Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Pursuit: Number 2 Marcus Pailing

When one thinks of ‘pursuit’, one usually thinks of chases, whether on foot, horse, by car, or some other form of transport, usually with a villain pursuing the hero (or vice versa). When it was mooted that the Gumbee writers should next turn their attention to such scenes I was in a bit of a fix, because I haven’t tended to include that sort of action in my books. I did think of one such chase, but the end result of that was a fight, and we have already covered fight scenes in earlier blog posts.

So, here is my slightly different take on the theme of pursuit.

This episode occurs very near to the end of The Withered Rose. The background is a bit complicated, so I shall do my best to outline it briefly.

Kieldrou (the heir to the count of Trall) and Sturgar (the earl of March) have become enemies, for a number of reasons which I don’t need to list here. Their bad feeling was exacerbated when Sturgar accused Kieldrou of seducing his wife, Atela. Kieldrou had done no such thing, although it then came to light that Atela had fallen in love with him. (This appeared in an earlier blog post, on ‘peril and tension’.)

Since then, Kieldrou felt guilty that he had done nothing to help Atela, who was now trapped with a husband she no longer loved, and who knew that she had lost her heart to another. When he was ordered to travel back to the March, to help deal with a threatened invasion from Hussania, he was initially reluctant, because it would put him back in contact with Sturgar; but he also knew it would give him a chance to check up on Atela’s well-being.

However, when he arrived at the castle of Revenar he discovered that Atela was not there: Sturgar had left her at home. Kieldrou immediately became suspicious, fearing that Sturgar had harmed her. So he stormed out of Revenar and resolved to see for himself that Atela was all right. The problem was, Sturgar was none too happy about Kieldrou riding off to his home to check up on his wife.

They rode through the remainder of the afternoon, and then through the night. They pushed their horses hard, although they took care to rest their mounts, in order to preserve them. As it was, they did not ride with as much speed as Kieldrou wished, and he cursed often as they thundered across the fields, occasionally joining the winding road, but mostly taking as direct a route a possible.

They had collected half a dozen of the Hollowdene men to ride with them, men whose own horses were fresh, fed and watered. Within a few hours all the mounts were blown, but Kieldrou urged them on. He dreaded what they might find at Marchkeep, and he would brook no delay in their arriving there.

Sturgar followed them. The earl had summoned half a dozen of his own men, and towards midnight they caught up with the Trallians. Kieldrou was ready to fight, and his own followers gathered round, hands on their swords. But the Marcher men offered no steel. Instead, the two groups continued on their mad dash towards Marchkeep, each party riding separately, but neither allowing the other to draw ahead. It was a race, and none of the fifteen men really knew what the purpose of it was, nor what they would find at the winning post.

When the dawn began to break, and as the first rays of the sun began to cast new shadows on the land, bathing the fields and hills with a faintly golden glow, the riders crested a rise to see the town and castle of Marchkeep ahead of them. They were still some five miles away. Kieldrou and Sturgar sat on their horses, twenty yards apart, and glared at each other. They had not spoken a word to each other since the groups had met up at midnight. They still did not speak, but the deadly looks they cast at each other were eloquent enough.

Sturgar turned his head and spat on the ground.

Kieldrou kicked his heels, and his horse plunged down the slope.

 (There is another section here, which looks at the events from Atela’s perspective. However, it gives away too much of the plot, so I won’t include it here. Also, it was inserted in the novel to break up the chase somewhat, and also to bridge the time when Kieldrou and Sturgar are riding those five miles to the castle. We pick it up on their arrival at Marchkeep.)

Kieldrou leaped from his saddle. He was exhausted, but his anger with Sturgar and his concern for Atela drove him on. He was aware of Fernhelm dismounting beside him, but he did not acknowledge his friend’s presence – Fernhelm would stick by him, whatever happened, and they did not need to communicate: so attuned was their friendship that they would act in concert without words or gestures of direction.

He was also aware of Sturgar’s party clattering into the courtyard behind him. He ignored the earl’s shouts, and ran up the steps towards the doors of the keep. He could hear the raised voices as his men jostled with Sturgar’s, but they did not appear to be exchanging blows, merely argument; so he cast them from his mind and concentrated instead on his purpose of finding Atela, ensuring that she was safe.

A lone guardsman stood by the doors. He stepped forward to challenge the intruder, looking past Kieldrou at the fracas in the courtyard, seeking orders from his lord who was hurrying to catch up with the Trallians. Kieldrou barged the man out of the way and pushed open the door. Fernhelm growled when the guard, off balance, sought to bring his spear to bear, and the man backed away, seeing too much risk in confronting the two men on his own.

Kieldrou strode into the castle hall, glaring around. It was still early in the morning, and only a handful of people were about, servants going about their business. They quailed before the baleful glares of the tall Trallian and his equally fearsome sword-man, and hurried out of sight.

The Trallians headed towards the door in the north wall of the hall, which they knew would take them to a staircase and the upper levels of the castle. It was a spiral stair, and they bounded up it, hands trailing the stone walls for balance, until they came to the first landing. They could hear Sturgar following, although the earl no longer shouted at them to stop – the clanking of his spurs on the stone steps told them he was there.

“Further up?” Fernhelm asked, and they continued to climb the winding staircase.

They reached the next landing, and turned the corner, almost colliding with the woman who was running towards the stairs, clutching her skirts above her ankles. It took Kieldrou a few moments to recognise Atela’s tire-woman. She was sobbing, and she took huge gulps of air as he grasped her arms.

“Oh, my lord,” the woman gasped through her tears. “It’s you. Come quick. She’s bolted the door and I can’t get her to open it.”

Kieldrou cursed, and the two Trallians rushed down the corridor. Behind them, Sturgar ran to keep up.

Kieldrou pushed at Atela’s door, but it was bolted fast. “Atela!” he shouted. There was no answer. “Atela, open up!”

Sturgar shoved past him and tried the door. He cursed, and banged his fist on the panels. “Atela! For Hogra’s sake, pull back the bolt!”

Kieldrou hurled himself at the door. It shuddered under the impact of his shoulder, but otherwise would not budge.

“Fernhelm, take the woman away.”

Fernhelm nodded, and drew the sobbing maid from the vicinity of the door. Given the room he needed, Kieldrou stood back, and lashed out with his foot. His booted sole connected with the panel, just about where the bolt should be. The timbers shivered, but held. He kicked again, and again. The noise echoed in the corridor.

He stepped back, resting his back against the far wall of the corridor. Fernhelm was standing with the maid a little way away, holding her in his arms and trying to console her. Sturgar stood in the middle of the floor, staring at the door. The Earl’s face was pale, all the ire of the last night drained away. He kept his gaze on the door, never once looking in Kieldrou’s direction.

Kieldrou roared with renewed anger, and flung himself once more at the door. His body slammed against the panels. With a crash, the bolt on the other side gave way, the door flew open, and he stumbled inside.

 I have to stop it there, otherwise I would spoil the plot. Suffice it to say that this is the denouement of the entire novel.

It is hard to create the required level of tension in such a scene. In the chase itself one has to choose one’s words carefully in order to give the sense of speed and urgency, which is much easier to do in, say, a film, where the use of cameras and music provides valuable assistance. Ideally, a chase/pursuit scene should make the reader’s heart race, even if only a little. In this excerpt I have chosen the ‘tension’ is created, I hope, by not knowing what Kieldrou will find when he gets to Marchkeep – and, at the end, what he might find on the other side of the door.

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Pursuit: Number 1 Jaq D Hawkins

Imagine if you will, a chase involving three airships travelling through storm clouds, something that no sane airshipman would try. One ship is captained by Mister Wyatt, a disgrunted businessman who managed to waylay a shipment of opium through a shady deal, but the opium was stolen by pirates, and he pursues them with a mechanoid crew whose programming he is sure will equalise his inexperience as an airship captain. Another ship is captained by Tom Bradley, former night guard for Wyatt’s factory, who is also chasing after the opium with a crew more accustomed to burglarising houses than airship travel. His motivations are pure profit. A third ship, flown by a crew of experienced airship pirates who have actual possession of the opium, disappears into a cloud and in the low visibility, the other two airships mistake each other for Captain Bonny and his pirates. But first, we have a close encounter:

‘Captain Tommy! Look!’ a man shouted.

Bradley was already transfixed by the proximity of the other craft. The decks passed close enough that he could see Mister Bale standing on deck, smoking a pipe with the cat on his shoulder. Then they were gone, soaring off into the cloud ahead.

By then the sun had risen to reveal a dim morning. Anne Bardwell, sitting in the pilot’s booth, was no fool. The fog on the ground was clearing enough to see buildings. She took the ship down a little to see more clearly before the order reached her that they were to give chase to the ship that had passed. She had already nearly wet herself when the hull had passed within inches of her view window. She had no intention of returning to the thicker clouds where visibility was completely obscured. However, as they cleared the cloud, she saw an airship ahead of her and assumed that it must be the same craft, having come about from the hazardous cloud cover. Thus it was that Captain Zachary Wyatt with his crew of mechanoids and Captain Tommy Bradley and his gang of miscreants sped forth towards each other in stormy skies, while Captain Horatio Bonny floated above the worst of the storm, seeking his goddess.

The near miss was reported by crew who had seen it happen immediately, but Captain Bonny waved off the crewman who came to him with no more than a nod of acknowledgement. The incident was past before he could have reacted, and the wake of the dragon called him. Another few grains of opium were added to the pipe. He looked wistfully at the little cat still perched on his first mate’s shoulders further down the deck, then back off into the coming mist, seeking some sign of his goddess.

Oh dear. between the rum, the opium and a certain superstitious bent, the pirates do tend to come out of every situation unscathed. But will our other two airships fare as well?

Just as Captain Wyatt despaired of losing his quarry, he saw the airship headed directly for him from out of a cloud. The mechanoid pilot had levelled above the London fog, which was as hazardous as the storm clouds. The two would meet soon. Wyatt worked out that the mechanoid might well shut down completely if it was faced with conditions that gave it no logical course of action. There was no choice but to take control himself. He had, after all, studied the flight manuals.

He ordered the pilot mechanoid to remove itself for maintenance and took the controls. In clear skies as he had hoped for on that morning, he would have felt exhilarated to be flying his own machine above the city, but under the circumstances he was tense. He could just see the outlines of building tops and hoped that his knowledge of London would be sufficient to avoid getting too close to any that were tall enough to cause him trouble. The storm clouds were closing in on the city fast now. He knew very well that the sensible thing to do would be to go back and moor the ship until it passed, but the quarry rode towards him on the crest of the wave of black cloud. In truth, he wasn’t sure of his way back.

He needed a strategy. For all his preparations and good sense, Wyatt was inexperienced in the game of war. He had foresight enough to provide himself with weapons, mostly among the mechanoids, but how to go about getting them onto the other ship was something he hadn’t had enough time to consider. His first thought was that he would have to manoeuvre his ship to a position above the other and drop them down on the open deck. The mechanoids would know what to do from there.

Can you program a mechanoid to fight a battle? Mister Wyatt seems to think so. Meanwhile, the other crew of ‘night watchmen’ have troubles of their own.

Meanwhile Captain Tommy alternated between shouting orders to his disgruntled crew and uttering promises that they would be warm and comfortable soon, as well as rich. They plunged through the turbulent clouds in pursuit, causing several men to be sick over the side. A cross wind turned the ship nearly sideways just as one of Bradley’s watchman friends was leaning over the rail and sent him tumbling over the side. Bradley jumped towards him, trying to prevent his fall, but there was no time. He looked over the side in despair for his lost mate.

That was when he realised that the storm had blown their course back to the city. The ship was passing dangerously close over Big Ben. By some fluke, they had been directly over the clock tower as the man had fallen and he had landed on the slanted roof of the upper tower over the clock. Bradley watched as his lost crewman scrambled down to a platform with pillars where a talented second story sneak thief could climb to relative safety. He waved a salute as the airship climbed a little higher to avoid collision with the clock tower.

Hazardous conditions indeed, but Wyatt lures the other ship away from the centre of London and out over open country.

Bradley saw the other airship speeding away from him. He smiled, forgetting the man on the tower, and gave the order to give chase. He needn’t have bothered as the storm was blowing both airships before its force. As long as their courses continued north, nature was happy to give them an assisting push.

Wyatt gloried in thoughts of favourable tailwinds and sailed on northwards, watching carefully to make sure that the other airship followed. With an inexperienced crew against one that had been well programmed, Bradley’s ship faltered and was tossed about in the high winds as his men tried to work out the finer points of flap positions to make best use of the air currents. Wyatt noticed the difficulty and slowed his speed a little, allowing time for the other ship to catch up. As the situation worsened, Wyatt decided it was time to make his move. They were just outside of the busiest part of the city, over sufficiently open country to make a stand.

Wyatt’s ship floated upwards into a dark cloud that was just overtaking the race between airships. With their own stability to attend to, Bradley’s crew didn’t notice the manoeuvre.

‘Captain Tommy! We have to go to ground and wait it out. It’s tearing up the ship!’ Bradley heard the crewman shout the warning and swore under his breath. He kept sending orders to Anne to stay in pursuit, but the girl kept losing altitude. No doubt the woman was afraid of the storm as his men appeared to be, but Bradley had heard tales recollected on Bonny’s ship that convinced him that a stout heart could ride out any storm. As long as they stayed near the edge, that was the trick.

He looked through his scope and swore again. There was no sign of the other ship. They had been evaded. He nodded to the crewman and ordered him to pass the order to the pilot. The other ship must have docked already. When the storm passed, they could search again. It was just at that moment that something heavy plummeted past the open deck. Bradley was perplexed as he caught a split second of metallic reflection from a distant flash of lightning. He looked over the side, but the object had fallen too fast and was instantly lost in the mists surrounding them.

An almighty thump on the deck behind him made him spin, pistol at the ready. Not all of his crew were so armed, but Tom Bradley had always felt more comfortable with a pistol secured about his person. This was the first time he had ever pulled it out. His hand shook as he took in the sight before him. The pistol dropped impotently from his fingers, unnoticed either by Bradley or the mechanoid that struggled to stand up among broken deck boards that had splintered from its fall.

Another mechanoid fell just beyond the deck, plummeting past the ship. The silence of the morning cast an eerie flavour to the bizarre state of affairs as the cloud mists closed around the airship, cutting it off from all contact with the normality of the world that Bradley and his crew knew. There were other men on deck, but not one of them made a sound as a second successful mechanoid fell onto the deck, crashing through the boards completely into the compartment below. Meanwhile, the first mechanoid had moved towards the stairs, descending towards the pilot’s booth. Bradley blinked, and then shouted Anne’s name as he ran after the mechanoid to protect the woman he loved, although he didn’t know how he was going to do it.

Boarded by mechanoids! How would you defend yourself, and what happened to the ones who fell to the ground? The Wake of the Dragon by Jaq D Hawkins is available at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and soon to be released in paperback from Lulu.com

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Humour, wit and character conversation: Number 7 Sandra Giles

Alrighty then. Humour. An interesting topic, and one that doesn’t really go hand in hand with novels that have elements as dark as my own. Not that it stops me. Humour creeps into most, if not all, of my novels. Accidentally, of course. I never intend to be funny. In fact, most of the time I’ll read through one of my novels and find it surprising that there’s so much humour. Okay, so most people probably don’t see it. My sense of humour has always been a bit…odd. It makes me a bit apprehensive about finding and sharing pieces that I deem amusing, as you could well find yourself scratching your head, wondering why I chose these pieces. I wanted to take portions from each of my narrators and demonstrate how each of them can be humorous, then realised I shouldn’t introduce the narrators that aren’t going to hit the shelves for quite some time. So I instead chose a short piece from Aled, and a longer piece from Jared. The one below is from A Lost Fantasy, and demonstrates the light banter between the characters. They’re closer than family and like to make fun of one another a fair bit. It might not be laugh-out-loud funny, but I like to think it’ll bring a smile to a reader’s face. If it doesn’t, can you just humour me by smiling anyway?

“You went into labour and decided to come here?” Mark said, outraged. “And you think I’m slow?”

“Hey, don’t blame me. It was our baby who started all of this. Actually, technically it was you who started it.”

“How did you figure that out?” Mark asked.

“Well, I distinctly remember that just over eight months ago there was a particularly fun night involving cream and-”

“Okay, that’s enough detail. It takes two to tango.”

“Yes, and it takes one to put on a condom. I trusted you.”

“You trusted me to use protection when you’re on the pill? That’s a new one.”

“Well you know I’m always forgetting to take it.”

“Then we were bound to have a baby at some point. I can’t use protection when I’m a wolf.”

“No, but you pull-”

“So what are you two going to call your child?” I asked, cutting through their discussion much to the aggravation of the others.

“I was enjoying that!” Dylan said. “Tell us more about that wild night.”

“It was the last time he went anywhere near me,” Ella said indignantly. “After that, he seemed to think that getting too intimate would hurt the baby. What a ponce.”

“I seem to remember you saying that it didn’t matter because you could please yourself better than I ever could,” Mark said. We all laughed as he realised what he had said. “That didn’t help me look good, did it?”

“Nope,” Ian said. “And God knows you need all the help you can get.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“I was thinking of Anita,” Ella said.

“Not good, mate. You’ve turned her gay,” Ian said. Mark hit him.

“I meant for the baby.”

The following piece was taken from Proving Negatives. I should say there’s quite a big spoiler for anyone wanting to read the book, but it’s all in the names. Just…forget the names, okay? This piece has been chopped up to keep it as short as possible while still keeping the general plot. If you’ve been following these posts, you might recognise the setting from my part on love scenes. This precedes part of the sample I gave then, so Jared is trapped in a location unknown to him, and with company he’d rather be without. I chose this as I found myself laughing a fair bit when editing it recently. Since then I’ve read it through too many times to see much humour, but I hope I didn’t cut it all away. It mostly shows Jared’s sense of humour, which is more like my own than any other character’s. Warning: this piece may cause the occasional eye-roll and exasperated sigh.

“Hey,” I said abruptly, causing Andrew to jump a foot in the air. “Impressive. You’d do well in the Olympics. Hurdles, long jumps…Can you run fast?”

I made to chase him and he skirted around the cage, yelping as he ran into me. It was truly pathetic. This man is definitely more human than supernatural. I don’t know why anyone was bothering to hunt him.

“What?” Andrew asked hysterically. “You make me sick!”

“I was only going to ask you something. You didn’t have to go berserk on me.”

“Well I’m finding it hard to stay in control when you’re prowling about the place and shouting out.”

“I’m standing perfectly still, not prowling. You need to get a grip if you ever want out of here.” Just to make him more comfortable, I lowered myself to the ground in one slow movement. It would take a millisecond to jump back up again, but at least the illusion of safety was there.

“That’s okay for you to say; you can’t die of starvation.”

“You think you’ll die of starvation before I become crazed with thirst? Interesting.”

“See? You’re mental! I want out of here!”

“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I just did,” he said, alarmed. “We’ve only just started talking. When did you expect me to bring it up? I was hardly going to tell you when I was working against you. Now the only person I’m working against is Lance, but don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not siding with you. Not permanently, anyway. If you can get us out of here, great, but I can’t trust another vampire.”

“News flash, I’ve never done anything to you, it was the other way round.”

“You still going on about that?”

I opened my mouth, closed it, and settled for shaking my head in disbelief.

I got up off the ground and studied the cage we were in. It didn’t look too tough, but apparently was. I charged at it, hoping to bring it down, yet only managed to bring myself down. I fell heavily to the ground and was dazed enough to need a moment to recover. When I had, I tried a series of kicks to each plastic wall, hoping to find a weak link. That didn’t work so I moved onto punching, and then pushing, and then swearing at it. Not that I expected that to get me anywhere.

“Lance has the key,” Andrew said unhelpfully.

“Thanks, I know,” I muttered.

“He could let us out.”

I spared him an irritated glance before turning back to the walls. “I don’t think he’s going to help us somehow.”

“No, but maybe someone else would. We need a key, and there are two strong vampires out there who would want to help you. They’ll take him down and unlock the door.”

“You truly are an idiot,” I said.

“Or I’ve learned to think outside the box.”

I ignored him and traced my fingers along the edges of each wall, searching for a fissure that could be our only ticket out. Anything to be away from this lunatic. When I could find nothing of use, I sighed and spoke through gritted teeth. “If you have any ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.”

“If you were murdered, wouldn’t you want your killer to be trapped with you for eternity so that he could suffer?”

“I can’t be murdered so it’s a moot point.”

“I’m talking figuratively.”

“You’re talking nonsense.”

“If you’re going to be like that, I won’t tell you how to get out.”

“And if you don’t tell me, you’re going to die a slow and painful death. By the time starvation takes its hold, you’ll be begging me to bleed you dry.”

“Then I’d be dead.”

“That’s the general idea.”

“And I’d be a ghost.”

“If I murder you, yes. Or even if you blame someone. I guess you’d blame Lance, seeing as he put you in this cage. But it’s all very complicated and I’m not really sure what makes a ghost.”

“So if I die, I’d be another lost soul wondering the streets, waiting for my chance to take vengeance on the one responsible.”

“Vampires can’t die.”

“I know that, but humans don’t.”

“What are you-?” A light switched on in my head and I managed to figure out what he was getting at. “If there are ghosts around here, how will they get at Lance?”

“Through us, of course.” He smiled and looked crazier than ever. “If they help us, we can kill him for them. They’ll have his ghost to play with forever. I’m sure they’d help us for that.”

He hummed a little, and I felt a strong urge to hit him. Not to dominate him or any vampire crap, but just because he was bugging the hell out of me. If he ends up dying, it won’t be due to starvation. I was sure of that. “So what’s the plan once one shows up? It’s not as though they can get the keys from him. They’re dead.”

“Thanks for stating the obvious. I thought you had a plan?”

“You heard my plan. Now it’s your turn, genius.”

“Well, you said it yourself; we need vampires. Emilia and Ezra live a couple of streets away, according to you. If we can get one of the ghosts to pay them a visit, they can help us.”

“See, I’m not just a pretty face.”

“You didn’t even come up with it!”

“No, but the idea was there. It just needed formulating.” I slammed both of my fists against the barrier in frustration, and he jumped once more. “No need to get aggressive.”

“Oh shut up.”

He did, which was surprising.

“Jared?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m sorry.” He sighed heavily. “I underestimated you. I jumped to conclusions after seeing you take down James, and I really wish I hadn’t.”

“You would say that; you’re in a cage with me.” I smiled slightly anyway.

“There is that, but I am genuinely sorry. I was too fixated on my own problems and seeing you acting so strong, well, I was jealous. I thought if I could beat you, for real, I could prove something to myself as well as to those trying to collect me.”

“If it helps, you never would’ve won.”

“I know, but it’s a nice thought.”

“My head on a platter’s a nice thought? Thanks for that.”

“You know what I mean.”

I did, which probably made me no saner than him. Ah well, who needs sanity anyway? It’s highly overrated.

[Queue the arrival of a much-needed, albeit useless, ghost]

Undoubtedly bored with the goings-on of the living world, the ghost walked back through the wall she’d come through and we were left alone once more. I informed Andrew of this, and he slumped in agitation.

“How long until the next one?” he asked.

“How am I supposed to know? I don’t have a timetable!”

“Well just don’t mess the next time up, okay?”

“You try talking to the mentally unstable, it’s not exactly easy.” And I was having plenty of practice.

“You forget that I’ve seen inside your head when you’re at your most vulnerable. I know exactly what a disturbed mind looks like.”

“Thanks for that. And I can hardly forget.” I kicked the wall in frustration and ignored Andrew as he jumped into the air again. He got slowly to his feet and started pacing the enclosure.

[Queue the arrival of a second ghost, this one deaf]

“Has he gone to get help?” Andrew asked excitedly.

“No, he’s still here, looking at me in puzzlement. I don’t know how to get rid of him.”

“Where is he standing?”

I pointed towards the ghost, and Andrew tried to pinpoint his location before performing some very intelligent sign language of his own. He gave him the middle finger, a clear ‘fuck off’, and I tried really hard not to laugh. It wasn’t funny, not really, but I’ve always had an inappropriate sense of humour. I tried to apologise to the ghost, but gave up and let him walk off. I kind of wished he didn’t go, because even a deaf ghost was better than being with just Andrew.

“He’s gone,” I said, as Andrew moved on to more obscene sign language. He didn’t leave his spot by the invisible wall, too immersed in finding new ways to be immature. He was breathing onto the wall and writing rude words, along with drawing some imaginative pictures. When he wrote SOS in large letters, I realised this would have been an adept way of communicating with our deaf friend. It didn’t make me like Andrew any more.

So where did this leave me with Andrew? Well, maybe he’d prove himself useful. I tried not to laugh at that, especially when the man in question was standing hunched over and calling ‘here ghosty, ghosty’ to thin air. I know one thing for sure; I’ll take no pleasure in killing him. Well, unless it comes down to needing to feed. There is always pleasure to be had then.

“Can you please tell him to shut up? He’s driving me crazy!”

I jumped at the sound of the voice, which was close to my ear. I’d been so close to sleeping this time that I was more annoyed than happy with the appearance of a seemingly-sane ghost. This one was younger than the last, with a plain face that most people would forget in an instant. His attention was on Andrew, eyes narrowed as the call to all ghosts was still being attempted.

“Andrew, shut up, one’s here,” I said.

“It worked!” he said triumphantly. “Where is it? Is it sane?”

“Should I be insulted?” the ghost asked me.

“Nah, just ignore him, I try to,” I said. Andrew looked affronted but I tried my best to take my own advice. It was hard. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see a dead person.”

“Ditto,” he replied, smiling.

[The ghost] continued chuckling to himself as he left through the wall. I decided that, rather than face Andrew, I’d act a little unhinged myself. I continued to talk as though a ghost was present, just to put off talking to my actual companion. The problem was that I couldn’t keep up the stream for long.

“Just tell him to get on with it,” Andrew said in annoyance.

“Yeah, I know,” I said, staring at nothingness. “He’s a pain like that.”

“Hey!” Andrew said, jumping in front of me so that I could clearly see his frustration.

I couldn’t ignore him when he was so close, and had no idea what to say to my invisible friend, so had to settle for saying my final goodbyes to Mr. Nobody and actually acknowledging the fact that Andrew was in front of me.

“He’s gone. Happy?” I said angrily.

“Will he bring someone along to help?”

“Who knows? Maybe.” He looked as though he wanted me to say more, or he wanted to say more, and I just wasn’t up to any long conversations with the likes of him. Not when I was so exhausted. “Listen, do you mind if I go to sleep for a while? Hopefully our next caller will be Emilia, and you’ll have no problem seeing her.”

“Fine, if you must.”

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Humour, wit and character conversation: Number 6 David Staniforth

Any humour that is to be found in my writing is usually spread over several chapters, the grounding for a situation presented, as it is here in the excerpt from Alloria. Glebester Reibnach has learned that there is to be a vote and has gone to great lengths to sway the result.

* * *

“Ah, Glebester,” said council member Tosgrinja as he took his seat. “Thank you for the wine. A lovely gesture. Unfortunately, I had a touch of indigestion, so I didn’t partake. Not to worry though, my guests thoroughly enjoyed it.”

“What!” Glebester almost leaped from his seat. He looked around, desperately trying to suppress his anger. The length he had gone to. All the trouble and time and effort spent infusing the wine with magic. Having such little magic, the task had proved phenomenally difficult – weeks of research and devotion; cashing in every favour he could think of. Even then, it was only a stimulus to make others agreeable to his way of thinking. No guarantee of success, but hopefully enough to have helped send Ymarid on his way. With only thirty six having had the wine the vote could go either way. . .

* * *

A chapter later, following a series of proposals and speeches at a meeting of council representatives, the situation then develops. For me the humour is in the dramatic irony: the reader being privy to certain information of which certain characters are unaware.

* * *

Grand Elder Asperandt looked at the other councillors before returning his gaze back to his grandson. “That is my opinion, Ymarid. As always though, we will put it to a vote. Unless that is, any other council member has anything to add?”

“I would like to voice an opinion. Voice an opinion, you know.”
Ymarid closed his eyes and released a long sigh. He didn’t bother to turn around. Glebester had been a supporter of Vrengin. If anyone was going to try and block his proposal, Glebester was the most likely.

“Yes, Councillor Reibnach,” said Grand Elder Asperandt, a hint of annoyance in his tone, “What have you to say on the matter?”

“Grand Elder Asperandt.” Glebester nodded respectfully and expelled a wet rattling cough into his hand before continuing. “While I am certain none of us holds First Wizard Ymarid responsible for the tragic loss of the amulet of passage. Nor for the tragic events which surround it. One can sympathise with his wanting to put matters straight. That he is prepared to sacrifice himself, when his family has already seen such tragedy, I personally find quite overwhelming. Overwhelming, you know.” Glebester made a big show of wiping a tear from his eye. “I find his proposal to be magnanimous in the extreme. It is my opinion that we should allow First Wizard Ymarid his wish. Furthermore…”

Ymarid couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. By the look on their faces, nor could thirty six members of the council who were each shaking their heads in disagreement. The other thirty six appeared to be in full agreement and were nodding in full support of Glebester. A small group of invited guests sitting on the rear seats also seemed quite over enthusiastic in their support of Glebester and called out cries of, hear, hear, much to the embarrassment of councillor Tosgrinja, as they were his guests, and he looked to be firmly against the proposal.

Glebester looked around the council members as he slicked back a few fallen wisps of hair. “I would like to add an offer of my own. As you are all no doubt aware, I myself am not greatly blessed with an adornment of magical power. I do, however, have experience in universal matters. Experience, mark you. Should Yrion wish to draw on my experience, in an advisory capacity; should he wish it, you understand, I am happy to put myself forward. As a guide, you understand, nothing more. With my personal assistance, Yrion’s gift should be powerful enough. There is, therefore, a good chance that the most despicable foe behind our… unfortunate, errr, predicament, can be… eradicated. Eradicated, yes?”

Murmurs of agreement and disagreement battled for voice around the room. Tosgrinja’s guests whistled, whooped, cheered, stamped their feet and clapped in delight. Glebester allowed time for the uproar to settle before continuing.

“Grand Elder that concludes my thoughts on the matter. I say we grant First Wizard Ymarid his opportunity to… rectify matters.”

Grand Elder Asperandt raised his eyebrows, which looked to be a terrible burden considering all the loose flesh they had to lift. “Thank you, councillor Reibnach. Most… enlightning.” He glanced around the circle of seats, his eyes pausing to take in the visitors who were standing and still clapping. “Has any other representative anything to add.” After a suitable pause, Grand Elder Asperandt continued. “Very well. All those against the proposal.”

Thirty six members raised their hands.

“For.”

The remaining thirty six members raised their hands. All of them looked a little flushed, either from embarrassment or too much wine at dinner and seemed a little puzzled as they looked at their raised arms.

Looking into his lap Grand Elder Asperandt shook his head. “It would seem then that we have a tie. As you know, Ymarid, the casting vote falls to me. You already have my opinion on the matter. However, I will endeavour to prevent my own feelings from clouding my judgement and will deliberate my answer at length. When I have come to a final decision I will let you know.

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Humour, wit and character conversation: Number 5 M T McGuire

Reading back through the  posts in this series, I notice Will Macmillan Jones said, “MTM has been a proper comedienne, and is probably much better qualified than I am to write a piece on being funny.”

Oh bollocks.

Right then. I suppose I’d get my finger out from up my arse and do mine.

First of all, I should probably qualify the description, ‘proper comedienne’. If having a ‘spot’ somewhere is ‘proper’ I was. If getting paid in actual money, as opposed to beer , food or… well…  peanuts, is ‘proper’ then I’m very much not. I don’t think I ever saw any cold hard cash for my efforts.  Then again, I was only doing it because I thought I had more chance of being a writer, or at least getting published, if I got famous for being funny first. And yes, I really, truly believed I had more chance of making it in big in stand up than I did of persuading a literary agent to take me on. Even then. In the 1990s.

Actually, I still do. And that’s not a dig at agents, it’s pragmatism about my ability to self sell. Which is negligible. You see, to get ‘noticed’ by the establishment, an author has to be able to write a good query letter. I can write a half decent novel but I’ve always been useless at applying for jobs. That’s why I self published in the end, because I know my limitations and the time had come to be pragmatic about them and try a different path.

So, massive tangent finished, where was I? Ah yes. Humour.

It’s really difficult to do this. I have no idea what people find funny about my books, or me, and I have long since given up on trying to find out. All I’ve really learned is that when they laugh, I should smile and pretend it was deliberate. What I mean is, picking a funny bit out of one of my books has been really difficult because, I’ll let you into a secret, I don’t really know where they are. Yes, I could be the archetypical tortured clown but luckily I have a sense of humour.

As for types of funny, well, I suppose I tend to indulge in a few stalwarts. I’ve listed them, below, with illustrative excerpts. The thing that jumps out at me, when I read them, is that they’re really not very funny on their own, which is a bit embarrassing. Though it does eloquently demonstrate my firmly held belief that humour, the humour I write, at any rate, is accumulative. The minute I start snipping out bits and pasting them on their own they die somehow.

Funny words.
The sheer joy of using words that sound funny together never palls, even if no-one else notices, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me. It won’t get an out-and-out laugh, but I firmly believe it helps build comic tension and make whatever lame joke it is that follows seem much funnier. It’s a particular joy inventing invective when the characters are arguing with one another.

Tick over comedy.
What I mean by this is stuff that isn’t that funny on it’s own but keeps things light by going on in the background, once again, the sole purpose is to make the comic denouement, when we get there, seem a bit less lame.

Slapstick.
There’s an element of slapstick, or at least comedy capers, in my stuff; people slipping on banana skins and falling down, stuff like that (although nobody has actually slipped on a banana skin anywhere in my writing so far).

Making the characters funny.
I have to confess that most of the characters I write are much funnier than I am. Sometimes they do things which are amusingly ditzy, sometimes they can be quite witty, especially, Ruth and The Pan of Hamgee, although, in his own style, Big Merv is quite sharp.

The icebreaker moment.
Lastly, there’s what I call the icebreaker moment, when something happens in a serious bit that relieves the tension and makes… well… it makes me laugh. I like those a lot because they let me make the tense bits so much nastier.

So, I’ve posted two excerpts, the first is a brief demonstration of what I mean by an icebreaker moment, quite a light one from the first book in the K’Barthan Trilogy. The Mervinettes, the gang of bank robbers The Pan of Hamgee drives for, have just agreed to try and rob the world’s most impregnable bank. Things are tense, because although they’re going to be paid a lot of money, they are being blackmailed into it by a contact The Pan introduced to them.

“Alright, we’ll do it,” said Big Merv sullenly, “we’ll rob your bank for four million Grongolian.” He swung round and glared at The Pan: “And as for you,” he strode over to him, shouting, “you stupid, snivelling—” Without warning, he punched him in the face. The Pan saw the fist approaching his nose but didn’t have time to duck before it hit home. The impact tumbled him backwards over a chair and the pain erupted like a firework. He hit the floor, sprawled on his back and clamped his hand over his face, rolling onto all fours. Big Merv stepped smartly round the chair and pulled him to his feet. “That’s for getting us into this!”

The Pan had had enough.

“Now who’s the stupid one?” he said nasally as he clamped his handkerchief to his bleeding nose, “Thumping the assets you’re supposed to be protecting.”

Big Merv let go of him.

“I’m sorry, mate. I was out of order, but I couldn’t bring myself to punch that old relic,” he said, glaring at the old man. It hadn’t been a hard punch; The Pan’s nose was already beginning to stop bleeding, and although it was bruised and swollen it didn’t feel broken.

This second excerpt covers pretty much everything else. It’s from The Wrong Stuff, K’Barthan Trilogy: Part 2. The Pan of Hamgee is suffering a certain amount of narcotic inconvenience after having been in Grongolian custody. He rescues Ruth, who he had become besotted with from afar, but when he tries to explain himself, all he can say, is ‘I’m a little teapot’. We see this from Ruth’s point of view and join a few hundred feet above the London skyline, in The Pan’s snurd, just as the drugs are beginning to wear off.

“There might be a police helicopter if it’s not busy somewhere else,” she said. “Otherwise, I expect we’re set, we don’t have too many flying cars here in Britain.”

“It’s not a little teapot,” he began. “Ruth,” he said excitedly, “I’m… not a little it’s teapot… wearing off… I’m a…”

“Are you all there?” she asked.

“Little… nearly… teapot…”

“Hmm.”

“It’s not a little… car… teapot,” he said, “I’m a… it’s a little… snurd… teapot.” His eyes rolled in exasperation.

“Are you on drugs?” she asked.

He turned in his seat, put one finger on his nose and pointed at her with the other hand, charades style.

“Yes!” he said, turning his attention back to the business of driving with a great deal of relief.

“And you want me to know that?”

“I’m a little… not… teapot… self administered.”

“Somebody else drugged you?”

“Mmm hmm.” A nod.

They were flying over the City now and below them, Ruth could see a large office block with a helipad on top. She pointed downwards.

“OK. I think it’s time you landed this thing so we can have a chat. You have a great deal of explaining to do.”

He managed to say, ‘mmm’ without any mention of teapots and landed the Lotus smoothly on the helipad. For a moment there was no sound but the ticking of the engine as it cooled and the muffled roar of the traffic rising up from the street below. Then he got out of the car and leapt over the bonnet, except she felt the car dip and, if it hadn’t been an inanimate object, she would have sworn that he’d failed to leap high enough and had only cleared the bonnet in one piece because the car had ducked. He opened her door with a flourish and she undid her seatbelt and climbed out.

He put out his hand and without thinking properly about what she was doing, she took it and let him lead her over to the edge of the helipad. It was raised a few feet above the roof of the building and below it a couple of yards of concrete ran to the edge of the roof proper, where there was a safety fence. It was there to stop the unwary from falling off, Ruth supposed, but it wouldn’t be enough to stop somebody who really wanted to from throwing her off – this man, for example. That said, she was pretty sure his intentions were friendly and that she wasn’t in any danger. He seemed too pleased to see her for that, he could hardly stop smiling. He sat down with his legs dangling over the edge of the helipad and she followed suit making sure she kept a few feet’s distance between them. He appeared utterly at ease with her which made her relax a little despite stern warnings from the sensible part of her brain about the dangers of running off in space cars with strange men.

He raised an eyebrow and waved a hand at the view in front of them.

“I’m a… nice city you… little tea… have here… pot.”

“Thank you,” she said, “nice Zorro hat. Your wheels aren’t bad either.”

He chuckled and took a breath as if to speak but inclined his head in a sort of bow instead. Well, there are only so many ways you can tell somebody you are a little teapot, after all, Ruth thought and he’d probably run out of them. He took his hat off and ruffled his hair with one hand. It stood up. Naturally spiky. No sign of gel. Cool. No, not cool at all, get a grip Ruth. The two of them sat in silence for a moment while she tried to work out what to say and what was going to happen next. She felt disconnected from reality, as if her life was a film and she was sitting in the audience watching, a dangerous sensation because it was stopping her from taking it seriously. He cracked first.

“I’m a little… Arnold when is this… teapot… stuff going to… I’m a little… wear off… teapot?” He stopped. “I’m a… I should… little teapot… explain why I’m a… here little teapot.” He grimaced and shook his head.

“It would help,” said Ruth, “but I can see it’s going to be difficult.”

He was exasperated and angry with himself, too, by the looks of it.

“OK, I have lots of questions, so why don’t I ask the ones which only require ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers?”
A relieved sigh, “I’m a little… alright.”

“Good, and when I’ve asked my questions, you will be driving me home, won’t you?”

“I’m a… I will take you… little teapot… wherever you want to go.” Another smile. She looked into his eyes. They were dark blue, so dark they looked almost black, the way normally only brown eyed people’s can. He maintained eye contact for just that little bit too long before blushing and looking down at his hands. Hmm. Ruth wasn’t super-confident about her looks, but in this case the signs were obvious. He fancied her. Oh well, it could be worse. He wasn’t a giant and he hadn’t shot at her and she had to hand it to him, as smiles went, his was pretty engaging. And he had a kind face – those blue, blue eyes had the type of crow’s feet round them which suggested he smiled a lot. Perhaps it was time to try and discover what he wanted?

“You know, my life has become very weird of late,” she said, “Those guys, the no-no ones,” she waved her hands backwards and forwards the way he had done and he nodded, “They’ve been following me for months now.”

“I know,” he said.

“I don’t think you do, not unless you’ve been following me as well. Have you?” she asked him sternly.

He cleared his throat and couldn’t meet her eyes any more. Result! She’d got him bang to rights.

“You have, haven’t you? You’re another scary stalker! You’re just better at it than them!”

“No. I was… I’m a little… Arnold’s Y fronts!” Deep breath. “Sorry. I have to explain and this stupid… teapot… Truth Serum is making it difficult.”

“I’m sorry. When you say, ‘Truth Serum’ that makes me think Secret Police.”

“Then you’re a little… right … teapot.”

“So. I’m guessing that means you’re in trouble where you’re from, does it?”

He nodded. She eyed him quizzically.

“With the police or someone else?”

“The… teapot… police.”

“And I suppose they’re not very nice because nice policemen don’t tend to use things called Truth Serum.”
Another nod.

“And I’d guess they gave you that black eye.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“Are you a revolutionary?”

“No, that would make me an idiot.” Oh, a whole sentence in one! Sarky, too. She was impressed.

“OK then, are you some kind of criminal where you’re from?”

He shrugged and spread his hands when he nodded this time.

“Well, you’re obviously a really crap one. I’m not scared of you at all.”

“I’m a… little… teapot… getaway man,” He looked affronted, “I’m… not… a little… meant to be… teapot… scary. I’m meant to be… a little teapot… scared. Otherwise I’m a little… I won’t be any… teapot… good at running away… I’m a little… will I?”

Ruth giggled, the teapot thing clearly got worse when she wound him up. She shouldn’t be sitting here talking to him like this but amazingly, trapped as she was on the top of a London skyscraper, with no way off and no hope of help, she felt utterly unafraid.

“Is that how getaway men dress?” His outfit was intriguing; elastic sided boots, dark blue canvas jeans, loose paisley silk shirt, tucked in at the waist and unbuttoned at the top. He was wearing a greeny-blue velvet jacket and over the top, a thick dark cloak and the hat. How to sum that up? Mostly back-of-Revolver, a dash of front-of-Help, a modicum of pirate and a sprinkling of Zorro. An odd look, but one that was all his own and one Ruth liked.

“No, I’m a little… that’s how I dress.”

“I see. It’s not a bad look and you’re correct, it’s not scary. So, are you telling me that, right now, you’re meant to be frightened?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“And are you?”

A nod and a disarming smile.

“I’m the one with no clue what’s going on, I thought that was supposed to make me the frightened one.” He shrugged. “Are you scared of me?”

He laughed, put one hand out and wiggled it in a way that was clearly sign language for maybe.

“I don’t think you are.”

More smiling, he raised one eyebrow.

“Quite obviously, no.” Another shrug. “But you are a getaway man?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“That’s a criminal.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“Then why do I trust you?”

He laughed.

“You are evidently a little—” a deep breath, “a rubbish judge of character… teapot.”

“Not usually,” she gave him her best don’t-mess-with-me stare. There was that smile again. A small part of Ruth wanted to go out of its way to make him smile as much as possible. That was not good. Time for a reality check. He had swept her off her feet, literally – if not figuratively – and driven her through the best bits of London in the soft dusk light, in a flying car, with the top down. There was more than a bit of glamour appeal to this experience and Ruth suspected that the fact the Lotus was the car of her dreams might be clouding her judgement about the man inside it.

“Right then. I know you are probably here illegally, that you have a way cool set of wheels which flies and that you have a very amusing speech impediment.” He chuckled and she was unaccountably pleased to have made him laugh. “Anything else you’d care to tell me?”

He took another deep breath.

“I’m,” Ruth watched with interest as he waited for the urge to declare himself teapot-shaped to subside. “…not from around here,” he finally said.

“Yes. I guessed that. OK, let’s start somewhere simple. What’s your name?”

“I’m The Pan of Hamgee,” he inclined his head to imply a bow, “and I am at your service.”

“I see.” Ruth frowned. The ‘I am at your service’ bit was quite charming, in an old-world way, “What’s your first name?”

“I don’t have one.”

“You mean that’s it?”

He nodded.

“That’s not a name, it’s a title. What do people call you? ‘The?’”

“No. Usually it’s ‘Oi you! Stop! Teapot! Thief!’” Another long pause, “‘Pan of Hamgee’ translates slightly differently, so I suppose in your language, you’d call me ‘The Hamgeean’.”

He was looking shifty again. She knew it! He was lying.

“That sounds like a wrestling hold and it still doesn’t give you a first name. I’m not an ‘oi you’ kind of girl. I can’t say ‘Hi, Hamgeean, how are you?’ It doesn’t go. I’m Ruth Cochrane – don’t you dare laugh at my surname or make one reference to Eddie – so when you want to get my attention calling me ‘Cochrane’ is plain weird. I’m fine with ‘Ruth’ and it follows that, barring cultural differences, there must be something I’d use to talk to you; which you are not fine with, presumably.” She waited but he wasn’t biting. She sighed. “OK, Mister Pan of Hamgee, we’ll have it your way, for now and keep it formal but don’t think you’ve got away with not telling me. I know you’re lying and that means you do have a normal name. Let’s try something else. Why are you here?”

“I’m a… the big guys with the… little… Arnold in the skies! …teapot… guns are not your friends. I came here to find you before they did.”

“Well done, and thank you – I don’t think the people who run the Festival Hall will be very keen on you, though. In fact, I expect you’ll be had up by the police as soon as they see your car – I should imagine somebody took your number plate.”

He smiled, raised an eyebrow, put one finger up in a wait-a-moment gesture and stood up. She watched as he walked coolly over to the Lotus, leaned in and pressed a button on the dash. There was a gentle electronic whining sound in stereo from the front and back of the car and the number plates revolved. He strolled back and sat down again, closer to her this time, with the air of a man who knows he has done something fairly impressive.

“You just revolved your number plate.”

How annoying was that! She was trying to play it cool, trying very hard not to appear overawed, and to her irritation, it wasn’t working.

“Are you sure you’re not a spy? You have a spy’s car.”

He laughed and, again, she was glad; such a bad sign.

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Humour, wit and character conversation: Number 4 Will Macmillan Jones

Humour.  Well, all my friends here think this one should be easy for me, since I write what is laughingly called ‘Comic fantasy’, but it isn’t really.  MTM has been a proper comedienne, and is probably much better qualified than I am to write a piece on being funny.

Where comedy is concerned, I’m a bit of an existentialist. I prefer to try and let it happen rather than define it. (Actually that’s posh speak for the fact I can’t be bothered to think about it.) But realistically, I beak it up into a few sections.

Word play, one of my favourites.  Double meanings, misunderstandings, friendly banter.

Situational comedy – placing entirely inappropriate people or places or behaviour together, and seeing what happens.  Twisting reality a little to show it from a different angle to our normal view. Plus my preference, of blending the magical and extraordinary with our own daily world.

Slapstick.  I’m just a big kid really, and the slipping on a banana trick, or the bucket of water balanced over a door, yes these make me laugh.

Spontaneity is the key.  I think some of my best lines have been throw away one line jokes that just cropped up, rather than carefully constructed artefacts.  My favourite line ever is still: “I know it’s live yoghurt, but is it meant to come when it’s called?”

I didn’t plan that one.  My personal favourite situation is the initial meeting, in mid air, of an RAF fighter jet and a drunken red dragon carrying a bass guitar.  And slapstick: having the Dark Lord use his superlative evil magical skills to distract his bank manager’s path along the pavement outside the offices, causing the bank manager to walk into a lamppost.

As a taster then, a section from The Satnav of Doom, to be released by Safkhet Publishing on 30 October 2013.

Deep within the financial headquarters of the Edern in North Wales, the CEO of the organisation slapped his hand on the polished boardroom table to attract attention.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said loudly.

By and large, he was completely ignored. Once again he slapped the table, this time with a heavy leather glove pulled from his suit pocket.

“This meeting is called to order!” he said firmly, upping his volume somewhat.

The argument continued to rage.

“The board is now in session!” he shouted, and to emphasise his point, he seized the large golden sword that lay on the conference table, and slammed it down hard. Slowly the table split in two, the halves falling inwards. Silence fell.

“Blear, whatever did you do that for?” asked Lady Hankey, glaring down her long, patrician nose at the CEO.

“That table was an antique,” agreed Lady Meillar.

“Like Blear himself,” muttered Lord Telem. “Just because the boardroom is split around the table, you didn’t have to split the boardroom table as well!” he complained, more loudly.

Comfortably settled, in a chair in the corner, Lord Tosca snored.

“I have tabled a motion!” declaimed Lord Blear.

“And look what happened to the table,” retorted Lord Emyr. “It moved.”

“If The Lady In The Lake ever finds out what you did with her enchanted sword, Blear, she’ll make your life a living hell,” warned Telem.

“Compared to dealing with you lot, that will be a step up, then!” retorted Blear.

“Extraneous insults are the sign of a poor argument,” said Lady Hankey, who was opposing Blear’s suggestion. Not because she disagreed with the idea, just that she had been opposing Blear’s suggestions to her for some time, and wasn’t going to stop now.

“Ever since a travelling enchanter sold Her that spell to turn water into wine, She’s been too drunk to bother about the sword,” Lord Telstar remarked.

Blear smirked.

“True,” agreed Lord Tosca. “The only time she comes out of The Lake now is to wave a clarinet and sing drunkenly at strangers on the shore.”

Telem and Telstar picked up the two halves of the table, and Lady Meillar glued them back together imperfectly with a wave of her hand and a spare incantation she had left over from the last Board meeting.

“Now,” said Lord Blear loudly, “if you would kindly resume your seats, I will recap on the thrust of our discussion to date in the expectation that we may, in the course of our deliberations, achieve a consensus agreement to the proposal which may then be considered to have been retrospectively authorised in regard to the initial expenditure necessarily incurred in the formalisation of the project to formal proposal stage.”

Lady Hankey glared at Lord Blear. “Am I right,” she enquired in glacial tones, “that you are confessing to allowing improper expenditure to have been incurred without the formal permission of the board?”

“No,” replied Lord Blear.

“I’m sorry?” asked Lady Hankey.

“Your apology is accepted, Lady Hankey. Now, moving on.”

“That wasn’t what I meant!”

“Perhaps not, but it is what you have said, and what has been entered in the minutes. Moving on.”

Lady Hankey sighed, but sat down with the others.

“Right,” Blear said smugly at this evidence of corporate compliance. “Briefly then.”

“Brevity is the soul of wit, I’m told,” observed Lady Meillar.

“It is not an instruction within the Corporate Governance Articles,” replied Blear.

Lady Hankey sighed again. Blear gave her a glance, but she stayed quiet.

“As you know,” he continued, “I have been approached by the Governor of The Bank of England, and the Chancellor of The Exchequer.”

“Blear always was a bit slow,” muttered Tosca to Telstar. “Anyone else would have run a mile from those two together.”

“I have asked to provide a feasibility study for the provision by our company of a new economic forecasting system for the treasury. The fee will be substantial.”

There was a murmur of approval.

“And will,” Blear gave Lady Hankey a cold glance, “dispel any lingering concerns about expenditure on this project temporarily carried within the research budget.”

Lady Hankey nodded her reluctant agreement.

Lord Blear took a satisfied breath, and a dissatisfied sip from the glass at his elbow, before continuing, “The new Prime Minister, hoping to avoid a repeat of the last serious recession, has decided that sacrificing chickens and examining their entrails has not, on balance, proved a successful mechanism for economic modelling in the last forty years and a modern system should be incorporated into the treasury’s economic forecasts. Plus, he is a vegetarian, and didn’t want to eat the chicken afterwards as was customary.”

“So,” asked Lord Telstar, “this is the plan B the chancellor was going on about in Parliament the other day?”

“No. The Treasury’s plan B was to send the Chancellor of The Exchequer around London in a taxi, and get financial advice from the driver. But the cab fares were getting a bit pricey, and the driver is retiring. Hence, a new system is considered necessary.”

“Wait a moment,” interrupted Lord Telem. “What happened to that economic forecasting software system that they bought from the Americans two years ago for about thirty million pounds?”

“A comparative exercise over two years has shown that the taxi driver was more accurate.”

“Bet the US government laughed their socks off at that,” said Lord Tosca.

“Not really,” replied Blear. “They had bought the same software, and The Governor of the Federal Bank had to keep flying over here and hiring the same taxi driver we’ve been using. That’s why the driver can afford to retire.”

“What happened to Galadriel’s Magical Mirror system?” asked Lady Meillar. “The one they used to keep in the cellar of Number 11 Downing Street?”

Blear looked a bit uncomfortable. “It’s never been the same since The Lady In The Lake used her spell on the water and turned it into merlot during a Cabinet Office party. It’s one reason the country has been in the red ever since.”

This excerpt is from The SatNav of Doom, fifth in the acclaimed ‘The Banned Underground’ fantasy series, published by Safkhet Publishing Limited and appears with their consent.

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Humour, wit and character conversation: Number 3 Jaq D Hawkins

Most good stories have some humour, even if the subject matter is deadly serious. I was often surprised by the humorous moments that arose when I first started writing about the world of the goblins in Dance of the Goblins. It was something that carried through the series, but the effect on me as the writer was new and bemusing as I often didn’t see those moments coming until they were upon me.

One of my favourites of these occurred in a tense situation, where my main human character, Count Anton, was wandering a bit further in the goblin caverns than he had previously been allowed. There was still much he did not know about the society of the goblins and he had good cause to be nervous. There was a running joke between Count Anton and Haghuf, the main goblin character. Anton liked to ask questions about the goblins, and Haghuf liked to be evasive the answers. Asked what goblins eat, his answer is quoted in the folowing passage:

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He crept quietly, still listening as hard as he could as he approached the narrow passage that would take him to the deeper levels. He was startled by a sudden clattering of rocks behind him. Turning instinctively into a defensive position, he just caught the sight of a ginger tail disappearing behind a pillar. Letting out the breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, he crept around the other side of the pillar to get a better look at the small animal before reaching for it. As he had surmised from the quick glance, it was only a cat. The animal looked as though it intended to back away, yet when Anton extended his hand it relaxed and came forward and brushed itself under his hand to be stroked. He picked it up, grateful to have an ordinary living thing appear in order to break the tense silence of the apparently deserted cavern.

He walked back to the passage, but released the cat before stepping through the opening. As he put the creature down, the words echoed in his mind, ‘Whatever comes to us.’ Immediately he tried to shoo it further away from the passage, but it slipped past him and scurried through the opening. Anton tried to follow, but the cat ran too fast and disappeared into one of the labyrinthine corridors that branched off from the initial passage. He had no choice but to give it up for lost.

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Oh dear, poor kitty. Anton travels further and eventually comes across a goblin he knows, but not Haghuf. He is invited to the Storytelling, an event that no human has witnessed before. It is simply a gathering of goblins to share food and relate tales before the drumming and dancing starts, but the spiritual, Shamanic nature of The Dance makes the whoe experience insular. No matter his friendships, Anton is not part of the tribe. His discomfiture plays a role in the offhand humour as a pair of good-natured goblins wind him up a  bit.

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Anton was led to an expansive cavern that was filled with far more goblins than he realised actually lived in all of Krapneerg. It was no wonder that the other levels seemed so deserted, they had all gone to Storytelling. From what Haghuf had told him of Storytelling, it should have been no surprise that it was so well attended. It was more than an entertainment, but a central news gathering where goblins learned the histories and science of their kind as well as hearing stories of current events. Legends and tales that they made up themselves would be interspersed randomly with the sort of information that human children would learn in schools and even with lessons in the use of magic for the young ones.

A few heads turned as they entered the room from the back. Anton imagined that he saw some disapproving expressions and a couple of exaggerated sniffs from goblins he didn’t recognise, but they quickly turned their attention back to Talla, who was at the front of the room telling the story of his rescue of her. The sight of her thrilled him in an odd way, one which he found a little disconcerting. Another goblin appeared from beside them, pushing roughly made bowls of food into their hands.  Leap motioned for him to follow to a vacant place where they could sit and listen.

(edited for brevity)

Anton examined the food he had been given. His natural inclination was to assess its nature carefully before putting anything into his mouth. He felt some conflict between his curiosity about goblin fare and his reluctance to find himself with a mouthful of cat… or worse… which made him cautious. There were fresh vegetables which surprised him as they couldn’t have been grown underground. He started munching on a carrot so that he would not seem impolite while he tried to determine the nature of the meat. There was no bread or other baked goods which was unsurprising. It appeared to be a very healthy combination of meat, vegetables, and some sort of nuts or grain ground up and cooked into a porridge which was at the bottom of the bowl. Anton glanced at Leap and saw that he had nearly finished his own meal and was using two fingers to bring the porridge to his mouth like a spoon.

He imitated the motions as best he could, but could not help taking a careful sniff of the meat. It smelled and looked like roast pork, but he could not be sure. He had heard that human flesh had a similar smell and texture. Suddenly a large flat hand descended heavily on his shoulder and a voice was whispering in his ear.

‘It’s swine, nobody you know.’ He turned and saw an unfamiliar goblin grinning at him, enjoying his discomfiture. Anton smiled back, and took a bite. He hoped the goblin was telling the truth. At least he knew he was safe from anything worse than this good natured teasing, as Leap had invited him to the Storytelling and therefore  he was guest. Just as he was about to turn around and give his attention to the story being told, something else caught his eye, a patch of ginger fur at the back of the room. The cat had wandered right into the one place that was packed with goblins.

There was nothing he would be able to do to rescue it now. Its scent drew several pairs of eyes around to look straight at it. He tried willing the creature to run for its life, but the cat caught sight of him and stupidly started running directly towards him instead. The cat leaped at him and he raised his hands to catch it, hoping that the goblins would extend guest immunity to it when they saw that it had befriended him. But the cat didn’t land in Anton’s arms. Instead, it settled squarely on the shoulder of the goblin who had spoken to him. Anton guessed that his own expression must have been one of shock and horror judging from the laughter of several of the goblins who were near enough to witness the little drama playing out. The goblin next to him didn’t react to the cat, but turned to Anton, grinning at him once again.

‘This is Lucky. We don’t eat him either.’ The goblin reached to stroke the cat on his shoulder as he spoke. From behind him, another goblin leaned forward and spoke.

‘That’s why we call him Lucky!’ He said through his laughter. All of them seemed to be amusing themselves by watching his obvious concern for the little cat.

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Filed under Gumbee Fantasy Writers' Guild