A new short story set in the First World War – Smithers Hits a Six

At long last I have a new story out – seems like ages! Hopefully won’t be too long until the next one though – so stay tuned for more!

This one is something different for me – a short story set in the First World War – something I haven’t written about before, but I would like to again. Smithers will fly again!

Lieutenant John Smith was not a gentleman in the opinion of the pilots of 32 Squadron. He hadn’t attended public school and he was dashedly bad at cricket. To top that his own Captain, Thomas Albright-Parker, looked forward to the day when Smith’s flying career would be ended by the Hun.

Sopwith F-1 CamelBut Lieutenant Smith, or “Smithers”, was going to prove his doubters wrong when his Flight went on patrol that day.

Smithers Hits a Six is an anti-Biggles story for the modern reader. This is the tale of an officer not from a working class background and without the natural talented of Biggles. Like many real pilots he survives more on luck than judgement in the dangerous skies of the Western Front.

Order the eBook from Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

I hope you like the book.

Death on the Lips – A Sotil and Savage Mystery – Coming Soon

I’m nearly ready to launch the first of a series of short mysteries featuring Roger Sotil and Jake Savage – the heroes of Hell has its Demons.

The story is called Death on the Lips and comes in at a hefty 10,000 words – so quite long for a short story.

The action take place after the events of Hell has its Demons, when Roger and Jake have settled down to a life of paranormal investigation in the City of London.

Here’s the draft of the blurb:

The Countess of Suffolk lies dead in her own bedchamber. Her body has been horribly mutilated. Clearly a case of a demon attack according to her chamberlain. The alchemist she retained has fled the house—and surely he must be to blame? But when Jake finds a pot of lip paint and a tally stick other possibilities emerge. It’s another case for Roger Sotil and Jake Savage, Sorcerous Investigators to the court of Richard II. And as usual things are not as they appear.

 

 

New Short Stories Coming Soon

This aircraft is currently displayed at the Na...
This aircraft is currently displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just to let you know what is coming up soon from me. I’ve been working on a lot of things recently, including researching and planning novels. Currently I am focused on writing short stories for publication in paying short fiction markets – so the likes of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, Asimov’s etc. We’ll see how that goes – it’s a hard market to break, but I have a feeling that I’m getting closer – I had some good personal feedback on one of my stories recently from a leading editor, so I am hoping that with some persistence I can write something that’s good enough for one of these publications.

So that means I’m not writing a lot currently that will be self-published. But I do have two stories that don’t really fit for these markets, so these will be coming out soon.

One is a Biggles-like story set in WW1 – but with a slightly more serious central character. So a setting that is quite a departure for me.

The second is a short story featuring my medieval supernatural detectives, Roger Sotil and Jake Savage. They are the main characters in my novel Hell has its Demons, and Jake also features in Chivalry and Bring on the Night.

More news on these will be available to newsletter subscribers soon, and then I’ll let blog readers know when they are published.

Alt Hist Issue 7 is here! | Alt Hist: Historical Fiction and Alternate History

Alt Hist Issue 7 is here! | Alt Hist: Historical Fiction and Alternate History.

I am pleased to announce that Alt Hist Issue 7 has now been published!

You can purchase eBook and Print copies from: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble

And eBook copies from:

Smashwords | Kobo | iBooks

Alt Hist returns with the seventh issue of the popular magazine of historical fiction and alternate history. This is the biggest issue of Alt Hist so far and this time we have seven wonderful short stories for you—including two parts of the popular Battalion 202 series and stories from Alt Hist favourites Priya Sharma and Andrew Knighton. If you like historical fiction, then you are sure to love this issue of Alt Hist.

Alt Hist Issue 7 features the following stories:

  • “The Vivisectionist’s Daughter” by Jason Kahn
  • “Cold Flesh” by Andrew Knighton
  • “The Independence Day” by Pavel Nikiforovitch
  • “Heff in Dearborn” by Michael Fertik
  • “Battalion 202: The Sheep and the Goats” by Jonathan Doering
  • “Set Britain Ablaze” by Jonathan Doering
  • “The Red Vortex” by Priya Sharma

 

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