The Dark Water Codex

I’m working on something inspired by Aztec codices. At the moment, it’s just got the Aztec day symbols around the border but I want to put something in the centre that’s related to Tlaloc, the god of rain and water. I also want to write the words ‘Dark Water’ on it but that would make it look more like a European illustrated manuscript than an authentic native mesoamerican codex. Then again, maybe a fusion of styles isn’t such a bad idea. After all, I’m not setting out to make a forgery. Thoughts?

An early layout for a Dark Water codex.

An early layout for a Dark Water codex.

Honour your deceased loved ones

There are some interesting ways to treasure your dearly departed nowadays. You can have their ashes turned into a diamond to wear in an item of jewellery. You can have the ashes moulded into an acrylic paperweight (see here, actually looks quite nice!).

If you were a roving man-about-The-Andes in ancient times, these options weren’t available to you, so…what to do? It turns out you could stop in at a ‘render while you wait’ mortuary where your loved one’s bones would be de-fleshed in quicklime so you could resume your travels with Dad and Mum, or your spouse, tucked neatly into your kitbag in tidy bundles of bone! Don’t believe me? See here…

The chances are, someone has already thought of your idea, however crazy it may seem.

Cover Art for Dark Water

I’m very excited about the artwork Owen has done for the cover of ‘Dark Water’. It perfectly captures the mood of the novel and gives a taste of one of the key scenes from the story.

Book Cover for Dark Water

This is the current proposed cover for Dark Water, Codex 2 of Aztec Elements.

In other news, proofreading will be complete by the end of the month so the publication of ‘Dark Water’ looks set for April 2015.

Ruined city discovered in Honduras

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a city, thought to date back to one thousand years ago. The team were searching for a fabled ‘White City’, also referred to as the City of the Monkey God, in an area of pristine jungle. One of the artefacts found in the initial survey is the stone effigy of a were-jaguar. See it, and more stunning images on the National Geographic website.

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.