Tuesday, 30 October 2012

New, new, new.

My first new idea for a story in ages. I've had lots of ideas for the sequels to Brendan, though they don't all join together as well as I'd like them, so are going down in print very slowly.
This one came to me while watching an Italian film on youtube. I have at least half of a story because of that, but it is still something I'm going to steal, rather than borrow. They always say that's OK, I think because stealing the idea means making it completely your own, which is something I think I can do here. I'm quite excited by the new idea, which might be a more approachable story than Brendan for many people. this is the first part of it. I've used the free version of Pro Writing Aid to help me play with the structure and polish the writing. This might be a bit early to start doing that, but I wanted to play with the programme and I'm very happy with the results. Sadly, I didn't keep a copy of the first draft I produced to compare it with.

The Castle.
The moon shone on the river and the castle. The day, June 5th 1915, had been unusually hot and dry; the walls of the castle soaking up more sun than even they could easily absorb. Windows gaped wide to let the night's breezes cool the interior. Those asleep inside fell to more settled slumber as the walls breathed out heat and sweat dried from bodies.
Outside, the air turning cool and sweet, the moonlight glinted on the river in slow dancing patterns. Owls flew; small animals scuttled; trees moved like graceful, but forgetful women, not sure of where they'd meant to go next.
From out the trees, walking slow and unhurried on the gravel path to the castle entrance, came two figures. A watcher, though there was none, would note things, some of them odd things, about them. One a man, the other a woman – no, not likely to be first remarked.  Wearing clothes not of their era - more obvious, though not as much as the fact the clothes were the silver white of the moonlight. Subtle, though somehow most certain to be first recognised, was that the moonlight was shining not on these two, but through them.
At the edge of the gravel courtyard, both paused while the woman looked around at the scene.  The castle sat atop a small hill which rose from the river and gave a view reaching down to the bridge and distant mill. The hill made a natural Amphitheatre, a grass-covered lap of earth leading away to the line of the wood they'd just left. A few sleeping sheep dotted the slope.
The woman nodded, pleased by the prospect. The man stood, arms akimbo, proprietorial pride written on him. He'd been on this hill before the building started, had ordered the design of the castle, been the force behind it becoming a beautiful stately home, overseen its furnishing, watched as it acquired its patina of age and been well pleased with what he'd wrought.
He looked to the woman, made a slight bow and waved his hand in a gesture of formal invitation.  The woman gave him a smile, dropped a playful curtsy and walked on towards the entrance. By force of habit, both entered through the door. A less remarkable feat had they opened it first. Our imagined watcher might have enjoyed seeing them pass through its solid timbers, ghosts on a tour of their new habitation.
Inside, they climbed the stairs and surveyed the bedrooms. The war had taken the men away and in the house were women and girls, peacefully sleeping, unaware of the spectral forms moving amongst them.
At length the two stopped. The woman nodded.
"It's perfect."
The man smiled and they faded into nothing.

Friday, 26 October 2012


Last night we went to see the latest Bond film had a meal in a Lebanese restaurant we like then went home to watch So You Think You Can Dance, a reality show that we all really enjoy. A good night all round, but this is about Bond.
One of the first films I ever saw was Thunderball. My half sister Ann took us (I think it was brother, sister and me, but it was a long time ago). I didn't understand it, but was wowwed by the action. I think I've seen every Bond since then. It's one of those things you do if you're British, isn't it? I couldn't tell you the plots of most of them, or even which actor played Bond in most of them.
Should you want to know, I never saw Roger Moore as Bond, he was just Simon Templer with a false passport.Pierce Brosnan was a good Bond and Sean Connery is the standard they all have to come up to, but most don't.
Daniel Craig has benefited from the Bond update and has a much better set of scripts to deal with. I think he's also much closer to what Fleming was writing about when he came up with the Bond character.
Anyway, on to the film. Midori and Aki went too. It was Aki's first Bond film, so she didn't have anything to compare it to. She found it too long, which I think was a thing about it. Not that I found it boring, or exactly agreed with her, but is was long enough that you could forget some of the bits that had gone before. So they were both amazed by the motorbike chase across the Grand Bazzar, they thought the 'changing carriages' scene on the train was amazing, they loved the Komodo dragons bit and Aki was waiting to see Craig do the line about his hobbies that she'd spotted in the trailer and tagged as cool. All of that they liked. By the end of the chase and the long set up for the defense of Skyfall, they'd forgotten most of that though and were ready for it to end.
I liked it all though.Javier Bardem is a brilliant villain - there aren't many who are that good at being bad. Daniel Craig I've admired since he played Geordie in Our Friends in the North years ago, even though I haven't seen all of the episodes. He's the model for Phoebe's dad in my sequel, where, like everything else there, he isn't all that he seems. I dunno about the 'best' Bond, but it was good.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

How they look.

For some of my characters, it was important for me to be able to see them as I was writing them. That way I found it easier to know if they were doing it right.
Ferguson, for example, is Liam Neeson.
This is him from Rob Roy. I know that's a long time ago, but the image of a man with a fight on his hands and no technology that would save him fits. Once he was in place, it became easy to hear the voice and work out if I was getting that right too.
Kayley I've always thought of as Thandie Newton.
I think she's got the kind of steel that the Mage character has and she definitely matches what the character Jessica later says of her, that she was the only one in the books who was sexy. We're talking character here, as much as looks.
Malaika has always been a young Aishwarya Rai. That doesn't fit the character description too well, as a few people say that they'd taken Malaika for being picky/haughty. I don't think that is something that maps onto Ash very well.
I've never had a good image of Adam. The closest that I've ever been able to imagine for his Brendan character is the boy who plays Seamus Finnigan in Harry Potter.
His adult self is a bit nondescript, which makes him hard to visualize.
Jock started off as a young Billy Connolly,

but changed into Simon Pegg after I saw him in Star Trek as Scotty. This image

works really well for me.

Jake was written as Jake Thackray, a singer/songwriter from North Yorkshire.

 His songs are mentioned in the book. Adam has never heard any of them, which he really ought to have done. I have to come up with a good explanation of that yet. Jake's dead now, so it would have to be a young version of him in the story. The pic above gets over the intense side of his character that Adam talks about. This:

says a lot more about the humour of the man.
I do have images in my mind for Megs and for Feri, but they are people that I know from work in different places, so I don't want to post pics of them here.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Looks very interesting

Right, a BBC item about an idea being piloted in Stockton-upon-Tees. The scheme captures carbon and water from the air and puts them through a process that (with lots of electricity) turns them into synthetic fuel. Initially, they are going to make stuff for formula one racing, but the big news is that they can set the device up to make any kind of fuel. So what? The laws of physics say you can't get something for nothing, so it would have to take more energy going in to make the petrol than you would get by burning the petrol produced.
However, if you have something like a wind, solar or wave power generator running and producing energy at times when no one needs it, it would be very  nice to have a way of storing that energy so that you could use it later, when you do need it. This would work.
It also drags carbon dioxide out of the air, so it could easily make carbon neutral petrol. That's more iportant than it might at first look, as we already have ways of transporting petrol around the world and a world that is set up for using it.
There is an argument that it would be more efficient to store that energy in batteries and use them for powering cars. However, the manufacture of those batteries is environmentally damaging and relies on supplies of elements known rare earths that are limited  (why they call 'em rare) and mostly in China. Some argue that using the electricity to manufacture hydrogen would be cleaner. this might be true, but hydrogen is extremely explosive, difficult to transport and would require a new distribution system to be set up anyway - something that would be incredibly expensive. A country like UAE (where I currently live), which has lots of space, lots of sun, lots of money to put into new tech and the Zayed Future Energy Prize for people who have bright ideas about new sources of energy, it might be just the place to start to develop this.

Monday, 22 October 2012

On dealing with gravity.

I've posted this bit before, but it's one of those weeks when the boys that I teach start doing their impersonations of gravity (its only job is to get you down). It is OK. I 've been dealing with gravity my whole life. It stops your body from flying, which could be a good thing, but it can't stop your mind doing it. Here's a place where my mind can fly.

There was a large cloak room just before the front door of East Gard’s Hall, the place I’d woken up in. The two long walls had lines of hooks with cloaks on them. I found a hook with Malaika’s name and picked up the cloak.
I knew about this bit and was half looking forward to it - half afraid I’d wee myself. I put on the cloak and fastened it with the shiny brass clasp. It slightly hugged my shoulders when wrapped around me, but I could throw it over my back and get it out of the way. Tell the truth, I wanted a mirror, to see how it looked on, ‘cos Malaika looks serious good in a cloak, but there wasn’t one around.
I walked out through the door. It was like the DIVs.  There was a gravel driveway going to a gate in the distance, with gardens on either side. I knew people did drive up that gravel, in carriages pulled by draft beasts or riding on runners, but I was going to use it for my runway, just like I’d seen Malaika do. I wondered about flying wearing a sanitary pad. Maybe I should be using tampons? No one tells you that sort of thing, do they?
It’s lucky there’s a long bit about this in Book One, where Brendan and the other Apprentices are taught to fly - you don’t see it in the DIV though. I was still quite little when Dad read it to me, and I can remember practising take-offs in my bedroom with a towel over my shoulders.
Well, no one was watching, so… I re-slung the cloak and held it out like bat wings. It wrapped neatly around my arms and gripped them, like it was holding them up. It was much longer than my arms, but the end part still stuck out like there was something underneath it. I walked forward to let it billow out behind me and then ran, flapping, just like I did when I was little. You see some of them just sort of leap and take off in the DIVs, but I wasn’t ready for that yet, so I took a long run-up.
I was feeling far gone harpic, but suddenly the cloak took over the flapping and I was struggling to run fast enough. I think I might have shrieked when the ground fell away from me, but the cloak just kept on doing the flying, flapping my arms for me. In less than a second, I seemed to be higher than the trees. Two seconds later I knew for surely, ‘cos I was at the end of the driveway and was flying over the trees.
It still felt a bit low, so I just thought about going faster and the cloak flapped harder. I angled myself a little steeper and shot up into the sky. It tells you in Book One that East Gard is at the top of a steep-sided valley on the road to the coast. Well, in a few seconds, I was high enough to see that. I was heading north, with the road running west and east below me. The cloak felt to be stuck to my back and down my legs as far as my ankles and was holding all of my body up. I felt like I was lying on some enormous swing fastened tight to the sky, and falling out of the sky was no chance; I was far away secure. I stopped pumping my arms for a minute and did a gliding turn. And there was the city, with its wall and castle. There was the river, with the bridge and boats.
I can’t describe the feeling that filled me then. It was like last year when Sara and me went on a roller coaster. We squealed and screamed all the way through the ride; not ‘cos we were scared, but just ‘cos we were so excited. I squealed and screamed again now and pumped myself higher and higher into the air, then swooped down and up again until I looped overhead in a circle. Then I corkscrewed down towards the ground, pulling out into another rising glide.
I don’t know how long I flew. I was a bird, I was just pure flight, and I was strong. The cloak was doing all the work. It lifted me up into the sky with just me thinking about moving my arms, but when I pulled hard I felt myself rocket through the air. And when I glided… I could just close my eyes and feel the wind against my hands, knowing the littlest movement of my fingers would send me swooping in a great circle.
The world was beneath me and I was above all of it. I could see forever and there was nowhere I couldn’t go. I felt… I felt…there’s no words for what I felt.
I got up above a cloud and wanted to just fly all day exploring the top of the clouds. I think I would’ve done too, ‘cept I flew over a gap in the clouds and saw the city again. Black River Bridge! I knew what it looked like from Jack Hughes’ illustrations in the Encyclopaedia of The Land, and I couldn’t wait to walk on its streets for real. And I’d get to meet Senior Ferguson, my favourite character in all of the books, more even than Brendan Earle really. I just had to go there!
I swooped down to be well below the clouds, and then started to fly with what Book One called, ‘the slow, steady beat of someone going somewhere distant’. I aimed for the north of the city, following a road to where the meadows were and where the Seekers would be brought for the Initiation. I could land there, check the time and maybe wander a little before the ceremony started. 

Aron the Vish
The Mage did not see us. Not too high above, but thoughts elsewhere, I gauged. She did not see the Shedu either, as it flew behind and towards her - her eyes were on the City whence she travelled.
We saw the evil beast from afar, and the Duergars called to her in warning, but to no avail. The Duergars depend overly on their Mages, and think for themselves in small matters only. We Vish have always looked to ourselves, in everything.
I had my bow strung and an arrow nocked, while they still wrung their hands. A truth I would never tell them is I led the target overly far. My arrow took it in its throat - I had meant for the chest. It fell, silently, horned head flailing, blood-red talons clutching at the arrow, leather wings flapping like torn sails, cloven-hoofed legs kicking as if to run itself back into the sky. Then it crashed to ground nearby.
I regained my arrow and we threw the corpse off the road and into a ditch. Big, the thing was, and heavy enough to need all of us. Its skin, so close, was more brown than red, the dart on the end of its tail sharper than the barb on my arrow and its horns shorter than I’d expected. I had not seen one so near before.
The Duergars wondered aloud at one so close to the City and so far from Maldon’s lands. They speculated on the identity and importance of the dark-skinned Mage it had pursued, and why a Shedu would come for that Mage.  Mayhap they told someone of this at our next stop, but it was below me to boast of the deed. It is not the Vish way. It was enough to know I had saved the girl’s life. I need no thanks from a Mage, even one coloured as I am.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Dragon, the Enfield Bullet and the joke about spandex trousers.

I should explain that Wyrm is a Scandinavian word meaning dragon. I should probably also explain that ex-colleague Jon Lavelle posted up some pics of motorbikes on Facebook. At this time of the night that's all it needs to inspire this.

Alright, I don’t much like the beasties, but I had a real kick out o’ flying one. I wanted ‘Dambusters’ playing while I was up there. Though to be honest, the closest thing to a flight on a Wyrm is the Enfield Bullet 500cc. A beautiful piece o’ engineering, ye stick it into gear, open up the throttle, get a noise like God farting and go. Stick wings on it and it’s a Wyrm.
It was a real hoot to be doing the ‘Wyrm leader to Wyrm Flight, bandits at six o’clock’, business and I drilled them through all that stuff. Well, everything I could remember from watching The Battle of Britain every Christmas. And like the guy with the Poles, tried to get them to behave with proper discipline.
We landed by a small loch and had a quick go at strafing runs. Then we went through the defence against attack that young Earle had come up with. I was reluctant to admit it, but it looked like it all might just work. Against the new crop o’ Vere anyway. Vere born o’ Vere ye might just have to kill, but I couldn’t see myself crying real tears over that.
I checked with Udaam after a wee while how he reckoned the Wyrm were fairing and he said they could go on for a while yet. I reckoned it was enough for the day, though, so I ordered a return to the Gard. I gave them a last strict order to observe proper procedure while talking on the Wyrms and to keep good formation and then we set off.

We were barely in the air when we saw them. We had lined up in the good wing formation the Senior had taught us. Already we were feeling proud of what we had done. Why had we never thought of flying with the dragons before? With us on their backs they were clearer in their minds and less likely to panic. We could fight with them. Better still, our cousins who were not Mages could do this. It only asked the skills we have developed in living with dragons.
That Brendan apprentice’s idea was to turn the vampires back into humans was well enough. I could see the sense of it, we would gain and Maldon would lose, but, in truth, I would be as happy to kill them too. We have generations of blood to pay them back for.
So is it any wonder, when we saw the group of vampires resting by the road from Black River Bridge, we Duerg did not have to think of what to do next.
“Dragon eight to Dragon Flight, bandits at 9 o’clock. Engaging.” We peeled off in a very perfect formation, the dragons folded their wings and we dropped towards them like the talons of a hunting hawk.
“Get back here ye wee buggers. What do ye think yer at going Polish on me?”
I did not understand the question, but I would have ignored the order even if I had. They were going to be ours.

McGregor was in front, Phoebe and I flying in parallel behind and the rest of the flight in a nice wing formation behind us. I heard the 'bandits' call, but the other dragons had peeled off and were heading for the Vere below before we knew what was up. We followed them. There wasn’t really much choice.
The Vere didn’t know what to make of it. I think they’d never been attacked by dragons or Duerg before, and were used to the idea that everything ran from them. They stood too long watching to see what was happening. Then it was too late. The flight came in at ground level and back-winged to a stop, knocking half the Vere down in the cyclone blast. In dropping down the Duerg had already pulled their weapons from their backs and, as the dragons’ claws hit the ground, they opened up.
Supersoaker water guns are not the most imposing of ways of taking on vampires, but loaded with Rowan berry spirit they could reverse the magic effect of the vampire bite. I doubt that’s in any of the books on vampire lore either, but the AI had assured us it would work and it made the rules around here. Alistair had made a big deal of the anti-magic properties of the Mountain Ash, so it was his own fault. He’d set up the AI with something it could extrapolate a solution from and it had.
And I was more delighted than I could say. Alistair would have had his heart attack early if he’d have seen his beautiful fantasy degenerating into a water pistol fight. We didn’t kill anything and I took the piss. Some days it does all go right.
As the stuff hit the Vere they collapsed in twitching masses. The dragons didn’t give them the chance to get their wits or legs under control and kept back-winging to knock them down, advancing and herding the crowd, harrying them until they were splashed and changing.
Some didn’t react. These, I guessed, were the Vere born of Vere I’d been told about before. Two of them lifted off and tried to get behind us. Reflex I suppose, as that was the way they’d always attacked dragons. McGregor’s mount rounded on them and let fly with a white hot jet of flame. It missed, but the point was made, these dragons couldn’t be confused and scattered. They had discipline.
Another three managed the same trick of getting out from in front of us and swinging in for an attack from behind. Before my dragon could barbecue them I sprayed two with spirit and watched them twitch, fall and hit the ground with bone-crunching thuds. The third I hit in the solar plexus with one of the distance punches Jake had taught. It went down trying to hold its gut and flap its cloak at the same time.
In only a minute it was done. Perhaps five of the Vere escaped. The others were on the ground curled into snails of quivering flesh, caught in the change back to human form. We got down and walked among them. The scene scared the Duerg. Seeing the pain of the twitching teens wasn’t something they’d geared up for. One of the figures on the ground clutched at my leg as I got too close.
“Again,” it croaked. I waved the spray at it.
It nodded, so I gave it another blast. It arched as though electrified then slumped back to the ground. I could see that the cramp-like rigor had gone out of it now though. It looked me in the face. Another painfully skinny, painfully pale, suffering teen. Not the stuff of nightmares any more. “Thanks,” he wheezed and passed out. I wondered which personality he owned, but realised I could never know.
We went through the others then, spraying them until they slumped and the pain had gone out of them. It looked like a mass execution, but we’d brought them back to life, not taken it from them.
McGregor looked around at the flaked out crowd. “Looks like the morning after a beach party in Goa,” he said, “Without the spandex psychedelic trousers o’ course. Now, how are we going to get these back to the Gard?”
There was a question. None were in a condition to even start walking yet, and wouldn’t move fast when they could. We agreed Malaika and I would go back to the Gard and get transport and reinforcements. The others would stay.
There was a risk of a counterattack. We didn’t know how great, as there’d been no sign of enemy in this area, but the Duerg and dragons were quietly confident they could see off anything thrown against them.
Mere vampires they would laugh at, werewolves or sand giants they could escape by taking to the air and our reports suggested that Maldon’s ranks of rogue Mages were thin on the ground by now. What a dragon couldn’t burn or a Duerg apprentice punch a hole through, McGregor could deal with.
McGregor thought they’d have no trouble. He’d send his familiar to the nearest Duerg village to ask for help in getting the rescued kids a place to stay until the transport arrived.
“Hey,” I called just before we lifted off, “Are we still on for a concert soon?”
“Ye know what they say, ‘If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”
“I’m still up to sing?”
“Is the Pope a Catholic?”
“Lai too?”
“Does a bear crap in the woods?”
“Hey Jock,” called Phoebe, “Are we going to win this war?”
“Er, that’s one o’ them, ‘Does the Pope crap in the woods?’ questions hen. I’d love to ken the answer. We won’t know till it’s over and it’s not over till Oprah Winfrey says so, but I think so. Today, I really think so.”
He waved his arms around him in an expansive gesture. “Look upon my works ye mighty, and wet yourselves, eh? Now get a move on and get some o’ the lads down here, right? See ye soon.”
We waved goodbye, but, before we could start our run-up, he called again.
“Hey! Earle?”
He waved the supershooter like an AK47.
“I think I look a fool with one o’ these in my hand. I don’t care. Damn good idea son, damn good.”

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Magic in the use of dealing with bullies

I went back into the hall and stuffed the rest of my breakfast down my neck. I was already regretting telling Phoebe about the books. Now I’d have to get her to promise she wouldn’t say anything when we got out. Bugger.
A bell tolled outside and the seniors came back in to get us all to line up and file out and go down to a field. Communication wasn’t great here and I didn’t have a clue what we were supposed to be doing.
When we arrived, other groups were practising what looked like various styles of martial arts. That looked a bit more like it. Lined up in front of us were a set of straw bales with pumpkin heads set up on poles.
Even as we got there I could see the Yorkshire man from the walk yesterday, talking to… I’d better get used to calling her Malaika; otherwise I’d use the wrong name at some point. He told us to sit down and not fidget.
How to describe him? He wasn’t an angry person, just very intense, but it worked out the same way – I didn’t think anyone would try to find out what would happen to fidgetters.
“When you’ve mastered the skills we teach here, you should be able to project your own energy in ways you can use to defend yourself.” He began. “Like this.”
He spun and slashed out at one of the straw dummies. It sliced in half along the diagonal as if cut by a sword.
“Or this.” He spun the other way and pushed a palm towards the dummy on the other end of the line. It shuddered visibly as if shoulder-charged by someone big.
“Or.” He did some gesture and a ball of flame shot from his hand and covered the dummy. He turned back to us, opened his mouth as if to speak and then turned back to the dummy, blew at it as you would a candle and put the flames out.
The cohort was gobsmacked; mouths hanging open all around. For myself, well, I’ve seen Kunetsuka Sensei do things that impressed me as much without having a quantum computer to put in the special effects.
“Now, before you reach that stage, you’ll find it useful if you’ve some object that allows you to focus and direct energies through. The traditional wizard’s wand is one you’ll practice with. Later.”
He drew one from his sleeve. “Its chief advantage is it’s light, which is important if you’re going to carry it all day, and easily hidden. Make no mistake though – it’s not a magical thing in its own right. The power comes from you. I’ve seen young Mages use twigs they plucked from trees as wands. So long as you don’t try to use Rowan wood, and so long as you can think of it as a focus, anything wooden’ll work. Mind, I’d leave your mam’s rolling pin at home or she’ll likely clip your ear for you.”
There were a few laughs, but I think they were being kind.
“The chief disadvantage, for you, at present, is it’s just a small piece of wood. You can’t yet do this…” He turned again to the dummies and blasted one clear out of the ground by flicking the wand at it. “And if you can’t, then a wand’s nowt more than a pencil you can’t even use to write angry letters with. Therefore, we begin our training with the staff. Chuck me that one, would you Max?”
The thing Max threw over to him looked like a broomstick, without the broom bit on the end. This looked interesting. Despite myself, I wanted to see what happened next.
“It’s a big bit of wood. No more useful for magic than a little bit of wood, however, it can do this…”
Again the swing, but this time he faced the dummy with the staff held like a snooker cue and stabbed it forwards in honte tsuki as he lunged. The dummy shook violently and dust rose again. Without pause, he back-stepped, side-stepped, changed his grip on the staff and swung it down like a sword against the side of the pumpkin head on the next dummy – naname uchi. The pumpkin exploded, but the pieces hadn’t all made it to the ground before he’d swirled, side-stepped round to stand in front of the next dummy and stabbed the staff backwards to hit it so hard it canted over at an angle – ushiro tsuki. Text book execution. Very neat. He turned back to us and the dummy slowly tilted and fell. Hub-cap-from-the-exploding-car syndrome. That dummy had watched too many films.
There’d been winces from kids around me when those blows went home, and I wasn’t sure they hadn’t been more impressed by the jo than the fire. Magic was magic, after all, and they couldn’t do that, but hitting things with sticks...
Jacob moved like a ballet dancer with a licence to kill. Those steps had flowed from one to the other, and, although he’d clearly hit the dummies hard enough to have broken bones, he hadn’t put a lot of effort into it – the staff had done most of the work.
“It’s not magic. It’s physics. Wood and muscle and correct movement and…”he nodded towards the dummies, “pain. Enough pain and your opponent won’t know or care you didn’t use magic on ‘em. They’ll be too busy suffering. Vere can be seen off with a well-used staff by a Duergar that doesn’t get charmed, and whatever you might have heard about chain mail and axes, they haven’t all got 'em.” 
There were at least two questions in that last sentence I thought I’d have to ask someone about.  No one else seemed puzzled though.
“Now, what we’ll begin teaching you today is a set of basic moves. These moves’ll prepare you for the next level. They’ll also help you start to feel energy moving. Without that feeling it’ll be hard for you to begin to project your own energies as magic. You’ll work under these seniors,” he nodded to a group of teens in dark grey that included Max and Xianjin, “They’ll teach you parts of the 31-step exercise that you’ll be working on this week and next. After a while we’ll put you onto sparring with staves that are specially adapted for it.”
He scanned us all with that intense look of his.
“I do hope you noticed I said ‘After a while’. A well-used staff can break a rib, or a leg, or a skull. So can a badly used one. You pay attention to the safety rules your senior teaches you and you remember - anyone playing silly buggers becomes my next assistant when I need to demonstrate on someone as can move – at least until I’ve finished the demonstration. That’s not a threat mind. It’s a promise. And it’s easy to check if I’m telling the truth. Think on it.”
How had I not known his Mages practiced with the jo? Had there been some photo somewhere showing this I’d missed? And how come no one’d ever mentioned this to me when they’d seen me with one later? Haru had never said anything about it and she’d know. Was it only here they did this, or had it appeared in one of the DIVs? Never mind. I’d talk about this with Phoe…Malaika later. For now I could have some fun. I’d have read his books if I’d known about this, just to see how much he knew, though surely he hadn’t known anything.
The seniors split us into groups of ten, sorted us out with a staff each and shifted us around the field so we were well spaced out from other groups. I noticed two things at about the same time This cohort was fifty strong and it didn’t include the girl I’d called a moo yesterday. Not a thing I was going to quibble about. The number hung in my head for a second, though. There was something about it.
Then the girl who was taking our group introduced herself as Aliya. Central Asian face, something like Russian in the accent. The original owners of all of these faces had to have been actresses, and they hadn’t been selected for ugliness, but Aliya was striking. She explained about spacing to ensure you couldn’t get hit by a staff that slipped out of a hand and repeated the warning about playing around with the staves.
For the next two hours, with breaks only to drink water, we did warm-up exercises, stretched and stepped through the moves of the drill. I could have done it in my sleep if the truth be told, but I tried not to make that obvious. Instinct again, but I just didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I’d probably get out of this place at the end of this day, so why bother?
Aliya did compliment me on the smoothness of my movements, though I’d been watching the others in the group and they were picking this up very quickly, with few of the mistakes a normal group makes when they first meet the jo. Were they programmed to learn at around the speed of the real player, I wondered? Aliya herself, or whatever was directing her, knew her stuff. Her own movements had a fluidity suggesting a lot of practice. A few of the moves she did at an extremely slow speed, like Tai Chi, and at that speed you see the rough bits better. She didn’t have any.
At the end of the two hours we had a toilet break. I went to a thing that looked like a barn, but was again one of the clean, un-modern facilities that I’d seen in the city inn. It was screened behind a small stand of trees. As I was walking back, but before I came into sight of the others, a staff prodded into my kidneys. Just enough to let me know it wasn’t an accident, but not enough to call it a blow. “Well, well,” came a distinctly Geordie voice from behind me. “It’s our twinkly, twinkly little Paddy star, isn’t it? What’s the name again little star? Brendumn? Or was it Brenda?”
Anyone who has ever walked into a school playground could write the script for this, I thought, as I pivoted around and yes, there they were, made to order. Three of them. Older than Brendan by about two years, maybe three. Standard issue bullies. A cliché, perhaps, but I’d been duffed up by a gang like this once in real life.
They usually come in one of two patterns. It’s either the shrimp with the brains backed up by two obvious thugs with only the muscles, or, as in this case, a muscular thug with brains backed up by two other obvious thugs with even more muscles. Bullies who don’t come in threes probably can’t manage arithmetic.
I hadn’t had time to run an I.Q. test on them, but they didn’t look like Nobel Prize candidates. Mind, that might have just been me being prejudiced. I was the one who was going to get humiliated or thumped here.
Three against one and the one younger and not as well trained with the staff each of us was carrying – this crew had no intention of being brave. Fair enough, but I was going to write the script this time. There were three other boys coming up behind the bullies. They hadn’t seen anything yet, but they could take part in my play.
“Hey lads? Do you want to try some advanced practice with this crowd?”
Nothing strange there for them, just some older students going to show us some tricks. They were up for it. My merry crew of thugs were a bit unsure now. This could be just a way of getting witnesses, in which case I was smart and they’d have to put off the intimidation. They weren’t sure, though, you could see.
“You make a ring around me about this wide.”
I held out the staff at maximum length and made a circle. They formed up while I turned slowly. I finished facing towards the middle of the thugs, with the extras behind me. They shouldn’t be any threat and I’d no plans to touch them.
“Okay, now it’s six against one, you can attack any time you are…”
Ready was what I didn’t want them to be. Thug number one got honte tsuki in the solar plexus, just hard enough to take the wind out of him. He folded up like origami and dropped to his knees. Step the right foot to the right, slide the left foot forward, swing the body round and deliver gedan barai, a sweeping blow, against the thigh of thug number two. He now had a dead leg and was hopping on the other one. I stepped forward and shouldered him off both of them.
One to go, but by now he’d had time to wake up. I reversed the grip on the staff, raised it like a sword and, yes, he went for it, and raised his own staff to ward off the blow to the head. Which I didn’t make. As his jo came down I did uke nagashi tsuki, parrying his down-strike, side-stepping to get out of line, and striking at his inner thigh. Too ambitious. I missed the thigh, so followed through by using the staff as a lever to take his leg out from under him in sukui otoshi. He went down backwards and landed heavily, knocking the wind out of himself. Done. And he wouldn’t call me Brenda again in a hurry.
I turned to the other three, about to thank them for their help. The two on the ends were shocked and motionless, scared numb by what they’d just witnessed. Made sense I suppose. I’d just knocked seven shades of good for the roses out of the bigger lads, what might I be about to do to them? The wiry, Indian-looking kid in the middle, however, was very pissed off.
He launched himself towards me with the obvious intention of putting some of my teeth in the corner pocket. I parried the thrust while moving aside and back and tried to tell him whoa.
He swung the staff like a cricket bat for my head. Again, not too difficult to parry, but I didn’t want to fight this kid. I was trying again to tell him to stop the demonstration of his sporting prowess, while he was trying to hit me in the crotch with a golf swing, when a voice snapped out.
“Quit that!”
I could say I obeyed the order, but to be honest, I didn’t have a choice. Every muscle in my body locked for a second and I couldn’t move. The cramp faded away as fast as it’d come on, but both of us had stopped fighting.  We turned to look at the source of the voice. Jacob. Standing by a tree, the look on his face that same intense expression that got attention.
“You.” He snapped, looking at me. “Stop here, I want to talk to you. You three,” this to the younger ones, “Back to your group, I may want you later. And you lot,” this to the gang, who were picking themselves off the ground. “Hall. And wait for me.”
No one said a word, but moved off as quickly as they could. I stood thinking about how to describe my situation. The only word I could think of without four letters in it was ‘bad’, and that just didn’t cover it at all. I thought I’d just passed the audition for a starring role as a carpet about to get spring cleaned.
Jacob waited till the others were out of sight and then a few heartbeats longer to let them get out of earshot too. How to explain this one to him? Before I came up with an answer, or just admitted there wasn’t one, he spoke.
“Young Hadaway and his mates are known to me. ‘Nowt overt out of ‘em for a while, but still I tend to keep an eye on them. I can see which way those branches are growing, as it were, and they need training in a better direction. Now, what I just saw there was interesting. You knocked the snot out of those three, but you didn’t do ‘em as much damage as you could‘ve done, that was clear.
Young Hatim too. Has a very good fighting spirit and attacks right well, but he’s no idea of defence. You do. You were blocking him and not even trying, but you didn’t put him down like the others. Suggests to me you were facing six and fighting three and you’d reason for it. Like to share it with me?”
“I could read Hadaway and his friends like a road sign. They were ready for me to have a go straight away if I didn’t just wimp out and let them push me around. So I invited the others in to distract them. They weren’t ready for that, so I caught them off guard. They’ll think twice before they try again. On anybody, I hope, not just on me.”
He nodded. I’d never play poker against this man, his face might as well have been cast in concrete for all the information it gave out.
“I didn’t see any of that level of skill on the field before. Where’d you learn it and why didn’t you let on?”
“I’ve studied Aikido for a few years now with a really good teacher. He takes us through the drills with the jo and the boken. I didn’t want to show off in front of the others after yesterday.”
That was all close enough to the truth. I’d seen my teacher, Kunetsuka sensei, take on six black belts armed with jos when he had nothing. He took them apart. They weren’t trying to kill him, granted, but they were serious about the attacks they launched; mostly because they were pretty sure none of them would land. He’d had us sparing with weapons for over a year.
“If you were old enough to look the part, I’d have you teaching your mates as of now. When word gets out about this we may be able to do it anyway. We’ll see about making time for you to work out with some of the seniors, save you wasting your time on the knees-bend-arms-stretch stuff.” He paused again.
“Max given you the speech about bullying yet?”
I nodded.
“Tell him what went on here. You won’t likely see or hear anything after it, but he’ll have words with those that might think about testing out the newest gunslinger, if you know what I mean. Once he’s spoken to them, they won’t. Can you talk to those lads from your cohort and sort things out with them? Make sure that there’s no misunderstandings or hard feelings? Or do you want me to?”
“I think I can handle it, but if it doesn’t work out I’ll tell you.”
“Grand. Get yourself back to the practice then. I’m off for a slash.”
I walked back confused. There was too much here I didn’t really understand and I wanted to talk with Haru about. She was good at this stuff. Where did characters like Jacob come from? Surely not out of his mind. He wasn’t like any of the people here – I was ready to like them. Though the fact it was Mark Hadaway who was the villain was just like him. It’d nearly wrecked our friendship when he did that. Luckily, that lad didn’t look anything like the real Mark. I was going to have to talk with Phoe… with Malaika. I needed some clues.
But I wondered. Was it ok to duff up the bullies here? They were written like that. They didn't have a choice in the matter. Yes, I decided. If the alternative was me copping it, it was.

Monday, 8 October 2012

One of my favourite bits

Book one, Chronicles, is a lot more the children's book than book two, Virus, is. That's not to say I think it's a book for children. It's set inside one, so has to conform to more of the rules. By book two the story is starting to escape from those limitations, for reasons that you'd have to read the books to understand. This bit could probably only happen in book one, though, to be honest, I'm not even sure of that and I'm writing it. I still love this part, though, and want to find some excuse to keep the Geordie grannies in the story and give them more speaking parts. There are times in a writer's life when you find yourself loving what you've done and yourself for having done it. When I realised that I could pit Grandmothers against wolves, I hit one of those times.

I woke up in the morning and couldn’t think where I was for a moment. When I turned over I was looking into Brendan’s face from about two centimetres away. It gave me a shock. Then I remembered it all, running through the streets of Newcastle after someone had set fire to the house I was sleeping in. Where did they get off? That sort of thing can hurt people.
I thought about that thought and realised how silly it was. But it was natural. No one had ever tried to kill me before and I wasn’t used to the idea that they would want to yet.
It was all unreal. Like, we’d got away without being hurt, so it was ok, kind of. I’d been more shocked to wake up with Adam’s hand over my mouth, you’d guess, innit? But still, this wasn’t a lol.
I got up quietly and went outside. I needed to find a tree to go behind. It wasn’t till a lot later that I wondered why I’d gone outside. While I was having a pee I looked around. It was very early. What to do next?
The problem was how to get to Black River Bridge. Did we need to sort that out ourselves I wondered? Niall and Megs should be coming through the Gate sometime in the morning at the end of their week. The hours we’d passed would be days to them. I didn’t know how long had passed over here, but the sun was nearly coming up and it wouldn’t be long before someone would be coming through. It bothered me that there were no Duergars here to greet people, but I just thought we’d have to deal with that.
Ok, let’s think. If Niall had come back to the house any time that week, he’d have found it burned down and us gone. He might have checked the hospitals. Not finding us he’d guess that we’d come back through the Gate. Malaika would know how to do that, so he’d not be surprised. Then he wouldn’t have any hurry, ‘cos crossing before the end of the week’d just leave him wandering around in the dark, like us last night. So prolly he’d be coming through, but later.
Unless he was taking longer to find Liam than he expected. Umm. Or unless he was really worried about us being on our own on this side. Megs was off staying with her sister and she wasn’t sure how long that would go on for, but surely not more than a week. Well, not for sure. Maybe… then I saw the line of movement in the grass further down the hill. Men popping up out of the grass as if they were growing there. No. not men. I’d seen that happen in a DIV before. They were Warg.
I ran back to the hut. This time it was my turn to wake someone with a hand over their mouth. He nearly broke my arm.
“Sorry,” he said, “habit. What’s up?”
“There are a group of Warg further down the hill. They’ve just changed into men, so they’ll be walking slower, but we haven’t got much time to get away before they get here.”
“They’ve changed into men? What were they before?”
“Ah. And they can change back I’d guess. How many are there?”
“Dunno exactly. Maybe ten. Maybe more.”
“So we try to run.”
“I think they might have come looking for us. The ones we dealt with before were probably the ones who set the house on fire. They must have known we’d come back through the Gate to here. They probably think they can catch us sleeping. They’ll have changed into men ‘cos they’re smarter like that, but some of them’ll change back into wolves to sniff us out. Then they can run much faster than we can.”
“Okay, so we don’t try to run. What do we do?”
“Maybe I can mind-ride a bird and find us some runners that we can use to escape on.”
“How long will it take for them to get here?”
“I dunno. But I can’t think of…”
“Shh! Listen.”
There was a sound of voices from outside. Brendan moved to the door and peeked out.
“You have got to be kidding!”
“What is it?” I asked, but he’d gone out of the door.
I followed him, but could see what he was talking about as soon as I got out. There were people coming through the Gate. They were old people, old ladies, five of them. Brendan was running over to them, so I ran as well.
Most of them had the washed out look that a journey through the Gates gives you and one of the old ladies was swaying, propping herself up on a walking stick. She looked like she was going to fall over, so I held her arm to steady her.
“Ee, thanks pet. I’ve never liked coming through them Gates, they always gives us gip.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, we got the e-mail from young Niall, down the Community Centre like, and he said that Maldon was acting up again and that you two would be on your own over here and could we come through and look after ye like. So we’ve all come, all the lasses.”
They must have all been in their sixties and seventies; maybe eighties. What was Niall thinking of?
“But there are wolves coming! Lots of them! We’ve…”
“Howway bonny lass, divn’t fash yourself.” She patted my hand. “These are nowt but cubs and there’s only fifteen of them. We’ll take care of them for ye.”
“But you’re …” I started to say, when something broke from behind a bush, streaked towards the old lady and leapt. She raised her walking stick towards it without looking, there was a flash and something hit the thing so hard it flipped over twice and landed on the ground with a thump.
“Experienced pet. That’s what we are. Experienced. Howway lasses,” she called to the others, “See them off.”
She looked me in the eyes and I could see that hers were twinkling. They really were. She was enjoying this. Her face was getting firmer. Less wrinkly.
“I’m Jessie Loftus, and we’re what’s left of the Wolves cohort. Nice to meet ye hinney.” Then she went off to chase the wolves away.
Bren…Adam, looked on with a big cheesy grin on his face. “They’re from Wallsend.” He told me. “Made on Tyneside, built to last. They can probably deal with werewolves over there as well.”
Then he looked puzzled and asked, “Hey, did Alistair really write a cohort of Geordie grannies into his books?”
“I’ve never heard of them.”
He didn’t look so pleased at that.
“It’s changing the story,” he muttered.

Some of what it is all about

A review that I had of the book (it wasn't a great one in many ways and wasn't entirely compehensible) did give the memorable line, 'The reader gets to simultaneously experience the birth of a mind and the creation of a god.'
I nearly put that in my PD for the semester. It wasn't exactly what I saw as happening, but was close enough for jazz or government service. This might have been the bit that started that line of thought.

Day Four

Memory Accession: Sample 776
Accession justification:
I am curious. Why did so many of them enter this simulation? What attracted them? What do they know and think of it, and of me?

Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings who compose it – an intelligence sufficiently vast to submit these data to analysis – it would embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atom; for it, nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes.”
“That was written by Simon-Pierre Laplace,” David told me. “Philosophers refer to the thing that could do all that as Laplace’s Demon. Some think that it’s a good description of God. You do realize that is one way of looking at the thing they are trying to build, don’t you?” he asked me. “They’re building a God-game where the humans won’t get to play the God.”