The Writer’s Pen

This in not a blog post about writing, it’s about writing implements, specifically fountain pens. You can blame Karen Traviss, because she reminded me how much I used to enjoy writing with a fountain pen, and… well… one thing led to another and now I have a pot of seventeen fountain pens and a bank of fifteen bottles of different coloured inks.

Yeah, okay, they are not going to improve my prose, but I’m really enjoying writing with them.

I keep a bullet journal by my right elbow. It helps me to organise my life because it’s a to-do list, a day book and a things-done list all in one, plus a diary. If you want to know more about bullet journals take a look at Anne Lyle’s blog. All I can say is that it works for me. I’ve been keeping a bullet journal since 2015, and I’ve got my daughter hooked, too. We both keep slightly different styles of journal, but once you acquire the general principle, you can adapt to suit. She has a handbag sized notebook, I have a desktop sized tome. Something with at least 31 lines to a page works best because at the beginning of each month, you write a forward calendar for the coming month with reminders that you can transfer to your day by day journal. (At the beginning of the year you do a twelve month forward-plan, number your pages, and leave space to index the important things you might need to refer back to.) Your daily entries consist of bullet points of appointments, reminders, messages and things to do, either crossed out or with a forward arrow if you’ve not managed to do something but need to move it forward to another day.

All that is by way of saying that I do a fair amount of handwriting. One of the nice things about bullet journals is that they are a pleasure to use if you use a good quality notebook and – yes – a fountain pen.

So, back to Karen Traviss’ reminder and the fountain pen saga.

Karen was crooning over a new Jinhao pen, so it set me thinking, so I wandered out of the office and  rummaged through the top drawer of the desk in the living room – a desk I don’t use for actual work, so things can sometimes sit in the drawers for years. In this case for decades. Right in the back of the drawer I found the pens I knew were there, but had rarely looked at in later years: my late father’s Parker 51, and my own Parker 61. The former was the pen Dad treated himself to when he got his first management job in the 1950s. He lent it to me to do my Eleven Plus exam (yes, I am that old!) and when I passed the exam and got a place at the Barnsley Girls’ High School, he bought me my very own Parker Pen, the 61. In those days – before the availability of the kind of felt tips that are almost indistinguishable from fountain pens – ball points were forbidden in school. It was pencils for writing in our cheap ‘rough books’ and fountain pens for everything else. My Parker 61 has seen some mileage. I may have sat my Eleven Plus with the 51, but I took both O-Levels and A-Levels with the 61, and probably used it throughout college as well. (I have a weird memory gap about that.)

Parker Pens

If not the Rolls Royce of pens, Parkers were certainly the BMWs of their time. Sleek cigar-shaped bodies, hooded nibs and the elegant and distinctive arrow clip on the cap. They wouldn’t still work after decades of residing in a drawer, would they? Surely the ink reservoirs would have perished by now, or the ink so dried up in the nibs that I’d never get them writing again. I had a trusty bottle of Quink Ink (Parker’s standard blue) so with paper towels handy in case of leakage, I filled the 51, and lo… no leakage and it worked perfectly. The 61 has a different fill-system, a weird vac fill that no one seems to understand, but it worked, too. Both pens write like a dream. They glide over paper, smoothly and my sloppy handwriting is suddenly more considered… neater.

My dad died in 1987, but here I was, suddenly writing with his prized pen. It almost gave me the shivers.

As I said, one thing led to another, and my pen pot now contains pens by Pilot, Jinhao, Lamy, Platinum, and Kaweko. I have cartridges in a multitude of colours, and ink pots from Basic Quink and Watermans to Diamine Shimmertastic Enchanted Ocean. Yes, sparkly ink, but subtle, as opposed to my-little-unicorn glittery.

Maybe I’ll write more about some of my newer pen and ink acquisitions in future blogs, but if you’ve never tried using a fountain pen, I urge you give it a try. There are many good starter pens on the market for just a few pounds. It makes writing more of an experience and less of a chore.

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Happy Book Day To Me!

Nimbus front coverMy new book, NIMBUS, is out today.

Let me say that again because it never gets old.

My new book, NIMBUS, is out today!

It’s my fifth published book, and the third in my Psi-Tech universe. It represents a milestone because it completes my first trilogy. I’ve written over half a million words of space opera, and those are just the words that made it to the final cut.

It’s been a learning curve, sometimes a steep one. So what have I learned?

Writing short and adding takes a lot less time than writing long and cutting.
That may seem obvious, but a lot of us tend to write our way into a book, sometimes because we aren’t quite sure of the right starting point. We have ‘story’ in our heads but not necessarily in the right order. I started NIMBUS  four times before I found the right place to start. The other four beginnings were not necessarily scrapped, but they were not suitable as beginnings. One of them ended up being broken for scrap… err… backstory, and two ended up being middle chapters.

Even a pantser can plan when she has to.
Yes, even me.
I’ve always been a discovery writer, writing by the seat of my pants (a pantser, not a plotter.) My usual method of tackling a story is to start with a scene that presents itself particularly strongly. I sit down and write to see where and how far it will take me. At some point, usually between 10,000 and 25,000 words (yes it really does vary by that much) I reach a stopping point, and at that time I sit down and look at what I’ve done and where I think this might be heading. By this time I usually know what the end is (at least roughly), so I scribble a few notes and – hey presto! – that’s my plan. Now, that might work reasonably well for the first book in a series but what about the overall story arc? Exactly! I hear you say. Yes, you’re right. If you’re writing a trilogy, you need to plan. You need a story arc that can be delivered in (more or less) three equal segments, each with its own beginning, middle and (satisfying) end. And the climax of the final book has to provide a payoff, not just for that one book, but for all three books.

Writing the opening of a second or third book is monstrously difficult.
You hope that readers who liked the first book will come back for a second and third helping so that you’re writing for people who already know your world, but there are always those who pick up the second or third book, either without realising that they are coming into a story already part-told, or maybe they’ve just taken a fancy to the cover and the cover copy. So you need to dripfeed in enough backstory to set the scene without giving the whole game away. After all, you really hope that they’ll go back to the first book and play catchup.

You have to like your characters to write half a million words about them.
Fortunately I’ve enjoyed spending time with Cara Carlinni and Reska (Ben) Benjamin. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of telepathy and associated skills. Are they ever likely to exist? biologically, there’s no evidence to suggest that they will, but with a neural implant? Who knows? Cara is an implant-enhanced telepath, able to sling a thought across the galaxy. Ben’s telepathy is weak, but he’s a navigator, that is, he can find his way from anywhere to anywhere else. Cara has trust issues, which isn’t surprising given the nature of her one-time relationship with Ari van Blaiden. Ben’s trust issues are entirely the opposite. He tends to believe the best in people, which either means he’s horribly let down, or the people he believes in truly step up to the plate and become trustworthy. Sometimes he gets a good surprise. I also became fond of some of the supporting characters, so I enjoyed accompanying my characters through a landscape filled with trials and tribulations.

Psi-Tech 2015 6x4sm

Some readers are wary of buying the first book in a trilogy until all the books are published.
Yes, I can understand that. Like many readers I too have invested in the first two books of a trilogy, or the first five only to discover that the author and oublisher have parted company and the concluding part will never see bookstore shelves. No need to worry about the psi-techs. Cara and ben’s story is now complete. It’s available from all good book retailers in the USA and Canada:
Amazon.com (paperback and kindle)
Barnes and Noble (Paperback and nook)
Amazon.co.uk (paperback)

You can visit my website
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Tweet me @jaceybedford

 

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IAm/Am Not a Word Machine

A reprint from a blog I did for Emerald Musings back in February 2017 – with updates.

Douglas Adams famously said: ‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’ That may have worked for Mr. Adams and for those writers who have reached that elusive peak in their career where their publishers are grateful for their output, even if it arrives late, but for most of us deadlines are something that we should stick to.

Jacey Office 4At the risk of pointing out a tiny fact that we all know: writing is hard. We do it in a vacuum. There’s no instant feedback for a writer. Nothing that gives us a pat on the back for producing excellent prose, or a tight-knit plot, or solving a particular character problem with a brilliant stroke of imagination. We get exactly the same feedback for three lines of hackneyed prose dragged out of our brain letter by painful letter as we do for five thousand words of sheer genius produced in one wild outpouring of fevered creativity. That is to say: none—at least not at the time.

We stare at a screen and type. The screen stares back. It’s not even grateful for our attention.

So why do we do it? Why do I do it?

To be honest, half the time I don’t know. But the other half of the time I know that it’s the best thing I could possibly do. I write because I have to. I write because I simply can’t NOT write. Sure, I can take a few days off from writing every now and then, but leave it too long and I start to get twitchy. I’m sure a lot of other writers go through the same thing.

Once you get to the stage where someone is paying you to write, however, you encounter deadlines. I love writing. I don’t necessarily love writing fast. I often have other demands on my time: a day job, family commitments, cooking dinner, entertaining guests, taking my mum to the supermarket, walking the dog. Somehow all those things try to take priority over writing because the words can wait. They’ll always be there when I need them. I can take the time to stack the dishwasher and then start to write… can’t I?

The answer is yes… and then, possibly, no. No one is forcing me to pay attention to my writing. The computer screen isn’t screaming at me. The notebook isn’t jumping up and down demanding to go for a walk around the block, however… At the back of my mind, there’s that itchy-scratchy feeling that tells me my characters are at the starting gate and ready for off—anxiously waiting for whatever I’ve decided to put them through today. I need to listen to those voices.

I need the ability to say: sure the dishwasher needs stacking, but no one is going to die because the pots sit around in the sink for a couple of hours. On the other hand, last night I left my characters in a burning building and who is going to get them out if I don’t?

Writing is what I do. It’s a part of me and I need to give it space to breathe. (Listen to John Cleese speaking about creativity and getting into the right headspace to allow it to happen: https://youtu.be/5xPvvPTQaMI) Making time for writing is harder before you’ve achieved publication, of course, because sometimes families/partners/spouses don’t get it. My family didn’t always get it, but they indulged me. Or perhaps thought I was indulging myself, but they went along with it anyway, for which I am eternally grateful.

Like most published writers I spent many years as an unpublished one. I learned that if you don’t finish a piece/story/book and send it out, it will never be published. So if you’re serious about publication you need to apply the seat of your pants to the office chair, and your fingers to the keyboard, and write. You must not only write, but you must finish what you write, revise it, edit it, polish it, and send it out. If it comes whistling back with a rejection, send it out again. And again.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the more stories you send out the more you sell. (Yeah, who’d have thought it?) At the beginning of 2015, I had a spurt of submitting hitherto unsold stories to magazines and anthologies, and also some previously sold stories to reprint and foreign language markets. (I’ve been translated into Estonian, Polish and Galician. How cool is that?) Altogether I sold about seventeen or eighteen short stories in that three-month burst of activity, but after that, I got really busy with the novels and stopped sending out story subs. Surprise, surprise, my short story sales tailed off dramatically.

3bookpsitech

Nimbus, my fifth novel (the final novel in the Psi-Tech trilogy) is out on 3rd October 2017. It’s the fifth novel I’ve sold for publication. If you count the ones I wrote before I got my publishing deals it’s my tenth. Plus around fifty short stories—more than thirty of which have been published. That’s a lot of words. At a rough estimate 1,500,000 words, and those are just the ones that made it to the final edit.

People ask what motivates me. I can only say that it’s a mixture of enjoying what I do and knowing that I have signed a contract to deliver the next book and that I’ve agreed a timescale. If I didn’t enjoy doing what I do, I could never have committed to doing the work. It is work. Enjoyable work. Work I love to do, but it’s work. I have to respect it as such.

nano_08_winner_large

Winner’s Badge 2008

I did NaNoWriMo 2016, that’s National Novel Writing Month. (I first did it in 2008, and I’m doing it again in 2017.) During the month of November, you sign up to the NaNoWriMo website and commit to writing 50,000 words in a month. If that sounds a lot when you break it down to a daily rate that’s 1,666 words per day. That sounds much more manageable, doesn’t it? It’s just a tiny bit longer than this blog piece. Of course, it doesn’t always work out at a steady 1,666 words per day, but I finished my 50,000 words on 29th November 2016. NaNoWriMo was originally for inexperienced writers, however, I know a lot of published writers who now pace themselves alongside NaNo, entering daily word counts into the meter on the web, racing their NaNo friends and other writer colleagues. You only count the words you write in November, of course, but since I started out with 19,900 words on 31st October, by the time I got to 30th November I had 70,000 words of my upcoming novel in the bag. I had a few slow days, but there were also days in the high two thousands, one day at just over four thousand, and one day at just over ten thousand. What I’m saying is that I’m not a word machine. I have poor days and brilliant days, but I keep my eye on the target and get there in the end.

2book-RowankindAnd that’s what I have to do when I have a book to write and a deadline looming. These days it’s the fashion for science fiction and fantasy books to be long. DAW, my publisher, tends towards long books. My historical fantasies, Winterwood and Silverwolf, are 133,000 and 134,000 words respectively. My science fiction (space operas) are around and 170,000 words, and I’m just beginning work on Rowankind, the third in the Rowankind fantasy trilogy. I’m aiming for 130,000 words, but I’ll be happy to finish the first draft on 100,000 – 110,000 words, at which point I’ll look and see where the gaps are and add in extra on the first revision pass. I used to write long and cut, but now I tend to write short and add.

Revision is all about getting the book’s structure and plot right, making sure the characters are well fleshed out and there are no great, gaping logic holes. I’m one of those writers who enjoys working on revisions and edits, adding in, moving round, taking out, smoothing off. Writing would be a difficult job, indeed, if you only liked one aspect of it.

Advice? Well, the one thing I would say is to stick with it. Being a writer is not an easy option, but if it’s for you, then you already have the drive to write. Listen to your inner writer and get those words down. The one thing you should know is that all writers have slow days and fast days. We are not machines, so don’t expect miracles of yourself, but do expect that if you keep going you will get there in the end. Good luck.

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Wars, refugees and the twilight of the spirit – a guest post by Alma Alexander

Wars seem to come naturally to our species. Too naturally. I once read  that we and a handful of species of ants are the only creatures on this earth that actually WAGE WAR upon others like ourselves, for whatever reason – booty, territory, the not-us syndrome, the if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us syndrome.

I don’t know about the ants. Maybe they have their own problems. But us humans… we’ve always fought, with something, with somebody, against some “foreign” idea or some person who looked different from ourselves. It’s always been easy to pick a fight, and even easier to roar defiance in response and accept a challenge flung – and off we all go again chasing each other with increasingly lethal weapons.

Wars began with armies. You had a Battle of [Something], and places gained fame throughout history by  being associated with particular locales. You will recognize them. Agincourt. Hattin. Culloden. Crimea. Gettysburg. Khyber Pass. Passchendaele. The Somme. Gallipoli. The Western Front.

You declared a war; you got an army together and often made them wear ridiculous uniforms (red coats, anyone?); your opponent got an army together, and made them wear some other ridiculous uniform to differentiate them from your guys. And then, like little boys with their little tin soldiers, the generals would move their armies across fields, facing one another – deciding on who would lead the van, how the enemy could be outflanked, where the charge would be released.

The armies fought and died on those fields, man against man, using increasingly sophisticated weaponry – bows and arrows, swords and daggers, spears, lances, halberds, axes, muskets, rifles, bayonets, machine guns, cannon, grenades. But by and large, it was army against army, men killing other men upon orders of yet more men, nations resolving disputes on the battlefield by throwing the cream of their manhood at one another and abiding by the battle outcomes.

The collateral damage of these wars has always been present – when men fight there are always those who aren’t combatants but who get in the way. The women, the children, the old, the crippled and the disabled – the ones who get run over when armies fight. The ones who get left to starve after their menfolk vanish into the battlefield blood and mire. The ones who get abandoned alongside fallow fields they can no longer till, or in houses from which they are turfed out because they cannot pay the rent, or who have to run because their side lost and they are now behind enemy lines in enemy territory and they speak the wrong language or worship the wrong god.

The refugees, ones who flee, the ones who are driven to run without pity and who run without hope, they have always been with us. There are enough accounts of them, enough drawings of them, enough paintings, enough evidence remains.

But they were always the flotsam and jetsam that washed up on the tide, where the tide was the greater war.

Until recently.

When war changed, I am not entirely sure – but it became prevalent during WW2 when everyone began bombing cities filled with civilians, including women and children… and worse. Think of the horror that was Stalingrad.  It was no longer a question of an army against an army and the civilians were left to suffer the side effects of the war – no, now it was no longer armies. Now war was being fought on the backs of those civilians, directly.

People’s homes and fields and livelihoods were being deliberately destroyed as a PART of war, not as unintended consequences.

Now… now we no longer need an army facing an army, a sword facing a sword, a rifle facing a rifle. Now we have other things. Now we have landmines. Now we have aircraft – the ones that strafe from above, and the ones who drop anonymous bombs which don’t care if they devastate an army on a battlefield or destroy a city – and even worse, we have  drones “flown” by “pilots” thousands of miles away who kill as easily as if their targets are only pixels in a computer game . Now we have white phosphorus and napalm and depleted uranium. Now we have the looming threat of nuclear war – and we know about what that is like because one nation on this globe (and only one) has used nukes against cities and civilians already.

Now the refugees who flee all this are endemic. They are everywhere. They are no longer running to escape a war, because war can no longer be escaped – things are burning everywhere. Now they’re running to see if their ten-year-old child has any hope of seeing his eleventh birthday, or if their twelve-year-old daughter  can escape being  raped and murdered by the wayside. Now they run with no more than the hope that they might end up somewhere that is better than the place they leave behind – now they run because the places they leave behind are being obliterated as they leave them. Not only is there nowhere to run, these days – there’s nowhere to run from, because as soon as you turn your back on your home and your past it somehow ceases to exist.

Human beings are being driven into a twilight of the spirit – there are more and more of these refugees every day. Some leave literal dust and ashes behind; others run because there is no longer a way to coexist with others who happen to be holding power in their home and who no longer wish to take the time to talk to anyone, not when they can throw a bomb at them instead.

Some end up hopeless and apathetic in refugee camps across the globe. Others radicalize and return to get revenge. They in turn will displace other refugees. It is a vicious self-perpetuating spiral, and it leads down into more and more human misery and human despair.

I have never fled from actual rubble and fire – never been hungry – never been forced to deny my history, my family, my culture, my name, if I wanted to accept help which is sometimes offered conditionally. But I know people who have. I think the world is getting to a place where most of us know someone like that, or know someone else who does – I don’t think there is a greater gap than those two degrees of separation. Some of us who have been born into a quiet and peaceful place and who have lived in comfort and safety all of our lives will find it hard to even begin to understand the mindset of somebody who has lost half their family and most of their possessions and who is grateful for a bowl of what we might consider to be inedible food for their supper. But it would take so little – so little! – for that person we cannot understand… to be ourselves. So little. The margins are so, so small. There but for the grace of God go all of us, every last one of us.

For some of us over here in the safe and comfortable enclaves, it is hard to look over there, hard to see, hard to comprehend, and when we do steal an appalled glance, the problem seems  so huge, so intractable, so impossible, that we cringe away and wring our hands and say, but what can we do? It is so much bigger than ourselves.

But there are things you can do. There are always things you can do.

children book cover final 2One such thing is the anthology “Children of a Different Sky”, a collection of twelve stories and two poems from a group of  authors who range from multiple award winners to writers who are seeing their first published work on these pages. The profits from the sales of this book will go directly to two charities working with refugees and migrants, both internationally (the International Medical Corps) and within the United States (Center for New Americans).

The problem is too big for any one of us to tackle alone – but those of us who can tell stories  can tell in fiction  stories which  illuminate that lost and bewildered and abandoned state of mind and how to overcome it.

The readers who pick up this book and read those stories are both picking up a treasure-house of tales which will deeply touch them, and supporting a cause which will directly help those who are living many such stories right now.

The problem is big. We, the storytellers,  are trying to do our part. Our readers will also be doing something tangible. Their purchase of a copy of the non-profit anthology “Children of a Different Sky” will mean they will be directly sending aid to charities who work with refuges who need help so desperately.. You can make the world a better place… by buying a book.

“Children of a Different Sky” can be preordered here (ebook or paperback): https://www.facebook.com/pg/KosBooks/shop/

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Zombies Need Brains

Zombies Need Brains is proud to present its 2017 Kickstarter, with three new anthology themes! ZNB is a small press founded by fantasy author Joshua Palmatier. Every year, they run a Kickstarter to fund a set of themed anthologies and so far have managed to produce seven anthologies over the past four years. What makes ZNB unique is that they fill half of the anthologies with well-known SF&F writers, but the remaining slots are up for grabs with an open call for submissions running from the time the Kickstarter funds until the end of December. So each anthology has New York Times bestselling authors alongside authors who’ve just made their first professional sale. ZNB is also recognized by SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) as a qualifying market.

They’re pretty excited about the themes and anchor authors they have up for grabs this year. THE RAZOR’S EDGE is a military SF&F anthology where the stories will explore that fine line between being a rebel and becoming an insurgent. We hope to see some great sci-fi—and yes, fantasy—from their anchor authors, including Gerald Brandt, William C Dietz, D.B. Jackson, Chris Kennedy, Kay Kenyon, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Seanan McGuire, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and Steve Perry. In GUILDS & GLAIVES, authors will explore their sword & sorcery sides, with a dash of guilds for flavor; anchor authors include David B. Coe, James Enge, David Farland, Esther Friesner, Howard Andrew Jones, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, and Seanan McGuire. And lastly, they have SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR, which is a follow-up to a previously released anthology called AFTERHOURS: TALES FROM THE URBAR published by DAW Books.  Here, Gilgamesh bartends a time-traveling bar where history mixes with a touch of magic. Anchor author include Jacey Bedford, Gini Koch, Juliet E. McKenna, C.E. Murphy, Kristine Smith, and Kari Sperring.

If any (or all) of these themes intrigue you, check out the Kickstarter at tinyurl.com/insurgenturbar! Help to bring these three themes to life by backing the project! You can find out further details about their past project and the small press at www.zombiesneedbrains.com.

RazorsEdgeSmallThat’s the background.

I was delighted when Joshua Palmatier invited me to contribute a story as one of the core authors for SECOND ROUND, which is a return to the Ur-Bar. I confess to knowing little about Gilgamesh, but I could certainly get my head around a time travelling, magical bar. Maybe it appears at times of great need. And what more needed time than the eve of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 30th June 1916.

thomas bennett

Thomas Bennett, KOYLI

We’re currently in the middle of a strange five year period in which we’re remembering (not exactly celebrating) the First World War, 1914 – 1918. This is a conflict my grandfather fought in as a lowly British Tommy in the trenches. He volunteered in 1914 and joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He took part in that famous Christmas Eve game of football in 1914. (There wasn’t just one game there were many along the battle-lines.) He survived the Somme and was invalided out at Passchendaele in 1917 with half his calf shot away. When I was a little girl he used to tell me stories, but he was more likely to tell me about the trouble his mate Billy got into for eating a neighbour’s pie left to cool on a windowsill, and about catching a train to Pontefract to enlist (with the same Billy), than about the trenches. My dad was the same. He drove a tank across the Western Desert in World War Two, but neither Dad nor Grandpa was inclined to relate the gory bits, the terrifying times, and the incidents that woke them in the middle of the night decades later.

I had to find out about that for myself.

DUR 1

Dorothy Una Ratcliffe

As part of a music project I was involved in many years ago, I researched the life of Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, a minor but well-loved Yorkshire poet. In 1913-14, at the outbreak of the war to end all wars, she was the Lady Mayoress of Leeds for her widowed uncle-in-law, Edward Brotherton, politician and self-made millionaire, the owner of Brotherton’s Chemicals. Brotherton had the resources and he funded the equipping of the Leeds Pals Regiment. Pals regiments were springing up across the north of England in the early days of the war, on the presumption that men would volunteer more  enthusiastically if they could be guaranteed to train and fight alongside friends and fellow workers. And so it proved. Dorothy’s organisational skills and Brotherton’s money was the impetus behind the Leeds Pals.

I live in a little Yorkshire village that still has its memorial to the local men who fought in the First World War. Their photographs and names are displayed in an impressive mahogany frame in the village hall. Over sixty men fought and only five died. I speculate that’s largely because there wasn’t a handy Pals regiment to join. They served in the navy, in army regiments, from artillery and lancers to light infantry. No one man from the village served with any other. When death found them it crept up on them one by one, and in that great lottery most of them were lucky. They survived.

Roll of Honour-top

Not so the Pals regiments.

Men who joined up together fought together and died together. In that carnage on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Leeds Pals regiment was decimated. The plan was that a week of shelling in advance of the infantry going over the top would severely damage the German trenches and personnel, and destroy the barbed wire barricades in No Man’s Land. It was a horrible and many-times-fatal miscalculation. The Germans took little damage and were ready and waiting.

The Leeds Pals Regiment was raised in 1914. They trained in Colsterdale, North Yorkshire, and in 1915 deployed to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal against the Turks. They shipped-out to France in March 1916 to join the British build up for the Battle of the Somme. On the first day, 1st July 1916, the battalion casualties numbered 24 officers and 504 other ranks, of which 15 officers and 233 other ranks were killed. Private A.V. Pearson, a survivor, later said: “We were two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying.”

In total the British forces suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 fatalities to gain just three square miles of territory on that first day alone.

Victor Ratcliffe

Lt. Victor Ratcliffe, killed 1st July 2016 at Fricourt on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, age 29. (Brother-in-Law of Dorothy Una Ratcliffe.)

So a junior officer, a lieutenant, in the Leeds Pals might have spent the last night before the battle worrying whether he was capable of leading his men over the top at 7.30 the next morning. Egypt had been a walk in the park; the push towards the village of Serre, his regiment’s objective, didn’t look as if it was going to be easy. Maybe he was in need of a stiff drink, but the rum ration hadn’t arrived—again! So a magical time travelling bar might be just what he was in need of.

And if a volunteer nurse stationed at the main dressing station in the Chateau de Cuin, a few miles distant from the forward trenches, needed to kick back after her shift to expunge the stench of blood and shit from her nostrils, perhaps she might meet a young lieutenant and remember their one stolen night while on leave in Paris.

What if Gil is on hand to pour a magical potion which grants someone’s heart’s desire? What might it mean for these two? And will it work out as they expect it to?

My story ‘Make Me Immortal With a Kiss’ will appear in ‘SECOND ROUND’. Please support it. If you check on the special rewards section I’m offering a Tuckerisation if you want to appear in the story.

www.jaceybedford.co.uk

@jaceybedford

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What I learned about Tallin that I couldn’t have found out from a guidebook.

Following my trip to the World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, I took a side trip to Tallinn to do some research for my novel-in-progress ‘The Amber Crown’ set in an analogue of the Baltic States in a time period roughly equivalent to the mid 1600s.

It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do an actual research trip, and I’m so glad I did because there were things which I couldn’t possibly have learned from a guidebook. Getting a general feel for the place was just the start of it.

So what did I learn by being there?

Tallinn-cobblesCobbles are very difficult to walk on. Most of the streets I think of as cobbled in England are actually paved with flattish stone sets (as are some of the Tallinn Streets) but Estonian cobbles are round-topped, uneven in size and shape, and really easy to trip and slip on. Street chases will have to be re-thought.

 

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Our carriage. Note the stone sets in the troad.

We took a horse-drawn trip round the Old Town in a landau-type of carriage drawn by a single (gorgeous) Friesian horse. The horse didn’t seem to have problems with either the cobbles or the stone sets, but the carriage was a bumpy ride despite the springing – and that was at a sedate walk. In an older type of unsprung vehicle any pace faster than a walk would be likely to shake your teeth out of your head.

I knew Tallinn (or Reval as it was called way-back-when) was one of the northern outposts of the Hanseatic League, that confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns which dominated Northern Europe and the Baltic maritime trade for three centuries from the Gulf of Finland through the Skagerrack and the Kattegat to the North Sea. I hadn’t realised, however, how enormous the Hansa influence was.

The medieval buildings are very different from English Medieval architecture, and houses are not unlike the frontages in Bruges, Ghent and Brussels in terms of the colour-washed walls, the steep gables (houses often gable-end on to the road) and the multiple rows of tiny attic windows set into red tiled roofs. Could this commonality be to do with ideas spread via the Hanseatic League?

The architectural style is labelled ‘Gothic’. Since I always associated Gothic architecture with the great sweeping cathedrals such as York Minster, all pointy windows and flying buttresses, I’m not sure Gothic in this context means what I think it means.

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6 Kuninga Street

6 Kuninga Street

Helpful wall plaques

6 Kuninga plan

6 Kuninga Street. The frontage is to the left of the plan. Keldrikorrus mean basement in Estonian.

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This is a blurry shot (no flash photography or tripods allowed) of a fireplace in the Tallinn City Museum with a strange lowered ceiling supported by a masonry pillar. This wasn’t a one-off, similar constructions appear all over the town.

I looked up Tallinn’s architecture on the web and found (on visittallinn.ee) which seems to back up my ideas about the Hanseatic League:

The most important period in the architectural development of Tallinn was 13-16th century. Tallinn’s gothic architecture was influenced by the architecture of the island of Gotland, Lower Rhine and Westfalen and subsequently by the architecture of the Hanseatic Towns and the German Order. Local construction material – limestone – added character to the architecture.

And:

In the 15th century (Late Gothic era), a town hall, guild building, convent buildings and residential houses were built in the town. These are characterised by the high dormers on the high-stretched facades. Of the different layouts, the prevalent type of house was that with two rooms, a diele and a dornse. A diele is a spacious room that extends to the height of two storeys with a fireplace at the back wall; this type of building was primarily used as an office or workshop. And behind it was the dornse – a living room with hot-air heating. The upstairs, cellars and attics were used as storage rooms.

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More merchants’ houses with cranes

Tallinn’s town plan is largely unaltered from the 13th and 14th centuries, with narrow streets and even narrower alleyways. Unlike Medieval York where streets such as The Shambles are tunnel-like because of the cantilevered upper floors hanging over the road, the houses of Tallinn are straight up, and then up some more, with narrow houses rising three or four storeys and then two further levels of windows in the steep pitch of the red-tiled roofs. There are plenty of houses which might have been merchants’ houses because they have a crane over a tall doorway on the upper floors and – according to a model in the city museum – the upper floors in the roof-space were often used as storage. Though it would seem logical to store heavy goods on, or close to, ground level, I guess that using the attics for storage was also good for security.

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Tallinn Town Hall

Almost every entrance to a medieval building was either up or down steps – sometimes just one or two, sometimes seven or eight. Of course, street levels may have changed. (They’re not likely to be the same stone sets and cobbles from the 1600s or earlier, though to be fair the medieval doorways did not appear to be compromised by a significant change in street level.) The ‘ground’ floors of many shops (such as the old apothecary’s shop still running as a pharmacy is half a flight of steps up (with, no doubt, a cellar below). The Town Hall entrance is down half a flight of steps, so the lowest level (a vaulted space, probably once a cellar) is half above/half below street level. The old steps to the next upper level are massively steep and narrow, and there’s a similar set of steps to the ‘posh’ bit, i.e. the council chamber and court room. (Luckily there’s a newer stair that we discovered after climbing the first flight and that meant we didn’t have to brave the second flight and could exit via the easier steps.)

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Town Hall interior

I am always humbled when I travel abroad that English is spoken in so many countries, at least in the main tourist centres. In today’s Tallinn I heard Russian, French, German, Japanese and a number of Nordic languages which my ear couldn’t differentiate from Estonian – Finnish and Swedish, I expect. But most people had a smattering of English and many people spoke it well and almost unaccented. And so it must have been when Tallinn was a great trading port. I doubt that English was common, but to trade with Germany, Sweden and Russia, there must have been a core of multi-lingual people, at least in the port area and the trading heart of the city.

In addition to all the things I gleaned that are useful for my book, I also discovered that Tallinn is just as beautiful as its reputation says and that I want to go back there some day.

Tip for first time Tallinn tourists. Avoid the bicycle taxis from the ferry port to the city. They’ll charge you twice as much as they originally quoted by saying the price is per person, and lie about being able to take you into the Old Town itself, leaving you to lug heavy cases from the Viru Gate to your hotel. (Luckily that was only a short walk for us.) So the last thing I learned form Tallinn is that there’s always someone to take advantage of a stranger. A good lesson.

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Blog Archive

As promised.

2013

  1. Bated Breath
  2. Seven Short Men and a Waif
  3. Preparing for Milford
  4. Jumping in at the Shallow End
  5. Serendipitous Book Browsing
  6. Four days to go
  7. Three Book Deal
  8. Milford Writers
  9. Publishers Marketplace Announcement
  10. Editor Talk
  11. New Book Log on LJ: Karen Traviss: Star Wars: Clone Wars – No Prisoners:
  12. World Fantasy Con
  13. That Difficult Second Novel
  14. Revision – First Pass
  15. Wordle
  16. Wordcount
  17. Timelines

 

2014

  1. Book Blog Roundup for 2013
  2. Thinking about Images
  3. Title News
  4. SFWA
  5. Scrivening
  6. Character self-determination
  7. Jacey’s Eastercon Panel Schedule
  8. Donald Maass: The Fire in Fiction
  9. More Book Logging Over on T’Other Blog
  10. Amazin’ Amazon
  11. Empire of Dust
  12. Guest Blog 1: Ben Jeapes – Infinite diversity in infinite combinations
  13. Writers Blog Tour
  14. Guest Blog 2: Gaie Sebold – How (Not) To Write A Steampunk Novel
  15. My Loncon Schedule – Provisional
  16. First Draft – Progress Report
  17. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Panda
  18. How long is a novel?
  19. Editing and Time Travel
  20. My Updated Loncon-3 Schedule
  21. August, Cons, Page Proofs and Milford
  22. Write What You Know
  23. Why I love my cover for Empire of Dust
  24. Submitting what you write
  25. It’s real
  26. My Guest Post on Ruth Booth’s Blog
  27. My Guest Post on the Bristol Books Blog
  28. My Guest Post on Ben Jeapes’ Blog
  29. Milford 2014
  30. Guest Post on Deborah Walker’s Blog
  31. Bristolcon Schedule
  32. Guest Post on Gaie Sebold’s Blog
  33. The Goodreads Odd Choice Awards
  34. Happy Book Day To Me
  35. Guest Post on Anne Lyle’s Blog
  36. Guest Post on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Blog
  37. Guest Post on Book View Cafe
  38. The Three Letter Word
  39. Guest Interview on Diabolical plots
  40. Order Books For the Holidays
  41. Interstellar
  42. Mind melding
  43. Guest Blogs Roundup
  44. Listed
  45. Nuts and Bolts of Writing #1
  46. Interview and book discussion
  47. Katharine Kerr needs our help.

 

2015

  1. 2014 – Looking Backwards and Forwards – 2015
  2. Short story Sales 2015
  3. Selling Short Stories
  4. Another short story sale
  5. Listen to Good Advice, but Trust Yourself
  6. How to Create Multi-Dimensional Characters—Everybody Lies (Kristen Lamb)
  7. Jacey Bedford Answers Ten Questions
  8. Ten Books I Couldn’t Put Down
  9. Ten Favourite Children’s Books
  10. Lonely Panda Reprinted Again
  11. Published Today: Last Train
  12. Crossways Cover Reveal
  13. Stars in your Reviews – The Goodreads Conundrum
  14. Goodreads Starry Update
  15. Eastercon Schedule 2015
  16. Goodbye Sir Terry
  17. Pelquin’s Comet: What’s It All About?
  18. Lost in Translation
  19. Selling Stories
  20. Attending Eastercon – Dysprosium 2015
  21. Short Story Roundup
  22. Eastercon 2015
  23. On Delivering the Second Book
  24. SFSF Social #3 – 27th June 2015
  25. Crossways – the Process
  26. More Short Stories Available Online
  27. Book Blog and Pinterest
  28. Two Worlds Collide: Guest Bloggage from Terry Jackman
  29. Re-reading my own book: Winterwood.
  30. My First Writing Rewards
  31. View From a Hotel Window, 5/26/15 + Thoughts on the Deal Money  (John Scalzi)
  32. Another Country
  33. Sheffield SF Social
  34. SFSF Social – June Report
  35. Science for Fiction Writers
  36. Book Cover: Crossways
  37. New Two-Book Deal
  38. CROSSWAYS is OUT TODAY!
  39. Winterwood Edits
  40. New Series of Guest Posts
  41. Guest Blog: Ian Creasey answers five questions about his writing
  42. Guest Blog:Tony Ballantyne tells us about his writing.
  43. Another Successful Milford
  44. Publishing progress
  45. Winterwood Page Proofs
  46. Agents and Publishing
  47. Fantasycon 2015
  48. What has NaNoWriMo Ever Done for Us?
  49. Winterwood Cover Revealed at Fantasy Book Cafe
  50. Gail Z Martin – Five Questions – Guest Post
  51. Winterwood Cover Reveal
  52. Christmas is Coming
  53. So Many Books, So Little Time.
  54. You never get Blasé About… a Good Review
  55. What did I say about good reviews?
  56. Guest Blog: Toby Venables Answers Five Questions
  57. My Writing Year – 2015
  58. My Reading Year 2015

 

2016

  1. Fan mail
  2. Happy Book Day To Me: Winterwood Published Today
  3. Winterwood Interviews and Reviews
  4. More Post-Winterwood News, Interviews and Reviews
  5. Winterwood Cover
  6. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #1
  7. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #2
  8. Looking forward to Eastercon / Mancunicon
  9. Details Details
  10. Science for Fiction Writers 2016
  11. Silverwolf
  12. Humour in Fantasy and SF
  13. Gotten, Tannoy, and Trug
  14. Thoughts on Editing
  15. Silverwolf Cover Reveal
  16. Editing Anthologies – A Guest Post by Joshua Palmatier
  17. Milford 2016
  18. Fantasycon-By-The-Sea, 2016
  19. What’s in a name?
  20. Guest Blog from Gail Z Martin in Praise of Halloween
  21. Pitfalls of Publishing, or Lest I Forget
  22. Overnight Success in Only Sixteen Years
  23. The Yin and Yang of Writing Advice
  24. My Reading Year 2016

2017

  1. Silverwolf
  2. Ten Quick Tips for Writers
  3. Style Sheets
  4. Agent Update
  5. Bloggage or not…
  6. Stories Far and Near
  7. Write What Someone Knows by Ben Jeapes
  8. Cover Reveal: Nimbus
  9. Committing Trilogy
  10. Worldbuilding for a Series
  11. Due Process
  12. Some Random Thoughts on Revisions and Edits
  13. Life, Death and the Writer’s Pen
  14. Ambition and Poison – a Guest Blog by Gail Z. Martin
  15. History Lends Perspective
  16. Corwen Silverwolf Speaks
  17. Bladdered or Shitfaced? The gentle art of word choice and the bogglement of page-proofing.
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