For a long time I’ve been wanting to write some flash fiction. Several years ago I stumbled across the weekly flash fiction challenges Chuck Wendig, publishes on his blog. I’ve attempted a couple, but none have ever been completed until now. Below is my attempt at ‘The End Of A Long Journey’. The brief was quite simple in that it was 1,500 words on the end of a long journey. The hardest part was to show a beginning, middle and end. I think I just about achieved this, although it’s probably too brief an episode.
I had initially planned to write a sci-fi story, and had an idea I played with for a few hours. However, I could not get a certain place of pilgrimage out of my mind, as shown in the photo. Pleasingly the story comes in at 1502 words.
The pilgrim fell to his knees, landing awkwardly on the first step. The pain was brief and nothing like the aches and pains that hounded him in his old age. Before him, the remaining seven stone steps rose towards the shrine, a final challenge at the end of his long journey, a challenge he would savour, the final act of his penitence.
He took a deep breath, his staff in his right hand, the left clasping a rosary. He lifted himself to the second stone step. As he did so, he noticed that each stone was worn away by the passage of kneeling, and standing pilgrims, such as himself.
The journey had started years before. He had left his homeland in search of glory, to fight in the great crusade against the Ottomans, the Crusade of Nicopolis. The crusade had failed disastrously, and in the chaos of the final battle, he was one of the few that had successfully slipped away. Travelling first to the Holy city of Jerusalem, he had determined to visit the places that his patron saint had been intending to visit.
The Holy City had been hot and dusty, the memory of it sustaining him on his long return journey across Europe. The hospitality of the Saracens had, at first, surprised him. As a pilgrim he had frequently lived off the charity of others and the followers of Muhammad were just as generous, if not more so, than the Christians. One young man had explained to him the practice of zakāt, and how this would be shared with the poor, the needy and travellers. The practice had struck him as far more practical than the tithing practiced in the western Christian world. There were many other things that had impressed him about the Saracens and the they way they lived their lives.
He had visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, overwhelmed by visiting a place that the Lord had been. The services, in Latin, were familiar and comforting, despite his being in a foreign land. While he had considered visiting other places in the Holy Land, he knew his true calling was to visit the holy places his patron saint had been planning to visit, Jerusalem being the final of these. The journey would be long and hard, but would bring him home and to the place that the saint had left this earthly life.
The third step was a challenge. An ache spread up his back, following the line of an old wound. He lifted his right leg, grimacing as the ache became a sharper pain, yet he carefully lowered his knee to the worn stone. The left leg was much easier. He paused, allowing the worst of the pain to pass, ignoring the other pilgrims making their own journeys up the steps.
His mind went back to his youth. His parents and siblings had died horribly, coughing and in fever, black swellings erupting on their bodies. He remembered his mother dead in the corner of a room. It had been a terrifying time, with many people claiming that the pestilence was a punishment from God. Others had blamed strangers. He had even taken part in a revenge attack against some strangers who had been accused of brining the pestilence into the town.
Yet, those dark days had not taken him and cheating death had soon become something of a habit. For several years after the death of his family, he had lived on his wits, sometimes alone, sometimes not. He had accepted charitable handouts from the monastery, at other times stealing from those better off than him, frequently poaching. His skills with the later were what had brought him to the attention of the lord of the manor. Caught for poaching, he should have been severely punished, probably executed. Instead, he had been seen and admired, for his use of a stolen bow. That admiration had led to his eventual adoption by the childless lord, who had seen some reflection of himself in the resilient youth.
He grinned at the memory of that bow, as he crawled onto the fifth step. He had barely noticed the fourth step during his recollections. That bow had seemed so powerful at the time. He had been inordinately proud of it when he had stolen it. He was now half way to his final goal, buoyed up the memory, his long journey almost at an end.
Ah yes, he thought. The journey to Canterbury had been long and hard. Jerusalem had been the final place that his patron saint had been planning to visit, Canterbury had been the second. He knew the immense distance between the two cities, for most of his journey to Jerusalem, at least the part that had led to Nicopolis, had been in the brave company of fellow warriors. The journey from Jerusalem to Canterbury was immense, at times lonely, at times not, often dangerous, but every step, a step of contrition. To visit the shrine of Saint Thomas of Canterbury had been truly worth the journey. In the elegance of the shrine, in the immensity of the huge cathedral, he had. for the first time, begun to feel a peace. As he had travelled the leagues, he had felt the torment of his sins increasing upon his soul, yet at the shrine, Saint Thomas had seen fit to intercede with a peace beyond describing.
The sixth step, was so heavily worn, in the centre, by the pilgrims feet; the sixth step before the shrine of St William of Perth. What a man, what an example. As the pilgrim’s patron saint, the patron saint of adopted children, St William was a shining example of Christianity. That was why he was on this pilgrimage, to obtain the intercession of St William. For the saint had adopted a child, trained him into the saint’s trade of baker. St William had been wise and generous, giving a tenth of everything he baked to the poor.
As a knight, the adopted son of a knight, the pilgrim had found it hard to emulate the saint in this respect, but he had tried. There had been many times when he had given alms, often more than was needed. He had always paid his tithe to the Church, although there were times when he knew he had been less than honest about the amount due. He had tried to attend Mass every day, frequently succeeding, inspired by the piety of St William. He knew, in his heart, that his intentions had almost always been good, and when he failed, well this penitence would address that.
The seventh step. His knees throbbed with pain. He did not know how long he had been climbing the steps. Many other pilgrims had overtaken him. He grasped tight his clamshell pilgrims badge, the symbol of St William. The final step would not defeat him, the once proud knight.
As mounted the final step of this great challenge, he thought of the great parallel between the saint and himself, the true reason for his pilgrimage. St William had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, by way of Canterbury and Rochester. Yet, his adopted son Cockermay Doucri, had attacked him, a great blow striking William’s head, before the traitorous charge had cut his throat. The pilgrim had likewise failed his adoptive father, neglecting to protect him in the great battle at Nicopolis. He had watched as a lance pieced the side of his guardian, seeing the attack coming, yet fearful of the consequences to himself. So he had not acted, certain in the knowledge that he would inherit. He had forgotten his debt to his guardian, he had not acted. He could have interposed himself between the attacker and his guardian; he could have struck the assailant from his horse, he had not acted. He had merely shouted a warning; itself inadequate over the noise of the mass of chargers. It was as if he, himself, had cut his father’s throat.
The pilgrim let out a sigh, one hand on the archway, the other on his staff as he raised himself atop the pilgrims’ stairs, taking in the Norman architecture of the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. One final act remained at the end of his long journey. He would light a candle and pray for the intercession of Saint William. For he was penitential, he knew his sins, the whole pilgrimage had been an act of contrition, for he knew Saint William would intercede if he truly repented. For had Saint William not already interceded in a far more miraculous situation, curing the madness of the woman who had found his corpse? Had not this miracle been the one that had convinced the monks of Rochester to William’s martyrdom and saintly presence in the throne-room of the Lord?
His hands shook as he lit the candle, it was the end of a long journey. His eyes closed.
It’s a time of change for me right now, and so it’s also a time to take stock and plan for the future. So where to next?
After much thought, I have decided to relocate from the Kent coast to London. Much as I love being by the sea, and have lived there for the last 16 years, I also miss living in a vibrant city. An excellent job came up in London, and I’ll be starting it just after Easter.
As a full-time teacher, I struggle to find much time to write. This will be even more challenging as I’ll be running a department again. However, having spent the last few months working in a school department alongside the prolific Elsye Harwood, I’m sure I’ll somehow find the time. Many a morning was spent comparing our experiences of writing. Almost without fail, she would have written substantially more than me the evening before.
So, to the future? The first series of the Royal Zombie Corps was completed with the release of Tigers at Cambrai at the start of March. I’ve got several ideas of where to take this story, and next would obviously be the conclusion of the Great War. However, much scope exists to address the chaos of the earlier Weimar Republic, and the Russian and Irish Civil Wars. There are also the small actions and conflicts that occurred across the British Empire, any of which could be an interesting setting for the Zombie stories. However, I must confess I’d also like to address the issue of a general zombie outbreak.
The next book I’m working on is the sequel to The Butcher’s Funeral. This was the first published story I wrote. This was initially serialised so that I would maintain the motivation as I battled through the chapters, uncertain if I would ever succeed in completing it. The next story will be longer and released as a single book. At the time of writing this blog, I can confirm that I have a whole story outline, with the first chapter already fully drafted. However, work on this has been put on hold for the whole of March as I prepared for my move to London.
Over the next few weeks I’m also intending to play with some short stories. This is so I can get back into the habit of writing, while setting up my new working patterns. I’ve always wanted to have a go at some sci-fi writing, something I’ve never previously attempted, so this is likely to feature over the next month. Of course, all this is subject to the workload in my new position, and as I’ll probably also be marking high school examinations, time will be tight.
Due to the half-term holiday, I’ve been able to quickly finish editing Tigers at Cambrai. It is available for pre-order on Amazon as of today. Tigers at Cambrai can be downloaded from 3rd March 2017. This is the fourth book in the Royal Zombie Corps series and the final one in the initial sequence covering 1916-1917.
Their greatest challenge, so far, awaits the men of the Royal Zombie Corps at Cambrai. After a successful demonstration, the British plan to use the zombie tactics formulated by Alfie Marsh, alongside the other advances of the war. However, the enemy is determined to fight off this new horror of trench warfare, in an increasingly industrialised war.
Book 4 of the Royal Zombie Corps continues the story of Alfie Marsh, and his friends, as they face the might of the Triple Alliance in the trenches of Western Europe. Following a zombie outbreak in 1916, the British have been developing the zombie as an offensive weapon to break the deadlock of the trenches. Following the accidental discovery that zombies can be controlled by a select group of individuals, the men of the Royal Zombie Corps have been developing the tactics that they hope will bring the war to a successful conclusion in 1917.
This story is written in British English and is approximately 23,000 words long.
Why did the butcher die? Was it his wife or one of his many enemies? Intent on delivering justice, friends Judd and Law become entwined in a situation far more complex than they first realised. As they delve deeper, they soon find themselves at risk of harm.
The Butcher’s Funeral was initially published as a series of short stories on Amazon, before being compiled as an electronic book.
Obviously as a writer, it’s one of the landmark moments you look forward to, your own book in print. I have now published several stories electronically and it would have been easy to go down the old fashioned route of vanity publishing. Indeed some friends have done this in the past. One friend has a very nice collection of beautifully bound hardback books mouldering in his garage.
Fortunately, it is Amazon to the rescue yet again for the independent writer. Amazon have recently integrated their CreateSpace offering into the self-publishing toolkit, it is now really straight-forward to convert electronic books into a print offering. Furthermore, as it is print-on-demand, the up-front costs to the writer are a few hours of work. This is much better the thousands of pounds that may be required for a vanity print run.
Regardless of how many books sell, I am one happy author. I am now off to put a paperback copy of my own work on my bookcase for the first time.
I am pleased to announce that Tigers on the Western Front is now available on Amazon UK and Amazon.com. In part 2 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, the Allies continue their development of the zombie as a war winning weapon. Alfie Marsh, and his friends, are in the thick of it as the British find ways to harness the power of the flesh-eating creatures found in the front lines.
Book 3 in the series, ‘Gas! Gas! Gas!’ is now in the final editing stages and I will probably release it in one month. The fourth, and final book in the series, is almost finished. It is likely that I will likely release it in November or December.
The British have a new war winning weapon to break the deadlock of the trenches. The zombie knows no pain and inflicts terror on the enemy. The Allies pin their hopes on a great victory at Arras.
Book 2 of the Royal Zombie Corps continues the story of Alfie Marsh, and his friends, as they face the might of the Triple Alliance in the trenches of Western Europe. Not only are they facing the brutal conditions of the front line, but they continue their development of a new form of warfare – that of the reanimated dead.
This story is written in British English and is approximately 24,000 words long.
I’ve finally had the artwork made for ‘Tigers on the Western Front’. Actually I’ve been sitting on the finished product for a week as the release date for the book has slipped. Over the last few weeks I’ve been tied up by a rather strung-out, and convoluted, house move. At the start of the month I also started at a new, and challenging, coastal school, so the day job is keeping me rather busy.
Back to the book then. The final edits just need to be completed, the artwork needs uploading, and then the book will be live on Amazon for the whole world to read. I’ve just got to fit that around marking 150 pupil’s exercise books this weekend.
I like this cover, by the same artist as who did the cover for Blood, Mud and Corpses. This cover has a far more pulpy feel, which fits well with this type of story. I’m looking forward getting the artwork done for the third book, ‘Gas! Gas! Gas!’ and also the, as yet unnamed, final book in this first sequence. I’ve not yet come up with a name that I’m happy with for the final book, although I do have a couple of ideas. Moving further afield, I’ve already got the second and third sequence of books roughly planned, probably a further eight stories of 25,000 words each.
So over the next few days, hoping to get the final edits finalised. Stay tuned to this blog for the latest information.
Tigers on the Western Front, as the second book in the series and picks up from the end of book one. Marsh and his friends are getting to grips with the new weapon they stumbled upon. The British have a new war winning weapon to break the deadlock of the trenches. The zombie knows no pain and inflicts terror on the enemy. The Allies pin their hopes on a great victory at Arras.
Book two, Tigers on the Western Front, of the Royal Zombie Corps series will be released at the end of August. It’s undergoing a final read through and the cover design still needs finalising. There are four books in the initial RZC series and the intention is to release each a month apart. So to wet the appetite of those who have already read the first book, here’s a teaser from book 2.
The story carries straight on from Blood, Mud and Corpses, and this teaser sees the characters returning to the camp at Étaples to work on a special project.
The journey to Étaples was far more comfortable than their original journey to the front had been. For a start, there was no fearful anticipation of the unknowns of combat on the front line. Furthermore, the train was not been overly crowded with them having their own carriage to themselves. In the locked mail compartment, there was a large sealed animal crate.
‘We’re going to find the girls when we get there.’ Morgan had been insisting on variations of this theme for most of the journey. Now sat in some sidings, waiting for the line to clear, the idea was beginning to wear thin.
‘What girls? You’ve been to Étaples and there were no girls.’ Simmonds explained, ‘Not a single one.’ He had rejoined the squad just before they had marched off with their special crate carried on a wagon. Despite being bitten by a zombie when they had first encountered them in the village, he had not turned into one himself.
‘There must be some. Surely those Canaries have them hidden away?’ Morgan argued, ’They’ve got every other luxury there. Why’d they not have girls there?’
‘Canaries don’t like girls. That’s why they’d not have any girls there.’ Simmonds explained, ‘They only like themselves don’t you know.’
‘There’s the fishing town?’ Morgan insisted, ‘Plenty of girls there.’
‘The officers will have them all to themselves, I bet.’ Simmonds suggested, ‘Even the fishwives I ‘spect.’
‘I’d let you know lads.’ Scott laughed, ‘But I’ve got to nursemaid you lot. So no trips to town for me.’
The time on the train passed slowly. At one point they had been delayed and rumours of sabotage or aerial bombing circulated. During that pause to the their journey, Wells had left the train, quickly returning with several liberated bottles of wine that he claimed he had traded for some cigarettes. The rest of the journey had passed quite merrily and without further major delay. The sheer volume of traffic moving towards the front lines had been impressive. Train after train of soldiers, supplies, and heavy equipment such as artillery, flowed past in an unending procession.
Finally the train had arrived at the railhead. It was dark and the rain was pouring down. The remnants of the alcohol in their systems provided little insulation. As the travellers unloaded their cargo, onto a wheeled wagon, the new staff sergeant introduced himself.
Tigers on the Western Front will be released at the end of August 2016.
Here is the new over for ‘Blood, Mud and Corpses’, the first book in the Royal Zombie Corps series.
The book is currently uploading on Amazon and will likely be available within the next day.
I’m just finalising the artwork on the new book, ‘Blood, Mud and Corpses’. The book should be released before the end of this month. I’ll upload the cover sometime over the weekend.
‘Blood, Mud and Corpses’ is the first book in the Royal Zombie Corps series. Book 2 is at the proofreading stage and book 3 is in final editing. A teaser for the new book is below.
“No one knew when the endless bloodshed and grindingly futile toil of the trenches would ever end. Then a miracle came from a source totally removed from even the most fantastic of dreams.”
The series is set during the First World War, following a group of soldiers as they are conscripted into the British Army during 1916. The brutality of the war becomes far greater during their first experience of combat as they stumble across something unexpected in no-man’s-land.
The casualty rates were horrific for both sides, one advancing into a hail of machine gun bullets, the other crushed under the weight of artillery.
The Battle of Arras was meant to be a turning point in the war. There were stories, rumours even, of strange events. Stories that circulated among us Tommies, of a phantom battalion that battered through a hail of machine-gun fire, falling upon the Germans within unheard of rage. They called them Tigers.”
Oliver Gill. Captain in the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. Interviewed post-war for an unpublished research paper on the Battle of Arras, 1917.
I’ve been working on a new story for the last few months. In fact, this work in progress comes from an idea I was playing with a year ago, partly inspired by a series of interviews with World War One veterans published by the BBC History Magazine. The teaser above, from this new book, is actually the opening section, a fictional aural history interview.
I’m just working through the first draft of the first story. Provisionally the series has been titled RZC – wonder if anyone will work out what the initials stand for without any extra clues? The story is clearly set during World War One, introducing a new group of characters and a secret weapon known as Tigers. There are a variety of inspirations for this story, but I’ll keep them to myself for now or the teaser will give away too much.