Aztec Elements, Codex Two

Dear readers,

I can at last share the blurb for ‘Dark Water’ with you.

The young priest Clawfoot discovers that his success has invited only enmity. He does have a powerful ally though. The high priest, Feathered Darkness entrusts his precocious acolyte with a crucial mission to safeguard the priesthood from treacherous political games.

Little Maize begins to despair when she realises that she has lost Clawfoot to his new calling. She dreams of escape from the oppressive workhouse that has been her prison for five years.

The twenty year reign of Moctezuma Ilhuicamina has delivered stability, commerce and a time of plenty, fuelled by an aggressive expansion of the empire. Here too though, success has given rise to jealousy for there is no shortage of family members with a claim to the throne.

Caught again at the centre of unfolding plots, the loyal warrior, Heart of the Jaguar, will find that things are not all they seem and when duty calls, his resourcefulness will be tested to the limit.

Comments and feedback will be greatly appreciated.

In the next post, I will share the current cover design for ‘Dark Water’ that comes hot from my gifted graphic designer friend Owen Benwell of Human Design. It’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous and perfectly captures the mood of ‘Codex Two’.

Aztec adrenalin rush, preview…

For anyone who cannot wait until the book is out, I’m pleased to tell you that the first fifteen chapters of ‘Dark Water’ are available to read on Wattpad.

Dark Water – Taster on Wattpad

Screenshot of how Wattpad displays the novel 'Dark Water'

Screenshot of how Wattpad displays the novel ‘Dark Water’

If you do read it, please leave comments. Feedback is vital and very much appreciated, however critical it may be.

On the sequel to ‘New Fire’

At last, an update on the long-awaited sequel to ‘New Fire’ which was published in October 2012! I can reveal to readers of my blog that ‘Dark Water’ should be available to buy in April this year. That’s right…it’s taken almost 2.5 years to go from a blank sheet of paper to the final draft. I’ll reveal more about ‘Dark Water’ here in the coming weeks, but first, I want to share with you the changes that Owen Benwell has done for me on the cover of ‘New Fire’ which of course is now book one in a series.

Edition 2 of New Fire cover

Two things to note:

  1. Codex One – this is the first codex in the Aztec Elements trilogy
  2. The title on the spine has been rotated through 180 degrees

This is how book one will look in a few weeks time. Naturally the first edition will become highly sought after by collectors! ;-)

How to create an evil character

“Easy!” I hear you cry and perhaps you’re right. Place your hero in front of them, restrained on a chair with his hands pinned to a battered wooden desk and then hand a machete to the villain of the piece, or a rusty hammer. The hero’s fingers wiggle in horrible anticipation. “Oooh!” I hear you cry. “Argh! Nasty, nasty nasty!” Yep…easy. All I have to do is make you identify with the lantern-jawed, clean shaven hero with a twinkle in his eye and a penchant for rescuing [preferred fluffy animal] from [place of peril], then whomsoever wishes to inflict gruesome suffering on him is pure badness.

But…what if we want to make our baddie a bit more 3-dimensional? Let’s call him Gerald. What if we want the reader to see inside his head and understand why he’s about to perform a digitectomy on our dashing hero? We still want the reader to squirm in horror at what happens and be appalled at Gerald’s moral dereliction but we also want them to see his side of the story. Gerald didn’t start out bad. When he was a little lad, he used to play with Lego and cuddle a stuffed raccoon when he went to bed.

This is the conundrum I am wrestling with in ‘Dark Water’. One of the characters is capable of torture and murder but I want the reader to understand that my ‘Gerald’ has arrived somewhere where this is the only (if not entirely rational) course of action. Put simply, he has to have motive. If Gerald’s story unfolds in such a way that you can see that HE believes he’s doing the right thing, then the reader will be carried along too. [Top tip: It’s REALLY lame if Gerald explains it all in the final scene.]

For the best example – bar none – of a properly motivated villain, look to ‘Inquisitor Glokta’ in Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Books of the First Law’. Glokta is the man you’ll love to hate. So, I have my work cut out. The good news though is that this is the toughest character to get right. Sentimental readers will swallow any soapy old nonsense that the good guys spout. ;-)

Writing Workshop

14th of July was a special day for me. I got to be a teacher for one day. Following on from my presentation to the Year 10s at Steyning Grammar School in March (see previous post), I was asked back to take part in a writing workshop.

Teaching isn’t something I’m trained for so it’s fair to say that I was significantly outside my comfort zone when I turned up at the school on Monday morning. In truth, it wasn’t hard. I had prepared a framework of what to say that also allowed time for the students to do some writing and for some critique. With that in place, I simply let my enthusiasm for reading and writing shine through.

“He was a big man.” – Well although there’s nothing technically wrong with this, it isn’t great is it? “He was a slab of a man.” – How is that different to the sentence above? Does it help you form a picture of the man?

“Steve picked me up in his old Vauxhall.” – Another weak adjective, ‘old’.
“Steve picked me up in his antiquated Vauxhall.” – Why use ‘antiquated’ instead of ‘old’?
“Steve picked me up in his dilapidated Vauxhall.” – Different again, isn’t it? This one’s falling apart. The antiquated one might be a classic car, the pride and joy of Steve’s collection.

English is an immensely rich and powerful language with so many extraordinary words to nuance what you want to say. The power of language has practical applications outside of the literary world, in business for example. It’s well known that you can influence the way people feel and make them behave differently using the right combinations of words.

The only real difficulty I faced was trying to get volunteers to discuss what they had written. The key to being a great writer is to review and rewrite your work. There’s always room for improvement and there are two key ways to ratchet up the quality of your own work.

Method 1) Allow other people to read and review it and really listen to what they have to say. Even if you’re sceptical, try and rewrite a piece of your work in response to some feedback. The result might surprise you and if it doesn’t, you can always revert to your initial draft.

Method 2) Review other people’s work and provide constructive criticism to others. It needs to be constructive; you simply must not trash someone’s work if you’ve offered to help. This will teach you how to look for improvements in your own writing. This is the best tip I can offer you.

Making pictures in their heads

This morning, I was privileged to be allowed to speak to Year 10 at Steyning Grammar School. It being ‘World Book Day’, SGS, who are staunch advocates of reading, invited four authors to come and speak. My lot was to use a ten minute slot in the morning assembly to convey my enthusiasm for reading, writing and the subject matter of my first novel, ‘New Fire’.

Ten minutes is a very short time, a very, very short time to explain the joy that reading brings and so the key theme of my presentation was ‘telepathy’, or as I summed it up, ‘putting pictures in your heads’.

Sure, special effects are astonishing in film nowadays. Dinosaurs walk the earth and wizards battle under showers of coruscating sparks, believably. The thing is, that all happens on the screen in front of you. When you read a book, it all happens in your head. Blah, blah, blah, I can sense you skimming over this. Erp…stop…rewind. It happens in your head. Let’s review that. You pull the words off the page and your brain builds a world with a smoking volcano with incandescent lava flows and pyroclastic flows. Ash rains from a darkling sky. From out of the roiling clouds a gargantuan horned dragon swoops towards the tattered villagers…

You get the picture? Well you should do because you built it. The author made the blueprint but you built it. That is telepathy…or damn close to it.

Children are great. Until they reach late teens, they exude potential and infinite possibilities. I only hope that my talk didn’t close off some of those horizons. It seemed to go down well and I’ve been invited back to help with a writing workshop in the summer term.

Aztec Art

This breathtakingly beautiful Aztec work of art is Quetzalcoatl’s death mask. ‘Quetzalcoatl‘ means ‘feathered serpent’ and is the name of one of the Aztec’s principle deities.

Death mask in the image Quetzalcoatl

Death mask in the image Quetzalcoatl

This image was sourced from Wikimedia Commons and is available to use subject to licence term. The original photograph is the property of © Hans Hillewaert

In other news…
I am immensely grateful to fellow author Austin Briggs for promoting the second novel in the Aztec Elements series, ‘Dark Water’ which is due out next year. I was humbled to read his endorsement of ‘New Fire’. I hope to post an extract of one of Austin’s works here very soon or perhaps an interview.

Ritual Sacrifice – Not Easy to Swallow

Llullaillaco Maiden - Capacoha Victim

Llullaillaco Maiden – Capacocha Victim

Research described in the New Scientist hints at the psychological stress of submitting to sacrifice. In an article from the 3rd of August, Andrew Wilson from the University of Bradford explains how the ‘Llullaillaco Maiden’ – as she is known – is revealing details of her diet in the two years running up to her death, thanks to anaylsis of her hair.

Just like many of the ceremonial Aztec ‘tributes’ (to borrow from ‘The Hunger Games’), Llullaillaco Maiden was given special treatment in the year up to her death. Her diet improved, and in the last few months, drank alcohol and took increasing doses of coca. Scanned images of the mummy reveal that she has a large wad of coca leaves in her cheek.

Many will claim that sacrificial victims go willingly to their deaths, knowing that they serve a higher purpose and in modern times, we know that there is no shortage of Jihadi warriors who carry out suicide bombings in their cause. This doesn’t mean that everyone would go peacefully to their deaths just because their society demands it of them. I am convinced that many – perhaps most – would be terrified. The animal hind-brain is a powerful engine designed to ensure survival and that imperative, fighting the social conditioning, would surely create enormous levels of stress in humans. This struggle is a central part of the story in my novel ‘New Fire’.

The image shown comes from the Wikipedia Commons Library and was originally posted to Flickr by José Fontanelli at http://flickr.com/photos/95827018@N05/8751635572. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Writing…what it’s all about

I suppose it’s possible that one day, I may own a small island, a yacht and helicopter and when I do, it will be hard to remember the original reason for writing stories. For now though, it’s great to bask in the knowledge that I wove a world in a distant land, made pictures in someone’s head and for a short while, that person was transported to my world and lived and breathed it! THAT is a really, really cool thought.

I received this feedback below from someone on Goodreads…

“I loved your book! Actually, I borrowed it from my cousin Tiffany who won it on here. :) She read it first and loved it so I read it too. You are an incredible writer and I can’t wait to read the second book when it comes out! Thanks for sending my cousin the book so I could read it.”