Monday, 31 August 2015

The Challenge: #7X7X7X7

One of my critique partners, Jim Ormande, recently invited me to take the #7x7x7x7 challenge. I have graciously accepted! The rules are: you post the next 7 lines after the 7th line on the 7th page of a work in progress and then invite 7 other writers to do the same.

Sounds pretty simple, so here it is. 7 lines from my adult, sci-fi comedy, Argyle: An Adventure through Space and Time.

“The bastard destroyed my ship,” continued Argyle, “it was MY ship.”

“I’m sure it was sir, but are YOU Argyle Hartley?”

Somewhat bemused, Argyle turned, “huh?... er, yes I am.”

“Well congratulations sir, it looks like you’ve won the Lottery!” the courier exclaimed, handing over a datapad.”

“I.. what? Really?” Argyle took the datapad, “Just as I thought this day was going badly… erm, hang on a sec, this is addressed to Argyle Huntley, is this right?”

The courier retrieved the datapad and looked at it briefly, “Oh my, I’m ever so sorry sir, it looks like I grabbed the wrong pad in my haste. Please accept my apologies, I believe this one is for you”, he handed over another datapad.

Argyle looked at the pad, astonished, “I’m being evicted?”

So that's it! Now to challenge 7 more writers to do it...

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Prologues

There has been much chatter about prologues in the #PitchWars channels in the past couple of weeks. Some people like prologues, some people detest them. I've always found them a bit of a distraction, if I'm honest, but that didn't prevent me from writing one for one of the many drafts of Alexandra Frost and the Dragons of Overearth!

However, I did come around eventually and removed it from the book. The main reason? The book worked without it, so it didn't really serve a purpose. As it will never probably be reintroduced to the book in any form, I thought I would post it here to give some insight into what Alexandra Frost is all about - if you don't already know. So, without further ado...

Prologue: Exodus


The battle raged on. In the distance, the dark dragons approached over the Sawtooth Mountains.

"The southern assault has failed," a wizened old man in a tattered black cloak called as he marched up the path. Behind him a group of short dwarf-like creatures followed into the makeshift village.

Marcus put his hands to his head in a vain attempt to block out the noise.

"How many were," he paused briefly, trying to find the right word, "lost?"

"This is all that's left of the Tykes," the old man replied, sweeping a gnarled wooden staff across the group of a hundred or so short creatures that had now collapsed in the relative safety of the compound.

"And ours?" Marcus asked, the expression on his face betraying his worst fear.

The old man simply shook his head.

"It is time, Marcus," the old man implored, his voice almost drowned out by the sounds of war cascading up the hillside and over the hastily constructed battlements. "We must go, we cannot defend this position."

"I will not abandon this world! Not when so many have given up their souls to try and defend it."

"We are not abandoning it," the old man explained. "We are just... taking a rest, regrouping."

Marcus examined the old man's face, seemingly searching for an alternative solution amongst the myriad lines that had been etched there by time.

"Very well," he resigned, "we fall back to the glade. It is still safe?"

"It will always be safe," the old man replied.

"I will gather everyone that is left and meet you there," Marcus commanded as he changed his form and launched into the air. Behind him, he could hear the old man marshalling the Tykes and the responding groans of protest.

As soon as he was clear of the battlements, Marcus could see the destruction before him. To the west, forests burned, turning the sky a blood red colour and sending plumes of dark smoke towards the heavens. Hordes of black creatures poured from the burning woods like an army of insects flowing into the Golden City.

The city itself was already in ruins. The attack had been so swift that they hadn't time to evacuate. Only those swift enough to flee or strong enough to fight had escaped.

Marcus hovered for a moment, looking from wing to wing. He then dove into a mass of swirling bodies with a roar. A spread of flame burst from his open mouth causing the dragons to scatter in every direction.

He gripped a pair of enormous silver wings and beat his own wings hard, thrusting himself and his quarry far above the melee. The silver dragon struggled against him but was no match for Marcus's greater strength.

“Erbas!” Marcus called.

The silver stopped his countermove and turned to face his captor. He seemed agitated and Marcus noticed a deep gouge running down his torso and fresh blood seeping from the wound.

“General Marcus,” he replied, “shouldn't you be...”

“Find Gorynych, Illuyankas and Ryujin,” Marcus interupted. “Tell them to stage a covered fall back. We need to regroup at the command centre in the glade.”

“Yes, General,” Erbas replied and immediately flew back into the battle, bellowing orders.

#

Thousands of dragons of every colour flew over the forest. Marcus, resplendent with his golden scales, led them over the lush green trees. A stark contrast to the black and red and grey of the battle they had just abandoned.

Before long, a break in the trees opened before them. In the clearing were row after row of tents. A refuge away from the war that was tearing apart the rest of the world. Humans, Dwarves, Tykes and other races milled around, fetching firewood, bringing food. One tent housed the sick and wounded, a number of whom lay on stretchers on the ground outside. One or two covered from head to toe with black blankets.

One by one, the dragons landed in the clearing and shifted into humanform. Marcus and four other dragons landed near the largest tent, towards the centre of the glade. The old man walked from the tent to greet them. A beautiful woman with flowing golden hair followed him and moved directly to Marcus.

“Marcus, you're okay,” she called, wrapping her arms around him and holding him tight.

“I'm fine Claire,” he replied. “But we lost a lot of good souls today.”

“General,” a burly man with jet black hair approached from the tent. “The council is assembled in tent. You need to hear this.”

“Oh Marcus,” Claire looked up at him with tears welling in her eyes. “Something terrible has happened. It is the worst thing.”

Marcus looked from face to face, trying to read the situation.

“What? What is it Gorynych?” He looked to the burly man.

“You should come inside,” was all Gorynych replied.

Marcus marched into the tent, with Claire, the old man and Erbas in tow. Gorynych pulled the tent closed behind them. The leaders of the various dragonclans were present: Ryujin of the whites. Smey Gorynych of the reds. Erbas of the Silvers. Apalala of the blues. Illyunkas of the greens. Ladon of the black. Marcus, himself, representing the golden dragonclan.

Also represented were the other races: the tree dwellers, the Elven lord Horen, the Dwarven king Mynan and the Tyke supreme counsellor.

The old man stood before them, a table with an ancient map spread out and a number of markers dotted around.

“Merlin, what has happened?” Marcus demanded. “Where is Lord Kur?”

The old man sighed and stepped toward Marcus, placing a steady hand on his shoulder. He looked up at him and then turned, shook his head solemnly and walked back to the table.

“The reports are... sketchy, to say the least,” he began. “It appears that this is not an invasion at all. We were wrong. I was wrong. It's a civil war Marcus.

“The Citadel has fallen and with it so has Kur, we believe.” There were mumblings of disbelief amongst those present.

“Who could have killed Lord Kur?” Erbas demanded angrily. “He has ruled peacefully for thousands of years!”

“Balaur...” Marcus collapsed forward, the palms of his hands slamming onto the table.

“Yes,” Merlin confirmed, “as abhorrent as it sounds, I think you are right. He tried to steal the Kur-stone and was to be punished. But, before Kur could restrain him fully, Balaur had amassed support from within the Citadel. He turned Kur's own guard against him.”

“But how?” Erbas lashed out at a pitcher on a nearby table, sending crockery and water flying and making no attempt to hide his fury. “Those were good dragons. They were my friends. There is no way they would betray Lord Kur!”

“I am unsure,” Merlin answered. “But Ryujin may have an answer.”

The leader of the white dragons stepped forward.

“We caught one at the Imperial City. A dragon, not the other kind. He was not in his own mind. We think that Balaur has some kind of control over them. They do whatever he commands them to do. Those that do not bend to his will become the other kind. Those abominations that we faced on the battlefield. Neither dragon, nor human but something in between.”

“This is madness,” Marcus exclaimed. “We do not kill our own kind! This rule has been enforced for over a thousand years!”

“Rules can be broken,” Merlin interjected. “What is clear is that you are not safe here. The cities are being razed. The children are…”

“What about the children?” Marcus demanded.

Claire moved to his side and took his hand. As she spoke, she turned his head to look her in the eyes.

“Marcus, some children have vanished. But it’s not just the children, entire clutches of eggs have gone.”

“Alexandra!”

“She is safe,” Claire said in a calm manner. “But for how long? We have few places left to hide.”

“There is one place you can hide.” Merlin offered. “All of you and your children. The one place he cannot go.”

“You mean Earth?” Marcus replied. “But how can we travel there? Only Kur can open the doorway between the worlds and he's...”

“I know of a way. But we can only send a few at a time. We will need to establish some more safe areas on Overearth to buy us some time. Some of you will need to stay here to help us rebuild, but I will send the families away. You must spread out so that he cannot find you. Will you accept my offer?”

Marcus looked at each of the members of the dragon council in turn.

“The white dragons agree,” Ryujin nodded.

“The reds agree,” Gorynych bowed his head.

“The blue dragons concur General,” Apalala affirmed.

“The green dragons agree,” said Illyunkas.

“The black dragons will go,” agreed Ladon.

“Erbas?” Marcus turned to face his companion.

“We will stay,” Erbas stated boldly. “We were entrusted with the safety of Lord Kur and we failed. I will send away the families nut it is only right that we stay behind and clear up this mess.”

Marcus nodded sadly. “The golden dragons agree. Merlin, please make the preparations. We shall establish sanctuaries while we wait.”

Marcus looked at the map silently for a moment. Running his finger along the northern-most edge.

“King Mynan, how does your castle under the mountain stand?”

“As strong as ever, General!” The stout dwarf stepped forward. “It would make a worthy sanctuary for the North.”

“Thank you,” he moved his hand to the west. “Lord Horen, is the Blighted Vale still impregnable?”

“Of course, General,” the slender Elven leader bowed. “And at your disposal.”

“We should use Bebrycg in the south,” suggested Illyunkas. “It is close to the Vale, but is well guarded and impossible to scout.”

“Agreed,” replied Marcus. “Good idea.”

“General,” Marcus turned to the voice. Apalala was pointing to the map. “Here, in the middle of the Dragon Sea. There is an island.”

“It is not on the map.”

“But is is there. I have seen it.” Assured Apalala. “If it is not documented, it stands to reason that Balaur will not know it is there. It would make an ideal sanctuary for the west.”

“Does anyone disagree?” Marcus looked around the tent. The attendees look from one to the other, but no one appeared to have any objections.

“How will we keep in touch?” Gorynych asked. “We need to know when is safe to return. We will need to bring children back to teach.”

“Merlin?” Marcus deferred.

“I will keep contact between the seven dragonclan leaders. Only Marcus and I should know where everyone's whereabouts.”

“Then we are settled,” Marcus confirmed. “Go tell your families, say goodbye to your friends. We leave as soon as possible and who knows when we will see each other again.”

#

Two figures emerged from the darkness of the woods. The first dragged a wooden trunk elaborately decorated with gold and intricate patterns. The second figure carried a bundle of cloth. Deep inside the bundle, a third, smaller figure stirred.

“Marcus?” Claire placed her hand into the bundle and reassured the child sleeping inside.

“This will work for us, Claire,” Marcus responded without looking back at her. “This will be our home.”

The gate in front of him hung from one hinge. The blue paint was chipped and faded. He pushed the gate open and it protested with high pitched wail. Beyond the gate, he could barely make out a path. It was covered with overgrown weeds, grass and shrubbery. Pushing his way through, Marcus entered the garden and looked upon the cottage in front of him.

If he could call it a cottage. It was barely standing. But Merlin had assured him it was safe for their family and that they would be able to make it fully habitable in very short order.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

A children's poem/picture book

I thought this week, rather than some idol ramblings, I'd post one of my poems for children. As my sub for PitchWars was dragon themed, here is my dragon themed poem 'The Bravest Boy in the Village'. I hope you enjoy it!

In a small unnamed village, north of the downs

Lived a boy called William, the bravest in town.

He looked for adventure wherever its found

But saw nothing he feared for miles around

 

Then, one day, a dragon arrived

And a cave at the top of Mount Blue it espied

How perfect,” it said, with its eyes on its prize

Then looked from its cave for some food and supplies.

 

Next morning it raided the village below

It knocked down some buildings and set them aglow.

It chased all the pets from the annual pet show  

And gobbled up all of the veg, row by row.

 

The villagers met in the town hall that night

To think up a plan that would sort out their plight.

But all were too scared and filled up with fright

To visit the dragon who set things alight.

 

Then up stepped William and proudly he said,

I’ll climb up the cliff ,” then nodded his head.

He set off with gear from his grandfather’s shed:

Two picks, some crampons and rope from his sled.

 

But as he approached he let out a sigh,

He looked up the cliff and said, “Gosh, that’s quite high!”

An uneasy feeling filled up his inside

That’s scary,” he said, “but still, I must try!”

 

This feeling was odd, peculiarly queer,

It span round his head and bounced ear to ear,

The face of the cliff before him was sheer.

He thought, is this what it’s like to feel fear!

 

He fitted the crampons, one to each shoe,

Looped up the rope and made a lasso.

He held one end tight and the other he threw

Round a rock that stuck up near the top of Mount Blue.

 

Then summoning all of his strength he set out

To conquer the cliff and his fear without doubt.

He climbed to the top and nearly passed out

From the smoke that flowed out from a scaly green snout.

 

What do you want?” a booming voice said,

What are you doing here, up by my bed?

Give me one reason why I shouldn’t be fed

And gobble you up from your toes to your head!”

 

William stood with his hands by his thighs

And said with no trace of fear in his eyes,

You’re very unfriendly for someone your size,

Why must you chase us and swoop from the skies?”

 

You’re mean and a bully and very unfair,

You don’t seem to think about others or care

For all of the people down there that you scare.

So please won’t you leave and find a new lair!”

 

The dragon cried and let out a bray.

It looked at the boy and said “lackaday,

I was only looking for someone to play.

So if I behave, would you mind if I stay?”

 

William just smiled and said, “I’ve a plan.

If you come with me now, I think that you can.”

So the dragon expanded his wings like a fan

And they flew from the mountain at William’s command. 

 

The villagers thought they were under attack

But as it got closer their tensions went slack

For they saw it was William who was having a crack

At riding on top of the great dragon’s back.

 

He yelled, “Have no fear, this dragon’s our friend.

He really just wanted to play in the end.

His chase is a game and his flame is pretend.

So if we join in he will make amends.”

 

After the day that he calmed down the beast,

The townsfolk were glad that the danger had ceased.

The dragon had fun and was happy to please,

while William was made the Warden of Peace.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

#PitchWars Mentee Bio

I thought I better join in the fun of writing a Mentee bio, just that you can learn a bit about me and help me get into the spirit of things.

About Me

I'm a mid (late) thirties father of two and I work full time in the finance industry - investments to be precise. A lot of my work involves writing reports and articles, so I get plenty of literary and grammar practice in everyday - unfortunately, most of it is not on my current WIP!

I have always been involved in various creative arts, including music and amateur drama/filmmaking. It was only about 7 years ago that I began writing in earnest. My first book was called Argyle and is a sci-fi comedy. It's not great, my friends said it was funny, but it was just a practice piece if I'm honest with myself. And honesty to oneself is essential in this industry!

So, my real love is writing fantasy, specifically middle-grade. Why? Because middle-grade allows you to truly flex your imagination and children of this age are able to believe and immerse themselves into almost anything you throw at them.


I'm a member of the SCBWI (UK) and I also enjoy cycling, surfing and reading... lots and lots.

Why Me?

I guarantee you that if you pick me, I will give you my everything. I will pour my heart and soul into the changes you suggest I make, together with some coffee and chocolate sauce. I may even send you some homemade chocolate fondant through the post - if you're not too far away!

I write for my family. It's something that I feel I can create and give to them to enjoy for years to come. But I also write because I love creating and I create best with someone on the sidelines to cheer me on! CP's and beta-readers have been awesome in this respect.

My submission to PitchWars has taken 5 years to get where it is today - with a three year hiatus due to baby arrivals! But it is where I want it to be today and I hope you like it! However, if it takes me another 5 years to get it to where it needs to be to be published, then I will do that too.

What has inspired me in my writing?

Everything I have ever read and somethings I haven't! But in particular, the works of Tolkein and JKR are high in my sphere of influence. TH&MW of the DRAGONLANCE series were very influential when I was younger, and Raymond E. Feist's MAGICIAN will always be in the back of my mind. But the one thing that really inspired this particular story is the 1982 animated film, FLIGHT OF DRAGONS - I must have watched it a million times as a child.

People have compared my novel to many different combinations but there are two that I think really catch its character: WINTERLING meets HOW TO TRAIN A DRAGON; and FROZEN meets GAME OF THRONES (with FLIGHT OF DRAGONS thrown in for good measure).



I may add to this later... We'll see.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Obligatory PitchWars Post

It's the most wonderful time of year... Ding! Dong!

No! Not that... Hey everyone, it's PitchWars! The awesome competition run by writers, for writers. Run by Brenda Drake to be precise, who has got together a pretty awesome list of Mentors to look through our (us writer's) manuscripts and pick one to polish and champion to the equally impressive list of Agents.


Image result for famous fiveNow that's out of the way, I've been scanning through the list of Mentors and trying to select the Famous Five that I want to submit my manuscript of Alexandra Frost and the Dragons of Overearth to. Boy, it's been tough! The first selection was easy, narrow down 105 to just those accepting Middle Grade. Done! The section part was easy too, remove all those who are definitely not accepting fantasy (in particular High fantasy).

After parts one and two were complete, I was left with a list of ten or so Mentors who could have been a fit. So now I've been reading through their blogs, twitter posts, eking out reactions on twitter and just generally trying to find out who loves dragons the most! Ten became 7, became 6 and now, I need to make one final cut. This is the hardest part of all, everyone in my final 6 seems open to fantasy and dragons and so I could be cutting the one Mentor who would have chosen my manuscript!



Image result for bite the bullet


I will just have to bite the bullet, go with my gut, and many more clich├ęs, hoping that one of the five loves my manuscript as much as some of my beta readers and critique partners!

Image result for pick me pick me
There are hundreds of other writers out there, competing for spots. So the likelihood of getting one is very low, but I feel like I've now given my manuscript the best possible ass-kicking to ensure it stands the best chance yet of making through the slush. If you're reading this and you're a hopeful mentee... Good Luck! If you're reading this and you're a Mentor... PICK ME!! I promise you, you won't regret it :)

Monday 17th August is the submission date, so I'll be working on finishing touches to openings, query letter and synopsis before then... as well as stalking Mentors on twitter. Here's hoping!

Finally, I thought it would be fine to meet some new folks through PitchWars so I set up a linky bloghop. Enter your blog below and visit the other links. The community works by helping each other out, so pay it forward :)