Saturday, 22 October 2011

My Other Blog is a LAM

Yes, the chances are that you already know this, since I imagine that the main, if not the only way that people find their way to Londinius Unbound is through the link on Life After Mastermind. Still, the great thing about my first blog is that it gave me the opportunity to indulge two passions – quizzing and writing. Basically by writing about quizzing.

So , anyway, I thought that would be that. I’d write for a while, nobody would read it, and eventually I’d get bored with it and stop. For the first month of two, that was pretty much how it went. Then people started reading it. I knew this because they started commenting on it as well. which just encouraged me all the more. To put it into perspective, in the three years of Life After Mastermind’s existence, there have been almost 200,000 page views. I’ve never sat down to do any serious analysis about why people like it – I’m too scared that I’d end up losing whatever it is. Still, even though a lot of those views will be the same people coming back again regularly, the fact is that there does seem to be a sizeable audience out there for it.

When I started publishing on kindle, I always planned to try to tap into this market. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing anyway. I love the process of it, and I would do it anyway, whether it was to be sold, whether there was any chance of anyone reading it or not. However the fact is that there is nothing like knowing that people are reading what you’ve written. With a ready made audience in the regular readers of the blog, writing the book of the blog seemed like an obvious step to take.

What do you put in it, though ? Well, in my case, some of it was about life BEFORE Mastermind – how I became a quizzer, and my experiences in quizzing leading up to winning Mastermind. Then , living up to the title, my quiz experiences since winning the show. I’ve also tried to comment on some of the issues that have concerned me , and also cast an eye over some of the trends in quiz shows recently.

As a tactic for raising sales ? Well, all I can say is that it sold its first copy within hours of being advertised on Life After Mastermind, so we can but hope. Here’s a little teaser from it : -

1) “Playing Along at Home

Television probably has everything to do with it. I was born in 1964, and this places me firmly within the TV generation. I honestly believe that TV will never play as important a part in the lives of any generation as it has done for those of us born in the 60s and 70s. Although television existed in our parents’ childhood, even those lucky enough to have access to television found that there was only ever a couple of hours’ programming a day so they had to find other ways of amusing themselves for the majority of the time. As for today, DVDs, the Internet, mobiles, Sony and Nintendo games consoles compete for our kids’ attention. It just wasn’t like that in our day. It came down to a choice between Blue Peter, Top of The Pops and Ask Aspel, or doing your Maths homework, and there’s no prizes for guessing which won. So TV was important to us. No, I’ll rephrase that. TV was IMPORTANT to us.

If you go to a lot of social quizzes, you‘ll notice that far more quiz questions are about Television of the 70s and early 80s than there are about television of the 1990s and later. That’s because for many of the people doing quizzes today, when we were young, that’s what we were doing, watching telly. I’m not saying that television was the most dominant influence in turning us into the adults we have become – but I’m saying that it definitely played its part.

If you’re not sure whether you’re one of us or not, try this little 5 part quiz to see if you belong to the TV generation. Write your answers down on a piece of paper, then check out your answers against the answers in brackets underneath.

1) Which one word completes this phrase – Its Friday, its 5 o’clock, and its –
2) Which dance group on Top of the Pops came between the short lived Ruby Flipper, and Zoo ?
3) What number was Dick Dastardly’s car in Whacky Races ?
4) Which department did Bodie and Doyle work for in “The Professionals “ ?
5) The Black and White Minstrel Show. What was that all about ?


1) Correct answer – Crackerjack ( 10 points ) – any other answer – 0
2) Correct answer – Legs and Co. ( 10 points) – other answers – Pan’s People – sorry, they were before Ruby Flipper, but 5 points for a decent guess. The Tiller Girls/ The Vernon Girls – minus 5 points. Any other answer – 0
3) Correct answer – Double Zero. ( 10 points ) Single Zero – (5 points ). Bonus points awarded for the following irrelevant information : -
Dick Dastardly never won a stage in Wacky Races, even though he had a car which was clearly faster than all the others since it always allowed him to get to the crossroads and change the roadsigns before any of the other cars. ( 5 points )
There were 2 spin offs to Wacky Races – Dastardly and Muttley and their Flying Machines was one, and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop was the other. ( 5 points )
The villain in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop was her guardian Sylvester Sneakley, aka The Hooded Claw. In Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 3rd consecutive number 1 – The Power of Love, one line of the lyric goes,
“I’ll protect you from the Hooded Claw “ In the space of 12 months three different songs, all with the title “The Power of Love “ went to number 1 in the UK singles charts. The other two were by Huey Lewis and the News ( used in the film Back to the Future ) and Jennifer Rush ( 50 bonus points – don’t even bother answering the rest – you’re definitely one of us. )
Any other answer to original question – 0 points.
4) Correct answer –The Professionals worked for Department C.I.5 ( 10 points ) . Other answers – D.I.6. It was The New Avengers that actually worked for D.I.6 , but that’s a far more difficult answer , so you get 15 bonus points for that one. Any other answer – 0 points.
5) Correct answer – God only knows – but it was on a Saturday night and the oldies loved it. ( 10 points ) Other answers – no answer at all – 5 points . Any answer which actually does manage to explain what the show was all about – instant disqualification .

How did you do ? When you have added up your score, check out what it means here : -

90 – Why on Earth did you write down all of that extra information about Wacky Races ? Stop cheating and add up your real score.
35-50 - No doubt about it. You’re one of us, a fully paid up member of the TV generation.
15-35 - You don’t qualify, and may well be the type of person who complains about that young whippersnapper Michael Aspel taking over the Antiques Roadshow.
0-15 Shouldn’t you be doing your homework, or your paper round ?
Minus score – See 15-35

So now you know. If you belong to this generation, then everything I have said so far will come as no surprise to you. If you haven’t, then look and learn. * ( see note at end of the chapter )

I’m delighted to say that my parents had a mostly pretty laissez faire attitude to the television. We had a strict bedtime, but apart from that, almost anything on the telly was fair game. It was a kind of wallpaper really. My father was an expert at this kind of undiscerning viewing. When I was young and he was still working he would sit down in front of it the moment he walked into the front room, and watch everything until he went to bed. When he finally packed in working because he didn’t like it very much, then it came to life the same time that he did in the morning, and he watched everything until closedown. Schools’ programmes – Good Afternoon with Judith Chalmers, the whole lot. So it would have been a bit hypocritical if he’d tried to ration our viewing. There was none of this nonsense about how many hours was good for us to watch during the week. No, the telly went on as soon as you got home from school, it stayed on while you were eating your tea, and then doing your homework in the living room in front of it, and it was still going strong when you were sent to bed. Any program in between was fair game, and we would watch almost anything, as long as there was likely to be NO SWEARING and NO NAUGHTY BITS. The naughty bits rule was strictly enforced, so that I wasn’t allowed to watch my mate Alfonso , who’d been to stage school, playing one of the kids in “I, Claudius “.

Even at the weekends , telly ensured that we were well looked after. We were kids when they invented “Swap Shop “ and “Tiswas “. In those heady days you could crawl out of your bed in time for the start of Swap Shop, then sit through Grandstand, follow up Final Score with Basil Brush and Dr. Who, Brucie’s Generation Game, Dixon of Dock Green, and if you were quiet, round it all off with Match of the Day before going back to bed.

I'm not sure exactly when it would have been that I watched "Mastermind" for the first time. It was probably during one of the early series in the mid 70s. In these days when there are literally hundreds of TV channels available on satellite and cable, its probably difficult for younger people to imagine just how many arguments you could have about what you were going to watch on an evening when there were only three channels to choose from. Well, today tellies are so cheap that you could probably afford to have one in every room if you wanted to, but in those days most families just had the one. As it happens, we had two, but that was not an extravagance. We had to have two tellies because it was my Nan's house, and we had the downstairs, while she had the upstairs. She had her own telly, but ours was rented. Does anybody still rent their television ? More to the point, does anyone’s ever break down any more ? I don’t remember any telly I’ve had in my married life ever breaking down before we decided to replace it. When I was a kid , the repairman from Ketts rentals in West Ealing spent so much time round our house I used to think he was another relative.

Another thing which seems funny to recall it is that there were no video recorders then. I'm not sure exactly when they were invented, but I never knew anyone who had one until the late 70s, and we never had one until I had started at university. So if you missed a programme you wanted to see, or if it clashed with something else, then that was it - you missed it. There were plenty of repeats on, but these were six months down the line, not later the same week or even the same evening. I think that it may well have been Eastenders which pioneered that particular practice, and it was about 1985 when that came onto our screens. As I said, there were arguments, but then also there was a hard core of programmes which we never argued about , and we just always watched by an unspoken consensus. Comedies like “Porridge” and “The Good Life “ , and other things like “Blue Peter “ , “Top of the Pops “ “ Tomorrow’s World “ and others were all highlights of the week’s viewing. Mastermind was one of these.”

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Forgive me

For I have sinned. It has been a full week since my last post. Partly this is because I have been posting on LAM, and partly because I've been working very hard at work. However its also because I've been working on a new quiz book. I know - when will I ever learn ?

Still, coming back to Ermine Stone and the Iron Spider, you'll remember that I said that there was another ingredient which I needed to add. This was the dragon, Gylfi. I wanted to create the feeling that there is this other world beyond the everyday , common world of our own, human experience, and I used my dragon, Gylfi, as an interface between the two worlds, a place where the two worlds meet.

Creating Gylfi gave me a small problem. On the one hand you have this incredibly powerful being - powerful physically, and powerful magically. Yet on the other hand it was important to make him vulnerable somehow. This is why I came up with the idea of his manifestation within our world as just a very large lizard, not unlike a Komodo Dragon. He can transcend this , and appear in his full glory as a true dragon, but only for brief periods. I also had to give in to what might be called "The Superman Syndrome". This is that after DC comics created Superman, and he took on his full range of powers, it became increasingly hard to believe that any villain could ever pose a realistic threat to him. Hence the invention of Kryptonite. This is why I came up with the idea of dragons being vulnerable to silver - a plot device which actually came in handy in another part of the story as well. The next two extracts is from quotations at the start of 2 chapters from the second part of the story. The first is from chapter three : -

"Chapter Three – Gylfi

“There are also among the wise ones of this land some who do say that , unbeknownst to Noah, a nameless servant of the Devil also built an ark, concealing his purpose from everyone save the Lord God. And within this second, secret ark, were borne, two by two, the creatures of light and darkness which the Lord God had forbidden Noah to carry, the basilisks and gryphons, dragons and wyverns, unicorns and ogres, and those creatures whose very names are never to be mentioned. And , in His wrath, the Lord God sent fierce winds to blow the evil ark far to the west, until the waters receded, and it came to rest upon the Isle of HyBrasil. And there the creatures of light and darkness turned upon the nameless one, and devoured him, and fought amongst themselves, and many perished. Yet some survived, and multiplied, and their progeny spread throughout the extremities of the world. “

From “The Book of Things Forgotten “ by Rhodri ap Deheubarth

This next is from the start of Chapter 4

"Chapter Four – Honey and Vitriol

“ Dragons is difficult creatures. Difficult to find, even more difficult to catch and well-nigh impossible to keep for any length of time. And ware ye well, my masters, that dragons is not like other beasts. What’s good for one ain’t necessarily going to be good for nothers. No doubt about it, dragons is difficult creatures.

There’s no use trying to catch a dragon in England as there’s none lyvyng in the wyld. Nor in Wales, not the mainland of Albany neither. The Scots do boast of a colony among the Shet-Lands, but then the Scots do boast of a great many things when they been a-drinking of their malts.

By reputation there’s one thing a dragon is mindful of as a rule, and that’s silver. When you find one – if you find one – a fine silver ring will catch his yellow eye, and the finer worked the better. Them old worms, they like the moon silver as comes from the sky rocks best, but them’s as rare, they do say, as hen’s teeth. When he’s close then bind his jaws with fine silver wire which has been wound around the hair of a maiden which has been cut from her hair at sunrise on Midsummer Morn. He’ll snort and wriggle and make like’s he’s going to fly away, but he’ll do nowt while you have his jaws bound, and he’ll have to follow you.

Silver cages is best for dragons, but silver cages don’t come cheap to my way of thinking. So keep him out of the light. Keep the old worm in the deepest, darkest , nastiest stone dungeon. He expects it that way. Unbind his jaws when he is secure in his new home. He may talk to you, but don’t look into his yellow eyes, as wise men say that there is a deep well of evil trickery in a dragon’s eye. Feed him meat, bloody as you like and lots of it. He’ll probably die soon, but then, dragons is difficult creatures.
Their breath is the foulest smell on God’s clean earth. “

From “The Catchynge and Carynge for of Magickal Creatures” by Nerojin Fallowhide"


Finally this is from one of the meetings between the hero ermine, and Gylfi, who has allowed himself to be captured, and locked in the Tower of London Menagerie, in order that he may get to meet Ermine. This is right after the start of Chapter Four -

"Ermine stared down at the dragon from his ledge, his mind consumed by disbelief. The dragon had just spoken to him. More than that, it knew his name as well, the name that Harold Halfdan had given him, which was the closest thing to a real name that he had ever known. Not it was just waiting, staring at him, sending gusts of its foul breath up to the ledge. It still looked like a large lizard, although its eyes now seemed more orange in hue than yellow. Ermine began to doubt the evidence of his own eyes.
“If you don’t want to talk to me Ermine Stone, then I can’t stop you leaving. Come back when you are ready to talk with me. “
“ I . . . I do not understand. “
“I am well aware of that. “ The dragon’s head lowered, and it circled the filth ridden floor of the well three times, slowly, before speaking again, “ But it is a good thing that we speak now. A good thing for you.”

The dragon’s voice was not human. Although all of the words were clear and distinct, the sound of the voice was not a remotely human sound. If Ermine had ever had the chance to read about dragons he would have known that it was believed by many magicians that a dragon’s voice is made from the sound of a bell tolling in a graveyard at midnight, a bowstring which has just fired an arrow, and the sound that a moonbeam makes when it strikes the surface of a mirror. But he didn’t know all this. All he knew was that the sound of the voice made all of the hairs on his arms stand on their ends, and yet at the same time made him feel as if he wanted to sleep. It was a voice which had been forged from sugar and acid. It was an inhuman sound, yet behind the words there was a warm, sickly sweetness which made him want to sit down, or better still, to lie down and close his eyes.
Many questions clamoured for answers in Ermine’s mind. But the dragon was impatient, and allowed him to no time to think of any answers.

“Ermine Stone, it is very difficult for a dragon to narrow his thoughts so that they will fit into human speech. So let us be brief, and open with each other. Do you wonder why I do not look as you imagine that a dragon should look ? Little magician, why would a dragon allow you to see more of him than he thinks that you are ready to see ? “

Ermine shook his head to clear his mind a little. He couldn’t think at all while the dragon was actually speaking.
“What – are you telling me that you’ve got wings, but I just can’t see them ? “ Speaking seemed to lessen the effect that the spell of the dragon’s voice seemed to cast over his senses. Ermine began to edge closer to the rim of the ledge, his curiosity beginning to overcome the fear he had felt at the first sound of Gylfi’s voice.

“Yes, little magician, and also no. I cannot answer that question in your speech in a way that would have any meaning. “ He looked upwards into Ermine’s eyes. “ Why don’t you come down from the ledge ? We can talk more easily, eye to eye.”
Ermine knew relatively little about dragons, but he knew enough not to agree to anything quite so foolish .

“ I think I ought to stay where I am , thanks all the same, dragon. “

“You’re afraid of me. Even though you see me here, imprisoned by darkness, stone and a ring of silver. Well, Ermine Stone, even though you have me at this much of a disadvantage, I suppose that your fear of me is only fair. Because I fear you too. You must call me Gylfi.”

“ I don’t understand almost anything you say , dra – er, Gylfi. And I don’t get it why you want to talk to me and not my master, Absalom Havelock. “
The dragon seemed to wince at the mention of Absalom’s name. He had the same effect on Ermine, who realized that his master might be starting to wonder what was taking him so long.

“I must go. “ he announced, then whistled at the torches in the same way that Absalom had done earlier. Before he opened the door, Gylfi’s voice again caressed him through the darkness.

“ I would ask you not to say anything about me to . . . your master. But then I think that you will not say anything to him anyway. But you will talk with me when you are ready, Ermine Stone. It is destined. And I am not going anywhere. “

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Ah, I see

Well, whatever the problem with Kindle was seems to have been ironed out. That's the good news. The bad news is that just the one sale has appeared on my reports - and that's the test one I made ysterday. Oh dear, how unfortunate, or words to that effect.

That's the only thing about putting your work out there for all to see and hopefully buy - it isn't half discouraging when it doesn't sell. This one I did have some hopes that I might pick up some early sales of. I advertised it on my quiz blog , Life After Mastermind, and also on Facebook, where I have a lot of quiz friends. I hoped that at least a handful would be tempted, and maybe more , if I'm honest. A salutary lesson which will doubtless be good for me in the long run.

Still, look on the bright side. It does only take one sale to really make my day. Two and I'm like a dog with two tails.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Problems with Kindle

Well, I don't know whether to be over the moon, or furious. I'll probably just remain where I am - stuck between two stools. Don't worry - I will go back to telling you all about Ermine Stone and the Iron Spider in the next post.

I'm over the moon because my latest book - The Quiz Show Quiz Book - has definitely sold a copy today. It sold through my own web store, and the money is safely within my bank account - sorry to be mercenary about the whole business, but its one of the reasons why we're in the game in the first place.

What I'm annoyed about is this. I advertised the book through "Life After Mastermind", and I don't mind admitting it was not without some soul searching that first. I always said that blog wasn't going to be used for commercial purposes. Only , it being a quiz blog, and me having written a quiz book - well, you can see where I'm driving at, can't you ? My first ever book, Be A Quiz Winner I certainly didn't advertise within the blog, and even so its sold a few copies each month. Well and good. So I thought that even though I wouldn't expect every reader of the blog to buy it, surely there would be at least a few of the hundreds of people who read it every week who'd want to give it a try.

Well, according to Amazon I haven't sold one. Nor have I sold any other books for about 8 days. Which I know is complete codswallop. Ah, but how do I know this ? Well, I decided to put it to the test. I bought The Quiz Show Quiz Book myself, to test whether it would appear in my sales figures.

No. It didn't. Or at least it hasn't yet.

Amazon - come on. We have no other way of knowing how well our books are selling, and so there's no way we can tell if you're giving us accurate information about sales. So please - a few sales here or there might not make a hell of a lot of difference to you, but they sure as hell do to me. Get your flipping act together.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Making a Villain

So, I had a vision of one key scene in the story , I had a world in which the story could happen, and I had at least the first part of the story plotted. I even had the hero, and some of the subsidiary characters , although I still needed to do a lot of work before I could think about writing much about them. What I didn’t have , though, was a villain.

It’s always seemed to me that in the kind of book which I was going to write, you’re going to have a villain, and he, she or it is every bit as important as your hero. Maybe even more so. So its vital that you’re clear about just how you are going to use him ( I shall use the male pronoun for the villain from now on for the sake of brevity ). Are you going to have a shadowy figure of great power to terrify, who you never see clearly, and whose evil is achieved through is minions – such as Sauron in Lord of the Rings ? You could make a similar claim about Voldemort in Harry Potter, although to be fair he does play a far more active part in the books than Sauron does, and in my view he’s a far more fully conceived character than Sauron. Or do you create a villain who is far more on a level with the hero ?

It was a thing which I had to devote quite a bit of thought towards, I don’t mind telling you. I think I started to make headway when I started thinking about the kind of killers who make the headlines in the papers, especially those who commit multiple murders. Its certainly not a very pleasant thing to think about. Still, when one of these ‘monsters’ is finally discovered, one of the things which is often said by those who know them is that they seemed perfectly normal – the people around them , who had dealings with them in their everyday lives , had no idea that they were killers, and frankly, warped. This was something that I thought might be interesting to explore, and so my villain, I decided was going to be outwardly respectable. Obviously a man of some power as well. It would be interesting to explore the idea of a seemingly weak, pathetic and powerless individual actually turn out to be a monster in human form, but I didn’t want to stretch credibility too far.

I certainly haven’t studied serial killers at all extensively. Still, another thing which came across from the little bit of research that I’ve done is that although we can’t understand what motivates their actions, indeed, its madness to us , they often can understand it. To them, there is a sense , a reason and logic behind their actions. This was something I wanted to explore. My villain does some terrible things, but he can explain why he does everything, and he has a reason for doing it.
One other thing which helped me create Absalom, my villain, was to consider the effect that doing evil has on the psyche. You can call it conscience, or guilt if you like, but whatever the case it led me to one of the most intriguing motifs in the second and third parts of the book. Here’s just an extract to give you a little flavor of it : -

“The threads of the web withdrew from Ermine’s scalp, and before his astonished eyes now began to snake through the air towards Absalom. They curled through his long dark hair, and then, in the middle of the thread, a loop appeared, which stretched out towards Ermine, and floated gently over his head, settling upon his brow like a crown, or a noose. Once again ermine lost the sensation of being in his body, but only for a brief moment this time. When he regained feeling he was no longer inside Absalom’s room. Instead, he was inside Absalom’s head.

He was on a vast and endless ocean. Standing on it, rising and falling gently with each wave, but never breaking the surface. He was instantly reminded of the insects that Harold had told him were called pondskaters, insects with ridiculously long legs that managed to stand on the surface of a pond without breaking the surface tension of the water. Slightly ahead of him he could see Absalom Havelock, running away from him across the surface of the water, and he could hear his voice screaming. Absalom was being pursued by many many figures, dressed in robes, dark and grey with long hoods. The closest one to Absalom , who seemed to be on the point of catching him, was obviously a woman. Her hands like claws continually reached out and grabbed, forever falling a fraction of an inch short.

Ermine began to chase after them as fast as he could, but this was not very fast at all. Running on water was like running on treacle, although Absalom and his pursuers seemed to be having no difficulty. Falling further and further behind the mad chase Ermine took a gulp of air and shouted,
“Stop !”

Absalom ignored him , and so did most of the pursuers, but the closest figure, the backmarker stopped. It turned to face Ermine, its face shrouded within the dark expanse of void within its hood, but it beckoned him, and in a voice no more substantial than sea mist whispered,

Ermine did as the ghostly figure commanded. He walked, carefully and with difficulty up to the waiting figure, straining to see beyond the blackness where its face should have been. Eventually he did so, seeing the face of a man, indistinct , but a man nonetheless, a large man, middle aged and rather sad. The man spoke, his voice made of shadows,
“ What do you want, magician ? What business do you have invading this man’s dreams ? “
Ermine did not know how to make reply. He didn’t know what to say.
“How do you know that I am a magician ? “
The ghostly man did not laugh.
“Only magicians, or the Dead, can enter a magician’s dreams. What is your business in Havelock’s dreams ? “

Ermine decided that the truth, such as it was, would probably be the best thing to say.
“ The iron spider brought me here. I don’t know why. Anyway , “ and here he tried to sound braver and more cocky than he felt, “ what are you doing in Absalom Havelock’s dreams yourself ? “
To Ermine’s eyes it looked a little like the shadow man was laughing, but no sound came from his lips , before he replied ,
“What would a shade be doing in any magician’s head ? ! We’re haunting him, of course ! He killed us. All of us. “
Ermine stated the obvious,
“You’re a ghost ? “ The shade made an exasperated tut and raised its eyebrows .
“Yes, obviously. My name was Ingo Seivebaecke. “

Seivebaecke’s shade so obviously was not human, or not human in the sense of being alive, that ermine found no difficulty in accepting what it had said. This was partly the effect of finding himself within a dream, standing on the ocean without his feet getting the least bit wet watching his master receding into the horizon. And so he listened, as the ghost of Ingo Seivebaecke told him its sorry story of how Absalom had come to be his apprentice , and how the nineteen year old Absalom had raised the Leviathan of the Deeps to sink the Mary Rose, killing him and many of the sailors on board.

“A magician who uses his magic to kill must expect to have his dreams plagued by his victims, “ concluded Seivebaecke. “I bet that your master has never taught you that truth. “
“He hasn’t taught me anything very much at all. Did he kill all of these people ? How ? “
“They are most of them poor sailors from the ship. And as for the others . . . “ The shade stopped talking abruptly.
“Go on. “ urged Ermine.
“I cannot. “ replied the shade. “He is waking. “
With these words still in his ears, Ermine lost all sensation, then found himself back in Absalom’s room. “

Of course, these things, while important, weren’t enough by themselves to create a character. There were still many secondary questions I needed to work out the answers to – his back story , and what exactly made him the monster that he is – his exact connection to Ermine in the first place – the way that their relationship has to develop – and so on. But as much as questions about Ermine and Harold drove the development of the plot of the first part of the story, questions about Absalom were just as important in helping me develop the plot of both the second and last parts of the story.

Mind you , there is one other important element of the story that I haven’t mentioned at all yet.

Monday, 26 September 2011

A World Is Not Enough

- Or to put it another way, I’d gone to the trouble of creating the world in which the story would happen, but I didn’t actually have the story.

Actually that’s not quite correct. I did have one small part of the story. My original inspiration had been this vision I’d had of the grumpy, grotty old magician trying to register a boy as his apprentice within the guild of magicians on London Bridge. The world of the story grew out of this vision. As I explained in the last post it grew out of a question – what would an England which gave birth to a guild of magicians based on London Bridge actually have been like ? Well, the time had come to start asking more questions.

I think I’d better stop there for a second. Since there’s something which complicated the whole issue of working out a narrative, something which could be summed up in 2 words.

Harry Potter.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, the Harry Potter books are wonderful classic works of children’s literature, fully deserving all of the acclaim and praise that they have earned, and none of the criticism. But it means that the moment that you put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard – to begin writing a story about boys who do magic , you are inevitably inviting comparisons. In fact, if you’re going to write in the genre , you’re probably better off never having read any of the HP novels in the first place. Not because you might be tempted to ape them, but simply that you might be so worried that people will make comparisons that you consciously go too far the other way, and consciously try to write something, anything that clearly ISN’T trying to be Harry Potter. It’s not easy, but what helped me concentrate on MY story without worrying about this was having created the world for the story to happen in.

So as I said, I had to start asking some more questions. A key one to begin with was this – why were he magician and the boy – as yet both unnamed – having so much difficulty with the bureaucracy within the guildhall on the bridge ?

Some questions can act as catalysts to creation . This one certainly did. It led me to draw the conclusion that the two of them probably had no business applying to the London Guild. With the York Guild being the other pre-eminent magician’s guild in England, it stood to reason that they must have come from somewhere within the jurisdiction of the York Guild, which would probably arouse suspicion in London. Which begged another question – why couldn’t they apply in York ? Well, possibly because the two of them shared a secret which would be too easily found out if they applied in York where the magician was well enough known . I’m sure that you can see that this in turn led to another question – what secret ?

I’m not trying to suggest that the plot emerged swiftly through a barrage of questions leading to other questions in a very short space of time. No, it turned out to be quite a long process, but as I’m sure you know, time used in planning is time well spent if it leads to the plot becoming tight, and holding water.

Here’s another short extract from the story.This is from Chapter Three . Harold is the name of the Magician, while Robin Inkpen is a disgraced scribe, whom he has hired to forge the genealogical documents he will need if he is to pass the boy , Ermine , off as a member of his family, so that he can be made an apprentice through the London Guild.

Nothing explained how the boy knew about London, though. Harold hadn’t mentioned it to Robin, so it would have been natural for him to assume that he’d present Ermine to his own guild at York. Of course, this would be impossible. York simply would not do. The whole success of the application would rest upon the guild accepting the genealogy they presented as being genuine. Harold felt sure that the parchment, the ink, and Robin Inkpen’s craftsmanship would stand up to any magical scrutiny . However he did have some misgivings about the scholarship of the bloodline which he’d chosen.

Too many guild brethren took a particular interest in the magical families of the three thrithings of Yorkshire . If there was the slightest flaw in his scholarship then they would surely spot it. So York was ruled out, and Durham, Chester and Winchester followed in quick succession. Too many questions would be asked by these guilds, why a man of York would insult his own guild by coming to them.

Which left just London. As soon as Harold had thought about it seriously he could see that this was the only realistic choice that he had. London had guild brothers in practice all over London, and even beyond its boundaries. In its drive to show itself as the foremost of the five magicians guilds, it tended to welcome members of other guilds, and treat them as their own brethren. It looked unlikely that members of its guild court would worry themselves too much about minute historical details of the minor magical families of Derbyshire.

All of this had been going through Harold’s mind before he even found Robin Inkpen, but he had mentioned it to nobody. A shiver ran the length of his back as he reflected once more on his would-be apprentice’s strange abilities.

It wasn’t just Ermine’s abilities which were on Harold’s mind in the few days that followed. As they collaborated on the genealogy, Harold became more and more impressed with Robin’s skill and dedication to his craft. Even after such a long, enforced break from his trade he was an extremely skilful and knowledgeable scrivener.

Harold had decided to present Ermine as a member of the Havelock family. Like the Halfdans, the Havelocks were a minor family of village magicians. Harold’s maternal grandmother was a Havelock herself, and this gave him a ready excuse for taking the boy in , and wanting to make him his apprentice. It also meant that, by and large, Harold could steal details from his own genealogy to use for Ermine’s. For Ermine’s father, Harold decided upon Samuel Havelock. Samuel was Harold’s distant cousin – they shared a great great grandfather. The other things that Samuel had in his favour were the fact that Samuel had once had a son. His wife had died giving birth to the child, the same year that Ermine was born. The baby had actually died a few days later, and Samuel then disappeared for years, eventually returning to Matlock, where he died in miserable poverty. But these were not commonly known facts, and Harold believed and hoped that in London at least it should be easy to pass Ermine off as the boy Daniel. Always providing that the genealogy passed the tests. “

This took me only so far. The story of what happened leading up to the apprenticeship hearing in London is only really the first third of the book. So I needed more questions. Not only that, but I needed to start thinking seriously about characters. I had my hero, although I hadn’t sketched out much more than his name by this point in time. What I didn’t have, not yet anyway, was a villain.

Ermine Stone and the Iron Spider

Is available on kindle – just follow the link under My Books and Web pages on the right.

Novel Idea

Non fiction and poetry are good and noble genres. However the fact is that, like I would imagine a majority of first time and unpublished authors, it was fiction I really wanted to write, and in particular, novels.

Twenty five years ago and fresh out of university I did try. I wrote one children's novel as a student teacher, and one in my first year as a teacher. With the blithe innocence of youth I bought my copy of Writers' and Artists' yearbook, and sent them off to a couple of publishers. The inevitable rejection letters followed, and that was that.

Actually the first one really was no great shakes - even I can admit that. I think you really need to actually write a novel in order to learn HOW to write a novel, and this can have the effect on that first attempt that you make. The second I have a lingering fondness for, although the typescript disappeared or was thrown out years ago. I did use it with a class in school once twenty years ago, and it seemed to go down quite well. Still , there we are.

Lets fast forward to 6 or 7 years ago. That was when I had the idea for the novel which eventually became my first to be published in ebook format, called "Ermine Stone and the Iron Spider". I wasn't looking to write a novel , and I wasn't looking for an idea. It just happened, and this is how it happened.

I read a wonderful book all about London Bridge, by Patricia Pearce. I loved this book so much that when I came to choose my subjects for Mastermind in 2007 I knew that I wanted to do London Bridge as my specialist subject for the final. Not long after I finished the book I had a very brief scenario , almost a vision really, come into my head, of a disgruntled magician having to undergo all the bureaucratic inconvenience of registering an apprentice with a union, or an association of magicians - who would have their headquarters on old London Bridge.
- Interesting - I thought to myself, and filed it away in my memory , and didn't think about it again.

The idea wouldn't completely die, though. Every now and then I'd keep coming back to it, and I began to do what led to me actually writing the story. I asked myself a question.
What kind of England would it have been in order for there to be a Society or Guild of Magicians openly practising on London Bridge ?
Well, if I didn't answer it, nobody else was going to. So without actually having a story, I began putting some ideas down on paper about how the guild would have worked. I thought I was writing this just for my own amusement, but without realising it I was actually starting to create the world in which the story could happen.

I enjoyed writing these background pieces very much, and when I started to plan the narrative it occured to me that I could use these in a very particular way. When I was 16 I read Frank Herbert's "Dune ". It knocked me out, I thought it was the finest science fiction novel I had ever read, and I still think its a remarkable piece of work. One stylistic feature of the book is the way that Herbert introduces each chapter with quotations from the literature of the universe he creates - some of which are very long indeed. This gives the book remarkable depth and texture. Now , I don't claim for one minute that my work is of anything like the same kind of scope as "Dune", but as a stylistic device I thought that using my background pieces in this way could be very effective.

Here's an extract from that first background piece that I wrote, all about the magicians' guilds and how they worked. In the novel it comes before the start of the narrative of Chapter five : -

"Chapter Five – Leaving for London

Five English cities currently host a Guild of Magicians. These are London, York, Winchester, Durham and Chester. Both Canterbury and Carlisle also claim to have such guilds, but neither have had any members for over two centuries, and are therefore assumed to be defunct. The magician’s guild of Carlisle was unable to compete for members with York and Durham. To be a magician in Canterbury was to make oneself a social outcast, and to risk starvation in such a church city.

According to Sir James Tolley’s “The Ancient Canon Law, Common Law and Customs of England“
“ Only a member of a magicians guild may practice any form of magic within this land. If any person shall be found to have performed magic of any sort within the boundaries of England, or any land or lands which fall under its protection and jurisdiction, then that person shall be deemed a witch, and shall be prosecuted with all due haste. The penalty for witchcraft is death.”

In theory each guild polices the use of unlicensed magic. Each guild exercises authority over a considerable region of England. The guild of Winchester exercises authority over the west and south west of England, inclusive of the Duchy of Cornwall. The guild of Chester exercise authority over the whole of Wales, and that part of England commonly called the Middle Lands as far east as Warwickshire. The guild of Durham claims authority over the counties of Durham, Northumbria, Westmoreland and Cumberland.

So much is straightforward. However the two remaining guilds, of London and York, not only claim authority over part of their neighbours’ territories, but also pre-eminence over each other. It is true to say that York exercise authority over a greater area than London. Even without disputed areas in Westmoreland and Northumbria the York guild has effective authority for all of the Middle Lands east of Warwickshire, the three thrithings of Yorkshire, and the whole of Lincolnshire.
However London claims pre-eminence through being the oldest of the Magicians Guilds. Its own area of authority is by no means negligible either. Since the demise of the guild of Canterbury , London’s authority effectively extends throughout Kent and Sussex, the ancient kingdom of east Anglia, the University shires of Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire, and all of the counties of South East England.

Needless to say, there is little love lost between the guilds of York and London.

Members of each guild take a justifiable pride in their own guild’s individuality. Chestermen, with the whole of Wales under their jurisdiction, boast of their skill in traditional Celtic magic, as do the men of Durham, who have strong Scottish and Pictish influence. The Winchestermen also point to the great magical traditions of Cornwall. Men of York boast of their strong Scandinavian traditions, but this is also just as true of the men of Durham. The men of London traditionally have a far more catholic approach to magic, although in the past they have drawn on magic from Gaul, and even Iberia.

Although each of the five guilds does possess its own unique character it is far easier to catalogue their similarities than their differences. As a rule the magicians guilds have strongest links with those guilds concerned with construction, for example the carpenters, joiners, masons and shipwrights. The magicians also have excellent links with the various metalsmiths and the cutlers. The guild of poets and the musicians have an understandable affinity with each of the five guilds, especially those of Chester and Durham. Of course, the magicians’ closest link is with the guild of Genealogists, and also the Most Worshipful Company of Scriveners, whose services are so vital to their own functioning.

Conversely there a traditional antipathy between the Guild of Magicians and the company of Apothecaries, and the Alchemists’ Guild. This is understandable, considering that the magicians’ skills can encroach upon their businesses. In bygone years this was a cause of much strife between the guilds, which was only resolved by the far sighted fifth master of the London Guild of Magicians, Gilbert Wace. Wace introduced what we would now call a code of conduct for magicians, clearly setting out what a magician might reasonably do in the course of his trade, and what he should not do in case it encroached upon the province of brother guilds. The Deed of Wace was not only adopted by the London guild, but also by each of the other magicians’ guilds in England, seeing how the prestige and status of the London magicians were enhanced through this selfless act. Eventually this led to the election of Gilbert Wace as Lord Mayor of London during the final year of his tenure as master of the Guild of Magicians. To date he is the only master of the Guild of Magicians ever to rise to this exalted position. He is also the only member of the guild to be buried in St. Paul’s cathedral.

This is not to say that there is now never any hostility between magicians, apothecaries and alchemists, but it rarely erupts into open warfare.

Wace also instituted the court system, to bring the guild in line with the other worshipful companies of the City. He decreed that the guild would be presided over by a master, elected for a period of three years. At the same time three officials with wide ranging powers and authority would also be elected, called the Upper, Middle and Lower Wardens. After the three year tenure of the Master is complete, then only the Wardens may stand for election as master. If only one candidate stands then there is no need for an election, but in practice this rarely tends to happen. Once a magician reaches the rank of warden he knows that the next election is his only realistic chance of becoming the master.

In the next rank below the wardens are the court assistants. The guild may elect as few as three or as many as ten assistants, depending on the number of eligible candidates. Once the three year tenure is over the court assistants may stand for election to position of warden. These elections tend to be hot blooded affairs, where ill feeling can lead to illegal use of magic, which results in expulsion from the guild. Once a magician has completed a tenure as court assistant, unless elected as a warden he may not stand again for election for the next six years. Once a magician has been master, he may never stand for election again.

Once again, where Wace and London led, the other guilds followed, despite what they may claim. The other four guilds have almost identical hierarchical structures to London, and only the titles that they use are different.

Each of the five guilds has established suitably impressive premises in which to operate. York led the way, establishing a fine hall in the Coppergate, the Viking quarter of the city. The men of Durham built an impressive stone hall, almost adjoining the castle, much to the annoyance of the cathedral authorities. A similar building was built by the men of Winchester. The Chestermen built a good and serviceable edifice around the Wolf’s gate in the city’s sturdy walls. The last to establish a new and permanent home was the London guild. However it is fair to say that the London guild’s Guildhall is the most impressive of all. Walter Newdigate, the seventh master of the London guild, persuaded the guild that their hall should be built in no other place than on London Bridge itself, between the drawbridge gate, and the Chapel of St. Thomas a Becket, the patron saint of the City of London.

One last noteworthy similarity between the five guilds is their strict conditions for acceptance and entry to the guild. The most important of these are the conditions of acceptance for an apprentice. This needs careful explanation. Becoming apprentice does not mean acceptance into the guild itself. However with a little diligence and application an apprentice will, in time, progress to guild membership on his qualification as a novice. Most novices attain the level of competence necessary to reach the rank of journeyman within a few years, and more skilled magicians achieve the rank of master magician. This is not to be confused with the rank of Master of the guild of magicians, of which there is only ever one.

A boy must be apprenticed within his twelfth year. He may only be apprenticed if he is sponsored by a member of one of the five guilds. Crucially he will not be accepted unless he can demonstrably prove that he comes from a family of at least three generations of magicians, which must take the form of a genealogy produced by a member of the scriveners’ guild, working to the instructions of a member of the worshipful company of genealogists. Finally the boy will be accepted, provided that he passes a test of magical competence.”

From “The English Cities and their Ancient and Honourable Guilds “ by William Tirrell" "

I also tried to weave London Bridge into parts of the story where possible, and this extract hopefully demonstrates this - it comes in the middle of Chapter Six-

"Robin Inkpen’s work was not an obvious forgery. What Justin Quilp saw was an aged document, as it should be , which showed the work of several scriveners, probably of different generations of the same family, which again was as it should have been. However , he could see that this was the work of northcountrymen, and although Justin Quilp had seen applications from men from all over the country at one time or another, it was sufficiently rare for him to feel a little more cautious than normal. So he decided to show the document to Old Tom.

Old Tom was so called because he was the oldest inhabitant of the Guildhall. This was because he was a stone statue which had been sculpted to adorn the exterior of the hall when it was first built in 1399 under the direction of Walter Newdigate. This made Old Tom 174 years old. He was actually a statue of St. Thomas a Becket, the only statue ever to adorn the exterior of the hall, and he had been carved upon the north side as a nod of respect towards the chapel.

In the year 1436, during the annual holiday for the anniversary of the birth of Gilbert Wace, the only member of the Magicians’ guild ever to become Lord Mayor of London, two of the guild magicians had rather too much to drink. To be honest they were both blind, roaring drunk. This is not a wise state to get yourself into when you are standing on a bridge. More than one magician had lost his life in the waters of the Thames as it swirled through the narrow arches. These two managed to keep well in the centre of the bridge street, but they had an idea which would never have occurred to them if they had been sober. They wove a spell of enchantment on the statue of St. Thomas , so that its head came to life. This would have been bad enough, for the statue was in a very prominent position on the side of the hall, facing the city. But it was worse than that. They enchanted the stone so that it would shout violent obscenities the moment that it saw anybody coming out of the chapel, especially if they were wearing the robes of a monk or a priest.

The next day a huge crowd gathered outside to watch the spectacle of the statue of St. Thomas screaming at Abbot Godefroi that he was a fat, ugly warthog. Two magicians shamefacedly confessed to their crime.

Of course the crowd were all for having the magicians leave the statue as it was, but this was never an option. To be fair the two perpetrators tried their best to remove the enchantment. They managed to make it stop swearing and cursing. But try as they might they never managed to send the head of the statue back to sleep again. So the guild court decided that the best thing would be to find a mason who would be prepared to hack the statue off the face of the building, whence it was taken into the Great Hall while decisions would be made as to what could actually be done with it. What happened to the two magicians who enchanted it in the first place, History does not record.

Sometimes it would take the guild court a long time to make a decision. 137 years later, in 1573, a final decision over the fate of the statue had still to be reached. To be honest nobody really saw the urgency of making the decision now. Over the years the men of the guild had become extremely fond of the statue, or Old Tom as he had now become known to one and all. Old Tom himself , although he could not move any part of himself except his head, had no wish to be put back to sleep himself either. Although he had been cured of the swearing sickness he was still quite prone to turning the air blue whenever the subject of standing outside in all weathers, and being used as a public lavatory by seagulls and pigeons was brought into the conversation.

Old Tom would tell anyone passing through the hall that one of the good things about being made of stone is that you never forget anything. Once a memory is held in stone, it is held forever. Of course, a stone mind doesn’t tend to work as fast as a flesh and blood one, so whenever people went to ask Old Tom something they might well be in for a long wait. But his memory was completely reliable, and his opinions and ideas, formed over so many decades of experience of guild business, were usually to be trusted.

So that's how the one basic idea for the book came about - the boy being taken to the guild of magicians on London Bridge - and that's how I started trying to create the world in which the story could happen. How I actually started to construct the narrative I'll explain in the next post.

Ermine Stone and the Iron Spider

is available on kindle through Amazon - just click on the link in My books and web pages on the right