A Reflection on Call of the Conjurer.
“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.
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 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.
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?
- 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.