Jake and the Angel – A New Jake Savage Flash Fiction Story

Here’s a free flash fiction story featuring Jake Savage – the main character from Chivalry and Hell has its Demons. Hope you enjoy it!

Jake and the Angel

Jake groaned. His neck hurt. By God’s holy bones did it hurt. This was a new way of suffering from a hangover—it was usually the top and the sides of his head that hurt and of course his stomach that rebelled, turning against the rest of the body by trying to throw its contents onto the ground next to wherever Jake had slept the night before. Jake sat up and rubbed the back of his neck. Pale sunlight washed the alleyway. It was a drab January day two weeks after Christmas and mild for the time of the year, but after a night sleeping rough Jake still shivered. The insulating numbness of a night’s drinking was wearing thin. A rough woollen blanket covered him and he had been sheltered from the wind that nipped now at his face by a line of barrels placed across the alley. Had he thought to put them there last night? Where had he got the blanket from? He didn’t remember.

There had been a fight, he knew that. He raised his right hand and inspected the knuckles. They were red and bruised. But nothing else hurt apart from his neck. He guessed that he had come away the winner from the scrap.

A shadow blocked out the pale January sunlight. Jake looked up. A tall man dressed in a plain grey robe stood over him. There was something bulky on the man’s back, but Jake couldn’t make it out—a sack of some sort also covered in grey cloth. The man’s head was bald and his grey chin jutted un-bearded at the bottom of a craggy but handsome face. The man nodded.

“Good,” he said.

“What?” Jake scowled. His tongue felt like a it had been tied in knots by an ale-soaked badger. He coughed and spat phlegm onto the ground. It landed next to the dried vomit from earlier.

“You need water then,” the man said, rather than asked. A wooden cup was the next moment in his hand and he passed it towards Jake.

Jake glanced at the man not knowing what to think. Who was he, why was he offering him water?

“Is it poisoned? Were you in …” he nodded towards the wall of the tavern next to the tavern. “Did I hurt one of your friends last night in there and now you’ve come for your revenge?”

“I wasn’t, and it’s not poisoned. It’s clear, pure water. Just what you need. I know you’d hoped for more ale. But that wouldn’t be good for you. This will start to help clear your head. But you’ll need more of it and sleep and food when you can stomach it.”

Jake nodded. “Aye, I will that.” He took the cup and gulped down the water. For something so simple it had never tasted so good, so pure. He wanted more. The man took the cup that Jake offered him back.

“I will fetch more,” he said. For a moment Jake was dazzled by the light as the sun moved round to shine directly into the alley. The man was gone and returned in a matter of seconds. He held the cup towards Jake again and placed a small barrel of water beside Jake just away from the dried vomit and phlegm.

Jake drank greedily from the cup and then took the barrel in both hands and swilled the water down his throat. He wanted to sluice the fresh cold water off his head, but it seemed a pity to waste such vital fluid as that in such a way. He drank until he couldn’t drink anymore and then took some in both hands and glanced up at the man.

“Wash your face—water has many uses and it would be well for you to clear your head, for I have something to show you now for which you will need your full attention.”

Jake didn’t like the sound of that, but he splashed the water over his face anyway. He felt revived and almost sober.

“Come,” said the man holding out his hand. Jake reached to take it but the man withdrew his hand and turned walking purposefully towards the entrance to the alley. Jake stood up without his help and followed, compelled to go after him.

The man pointed into the market square. There was a wooden platform set-up—freshly built for the assize—those found guilty would be hanged there.

“If I had not come,” said the man, “that would have been your fate this morning.”

Jake shook his head. “What do you mean?”

“Take this as a warning, Jake—curb your habits before they curb you.”

Sunlight glinted from the new glass window of the guild-hall on the side of the marketplace. Jake raised his hand to block out the glare and turned his head. When he looked back, shading his eyes, the man had gone. Jake turned and turned again, looking for him. He was nowhere to be seen. But on the ground near his feet lay a strong white feather—from a goose or a swan even freshly brought to market, Jake guessed. He picked up the feather and turned it in his hand and wondered.

Chivalry – the first Jake Savage Adventure – eBook Now Free

Chivalry Cover - NewYou can now grab a copy of the short story Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure for free from most major eBook stores.

Chivalry is the first story I wrote featuring the character Jake Savage. Jake goes onto feature as one of the main characters in my novel Hell has its Demons and also in two other short stories: Bring on the Night and The King of Britain’s Head. I have another short story featuring him in the works and more to come.

Get Chivalry for free from:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | iBooks | Nook | Smashwords

1,356 thoughts on Bernard Cornwell

1356 Bernard Cornwell - book coverHerewith, some thoughts on writing techniques of Bernard Cornwell following reading 1356.

This is a case of me making some fairly random observations that are important to me as a writer of historical fiction. If you are not a writer, then you might find them a bit uninteresting. If the thoughts are relevant to you, then you might also find them a bit obvious – “Well of course he does that, doesn’t he!”

  1. He uses an historical event (Battle of Poitiers) as a plot device – not as a backdrop – it only appears late on in the book – for the main story – in this case the pursuit for the fabled sword La Malice. In effect 1356 is a secret history.
  2. He introduces interesting nuggets of historical detail to dazzle the reader – steel was made by combining bones when smelting iron apparently? The bones of virgins make for the best steel. I never knew that, I have no idea if its true, but it sounds good.
  3. Minor characters are drawn vividly, but not that deeply. Prince Edward is a gambling, jolly prince who is cocky, but in a nice way; Sculley is basically a battle crazed scott, Father Merchant is coldly evil – it’s easy for the reader to picture these people. Major characters have more depth of back story and motivation.
  4. Interesting mix of viewpoint characters – Thomas of course, the main character, but King Jean, Prince Edward and several others are used as viewpoint characters – so many in fact that it almost seems like an omniscient POV.
  5. Some viewpoint characters seem to almost drop out of the story – what’s the point of Brother Michael – he only seems to be relevant early in the book and then he’s a hanger-on. (I still have a bit left to read, so who knows, perhaps he will make a come back?)
  6. The action scenes are where the writing is at its strongest. There are some attempts at humour, which feel a bit weird to me and don’t come off.
  7. The publisher needs to think about using a copy editor more thoroughly – in the space of a few pages at one point the same information was communicated several times. And it seems to be a running joke that no-one knows how to find the city of Bourges. Poor old Bourges! Not sure if this was intentional or again the result of lack of editing. The obsession with finding Bourges seemed a bit odd to me.

So that’s it – just some of my thoughts. 1356 like all of Bernard Cornwell’s books is good fun for the reader, but also provides some good pointers for writers. There’s the whole character arc, plotting question as well – I’m sure it does that well, but I hvaen’t had a chance to study how that works, but my main takeaways were the points about historical detail and making minor characters vivid.

Busy Times

Just a quick note to followers of this blog to apologize for my lack of posts in the last few months – things have been busy at work – lots of travel and things to do. But, I am planning to get back to the writing and the blogging more now that the nights are drawing in. Will probably go back to the posts about magic in Chaucer shortly and possibly some stuff on things that interest me such as the Field of Glory PC game and other things related to medieval and fantasy.

Watch this space as they say …

Magic in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Folio 20v from Thomas Norton The Ordinall of A...
Folio 20v from Thomas Norton The Ordinall of Alchemy England: c.1550-1600 MS Ferguson 191 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am working on a project at the moment to improve my understanding of the beliefs towards magic in the Middle Ages – specifically fourteenth century England, where I set much of my historical fantasy. I would like to know more about what people of this time thought about magic.

One of my first stops is to look at some of the references to magic in the literature of the time – so where better to start than the best known writer of the time, Geoffrey Chaucer.

I am going to look in more depth in this series of blog posts at each

example, but I am starting here with a quick summary of the instances I have found so far in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

How am I defining references to magic? I am not including stories set in antiquity where pagan gods intervene on behalf of the characters, such as the Knight’s Tale where Saturn causes the death of Arcite. Neither am I including purely supernatural interventions of the devil – such as the Pardoner’s Tale. If someone summons a demon that’s fine, but I don’t think there’s actual magic in the Pardoner’s Tale.

Here are the tales that I have found so far with major examples of magic in their narratives:

Canon Yeoman’s Tale

The Canon Yeoman actually assists his own master in the practice of alchemy and the whole of his tale focuses on that magical art in quite a lot of detail. I’m looking forward to digging into this one in more depth as it should reveal quite a bit about the practice of alchemy in fourteenth century England.

 Wife of Bath’s Tale

A man is fooled into thinking he is about to meet 24 maidens, but they magically disappear to be replaced by an old hag – a witch effectively.

Friar’s Tale

On the way to extort money from a widow, the Summoner encounters a yeoman who is apparently down on his luck. The two men swear brotherhood to each other and exchange the secrets of their respective trades, the Summoner recounting his various sins in a boastful manner. The yeoman reveals that he is actually a demon, to which the Summoner expresses minimal surprise—he enquires as to various aspects of hell and the forms that demons take.

This could be a bit like the Pardoner’s Tale, but I’m including as the medieval practice of necromancy involved the summoning of demons.

Squire’s Tale

This tale includes a number of magical items such as a brass steed that can teleport, a mirror that can detect enemies and friends, a ring that allows the wearer to talk to birds and a sword that deals and heals deadly wounds. Also the tale includes a digression on astrology.

Franklin’s Tale

Aurelius needs to remove all the rocks on the coast of Brittany in order to win the hand of a lady. He does this by employing a magician.

***

I am planning to do a blog post for each of the examples above to look into the portrayal of magic in more depth.

Book Review: Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley

Edinburgh Dead

Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley

Here’s the blurb from the author’s site:

Edinburgh 1828: it’s a city populated by mad alchemists who treat Frankenstein as textbook rather than novel and by a criminal underclass prepared to treat with the darkest of powers. And one officer, from the recently formed Edinburgh City Police, must follow the trail of undead hounds, emptied graves, brutal murders and mob violence into the deepest and darkest corners of Edinburgh’s underworld – both literal and magical – and back again to the highest reaches of elegant, intellectual Edinburgh society.

It’s 1828, an ex-soldier, Adam Quire, is investigating death of what seems like a vagrant – but leads him to house of Ruthven. The plot of the novel involves raising the dead, grave-robbing.

Edinburgh Dead is a good historical thriller, with a touch of pseudo-science and magic thrown in. Although it has some of the elements of a detective novel there’s not really a lot of detection involved. Its more about tracking down the bad guys against the odds. Quire doesn’t get a lot of help from the rest of the police.

The atmospheric setting of Edinburgh is one of the highlights. Ruckley captures the weird layout and architecture of the city particularly well, I think.

I wouldn’t say it was perfect – as mentioned the detection part of it isn’t that sophisticated. Also there’s a flashback to Quire as a soldier during the Battle of Waterloo that I thought probably wasn’t necessary.

In conclusion, this is not a trashy zombie book. The risen dead element is kept in proportion and in fact there’s not too many zombies at all, which means that when they do appear the effect is much more powerful.

Buy Edinburgh Dead at Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

New Short Story Published: Judge a Book by its Cover

Judge a Book by its Cover - eBook copyJust to let anyone know who reads my stuff that I have a new short story out. It’s called Judge a Book by its Cover.

Unusually for me its a contemporary fantasy story – I tend to base most of my writing either in the historical past or a fantasy world. I feel its kind of on the edge between fantasy and horror – that’s sort of the theme of the story.

Anyway, here’s the blurb and how to get it. You can read a brief extract from it here.

A creative writing student wonders what the difference is between two genres of fiction: horror and fantasy. Like his new girlfriend says: “Perhaps it’s like the difference between pizza and a grilled cheese sandwich?” But when he asks his tutor the answer he gets leads to a truer definition of “Horror” than he ever expected.

Judge a Book by its Cover is a fantasy/horror short story.

You can buy Judge a Book by its Cover in eBook format from the following retailers and several others to numerous to list!

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble

Kobo | Smashwords | iBooks

The Perils of Making eBooks Free

Free books
Free books (Photo credit: randomduck)

Free ebooks can be a great way of getting the word out to potential readers about your books. This helps by putting your book into “others also bought” lists, putting it on free best seller list and hopefully getting reviews.

But there can be some downsides. These are some of the ones I have experienced:

  • Freebie collectors: lots of downloads and very few reviews. Why because people basically download free stuff and hoard it with very little intention of reading it – or maybe with the best intentions, but then don’t bother.
  • Reviews of free books tend to be more critical. Usually I think because the reader got a book that wasn’t really what they were looking for – they misunderstand what the title is about because they haven’t considered their purchase very much. For instance one of my publications – Alt Hist magazine states clearly in the blurb that it contains all sorts of historical fiction, but got criticized recently by a reviewer because it wasn’t just alternate history. I guess they just looked at the title.
  • “Good for a freebie, but I wouldn’t pay for it”. Well thanks for that review! I have also seen a review of a free book that complains the book was too short! But it’s free, what is your problem! If I was charging it would probably be $0.99 – which I think is a legitimate amount for a short story. If they enjoyed the read would they really not even pay that much for it?

I think these issue can also happen to a certain extent if you price at $0.99. People who collect freebies and bargains don’t often seem to make informed decisions!

But having said that I have definitely had some success with making titles free. Usually for a limited time and then putting the price up again – as this does help with getting into related title lists.

But writer beware, some readers value their free downloads higher than anything they might purchase! :)

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Jake Savage – Character Profile – a man and his demons

Hell has its DemonsIf you have read my latest novel, Hell has its Demons, then you might be interested to find out more about one of the main characters: Jake Savage.

Here’s the character history I wrote for him while I was planning the novel. Hope you enjoy it! The cover of the book might be Jake – you never no – it’s not only hell that has demons – Jake does too.

Jake’s family moved to St Brett’s when he was 11, a year after the Plague first struck in 1348. His young sister died, but otherwise his family was relatively unharmed. The village where they lived all but disappeared though. His father sold the small plot of land they held and left the village before their lord could demand the fine payable for villains leaving his manor. They arrived in St Brett’s and found that they were able to get a burgess plot on the cheap – the abbey desperate for money with half the town’s tenants having died.

As a child Jake was entranced by stories of knights and seeing them go past in their armour, with their fancy ladies – visiting the abbey for instance or coming into town for the fairs that happened three times a year. He was taken in by the romance of these stories and the pageantry of the knights he saw. He would later bitterly resent the wealth of these nobles and his own foolish hope that he might become a knight too.

His father earns a living through a variety of enterprises, becoming most successful at brewing and running a tavern. John is a shrewd businessman and also sees opportunities for speculating on the trade of cloth manufactured in the town. He encourages others to invest capital into ventures, thereby avoiding risk, but takes a good share of the profits. He uses his son, Jake, to ensure the shipments reach their destination safely – Jake is physically intimidating and also John trusts him. Jake is party to occasional deception of John’s business clients. Jake travels to London and ports in East Anglia on business.

From the age of 16 to 17 John is able to send his boy Jake to the grammar school briefly. Jake learns quickly but can’t stand the discipline of study and the hypocrisy of the monks. He is expelled for a prank on the teacher – who will later be an obedientary or abbot?

The Abbey observes the success of the cloth exports from St Brett’s and the lack of income it derives and seeks to impose levies on St Brett’s merchants – whereas previously it could tax merchants coming to fairs at St Brett’s to buy produce.

These taxes affect John and his associates – a group of wealthier burgesses who control the cloth trade and regularly drink in his tavern. In 1361 when the abbey imposes these tolls the burgesses rebel and the abbey’s tax-collector is murdered.

His Mother died during second coming of the Black Death in 1362.

In 1363 when the abbey bring in local gentry to support their collection of the tolls there is street-warfare. The abbey is briefly besieged. The Abbot promises to withdraw the new tolls, but asks instead for increased tolls for use of the Abbey mills. John is happy with that – he has organized house fulling mills in the workshops of his suppliers.

Jake is supportive of all this activity and helps his father – they are always seen together and effectively control what happens in the town.

Jake is a keen sportsman, football, archery and poaching in the Abbey’s forest.

Jake has some of his own money now and plans to set-up on his own. He buys his own tavern.

Jake marries in 1365 a girl called Edith. She died in childbirth as did the child. Jake has given up on being a father now. Is it worth bringing a child into such a world?

Jake’s tavern is struggling to make a profit. He has become more distant from his father. He no longer represents him on business trips – he doesn’t have time – he is running his own business now, but also morning his dead wife and child.

The conflict with the abbey has died down. The abbey still demands its rights and seems to exert more control – but only over the lesser people of the town – John and his cronies have come to an arrangement. In 1367 they form a new fraternity and pay for an endowment to the abbey. Jake has offended his father by going off on his own and rejecting his advice – his father is quietly cutting him out of his dealings and making him suffer for going against him.

Jake finds Margery and her mother camped out on his doorstep one cold morning early in 1369. He is ready to turn away the two beggars who have appeared from nowhere, but something stops him. He lets them in and cooks them some hot food. His housekeeper, who has taken a shine to him which he hasn’t realized, immediately takes a dislike to them – witch she calls the old woman, who mutters superstitiously under her breath. Jake allows them to board at his house. The old woman does not last the winter. Jake and Margery become lovers, the housekeeper is sacked and Margery lives with Jake (in sin). She has a hold over him.

His father is jealous of Jake’s romantic success and plots against him, first having others accuse him in the abbey’s canon court of fornication. Jake promises to marry. John tries something else, pointing out Jake’s poverty to Margery.

Jake leaves St Brett’s in 1369 (when he was 31) after his father marries Margery (when she was 27). Jake tried to kill his father and Margery shortly before he left in an angry confrontation.

Jake joins a retinue being assembled to support the Black Prince’s forces in Aquitaine. From 1370 to 1374 involved in chevauchées, sieges and skirmishes in various parts of Western France. Involved in war crimes – but this is part and parcel of being a soldier? Jake has become cynical – life has dealt him a cruel hand so he feels it is alright for him to take it out on others. He has realised that only get what you can take in this world.

In 1374 effectively becomes an outlaw in France with a gang of other unpaid soldiers. They capture Roger and some other clerks on their return from Avignon. They plan to ransom the priests for money. But for Roger their plan fails, the other priests are worth something, but not Roger. The other soldiers plan to kill Roger and take his stuff. Jake protects him and saves him. They part. Jake returns to England, but ends up in gaol. Roger hears that he is in gaol and helps secure his release if he will become his servant. Roger is on his way to Oxford to take up a post as Master of Astronomy at the University.

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