Blog.

The Goblin Circus and other Short Stories Release Date

Cover Art By Liam Shaw

I finally have a release date for the book. After burning the candle at both ends for months it’s finally here.

The book will be available in both ebook and paperback format through Amazon.

This has been a journey of learning, and I’m still learning. I honestly cannot wait for this to be out in the world now, as nervous as that makes me.

My brain is mush, I’m excited and worried in equal measure, and said mush brain has already decided on its next project. In fact it has latched on to it like a dog with an old slipper and refuses to let go.

Ah I nearly hit publish without adding in the actual release date.

Available October 22nd.

What more proof do you need?

Apparently at least one more. Probably two if I’m being honest.

The proofs arrived in the post, and boy have done fucked these up. Not only have I selected the wrong book size, but my cover art doesn’t fit correctly resulting in a hideous grey border all around the edges of the volume.

Inside everything is a mess, because I had selected the wrong size, all the formatting is out of line. In sort, its a mess, and if I’m honest, it was for a brief moment completely disheartening. It was probably the first moment when it really dawned on me how much work there is still to do, even after writing is finished.

That said, I am adding another shirt story to the book, so writing technically isn’t finished. It’s come a long way in three days and I really think it will be a great addition to the book overall. However, I cant order another proof until this is finished, edited and the cover is resized for the extra (and correct) pages.

So, it’s back to work. I’ll update once the new proof comes through.

Proof is in the pudding…or post.

Putting a book together, even a small one such as The Goblin Circus and other Short Stories, was much more work than I anticipated.

I did what I thought was my due diligence, I read a lot of blog posts, I watched a lot of YouTube videos. So many top ten listings for things you need to know. None of it prepared me for the work of actually putting it together, and by that I largely mean the time it takes, and finding that time.

You can be told the steps, you can be shown them. You can read through and understand each of them and feel confident enough to tackle writing a book for self publication. I know I did. When you go into self publication, you are doing all the work that a publisher would normally do. You do your own writing (obviously), your own editing and restructuring (although finding and paying for a good freelance editor can be invaluable) and your own formatting and marketing.

I struggled with finding a balance between work, personal and writing time. The task, at times, felt insurmountable, and The Goblin Circus is a small book, something to cut my teeth on. I would try to find time before or after work, often being tired and unmotivated in these periods. I would fall into the trap of waiting for inspiration, when in truth, writing is work and it should be treated as such. I would find myself feeling guilty with any leisure time I had, always having a little voice in the back of my head telling me I should be working on the book.

You need to dedicate a set time to writing, to sit and work at it yes, but you also need time to switch it off. You are allowed to not write, and you deserve to not feel guilty about time spent away from writing. If you don’t have this issue, I applaud and envy you. I continued on, writing here and there, limiting leisure time and still feeling as though I was making no progress.

Then lockdown hit the UK and I was furloughed, suddenly I found myself with an abundance of time on my hands. I formed a writing plan, and structured my days. Writing early in the morning, then using the internet to continue learning, YouTube lectures or a Masterclass course, there is a wealth of well crafted information out there. My evenings were then free to spend how I wished, and this was my first experience of what it must be like to be a full time writer. I was wrong, it was what I have come to think of as the honeymoon phase of writing. Just pure creativity, putting ideas and first drafts down on the page, not worrying about edits or any of the work it takes to make a work presentable, a finished and complete project.

In what felt like a heartbeat I was back to work, and back to scrambling for time to write. This time however I forced myself to make the time I needed. A little time every morning, and burning some midnight oil most nights. Soon the lack of motivation after a day at work dissolved and I couldn’t wait to get home and put in some work, some real work. I began to think of my job less as what I do for a living or a career, and more as a means to an ends. My vocation is not my passion, it simply allows me to fund it. That small revelation led to a much healthier mindset.

Renewed and filled with a sense of purpose I dove into edits and learning how to format a book for self publication. Although there are many guides out there, for every type of book you can imagine, it was still a lot of trial and error, lots of minor tweaks. It sometimes felt like two steps forward, one step back. This is just for publication through Amazon, and it is by all accounts much more streamlined than self publishing elsewhere.

I’m incredibly happy to say my proofs for The Goblin Circus are on their way, but I am aware there is still so much work to be done. No doubt it will require some small fixes, and even then, when I think it’s good enough to hit publish the work isn’t over. I still have to wrestle with the bugbear of marketing the book, my next great adventure.

If this rambling blog has any point, it is this. Find what works, get a writing plan and stick to it. Treat it like work and do not wait for inspiration. In truth I could have had this book (and maybe others) complete and finished months ago if I had the discipline then that I have now. Carve out a time to write (including the technical side of things) and guard it jealously.

BLOG: Notebooks and Ideas.

I love a good notebook.

I’m sure many of you feel the same way, but I can honestly say I don’t know where this harmless little fetish comes from. I prefer something hard backed with squared and creamy paper, two book mark tassels and usually black or brown. Doesn’t it just make you shiver in delight. I have dozens of notebooks, a lot of different shapes and varieties. I’ve tried a lot of different stuff to find out what I like and what works best for me.

I could easily transition to writing cheap erotica if I just channel notebooks. There is something soothing about using pen and paper over a computer, for me at least. I find the ideas flow easier, a written conscious stream. I will fill page after page, fleshing out an idea, following the thread, only to scrap the idea. Those are not wasted pages however. I’d rather have those pages as reference than tapping the backspace button every time I write something I decide I don’t like.

So I collect notebooks. I hoard notebooks and I use them for specific tasks. That’s a writing notebook, that’s a D&D notebook, that’s my pocket one, a journal. That one is for a specific idea, no, not that idea, the other one. The stack over there are full and used, like treasure troves filled to bursting. I don’t know why I find it easier to generate ideas on paper, I just do. It can be almost therapeutic, putting pen to page and watching the ink eat up line after line.

Lately I find if I have just one notebook for general use I become distracted very easily. All the ideas go into the same place so it is very easy to start to stray from the work in progress. I don’t think I’m alone in this, chasing the new shiny idea when I know I should finish what I’ve started. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it feels like a slog to get through your writing time. Sometimes it feels like work. It is work, you have to work at it, but those new ideas can just be too tempting.

To that end I have purchased smaller (less fancy) notebooks, one idea per notebook. If a new idea comes along, instead of ignoring it I give it thirty minutes of attention. Thirty minutes to broaden and flesh it out into a coherent thought or story idea. Then when the time is up, if it wont fit with the current work in progress, it goes to one side with the others. I find this helps me greatly to both keep on track without feeling like I’m letting ideas slip away, and at the end if it I have a stack of ideas to browse for the next project.

Let me know your preferred method of generation ideas, do you use a notebook at all?

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Hero.

The dark haired woman moved to the lantern and turned it low. The room darkened.

“Now go to sleep,” she said to the girl in the bed.

“One more story Aunty Evie, just one more,” the little red head cried. Evoria turned to the girl, the image of her mother at her age, only much cleaner. The room was filled with books and toys, paints and parchment.

“It’s already past your bedtime Jess,” she said trying to sound stern. The girl smiled widely,

“Please,”

Evorias’ resolve lasted for half a moment more before she crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed.

“One more, but you can’t tell your mother. This is the story of how Aunty Evoria lost her leg,”

“No, not that one,” said Jess

“It ends with a crossbow hidden in a fake leg, how is that not a fantastic story?” asked Evoria.

“But I’ve heard that one before,”

“Dragon?”

“Heard it,” said Jess

“Giants?” The girl shook her head.

“Snake people, the Old Hag?” Evoria asked.

“I’ve heard them all before,” Jess said, “tell me about the bridge,”

“No,”

“Please, please, please,” Jess begged.

Evoria tucked her in and gave a little frown, “It’s a good job your cute,” she said.

“Is that a yes?”

“Listen carefully Jess, I’m only going to tell this tale once…”

*

A friend once told me that to say the names of the dead is to call them back from paradise. I didn’t think much of it at the time, he was full of odd customs coming from the North as he did. Then I woke up alone on the cold stones of the bridge, and I’ve never had the courage to risk it. I wanted to, god’s know I wanted to be selfish and call them back, my Wolf and my Priest, but what would they say if I did? I couldn’t bear that.

I remember being on the floor, hurt and dizzy, the sharp taste of copper in my mouth. The sky overhead was clearing, but the smoke of the world choked my view. There was no sign of the slave we rescued, though I’m certain he saved my life. Maybe he thought we were square, he didn’t owe us anything else. Harsh, but that is often the way of the world Jess. Then I saw them, my Wolf and my Priest, among the bodies of the fallen Northmen. The so-called Lord of the Feast dead at their feet, his champion dead and their troops in disarray. That’s where the soldiers found me, sat between the two of them, the most unusual men I’ve ever met in my life. The best men I’ve ever met in my life.

They took me off that bridge, I let them, so long as they brought the others with me. I didn’t want to leave them out there, it didn’t seem right. The rest of that day is still a blur, I remember being taken to the palace, I slept for a long time. When I woke Odessa was there, yes The Sovereign herself. She didn’t say much, she didn’t need to, but Airik joined us and began to talk of the things that needed to be done.

Heroes, that was the word they used, the Heroes of Brennan Bridge. I didn’t feel like a hero, I never have, it always a word someone else calls you. Airik said there was to be a ceremony, a festival or some kind of national holiday. I had stopped listening to his words. I just wanted to see my friends.

Odessa led me down to the chapel, she asked if they would mind being there. I think the Priest would have found the irony amusing, the Wolf, well he never had much use for god’s. She said some nice words, the sort that are pleasant enough for a person you don’t know. She wasn’t insincere, she just didn’t know them well. She was thankful though, truly thankful, I could see that. For that I’m thankful despite the state of things now, how our nation has turned inward. We were on the right track at one point Jess, but the real world isn’t a story, there are no happy endings.

She left me to say my words, but words were never my strong suit. I sat in silence for a while, trying to think of the appropriate thing to say. I kept my silence and took from the Priest a rune, the one he always played with. And from the Wolf I took a silver dagger. At the time I thought I needed them, to keep them with me wherever I went.

Airik was waiting outside. He made his thanks, but the words rolled off me like water off a duck. He talked about a title and lands, I just nodded and told him I was tired. Back in my room I packed up my things, all I wanted was to go home. No, not to Skye, to Convally. I stopped at the window, how had such a backwater little town wormed its way into my heart, when did that happen? I was slow down the lattice, still unsure on my new leg. At the bottom was the decorative garden and Shup, Odessa’s bodyguard. She told me Odessa thought I would leave, and that she understands. I was offered the finest horse in the royal stable, but after Esmeralda, I declined. I would have to learn how to walk on this leg eventually, why not start now.

I walked from Euphron to Convally. It took me four months and in that time I was robbed, I robbed, I laughed and I cried. I talked to the campfire about the Wolf and the Priest, I talked to the Wolf and the Priest. It helped a little, to pass the time, to ease the loneliness. I tracked game, and I found water sources, using skills I had learned from both. I thought of going to Skye, back to Vasili and your mother, but I wasn’t ready.

After a very long walk I found myself looking at the new wooden palisade of Convally, a bustling little trade town, much smaller than it is today. I was filthy, almost unrecognisable as I made my way into the Pig and the Puzzle. I found a table by the fire, just wanting to be alone. It had been many weeks since I had seen this many people.I was lost in the flames when a bowl of stew and a pint were placed in front of me, Giselle gave me a brief hug and left me to my meal. It seemed news of the battle travelled quicker than I did. The folk let me be, I returned to our cottage and was thankful for the solitude.

A week after my return I woke to the sound of an argument outside. Tommil Tosscobble was furiously trying to drag Dink away from our door. When I asked what all the fuss was about Tommil told me that Dink has been chomping at the bit to talk about my leg since the day I walked back into town. Seeing the two small friends argue in the street made me smile. I had been alone for a long time and had forgotten what good company could feel like. Over the course of the next few weeks Dink made measurements and brought me a few prototypes. We slowly came to agree on what was needed, yes I know you’ve heard the story of my leg so we can skip that part. Eventually I had a leg designed by Humperdink Farnthwaite Springscuttle III and forged by Jago, it was a step up from the wooden peg I can tell you. One by one the folk of Convally came to see me, to see how I was doing and to see if there was a story to be told. I turned most of them away. Tommil bought me out of my shares of the company, at my request Bartimus stayed on as his second. I wintered in Convally but the static life began to chafe and by the time of the first thaw I had my bag packed once more and found a road, any road would do.

I spent years travelling, and no I won’t go into detail, I have to keep some stories in reserve should I be called for babysitting duties in the future. I visited Thaull, and the Jian Empire. I looked into my personal history and found a reconnection with my heritage. I have seen things you could not imagine my dear Jess, and I’ve experienced things I’d rather you didn’t. Eventually though I was drawn back to Skye. My beloved Corvids had fallen on hard times and your mother sought me out. It takes a thief to run a proper business.

She offered me a new purpose, contentment if not happiness. For that I will always be grateful. I began to work the pockets of Skye once more. Street by street the Corvids and their reputation were repaired, we began to thrive and so too did Skye after many hard years. The Broken Bay was reopened, trade once more made Skye a hub of culture and intrigue. Eventually, folk came to learn that if you needed money or a favour, you come to see Ms Magpie of the Corvids. On the outside everything seemed right, but inside dear Jess, that is more complicated. Some nights I’m back on the bridge, others I’m riding across frozen lakes. Often I turn still expecting to see them, even after all these years. My Wolf and My Priest. That, little Jess, is what happened on the bridge. That is what matters, not the fight or the politics. What matters is the cost. One that some nights I think was too high. For all my money, for all my power and influence, I still lost that day on the bridge, no matter what the history books say.

*

Evoria closed her eyes for a moment, the small room about her was quiet.

“I’m sorry Aunty Evie,” Jess said. Evoria pushed a red curl out of the child’s face.

“Hush now sweet, you have nothing to apologise for. Now go to sleep, and don’t tell your mother I let you stay up this late,” and she tucked Jess in once more, leaving on the table beside her a small copper rune, and a silver dagger. “You keep these a while, I don’t think I need them tonight,” as she stood and moved to the lantern.

“I wish I could have met your friends Aunty Evie,” said Jess.

“My friends,” smiled Evoria, “my heroes,” as she blew out the light.

BLOG: Of Dice and Pens: Ends Lead to Beginnings

It has been a long while since I posted on here, life can get in the way sometimes.

I wanted to continue looking at how a long-term tabletop RPG impacts my writing. I find I want to talk about my players choices, and my regrets.

We ended a long running game not long ago (roughly 8 months) The challenges that the players faced and the world they discovered along the way were almost always influenced by the choices they made at the table. One characters death early on was felt keenly for the rest of the campaign, with the remaining characters carrying his memory with them, and one determined to bring them back regardless of the cost. Survivors guilt you could say.

That death wasn’t predetermined as it often is in a story or novel. It was not my choice, and because of that it was so much more organic. It left everyone a little dumbfounded, myself included, frantically wracking my brain trying to come up with a route for the story to follow. People die, and they often die at the most seemingly random times. Not all of us get to fulfil our goals or potential. A sad moment, but one I’m glad for as it taught us all something.

One character returned home to a city she had lived in her entire life, the people she knew and how she interacted with them grew so naturally from the player, I was incredibly impressed. It is a special kind of storytelling when two people fall in sync and can have a conversation as two entirely made up characters without missing a beat. Her choices, and how she interpreted what I placed before her led to the creation of several criminal organisations, something I had not intended. She lost a leg in a daring dungeon escape for the betterment of others, up to that point I was always curious about her morality.

Another character left a lifetime of indentured servitude to a government body, to find out if he was truly more than a weapon, to find out if he had a place in the world. Another choice I had not accounted for. A character who delighted in the small mundane things but was shackled with blunt mentality on how to solve his problems. One could say that he became the defacto leader of the group, but his naive view of the world often led to more heartache than it helped.

This was my first pitfall.

Each character became so incredibly integral to the story that without those characters, the campaign faltered.

The early death in the campaign was not felt as keenly as we had not progressed as far. Over time the three adventurers managed to make a little light in the world, though the methods to their madness sometimes caused concern (such is D&D) Seemingly throwaway NPC’s I used to fill out the world became important to them, they created personal and business relationships where I had seen none possible.

The actions of a third player all but insured a war I had not planned. Again, how the players chose to interpret what was put in front of them drastically changed what I had pencilled in behind the screen. While the campaign did not always flow in the way I thought it would, I would not have changed a single thing. It was a wonderful experience of collaborative storytelling from everyone involved.

Four people at a table breathing life into a world, something humans have done since before written language.

Then came the last session. That was a rough one. A new player had joined the session before, a longtime friend who was keen to join the campaign. Fate it would seem had different ideas, and I would just like to apologise that he never got to see his character flourish.

We played to the climax of an unfolding war and invasion that had seen the northern tribes unite and strike south under the banner of a fanatic. The party had operated as a spearhead in the Northland, often questioning the reasoning and choices they had made that led them to this, but their choices they were. They worked behind the invaders to secure allies and destabilise the support of the raiding northerners. At a point they made the decision to return south, to confront the leader of this army. At the Battle of Brennan Bridge they secured the city and cut off the head of the snake, but at a cost. Two of the party lay dead.

I run a low fantasy setting and resurrection is rare. Both the players whose characters died decided not to seek a way to bring them back, both for different reasons. One had decided to retire the character anyway, this was to be their last session before sending the character off into the sunset and exploring other characters open to them. The other is adamantly against resurrection for the same reason I am, we feel it cheapens a death. That death may be heroic or through folly, but it should still mean something, and the ease with which the game treats resurrection tarnishes that.

Ending the session I had some thinking to do. I touched base with the players. The longtime surviving player felt her character would not want to continue without her companions. A valid choice and one true to the characters. This was my problem. We had crafted such a close and personal story that without the characters it was simply impossible to roll new ones and continue. We found the natural end to our first campaign, our first story, though we were not looking for it.

Now however we take steps into our second campaign, and the toll and experiences of the first can be seen in the character creation of the players. I can’t say too much as it is very early days, but I am very much looking forward to a new adventure and the story we all will tell together.

This experience has taught me that characters do not make the obvious choices. We are all so much more fragile and imperfect than we like to think, and that ‘sub optimal’ choices create the best tales. I find myself having to actively suspend my disbelief in some cases now as I read. Pieces fall together too well in most cases and there is non of the organic chaos present we find in life. That is something I want to try to replicate in my writing, but outside of this medium, I think that will be difficult indeed.

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BLOG: Here We Go Again.

There’s something to be said for the rolling heroic epics. Stories that span hundreds of pages and several volumes in the course of saving the world. The hero completes their journey, the wrongs are righted and the world is brought back from the brink of destruction. Cinematic storytelling where the stakes are the highest they have ever been. A lot of authors write this style of epic fantasy well, but how do you top saving the world?

You can always save the world again, and in many sequels the hero does, but it always felt less to me. Not necessarily derivative, but even though we were back to saving the world, it had already been done, Feist and Eddings come to mind. I enjoyed the authors work immensely but re-reading them lately got me thinking; are these the kind of stories I want to tell?

How about instead of saving the world, we just try to make it through the day.

As I get older this becomes more important to me, more pertinent to the way the world turns. The world will be fine, it’s us that are buggered, and what are we but a collection of individuals. The saying goes that everyone is the main character in their own story. More focused, character driven stories are what I find most interesting. The world does not need to be saved (Yes it does, its falling apart) the character just needs to make it through the day.

This is far more relate-able to me, and to many people I think. Sure saving the world is fun, but who can identify with that struggle. Even in the tales where the heroes save the world, the small moments between characters highlight the humanity so well. It’s that feeling, those moments I want to capture in my own writing.

 

 

BLOG: Of Dice And Pens; Collaborative Narrative.

Continuing my look at the effects of running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign on my own writing output, today I would like to dig into what is probably my favourite aspect of tabletop RPGs, the collaborative narrative.

Ordinarily as a writer you plot out the story beats and create the character arcs along with character growth throughout the narrative. In D&D you don’t get to create the characters, you have no control over their personality, history or what their goals are in life. That is the responsibility of your players.

The story is what matters most to me when I run a game, and so I find myself in this unique situation where we at the table rely on improv to drive that story forward. The choices made are not always what I would have done. At first, when I first became a DM, that was a problem for me and it almost led me to railroad my players onto a set narrative. There is no fun in being a player who is just a glorified pawn in someone else’s story. The story belongs to everyone at the table, we all contribute.

As the DM I can put down all the story hooks and fleshed out characters I want to, but they are completely open to my players interpretations, or their suspicions. I never like to railroad the people at the table, giving them freedom to add to the story we are all creating with a ‘Yes, and’ mentality that has led to twists and turns I had never expected. As a writer who usually knows every plot beat beforehand, it’s incredibly refreshing.

Sometimes a players choice will cause me to pull details out of thin air as I run the game by the seat of my pants. Your plans as DM usually don’t survive first contact with the players. This sort of improvisation is an incredibly useful creative exercise. It forces you to pick something and stick with it, the choice becomes set in stone and you have to make it work. Given the ability to edit and rewrite your own work, these rapid and permanent choices have taught me that it is ok to go with your instincts and have actually sharpened my creative process.

Other times a players offhand comment has completely changed how I saw an aspect of the story, or what I had planned for the story. One such comment about how a location on the map looked led to a sundered city surrounded by an underground forest. A memorable adventure, and the fallout of that simple comment and the narrative decisions it led to are still being felt in the campaign, and will for a time going forward.

Having to work within the confines of a player’s character choices, their history, flaws and goals can be incredibly challenging. It’s easier for some players than others. Some players are happy to be led, they are new or unsure about the character, so they allow you to draw them in, and over time they begin grow the character on their own. Others have a very defined idea of the character and all its aspects. This is a little more restrictive and can continue to be so should you work in a vacuum, but adding in the other character and story elements gives a DM many opportunities to create a personalised narrative that the player should enjoy and feels is right for their character.

This style of storytelling, fed by the narrative choices of others has led to some of the most exciting, funny and poignant moments in my personal writing experience.

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BLOG: Of Dice And Pens.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was keen on looking into the effects a creative outlet such as a tabletop RPG, or in my particular case Dungeons and Dragons, has on some bodies creative output.

Now obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone and is a textbook example of anecdotal evidence but I think it will curious to explore it.

Previously my daily word count target hovered at around 1000 words. I find it easy to put that amount of words down, I’m not short on ideas (though keeping to one project is a different matter). That target became, in terms of writing content for projects, almost non-existent when I began running a long-term game of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).

As the Dungeon Master (DM), or Game Master (GM) as some prefer, it is my job to present the world and the narrative hooks for the players. This is the first pitfall for myself. A DM can, if they choose, run an adventure or campaign in a premade setting. D&Ds 5th Edition (5e) uses the Forgotten Realms as a standard setting, home to a host of well-known literary characters and adventures.

But where is the fun in that? I’m the kind of person who simply has to play around with the established archetypes of fantasy. Tolkien is all well and good ( and I would point you towards Adventures in Middle Earth for a great 5e Tolkien setting) but it’s been done so many times before.

I don’t want to play in a pre-established world with its own lore and standards, I want to create my own. To that end I set about creating a homebrew (where a person creates their own setting) world for my players. That was possibly the first sign of my trouble, but I didn’t see it.

I set about laying down some bare bones for the world in preparation for the first session, I created a land, a town and the name of a few others. I put down some story hooks for quests and created a few Non Player Characters (NPCs) for the players to interact with.

I only set about this small amount as I was unsure if the players would want to continue, they were all first time players after all. Even this surface world-building cut into my daily word counts.

The first session went well, the players enjoyed themselves, I enjoyed myself and they wanted more. Now I am furiously laying tracks before the runaway train and because I enjoyed it, because it was new and exciting, I didn’t mind that game prep and world-building ate into my writing time.

Of course it’s all writing, it’s all creating. That’s something else I want to explore too.

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