Darkened Soul

This is the first draft of a brand new work.

‘Are we hunting or not?’ Narg poked his friend with a thick green finger. ‘It is time to begin the taunt, the moment can be lost before we engage.’ Barramon angled his head, smiled and ran the whetstone along his blade twice more. ‘If a weapon could have children you would never have taken a wife.’

‘We are ready.’ Barramon raised the sword to his pursed lips. ‘Are you coming, or do you still have rituals to perform.’

‘The rite of the hunt is important. It focuses a warrior’s mind on the foe.’ Narg rolled his shoulders.

Barramon sprang to his feet and bound into the thicket, over gnarled roots and torn stumps sword drawn. The hunt was on.

‘The sight of a dandril will focus my mind in an instant.’ Narg huffed as Barramon drew ahead.

‘If you are such a born warrior why do I always have to wait for you?’ Barramon cut through the bracken with an upward arc his body carried through by the momentum. Narg clumped along behind.

‘We are closing, these talon marks are wet with sap.’ Narg smacked the scarred tree with his sword. Thorns snagged his clothing but drew no blood or marked his skin. He chased on brushing the nuisance from his legs. ‘You tire so soon?’ Narg matched his stride to Barramon’s slowed pace.

‘Hush you oaf!’ Barramon placed his hand over Narg’s mouth, his pale hand matching the protruding tusks. ‘There.’ They hunkered down. ‘Only scales, remember?’ Barramon lifted an eyebrow at his companion.

‘Of course.’ Narg’s hand fell upon Barramon’s shoulders pressing the smaller man toward the ground. ‘Scales.’

‘Scales.’ Narg’s cheeks flushed toning his green skin brown. The words echoed between his ears, where blood raged.

The beast was young, vibrant green whose yellow underbelly pressed down on the scrub. Too young for fire, weened, perfect for scales.

‘Narg!’ Barramon scolded the space where his friend had been. He shook his head, smiling.

Narg’s crushed stick into the earth under his bare feet as he pounded across the clearing to challenge the dandril. He bellowed and beat his broad chest his huge fists thudded against his toughened leather jerkin. The dandril raised its head, licked the blood and sinew from its lips, and with a snort renewed its interest in its kill. Narg roared again, his lungs burned with rage until he was hoarse.

The dragon coughed a bone to the ground. Spittle drooled from those long bloodied fangs. A black tongue licked the air between them. Narg spat back, leaping high landed with a thunderous clap. He tore up clods of earth throwing them at the beast, some hit their target. The dragon growled clawing at the blood-wet soil. Narg held his ground, he would not be deterred by a stamped foot.

‘Come to me!’ Narg slipped his sword from its scabbard holding toward his prey.

A low grumble rose into a huffed gout of hot breath as the dragon began its charge.

‘Idiot!’ Barramon called from the sanctuary of his hide.

Narg heart thumped to the beat of his feet. The dragon raised its head and roared. Veins swelled around Narg’s neck and down the might of his arms reddening his flesh, his rage drove him forth. The two warring titans shook the earth around them.

A web of saliva glistened among the dragon’s teeth, its maw spread wide. The space between them hung with the fetid stench of the dragon’s meal. Narg clenched his blade, the haft heavy in his hand. At the moment when a dragon rolls its eyes and only the white remains, Narg stepped aside and pummelled the pommel of his sword into the eye. The dandril squealed clawing at its face where the blood ran in thick a sanguine stream.

‘Narg! No!’ Barramon’s blade clanged against the orc’s causing his friend to stumble. The strike, a mere distraction. Distracting enough to give the beast a second chance.

The dragon lurched around, swinging its horned head up. The blow lifted Narg from his feet. The dragon swung again, those teeth clashed as they snapped and bit at the air. Narg rolled aside to escape an enquiring claw. The beast reared – a great scaled bear.

‘Scales.’ Barramon cried. ‘Scales.’ The dandril crashed to the ground in a billow of smoke.

‘It has smoke!’ Narg groaned, deflecting the claw from his face.

‘So I see.’ Barramon clambered up its back working his knife under the horned ridge along its spine. Another scream, and in the distance a splinter of trees. All three fighters fell silent. The sky filled with startled birds and leaping wyverns. A tremor rattled the leaf litter.

The dragon was the first to react.

The beast bellowed dragon spit over Narg, and rand across him. Blood oozed from the back of Narg’s skull. Reaching behind his head he pulled out a bloody rock and threw it at the fleeing dragon. Barramon, dove after the dandril slashing his blade across its rear leg. The creature limped away into the woods.

‘Come on, you oaf.’ Barramon pinned himself against a tree. ‘Hold.’ He waved a hand at the orc.

Gold scales glittered in the sun shafts probing the blood trail. Smaller than the dandril pup the wyvern was no less a foe. Quicker and full-grown both men would have to be at best to win. Splintering trees scattered them all. The wyvern threw itself forward on its folded wings using its tail to launch itself into the air and escape the coming threat.

Shattered trees fell from the sky littering the clearing. Barramon thrust out a hand half-dragging Narg his feet. They ran without looking back.

The hobbled dandril struggled to escape, knowing what approached. A three-fingered hand wrapped around its trampling body lifting clear of the forest. The dragon squealed and was no more.

The Blood Within the Stone

The blood within the stone cover

The Blood Within the Stone. By T. R. Thompson

I was given a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I’m not going to dig deep into the story, you’ll have to read it for yourself, which I recommend you do. Young adult fantasy is not my usual read, but over the past few years, I’ve broadened my field. When this one came along I thought ‘why not?’ and added it to the ‘to-read pile with a host of others. I do, however, always have a peek to get a feel for what I’ve agreed to, and I liked what I saw. Once I turned off my analytical brain and let the story unfold I found the book more enjoyable.

Wilt and Higgs are a couple of likeable friends, especially Higgs, the protagonist’s friend. The story moves well, keeps up a steady pace and makes use of slow moments to develop a closer relationship between the core characters. Time is spent having fun and being serious in equal measures. Magic and crafts are discovered with excitement and wonder.

In general, it was dark enough to not feel like a teen novel. By the end, I could have kept reading despite the few misgivings I have. For me, Wilt the protagonist becomes too strong, too quickly which for me removed the ‘how’s he going to get out this?’ mystery. He just got stronger. The bad guys were twisted and evil enough, though overcome too easily, I never felt Wilt would fail or could fail. That said, it ended well enough to recommend it to you. Better than many first novels, certainly better than mine was.

If you like your YA fantasy on the darker side The Blood Within the Stone is time well spent. Three stars might not seem praiseworthy but I rarely give four and a five has to get everything right – for me.

Available from Amazon

Author website http://www.trthompson.com

A Quick Review

Necropolis - Boris PahorBoris Pahor writes with such honesty it’s impossible not to feel his journey. Necropolis begins on a road into the mountains, exactly where it ends. But it is the remarkable journey there, through the concentration camps at Bergen-Belsen, Harzungen, Dachau, and Natzweiler-Struthof, that he takes us on, the people he introduces us to, that will keep entranced. He does not revel in torture and cruelty, of course, they are there. This story written with powerful, yet simple, emotive description is a true work of literature. 

Boris’s crime was being Slovenian in Italy. For this, he spent fourteen months building what he calls his CV. He tells how a tiny injury, wrapped in paper bandages transformed his life., Through unusual acts of kindness, he became a medic, though he knew nothing of medicine. Today at 107, Boris Pahor is the oldest surviving victim of the Nazi camps. I recommend this book not because of the horrors but because of writing quality, this is life-writing at its best.

Led Zep

The madness of youth. Knebworth was 85 miles by train plus 15 by bus. I had everything I needed: money, the clothes I wore and a survival blanket. I was going to sleep under the stars with over 100, 000 other people all as long-haired and stinking as me.

I had traversed the perils of London without issue. My next train was a weird one. This was an Intercity pantograph (overhead electricity). I had fenced with brollies and jostled with the bowler hat brigade to board my carriage north on the hippy train to Hertfordshire. The train was forested by a plethora of excited travellers. Many had traversed the globe to worship at the altar of rock. Bodies were everywhere, limbs of the recumbent French dangled from luggage racks!

As we breached the county line intruding commuters eyed us with suspicious intent, their faces awash with mild panic. Their seats had sunk beneath an ocean of denim and kaftans. The dolly with the trolly would not be buffeting through with beverage and sandwiches today. Today they would feast on the rich talents of adoring rock fans screeching out their Robert Plant vocals while the humble impersonated drums, base, and subliminal guitars. The power of our performance overwhelmed our enemies driving them out at the next stop.

August 3rd 1979 the day we broke the train. High-speed trains cleanse platforms in their vacuum wake, excreting all the detritus on the track. Today that would be us. Somewhere, the memory of time and space is obscured in wonder, a short hop from Stevenage, our final rail destination, the overhead power cable snapped. Our convoy of carriages ground to a halt. Hints of light flickered through hedgerows, stars were too shy to show, the night was still young. Torches lit the carriage, flames of hope. This night would not be our last.

Rations were deployed by French maidens, bread and fromage from across the channel. Then the harbinger of doom prophesied his worse. Stevenage was the nearest haven and we would have to march in the dark if we were to survive. Everyone cheered and grabbed their bags. The doors unlocked and we climbed down into the growing dark. Our spirits would not be broken, without complaint, we forged ahead to the sanctuary.

Trains are tall beasts when you are standing on the track next to one. This serpent of steel was huge, twelve coaches of josticks and patchouli oil. We marched and sang, stumbling over fishplates and sleepers the wind at our backs and our best foot forward. The beacon at Stevenage station burned on the horizon signalling the end of this leg of our journey.

One Hour in Kampala Market.

A market is a common place. A place where people mingle and barter. A world within a world. Kampala market sits close to the heart of town. It is a dynamic world where sellers come and go throughout the day. Meat is often sold live and transported by whatever means; a young pig is fastened across the handlebars of a bicycle, its squeals run among the tyres and trucks.

Rain has swept the streets as clean as any deluge can. Mud has walled-up in the lower end, where the livestock snorts and chews the cud. The African sun returns to bake the earth and everything on it, including the only white face in an ocean of black. There’s a surge in voices as the traveller enters the market by the insect stall. Grasshoppers clamber under scratched acrylic lids in a futile bid to avoid being lunch. Pots of ants are scooped up and deposited into the customer’s plastic pot, Pret A Manger. A white dog, a terrier, cross-bred a thousand times, darts under the tables raising the ire of those around. There’s a yelp and the dog hobbles on three legs, but he has a bone. 

White face is at the meat counter, he must be feeling brave. A finger points at a pile of flies. ‘Cow.’ The butcher says. The black swarm settles on some glistening entrails. White boy moves on, meat ain’t on the menu.

Humidity is rising. Twenty minutes of searing heat and the rain never happened at all. The market flows downhill, before curving back around toward the top. A man of skin and bone stretches out over a bed of pineapples, a trick to dissuade the thieves. A pineapple sells for 500 shillings that’s 25 pence back home. The traveller selects a pineapple. He’s encouraged to feel the quality but remains clueless. Skin and bone drops the fruit in a thin blue carrier bag and money changes hands. It’s smiles all round, more teeth than a crocodile, but they can be trusted.

The air has changed. Gone is the musk of mud and petrichor. Bodies are warming in the sun, deodorant is a luxury rarer than mzungus, it’s what the locals call white people, sometimes white and angry. Our mzungu is getting passion juice. His attention is on the black woman spooning the guts from passion fruits into a tea strainer over a glass. A generous pinch of brown sugar is ground into the pips and pulp until only the seeds remain. From a cupboard, Mumma takes a handful of fat oranges and dumps them in a hand-wound juicer. She winds the handle and the oranges roll up and over into the juicing pit. She shoves the glass under the spout to catch the juice and wash the sugary pips. Money and smiles are exchanged. More teeth. This crocodile has the elixir of life. White face’s eyes come alive as Africa erupts in his mouth. A series of long sips, the lips never leave the glass until it’s all gone and only sugar syrup remains. But he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.

Carrot and Coriander

Shopping done. Veg hacked, skin still on and boiled to death.

The broken extractor coughed in apology to the switch. It was too cold out to open the window. Steam filled the kitchen. Claustrophobic and close, too close to feel anything but heat. 

Simmering; the saucepan rattles with the bubbling condensate. White knuckles gripped the handle testing the weight. He raises the heat. The blue flame licks around the base of the pan. The rattle intensifies.

‘You listening?’ Love gone? She smiles at the illuminated phone.

‘How is he?’ He lifts the lid bathing in the swirl of carrot and coriander; just a hint of liquified salt.

‘Is it done?’

‘I think so.’ The insidious rattle returns.

‘Good.’ Her finger traces the name on the phone.

‘Bowls.’ He waits as she stretches across the to the cupboard. He strangles the handle and lifts the pan from the stove. Lid shielding his heart. He turns ready to serve.

Shadows Rising – Review

Shadows Rising – Madeleine Roux

This one is for the fans, by the fans. Does it matter? Not in this case. As a life-long gamer, I’ve played World of Warcraft since its launch; this book is written for me. It’s not like a normal fantasy saga, though it is over sixteen years old, you need to know who everyone is to get the best out of this novel.

There is none of the expected character building, there is some, but they do not live long enough for it to come to fruition. The story takes place between the current Battle for Azeroth and game expansion and the forthcoming Shadowlands (mine’s on pre-order). Whilst I enjoyed the book, I knew nothing was going to be fully resolved, more of a positioning of pieces on the board waiting for the dice to roll. The story centres around Queen Talanji and the fight to protect the loa of death, Bwonsamdi, from the plans os Sylvanas Windrunner.

The story is simple enough, if not predictable. I only say this because, as a player, I know what is coming and therefore what must happen. In some ways this makes the storytelling follow a predetermined path. Much like following a questline in the game.

The book is enjoyable, in-keeping with the lore tied to its characters and previous events. If you are not familiar with this, you will struggle to get the most out of it. I would have preferred something deeper and soul searching. Something exploring the heart of the characters as every great fantasy does. The close ties to World of Warcraft limit this. After all, it is essentially fan fiction, and there are moments of this, which I enjoyed. Because of this, I am unable to recommend the book to anyone who does not play the game. It is not a standard novel, but still a good one, with the aforementioned caveats.

It’s a short solid read, sadly. But as I said at the start, for fans only.

Who is She?

This piece is the opening of a new novel concept. It is written from a fixed point of view in a room, not from a person’s view.

After the acid, his vision was no more than silhouettes through net curtains. 

‘Does anyone know anything?’ Voices, whispering secrets, discoveries.

‘Have we any witnesses? It happened in broad daylight right in the centre of town,’ the sound carried on weighted breath, muted by the thick glass of the window. Its owner was just out of sight down the corridor.

‘None, sir. I knew him; from school. He helped everyone.’ A sigh of tears.

‘Well, no one is helping him today.’ The measured steps of authority faded away, the voices just a memory on the air.

They know nothing. 

 Curtain rings jangled, snatched open with a hiss of nylon. The bedside lamp painted the sheets with sick shadows. Hands: one balled in bandages, the other, rose-pink, gripped the air with intensity. A soft whir heralded the release of morphine. The rose unfurled, setting the victim adrift toward oblivion.

A jug of water stood next to an upturned glass, neither usable to the occupant. A burst of pollen brightened the dust on the bedside cabinet, a tear from the weeping lilies suffering in the gloom. A dressing gown hung from a wardrobe on a stained wooden coat hanger, its hook fingering the lip of the door.

In measured silence she steps around the bed to investigate the soft tapping at the window. She huffs out a sharp breath at the sight of the robin fixated by the red mites negotiating the dust boulders in their path. The bird hops the length of one foot and pecks another inch of the sill clean before vanishing in a blur of wings into the privet bailey protecting this infirmary from the paparazzi braying at the kerbside.

It’s a wonder anyone in the unit can get any rest. Never has the hospital been so exciting. Exciting to everyone but the occupants in room seven. To one, it is a refuge of pain. To the other, it is the pain of guilt. Guilt that brings her to his bedside. Guilt clawing at her breast to escape. Guilt that would drive a saint to pray. But she is no saint. Already she is plotting her escape. 

‘Did anyone see you arrive my dear? Do take a look at the photo by the bedside. Do you recognise the children playing in the pool?’ She shook the thoughts from her head.

Her heart pounds to the point of pain. She closes her eyes, tight, she bites her lip, turning the cherry white then red. ‘Why?’ She asks of the closing stillness. He lay there oblivious to the world: to her rage at him. ‘You brought this on yourself.’ She leans over him, her soft bosom close to his chest. ‘I hope you die for what you’ve done. You took everything from me. Everyone will see this as a result of how you lived. You’re lucky it’s only your face I got melted.’ Spittle dripped from her lips to his. She stood, ran her tongue over her lips, tasting the iron. ‘Is there no end to what you can do?’

She stood there, watching the slowness of his breathing. Was he unaware of her? Filthy bruises surrounded the site of the tracheostomy poking out of his throat like a robotic implant. The ventilator gasped into life. ‘Why don’t you just die!’ She kicked the bed, catching the pedal with her foot. A caterwaul of alarms screamed for attention. ‘Bastard’ she hissed slithering from the room beneath the crimson strobe of emergency light. She could hear footfalls hitting the floor with a clop and slap as they homed in on the alarm. She dared a final look through the glass. He was going nowhere, was telling no-one anything, he did not need a name. He had all he deserved burned into his precious face. She walked away, unfastened the white coat allowing it to flap around as she increased her gait and ran.

Out and about

Last night I had the opportunity to talk to a gathering of writers about Self-Publishing, both the good and the bad of it. It was only then that I realised just how much work you have to commit to make anything of it. For me, I’ve struggled, mostly its been a battle with depression which now thankfully has passed. So, I’m going to push a bit more from now on and try to fit in a bit more of the marketing side which I know nothing about.

I would like to extend a heart-felt thank you to Lesley Hart at Colleyer’s School in Horsham for the invitation and for hosting the event, which was her first. The evening was a great success with a lively group of budding writers all keen to learn about what comes after the writing bit. To be honest, marketing comes before the book is finished, especially if you are going to self-publish.

I can see that there is a huge market for people needing help with self-publishing. If you have no technical knowhow then preparing your manuscript and cover art is going to be difficult. So, if any of you reading this would like some pointer or help drop me email and I’ll see what I do.

PRESS RELEASE

On 26 June, Collyer’s Adult Education Creative Writing course invited its past and current students, together with their friends and families, to a published authors and publisher event.
Initially, ticket sales, at £5pp, were steady. But, a mad flurry of interest from the weekend onwards saw ticket sales almost double in numbers. Many of the, adult education, creative writing students have been on the course for the entire academic year and had asked if a publisher might come in and speak to them about the process. After a lot of investigation, I managed to book three different published authors, of different genres, and local hybrid publisher RedDoor.
Our authors were generously happy to speak about any aspect of publishing, which enabled us to build an evening around their different areas of expertise – with no overlaps! The evening began with a presentation from Anna Burrt (https://reddoorpublishing.com/), from RedDoor publishers about, the different routes into publishing and how to pitch your story. Local writer Mathew Bridle (https://theonesagacouk.wordpress.com/) enlightened us on the different methods of self-publishing. He spoke authoritatively about writing software, using knowledge from his thirty years of self-publishing for his own benefit, in addition to guiding other’s careers. Sam Leeves, is an ex-student of Collyer’s and has popularly spoken previously about his work to our full time students. He was able to offer advice about how to complete a story and the seemingly impossible hurdle of knowing when you have reached the point of a final edit. Our final speaker was Andrew Crofts, a published author of non fiction; ghost writer and more recently fiction whose, more than 80, books have been published by the ‘big five’, garnering him more than a dozen places for best sellers on the Times number one best seller lists. More recently, Andrew has chosen to publish through RedDoorand the beautiful coverwork on his books is testament to their investment in their authors. Andrew regaled us with hilarious tales of agent auctions and the importance of self promotion for any author.
Some members of our audience hadn’t met previously. Nevertheless, they all came with a positive attitude, which made for a lively and engaged evening. Our question and answer panel, at the end of the evening, overran, as everyone was keen to learn more about their individual field of writing.
There has been a huge learning curve in planning this first event, but its enormous success has meant that it will definitely be something we will be considering as an annual event. I am happy for anyone interested in future author events, to email me: admin@collyers.ac.uk with the subject: Published Author Event. This will ensure that emails reach me through our central inbox.

Self Edit Tips

Editing – you either love it or hate it. As a freelance editor who’s now clocked up twenty-five years in the publishing profession, clearly I love it. However, I know a lot of authors dread the E word.

For our purposes editing is the preparation of written materials for publication or presentation by correcting, revising or adapting. When you do this yourself, it’s self-editing. Whether you can ever self-edit adequately is a matter for debate. Generally you can’t. You are too familiar with your own work and the human eye is a devious thing. It will swear blind to your brain that you’ve written what you were trying to say and not notice a missing word or a spelling mistake.

How much editing should you do before you either hand your project over to a professional editor for a final polish or launch it directly into the market yourself? You should read your work through at least twice and tidy up as you do so. But not much more than that. I cringe when I come across authors saying they are on their sixth or seventh revision. That’s way too many. By that stage you’re only tinkering and obsessing. Stop. Let your baby go.

Stepahie Jane Dagg

 It can be hard to let your baby go!

So, to help with the editing process and make it as efficient as possible, here are a few tips on self-editing.

1. Spot your overused words and weed them out: we all have some that become our default words and we shove them in without really thinking. The usual culprits I’ve found over the years are these: just, a bit, however, though, a little, of course, in fact, said, stood, walked, nevertheless, nonetheless, seeing as, almost, really, surely, certainly, some, could only, suddenly, nice, lovely, immediately, rather, well, very, decided.

But how can you discover your own foibles? Select a passage of a current piece of your writing, say at least 1,000 words. Copy it and paste it to create a new document. Starting with the list of words above, now do a ‘find’ for each one of them, and note down how often it appears. Add other words that you know you’re prone to employing. Any of these words or phrases that are cropping up more than 5 times definitely need your attention, and any with 3 or 4 appearances could do with thinking about too. Replace them with a synonym or get rid of them altogether. Now critically read the new version and I’m sure you’ll see an improvement.

2. Names: keep a list of character names. And keep them as varied as you can. There are thousands upon thousands of names to choose from but it’s astonishing how many authors duplicate names or end up with a selection that are all very similar to each other – for example Jane, Joan, Jean, Joanne, Janet all appearing in one book. (There’s a definite bias towards names beginning with J I’ve noticed too!) There’s a very handy character name generator on my website here http://edit-my-book.com/name-generator.html to help you come up with a name if you’re stuck. Hugely successful indie author Kristen Ashley has quite a line in making up unusual names for her characters. If it works for her, then why not give it a shot too. Be inventive.

3. Style sheet: as with the list of names, you should keep one of these. A style sheet is where you jot down how you present your work. Will you use double quotation marks around speech (recommended) or single ones? Where will you use hyphenation? Will you capitalise certain nouns that aren’t proper nouns to give them extra emphasis in your story? And so on. The idea of the style sheet is to ensure consistency in your work. It’s not too late to compile one during your last read through.

4. Back to front and a different format: on your final proofread, work from the back, a page at a time. This gives you a whole new perspective on your story from seeing it in a very different way. This will make it easier to spot typos. You should also read your story through either printed out or on an ereader. Again, the different appearance of your MS from how you’ve usually seen it on the computer screen will help you spot mistakes more easily.

5. Don’t rush: take some time over your self-editing. Take plenty of breaks and even put the work aside for a few days before a final proofread. Mark Coker of Smashwords has said that one of the main mistakes indie authors make is being too impatient to publish. This will mean grumpy reviews that stick if there are silly grammatical or spelling mistakes, or a plot that was too hastily cobbled together and not thought through.

Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar. Fools rush in. More haste, less speed. There are plenty of age-old sayings advising against impetuosity and they hold true in this era of epublishing where the temptation is to throw ourselves into the digital stream as quickly as possible. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your writing, so don’t let yourself down by skimping on the last stages of production. Spend time on self-editing and editing and produce something that’s as professional as you can make it. Your writing is worth it.

Stepanie Jane Dagg