Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Wild King – Free Extract

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Tomorrow sees the release of the final part of my serialised novel, Legacy of Russ. It’s still not too late to catch up before the finale though – part seven can be found here (with a free extract below), and if you’re just joining us then part one is here, free to download in its entirety!  

The void, Fenris System

In a surge of shrieking wyrd-light, Bran Redmaw and his Great Company returned to Fenris. The warp spat them out off-course, dangerously deep inside the system, trailward of Frostheim. As his flagship’s kaerls sought to triangulate their exact location, transmit ident codes and establish vox contact, Bran paced his bridge from one end to the other, bare, blood-encrusted fists clenching and unclenching.

He had thought they weren’t going to make it. The wyrdrealm’s maddening waves had mocked them, tossing and turning his fleet’s vessels with bows of gibbering insanity, scattering them and ripping them away from their destination. As his Navigators had battled to hold onto the beacon of the Astronomicon, Bran had been engaged in his own fight, with those he’d once counted as brothers.

They were still his brothers, he reminded himself. Regardless of the wounds they’d dealt him. Regardless of how they now looked, thought and acted.

‘Lord, we have established a vox connection with Lord Deathwolf,’ called a Vox Huscarl. ‘His signal is currently being rerouted from Svellgard via his flagship.’

‘Accept it,’ Bran said, pacing to the communications station. Harald’s lagging voice came through on a tide of static.

It’s good to see you on our sensors, Redmaw.’

‘And good to be home, Deathwolf,’ Bran replied. ‘How goes the fight?’

It’s a bastard. Young Bloodhowl and myself are on Svellgard. The place is crawling with wyrd-dung. Fenris is quiet, and we’ve heard nothing from Midgardia.’

‘My scanners are reading a large non-Chapter fleet in orbit above you,’ Bran said, glancing over the readouts flooding back over the monitors and occulus vidscreens from his fleet’s augur probes.

Aye, and that’s only the half of it. It’s a crusade fleet, elements from fourteen different Chapters along with Russ-knows how much Militarum and Navy support, all come to call us to heel. A lance strike by one of their ships nearly ended both Bloodhowl and myself. They refuse to communicate with us.

‘They’re here for the Wulfen,’ Bran surmised, fists clenching harder.

And more than reluctant to help with our little wyrdling problem. We’re hard-pressed down here, Redmaw.’

‘My warriors are hungry for a kill,’ Bran said. ‘If Fenris is indeed secure we will deploy in full to support you.’

That may turn the tide,’ Harald said. ‘Hurry.’

As the connection ended Bran gazed out of the viewing port. Its blast shutters were rattling back, exposing the glittering expanse of the Sea of Stars beyond. The ship’s bridge was reflected back in the thick layers of crystalflex, and Bran caught sight of himself towering beside the brass-edged vox banks. It was not a vision he was familiar with. His helmet was off and his dark hair lay unclasped, thick around his shoulders. He’d stripped off his pauldrons, rebrace, vambrace and gauntlets, revealing thick arms that were criss-crossed with a latticework of fresh cuts and sheened by a slick of sweat.

They only respected strength. Bran had shown it. Even that would not be enough though, if they were not released to the hunt soon. Bran had promised to reinforce Svellgard as though he had a choice – the packs would demand he struck out at the nearest enemy, whether he’d wanted to deploy them to the moon or not.

A crusade fleet. That made matters even worse. How his brothers would react to his return had been worrying enough. He hadn’t dared consider what the wider Imperium would do when they discovered what had become of Bran’s Great Company during their warp transit. Confronting the wyrdspawn would surely mean confronting those who had come to accuse the Wolves too.

But that was a risk he was going to have to take eventually. Battle called, and with it a release of the primal hunger that had been building among the Redmaws. He called up his helmsman, eyes still locked on his own savage reflection.

‘Set a course for Svellgard.’

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The Fear Part 3: Return of the Fears

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“Fear” by akirakirai in deviantART

If you’re not aware of my hit series “The Fear” yet you’re really missing out. Part 1 saw our lovable, naive young author-protagonist ruminate about the unease he felt over finally breaking into the “pro” writing market and having to put his work before actual, real-life, professionally-paid editors. Part 2 saw the still-pretty-much-naive and relatively young author-protagonist stressing about how his first pro-published stories would be received by the savage and ravenous reader-folk.

And now, part 3. What lies in store? The answer should be pretty obvious: more fear.

In a bout of literary foreshadowing I remain proud of to this very day, Part 2 included the following elegantly-rendered line; “maybe these are first-time fears, or maybe I’ll always be afraid that what I’m writing is stinky word-crud.” Well folks, it looks like the answer to that question is the latter – most writers, it seems, will always be afraid their work sucks. They just accept it, get used to it, and bury it beneath all the previous happy experiences where their work clearly hasn’t sucked.

Unfortunately I’m not at that stage yet.

If Part 2 was a snapshot of my doubt-daemons just before the plunge into my first publications, Part 3 is the snapshot just prior to the Big Push. The past half-year has gone as well as I could have hoped. I’ve been inundated with work, and my small writing resume has been growing with every passing month. The future, however, is a scary thing, made so by the release, in six months time, of my first full, feature-length, stand-alone novel. And in hardback to boot.

Said novel was completed about two months ago. Since then the social medial platform I’ve spent the past four years constructing has been kicked properly into action for the first time. It has performed admirably. Hype, marketing, call it what you will, I’ve been able to get the word out about my novel well in advance of its arrival. People from all across the Internetsphere have flocked to offer support, from Facebook to Twitter to tumblr and beyond. I’ve been inundated with messages from people saying just how much they’re looking forward to reading it. I’ve even had folks promising not only to purchase multiple copies, but even encouraging others to do so. This is even more touching given that this particular piece of writing involved me sticking my neck out a little bit with my publisher. They weren’t a hundred percent convinced the subject matter could sell well. I convinced them they could. And, without jinxing it too much, going off how much momentum the hypetrain is picking up, I think it’ll do just that.

But that’s exactly what’s causing this latest bout of Fear. This really is it; back against the wall time. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. My name is stamped to this release, quite literally. People are excited, expectant. I would have to be slightly unhinged not to fret over my work’s reception after deliberately attempting to whip up a frenzy over it. Sure, if I keep it up this first big novel is going to sell well. But if it doesn’t live up to the high expectations of my growing readership, what hope is there for anything else I write, let alone direct sequels?

Of course, to top it all I’m suffering from Writer’s Blindness, insomuch as I’ve re-read the work itself so many times I have no idea anymore whether I personally think it’s any good or not. It could be some of the best work I’ve ever produced, or it could be total trash. The editors, of course, are happy enough with it to let it go to publication, but who can truly predict the reaction of the literary masses once they get their hands on it?

The tin whistles are still a long way from blowing, but zero hour is marching steadily closer, and in the quiet moments before going over the top, Fear is at its most powerful. And all I can do is wait.

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Wolf Trap – Free Extract

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Part six in my Legacy of Russ series! If you enjoy it, the full story is here, and the subscription to all eight short stories is here.

Ramillies-class starfort, designate Mjalnar

The very walls of Mjalnar shuddered and shifted, plasteel plating suddenly as insubstantial as a heat mirage. Through the haze came wyrdlings, their blades and claws reaching for Ragnar and his Space Wolves.

‘Blackpelts, to me!’ Ragnar roared. Normal forces would have been annihilated by so sudden and horrific an ambush. The Blackpelts, however, were far from normal. Back-to-back they fought, Tor Wolfheart and Alrydd the Bard, Uller Greylock, Hrolf Longspear and Svengril the Younger. With bared fang and wild eye they smote the creatures of Chaos, the warped corridor ringing with Fenrisian steel and crackling disruptor fields, snapping bone and snarled oaths. They were the Young King’s most favoured warriors, chosen as much for their brutal sword-skill as for their combat experience. Against them the lesser daemons of the wyrdrealm, for all their rage, could do little.

And they were as nothing compared to their lord. Ragnar was a blur of unrestrained, natural-born violence. He’d abandoned the protective knot of the pack, striking out further down the corridor. Normally a Wolf Lord’s personal retinue would have striven to defend their leader, adopting a formation that covered his back and protected his blind spots. But the Blackpelts knew better than to try that when the battle-joy had taken hold of their Young King.

Ragnar killed. It was simple. It was brutal. It was a terrible thing to watch, something that even his Wolf Guards treated with reverence. He was a blur of perpetual motion, never hesitating, never stopping, not even thinking. It was instinctive, deadly, the result of posthuman genetic engineering and the warrior conditioning of an already martial race, combined with over a century’s bloody battlefield experience. Frostfang, Ragnar’s ancient chainsword, was a blur, a halo of tearing teeth that left a haze of viscera hanging in the air around the lunging, spinning shape of the Wolf Lord. He danced the warrior’s dance, darting death that sawed through limbs and skulls and torsos and sent clutches of nightmares tumbling back to hell together.

Inquisitor de Mornay was only half aware of him. His plasma pistol was in one fist, venting steam from its coolant valve as he fired down from his palanquin. Sister Marie stood behind the rocking platform, hammering her combi-bolter into the mass of bug-eyed, snapping monsters clawing at them. Her black power armour was pitted and scarred, its holy surface befouled with a sheen of dripping ichor . She was reciting the Thirty Third Prayer of Revelatory Salvation in low, hard tones as she killed, eyes gleaming with the fires of a warrior given sacred purpose. When the tide rose too high she triggered her flamer, and the corridor was filled with the stench of roasting warpspawn and the dancing light of blazing promethium as it ate hungrily at the shrieking creatures.

Subconsciously, the Inquisitor was regretting not bringing the arco-flagellant, or donning his exo-plate. A part of him had hoped the rumours of Mjalnar’s corruption would prove to be unfounded, and the last thing he’d wanted was VX 9-18 rampaging through the starfort’s narrow corridors. That was a mistake he wouldn’t make again.

The daemons screamed with fury, enraged at the fact that their trick had been discovered. Without the intervention of de Mornay they would have driven Ragnar and his packs to the brink of turning, the Wolves’ frustration with the starfort’s seemingly endless, deserted corridors leading to the triumph of the Canis Helix. The Young King would have become the Young Beast.

And then, as sudden as it had begun, the ambush was over. The last daemons flickered and vanished with fading howls. The walls were whole once more, painted with dripping slime and riddled with bolt rounds. Ragnar twisted to a stop in a low crouch, Frostfang held upwards, its kraken teeth still revving. The Wolf Lord remained frozen for a second, fangs bared, a single twitch all that was needed to trigger another killing spree. But none came. He stood and deactivated the chainsword, wiping a globule of shorn wyrdmeat from the casing.

‘I needed that,’ he growled.

‘We can’t stay here,’ de Mornay said. His plasma pistol whined as it recharged, hot in his gloved grip.

‘We aren’t going to,’ Ragnar said. ‘Pack, on me.’ He keyed his vox.

‘Report.’

It’s an ambush, lord!’ shouted Hostor over the link. The sounds of fighting were clearly audible in the background.

‘The whole station is a trap,’ Ragnar replied. ‘Objective remains the same. Secure the command deck.’

Understood,’ said Hostor, the word underpinned by the sound of a revving chainsword.

‘The other packs?’ Uller asked as Ragnar broke the link.

‘Unresponsive,’ the Wolf Lord said grimly. ‘World Wolf pattern. We have an objective to secure.’

‘Where are you going?’ de Mornay demanded as the Wolves moved off down the corridor.

‘The command deck, of course,’ Ragnar called back. ‘Via the nearest vox terminal. Someone has to warn the rest of the Chapter that those Grey Knights were right.’

‘The place is infested,’ de Mornay said. ‘We’d be better evacuating and bombarding the station with your fleet.’

‘I’ve seen worse cases of corruption,’ Ragnar said. ‘Haven’t you, Inquisitor? Besides, do you think that little scrap was enough to satisfy me?’ The Wolf laughed.

Glowering, de Morney rolled his platform in the pack’s wake.

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The Thorny Issue of Reader-Writer Online Interaction

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The third Google image if you search “flamewars” is a Warhammer 40,000 one. Coincidence?

The internet can sometimes be stereotyped as “not a very nice place.” There is a belief that, whatever the qualities of individuals, there is a miserly and cruel streak that runs through the collective hive consciousness of the online community. The old adage that anonymity brings out the worst is us sometimes doesn’t seem so far from the truth, and it only takes a glance “below the line,” whether on the comments sections of online articles, videos, or forum boards, to set faith in humanity a-shakin’.

That’s the pessimistic view. It holds that vicious and unreasoning arguments lurk beneath the surface of even the most benign online interactions. It warns us off “feeding the trolls” or stoking flamewars. Antagonism can be found in plentiful supply, supposedly, and no more so than when subjective material is the topic of discussion. Be it digital or print, fiction or non-fiction, animated, live-action or on-the-page, works of creativity bring out debate, and debate can end up showcasing every opinion under the sun.

It’s a long-established rule that someone responsible for creating something should refrain from becoming deeply involved in the consumer’s discussion of the nature or quality of their work. This is without doubt wise advice. Professional detachment and giving consumers the right to voice whatever opinion they desire about your work goes hand in hand. There are few things worse than seeing the creator of a piece of work become entrenched in a petty slogging match with those criticising their efforts. Even if the defence is justified, respect for the author of the work becomes fleeting.

As with so many things though, claiming that a creator should be detached is easier said than done, particularly when they have probably spent many months, or even years, working on their final product. The question of whether or not to become involved in online debate was one I first found myself being ask about a year ago, when my first professional works of fiction began to hit the shelves. It wasn’t a challenge I found particularly hard to overcome, initially. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading the praise my efforts have garnered, and whenever there are criticisms, I try to take it onboard. I’m acutely aware that I’m still learning, and any advice is valuable.

That being said, as the volume of my published work has increased, so have the comments, both for good and for ill. Basic criticism, or straight-up hate, remains easy enough to deal with. Every writer should have a thick, gnarly skin, regardless of how long they’ve been in the game. What’s harder is when comments stem from confusion. Sometimes a reader might misunderstand something, and form a negative opinion because of that misunderstanding. Knowing such things could be fixed with a simple comment or two makes engaging in the discourse much trickier.

It was with a degree of trepidation, then, that I recently signed up to several online forums where my work is discussed. My hope wasn’t to crack down on any negativity, but to show my appreciation to those who liked it, and make things clearer wherever there was confusion. Would I get dragged into messy arguments, and squander my fledgling credentials as a professional writer?

Well, no. In fact, the opposite seems to have been true. I was welcomed with open arms into every online community I entered. Critics stressed their comments were aimed towards being constructive. Readers seemed appreciative of any input, and enjoyed having a direct link to the work’s creative process. At no point was I lambasted. Even more importantly, at no point did I feel like an intruder, whose mere presence was stifling debate. As is so often the case, I just felt like another fan, fully invested in the fictional universe I was now helping to expand.

That in itself may offer a cautionary tale for authors. While remaining detached from debate is a commendable default, it seems that for some the pendulum has swung too far. There are any number of reasons why writers can’t engage regularly with their readers (the biggest undoubtedly being the time required for such a luxury), but fear of coming across as unseemly by “stooping so low” as to discuss – and yes, very occasionally defend – your own work should not starve the community of interaction. Ninety nine percent of the time, readers are delighted to be able to discuss all manner of things with the creators of the works they enjoy. That’s a privilege we should not dismiss out of hand. If anything, we should embrace it whenever we have the opportunity.

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Infurnace – Free Extract

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The fifth part of the Legacy of Russ, the continuation of the War Zone Fenris saga began in Curse of the Wulfen, is here. If you like it, the entire first part is free here!

Ramillies-class starfort, designate Mjalnar

The very walls of Mjalnar shuddered and shifted, plasteel plating suddenly as insubstantial as a heat mirage. Through the haze came wyrdlings, their blades and claws reaching for Ragnar and his Space Wolves.

‘Blackpelts, to me!’ Ragnar roared. Normal forces would have been annihilated by so sudden and horrific an ambush. The Blackpelts, however, were far from normal. Back-to-back they fought, Tor Wolfheart and Alrydd the Bard, Uller Greylock, Hrolf Longspear and Svengril the Younger. With bared fang and wild eye they smote the creatures of Chaos, the warped corridor ringing with Fenrisian steel and crackling disruptor fields, snapping bone and snarled oaths. They were the Young King’s most favoured warriors, chosen as much for their brutal sword-skill as for their combat experience. Against them the lesser daemons of the wyrdrealm, for all their rage, could do little.

And they were as nothing compared to their lord. Ragnar was a blur of unrestrained, natural-born violence. He’d abandoned the protective knot of the pack, striking out further down the corridor. Normally a Wolf Lord’s personal retinue would have striven to defend their leader, adopting a formation that covered his back and protected his blind spots. But the Blackpelts knew better than to try that when the battle-joy had taken hold of their Young King.

Ragnar killed. It was simple. It was brutal. It was a terrible thing to watch, something that even his Wolf Guards treated with reverence. He was a blur of perpetual motion, never hesitating, never stopping, not even thinking. It was instinctive, deadly, the result of posthuman genetic engineering and the warrior conditioning of an already martial race, combined with over a century’s bloody battlefield experience. Frostfang, Ragnar’s ancient chainsword, was a blur, a halo of tearing teeth that left a haze of viscera hanging in the air around the lunging, spinning shape of the Wolf Lord. He danced the warrior’s dance, darting death that sawed through limbs and skulls and torsos and sent clutches of nightmares tumbling back to hell together.

Inquisitor de Mornay was only half aware of him. His plasma pistol was in one fist, venting steam from its coolant valve as he fired down from his palanquin. Sister Marie stood behind the rocking platform, hammering her combi-bolter into the mass of bug-eyed, snapping monsters clawing at them. Her black power armour was pitted and scarred, its holy surface befouled with a sheen of dripping ichor . She was reciting the Thirty Third Prayer of Revelatory Salvation in low, hard tones as she killed, eyes gleaming with the fires of a warrior given sacred purpose. When the tide rose too high she triggered her flamer, and the corridor was filled with the stench of roasting warpspawn and the dancing light of blazing promethium as it ate hungrily at the shrieking creatures.

Subconsciously, the Inquisitor was regretting not bringing the arco-flagellant, or donning his exo-plate. A part of him had hoped the rumours of Mjalnar’s corruption would prove to be unfounded, and the last thing he’d wanted was VX 9-18 rampaging through the starfort’s narrow corridors. That was a mistake he wouldn’t make again.

The daemons screamed with fury, enraged at the fact that their trick had been discovered. Without the intervention of de Mornay they would have driven Ragnar and his packs to the brink of turning, the Wolves’ frustration with the starfort’s seemingly endless, deserted corridors leading to the triumph of the Canis Helix. The Young King would have become the Young Beast.

And then, as sudden as it had begun, the ambush was over. The last daemons flickered and vanished with fading howls. The walls were whole once more, painted with dripping slime and riddled with bolt rounds. Ragnar twisted to a stop in a low crouch, Frostfang held upwards, its kraken teeth still revving. The Wolf Lord remained frozen for a second, fangs bared, a single twitch all that was needed to trigger another killing spree. But none came. He stood and deactivated the chainsword, wiping a globule of shorn wyrdmeat from the casing.

‘I needed that,’ he growled.

‘We can’t stay here,’ de Mornay said. His plasma pistol whined as it recharged, hot in his gloved grip.

‘We aren’t going to,’ Ragnar said. ‘Pack, on me.’ He keyed his vox.

‘Report.’

It’s an ambush, lord!’ shouted Hostor over the link. The sounds of fighting were clearly audible in the background.

‘The whole station is a trap,’ Ragnar replied. ‘Objective remains the same. Secure the command deck.’

Understood,’ said Hostor, the word underpinned by the sound of a revving chainsword.

‘The other packs?’ Uller asked as Ragnar broke the link.

‘Unresponsive,’ the Wolf Lord said grimly. ‘World Wolf pattern. We have an objective to secure.’

‘Where are you going?’ de Mornay demanded as the Wolves moved off down the corridor.

‘The command deck, of course,’ Ragnar called back. ‘Via the nearest vox terminal. Someone has to warn the rest of the Chapter that those Grey Knights were right.’

‘The place is infested,’ de Mornay said. ‘We’d be better evacuating and bombarding the station with your fleet.’

‘I’ve seen worse cases of corruption,’ Ragnar said. ‘Haven’t you, Inquisitor? Besides, do you think that little scrap was enough to satisfy me?’ The Wolf laughed.

Glowering, de Morney rolled his platform in the pack’s wake.

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