Category Archives: Book Beginnings

Meet the Waterstones 11

Waterstones 11Each year, Waterstones pick their most promising fiction debuts of the next 12 months. The Waterstones 11 began in 2011, and has already accurately predicted success for the likes of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (longlisted for the Man Booker prize last year), and The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (winner of the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction, and one of my favourite reads of 2011). Announced in the Piccadilly branch on the 14th January, Managing Director James Daunt explained that “The Waterstones Eleven puts new writing at the forefront of the literary calendar and has quickly become a celebration our readers trust.”

But who have they picked this time? Continue reading

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An Excerpt from my Efforts…

The sounds of the dock overwhelmed Rayne and Shadow as they disembarked from the skiff and made their way to the dockmaster. The captain was already ahead of them, preparing to barter for trade for the shipment he had brought in and discuss the potential of more trade going back. The dockmaster ran the harbour, taking anchor-tax, bribes and keeping a web of informants and handymen so that he was the best-informed in port. If you wanted to do anything when you arrived, you would have to go through the dockmaster to do it.
The dockmaster eyed the panther suspiciously, but Shadow was still looking glum and listless from the journey. The dockmaster was tall and robust, reddened sea-faring cheeks and rum-stained nose. His dockmaster robe was rimed with dirt, the last few inches trailing in the ground where his stature didn’t match that of the robe’s. He was, for the most part, bald on top, with a  greying band of hair around his ears and back of his head. He still grew a plait down the back, now thin and whitened, and barely reaching shoulder-length. He had an equally grey beard, which had grown to his collar bone in a big square of bristles, and he combed his large, fattened fingers through it frequently. There was a large gold ring on his right little finger, with the ship-in-sail crest of the Freys on it.
“So that’s two crates of the Gava liquor, fourteen of perishables and two passengers,” the dockmaster said, ticking off the list in his ledger. “Not a big catch if your arks me.”
“Nobody did ask you,” the captain responded. “Trade’s a bit tight everywhere but here if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Yeah, I’d noticed,” the dockmaster drawled, not noticing the acid in the captain’s voice. “Big fuss up at the palace ‘bout it, so I ‘eard. But then there’s always some big fuss or ovver nowadays.”
“You’re telling me,” the captain shook his head. “First, we come out of port and straight into a storm, and lose two crates of liquor – which would have got me a pretty neina or two at market if you ask me – then some of the crew see a kraken –”
“Kraken you say?” the dockmaster hissed appreciatively.
The captain nodded, his mouth tugged down in a concerned curve.
“Where?” the dockmaster asked, glancing to Rayne and the big cat, and leaning in conspiratorially.
“Not a day out of port,” the captain replied, shrugging. “I don’t believe in all that superstition, but half the men do. It’s going to take me a lot of work to convince them to heave to again.”
“A day out of port, you say,” the dockmaster ran his fingers through his beard and rocked back on his heels.
“Sou-sou’west of here,” the captain confirmed with a sharp nod. He took a deep breath and folded his arms, making it clear he had already had enough of idle talk – he had traded enough news to keep the dockmaster happy, and wanted a good price for his time. “The crates?”
“Well,” the dockmaster sighed. He had a habit of dragging out his words so as to make him sound thoughtful, so it came out more like we-e-e-e-e-ll. Rayne rolled her eyes. She could be waiting forever. She glanced at the sky, the sun was tilting towards the horizon, it was already past high-sun and it wouldn’t be long before the appointed meeting time.
As the captain and the dockmaster thrashed out their bargains, she looked around the dock. They were towards the western end of the docking – with two ships between them and the high sea wall. Fisherboys were sitting on the wall, casting their lines out to the rock pools, bare feet dangling. Feral cats sat at the end of the pier watching, waiting for the boys to haul in a catch to steal. The pier itself followed the curve of the land – a wide sweeping arch from east to west, curving out long arms into the ocean, following the natural rock formations and creating an impenetrable sea wall. Wooden jetties stuck out from the stone pier, serving as landing points for the skiffs of larger ships that couldn’t come close enough and as docking points for the smaller boats which could venture into the shallower waters. Schools of fish darted around the jetties, and tendrils of seaweed climbed the pier walls, heaving and waving in the ride and fall of the water against the side – its steady slap-slap barely audible above the noise of the pier.
Over the years, the citizens of Aquene had spilled from its walls, creeping ever closer to the water as overcrowding built ramshackle districts of traders and thieves. The Freycrest District, the district that held sway over the harbour, was overseen by the Freys – allegedly a family of noble descent, though no one knew how true this was. The buildings of Freycrest loomed over the pier – the upper floors seeming to tilt from the lower floors, the buildings leaning on one another for support and doors with strange gaps where they didn’t fit the frames. It was mostly warehouses along the pier front. Doors on both floors were flung open to the sea air, ropes and pulleys directing the wares from one point to another.
The pier itself was wide enough for two horse and carts to pass by, with a narrow strop for people on foot to crowd into. But no one respected the rules of the road – oxen pulled carts down the centre, and people hurried along dangerously close to the edge of the pier before darting across in the passage of other people rolling barrels, or horses and riders. Everywhere Rayne looked, there were people, diving back and forth, shouting and catcalling and insulting.
There was a tavern at the end of the pier, pushed rudely against the sea wall. It looked like it had been built as an afterthought, shouldering its way in to the warehouses with stubbornness. Drunkards leant against its pockmarked walls, and a whore stuck her head out of an upper window to peer furiously at the men below and yell profanities.
Rayne turned her attention back to the captain and the dockmaster – coins were exchanging hands, and the dockmaster was beckoning to a rumpled-looking boy wearing the footprint-and-waves crest of a dockrunner on his chest.
“This’un will help you organise for the goods to come ashore, and for an extra mut or two ‘e’ll find you a place to stay,” the dockmaster said, clapping a massive hand on the boy’s narrow shoulders.
The captain thanked him and turned away, the dockrunner in tow. The dockmaster looked at Rayne with some reluctance. Even though Shadow had slumped to the ground, her head buried in her paws, he was still wary of the black cat. The flash of silver in Rayne’s palm caught his attention, and his eyes instantly softened. A neina found its way to his pocket.
“I need passage into the city, before nightfall, and the name of a ship leaving tonight before high-moon,” she said in a low voice.
The dockmaster glanced around. “There’s a curfew at the city gates. You won’t get in and out after three-moon.”
Rayne shrugged, twirling another neina between her fingers. “I guess I shall have to find someone else to get me through the Hero’s Gate.”
The dockmaster snatched the silver coin from her hand. “I’ll see to it. Find yersel’ in the Land’s End tavern on Old Wharf Road by seven-sun. Arks for the gypsy Karil.”
“Gratitude,” Rayne smiled. She began to walk away, and then turned back. She flicked two bronze mut at him. “Make sure there’s ale waiting for me at the tavern. I’ll be there by six-sun and I expect the gypsy to be waiting.”

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Chapter One?

In the city, the tavern was not one that would have been noticed by many. It was cramped between equally unremarkable buildings, down a shadowy street that elbowed itself between narrow roads and alleys. A sign hung above the door, paint peeling and hinges rusting from years of neglect. Rain dripped from the clogged gutter into the muddied street. The city was mostly paved or cobbled, but the smaller alleys had no surface, and when the rains came, the ground turned to ankle deep mud. The lamps that hung along the road, desperately trying to illuminate the gathering dark, stuttered in the breeze. The tavern sat in this gloom, carefully thrusting light from its narrow, smoky windows.

The cloaked figure brushed the shadows, and paused under the sign, glancing up at it – The Cork and Lantern. The door opened to allow a puddle of light to fall onto the figure’s feet, and a rush of heat and scent and noise rubbed itself against the dark. The person stepped inside, clods of mud falling off their boots onto the wooden floor. Raindrops sluiced from the cloak as the figure pulled back their hood, revealing a tall, broad male with dark hair tied back and stubble across his chin. The bartender glanced up and froze. The visitor flickered a smile. The rotund owner scuttled across, darting nervous eyes around the crowded room.

“Hello Belsmont,” the visitor announced in an undertone.

She at least had the decency to arrive around the back.”

“Ah, Belsmont, surely no one here would betray you.”

“Things have changed since you’ve been gone. No one can tell who is friend and who is enemy anymore. Here, come around to the kitchens, Aistren has food and mead waiting for you.”

Belsmont led the man around into the kitchens. Clattering noises assailed them. Barmaids sat on stools by the back door, smoking cigarettes – they were foreigners to the city, clear by their ears, resting high on their heads with a thin coating of fur on them, much like a cat’s, and the smoking was an unusual sight. The man regarded them for a moment, as Belsmont scuttled across to a young woman, whose brow was shining with sweat, and strands of hair had escaped her bun and were sticking to her temples.

“Aistren, please get a meal ready for our guest. Also, get a new barrel for him.”

Aistren glanced up at the man, who was still watching the blue-grey tendrils of smoke from the cigarettes. She narrowed her eyes, instantly suspicious. Feeling her gaze, the man looked across, and Aistren felt a jolt in her stomach at the sight of his eyes – one brown and one blue. A Cadellan with no slave band. Another one, after that woman.

“Another guest, Belsmont?” she snapped, turning away. “How do you expect me to run a kitchen whilst dealing with your guests?”

“Don’t ask questions,” he replied, more brusque than usual. “Just do it.”

Aistren flapped a hand at him and muttered the obligatory, “Yes, yes.”

“And our lady guest, where is she?”

“In the room you instructed for her to be in. Jan took the horse to the stable and made sure it was bedded down for the night.”

“If Jan could do the same with my horse.”

Aistren jumped and spun around. The man had approached them and was rolling an apple around on his palm. Aistren snatched the apple from him. The man pronounced it yan, with a thick Cadellan accent. He watched her, half amused.

“I will let him know,” she replied. She turned back to the stew she was tending to. She could feel his looming presence at her shoulder. “Trici. Go and tell Jan to put this gentleman’s horse in the stable next to the bay.”

Trici stood from her stool, muttering in her native language, her ears flicking irritably.

“Enough of that,” Aistren bristled – she had been around the Thenian’s enough to know curse words when she heard them. Thenians often couldn’t be bothered to learn the Common Tongue, and so it helped to understand them when you were trying to get them to work and not smoke. Trici disappeared out the back to find Jan. The man hadn’t moved, even though Belsmont had made his excuses and disappeared back into the tavern hall already. She sighed and rubbed her hands on her apron.

“I’ll show you to your room then,” she said, sidestepping the Cadellan and heading for the door that led upstairs to the rooms for rent. “I take it you’ll want one at the back too.”

“Much obliged,” the Cadellan said, with some amusement in his voice.

The room was nothing to remark – it looked out over the stables, and the Cadellan could see a skinny boy trying to lead his horse
to a stable without much luck. There was a bed against the left wall, and a small fireplace opposite with a stool beside it. The grate was empty – summer was in full swing in the city. He could hear the bustle of the tavern below, and guessed he was right above it.

Aistren stood to one side. “You’re next door to the other one,” she said abruptly, and closed the door behind her.

“Thank you,” he replied, but he was already alone. He looked around, and placed his cloak on a hook on the back of the door. He kicked off his boots, raining mud across the uneven floor, and lay back into the bed. It was a straw mattress, and naught but a thin pillow
and throw, but it felt like heaven to him. He had been on the road too long, he decided. He was wondering whether to sleep now, or find the food promised him, when there was a knock at the door.

“Enter,” he said, automatically reaching for his sword at his belt. In crept a short woman – she was narrow-featured but not gaunt, and quick on her feet. She wore riding breeches and a worn tunic with long sleeves. He noted that the sole of her right boot was coming away before he was on his feet and sweeping her up into an embrace.

“Kendra!” he cried, before remembering himself and dropping her suddenly.

Kendra looked at him with mismatched eyes – one brown and one green – and not a little bit of surprise. “It’s good to see you too, Jarrett,” she said unsteadily.

“Forgive me, it’s been so long on the road, I –”

She waved his excuses away with a flick of the wrist. “You’re here now, and in one piece, I see.” She glanced him up and down, and wandered over to the little window to peer out.

“Well, nearly,” Jarrett smirked, rubbing a thumb over the reddened scar on his left forearm.

Kendra ignored him. “Did anyone see you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Belsmont tells me you came in through the tavern.”

“So?”

“So how do you know no one saw you? Jarrett, this isn’t a game, we can’t risk it.”

Jarrett avoided her glare, and sat on the stool by the fireplace. “I know it’s not, don’t take me for a fool, Kendra.”

“Not a fool. Reckless, perhaps,” she responded, but gently. “I’ve missed your face, Jarrett. It’s been too long.” Jarrett nodded in agreement, and there was a moment’s silence, as they both relived the past years.

He looked back up at her, where she stood awkwardly by the window. Before he could say anything, there was another knock, and Aistren entered with a bowl of stew, some black bread and a mug of mead. She dumped it on the floor without a word to either of them and left again.

“She’s a friendly soul,” Jarrett commented, reaching over and picking up the food. It was thick and warm and smelt delicious. After a diet of foraged mushrooms and skinny rabbit, it was a feast fit for a king.

“She’s nervous, as she has every right to be,” Kendra responded, perching on the bed for lack of anywhere else to sit. “Belsmont might not be surprised by us, but others certainly will be.”

Jarrett just grunted, filling his mouth with hot stew and bread. It was veal, with carrots and root vegetables and a little Vaxen spice that tingled his tongue as he ate. “So, what’s next?” he asked around a mouthful of food.

“We wait,” Kendra shrugged, looking to the window again. The darkness seemed to be gathering, without promise of morning. “The Duchess will have word of our arrival by morning. And then we will know more.”

“The Duchess,” Jarrett snorted. “Everything always waits for the nobility.”

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The Word Puzzle

Now, I know some of you have been instructing me to read MORE. I hate to disappoint, but I am still on A Game of Thrones, purely for the reason that it’s 700-odd pages long and I have been distracted and therefore not dedicated my entire day to reading it (shock, horror). I will, however, pledge to read EVERYONE’s recommendations as quickly as possible.

So, to my writing today. Yesterday I put my world together; continents (now reduced to simple countries when I ran out of ideas), peoples, religions and even what my peoples will look like. Thoroughly populated, my world now needs something happening…

So I played the Word Puzzle. Has anyone ever tried this? I printed off every single piece of fantasy writing I had ever done – from single sentences to my appalling teenage novel that I thought was amazing at the time. Then, I attacked…

Grab a pair of scissors, some glue and the scrapbook that you’re putting together (mine is a beautiful green and gold brocaded one that was £3 from Tiger in Basingstoke) and go for it. Some of it, I cringe at what I wrote, other bits I love it. In fact, I love one bit so much, that I kind of think it could be an opening! I am going to honour you all with this writing, and let you guys tear into it; be honest, and also I wonder – where could it go!?

~*~

In the city, the tavern was not one that would have been noticed by many. It was cramped between equally unremarkable buildings, down a shadowy street that elbowed itself between narrow roads and alleys. A sign hung above the door, paint peeling and hinges rusting from years of neglect. Rain dripped from the clogged gutter into the muddied street. The city was mostly paved or cobbled, but the smaller alleys had no surface, and when the rains came, the ground turned to ankle deep mud. The lamps that hung along the road, desperately trying to illuminate the gathering dark, stuttered in the breeze. The tavern sat in this gloom, carefully thrusting light from its narrow, smoky windows.

The cloaked figure brushed the shadows, and paused under the sign, glancing up at it – The Cork and Lantern. The door opened to allow a puddle of light to fall onto the figure’s feet, and a rush of heat and scent and noise rubbed itself against the dark. The person stepped inside, clods of mud falling off their boots onto the wooden floor. Raindrops sluiced from the cloak as the figure pulled back their hood, revealing a tall, broad male with dark hair tied back and stubble across his chin. The bartender glanced up and froze. The visitor flickered a smile. The rotund owner scuttled across, darting nervous eyes around the crowded room.

“Hello Belsmont,” the visitor announced in an undertone.

She at least had the decency to arrive around the back.”

“Ah, Belsmont, surely no one here would betray you.”

“Things have changed since you’ve been gone. No one can tell who is friend and who is enemy anymore. Here, come around to the kitchens, Aistren has food and mead waiting for you.”

Belsmont led the man around into the kitchens. Clattering noises assailed them. Barmaids sat on stools by the back door, smoking cigarettes – they were foreigners to the city, and the smoking was an unusual sight. The man regarded them for a moment, as Belsmont scuttled across to a young woman, whose brow was shining with sweat, and strands of hair had escaped her bun and were sticking to her temples.

“Aistren, please get a meal ready for our guest. Also, get a new barrel for him.”

Aistren glanced up at the man, who was still watching the blue-grey tendrils of smoke from the cigarettes. She narrowed her eyes, instantly suspicious. Feeling her gaze, the man looked across, and Aistren felt a jolt in her stomach at the sight of his eyes – one brown and one blue. A Cadellan with no slave band. Another one, after that woman.

“Another guest, Belsmont?” she snapped, turning away. “How do you expect me to run a kitchen whilst dealing with your guests?”

“Don’t ask questions,” he replied, more brusque than usual. “Just do it.”

Aistren flapped a hand at him and muttered the obligatory, “Yes, yes.”

“And our lady guest, where is she?”

“In the room you instructed for her to be in. Jan took the horse to the stable and made sure it was bedded down for the night.”

“If Jan could do the same with my horse.”

Aistren jumped and spun around. The man had approached them and was rolling an apple around on his palm. Aistren snatched the apple from him. The man pronounced it yan, with a thick Cadellan accent.

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Hello world!

And so it begins… what should I begin with? I have decided to add to my collection of blogs (The Fashion Lover being my latest and most worthy blog, and Welcome to Your Twenties being my aborted attempt at real-life drama). This one, for its sins, will be solely around my writing and everything to do with it. So, welcome, and I hope you enjoy the musings.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Book

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

I’ll be honest – I started to read this because a certain Bathonian friend introduced me to the TV series with Sean Bean. I had been under the false impression that it was a historical drama, much like The Tudors or the book, Wolf Hall. As soon as I found out it was fantasy, well, the book went straight on my list! My meagre attempts at fantasy-writing are only aided and abetted by my extensive fantasy reading. I managed to find the book in WHSmith in Northampton (the one with the original cover, not the TV cover, as I have an unerring aversion to those covers). I had to finish the previous book (Black Powder War by Naomi Novik) before starting this one, which I did yesterday. I’m on page 188.

I think I might be falling in love with this book – it’s rocketing up my list, and even rivalling Tolkien’s reign. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are the first fantasy books (in the most accurate description unless you include Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree) that I discovered. But Tolkien’s world lacks one thing that Martin’s seems to have found – political intrigue. And sex. We can add sex onto that. But Martin’s weaving of the various characters is as in-depth as I’ve ever found it. Fantasy is notorious for its flat characters and lackadaisical worlds – most rip-offs of Middle-Earth. But Martin’s are easily believable – they existed before the book, and will continue to do so after I have finished reading.

That’s my favourite thing about reading – finding a world that you think could be real, but is just out of your line of sight; half-glimpsed and wondered at. Somewhere to escape to when the real world gets a little too… bogged down.

Anyway, if you’ve seen the TV series, I definitely recommend going to read the book; the series honours it very closely, but doesn’t seem to live up to the vast quality of Martin’s story-telling.

Writing

The beginnings of the fantasy world

As mentioned, I have spent many years trying desperately to write a decent fantasy. There seems to be one reason that I keep falling flat on my face, and that is the first hurdle: setting. Tolkien had Middle-Earth, and even Neil Gaiman manages to find a fantastical setting for his characters (I read Neverwhere when I was commuting to London for internships and I will never look at the Underground in the same way again). But for me, I can’t agree with myself on anything. I have literally box-files full of fantasy worlds and histories and peoples and languages and even the beginnings to adventure stories that I have created and discarded over the years. I have maps I drew at 15, descriptions of magical artefacts that would be best put to use in yet another world, and even a list of Gods and Goddesses that may prove useful somewhere else. So my first step is to collate it into a comprehensible world, that – for once – agrees with itself.

My first step was the maps. I rewrote some of the names (at 15, I don’t think I was that original) and decided on what my world was. The next step is to decide who populates the world – where they are in my world and why, and why should my reader care about them. With seven continents and five seas to populate, I might have my work cut out for me.

So, next step. Get chopping. I’ve printed off everything to do with my fantasy writing from year Dot (aged 15 and terribly narrow-minded it seems) and attacked it with a pair of scissors… a hair colour here, a name there, a government in between. It seems to be working quite well, I’m rather liking my races of peoples that I’m putting in my world. They work together, and where one is lacking another is plentiful; I’ve yet to decide on my favourites (I’ve had no adorable “Hobbits” pop up yet) but I think that will come in time.

My next step will be to decide what else I will put into the world – after all, my peoples have to have something to fight about.

G’night y’all.

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