Archive | December, 2017

Happy New Year

31 Dec

2017

It’s been an interesting year.

The most important thing, of course, was the birth of our second son John in November. He came out three weeks early, much to our surprise, but everything went smoothly and we were able to take him home the following day. It’s been a month already and he’s putting on weight at astonishing speed. He’s also louder than his brother was, at least for the first six months. I think he realises he has competition for our attention right from the start. (It must have been baby-month, as my nephew was born two days before John.)

Eric, now three, is doing well too, although I think he’s a little bemused by John’s appearance. We did try to explain that he was going to get a brother, but obviously he didn’t really understand what is happening. I think he expected someone the same age as himself, not a baby who sucks up most of mummy’s attention. He’s been acting out more over the last month or so, unsurprisingly. We’re doing our best to be patient with him.

I’ve learnt a great deal about parenting over the last three years. Some of the things I was told made no sense until I was actually a father myself. (And it’s harder, now, to pour scorn on helicopter parents.) Other things have not stood the test of actually having a baby. Trying to change nappies on a baby-sized doll, for example, was somewhat misleading – babies don’t bend that way. I’ve also discovered, as Eric fell in love with toy railways, that its often cheaper to buy stuff second-hand than new. I purchased three huge boxes of railway pieces and suchlike on EBay and we now have more than we know what to do with. (I ended up given some of it to my niece.) We also made the mistake, back in 2014, of purchasing a specialised baby table. It was largely useless right from the moment we actually tried to use it.

(And when I get asked for my words of wisdom by other new parents, I always say ‘buy wipes. Buy lots of wipes.’)

My writing career has been progressing well. I published The Zero Blessing in March and sales were good enough to justify writing and publishing The Zero Curse in September. It might have been a mistake to write three fantasy books in a row – I wrote The Gordian Knot on one side and Graduation Day on the other – but it seems to have worked out ok. I intend to write The Zero Equation and end the trilogy in mid-Jan 2018. I also brought out four Schooled in Magic books and yes, the series will continue next year. And I wrote The Hyperspace Trap – formerly known as Becalmed – which will be released in February. It’s a spin-off from the Angel in the Whirlwind series, but it adds a certain something to the universe.

On Kindle, I brought out six new books, including two Ark Royal books and one The Empire’s Corps book. I do intend to continue both series over the coming years. I’ve also continued turning books into audio and paperback editions. Unfortunately, this is a slower process than I – or some of my readers – would clearly prefer.

Overall, it has been a very busy year.

I hope you all had a merry Christmas – if you celebrate – have a very happy new year.

Christopher Nuttall

New Years Eve, 2017

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Run, Run, As Fast As You Can …

31 Dec

Because you don’t want to be tricked like the gingerbread man!

I apologise for the doggerel, but there is a point here.

A couple of days ago, a friend of a friend posted a question to a writer’s group on Facebook. The good news was that he’d been offered a contract by a traditional publisher. The bad news was that that the publisher wanted him to pay in advance. The editing, marketing, and publishing would cost $350, they said; the contract stated that they wanted $395 as the first payment, then ten more payments of $295 every month regardless of the book’s actual status (published or not.)

I took one look and wrote a simple response. “Run, run, run!”

Greater writers than I have said this before, but it needs to be repeated time and time again. In traditional publishing, money flows downhill to the author. The publisher pays for editing, marketing and suchlike in advance (and then takes it out of earnings before they pay the author anything more than the advance). The author does not pay a single penny (or cent) to the publisher. Full stop.

Put bluntly, if the publisher expects you to pay in advance, they’re scammers.

Writers want to be published. We want to see our name in print. And that can make us suckers, ripe for exploitation. It is very easy to fall for the ‘sunk cost’ fallacy and keep shelling out cash, while the so-called publishers do nothing – or do it very poorly. Writers who get into these sort of messes often discover that the editing is sub-standard, the marketing consists of a handful of Facebook ads and the printing is terrible. Worse, they are often expected to buy huge print runs of their own books – which are then unsellable – or discover that their contracts entitles their publishers to first call on anything else they happen to write. Getting out of these contracts can be a nightmare.

Let me say it again. If the publisher expects you to pay in advance, they’re scammers. You are being scammed.

These companies do not make money by publishing books. They make money by exploiting hundreds of people like YOU, people who were so captivated by the idea of having their name in print that they didn’t recognise or heed the warning signs. Their whole business model is based around insisting you need services and then forcing you to pay for them. I know what it’s like to be an unpublished author, desperate to break into a hard market; I understand exactly how a newbie writer feels. But it is important to recognise that any newbie writer is a potential target for exploitation. A publisher who wants you to pay is not your friend.

Now, this obviously isn’t true of indie publishing. There, you buy services on contract – I hire editors and cover designers for my books. (I think the most expensive book I ever put out cost me around $1500.) But I also don’t have to split the proceeds with an agent or a publisher. Nor do I have to stick with a contractor whose services are not up to par.

If someone offers you a contract, do your due diligence. Check out Writer Beware and other online resources for writers. Read reviews of work your publisher has put out – not paid reviews, real reviews. Insist on reading the contract – perhaps even chatting with other authors (and make sure you find their contact details yourself) – before you do more than express interest. Perhaps even check out the free samples so you can see their editing for yourself.

If you get involved in a scam, it will cost you your book (and perhaps any future books) as well as your reputation. You do not want to look like a sucker. I’ve seen far too many authors shrilling for their scammers, all believing that a great payday is just around the corner. It’s an easy mistake to make, but you don’t want to make it.

So … warning signs.

If a publisher asks you to pay for having your book published, RUN.

If a publisher insists you sign a contract giving them complete and open-ended power over the book, and/or demands first refusal rights for anything else you might happen to write, RUN.

If a publisher asks you to pay for services (editing, cover design, etc), RUN.

If a publisher promises you the sun and the moon tomorrow, but never today, RUN.

If a publisher tells you that he isn’t one of those evil vanity publishers, RUN.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. I understand the urge to get published and see your name in print. But it is important to remember that the urge makes you vulnerable and there are people out there who will try to exploit you. Do your research, keep a wary eye on anyone who claims to be your friend instead of taking a business-like approach and, for the love of God, learn from other experiences before you become the next cautionary tale for new writers.

Believe me, there are plenty of those out there already.

The Alchemist’s Apprentice Snippet

29 Dec

This is one of the planned successors to The Zero Enigma.  So far, it’s nothing more than a snippet, but comments would be welcome.

Prologue

I was twelve when I was taken into service.

It was no real surprise to me, not really. My stepfather might have accepted me into his home, but he’d never really liked me. There was no way a half-Hangchowese girl could pass for his. My skin was pale enough to pass for a country girl, but my almond eyes – slanted, the crueller kids said – proved that my father had come from overseas. He’d made sure I was fed and educated – the law demanded no less – yet he wasn’t going to waste any of his money on me. I certainly didn’t have enough magical talent to win a scholarship. And so, as soon as I turned twelve, my mother wrapped my dark hair in braids, stood over me as I packed a bag with everything I’d need for a month and took me down to the Hiring Hall.

My mother … I wasn’t sure how my mother felt about me. I wasn’t even clear in the details of what had transpired between her and my father. She seemed to love me, yet … yet she hadn’t kept my stepfather from ordering me into service. Was I a reminder of something she’d prefer to forget? Or was I merely old enough to earn my keep? I’d been cooking and cleaning almost as soon as I’d learnt to walk, like every other girl-child born in South Shallot; I knew the basics of housekeeping better than many a grown woman. My mother had taught me well.

I couldn’t help feeling nervous as we stepped through the massive wooden door and looked around. Normally, a girl who went into domestic service would find a placement through friends and family, but neither was willing to go out on a limb for me. My stepfather certainly wasn’t going to waste his contacts ensuring I had a good placement in a decent home. That was reserved for my younger half-sisters, assuming they didn’t have talent of their own. And yet, the Hiring Hall wasn’t meant for young girls who wanted to go into domestic service. Most of the people who came in search of a job were men from the countryside.

My mother spoke briskly to the attendants, who gave me a necklace to prove I was in search of a job. They didn’t seem surprised to see me. I couldn’t have been the only youngster who’d passed through their doors. And yet, as my mother walked me around the hall, it looked as though I wasn’t going to get a placement. I was too young for some placements, too weak or inexperienced for others … I’d never realised how limited my experience truly was until I needed a job. The Great Houses, who might have trained me, never hired through the Hiring Hall. They hired through family connections.

And then I saw Master Travis for the very first time.

He looked old to me; his chocolate-coloured face marred with the scars of a hundred potions explosions, his tattered brown robes covered with burn marks and marked with alchemical symbols I didn’t understand until much later. His gait suggested that he was constantly on the verge of falling down. He was, as he walked over to us, more than a little frightening. But he was also the only person who’d approached us.

“I need a shopgirl,” he said, bluntly. His accent was pure Shallot. I later learnt that he was a certain family’s natural-born son. “One who can read and write.”

“I can read and write,” I assured him, quickly. I could too, although not as well as he might have wished. My education hadn’t been that extensive. I certainly hadn’t done well enough to earn the chance to study for the financial or legal guilds. “And I can serve customers too.”

My mother leaned forward and started to haggle. My stepfather – damn the man – had insisted that I find employment in a place that gave me lodgings, even if I had to sleep on the cold stone floor. Master Travis haggled back, although without the intensity I’d expected from someone who’d grown up in Shallot. We’re a trading city. Children learn to bargain before they reach their second decade. By the time she’d finished, darkness was falling over the city and I had a job. Master Travis had even agreed to teach me some basic potions in exchange for a slightly reduced salary. My mother had been insistent. A young woman who could brew would have excellent marriage prospects, as long as she didn’t set her sights too high. It might just be enough to make up for my absent – and unknown – father.

“Come,” Master Travis said, once the contract was signed. I was his now, at least until I turned eighteen. “We have to go.”

The sheer enormity of what I’d done crashed down on me as I bid farewell to my mother and turned to follow him. I might go back to my stepfather’s house for visits – and Master Travis had agreed to give me one day off per week – but I didn’t live there any longer. Master Travis’s shop would be my home for the next six years. My heart was pounding like a drum as we walked out of the hall and down the darkening streets. Master Travis walked with the utter confidence of a man who knew no one would get in his way. I wished I felt so confident. There were parts of the city my mother had told me never to visit in darkness.

It felt as though we walked for hours before we crossed the bridge to Water Shallot and turned down a cobbled street. The city was darker here, bands of sailors and tradesmen hanging around bars or roaming the streets in search of entertainment. Most of the shops were closed, their doors covered with protective runes. I stayed close to my new master as he stopped outside a darkened shop and pressed his hand against the doorknob. It opened a second later, revealing a vast collection of alchemical ingredients. I couldn’t help thinking of a sweetshop. And yet, the air smelled of herbs rather than sugar.

Master Travis lit the lanterns with a single spell. I could see why he needed a shopgirl. The counter was relatively clean – and the jars of herbs were properly sealed – but there was dust and grime everywhere else. Something tickled the back of my throat as I looked around. And yet, I was afraid to cough for fear I might set off a storm of dust.

“You’ll sleep in the garret,” Master Travis said, pointing to a narrow staircase leading up into the darkness. His voice was gruff, but I saw genuine concern on his face. “Do you need something to eat?”

I hesitated – my stepfather might have fed me, yet he’d never bothered to hide that the only reason he was taking care of me was because the law insisted – but then my stomach rumbled loudly. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast and that had been hours ago.

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“Take your bag upstairs,” Master Travis said. “And then come down and we’ll get something to eat.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, again.

He offered me a lantern. I took it and walked slowly up the stairs. The building felt cramped, as if it was an oversized dollhouse rather than a real house. I later discovered that it had been fitted into the gap between two apartment blocks. The garret, at the top of the stairs, was dark and tiny. I was a small girl, for my age, and it still felt as if I’d bang my head on the roof if I stood up too quickly. There was dust everywhere. The bed and chair looked as if they’d been designed for children, not adults. I wasn’t sure where I was meant to put my clothes.

But it was private, I told myself. It was certainly better than the room I’d shared with my half-sisters. We’d practically lived in each other’s clothes.

I put my bag on the bed and walked back downstairs. I’d been sent away from home, and I’d be lucky if I saw my mother more than once or twice a month, but there were advantages. I’d be away from my stepfather, I’d be earning money … I might even be learning a new trade I could use to support myself. Perhaps, just perhaps, going into service wouldn’t be so bad after all.

And it wasn’t.

The Zero Equation–Snippet II

28 Dec

Not sure if I’ll go with this.  But it was running through my head.

Prologue II

The night I returned to the school, after the kidnap and our escape, I dreamed of the dragons.

Not the nasty beasts that inhabit the Desolation, the dull creatures we hunt for potions and alchemical supplies, but the Great Drakes of legend. Giant golden creatures, their wings shining in the sun as they flew. I dreamed I flew beside them, sharing the ancient wisdom in their eyes. I knew I was dreaming. And yet, it felt so real.

I could see more than just dragons. I could see castles built of clouds and giant floating cities, so large that they plunged the land below into permanent darkness. I could see huge buildings reaching up to the skies, great machines glowing with power as they transformed the land. I could see giants and genies and sprites and elementals and so many other legendary creatures; I could see magicians, flying through the air as if they were light as birds. Wizards walked through the clouds, taking their ease; witches rode on brooms, laughing as they soared above the clouds.

And I could see the magic.

I’d often dreamed of having magic – and then awakened to stare down at my powerless fingers – but this was different. The magic pulsed like a living thing, wrapping the entire world in its embrace. Colourless light seemed to shimmer around me – around everyone, giving them power. It looked as if it would last forever …

And then it was gone.

The genies and elementals winked out, as if someone had blown out a candle. They were gone before I quite realised what had happened. And then everyone – everything – was falling. The cloud-buildings dissolved into mist, their occupants falling to the ground far below; the flying cities plummeted, hitting the ground with terrifying force. Flying witches and wizards screamed as they fell, roaring and chanting spells in a desperate – and futile – attempt to save their lives. The magic was gone.

I saw it all. The giants, suddenly collapsing under their own weight; the great machines, flickering and failing. The population panicking, looking around in numb horror, utterly unable to comprehend what had happened. The most powerful amongst them, the ones who had lived amongst the clouds, were already dead. And none of the survivors knew how to live without magic. They couldn’t do anything without magic. I floated high above them and watched their world die.

And then I found myself beside the largest of the Great Drakes. It was lying on the ground, its wings flapping helplessly as it tried to return to the skies. But it was hopeless. A creature that size simply couldn’t survive, let alone fly, without magic. It’s eyes stared at me pleadingly, as if it knew I was there, then finally started to close. Pity tore at my heart as it died. The creature had been majestic, a true being of magic. And yet, the age of magic was over.

I awoke, screaming. Sweat ran down my forehead as I gasped for breath. It had been a dream, just a dream. I’d never had a True Dream in my life. The talent had been lost so long ago that some scholars believed it had never existed. And yet, I could still hear the screaming as I wiped sweat from my brow, still see the dead and the dying when I closed my eyes …

It felt so real.

The Zero Equation Snippet

27 Dec

It’ll be a while before I start on this one, but i just had this scene buzzing through my head.

Prologue I

I was nine when I touched the Family Sword for the first time.

It wasn’t something I was meant to do. My parents had made it clear to us that my sisters and I were not supposed to enter the Great Hall without an escort, let alone touch one of our family’s most priceless heirlooms. But … well, I suppose I should start at the beginning.

My sisters and I had been studying magic for two years. We were home-schooled, of course; we weren’t sent to primary school for another year. My family’s tutors saw to it that we were fed a diet of magical theory, ancient languages, magical runes and, of course, practical studies. My sisters had moved ahead in leaps and bounds, while I … I had yet to cast a single spell. I could see the disappointment on my father’s face, even though he tried to hide it; I could see the scorn and contempt on my sisters’ face when they realised I lacked any spark of magic. My potions were perfectly brewed, my runic diagrams and magical calculations were perfectly drawn …

… And it didn’t matter. I couldn’t perform even the simplest spell.

One cold winter evening, I stumbled out of the schoolroom feeling as though my head was on fire. It had been a long session, with a doddering old great-great-uncle for a tutor … he wasn’t a bad sort, not really, but he had a habit of addressing us by names that belonged to our older relatives. And he’d made me draw out a basic diagram again and again, as if simple repetition would finally lead to magic flowing out of my fingers and into the design. My head hurt, my fingers hurt … all I wanted was to catch an hour or two of sleep before dinner was served. I could hear my sisters and cousins playing in the snow outside as I reached the top of the stairs, the sound mocking me. They were animating snowmen and using them to have snowball fights, but … what could I do? There was no way I could join them. The best I could hope for was being turned into a snowman myself.

I was alone. It hurt, more than I cared to admit.

The sound behind me caught me by surprise. I started to duck, too late. The spell slammed into my back and my entire body froze. I was utterly unable to move, unable to save myself as I tumbled over and over, falling down the stairs. My body crashed into the banisters, the sound echoing though the stairwell as an unseen force pushed me further and further downwards. I caught a glimpse of Alana standing above me, posing dramatically on the top of the stairs. Her dark face was alight with glee.

I prayed to all the ancestors that her spell wouldn’t snap until I reached the bottom, praying with a desperation I rarely felt. The freeze spell saved me from feeling any pain, but if it gave out while I was still falling I’d crash straight into the banisters. Or something. My body kept flipping over and over – Alana must have combined her hex with a locomotive spell – until I crashed into the Great Hall and rolled over the marble floor. I hit the statue of Aguirre Primus and stopped, dead. My distant ancestor’s statue seemed to be glowering down at me in disapproval. How could one of his bloodline be so weak?

The spell held me firmly, keeping me still as Alana inched her way down the stairs. I could hear her footsteps tap-tapping on the stone, pausing every so often to make sure no one was coming to find out what was making the noise. Alana might be the favoured of the family, the one deemed most likely to succeed my father as Aguirre Matriarch, but even she would be in trouble if she was caught in the Great Hall. Dad would be angry and Mum would be furious. The Great Hall was for impressing guests, not for little girls to play. I tensed inwardly as I heard her walking over towards me, bracing myself for another cruel hex – or worse. And then she rolled me over and glared down at me.

“You are pathetic,” she said, nastily. A faint mark on her dark cheek glimmered with an unearthly light. She’d had a potions accident and the remnants of the brew had yet to wear off. It wasn’t dangerous, but it made her look silly. “You can’t even cancel a simple spell.”

I wanted to snap out a response, but I couldn’t move a muscle. She was right. I knew she was right. The freeze spell we’d been taught was among the simplest of hexes, the easiest to cast – and to cancel, if you knew how to focus your magic. I’d watched from the upper levels as the extended family romped around in the snow, freezing each other with gay abandon. And I’d wanted to join them, even though I knew I couldn’t …

Alana leaned forward, as if she had something important to share. “You want to know a secret? You’re not our sister.”

I had to fight to stay calm. I wanted to scream. It was hard to believe, sometimes, that I could really be the daughter of Joaquin and Sofia Aguirre. My parents were amongst the most powerful magicians in the kingdom, perhaps even the world. And I didn’t have any magic at all.

“Dad just wanted to claim he had triplets,” Alana added, in a sweet tone that didn’t fool me for a second. “He took a foundling girl and …”

The spell snapped. I started upwards, too late. Alana leapt backwards with commendable speed, one hand raised and ready to cast a spell. She knew better than to be within arm’s reach of me. Forging had made me strong for my age. I wanted to lunge at her, to break her nose for the second time, but … she’d get me before I managed to strike. I dreaded the thought of what she’d be like, after she went to school. She was quite bad enough now, with only a handful of spells at her disposal.

“I look like Dad,” I said. It was true. My face was solidly feminine, but I looked more like my father than my mother. “I …”

“There are glamours that can change a person permanently,” Alana reminded me. “Given time, they soak into the skin.”

I bunched my fists, feeling hot tears prickling at the corner of my eyes. She was lying. She had to be lying. And yet, there was a quiet nagging doubt at the back of my mind. What if … what if she wasn’t lying? A foundling girl would be defenceless. She’d have no family to come to her aid. No one would care if someone took her into their family and wrapped her in a glamour … no one would question her bloodline, if she was formally adopted. My father could have done that to me …

“That’s why you have no magic,” Alana said. She tried to sound regretful and failed utterly. “You’re not one of us.”

I tried to think, even though I wanted to cry. What if … what if … a thought struck me and I turned, looking for the Family Sword. It was embedded in a stone anvil, the visible part of the blade glowing faintly with a pearly white light. My father’s family had owned the sword since we’d joined the Thousand-Year Empire. We – those who shared a bloodline that dated back nearly two thousand years – were the only ones who could lift it.

“I’ll show you,” I said.

I heard her gasp as I walked towards the glowing sword, half-expecting to run into a protective spell. Dad would be furious if he knew I’d touched the blade. I’d be grounded for life or sent to bed without supper or … maybe he’d take one of Great Aunt Stregheria’s particularly unpleasant child-rearing suggestions. Her children didn’t exist and I still felt sorry for them. No magic snapped at me as I clambered onto the anvil, no ward held me in place while summoning the master of the house; I wrapped my dark fingers around the blade and pulled. It came out of the stone easily.

Alana gasped a word that Mum would have washed her mouth out with soap merely for thinking, let alone saying. I almost echoed her. The sword was huge, taller than I, yet I had no trouble holding it upright. It felt as light as a feather. The blade glowed brightly in my hands. I jumped down, holding the sword upright. It seemed to hum as I waved it through the air.

“You’re going to be in big trouble,” Alana said.

She jabbed a finger at me, casting a spell. A brilliant hex flashed through the air … and exploded harmlessly against the blade. The sword had moved in my hands, cutting the spell out of the air. I could feel it twisting, readying itself to deflect another spell. A trickle of unease ran through me as my body shifted, not entirely as I wished. The sword seemed to be controlling me, not the other way around. It felt as if it was going to slash out at Alana … no matter what I wanted. I was no longer in control.

Alana took a step backwards, fear flickering over her face. “I think you should put the sword back,” she managed, her voice quivering. “Cat …”

My legs moved forward of their own accord. The sword hummed louder, pulling me onwards. I tried desperately to let go, but my fingers seemed to be sinking into the hilt … it felt as though the sword was becoming part of me. The horror stories I’d been told about the dangers of Objects of Power suddenly felt terrifyingly real. I’d made a horrific mistake.

“Stop,” Dad’s voice said. He was behind me. The sword froze in my hands. “Put the blade down.”

I obeyed. The sword no longer felt part of me. It’s light dimmed the moment I let go of the hilt. And then I swung around and hugged my father, desperately. I knew he was going to be angry, I knew I was going to be punished, but … I wanted to hold him. I wanted to know it was going to be alright. I wanted …

“That was unwise,” Dad said, lifting me into his arms. “You’re nowhere near ready to touch the sword.”

“But I could touch the sword,” I said, plaintively. Alana had been wrong. I was my father’s daughter. “I’m one of the family. Right?”

“Oh, Caitlyn,” Dad said. He held me tightly. I heard a faint choke in his voice. “Was that ever in doubt?”

I couldn’t answer. Not then. But we both knew the truth.

MERRY CHRISMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR

24 Dec

Hi, everyone

First, MERRY CHRISMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of my readers. I’ve started a free book promotion – see link here – for 24th December to 26th. Please feel free to check them out or share the post. I’ve also added Storm Front to Kindle Unlimited.

It’s been a wild month. As you know, my second son was born on the 23rd November and things have been a little erratic since then. Thankfully, my mother-in-law was able to take care of Eric and allow me to finish my planned schedule to some degree (while the baby slept) although some of my plans have been thrown into the crapper.

I’m going to be taking most of the remainder of December and at least half of January off, depending on events. After that, well …

The good news is that I now have a contract for books 6-8 of the Angel in the Whirlwind series – Kat Falcone’s books. (The Hyperspace Trap will be coming out in February, although it’s more of a spin-off.) I’ve also completed The Promised Lie (The Unwritten Words I) and Alassa’s Tale (SIM 14.5). I’m hopeful they’ll be released soon.

Therefore, my plan for the next few months looks like this:

Feb – The Zero Equation (Zero 3)

March – Invincible (Ark 12)

April – The Princess in the Tower (SIM 15)

May – The Embers of War (Kat Falcone 6)

I’m considering other novellas set within the SIM universe, although so far I don’t have a coherent plot. Let me know what you’d like to see.

Chris

Magic in Allrianne

24 Dec

More from the Zero verse.  And spoilers …

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