Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Readers of my original series know that, often, there are scenes and/or characters that are cut out of early drafts. Sometimes these are removed because they are not working, sometimes because their sub-plot is slowing down the action and sometimes because I need to get back under my 180,000 word limit!

Now, when you buy a DVD, you get to see extra scenes that were left on the cutting room floor.

Here, you get the DVD extras from Bridge Of Swords. These scenes may give you some extra insight into characters, or you may well judge that it was a good thing I cut them out!


(This introduces a comical character called William of Winterbourne as well, who sadly had to be cut out)

Huw was finally getting used to the size of the palace, although it had taken him more than a month here to feel comfortable with its many twists and turns. Sometimes he had to pinch himself, to remind himself that he was actually here, he was really living the dream. He loved to wake up in the morning, just lie in the huge bed and watch the morning sun play on the stonework of the wall. Or sometimes the afternoon sun, if he had been performing late in the night. There was no need for him to be anywhere in the morning then, so he would stroll down to the kitchen and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, or lunch, or both at the same time. Every other day he was required to perform either during the afternoon or evening, although he was sometimes asked to make a special performance on his day off, which he was happy to do. The contract he had signed was outrageously generous - a gold piece per performance, on top of all his food and lodgings for free. He did not even need to buy clothes - he just went along to the Court Tailor, and he received new tunic and trousers each week. Luckily that was all he needed - he heard that the Court Dressmaker was working every turn of the hourglass she had just to come up with new outfits for Rhiannon to impress the King. But all this meant, by the end of the year, he would be one of the richest men in the Vales. He received his payment every week and while there was the strong desire to take the thick gold coins and start spending them in Crondon’s many markets, which were full of temptations from across the continent, he made sure they went into his leather pouch, which he kept hidden in the toe of an old boot, which he kept at the very back of his wardrobe.

He dressed swiftly and followed the path he knew best of all - to the kitchens. At first, when he had received an order to make his way to this room, or that room, to perform for some nobles, that he had run into trouble. Several times he had been late, and the Forlish nobles were swift to let their displeasure be known. Luckily there were so many of those red-coated officials wandering around, as well as guards, and they often pointed him in the right direction. But Huw did not like depending on others, so he used some of his free time to explore the castle, often enlisting a guard or two as a guide - and as insurance should he bump into an angry noble or, Aroaril forbid, the King.

He was getting to know the whole castle now, not just the rooms frequented by the nobility but the passages the slaves and servants used to get around the castle without being seen, and move food, clothes and the myriad other things needed to keep the King’s court functioning around such a huge building. Many of the servants and all of the slaves were terrified to see him, although he was careful to be polite to them, and reassure them that he meant no harm. They had good reason to be afraid. Even in his limited experience, he had seen many acts of cruelty and viciousness. Nobles would strike or even beat a servant who did not complete their orders exactly, while to be a slave was even worse. Everyone, from nobles to guards, to red-coated officials and even the servants treated them like scum. They were sworn at, hit, beaten and worse. To be an attractive slave girl or boy in the court of King Ward was to be in a living nightmare. Several times Huw saw things that made him turn away with disgust. Part of him wanted to rush in, to protect these poor slaves, whose only crime was to have been born in another country, and to be captured by Forlish soldiers. But the greater part of him shrank away. He might be a privileged performer, one of the favourites of the King, but he had no more power than the lowest servant. All he could console himself with was the thought that he could purchase the freedom of dozens of them with the gold coins he was earning, but he could only do that if he kept silent, and kept earning those coins.

He knew his father would not agree, would not stand back while rape and beatings went on in front of him but he managed to persuade himself that what he was doing was for the best, in the long run.

Besides, there was plenty to take his mind off such things. The castle was full of diversions - he could go and watch his fellow performers for one. Although he had to admit, he did seem to go along to see Rhiannon more than anyone else - combined.

William of Winterbourne was still there also. He had strode onto the stage, following both Rhiannon and Huw, surely knowing that he had next to no chance of being the third person in a row to be selected by the King. It seemed impossible and while Huw was overjoyed to have been successful, he still felt sorry for the older man, as this was his third and last chance to impress the King.

William gave no hint of what he must have been thinking and instead put his little dogs through their paces, making them not just walk on their hind legs, but dance for the King. The audience had warmed up to what they were doing, and the way they seemed to be fooling William by pretending not to do some tricks, and then repeating others. He was a brilliant performer and Huw could only admire his stage craft. By the end, all were laughing and cheering and to everyone’s surprise, not least William’s, he joined Huw and Rhiannon on the bench.

He made a fine companion and Huw often spent time with him, as well as the dogs, just talking or walking through the castle. He did not take William through the secret paths, but he had showed him some of the older rooms, as well as the magnificent castle library, said to contain books from every country on the continent, as well as some from across the sea.

In fact he planned to go exploring again with William this afternoon, as he had no performances booked for the day. The first few weeks had been busy, as all wanted to see the new performers in action but now it seemed to be settling into more of a pattern. He found that reassuring, as though he were truly accepted.

William was finishing up his regular breakfast, bacon, eggs, steak, bread, cheese and tomatoes, washed down with huge mugs of tea.

`Is that your first or your second meal?’ Huw asked with a smile as he slipped onto a chair opposite his friend.

`You are too quick to mock!’ William told him severely, then belched loudly. `A man like myself needs to eat to maintain his figure. It’s all right for you, bards are supposed to be so thin that they can disappear when they turn sideways. You want the women to melt when you sing to them. But when you want them to laugh, like I do, it is better to look like this. After all, what is funny about my dogs trying to jump over my stomach, and acting like they can’t do it, if my gut was as flat as yours?’

Huw acknowledged the point with a wink, as he ordered fresh bread and fruit, as well as juice and tea.

`Tell me, are we by chance going to see that friend of yours again this afternoon?’ William asked, wiping his mouth.

`Do you mean Frederick of Northfield?’ Huw said innocently.

`Of course! I know how you love to watch that man recite the world’s most tedious poetry as if it were words of spun gold. No, you dolt, Rhiannon of Hove!’

`I had thought to go down that way,’ Huw admitted.

`Thought so,’ William sighed. He paused for a moment. `Do you think you’ll talk to her today?’

Huw made a face at him. That was a particularly sore point. After the excitement of the auditions, where he had helped Rhiannon, played for her and sat next to her, he had been sure he could try and develop something of a relationship. But her father never left her side and, far from being grateful at everything Huw had done to help his daughter, acted as if Huw had tried to assault her. When she was not performing, or eating, Hector was making her rehearse, increasing her repertoire, honing her dance moves and making her practise singing.

Once, Huw had emerged from one of the castle’s many servant passages to see her singing in a room by herself, watched only by Hector. Neither knew he was there and he had spent a blissful time just watching her, listening to her and longing for her. He had heard what many of the court were saying, that she was no beauty but had the best legs they had ever seen in the castle for a decade. But he saw something in her face, shining out from inside her when she sung. There was a real beauty there, a true beauty that he wanted to see more of, get to know better. He was sure they could make some beautiful music together, if only they got the chance. He had confided as much to William, who had chuckled lewdly at Huw’s suggestion.

`I’ve never heard it called that before - but that’s as good a description as any!’

Huw had blushed, and said no more.

`I might get to talk to her - you never know. Her father can’t be with her all the time,’ Huw said.

William snorted. `Don’t be so quick to hope. That man knows what he is doing. He is making sure the King is infatuated with her - and the last thing he needs is for her to get involved with a penniless bard from a pissant village like Browns Brook! He wants her to catch the King’s eye, that way their fortune will be assured.’

`No!’ Huw exclaimed. `That cannot be!’

`Aroaril Hugh, how old are you? That sort of thing has been going on for years. The Queen is ancient - why she must be nearly 45 now! The King has been casting his eyes around the court for years now - and he always picks the pretty ones. They go to his bed, willing or unwilling, and their fathers get a large bag of gold coins in exchange for their daughter’s virtue. They say there’s a dozen little royal bastards running around court, that claim to be the son or daughter of a noble family - or a servant one,’ William said carefully, lowering his voice.

`I can understand the King’s lusts - I have seen him with a servant girl while I was performing one night. He wanted me to play the Battle March while he … you know.’

William guffawed at this.

`But how could a father actually set out to do that to his daughter?’ Huw continued.

William sighed. `My friend, I am afraid things here in the capital are not the same as they are in Browns Brook. For a poor family like theirs, to be courted by the King and rewarded handsomely - it would be very tempting.’

`I could never do such a thing!’

`Me either,’ William admitted. `But as my daughters are both married, and even fatter than their old man, I don’t think I ever had to worry about that!’

Huw smiled, as he was supposed to, but inside he could not stop thinking about Rhiannon with the King. And Hector’s fierce protection of his daughter seemed revolting in the light of William’s theory. The man was not protecting his daughter because he cared for her, but only to sell her to the highest bidder.

`So, are we going along to see Rhiannon again?’ William asked. `Or will you show me the back way out of this place that you use to slip down to the markets?’

`How do you know about that?’

`Well, I know the gate guards like a silver coin to let us in or out of the gate - and you seem to be able to avoid paying them.’

`Perhaps I sing for them?’ Huw suggested.

William winked. `Of course. I believe you!’

Huw was saved from replying when Thomas, the official from their audition day, hurried over.

`Hugh! Thank Aroaril I found you! The King requires you to play the lyre during a war meeting this afternoon,’ he gasped.

`Perhaps our revered monarch needs some romantic music, to get him in the right mood for his latest conquest,’ William said blandly, offering another wink to Huw.

`I shall be there,’ Huw promised.

Thomas smiled. `Excellent. Do you know where I can find Rhiannon of Hove? He also wants to have her there.’

`I‘m sorry,’ Huw shrugged, while William just shook his head.

Thomas nodded, then rushed away on his search.

`He wants to have Rhiannon there. Perhaps the King will let you have a turn after he has finished,’ William said with a leer.

`You have a disgusting mind!’ Huw told him but his mind was already turning to the chance of actually speaking to Rhiannon that day.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Readers of my original series know that, often, there are scenes and/or characters that are cut out of early drafts. Sometimes these are removed because they are not working, sometimes because their sub-plot is slowing down the action and sometimes because I need to get back under my 180,000 word limit!

Now, when you buy a DVD, you get to see extra scenes that were left on the cutting room floor.

Here, you get the DVD extras from Bridge Of Swords. These scenes may give you some extra insight into characters, or you may well judge that it was a good thing I cut them out!



He turned with a grin to hug his friend.

`Gaibun! We’re going to learn the bow! I can’t believe we are finally going to learn how to shoot arrows!’ Sendatsu laughed.

`I couldn’t sleep last night for thinking of it,’ Gaibun confessed.

A slim elven girl slapped him on the back of the head.

`Really? You were so excited about having your fingers scraped raw, your back aching and your arms so sore you can barely lift a spoon?’

`Yes, Asami, I am!’ Sendatsu told her.

`Proves you must have been dropped on your head as a child. Well, come on then!’

Sendatsu led the way, the three of them racing through the streets, laughing and dodging the adults they saw there - most of whom merely smiled indulgently, to the city‘s archery range, on the outskirts of the forest.

There were a score of other youths, boys and girls, all about the same age, between seven and eight years old, waiting patiently with an older elf, with a shaved head and huge shoulders and arms.

`Glad you three decided to join us. We were thinking of sending out our best trackers to find you,’ he told them, with a slight smile. `But don‘t be late again.’

`Yes sensei,’ they chorused, as they took their places in the line.

`Good. Now take your bows. We shall begin at the same time every day - archery is all about practise. You will find these bows hard to draw at first but, as soon as they grow easier, you must choose a bigger, stronger bow. Until you have a bow with full draw weight, I don’t want you ever using these easily.’

He showed them the bows made of yew, how it was made of both the heartwood and outer wood of the tree, so it would withstand the tension of the spring and snap back with the pace and speed to send a long arrow 200 paces.

`I never want to see you draw back only to the eye. Aiming is easy enough then, but you have no power. Draw to the ear and learn to think the arrow to your target. For the first year, the safest place for me will be standing right in front of the target but you shall learn!’

He showed them how to draw back, how the tension was spread through the arms, chest, shoulders and back, how to release the string between breaths so the bow did not move and throw the arrow off target.

`We are the only race in the world to use the longbow! The humans are not clever enough to use the bow, nor do they live long enough to be able to spend the 10 years necessary to become an archer!’

`Why do we learn the bow?’ Asami asked grimacing with the effort of drawing the bow. `We do not hunt animals for their flesh, and we are protected from the humans by a magical barrier.’

`That we are. But magic can be breached, or can fail. A strong arm and a strong bow will never fail. These are the best defences we could ever have, should we need them.’

Sendatsu had enjoyed the lesson, although his arrows had gone nowhere near the target, even though the tips of his first two fingers on the right hand were sore and red at the end of the lesson and his shoulders and back were aching. Gaibun was even more excited.

`Did you see me hit the target? Did you see? I was the only one who did it!’ he laughed all the way home, while Sendatsu and Asami teased his claims that he was a natural, an archer born.

`Shall we get something to eat and then go down to the park? I want to swim in the lake,’ Sendatsu suggested.

`We’ll meet down there,’ Asami agreed.

Sendatsu raced inside his house, intending to grab something from the kitchen before finding a towel. Perhaps his mother had been baking cakes. His stomach rumbled at the thought. But he skidded to a halt as he came through the door to find his father sitting at the kitchen table.

`Benneth! Back from archery already?’

`Yes, father,’ Sendatsu nodded, unconsciously trying to stand straighter.

`And how did it go?’

Sendatsu grinned and began a hurried recount of the lesson, how they had worked until they ached, and their teacher had called a halt.

`And Gaibun hit the target!’ he finished. `We’re going down to the lake for a swim…’

`Did you hit the target?’ his father asked sharply.

`No father, although I got close …’

`And you thought that was good enough? You thought it was acceptable to go out and enjoy yourself afterwards? Reward yourself for failure?’

Sendatsu gaped at his father.

`Answer me, boy!’

`But the teacher said…’

`I don’t care what your teacher said! Do you think failure is good enough?’

`No, father.’

`Come with me.’

Miserably, Sendatsu followed his father into the garden, where an old archery target hung on a tree. His father, a tall muscular man, took out an old bow, smaller than the massive one he used but still bigger than the ones Sendatsu and his friends had tried at the archery lesson.

`Here, take this. This is the bow I used at your age. It is bigger and stronger than the ones they give you at the start, but that is good. It is not acceptable to be the same as everyone else. You must be bigger, stronger, faster. If you are to take my place on the Elven Council, you have to prove yourself worthy. Are you going to let Gaibun become the best archer of your age? Do you want to be a lesser elf? He is your competition, and you must beat him!’

`But father, he is my friend …’

`Friends make you weak. You must be strong. Take up the bow.’

`But father, my hands are sore and my back aches…’

His father brought the bow stave whistling around in a vicious arc and Sendatsu jumped in pain as it whiplashed across his backside.

`Talk back to me again and you shall regret it! Now take the bow and string it!’

Sendatsu took the bow with a shaking hand and, exerting every ounce of strength, just managed to bend it enough to slip the string into the nocked horn tips. His father watched grimly, then dropped a sheaf of arrows at his feet.

`Every day, you will come back here after your lesson, string the bow and put 10 arrows into that target. Each day I shall remove the arrows - and woe betide you if I come home and find anything less than 10 in that target.’

`But father, what if I miss?’

His father’s face tightened and Sendatsu reflexively took a step away. `Did you not listen to me boy? I want 10 arrows in that target and I don’t care how long it takes you! Begin!’

Sendatsu bent and picked up an arrow. Shorter than the yard-long shafts the adults used, it was still a good six inches longer than the ones he had first tried. He fitted the nocked end to the string, then drew a deep breath and drew back. His already sore muscles protested, while his fingers felt like fire.

`Pull back! What are you, a little girl? Pull, boy! Put some effort into it!’ his father snapped.

Grunting with the effort, Sendatsu pulled it back and released, barely aiming. Luckily the target was only 10 paces away but, even so, the arrow only just stuck in the very edge of it.

`Aroaril, boy! If that was your best effort, I can see we are going to be here until dark. Come on, make me proud of you for once!’

Sendatsu leaned down and selected another arrow. This one was even harder to draw back. His arms were trembling with the effort now and while the release was sweet relief for his muscles, it was pure agony for his fingers. He looked down in horror to see the rough hide string had taken the skin off the pads of his fingers and they were red raw.

`You missed, boy,’ his father said coldly, dropping the arrow at his feet again. `Come on, I haven’t got all day but I will stay here if that is what it takes.’

Sendatsu laid another arrow into the string and pulled back. He could feel the dampness of blood from his fingers on the string, while silent tears rolled down his cheeks.

`It is not good enough to be second best. You must be the best! Now pull!’ his father roared at him.

Lost in a world of pain, Sendatsu tried to do what his father told him. At that moment, the only thing he hated more than the bow, which was tearing his muscles and cutting his flesh, was his father.


Sendatsu lifted his tunic to let Asami rub a soothing salve on his welts and bruises.

`Mother says this will take down the swelling much faster,’ Asami said softly, her fingers light across his wounds.

`Thank you,’ he smiled gently at her.

`This is terrible,’ Asami sighed, her fingers tracing a long welt from his upper back down to his ribs.

`It’s getting better. I’m getting faster. He doesn’t hit me so much now,’ Sendatsu told her, trying to say something to keep his mind off her hands on his skin.

`I still think you should have told someone,’ she finished with the salve but he caught her hands before she could take them away.

`But then I wouldn’t have you do this for me. And that makes it worth it,’ he said softly, leaning closer to her.

Her hands went to his back again and drew him forwards into a long kiss that seemed to last a moment and for ever.

`I thought we were all going to pick strawberries?’ Gaibun’s voice snapped them apart and Asami jumped to her feet.

Sendatsu was slower to get up, partly because he was sore, partly because he needed to pull his tunic down to disguise the bulge at the front of his trews. He met Gaibun’s gaze and was shocked at the anger in his friend’s eyes.

`If I did not know better, I would say that you were doing this for sympathy,’ Gaibun said coldly.

`How could you say that?’ Asami demanded. `Haven’t you seen his bruises?’

`Aye. But not the way you have, obviously,’ Gaibun snapped.

`I’m going now, before I say something I shouldn’t,‘ Asami warned, and stalked away.

`But what about the strawberries? They’re your favourites!’ Gaibun protested.

`Pick them yourself!’

They watched her walk away, but all Sendatsu could think of was the way her hands had felt on his skin, the way her lips had felt against his.

`Come on. Those strawberries need picking, whether there’s two or three of us doing it,’ Gaibun said gloomily.

Sendatsu followed him, but his eyes lingered on the departing figure of Asami.

`You are lucky,’ Gaibun said softly.

`What? You still think I got these bruises deliberately…?’

`No. That she likes you. She knows how much I like her but won’t let me near her. But you …’

Sendatsu looked at his friend and could see only sadness in his eyes now.

`We will still be friends, no matter what,’ he said defiantly. `Asami is not something to be fought over. She will make her own decisions.’

`I know,’ Gaibun agreed. `I promise it won’t come between us!’

Sunday, October 7, 2012



Readers of my original series know that, often, there are scenes and/or characters that are cut out of early drafts. Sometimes these are removed because they are not working, sometimes because their sub-plot is slowing down the action and sometimes because I need to get back under my 180,000 word limit!

Now, when you buy a DVD, you get to see extra scenes that were left on the cutting room floor.

Here, you get the DVD extras from Bridge Of Swords. These scenes may give you some extra insight into characters, or you may well judge that it was a good thing I cut them out!


THE city of Cridianton, the capital of Forland, was impressive. It was meant to be. It said to everyone, this is the pre-eminent country, the biggest and most powerful in the world.

To Huw, it was stunning. It looked like something out of the stories his father had told him when he was a boy, stories of elven cities.

Of course the stone used was grey, rather than white, and the towers were squat and powerful, rather than tall and beautiful. The practical part of him knew much of it would be filthy and miserable, crowded streets and misery, hunger and rats. But the romantic within him thrilled at the sight of the colourful flags snapping from the top of the city walls.

Once a year, King Ward allowed performers to try out for his court’s amusement. Ward and his court were insatiable for entertainment and they quickly became bored with seeing the same thing. Those singers, dancers, jugglers, clowns and bards who angered the Forlish King were lucky if they escaped with their skins intact - but those who pleased him left the court after a year with their pockets full of gold. And, better yet, they were assured of work at every town in Forland. Every minor nobleman and rich merchant wanted to see an entertainer who had delighted their king. Huw estimated he could return home within two years with enough money that he could pay for labourers to take over his father’s farm, as well as build himself the finest house in the village.

Many of those heading for Crondon were hopefuls like himself, while others were those looking to prey on them or profit from them. Up ahead was a long, mostly good-natured queue of those looking to get inside the gate. The guards were speaking to all before they could enter, which was taking time but Huw was not worried. The trials were not until tomorrow and he was in no hurry. There was so much to look at! Stalls had been set up at the side of the road and it seemed to be turning into a fair.

Beside the road, a young juggler was performing for a small crowd, sending three small painted wooden tops soaring high into the air before catching them. Huw stopped also, partly through interest, partly because he could see the nervous sweat on the man’s face, see the way he was snatching at the wooden tops as they went past, rather than letting them drop smoothly into his hand. He tried to will the man to stop while he was ahead. The juggler was tall and good-looking, blue eyes beneath a shock of blond hair, a cheeky smile and a square jaw. Huw knew looks should make no difference to talent but the sad fact was, people liked their entertainers to be handsome or beautiful.

Huw reflected enviously that if he looked like that, he would have more than a small crowd around him. But he knew enough to stop while they still wanted more. There were a dozen people watching him, and if the juggler finished with a flourish and a smile, he might get half a dozen coppers, and the same in silver.

`And now for the finale, I shall attempt four!’ the juggler called confidently, and Huw groaned inwardly. He had seen many entertainers performing at Forlish inns these past few weeks - and at least three jugglers who were far better.

`Where is my helper?’ the juggler shouted, oblivious to Huw’s concern.

A small child stepped forwards, a fourth top, this one painted red, in his hand.

`Now throw it to me!’

Huw could see what as going to happen long before it did, but there was nothing he could do to stop it. He just had to watch, wincing, as the last top was thrown clumsily to the juggler. The man reached out for it, lost his rhythm and the tops went in all directions, the last one - predictably - landing squarely on his head.

The juggler staggered a little as the crowd roared with laughter and then turned as one and walked away, looking for more entertainment. The small boy gaped at the wreckage, then was tugged away by his mother.

`Wait! I have more tricks, spectacular shows that will amaze even our great King Ward!‘ the juggler called, but jeers followed his claim and the people moved away even faster.

Huw moved also, but to help the juggler, who had slumped to the ground, rubbing his bruised head.

`Here, let me get these,’ Huw offered as he gathered up the fallen tops.

`My thanks to you,’ the juggler gasped. `Now, if you could but bring the crowd back…’

`You almost had them. It was just the child as a helper. It was a good touch, bringing with it laughter and support from the crowd but it meant the act failed, where an older child might have given you the better conclusion to the show,’ Huw handed over the tops.

`You sound like you are a performer also …’ the juggler’s voice tailed off as he glimpsed the lyre in its protective case slung across Huw’s back.

`I will also be performing for King Ward,’ Huw admitted.

`Well, that is wonderful! We shall win contracts together!’ the juggler said with a smile. `I am Bertwald, from Browns Brook. And you?’

`Huw, of Patcham.’

`Patcham? I have travelled widely but I ever heard of that village. Where is that? Balian or something?’

`No, it‘s in the Vales,’ Huw said proudly, now collecting the rest of Bertwald’s props. Then he noticed the juggler was not helping him, was just staring instead.

`The Vales? But where’s your beard?’ he asked dumbly.

Huw chuckled. `We don’t all wear beards and shag sheep in the Vales! We have a proud history of song, and heroic tales…’ He trailed off, horribly aware that Bertwald was neither laughing or smiling, and seemed to have no interest whatsoever in the history of the Vales in song.

`You’re Velsh? And to think I was actually considering travelling to the capital with you!’

`Well, why not? What’s wrong with travelling with me?’ 

`Are you mad? King Ward will throw a stinking Velshman out of Crondon before he even gets the chance to open his mouth! And anyone who travels with them would get the same fate,’ he declared, hurriedly packing the last of his props. `I want nothing to do with a filthy Velshman. Stay clear of me!’

Huw gaped at him. Bertwald had seemed pleasant enough, if lacking in talent. Where had this come from?

`If you’re smarter than the average Velsh oaf you’ll turn around and go back to whatever shit village you crawled out from,’ Bertwald continued. `But stay away from me!’

`Look, you have it wrong, but we can still travel together. I just won’t tell them I’m Velsh,’ Huw offered with a smile, although the words of his father Earwen were flooding into his head, about always being proud of where you came from.

`Get away from me!’ Bertwald pushed him hard in the chest and Huw staggered backwards, falling down but twisting at the last moment so he did not land on his precious lyre. He sprang to his feet and checked it anyway, then brushed the grass and leaves from his cloak angrily. The juggler was hurrying away and he knew he should go after the man, throw him down to the ground and repay him for his rudeness and that push. In his village, if you were pushed over, you came up swinging fists. At the very least he should tell him a few facts of life, about how unwise it was to be rude towards helpful strangers, and how the Velsh were not strange barbarians who were overly affectionate to sheep but his feet would not move after Bertwald and, worse, the words to say that would not come to him. It was not because he lacked for words, he made his living from them. But a combination of shock and fear stilled his tongue. Not fear for himself, he told himself loudly, but more of causing a scene. How many of the other people here would think the same as this juggler? If he began an argument about the honour of the Vales, would the people listen or would they side with the handsome Forlish juggler?

He watched Bertwald scamper away, still staring darkly at him, and made sure there was no stains on his clothes instead. He swirled his cloak around for a final check and wondered if it might not be better to pretend he was from some isolated Forlish village. After all, if Ward did hate the Velsh, perhaps discretion would be the better part of valour. Impress the Forlish King first, then when he had won a contract to perform there, reveal where he came from - and then none could doubt he was a proud Velshman, he told himself. That would be the smart thing to do.

Reassured by his own logic, he walked across to join the growing queue of hopefuls being interviewed by a pair of men in court clothes, flanked by a squad of bored guards.


`Make way there! Make way!’ the call came up from behind and craned his head, trying to see what was coming up the road - then wished he hadn’t. It was a long line of people - men, women and even children, filthy and dressed in rags. But the real horror was the way they were tied together, rope halters around the necks, even around the necks of the youngest, boys and girls no older than ten summers. Huw watched, his mouth sagging open, as they were driven along the road by a score of armoured riders with whips, who were not afraid to use them.

`No slacking there! We didn’t keep you alive just to let you lie down now!‘ the leader roared, plying the whip on a pair of stragglers.

Huw was outraged to see one of them was a young girl. He glanced around, expecting everyone else to be as disgusted, but heads hardly raised, from the queue of hopefuls to the many stallholders, farmers and merchants going about their usual business. Or, if they did, they merely looked then went on with whatever it was they were doing.

His first instinct was to rush over, to protect the women and children being herded down the road into the capital like animals. No, worse than animals, for the sheep, cattle and goats he had seen go past him that day had been well-fed, cared for. But he found his feet were frozen to the spot. The cruelty, the anger, on the faces of the guards told him they would not listen to reasoned argument about the nature of freedom. Still he knew it was the right thing. He had to do something, say something. His father would never have let such a sight go past.

`You have to stand up for what you believe in, or you will end up living your life on your knees. And that is no way for a man to spend his days,’ Earwen often said.

He could imagine what his father would do. He would pull one of those arrogant riders off their horse, take their sword and free the prisoners. Anyone who tried to stop him would be cut down. But Huw could not move. All the riders looked huge in their armour, and all carried long daggers and curved swords at their belts, as well as the cruel whips. On horseback they seemed huge, forbidding. Huw could not imagine wresting a sword from one of them, nor freeing even the smallest prisoner.

`Who are they?’ he managed to croak.

The man in front, another bard by his costume, turned and looked, as if seeing them for the first time.

`Another pack of Balians for the slave markets. They bring back a string or two of them every week. They make good slaves, once they have had the nonsense whipped out of them. They should realise that Forland is their ruler. They should be happy to be slaves to the greatest country in the worldI’

Huw felt sick. The line of Balians passed close by, and he watched each face in horror, seeing their pain, their exhaustion, the fear and dread etched into every line. The ropes had rubbed red wounds around wrists and necks, while their feet were torn and bloody from the road. One young man, no older than himself, had a dozen vicious weals across his shoulders as well. Even as Huw watched, a rider slashed down with his whip, opening another wound across the man’s upper back.

Huw looked up angrily - and wished he hadn’t. He locked eyes with the slaver, who leered at him.

`Like the look of that one, do you?’ he winked. `I promise not to damage his pretty face. That’s what you’re looking for, after all, isn’t it?’

Disgusted, and afraid, Huw looked away. 

`Come and see the slave markets tomorrow. They’ll be for sale soon. But bring your purses - prime Balian slaves like these are hard to find!’ the rider called, widening his sales pitch to everyone within earshot.

`He’s lying,’ the bard in front said quietly. `The market’s choked with slaves from every part of the continent. The strong ones will fetch a gold piece, the young, good-looking women double that, but the rest can be had for a few silvers. The King should be ordering the army to kill more of them, rather than take slaves. It’s wrecking the whole economy. Even the beggars can afford a slave these days!’

Huw realised the man expected him to be sympathetic but it was all he could do not to vomit. In the Vales, every man was free and the thought of owning slaves was as repugnant as sleeping with the sheep. And the Forlish called them barbarians! He knew what the right thing to do was. He should walk away from here, go back to where the air was clean, the people honest and no man was another’s slave. It was what his father would do and he could almost hear Earwen’s voice telling him to do exactly that.

And yet … he had known the Forlish were corrupt and greedy, had known their army was rarely at home but instead was ever widening the lands King Ward could call his own. He had known and he had still come here, because this was his dream. Only here could he truly become a bard, only here could he earn the money he needed to look after his parents. If he returned now, he could walk away with a clean conscience but he would have to give up the lyre, have to become a farmer. Every sacrifice his father had made would be worthless. Everyone in the village would nod their heads, declare knowledgeably that they knew this would happen all along. This was what came of having impossible dreams. Velshmen did not become bards, they became farmers or miners. He would forever be laughed at, forever have to live with the thought he had failed.

It is only for a year. I shall walk away by then, he told himself. And, perhaps, he could earn enough money to purchase slaves which he could set free. Walking away would not help those poor people, he told himself, warming to the task, but staying and making so much gold that he could release them would save them.

He seized upon that idea like a man dying of thirst reaching for a cup of water. It would be better if he stayed, he could do more good that way, he decided. It took courage to walk away, but even more to stay and do something about the slavery.

Feeling much better about the decision, he straightened his shoulders and rejoined the queue. The last of the tortured Balians were moving through the city gates now and the slavers were disappearing from sight with them. From the reaction of the crowd, the horrific little scene might never have happened. That did shake Huw’s determination to stay, a little. If these people could ignore what was being done to women and even children, what else would he discover behind the city walls? Something deep inside his gut was telling him he should go, that to stay was a betrayal of everything his father had taught him. But his head was in control and, after all he had gone through to get here, he had no intention of going.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bridge Of Swords tour wraps up

After five weeks of full-time touring, plus another three weeks of part-time touring, the Bridge Of Swords promotional tour, which I dubbed Save Our Bookstores, is finally over.

Time to get back to work, time to finish off a couple of tweaks on Valley Of Shields for HarperCollins and time to get cracking again on Wall Of Spears.

The last weekend went well - first up was Infinitas at Parramatta, a different sort of appearance because it was down to people coming in specially to see me. Thanks to all who did, thanks to Tim and thanks to Meredith and also Guy, two people who had just dropped into the store anyway but ended up buying all four of my books and getting them signed!

Up the road to Dymocks Castle Hill and we swiftly sold out of Wounded Guardians, while racking up the sales of Bridge Of Swords. It didn't begin that well, as Castle Towers has one of the craziest carparks I have battled. I thought Miranda Fair was maddening but it has nothing on Castle Towers. Apparently modelled on a Dungeons & Dragons floorplan, it seems to defy the laws of logic and, quite probably, space and time. I finally found a carspace and hit the store almost 30 minutes late.

Nevertheless, I met some wonderful people and sold a bunch of books.

The very last store on the tour was Dymocks Charlestown. This is a huge shopping centre in Newcastle, absolutely packed with people and the Dymocks there is a new expansion store, after NSW's second city lost almost all its bookstores in the A+R collapse.

Sadly the store is in a dodgy location, stuck in a little backwater and surrounded by health fund shopfronts. The owners, Uday and Anita, are lovely people and it's a fantastic, family-run store. But the area was DEAD. I ended up bellowing at people on escalators in the hope of dragging a few in.

We sold out of Wounded Guardians (yet again) but it was a little bit of a disappointing way to finish, on several levels. Not only because I didn't sell many books but more so because this is a store that needs help, in an area that needs more bookstores.

I can only hope more Novocastrians discover their new Dymocks.

Looking back on the tour overall, it's clear that the Canberra/Goulburn leg was by far the most successful in terms of sales, while the greatest pleasure was meeting so many people and introducing myself to new stores.

Receiving emails, Twitter messages and messages on Facebook from people who bought from me, loved the books and took the time and effort to tell me so is wonderful.

Making the Dymocks Fantasy Bestseller List, as well as individual store Bestseller Lists from one end of the country to another was a huge highlight.

It's a great foundation for book two.

So, I've talked the talk, it's up to Bridge Of Swords to walk the walk and sell itself, through word of mouth.

Meanwhile I can gather the energy for next April school holidays, when I'll hit the road once more with Valley Of Shields.

Let me know if there's a store near you that needs visiting!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Massive days in Melbourne

The last interstate stop on the Bridge Of Swords tour took me down to Melbourne, where I would be experiencing life in a Dymock-racy (so to speak) with four Dymocks stores on the list as well as a drop-in to the specialist sci-fi/fantasy store Minotaur.
This was going to be much easier than Canberra and Brisbane thanks to my friend and busing author Jason Gale, who was not only giving me a bed for the night but also driving me around from one end of Melbourne to the other.
Things didn't begin that auspiciously, with a lady at Newcastle Airport attempting to convince staff that the three bags she was carrying were in fact two and she should be allowed to board the plane with them, even though she was well over the carry-on luggage. That went so well that we were 15 minutes late out of Newcastle but, again, luckily I had some time up the sleeve before my first bookstore.
Things got easier when I met Jason at the airport and hit the city nice and quick. First up was the big CBD store on Collins St. This is downstairs, so I had position at the base of the long elevator and could snag people as they came down.
This worked really well - although they had none of the original trilogy and once again we all missed out on some sales. Still, I sold 27 copies of Bridge Of Swords in between chatting to Jason and devouring the world's most expensive toasted cheese and ham sandwich.
It's a great place to chat to people and I had a great time meeting some wonderful people, including one lady desperate to buy The Wounded Guardian! In case she hasn't yet, Dymocks Knox, Southlands and Camberwell all have copies now ...
Second on the list was Minotaur. I've been to all other specialist fantasy stores around Australia and was keen to complete the list.
Things didn't go quite so well as they weren't really expecting me and I had apparently interrupted lunch there and they only had two copies of Bridge Of Swords.
I was half-expecting Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons to appear around the corner and utter the immortal words: "Worst author visit ever!"
But it was still good to speak to the staff, to let them know a little of what my books are about so that next time things might go better ...
Last stop for the day was Dymocks Southlands, which was a nice place to finish. Good sales, great people and a chance to relax and refuel for the next day afterwards.
Friday started with a flurry - my Twitter account got hacked and I was deluged by warnings from people. In between sending messages begging people not to open any links purportedly sent by me and changing passwords, I was lacking a little focus.
Things got back on track meeting my cousin Nat, her husband Emanuel and their lovely children for coffee at Knox before arriving at Dymocks Knox.
Knox was great and the sales piled up as the people poured past. I was reluctant to go but had one more stop before flying out - Dymocks Camberwell.
This is in a curious little shopping centre on a busy road in a hip suburb but there weren't many people around.
That was a real shame because Camberwell had the best specials of any store on my books. If I'd been at the CBD store selling Bridge of Swords at $5 off and buy the original trilogy and only pay for two books ($46 vs $67) I reckon I would have sold 100.
Sadly I couldn't do much for Camberwell, as it's a lo vely store but planes wait for nobody (unless you're an angry woman with excess luggage, it seems) and I had to hit the road. Or skies.
Next day it was out to Dymocks Rouse Hill, one of my favourite places. There's something about the area and the people that just makes it so rewarding to work there.
I had a bunch of people turn up specially to see me, which is always thrilling, as well as meeting all sorts of other lovely readers. One girl, whose name was Rhiannon, had to buy Bridge Of Swords as the main female character is, of course, Rhiannon!
Three hectic days of bookstores but the best was yet to come ... on Monday the Dymocks Fntasy Bestseller List came out with the news Bridge Of Swords had cracked the top 10!
That was huge - the first series sold very well but steadily until Radiant Child leapt onto the Bestseller list. To get onto the Bestseller List with the first book of this series is fantastic and a very proud moment.
Thanks to everyone who bought it!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Crazy weekend of touring

One of the definite highlights of this or indeed any other tour I've had was appearing at Gosford Markets with Kate from All Good Bookstore Gosford and a couple of Forlish warriors in Uhtred and Osric - otherwise known as Mason and Hayden!
These brave blokes (it was in the high 20s) dressed in chainmail with metal helms, sword and shield and bashed each other senseless in order to draw attention to my attempts to chat to people and sell them books.
It was a lot of fun and when I get back to work and retrieve my BlackBerry USB cable, I'll be uploading video onto here as well as my Facebook page.
They really went the extra mile and you have to hand it to a couple of big blokes who like hitting each other with lumps of wood and metal.
The only drawback was the sun and the fact the Gosford Markets' promised marquee never turned up, leaving us all with a slight case of sunburn ...!
Still, we met loads of people, handed out stacks of bookmarks and glowing reviews of Bridge Of Swords and sold quite a few books as well.
I also helped Kate coin her slogan: `Available at all good bookstores, particularly this All Good Bookstore!"
Well, I never met a bit of wordplay I didn't like ...
Sunday was less sunny but also action-packed, as I popped into Dymocks Chatswood for the first time.
Bridge Of Swords copy editor Abigail Nathan of Bothersome Words popped in to say hello and tweet as I attempted to sell to what was a bit of a sparse crowd that Sunday. It's always great having someone there, even if your conversation consists of about 20 little snapshots as you break off to speak to people walking past.
They may have been few in number but they sure packed a punch ... sold 38 books in a couple of hours, including a personal best of 10 to one person!
This wonderful bloke called Steve came in and bought a trilogy for himself, a Bridge Of Swords for himself, then came back and bought another trilogy for a friend, then came back another hour later and bought a third trilogy for another friend! Now that's a friend worth having!
It was a great afternoon, thankfully out of the sun and the stupid GPS even failed to get me lost. The damn thing couldn't find any satellites around Chatswood but, by the time I stopped swearing at it and it discovered where we were, I'd found my own way back to the Pacific Highway!
A big weekend indeed ... and I had a few days off before trying Melbourne ...!  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Beautiful Brisbane

I was very excited to fly into Brisbane for two days travelling around bookstores and meeting new people. Brisbane Dymocks was the place where I discovered The Radiant Child had made the Dymocks Fantasy Bestseller List. Not surprisingly, that buzz enabled me to sell out their entire stock that time! Plus I was going to visit TLC Books Manly, a small bookstore in a little arcade in a quiet part of town but a fantastic place that has been a great supporter of mine and exactly the sort of bookstore this tour is all about trying to help.
I was also a little sad, as three of the Borders stores I had visited that time were all gone.
It all began a little curiously, as walking out to the plane were a large hairy bloke in a wedding dress and his (normally dressed) mates. I'm assuming this was some football-inspired dare but I do like to keep an open mind and if that's what he felt comfortable in, then more power to him!
I had plenty of time up the sleeve before an 11am start at Dymocks Brisbane, which was lucky. While we didn't have to pause to allow the Captain to conduct a mid-air ceremony, we did end up circling Brisbane airport. I caught the airport train in, which was unsurprisingly slow.
Interestingly enough, I had all sorts of dramas with Jetstar, which freaked out because I had booked three flights with them through Webjet and refused to let me do online check-in, then when I rang them up, the lady in Chennai or Manila or wherever their phone centre is based was completely unhelpful. Finally the check-in terminal at Newcastle also refused to help me. Luckily I was there early enough to get into the human check-in line and the lady there fixed it all in about 30 seconds and moved me to an emergency seat with extra legroom! Jetstar 0, Newcastle Airport 1!
On a positive note, I remembered the rough layout of the city centre from the last time I was there and found my way to the store with very little difficulty, stopping for a coffee along the way.
The CBD store doesn't let me cut loose on passersby but does have a steady flow of people for me to accost as they head up the escalators to the fiction section. I met some great people and really appreciate the ones who took the time to Friend me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and drop me a line to say how much they were enjoying either Wounded Guardian or Bridge Of Swords. That's always a fantastic feeling!
Then it was off to Pulp Fiction, a specialist fantasy/sci-fi store and then the new Angus & Robertson store in Brisbane city. These were just stock signings, rather than my usual selling. It was particularly evocative to be back inside an A&R store again, after appearing at so many last time. They had been a bit surprised by Bridge Of Swords' popularity and only had four left for me to sign - next time it'll be much better!
Final stop for the day was Dymocks Carindale, where Bridge Of Swords was sitting at Number Nine on the store Bestseller list. That was a fantastic afternoon, meeting many wonderful people and chatting about books and my books in particular. I didn't sell an enormous amount of books that evening but had so many people interested in what I had to say that I am sure it will follow on.
Day Two felt a little like an episode of The Amazing Race. I had taxicab vouchers to get me around and met up with one friendly cabbie, called Manny, who stuck with me through the day.
First up was TLC Books, then Dymocks Chermside. TLC is such a lovely little store, in a delightful centre. Tanya and the team are so nice there that I simply have to keep going back! Both went really well, with Chermside particularly a success in book terms. They only had Bridge Of Swords, which sadly cost us both in terms of books sold but when I had finished, they only had two copies of Bridge Of Swords left.
There was a fantasy stand of books just behind me - and if anyone perused that, they received a smile and a bookmark from me. That led to three sales right there!
So I flew out of Brisbane, ready for a big weekend at Gosford Markets and then Dymocks Chatswood.
And that was to prove quite a fascinating adventure!
That was even before I got off the plane. I was flying Virgin (so obviously didn't expect to see the large bloke in the wedding dress 36 hours after his big day) and their plane experienced what the Captain described as"severe turbulence" on the way back. I would describe it as a case of severe turbulence in the squeaky bum section.
I had my seatbelt so tight, there was little blood getting to my legs and even so I swear my butt lifted of the seat twice as we dropped and bumped. To say I was glad to be back was an understatement. To say there were a few people who needed a spare pair of underpants urgently was also probably accurate!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Glass is always half full

When you do a bookstore appearance, as I have been busy doing over the past five weeks, you absolutely have to approach it with a "glass half-full" mindset.
If you focus on negatives, then you will end up underneath the table that the bookstore kindly set out for you, locked in the foetal position, wailing slightly.
As I have said before, you are going to get knockbacks, sneers and even the odd casual insult. Focus on those and it will mess with your head. Instead, you have to concentrate on the positive.
Take, for instance, the Macquarie Centre Dymocks appearance I did.
This was on the Saturday before Father's Day and the place was packed. But everyone was in a rush and many had a specific book in mind as a gift. I was getting many, many knockbacks amid the sales and it would have been easy to focus on those. It was still a good day and I still sold plenty of books but I was copping a bit of verbal punishment along the way.
I refused to focus on that. Instead I looked at those who did stop to talk to me.
One teenager who made the entire day worth it was a delightful young lady called Emma, who worked for Baskin Robbins and popped in on her break.
I chatted to her first, then she was so excited she came back with money and bought The Wounded Guardian - and then she came back once more, to shake my hand and thank me for talking to her!
Instantly that made the 50+ sneers about fantasy and books that I'd received vanish in an instant.
Each person who does talk to you is a pleasure. Each person who buys one of your books is a joy.
You may have spoken to 50 people before them but, to every single person, that is the one contact with an author they have had that day. It is up to you to make that special for you both.
I use the memory of the wonderdyl people I speak to, to inspire me to go on and on.
For me, the glass is always half-full.

The dark art of Sock Puppetry

The Sunday Telegraph asked me to write a short opinion piece about the art of "sock puppeting", where authors use fake online personas to write reviews of their own work.
Here's the link to the published piece:

Here's what I originally wrote for them:

I HAVE never been a sock puppet. I have never even played with them. The closest I came was when I used to put socks on my ears, to distract my infant son while trying to wrestle him into his clothes. Hey, you find yourself doing some weird stuff when you’ve only had an average of two hours’ sleep a night for a week.

But I can understand only too well why some authors become sock puppets. I am an author and have felt the dark temptation myself.

For those mystified why there appears to be a column in the paper devoted to obscure childhood playtime, the UK has been transfixed this week with tales of “sock puppetry”, the delightful phrase to describe how authors invent fake online personas and then use them to post glowing reviews about themselves and, in some cases, use them to attack rival authors.

I can understand the need for the former – but I have to say the latter absolutely disgusts me.

British crime writer R.J. Ellory was outed for using online sock puppets he called Jelly Bean and Nicodemus Jones (that should have been a giveaway right there – nobody but a fiction writer could marry such pretension with such ordinariness) to praise his latest book and bag his rivals.

Fellow crime writer Jeremy Duns outed Ellory and threw the literary establishment into a tizz, with further revelations of dodgy reviews on Amazon and questions being asked about the whole newspaper review system as well. The accusations are that reviewers are unfailingly nice to their friends – but scathing to those they dislike, regardless of the quality of the book.

Ellory has apologised publicly, as well as privately to the authors he attacked using Jelly Bean and Nicodemus. He deserves credit for owning up and not trying to cover up his deeds. Although, as a crime writer, perhaps he understands better than most that cover-ups always end with you looking even guiltier than before.

Using a fake name to attack another author is revolting. The point Ellory – and many others – are missing is that authors might think of each other as rivals but that is foolishness. Readers don’t just pick one author and leave it at that. They have many favourites. Authors put out one book a year, if that. It is arrogant beyond belief to think readers will not pick up another book in all that time.

But to post glowing reviews of your own book, to see something online that praises your work … well, that is a sock puppet of a completely different colour.

When I received the phone call from HarperCollins, telling me they were going to publish my first book, it was one of the best days of my life and the culmination of a dream. But reality soon sets in – you are but one of thousands of books on a shelf. How do you make yourself stand out from the rest? How can you get people talking about your book?

The temptation to don the sock puppet hat and help your book along is strong. Any author who says they never considered it, in their darker and weaker moments, is in denial.

Your book is not just a piece of paper, stapled together, it is part of you. You have invested a huge amount into it and it is your child, as much a part of your creation as your real children. To see it ignored is painful, to see it abused is excruciating.  If I am at a bookstore and someone wants to read a chapter before deciding whether to purchase, it is torture. They might as well ask me to drop my pants and expose everything to them.

So yes, the temptation to help your book out is strong. But then you remember what you teach your real children, and you resist.

And, after all, how much help do reviews provide? The runaway bestseller is 50 Shades Of Grey – a book universally panned in reviews as smutty drivel.

Duncan Lay is Masthead Chief of The Sunday Telegraph and author of The Dragon Sword Histories and now Bridge Of Swords, which has been getting rave reviews, none of which he wrote. Honest!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hot and cold in Canberra!

Canberra … without a doubt it is the perfect place for authors. The residents are almost universally educated, appreciative of authors and with enough money to indulge their love of reading.

I always enjoy going down to Canberra and have always done well there. This time was no different.

Sadly, this time I would not be travelling around Canberra with trusted HarperCollins rep Jodi Callas, who had been a victim of the reorganisation of the sales rep structure.

This meant I was going to have find my own way around Canberra … something to strike fear into the heart of even the most seasoned traveller!

So naturally I bit the bullet and bought a GPS unit. Now, ever since one of them tried to kill us both by ordering me to chuck a U-turn on a six-lane Brisbane highway, I have distrusted the things. I specifically asked the salesman at my local Hardly Normal store to show me the least idiotic one.

So, naturally the bloody thing got me lost in Goulburn, refusing to recognise the biggest shopping centre in this major country town!

Once I made it to Town & Country Books in Goulburn, with a little over-the-phone directional help from the friendly staff, things got cracking.

The highway now bypasses Goulburn but, if you are an author, make sure you stop there. Friendly people, delighted to meet an author and excited to buy books not just for themselves but as gifts for friends and family.

I had a great morning there before heading into the car, crossing the fingers and aiming for Dymocks Tuggeranong.

I arrived a little late – but it didn’t matter. Canberrans love their books and, that afternoon, they loved buying my books! I had some loyal fans such as Becky Dykhoff come out specially but just as many people buy from me from the first time.

When you’re doing a bookstore appearance, you need to have the mental attitude that anyone could be a book-lover. That isn’t the case usually but in Canberra it’s more true than anywhere else.

So I set a new personal record in a single appearance.

Friday was another freezing day in Canberra, but bright and sunny nonetheless.

First up was Dymocks Belconnen and again it was just pure pleasure speaking to the people there. Even better, Bridge Of Swords was sitting at number eight on their bestseller list, which is always a huge thrill. I planned to take a picture and tweet/Facebook it but was too busy to do so!

Again I had some local fans come along but the bulk were brand new … and always such a pleasure to talk to.

One woman and her son, who didn’t buy a book, were still a real highlight. The boy was recovering from a serious illness and had used books to get him through. Chatting with him and explaining how being an author is all about dealing with rejection, about picking yourself up and pushing forwards.

ABC 666, the local Canberra station, called me in for a quick interview, which managed to skilfully avoid any publicity about my books …!

Then it was Dymocks Central, where I was visited by some friendly faces – Jess Drake and fellow HarperCollins author Katie KJ Taylor. She’s always great value and was able to sell her trilogy to oe lady as well!

It was a bit quieter at Central but still a great way to finish off another Canberra adventure, where I managed to avoid getting TOO lost!  


Monday, September 3, 2012

A wild time in Adelaide

I flew out of a beautifully sunny Sydney into a wild couple of days in Adelaide with some crazy weather!
The flight down to Adelaide was probably the bumpiest one I've ever had ... you know it's getting bad when the hostesses stop serving food and make a run for their seats.
It was a little worrying, given I'd just watched The Grey, a movie where Liam Neeson crash-lands into Alaska and into a pack of man-eating wolves. Incidentally, I watched that movie with the dog,and neither of us looked at each other quite the same afterwards ...
Anyway, I landed fine and was met by HarperCollins' outstanding rep in Adelaide, Anthony Little. With him, I knew I wouldn't get thrown to the wolves!
Adelaide is a sad story, bookstore-wise, having lost almost every store I visited last time. There are many major shopping centres without a bookstore at all.
First up was the big CBD Dymocks and the weather was shocking. So bad that the planned Olympian Welcome Home parade had been cancelled!
I couldn't get out into the mall but there were plenty of people around and I met some fantastic ones, including people who bought the entre first trilogy, plus Bridge Of Swords in the one hit.
Things had been going well and I was a little reluctant to leave as we headed off to Dillons at Norwood, a big store in a nice suburb but out in the open.
That started off well; I met a young African who turned out to be one of my biggest fans! Sadly he hadn't realised I was going to be there so hadn't brought any books to sign, so I gave him a signed poster instead.
Then the bad weather hit. A huge hailstorm that cut the power to half the store and (not surprisingly) stopped anyone going out!
That was a bit disappointing and certainly cut down on the number of people I could talk to - let alone the sales.
Last one for the day was Mostly Books at Torrens Park, a small, community shopping centre with the kind of bookstore I love to support. We did very well there, although people were a bit scarce, with one of the highlights how the trolley guy Andrew ended up buying Bridge Of Swords for his father, after I gave him the spiel in about five different installments as he went past on his duties!
Second day kicked off at my favourite Adelaide store, the outstanding Collins Edwardstown, with the extraordinary Tarran doing the promotional duties.
Again, this went very well, although I was hindered somewhat by a bloke who obviously thought he was helping me by bagging out the people who ignored my greetings. Er, no, that's not helpful or very nice!
When I ask someone if they like to read and they turn around and brag how much they hate reading and how the television is so much better, I feel sorry for them, that they haven't discovered the power of imagination, and I dearly hope their children do. Not that I'd say that but this chap decided to give them character references, which was putting everyone off!
If I'd known what was coming next, I would have stayed at Edwardstown longer. Dymocks Glenelg was next cab off the rank and the weather decided to turn on me again.
Earlier in the month, I'd done a breakfast signing at Dymocks North Sydney, where the wind chill effect had the temp hovering below 3C and few people wanted to stop and talk, for fear of frostbite. That seemed like a tropical paradise compared to the howling wind and rain coming down Glenelg's main street. I lost my sign twice and only strategic placement of books saved the tablecloth. My heart went out to those brave souls who stopped to chat and bought books off me but I felt gutted for the store, that I couldn't do more for them.
Last store on the trip was Pages & More West Lakes, inside a shopping centre, where I was able to thaw out and sell a stack of Bridge Of Swords - then finish with a copy of Wounded Guardian as I was walking out the door.
So that was Adelaide, a beautiful town with horrible weather for those two days - and some great bookstores that I sincerely hope I could help a little.
In the immortal words of The Terminator: "I'll be back".
A pack of wild wolves couldn't stop me ...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First week of the official tour!

So, one week of the “official tour” is completed and now I kick off the interstate side of things, heading down to Adelaide to hit a whole bunch of new stores.

I say “official” as I went out to stores while I was working, notably my local Dymocks at Erina and Tuggerah, Unleash Books Kotara (formerly an A+R store), Galaxy and Kinokuniya in Sydney city and North Sydney Dymocks.

But the first big week of stores is over and it was generally very good. There were highlights at every store and that’s the way you have to look at it.

Every time you appear at a bookstore, stand out the front and try to talk to passersby, you are going to get knockbacks and sneers. That’s the price you must pay for speaking to people and, after all, acting like a kind of spruiker. It’s a price I’m always happy to pay but that doesn’t make it easier. For instance, Unleash Books Miranda was a case in point. Just 50m down the shopping centre was a pair of spruikers trying to flog people Oral B products. Naturally the glare from their white teeth was eye-piercing, while their patter was just as persistent. I quickly discovered people walking up from that direction were already in a bad frame of mind to respond to my line about reading. That swiftly proved a drawback, as half my traffic flow was coming past me having been assaulted with toothbrushes and tangled up in dental floss.

I also discovered that, for all its high socio-economic benchmarks, there was nobody wanting to try out the special deal on the original trilogy that Unleash was offering. It was interesting, because their I sold 40 books at their sister store at Kotara, in Newcastle, on a similar deal. Perhaps, if one believes Ten’s TV show The Shire, they need it all for surgical enhancements. More likely they are seen as well off because they don’t rashly hurl their money away by buying multiple books from authors, no matter how winning their talk is!

In the face of multiple knockbacks, not to mention negotiating the devilish car park at Miranda Fair, it would be easy to become dispirited. But instead I focused on the positives, of which there were many. For starters Bridge Of Swords was sitting at Number Five on the Unleash Top 10, one spot ahead of George RR Martin’s latest bestseller. And the people I did chat to in Miranda were wonderful – from Bel Every, who came in specially and has even created a Facebook page for me, to Ursula who couldn’t make it in that day but bought and left a copy of Bridge Of Swords for me to personalise, to all the others who bought books or just spoke to me.

Bookstore appearances are very much a “glass half-full” experience. It’s easy to get down but vital to focus on the good things.

Having said that, I struggled to find any negatives at Penrith Dymocks. Honestly, I could happily go back there every week. If you are an author on tour, put Penrith on your list. Forget about your inner-city trendy areas. Not only did I sell a record number of books that day (necessitating a frantic dash for resupply by the store owners) but the people were wonderful and genuinely interested to meet an author. I truly find the outer areas, such as Penrith, Campbelltown (when it had a bookshop), Rouse Hill and Tuggerah are always the most successful. Forget Leichhardt and Bondi – head west or north and reap the benefits!

Book Bazaar Umina was my Saturday shop, a small bookstore in a sleepy main street. But store owner Mandi is fantastic and has been a great supporter of mine from the start. Tellingly, almost half the books I sold were to readers who were coming in specially. That percentage is higher than anywhere else!

Then it was on to Dymocks Carlingford, a lovely shop run by a great bloke called Kosta but stuck in an unfortunate corner of a busy shopping centre. I was delighted to see Bridge Of Swords sitting at Number Six on his store’s Top 10 Bestsellers … beating all fantasy books and a huge swathe of general release fiction as well. We started slowly but moved closer to the escalators and finished strongly. I had some marvellous conversations with people here, several of them quickly “friending” me on Facebook or following me on Twitter afterwards, as well as a couple of budding authors. I hope to see them in print some day!

So the first week ended with more than 100 books hand-sold.

Now for the interstate portion, which will see things kick up a gear. I hit four stores last week – I’ll be at SIX over the next two days in Adelaide alone!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Great review of Bridge Of Swords!

Bridge of Swords (Empire of Bones, Book 1) by Duncan Lay
Harper Voyager
Review by Crisetta MacLeod

This story is rich in uneasy relationships. There are untrustworthy, manipulative and
bullying parents; there are lovers who deceive and are deceived; there are allies who work
together against common evils, yet do so with very differing agendas.
A long time before the story begins, the Elfaran withdrew behind a magic barrier; they have
neglected their magic over the generations, and those who have sought to preserve the
ancient skills are regarded with suspicion. A tyrant king and his minions rule Dokusen. The
wimpy, bullied heir-apparent is Sendatsu.  Although superb in combat skills, Sendatsu wants
only to look after his children when their mother dies. Outside Elfaran, beyond the barrier,
another tyrant ruler is seeking to absorb all settlements into his territory. The magic
barrier between these cultures is fading, and Sendatsu becomes an unwilling leader when he
is spirited out of Dokusen. The unlettered peoples of the outside towns have myths and
legends about the might of the elves, and their expectations of Sendatsu form the basis of
the story. Expectations, selfish motivations, and deceptions abound and you'll enjoy how
relationships and their pitfalls carry us through battles and plots. More please!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Great review of Bridge Of Swords!

Lovely review of Bridge Of Swords here, by Speculating On SpecFic:

The beauty of this book is that it takes everything we know and love about fantastical literature and uses them in an innovative way. Everything about Bridge of Swords is brilliant – a gripping plot line peppered with well executed action sequences, interesting characters driven by realistic motivations, and a new world rich in culture, history and mystery. This has been my first foray into the works of Duncan Lay and I wonder how I overlooked his work for so long!

Sendatsu is the hero of this story – an elf charged with unearthing the real reason that elves shut themselves off from the human world centuries ago. While it is easy to understand his desire to return home to his family and continue his life, I found him to be lacking in courage and sometimes wished he would man – elf? – up and take charge of his life. But this is the entire point of Sendatsu: he is the ultimate reluctant hero. He finds two strangers to accompany him on his quest - Huw the bard and Rhiannon the dancer, who have secrets and motivations of their own. The interactions and relationships between these three are fascinating to read and they drive the plot forward as an integral aspect of the book.

The world building in this book is simply superb – not only are the cultures of the elves and humans beautifully delineated and balanced, the ties that link the two races are clear and it is nice to see the lines blur between them later in the book. I only looked at the map provided with the book one when began reading – which is always the mark of incredible writing in my opinion. Duncan Lay’s writing lends a strong sense of place to this book and I really admire his skill doing so.

There is a lot more I want to say about this wonderful book, but I can’t for fear of spoiling things for readers. So I will say this: Rhiannon is a wonderful character – finally a woman who isn’t a typical cut out of ‘helpless maiden’ or ‘fearless warrior that doesn’t act like a woman unless she cries’ – but I hated the way that Sendatsu and Huw treated her. Hated it. I liked Asami for similar reasons, and hope that she gets a larger story arc in future books. Jaken, Sendatsu’s father intrigues me. Although he is portrayed as a power-hungry leader, I think he would be interesting to get to know better.

Filled with great characters and a wonderful world, Bridge of Swords is epic fantasy at its best. Everyone should rush out and grab a copy! While fans of the genre will undoubtably enjoy reading this book, it is perfect for those wanting to try high fantasy for the first time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Lands of Empire Of Bones


Empire of Bones is set in the same world as The Dragon Sword Histories, although 300 years later and on the other side of the world.

There are no common characters and there is no need to have read the first series to begin this one.

There is one, small connection in that an event at the end of The Radiant Child had an unexpected effect on the other side of the world and began the chain of events that leads to Bridge Of Swords.

But you don’t have to have any prior knowledge of the world, nor its history and all will be made clear as Empire Of Bones moves to its conclusion.

The three lands Empire Of Bones is principally set in are very different.

First we have Dokuzen. This is a land with magic, healing, advanced building techniques and a high standard of living. Their lifestyle has hints of the Roman era, with similar technology, as well as a strong flavour of Shogun-era Japan, with concepts of honour and an emphasis on your clan and family determining your status in society. They worship this world’s God, Aroaril, but religion is not an integral part of their lives. The people’s names, as well as the place names, reflect the Japanese influence.

Next we meet Vales. This is much more a rougher, cruder community, much less formally structured, without a central ruler or anything more than a loose connection between its towns and villages. Rather than building in stone, they use wood and thatch. Principally a land of farmers, they are also miners and traders but have few, if any warriors, despite their personal bravery. Perhaps closest to Britain following the Roman withdrawal, before the Saxon invasion changed the language and the face, when the old British tribes ruled, although without their unique Celtic culture. The people’s names, as well as some of the place names, reflect the Celtic influence.

Finally there is Forland. More advanced than Vales but without the higher knowledge and technology of Dokuzen, they are able to build with stone. Ruled by a King, they have a standing army and a warrior tradition. Conquerors and aggressors, they have taken many of the southern countries by force and thirst for more. Perhaps comparable to Saxon Britain, where it was torn between a warrior code and something higher. Their names, as well as some of the place names, reflect the Saxon era.

One note about the place names in Vales and Forland (and indeed in all the other countries in the surrounding lands). There is a mystery, central to the story, around these names and why some carry certain meanings and others seem normal. As the main characters and readers will discover …

The Heart Of Empire Of Bones


The Dragon Sword Histories was, at its heart, about a man in a dark place, coming back from that through the love of a small child. One of the themes it explored was how children can alter our view of the world and how their innocence can change the loss and regret adults carry.

For the Empire Of Bones, I wanted to explore this from the other side – how fathers can affect children and how so many of us seek to either live up to or grow away from the way we were raised.

In a primitive society, childbirth becomes hazardous to the health of women and babies and both are at high risk of dying. In such a society, fathers become the constant and even more important – or at least they do in this fantasy world.

All the major characters and indeed many of the minor ones explore this issue from all sorts of angles. Even King Ward, the brutal ruler of Forland, struggles with his two sons, who he sees as not fit to carry on his work of uniting the countries and forging an empire.

Interestingly enough, I was touring for my last book, The Radiant Child in July 2010 and was down at Shellharbour, on the NSW South Coast. Sadly the Angus & Robertson store there has now closed but a strange thing happened.

It was one of the more challenging store appearances I’ve had, competing against a cheerful spruiker at the chicken shop next door whose amplified offers to the shoppers to come and check out his ``lovely legs’’ wasn’t funny the first time round, let alone the 10th.

Then an older Aboriginal lady stopped by to have a chat with me and told me she knew I was writing my next book (I had just begun the first draft of what was to become Bridge Of Swords) and encouraged me to keep going, because it would help me get the darkness out from inside me.

I have to admit the hair went up on the back of my neck and I believed every word she said.

Although whether I have written out my darkness is another matter …