Friday, May 24, 2013
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
I'm delighted to say that my new book, The Spear of Crom, is now available in paperback.
This is the "blurb" from the back cover:
"68 AD. The XIV Legion under the command of General Suetonius and the Tribune, Gnaeus Julius
Agricola, march west on a mission to crush insurgent tribes in Rome's newest Province, Britannia.
Fergus MacAmergin is an officer in a Celtic auxiliary cavalry regiment riding alongside the Legion.
As the British tribes wage guerrilla war on the Romans, Fergus falls foul of his commander. His
punishment is to lead a squad of men on a suicidal mission deep behind enemy lines.
Joining forces with Agricola, Fergus is tasked with finding a mystical spear, said to be the weapon
that pierced the side of Jesus Christ on the cross.
As the assignment unfolds, it becomes clear that there is more to the spear than meets the eye and
he is heading directly for a confrontation with dark forces from his past."
The paperback is available here (http://www.feedaread.com/books/The-Spear-of-Crom-9781782993476.aspx) and on Amazon in a couple of weeks from now. Also in Kindle
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
You can now read my interview with him on the HNS website:
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
I know the market is currently flooded with Roman militaria, but once I had started writing it was so enjoyable it just had to be completed. Its now at the point were I can start talking to people about it and in that spirit I discussed it a bit with Trudy my wife the other night.
"What is the hero called?" she asked.
"Fergus MacAmergin," I replied.
The look on her face said it all. It sounds so ridiculous it will never sell. Who is going to believe there was an Irishman in the Roman army? Worse, how likely is it that he would have been involved in the occupation of Britain and fought during the revolt of Boudicca (61 AD)?
Well its not as far-fetched as it might at first sound.
One of the main characters in my book is a Roman called Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Agricola was a historical figure who later made his name in conquering the Caledonians in what is now Scotland. Back in the year 60 though, he was a young Tribune assigned to the XIV Legion engaged in the subjugation of the Silures tribe in south Wales.
We know a lot about Agricola, and that's because he was lucky enough to have a son-in-law who was a famous historian, Tacitus, and he left us an account of his wife's father's life. Suffice to say, he was a very effective general who achieved considerable success in Britain.
As well as that, Tacitus mentions that Agricola kept an exiled Irish king as a companion, and "pretended to be his friend" with the view to using restoring him to his throne in Ireland as an excuse for a future invasion of the island by Rome. That invasion, of course never happened and it would be another millennium before Strongbow successfully used the same strategy in 1169.
All these events happened twenty years after my book is set, but they provided enough seeds to allow the creation of my story. Who knows where it will go, but creating it has been an enjoyable experience.
Agricola was also the origin of the (in)famous quote that Ireland could probably be conquered by one Roman Legion plus auxiliaries.
So how did he come that conclusion? In chapter 24 of his history, Tacitus reported that while campaigning in south west Scotland Agricola "crossed the water" in a ship and defeated tribes previously unknown to the Romans. The rest of the chapter discussed Ireland and this has led some people to speculate that this meant Agricola made an expedition to Ireland, with a tentative identification of a legionary fort on the headland of Drumanagh, in Count Dublin. I tend to disagree about Drumanagh. If he ever did cross the Irish sea, the most likely spot Agricola would have set up a beachhead was somewhere on the north Antrim coast, particularly given the passage from Tacitus that mentions he was in the Dumfries/Galloway region when he set up a forward base "on the shores facing Ireland" with an eye to a future invasion. The sea is so narrow there you can see across with the naked eye. In face, a crazy South African just swam across it. The last book I wrote, Lions of the Grail, was about the Scottish Invasion of Ireland in 1315, and that was the route Edward Bruce's army took.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Friday, May 25, 2012
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Friday, April 13, 2012
I’ve been fascinated by the Vikings for most of my 40 years but one thing that strikes me is that the link between constellations and other objects in the night sky and Norse mythology is perhaps underplayed these days. I started looking into it recently and came across a possible clue to the origin of the viking’s myth of the end of the world, and maybe even hint of impending doom from the sky.
In many cases, a lot of the origins of seemingly obscure Norse myths look like they are actually staring us in the face, or rather we are staring up at them in the night sky. For example “Bifrost”,-for the Vikings the road or bridge from "earth" (midgard) to "heaven" (asgard)-is widely believed (including in the marvel comics version of Thor) to be a rainbow, but the name translates as "trembling/shimmering road". To me, the Northern Lights or the Milky Way makes more sense as to what Bifrost was, particularly when the Eddas also say that Heimdall (the bright/white god) guards the end of Bifrost from his house "high up in the sky". That suggests that "Heimdall" is probably a very bright star somewhere at the end of the milky way or in the northern sky, perhaps the planet Venus. Venus is the brightest object in the night sky after the moon and in the evening and morning could well be perceived as being at the "far end" of either the milky way or where the Northern lights touch the horizon.
There are other specific stars that are related to incidents in Norse myths where bits of giants or gods (toes, eyes or whatever) got chopped off and placed in the sky by Thor or Odinn. Orion's belt was also possibly called "Frig’s Distaff" (Frig was Odin's wife) in the past but I can't find the origin of this theory beyond the internet, so it might just be a wiki-truth.
Famously, the Vikings thought the world was doomed. A final cataclysm called Ragnarokr (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragnar%C3%B6k) will destroy the earth, men (and women presumably) and the gods themselves as they fight a last desperate battle with jotunns and monsters of chaos let loose on the world. Again perhaps there is some half-forgotten sky lore in this tale. For example, in Old Norse, the constellation Hyades was called "Ulf's Keptr," Wolf's mouth and given that the Hyades is close to the ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun, is reminiscent of the Norse myth that the wolf Skoll (treachery) pursues the Sun across the sky and at the end of the world would catch and eat it. A slight shift in the earth's rotation on its axis perhaps?
The constellation Auriga was called the "Battlefield of the Aesir*" (asar bardagi) and the obvious battle that all the gods are in is Ragnarok. Something appearing to come from that region of the sky like an asteroid could have happened and given rise to the Ragnarok myth. The Edda relates that at the climax of Ragnarok the sun becomes black, the sea rises to cover the earth, the stars vanish, steam rises and flames rise up to touch the heavens. To leap deftly into the realms of speculation, a huge firestorm, a dust cloud that blots out sun and stars and a Tsunami are reminiscent to me of a comet strike on the earth. Could the myth of Ragnarok be a half remembered memory of a comet or asteroid coming from the constellation of Auriga and striking the earth sometime in the dark ages?
The fact that the comet Hartley 2 appeared at its closed point to earth in the constellation of Auriga in 2010, and will return in 2017, suddenly gives a bit more pause for thought.
Sunday, April 08, 2012
This concept seems to go right back into the mists of time to the roots of the Germanic pagan religion (or maybe further) as the pagan Anglo-Saxons who became the English used the term "Os" for their deities, which also denotes the East. Eostre (with the root of our modern word "East" fossilized in it) is a female variation of the same concept, so to me the likely conclusion is that "Eostre" was not the actual name of the goddess, but a term referring to one of the female pagan gods we already know about. There were a few female pagan Germanic monsters (like Hell), but not that many goddesses, and really it comes down to just 2 main ones: Frigg (after whom the day Friday is named) and Freya. There is lots of further speculation that these two were probably originally the same persona, only split apart in the later dark ages, so in the time period we are talking about for the pagan anglo-saxons (4th or 5th century) the chances are that they were one.
So the most obvious conclusion is that if Frig/Freya was important enough to name a day of the week after, then she was probably also loved enough to have a spring festival called after her. So happy Easter, and happy Eostre.
Given Frigg/Freya’s associations with fertility, it makes me look at those eggs again too
Sunday, March 25, 2012
So it was with some trepidation that I picked up Robert Low’s “The Lion Wakes”, which deals with the same events. Low’s “Oathsworn” series of Viking books were fantastic and something I thoroughly enjoyed, but what would he do with the Anglo-Scottish wars?
I need not have worried. If “Braveheart” was USDA steak, pre-tenderised for easy digestion, this is pure Aberdeen Angus beef, cooked rare and still bloody, with plenty of gristle to chew on and bursting with flavour.
The style of the narrative is episodic, showing vignettes of action and characters across the years, sometime landing right in the middle of the action when the fighting has already begun, but when trying to cover such a vast sweep of history it is an effective device and manages to keep the narrative moving at a fast pace.
A host of memorable individuals, both historical and fictional, populate this book from the nameless Dog Boy to Robert Bruce himself. There are no cardboard cut-outs or “stock” characters here. Throughout the novel, Robert Low manages to bring these medieval people back to life and shows how they change and grow with the events around them (well the ones who survive anyway). For me the most interesting character was Bruce himself, who transforms from a medieval equivalent of a feckless rich playboy to someone who led his country to freedom. This seems to be a theme in the book: What really is the nature of heroism? What makes “heroes” and what motivates them. Are any of our heroes as clear cut as we think? William Wallace appears here too, but in a big, violent, frightening and ultimately more recognisable guise than Gibson’s simplistic messianic portrayal.
Robert Low does a great job of portraying the reality of life in late Thirteenth Century Scotland. Castles are cold, drafty stone and wood tower houses rather than Disney-style Camelots, armour rusts in the rain, boils itch in the sweaty heat and the freezing cold of the Scottish winter almost leaks from the pages.
There is no doubt the language used in the dialogue can at times be challenging. Robert Low chooses to use authentic Scots and there is no easily accessible glossary (at least in the Kindle edition). However, it is still English, and like arriving in any new country once you become accustomed to it, not only is it perfectly intelligible but it undoubtedly adds to the authentic flavour of the book.
So in short a great read. Its not an easy read, but then any challenging piece of writing that seeks to both tell a story and explore the underlying themes and motivations of the people involved in real events never is. If you want your history fed to you half chewed on a plastic spoon, this is not the book for you. If you want something more satisfying then this is it. I can’t wait to read the next in the series.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Friday, August 12, 2011
The big news is I've taken a significant step into the world of print and invested in 250 printed copies of LOTG .
Lets see how this goes
Thursday, July 21, 2011
My novel Lions of the Grail has been available for the kindle at Amazon since mid-June, on Smashwords for 5 days, as well as in printed form from lulu
So hows it going?
Well I'm not a millionaire yet :-) , however I'm pleasantly surprised to report that I've sold 32 copies, which isn't bad I suppose for starters. Also things seem to be settling down to a steady one or two copies a day. Hopefully this will start to multiply as folk read and recommend it.
Things I've learned so far:
- Time spent proof reading before ordering any printed copies is time VERY well spent. I've gone through 4 versions of the book and wasted money on mistakes on the cover, unintentional blank pages etc.
- "Standard Manuscript Format" is NOT print format. I submitted my manuscript as I would to a publisher or agent: 12 point font, A4, double spaced. A printer kindly pointed out that printed novels dont look like that. Removing the double spacing and setting the page size to A5 knocked 40% off the price of printing the book.
- The profit margin on kindle way outstrips printed books.
- Its very hard to make any profit selling hard copies: High street book chains like Waterstones won't order books from independants and you have to have an account with a book distributer like Gardeners or Bertrams that they will order through. That means you must have an ISBN (which costs money). Distributors also expect a 60% discount. The average price for a paperback fiction book is £8.99. If you sell the book to Gardeners at a their expected discount rate that mean syou have to find a way of printing the book at £3.50 before you can break even (don't forget postage etc!)
- An agent just told me that if I've published on kindle no publisher will now touch my book. Oops. One thing I should mention is that before heading down the self publishing route, make sure you've exhausted the "traditional route".
Friday, August 20, 2010
So vampires are now the new Rock and Roll. The characters of “True Blood” have appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, provoking the desired Pavlov’s dog-like outrage in the conservative media.
As a long time horror fan and lover of vampire films and literature, True Blood (and the rest of the “vampire fantasy” genre it belongs to) offends me in a different way.
Today, the undead have lost their bite. Once a terrifying creature, risen from the grave to feast on the blood of the living, the vampire has become of late little more than a vapid supermodel whose “heroin-chic” look has gone too far, leaving him or her to wander aimlessly through tedious teen soap opera-like TV shows, more worried about relationships, moral dilemmas and generally looking good as opposed to what they are supposed to be doing: Draining mortal blood and scare the bejesus out of us.
What happened to genuinely frightening vampires? How did the Prince of Darkness become a creep from Beverly Hills 90210?
If anything, becoming “the new rock and roll” is the kiss of death for anything that once could call itself edgy, dangerous or even (dare I say it?) frightening. Pretty much like the band that shares the magazine’s name, having your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine basically means you are now in the mainstream: You’ve been absorbed into a corporate world, sanitized, made-over to take off your rough edges and repackaged to make you acceptable for mass consumption. Your main purpose is now to make money. Not that there is anything wrong with making money, but when its at the expense of something I have a high regard for, then it irks me, to say the least.
For me, some of the most genuinely terrifying moments in literature and on the screen have involved vampires in some way.
I’m pretty sure most people my age (I’m hitting 40) still have the odd nightmare about the vampire kid floating outside the window in Salem’s Lot that they first saw on TV thirty years ago. There was something inherently creepy about that pale face combined with the spine wrenching masterstroke of having him scrape his fingernails down the glass that hit a very raw, very primal nerve and has haunted our sleep ever since.
Salem’s Lot’s Lord of the Vampires, Barlow, managed to overcome having what must be the most un-horrific name of any of the un-dead by recreating the appearance of that most frightening of all vampires to have appeared on screen: Count Orlok from the seminal horror movie, Nosferatu. Let’s face it, there’s no way that particular vampire could be mistaken for someone from the cast of “The Hills”. The first appearance of the Count as he emerges from the shadows with his bald head, pointed ears and rat-like fangs still manages to provoke a little shiver. Not bad for a movie that is close to 90 years old.
TV version aside, the written version of Salems Lot surpasses it in terms of scariness. Without the pictures being supplied, there is nothing that can scare you as much as your own imagination. The same can be said for Bram Stoker’s original novel Dracula, or to give it its other title “The Great Undead”. The whole book is an incredible read, both as a thriller and with some genuinely horrific moments. I urge fans of the modern sexy, disinfected vampire genre to give it a read and see what pale imitations of this Victorian masterpiece present day vampire fiction has become. And if you like it, for something both weird and frightening, go further and read the novella that was one of Stoker’s influences, “Carmilla” by Sheridan le Fanu. This has it all. Creepy castles, undead that stalk the night, dream-like scenes that merge into nightmare, eccentric vampire hunters, stakes through the heart and all spiced up with distinct overtones of lesbianism. Beat that “Twilight Saga”!
I recently watched the Hammer Horror film “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” (for some reason now in the public domain) and realised that by the 1970s vampires had become a bit of a clichéd joke. Something had to change, but did it have to change in such a depressing way?
I was trying to identify where the rot set in, and at first I thought it was with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but to blame Buffy would be like poking a stick at a much loved pet puppy. Buffy never took itself seriously, which is where all these new shows go wrong. Probably the worm at the heart of all this was Anne Rice. In my opinion it was her modern gothic fantasy tales (and the film versions of them) that did most to create this modern plague of impossibly good looking vampires who are overwhelmed with the moral dilemmas involved in gaining immortality through killing others. Did Christopher Lee look like he was burdened by ethical questions when he rose from the grave, red eyes blazing and fangs barred? Did he Hell.
But why does this annoy me? What is so bad about making vampires “more accessible”?
I guess it must be a combination of becoming a grumpy old man (as I said I’m hitting 40) with the general feeling that somehow True Blood, Twilight and their like are vampires-lite, saccharine substitutes for the real thing.
The fact is I want to be scared. I enjoy it. I love the ghost train at the amusement park and the creepy feeling of walking past a cemetery at night. I love ghost stories and I still recall the sheer thrill of listening to them as a kid round the campfire at cub camp. Its cathartic and its, well fun, probably childish fun, but what’s wrong with that?
If you take away the frightening aspect of a vampire all you are left with is a quite frankly ludicrous concept of a corpse risen from the dead. Vampires need to be scary, otherwise they are just plain silly, mere goblins or elves that belong with the creatures from the Lord of the Rings, rather than demons from Hell who belong with the Children of Cain who stalked the night in Beowulf. They are like alcohol-free beer: with the fun bit taken out, all you are left with is something that does not do you any harm but you do not really enjoy.
Friday, March 23, 2007
So, it’s a week since attending QCon and with seven days to reflect on everything, what were the main things I took away from the conference?
Probably the clearest impression left on my mind was the conviction that web development is changing, and changing very quickly. State, Rich functionality and some business model are moving to the client and server side components are becoming data servers. The model is evolving towards the old client server one. What technology will dominate here is presently unclear, but eventually there will be a few big winners, and given there are currently around 500 Ajax frameworks about, a lot of losers.
Other nuggets of gold:
- If you can’t feed a software development team with 2 pizzas, then it’s too big! (Amazon.com)
- 2 Phase Commit is a barrier to availability, having a relational database can be a barrier to scaleability.
- RPC is not scaleable
- Transactions in highly available systems need to be more BASE than ACID
- Ebay has no application code transactions.
- M&S.com, NBA and host of other websites all actually run on the Amazon.com platform.
- Don’t make any decision until it’s the right time to make it: The last responsible moment.
- Concentrate on keeping your domain model clean and up to date is the best policy.
- Automate your testing
- Try and make all your decisions reversible, and thus get rid of “architecture”