“Them’s fighting words!”


British Fantasy Con is almost upon us (23-25 October) and the organizers have just released this year’s programme which looks exciting, jam-packed, and wonderfully eclectic with a cast of thousands (well nearly).  This year we’re in Nottingham and I’ll be participating on a panel session looking at crafting the perfect fight scene and hopefully later that weekend also reading from my forthcoming novel, The Guns of Ivrea, launching next February. Here’s the skinny:

British Fantasy Society



Blades, Wands & Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight-Scene

Whether melee, missile or magic, combat scenes can make for some of the most compelling in genre fiction or film. But what are the essentials for creating telling your story through action?

  • the mechanics of fighting: how much do you need to know?
  • from one vs. one to massive scale battles
  • making sense of mayhem: choreography, pacing, tension, tone & sensory overload
  • tips for showing character through action
  • weapons of mass destruction: when is too powerful, too much?

There’s only one way to settle it…FIIIIIGHT!!!

Moderator: James Barclay
Panelists: Clifford Beal, Juliet E. McKenna, Brandon Sanderson, Jo Thomas, Danie Ware

I’ll be in some great company and though I believe most of us are leaving our swords at home this time, should still be informative and fun if slightly less physical than Fantasy Con 2014.

Getting Medieval: all over again


Sometimes you have to prove to yourself you can still do things you did when you were younger, less wise, and with less to worry about. Put it down to male mid-life crisis (but I think I’m past the cut-off date now) or just a longing for a leisure activity that once I devoted inordinate amounts of time to. At any rate, I embarked on a rediscovery of something I last did some 18 years ago. The big question was: am I too old to give it another go?

The “sport” I’m talking about is armoured combat in the SCA. The SCA is the Society raglan1
of Creative Anachronism, a medieval re-enactment group started up at the University of California at Berkeley in 1966 and that has now gone global. Combat in the SCA (the whole spectrum of medieval arts and sciences is also catered to) involves attempting to recreate medieval tournament combat, on foot, using wooden weapons. While it may not be entire
ly historically accurate, at least it doesn’t involve silly choreography nor is it another  “Battle of the Nations” style bloodbath which uses blunted steel swords (you can check out the latter on You Tube to get a flavour). It’s generally low-risk with high levels of armour and weapons regulations. It’s also physically gruelling: imagine wearing full armour with a wooden shield and sword and then running around like a madman trying to “kill” your opponent—or opponents. It takes bags of stamina. Although there are referees, it’s all based on an honour system where the recipient judges the power of the opponent’s blow and whether or not it is a “kill”. This should not necessarily dent 14- or 16-gauge steel but it does happen.

Me second from right: the little guy in silver armour with the big sword

Me second from right: the little guy in silver armour with the big sword

I had missed armoured combat these past two decades. I first took it up at 17 when armour standards were low and the look was faintly ridiculous. Think cut-down and padded refrigerant canisters for helms and ice hockey gloves for gauntlets and you can form a mental image. But as the 80s roared ahead and life becoming more complicated and with babies arriving in the 90s, the demands of daily life took over. My SCA participation tended to wax and wane. A final burst of SCA once I relocated to the UK petered-out about 1998 after a tournament held at Hever Castle. Now, in 2015, part of me very much wanted one last dash into the breach. Before I was too old to lift a sword again.

I finally convinced myself to get back into fighting again for the purpose of “research”. I reasoned that a refresher in fighting in armour and regaining that unique viewpoint through a narrow eye-slit in a helmet would lend even more accuracy to my fighting and battle scenes in my novels. Well, that was the excuse anyway. Not entirely dishonest either. Even SCA combat can give you an idea of the rigours of medieval fighting: heat exhaustion, muscle fatigue, poor visibility, thirst, etc. Not to mention the role that luck plays on a battlefield.  Very good fighters can get beaten by overwhelming numbers or by a boot slipping in muddied grass. You get the idea. Despite that, the thrill keeps you coming back. I do think my experiences have improved my writing of action scenes. I have vivid memories of battle in the United States at the “Pennsic War” where we had over a thousand combatants on each side. I can tell you, the vantage from the field is nothing short of awe-inspiring when you look across to the opposite shield wall, waiting for the cannon to go off.

The bridge between outer tower and inner keep

The bridge between outer tower and inner keep

For the past few months I have been preparing from scratch. New armour and weapons, training with free-weights. However, attending practice sessions was difficult given the distance to the nearest group. That was going to be problematic: my past experience would never be enough to carry me through without some current practice sessions. This past weekend, and continuing all week, the SCA in the UK has held a magnificent event at Raglan Castle in Wales. We actually get to use the castle (or what’s left of it). This was the place where I was to get into harness once again, from a cold start. I suffered some humiliation at the “reauthorisation” where I had to undergo practice combat and armour inspections by the presiding knight marshal to make sure I was competent and not a threat to myself or others. After just two minutes I began to feel like superman after he’s inhaled a kilo of kryptonite dust: my shield arm began sinking lower, my legs felt like lead, my breathing became laboured. It was a worrying start that had me suddenly questioning the entire enterprise.

Skirmish in the fountain court

Skirmish in the fountain court

I passed the tests. The second day we “fought” inside the castle walls with groups of eight fighters on each side attempting to storm or defend the main gate, just a fraction of the forty or so fighters expected to arrive by mid-week. It was frenetic, violent, loud, chaotic—all rather good fun. I had wisely ditched the round shield and armed myself with a two-handed sword. This energy-saving measure plus the mega-surge of adrenalin allowed me to more than hold my own. As a matter of fact, given my age and the length of time out of action, I was damned pleased with my performance. Sure I got “killed” more than a few times. But I gave as good as I got, racking up several “kills” of my own. One against a very seasoned knight and not bad going for a knackered old man-at-arms.

But, O my brothers, the piper had to be paid. After about 90 minutes of bridge fights, courtyard fights and gatehouse fights, I was exhausted. Totally. Even after sitting one of them out. Then the muscle aches set in through arms and legs. I was anachronistically popping ibuprofen for the next 48 hours. Yellow-purple bruise on outer left thigh and what looks like third-degree razor burn on my chin from an ill-fitting gorget fix I had to do. I walked in feeling like Lancelot but walked out looking like Quasimodo. Could have been worse though. I could have just as easily convinced myself I was too old, talked myself out of it, and not even tried.

There’s life yet in the old war dog it seems.




Raven’s Banquet in limited edition paperback

Raven's BanquetA friend pointed out to me today that there’s no mention of the hard copy edition of The Raven’s Banquet on my blog, only of the ebook via Amazon. After I picked up my jaw from the floor, I responded with something like “Oh…yeh. Your’re right.” So much for my publicity skills. Well folks, there is a large-format trade paperback edition that was printed and it’s only available from the ForbiddenPlanet shop in London or through their online shop here:


A limited first edition and every one signed in my childish scrawl. Go ahead and treat yourself to some 17th century darkness and adventure.


Cover Reveal: The Guns of Ivrea

Guns of IvreaSolaris Books have announced the final cover for the first in the Valdur series of epic fantasy novels, The Guns of Ivrea. And here it is. A beautiful piece of cover art from artist Adam S Doyle that captures the spirit of the novel with a group of merfolk rising up from the deep. The novel is out next February but you can pre-order it now over at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.

Here’s the synopsis of the story:

One Island. One Crown. One Faith.

A thousand rivalries….

Acquel Galenus, former thief and now monk of no particular skill, indifferent scribe and even worse chorister, uncovers a terrible secret under the Great Temple at Livorna, one that could shiver the One Faith to its core. A secret that could get him killed. A secret that could enable an older more sinister form of worship to be reborn.

Pirate princeling Nicolo Danamis, mercenary to the King and captain of the largest fleet in the island kingdom of Valdur, has made one deal too many, and enemies are now closing in to destroy him.

Citala, fair-haired and grey-skinned, the daughter of the chieftain of the Merfolk who inhabit the waters of Valdur, finds herself implacably drawn to the affairs of men. She puts events in motion that will end her people’s years of isolation but that could imperil their very existence.

All their fates will intertwine as they journey across the land, through duchies and free cities riven by political intrigue, religious fervour, and ancient hatreds. Alliances are being forged anew and after decades of wary peace, war is on the wind once again…


Bloody Hell, I’m a Plantagenet!

Edward IV

Edward IV

With King Richard III reburied today in Leicester with all honours, I thought it was an appropriate time to let you all know a little secret about me. I am—if research is correct—a great grandson some 17 times removed, of King Edward IV, older brother of Richard III. OK, I know I had little to do with it but I still think it’s cool particularly as I’m a writer of historical fiction and fancy myself a bit of an historian. Being Yankee born and of a certain age, we New Englanders as children had ancestry drummed into us  the way other kids collect Top Trumps, particularly if your family is old pilgrim stock. I lucked out on having on a lot of the family history already researched although I filled in some gaps myself despite the Luftwaffe bollocking things up by fire bombing the Devon public records office in 1942.  But it was thanks to some distant relatives that I recently learned of the Plantagenet connection. It seems I’m descended on my father’s side from one of King Edward’s illegitimate children (of which he had several). “Princess” Elizabeth was formally recognized  by the king as his bastard and was allowed to be named Plantagenet. She eventually married Sir Thomas de Lumley, baronet, in Northumberland. As one does.

My other ancestor

My other ancestor

That said, just doing the genealogical maths, which sort of progress geometrically as the generations ensue, there have to be a hell of a lot of other Plantagenets running around the world today. Millions, in fact. Including, apparently, Benedict Cumberbatch. So really it ain’t that big a deal. The difference is I know about it and most Plantagenet descendants are blissfully unaware they had ancestors in the real Game of Thrones. Am I a “Ricardian”, one of those defenders of the much-maligned monarch? Well, I don’t know if my “great uncle” murdered my forebear’s brothers in the Tower or not. But hey, he’s family right? Gotta love the guy. I point the finger at those upstart Tudors who had just as much motive to see Edward’s line snuffed out. Right, enough said. I’m off to have the white rose of York added to my coat-of-arms over the mantle.

“We have to lighten the balloon. Who volunteers?”

The call for more diverse authors is laudable—but excluding others is not

A lot of commotion in the last few weeks on social media about book publishing and
authors. Specifically, there has been a rising call for more diversity in publishing, an initiative to encourage more books being published by authors other than straight white males who apparently account for the lion’s share of book deals. That is, more books that represent the views of people of colour, varied ethnicity, women, and the LGBT community. And why not? The literary world can only be enriched by encouraging and fostering those voices. But some proponents are going further. Some are calling specifically for readers to stop buying or reading books by white male authors in an effort to force publishers to listen to their demands for diversity. That privileged elite has been at the top long enough so the logic goes. Time to sweep them aside. That, my friends, is where I must part company.

I’ll admit, my situation is akin to the chicken and pig’s involvement in a ham & eggs breakfast: the chicken has an interest but the pig is committed. Yes, I’m a straight white male and published author. I’m all for more diversity but according to these folks I have to be the one for the chop.

I think I get the reasoning. It’s about changing the publishing world by grabbing it by the balls. Change what is moving off those bookshop shelves and they’ll have to commission more of it, right? Maybe. I don’t know for sure. But it shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. The big publishing houses are out to make money. If they see an audience for something they will publish it—no matter who the author is or what they look like. I do realize that a small handful of writers (probably white male) eat up the majority of major advances in the literary world (Disclaimer: I am not one of them). But publishing itself has shifted now as book economics continue to change and morph. The ever-burgeoning world of indie publishing has provided alternate paths for authors, putting new books and new voices in front of readers. Surely there are more ways to broaden diversity in books without consigning others to reader oblivion. I’m sure the arguments are heartfelt. And I agree with the goal of broadening the chorus of voices that reflect our society.

But. No one has the right to tell you to stop reading an author based on gender, skin colour or ethnicity.

Just read. As much and as widely as you possibly can.

Meeting Gideon’s Angel

The team over at Solaris Books very kindly asked me to guest blog for them on their website this week, specifically, to take the chair for their bi-weekly column “Throwback Thursdays”. It’s a nice idea: get Solaris authors to talk about what led to the creation of some of their earlier works. After a bit of head-scratching I launched into how Gideon’s Angel, released in 2013, came to be born. I made the startling (or bone-headed) revelation that in its earliest days it was not a fantasy novel at all. You can find out how and why that literary 180-degree course change happened by just clicking here:  www.solarisbooks.com


Fancy a winter chill of the supernatural kind?



Cast Iron

Courtesy of the British Fantasy Society, I’ve posted a short story of mine that appeared in the BFS Journal last month. The genesis of this one came about after we moved house a couple of years ago and bought a place that has a massive bread oven from the 1850s in the cellar. Turns out the house was the village bakery in Victorian times so the choice was clear: open a pizzeria or write a story about this wondrous bit of engineering from the past. I chose the latter and you can read the story, Cast Iron, right here.

Read some of my short fiction

Rather belatedly, I’ve added a page on the blog for short stories, fragments, and unfinished projects that are still flying in a holding pattern and waiting for ground clearance.
mrLincolnThe first bit I’ve posted is chapter one of Camera Obscuraa melodramatic tale set in America in 1864 as the civil war grinds on. Good military intelligence is in short supply and Lincoln’s war cabinet is looking to new sources, even if they’re from beyond the grave.



Check back soon for a complete short story of contemporary weird fiction, Cast Iron, which recently appeared in the Journal of the British Fantasy Society. I’ll be posting that here in another week or two.

It’s Christmas come early!


Oliver Cromwell may have outlawed Christmas but Rebellion Publishing is giving it back. Get your fix of 17th century historical fiction and fantasy at practically a giveaway price. Beginning on 11 November, you can pick up Gideon’s Angel and The Raven’s Banquet for Kindle over at Amazon and make some substantial savings–better than half price on each title. It’s only until Friday, mind you, so grab your device or head over to the Amazon US or UK websites.