Category Archives: Bio

A return to education

Having graduated at the start of the summer with a 2:1 in history, I’ve been forced to watch as many of my friends have gone off in their own ways in search of gainful employment. My summer has meanwhile been spent writing, and playing rugby league for the local amateur side, the Outlaws, with the pressure of finding employment alleviated by my impending MA course, starting in September.

The various other graduates I’ve met up with since the end of the year have all had a good idea of what they want to do with their lives. Many had already secured jobs -the majority starting in the autumn- while the rest were engaged in fairly intense job searches, all with a clear and specific idea of what they were looking for.

What I realised (if I hadn’t before) was that I didn’t have a clue what I was aiming to do with my life. As such, in the past few weeks in particular, I have been giving it some serious thought. The list I have come up with is still painfully short, but also has an unhelpfully wide range.

I was glad therefore, when the uni rugby league club began their preseason mid-way through September, distracting me from any more long-term goals.

Making time for reading?

This summer, I’ve been trying hard to make time for reading, following three years of what feels like nothing but during the course of my degree. As mentioned in a prior post, I’ve also decided that I need to put myself out there somewhat more. As such I’ve expanded my social networking, to include the wonderful people of reddit, mainly of the /r/Fantasy and /r/Fantasywriters. Alongside this, I’ve endeavored to become an active member of the community of Fantasy Faction, a forum I would highly recommend to fantasy readers and writers both.

All of this has combined to open my eyes to just how many great fantasy books there are which I’ve never heard of, or simply not considered reading. The results have been quite startling. I’ve started keeping a ‘to read’ list, which has grown rapidly, and quickly spiralled out of control. Something I’m finding to be true is that, even without having a job at the moment, I simply cannot find enough hours in the day.

With five hours of training a week, I’m also juggling searching for jobs, writing one book with the aim of 1500 words per day, and editing The Shadow’s Herald in preparation for the second wave of  agency submissions (at roughly 4000 words per day). Part of this juggling is due to the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy editing, and I find that doing a little a day keeps it fresh.

The aforementioned ‘to read’ list is a pretty random blend of recommended fantasy books, the ends of series, historical fiction, and free kindle downloads (only the top 5 are in any kind of order). If there are any suggestions of things to add: please, feel free!

  1. Django Wexler, The Thousand Names, The Shadow Campaign, Book 1
  2. Brian McClellan, Promise of Blood, Powdermage Trilogy, Book 1
  3. Mark Lawrence, Emperor of Thorns, Broken Empire, Book 3
  4. Anthony Ryan, Blood Song, Raven’s Shadow, Book 1
  5. Brandon Sanderson, Well of Ascension, Mistborn, Book 2
  6. Paul Hoffman, The Beating of His Wings, The Left Hand of God Trilogy, Book 3
  7. Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Gentleman Bastard Sequence, Book 1
  8. Brent Weeks, The Way of Shadows, The Night Angel Trilogy, Book 1
  9. Joe Abercrombie, The Heroes
  10. Joe Abercrombie, Red Country
  11. Mark Lawrence, Prince of Fools, Red Queen’s War, Book 1
  12. Brian Staveley, The Emperor’s Blades, Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Book 1
  13. Sam Sykes, Tome of the Undergates, Aeon’s Gate, Book 1
  14. Richard Ford, Herald of the Storm, Steelhaven, Book 1
  15. R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness That Comes Before, The Prince of Nothing, Book 1
  16. David Hair, Mage’s Blood, Moontide Quartet, Book 1
  17. Patrick Rothfuss, Name of the Wind, The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1
  18. Michael J. Sullivan, Rise of Empire, Riyria Revelations, Books 3-4
  19. Michael J. Sullivan, Heir of Novron, Riyria Revelations, Books 5-6
  20. Sam Barone, Battle for Empire, The Eskkar Saga, Book 5
  21. Sam Barone, Clash of Empires, The Eskkar Saga, Book 6
  22. Daniel Arenson, Blood of Requiem, Song of Dragons, Book 1
  23. M.E. McNally, The Sable City, The Norothian Cycle, Book 1
  24. Robert E. Keller, Knights: The Eye of Divinity, The Knights Series, Book 1
  25. E.J. Gilmour, The Sword of Light, Veredor Chronicles, Book 1
  26. Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire
  27. Jon Sprunk, Blood and Iron
  28. Steven McKay, Wolf’s Head, The Forest Lord, Book 1
  29. Samantha Shannon, The Bone Season
  30. Raymond E. Feist, Daughter of the Empire, The Empire Trilogy, Book 1
  31. Raymond E. Feist, Krondor: Tear of the Gods, Riftwar Legacy, Book 3
  32. Peter Brett, The Painted Man, The Demon Cycle, Book 1
  33. Ben Kane, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome, Hannibal, Book 1
  34. Douglas Hulick, Among Thieves, Book 1
  35. Bernard Cornwell, The Burning Land, The Warrior Chronicles, Book 5
  36. Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Scarab Path, Shadows of the Apt, Book 5

The Storm Unleashed

With The Twilight Empire finished, I put it aside for a few weeks before looking at it again. What happened was that I found myself bored on my commutes to and from work. While reading in the mornings, by the evenings I was more interested in brainstorming, and so returned my attention to The War of the Ancients, planning out the storyboard of the second in the series, The Storm Unleashed. By the time I returned to Nottingham for Rugby League pre-season, I had finished writing the story arcs of three of the four POV characters, to a total of about 70,000 words.

Upon the resumption of my studies, I enjoyed a few weeks of laziness in September and early October, in which I finished a second draft of The Twilight Empire, bringing the total up from 65,000 to about 75,000 words.

Once my studies continued in earnest however, I was forced to devote all my attention to writing non-fiction essays, or researching my dissertation. In the first semester, I wrote essays on JFK and the withdrawal thesis, and the opening of Japan in 1853, which took me in a different direction to my previous studies. The shift from medieval history to modern was not a welcome one, which prompted my choice of dissertation.

Over the Christmas of 2013, I struggled to narrow the focus of my dissertation sufficiently, going through five different ideas in as many days.  By the time I returned to university in January, I had settled on one which had promise however, the one which developed into my eventual dissertation.

Over the next two terms, I wrote an essay on Japanese foreign policy in the 1870s, as well as something far more familiar, in the form of an essay about the reign of William I of England (better known as ‘the Conqueror’). My dissertation, with the title: ‘Salvation and Damnation: an analysis and comparison of Japanese and European warrior ethics’ was finished by the beginning of May, in time for my finals.

Since the end of my undergraduate degree, The Storm Unleashed has been completed, coming in at roughly 100,000 words, although with a lot of need for additions and revisions.  The Twilight Empire has also been through its third draft, and then renamed The Shadow’s Herald, once the connotations of using the words ‘Twilight’ and ‘fantasy’ in the same sentence were pointed out to me.

Due to the fact of my current unemployment, I’ve been able to get The Shadow’s Herald into a state such that I’ve sent it out to 5 literary agencies. In the last month, I have received 3 replies, including 2 form rejections. The one non-form rejection I got however was very encouraging, with the writing itself being praised, if not the total length, and the less than amazing explanation of the synopsis.

The Twilight Empire (since renamed The Shadow’s Herald)

Following my exams at the end of second year, I began to look seriously at getting published, with In the Shadow of the Storm in mind specifically. One of the first things I read however, was that as a debut author, I stood a far better chance of making my way through the process with a standalone book. As established in one of the prior posts, the sheer size of The War of the Ancients story arc meant that it would near 600,000 words in size by the time it was finished.

As such, I began looking at ways in which I could write a story set in the world I had established, so I wouldn’t have to start completely from scratch. With this in mind, I began to plan my standalone, tentatively titled The Twilight Empire. A premise which had been hinted at in the first book, combined with the use of the Jesterka, a simple, reptilian race I had created gave me a story.

By stark contrast to In the Shadow of the Storm, I put extensive planning into The Twilight Empire, structuring chapter outlines and properly developing characters before I even started writing. It was a technique I had used through my second year at university to write my historical fiction essays, with the result that once I finished the planning stages of the novel, I was able to actually write the novel relatively quickly (given I was still working the same 9-5 job as I had the last summer). The first draft, of some 65,000 words, was completed in less than 3 months.

Taking a Break

With the second year of my course, I fully immersed myself in university life, joining the Rugby League club and becoming far more active in the History Society, participating in far more social nights.

In terms of my writing, I again returned to historical fiction, writing essays on the Vietnam War, the Cold War, early Modern Russia, Charlemagne and the Crusades. This gave me an in-depth look at a wide range of cultures and time periods, something which sparked my imagination, particularly with regards to early Modern Russia and the Crusades.

Alongside these, I managed to read half of Bernard Cornwell’s The Warrior Chronicles, about Anglo-Saxon England, which were very entertaining, given the last time I read Bernard Cornwell was when I was much younger, reading The Grail Quest, and Warlord Chronicles series.

In the Shadow of the Storm

With the end of my first year exams in mid-May, I continued to write my first attempt at a novel, In the Shadow of the Storm. At this point, a very limited amount of planning had gone into the structure of the book. Initially I had thought to fit the entire story-line of the planned series, now called The War of the Ancients, into a single book, but as I began to write, it became increasingly clear that this would be difficult at best. I decided early on to write each character as a separate story, before cutting them together once they were all completed.

Such an approach has had both pros and cons. The obvious pros are that it aids in a smoother character development, as I did not have to jump in and out of one particular point of view. The greatest con I’ve encountered, particularly since trying to work out an order for the narrative, is a certain ‘disjointed’ quality to the book.

Much of the development of the specific story-line of the book, as well as the addition of a few more characters and cultures continued alongside its writing. As such, there were more than a few inconsistencies between the start of the book, and its conclusion, inconsistencies which are making editing the first draft a very long and painful task.

The extra point-of-view characters added included a variety of diverse points of view. Kendryek I added for a Laternae perspective, with the aim of making the reader empathise with Laternas, at least for certain members of the faction. I had a very specific story-line in mind, which relied on another character, who I ended up naming Qira, with the basis for much of her appearance and personality being on one of the many new people I met during my first year at university. Similarly, I added Markus with a very specific opening scene in mind, which then went on, over the course of the summer, to develop into a full-length narrative.

The development of these characters and cultures happened largely out of the need to keep myself entertained on my total hour and a half commute every day. With a simple 9-5 data entry job, I was able to continue developing the world my novels were to be set in while doing my work.

In its most raw form, I finished In the Shadow of the Storm in early September, shortly before I returned to Nottingham to start my second year. The first draft was 120,000 words, though I realised very early that it was very raw.

Putting pen to paper

After developing the cultures and groups involved in the opening scene, I started to write with no real research. At the time, I had very little to do, residing in a kind of limbo between 6th form and university.  It was a summer I spent largely in a state of nervous suspense, from the end of my school term at the start of July until the middle of August when I got my results, to see whether or not I had made it into university. While unemployed, I ended up writing merely as a source of entertainment.

The opening scene gradually began to develop. I wanted to write a fight between individuals, where one was physically much bigger and stronger, outmatching an already-powerful opponent. The inspiration for this was arguably drawn from the Halo franchise of games, with its 8-foot tall ‘Elites’ being soundly beaten by the lethal ‘Spartans’. Although a science-fiction game, it was the basic idea which interested me. This led to the creation of the first incarnation of the Ethernath Wraiths, at the time given the working name of ‘Forerunners’, and my first protagonist, then named Ingvarr.

Perhaps merely to challenge myself, I also wanted to write a scene simultaneously from two different points of view. This led to the expansion of my story-line, with the establishment of another major character, Althalos.

When I started to write, I quickly discovered that writing two points of view on the same scene was a painstaking and difficult task, and resolved never to do it again! Although I started writing in August, I was unused to writing longer pieces, so it was a fairly slow start, and it ground to a halt when I moved to university up in Nottingham.

At this point I felt the need to concentrate on my studies, and the ‘university experience’, meaning that most of what I wrote was historical non-fiction, in keeping with my degree course.

Where it all began…

Hi, just a quick introduction: my name is Jack, and I like to write. I’m not sure much more elaboration is required, but as an exercise in creativity, I’ve decided to write a short blog series about the history of my influences and inspiration, as best I can remember them.

I’ve been interested in creative writing since the age of about 8, when I first began to write stories as part of my English classes. My specific interests quickly led in the direction of epic fantasy, shortly after I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. When the films started to come out in 2001, it sparked my imagination further still, but I think I was aged 13 before I read The Silmarillion, which spurred me to attempt my first ‘extended story’.

Aged 13 me thought  that stretching a story to about 5,000 words was difficult enough. I forget exactly what its premise was, but I think the vast majority of the 5,000 words were taken up by long, convoluted, and badly-written fight scenes. I’m not sure I even gave the story a title, it was just sort of scribbled out onto 20-something journal pages.

Over the next few years I played around with a few ideas, but did not really write anything down. It was in this time that I read The Wheel of Time series which, while complicated, introduced me to writing about a wide range of diverse cultures, while giving them each a distinct flavour. What I particularly enjoyed were the sequences where god-like power was displayed, if only in short bursts, and The Wheel of Time introduced me to the concept of flawed protagonists perhaps more so than The Lord of the Rings; the idea that great power must be tempered with some major flaw (as with Rand’s insanity).

The creative writing involved in my schoolwork was forced to adhere to fairly strict guidelines, so there was no real outlet for any ideas. Busy as I was with various sets of exams, I did not really have much time to write, meaning that it was years until I attempted a longer story again.

My next serious attempt came immediately after my A-level exams, aged 18. While revising in the spring, I had caught an  episode of what had then been the first season of Game of Thrones. I ended up watching the entire series over the course of the next weeks, despite the important set of exams, so gripped was I by the adaptation. At that point I had not read the books, and over the summer I instead ended up reading my way through Steven Erikson’s Malazan: Book of the Fallen, and working 9-hour shifts at my local stable-yard for 6 days a week.

It was around this time that I ended up thinking seriously about writing a novel. The idea started simply, with the names of two cultures at war: the Ethernath and the Laternae. The Ethernath were to be based upon the Mongols, having recently read Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series, while the Laternae would essentially be ruled by the ‘Lancer Corps’. At such an early point in the summer, that was all I had developed – there weren’t even any specific characters.