothy to believe in a wise man known as The Sayer, a common legend among the towns and poor people. Years before Timothy took over the town, a group of warriors had attacked his town. Timothy fought and a part of this group joined his town as protectors and the other is now led by a man known as Diggery Spade, constantly plaguing Timothy's town, The Western Candle.


Introduction,

"In a kingdom known as The Chandelier,

I, Delores, sing to tell of a story queer.

To tell you of the lands all around,

To the north, east, west, south, enemies abound.

The powerful lizard kingdom of The Kheronn, an ever present shadow,

Of scales, reptilian eyes, flickering tongues, and skilled warriors, does their army grow.

Far to the north, the savage Folk of Wool and Deceit,

Defeating such a raider is no easy feat.

Silveria, a kingdom bordering waters and its people knowledgeable in magic and lore,

They are not enemies, but who knows what their minds have in store?

Over years, The Chandelier’s king has lost much power,

A man known to have made even death cower.

Now he plots within his castle, Dian Dokedale,

His four towns wasting away like bread growing stale.

And unaffected by men’s plans, the two moons,

Etched into the night sky like large runes.

Ladislas and Dietrich, when paths have crossed,

For the babes born on that night, dice is tossed.

Ability, power, appearance is granted,

Such like not even The Sayer has chanted.

I am headed to The Southern Candle, where the Sayer is rumored to pass through,

His wise words and prophecies known only to be true."




PROLOGUE


Where she used to fill him with comfort, the woman on the portrait now invaded Fabian’s heart with cold.

     She wore a deep blue dress. Her cheeks were pink, the way they were once before she grew ill. Her lips were turned into a smile. But her loving eyes now glared at Fabian with bitter blame.

     "Avenge her," a raspy voice whispered into his ear.

     “Erline,” Fabian said. “Forgive me. Please.”

     The voice sounded like an old man’s, saying in its own opposition, "It was an illness. You have no time for this. No one to avenge."

     Fabian clenched his fists. The healers weren’t to blame. They’d tried everything they could. The fault didn’t belong to the food tasters or the cooks. She hadn’t been poisoned. It had been no man’s doing. His lover’s heart had eventually given out . . . 

     “My lord Edelric!” 

     Fabian turned to the sound of knocking and hurried to the door. He saw the face of Vent, one of the king’s guards, and asked said, “It is very late. What is going on?”

     “It was around the hour of midnight, my lord. Me and a maid were speaking when we both hear noises coming from the king’s chamber. Someone shouted too.” Vent looked down into the washbasin he’d been carrying. 

     Fabian turned left from the two way corridor, and hurried the stairs up. They reached the third floor in the castle, where the king’s bedchamber was located. Fabian’s room was closest, but several other nobles were on their way across the Longsword as well. The hallway was extensive, branching off to the stairs on the left, right, straight ahead. Thus, the name of ‘Longsword’ had begun as servant talk but now even the king used it. 

     Fabian didn’t stop walking but looked over to the guard. “Explain, Vent. Is His Grace alright?” 

     “I wouldn’t know,” panted Vent. “I called to him, and when he would not answer, I tried opening the door. But it was locked.”

     Fabian stopped. “So what do you expect me to do?”

     Vent shook his head. “The king trusts you, Fabian. If there be anyone he listens to, it would be you. And besides, you have a way of entering. None of us do.” 

     The man looked down to the ring on Fabian’s finger. Held up the basin, the water rocking back and forth, light dancing from it.

    Fabian’s hand jerked to the ring on his finger immediately. The voice in his head said, "The man means your powers . . . use them."

     “You expect me to break into the king’s chamber.” Fabian nodded and hurried on. “Anyone else hear this?”

     “Only the servant I was speaking with.”

     And by the looks of it, she’d awoken quite a few others, six as far as Fabian counted. “Find her, Vent. Stop her from telling anyone else.”

     “But, sir—”

     Fabian took the washbasin from Vent. “I’ll take it from here. Go!”

     Fabian rushed to the door. Two guards stood by, pounding on the door.

     “Aside!” Fabian ordered. Everyone parted to let him through. Fabian leaned close to the door. Nothing but silence. “Your Grace, it is I!”

     He could not wait, not if his king was in danger. Upon Fabian’s unspoken command, water flew from the basin. Fabian took a deep breath, summoning the water to narrow. It remained floating by the door, waiting to be sent forth. Without a word but a silent wish, the water tore through the lock and the bar. The doors opened to darkness.

     “Everyone, stay back,” he said, looking around. He took a candle from a servant and continued into the dark chamber, closing the door behind him.

     He saw the outline of the large table in the center, the flickering light making it appear ominous, the shadow of the chairs rising against the wall. “Your Grace?” he asked, nearing another door, which was slightly ajar. 

     The whispers in his head stopped. He heard ragged breathing. Strained grunts. 

     The yellow light revealed a tall and hulking man, sword in hand. The man turned, revealing blood on his bare chest. A tang of red in his white hair and beard. Massive sword dripping. But without a cut or even a bruise. Fabian approached the king carefully. “Your Grace, what happened?” 

     King Hayden looked down, stepping aside. “Fabian, I don’t—I don’t know what to do.”

     Fabian lowered the candle, following the pool of darkness. Of blood. Light glanced off buckles of a pair of boots. He continued until the light cast a shadow sprawling over the floor. Of a man. Eyes reflected the light and stared back. 

     Fabian gasped. “Lord Kinsley.”

     Fabian knelt down beside the dying lord. The lord that owned twenty men of his own, whose family was in charge of financial properties, and who possessed an influential voice in court. Everyone knew his brother would inherit his authority once dead, but Kinsley was the stronger.

     Upon discovering a wound in Lord Kinsley’s side, Fabian glanced to the king’s massive dripping sword.

     Shaking violently, blood spilling from his mouth, Kinsley said, “Fuck you. Hayden, you are a very incompetent, Godforsaken, king. But you are an even worse—”

     King Hayden’s boot struck Lord Kinsley’s jaw, and the lord groaned but spoke no more. The name of God had not been mentioned ever since, well, ever since the king had declared himself the one to be worshipped. 

     But Hayden was now trembling. Not looking like a god at all. “He called me weak, Fabian. Said I would be the doom of this kingdom. Such words have never been spoken—they cannot!” The king’s expression suddenly changed, and he turned away, muttering. “It’s all your fault. My illness, it’s getting worse.”

     Of course he’d turn this on Fabian. As if he wasn’t already struggling to focus, the voice in  his head started speaking. "The king is ill. His fragile mind cannot continue to cause harm! You cannot afford to lose an ally because of your failure." But the current situation couldn’t wait.

     "You already lost him."

     “Can he survive?” the king asked.

     The stab wound in the man’s side was not the issue. The king’s weakness could never be known. He was strong. Everlasting. Wise. Undefeatable. “I’m afraid he cannot.”

     Fabian reached out with one hand to the pitcher on the king’s night table. He held his other over the man’s twisted mouth. 

     Fabian somehow wished the water wouldn’t obey him. That the ring would fall from his finger and lose power. That the pitcher was empty. But water dripped from the table, and came slithering over Lord Kinsley’s throat like a serpent.

     Kinsley shook his head, eyes wide and desperate. He started gasping hysterically. Head flopping from side to side.

     The water crawled into the man’s mouth and nose. He began to sputter and choke. He gulped but Fabian kept his trembling hand above his face, forcing the water to drown the man.

     “W-what are you doing?” the king demanded. 

     Fabian felt his hand grow wet as Kinsley coughed. When the lord that had possessed so much influence and authority—one of the most capable men of this dying kingdom—stopped struggling, Fabian stood up, fighting back his emotions of disgust and horror, and turned to the king. “He saw what happened,” Fabian whispered. “He knows you are no longer fit for this.”

     “How dare you.” But King Hayden’s shocked expression vanished quickly. He too, knew that Lord Kinsley could not live. The truth of Fabian’s words was disastrously real.

     “So—so what are you going to tell the people?” Hayden asked. If there was ever a moment for their king to know fear, it was now. And it terrified Fabian.

     Feeling like he needed some air, Fabian bent back down and removed the dagger from Kinsley’s sheath. He drew back all water to remove any signs. “The truth.”

     The king drew his eyebrows in question.

     Fabian knew what had to be said, but speaking the words would make it real. “This man insulted the king, threatened him. The truth is, this man is a traitor to the crown.” Lord Kinsley didn’t deserve such a death. But the questions needed to be answered. Fabian’s duty to the king needed to be pulled through. 

     But why are you loyal to this king? You know this question dwells among the court.

     There was no need to answer this question. With the growing losses this kingdom was suffering from opposing forces, weakness and doubt among their own would destroy The Chandelier.

     So he would do everything to keep alive unquestioning loyalty to the king from his diminishing allies. “Lord Kinsley raised his weapon against the king himself.” Fabian  took the dagger from Kinsley’s sheath and cut across the king’s chest.

     Hayden gasped. Anger flashed in his eyes, and Fabian eyed the sword in the man’s hand warily. 

     He continued speaking. “He drew first blood. You put an end to this traitor’s life.” He placed the dagger on the floor near Lord Kinsley’s hand. “Some lunacy overtook this man to act irrationally.”

     “The people will never believe it,” the king said, still seething. He took a deep breath. The bleeding on his chest was slowly ceasing. Soon, it would scab, just enough to show that he’d been attacked. And quicker than with any other man, it would be healed. Just another small scar among the many healed wounds that would have killed any other man than Hayden.  

    Fabian would have to do everything to keep this man the strongest.

     "You cannot avenge a woman taken by a disease. But find a cure for this man. Before you’ll have to drown the entire kingdom to keep the secret." Fabian gritted his teeth but kept his expression even. Two souls had been sacrificed this night. But that could not matter. How he felt had no play in the king’s might. He looked into the king’s eyes without wavering. “Look at my face, Your Majesty, listen to my voice, and tell me you don’t believe me.” 


-------------------------------- 


“Timothy, your sister’s been taken!”

     “A man has taken Elisot, mounted Demon, and rode away!”

     But Timothy was certain he knew who that man was. Diggery Spade. One of the many warriors that had fought to destroy the town nearly five years ago, Diggery had refused to follow Timothy and took a third of those trained men with him. The others had become a part of Timothy’s town, all of them yet unsure as to who it was that hired them. But Diggery and his men were relentless and destructive, bent on harassing people and this town.

     How could he have let that brute take his sister? He would surely kill her or sell her as a slave to the lords in their neighboring town. Timothy had banned him from town for trying to steal Demon. But taking his sister meant very dire consequences. 

     Timothy opened his eyes. The horse was three blocks from him, in Gambler’s Alley. A storm of clicks against the stone ground, nearing the gates, informed him of what his eyes could not. 

     Timothy took a deep breath, stood, and ran over the tiles. He spread the wings on his back and dropped from the roof. Skimmed a pace above the next house and flew past several alleys. Air whooshed past his face and gently pulled his hair back.

     Timothy took a sharp left turn in the air. Flapped his wings vigorously. He dodged smoke from the baker’s house, passed over a small patch of flowers belonging to their healer—inhaling a positively unhealthy dose of fragrances—past the two fruit trees from a currently uninhabited house, and over the hunters’ dogs bellow. 

     He cut across a few more streets and flitted over five more buildings before he could hear the horse’s running steps nearing. He overtook two men running in the same direction and nodded at the woman pointing.

     Wind whipped past his face as he increased speed. Timothy heard the horse in front of him before he saw it. The moons cast a shadow of a man with bat’s wings speeding madly over the ground, and he watched as it overtook the man and girl on horseback. It was as he suspected. The man had a shovel strapped to his back.

     Oh, Diggery, I swear, if you harmed her . . . 

     The man had his arms choking her thin body, hands clamping the reins and heels slamming into the copper colored horse’s sides so that Timothy wondered if ribs would break. 

     Timothy flapped to maintain the insanely perilous speed and waited to be right above him. Resisted the urge to reach for his mace. Slowed so he wouldn’t pass, and when Diggery looked up, he dropped.

     All three tumbled to the ground, toppling like rolling dice over the ground. Mud slapped his face and grinded between his teeth. Demon neighed. Timothy yelled, got to his knees, and punched the man in the face. 

     A fist came back to his stomach, but Timothy let him and just flung another hard one into Diggery’s cheek so that his knuckles felt cracked. “I told you to never return, Diggery!”

     Elisot got to her knees, gasped, and shrank away. Eli never fretted. He’d taught her that with hard training.

     Timothy just wanted to drive another punch into this coward’s face. But tonight, he would want more than to bloody the black mark of a spade on the man’s forehead. But first, he needed to know. He grabbed him by his collar and shook him in near hopes to loosen teeth. “What have you done, Diggery? What were you going to with her, uh?”

     The man smiled, blood seeping from the corners of his mouth. He chuckled. “I kissed her!” he hissed.

     Timothy snatched his arm before he could reach for the shovel strapped to his back. He laughed, hoping to sound cold and menacing. “Elli has kissed over ten men before, you fool. But never against her will. And never filth such as you!” 

     Running footsteps came from all over. Timothy would destroy this bastard! “You’re dead meat, Diggery. You will suffer, and when I’m done, Demon can eat your flesh!” 

     But his stomach twisted as the man laughed at him. “You cannot kill me, Timothy,” he snarled. “We each know we are too powerful to start war with another. I don’t own a town, yet every single one but yours opens its gate to me. I may not have as many warriors, but can you really afford my men’s rage against you and your people? My grave digging spade? You have too many concerns to let someone so mighty as I be your adversary.”

     Timothy brought the man to the ground, pressing his face to the dirt. Wishing he could choke him in mud like he deserved. Diggery grabbed a stone from the ground and struck it against Timothy’s thigh. He twisted and turned so Timothy struggled hard to keep him down.

     “Someone bring me rope!” Timothy commanded. And better fast, or he just might kill this wretch, who continuously hit him with the rock. Grabbed his arm. Flopped like a nearly uncontrollable fish on land. 

     Rope was tossed. Timothy put his knee over the man to keep him down. Two men came and helped.

     Timothy secured the rope to the man’s ankles and tightened it like he might strangle him. He handed the rope to someone else, motioning for them to tie it to the horse. Then he bent down close to the man’s face.

     “You said you kissed her? My sister? I will not kill you, Diggery Spade. But you will never come back again, ‘cause my people have permission to kill you. And by the end of this, your mouth won’t let you do something so despicable again.” He tied up his hands with another rope, jerking it into a tight knot. “By the moons, you won’t have any lips, nor any ridiculous spade.”  

     Timothy stood up and slapped the horse’s hind. “Ride, Demon! Ride until you rid of the devil at your heels.”

     The gigantic horse neighed and plunged into a gallop. Dragging Diggery face first over the road, veering sharply around a corner—so that Diggery’s body nearly collided with a fence—and out the gates. Diggery started screaming but his voice faded quickly.

     Satisfaction swelled within Timothy’s chest as he gazed at the streaks of mud that led away from his town, but not enough to calm his rage. 

     “That—that was our best horse,” someone spoke.

     Timothy was too angry to care. He turned to Elisot, who looked shocked. And when her eyes met his, she averted her gaze. Stood trembling against the wall of the potter’s shop.

     “No one has my Elli quivering,” he growled, tightening his fists. He reached out and wiped grime from her chin. “That coward of a wretch will certainly think twice before returning now. His life is forfeit from here on.”

     Elisot swallowed. 

     “Look at me, Elli.” Timothy glared at her until she raised her head and looked back at him. “Did—”

     “Tim, he said The Sayer is rumored to visit The Southern Candle,” she blurted.

     Something was different. She was clearly avoiding him. Timothy had a mind to fly after the horse and kill the man after all. Carry him high until his legs would flail and then . . . 

     “Did you hear me?” she asked, sounding frantic. “The Sayer! He who blesses and curses. Or have you forgotten how long you’ve been longing to hear his knowledge, his words of promise for our town? We could be the strongest, remember?”

     The man that legends claimed descended from the moons? “I have.” It was the only reason he was still here. He’d heard so many great stories about the man known as The Sayer, a man whose every word was truth and wisdom. And who’d been said to foresee many things. Excitement stirred with Timothy’s other feelings. “We will head out immediately.”

 


 (Thank you! and let me know if you wanna read more of this)

Rowena
 added a post 

Hey everyone! I know i joined a while ago and never posted anything, but here it is. The prologue to one of my longer works. A fantasy novel, a series of three books, of which i finished the first and need help revising. So please, all critiques on the table! ;)

 i finished the first book but i feel like I'm far from done, with a lot of editing to do and constant new plots and ideas coming up. As i said, ideas and suggestions are really appreciated. 

Here's a summary of the two main characters, the only viewpoint characters through the entire series, with an occasional song from a bard to fill you in with things happening in the meantime:

Lord Fabian Edelric, favored lord and advisor of King Hayden, ruler of the castle Dian Dokedale in the kingdom of the Chandelier. Fabian has the ability to control water, but only because of the ring the king has given him. His parents were suspected to be Silverian, the neighboring kingdom that borders the seas and The Chandelier. Fabian swore his loyalty to protect the kingdom, which has been suffering heavy losses over the years, due to enemies attacking, debts, and the weakness the immortal King Hayden has been showing. Growing more ill over the years and now days, the king has Fabian search for a cure, rumored to be only possible through Fabian's ability to control water with the ring. this illness is a problem Fabian hopes to have remedied before anyone finds out.

Timothy Tilson, a town rebel and gang leader. Took over and now runs one of the four Candles, as the towns of the Chandelier are called. Timothy was born under the two crossing moons, granting him bat like wings and sensing abilites. His parents identity are unknown, but he and his sister, Elisot,  were raised by Luitguard, a sheep-like man of a very distant kingdom, its people known as the folk of wool and deceit. The sheep folk being very superstitious, Luitguard taught Timothy to believe in a wise man known as The Sayer, a common legend among the towns and poor people. Years before Timothy took over the town, a group of warriors had attacked his town. Timothy fought and a part of this group joined his town as protectors and the other is now led by a man known as Diggery Spade, constantly plaguing Timothy's town, The Western Candle.


Introduction,

"In a kingdom known as The Chandelier,

I, Delores, sing to tell of a story queer.

To tell you of the lands all around,

To the north, east, west, south, enemies abound.

The powerful lizard kingdom of The Kheronn, an ever present shadow,

Of scales, reptilian eyes, flickering tongues, and skilled warriors, does their army grow.

Far to the north, the savage Folk of Wool and Deceit,

Defeating such a raider is no easy feat.

Silveria, a kingdom bordering waters and its people knowledgeable in magic and lore,

They are not enemies, but who knows what their minds have in store?

Over years, The Chandelier’s king has lost much power,

A man known to have made even death cower.

Now he plots within his castle, Dian Dokedale,

His four towns wasting away like bread growing stale.

And unaffected by men’s plans, the two moons,

Etched into the night sky like large runes.

Ladislas and Dietrich, when paths have crossed,

For the babes born on that night, dice is tossed.

Ability, power, appearance is granted,

Such like not even The Sayer has chanted.

I am headed to The Southern Candle, where the Sayer is rumored to pass through,

His wise words and prophecies known only to be true."




PROLOGUE


Where she used to fill him with comfort, the woman on the portrait now invaded Fabian’s heart with cold.

     She wore a deep blue dress. Her cheeks were pink, the way they were once before she grew ill. Her lips were turned into a smile. But her loving eyes now glared at Fabian with bitter blame.

     Avenge her, a raspy voice whispered into his ear.

     “Erline,” Fabian said. “Forgive me. Please.”

     The voice sounded like an old man’s, saying in its own opposition, It was an illness. You have no time for this. No one to avenge.

     Fabian clenched his fists. The healers weren’t to blame. They’d tried everything they could. The fault didn’t belong to the food tasters or the cooks. She hadn’t been poisoned. It had been no man’s doing. His lover’s heart had eventually given out . . . 

     “My lord Edelric!” 

     Fabian turned to the sound of knocking and hurried to the door. He saw the face of Vent, one of the king’s guards, and asked said, “It is very late. What is going on?”

     “It was around the hour of midnight, my lord. Me and a maid were speaking when we both hear noises coming from the king’s chamber. Someone shouted too.” Vent looked down into the washbasin he’d been carrying. 

     Fabian turned left from the two way corridor, and hurried the stairs up. They reached the third floor in the castle, where the king’s bedchamber was located. Fabian’s room was closest, but several other nobles were on their way across the Longsword as well. The hallway was extensive, branching off to the stairs on the left, right, straight ahead. Thus, the name of ‘Longsword’ had begun as servant talk but now even the king used it. 

     Fabian didn’t stop walking but looked over to the guard. “Explain, Vent. Is His Grace alright?” 

     “I wouldn’t know,” panted Vent. “I called to him, and when he would not answer, I tried opening the door. But it was locked.”

     Fabian stopped. “So what do you expect me to do?”

     Vent shook his head. “The king trusts you, Fabian. If there be anyone he listens to, it would be you. And besides, you have a way of entering. None of us do.” 

     The man looked down to the ring on Fabian’s finger. Held up the basin, the water rocking back and forth, light dancing from it.

    Fabian’s hand jerked to the ring on his finger immediately. The man means your powers . . . use them.

     “You expect me to break into the king’s chamber.” Fabian nodded and hurried on. “Anyone else hear this?”

     “Only the servant I was speaking with.”

     And by the looks of it, she’d awoken quite a few others, six as far as Fabian counted. “Find her, Vent. Stop her from telling anyone else.”

     “But, sir—”

     Fabian took the washbasin from Vent. “I’ll take it from here. Go!”

     Fabian rushed to the door. Two guards stood by, pounding on the door.

     “Aside!” Fabian ordered. Everyone parted to let him through. Fabian leaned close to the door. Nothing but silence. “Your Grace, it is I!”

     He could not wait, not if his king was in danger. Upon Fabian’s unspoken command, water flew from the basin. Fabian took a deep breath, summoning the water to narrow. It remained floating by the door, waiting to be sent forth. Without a word but a silent wish, the water tore through the lock and the bar. The doors opened to darkness.

     “Everyone, stay back,” he said, looking around. He took a candle from a servant and continued into the dark chamber, closing the door behind him.

     He saw the outline of the large table in the center, the flickering light making it appear ominous, the shadow of the chairs rising against the wall. “Your Grace?” he asked, nearing another door, which was slightly ajar. 

     The whispers in his head stopped. He heard ragged breathing. Strained grunts. 

     The yellow light revealed a tall and hulking man, sword in hand. The man turned, revealing blood on his bare chest. A tang of red in his white hair and beard. Massive sword dripping. But without a cut or even a bruise. Fabian approached the king carefully. “Your Grace, what happened?” 

     King Hayden looked down, stepping aside. “Fabian, I don’t—I don’t know what to do.”

     Fabian lowered the candle, following the pool of darkness. Of blood. Light glanced off buckles of a pair of boots. He continued until the light cast a shadow sprawling over the floor. Of a man. Eyes reflected the light and stared back. 

     Fabian gasped. “Lord Kinsley.”

     Fabian knelt down beside the dying lord. The lord that owned twenty men of his own, whose family was in charge of financial properties, and who possessed an influential voice in court. Everyone knew his brother would inherit his authority once dead, but Kinsley was the stronger.

     Upon discovering a wound in Lord Kinsley’s side, Fabian glanced to the king’s massive dripping sword.

     Shaking violently, blood spilling from his mouth, Kinsley said, “Fuck you. Hayden, you are a very incompetent, Godforsaken, king. But you are an even worse—”

     King Hayden’s boot struck Lord Kinsley’s jaw, and the lord groaned but spoke no more. The name of God had not been mentioned ever since, well, ever since the king had declared himself the one to be worshipped. 

     But Hayden was now trembling. Not looking like a god at all. “He called me weak, Fabian. Said I would be the doom of this kingdom. Such words have never been spoken—they cannot!” The king’s expression suddenly changed, and he turned away, muttering. “It’s all your fault. My illness, it’s getting worse.”

     Of course he’d turn this on Fabian. As if he wasn’t already struggling to focus, the voice in  his head started speaking. The king is ill. His fragile mind cannot continue to cause harm! You cannot afford to lose an ally because of your failure. But the current situation couldn’t wait.

     You already lost him.

     “Can he survive?” the king asked.

     The stab wound in the man’s side was not the issue. The king’s weakness could never be known. He was strong. Everlasting. Wise. Undefeatable. “I’m afraid he cannot.”

     Fabian reached out with one hand to the pitcher on the king’s night table. He held his other over the man’s twisted mouth. 

     Fabian somehow wished the water wouldn’t obey him. That the ring would fall from his finger and lose power. That the pitcher was empty. But water dripped from the table, and came slithering over Lord Kinsley’s throat like a serpent.

     Kinsley shook his head, eyes wide and desperate. He started gasping hysterically. Head flopping from side to side.

     The water crawled into the man’s mouth and nose. He began to sputter and choke. He gulped but Fabian kept his trembling hand above his face, forcing the water to drown the man.

     “W-what are you doing?” the king demanded. 

     Fabian felt his hand grow wet as Kinsley coughed. When the lord that had possessed so much influence and authority—one of the most capable men of this dying kingdom—stopped struggling, Fabian stood up, fighting back his emotions of disgust and horror, and turned to the king. “He saw what happened,” Fabian whispered. “He knows you are no longer fit for this.”

     “How dare you.” But King Hayden’s shocked expression vanished quickly. He too, knew that Lord Kinsley could not live. The truth of Fabian’s words was disastrously real.

     “So—so what are you going to tell the people?” Hayden asked. If there was ever a moment for their king to know fear, it was now. And it terrified Fabian.

     Feeling like he needed some air, Fabian bent back down and removed the dagger from Kinsley’s sheath. He drew back all water to remove any signs. “The truth.”

     The king drew his eyebrows in question.

     Fabian knew what had to be said, but speaking the words would make it real. “This man insulted the king, threatened him. The truth is, this man is a traitor to the crown.” Lord Kinsley didn’t deserve such a death. But the questions needed to be answered. Fabian’s duty to the king needed to be pulled through. 

     But why are you loyal to this king? You know this question dwells among the court.

     There was no need to answer this question. With the growing losses this kingdom was suffering from opposing forces, weakness and doubt among their own would destroy The Chandelier.

     So he would do everything to keep alive unquestioning loyalty to the king from his diminishing allies. “Lord Kinsley raised his weapon against the king himself.” Fabian  took the dagger from Kinsley’s sheath and cut across the king’s chest.

     Hayden gasped. Anger flashed in his eyes, and Fabian eyed the sword in the man’s hand warily. 

     He continued speaking. “He drew first blood. You put an end to this traitor’s life.” He placed the dagger on the floor near Lord Kinsley’s hand. “Some lunacy overtook this man to act irrationally.”

     “The people will never believe it,” the king said, still seething. He took a deep breath. The bleeding on his chest was slowly ceasing. Soon, it would scab, just enough to show that he’d been attacked. And quicker than with any other man, it would be healed. Just another small scar among the many healed wounds that would have killed any other man than Hayden.  

    Fabian would have to do everything to keep this man the strongest.

     You cannot avenge a woman taken by a disease. But find a cure for this man. Before you’ll have to drown the entire kingdom to keep the secret. Fabian gritted his teeth but kept his expression even. Two souls had been sacrificed this night. But that could not matter. How he felt had no play in the king’s might. He looked into the king’s eyes without wavering. “Look at my face, Your Majesty, listen to my voice, and tell me you don’t believe me.” 


-------------------------------- 


“Timothy, your sister’s been taken!”

     “A man has taken Elisot, mounted Demon, and rode away!” 

     But Timothy was certain he knew who that man was. Diggery Spade. One of the many warriors that had fought to destroy the town nearly five years ago, Diggery had refused to follow Timothy and took a third of those trained men with him. The others had become a part of Timothy’s town, all of them yet unsure as to who it was that hired them. But Diggery and his men were relentless and destructive, bent on harassing people and this town.

     How could he have let that brute take his sister? He would surely kill her or sell her as a slave to the lords in their neighboring town. Timothy had banned him from town for trying to steal Demon. But taking his sister meant very dire consequences. 

     Timothy opened his eyes. The horse was three blocks from him, in Gambler’s Alley. A storm of clicks against the stone ground, nearing the gates, informed him of what his eyes could not. 

     Timothy took a deep breath, stood, and ran over the tiles. He spread the wings on his back and dropped from the roof. Skimmed a pace above the next house and flew past several alleys. Air whooshed past his face and gently pulled his hair back.

     Timothy took a sharp left turn in the air. Flapped his wings vigorously. He dodged smoke from the baker’s house, passed over a small patch of flowers belonging to their healer—inhaling a positively unhealthy dose of fragrances—past the two fruit trees from a currently uninhabited house, and over the hunters’ dogs bellow. 

     He cut across a few more streets and flitted over five more buildings before he could hear the horse’s running steps nearing. He overtook two men running in the same direction and nodded at the woman pointing.

     Wind whipped past his face as he increased speed. Timothy heard the horse in front of him before he saw it. The moons cast a shadow of a man with bat’s wings speeding madly over the ground, and he watched as it overtook the man and girl on horseback. It was as he suspected. The man had a shovel strapped to his back.

     Oh, Diggery, I swear, if you harmed her . . . 

     The man had his arms choking her thin body, hands clamping the reins and heels slamming into the copper colored horse’s sides so that Timothy wondered if ribs would break. 

     Timothy flapped to maintain the insanely perilous speed and waited to be right above him. Resisted the urge to reach for his mace. Slowed so he wouldn’t pass, and when Diggery looked up, he dropped.

     All three tumbled to the ground, toppling like rolling dice over the ground. Mud slapped his face and grinded between his teeth. Demon neighed. Timothy yelled, got to his knees, and punched the man in the face. 

     A fist came back to his stomach, but Timothy let him and just flung another hard one into Diggery’s cheek so that his knuckles felt cracked. “I told you to never return, Diggery!”

     Elisot got to her knees, gasped, and shrank away. Eli never fretted. He’d taught her that with hard training.

     Timothy just wanted to drive another punch into this coward’s face. But tonight, he would want more than to bloody the black mark of a spade on the man’s forehead. But first, he needed to know. He grabbed him by his collar and shook him in near hopes to loosen teeth. “What have you done, Diggery? What were you going to with her, uh?”

     The man smiled, blood seeping from the corners of his mouth. He chuckled. “I kissed her!” he hissed.

     Timothy snatched his arm before he could reach for the shovel strapped to his back. He laughed, hoping to sound cold and menacing. “Elli has kissed over ten men before, you fool. But never against her will. And never filth such as you!” 

     Running footsteps came from all over. Timothy would destroy this bastard! “You’re dead meat, Diggery. You will suffer, and when I’m done, Demon can eat your flesh!” 

     But his stomach twisted as the man laughed at him. “You cannot kill me, Timothy,” he snarled. “We each know we are too powerful to start war with another. I don’t own a town, yet every single one but yours opens its gate to me. I may not have as many warriors, but can you really afford my men’s rage against you and your people? My grave digging spade? You have too many concerns to let someone so mighty as I be your adversary.”

     Timothy brought the man to the ground, pressing his face to the dirt. Wishing he could choke him in mud like he deserved. Diggery grabbed a stone from the ground and struck it against Timothy’s thigh. He twisted and turned so Timothy struggled hard to keep him down.

     “Someone bring me rope!” Timothy commanded. And better fast, or he just might kill this wretch, who continuously hit him with the rock. Grabbed his arm. Flopped like a nearly uncontrollable fish on land. 

     Rope was tossed. Timothy put his knee over the man to keep him down. Two men came and helped.

     Timothy secured the rope to the man’s ankles and tightened it like he might strangle him. He handed the rope to someone else, motioning for them to tie it to the horse. Then he bent down close to the man’s face.

     “You said you kissed her? My sister? I will not kill you, Diggery Spade. But you will never come back again, ‘cause my people have permission to kill you. And by the end of this, your mouth won’t let you do something so despicable again.” He tied up his hands with another rope, jerking it into a tight knot. “By the moons, you won’t have any lips, nor any ridiculous spade.”  

     Timothy stood up and slapped the horse’s hind. “Ride, Demon! Ride until you rid of the devil at your heels.”

     The gigantic horse neighed and plunged into a gallop. Dragging Diggery face first over the road, veering sharply around a corner—so that Diggery’s body nearly collided with a fence—and out the gates. Diggery started screaming but his voice faded quickly.

     Satisfaction swelled within Timothy’s chest as he gazed at the streaks of mud that led away from his town, but not enough to calm his rage. 

     “That—that was our best horse,” someone spoke.

     Timothy was too angry to care. He turned to Elisot, who looked shocked. And when her eyes met his, she averted her gaze. Stood trembling against the wall of the potter’s shop.

     “No one has my Elli quivering,” he growled, tightening his fists. He reached out and wiped grime from her chin. “That coward of a wretch will certainly think twice before returning now. His life is forfeit from here on.”

     Elisot swallowed. 

     “Look at me, Elli.” Timothy glared at her until she raised her head and looked back at him. “Did—”

     “Tim, he said The Sayer is rumored to visit The Southern Candle,” she blurted.

     Something was different. She was clearly avoiding him. Timothy had a mind to fly after the horse and kill the man after all. Carry him high until his legs would flail and then . . . 

     “Did you hear me?” she asked, sounding frantic. “The Sayer! He who blesses and curses. Or have you forgotten how long you’ve been longing to hear his knowledge, his words of promise for our town? We could be the strongest, remember?”

     The man that legends claimed descended from the moons? “I have.” It was the only reason he was still here. He’d heard so many great stories about the man known as The Sayer, a man whose every word was truth and wisdom. And who’d been said to foresee many things. Excitement stirred with Timothy’s other feelings. “We will head out immediately.”

 


 (Thank you! and let me know if you wanna read more of this)

 

Rowena
 added a post 

I joined jerichotownhouse so that I could post my work and get reviews and critiques. I had started writing a story and wanted to start posting. But then came a new idea and so now I’m rewriting what I had ready to post. So please bear with me. I should have something soon!😉

Rowena
 changed a profile picture 

Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.

___

So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon

Harry

PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.

Usually, on Thursday afternoon or so, I start pondering what I’m going to write about on Friday.

This week: no pondering. There’s only one thing I could possibly write about.

The biggest book-related newsflash this week – or this year – is that Barnes and Noble is changing ownership. The ins and outs are a little complex (and everything is not quite settled), but if all goes according to plan:

  • An investment firm, Elliott Advisers, is to buy Barnes and Noble, in a deal which values that business (including its debts) at about $700 million.
  • That sounds like a lot of money, but given that B&N’s sales are $3.6 billion, the pricing actually feels pretty cheap – reflecting the dismal state of B&N.
  • Elliott is also the 100% owner of Waterstones, the British equivalent of B&N. Both those chains are proper bookshops, appealing to proper book lovers. In that sense, the chains are distinct from the supermarkets, who just sell a lot of books but don’t care about them, or the British High Street & travel operator, WH Smith, which is as much a stationer and a newsagent as an actual book store.
  • Waterstones was rescued from impending financial disaster by CEO James Daunt. It was Daunt who negotiated the sale of the firm to Elliott.
  • Daunt will now act as CEO to both firms – B&N and Waterstones – and will divide his time between London and New York.

As it happens, Daunt also owns and runs his own mini-chain of high-end London bookstores. It was his experience at those stores which won him the position at Waterstones.

So, assuming that all goes according to plan, James Daunt will be the book world’s second most powerful human, after Jeff Bezos.

So what does that mean – for readers? For writers? For publishers? For anyone?

Well.

It’s a big and important move. James Daunt has a huge reputation in the UK and it’s probably deserved. His secret sauce for success? Quite simply this:

There is no secret sauce.

In the UK, Daunt simply took everything back to basics.

He turned bookselling into a proper career. (Albeit, inevitably, a badly paid one.) He retained staff who cared passionately about books and waved good-bye to the rest, perhaps a third of them. He cut costs. He made his stores prettier.

And, in a move so radical that it shook British publishing to its core, he let each store manager select their own inventory. So, yes of course, every store was expected to stock major bestsellers of the moment. But beyond that, what stores sold was guided by local passion and local knowledge. From a reader’s point of view, stores got better. There was more energy, more passion, more commitment.

But publishers, for a while, didn’t know what to do. In the past, publishing worked like this:

  1. Publishers paid Waterstones a big chunk of cash to get into a 3-for-2 front-of-store promotion. So Waterstones was actually retailing its shelf-space. It wasn’t really curating its own retail offering.
  2. Some of those 3-for-2s did really well, and became huge bestsellers.
  3. Others didn’t, and the volume of returns was enormous (often 20% of total stock.)
  4. Publishers pulped those returns, ditched those authors and just made money from their mega-successes

That was check-book publishing and check-book retail.

Daunt killed that, and terrified publishers. How could they market books if the key step wasn’t just throwing bundles of money at retailers? [and if you want a reminder of the different publishing options, you can get that here.]

Well, they solved that problem … kinda. But all they really did was turn their attentions (even more than before) to the supermarkets and other mass retailers. Waterstones’ local stores are great and feel like real bookshops … but they can’t build a bestseller as they did in the old days, because each store chooses its stock according to its own tastes.

Daunt’s path in the US is likely to follow the exact same route.

He’s commented that one of the issues he feels on entering a typical B&N store is quite simply “too many books.” Too much stock. Too little curation and guidance. Not enough knowledge from the booksellers. An atmosphere so flat, you could swap it for cigarette paper.

He’ll cut stock. Reduce staff, but retain the best and most passionate members. Eliminate central promotions. Get better terms from publishers. Sharply reduce stock returns.

Do the basics, but do them right.

The impacts, positive and negative?

The positive:

Elliott’s cash plus Daunt’s knowhow should save specialist physical book retail in the US. That’s massive. It’s the difference between a US publishing industry that operates much as it does now and one that would be almost wholly slave to Amazon. That also means that trad publishing is likely to survive in roughly its current shape and size, rather than being sidelined by the growth of digital-first publishers (notably self-pubbers and Amazon itself.)

The negative:

US publishers will have to learn the lessons already absorbed by the Brits. If B&N no longer operates national promotion systems as in the past, publishers can’t make a bestseller just by buying space. Yes, they’ll go on seeing what they can do on social media and all that stuff. But, as in the UK, they’ll be even more dependent on supermarkets. The make-or-break of a book will be not “Is this wonderful writing?” but “did we get enough retail space in enough supermarkets at a sufficiently attractive price?”

I know any number of authors where Book A did incredibly well, Book B did poorly … and Book B was better than Book A. The difference, in every case, was that the supermarkets backed A and not B, and there’s damn all a trad publisher can do once the supermarkets have said no.

Oh yes, and supermarkets don’t really give a damn about the quality of writing. They don’t know about the quality of the writing. They just buy on the basis of past sales (if you’re John Grisham) or a pretty cover (if you’re a debut.)

Of course, they’d say their selection is a damn sight more careful than that, and it probably is. But that’s still “careful by the standards of people who mostly sell tinned beans and dog food for a living.” That’s not the same thing as actually being careful.

That sounds like a fairly downbeat conclusion, but the Elliott-saves-B&N news is still a real big plus for anyone who loves traditional stores, print books and traditional publishing. It’s the single biggest win I can remember over the past few years.

What that win won’t do, however, is weaken the hold of supermarkets and Amazon over book retail. Those two forces are still huge. They’re still central.

And of course, talking about print books has its slightly quaint side. Me, I prefer print. I hardly ever read ebooks. I just spend enough time on screens as it is.

But print books constitute less than 30% of all adult fiction sales, and online print sales accounts for a big chunk of that 30%.

In other words, all those B&N stores up and down the US are still only attacking 23% or so of the total adult fiction market. However well Daunt does, that 23% figure isn’t about to change radically. (Or not in the direction he wants, anyway.)

But, just for now, to hell with realism. Let’s remember the magic of a beautiful bookstore.

Daunt does. Here are some comments of his from 2017:

“[there is a sense that] a book bought from a bookshop is a better book.... When a book comes through a letter box or when a book is bought in a supermarket, it's not vested with the authority and the excitement that comes from buying it in a bookshop. …Price is irrelevant if the customer likes the shop. The book is never an expensive item, [particularly for the many customers who] we know are quite happy to go into a café and spend dramatically more on a cup of coffee."

Quite right, buddy. Now go sell some books. The readers need you.

Till soon

Harry

I’ve been reading a terrific guest post on our blog by our Craig Taylor. (And actually, “guest post” doesn’t feel like quite the right term, if I’m honest. Craig’s a buddy, not a guest.)

The post is on how to write a scene and, in it, Craig asks:

If the theme of your work, say, is unrequited love, does your scene angle in to that theme? Does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling which is associated with unrequited love? Or does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling about requited love, so as to throw into relief the experience that one of your characters will have about unrequited love?”

And those are interesting questions, aren’t they?

I, for one, don’t write a book thinking that every scene I write has to “angle in” to my major theme. But what if that’s wrong? What if, in a well-constructed book, pretty much everything angles in to the one same issue? (Or, rather, cluster of issues, because a book that is rich thematically can never be too neatly categorised.)

And here’s another thought:

What if you don’t especially think about these things as you build your story? What if you do concentrate on good writing (nice prose, strong characters, a well-knitted plot), but don’t overthink the thematic stuff?

What happens then? Is the result strong? Or will it never reach the kind of thematic depth and congruence that Craig is hinting at?

Hey, ho. Interesting questions. So I thought I’d take a look at my own work and see what’s actually happened there.

So my last book, The Deepest Grave, has a cluster of themes that include:

  • Ancient history, specifically post-Roman Britain and the shade of Arthur
  • Treasure and fakery
  • Death (because this is a murder mystery, but it is also a book about Fiona Griffiths, whose attitudes to life and death are deep and complicated.)

But then, I only have to write those themes down on the page here – something I’ve never done before; I don’t plan my thematic stuff – and I realise this: that those themes absolutely and necessarily contain their opposites. So a book that is about fakery and death is also, essentially, a book about:

  • Authenticity
  • Life – or, more specifically in Fiona’s case, the whole knotty business of how to be a human; how to establish and maintain an identity in the face of her overawareness of death.

OK. So those, broadly, are my themes. Let’s now look at whether my various scenes tend to hammer away at those things, or not. Are themes something that appear via a few strong, bold story strokes? Or are they there, fractal-like, in every detail too?

And, just to repeat, those aren’t questions I consciously think about much as I write. Yes, a bit, sometimes, but I certainly don’t go through the disciplined thought process that Craig mentions in his post.

And blow me down, but what I find is that, yes, those themes infest the book. The book never long pulls away from them at all.

So, aside from a place and date stamp at the top of chapter 1, the first words in the book are these:

“Jon Breakell has just completed his chef d’oeuvre, his masterpiece. The Mona Lisa of office art. The masterpiece in question is a dinosaur made of bulldog clips, twisted biro innards and a line of erasers that Jon has carved into spikes.”

That’s a nod towards ancient history. It’s a nod towards authenticity (the Mona Lisa) and fakery (a dinosaur that is definitely not a real dinosaur.) It’s also, perhaps, a little nod towards death, because in a way the most famous thing about dinosaurs is that they’re extinct.

It goes on. The mini-scene that opens the book concludes with Fiona demolishing her friend’s dinosaur and the two of them bending down to clear up the mess. Fiona says, “that’s how we are—me, Jon, the bones of the fallen—when Dennis Jackson comes in.”

That phrase, the bones of the fallen, puts death explicitly on the page and in a way which alludes forward to the whole Arthurian battle theme that will emerge later.

That’s one example and – I swear, vow & promise – I didn’t plan those links out in my head prior to writing. I just wrote what felt natural for the book that was to come.

But the themes keep on coming. To use Craig’s word, all of the most glittering scenes and moments and images in the book keep on angling in to my little collection of themes.

There’s a big mid-book art heist and hostage drama. Is there a whiff of something ancient there? Something faked and something real? Of course. The heist is fake and real, both at the same time.

The crime that sits at the heart of the book has fakery at its core. But then Fiona start doubling up on the fakery – she’s faking a fake, in effect – but in the process, it turns out, she has created something authentic. And the authenticity of that thing plays a key role in the book’s final denouement.

Another example. Fiona’s father plays an important role in this book. He’s not a complicated or introspective man. He doesn’t battle, the way his daughter does, for a sense of identity.

But what happens in the book? This big, modern, uncomplicated man morphs, somehow, into something like a modern Arthur. That identity shift again plays a critical role in the final, decisive dramas. But it echoes around the book too. Here’s one example:

“Dad drives a silver Range Rover, the car Arthur would have chosen.

It hums as it drives, transfiguring the tarmac beneath its wheels into something finer, silvered, noble.

A wash of rain. Sunlight on a hill. Our slow paced Welsh roads.”

That’s playful, of course, and I had originally intended just to quote that first line, about the Range Rover. But when I opened up the text, I found the sentences that followed. That one about “transfiguring the tarmac” is about that process of transformation from something ordinary to something more like treasure, something noble.

And then even the bits that follow that – the wash of rain, the sunlight on the hill – don’t those things somehow attach to the “finer, silvered, noble” phrase we’ve just left? It’s as though the authenticity of the man driving the Range Rover transforms these ordinary things into something treasured. Something with the whisper of anciency and value.

I could go on, obviously, but this email would turn into a very, very long one if I did.

And look:

Yet again, I’ve got to the end of a long piece on writing without a real “how to” lesson to close it off.

Craig’s blog post says, among many other good things, that you should ask whether or not your scene angles in to your themes. But I don’t do that. Not consciously, not consistently. And – damn my eyes and boil my boots – I discover that the themes get in there anyway. Yoo-hoo, here we are.

Uninvited, but always welcome.

So the moral of all this is - ?

Well, I don’t know. I think that, yes, if you’re stuck with a scene, or if it’s just feeling a little awkward or wrong, then working through Craig’s list of scene-checks will sort you out 99% of the time. A conscious, almost mechanical, attention to those things will eliminate problems.

But if you’re not the conscious mechanic sort, then having a floaty awareness of the issues touched on in this email will probably work as well. If you maintain that rather unfocused awareness of your themes, you’ll find yourself naturally gravitating towards phrases and scenes and metaphors and moments that reliably support the structure you’re building.

And that works, I think. The final construction will have both coherence and a kind of unforced naturalness.

And for me, it’s one of the biggest pleasures of being an author. That looking back at a text and finding stuff in it that you never consciously put there.

Damn my eyes and boil my boots.

Till soon

Harry

I had plans for today, plans that involved some interesting and actually useful work.

But –

Our boiler sprang a leak. Even with the mains water turned off, it went on leaking through the night. Finding an engineer who could come out today (for a non-insane price) took the first half hour this morning. The engineer is coming at 3.30, and that’ll eat the last part of the day.

And –

I have a vast number of kids: four, in theory, but most days it seems like a lot more than that. And one of them, Lulu, spent most of the last couple of nights with, uh, a stomach upset. Of the intermittent but highly projectile variety.

So –

Not masses of sleep. And today’s interesting work plans have been kicked into next week.

Which bring us to –

You. Life. Books. Writing.

The fact is that even if you’re a pro author, life gets in the way of writing all the time. Because writing isn’t an office-based job, almost no writer I know keeps completely clean boundaries between work stuff and life stuff. Life intrudes all the time. Indeed, I know one author – a multiple Sunday Times top ten bestseller – whose somewhat less successful but office-based partner always just assumes that she’ll be the one to fix boilers, attend to puking children, etc, etc, just because she’s at home and not under any immediate (today, next day) deadline pressure.

And that’s a top ten bestseller we’re talking about. Most of you aren’t in that position. You’re still looking for that first book deal. The first cheque that says, “Hey, this is a job, not just a hobby.”

So Life vs Work?

Life is going to win, most of the time. And it’ll win hands down.

The broken boiler / puking kid version of life intrusion is only one form of the syndrome though. There’s one more specific to writers.

Here’s the not-yet-pro-author version of the syndrome, in one of its many variants: You have one book out on submission with agents. You keep picking at it editorially and checking your emails 100 times a day. But you also have 20,000 words of book #2 on your computer and though, in theory, you have time to write, you’re accomplishing nothing. You’re just stuck.

That feels like only aspiring authors should suffer that kind of thing, right? But noooooooo! Pro authors get the same thing in a million different flavours, courtesy of their publishers. Your editor quits. Your new editor, “really wants to take a fresh look at your work, so as soon as she’s back from holiday and got a couple of big projects off her desk …”. Or your agent is just starting new contract negotiations with your editor, and you are hearing alarmingly little for some reason. Or you know that your rom-com career is on its last legs, so you’re looking to migrate to domestic noir, but you don’t know if your agent / editor / anyone is that keen on the stuff you now write. Or …

Well, there are a million ors, and it feels like in my career I’ve experienced most of them. The simple fact is that creative work is done best with a lack of significant distractions and no emotional angst embedded in the work itself. Yet the publishing merry-go-round seems intent on jamming as much angst in there as it can manage, compounded, very often, by sloppy, slow or just plain untruthful communications.

So the solution is …?

Um.

Uh.

I don’t know. Sorry.

The fact is, these things are just hard and unavoidable. Priorities do get shifted. You can’t avoid it. The emotional strains of being-a-writer – that is, having a competitive and insecure job in an industry which, weirdly, doesn’t value you very highly – are going to be present whether you like them or not.

There have been entire months, sometimes, when I should have been writing, but accomplished nothing useful because of some publishing drama, which just needed resolution. No one else cared much about that drama, or at least nothing close to the amount I did, with the result that those things often don’t resolve fast.

Your comfort and shelter against those storms? Well, like I say, I don’t have any magical answers but, here, for what it’s worth, are some things which may help:

  1. Gin. Or cheap wine. Or whatever works. I favour beers from this fine brewery or really cheap Australian plonk. The kind you can thin paints with.
  2. Changing your priorities for a bit. So if you really needed to clear out the garage or redecorate the nursery, then do those things in the time you had thought you’d be writing. You’re not losing time; you’re just switching things around.
  3. Addressing any emotional/practical issues as fast and practically as you can. So let’s say you have book #1 out on submission, you can help yourself by getting the best version of that book out (getting our excellent editorial advice upfront if you need to.) You can make sure you go to a minimum of 10 agents, and probably more like 12-15. You can make sure those agents are intelligently chosen, and that your query letter / synopsis are all in great shape. (see the PSes for a bit more on this.) You can write yourself a day planner, that gives some structure to the waiting process: “X agents queried on 1 May. Eight weeks later is 26 June. At that point, I (a) have an agent, (b) send more queries, (c) get an editor to look at my text, or (d) switch full-steam to the new manuscript.” If you plan things like that upfront, you don’t have to waste a bazillion hours crawling over the same questions in your head.
  4. Accepting the reality. It’s just nicer accepting when things are blocked or too busy or too fraught. The reality is the same, but the lived experience is nicer. So be kind to yourself.
  5. Find community. Yes, your partner is beautiful and adorable and the joy of your life. But he/she isn’t a writer. So he/she doesn’t understand you. Join a community (like ours). Make friends. Share a moan with people who know exactly what you mean. That matters. It makes a difference.
  6. Enjoy writing. This is the big one, in fact. The writers who most struggle with their vocation are the ones who like having written something, but don’t actually enjoy writing it. And I have to say, I’ve never understood that. My happiest work times have nearly always been when I’m throwing words down on a page, or editing words I’ve already put there. And that pleasure means you keep on coming back to your manuscript whenever you can. And that means it gets written. And edited. And out to agents or uploaded to KDP and sold.

Of those six, then cultivating that happiness is the single biggest gift you can give yourselves.

And the gin, obviously.

Harry

Here's the place to talk about today's email - "The days that say no" - in which I talk about that feeling of reluctance to grapple with your current draft. We've all been there. What's your solution? What's worked, what hasn't, what's your advice?

And here's a picture of apple blossom to make us feel happy.

Want to ask questions? Got any follow-up? Don't agree with something I said? Then here's the place to do it. I'll follow the chat thread on this post for a few days following my email, and I'm happy to talk about anything at all.

Meantime, here's a picture of a scary-but-pretty bug.

kewavxkrnxf23zs9cpapkq4ru5qpjgw2.jpg

Info
Gender:
Woman
Full Name:
Rowena
Friends count:
Followers count:
Membership
Standard
My Posts