Grey Wolf's Writing Blog

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The Kingdom of Kra

Remembering a self-insert

The lost story 'The Awakening'

Back in the Summer of 1985, we were on holiday across the North Wales coast, camping in the motorhome and sometimes with myself, in my mid teens, in a tent. At Harlech, I decided to start writing a story, pencil-written in a small notebook, titled The Awakening, and something of the desert meets aspects of Lord of the Rings. I don't remember if the desert setting had any other origin other than it being rather hot at the time! But the novel was born, and the basic idea was that various "Wise" (Wizards) who had long been in suspended animation in various hidden locations were returning to the world in its time of peril.

The story is long-lost now - I lent it to someone who moved house, and lost it, and the sequel, in the move. All I have are my memories, and occasional later writings that addressed aspects of it, from memory. The initial hero of the story was Arendle the Wise, one of those awakening. Another character was Raztan the Wise. Certain analogous animals were created for the story - alloes, asoes, jumna, faran, roughly equivalent to cattle, camels, desert rats, and horses. How the plot progressed is something of a mystery to me now, thirty five years after the books were lost.

Introduced as side characters encountered in the desert scrublands were Prince Jokra of Kra, his then-faithful retainer Lord Rokra, and various young ladies, all ending in -kra as the royalty and nobles of the kingdom adopted that one single name, of which there could only be one at any one time. This party of the young prince and his fellows were exploring, or holidaying, in generally unclaimed territory. Their domain, ruled by Jokra's father, lay beyond the geographical boundaries of the story's setting.

So why in 2023 did I hire digital artist Robin Stacey to render these individuals for me? Well, Prince Jokra was a self-insert into The Awakening, and he and his party featured more heavily in the sequel, where the action spilled out of the initial geographical bounds into lands further to the West, such as Kra, and to the South where we came upon the dark empire of Zador, and its satellite/imitator Zezuno. In the sequel, there is much more of Prince Jokra and his companions, and we see love and passion, rivalries and betrayals. In the first book, the travellers present a united front. In the second book, with Kra dragged into the affairs of other countries, we see a more divided kingdom, and court.

Maps there were, but those are gone too. I can remember some of the relative placings of these countries, and that much further to the West, and South-West were the homelands of the ancient empires - Ridui and Du Rahma, among them - and vast ruins, carvings upon mountainsides, and lost histories, remembered in tablets unearthed from ancient libraries. It is probable none of this survives either, though it was never lent to anyone. A lot of it was typed up on my mother's upright typewriter after I mangled the little finger of my right hand in a bicycle accident. I think I have seen some of my drawings of Riduicernes, the capital of that empire, in recent years. But the rest? Not much hope remains.

Kra, though, lives on in my memory. As a self-insert it felt that what happened to Prince Jokra happened to me, and I have lived with those additional memories for the past few decades. Things are now blurred, but those essential characters from the first encounter in The Awakening remain vibrant to me, and it is those that Robin Stacey has brought to life in his wonderful art.

A pictorial feature of Robin Stacey's recreation of Prince Jokra and his companions will appear in a future issue of Infinity Wanderers

Prince Jokra, with his loyal retainer Lord Rokra, and the Ladies Rekra, left, and Vikra, right

Prince Jokra of Kra

Lady Rekra, Prince Jokra's belle

Lady Vikra, the love rival

Writing Dungeons and Dragons

The Duchy of Sarburg

by Grey Wolf

Having played some Dungeons and Dragons at university in the late 1980s, I remember being frustrated with worlds that didn't make sense, adventures that were just taken completely out of context, and one-off stealing of the dragon's wealth.

When I had the chance to play again, back home, I decided that I would be Games Master (a title I preferred to Dungeon Master) and create a world that was coherent and made sense, and where the adventures would happen for a reason, and be set in a living, breathing place.

That place initially was the Duchy of Sarburg, with the city of Sarburg as the main settlement. But the map clearly showed the other towns and villages, with neighbouring states, and a logic to their position. As for Sarburg, the duke was his in his castle, looming over the city, and increasingly dominating it, much to the displeasure of the Guildmasters, whose ancient rights were being eroded. It was a simple set-up but a logical one.

Things had come to such a pass that the guildmasters had hired a bunch of adventurers to take out the duke, with the safety catch of being at one remove, so that if things went wrong and they failed, they could disclaim responsibility.

The adventurers, my players, met at an inn on the outskirts of town, where the innkeeper's teenage daughter, Candace, was acting as the middle-person between the guildmasters and the party. She provided them with a rough map of tunnels leading up inside the rock that the castle was perched upon, and the best available information on the lay-out of the castle as they had it.

This was the "dungeon" part of the adventure, as the party made their way through tunnels and caverns, overcoming beasts that the duke assumed were guarding the way in their own self-interest. At one point, one of the warriors, Varian, was killed in one of these engagements, but the mage was able to resurrect him, albeit as a dwarf. much to the player's fury. He vowed that at the earliest opportunity he would try to get his human form back.

The party fought their way into the castle and up to the duke's bedroom, slaying him, but being surprised by his man-servant Raoul, who slept in the attic above and descended on them in a fury from the trapdoor entrance. Fighting him off with much injury, but no death, the party were able to break back out of the castle, with the duke's head and chests full of treasure, his remaining guards slipping into the shadows as he had no heirs, and there was no point dying for a dead man.

The adventurers were feted by the guildmasters, but this was just the beginning of their story in and around Sarburg. Next up for them would be the mysterious wizard Watusan and the two wolves who accompanied him to the city...

Part of the Dungeons and Dragons map

Watusan the wizard and his wolves, by Robin Stacey

Watusan turns up in Sarburg after the death of the duke, where infighting has begun to break apart the alliance of Guildmasters, and where is something of a power vacuum in the land. Can he take advantage of it?

Publishing A Dream of Empire

'Byzantine' Alternate History

by Grey Wolf

I wrote this story in 2009 and it fluctuated as to whether it was called 'Dreams of Empire' or 'A Dream of Empire'. Having serialised the first two chapters in Infinity Wanderers issues 3 and 4, I thought I would have another look at the whole, and was surprised to find that the 25 chapters I had written were actually signed off as the "End of Book 1". I therefore decided to take it in hand for publication as part of the Little Books range, from Scimitar Edge.

The story did indeed originate in a dream, a snapshot or short sequence which the first chapter builds upon. I found an earlier version of Chapter 1 where I had written it in the first person, before deciding to rewrite it in the third person, which the rest of the story progressed in. These two different versions of Chapter One deal with the dream, as it was, and I included the abortive version of Chapter One at the back of the published book.

Also among the many working files for the story were a sequence of maps by Brendan, the last of which had a note that a few more changes were needed to completely reflect the world the story was set in. Since this changed map did not exist, any more than Book 2 of the story exists [as yet], I couldn't use the whole of it in the book, but zoomed in on the Roman (Byzantine) Empire and its neighbours, including the British in India. This seemed to set the scene well, since this is where the various locations in the story, as written so far, are situated.

Being set in the (Eastern) Roman Empire, the lingua franca is Greek. Thus whilst working on the story, and with a lot of help from the early readers in 2009, I developed a whole linguistic structure for military ranks, ship classifications, and government titles. Whilst the story tries to make these as obvious as possible in passing, I decided that taking my crib notes file and turning it into a set of appendices/glossaries made good sense, so that the reader can refer quickly to see what the rank of the character at hand is, etc.

For a cover, I really wanted a take on the original dream image and hired Robin Stacey to come up with something showing, in essence, a rigid airship and a pre-dreadnought battleship. I immediately ran into one issue that I had deliberately side-stepped in the original discussion around the story, and that was of the pageantry and symbolic imagery of this version of the Byzantine [sic] Empire. While one may be tempted to use a version of the spread-eagle, this arguably comes from the Paleologus dynasty, which in the background created for the story have never ruled in Constantinople. I decided on a "Roman eagle", as seen upon the ancient Roman flags, as a compromise for the tail fin identification, and to continue to fudge the issue with some clouds.

A Dream of Empire was published as a Little Book in January 2023.

The basic image for A Dream of Empire, by Robin Stacey

The book cover as published by Scimitar Edge

The map used in A Dream of Empire

A Dream of Empire is available in small paperback, or in Kindle or epub

Resurrecting Old Stories

Beholder, Bellerophon and Cerberus

by Grey Wolf

The science fiction trilogy starts off with Beholder, set on a gigantic space station, or a small habitation, depending on your viewpoint. Here, the tensions between the Governor and the criminal underworld have come to a head, and moves are afoot by the latter to take out the core and cripple the station. However, nobody has factored in war with alien Delkh species, a war which to the inhabitants seems to come out of nowhere.

This is the first story in a planned science fiction trilogy written in the late 1990s, and saved onto floppy discs. At one point, I went through every surviving disc and amalgamated the various parts until I had a whole. A few parts are lost, the floppy perhaps not surviving even those few years before the first aggregation, but by and large the story as a whole survived.

But it was not a coherent whole. The initial aim had been to create a small band of renegades, and whilst this occurred, Beholder took on a life of its own, with the background plot taking over, and its characters becoming the driving force behind the story. In any rewrite, this needs to be rationalised, so that the story does not appear to veer so drastically off course, in reading.

Beholder was followed by Bellerophon, with new characters and new settings, within the context of the war between humanity and the Delkh. We are introduced once again to the AI Ariadne, whom in Beholder was stowed away in the hold of one of the ships used for emergency evacuation in the face of Delkh attack. Here, she is taken in hand by new characters, with new motives, and new backgrounds.

Ariadne is the unifying force behind the trilogy. In the final part, Cerberus, we find the AI damaged and suffering a crisis of being. Who is she? What is she? What is real? Indeed, what is reality?

Cerberus reintroduces us to some of the characters of Beholder, most specifically Tarli Callas, the adolescent runner turned saboteur on behalf of the criminal underworld. Now part of Vorp's crew, she is captured in a mission to a nowhere planet, and brought by her captors before the damaged shell of Ariadne. Can the girl get through to her old "friend"? Can she help to repair the AI and convince it of its former identity?

All 3 cover images for the trilogy have been created by Rpbin Stacey, but it is that of Cerberus that shines through the most. We see Tarli, in the midst of her captors, abused and dishevelled, brought to try to commune with the damaged AI.

So, when can the reader enjoy the trilogy? Not anytime soon. Beholder, whilst existing needs a big rewrite for the first section, whilst neither Bellerophon nor Cerberus exist in a finished state.

However, the author IS planning to complete and publish the whole trilogy and even has a sequel in the works. Time is the only master, but time can be a difficult master.

For now, cover images have been sourced for all 3 books, and displayed here. That for Cerberus can be seen in development and completion as artist Robin Stacey responded to the author's wishes for minor corrections.

It is hoped that Beholder will be edited, rewritten at the start, and published during 2023 as part of the range from Scimitar Edge.

Bellerophon and Cerberus will take longer, but one day they too will see the light of day. Until that day, you have the images here. Enjoy!

The process of resurrection is an interesting one, requiring me, the author, to get to know the characters again, their motivations, and hopes. As the story progresses through the books, their foci change, their relationships develop, and their standing within the group fluctuates.

Some characters never die in your head. Tarli was one of those, a person who from her first introduction was solid and real. Perhaps Marat is another, certainly Vorp as he ended up, grey-haired, injured and partially deaf. The political structure in which these people live is evolving, but you can be sure that Tarli will make her own mark, and be her own person. And, of course, that is what leads to her desperate situation at the start of Cerberus...

The basic image for Beholder, by Robin Stacey

The basic image for Bellerophon, by Robin Stacey

The initial character study for Tarli, by Robin Stacey

The final image for Cerberus, by Robin Stacey

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:-

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