Stories Two, (Half-baked) Ideas Several

February is here! January blues are (apparently) behind us. The cold weather, sadly, isn’t.

I wouldn’t mind quite so much if the weather was at least consistent – but frankly, days that alternate between 2⁰C all the way to above 10⁰C make planning your time ahead that bit more frustrating. Particularly if you have a chronic pain condition that is directly affected by body temperature…

Still, at least the rain has (mostly) held off lately. We’ve also had a lot more sun recently than we did over December, and that’s always a plus. And when there’s sun, there are sunsets.

In the New Year I returned – albeit tentatively – to the world of work. I’m still working at home, so on the outside nothing much has changed, but the reality of actually having a routine again has been a pleasant, if slightly jarring, change. And getting an actual salary at the end of January – for the first time since before the pandemic started – felt pretty damn good.

The one offshoot of all this is that I have less free time than I used to, and what little I have I’m making efforts to guard. In some ways this is a good thing (for instance, it’s a fairly natural incentive to not get up late at the weekends) but it has meant that I haven’t had much time to devote to writer-y activities.

Not that that’s a bad thing. One thing I learnt over the 18 months of Legion That Was is that more time doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get more done. And I’ve not been totally idle over these last weeks; I’ve got a little bit of secondary reading done in my spare evenings which will help immensely when I get back into Prince of Knaves. I’m currently reading The Sons of Caesar by Philip Matyszak. I’d recommend anything by him, it’s always so informative yet accessible. Whether your interest is popular or academic, he’s always worth a punt.

Aquilifer has been out for a few weeks now, and I’m pleased with all the feedback I’ve had for it so far. I had an idea for another short story I could do in the runup to Prince. This would be less of an ‘after-credits scene’ which I billed Aquilifer as, and more a plain and simple tie-in to Prince, that would cover the plans and motivations of the dastardly Praefector Sallus Thracian before he locks horns with Orbus and the gang once more in Book II. Frankly, though, at this early stage it would feel more like an excuse not to work on Book II, as much as I’d like to tell the story. Perhaps I’ll release it just before, or a little after, Prince is finally out. Until then, it’s going to the back of the notebook with all more other half-formed and aborted projects.

(I seem to have quite a few of those. I’m well aware that I never picked up The Ebony Tomb, despite my many promises, and this doesn’t change the fact that I need to dramatically rework the entire premise to make it work).

I have however managed to stretch outside the world of histfic recently.

The Lytham St Annes Classical Association – of which my old tutor, Prof. Michael Scott, is President – ran a creative writing competition over the 2021-22 winter, seeking 1500-word tales from child, young adult and adult categories on a pre-chosen theme. The category for the adult one was ‘Troy’, no more or less than that. As I briefly alluded to when I published Aquilifer, writing a 6000 word story is, in its own way, just as challenging as a 130,000 word novel.

In that vein, writing a 1500 word story – a mere mouthful, essentially, or handful of pages – is even harder. Especially when you know the results are going to be scrutinised, so you know that you need to make every sentence, every paragraph, actively working for you.

Being me, I left it to essentially the final evening before the deadline, but rest assured, after bashing my head against the keyboard for a few hours I finally had something broadly fit for submission. In the very likely event it doesn’t win, then I’m going to release it on Amazon completely free of charge.

For legal reasons, I obviously can’t release it now, but there’s nothing to stop me at least showing you the title and blurb here:

Two stories on since finishing up Legion, and watching this ‘By the Same Author’ page gradually grow with each publication still gives me chills.

Whatever happens with this competition, this is one micro-story I have to say I’m proud of. Nothing really ‘happens’ in it – it’s essentially just two people, in a place, talking – but in terms of atmosphere and emotional stakes, I found it just as engrossing as writing about hundreds of Roman legionaries knocking seven bells out of each other.

(Plus, I really, reeeeeally want to write something mythological at some point in the future. I love Ancient Greek literature so much, but to be honest, there have been so many great stories written in that medium recently that I don’t want to put myself out there until I’ve got a really unique idea/hook/premise of a story to actually tell. Never say never, I guess.)

And speaking of hooks for a story, I’ve been thinking about a few more things to try either before, or while, I write up Prince. I’d love to do a series set in the future (or at least, the near future) in a vision of a post-apocalypse where society, as we know it, has bitten the dust. Technology, culture, governments… all of it has slid back into the dark ages, and the world has fragmented into a feudal state of barbarism.

Anyone who’s ever read the Warlord Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell – a realistic, dare I say ‘gritty’ rendition of the story of King Arthur, but set in a believable Dark Age world of crumbling British kingdoms and fading paganism – will probably know the vibe I’m getting at. A fantasy story set in the future, with people desperately trying to survive in a half-forgotten world, is something that is fairly timeless. With the added bonus that the world they’re struggling to hold on to even as it dies is not, in fact, the once-great Roman province of Britannia, but in fact the modern world we live in today.

Sadly, with the world the way it is right now, there’s no shortage of inspiration of how we could get to that point. I think it could be a nice opportunity too to make use of real life setting in a much more creative way – for the Ironbreakers series, I was constrained to using places that were very real and did once exist, without actually ever leaving my room or the internet. With this, I could have free reign to scribble over a map of the British Isles and stamp my own places, cultures and changes on it willy-nilly. Even physically travelling to some more striking or iconic places in the UK as well could help anchor and visualise the world of the story – getting a feel for where places are in relation to one another, or how they would look in the near future in the aftermath of some great disaster.

I’ve got one other less grandiose idea on the backburner, too. One of my very good friends, an expert in engineering and physics (no, seriously, he’s doing a PhD in it) who likes his sci-fi, approached me recently with a proposition for a story. Science fiction is something I haven’t returned to for a long time, although it’s something he knows a lot about – he generally prefers hard science fiction (where the emphasis is on the ‘science’), whereas soft science fiction (emphasis on the fiction) is more my cup of tea.

He’s done writing in the past – it isn’t really his thing, unlike me, but if he was more interested in it he’d definitely be able to do it brilliantly – and he has a really good grasp on the ‘hook’ of the story, as well as a laid-out plan of how to execute it. We are both hoping to collaborate to make it happen (in other words, his concepts and story path smooshed together with my ability to make things look slick and pleasing), and in the next few months we’re going to start work on it as our schedules permit.

The idea is about time travel – faster than light time travel, to be exact – and just how creepy it can be when cause and effect start to blur. And, more adroitly, the impact that can have on a group of very real, very imperfect human beings.

In terms of tone and style, it’ll certainly be a nice palette cleanser from the streets of Ancient Rome, and the charred ruins of Troy.

And right now, that is all I’m going to tell you.

So there we are. A surprisingly long update, by my standards. In terms of housekeeping, the website is cruising very close to 2900 views, and I’m getting increasingly aware that I ought to do something to mark the glorious 3k point. Maybe that’ll be the catalyst for releasing Odyssey, or previewing a few more of my irons in the literary fire.

I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Sayonara, folks.

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