Archives for July 2013

Hunting for Trolls in Oslo

Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. Norway is expensive. I mean eye-wateringly, wallet-numbingly expensive. Let me put it in perspective. Norway and the Czech Republic both use a currency called the crown. Things are more or less exactly the same price in crowns in both countries. The difference is that there are roughly 9 Norwegian Crowns to the British Pound and 30 Czech Crowns. That means things are approximately 330% more expensive in Norway compared to the Czech Republic. For those of you who don’t live in Prague, this translates into roughly £11 or $17 for a Big Mac Meal. Should you drink alcohol, the price differences become even worse because of the local tax regime. The second downside is the trolls, of which more later. 

We arrived in Oslo last Friday and stayed in the Comfort Grand Central hotel. If you’re planning a lot of rail travel in Norway I recommend the place, not only is it stylish, the staff are friendly and it’s inside the Central Station. It is comfortable, and much to my suprise, quiet. When you have finished the ultra-swift 19 minute rail journey from the airport, you can sleep overnight and be 5 minutes walk from the platform for the express to Bergen. It’s also 5 minutes walk from the city centre and the National Opera House, a particularly impressive building.

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Now I know you are looking at my photograph and thinking, Bill, it’s just a glass block sticking out of the side of some white concrete, but you are missing the big picture here, which is the thing I cannot give you because my photograph was taken while walking up the side of the National Opera House. It holds the distinction of being the only iconic building I have ever strode up the side of to get to the roof. The building is like a large concrete iceberg rising from Oslo harbour.

Or perhaps more accurately, with all of its sharp lines and glass extrusion, it resembles an Imperial Star Destroyer partially submerged in Oslo harbour. Let’s face it, this is the sort of architectural statement any modern nation ought to be proud to make. Should Scotland gain its independence I vote that our National Opera House be a concrete (fully operational) Death Star partially sunk in the waters off Leith. We’d just be following a trend. London has already gone this route— once the great burning eye is in place over the Shard, Sauron will have a fine new town house and let’s be honest,  you couldn’t find a better symbol for the City of London financial district.

The National Opera House in Oslo is strikingly lovely, and a great place to lounge on a summer evening. It’s a brilliant setting for sitting on the edge of the water, with the waves coming almost to your feet and boring your kids with tales of your youth misspent around Stranraer Harbour. That’s what I did, anyway. Time well spent.

Next day we headed across Oslo Harbour by ferry to visit the Viking Ship Museum where they have two and a half-fully reconstructed 9th Century Viking Ships dug out of burial mounds by archaelogists along with the grave goods. The oddest thing about the ships is how lovely they are. They are sleek and deadly looking and beautifully carved like big bits of old wooden furniture sitting in the middle of the museum rooms. They are exactly 29 of my paces long and 6 of my paces wide.

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For scale, the picture has a 6 foot tall Scottish Fantasy writer standing in front of one. It is a bit boggling to imagine crossing oceans in one of these, but, of course, that is exactly what the Vikings did. And I’ll tell you something, I would not want a boatload of berserk Norwegians showing up at the foot of my garden in one of these things to the present day. A boatload of trolls now, that’s a different thing…

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Our hunt for trolls was finally rewarded on Saturday evening. We found one, and what a letdown, as you can probably tell from the picture. I came to Oslo expecting a good battle with a monstrous night creature but when I produced my battle-axe it was all over in seconds. The thing didn’t put up much of a fight at all. It must have had some sort of strange mind control powers though because the local shop-keeper called the police as I did mortal combat with the fell beast. And here was I doing him a favour too, freeing him from the troll’s spell. What an ingrate.

I can now report from experience that modern trolls would not last 30 seconds in a Glasgow bar on a Saturday night. And Tolkien got it wrong, when exposed to sunlight trolls don’t turn to stone, they turn to plastic although that’s may be just evolution at work.

Anyway, now seemed like the time to flee Oslo and head out into the wilderness. Next stop, Hoth.

Off To Norway

Number One Son and I are off to Norway to hunt for trolls so there may be no blogging or replies to comments for a bit. It depends on whether there is internet in troll country or not. In the proud tradition of this blog I may put up some photos of the trip in a few months if I remember to. Back soon with some troll scalps. 

Author’s Notes: City of Strife

City of Strife was the fifth Kormak book I wrote, even though it is being released as the fourth in the series. Yes, that’s right, I wrote a complete novel, Taker of Skulls, and I sat on it while I wrote this one. I even had what I thought was a good reason for doing so.

Taker of Skulls is a book about dwarves. It might best be described as Red Nails set in Moria. Weaver of Shadows, book three in the series, is about Elves. It just did not feel right to me moving directly from Dwarves to Elves without ever having seen anything of the human culture of the Sunlands. Oh, we’ve seen bits and pieces of it— the isolated villages and small towns of northern Taurea in Defiler of Tombs, and the long road to the Templar States in Stealer of Flesh but we’d not really seen very much of the core kingdoms. I thought I had better rectify this before sending Kormak on his way from the Elvenwood to the under-realm of Durea and I felt happier once I had come to that decision.

I really wanted to do something urban and, for no other reason than I had mentioned the great mercantile city-state of Vermstadt a few times in previous books I made up my mind to set the story there. This would enable me to look at a fairly sophisticated urban society, rather than the feudal hinterlands. Since Kormak’s world is essentially medieval and the Solar religion takes the place of the Catholic Church of that period I decided that Vermstadt was a cathedral city. This was to have some effect on the story as it was written.

For me, urban sword and sorcery has always conjured up one thing, the great decadent city-state of Lankhmar, long-term haunt of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser. I didn’t want to try and recreate it because quite frankly that’s impossible. I have neither the gloriously depraved imagination nor the glittering prose style of Fritz Leiber, but I felt I could at least pay my own small tribute. One of the things I always remember about Lankhmar is the rats. Vermstadt was now a city over-run by a plague of rats and for rather sinister supernatural reasons at that.

As I’ve mentioned before most of my indie work has been love-letters to the sort of books I read when I was younger and this was to be no exception. Even though Fafhrd and the Mouser were on my mind, I knew it was going to be difficult to do a rollicking adventure in the style they were famous for. Kormak is a grim, solitary, avenging sort of hero so I needed to find another model for my plot. Fortunately, my youthful self spent as much time immersed in the detective fiction of Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler as he did reading sword and sorcery so I took the plot of Red Harvest as my model. It has been put to good use in other places, most notably Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. So there I had my jumping off point, A Fistful of Plague Rats. Down these mean streets a barbarian must go.

Vermstadt became a place where two very powerful merchant factions were being manipulated into civil war by a powerful supernatural force, a cathedral city whose Prelate was on his death bed and whose throne was going to be the spoils for the winner of this struggle.

I sat down and wrote my outline during the Xmas holidays. I started the book in a snowy January in Prague and the weather infected the setting of the story. Our hero arrived in a snow-bound Vermstadt to investigate the sudden mysterious deaths of a complete network of his order’s agents and confront some dark aspects of his own past career as an assassin.

About half-way through January I was in Hong Kong. (Hey, when I was a kid, I thought writers lived a glamourous life of jet-set travel and I decided to live the dream. Someone has to.) I’d like to think something of the hectic energy of that great trading port found its way into the text. Unfortunately I also found I had a problem— when I read the text I had written outlining the plot I thought, this does not make any sense. Don’t ask me how that happened. I suspect I probably had the flu when I was writing it. I was plagued by illness all last winter. Anyway, I had laid out a complex detective story with loads of suspects and, in classic Chandlerian fashion, I had managed to confuse even myself.

I struggled to resolve the situation as I travelled through Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. I was having a great time but tieing myself into ever greater knots. It was not until I got back to Prague that it dawned on me that I really needed to strip the story back to basics in order to move the plot forward. I excised 25000 words (which was painful) and went back to the drawing board. This time it gelled. City of Strife became a streamlined tale of violence, vengeance and vendetta, of escalating war between two factions using magical means to achieve their political ends. Kormak got stuck into the Clint Eastwood role, the tough loner playing both sides against each other as he tried to figure out exactly what the hell was going on.

In the end Kormak managed to surprise me. He revealed himself to be even more ruthless and deadly than I thought he was and he had never struck me as someone you ought to cross at any time. The villains acquitted themselves well too, behaving with a good deal of cleverness and nastiness as the body count escalated and everything raced to an explosively violent climax.

You can pick up the book at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble right now. The price is a very affordable $2.99 or the equivalent in your local currency. The iBooks and Kobo versions will be along when the Powers That Be at the respective e-stores decide. There will be a print version in a month or two.

City of Strife Released

Book Four of the Kormak Saga, City of Strife came back from editing earlier than expected so I released it today. It’s a classic urban sword and sorcery adventure involving undead gangsters, cannibal were-rat cultists and impending civil war in the greatest city of the kingdom of Taurea. Kormak is caught between the warring factions and must solve the mystery of what is really going on before catastrophe ensues. Naturally there is plenty of sword-wielding action and monster-slaying as well.

COS

Pick up the book at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble right now. The price is a very affordable $2.99 or the equivalent in your local currency. The iBooks and Kobo versions will be along when the Powers That Be at the respective e-stores decide. There will be a print version in a month or two.

Kormak: City of Strife Preview

The fourth Kormak novel, City of Strife is off with my editor right now. I’m hoping it will be ready to publish in the not-too-distant future so now seems like a good time to run a preview. (You may also wish to download Stealer of Flesh, the first book in the series. It’s available for free from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Smashwords, Apple and Kobo.)

My apologies for any typos you may come across (I’ll update things once I get the edits back), and I hope you enjoy the sneak peek. Thanks for reading!

Prologue

THE FAT MONK ran through the garbage-strewn alleys of Vermstadt, knowing that death was at his heels. Sweat soaked Frater Ambrose’s robes. His limbs were lead and his stomach was on fire. His dinner fought its way up his throat.

He cursed himself just to keep from weeping. Why had he given in so often to so many temptations of the flesh? Why had he broken his vows? He had sworn temperance and chastity and restraint in all things. Well, it looked as if the Holy Sun had finally got round to punishing him.

He stopped for a moment and heard his hunters’ steps echo through the alleys. The noise was barely audible over his laboured breathing and the drumbeat of his heart. He wiped his brow and looked around. The full moon gleamed out of the unseasonably clear autumn sky, giving just enough light for him to see there was no place he could hide in these alleys, unless he wanted to try and burrow deep into one of those midden heaps, to crawl like a worm through a mulch of rotting vegetables, old food, ashes and excrement.

He shook his head. If he thought it might work he would have done so, but large as the trash-heaps were, they were not big enough to hide his corpulent form. He would need to find another way. He fumbled for the leather-bound leaden bludgeon he always carried to protect himself when he walked through the Maze. He knew how to use it. The slum district was the sort of place that not even a monk was safe in. It was also where many of his agents dwelled.

Or they used to. He had not been able to make contact with any of them over the last few months. One by one, they had ceased to report. Shiera, the streetwalker, being the latest to go. After she had not been seen at her patch for three nights Ambrose had begun to investigate. He found her lying with her throat slit on a slab in the city morgue waiting for a pauper’s burning. It was not an uncommon fate for a woman in her profession in a city like Vermstadt but coming on top of the disappearance of his other spies it had made Ambrose suspicious.

His network had been in place for years. He had spent decades building it in secret. His agents were his eyes and ears in the city, reporting back scraps of rumour, alerting him to the latest intrigues of the great patrician families and the monastic brotherhoods. They kept him abreast of the schemes of the merchant houses so that he could report in turn to his distant master on Mount Aethelas about the events in Taurea’s wealthiest city-state. He did not think it was a coincidence that his people had started to vanish as the Prelate lay on his deathbed and the two greatest merchant clans in the kingdom, the Oldbergs and the Krugmans, were dragging the city to the verge of civil war.

And he strongly suspected that there was something far worse bubbling away beneath the surface. The disappearing corpses, the seemingly unkillable enforcer the Krugmans had somehow acquired, the stink of sorcery rising over the city every full moon, all of those things pointed to it. Now cats had started to vanish and the city’s rat population was multiplying and there were stories of monsters in the Maze. It had set more alarms ringing in Ambrose’s mind. A concerted effort was being made to silence his agents as some sorcerous plot came to a climax.

This morning it had seemed like a blessing when Manfred had finally got back into contact, claiming to have found out something of vast importance. A cunning man, Manfred, and a thief well acquainted with the city’s underworld and its secret wars. He had managed to go to ground and avoid the fate of the other agents, or so it had seemed. The message had called for a meeting at their usual spot in the Maze, a tavern called the Dog’s Head.

Ambrose had gone there, but Manfred had not shown up. A terrible suspicion had been born in the monk’s mind then. Manfred might not be coming. He might have broken under torture and written the note. Ambrose had noticed a group of hard-looking men eying him and decided to make his escape. He ducked out to the privy and somehow managed to get his bulk over the back wall and the chase had begun.

He offered up a prayer to the Holy Sun and began to move again. A horde of rats, disturbed by his movement, scurried out of the middens, their small eyes glittering hungrily. The sight of them brought back certain horrific suspicions that had been preying on Ambrose’s mind.

He kicked out, scattering the rodents but one of them nipped at his leg, burying tiny sharp teeth in his calf. He brought his legs together, crushing the beast and lumbered on. A large man emerged from an alley mouth, a crossbow held in his hand. Ambrose lashed out with his weighted bludgeon, connecting with the man’s head, sending him reeling back into a puddle of piss and rain-water.

He picked up the crossbow. He had no training with such a thing but at close range, as a last resort, it might prove useful. He was willing to try anything that might help him escape. If he could just get out of the Maze, he might find a Watch Patrol. He might yet be able to get away. He was not too far from Cheap Street now. If he could just run a few hundred more strides . . .

He heard more whistles from up ahead. His pursuers had already cut off that route. He consulted with the map of the Maze he had carried in his head since his first visits here as a novice more than twenty years ago. He could backtrack and take a right turn, that would put him on Blood Vennel; from there he might be able to make his way back to the Silver Lamprey. Or he could just lie down and wait for them to find him. Given the state of his body, that was becoming an increasingly attractive option.

No. Don’t give up. He clutched the crossbow tight and forced himself to move. Something clattered down in the muck ahead of him, roofing slates most likely, dislodged by observers on the roof. It seemed that there were people up there keeping pace with him. His mind raced. There were too many people involved in this hunt for all but the most powerful factions in the city. The Oldbergs could afford it as could the Krugmans.

The Prelate could too but Ambrose already discounted that. With the old man on his deathbed, his followers were too busy intriguing against each other. There was the possibility that some new Shadow cult had arisen, like the one the Guardian Kormak had removed five years ago. That would account for the tales of evil magic and monsters in the city. He offered up another prayer, promising the Holy Sun that he would fast for a month, do penance for a year if only he could reach his cell again and send a ciphered report back to the Sacred Mountain.

He turned the corner and saw what waited for him and knew his prayers were not going to be answered. The thing was all he had feared and more. Tall as a man even as it leaned forward in an obscene slouch, its eyes glowed with a hellish light. Its huge jaw distended to reveal tusk-like fangs. It was a demon of the old darkness. A horde of rats scurried around its clawed feet, chittering worshipfully.

Ambrose raised the crossbow and fired. The bolt flickered through the air and, as if guided by his desperate prayers, struck the creature clear through the heart. It stood there for a moment. Its long clawed hand reached up and pulled the missile free, its barbed head tearing muscle and skin and cloth. Flesh sucked closed behind it, leaving no sign of any wound. The demon bared its teeth in what might have been a mocking smile as it cast the bolt to one side.

Frater Ambrose dropped the crossbow and raised his Elder Sign in a gesture of defiance and tried his last gambit. “I serve the Order of the Dawn,” he said. “If you kill me, I will be avenged.”

The demon gave a soft hissing sound that might have been mocking laughter. It moved slowly towards him, surrounded by its tide of vermin, confident that he could not escape. Frater Ambrose tried to force his legs to move but they simply gave way beneath him. He tried to mutter the words of the Solar Prayer but his tongue felt swollen in his mouth,

The demon loomed over him. A taloned claw rose. A shadow came between Ambrose and the light. He did not even have time to scream.

Chapter One

IN THE TWILIGHT Kormak led his horse through the streets of Vermstadt. The beast whinnied a tired protest and trudged on, cold breath emerging from its nostrils in a cloud. The tall, greying swordsman picked his way with care. Beneath the snow the cobbles were slick and he had not ridden across northern Taurea just to lose his mount to a broken ankle within the city’s massive walls.

He touched the pommel of his sword, still uncomfortable with having the dwarf-forged blade strapped to his waist rather than belted over his shoulder as was proper for a member of his order. The Grand Master wished his mission carried out in secret, so it could disavow him if things went wrong. He had his reasons for wanting Kormak to go unrecognised. The last time the Guardian had been in Vermstadt he had killed five powerful men and the repercussions of that deed might still catch up with him.

Kormak suspected that there would be more killing this time. Vermstadt was the sort of city where men bartered their souls to the powers of Shadow. For a place sacred to the Sun, it was a most unholy metropolis. Something of the darkness Saint Verma had supposedly banished during her stay among mortals seemed to have clung to it down the centuries.

The tall tenements loomed menacingly out of the gloom. Snow piled up around the buildings. Fat flakes continued to fall, the cold wind driving the gusts down from the slopes of the nearby Thunderpeak Mountains. Cloaked and cowled citizens made their way home in the gloaming. A man with a hopeful air offered a cold pie half-price. Kormak shook his head. He was hungry after his long journey but he wanted to save his appetite for a real meal at an inn.

The street was wide enough for two carts to pass if the drivers were careful. The alleys leading away from it were not nearly so rich-looking or so well lit. In their mouths slatternly women, well-wrapped against the cold stood beneath red lanterns, looking to do some business even on this chilly evening. Off to the south were the great rotting slums of the Maze, where families of beggars huddled ten to a room.

Beggars extended hands for copper coins in a half-hearted attempt to get money, more for the sake of the thing than because they really expected it. A lad of about eleven fell into step beside him, looked nervously over his shoulder and said, “Looking for a tavern, sir?”

Most of the inns Kormak could see were exactly what he would have expected so close to the city gates—overpriced traps for the weary traveller fresh off the road, or drinking dens for the drovers and carters who would pass through the nearby West Gate. He wanted somewhere a bit classier and he had fond memories of one place and one woman in particular. They were the only good memories he had of this accursed city. He still had dark dreams about his last visit.

“No,” Kormak said. “I know where I am going.”

“And where would that be, sir?” The boy glanced over his shoulder again and then up at Kormak. His face was thin and nervous. He played with something on his arm. It was a scarf dyed yellow.

Kormak thought about footpads and their lookouts. This boy did not look like one, just starved and nervous but Kormak had led a life that left him prone to suspicion. “None of your business,” he said.

“Right you are, sir,” the boy said. He kept walking along beside Kormak. He did not say anything more.

Tall, half-timbered buildings with narrow mullioned windows loomed over the snowy road. Many of them had painted signs indicating the business of their owner.

A wheel indicated a cartwright, a barrel a cooper, an anvil a blacksmith. The warm, ruddy glow of the forge inside the shop brought back memories from Kormak’s long ago childhood, of his father’s massive figure beating out swords for the clan, back before the old man had been slaughtered along with everyone Kormak had ever known.

The boy kept walking beside him. He was tempted to tell the kid to move on but the lad looked up at him entreatingly and said, “You don’t mind if I walk with you a bit, sir. Least until we see a squad of watchmen.”

“Why?”

“Well, you see, sir, it’s like this. You have a sword, and there’s a bunch of lads following me as would be less likely to give me any trouble if they see me walking along with a man with a sword.” He smiled ingratiatingly and Kormak understood that this was for the benefit of anybody watching them, to make it look as if they knew each other.

Kormak glanced back over his shoulder. A large group of youths glared at him and the boy.

“What if those likely lads decide we are friends and give me some trouble as well?”

“They wouldn’t do that, sir. Bors and his lads are cowards, all the Krugman lickspittles are. They won’t trouble a man with a blade, particularly not a big scarred man like yourself who looks like he knows how to use it.”

“It seems to me that I should charge you for bodyguard work,” said Kormak.

“That is only fair, sir,” said the boy. “But there’s one problem . . . I don’t have any money to pay you. The Angels and Saints will surely smile on you though. It would be downright charitable and this here is a Cathedral town, leastwise it will be, and you’re closer to the Holy Sun’s heaven and his sight here because of it.”

He nodded and then smiled as if Kormak had said something particularly funny, still holding an imaginary conversation with an imaginary friend for the benefit of their observers. It came to Kormak then that the boy was genuinely frightened.

“What have you done to upset Bors and his boys?”

“Nothing, sir. Oh, I may have passed a few remarks about the Moon-loving Krugmans and the way Bors kisses Jurgen Krugman’s arse whenever he sees it but it was mostly in fun. They just don’t have a sense of humour and that’s the Holy Sun’s own truth, sir.”

A group of youths emerged from an alley mouth and fanned out in a half circle blocking their way. The ones that had been walking behind moved closer, cutting off any retreat. Kormak could hear their feet crunching in the snow.

The gang surrounded them. Many were just boys, little older than the one he was talking to. Some were larger and surlier and a few were hulking brutes almost as big as Kormak. One of them spoke now.

“Well, well,” he said. “If it’s not little Jan. Who is this you’re talking to, Jan? Some wandering adventurer you’ve mistaken for your father again?”

The boy took a step behind Kormak, into his shadow. Kormak moved slightly to keep him in sight, aware that all of this might be just playacting to set him up for purse-snatching.

The boy was still there. He had raised his hands in front of his body as if already warding off blows. “Piss off, Bors,” he said. There was a scared bravado in his tone.

“Come here, Jan,” said Bors. “You’ve shot your smart mouth off once too often and now we’re going to stomp you flat.”

Kormak stared at the boys. They glared back at him with feral menace. He could see they all had scarves tied around their arms although of a different colour from the one Jan was wearing. This one looked dirty white or maybe grey. It was hard to tell, the lights were dimmer here, and there were less people about. It was clear the youths had waited for an opportune moment before accosting them.

The one called Bors saw Kormak looking at him and smiled easily enough, showing the gaps caused by two missing teeth. “This is none of your business, stranger,” he said. “You can just be on your way.”

Kormak did not like the dismissive jeering tone but he could see the sense of what Bors was saying. This was none of his business. He did not know any of them, and he certainly did not owe the kid anything. And yet, he stood there. He was not used to be reckoned so lightly. His pride was hurt. And he had never liked bullies.

“There’s no need for any trouble,” he said. He kept his tone mild.

The big youth laughed and tapped the knife at his belt. “Oh there won’t be any trouble,” he said. “If you know what’s good for you.”

One or his lieutenants had drawn his dagger and was ostentatiously cleaning his nails with it. Another smirked at Kormak already certain that he would do nothing. They had the look of small-time troublemakers, of the sort who were used to intimidating peasants and small tradesmen and passing pilgrims.

He glanced around again and could not help but wonder why they were so certain they could get away with behaving like this in plain view of the citizenry on a street where the Watch were likely to pass at any time. He saw a midden, and on top of the midden a rat. It looked at him with glittering eyes and scuttled away.

“What’s the problem here anyway?” he asked. “Surely you can talk it out.”

“Surely you can talk it out,” said the youth with the drawn knife. He spoke in a mincing, effeminate echo of Kormak’s words. The others laughed.

“Are you still here?” said Bors. There was real menace in his tone now. He moved forward, crowding Kormak, so close that the onion-laden smell of his breath was obvious. Normally Kormak would not have let anybody get so close but he did not want to draw his sword. He was still trying to avoid trouble although he suspected things had already gone too far for that. “I thought I told you to go.”

Kormak slowly raised his hand, put it on the youth’s chest and pushed him away. The big lad looked at him as if he could not quite believe what he was seeing. The youths had started to crowd forward. There were knives drawn now. He saw their rusty blades glitter in the distant torchlight.

“Have you ever seen a warhorse fight?” Kormak asked. He kept his tone conversational.

“What?” Bors asked.

“Have you ever seen a warhorse fight? It takes years to train them, but once that’s done they are vicious.”

“What in the Shadow’s name are you talking about?”

“Star here is a warhorse. I’ve seen him crush men’s skulls with his hooves and rend their flesh with his teeth. The last man he bit, he pulled the cheek right off, you could see the jawbone and teeth through the hole. He made a strange sucking, whistling sound whenever he breathed.”

The youths had started to back off now. No one wanted to be quite so close to the horse any more. “All I have to do is whistle and he’ll break your skull. He’ll take pleasure in it, for he’s a vicious brute if truth be told.”

“You’re lying,” said Bors. He did not sound so sure of himself now. He glared at Kormak caught between fear, anger and losing face in front of his gang. “That nag is no warhorse.”

“Would you like to bet your life on that,” Kormak said. For a long moment, they exchanged glares.

“Sure,” said Bors. “Why not?”

Kormak whistled.

I hope you enjoyed the preview. If you would like to notified when City of Strife and any future novels are released please sign up for my mailing list here

You can also download Stealer of Flesh, the first book in the series for free from Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukSmashwordsApple and Kobo.

Workflow 2013

I’m currently working on The Fall of Macharius and, since I am right in the middle of a new novel, now seems like a good time to talk about the tools I use and my workflow. It’s on my mind and a nice easy subject to write a blog post about and, hey, I’m all about taking the easy way out whenever possible.

I am constantly trying to optimise my use of time. I’ve streamlined my working process a little since the last time I discussed it so here are my current methods.

I still use Evernote to gather ideas, information, and bits of stuff. It is basically my notebook, journal and store for pretty much everything I clip from the web. It works cross-platform, even on my Galaxy S3 smartphone, so I have access to all the information everywhere I go. I even keep pictures and PDF print outs of tickets and receipts in it. Pretty much anything I might need to remember goes into Evernote along with pretty much anything I think I might need to remember. 

It’s best to think of Evernote as the primordial ooze from which all of the ideas for my books emerge. (I think I am borrowing this image from Rachel Aaron’s book on writing but I am not sure and as ever I am too lazy to go and check.) Everything is in there somewhere, tagged, sorted into different notebooks and easily available from a quick search. Some of the ideas will sit there for years before bubbling to the surface, some may never be used at all, but at least I can find them if the need arises.

Once I get started on the actual writing itself, it probably comes as no surprise to you that I still use Scrivener. This still provides the best development environment for writing a novel I know. (As an aside I write these blog posts in Scrivener as well and then export them as HTML.)

I start with the outline and then when I have reached the stage of a chapter by chapter or scene by scene breakdown, I transfer each section to an individual card so that I can refer to it as I write. I put character sketches, location descriptions and any other relevant information in the Research folder.

Where an outline is required by an editor, such as when working with Black Library, I simply export it from Scrivener, and reimport the modified outline as needed. My main change in working methods now is that I store my Scrivener file in Dropbox so I can access it from all my machines— OSX, Windows or even Linux. This lets me use whatever machine is handy and fully charged.

In the past I was reluctant to do this, fearing corruption of my working files, but I have been following Literature & Latte’s best practises and have not had any problems in over a year now. To be on the safe side, I keep zipped backups in Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon’s S3 cloud. I also regularly compile the document into an RTF file and export it to Dropbox and Google Drive just in case. I know all this sounds hideously complex, but in practise it takes only a few seconds for every backup.

I basically stick with Scrivener until I am happy with the manuscript, however many rewrites that may take. Once I have reached a more or less final stage I export it to Microsoft Word. In the case of my work for Black Library, it goes off to Nottingham. In the case of my indie work, it goes off to my test readers and then my copyeditor. At some point the manuscript returns and I go over it for the last few times in Word, taking advantage of the track changes feature.

At this stage, the Black Library work is simply emailed in. For my indie productions, I clean up the text and prepare the ebook file. These days I do this in Jutoh. For indie print books I stay in Word and use the templates I talked about here.

Although it is perfectly possible to produce an ebook in Scrivener, I find I prefer to separate the production side of things completely. It just seems to work better for me. Jutoh is a very nice ebook program that allows you to produce MOBI and EPUB files simultaneously at the touch of a button. I confess that these days though I mostly just upload my Word files to Draft2Digital and let them create the EPUB files.

That’s it. I use a grand total of 4 programs to produce all my work these days. Of course, my workflow is simplified by the fact that I no longer do my own covers. If it were not for the requirements of editing, I could quite easily do pretty much everything inside Scrivener.