Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wall Of Spears tour across Australia in February and March 2014

After family illness and death blighted my 2013 and forced me to cancel much of the Valley Of Shields tour last year, I will be back on the road, bigger and better for the final book in the Empire Of Bones series.
It will be out in shops - and of course available in multiple eBook formats - from February 1.
If you want to get a real copy, then the good news is HarperCollins has come to the party and there will be discounts on any books sold by me at various bookstores across Australia.
So come and see me, get a real copy for at least 10% cheaper than the RRP and get it personally signed as well. Can't say fairer than that!
Now these dates are not locked in stone and some are uncomfirmed but this is what the tour is looking like so far:

Sunday Feb 2 – Tuggerah

Sat Feb 8 – Erina

Sun Feb 9 – Rouse Hill
Thurs Feb 13 - Tweed/Gold Coast

Sat Feb 15 – Chatswood

Sun Feb 16 – Parramatta
Thurs Feb 20/Fri Feb 21 - Adelaide

Sat Feb 22 – Warringah

Sun Feb 23 – Penrith
Wed Feb 26, Thurs Feb 27, Fri Feb 28 - Melbourne

Sat Mar 1 – Carlingford AM, Castle Towers PM

Sun Mar 2 – Burwood

Thurs Mar 6, Fri Mar 7 - Brisbane
Wed Mar 12, Thurs mar 13, Fri Mar 14 - Perth
Sat Mar 15 – Charlestown

Sun mar 16 – Macquarie

Thurs mar 20 – Goulburn and Canberra

Fri mar 21 – Belconnen and Tuggeranong

Sat Mar 22 – Batemans Bay and Nowra

Sun mar 23 - Cronulla

Thurs Mar 27 - Wollongong

Fri Mar 28 - Hornsby

Sat Mar 29 - Umina

Hope to see you at one of these stores!
Remember to check back for interstate tour details as well!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to kill off a character - or how not to end your book with Harry Potter dead and Voldemort living with Hermione while keeping Ron as a gimp in the basement

As anyone who has read or watched Game Of Thrones knows, you can make a huge success out of slaughtering your main characters.

George RR Martin lops favourites away each and every book – and most of his fans love him for it.

Reportedly, he did receive a massive backlash over the so-called Red Wedding, where several members of the Stark family were brutally slaughtered.

Still, for every fan who didn’t like it, I’d say another three or four do.

But it was a different story when Veronica Roth, author of the wildly popular Divergent series, killed off her heroine Tris. The backlash from the fans was immediate and massive, forcing her to publish a  lengthy justification on her blog.

So, for anyone planning to kill off their main character, the message is clear – it can be more dangerous than you think.

And to do so at the end can ruin a series.

Devoted fans are throwing away their copies of the Divergent series and there has even been questions asked about the film adaptations. Will it hurt ticket sales? Will the studio force changes to the third movie’s ending?

In terms of an unpopular ending, the best comparison I can come up with would be for JK Rowling to instead have had Harry Potter die, then Voldemort set up house with Hermione, while keeping Ron as a gimp in the basement.

Now, there are good reasons to kill off a character.

Sometimes their death is necessary to unlock the next stage of a plot, or perhaps their death will have a dramatic effect on one or more of the other characters, triggering a change which is vital to their development.

Sometimes you get to a certain point and realise a character cannot logically survive a situation. Or perhaps they have simply outlived their usefulness. I’ve come across this before in my writing, where you imagined a character would stick around to the end, only to find they don’t have any more for you. (conversely, I often find minor characters suddenly jump up and demand more time).

Killing a character can also have a profound effect on the reading experience. If the reader knows that you are prepared to kill characters, then it follows that a life-or-death scene will have a much greater impact.

For instance, book five of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series let slip that a main character would die. Rowling then made sure almost every main character was facing death in the last few chapters – and it was nail-biting stuff.

These are all good reasons.

But to kill your character off for no good reason (that your readers can see) is a very dangerous thing.

Yes, you are writing for yourself. But, if you are serious, you are also writing for an audience. And I think you do have to keep them in mind, or you might find them dissecting you on social media.

As anyone who has read The Dragon Sword Histories or Empire Of Bones series knows, some of my characters die. And sometimes quite unpleasantly. But never, I hope, gratuitously.

So my advice is simple. Kill your characters off by all means. But make their deaths mean something.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Top 10 crap presents for Christmas where you should have bought a book instead

Nothing infuriates people more than receiving a truly crap present. And I don’t mean a hand-knitted sweater from Aunt Mavis. I mean a useless, pointless gadget bought off one of those dodgy TV advertisements. Something you will never use and will instead collect dust for a year until you either throw it out or re-gift it.

If it’s all about the thought, not the actual present, what do these say?

``I was watching a stupid commercial featuring an annoying American voice-over that was plugging something pointless and stupid. And I immediately thought of you!’’

In every case, you should buy someone a book instead. Or at least a book voucher, if you are too lazy to go into a store and ask advice from the bookseller. And every bookseller worth their salt will be able to recommend something good for anyone.

In that spirit, I decided to compile a list of the most spectacularly crapulous gifts I have seen advertised this month.

If you get any of these on Christmas Day, you have my permission to go over, slap the person over the back of the head and say: ``You should have got me a book, instead!’’

1)      Buntastic fitness machine. Worth a double slap, because it says they think you’re also tubby as well as stupid. Trade it in and buy a book.

2)      Forever Comfy Cushion. Hit them with it instead. Buy a book!

3)      Slap Chop/Slice-o-matic. Use it on the giftee’s wobbly bits. They’ll give you a book next year then.

4)      Go-Go pillow for tablets. Beat them around the head and shoulders with it until you get a book.

5)      Flexible hose. Waterboard them until the book gets there.

6)      Aqua rug (nonslip fluffy rug for shower). Loofah them with it until you get a book.

7)      Ye Olde Lantern. They’re not a bright spark. Tell that dim person to give you a  book.

8)      Super steam cleaner. Boiling water and abrasive pads at hand? I’m sure you can think of some way to get a book out of them using that …

9)      Chillow cooling pillow/Cloud pillow. Smuffocate them until they agree to buy you a book. And they won’t even know that’s a word if they’ve got a fat pillow on their head.

10)   Schticky cleaner. Offer to de-hair their sensitive bits with it until they agree to get you a book.


And you get the idea…

I don’t call this a definitive list of crapulous gift ideas. But they’re certainly a giant, steaming pile. The sort you'd step over carefully and wonder what the owners were feeding that poor creature.

So you know what to do if you unwrap one of these … and if you’re actually thinking of buying one for someone, Buntastic yourself until you need a Forever Comfy pillow and then go out and buy a book, instead.

Monday, October 28, 2013

50 Stores in 50 Days

I am finishing off the proof-reader pages for Wall Of Spears, the final book in the Empire Of Bones trilogy, which will be at the printers before Christmas, ready for a February 2014 release.
That means it is time to start thinking about a big tour to celebrate the end of the series.
And this is going to be a big tour!
I'll be hitting 50 stores in 50 days, from Brisbane to Sydney to Canberra to Melbourne to Hobart to Adelaide to Perth - and maybe a few others as well!
But I need your help.
Are there stores near you that I have or haven't visited?
Is the Gold Coast a better option than say Port Macquarie or Coffs Harbour? Is Geelong worth a visit? How about south of Perth?
Have I met you at a store before or would you like to have a chat and get a signed copy (or some previous books signed as well?)
Let me know and I'll do my best to get there in February or March next year.
Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Music to write to

I write on the train, so an iPod is an essential - even if the Quiet Carriages have helped reduce the number of inane conversations that threaten to drown the creative process in a sea of sludge.
In between edits on Wall Of Spears, I have started a new series ... which hopefully will see bookshelves in a year or two!
When I am writing, I do try to tap into certain songs to trigger emotions that, I feel, add a little more to writing.
So, here's a few songs I'm listening to and a few of the lyrics that are resonating with me right now.
As I have said before, that might not be the meaning the lyricist intended. That doesn't matter. What matters is how it makes YOU feel and what you get out of it.
Some of this will be coming out in the new series ...
Boy And Bear - Southern Sun:
``You see, I'm not gonna wait until the ending,
cause I got the burning fire in there, in my soul''.
Linkin Park - Castle Of Glass:
``take me down to the river bend
Take me down to the fighting end
Wash the poison from off my skin
Teach em how to be whole again''.
Imagine Dragons - It's Time:
``Now don;t you understand
I'm never changing who I am''.
Plus there's Wasting My Time by Default, Tell Me How It Ends by Bernard Fanning and Trembling Hands by The Temper Trap.
Even if they're not affecting your writing, check them out anyway!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The death of the book - it's been greatly exaggerated

One of my Saxon warrior friends asked me my thoughts on the Death Of The Book. My first instinct was to say: Never! Then I added a few more thoughts ...
Is the book dead, or dying?

Well, reports of its death have been drastically exaggerated.

It’s true that book sales are generally down – for instance, even with the surge of interest for Game of Thrones, Australian fantasy sales are down roughly 10%.

But there are other reasons for that, including the loss of many specialist bookshops and the general retail slowdown. People are saving their pennies for a rainy day, rather than spending them and that’s true across every retail category.

Secondly, are we talking about physical books or are we including eBooks? Because if we include eBooks then the numbers are certainly not down. People are downloading free eBooks in huge numbers – and buying eBooks in respectable numbers as well.

Certainly there will be a degree of migration across to eBooks from the traditional format. As well as being cheaper, the available range of eBooks is much greater. Stores cannot carry the massive number of titles released each year, let alone those previously published. With the collapse of Borders and Angus & Robertson, the day of the massive bookshop is over.

So, albeit in a different format, the book will never die.

But there is plenty of hope for the traditional book as well. Retail will recover – it is the cyclical nature of things. People will begin making more discretionary purchases again, rather than essentials.

Above all, there is a hunger for reading. Whether it is fantasy, autobiography, fiction or high literature, people enjoy losing themselves in a book. I go out to stores and find people excited to meet an author and eager to talk about books.

The emphasis on children reading is, if anything, even stronger than before. And there are more children’s books being released, encouraging boys and other reluctant readers to keep reading for pleasure.

As these children get older, they will see reading as less of a leisure activity and more of an essential.

Reading opens our eyes and expands our minds and the emphasis placed on it in schools will only help the industry.

For the next 10-20 years they will be doing that mainly with real books but, no matter what format they are reading, no matter what eReader or tablet or device not yet invented they choose, the book will go on.

The Gutenberg Press is widely credited with helping inspire the Renaissance and dragging Europe out of the dark ages.

If the book ever died, that is where we would return.

My top 10 tips for rewriting and editing your book

As I finish off the copy edit for Wall of Spears, I was asked if I had any advice for budding authors who are trying to get their work ready for submission.
As sending in your book far too early is a crime that every author is guilty of, here's my top 10 tips for rewiring and editing.
1)      Re-read until you are absolutely sick of reading your work and feel you must hurl something out of a window. Then do it once more.

2)      Try to add layers each time you go through the book. One rewrite can be totally from the perspective of a particular main character. Then go back and rewrite from all the other characters’ perspectives, taking into account the changes you have made.

3)      Isolate the minor characters. Pull out all the sections featuring one of them and copy into a separate document. Read that and see if they are consistent/interesting/important to the story. Makes changes if you have to.

4)      Try and write over your word limit. Put in everything you can. It doesn’t matter if not all of it works, you can trim it out later. But working through a manuscript you know is 10-20,000 words over the limit forces you to be ruthless with every sentence.

5)      Use CTRL+F to check on repeated words. I fall into the trap of using words such as roared, groaned, grumbled far too much. CRTL+F finds all those instances. It can be surprising and a little horrifying to see how many times you’ve used a certain word. And it highlights times when you’ve used it 2-3 occasions on the same page – another no-no.

6)      Check your chapter spacing. When you’re moving stuff around, you can have very long chapters sometimes. Trim and/or break into two.

7)      Stop and think about plot. Is it logical? Is there another way for the action to move forwards? Have you got internal as well as external conflict?

8)      Stop and think and characters. Are they behaving consistently. Are you forcing them to do things they normally wouldn’t? Or, worse, are they justifying themselves endlessly?

9)      Put the computer away for a fortnight. Keep a pad by your bed instead to make notes as your brain works through things.

10)   Be ruthless with subplots. If they’re not working, ditch them.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A cheeky Wall Of Spears spoiler ... or is it?

Here's a little puzzler for you ... one of these three scenarios DOES happen in Wall Of Spears.
Can you guess which one?
And which one would you most want to see?
All of them are possible, all are plausible - but only one actually happens.
Sadly, don't expect me to give any honest answers on this one, because you'll just have to wait until February, when Wall Of Spears is out, to find out for sure!

1) Asami vs Rhiannon in a smack-down magic fight
2) Sendatsu vs Gaibun in a no-holds-barred sword fight
3) Retsu vs Jaken in a bloody fight to the death

And there will definitely be no hints as to who wins any of these!

Back page blurb for Wall Of Spears

Now this may not be the absolutely finished version but HarperCollins said they loved it, so I think it'll be pretty close!
Please, let me know what you think:

It is time to decide who will rule the lands and control the magic. Will it be Forland, with its lust for bloody conquest. Will it be Dokuzen, with its dreams of a slave empire, or will it be Vales, armed only with Rhiannon and her magic - and the truth about why the rulers of Dokuzen claim to be elves.

Into this mix comes Sendatsu. Rejected by his true love, hated by his father, hunted by his former best friend, he now burns with the desire to build a better world for his children.

Betrayal follows lies follows more betrayal as the true power behind the vicious struggle is revealed. The fate of all the lands rests on a sword's edge...

Monday, July 8, 2013

A new series

So what should I write next?

I know there are plenty of people who want to see a second series involving Martil, Karia and Merren from The Dragon Sword Histories. Their journey had taken them to a certain point but there were still unanswered questions, especially around Barrett, the magician.

If I did write that series, I hope the first book’s title would be The Bitter Mage.

But I am not ready to write that one yet. Maybe next time …

For this new series, I am tossing up a couple of ideas. There’s two ways I can go.

I would really appreciate some feedback on this – after all, you are the ones that I hope will be looking forward to reading them!

Ultimately, of course, I will be guided by what HarperCollins is interested in!

The first series feels like two books, but if I dig deeper into the planning, it may well come out to be a trilogy.

Loosely – very loosely – based on the Japanese tale of The 47 Warriors, it asks the question of just what is a man prepared to do, how far will he take revenge. And is honour, and revenge, more important than family? When the two collide, what will win out?

This series will take you to the land of Nippon, where the Elfarans first landed and thrived, then took ship from to arrive in Vales.

When a man’s friend and lord is betrayed and killed, a lord he swore an oath to protect with his life, he must go to extreme lengths to gain revenge and expose the evil festering in the land of Nippon. But what if it costs him his family. What if he has to give up everything he is, everything he loves to fulfil his oath …

The second series – and one that I have been thinking about for a while – is definitely a trilogy.

You may well be aware that I like to take a fantasy cliché on and twist it around, send it up slightly. The first series was a gentle send-up of the whole magic sword cliché. Empire Of Bones sends up the elves in fantasy cliché.

This series would have a little play with the whole supernatural creatures trope.

People are disappearing. Boats return empty, even whole villages are vanishing. The King and the Church are claiming it must be demons or something equally sinister. But one man believes there is a far more human explanation.

And when his wife is one of the ones taken, he starts a journey that will tear down a kingdom and expose a foulness buried deep in his land that is darker and more revolting than the Church’s claims of a plague of demons.

But a revolution will be merely the beginning of his troubles …

Let me know what you think!

FInishing Empire Of Bones

Writing those lovely words: The End, to finish off my Empire Of Bones series was an incredible feeling.

But there were mixed emotions.

Of course I was delighted, and relieved, and proud of finishing a series that has sold so well, received so many glowing reviews and has occupied my thoughts for nearly four years now.

According to the Microsoft Word stats, I spent a total of 104,513 minutes working on Wall Of Spears. That’s more than 1741 hours, or about 72 days straight.

And that was the book that took me the least amount of time, with the least number of rewrites of the three!

Altogether it is a frightening total, and does not include the time spent reading hard copy printouts, either, nor thinking time. That is purely fingers-to-keyboard minutes.
And while it's now sitting in HarperCollins' hands, it's not quite finished yet. There is still the production process to go through.
The publisher might suggest some tweaks, as will the copy editor, while the proof readers are sure to find something.
Still, finishing it to that level was very satisfying.

But I was a little sad, as well. These are characters I know well and it is sad to be saying goodbye to them, even though their journey is over and they are in a better place than when they started (except for the dead ones, obviously …!)

It is time to start thinking about the next journey to take.

And it is not a decision to be taken lightly. This last series took three years of my life. I expect any new series to occupy a similar time frame – or perhaps longer.

More on that shortly.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bridge Of Swords longlisted for David Gemmell Legend Award!

You may well have read an earlier post about what the late, great UK fantasy author David Gemmell means to me.
It was a copy of his debut work Legend that got me into reading fantasy.
He was a newspaper editor in Sussex before he became a writer; I lived in Sussex until I was 16 and then became a newspaper editor before becoming a writer.
I was devastated to hear of his early death from a heart attack.
When Australian Bookseller + Publisher compared me to Gemmell, it was a proud moment.
Now Bridge Of Swords has been longlisted for the David Gemmell Legend Award, which recognises the best heroic fantasy worldwide.
If you've read Bridge Of Swords and enjoyed it; if you think it fits the description of heroic fantasy, then please log onto the awards site and vote.
It would be very much appreciated.
The link is below:


How to write with emotion

If you're a budding author, then I'm sure you've either gone through courses or at least read a few books about writing.
I don't think I have any insights beyond what is already available on the internet. But I can tell you what works for me.
If anyone asks me advice about writing, I always tell them the best thing is to keep writing. The more you write, the better you get at it.
Obviously you need to have the strongest characters you can create. Great characters always trump a great story. If you can have a great story as well, then you are laughing!
Yet I also feel there's more to the process than ``just'' coming up with great characters and storylines.
I try to write with emotion.
I have written before about how I write on the train, as I commute to and from Sydney. As I write, I listen to music on the iPod. But I do try and match what I am listening to, to what I am going to write.
As I have said before, something like Coldplay works well for me during character scenes, while a spoty of AC/DC's Thunderstruck is fantastic for a battle.
But I also try to recall emotions from films.
Now these don't have to be an inspiration for your book. They don't even have to be anywhere near the same genre. But they do have to evoke something in you. You can stumble on these by chance or you can go searching for them. You can build up a personal memory bank of these films, and what they evoke in you.
The choice is yours.
What I like to do is then recall them when I'm writing, to tap into what they stirred within me, and try to communicate some of that into the writing.
Now I'm not saying you rip off a bunch of scenes from random movies and rewrite them.
No, I'm only talking about the emotion YOU feel. Pick up on that and invest that into your writing.
Different films mean different things to different people.
But, to give you an example: one of the strong undercurrents in Bridge Of Swords is Sendatsu's desire to get back to his children and his willingness to do anything for them.
There were two films in particular that I recalled during writing that book.
One was A Very Long Engagement, where Audrey Tautou searches for her lover who disappeared into the horror of World War I. In particular the end, when she finds him, the culmination of years of searching, and the way she walks out to him  ``and sits and watches''. You don't see an emotional reunion but I feel the longing, the overwhelming relief, the desire to throw yourself at them and yet contain all that because they wouldn't understand.
A second was Inception and the very end, when Leonardo DiCaprio returns to his children and starts to check to see if this is all a dream - and then walks away before his control device can give him the answer. Because, at that point, he doesn't care if it is a dream or not. He is reunited with his children and that is all that matters.
It doesn't matter if you watch those films and feel nothing. They meant something to me and so I tried to invest that into the writing.
This whole technique may mean nothing to you - but I use it all the time. If you can put real emotion into the writing, you can invest it with a little more truth.
Yes, I know this is fantasy I write - but it still needs some truth.
Of course you don't need to get those emotions from film - but it adds something I feel. Emotions from songs are powerful, from real life are also powerful but, to me, movies can be visually recalled easily. I replay that scene, tap into what it makes me feel and then write.
It works for me - and you are welcome to try it!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Characters of Valley Of Shields

The end of Bridge of Swords saw the death of several `main’ characters – principally some of the `evil’ ones. The action principally took place in Vales, as well.

In book two of Empire Of Bones, Valley Of Shields, you will see far more of Dokuzen, the home of the “elves”, or Elfarans to give them their real name.

You will also meet new enemies for Sendatsu, Huw and Rhiannon to face – and the end of the book will finally tell you who the real villain of the series is.

You will also meet three new characters, a trio of Forlish soldiers known as Caelin, Harald and Ruttyn. At first they may seem like comic relief, and a source of the humour that I try to weave through all my books. That is true, to a certain extent but they have a vital role to play not just in this book but also in the concluding book of the series, Wall Of Spears.

In Valley Of Shields, you will also see far more of Sendatsu’s true love Asami, his best friend and her husband Gaibun and Sendatsu’s father Jaken, as well as his mother Noriko.

The people of Dokuzen are split into three power blocs, all manoeuvring to take the top spot. Into this potent mix of treachery and betrayal comes the first humans in 300 years – Rhiannon and Huw, as well as Sendatsu.

Things are about to change and the barrier of lies that has surrounded Dokuzen for three centuries is about to be torn down.

Conflux 2013

This was my third Conflux, although the first that was also the National Convention.

I love visiting Canberra for bookstore tours, so it was perfect to combine the pair.

Seriously, if you are a new author, or even an old hand, and want to try out bookstore selling appearances, rather than book signings, Canberra is the place to start.

(For full details on the difference between sellings and signings, as well as 50 tips to hand-sell 1000 books a month, see some of my previous articles).

Canberra people love to buy books – almost more than they love sweeping generalisations.

But seriously, there are more eager book buyers in Canberra than anywhere else. I like to ask the question: `Do you like to read?’

One Canberran replied: `Doesn’t everybody?’

Well, no. And certainly not in some of the areas I have sold books into …

Conflux this year was being run by the delightful Nicole Murphy and Donna Hanson, and it was organised perfectly.

I was rather less organised, for a variety of reasons, so ended up with a somewhat higgledy-piggledy schedule.

The important thing was, I got to chat to some great people and offer my limited wisdom to help budding authors. I hope it was of some help!

The panels I went on this time had some really interesting (I thought) topics.

One was on the ethics of immortality, which is one of the major themes of the Empire Of Bones series. It was a fascinating discussion and, in terms of book possibilities, we barely scratched the surface.

There are two types of immortality, of course. There’s the Tolkien-elf immortality, where you don’t get old or sick but are still dead if someone cuts off your head or sticks you full of arrows. Then there’s the full immortality, where you are indestructible – somewhat like a cartoon character or Hollywood action hero.

Immortality can be approached from the point of view of those fighting against immortals or from the immortals struggling with their powers. There are many books in there.

The other panel was about world building, which is also fascinating. I like to base my worlds on reality, recognisably Celtic or otherwise, rather than start from scratch. But the possibilities are infinite.

Plants, animals, even the weather can become as important as any of your characters. The weather, for instance, can become a crueller foe than an army of orcs.

Just don’t fall into what we shall call the 10,000BC trap. That was the Roland Emmerich film that saw the main characters go from snowy mountains, to desert, to steamy jungle in the space of a few days. A classic example of plot defeating logic. Not that it was the most unconvincing thing about that movie but still …

In between kaffeeklatches and panels, I visited Canberra’ s three Dymocks stores. All are great and all went well. It is lovely to see people coming back for the third or even fourth time to get their books signed. A true honour. At Belconnen, in fact, I bumped into a fan that was almost overcome! That was the first time someone has been that excited to meet me. Even my dog doesn’t get that thrilled, so it was a massive buzz for me as well.

At Belconnen it was also great to see Valley Of Shields sitting at Number Six on the store’s bestseller list!

Conflux wrapped up (for me) with the official launch of VOS, along with my friend and fellow Harper Voyager author Katie (KJ) Taylor’s The Shadowed Throne.

Our first HarperCollins books were published in the same month and we are still going along the same pattern, which is extremely unusual but also wonderful.

Her books are  very different  from mine but extremely entertaining and I would heartily recommend trying them.

And so I began the long drive home, thankful for all the wonderful people I met – and looking forward to doing a real tour next time!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Sunday Telegraph's Janet Hughes gave me this 4.5/5 star review in the weekend paper - Australia's biggest-selling paper!

THIS is the second book in talented fantasy writer Duncan Lay's Empire of Bones trilogy. Bridge Of Swords, the first in the series, ended in a breath-taking cliffhanger and the action picks up almost exactly where it left off.
Led by the reluctant elf-in-exile, Sendatsu, the supposedly magic-less humans struggle to find a way to defend the country they love from their invaders.
In this volume, both the humans and the elves begin to discover that past events are not what they have been led to believe. As the humans search for a way to defend their country, events back in the Sendatsu's Dokuzen continue to unravel.
With multi-layered plots and multifaceted characters, Valley Of Shields is an action-packed, entertaining read.

Final thoughts on Valley Of Shields tour

I had set aside April to get back into bookstores and help promote Valley Of Shields.

Apart from enjoying getting out and meeting new bookstore owners and, most importantly, readers,  obviously the second book of the series is the hardest to sell.

The first book of a trilogy is fresh and exciting, in so many ways. The third book of a trilogy is a thrilling conclusion and readers, especially fantasy readers, are delighted to know a series is finished and they don’t have to wait any longer, nor worry about the author dying before finishing.

Seriously, an author could develop hypochondria the way some fantasy readers ask after your health all the time.

`You’re not going to die on us, are you?’ they ask, half-smiling and half-concerned.

`Fit as a fiddle!’ I usually say, with a big grin.

But then they go away and the doubts begin to seep in. Am I really that healthy? What about that strange pain in the middle section? Indigestion or something more serious – perhaps an Alien-like infestation growth about to burst from my chest? Am I just warm from the shopping centre airconditioning or is it the first sign of a rare and exotic jungle fever? Has the Muzak in the centre given me the beginnings of a headache or do I have a pulsating tumour about to split my skull?

Anyway ….

The problem with the middle book of the series is you have none of that excitement and the added challenge of asking people to have bought the first book before they can start it. For those who didn’t realise you had a new series out there, that’s a cool $60 bucks for two books, thanks. (Although almost all stores that I visit do put a bit of a discount on – so watch out for my tours, because not only can you get signed copies but save a few dollars along the way).

Still, I was visiting Perth for the first time, a bunch of stores who are old friends and a handful of new ones, then finishing off with the National Fantasy Convention in Canberra, held within Conflux, where I would officially launch Valley Of Shields.

That was the plan.

Perth went great and I had a wonderful time there.

But then I had a family health emergency and had to cancel a bunch of stores and then the ones I did appear at, my mind was not wholly on the job.

Still, the good news is, all has turned out well.

And I am planning a massive tour to finish Empire Of Bones and support Wall Of Spears. I’m thinking about seven weeks, taking me through Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

I hope to see you along the way!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Wall Of Spears is finished (again!)

Wall Of Spears is finished!

Well, OK, I still have some little corrections from my beta readers to go through. Then no doubt HarperCollins will have some suggestions and, of course, the copy editing process will see a few changes as well.

But I am happy with the way the Empire Of Bones series finishes and, barring last-minute flashes of inspiration, it is effectively ready to go now.

Sadly it won’t be arriving in the shops until February 2014 – but I do think it will be worth the wait.

The series comes to a bloody, earth-shaking conclusion in Wall Of Spears.

Already one of my beta readers said it is ``the best one’’ yet.

(Always good to be getting better as you go along.)

In fact, she burned something in the oven because she was so engrossed in the story. Luckily it was only quiche, not something actually worth eating.

Unlike the ending of The Dragon Sword Histories, all questions are answered in Empire Of Bones, both the big ones and the small ones.

Will Asami choose Sendatsu or Gaibun? Cam Huw and Rhiannon find happiness? Will magic return to the lands? Will the truth be revealed? Will the elves admit they are actually human? Will Sumiko betray Jaken and Dokuzen? Will we ever meet Harald’s mother-in-law and is she as bad as his jokes suggest?

I began writing this series right after finishing the 50 Stores In 30 Days tour for The Radiant Child. That was July 2010, so it almost three years later that I wrote those magical words: The End.

The series has changed along the way; the characters have taken it down some strange pathways that I hadn’t planned for. But that is part of the fun of writing!

I am nearly ready to begin another journey into another series. I hope you can come along for the ride but, far more than that, I hope you enjoy finishing the Empire Of Bones journey as much as I have.

Blog Day Tuesday

So, Wall Of Spears is finished – who knew writing and polishing a 180,000 word novel would take so long!

The fact I wrote it out to 200,000 and then had to pull it back, didn’t help much, I have to admit.

Anyway, I can take a breath and look up from the world of Forland, Vales and Dokuzen. I can again turn to my poor, neglected blog, which has suffered from a serious lack of attention for most of this year.

The good news is, I have now prepared a whole bunch of articles, which I shall be posting every Tuesday.

Why Tuesday, you might well ask.

Well, there is no good reason. In fact it is completely arbitrary. I could say it is because my working week starts on that day, so it gives me something other than work to look forward to. Or I could quote cheap pizza day, or half-price movies. Honestly, I might as well say it came to me in a dream or a strange green being from another planet told me to do it on that day. (I work with some strange people).

I’m doing it on Tuesday because. Just because.

So you can check back here each Tuesday, confident in the knowledge there will be something fresh, and not just a couple of tumbleweeds blowing across the screen, to the sound of one lonely cricket’s chirp.

Unless, that is, you feel greedy. Because I could just dump everything in the one hit and leave it to be digested, like some snake trying to sleep off an enormous meal.

I do hope everyone isn’t feeling as queasy as I am after that rather stretched analogy.

So, to summarise, keep checking back on Tuesday.

Or swamp me with demands for more, in which case I might post the lot. Or maybe just a post ruminating on today’s society and our demand for instant gratification …!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fantastic review of Valley Of Shields!

This was a lovely review from Newtown Review Of Books:

This fast-paced epic fantasy has plenty of Machiavellian twists and poses some deeper questions.
Book Two of Duncan Lay’s Empire of Bones trilogy opens with an emotionally devastated Rhiannon trying to deal with a series of powerful shocks. She has found that the men closest to her, Huw the Velsh bard, and Sendatsu, the elf banished from his home, have both lied to her. She has also found that she can use magic powerfully and that she has just killed her father, the manipulative Hector, in a spectacularly extreme way. As well, the use of untrained magic has depleted her energies. She feels fragile and alone:
She walked around Hector’s body till she could see his face. His last expression was agonised, his pain frozen for all time. His eyes bulged and his mouth was full of blood, his beard thick with it. She so much wanted to say something to him, but the words would not come, only tears. Rhiannon fell to her knees and sobbed for everything, starting with her lost childhood.
Sendatsu uses this moment to urge that she come back with him to the elf realm of Dokuzen. He sees that he has a chance to reunite with his children and his love, Asami, and he knows that Rhiannon needs tutoring in the wise use of magic, so in this book the focus moves from Vales to Dokuzen. Huw also insists on coming to Dokuzen, although, at present, Rhiannon will have little to do with him.
In Dokuzen there are three power centres. Sumiko, with her magic-weavers, and Jaken, Sendatsu’s arrogant scheming father, both wish to rule Dokuzen and depose the third power Daichi the entrenched elf Elder. Lay reveals their betrayals skilfully so that the reader is always intrigued and unsure of what to expect. Unexpected liaisons and tricky alliances occur in the face of a well-planned attack from King Mark of Forland.
On one level the story is fast and pacy; there are battles and skirmishes well told, and the way Lay uses conversations between the main characters to move the tale along and reveal the deviousness of some of them is very deft and pleasing. However, there are also philosophical depths lurking in the narrative. For example, the old question of when it is OK to lie is aired; and, interestingly, Asami’s and Rhiannon’s problems raise issues to do with the gender wars; they are both struggling with the patriarchal values surrounding them. When to trust is also an extremely important aspect of the story, and in the telling of the age-old battles between elves and humans we are led to ask who owns knowledge. The chance to play with these ideas adds enormously to the quality of the narrative:
Huw had translated more words from the book found in the Velsh church. It alternately horrified and delighted him. He was horrified by what had been done to his people – and to every other human in these lands – by the so-called elves. But he was delighted to learn that there had been humans with magic, humans worshipping Aroaril, humans with the knowledge to build and farm and heal. The future was not set in stone – magic did not have to be just for elves. Knowledge did not have to be just for Elfarans.
King Ward, the ambitious Forlish leader, also has designs on the treasures and skills of Dokuzen and he aims to breach the barrier that keeps elves in and gaigin humans out. So a great deal is happening in the forests of Dokuzen; both magical and military events move the story along. There is also a degree of humour to be found in the talk of foot soldiers discussing their desire to see elf maidens and other aspects of their fate as soldiers.
There is no summary of the first book at the beginning of this one: I think it would have been useful; however, the main thrust of the story can be understood, although I would recommend that the reader find a copy of the first volume to enjoy the slow build up of characterisation that underlies events here. The vibrantly presented characters and the ways in which they are made to play off each other are among the main attractions of the story.
Often the second instalment of a trilogy can be a little flat, in a holding pattern and not able to resolve problems because the next volume is looming. This is not the case here: a fast-moving narrative and very clever Machiavellian developments ensure that our interest continues throughout, and bode well for Book Three.
Duncan Lay Valley of Shields: Empire of Bones Two, HarperVoyager, 2013, PB, 560pp, $29.99



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 did not have long to wait. The sound of footsteps made him run to the door, so he could see who was coming. To his relief - and also his anticipation - it was Rhiannon. He checked she was alone and, before she could even get to the door, he had thrown back the bolt and rushed out to meet her.

`Huw!’ she stopped in her tracks. `What are you doing here? Is everything all right?’

`No, it’s not,’ he grabbed her arm and hustled her into the room, kicking the door shut and locking it.

`What is going on?’ she demanded.

`We don’t have much time. You need to come with me,’ Huw said carefully, urgently. He had rehearsed this a couple of times, trying to anticipate any problem areas and where she might ask questions.

`What? Why?’

Huw held out the signet ring. `Do you recognise this?’

Rhiannon reached out an picked it up. `Father’s ring! What has happened?’ She could feel her heart beating, like a frightened bird. She had walked back expecting to have nothing more than a comforting bath and a fine supper for her evening - now she had an clearly agitated Huw in her room and she knew him well enough to see he was genuinely upset.

`Rhiannon, I am sorry, but your father is dead,’ Huw said carefully. `You have to be brave now and listen to the rest of what I am going to say.’

`What? No! How?’ Rhiannon felt the first tears pricking at her eyes.

`I came here because I am leaving for the north tonight and I hoped to say goodbye to you. But when I got here, I heard an argument outside in the sitting room. King Ward was here, with his guards, and your father. Ward was demanding you.’

`Me?’ Rhiannon felt as if she could not breathe properly. Her heart was pounding and she did not know whether she was going to burst into tears at any moment. She tried desperately to focus on what Huw was saying.

`Your dancing has inflamed his brute passions. He means to take you, by force if necessary. Just like he would with a country. He will force you to his bed. He came here, wanting your father to help persuade you to submit to his lusts. But your father refused, he vowed to protect you while there was life in his body. There was a fight, I could not see what happened but, next thing I knew, he was being carried away by the guards - and his ring rolled under the door. I do not think he would take it off while he was alive …’

Rhiannon clutched the ring in tight, unable to stop the tears now.

`He wouldn’t ever take it off. They must have done something to him,’ she cried.

`I am so sorry,’ Huw eased an arm around her shoulders and patted her head gently. `I wish I could make this easier for you. But we cannot let his sacrifice be in vain. You must come with me now.’

Rhiannon tried to think, her head was just a whirl and she could not hold onto anything beyond her father’s signet ring.

`Go with you? Where?’

Huw took a deep breath. `Well, you remember me saying that I am Velsh? We need to go to the Vales …’

`I can‘t go there!’ she gasped.

`We have to! It is the only place that might be safe - if we go anywhere in Forland, Ward will find us. And going to the southern countries is not going to be safe either - he has his armies fighting down there. No, we need to go north. None will suspect that - you are the only one who knows that I am Velsh.’

`But, the Vales? There is nothing up there! There’s no towns or cities, nowhere for me to perform - and Ward is sending men up there to raid and terrorise the Velsh. I need to go somewhere better …’

`There is nowhere else!’ Huw snapped. `And by going there, we can stop what Ward is doing. It is the only safe place for us - trust me…’

`This doesn’t make any sense!’ she cried.

`I know,’ Huw agreed. `It is madness. But we have both seen enough of Ward to know that …’

`No, none of this makes any sense! Why did Ward come here, why did my father fight armed men - why were you here?’

Rhiannon was struggling to come to terms with what Huw was saying. Her life had always been so ordered, so controlled. She had known what was going to happen, had been told exactly what she had to do. Now her father, the one overwhelming guiding light in her life, was gone. She felt like a ship being blown by the wind, unable to steer or take control of its passage. And the thought of leaving not just Crondon but Forland itself was just horrifying.

Huw could see the conversation was heading down a dangerous route. Worse, this was all taking too long. Her father could return at any moment - and that would only be the start of his problems. He knew she was used to being told what to do by her father - he had to tap into that

`Listen!’ he snapped, and her head jerked up.

`We don’t have time for explanations, or even to cry properly. If we are to escape, we have to do it now. Now, I am not your friend?’

`You are,’ she agreed.

`Your only friend in this castle?’

`Probably my only friend anywhere,’ she admitted.

`Then you have to trust me. We need to get out of here before Ward and his guards return. They are probably looking for you even now. Time is slipping away. Take my hand.’

Rhiannon did not want to. She wanted someone to slowly and carefully explain what was going on. Even better, she wanted everything to go back the way it was. She had been happy this morning. People applauded every performance she did, her father said he was proud of her work, and she had Huw as a friend, to sneak out into the city and enjoy a little freedom, the only freedom she had ever tasted. This story of Huw’s, it did not quite sound right to her. She had the feeling there was more to it than what he was saying. But, against that feeling, was the cold, hard reality of her father’s signet ring in her hand. She had never seen him take it off before. Something had to have happened for it to be here, rather than on his finger.

`Rhiannon! We have to go now!’ Huw barked at her, and the habit of obedience was too strong. People had always known what was best for her. Her father had always known what was best for her but, if he was truly gone, the next person she looked to - the only other person she really knew - was Huw.

Dumbly, she took his hand and followed him.

`That’s right. Come with me and we can get to safety,’ Huw promised.

He did not know if that was true, he did not know if she would stay with him. Worse, he was struggling to maintain the story he had made up - only long years of practise on the stage was enabling him to keep his emotions hidden. He felt terribly guilty for tricking her like this, and worried what would happen if she ever found out the truth. But he was also excited by the thought of running away with her, and the two of them being alone together tonight.

Rhiannon only dimly registered as he made her take a large bag stuffed full of clothes and helped her exchange her soft dancing shoes for a pair of stout leather travel shoes. But, in a way, it was also strangely comforting. What Huw had told her was shocking in so many ways, not least because it threatened to force her to think for herself, make her own decisions. She had no experience of doing anything like that. Sinking back into blind obedience was far more reassuring. Trying to unravel the riddle of what he was saying, trying to make sense of it was a daunting prospect. Far easier just to do what he said, go along with what was being arranged for her.

Together, they raced down the servants’ corridor.




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!



`You are a lucky dog,’ William said.

`Are you talking to me, or to one of the pups?’ Huw asked with a smile.

`You of course! The whole court watches Rhiannon dance and lusts after those legs but you are the one who has been gently prying those open these past few days …’

`You have a filthy mind,’ Huw told him. `I most certainly have not been doing anything with Rhiannon - we are more friends than anything, although I admit I would like it to be more ...’

`And yet I doubt her father would be impressed that you are even talking to her!’ William interrupted.

Huw shrugged. The truth of that was indisputable. At another time he would have been happy to chat with William but his guilt and worry about delaying his departure to the north had been growing by the day and even his feelings for Rhiannon could not outweigh it. He had to go. Even the knowledge that such a delay would throw off any connection between his departure and the attacks on the Vales was not enough to hold him any longer.

`Listen, I didn’t come to swap bawdy stories and lewd suggestions with you. I need to leave Ward’s court and Crondon…’

William goggled at him. `Are you mad, man?’ he managed to splutter. `You have it all in your hands - why would you throw that away?’

`There are things you do not know about me. The truth of that is why I must leave …’

This time William was much quicker to stop him. `Don’t tell me anything,’ he said gently, leaning forwards to grasp Huw by the shoulder. `If you are about to do something to anger the King, it is better that I know nothing. Because if he so much as suspects that I knew something and did not stop it, or at least warn him … well, even my mother-in-law might be horrified by what he will do to me. I am fond of my skin, and would like to keep it attached to the rest of me.’

Huw nodded. `Good luck my friend. I have to go and tell Rhiannon now. She does know …’

`Well, she is safe enough. And all she has to do is flutter her legs at the King and he will forgive her anything else,’ William grinned, then his smile faded. `Good luck. I hope to see you again. Any time you are in Winterbourne, come in and see me. Unless, of course, you are a hunted outlaw, in which case …’

Huw patted him on the shoulder and left then. He had his bag packed - he planned to duck through the castle passages to see Rhiannon for one last time and then purchase a couple of horses and head north. He was sure he could make good time and, of course, the King would go looking for him in Browns Brook, to the south. He had looked it up on the map once, and it was more than a hundred miles to the south of Crondon, so he would easily beat any pursuit to the Vales.

Keeping an eye out for guards, he slipped into the servant passages and then hurried down the now-familiar route to Rhiannon’s bedroom. He knocked softly but, when there was no reply, he eased the door open and stepped inside. Instantly he felt a pang of disappointment - she was not there. For a wild moment he thought about trying to find Thomas, or one of the other officials, and discover where she was. Then he sighed. He could not take the risk of running into a noble who wanted him to perform somewhere in the castle. Disconsolately he wandered around her bedroom, brushing his fingers over one of her dresses, laid over the back of a chair. He was about to turn back to the passageways when the sound of voices made him freeze. His legs refused to work for a moment, as he imagined what would happen should Hector walk into the bedroom with Rhiannon, then his keen ears recognised the King’s voice. Curious, he eased up to the door and pressed his ear up against the wood. That seemed to do little but there was a small peephole at head height and he carefully eased it open. Peering through, he could see Hector and King Ward settling themselves down in the room outside, a pair of guards, facing the other way, watching the door into their apartments.

But, better than being able to see, the removal of the wood plug meant he could hear them, almost as if he were in the same room.

`Your majesty is too kind to honour us with a visit such as this,’ Hector said quickly. `I am sorry that my daughter could not be here - Rhiannon is performing for several Lords and their ladies in the west wing. She will be back soon …’

`I know where she is,’ Ward interrupted. `That is why I commanded you to meet me now.’

Hector inclined his head. `What can I do for your majesty?’

`You can do what I believe you planned to, all along. Your daughter is like a fire in my blood. From the first time I saw her dance, I have desired her. Everything you have done, the dances she has performed, the clothes she has worn, all has been designed to catch my attention.’

`That is but a happy coincidence, your majesty …’

`Save me the sugar coating on top of the cake. What is it you want?’

`What is it you want, your majesty?’ Hector asked politely.

Huw felt as if he were holding his breath.

`Your daughter,’ Ward replied simply.

Huw had to stuff his fist into his mouth to stop himself from making any noise. The thought about Rhiannon in Ward’s bed made him feel physically sick. On top of everything else, Ward was married and his Queen was notorious for making sure unpleasant things often happened to those who took her place in the marital bed. Surely Hector, with his over-protectiveness and insistence that men were only interested in Rhiannon for her body, would refuse!

`I thought your majesty might say that. It is, of course, a delicate matter …’

`Get on with it. Your price?’ Ward demanded.

Huw shook with anger. How could they barter over her like this? It was revolting and he was tempted to storm out there and tell them so - except for the fact that it would almost certainly result in his imprisonment, and probably his death.

`You see, your majesty, I have trained the girl well, in more ways than one. You do not want a simple conquest, an unwilling girl taken against her will. You are all-powerful, so that would of course be possible, but why would you settle for just that? You have seen what she can do with her legs - things no other woman can. Her flexibility, her suppleness - this is something that no other can possibly offer you. You want her to bring all those willingly to your bed chamber, do you not?’

Huw was torn between a desire to be sick and an even stronger desire to punch Hector in the face. How could the bastard do this to his daughter? She trusted him, she believed him, and all the time he was planning this! It was no better than fattening a calf for slaughter at the market!

`You have planned well, Hector. Yes, I do want that,’ Ward said gratingly.

`Then my price is two-fold. Firstly, I want a proclamation from yourself, to be sent out to every town and village under your sway, to say that Rhiannon of Hove is the greatest singer and dancer you have seen in all your years on the throne, and that Hector of Hove made her that way.’

`Easily done,’ Ward agreed.

`She comes to your bed for a month - no more - and at the end, sire, her contract is paid out in full and we shall return to Hove.’

`Interesting. Why so?’

`I know that … things … can happen to those women who share your bed who are not the Queen, your majesty. I would not wish that on Rhiannon.’

Ward paused for a moment and Huw wished there was something he could hit in anger, which would not give away his position.

`Your concern for your daughter is touching,’ he said drily. `Your price is agreeable to me.’

`Excellent! Now, I took the liberty of having these contracts drawn up, to that effect. We can both make our mark at the bottom and then I can begin working on Rhiannon, getting her ready for your majesty.’

`You have planned this out well. I respect that in a man,’ Ward chuckled. `Well, if you can deliver what I want, this will be a bargain.’

Huw felt like he was burning inside. Even if he had not been so attracted to Rhiannon, the thought of a friend being sold off to that bastard Ward was more than he could stomach. He could not understand how anyone could do that to their child. And the Forlish said everyone else were barbarians!

He watched, furious, as Hector warmed a stick of red wax over a candle, before dripping it onto the bottom of a long piece of parchment. Ward leaned forwards and pressed his signet ring into the warm wax, leaving his official seal, then Hector leaned in and pressed his own ring next to it.

`That is a very fine signet ring,’ Ward said conversationally.

`It should be - it was a gift from your majesty, near on 20 years ago!’ Hector oiled. `It has been my treasured possession since then and I have never been without it.’

`May I?’ Ward asked.

Hector obediently tugged at the ring, but it seemed stuck on his finger. Smiling at the King, he hauled at it with all his strength - and it flew off into the air, curving a perfect parabola towards Huw’s terror-stricken eyes. He willed it to stop, to bounce away, but he heard it ring on the flagstones, then begin rolling. He offered up a silent prayer but, before he had finished, it rolled underneath the door and nudged against the toe of his boot.

Horrified, he backed away, as footsteps rushed over to the door. It was already too late to attempt to make the safety of the servant’s passage and he was desperately thinking what he could do to explain himself when the door’s handle rattled.

`Locked! Curse it! Rhiannon must have locked it when she left for her performance!’ he heard a furious Hector shout.

`Leave it, my dear Hector. It is not going anywhere. I was merely asking, because I was going to offer you a new one, with more gold and jewels. Now, I need to meet with my Castellan, so I cannot tarry here. Accompany me and we shall talk a little about the past and a great deal about the future.’

`Of course, your majesty,’ Hector let go of the door handle and Huw heard him walking away.

Weak with relief, Huw sank into a nearby chair and thanked Aroaril he had visited the privies before coming on this little expedition. But what was he to do now? Instinctively he knew he could not just walk away, knowing Rhiannon was to be auctioned off to Ward, groomed by her scum of a father to be the willing bedfellow of a brutal King, then to be discarded by them both when they had what they wanted from her. It made his blood boil. Just telling her would not be enough, either. He was sure that Hector would use every bit of trickery he had to persuade her to do this - even a warning from Huw may not be enough to get her to turn away.

The signet ring caught his eye as it lay on the floor and he picked it up, feeling the weight of the thing. It helped him think. The only way was to get Rhiannon to go with him. It was the only way to protect her. He told himself it was for her, not for him, although the thought of the two of them alone together, her dependent on him, grateful for all he had done to help her, sent a frisson of excitement through his lower belly. He was going north, when they would think he was going south - they could escape easily.

The only trick was getting Rhiannon to believe him. It was a strange tale - and she would be reluctant to accept that her father had been lying to her all these years, and that all he wanted was to use her to make his fortune. Huw was under no illusions as to how much such a proclamation was worth to someone like Hector. The hopefuls who turned up every year to try and win a place at Ward’s court would pay richly for the privilege of being coached by Hector.

But would Rhiannon doubt his tale and refuse to go? He feared the habit of obedience was too strong and, by the time she discovered he was speaking the truth, it would be too late.

He gripped the signet ring, a rising tide of excitement within him. Of course! The answer was to make up a story that she would believe, that would get her out of there and travel north with him.

Thinking swiftly, he weighed up several ideas hoping that she would return before Hector. And just in case it was going to be a close thing, he hurriedly packed a bag for her, leaving the expensive powders on a table and most of her impractical performance outfits, but choosing her travel cloak, and other more sensible items.