Guest Blog. Peter Sutton Answers Five Questions

Tell us your biography in three sentences or fewer.

Pete SuttonMy first book: A Tiding of Magpies was shortlisted for best short story collection in the British Fantasy Awards 2017. I’ve since published two novels – Sick City Syndrome: a horror tale of urban decay and grief and Seven Deadly Swords a historical fantasy thriller about guilt, sin and redemption. I’m one of the North Bristol Writers, so called because we meet in north Bristol, and I’ve been variously an event organiser for Brisrol Literature festival, BristolCon and Bristol Horrorcon as well as a magazine editor, RPG ‘creative director’ and book reviewer. My website is here: https://petewsutton.com/ and I’m @suttope on Twitter

How and when did you begin writing, and what was your first published piece?

I started off writing for a roleplaying game and had little thought about writing fiction or trying to get published but when things changed at the RPG company I started writing short stories. My fourth attempt was published after a LOT of polishing by Joanne Hall and Roz Clarke who took it for Airship Shape. Being edited by those two taught me a huge amount about how stories should work on the page. The story is called Artifice Perdu, and was a bit more gothic than steampunk.

What’s so special about writing speculative fiction?

A lot of what I write is the here and now but with a speculative twist. I find that looking askance at the world lets you approach it like you would a skittish horse. If you sidle up to it you may be able to grab hold of something you wouldn’t be able to by tackling it head on. Speculative fiction is the modern myths, dreams and fairytales and stories make the world. Through allegory and metaphor we can show great truth and do so with one of man’s oldest tools – narrative.

Tell us about your most recent publication or current writing project

seven-swordsMy most recent publication was the novel Seven Deadly Swords. This is the tale of a group of crusaders who committed a crime against God in the late 1100’s in the Holy Land and then they come back over and over through history to enact the seven deadly sins. We follow Reymond as he tries to atone, as he seeks redemption:

What’s next?

I’m currently writing my next novel, tentatively called The Certainty of Dust about music and poetry, death and obsession and funerals, I’m also slowly working on a follow up to A Tiding of Magpies  – a new collection of mostly unpublished tales tentatively called The Museum of Forgetting. I’m also working on a few short story commissions.

 

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Jacey’s Quick Book Links

With the publication of Rowankind just a few days away (27th November), I thought I’d post links to all my books. Obviously the (not-so-hidden) subtext is, go out and buy them, but seriously folks, those advance orders for a new book are really important because it encourages the bookstores to stock more copies. They re available in paper format or for Kindle or Nook in the USA and Canada, but only in paper format in the UK, due to contractual issues. They are classed as US imports in the UK (yes, even though I’m British), so probably only available via Amazon or maybe via specialist SF bookstores.

3bookpsitech

Psi-Tech Trilogy

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

Rowankind Trilogy

6books 800 px

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Interrogate Your World – Worldbuilding Questions for Writers

I was asked to give a talk on worldbuilding and research at the Escafield SF event in Sheffield on 10th November. I came up with a checklist and promised to post it here for the people who attended. I may yet refine the order, but here’s the first draft as it came off the top of my head.

  • Is it Earth / not Earth / alternate Earth / a mind boggling habitat / somewhere in space?
  • Does it have a history? Do specific countries or regions have their own histories? (Hint, they should do.) Are you using Earth history? Is it an alternate Earth history timeline? If so at what point does your alt. history diverge from real history?
  • What’s the climate like? What about the weather? Remember no one planet (esp ours) is all one thing or all another. What are the regional variations?
  • What about the geology of your planet? Are there regions of vulcanicity? How are mountains and rivers formed? What has erosion done to the scenery? Has there ever been an ice age? Did Slarty Bartfarst design your fjords?
  • Are there huge urban centres or spread out rural populations? Is there overcrowding. Are some people oppressed? Is there exploitation and slavery? Or is labour valued and a worker well paid for his/her hire.
  • Are there non-Earth creatures? How have species developed?
  • What’s the flora like?
  • Has your planet been terraformed with earth flora and fauna, or is it very different to Earth? Are the trees and plants sentient? Can they move? Are they poisonous to non-native lifeforms?
  • What is the status of men and women (or any alt. gendered or genderless individuals) relative to each other? Are you going to use non-gendered pronouns?
  • What languages do people speak? How common is it to speak more languages than your own?
  • Who are the people/peoples? What variety of customs, foods, ethics, religions are there? Are you basing your world on something equivalent on Earth? Are your inhabitants alien or human?
  • How are you going to name people (and places)? You could probably have John, Paul, George and Kethukuthula in present day Britain, but you wouldn’t have had that mix of names in apartheid South Africa. Be careful to keep names culture-relevant and not to mix cultural names unless it’s appropriate to do so.
  • How does the calendar work? Does everyone subscribe to the same calendar?
  • What are the politics? How are the separate countries governed? Social organisation, laws/legal system, foreign policy? Class structure? Elite? Poverty? Is race/racial discrimination a thing? Is apartheid (or something like it) a thing? Are some cultures looked up to or looked down upon?
  • What’s the level of scientific discovery? Is science revered or proscribed? What about education? Are there schools? Colleges? Universities? Does everyone have the same opportunities?
  • What is daily life like for the elite and the underclass and all those inbetween?
  • How do people dress? What fashions are there?
  • How do they travel?
  • How do they communicate? How is information disseminated?
  • What’s the level of technology? Have you pinned it to a point in history which is the equivalent of one of our own?
  • What weapons are there? How is war waged?
  • Is there a magic system? If so it needs a set of immutable rules. Does magic replace technology or supplement it? Are magic users respected, feared, loved, or killed on sight?
  • What’s the level of manufacturing? DIY, cottage industry, industrial revolution, factory system, advanced (done by robots)?
  • What’s the currency? How does it differ between regions/countries? Is there a banking system? Is it acceptable to haggle and barter?
  • Is there commerce between nations/regions? Do some countries need to import food to avoid famine or are they self-sustaining? Does exporting food and fuel give some countries an advantage? Who controls business/trade routes?
  • What’s the level of medical knowledge?
  • What’s the state of the Arts? Are they valued? Do people participate? Are Arts for the elite or for everyone?
  • Is your society egalitarian or are there ‘superstars’? If so, how do they become famous?

REMEMBER: You can make stuff up as long as you are consistent and you have your own internal logic.

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Winterwood Chapter One – Read it Here

In anticipation of the publication of Rowankind, due on 27th November, the third book in my Rowankind Trilogy, I offer for your delectation, the first chapter of Winterwood. It’s the beginning of the trilogy, Rowankind is the finale – with Silverwolf in the middle.

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

WINTERWOOD
by Jacey Bedford

CHAPTER ONE
A Bitter Farewell

April 1800, Plymouth, England

The stuffy bedroom stank of sickness with an underlying taint of old lady, stale urine and unwashed clothes, poorly disguised with attar of roses. I’d never thought to return to Plymouth, to the house I’d once called home; a house with memories so bitter that I’d tried to scour them from my mind with salt water and blood.

Had something in my own magic drawn me back? I didn’t know why it should, though it still had the capacity to surprise me. I could control it at sea, but on land it gnawed at my insides. Even here, less than a mile from the harbour, power pulsed through my veins, heating my blood. I needed to take ship soon before I lost control.

Little wonder that I’d felt no need to return home since eloping with Will.

My ears adjusted to the muffled street sounds, my eyes to the curtained gloom. I began to pick out familiar shapes in the shadows, each one bringing back a memory and all of them painful. The dressing table with its monstrously carved lion mask and paw feet was where I had once sat and experimented with my mother’s face powder and patches, earning a beating with the back of a hairbrush for the mess. The tall bed–a mountain to a small child–upon which I had first seen the tiny, shawl-wrapped form of my brother, Philip, the new son and heir, pride and joy, in my mother’s arms.

And there was the ornate screen I’d once hidden behind, trapped accidentally in some small mischief, to witness a larger mischief when my mother took Larien, our rowankind bondsman, to her lonely bed. I hadn’t known, then, what was happening beneath the covers, but I’d instinctively known that I should not be there, so I’d swallowed my puzzlement and kept silent.

Now, the heaped covers on that same bed stirred and shifted.

“Philip?” Her voice trembled and her hand fluttered to her breast. “Am I dreaming?”

My stomach churned and my magic flared. I swallowed hard, pushed it down and did my best to keep my voice low and level. “No, Mother, it’s me.”

“Rossalinde? Good God! Dressed like a man! You never had a sense of decorum.”

It wasn’t a question of decorum. It was my armour. I wore the persona as well as the clothes.

“Don’t just stand there, come closer.” My mother beckoned me into the gloom. “Help me up.”

She had no expectation that I would disobey, so I didn’t. I put my right arm under hers and my left arm round her frail shoulders and eased her into a sitting position, hearing her sharp indrawn gasp as I moved her. I plumped up pillows, stepped back and turned away, needing the distance.

I twitched the curtain back from the sash window an inch or two to check that the street outside was still empty, listening hard for any sound of disturbance in the normality of Twiling Avenue–a disturbance that might indicate a hue and cry heading in my direction. I’d crept into the house via a back entrance through the next door neighbour’s shrubbery. The hedge surrounding the house across the street rippled as if a bird had fled its shelter. I waited to see if there was any further movement, but there wasn’t. So far there was nothing beyond the faint cries of the vendors in the market two streets over and the raucous clamour of the wheeling gulls overhead.

Satisfied that I was safe for now, I turned back to find my mother had closed her eyes for a moment. She snatched a series of shallow breaths before she gave one long sigh. Opening her eyes again she regarded me long and steady. “Life as a pirate’s whore certainly seems to suit you.”

“Yes, Mother.” Pirate’s whore! I pressed my lips together. It wasn’t worth arguing. She was wrong on both counts, pirate and whore. As privateers we cruised under Letters of Marque from Mad King George for prizes of French merchantmen, Bonaparte’s supply vessels. As to the whore part, Will and I had married almost seven years ago.

“So you finally risked your neck to come and say good-bye. I wondered how long it would take. You’re almost too late.”

I didn’t answer.

“Oh, come on, girl, don’t beat about the bush. My belly’s swollen tight as a football. This damn growth is sucking the life out of me. Does it make you happy to see me like this? Do you think I deserve it?”

I shook my head, only half sure I meant it. Damn her! She still had me where it hurt. I’d come to dance on her grave and found it empty.

“What’s the matter?”

I waited for Cat got your tongue? but it didn’t come.

“Give me some light, girl.”

I went to open the curtains.

“No, keep the day away. Lamp light’s kinder.”

I could have brightened the room with magic, but magic–specifically my use of it–had driven a wedge between us. She had wanted a world of safety and comfort with the only serious concerns being those of fashion and taste, acceptable manners and suitable suitors. Instead she’d been faced with my unacceptable talents.

I struck a phosphor match from the inlaid silver box on the table, lifted the lamp glass and lit the wick. It guttered and smoked like cheap penny whale oil. My mother’s standards were slipping.

I took a deep breath; then, to show that she didn’t have complete control of the proceedings, I flopped down into the chair beside the bed, trying to look more casual than I felt.

Her iron grey hair was not many shades lighter than when I’d last seen her seven years ago. Her skin was pale and translucent, but still unblemished. She’d always had good skin, my mother; still tight at fifty, as mine would probably be if the wind and the salt didn’t ruin it, or if the Mysterium didn’t hang me for a witch first.

She caught me studying her. “You really didn’t expect to see me alive, did you?”

I shrugged. I hadn’t known what to expect.

“But you came all the same.”

“I had to.” I still wasn’t sure why.

“Yes, you did.” She smirked. “Did you think to pick over my bones and see what I’d left you in my will?”

No, old woman, to confront you one last time and see if you still have the same effect on me. I cleared my throat. “I don’t want your money.”

“Good, because I have none.” She pushed herself forward off her pillows with one elbow. “Every last penny from your father’s investments has gone to pay the bills. I’ve had to sell the plate and my jewellery, such as it was. All that’s left is show. This disease has saved me from the workhouse.” She sank back. “Don’t say you’re sorry.”

“I won’t because I’m not.”

Leaving had been the best thing I’d ever done.

Life with Will had been infinitely more tender than it had ever been at home. I didn’t regret a minute of it. I wished there had been more.

The harridan regarded me through half-closed eyes. “And have I got any by-blow grandchildren I should know about?”

“No.” There had been one, born early, but the little mite had not lasted beyond his second day. She didn’t need to know that.

“Not up to it, is he, this Redbeard of yours? Or have you unmanned him with your witchcraft?”

I ignored her taunts. “What do you want, forgiveness? Reconciliation?”

“What do I want?” She screwed her face up in the semblance of a laugh, but it turned to a grimace.

“You nearly got us killed, Mother, or have you conveniently forgotten?”

“That murdering thief took all I had in the world.”

That would be the ship she was talking about, not me.

“That murdering thief, as you put it, saved my life.”

And my soul and my sanity, but I didn’t tell her that. He’d taught me to be a man by day and a woman by night, to use a sword and pistol and to captain a ship. He’d been my love, my strength and my mentor. Since his death I’d been Captain Redbeard Tremayne in his stead–three years a privateer captain in my own right.

“Is he with you now?”

“He’s always with me.”

That wasn’t a lie. Will showed up at the most unlikely times, sometimes as nothing more than a whisper on the wind.

“So you only came to gloat and to see what was left.”

“I don’t want anything of yours. I never did.”

“Oh, don’t worry, what’s coming to you is not mine. I’m only passing it on–one final obligation to the past.” Her voice, still sharp, caught in her throat and she coughed.

“Do you want a drink?” I asked, suddenly seeing her as a lonely and sick old woman.

“I want nothing from you.” She screwed up her eyes. Her hand went to her belly. I could only stand by while she struggled against whatever pain wracked her body.

Finally she spoke again. “In the chest at the foot of the bed, below the sheet.”

I knelt and ran my fingers across it. It had been my father’s first sea-chest, oak with a tarnished brass binding. I let my fingers linger over his initials burnt into the top. He’d been an absentee father, always away on one long voyage after the other, but I’d loved his homecomings, the feel of his scratchy beard on my cheek as he hugged me to him, the smell of the salt sea and pipe tobacco, the presents, small but thoughtful: a tortoiseshell comb, a silken scarf, a bracelet of bright beads from far off Africa.

I pulled open the catch and lifted the lid.

“Don’t disturb things. Feel beneath the left hand edge.”

I slid my hand under the folded linen. My fingers touched something smooth and cool. I felt the snap and fizz of magic and jerked back, but it was too late, the thing, whatever it was, had already tasted me. Damn my mother. What had she done?

I drew the object out to look and found it to be a small, polished wooden box, not much deeper than my thumb. I’d never seen its like before, but I’d heard winterwood described and knew full well what it was. The grain held a rainbow from the gold of oak, to the rich red of mahogany, shot through with ebony hues. It sat comfortably in the palm of my hand, so finely crafted it was almost seamless. My magic rose up to meet it.

I tried the lid. “It’s locked.”

She had an odd expression on her face.

“Is this some kind of riddle?” I asked.

“Your inheritance.”

“How does it open? What’s inside it?”

“That’s for you to find out. I never wanted any of it.”

My head was full of questions. My mother hated magic, even the sleight of hand tricks of street illusionists. How could this be any inheritance of mine?

Yet, I felt that it was.

I turned the box around in my hands. There was something trapped inside that wanted its freedom. No point in asking if anyone had tried to saw it open. You don’t work ensorcelled winterwood with human tools.

Wrapping both hands around the box, I could feel it was alive with promise. It didn’t seem to have a taint of the black about it, but it didn’t have to be dark magic to be dangerous.

I shuddered. “I don’t want it.”

“It’s yours now. You’ve touched it. I’ve never handled it without gloves.”

“Where did it come from?”

She shook her head. “Family.”

“Neither you nor Father ever mentioned family, not even my grandparents.”

“Long gone, all of them. Gone and forgotten.”

“I don’t even know their names.”

“And better that way. We left all that behind us. We started afresh, Teague and I, making our own place in society. It wasn’t easy even in this tarry-trousers town. Your ancestors companied with royalty, you know, though much good it did them in the end. You’re a lady, Rossalinde, not a hoyden.” She winced, but whether from the memories or the pain I couldn’t tell. “That blasted thing is all that’s left of the past. It followed me, but it’s too much to… ” Her voice tailed off, then she rallied. “I wasn’t having any of it. It’s your responsibility now. I meant to give it to you when you came of age.” She narrowed her eyes and glared at me. “How old are you, anyway?”

I was lean and hard from life at sea. You didn’t go soft in my line of work. “I’m not yet five and twenty, Mother.” I held up the box and stared at it. “What if I can’t open it?”

I suppose you’ll have to pass it on to the next generation.”

“There won’t be a next generation.”

She shrugged and waved me away with one hand.

“Give it to Philip.” I held it out to her, but she shrank back from it and her eyes moistened at my brother’s name. What had he been up to now? Likely he was the one who’d spent all her money. I hadn’t seen Philip for seven years, but I doubted he’d reformed in that time. He’d been a sweet babe, but had grown into a spoilt brat, manipulative and selfish, and last I saw he was carrying his boyhood traits into adolescence, turning into an opportunist with a slippery tongue.

“Always to the firstborn. But you’re behind the times, girl. Philip’s dead. Dead these last seven months.” Her voice broke on the last words.

“Dead?” I must have sounded stupid, but an early death was the last thing I’d envisioned for Philip. The grievances I’d held against him for years melted away in an instant. All I could think of was the child who’d followed me round begging that I give him a horsey ride, or told him a story.

“How?”

“A duel. In London. A matter of honour was the way it was written to me.”

“Oh.” It was such an ineffectual thing to say, but right at that moment I didn’t really know how I felt. Had Philip actually developed a sense of honour as he grew? Was there a better side to my brother that I’d never seen? I hoped so.

“Is that all you can say? You didn’t deserve a brother. You never had any love for him.”

I let that go. It wasn’t true.

“I thought you might have changed.” My mother’s words startled me and I realised my mind had wandered into the past. Stay sharp. This might yet be a trap, some petty revenge for the wrongs she perceived that I heaped on her: loss of wealth, loss of station; loss of son. Next she’d be blaming me for the loss of my father, though only the sea was to blame for that.

“That’s all I’ve got for you.” She turned away from me. “It’s done. Now, get out.”

“Mother, I–”

“I’m ready for my medicine.”

I knew it would be the last time I’d see her. I wanted to say how sorry I was. Sorry for ruining her life; sorry for Philip’s death. I wanted to take her frail body in my arms and hold her like I could never remember her holding me, but there was nothing between us except bitterness. Even dying, there was no forgiveness.

I turned and walked out, not looking back.

-o0o-

End of Chapter One

-o0o-

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SF Conventions and How to Survive Them

I have just returned from FantasyCon in Chester. Run by the British Fantasy Society, this is an annual event and is the most writerly of British SF conventions. The panels are generally writing oriented and the dealers’ room is mostly full of independent small presses. It’s a weekend con, with events starting on Friday afternoon and continuing to Sunday early afternoon, with the awards dinner beginning at lunchtime and the awards happening through Sunday afternoon. To be honest, since I don’t have a horse in the awards race, and since I like to get home reasonably promptly, I usually leave mid-afternoon.

Chester Rows

I arrived on Thursday because I wanted to see something of Chester, a city that I’ve always managed to miss visiting in the past. So this time I got to see the Roman amphitheatre and the Rows, with their two-level medieval shops. The venue was the Chester Queen Hotel, right opposite the station. It’s an excellent venue for a convention. The rooms are good and the convention facilities excellent. Added to that the staff were all extremely friendly and helpful.

My first ever convention was 2007, so I’m relatively new to fandom. I started attending cons regularly, and volunteering for panels from 2012. My first ever panel was the history/fantasy panel at the Heathrow (London) Eastercon with George RR Martin. I’m not saying I wasn’t overawed, but George is an old hand at conventions and he’s a lovely man who doesn’t make you feel like a raw newbie (even if you are). At that point I’d got my first three book deal with DAW, but my first book hadn’t yet been published.

Now I have five books published and my sixth is coming out in December. In the intervening years I’ve done a lot more panels.

Eastercons are lovely and I tend to treat them as social occasions, catching up with writer-friends I haven’t seen (probably) since last Eastercon. Fantasycons, however, are all about the business. Yes, we make it social, but the panels are practical and interesting. This year I went to one about blogging for writers, a panel about the publishing industry, a workshop on plot pacing, and several more. I sat on panels about writers’ groups and about plot generating. The latter was a strictly fun panel – the last one of the convention – where a panel of writers had to take random plot bunnies shouted out by the audience and make them into… well I’m not quite sure what we made them into, but there was a lot of laughter, especially when we ended up with a (fictional) sentient dildo in a murder-mystery scenario.

Plot panel

The plot panel on Sunday afternoon.

There were writer-friends there, of course, many of them who had some connection with Milford, so we ate together and drank together (mostly coffee to be honest), and managed some social time as well as panel time. I’d taken a stand for Milford, which I set up in the Dealers’ Room with leaflets and a pull-up stand, but since I wasn’t selling anything I didn’t need to be there with it all the time.

If it hadn’t been for The Train Line selling me tickets for a train that didn’t exist on the way home, causing me to spend an hour on the freezing cold platform of Newton Le Willows station while trying to get back on track for my journey, it would have been perfect.

Next weekend I’m going all the way down to Bristol (by train again) for the one-day Bristolcon, held at the Double Tree by Hilton in Bristol city centre. I’ve been several times before. It’s a small convention with an excellent atmosphere and – yes – there are quite a few writer-friends in attendance, mostly a different bunch than the ones who were at Fantasycon.

Though it’s a one-day con, because my train journey is close to four hours, I have to go down on the Friday and return on the Sunday, so for me it’s still a weekend convention. It will mostly be a social convention for me, but I am signed up to do one panel:
Saturday 27th October, 3.00 How to Become a Published Author
With Jasper Fforde, Anna Stephens, Jacey Bedford, Simon Kewin, Cavan Scott (M)
Blurb: It’s not easy. But with a manuscript under your belt you’ve done the hard part. Our panel of professionals from the writing and publishing worlds will offer hints and tips based on their own experiences and careers to date.

I’m looking forward to it.

Surviving two consecutive conventions might be tricky. I’ll need to catch up on sleep this week. I room-shared with Tina A at Chester and I’m room-sharing with Terry J at Bristolcon. Because we don’t see each other all that often we do tend to talk well into the night, and then, of course, have to get up for hotel breakfast the following morning. Being from Yorkshire, if I’ve paid for it, I’m going to eat it, so come hell or high water I will not miss breakfast! (Though I often skip lunch.)

So advice on surviving conventions:

  • Take the easiest, most hassle-free form of travel you can manage.
  • Stay in the convention hotel, even if it’s a few pounds more per night.
  • Arrive early if you can.
  • Get as much sleep as you can.
  • Don’t imbibe too much alcohol. (Hangovers are not fun and people don’t like you snoring through panels.)
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Don’t buy more books than you can carry home.

Enjoy yourself.

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Gentleman Jim Speaks Out

The Rowankind books, Winterwood, Silverwolf and Rowankind (the latter due in December 2018) are narrated by Rossalinde (Ross) Tremayne, but every now and then one of the other characters likes to have his say. You can find Corwen’s piece here. This time it’s the turn of pirate captain Gentleman Jim…

stormy ships

James Mayo isn’t my real name and I never intended to become a pirate, but things happen.

My family had—still have I expect—a plantation in Virginia. With three older brothers, I was never in line to inherit much, so my father determined I should have a profession. He sent me to be educated at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, to study divinity can you believe? Unfortunately that was very shortly before my country had a serious argument over taxation with King George, and I absconded to join a militia.

If I have one very serious piece of advice it’s never to get roaring drunk with your comrades in a seaport while the fleet is recruiting. Portsmouth, Virginia was my downfall. When I came to my senses the ground was rolling beneath me and I perceived myself to be at sea. To make matters worse, it was a French ship of the line, a third-rater called the Jason in the fleet of Rear Admiral Destouches.

I had a few disagreements with my sudden transfer from the militia to the navy, but to my surprise, and to that of my captain, a fine sailor by the name of Jean de la Clocheterie, I took to the ocean. In recognition of my education I was elevated to the grand position of his cabin steward, where, I may say, I prospered. It’s surprising what you can learn once you’ve acquired a position of trust. I survived the battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, was on board the Jason at the Battle of Mona Passage a year later when she was captured by the British. I had no liking for the idea of being at the mercy of King George, who had a tendency to insist that Americans were subjects of the Crown and therefore eligible to become cannon fodder in the Royal Navy. Along with a few compatriots, I contrived to escape in the ship’s jolly-boat, and we made the shores of Hispaniola where there are many opportunities open to a young man of keen intelligence and fighting spirit.

I joined the crew of the Black Hawk, then captained by Edgar Ransome. It took me six years to work my way up to the top, but by the time I was twenty-seven I was captain, and Ransome was at the bottom of the sea.

Heart of OakI first saw Rossalinde Tremayne when her husband Will and I both chased down the same French merchantman. I wasn’t in the mood to fight two battles, and neither was he, so we agreed that I would take the cargo and he would take the ship for the bounty paid by the British. I was intrigued by Tremayne’s woman, fighting like a maniac, sword and pistol in hand. I didn’t know then that she was his wife. Though I’d barely spoken two words to the lady I couldn’t get her out of my head. Lust at first sight you might say.

A year later I received a missive from Tremayne asking for a parlez between privateers and pirates to sort out who would raid where. I might have refused outright. What concessions did we pirates need to give to those who considered themselves above us just because they had letters of marque from their monarch? Then I remembered the wench and wondered whether she was still with Tremayne.

I granted them parlez and invited those other pirate captains plying their trade in the Caribbean and across the Atlantic. Tremayne did likewise amongst his privateer acquaintances. We met three months later at the Golden Compass, in Ravenscraig, on the Island of Auvienne. My Island. My town. My tavern. My rules. Except Tremayne was a fierce negotiator and in the end I gave more concessions that I had planned. I blame the distraction. Tremayne had brought the wench with him, though she was a pale shadow of the woman I had seen before.

It turned out that only two months before, she’d given birth to a son, born early. He barely lived a few days and her grief was palpable. Tremayne did what he could, but I perceived she needed cheering up and so I went out of my way to be kind and attentive. I had my reasons, of course. Many a marriage has been soured by the death of a child, and I determined to be the one to pick up the pieces if their relationship shattered.

Alas, we became friends. I say alas, because in the end I wanted the best for her and that meant relinquishing her to Tremayne when we concluded our parlez. Her loyalty to him was unshakeable.

It took several months for the news of Tremayne’s death to reach me. To my credit my first instinct was shock. Men like Tremayne are not easily disposed of. But the sea had other ideas. He’d been killed by a falling spar at the height of a storm, and my lovely Ross was a widow. An available widow.

Ross Trenayne 4I hadn’t expected her to take over the captaincy of her ship, but news reached me that the Heart Of Oak was cruising the Caribbean for French shipping. I set my sails in that direction, but she was elusive. Then I heard she’d gone back to the Atlantic sea routes.

It was another couple of years until fate dropped her into my lap unexpectedly. A storm had damaged the Heart of Oak and she was forced to take shelter in a cove on my island. I hadn’t had any inclination, then, that she was mixed up in magic, but when I rode, with my men, to confront her and her crew, there was a box which made my stomach tingle. I’ve always been a little sensitive to magic and the box drew me almost as much as Ross did. I’d heard there was an Englishman prepared to pay well for such a thing. She gave up the box easily—maybe too easily—and accepted an invitation to dinner. I took the box and left Ross a mount to make the journey to Ravenscraig. I was half afraid that she wouldn’t come. To my surprise she did. I wined her and dined her, and wooed her as delicately as I could when all I wanted to do was to rip off her clothes and bed her until she was insensible. It seemed that she’s had enough of widowhood for she came to me willingly. I will not give away secrets of the bedchamber, but I thought that having come to me once she was mine.

I was wrong.

Ravenscraig came under attack that night from two British warships and in the panic and confusion, my lovely Ross slipped away, taking the magical box with her. I hadn’t known, until that night, that she was a witch. No wonder I was drawn to her.

Unfortunately I had already despatched a messenger to the Englishman who sought the box. His name was Walsingham and he made the journey to Ravenscraig and offered me a generous sum for laying a trap for the Heart of Oak. Ross wasn’t aboard, he said, so I was happy to do it. Unfortunately Walsingham was not only a liar, he was a magic user. We trapped Ross’ ship, and she was on it. I thought he was going to kill her, but when I objected he turned his magic against me. The next thing I knew I was in the water and swimming for my life as my ship’s powder magazine blew up behind me. I’ll gloss over the rest as it’s not a time I wish to remember. I was picked up by a pirate called Nicholas Thompson, Old Nick to his enemies; I doubt he has any friends.

By the time I escaped, I’d lost my ship, my crew, my island, and my self-respect. I slipped down the neck of a rum bottle, and might have stayed there, but Ross came into my life again. She had a new husband, Corwen, a wolf shapechanger, and they seemed very much in love. I can’t fault the man. He and Ross gave me back my island, my place at the head of the pirates, and my life.

The very last time I saw her I took both her hands in mine and kissed her cheeks. “If you get tired of dry land,” I said, “you know where to come.”

She smiled at me and said, “I do, but I won’t.”

I knew in my heart I would never see her again when she said, “Have a great life. Stay well and safe.”

I squeezed her hands once and then let her go. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever done, but her time on the ocean was over. She’d go back to England with her husband and continue to fight for the rights of magic users, because my dear Ross could never refuse a fight. She was – she still is – the bravest woman I ever knew, but didn’t count herself as anything special. That’s what made her so special to me. And I saw it in her husband’s eyes every time he looked at her.

She paused once on the gang plank to turn and wave, and then walked into her husband’s embrace. She’d found a good man. If I ever find a woman half as good as Rossalinde I might even be tempted to settle down, but until then I have my island, my ships, my tavern, and all it’s womanly delights.

But a man, even a pirate, can dream.

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My Week at Milford

My writing week

The view from the window of my little room.

Many thanks to last week’s guest blogger Joshua Palmatier for doing a post for me while I was away at Milford SF Writers’ week in Snowdonia at the lovely Trigonos, Though they do have wi-fi there now, it tends to be intermittent, so I wasn’t sure how much connectivity I would have. Also I was working on my little Dell laptop, bought (reconditioned) for travelling. It’s nowhere near as convenient as my desktop machine which has a 23 inch monitor and a lovely clicky keyboard.

What’s Milford?

Milford is  practically an institution in it’s own right. It was started by a bunch of well known, well respected professional SF writers in Milford Pennsylvania in 1956. Damon Knight being one of the prime movers. James and Judy Blish brought it to the UK in 1972 and with only a couple of exceptions it has run annually ever since.

The Blishes organized it at a venue in Milford on Sea. Anne McCaffrey chaired the first one, and the rank and file consisted of Mark Adlard, Brian Aldiss, John Brunner, Ken Bulmer, George Locke (‘Gordon Walters’), John Murry (‘Richard Cowper’), John Phillifent (‘John Rackham’), Chris Priest, David Redd, Josephine Saxton, Andrew Stephenson and Peter Tate. In the subsequent four-and-a-bit decades many SF luminaries have passed through: George RR Martin, Brian Aldiss, Bruce Sterling, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, John Brunner. David Langford, John Clute… and many more. You can see more about MIlford’s history here http://www.milfordsf.co.uk/history.htm and more about Milford itself here http://www.milfordsf.co.uk.

Panorama01

Milford 2017 (Photo: Matt Colborn)

What do we do?

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

Coffee break and conversation 2018

Milford is all about writing. Stick fifteen writers in a small venue in the middle of Wild Welsh Wales for a week and you get some amazing results. Everybody bonds. (Note bonding is not compulsory, but in all the years I’ve been involved there have only been a couple of people who have resisted the camaraderie.) That’s not to say we live in each others’ pockets for the week. We have a schedule which goes something like: Saturday arrive and settle in (and have dinner together) Sunday to Thursday inclusive, mornings are your own; afternoons are formal critique sessions and evenings are social time. (Though if you want to sneak back to your room and write, there’s nothing to stop you.) We send round our pieces for critique two to three weeks before Milford starts to give ourselves chance to read and critique in advance. And the workload is heavy, so it makes sense to get as much done as possible beforehand.

When choosing what to send in the general advice is to send an unpublished piece (or two pieces) of not more than ten thousand words altogether. Make it as good as you can but sometimes if you’re having trouble with a piece that’s also a good reason to select it for scrutiny. This year I sent a section from the work in progress, The Amber Crown. It’s a book with three viewpoint characters and though it’s kinda, sorta finished I just added a whole load of story for my female character, Mirza. Though her chapters are interspersed with the other two (Valdas and Lind) I pulled them all together into one continuous piece. I received some really interesting critiques, but nearly everyone said that the long flashback was problematical, but a couple of people suggested writing it in real time and inserting it as an extra chapter earlier in the book. At one time Mirza didn’t appear until Chapter 9, now she’s right there in Chapter 2. I’m happy with that.

Few people got massively adverse comments. Everyone said that the comments they did get were really helpful. (And they are always delivered constructively.) You probably learn as much – if not more – from critiquing otherpeople’s pieces than you do from having your own piece critiqued.

It was one of those weeks where we seemed to be laughing all the time, even though Wales was trying to drown us in rain for most of the week. Predictably the rain cleared up on the last day for the drive home.

Valley in gloom

Nantlle Valley in a gloomy mood. You should be able to see Mount Snowdon in the distance, but it’s obscured by low cloud.

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