A few days ago I wrote about my dilemma of how to publish the electronic editions of three of my earlier novels, Lord of Stone and the two books in the Expatria series. Bring them out as part of the infinity plus imprint, at the risk of people seeing that imprint as an exercise in vanity publishing, or bring them out separately and miss out on the opportunities for cross-promotion that a venture like infinity plus offers?
I settled for a compromise. I’ve brought out the two Expatria books separately, and restricted myself to just including Lord of Stone on the infinity plus list.
Lord of Stone is a novel to which I’m particularly attached. My first three novels were published by Gollancz and the next one I wrote was Lord of Stone. I saw it as my big novel, where I tried to combine literary ambition with strong story-telling. I was pleased with the result but my timing was awful. Gollancz were taken over by a dictionary publisher and cut their fiction list drastically; all I had to offer them was a hard-to-market fantasy novel about the death of magic… a fantasy without, at first appearances, much fantasy.
Despite this, I still believed strongly in the novel and ended up publishing it online myself, my first venture into indie publishing way before the term had even been invented.
A few years later, the US imprint Cosmos approached me about the novel. In the end, not only did they publish the first print editions of Lord of Stone (still available from their parent company Wildside), they also took on four other books from me.
And now, at last, we have the first electronic edition.
One of the nice things about working with Cosmos was that they also invited me to produce covers for three of the books. I was pleased with the two Expatria covers (which I’ve retained for the new ebook editions), but never quite so satisfied with the one for Lord of Stone. The ebook edition gave me the chance to address this, and so it now has a new cover.
This was another interesting challenge. An eye-catching generic fantasy cover would have been great for marketing (strong covers are vital for online book-selling), but not really appropriate for the novel. Most appropriate, perhaps, would have been a grainy black war-time image, but that hardly conveys the fantasy elements of the book. I settled for a pastiche of a Spanish bull-fighting poster: in the novel there are similar festivals, and the book mentions posters on the walls, both for these events and as part of the increasing religious fundamentalism that takes over during the story. Hopefully the resulting cover catches the eye and conveys some of the atmosphere of the book.
And now, without further ado, or waffling, or digression, here’s an extract:
Summer: The Year of Our Lords, 3964
‘And out of the mayhem the Lords will arise…’
—The Book of the World, ch.18, v.29.
The ragged people were all around him, staring and shouting and waving their fists. Bligh looked down at the rounded stones lying scattered in the fire. Had he kicked them there? He did not know.
He remembered hiding in the ruins, looking down at all these people as they performed their calling to the Gods, the Prayer of the Body.
Yet now he was here in their midst and the people were enraged by his incursion.
“No!” he said, again. Nobody moved. The only other noise was the incessant clatter of a small radio, tuned in to a southern music station. “This is wrong,” he cried. “You can’t do this. It’s sick. Do you think that if the Lords were among you they would recognise – ” he gestured ” – this as anything but a cheap sham? Do you? There is nothing Holy about this charade. Nothing! It’s sick…” He was losing track. He did not know where he had found the words, or even what they meant.
He looked around at the people in their filthy tatters, gathered in the ruins where they were forced to make their home. These poor people were desperate, they needed something to believe, something to give their empty existences some kind of meaning.
As he studied their faces Bligh realised that the time for violence had passed and he was safe, for now. The mood of the gathering was returning to the passionate fervour of before, only now the atmosphere had been subtly transformed.
The people moved away, found their drinks and started to talk and laugh. Lila, kneeling at Bligh’s feet, hooked her hand into the waistband of his trousers and pulled him towards her. Her cheeks were smeared with tears and dirt from the ground. Her daughter was there too, pressing a jug of wine at him, small eyes pleading with him to accept it.
He did not understand these people’s response. He had wrecked their ceremony but they hardly seemed to care any more. He drank, long and deep, then passed the jug to Lila and watched as she pressed it to her lips.
She paused to touch the corner of her mouth. It was swollen, engorged with blood. He did not remember striking her – had it been him?
Someone turned the radio up louder, its music insistent, shrill. Bligh tried to come to terms with what was happening to him. The steady pressure in his head was frightening, a sure sign that he really was insane. He felt himself to be right on the edge of some mental precipice. It would not take much…
“I hear voices,” he said quietly. He had to explain, had to find the words from somewhere. “My head … I can’t keep track of it all. I see bodies, too. All day, all night. They talk to me.” He drank more wine and focused on its heat in his belly. “I’m mad,” he said. “Mad.”
He drank some more.
Later, the old man started his chant again. Nobody paid him any attention at first, but gradually the people stopped talking and silenced the radio. In their ones and twos they turned to watch, then started to clap out his complex rhythm. Bligh felt no anger now, only a mellow sense of well-being that centred in his gut and rippled outwards.
He did not object when Lila rose from where she had been sitting, head on his shoulder, hand on his thigh. He watched as she found the movements of her dance once again, her eyes locked unblinking on his. He drank some more from the jug of wine.
After a few minutes, she started to wail that twisting note that had reached right inside Bligh earlier in the evening. She wrapped her arms around her body, pulling at her clothes, teasing, and all the time her eyes were fixed on Bligh’s.
It crept up on him stealthily.
Sitting, watching, drinking … then suddenly he was out in the cleared dirt space with Lila, crying aloud, the old man’s chant pulling Bligh’s body about as if he was a marionette jerked by some mad puppeteer’s wires. He clutched at his head, trying to interrupt the pattern and stop, but still his body jerked and twisted and that awful chant pounded through his head. All he knew was the fire, the insane twitching of his body, the undying, timeless rhythm battering the inside of his skull.
At some point – he knew no sense of time – things started to change. A new rhythm, a new chant, supplanted the old. The voices of the people were all around, the people with whom he had shared this grim little shanty town. All chanting a single word, over and over again. “Who?” they cried. “Who? Who? Who?”
He did not understand, but he sensed that he did not have to understand.
“Who? Who? Who?”
Somewhere in his head: the pressure, transforming. Rising through the levels of his mind, bursting forth to take over his senses and submerge all that he was, all that he had ever been.
“Who? Who? Who?”
Expanding, a force that would destroy him and know no different. Rising up to take over.
“Who? Who? Who?”
He stood and spread his hands, and then there was sudden silence.
“Who?” said the old man, eventually, his chin glistening with saliva and sweat.
“I am…” said Bligh, who was no longer Bligh, in a voice no longer Bligh’s. “I am the second of the Lords Elemental: I am Lord of Stone.” Now, he smiled. “I am,” he said, “your Saviour.”
Autumn: the Year of Our Lords, 3963
‘A man answers the call of his people … and so he answers the Call of the Lords.’
—The Book of the World, ch.8, v.68.
They heard the first gunshot as the train pulled into the station.
Bligh’s grip tightened on Madeleine’s hand just as the shot was answered by three more. Facing them, a woman stared back blankly, her scrawny arms wrapped like honeysuckle around the tall wicker poultry basket resting on her lap. Two young girls by her side giggled and hid their faces when Bligh glanced in their direction.
The train lurched to a halt and Bligh and Madeleine joined the throng by the carriage’s door. Movement brought life back to Bligh’s legs, numb from an hour or more on a narrow wooden seat. At the exit he realised Madeleine was watching him closely. They had been lovers since the summer yet still he felt a self-conscious heat prickle his skin. He leapt to the cobbled platform and used his bulk to steady himself against the flow as he helped Madeleine down.
“Anasty.” They spoke the name of Trace’s capital city together and then laughed. The whipcrack of another gunshot sounded – far too close – and they allowed the crowd to sweep them through the station-house and out into the street.
“We should find somewhere in which to stay,” said Bligh, his Traian distinguishable from that of a native only by its grammatical correctness.
Madeleine slung her light bag over Bligh’s shoulder and kissed him tenderly on the cheek. She flicked dark hair back from her face and turned a full circle to look at the city. “The boarding houses won’t be full,” she said. “We have plenty of time.”
Holding hands, they walked on the pavement, heading in the general direction of the Old Town. Crooked buildings lined the street, three or four storeys high and perhaps two centuries old. Boards covered some of the small windows and bullet-scars and soot marked the stone facades. Here and there, outside shops and seemingly ordinary houses, long lines of people stood resolutely in turn.
They rounded a corner, Madeleine navigating from memories of earlier visits to Anasty, and there they came across their first barricade. Bligh looked immediately for a pennant or banner to identify the militia responsible. They had come from Dona-Jez that morning, a town held by the Landworkers’ Alliance. Because of this, there might be problems if their papers were examined by Government troops.
Above the broken line of rubble and sand-bags, a chequered blue and white flag drooped in the sultry air and Bligh said, “Syndicalist, it’s okay.” The Syndicalists, with their aggressively confrontational history, were at the more extreme end of the revolutionary spectrum, but infinitely preferable to a Government jail.
“You have papers?” said an unshaven guard, somehow contriving to look a fine figure in his shabby corduroy trousers and coarse woollen coat.
Madeleine handed over their train tickets and her employment card, Bligh his passport.
On seeing that Bligh had Wederian nationality the guard beamed approvingly and said, “You like our girls, hmm? In that case you will like Anasty, Friend, you will like it greatly.”
“One of them, yes,” said Bligh. “I hope to like Anasty, too.” There were more gunshots now, but faint in the distance. Still, Bligh searched the rooftops and windows. He found that in some perverse manner he was actually enjoying the sense of danger. He had never come so close to the fighting before.
“Ah, you are in love.” The guard’s smile grew even broader. “That is very good.”
“Is the fighting bad?” asked Madeleine. From her tone Bligh could tell that she did not find the guard amusing.
“For the Government and the Queen it is,” said another soldier, joining them from a nearby building.
“A piece of advice, Friend,” said the first, placing a hand on Bligh’s arm and standing so close that the smell of sweat and cheap wine was almost unbearable. “If you want to have love tonight then don’t go near to the Old Town. That is where the Army are, for now, and there is much fighting. Go there and you might end up in a hospital or in a wooden casket – a young man with the love juices flowing doesn’t want a thing like that.”
Bligh stepped away and tried to thank the man, but they could not leave without their papers. For a moment, the guard held ticket, employment card and passport aloft and then he brought them down with a grand flourish. “Enjoy our city,” he said. “If you find the time.”
Bligh retrieved their documents and at last they passed through the barricade. They walked on for some time, easy in each other’s silence, nothing to hurry them. The afternoon stretched out ahead.
Then, with no warning, they were fired on for the first time.
…continues in Lord of Stone. Available from:
Trace: a country where magic is dying out. A country at war with itself. A country where the prophecies of the Book of the World have started to come true.
Bligh: a young foreigner, drawn irresistibly to the war in Trace. A man who has rejected religion, yet appears to be possessed by one of the six Lords Elemental. Bligh thinks he’s going mad, but if he is then it’s a madness shared by others…