September 16, 2011 § 10 Comments
I had to learn quite a lot of new things in the process of publishing my first e-book. One of the steepest learning curves was formatting. Not that it was that hard in the end: I say it was a steep curve because I’d never so much as thought about html before and suddenly I had to create an acceptable html version of my book from scratch.
Fortunately, I enjoy a challenge.
I didn’t strictly have to format my kindle edition from scratch, this is true. Amazon’s own publishing guidelines recommend that you simply save your word document as html, feed it into their handy dandy mobi creator programme and consider it done. But when I’d done that I discovered actual pages of hidden code crammed into the beginning, doing… I’ve no idea what. Apparently nothing. I’ve heard that quirks like this can cause problems on some devices, and I really don’t like things to be messy, so that had to be tidied up.
Then of course there’s the problem of Smashwords. They won’t accept an html file (not sure why); you have to submit a word document and they can be tricky about how it’s put together (or it won’t go through the “meatgrinder” properly). So that’s two lots of formatting to do. Sounds like a lot.
It’s quite possible to pay someone to take care of it – after all, as more and more authors recognise the benefits of indie publishing and decide to go it alone, more and more author services are cropping up, including options for e-formatting. But if you’re publishing on a budget, it’s quite possible to do it yourself. (No… it really is).
I have a few internet resources that I found extremely useful when putting together my Kindle edition (which does have to start the transformation process as an html file).
Guido Henkel has a detailed tutorial on his blog. It covers how to clean up your original document, then guides you through the steps to build a clean html version. Here is the link to the first page.
Paul Salvette has posted another tutorial on his blog. I found this one rather later, but it helped me to clear up a couple of residual problems that I had. Here’s the link.
Finally, I was sent this very useful page full of html codes. Don’t look at it too closely until you’ve gone through one of the tutorials, or it might look like a complete nightmare. Later, though, it’ll look more like a small miracle.
Going back to Smashwords, some argue against bothering with it. It appears to be true that Smashwords has a smaller audience of buyers – considerably smaller – than Amazon and probably Barnes and Noble. Where it comes into its own, however, is in the following areas:
– It allows you to give a piece of writing away for free, if you want to do that.
– You can create checkout codes to give specific people a free download of your book, which is useful for promotional stuff (or for making your friends happy!).
– It’s important for those of us not living in either the US or one of Amazon’s designated Kindle countries. B&N is closed completely to non-US users, and as for Amazon, I for one have difficulty purchasing from Amazon at all (payment methods issue). If that weren’t a problem I’d still have to swallow the big price increase they impose for users like me. I rely on Smashwords to get indie books for prices I can afford. This is an audience that isn’t very large at present, true, but it’ll grow – and besides, while it won’t make much difference to your bottom line, it’s a courtesy to your future fans and readers to make sure everyone who’s interested can get hold of your work if they want.
So, in my opinion it’s worth the effort of formatting separately for Smashwords. And in order to do that, simply follow the style guide. It’s long and detailed, and it’ll take a few hours of your life, but by just following the steps to the letter my upload to Smashwords (and its premium catalogue) went off without a hitch. Here’s the guide.
I hope these links are helpful to anybody preparing to jump into the indie-pub waters.
September 7, 2011 § 18 Comments
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that owning at least one cat seems to be a basic requirement for authorship.
So many of those three-or-four-sentence author bios at the backs of books make a point of mentioning the author’s ownership of both spouse and cats. I thought about this when I was writing my own brief blurb recently and I instinctively added that in too. I suppose it’s a matter of ingrained expectation about author bios, because really – pick up a few books from your bookshelf and probably one of those bios will talk about their cats.
Or maybe this is mostly a fantasy author thing. My findings are unscientific to say the least. But let’s discuss it anyway.
My theory? Writers spend so much time sitting by themselves staring at a screen – or a piece of paper – that we could, over a matter of years, come to feel seriously isolated and out of touch with the real world. Loneliness can be an occupational hazard, and the more you concentrate on building your career as an author – the more hours a day you spend pounding out the words – the greater the danger of suffering from a lack of companionship.
When I moved to the Netherlands in July, my partner ever so gloriously presented me with two kittens as a welcome gift, and there’s no doubt they transform the daily writing grind. Just having Emma sleeping on the windowsill behind my computer makes me feel that I have company. But unlike dogs it’s not intrusive company. Usually. (Don’t get me wrong about dogs: I love them. I used to own a beagle and he was seriously the cutest creature in existence. But they need a lot more attention than cats do).
There are exceptions, of course. Just now my kittens are sleeping, so I get the feeling of companionship without being interrupted while I write. But they are kittens. Once in a while I’m thrown out of my writing trance by a resounding crash as something is knocked off a shelf or a windowsill, and I’m still trying – repeatedly though unsuccessfully – to discourage them from destroying my plants.
But at least they take themselves to the loo when they need to go.
Am I right about cats? How many of my writer friends either own, or wish they owned, a cat or two? Or other animal companions? And do you ever start feeling isolated when you’ve been writing long hours for months at a time?
September 4, 2011 § 17 Comments
I’m happy to announce that Draykon has now gone live on Amazon and Smashwords! I’ve chosen to price it at 99 cents for the first few weeks, in the hopes of encouraging some early reviews. The price will be going up in October.
With that thought in mind, I’m inclined to give away up to ten free review copies over September, via a Smashwords coupon. If you’re interested in receiving a copy for review purposes, please leave a comment indicating your interest. Do include your email address! The first ten people will be sent a coupon.
I’d also like to appeal to my blog readers to help me promote this over the next couple of weeks. As noted above, reviews are greatly appreciated. Failing that, every little thing helps – that means mentioning the book on your blog or on twitter, add it to your reading list on Goodreads, liking the Smashwords or the Amazon page, sharing on facebook or recommending it to someone who might be interested. Many thanks in advance for any and all assistance! From here, getting the ball rolling is the hardest task.
Here are some links:
Let’s end with some thank yous (briefly, I promise). I have to throw some major gratitude to my family, especially my father, for years of encouragement – and for putting up with frequently being pulled in for reader services. You deserve a mountain of cakes for that much patience.
Also, blog friends, I’ve had a blast these last several months discussing everything book-or-writing related with all of you. You’ve also been brilliantly supportive while I struggled through the first draft, then the second draft, and the editing, and the formatting, and so on… thanks for coming back every week. It makes a huge difference.
And that’s it! I’m going to go
panic party panic about it for the rest of Sunday. Have a great weekend, comrades.
September 1, 2011 § 4 Comments
Thanks for visiting yesterday and admiring the new art. Today I am sharing Chapter Two of the new book. I expect this to be the last chapter I’ll be posting here before the book is launched. Enjoy meeting Eva!
Her carriage may be the best that money could buy, but Lady Evastany Glostrum was still lamentably cold. The chill seeped through the plush upholstery inside the vehicle, nimbly evaded the best attempts of the fitted glass windows to keep it out, and assaulted Eva’s pale and shrinking flesh in spite of her heavy fur wrap. It was really too detestably cold to step beyond the door of her handsome and thoroughly comfortable house, but today’s errand was too important to be missed. She was on her way to see her tailor.
Naturally she had wardrobes full of delightfully sumptuous gowns, but this was different. Something of an emergency, in fact. In a week she was to give a ball at her own house, at which she would be announcing her engagement. Such a momentous event in Glour society called for very careful treatment indeed. Eva knew she would be subjected to the closest scrutiny. The gossips and the reporters would be there in approximately equal measures, ready to tear apart every aspect of her appearance, her house, her entertaining. Most of all, they would be examining her behaviour towards her fiancé. The speculation had been running high for weeks – would the elusive Lady Glostrum finally fall to matrimony? – and she had allowed for a rumour to leak out about the purpose of the ball. It was imperative that she was looking at her best.
That being the case, it was of course inevitable that the gown she had had made for the day had been ruined. One of her maids had managed to stain it with furniture polish while cleaning Eva’s dressing room. She hadn’t scolded the girl – the maid had been devastated enough – but nonetheless this created an unwelcome problem. As High Summoner, Eva was in the middle of interviewing candidates for two high-ranked positions within the Summoner organisation. She didn’t really have the time for any more complications.
Her carriage came to a stop and Eva drew back the curtain that covered the freezing glass window. Her coachman opened the door for her and she stepped out with a smile, pulling her wrap as close around her shoulders as possible. She stepped quickly into the tailor’s shop, shuddering with cold. Baynson was in the back, but he came running quickly enough when she rang the bell.
‘Good morning, Mr. Baynson. I’m afraid there’s been a small incident regarding the gown I purchased last week, and I’ll be needing another. Before the ball.’ She didn’t smile. Baynson wasn’t the type to appreciate it. He regarded her with an air of grave disapproval as she delivered this piece of bad news, his thin eyebrows careening up his face towards his nearly bald head.
‘You’ll forgive my saying so, your ladyship, but summoner or not, you ought to keep them animals away from your wardrobe. Ten to one something’d happen to your finery sooner or later.’
‘Sage advice, Mr. Baynson, but in this case the culprit was one of my maids. Not her fault; these things do happen. Naturally I will pay you a considerable bonus if you are able to make me a replacement in time.’
Baynson tutted and tossed his head, muttering unflattering observations under his breath. Eva waited. The man was rude, uncouth and unpleasant but he was the best tailor in Glour City.
‘I’ll get it done,’ he conceded at last. ‘It’ll take a lot extra, though. I’ll have to pull my girls off a couple of other orders.’
‘Fine.’ Eva untied her purse from her waist and opened it. She had to count quite a large number of coins into Bayson’s hands before he was satisfied, but this was to be expected with him.
‘Same as before, I take it?’
She thought for a moment. ‘Yes, but perhaps you could drop the neckline just a little. On the last one it was practically demure.’
Baynson tutted some more. ‘Don’t want to make a spectacle of yourself, your ladyship. A low neckline’s the province of a woman who’s not fit for polite company.’
Eva laughed. ‘On the contrary, making a spectacle of myself is precisely my intention. I’m no debutante at her first season. On me, “demure” would look unforgivably coy.’
Baynson grunted. ‘Reckon you could get away with it, praps,’ he conceded, eyeing her figure in a manner devoid of all but dry professional interest.
‘I’m certain of it. If there is an advantage to being barely shy of forty, it is that I am a mature woman quite able to carry off a hint or two of the provocative. And I’m quite determined to, while I still have the figure for it.’
‘Forty, ma’am? You don’t look a day over thirty-two.’
‘That is my official age, Mr. Baynson, naturally, but I trust you not to give me away.’
Baynson flicked his hands at her in a shooing gesture. ‘Very well, get thee gone. I’ve a deal of work to do. Come back in four days. It’ll be ready.’
Eva smiled warmly. ‘Thank you, Mr. Baynson. I can always rely on you.’
Later, Eva sat dejectedly in the large wing-back chair in her office, her feet tucked under her skirts and her hands thrust into her shawl. Was it completely impossible to keep warm in this cursed chill? Interviewing was one of her least favourite duties: she had gone through six applicants in the last three hours and none of them had been suitable. She now awaited the seventh, wondering whether she could get away with pulling her chair a little closer to the heating pipes.
A knock came at the door before she could put this plan into action, and her seventh interviewee appeared. This one was a woman she didn’t recognise, apparently a little older than Eva herself. She wore plain, unaffected clothing and an air of cool capability that seemed promising. The previous six had been mostly men, mostly young, and mostly cocky. They had also mostly tried to flirt with her. Eva looked on this with the stern eye of decided disapproval. There was no place for flirtation when she was at work.
‘Oona Temble,’ the woman introduced herself. ‘I’m from the Summoner Guild in Orstwych.’ She didn’t curtsey, or even bow: instead she approached the desk and offered Eva her hand. Eva shook it. It may have been a departure from protocol, but she rather liked Oona’s straightforward manner.
‘Sit down, Ms. Temble,’ Eva said. ‘Thank you for coming all this way to talk to me. I’d like to be able to offer you some cayluch, but my last interviewee seems to have been something of an addict.’ She tapped the cold cayluch pot sitting on her desk, which rang emptily.
‘That’s quite all right, Lady Glostrum. I’m not thirsty.’ Oona sat down in the chair Eva indicated. Her hair was short, rather against the prevailing fashions, and threaded with grey. The unpretentious style suited her strong face.
‘You’ll be aware that the position is a new creation. When new summoners come out of the Academy, they’re still woefully ill-informed about the reality of a summoner’s work. We’re in desperate need of someone to take them in hand and give them a bit more practical education in animal acquisition and training. I’m looking for somebody to head up this proposed department.’
Oona nodded. ‘Your notion was it, Lady Glostrum?’
‘Yes, I believe it was.’
Oona raised her brows sceptically. ‘I see.’
‘Does that surprise you, Ms. Temble?’
‘Somewhat,’ said Oona blandly. ‘You don’t strike a person as made for practical measures, if you’ll forgive my mentioning it.’
‘Excellent. Plain-speaking is exactly what I need for this role.’
Oona lifted her brows again.
‘Ah, you expected to find a pampered and temperamental noblewoman, good for nothing but the ornamental and essentially incapable of useful activity. Well, that’s understandable if you read the papers. Let’s just agree that appearances can be deceiving and leave it at that, hm?’ She stood up, smiling down at Oona’s eminently capable face wreathed in an expression of mild surprise. ‘I’d like you to begin in two days, Ms. Temble. Your first task will be to choose your department members. I’ve budgeted for up to five to begin with. You’ll inform me if that’s insufficient.’
Oona pulled herself together. ‘Thank you, Lady Glostrum. I’d best make my preparations.’ She smiled then, unexpectedly. ‘I’ve a feeling it may be interesting working with you.’
Eva chuckled. ‘Let’s hope so, indeed.’
Eva had a desk at home as well. She had resisted getting one for a long time after her appointment to the role of High Summoner, preferring to keep her professional and private lives separate. But at last she had capitulated. She was too often obliged to carry paperwork home with her, and she needed somewhere to keep it. At least she could keep her study as warm as she liked.
Her agenda was becoming complicated. Her working hours for the next few days would be occupied with introducing Oona to her new role and setting up the department. She anticipated some extra hours at the Summoners’ Hall, a prospect which sank her spirits. No power in the Darklands could keep that place even remotely warm.
On top of that, there were still preparations outstanding for the ball. Fortunately the Darklands Market was scheduled for the morrow. Eva knew she could send servants to do her shopping for her, and certainly she would take some of them along as her assistants. She liked to visit herself, though. The Market always had an air of jovial confusion which delighted her, and its sheer variety of wares was no less enthralling. She planned to go in search of some rare curios and delicacies for the ball. She wondered, briefly, whether to take her fiancé with her, but she decided against it. There was more than enough speculation circulating already.
Eva worked until her fingers grew cramped from holding her pen and her eyes refused to focus. At last she retired to bed. As she sank gratefully under her blankets, appreciating the warmth of the stone hot water bottles that warmed the layers, it occurred to her that she would not have this space to herself for much longer. In a little over a moon, she would be bound to share her free time, her personal space and her body with one man for the rest of her life. As if in defiance of this thought, Eva positioned herself in the middle of the bed and stretched her limbs out as far as they would go. She smiled. At least she could enjoy the vestiges of her freedom in the meantime.
August 25, 2011 § 2 Comments
Thank you for reading the prologue to my upcoming novel Draykon last week. It’s Thursday again, so it’s time for the next part. If you missed the beginning though, please read the prologue first.
The stone polishing machine rattled its last and the barrel stopped spinning, its cycle complete. Opening it up, Llandry slipped a deft hand inside and extracted a few of the gems. They lay in the palm of her hand, glittering darkly indigo under the light-globes that hovered over her head. Smooth and perfect, they were quite ready for use.
She never cut the istore stones. It seemed wrong, somehow, to break these perfect jewels into pieces, so she merely gave them a day or two in the polisher to bring up the brilliancy of the surface. It was a pleasing test of her ingenuity as a jeweller to find ways to set them as they were.
She selected one of the smaller pieces, tucking the rest away in the top drawer of her work table. A setting was already prepared for this one, a large, handsome ring designed for a man to wear. Wrought from silver, her favourite metal, she had lightly engraved it with a pattern of tiny stars. This motif echoed the tiny points of light that winked in the depths of the stone.
In fact, Llandry had named it for the stars. She had discovered the gem by accident, walking one day under the glissenwol trees with Sigwide darting ahead. Thoughts lost in daydreams, she had drifted away from their usual route. Her reverie had been suddenly interrupted by the sensation of falling as she tumbled down a hole hidden beneath the bracken. The hard earthen walls of the underground grotto sparkled ferociously in the thin light beaming down from above. The gems fell easily into her hands when she touched them, shining like shards of night fallen from the skies. She had taken to calling them “istore”, after the Old Glinnish word for star.
Not that she was particularly familiar with the night sky. The permanent sun of the Dayland Realms hid the stars from her sight, and the moon only occasionally appeared as a pale and feeble disc in the heavens. Therein lay the nature of her fascination, perhaps. Llandry picked up her lapidary tools and bent over the ring, carefully and skilfully working the gem into its setting. Intent on her task, she barely noticed the faint scratching of Sigwide’s feet on the wooden floor as he wandered in. She distantly sensed an air of speculation about him as he paused before the table, haunches bunched to jump. But no: he knew better than to disturb her when she was working. He pattered off again, finding the blanketed basket she left for him on the other side of the room.
‘Just a few more minutes, Siggy,’ she murmured without looking up. He grumbled in reply, sending her a plaintive series of impressions: hunger, emptiness, imminent starvation. She stifled a laugh.
‘In theory, Sig, you are a wild animal. A feral beast, part of brutal, brilliant nature. You could go forth and forage for your own food. In theory.’
Sigwide ignored her. His claws scrabbled on the wicker as he turned in his basket, curling up with an offended air.
‘All right, fine. Food.’ She put down her tools and wrapped up the ring and the precious gem in soft cloth, unwilling to leave them lying abandoned on the table. Sigwide jumped joyfully out of his basket and wove his thin grey body around her feet, beating her to the door. She stepped over him with the nimbleness of long practice, chuckling.
Sigwide’s favourite food was a complex, carefully balanced mixture of dried bilberries, fresh rosehips, assorted nuts and a scattering of pungent mushrooms. He was completely spoiled, dining like a king on this rather expensive mixture every day, but she didn’t begrudge him his luxuries. He had been her faithful companion – her only reliable friend, other than her parents – for the last eleven years. He ought to be slowing down now that age was catching up with him, but so far he had never lost his inexhaustible energy.
Llandry leaned against the kitchen table, watching him eat. She tried to keep her thoughts focused on Sigwide, but as usual her mind betrayed her. Tendrils of nerves snaked through her belly and began to grip, clutching hard. She hadn’t wanted to stop working because as long as she was fully occupied, she was safe from apprehension. Now, though, her treacherous thoughts turned to tomorrow. Tomorrow.
It had been her mother’s idea to take the istore jewellery to the market. Ynara thought it would be popular. Doubtless she was right; the istore never failed to interest and attract those who saw it. Short of the money to cover the rent on her small, but pleasant tree, Llandry had allowed herself to be persuaded about the market; after all, it was preferable to having to ask her parents for help.
She had begun to regret it immediately. She was to have her own stall at the next Darklands market, which was held every full moon in Glour. It was a popular event attracting thousands of shoppers, which of course was why it was so suitable a venue for her glorious new jewellery. That fact also made it a prospect of pure terror for Llandry. Thousands of people pushing and shoving and jostling each other, staring at her jewellery, her stall, her face. She would have to talk to some of them. Talk, comfortably and persuasively, to a succession of complete strangers. The only saving grace about this hideous prospect was the opportunity to stand for a while under the stars and the light of the full moon. It was not nearly enough to balance out her fear.
Feeling the tell-tale tingling sensation beginning to creep up her arms, Llandry tried to pull back her thoughts. She walked about the room briskly, swinging her arms. It was no use. Within minutes her fingers had cramped and curled with tension and her whole body was tingling uncomfortably. Soon afterwards she began to shake uncontrollably, hyperventilating, growing dizzy and faint. She sat down with her head between her knees, trying to breathe deeply. Sigwide abandoned his repast and trotted over to her, thrusting his nose against her legs.
‘I’ll b-be fine, Sig. Just… give me a moment.’ At length the dizziness faded and her shaking eased. She stood up carefully, stretched and shook her befogged head. Her face was wet with tears; these attacks always left her feeling intolerably shamed and humbled. She patted her face dry on her sleeve, then picked up Sigwide. It comforted her to have him close for a time afterwards, the warmth of his little body soothing the vestiges of her fear.
‘Why did I agree to this, Siggy?’ She sighed. Hidden in her top kitchen cupboard rested a bottle of dark brown glass, containing a rather repulsive mixture her mother had purchased from one of Glinnery’s foremost herbalists. It tasted revolting, but it was effective. She took a small measure of the stuff, welcoming the feeling of lassitude that gradually swept over her afterwards. She would just have to keep herself dosed up on it until the market was over.
Furthermore, her mother had offered to accompany her. Llandry had refused, wanting to prove – to herself, more than anyone else – that she could manage it alone. Now she felt differently. Dosed or not, she knew she would be suffering more of these attacks on the morrow. She was going to need her mother’s help. She slid her feet into her boots, lacing them up tightly, and placed Sigwide into the carry-case she slung over her hip. Locking her tree, she launched herself into the air, letting her strong wings carry her in the direction of her parents’ residence.
‘Oh, love. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.’ Llandry stood in the circle of her mother’s arms, inhaling her familiar, comforting scent. Ynara held her for some time, rocking her gently the way she had done since her daughter was a small girl. Then she seated her firmly at the table and plied her with food. Somehow her mamma always seemed to have Llandry’s favourites on hand: fragrant white alberry tea with a pinch of freyshur spice, a bowl of creamed mushroom soup and a plate of tiny berry cakes appeared before Llandry in quick succession. She didn’t feel inclined to eat, but she forced down a few spoonfuls of the soup, unwilling to disappoint her mother. As always, the food began to make her feel better and she ate with a little more enthusiasm.
Ynara sat down opposite her and took a cake, breaking it into small pieces and eating them elegantly with her fingers. She watched Llandry affectionately, her expression soft. ‘You know, Pa would come as well, if we asked him.’
Llandry shook her head. ‘Bad enough that I have to drag you along, Ma. Pa’s busy.’ Pa, an engineer and inventor from Irbel, was always busy. He was remarkably good at his job and was high up in Glinnery’s well-regulated guild of Irbellian expatriate engineers. Llandry’s parents had always lived comfortably, even after Ynara had given up her position as an Enchanter to join the unpaid Council of Elders.
Ynara wrinkled her delicate nose and smiled. Even such an inelegant gesture did nothing to dampen her remarkable beauty. She did very little to encourage it: her tumbling black hair was often a little disordered, and she often wandered absent-mindedly about in clothes dotted with the stains left by her regular adventures in cooking. None of it mattered a bit. Llandry often felt something of a crow beside her magnetic mother, though this was a feeling she ruthlessly stifled whenever it threatened to emerge.
‘Just you and I, then, love. It’ll be like the old days. Do you remember when we used to visit the Darklands Market when you were a child?’
Of course Llandry remembered. Shy even then, the bustling market had unnerved her, but she had clung to her mother’s hand and felt reassured. Ynara used to go regularly in search of some of the rarer ingredients she used to create her edible delicacies. There were several fruits, grasses and mushrooms that would only grow under the endless night of the Darklands, and all of them were abundantly available at the Darklands Market. Mamma would buy new gems for Llandry’s collection each time they went, and return home laden with packets of unidentifiable objects for Aysun. Llandry had always enjoyed this quality time alone with her mother. She smiled, now, trying to weld that idea into her mind in place of her extreme trepidation.
‘Thanks, Ma,’ she said at last. ‘I’d better go and finish up that ring. It’s the last piece for tomorrow.’
Ynara kissed her cheek and gave her a brief hug. ‘I’ll be with you early in the morning, love. I’ll bring breakfast.’
Llandry made herself smile again and waved, trying to suppress the forlorn feeling she always suffered whenever she flew away from her mother’s house.
August 18, 2011 § 10 Comments
As I promised in my last post, today I am going to share the prologue for my forthcoming fantasy/science fiction novel, Draykon. This book is the result of nine months of consistent effort, following nearly ten years of writing short stories, articles, essays, scripts and blog posts and dreaming of the day I would produce a full-length work of fiction. I’m incredibly excited to have reached this point at last, and here’s hoping it will only get better and better from here.
Draykon is scheduled for release in the next few weeks, and I will be releasing one chapter a week until release day. I hope you enjoy the tale.
On one cool afternoon when the rain fell in gentle, glittering droplets and the ground underfoot was spongy with moisture, nine-year-old Llandry Sanfaer walked with her mother beneath the trees far to the south of the Glinnery forests. They were gathering mushrooms, diminutive little fungi with stems fat with juice and caps painted with colour. Llandry crowed with delight each time she found a new mushroom ring, picking the fattest or the most colourful specimens with nimble fingers. Their baskets were growing heavy with gathered produce when Ynara began to speak of returning home.
‘Not yet, Mamma, just a little bit longer!’ Llandry loved these excursions, loved the hours they spent in close companionship, just her and Mamma. She gazed up into her mother’s face with her most hopeful smile, and of course Mamma relented.
‘All right, little love, but don’t pick too many more mushrooms, or we’ll never be able to carry them home.’ Llandry promised and was off once more, her small form a whirlwind of activity.
Then a faint melody reached her ears and she came to an abrupt stop, her keen eyes searching the mossy slopes for the source.
‘Ma, what’s that sound?’
‘What sound, love?’ Llandry looked up to find nothing but incomprehension in Mamma’s face. She frowned and dismissed the thought, dancing onward once more.
There; again, a hint of music. Not a sound at all, in fact, more of a feeling of spiralling harmony, drawing her onward through the vast, pale trunks dotted like serene guardians over the meadow. In the shade of a particularly broad-capped glissenwol tree was a glade encircled by tall, variegated fungi. The mosses that carpeted the circle of ground were not of the customary colour. Instead of the deep blue that matched the eventide sky, these were lavender touched with green. Golden sunlight drenched the clearing, bright and glittering in spite of the glissenwol cap that rose above. And the drifting motes of light that filled the air of Glinnery were thickly clustered here, twinkling far more brightly than their paler cousins, sparking with energy and laced with colour. Llandry stood, mesmerised by this scene. She was distantly aware of her mother’s voice calling her name, but she was unable to answer.
The thin sound of an animal in distress reached her sensitive ears. Something moved in the centre of the glittering circle: she saw a flash of grey, heard the faint wail of unhappiness repeated.
Mamma had caught up with her. Llandry was aware of her footsteps approaching, then halting a short distance behind her. She could imagine her mother’s reaction to this place; she must be filled with wonder and delight, just as Llandry had been. She was surprised, then, to hear a note of horror creep into Ynara’s voice as she called.
‘Llandry! Llandry, stop there. Don’t move, love.’ The footsteps approached, and Mamma’s arms closed around her. To her dismay and confusion, she was lifted and carried backwards.
‘No! Mamma, there’s an animal, don’t you hear it? It’s hurt.’ The movements of the mysterious creature had ceased, but now Llandry saw it again: a small body, long and thin, with sleek, pale grey fur. She struggled out of her mother’s arms and ran forward.
When she stepped into the circle, she felt the golden light bathing her skin as if it was a physical thing, like water. The effect was beautiful, soothing and warm, but not wholly pleasant, for a feeling of tension hung heavy in the air and Llandry’s skin prickled with unease. For a moment she forgot about the sleek-furred creature, but another squeak of distress drew her eyes downward into the centre of the strange lavender-hued moss.
The animal stood on short, shaking legs, its pointed face lifted to the winds as it keened in despair. It was so small, so obviously feeble, that Llandry quickly realised it must be a baby. A baby without its mother. She picked it up, carefully cradling it against her chest.
She turned to show it to Mamma, but Mamma was gone, hidden behind a curtain of light that had fallen between her and the familiar glissenwol forests of home. It was like a wall of rain, cold and shimmering pale; she could see nothing beyond it.
‘Mamma?’ Fear stole her voice and the word emerged as a whisper. She screamed her mother’s name and heard an answering call, thin and distant as if Ynara stood on a hilltop far away.
Llandry ran towards the curtain and tried to pass, but it was like walking through treacle; a strong pressure beat upon her limbs and her face, threatening to smother her. She fell back, sobbing.
Then the curtain rippled and pulsed, as if struggling against something. Ynara broke through the wall, her face pale and her eyes sparking with anger and fear. She picked Llandry up and marched back through. The sensation of suffocation was the same as before, and it grew worse as Ynara bore forward with Llandry in her arms. The pressure intensified until Llandry thought she must explode like rotten fruit. Then they were through the curtain. All of the strange sensations, good and bad, faded and Llandry was herself again.
Ynara did not stop. She marched onward without looking back. Llandry could feel her mother’s body shaking; her arms were trembling so badly that Llandry feared she would drop her. She pressed her face against her mother’s and kissed her cheek.
‘Ma,’ she whispered. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘You’re safe. That’s all that matters.’
‘What was that place?’
‘The Upper Realm.’
Ynara sighed and stopped at last, easing Llandry down to the floor. She frowned in puzzlement at the little soft-furred body Llandry still held in her arms, quiet now and questing through Llandry’s clothing for food.
‘It’s called the Dreamlands, sometimes, because it’s like a dream, isn’t it? It’s another place, far from here, beyond the Seven Realms that make up our world. Sometimes a gate is opened and you can pass through. What we saw was a gate. The Upper Realm is beautiful beyond belief, love, but you must remember that it is dangerous.’
Llandry remembered the feelings she’d experienced as she stood in that glittering glade; the way the light had caressed her skin and the dancing motes clustered around her as if she was a friend. ‘How can it be dangerous, Mamma?’
‘There are dangers everywhere, love, and the Upper Realm is no different. But beyond that, there is something else. It is too beautiful a place, perhaps, too enticing; people go there, from time to time, but they very rarely return. Now, promise me you will not do such a thing again. Promise me, Llandry.’ Mamma dropped to her knees to bring her face level with Llandry’s. Her eyes were serious, and Llandry sensed renewed fear in the way her mother clasped her close.
‘I promise, Ma.’
‘Good. Now, who is your new friend?’
The creature had begun to shiver. Llandry showed it to her Mamma, who smiled in spite of herself.
‘Gracious. It’s an orting, love. It must have come through the gate.’ She stroked the orting’s round black nose and it shivered anew, this time with apparent delight.
‘May I keep it?’
‘We’ll see. Now, are you ready to fly?’
Llandry unfurled her growing wings and flexed them. At nine, she was big enough and strong enough to fly for a few miles at a time. She smiled at her mother and nodded.
‘Time to go home, then; Papa will be worried about us by now.’ Mamma was wearing a coloured sash around her waist, as she often did; she removed it, and wrapped it around Llandry’s torso, fashioning a sling. She smiled fondly at Llandry.
‘I used to carry you this way, when you were small.’ She took the orting from Llandry’s arms and placed it gently inside the sling, securing it with deft movements.
‘Now you may carry him home. He won’t fall.’
Papa was not at home when they arrived, but his measured step was soon heard climbing the stair that wound around the trunk of the lofty Sanfaer home. He patted Llandry’s hair as he passed, and she shot up in excitement and ran after him.
‘Papa, you must come and meet Sigwide!’
‘Oh? School friend?’
Her face darkened at the word ‘school’. ‘No,Pa.He’s my new pet. Look!’
The orting had been lovingly installed in his own box, padded with the best blankets from Llandry’s bed. He had gone to sleep with his head under the thickest of them, his stubby tail twitching as he dreamed. Aysun Sanfaer tilted his head curiously, trying to get a look at the creature.
‘Sigwide is what you’ve called it?’
‘Yes. I chose it myself.’
‘What is it?’
‘Ma said it’s an orting.’
He said nothing at all in response. Llandry looked up, puzzled. His face was set and his eyes glittered with some fierce emotion that looked like anger. Ynara came back into the room at that moment and went straight to her husband.
‘Aysun, it’s not as bad as-‘
‘It’s an orting?’
Mamma drew her husband away and lowered her voice, and the conversation passed beyond Llandry’s hearing. She sensed her father’s anger, feeling his eyes on her as her mother spoke. She sat down next to Sigwide’s box, confused and a little afraid. Her parents’ voices grew louder, and she overheard snippets of conversation.
‘… as stubborn as your father.’ That was Mamma.
‘…nothing like my father!’ Papa sounded quite upset, and Llandry began to feel sick.
‘The similarity is obvious. You take an idea, no matter how irrational, and refuse to be moved.’
‘Because my father couldn’t accept you, you persist in assuming-‘
‘This isn’t about me! This creature is harmless and it will be good for Llan to have a companion. Why can’t you see that?’
‘If she wants a companion we will get her a pet. Something safer.’
Mamma snorted at that and walked away a few steps. When she turned back to Pa, she spoke too quietly for Llandry to hear any more. Llandry could only sit near Sigwide’s box, crouched and miserable, and wait.
At length her parents’ conversation was over. Papa approached and knelt down before her with a sigh.
‘Llandry. Your mother’s already received a promise from you, but I need you to promise me as well. If you ever see anything like that again, you must keep away from it. Understand?’
He was stern but no longer furious. Llandry was so relieved she would have promised anything at all. She nodded her head solemnly.
‘I need you to understand why, Llandry. It’s dangerous. You could be drawn away from us, and you wouldn’t be able to come back very easily. We might not be able to find you. And the creatures you would meet there are not all as harmless as this one.’ He frowned at the tiny grey body curled up in the box. Llandry bit her trembling lip, suddenly anxious.
‘Papa! I may keep him, mayn’t I?’
‘I would rather you didn’t, but yes. He must be trained, though. I’ll get a Summoner to come to the house tomorrow.’
Llandry beamed, expressing her gratitude with an enveloping hug. He patted her head a little awkwardly, then swung her up onto his wingless back.
‘Let the little beast sleep.’
Chapter One is available to read here.
August 16, 2011 § 6 Comments
I know, I know. Three posts in the same seven-day period? What is going on here?
What is going on, Gentles All, is the magnificent crunch time. That time when Procrastination starts to seem like a girl’s best possible friend, but you soldier on anyway.
The book is done. There’s nothing else I can conceivably do to it that would improve it (or at least, not that I can identify or imagine at this point). The cover art is underway; I had some early sketches for it already and oh my giddy aunt it looks gorgeous. So much so that I have no idea what Elsa Kroese is going to do to it to make it look even more finished at this point, but I’ve no doubt it’ll be magnificent.
That means the book will be released sometime in the next few weeks, all being well. I’ve a notion it will feel a bit like jumping off a building. Did anyone else get that feeling on first publication?
I’m filling the time by working on the next book, which (so far) is a good way of keeping myself from imagining all the awful things that seriously could happen later on. Meanwhile, it seems like a good time to do something sort of promotional-like prior to the release of Draykon.
So, later this week I’ll be posting the prologue to the book. The week after that I will post the first chapter, and then after another week chapter two will appear. And so on until release day. I suppose for the sake of practicality I should pick a consistent schedule, so I shall arbitrarily pick Thursday.
See you in two days!