Tag Archives: humour in fantasy

Why do I set my books in Lyonnesse?

Yes, it’s another one of the questions that comes up in the author interviews, “why did you chose the setting that you did for the book?” or some such. “Why there? And what was the reason behind it?”
In my case it is simple, because my Lyonnesse is the world I would very much like to inhabit. It is a place where life is simpler and where magic and mystery still exist, and on the whole people are kinder to one another. Money isn’t the be all and end all and life is respected and held sacred. Not just the people, but everything that lives there, animal, plant and fungus. Things aren’t done quickly because it saves a few pennies (or cents). Things are done properly with love and attention.
I have been criticised as being anti-establishment and anti-capitalist. Not true, well not in the conventional sense anyway. Probably because I make a big thing out of everyone bartering in Lyonnesse. I fully understand that money is the ultimate, and in some ways, logical tool for bartering with. However I do object to the way it is used in our society. It is used to coerce the poor into unfulfilling and mind-numbing jobs, whilst the gap between rich and poor grows ever larger. The mathematics is simple, if everyone gets a 10% pay rise then the man at the bottom earning ten thousand a year get an extra thousand to take home. However, boardroom man earning one hundred thousand gets an extra ten thousand a year, the equivalent of an extra man doing the work at the bottom. I could go on and I know that this is simplistic but it is still true.
Also, because boardroom man is keen to meet targets and because labour and wages are the single greatest expenditure for most companies, if a few seconds can be shaved off of the time it take to do something, so much the better. As a result everything becomes just good enough at best, and pride in the work you do goes out the window. Take roads for example. Yes, alright, I have a bugbear about roads, but they make a good example. Years ago councils used to have their own road building/maintenance departments to look after the roads. And for the most part they did a good job and took pride in their work. They had to because their foreman of works would come along during and after the job to make sure it was being done properly.
Then, in an effort to save a few pennies, it was decreed that all works commissioned by councils had to go out to tender, and council work gangs were laid off. Many of the recently laid off workers organised themselves into small companies, often with the same managers they had had before. They still did a good job of repairing the roads and the council saved a little money because the small company didn’t have to support tiers of management and could therefore do it cheaper. The councils still had to pay someone to inspect the work after, but all was well, and the men still had pride in their work.
Enter big business. Why? Because the contracts for road repairs are very lucrative and there is money to be made. So many of the small business either had to reduce their prices to compete for the tenders or they were bought out by bigger firms. Since the costs of the materials used were fixed the only way to reduce the price was to do the job quick and therefore with less care. This reduced the number of companies vying for the tenders, seen as a good thing because it generates competition. The councils are still happy because they are still saving money, and they can save even more money by nor replacing their inspectors as they retire or leave because they are confident that a good job will be done because it was last year. The workers aren’t as happy because they no longer have the time to do the job to the standard they are used to.
Years pass as they have a habit of doing. All the small companies that were started when the work first went out to tender have now either gone out of business or been bought out by big business. This reduces the number of companies bidding for the tenders. The council is still under pressure to save money and goes for the lowest bid. (Yes, I’m not going to say anything about the backhanders that go on to get contracts.) The big companies have to save money, somewhere because they have the tiers of management to support that the small companies didn’t. But that’s ok because the old work gangs are getting to retirement age and are fed-up with the half arsed job they were doing. Instead of having the expense of hiring and paying wages, all new recruits are taken on as self-employed subcontractors. This not only saves the expense of employing staff but also means they don’t have to pay them if there is no work for them to do. The workers are only happy in the fact that they have a job and are earning a wage. The council still haven’t hired any more inspectors because they can’t afford it. Big business realises this and starts cutting corner in the work they do. This saves them even more money.
A short time later big business is happy because they are making lots of money. There is no one left in the gangs who knows how to repair the roads properly because they have all gone. Instead, the workers have to work to a tick box minimum standard and do it as quickly as possible using the least amount of materials as possible. They have no job satisfaction because not only are they self-employed and have no rights in the company and no say, but also they know they are doing a half arsed and how much the management is getting paid.
In the end the workers have no job satisfaction, council is paying more for the job that it would if it was doing the work itself, and the roads are in a terrible state because they have been poorly maintained and work is no longer inspected.
Big business is happy because there is an endless supply of work repairing roads that they didn’t repair properly before, and they are still getting paid for it.
Alright, alright, this is highly simplistic, but it is still true, and not just for roads, for everything that was subcontracted out and put to tender. Everything is now done to a tick box minimum standard. Excellence and pride in a job well done have become too expensive because there is no profit in it. Communism does not work because there is always someone who wants a larger slice of the pie. However, capitalism can only exist where there is a poorly paid underclass.
As usual please feel free to comment or rant at my rantings.

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Romance? Er … (gulp) … OK

This week on the Gumbee blog, we have the quite brilliant (which often means genially insane in my experience) Marcus Pailing. Marcus writes much harder fantasy than I do, and isn’t averse to a bit of gore. So, let’s see what he thinks of the softer side of fantasy…..

(Oh, and incidentally, I was indulging my romantic side when I added the tags for peril, conflict, fight scenes and pursuit… Will)

“Romance, eh?” I thought as the suggestion was put forward. My esteemed Gumbee colleague, Will MacMillan Jones, had recently returned from the Festival of Romance, and was all afire with passion … or such was the impression he gave. It was his suggestion, with a fast-beating heart and hot cheeks, that we turn our attention to the theme, to see whether the rest of us could also demonstrate our forays into the realms of romance.

I don’t consider myself much practised in the writing of romance. Generally I’m more of a swords and spears fantasy writer (and I don’t mean that euphemistically). When I was growing up, fantasy novels either steered clear of ‘lurve’ (and often eschewed females entirely, or kept them as very minor characters); or else treated women as lusty, heaving-bosomed bit-players, planted in the stories to demonstrate the equally lusty masculinity of the over-muscled protagonist.

Now, I appreciate a heaving bosom as much as the next man, but I never wanted to have female characters who were mere eye-candy. At the same time, I never set out to write ‘romance’. I did introduce it to my novels, however; but in small measures only – my main characters do meet women, marry them, and have children with them, after all.

This changed somewhat when I wrote The Withered Rose, because the entire novel is basically a romantic tragedy. So when the idea for this theme came up, I turned to that novel to see what I had written.

In order to explain the following extract, here’s some context. There are two friends, both called Atela. One of them is locked in a marriage that is starting to fall apart, having had a very positive start; the other has recently married herself, and is blissfully happy. Kieldrou, the son of the count of Trall, is younger than both the women, but has dazzled them with his tales of adventure – he has recently returned from a journey in the exotic lands of Azzawa. He has made it clear already that he finds them both attractive, and while he hasn’t exactly attempted to seduce either of them, he has managed in the past to trick them into giving him kisses.

 

“My ladies, I said that I had gifts for you both.”

The two Atelas sat in a window seat, having moved away from their husbands after a while of conversation. Now Kieldrou stood before them again. He had left his audience, where Derian was now entertaining the folk with more tales of their time in the east. Kieldrou looked a little flushed, but it was not from drink; more likely it was the excitement of having had an audience hanging on his every word.

“I think you should consider becoming a player,” teased Short Atela. “Entertaining the masses with your tall tales.”

“I swear, on my honour, that I exaggerate nothing,” he said, sounding only a little hurt. “I told nothing but the truth. Although perhaps it is better that you did not stay to hear me tell of the thieves of Ukhara, or you really would not believe me.”

“You noticed we had gone?” Atela asked. “I thought you too engrossed in your glory.”

“I noticed,” he said softly. “But it does not matter. I do not seek to gain favour with mere stories.”

Atela raised an eyebrow. “And how would you gain favour?”

“With gifts.”

At that, Kieldrou held out two small wooden boxes, handing one to Atela, and the other to the younger woman. “I found them in Ukhara, and thought of you both.”

“After three years?” laughed Short Atela. “Or did you buy them, and then think of us when you got here?”

Kieldrou frowned, and stepped back slightly, giving them a little space as they opened the boxes.

Atela gasped. Lying inside her box was a small white rose, exquisitely carved from the purest ivory – a rare and expensive luxury in Western Gilderaen – and turned into a brooch. It was a perfect reproduction of the flower, even in miniature. Short Atela was similarly overcome: hers was a tulip, also most delicately carved.

“I recalled the silver rose I gave you at your wedding,” Kieldrou said, his voice faltering a little. There was none of his usual humour in his voice. “I remembered how much you liked it, which is why I thought of you when I saw it. For you, my lady,” he continued, turning to Short Atela, “I wanted something of similar beauty, to match yours.” For the first time in Atela’s memory, he appeared to blush a little.

“It is beautiful,” Atela murmured. “Truly a marvel, and I do thank you. What favour do you wish for in return, then? Are you hungry for another kiss?”

She said it quickly, laughing, and without thinking. She certainly did not expect the reaction she got. Kieldrou’s brows creased in a frown, and he muttered a denial, before turning on his heel and striding away.

The two Atelas looked at each other, puzzled. “Did I offend him?” Atela asked, and the other shrugged. “Oh, Hogra, I fear I have. We forget he is a young man, now, no longer a high-spirited boy.”

“We must apologise,” Short Atela said. “Where has he gone?”

They scanned the hall, but he was nowhere to be seen. They figured he must have left, and they stood up to follow him. Yet they had to be discreet: it would not be seemly for them to go chasing after him. As they walked through the hall they were accosted again by Elnir and Sturgar, and were forced to stay in conversation for some time. When they escaped, they were then trapped by the earl and countess of Mendivar. It was a good half hour before they managed to get out of the hall.

“Let us try the garden,” Short Atela suggested. Atela nodded, and they hurried along the empty corridors towards the door that led out to the cloister.

It was late, and the garden was lit by a pale moon, throwing dark shadows yet illuminating the rows of flowers in the middle of the garden. He was there, walking alone between the bushes. He turned when they called his name, stiffening when he saw who it was that disturbed him.

“Kieldrou, I am truly sorry,” Atela said. “I was teasing, forgetting you are no longer a boy. It was wrong of me, and you did not deserve it.”

“I, also,” Short Atela admitted. “They are truly beautiful gifts, and you must have thought hard about them. We do not deserve your kindness, nor your thoughts of us while so far from home.”

Kieldrou gave a wan smile. “No, my ladies, you deserved no less. I can easily forgive your teasing. It is my fault: of course I expected nothing in return, and there was no call for me to take umbrage. Besides, you are both married women. Perhaps I should not have made you those gifts at all.”

“But they are most gratefully received,” Atela said. “I, for one, will treasure mine.” Beside her, Short Atela nodded in agreement.

“I am glad,” he said. “I have no expectations, but beauty and friendship should be rewarded.”

Atela felt a tightness in her chest, and she never knew what made her do as she then did. “Indeed they should,” she replied, and she stood on her toes to plant a light kiss on his lips. She felt his arm reach round her shoulder and she stepped back quickly. She remembered the strength of those arms three years before, and dreaded what she would do if she felt them around her again. “I’m sorry,” she breathed. “That is all I can give.”

He smiled sadly. “I understand, my lady.” He bowed to them both, and turned to go.

“Kieldrou.”

He turned back, and looked at Short Atela, who stepped forward, biting her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said, “that I cannot offer you even a kiss. I … it would not …”

“Thank you, my lady,” he said, cutting her off to save her the embarrassment of stumbling through a needless explanation. “You are happily married, I know. As I said, I have no expectations. The gifts were gifts, and deserve no payment. Although I shall treasure your return gift,” he added to Atela, briefly touching his lips.

Then he was gone.

“Oh, Hogra!” Atela groaned. “What did I do?”

“Nothing wrong,” Short Atela said, firmly. “It was a friendly gesture, that is all. Although it was wise to step back when you did.” She laughed, but it was a brittle laugh.

“I almost lost myself. What was I thinking? I am eleven years older than he, and married.”

“Locked in a withering marriage,” Short Atela shot back. “Let us be honest about it. Yet you must not do any more. I would advise you – both of us – not to seek out that young man again. You’ve had ‘the talk’ from my mother.”

Atela started. “How did you know?”

Short Atela laughed. “I know my mother. You were clearly unhappy at the time of my betrothal, and you sought a private meeting with her. She never told me what you discussed, but I am not stupid. I know her, and I have seen enough other women seek her advice. It takes no great imagination to guess what advice my poor, dear, beautiful and unsociable mother could give.

“Come on,” she went on, taking Atela’s hand in hers. “Let us get back to the hall and put the Trallian from our minds.”

 

This is the point in the novel where Atela – the one who this time kissed Kieldrou – begins to harbour romantic thoughts about the young man. Later in the novel these are to cause a lot of pain to a large number of people … but to say more here would rather spoil the story.

Still, the novel only costs £1 on Amazon …

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Withered-Rose-Count-Trall-ebook/dp/B008A7RJJK/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1385821608&sr=8-3&keywords=marcus+pailing

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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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