Warhammer 40K as a tool for literary criticism

“The English teacher said she liked your analysis of The Pearl,” I say.

We just back from our first parent-teacher thing at Kurtzhau’s high school. They’ve been reading John ‘Tell-me-About-The-Rabbits-BLAM’ Steinbeck.

“Yes,” says Kurtzhau, eyes twinkling. “It’s because I used the Horus Heresy.”

“WTF?” I blink. “I mean, um… how?”

“Well,” says Kurtzhau. “I thought that the pearl is like the Chaos Gods. It seems to make you more powerful, but really it corrupts everything, then everybody gets killed, so its a Tragedy.”

I laugh. “You actually used Warhammer as a tool for literary criticism – Oh God I hope you didn’t actually mention 40K?”

Kurtzhau laughs. “Of course not!”

“On the other hand, you really should tell your Religious Education teacher that you think that the Lore of the 40K universe is both true and preordained…”

“Do you have the next Bujold book,” asks Kurtzhau, firmly changing the subject. 

Posted in Geek Parenting

PUBLISHED Swords Versus Tanks Ep.2: Vikings battle Zeppelins while forbidden desires spark!

Episode 2 drops back to give us a lyrical exploration of the world of Westerland  continues the fast-paced genre pit fight!

It sets Vikings against Zeppelins, but also seats Jasmine, Ranulph and Lady Maud around the same table at a feast that might owe a little to the Curtis & Douglas The Vikings, in a setting inspired by holidays on Scotland’s West Coast where Vikings segued into Galloglasses:

Tanks have driven swords from the field… for now.
In the company of a not-entirely-stable sorceress, Sir Ranulph seeks more powerful magic in the Rune Isles.
However, Colonel Jasmine Klimt takes ship on a priest-blessed Zeppelin, part of an expedition to the same destination!
What will happen when they all meet?
And, if it comes to a fight, which will prevail: magic and cold steel, or religion and technology?
Find out in Episode 2 of SWORDS VERSUS TANKS!

So we see more of Lady Maud (a lot more…), get to know Colonel Jasmine Klimt more… erm… intimately. Oh and there are Vikings and a Zeppelin and Magic.

You really have to read it!

Click to download Swords Versus Tanks Ep.2: “Vikings battle Zeppelins while forbidden desires spark!” and start reading right away!

Posted in Swords Versus Tanks, Uncategorized Tagged with:

Authentic combat in Swords Versus Tanks!

SvT THUMBOne of the 5-star reviews of Swords Versus Tanks 1 enthuses, not about the genre mashup that strikes a chord with other reviewers, but about the authentic Historical European Martial Arts:

Our hero still has to worry about concussion or stabs through vulnerable maille, but gets to joyously wade in to hordes of men at arms – and his greatsword can cut through non-enchanted armor- including time-portaled tanks.
Great fun, and I’m looking forward to more volumes!
5 Stars for the author’s knowledge of historical armored combat systems and the joys of harnischfecten.

I guess it helps that I teach German Longsword, and that – long ago – I used to fight in plate armour.

You see they always said, “write what you know”, so nearly two decades ago, I joined the Dawn Duellists Society, Edinburgh’s first HEMA club just to learn enough to write a good fight scene. I’m still there.

In case you are not a HEMA person (Hey! Why are you wasting your life? Google HEMA and your area and get started now!!!) longsword combat is different depending on whether you are in a civilian clothes or armor.

The civilian stuff (as in the same way a Colt 45 is a civilian weapon)– what I teach — is epic stuff, with the blades slithering and skipping around, dealing slices, stabs and strikes.


You can also grab the blade with both hands and use it like a hammer…

The armored combat, however, is nasty and short.

Typically, you grab your blade with your left hand, hold your sword like a paddle, and try to wrestle and club your opponent to death. You can also grab the blade with both hands and use it like a hammer…

The nasty thing about plate combat is that the weakest points in plate armor are also the most intimate, least pleasant to contemplate.

Good targets, according to the ancient manuals, include the crotch (Jesus Christ!), inside the cuffs (Imagine that blade scraping up your forearm…), the crook of the knee (Ewww), the armpits (Wince), the throat (Ugh) — anywhere where the plate leaves off and you’re relying on just maille, or even — God forbid — quilted fabric.

That’s one of the things Swords Versus Tanks is big on — the reality of it all… the sweat, the blood, the nasty little wounds as well as the dramatic depersonalizing  ones.

With the illusions of pretty swordplay stripped away, knights look far less glamorous, and yet I think — since they often did this for kicks as much as for duty — so much more spectacular!


If you haven’t already, click to download Swords Versus Tanks Episode 1: Armoured heroes clash across the centuries!

And don’t miss Swords Versus Tanks Episode 2: Vikings battle Zeppelins while forbidden desires spark!

Posted in HEMA, Historical European Martial Arts, My Books, Swords Versus Tanks, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Kurtzhau and the Fallen Viking

An LJ entry from 2007, back when Kurtzhau was nearly 4. Reposted because a fellow atheist dad was asking about how to discuss death with children.

“Daddy?” says Kurtzhau, sitting up in bed. “Perhaps he lay down by behind the rock and popped his bow up and the enemy arrows just damaged the rock and he was still alive?”

“You can’t shoot a bow lying down,” I say gently. “And then he wouldn’t have been helping his mates.”

“Well, perhaps he was clever, Daddy?”

“He could have been, but he still got killed, because we saw him.”

“It makes me sad,” says Kurtzhau, hugging his polar bear and rehashing the last hypothetical fight of a warrior a thousand years gone.

A few hours before, Kurtzhau – aged 3 and a lot – saw his first dead body. We were in the Museum to look at “Viking stuff” (“…and  will they have Celtic stuff too?”), and passed a hole in the floor with a display case over it.

“What’s that Daddy?”

“It’s a skeleton, Kurtzhau,” I say matter-of-factly. That’s how we come with the nasty side of life; no fuss, no histrionics, what is, is.

“I want to look… read me what it says.”

So we kneel down at the transplanted graveside. “He was a Viking, I say. About 30 – younger than me, a bit older than SwordGuy… you know, the one you were hitting with swords at the weekend. When this guy died, his friends buried his things with him… that was his shield… those were arrows…”


So I find myself explaining (i) Skeletal structure and decomposition, and (ii) Norse beliefs about the afterlife. Then I say, “Shall we go and look at the trains now?”

“No Daddy.” Kurtzhau takes off his hat, carefully positions it as an elbow rest and settles himself to properly consider the skeleton. “I want to stay with the dead Viking for a while.” A moment or two pass, then, “Tell me a story about him.”

“Well, what’s that thing? Yes, a comb. So perhaps he had long hair and liked to comb it. And those are clippers, so maybe he kept his beard neatly trimmed like Doug does.

And there’s the tip of a knife he’d have worn like this… and the boss of a shield and arrows, so perhaps he was an archer, and liked to keep his beard out of the way. Those are gaming pieces, so perhaps he liked to sit up late around the fire playing a board game….”

Kurtzhau nods and fixes me with sad eyes. Belatedly, I understand that as a child he has little sense of the temporal gulf between us and this mighty-thewed Norseman slain in his prime. This isn’t a “scary skelington” before us, it’s a person. “Now tell me about how he died.”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“But tell me.”

“OK. There are no obvious marks on the bone so… perhaps…”

One day, lots of Vikings turned up and attacked the Archer’s village. The locals were outnumbered, so they fled into the hills up a narrow path.

Our man was an true bowman, the best there was. He found a good spot, slung his shield on his back, put a new string on his bow, and began picking off the invaders. Sometimes he hit one and killed or wounded him. Other times he missed. But so fast and furious was his shooting, so accurate, that it slowed down and distracted the attackers. They never noticed the archer’s mates creeping round to attack from the side (attacking from the side is an important life lesson I try to build into Kurtzhaus’s military games).

So the locals fell on the invaders, and put them to the sword. But when they went fetch the Archer, they found him slumped with an arrow in his stomach. Eventually, the attackers had got too close. Some kept him pinned down with a rain of spears, while their own archers worked around the flank to enfilade his position, and that was how he took his death wound.

He was still alive when they carried him home, but there were no proper doctors back then. So all they could do was keep him warm and drugged on herbs. They sat up into the night talking of old deeds. But in the morning, nobody was surprised that he had slipped away.

They dug him a good grave, put his things in it with him – “His game pieces Daddy, and his bow” – and closed it off with planks from his favourite ship. Then they drank beer and sang songs about him. One of them wrote a poem about how brave he’d been and how much they missed their Archer. And they were still reciting that poem generations later.

Kurtzhau nodds solemnly.

So, we potter around the crappily thematic Archaeological display – case of context free spades anybody? – and head home.

It’s after lights out, that Kurtzhau replays the fight, tries to find a way for his Viking to have lived another 30 years or so.

And then we talk  – in terms a three-year-old can understand – about death, and aging, and how we – most of us – live a long time, and that there’s no point in dwelling on mortality.  And how the Fallen Viking would probably not have wanted him to be upset, because Vikings knew how to enjoy themselves and have fun (at other people’s expense mostly, but let’s not go there right now).

“Yes,” says Kutzhau. “But it still makes me sad.”

“I know,” I say. “But that’s OK.” Then I tuck up my perceptive little three year old, with his polar bear and his panda, and try not to think about how a small boy’s bed companions resemble the grave goods of times past.

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Posted in Geek Parenting Tagged with: ,

Some responses to a reddit thread on Swords Versus Tanks

This is a response to this thread.  It turned out to be rather long, so I thought I would crosspost it here! If you are commenting in the next day or so, please do so on at Reddit if possible.


OK. This sub won’t let me post more than twice in ten minutes or so, so I’ll try to respond to all the comments in one post.

It’s hard to explain where you’re coming from as an author without sounding pretentious or big-headed, so please take the humility as read in what follows – really, I’m know I’m a minor franchise author jostling against the shoulders of giants like MJS.

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Posted in Business of Writing, Swords Versus Tanks, Writing

A glimpse of Maud from the cover of Book 2

Initial Sketch of Maud

“Not all of my spells are insanely dangerous and unpredictable…”

With Swords Versus Tanks: Armoured heroes clash across the centuries! roaring up the Steampunk charts, episode 2 is on its way — it just needs a few edits and a cover. 

One of the nice things about being an Indy is that you can actually work with an artist to get a cover that fits the book. Right now, Cassie is creating Lady Maud, the not-entirely-sane magic-wielding princess.

Posted in Swords Versus Tanks Tagged with:

Swords Versus Tanks — what “10 years in the making” means


Ten years in the making?

I wrote the first lines of Swords Versus Tanks in 2003, just before Kurtzhau was born. He’s now 11 going on 12.

So it seems I’m either Tolkien — a genius slaving away over his magnum opus — or actually a complete loser. The truth is less sound-bighty….

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Posted in Swords Versus Tanks, Writing Life

Swords Versus Tanks Episode 1 has a cover!

Swords Versus Tanks Episode 1

Swords Versus Tanks Episode 1

At last! We have the cover finalised. Now to get the next one done.

Posted in Swords Versus Tanks

More cover art and how artists can avoid getting the armour wrong


Cassie turns out to have quite a feel for depicting mayhem and war machines!

So Cassie, who normally does pretty handcrafted things, turns out to have quite a feel for depicting mayhem and war machines! Come to the dark side…

Joking aside, it’s a reminder that real artists, just like real writers, can cheerfully turn their hands to other genres and step out of their apparent comfort zones.

This of course is just her sketch for the cover on a handy piece of A4 – it has the wrong aspect ratio for Amazon. However, it feels right. It’s hard to describe my reaction without swearing: #### yeah!

Even so, armour geeks will notice that Cassie, not being an armour geek, has given Sir Ranulph an early 13th-century bucket helm to go with his late 15th-century armour.

O the Horror!


…function and technology have their own aesthetic

I’ve seen this kind of thing before. The worse offender was a PC game box on which a warrior wore wonderful renaissance style armour  topped by a Sutton Hoo helmet!

It just looked wrong and I think that’s  the main artistic reason for getting this right; function and technology have their own aesthetic — mixing and matching makes an image subtly jarring.

Here’s my advice to artists:

When possible always use a historical example for reference and only mix between similar warrior types. However, if you must tinker (because it’s more fun and creative)…

Never mix different tech levels. For example, a riveted flat top helm or a “Norman” spangenhelm is obviously more primitive than the smooth curves of plate armour.

You can however mix different cost levels. A freebooter might have a breastplate over a maille shirt with studded vambraces, all from different sources, some battlefield finds.

"We are the Spear Carriers, and we are real"

Missile troops… like to cover their centre of mass with the Medieval equivalent of a flack jacket

Think survivability: make level of protection consistent, or vary it to reflect purpose.

So don’t draw a warrior in full plate but then give have just a maille hood to protect their head! That’s like putting a glass windshield on a tank! He or she might as well not bother with the plate armour since a weapon that breaks plate will ignore maille.

However, do feel free to depict people in interesting half or partial armour. If you do this, make it for practical reasons. For example, missile troops and pikemen tend to like to cover their centre of mass with the Medieval equivalent of a flack jacket because that’s where most of the incoming hits will land.  Lighter cavalry might only bother to armour themselves for mounted combat and rely on just heavy boots to protect their legs.

* * *

Ultimately, armour is like historical women’s fashion, some combinations just don’t work.
A 1920s hat looks wrong with a 1950s dress, and 1950s jeans don’t go with a formal 1950s hat, and a flat top helm doesn’t go with plate armour. Getting it wrong undercuts whatever sense of realism you attain, so it’s worthy getting it right.
Of course, it will be right in the next draft. I count myself fortunate to be able to work with an artist who cares. Stay tuned…
Posted in Armour, Blog Post, Military, Swords Versus Tanks, Uncategorized

A glimpse of Sir Ranulph

Sir Ranulph Dacre

…Warner Bros Batman in armour with a sword

Cassie, “my” artist, has started on Sir Ranulph!

I described her to him as “Warner Bros Batman in armour with a sword.” So here’s a preliminary sketch, more to get the pose right.

German Longsword aficionados will note that he has adopted the higher version of Vom Tag. This seems appropriate when wielding a magic sword against a tank! His armour will be, of course, classic 1490s field armour, in this case owing a lot to the armour of Kunz Schott von Hellingen.

The name itself comes from a West March family I studied for my Medieval History Postgrad. The real Sir Ranulph Dacre was a rough tough border warlord who abducted/eloped with an heiress from Warwick castle, thus setting off a feud with the  powerful Cliffords. One day, perhaps, I’ll revisit my studies and put out a historical adventure for him.

In the mean time, I’ve pitted his namesake, who’s basically William Marshal and Don Pero Nino’s love child, against time travelling tanks.

So watch this space…

Posted in Swords Versus Tanks