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.

Society of the Sword Now in Audio!

Hey everyone,

The Society of the Sword trilogy is now available in audio. Derek Perkins narrates this trilogy, giving it a slightly different flavour to the Wolf of the North, but does an equally superb job, and makes this setting his own. If you’ve enjoyed any of my books, audio or otherwise, I think you’ll really like this one. It’s all three parts in one volume, so you can binge through the entire trilogy in one go!

You can get your copy at Audible or Amazon:

Audible

Amazon US

Amazon UK

I’ve been particularly looking forward to this release, as enough time has passed for me to forget a lot about Society of the Sword (Wolf of the North is still a bit recent for me to revisit it!), so I get to listen to it as close to fresh as it can be when you’re the one who wrote it!

Upcoming release dates

I’ve got some firmer dates for upcoming releases for my various offerings, so I wanted to share them with you.

First up will be the audio of Jorundyr’s Path. It’s slated for a 1 August 2017 release, so less than a month off already – how time flies!

The Society of the Sword trilogy will be released in audio as an omnibus in mid September.

Finally, the final part of the Wolf of the North trilogy will be out in digital and print early this October, with audio to follow not too long after.

As always, you can subscribe to my mailing list here for a notification as to when things are coming out. I try to limit my mails to release announcements, so you don’t need to worry about me filling up your inboxes!

I hope everyone’s having a great summer so far, and for those of you in or from the US, have a great 4th of July!

Duncan

Now available on Kindle Unlimited…

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I just wanted to announce that my entire back catalogue is now available on Kindle Unlimited. You can find my books at the following links:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

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!

Things I watched over Christmas

My Christmas viewing revolved around a few box sets and some stuff on Netflix. First off was an A/B session of ‘Borgia’ and ‘The Borgias’. Coming to the European-made Borgia from the US-made The Borgias was a bit jarring, and initially I wasn’t at all impressed with the former. I like Jeremy Irons as an actor, and think he’s one of those actors who has gravitas to burn. However, after a few episodes, I thought John Doman—despite an American accent I gather a great many viewers were put off by—was far better suited to the role of Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI. As my esteem for him grew, so to did my opinion of Borgia as a whole.

The supporting cast were excellent, if they can be called that. Any of the major parts, from Cesare and Lucrezia to Alessandro and Giulia Farnese, could be considered leading players. Across the board, I thought the actors in Borgia were far stronger, and far better suited to the parts they played.

Both shows portrayed the period well, although once again I felt Borgia got it a bit closer to the mark. I like watching shows like this in an attempt to immerse myself into that atmosphere, as it is, broadly speaking, the period that the Middle Sea world is set in at the time of The Tattered Banner and The First Blade of Ostia. My inspiration files for weapons, clothes, and architecture are filled with pictures of things from the 1450-1650 period.

Overall, I think both series are worth watching, but if you only have time for one, I’d go with Borgia. This is the area of history that most interests me, and I can definitely see myself watching Borgia again in the not too distant future.

I also watched the new Netflix show ‘Marco Polo’ which I really enjoyed. We go from an area of history that I know quite a bit about, to one I know very little about. I’ve not made anything more than a cursory reading of Asian and Mongol history, which is something I’m going to have to rectify this year, as it really is fascinating. A very good show, with solid acting across the board—I thought Benedict Wong playing Kublai Khan was particularly excellent—and one which I’m eagerly anticipating the second season of.

I have the first season of the recent BBC version of The Three Musketeers next in the queue, which I’m looking forward to. I’ve mentioned before I think that The Three Musketeers is one of my favourite stories, so I’m interested to see what they do with it. From the bits I’ve seen, it looks pretty encouraging.

As a reminder, there are still signed copies of The First Blade of Ostia up to be won over on Goodreads. You can enter the competition by clicking here.

Well, I hope everyone had a great Christmas, and is having a very happy new year!

The First Blade of Ostia available in paperback!

The First Blade of Ostia is now available in paperback. I recently received my proofs and I have to say I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out. Of my covers so far, I think this one is my favourite.

IMG_0187As usual, I’ve included the paperback in Amazon’s matchbook program, which means if you buy the paperback, you get the Kindle version for free.

To mark the arrival of the paperback, I’m also running a giveaway over on Goodreads to win a signed copy. You can enter it here.

Don’t forget there’s still a giveaway running for signed copies of The Tattered Banner, which you can enter here.

Otherwise, I hope everyone is all set for Christmas, and you all have a really great holiday!

Ostenheim

Ever since I started imagining Ostenheim, I’ve been scribbling maps on scraps of paper, adding, deleting and altering as the stories developed and the city grew in my mind. I’ve wanted to get a proper map of the city made up for a long time, and now I have. Here it is:

Ostenheim(web)

(Click to enlarge)

The map was drawn up by the very talented Robert Altbauer. You can see more of his work at his website. I can’t express how delighted I am with his work – it’s a great experience to finally see the image that’s been in my head for such a long time. We chose a style similar to the Renaissance era city maps from books like Civitates Orbis Terrarum; something that looks like it was created at the time it is set in, rather than a modern map of an old city.

The map will be a great accompaniment to the series of posts about the city that is upcoming, and will make my job of explaining where all the important buildings are a lot easier!

Updates…

Ok, the Ostenheim blog series is taking a little longer than expected, as I’m juggling a few balls at the moment. For now, another photoshop teaser will have to do –

Old Book CoverI considered doing the whole thing in this style, but reckon it will be easier to read by putting them in regular blog posts.

It will also be delayed a little longer as I’ve something else coming down the pipeline which will be taking pride of place next week, but more of that anon!