Tag Archives: Fey

Reminding an Author about writing: Visiting Braco Primary School

This post is long overdue. I normally like to post about a school visit within a few days but I’ve been swamped with writing/book related work over the past couple of months.

Finally, I have a little breathing space so I thought I’d pop on and talk about my visit to Braco Primary School.

I was lucky enough to get to talk to the whole school. The children were brilliant, welcoming, and they asked some really interesting, and surprising, questions (like ‘Do you talk about ethics in your books?’ and ‘How does an author make money?”).

Everyone likes a story

multi colour rainbow shoes john bray author crieff perthshireI don’t always talk to younger year groups, as the Jack Reusen books are aimed at children aged 7 years and up. However, I came prepared with a wee story I wrote a while ago called ‘Drip the Bogey Ogre’ (you can read the whole thing by clicking this link). The primary ones and twos were lovely and we had a fun five minutes or so talking about my shoes as well (I wore my multi-coloured shoes).

From there I went on to talk to the older school. There seems to be a collection of would-be authors in the older school and they all had questions about improving their writing and about aspects of the writing process like motivation and inspiration.

I hope I didn’t sound too repetitive but one thing I kept going back to was the fact that writing is like exercise; you need to do it regularly to be in good shape, and you have to have good quality ingredients to put into it.

With writing, you get out what you put in

Just as a healthy body comes from regular exercise and good nutrition, so too does a healthy capacity for writing come from writing regularly and consuming only good quality books.

These sorts of things always have more impact when you use an example. I shared an experience from when I was writing ‘Marcus‘ last year. At the time I hadn’t written a horror story for young adults (12 and up) before so I started reading around to get a feel for the topics and limits associated with that age group.

Some books I read were fantastic but there was one (it will remain nameless) that was less so. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story but I didn’t see what it was doing to my writing until editing time came along. It turns out that the chapters I wrote whilst reading this particular book were some of my worst, characters grew flat and I found it hard to get my bearings. Much editing was needed before they went public.

This was my takeaway advice for Braco Primary’s writers; do everything you can to make sure that what you are reading is good. Combine this with paying attention to the world around you in your own way. Understanding what your own point of view is will enable you to find your own voice. However, you’ll find that, only by reading work by experienced and talented authors, will you be able to make that voice as articulate and coherent as it can be.

Thank you for the enthusiasm boost!

Not only was my visit to Braco Primary an enjoyable one but their questions and enthusiasm for writing gave me a much-needed boost in the midst of this year’s NaNoWriMo (something that’s always welcome).

Thanks again for having me Braco Primary. I hope you enjoy the first two Jack Reusen books and I hope to have book three ready in the near future.

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The Ogres: Chapter 3: Shiny Stones vs. Sweets

To start the story from the beginning just click this link

Mee wondered exactly what a ‘Supermarket’ might look like. As he approached the hu-man town a lot of doors slammed and a lot of people got really loud. Hu-mans liked to get loud when they saw Mee.

The old lady had given him simple instructions, follow the road down the hill then turn right. Mee did that. On the way a lot of the rolling boxes called ‘cars’ stopped their rolling and started making loud ‘HONK’ sounds. Mee covered his ears and kept walking.

The food hall

The ‘supermarket’ was beautiful. It was huge. Most importantly it was filled with food. A very shaky hu-man helped Mee find the mush mallows and also helped him use a rolling basket they called a ‘trolly’. It made carrying all the mush mallows much easier.

Mee also grabbed handfuls of other interesting boxes and filled the ‘trolly’ until boxes slipped from the top. He thanked the shaky man and walked back out into the cold outside.

More noisy hu-mans squealed and ran around as he walked back up the hill, past the old lady’s house, past the broken car, and back up to the Alex and the Logan.

The boys grinned at the trolly full of marshmallows, biscuits, and chocolate. For some reason there were also about four large boxes of washing powder, and several Mee-sized handfuls of perfume boxes (Mee insisted that they smelled ‘too lovely to leave behind’). After the initial fun of seeing all the food the boys had one important question:

“How did you pay for all of this?”

Mee shrugged:

“What does ‘pay’ mean?”

The boys’ faces hung long:

“Oh dear.”

Shiny stuff

Mee simply couldn’t understand what made the shiny metal in the Logan’s bag so important. The smooshed up wood sheets made even less sense:

“So I was supposed to give the supermarket soft useless metal before I took the food?”

The boys nodded. Mee laughed:

“When we bigger-folk are little they tell us stories about you. I always thought stuff about soft metal and shiny rocks was a joke. We even used to leave it on steps as presents for the little folk.”

The boys frowned. Mee hadn’t told them the story of the big ice and the steps under the hill. When he did they grew very excited. The Logan’s eyes were very wide:

“You mean there are more of you? And you throw away ‘shiny rocks’ and ‘soft metal’ because it’s useless.”

Mee frowned:

“Mee thought you all would know. Town under hill has hundreds of bigger-folk.”

The Alex looked in the direction of the cave:

“Is anyone else on their way up?”

It was Mee’s turn to look shocked:

“Bur-Up! He’s still following me. He got tired, stopped for a rest. I should go check he OK.”

Mee grabbed two big bags of marshmallows and made his way to the cave:

“Be back soon.”

The Logan called back:

“You might want to bring some of those ‘useless’ rocks and metal with you. You need to pay for what you took.”

Mee waved, a big bag of marshmallows flopping in his hand:

“I will.”

Dark

It was dark when Mee brought Bur-Up out of the cave. He wasn’t impressed:

“You said there was sun. Also this too cold. Listen to my talk.”

Mee shrugged:

“It not so bad, Mee got used to it.”

They followed the glow of the hu-mans’ fire. Two more hairy beasts were with them, bigger than the boys but similar looking. They made the loud noises and hid the Alex and the Logan behind their backs. The Alex pushed his way out:

“It’s OK. That’s Mee and his friend Bur-Up. They’re friendly.”

Bur-Up pushed past the noisy creatures and sat in the fire. The bigger hu-mans got noisy again. The littler ones calmed them down. Bur-up wondered if the bigger ones were pets or baby hu-mans, maybe they aged backwards to the bigger-folk.

Bur-Up could feel his body getting better. Mee smiled at the boys:

“Look I brought you presents. Useless rocks and squashy metal.”

He opened his hands and the jewels and gold glistened in the firelight. Mee laughed at the faces of all four hu-mans:

“You like them. I glad. Here, you play with them how you like, I don’t need them.”

A new idea

The boys looked at the pile of jewels and gold. their mum and dad looked at the pile of jewels and gold. It was hard to tell how much it was worth but easy to see that it was a lot.

The first thing to do was to sort out the bill at the supermarket. People would already be asking questions. The police had probably been called. The bigger-folk would be in danger of being found if the police followed Mee’s trail up the hill.

The Alex and his dad went down the hill to the supermarket. Maybe there was still time to keep everyone safe and happy.

Mee wasn’t sure why being found was a bad thing. The Logan tried to explain that Mee and his family might be taken and locked away. People liked to study unusual creatures, and the bigger-folk were very unusual. They needed to stay hidden.

Mee wished he was warmer, he might be able to understand all of this if he was.

The Alex and his dad took just one of the shiny blue stones. Mee had never heard it being given a name but they said it was a ‘sapphire’. How could a tiny blue rock be worth a trolly full of mush mallows and other tasty things?

Again Mee wished he was warmer. The little people were very confusing.

Why being interesting isn’t good

The Logan and his mum helped Mee make another fire beside Bur-up, gathering as many sticks and logs as they could find. Bur-Up nibbled on some of the glowing sticks as he laid back in the warmth.

The Logan was amazed by this:

“How can you eat that?”

Bur-Up frowned:

“Bur-Up’s mum says Bur-Up has to. Must eat proper food before I have treats.”

The Logan and his mum watched Bur-Up and Mee in fascination as they chewed on white hot coals from the bottom of the fire. Their skin now so deeply green it had almost turned black.

The Alex and his dad came back. They had spoken to a special little-person called a ‘manager’ and also some ‘police’ and the ‘manager’ said the little stone made everything better. Mee grinned but the Alex’s dad shook his head:

“They were very interested in where the sapphire came from. We’re going to have to do something clever to keep you guys hidden.”

Mee shook his head:

“No it OK. We won’t make it hard for you. We just go home. Go back down stairs.”

The little man shook his head:

“It’s too late now. They saw you, and they know you have sapphires. People are going to be very interested in this hill very soon.”

Mee frowned. All this attention didn’t sound good. He didn’t want to be interesting. The hu-mans climbed into their tent and promised to get up early to work on what to do next.

Mee pulled a big armful of branches into his fire and dropped another pile into Bur-Up’s (who had already fallen asleep). Mee tried to sleep but the stars above his head distracted him. He had never slept in an open space before. Even the cavern was only a few hundred feet high.

Mee watched the stars until the sky turned a cold, pale, blue and the sun struggled up from behind a hill. The morning wasn’t much warmer than the night time but it was a lot noisier.

More hu-mans, more noise. Up the road, alongside the campsite came big metal boxes on wheels, much bigger than a ‘car’. They had big, chomping, metal, mouths on the front. Some of them were so big that even Mee could have fit inside them.

THE STORY CONTINUES IN CHAPTER 4: MINERS. CLICK HERE TO READ IT NOW.

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

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

Neil Gaiman

stardustDuring my wade through a world of words I somehow managed to finish Neil Gaiman’s book ‘Stardust’. To be honest I’m surprised that it took me this long to pick it up, it’s a fantasy book about a town that lies right beside an opening into the land of the fairies. Familiar as this sounds it’s miles away from my own books in plot, themes, characters, and most of all tone.

It’s a book that’s definitely not for kids and as fun as it was for me to read, at times it could be quite jarring to go from reading Gaiman’s work and then delving into writing the wold of Jack and Thea. Sure there’s magic, other worlds, odd creatures, etc. but ‘Stardust’ was so much more adult that I had to be careful to remember to tone down the themes in ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’.

I normally make a rule of not reading while I’m writing so that I don’t get caught up writing in somebody else’s style but I was half way through ‘Stardust’ when NaNoWriMo started and I found that I needed some type of diversion whilst writing this time. I think I managed to keep the books separate in my mind probably first and foremost because of the main theme of each. Where ‘Stardust’ is a stand-alone adventure into a slightly Victorian take on the fantasy genre, ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ is a modern disaster novel set in a fantasy setting.

I feel like I’ve had a chance to play with some of my favorite movie genres whilst writing the Jack Reusen books. ‘The Fey Flame‘ is a world building book with a big villain but beyond that I’ve had a chance to play around with some other ideas. ‘Spark of Dreams‘ was my take on the zombie genre (but toned down a lot to cater for children of seven or eight years old and up). Next, in ‘Children of Fate’ we get an ‘end of the world’ themed story (don’t worry, everything is kind of alright in the end), after that we have what I’m thinking of as book three and a half, it’s a Christmas/Yule story and for now that’s all I’ll say about it.

Book four is all Thea’s, in many ways (and yes I know this sounds totally nuts) she seems to be helping me write it but overall it will be a quest, one that takes her through many of the other nations to be found in Fey, it’s a strange place and it’s becoming a huge pile of fun to research.

Anyway back to Stardust, if you’re a fantasy reader like myself I imagine you’ll get a kick out of Stardust. The one unusual aspect I noticed about it was just how rigidly Gaiman sticks to the ‘show don’t tell’ rule for writers. Basically we’re supposed to explain the worlds we create using the characters reactions and by highlighting that world using carefully described action sequences.

Ordinarily writers do a good job of this but in fantasy the rules are often relaxed. It’s not easy to build a world in the first chapter or two of a book without having to occasionally allow the narrator to explain what’s going on. J. R. R. Tolkien basically writes a history of Middle Earth in the first few chapters of ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’. It helps you get to know where you are but it’s not the easiest thing to get through.

To be fair to Tolkien he was writing his books at a time when the modern fantasy genre was in its infancy (Tolkien being it’s godfather after all). A lot of modern fantasy harkens back to Tolkien so in a way he was doing a lot of world building for all of us. That said we don’t all deal in elves, orks, dwarves etc. and even if they did there’s still a sizable chunk of the population who still wouldn’t know what these races are. As a result many modern fantasy writers still have to explain the people of their worlds and describe what they can do.

Gaiman doesn’t really do that, you simply see the characters do what they do and it’s up to you to gauge what they are capable of and to establish what power level they have. Sometimes when two characters meet for the first time it can be surprising to realise that you may have misjudged just what that character is. ‘Stardust’ is a fantasy book but if you’re expecting a big expository element in the first chapter or two you’ll be waiting a while, the story just starts and it’s up to you to keep up. It’s an unusual yet refreshing experience for a fantasy reader and I definitely recommend it (I should also point out again one more time: ‘STARDUST’ IS NOT FOR KIDS).

a-burden_cover_smlAnyway, thanks for reading, and feel free to add suggested reads in the comments below (I’m editing now so the ‘no reading’ rule has been officially dropped). Next up for me is Hiraeth: a Burden (the second book in the Hiraeth trilogy), again not for kids but definitely worth a read, it ‘s a modern-day fantasy set in Wales, Ireland, England, (and a wee bit of Scotland too), and focuses on an underground (not literally) group of Druids who hide their true nature by means of working for the lifeboats service.

Let us know if you’ve come across any particularly good reads, after all the nights are fair drawing in (I don’t really remember having a summer) and nothing completes a chilly night-in better than a good book. All the best, John