Author’s Notes #2: Into the Fire

Let’s talk about Typhoon of Fire, the sequel to Call of the Conjurer.

2016-design-copy

This book was always in the back of my mind. At the very least, I had drafted some of the major plot points as early as 1999.

Another prequel before the Bloodfest series really begins, Typhoon of Fire is a notable mark in the lives of the leading characters in the series. New soldiers Ace Mcdagger, Shimon Akasone and Tiffany Milich have been through a lot more combat since their graduation in Call of the Conjurer, and have enjoyed a gentle, serene tour with Sierra Squad ever since.

But things had to change.

New Setting

In retrospect, I would like to write more about the cast of Sierra Squad more. They get a brief look in during one of the Typhoon of Fire‘s flashback chapters, but the morose collective in November Squad and their head strong leader Captain Rafaella Loxwell were the more battered, despondent, colourful bunch to tell a story about. Newbies Ace and co – including plucky unlucky fellow “green” soldier Gill Pillson – are dropped into the ‘fire’ of the sweltering Malaysian wilderness and put to the test by their stern new captain.

Captain Loxwell is a marked change from Captain Mason in Call of the Conjurer. She is strict and intimidating, and doesn’t seem to understand the ‘fuss’ over Ace Mcdagger. He tries hard to impress, but not as hard as he should do. Tiffany shines at least; Captain Loxwell regards her highly as fellow woman in the military. It’s a highly pro-feminist attitude, and one I’m glad to encourage. Where Ace had Captain Mason beforehand, Tiffany is given a mentor in Captain Loxwell.

 

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Captain Loxwell’s stern leadership brings a change to the group dynamic.

Several new components to the Bloodfest series lore are introduced in this book, including other branches of the Hidden Government Army and a better examination of the way Magic works. At the start of the story, November Squad have lost a large number of their team mates following an unprepared assault on black listed Hidden Government facility, only known as the “D” Laboratory. The blame for the failure is constantly passed around between the leading officers of November Squad and the higher command; the Air Force soldiers, who are introduced in this book as the secret armed force’s own “Eyes in the Sky”. The Air Force wield a lot of power and authority over the Ground Forces, which keeps November Squad as the respected underdogs. I love an underdog tale, and the Bloodfest series is full of them.

New Bonds

Ace’s desire to prove himself before Captain Loxwell is tested further with the introduction of his estranged cousin (or should that be strange cousin) Damian Hassler. The young lad is a handful. He’s arrogant, destructive, disobedient, and perhaps even insane; but he looks up to Ace as an older brother. It’s a new dynamic, creating a great duo pairing to coincide with Ace and Shimon, and Shimon and Tiffany.

In fact “duos” is a major theme of Typhoon of Fire. Close bounds form the story together, from friends, lovers, comrades and rivals. All the characters meet their match both good or bad in this book. Ace stresses over Damian, the lovers Shimon and Tiffany face relationship turmoil as they juggle duty and romance, Loxwell and her trusted ally Lieutenant Bordestein keep each other grounded. Even the villains and their motivations are driven by the common theme of “duos”. Trying to spot them all in the story will take some time.

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A sketch of Damian, introduced to Bloodfest as a hot headed renegade / borderline psychopath (who you want to keep on your side).

The other major theme of the book is Hell – fire and discomfort, suffering and tragedy.  The river journey early on was the first part of the book I wrote, as a starting point for the visuals: the general colour palette and mood I wanted for the book. There’s a lot of orange haze and burned out decay, in-between scenes of vibrant green life. Admittedly I was heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now and other Vietnam war films for the setting – which in turn was based on the book Heart of Darkness. The Kalimantan region of Malaysia is beautiful and wild, but also dangerous and unfamiliar. When draped in a constantly fire scorched sky, it can be quite a daunting landscape. The jungle setting of the Kalimantan is also a far cry away form the clean comforts of Myrtle Beach in Call of the Conjurer. In the Kalimantan the soldiers are truly living – surviving – day to day on rations and requiring to be on guard at all times.

Malaysia is not the only backdrop to the story. The cast venture off all over the world, reaching as far as Canada, New York, Warsaw, and the Huayna Potosi mountain range in Bolivia. These soldiers do get around.

There’s another theme throughout the book – life, and whether ‘Life’ is always a wondrous miracle. Sometimes ‘Death’ may be the kindest alternative, but I’ll leave this interpretation to the readers. I’m not inciting an anti-life movement here, but I enjoy a skewed look on the world.

New Danger

A sequel needs to raise the stakes, but this book is still a prequel to what is to come. The main cast are still young and inexperienced, and their adversaries need to be a raised threat, but still not as bad as what may come in the future. Juggling this balance was an interesting challenge. The immediate antagonists; the mad scientist Dr Weiss and traitorous witch soldier Nathan Edgrech, are only human despite their dangerous capabilities. Dr Weiss is a man spoken about in legend, and Edgrech stirs nothing but contempt among his former comrades. He’s sick in the head and deviously cruel, but he can only fight dirty, which shows how much of a coward he is.

Even the early monsters encountered; the Mirezyns and Towermen, are relatively docile and easy to defeat. It’s when the story reaches a point-of-no-return around chapters 16 and 17 that the stakes are unevenly raised, and by chapter 20 all hell is literally breaking loose. The encounters are more visceral, mixing science, nature and magic in ways it should not. If Call of the Conjurer seemed tame on the horror aspect, Typhoon of Fire kicks it up a notch. It kicks its teeth out.

 

Tof Tree Monst doodle

Pen scribble of the kind of ‘living hell’ organisms in the story.

Overall, Typhoon of Fire is a story about challenge and change. There are several moments for the characters to take a breather away from the battlefield and relax. There are always moments of light comedy throughout (and some moments of dark comedy), but things tend to get harder before they get any better, and there is a tremendous tonal shift by the end of the story. I’m proud of how it came out, and preliminary reviews say it is better than Call of the Conjurer.

For the full experience, you’ll just have to read on.

Typhoon of Fire is available on Amazon Kindle right now.

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Author’s Notes #1

 

A Reflection on Call of the Conjurer.

Book Cover 2016

“It is always fun to drop a bunch of people into a small room and see what happens.”

  Call of the Conjurer was released nearly two years ago and went through a number of iterations to get it just right. I realise how much more fluid I have become as a writer; ,y later books have required less editing. I have received plenty of feedback since then; I know my problems and plus points; what people liked with Call of the Conjurer and what they disagreed with. Overall, hearing opinions about your own work is amazing. Today, I decided to put my thoughts down on how and why the book was written in the first place.


Origin Story

  As I’ve said at the start of this blog, Bloodfest originated in the late 90’s as an amateur animated film about a bunch of soldiers fighting the Grim Reaper and his army of zombies for some reason. Back then it was just a bunch of eleven year olds spouting off funny lines (or what we thought were funny) and pushing a Lego coach into a crowd of plasticine zombies. The film couldn’t even be animated with a standard home camcorder. God knows I tried but recording 1/24 frames a second with only a pause button was impossible.

   I might look back with disdain, but it was fun. I can still recall the smell of modelling clay and red acrylic paint.

  The Bloodfest series stuck with me over the years as a collection of sequels, drawings and models, all improving over time. I had made (most of) an RPG based on the film and kept my mind afloat by coming up with short side stories. It might sound weird, but I wanted to hold on to this made-up world. Sometimes the real world doesn’t compare to the ones we imagine. You know what I mean?

  About 2010, after one joyful day playing through the entirety of the Metal Slug series at a friend’s house, I wondered how Bloodfest would fare as an old school arcade shoot-em up game. Something really Contra-like; pixelated violence where every-goddamned-thing explodes. It would have totally worked, and as I considered a plot I began to think about the origins of the characters from Bloodfest, which I had never really considered before. What was the first mission for the veteran, magically enhanced soldiers Ace Mcdagger and Shimon Arkasone, with their respective shotgun and sword prowess? What did they do long before the rest of the Bloodfest team came along, long before they faced the Grim Reaper and his zombies?

  For a game, Ace and Shimon would be players one and two, of course. And this origin story would have been how they met Tiffany Milich too. I needed a fourth character, and immediately pictured Captain Mason. The superior officer, someone who Ace would look up to. Mason was armed with a shotgun, to indicate the inevitable passing of the torch to ‘Shotgun’ Ace Mcdagger. Maybe Mason would have to be an unlockable, secret character. He would be too powerful, perhaps.

  Characters in mind, I envisioned a straight forward plot to keep things simple: there are monsters, shoot them all. In my mind the enemies would have to be straight forward and instantly recognisable. They would be humanoid monsters; medieval ghouls, perhaps. Occasionally a skeletal ghost or an orge shows up.

  I pictured the game clearly, and what would essentially become the second half of Call of the Conjurer. Video games in the 90’s usually started Level One with a hilly, grassy stage. Level Two is in the woods, or a misty mountain, or a factory for some reason. Level Three is the Water Stage and Level Four is the Volcano, obviously.

  For my Level One I imagined a cave; and I instantly remembered visiting the Valkenburg Municipal Caves a school trip in 1998. A warm, inviting cavern of carvings and Christmas lights. In my head I filled that location with ghouls and stuck a giant, tree ghost as the end of stage boss. The Waldgeist; a step up from the regular foes but nothing too daunting.

Waldgeist

Waldgeist sketch from 2010.

  The end of the story (which in my non-existent arcade shooter is Level Six) takes place in a haunted castle. Everything is chaotic; a red storm scrolls past the windows, the enemies are leaping from the ceiling and floors. There’s a boss rush, right before the final encounter with the most evil of all; a person. An unexpected instigator – a young woman, a teenage girl, perhaps, going full blown sorcerer and about to end the world.

  That was about all I had for the game for now. My brain shifted to focus on the actual story – because the first mission couldn’t be the start of things. Ace, Shimon and Tiffany needed training, and that was where Call of the Conjurer truly began.

  I was out of work at the time, only ever taking up short Animation jobs or contracted labour roles. I knew I wanted to do something more, and my confidence had reached a stage where I decided to write a Bloodfest novel. Instead of re-writing the old films, I thought it best to introduce Bloodfest to the world by starting right at the beginning, and set about writing “Bloodfest 0”, also code named “Training Days”.

Old character sketches from around 2010.


Initiation

  Right from the beginning I wanted to invoke that feeling we get when we start in a new place. The first day of school, college, work; being in a room surrounded by unfamiliar faces. It’s a moment of potential. You look around and wonder who all these people are, who you’re going to get to know; maybe some of them will become your best friends, maybe you’ll meet a lifelong partner, or an enemy. Maybe you’ll get to know some people quickly, drift apart, and get to know the others even more.

  Maybe you’ll stay distant and none of them will know you well, but it’s impossible not to learn a little bit about somebody new in a day, even in an hour.

  I felt this was a good starting point for the characters. The audience knows nothing about who these people are except for what is given to them, and more details filter in over time. It was a perfect way to introduce the world of Bloodfest – the set up or magic soldiers, working for a secret organisation who rule the world.

  We had always set the first Bloodfest film in the year 2012. Back when we made the home movie in 1996, that date seemed like a long way off – a time when futuristic technology might be readily available; when laser rifles and robots might be common place, but not so far into the future that everything is laser rifles and robots.

  I worked out that Call of the Conjurer would have taken place in 2003. That was a lot to look back on. The world was different 13 years ago, although it doesn’t feel that way. Back then, tablet computers and iPhones were less prevalent. People still used CD players… at least I did. I wanted the characters in the story to be using ordinary, time relevant equipment. Although it is suggested that the Hidden Government possess advanced technology, I didn’t think that recruits would have access to the best stuff right away, and the training facility seemed more homely and familiar with ordinary, every day items. I didn’t want the place to be flashy and alien, so it was all conceived to be rustic and plain, like an average office or public school.

  I did, at the same time, want to take the main two British characters away from home. I established the training base in America, because it seemed like the right place for it to exist. I also wanted to set it in a warm, welcoming location, somewhere that might feel like a holiday; a step up from the normal world, somewhere quite vibrant and well off. The east coast came to mind amd I eventually decided upon Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.

  I kept the cast to a minimal. There were a few who I knew had to exist; such as Lieutenant Baker to act as Captain Mason’s counterpoint, and Gretel Salneth to help Ace show his humanity. My preference of character creation is to envision them and go with that initial concept – it goes back to my ‘first day of work’ ideology; the people you met are already there. I don’t want to build a world where it seems like everybody has been placed purposely (unless the story calls for a situation like that). I would rather populate my stories with natural people, maybe even ugly and broken ones, than a selection of checkboxes. I actually feel that with Call of the Conjurer you could remove or replace a lot of the characters and the ending would always be the same – it had to be, it was written as a prequel, after all – but that would only serve to reduce the overall story. It could have worked with just Ace, Shimon, Tiffany as the recruits and Mason showing them what to do, but it would have been a very short book. I wanted to involve more characters. It is always fun to drop a bunch of people into a small room and see what happens. I think that even the most minimal, one line characters need a bit of back story or a vivid description. The other recruits, soldiers and civilian characters all developed organically. Again, I just went with initial ideas and eventually everybody settled into place. I quite like how the character Cheng takes a long time to open up, and you only really get to know him right before the end.

Various concepts for cover art.  


 

  Call of the Conjurer for me is a collection of ideas. It is potential; it is the first day at work where the job is selling the Bloodfest series to the general public. I hope it holds up to that, even if the going has been very slow. Writing the book was a great learning experience, and now it exists.

Always have a Battle Plan

I have been working on the Bloodfest series for  a long time now and I feel the need to explain myself; how the series works and what the ultimate goal is.

  • Stage 1: establishing the world

At the time of this post, I have written three books: one firmly self published on Amazon while the others are in the copy editing phase (I keep referring to it as ‘post production’).

In order to rebirth the series from a long slumber, I decided to write three original stories to firstly; practise writing again, and secondly; develop the characters for a modern era. These three books are all prequels to the “main event” called Bloodfest.

Call of the Conjurer is set in the year 2003, and follows the initiation of British born “magic soldiers” Ace Mcdagger and Shimon Arkasone. They have been ushered into the secretive organisation known internally as the Hidden Government, and are to be trained up in the art of magic combat. Several other characters find themselves in the same position, and a large part of the story is about team work.

Ace and Shimon are key to the whole Bloodfest series; or at least how it begins. But for Call of the Conjurer I wanted to write a bigger story, and invented the character of Calbert Mason – a figure for Ace to look up to – along with many others for Ace and Shimon to form close ties with. Some of these characters will make further appearances in the series.

Despite the establishing set up with Ace and Shimon, Call of the Conjurer became more of Calbert Mason’s story, and this formula of multiple viewpoints continues into the next book.

Typhoon of Fire continues the exploits of Ace, Shimon, and their close allies three years later in 2006. New key characters are introduced, and life changing events will affect the main cast for years to come.

Finally The Sardonyc changes perspectives entirely, focusing away form the action of the battlefield and onto the introverted scientist Sidney Gaterling. Set in the year 2010, this is one for the geeks. The pace is different; far more technical and steady. The Sardonyc is more of a psychological thriller, with a group of characters trapped on a ship and slowly going mad. Through these remarkable circumstances, Sidney faces his own battle against a mental threat, and his story gradually ties the prequel trilogy together.

Ultimateley, these three prequel books are not essential reading to understand Bloodfest, but help deepen the main characters’ motivations and hint at future events.

  • Stage 2: the Main Event

Bloodfest is a planned saga, currently shaping up to span five books. The first one has been written completely, and I am piecing the rest together all at once. I admit it is taking a while…

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Set firmly in 2012, Bloodfest is an expansive story about savage battle, fatalism, bloodlines and mortality.

The conclusion has been planned, and I know what kind of story I want each book to tell. The series may be one saga, but each novel has its own collection of themes and arcing plotlines. I hate to leave a story on an unsatisfying cliffhanger, and want each one to have a concluding story.

  • Stage 3: the blog

Suffice to say the overall story arc has been mapped out over a number of years. Small changes have been made over time and continue to be made, but my primary intention is to put this series out and leave a little bit of me to the world.

Not only me: but my friends who helped directly create and inspire the series. A fellow called James is the key partner in crime here; co creator of the original home movie and continued contributor of ideas. He also writes, and is already penning a side story to Bloodfest that is totally original. I have no input on his tale and I love that. Even if he never finishes it, I love the idea of an expanded universe.

More about the origins of Bloodfest can be read here. I like to elaborate, and I want to answer questions and build up a reference source for the series with further texts and concept art.

Being a writer means constant practise. Some nights on the train ride home from London, I jot down mini stories built around the world of Bloodfest and I plan to post them on the blog as little treats.

For now, I hope you enjoy the character bios and develop an interest in the series. Please stay tuned as this blog fills with information!