Treason

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A couple of months ago Caffé Nero finally opened their second branch (third if you count the concession in House of Fraser) in Norwich on the outside of Chapelfield, our big Intu shopping mall. I went in a couple of times because it was quiet and I was with other people, we sat in their comfy sofa and lounged/made phone calls. I found the place small and a bit intimidating because it’s so nice and new.

Fast forward to November and I’m moving in. I’ve promised Rachel (my favourite Starbucks partner) I will be coming back once a week and once I have New Dog. It’s just that my anxiety’s been awful recently, purely because of the number of ‘Where’s your dog?’ conversations I’ve had to have with people who recognise me as a regular. At the same time the business of the place is making it hard for me to actually work … I spent five hours one day sitting watching Netflix rather than actually writing plus I find the exposure … well, it’s too much.

I could have moved upstairs but the WiFi is shit (and there are steps steeper than my house stairs) and with my BFFs having dogs/boots on their foots, stairs seem unfair. Especially as my former seat was right by the bar and thus close to the disabled loo and the baristas who’d always watch my stuff for me.

As a kid I liked enclosed spaces where I was on my own and when I realised Nero had a nook (right by the bar which means it’s lovely and warm), I decided to move. Ironically, I’ve been a regular visitor for the last two weeks anyway as I wanted breakfast (buying some croissants and taking them next door as Starbucks food … well it’s not the chain’s strongest point). This is mainly as there’s been delivery issues and they’re going to start playing Christmas music on a loop.

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Nero’s is quieter, people leave me be and the baristas seem nice. I get the feeling they’ve been seening a lot of defectees recently. The only downside is they don’t quite have the speed of Starbucks partners, which actually, works in their favour. You get a few minutes to wait and savour the experience rather than waiting in a huddle with other caffine-deprived souls. It feels more impersonal but also a little more personal, which is a contraction to say the least.

The booth itself is larger, the bunkette bigger, as are the tables which means I can set up my full rig. There’s a powerpoint right by my ankle and loads of room for my coat, bag and cane. I can even set up my iPhone as a second screen for Westworld rewatching. The disabled loo is within my eye-line, the only downside are the pesky cushions and having to guess which of the seventeen WiFi networks is Nero’s/capable of connecting with Dropbox.

But I feel like a traitor.

Part of the problem, I think is the ease of Starbucks. You walk in, pay with your phone and walk out or sit down seconds later. I’ve frequently put £20 on my card while on the bus, only to frown at the transaction a day later when it hits my credit card. At Nero I pay with cash (I choose to) and have a stamp card which is good for my attempts at weaning myself off credit cards and onto a cash system. Living on cash is the secret to my getting out of debt plan (as is not checking TeeFury) or Kickstarter. It’s hard and there are always emergencies, some weeks are easiler than others but I’m transitioning.

Cash is also limiting but there’s plenty of water on offer which is just what I need as mochas make me thirsty. I also know croissants aren’t the best breakfast but considering I’m not usually a breakfast person, it’s a step up for me.

I know the novelty will probably wear off, especially once I get a dog as the place is very small (and I’d need to buy another dog bowl; I do it as a service for all guide dogs when I start living in a particular coffee shop, including my own). But for now it’s helping me; I’m not writing much, most of this morning was spent outlining The Broken World and praying my battery wouldn’t die. The point is I can focus in there, the nook has good sound-muffling and no one can see me (it’s impossible for me to write if people are sitting behind me, a weird psychological quirk).

I like it and I’m in early enough that it’s mine. MINE.

Until I get new dog, I think I’m going to keep it. I might actually get some working done.

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Chilling Out and the Dog Days of Summer

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This week, partly because my CBT is beginning, I’ve had homicidal PMS rage (which is still better than sobbing uncontrollably) and my therapy is ending, I’m trying to chill out.

Seriously, I find Sherlock really relaxing. I’m sure the decaff mocha helps. Also running into friends by accident, especially when one of them is the most-beloved Bramble, giver of unconditional love and hugs, really does give you perspective. Sometimes serendipity is awesome. As is the chance to run the dogs on Eaton Park, somewhere I’m coming to love more each time we visit.

Ditto having a good long chat with my guide dog instructor about medication issues relating to Uni’s long-term health problems and having my frustration validated. I like validation because it reminds me that I can actually be right about things, especially when it comes to Uni/the cats and my own life. I’m all for improving my self-worth, though that does mean being around other people (loneliness isn’t helping my anxiety, indeed it appears to be fuel for the fire). The dog days of summer, however, are all about taking things a little easier, especially in 26°C heat.

Speaking of dog days ….

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She suits the bandana, yes?

I’m actually quite pleased with myself, while I’m yet to get my head into Stranger Things, I have been listening to books and writing. I sent off “Washed Up Upon the Shore” to my crit group this morning and I’m hoping to submit it to a specific market next week if they’re still open. The story is stronger now though still imperfect (and this is like draft five) but there’s something in it which I still love. But I have high hopes and that’s something, especially as it’s been a while since I sent a story out into the wild.

On The Broken World front, I’m getting words down. Mostly it’s key scenes but this is draft one and so I’m trying not to care too much, just get the words on the page. Order can come later and that’s actually helping; stressing out over things I should need to control is a big trigger for me and I’m tried of panicking. This book is is no hurry, it’ll be born when it’s born. End of.

And, in truth, I’m loving writing it. Jaada is a big part of me, without being autobiographical, and she’s such a fun character to write. She knows she’s a part of a story but everyone has roles to play and hers, well, it’s a doozy.

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: A Box of Bastet’s Makes Everything A Little Better

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Because sacred cat plushes really do cheer me up. I should have brought the entire case home with me from London. So, instead, I’ve been hugging my own cats and dogs; it’s the cheaper option.

Anxiety is a bastard.

Seriously, it’s been sneaking around like a ninja and jumping me when I least expect it. First thing in the morning and last thing at night seem to be the best times.

I know this is a side-effect, I can only hope it will eventually go away. For now, though, I’m stuck taking medication that gives me a couple of hours respite or finding a Bramble/Isis to hug. I keep crying, randomly, in front of my best friend and finding comfort in food (ramen FTW) and quiet restaurants with my headphones on and a good book playing.

Writing … well it’s been happening but I had the first tinges of burnout. That forced me to step back. I’m writing the bits I want to write, snatched scenes mostly in The Broken World. Jaada breaking codes, Jaada sensing the wrongness of history and making a friend whom she can never love but will love her regardless.

On a personal front, I’m trying to see my friends, cancel anything in the least bit stressful or triggering and just take it easy. I’m not depressed but anxiety still wears you down. I keep having to remind myself that if I was a diabetic I wouldn’t spend half an hour debating whether to take insulin.

I wouldn’t mind but it’s not like I have the ‘traditional’ panic attack. I don’t hyperventilate; I shut down and I run. My instinct is hard-wired, after decades of abuse and PTSD, to ‘run the fuck away to somewhere safe’. Fortunately, I have understanding friends and this usually happens when I’m not in their company.

Right now I hate being alone because it makes me worse, sitting in public is only slightly better but I need my headphones and a distraction (yay music and books). Being at home bring with it added stresses but at least I can write distraction-free.

But I want food I’ve not cooked, coffee I’ve not had to nip out and buy. This necessitates outside and doing things. It doesn’t help that my body clock’s alarm is set in the region of 5:30am either. I miss lie ins.

At least I’m doing the smart thing and trying to reduce things which might make me worse. Also coffee. Turns out Mhairi has been having the baristas replace my caffeine shot with decaff … sigh.

I don’t even care but it does mean the IBS hasn’t been quite so crippling. So there’s that.

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The Atridia Duology: Books and Length

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As time has passed novels seem to be getting short and that’s something which has been on my mind lately. I’m reading (okay listening to) Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (tl;dr: it’s awesome, go listen to it). If I read one of his blog posts right, I think it’s about 160k (the hardback is a beautiful thing). Obviously, because I self-publish length is always in the back of my mind, though less so now I’m activelly writing more for myself and ebooks are continuing to rage and be more popular.

Yet, despite this, the average novel length seems to have shrunk to between 75k and 110k.

Now, as you know, I’m working on The Fractured Era, The Broken World, an in-world novel called The Divided Land, and a novella called When the Stars Fade. Because the first three projects are a duology with a third novel sandwiched inside, I’m very aware the final product may well be longer than usual. Say 100k for each novel, with Divided split across the two books; that’s a big paperback but, again, paperbacks don’t tend to sell and I’m included to make one for my personal collection and focus most of my attention on digital.

Digital is easier, aside from file size, the sky is the limit.

I almost wish I could just leave paperbacks behind but there’s still a call, still people who only read in print so I’ll always try for paperbacks, even if it means publishing Divided as a separate volume or something. Something is good. Something is a plan.

But how long will this be? Perhaps I need to outline more, to be more organised in how I shape the story. I plan to release the books, whenever that is, at the same time, on the same day. They’re nested, designed to be read as two acts of the same story, just as Divided is, though the protagonists are different.

When the Stars Fade, on the other hand, is a pet-project. Not quite a prequel but still tied to the universe, to the Narrative, to Jaada. Plus it starts to explain why the Atridians saught their neighbouring planet in the first place, as well as the genesis of the wars between the Xoikari and the Tabori which culminates in what the Ubani call the Devastation and the Directorate, the Singularity. Plus it gives me a chance to write about space and exploration, astronauts and stars.

 So, right now, 100k is my max limit for each book. We’ll go from there, I think.

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Worldbuilding: Atridia

© Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (aka @Snarkbat)
© Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (aka @Snarkbat)

For me worldbuilding is the most fun and best bit about writing (it’s also my Achilles’ heel, my one weakness). Of course, Atridia has been around a while (it even gets destroyed in my short story “The Breaking of the Circle”, albeit briefly) and it, or rather some of its inhabitants (Amel, Kella and others) had a role to play in The Parting of the Waters. Writing that told me several things about Atridia and its culture for later use:

  • They are beginning to explore the universe, the Juran Elaspe being a prototype ship and the first one to leave the Sirian solar system.
  • Taborin is the centre of Atridian culture but it’s not a democracy. The best comparison would be North Korea.
  • Same-sex relationships are taboo and Amel, in particular, has a really big issue with his daughter, Kella, being gay (oddly falling for an alien doesn’t seem to bother him at all).
  • Homosexuality is a mental illness on Atridia, treated with crude attempts at conversion therapy and, if the subject isn’t cured to the satisfaction of the auditors, they can be euthanised. It’s also believed to be communicable, like an idea, but also genetic and travels in families.
  • There is a translation matrix (the beginnings of what will eventually become the Union’s neural rig) but it’s hit and miss.
  • The Atridians are a curious people, looking for others in the sea of space but they also want to be important and powerful.
  • Science is their religion, administered by the Directorate. It strictly controls information, censoring anything deemed inappropriate.
  • There are three genders, with the Ubani, or progenitors, vital to the continuation of the species but segregated and strictly controled by the Directorate. No one remembers why, at least not regular folks like Kella.
  • Creativity is viewed with suspicion and strictly controlled.
  • The neighbouring planet, Arcadia, is simultaneously Occupied and also independant and known for its medical advances/export of doctors.

So I started expanding on things. I wanted to know who Juran Elaspe was and why Amel was so upset by Kella’s choice to live amongst the Kashinai, unable to interbreed with them but finding family regardless. Time to worldbuild and write.

The awesome @snarkbat posted this photo of a statue in a Swedish park and the colouring of the metal/the dress immediately pinged my ‘hey, Atridians look something like that’ sensor. I had this image of a humanish race with copper-coloured skin, maybe a little lighter (Kella, for example, tailless as she is being not-Kashinai, can pass for one of them in a temple hakashari). There’s a difference in the odd organ, the number of fingers (I need to check the specifics/hire an assistant) but as photo-inspiration goes this is as close as is.

The dress just seals the deal.

I’m assembling a Pinterest board with imagery and also thinking about music. For example I’ve found two tracks which really jumped out of me (I get a lot of them via Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature, it’s actually really useful). The first I told you about when talking about expanding “When the Stars Fade” into a longer piece, probably a novella. This song makes me think of Jaada, specifically due to a lyric which talks about rewriting scenes, something she as an author is able to do—except she’s writing what amounts to historical fiction and the Narrative demands honesty, even when writing about things she’d rather change (in this case specific to her past life as Kadjat).

The second track is below:

In my head, this song perfectly sums up Jaada’s relationship with Tobai Estus, a narssasistic who slowly takes over control of Jaada’s life, attracted by her fame and her creativity but envious of it. He eventually gets his revenge after ‘suggesting’ the pair return to Atridia from the Ceipheian city of Serani where Jaada has spent her entire life so he can take up a specific post. Atridia doesn’t pride creativity and though Jaada is able to work as a teacher, it’s not the same. As she tries to reprioritise her life, he gets upset and the deterioration of their relationship ends a month later when he burns her books (a symbolic act as well as a physical desecration of her work) and then reports her to the auditors of the Hall of the Mind, which leads into my currently unsold story “The Mystic of Room 316” (which I plan on expanding into its own second person ‘chapter’ of the book).

Jaada’s incarneration then forces her to confront and learn to control her abilities, something she’s not able to do until Bry and Chaya break her out (mentioned briefly in “The First Day and the Last”, sanctioned by the highest powers due to Jaada’s ability to create unstable micro-realities). It’s in the two to three-ish years between that and the establishment of the Union/Atridian Commission to look into the Directorate that she has to learn to wield her abilities. As a teacher on Mnemosyne, she learns to inspire others but that’s only half of her ability and getting broken out of the Hall of the Mind, it wasn’t just to save her life and soul, Jaada is needed and her abilities, well they’re rare.

The true learning, that happens during The Broken World as Jaada works for the Commission. It forces her to learn about the Narrative (her name for the thread of reality that passes through linear time and allows her to tell true history from the fiction created by Atridia’s fallen government) and access historical information that no one remembers, except for the universe. This ability, it’s not oracular like the Voices of Aia on Coronis, but it’s a similar ability except governed by words rather than sight. The Divided Land (and a more formal report) is the result because, on most world, fiction is easier to believe than cold, hard facts.

By the time she publishes When the Stars Fade, Jaada’s in full command of her abilites (and will probably write more stories about other lives suppressed and whitewashed from history) but this is the one which important to her. Because it was hers. This is her way of healing, as writing “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” was mine.

Now to find more music, more images and write more words. Wool and Fallout are big inspirations for parts of both The Divided Land and The Broken World. Oh and everything about viruses that Seanan McGuire has ever written. On that note, it’s time to get back to the words!

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When the Stars Fade: Expanding the Short Story

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I liken writing to being a jigsaw puzzle. With anything—a short story, a novel—you have the corners and sometimes the outside pieces but the middle is a hole, an absent picture you have to piece together.

I wrote “When the Stars Fade” a couple of months ago and only as I’ve gone through more drafts and several rejections have I realised that there are several components to the story which makes it bigger than 7500 words.

  • Hesri’s relationship with her eventual murderer, Meiku
  • Kadjat’s romantic relationship with Hesri, their marriage and Kadjat’s widowing.
  • Meiku’s execution and how this affects Kadjat.
  • Hesri’s faith in the Ubani, the Mortal Gods, and Kadjat’s agnosticism versus Meiku’s suspicion/atheism.
  • Kadjat’s application to the Space Program and the process involved with her becoming an astronaut.
  • The winnowing of the other applicants.
  • Nadir, his secret and Kadjat’s discovery of it.
  • Her decision, not that she actually gets to make one, the moral quandary, however remains.
  • The shuttle disaster and Kadjat’s demise in space.

I also know several other things, such that this is a story written in-universe by Jaada Serani after her world for the Commission investigating the Directorate, after she learns to use her abilities as a wild muse.

I usually find a track and this one, well, it perfectly reflects Jaada’s perspective given her relationships, with Tobai in her present and, as Kadjat, with Hesri and Meiku. This one sums up her desire to rewrite history, to change her past, but this is tempered by the knowledge that she’s a muse, not a god:

When this story came back from being critiqued, the one thing the group wanted to know more about was the Ubani. This story, which will probably be a novella, is about pieceing together the world between The Mortal Gods and The Singularity, the two parts of Jaada’s novel The Divided Land. This is a world after war but before chaos, there’s a unique status quo coupled with a desire to find a way out of the cycle of violence.

The faith in the Ubani is strong, even in Taborin, but science is rising. Oh and there’s a planet to colonise … of which Jaada’s failed mission is the first tentative step.

The story itself is set decades before the Singularity and is going to help me fill in important holes needed to make sure there aren’t any in the Atridia Duology. After all, jigsaws do come with pictures to help you put the pieces together and this story is not onlu Jaada’s attempt to deal with her own demons but it’s my way of making sure nothing is left out and the world will be all the richer for it.

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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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