The first newsletter in … 5 years? Yeah. I’m a terrible human being, but most of you knew that anyway.
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Hello, everyone. Having got as far as #24, everything just, well… fell off a cliff, and I don’t know why. 5 years have passed. Things have been difficult. For you, almost certainly, and for me, definitely. There have been several events in the last couple of years, which were certainly not to my advantage, but we can get around to those another day.
Most of you will know me as a writer of … stuff. Mainly speculative fiction stuff. And that’s what I want to talk about. Firstly, the bad news.
The bad news is, have you seen what’s happening out there? There are wars and rumours of wars. No one can afford anything. We’re down to one – count them – major bookseller on the high street. The big publishing companies are eating themselves, or are allowing themselves to be eaten. Books for their own sake don’t seem to be a thing any more, along with advances, careers, or art. There is product, however, and plenty of profit for shareholder dividends. It’s the smaller publishers, both in the UK and internationally, that seem to be holding the barricades.
The concomitant bad news is that I have, despite my very best efforts, not got a publishing deal at the moment, for anything. And I had a long break from writing, because of the aforementioned events, which left me physically, mentally, and emotionally just a little bit broken. Certainly not in any condition to hold a head’s-worth of novel.
Now, on to the (at least to me) good news.
I’d been noodling with open-source role playing game mechanics, because I had to do something with the creative urge, even if I wasn’t writing, and eventually settled on D6 (http://opend6project.org/). It’s straightforward to learn, but the nuances can be subtle, and entertaining. “You can’t do that.” is not a phrase you’ll hear at a D6 table – it’s very much an “Okay, let’s work out how difficult it would be for you to do that. Then we can roll the dice.” Which is a dynamic I endorse.
Then I did a bit of worldbuilding, which inevitably involved maps. So I spent many a happy hour just placing trees and mountains on a map, with no expectation that any of this would lead to anything. I was having fun. I was learning stuff (Campaign Cartographer was the program I used). Then it was, “if I was designing an RPG system, then I should have a history, and races, and gods, and things like that” and I made some notes, and they expanded and got changed as I thought of new things.
And honestly, it was a bit of a life saver. I could pick it up and put it down. The size of it ended up quite large, but the individual bits of it were manageable. I was creating. It felt good, especially as it started to feel normal again.
I still couldn’t hold a novel-sized project in my head. But I eventually thought, “well, what about something smaller?” I posited a scenario inside my RPG world – a one-shot adventure sized idea. And then I ‘played’ it, and wrote that. I even rolled dice for the combat and some of the other feats. 20-something-thousand words later, I had a novella.
I didn’t stop there. I did it six times in all. I could have done more – it’s a very story-rich environment – but I inevitably want to explore other parts of the map, so I’ve sort of stopped there. Now I’m wondering what to do with them and whether anyone else might like to read them. And how would I do that?
I could just release them in to the wild, but my income has fallen off a cliff, and I’d like to be paid, even if it’s not much, even if it’s roughly comparable to the less-than-50p I get from a commercially sold paperback.
I have thought about a Kickstarter. I could still do that. It might even be successful. But I’ve basically done all the hard work, and I just need to get these things in a format that I could hand to folk. I’m very far from a marketing genius – my skills lie elsewhere, but if you bear with me, I’ll sort something out.
To the meat of the matter: what are the stories about?
All of this came from the initial spark of, rather than the usual fantasy RPG trope of a party of adventurers acting like murder-hobos, why not have a central character who’s more of a ‘fantasy Doctor Who’? That’s the aesthetic I was aiming for, and I think it’s what you’re going to get.
The setting is quite dark – the gods are all mad, Lovecraftian-types whose attentions are far better avoided than courted, and the other sentient species that share the world are hostile to humans – because of what humans do, rather than plain old xenophobia. It’s a low magic environment: magic is associated with the gods (and therefore not a Good Thing), but it’s there all the same. The technology level is pre-industrial, which is to say sophisticated but mainly hand- and animal-powered.
It’s not all terrible and covered in mud, though. There are still inns and ale, campfires and shared meals, courage and comradeship, compassion and mercy. It’s these things that make the stories worth telling.
The recurring character is Ember – a wanderer, inveterate meddler, and a friend to those with problems. Inevitably, he’s a thorn in the side of those who cause those problems, be they human, inhuman, or deity-level beings. Each story involves how Ember solves a problem, be it a mystery or a monster, helps someone fulfil a vow or talks them out of a terrible decision. Not all the stories have him as the central character, though. There are other players who take their part.
The novellas are designed to be read out-of-order, although there are nods to the other stories. As things progress, then there will be more lore established, but I’ll try not to break anything. Ember may or may not be one person, and he may or may not be very long-lived, so there’s plenty of scope for telling stories in different places and in different times over a whole vast continent.
Moreover, because it doesn’t rely on a publisher’s contract – I’m honestly fed up with having to stop a series/trilogy because they don’t want to continue it – I can just keep writing them. And I am. I can write them at my leisure, and if you want them, then they’ll always be in print.
I hope this is going to be of interest to some of you. I’ll be in touch again when I’ve got everything set up.