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Friday, 5 August 2016

Things within the shape of things

To round off our excerpt from The Mage of Dust and Bone, here's where Forge first sets off to study at Dweomer. I liked the idea of magic being about power, and power of course corrupts, which is where I was going with it. But the Fabled Lands agent (probably correctly) deemed that young readers want likeable characters. I find likeability is over-rated - and in any case Fabled Lands LLP hasn't got the resources to pay for this to get written - but just in case it should ever get completed and published, I've stuck to this flashback because it contains no real spoilers.


In the kitchen, after a silent breakfast, it had suddenly hit him. Going away! Not to sleep in his own bed or ever again have porridge the way his mother made it. He saw all his future as a stone rolling to crush his happiness, blotting out the timeless days of playing in the sunshine outside their little cottage. He ran to his mother.
‘I don’t want to go,’ he cried. ‘I’ll never see you again.’
‘It’s a week’s journey at most,’ said his mother. ‘You’ll see us so often you’ll be sick of it.’
She stroked his hair, but he knew the calm manner was just her way of dealing with distress.
Through his tears he saw the Arch Mage looking at him. ‘I don’t blame the lad. But, Forge, you’re a magician born. That’s not a hook you can ever get out.’
His sobs became quieter. He was old enough to feel both the terrible wrenching heartache and also the humiliation of being thought a overwrought child. The older Forge, revisiting this sweetly painful memory, was glad he’d had that tantrum. He often felt guilty that he’d been too eager to leave his parents, but that scene in the kitchen must have made it clear he did love them. Now, in the present, with Lord Grazen’s threat hanging over them, that was more important than anything else.
‘It is the last time you will see him as the child he is now,’ the Arch Mage had told his parents. He was never one to coat the truth, however much it hurt. ‘The next time you may see him is in a year and a day, and by then he will have begun his journey on a new path.’
The way to the crossroads lay across Hetch Greyson’s fallow field. ‘There’s no coach due,’ his mother told the Arch Mage. Not for days, Forge knew. But he also knew it wouldn’t matter. They set off right after breakfast, through the gate (ninety-two swings now) and across the stile that was still darkly wet and slippery from a rainfall in the night. Forge was over and running, letting the long wet grass slap his legs, the Arch Mage following with Forge’s father carrying his pack. After his outburst at breakfast he felt free. He was ready.
He drank it in, not knowing when he’d be back. The way the sun’s rays awoke a million pinpricks of light in the dew. The thick shadows, liquid black under the hedgerows, and the dazzling blaze of coming day that haloed the trees. The rich reek of dung in the fields, the fragrance of honeysuckle, the drifting scent of wood smoke and cooking from surrounding farmsteads. He watched the Arch Mage’s robes swish through the long grass, the dampness on his silver-buckled boots.
‘The shimmer,’ said the Arch Mage, answering his unspoken thoughts. ‘Things within the shape of things, that’s what you’ll learn to see.’
His manner was more aloof now. He swept on across the field, not looking at Forge as he spoke. In the years to come, Forge was often to seek his approval, and sometimes earned it. But they would never again have that near-fellowship they had briefly shared in the early hour before the dawn.
The older Forge, watching it all in memory, was conscious of this as the last morning of his childhood. All the things he took for granted, that swept out behind him as he ran. Sensations that tumbled past, disorderly as dreamtime, never noticed but always there. These things were coming to an end. He was on the brink of a world where all phenomena were recorded, catalogued, studied and manipulated. The age of his innocence ended now, and the age of power began.
The Arch Mage had left his other cases to find their own way home. ‘They’re too impatient for a leisurely trip,’ he’d said. He carried only one small wooden box. As they reached the crossroads, he slid back the lid and took out a black-lacquered toy coach.
‘Travel a long road, you might as well travel in style, eh?’ He set the toy coach carefully down in the middle of the road, where the finger-post pointed to the coast. Crouched over it, he whispered some strange lilting words to it, the disquieting lullaby you might sing to a changeling. Straightening, he took Forge’s arm and turned him round. ‘Look over there a while. A thing like this is like pots boiling. It never happens if you watch.’
Forge’s mother hadn’t come. His father’s stolid calm was better suited to goodbyes. He put Forge’s pack down by the roadside and scratched his head. ‘A year goes faster than you’d think,’ he said. ‘And we can write.’
‘I could stay,’ said Forge, a little daunted as he felt a tingle of magic in the air. ‘I could be a blacksmith like you, Poppa.’
His father laughed. ‘Reminds me.’ He pulled a book out of his pocket. ‘Left this in the forge, you did, while “helping” me.’ He pretended to clout Forge on the head with it, then stuffed it into the pack.
‘Poppa – ’
‘It’s right for you, son. Some people are too big for the village. Not me, though you wouldn’t think it to look at me. But your mother nearly is, all five foot three of her. She just about squeezed herself into this way of life, but you couldn’t. Right from when you were a toddler I knew that, even before the Arch Mage came to tell us.’
The scrape of a hoof on the stones. Turning, they saw an elegant coach. The team of four horses stood silent but with an air of pent-up ferocity, as if ready for a race. The driver, hooded and unspeaking, gestured impatiently for them to get aboard.
The Arch Mage already had Forge’s arm and was leading him towards the coach. The pack was in his other hand. Forge cast a look back at his father. Suddenly there wasn’t enough time. The future was happening like plunging over a cliff.
The older Forge seemed to see this all from a view already inside the coach. His younger self could have broken away. The Arch Mage wasn’t holding him tightly, just hurrying him along. He could have run back and given his father a last hug. But, overwhelmed by the moment, he didn’t.
If only he could rewind time now. Yet that is what he was doing, only to watch it again as a helpless observer. His father stood, big and awkward, and the younger Forge was already eagerly climbing up onto the black leather seats, entranced by the drapes that had been thimble sized a moment earlier. The Arch Mage closed the door to shut them in.
A jolt. Forge wasn’t braced, and was thrown back in his seat as a glimpse of meadows and woodland went flying by. From outside came a shout of alarm, but by the time he’d dragged himself to the window there was just a tiny figure far behind.
He thrust his head right out. It was a hurricane! The countryside swept past like green and golden clouds. The road was a blur beneath the sparks struck from the horses’ hooves. An inn loomed and then fell away behind. He glimpsed a gawping group of pilgrims, forced to scatter as the coach came through.
The fields and trees gave way to scrubby heath. Salt tang and seagulls’ shrieks. No cottages here. No more inns or wayfarers. And then, his first glimpse of the grey immensity of the sea.
Dweomer came in sight then, with its crashing waves and ramparts of rock. He knew it as home at that first glimpse. He waited tense in the seat, teeth bared in the rush of wind as the carriage hurtled on, eager to jump down and rush in under the great rune-carved lintel.
It was only the older Forge, watching the scene in his memory, who realized he’d never waved his father goodbye.


  1. :) Enjoyable to read. Thank you very much for posting them.

    1. Thank you, Joe. I don't tend to get much feedback for non-gamebook posts, so it's nice to know that some people are appreciating them.

  2. Can you could me/us some detail on the Fabled Lands LLP set up, Dave? Apologies if you've covered in previous posts. Only reason I ask, do Jamie and yourself not have editorial control over what gets published and the tone of the material? I might be alone, but I would prefer to pay, say, £100 for the book you wanted to write (a bit more if you sign it, along with my Golden Dragon books!), rather than £10 for an edited mainstream book geared towards the teen mass market, which as you mentioned in a previous post, has been done umpteen times already (in the vast majority of cases not as well written, regardless of how successful). £100 sounds a lot, but when you equate it to a month's TV subscription, a few rounds of golf, a good night out etc, it's relative in terms of value for money.

    I agree re likeability being overrated. I consider myself reasonable likeable, but I wouldn't want to read about me! I remember Dragonlance being one of the first fantasy novels I read. I've no idea how the books stands up to the test of time, but by far the most interesting and rounded character was the power hungry Mage in it. Providing not one dimensional or irritating, I can imagine far more interesting for you to write about and me us to read about. Perhaps not a great example, but Dark Lord was much better than TWSOFTG for precisely that reason.

    I guess what I'm getting at in a very long winded way, are your agents/editors actually wrong given your reader base?!

    1. That's a big question, Andy. Fabled Lands LLP was set up about ten years ago with a signficant initial investment. I wanted it to focus on creating a portfolio of different "properties" in book or comics form. The idea was that the books that did well could then be developed in other media.

      In the event, that's not the direction the company took for the first couple of years, instead lavishing tens of thousands of dollars on a Fabled Lands Wiki and various other attempts to do something with the existing gamebooks. That turned out to be a mistake, and about five or six years ago we tried to revisit the IP portfolio plan with Dark Lord: The Teenage Years -- which paid off, but one book series does not constitute a portfolio, I'm afraid. Whether A Shadow on the Heart was the right concept to follow up with or not, six months' work produced nothing, so that's more or less it for Fabled Lands LLP.

      However, I do like the idea of a direct relationship with readers, where they can contribute the funding and (more importantly) the enthusiasm to help a project to completion. So I'm currently setting up a Patreon page with Leo Hartas to help pay for our ongoing comics saga Mirabilis. If we get even as much as £100 a month I'll be extremely happy.

      Wrt likeability in Wrong Side of the Galaxy, it was Jamie's original idea to make the hero (then called Gazza Greene) a bit of a thug and a bully. His adventures as a very reluctant starship captain would then be the key to him learning to be a better person. We both thought that would work, but the agent and the publisher insisted on toning his unpleasant side right down, making him a weepy mummy's boy, and renaming him Harry. Apparently it's a popular first name among kids' characters, as the publishers' market research department told them.

      That's how books are put together these days. It's all steered by marketing. The editorial department get very little say, and they wouldn't pick any book that boys like anyway. So you can see why I'm turning to Patreon!

    2. Thanks Dave. Let me know when it's set up and I'd be delighted to chip in. I'm trying to stay off the Singha's for a month, so there's your first £100 right there!

      p.s. Binscombe Tales complete series has just arrived, so looking forward to reading that.

    3. Let me know what you think, Andy. The ideal time for reading the tales would be as the dark evenings of autumn draw in, but I reckon you can have a nice shiver on a summer's day too.

      Hmm, £100 a month on Singha - that's fifty bottles! Mind you, in the old days, with a nice hot Thai curry to go with, I could probably manage that.

    4. I'd like to say it's nowhere near that many due to high end pub prizes, where in reality it's ten more if you go the right supermarket! Mental note, never go for a curry with you. At that rate of knots I'd be flat on my face before the poppadoms were finished.

      Quite a way through Binscombe already. Just my cup of tea, thank you. I can guess at small shades of influence from different authors, whilst retaining its own distinct style. I could hazard a stronger guess at least one TV/script writer has also read it at some stage.

    5. Recently people have been praising Stranger Things to me as a homage to '80s horror, but I have to say that the TV show I'd really like to see in that vein is the Binscombe Tales one.

      Btw when I said I might once have managed 50 bottles of Singha, I did mean in a month. In one evening it's more like ten bottles. Ask Gavin Orpin, we did it last year after The Frankenstein Wars crowdfunding campaign and nobody actually fell over.

    6. Will look out for that. I here Ash vs Evil Dead is good if you like the originals. I can imagine Binscombe translating very well, in the right hands of course. I can see a bit of it in The League Of Gentlemen, but that's just Mau opinion. Don't personally think there's been anything scary on telly since Children Of The Stones!

      I did think that amount of beer was very "Conan-esq" of you in one night! I did once nod off in a restaurant having had ten ish, so I've got form. Did you write The Frankenstein Wars? Couldn't quite tell looking at the web site just now. My cousin has an I-Phone by the way, so I'll get to read your other Frankenstein yet.

    7. I did a big chunk of story development for The Frankenstein Wars - plotlines, descriptive text, major events, characters, dialogue, etc. But really that's just been the springboard for Paul Gresty, who is writing the thing.

      I like a good scare, though you're right that they're few and far between these days (unless you look at the political news). I was enjoying Andrés Muschietti's film Mama, but the last five minutes of CG monster face showed too much and robbed the story of any impact. A shame, 'cause it was pretty good and creepy up till then.

    8. CG has ruined many a film, much prefer old school. I purchased The Innocents when I got Binscombe, so that will be on at the weekend. I'm running out of unseen films with good reviews to watch.

      Thanks again for the info and posts.

  3. I really should learn to check these things before publishing, not after. See how many mistakes you can identify!

  4. Dave, you are correct in that nobody fell over after that very nice Thai meal last year, but we did get a taxi afterwards, and I did need to lay down once home..

    1. Come to think of it I might have needed a lie-in the next day, Gavin. Ah, but fun. Btw Leo's coming up to London soon if you want to meet him and try for eleven Singhas...