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The Continuing Adventures of the Wee Beasties

This week we return to the mayhem and mischief spreading duo, Willow and Poppy. To fully capture their escapades, I’d need a camera with superfast autofocus and one of those rapid burst modes. When they’re at full throttle and up to their hi-jinks, it’s almost impossible to catch them on camera. I have lots of photos of white and brown blurs, but that’s about it!

I had a think to how I could get some better shots of them while they’re awake, and the answer came once again as I was sorting out recycling:

What is it with cats and boxes? This one was only on the floor a few seconds before they were into it. They like it so much I didn’t have the heart to throw it out, so it’s now a permanent household fixture. When I came down this morning, the box had been moved to the other side of the family room—clearly the cats weren’t happy with where we’d left it…

Far easier is to grab a shot of them snuggled up together when they run out of gas!

That’s all for this week! I hope you’re all keeping well, and I’ll be back next week with another behind the scenes look at my work, this time with the Dragonslayer trilogy!

Mini Painting a Knight

Hey folks,

I hope you’re all keeping well. It’s another installment of my mini painting adventures this week, and I’ve got a fantasy model from Scibor miniatures on the painting table. They’re made from resin rather than the plastic and metal I’m used to, so need slightly different handling and a little more care(I managed to break the sword in cleanup!). They’re really beautiful sculpts, with lots of detail and character. I’ve a few more from this maker in my drawer, and am really looking forward to painting them too.

I’m still chasing my goals of getting the hang of non-metallic metal (NMM) painting, and improving my blending, along with a little bit of (albeit simple) freehand work.

Let’s get to the photos, and I’ll talk a bit about what I think worked and what didn’t as we go along!

I used a new NMM recipe here, with a lot more blue hues in it. One thing I wanted to focus on here was pushing the contrasts, which this recipe definitely allowed for. I’m quite happy with the result in that regard, and it certainly photograph’s a lot better than my previous efforts.

I got a bit of a Peter O’Toole vibe from the model’s face, so went with blond hair. It looks decent in the photo, I think, but I’m not happy with that brown to straw colour range, and need to play around with my colour choices for blond(e) hair in the future. After my paint job, he admittedly looks far less like Peter O’Toole…

I freehanded the heraldry, a mix of a couple of designs I pulled out of a heraldry book, and quite like the end result. I always like to keep my fantasy as close to reality as I can, so chose something pretty conventional.

The big thing you’ll be able to see on this model is that I had a bit of a varnish disaster. I used a rattle can of matte varnish, and it did every single one of the things that can go wrong with it. I’ve got orange peel, clouding, and a non-matte finish. I’ve had pretty good luck with rattle cans in the past, so I’m not sure if it was too humid out, inadequately shaken, too old, too cold, sprayed too thick, or something else entirely, but it went so wrong it inspired me to shell out for an airbrush, something I’ve been circling for a very long time, but more on that in a later post!

Perhaps not the best choice of colour for his trousers. It’s meant to be canvas…

I tried a new approach to blending with this model—laying down the highlight and shadow, some transition layers, then glazing between to smooth them out—and quite like it, but will need a lot more practice before I get this one down.

In addition to the NMM, I tried a bit of secondary reflection with the yellow on his surcoat and the armour on his legs. Not sure if it’s worked, but that’s probably through too heavy handed an application, so I might try it again in the future with a more subtle approach.

Lessons learned on this one, and thoughts for the next one:

  • Yellow is one of those colours that needs careful handling. I need to spend some time working on it to come up with a good approach to using it effectively.
  • I’d like to try a less blue hued NMM recipe next time, although I think the tonal range here is pretty good, particularly for photographing.
  • I need to keep working on my blending. I like this method, but it’s time consuming to get smooth transitions, and occasionally just glazing either the darkest shade or highest highlight over those two colours worked as well at blending the two together as areas I spent hours on with intermediate shades. I’ve seen some other approaches I want to try, but will likely come back to his one eventually as it contains a lot of techniques that are useful elsewhere.
  • I need to spend more time considering where highlights fall on the model, and how light interacts with shapes (is it a cylinder, is it a sphere??) and reflective surfaces.
  • Lastly, I’m happy that I’ve got my camera settings fairly well dialled in now!

As always, any tips or constructive critiques are most welcome! See you all next week!

Behind the Scenes II: Wolf of the North

Hey folks,

This week’s post is back to my ‘Behind the Scenes’ series, where I have a look back to the things that inspired the story. This week I’m taking a look back to my Wolf of the North series, which was first published way back in 2016. It really doesn’t seem that long ago!

I had the original idea for this story not long after I finished The Tattered Banner. I thought of using some of the ideas in the Society of the Sword trilogy, but decided pretty early on that it had enough to it to warrant an entire trilogy of its own.

Because of this, the first half of the first draft was set in Auracia, the country to the south of the Ostia setting for Society of the Sword. That would have placed it in a pretty familiar Renaissance Italy style setting, and I decided about half way in that it would be more interesting for the reader, and more fun for me to set it somewhere different within the story world I’d created, so I went back to the start and reworked the story to a new setting related to the area of history I was interested in at the time.

The ending was the part that came to me first, and creating the story was all about building the events that led to that moment. It’s because of that, more than anything I think, that I chose to end this after three books. I usually don’t like endings to a series I’m writing, but that was the scene I wrote first, and the part I really wanted to get to. In retrospect, I think I’d like to have written five or six books in the series, as I really loved the dynamic between the characters I had created. It’s something I’d perhaps like to revisit at some point, but I’m not really sure how I could make that work, considering that the ending to that particular tale has already been written!

Although this trilogy has a very Norse/Viking vibe, the inspiration for much of the setting came from the Great Migration era of Northern Germany and Scandinavia, rather than specifically the Vikings. I’ve always been interested in the power vacuum that was left behind by the Roman empire, and how the cultures and nations of Europe came to be, so I was reading a lot of books on this period.

The story follows Wulfric, an unlikely young lad, as he develops into the most famed warrior of his age, along with all the tragedies and triumphs he encounters along the way (along with the three supporting characters who are my absolute favourite to have written so far!).

If you haven’t read it already, you can check the books out here:

Adventures of the Wee Beasties, Part I

Since coming into the house, Poppy and Willow, our new ragdoll kittens, have well and truly made our house their home. Their toys are scattered liberally around the place, and little tufts of cat hair drift gently in the breeze.

Timid exploration has become more confident, and if something is in the way, or blocking their desired route, it gets moved. They’ve also taken a keen interest in television. I watched the Book of Boba Fett over the past few evenings, and Willow wanted to get in on the action.

This is definitely behaviour we’re trying to discourage, as I don’t really want my TV covered with little scratch marks!

Their curiosity extends to anything that gets left on the floor, even for only a few seconds. This covers shopping bags, and of course, boxes! I was breaking up some boxes for recycling and turned around to find this:

Of course, all of this activity doesn’t come without a cost, and eventually everyone has to pay the piper. Even little kittens brimming with energy:

Back to Mini Painting!

We moved house a few months back, which has given me the space to set up my painting table once again, something I’m really happy about. While I’ve never really done any wargaming, I’ve always found mini painting a really cathartic way to unwind, so it’s great to be able to get back to it in a more conducive environment.

My first efforts back at the painting table are sadly not so great! This is the first model I’ve painted since before Lockdown 1, and I was surprised by how bad my brush control was. Although it improved steadily as I went, at the start it was almost impossible to get paint where I wanted it!

I was reminded of two things very quickly: When you get paint somewhere you want it, it takes forever to dry. If you get paint somewhere you don’t want it, it dries instantly—long before you can get a clean wet brush to it for clean up on aisle 3!

By the end I produced something I was reasonably happy with. I’ve decided that now I’m getting back to painting more regularly, I want to make a big effort to tackle the things I’ve always wanted to be able to do, namely non-metallic metal, the good blends you need to make it work, and some limited freehand. Might as well start as you mean to continue, so I through the lot at this model!

To the photos!

I’ve had this mini out of the box since before Lockdown 1, so I’m afraid I can’t recall who made it, nor where I got it.

I’m falling between two stools on this paint job, with two blending methods I quite like – glazing and a layering style using a very dry brush and light touch. Ultimately, I’d like to have both in my toolkit, but I was half using one and half using the other and not doing either particularly well. I expect that to change with practice though! I hope!

I think the NMM looks slightly better in reality, but I definitely didn’t ‘push the contrast’ far enough to make it work either on camera or as it should be for a mini of this size. That’s something I’m going to try to address on the next mini.

As for the freehand on the shield, well, it’s less ‘lions rampant’ and more ‘rodents somewhat pissed off’ but great journeys begin with a small step, and the only way you get better at something is by doing it. Over and over. The fact that it’s fun makes it easier!

Anyway, I’ve already taken the lessons I learned on this one to the next mini, which I will post in a couple of weeks when it’s done (it takes me about a week to ten days of 30-45 min sessions to paint one as I’m more focussed on getting the mini as good as I can and learning as much as possible, rather than getting a lot of them done in the efficient time frame you’d need if painting an army!) Until then!

Behind the Scenes 1: Society of the Sword

Hey folks,

I hope you’re all keeping well. I’ve come up with the idea of doing a short series taking a behind the scenes look at the books I’ve published up to this point. This week it’s going to be my first trilogy, Society of the Sword, which begins with The Tattered Banner.

The Society of the Sword trilogy is where it all started for me. It begins with The Tattered Banner, a book that was featured on Buzz Feed’s Best Fantasy Novels of 2013. It follows a young man, Soren, with an incredible talent, but who tends not to question good fortune when he encounters it, which leaves him open to being taken advantage by those with fewer scruples. He’s a bit player in events far bigger than him, but everyone is the hero of their own story, and this one explores how getting caught up in all of that affects him.

At the time of writing, I was going through a classic swashbuckler movie phase (The Mark of Zorro, Scaramouche, Captain Blood, The Three Musketeers among many others!), and I think the book clearly shows the influence of that. I was then, as always, very interested in Renaissance Europe, so that heavily influenced the setting and the world building.

Combining the two, I came up with the idea of a story set in a school of swordsmanship in great Renaissance style trading city. My initial plan was to keep all of the events of the story within the city, but as is often the case the story, the events led me to places I had not expected, which involved me doing a lot more world building, and fleshing out many areas of my Middle Sea world.

I’d still like to write something contained entirely within the city. There’s more than enough variety in it to sustain a full trilogy, or even longer series, and the city of Ostenheim continues to be a place that fascinates and intrigues me whenever I allow my mind wander its streets to flesh out the neighbourhoods I haven’t visited yet.

The Tattered Banner being my first book, I had no idea if there’d be a second, so although I had a good idea of where I’d take the story if continuing with it, I had nothing substantive written before publishing it.

If you haven’t read it already, you can check the books out here:

And all three books in audio, narrated by Derek Perkins, here:

I hope you enjoyed this little peak behind the curtain! I plan to do one for each of my other trilogies over coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Introducing the Wee Beasties!

We’ve had two new additions at Castle Hamilton in the past couple of weeks. I’d like to introduce you all to Poppy and Willow, two sister ragdoll kittens.

Poppy (left) and Willow (right)

Poppy was very nervous at the start, while Willow was a bit braver and headed out exploring almost right away, finding a small hole above the kitchen kickboard that we unaware of even after a weekend of cat-proofing the house. They both disappeared inside for 6 or 7 hours during which we grew increasingly nervous that they were stuck in there, and went without dinner for fear of turning on the oven and unintentionally baking them in the process!

While going through my tool box to work out the least damaging way to remove the kickboard and cabinet spacer to fish them out, a little head popped out of the hole for a look around to see what was going on. Crinkling a plastic food pouch created a sound that was interesting to Willow (although they are both unbribable with treats – they’d do Elliot Ness proud!), so she emerged to investigate.

We quickly scooped her up so she couldn’t get back in, then proceeded to crinkle the pouch for about an hour until Poppy got lonely and followed her sister out. We blocked off the hole and spent another hour crawling around on the floor looking for any other holes we might have missed (that was the only one!).

They then spent the next two days hiding behind the couch, coming out only for food. By day three, they’d advanced to their teepee. At least for sleeping time.

They’re happily fully settled in now, playing with reckless abandon, eating, sleeping, and pooping (they produce an unbelievable amount of poop). I’ll be sure to post more updates on their adventures as they grow!

Wolf of the North Omnibus Out Today!

Just a quick post to let you all know that the Wolf of the North Omnibus edition is out in ebook format today!

The audiobook will follow next week, on Tues 9 August, narrated by Simon Vance.

I’ve had a few queries about paperback and hardback editions. Unfortunately, at over 1200 pages, this omnibus is too big for any of the printing options available at this time. If that changes, I’ll be sure to let you know!

I’ll also say I’m using a new blog editor, so apologies if this post appears a bit unusual! Hopefully it won’t!

Grab your copy now at the following links!

Wolf of the North Omnibus and News!

Hey folks,

I hope you’re having a good summer (or winter for everyone in the southern hemisphere!)!  We’re stuck in the tail end of a heat wave here, which is hopefully subsiding, as it caused quite a bit of devastation across Europe. If you’re in this part of the world, I hope you weren’t too badly affected by the heat!

As you can see from the title, I’m releasing Wolf of the North as an omnibus edition, but more on that a little later. First, some news and updates!

I’m currently working on the final part of the Blood of Kings trilogy, which is one part fun and one part slog. I always find the last part of a trilogy hard to write. It’s not because I don’t know what’s going to happen – this is usually the first thing I come up with. I’ve wondered quite a bit why this is, and the only reason I can come up with, is that part of me doesn’t want to write it!

Finishing a trilogy means saying goodbye to characters that I’ve spent two to three years with, have gotten to know really well, and have gotten used to having in my head. It always feels sad to be closing the door on that. In some cases (without giving anything away), it even means killing some of them off, and that’s something I really don’t enjoy doing!

I’m hoping to get this book out next spring, so stay tuned for more updates.

With my sci-fi hat (helmet?) on, I’ve got the second Alpha Protocol book at an advanced stage. It’s titled ‘First Officer’, and picks up where we left Jack Samson and humanity facing down the mystery remains of one alien race and potential of war with another one. I’m planning on getting this book out in the coming autumn!

The last bit of news I have is that I’m releasing an omnibus edition of the Wolf of the North trilogy. It’s been almost six years since I released the first book in that trilogy, which seems hard to believe. It really only feels like a few months ago that I was working through edits on it!

I’ve had some new cover art done up for the trilogy, which is in keeping with the series, but a little bit unique. It’s available for pre-order now, and will be out in both ebook and audiobook following along shortly afterwards. You can pick up a copy over on Amazon:

It’s by far my most popular trilogy, so if you haven’t read Wolf of the North yet, this is a great opportunity to get all three books at once and binge through it!

As always, the best advertising is word of mouth. If you’ve enjoyed reading my books, I’d really appreciate it if you have the time to leave a review, or mention them to your friends and in the online fantasy communities. It really helps me out!

This time ten years ago I was working hard to learn how to publish my first book, The Tattered Banner (although it didn’t come out until April 2013!). It’s been an incredible journey since then, and it’s hard to believe I’ve been able to make a career out of writing. None of this would be possible without your continued support and interest in my books, so thank you all! I appreciate it more than I have the words to express.


The Banneret is Out Today!

Hello all!

I hope you’re all keeping well!

As the title suggests, I’m pleased to announce that today is release day for The Banneret – Blood of Kings Book 2. It picks up Conrad’s story a few years on from where the first book left off, just as the demon menace rears its ugly head once more. Things are going to get tense!

The ebook, and audiobook narrated by John Lee, are available now and the paperback will follow soon. You can pick up a copy today at the following links:

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Amazon Australia

Amazon Germany

Here’s the back cover copy of The Banneret to give you a taste of what the book is all about:

Demons have been hunted to the verge of extinction. Those who know of the horrors lurking in the dark act as though the threat is long past. It has allowed Conrad to continue his education undisturbed, to work towards joining his friends as a comrade-in-arms rather than a child to be protected.

The appearance of two powerful demons changes everything. The creatures are back, stronger than ever, and the years of quiet are at an end. The Principality finds itself in need of demon hunters once again. Conrad and his comrades are the ones for the job.

The chain of clues draws them ever closer to what their unseen enemy desires, and they find themselves in a deadly race to stop it from regaining its former power.

Work on the third book in the trilogy is already well underway, so hopefully it won’t be too long a wait for the final installment! I hope you all enjoy reading The Banneret, and I want to thank you all for the support and interest you’ve shown in my work!

Best wishes,