Archives for June 2014

A False Start

I am on holiday in the very lovely Cesky Raj and I am looking for an easy subject for a blog post. Fortunately one is close at hand. Last week I announced the release of the second Kormak short story, A Cold and Lonely Place, and this provoked some interesting discussions in the comments and emails I received.

Among the things that came up was my habit of writing first scenes of short stories that I don’t or can’t finish. The reasons for this are alluded to in the comments of the last post. What I thought I would do today is just show you one of those scenes and then talk about why it was a false start. Most of the post is already written and I get to use some writing that’s never seen the light of day. So here’s a 500 word or so opening scene from a Kormak story that never got finished.

Ready? Here we go!

In the kitchen at the back of his shop, Skardus played with his baby, tossing the laughing boy into the air and then hugging him close. He had been inspecting the one year old for stigmata and he was a little worried. The lad looked like a perfectly formed human child except for the tiny claws on his feet and his vestigial tail. It was something they would need to keep hidden until he was old enough to control the Change. Still that was a bridge they would cross when they came to it. The boy gurgled, said da-da and bit at his ear with small sharp teeth. Skardus felt very happy then his wife came into the room with that look on her face that meant there was a problem.

“What is it?” Skardus asked. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a man out there, says he knows you, smells like trouble.” Marla wrinkled her nose meaningfully. Skardus rose to his feet and still holding the baby padded over to the doorway. The silence of his movement was negated by the baby’s happy burbling. He slid the door partially open and looked out. A big man with greying black hair stood by the polished wooden counter, a sword scabbarded on his back. Something about the stillness of his manner indicated that the human knew he was being watched.

Skardus said as quietly as he could, “I’ll hold him here for as long as I can. Take the baby and run.”

Marla made a movement with her thumb and extruded one of her claws. Any threat to her children brought out the violence that was never far from the surface among their people. She said. “He’s only a human and he does not smell like a sorcerer.”

She spoke with the confidence of one almost invulnerable to mortal weapons. He kissed the baby on the forehead and then handed him to Marla, kissing her as well.

“Go now,” Skardus said and gave her a grim smile. “That human out there could kill us both in half-a-dozen heartbeats and then butcher the little one without the least qualm. Get out! Quick!”

Marla stood there staring for a moment before she headed towards the hidden door that led down into the cellar and out through the tunnels.
It was the fear in his voice that decided her, he could tell. She had never seen him so afraid in all their years of marriage. The baby, sensing the tension between his parents, started to whimper. The sound of it tore at Skardus’s heart. At the trapdoor Marla turned and said, “Why is he here? Why now? Is it to do with our Anton and his bloody friends?”

Skardus shrugged. “Maybe. Doesn’t matter. Go!”

He watched her leave and thought of all the things he should have told her and now might never have the chance to. He fought down the acid bite of fear in his throat and the urge to extrude his own claws and begin the Change. Now was not the time to give in to instinct no matter how much he wanted to. He had not survived for so long by being a slave to the bestial side of his nature.

He smoothed his tunic down with the flat of his palms, opened the door and strode through into the clutter of his shop, knowing he looked every inch the fat successful all-too-human merchant and not in the least like what he truly was. As he got close he caught the scent that had upset his wife. The man smelled of demon blood and ancient darkness, of agony and terror and endless war.

“Sir Kormak,” Skardus said. “This is an unexpected pleasure.”

Eyes cold and grey as the winter sky looked down at him. Very white teeth showed in a scarred, tanned face. “Unexpected? That’s interesting.”

Then and there Skardus knew it was going to be bad.

First up, let me say I actually think this is a pretty good opening. It has an interesting point of view character and the situation is fraught with story hooks and questions.

I like the way it shows us events through the eyes of someone who would normally be seen as a villain, and I like the way it depicts Kormak, who we normally see as a reasonably sympathetic and heroic individual, as quite terrifying. I had the vague idea of having poor old Skardus press-ganged into helping Kormak track down some of his renegade kin as you can tell from the mention of our Anton. So why didn’t I finish it?

I began the story some time ago, round about the time I was writing City of Strife. I had the idea of using the story to get some insight into the character of the main antagonists in the novel who were were-rats. When the novel took off on its own merry path, I put the short story on the back-burner. The vision of the ratkin revealed in that book made what I had written here obsolete and kind of burned me out on the subject matter. There was a sense of been there, done that by the time I had completed the novel.

The opening does need some work. It’s a bit vague in terms of its setting and some of the language is a bit clunky, but reading it again I did feel the urge to tinker and maybe get back to it one day. Hey, it took me 8 years to get back to the rough draft of the second Kormak novel. I might manage to get back to this story in a shorter time.

If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

A Cold and Lonely Place Released

A Cold and Lonely Place, the latest Kormak short story, is now available.




Here’s the blurb.

To the world at large, he is a mercenary and assassin, a brutal killer with a deadly blade. In reality Kormak is a Guardian, one of an ancient order sworn to protect humanity from the servants of the gathering darkness.

Grimhaven holds a fatal secret as any visitor discovers too late. On a dark autumn evening, as the full moon glares down on the village, a stranger arrives, a man called Kormak, on a mission to uncover what happened to a friend who vanished months ago.

It’s a 6000 word tale of Lovecraftian horror and stealthy assassination set in the wilds of Taurea during the Civil War. It retails at $0.99 or the local equivalent at all the major e-book retailers.





If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

Throwing Away a Book

I’ve been on a voluntary simplicity kick recently. You know the sort of thing – throwing out old stuff I no longer require or use (of which there is a surprising amount), resisting buying new stuff no matter how big the temptation and so on.

It gives life a bit of discipline and one of the major effects is that it makes me think twice about buying something new just because I feel the sudden urge to spend and I see something shiny. After all, what is the point of acquiring it if I know there is a good chance of throwing it out in the foreseeable future. The process of stripping away the stuff from my life dramatises this possibility and makes it very real.

I started using a method recommended by an article on Lifehacker. I threw out one thing per day, sometimes more, never less. This is about the easiest way I can think of for getting rid of unwanted stuff. There is nothing hard about it. It takes next to no effort. It can be done in minutes, if not seconds, and, over the course of a month or two, it adds up. Things were going smoothly on the simplicity front until, a couple of weeks ago, I hit a major roadblock.

Looking around my office I discovered I had run out of easy things to dump. One object did catch my eye, a copy of The Pickwick Papers, one of the Wordsworth classic editions that probably cost £1 when I bought it God knows how long ago.

It was a nice edition complete with the original illustrations but I own multiple e-book versions of the complete works of Dickens. I have one that I bought from Amazon for my Kindle and one I acquired over a decade ago for my PalmPilot and which I still use on my non-Amazon e-readers. It was not like I needed a print copy of this particular work and the truth is that it would not cost me the Earth if I needed to buy one in the future.

I picked up that copy of The Pickwick Papers and I got ready to throw it out. Actually, I didn’t. I paused. It occurred to me that perhaps I could sell it to a second-hand bookstore or give it to a charity shop. The former seemed unlikely given how cheap the book was originally and I could not find a charity shop in our neighbourhood that would take an old book in English. To be honest, I could not find a charity shop. It all seemed a little too much like work for the sake of getting rid of this one thing.

I decided that I would just throw it in the trash but, when it came to it, I could not make myself do it. This was a book! I don’t think in all my life I have ever thrown away a book. I’ve given some to friends. I’ve sold some to second-hand bookstores. But actually throwing away a book was just not something I could bring myself to do.

When I was growing up, books were treasures. This was in the dark days before the Internet, when there were only three television channels and those showed whatever the programming gods decided was appropriate that particular day. Video recorders were science fiction, at least in my neighbourhood. Books were a simple, reliable means of escape and entertainment. They were what I spent my pocket money on. In my teenage years my personal library of science fiction and fantasy was my greatest treasure.

It’s hard to believe now but there was not the super-abundance of fantastic fiction available back then that there is now. Every book was read and re-read multiple times. Often I would not be able to find the first book in a series but that did not matter, I would still read all the other books if they were there. That was how I encountered Michael Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E Howard and many others for the first time.

Over the four decades since then I have accumulated more and more books. The last time we moved house I shipped a ton and a half books internationally. I left at least twice that weight in storage with friends and family. If it sounds crass to discuss books in terms of tonnage, I apologise, but it was a discovery that shocked me particularly since I had to pay for every pound of it.

In recent times our apartments have gotten larger and larger every time we shifted. In part this was simply to provide storage for my ever growing library.

Only one thing has slowed down the relentless takeover of our living space by my burgeoning collection of books and that was the arrival in recent years of e-books. According to my Kindle I have purchased 600 over the past three years. Since a significant number of these are things like The Collected Works of Charles Dickens or Jack London or Leo Tolstoy or Anthony Trollope I strongly suspect that I have over 1000 books on my Kindle. If they were physical objects they would probably take up another room in our flat.

Anyway to cut short this digression, let me just say that I could think of no real reason for not throwing away that copy of The Pickwick Papers. And yet I struggled to make myself do it. It felt sacrilegious, like I was contemplating something heinous. The thought sidled into my mind that this might just be the start of a very long process. After all, I own e-book copies of many of the paper books on my shelf. If I started, where would it stop?

And it really mattered to me – somehow the possession of all those books was a part of my identity. I had defined myself over the years as a book lover, as a book hoarder. I felt as if I was standing at a fork in the road. Down one path lay a future in which my shelves would be stripped bare. Down the other path was a vision of rooms slowly vanishing beneath piles of books.

I went backwards and forwards. I had no sentimental attachment to this particular copy of The Pickwick Papers. It was just something I had picked up somewhere along the line some time ago. I love the book but I can read it any time anyway. In the end I think that’s what decided me.

I walked down stairs and I put the book in the trash. I felt like a criminal.

It’s been a couple of weeks and only this morning did I manage to make myself throw out another book. It was a fat book fantasy that I have never been able to get past chapter 3 of. I disliked it immensely when I read it and I have been known to complain about the stupidity of its premise and characters to any of my friends who are foolish enough to listen. And still I checked on the Internet to make sure that a Kindle version was available in the unlikely event that I ever feel the need to read it in the future. Only after doing so did I toss it. It was still a struggle but a less desperate one this time. I suspect it’s only going to get easier.

If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.