Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Risen Queen is out and I'm about!

After spending the last few months honing my ability to talk about The Wounded Guardian, I'm about to put it all to the test when I go out to talk about The Risen Queen this weekend.
After answering just about every question imaginable about The Wounded Guardian, my inspirations, my motivation and how I came to write, I have suddenly realised I am back to square one with those who want to know about book two ... what do people want to know? How do I sum it up for those who may not have read book one yet?
Still, after the weekend I have planned for myself, I think I'll be learning quickly!
For those disappointed their local store is not on the list - don't panic. I'll be back to Parramatta, Liverpool and Campbelltown next year, while the Macquarie Centre, Penrith, Rouse Hill and Warringah are also on the list of places I'll be hitting around February.
Plus, for anyone in the area, I'll be at Angus and Robertson Batemans Bay on Saturday January 17 from 10am-12pm. Yes, even on my holiday I'll be slotting in a store appearance!
So - the weekend's action is as follows:
Sunday December 20: A+R Kotara from 10.30am-12.30pm, Borders Tuggerah from 2pm-4pm
Monday December 21: A+R Maitland from 9.30am-11.30am, A+R Newcastle Mall from 12pm-2pm
Tuesday December 22: (this is the big day, so all times could be a little fluid!) Leading Edge Books Lakehaven from 10am-11.30am, A+R Erina from 12pm-1.30pm, All Good Books Gosford from 2pm-3pm and Book Bazaar from 3.30pm-4.30pm
Wednesday December 23: Borders Hornsby 5pm-6.30pm
After that, I think I'll collapse...
Hope to see as many people as possible along the way though!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Don't be afraid of your readers

I had just finished another enjoyable store appearance at Dymocks Parramatta on December 6, and was talking to the co-owner, when he said something fascinating, to the effect of that I seemed to have the hang of talking to people about books, whereas too many authors are afraid of readers.
Now this store has regular author appearances, so he was obviously speaking from experience, but nevertheless I found it intriguing.
I mean, surely authors love readers?
I have been averaging three store appearances a month for a while now, where I'm just out the front of a book store, chatting to people walking past, starting a conversation and then selling a few books. With The Risen Queen out in about a week's time, I have increased that and will be going crazy in the last few days before Christmas!
Over two hours I'm averaging about 20 sales, although speaking to more than 50 people in that time. It's great to talk to these people, to hear what they like to read - and an honour when they decide to buy The Wounded Guardian.
Even if people don't like fantasy, or don't like the idea of The Wounded Guardian, they have wished me all the best, congratulated me on getting published and generally been lovely to speak to.
But, on reflection, it is confronting.
I have got past the hesitation, the trepidation at hailing random passersby and talking to them about my book.
But I can see how some people would be reluctant to put themselves out there like that.
You are going to get knockbacks. You are going to get sneers and snorts of derision - particularly if you ask tattooed teenage boys if they like reading.
Still, if there is one thing I have learned from these appearances, from Newcastle to the Central Coast to Sydney, people LOVE reading and, even more, love talking to authors, even fantasy authors they have never heard of before.
Get past the initial barrier and you will be rewarded in spades.
Putting your book out there, putting yourself out there, is massively confronting.
But it is also massively energising.
There's no reason to be afraid of readers ... but every reason to embrace them.
To all those I have spoken to at various book stores, thank you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Manly Daily review

For those of you who don't live in the Manly area (that's most likely just about everyone), here's a link to a great review of The Wounded Guardian the Manly Daily ran:


(Be warned, it can take a minute to open up ... just click on the story to zoom in so it's readable.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The trouble with Twilight

I've been appearing at book stores across Newcastle, the Central Coast and Sydney to sell and promote The Wounded Guardian over the last few months - and one topic that keeps coming up, as I chat about books in general and fantasy in particular, is Twilight.
Time and again mothers and grandmothers have asked me if The Wounded Guardian has strong female characters in it, because they are concerned about the portrayal of women in Twilight. The final straw, so to speak, came when I spoke to a high school principal, who said she loved the way Twilight has her girls reading but was worried about some of the messages within. She purchased a copy of my book to see if there were other options to get girls reading.
Although I have not read Twilight, it was obvious to me that there was a story here. That much community concern, across so many different areas, was too big to ignore.
Wearing my other hat, that of The Sunday Telegraph, I spoke to a variety of people and came up with an article that was published on Sunday November 15.
With thanks to The Sunday Telegraph, here is that article, with some added quotes that were edited out of the finished article for space reasons:

It is both a love story celebrated by millions and a textbook abusive relationship, a light-hearted fantasy aimed at teens and tweens that has disturbing messages about sex. Welcome to Twilight.
The best-selling book series and now blockbuster movies have captured imaginations across the world and inspired devotion in its fans.
Twilight also has many lining up to attack it, with accusations of everything from bad writing to betraying the vampire genre to Mormon brainwashing.
But leaving aside the mud-slinging, the literary world and schools are warning parents not to simply go along with the marketing hype and peer pressure, but to first understand exactly what it is their children are reading.
While they sing Twilight's praises for encouraging people to read and inspiring debate about reading, the concern is the way the book portrays women - its key readership - and their relationship with men.
While older readers should be able to distinguish fantasy from reality, and put the story in context, along the lines of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, the concern is what effect it will have on younger readers, particularly those who are using Twilight as their entry point to reading. Twilight centres on Bella, a human girl, and her relationship with Edward, a vampire and Jacob, a werewolf. This love triangle is resolved when Bella has a child with Edward that begins to rip its way out of her, breaking her ribs and pelvis, forcing Edward to tear open her stomach with his vampire teeth to deliver it in an emergency caesarean - and so Jacob falls in love with this child.
While this is a disturbing end to the tale in many ways, critics say the problems begin much, much earlier.
Literary agent Sophie Hamley, of Cameron's Management, likes vampire stories but says fans should get into Buffy, not Twilight.
``Basically the books, especially the fourth, detail a textbook abusive relationship,'' she said.``The message seems to be that you can't live without a man, particularly an idealised one.
``In many respects Edward is constructed as a classic romantic hero - brooding and handsome, and even Mr Darcy was withholding. But the constant threat of violence, while possibly exhilarating for readers, is unnerving. If I were convinced that Twi-hards were reading other books to balance it out, fine, but for a lot of people this will be their first plunge into reading a series so there will be no context. ''
Abigail Nathan runs Bothersome Words, a book editing agency used by publishers such as HarperCollins. She enjoyed the books but does have concerns.
``Adults are frequently disturbed by the nature of Bella and Edward's relationship, describing Edward as a stalker and Bella as a victim,' she said. ``Although Bella and Edward do not sleep together until they are married, it's hardly a delicate affair, with Bella waking up covered in bruises.``It's an interesting selection of messages, with Bella constantly pushing Edward to sleep with her, and ultimately ending up bruised and battered.'
``One message that is clear is once Bella has Edward she forgets about her other friends and is all too willing to leave her family to have her "forever" with Edward. The message to women that they don't need anyone else if they have their man, or their true love - that they can be happy that way, is a little disturbing.''
Fantasy author Glenda Larke is also concerned by the way Bella never finds strength within herself and must instead be always saved by Edward.``It harks back to a different age. Women my age had to fight to escape that kind of thinking. To present a heroine who never stands on her own two feet is to present a ghastly role model for today's youth.
''But no matter the criticism, it is clear the books have struck a massive chord with young readers.Fantasy author Kim Falconer said this cannot be ignored.
``How do we get past the fact that they want it? They're eating it alive _ what is it fulfilling in them?''
She finds it concerning and wonders whether it is a symptom of a wider problem: Can women tell the difference between abuse and love?
Nevertheless, simply banning teens from reading it would make the problem worse and, anyway, Falconer is a ferocious supporter of free speech.``We can criticise it but we cutting off the lines of communication. You must talk about it, be there for dialogue.''
She applauds the way the series has women and girls reading but laments: `What a missed opportunity to inspire women.''
Mount St Benedict College is an independent girls' high school at Pennant Hills. Principal Maria Pearson said it is very important for girls to develop the ``skills, resourcefulness and resilience'' to find ways themselves to get out of difficulty situations, rather than ``expect to be rescued''.``We have it in the library and it does engage our girls,'' Ms Pearson said.
``But it is important to deconstruct some of the themes. They need to have a conversation with concerned adults in their lives (about the issues it raises).''
So read Twilight - but it needs be accompanied by discussion of the issues raised, as well as a selection of books with strong female characters. Virtually any of the Voyager list, including the likes of Karen Miller, Glenda Larke, Kylie Chan and Kim Falconer would be suitable.
Duncan Lay is the author of The Wounded Guardian (HarperCollins) and the soon-to-be-released The Risen Queen, neither of which contain vampires but do have strong female characters.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Compared to David Gemmell in a review

The late, great British fantasy author David Gemmell has been a huge inspiration for me - in fact, as I have written before, without his seminal work, Legend, I may never have read any fantasy beyond The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings.
As well as being a fan of his work, I felt a certain affinity for Gemmell's work.
He was a long-time resident of Hastings, in Sussex, while I lived in both Eastbourne and Brighton, both towns in Sussex, less than 50 kilometres from Hastings.
Gemmell was an editor of local newspapers in Sussex, I was an editor of local newspapers (albeit in Australia!)
The thought of one day meeting David Gemmell as a published author myself was a secret ambition of mine - although no doubt shared by many other would-be authors.
Sadly he died in July 2006, more than a year before I received my contract for The Dragon Sword Histories, robbing the fantasy world of one of its greatest writers.
Naturally he left many thousands of devoted fans wondering where the next Gemmell-esque book was going to come from.
No doubt there are quite a few authors jostling for this position.
I have to say, while I loved his work, I would hate to be thought of as 'the next David Gemmell' - for a wide variety of reasons. I would rather be thought of as the first Duncan Lay!
But to be compared to him is still, in my opinion, praise of the highest order.
Certainly his work had some flaws, such as his (self-confessed) problems with writing female characters - but his books had a marvellous depth, making them an experience to read both as a teenager and then something different as an adult.
Anyway, the point of all this is a review in the upcoming edition of Australian Bookseller And Publisher of my second book, The Risen Queen, which will be out in the shops from December 15.
The key passage, for me is: "Fast paced and dramatic, Lay writes the kind of battle scenes that I have not seen since the late David Gemmell, and booksellers should definitely be recommending this to his fans."
I've been absolutely pumped since reading this!
To be in the same sentence, particularly one recommending me to David Gemmell fans, is fantastic. This whole experience is a dream come true but let's just say that being compared to David Gemmell is something of a fantasy realised!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cover designs

Book two, The Risen Queen, will be out in shops from December 15 but, because its official release date is January 1, you might have to ask (nicely) your friendly bookstore people to unpack it from the back, as they will be busy, busy with the Christmas rush...
Book three, The Radiant Child, is out next June 28(ish) but the cover is already moving ahead.
I have posted pictures up on Facebook but, for those who aren't on Facebook, here's a couple of links that allow you to see the covers as they progress...

Risen Queen: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2028278

Radiant Child: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2014130

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

DVD Extras part four

Last one ... this is a sequence when Martil and Karia almost meet an arrogant wizard, who actually takes a more important part in book three - but I digress!
I was trying to show how wizards operated in that world and how much Martil disliked them ... but one scene with Barrett seemed to do that!

By the time they had made all their purchases, and Karia had eaten her packed lunch - and all the interesting bits from Martil’s - it was almost noon, so Martil steered Tomon to Menner’s shop.
The shop was crowded this time, and there was obviously no point in trying to squeeze inside, so they walked down the street, looking at the other shops. Nothing appeared interesting, until they walked past one that was three doors down from Menner’s. Unlike the other shops, its window was boarded over, with the words ``Fernal, wizard of the Fourth Circle, by appointment only’’ painted in large letters. A few crude stars had also been added, for effect.
Karia was fascinated when she heard it was a wizard‘s shop. `Can we look inside? Can we pleeease?’ she begged.
With time to waste, Martil could not think of a good reason to refuse her, so pushed open the heavy wooden door and led her inside. It took a few moments for their eyes to adjust to the room. Two walls were taken up by large, plump chairs, thickly upholstered in some golden fabric. The third wall was dominated by a huge bookcase, filled with both books and scrolls. In the fourth wall there was just a door. Nobody else was in the room.
Karia wanted to go and look at the books but just as Martil stopped her, the door opened and a woman in a bright red robe walked out.
`Who seeks the Great Fernal? What is your concern?‘ she intoned, flinging her arms out theatrically.
Martil wondered if the ``Great Fernal’’ knew any way to keep small children quiet but decided not to ask that.
`We’re just looking,‘ he said instead.
`Looking? The Great Fernal does not haggle like some common stallholder! The charge is two silver pieces for a meeting, then between one and five gold pieces for magic, depending on the degree of difficulty. Those are the Great Fernal’s prices. If you can’t or won’t pay those, we suggest you go and see the wizards Stratt or Donald. Their prices are far cheaper, but considering they are both Second Circle incompetents who couldn’t magic up a customer at a decent price, they would have to be.’
`Are you the Great Fernal?‘ Martil asked, wondering how many people could afford this magic and put up with this overblown act.
`No! I am his assistant. Now I suggest you either show me some money, or I shall show you the door!‘
At another time, Martil might have decided to stay, but he did not feel like an argument at the moment. `Oh, we were just leaving,‘ he agreed. Bloody wizards! Thought they knew everything. He had no intention of paying them any money, so he ushered a disappointed Karia out of the shop.
Back at Menner’s he was delighted to find the shop had emptied, and doubly delighted to discover the clothes were ready - but not as delighted as Karia, who enjoyed trying everything on. Except for the shoes. She complained they made her feet itch, and it took all of Menner’s persuasion, as well as Martil’s determination, to make her keep them on. Even then, she went into a sulk that only some almond-honey sweets and the last - and best - dress managed to get her out of.

DV extras part three

This section is when Martil trains the Norstalines ... sequences that survived only in much shorter form! The first one is the initial training and then, further down, it goes into shield wall training. I was trying to make the point that you can't just wave a magic sword and expect to have an army appear ... but I hope that was made anyway!

As to the men, training them was the most important thing. They were in three groups, and Martil made these into squads, trying to use the rivalry between them to spur each other on.
First came Sendric’s guards. There were two 10-man squads, as well as two sergeants and a lieutenant called Rocus. They were all well armed, with mail shirts, shiny helmets, shields with the Count’s crest and long swords. They had been drilled to perfection - to carry out ceremonial duties. However, the manual of arms was not the best teaching device for the skills necessary to fight your way through a shield wall. And if their swordsmanship was clumsy, their fitness was abysmal. Too much time standing post, and not enough time running, had them exhausted after only a few minutes of Martil’s training.
The hunters numbered 11, as well as a chief hunter called Tarik. These were fit men, used to running all day and night, brilliant archers to boot, but unused to working with others. They operated in small groups of two or three usually, they were unable to take orders and were just as likely to chase after a deer as they were to follow Martil’s instructions.
Then there were the militia. Sendric had tried to choose those men with at least 10 years service, but not so many years that they were too old for this sort of venture. He had selected a dozen men, as well as a lieutenant called Wime. They were tough men, who were all veterans of tavern brawls and street fights. Martil knew this type of experience could not be beaten, it was the sort of thing you needed to survive a battle. They were crafty, could take orders, and knew all about operating as a team and protecting your mate’s back in a fight. But they were only armed with thick wooden sticks, and wore only boiled leather coats for protection.
Each group had its own abilities, and its own weaknesses. Using each to the greatest benefit would be the real challenge.
The first day they looked a strange sight. The guardsmen were lined up immaculately, two ranks, sergeants at the ends, Rocus at the front, all in their polished armour and all standing to attention. The hunters stood in a group, chatting among themselves, while the militia had formed into a rough line but stood relaxed, waiting to see what he would do.
Martil had no intention of giving them a big speech, or impressing them with his war stories. It was more important to win their respect. Besides, he planned to let Conil tell them a few things and let that spread among them. For now, he would keep things simple.
`I am War Captain Martil, the wielder of the Dragon Sword. You have sworn to obey this Sword. Now I want to see how far you are prepared to go. Follow me now!’
He formed them up and then took them on a run. He knew he was not in great shape, but it was not so long ago that he had run two miles each morning over rough ground, in armour. He was able to set a pace that made the hunters stop talking after the first mile, and left the militia and the guardsmen in particular gasping.
He was pleased to see none dropped out, all three groups were determined they should finish the run as a whole, so as not to lose face in front of the other two. But the guardsmen were plainly exhausted at the end. If they had been asked to fight at this point, they would have been slaughtered. With a bunch of recruits, he would have told them this, as part of the process of breaking their independence, to the point where they would obey him in battle without question. But that process took time, time he did not have. For a start, Queen Merren was demanding they begin attacks as soon as possible. So instead he tried to work more subtly.
`You did well. For the first time. Fighting all day in armour that feels as though you are carrying a child on your back will leave you exhausted. Now drink water, rest and we shall try a few more tests.’
He took his own advice, changing his tunic to hide the sweat stains, then returned to hand out shields and wooden swords to train with.
He set them against each other in pairs, trying to ensure each fought against a man from a different group. It made for some spirited exchanges, as guardsmen accused militiamen of cheating when they used moves they had learned in street fights.
Martil tried to show them all how to handle their swords better, persuade the guardsmen that nobody was ever sent from the field of battle for cheating and explain it was no good complaining when your guts were hanging out.
The militia responded well, but the proud guardsmen insisted on fighting as if their opponent was a stuffed dummy. Finally, he decided to prove how bad they were.
`Pick your three best bladesmen. They will take me on, and if they win, you get the afternoon off. If I win, you run another two miles. And all they have to do to win is touch me with a wooden sword,’ he offered.
The other two groups watched with interest as Rocus selected himself and his two sergeants, both massive guardsmen. A circle was formed and Martil stepped in, loosening his muscles and using two wooden swords, rather than the Dragon Sword.
`Any time you are ready,’ he grinned.
Rocus rushed in, sword held high, and it was easy to spin away, delivering a thrust to the belly as he did so. The guards lieutenant folded over, blocking one of his own men, so Martil swarmed in on the third, both swords working furiously. The guardsman managed to block the first few cuts but they were arriving so fast, and from so many different directions, that he received a whack on the ribs, another on the shoulder and a third across the head before reeling away. The last guardsman circled away from Martil nervously, who had no intention of letting him run. A feeble thrust was blocked, then Martil rammed both swords into the man’s stomach.
He let the wooden swords drop and turned away to see the rest of the men gazing at the three big men rolling around on the ground. The hunters and militia were grinning, while the rest of the guardsmen just looked shocked.
`We’ll let those three recover a little before they go on their run,’ he announced. `But I hope a lesson has been learned by you guardsmen. The three men you have been listening to could not even lay a sword on one man. If they fight like that against Gello’s men, they would all be dead now. Something to think about next time I advise you how to stay alive.’
And after that, they did listen, even Rocus.
Martil worked them hard, trying to get their fitness up first. The hunters excelled here, making the other two groups look foolish on the runs, while the guardsmen were left floundering even on the forced marches.
The guardsmen had initially laughed at the militia when they had been introduced to sword use. The militiamen were more inclined to use their swords like clubs, and Martil had to instruct them in basic sword use. But when it came to combat exercises, the militia took great delight in beating the guardsmen, their experience in fighting obvious compared to their ponderous opponents, who seemed to be in slow motion most of the time.
But although they were the group that finished last most often, the guardsmen had a stubborn pride, and held themselves to be above the others. This was of particular concern to Martil. Not only did he expect the guardsmen to be his main strike force, but their attitude threatened to fragment the small army. He had to work doubly hard to make them see how they all had to rely on each other. The Queen and the Dragon Sword, as well as the presence of Count Sendric, these were enough to secure their loyalty. All these men knew what was at stake - they had been told to bring their families along, in case of reprisals. But Martil felt they were not truly behind the cause. He was a Ralloran, and they were not ready to die for him. Not yet.
Of course there were other problems.

Meanwhile he had the time to not just work on Sirron and his farm boys, but also the other men. They had performed well from ambush and had stood their ground as the archers destroyed a small band of cavalry but Martil knew the next time they fought, it would be against a full squadron of cavalry, enough men so it would come down to a stand-up fight.
The men were ordered to wear hauberks, the heavy chain mail shirts of small, inter-connected rings over a thick leather coat. Some were second-hand, most of these had arrow holes in them, crudely patched, while naturally the guardsmen’s ones looked impeccable. Martil could see how the farm boys were struggling in the heavy coats. While a hauberk did not restrict your movement initially, the weight would grow progressively heavier. Even the fittest of men, after an hour of fighting in one, would be exhausted. Then he made them take up shields, and spears. Every man looked unfamiliar with these but Martil knew this was the weaponry that would keep them alive when fighting cavalry.
He drilled them hard, teaching them the basics of spear fighting, keeping them at it until their right arms were too tired to even lift the heavy spears any more and they were heartily sick of practising the same strokes, up at a cavalryman, down at an infantryman, and the thrust from the second row of a shield wall into your enemy‘s front line. He fretted that the training was nowhere near enough but knew he did not have much time so, as quickly as he dared, he went to the next stage.
`A shield wall only succeeds while the men in it have courage and heart,’ Martil told them. `But if you do not have trust in each other, if you fear for your own safety, it will crack like an egg. Stay together and live. Try to run and you die. Understand?’
They nodded at him but Martil was not convinced. They would have to see it to feel how effective it could be.
He formed them into three ranks, the guardsmen at the front and sides, the farm boys at the back and the militia in the middle. The guardsmen dropped to one knee, shields rammed into the ground, spears pointing upwards. The militia stood close behind them, shields held high to protect both themselves and the guardsmen, spears also held high. The farm boys were close behind them, bracing the militia and supporting the spears. He rode along the front of the wall then, showing them how no horse would charge home into a tightly packed wall of spears.
He took one of the captured heavy cavalry horses, a huge beast, and spurred it at the line. He knew that, to the men in the front row, it was a daunting sight. But even the trained warhorse would not press home the charge and veered away from the massed iron points.
`A man on a horse needs four feet of room to ride and swing his sword. A man with a shield and spear needs only two feet! So each trooper is riding down a corridor that ends in three ranks of two spears - that’s six spears to each horseman!‘
He saw they were gradually getting the idea, so he let them feel confident, then moved onto the next stage.
`I need three volunteers!’
He ignored Sirron and the other farm boys, instead selecting three guardsmen. These were ordered to put down their spears and link shields instead.
`Look impressive, don’t they?” Martil said, pointing to the three big men, standing tall in their hauberks, shields held confidently, overlapping each other on the left-hand side to present an impenetrable wall.
He bent down and picked up a shield himself.
`Lads, all you have to do is hold your line,’ he told them, then broke into a run.
The three men tensed, the man in the middle crouching slightly to try and take the expected impact, but at the last second Martil turned and smashed into the man to his left. The guardsman took a step backwards to keep his footing and Martil spun, using both his speed and the momentum of the turn to crash into the man on his right, who was unable to brace himself properly. The force jolted him back into the last man and the two of them stumbled backwards, the man on the right going down.
Martil threw down the shield he was carrying. `This shield wall is dead. Every man who was within it is dead,’ he said conversationally. `Now, let Sirron and his boys come forward.’
The farm boys walked out awkwardly, looking uncomfortable in their armour. One of the younger ones stumbled over another‘s spear, drawing a jeer from the guardsmen.
`Your lives depend on these men,’ Martil snapped. `Doubtless they would find the sight of you trying to milk a cow equally amusing.’
Abashed, the guardsmen fell silent. It was a start but Martil decided he had to make the farm boys win the respect of the others.
`For the next exercise, I will need three guardsmen. If they can break open a shield wall, they get a bottle of brandy to share.’
A howl of protest rose up from the ranks of the men.
`Don’t think that’s fair? Well, how about this. If they can break the shield wall, you all get a barrel of wine to share. But if they can’t, you have to cook dinner for the farm boys tonight. Agreed?’
Martil looked over to where Wime was talking quickly to Rocus, but the tall guardsman waved him away and shouted his agreement.
Grinning, Martil formed the eight farm boys into three ranks, with himself in the very centre. Quickly he showed the others how to brace the rank in front of them by putting their shoulder in the middle of the man’s back, and the feet behind the man’s heels. He showed them how to overlap their shields, to make an unbroken wall. He also instructed the front row to crouch down as the guardsmen approached, then push upwards with the shield at the last moment, so they had some momentum when the two sides met.
`A shield wall is a fearsome thing. You are closer to the men you are killing than you are to the woman in your bed. But stand firm. It is the side that blinks first who dies,’ he told them. `The front row just needs good nerves and strong arms. The second row is where the shield wall is won.‘
Meanwhile Rocus had selected his three biggest men and was telling them to charge in hard.
`Remember to push back hard, and we’ll dine well tonight,’ Martil told them.
The three guardsmen raced in, not at full speed but at a good pace, sensibly sacrificing speed so they could stay together.
`Crouch now, push up when I tell you. The rest of you, get ready to hold hard,’ Martil snapped. `Brace them!’
The guardsmen yelled as they ran the last few yards and Martil bellowed at Sirron and his two brothers to rise. The three farm boys crouched, then pushed themselves up as hard as they could, just as the guardsmen arrived. Shields clashed on shields but the force of the guardsmen’s charge would have bowled the farm boys over, except it was transferred into Martil and the men beside him, and to the ones behind them. The second rank held the first, and the third held them, absorbing the force of the charge. The line bowed but stayed as one.
`Push!’ Martil yelled, shoving Sirron as hard as he could so the farm boy straightened and began heaving back at the guardsmen.
Even in the second row, Martil could smell the breath of the guardsman pushing hard at Sirron. The two were shield to shield, hard against each other. In a real battle, they would be too close to use even a short sword, which was where the second row came in. They had room to swing a blade, attacking the head of the enemy’s front line. Of course your enemy’s second line would be doing the same thing, so you also needed to protect the man in front of you with your shield. It was brutal, fearsome work. Made more so when your enemy used tricks like giant axemen to break your line before their shield wall struck.
`Heave!’ Martil roared, and felt the farm boy behind him force him forwards. He used that momentum to propel Sirron forwards. But the guardsman facing him had nobody behind him to prop him up. The three guardsmen stood for a few moments more before the transfer of momentum saw them pushed backwards, to stumble and fall.
Stunned silence greeted the sight of the three men on the floor, then the farm boys cheered each other, and were quickly joined by the militia, who always enjoyed seeing guardsmen humbled.
Martil dropped his shield and wiped his face. His left shoulder and arm ached, while his back was also tender from having a shoulder stuck in it, but thanks to the armour and the padding underneath, he doubted he would have much more than a small bruise.
`I hope you were all paying attention,’ he told them. `You just saw a bunch of farm boys, who are only just learning how to use their swords, defeat three of your best men. That is the power of the shield wall. It will help you survive in battle as long as you are prepared to stand strong. But if it is broken, you are all dead. Remember that.’
He formed them into a shield wall, and had men take turns standing in each row, as well as joining him in running at the shield wall and forcing it to stand firm to repel them. By the end of the day, the men were exhausted, but Martil felt they all had a better idea of what they would need to do. He had been pleased to see men, not just Wime and Rocus, calling out encouragement to each other, and telling each other to hold hard, or push back. They were not ready to take on a rival shield wall, but he felt they could probably stand up to one charge of cavalry.
Martil made sure the farm boys were to receive their reward - being waited on by the militia as the guardsmen peeled vegetables and roasted meat. One advantage of having farmers in camp was they had brought bags of seeds with them. But the biggest advantage, of course, was having Karia and Barrett, who could make vegetables grow overnight. Martil had the guardsmen clean the armour, just to reinforce the punishment for losing.
`I told you he never makes offers like that unless he is sure he’s going to win,‘ he overheard Wime tell Rocus, which brought a smile to his face. He then washed quickly in the cold stream and went to find Karia.

More DVD extras

For those who have read the earlier posts, there was a fair bit of The Wounded Guardian that ended up on the (metaphorically speaking) cutting room floor. Sometimes this was for the best, sometimes things just had to go because there was plenty of ambushes/fighting already and I have a word count deadline to meet!
Anyway, here's another sequence that appeared only in a truncated form...

MARTIL looked down on the approaching convoy and prepared to give the signal to attack. Until now everything had gone perfectly. The men, hardened by Martil’s training, had performed well on the march. Not that it had been as tough as a normal march. Thanks to Barrett, their progress was swift, with the woods opening up into a trail for them. They had reached Conil’s ambush position easily and Barrett had prepared the trap by spreading sticks across the road and using the same magic technique on them he had employed to guard his house. Anyone who walked over the sticks would be instantly entangled. Martil was a little hesitant about entrusting such an important element of the ambush to some flimsy sticks, but he had seen enough of Barrett’s work not to challenge him on this.
Then the three groups had taken up their positions and it was just a matter of waiting for Havrick’s supply convoy to arrive. Even that proved ridiculously easy. Barrett used birds to report back to him regularly, so they knew roughly how long to wait, and could eat a hot meal and have the fires doused long before they could be seen.
The convoy was impressively large, more than a score of heavily-laden wagons, with a corresponding number of light cavalry as the escort. Martil had been hoping for just a dozen men, but with the advantage of surprise, he was confident they could handle the few extra. He had decided to wait with Rocus’s men. Partly because if the charge was not broken by Tarik’s archers, the Dragon Sword would be of most use there. But mostly because he did not trust Rocus to follow the plan. The man might just do something foolish, like charging in and demanding a fair fight. Barrett was with Tarik, where he could best use his magic. And because it would be better for him to save his powers. As Martil had reminded them all, just taking the convoy was not enough. They had to get the supplies back to the caves as well.
`Almost there,’ he said to himself, as the lead riders of the escort rode up to the first of the sticks.
The cavalry, as Martil had hoped, were talking amongst themselves, looking around and generally behaving as if they were out for a gentle ride. No doubt they were thoroughly bored by the slow trip north but Martil found himself hoping their officer was killed in the attack. Gello would no doubt exact a dreadful punishment if the man returned alive to tell of a looted convoy.
For a long moment, nothing seemed to happen, and then everything seemed to happen at once. Two riders were sent flying as Barrett’s sticks worked their magic, and the officer woke up enough to start yelling at the others to stay back. In a moment the convoy had ground to a halt.
`Forward!’ Martil raised his arm and led the guardsmen up and onto the road, where they swiftly formed two ranks.
The cavalry officer saw the armoured men blocking the road and screamed at his troopers to form up for the charge. But in the confusion, more men fell as Barrett’s traps struck, and while two of them were able to remount, there were three horses left writhing on the ground with broken legs.
`Steady, lads,’ Martil told the guardsmen, as they shifted nervously. They did not have spears, and infantry without spears was always vulnerable to cavalry. `Hold your line!’
It seemed to take a long while, but finally the cavalry escort was past the traps and moving into the canter.
`Charge!’ their officer screamed.
`Now, Tarik,’ Martil muttered.
It was essential he wait until the horses worked up some speed, because that would mean even one horse falling would disrupt the charge.
Almost as soon as Martil said it, Tarik and his archers stood and began loosing arrows as fast as they could down on the cavalry. For expert archers, men who expected to put nine arrows out of ten into a bullseye at 80 paces, a man on a horse at half that distance was too easy. Each arrow was the length of a man’s arm, tipped by a needle-like steel head the length of a man’s finger. They hissed as they flew, and the sound as they drove through armour and flesh reminded Martil of the time he had dropped a full winesack from a battlement onto the stones below.
Men and horses screamed and fell, as the charge dissolved into chaos. Tarik’s men had deliberately aimed at the front rank of the cavalry; as they fell, they brought down the men behind. As the riders at the rear desperately tried to avoid being thrown, they were picked off as well.
Now Wime led his militia in among the wagons, dragging the shocked wagoners down and clubbing any that tried to fight back.
`Forward!‘ Martil led the guardsmen down the road but he could see there was almost no need to draw his sword. Each archer had loosed perhaps 10 arrows, and every one of those had been aimed. That meant every trooper had had more than six aimed arrows sent at him, at a range where the hunters did not miss.
It was almost a miracle the lot were not dead, Martil reflected.
`I want one of your squads to put those horses out of their misery, then round up any that can be ridden,‘ he ordered Rocus. `We need this road open so we can use it. I want the other squad to gather up the cavalry’s wounded. Strip them of any weapons and armour we can use. Remember, we are going be arming farmers and merchants, so any armour is better than none.‘
Every man who had charged was dead or wounded; the only unharmed survivors from the escort were the three men whose horses had been brought down by Barrett’s traps. They stood, dazed by the brutal slaughter of their fellows, until Wime took their weapons and made them lie on the ground.
`Quickly now! We must get as far away as possible today,’ Martil urged the men on.
There was much to do. Some of the draught horses were used to drag dead cavalry horses out of the way, while Wime and Martil went through the wagons, deciding what they would keep, and what they would destroy.
The convoy had everything Martil had hoped for - and more. There were thousands of arrows in sheaves, scores of shields and swords, as well as barrels of spears and racks of axes. There were two wagons alone filled with thick, boiled leather jerkins, nowhere as good as mail hauberks but still solid enough to stop most sword strokes.
Then there was the food. Wagon upon wagon piled high with bags of corn for the horses, as well as twice-baked bread and dried meat for the men. Enough to keep a force in the field for months.
`We’ll take the five wagons filled with weapons and one filled with food, then burn the rest. Tarik, you’ll stay behind with half your men. Give us until nightfall - or until you see someone - then burn the wagons and follow us as fast as you can,’ Martil decided.
`Shouldn‘t we take more food, sir?’ Rocus asked.
`Arms and armour are more important. We can always get food from farms, if we need. But we can’t get weapons anywhere else. We’ll also take every horse we can to help us.’
It was hard work, but they were able to roll out of the ambush site only a couple of hours after the first arrows had flown. Thanks to Barrett‘s magical abilities, where he made the trees shuffle aside to form a trail, they took the wagons deep into the woods, until they reached slopes that could take horses, but not wagons. Here they unhitched the draught horses and loaded them up with as much as they could carry, then loaded every other horse they had brought along. The men took as much as they could, then the remaining items were just left. There was not much, just a handful of leather jerkins, a few bags of the bread and some sheaves of arrows. Each wagon had had four horses, and another five cavalry horses had been lightly wounded, and were able to be pressed into service.
Even so, it was going to be a slow walk back to the caves. And so it proved. Tarik and his men caught up with them after dark, sweating, smelling faintly of smoke and all wearing a jerkin of the leather armour and carrying sheaves of arrows.
`We waited as long as could, but saw the dust of some travellers behind. So we torched the wagons and ran to catch up. Havrick’s trackers are going to get a shock,‘ Tarik smiled.
Martil found the breath to laugh, although he was wearing two of the jerkins and carrying four spears over his shoulder. Barrett’s trail, which he had forced through the woods, was closing behind them, so Havrick’s men would find five wagons in the middle of the woods, surrounded by trees, with no possible way in or out.
It was a hard walk, and a long walk, but the easy victory had them all laughing. And the reaction when they arrived back was even better.

Final blurb for The Risen Queen!

Here it is, the final blurb for The Risen Queen.
And I have had it confirmed that it will be in the shops on December 15, although bookstores will be flat out around that time, so you may have to ask them nicely to unpack it for you!

Martil and his Rallorans are trying to gain control of the north for Queen Merren but winning the hearts of the people is proving impossible when the bards have painted them as murderous barbarians.
King Gello the usurper is planning to lead a massive army to crush the budding rebellion but, even if a way can be found to defeat him, the Fearpriests stand ready to come to his aid…
Karia is trying to persuade Martil that she has all the answers, while Merren is considering desperate solutions to the problems facing her and Norstalos. Perhaps the vilified and despised primitive race of men to the north, that the Norstalines call ‘goblins’, might be the answer.
But on Dragonara Isle, the dragons have their own plans for Martil and particularly for the Dragon Sword…

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Wounded Guardian DVD extras 1

A little while ago, I suggested books should be more like DVDs, in that they could feature deleted scenes.
This is the first of several major scenes that were sliced in the editing process. It was initially written to give Merren and Karia time to get to know each other, while Martil was out wearing down Havrick's forces. It was also part of my general desire to write a book where the hero does not wave a magic sword, immediately create an army and march to victory.
But, honestly, I don't think the book lost anything by this sequence being erased.
Still, I'd like to know your thoughts!
PS: This is not quite the finished version, so if there are errors, they are entirely my fault!

SERGEANT Errec spat as he waved his men forward. The few game trails around here never seemed to go in the right direction, so more often than not, he had to have three men up front, blunting their swords by trying to cut through the undergrowth. Luckily the woods were relatively open, the bushes barely taller than knee high, but still it took plenty of effort to force a passage and Errec knew they had to be wasting their time.
No way could 50 men and horses move through here without leaving some sort of sign. But he had his orders, and he knew the consequences of disobeying them. His was the last group in the line, the one he felt was least likely to come across anything, but he was still ready in case his old friend sergeant Porrit, who led the next group in, found anything. Errec had been a soldier for nearly 20 years and felt strange about this whole exercise. He had signed up to fight against Berellians, Avish and Tetrans, not his own people. He knew Wime was among the so-called rebels, and he was a decent man. But he trusted his officers when they said these rebels had to be stopped before the army would get its chance to take care of the other countries. And he believed Duke Gello when he said how Norstalos was going to be the greatest country in the world. The Duke would lead them to victory and riches. Give them something to look forward to, not just guard duty and breaking a few goblin heads.
He spat again, watching the slow progress of his trail-breakers up a slope, where the bushes seemed to cluster thickly.
`Hurry it up!’ he roared.
`We’re trying, sarge!’ one called back.
He snorted. They weren’t trying hard enough for his liking. Then he grunted and took a step backwards. It felt as though someone had thrown a rock at him, striking him in the middle of his chest. He looked down, ready to yell at the joker who had done that, but was astonished to discover the feathers of an arrow jutting out, just beside his sternum. He touched them, just to see they were real, and thought about yelling a warning, but he suddenly had no breath. Around him he could hear shouts and screams, and the hissing of arrows, followed by the meaty thump as they struck home. He dimly registered he should be doing something to protect his men. There had been an order, or some such, about sounding a warning horn? He thought he would walk over and talk to his trumpeter, but found himself sitting on the ground instead.
Just a quick lie-down, he thought, then I’ll have the energy to tell people what to do. He fell backwards and found the leaf litter strangely comforting. He sank into it.
- - - -
MARTIL watched Tarik and his archers drive the soldiers into cover, splitting them up and picking off any who showed an inclination to fight back. Half were down, including the sergeant and the trumpeter, and the rest were more concerned with staying out of sight and in cover than trying to link up.
Martil waved to the militia and guardsmen he had with him, on the soldiers’ flank.
`Come on!’ he roared, and led the charge in.
The arrows stopped, but before the soldiers could do more than stand up, Martil and the others were upon them. One man lunged at Martil, and received the Dragon Sword through his chest as a riposte, then Rocus and the others swarmed over the rest. Martil looked around for anyone else but there were only dead and wounded soldiers, as well as a pair who had been belted over the head with the flat of blades or the full face of a shield.
`Quick now! Take their weapons and be ready to march! Wime, find me a wounded man who can talk!’
Martil inspected the site with satisfaction. Not one of his men had been even hurt, while two squads of Havrick’s soldiers had been wiped out.
`Captain! Over here!’ Wime shouted and Martil hurried over to find the trumpeter propped against a tree, an arrow high in his chest and another in his gut that would kill him before the day was out.
`Listen to me. What are the calls for being under attack, and how do you talk to the other groups?’ Martil demanded. `Tell me and I’ll end your pain quickly.’
The man just moaned back at him, so Martil reached down and took hold of the shaft deep in the man’s stomach.
`Talk to me, or I’ll rip this out, slowly,’ he growled.
The man’s eyes widened and his breath came in short gasps as he felt the pressure on the arrowhead lodged deep in his stomach.
`Captain!’ Wime gasped.
`We have to know. Victory is the only thing that matters,’ Martil said softly, his eyes on the trumpeter’s face.
`Tell me, and I’ll have our wizard come and look at you,’ he told the man. `Refuse to answer and your last hours will be spent screaming.’
`One blast every hour to let them know our position, four blasts to call for help,’ the man moaned.
Martil let go of the arrow and stood.
`Barrett! Can you do anything for this man?’ he shouted.
Barrett walked over and looked down at the moaning, sweating, trumpeter. `I’m not a priest,’ he snapped. `Only Aroaril could save this man now.’
Martil turned back to the wounded man.
`I’m sorry, but you heard the wizard,’ he said softly, drawing the Dragon Sword and placing it on the man’s thigh. He carefully opened the main artery at the top of the leg as he talked. `There was no way to save you. But I thank you for your information. And I have made sure you will not suffer in pain.’
The man’s head sagged forward and Martil stepped away, sheathing the unmarked Dragon Sword.
`Lieutenant Wime!’
`Don’t question my orders again. As it happened, it helped him believe I was actually going to torture him. But if you want to stay in command, just obey me. Understand?’
`Yes sir!’
Martil watched him go, and sighed. `Tarik!’
The hunter appeared by his side a few moments laster.
`Stay here with two men. Give us a decent start, then sound the horn four times and follow as fast as you can before any searchers can get here.’
The guardsmen and militia had finished collecting discarded weapons, so Martil called them in.
`Well done lads! We’re giving Havrick a headache! Now, let’s away and find another spot to hurt him!’
- - - -
THE news one of his groups had been wiped out reached Jennar only slowly. Then it took him time to concentrate his groups around the site of the attack, out on his right flank. He had served with Errec for a decade and knew the ambush had to have been well planned to do so much damage.
`They had archers up there, then a force of swordsmen took the remaining men in the flank,’ one of the scouts reported. `They didn’t stand a chance.’
`They must have killed a few of the rebels,’ one of his sergeants, who Jennar recognised as Errec’s friend Porrit, mumbled.
`Don’t be a fool. They were outnumbered and surprised,’ Jennar snorted. `No, they were wiped out. Now get the bodies buried, and two squads to take the wounded back to camp.’
`Your orders, sir?’ one of his junior lieutenants
`Same as before. I doubt Captain Havrick would take kindly to us giving up the search. Anyway, this is what he wants. Use our lives to find out where they are hiding. As long as one man lives to tell him of the rebels’ location, he’ll be happy. Now, we must form up and create a new search pattern, based on this attack, as it must have been their group closest to their camp.’
`What if that’s what they want us to think?’ an old sergeant asked.
Jennar smiled at the man, a tough veteran called Gillen.
`I might be tempted to agree with you, but then that would mean we should search in the opposite direction. A man could go crazy doing that. And let’s not forget, who’s to say they have been trained. A bunch of soft guardsmen, some militia and a few hunters. If it came to a proper fight, they’d be no chance.’
Gillen still looked doubtful, so Jennar put an arm around his shoulder. `Sergeant, if that’s what they wanted, they wouldn’t have aimed at the trumpeter. Two arrows, and a sword wound. They wanted to silence him. We have to assume that, or we are just wasting our time out here.’ Jennar knew he was talking too much. A good leader did not have to explain everything to his men. But he knew the men were worried about how they were being used as bait. He felt he owed them some sort of explanation.
`Now let’s begin the search again, but try and stay close to your next group. And be prepared for an ambush at any moment.’ Jennar knew he was ensuring slow progress - and that would infuriate Havrick - but he could not force his men to march to their deaths. `They’re going to strike again, and probably again, but each time we will be that much closer to their camp, that much closer to revenge,’ he said, hoping it was true.
- - - -
Martil had sent four of the guardsmen back, laden with captured swords. He did not need them to ambush 20 men. He reckoned one more attack, again at the group at the far right of their line, which was far to the east of their camp, should be enough to ensure their search pattern would miss the caves by several miles. This second attack would be more difficult. The soldiers would be alert. But he had Barrett, who was able to provide him with an accurate picture of where the groups were. Once more Martil gathered around the squad leaders.
`Tarik, I want you to take your best two archers with you, and strike this group here,’ Martil indicated the group three in from the end of the line. `Pick off their scouts, and the group leader, if you can. Then fade into the forest before they realise how many of you there are. They’ll react by blowing the warning horn. When we hear that, we’ll strike this group here. The horn will attract their attention and distract them enough to allow us to strike.’
`How will we know when to attack?” Tarik asked.
`Barrett will send a bird as a messenger,’ Martil gestured towards the wizard.
`Expect to see an owl arrive, and fly down onto your shoulder. As soon as that happens, you know to attack,’ Barrett gestured, and an owl flew down to join him. `This one.’
`And if they are too far away from us?’ Tarik asked.
Martil gestured down at the rough map he had sketched into the dirt.
`They are all moving at similar speeds. They will not be far away. But if they are, Barrett will have seen that, and the owl will bring you new orders.’
Tarik looked over to where the bird sat on Barrett’s shoulder, unblinking.
`I’ve heard of using bird calls to signal an attack before, but this is ridiculous,’ he muttered.
The others laughed, and Martil had to join in, as well. Men who could laugh before a fight were ready for battle. Two easy victories had given them plenty of confidence. The trick was to ensure those easy victories continued.
- - - -
JENNAR waved his scouts forward. He had three men out, a good 50 yards in front of the main group. They darted from tree to tree, while his men did likewise, trying to stay in cover and watch all around them. They only had swords, which were hardly the right weapons for this sort of fighting. The rangers used bows, while also carrying throwing knives and short swords. But the rangers were confined to barracks, he had heard, deemed not loyal enough. Still, they would have come in handy here. Although there was something about these woods that chilled a man. He had not seen or heard any animals or birds - although, as he thought that, he saw an owl glide overhead and disappear off to his right.
He was confident that most of his men would survive an ambush; enough, at least, to hold off a charge until help could get to them. For the 20th time he checked his trumpeter was safe, then waved his scouts forward again. But this time, instead of running to the next group of trees, the trio just collapsed onto the ground, and lay jerking. Jennar stared in shock for a long second - until he saw the white feathers of an arrow sticking out of one man’s chest.
`Get down!’ he roared, and dived for the dubious safety of a fallen tree, as an arrow whistled over his head. More arrows were whipping in, and he could hear two of his men shouting with pain. He risked a quick look up, and saw his trumpeter sounding the four notes to warn of attack.
`Help’s on its way!’ he roared.
But although a few arrows hissed through the air and thudded into trees, the expected arrow storm seemed more like a shower. One man had an arrow through the calf, another had one in his chest, but apart from that, nobody had been hit. They were just being kept pinned down.
`Watch your flanks!’ Jennar yelled, but nothing materialised out there.
The arrows seemed to have stopped, and that indicated swordsmen were going to attack at any moment. But still nothing came.
`There!’ someone called out, and Jennar turned to see figures running towards them. He was about to order his men to form line, when he realised they were his own men, from another group.
`First squad, into the trees! Find out where those archers are!’ he barked.
But by the time the first group to respond to the trumpeted distress calls had reached him, and another was in sight, that squad had returned to say there were no archers in the trees. Or indeed, anywhere.
`I think we scared them off, sir,’ Sergeant Gellin suggested.
Jennar thought about that theory. He liked it, but another possibility suddenly occurred to him.
`Sound recall!’ he bellowed.
- - - -
SERGEANT Porrit heard the trumpet blasts only faintly.
`Not us lads, it’s down the line, too far away to reach,’ he declared.
His men relaxed, and he did not yell at them for it. They had all been under pressure, the fear of the next attack growing with every step they took into the woods. They felt sorry for the other group that was under attack but it was a relief, as well, not to be them.
Porrit wondered if they should start marching towards the sound. He turned towards his trumpeter, intending to ask the man if he should sound the recall, when he heard a hissing noise, followed by a sound that reminded him of a waterskin being burst. Two feathered shafts appeared in the trumpeter’s chest, followed by a third, and the man collapsed backwards. Porrit jumped for the trumpet, but before he could reach it, felt two hammer blows in his back and fell on top of the man’s body without even realising what had killed him.
His men were standing around talking, thinking they were safe, and the arrows ripped into them for precious seconds before they scattered for cover. But as soon as they scattered, Martil led a charge in from the flank, the militia and guardsmen close behind.
The soldiers tried to fight back, in groups of two and three, but each small group was faced with up to 10 militia or guardsmen, and were swiftly wiped out.
Martil raced forwards, Dragon Sword in his hand, and charged right at two men who jumped out to fight him. One aimed a cut at Martil’s head, but he blocked the blow with his left-hand sword, then beheaded the man with the Dragon Sword. His mate tried to thrust at Martil’s face, but the Dragon Sword sliced through the top third of the man’s sword, then ripped open his chest. Martil darted away, almost before the body hit the ground. The exultation of using the Dragon Sword was almost too much in battles such as this.
He felt like laughing as he fought, but his laughter dried up when he saw Barrett join the fight. Once more the wizard’s staff had become the size of a small tree, and with every blow he swung, a soldier was sent flying through the air.
The soldiers were brave and well-trained, and tried to fight back, but wherever Martil and Barrett went, resistance collapsed. The last two men threw down their swords rather than face him, dropping to their knees in terror.
`Rocus! Check for casualties, and round up all the weapons we can use. We shall leave swiftly,’ Martil called.
`What about these prisoners, captain?’ Wime asked.
Martil hesitated. He knew he should try and win them over to his side, using the Dragon Sword. But if they had not surrendered, he would have ripped them apart with it.
`Use the Sword. Try to make it work on them,’ Barrett encouraged.
Martil rounded on him, taking his arm and leading him a short distance away from the others. `Thank you for the advice, but I give the orders around here. And what did you intend by joining the fight? We had it won, we did not need you. But we might need your magic to get us back!’
Barrett dragged his arm free. `I am here to help you, and to protect the men. Thanks to me, as well as yourself, not one of our men was killed, and just a couple were wounded. And I have not expended too much energy, either. It is not just yourself who can impress the men in battle, remember.’
Martil ground his teeth. `You are under my orders. Disobey me again and I’ll leave you back at the caves with the women.’
`Well, I’m sure Merren would like to have me around. Especially after you get yourself killed because I’m not here to guide you every step of the way,’ Barrett snarled.
Martil took a deep breath. This was not helping things - and they were wasting time here.
`I will call on you when I need you in battle. Until then, you should remain our secret weapon. Now these survivors will be able to tell Havrick that you are fighting alongside us.’
`Not if they are won over to our side. Use the Sword,’ Barrett urged.
Marti walked away from him, because he had no intention of arguing further with the wizard. He would use the Dragon Sword, and show the wizard who was the real champion here. He drew the Sword and held it out before the two nervous men.
`This is the Dragon Sword. You watched me wield it. You know it is real. So now you have a choice. Join me, fight for the Queen, or fight against the symbol of everything you have been brought up to honour,’ Martil said simply.
The two men just stared at him before the taller, a muscular man with a thick moustache, spoke.
`Will you kill us if we refuse?’
Martil was almost tempted to agree, so they would want to join him and he could at least show off two recruits, but he had no intention of allowing men who were not committed to fight beside him.
`No. You will go free,’ he said.
The man shrugged. `That may be the Dragon Sword. But I watched it kill my friends. How can I fight for you then? I can’t destroy their memory.‘
Martil nodded. `So you will seek revenge for their deaths?’
The man straightened. `I will.’
`Why not now? You two against me. If you win, you go free,’ he offered.
The pair looked at each other before looking at the Dragon Sword that glittered in Martil’s hand. He hoped they would choose to fight. Just thinking how Barrett would be swift to report to Merren that the Dragon Sword was still not responding to him was making him angry.
`We would be mad to do that. You would kill us,’ Moustache said finally.
`Tell your friends that. Any that come against me will die. Remember that,’ Martil stepped in close, so he could see the man’s eyes and feel his fear. Moustache tried to meet his gaze but the younger soldier just stared at the ground, where a widening puddle betrayed how afraid he was. Disgusted, both with them and with himself, Martil stepped back.
`Time to go! Tie these two gutless bastards to a tree and gag them!’ he called.
`I can do that,’ Barrett declared, and before Martil could say anything, had gestured at the pair. A nearby tree suddenly came to life, its branches wrapping around the men, lifting them off the ground and leaving them high in the air, their mouths stuffed with leaves so they could not even cry out.
Martil was about to say something, then realised what an effect such a sight would have on the men who found this group. A frightened enemy was one who did not fight as well.
`Good work,’ he told Barrett, grudgingly.
Just then, trumpets sounded through the forest.
`That’s our signal to go. Come on!’
The two wounded guardsmen were helped away by their comrades. One had a cut bicep, which was bound up tight, the other had a pair of broken ribs, after a sword thrust was mostly stopped by his leather armour. Barrett stopped the blood flow and promised to do more once they were back at the caves.
The men were still extremely cheerful. This was the third time they had cut apart their foes, and still not one of their number had been killed.
`At this rate, we’ll have them all killed off by the new moon,’ Rocus boasted.
Martil did not tell him that Havrick would probably have his men searching in groups of 50 after this. He walked slightly ahead of the men, near Barrett, who was leading the way as usual.
`I know you did not want me to fight, but I think you should try not to fight, either,’ the wizard said quietly.

Conflux Part 3: Where do you get your ideas?

THIS panel saw many audience members bring along notepads, ready to take down advice from myself, moderator Richard Harland, Sabrina de Souza and star panellist and Voyager author Jack Dann.
My take on it was two-pronged. First you need your characters, and finding them in everyday life is certainly one way. You need characters that interest you, and sometimes that even comes just from a feeling. TWG’s Martil was inspired by thoughts of redemption, of a man coming back from a dark place because of a child’s love.
Perhaps my most useful statement was my belief that human history is rife with fantastic stories, tales of extraordinary heroism and hope, many of which can be adapted to a fantasy setting.
One of the principle inspirations for TWG (although it does not take place until Risen Queen) was the battle of Pilleth, when Owain Glyndwr defeated the English. Look it up on Google - it is an extraordinary tale.
But in the trilogy are such things as the massacre of Srebrenica, the atrocity at My Lai in Vietnam, the taking of Babylon by King Darius, the Zulu victory at Isandhlwana, the taking of Tenochtitlan and Mayan sacrifice rites.
Richard and Jack both often use dreams for ideas, while I also take feelings and impressions from music - some lyrics can really strike a note with me.
Probably the thing I took from this panel, although we did not really sum it up for the people there, was that ideas are everywhere.
One idea will not make a book, let alone a trilogy. You need many ideas - ideas for plot, ideas for characters, ideas about the lands they are in, ideas about what happens to them.
Write ideas down, keep a pad by your bed to record dreams and thoughts there - and be prepared to let stories percolate around in the back of your head for a while. Sometimes thinking, not writing, can be just as productive.
Jack had the classic line that a fellow writer was once asked where he gets his ideas from and replied: “ I send $5 a month to a little old lady in Albuquerque and she sends me five ideas back”.
But when the writer tried this joke at a US convention, there was a massive line of people wanting the lady’s address!
If only it were that easy!
I get ideas from the Australian countryside, from everything I see, from people I meet, from dreams, feelings and impressions gained from music and movies.
The trick is turning them into something a publisher is willing to pay for!

Conflux Part 2: Fantasy literature

THE second panel I appeared on at Conflux was a tricky one, to say the least. With a rather nebulous title - fantasy as literature, moderator Jenny Blackford, myself and Sabrina de Souza attempted to tackle something that had little to grasp hold of!
Beyond suggesting that fantasy is, in fact, the bedrock of Anglo-Saxon literature, using as my supporting evidence the epic poem Beowulf and the tradition of bards and skalds, we were fighting to come up with anything controversial. Sadly that (my effort) did not stir the passions of the audience, given they were almost all fantasy fans and quite happy to agree!
Jenny, a judge on the World Fantasy Awards, had kept us going with some discussion but we were running out of steam.
Luckily for us, panellist and fellow Voyager author KJ (Katie) Taylor (The Dark Griffin) arrived. Her entrance was a little late due to Daylight Savings but was perfectly timed. Her energy and outspoken enthusiasm rescued a panel that was threatening to struggle.
We also all agreed with KJ, when she said fantasy is unfairly maligned and that fantasy was a genre of almost unlimited possibilities (although it has plenty of bad fantasy efforts).
But we were also saved with the best question from the audience I heard all weekend (admittedly there were many panels I missed).
Christian Tambling, self-published author of Dragon Moon, asked if there were any boundaries you could not cross in fantasy.
This had us all thinking hard.
My take came back to my favourite saying - get the characters right and people will be more inclined to follow them on the journey you are writing, no matter how extraordinary it grows to be.
The only barrier I like to avoid is the limit of normal human ability. If you have heroes slaughtering hundreds of soldiers, or able to far surpass normal physical efforts, then you may well have a problem.
Readers will check their disbelief at the door when they crack the cover of a fantasy book, allowing you to indulge the fantasy of magic, mythical creatures and the like - but having people do the impossible without even an attempt at a logical explanation is what gives the genre a bad name.
What do you think?

Conflux: Part 1

My first panel at Conflux was the Secret Of Writing Humour - and I feared it was to be no laughing matter. Humour is such a subjective business, I was worried what would be said and if I would end up looking like the joke.
After all, The Wounded Guardian has a fair bit of humour (at least, it was intended to do so, and plenty of people have said they found it funny) and it is something I enjoy having in my writing. I find it breaks the mood if things are getting too heavy and can have multiple benefits.
But I needn’t have worried too much. Moderator Richard Harland (who’s funny in the nicest possible sense) and fellow panellist Val Toh made it easy for us to relax.
My theory (as I told the audience) is humour flows from the characters. Get the characters right, get them real enough that people can visualise them and then put them into situations where humour can arise. You don’t need snappy one-liners, which, after all, often fall flat!
The perfect example, of course, is Fawlty Towers, where such “unfunny” lines as “Don’t mention the war” are almost guaranteed to have people in stitches, even though on paper they don’t look like much. It is the character that gives life to the words so, if you have strong characters, you can have them generating plenty of humour.
In-jokes and pop culture references, we all agreed, are not easy to make funny - and can easily date, so should be stayed away from.
My thought was to have no more than 10 per cent of the book as humour, to use it sparingly - unless of course you aspire to be the next Terry Pratchett, in which case you either need no advice from me or are doomed to failure. (Sadly the latter is probably more likely).
Another little trick is to have “sidekick” characters, whose purpose, at least initially, seems to be to provide light relief - but if then they get swept up into the action (and, hopefully, tragedy) it has even more of an impact.
One thing both Richard and I felt very strongly about was the need to assess your characters as you write - if someone placed for humour then turns out to be particularly interesting, then give them more. Keep going with them, because sometimes they can take your story in new directions and give it an extra dimension. Sometimes characters demand to be given more of the story - and you should give it to them!
TWG, with a peerless warrior forced to look after a small girl and an ex-bandit without a filter between brain and mouth, was designed to have humour breaking up the action.
So, for me, the secret of writing humour is giving your story strong characters and putting them into incongruous situations.
Feel free to tell me I am wrong!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Store appearances

Earlier this month I appeared at Angus and Robertson Erina, for a book signing/selling afternoon.
Back in July, I did a few of these around the coast, with mixed results, but I think I have the formula right now.
Instead of sitting at a table at the back of a store, waiting and hoping for someone to come over, I was out the front, talking to anyone who came past!
It worked so well that we sold 17 copies in about two hours - and the A&R stores at Maitland and Kotara have booked me in for similar appearances on October 11 and 18 respectively!
Now, normally I don't like cold callers. And I hate being accosted in a shopping centre by someone trying to sell me something.
But, in the pursuit of spreading the word about my book (and making a few sales!) I became what I normally despise!
It's an interesting exercise, trying to hit up people for a chat as they walk past.
For a start, people don't wear shirts proclaiming they like fantasy books. Although I did meet one guy with a really cool Stormtrooper T-shirt on, which was a bit of a giveaway. And yes, he bought my book!
But what about the others? Some young, muscly, tattooed blokes just laughed at me. Others were willing to talk. A pair of old ladies bought a copy, while Goth-looking teenagers turned up their (pierced) noses!
As time went on, I began to refine my technique. There were some people who were walking just too fast to bother about. Others caught my eye or glanced in the direction of the posters.
I began by saying: " Do you like reading?''
Quite a few replied: "Not today thanks!" which begged the question, would they like reading tomorrow?
But if they stopped, I asked if they liked fantasy and then talked about my book.
I probably spoke to more than 50 people - some claimed to come back later (perhaps they did)others that they had no money that day.
It was an extraordinary experience to speak to so many people about my book.
And I learned that you can sell something if you truly believe in it.
So watch out for me around Christmas, when book two is out!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Your personal zombie attack plan

Like millions of people who live in/around Sydney, I ``enjoyed'' waking up to a post-apocalyptic red dawn last week, as well as a slightly brown dawn on the weekend.
Amid all the excitement, and coughing, I was chatting with a few mates and we naturally ended up discussing our personal survival plans in case of zombie attack in the event of an apocalyptic event.
Now most people I know (perhaps a comment on the people I know!) seem to have some form of plan to help them survive a massive zombie onslaught.
My basic theory is, you never go into the heavily-fortified compound, because there is always a traitor/fool/fatal flaw that will expose it to zombie infiltration. And once the zombies are in, there's no escape.
Naturally I think it's best to head for wide-open, isolated spaces where you can see them coming (and keep on running) and Australia is brilliant for this.
Of course, it does depend a little on the type of zombie. If it is a viral, rage-frenzied zombie type from 28 Days Later, then obviously you would just have to survive for a couple of months, until they die of hunger.
If it is the mutated, I Am Legend-type zombies, it's even easier. Firstly, they are all CGI and, without powerful computers, wouldn't exist to bother you. Second, all you'd have to do is find a spot where there's no shade (easy enough in Oz) for further than a zombie can walk at night, as they cannot survive UV rays.
Now, if we're talking old-school Dawn Of The Dead zombies who survive on human flesh and can only be killed by having their brains wrecked, then you need to be able to see the slow-moving suckers coming.
If they're the REALLY dumb types, from Shaun Of The Dead, then all the better. If they ever arrive that far west, they'll also be a source of amusement as you watch them bumble around. Sort of like seeing strange tourists trying to find their way around, or the token dumb American couple on The Amazing Race.
Whatever, a large cattle station out in the middle of Australia sounds perfect for all types, giving you self-sufficiency, space to see them coming - and many already have CCTV to allow the farmers to check on stock.
Of course, getting there safely is another matter!
But a mate thinks you need to find an abandoned underground bunker (well, there's surely a few secret US bases around in the outback), while others say cave systems are the go.
Anyway, if the next red dawn brings out the zombies, I'll be ready.
The only flaw in my plan is if someone reads this, gets zombified, then decides to come looking for me ...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Villains too evil?

The Wounded Guardian was reviewed by The Adelaide Advertiser recently, which was a pretty complimentary review (four stars out of five) - although it threw in the comment that the villains were too evil.
That got me thinking - how evil should fantasy villains be? I mean, I don't remember anyone saying Sauron was a bit too nasty in The Lord Of The Rings, or that the Ringwraiths weren't cuddly enough.
There are few fantasy books where the villains are quite nice people really, just a little misunderstood.
Are we willing to accept that orcs/goblins/trolls/whatever are all utterly evil but that humans cannot be that bad?
If so, where do the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot come?
When writing The Wounded Guardian, I had the difficulty of beginning with a compromised hero. Martil is derided as the Butcher of Bellic, a man with evil deeds to his name.
So if you imagine a scale between good and evil, he's kind of sitting in the middle. That meant any villains had to begin further down the scale than Martil - and keep going!
But I don't know if I'd class them as "totally'' evil, although I wanted the like of Duke Gello and the Fearpriest Onzalez to be very dark - they are men who are not bothered by conscience or morality. History is littered with such men.
But what do you think?
Can we believe in utterly evil non-human villains but human villains need to have some sort of redeeming feature?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The DVD extras of The Wounded Guardian

When you buy a DVD, these days you expect to get a few extras ... a bit of commentary and most certainly some deleted scenes.
I always enjoy watching the deleted scenes, seeing how it may have changed the story and if it improved/detracted from the flow.
So why not get those with a book?
If you've read a few of my earlier posts, you'll be aware I had to slice about 30,000 words out of The Wounded Guardian to make the 180,000 word count that is the upper limit for a Harper Voyager book.
Now that wasn't a bad thing. In fact it meant I tightened up some rather flabby scenes and cut back excess that didn't need to be there. But there were a few things that it was a bit of a wrench to leave out.
One of the problems I faced with the book was giving the main characters time to develop a relationship. Martil and Karia needed time to get to know each other at the start, while in the second half, Merren and Karia needed time to develop a relationship - for events in the next two books would swiftly overtake them.
This meant I had Martil spend time training the Norstalines and then undertake quite a detailed campaign against Havrick and his soldiers - and this area took quite a trim when it came to making the cuts.
There were also some other scenes, such as Martil and Karia meeting a rude wizard's assistant in the town of Wollin (a wizard who plays a part in book three), which also had to go.
So, in the spirit of DVD extras, I'll be posting some of these scenes on the blog over the next few weeks - and would like to know if you feel their removal from the final manuscript made it better/worse.
But the order in which they appear will be by request.
So, out of the following:
a) Martil and Karia try to talk to a wizard in Wollin
b) Martil trains the Norstalines
c) Ambush in the forest
d) Defeating a cavalry charge
e) Fooling Havrick's forest search
What would you like to read (if any!)
Add your thoughts here or on Facebook and I'll post the first next week!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Adelaide Advertiser book review

The Adelaide Advertiser, the leading newspaper in South Australia, reviewed The Wounded Guardian last Saturday.
While the reviewer didn't like the villains, he did enjoy the story - giving it four out of five stars!
Here's the review, for those unable to get South Australia's finest!
BTW: I'll be talking more about his point about Gello and Onzalez later.

Martil is a war hero – or a war
criminal, depending on your
perspective. But now all he wants
is to settle down quietly. That’s
not going to happen, as fi rst-time
Australian author Duncan Lay gives
his Dragon Sword Histories series
an enticing start. Martil made a
decision which won a war against
aggressive neighbour Berellia, but
blackened his name and put a price
on his head. His plan to leave fame
and notoriety behind is complicated
when he is burdened with fi rst a
feisty young girl, then a magical
sword and an endangered queen.
Martil is an enthralling character
but, having given us a complicated
hero, Lay stumbles slightly with his
villains, who are totally, ridiculously
evil. Ignore that and The Wounded
Guardian rolls along beautifully.
Scott Moore ****

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Risen Queen back page

Perhaps not the absolute final back page blurb for The Risen Queen - but pretty close!

Martil and his Rallorans are trying to gain control of the north for Queen Merren but winning the hearts of the people is proving impossible when the bards have painted them as murderous barbarians.
King Gello the usurper is planning to lead a massive army to crush the budding rebellion but, even if a way can be found to defeat him, the Fearpriests stand ready to come to his aid...
Karia is trying to persuade Martil that she has all the answers, while Merren is considering desperate solutions to the problems facing her and Norstalos.
Perhaps the vilified and despised primitive race of men to the north, that the Norstalines call ''goblins'' might be the answer.
But on Dragonara Isle, the dragons have their own plans for Martil and particularly for the Dragon Sword...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

mX picture story

The free commuter newspaper, mX, ran the following story on me on Thursday July 23:

Some people use the time to daydream, others read and some sleep.
But one CityRail passenger used his time commuting to write a book. Three books, to be precise.
The two-hour commute each way from Gosford to Central station became the time Duncan Lay used to write his fantasy trilogy.
The first book, The Wounded Guardian, has been published by HarperCollins.
``Writing a book is the perfect way to use a long train trip,'' he said.``You don't have other distractions and you can just get stuck into the writing.``I was able to feel like my trip was not wasted.''
The three books have taken Lay about five years to write.``The amount I would write varied on the inspiration that was striking me on the day, but I average about 10,000 words a week while writing a first draft.''
The biggest trouble he had writing on the train was the occasional tussle over the armrest.
``You need a little bit of elbow room when writing and sometimes there is a spot of elbow fencing over how much room everyone wants,'' he said.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Sunday Telegraph article

As I work for The Sunday Telegraph, our books writer, Lucy Clark, as well as editor Neil Breen, very kindly arranged for the following article to appear on July 5:

Not many commuters would claim hundreds of hours spent on CityRail trains as a wonderful gift. Yet that is exactly how The Sunday Telegraph journalist and Central Coast commuter Duncan Lay regards his time spent on the train from Gosford.
While those around him read or stared out windows, Lay transported himself into the fantasy world of a country called Norstalos, with characters and a story that won him a three-book deal with HarperCollins.
The first of the books, The Wounded Guardian (Voyager, $20.99) is on bookshelves this week.
Here Lay reveals exactly how he did it:``Writers normally like somewhere peaceful to come up with their first book -- a stereotypical garret or a villa in Tuscany, perhaps.``I used the 7.33am from Gosford to Sydney Central.``My publisher tells me I'm the only author to have put together three books on the train, and certainly nobody I've spoken to can remember another author doing the same -- or at least admitting to it.
``In some ways it was the perfect place to write. You can't go anywhere and you've seen the view hundreds of times before, so there's no excuse not to knuckle down and work.''
In the same vein as Raymond E. Feist and David Eddings, The Wounded Guardian will appeal to die-hard fantasy fans who enjoy being transported into mystical lands where lives are won and lost by magical powers and epic wars.
The story centres around wounded warrior, Martil, who has been branded ``the Butcher of Belic'' and must leave his homeland.
Captured by bandits he's tricked into taking into his care Karia, an orphan who is trying to reach the home of her uncle.But when Martil and Karia arrive the village has been destroyed and the people are gone. The only remaining resident is an ex-bandit who has in his possession a magical relic belonging to the rulers of Norstalos -- the Dragon Sword.
Suddenly this unlikely and reluctant duo find themselves in the middle of a dramatic struggle as Norstalos's good queen fights to keep her crown from her cousin Duke Gello and his dark forces.
At the heart of Lay's first novel lies a lesson about the search for family, and how, by seeing life through the eyes of children, yours can change forever.

The Daily Telegraph article

The Daily Telegraph featured the following article on me, published Wednesday July 22:

IT WAS a coffee with one of the world's top fantasy writers that fired Duncan Lay's creative spirit.
The Sydney writer was editing a local paper in 2002 and Raymond E. Feist, author of novels such as the Conclave Of Shadows was touring the area. Lay grabbed him for an interview.
`We started talking about writing and I'd been, like most journos, a frustrated writer,'' Lay says.
`We talked about how you work out your plots and he talked about how his characters take control of the story. He has the bare bones of the story and knows they start at A and finish at Z but how they get there is up to the characters themselves.''
Lay's self-diagnosed problem was that his characters were a bit flat. But, two kids and a few years down the track, Lay felt a little older and wiser and more confident after the chat with Feist. So he had another crack.
He now has a three-book deal with HarperCollins with The Wounded Guardian, the first instalment in Lay's The Dragon Sword Histories, now fresh on bookshop shelves.
And character was the key to his success.
The plot centres on a war hero, Martil, who is persuaded to take a child to her uncle. He is soon caught in tumultuous events and in possession of a magic sword, fighting for his life amid the battle for a kingdom.``I really wanted this idea of an embittered warrior, almost like a Vietnam vet, someone who had seen too much,'' Lay says.
For want of a better description, this is realist fantasy (no elves, goblins or fairies), led by a believable cast of characters.``One of the things I've tried to do is not simply to have this plucky group of heroes on an expedition. They're all unique characters and quite often they don't get along.''
As for Lay's own journey, well he dropped a gracious email to Feist via his management and got a quick reply, including a disclaimer.``Don't go blaming me, mate, if you got the storytelling bug,'' Feist wrote. ``And if you somehow get rich and famous doing this, it's not my fault! Seriously, congratulations.''

This was written by Chris Hook, editor of T Weekend and a former workmate from Cumberland Newspapers. Needless to say, I think he's a great writer!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Book Launch

You only ever get one book launch for your first book - and many people will never even get that chance.
So June 28 will live in my memory as a golden day, the day when I launched The Wounded Guardian.
I say ''I'' but it would never have happened without the help and support of friends and family. The Global Financial Crisis means HarperCollins is unable to help out with book launches (especially for nobodies) but, seeing as they are the ones publishing my books, I reckon they've done more than enough right there! I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I am to Stephanie Smith and the Voyager team!
But I digress - friends and family really stepped in and worked unbelievably hard - I owe them all a great debt of thanks.
Kincumba Mountain was the perfect place for the launch - an atmospheric building, lots of grass for all the kids to run wild and toilets that were positively medieval!
The road up to the top is long and, for those who travelled from Sydney or even further afield, it must have felt almost as long as the trip to Mount Doom! I'm sure I saw a couple of hobbits wandering dazedly around the bush tracks...
I'd never done anything like this before, and found myself operating on a combination of adrenalin and nervous energy. Only the knowledge of how bad the toilets were kept me from too many nervous trips to the bathroom. That, and not really eating or drinking anything the whole day because I wanted to talk to everyone there!
Sadly, such a thing was impossible - there were more than 100 people there, from as far away as Brisbane and Melbourne. To all those who made it there, I thank you - and if I didn't get around to talking to you, I am sorry!
The whole thing was somewhat dream-like ... to see Dymocks Erina staff piling up my book (and then see people buy it) was surreal. To sign it for people was even crazier! This was the sort of thing I had imagined and dreamed about for years ... to see it happen was an incredible experience.
I can honestly say that it is only topped by seeing my children born and my marriage day.
We had some incredible Celtic music care of two young musicians, Elissa and Naomi, as well as half a dozen medieval warriors thanks to Mahkra and his mates. The music was great and the kids all loved the chance to get a photograph holding a bow and arrow or a sword!
But the main thing was the book, and to see so many people buying not just a copy for themselves but for a friend was, simply, humbling.
Signing books for friends (and family) I have known for years or even decades was a surreal experience. I still pinch myself to imagine it was real!
But now the book is out there.
It has been launched and now it will be judged by the people who were at the launch, and hopefully a few others!
But wherever it goes, whatever it does, that launch day will be a high point in my life.

writing checklist

Every writer has their own style, their own habits. What works for one may not work for the other. But, having said that, here's what I have learned about writing - perhaps it may be of some use.
1) Imagine you are writing it out longhand. Don't fiddle around, don't get bogged down. Imagine instead that you cannot go back and change anything until you have finished, so that you press ahead and have a first draft of your work. Once you have a first draft, you have a much better foundation to work from and will have learned more about your story and your characters, which you can use to add depth and complexity.
2) Let your characters do the driving. Get them fixed in your head so that they push the action along. Don't make them do things or make choices you realise they wouldn't really make, just because you plotted it in a Chapter Plan three months ago. If you want them to turn right but you just know they would turn left, then turn left and explore where that goes.
3) Rewrite, rewrite and then rewrite some more. Rewrite until you are absolutely sick of it - and then do it again. Would-be writers send their work off to agents waaaay too early (I know, I did!) You need to put your draft away in a drawer for a week, or even a month, then come back and start ironing out the flaws.
4) Find some friends you can trust to point out the flaws. There will be flaws, trust me on this. The trick is finding someone who can tell you - this character isn't working, this plot point isn't up to scratch. Perhaps publish a chapter or two on the HarperVoyager site ... they have a section for writers to post work, where it can get feedback. Having your flaws exposed is painful. Having an agent reject your work at the last moment because you didn't spot those flaws is agony.
5) Explore the concept of external and internal action. Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly) tells this best. Get the two-disc edition of Serenity and watch him talk to a bunch of Aussies at Fox Studios about this. Boiled down, he says that external action is your plot (ie, goblins attack). That, by itself, is fairly ho-hum. What you need is to couple it with internal action (how it affects each character and the characters' relationship with each other). So goblins attack, which makes Fred mad, because he's been warning about this for years. George, who's been boasting about how great a warrior he is, discovers he's terrified. The two, who had been friends, are now arguing - all because of a few goblins. Their relationship has been fundamentally altered and will affect the rest of the book, all because of a simple goblin attack.
6) Finally, just begin writing. Even if you don't hit the jackpot with your first effort, you will have learned something. Every failed attempt I had taught me how to be a better writer and, ultimately, led me to be published.
Good luck!