Painting with gold leaf, not easy

I’ve been practising applying gold leaf before I tackle the Dark Water Codex. OK, I’m not actually using gold leaf. It’s a very thin metal foil that’s a similar colour and sheen. Finding #1…it isn’t all that easy. Finding #2…’gold’ foil is ridiculously flyaway! Sneeze and you’ll wonder where it’s gone. Finding #3 (and this is the big one)…you need an adhesive that dries slowly and evenly. Like a regular bloke, I ignored the instructions and dabbled with PVA and a multi-purpose adhesive. No good, so I reached for the instructions where I discovered that I should be using varnish! Here’s the result of the latest test…

Third attempt

Third attempt

It would have been great to embed something like this in the book, speaking of which, ‘Dark Water’ now has two 5-star ratings in Amazon.co.uk. It’s on the way! Woo-hoo!

Free copies of ‘Dark Water’ – READ THIS

Hi folks, this offer is open to signed up subscribers of this website. I have 3 copies of ‘Dark Water’ to give away. My copies of the book arrive tomorrow. I can’t wait to hold it in my hands and I hope the excitement rubs off on you. Reply to this article and say “I want one!” First three respondents will receive a signed copy in the post.

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.

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’.

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! ;-)

Zoe Saadia – ‘A Thing for the Aztecs’

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Zoe Saadia in this article. Not only is Goodreads providing me with ideas for books to read, it’s also helping me to make new friends across the globe. Zoe is one such friend and she’s important to me because she’s another author who is in love with Aztec history and culture. Zoe has written at least ten novels set in Mexico before the Spanish invasion. Zoe’s books are rich with cultural references and demonstrate the tremendous amount of research she has done in this area.

AE: Hi Zoe, thanks for agreeing to do an interview. First of all, please would you explain how you chose the Aztecs as your cause? I know this is usually the first question people ask me.

Zoe: Hi Phil, first of all thank you for greeting me to your wonderfully informative site. It’s a real honour. As for your question, I didn’t not choose any of the Mesoamerican cultures to research and write about. They sort of chose me. My speciality is pre-Columbian North America. I researched this continent and the most prominent of its cultures for over ten years, intending to represent them in historical fiction to the best of my ability. I never as much as glanced over the Mexican border. To my opinion the fact that most people are generally familiar with the word “Aztecs” was enough to indicate that pre-contact Mesoamerica was better off than the absolutely neglected or dreadfully misrepresented and misinterpreted North American people.

So, no Aztecs entered my mind until two years ago, when I was working on “At Road’s End”, a novel that dealt with the decline of the Anasazi. Little did I know! Apparently to get that close to the Mexican border spelt danger. Unaware of the threat, I let a secondary character into the story, to reflect on the fall of the Anasazi better, to give a foreigners’ point of view. A Tepanec warrior escorting a group of traders (the Aztecs were far from being a powerful nation back in those days compared to the powerful Tepanecs). He entered the story to spice it up a little. Well, I didn’t know that the forceful Mesoamericans are not made for the second leads. The necessary research on those same Tepanecs left me fascinated beyond reason. The story turned to be about this warrior, with the Anasazi people taking the second leads, instead.And the rest is history. [AE: Nice pun Zoe! :-)] The book turned out to be the first in the Mesoamerican Saga, consisted by now of 9 full-length novels. I just couldn’t stop! From the glorious Tepanecs all the way to their fall and rise of the well-known to us Aztecs.
Apparently, I was wrong. This history and these people were misrepresented in our modern literature as badly as pre-contact North America was.

AE: It’s obvious from the way you write about the Aztecs, the Tepanecs, Tlaxcalan’s that you have a deep affection for them all. Do you have a favourite amongst these states or tribes?

Zoe: Oh yes, I’m hopelessly in love with those cultures. :-)My favourites? I used to admire the Acolhua people with their beautiful capital (Texcoco) and their most prominent emperor, lawmaker, engineer, poet and statement Nezahualcoyotl. But as the series progressed, the Mexica-Aztecs had won my affection, so today the Acolhua and the Aztecs are sharing the first place :-D

AE: And what about the bloodthirstiness of it all. Doesn’t that affect your ability to relate to them?Zoe: No, not at all! First of all, the bloodthirstiness was greatly exaggerated by the later-day Spanish newcomers. The human sacrifice was an old custom and it did not involve screaming commoners and sobbing virgins being dragged up the pyramids. The sacrifice was a solemn ceremony and to offer unwilling victims would do nothing but offend the gods. In the old days, before Tenochtitlan turned into a great city and maybe did stir to some extravagance of the mentioned above, only the captured warriors were sacrificed and those offerings ascended the steps of the pyramids most willingly, having refused to do anything else even if offered.


As the warriors were a class in itself, raised and educated very strictly in special schools called (calmecac or telpochcalli) for years, the rules of a honourable conduct were clear to them. They were to face the death bravely. If captured alive, the warrior has only one way to redeem his honor. He has to be sacrificed. The offense of a more “merciful” solution would have been unbearable to such man. No one wanted his name to be spat upon and his soul wandering the horrors on the Mictlan, the Underworld. Only warriors were eligible for the eastern-sky paradise, and only those who died bravely, killed on the battlefield or sacrificed to the glory of gods, were allowed to enter. So this way the process of human sacrifice included both sides collaborating and willing.

To me, it makes a perfect sense. Having dealt with the general history for decades I do believe there was no more bloodthirstiness in Mesoamerica than in any other warlike culture. Medieval Europe presents us with more than enough evidence to plead my case. :-)

AE: Although there are a few writers working in this setting, if you look at the bookshelves in the shops, it’s obviously not as popular as Tudor England or the Roman times. Would you like to see a few more historical fiction writers moving in on this field?

Zoe: Oh yes, absolutely! I hope these cultures, times and places will catch the wave and will became as ‘fashionable’ as the done-to-death Romans, Tudors or Regency aristocratic dance floors. Having read “Five Dances with Death” by Austin Briggs and now enjoying “New Fire”, I can firmly say that I most sincerely wish to see more books of this quality.

AE: Have you made any attempt to get agents or traditional publishing houses interested in your work and would you share your thoughts on self-published versus traditional?

Zoe: Not with my Aztecs books, but I did try to go the traditional way for a few years, before the publishing world got into its current earth-quaking stage.Umm, it didn’t work. I was told that I’m writing well, and that should I change my subject to a better known history, they would be prepared to accept my manuscripts. Speaking of Romans and Tudors! Needless to say, this response left, literary, screaming with rage. They didn’t want to take their chances with my pre-Columbian Americas.

Luckily, the Indie publishing world was already opening, with more and more articles published about its possibilities. So, two years ago I took the plunge, and frankly, I never regretted taking this particular decision. Independent publishing is more demanding, leaving the author to deal with all the aspects of this business, but it is much more rewarding, too. After two years, and quite a few mistakes made along the way ;-), I built a satisfactory name for myself, a respectable site to promote this history and my works, and a nice fan base to receive a lot of feedback through Goodreads and Amazon.

More importantly, I have a good theme to help me along, with a good editor, proofreader and a cover artist cooperating wonderfully, so I can write away and let my books out with no delays. In the traditional publishing industry they would have been piling up, waiting to be attended stage by stage. Independently, I can let them out as fast as I can write them, provided I, and the people I’m working with, are prepared to work hard…which we most certainly are! :-)

AE: Thank you Zoe. For anyone wanting more information, visit Zoe’s website, ‘Pre-Colombian Americas’ or visit her Facebook page.

Dark Water – writing to a plan

Progress on draft #1 of ‘Dark Water has been slow and steady but most importanntly, according to plan. Yesterday, it officially reached the halfway stage. 50,000 words at 7.5 chapters. Here is a little extract to whet your appetites.

Visibility inside the workshop was worse than outside because of the smoke and heat of the charcoal fire that was needed to fabricate the new jewellery. Soot and the dry air made Precious Flower cough. Arrow One was stooped under a low section at the back of the building, deep in conversation with a pot-bellied man with unruly hair and a filthy leather apron that was the only thing he was wearing other than his loincloth. Arrow One was bare-chested having dispensed with his cloak and the short skirt he was wearing was more appropriate for the suffocating heat in the workshop than Precious Flower’s long dress. He caught sight of Precious Flower and introduced her to the craftsman who bobbed and nodded enthusiastically in response to Arrow One’s request for him to demonstrate the process.

‘Yes, yes! You do good timing,’ he spluttered through gums inadequately populated with teeth. ‘New piece ready to try.’ His Nahuatl was poor, the accent sounding Huastec. ‘You two!’ He shouted suddenly at a stocky lad of no more than twelve and a severe-looking youth. ‘What are you gawking at? Pumping bellows or copper will never melt!’

Precious Flower watched in amazement as the craftsman took the carved wax figure and held it upside down in an earthenware pot of damp sand which he proceeded to pack very gently around it until it was entirely hidden, all save a tiny section at the base. All the while, his indentured labourer and the sullen apprentice worked a pair of leather bags in the scorching confines of the new room. Precious Flower didn’t believe she’d ever seen anyone sweat as much as these two lads. When he was finished poking at the sand, the craftsman then took to examining the pot nestling at the centre of the fire that was now sending so many sparks whirling up into the rafters of the workshop that Precious Flower was convinced the whole place would soon be alight. The heat was so intense it seared her throat and made her fear for her newborn child. She stroked the child’s cheek briefly through the folds of fabric, relived to see it make attempts to suckle.

After a good deal of squinting and muttering at his assistants, the toothless man reached into a bucket of water and pulled out what appeared to be two long fire-blackened sticks, joined at one end with hemp. He gingerly clamped them around the tiny pot and then slowly upended the contents into the urn full of sand where he had made a conical indentation over the wax figure. Precious Flower was entranced by the fiery orange liquid that smoked and burped as it sank into the sand. If the gods bled, she thought, this is what their blood would look like.