Interview with Hungry Monster Review

Today I am interviewed by hungrymonsterreview.com on Call of the Conjurer.

Book Cover 2016

“A World Where Magic Is A Natural Force”

Call of the Conjurer is a story about a group of diverse soldiers brought together to be initiated into magical combat. What was your inspiration for blending military fiction with magic and the paranormal?

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!

I felt that the military jargon and tactics used was well displayed. What research did you do for this novel to get it right?

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.

There is magic used throughout the story. How do you keep magic believable in your story?

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.

There are a lot of diverse and interesting characters in this novel. What was your favorite character to write for and why?

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.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will that be published?

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.


 

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…

BF Cover preview.png

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!

Character Bios: Gretel Salneth

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.

Of course, excessive make up is not allowed in the military.

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.

 


Creation Facts:

  • Gretel’s creation was a response to how Hollywood tends to make the goth girl bad, or downright evil. (think pretty much any character played by Fairuza Balk. Except Dorothy of course.)
  • Her weapon of choice is the AK-63, staple of the Hungarian Defence Force.
  • She is fluent in Hungarian, English, German and Russian.
  • Like the other characters in Call of the Conjurer, Gretel has a close affinity to one of the magical elements. Hers is Ice, although she hates having cold feet.

Character Bios: Calbert Mason

The head training instructor of Myrtle Base. Gentle natured and world weary,  Mason can summon loyal creatures in a safe environment, allowing new recruits to practice their spell casting combat.

He is a fatherly figure, to the point of caring far too much about those under his charge.00004 Calbert Mason

Captain Mason examined his reflection, adjusting his jacket lapels symmetrically. He’d been there for about an hour now, just getting ready; taking a look at himself in the mirror and admiring his finest qualities. He felt ridiculous doing so, but needed to psyche himself up.

Calbert Mason was born under a different name in Jamaica. He hails from a small inland village where his parents worked various small jobs throughout the year. Home life was very stressful, and his father was particularly aggressive. Calbert had two older brothers who worked from a young age, though one of them disappeared when he was five. Being the youngest child, Calbert felt like nothing more than another  mouth to feed.

It was around this time that Calbert was visited by a creature formed of light; an angel, he concluded, unaware of his ability to conjure spirits into our world.

The creature called itself Vaschelim, and Calbert was instantly enthralled. Its mere presence helped him to feel safe. Though Vaschelim stayed invisible for the most part, other people saw sometimes it, though no one could comprehend what this strange spectre was. It was often dismissed.

No one truly believed what they saw, except for Calbert.

Calbert joined the Jamaica Defence Force at 18, seeing few other prospects available. He took on the name Mason; the title of a creator, because it sounded strong. Only months into his career he was approached by a different faction; a group who called themselves the Hidden Government, and they made a very convincin argument to transfer Calbert into their own private army. They told him of his ability to summon; that other creatures like Vaschelim existed, and Calbert could control them all.

And contol them he could, forming stong bonds to particular monsters such as the legendary Golem of Yom Tov Lipmann Heller and strange, indescribable spirit wraiths. Vaschelim stayed by his side constantly, but throughout his service Mason never felt like a soldier. He did not enjoy killing, and was eventually able to secure a role as a combat instructor. Perhaps the position had always been intended for him.

He had once been a young, foolish boy. Now he is an experienced Combat Instructor looking into a mirror to practise his steely, piercing gaze aimed at trouble makers.

Mason, as he is known now, still harbours a resentment for his family. Maybe he feels ashamed for leaving, or perhaps he recognises a bit of his father in himself when he feels angered. Mason is generally calm, but can snap in the face of overwhelming injustice. His feelings for the Hidden Government have dropped over the years, and reached their lowest in 2001, but he knows he is stuck in his place. His only solace is to keep his recruits safe, but ultimately his job is to train them up to confront certain death.

Mason bides his time, doing the best he can. He knows he can do nothing more, but he holds onto hope. Hope for what, exactly, he isn;t sure.


Creation Facts:

  • In early drafts for what was code named Bloodfest 0, Mason was much younger and the Captain of Omega Squad. Omega Squad was made up of trainees, including Ace and Shimon, and were immediately deployed into combat. The whole second half of Call of the Conjurer was once the entire story, before I went back and created the training facility scenario. It made more sense that way.
  • He rarely uses weapons, instead commanding his conjurer beasts to act as supportive units. The shotgun he uses is purely symobilc, for the sake of ‘passing the torch’ when the time comes.

Character Bios: Tiffany Milich

… she preferred to keep her head down in active duty situations. Whilst on base, Tiffany seemed to come alive more – offering to fulfil the mundane tasks that needed doing day to day. She loved to take care of the little jobs, the ones nobody would notice.

A bright, quiet young woman with a fantastic mind. She remembers everything in perfect detail, choosing to employ this skill to learn as much as she can.

When introduced in ‘Call of the Conjurer’, Tiffany comes across as rather avoidant, maybe even a little abrasive towards anyone trying to get to know her. I tried to keep her out of focus, until she slowly opens up to the rest of the team and becomes a vital player in ‘Typhoon of Fire’.

For years Tiffany had no idea that she was special. Everybody around her generally regarded her uncanny mind to just ‘being smart’. Everybody said so; friends, family, and the jealous bully types.

Tiffany had a humble upbringing. Her family were ordinary, and she had hoped to become a doctor, but couldn’t due to the costs of studying. Instead, she entered the military to become medical personnel. It was only when she was ushered into the Hidden Government Army that Tiffany knew she might be more than just ‘smart’. She is told that her memory is perfect, able to recall the smallest details that one might not even notice at the time. Tiffany also displays adept magical combat, demonstrating a natural talent right away.

Despite all the praise, she tries to keep a low profile, fearing that people will regard her as boastful and bigheaded. Still, she has a nervous compulsion to correct people when they are mistaken and feels embarrassed for doing do. She tries to keep her head in books, learning all she can about any variety of subjects – with the ulterior motive of avoiding social situations.

I’m always spouting facts! It’s like… it needs to escape! I’m always rabbiting on. It must be very annoying.

Thankfully the other recruits are receptive and welcoming. Ace in particular wants to bring the group together and tries to encourage some confidence out of Tiffany, acting as wing man to his smitten buddy Shimon, but doesn’t quite succeed.

Thankfully, Shimon manages to speak up, and the  two of them mesh right away. Tiffany takes to Shimon quickly, naive in romance and charmed by this boy who shows her interest. For all that she can read in books, nothing compares to first hand experience.

Where Shimon is darkness, Tiffany is light. Together they are like ying and yang; an ideal pairing who need one another and play off each other perfectly. But with Tiffany’s ambitions, Shimon’s unique abilities, and their relationship embroiled in the sercret military service, the two might be separated at any time. Their lives are at the whim of higher powers. Can there be a happy ending?

 


Creation Facts:

  • It took me awhile to stumble on a first name for Tiffany. While documenting her orignal design to computer many years ago, I noticed the ‘.Tiff’ file extension and settled on that.
  • ‘Milich’ deviated from the word millet, mostly because it sounds nice, but also because millet is earthly and full of potential and growth.

 

Character Bios: Shimon Arkasone

A cocky, confident young man who can back that up with powerful psychic abilities. Shimon has been through a lot in his life already, never feeling like he belonged in the real world, and taking to life in the Hidden Government Army with great enthusiasm.

But Shimon has a lot going for him now, meaning he has everything to lose.

00002 Shimon Arkasone

 

Everything about Shimon makes him an outsider. He comes from a dysfunctional family and prefers to stay distant from them. He had few friends at school, which he believes attributes to his subtle dark skin, though this is reinforced by his stand-offish attitude towards others.

I’m one eighth Italian and that was enough for some people. They’re either ignoring me or telling me to go back to my own country! Thankfully there was a kid at school with one eye, so he got to be ostracized along with me…

Ace formed a good friendship with Shimon early in their lives, and is the only person who really knows him (aside from Ace’s young cousin Damian; to a lesser, more irritating extent).

Shimon has many secrets. He realised at a young age that he had special abilities, percieving his psychic visions as dreams until it bcame clear that they always came true.  Shimon learned that he could read minds, and move objects through sheer thought. His general disdain for people kept this bottled up and concealed from others. He did not want to share these amazing skills, concluding that it would only end in ridicule or humiliation.

Or maybe that they didn’t deserve to know.

Perhaps Shimon enjoys keeping his secrets. No matter how much people belittle him, he knows that he is something more. Shimon can say that he is above them. It’s a dangerous, arrogant attitude to have, but it’s also true.

Writing Shimon is always tricky. He knows the outcome of every story, in theory. It is difficult to surprise him. In which case it is important that he needs to be unsure of what he sees. Years of being beaten down has left him wary of the world. He doesn’t even trust his own mind.

For years, Ace was the only person Shimon had ever revealed his skills to, who kept silent about them out of unspoken respect. Entering the Hidden Government Army in ‘Call of the Conjurer’, Shimon finally feels free to express himself. They are surrounded by people with magical abilities, but it becomes clear that even now Shimon surpasses everybody else. He is beyond the ability of peers, and that brings him right round to feeling isolated again.

But here he meets Tiffany Milich, a young woman who has been in his dreams for years. Shimon is mesmerized, though stilted in striking up conversation with her. Again, he can’t be sure of his own thoughts. What if his dream girl is a farce? More of a cautionary vision, than a fantasy?

Shimon is uptight and fidgety. Ace jokingly describes him as ‘a drama queen’, but in all seriousness Shimon is twitchy, easily provoked, and knows how much power he posesses. The Hidden Government even allow him special privileges, given the rarity of his combined skills, and Shimon tries not to exploit that too much. For now.

Shimon has foreseen his own demise and it doesn’t frighten him. He is (or at least claims to be) confident that nothing can kill him until that day.

He has to learn to control his emotions before he can master his skills. Knowing the future is a dangerous thing. Do you act to prevent disaster, or do you ride it out, accepting when the worst is about to happen?


Creation facts:

  • Shimon is one of the first incidences of our number #1 rule; when naming characters, we can’t use the names of anybody we know. This is why Bloodfest characters have odd names, or use odd spellings. It used to be easy back in school when we knew, like, thirty kids in the whole school and you could still use normal, believable names for the charactes. These days it is not so easy. Luckily we realised early on that we’d have to scour around for uncommon, but not made up names, such as Ace and Shimon.
  • As a child he trained in Kendo and Jōdō fighting techniques, but his parents made him give them up due to expenses. Most of Shimon’s sword expertise is self taught, using video tapes of sword training and martial arts.
  • He avoids using guns and even ignores the magic spells he has been taught in the Hidden Government Army, prefering to stick with his telekinetic skills.
  • His blood type is ‘O’, if you are in Japan.

Character Bios: Ace Mcdagger

His stoic, stone hard gaze peered into the distance. Ace’s brow furrowed only slightly, showing no lurch in emotion. Yet a sense of loss bore into him like a twisted knife. He knew that somewhere, one of his team mates had just perished.

He felt it.

An enigmatic protagonist, writing out a bio for Ace Mcdagger is tricky without giving too much away. Maybe this was a bad idea, but there are a few facts on offer about his upbringing and in the creation of the character.

00001 Ace Mcdagger

 He wears an eye patch over his left eye, adorned with a golden cross; a leaving gift from his training instructor. Ace wore it to cover a disfigurement – his eye works fine, but it had been infected when he was a child – and Ace liked to cover it to spare other people the sight.

Ace’s earliest memory is of being brought up a laboratory. His parents were scientists. At some point when he was a child, his eye became infected with a virus, but Ace has no idea why or how this happened.

He used to visit England sometimes, staying at his grandmother’s house. On one seemingly normal day, his laboratory home was destroyed. His parents seemingly died, and only vague recollections of that day remain with Ace. These memories are partly repressed, partly diminished with time. Because of this, Ace tends to be rather rigid when it comes to his personal life. Otherwise, he is relatively loose and outgoing.

He was later raised by relatives in England, attending the same school as his cousin Damian Hassler, and his good friend Shimon Arkasone. The pair of them have stayed around for all of his life, and the three are as close as brothers. Ace was a typically British teenage lad, going to pubs and loitering around with his mates. He met girls, and had a few, brief relationships. But nothing serious.

Ace admits to smoking and a trying marijuana, briefly, but knew he needed to stay away from them in order to apply for the army. All in all, a lot of Ace’s adolescent life was spent killing time, waiting for some purpose of his being to come along.

When first introduced in Call of the Conjurer, Ace is a determined young man, sometimes up for a lark, but severely devoted to military life. His army career was decided from an early age. Both Ace and Shimon were set to join the military for a lack of any better prospects in their home town, but they did so gladly, and spent some time fighting in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2003, until Ace’s Awakening occurred.

Trapped a room and surrounded by hostiles, a grenade detonated. Ace survived, utterly unharmed, while the men around him all died. Ace was unable to explain his escape. This keeps occurring; Ace is able to survive otherwise mortal perils. It seems that he is unkillable, although he dares not to push his luck too much.

On top of this, Ace is becoming more aware that he can see the souls of the dead, moments after they have perished.

His weapons of choice are the shotgun and the scythe, both holding significance to Ace and his history. He is a competent fighter and gifted magician, able to wield the elemental forces with ease.

Most soldiers train to use Elemental magic by using military grade Auralithalain jewels. This is hardened magic. The very essences of the eight elemental forces of the Universal sometimes become so dense that they solidify. Scientists for the Hidden Government know how to extract this power, and hand them out to soldiers to fight off creature that may be impervious to physical harm.

Ace trained the same as any other Hidden Government soldier, and learned to use magic in the same manner, but it seems that he has better control of the elements than most; a magical capability far beyond his years. Perhaps he never even needed to learn these spells; he was born with them. He was born with an ability to manipulate the world around him, along with his invincibility and close association to the dead.

It seems that Ace Mcdagger is more of a force of nature than a man. Perhaps his place in the world, his purpose, is beyond the mortal coil of humankind.

Time will tell. One day he will know.

001 Ace Character Sheet


Creation facts:

• His full name is Ace Jagger Mcdagger. Seriously, if you thought his name was ridiculous enough already, his middle honorific is Jagger. I forget where this originated from, or if there was a reason at all, but his name Ace does have a lot of relevance.

  1. First of all; he is the central, key character for the series.
  2. He is a great shot, with a shotgun particularly.
  3. He is a singular entity; the sole individual with a great, pre-written destiny ahead of him. A lot of his true role in the Universe has yet to be revealed, but things are trickling in slowly.

* Update Edit; James tells that Ace’s middle name is Jagger because has dad was a Rolling Stones fan. Makes the most sense.

• An explanation for Ace’s eyepatch does exist in the story, but the real reason is more of a homage to a real British hero.

• His specific shotgun of choice is the Benelli M3 Tactical.

• It is often remarked that Ace is particularly tall. He was the tallest of the recruits in Call of the Conjurer, and is 6’1″.

• While not often mentioned in the stories, Ace briefly attended a Catholic boarding school when he moved to England permanently. He has been scared of nuns ever since.

• His other greatest fear is nuclear war.

Designs of Ace between 1996 to 2014

Designs of Ace between 1996 to 2014