My short story, Bird Talk, is currently free on Amazon.com. It’s not free on Amazon.co.uk – you have to pay the princely sum of 99p for it there, but might be worth picking up if you have some spare cash or even zero cash in the US! It’s one of my earliest short stories, but I’m still proud of it. It gave rise to the two protagonists from my novel Hell has its Demons.
What do you do when you have accused the woman you love of necromancy?
Roger Draper suspects that a necromancer is at work in a small medieval English town. But rather than uncovering foul magical deeds he manages to implicate the women he desires in accusations of witchcraft. With only the town drunk to help him, Roger must untangle the mess he has created.
Be prepared for a heady concoction of gritty medieval life, humour and magic.
I have instituted a new cover style for my self-published short stories with Bird Talk and Bisclavret being the first examples. The main purposes was to make the author name (sounds horribly egotistical!) more prominent and also of a consistent style. My decision to do this was influenced by Dean Wesley Smith’s post about how self-published authors shoot themselves in the foot by not acting like a proper publisher – one example he gave was by not having a consistent author brand on covers, so this is a change I decided to make.
Hope you like the results!
And for reference here are the old covers – similar style as each other, but to my mind not as effective:
I have now made “Bird Talk” available as an individual short story ebook if you’re interested in downloading this to whatever e-reading device you might use. The story is also available as part of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #33, but I thought I’d like to give readers of this blog an option to just get “Bird Talk” on its own.
You can get it either via Smashwords, where you get half of it for free (the whole story is $0.99) or via Amazon’s Kindle Store, where I believe part of the story is free, and then again you pay $0.99, or a little more if there are local taxes to add on. It should also be available via Apple’s iBook Store.
Here’s the opening scene to the story. I hope you enjoy it.
Roger followed Constable Will as he pushed his heavy frame through the weeds that choked the muddy alley. The constable turned to whisper to Roger, “The bird-catcher said he delivered to number twelve didn’t he?” An unpleasant smell of stale alcohol and spicy sausage wafted from the constable’s mouth to lay siege to Roger’s nostrils. He tried to ignore the foul smell of the man’s breath. He disliked being in the constable’s company, but any hardship today would be worthwhile if they caught a necromancer.
“Yes. I have been counting the houses, it’s the next one.”
The constable looked worried. “If it’s magic, a witch like, will she know we’re coming? What if we’re set on by devils?”
“I don’t think it works like that,” said Roger.
“It doesn’t?” The constable shrugged. “Well, a priest like you should know.”
Truthfully, Roger worried that he didn’t really know how any of it worked. The books he had read only told part of the story and left him with questions that he couldn’t find an answer to. During his informal studies he had grasped some basic principles, and for a moment he even thought about explaining that they were looking not for a witch but for a necromancer, one who summoned evil spirits, and that not all magic was witchcraft. But looking at the constable’s squat thick skull he decided he would be wasting his breath.
Constable Will pointed up the alley. “There’s a crack in the fence here, let’s see if anything’s going on.” The constable shuffled his ungainly body along the wooden fence and beckoned for Roger to follow. The fence was in need of repair. It had a large crack where a board had fallen away through which they could get a view of the backyard.
They both tried to peer through the fence. The constable elbowed Roger sharply. “Let me look first, I’m an officer of the law.”
“Poop poop,” went something that sounded like a bird.
“What can you see?” asked Roger.
“There’s a woman and she’s got this funny orange bird in her hand, talking to it. Can you hear?” whispered the Constable.
Roger crouched behind him and stretched his neck towards the fence to listen. He heard the soft voice of a woman, speaking solemnly as if reciting a prayer:
“By Mary, mother of God, and all the angels I command you to obey me. Fly and sing your song to the one I love.”
Roger’s pulse leapt. “That’s sorcery alright,” he whispered. “What is she doing now, let me see.”
“No time for that,” said the constable. He shoved Roger aside, raised a heavily-shod foot and kicked down the flimsy fence that hid them.
“By the saints!” said the constable. “It’s Margery Haukwake. The Abbot is just going to love me when I bring you in.” As he laughed, his head rolled on his thick neck with pleasure.
With most of the fence gone, Roger could see the whole of the backyard. The woman had turned round, an expression of disbelief on her pretty soft face. The same face he had been admiring everyday for almost a year since he started as chantry priest at St. Peter’s church. On her hand perched a brightly-coloured orange bird, a fan shaped crest jutting from the top of its head. The bird looked at the newcomers with nervous enquiry.
“Get out of my yard,” shouted Margery. “You have no business here.”
“Your big house on the market square not good enough for you Margery?” said the constable. “Your father would be interested to know about this wouldn’t he? Do you bring men here?” The constable stepped towards Margery and tried to grab her arm. She spun on her heel and moved towards the back door of the house, the bird, still perched on her hand, fluttered its wings slightly but otherwise remained still.
“I’ll forget what I saw and heard though, if you give me a peck on the cheek,” said the constable.
“Get out, you disgusting oaf.” Margery indicated the gap in the fence as the constable’s best exit. As she did so she saw Roger. “Who’s that lurking in the alley? Tell him to piss off too.”
Roger stepped forward into the yard. Margery‘s red lips twisted in anger.
“You! What are you doing here? I thought I paid you to pray for my mother, not spy on me?”
Roger began to stutter an answer, but the constable spoke first and louder.
“You’re a witch this priest says. You’re conjuring that bird to do wickedness. All fits into place now, you dirty wench. No wonder you can’t get a man, and that your family is so rich. And you know what, I’m glad I didn’t have you when I had the chance. I’d have been nothing but a plaything of Satan by now, no doubt.”
Roger gulped down a chunk of vomit at the back of his throat, as he thought about gruesome Constable Will with his beloved Margery. He wanted to lash out at Will, but panic stopped him.
Now Margery turned her anger on him.
“What’s your game Roger Draper? Why have you brought the constable here? Do you think you’re not paid enough for the one mass you sing a day?”
“I made a mistake, I don’t mean to offend. This has all been a terrible mistake,” said Roger.
“Hold on there, priest, that’s not what you said previously,” said Constable Will. “You’ve been plaguing me for days with your funny ideas about witching and sorcery, all sorts of accusations flying around. Then, this morning you tell me you have evidence that’s on firm foundation. So I listened this time, I’m a fair man. You said there was a man selling birds in the market, and that he’d sold a particular type of bird that morning that’s only used by those that hold with the devilish kind. I reckon the bird in question is this here odd orange bird. Am I wrong?”
“Well…” Roger tried to think of what to say. The sale of a special creature like a hoopoe was the evidence that he had been hoping to come across for a long time. He had thought that at last someone in authority would take notice of the evil sorcery happening in St. Dunstan’s.
Then, at that moment, Margery raised her hand and threw the bird into the grey sky above. The bird, surprised at its sudden release, took a moment to open its wings, but then flapped them hard with slow deliberate strokes and propelled itself up into the air. The black and white stripes of its wings were soon high above the three people standing in the backyard of the house.
“What are you doing, that’s evidence!” shouted Constable Will.
“It just took off, I’m not its owner,” said Margery. “The bird must have escaped from somewhere and flown here. I was just feeding it. There’s no crime against that, is there constable?” Margery’s voice was less angry now. She smiled at Constable Will.
“Don’t think you’re getting away with this. We also heard you saying words of witchcraft to the bird, conjuring it like a demon. This priest, Roger Draper of St. Peter’s, confirmed that it was sorcery you were saying.”
Margery’s nostrils flared and she cast a hateful glance at Roger. He felt like his heart had caved in. How could he ever win her love now?
“Well there’s no bird here anymore Will Penny, so where’s your evidence?”
“My own eyes and my own recollections of what I saw and heard, Mistress Haukwake. You are going to hang for this and I’ll be glad to see it.”
“No, no this is all wrong,” said Roger. “What she said could have been a prayer I am sure of it.”
“A prayer to a bird? Is that what they teach new priests now?” Constable Will laughed. He took out the long heavy stick from the loop that hung off his belt. “Now Margery are you going to come quietly or are we going to have to cause you some pain first?”
Roger stepped between the constable and the woman, his arms raised defensively. “Stop, don’t hurt her.”
“You stupid soft puppy,” said the constable. He swung his club above his head hard and fast. Roger ducked to one side, but the hard wood still caught him a glancing blow on the shoulder knocking him sprawling to the ground. He was face down and he couldn’t lift himself up. Through ringing ears he could hear the constable speaking.
“Come along then Margery, you seen what happened to him, you should be a bit more clever. Still time you know, let’s go inside and I’ll show you what a real man’s like, then forget all…”
The constable’s words came to a stop with a dull thud. Roger looked up to see a man holding the constable’s body from behind and gently laying it down. The constable’s eyes flickered for a moment and then, giving up consciousness, shut.
I am currently working on a novel called Hell has its Demons. This is based on story called Bird Talk, which was recently published in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. I have been aiming to write a few posts to talk about Bird Talk and promote the story, and this lead me to consider how much the story has changed going into the longer novel format. The plot of course is much expanded, but I have also developed the characters and setting considerably too.
Firstly the character names change: Roger stayed as Roger, but his surname changed from Draper to Sotil. My thoughts being that as Jake emerged as his partner in crime, I wanted to use their surnames to allude to their very different characters, so Jake is Jake Savage, and Roger is Roger Sotil. My hope is that they will be a demon fighting duo, whose characteristics complement each other, thus I would like to have a subtitle for each book of A Savage and Sotil Aventure (sic). “Aventure” is a Chaucerian style spelling of Adventure to add to the fourteenth century of the books.
Another name that changed was the name of the town, from St. Dunstan’s to St. Brett’s. St. Dunstan was an actual saint and I was concerned that using that name might bring with it too much baggage. Also by creating a fictional saint, I could then weave elements of that saint’s fictional history into the story. St. Brett felt like a good English name to me, and also there’s a link with the Angl0-Saxon term Brett Walden (meaning King of Britain), which would also add further to the saint’s mythology.
But more than that the actual character’s have developed quite a bit. The weak, foolish, lovestruck Roger Draper, a chantry priest in “Bird Talk” becomes a more esoteric character. Still obsessed about magic and still not very realistic about the world. but on another level entirely. I decided that he needed to be more of an outsider and also to have more knowledge and authority. In effect he is called in to solve a problem by the Abbot of St. Brett’s, so he must have some experience or knowledge that helps. So instead he is an Oxford don with knowledge of astrology and magic, well-known for his unusual views. As well as being an expert on magic, you could say he’s also slightly insane.
Jake started off as a veteran of the French wars who had fallen on hard times in St. Dunstan’s and become a beggar. In “Bird Talk” he is a character who knows a lot more than one would expect and is actually more intelligent than Roger, in fact he gets them all out of the mess they’re in. We don’t get to know much about what makes him tick though.
What happened to Jake when I expanded the story for the novel? Like Roger he had to come from outside, but I wanted to have one of my main character’s having a real emotional investment in the town and people of St. Brett’s. They have to care about what’s happening there. Jake was my man and this brought about the major change to the lead female character Margery.
Margery became Isabel because the name Margery was much too un-sexy. And she stopped being the spoilt daughter of the town’s leading merchant. Instead she became the one-time lover of Jake and now wife of Jake’s father John, having rejected Jake. So providing lashings of emotional baggage for Jake and her to work through. She’s still into magic though and this time her life will hang in the balance as she’s accused of witchcraft.
“Bird Talk” is also now available to purchase as a separate story via Smashwords and Amazon.
I am very happy to report that my short story “Bird Talk” has been accepted for publication by Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. The story should be out in either issue 30 or 31 – so probably the Autumn or Winter of this year. The magazine is available to purchase in hard copy or as as free download. I’ll send a link out to the issue when it’s published.
I am very excited about this – this will be my first fiction publishing credit, so Woohoo to me!
I did have a good feeling about this one – it’s my most recent short story and provides part of the setting and themes of the novel I’m working on. It’s also been well critiqued at both Critters, OWW and Verulam Writers’ Circle, so if there’s any of my reviewers reading this post, thanks very much for your feedback! Comments from a variety of different readers are really useful, particularly in picking up detail errors or suggesting better phrasing – things that I would be less likely to spot myself.
“Bird Talk” is also now available to purchase as a separate story via Smashwordsand Amazon.
As suggested during my last visit to the Verulam Writers Circle, I have started work on the novelisation of the Roger Draper story. The short story Bird Talk will remain a short story and I am still hoping to sell that somewhere. However, I will now also be working on a novel length piece that uses the same characters but expands the tale to explore what is going on in the medieval town of St Sewards. Who is responsible for the despicable dark acts of magic that are taking place? Will Roger, the niave priest, and his unwanted companion, Jake, the armless beggar/soldier, be able to solve the mystery that shrouds the abbey and town?
So far I have a rough outline for how the story will progress. Next steps so far are to find out more about the town that St Seward’s is based on, this is now largely done thanks to some very good websites, such as www.salbani.co.uk, although I will do some book research as well here. I am now sketching out the main factions competing in the town, so I can then drill down to the characters involved in the various political and magical machinations in the town. From there I should have enough material to sketch out a plot I think, and then work on a synopsis.
I attended an informal session of the writers’ circle I belong to last night: Verulam Writers’ Circle. I received some feedback on the first scene of my story Bird Talk. The feedback seemed to be positive, which was pleasing, and the other writers in the group seemed to be interested in the content as well as the style of the story.
What surprised me was that they thought I should turn it into a longer piece. Maybe a novella, as I had started out as if it was going to be a longer story, building up the characters, setting the scene etc. I thought this was a fair point as it is quite a long story, over 8000 words.
I think I may do this, however, the story’s with a magazine at the moment, so I’ll wait to see what their feedback is first. Suggestions were that I could develop the social conflict/political side of the story, with the magical element running through it. Also some allusions could be made between medieval and modern times regarding the use of belief to control people and the hysteria of the witch-trial, like in the Crucible.
This does give me a dilemma about my writing strategy, as it seems I naturally want to write longer pieces, flesh out the characters, but I feel I only have time for short stories. So what to do?
The easier option maybe to actually try to get better at short stories, and this may need some further studies of good stories to see how I should be doing this.