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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Heading for Helsinki and Worldcon

I’m running away from home for ten days, leaving Best Beloved and the dog to look after each other, and I’m heading for Helsinki, to The 75th World Science Fiction Convention at the Messukeskus Convention Centre on the outskirts of Helsinki. I’m travelling with my writer-friend, Carl Allery, and after Worldcon finishes we’re going to take a couple of days to look round Helsinki itself, and then we’ll be taking the ferry across to Tallinn in Estonia for a couple of days. More about all that – with photographs – when we arrive home.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with old friends, and to making new ones, and, of course, seeing my editor, Sheila Gilbert, who is once more nominated for a Hugo in the Editor, Long Form category, which she won last year.

I was going to reblog something instead of writing an involved blog post for next Tuesday, but I decided to  let you choose for yourselves. My blog index is coming up in a separate post. have at the archive.

Send a comment if you’ll be in Helsinki for the con.

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Bladdered or Shitfaced? The gentle art of word choice and the bogglement of page-proofing.

Nimbus-TitlePageNo, I’m neither bladdered not shitfaced – that’s one of my characters. I’m sober as the proverbial judge, and doing page proofs. Five hundred and thirty four pages of closely printed text – almost one hundred and seventy thousand words. This is the final time I will see Nimbus in its raw state until I get the ARCs – the advance reading copies, (the ones that go out for pre-publication reviews) I’ve just taken a break from staring at the printed sheets because my vision is blurry. (One of the reasons I usually read for pleasure on Kindle is that I can increase the font size when my eyes get tired.) I’m on page four hundred and twenty of my page proofs and I’ve been at this for four days so far. It’s Sunday night and my deadline is Tuesday. At this rate I should finish on time

I like to check the page proofs on paper because I spot a lot more typos than I would on screen. I have a piece of card the width of the print and I go through the whole thing one line at a time to make sure I really read it. Without the card moving down the page it would be too easy for my eyes to skip a line. It’s easy to read what you think you’ve written, not what’s on the page.

Eliminating bloopers isn’t just my task, thank goodness. There are other eyes and brains on the job. After the content edit, the manuscript goes to a copy editor who changes my British English into American and smooths out any clunky phrasing, verbal hiccups, incorrect spelling, and grammar mistakes. He (in this case) also checks continuity of spelling and formatting. Is it air lock, air-lock or airlock?

Sometimes a copy editor makes a change that you really don’t want. If this happens you usually have the opportunity to query it, revert to the original, or discuss it with your editor.

There are the words and phrases which characterise American speech, which you may or may not want. Mom versus mum. Got versus gotten. Arse versus ass. I’ve had to revert diaper back to nappy because my characters are not American. I’m sure my American readers are clever enough to get that.

In copy edits for previous books I discovered that Americans don’t appear to have the words tannoy or trug in their vocabulary so I ended up with the much more cumbersome public address system, and the non-specific basket Instead.

Nimbus front coverThis time my copy editor substituted completely drunk for bladdered. Yes, it’s a Britishism but, in context, doesn’t bladdered make sense? The dialogue in question is (one friend to another over a second glass of whisky), “Slow down. I don’t want to send you home to your wife bladdered.” The phrase, completely drunk just doesn’t cut it here. It’s way too bland. I suggested reverting to bladdered or substituting shitfaced. (I couldn’t substitute pissed, because that’s likely to misinterpreted by USians as angry.) But shitfaced is a little too harsh and I still prefer bladdered. You may have to read the book to find out which term ends up in print.

Now I have the page proofs, I can see what Nimbus will actually look like in printed form. This is my last chance to catch typos and brainos, but at this stage I can’t make extensive changes or rewrite chunks. There are lots of little things (commas) and a few lucky catches. (I’d changed someone’s name and done a global search and replace but missed the fact that Mr. Hyde was referred to as Mr. Hunt, just once.)

All that text is eye-boggling. It’s a necessary job, but it’s tiring. I’m relieved to know that it will still go through one more proof-read \t publisher level before being finally committed to print.

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Corwen Silverwolf Speaks

Denby Hall, September 1801

Corwen

Corwen Deverell

I don’t usually get the opportunity to say much. It’s not that I’m henpecked, you understand, but—well—my author is female and she lets my beloved, Rossalinde, tell the story. So it’s nice, for once, to be able to speak for myself rather than letting my actions speak for me.

Let’s get the important bit out of the way first. I’m Corwen Deverell and I’m a wolf shapechanger—not a werewolf! I sometimes have to make that very clear to people. I’m not moon-called, which means if you’re with me when I change into my wolf, I’m not going to tear out your throat and crunch your bones. Please don’t get the wrong idea. I can, but I won’t. No, that’s all right, don’t apologise. I didn’t know the difference between a werewolf and a shapechanger at first, either. I was, after all, only nine when I changed the first time.

I’m the youngest son of a respectable family. My father is a gentleman of means with an interest in the cloth trade. No London seasons for us, though my mother prides herself on the fact that we count for something locally, amongst the society of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Our house, once modest, now boasts two new wings, the lower floors added by my grandfather and the upper ones by my father soon after my twin and I came into the world. He said that if he was going to produce children two at a time, that he’d better make sure he could house us all comfortably. My little sister was the survivor of a second pair of twins. Lily was still a babe in arms when I became a wolf.

After that there were no more children. Who wants offspring who might turn and devour them?

Corwen Silverwolf 01

Silverwolf

My first change was brutal. My bothers, both witnesses, were terrified, however my mother reconciled herself to it once she’d spoken to her sister and found out that shapechanging ran in the family. It had skipped a generation so no one had thought to warn her. My father never accepted my wolf, however. He believed I was changing to taunt him and that I could simply stop being a wolf whenever I wished. To a certain extent I can—now—but as a child, the changes were involuntary. He decided to beat it out of me until one night when I was about fourteen. I’d been out running—there may have been a lamb involved, I’m not proud of that—and I crept into the house via the back door, naked and muddy. Father had been waiting for me all night. He had a cane in his hand that he swished against his boot. He cornered me in the hallway. By that time changing was easy and quick, so I allowed my wolf to let him know that beating me was inappropriate. What can I say? I was at that snarly age. I didn’t bite him, but he suddenly saw the wisdom of leaving me alone.

Let’s skip over a few years. When I was nineteen I left my parents and siblings to their normal life. My mother didn’t want me to leave, but she’d spent a decade trying to protect me from discovery and I thought she deserved a rest. My brother Jonathan, whom I loved dearly, had new-fangled ideas about agriculture and spent a lot of time on our estate. My father’s biggest interest was our woollen mill. He was thinking about getting one of those fancy new steam engines made by Mr. Boulton and Mr. Watt, and it was all he could talk about. My twin brother, Freddie, who hadn’t shown any wolf-tendencies at all, was still at Oxford, and my little sister, Lily, was the apple of our father’s eye. They were a normal—if privileged—happy family—much better off without me. So, after one final row with my father, I found a place for myself with the Lady of the Forest and the Green Man, good people once you get to know them.

I became an agent for the Lady, able to pass between the magical and the mundane worlds easily, fitting into both, gathering intelligence, solving the occasional problem. When not on one of her errands I spent my time in the forest, running as a wolf with the Lady’s retinue.

Winterwood Vis 4

Ross Tremayne

That’s when I first saw Ross. She was on the run, a pirate’s widow with a price on her head for a murder that she didn’t commit. It’s a long story, and Ross told much of it in Winterwood. The Lady asked me to guide Ross and her two companions out of the forest safely to the Bideford road. Even dressed in man’s array I could see how beautiful she was. I’m always surprised that people don’t immediately spot Ross’ gender. She always looks feminine to me. Ross thought I was simply a trained wolf, of course, but right then I wanted to chase her down and eat her. Hmm, eat may not be quite the right word to use in this context, but it’s all I’m going to say. I was a civilised wolf, just as I’m a civilised man, so I let her go on her way, not without regret.

She didn’t even recognise me the next time we met. There was no reason why she should, of course. I was in human form then. The Lady had seen things coming that neither Ross nor I suspected, but as a precaution she sent me to be Ross’ watch-wolf. Ross didn’t take too kindly to that. It took a while for her to trust me, but when she did, we… Well, actually we didn’t, not right away. There was a small problem. Ross wasn’t disinterested in sex, and by that time she was starting to see my worth. She was a widow, dammit, not a blushing virgin. It was her widowhood that was the problem. Her late husband, William Tremayne, was still hanging around. It’s hard enough to compete with another man for the woman you’ve come to love, but when your competition is a ghost, and the ghost of a much-loved, much-missed lover at that, it’s almost impossible. I mean, how are you ever going to live up to the memories of a perfect man? Yes, I know Will Tremayne wasn’t perfect, but he was Ross’ idea of perfect.

The Lady of the Forests had sent me to do a job, or rather to ensure that Ross did what was needful to free the bonded rowankind, but the nearer we got to knowing what that was, the less I liked it. This thing that Ross had to do could suck the life right out of her. For a while I thought she might refuse to do it. There were issues other than her personal safety, and she wondered for a time whether doing it was the sensible thing to do. I had no doubts that she would do it if she thought it was right. She wasn’t lacking in courage, but part of me hoped that she would decide it was too big a step to take. It could do more harm than good—even cause a social revolution. Part of me hoped that in the weighing up of potential consequences, she would decide against it, but she didn’t, and all I could do was to support her as she risked herself to right a wrong that had been done two hundred years earlier.

You’re still reading this, so you’ve realised that Ross didn’t die, or I’d have been running round the forest howling at the moon by now, mad with grief.

We had a brief chance at a happy-ever-after, but that didn’t last. With the rowankind freed, it seemed that Ross had opened the gate for a lot of other magical creatures to find their way into the world, and the Lady asked us to deal with a kelpie who’d been eating children in Devon.

CannonHall paintIf that had been all we could probably have gone back to our happy-ever-after, but that wasn’t all. A letter called us back to Yorkshire, to my family home. Yes, I know I said I was never going to go back, but things had changed, though until my sister Lily wrote I didn’t know any of it. My brother Jonathan had died. The number of times I’d been near to death because of some injury—protecting Ross isn’t without its hazards, so it’s lucky that I heal quickly—and yet Jonathan, always healthy and never in trouble for anything, had succumbed to a burst appendix. Our father had suffered an apoplectic fit at Jonathan’s funeral and my twin, Freddie, just when he should have been taking charge of the family, had ducked out and run off to London to enjoy the season with his disreputable friends, rakes all of them.

Anyhow, I won’t go into all that, Ross has told that story in Silverwolf. And yes, despite everything, we found time to wed. I thank providence each day that she loves me in spite of everything. I never thought I’d marry. Finding a wife is difficult enough, but when you need one who won’t run away screaming if her children turn into cubs one day, you can’t just attend the next assembly and court a pretty lass for her looks or her graceful dancing. (And believe me that’s all that’s ever on offer as the proud mamas show off their daughters in the hopes of a good match.) Ross accepts me for what I am. That’s one more reason why I love her. Did I say she was beautiful, and brave, and resourceful? I probably did. So if I’ve started to repeat myself I shall put down the quill, blow out the candle and go to bed. Ross should have warmed it by now and with any luck she won’t be asleep yet.

If you want to catch up with all this from Ross’ point of view the stories are here in the first two books of The Rowankind. As for how the story ends, well, you’ll have to wait for the third book.

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History Lends Perspective

I had an email from a reader who asked:

Empire of Dust

Empire of Dust – Cover

Just finished Empire of Dust. Enjoyed it very much. I’m confused about an allusion to Dunkirk you made on page 478 in Daw paperback. Ben states that Dunkirk was something that happened “during a civil war.” What civil war? Ben is referring to WWII. Did you mean to infer that it happened so long ago that Ben was just misinformed?

My answer:

Thanks for asking.

Yes, you got it. Ben wasn’t exactly ‘misinformed’, but when you live and work is space and there are many colonies, wars that are localised to one planet are seen, from a distance, as a civil war. WW2 looks a lot smaller from a thousand light years away and a timespan of 500 years.

Bear in mind that between the 1940s and Ben’s ‘now’ there has also been a multiple meteorite strike that almost knocked humanity back to the stone age, destroyed most of the USA and a big chunk of China and put earth through the whole ‘nuclear winter’ thing. (Which is why Pan-Africa and Europe are the main superpowers.) If it hadn’t been for the colonies sending aid and helping with the rebuild, the meteorite strike could have been an extinction event – at least as far as humans-on-earth were concerned.

Still clanking the keys. I’ve just finished the final edits on Nimbus – the third in the Psi-Tech series after Crossways – and I have another Dunkirk reference in that.

 

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