Serilda is published


Well, at last my YA novel, Serilda is out there on the Amazon bookstore. it had been sitting around after I’d given it its nth edit and I wondered why now that it’s available.

I just love the cover that Anthony produced for it. It nicely captures the environment in which most of the story is set.

Have a look at the extracts I have put up to get a flavour of the story.

The Plot Twist Conundrum

Nothing bores me more than books where you read two pages and you know exactly how it’s going to come out. I want twists and turns that surprise me, characters that have a difficult time and that I don’t know if they’re going to live or die.

– George R.R. Martin


I am currently writing a fantasy story with lots of magic in it and have what I consider a great plot that takes an idea from a fairy story (you’ll get no spoilers here, though) and uses it as a vehicle for putting magic centre stage in the story, something I haven’t really done before. Magic is tricky in a story. It can so easily lead to ridiculous outcomes.

Now while I like the twists I’ve put into the story, I’m beginning to worry that—as per the above quotation it has that damning “…you read two pages and you know exactly how it’s going to come out.” Gulp! What a put-me-down.

No! I want the reader to remain gripped to the very last word. But, at the same time twists in the plot must be integral to the story. No deus ex machina or bolt from the blue stuff, please. I have strong views about plot integrity. So the hero suddenly finding they have the strength or the skill to outfight a much tougher, more experienced opponent, or similar goes against characterisation and believability. Outwitting, yes. Discovering a whole new set of skills when needed, no thank you.

It is the believability issue that makes creating the plot twists to escape Martin’s condemnation and get his approval. He wants “…twists and turns that surprise me…” Great. That’s what I want too.

And I’ve been doing some research on this, you’ll be pleased to know.

The Ugly, the bad, and the Good of Plot Twists

It shouldn’t be anything obvious. That’s not going to be much of a twist and such telegraphed developments are simply bad writing. So they’re out.

In my view, the following are poor solutions, in that they’re gimmicks:

Cheating on the reader by not giving them all the facts. They should be able to see the twist in retrospect makes sense by having all the pieces of the jigsaw, even if in so doing you misdirect them (legit). But simply not telling them? That’s bad.

As is bringing in a deity at a critical moment to sort it all out in an unexpected way. That’s ugly.

Nor should it rely on a coincidence. Is that bad or ugly?

I think the use of a convenient coincidence is ugly plotting. The hero is fighting the baddie in the temple of “Addon”, which just happens to have…[insert your choice of whatever leads to a flip in the situation]. So the baddie is about to terminate the goodie when he “accidentally” reanimates the benign or evil (take your pick) God by spilling the hero’s blood on its tomb—or whatever. Henceforth, the fight switches to dealing with the mega-powerful divine entity. This is not the stuff of good writing. It’s just wham-bam at ‘em stuff. Hence, fails the acceptability test. The only time this works is if it’s being parodied. Then I love it.

And one could go on.

So the challenge is to come up with plot twists that are integral to the possibilities of the story. Hence my challenge because the story is quite simple really. A quest by a magician for a solution to a curse laid on a character. That is, the story revolves around the "search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible.” (Tobias: 20 master Plots (and How to Build them))

Yes, there are conventions to follow. But this is challenging: “"It isn't unusual in this type of plot for there to be additional complications—as a result of obtaining the goal. Things aren't what the hero expected them to be, and it could be that what the hero was searching for all this time wasn't what she really wanted.”

I plan on having “complications” but they need to be integral to the plot. I think I’ve largely managed to do this but still worry that by putting all the cards on the table for the reader, as it were—albeit with a fair degree of misdirection—the plot becomes too linear. I need to avoid giving the reader what they expect. Tricky. But we’ll see.

So what is allowed? Here’s a short list of things that various commentators have suggested:

Use the theme for relevant plot ideas.

Don’t make the foreshadowing too obvious.

Use the setting as part of the reveals.

Make the reveal in characterisation.

Use the twist(s) to distract the reader from later, more important reveals.

Redirect suspicion.

So what can one do?

Add the odd red herring, misapply Chekov’s Gun, use anagnorisis, have a n unreliable narrator and a false protagonist.

Write on…

The Periodic Table of Story Telling

Sometimes you come across things you wish you’d thought up. I’m a great fan of TV Tropes and can only admire the collective effort that’s gone into creating the website. What a fabulous resource for everyone, but particularly for writers.

I came across a reworking of the work from TV Tropes by James Harris, a designer and web developer, who has set about recasting it as a set or periodic elements. You can find it here:

What’s so great about it is that it takes the tropes and upends their discussion to show how certain tropes feature in stories such as Star Wars, mass Effect and so on.

Brilliant, really.

Fantasy Money 3

In the first two posts on fantasy money, I explored the purposes of money and some ideas on how old money might have come into being. In this post, I’d like to consider monetary denominations. For this purpose, I’m going to use the old English coinage system as an example as well as refer to other systems at the end.

The first thing one must understand is that the old English system was tri-metallic. At its apex it had gold, below that, silver, and for small denominations copper/bronze. Only the first two were precious metals.

The other thing to understand about the “£ s d” system was that it incorporated a huge range of currencies within it. This reflected the use of precious metals in its composition. The value of the metal dictated the value of the coin.

At the base was the penny. This gave the “d” in the system. There were 12 pennies to a shilling. Since there were 20 shillings (a silver coin) to a pound (the gold coin), that meant there were 240 pennies to a pound. There are some really nice benefits to this arrangement. A base 12 allows division by 12, 6, 4, 3, 2, and 1. A base 10 system (decimal) as is current in most countries only allows 10, 5, 2, and 1. This a base 12 provides more flexibility, though counting up isn’t one of them. So with a base 12 coin, we can have bigger units that represent multiples of the penny, as we can of course with the current decimal system. And that is what we find. There was a tuppence piece (2 pennies), a threepenny piece and a sixpenny piece. This made carrying change around a lot easier. One can convert a sixpenny into two threepenny pieces or one threepenny piece and three pennies. Note the sixpenny piece was a silver coin—indicating the crossover that takes place between base and precious metals at some unit of value, whereas the threepenny was a base coin. The sixpence could—and was—equally thought of as a half-shilling.

The same flexibility extends to the shilling (which gave the “s” in the system). The unit here is doubled up into a two shilling piece, called a florin. It was the same currency unit as became popular across Europe minted by the Florentines to facilitate trade. The next logical unit is a five shilling piece, which is a crown. This is in effect a quarter pound so could have been either gold or silver. It was silver. Then—interestingly enough—there was a half-crown and because of the 20 to the pound system, this meant this had a value of two shillings and six pence. Note that this gave 8 half-crowns to the pound. These are the “pieces of eight” so beloved of pirates. These coins were, in fact, as far as the currency was concerned, another import. The half-crown was a Spanish dollar (also called thaler) and the base later for the U.S. dollar. This partly explains its importance to pirates—most preyed on Spanish shipping and settlements. In the English old money system, this dollar coin could be constructed by using two already existing silver coins, the florin with a silver sixpenny piece. It suggests that in early England and elsewhere foreign coins of a given precious weight circulated alongside locally produced coins of the same or similar specie value.

Note, just to confuse matters (as if the monetary system wasn’t confusing enough!), the gold pound (the “£” sign) came in more than one weight. By the time it got regularised, there was the pound sterling (of a given weight) worth 20 shillings and the guinea, worth 21 shillings, with a slightly larger gold content. Some transactions were effected in pound sterling, others in guineas.

How much did old English money buy? Well obviously the value of particular denominations today is different to what it was. If we are interested in medieval times (and this is for England) then the following website is a useful resource to obtain an idea of how far money went:

What it shows is how prices varied very considerably. This was due to the primitive and costly production systems involved and for which we have a great deal of difficulty understanding given the way production techniques have so radically changed.

A peasant’s tunic cost 36 pence, a linen shirt 8 pence. At the other end of the scale, a top of the range gown 2,400 pence. A more normal fashionable item would still set back the buyer 63 pence. Given that an unskilled labourer earned 2-3 pence per day, buying a tunic would set them back over a week’s wages. At the other end, a skilled mason could earn double what an unskilled labourer earned and an armourer 16 pence per day.

Now to look at another monetary system, that of Biblical times, for comparison. There were many systems of course and they have similarities and differences. But there was a need for different value coins and a logical relationship between them. The most valuable coin was the talent, which was 34.2 kilograms of gold. This was divided by 60 to create the mina, which was 570 grams of gold. The shekel was one-fiftieth of a mina at 11.4 grams. That meant that 3000 shekels made up one talent.

There was a smaller coin to the shekel—which seems like the importation of a different weight base gold coin 9as with pieces of eight)—called the pim, which was 7.8 grams of gold. This was 2/3rds of a shekel. Note the pim was similar to other Middle Eastern coins like the daric, a Persian gold coin, which was 8.4 grams of gold. This probably meant the shekel and the daric could be used somewhat interchangeably—as with the florin and Spanish dollar in the English system.

Then there was the bekah which is a half-shekel coin and weighted 5.7 grams. Finally, the gerah was 1/10th of a bekah, which meant—interestingly enough—that you needed 20 of these coins to make a shekel.

China started, interestingly enough, from a different perspective with copper coins and made a rapid transition to paper money. They don’t seem to have adopted the Western idea of creating coins of different denominations at first. By the Qing dynasty, however, they operated a bimetallic system with silver for the higher denominations based on weight and coins of different denominations.

In writing historically correct fiction, one needs to know what coins might be used for what purchases and sales. If one is creating a fantasy world, it is useful to consider what kind of economic development it has reached and use an appropriate match between any fantasy money and its purchasing power for verisimilitude.

P.S. After writing the above, I discovered there was at one point in the 19th Century a quarter penny. The reason I discovered this was that the current U.K. penny is worth less in purchasing power than this fractional coin. Such is inflation! And a lesson to writers who set stories in the past.

Fantasy Money 2

In my first post on money in fantasy writing, I discussed the roles money plays in economic activity as a unit of exchange, a measure of value and a store of value.

In this post, I want to talk about some of the attributes a good money must have. Foremost, whatever is chosen to be money has to have two important characteristics. It has to be accepted by the recipient and it should be available in limited quantity. The first is obvious. If the person exchanging goods or services for money doesn’t accept the money then it is of no use. We can think of arriving in a foreign country with home money. Will it be accepted by the seller? Probably not. In a story, this could lead to interesting complications for our intrepid adventurer. Hence, mutually acceptable money is an important attribute.

Personally, I don’t think writers have made enough of this problem. Generally, if the currency in use is specie based, it is assumed that the recipient will automatically accept it. But in a world where travel isn’t common or only follows predictable routes (for instance, caravan trade routes) not having local currency will lead to all sorts of complications. Of course, if the distance isn’t that great, the recipients will have some knowledge of or even use the currency alongside the local one. But if the location of the exchange is a long way from where the currency is normally used, then there can be problems.

In a partially written story, I have the protagonist arrive in Brazil with only English money. It creates a difficulty. They try to use it and it isn’t well received. Or the exchange rate at which it is accepted proves unacceptably high which will lead them to run out of money very quickly.

The second issue that needs considering is finding a type of money that is only available in limited quantity. Most writers resort to using a precious metal. Gold is a favourite, but the more value attributable to the metal, the less use of it in practice. That’s why gold, silver and base metal coins all circulated side-by-side within an economy as the old British currency system so aptly demonstrates. I’ll have more on that point in a later post.

Now there is a good reason why gold became the foundation of many currency systems. Alongside other precious metals—and silver, in particular—it has some nice qualities. Gold is one of the most malleable, ductile, dense, conductive, non-destructive, brilliant and beautiful of metals. Gold does not perish over time. Hence it has some nice physical properties. Also there is a very limited quantity of the metal and obtaining more is a laborious and costly process, which helps create its value in the first place.

Consequently, gold as a currency is often used in stories alongside silver and base metals as part of some unexplained coinage system. Very often, the use of precious metals in stories relies on our tacit understanding of the value of gold and silver compared to say bronze or copper coinage when characters are involved in buying and selling. There’s an implicit value system at work here.

Note that money doesn’t have to come in coins. The reason coins work well is that they provide an acceptable unit—generally by weight—as to what the coin’s value is. The original English currency was the silver penny which was fixed at 22.5 troy grains, which was about 1.46 grams. It was fixed at 1/240th of a troy pound, which was about 373 grams. There was a difference between the bullion value and the coinage represented a premium to the mint for turning bullion into coins.

If all parties agreed on the value of silver as a store of value and hence as a medium for exchange, then the actual nature of the coinage might not matter too much. In large transactions, then, it would be possible to weigh the coins to determine their value—and we see sets of scales and weights in paintings of Renaissance bankers for just this purpose. That would be fine for big items, but for that drink in the inn, not so much if the coin wasn’t one they were familiar with. And biting on it? No, that wouldn’t work though it looks good in movies, if weight is what mattered, what are they doing?

The Mass Effect Novel Never Written Part I

My kids were keen on Mass Effect when it first appeared (circa 2007/8). As a result I read the first few paperbacks set in the universe, as they were Sci-Fi and the kids were loving the game. I also liked—and still do—the artwork and animation from the game. Given that there were story spin-offs from the game, I explored the idea of writing a novel based in the universe, just as Drew Karpyshyn and later others have.

So this post and the ones to follow are about that, unwritten, novel.

The story I planned to write is based on the premise that a small earth spaceship—carrying a rich couple on their honeymoon together with their servant—stumbles on an abandoned Prothean artefact circling a large planet in a largely unexplored solar system. The pilot recognises the huge object for what it is—a manufacturing device for the “mass relays” that allow galactic travel. (This is a key feature of the Mass Effect universe, by the way.) It so happens, the pilot is a member of a terrorist group that proclaims the superiority of humans to all aliens and called Earth First. He maroons his passengers on the object, condemning them to death, and heads back to earth.

The action switches to six months later. A prominent scientist, an expert in Prothean technology, is kidnapped in broad daylight by a snatch squad of First Earthers in Delhi. The scientist, having being drugged and seemingly having some kind of a fit, is abducted by a fake medical team. He’s taken to a nearby spaceport and a First Earther ship whisks him away. The rationale behind the kidnap is they need his expertise to make use of the device discovered at the start of the story.

As a result of the kidnap, an Alliance agent is tasked with tracking down and rescuing the scientist. He does this by infiltrating the First Earth organisation on Earth and learning of the whereabouts of their victim. He discovers destination of the spaceship and some of the motivation—but not all—for Earth First’s interest in the scientist.

[More on the plot in a subsequent post]


When looking for a title for my ongoing web story, I decided on “The Uncanny Saga of Krog the Barbarian”. I’ll explain in another post why I went for the above title. In this post, I want to focus on one word I chose: uncanny.

Well, uncanny may be seen as the opposite of “canny”. Being canny is defined as showing shrewdness and good judgement, especially in relation to money or business matters. It also has a secondary meaning of being nice or pleasant.

Now, my thought in titling my serial as being “uncanny” was to exploit the humour of being the opposite of canny as defined above. And to take advantage of the usage of the word, which refers to something strange or mysterious or unsettling. But perhaps to subvert it?

Following the decision, I go and read an article that there’s a Freudian aspect to the word. A feeling that something can be familiar yet at the same time be foreign resulting in a feeling of the situation being uncomfortably strange. This leads to cognitive dissonance. In an 1906 essay titled “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”, Ernst Jentsch defined it as:

"…doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might be, in fact, animate"

And that this is the basis of a lot of horror fiction.

What this suggests is that by choosing to include uncanny in my title and not having explored the word’s meaning to its full usage, it seems my subconscious decided that the serial will have some dark elements in it.

Who would have thought? Poor ol’ Krog. And Ratface.

When writers get together...

I was at a meeting of writers and we got into a conversation about which authors we like reading. It then morphed into those that had influenced one’s creativity and, in particular, those of one’s formative years. Of course, I couldn’t remember all the science fiction and fantasy authors that I’ve read “way back then” or even more recently.

But following our gathering, I tried to put together a bit of a list, and here it is in no particular order:

Science Fiction

Poul Anderson

Vernon Vinge

Frank Herbert

Jack Vance

Cordwainer Smith

Isaac Asimov

Jerry Pournelle

E.E. “Doc” Smith

Douglas Adams

Theodore Sturgeon

Frederik Pohl

Robert Sheekly

Roger Zelany

A.E. Van Vogt

Larry Niven

Robert Asprin

Robert Heinlein

Ian WatsonArthur C. Clarke

Jerry Pournelle

Ian Banks

Brian Stapleford

Brian Aldiss


Anne McCaffrey

Terry Brooks

DAvid Eddings

Peter Moorwood

Robert Jordan

Robin Hobb

Steven Brust

Philip Reeve

K.M Weilland

Terry Pratchett

Tom Holt

Eion Colfer

J.K. Rowling

Philip Pullman

There are, as said, lots more I’ve read and should really be on the list.

Fantasy Money 1

This is the first of a series of posts that will discuss the role of money in a fantasy and science fiction setting. It’s not about everything that concerns money but how it is, and might be, used in the context of a story.

In a story we want as much verisimilitude as possible within the context of the setting. One aspect that crops up over and over again is the role of money. You probably know the scene: The character goes into an inn or a bar and buys a drink or a meal. Note the concept of buying here since there is an exchange of something (money?) for something else (a drink and a meal in this instance).

Of course, when writing such a scene we’re interested in providing context and getting the reader to buy into the world that the character inhabits. The usual solution is for the character to whip out their purse and hand over some dosh, money, cash, coins, credit card, electronic wallet or whatnot.

In the real world, money is useful and as any good economics textbook will tell you it fulfils a number of useful economic functions. Mirroring these in a story helps to add small but convincing details that aid the reader to relate to what’s happening on the page. Or in some instances is central to the way the plot works.

So money matters!

So what does it do?

First, money is a store of value.

Our budding character needs to be able to achieve things (hopefully great things). One thing they could do is to work for that luscious lunch at the inn by chopping wood or washing the dishes. Getting them to do this won’t really progress the story if the purpose of having the character stop at the inn is for them to take the next step in the plot (for instance, think of the scene in LOTR set in the Prancing Pony in Bree). So loading up the character with some “value” they can exchange for goods and services speeds up the story a lot. In this context, it provides a latent resource that can be deployed in any way necessary for the plot.

In this context, it’s useful to consider how this money is being carried around, which will be the subject of a later post.

Next, money is a medium of exchange.

With some value hanging from a purse or embedded in a piece of plastic, the character can satisfy their wants up to the amount they have available.

There’s a good reason money is useful as a medium of exchange. Without it, matching one want (in our example, the meal) with the want of the provider (the publican who may be seeking the ingredients, or the rent, or whatever) is very difficult. Only in the highly unlikely coincidence of a match of wants will the transaction take place. (Would the innkeeper really need their dishes washed or wood chopped? Or do they have other more pressing wants?)

Given the multitude of wants by both parties finding a concordance will stretch the credulity of the reader. Given the reader’s priors they are unlikely to see such a happy coincidence as realistic. Consequently introducing money, which can be used for any want, provides the passport to satisfying both sides while also keeping the reader on board.

Note we’ll look at the basis of money, denominations, coinage, and electronic money in future posts.

Finally, money is a unit of account.

We all know that – to use the U.S. dollar as an example–a quarter is less than a dollar. We instinctively know that if something costs a quarter then it has less value than something costing a dollar.

In this regard, money provides a common measure of the value of goods and services being exchanged. Knowing how much something costs in terms of money enables the purchaser (our meal wanting character) and the supplier (our innkeeper) to make decisions about how much of the good to purchase and how much to supply.

While not directly relevant to our example we instinctively know that something that is common should be cheap (i.e. the meal) whereas something uncommon or rare will be expensive (maybe a magic spell or lightsabre). It is therefore within the remit of the writer to use money in this fashion to signal the cost of achieving something. For instance, I’m reminded of the first Star Wars movie, the Phantom Menace, where finding the money to buy out the indenture of Anakin Skywalker (and his mother) requires him to win the pod race. And that even doing so, the gains don’t provide enough to also liberate his mother. Money (resource) or the lack of it plays a central role in the story.

So in this context, money also indicates the amount of disposable resource our intrepid character has available. Give them more, and they can easily satisfy their immediate wants; give them less or none, and you make satisfying their needs a problem.

We will examine the purchasing power of money in different settings in future posts.

So there you have it. We can make money a big part—maybe the biggest part–of a story or just a detail to add credibility to the setting. It’ll all depend on how money figures in the plot. Here’s an extract which features money from something I’m currently working on:


Enquiries indicated that an inn, really a slightly larger farmhouse with a large front room, would put them up for the night. The place smelled of stale ale and tobacco smoke. A woman dressed in plain clothes but sporting a pinafore watched them enter.

“We’d like food, lodging for the night and a place to stable our horses.” Merlwin deposited his bag on the ground.

She frowned at him. “Show me you have money.”

Merlwin was about to pull out his purse with the considerable sum he had brought along for the journey when Albrecht caught his hand.

The apprentice pulled out his own much more modest pouch and tinkled it. “How much?”

The woman’s eyes flickered from the one to the other. Merlwin had the strong sense she was trying to figure out how much they might be worth. His clothes indicated he was better off than others. Albrecht’s were much the same as the townspeople but somewhat better than the villagers. The impression they gave must speak to having money.

“A ducat each for dinner and the same for the night. For your horses, it’ll be half-ducat each.”

“That’s robbery. We’ll go elsewhere.” Albrecht gestured to him and started to turn away.

“That was for the week. A ducat for everything for the one night.”

Albrecht made pretence to consult with him over whether to accept or not. As far as Merlwin could tell, there wasn’t another place to stay within miles—unless they wanted to bunk down in one of the hovels in the village.

“Agreed.” Albrecht seemed to relax. “We could do with some ale now.”

“Of course.” The woman disappeared through a door that led to the back.


Time Travel

Not far from where I live, there’s the home of Shoreline of Infinity. For those who haven’t come across this science fiction magazine, you need to look up their website.

It has prompted me to get interested in the themes it tackles.

While I mostly write in the fantasy genre, I do like science fiction. And would like to write science fiction. I grew up reading a lot of it. Authors like H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, and a great many others. They tackled great subjects and themes. One of these is time travel.

We all know of the possible paradoxes that time travel presents. Going back in time and causing something in the future to change as a result of actions in the past is a favourite. It has led to a whole lot of creativity in exploring this issue, as well as many others. It has also made it into movies. After all, isn’t the Terminator series at heart nothing other than a time travel conundrum?

So here I am. I’d like to write a short story for Shoreline and have even got the opening two sentences mapped out:

Deklan Barstan was past it. Not in chrono time. In event time.

But the challenge is to take it from there and come up with a convincing plot that exploits the theme in a new and memorable way.

Have I got the above? Sadly, no. That’s why those few words are all there are of my time travel short story.


I’m told every writer needs a website to promote their writing. And a blog. And some stuff that’ll get people to look in and see what’s on offer.

Fair cop, I say. So that’s what’s been created. Other writers have these and they’re fun and informative. Hope this site does the same for you.