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Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David (@breakerofthings) and Debs (@debsdespatches).

We started the blog because we wanted to practice writing stories, and to talk about what writing (and reading) means to us.  Over the last few years we’ve showcased a number of short stories of different lengths, genres, voices, and you can find these via the Index.

We run a monthly prompt for #FlashFiction (used here in both senses: a short story that can be read quickly, and one that is written within a short period of time).  We like to go with quirky prompts (again, have a look at the Index!), and we mix in a few photo-prompts together with one of our USPs, the Gutenberg Prompt – have a look out for these.  We’d love to get more people involved with these, so do spread the word.

We post every Sunday, following a regular schedule.  Our schedule revamp for 2021 is the addition of an #IndieSpotlight feature as part of the options for the 3rd and 4th Sundays. We’ll continue presenting our stories, and one of our other USPs, #SecondThoughts, but we’ll be adding some features on the items on our Resources page, together with a new series of articles written by guests on how their chosen genre is entwined with their normal life.

If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the About page.  Or you can send us a message via the Contact page, or our Twitter handles (above).

Our (revised) regular schedule

1st Sunday #FF Prompt – submission deadline the next Sunday @ 8 am GMT
(or use our #TortoiseFlashFiction page if the deadline is too tight)

2nd Sunday #FF stories

3rd and 4th Sundays

Either:

A #SecondThoughts piece.

Or:

A focus on a Resource for writers (or readers), or something else of writerly interest.

Or:

An #IndieSpotlight piece, where we feature the work of an indie author via a book review, by hosting a part of their pre- or post- publishing publicity – for example a cover reveal, or… well, this is a new feature, so we’re open to options.

Or:

Occasionally a short story from one or another of us.

Exactly what turns up will depend on what we’ve been doing, and what is going on in the wider world.

5th Sunday On the occasion when these occur, we’ll be posting our guests’ musings on the intersections between their life and their chosen genre. (Do get in touch if you’re interested in writing one yourself).  The post that kicked it all off is here.

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#Secondthoughts: Historical Fiction

Social media can be tricky to navigate, but every now and again something pops up that can be quite fun.  I think it was in April that Medieval-a-thon popped up in my time-line.  @hollyknece’s brain-child, Medieval-a-thon is a reading challenge, which sets out a number of prompts for choosing books to read.  Throughout the month, a few mini-challenges are provided, such as getting a book read by a particular date or getting through a number of pages in a certain amount of time.  I thought it would be fun to give it a go, although with no particular aspirations to get through the seven books required to reach the rank of Emperor, still less the 18 that would allow me to collect all the costumes, weapons, and ‘buddies’.  As it turned out, I slightly missed the mark with the prompts although I did manage to get Dragon armour, battle axe and shield, and a fox companion.

At some point, I’d got it into my head that I should be focusing on books with a medieval twist.  I kicked off with a re-read of one of my all time favourite books, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion, but as I’ve noted before, time for physical reading is limited at the moment, and I had more success with audiobooks, managing to plough my way through five of CJ Sansom’s Shardlake books while I sorted out the garden, did the washing up, and generally did all the jobs that left my brain free whilst my hands were busy.  For anyone who has read a Shardlake novel, you will know that this is no mean feat – these are weighty tomes, 600+ pages each (earning me a virtual battle-axe for ‘a heavy book’).  But the narration is generally excellent, Shardlake is an interesting character and there is a lot to take in: I know that the world is not strictly a medieval, one – don’t @ me!

For those that have not read any of these novels, the very brief summary is that hunchbacked laywer Matthew Shardlake gets involved in various politically entangled murders during the reign of Henry VIII.

Reading (listening to) these books, it suddenly struck me that Sansom has a difficult line to walk.  I am no Tudor scholar, but the books seem to have been meticulously researched and the historical aspects incorporated well.  There are a couple of points that I think are  touch dubious, and one that I think might leave Sansom open to defamation of character charges if the events written about were more recent.  That aside, the key thing that occurred to me is that Sansom has had to create essentially a sealed story, that fits with the occurances of the time, but does not impact on them to cause ripples in what really happened.  It is a little like the Red Queen’s Race explanation for a time-travel mishap – nothing has changed because the time-travel is all part of the whole.

In some respects, Sansom has an easier task than Debs’ and I: our work occurs less than eighty years ago, and there are a lot more constraints on us in terms of knowledge of where and when certain things happened.  We’re not writing a work of historical fiction in the same way though, and whilst we’d like to get the flavour of the time right, we’re not too worried about where the King, or the Prime Minister, for example, happen to be at any particular time.  By contrast, Shardlake is tossed about on the poltical high seas, and so sometimes considerable periods pass between books, and indeed within the books, because certain people have to be in certain places at certain times.   And at the end of it all, the story must be wrapped up in such a way that there is a satisfying conclusion to Shardlake’s investigation, but so that there is no impact on where the great and the good will be next.  There is a particularly villainous character who the reader hopes will get his just desserts, but the historian knows will escape to become richer and more powerful.  It is of course no hardship to write this character some literary handcuffs to prevent him from retaliating to Shardlake’s investigations, but he is free to go about his recorded business, sadly.

Food for thought then:  there are a few people of historical record who are mentioned in passing in the story that Debs and I are working on.  I need to go and reread a chunk, having made the comment about defamation of character…I don’t think that I have said anything that has not already been said by others, but wise to double check such things.

On the otherhand, with the movements of more ‘normal’ people, not just the ‘great and the good’ on record in 1947, perhaps we should try and fold in a few more of these into the background of the story.

What do you think?  Which is more important in an historical setting?  The background location, or the people involved?

© David Jesson, 2020

#FF Prompt: Food Glorious Food! The Stories

The mother had been sweating in the kitchen for absolutely hours. She might have an Irish name, but she was half Indian. No silly, not a Red Indian, an Indian from India – where they make the curries. Mind, she doesn’t half tick us off when we call it ‘curry’. “That’s the English for you, making up a word for something to suit themselves…” But I digress.

It was Easter, and she’d decided she was going to do something a bit unusual for the gathering of the clans this year. We’d usually have one of those them there roast dinners, y’know, with all the trimmings. Me own personal favourite was beef, for then she’d do her most marvellous Yorkshires. We all go on at her to do Yorkshires with all roast meats, but she’s a stickler for tradition is the mother, which is why we’d all been surprised when she announced that this year, she was doing a Raan of Lamb.

OK, so we’d no idea what that meant, but it sounded exotic and decidedly unroast-like… but it turned out to be a roast, if with a twist. Quite a big twist to be sure, for there’d not be the usual roast trimmings. Not only no Yorkshires, but no roast potatoes either. Cue much complaining from the lads, but the mother, she stood firm, and Himself was having none of our complaining – so Raan of Lamb it was to be.

The night before there’d been a veritable hive of activity in the kitchen. Of course, she’d been cooking our dinner as usual, but she was also muttering about “double work” and “lazy feckers” meaning us, I s’pose. Busy chopping onions, and grinding spices – a whole load of spices – the kitchen was positively fragrant. The leg of lamb was huge, and if you’d not known better, your mouth would be watering at the thought of the roasties and homemade mint sauce – for the mother had quite the splendid herb garden, and the mint was starting to run rampant, as it’s wont to do. But the smell of those spices put paid to any thoughts of mint sauce.

When she finally came and sat down with us, I went to the fridge to grab us lads some beers – not daring to face her grumbling while she’d been still hard at work. Except there was nary a beer to be seen, for the entire centre of the fridge was filled with what I could only assume was the leg o’ lamb. It was in the biggest dish I’d ever seen and the fridge fair stunk of spices. Just as I’d been thinking about expressing my views on the subject, Himself appeared in the kitchen, giving me what I think is called an old fashioned look, excepting it was rapidly following with “Pub?” and a raised eyebrow. I was quick to nod and went to the hallway to get my coat, where I’d found my brothers also ready to go. “G’night m’darling” he called back to the mother, and we’d headed off into the night.

Unsurprisingly, we’d been back late that night, and us lads were up late in the morning. We found that same hive of activity in the kitchen, but it was mostly veg prep, for apparently the lamb was already in the oven. “Feck’s sake!” said I, for while it was a big leg, it was no turkey, but apparently it needed four hours. No full breakfast for us that morning, so we’d been forced into kidnapping the toaster, a big loaf of bread, a pat of butter and some jam. The mother allowed us to make ourselves mugs of tea before she shooed us firmly out of the kitchen.

I was forced to admit that the smells from the kitchen were quite something, and I was rapidly warming to the mother’s strange decision. As the aunts arrived, one after the other they exclaimed in surprise, hurrying into the kitchen to talk to their sister. A couple were out again pretty darn fast – it later transpired they’d been foolish enough to be less than complimentary about the proposed menu, so were lumbered with laying the table – usually a chore the lazy menfolk were tasked with.

Fortunately, Himself had picked up several bags of ice when he’d got up that morning, and there were a couple of tin tubs in the garden filled to the brim with ice, beers, soft drinks, and some white wine for the mother and her sisters. It seemed only right and proper that we menfolk dispense them, and we set about our task with vigour.

When we finally got to sitting down, the mother and her sisters came swooping from the kitchen bearing dishes. The lamb – obviously – bore pride of place, right at the head of the table in front of Himself, who always did the carving. He’d spent time earlier that morning sharpening his carving tools, and was soon making short work of the moist leg. It looked like any other leg of lamb, it was only the smell and the accompaniments which gave a clue as to the different gastronomic experience we were set for.

While Himself did the carving, the mother was holding court at the other end of the table about the cooking. She told proudly about the multiple stages – first, about rubbing salt and chilli powder into the leg and leaving it to absorb for half an hour. While that was happening, she’d set to grating a fair amount of garlic and ginger, then rubbed that all over the lamb for an overnight marinade. Just as I was thinking that must’ve been the time when I’d tried to get us lads a beer, I realised the mother wasn’t done with the tale of the cooking of the lamb – oh no – for in the morning, multiple spices – cumin, coriander, clove, cinnamon and cardamom, plus the less exotic additions of peppercorns and a bay leaf, were added to the water in that there huge dish she’d invested in for the cooking stage of this mega extravaganza. Over the course of the next four hours, she’d had to turn the leg over hourly and baste it. The final touch was an anointing of butter and masala before a quick grilling to crisp it up.

There was an outburst of appreciative noises and comments praising the mother for her willingness to carry out all this work, but she wasn’t done yet – oh no. Next came the accompaniments, which kept her busy for the four hours while the leg was roasting slowly in the oven. She rambled on a bit about spiced carrots, as well as the dish of savoy cabbage, broccoli and them cute little sugar snap peas, all of which she’d cooked in chilli and lime, but what made my ears perk up was what she’d done with the potatoes – I mean, c’mon, what Irishman doesn’t love a potato? She called them Gunpowder Potatoes, and even I could see they were something special. After boiling them small new potatoes, they’d been set to grilling till they were crispy and brown all over. Multi-tasking, as ever, the mother had managed some last minute spice roasting – cumin, coriander with the addition of fennel this time – all of which got mixed in with butter, chopped fresh coriander and green chilis. Halving the potatoes, they got well chucked about in the spicy butter, before the final flourish of salt and squeezed lime juice.

Now, we’re a noisy bunch – usually you’d have to fight for an opening in the conversation. But not this time. This time there was complete silence, as every member of the family shovelled as much of the mother’s glorious food into their mouths. Finally, Himself put down his eating irons and expressed what we’d all been thinking “This is a triumph m’darling, an absolute triumph!” And he was right. We’ll be talking about this meal for a long time to come, for sure.

With thanks to Dishoom for details on the dish my mother cooked for the family one memorable Easter many years ago.

© Debra Carey, 2021



“Steady!  You’ll do yoursel’ a mis-cheef, eating like that.”

The stranger came up for air, relish and fragments of pickles caught in his already filthy beard. He grinned, teeth gleaming in the middle of a face tanned dark by the strong sun and fringed by curtains of drooping moustache.

“These may just be the best fries I’ve ever had!” Another handful went the way of half the burger and the two large cokes that had been drunk while waiting for the food.  Chet looked at him dubiously from his seat at the diner counter.  A regular, he came here for his lunch pretty much every day, but if there’d been another diner anywhere nearby, he’d have been over there like a shot.

“Have you actually eaten fries before, son?”  Chet asked, barely managing to keep his surprise contained.

“Oh yeah – but I’ve not eaten in a while.”

“It shows” Chet said dryly.  He took a sip of his coffee. “But in that case, best to take it slow.  Won’t do your body no good to try and make up for it all at once.” 

“That’s right”, said Joe, the owner of the diner.  “My grandpappy, he landed on D-Day you know – “

“We know” chorused the handful of locals, in unison.

“Well after that, he was in the –“

“The group that liberated the death camps.  We may have heard this story one or two hun’erd times before Joe, from your granpappy hi’self, as well as from your Pa.”

“Well” Joe humphed “He was and he did, and what he always said was that there were folks who died when they got their first solid meal, ‘cos their bodies couldn’t cope.”

The stranger grimaced.  “Ok.  I’ll slow down a bit.  I’ll have another burger when you’re ready, and I’ll follow that up with…” He looked up at the board “…a slice of the pie o’ the day, and after that a stack of waffles and syrup. “

By the time the second burger arrived at the table the first had been completely demolished.  Most people roundabouts would probably have left the limp lettuce, but even this had been devoured.

“You sure ‘bout that pie?  And the waffles?  You really got space for them?” Joe asked, concern etched into his face.  “You ain’t gonna be sick or n’thin’?

“Your man may be right, I should pace myself, but yeah, I deffo have space for pie and waffles.  I got dumped in the middle of nowhere and I haven’t eaten anything that you’d call food in a week.  Mebbe I could borrow some scissors or summat and tidy up a bit whilst I let things settle?”

Joe eyed him suspiciously.  “If’n you got dumped somewhere, you got the moolah to pay for all this?” 

“Yeah, I can pay.  Do you want me to settle up in advance?” The stranger pulled out his wallet. “Do you take card?  I’d prefer to keep the cash for when I really need it.”

If the folks in the diner, had extra eyes, all of them would have pointed his way.

Joe disappeared out back and returned with some supplies.  “Here you go.  Scissors, my own razor, but I’ve put in a clean blade, and here are some spare clothes.  Toss yours out and I’ll put them through the wash for ya.”

“That’s mighty decent.  Thanking you.  I might have cash, but life hasn’t been that easy of late, and I appreciate the kindness.”  The stranger disappeared towards the washroom.

“Don’t clog up the sink!” Joe called after the retreating figure.

*****

When he came out of the washroom, he looked real spruce, if a bit funny where he’d lost the beard and the tan met skin that had not seen the same intense sun.  He sat back down and picked up where he’d left off, his fork digging deep into the slice of cherry pie, sweet-crust pastry crumbling into the filling as it spilled out on the plate.  He watched for a few moments as the butter melted into the waffles and then poured amber syrup like condensed sunlight over them.  Amazingly, these he ate too, polishing off the lot whilst he sipped a cup of coffee.

*****

“And that’s all I know officer!  He asked for a cup of coffee to take away, settled up, and then went left…Oh he did ask if this was the road to Amarillo, and Chet gave him some directions.  I think he said something about trying to get bus.”

© David Jesson, 2021

#IWSG: What throws you out of a story?

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. It’s an opportunity to talk about doubts and fears you have conquered. To discuss your struggles and triumphs and to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.


January 6 question – Being a writer, when you’re reading someone else’s work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people’s books?

In one word – inaccuracies. I’ve heard of people giving up on books because they’re written in the present, or due to being written from too many points of view, because of an unusual writing style, or an incomprehensible dialect. Personally, I can (usually) accommodate all of the above, but inaccuracies are like nails on a blackboard.

Even before I became a writer, an inaccuracy would bring me up short, especially when a somewhat fantastical tale (if not actually fantasy), it’s important that a reader believes… and when any single inaccuracy can start the process of doubt, the entire story can be poisoned by that one inaccuracy.

As a writer, I do try to be understanding of how easy it is to make a mistake. For example, if it’s an arcane fact, I can persuade myself to forgive it, but when it’s something widely known and/or easily available to check, it smacks of… well, let’s just say unflattering adjectives.

My co-written WIP takes place in relatively recent history (post WWII). We’re not attempting to include historical figures in any significant manner, but we do refer to real people from time-to-time, and to historical events. While our tale does have elements of fantasy, we both feel it’s critical that we don’t get the factual aspects wrong, or it’ll sow that seed of doubt and so lose our readers.

What throws you? Do you share my view, or is it something else entirely for you?

The awesome co-hosts for the January 6th posting of the IWSG are Ronel Janse van Vuuren , J Lenni Dorner, Gwen Gardner Sandra Cox, and Louise – Fundy Blue – do take a moment to visit them.


While you’re here, can I tempt you with a #FlashFiction prompt?

Every month, we run a different #FF prompt and this month it’s Food Glorious Food! With the festive season just behind us, there should be inspiration aplenty. Write a story, any story, but include in it a description of the most satisfying meal you’ve ever eaten, in glorious detail.

If you’re inspired to give this a go, you can get full details here.


© Debra Carey, 2021

#FlashFiction Prompt – Food Glorious Food!

With the festive season just behind us, there should be inspiration aplenty! Write a story, any story, but include in it a description of the most satisfying meal you’ve ever eaten, in glorious detail.

Once again, no limitations on genre (other than that it not be NSFW), so have fun!

Word count: as I’m asking for a story and a detailed description of a meal, you can have up to 1,000 (if you need it)
Deadline: 7 am on Sunday, 10th January 2021.

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

#SecondThoughts: Writer’s Fuel

The famed writer’s fuel of old was alcohol. Male writers, in particular, were famed for being big boozers: Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allen Poe, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, Charles Bukowski, F Scott Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce … the list is endless.  Boozing has long been regarded as a manly pursuit, and is too often regarded as somewhat sad or seedy when engaged in by women.

What with all these famous drinking authors, one could be forgiven for believing that alcohol somehow unlocks a certain access to creativity. But, can writers write whilst drinking, or drunk?

Truman Capote famously said of writing while drinking …

“its impossible, writing requires too much concentration. But after a long bout of concentration, it can be helpful to have a drink and loosen one’s mind a little bit.”

This view is shared by a recovering alcoholic of my acquaintance who used it to quiet his mind. Suffering from Aspergers, he found it difficult to concentrate, as his mind would be running up to a dozen trains of thought consecutively.

As most of us know, it is possible to write drunk, but even a text message can be troublesome after too much has been partaken. James Baldwin, another infamous drinker admitted …

“at the time I was high and writing, I knew that what I was putting down was my most brilliant work ever; in the morning, I reread my work and tore it to pieces, it was so awful.”

While these two famous authors might be the exception, it does seem to make sense that whilst authors do drink, that’s not what makes them writers. Nor does drinking turn on some recessive writing gene.

Currently, especially within the Twitter #WritingCommunity, coffee seems to be the rocket fuel which powers most writers. Sure, there’s a handful who – like me – drink tea instead. I morphed to tea drinking when coffee started to bite back after far too many years of drinking it too strong, too black and in too great a quantity. And while I do enjoy my tea (Earl grey, dash of milk to quote one Jean-Luc Picard), it doesn’t do what coffee used to do, which is to give me a firm kick up the backside and get me moving. Tea – for me anyway – is more of a multiple-cup, slow-burn kind of experience.

I tried decaffinated coffee for years, but it was tough finding one that didn’t taste of absolutely nothing. I did eventually find one – surprisingly, it was instant <gasp> called the Languid Bean. It was absolutely splendid, tasty with a wonderful aroma, doing absolutely no harm to the increasingly delicate insides, while also being more effective than tea in getting this writer moving. Then it disappeared totally from the shelves. Clearly there weren’t enough people wanting (or needing) decaffinated coffee, or perhaps I was ahead of the trend.

These days there are more options, with even Nespresso offering a wide range of decaffinated capsules – but they don’t seem to have any zing. So I’m still on the lookout for something – anything – other than the dreaded diet coke. 


As this light-hearted look at writer’s fuel brings an end to a challenging year, may I offer you all an end-of-year toast …

To 2021 - may we be safer, happier &amp; fulfil our dreams (3)

 

© Debra Carey, 2020

Christmas Presence

The doorbell rang.  Hector opened the door and was greeted by the ever-cheerful postie.

“Mornin’.  Here are your letters, and I got a parcel here.  Ya don’t need to sign or nuffin, but it’s too big to go through the letter box.  There you go!”

Hector realised that it must be later than he’d thought if the postman was here.  Shoving the parcel and letters onto the hall table, he grabbed his hot-cup, fumbled his shoelaces into an approximation of tied, shouted out a farewell, and fled the house. Would a mad dash would put him at the bus-stop just in time rather than just too late?

branch-4705310_1920
Image by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay

In due course the rest of the family bade their adieus to the house, which settled down to its daily slumber.  Nothing was moving, not even a mouse.

After an hour or so, the box began to wriggle, jiggle and eventually it fell off the table on to the tiles of the hallway with a resounding bump. There was a muffled noise, which a careful listener might have discerned as cursing.  The tip of a blade appeared from inside the box, slitting the tape holding the flaps down.  Cautiously a flap lifted.  Larina peered out.  Certain now that the coast was clear, she jumped out.  Checking her watch, she pulled out a radio and clicking out a code, sent an ‘on-site’ message to base.  The Extra Low Frequency used by the team was limited, but adequate.

With sizzling speed, Larina explored the house. When she came across the Elf-on-the-shelf, she was tempted to do for it – she hated those things and everything they stood for – but SOP was to leave no trace of presence.  Regretfully she left it alone.

It is patent nonsense that Father Christmas could deliver presents all over the world in a single night.  It was bad enough in the beginning when he was looking after a single village, but as demand increased, other methods had to be found.  And so, he turned to the elves.  They didn’t merely watch to see who should be on which list but reported back and took delivery of a suitable present, sometimes as much as a month in advance, and kept it hidden and safe until Christmas Eve.

Larina found a place to hide the box she had arrived in and started clicking out her report.  She hoped she might receive promotion to the elite Jingle Belles unit after this mission, but friends warned her that she hadn’t had any really challenging missions yet, so the brass might not think she was ready.

***

Christmas Day came at last.  There was one present left when the family finished handing out the gaily wrapped gifts, and they puzzled over who it could be from.  The label simply said ‘Happy Christmas! Ho ho ho!”.

“Perhaps it’s from Santa!” The children said, puzzled.

“Perhaps it is!” The parents agreed, each assuming it was the work of the other.

Larina watched happily.

 

 

© David Jesson, 2020

#FF – Project Gutenberg: The Stories

A quick reminder that the prompt set last week was to go and look at the recent additions to Project Gutenberg and use a likely looking title as the prompt for a short story.  As ever, lots to choose from…

Palimpsest

Tom flicked through a box that was filled to bursting point with scraps of paper.  Each piece held a recipe: culled from a magazine, scribbled in haste from a phone conversation, included as part of a letter to his Mother, copied carefully from a borrowed book.  The variety was enormous and the only real order was that the least popular recipes had sunk further and further down.

When it had been announced that there would be travel restrictions, Tom’s mother had decided that she should really go and stay with her elderly parents.  They were not exactly frail, but they would need help, and she would not be able to maintain her usual visiting schedule.  Tom’s eldest brother had gone to university the previous September, and when they closed to face-to-face teaching, he had ended up going to stay with his godfather so that they could work together on the restoration of a derelict camper-van.  That left Tom, his older brother, and their father.  They’d always been pretty good at sharing out the jobs, but it turned out that Tom had a bit of a flair for cookery, and so he’d ended up doing more of the meals, and Father and Jonno did the washing and drying up.

Tom had been trying to catalogue the recipes, doing a little bit at a time whenever he took a break from school-work.  It turned out there were a surprising number of duplicates – some even recurring three or four times in the pile.  He collated the notes that his mother had made, suggesting changes, or adapting to the kitchenware available.  Some of these notes were surprisingly detailed, and Tom saw another expression of his Mother’s character.  He enjoyed the feeling of closeness whenever he cooked following these recipes.

Trying to stretch himself, to go beyond his comfort zone, Tom flipped over the stack and started at the bottom.  He turned over the pieces of paper, quickly organising the recipes into various groups: a pile to bin (subject to his Mother’s final approval), a pile to discuss with Father and Jonno, desserts, mains, and other recipes that he definitely wanted to have a go at.  He picked out one, a hand written recipe on letter paper: he was pretty sure all the ingredients for this were available.  A couple of others he clipped to the list where he was compiling a shopping list.

Tom put the kettle on to boil for a cup of tea.  There had been one or two meals that had verged on outright disaster, and he’d learned that it paid to read through the recipe thoroughly before beginning.  It was as he was pouring boiling water into a mug (his favourite, with a picture of the Tasmanian Devil on it) that the accident happened.  An emergency vehicle raced and some trick of reflection of the blue lights passing-by outside, some jangle of the siren on a neuron, made him flinch and water spilled onto the counter-top.  His first thought was to be thankful that none had gone on him, but that thought cost him a half-second, and that was enough time for the water to hit the paper, and for the paper to start soaking it up.  With a cry of annoyance, he picked the paper up.  Luckily the ink had not been smudged nor had the paper taken up too much water.

The radiators not being on, he put the letter in the airing cupboard to dry and went to get on with homework set for history.  The supply of schoolwork seemed never-ending.

An hour or so later, and his stomach reminded him it was lunchtime.  He went to the airing cupboard and got the letter out – it was perfectly dry now, so he took it with him back to the kitchen, ready for the commencement of preparing the evening meal.  It was as he was getting the bread out to make sandwiches that he noticed that there was now another set of words, pale brown, a hand-writing trickier to read than that of the recipe.  His gaze dropped to the bottom and he tried to decipher the signature.

“Dad!  Who’s Martha O’Reilly?”  he yelled up the stairs.

©David Jesson, 2020


Mother Carey’s Chickens

“Cheers!”

Daphne fidgeted. Her rumbustious family made the local pub feel overly loud and crowded. She’d not planned to meet the locals this way, so had been painfully aware of the raised eyebrows, even the odd harumph, at her family’s loud and boisterous display. They meant well, for they knew this move was a long-held dream finally fulfilled. Still… there’d now be no avoiding the entire village knowing she was of townie stock.

But, unlike the rest of her family, Daphne wasn’t under any illusions about life in the country. She knew what it was like from experience, and had chosen it with eyes wide open. Her best friend at boarding school came from a farming family. Growing up on a dairy farm, she’d been desperate to get away. Daphne had introduced her friend to a very different life in the big city, but in turn, her friend had introduced Daphne to life on the farm – and Daphne loved it. Although they’d all teased her, she did get invited to stay regularly and she’d accepted every single invitation. When her godmother died leaving her enough money to get on the housing ladder, Daphne had shocked a lot of people by choosing a cottage with a little land.

Although she’d wanted to live near her friend’s family farm, the broadband signal was shocking, and she’d still need to earn her living. So, she’d compromised. Her cottage had both good broadband and mobile reception, and she’d earmarked one of the rooms downstairs for her home office.

Bit by bit she got to know people in the village. She’d made a point to shop locally, without making a noise about it, and chatted to local shopkeepers and the pub landlord – asking for and following recommendations of local services.

Now properly settled in, she’d been keen to get her little stockholding up and running. She’d been putting in lots of hard work preparing the ground for planting in the spring, but also wanted to add some livestock. Taking advice, she’d decided to start small. A local farmer promised her a goat after he’d established she knew how to milk properly, and and as soon as she’d cleared up the pond, he’d let her have some ducks. But what she really wanted was chickens – and she’d a particular yen for bantams. Smaller and low slung, Daphne simply adored the way they looked and walked, and there was no doubting that fresh laid eggs simply couldn’t be beat.

Ever since she’d arrived, she’d been told that Mother Carey’s chickens were the best. But… Mother Carey was famed for not warming to incomers, and had yet to respond to a single greeting from Daphne. She’d accept a drink from her in the pub, but had no truck with any attempts at conversation.

Till that one evening that is…

Having been hard at work digging manure into her beds when the goats and ducks arrived, she’d been told to come to the pub when she was finished to settle up. Changed out of her wellies, and having washed her face and hands, Daphne was still decidedly sweaty and grubby when she walked in. Nevertheless, a warm handshake followed, drinks were bought and cash handed over. Her friendly local farmer had been chatting to none other than Mother Carey when Daphne’d arrived. And, as usual, she’d accepted a drink. But this time, when her son came to collect her, she’d called across “how many of my hens d’you want then?” While Daphne stood gaping, she added “and I s’pose you’ll be wanting one of my bantam cocks too? I’ll send my son round with ’em tomorrow.”

As the door swung shut behind the Careys, there was a burst of laughter in the pub. Daphne, still bewildered by the unexpected exchange, asked “what’s so funny?”

“Oooo you’re honoured, you are!” said her friendly local farmer.
“Not just her hens, but her precious son too – you have arrived!” the landlord added with a chuckle.

© Debra Carey, 2020

#FF Prompt: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday

Once again, it’s time to celebrate the anniversary of Project Gutenberg being unleashed on the world on 1st December.

Birthday_candles

The aim of Project Gutenberg is to help people access books that they might not otherwise be able to get hold of.  This can get a bit tricky because of copyright issues, but in some ways it becomes easier, because there are some fantastic books that are now out of copyright which would get lost forever if it weren’t for PG.

For this month’s #FlashFiction prompt, head on over by clicking to Project Gutenberg, trying not to get distracted by the 50,000 or so books on the site!  Take a look at the Recent Books section and pick one that you like the look of – the title of the book is the title/prompt of your story.

Tell us you tale – any style any genre, just nothing NSFW.

Word limit: 500-750 words
Deadline : Sunday 13th December @ 7am GMT

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

#IWSG: Are some months more productive for writing?

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. It’s an opportunity to talk about doubts and fears you have conquered. To discuss your struggles and triumphs and to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.


December 2 question – Are there months or times of the year that you are more productive with your writing than other months, and why?

Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. I recently took leave for two periods each a fortnight long in order to finish an important writing project. The first period in October went OK, but the second period in November was a total washout.

During the second period, an unexpected family medical issue raised it’s head, but if I’m honest, I was already struggling. I’ve never considered taking part in NaNoWriMo because the final months of the year get swept up in a frenzy of Christmas and family birthdays. I’ve long been the family organizer, and although I am now sharing out those duties, when it comes to this time of year, the people I share the duties with are busy celebrating their birthdays.

But what’s become clear is that’s it’s not just a matter of the time available, keeping my head in the game also becomes unaccountably difficult. With the coming of the year’s end, my mind strays without any prompting to the process of reviewing the year against any hopes or goals I may have set, be that formally or informally. Of course, part of that process is the building of plans for the year to come, which is daft when I’ve not had a chance to finish the old one yet.

So, for me, November – January (inclusive) are bad writing months. I can blog, I even get brief flashes of the story, but despite sitting down immediately to capture it, I find it’s drifted away. It’s enormously frustrating, I’ve decided it’s time I turn to my professional NLP and coaching network for their help to change it.

The awesome co-hosts for the October 7 posting of the IWSG areare Pat Garcia,  Sylvia Ney,  Liesbet @ Roaming About,  Cathrina Constantine and Natalie Aguirre – do take a moment to visit them.


While you’re here, can I tempt you with a #FlashFiction prompt?

Every month, we run a different #FF prompt. This month it’s time for one of our regular features when we celebrate the anniversary of Project Gutenberg being unleashed on the world on 1st December. The aim of Project Gutenberg is to help people access books that they might not otherwise be able to get hold of.  This can get a bit tricky because of copyright issues, but in some ways it becomes easier, because there are some fantastic books that are now out of copyright which would get lost forever if it weren’t for PG.

The prompt goes live on 6th December, for this month’s #FlashFiction prompt, head on over to Project Gutenberg, trying not to get distracted by the 50,000 or so books on the site!  Take a look at the Recent Books section and pick one that you like the look of – the title of the book is the title/prompt of your story.

Tell us your tale – any style any genre, just nothing NSFW.

Word limit: 500-750 words
Deadline : Sunday 13th December @ 7am GMT

If you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link to the prompt page once it’s published. If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.


© Debra Carey, 2020

#Now with added… Fantasy (A Conversation)

Way back before Covid-19 started messing things up for everyone, I had a chat with Debs about where I saw the blog going and where we might want to make some changes.  One of the things that we agreed we wanted to do was to develop the brilliant post that James Pailly wrote for the blog’s third birthday and turn it into a series.  We’ve now had several installments of this, and I thought it might be interesting for you, the reader, and a good learning experience for me, to shake things up a little and do an interview style post for the #NowWithAdded series.  Last time around we had Keith Willis give us his take on Fantasy fiction, which tends to the lighthearted.  Now I know two other writers who brighten up Twitter and who share a similar taste in their writing despite having completely different settings for themselves. Emma Cox (@Sciyan) has shared some exciting and intriguing snippets from her trilogy, book one of which is tentatively entitled The Tempering.  Emma is an advocate of ‘show don’t tell’ and set up #FeelLines to encourage writers to show us how a character is feeling rather than just telling us.  (I freely confess that #FeelLines is one of those things that I feel I should do but have yet to actually engage with).  Emma is a true creative and expresses this through multiple mediums including photography and baking, in addition to writing fiction and poetry.  She can occasionally be found over at http://rainydaywriting.co.uk.  Chris Marshall (@C_DavidMarshall), is also a frequent contributor to Twitter, and his debut novel, From the flesh of the mighty, is moving towards the query stage.  Chris has recently set up his own writer’s website.


DJ: I guess the obvious place to start is how do you describe your work? What genre does it fit into? Or have you had to create your own description?

EC: I predominantly write fantasy. As I anchor many elements of world building for my fictional worlds from different historical aspects of our own, I guess you could say I write a type of historical fantasy.

CM: When I switched from historical fiction to fantasy, I wasn’t sure if there was a distinction between a genre (containing tropes readers expect) and say a character driven story that takes place in a made-up setting. The answer is annoyingly simple: where would it go in a bookstore? A made-up world automatically makes it fantasy, so that’s where I fit in too. I’ve described mine as historical fantasy too for the same reasons, because initially my world was based on elements from early medieval European culture, but I’ve since borrowed more from other cultures.  That being said, I’ve recently started writing some non-fantasy short stories and thinking more about the kinds of stories I like to write and noticing common threads between the characters as people on the fringe who believe in things strongly and act on those beliefs. The fantasy backdrop gives my characters the freedom to move around.

EC: That’s the draw for me to write fantasy. You have free rein to create whatever you want. There’s also an element of escapism. When everything is going against you in real life, it’s nice to have control in your fictional world. I like to put the effort into the world building to make something believable to the reader. I want to make a world you could believe exists/existed.

DJ: You’re both really into your worldbuilding, and I know you’re both working on maps, and other features including religions/mythology. Emma, I think you’ve even gone so far as to develop your own rune-stone based divination system! How important is the world-building to fantasy? Does it end up being a distraction to the writing? Does it end up being a distraction to the characters? (And do you have any other aspects of world building you can tell us about?).

CM: I put off the map for the longest time, then I just made one and it didn’t function the way I needed it to. So, for me, the story had to come first and then the map followed. Since I’m in the middle of re-plotting I’ve had to yet again, draw a new one.

EC: In my early drafts the foundation of my antagonists’ culture was initially based around the Norse. This has morphed into its own over time, but they still share certain elements. For example, they are raiders. However, one clan has managed to unite a large enough force to up from raiding to conquering. My protagonists land is one that has seen better days. In under 20 years it lost its line of royal kings, been through civil war and pestilence. What emerged is a much weaker and divided land, and easy pickings for the enemy across the sea. Weaved into all this is the Temper. It is not so much a magic but more of a supernatural mutation which effects a small number of the population. Different cultures explain its manifestation in different ways. In some, just being Tempered is enough reason to kill you. My two main protagonists are Tempered. One is a physician and a veteran from the civil war (another nameless thug in the shield wall – as his brother would probably put it) and the second is a runaway teenager who he takes under his wing. The story doesn’t follow an elite or chosen one. Just two people who value family and fellowship and are willing to fight for a better future. My reason for map making was originally to gauge distances between locations. When my two MCs split up, I needed to ensure they were both in the right location at the same time to meet again. In the first draft I realised one turned up a week too early!

Yes, an antagonist uses runes as a means of divination. I took a beach walk and ended up collecting a set of pebbles and scratched my own symbols into them and began to figure out how they would be read. Each stone represents one of the pantheon so exploring this aspect of world building really helped flesh out a character and why they trust the guidance of their gods rather than the people around them. I think world building is important because the reader is like a traveller in a foreign land. You have to explain the place and culture. Equally you have to give the reader an idea of what normal life is like in the world before the plot turns it all on its head. However, it is very easy to include too much world building within the story and end up with massive info dumps. So absolutely it can be a distraction. Getting the right balance is tricky. At the forefront are the characters and the plot, but the world around them enriches them both. Chris definitely gets the balance right better than I do. Like Chris, I’ve also given the world a backstory, including mythology as well as history. There’s a sort of magic in this world but each culture views it differently. I didn’t want a dark, grimy world. I take influences from history and it’s easy to forget the white marble from the Classical World was painted and the Christian churches before the reformation were richly decorated and the year filled with religious festivals. I wanted to bring that into the world building. Yes, there are grim periods of war, plague and famine, plus the elders will always bang on about how life was better in their youth, but when things are good, it’s a colourful and vibrant place to be in.

CM: Yours definitely had that feel, so you pulled it off. In many ways I think Hardy might have been an influence in your desire to capture the more rural aspects of life, village festivals, elders, mythology and superstition. Your world was rich and full of life, but more on the pastoral side rather than the aristocratic court side.

I remember being afraid I didn’t include enough of my world. I’m still not sure, but do try to limit the descriptions to what the POV character interacts with in the scene through the senses, and build it from there. A quick one sentence to orient the reader and go from there. I’ll also use the setting to trigger memory if it’s relevant to the story, and that’s a way of letting the reader see more without a paragraph of exposition. I can’t believe you created your own runes. That is hardcore and awesome. Just this last week (a year and a half after you read my story) I decided maybe I should come up with a simple doctrine for the Way of the Warrior King (the main religion guiding the MC and one of his cohorts) because I had never really thought about it. It never came up. But I thought even seven principles or pillars, something simple, could give the reader an idea of what it’s about. Even on the good vs evil level. These pillars may never even enter the story, but it really illustrates, in my mind anyway, how nebulous world-building guidelines, the dos and don’ts, can be for fantasy writers.

EM: I think you’re right. Equally I was drawn to Hardy because I’d recently switched from a corporate job to a rural/environmental one. Plus, as he’d lived in the same area, I could find similarities when he described the natural world. Now I’m living in a 200-year-old cottage with no central heating – I’m fully embracing the pastoral lifestyle! It’s very easy to get stuck into world building. As I go through my edits I have to keep asking, does the world building help the plot and/or characters? If it’s dragging the scene, I will cut it out.

I think adding a doctrine would help. Its principles will have been ingrained into the lives of two of your MCs so it will influence their choices during the story. Runes are a bit hardcore, but then I guess so is map making. Sometimes it’s easier to create it visually in order to understand it.

DJ: That’s a good point about the fact that a lot of fantasy is driven by what is happening at court – I’d not really thought of things in that way before…food for thought… One of my favourite fantasy novels, Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (which I mention because she comes up with a great mythos overlaid on a sort of Espanolesque base), is certainly focused on the Royal Family and the people around them. But I guess sooner or later you need to have somebody powerful to get the troops moving. You’re both keen on the shield-wall, which suggests a lot of people getting mobilised, and some big battle scenes. As well as a certain Viking influence, is that another facet of a world made messy and disordered by events? Or is it more of a question of following characters who are part of a team? Or…?

CM: I’m not sure what you mean by the Viking influence in the world made messy or following the team. In my story the majority of the chaos (the dismantling of a kingdom) is caused by a resurrection of a druid death cult. They are using an invading army to further the chaos, hence the shield wall. But the story definitely follows the threads of a few characters and once they connect over differing goals about a third of the way in. We follow primarily one character, but all have differing personal stakes that drive them forward.

I think for me there are certain elements of those early Viking Dane cultures, melded in with 6th-8th century Anglo-Saxon culture in terms of fighting styles and weapons, but that is really only one kingdom. Yes, it’s the main one where everything goes to crap, but two of my main characters are counter to all that. They’re monks, but one uses a ranged bow and a blackthorn shillelagh walking stick, while the other comes from a northern kingdom based on various elements of Canadian and African native cultures. I don’t think anything is a mirror of any but an assemblage of borrowed bits to create something new. The nice thing about fantasy is the ability of the storyteller to create from existing real-world cultures. And my MC refuses to use any weapon, so he represents a rejection of all of them.

Emma’s use of the ‘Temper’ was an interesting idea for a sort of magic system that evolved from her world. I liked that some characters knew far more than others about it. We saw characters trying to figure this thing out, even though it has existed for a long time. My point is that it came out of world building and I think that’s key to making a magic system, whether it’s magic or not, hard or soft, whatever, feel like it belongs, like it’s a apart of the world. In my story the characters don’t believe in magic because it doesn’t exist. BUT, it kind of does, through the antagonist’s use of ritual and sacred rites. Even this is new though, born out of an incident that happened maybe 50 years prior to the story’s beginning. So, we have the beginning of a magic system born out of the world. Likewise, the main characters have also experienced supernatural intervention by their deity, but they have no idea how any of it works. They’re figuring it out as they go along, dragging the reader with them. So out of this “soft” world of the unseen a “soft” magic system is emerging in which the characters are learning what is possible along with the reader. But the story is only two weeks, so really it’s only the inception of these ideas and not their culmination.

EC: Exactly, we can pick-a-mix what we like, yet we have to ensure collectively it works. You wouldn’t put flying cars into a medieval style setting (if you did, you would need to fully explain why there is nothing odd about this). That’s what I like about your MC. Luke had his lightsaber, Arthur had Excalibur. Your MC doesn’t need a weapon.

Yes, the Temper has always been present. In my protagonists’ case the general population in their land distrusts them and 800 years of kings fuelling this has meant most Tempered keep to themselves and muddle along as best they can in secret. In your story, following the birth of magic is very interesting. Especially one born from catalyst. War and hardship, as terrible as they are, do drive people to innovate and discover. In world building there is a desire to explain everything, but in some cases keeping some things ambiguous makes it more interesting. A bit like the awe you feel watching a magic trick. Part of you wants to believe the magic is real. When the trick is revealed you tend to feel a bit deflated.

CM: I like that too. What I’m enjoying about mine is that I don’t need to explain because the characters are in as much shock and awe, maybe more so, than the reader. They have questions and try to come up with the best answers that make sense to them, and muddle through it all, learning like us. I struggled with the idea of a prologue that would explain the origins, in-scene, no exposition, but I decided it didn’t really matter to the story I was telling. It now takes place over two weeks, there are high personal stakes and a ticking clock pushing my MC forward. No one wants to do any of this for a greater cause. They all have personal reasons and huge personal losses if they fail, which doesn’t really give them time to relive the past or overly try to figure out the why of it all.

Here’s a question to you: how do you go about showing the antagonist’s MOTIVES without a dramatic monologue? I suppose just have the characters guess since they know no more than the reader.

EC: I show the antagonists motives through their actions. Having a character with a foot in both camps also helps to offload information. As my protag/antag don’t see one another as adversaries until much later, it’s difficult to get them together to even allow a monologue. Sometimes the protagonists can only make assumptions and muddle along, which is very much how I feel when it comes to real life in general! It’s also impossible to work out the motives of an antagonist who uses divination runes to make decisions.

Fantasy usually entails putting your characters into seemingly hopeless situations. Their arcs force them to endure and to change, and to never lose hope despite everything. You make them see what is important in their life. Now it’s rare for me to have to make decisions in a life or death situation, but I feel frustration, anxiety and hopelessness at times. My problems are a lot smaller than my characters. But, like them, I know the sun will rise tomorrow and another day brings another chance. I think that’s what fantasy gives me.

CM: Mine is sort of along that same vein, with respect to finding a way to endure. I like how you put that. My story begins with three utterly broken people who have never found a way to deal with their trauma and grief from being heroes. I’ve got a brief snapshot of what happens after the hero’s journey. It’s three years later and their experience has pushed them to the point where living after the return home has never been easy. I’ve enjoyed telling a story like this because the hero’s journey is so common and there’s nothing wrong with that as a framework, but we never get to see the emotional toll that journey takes on the heroes because the story ends. With my three guys it was not happily ever after, it was “I don’t know how to live each day and I don’t EVER want to do this again because it ruined me the first time”. But guess what? You’re going to do it again because that’s the only way either of you are going to come out the other side of this. Yay Fantasy!

But it’s real, and I think both of us have made it a point to create real people that go through what real people go through. For a lot of people this life is hard, but our heroes are heroes not because they slayed the beast and brought home the elixir but because they decided to keep living and found a way through.

They endured. I love it, Emma!

EC: Exactly! We see similar physical and mental tolls on the MCs in other fantasy novels like Frodo in the aftermath of Tolkien’s LOTR and Ged once his magic is spent in Le Guin’s Earthsea. Hobb tells Fitz’s journey over three trilogies and he is forced to endure but between the 6th and 7th book he gets a brief glimpse of happiness before being plunged into the thick of it one final time. My story will be told across a trilogy and a character says victory does not end like the bards put it. Victory means picking up the shattered remains of yourself and everything you held dear like a smashed vessel and putting it back together again. What comes after victory is the hardest part. Characters change. Like you, they seem real to me. It’s wonderful for an introvert like me to create people and I never base them on celebrities or people I know. Each significant character I introduce, I write down at least three aspirations for them. Some they have already fulfilled or will during the book and some they will never realise, but it acts as a drive. We all have regrets and think, ‘I wish I’d have done that,’ when we look back. I didn’t want to make characters who succeed in everything and ride off into the sunset because it doesn’t happen in reality. For example, my MC absolutely wants a wife and a large family. But circumstances mean he is alone, but in his ward he sees a warped reflection of what he yearns for. Equally I didn’t want to write a Chosen One storyline. Yes, my MCs have supernatural abilities but I like to think anyone with the endurance would equally prevail. Going back to the antagonists, I dislike the stark Good vs. Evil. I think it can be justified in something supernatural and primal, but not between people. I enjoy writing an antagonist who could be seen as a flawed protagonist if the story was written from their perspective. I really do enjoy the creativity fantasy offers. Creativity (and daydreaming) has always been a huge part of who I am.

CM: I think the big problem with the chosen one trope is that there is usually a prophecy and the character is fumbling though trying to discover their true power. Where it’s done well is when the MC has something they want that’s personal, or find themselves in a situation where they have to act, which leads to consequences that further the plot. In a way, all good fantasy protagonists could be chosen ones. I think I just blew my own mind.

Your mention of Ged got me thinking about that idea. He wants to defeat the Shadow or darkness (I’m too lazy to pull it off the bookshelf) but in the end, he’s kind of the chosen one, the only one who can do it. Frodo is kind of the same. No one says Frodo or nothing. He’s like “yeah, I’ll take the damn thing to Mordor, but one of YOU is going to have show me how to get there.” You could say the ring chose him, or Gandalf, but no one really does. He just has it because it was left to him 16 YEARS ago. That’s not a chosen one, yet he’s kind of the only one who can do it, so he’s a chosen one. Your Joy could kind of be like that. My Drostan. Kind of chosen, but never would have gotten there without a personal motivation and high personal stakes pushing them (not, I have to save the kingdom because I’m the only one up to the task).

Both our stories have plenty of people up to the task, but there is something distinct about our protagonists (I said Joy, but Artan as well) that makes them the only ones who can do it. It’s their story.

EC: Yes, you can have the ‘save the world’ need, but unless the character has a personal motive it’s hard for the reader to invest in them. I also find it unbelievable when a character goes from newbie to badass in too short a space of time. They need to develop and grow. Definitely Frodo stepped up to the task (although part of me wonders what would have happened if Tom Bombadil had taken it). You’re right there. Stepping into Artan’s backstory, during the war the man leading the body of troops he was in fled. Faced with death and the knowledge his woman faced a worst fate if they were defeated, he stepped from rank, gave a rousing speech and their group were the catalyst which helped win the battle. Anyone else could have done the same as him but he saw his future and the only way to get there was to face the fray and win. Others are indeed up to the task. Which makes it interesting if you put an antagonist in the goodies ranks with the same ‘save the world’ goal but with less pure personal motives than the MC. Our characters also have the help from others. Fyfa is the glue in yours. Our characters are fallible and at times they lose hope and confidence. But the people surrounding them can also help them find the will to continue.

CM: So true. And she is. She’s also a mirror for three broken men. Not in a ‘you have to get over this’ way, but more like ‘you have to still find a way to move through it even though it seems impossible’ kind of way. Tom B is an enigma. I have no idea. I suppose he would have lost it, and someone would have found it again. New heroes. Same story.

EC: I loved her character. Fantasy, especially historical fantasy, sometimes has a tendency to either make female characters a damsel who needs saving, or take away all their femininity save for a bit of revealing cleavage. Yes, women can be warriors and men can be healers, but too often I’ve read female leads preferring masculine traits and clothing who mock the women surrounding her who dress in skirts and prefer learning a musical instrument rather than how to kill people with swords.

CM: OR, kill the woman off early to spark the male lead to act, or give him a reason to be proactive or up the stakes. In Fyfa’s culture she is a warlord and since that is normal in that society she has no need to come across as someone who needs to prove themselves or be masculine because both sexes are warriors. I did struggle with how to present her.

EC: You present her well. Along with your world building the reader can get behind her character. You don’t have to follow reality’s structure in fantasy. However, writers like Pratchett wrote comedy and satire, but there were some ugly reflections of our reality in the stories too. Cheery, is a good example. A female dwarf (but all dwarfs despite their sex look the same). She starts wearing makeup, heels and earrings which outrages all the male dwarfs but begins a movement with the other female dwarfs. So fantasy can have that element of freedom and escapism, and it can also be a place to explore themes we deal with here and now, but in an alternative (possibly safe?) place.

DJ: But one final question: having invented your own worlds, do you ever find some aspect of them crossing back and affecting how you do things in real life?

EC:I’ll have a go at answering… (plus, I really need to update my neglected website). While I’m sourly disappointed my characters haven’t manifested into our world, I found the rural life I was writing about very appealing so I swapped a terrace in a tourist beach town for a 200 year old stone cottage in the woods, which is very similar to a location in my book. I’m not taking up archery (yet…) or sword fighting, but there are elements of my research which spark an interest or rekindle old ones, like plant medicine (my MC is a physician and into his herbs). In creating different cultures there are aspects which I find resonate with my own feelings of how we should live within our environment. I’m not preaching made up gods, but in a reality which drives consumerism and unsustainable growth, I find more and more the need to take a step back to create deeper connections with people and the world around me. The characters also peek through. I find myself quoting characters to myself or others in certain situations. In writing (and reading) I discover characters I can relate and aspire to. Sometimes I’ll emulate a trait I gave a character when I approach a situation because I want to change my own method of dealing with it. What I find wonderful is that despite existing in the head of the author, the characters we create may get someone through a tough time or help shape them. There’s a huge amount of magic within the pages of a book.

CM: All well-said, Emma. I think if anything for me, it’s that I try to live more intentionally. In the aftermath of heroism, the accompanying glory is fleeting and the trauma that came with it lingers. Each of my characters avoid dealing with that trauma in different ways according to their personalities and situation. As a monk in a large port city, Drostan pours all of himself into his work. By relentlessly devoting himself to caring for widows and orphans, the weak and the poor, he finds a purpose that he assumes will find favour with his god. He is never idle because there is always someone who needs help. We hear so often that you have to take care of yourself first. It sounds selfish, doesn’t it? But the point is that he never confronts the grief and trauma of what happened to him and others. Tam is also a monk, but he is so overwhelmed with the futility of his efforts that he turns his back on the world, isolates himself and devotes his time to the pursuit of spiritual disciplines. He avoids anything that leads to self-awareness, falling into what comes easy for him. Korvall has no escape. He returns from a brutal war only to still be chief of war and fight more. He is visible, and to admit to suffering from the trauma of war (his job) is weakness. So, he numbs and escapes in the only way available to him. He gives himself over to wholly to vices of drinking, women, gambling. he loses everything. Burns every bridge., eventually resorting to theft to feed himself. These three remind me that I need to live in a way that I am always pursuing what my purpose in life is, and living each day, each hour according to that purpose. It isn’t easy. I get into ruts like everyone else, but I’m always aware I’m in one, and that there are things I know that bring me closer to my purpose that I’ve neglected.

DJ: That’s a great note to end on.  Thanks both for your time and thoughts – it’s been great to see behind the scenes of your respective stories, both written and lived.