Grey Wolf's Writing Blog

Creative Writing

Writing About Creating

Welcome to this Writing Blog. Articles are indexed on the right (if on a computer), or below (if on a phone). Clicking an article name will take you to the anchor for that article. For the moment they are all on the same website page.

Writing The Shifting Sands - Part 1

Alternate History

by Grey Wolf

This novel/series began in early 2020 as something of a daydream based around the scene where Lord Wolfe and Carlotta effectively sack half the staff of the mansion they have just bought. I then worked both backwards and forwards from this, establishing the basics of their backstory (Wolfe's Spanish wife died in childbirth, his fortune made as Governor of South Africa etc) and the salient details of the plot going forwards.

When I began writing the narrative I thus had a skeleton outline of sorts, lots of which was missing in important places, but also where from time to time a plethora of detail was available at what might seem unimportant points, the background to the character Luke being an example of the latter.

Although the scene in the mansion was where the whole idea began, working backwards the novel now started back in the enormous dominion of South Africa, which in today's terms would include all of Zimbabwe, Zambia and the Katanga province of the DRC. The capital of this huge governorship was Centralia, constructed where today's Harare (yesterday's Salisbury) was.

The Emperor has died and the new emperor, for long a Crown Prince simmering in inaction and building up his own clique, has now come to the throne intending to stamp his mark upon the world. He intends to raise his own men to positions of power immediately, and as we soon learn he intends to end the world war against the Russians and the Germans with a peace offer that they cannot refuse.

This novel being alternate history, I decided that the Portuguese empire had been reabsorbed by the Spanish in the 18th century, and the Netherlands and their empire conqauered by the Germans in the 19th. This, added to an America that never formed the United States, provided for the main geopolitical differences in this world.

The first chapter thus opens with Lord Wolfe and Carlotta returning to the governor's mansion in Centralia, Carlotta going upstairs to change for dinner, and Wolfe to his study to work through some of the never-ending paperwork. While he is there one of his main servants informs him that he has been replaced, effectively sacked, and as Wolfe quickly calculates all of the wealth and treasure from his appointment is suddenly at risk.

This first chapter works to show Wolfe and Carlotta's relationship, and to show how Wolfe has contacts, and people who he hopes he can trust in many places. It also begins to show Carlotta as a ten year old girl with a certain power of her own - it is she who guilts Rex into liquidating Wolfe's shares and remitting the money to a bank where he can access them. This, though, is an act that Wolfe himself knows he will owe Rex a debt for.

This turn of events sees Lord Wolfe and Carlotta exit SAF via Spanish-owned Angola, in so doing introducing us to another of his friends and contacts, Gonzales. From there they travel via West Africa to Arnhem, where the peace treaty negotiations are taking place. Due to his ostracisation at home, Wolfe is forced to rely on Spanish help to get certification at the conference.

Arnhem of course is a German city in this story, and is also somewhat battle-damaged from the war. It is where we see hints of the Germans as heirs of the Dutch East India Company. Lord Wolfe and Carlotta arrive as just two among thousands of people flocking to the city in the wake of the armistice that has ended the Great War. I decided I wanted to take some time to show off the city, and show how it is almost entirely German, rebuilt by them after their conquest of it a hundred years before. To this end, I decided a tram ride would allow them to look out and see various things, then a visit to a ruined church bombed by British aircraft in the war.

Another element I wanted to expand on at this juncture was the ex-American colonies where each of the original states has become an independent dominion, and where their entry into the war served to shift the balance against the Russians and the Germans. To this end we meet members of the Pennsylvania delegation, in General Augustus Reed and his widowed daughter Lucille Maguire.

After the conclusion of the peace conference, Lord Wolfe and Carlotta head to London, not least to try to chase down the location of all of their luggage which they had routed out of SAF via Lourenco Marquez in Spanish Mozambique. Whilst staying in a hotel, they see an advertisement for immediate sale of a mansion and all its grounds previously belonging to a lord who is now dead, and his estate effectively bankrupt. Carlotta presses her father to lay down an offer late at night, and he can see that their current existence, without a base or somewhere to call home is very stressful to her.

Their purchase of Harcourt Hall, and arrival there brings the story full circle to the original beginning that I had daydreamed. Wolfe has essentially purchased someone else's mansion, and the staff that come with it. The staff are not happy with a new owner, new terms and conditions, and new ways of doing things and threaten to quit en masse. One of them insults Carlotta, and this when I wrote it was the turning point. Wolfe was never going to allow that, and at that point he snaps and accepts their resignations. Things could have gone bad from here, but the young maids and footmen step forward and say they would be willing to work for him and Carlotta, and Wolfe sees the old guard off the premises, being left with a very young, but loyal staff, something which forms the basis of a lot of the novel going forward.

For a while, The Shifting Sands would become parochial, focused on the town of Monksbury and their residence of Harcourt Hall, and Lord Wolfe and Carlotta's work to make a new home for themselves. But beneath it all global events continue to move, and factions are at work to get Lord Wolfe's diplomatic talents back into play to break a dangerous international deadlock.

Lord Wolfe and Carlotta as created by Robin Stacey

Covers of books are always amalgams of the contents within, and this image of the car in front of the hall does not match the actual description of the place within the novel, but does show the general idea of these elements.

Lord Wolfe and Carlotta with the car and the hall behind, an early idea of their placement for the cover before the final positions were decided upon. With thanks to Robin Stacey.

The final cover of the book, published in early Summer 2022.

How To Write Alternate History

Essays in Creative Writing

Development of The Book

Grey Wolf originally published his thoughts on writing Alternate History to his blog, as well as a few to the discussion website of which he was a member. In 2013 he collected them together in a book entitled "How To Write Alternate History" and used a photograph of a colliery head gear for its cover. It was quite a striking image, but in a sense was rather too generic for the book. However, he had other projects in hand, and focused on those in the next few years.

This period included working with the artist Derek Roberts, from Barking in east London, on book covers, initially a retro science-fiction feel for "Time of the Darkness" and then through "Never The Dawn", "Ten Naval Battles" and "The Slayer".

The next work they agreed was entitled "Tsar Michael The Great" which was initially intended to be the cover for a book of that name. The agreed design would show the chronological scope of that story, from bi-planes to jet fighters, and focus on the person of the Tsar, standing in front of a burning Russian city. Initial design studies focused on the four corner elements - the jet fighter, the bi-plane, the tank and the battleship. Two of them are shown below.

In 2016 Grey Wolf decided that the files for the book were not up to publication standard, but that the cover painting, now completed, would make a perfect new cover for "How To Write Alternate History" which had been needing a permanent and focused cover since its publication.

At the same time, Grey Wolf wanted to update the book, and to add a few more essays which he had unearthed, unpublished on his blog, but saved in his files. These included foci on Art and Architecture in Alternate History.

In 2017, these two trends came together. The updated text, with the new articles, and the new cover art, "Tsar Michael The Great" by Derek Roberts, were put together into a new edition of "How To Write Alternate History" published by Wolfian Press. In December 2019, it was republished by Wolfian Press Publications, a Nielsen-registered imprint.

In Summer of 2021, as part of the publishing reorganisation that was to see all WPP books republished by the Scimitar Edge imprint, Grey Wolf further expanded the book for the new edition. Chapters on subjects such as logistics, "Who is the boss of who?", aristocracy and colonisation were included, with the aim of showing how a variety of things worked in reality, and how realistically these could be built on, changed, or used in different contexts.

The original cover for "How To Write Alternate History". The headgear formerly stood at Cefn Coed Colliery Museum, Crynant, but has now been dismantled.

The current cover of "How To Write Alternate History" utilising Derek Roberts' painting "Tsar Michael The Great".

How To Write Alternate History can be bought in the following formats:-

Buy Paperback Buy Kindle

Buy Epub