Tag Archives: fantasy

The Ogres: Chapter 1: The Stairs

At the top of a hill in Perthshire is a small cave. I can’t tell you where that cave is, but I should say that if you do find yourself at the top of a Perthshire hill please watch your step.

In films we see mysterious caves leading to caverns filled with treasure (or at the very least mystery). Most caves I encountered as a child were more like cracks in the hillside. We used our imaginations to make them seem bigger.

But there is one cave, one single cave that is very different. It has no name, no one ever thought to give it one. Even a child may have to duck to get in. So much wet, green, foliage surrounds the entrance that during the spring and summer you could walk past it without even noticing.

If you did notice. If you peeled back the moss and the bracken and slipped inside AND if you had a torch, you could walk to the back of the cave. That’s where the steps are.

There are legends about these steps but they are not our legends. These legends don’t lie hidden in the stories we tell our children, they aren’t part of our heritage.

They are someone else’s legends. A kind of people that would shock you if you met them. They are different from us, so very different.

One of their stories is often told around the campfire at the top of that hill. It’s an important story for their people; it’s about the second time they used those stairs. But, to understand it you need to know about the first time they used them.

The metal

Long ago. Long before the grass grew on Scottish hillsides. Long before we had great rivers. Even before we had a monster in Loch Ness. There was the ice.

The bigger folk (that’s what they call themselves) don’t do well in the cold. When the ice came they grew ill. Their food stopped growing. The cold bit them and they had no energy to bite back.

Then came Ey-Kan. He was the biggest and the strongest of the bigger folk. The largest there had ever been. He drew his strength from the earth itself and he made a fire that could fight the ice and warm their homes even when the logs were gone. He was their magic man.

Ey-Kan could only help so much and the ice grew thicker and colder every day. One morning he smashed through three feet of solid ice just so he could touch the ground. He asked it what to do and it’s answer left him colder on the inside than the ice ever could.

The earth told him that the ice would grow like this for many, many seasons to come. Soon food would not grow here, the water would stop flowing, and the few trees left growing would crumble and die. So full of ice that they would be useless even as firewood.

The bigger folk could not stay here. However, unlike the little people, they weren’t used to travel. Tribes of bigger-folk might visit one another but they always came home.

They were built for work. Ey-Kan was the last of his tribe to feel hunger and he used the energy he had left to do what he did best; make metal. The little people learned metal work from the bigger-folk but they could never master it. They were too feeble, too fragile, too flammable, to do what Ey-Kan could.

He ripped the ice away, then tore into the earth. He dug and dug with his huge, hard, hands. At last he found the ingredients he needed. A secret recipe of metal that is now lost from our world. One known only to Ey-Kan.

The Object

Ey-Kan took the ingredients to his forge and fuelled the fire. He grabbed his largest crucible (a huge stone pot almost as big as his leg). The ingredients were dropped in and Ey-Kan made a few more trips out to the hole, collecting as much material as he could. On his twelfth trip it was just right.

He held the crucible over the flames and waited. Once the chunks had melted together, glowing a dull brown colour, Ey-Kan changed the fuel underneath and bellowed air in. The flames grew.

The metal in the crucible changed colour over and over, from brown to purple, purple to blue, blue to red, then red to yellow. If Ey-Kan weren’t one of the bigger-folk this is where he might have stopped. Instead he took off his coat, added a special fuel and watched the other colours show (the ones only the bigger-folk could see).

His eyes were built for looking at fire. They relaxed in the glow. In the heat. A welcome change to the cold whiteness outside. He worked for hours, doing things that only someone with fireproof hands can achieve (and even then, only with practice).

As a new day’s sunlight trickled through his window, lighting the side of the forge bright orange, Ey-Kan lifted the object to inspect it.

Flattened out on one side, a spike as sharp as a needle on the other, and down the middle was a long, thick handle made entirely from the same metal. It was a pickaxe unlike anything the bigger-folk had ever made. It was the object that would save his people.

Digging

Digging was the wrong word for what Ey-Kan did that day. It was more like his pick-axe told the earth and the rocks where to move. It sliced through ice. Through soil. Through cold hard rock. Every swing the same. He pulled back, struck, and the material at his feet parted to let him through.

It took very little time to open the cave. The rock shifted aside with a noise like brick sliding on brick. Another step with each swing. At two-hundred swings Ey-Kan’s tribe wondered what he was doing and made their way to the cave. They stopped hearing him after the three-hundredth swing.

Their food was gone. Their water frozen. There was nothing left for them on the surface and so they followed the newly-formed steps cut ahead of them. As they went further they changed. Their bodies growing more used to the heat under the hill.

Ey-Kan’s steps kept going. So deep that the walls grew red with heat. The bigger-folk could take it. This was all energy to them.

Finally, after possibly a thousand steps their way opened up to reveal a huge cavern. A tunnel at the far end led back up to the surface. Ey-Kan had gone to find more of the bigger-folk.

In time these others found their way down to the cavern. It was here that they built their home. However, it was the last any of them would ever see of Ey-Kan or his pick-axe.

The second time

Years passed and the bigger-folk grew used to their home in the depths of the earth. However, two of them grew tired, and desperate to see the land of their ancestors. They walked up the thousand steps, coughing from the dust. These stairs hadn’t been used in centuries and in the world above, the bigger folk had become the stuff of stories.

There are many tales of their experiences up those stairs. I’ll tell you one of them next week. If you’d like these stories in your e-mail inbox (in an easy to print pdf document) click here.

Thank you for reading, John

TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 2: ROLLY BOX JUST CLICK HERE

Story Sundays

From this week onwards I’ll be putting out something I call ‘Story Sundays’. Every Sunday I will release one chapter of ‘Marcus’ (my new horror book for over 12s) and one chapter of ‘The Ogres’ (for children aged 5 years and up). These releases will continue for the next eight weeks.

Here’s a bit about each of the books so you can decide if you’d like a new chapter delivered to your e-mail inbox every Sunday:

Marcus

Wish you could be a kid forever? The reality is more grim than Peter Pan would have us believe. In this serialised book you’ll meet Marcus; a popular ten year old kid who knows the best games.

Marcus is hiding a secret. One dry November afternoon his friend James finds a second world war photograph bearing an uncanny resemblance to Marcus. The ‘boy’s’ deception is about to unravel.

However, for those investigating Marcus’ secret, their curiosity could be their undoing.

Set within the backdrop of the small Scottish town of Crieff during the 1990s, this is a story about guilt, lies, and sacrifice.

To subscribe to this serialised book simply click on this link (or on the photo).

UPDATE: following this linkYou can now read live chapters by .

The Ogres

The ‘Bigger-Folk’, as they call themselves, have lived under a hill for thousands of years. They know nothing about the hu-mans when they re-emerge into the world.

With the help of two human brothers they learn quickly that marshmallows are delicious, cars are easily torn apart, and people get a shock when you sit in a fire for a heat (The bigger-folk are fire-proof).

In human culture the ‘Bigger-folk’ have had many names; ogres, trolls, giants, orcs. They’ve had a bad rap. All the same, their brains don’t function too well in the ‘cold’ up here on the surface. The brothers are about to find out exactly how clumsy, how destructive, but also how caring these creatures can be.

If you would like to get a new chapter of ‘The Bigger Folk’ in your inbox every Sunday please click on this link (or on the photo).

UPDATE: You can now catch up with the latest chapters by following this link.

Thank You

I’ve been writing for a few years now. My first two books ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ and ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ are both available for kindle or in paperback editions (Just click the links).

The only thing that keeps me writing is knowing that people read my work and enjoy it. I’d like to thank you today for stopping by the site and (hopefully) for signing up for the new books.

This is a new concept for me. I’ve never serialised before and I really hope you’ll enjoy it.

If you have any issues with sign-up, or with the e-mails themselves please don’t hesitate to contact me.

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John

 

Go hug your mum (most kids’ books would have killed her by now)

There’s an almost unspoken rule in kids fiction; before the story begins kill the parents. Harry Potter loses his parents, Sophie in the BFG is an orphan, etc. etc. Then there’s a whole other category of what you might call half-orphans; children who have lost their mothers (i.e. Danny [champion of the world], Hiccup [How to train your dragon], Belle [Beauty and the Beast].)

There must be some literary reason behind all this maternal slaughter but the one that seemed to flair up most for me (after I decided to keep my characters’ mums alive) came as a bit of a surprise.

Initially I assumed that all the parents were being killed off because parents would make the story too boring for kids. However, the more I write mum characters the more I see how brilliant, exciting, and shocking they can be. Turns out mums aren’t so boring after all. So why do so many children’s books commit matricide?

I can boil my feelings on it down to a moment I had when writing ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’. There’s a battle, a character full of malevolence and power is poised to begin a magical takeover of the non-magical world, and all the key good guys are lining up to stop him.

Key among these is a mum with more than enough power to take him on. Originally I had her set up to do just that and then something shoved that option aside; fear. Not her fear (she was brave, bold, and everything I needed her to be), instead I found myself burgeoned with ridiculous amounts of worry on the part of her child. This is when I realised the real reason that parents stay out of the action in children’s fiction; it’s all just too much for the children to take.

As a writer you’re faced with a choice between endless descriptions of a child’s concern for their parent, or you can avoid this and make the child seem uncaring or even callous in their disregard for their mum’s safety.

The simple truth is that you can’t write a believable child without addressing their relationship with their parents. When you take their parents out of the picture, your character can get on with the adventuring.

When you take the mum out, in a strange way, you remove the character’s worries about the possibility of losing a source of deep reassurance, support, and love. Mums can’t always be part of the action because the risk is simply too great for the child protagonists.

It looks like mums are sometimes too big, too emotionally all-encompassing to be included in children’s stories. In other words mums are a bit too awesome for kids books.

Can you think of any kids books that manage to keep the mums involved? Do you have any favourite literary mums? Feel free to share in the comments and over on Facebook or Twitter.

As always thanks for reading, and happy mothers day to all the mums out there.

All the best, John

Knocking the mentor off his pedestal

Most fantasy fiction has at least one ‘mentor’; Harry had Dumbledore, the hobbits had Gandalf, and Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan (and yes I do count Star Wars as fantasy more than Sci-Fi). They all take the form of that perfect expert with all the knowledge/wisdom to ensure that the hero knows everything they need to.

Most of the mentors listed also come with glaring flaws (SPOILERS AHEAD): Dumbledore knowingly coaches Harry in preparation for the boy to sacrifice himself, Gandalf does much the same for Froddo, and Obi Wan neglects to tell Luke some pretty important stuff about his dad in the hopes that it would make it easier for Luke to kill Darth Vader.

In fact all of these mentors seem to share the exact same flaw embodying a shocking degree of ruthlessness. I didn’t want a ruthless mentor for Jack but I did accept that Fynn would eventually have to demonstrate flaws.

I waited till the second book to investigate those flaws and decided to tackle an issue that adults often shield kids from; us ‘grown-up’ types sometimes find it hard to cope with things. In Spark of Dreams I allowed the pressure of being the ‘expert’ to get to Jack’s mentor, specifically because I felt that Fynn’s reclusive nature wouldn’t have combined well with his new degree of responsibility. It made him crack a little, showing a side of himself we hadn’t met before.

I think it’s important for kids to know that sometimes they won’t react to challenges the way they’d like to. It takes you less by surprise if you can prepare for that. Life throws all kinds of stuff at us, sometimes we cope and sometimes we don’t. For a short while I wanted to see how my characters would react when their mentor didn’t cope.

Don’t worry, Fynn gets back to himself soon enough, but it allowed me to show all of the characters in a different light. Some became more fragile and others grew stronger and in the end they do what needs to be done.

We’re bigger then ourselves and our support network is more a part of us than we realise. I enjoyed getting the chance to experiment with that in Spark of Dreams but most of all I found it refreshing to see how well the younger characters coped.

Do you think it’s important for kids to learn a lesson like this? What other aspects of our lives do you think we hide from children unnecessarily? 

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

Falling for the Villain

438px-Villainc.svgNot long ago I had a twitter conversation with ‘Amber Medley‘ (a fellow NaNoWriMo writer). The basic idea was how to move forward in writing (tackling the dreaded writer’s block). I suggested a technique I use where I take a character out of the book and look at what they do in different settings.

Eventually the conversation moved on to how we draw believable characters, especially villains; viz. not writing a bad guy who just goes ‘Mwahahahah!’.

The interesting point that came up was the fact that the more human your bad guy gets, the easier it is to like him/her and, as a writer, you typically don’t feel you should like your villain.

I have a confession to make. Originally the primary villain of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ (the ‘Wishmaster’) was going to be the overarching bad guy for the series. The ‘Wishmaster’ was to follow Jack throughout the book series, building in malice and in his capacity for harm in natural stages until Jack would have no choice but to face up to him in a huge final showdown.

This sounds dangerously close to the story of another non-magical boy who discovers he can do magic and faces off against a deadly foe. You can imagine my relief then when, at some point in November 2014, I sat down with a cup of tea, started my writing for the night and, for the first time, was properly introduced to my ‘Wishmaster’. I had gotten him all wrong.

He was still just as dangerous, still as malicious, and cruel, but then I started to realise what had brought him there; a need to share his gifts with others and his discomfort at finding that others actually got by fine without his gifts. He had grown resentful of these people’s lack of gratitude and I suddenly understood who he was and the story he needed to need to tell me.

I still couldn’t let him take over my first book, and I still needed him to take a back seat for ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ but I made him bide his time. I knew his story now and I knew where he was going to have to go. He would remain a frightful memory for Jack and his friends for a while. After all, their story was just beginning. However, I was sure to set aside space in ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ and, to an extent, in ‘Thea’s Quest’ (Book 4).

I grew to care for my villain and in doing so I grew to enjoy what I was writing a lot more. It gained more depth and I found it easier to connect with all of the characters (even bit players).

During my twitter conversation the other day ‘Amber Medley‘ pointed out the fact that she was worried about growing to like her villain but if I hadn’t grown to like mine I don’t know if the books would have moved forward at the pace they did. Perhaps sometimes it pays to like the villain.

The Yuletide Thieves (A Christmas Adventure)

Christmas-Tree-Books-1Happy Christmas Eve everyone, or as people in Iceland call it ‘Jolabokaflod’ (or “The Christmas Book Flood”) where people give each other books as presents and you spend the rest of the day reading.

This sounded so great that I decided that today was the perfect day to publish “The Yuletide Thieves (A Fey Adventure)”. It’s based on characters designed by local children in the ‘design a Jack Reusen Character’ competition this summer. Here’s a link to the new book on Amazon (just click this link).

We follow a girl called Summer who loses something important to her on Christmas eve. What’s more, she’s not the only one losing special things. With the help of an ice dragon (called Jenny), an Elf (called Grace), and a strange boy called Sandy, Summer sets out to reunite everyone with what’s special to them at Christmas.

There isn’t print edition at the moment but I’ll be giving all profits from the sale of the Kindle book to Crieff Primary School.

1450919225617You can also sign up for a free trial of ‘Kindle Unlimited’ (click here) which will give you free access to a heap of different books AND you can read Kindle books on almost any device with apps and software available here. (Don’t forget that the other Jack Reusen books are currently available for Kindle and both a free for Kindle Unlimited members 🙂 )

Happy Jolabokaflod everyone, all the best, and Merry Christmas, from John

(Image credit for the cover image goes to http://s9.photobucket.com/user/Kassiah/media/SwoonyBoys/Christmas-Tree-Books-1.jpg.html)

Staying on target

wpid-training_dummy_500.jpgToday I passed 12,000 words of ‘Thea’s Quest’. Chapter six is done and I’m close enough to my word-count target to feel fairly comfortable. It was a hard slog today (wrote almost 4,000 words) but I really feel like it was worth it.

It’s a lot of fun experimenting with what Thea will do in different situations, it’s telling me so much more about who she really is and what the tone of the other books in her series will have.

As I said in my previous post, I won’t have much time for blog posting during all the other writing madness this month but when things go right it’s nice to share. Hope you’re all well, and as always thanks for reading (and for stopping by). All the best, John

Thea’s Quest

11703059_507851296031556_3727381389049552295_nYep, the beginning of Thea’s story is already taking shape. The fifth book set in the world of Fey now has five (very rough) chapters and it’s surprisingly different from Jack’s books. This month also marks the one year anniversary of the very beginning of Jack’s (and Thea’s) adventures. I still can’t believe how quickly this year has flown by and I’m really thankful for the reception the books have had so far.

Thea is such a different character to write about. I now have a character that instantly understands all of the basic things about Fey, she’s a lot less surprised by magical creatures and events than Jack was and I’m really enjoying the fact that I can just let odd things happen and then drive the story forward. It was always fun to share Jack’s awe as a new world unfolded around him but there’s something really liberating about just taking that magic for granted now.

The new book series will be released more slowly than the first as I now realise just how demanding it is to do all of the additional stuff required of a book. First there’s editing, then there’s talking about the books (because otherwise how would people hear about them), and alongside all of this I need to go over cover designs etc. with Karen but to be honest the bulk of the work there is on Karen (she knows her stuff so well, I barely need to go into any detail with her, she just gets it).

Talking about the books is definitely the most fun of the two ‘non-writing’ jobs associated with writing, I’ve been for school visits, held an in-store book launch, joined in with an authors event to do a book talk at the Crieff arts festival, not to mention a steady stream of communication with readers through this blog and the social media profiles I set up for the books over on facebook and twitter.

The big bad EDITING job is never a thrill and it’s this that has prompted me to spread out my book releases a little. I’d rather be able to spend more time chatting about the books and doing a wee bit of editing each week than be locked to the computer almost every day desperately trying to catch up with editing. At least for the foreseeable future I think we’ll be on about two book releases a year. I just don’t think I’ll be able to do four in one year again for a while.

Speaking of editing the next two books are on their way but it is taking a while. Though it’s less work this time through (I’m definitely learning from my mistakes), it’s still work. I’m going to try and get Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ away to the printers in the next couple of weeks (should be printed by the start of December) and ‘Jack Reusen and the Christmas Fox’ should arrive a week or so later (it’s a Christmas story so definitely want to get a rush on that).

In the mean time I can share a wee bit about Thea’s Quest (though it probably won’t be out until next summer). In Thea’s first book we find that the polar-bear girl has discovered some pretty impressive powers (even more impressive than turning into a polar bear). She is struggling to understand them though and she’s having an even harder time learning to control them. Her quest will take her to parts of Fey she’s only ever heard of in stories and her journey will teach her a lot about herself and her friends. Where the Jack Reusen books introduced us to a strange other world, Thea’s books will take us on a voyage steeped in ancient magic and even older stories.

I’m really enjoying the research for these books, I started looking ahead to some of the places Thea might visit earlier this year, I even posted a few sample pictures on the Jack Reusen facebook page. I desperately want to get the third and fourth books out before Christmas so I probably won’t be blogging a whole lot over the next few weeks. Every spare minute I have this November is going to be spent on books. Hope it all works out, wish me luck. As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

And the winner is….

2015-08-21 15.39.35Last weekend, in conjunction with Fun Junction (and to tie in with the Crieff Arts Festival and the mini book festival that ran within it titled ‘Writers Live‘), I ran a ‘Design a Jack Reusen Character’ competition. All the entries had to be in by the end of the weekend and I’ve had a tricky job on my hands ever since.

Basically I liked so many of the entries I received that I decided to have three winners. The fourth book will be out in November, it’s a condensed chapter story set at Christmas time, and I’ve left space for a short story to fit in along side it. I’ll be starting work on the short story tonight but in the meantime I thought I’d share the winners’ artwork.

20150827135455058_0001Congratulations to Jenny, who’s already had a wee mention in the Acknowledgements in ‘Spark of Dreams’. Jenny even submitted a character description along with her picture so here it is:

“Name: Stormfly
What is it: Dragon
Qualities: Friendly, cold dragon. She breathes ice straight up into the sky to make snow storm clouds and tail whacks the ground and is as strong as an earthquake.”

I’m looking forward to seeing what ‘Stormfly’ gets up to in the story (though I may have to ask Jenny if I can give her a different name as she shares her name with Astrid’s dragon in ‘How to train Your Dragon’). I have to confess that I’ve been hunting for an excuse to put a dragon into Fey to see what happens, so thank you Jenny, I’m really excited about this one.

wpid-wp-1440709009452.gifNext, congratulations to Summer. Summer’s character didn’t have a name but I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the picture. I’m not sure how well this will come across in the image here but basically almost every part of this picture sparkles. The twinkling black sky and the girl in the shimmering party dress already have me setting out a wee starting scene on a frosty night in Fey. Thank you Summer.

20150827135514242_0001Finally congratulations to Grace for her ’10 eyed monster’. I’ve a feeling that this guy is going to have an interesting role to play in the story. My first thoughts picture him living deep in a cave. He comes across as scary and I don’t want to lose that so I’ll need to think hard about what he’ll be up to, in what will basically be a Christmas story. Every good story needs some conflict and I think the ten eyed monster will be just the ticket. Thank you Grace.

It’s going to take me a wee while to get this story drafted up but I’ll be sure to post it on here when it’s ready and it will also be available in print in November. Of course it wouldn’t be fair to ask the contributors to buy a copy so I’ll be sure to set aside a free copy for each of them that they can get hold of before they appear on the shelves.

I’ll contact the winners shortly and will hopefully have their story ready for them in the next few weeks but in the meantime I’d like to ask people to give them a big social media round of applause with likes or favourites on their pictures (you can find them by clicking this link for facebook and this, this, and this link for twitter). As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

Playing to an empty room? (and some info about competitions)

theater-105573_1280Just a short one tonight as I’m getting my ideas together for my book talk at ‘Writers Live!’ on Saturday. Basically that’s the main thing on my mind at the moment; will people come to my book talk? The idea of talking to an empty room is far more daunting than the thought of talking in front of a big crowd.

So far responses on the events page seem promising so I’ll try and hold back on the anxiety, also I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the entries for the competition I’m running in conjunction with Fun Junction.

I’ve actually got two different competitions running in conjunction with my book talk for Crieff Arts Festival but only one of them ends this weekend: The ‘Design a Jack Reusen Character’ competition is being run in conjunction with Fun Junction (where entries can be handed in). Simply design a character to feature in a Jack Reusen book. I’ll write the character into a short story which will appear on this site soon after the arts festival, but it will also be appearing in print and released inside a book that’s due to come out just before Christmas (I’ll post the title of the new book tomorrow night 😉 ).

You can submit a picture, a character description, or both. Just in case you don’t get a chance before the talk, I’ll also be bringing a big pile of paper and pencils along to the Strathearn Artspace on Saturday so that children (and adults if they want) can draw up their characters and hand them in either to me on the day. You can also drop off entries at Fun Junction up until 5:15pm on Saturday (if you want to take your time drawing/writing). Judging will take place this weekend and entries should either be dropped in to Fun Junction, or scanned and sent digitally to either the Jack Reusen facebook account, twitter account, or to jackreusen@hotmail.co.uk.

The second competition will now be running until the end of August: Simply explain what you liked most about ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ on the facebook page to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of either ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘, ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ or (if you don’t mind the wait), you can get an early release, signed edition of ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ when it comes out in the Autumn.

If you haven’t already, please pop along to the events page on facebook and say whether you’ll be able to make it along to the book talk (if I know that people are coming I might be able to relax enough for that ‘humming’ noise in my ears to go away 😉 ). As always thanks for reading, all the best, John