Category: New Works


2016 has been a productive year for me, with a lot of work going on behind the scenes for both Immanion Press and its non-fiction imprint, Megalithica Books. I’ve written quite a few short stories, released the ‘Dark in the Day’ weird fiction anthology (edited by Paul Houghton and me), as well as ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’, (written by Taylor Ellwood and me). I have lots of plans for the future.

Yesterday was publication day for my new Wraeththu Mythos book, ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’. It’s also having a simultaneous release in e-book. The latter will be on sale at the end of the month in a Kindle promotion. This book, a trilogy of connected novellas, began life as a collection of all the Wraeththu stories I’d begun over the years and had never finished. However, it changed course almost immediately as, once I began work upon the first story ‘Song of the Cannibals’, I knew I had something bigger than a short on my hands. It became a layered tale that folds back on itself, a narrative delivered by three different characters. While each story focuses on a different part of their shared history, there are some overlaps, which are subject to personal interpretation on the part of the narrator. That kind of thing really interests me.

bloodphoenixrose_small

The story begins around 20 years after the fall of Fulminir, the stronghold of the Varr leader, Ponclast. I’ve always been intrigued by that dark fortress and what happened there. Part of its history I didn’t know myself until recently, when it opened its doors to me in a creative sense. When, as a young author, I first wrote about the Varrs, I wanted to ensure they appeared brutal, almost unharish, and was extremely heavy-handed with certain details of that, as I didn’t have the experience and skill to make it chilling in a more subtle way. Wendy Darling, my editor, spoke to me recently about Ponclast’s unspeakable murder of his son Gahrazel, in ‘The Bewitchments of Love and Hate’ and how it related to the new work. The repulsiveness of the method Ponclast employed is almost worthy of ‘Game of Thrones’ for nauseating ghastliness. Looking back, I wouldn’t write the scene in precisely that way now. It closed certain doors upon that aspect of the mythos and its characters. Then I realised that ‘Bewitchments’ was told from the character Swift’s perspective – and first person narrators can be unreliable – plus the fact that he learned of Gahrazel’s death in a vision. I haven’t challenged what Swift reported; it’s simply not commented upon, not least because the characters in the new book wouldn’t have access to that information.  Some of the original narrative may be true, some of it not. Perhaps all true or all untrue. Or else even Gahrazel’s perception of his death – or his ghost’s perception – is skewed. I’ll leave it open for now.

There is one particular, distressing scene in ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’ that when told from two perspectives offer a different story. Both, in fact, are true, but subject to personal filtering. Fascinating stuff to write about.

When I first came up with the character of Ponclast, he was a rather one-dimensional, ouana-prevalent baddie, but as time has gone on, and through different novels and stories, he’s become a more rounded individual. Not a kind and fluffy type by any means, but not a stereotypical evil overlord either. His origin story, ‘Pro Lucror’, which appeared in the Mythos anthology ‘Paragenesis’, provides some insight into why and how he turned out the way he did. In ‘Shades of Time and Memory’ and ‘The Ghosts of Blood and Innocence’, from the second Wraeththu trilogy, he changes considerably, and perhaps goes part way to a kind of redemption. My colleague, Taylor Ellwood, who works with me on the Deharan magic system, felt that Ponclast should be part of the second book in the ‘Grimoire Dehara’ series. His complex character takes the role of an underworld deity in the system. I’ve come to realise that Ponclast has captivated quite a lot of people over the years, who are interested in his character development. Quite an achievement for a har who was initially supposed to be little more than a bit part player. ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ came out earlier this year. As well as adding depth and detail to Ponclast’s character, it also includes other mythos-expanding aspects that may be of interest to readers of the Wraeththu books, as well as practitioners of magic.

Now for next year’s plans… Some of them are at the developmental stage, when they might or might not happen, so I can’t give too many details. But I can mention the ‘Visionary Tongue’ anthology I’ll be compiling, which has been commissioned by Ian Whates for his NewCon Press, and is earmarked for an autumn release next year, to coincide with Fantasycon. ‘Visionary Tongue’ was a magazine edited by Louise Coquio and me about 20 years ago. Writers who went on to be quite famous names contributed stories to it, such as Liz Williams, Justina Robson and Tim Lebbon. After issue 16, Louise and I handed the caretaking of the magazine to Jamie Spracklen, as we no longer had the time to devote to it, nor the personnel to help us. Jamie has produced about 10 more issues since and is helping me, along with one of his editors, Donna Bond, to compile the anthology. I’ll be getting in touch with writers over the coming couple of months. Some I’ve already contacted and have received permission for reprints.

Taylor and I will be working on ‘Grimoire Dehara: Nahir Nuri’, which we intend to publish around autumn time too. This will appear, like the second volume, in a limited edition hardback, a paperback and e-book. As with the other books, this expands upon the pop culture magic system based on the Wraeththu Mythos.

I will begin work on a new novel, or series of stories, but I’ve yet to decide exactly what. There is also another non-fiction title I want to write. More details in the New Year when things are more certain.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported my work over the past year. I hope those of you who read ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’ will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Here’s to exciting new projects for next year! May all of you have an exceptional Yuletide.

 

 

 

I’ve realised that it’s almost impossible to plan precisely my writing in advance. I’ve written blog posts over the years describing my intentions but a lot of the time these get modified – not least by the writing taking over and deciding for itself what’s going to happen. I’ve been thinking a lot about my career recently, not least because I hit sixty this year. Can’t believe so much time has passed! It’s frankly very scary. Anyway, I’ll talk about my realisations concerning writing – and Wraeththu – later on. First, current plans (but I – and you – might as well accept now that some of them may be subject to change):

After the successful launch of both the Wraeththu short story collection ‘Para Animalia’ and my new anthology ‘Splinters of Truth’ (the latter published by NewCon Press), I’m now concentrating on other projects. I’d planned initially to release all my Wraeththu short stories in one collection this year, including half a dozen or so new tales. But I’ve had to revise that idea. First of all, after discussing it with various friends, I’ve realised that as nearly all my Wraeththu pieces are still fairly recent, in the ‘Para’ anthologies, there probably isn’t much of  a market for a collected anthology yet. And even if there were, wouldn’t that be short-changing readers somewhat? Another consideration was that when I put all the stories into one book file and formatted it, it was already quite hefty – before any new pieces were added. So to me, this led to one major change in my work schedule this year: ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’ would comprise all new stories. A comprehensive collection can come later. I’d intended for this book to be fairly simple to compile, with just a few new additions, but no, the book has decided it’s something else entirely, and has clear views on how I must write it.

The initial idea for Wraeththu came from several directions, but primarily it was through my fascination with magic and the unseen. When I began reading books on these subjects as a teenager, I discovered alchemy, and this arcane art enchanted me. Even as a fledgling writer, it filled me with creative ideas. The alchemical rebis, the sacred hermaphrodite, was one of the most compelling images of all, and of course kick-started the idea of a race superior to humanity who were androgynous. In ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’, those words in themselves alchemical symbols, I want to explore the idea more fully.

So what has this alchemical beast evolved into? So far, the book will consist of three connected novellas, rather like a mini-trilogy, plus a few other pieces that are unconnected with them. I’ve completed the first two novellas. The first story was actually another of those ideas I’d had knocking around on my computer for decades. It was called ‘Song of the Cannibals’. When I began writing it, I didn’t know why it had that name – it had just come to me and I liked it. I imagined I could make the story fit the title as I wrote it and produced at most about three pages of it. Then I let it lie for around thirty years. Looking at my old notes (because I hate to see ideas wasted, however antique they might be), I came across ‘Cannibals’ again, and knew exactly what happened next and where the cannibal aspect came into it. Unfortunately it required junking nearly all of what I’d written, but for the name of the main character, the house where it’s set, and a somewhat sinister visitor. Here is a brief synopsis:

Tambril goes to work for a renowned alchemist/teacher named Melisander, who lives near Ferelithia. In the sprawling house, Sallow Gandaloi, which bustles with students and staff, Tambril discovers an important shrouded secret – his employer’s brother lives in a suite of secluded rooms and is most definitely ‘not right’. Melisander calls the weird Gavensel his ‘brother’, yet they are of completely different skin colours and clearly not related in blood. Yet Melisander never speaks about this. He is a fair and generous employer and teacher, and those living in his establishment, whether to learn or to work, are prepared to ignore or put up with the unnerving and ghostlike Gavensel in order to enjoy all the benefits of Melisander’s patronage. But then, one day, a mysterious visitor, a ‘crow of hara’, arrives at Sallow Gandaloi with an apparently priceless artefact to sell. Or is that his true purpose? Is he not perhaps there to steal rather than sell? And what is it he knows lies hidden in the house, something that is above priceless? Tambril, inevitably, becomes involved in the mystery, which becomes increasingly dark and threatening.

The second tale in the collection, which I finished this week is called ‘Half Sick of Shadows’, and is partly inspired (or perhaps informed) by the poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’, although bizarrely the characters themselves found the connection while I was writing, rather than me choosing deliberately to fit the story around the poem. During one conversation, a har refers to another present as ‘the Lady of Shalott’, and the whole thing took off from there. I didn’t plan this; it just came out. When the har in question seeks out and reads that poem, intrigued, he sees his own life reflected there, as he feels it fits him perfectly. That was pure coincidence rather than design. Or perhaps not coincidence at all! I can’t say any more than this about the story, as to do so would cause spoilers for the first piece.

The final story in this mini-trilogy doesn’t yet have a name. All I know is who the narrator is going to be, and an intriguing one he is too. Can’t say more – sorry! He has to be a surprise. I intend to start working on this piece once I’ve got another short story written, for a science fiction anthology to which I’ve been invited to contribute.

Something that’s been made abundantly clear to me while writing this new material is the thing that fascinates me most at the moment about the world of Wraeththu is how the original, incepted hara have adapted, a hundred years after their species was created. I’ve been hinting, and even overtly saying, for a long time in my stories that the incepted, the First Generation, are often regarded unfavourably by the later pureborns, who equate the incepted with madness, ignorance and instability. As one character in ‘Half Sick of Shadows’ says, ‘Hara like us are obsolete. We were merely mechanisms to get the whole thing going.’ The dust has settled, Wraeththu have gradually evolved into their potential, and continue to do so. But the casualties of war, those who fought for survival at the very start, the progenitors of Wraeththu, how do they fit into the new world, when very often they are scarred veterans of ancient conflicts? In Immanion, there is an establishment for such hara… I suppose much of my fascination lies in the fact that I am so much older now than I was when I first wrote feverishly of Wraeththu and their world. My dust has settled too, to a large degree. Now I’m able to observe my own youth in what I created, my own aspirations and hopes and ideals – my own silliness too, which I look upon with affection rather than regret. Wraeththu, if anything, have become even more intriguing to me.

I’ve written a great deal about hara over the past few years, and until quite recently have sometimes heard this niggling little voice in the back of my mind telling me I shouldn’t just luxuriate in the harish world. Write something else – something more commercial, harps the voice. While I’ve produced quite a lot of short stories not connected with Wraeththu over the past decade, the Magravandias Trilogy was the last full-length work not set in the world of Wraeththu, and that was released around sixteen years ago. That’s far too long, wheedles the voice. Stop indulging yourself! With this in mind, I began work on my ‘Through the Nightgardens’ project late last year, and wrote the first two instalments of this fantasy novel. I planned to write a chapter a month, and allow the first six to be available free online, illustrated by landscapes I created in the MMORPG, Rift. The first two are up, but… I’ve been so busy since the New Year, not just with writing, but with administration tasks and ‘any other business’. I’m also nearly at the end of ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’, the book of pop culture magic, which I’ve been writing with Taylor Ellwood. We want to get this out around summer time. There have been short stories to write as well, as I hate to turn down offers when they appear in my mail. And shorts, while short, still take some time to write. So ‘Nightgardens’ hasn’t progressed as much as I’d hoped. It hasn’t been helped by the fact that Trion, the company who developed and maintain Rift, have changed a lot. I dislike the way they operate now and how they treat their loyal customers. This has soured my feelings towards the game and quite honestly has contributed towards me feeling less inspired to go and work on my landscapes for ‘Nightgardens’ in there. I will take both story and landscapes up again eventually, as I don’t like to leave projects half-finished, especially when I’ve already done so much work on them, but my desire to work on this was so much less than my eagerness to work on ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’. I love that project and want to complete it before I consider doing anything else.

It was a dilemma I struggled with for a while. My first love really is Wraeththu, and although my books about them have never been popular in the mainstream, they’ve always had a consistent and loyal following. That world has allowed me to explore so much about ourselves, as humans, and so much about gender, through the medium of these sexually unsundered beings. As I said earlier in this post, I’m sixty this year, and I feel now I have to write what I most want to write. I might have another 30 years left to me – or not. We don’t know these things about ourselves, but there comes a moment when you have to accept that the first half of your life is long gone, and time becomes a far more precious commodity. My writing is my legacy. I’m never going to be rich and famous; I got over the hope of that years ago. I’m never going to be the sort of writer who’s in the spotlight, grinning at cameras while I win awards. The disappointment about that disappeared some time ago too. But I do believe in what I write, consider myself a good writer who has worked hard at her craft, and know instinctively it’s what I’m here to do. I’ve never found writing incredibly easy, or felt it pour out in beautiful, perfect streams as if I’m a channel for it – as my late, much-missed friend Tanith Lee experienced. But I do feel I’m approaching the height of my powers as a story-teller, and have decided I don’t want to waste a minute of that trying to write things to please other people, in the hope it will make me more successful. My work is more precious than that and deserves more respect. I often day-dreamed wistfully of living in a big old house, much like the sort I sometimes write about, but know now that’s unlikely to happen. I comfort myself with the thought that if I’d ever had a house like that, I’d probably have been terrified in it – my imagination being what it is. Once I’d cast off these unrealistic hopes and dreams, I got down to the real reward – loving the act of writing, cherishing my developing stories, simply enjoying my work. The freedom that accepting all this gave me, which can only come with age and experience, simply opens up myriad avenues into new creative areas to explore, new stories to discover. And that’s the greatest prize of all.

February News

I’ve been extremely busy since the New Year, working on several projects at once, so here’s a run down of what’s in the pipeline

‘Splinters of Truth’, my new short story collection being published by NewCon Press, will be released at Easter, with an official launch at Mancunicon, this year’s Eastercon. I’ve been working on final bits and pieces for the collection, but now all tweaks have been made and it’s done.  Here’s a preview of the fabulous cover art by Danielle Lainton. There are three ghosts hidden in the picture – two of them on the back, so not visible in this preview. (One might only become apparent from reading one of the stories.)

Splinters cover smaller

I’ve also been working on stories for my forthcoming Wraeththu collection ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’, which will have cover art by Ruby. I wanted to collect all my published Wraeththu stories together in one collection, and the book will also include some completely new tales, as well as illustrations. I finished working on the story ‘Song of the Cannibals’ during January, which turned out to be quite long at 40 or so A4 pages. This piece involves new characters not seen before, but is set in the familiar territory of Ferelithia. I have some half-finished stories on my computer, some dating back to when I was writing the first Wraeththu trilogy. I intend to use a couple of these for the new book too – rewriting the starts and finishing them.  In addition, I’m mulling over what pieces of my Wraeththu juvenilia to include. I want to show how the stories began when I was in my teens, but the pieces are long, and somewhat rambling, as well as being the product of a fledgling writer. Perhaps some excerpts can be included.

‘Para Animalia’, the new Wraeththu Mythos shared world anthology is now almost ready for publication and will be released in March, with a cover by Ruby. I’m creating some illustrations for the book, which will take a week or so more to complete. The lineup is:

Beneath My Skin a Vein of You – Storm Constantine

The Bird Har – Wendy Darling

Running Under a Cold Moon – Nerine Dorman

Heart Howl – E. S. Wynn

Liminality – Amanda Kears

Eight Legs – Daniela Ritter

Dream Dragon – Maria J. Leel

Medium Brown Dog – Fiona Lane

Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Wendy Darling

Harbinger – Nerine Dorman

Clouds Like Hair – Storm Constantine

Plus a story due in this week from Martina Bellovičová (don’t have the title yet)

Para Animalia front smaller

I’m continuing to work on my transmedia projects ‘Through the Night Gardens’, and chapter 2 ‘Deepmoss Pile’ is now available to read for free at https://throughthenightgardens.wordpress.com/

I intend to publish the first six chapters or so of this story online, complete with accompanying landscapes that I created in the video game Rift, using their ‘dimension building’ feature. Eventually, I’ll add other subplots to the story and turn it into a full length novel.

I’m still aiming to post a new chapter every month, but as January was so hideously busy and I didn’t get time to finish Chapter Two until this week, I’m being more cautious about it now. It might be over a month sometimes, depending on what other work I have on.

I’m also working on ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ with Taylor Ellwood, as it’s been over a decade since the first volume ‘Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana’ appeared. This is a pop culture system of magic, based on the Wraeththu books. I can’t believe so much time has passed since the first volume, when I fully intended to get do the whole system in about five years at most. Still, Taylor and I are now committed to getting both Ulani and Nahir Nuri out over the next year or so. I envisage Ulani will be ready by the end of the summer/autumn time.

 

 

 

Happy New Year to everyone – hope you had a good seasonal holiday. I have lots of plans for writing projects this year so it’s time to share news of these forthcoming ventures!

First off, I’ve put the next Wraeththu novel on back burner (although safely with a great many notes on the story) for a while, as I’ve launched a new fiction venture – ‘Through the Night Gardens’ –a novel told in part as a serial, which will appear for free on the blog Through the Night Gardens This is a transmedia project, in that it encompasses landscapes created in the MMORPG Rift, and I have plans also to produce an audio book of the story, as well as videos of the landscapes I’ve designed for it. Eventually, this will become a novel produced in the traditional, printed form – and will then include sub-plots and other additional material. For the interactive part, I need to keep it relatively simple, but I hope also this will whet readers’ appetites for the larger work to follow. The first chapter is now online and I intend to release at least one more chapter this month.

However, even though ‘Night Gardens’ is taking a larger part of the stage this year than I thought it would, it doesn’t mean my Wraeththu stories will be totally neglected. Wendy Darling and I are in the latter stages of producing the next shared-world anthology ‘Para Animalia: Creatures of Wraeththu’, which I envisage will be available round about March at the latest. The book includes two new stories from me, and from Wendy, and also tales by E. S. Wynn, Fiona Lane and Nerine Dorman, as well as other Mythos writers. Here is a preview of the cover art by Ruby:

Para Animalia front smaller

I’m also working on a Wraeththu short story collection of my own that will include previously unpublished early works, as well as completely new stories, plus all the Wraeththu Mythos stories I’ve written to date, so as to collect them all in one volume. I don’t yet have a title for this book, but will be writing the stories alongside the chapters for ‘Through the Night Gardens’ throughout the early part of this year. It will contain around half a dozen completely new tales. I’m loosely planning for the Wraeththu collection to be available in the summer.

Additional to these projects, I’m working on ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ with my colleague Taylor Ellwood, again with the aim of publishing it this year. This is the pop culture magical system based on the Wraeththu mythos, the first volume of which was ‘Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana’. We’ve been asked repeatedly to release the other two volumes in the series, and now have the time to commit to this project.

My short story collection ‘Splinters of Truth’ will be published by NewCon Press to coincide with the Mancunicon convention, this year’s Eastercon, which is held in Manchester.  I will be on hand to help promote the book, as well as appear on a panel with my fellow Night’s Nieces, the writers who donated stories to the Tanith Lee tribute of the same name, which Immanion Press published in December last year.

Immanion Press will be releasing a paperback edition of ‘Animate Objects’, the short story collection by Tanith Lee, which was a special limited edition hardback published to commemorate her ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the World Fantasycon in 2013. Tanith fans are often completionists concerning her work, and as only 35 copies of this book were printed, we’ve had a lot of enquiries about it from readers who are desperate to acquire it. Tanith’s husband, John Kaiine, has given the go-ahead for new paperback edition, which will include an additional story and different interior artwork to the original.

That’s the news round-up for now. More to come later.

When I was deciding on what to write next, I contacted a previous editor of mine, asking if they’d be interested in seeing something new from me. Not *publishing* it, mind – nothing so demanding – just *seeing*, considering. I was not even given the politeness of a reply in the negative. I received simply, as has so often been my experience of editors and agents, a deafening, indifferent silence. This is part of the same attitude that kept Tanith Lee’s work away from major publication for years, as well as many others of my generation.

But anyway, resigned and not surprised, I thought, what’s the point of trying to write something that might appeal to editors who are simply looking for the current *hot* topic? Even if you somehow manage to hit the spot, perhaps submitting under an alias, so that your age and experience don’t go against you, the chances are you’ll be discarded just as quickly once the next hot topic or author comes along. Unless you’re J K Rowling or some other, often lesser, writer who’s somehow hit the Young Adult screen/book jackpot, the chances are you’ll be treated dismissively, almost as a necessary nuisance. And that’s even when you have a contract. Screw that!

I’m glad to be out of that carnival of miseries. Creating your own publishing house has its drawbacks – no fat advances for one, learning how to market and promote your work another – but the freedom is exhilarating. Plus the fact that if I’m rude to myself, I can be rude back! It’s very difficult to ignore yourself too. It’s important to secure a trusted editor to work with, who can be a writer friend or colleague willing to do it – because I believe even the most accomplished and experienced author still needs impartial eyes to examine their work prior to publication. But given what happened to Tanith, to me, and to many others, I do advise any authors out there, who are in the same position, to give self-publishing a go. Get all those back catalogue novels out there again that you had published in earlier decades. Allow a new generation of readers be able to immerse themselves in your worlds and visions. It’s not expensive now, either. You can opt, as I did, for a printer/distributor (Lightning Source in my case) who works only with publishing houses – i.e. you have to give yourself a company name and buy some ISBNs for your books from Neilsen’s Bookdata or the US equivalent. Or you can give outfits like Amazon Createspace or Lulu a go. The latter two being more helpful to those who are mystified by the actual publishing process and need a bit of handholding concerning book and cover design.  I could write a whole article on the pros and cons of various publishing routes, and the whole self-publishing experience, and might well do that at some point, but for now, just want to say: you can do it. You don’t have to give up and think there’s no writing future. The internet is our friend. It’s freed us from being manacled to big publishing houses in order to be published at all.

Anyway, that particular rant over, I’ll return to the initial subject. What was I going to start working on next? I’d considered taking the Young Adult path, as most people making pots of money nowadays seem to have tapped into that vein, with huge movie franchises erupting from their books: Hunger Games, Divergent, City of Bones, Twilight, et al. But that’s not something I *want* to do. Even the lure of potential big money doesn’t inspire me to start thinking of a suitable story. In order to write, I have to love what I’m working on and, most importantly, believe in it. Friends have often said to me ‘churn out some chick lit’ or to write about whatever is the current fictional flavour of the month, but I haven’t the heart. Even if I tried, I know my efforts would inevitably turn into something supernatural or weird, because that’s just the way I’m wired. Ordinary simply doesn’t interest me. In my hands, Bridget Jones might possibly have become a psychic mass murderer!

I have synopses for a lot of books on my computer, but inevitably the one that drew me the most was another supernatural mystery, in the same vein as ‘The Moonshawl’, again set in the world of Wraeththu. I’m just not done with those characters, and am still very much *in* that world.  Plus the idea for a story had already come to me, while I was finishing off ‘The Moonshawl’. I’m fascinated by the concept of mass hysteria, how fear itself can be an infection, how superstitious beliefs can become reality if a collection of minds focus strongly enough to vitalise it. I had a vague vision of where this story would happen. Not in the gilded fey lands of Alba Sulh or the exotic yet civilised countries around Almagabra. Not even in the uncharted regions of Jaddayoth, which even in the original Wraeththu trilogy were already feeling the effects of civilisation. I expect it has become a popular tourist location by now!

I wanted to go further, into the corners of the world where the civilising influences of the strongest and most organised tribes had not reached. I saw misty mountains, immense forests, silence, sacredness, savagery, mystery. I saw a pristine body of water worshipped as a deity. I then discovered such a place actually exists: Lake Baikal in Siberia. So I had my basic premise – hara affected by mass hysteria – and a suitable locale.

In the Wraeththu world, civilisation has been pushing both east and west, from cultures who – in the time frame of that world – are only just making contact again following the fall of humanity. Decades have passed, nearly a century. And in that time, all the flotsam of Wraeththu has been driven into the most unfrequented areas. Where else but the frozen north? Into the great territories of Siberia and Mongolia, natural wonders that even in our world are not that familiar to the average person.

But this being a Storm story, the mass hysteria is not simply hysterical. There are supernatural elements at play, or maybe hypernatural. The tribes around Baikal (which will have a different name in the book – just not decided on it yet) have been fashioned from feral hara escaping Gelaming justice (i.e. remnants of Uigenna and Varr tribes), and  others driven out from various once-European countries, who have mingled with hara derived from the native human population of the area.  This is a melting pot of different cultures and beliefs that have dissolved into each other to form a new whole.

A young har falls dead inexplicably in the shallows of the lake, and then his companions, who’d been with him, become ill, debilitatingly so. As these are hara, and sickness is rare and when it does occur short-lived, these developments are terrifying. The local braihara (shamans) cannot cure the condition. They do not know what it is or what caused it. The ruling hara know how to protect themselves physically and psychically, but this is something else they cannot defend against. And it’s targeting their sons. Reluctantly, the most prominent phylarch seeks the aid of the Gelaming, who have an agency in the area. The Gelaming are regarded with contempt and suspicion, but their help seems the only path left open. The Gelaming agents, though, cannot help. They too are mystified, so they contact Immanion, seeking the bigger guns who might eradicate the threat.

So that’s the setup. I then had to decide upon the characters, the protagonists who would be sent to this wild land to solve the mystery. I wanted this to be Ysobi and Nytethorne’s first case, and Ysobi’s old friend Malakess can conveniently involve him in it. But I wanted more than that, something that might potentially interfere with the case. That’s when I decided to include Gesaril, Ysobi’s erstwhile nemesis, in the party heading into the unknown.

It’s not my intention to have another angst-ridden emotional nightmare enacted between them. Fourteen years have passed since the original events described in The Hienama and Student of Kyme. Both hara have found contentment in their lives. Gesaril has powerful friends in Immanion; he’s eager to progress in his career, which involves working with underdeveloped tribes that might require help. This new case, endorsed by Malakess (very powerful), and offered by Gesaril’s mentor Fernici (very influential) is too good to turn down. The downside is that Ysobi is part of the deal. Gesaril can overcome any lingering personal feelings, yes, but when faced with an ex who was part of a fraught and messy breakup, it’s not easy to feel totally comfortable, no matter how much time has passed. Also, Gesaril is aware he’ll have to prove himself among his own party, not just to his supervisors in Immanion. And what he has to face amongst the savage, throwback tribes in Akruviah, as the area is known, will test his strength of every type immeasurably. None of the group have any idea of what they’re heading into.

There is one particularly unpleasant event I’ll have to write I’m not looking forward to, as I’m rather squeamish. I don’t do graphic details of such things, as I hate that sort of torture/killing porn found so often now in books, films and TV shows, but even so, can see them in my head as I’m carefully writing the scenes – implying rather than describing. As a writer, you can’t avoid horror completely, because it’s part of life, and to try and ignore it is to create a simplistic world that’s cosy and fluffy and – well – not real.

So far, I’ve got copious notes to work from and am doing a lot of research on the area and on mass hysteria. I see there’s a new movie out soon, called ‘The Falling’, on the subject, which I’ll have to see. I’ve also read Meg Abbott’s novel ‘Fever’, which is a real page turner and a fascinating study of this group phenomenon, especially among younger people. (Typically, there are synchonicities. Even though I’d decided to write about Baikal before reading this book, ‘Fever’ also features a lake as a possible cause, although that’s where the similarities end, other than the basic idea of group hysteria.) I’m also reading about eagle shamanism, and other aspects of Siberian/Mongolian pagan beliefs.

As far as the plot goes, I’m weaving that as I go along, as I did with ‘The Moonshawl’. So far, I’ve written twenty pages of the book, and that’s really just setting the story up. It’s taking some work to include enough information to satisfy readers new to Wraeththu, but not too much for readers who’ve read all the previous works. As I said, I don’t want to dwell too much on the past history of Gesaril and Ysobi, but it must inevitably play its part, because it contributes to what makes them the hara they are. Also, I think readers enjoy reading about awkward situations and character conflicts. It’s like hearing gossip!

I don’t know how long it will take me to write this book, as I don’t get as much time to write as I used to, and also don’t write as fast as in earlier years. However, I’m aiming to release it early next year at the latest. I feel that once I get over all the setup and can get to the meat of the story, the writing will speed up, as it did with my last novel. But I am working very carefully on the setup, with lots of rereading and rewriting, it’s so important to the frame of the story and has to be just the right balance of past, present… and of course future.

As a taster, here is a segment told from Gesaril’s point of view (at this moment, I’m intending to give both Gesaril and Ysobi first person narratives of their own, as I did for Gimel and Rayojini in ‘Burying the Shadow’). This is not the finished draft by any means, so forgive any roughness and gaps. I’d just like to share the experience of creating this new story.

Except from ‘The Shadowbirds’

Piegull was eight years old when he died. Only a few weeks past feybraiha, vibrating with lust and energy he was ready to throw at life, there was no clear reason for his collapse. They said it was sudden. One moment he and his friends had been racing their hounds beside the great lake, the next Piegull’s body had arched backwards into an unnatural, tortured bow, yet amazingly remained on its feet. A plume of liquid, which the observers said smelled of pus or rot rather than vomit, spurted from his mouth, which was drawn into a rictus grin.  For a few stultifying seconds, as his friends either closed in to assist or shrank back in disgust, Piegull shuddered on his feet. Then his eyes closed. His mouth closed. He fell dead into the shallows where the lake licked the shore.

Two of the young hara who were with Piegull when this event occurred swore later that strange dull green lights had danced above the surface of the lake for nearly a minute. Not far off, quite near, but not close enough to touch. Others did not see these lights.

The young hara carried Piegull home; perhaps they should not have done. Perhaps he should have been burned where he fell. For within hours of Piegull’s body being laid on a bier outside the braihar’s dwelling, other young hara of the tribe fell sick. Illness: a terrifying thing for hara because in extreme forms it is rare. Our bodies are resilient, can fight back, laugh at the organisms that seek to dominate and wither our flesh.

The other young hara did not die, but they were crippled. Haunted by hallucinations of shadowy figures loping around their beds, or eyes gleaming from the dark corners of night time rooms, they became weak, listless, the skin loose upon their bones as if from dehydration. Water, they could keep down, but not milk, nor indeed any solid food. Their eyes sunk into their heads. They whimpered piteously like abandoned puppies.

At first, only the hara who were with Piegull by the lake were affected, but after a week, another young har fell sick, this one not yet at feybraiha. This was the son of Catblood, a har close to the tribe’s leader, Talysman. The braihar of the tribe, and even those called down from the mountain forests to assist him, were not only unable to cure the affliction, but could not divine its cause or origin. Had the lake poisoned the young ones? Had the malediction of another tribe erupted within them? Nohar knew the cause, although many suppositions were offered.

At last, driven by need more than desire, Talysman sent his theruna, Grail, to the Gelaming station fifty miles south. These prissy interlopers, these sly do-gooders, these mealy-mouthed, would-be conquerors, perhaps they might be able to help, seeing as they were super-hara, or considered themselves to be. Talysman was torn. Part of him didn’t want to believe the Gelaming could succeed where his most trusted hara had failed, while another, perhaps more sensible part, hoped that they could. Grail told the Gelaming this when he arrived. He said also that Talysman had to keep his position firm within the tribe; he must solve all dilemmas, vanquish all foes, make miracles. ‘So make a miracle happen for him,’ said Grail, to the astonished har, Therumin, who interviewed him.

Therumin went to investigate the case himself, found only a mystery. He took a healer with him, whose powerful agmara – the life energy of all – had no effect whatsoever on the afflicted hara. Therumin later admitted to us freely he’d anticipated only an afternoon’s work, for the healer to practice his art, then they’d return home. He’d expected a happy result: the tribe would be grateful, and – more importantly – perhaps the beginnings of a more trusting relationship would be forged. This did not happen – any of it.

Talysman would not speak to the Gelaming himself; Grail and the braihar led them round.

After a few hours, the healer murmured to Therumin, ‘This is beyond us. This is… I don’t know what it is. But we should know. We must know.

The implications hung like burned rags in his words. If these hara could be made sick like this, might not the illness travel, become an epidemic? Was this perhaps a remnant of some human biological weapon? Humans had tried many things to kill hara; such weapons had been generally the most effective. Yet we believed we’d conquered those long ago, made them toothless. Had something survived in the soil around the sacred lake, something we’d not encountered before?

The lake too was mysterious, always had been, long before Wraeththu walked the earth. Could its waters be responsible, as some had suggested? But the lake was regarded as a hostling to those who lived around it; inexorable, inscrutable, but ultimately benign.

Therumin knew he should not waste time. As soon as he returned to his station, he had his pod of listeners contact Immanion.

In Immanion, after some discussion had taken place, the Guild of Listeners contacted the Temple of Wellbeing, who contacted the office within it presided over by my mentor and employer, Fernici. I knew he’d always had an interest in that part of the world – mostly our work revolved around hara from the earliest of times of our species, who’d not evolved as they should have done, who were afflicted or maimed in one way or another, if only socially or culturally. Occasionally, the work had involved sizeable groups of hara, not merely individuals.

Fernici summoned me to his office. He is an ethereal creature in some respects; a century old yet appears still kissed with the fine brush of feybraiha. His inception, they say, was unusual, yet he does not speak of it. ‘The thing is, Gesaril,’ he said, his long hands expressive as they moulded the air, ‘throughout our history, the flotsam of Wraeththu has been continually swept northeast from the west, or northwest from the east. Up into the cold – I expect that was the idea. But what lives there now…’ He was pacing. He always paces when his interest is most ignited. ‘…strange evolutions, throwbacks… They killed some of our agents up there around a decade ago. Now, the station near the lake is heavily fortified. Yet it is intriguing, like a nature reserve. Dangerous predators, beautiful in their savagery perhaps…’ He shook his head, laughed. ‘Listen to me! Almost salivating!’ He paused, fixed me with his swift arrow stare. ‘I’d like you to go. Investigate. If possible, solve the problem.’

While I’d been on field trips before, they had not been particularly major cases. I was flattered Fernici wanted me on this job. ‘When do we leave?’

‘Oh, not me,’ he said, waving an arm at me and turning his back to examine a sheaf of papers he’d left on the low table that served as a desk, ‘much as I’d like to go, I can’t at present, so I’ll send only you from this department.’

Not you?’ I said, alarmed.

‘There will be a team,’ he said, ‘security, a couple of other investigators. I’ll speak to Malakess.’

‘Oh…’ A heaviness dropped over me that was faint dread. I hoped Malakess wouldn’t be on the team. Despite our attempts to be polite to one another, there was still discord between us; slight and easily ignored in the vastness of Immanion but perhaps prickly and uncomfortable within a small team far from home.

‘I doubt he’ll go himself,’ Fernici added, having read my discomfort accurately. He peered at me keenly, ‘Gesaril, it must be at least fourteen years ago, surely?’

I glanced away from him. ‘One of my faults is I find it hard to forget excruciating embarrassment.’

Fernici smiled. ‘Well, this is work, so overcome your personal feelings.’ His smile widened to a grin. ‘Also, it could be worse, couldn’t it? Malakess is the least of your historical demons.’

I grimaced at him, wishing wine on the occasional nights we had spent together had not loosened my tongue.  We’d swapped stories of our histories, (or more accurately I had told him much of mine), but the problem is that however therapeutic such spillings might be, the result is always that somehar knows more about you than you’d like. Still, Fernici’s words tolled a bell within me like an omen. Malakess har Kyme, with whom I’d once been intimate back in our home country of Alba Sulh, was a pale ghost in comparison to the one he’d once reminded me of. Malakess was a substitute, an imitation. I realised I’d not thought of the original demon for perhaps nearly a year: Ysobi har Sulh. So, that was healing too, I suppose.