Out Now: Ashes of the Ancestors

The cover of the book Ashes of the Ancestors

In a haunted monastery at the heart of a crumbling empire, a lone priest tends the fires for the dead. A servant bound by the bones of her family, Magdalisa is her people’s last link to the wisdom of the past.

But as the land around them dies, new arrivals throw the monastery into turmoil. A dead warlord demanding recognition. Her rival, seizing the scraps of power. Two priests, both claiming to serve the spirits, both with their own agendas.

As ancient shadows struggle for the soul of an empire, Magdalisa must decide how far she will go to keep tradition alive.

My novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, is out today from Luna Press Publishing. A fantasy story about tradition and our relationship with the past, Ashes of the Ancestors is far and away the best thing I’ve produced so far, and you should obviously go grab a copy. It comes out alongside five other novellas from fantastic speculative fiction authors, which you can read about here, and there’s a launch video with all of us talking about our books on the Luna Press YouTube channel.

Early sales and ratings really help a book reach its audience, so don’t hold back. If stories about ghosts and history sound at all like your thing, or if you’ve enjoyed my other work, then go grab a copy right now…

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

What Miracles Remain – a fantasy short story

The cover of the novella Ashes of the Ancestors

The first warning Dareios heard of the fire came from a dog.

He was lying on the miraculous grass beneath the village’s one tree, that trunk which had sprung overnight from the earth, restoring life to the parched ground around it. He lay exhausted from a long morning trying to coax crops from the dirt, while also trying to ignore Yianna’s mindless talk of hope and the future. Dareios worked as hard as anyone because this was his home and that was what you did, but any fool could see that the land was dying, and he was sick of suffering through Yianna’s delusions.

A howl ripped through the air. He bolted to his feet, caught the hint of smoke, and hurtled into the village.

“Fire!” he bellowed, sprinting toward a crackling sound. From the fields, others took up his cry.

However the fire started, it had spread fast. Four houses were ablaze and flames were advancing into neighbouring homes.

Dareios tore a curtain from a doorway and battered at the flames. Sparks flew and ashes whirled while hot air scratched his throat. Neighbours appeared, some with blankets to batter at the flames, others buckets of dirt. No water. There wasn’t enough in their world for this.

Dareios beat at the flames until his muscles ached and he grew dizzy with the effort. Others were wearying too, but not the flames. They ate their way through the village, swallowing homes and hope.

“My house!” Yianna dashed past Dareios and through her front door, despite the smoke spewing forth.

“Don’t be an idiot!” Dareios shouted. “It’s too late for yours.”

“Never too late.” Yiana flung bedding out the door while the smoke billowed thicker and darker past her. “I’ll want these in my new home.”

“What new home?” Dareios flung the curtain down. “There’s nothing left.”

The flames had devoured half the village, were approaching the last few houses and the tree beyond, one green thing in all the parched hills.

“There might be.” Yiana flung pants and tunics out the door. “You’ve got to have hope.”

“Hope?” In his fury, Dareios flung one of the tunics back through her window, into the flames. “I’ll give you hope.”

“Stop that!”

“No.” He flung shirts after the tunic, then grabbed a stack of wooden cups. “You don’t get to tell me to hope any more.”

He pulled the cups back, ready to fling them into the flames, but Yianna flung herself at him. They went tumbling in the dry dirt and falling ashes, punching and kicking, clawing at each other. Dareios poured all his misery and frustration into those blows, and Yianna, ever the hopeful, ever the fighter, hit him just as hard.

“Stop it!” someone shouted. “Stop, both of you!”

His heart burned with a furious heat, fuelled by the pain where the dry dirt of misery had rubbed at his raw soul. He kicked and clawed and pressed Yianna into the earth, even as he choked on ashes.

Hands grabbed Dareios. No one was strong any more, but they hauled him and Yianna apart, dragged them to their feet and made them face the end.

“Look.”

The tree, their beautiful miracle, was in flames. Branches charred. Leaves blackened, curled, flew away. The grass at its roots twisted and crumbled.

Yianna sobbed. Dareios sneered.

“So much for hope,” he said, trying not to remember how that grass had felt beneath him, how the wind had seemed gentler in the tree’s shade.

The tree groaned and fell, hit the ground in an explosion of charcoal. Nothing living should burn so fast. Dareios forced himself to watch, even as the others turned away in tears, watched the stump of the tree collapse inward, nothing but black dust.

“No hope,” Yianna whispered.

Then it happened. Water sprang from the hole where the tree had stood. Dareios rubbed his eyes, unable to believe what he saw. A second miracle born from the death of the first. Then he was running again, out to the fields and the tools abandoned there.

“Quick!” he shouted. “Dig ditches, carve channels, get the water to the crops.”

“What about the houses?” someone shouted, waving toward the raging flames.

“Forget the houses.” Dareios pointed at the water flowing across the ash-mottled ground, turning the ghosts of lost homes into grey mud. “This is life. This is hope.” He stared wide-eyed at Yianna. “Who knows how long this will last? So dig!”

***

This is the second story in a short series. You can find the first, “Picking the Bones of Hope”, over here.

If you enjoyed this story, then you might want to check out my novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, which is set in the same world and explores our troubled relationship with history and tradition. It comes out on the 7th of February – that’s just four days time! – and can be pre-ordered here:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

Grappling With History and Tradition

The cover of the book Ashes of the Ancestors

Ashes of the Ancestors  is a rare thing for me, a story that arose out of its theme. Normally, I’m there for a character or a setting or a plot idea, but this one was all about the theme, because it’s a theme that matters a lot to me. That theme is how we relate to history and tradition.

I’ve spent a lot of my life pondering history. I caught a fascination with the past off my dad, and went on to do two degrees in history, as well as two years research towards a PhD I never finished, all about military and political prisoners in medieval Britain. When I got into freelance writing, I used that background to get gigs, and I’ve written hundreds of articles making history accessible. I write comics with historical settings for Commando. I’m known by some people at SFF conventions as the history guy, thanks to my ranting on panels about the sins of Braveheart and William Gibson’s magical time travelling penis.

Even when I’m making up imaginary worlds, I draw a lot of my inspiration from the real past. My writing notes are full of concepts drawn from history books. But history itself is seldom the thing I’m tackling.

This time is different.

For me, there’s a tension in how I relate to the past. History and tradition get used to justify a lot of conservative politics, while my knowledge of the past has made me ever more left leaning. Some people look at the past and want to cling to it. I look to it as an object lesson out of which we can learn what not to do, so that we can build something new, something better.

All of that was already swirling around in my head, and then I came across a couple of quotes that crystalised my thoughts. One was from Haruki Murakami, who said:

“History is the shared narrative that binds us together or tears us apart.”

The other came from Jeannette Ng in an award acceptance speech:

“Let us be better than the legacies that have been left us, let them not be prophecies.”

Those two sentences say a lot to me about how we relate to history and the sense of tradition with which it is connected.

History can be used as something we share, something we bond over, something that gives us collective purpose. When its meaning and its use are inclusive, that’s wonderful and powerful. But it can also be something that’s used to justify exclusion and violence, to draw a line between us and them, to say to people that they can’t be themselves because that’s not how things were in the past, even though that’s often untrue.

That’s a powerful lesson, but it’s useless if it doesn’t give us direction. That’s why I think Ng’s comment is so important. While Murakami helps us understand how the past affects us, Ng provides a way to relate to it as we go forward with our lives. Legacies are valuable things, but that doesn’t mean we should repeat them. We can always strive to do better, to build on what came before and make something new.

Ashes of the Ancestors is all about the different ways we relate to history. Some of the characters in the story want to cling to it, others to reject it. But in my opinion, neither of those is healthy or helpful. What works best for us as individuals and as a society is to see history, to learn from it, and then to step out from under its shadow.

It’s a theme that’s so embedded in Ashes that individual characters represent different approaches to the past. Maybe I’ll talk about that another day. For now, Ashes of the Ancestors is coming out next Tuesday, 7 February. You can pre-order the book through the Luna Press website and many good booksellers. And if you want more of my thoughts or to hear about upcoming stories, you can sign up to my mailing list.


It’s Almost Time! Ashes of the Ancestors Pre-Release Stuff

Ashes of the Ancestors, my novella about ghosts, history, and tradition is almost ready to hit the shelves. There’s still time to pre-order the book and get it as soon as it comes out on 7 February. And if you’re wondering whether it might be for you, or if you want to find out a bit more, here are a few things you might enjoy…

  • Runalong the Shelves has a great review of Ashes, digging into the themes the novella explores. Matt’s recommendations have never steered me wrong in the past, so I was really pleased to see how much he enjoyed my book.
  • Over on The Fine-toothed Comb, expert editor Dion gave me space to talk about history as editing and how that connects to Ashes.
  • And last night, the book launch video for this set of Luna Press Publishing novellas went live. You can watch me and five other fabulous authors talk about our books and read scenes from them, to give you a taste of what you’re getting into. The other books are so good, I’d be recommending this even if I wasn’t part of it.

Only eleven more days! I’m very excited. Ashes of the Ancestors is the best thing I’ve had out so far, a fantasy story about an imagined past that I think speaks to our present, a story about tradition, choices, and how we move forward with history’s hand on our shoulder. If that sounds like your thing, then you can pre-order it at all these links:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

Writing About Writing

Author wielding a pile of his books and grinning.

It’s a busy week by my standards, as two articles about my work have sprung up in the past few days.

First, there’s an interview about my upcoming novella Ashes of the Ancestors over at the Scifi and Fantasy Network. I had a fun time talking about writing life, history, & the literary importance of Winnie the Pooh.

Second, I’ve written an article about ghostwriting for Canadian genre magazine On Spec. This is the article that my previous Q&A was leading to, and provides a more detailed and coherent dive into what it means to be a ghostwriter in the modern market. It covers the nature of the work and how to get into it, so if that’s something you’re curious about, then check it out.

And if, after all of that, you’d like to see more from me, Ashes of the Ancestors is out in just a few weeks. It’s a fantasy story about memory, empire, and grappling with the past, and you can find links to preorder it over here.

Picking the Bones of Hope – a flash fantasy story

For Eirwid, stories were the perfect currency. They added no weight to his pack, leaving space for the trinkets he took. They could be copied, but they could never be stolen and never ran out. Unlike coin, they had value wherever he went, because people craved entertainment. Even in a place where the crops withered, the ground cracked, and houses collapsed into sink holes, he could buy bread and water, and time to look for better things.

Twilight illuminated the people in the inn, their slumped shoulders, dust-caked features, raw knuckles with dirt in the wounds. They drank weak ale in the gloom, candles and fuel for the fire saved for another day.

“…and those who survived sailed west, leaving only their ghosts.” For a moment after he’d finished the story, Eirwid kept the carved whale on the table, its stone glowing with the magic of a long lost people. Then he opened his pack and put it back with the rest. A mirror that showed the dead. A bag of seeds from a forest that never stopped growing. A fragment of shell from a phoenix egg, icy cold to the touch.

The applause was muted, except for one woman who clapped loudly and smiled. A serving lad put a cup down in front of Eirwid, unasked payment for an implied service.

“They say there’s an abbey.” A man dragged his head up to look at the visitor. “The place they buried the first empress. A place folk can go for guidance from her ghost. Your travels ever take you there?”

Eirwid shook his head. When they landed in the Talaian Empire, he and Olweth had tossed a coin. They had to split the territory somehow, get what they could before the empire went to ash, and it was easier to trust to luck than to argue. She’d got the Eternal Abbey and he’d got the borderlands. She’d probably cheated on the toss, but it was hard to resent a thing done with skill.

“I’ve not been there,” he said, “but I hear you can get good advice for fine gifts. Maybe the ghosts can tell you how to save your crops.”

He pretended interest in his drink. This was the moment he’d been steering towards, a chance to find out what there was of value in this town.

The locals stared into their cups.

“What would we have worthy of an empress?” The cheery woman laughed. “Sold it all years ago, didn’t we?”

Some of them nodded. Others just looked at her resentfully. It was a tale Eirwid had heard a lot in these lands. He’d stopped assuming it was a lie, stopped sneaking around trying to find the hidden goods.

“Too bad.” He drained his cup and got to his feet. “Thank you for your hospitality. I should get going. I’ve a long walk ahead.”

“Now?” the serving lad asked. “It’s turning to night.”

“Best time to travel.” Eirwid tapped his cheek. In the light of day, they’d seen how pale his skin was, how it freckled and blistered in the heat under which they worked the fields, desperately trying to scratch hope from dead dirt. He’d be glad to get out of this sun-blasted land, to meet with Olweth and sail home. They’d still tell their stories, but they’d have real currency too, once they finished picking the bones of empire.

“Safe journey, and thanks for the stories.” The cheerful woman waved. Some of the others muttered farewells.

“I hoped, when you turned up,” said the man who’d asked about the abbey. “Hoped you might bring something that could save us. But hope’s a curse, isn’t it?”

Eirwid’s hand went to his bag. There would be something in there that could help, for a while at least, one of the small marvels he’d gathered. But how long could these people hang on? Their land was doomed. Warlords were riding from the south, fighting over the scraps. Better to save these treasures than to throw them away.

“Hope is important.” Eirwid put on a sad smile. “Yours will get you through.”

It wouldn’t. He’d seen enough dying places to know that hope was never enough.

Eirwid walked out into the night. Heat was still rising from the baked dirt. A dog whimpered where it lay. Eirwid walked on past.

Footsteps followed him out of the inn and he reached for his knife before glancing over his shoulder. It was the sad and weary man who’d asked about the abbey.

The man knelt by the dog, two half-dead creatures of leathery skin over jutting bones. He set down a bowl of the town’s precious water and a strip of dried meat. The dog lapped eagerly at the water while the man, alone at last, sobbed into his hands.

Unseen in the darkness, Eirwid gritted his teeth. Better to save what he could than to throw it away. And yet…

He stepped off what passed for a road, into a field where the locals had spent the day breaking the dirt. He reached into his pack, into a pouch within, took out a seed that came from a forest that never stopped growing, and planted it. The moment it touched the earth, the seed cracked open. Hard ground crumbled as roots delved. A shoot rose, questing, into the air.

It wasn’t crops, but it was roots, which could hold good soil in place, maybe draw up water from below. It would just be hope, which was a curse, but maybe these people could cling on long enough to make something worth taking next time he came through.

Olweth would curse Eirwid for a fool at throwing away their profits, but it served her right for cheating on the coin toss.

The ground creaked as roots delved. The dog barked. Eirwid walked on into the night, already working out how he would tell this story.

***

The cover for the book Ashes of the Ancestors

If you enjoyed this story, then you might want to check out my novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, which tells the tale of the Eternal Abbey and other people trying to survive Talaia’s fall. It comes out on the 7th of February and is available to preorder now through the Luna Press store.

Ashes of the Ancestors available for pre-order

The cover of Ashes of the Ancestors

In a haunted monastery at the heart of a crumbling empire, a lone priest tends the fires for the dead. A servant bound by the bones of her family, Magdalisa is her people’s last link to the wisdom of the past.

But as the land around them dies, new arrivals throw the monastery into turmoil. A dead warlord demanding recognition. Her rival, seizing the scraps of power. Two priests, both claiming to serve the spirits, both with their own agendas.

As ancient shadows struggle for the soul of an empire, Magdalisa must decide how far she will go to keep tradition alive.

My novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, is now available to pre-order. A fantasy story about tradition and our relationship with the past, Ashes of the Ancestors is far and away the best thing I’ve produced so far, and you should obviously go grab a copy. It comes out alongside five other novellas from fantastic speculative fiction authors, which you can read about here.

Pre-orders really help a book to make a splash when it comes out, and are a great way of supporting not just authors but independent presses like Luna, so if this sounds like your sort of thing, please consider clicking on the links to pre-order it at assorted places. Think of the book as a gift to your future self, to be delivered on 7 February…

Me, grinning, with my author copies of the book

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

And just to prove that they’re real, here I am, getting excited about my author copies.

Happy reading!