- Cheng, attracted to solitude and the quiet of night, has the elemental theme of darkness.
A quiet, morose man. Calraine is a soldier who needs retraining. His quiet confidence inspires those around him.
Very much aware of being the oldest recruit on Myrtle Base, Frank Calraine’s experience and knowledge of the Hidden Government Army reassures the other recruits, who at times wonder if everything they are being told us true.
He has a haggard appearance. Calraine is a man who has seen a lot of troubling things, compared to his youthful counterparts at Myrtle Base. Initially aloof, Calraine hides many secrets; including the reason for his necessary retraining. In time his true nature comes through, as someone warm and protective of those around him. A natural fit as an army Medic.
Calraine has control over fire, which he cam summon from his hands. His weapon of choice is the King Flamer, a modified flame thrower which only requires a large drum of gasoline and a trigger. Calraine provides the spark.
Loud, crude and brash, Levy makes himself known when he enters a room, whether he means to or not.
Originally from Belgium, Levy grew up with three older brothers in a close knit family. Confident from a young age, his hobbies involved outdoors sports and camping. Gregory later joined the Regiment 12th Division of the Line Prince Leopold, again following in the footsteps of his brothers.
Ever excitable and brash, and far from an exemplary soldier, Gregory prefered socialising and heavy drinking, earning the nickname “Party Guy”. In 2003, he was suddenly sent on a specialist training exercise in America. In truth, he had been taken into the Hidden Government for recruitment at Myrtle Base.
Naturally husky, Levy is equipped to survive any harsh conditions. His latent auralithalain genes give him excellent, subconscious control over his core body temperature and skin pores. During Call of the Conjurer, Levy learns to develop his ability and becomes adept with the Hidden Government’s advanced technology as a Communications Specialist.
He has a tendancy to grind on some people’s nerves, but Gregory is a loyal, open minded ally to everyone.
Born in American to European parents, Kaelan spent his young life studying martial arts and history. His interest may well stem from his Auralithalain genes, where he is descended from an ancient, lost society in East Asia.
A quiet man, Kaelan cites his ability – the momentary paralysis of any living thing he touches – as a reason to keep a distance from others. Tall and slim, always seen covered up in a long coat and gloves, his scant white hair left long and uncut. Rosenwich exudes with mystery.
He joined Myrtle Base in 2002 as a training officer, shortly after the sudden death of long serving base Lieutenant Leonard Finnegan. With his in depth knowledge, Rosenwich acts as the martial arts instructor on base, teaching close quarters techniques.
A slow burner, even Mason and Baker, his closest colleagues, know little about him. Ironically, Rosenwich’s silent demeanour and striking pale appearance have given him a reputation and the nickname: the silent mountain.
Hailing from the north west of England, Lieutenant Shaun Baker joined the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment in 1990, before he was quickly brought into the Hidden Government Army. While Baker displayed poor magical ability, he was recognised for his brusque confidence and assigned to Myrtle Base, the Hidden Government Army training facility, in 1991, where he excelled as a training officer. He and his fellow officer at the base, Calbert Mason, because fast friends.
Where Mason had always shown a gentle approach to the recruits at Myrtle Base, Baker feels that his duty is to be the firm hand; to remind the recruits that they are in military and must fall in line despite their exceptional abilities. This approach has made him notoriously unpopular, and Baker has been known to ambush his position in the past.
His power is distinctly unusual. He was born with malleable limbs and a split, twin spine, making him unexpectedly dextrous. The cause of this birth anomaly is still tied to his Auralithalain genetics, where Baker’s ancestry can be traced back to human / monster hybrids
“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.
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 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.
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.
Today I am interviewed by hungrymonsterreview.com on Call of the Conjurer.
Call of the Conjurer was actually written as a prequel to a homemade, stop-motion film some friends and I made when we were kids, way back around 1996. It was called Bloodfest, and it was mainly about a squad of modelling clay soldiers tearing through a Lego city full of demons and zombies. It would have been on youtube, if that had existed back then. Ultimately Bloodfest was just a weird little black comedy with minimal plot, although the whole setting and the characters stayed with me for years afterwards. It was when I started toying about with programming and began work on a Bloodfest video game that I started to give it more thought. The original story was a bare concept, and we had made the Bloodfest team far from professional – quite “Monty Pythonesque” in their quirkiness, so I had to ask myself: ‘Why was it up to this squad of soldiers to save the whole world from monsters? What made them capable to do such a thing?’ That was when I had the idea of giving them all super powers and magic spells. I wanted to make an RPG game, and to let players customise the characters with a selection of spells and abilities. I also thought more about the backstory, how the team were in service to a shadowy “Hidden Government” who deployed them to fight off extreme threats. Working on the world building to explain how and why the soldiers had magic; why their abilities were so rare and why there were monsters in existence, eventually led me to write Call of the Conjurer when I wanted to try self-publishing books. I decided to start from the beginning, and work my way up to writing Bloodfest as a novel. I never quite finished that RPG game, but maybe I’ll get back to it sometime!
The main thing I had to research was what happens during military training, and then work that around the setting I wanted to write about. The military is something that has always intrigued me. In England we celebrate the heroism of those who fought in wars, and conflict is a big part of our history, so it is the kind of thing I’ve read about a lot over the years. I’ve also known a few people who have served in the British Army and United States Army, and one thing I wanted to get across in Call of the Conjurer was how these soldiers are just ordinary people with the same flaws and ambitions we all have. Bearing in mind the rarity of the recruits in the story – their magical abilities which are desperately sought after – the characters in Call of the Conjurer are granted more privilege than most soldiers would be given in reality. This allowed me to occasionally put the cast in relaxed situations where they could be themselves, which was important for building them up as a team who trusted each other, and letting them grow as individuals.
For most of the characters in the book, magic is a startling experience to begin with but it eventually becomes second nature. Some of them had prior experience with it, and I wanted a world where magic is a natural force but being able to utilise it is a rarity. It is a mysterious power tied to genetics and human history, and the Hidden Government has an entire Magical Science department dedicated to studying the phenomena. Over the years these scientists have tried to quantify, categorise and explain magic; successfully turning it into a weaponised asset for battle, but like all fields of science their understanding changes with new developments. In this way I can make magic a standard tool for the soldiers who use it every day, but leave many mysteries and revelations to be explored throughout the Bloodfest series in upcoming books.
I wanted a diverse but small cast, and as Call of the Conjurer was written as a prequel, there were a few key characters that had to be included. I liked having this chance to re-establish characters like Ace and Shimon, writing about them several years younger where they were different people to how I knew them. Captain Mason was instantly a good character to write about. My aim for him was not to be a typical drill-instructor people might expect. He’s much kinder to the recruits (sometimes chastised for being so), but still has to be tough at times. He’s a warrior, and a powerful spell caster. He’s fatherly and considerate, though in private he is a very solemn individual with a huge burden on his conscience. His inner turmoil is a big undercurrent throughout the story, and becomes more impactful to the whole plot towards the end. I enjoyed writing Gretel as well. I wasn’t sure where she was supposed to go at first; how she would develop, but I wanted to write a character who is initially perceived as a snarky, aloof ‘Goth’ but actually has a lot of personality and depth. She’s full of surprises, and I’ve had a lot of feedback from people saying she was their favourite part of the book.
The next book is Typhoon of Fire, which is finished and in the proof editing stage right now. The story follows the surviving recruits from Call of the Conjurer several years later as fully fledged soldiers now on active duty. They’re on a mission in an arid setting, living rough and facing greater threats in hostile conditions. “Hell on Earth” is a big theme of the story, and the whole book is a strange mix of Vietnam War films and Dante’s Inferno. It is definitely grimier and darker than Call of the Conjurer was, taking away the safety nets and really pushing the characters into some difficult situations while expanding on the whole Bloodfest universe even more.
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…
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!
A soldier who needs re-training. She comes across as lazy and aloof, argumentative and unwilling to take part, but maybe she has every reason to feel that way.
Gertrude ‘Gretel’ Salneth hails from Hungary, where she lived a quiet and unassuming life with her father and younger brother, occasionally helping around the family owned garage. Looking for a sense of purpose and wanting to go beyond the norm, she enlisted in the military. Without any choice or warning, she is transfered to the globally operating Hidden Government Army a few months later.
“Unfortunately, my name’s Gertrude. Gertrude Salneth.”
“It’s too old fashioned. I like to be called Gretel,” she said, smiling.
Recruit Salneth has become a familar face in the Myrtle Training Base. The 2003 season of training is her third appearance, and she doesn’t seem fussed. Captain Mason and his Lieutenants recognise her as a trouble maker – she lacks the discipline to work along side others, but Gretel claims that each squad she has been placed in were ‘a bunch of jerks’, among other words.
She speaks little about past experiences, but the recruits of 2003 seem more like her cup of tea. She likes her bunk mate – Tiffany – the only other woman in the group, even though they don’t walk much. She forms a close bound to Ace Mcdagger in particular; a kind, sweet hearted lad who seems very sad inside. She wants to work him out.
Gretel is happy to give everybody a chance, but she also makes it clear if you’re not responding to her. In reality, Gretel is considerent and honest; she does want to take part and work within a team, but she needs to feel comfortable with them. her arrogance is more of a shield. She tries to be ruthless in order to stop herself being nervous.
Gretel lowered her voice. “I do Witchcraft,” she said, and gave a cheeky smile. “Power of suggestion; manipulation, curses. I can make people do what I want.”
Sometimes she is very strong, and sometimes she is very fragile, espically when she realises that her past actions are putting her in jeopordy. The Hidden Government Army is a serious operation, and doesn’t take kindly to liabilities. Gretel simply isn’t ‘valuable’ enough to get away with her deeds, and she could pay for it any moment.