Author Archives: M T McGuire

About M T McGuire

Humorous fantasy fiction author... the books are quite funny too. MTMcGuireAuthor on Twitter if you tweet. Website here www.hamgee.co.uk blog here www.mtmcguire.co.uk

Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Emotion: No 6, M T McGuire

Hmm. Lurve scenes or even emotional pathos. Not entirely my strong point. This is tricky for me. First of all, I have rather the wrong sense of humour to do this kind of stuff well. When my characters are as sarcastic with one another to the point where, read straight, it tends to read as if they are being rather gushy. Then there’s a bit of a problem, from the point of view of this, with spoilers. The whole thing in the K’Barthan trilogy is the will-they-won’t-they nature of the romance. They’re both crazy about each other but will they get together? I wouldn’t want to spoil that so I’m going to go for a scene that promises romance but doesn’t give the game away.

So The Pan of Hamgee, bless him, a man drastically lacking self confidence, falls for a girl who is destined to love someone else; Ruth. She, meanwhile, has to accept that her own view of her destiny counts for nothing until she can persuade other people to change theirs. Until they see her differently, she is going to be on the run with The Pan.

They start off reasonably well. Even though, when he first meets her, The Pan has been narcotically inconvenienced to the point where all he can say is “I’m a little teapot”. Unfortunately he makes a massive gaff  by leaving her on a building for five minutes, at which point she is nearly kidnapped and though he saves her they have a major falling out. He spends a large part of the rest of the book trying to repair the damage and regain her trust. At the point of the excerpt, she has got to the stage where she’s quite keen on him but slightly in denial. He is plain crazy about her but taking it slowly because he doesn’t want to stuff it all up.

With any relationship between characters, I try to keep well out of it and let things develop naturally. Sometimes I get a completely different result to the one I’m expecting. This is rather a long excerpt but I hope it shows what I mean about letting the characters take the lead. I had no idea these two would become close when I started the series. But the minute they met and started talking to one another it was obvious they were going to, whatever happened.

In this excerpt they have just got to a safe haven after a couple of days on the run. They’re tired, they’ve slept in a car, they smell because neither of them have had a shower but they are delighted to have made it to a secret safe haven, hidden in the top floor of the RAC Club.

The Pan returned to the RAC Club and tried to hide his glee when, once again, they let him in. He climbed a flight of stairs to an oval atrium, where he found a set of wheels very similar to his snurd.

“How come these get to park inside?” he muttered. Close to him, someone laughed.

“You really should stop talking to yourself. It’s not parked. It’s a display you dolt, it’s a car – a Lotus to be precise.”

He couldn’t keep the smile off his face. She’d waited for him. Surely that meant something?

“Ruth, why aren’t you with the others?”

“Because I wanted some time to myself and this is about the only place where I’m safe to wander round on my own. Besides, one of us has to show you where we are staying. Oh and I can’t have a shower yet because Big Merv is using one bathroom and somebody called Trev is in the other one.”

No way.

“Trev’s here?” The Pan was laughing.

“Yes.”

“And Gladys and Ada?”

“So I hear.”

“You haven’t met them?”

“Not yet. Where have you been? I’ve been waiting ages.”

“Sorry, it took longer than I thought.”

“You got lost?”

“No…”

“You didn’t park it, did you? You let it go off on its own.”

“It argued…”

“What am I going to do with you, Mister Pan?” she said.

“Mmm… I could think of something.”

“Stop flirting.” Uh-oh. She sounded stern.

“Are you angry with me?”

She shook her head and smiled.

“No. Although I don’t know why not.”

He nodded at the car.

“Nice.”

“Yeh, expensive too. I always wanted one of these but just as I’d scraped the money together they got trendy and the price shot up.”

“It looks like my snurd,” said The Pan.

“I hadn’t thought but now you mention it, I suppose it does.” Ruth took his hand and led him up several flights of stairs to a door marked ‘service’. She pressed the dot of the i and it opened with a click.

“Service?” He gave her a quizzical look.

“Service,” she said flatly but she was trying not to smile. “I hope you’re paying attention, Mister Pan.”

“Of course.”

“Good.” Behind the door was a large cupboard. Along two sides were shelves. Dusters neatly folded, tins of polish, dish cloths, rubber gloves, sponges and green scritchers were all lined up carefully, each in its allotted place. Leaning along the other wall; brooms, mops in buckets, vacuum cleaners and hanging on a peg, several pinnies. She turned on the light and shut them in. The Pan raised one eyebrow.

“Did you mean to lure me into a cupboard or are we lost?”

“I would never be so foolish as to deliberately lure you into a cupboard. I know exactly what you’d try to do.”

“Yet here we are. What happens next?” he asked her. She giggled.

“Will you behave?”

“I take it we’re lost then.”

“No, Mister Pan, we are not lost.” She pushed one of the brackets holding up the back shelf and the entire wall opened slowly into a room, on the far side of it was a large water tank. Large, in this case, meant big enough to accommodate the quantities of water required to service the entire RAC Club and probably top up the swimming pool downstairs. It was the size of a double-decker bus or thereabouts. She turned a light on, switched the cupboard light off and the wall began to swing slowly back into position. The Pan stepped smartly through to join her in the space beyond. He glanced at the tank and raised the other eyebrow this time.

“Are we here about the plumbing?”

She laughed again.

“Will you be sensible for one moment?” On the side of the water tank was a tap. She turned it but no water came out. Instead the front of the tank swung open. “Apparently, the Underground has quite a lot of money and the RAC Club are very accommodating. Sir Robin says the apartments here were built some years ago when the Grongles first invaded K’Barth. The Architrave was going to flee here but he never did…” Well, The Pan thought, he’d got beheaded, which might have made travel difficult. “Sir Robin says they are portal proof. Apparently you’ll understand what that means, heaven knows I don’t.” She leaned back against the side of the tank and gestured him past her. “There you are, Mister Pan. Welcome to Free K’Barth.”

He moved closer to her and peered in. The tank contained a flight of stairs at the top of which was a short corridor and a perfectly normal door.

“Arnold in the Skies. Now that’s impressive.” He chuckled. “Shall we?” She took his outstretched hand.

“If you insist.”

As Ruth and The Pan moved towards the door at the end of the corridor, he noticed a shift in her mood. She slowed and eventually stopped a few feet away.

“I think we’ve come up a bit short,” he said as he leaned forward, theatrically pretending to reach for the handle. She didn’t laugh. Oh. “Are you alright?” he asked her.

“Sort of…”

“Sort of. Mmm, that sounds like a ‘no’ to me. Care to elaborate, Ms Cochrane.”

She looked down at her feet.

“OK, I feel really bad saying this but I went in there while you were parking and there are people inside and they’re not… They’re from… They don’t…”

“You mean, it’s full of K’Barthans.” She was relieved but at the same time embarrassed. About as embarrassed as she’d ever been by the looks of it.

“I’m supposed to be the Chosen One and I feel like a circus freak.” It was easy to appreciate her point of view. As far as he was aware, The Pan was the only man in existence with four eyes in either of the realities he’d visited. There were many reasons he kept quiet about the extra pair, but his fear of standing out, of being branded weird, was high on the list. Neither he nor Ruth had any way of telling whether or not the K’Barthans behind that door knew she was the Chosen One. But if she was anything like him, The Pan could understand her fear that they might. He tried to put himself in her place. How would he feel? Under pressure? Conspicuous? Did she feel that everyone was watching, wondering what would happen next and worse, pinning their hopes on her?

“It’s understandable. I feel like a circus freak myself, sometimes,” he said. She smiled gamely but the ‘you-are-one’ quip he was expecting never came. The Pan waited while she stood there, deep in introspection until something seemed to resolve itself.

“I’ll get used to it. I’ll have to, won’t I? But I feel out of place.”

“Even with Lucy?”

“She seems completely unfazed but she’s on the phone to her work. She’s busy organising an emergency week off, she’s calling it ‘personal reasons’ but I think she wants to look after me. Anyway, it’s OK for her. She hasn’t been chosen by one of them.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“I thought you said you weren’t chosen, either. I thought we were here to find the Candidate and have strong words with him about picking someone else,” he chided with a smile.

“I did, but what if…” she stopped. “There are people in there who are…” she stopped again. “OK, the person who greeted us was very polite and everything but he was about three feet tall, orange, furry and he looked like a guinea pig and—”

The Pan burst out laughing. Arnold’s snot! She was feeling nervous and awkward and it wasn’t tactful at all but he couldn’t help himself. Oh well, nothing to do about it now but try to make the joke stick.

“Ms Cochrane, are you worried you’ve been chosen by one of them?” He was surprised and delighted when, instead of being cross, she seemed relieved and broke into genuine laughter.

“I’m so embarrassed. I’m sure I’m being a racist or species-ist or something. I bet you’re not bothered, are you?”

“It depends… We consider ourselves intellectual equals but certain species are just biologically incompatible. I’m not sure what a guinea pig is but if the Candidate was a Spiffle, which is what I think you’re describing, he would probably fancy someone a bit less humanoid. Another Spiffle, for instance – or possibly a Blurpon. Physically, they’re a bit more like each other.” Should he go into the emotional differences, the most laid back species on the planet versus the most uptight, violent, Olympic standard launderers? No.

“OK, OK Mister Pan. Could you possibly be a little more sarcastic about this?” asked Ruth. She was laughing properly now.

“I doubt it. I’m sorry.” He hugged her. “If it helps, I will be with you every step of the way, alright?”

“That’s not necessarily going to be an advantage.”

“No.” He smiled but the elation he’d felt only minutes before had evaporated. That had smarted more than he’d expected. Suddenly everything felt a little lacklustre. She looked into his eyes and took his other hand.

“That was a joke, Mister Pan,” she said gently. “I’m sorry if I hurt you, I’m a bit wired and I expect my comic judgement is totally off.”

“No I’m not hurt.” Arnold, why did he have to be so crazy about her? She was going to take him apart.

“Do you mean that? Only you look—”

“You’re fine.” He pulled her towards him to give her another hug. This time, she hugged him back. Properly. There was a lot of contact, almost as if she was melting against him. She put her head on his shoulder, in no hurry to let go. The Pan’s spirits soared skywards again. He closed his eyes and held her tight. “You are more than fine,” he whispered.

She looked up suddenly, smiling.

“I didn’t catch that, Mister Pan.” He looked into her eyes.

“I think you did.”

“Ooo, you’re a cool customer,” she said and she was laughing and hugging him and he was flying. “Honestly, I didn’t.”

“It was nothing worth repeating,” he said. She gave him a measured look so he qualified it, “Alright, nothing worth repeating… yet.”

“Really?” she said flatly.

“Really.” They stood there, gazing into each other’s eyes, for a moment that seemed to last a long, long time. If he tried to kiss her, The Pan wondered, would she scream? On the face of it, it appeared not. She lifted her chin and he took a breath. He leaned in and stopped. Nothing he’d ever done in his life had ever taken so much will power as not kissing Ruth, right there. But, tempting as it was to seize the romantic initiative, the entrance lobby to the K’Barthan Underground HQ was patently not the time or the place. More to the point, if he actually started kissing Ruth, The Pan wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop.

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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes , Part 7, Will Macmillan Jones

Everyone expects fantasy novels to be full of fights.  Huge-muscled barbarians, scantily dressed ladies wielding needle sharp swords, palace guards and thugs with clubs abound… or do they?  I have to confess that my fantasy series seems to contain very little actual violence.  My latest work, Bass Instinct has the after effects of a rumpus in a pub, and one small affair in an office.  (OK, some Thuggee do what Thuggee do best, but that doesn’t really count as it’s by way of being their day job.)

So, what can I bring to the Gumbee table for a bit of a scrap?  How about this open fight scene from The Mystic Accountants?  Here, The Banned Underground have managed to find a replacement for the magical Throne of The King Under The Mountain, and are trying to get it back to the dwarf’s mansion, when they are waylaid by the Dark Wizards…

As the tour bus and the van stopped, the Mondeo pulled into the car park behind them, and the doors were flung open.  Across the car park, from the shadows, The Grey Mage stalked from his old Mercedes estate with his receptionist and two other Dark Coven members.

“Der!” yelled Eddie, trying to turn the Sprinter around.  But with the trailer on the back, he had no room.  Ahead of them, the receptionist threw off her coat, and changed shape into a green dragon six feet long and four feet high.

“We need to get out!” panicked GG.  Felldyke and Scar threw open the doors, and jumped out of the Sprinter.  “I meant out of the car park!”

Fungus and Haemar exchanged a glance, then Haemar grabbed a long tyre lever from underneath the dashboard, and he and Fungus climbed out. Eddie was there already.  Adam and his lager louts joined them.

“What’s going on?” asked Adam, who couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dragon.

The cameraman had already dived back into the van, and was feverishly grabbing his kit.

At a shout, they all looked behind, to see that GG, Felldyke and Scar were already scrapping with Ned and his crew who were trying to get to the trailer.

The Grey Mage smiled, in triumph, and raised his staff.

“Who’s the old git?” asked Adam, as his cameraman pointed the lens at the dragon receptionist.

“An Evil Wizard,” replied Haemar, pronouncing the capital letters.

“He looks just like my Bank Manager. And is that really a dragon?”

The receptionist blew a very hot flame at the sound technician, who dodged.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then.”

“We’re in bother this time.” Haemar said to Fungus.  “What are you lookin’ for?”

Fungus was looking wildly around the deserted Car Park, but didn’t answer.

The receptionist sent another blaze of flame, this time at the shrouded shape on the trailer, but the flames failed to catch hold and burn.

“What do they want?” demanded Adam.

“For starters, they want to burn that thing we’ve got on the trailer,” Fungus told him.

“And then we’ll be fer seconds,” Haemar added grimly.  The fighting noises grew louder from behind.

“Get stuck in can’t yer?” yelled Ned at the monks.  He had a tight hold of Scar’s leg, but as Felldyke was sat on Ned and trying to insert a drumstick (wooden variety) into Ned’s left nostril, Ned was unable to capitalise on this advantage.

“We always preach non violence as a form of dispute management,” replied the Senior Monk, glaring at the accountant who was trying to brain GG with his abacus, an attempt foredoomed to failure.

“Just help out!” Ned shouted, as Scar freed his leg with a vicious kick, and jumped on the tax junior from behind.  As they fell to the ground, the assistant assistant tripped over them, and GG paused from fending away a wildly swinging abacus to put his boot into a strategic spot.  The Watches were no longer a threat.

“XL5” [Trying to amuse the older reader there] yelled The Grey Mage, waving on his Dark Coven, and the two extra evil wizards (that is they were additional numbers, not superlatively evil) started throwing fireballs at the shrouded shape of The Throne.

“Why are those fireballs not working?” wondered The Grey Mage.

“Why are those fireballs not working?” Adam asked, as one bounced off The Throne and set fire to his foot. Adam started hopping about the car park.

“Why are those Fireballs not working?” Haemar asked Fungus, whilst stamping on Adam’s foot to put out the blaze.  Adam continued hopping around the car park, and started yelping in pain.

“Why is everyone asking me?” Fungus wanted to know.  “Maybe Waccibacci put some protection on The Throne, like Goods In Transit insurance?”

The next fireball bounced off The Throne, and set alight the front tyre of the Black  Van.  Thinking quickly, the sound technician extinguished the blaze with the nearest liquid source available.  His nervous state, enhanced as more dragonfire removed his eyebrows, helped to increase the flow.

“We’ll have to get the cover off it.” The Grey Mage decided, and he waved his minions forward. But they ran into Adam, his driver and the sound technician, and a brawl developed.  The Grey Mage sighed, and strode forward towards the Sprinter.

 

 

“We’ve got two options,” Fungus told Haemar, as he eyed the wizard’s approach.

“Good.  Isn’t that a chocolate drink with different flavours? Just what we need now,”

“Actually, I meant we can try an’ hold him off, or we can run away,” Fungus said.

“I like run away.  I like it a lot,” Haemar said, backing away towards the Sprinter as more random dragonfire burst across the car park towards them setting fire to a parking meter and thereby incurring the wrath of the Council and a substantial fine, but on the plus side incinerating a fly poster announcing a particular forthcoming concert.

“I just don’t think that I could be fast enough.”

Haemar passed the tyre lever to Fungus, and drew his short sword. (All dwarfs carry short swords.  It’s probably a cultural thing.)

“We need a good battle cry,” Haemar said. “It could be our final fling.”

“Then how about : ‘Last orders at the bar’?”

“Good One! Fungus, why do you keep looking around?”

“For help.”

“Fungus, no one’s coming. Come on!”

Haemar gave a blood curdling yell, and leapt forwards.  But The Grey Mage just sneered, and waved his staff.  Fungus and Haemar fell to the ground, bound fast together with magical chains.

“Well, it was worth a try,” groaned Fungus.

Haemar shook the iron chains, which for some arcane reason were covered in pink fur.  The dragon receptionist stopped breathing flames everywhere, and examined the chains with some interest.  The Grey Mage changed colour in embarrassment, as he blushed.

“Those handcuffs are covered in glitter, too,” she observed.

“Yes, well, I bought that spell second hand from a solicitor,” The Grey Mage muttered.  His receptionist looked disbelieving.

“Right,” said The Grey Mage, striding over his bound protagonists towards his goal. Haemar tried to bite him in the leg as he passed, but missed:  the shrouded Throne lay on the trailer, at his mercy.  But then there came a loud, single perfect note (possibly A sharp) and a large golden globe appeared on top of The Grey Mage’s Mercedes estate, causing another sound. (B flat, probably.)

The average Mercedes estate is a well-built, solid vehicle somewhat reminiscent of a World War Two tank.  But that didn’t stop the roof bending inwards under the weight of the globe, causing a scream of rage from the Mage.

The globe shimmered, and vanished, leaving in its place Malan and Finn of the Tuatha, Grizelda the witch holding her broomstick and Dai clutching his Fender Precision Bass.

“Are we too late?” called Malan.

“Only we heard someone yell ‘Last orders’ and got a bit worried,” added Finn.

“What’s goin’ on here then?” demanded Grizelda.

“Were you expectin’ this lot then?” Haemar asked Fungus.

“Well, yes. But only Malan and Dai, the other two are like a bonus.”

Grizelda did not resemble a free gift, as for example, the plastic toys that used to be included in cereal packets.  She had not enjoyed the Tuatha’s transportation methods, having spent most of the journey squashed up against Dai who maintained quite a high body temperature.

The sight of Dai had also raised the receptionist’s temperature, but in a different way, and she stopped sending jets of fire at The Throne, and tried simpering instead. The Grey Mage averted his eyes in horror.

Finn and Malan jumped down from the roof of the Mercedes, leaving boot imprints on the bonnet as they passed, then helped Grizelda down more modestly.

“What do we do now, Adam?” asked the cameraman.

“Just keep on filming, until I tell you to stop!” Adam hissed back.  The sound technician and the driver joined them, leaving the two dark coven members groaning on the ground. The two orange clad monks at the rear quietly slid behind the Mondeo, out of view.

“I asked, what’s goin’ on?” repeated Grizelda.

“These Caer Surdin idiots ambushed us, an’ have been tryin’ ter set fire ter The Throne.” Haemar explained to Grizelda.

“Them chains suit yer,” she replied, and then glared at The Grey Mage.

“This one’s a draw now that we’ve got here in time,” she told him.

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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes, Part 6, M T McGuire

Fight scenes. A bit like buses in my life, I write two books without a single one and then, suddenly, two come along at the same time. So one of the hardest things about them is that I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. Phnark. Never mind, here goes.

Release the Unnecessarily Slow Winching Device.
What I am trying to achieve in anything I write is realism. Don’t laugh. It’s true.

The thing is, though, I can’t really do gritty proper realism of um… action. Why? Well, partly because I’ve never been in a pukka pagga so it’s hard to imagine. But also because there is too much of the Bond super-villan in me. My baddies tend to be psychopathic, they want their victims so suffer and die slowly and… well… ornately (if that’s a word). So they get their enemies somewhere nice and secure, where they can’t escape, and take their time over it. It’s clear, as I write this, that I’ve watched too many James Bond films and too many episodes of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Are you looking at me pal?
Perhaps the style of a fight scene also depends on what the writer is actually trying to achieve. Are you demonstrating something about the characters involved and if so, what? Will it be reflected in their actions, their technique, their skill? Will the reader be concentrating on that and therefore, more willing to suspend disbelief if you haven’t quite mastered the gritty detail?

In my case, since pretty much everything I write is about letting the characters act in a way that’s true to their personalities, this is a big part of it. It may be that I spend too much time on the personalities. Do that and, if you’re not careful, you can – and I do – forget the niggling little practicalities; things like, say, making your people bust moves that are physically possible for a human body, or if they’re not human then a body of whatever shape theirs is.

That said, I’m beginning to think that, so long as a writer makes a fight vividly realistic in some way, it will connect with the reader. Sure, it could be because the fighting is realistic, but equally, it could be because the character’s reactions are believable or just a simple case of making the reader oblivious of any details that don’t add up.

In short, the important thing is that somebody reading a scene can suspend disbelief. How that is done is probably up to the individual writer – at least, I hope to heaven it is because if it isn’t, I, for one am stuffed.

Calm down, Calm down
The most interesting aspect of this series of posts, is the number of different approaches which have cropped up. One of the trickiest bits of this one is that I haven’t actually written a fight scene until recently and I’ve had to write two very different ones with two very different aims. The first, involves two characters fighting off an attack. As well as a fight scene, it’s a moment when they realise they have fallen in love with one another. More on that story. Later. The second is an assassination and is basically there to show us what a bastard one character is. The slight difficulty is that both scenes are part of a work in progress so, in theory, they might contain spoilers. I’m going to post the assassination, because it’s the shortest and actually, though not finished, it’s the nearest to a publishable standard of the two.

OK to fill in a bit of background; the laser pistol has a maximum of 9 shots but it runs on static so if our killer has time to rub it on the right kind of surface he can boost the charge. The guards are armed but their arms are vaporised with them. The assassin knows his pistol might not kill all eight of his targets – it’s on its highest setting because he’s thorough – but hey, he’s an invincible super-villain, so if it runs out of juice he can take care of the last one by hand. He also has a matter transportation device, which they don’t and that’s why he can appear and disappear into thin air. When the book finally comes out, there’s a strong chance that I night stop this with the eighth shot and let Fred get away with a precision strike, but right now I’m not sure. So here it is.

It is possible that Bob’s bodyguards lived long enough to hear a few nanoseconds of some strange sound. They might even have survived long enough to see the dark shape appearing in the middle of the room, but it’s unlikely.

Before the quickest of them had a chance draw his gun, seven bolts of laser fire flew at them in rapid succession. Seven shots for seven guards each one finding its mark. Fred knew their exact positions and by the time he had materialised completely all seven bodyguards were already dead. The adrenaline coursing through his body exhilarated him, sharpening his reflexes, focussing his mind as he swung round, legs apart, arms extended and aimed at the bed. The air was filled with the smell of burning and in that brief second, Fred’s heightened senses took in the scene; one set of curtains was open, the orange street lights of the city illuminating half the room. Bob was scrambling out of bed to face his attacker, his light weight body armour clearly visible under his night clothes.

Behind the balaclava Fred’s mouth curled into a smile. This was going to be easy, so easy that he was almost disappointed. Bob was armed but he had not even had time to raise his own pistol before Fred fired.

A feeble bolt sputtered from the barrel of Fred’s pistol and dispersed a few feet beyond. It was spent. He lost no time, leaping at Bob before he could fire his own gun. Crashing into him and knocking the pistol from his grasp. It arced away over the bed and came to rest the other side of the room. While Fred’s attention was briefly focussed on the gun, Bob took advantage; turning sideways, kicking Fred’s feet from under him and bringing him neatly down on the floor. In a second Bob was on him, his hands locked around his throat. Fred smashed his palm upwards against the bottom of Bob’s nose, causing him to jerk his head back and loosen his grip enough to throw him off.

Bob jumped up and started towards the gun. Fred drew his knife and lunged after him. Bob blocked him with one arm and brought the other up fast into Fred’s stomach, uncomfortably close to his solar plexus. The suit took the brunt of the blow but he faltered for that vital second which allowed Bob to knock the knife out of his hand. It fell onto the carpet out of reach but only just. Fred charged as Bob threw himself after it, catching him off balance and bringing him down. Still, Bob struggled forward towards the knife, his outstretched fingers almost touching the hilt. Fred flung his arm round his neck, pulling him backwards. He tried to tighten his grip but he was still weak from the impact to his stomach and Bob tipped him easily over his head. But Fred got to the knife first.

Aware that his adversary would be making for the gun again, Fred turned quickly and leapt. He knew Bob would be expecting a blow to the neck or head so as he charged he buried the knife in the top of his leg, just where it met his groin. The force of the impact took the two of them backwards, and as they smashed against the wall, Fred used the impact to drive the knife further in.

It was over now, Bob’s groan of pain confirmed it. He struggled but Fred forced his forearm against his neck to keep him still, increasing the pressure, feeling the delicious sensation of his enemy weakening. Bob’s hands scrabbled ineffectually at his arm and at his hand on the knife. Fred felt his warm blood, his life force, pouring out of him. He smelled the ferrous stench of it and scented victory. The blood flowed even faster when pulled out the knife. He raised it high and drove it savagely into Bob’s neck.

It was done. Fred had never felt such power during a kill, and as his dying victim slumped against him, he savoured it. Bob sank slowly to his knees. He was failing fast now, his hands, gripping the second wound, were stained dark with his own blood. With the last of his strength he looked up, supplicating, but pragmatic enough not to hope. Fred took off the mask and the orange light of the city, shining in through the curtains, fell across his features. He was gratified to see the look of recognition in Bob’s eyes before his strength finally failed him and he fell sideways onto the floor.

Fred kicked the lifeless body over onto its back, bent down and placing one foot against the chest, he pulled out the knife. He tucked the mask into his belt and used the sheets on the bed to wipe the blood off the blade.

As he cast a final glance around the room, he noticed Bob’s phone on the floor. He picked it up. The screen was already active, a number called up, labelled ‘guard’. He must have tried to summon help. Fred pressed the green button and waited until someone answered.

“Good evening,” he said.

“Who is this?” asked a voice at the other end.

“That is not your concern. I believe Bob requires your aid. He has fallen on something sharp.”

Fred pressed the red button to end the call and tossed the phone onto the bloodstained carpet near its lifeless owner. He pictured his rooms in his mind’s eye, curled his thumb into the platinum portal and disappeared into thin air.

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Authors Beware… New Scam

Thank you to Lexi Revellian for this warning:

Each day there seems to be a new shark circling eager newbie writers, hoping to make a killing. Autharium is the latest. Go to their site, and it all sounds most enticing – it’s free, easy to join and load your work; publish with them and you will have ‘global distribution’ and keep 85% of your earnings!

Too good to be true? Yup.

Go to the Author Publishing Terms and Conditions and you will find:

By submitting your Work to Autharium and accepting these Terms & Conditions, you grant to Autharium the exclusive right and licence to produce, publish, promote, market and sell your Work in any Digital Form (as defined in paragraph 1.4 below) in all languages throughout the world for the entire legal term of copyright (and any and all extensions, renewals and revivals of the term of copyright).

What is the legal term of copyright? The author’s lifetime, plus seventy years. So by publishing a novel on Autharium, you hand over the worldwide digital rights, including film, games, apps, and means of transmission yet to be invented,  until seventy years after you die.

The site tries to fudge this by assuring you that The copyright in your work shall remain your property. Quite what good this will do you when you have ceded all rights to them they do not say. They do say:

Please note that your removal of your Work from sale in accordance with paragraph 13.1 above will not terminate this Agreement nor cause the exclusive digital publishing rights that you have granted to Autharium pursuant to paragraph 1 above to revert to you.

Also:

If you wish to sell your Work in any Digital Form through any other publisher, distributor or means then you will need to contact Autharium at support@autharium.com to agree transfer of the digital publishing rights to your Work.

So if you decide you will do better selling via Amazon’s KDP, or are offered a six-figure deal from a publisher, or someone is interested in buying the film rights, you will have to persuade Autharium to release you from its contract. For a large sum of money, no doubt. Or you could decide the contract is so one-sided it may be unenforceable; in which case you face years of stressful and expensive litigation.

I think Autharium is playing a numbers game. Recruit enough writers to sign that contract, and the odds of one of them turning out to be the next E.L. James and making the site owners a fortune are really not bad at all.

Autharium? Avoid, and tell your friends.

N.B. For more information, see The Passive Voice, where Lexi Revellian picked up this story.

 

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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes, Part 5, Jim Webster

I’m a great believer in trying to have plenty of ‘reality’ in Fantasy. Some of the underlying ideas are so inherently unbelievable that I feel a good dose of hard, detailed, reality is necessary to ensure the reader finds it easy to suspend their disbelief. It was Fritz Leiber who said “Fantasy must be fertilized—yes, watered and manured—from the real world”.

So how do I tackle this? Firstly combat is inherently dangerous. People are swinging sharpened steel bars about. If you get it only slightly wrong you could end up dead, or what is perhaps worse, maimed for life. So you aren’t going to take unnecessary risks.

But the definition of unnecessary might come up for sudden redefinition. An opening which allows you to get a killing blow in might well be risky, but is it more or less risky than playing it safe?

Finally the combatants are husbanding their reserves. They are high on adrenaline. They are under stress and they will get tired very quickly. Anyone who has taken part in ‘friendly’ martial arts sparring sessions will know how quickly you will become tired.

When it comes to the detail of the fight, I do try and play out the scene in my head, checking when the combatant will have his weight, how he will move and how his opponent will react.

Where I don’t dwell on the detail is in the result of the blows. I don’t go in for graphic wound descriptions. Or perhaps I ought to say, I don’t often go in for graphic would descriptions.

Why should I? It’s not cinema where the director has to arrange every detail. I’m projecting my story onto the imagination of the reader. Their imagination is more vivid, more colourful than anything I can write. If I go in for gratuitous detail, I’ll limit the reader’s imagination.

But, occasionally, just occasionally, I do allow a little detail to creep in. Because there isn’t a lot of gore, the little bit of gore I do use stands out and is more vivid. Also it acts as a benchmark against which the reader can calibrate their imagination.

The first example comes from ‘Swords for a Dead Lady.

Benor came round the next corner and found himself looking down on the melee. It looked as if Yallou, Kirisch and Rothred had been hit from front and rear as they walked down the alley.

Kirisch was in the middle, leaning against the wall below him, obviously holding his left arm tightly against his left side, and with his right hand holding his sword in a guard position. Rothred was covering his right and
Yallou his left.

There were at least a dozen attackers but only two facing Rothred on the right; there were two bodies already sprawled there – Rothred had obviously been busy.

One of the attackers charged in at Rothred, sword raised to cut. Rothred stepped forward with his blade up to parry. Benor dropped his sword on the wall-walk and pulled at a loose coping stone. It came away from the wall and he dropped it on Rothred’s attacker.

It caught him on the shoulder, knocking him sideways. Rothred brought his sword down on the man’s neck and shoulder, dropping him in a spray of blood.

Benor threw the next coping stone at the last man to Rothred’s right, but he saw it coming and skipped sideways to avoid it – but at least this meant the three men were no longer surrounded. Benor dropped his sword over the wall, swung himself over and dropped next to Rothred. Rothred passed him the sword and they moved to form a line across the alley.

Benor saw three men move together to attack Yallou. He shouted a warning but was suddenly too busy parrying a series of blows from a fourth man who had attacked him. Kirisch saw an opening and slashed sideways with his sword cutting the man’s leg. As the man half turned to parry Kirisch, Benor stepped forward smashing the man in the face with the clenched fist of his sword hand, the man reeled back and Kirisch took him in the side, putting him down.

Benor stepped forward to cover Kirisch and support Yallou. Yallou stepped left into the foremost of his attackers, the middle one, sweeping his sword upwards, driving his attacker’s sword arm outwards, whilst using his left hand to drive his dagger into the man’s throat. Leaving his dagger in the collapsing corpse Yallou put his weight behind his sword, continuing the stroke but now angling it down, smashing down the guard of the next assailant. Stepping right he struck the man with his hip knocking him off balance and sprawling, whilst he brought his left hand to his sword hilt and with a double handed grip he scythed across to the third assailant, who – caught off guard and entangled in the body of his dead companion – tried to leap back, but the tip of the blade slashed his stomach open.

Recovering from the swing Yallou reversed his grip and stepped right again to strike the still unbalanced second man. At this moment his once shattered leg failed him and buckled. As he tried to recover, his opponent thrust out with a despairing blow which slid upwards under Yallou’s ribs and he dropped without a sound. Benor’s sword struck Yallou’s killer on the head, killing him instantly and Rothred stepped forward to cover his right hand side.

“Don’t anyone move.”

Benor stopped and looked. Kloft was standing in the Alley, at least a dozen watchmen with him, at least half of them Urlan and two with arrows already nocked in their bows. Kloft had no weapon drawn but stood with his thumbs hooked in his belt.

One of the rearmost attackers swung his sword. Whether he felt killing Kloft would break the watchmen, or whether he had some thoughts about holding him hostage no-one would ever know, the first arrow took him in the throat, the second in the chest.

“I said, don’t anyone move.”

Here is another example, it’s from ‘The Flames of the City’

Coming down the slope towards them were two Ranger scouts, riding for their lives. Cresting the ridge behind them was a black wedge of nomad cavalry. At the same time he heard Kloft shout, “Infantry, Halt!”

“Infantry, right face!”

Freelor tapped Karadan the Pimp on the shoulder.

“You stand at the back and kill anyone who turns to run; I’ll take your place in the front line.”

The Scar were nearer now, there was going to be no time for crossbow fire.

Freelor grasped his shield firmly.

“Front rank, brace yourselves; other ranks, close up!”

Freelor felt the shield of the man behind him firm in his back. From behind him he heard Bloggin Flor shouting to his crossbowmen to brace the spearmen. Freelor grinned mirthlessly to himself – whatever happened, none
of his Meor me were going to get a chance to run away.

An arrow thudded into his shield; he ducked his head down, so that only his eyes were over the shield rim. He wondered briefly if the nomads were going to hold off and pepper them with arrows, but instead the enemy horsemen came on, the front rank at least with lances lowered, and some of them on horses rather than ponies.

Freelor, his spear butt jammed into the ground, pointed his spearhead at the chest of the horse charging at him. At the last moment the horse tried to swerve right to avoid the spearhead, but Freelor brought the spearhead across to try and match the movement of the horse, and caught the animal in the shoulder. The horse’s momentum drove it onto the spear and it swerved even further right, crashing into the horse next to it. They both went down in a tangle of flailing legs and hooves. This tore the spear from Freelor’s grasp and he drew his sword. Another horseman had appeared in front of him, this one drove his lance at Freelor, who caught the point with his shield boss, and guided the lance past him to his left. The horseman pushed on, aiming to ride between Freelor and Griftok the Hookman on Freelor’s left. Griftok thrust his spear at the rider’s chest, the Scar warrior brought his shield across to block the blow, and then a spear from the man behind Freelor struck the horse below the eye, and continued onwards to leave a gash on the side of the horse’s neck. The horse reared back and Freelor stepped forward and stabbed the rider in the thigh. The horse as still trying to turn but came down on the two fallen horses to its right, lost its balance and threw its rider. From the second rank another spear stabbed out, hitting the horse again. It struggled to its feet and crashed into the horse of a rider trying to get through to strike the infantry. Freelor took the opportunity offered to pick up his spear again, Griftok speared the fallen rider and the two of them fell back a half step into the line.

Freelor took the chance to look round.

Where he stood, the charge had been halted. Dead or dying men and horses prevented the Scar getting to hand blows with them, but further to the right where Kloft was, things seemed to be going less well. There the line seemed to be buckling, and behind him Freelor could hear more shouts and screams – it sounded as if the infantry on the other side of the wagons had also been hit. He just hoped they would hold. An arrow ricocheted off his helmet; he ducked behind his shield again and shouted, “Keep them shields up!”

He risked a glance behind him, but could see nothing but the men of the next rank, one of whom grinned at him and gestured with his head to the left.

“There’s summat happening over there.”

Freelor nodded, feeling that as a sergeant he ought to know what was going on. He risked another look to the right, things seemed to be getting dangerous along there, but he could see little. Then further right still he could hear the sharp crack of scatterguns. Then to the left came a shout of “Infantry brace!” Freelor took up the cry, “Straighten this line out and brace yourselves!”

In front of him a second line of Scar were attacking. Where the ground was obstructed they merely halted on the other side of the obstruction and poured arrows into the infantry line as fast as they could. Where there were no obstructions they hurled their horses into the line. This time, with front rank spearmen wounded, more of the horsemen made contact. An arrow struck Freelor’s shield, penetrating it and grazing his arm.

Instinctively he glanced down to see what had hit him and his spearhead drifted left with the rest of his body. A nomad pony struck the side of his spear, forcing it further left and the rider struck down at him with a sword. Freelor tried to bring his shield up but it was too slow and he ducked, the sword striking the top of his helmet and shearing off the plume. Freelor dropped to his knees, stunned and the horse was past him. A second horse was bearing down on him and groggily he threw himself down and pulled his shield over him. The pony stood on the shield and Freelor stabbed upwards with his sword, hitting something, then the horse reared up and Freelor scrambled away keeping the shield between him and the enemy. He found a gap and stood up. In front of him was a Scar warrior trying to push through to join the melee. He swung at Freelor who raised his shield and blocked the blow, then thrust his sword into the man’s unguarded thigh. The Scar brought his sword down again, and this time Freelor ducked and brought the shield edge up to catch his opponent’s wrist. He continued to swing his shield, the edge driving the Scar warrior’s arm further to Freelor’s left and Freelor brought his sword up and stabbed the man in the stomach. The Scar collapsed forward and the pony, spotting a gap in the press of men and horses, surged into it, taking its dying master out of the combat. Freelor turned and saw Griftok beckoning to him. He stumbled back to the line and resumed his place. Griftok was trying to bind the wound of an infantryman Freelor knew but just couldn’t put a name to. The noise was now deafening, and Griftok pointed right. A line of Brontotheres, the sun glinting on their armour, crashed into the flank of the Scar. As he watched, the Scar horsemen, as they realised what was happening, turned their mounts round to flee. But securing the right flank of the Brontotheres were Ranger cavalry, and they were shooting into the panicking mass of Scar trying to escape the Brontotheres.

Freelor bent down to pick up a spear from off the floor. From behind him he heard a shout of `Crossbowmen to the front!’ and almost immediately the crossbowmen pushed between the files, spanning their crossbows as they came. Freelor turned to face his men.

“Let them through lads, we’ve had our fun, it’s their turn now.”

A water bottle appeared in front of him. Freelor reached for it and drank before passing it on to Griftok. Griftok took a mouthful and grinned.

“Thought we’d lost you back there.”

“I thought I’d lost me back there as well.”

Freelor looked back towards the Scar, but now all he could see was crossbowmen loading and firing as fast as they could. He heard Bloggin Flor shout, ordering them to cease fire, and Freelor pushed through their ranks to the front to see what was happening. The Scar were fleeing, and it was no longer possible to shoot them without hitting Rangers or Brontotheres. Gingerly, Freelor took off his helmet. Bloggin walked across to join him and they stood watching the pursuit. Freelor rearranged his helmet liner and put a scarf in as extra padding before putting his helmet back on again. “What happened behind us?”

Bloggin shrugged. “As far as I can tell, pretty much the same as happened to the front, but most of the Scar hit this side.”

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Gumbee News

A bit of news about our members today.

First up, congratulations to our very own Jim Webster who has a new book out – yes everyone, if you want to post information about your new books up here under ‘News’ tag, you can! I will get some pages for the Gumbee back catalogue I promise. Oh dear, where was I? Ah yes. Books.

Jim’s new book, The Flames of the City can be found on Amazon here for UK readers and here for US readers.

On a rather more boring note, the peerless A.F.E. Smith has interviewed me, M. T. McGuire, in the Barren Island Books spot on her blog. It’s a bit like that radio 4 show with the records only with books, phnark. So, if you want to have a look at that, you’ll find it here.

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Gumbee Author Interviewed

If a fellow gumbee gets some bandwidth elsewhere it seems only fair to mention it. So, here is a link to Jim Webster’s latest guest post at A.F.E. Smith’s blog on her renowned Barren Island Books column. You can read Jim’s musings here.

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