A Sneak Peek At My Next Novel (Servants of Infamy)

A Sneak Peek At My Next Novel (Servants of Infamy)

Towards the end of summer I started work on a number of projects (see What To Write? Help!). As sometimes happens, I ended up being swept away by a story I had never intended to write. It’s called Servants of Infamy, and the first draft is almost half-finished (42,000 words) so I’ll tell you a bit about it.

Introduction

It’s set just before the outset of the Wars of the Roses and the narrative loosely turns around the rise of Richard Plantagenet, Third Duke of York (hence, the White Rose).

Premise

Why did I start writing White Rose? The best inspiration for writing often comes from reading. In this case, I drew on the successes and failures of something I’d read.

It was a historical novel set during the Wars of the Roses and it was very well-written (I may review it in the future). I found the period and historical events to be fascinating and worth further exploration. But there was a drawback that I couldn’t escape noticing as I read through the novel.

Where are all the people? That’s what I kept asking myself. There were plenty of intriguing characters, but they were mostly royals and nobles. Where are the “ordinary” people? I’m not a king or a duke, so there will always be a wall standing between me and a nobleman character, preventing me from fully empathizing with them.

That’s why I’ve said above that White Rose only loosely concerns Richard of York. He’s certainly not the principal character. In fact, the protagonist has neither title nor lands. His name is Jack, and he’s not even English. At present, the most important aristocratic characters are lowly knights or orphan daughters of defunct noble houses.

This is a view of the Wars of the Roses that I can get excited about. It’s medieval politics and civil war seen from the mud, blood and sour ale perspective.

Blurb

“The year is A.D. 1443 and a lull has fallen in the Hundred Years’ War. Henry VI of England lacks the stomach for battle and France still reels from the defeats suffered at Agincourt and Crecy.

Jack, a young Scotsman, and his warlike grandfather take service as mercenaries in Anjou, driven by a vengeful hatred of the English. Meanwhile, a powerful faction within England schemes for a truce with the Valois throne.

The white rose of York cries out for the war to continue.

A young man fuels the fires of revenge with English blood.

And two orphaned daughters of a French knight are dragged into the sinister politics of their enemies’ royal court.”

I’d appreciate any honest feedback you have to offer on the premise or blurb, as well as your initial reaction!

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Daily Mythology: Thor’s Day

Daily Mythology: Thor’s Day

Mighty thor

Image copyright J S Malpas, all regrets reserved

Thor’s squat little legs carried him up onto the mound of stones that spilled over the pond’s bank. He stood on top and set one hand on his hip, the other dragging his great hammer Mjolnir after him. A few steps below, his younger brother Loki squinted up at him.

“I am the mighty Thor!” he squealed, throwing back his round face so that his short yellow beard jutted out. “I am king of all the gods!”

“You are not.”

“I am so.”

The smaller godling tried to scramble up after his brother, but his gangling legs could not find a purchase on the smooth boulders. Loki slipped and tumbled down to land with a splash in the cold, murky waters. A shrill, ringing voice giggled somewhere out of sight. The godlings looked around for the source of the sound, but saw nothing. They heard it laugh again, louder.

“You’re not real gods.” it called, high-pitched mockery stinging their ears.

“We are too!” Thor said.

He tried to bellow with rage like his father, Odin, would have, but his soft throat only produced a wheedling whine. Loki hauled his knees up by his chest and sulked, lank black hair falling across his face.

A short, green shape dashed out of the thick reeds and sprinted at the base of Thor’s mound. He hefted Mjolnir into the air and prepared to crush whichever creature was taunting him. Before he could leap into an attack, a glossy red apple struck him on the bridge of the nose. He toppled backwards off the slick stones and fell into the pond. His mighty hammer landed on Loki’s unsuspecting head and drove him underwater.

They came up together in a writhing surge of thrashing limbs, spitting long jets of water from their mouths.

“You hit me!” Loki wailed.

“I did not. It was her.” Thor said, pointing to the creature prancing about on the spot where he had stood.

She was a girl of the same age as them, with long golden hair fixed in a tight braid down her back. Her hands each held an apple, one green and the other red. As soon as the brothers stopped their squabbling, her arms flashed forwards. Thor was lucky that time, ducking out of the way, but the red apple hit Loki’s head exactly where Mjolnir had landed and he howled with pain.

“Who are you?” Thor asked.

“I’m Idunn.” she trilled in reply. “I’m queen of all the little godlings!”

“You are not.” Thor cried, leaping out of the pond with his hammer raised.

“Am too!”

Mjolnir swung through the air, continued to swing, and hit Thor on his fat backside. The little goddess had disappeared. First she had been a young girl, then she had begun to shrink until a squalling infant lay at his feet. As he stared in wonder, Idunn grew smaller and smaller until there was nothing left but two tiny pinpricks of starlight.

They drifted away across the pond, bouncing off Loki’s smarting head as they went.

Tip #20: Planning Your Novel In 3 Steps (for NaNoWriMo)

Tip #20: Planning Your Novel In 3 Steps (for NaNoWriMo)

How to

Recently, I’ve been publishing tips which are quite abstract (e.g. Write For Money, Keep Up With The Times). This post is a lot more focused and aims to give purely practical advice on how to plan a novel. I didn’t actually get this information from the how-to book in the featured image (I’m relying on my own experience such as it is), but I thought it would be worthwhile showing you what other resources are out there.

Step 1: Flying among the clouds

The heading is a bit fanciful, but at this stage that’s exactly where your mind should be. You need to let your imagination run wild and unchecked. Come up with an idea for a story, decide who its main characters are and how you want it to end. Chances are that if you’re reading this post, you’ve already finished this step. If not, then generate your concept soon. NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!

Step 2: Planning by part

Historical novels are often divided into four parts. I don’t know who decided this should happen or how many parts there should be, that’s just the way it’s done. You might not be a historical novelist, but you should still divide your book in this way while planning it. It’s easy to delete the “Part x” header when the draft is finished.

Some authors like to generate a detailed breakdown of each individual chapter from start to finish before they even dream of putting pen to paper. There is an obvious drawback to this method. What happens if the story changes? It’s likely that your characters will rebel every once in a while and do something you never expected them to be capable of at the start.

On the other hand, walking into a story blind can lead to the dreaded writer’s block. This seems to crop up where a sub-plot is successfully concluded and any sense of where the novel is going next melts away.

Planning in a very basic outline what happens in each part (e.g. 4 short paragraphs total) can help to maintain focus and keep your ideas flowing. At the same time, it’s nowhere near to over-planning and versatile enough to cope with unexpected, eureka-moment developments.

Step 3: Piecemeal planning

Authors who like to plan each minute detail in advance must be running a cold sweat by now. The idea that you could rely on 4 short paragraphs for the whole novel, I must be mad! Don’t worry, there’s one more stage left.

What I’ve been searching for is a way to construct a guiding skeleton for a novel without it being too rigid or slipshod. You don’t want to be constrained and you want to know where each chapter is heading. Well, we can use Stage 2 to help us.

I’ve already said that you should plan all 4 parts in brief at the outset. Now, before writing each part, plan what will happen in the intervening chapters. In this way you’ll be planning each part as you come to it. That allows enough breathing room to redraw the novel’s road-map if there’s a drastic change in part 1, but you still know exactly where you’re trying to go for the next few chapters.

Have a look at the graphic below:

Novel plan process

If you think this flowchart will be helpful, feel free to download or share it. I’d be over-valuing my MS Paint skills if I thought they were worth a copyright notice.

Let me know in the comments if any of this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?

Previously:

My books:

Daily Mythology: Wodan’s Day

Daily Mythology: Wodan’s Day

Wodan

“Hail to you, hearty men and stout women, for today is Wodan’s day. Raise a cup now and drink your fill!”

Wodan remained like a statue of chipped granite as the titan bellowed his speech. He didn’t move as the giant raised a long arm formed from the twisted trunks of mighty firs. Not a sound escaped his tight lips as the giant’s fingers, each taller than a high spruce tree, overturned the hollow carcass of an ancient oak which he used as a drinking horn.

A flood of earthy, amber liquid cascaded down from its rim and swept in a foaming flood around the giant’s feet. His ankles were dry as bone, but the sour ale spun and surged around Wodan’s shoulders, threatening to tear his legs out from under him.

He braced his spear against the ground and stood fast, waiting for the deluge to subside. Voices could be heard crying out in fear beneath the forest’s shadowed boughs. Wodan heard his people’s terror and felt a sharp flint of anger strike against his hard stone heart. Wringing ale from his long, silver beard, he pointed the long shaft of his spear up at the giant. He had to squint, peering up towards the bright sky from beneath the wide, tattered brim of his black cloth hat. Did the titan feel fear, looking down into the creased lines of his face? He doubted it.

“Do you mock me, titan?” he asked, his voice a deep rumble that shook among the spindling branches of the giant’s head.

“Mockery?” the giant bellowed back, shaking the earth with his booming laughter. “I propose a toast to the mighty Wodan, but his people will not drink.”

“Is it a toast, or are you just too weak to drink with Wodan Allfather?”

“Weak? A puny god like you could not drain one cup of my ale.”

Chuckles came from the depths of the giant’s throat as he swirled the last drops around inside his vast drinking horn. A sound like a hundred cascading waterfalls met Wodan’s ears as the cup refilled. Green saplings and shoots crept out of the damp earth, twisting about the huge toes. Gnarled roots spread from the giant’s toenails and pressed into the soil.

Wodan took the cup that was offered, too huge almost for him to hold without toppling over. He drank his fill and smacked his lips, feeling the pressure of a lake of ale bulging in his gut. The giant filled it once more, draining his portion in a few gulps. While his back was turned, Wodan tapped the butt of his spear once to the ground and slid the point into his own navel.

Golden, foaming liquid burst out and streamed into the gaping chasm that had opened where his spear touched the earth. When the giant looked down at him once more, Wodan had the look of a starved man, thin and hunched. He pressed the cup back into his hands.

Their game continued for several days, while the forest-dwellers hid behind the trees and looked on in horror. Wodan’s cup was filled over and again. Each time he drank, waited for the giant to look away and emptied his belly into the dark depths of the earth. Finally, the titan began to sway. A thick copse of trees and ivy creepers had grown over his feet and up his shins, fed by the bitter ale.

“Do you admit you lack the strength to carry on?” Wodan asked.

The giant gave no reply, only teetered slightly and peered down at the old, bedraggled god. Broad hands made of gorse and holly thorns tried to swat at Wodan as he climbed up the giant’s back. But his mind was too addled to strike home, his legs caught fast in the trap. Wodan reached his neck and paused, catching his breath in haggard pants and wheezes.

“Will you admit your weakness now?” he asked.

“Wodan the Cunning.” the giant giggled. “Wodan Tree-Scrambler.”

Wodan wedged the point of his spear into the giant’s neck and he crashed to the earth, ripping apart trees and undergrowth as he fell. The people of the forest watched as their god shuffled away, clutching wrinkled hands to his gaping stomach.

Daily Mythology Coming Soon

Daily Mythology Coming Soon

Ragnarok

Starting soon, I’m planning to write a Daily Mythology series of short stories. They’ll be inspired by the etymology of days’ names (yawn? I think not!):

 

Monday for Mani, Germanic god of the Moon.

Tuesday for Tiw, the one-handed Norse god of single combat and pledges.

Wednesday for Wodan, the Anglo-Saxon form of Odin.

Thursday for Thor!

Friday for Frigg, Norse goddess of foreknowledge and wisdom.

Saturday for Saturn, Roman god representing a Golden Age of peace and plenty.

Sunday for Sunna, Germanic goddess personification of the Sun.

 

This is quite a male-heavy list. Do you have a favourite goddess who could give these boys a run for their money? Let me know and I’ll try to work her into a story.

Broken Journey (short story)

Pocket watch

Warlock #1

Owen kicked his feet up onto the seat opposite him. He knew it was against the rules but his trainers were clean, so it didn’t really matter. The businesswoman at the table across the aisle made a guttural sound of disapproval.

He was on the high-speed rail link out of London, hurtling towards his new boarding school, his new life.

Near the end of the summer holiday, his parents had stopped arguing as much. At first, he thought it was a good sign. Clearly the fact that they shouted less meant that they were happier.

Owen was partly right. They were happier because they had finally found something to agree on. Their divorce would go through during his first term. That was a blessing for them and a curse for him. They had tried persuading Owen that it meant he would have twice as many visits on weekends, but he doubted that very much.

Something a few rows down the train distracted him from his thoughts before they grew any darker. A man in a brown corduroy suit had taken out an expensive-looking pocket watch, the kind people wore in old pictures, and was checking it’s bright face.

The man made an impatient noise and looked up at his travelling companions. One was in a black suit with white pinstripes and a matching waistcoat, sitting in the seat opposite. The other looked like a homeless person. His hair was long and matted, he had a scraggly grey beard and his clothes were all old and stained.

They could not have appeared more different. Owen thought they looked like a professor, a businessman and a tramp. But it was obvious that they were travelling together from the glances the executive and homeless man kept shooting at each other and the third man. The care they took not to seem associated with each other was a dead giveaway.

With a deft movement, the businessman reached out a long arm for the pocket watch, shaking his head as he did so. The academic carefully slid it onto the table and set his face in a pleasant, entreating expression.

“Come on now, it’s only a watch. There’s nothing dangerous about it.”

The homeless man shifted his gaze to the engraved surface of the watch’s lid and pursed his lips. Owen began to wonder whether they were undercover police officers. They might have just arrested the man in brown corduroy and be taking him to the local police station. He might even be an escaped prisoner.

Hands shaking with excitement, Owen stood and walked towards the toilets at the other end of the carriage. He hoped to get a better look at the three men on the way, although his bladder was full as well.

He had only walked a few paces before the professor raised his head and looked directly into Owen’s eyes. They were bright, piercing amber eyes which seemed to be reading Owen’s face, looking into his mind with fierce curiosity. Then there was a flash of something darker, a warning.

Owen stepped backwards instinctively and the businessman twisted around in his seat. His eyebrows arched and his mouth fell open when he saw Owen’s face, his gaze still locked with the professor’s.

“Time’s up.” The man in brown corduroy said.

He snapped the pocket watch closed. In an instant his two companions had leaped to their feet, the businessman still turning back from looking at Owen. Something moved outside the windows of the carriage, swirling jets of cloud tearing through the air towards them.

They hit the train with the force of a wrecking ball, tearing a strip of the roof away directly above the row of seats on which the three men had sat. The walls peeled away to either side of them and the glass in the windows shattered.

Owen thought he saw two more men standing on the roof of the train through the torn roof. Jets of smoke shot out of their hands like trails behind a bullet and cracked into the chests of the homeless man and pinstriped man. Both men crumpled back into their seats.

When he looked back up, the two men on the roof had disappeared along with the man in brown corduroy. A silver pocket watch spun on the table as the wind caught its side. Owen snatched it up before it fell out through the open wall.

The train slowly shuddered to a stop and the businesswoman stopped screaming. He had not even heard her begin.

PART 2

Start reading another fantasy short story series here.

Find my book on Amazon Kindle here.