Feeling Grown Up – a Hypothesis


“Great Great Granddad never shot a Frenchman”

There’s this idea that few of us feel truly grown up, that inside the typical 60 year old is a 16 year old going, “What the hell is happening to me?

Charlie wrote a wise article about this (comments are also worth reading). In a nutshell:

We can never measure up to the apparently godlike adults we observed when we were kids because: (1) they only looked godlike to a child, and (2) each generation is different. It follows we all finds ourselves wanting compared to the our elders! You don’t wear a suit and act serious. Dad didn’t work down the mines. Granddad wasn’t a farmer. Great Granddad never wore a redcoat in India. Great Great Granddad never shot a Frenchman. (And of course, the older generation can derive status by reminding us of this.)


That has to be true. However, I think the corollary is also important:

The previous generations are really no longer a valid source of validation because our lives are so different from theirs.

Once upon a time, your granddad could say, “I see your potato field is doing well,” and that meant something because he was a farmer or agricultural worker before you.

Now the best he can manage probably translates as, “I can see you’re teching the tech in some remunerative way because you don’t appear to be broke. What was your job title again?”

Once he could say, “I see your daughter is doing well in the [quaint rural pastime here] competition.” Now it’s, “So explain to me again what a Goth is?”

That would be fine if we could get meaningful validation from other hierarchies.

However, even at work, as soon as you occupy any sort of professional role, you probably know your particular job better than your boss does. They may compliment you on delivering on time and under budget, but they’ve got neither the time nor, probably, the knowledge to understand your elegant code well enough to praise it. (And you couldn’t do their job either, much as you might bitch about non-technical managers.)

So, one curse of modernity is that, outside a small number of professions — e.g. military and medical — and a handful of pastimes — e.g. martial arts  –, we don’t tend to have anybody older and wiser to look up to who is also informed enough about what we do to truly validate our efforts and make us feel like a grown up.

It follows that we must either be self validating, or go looking for it in the right places… but where?

Posted in Modern Culture

It wasn’t the casualty rate that made the Somme so bad


Blenheim and Towton were worse!

Obviously, the Battle of the Somme was bloody awful. Arguably, it was an appalling waste. But, in the grand scheme of things, how bad was it really?

It was certainly a horrific mega battle, running for 5 months, with British Empire casualties estimated at 419,654 killed and wounded (source).

It’s certainly a hell of a lot of dead and injured — something like twenty times the casualties of Waterloo. However, given 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 (source) men took part on “our” side, that gives us a casualty rate of 13% to 16%, which — tragically — isn’t actually all that bad.

Take a look at a random selection of battles:

Read more ›

Posted in History, Military, Uncategorized

Day one of Conpulsion!

A long long day. Took Kurtzhau and friend there via bus, the lads being old enough to help haul swords and bags. We went off to our separate MilSF games, then I dashed downstairs to demo swords with DDS. Short break, coffee and water, then teaching Storyteller Tools to an amazing group of gamers, game designers and aspiring writers.

Posted in Blog Post

My Young Adult Books


There are two books in the Scholar Knight series, but you’re best buying the double edition.

I write my books for adults, but some of them are also suitable for Young Adults…

Shieldwall: Barbarians!

The Shieldwall series was inspired by playing Rome Total War: Barbarian Invasion. It’s an old-fashioned boy’s adventure, basically “young officer finds his feet” except that the young officer is actually a pagan barbarian prince and it ends in an apocalyptic battle. Black Gate gave it a nice review.

“You can fight, boy. Now you must learn to lead.”

AD 451. The Dark Ages.

Could YOU lead a barbarian warband? Keep them out of trouble? Deal with your murderous rivals? Carve a path to victory, sword-in-hand, wading through the mayhem while the sky fills with Hunnish arrows?

That’s the challenge facing young Prince Hengest.

Saxon slave raiders have taken his sister, so now he must lead his pagan warriors into the middle of Attila the Hun’s apocalyptic invasion of the Roman Empire!

All will be well as long as the shieldwall holds.

An action-packed tale in the tradition of Conan and Young Gladiator, Shieldwall: Barbarians! is most certainly not for the faint hearted.

No basic training. No qualms.

No dragons. No wizards.

Just armies clashing and shields splitting as men of grim purpose decide the fate of the Empire.

Scholar Knight: Double Edition

The two Scholar Knight books were written to tie-in with the Paradox War of the Roses game. I wrote them as YA, though with violence that would not be out of place in a Warhammer 40K book. (NB Berserker King is a bit more Game of Thrones and most certainly not YA).

“The blade sheared through padding, collar bone, ribs, and came out the other side. Head, arm and shoulder thudded to the ground. The remainder of the corpse still stood, sheared torso like a bucket of steaming offal.”

England AD 1454, the chaotic eve of the Wars of the Roses.

Jack Rose would rather be a scholar than a knight. However, when a brutal landowner steals his family estates and plans to evict the tenants, Jack must take up the sword and win back his inheritance by force of arms. As he wades through increasingly lethal encounters, it becomes clear that War is in his blood. Now he must decide who he really is…

This double edition of the Scholar Knight series collects the novels “The Sword is Mightier” and “Blood in the Streets” into a single book. Follow Jack Rose fighting his path from scholar to knight, in the dramatic days of the Wars of the Roses.

Marshal versus the Assassins: A Foreworld SideQuest (The Foreworld Saga)

This really isn’t supposed to be a YA book! The 30-something hero is having  a midlife crisis… while chasing a mystic artefact to the Holy Land, battling Assassins, Crusaders and Saracens, before finally performing a deed-of-arms  worthy of Conan. And yes, it is about THE William Marshal, a real character whose life reads like an adventure story.

Sir William the Marshal, legend in his own time, has promised to go on crusade, a vow made to his Young King as he lay dying. But when the Oliphant, legendary war horn of Roland, is stolen by the lethal Assassins, he’s charged with returning the relic in order to stop the very thing he’d vowed to undertake—a crusade; this one engineered by the thieves.

With his small band of trusted companions—Sir Baldwin, his tourney compatriot; Eustace, his squire; and Henrik, the giant Norseman—William sets out to take back the relic. But treachery abounds, and when William loses two of his companions, he discovers an unlikely ally—Da’ud, an Assassin himself, bent on taking the Oliphant from the heretic faction that has stolen it. The three fight their way across land, sea, and desert, only to find themselves facing an army…and the Oliphant within their grasp.

I Was a Teenage Space Mercenary (Looking for a publisher as you read this)

Teenage Space Merc

(Placeholder cover… the real one would show a teenage boy in battle armour, wielding a laser carbine…)

A book for the Halo generation, inspired by games mastering FATE Diaspora for my son and his friend. Sooner or later it will find a publisher…

When his Uncle Max, a “security contractor”, rescues him from hi-tech slavery, 18-year-old uber-geek Jason’s troubles have only just begun.

Uncle Max drags him off to fulfill a two-man contract to protect an archaeological expedition on a remote jungle moon. Worse, he covers up Jason’s age and lack of experience by introducing him as “a Peter”, a 300-year-old immortal super soldier.

Up until this point, Jason’s life has been mostly online. Now he must deal with the reality of sweaty jungle patrols and lethal combat where you can’t respawn — unlike in the NetShooters, where he once reigned supreme. He must also deal with meeting real girls.

It all turns out to be not like in the sims…

You might just have noticed that these books are all old school yarns with wild adventure and dollops of combat. It’s what I grew up on; “Biggles”, Rosemary Sutcliff and especially Ronald Welch. No surprise then that some of my books have the same feel…

Posted in Blog Post

My writing space

I write inside a small room off our living room. With the door open I have daylight. In an empty house, I have peace. I have two monitors, a windows PC running Scrivener.  Lots of books (not shown in the picture) and various sidearms.

My Writing Space

Posted in Writing Life

4 ways to write if you can’t sit still (e.g. due anxiety)


4 ways to write if you can’t sit still

This came up recently on Reddit; due mostly to anxiety, a poster could not write without constant pacing. (PSA: Constant pacing is pretty much incompatible with typing a story!)

I don’t get anxiety but I am a professional author, so I offered some purely technical workarounds in descending order of probable usefulness…

Read more ›

Posted in Writing Tips

Big Magic Creativity Beyond Fear when you’re a professional with responsibilities


“a professional with responsibilities”

So I just reviewed Elizabeth “Eat Love Pray” Gilbert’s Big Magic for Black Gate.

It’s a good entertaining book, and it has a wise message: Give yourself permission to enjoy your creativity for its own sake; don’t burden it with expectations, including the expectation that you will live off it – easy come, easy go.

And she’s right. Creativity is about play, which is hard to do when you are Being Serious.

But what if you have serious responsibilities and you do do it professionally?

I have kids and a mortgage. Other writers just have a partner, and the expectation of partnership is that the resources sometimes flow one way, sometimes the other.

Should we really have gone pro?

Possibly not! I had no choice since my day job then my profession went away. Others made a leap of faith based more on faith than financial calculation. But, just as entrepeneurs cannot resist starting new businesses, doctors have the vocation to doctor, and craft brewers want to just brew, most published writers really want to just write.

So we do go pro if we can, and that means burdening our creativity — and please, I’m using this term as a lable for our capacity to create, rather than a claim to special snowflake status — with the expectaton of earning money.

How do you play for money?

I’m not a fan of the macho concept of discipline, the idea that you should power through writer’s block etc by sheer force of will. I’d rather just know how to write, and do it. However, for me, there is a very real need for mental discipline in compartmentalising the money from the work.

When I sit down to write, I put on music, make myself comfortable and — by an act of self seduction more than will power — forget my adult responsibilities. There’s a judo to it if you do it right; writing — like gaming and reading — is an act of escapism, so as long as you treat it that way, the more burdened you are, the easier it is to escape

To do that, you have to give yourself permission to do something as frivolous as writing in the midst of all that adulting, and giving yourself permission is one of the main themes of Gilbert’s book…

Posted in Writing Life

Charles Stross and I build a Sword and Planet universe and Kurtzhau (12) breaks it

Steam Punk Kurtzhau

…a year away from his first convention, and already using Halloween to dabble in Steam Punk cosplay.

“But it’s Science Fiction,” insists Charlie. He’s just handed Kurtzhau (12) a signed copy of the Atrocity Archives.

“No,” I say with a laugh. “It’s Horror – or at least it is as far as the school is concerned.”

A few days ago, Kurtzhau came home from school seething.  “The teacher says it’s important  to read outside your ‘comfort zone’!” He made sarcastic finger quotes and the word “crucial” hung in the air between us unspoken (but I bet somebody thought it).

The English department is getting the kids to keep score of the books they’ve read, with prizes and other extrinsic rewards I don’t approve of. Having finally graduated to adult SF, Kurtzhau is already an avid reader and so pulling ahead. Now, however, binging on one genre (Science Fiction) and a handful of series (Vorkosigan Saga and the more military Star Wars) isn’t good enough.

“Bugger that,” I said. “How about some Horror – I bet you’re old enough for Charlie’s Cthulhu stuff.”

“It’s Horror – or at least it is as far as the school is concerned.”

So now we’re in the coffee shop with Charlie – Charles Stross.

Kurtzhau has always enjoyed hanging around while I have coffee with my creative mates – Charlie, animator Hugh Hancock, and sometimes Hannu Rajaneimi. Back when he was a pre-schooler, Kurtzhau loved our trips to the now defunct Blue Moon Cafe where he evolved from buggy-confined baby, to babyccino slurping toddler. Then school got in the way. However if we had a day off together, sometimes he’d say, “You could have coffee with your friends…if you like.” At first I thought he was after the epicurean hot chocolate (I’d like the Mexican WITH The Chilli please) . However, it soon became apparent that he liked listening to our conversations…

So now he’s an articulate junior geek, a year away from his first convention, and already using Halloween to dabble in Steam Punk cosplay.

The three of us – Charlie, me and Kurtzhau – sit amidst the hipsters and talk ideas and Science Fiction. At length we turn to the possible return of the Sword and Planet genre. I quite fancy designing  a universe with both spaceships and sword fights.

…to hell with blades, I’d go into battle with a basket of rabid ferrets and just throw them at people.

Kurtzhau treats us to his rant on how to kill a Jedi; shotgun and grenades, mostly – Parry that! Charlie – if I remember right – wants to use bio weapons. I throw in the idea of unlit fuel-air explosive – Go on, Jedi, switch on your light sabre. And Kurtzhau wonders why nobody uses force powers simply to switch off the other guy’s weapon…

Then we contemplate literary Sword and Planet settings like Dune and Deathstalker which use velocity-limiting fields. Charlie proposes a pneumatic rapid-fire arrow thrower based on Chinese repeating crossbows. I say to hell with blades, I’d go into battle with a basket of rabid ferrets and just throw them at people.

At this point we’re having  a lot of fun and the middle aged guys and the pre-teen are meeting somewhere in the middle…. well to be honest, more like somewhere near the lower end of the age range.

But how, we wonder, can you create a self-consistent setting where people with spaceships use swords?

“Ah,” says Charlie, “They don’t want to damage the spaceship when they fight.”

“Gas,” says Kurtzhau. “Darts. Stunners.”(At this point Charlie references the Evil Overlord Checklist.)

“Sod it,” I say. “I’ll just use some quasi-magic to do with life force.”

“You know me,” says Charlie. “I want to do it Mundane SF style.”

“But swords just don’t make sense without a cheat,” I say.

“They do!” exclaims Kurtzhau, now full of Mexican hot chocolate and possibly a little buzzed. “If the enemy spam you with Cheap Canon Fodder so you run out of  ammo then a chainsword is PERFECT.”

“If the enemy spam you with Cheap Canon Fodder so you run out of ammo then a chainsword is PERFECT.”

“Yes,” I say, “But we’re trying to do an adventure story universe, not emulate Warhammer 40K. We want heroic sword duels as standard.”

“Wait!” says Charlie. “You have point defense lasers to take out out the incoming bullets. But the lasers can’t penetrate the armour…”

“So then you have to use swords!” I cry. “Big swords driven by your powered armour. Bingo!”

“No,” says Kurtzhau, “You mount the lasers on a Really Big Tank with a fu–Massive Gun.”


We laugh.

Yes, we briefly built a heroic Sword and Planet universe, and Kurtzhau has gone and turned it into a dystopia dominated by marauding nuclear-powered mega tanks.

Then Charlie gets out his iPad and shows Kurtzhau pictures of German WWII mega tanks and we fall to discussing their utility or not. Kurtzhau would rather have some T34s, I think.

So it is that at an age where most kids break your computer or wreck your carpet, my 12-year-old son broke our story world.

And here we must leave Kurtzhau, not quite come of age, but ready to control and project his own image.

I started dad-blogging back on LJ because I wanted everybody to know that parenting was not some Buffy-esque black hole from which people emerged after decades, grey and dried out, but rather a fun choice if you were up for it. I’ve also loved chronicling Kurtzhau’s joy in discovering books and history and gaming, and – to be honest – what proud parent doesn’t like talking about their child?

I may reminisce and he will feature in stories about my life. There will be stories about raising Morgenstern, his geeky rough-tough little sister. But this is chronologically the Last Ever Kurtzhau Entry. If you want to hear what happens next, then you’ll have to catch him at a con or over a gaming table and ask him yourself.

(I can, however, tell you that Kurtzhau read and enjoyed the first Laundry book and is now blitzing through Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel. Next up is the first of Simon Scarrow’s Eagle series.  Perhaps the school was right after all…)

Posted in Blog Post

How do I manage my writing time?

Writers must multi-task.

Professionally, it’s a must — we’re editing one manuscript while drafting another, all the while keeping up with blogging and admin.

Artistically, it’s also a must. Too long just editing and we grow stale and twitchy. Too long drafting, and we lose sight of our next project. Plus most projects benefit from mulling time where we don’t think about them, and if we’re not pushing one project forward, then we want to be working on another because we have too many ideas and too few years…

Multi-tasking is challenging. Short term projects offer a quicker fix — attention, money and sense of accomplishment — than the long-term ones. Meanwhile our ability to efficiently perform a core activity depends on momentum, mood and mental fatigue (3M), and therefore the point where we need to make lucid decisions is usually also the point where we are least able to make them.

Old fashioned project management planning can’t help much because of 3M (and, to be honest, writer). More modern Getting Things Done-style approaches are also infective because we have too few external events to break up our working day into identifiable slots.

I find muddling through  unsustainable because it’s stressful — All those decisions! — and guilt inducing —  Why am I having fun planning a new novel when I should be marketing the one I already have and so making some money Right Now?  I’d rather have a system that I can point to and say: this is what I should do next and I’m working toward the future using this system.

So (actually inspired by Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer) I’ve evolved my own approach which I am now formalising. Here it is in a nutshell:

Managing writing time

Active Projects

Writing projects naturally fit into three phases:

  • Planning — researching, outlining, test writing, tinkering…
  • Drafting — the actual writing
  • Editing — turning the draft into something publishable.

Each involves a different kind of mental activity and a different mental space, so I find I can have one active project of in each phase. More than that and I risk a kind of mental log jam, though I seem to be able to have more than one project in draft phase as long as they are of different sub genres.

So this gives me:

  • One active project on each phase.
  • One of these projects is the Focus Project. This is usually the one with the most real deadlines, and the most identifiable returns.

Supporting Activities

These are the things you have to do in order to keep writing (and stay married, keep your children out of jail etc). They include everything from Outreach (social media, marketing etc) through to Life.

Non-Writing Time

Time when you are not actually writing. This is usually punctuated by family and living, and not conducive to any kind of working in flow. Most of the Overheads should find time in this space — I can do my tax returns in 20 minute sessions between cooking and looking after the kids, for example.

Writing Time

This is the precious uninterrupted time when you can work “in flow”.

Put the bulk of your daily effort into your Focus Project. When you grind to a halt, take a break to do something physical– wash the dishes, drill with a sword, all the normal stuff you do — then switch to either whatever Active Project you feel like or a pressing Supporting Task. So a typical day might comprise 4 hours editing, 1 blogging, 1 planning a new novel.

All projects have campaigns; natural spans of work. These could be days or weeks long. When you hit diminishing returns, switch focus to another Active Project. So if you have spent a week editing, spend a day drafting something or planning another project. This enables you to balance long and short term professional needs, and to stay sane.

*   *  *

I’ll be trying out this formalised approach over the next couple of seasons. I’ll let you know how it goes….

Posted in Blog Post, Business of Writing, Writing Life, Writing Tips

Spec for perfect Fantasy mapping tool for authors

This is a rough draft for sharing…

1 Introduction

Fantasy authors, game designers and referees need a tool for creating and maintaining imaginary worlds.

Since we are in the business of crafting and/or extemporising narrative, our requirements only partially overlap with those of cartographers and designers.

  • Where cartographers need precision, we need indeterminacy so that narrative can shape details and not the other way around.

  • Where designers need automation and aesthetics, we need control and ease-of-use so we can focus on creating rather than tool use.

Even so, our worlds need to be consistent over time, and presented in a manner that engages the imagination.

A GlobeMaster file should be able to contain all the cartographical information generated for a particular world.

I hope the following makes sense…


2 Vision

WorldMaster presents the user with a virtual old style globe like this (see right).

This globe is the primary means of interacting with the world, though the software can generate a range of useful projections.

It displays qualitative rather than quantitative information, for example mountain symbols rather than contour lines.

3 Information Content

The globe displays the following information:

3.1 Grid

Depending on Zoom, the standard grid appears.

3.2 Landmasses and Ocean

Landmasses can be dragged and dropped during initial creation, but otherwise remain locked.

  • There may be tools to create fractal edges and realistic continental shift, but otherwise users rather than formula shape the continents and islands.
  • Oceans are portions of the globe not covered by Landmasses.

3.3 Text

Text is available for labels and notes.

  • Text can be attached to features.

3.4 Lines, shadings and arrows

The user can draw on the globe as required, e.g. to show trade routes, prevailing winds etc.

3.5 Terrains

Terrains are represented by generic Terrain Symbols, such as swamps, mountains and trees. The symbols indicate the quality of the terrain.

GlobeMaster handles terrains as Terrain Areas, Terrain Lines and Terrain Features.

  • Tools may exist for automatically generating or applying default terrain based on climate.

3.5.1 Terrain Areas

Terrain Areas are polygons containing Terrain Symbols, such as swamps, mountains and trees. The symbols indicate the quality of the terrain rather than specific quantities such as height.

(Note that no scaling is required; the idea is to show that a patch of the world is mountainous without committing to specifics.)

  • Where the Terrain Areas overlap, GlobeMaster combines the symbols. For example, mountains and jungles will produce mountains with jungle around the bases.

3.5.2 Terrain Lines

Terrain Lines are user-drawn lines that show linear features such as Rivers, Passes, Roads and Mountain Ranges.

  • Terrain Lines override any Terrain Areas they cross.

  • Some Terrain Line types show interaction between Terrain Areas and Terrain Lines, for example Mountain Road shows a road winding around a mountain.

  • All Terrains types are available as Terrain Lines.

3.5.3 Terrain Features

Features represent things such as Cities, Castles, Towers of Ultimate Evil, and specific Mountains.

  • Features are resizable.

  • Features override Terrains and Terrain Lines.

  • All Terrains are also available as Features.

  • Feature symbols are generic in order to not present wrong information. E.g. only one castle symbol.



A tool enables measuring from point to point and along Terrain Lines.

4.2 Turning

The globe can be turned by simple dragging and behaves like a physical globe.

  • Symbols maintain a fixed orientation with an option to redraw.

4.3 Zooming

You can zoom in and out as required. However, the Globe has five standard zoom thresholds – Global, Continent, Region, Local, Tactical.

  • Zooming scales the symbols so that they look sane. Typically, this means that symbols maintain the same screen size, e.g. a region of mountains simply shows more mountains.

  • Lower level edits do not automatically propagate to the higher levels, e.g. tweaking the course of a river and adding a village at the Local level does not impact the Regional level.

  • Higher level edits do not automatically erase lower level ones.

4.4 Layers

You can add information to different layers, switching them off and on as required.

  • Each terrain type has a layer.

4.5 Export Projections

GlobeMaster can export a variety of projections. These should not look embarrassing,

  • Symbols are resized after creating the projection, so not oddly stretched.

  • Scales, compass roses etc are provided.

  • Optional Hexagon overlay. Nice if this could be stretched by the projection.

Posted in Blog Post