Thursday, 30 July 2015

Concealed Kingdoms: The Serial

I think of the Concealed Kingdoms as The Many Colored Land meets The World of Tiers, the former by Julian May and the latter by Philip Jose Farmer. Like the world of Tiers, there are many pocket worlds where mythological creatures and peoples live. They fey not magical beings, but psychic powers, each individual fey uniquely stronger or weaker in one or another of these powers, which they can combine to manifest various effects. Some can create physical objects, and the most powerful of these can create miniature worlds in offset dimensions linked to our world by hidden gates, visible only to the fey or those of fey blood..

Fey are born with no active powers. These develop in their teen years, and can only be brought to full fruition by the touch of an adult fey. This is known as breakthrough. Those who do not trigger their abilities in this way begin to develop powers anyway, and will eventually breakthrough alone... but critically, their powers will likely burn out, leaving them as fail; not human, but with only one ability over which they have no conscious control - a talent for healing, perhaps unusual strength, vastly enhanced empathy or some other ability which they take for granted as normal.

Fey are the witches, the mythical heroes and the gods of our myths and legends. Also the witches and sorcerers, the telepaths and telekinetics of whom rumours still persist.

As children, their only defence mechanism is a power they have no control over. Humans do not see them, unless the young fey make a determined effort, and they are soon forgotten as soon as they are still and silent for even a moment. This defence mechanism protects them from humans who might take them for witches, humans who turn against anyone different.

Each young fey is left a clue, which can lead them to one of the pocket universes where the population of fey is most dense and where they are most liekly to have a seccessful breakthrough and become full fledged fey in their turn - fey with their own set of powers and abilities.

Of course, many fey live in our world.

The Concealed Kingdoms novels are already available, and read and loved by some. The Concealed Kingdoms serial is intended to introduce more readers to this fun set of world and characters. The serial is ongoing and will include the third novel before long.

Chris Northern's YA fantasy novel The King's Ward is a delight to the mind. 5/5-unique! - Kelly Smith Reviews

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Creative Risks


The risks referred to in the title of this piece are the risks to the mind of the creative individual, and is intended as a warning. If you are an aspiring writer, then you need to be aware of what you are getting into, what writing may do to your mind, and what the costs might be.

There are layers and aspects to the skill set necessary to write, and the one I am addressing here is that of understanding people in order to create convincing characters for your stories. Knowing how different minds work, how situations change the thinking and actions of an individual, means thinking in those ways in order to tease out original but realistic actions taken and words spoken by that character, that person. Imagine Shakespeare writing the play Othello; he would have been thinking as Othello would, imagining actions that Othello would take; to some degree he would become Othello, his mind working as that characters mind would work. That mindset would inevitably bleed over into his real life to some, hopefully small degree. Like a lens held before his minds eye, he would see the people and events and interpret them as Othello would, and even react to them as Othello would. At least for the duration of the writing of the play.

Now let's remember that Othello is a tragedy. And that Shakespeare also had a wife.

In some ways, writing can be like method acting. Fully immerse yourself in the thoughts, feelings, mindset and context, the reality of the character – this can particularly be a risk if you are writing in first person. You put down your computer after the days work and with the mindset of the character you are involved with, turn to your real life and the real people around you. The more extreme the character, the more it is possible to negatively impact your own relationships.

It can become a habit, even when not working on any particular project. You can find yourself in situations where you see someone who is in a bad place, see that it is interesting and by “writer's habit” to imagine what is going on in that persons mind... the more you understand human nature and the human condition, the easier this is... and adopt that mindset, think those thoughts, become that character for a while as you set the character in your mind for future use in a story you haven't even conceived yet.

You might find yourself spending half a day thinking as though you were another person entirely, and having conversations with people you know while fixed in that mindset, using the lens you have created in order to understand a character you are writing, or plan to write about, or a character you may never even use. No prizes for guessing that this can have a negative impact on your relationships, that the people around you can be confused when you react to what they are saying as though you were someone else entirely.

Now imagine explaining to that person that it “wasn't you” talking... imagine hearing that from someone who has just hurt you by acting and talking as though they were someone else entirely. That won't make the words unsaid, the things not done, the consequences reset.

Empathy is a useful tool for a writer. The ability to adopt another person's mindset can help create entirely convincing characters. But when you allow the mindset of those characters to bleed over into your real life and influence the people around you, it is time to stop.

Writing need not drive you crazy, but there are a good number of writers who have succumbed to what can become massive internal pressures generated by the creative process. There are many examples. Philip K Dick, Hemingway, Poe, Kerouac, Plath, Thomson, and already the list is long enough. I can't help wondering how many of these and other writers drove off the mental cliff in part because they had adopted so many lenses, imagined themselves into so many different characters, that they had quite simply forgotten who they were and no longer had the ability to react and act as themselves.

Recently, just really very recently, I added myself to the list of crazy writers for this very reason. A cherished friend visited me for a ten day holiday. I was writing, being a character, fully immersed into the work and near the end of the book. The work was interrupted, but the needed mindset persisted for the ten day holiday and I literally was not myself. At one point, just in passing, she said “You will become known as the crazy writer on the hill.” It was a casual comment, not intended to do any harm.

When she left, I literally lost it completely. Partly because I know full well what effects writing can have on my mind, how thoroughly I can create a lens and adopt another mindset, and how badly that can influence my thinking and decision making processes. I don't want to be the crazy writer on the hill, thanks very much. I barely made it to an airport, barely made it somewhere safe. It was, I will be honest, a damn close run thing.

As an end note, a word to those who are still asking when the next Sumto book will be released. The answer is, I don't know. The answer is, sometime after I can bare to adopt Sumto's mindset and be Sumto for the duration of the writing, when my being Sumto for a couple of months won't adversely effect the people around me.

And as for Sapphire.... no, I definitely won't ever be writing any books from Sapphire's point of view.

For now I am not writing. I have, to be perfectly honest, far far more important things to do in my real life, where there are people who need me to be me.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Concealed Kingdoms III - Untitled, as yet

The third of the Concealed Kingdoms novels begins with Beowulf of the Wild Hunt biker gang and monster hunters and picks up where The Heir Reluctant leaves off, with Beowulf, Lleu and others fulfilling commitments they made during Odin and Syn´s story.

We also pick up a new character in a completely new world, made long a go and isolated from our world, the world outside, from humans, fey and fail alike. Some worlds are dreams, but this one is a nightmare, a funhouse made for the entertainment of a single fey.

Needless to say, Beowulf gets involved, called by a Norn to go and rescue a fey on the edge of breakout, a fey who has no one to quicken her powers, and for whom everyone in the world, including the Maker, is an enemy. The Maker of this world does not tolerate potential rivals... or interference from the world outside.

The work is progressing swiftly, and I´m way over half way through this book. I´m having fun with it, and I always take that as a good sign.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Heir Reluctant - Available for Preorder

The Heir Reluctant is the second concealed Kingdoms novel, and features some of the same characters as The King's Ward, which is available for 99cents on the 27th only.

The fey are a race apart, with us since the dawn of time. As children, they are all but invisible, instantly forgotten. As Kelly Smith puts it in her review - Imagine you were a living, breathing human being but no one could see, hear or remember you? That you had to make a fuss just to be noticed for one minute?

At breakthrough, triggered by the touch of another fey, their abilities blossom. The weave illusions, read minds, communicate with others by telepathy, and can manipulate reality. Those with the most powerful creative power can build worlds, adjacent to our own, hidden, hard to reach and mostly reserved for their own kind.... and the creatures the fey create. These are the Concealed Kingdoms of the series title.




Excerpt, from somewhere near the end.

I walked slowly over the frozen ground, headed toward the isle in the frozen river and the fort that rested there. I had nowhere else to go, no better idea in mind. I would leave the cold, bleak landscape of Nifflheim behind me, having no better plan. And the world would die.
My mood did not inspire me to hurry. Kieleth had left me alone, and alone was how I felt. The watcher on the wall of the fort seemed indifferent to my approach, the fort itself uninviting, and thoughts of my arrival there offered no comfort.

Ophelia and Gyr were behind me, somewhere. Following, or not. I'd left hem behind. Somewhere out there were Gunnthra, Aun, Bjorn and Starkad. They searched for me, but would not find me now. I would never see any of them again. I was going back, back to a world where no one saw me or remembered me. The thought was intolerable, but there was nothing I could do here, nothing I could do to change things other than allow myself to be used by Freya or Hel, either one a bad as the other. And without Odin, nothing would change.

Hopelessly, helplessly, I closed to within two hundred yards of the bridge, its struts locked in the ice of the frozen river. The figure at the gate disappeared, but I paid no mind. It didn't matter. There was no reason to suppose he meant me any harm. Who here had sought to harm me? No one. Only to use me for their own ends.

The gate was pushed opened as I set foot on the bridge. The wood echoed underfoot. I kept my gaze on the figure who stood at the threshold to the fort, dispirited and disinterested, but without anything else to occupy me. He waited, a dark figure against the pale world we inhabited; his hair was long and dark, fell over broad shoulders clothed in black leather, open to the waist. He wore blue jenes over black boots. In one hand he carried a sheathed sword. He studied me with an appraising expression and calm, brown eyes.

“You,” he said, mildly, “would be Syn the fey.”

Now I was closer, perhaps too close, I could see the jene jacket under his leather, and clearly see his colors. I stopped a few paces away.

“Bikers,” I said, listlessly, too surprised to realize how relevant the comment might seem.

He grinned broadly, his expression softening and his eyes twinkling with humor.

“And I am Beowulf,” he said, “though in the world outside, most people just call me Wolf.”

When I didn't respond, he turned and sketched a bow, one arm flourished to indicate I should pass through the gate. “Welcome to the Hall of the Wild Hunt,” he grinned at me and straightened. “Don't be shy, now.” He said when I hesitated. “We won't eat you.”

“Bikers?” This time I made it a question, my incredulity plain in my voice.

He shrugged, looked beyond me to scan the bleak landscape beyond, then looked at more thoughtfully. “Really, Syn, there's nowhere else to go. Here, there's food and shelter and warmth.”
I shook my head, bemused, and gave up on making choices. I walked past him and through the gate. I stopped inside and looked around while he closed and barred the gate behind me. Stout rail fences stood either side of a wide path, and in the corrals to either side there were two dozen horses that reacted to my presence more than I felt I could react to them. Some drifted our way to investigate us.

In the middle of the stockade stood a longhouse, a wooden hall with tiled roof. From inside, I could hear music. Thrash metal, played strangely low and with an odd overlay to the sound.

Wolf came to stand beside me as I looked around. Nearby, a big gray horse put its head over the top rail and watched us. I looked at the horse, the hall, and then back up to Wolf, who stood better than two feet taller than me.

“Music?” I asked. “I thought electricity didn't work here.”

“Vinyl,” he grinned. “Bakolite, in fact. And a wind up player. It cost a buck, but definitely worth it. Beer?”

I nodded, absently. Then shook my head. “Bikers?”

He stepped forward and I matched his pace as we headed for the hall. “Why not? We travel in a group. People assume we are on a run. No one bothers us much, or is surprised to see us come, or much other than relieved when we go. While we're there we live up to our reputation, well enough. We hunt and kill monsters.”

“Why?”

“Why?” He leaned closer, a wild grin breaking out all over his face, his eyes widened. “Because it's fun!”

I blinked in surprise and shrank from him a little.

He laughed at my reaction, then carried on toward the hall. “Come on now, little fey. Let's get that beer,” he said, lightly, and then more ominously, “and then we will decide what to do with you.”
Beowulf threw open the door to the hall and stepped inside while I hesitated, outside, close to the threshold, trying to adjust my thinking. The smell of cooking wafted out to me on a breath of warm air. The sound of music was louder but as loud as it was going to get. I recognized the strange undercurrent to the music now, the scratching sound of a needle on the physical surface of a record. The thunk and clatter of pool cue and balls rattling round a table made me blink in surprise.
Just inside the door, Beowulf slapped a big bear of a man on the shoulder and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. The bearded man looked out the door and grinned at me. He reached to one side and when he momentarily filled the doorway in passing, the twin blades of a butterfly ax flashed, the long haft held in one meaty hand. He winked and grinned as he walked past me and I stepped to one side and watched him pass. He headed for the gate, the big ax slung casually over one broad shoulder.

Overwhelmed by a sense of unreality, I drifted into the hall. Beowulf kicked the door closed behind me while I stood and looked around at the half a dozen bikers who inhabited the huge room of the hall. Two played pool, three sat at one end of a long table nearby and watched the game as they talked and drank beer, the last splayed full length on a huge leather sofa and watched me with half lidded eyes before he closed them, dismissively. The brief looks they turned my way, were not unfriendly. Each seemed to decide I was of no immediate concern or interest, not important enough to stop what they were doing.

The hall was a strange mixture of ancient and modern. Metal lamps with tall glass chimneys probably burned kerosene. At the far end of the hall, a huge open fire held wrought iron ovens and a blazing fire. To one side, a closed door seemed to draw my attention above all else and I found myself staring, my attention fixed.

Beowulf looked from me to the door and back again. “The gates are made to draw the attention of those with fey blood,” he commented. “If I didn't know who you were already, I'd know you were fey by that alone.”

I shivered, though the hall was warm enough that I'd have to shed layers soon. “How do you know who I am?”

He headed across the hall and I followed in his wake, wanting his answer.

“Freya was here,” he told me as I caught up to him. “You missed her by just a few minutes. She flew in, manifest as the black dragon she is so fond of, threatened us some, and tried to persuade us as well. Then flew away again.”

He stopped by the fire and casually filled an bowl with hot stew from a cooking pot close to the fire to keep it hot. He dropped a spoon into it and passed it to me.

“You'll be hungry, I bet.” He steered me to a chair at a long table and took another at an angle to me. “She told us you were brought here by some of her people, but that they had lost you somehow. An unquickened fey, a girl named Syn. And look at you,” he said, his casual gesture encompassed me from head to toe. “Who else would you be?”

I felt sick with nerves, but hungry as well. Too hot on the outside, too cold inside. I shivered, began to undo the fastenings of my parka. I opened my mouth to ask a question but my lips trembled instead; then, abruptly and to complete my misery, I began to cry.









Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Heir Reluctant - Concealed Kingdoms, Book II

 

From the Cover

I had one question in mind, that felt somewhat urgent. A question I wanted answered. Who am I?

Awakening in a cheap hotel room, Odin has no memory of his past life. His only clue, someone else's wallet among his discarded clothing. Determined to discover his own identity, he is forced into a journey to a dying world where he must face an old enemy.

I am the heir to a magical kingdom.

In a world where she is all but invisible, Syn is found and adopted by people who can see her. People who reveal a startling truth about themselves, and her. They are not human, but fey, and Syn is the heir to a magical kingdom. She cannot resist the lure of that dream, and travels with them to recover her birthright, and save a world.

In Nifflheim, a world slowly crushed by encroaching glaciers, a world of ice and giants, both Odin and Syn are pursued by fey powers intent on using them for their own ends as the world slowly dies around them.

#

Would you like to be notified of new releases by Chris Northern? If so sign up here >New Releases Details supplied will only be used to notify of new releases.


# Odin #


The memory of a wolf standing in the rain seemed a dream, shadowed and barely visible in a darkened alleyway. The dream wolf remained still in the rain as I struggled with my own mind, fought to bring myself to wakefulness.
Dream sounds drifted around the image. The blare of car horns, the sounds of the city, and lights that flashed blue to highlight a distant siren. Voices nearby, brisk and professional, accompanied by firm hands that lifted me.
Deep instinct demanded that I deny them.
“Don't touch me!” The echo of my shout rang in the darkened room.
Alone, moving, confused, I shivered and struggled against the sweat drenched sheets that clung to me and restricted my movements. Breath came in hard gasps that pained my chest in ascending and descending waves, I forced my body up and back until I was pressed hard against the wall at the head of the bed, huddled in confused misery as I stared blankly, blinking at the blind-covered window opposite.
Distant sounds, wrapped in an oppressive silence, surrounded whatever lay outside the room.
I calmed as I saw no immediate threat, no hands reaching out to touch me.
No one here, I thought. There is no one here but me.
I found that thought briefly comforting. I am alone. My breathing evened out and the pain of each breath lessened. Sweat cooled my skin. The bed and room gave off clean scents with an underlying mustiness that spoke of casual attention and long neglect.
Calmed, alone, I glanced around the dimly lit room. A cheap chest of drawers. A TV fixed to a bracket on the wall. An open door through which I could see a sink and toilet. Behind and to one side of me, another door. Closed. I was alone and isolated. It felt reassuring.
There was nothing to disturb me. Except for the pain in my chest, arms and legs. I unclenched my hands that had balled into fists and felt the pain in them as I relaxed tensed muscles and tendons. I looked at my hands. I couldn't see properly in the darkened room, though the thin curtains admitted some small light from outside. Night time lights from the street, I decided. I'd need better light to see how badly I was hurt.
Time enough later to try and remember why. No memories rushed to fill the blank space where my question hung in my own mind. What happened?
With consideration for myself, I eased aside the bedclothes and swung my feet to the floor. One ankle hurt some as I shifted my weight forward and pushed myself to my feet. One knee also hurt more than the other. I felt stiff, my body abused and protesting. With care, I walked to the bathroom and found the light. And, almost immediately, a mirror.
To look at what must be your own reflection and not recognize yourself must surely be a unique experience. It wasn't that I was so badly bruised, as my face was not much marked by scrapes or bruises. It was simply that the face I looked at was unfamiliar. Bright green eyes. Hair black and worn long and wild. A day's growth of beard.
I could have been anyone. But I had no sense that I was looking at me, no feeling that I looked at a familiar image, a face seen every day in any reflective surface. Scrapes and livid bruises marked broad shoulders and deep chest. I'd been hurt some, but I did not feel much concerned by that.
I held up my hands and looked at them. They were bruised. Knuckles skinned. There was a dull ache but no sharp pains that might indicate serious damage. A nasty looking gash ran up my right forearm but it had scabbed and looked to be healing well enough.
“What the heck happened to me,” I muttered. “And where am I?”
What am I doing here? And where is here? A hotel. Cheap, hence the musty smell of damp and either age or neglect, or both.
I shivered, suddenly bothered by the cool air. Maybe it was the rain I had just become aware of, spattering against the frosted glass of the bathroom. If there was supposed to be a heater on in the room it was busted.
I limped slowly back to the warmth of the carpet, glad of it underfoot.
I eased myself to the window and pulled the thin curtain. A parking lot, a city street. The same lots the other side of the road. It could be any good sized city, anywhere.
I frowned at my own faint reflection in the window. Which town? Which city?
I had no idea.
I found clothes where I had presumably discarded them, scattered across the floor and bed without much regard for what might better go where. Beginning to feel uneasy, I went through them and found a wallet. There was ID, but the picture wasn't me; not even close. The name would be no use, then. Joel Mitchum. Not my name.
“But what is?”
A little more hurried, I rifled through the clothes and my memory with equally negative results. The clothes looked wrong, either baggy or tight, like even they were not mine, or even any one man's clothes. I smelled clean enough, so I dressed, taking my time to ease my hurts. Chinos with a belt, habitually used two notches before I needed it. Black T and a dark green shirt; the first slightly tight but not bad at the neck, the other tight across the shoulders but not quite long enough in the arm.
I folded back the cuffs. I had to leave the top button undone at the neck.
I found trainers that were tight but endurable. A gray jacket and a trench-coat completed things. The jacket looked new, while the trench was well used and not well kept. The keys to the room were in one pocket.
There was cash in the wallet, a fifty, three twenties, two tens. I had no reason to be here. I had no reason not be here. I had no idea where I lived. Or why.
There was no luggage in the room. No car keys in my pockets.
I had no idea why I was there. I tried to think, to remember, but found no hint or clue in my own mind.
The tensions that had grown slowly, ballooned to fill my mind. I felt edgy. It was not yet morning and it was cold out and I had no reason to leave the room now. But I felt uneasy. I felt like I should be running. But why and from what, I had no idea.
I had one question in mind that felt somewhat urgent. A question I wanted answered.
Who am I?


# Syn #


I am the heir to a magical kingdom.
The thought made my smile even more broadly than before as I looked out over the glacier, light from the low sun bathing it in a misty light. The great expanse spread out around me, under a pale sky that seemed like a mirror to the glacier. For a moment, I stood alone and bathed my mind in the beauty of it. I knew I would soon see more.
Unseen, below the glacier, lay an ancient city long assumed to be myth. Norumbega.
“Syn.” Gunnthra's gruff call snatched my attention back to the present.
I turned to where he stood. It seemed like a long way back to the trucks and the busy people there. My people, I thought again, still with a sense of wonder. I have a people. People who could see me. People who remembered me. I am not alone.
“No time for sightseeing.” He deliberately took a long look around us. “Not that there's much to see.”
“It's beautiful,” I told him as I closed the distance between us, footsteps crunching on hard ice.
He shrugged big shoulders. “The novelty wears off,” he told me, his expression bleak.
“You should be happy,” I told him as I came close. “You are going home.”
“We,” he corrected me, offering a smile that looked like work, maybe fighting to get through his bushy beard. “We are going home.”
I stopped close enough to reach out and touch him, though I never would, but not so close that I had to tilt my head back to look up at him. I found I was frowning now, though more considered than unhappy. A little dubious, maybe.
“I can't really think of it that way,” I said. “Not yet.”
I believed them, of course. I had ample proof that they were more than human. I had always known that I was different. Gunnthra had long since explained to me who and what I was, and I had no cause to question what he said. It was enough that he remembered me at all, which was more than my own mother had, unless I reminded her.
I was fey, and to a much lesser extent, so was he. Fail, some would call him. A man of fey blood whose powers never manifested. Not fey, not human, but something in between.
“I know it's hard for you,” he stated it as a fact, offering no sympathy. “Fey do not nurture their children, and being raised in the human world, it's hard for some to accept what they are.”
I grinned suddenly. “I can't wait to see it! I can't wait to climb the steps to quicken my power.”
Still seeming dour, he gave a brief nod. “Aye, well,” he said, “we have to get there first.”
Surprised, I turned to look back out over the glacier. “But it's today,” I gestured expansively. “Not even so far as the horizon.” I turned back to see him gazing out over the frozen wasteland. “That's what you said, isn't it?”
He gave another nod of assent. “Norumbega is not far,” he agreed. “It's after that I'm thinking of.”
I gave a light shrug, unworried. Around us the bustle of preparation had died down, the night's camp stored and packed away. A big four-by-four pulled past us and away. Ophelia and Bjorn, by far the most eager of our companions, were first away again.
Nifflheim. It was what waited for us in that place that worried him. Norumbega lead to Nifflheim. My magical kingdom, laboring under a curse of darkness and fog; a land wasting away and dominated by Sluaghadh, Jotnar, Thursar, Hrimthursar... I discarded the strange sounding names Gunnthra had taught me and used the word I knew best. Giants.
I was going to go and fight giants to reclaim my magical kingdom and free my people.
The thought almost made me giggle, but I knew Gunnthra wouldn't like it. I had been very young the first time he told me who and what I was. It was very soon after he found me, rescued me, really. I put that thought aside. It had all been too close to my mother's death, and my feelings for her had always been mixed. I felt as though I had not grieved as much as I should, but it is hard to love someone who has to constantly be reminded that you exist, and of who you are.
“We should go.” I wanted to be moving. I didn't want to lose my buoyant good mood in thoughts of the past.
We climbed into the cab and Gunnthra started the engine. I settled myself as comfortably as I could as we pulled into line. Three battered four-by-fours. Six people. It didn't seem like much, but we were all we had.
We all knew we were taking a risk. But my people, those few who remained, needed me.


# Odin #


I turned up the coat collar against the rain and walked away from the hotel. I hadn't had to pay; I owed them nothing. It was the kind of place you paid in advance and I'd paid cash for the night, apparently. There was nothing else to learn. No questions had been asked when I'd checked in.
I was glad to be away from it. But leaving meant facing my problem. I had a hundred and thirty dollars cash and no idea who I was. The ID in my wallet didn't match my face.
Was I a thief?
The wet pavement was mine. I walked past closed stores, alone in the dark and the rain. It was too early for most places to be open. Cars passed intermittently, tires shushing on wet tarmac, lights bright and picking out individual raindrops as they fell; shadowy figures half hidden within each car. Warm and dry, which I guessed I could still be. But the rain wasn't so bad and the cold didn't bother me.
No one paid any attention to me as they drove by, but I felt somehow hunted. Maybe that's how a thief would feel. Maybe that was how it was. Maybe unease was so much a habit that I felt it even though I couldn't remember why.
A thief. It seemed a logical assumption. A pity I couldn't remember anything about how to do my job. A hundred and thirty dollars wouldn't go far.
I needed to know who I was, but how do you go about finding out who you are when you literally have no idea? Where do you start? Another man's wallet didn't seem a good place to begin. It didn't seem likely that Joel would know anything about me, other than that I had stolen his wallet, maybe. Maybe by force. But then again, he might know something. And it was all I had.
I stopped under the next street light and fished around in the wallet until I found ID with an address. It didn't take a moment.
I'd need a taxi. Or a map. I had no clue where I was, and no idea how far away the address might be from here. The fare might be more than I had.
I walked on. Deserted city streets offered me no clues. At a junction I read the street names, but they meant nothing to me. This could be any city, anywhere. I looked along each street in an attempt to judge which would lead to the center of town. Nothing offered much of a clue. As I stood in the rain and pondered my choices, I noticed a taxi and hailed it as it came close. I frowned as I watched the taxi pass me by; end of shift, going home, not interested in one more fare tonight. I watched the tail lights shrink and fade into the distance.
With a shrug, I turned away and headed the direction the taxi had come from. No need to cross the road. There was nothing to tell one street from another. I paid little mind to landmarks; there was no sense pretending to myself that I was not already as lost as it is possible to be.
A second cab passed me by and increased my annoyance with the world in general and cab drivers specifically. I focused my annoyance on the shadowy driver. It came on through the rain, wipers flicking across the windshield, lights picking out the rain.
“Just stop, dammit,” I growled under my breath, unable to stop myself from giving voice to my annoyance.
The cab slowed fast and sat in the road, not even close to the curb.
Lousy damn driver, I thought as I strode in a long diagonal down the pavement and then out into the road. The cab driver glanced in the rear view as I slid into the back and I frowned back at him as I slammed the door and settled myself.
“Take me to 38 Winslow Road,” I told him.
He pulled away without response. He turned the way I had walked, back toward the hotel. I decided it would be too ironic if the hotel were the address, or so close by as made no difference. A few moments later I was not much surprised when we passed the hotel. I relaxed and watched the buildings go by at city speeds.
My gaze drifted over the dash and the meter. Stopped and focused on the row of zeros. The cab driver hadn't set the fare.
Mentally, I shrugged. Stupid mistake on his part. Not my problem. Probably he was tired. Long shift coming to an end. I considered pointing out his mistake, but decided not to bother. After all, I thought to myself, I was probably a thief. And what would a thief do?
Steal a ride, I decided. And anything else I needed.


# Syn #


A sparse snow fell beyond the windshield, thin swirls of white from a gray sky. The flakes brightened in the headlights otherwise all but invisible glare. The engine idled and the heater ran. The glacier ended a few hundred yards ahead of us; crumpled ice washed up against low, jagged cliffs, which settled into white clad hills that blended with the darkening sky.
“What are we waiting for?” I asked, hoping for a different answer.
“Sunset,” Gunnthra said again.
I worked hard not to fidget. Contented myself with running the earphone cable through my fingers like worry beads. I'd listened to music for a time but nothing suited my mood or successfully distracted me from my disjointed thoughts. Nervously, I waited for something.
“What happens at sunset?”
Gunnthra turned and grinned at me through his beard. “It gets dark.”
I sighed and faced forward again. He liked me to experience things first hand. He said other people's experiences belonged to them, and hearing about them prejudiced your own judgment. Another person's truths, he had often said, will make lies in your own mind. He never answered questions fully, and often cited that reason.
And after it gets dark? I asked myself the question, knowing that asking Gunnthra would be wasted breath. Norumbega would appear dramatically before us, already there but invisible in daylight.
Nonsense, I knew. Norumbega was beneath the glacier. Far away from where it was once reported to be. The sixteenth century French navigator's memories had been manipulated, so Gunnthra had said. Fey had lived in Norumbega then, and had no wish to be well known to the world at large. This glacier had been the river described by Jean Allefonsce; the waters once warmed and the earth made fertile by the powers the fey wielded. But that was long ago. Now there was only frozen earth and the glacier.
We were not so far from Inukjuak, once called Inurjuat. Both names made sense to me once I learned their meaning. Once many people had lived on the now frozen river, and once there had been giants.
I glanced at the small, pale sun, hidden behind low clouds. It seemed the sun had been running along the horizon forever, diminished in increments that each took an age. Giving up on the day reluctantly as time passed, a tiny sliver still visible, the horizon a cascade of subdued reds that themselves hinted at its imminent demise.
“Do the fey worship the sun?”
The explosive but repressed snort of laughter was unexpected.
“No,” Gunnthra wrinkled his brow, bemused, “where did you get that idea?”
I shrugged, abashed. “Jean Allefonsce. The explorer.”
Gunnthra snorted again, and turned his head away to look out into the night. “He was talking about a person, and himself; and how he interpreted things, I suppose. Sol was a fey woman who ruled Norumbega. She was loved by everyone. Worshiped in a way. She was beautiful, or seemed so. Her coercive power manifested in only one subtle way, but strongly. People loved her.”
Her coercive power.
I thought about that. When I walked the steps at the eye of the world, wreathed in ethereal flame that would quicken my powers, I would also manifest a coercive power. And others. The thought thrilled me. Maybe, like Sol, I would become so bright that everyone would love me.
Made suddenly nervously excited by the thought, I giggled.
“It's no laughing matter,” Gunnthra admonished. “The fate of a world rests in your hands. When your powers manifest, there will be a small window of opportunity, a few moments in which you may set all to right or doom the world to eternal darkness.”
He had said as much before, and I did understand. “Focus,” I said.
“Focus your intent,” he agreed. “In that place, in that moment, Nifflheim will rest in the palm of your hand to do with what you will.”
“For good or ill,” I recited his own words back to him.
“Nothing must go wrong.”
“I understand.” My voice sounded meek to my own ears. I didn't want to disappoint Gunnthra, or the others. He was right. My thought were too frivolous. Selfish. I shrank in on myself, lost in contemplation of my own inadequacies. With so much at stake for so many, what had I been thinking of? My own selfish needs and wants and desires.
“Look there, Syn,” Gunnthra pointed.
I looked up. Reassured. Even angry with me, as he surely must be, he still knew I was there. He hadn't forgotten me.
I gasped softly as I looked up. Snow and mist rose in a vast cloud, driven from the body of the glacier. It rose hundreds of feet, driven by some unseen force. The swirling snow billowed outward as it rose, slowed and began to fall around us.
I stared into the sudden, unnatural snowstorm, the world beyond the windshield a confusion of big, clumped snowflakes and swirling mist. The headlamps drove bright light into the storm but showed nothing but a confusion of white and pale blue tendrils of mist. As snow settled on the windshield and began to obscure our view, I thought I saw a hint of movement. I leaned forward, moving my head slowly from side to side so that I could see between the dense patches of obscuring snow. Shadows flitted through the storm.
“Is there someone out there?”
“Yes.” Gunnthra reached out and turned off the lights. Night's fresh darkness swooped in to smother us. The mists were thinning outside, the snow failing. A landscape of black and white slowly reasserted its dominance.
“What?”
“Niflungar,” he pointed through the windshield with one hand and killed the engine with the other.
I looked where he pointed. The shadowy figures, small and slight as children, began to become clear as the last of the snow fell and the mist faded, swirling only a little around each slight figure.
I could clearly see they weren't human.
“What are they?”
“Children of the mist,” he went on. “They are cruel and full of malice and mischief. Lovers of treasure, they hoard it here. They hold Norumbega now, hidden under the ice. They control the gate to Nifflheim. They mustn't know why we are here.”
“Why?” My voice was small, fearful.
“If we take back Nifflheim we will also take back control of the gate and Norumbega. As things stand, Norumbega is secure and safe for them and their treasure. They'll kill to protect that.”
I heard a door slam and snatched my head to one side. Bjorn, Ophelia and the others were climbing out of their vehicles.
I sat and stared. It is one thing to hear stories of mythical creatures, even if you believe them. It is another thing entirely to be confronted with their reality. My whole world view lurched sickeningly around me.
“Time to go,” Gunnthra said. “Don't talk. Just stay by me and you will be fine.”
I nodded sharply. My belly, my whole body felt suddenly light. I recognized the feeling. Fear-fueled adrenaline flooding my veins. My subconscious telling me to run. I knew I couldn't.
There was nowhere to run to.

#

Hi, this is me. The Heir Reluctant is the second book in the series that begins with The King's Ward.

Kelly Ward Reviews said: 

Chris Northern's YA fantasy novel The King's Ward is a delight to the mind. Full of vivid scenes, strong emotions and strong, young characters.
But it's not just for teens. I think many adults will love this strange, unique story just as much as their kids!
It's about loneliness, abandonment and finding oneself, but doesn't sound at all as psychological as I just described. It's a fantasy journey of magic and supernatural abilities.
While I read this, the world melted away and all I saw was the land of Albion and its inhabitants. This story will linger with you long after you've finished it.

5/5--unique!

The worlds and peoples (and fans) demanded a second book of me, and I was happy to oblige. One story was never going to be enough. Even in the writing of this novel, new characters have appeared and new situations arisen that beg to be explored in future stories. I look forward to writing them, and hope you will enjoy reading them just as much.
For those waiting for the next Sumto book, I promise they will be forthcoming, but I cannot say exactly when. The sequel to Prison of Power is also required of me, and I know some of that story, and will tell it as soon as I can. As for the Dancing with Darwin stories, the sequences is incomplete and are also developing toward a point where I can publish. everything in its own time.

The Heir Reluctant will be on general release as an ebook for all platforms April 2015.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Where do you get your ideas from?

It's a question writers get asked. There is no one answer. To begin with, the question applies to many layers of the writing process. I am going to assume, for convenience, that in this case the question applies specifically to Story ideas. It's a big enough question and it happens to be what I'm thinking about. I'm going to use the two book Fey Worlds series, being The King's Ward and The Heir Reluctant as examples. Here's where the ideas came from. I say ideas in the plural, because there is never one idea. It takes two ideas. You bang ideas together and look for sparks, and the sparks are stories.

Here is the initial idea. It's very visual, but nothing much on it's own. A car exploding, coming apart in slow motion. A young girl, an immature telepath/telekinetic is caught in the path of the explosion. She is gripped by the far distant mind of a mature telepath and her body moved rapidly to avoid all the swiftly moving parts of the exploding car. All the while, during this very graphic, matrix like sequence, a calm voice reassures her that everything is fine. Someone is trying to kill her. Someone else won't have that. Guess who wins?

On it's own, this idea wasn't enough for a story. I held it one imaginary hand and grabbed other ideas to bang against it and got no sparks for months. No story. Not yet. I answered some of the questions that come from any idea and found some answers that kind of worked. Who are the telepaths? Where are they? How come she is immature and alone as a telepath? I decided that they are here in our world, few and isolated, and most importantly that the parents of telepaths don't nurture. Later, this last became one of the other ideas, but not yet. Why don't telepaths nurture? Easy, a child would be imprinted with the mind and memories of the adult. This idea has consequences; one of he most obvious being that female telepaths can't reproduce. Their children would be miniature copies of themselves, imprinted with their minds by proximity during pregnancy. That struck me as a little unfair but it is such a logical consequence that it had to stay. No fudging allowed.

So, for a while, I banged these two ideas together and still didn't get any sparks. The exploding car and the absent parent telepath didn't produce any stories. I toyed with scenarios; our young girl at school, puberty bringing the onset of telepathic development, witch-hunters to provide conflict. It wasn't enough. Nothing gelled. No sparks. No story.

Monsters. I wanted monsters for conflict. I certainly needed something better than witch hunters. But how do you get monsters from telepaths? Well, there was a novel I read a long time ago where a far future street gang projected illusions of monsters by wearing chains shot through with prisms that generated the illusion. I forget the writer and the novel now, but the image is nice and made me think of monsters generated by illusion. Illusion maybe made manifest by telekinesis. Telepaths as mythological monsters. Better, maybe, than witch hunters. So, bang the ideas together; telepaths don't nurture, mythological beings are actually telepaths. They have always been here. Okay. Nice.

Still no sparks, though. Not quite there with the ideas. Maybe turn the ideas some and bang them together again. Sitting around and thinking is pretty much half the writers job – and answering questions that earlier ideas generate is a good deal of that thinking.

So... If telepaths don't nurture their young because proximity triggers a link which would imprint the immature mind, which we have established, then at what point does that stop being a factor? Obviously when the child has developed a personality of their own. Might not it the be the case that proximity, perhaps a touch, is a catalyst to telepathic development? Okay, nice. That felt solid enough and became an idea in it's own right, but leaves a question of its own. What is to stop a telepath triggering that development accidentally or intentionally, and early? Lets call that sudden onset breakthrough. Say then that the young telepaths are camouflaged by their own developing powers, that they are effective invisible, easily overlooked, unremembered, hidden by their own minds so no one remembers them, no one touches them. A picture of the childhood of our young fey, our young telepath begins to emerge. It's a whole new idea, really.

Now, remember the young girl from the exploding car scene? Now she is isolated, walking though her own life like a ghost, unremarked upon, unseen, unremembered. Even her own mother has to be prompted to remember who she is. She is a cuckoo, unaware that she is hiding from humans who will know her for what she is and maybe burn her as a witch (or whatever) but is also hiding from her own kind whose mere touch will trigger a breakthrough, a breakthrough which an experienced telepath can use, a sudden burst of power which can be used to... to fashion reality, to build worlds, mythological worlds where fey beings live apart. She is unaware of any this, though; the whole process is subconscious.

Sparks. Sparks everywhere. We have a story.

Calista, the teenage protagonist of The King's Ward stepped into my mind right then, stealing new clothes from a store, more or less invisible to normal people, and on a quest to find her father, to find out who she is, why she is different. Don't touch me, she thinks as people come close; don't touch me; because an errant touch can trigger breakthrough and the injunction to avoid physical contact has been instilled in her from her mother, her mother's own mind coerced (yes, the telepaths can coerce people to obey their will, redact their memories, heal bodies, project illusions, farsee and hear, and move objects with the power of their minds) so... yes, her mother coerced to feed, clean, look after the baby until the child can look after itself, and frequently repeat the injunction, the command, the reproof and rejection.... don't touch me.

So, if Calista is looking for her father, where is he? How is she looking? Well, he would leave clues, wouldn't he? The fey, the telepaths aren't so common that they can afford to leave one of their number isolated forever. At some point they have to be triggered, achieve breakthrough by a touch and join their peers. So, a photograph of her father, and a clue in the picture. The only clue she has. As to where he is, well we already have a mythological aspect that has crept in, and the idea that telepaths can create reality, that the most powerful can create whole worlds. Pocket universes tucked away, where the fey and maybe others live. Albion, Nifflheim, other worlds. Fey worlds.

From here, The King's Ward came to me in a rush and I pretty much started writing. Calista in the clothes store, stealing something to wear, knowing no one would see her if she stayed still even for a few seconds, knowing no one would remember her even if they saw her. Then Byron, another young fey on the same quest, with his own picture. I made Byron just a little older, mainly because I wanted to answer a question and embody that answer in a person. What happens if no fey triggers the breakthrough? Turns out a fey will begin to develop abilities anyway, empathy, telepathy to begin with, and then an uncontrolled breakthrough that usually leads to a burn out, leaving no abilities at all. Byron, then, has begun to develop some abilities.

I can't say much more without going into the story itself, and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you. It's a good story, I think. Certainly I like it, like it well enough to have written a second novel set in the same world and featuring some of the same characters, and well enough to already be planning another.

Where do you get your ideas from? The image of a young girl moving in slow motion as she avoids the burning bits of an exploding car. That and other things.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Responsibility At Last (Oh, Good)

I am selfish and irresponsible. No one who knows me would be able dispute this with a straight face. But it has been fine, simply because no one else is effected by any consequences and I myself can handle my own life perfectly fine. I have been able to afford to be irresponsible, and have enjoyed it a great deal.

Imagine my joy in realising this has changed.

Putting aside my own feelings about the recent sudden death of my father, the consequence is that my mother needs someone to look out for her and look after her. And that would be me. I am quietly horrified to realise that it is I who must be responsible. Someone has to be. No one else is available. Including, sad to say, my mother.

Over the next couple of months I am going to be working to fix a long term sustainable situation for my mother, one that includes me being right there to look out for her. It's certainly something I can make happen, and I will. But transition periods are always tricky, as I'm sure most of you know full well. They bring added expense and stress, which stress and expense I'm going to try and keep all for myself.

I might need a little assist with that.  Here's what I would like you to do, if you feel so inclined. Pick a book of mine that you like, or think you might like, and give it a little simple promotion. A facebook post, tweet or whatever seems easiest for you. A quite small sales boost over the next couple of months would make a surprisingly large difference in helping me keep this change stress free, which is why I am asking for the help.


My dad, bless him, would probably not approve of my asking for help. He never asked anyone for help, despite childhood illnesses that left him physically disabled for life; the medics at the time were surprised he lived and told him flat out that he would never walk on the makeshift version of a hip they had managed to cobble together with bone grafts and pins. He did walk, being determined and stubborn and content to accept the pain involved. He worked physically demanding jobs for most of his life (one shoulder joint was also a cosmetic fix that didn't work at first, and never worked perfectly). He was quite extraordinary man, really. In the last couple of years he would sometimes, if I asked if I might "have a go" at what he was struggling with, grudgingly pass me the hammer or whatever and say "I suppose you could, if you like." I loved him and will miss him.