Been away…


It ends here.

cybsfcfwiaak5qjWhere have I been…? Well, writing another bloody book, as it turns out.

The Hunter of Sherwood trilogy – AKA the Guy of Gisburne trilogy – comes to an end in February, when the final book, Hood, is published by Abaddon (9 Feb for Kindle, 28 Feb for the paperback). Publicity for this is now in full swing, so expect some interviews and guest blogs over the coming weeks.

You can pre-order the Kindle version on Amazon here, or the paperback version here.

It’s grim. It’s bloody. And Gisburne’s pyromaniac tendencies are once again to the fore.

Here’s the blurb:

The vendetta with Robin Hood has cost too much: blood shed, lives lost, friendships severed. Guy of Gisburne, knight and agent of Prince John, has had enough, and wishes to enjoy a little quiet on his own land. But Hood grows ever more troublesome, and if the barons of the North will not convince Guy to resume the hunt – nor even the rightful King, Richard the Lionheart, returned from long imprisonment – then perhaps the simple plea of a missing daughter’s father, and a promise to restore a good man’s name, will.

Hood has gathered an army – among them the insidious Took, the giant John Lyttel, the cutthroat Will the Scarlet, the brilliant but bitter Alan O’Doyle. Guy must now recruit an army of his own, calling upon some familiar old friends – and one all-too-familiar old enemy…

The stage is set: Sherwood, long a home to both men. The final confrontation begins…

The Lowdown with… Me

Here’s a thing I did for Simon Bestwick’s blog – one of a series of author interviews he does called ‘The Lowdown’. What a lovely chap he is…

His most recent novel is Hell’s Ditch, and Ramsey Campbell called him ‘Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.’ So buy it!

Hell's Ditch

My guest post on Jacey Bedford’s blog

So, the post-FCon blog swap finally happened (it would have happened much sooner if I was as organised as Jacey) and you can see my answers to five illuminating questions on Jacey’s site here.

I love this whole blog swap idea (it was Jacey’s, so all credit to her) – such a great way for readers to discover someone or something new and for authors to show appreciation and help each other out in the process. I’ll be looking to do some more of these soon.

Jacey Bedford: Five Questions – Guest Post

Jacey Novacon 2012-300pxsquThe best thing about FantasyCon is the people, and whilst on the panel ‘Stealing From the Past: Fantasy in History’ one of the fellow authors I had the great good fortune to meet was Jacey Bedford. Jacey writes both SF (the Psi-Tech series: Empire of Dust and Crossways) and historical fantasy (The Rowankind series – first novel: the piratical Winterwood). She subsequently invited me to do a blog swap – me writing on hers and her writing on mine – which struck me as a great idea. So, here are Jacey’s answers to five key questions on her writing and her career…

Q: Tell us your biography and background in three sentences or fewer.

Jacey and Daisy

Jacey and Daisy

A: As an only child living in a small Yorkshire village with no kids my own age I was a voracious reader of (firstly) pony stories then fantasy and science fiction courtesy of all the Gollancz yellow jackets in the local travelling library. I went to college in Leeds and started out my working life as a librarian, though I’ve also been a postmistress, a rag-doll maker and a full-time folksinger with the trio, Artisan, touring internationally. I still live in Yorkshire – in a different small village – with my songwriter husband, a bonkers German Shepherd dog and too many books – no scrub that last bit – there’s no such thing as too many books.

Q: How and when did you begin writing, and what was your first published piece?

A: I’ve always written. When I was five, in primary school I could read fluently, but my writing was a bit slow, so I used to practise writing little stories for my mum during lunch hour. I got into the habit and never stopped. I began my first novel when I was fifteen, a future dystopia featuring characters from my favourite pop groups. (Be very glad that I stopped at chapter six!) At first I wouldn’t let anyone read what I wrote, and only started seriously considering publication in the mid 90s, about the time home computer technology eliminated the need for being an accurate touch-typist. (I’m a fast, but not very accurate, hunt-and-peck typist.) I wrote two novels before trying my hand at short stories. My first short story sale was: The Jewel of Locaria to a mass-market paperback anthology called Warrior Princesses, edited by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and published by DAW in the USA around 1997. It’s pure coincidence (but a very happy one) that my novels are now published by DAW.

Day of the TriffidsWhat’s so special about writing speculative fiction?

I became hooked on science fiction when I was twelve and bought a copy of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids from the school book club, and followed that up with Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. Until then I’d mostly read pony stories. My gateway to fantasy was discovering C.S.Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy which combined the two.

Speculative fiction is boundless. I read and write to escape, so mundane settings don’t interest me nearly as much as the distant past or the far future. I like stories that ask: What if? I write both historical fantasy and science fiction, in worlds that are our own with a few basic differences, and some that are most definitely not. I’ve never had much interest in reading or writing about the present day unless there’s a fantasy or science-fictional twist. Basically I like making stuff up, inventing new worlds or restructuring old ones, birthing new characters, discovering new situations. It’s all about the What if?

Crossways: Book Two in the Psi-Tech series.

Crossways: Book Two in the Psi-Tech series.

Tell us about your most recent publication or current writing project

My first novel (2014) is Empire of Dust. It’s the first in my Psi-Tech sequence. The sequel is Crossways, (2015). They are science fiction set in the far future and feature characters with psionic implants, colony expansion, a star-spanning manhunt, evil megacorporations, a space-station full of misfits and outcasts, and something strange lurking in the depths of foldspace.

My third book to be published is a historical fantasy called Winterwood, due in February 2016, and I can now reveal the cover! It’s got a cross-dressing female privateer captain (and witch), the jealous ghost of her late husband, a motley crew of barely reformed pirates, a deadly villain who fights magic with darker magic, and a wolf shapechanger who gets very upset if you call him a werewolf. (He’s NOT moon-called, he insists.) There’s a puzzle to be solved and an ancient wrong to be set right. Ross has choices to make between the sea and the land, and between the ghost from her past or the man who may become the love of her future.

Winterwood, the first novel of The Rowankind.

Winterwood, the first novel of The Rowankind.

I’m published by DAW in the USA, which means you can only buy them as imports in the UK, from specialist bookstores or Amazon. It’s pure coincidence that I ended up being published by the same publisher which bought my first short story, but I’m absolutely delighted to be a DAWthor. I started out with a three book deal and have just signed a second deal for two more books.

What’s next?

My next contract with DAW covers the third Psi-Tech book, Nimbus, and a sequel to Winterwood, called Silverwolf. I’m writing Silverwolf right now, and really enjoying taking the adventures of Ross and Corwen to new places. Winterwood was Ross’s book, but Silverwolf explores Corwen’s origins and, in addition to a very personal story, carries the changes that happen in Winterwood to their logical conclusion, What happens when magic comes back into a world that’s only part way through its industrial revolution?

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Twitter: @jaceybedford

Stealing from the Post – a review

The first of the Hunter of Sherwood trilogy (the Guy of Gisburne novels)

Just a small post to get me back in the groove after a wee break… That’s a small break, not… Oh, you get the idea.

Let me introduce Mr Andrew Knighton, author of science fiction, fantasy, steampunk and historical fiction, prolific blogger (you’ll find some flash fiction on his blog, as well as reviews and opinions) and man of excellent good taste.

Why do I say this? Because not only was he good enough to attend a panel I was on at FantasyCon this year – ‘Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History’ – he also gave it a lovely review and saw fit to use one of my book covers (right) as the main image.

Since I was either a) too bone idle or b) too traumatised by recent experiences on social media to actually provide a review of FantasyCon myself at the time, I’m nicking his, with apologies and thanks.

The Red Hand deleted scenes – free ebook download

image001“Too much! Too much!”

That’s what my editor had said upon receipt of the manuscript of The Red Hand, whilst banging his head repeatedly on the desk.

So, I did the cutting thing – to the book, that is, not him. The end result has now been striding about the world since January, and, I’m happy to say, nabbing four and five star reviews.

But then there were the leftovers. Too good to waste. So, to mark the anniversary of Good King John’s darkest hour I cooked them up into a tasty ebook, which you can have right now, free.

To open and start reading right away, or to download and keep, just click on:

The Red Hand deleted scenes.pdf

God bless King John, and the Devil take the Lionheart!

Hardening of the archery

IMG_093340 targets. 80+ arrows. Two hours of intense concentration.

At first, a stroll around the woods on a sunny day shooting at a few rubber creatures had sounded like a pretty gentle way to spend a morning. In practice, it was exhausting.

This was to be my fourth archery training session. These took place on Sunday mornings – mostly just for convenience, I imagine, although looking around at the men gathered there (all men, so far), and being the nerd that I am, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Edward III’s Archery Law of 1363. That had required all able-bodied male subjects to practice archery for at least two hours every Sunday under the supervision of the local clergy.

No clergy here today, as far as I’m aware. Not unless you count Nev – which I kind of do. He is my archery coach, and my Jedi master.

For a variety of reasons – prior commitments, atrocious weather – I’d missed a few weeks here and there, and as a result it had taken a couple of months to get to this point. But after today – unless I let the side down by impaling myself or killing someone – I would be “signed off” by coach Nev. That meant becoming a full member of the club, and also that I could join the National Field Archery Society. More importantly, it also meant being entrusted with the number for the combination lock on the gate, so I could come here and shoot a few arrows whenever I wished.

I’ve never been much of a joiner [insert woodworking-based joke here]. Never one to hanker after the key to the executive washroom or an invitation to join the Masons. But somehow, I relished this prospect. This knocked attempts at social advancement into a cocked hat. From 40 yards. With lethal velocity.

That archery is a broad church is graphically demonstrated by the two men who stroll over to chat to me before the session begins. One is carrying a contraption that looks less like a bow than something he should get on and ride (in fact, I swear the bike I rode here today has fewer moving parts). The other is a bare stick with a string – AKA a classic, medieval-style longbow. It’s to the latter style of archery that I aspire – that was and is my inspiration. But today I’ve come armed with a bow that is neither one nor the other. Yes, I’ve bought my own. And no, it’s not a longbow – not yet.

I’ll explain.

Archery is stupidly simple and hellishly complicated. Everyone knows the principle, and probably most could make a decent job of getting an arrow to fly from a bow, even if it did miss the barn door they were aiming at and took their ear off in the process. Even with the most complex of bows, it’s obvious what’s going on. You pull that and let it go and that other bit goes over there. Simple. A child can do it. But refining that into something you can precisely control – taking into account all the variables and taming awesome forces, turning it into an art – that is hard.

And yet, as Nev has explained repeatedly over past weeks, beyond certain preparatory factors such as posture and grip, there are really only four parts to the process of archery. Aim. Draw. Anchor. Release.

Let’s break that down.

A hedge is not recommended a s backstop

A hedge is not recommended as a backstop

You hold the bow with the arrow nocked ready on the string, pointing where you want it to go. In barebow shooting – which is what this is – there is no sight on the bow, and no part of either it or the arrow is visually lined up with your target. You look beyond the bow, beyond the arrow, aiming instinctively, with eyes only for the place you intend that arrow to strike.

With your forefinger above the arrow nock and next two fingers below – the classic draw familiar to medieval archers, known as Mediterranean Loose – you pull back the string and the arrow, your elbow sufficiently raised that the forearm is in perfect alignment with the arrow and your bow arm, so all describe a complete straight line.

You bring your drawing hand to a fixed point where it briefly stops before the moment of release. This is the point of full draw – the apex of the whole movement, beyond which it must not go. In traditional European archery, the index finger of the drawing hand typically anchors at the corner of the mouth, the string just touching the cheek. This is what works for me. There are different variations and styles, and different techniques work for different archers, but the key factor is that once you have found your preferred anchor point, it should always be the same. In archery, consistency is everything.

You let go. This, perhaps the simplest action of all, is also the toughest to get right. With such pressure on the fingers, simply letting go is difficult. You end up plucking the string instead of simply releasing it. It thrums loudly, and the twist of the string as it rolls off your fingers sends your arrow off to the left of your intended target. You immediately know you’ve got it right, however. It’s like when you hit a ball right in the middle of the bat. The sound is good. The movement seems effortless. In archery, you know this one is going where you want before it gets there. And if you release it the right way, your draw hand naturally follows through, continuing back past your ear as the pressure is released. That is a sign all is well.

Once you have mastered each of these steps you have all the tools to be a great archer, and there is absolutely no reason why you cannot grasp them in your very first session. As with dance, however, it’s putting the steps together that is the real art. Like dance, it is a question of balance, and of rhythm. You need to find the right balance between instinct and control, and strike the right rhythm so each of the steps flows naturally one into the other. Too fast, too impatient, and it’s a snap shot – pure instinct, but with little control. You might be lucky and hit your target. It might even be a great shot – but you won’t know how to reproduce it. Take too long, and too much thought gets into the process. You tense. You dither. You glance at your arrow point and your brain tells you to raise it up, because where instinct has placed it looks like it must be too low – and your arrow sails way over the top of the target.

Nearly every time I shot with Nev at my shoulder, I was falling short with one or more of these four elements. I was focusing on my release and forgot to anchor properly. I concentrated on the anchor and let my aim waver. Then, trying to get every part right, I’d take far too long, and think far too much, and the whole shot would go to pot. But somewhere between trying and not trying, between thought and instinct, there is success. Every once in a while, I’d get it. And when you achieve that, it’s glorious.

Such moments were rare, and after the first two sessions, I became frustrated. I knew that practicing this for just a couple of hours a week – or every few weeks, as it was turning out – was not enough. I needed my own bow.

I had been learning with basic recurve belonging to the club which had a 20lb draw weight. This is low, but good for a beginner as it allows you to focus on technique rather than fretting about how hard it is to heave the string. For my own bow – what I was already thinking of as my “practice bow” – it made sense to get one that was as close to this as possible. Perhaps a little stronger to take me up a notch, but not to be so powerful that I couldn’t safely shoot in the corner of the garden I had set aside for it.

Such recurve bows are relatively cheap – you can get a decent entry level one for about £50 – and many good archery suppliers will do a package which provides everything you need to get started: arrows, quiver, arm guard, leather tab to protect the fingers and so on. Because these packages have been put together by professionals who know their stuff, you’re also spared the hassles of setting up the bow correctly (the string has nocking points for the arrows fitted in the right place, for example) and the arrows are matched to the bow (matching arrows to your bow, I have discovered, is a sacred mystery more arcane than a medieval alchemical treatise).

Another great advantage of this type of recurve is that it is a “takedown”; the limbs detach and it breaks down into three parts which can be packed into a bag. That would mean I could easily sling it on my back and bike to the woods to practice.

Easton Jazz arrows - archery like it's 1985

Easton Jazz arrows – archery like it’s 1985

So, in went the order to Archery World. And, a couple of days later, I was the proud owner of a 30lb, 68” recurve and all the (very basic) kit, including eight aluminium arrows. The quiver isn’t going to win any fashion awards. The arm guard – plastic – looks like something out of a Christmas cracker. And, as if to further emphasise that you’re still just a kid playing at this game, the arrows – less sharp than a knitting needle – are called “Jazz” and come in a tasteful metallic purple.

But put aside notions of this being the My Little Pony version. The arrows are made by Easton, who turn out professional tournament arrows. And when you shoot one – or, more likely, when you find yourself trying to heave it from some bit of wood in which it’s got embedded, because you missed what you were aiming at – it’s instantly clear this is not a toy.

IMG_0936Only the sight goes straight in the bin. Not that it’s bad – I just have no use for it.

By the time I get to the session, I’ve upgraded the tab and replaced the arm guard with a decent leather bracer. I’ve also been practicing – which has mainly involved destroying a cardboard box stuffed with packing material (and part of my garden gate – collateral damage). I feel slightly less like a kid. Slightly less like I’m playing. And so, Nev takes me round my first bona fide field archery course.

It’s an education, for sure. Targets are mostly 3D and in the shape of some animal or other. There’s a boar. A capercaillie. Some kind of low-lying weasel/stoat/ferret thing. Also some creatures you would necessarily expect to find yourself shooting at. A hawk. A couple of owls. A somewhat oversized frog. And, my personal favourite, a hyena. Several times, I manage to place all my arrows around him, and not in him. “That hyena’s laughing at me,” I say. Nev smirks and gestures for me to get on with it.

There are forty targets in all – although in reality this means a dozen or so positioned around the woods that we revisit in different combinations. You have up to three arrows to shoot at each. If you hit it with your first shot (20 points for a “kill”, 16 for a “wound”), you’re done, and you move on to the next. If you miss, you move to a peg closer to the target and try again. Miss with all three arrows, and you get zero.

As we move around, shooting from different angles, different heights, between trees, the members of this strange menagerie start to become familiar. I greet them like old friends – then take a strange delight in shooting them. All are different shapes and sizes. Some are upright and present a narrow target. Perhaps surprisingly, these are not the hardest to hit. Toughest are those that are lowest to the ground – and somewhat paradoxically, the closer you get to them, the harder the shot gets. The angle that exists between your eye and the arrow, and which you learn to take into account when shooting from a distance, is totally wrong close up. The smallest target – the frog – eludes my arrow point for most of the morning. But finally, the frog croaks. It’s the big goodnight for the owls. Even the hyena has the smile wiped off its face. Only the low-lying weasel/stoat/ferret thing – the flattest target of all – eludes me completely. I’ll have him one day…

At the end, my score is 378. I’ll leave you to work out what it could have been with a perfect round. Nev calls it a respectable score, but I’m not sure if this is kindness to a newbie, or massive understatement. Or something in between. I’ll take it, though. My brain and my body are drained and I have a love-bite from my bow where the position of the bracer wasn’t quite right, but before I leave to collapse into a heap there’s one more task to perform. This is the boring bit. Except it isn’t. It’s the bit that, in a way, I am most excited about. I fill in some forms. And I’m in – my place earned, an accepted member of this merry band.

Time to order the longbow.