Sir Pell

Sometimes, you need to hit something with a sword. And occasionally, you want to do so without maiming or killing it. That’s where a pell comes in.

A mainstay of a knight’s training, the pell was essentially a post of approximately human height upon which an individual could practise sword strokes without restraint, building strength and accuracy in a manner that was – in terms of physical commitment, at least – as close to real combat as possible. Often the pell would simply be a rough pole, but later in the medieval period might be fashioned to resemble the enemy of the day.

I wanted a pell I could seriously twat with a variety of weapons. So I made one.

Anyone who has read Hood will recall that Gisburne has an elaborate training device which he calls ‘Sir Pell’, featuring free swinging arms with gimbals and counterweights so it actually responds to attacks with its own counterblows. On one occasion, it knocks Gisburne senseless. I decided to start more simply.

The post is plain timber with a crosspiece at the top, the whole length tightly padded and tied around with hessian sacking. Dimensions are about those of an average man, so mail or other armour can be hung on it if desired. The head is not really designed to withstand heavy blows unprotected (what head is?) but is properly proportioned so a helm will fit it, and is made it so it can take strikes from arrows. An archery target can also be hung over the chest.

I have now given it a good few whacks and can confirm it works well (though the base needs some widening to make it more stable). It’s also immensely therapeutic. You think a punch bag is satisfying? Well, this is the next level.

Even better, though, will be when I dress it up over Halloween to scare the crap out of trick-or-treaters. Time to dig out the old fake wolf’s head, I reckon…

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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 Name of Galfrid’s Horse

Guy of GisbourneRecently, the nice people at Abaddon posted some deleted scenes for my novel The Red Hand (see links on these blogs). Today, for World Book Day I’m posting another that is exclusive to my own blog. It’s short, it’s sweet (I think so, anyway) and it is comedy gold. OK, maybe bronze… (Pragmatic note: as with the previous deleted scenes, if you have the novel and wish to know where this bit fits, the date will tell you exactly where to stick it.) Enjoy.

 

The road to Berughby – 15 May, 1193

Gisburne felt guilty. He hated feeling guilty. Maybe he should’ve let Galfrid in on the plan from the start. It had been a simple omission at first; then it became a joke. His squire always knew everything – it amused Gisburne to make him guess. But now, it had stopped being funny.

Gisburne decided it might be a good thing to at least try to make conversation. He turned and looked Galfrid’s palfrey up and down – a fine chestnut mare with a white flash upon her head. She could amble as smoothly as any horse he had ever seen.

“So,” he said, “how’s this new nag of yours working out?”

“Good,” said Galfrid, matter-of-factly.

“Good,” Gisburne nodded. “And her temperament?”

“Fine,” said Galfrid.

“Fine?”

“Very fine.”

Gisburne nodded slowly. Clearly Galfrid was not going to make it easy for him. Gisburne wasn’t exactly an adept at small talk, either – usually, they travelled hard, and conversation was sparse, except when it was urgent, and to the point. Or when Galfrid was honing his sarcasm. “Well then…” continued Gisburne. “Given her a name yet?”

“I have.”

Gisburne waited patiently for the rest of the answer. It never came. He sighed. “And may we know what it is?” A note of irritation was entering his voice now. They had been travelling less than half an hour, and already the road to London looked to be getting longer. “Fauvel?” he ventured. Galfrid shook his head. “Sorel? Star, perhaps?”

Galfrid cocked his head and raised his eyebrows as if to say: Good guess – but no…

“Something more elaborate then?” Gisburne tried to think of the least appropriate name for this docile plodder. “Thunder?” He would provoke Galfrid into an answer, one way or another. “No, I know – Warlord! I beg your pardon – Warlady…

“Mare,” said Galfrid, bringing the speculation to an end.

Gisburne turned and looked him squarely in the eye. The squire stared straight ahead with an impenetrably inscrutable expression. “Mare?” said Gisburne.

“Yes.”

“So, she’s a mare, and you’ve called her ‘Mare’…”

“Yes,” said Galfrid.

Gisburne sighed. “Well, it’s accurate. And a fine temperament, you say?”

“Very fine,” said Galfrid. “Steady.”

“Steady.” Gisburne turned and looked ahead. “Hm. Fine if you like that sort of thing, I suppose.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Gisburne shrugged. “You know. Steady. A bit dull…”

“Dull?” There was a note of outrage in Galfrid’s voice. He had taken the bait.

“You know my preference. A decent stallion.” He slapped Nyght affectionately on his sleek, black neck. “Bolder. Braver…”

“Dafter.”

“Dafter?” It was Gisburne’s turn to sound outraged now. Nobody insulted Nyght. Nobody.

“More impulsive. More bloody-minded…”

“Nyght is perfectly even-tempered,” insisted Gisburne.

“Was he being even-tempered when he kicked the Earl of Norfolk?” said Galfrid.

Gisburne cursed inwardly. Trust him to have heard about that. It had happened last time Gisburne was in York – but the plain fact was the Earl had deserved it. “If Nyght hadn’t taken the initiative,” Gisburne said, “I’d have done it myself.”

Galfrid thought about that for a moment. Then he nodded, and said: “A mount should always be sensitive to its master’s needs.” Gisburne grunted in agreement at Galfrid’s wise words.

And so, having reached an accord, they rode on in contented silence.

Then three come along at once

2014 was not the easiest of years, and I can’t say I’m entirely sorry to see it go. At times, in terms of workload, it felt like it had been sent to test me – to make me find out what my limits really were. I did. It wasn’t fun. But it was instructive, at least. I now know not to have another year like that.

Its last hurrah came in the form of a flu-like virus – the one that has you coughing day and night for weeks, which seemingly everyone suffered from – which then led to the early stages of pneumonia. Terrific. Only now am I feeling normal again (well, as normal as I ever did). 2014 just didn’t want to relinquish its grip without a fight.

Well, it didn’t have everything its own way, and all that work wasn’t without issue. As a result of it, I have three books out in three consecutive months.

image-serviceDecember saw the publication of The Zombie Renaissance in Popular Culture – an academic tome that grew out of the Zombosium at Winchester University in 2011, where I gave a paper. The book is a collection of chapters by a variety of authors and academics on all aspects of zombies in our culture, the very last being my own contribution. Snappily titled Zombies, a lost literary heritage and the return of the repressed, it offers a brief overview of recent zombie literature, and then deals with one of the great fallacies of zombie lore: that it has no literary heritage. It does – and it’s Viking. Viking zombies. They’re just my thing.

Read about them here.

image001In January, Hunter of Sherwood: The Red Hand, the second volume of the Gisburne trilogy, was published by Abaddon (one of the imprints of Rebellion, who publish 2000AD). It was meant to be a short and snappy second book. It wasn’t. It was huge. A monster. Some of this had to be trimmed back for the sake of everyone’s sanity, but this means there will be some ‘deleted scenes’ available, featuring events and encounters not included in the final novel All of these will be posted on the Abaddon blog as well as here. Anyway, at the time of writing, the eBook has got 25% off in the Rebellion online store January sale (to which the above link will take you) but you can also find it on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Reviews are starting to come through on Goodreads, and they’re very pleasing – all 4 and 5 star reviews. Thank you to all who have taken time to review it (and read it, of course).

TheVikingDeadGermanVersionFebruary will see the return of an old friend. My first novel, The Viking Dead, is to be published in a German version by Voodoo Press. It’ll also be available on Amazon. OK, so this one’s cheating a bit – I mean, I didn’t have to write it all over again, and it wasn’t me translating it – but hey. Three books is three books.

In your face, 2014…

Free Guy of Gisburne!

The second of the Hunter of Sherwood trilogy (the Guy of Gisburne novels) out January 2015

The second of the Hunter of Sherwood trilogy (the Guy of Gisburne novels) out January 2015

No, he’s not in chains – not quite yet. But if you want a piece of him, he’s available to you, right here, right now – for nothing at all.

Yes, the lovely people at Abaddon (my publisher) have posted a teasing sample from The Red Hand here. Well, not teasing exactly – more like a couple of whacking great chapters. These are the opening moves of the new book – what I like to think of as the pre-credit sequence. The scene unfolds in the sewers of Jerusalem (sly homage there to that paragon of historical authenticity, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and the contents of said sewer system are about to hit the fan in a majorly apocalyptic, flamey, burny kind of a way. If you are a fan, and you’d like to be hit full in the face with that, um… action… or if you’d just like to try a taste (yum) then click away now.

Look what’s arrived…

IMG_0716This nice big box turned up full of books. Yes, Gisburne returns in the second book of the Hunter of Sherwood trilogy, The Red Hand – a story of death, murder, killing, assassination, slaughter, execution and hurdy-gurdies.

It’s out in the UK in January 2015, and you can pre-order on Amazon. In the US it’s out slightly sooner – 30 December – and transatlantic Gisburneheads can buy it here. The perfect remedy to post-Christmas gift disappointment.

I also now have an author page on Amazon which gathers the various tomes together, including the just-published ox-stunner The Zombie Renaissance in Popular Culture, to which I contributed the closing chapter (on the literary heritage of zombies in general, and the Norse undead in particular).