The Music of the Spheres: A Cover

This has been my pet project for like years and I do want to actually finish it in 2017.

I stalk cover artists and when this one, by Desiree DeOrto, came up in her latest sale I took one look, checked my Patreon balance, and screamed: “MINE!!!” so loudly a half-dozen people were hoping the sale would fall through so they could buy it. I have several of her covers earmarked for different projects but this one just screamed Music. It’s like she read one of the scenes and did a custom cover but with the price tag of a premade.

*joy*

I’m easing into this one, the trick isn’t to dive in and drown, it’s to take it slowly, to plan and research. This cover, oh it’s so pretty and my current favourite. I don’t have the cash to edit or format right now so I’m going to focus on whatever project makes me feel hapy. Right now, that’s Music. Tomorrow it might be something else. Who knows. Yay for my weird autistic bipolarness!

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My Plan for 2017: Be Like D

No seriously. Look at him, this is the most chilled out, ‘I don’t give a fuck’ cat on the planet. He’s the world’s best feline role model, even if he’s bitey.

For my health, I need to chill out. I’ve spent 2016 taking on too much, pushing myself too far. It’s not that bad; I got off with a micro, stress-induced manic phase and one hard-core suicidal one, coupled with time of the month crashing (thanks, body). That’s light considering the Five Manic Episodes of 2015.

But it doesn’t mean I can do that shit again.

2017 is going to be about self-care, about being a little selfish. I need to get my triggers and IBS under control, as well as focusing on snowballing my way out of debt. Plus 2016 was a shit year (bar like two things) and needs to burn and the earth salted. I don’t know if next year is going to be better but I need to take it out.

Writing-wise, my aim is to quietly potter on whatever calls my attention. I will still try and submit short stories (I have enough for a collection at this point and sending them out is easy enough that I can do it in my sleep thanks to the Grinder). I’m also aiming to get some work done on longer projects before doing a full rebrand once I have the money in 2018, republishing all my books under the Asha Bardon byline.

But as for publishing and, especially, editing. No. I haven’t got the energy to go through the process, much less the crowdfunding side of things. I’ve got to learn that saying I’ll do something doesn’t bind me into actually doing it and things will get in the way which will always call issues.

I need space to breathe, space to write without expectation. That’s what 2017 is about.

On a personal front, I’m coping pretty well. I’m adulting, though I hate it, and surviving without bipolar medication. The trick is staying calm, monitoring my moods and using the 30-day waiting period before purchases, big or small. It’s still a fine line and I don’t know when the next obsession or manic phase will strike. That scares me.

I’m still worried about Class and New Dog but it’s on the backburner. I don’t need to worry about that right this second. New Dog will come when she’s ready and I’m very used to waiting. For now, all I can do is enjoy the end of year peace, the chance to reflect. Gods know I have a heap of things to look forward to in the coming months.

It’s hard, though. My brain is stuck in ‘what awful thing is next’ mode. It’s a bit like flight mode except it’s more about anxiety than instinct. I have an amazing therapist whose helping and I’m finding that if I can avoid things which trigger me then I’m much more able to cope. I spent the rest of my time reading up on living with various conditions, coping with narcissistic people (avoidance/NC works for me).

Some things are unavoidable but Habitica gives me bonus points for those.

I’m lucky in that I have people around me who are amazing, a core group who are my chosen family. Ironically, it’s taken the last year for me to realise who that actually involves. Some of my oldest friends are no longer friends because their worldviews differed so much with mine, and my needs, that it turned nasty. I don’t need people who spew poison or try to control me in my life, especially not when I’m trying to dig myself out of a hole I’ve created.

The important people, they’ve been at my side all the long and I can’t thank them enough for it.

So yeah, the next twelve months are about me. I’m actually looking forward to it as my main focus has been ‘I need to be x in case y or z calls’. The trick is shifting my focus to ‘I’m going to x because I want to, meeting up with an alphabet of people is a bonus’. I need to teach myself that it’s okay if I want dinner or see a movie, I don’t need other people unless we make a date. I need to live my life for me, not for anyone else, even though all the people in my life are awesome enough to get that I’m stupidly altruistic and don’t abuse that.

At the same time I like my routine, it keeps me from descending into slobbery and I’m proud of that. I don’t want to be the stereotypical ‘on benefits’ person who sleeps into midday and, besides, productivity is my friend. Early mornings mean peace and quiet and I value that a lot, just as I do the odd quiet day at home with a queue of movies lined up.

So wish me luck as we finally see the back of 2016 and begin a new, fresh, year. I’m looking forward to it already.

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The Atridia Duology: Three Stories in Two Books (With Excerpts)

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Despite the image above this is not a trilogy. It’s a duology. For the sake of my sanity (tenuous as it is), rather than slice The Divided Land into The Fractured Era and The Broken World, I’m writing in its own folder and will splice later. You can however see where it’s split: The Mortal Gods will feature in Fractured while The Singularity will be found in Broken.

I made this image to represent the series. The city represents the Taborin of Juran’s time, a futuristic city that blinds the viewer to darkness hidden behind glass spires and the veneer of science and knowledge. The field, the regrown trenches where wars were once fought that are a memory evoked in Jaada’s novel and, finally, Atridia itself as it struggles to adjust to a new place within the Union, one which involves revisiting its own past in order to heal properly.

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But you want a taste, right? A sample? Well here are three.

Here’s an excerpt from Fractured:

Juran was an eager child, he looked forward to his first days of schooling with a zeal few children could match. On the chosen day, the one set aside for intake, his mother dressed him carefully, aided by Usaki, their progenitor. Then both his parents walked him the twenty minutes or so, though crowded, stone-paved and tree-lined streets, to the school in which he’d been enrolled. 

As they walked away from the house, which was all he’d known bar the local parks and a small cluster of shops, Juran remembered Usaki wiping tears of pride from its eyes as he turned to look back and waved goodbye. He didn’t understand why it was crying, after all he’d only be gone the day. Tonight the four of them would sit around the table as they always did, sharing the food Usaki had made.

Mother Reshi and father Danuk were both so proud, Juran having gained a place at one of the most prestigious schools in all Taborin, which had counted some of the planet’s greatest scientists as alumni and they themselves had attended as children. 

They had fought hard to see him go here, arguing that an excellent start to his education would see him soar later and both were convinced, thanks to the blending of genetics in the melting pot of Usaki’s womb, that he would have his father’s mind and his mother’s logic. 

According to Juran’s test scores, they were right.

Knowing about the entrance examinations required by the school, both Danuk and Reshi had started him early, turning play into learning. She began teaching him his letters and the dying art of cursive handwriting as soon as he could hold a stylus with chubby, childlike fingers. 

Danuk, meanwhile, had gone out into a specialist shop, commissioning a set of child’s playing things. On Juran’s second birthing day, he presenting his son with blocks inscribed with elements and showing him how to take them, using carbon as a heart, and turn them into molecules like water or air.

Juran loved it.

On that first morning, dressed in the school’s uniform, a micro version of adult clothes which would set their minds to a future goal, Juran stood in the front line, waiting for registration. There were two perfect rows of fifteen other children, boy standing next to girl standing next to boy, all identical in their uniforms. Childlike microcosms of adult society, so full of promise and expectation.

Behind them was a third row, this one of neutrally-dressed progenitor children; eight of them and this was the day when Juran learned that not all genders were treated equally. All schools, he later learned, were required to take progenitors though the education given to the third sex was not mandated by the state but, instead, left up to the individual schools. He watched as names were marked off and a female teacher led them away to a classroom on the far side of the campus.

He had never met a progenitor other than Usaki. They looked like Atridians of either gender, though their features were uniform and almost bland. They didn’t look like boys or like girls but instead seemed suspended between and far away. He knew they were essentially walking wombs for the carrying of children thought what that involved was unknown to his child’s mind.

Juran watched they moved, almost as if they’d been taught subservience from birth. There was no raucous chattering, laughter or even words. Yet when he looked into the eyes of the closest progenitor, marked out by a name badge as Kotori, he saw a mind behind them, active and alive, drowning in anxiety and frustration, the cost of compliance.

“Don’t stare, Juran Elaspe.” One of the teachers admonished. “Come now, follow me, children.”

They were given a short tour, guided through landscaped gardens and a large grass-covered space the teacher informed them was for sports, lap-running and other outdoor activities. Juran hated running and the day was a warm one so when they finally stepped inside, away from the twin suns’ light, it took him a moment to adjust.

The building used to educate the youngest children was a single floored building with solar panels on the gently sloping roof, the eaves overhanging so low that, in the winter, beskathi bats would hang upside down, much to the delight of the children. Even in the melancholy that took him in the darker months of cold, Juran loved to watch them, hanging from tiny feet that seemed like their hands but in microcosm.

The carpet was soft under their socked feet, their shoes stored in boxes marked with each child’s name, right above lockers in which to store their bags and a first day’s lunch, lovingly made by parents or progenitors. The UV-protective glass protected their skins from Hadob’s fiery magnificence, from Oanon too, and offered stunning panoramas of the grass covered grounds, of the raised planters and the climbing frames and pits filled with sand.

The walls were covered in posters, one had numbers and the most basic of mathematical formulae, mostly simply addition and multiplication. Another had the letters of the main Atridian alphabets, the local, older, dialect and the common tongue. Juran hadn’t even realised there was a second dialect spoken in the city, his parents had never conversed with him in anything but the main dialect, the one spoken all over the planet as a unifying language.

There was one other sign, given pride of place and laminated to last. The light caught it and Juran had to stand just so in order to read it. There were images and words, both: an image he recognised as meaning ‘male’, another that said ‘female’ and the final one which was the mark for ‘progenitor.

He sounded out the words in his head, the strokes that made up the words and the message: One male, one female, one progenitor = family. Nothing more, nothing less.

He found himself staring at the poster, unsure of precisely what it mean or why it was even there. He seemed to be the only one who had even noticed it and the tutor, Teacher Hevali, gently called for his attention. He promptly forgot the poster existed even as it confined to form part of the white noise of his existence all through his education.

“Good morning, welcome to the Gahverin School of Childhood Excellence. You are all very lucky children and come from families who care deeply about your education and your futures. Past graduates of this school have gone on to become innovators, scientists, scholars and iconoclasts. If you study hard, if you apply yourselves, you too will join them. Now, tell me, what do you want to be?”

They went around the class, boys and girls answering. One girl called Kitraia wanted to become an innovator, charged with working for the good of the people, a boy named Yerin wanted to be an engineer working with vehicles. As they approached him, Juran realised he had no idea and burned crimson as the teacher asked:

“And you, Juran, what would you like to be when you become an adult?”

“I don’t know, teacher.” 

The boy next to him snorted with laughter and Juran suddenly wanted to cry, his shame exposed for all to see but he hadn’t known he’d be asked this question. He vowed to prepare, next time he would not be caught out and, instead, he began to run possible scenarios in his mind so he would never again be shamed.

“Amel, enough!” Hevali snapped. “I suppose you know what you wish to do, eh?”

The boy, Amel, puffed up his chest and nodded solemnly. “I want to work for the Space Administration and command a ship of my own. I want to see the stars beyond the Two, become a pilot.”

Juran frowned. “A spaceship?”

“My mother works for the space fleet.” The boy boasted, though Juran was sure he heard something in the other boy’s voice that suggested he was lonely and missed his female parent.

The name didn’t mean anything to him but Juran was amazed. He had no idea there were ships drifting through space though, logically, it made sense. Especially when, after a morning of introductions, Teacher Hevali explained the layout of the world and Atridia’s place in the system of Hadob and Oanon. 

There were three planets, one of light, one of earth and one of water. Atridia was the first, closest to their two stars and the most advanced in technology and social peace. Next to them—several dozen billion miles away—was lush Arcadia that exported doctors and the important inoculations that Juran would endure over the next few days. Finally, there was the mysterious and somewhat unknown water world, Atlantia, with its strange submarine dwellers with their own cities and civilisation, bipedal but creatures of the ocean who seldom lifted their heads above the water’s surface.

Some of the girls found this idea, of underwater creatures sleek as fish, as something to fixate upon but Juran dismissed their dream-like fascination. The undersea, it might as well be space. There was no air, no gravity and no Atridian could survive long there. The pictures showed unfriendly outcroppings, land made from larva cooled in the sea and a strange sky, tinged enough that it didn’t look like the blue of their own.

And water, so much water.

During the break, while the other children drank viri milk and ate fresh bread filled with sausage or cured meats and herbs, Juran ignored his own food and stuck his head out of the classroom door into the long, echoing corridor. The floor caught the long lights, reflected. It was too soft to be stone but had a quality which made it feel strange. 

He grasped for the right word: Imposing? No. Terrifying? No. Alien. Maybe. Ah, wait, forbidding. That was it.

The atmosphere was completely different to the classroom, more forbidding than he had ever encountered.

“Juran, come and drink your milk!”

Juran sighed and did as the teacher asked, gulping down the grey liquid with a scrunched nose. He hated the taste, the smell, and it turned his stomach even as the liquid lined it. The bread was better, filling, and it would keep him going until lunchtime. The he was half way done with the day and it would be nearly time to go home.

He began to count down the hours, wanting nothing more than to be at home with his books and the sea of knowledge ready to be absorbed via his parents’ librarium of books. He would curl up in Usaki’s arms and it would sing gently, not a lullaby but an ancient song that felt almost like a story being told.

The boy who’d boasted earlier sat next to him. “What’s your name?”

“Juran Elaspe.” Juran replied. “Do you really want to pilot a starship?”

“My mother is on long-term secondment on the Array.” Amel said and Juran knew he meant the telescopes which hovered on the edge of their system, watching out for future calamities and other astronomic phenomena. “I want to be like her, to go to the edge of known space. My father works at the Directorate, planning out future space missions.”

“So does your progenitor look after you?”

“No,” Amel said and frowned. “We’re going to sleep here, when school is done. Didn’t you realise that?”

Juran paled and shook his head. “So we’ll never go home?”

“Oh well, our parents will come and visit but we have beds here, books too. Can you write yet?”

He nodded. “The main dialect. My mother taught me cursive. I know the elements too.”

“What are elements?” the boy asked.

“You use them to make things like water or people.” Juran explained.

“That sounds really cool. I’m Amel,” the boy said and grinned. “Let’s be friends.”

Here’s an excerpt from Broken:

Jaada was having nightmares again.

A tiny part of her mind, the piece she’d trained over many years, held sway and kept her calm as the narrative played itself out to conclusion. This was a dream, she knew it. The familiarity only confirmed it but it didn’t make it any easier to bear. She was in a chair, hands bound to the arm rests, lights shining in her eyes that were so bright, her brain pulsed in her skull. The world was swimming around her, the lights glowing with a halo stark against the gloom of the room.

Despite her lucidity, the fear burned through her. That was why she hated dreaming, there was this part she couldn’t control and it reminder her of her tenure in the Hall of the Mind, when drugs had made her lose control. She never wanted to experience that loss again and it was that which haunted her still, not the imprisonment, not the self-imposed solitary confinement or the cocktail of mind-altering drugs.

It was the loss.

Consciousness cut the dream off before the worst bit began, before the auditors had tried to tell her she was mad, that she didn’t want to get well. Before, she really lost control and the worlds began to grow like crystals, fragile and brilliant. They had been beautiful and imperfect, collapsing within moments of their birth, unable to stand alone or be anything more than echoes. It burned her as they died, a thousand supernovas fading into the dark, never quite strong enough to keep the bubbles of reality from imploding.

The room was cool and nearly silent, a fan gently spinning above her head. Kaoishran summers were short but brutal and she was still trying to get used to the twilight world on which she’d found her sanctuary. Though a world of many suns, Mnemosyne had periods of silence, even if none of the stars ever set at the same time. She found the skies calmed her, the spheres of light floating in gaseous glory, blue-white and eternal.

She felt for the light, letting its muted glow dispel some of the darkness. The pen and notebook were on her night table, where she’d left them. It was often, in those moments before sleep, that her best ideas coalesced. She’s learned the hard way that sleep wiped them from her mind and so scribbled notes to remind herself of their souls, the pure essence of thought.

The timepiece said first dawn was coming, Alcyone would rise soon and the world would start waking up. Jaada knew in her gut she wouldn’t be able to get anymore sleep so she rose, washed her face in the sink and pulled on a summer dress left behind from her time living in Serani. She wore it for comfort, one of the last thing she’d bought before Tobai stumbled into her life and began to slowly strangle her.

Tea would help, it always did.

Jaada enjoyed walking through the sleeping streets. It reminded her, just a little, of the river-centred megacity of Serani. Mythreia had managed to retain its sleepiness even after the Union declared Mnemosyne the new capital of a world-spanning entity. Jaada had a small apartment in the north of the city, about as far from the river as you could go while still within the city’s borders. She found the compactness of her rooms calming, the Hall of the Mind had been large and maze-like and she found comfort, surrounded by her possessions and her words.

The tea shop in the square near the river was just opening when she took her accustomed seat outside, the early morning breeze pleasant as opposed to the heat which would come later as the city sweltered in its own bones. The waiter bid her good morning and she ordered the breakfast blend and a bowl of porridge.

“Excuse me, do you mind if I join you?” 

The Taborin dialect almost made her flinch and Jaada’s eyes followed the sound to see a figure standing across from her, teacup held in one hand. They were obviously a progenitor, despite the choice of dress. and Jaada had to remind herself that wasn’t an uncommon thing, the city attracted many from all the worlds within the Union, including those from her own planet.

“That depends on who you are.”

Gold skin, violet eyes and a Mnemosynian dress and sandals. Whomever this person was, they knew the weather. They was also blind; a staff held in their other hand, white and polished.

“My name is Vira Dansho, I’m head of the commission investigating the Directorate. You’re Jaada Serani, are you not?”

Jaada felt her stomach turned to stone, sinking just as deep and quickly. “I’m done campaigning.”

“This isn’t about the Hall of the Mind.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Maybe a little, it was one of many dubious practises we’re trying to uncover. The Directorate is a piece of fruit with many segments inside. We’re trying to look at the entire picture.”

“No offence to you, but how did a progenitor get to be commission head?”

“I was elected to the position five weeks ago. I’ve worked in legal services since the Directorate finally decided we could do more than just bear children, when the Union forced them to realise we had rights just as you do. I helped my siblings get access to the things they need, most weren’t even aware they had a right to ask for.” Vira smiled. “And, given the discrimination my gender’s suffered, I was keen to see the truth revealed.”

“You identify?” Jaada asked, knowing some progenitors preferred one or other gender. Not all, but some, a tiny portion of the official genderless population. More were genderfluid, like water in a cup, flowing to fill space and moving into new roles with the Union’s birth, previously locked to male and female.

They smiled. “Sometimes. Today I simply wanted to wear a dress. It caught my attention, the feel of the material, and lulled me into a purchase a few days ago. I’m told the pattern is quite beautiful.”

“It is.” Jaada conceded. “No one else is up, how did you know I was here?”

“A few questions, you’re predictable in your habits. And people notice you, even though you’ve adopted this planet as your home.”

“If you’re commission head, then you know precisely why.”

“And I can understand your reasons, I empathise with them as well. What the auditors did to you was unforgivable and I have to thank you for helping end their tyranny.” A pause. “I had a relative: Vadis, he identified as male, even had surgery so his body matched his mind. The auditors didn’t believe he was a progenitor and when they did, they couldn’t understand him or his choices. His very presence broke their world-view and they couldn’t deal with it.”

“Then I apologise for any assumptions made. What pronoun do you prefer, Vira?”

Jaada knew, amongst themselves, that the progenitors preferred ‘they’. Until recently, the official pronoun of choice had been ‘it’ which she knew was best understood as derogatory, suggesting progenitors were things and not people. It was polite to ask and not assume, especially as identifying didn’t always mean the progenitors took on the gender-specific pronoun.

“‘They’ is fine. Might I ask your aid in return? You’re free to say no, if you wish, but I’m hoping you’ll agree.”

“I will, at least, listen.” Jaada said, after all it was only polite. Especially when Vira had traveled all this way to seek her out. “My parents and progenitor taught me to be polite.”

“I assumed as much.” Vira smiled. “The commission exists to decide if what the Directorate did was illegal.”

“Surely that’s obvious?”

“That’s the problem, they were thorough in their rewriting of history. We don’t actually know what happened during the Singularly for example and even we progenitors, well we have an oral history, our own myths and legends that don’t actually gives us much about where we truly came from.”

“And I can help how?”

“I was told by an unimpeachable source you’re sensitive to something called the Narrative? To great stories?”

“Did a woman tell you this?”

“She sounded female, yes.”

Jaada noticed her hands shaking, felt the wave of terror rush over her. Her stomach clenched, bile rushed into her throat and she struggled to speak, to get the words out, as the past flooded her myriad senses and tried to drown her where she sat.

Here’s an excerpt from Divided:

The trenches smelled of shit and death.

Life’s blood spilled and turning the mud into something darker than simply dirt and water. Had the warring sides been fans of blood magic, as the old stories said each had once been before pre-history, before science and medicine, art and order, perhaps they might have invoked dark gods fuelled by sorrow. The old legends said they could be summoned in places of true despair, mortals foolishly thinking of them as weapons that could be sicced them on the other side. Each waiting to see who walked from the chaos with their lives.

But war, for the Xoikari and the Tabori, it was simpler than that. More bloody.

They were perennially at war with each other, perhaps once every other generation things would simply break down. Armistices and treaties would burn. Everyone of the cursed age would find themselves drafted, male and female alike, into service on those bloodied fronts. Each day lives would be lost over a few inches, perhaps a metre or a mile, of land. The follow day, trenches still blood-soaked, the war would be reset and more would be sent to literal slaughter.

Eventually, lives and cannon fodder depleted, each side would meet—unable to admit that their depleted numbers were a cursed battle strategy neither side could break—and a temporary peace would fall over Medran, north and south co-existing in an uneasy truce once more.

The true source of the enmity between them? Little things that would have made other peoples, other species, laugh.

The north was known for science, for facts and figures, ordered books and even more precise lives.. The South, well though just as advanced, they preferred focus on art and faith. Yes, in the aftermath, it was the Xoikari who replaced limbs and switched up battle-wounded men and women lucky to have survived the killing fields, but it was the Tabori who decried science was the true path of peace.

Neither city-state, which gradually amassed lands around its own hub over many years and more lifetimes, wanted war, it was simply all they knew, engrained into them as lessons from a parent to a child. Taborin, as the larger city holding the north, wanted dominion and order over all of Medran, each tiny town and province under their order. Xoikari, in the southern lands, simply wanted to be left to pursue their people’s passions. They had no interest in ruling but neither did they wish to be ruled.

So they fought and there was war, until there was peace. Then the trench-grass was left to regrow, the heartland of Medran given a generation to heal.

But the bloodied mud would come again, it always did.

As far as I’m concerned, I plan to get this project done over the summer. As you can see, 50k (most of it from Fractured) exists already but that’s just a start. I do hope, however, the entire duology isn’t 300k long in total, that’s my upper limit though I expect it to be less.

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The Music of the Spheres: A Dalliance of Prose

 

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A couple of years ago, I got to beta read the awesome novel Eleanor by Jason Gurley. Twice. Seriously, you should totally go and buy a copy, it has the most beautiful cover, whether you get the UK or US version. Once it was a trilogy and that was when I fell in love with Jason’s cover design and decided he would be the one to create the covers for my own trilogy, The Changing of the Sun.

But it also inspired me to write something else.

I was at college at the time, doing a creative writing course. Oh and I was getting distinctions, like a record-breaking number of them. To be fair, I had twenty four years on most of my classmates in terms of practice. I was bored and going back to school gave me something to focus on, and a hell of a lot of stress.

But I also had this idea, started sketching out not a chapter but a precis for the arrival of an alien race who communicate via music, who have learned to manipulate reality by changing the core melodies of the universe. All through the eyes of a deaf young woman named Sophie. On the other side, in another time, are two aliens, a mother and her son from the world of Parthi. Jaithiri, the Soloist of Peace, is a retiring diplomat offered a place as part of the mysterious Chorus. Her son, Raathi, is left with a mystery of her disappearance and her research into a dead planet. At the same time, he dreams of a girl who doesn’t look like any known species, though he finds her kind in Jaithiri’s notes and the mysterious point in history simply called Before.

The tenses for this are fun; third person present. Oh and I’m writing it in a font called Cochin which is reminiscent of the way I was taught to write cursive as a child. Note the old-fashioned way of writing s. This was how my old-school teacher, Mrs Askham, instructed me in writing ‘properly’ long before the computer keyboard and shiny fonts:

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Sophie herself ‘speaks’ in italics, as above, without quotation marks. She signs, though she can speak. She prefers to do so only in the company of her cat and her close family. I’m still not exactly sure how Sophie’s story meshes with Raathi and Jaithiri, only that the Chorus is involved. I’m also pitching this as a young adult romance, a stand-alone story, that has a dream-like quality.

I’m writing the ‘alien’ bits first but it’s fun as I know very little about music and I love the idea that music can shape the world and transform the universe.

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Blurbs: The Fractured Era and The Broken World

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This morning I officially started the next draft of The Fractured Era and actually the 40k I have is a solid basis. I know exactly what happens and when/how. It’s quite reassuring actually.

Oh and here’s the blurb: 

Everyone in the Union knows the name Juran Elaspe.

Everyone knows he was the father of intergalactic space travel, a polymath, an engineer and architect of the first artificial intelligence. They know the ship he created, bearing his name, was there when the waters parted and the races gathered.

No one knows how he died. Not really. Or how he lived.

Born on a planet segregated by sex, Juran is raised to believe that male, female and progenitor make family, no more, no less. He excels in school and makes important friendships which will last his entire lifetime. And one, fatal, mistake: he falls in desperate, hopeless love with the wrong person.

In an attempt to save himself, Juran buries himself in building the first interstellar ship, a vessel capable of going beyond the Sirian system and into deep space, far beyond even their greatest telescopes. In the process he will lose his mind and himself, for love, for his creation, for his species and their future.

And it won’t be enough.

There’s a lot less of The Broken World but I do know the plot. Also I know it includes a cameo from Kella, who appears in The Parting of the Waters. This book takes places maybe ten to fifteen years after the Gathering. I know Amel Denium (also of Parting and TFE) dies and it’s not in a pretty way.

He’s one of the big witnesses for the commission trying to find out exactly what the Directorate got up too. Going from ambassador to a criminal in the span of a few days. He’s also the lynchpin in the Commission’s case, one of several people, living and dead, who become figureheads for the corruption.

His daughter Kella serves, right at the end, to help Jaada come to terms with her abilities and her role in what is, by anyone’s estimation, one of the great stories of the Union, and Atridia’s, history.

Here’s the blurb:

Jaada Serani cannot forget and forgiveness is bitter on her tongue.

A talented author, her past is stained by incarceration in a madhouse where she almost lost control, creating worlds and universes from the ether. For a single moment she tasted transcendence and now it haunts her every time she picks up a pen.

Though freed, she lives in terror of losing control and is trying to live quietly, teaching others how to spin words into stories. In the aftermath of the Union’s birth, when she is asked to return home to Atridia, her first reaction is fear. She has run to the heart of the known universe and yet her species’ past continues to chase her down.

Once world-spanning, the Directorate has collapsed; it’s death-rattle echoing across known space. A century’s worth of crimes have finally laid in the bare light of day and no one is sure of what is truth and what was manufactured to suit the Directorate’s control.

Lies were told, a gender subverted and people erased from history but the Directorate did a good and thorough job. Now the past is muddied, faces obscured and countless made to disappear in the name of the greater good. 

A natural muse, sensitive to the flow of reality, only Jaada can retrace the truth path of the history the Directorate tried to alter. Only she can restore what they tried to expunge.

But doing so might just destroy her.

Sounds good, yes?

Oh and The Divided Land, I’m pretty sure that’s going to be the name of one of the novelettes or novels Jaada writes during the second book, even if it’s going to appear in the first (maybe it’ll span both). Jaada is, first and foremost, an author so framing fact as fiction is going to come more naturally to her, especially as she’s sensitive to the narrative and great stories of reality.

I’m pretty sure the second book will echo the ‘story within a story’ narrative of the first, though I’m not sure what it’s going to be called or even what the story is. I like the idea of the balance though, of current events and a fictionalised, but accurate, past.

I bought a sketch pad this morning so I can draw maps. I like having something to refer to, plus there are a couple of locations I need to work out, like Taborin, the capital city of the Directorate’s continent-spanning empire. I just need to be in the right mood to do it, and finish timelining. Just writing this post has revealed a couple of new things I didn’t know which is just exciting.

Wish me luck.

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First Drafts: A Non-Fiction Extract from The Fractured Era

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My favourite bit about writing is actually doing the non-fiction bits which add a little more flavour to the worlds. Sometimes they’re news items or book excerpts. The one, one of the first bits I wrote for The Fractured Era was this little piece designed to send as an opening to the main text. This establishes the facts of the book: Juran Elaspe is going to die and he’s going to meet his end for all the wrong reasons at the hands of a government that wants to prescribe societal norms. In this case, a three-person family (male, female and progenitor) plus children.

He doesn’t fulfil those normals, not in the least and that’s where the story lies, at least some of it anyway:

Though spoken of, often in the same breath as Eria Daen, Albert Einstein, Radak Icheb, Kadjat Suru and Nikola Tesla, Juran Elapse’s contribution to the annals of science is often fixated on his tachyon sail and the ship named in his honour, one of his life’s greatest works.

But this is a man who created one of the first artificial intelligences (acknowledged by scholars and scientists alike as Kalafia, the keeper of Maros’ Orrery in Kasan, Coronis), who struggled his entire life with what the Atridian government still call a ‘terminal illness’ despite that fact that love didn’t kill Juran Elaspe, the state did. 

His death was one hundred percent avoidable and starkly contrasts how the Atridian Directorate blithely chose between the genius of its scientists and extinguishing their lives to keep the status quo intact once their usefulness was extracted.

A status quo which died within two generations of the Gathering but still remains spoken of like it was a Golden Age, even one made of pyrite.

Taken from Juran Elaspe: A Short Biography of the Father of Interstellar Travel.

The best part is, I actually feel ready to write this. The world building, the story, it’s a flower waiting to open and I love that. The first draft is always where I get to learn the story and that’s the best bit. I know where the story begins and ends but how I’m going to get there, that’s like driving without knowing which route you’re going to take to your destination.

I know this book is about artificial intelligence, sexuality, gender and religion and faith in an age of science/a giant conspiracy. I want to explore a society built on the bones of a whopping great lie, a scientocracy forged in a desire to destroy the other in the same of survival. The other, in this case, is another civilisation whose existence has become a ‘you or them’ scenario. This is why it’s called The Fractured Era, because it revolves around the Singularity.

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First Drafts: My Untitled Ashteraiverse Blind Lawyer Stories

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I actually don’t know what this is yet. A novel? A series? Short stories? Novellas. There’s definitely more than one though because they’re each set in a different year. Randomly writing scenes has been my guilty pleasure while I should be doing other things, like revising short stories and finishing  Ash Seeketh Ember (which I’ve just now finished).

I know the basic outline and that each story involves a particular case from a technopathic teenager to an alien cleric accused of murder. Oh and the legal ramifications of interspecies sex in London, that’s my favourite. I have five sketched out, each taking place in a different year, from 2016 through 2028. The final story ushers in Second Contact and the Terran Schism, the Ashteraiverse endgame, which I’ve been wanting to write for nearly a decade.

For now, here’s a rough first draft exploring one of protagonist and Ashterai Elder Astraea’s dates with her eventual husband and soulmate, Marc, on a snowy day in January 2005.

Edit: And here’s the perfectly fitted song I found while writing it …

#

The day Tara died, it had snowed the night before and I was praying someone had gritted the streets.

I could taste the cold in the air, feel the burn on my skin as I huddled under layers of clothing, a turtleneck jumpers, a coat, an infinity scarf, thick boots with special studded oversoles that offered me some traction on snowy streets, trousers and wool socks. I hate being cold and sometimes it feels like I’ve been exposed to absolute zero in the moments before the heat death of the universe.

Maybe it was a memory, of before and beyond.

Bad weather makes me even more hyper-vigilant than I usually am. When your blind everything tries to kill you and snow, in particular, makes the streets deadly when you have a working set of all six senses. I was down one of the major ones.

“Hi, Tara.” Marc made me jump, waiting just outside the lobby of my building. “I wanted to meet you, the sidewalks are murder.”

“Sorry, you made me jump. Thank you.” I smiled, liking the fact he cared, risking his own life because he wanted to help me and not out of pity either but genuine concern.

“No, thank you. The weather was worrying me. I’m terrified I’m going to slip and break something.”

“What do you want to do today?” he asked, it was a Sunday and I’d been looking forward to a day with him. What we’d do hadn’t occurred to me.

I grinned. “Something new. Something I’ve never done before.”

So he kissed me.

#

You have to understand from the get-go that reality has rules.

That’s part of why now is better than the place I grew up. There were rules but they were fractured, nonsensical and we knew, all of us, a clean slate was required and guardians to make sure the rules are kept sacred. The world I was born into, it was a mess of cataclysmic proportions.

But I was never happy being disconnected from time and so I asked to live within it, with Marc as my companion. Each time we’re reborn in a different place and age, our memories are suppressed. For a while we think we’re normal, average, it makes it easier when Marc and I finally meet, when we remember who we are. We have people to be as a foundation and time to just be like everyone else, even if it’s only a few decades per lifetime.

We don’t always sync or fall in love. Once in a while I can go an entire lifetime believing I’m no one special—which is a good thing, it keeps you humble—until I hear the voices of the guides and my true self is reasserted. It’s like a tide rising on a beach, the water washes away the memories of my old life and I’m left knowing what I am, liberated from the cycle of life and death. It’s like waking up from a dream and it’s always easier when Marc is waiting for me.

“Saere?”

I looked up at him, my eyes opened the fraction I could allow and see his shadow against light then smiled. “Yes. Hey—”

He cut me off. “Don’t, not my first name. I’m not him anymore. Marc suits me better, don’t you think?”

“Yes.” I agreed. “I’ll always be Saere.”

“Shut your eyes, before you get a headache.” He gently set my dark wraparounds back over my nose, careful not to catch my ears. “Are you all right?”

I nodded. “I will be. Once I figure out who I am.”

“It’s easy, remember? I’m Marc and you’re Saere.”

“Except I’m also Tara.” I said. “We have families.”

“We always do.”

Maybe it was because I’d never had a family; my mother, the original one, was never in the picture and my father abandoned me, his blind daughter, to the street rather than claim me as his own. It was easier than be saddled with me, not that I even had time to be a burden on him. Not even the Princess of Stories could get him to be the better person and admit I was his, despite my mother naming me so, as his true child.

Perhaps getting over that was my true lesson and, if it was, it was one I still had trouble learning.

“Ahhh, I get it.” He knew this. “You have Dee.”

“Who do you have?”

“Parents, an aunt. You?”

“Dee and her husband have a baby, Ella. Our parents live in San Diego, enjoying the sunshine.”

“Are you close?”

“I guess. I speak to them once a week, if I remember.” I shrugged. “Can we get a coffee? Do this somewhere a little more warm.”

“We could go back upstairs?”

I shook my head. “I want to be around people, not because of you, not because I don’t trust you. I need to be Tara, not Saere.”

“Sure. We do have some catching up to do.” Marc suddenly flustered. “Do you want a hand?

I nodded. “We’ve just found each other, I’d rather this not be a quick meeting.”

With that I set my hand on his arm for the first time and we headed out into the snow.

#

The coffee mug in front of me smelled delicious, I cupped my hands around it for warmth. I felt like I’d spent the last two and half decades method acting my way through life. Tara was just the mask I’d worn and now it had been removed, a band aid pulled from a wound, raw and hurting.

Marc was doctoring his coffee, I prefer mind basic and boring. I could smell the headiness of recently roasted beans saturating the air and inhaled, coffee has always calmed me.

“So,” he said and sat down on the opposite side of the table. “How are we going to do this?”

“Carry on as normal.” I said, not even having to think about it. “It’s not time yet.”

“Okay.”

“Actually, give me one second before we talk about normality.” I picked up my phone and began to dial. The numbers were random but the intention was there, the desire to connect with someone not on this plane of reality.

“Lady Saere, hello.” Amber’s voice was warm and welcome, I could hear other ones behind her, as if she worked in a call center. “It’s been a while.”

“Indeed.” I said. “Would you mind calling me Astraea? Pass that around, too.”

“Not at all. I was about to ask. What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to announce my reappearance, Marc’s too.”

“Marc? Oh you mean Lord—”

“No need for titles, Amber, you know that.”

“Sorry, force of habit.” She said and I could hear the unspoken ‘Lady’ on her lips. The young like to give their elders epithets because we were there in the beginning, despite reminding us them they will be there at the end, just as we will.

“Oh and he’s decided on Marcus for now. Can you make sure his employees are aware if they’ve not already heard.”

“Done. In regard to yourself, would you like me to make sure Alycia, David and Matt are notified.”

“I’m sure they already know but please make sure they have a corporeal method of communication. My email, phone number.”

“I can do that.”

“Are the aware?”

“Everyone bar Alycia.”

That meant she was probably going to wake up with a bump. “Where is she?”

“Chicago. Erm, Lady?”

“Yes, Amber?”

“She’s in a relationship. With a human.”

“Ouch.” I winced. “Then definitely make sure she has my phone number. Actually, I need one from you if possible, for someone.”

“Sure. Just tell me who?”

The name popped into my head, a residual note left intentionally in the back of my human brain that I’d otherwise not know. “Chaya Jordan.”

“Shall I email it to you? Do you want me to let Lady Chaya know you want to speak to her?”

“She knows and, yes, please.”

“Thank you. Oh and Amber, has the new girl started yet?”

“New girl? I don’t believe so.”

“Damn, ask Chris to let me know when she does. He knows who I mean.”

I heard whispering and then Amber’s voice. “He says 2015.”

“Really? That ages away.” I sighed, hating that it was 2005. “Okay, thanks, Amber. Can you email me your number as well, I’d rather have a fixed line for you if I need you.”

“I’m typing it right now.”

“Thanks.” I said and signed off.

Marc was sipping his drink almost meditatively. “Everything okay?”

I was envious of his calm. As the Buddhist, I should have had it but reawakening, it always left me feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. I had a prescription in my bag—being a paralegal was stressful—and felt guilty reaching for the tiny bottle, as if by taking the little tablets I was proving mortality won out over my older self. “It will be.”

“You’re like this every time. It’s okay.”

“Easy for you to say. How do you do it? Be so calm?”

“I’m southern. Nothing phases me, Sae.”

I looked up at the sound of the contraction of my true name. “I missed you calling me that.”

“I’ll be better once I’ve spoken to Chaya, it’s my ritual.”

“You and her have always been close.” It sounded almost like a concession but he wasn’t jealous. She and I, we’d known each other longer. “And if it helps you come to terms with remembering, I’m all for it.”

I loved him in that moment, for the first time as Tara. “Thank you.”

“Do you know what you’re going to do? Are you going to tell Dee?”

“Not yet. She wouldn’t understand.” I said. “But I am going to change my name.”

“Oh?” Now he sounded curious. “That was … fast.”

“New life, new me.” I replied. “How do you like Astraea?”

I heard the frown. “That’s … Greek, right?”

“She was a goddess of justice in one of the older myths. Or the daughter of the goddess of justice, Themis. When the ages changed, she was the deity who stayed on Earth the longest.”

“Sounds like you.” He set his cup down. “Astraea Themis.”

I grinned. “That does sound good.”

“Dee is going to be …”

“Furious?”

“Wow, you’re actually scared of her, aren’t you?”

“You don’t have siblings.”

“Somehow that makes me glad. I’ve always been a loner though.” Marc murmured. “But I’m close to my family, my parents, my aunt.”

“I’m glad you had someone.” I said.

“Now we have each other.” I didn’t answer, not immediately, which unsettled him. “Sae? Did I say something wrong?”

“No, no. I’m just … it’s going to look odd. We’ve known each other a month.”

“So? We keep on dating, if you want to that is. We don’t have to get married and, even if we do, it’s not instant thing.”

“Yes.” I said. “And I do want to keep on seeing you.”

“So we keep on doing that. Or are you worried I have a ring in my back pocket or something?”

I must have sounded pained. “You don’t do you?”

“No. Do you know how much teachers make?”

“Probably more than a paralegal.”

“Quite possibly but not much more. Plus, you’re a feminist, if anyone’s going to ask, it’ll be you not me.”

“True.” I agreed. “My parents are going to want a proper Jewish wedding.”

“I thought you were Buddhist?”

I am. My family on the other hand are very Jewish, hence why Dee is so damn protective of me, and why she must never know I have bacon in my fridge. There’s a reason I go to stay with my sister on Friday nights. I can read Braille in Hebrew as well as English.”

“There are different versions?”

“For each language, yeah.”

“I thought Buddhists didn’t eat meat?”

“I’m a bad Buddhist. I got into it for the meditation and never quite got as far as giving up meat. I like meat.” I replied. “And now I get why. I thought it was all about the cycle, liberation from birth and death. It wasn’t, it was my Ashterai nature seeping through.”

“If it helps you, where’s the harm?”

“The stance on religion …”

“You’re human right now. Faith is never a bad thing.”

“I used to dream of a woman, I thought she was the Boddhisatva who bears my name.”

“She has lots of names. I think we only know a quarter of them. I used to hate church, it always felt like I shouldn’t have been in there, despite being dragged by my aunt. She’s a pious woman.” He stopped. “Wait, girlfriend?”

“Yes. Problem?”

“Am I the wrong gender?”

“No, stupid. I wouldn’t have let you buy me apology wine if I thought your masculinity mattered.”

“Why’d you break up with her? Your girlfriend?”

“She kept trying to cure me.”

I heard him wince. “Yes, I can see why that would be a problem.”

“I’ll make this easy: I like women and men, I like people. I just like you more.”

“No problems then.”

“Good.” I sipped my coffee. “I love how understanding you are.”

“I didn’t used to be. Marcus Hunter was known as being a little stern. Especially with his charges.”

“Then time to mellow in your middle age perhaps? Love can change people.”

“You sound like a movie tagline. Are you okay?”

My phone had started ringing and I must have gone the wrong shade of white. “It’s Dee.”

“So answer it.”

I fumbled with it, my heart stuck in my mouth. I’d not expected to have to speak to my sister so quickly after reawakening. “Dee?”

“Hey, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Did you have the same amount of snow as we did last night?”

“I don’t think so. I’m okay, I’m with Marc.”

“Wow, you two really are serious, aren’t you?”

I went bright red, my cheeks burning. Tara would blush, be embarrassed, the physical side-effects of my fake life were still there. I didn’t even have to pretend to be her and I almost felt relived.

“No comment.”

Dee was laughing but then said, serious. “Well at least you’re safe. I was worried about you with the streets so icy.”

“Marc’s a gentleman and I’m always careful, you know that.”

“Cool. Listen, give me a call later in the week? Paul wants you two to come to dinner. Mom and Dad will be in town too, she just called me to confirm the flights.”

“Sure.” I said. “I’ll call you once I’ve got my diary in front of me.”

“Don’t forget.”

“I won’t.”

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A Star Filled Sea: The Final Covers

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So I did this Kickstarter a year ago (holy crap, that’s a long time ago) for a novel projects called A Star Filled Sea and am now waiting on the final ebook/print version from Polgarus (they’re due to start the project today).

This is my first novel under my new byline and doesn’t it look snazzy? Scarlett did an amazing job (as always). This project has taken longer than I planned but it’s well worth it. I’m just looking forward to getting it done and dusted so I can focus on new stuff (and fulfil my obligations to my backers).

You can get look at the variant (not quite finished) paperback cover which uses a similar image but horizontal:

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Oh and, as a bonus, here’s Ben Adams’ interior art:

Ben Adams made me this for the novel.

I’m not yet sure on a release date but it won’t be long. I’m really looking forward to seeing the cover for this one and holding the print proofs. Next to The Parting of the Waters, this is my favourite cover so far. I’ll update you with more when I have it but for now, this feels like the homeward stretch and I’m glad to be nearly done. I want to move onto more projects, different things, and there is, of course, a trilogy of Josh and Chaya to work on.

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