The Tower of Storms: Part 1

Baird stood in the musty stable strapping Frenzy’s saddle in place. The door opened and a furious, icy wind swept through, disturbing hay and toppling buckets. Rain and sleet splattered across the wooden floorboards, soaking the straw as several horses grunted disapprovingly.

“Duke’s hairy arse,” someone grumbled as they slammed the door shut, muffling the hideous weather outside. It continued to howl and roar around the building. “Ne’er gets any better, does it?”

Baird smiled as he secured the final strap of the saddle. “Give it a couple of days.”

The man, Erlon the stable master, laughed as he shook out his cloak. Enough water poured from it to make a puddle around his feet that Frenzy took to lapping at.

“Aye, about that,” Erlon began. “I thought it best to collect your stable fees before you left, if you know what I mean.”

“I know precisely what you mean,” Baird said, fishing around in the coin pouch at his belt. “You’re afraid that I shall be so mobbed by adoring fans upon my return you’ll never get near me.”

“Sure,” Erlon said. “Let’s go with that.”

Baird flicked a coin to him and returned to tending his horse. Erlon had to juggle a few times before he got a proper grasp. When he did, he scowled.

“Aye, and the rest of it,” he said, brandishing the coin. “This is a half.”

“Erlon,” Baird began, turning to the man with an easy smile. “Come now. Just think how much business you’ll get when people find out the saviour of the Glen stabled their horse here.”

Erlon held his hand out with a glare. Baird kept his earnest grin firmly affixed but Erlon did not budge an inch. After a moment Baird finally accepted his loss, pouting.

“Oh fine, take it,” he huffed, digging out another coin and flicking it to Erlon with a touch of venom.

“What’s wrong with you, boy?” the stable master snarled as he retrieved the coin from the dirty floor. “Not like you to be so tight fisted.”

Baird focused intently on Frenzy as he ran a brush needlessly over the beast’s coat. “I just… I wanted to give that to my mother.” He then shot a sharp look at Erlon. “Just to tide her over until my return.”

A half sovereign would tide the woman over for weeks, never mind his short trip. Erlon looked down at the coins in his hand and then up at the well-stocked horse. Well stocked with weaponry and armour. A glance didn’t reveal much food or camping gear. “This is all you’ve got left?”

“It’s the off season,” Baird said with a noncommittal shrug. “Won’t be until the festivals that all the bandits show their heads again.”

Erlon sucked his teeth. It was true enough and Baird had been buying unusual and expensive equipment for his go at the quest, attempted by many over hundreds of years and completed by none.

“You’ve waited this long. Why not leave it one more half year?”

“I’m done waiting,” Baird replied. “I’m finally ready.”

Erlon sighed and shook his head. “Here,” he said, thrusting his hand out to Baird. The adventurer lifted his head and the stable master dropped both coins into his palm. “For your mother. She’s gonna have enough to worry about.”

Baird quickly looked away, tucking the coins into his purse. “On my return you’ll be repaid tenfold.” He gave Erlon a furtive glance and returned to the finishing touches with his horse. “Thank you.”

The stable master nodded. It was the closest to humility he’d ever get out of the little shit. “Be careful. And don’t be stupid. A lot of folks have actually managed to come back in recent years.”

“Unsuccessful.”

“Think of yer ma,” he persisted. “No one’ll judge you for coming back.”

Baird turned and looked at Erlon levelly. “I will be back, long before those coins run out. I’ve slain more than anyone in this Glen, mundane and magical alike. I will kill that sorcerer, Erlon. Not even the gods can stop me.”

He went to his mother’s house direct from the stables. She was delighted to see him, despite berating him for dripping all over the floor. He gave her the coins, which she repeatedly tried to give back, and did a quick inspection of the house to ‘ensure there weren’t any leaks.’ There was enough in the house she could sell to keep herself fed, if anything happened. Not that it would, obviously, but it was reassuring to know.

Then there was nothing else for him to do but set out on the road. He’d waited for this his entire life, dreamed of the moment his blade severed the sorcerer’s head and the storms that had plagued the Glen for centuries fell silent. He’d tried to imagine it as a child, shoving his head under pillows or hiding in cellars but the constant roar of the wind and the rain could not be suppressed. Baird’s hands shook with excitement, hardly able to believe it was finally his turn. He would be the one to bring justice for the weather goddess.

The journey was wrought with gale force winds that caused Frenzy to stumble; with rain half ice that mercilessly pelted Baird’s body, penetrating his thick travelling gear; with such poor visibility that he may as well have shut his eyes. So like a trip to the baker’s, just longer. There was no shelter on the road and while trying to sleep Frenzy made an exceptionally poor and cantankerous windbreak. Rumours told him that long ago, before the winds, trees were a common thing – that there had been whole forests of the things. Now only the most gargantuan of them remained upright and even fewer alive thanks to the constant storms.

Despite everything—his growing hunger, exhaustion and cold—he soldiered on. The route, at least, was in his favour. So travelled the path to the tower was that what had once been a beaten track was now practically a road. It was more frequented than most trade routes. His lack of needing to pack up camping gear and Frenzy’s slow yet unfaltering gait meant they made very good time. Most horses tired quickly in the weather but Frenzy was bred to be a cart horse, not some idiot mercenary’s steed. After three days of journeying a tall, thin shadow began to stretch up past the horizon, a grey omen barely visible against the rain and clouds.

Baird grinned, water dripping down his face from his somewhat ineffectual hood. “Good job, Frenzy,” he said, giving the horse a slap on the side of the neck. “This is it. My destiny. I just know it.”

If Frenzy could have rolled his eyes, he would have.

Over the next hour, the tower grew up high into the sky until the base was just visible through the weather. From then, it took even longer for the tower to start feeling as though it was drawing near. Eventually, it loomed over them both.

Baird looked up at it with a wide smile, his face pelted with rain and his hood filling like a water skin. After a moment it slipped from his head, depositing the water onto a disgruntled Frenzy’s back. Baird leapt to the ground, stumbling. The wind here was the worst he’d ever experienced, to the point where he was astounded that any manmade structure could have survived all this time. He drew his sword and stalked forward as best he could braced against the gale, ready for assailants to jump out at any moment. Frenzy, thoroughly unimpressed, plodded after him.

Baird approached the doors, easily three times his height, with caution. He’d fought magical types before and didn’t believe a single sorcerer could not have met their match after all these years. The number of challengers compared with the number who actually came back was not promising. Sword raised and ready, his foot touched the steps. The doors swept slowly backwards into the tower of their own accord. Baird hesitated, then shook his head.

“Come on, boy,” he said. “Let’s see if there’s another way in.”

They circled the tower, finding excesses of uneven scrub and solid masonry. There were also skeletons. Lots and lots of discarded skeletons. It didn’t take long for them both to be staring into the gaping maw of the same doorway again, inviting them in from the fearsome storm. There was a flash across the sky, accompanied by the rumble of thunder. Frenzy nudged Baird’s shoulder with his nose.

He approached the doorway. Everything inside was still. He crossed the threshold, stepping out of the rain. The tower’s base was a single room, gloomy and derelict. The floor was dim and dusty, fallen victim to time and neglect. There were marks in the dust and not just Baird’s, easily identifiable due to the water droplets all around them. A wide, spiralling staircase led up. The dust on the steps had been brushed by something as well. With quick, graceful steps, he checked behind each door and scouted the room, finding nothing malicious. Satisfied that he was alone on this floor, Baird brought Frenzy inside and the doors swung shut by themselves. Baird exhaled and took to strapping on a few additional pieces of armour.

He pulled a belt from one of the packs on Frenzy’s back, covered in thick glass bulbs with powders and liquids. He might have been a cocky bastard but he always made sure he was prepared. Especially where magic was involved. All of his trinkets, talismans and potions had, after he’d given his last sovereign to his mother, left him penniless. He took some ancient wristbands and tied them on, the warm, pink stones clacking quietly together. It took time to strap every piece of protective gear he had to various parts of his body. His years of delay had been filled with research. He might act arrogant and fearless but he valued his life. His self-assurance came from a lot of hard work.

Hands trembling with anticipation, he placed the chain of the final protective sigil—a shielded silver stick figure—over his head, to let it sit upon his breastplate. He was ready. His whole life had been building to this moment and he was finally ready. He patted Frenzy with a wide smile.

“When we return, my friend, it shall be as kings.” Baird turned and made for the stairs.

Frenzy would have liked to point out that they lived in a duchy. Alas, what with being a horse, he could not.

Baird had mostly stopped dripping by the time he began his ascent of the stairs. The first floor looked much like the ground floor and there was disturbance apparent here as well. There was something in this tower and it wasn’t a rat. As his foot touched the first step of the next flight of stairs up, a piercing whinny came from below.

Read part 2 here!

A Highland Walk

Over Christmas I went home to visit my family, as many people do, returning to place where I’ve spent the majority of my life. For all of its faults, it is a beautiful and inspiring place, so much so that it’s even the setting of The Deconstructor. It is peaceful, gorgeous and has that wild feel to it that I greatly miss now that I’m living in England.

The Highlands have always been my home and I think will always feel like home. I left for a number of reasons and all of them still stand, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll ever stop missing that stunning place or that I’ll ever feel like I don’t belong there. And whenever I am there, I’ll soak up all the homely feel and inspiration that I can!

Cue, a photo set!

I was particularly lucky on this day in December to have such beautiful weather as I went out for a six hour trek with my partner, so I was able to snag lots of pictures of things my new home doesn’t have.

… Like hills or water.

Enjoy!

A Decade In Review

You don’t really think about how much happens in just one decade. It’s hard to think of it like so many posts out there have as one big chunk of time because there were so many different states and transitions. It can’t be thought of as one entire entity, at least for me.

At the start of the decade, I was still in university. I was struggling. I struggled all the way. I only got through it the way I get through most things. With bullheaded determination. I didn’t have a natural talent for chemistry. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like I have a natural talent for anything I enjoy. But I fought and struggled and I made it. During this time, since the start of university, I didn’t write. I was too busy or exhausted to write. If I was doing something like writing or reading, it felt wrong if it wasn’t university related. I had barely done any on the build up to to university because I was working so much to save up the money. 

It wasn’t until 2012, five years on (in Scotland degrees take longer than some other places), that I started writing again. I started with a rewrite of a shockingly bad fan fiction I wrote in school. Unsurprisingly, my writing hadn’t improved much. That was the year that a friend told me about NaNoWriMo. I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait for the main event and when I heard about the Camp event in August, I was sold. I thought all day about my story (I worked on a production line at the time, which was convenient for plotting purposes) and when the month came I poured it all out. By July the next year, I had full rough drafts of the Twyned Earth trilogy and a rekindled passion for writing that even the most difficult of periods couldn’t quash – even if they could slow me down. 

home-office-336373_1920

I still have my original drafts of everything. I like to keep stuff archived, so that I can go back and make sure I haven’t removed anything important or otherwise useful for the story. Comparing the original 54k word draft of Through the Black to the current 96k word one, it’s clear to see that my writing has vastly improved (another good reason to keep old drafts, if you can handle the cringe of reading them). It also goes to show that, as with all writing advice, the “cut 10% when editing” spiel is not as cut and dry as it appears. 

Since that first Camp NaNoWriMo event, I have participated in and one every official November NaNo since, along with 7 additional camp events (with 2 participates and misses on top). That feels like I’m missing some as well – the website is a touch buggy at the moment. The 10’s were absolutely the decade where I not only reaffirmed my love of writing but took it to a whole new level. 

It may not be immediately obvious about me, but when I was a child/young teenager, art was just as much a part of my life as writing. I loved it and I was decent enough at it that I even sold a few pictures at school events. That stopped at the same time as the writing, when university just devoured everything that wasn’t itself from my life. That was a lot harder to get back into. My skill level seemed to have plummeted a lot more on the drawing front and I felt too demotivated whenever I tried and failed. It was only within the last couple of years, since 2017, that I started trying properly to push past my insecurities and accept that it’s okay to start from the ground up again, that it’s okay if I spend the next several years just learning how to draw again so long as I wasn’t avoiding something that I loved. Hardware held me back a lot but since getting a new tablet last October, I’ve been drawing and studying and I’ve done more art in that time than I have in ages and it feels great. 

It’s made me think a lot about a silly fantasy I’ve always had, to combine storytelling telling and art. It sounds daft but I don’t know if I’ve ever actually voiced my desire to draw comics before. It’s just always felt so far out of reach – both the artistic and storytelling telling skill required to do comics is immense. Even being able to say out loud that I’d like to try it someday is a big thing for me. 

Since leaving university, I have moved way too often and been through the hardest times of my life. I worked a plethora of jobs before finally landing in the field that I wanted. Some were okay, others were horrendous. I had a severe mental health incident that I’m still not fully recovered from. I finally understood and came to terms with my sexuality and gender. All in all, it’s been busy. 

In the 00’s I abandoned the things that defined me in the pursuit of something that would benefit the rest of my life. In the 10’s, I have taken what I gained from university, my degree and my partner, and clung to those while rediscovering the self I left behind. I am now a partner, a scientist, a writer, and an artist. And coming to that realisation that at the end of the decade I am all of these things, wow, it actually feels kinda good. 

The 2020 Goal Post

Shocked

I hope you were sat down for this one popping up on your feed. Even by my standards, that was a long absence.

A lot has happened, non-writing wise. Relatively, not much on the writing front but life threw a lot at me over the last year and a half. I’ve still been writing but not seriously. I’ve had to focus everything I had at my life circumstances and my day job just to keep my head above the water. I’ve been through a few rough patches but coming out of the other side I’ve grown professionally (just not in the writing department unfortunately) and personally. I finally feel ready to turn back to the things I love. To return to my creativity. It’s time to move on again from just small, sporadic pieces of writing for fun and go back to pursuing my dream of becoming a published writer. 

What better way to do that than to return to the annual resolutions post? Though I’ve changed the name to “goals” partly because it makes them seem like friendly ticky boxes that are less scary and also because of that sweet pun in the title.

 

1.) Start doing blog posts again lol – We all know how good I am at this one. However, I need writing accountability and the old “building the author brand” chestnut that I’m so terrible at. I kept up fortnightly posts for quite a while in the past, so I’ll be trying to return to that schedule.

2.) Finish TE1 synopsis (by 28 Feb) and keep on submission – This is something that I should have done a really long time ago. Honestly though, I haven’t had the time physical or mental strength to get it done. So this goal is to get a query packet complete for Through the Black (which is just the full story synopsis left now) and then get it on submission, and keep it there. 

3.) Get Fishperer beta ready – This is another one that is so close that it’s actually quite frustrating that it isn’t finished by now. Time to put it in writing that this is a focus, and not check it off as “done” until it’s in the hands of some beta readers. Volunteers welcome!

4.) Complete a Goodreads challenge – Over the past few years I’ve fallen into the easy habit of re-reading old favourites. When everything in life just feels difficult, sometimes the brain can try and make everything it can that little bit easier. If I ever want to be a good writer though, I’ve gotta read wide. I’ve already started that by picking up a book I apparently bought and put on my TBR list in 2015. Whoops.

A couple of non-writing ones to finish up with:-

5.) Do enough art to do the end of year meme – If you follow any artists on Twitter, you’re probably familiar with the meme, or at least a similar one. To fulfill this goal, I would need to produce at least one piece I’m happy to post per month, to form them all into a collage in December. Makes me practice and gives a tangible goal I can complete to keep focused. 

6.) Hit weight goal – Not much to say about this one, I just want an accountability record of it. Hit and maintain chosen goal.

 

So that’s it from me – for now. It’s good to be back. Happy New Year!

Living By The Sea

For almost all of my life, I’ve lived close to the sea. It has a special place in my heart and has always been a part of my everyday life, whether viewing out of my window or wandering along its beaches or up its piers. The last year especially, I lived in a tiny little fishing village. The sea was a stone’s throw away; the harbour visible from my window. As much as last year was cruel to me, I will very much miss being that close to the sea as now I’m living far from it. So, for today’s post I have decided to write about what it’s like to live in a tiny seaside village.

Writing a story set somewhere like that? Here are some things that are obvious, and some things that aren’t.

 

The Good Side

 

It’s almost guaranteed to be somewhere beautiful. The sea is beautiful all by itself. Small fishing harbours, cliffs, beaches – they’re pretty hard to mess up. The setting is good for the soul. As a writer, even the bad weather can be fantastically atmospheric. You know in those old films, where the wild literally howls? That actually happens. It’s easy to dismiss as creative hyperbole but there were times where I wasn’t sure if it was the wind or real voices. Between the wind and the haars—thick, rolling fog that devours everything from sight—even the bad days can really put you in the mood to write. And, if you’re a writer writing one of these dark, spooky scenes, you can take solace in knowing that this isn’t the fancy of some old, overly purple prose. Between screaming winds, consuming fogs, misty rains, and every other type of weather you can think of, there’s plenty of scope to put your characters in whatever atmosphere you need.

Even the tiniest, least touristy places are probably going to have at least one great ice cream shop. And, if you’re anything like me, if you live somewhere like this long enough then you’re probably not going to just save it for the sunny days. There’s nothing unrealistic about your character going out for ice cream in the rain.

Not always applicable if the town is more cliff than anything, but there’s a good chance you’re going to have a beach right there. Depending on what route I was taking, I’d have to walk across it to get to the shops. I skipped across stepping stones that crossed the river right where it met the sea as I walked home from dentist. Seaside towns, especially old ones, have weird layouts.

cof

 

In the summer, it becomes dog central. Now, I’m actually pretty timid around dogs but I can appreciate how darn adorable they are. Where do people who can’t afford to take dogs abroad or don’t want to put them into kennels go? The seaside. If soaking in the ambience of strangers’ adorable furry friends sounds like a good time to you, get yourself to the seaside in the summertime. Want a little extra authenticity to your summer seaside scene? Dogs.

There are other critters who are here all year round. Crabs, cockles, fish, jellyfish, sea birds, non sea birds (birds don’t give a damn) – a lot of cool things hang out in and around the sea, including some things you wouldn’t expect. Most people don’t generally consider mallards to be sea birds but you’ll still find them bobbing about close to shore.

 

The Bad Side

 

Winter sucks. And that’s speaking as someone who normally prefers winter to summer. My particular town took the full brunt of the North Sea winds, right in the face. And of course, it was an old town, full of beautiful buildings – which were all listed. That means no insulation, no double glazing, and a very unlikely chance of having decent heaters. We spent as much on heating over the winter as we did on rent, and we were still cold all the time. We lived in one room, because there was no way we could have afforded heating more than that. I couldn’t feel my toes until the end of March.

Every now and then, you’ll wake up ready to face another day, expecting to be gently rocked awake by the soft light of morning. It’ll take you a moment to realise that something is wrong. You frown, confused, and go to open the window. For some reason, you really need to get some fresh air in here. Only when you do, it gets worse. That’s right. We all know it, people are just afraid to say it. Sometimes that great majestic and mysterious body known as the sea quite simply just smells like farts. Often it’s subtle. Other times? It’s not. Just occasionally, it’s so thick you can taste it, like you’re stuck in a lift with that person. The entire town stinks and there’s nothing you can do. You’ve just gotta ride it out.

Another one that is easy to forget amongst the romantic idealistic idea of living next to the sea is that, depending on the town’s layout, there are occasions when the main road and the sea are the same thing. You’ll look out the window and think “wow, the tide’s really in toda- oh.” Good luck catching that bus! Always fun if you really just want to mess with a character’s day.

As mentioned previously, it gets busy in the summer. There’s people everywhere and they’re all in holiday mode. That means they’re walking slowly, taking up the whole pavement, and getting really confused and annoyed when someone is actually trying to hurry somewhere – the same type of people who’d probably kick a granny out of the way to get onto the train on their way to work. Anyone who lives in a holiday destination will probably know this already – people who are on holiday have the amazing ability to forget than not everyone is on holiday. Why in such a hurry, they wonder as they eat their ice cream cone. I wonder whoever sold them it, since everyone is on holiday. If your character is in a hurry in the height of summer, even if it’s getting into the evening, they’re probably going to have crowds to contend with. The town might not even have that many tourists but let me tell you, the older it is, the less it’s going to be designed to accommodate a lot of people.

This brings me to my next point. In the summer, every night is Saturday night. If your character lives between any pubs or restaurants and somewhere people might be staying, they’ll get to enjoy listening to drunks every night. Admittedly, I did have the worst of this as I lived right next to a pub. It was a poor choice.

Your character has a car? Great! They’re going to spend a lot of time swearing and/or parking really illegally. My partner and I used to have a game counting how many illegally parked cars you could spot in one place. The best we got was eleven on one corner. As you can image, this makes getting around—both on foot and by car—more tricky.

 

gull

 

That’s right. These bastards. They sit on roofs and squak, swoop down and steal your food, sometimes they just stand in the way and refuse to move. It’s even more annoying than you’d think to walk around a stubborn seagull. Like sure, I’m probably sixty times your weight but I’ll walk around you, bird. Great.  Stories of seagulls aggressively swiping things out of your hands or just point blank ignoring you as you try to walk past it aren’t exaggerated. They’re used to people. They don’t fear you. They don’t fear your character. Not even that cold blooded assassin of yours. They’re watching. They’re waiting. And, if you’ve got a poke of chips, they’re coming for you.

Where’ve I Been For The Last Three Months?

What happened to me in the last three months?

 

Well

  • I had an incredibly busy period at work
  • Quit that job
  • Moved
  • Moved again two days later, to the opposite end of the country, into temporary accommodation
  • Panic flat hunted
  • Flapped about a lot as we tried to finalise everything for the permanent flat before our temporary one ran out
  • Finished the novel I’ve been working on for six years
  • Got the new flat two days before our accommodation ran out
  • Hand built a whole lot of furniture
  • Restarted the ever so fun process of job hunting

 

It’s been… a touch busy. And stressful. Don’t forget stressful. But I now have a home (with furniture!) and am settled. Once I’ve organised a new day job everything will be all back on track. If you’ve been around for a while then you’ll know well that the last few years for me have been a string of moves, new jobs, and health issues. However, this time things are a lot more permanent.

The reason for such a dramatic move was my partner being offered their dream job, so of course we jumped at it. That also means that we don’t plan on going anywhere for a long while. Finally, we’re sticking some roots down and let me tell you, that feels amazing after such a long period of temporary living and uncertainty. Things aren’t perfect yet as I’m still unemployed but knowing that we aren’t going to be up and moving again in a year makes everything seem so much more worth it. So much more rewarding.

And now, hopefully, I can get back to posting regularly!

An Update and an Apology

The great disappearing writer has returned once again! I’m sorry to keep vanishing. Unfortunately, as you’ll know if you’re a regular visitor, my life away from writing has been a huge turbulent mess for the past two years and it is once again about to be turned upside down. However, this time there is the glittering promise of permanence and life being a touch easier.

To be very brief about it, after struggling to get work for seven months, I finally managed to get a job though it’s left me with very little time and being very tired when I am home. That said, I won’t be here much longer as it turns out. My partner has secured a new job. Not just any job. Basically their dream job. So naturally we’re both ecstatic and excited. However it does mean that very shortly we’ll be moving to England where, hopefully, we’ll be sticking down our roots and finally getting ourselves some stability. I certainly hope so. It definitely feels as though we could do with a bit of luck finally.

What I’m hoping for is that we can get settled down there, get some stability and some routine, get back on top of the mental health issues as a result and then, finally, get back to regular writing properly. Right now, I have no idea if it will pan out. Everything in recent years seems to turn in on itself and end up a nightmare. With this move though, I have a real hope. I think this could be the one.

The first step is to just work on getting my life back on track. Move somewhere permanent, find work, get settled. Then, once life is working out the way it should, I can go back to pursuing The Dream.

That is, getting published.

I’m going to keep writing whenever I can but I’ve learned that first my life needs to be on the rails before I stress myself out more worrying about my life ticking away. Now I’ve got a plan, a little hope, and two sets of crossed fingers. Let’s get on with it.

home.jpg