Thursday, 24 November 2016

Really pleased that my story 'Dragon on a High Hill' is the title story in a new collection from Knowonder aimed at kids with dyslexia.
DyslexiAssist Readers are books designed by Knowonder that use special fonts and layouts to increase the readability for children struggling with dyslexia. When reading with this font and layout, independent research shows that 84% of dyslexics read faster, 77% read with fewer mistakes, and 76% recommend the font to others who suffer from dyslexia.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Wreck of the Blue Plover

New Short Story

A new short story set in the world of Euan Redcap appears in the anthology 'Young Adventurers : Heroes, Explorers and Swashbucklers, edited by Austin S. Camacho. The main character is Angus Stonedyke, the young rope cannon gunner who first appears in Euan Redcap's tale. The story is called 'The Wreck of the Blue Plover' and it tells of Angus's first voyage as part of Captain Zachariah's airship crew aboard the Drunken Molly and the exciting way in which he finally earned the right to sing the Dragon Hunter's Sky Shanty.
The anthology includes a host of great stories by authors such as Debora Walker.
More details can be found at the Young Adventurer's Facebook page.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Cover art for Different Dragons II edited by Diana Bell due for publication shortly. The anthology includes a new short story by myslef set in the world depicted in the Tale of Euan Redcap but featuring an entirely new character. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

New Short Story

A short story set in the Far Tundra as featured in the Tale of Euan Redcap will appear in Different Dragons II due for release by Wolfsinger Publications later this year. The story 'Hargmir, Ghost of Dragon' features the neice of a murder member of an airship crew left for dead on the tundra and stalked by a dragon of supernatural origins. This will be the second Wolfsinger anthology I've appeared in. The first being a science fcition story (F8 - F11 - Delete)  in 'A Taste of Armagedon.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A new short story set in the world depicted in my children's fantasy novel The Tale of Euan Redcap is now available for free on the Knowonder web site.
Toward the end of Chapter Two of the book Euan remembers a story his grandfather told him about a dragon that made its lair in the Low Counties. A Dragon on the High Hill tells the story of how Euan's grandfather Wil Redcap encountered that dragon.
Read it now.
The story is also included in the Knowonder Anthology The White Sail available in print or for kindle from Amazon.
Further updates on The Tale of Euan Redcap can be found here
A Dragon on High Hill: a collection of great bedtime stories | knowonder! »
When a dragon is spotted on High Hill, young Wil sneaks away to get a glimpse and finds more than expected.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Extract from Chapter One of The Tale of Euan Redcap Book Two - The Trial of Euan Redcap

Chapter One

     “Euan, fetch me the telescope!”

Captain Zachariah’s raw voice interrupted the hurried preparations I was making for our lunch. I stepped from the cramped galley onto the narrow deck of The Hawk’s Cry’s gondola and watched the captain as he gently spun the navigation wheel to bank the scavenger ship leftwards.

No longer feeling it necessary to conceal himself in my presence, his hood was down around his shoulders, revealing the terrible disfiguring scalds and scars that had been inflicted upon his face by the fiery breath of the White Sow. The sight of him was commonplace now and I hardly gave him a second glance - his scorched, almost molten facial features, were all I had ever known.

 My own scalds and wounds were almost completely healed now - a few pink blotches were all that remained of the blistering on my face, my singed eyebrows had grown back, as thick and red as ever, the scar on my chest had scabbed over; the rapid closing of the wound assisted greatly by the herbal healing balm applied there by the Ghibelline.

The captain looked at me, warped eyelids drooping over his blue eyes.

“The telescope?”

“Aye, Captain!” I said, and dashed along the deck.

There was something about the tone of Captain Zachariah’s voice that suggested he was worried. This put me on edge. Perhaps a storm was brewing in the distance? The possibility worried me. I couldn’t bear to think of a storm throwing us off course when we were less than half a day’s journey from the little stone cottage in the Low Counties that was my home.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Green Remembered Hills
Inspiration Drawn From the Places of my Childhood

“High in the clouds above the lands ruled by old Emperor Julian airships traverse the skies from Tennanbrau City to the bleak expanse of the Far Tundra. They are on the hunt for Dragon Breath - the most precious element known to man. Amongst its many uses it is the gas that powers the Imperial factories and inflates the balloons of airships.”

This is an extract from the synopsis I submitted to Wyvern Publications for my cThe Tale of Euan Redcap.

Despite the fantastical elements of the story much of the inspiration for Euan and his background is drawn from my childhood years growing up in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. In the story Euan comes from an area of green rolling hills known as the Low Counties that is very much based on the countryside I remember exploring as a boy and the long leisurely walks I took with my friends from Boleside and up to Gala Hill, or across the old railway bridge from Langlee to the open fields in the area that is now Tweedbank and over the hills to Cauldshiels Loch.

These images provided the raw materials for the imaginary area of the Low Counties as depicted in the early chapters of the book.

It’s a common theme in many fantasy fiction novels that the starting point for the hero on his or her journey is pretty normal existence in pretty normal surroundings. Think of Frodo and the Shires in Lord of the Rings or Wendy Darling in her town house in Peter Pan. Likewise in The Tale of Euan Redcap the Redcap family are pretty normal, they live in a small hillside cottage where Euan’s father tends his flock of sheep. The story begins on Euan’s sister’s sixteenth birthday and, at that point, all he wants to do is not mess things up, something we are told he has done in previous years.

But fate has other plans for Euan Redcap.

He is kidnapped from a glen with brook running through it, which is situated across the meadow from the cottage where he lives. When writing this section of the book I had in mind Elwyn Glen, just off the Melrose Road between Langlee and Melrose, where I spent many an hour during the long school holidays in the 60’s and 70’s. The following paragraph is taken from the Chapter where Euan and his sister Isla are sent down to the glen to pick mushrooms for a lamb stew their mother is preparing for her birthday and it’s very much based on my recollections of Elwyn Glen on those long summer days.

“Down in the belly of the glen I could hear the gurgling of the stream as it gushed over the smooth, flat pebbles. Despite the shade of the trees the hot sun was sending darts of light down through their branches, making my back feel sticky. I glanced dreamily towards the sound of the water. How I longed to go down and paddle there in my bare feet. I would build a dam with some big stones from the bank. Then I would use one of my socks as a net to catch sticklebacks that drifted into the pool it created.”

I also gave Euan the family name Redcap because of its connections to Borders’ folklore. In the folk stories I remember the name Redcap has quite sinister and gruesome connotations. In one version Redcap is said to be a fearsome spirit with iron claws and a red bonnet who haunts old castle ruins. In another version the Redcaps are a dysfunctional clan of cannibalistic bandits who waylay unsuspecting English travellers and dip their bonnets in the blood of their victims before devouring their flesh. This notion of cannibals setting upon travellers also inspired the creatures in the book I called the Ghibelline who may, or may not, be flesh eating monsters.

I wanted Euan and his family to have a distinctive Low County look and therefore they are described as being freckle faced and red haired, which, as old photos of me will testify, is pretty much the way I looked as a boy. In the story Euan is forcefully taken on board The Drunken Molly, the airship belonging to Mrs Zachariah. Amongst her scurvy crew is another Low County boy, Angus Stonedyke, who is slightly older than Euan and who is also described as being freckle faced and red haired.

Angus tells Euan that he ran away from home to join the dragon hunters because he didn’t want to work in the local woollen mill as a weaver like his father. Again the seed of this idea came from my childhood memories of my grandfather who was a weaver in Robertson’s Mill in Selkirk.

Some of my inspiration was also drawn from classics by authors such as Robert Louis Stephenson that I read as child when attending Langlee Primary School. I wanted to capture the sense of adventure and danger I felt when I read those books.

But the biggest literary influence on the book was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
I lived in the flats at the end of Kenilworth Avenue when I was young. I remember being stuck in doors one rainy Saturday afternoon and watching John Huston’s black and white film adaptation of the novel on television, then reading the book and becoming totally engrossed. But it’s the image of Gregory Peck, as the obsessed Captain Ahab, lashed by harpoon ropes to the side of the huge white whale and dragged beneath the crashing waves, that has been stuck in my head ever since.

The White Sow as the biggest and most prized of dragons comes from this image, as do the scenes in the book where the crew of The Drunken Molly try to capture her.
Rather than being based directly on Captain Ahab the character of Mrs Zachariah came from notion I had that if one of Captain Ahab’s own close relatives tried to avenge his death their own obsession might end up being even greater than his.

I wanted the story to have a bit of a steampunk feel, hence the airships. Although these are fantastical in themselves, with balloons made from dragon wing membrane stretched over a frame of dragon bone and inflated with dragon breath, the concept of airships also has a bit of a Border’s connection through the knowledge I had acquired somewhere along that East Fortune Airfield near North Berwick served as an airship station from the middle of the First World War till the mid 1920’s.

Throughout all of his adventures Euan remains determined to get back home to his family. Here’s another extract from the book in which Euan get his last glimpse of the Low Counties before being whisked up into the clouds on the end of a rope and spirited away on board The Drunken Molly.

“Isla was directly below me, tiny as an ant now. She was getting further and further away. I knew that as well as the rope being hauled up the airship was ascending too. From that height I could see all of them in one go - my father scrambling down the hill with his dogs yapping at his side, his crook outstretched as if he could somehow reach into the sky and snatch me back down; my mother wringing her hands by the kitchen door, the wooden bucket rocking from side to side where it had fallen by her feet; my sister on her knees amongst the white daisies and yellow dandelions, staring up at me, pale as a ghost.
“Isla!” I yelled. “Ma! Pa!”
I knew that they probably couldn’t even hear me now. And I knew too that even if they could there was nothing they could do to help me. Then, in the blink of an eye, I was sucked away into the misty swirl of the clouds and the comfortable world that I had known for all my short life was gone in an instant.”

At the end of The Tale of Euan Redcap we see Euan at last leaving the Far Tundra. Aboard another airship he believes he is returning home to his family in the Low Counties. But does he get there? I am in the middle of writing the follow up where the question of whether or not Euan actually reaches home will be answered.