Evil Plans

My friends, this weekend was taken up with planning for NaNoWriMo (the research needed for next month is over 9000; so great that it has forced me to reference lame, outdated internet memes), so I have only a single image to share with you; as a tantalising clue to what this year’s project will be about. Until next time!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/14/Psalter_of_Bonne_de_Luxembourg.jpg/280px-Psalter_of_Bonne_de_Luxembourg.jpg

CAPTION:

Skeleton One: Seriously, Chase, I’m going to go in for those breast implants after all; I look like a fucking rail here!

Skeleton Two: Oh, Barbara! Must you feel the need to conform to the beauty standards of the life-supremacist human-normative feudal-capitalist-patriarchy when your true beauty is on the inside!?

Skeleton Three: Ha ha, you two kill me, you sad, sad assholes…

(Credit to Jean le Noir for the image; wouldn’t want him coming back as a progressive skeleton and DMCA-ing me!)

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Catastrophic Cartography!

Hey there, bones and ghouls, about two years ago you may remember I posted my drawings of these ( https://racheliliffe.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/the-maps-to-nowhere/ ) maps to give you some indication of… uh… maps.

Well, I was just inspired to revisit one of my shelved projects, ‘Ah-Seti-Ten The Dread‘, and start doing some worldbuilding for it after I watched an anime that had a similar plot-line; that of the dispossessed prince whose home has been overthrown by invaders. If you’re watching this season’s anime, you’ll know I mean ‘Arslan Senki‘, though my book is thankfully different enough for me not to have to bang my head against the wall shouting ‘SIMPSONS ALREADY DID THAT!’ and gnashing my teeth.

This was the map I posted two years ago–drawn hastily because the first chapter of the book (which I’ve just looked over and have found to be most poorly written… curse me for always forgetting to put a setting into my scenes…) had a lot of geography in it. It shows the political boundaries of various nations and the colour surrounding them denotes the majority religious affiliation of that country.

Map of Orinetpholand

So, when coming back to this world after so long, the first thing I wanted to do was to fill in all the blank nations with names. I mostly come up with names like these off the top of my head–chances are they mean something in some other language, but if I could be mature about reading a book in which the main character’s name was ‘Wang’, then I can go forth with these silly names as well!

I also added the equator, and some time zones, for time purposes.

Map of Orinetpholand2

Some of the spaces were too small to write the names of countries in, so I gave them numbers instead and made a key–which isn’t really important enough to post, so yeah…

Of course, there were many more things I needed a map for, two in particular that I wanted to share today, in fact. For this, I decided it would be easiest to go back to a blank version of the map.

So, after an hour’s searching finally lead me to the sketchbook I’d drawn this map in, I traced over the lines (easier said than done seeing as the felt-tip had obscured the definition of some of the borders, and the shadow of my hand kept getting in the way when I tried to trace from right to left. You might think going from left to right would be natural anyway, but I’ve unlearned that method to some extent because, being left-handed, it keeps smudging the page) and was left with my lovely blank map of the ‘Malarendarian Continent’, borders intact because I need to know what’s going on where when I start marking out important stuff:

Blank Map of Malarendrian Continent

This gave me the opportunity to do many things; but the two I was most eager to get to were–

1. A layout of the physical features of the landscape:

Malarendrian Topographical Map

(Not a very good one, I’ll grant you, but what can I say?–I was using Microsoft Paint.)

And somewhat more importantly for when I get back to the book in proper:

2. A map showing the language families that exist within this world. Keep in mind; ‘families’, not the languages themselves; working this out takes a long time and as you can see I haven’t finished yet–for now I’ve been concentrating on places that are actually going to appear or be significant in the book.

Malarendrian Continental Language Family Map

For your enjoyment, the home town of the heroine of the book is marked with a little yellow star; while that of the palace most of the book takes place in has a little red star. What fun.

So, that’s me for the week–how have you all been wasting your time? 😉

First Light: First Thousand Words

Hey, kids! Are you bored right now? Why not pass your time waiting for galactic entropy to end all our miserable lives by reading the first thousand or so words of ‘First Light‘, one of the four short novelette prequels to my book, Rooks of the Knot? (cover pictured below)

Native Cover.4565429.indd

I’ve placed them below this little intro for your enjoyment. Read some more on Wattpad if you enjoy it ( http://www.wattpad.com/story/39966138-rooks-of-the-knot-first-light ) or wait for me to post more to this blog. The next excerpt will even come with a doodle!

And if you’re really bored, why not buy the novel on kindle and read that too–a recent survey has shown that there is a 97% survival rate among people who read my book.

(Full disclosure: one of the computers I wrote it on died. It was a sad day.)

*~*~*

“First Light”

THIRTIETH OF JUNE, YEAR OF CAMELOT 623, 14:23 PM (CET).

WESTERN NO-MAN’S-LAND

[Within the former State of Utah]

Shining in the desert, a few lighter grains of salt blew over flats that hundreds of years ago had been a massive lake, as the sun beat down on what for most of the continent was the hottest day of the year so far. An eagle flew past in the cloudless sky, taking care to avoid the smoke rising from the ruined buildings ahead. Rosebud watched the bird for a good while before it faded from sight.

“Huh,” said Serpentine. “What do you know? We have company.”

For a second Rosebud thought he meant the eagle, but that was gone now. So she blinked and scanned the area to see what he really meant, catching sight of an old land-based truck speeding away from the ruin in an instant.

“Well, that’s not suspicious,” she remarked dryly. “Should we see what they’re up to?”

Even in just those first moments of their being brought to her attention she knew better than to think that whoever was in that truck might have been responsible for what had happened to the burning compound. The fires within its fence had been going for a while; great rivers of smoke stretching towards the sun–speaking of a huge scope of damage, much greater than it seemed that one truck could have been capable of inflicting-and on a facility the Six’s earlier intelligence had deemed to have pretty impressive defences.

No, in all likelihood the guys in the truck were scavengers. Could have been nomads who trundled around No-Man’s-Land looking for anything they could live off, could have been part of a more organised operation, but at that point she doubted they were all that dangerous.

“Full speed ahead, Mike,” said Daniel, smirking. Well, as near to smirking as someone like ‘The Preventer’ could manage anyway; it was really more of an adorable smile, though Rosebud could see he was trying.

Ocelot changed gears on their hovercraft for pursuit of the other vehicle; Simon, Serpentine and Callie leant over the sides to look at it, and Prophet just sat in the back, smiling and holding her stupidly oversized gun. Rosebud didn’t spend a second longer than she had to looking at Prophet; she’d long since given up on trying to get her.

The truck must have noticed them because they swerved off the road to avoid them. Big mistake, seeing as the land-based vehicle was in no way suited to travelling over the salt dunes.

“Think they know who we are?” asked Ocelot.

No one answered him, but Daniel peered out and made a quick judgement call regarding size and distance of the truck, then turned back to the team.

“Sky, Night,” he said. “Why not say hello to the driver for us. It’s unusual to see fellow travellers out here.”

Callie and Simon looked at each other, smiled, and stood up on slightly wobbly legs.

“Keep it steady, Ocelot,” said Daniel.

Prophet laughed for some strange reason.

Then, almost in unison, Callie and Simon stretched their arms up and released their Wings.

These Wings were a variant of the only British technology that had managed to be replicated in the rest of the world for the better part of a millennium; scavenged from downed raiding parties sent by that now entirely isolationist island. The reproduction had been the work of Batswana scientists, and given to the pair by the Motswana diplomat they’d helped protect from Arcadian insurgents four years previously.

The Wings spanned out to eleven foot across from the harnesses on Callie and Simon’s backs, a system of seven multi-sized disks on each wing held together with a bat skin-like artificial membrane; each disk a super-compact engine that, working together, could carry an average man’s weight in any direction the hand-held controls tilted the disks.

This technology was relatively common in southern Africa, but not so much in the Americas, so it must have been a shock for whoever was in the truck to see two people jump off either side of the speeding hover-car and twirl gracefully through the air without ever touching the ground, then speed through the air towards them like avenging angels.

It definitely gave the driver of that truck a scare; he swerved one way, then the other, and then kept on going, throwing salt into the air as it gurgled forward. Callie and Simon fanned out, then swept back towards each other and crossed paths, inspiring Ocelot to whistle with appreciation.

Honestly, Rosebud was more annoyed than impressed with her teammates. Those two knew by now how difficult it was to refuel the goddamn things, so she wished they’d stop showing off for each other.

Callie was the more headstrong of the pair, and as such it was no surprise that she was the first to reach the truck. Gunshots came from the passenger window, but by that time she’d activated the shield on her arm; metal blades opening out in a circle like a fan.

As she drew the fire, Simon came up the other side with his own shield ready, the edge of which he used to slash at the tires on the right side. Must have been old rubber tires by the look of it-not exactly their most challenging foe yet.

Or so Rosebud’s first thoughts ran. But when the truck swerved and slowed as it began skidding to its inevitable halt, she saw movement in the back where the cargo was. A pair of gloved hands poked out from underneath the tarpaulin, and the sheet lifted a little, enough for anyone underneath it to get a look at what was happening without being seen.

Only, Rosebud didn’t need to see him fully. One of the gloves was white, the other was black, she could tell even from where she was, and while there was hardly a written law that only one person on the planet could make that particular fashion statement at any given time, there was also Occam’s Razor to consider.

Her heart skipped a beat. She knew who it was under there–and, therefore, who these people were.

It was funny how quickly the weight of past failures could grab hold of her, like an over-cautious friend grabbing her and pulling her back from reacting, for fear of the potential consequences she remembered all too well from the last time she’d encountered members of this group. For precious seconds, she thought of nothing but what cold cement had felt like beneath her knees, as vice-like grips on her upper arms had restrained her like her her fear restrained her now.

But fear that couldn’t be controlled had no place in her profession. Those precious seconds she was caught by indecision were few, and not so dear that they ended up costing her anything–this time. Which was for the best, given it had been acting without thinking that had been her downfall in the past.

So Rosebud Mason took a deep breath.

“Get in close,” she mouthed to Ocelot. For Callie and Simon’s benefit she leant out of the craft, waved her hat and yelled, “Altitude! Altitude!” and they must have heard her because they went up a moment later, thank god–she could at least breathe easier when she didn’t have to worry about those two getting shot from the side.

“What is it?” asked Daniel.

“They’re Lathyrus’ men,” she growled.

She had to struggle not to grit her teeth so hard the name wouldn’t come out.

Jonathan Strange, Mr Norrell & Me

A tale from my past that I’m sure my fellow writers and literature aficionados will appreciate.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4d/Jonathan_strange_and_mr_norrell_cover.jpg

The year was 2004, so I was either 13 or 14 years old; the age at which all girls are at their most attentive when listening to their parents. ogei]w-00f–ahem, sorry, I accidentally smooshed against the keyboard there when I burst out laughing.

Anyway, one day I was sitting around watching TV when my mum walked into the room to tell me about a friend or acquaintance of her boss who had written a fantasy book that had taken ten years to write and was being much talked about in her circles. She told me she would pick me up a copy, since I liked fantasy books, when she went to the book signing that was happening the next day.

My considered and respectful reply was something along the lines of:

“Nn, whatever.”

The next morning my hard-working mother stopped by my room on her way to her place of employ, (she generally left the house before I woke up so she could leave work before 3) and woke me up to ask me:

“Hey, Rachel; when I go to the book-signing today is there any little message you’d like me to ask the author to write in the book for you?”

Not entirely sure what she was talking about and mostly asleep, I used what I thought was my ‘this-is-a-joke-between-us-mum-don’t-actually-tell-this-author-to-write-this’ voice to say the first witty one-liner that popped into my head. My mum laughed and left for work, and I forgot about it immediately.

Until, that is, she came home from the book-signing late that evening with my own personal copy of this book and said:

“I got you a copy of the book, Rachel–look what she wrote in it for you!”

At first I wondered what my mother might have asked this author to write for me, expecting some kind of basic ‘will you write this for my daughter?’-type thing I’d pretend to like for my dear old mum’s sake.

Instead, when I looked at the page my face must have filled with horror. And with glee.

Strange & Norrell

“Mum!” I exclaimed. “That was supposed to be a joke! I didn’t mean for you to actually ask her to write this!”

But, as you can see, she did, and I was able to show you this awesome picture.

I can’t say Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell became one of my favourite books; it was one where I never really connected to the characters, though I can only stand amazed at all the work that must have gone into it, and I will always remember with glee the aghast looks on the faces of anyone who saw me take out a book thicker than almost any we had in the school library and start reading it over the next month or so, and it clearly had an effect on my writing as the pitch for ‘The Ritual of DUELS’ reads something like this:

‘A group of young persons chosen from a selection of ancient and powerful families [like the characters from ‘Game of Thrones‘] who live in a version of our world that exists along side another which is the home of legendary supernatural creatures [like the world of ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’] take part in a complex, dangerous ritual competition of which there can be only one winner [like the plot of ‘Battle Royale’ ‘Yu-Gi-Oh’ ‘The Hunger Games’]. Hilarity ensues.’

[Seriously, the minute the book is finished and available for publication I fully expect someone to tell me The Simpsons already did it].

DUELS takes a very different path to JS&Mr.N, of course–it’s set in the modern era for one thing, and though ‘magicians’ (called ‘Changelings’, since an ordinary Human has to go to the other world in order to gain any magical talent, like changelings of legend who are taken there by faeries) do exist in-universe, they don’t really feature in the book.

But I give my eternal thanks to Ms. Clarke nonetheless. It still makes me feel bad for her that she had hoped to be as good as me one day, and my self-published novel has sold at least ten copies, while all she has is a currently-airing popular TV drama based off of her works…

Don’t give up on your dreams, Ms. Clarke! I’m still rooting for you!

The Three-Body Problem: SOLVED!

Just in case any mathema-physicists happen to come across this post–no. I have not actually solved the three-body problem. But I have finished a book called ‘The Three-Body Problem’ and drawn a cartoon in which one of the characters in the book solves the problem of their upcoming alien invasion!

Unfortunately, the other characters don’t listen to him. Their loss.

3BP SOLVED

I hope you enjoy my exceedingly imaginative rendering of the Trisolarans as vaguely humanoid shadow-blobs. It took me a whole three seconds to come up with.

(I’m afraid this is it for today, but tomorrow I’ll probably blather on about something else; my concluding thoughts on 3BP, my posting stuff on Wattpad, tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones… the possibilities are endless!)

Children of the Universe

I was going to call this post ‘Universe-Building’, but I then thought I’d make an untimely Eurovision reference for no reason. Enjoy.

We sci-fi and fantasy writers all know about the struggles of world-building; the fight between having no development in your crappy Star Trek ripoff populated entirely by Planets of Hats or your crappy Lord of the Rings ripoff filled with tree-hugging elves and gold-digging dwarves… and creating a detailed new world which demands you insert infodump after infodump between dialogue to explain those details, making the plot of your story more difficult to find than a bra that actually fits me comfortably.

TMI? Probably TMI. Moving on.

Personally, I know I err on the side of infodumps, however much I rail against them, but I try to pretend that my readers already live in the universe I’m writing the book in, so I don’t end up with too many of those infodumps. For example, if I was writing a book set in this universe, and I wrote that a character walked into a church, I wouldn’t then explain what a church was and give a few paragraphs on the history of Christianity–the reader presumably already knows what a church is.

Thus if my character walks into the temple of Shol-Flaerfrith, I trust my reader understands from context that this is a place of religious worship, and that they have the patience to wait until information about Shol-Flaerfrith comes out naturally in the story, without needing a paragraph of exposition explaining who Shol-Flaerfrith is right away. I also have to accept some readers don’t have that patience, and that I’m likely not the writer for them.

Today, however, I’m writing about my experience in Universe-Building, where every part of the world you build has a whole other world behind it. This is ‘518’ again, a world in which Humans have been absorbed into an alien empire. But that empire has 32 other intelligent species under its control, there are ten other empires/alliances with hundreds more species under their control, plus 23 independant intelligent species, and hundreds more planets without indigenous intelligent species that have been colonised.

Every single one of these planets has a whole other world behind them. Vastly different biologies. Many different cultures. Millennia of history. Complicated relationships with each other as well as amongst themselves. How do I get that across in a fast-paced action novel, when giving some idea as to how Earth has changed after being taken over by aliens is difficult enough for most writers?

The obvious answer is not to try. Most of the stuff going on in the universe has no impact on the plot. I might know that one of my Wyken characters is a dancer, but as Wyken dancing isn’t important in the story, there’s no need to go into it. I was thinking of making this one a series, after all, so there’ll be other books to explore the depths of this universe. For now I’m adding in information only as it becomes relevant–but that also means I do have to actually have this information at the ready. So here’s a glimpse of my universe in the form of a diagram:

518 Diagram

This is a rather simplistic representation that doesn’t include any of the independant planets. As you can see, there are three separate groups controlled by a species called the Bani, two empires and one alliance, and one group called the ‘Conglomerate’ is made up of eight species which together control 112 others, making them the largest group in terms of species. The others are a little more standard.

My diagram here represents the different relationships among the eleven groups. Black lines represent open war. Blue lines are firm alliances. Dotted black lines indicate hostile feelings and dotted blue lines are for treaties that can be said to represent some friendly feeling.

Now, I drew in most of these lines at random (though not all), but it still helps me formulate an understanding of these inter-species relationship that I can then build on and explore. For instance; no one likes the Abonn (when the book is finished, you’ll see why). The Forthern and the Bizar by contrast have a lot of alliances, but are both at war with the second Bani empire. I decided this was because they were the two weakest empires, and didn’t want to risk the Bani calling on their allies for help during the war; they also have a ‘special relationship’ with each other.

The Bani alliance, the Icantri and the Kricto represent the three non-imperial alliances and together form something known as the Triumvirate, but they don’t disdain the imperialists too much as they have several alliances with them. Similarly, several empires have made alliances with two groups, despite those groups being at war with each other. Of course, the nature of all these relationships is much more complex than a simple line could indicate, and as you’ll also see in the book, elements within these groups often don’t feel the same way as their governors.

But this is just a tiny bit of information about the Universe of 518. Hopefully it’s a Universe that will feel grand and complex, but not too confusing to be a part of, and read more like a novel than a textbook.

And maybe, just maybe, one of these days… somewhere out there in this vast, eternal universe…

I’ll find the bra for me.

 

Also remember to buy my YA dystopian novel, ‘Rooks of the Knot’ from Amazon and Kindle.