Saturday, 9 February 2019

Articles for Fantasy Faction

I've been writing for the website Fantasy Faction for about six months now, providing reviews and pieces about various aspects of writing and publishing. I thought I would collect links to them here in one place, for ease of reading.

Here they are, in chronological order. Just click on the title to see the article.

September 2018:

Review: Black Man / Thirteen

October 2018:

Of Lead and Plastic: Tabletop Wargaming in 2018

The Island of Doctor Moreau - Review

November 2018:

Editing Your Writing

December 2018:

Dragons of Autumn Twilight - Review

January 2019:

Worldbuilding: More Than Just Maps

There will be more...

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Interview with Thaddeus White

Here I am, being interviewed by Thaddeus White, author of the Sir Edric books (among other things). Thaddeus has written several fantasy novels, including comedies, so it was interesting to talk to him about the experience of writing comedy (and not writing it, for once) and creating a fantasy setting.

Here's a link to the interview: Click Here

And here's a link to Thaddeus' website:

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Alien in the style of The Canterbury Tales

The Aylien's Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer

(Spoilours doth followe)

Parte One

Once there was a shippe that did fly through Heaven
With a cargoe of stonne and crew of seven
From sleep awoken and from their course waylaid
When their captain hearde a calle for aide.
They made port and set forth to explour
“It doth seeme legit” said their science officour.

They founde on the ground a spaceshippe sits
Made out of olde bones and someone’s privy bits.
Inside was a great fellowe sitting doun
Withered away like a skeletoun.
With a strange wounde in his cheste full wide
Liken he had burste open from the insyde.

In the shippe's holde they found a great store
Of huge egges, liken it was Eastour.
The saylor Cain looked into an egge's hearte
And a crabbe burst out quicker than a farte!
So his fellows bore him from that playce
With some kynde of creature stuck to his fayce.

The crabbe did die, and the danger past
They joyously took of their repast.
Yet curtailed harshly was that feaste
When from Cain’s belly burste a terrible beaste.

Not making merry

Parte the Second

The beaste slew yeoman Brett, and pulled him into the raftours
Then it took the captain, to eat him for aftours.
Of the seven spayce saylors it had slaughtered three,
Leaving Lambert, Parkour, Ashe, and Ripley.

Quoth Elleyn Ripley “Three of us are now slayed,
Science Officour Ashe, grant us your aid,
Or else I shall declare you are not what you seme.”
But then Ashe did smite her, and spewed clotted creme.

Then one of the crewe, the noble Parkour
Struck off the hedde of that mad scolour
Full amazed ware they all, and passing annoy’d
To finde Ashe to be a God-cursed androyd.

Parkour sedde, “He would have hadde us all killed
We have been betray’d by the God-damned guild.”
“Ashe,” speketh Ripley, “now thou art beheaded
Why to the aylien is thy loyalty wedded?”

Sedde Ashe “Thou cans’t not slay it, that is a surety.”
“Thou admirest it,” says Lambert. “Aye, its purity.”
Now but three remayne of the bold crewe of seven
Lambert, Parkour and Ripley (Elleyn).

"Alas, mine head doth ache."

Parte the Thirde

Said Ripley “Friends, although Ashe is beaten
We must flee this vessel, or we’ll be eaten.”
Said Parkour “We’ll loade up the boat and be going.
Then we’ll sinke the ship and take turns on the rowing.”

He went to the holde, for to fetch some provisions
But the aylien appeared and made grievous incisions.
Ripley heard Lambert cry out, and went to get her
But of Parkour and Lambert, the less said the bettour.

Ripley entered the boat, sailed away from the shippe
But in her bunk was the aylien, having a kip!
So dame Ripley did put on her special trowsours
Donned her spayce helmet and opened the doors.

She was secured: the aylien was notte
And it flew out the window like last nighte’s chamber pot.
At last she was safe, on her journey she went -
But in spayce no-one can hear thee lament.

And what is the moral? Of strange egges beware.

Thank ye for your time: lyke, commente or share.

"Behold my lucky star and begone!"

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Who Travels The Fastest?

Charles Darwin on his throne, at the Natural History Museum, London

So, this is publication day! I'm writing this in the strange quiet period between the new book being available and anyone telling me what they thought of it. It's always a weird time, especially since Up To The Throne is quite different in style to either Straken or the Space Captain Smith books. Many thanks to everyone who has bought a copy. I hope you enjoy it!


I thought I'd mention something about the title. The phrase "Up to the throne" comes from a poem by empire-builder, Jungle Book author and exceedingly good cake-maker, Rudyard Kipling. Kipling is probably not read very much now, and I expect he has dated very badly, but he did have a knack with phrases. A surprisingly number of expressions come from his books, sometimes from works that are half-forgotten.

Disney changed a few things...

The poem "The Winners" contains the lines "Down to Gehenna [Hell] or up to the throne / he travels the fastest who travels alone". It's a rather bleak poem that, as far as I can tell, says that the quickest way to change where you are is to act alone (or at least to take the credit). Apparently it refers to characters Kipling wrote about, and not his own views, but either way it seemed appropriate for the novel that I'd written.

One idea running through Up To The Throne is the selfishness of revenge, and the need to have more purpose than just getting your own back. Grodrin the dwarrow calls revenge "running towards your death", and Publius Severra describes a life lived for vengeance as a life wasted - although I doubt he'd let bygones be bygones, either. As Giulia's search for revenge gets her, and her enemies, closer to seizing the throne of Pagalia, she discovers that her revenge won't let her just kill her target and walk away.

The Winners
What the moral? Who rides may read.
When the night is thick and the tracks are blind
A friend at a pinch is a friend, indeed,
But a fool to wait for the laggard behind.
Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne,
He travels the fastest who travels alone.

White hands cling to the tightened rein,
Slipping the spur from the booted heel,
Tenderest voices cry " Turn again!"
Red lips tarnish the scabbarded steel,
High hopes faint on a warm hearth-stone--
He travels the fastest who travels alone.

One may fall but he falls by himself--
Falls by himself with himself to blame.
One may attain and to him is pelf--
Loot of the city in Gold or Fame.
Plunder of earth shall be all his own
Who travels the fastest and travels alone.

Wherefore the more ye be helpen and stayed,
Stayed by a friend in the hour of toil,
Sing the heretical song I have made--
His be the labour and yours be the spoil.
Win by his aid and the aid disown--
He travels the fastest who travels alone!

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Steampunks in Space, Editing the Novel - and, er, Henry VIII

It's been a while, hasn't it?

Since my last update, I've been up to lots of things, mainly good....


On the 23rd of November, I went up to the Space Centre in Leicester (yes, Britain has one!) for Steampunks in Space. This event does pretty much what it says on the tin (although it's not actually held in space), and involves all sorts of steampunk things, including books, talks, making things, exhibitions and an evening booze-up (presumably involving gin).

I was selling books on a stand with George Mann and Mark Latham, both of whom are very nice guys and have worked for Games Workshop. Much interesting discussion followed! One of the highlights was meeting a chap who had enjoyed all the Space Captain Smith books. Really nice to hear that. It also helped that I sold about 12 copies to him and his mate. They must have a lot of wobbly tables that need propping up in style!

I was also interviewed about writing and comedy by Mr Ilya Rostov, who started out by reading out some of my more "unusual" Goodreads reviews. There are some delights on there! The audience for once outnumbered the people on stage several times over, and we had a really interesting discussion.

As ever, there was some splendid artwork on display. My pictures are fairly crappy at the best of times, but I was able to visit the model-making stand of Herr Doktor, whose scratch-built machines are just amazing.

Also present was cartoonist extraordinaire and top bloke Dr Geof, who has probably given more thought to how to make a cup of tea than anyone, alive or dead, and actually has a museum about it.

And finally, I really should comment on the outfits. There were some amazing outfits, as ever, demonstrating real creativity. In particular, I was struck by this lady and gentleman. He had come as a brass stormtrooper, and she was dressed as the Death Star. Awesome, and so much better than my own attempt to dress as a fully-operational battle station. If you're out there, let me know, so I can give you the credit you deserve*.

Awesome work!

It's always a lot of fun, but I think this was the best Steampunks in Space I'd been to. I went home a happy man, with the vague sense of disappointment that comes from returning to reality.

And then I got gout.



What? Gout, the signature disease of Henry VIII and overstuffed merchants from the Regency? Yes, that gout. Apparently, it just happens to some people, and one of them is me. So, I spent most of this week with my foot up, taking powerful drugs and laying off the port and venison.  Don't get gout, kids. It sounds ridiculous and it's really painful. I'm definitely on the mend, but I feel cheated to have got the damn thing without the over-eating.

Good again

There are limits as to how far I will go researching the Renaissance. Anyhow, I have done the last sweep of Up To The Throne, and I've moved from thinking "This book is complete arse!" to "I'll be getting that Booker prize after all, then". (For authors, there isn't really a middle ground. It's either drivel or brilliant).

So that leads me to the last bit. I think Up To The Throne will be coming out on either the 17th or 20th of December. I just need to decide which. The 17th is a Monday, but the 20th is a nice round number...

* My sources (thanks guys!) tell me it's Carol and Martyn Raynor. Credit where credit's due!

Thursday, 22 November 2018

What They Don't Tell You About Writing A Novel

"I do what I love, and I love what I do
but if you think this is easy, you must be new."

 M.C. Abdominal

1) There isn't a point at which you're "in". When you start, it's easy to think of writing as a club that has either accepted you as a club or hasn't: it's not really true. Also, be ready not to to be satisfied. You might think you've set out what you intended to do, and now it's time to stop - or your first novel might encourage you to write another one. And another.

2) "Write what you know" isn't really correct. It's a decent rule of thumb, but really, it should be something like "Only include what you can depict convincingly". That's not as catchy, but it's more accurate. After all, nobody knows what it's like to ride a dragon. And as for "Show don't tell", there are times when a quick tell defeats a slow show. Not many, but some.

3) You can't write a good book through reading alone. That sounds weird, but a lot of advice boils down to "keep writing and reading". Yes, these are both vital, but getting feedback from others and learning the skills of how to write are also very important.

There wasn't a picture for "Toby Writes A Book"

4) Keep old ideas, and be ready to cross them with one another to get new concepts. I suspect that good new ideas don't just appear - they develop from something else. Often putting some unexpected element into an otherwise familiar story can yield very different results. It may be that an idea is perfectly good, but you're just not ready to write it yet.

5) Be wary of writing advice that says "You must do this". There's been a bit of a meme of "10 rules of writing" this week, basically as a response to Jonathan Franzen's rather odd observations here: However, some of the replacement lists are no better. Beware of anyone who says "You must do it like this". A lot of this business is figuring out what works for you.

6) Contrary to the impression I always get, you don't have to own a cat. Or even like them.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Gilbert & Sullivan's Blade Runner

Blade Runner: or, The Replicant's Revenge 
by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Deep breath...

Are you the latest model of a modern android replicant?
For in the nightmare future robot servants represent
A cheap source of labour
But if we dislike their behaviour
We don’t execute them: we mark them for retirement.

Now you may want to tell yourself “I’m no menace to society!
“I don’t remember fleeing from an offworld colony!”
You may recall when you were born
Or a prancing unicorn
But trust me any memory could be planted artificially.

You might like eating sushi, neon signs and cars that fly
And permanent advertisements for Coca-Cola in the sky
But you’ll find it’s all in vain
For memories like tears in rain
Get forgotten in just four years, and then you'll find it’s time to die.

So… Don’t come back to planet Earth or Rick Deckard or another
Blade Runner will hunt you down and shoot your robot lover
A blaster shot will hurtle
Through you if you flip the turtle
So tell me only the good things you recall about your mother.

Can you tell if you are human, as the androids all yearn to be?
Or if Deckard is a replicant with any sort of certainty?
Will Rick and Rachel stay alive?
Was it four bots or really five?
Just be warned the sequel goes on for all eternity!