The Story Behind the Books – The Tattered Banner

The Tattered Banner, Huntsman's Amulet, and Telastrian Song book covers.

After receiving a couple of questions on this topic, I thought I’d write up a series of posts about the inspirations behind my books. To start with, I’m going to talk about my first trilogy, Society of the Sword, and The Tattered Banner in particular.

At the time, I thought that The Tattered Banner would be the only book I ever published. It started as a piece of historical fiction, set around a made up military school set in early Renaissance northern Italy. At the time, I really only wrote historical fiction, and always hit up against the same obstacle. I wasn’t willing to take liberties with history to help my plot along.

I was fascinated by the changes in technology, art, and the rapid growth of the economies around the European trade centres of the time, and the changes that brought to society. Gunpowder was becoming a thing in Europe at that time, but that was something I wanted to avoid in this story. I wanted to keep the focus on swordplay. This is the society of the sword, after all! How to make this world seem plausible without one of the major technological advances? Easy. Magic!

That presented me with something else that might draw attention away from this society’s veneration for swordsmen, so I made magic illegal. That gave rise to all sorts of things, like the Intelligenciers, and also some of the major plot points for the two following books. I placed some aspects of magic into a bit of a grey area. They were things that this society grandfathered into legality as they were just too convenient for society to do without. It was a hypocrisy that intrigued me, and one that I think works well in a society that is mercantile and ruthless.

I wrote the book on and off over the course of about a year, circling what I knew was ultimately going to be a dead end. Then, one day, the I finally realised the obvious. If I make it a fantasy story, I can hold true to the history and societies that fascinate me, but create my own history and events to suit my story.

From that moment, things happened quickly. Starting over, I rewrote the story with a new fantasy setting, and did all the world building that entailed on my lunch breaks at work. I had my new manuscript complete in about six months. I then forgot about it for a while!

When I came back to read The Tattered Banner’s manuscript, I thought, ‘this is actually pretty decent’. I’ll never make the claim that I thought it was going to change the face of fantasy – that really isn’t what I set out to do with my stories – but I thought it could certainly stand with its peers. I bought a copy of the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and started giving thought to querying agents.

At that time, self publishing was really taking off, and that started to catch my attention. I never thought I’d have a career writing, and I was working very hard to make a success of the career I did have, so the self publishing route became an ever more attractive option. In the end I decided to take that route, to get the book out there, tick it off the bucket list, and get back to my day job. I decided if I was going to do this, I had to be able to stand over every aspect, for it to be something I could be proud of. I researched editors, proof readers, and cover designers, embarked on that process.

The title came to me very late. Originally I was going to just call this book the Society of the Sword. While I was having the cover designed, a scene near the end of the book presented the perfect name, and the book became The Tattered Banner. In April of 2013, I finally published it on a Thursday evening. When I woke up on Friday, expecting not a single sale, I’d sold 12 copies.

Within 3 months, I’d covered my costs of putting the book together and was starting to think there might be something to all of this. I was starting to consider a career change at the time, from being an independent practitioner (barrister) to working in house in a legal department. I thought I could probably risk a year’s career break in between the move to see if the writing might take off.

Shortly before I made that decision, The Tattered Banner featured on BuzzFeed’s Best Fantasy of 2013 in early December 2013, and everything changed overnight. Literally. There were so many mentions and alerts on my Twitter when I woke up the next day, I thought my account had been hacked. What had seemed like a possibility now seemed dangerously like a reality. I made my choice, and didn’t return to work the following January. It was a bit of a risk, but I’d planned to make that jump the following May anyway, so this was more of an acceleration of an established plan than a leap into the void!

I’m not sure what The Tattered Banner would look like if I were to write it today. I’ve learned so much as a writer in the 8 years since I wrote it, so it would probably be pretty different. Nonetheless, I still feel like I achieved what I set out to do with it – create something I could stand over and be proud of, which I am. The Tattered Banner is the book that started me on this journey. The people who bought it and read it allowed me to stay on that journey, leading to all the books I’ve written since.

Updates!

It’s crazy to think that it’s a full month since I posted my last Space Marine photo – that was already 2 weeks into lockdown for us here, and was all the stored up photos I had to rely on! I’m looking forward to getting back to my painting table and sharing some more of my efforts with you all, but that looks like it’s still some way off, so I wanted to post some updates to let you all know what I’ve been up to!

I usually have a few projects on the go at any one time, all at different stages of completion, one with my editors, while the other is on my desk. The whole lockdown thing has upset my schedules a little but I’ve a couple of different stories at an advanced stage right now.

The first of these projects is the one that you’ll probably be most interested in. It’s a new fantasy story with new characters set in my Middle Sea world, and picks up some of the concepts I raised in my previous trilogies. As I usually like to do, it’ll be a self contained story that you can read on its own, but with some cameos from old characters and references to events from the past books. I’ve not got a title for this one yet, but it’s what I’m working on right now, and the first draft is almost complete. I’m hopeful that I’ll still be able to hit my original target of releasing it before the end of the year!

The other project is a bit of a new area for me, and quite an exciting prospect as a result! I’ve often talked about how I love to write the genres I like to read – fantasy, sci-fi, and action/adventure. I’ve been working on a couple of sci-fi ideas for a while now, and have completed the first book in a military sci-fi/space opera style series, entitled ‘The Alpha Protocol’.

It’s a similar style of story telling to my fantasy work, just set in space! It was a lot of fun to write, those who’ve read it so far tell me it was a lot of fun to read (and they don’t always say that!), so I’m hoping you guys will enjoy it too! I’m hoping to get this book out in the coming Autumn.

We’ve been surviving the lockdown here with lots of cooking, and also some chocolate making, which has been surprisingly successful. Sadly, few, if any, of these creations last long enough to be photographed, so it would seem I’m not destined to become a foodie instagramer!

I hope everyone else is doing well, staying healthy, and surviving the lockdown. If you’re looking for something to read, I believe Knight of the Silver Circle is on sale at the moment. I might be a bit biased in saying I think it’s a great book, and well worth checking out if you haven’t already, but hey, everyone’s got their favourite!

Take care!

Now available on Pinterest!

UnknownIn my continued efforts to keep up with social media, I’ve set up a Pinterest account. I thought it’d be a useful way to share with you some of the images of places, weapons, armour, and clothing that I draw inspiration from to add flavour to the Middle Sea World.

You can find me here: Pinterest

I’m slowly populating a few boards with images as they cross my path, but there’s a selection of everything, from some buildings that are pretty representative of what you might find in Ostenheim, to the swords they carry, the clothes they wear, and the armour that keeps them safe!

I’m completely new to Pinterest, so if anyone has any tips or suggestions, feel free to drop me a line! When I’ve a bit more time, I’ll try to split the pinned photos up into categories that are more specific to the individual regions, but for the time being, there should be enough to give a general sense of how I see the world my characters inhabit!

The long awaited Ostenheim City Guide…

Ok, I had an email recently reminding me about the Ostenheim City Guide that I was planning to do a while back. I have to admit, with all the work that's been going into getting the entire Wolf of the North trilogy put together, I completely forgot about it! I've dug out the old file, and instead of putting it up as a complete booklet - at least initially - I'm going to post instalments of it here on the blog. I'll be getting on to that over the next week or so.

In other news, the first part of The Wolf of the North trilogy will be going off for line edit shortly, as soon as I've made a few slight changes, so things are well on track with that.

I hope everyone's well!

End of year report!

Ok, first off, apologies for posting here so infrequently. It's not down to laziness on my part (well, ok, maybe a bit) but because I've been hard at work on my next trilogy, The Wolf of the North. I wanted to have at least a first draft of all three books completed before I move forward with the first one, and I'm almost at that point now, so hopefully not too much longer to wait! It's really hard to believe that over a year has passed since I released The First Blade of Ostia. Time really flies when you spend most of your day in a made up world!

By way of teaser, The Wolf of the North is set in the Middle Sea world, but with new characters and new locations that I haven't had the chance to explore before. It's also allowed me to look at the world from a different cultural perspective, and as small a thing as that might sound, it's been a lot of fun to take these ideas and play around with them from a different viewpoint. It's the story of a young man from the Barbarian North who, from an inauspicious start, becomes a legend in his own time.

Next year will be all about The Wolf of the North, but the fact that I've got a lot of the hard work done on it already means I'll have a little time for another character who's been simmering away in the back of my mind for quite a long time now!

That's about all I've got for now, so I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas! Thanks again for your support and interest in my work!

Best wishes,

Duncan

Black Sails

I’ve just finished watching the second season of Black Sails, and enjoyed it enough to be motivated to write a post about it! I thought the first season was excellent, and this one was a solid step up, both in terms of the story and the characters.

The storyline is developing nicely and expanding to give the viewer a broader appreciation of the characters and the world they inhabit. A new character was brilliantly sinister, while others were developed to a much deeper level, Charles Vane in particular, who is threatening to knock Jack Rackham from his perch as my favourite character. Vane has been brought from a comparatively two dimensional psycho to a man with much more interesting dynamics, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where they take him in the next season. The sets are incredible, and the ship scenes brilliant. It captures the atmosphere of the period brilliantly, and shows the pirates as far more than plundering, rum swigging savages.

If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well worth a look. A word of warning however – it’s definitely for a grown up audience. Lots of nudity, violence, and bad language. It’s certainly not Pirates of the Caribbean!

Updates and an announcement of sorts…

Ok,  time for an update I think!

First off, there’ve been a few minor visible changes to the website, but a fair bit more going on under the bonnet (hood!). There’s still a little more to come, so please bear with me! Between renovating my apartment, minor knee surgery, and finishing off drafts for the first part of my next trilogy, finding time for everything over the past little while has been a challenge!

There’ll be a couple of more interesting things coming down the pipeline pretty soon, one of which is a new novella, called The Marcher Lord. It’s the story of a young, rural swordsman making his first journey to his capital city. It explores a region in the west of the Middle Sea world, called Mirabaya, so it’s been a fun opportunity to roll back the covers from another little bit of the world and explore it. I’ll be posting more about The Marcher Lord over the next few days. Expect plenty of intrigue and swashbuckling!

That’s all for now, so I hope everyone is doing well!