Wild Court: An Introduction

A young aristocrat safeguarding a terrible secret, sponsoring an archaeology graduate obsessed with angels. An all-knowing orphan worshiped by a mysterious cult. Britain’s finest example of toxic masculinity and an introverted librarian. Together with a retired demon hunter, they’ll face the apocalypse.

This is the (very short) blurb for my new urban / low fantasy book Wild Court and to say that I’m absolutely delighted to have finished the first draft is quite an understatement. I thought that it’d only been four years in the making, but looking back at my notes, it’s been closer to seven, if I disregard its very early origins.

This book started off as a dream. A very bad dream, but it essentially formed the basis of the bestiary that I wanted to play with, and sat stubbornly in my subconscious for quite a few years.

Then I took a difficult job near Holborn and took to taking long walks at lunchtime to clear my head. Although I disliked the work intensely, I loved the area. I could reach Covent Garden, the Piazza, the Royal Opera House, Waterstones and Hatchards in Piccadilly, all in my lunchtime. Then one time, I walked past Wild Court, just off Kingsway, at precisely the same time as I was wondering how on earth some of my colleagues could be so devoid of humanity and empathy, and an idea took hold.

What if it was endemic? What if empathy really was declining? There are some scientific signs and studies that say it is, but I was thinking more about it as a source of inspiration. What if empathy and kindness served a purpose? What if that decline could have potentially disastrous consequences, and what if there was an order of hidden magicians, monitoring this decline and helping to remedy minor breaches of the peace? What if said order was squirreled away not far from where I was standing, just round the corner from Belgo and Leon, and maintained training facilities in completely inconspicuous, sprawling industrial parks like those in Bracknell?

Suddenly I had more than idea, but it just so happened that we were going away on holiday the next day, so – as I do – I bought a large notebook from Paperchase and began to scribble notes. I wrote thirty-three pages of notes somewhere between London and Edinburgh, and from there, began to flesh out the storyline.

Characters seemed to fly into my head; readers of Small Places might recognise facets of Jamie about one of the MCs, but given the timeline, it’s actually the other way around: Jamie reflects Ben. I do like my characters to have comedic foils, and wanted to turn this all the way up, so we gained Matt, a loud, laddish character with twin streaks of toxic masculinity and loyalty a mile wide each. I needed someone with significant brainpower – two someone’s, actually – so we have Alice, a researcher who has dedicated her life to unravelling a mystery, and Chloe, a mysterious orphan worshipped by her own personal cult.

I changed jobs, and all seemed well, until the new role also came with its own problems, and things slowed. I went on holiday to Aberdeen, with the ambition of making it a writing holiday, but ended up doing quite the reverse; I’d been finding it harder and harder to write, and eventually simply stopped, deciding that I’d come back to the 50k words that I had down at another time. In the meantime, I wrote Parasites, and then Small Places and parts of Dusk.

Then, during the late pandemic, I felt the urge to come back to Wild Court – there was a particularly bleak section that I thought was quite fitting to where we were in time, and I scribbled down another 40k words or so, but again, pausing because of more job-related difficulties.

Finally, with yet another change of job, and the launch of Dusk out of the way, I started to blurt out entire chapters, writing 16k words over the long Jubilee weekend. I missed the celebrations, but I think it was worthwhile.

Now I’m starting the editing process. We’re getting there. I hope to bring a few excerpts when I’ve done some polishing, but for now, rest assured that there’s monsters and magic and librarians and archaeologists and snark and dad jokes and villains and eccentric millionaires and retired demon hunters and found family and stark wildernesses and forests and an all-knowing woman worshipped by her own cult and Norway and Bracknell and dick jokes. It’s been a labour of love, but I really, really love it. I hope you do too.

March Updates: Dusk draws closer; we return to Wild Court

We’re not far away from exciting news!

After the usual back and forth of pre-production details; front covers*, maps**, kindle- and print-formatting, checking proofs, re-checking proofs, I’m finally in a place where I’m happy with how Dusk looks in the flesh, and we’re onto the final straight. I’m trying to work out a calendar for release timing, a tour, cover reveals, merch, that kind of thing. I’m a bit stuck on merch, because a) I’m changing jobs at the moment and haven’t got a lot of mental bandwidth, and b) it’s a sci-fi novel, and I’m drawing a bit of a blank right now.

I’m really thrilled with how it’s all come together, and do hope it’s not too long before you can get your hands on a copy, digital or otherwise.

As I said previously, I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to power through with the third novel in the Navigator series, but in all likelihood, I think I’ll probably try to finish the final third of Wild Court, my long-standing urban fantasy WIP. It’s currently just north of 99,000 words, and given that it’s been at least four years in the making – closer to seven since its original inspiration – I think it’s probably time, motivation permitting.

I’m currently doing a small re-read, and it’s encouraging to really, genuinely love the first few chapters. That said, I’d also like to query this one, so it may be some time before it reaches the light of day – please, do bear with me! It’ll be worth it.

And of course, there’s also Small Places 2 to think about, but that’ll likely come after both Navigator 3 (official title pending)and Wild Court. It’ll definitely come, but I do need the final third to fall into place at some stage.

* I’m especially pleased with this one

** There’s a map!

February: Dusk is almost here!

We’re getting close.

In December, I’d been through two edits of Dusk. I’ve just finished the fifth (I think – it might be six) and am ready to declare the core manuscript finished. Editing is generally something I don’t really enjoy, and for me, is a sure-fire way to remove whatever enjoyment I take in reading (especially after the third or fourth re-read!) but I’m taking the fact that I still enjoyed parts of Dusk after the last re-read as a good sign.  

There are still a host of things to do; it needs a cover, it needs a map, it needs print formatting, the physical version will need a look over. We’ll need to sort out the details of whatever promotional stuff – tours, giveaways, gifts etc need to be sorted, and I’ve just been working out minutiae like the copyright page, the content and trigger warnings, so on and so forth. But we’re really close!

And … I’m also leaning towards the possibility of plunging on with the third book in the trilogy, rather than trying to get back to finishing Wild Court, the other urban fantasy novel I’ve been working on, on and off, for a few years now. WC (oops…) has been on/off for a while now, and although I’m making steady progress, it’s something I’d rather work on when I feel passionate about it, rather than forcing myself to finish the last 40k words.

We’ll get there.

Anyway, that’s about all the news I have at the moment – stay tuned, and we might even do a cover reveal for Dusk at some stage soon…

October: Wild Court paused, Dusk in editing

September and October were – strangely – pretty good months for writing. I reached about 90k words, or two-thirds of the way in, to Wild Court and then paused again. I’m not quite sure why this one is being so troublesome, but it’s falling into neat thirds, with a year-long pause between the first and the second, so I really hope this isn’t the case for the second and third! That said, it did allow me to go back to Dusk, the sequel to Parasites, which I started mapping out in early 2020, just as the pandemic started.

I’ve got three different introductions to Dusk, and no clear favourite. Thankfully, the rest of the book is much less troublesome, and after a fair amount of work, it’s now sitting at just north of 105k words (about the same length as Parasites) and I can just about claim that the first draft is finished.

There’s a lot of work to be done; there are at least two parts that just don’t work – one of them is just quite flat, and the other is a plot section that needs relatively major reworking, but I’ve got my eye on them, and they’re first and second on the list of a one-page word document entitled ‘Major Edits’. Admittedly, this document does seem to incorporate minor edits as well, but I suppose I can always retitle the file when I’m done with the major stuff.

All in all, I’m fairly pleased with how it’s come together. Kael and Alessia, along with the other major car crews, embark on an important mission to launch satellites from faraway worlds, gathering intelligence on the structure of the universes, while Basteel and Slyph head across Lyra to Vulpes, Lyra’s farming city, where there may be appearances of a creature worshipped as a deity on the city-ship of Carthusian. Of course, nothing is straightforward on either the rescue mission or the journey across the surface of a damaged asteroid to reach a planet formerly inhabited by a super-evolved species of aliens… 

It’s all compounded by a new threat, a robust and malevolent species seemingly incapable of diplomatic relations, throwing Lyra’s plans into disarray.

I’m not quite sure of when it’ll all come together – I doubt it’ll be this side of New Year, but it’ll certainly be early 2022 at some stage, and I’m also quite excited by the prospect of releasing both hardback and paperback versions, now that KDP allows both, alongside ebooks, of course.

I’ll keep you posted with any details about release as we get closer to the time, but for now, that’s about all. 

Two months until Small Places is live!

It’s two months to go until Small Places is out on August 3rd! There’s been a lot of progress – the paperback copies are now finished and looking great. Most of the merch has arrived, and I’ve got a range of bookmarks, grimoire-style notebooks, witches hat lapel pins, fantasy notecards … and one steampunk scorpion to give away. Everything looks incredible, and I’m so pleased with how it’s turned out. You can see some of the content below – please excuse my amateur photography.

The tiny steampunk scorpion is probably my favourite here – it’ll be given away during a certain book tour later in August, so stay tuned for details!

I’m really delighted that review copies are now available, so if you’d like one, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you think about the book, so please contact me if you have thoughts, or would like to run a Q&A at any stage.

I’ve tried to leave plenty of time before launch – hopefully the fact that we’ve got two months until the official date will mean that there’s time for long postage delays (for some reason, Parasites took about five weeks to get to Canada, and three weeks to India) as well as time for you to get through your lengthy TBRs before August! That said, please don’t pressure yourself to speed-read – it’s more important that you enjoy the book 😊

In other news, I’m continuing to make slow progress with Dusk, although it’s always tough to split your attention between promoting one book and writing another (not to mention ‘actual work’ and life admin!) but we’re getting there. I’m feeling a little happier with how it’s working out, and hopeful that things will accelerate in future. Without giving too much away, our heroes are divided fairly early on in the book, so there are two parallel stories to follow. I’d written (and been dissatisfied with) one stream, and then started to write the other afresh – so once that’s finished, it should be faster to work with the other one and upgrade it, using some of the earlier details. Keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll keep this site updated with my word count etc.

Small Places is coming!

I’m absolutely delighted to announce that Small Places, my new urban fantasy novel, is available for pre-order, ahead of its launch on Amazon on August 3rd. Small Places joins Jamie, a boy living in a country village, as he runs an errand for a friend of the family to collect medicine from a witch, Melusine, who lives in a hidden forest in the countryside.

Thirteen years later, strange earthquakes and storms are wracking Britain, Jamie’s parents have separated and his mother is suffering from cancer. He returns home to look after her, but receives a mysterious summons from Melusine. Figuring that if she needs him, she may be willing to help his mother, he meets with the witch, learning that the freak weather is being caused by something affecting the earth spirit, Gaia. Mel needs his help to find the source of the problems – and this means travelling to the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, hunting down clues, whilst simultaneously putting up with the irritable witch and dealing with his mum’s terminal illness.

It’s been an instructional (read: slightly painful) process, but I’m thrilled that it’s finally here. Looking back at the process, I finished the first draft on New Year’s Eve of 2019, and ran through preliminary edits by March … and then the pandemic happened and things *really* slowed down. Beta readers enjoyed it, but I did a relatively major re-write after my chief editor (and long-suffering partner) suggested a tweak that affected the entire book. Nonetheless, it’s a better book because of it, and thanks to the changes, we (most significantly) get to meet Jamie’s mum, which also affected a hundred and one other things throughout the book – including the ending!

As ever, you can see the content and trigger warnings on my site – please do consult them prior to reading, or get in touch if you have further questions.

If you’d like a review copy, please do get in touch – the kindle versions are ready for pre-order, and the paperbacks will be ready soon; I had a proof through today and they just need a little tweak. There’ll be a blog tour running with Storytellers on Tour from the 1st August, and merch, goodies and other bits and pieces are also in the works – so stay tuned!

What happened between November and January? Small Places edits, Dusk re-writes

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted, and it’s been a relatively productive time. Although Christmas was not what I was expecting, we nonetheless had a cosy, happy time, despite not seeing friends or family. It’s been a shock being back at work during January, but I think that’s true universally!

After a preliminary read of Small Places back in October by my chief beta reader (my wife), I decided to make some fairly sweeping changes to it. That meant a few rounds of edits and re-reads, before passing it back to her and another beta reader. The beta reader suggested a few minor changes, but my wife is still halfway through – although the feedback has been largely positive. I’ve been encouraged by both of them to re-query, so although this means that it’ll be delayed for slightly longer, hopefully what comes to you will be a slicker, better book.

I’ve also started a Dusk re-write. Last year, I’d written around 69k words, but one of the characters felt very flat, and it felt like I’d lost the sense of wonder that I enjoyed conveying so much within Parasites. I’ve restructured and re-built a lot of it, and although a lot of the previous work will stay, there have – again – been some fairly radical changes. I do hope that this means a better reading experience and a more enjoyable book in the long term.

Editing always feels relatively frustrating to me, almost as if I’d got the words wrong in the first place, but I’m gradually learning not to watch the word counts and simply try to enjoy the process, write the best thing I can – rather than simply producing a book, producing something I really like. I’m not sure if that’s clear, but last year I’d certainly fallen into the trap of feeling bad about not writing as many words as I theoretically could. Perhaps it’s different when you’re a more skilled writer, or a writer with a deadline, but I’m sure that for me, it was probably a product of pandemic stress!

What happened in October? Burnout, character development and holidays!

Hi everyone!

I’ve just got back from holiday and can honestly say that I really needed it. I’ve not written a single word this month, and have slowly been coming to the realisation that I’m struggling with a reasonable case of burnout from my (non-writing) work, which has gradually been sapping my creativity and ability to write to my own satisfaction. Needless to say, I’m going to be taking it as easy as possible in the coming weeks and months.

My wife is still reading Small Places, and in conjunction with a creative writing refresher course that I saw on sale on Udemy, I’ve realised that there are a number of elements that need relatively serious revision. Despite having been through three beta readers and a large number of edits, there’s still significant room for improvement, particularly when it comes to character, which isn’t something that comes naturally to me.

After struggling with the protagonist for a few weeks, I had some good inspiration – of all places – halfway down the A1 on our way back from holiday, so I’m hoping that I can make sense of my scribbled notes (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving at the time!) and make it an even better book to read.

I did also make some progress on the setting and characters for The Witch Lord’s Apprentice, although that’s still very much in early planning. I’m annoyed that I can’t share Small Places with you now, or that I haven’t gotten any further with Dusk, but life happens. I hope you’re all managing ok, staying safe – and if you’re interested, there’s a few holiday snaps from Scotland below.

The view from our Airbnb!
Lochside
No-one for miles 🙂

What happened in June? Dusk, Wild Court and Small Places progress, life issues and gorgeous books

June has been a fairly crap month writing-wise, and there’s not a lot to report on the writing front. I’ve written a measly eleven thousand more words on Dusk, the sequel to Parasites, taking it to 37k, and unfortunately progress on Wild Court has stalled again. Thankfully, despite not really being able to travel far, I’ve had a few ideas for the sequel to Small Places, and even tentatively titled it, but my structuring ran out of steam after what is probably the first third of the book!

After a fairly long dry spell, I’ve been writing more again in the last few days, but I think lockdown has definitely taken its toll. I suspect that, like others, needing to feel in control of my own life is something of a pre-requisite for functioning like a proper human being. I’ve really been trying to look after myself – running does actually help me, and I managed to see (socially distanced) friends the other day, which was a lovely slice of normality.

However, there’s still trouble brewing in my ‘real’ job. I’m working fewer hours, which is something of a double-edged sword. I have more time to write, but am slightly dreading my next paycheque! And despite working fewer hours for the last few weeks, I’ve just not been motivated to write.

Still, I’m hopeful. I’ve written more in the past two days than I have in the preceding two weeks, so with any luck it was just a small dry spell. As you might have seen from my Instagram, I’ve also been very lucky to get the Illumicrate version of The Last Wish and the Folio Society version of Howl’s Moving Castle. They’re both absolutely gorgeous and I’m looking forward to diving back into them – although I’ve also been reading the much-lauded Six of Crows and am just reading Crooked Kingdom, alongside Nora McKinney’s A Natural, which has been quite a change of genre for me!

Small Places is still being beta read, although one of my betas seems to have disappeared – so I can’t yet share a release date. I’m so keen for it to be read, but (especially since I’ve started to plan the sequel) I only want it out once it’s ready.

As ever, please take care, look after yourselves and read bloody amazing books.

The Origins of the Stormworld

[Spoiler Alert – Contains mild spoilers for Parasites]

When I was growing up, I used to write down my dreams and take inspiration from them for stories. They didn’t always make sense, but more often than not, they did, telling stories themselves of places I’d never been, people I’d never met.

For some unknown reason, I can’t pinpoint most of the origins of Parasites, but without question, the stormworld episode comes from a dream. I’d seen the two huge storm fronts racing towards each other, a vehicle not dissimilar to the car in the book racing to escape them. I remember being absolutely convinced that if it could just reach a certain point, keep in the area between the vast clouds, despite the gap growing smaller and smaller, that everything would be ok.

It’s a brief episode in the book, and a mysterious one at that. We learn about as much about the origins of the stormworld as we do about the world right at the start, with the cabbages and the rotting biodome. That said, it’s not a huge leap to say that the world was probably something like ours – the road is testament to that. Whatever species lived there, they – like most of the abandoned worlds that Kael and Alessia find – have left their mark, in terms of both the infrastructure and damage to the environment.

I’d imagine that the race inhabiting the planet had followed a similar path to us humans, slowly destroying it and using up the resources, messing up the environment and causing the weather to become increasingly hostile to life.

As I’ve gotten older, I take less and less inspiration from dreams, although a little still works itself in there now and again. I certainly dream less vividly – I suspect it’s a condition of getting old – but they’re still there, particularly after a memorable, immersive or emotional experience.

Of course, sometimes dreams are entirely nonsensical, but as a child I was a firm believer that they meant something, that they were important. Today, I’m not so sure, but there’s definitely a part of me that would still like to believe. It feels a bit silly, particularly as an adult, but I’m also a firm believer in the saying that we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing. If we can’t hold onto a few ideals and concepts of meaningfulness from our childhood as we grow older, then we might as well just give up now!