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.

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