Monthly Archives: June 2014

My July Writing Challenge

In June I didn’t write much. Not a word on my novel, a couple of prompt-inspired shorts, and a few scenes inspired by a dream that are not compatible with any sort of actual publishable story. In July I need to ramp things up again a bit, but I’m not feeling good about the novel right now. I worry it’s too wordy, and by the end of May I’d reached a part which I’m rather stuck on in terms of not having much to drive the story forward. I think it might be time to set that aside for a while and focus on becoming a better writer.

In July I’m going to have a go at writing a few short stories from prompts. At the same time I’m also going to pick up some books about writing and pick out a few things from what I read to comment on and investigate in more depth. Here’s the general plan:


1 – 7 July: Invisible Duke

This is a prompt that came up months ago for a /r/writingprompts contest involving a title generator. This is the title that the generator produced for me, and I had an idea for it but never got to writing it. I’m going to have a fresh go, possibly dropping the old idea, or most of it, and see where it takes me. Seven days should be enough for a short story – if I can get it planned out in the first two days, I should manage to write some 4,000 words in the remaining five days.

8 – 10 July: Four words

I’ll flip through a dictionary, pick out four words at random (with vetos for words that are too common or too rare – I’m not having “the” as a prompt word) and see what I can make from that. I’ve put three days for this since I want it to be fairly intuitive a challenge – not too much thinking before I have to write. I’ll start with half an hour’s brainstorming, then jump right in. This story should end up around 2,000 words.

11 – 15 July: Music prompt

I’m open to suggestions for this, or I’ll click through “related videos” on Youtube until I find something that works. Whatever it is, it won’t be something I’m familiar with, so no Lord of the Rings soundtrack, no Lindsey Stirling, no Einaudi, no Holst, etc. The idea here is that I’ll listen to the track and make notes while listening, and then see where I can build a story from it. I’m putting five days for this, but that might change depending on how well it goes.

If you would like to suggest a music prompt for this please email me by 10 July at with the subject line “Music Prompt”. I won’t open the links until the day I start this prompt. Music with or without lyrics will be welcome. I know most of the better known classical, a lot of movie soundtracks, but game music could work nicely, or even just something from a Youtube musician I am not familiar with.

16 – 22 July: History prompt

History is a rich and diverse source of inspiration for writers of all genres, especially fantasy (and historical fiction, of course). Last time I was at the British Museum I bought a book about the treasures on display there, Masterpieces of the British Museum, so I’ll look through that, find something from a culture I know little or nothing about, and research it, then see what I can do about turning that research – and that object – into a story. Usually I rely on either ancient Greece or pre-Roman Britain for my historical inspiration, so this will allow me to push beyond my usual boundaries as far as that is concerned, educate myself on something I don’t know about yet, and take a story from a fresh source of inspiration. So the one rule I’ll use when finding a suitable object is “not European”.

23 – 31 July: The revival

Some time ago on this blog I critiqued the opening to a piece I wrote when I was 19, Discord’s Secret. There’s definitely a story I want to tell in there, but I think it got buried. So to close out my challenge month, I’m going to reread everything I wrote for that story and work out how I might redo it. For this challenge, I won’t actually write the story, but rather rework what I want from it and then plan this new version out in detail, including character sheets for all key characters, a chapter-by-chapter plot synopsis, a map and location info sheets.

Reading about Writing

There are a few books I’ve got about writing, some of which I’ve read and some of which I haven’t. I’ll tackle four of these in July, and for each one pick out at least one point and comment about it here on the blog, including what the advice or opinion is, whether I agree with it, how I might apply it to my own writing, and anything else that comes to mind, depending on what the advice or opinion is.

The books I’ll be looking at are:

  • Stephen King, On Writing
  • Chris Sykes, How to Craft a Great Story (Teach Yourself)
  • Antonio del Drago, The Mythic Guide to Characters
  • Della Galton, How to Write and Sell Short Stories

If this experiment goes well I may continue this part of my July challenge into August with the various other books on writing that I own.

So that’s the plan for July: write based on some prompts, and read and comment on some advice. Hopefully by the end of the month I’ll have some half-decent fiction and a slightly better understanding of what it is I’m doing.

Book Review: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Fools is the fourth novel by Mark Lawrence, and the first of the new Red Queen’s War series. It takes place concurrently with the Broken Empire series, which I’ve reviewed previously (here, here and here). Prince of Fools follows Jalan Kendeth, one of several princes of Red March, a self-confessed coward and womaniser, who finds himself at the mercy of mysterious spell which magically binds him to a Viking named Snorri ver Snagason, who is on a rescue mission northwards. They battle mercenaries and undead beings, as Jalan seeks ways to break the spell and run away home. They even – briefly – encounter the Broken Empire protagonist Jorg on the way, along with a few other characters from that series.

This is the UK cover - the one I got - and in my view better than the US cover.
This is the UK cover – the one I got – and in my view better than the US cover.

It is difficult to review this book without comparison to the Broken Empire series. Where Jorg was violent and ambitious, the narration of Prince of Fools via Jalan’s point of view has more fun to it. Wittier and with a lively frankness at times. For those who frowned at Jorg’s darkness, Jalan’s morality may be more appealing; he is no golden paragon, but he does not have Jorg’s murderous ambition. That’s not to say he’s any less driven – just in different directions. I find Jalan an enjoyable character to follow, fun in many respects, with a depth to his personality that lends him interest and promises that the remainder of The Red Queen’s War will be just as good.

While Jalan himself doesn’t match Jorg for darkness, the book overall does. Lawrence has developed some very sinister undead beings that inspire horror on more than one level. Their inclusion lends the plot great menace and reiterates what was revealed in the Broken Empire trilogy, that the world in which these stories are set is a very dark, broken one indeed.

With a smaller core cast and a strong secondary character, I felt that Lawrence did better than he did in the Broken Empire series in showing the personalities of characters beside the protagonist. Snorri’s personality came through very well, both the highs and lows of his character – such that it’s clear that he has as much depth to him as Jalan.

The plot was strong, with a sense of direction from the outset that gave the story the feeling of there being a definite goal, even if it wasn’t initially clear what or where the goal was. The events that paved the plot’s path were neither predictable nor dull, but made sense in the context of the story and kept things moving, while revealing character for both the key figures. The story ended well, with action and menace, darkness and lightness, and the promise of fresh adventure and different kinds of challenges in the next book.

For someone who has read the Broken Empire, there were some references back to that series, without taking the story off course to allow for them. A few little references to things outside that series, too, gave reward to wider readers of fantasy, or even anyone aware even of general culture, again in a manner which did not detract from the story or characters but which would produce a laugh. I won’t spoil them, but I did enjoy the circus sign and the name of the longboat they travel on.

Overall I rate Prince of Fools 10/10. I cannot find fault with it. Well paced, populated with interesting and varied characters and in particular a protagonist with depth, a plot with adventure sometimes exciting and sometimes dark – and occasionally both. A world which grows in depth and darkness with every chapter. And promise that The Red Queen’s War will continue to possess the same strength and enjoyment as it continues.

A little short story from a prompt

Today on Reddit’s /r/writingprompts subreddit, there was a prompt I rather liked the sound of:

The banging is getting louder and closer as time quickly passes by. You don’t know where you are or what the banging means. All you can do is cuff your ears with your hands and hope for the best.

So I had a go at it and I figured I’d share, see what people think. Here is is:

It’s not easy finding work in these hard times. Drought and war, an empty throne fought over by many, raids on the borders and from across the sea. I survived, taking jobs here and there. The first time I heard the banging, it was quiet and far away, but I was alone in the middle of a field, one of a dozen or so workers scattered across the wide expense, working our way along the rows harvesting the grapes. I dismissed it as someone dropping something or something breaking back in the press barn, even though it was coming from the other direction and, when we delivered the harvested grapes at the end of the day, nothing was damaged. But you don’t ask questions and you keep your head down when a job like that is all you’ve got between food and starvation.

But it didn’t stop. There were gaps, sometimes days at a time, sometimes only a few hours. Wherever I was working – harvesting grapes in the foothills, chopping lumber further up the slopes, or back in town carrying goods around or even just waiting around for someone to need workers, the banging came back.

Bang! Bang!

Two of them, metallic-sounding and ringing, like someone dropped a hammer in a cauldron, then picked it up out and dropped it again a couple of seconds later. Nothing melodic about it, no church bells these. And nobody else heard it, even as it got louder in my own ears. Some nights it woke me, and those nights I never slept well. They got closer together, so that it got to a point where not an hour passed when I didn’t hear it, wherever I was, whatever I was doing. One time the surprise of it made me drop my end of a load. I got sworn at for that, and they didn’t hire me the next day to finish the job. Found someone else instead. Someone who wouldn’t drop things for no reason.

I decided to run. It got louder and more frequent when I went back to town, so I left, passed the vineyard again – nabbed a few sour-tasting grapes to snack on on my way by, grapes unripe when we’d harvested them. But the banging followed me.

Bang! Bang! as I passed the pressing barn, and Bang! Bang! again as I crossed the little wooden bridge over the river down the way, still in sight of the vineyard. Bang! Bang! as I followed the river downstream, skirting the edges of fields nearly ready to be harvested and orchards with apples ripening on the branches, still too sour to enjoy, but I hadn’t anything else so I picked and ate them anyway. Louder every time, and every time I looked around, looking for a source, but there was nothing out there but farms and sheep and trees.

BANG! BANG! as I plucked blackberries from a hedgerow. BANG! BANG! as I turned from it to continue my journey. A few steps taken, and again BANG! BANG!

Dizziness overtook me. I tried to run, the uneaten blackberries falling from my fingers, but instead the world spun and the ground seemed to rush up at me.


No impact. No pain. The ground was under me, but even with open eyes I couldn’t see it. It wasn’t the patchy grass and packed dirt I’d expected.


I ran my fingers over the ground, moving no other part of my body. Hard and smooth and flat. No texture at all, not wooden floorboards or stone slabs. No joins.


The noise of it was too loud. I wished it would stop. I rolled onto my back, getting a fresh dose of nausea in the process, and covered my ears. The world seemed to swirl around me once more, no sign of the trees or the river or the hedgerow I’d been near before, but a darkness full of colour, hints of purple and green at the edges of my vision.


Even with my hands over my ears, the noise was no quieter. I sat up, and another wave of dizziness flooded over me. There was nothing new to see, still the same swirling colours in the darkness, or of the darkness, or something.


“What’s going on?” I shouted.


The blackness lightened to grey, and the swirling purples and greens softened, almost merging with the grey. Noise beside the banging returned, a hum, it seemed, a buzz perhaps. Something familiar.


Sensation returned. Cold. The riverside had been warm, a mild summer afternoon, but here it was cold. The grey lightened, the swirling colours instead fell, all moving downwards.


I uncovered my ears. The softest touch ran down the contours of my face. The noise behind the banging became clearer and the cold on my skin told me what it was, even as I still couldn’t quite see right: rain.

“There you are. We’ve been looking for you.” The voice seemed familiar, but my ears still didn’t feel quite right and I couldn’t see much more than the grey rain in front of me.

“You can’t just run away from your destiny, you know.”

“It’s a good thing we found you.”

“Do you know what might have happened if we hadn’t?”

I looked around as my vision finally cleared. Three figures in dark purple robes stood before me, and beyond them stones jutted to waist-height out of the long grass, a ring all around us, and beyond them only more grass, sloping downwards, until the incessant rain hid all.

And just as my hearing had cleared, and my vision had cleared, now my mind became sharper. I remembered.


“You’ve got a destiny to meet,” the central figure before me said.

“An evil to overcome,” the one to his left continued.

“A kingdom to unite,” said the third.

I stood up with a sigh. No nausea now, though the hunger remained, and the hint of sour apple in my mouth.

“Albion awaits you, Arthur,” said the wizard before me.

Movie review: Maleficent (spoilers)

I can’t do this review justice taking my usual no-spoilers stance, so this is a review of Maleficent with spoilers. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, it is a critique of Maleficent. I would imagine that the majority of people who planned to see Maleficent have by now done so (I was rather late to the game about seeing it) but if you haven’t and do plan to see it, be warned that this post is going to be full of spoilers.

On the face of it, Maleficent is exactly the right sort of film for now – a reimaining of a fairy tale, told from the villain’s perspective, while acknowledging that not everything is good vs evil – there are shades of grey in here. Starring Angelina Jolie in the title role, it sought to show a sympathetic side of Maleficent, whose actions in cursing Princess Aurora, though far from pure, were certainly motivated by very human emotions.


Continue reading Movie review: Maleficent (spoilers)