Tag Archives: magic

Kraken

 

Kraken II

Imagine you’re a witch, and by this I mean you follow a particular faith and pracitse magic to some degree, in the understanding that ‘magic’ is simply holding reverence for the Earth. You might find it hard to believe that this simple lifestyle rouses the intense hatred and fury of an organisation known as The Illuminata Knighthood. They openly denounce magic and magical practitioners as evil and persecute them, while covertly they confiscate any and all magical knowledge and twist it to suit their aims. To this end, they crush all sympathies and allegiance with magic amongst commoners and witches alike, using brutal and merciless tactics, whether in a so-called ‘courts of law’, or on the battlefield. If you were one of those people deemed a target by this organisation, you might wake up one day in your small rustic coven, hidden in the woods or some other remote place, to find an army of giant metal war machines bearing down upon you. These are The Illuminata’s Krakens. You can either run for your life as your home is demolished, or stand and fight, but considering true magic is the essence of revering the Earth, there is potentially little you can do against tons of iron and steel, bullets and flaming jets of fire. Chances are you would run – and run straight into the waiting arms of the massed infantry encircling the coven. You are vastly outnumbered and pitted against professional fighting men who have a taste for their work. Resist and you’ll be shot, and perhaps that’s for the best, as captured witches are taken for ‘correctional blessing’. Another coven is destroyed and more esoteric knowledge is confiscated and vanished from history. All in a day’s work for The Illuminata.

I drew upon my memories of illustrating for Games Workshop (long ago!) to produce this new artwork of Krakens. Against covens, they prove a highly effective psychological weapon, but as The Illuminata bloodlines are constantly warring amongst themselves, they’re also effective in crushing rival infantry, and even enemy Knights. The Illuminata’s roots reach almost as far back as witches themselves, and are equally steeped in magic, although of the malevolent deviser kind. Krakens themselves hint at these deep roots. They are not named for monstrous sea creatures as you might suppose, but for Krakon, the god of war worshipped by outlawed cults in antediluvian Atlantis. Ironic then that Atlantis was devoured by the sea, and the name Krakon became synonymous with a monster of the depths. But Kraken regiments and their arrogant Knights don’t have it all their own way. Sometimes they enter the field with banners flying high, but leave it as scrap metal. This is almost always when confronting enemy Knights, but on very exceptional occasions a regiment of those Krakens swagger into one of those small rustic covens only to be destroyed as surely as Atlantis itself, as Valonia will happily tell you . . .

Back Doors

Destroying Angel artwork

When I wrote Raven’s Wand, it was simply titled as such. There was no ‘Book I of . . .’ because there wasn’t a book II, let alone a series, but something wonderful happened as I typed chapter after chapter – I found myself getting excited about creativity again for the first time in many years. When I reached the last page I could have typed ‘The End’, but I knew it wasn’t the end. I just wanted to keep writing, and so I teased out the most logical story threads from Raven’s Wand and began weaving them again. The result was Flowers of Fate, and at last I was justified in adding ‘Book II of The Dark Raven Chronicles’. It might come as no surprise that I didn’t stop there . . . by the end of Flowers’ I still wanted to keep writing (lucky readers that you are!) and hence Lion of Evermore was born, and the story arc concluded. The three books grew organically, as a result of my continued desire to build the story rather than being plotted as a trilogy from the outset. Lion of Evermore concludes with the words ‘The End’. But it’s not.

If you like something, why stop? Book IV began to unfold, and this time I knew I couldn’t restart my original characters on a new journey, it just didn’t feel right. They’d told their story. What I needed was a new cast of characters, but from the same stage – witches from Wildwood-coven that we hadn’t met before. The trouble was who would they be and how would I introduce them, after all, how is it they weren’t mentioned before in all the action? The first solution was to find a ‘back door’ in the original book, and I’d had one particular back door in mind from the start. Without spoiling the plot, let me elaborate . . . Wildwood-coven faces attack, and its host of witches flee in a small flotilla comprising three boats. The idea was to rendezvous at a determined point and rally survivors. When it came to making this real in the story, I felt that having all three boats reach their destination safely was too snug and lessened the sense of threat. My solution was to ‘lose’ one of the boats. Two boats reach the rendezvous, while the third boat goes missing, along with her crew. It adds to the drama and sounds more convincing, and even mysterious. I could then get on with writing the rest of Raven’s Wand, but unexpectedly I found this missing boat cropping up in my mind like a stone in my shoe. I kept asking myself, ‘where’s it gone, and what’s happened to her crew, and who were they in relation to Kolfinnia – were they friends, peers, mentors, or rivals even?’ This unanswered question became my back door, and when book IV came along I knew it was time to answer it.

Book IV is entitled ‘Kolfinnia’s Coven’, and it forms a collection of short stories about Kolfinnia as a girl, growing up at Wildwood. It enabled me to greatly expand upon the witches’ world, and their beliefs, traditions, folklore and religion. I had great fun crafting creation myths as well as real life anecdotes from Kolfinnia’s early years, and I was also able to resolve the second problem – how to integrate a new cast of characters, with the original ones from Raven’s Wand. As Kolfinnia’s Coven effectively forms a prequel as well as a collection of tales, I was able to go back and introduce my new players, showing them growing up alongside Kolfinnia, and how they relate to her.

So, meet Freya Albright, as she appears in my illustration. She’s the captain of our missing boat, named ‘Speedwell’, and by the end of Kolfinnia’s Coven, we know her, and some of her crew, very well. Well enough in fact to see her take the helm as the new hero of the Dark Raven Chronicles, and at last we’ll find out what’s become of her and her crew of nine other witches. The result is book V and a different kind of tale to Kolfinnia’s. The focus remains on Freya and her crew throughout, and novels aren’t afraid to end on a cliffhanger. The tone is darker, and I’ve crafted new villains and threats, to break new ground and offer the reader a whole other side to the world of Wildwood. Entitled, ‘The Journey of Albright’s Boat’, Freya’s series begins with ‘Destroying Angel’ and introduces the most disturbing and shocking enemies witchcraft has yet seen, it begins to unfold a cosmology of creatures and demigods that show how magic extends not just beyond a coven or a country, but across the stars and planes of reality, life and death. But there’s still plenty of room for the intimate human dramas, and the warmth that binds a coven (or crew) together through thick and thin. All of this I owe to that back door, inserted casually into Raven’s Wand all those years ago. I never knew then what was waiting behind it, and certainly I never expected to find Freya’s story so intense, humourous, terrifying, and so far-reaching.
I’ll end this blog with the rather electrifying fact that The Dark Raven Chronicles are littered with back doors. Some of them are there on purpose, while others are hidden even from me, but I’ll root them out, and if I find something worth writing on the other side, I’ll take you along for the journey. I promise, this is only the beginning . . .

A Story Within a Story

The Fairy's Tale

This illustration is entitled ‘A Fairy’s Tale’. In it, master-storyteller Chikabok entrances a gathering of woodland folk with a vivid tale. The gathering comprises a fantastical array of creatures, including keddy-potts, drummon-toadies, snap-dragons, slug-fairies, baby mountains and potato men, as well as Chikabok himself, who is clearly a magpie-fairy. Confused? You need not be . . .
Within The Dark Raven Chronicles, witches have their own customs and of course their own traditional tales. We might grow up knowing certain popular nursery rhymes, and it’s the same with children growing up in covens. All of the amazing creatures I’ve just described are familiar enough to young witches. I’ve always loved the idea of a story within a story, yet I never found the right place for it in Raven’s Wand. Instead, we’re afforded just hints and glimpses of the rich world that lies behind a coven like Wildwood. I wanted to include these traditional witches’ stories, but the pacing of the novel never really allowed it. Richard Adam’s included two or three of the rabbits’ folktales in Watership Down. (I’ve written a full blog on this, one of my favourite books, here on this website, entitled ‘Black Rabbits and Terrible Generals’). What I will say again, is how effective these small inclusions are at expanding any fictional world. It’s like peeping at the cogs that drive the hands on the clock.

For those who’ve read Raven’s Wand, or are reading it, keep an eye out for the following; Wildwood’s chief witch Valonia, on rare occasions calls her bright young student Kolfinnia, ‘Little Wolf Mother’. This isn’t just a throwaway remark. There’s a whole story behind it entitled ‘Wolves in the Stars’, which tells how in the distant past, a cosmic monster tried to devour the Earth, and was stopped by one particularly brave witch named Luna, and a vast pack of wolves led by wolf-mother Fen. It’s a real story, in the sense that it exists complete and ready to read, and it directly integrates with everything about The Dark Raven Chronicles, and explains why Kolfinnia earned the nickname Little Wolf Mother. Interesting, isn’t it?
There is another, perhaps even more potent example of a hidden story with Raven’s Wand. I think it crops up just twice, and always in a sombre context, but look carefully and you’ll hear Skald, Valonia’s thunder-sprite quote the phrase, ‘If need of witches be so great’. He’s not being melodramatic – he’s quoting a pact made by his own Lord long ago, and which directly relates to his partnership with Valonia. ‘If need of witches be so great’. What does it really mean? Again, the story to explain this vague but ultimately critical pact, entitled ‘A Witch’s Best Friend’, exists and is ready to read, and in doing so we also learn something very special about Skald.
I hope that eventually all of these short stories will become available, but like fractals, the deeper we look the more detail we see, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find a story within a story within a story . . .

Bright Spark

Sprite blog small

One of the most popular character-types of The Dark Raven Chronicles turns out to be thunder-sprites, and so I thought I’d post a few words on these sparky little creatures.
Witches fly. It’s written in stone, so I couldn’t get away from it, but neither did I want to. What I did want to distance my story from was the concept of ‘flying broomsticks’. I can’t express my dissatisfaction at these things without impacting on other popular fantasy serials and ultimately sounding as if I’m being critical. I promise you I’m not, but I remain steadfast in my conviction that as a narrative device, flying broomsticks are common to the point of exhaustion and also present a massive missed opportunity. So often in fantasy fiction things happen ‘by magic’. End of story. I’m more interested in exploring the logic behind the magic, even if it’s fantasy-logic, and here I could really let my imagination run wild – what exactly is the magic that allows a stick, or staff, call it what you will, fly?

Years ago, living in the Yorkshire Pennines, the road to my house was steep and rocky. At one bend there was a small but tortured-looking oak tree. We dubbed it ‘ye old thunder tree’, because it looked like it had suffered a lightning blow, although I doubt it had. It got me thinking about the elemental forces that might have briefly touched it, and had they altered it in someway, other than splitting wood asunder? In channeling the storm’s energy, had the tree been left with a permanent resident, a fragment of the storm so to speak? It was easy for me to imagine that the answer was ‘yes’, and that lightning trees have a different energy to other trees. I tucked this obscure revelation away at the back of my mind, until one day I found it again and thanked my lucky stars for now having swept it out along with all the other clutter. My witches needed to fly, and what better than a branch from a lightning-tree, and what better than to call it a ‘lightning-staff’! It sounded magical but credible, and it offered the reader a fresh take on a well-known theme. After that, the flood gates opened. I came up with ‘thunder-sprites’ to embody the tree’s storm force, and let them have fabulously rambling names to celebrate the storms they’d come from. Kolfinnia’s thunder-sprite is called ‘Gales-Howl-Over-Stormy-Waters’, or ‘Gale’ for short. I invented scores of sprites names, many of which are never even mentioned in full, but they’re there, such is the detail in The Dark Raven Chronicles. One of my favourites is ‘Jump-The-Cross’, named for a bolt of lightning that struck a church spire, rebounded into the graveyard below and hit a holly tree, (lightning-staffs made from holly are very rare, by the way). Although Jump-The-Cross is yet to have his day, (the name’s never been used in any of the DRC novels so far) creating these names and their stories was a pleasure. Note I say ‘his day’. I deliberately made all thunder-sprites male, as decreed by magical law. As they are born where father-thunder touches mother-earth, I saw no need for messy things like gender, hormones or reproduction getting in the way of the action. Thunder-sprites are blokes – they like wrecking things. Enough said. There was another reason I made sprites male, and that’s because the cast of witches in Raven’s Wand are mostly female, although a few male witches take supporting roles. The combination of witch and sprite made sure that any witch in the story had some other character to bounce their thoughts and dialogue off, and provides and nice contrast between female intuition and male logic. A thunder-sprite isn’t a pet, but an equal, an ally and a friend. Witch and sprite share a very deep bond, and the sprite’s contract upon this Earth lasts until the day the staff is broken or the witch dies. Suffices to say, for a witch, breaking their staff and losing their thunder-sprite is no less devastating than the death of a loved one. Also, sprites don’t remain incorporeal within their staffs, but appear regularly to bicker and banter with their witches and other sprites. When they do appear we see them as striking raven-sized creatures similar to small primates, but winged and covered with blue feathers and bearing hawk-like heads. Sprites have a sweet tooth and can’t resist a pinecone sticky with sap. They have their own culture and social structure in the thunder-heights above, ruled over by their great Lord, Silver-fist, who’s as old as the Earth itself. Sprites are loyal but have little patience for self pity, and they’ll give their witch a kick up the rear if they think they’re slacking or failing to live up to the high moral code of witchcraft. As the action racks up in Raven’s Wand, the witches soon find that their staffs aren’t just handy for flying, but they prove powerful weapons when pitted against the Illuminata’s giant kraken steam-suited Knights. And lastly there’s the sheer thrill of flying, and not on some inanimate shaft of wood with bristles at the end, but flying in unison with a friend and a powerful natural force.

Or we could just throw all of this away and say that witches fly simply by ‘magic’. I know what I prefer.

Soul sign

Sunday soul II

Fairies don’t see the world as we do, at least not those fairies that dwell in The Dark Raven Chronicles. When frost-fairy Neet, meets witch Sunday Flowers for the first time, he’s entranced by her soul sign. This mystical representation of the soul takes the form of a tree, and floats above the crown of the head. Some of the branches might be bare, while others are in bud, or laden with fruit or flowers, and these branches might sit right beside others that are twisted and diseased. The branches represent all that’s good and bad about a person. Neet can see this, but Sunday, for all her skills as a witch, can’t.

Neet’s seen many soul-signs down the years, and although he understands little of the symbolism he instantly recognises that Sunday’s soul is unique – terrifyingly so. All other trees he’s seen are complete, yet Sunday’s tree has been cut clean through the trunk. Somehow she has defied the first and oldest universal law – she has died, and returned to life.

Flowers of Fate is the second novel in The Dark Raven Chronicles, and aside from being what I hope is an exciting story, it explores deep issues such as freewill versus fate, atonement and self-sacrifice. I look forward to sharing Flowers of Fate with readers later this year.

Beauty and Duty

for blog

Reworking the cover for Raven’s Wand, the first of the Wildwood books, I brought Kolfinnia to the fore. Book covers demand an eye-catching and appealing image for obvious reasons, but I didn’t want Kolfinnia (the story’s young hero) reduced simply to cover decoration. She’s a young woman with a serious duty, she’s been through a lot and has a lot more to get through before the book’s over.

I hope she’s beautiful (and beauty’s a wildly subjective topic!) and if she is, then I hope it’s because of what’s inside her. Look into her eyes – there’s focus and resolve there. She’s strong, but not in a macho-aggressive way that some writers portray female leads, but rather it’s her sense of compassion and justice that enable her to face the challenges ahead. I wanted to keep the focus on her face and what she’s feeling. Look long enough, and the surrounding details begin to melt away and only Kolfinnia’s steady gaze remains. Before you know it you’re looking at a real person, not just a pleasing face to brighten a book cover, and it’s her conviction that helps make a fantasy story seem more like a story rooted in fact. Neither did I want any trace of voyeurism. Sorry – but nobody goes into action in high heels and a bikini outside of the realm of Hollywood.

So here is Kolfinnia, holding Raven’s Wand itself. Around her are witches’ deities Hethra and Halla, the dragons of oak and holly that she’s prepared to defend to the death, as well as Skald, her loyal thunder-sprite. She is as real as you or I, as are the dangers and joys she faces. The fact that she happens to have a pretty face is immaterial . . . but it makes for a nice cover (-: