Category Archives: Extract

Pluto flyby special blog!

NASA - Pluto from less than half a million miles away
NASA – Pluto from less than half a million miles away

In celebration of the NASA New Horizons spacecraft making its closest approach to Pluto today, I thought I would celebrate with a short extract from Far from the Spaceports. The action takes place in the asteroid belt which is still a very long way from Pluto but is at least en route.

Mitnash, the main character, is actually on a group of asteroids in closely linked orbits named after the Scilly Isles. He is actually there to investigate financial fraud but has a cover story of prospecting for minerals. He has just arrived on Bryher.

I looked round the room, and noticed a man’s picture through the open door.
“And is that your husband, Mrs Riley?”
She followed my gaze and nodded.
“Oh yes, Mister Mitnash, that’s Riley. He’s a miner, you know, he’s out near Jupiter somewhere just now. Comes back once a year to see us all here on Bryher.”
“Oh yes? What does he go for? I’m here to do some mining myself. Rare earths. There’s a good patch out here near the Scillies. At least, I think there is.”
She snorted.
“And who have you left back home waiting all the long hours in the night for you to get back? Still, if you doing it keeps her out of want then maybe it’s a good thing. Now Riley there, he goes out for the heavy metals. Anything heavy at all, really. He brings back huge great lumps in tow behind his ship. The Selkie, he called her.”
She laughed. “That’s what he calls me, too, his selkie, when he’s had a few jars. That he does. But it’s the metal that glamours him, not my own self, I’m thinking.”
She looked at the picture for a few moments, then sighed and glanced back at me.
“I’m also thinking you don’t look much like a miner, Mister Mitnash.”

More news regarding Far from the Spaceports will follow through the summer. Meanwhile, congratulations to the entire New Horizons team for the culmination of effort spanning well over a decade. At the time of writing, they are still waiting for the craft to come out of its radio silent mode…

The Flame Before Us release date getting closer!

April 16th is the Kindle release date for The Flame Before Us. The soft-cover version passed its last physical proofing check and will be going live at such time as CreateSpace can process it. It will be round about the same time but I have not tracked down a way to synchronise both, so cannot be sure it will be the exact same date. All very exciting…

Preorder links are:

To celebrate, I shall also be making Scenes from a Life available on the Kindle Countdown scheme from April 16th for a week, starting at £0.99, $0.99 or equivalent, and slowly rising through the week. Your opportunity to get both at the same time!

Here’s the start of The Flame Before Us:

“But father will be back from the north before we have to leave?”

Anilat looked carefully at her mother, hoping to see some sign of the truth of the matter. But the old face, schooled in a great many years of diplomacy, was giving nothing away, and the old voice did not directly answer her.

“You will be leaving as he instructed, a half-month from now. I will wait for his return and follow on after. He has been called to attend to the wishes of the King of the North even now.”

The last was, surely, a simple guess, perhaps even a needy wish. Anilat nodded slowly, wondering if, after all, her mother had no more information than she had already shared. All that she herself knew came from the brief report delivered by the weary rider as he passed by the envoy’s house on his way to the royal palace of Ikaret.

Not long after his arrival, the city gates had been closed, and the priests were called out from the temple to bless and prepare the few city guardsmen who remained. Most of the army had already been sent north to join the collected forces of the great King of the North, assembling somewhere in the vassal territories along the coast. As well as force of numbers and weapons, they had taken wagon loads of supplies, honouring the requirements of the treaty.

The army had travelled by land, along the great Sea Road that ran all the way from the southern sedge lands of the Mitsriy up to the rugged hills in the north. But Ikaret had grown up facing the sea, and the sea still brought most of the wealth to the people. Although the hinterlands were fair, and the overland trade routes reliable, it was the port that gave life to the city. There were so few good harbours north or south along this coast.

For a time the royal family of Ikaret had offered allegiance to the Mitsriy, but no longer, not for many generations. Their loyalty had turned away when the ruler of the Khatti-lands, the great King of the North, had started to expand his sway. He was much closer to them in both distance and culture.

The Mitsriy protests were in vain; the city was simply too far north from their homeland to be retained. It was too far for an effective campaign of retaliation to be considered, even from the unruly collection of Kinahny vassal lands they controlled. Even the most warlike among the Mitsriy kings had never been able to secure their conquests this far along the coast. It suited Ikaret to have her ties of allegiance holding her to the north. The huge flocks of wading birds that feasted in the shallow waters around the bay, emblematic of Ikaret herself, had enjoyed prosperity and comparative peace for a very long time.

A little over two years ago, the first stories of raiding groups harrying the fringes of the settled lands had reached the city. A long way north and west of Ikaret, they mostly struck at island settlements, or very remote coastal towns which could not be easily reinforced. Rumours of troop losses had spread, and the great king had been swift to silence the more vocal of his critics. But the reports were still carried, by traders and officials more concerned about the immediate risk to their life and livelihood than the king’s displeasure. Then there had been a lull for a while, and it seemed that peace had returned.

But as the weather turned colder, and winter drew close this year, forlorn and homeless groups had started to come down the Sea Road. The first few dozen of these were treated with kindness and a spirit of welcome. But dozens swelled to hundreds, and generosity could only stretch so far. Some of them stopped around the outskirts of the city, clustering in great tented pools around the streams and wells. Others moved on again, southwards, hoping to find better favour among the Fenku, or even the Mitsriy. They would have a long journey southward, along the Sea Road, but perhaps the effort would be worth while.

“Are the children ready to leave? Yours and your brother’s?”

The Flame Before Us now available for preorder

Well, here’s some great news about The Flame Before Us – both Kindle and soft-cover versions are now queued up for full distribution. The Kindle version can now be preordered at
but the physical version will take a little longer to become available. Both should be accessible for purchase from mid April.

To celebrate, here is the final, full cover image:Kindle cover image

And here is the cover blurb:

Conflict and commitment in the shadow of a city’s downfall

The raiding ships have come before, but this time it is different. This time the attackers are coming to stay, and defensive walls will not hold them back. Nowhere is safe. One by one, the great kings and their vassal cities collapse as the newcomers advance.

The land is already a patchwork of many different peoples, bound together in a fragile web of traditional alliances and rivalries. How will political and personal promises change with the arrival of the new clans? Is war inevitable, or can a different answer be found?

Walk with refugees, migrants, and defenders of the land alike, as they struggle to create a different way of life beside the ruins of the old. Can alliance, commitment and love survive the turmoil?

(Cover artwork © Copyright Ian Grainger

The burial place

Today it is time for another look at a cover element of The Flame Before Us, and another extract to go with that. Like my other cover designs, this has been put together by Ian Grainger (, whose skills with photography and image manipulation have been essential. Ian’s site is well worth a look.

Lamp and smoke cover image partSo, the cover piece today is the third individual element of the whole, being an oil lamp nicely lit. Ian and I had a lot of fun tracking down a suitable lamp and working out how to get a good flame with olive oil. Other than being manufactured within the last year or so, this is a pretty good match to an oil lamp of the era described in the story.

Today’s extract is from near to the end of the book. In the extract, we have been following Anilat, her daughter Haleyna, and their nurse Damatiria throughout the book. Damariel and Nepheret are priests: readers of earlier books in the series will recognise them.

Some time later, they stood at what had been the gateway of a walled area. Wild grasses and bright flowers straggled between the buildings. It had indeed been a short distance, but the old couple moved only at a slow pace. They had headed south from the city, away from the house near the city wall, away from the area containing Anilat’s new home, past the scattering of dwellings starting to spill outside the old boundary.

The spring sun shone on the holy place. It was deserted now, the buildings of the interior lying empty. Anilat recognised the design from places that her mother had spoken of. Beside her, just outside the walls, was a guardhouse. Ahead of her was the main shrine, stripped now of everything valuable. Over to one side were halls where the women would have eaten, sung, and slept. On the other side was a low stone enclosure wall. The priest, Damariel, led them towards it.

The track they walked on curved around behind the wall, and then stopped at a flight of steps going down. Anilat realised that they led underground, under the walled area. The stone flags of the steps were still neat, but trailing thorns and briars were starting to encroach. The bottom of the stairs lay in a pool of shadow. Nepheret struck fire from a stone and lit a small clay lamp.

They went down the stairs in a group. The two priests were first, with Anilat following closely. Haleyna was on her right, and Damatiria on her left, and all three women had linked arms. As they descended the steps into the shadows, the flame in Nepheret’s hand cast ever darker shadows behind them. Little rustling sounds came from crevices in the rocks.

At the bottom of the stairs they stood on a bare earth floor. Rock pillars, decorated with twisting painted vines and lotus flowers, supported the vaulted ceiling. The air was a little damp, and the patterns on the pillars were already starting to fade. The lamplight was lost in the curves of the roof, but Anilat could see that the dark expanse above them was sprinkled with stars. Damariel took Anilat by the hand and stepped confidently across the floor away from the daylight, then turned to his right through a narrow arch into a second room.

Pillars leaned out of the gloom like tree trunks. Here, the darkness was thick, silent. The little flame cast only a small puddle of light. They approached the end wall.

A great figure of the Lady Nut stretched from side to side. Her feet were arched, with her toes on the ground to their left, her body stretched over their heads, and her fingertips touched the earth again on their right. Her naked body was speckled with the stars of the heavens, and her eye gazed at them without blinking. She was glorious, magnificent, life-affirming.

The wall itself was pierced with little alcoves and pockets. Small jars and pots rested in some of them, but most were empty. Damariel gestured towards them, the shadow of his hand ranging across the wall as the flame bowed and danced. His voice sounded hollow in the chamber.

To find out who is being laid to rest here, you will have to be patient… the release date for The Flame Before Us is set as mid-April, probably 15th for the Kindle version and a few days later for the paperback to become available.

The Flame Before Us – another piece of the cover

Today it is time for another portion of the cover design for The Flame Before Us, together with another portion of the book itself. In terms of actual progress towards publication, the Author’s Notes section is now complete, and proof-reading the whole is well under way.

Partial cover - stepsFirst, the picture. These are in fact Late Bronze Age steps, though not from the specific place described in the story. These are from Megiddo, somewhat to the north of Ramoth Hurriy where the story places them. Where do the steps go in The Flame Before Us? That’s a portion which I have not yet shared in any extracts…

Now for today’s section. It follows one of the newcomers into the land, Nikleos, a member of the Sherden clan led by Antos. It is in a rural setting in what is now the borderland between Israel and Lebanon.

Nikleos’ clan camped for the night in a valley bowl far enough beyond the crest of a ridge that their progress was clear. It had been a long drag upwards through the afternoon. The character of the land had changed again as they had worked their way south, and their pace had slowed considerably. Although the land was flatter, it was clothed with stands of low trees and scrub land. It was not like the great forests that stood further north and nearer the coast, but it was dense enough to seriously impede progress.

The sun was still quite high in the early spring sky when Antos blew his leader’s horn to call a halt, but a considerable time passed before they made camp. Finally the wagons were arranged in their circle, the beasts were inside, and fires had been set. The boys who had been tasked with the day’s hunting had all come back, prey in hand, and the smell of cooking drifted across the encampment.

He shook his head. With the young men constantly away with the raiding parties, the group was never properly mixed. Boys, older men, and women of all ages filled the camp and shared out the tasks that would normally fall to the lads. Perhaps in a few months they would settle again and life would return to its usual pattern.

Nikleos watched as the women of his family prepared the food. It crossed his mind that Kastiandra was too thin, but that would not change until they found a place to settle. All of them would stay too thin while the journey continued. When he thought back to their life on the other side of the sea, she had had a much more attractive roundness to her form which had been peeled away from her on the journey.

There, in their farmstead just outside the village where Antos had been arkon, there had been lamb and mutton whenever they wanted, plentiful butter and cheese, and honey always available from the bees who inhabited a nearby stand of trees. They had left that all behind when they set sail for Wilios. The men, himself included, had always boarded the quick ships to raid isolated towns or islands, but this was something new.

Families and clans from many different valleys and coastal bays had united that time, stirred up by Akamunas to seize the great prize of Wilios. It had been a fine sight, all those ships together crossing the water. The siege had been long and hard, and it had exposed violent disagreements among the clans themselves, but in the end they had done it. The enterprise had become too big, too prideful, to halt.

The final capture and plunder of the city had soon been turned into song, but it had left his people with a hard choice. Antos had led his people onwards, instead of returning over the sea. Many other village arkons had done the same, eager to find other cities with easy wealth to gather, quite sure that any of them would be easier than Wilios. And so now here they were, heading south through this land of which they knew nothing, unsure where or when to settle.

Don’t miss the next of the cover components being revealed!

The Flame Before Us – complete draft

Some very exciting news for this week – I now have a complete end to end draft of The Flame Before Us and am now heading into a full proofreading cycle, together with adding in things like Author’s Notes at the end. All being well I am on track for a release around Easter as planned.

To celebrate this event, here are two things – firstly one element in the cover design, which as usual has had creative and technical input from Ian Grainger ( Other cover elements will be shown in due course leading up – eventually – to the full reveal…

Tablet image - The Flame Before Us cover portion

The Ugaritic cuneiform text reads as follows:

If the strong attack your strongholds –
    warriors your walls –

The text is adapted from part of an Ugaritic ritual, complete with ceremonies and prayers for protection over the city and its gates. Sadly, one day around 1180BC, the ritual proved ineffective as invading soldiers stormed the walls and overpowered the defenders.

So to go with this, the second item is a short extract seeing this moment through the eyes of Anilat, a woman of the city, together with Damatiria, the wet-nurse to her children, known to the family as “Auntie”.

Damatiria stiffened suddenly, and her fingers seized hold of Anilat’s shoulder. A sudden flame had come up from the docks. As Anilat watched, a second building caught light as the flames leapt from one roof to the next. Auntie was already moving across the room, pulling at a pile of clothes.

“You must dress yourself, lady. And not in fine stuff. In something more common, like we talked about in the evening.”

Anilat stayed at the window, not understanding what was happening. The flames at the harbour were still spreading. Off to one side, in the direction of the lesser gate, another fire appeared. In the distance she started to hear noise from the fires. She shrank back a little as running footsteps sounded at the end of the alleyway. Auntie was pulling her away into the room.

“Put these clothes on, mistress, put them on now, there’s no time to lose just standing looking at all this.”

Anilat looked blankly at her.

“It’s just a fire down at the docks, Auntie. Why do you want us to get dressed?”

Auntie handed her the bundle of her clothes and she started dressing without thinking. Then she stopped again, her outer smock loose in her hand. Auntie was shaking the children awake.

“Don’t wake them, they’ve only just gone off properly.” She stopped as Auntie turned on her, an unexpectedly fierce look on her features. There was more noise from outside, distant shouting. She went suddenly cold.

“It is just a fire, surely?”

Her daughter was already awake, and the twins were stirring, grumpy and uncomprehending. Auntie was rapidly, efficiently pulling clothes onto them.

“They’re in the city, mistress, that’s what it is.”

She saw the question starting to form on Anilat’s face. “It doesn’t matter how they did it, lady. We need to get ourselves along out of here. Mistress, please help me get the children ready now. You must think of the little ones here.”

Finally stirred into action, Anilat pulled the smock over her head and began to help.

Another extract from The Flame Before Us

Flame imageThis extract first appeared in the “Excerpts” section of the Facebook Review Group and so I thought I should post it here as well! It is the opening portion of the fourth strand of Flame, introducing us to Labayu. He is currently living at Ramath-Galil, considerably to the north of his home town of Kephrath, in a small village near the Sea of Kinreth – known today as the Sea of Galilee.

Labayu stepped out of his door into the early light. Now that the villagers of this clan had cleared the belt of trees just below the crest of the ridge, he could see all the way south across the valley to the wooded ridge opposite. It was a magnificent view. Behind him and to his left, the houses swept in a arc either side of the track that led down towards the Sea of Kinreth. One day soon they would finish the circle and have a settlement that was more defensible.

The mist was hanging in thick swathes in the creases of the land, and the late winter sun was slow to warm it away. Normally at this time, he would be listening to the familiar sound of Ashtartiy starting the grindstone on its daily revolutions. Around homes and doors, work was starting in Ramath-Galil, and he lifted his hand in acknowledgment as Shemiram went by the house to check his overnight snares for game. But Ashtartiy was no longer here.

He turned to go back in, when he was stopped by the sight of a youth running up the track. He was wearing the kef of the town of Merom, but tied around his arm just now so as not to restrict his movement.

He reached the open ground in the middle of the houses and stopped, catching his breath in great gulps of air. He looked round at the doors and windows, waiting for a response. There was a short pause, and then Pedayah, the village headman, walked over towards him, carrying the cup of welcome.

As Labayu joined the growing circle of curious people, the youth finished the cup and handed it back to Pedayah. He was breathing steadily now, and the flush of exertion was fading. He tied his kef properly and looked around the ring of faces, waiting for permission to speak. Pedayah nodded.

“A bright morning to you, lad.”

“And a morning of light to you, sir, and to your people.”

They exchanged formal greetings between Pedayah and the youth’s own headman for a short time. Finally that was done.

“Look now, what brings you to us today, and in haste?”

The lad looked down at the cold ground briefly, the better to remember the words he had been told.

“Sir, I have been sent around with a word from the clan head Shillem. The word says that the king of Hatsor is sending men and chariots both. Large numbers of them, far more numerous than your whole village. He is demanding more tribute, and he will also take some more of your young men with him as runners. He will be here on the third day from now, or perhaps the day after. The clan head Shillem says that each settlement is to make its own choice how to act.”

There was a ripple of discontent around the circle, but until the headman replied, nobody would speak aloud. Labayu waited along with the others. The news was not unexpected, and Pedayah had already sat with the elders to discuss their response. For a short time, only the breeze from the west stirred the hilltop village.

“I say that we will leave Ramath-Galil for the time being. We will move south for a time to be closer to the rest of our people.”

A collective sigh came from the group. Pedayah rounded on them.

“You all knew this would happen. These houses that we have built: we will come back to them before the year is out. This is nothing new for us. I remember wandering as a child, and to wander was the life of our fathers. It is nothing new.”

He looked at Labayu.

“Is there any news from your scouts that would lead me to make a different choice?”

All on track for a release early in the New Year 2015, I think…

The end of the Bronze Age in the middle east

This post was prompted by a recent Facebook link concerning battle reenactment societies and the long sword. Quite an exciting thing in its own right, but my thoughts inevitably strayed earlier in time. The long sword is often linked with Viking or medieval times, but there is good evidence that its introduction was a major contributory cause to the collapse of Bronze Age culture in the middle east.

This cultural collapse has had several proposed causes over the years, including mass tribal migration, climate change and natural disasters. The main provocative question is why such factors caused collapse of a social hierarchy this time, when similar issues had been faced and survived before.

Part of the battle between Rameses III and the Sea Peoples
Around 1200BC, all around the eastern Mediterranean, well established cultures fell and cities were sacked. The incoming wave of new people was – just – halted at the borders of Egypt. When society recovered, the former chariot-based elite groups had fallen from power. Chariots ceased to be the dominant battlefield weapon, and became a mere transport vehicle used to convey heroes to the front line or ride in triumph afterwards.

Militarily, two weapons emerged as the new superior choice. One was the javelin, and the other the long sword. The new swords were considerably longer than the previous patterns, and were weighted so as to slash rather than thrust. Together, skirmishing bands and armies were able to defeat the bow-armed chariot riders who had ruled before, and in the process overturned the social order which had elevated charioteers into the nobility. From the Mediterranean shores across to North India, the day of the elite charioteer was over. It was a social change as profound as the slaughter of mounted Medieval knights by peasants armed with the longbow.

Turning to fiction, The Flame Before Us explores this social revolution from both sides. Here’s a brief extract. Yasib, son of a noble family from the fallen city of Ikaret (modern Ugarit) is talking with Nikleos, an older man whose clan is part of the wave of newcomers. Their cross-cultural friendship is in its early stages.

Cover image idea - The Flame Before Us

“In Ikaret, do you train your boys like this?”

“Not really with throwing weapons. Some learn the bow. Some learn to direct the chariot horses, and the best ones train to shoot arrows while riding at speed. Boys from the common families learn to use a spear or the stabbing sword. When the city fell it was at night. They say that traitors opened the gates and set fires near the docks. If we had been able to meet the attackers with chariots the city would stand yet. But they were away from the city, serving the great King of the North along his borderlands.”

Nikleos pulled a face. “That day has gone. I have seen battlefields littered with broken chariots and dead horses, where living men armed with javelins and the long sword mastered them. Against that, a chariot is no better than an ox cart, and is fit only to carry men to the place where they will fight hand to hand.”

Yasib thought for a while, then turned away from the up and down curves of the missiles.

“I was in training to be a runner; a man who keeps close to the chariots in order to protect the fallen on our side and harass those of the enemy. I do not really have the speed for it, but my father wanted me to learn the runner’s discipline before ever I took up the reins. Still less be the bowman on board. But perhaps now I will never be a rider.”

“Why would you want to be?”

Yasib looked at him. “Why not? The rider has a place of honour among men of rank.”

“Look at these boys, Yasib. They are learning the javelin. When they are older they will learn the longsword, but already these boys could defeat a chariot.”

Yasib shook his head in disbelief. “They have no skill with the bow.”

“They do not need it. There are ten boys here. Think of them spread out so that your bowshots would not easily strike them. They throw ten javelins, and even at their age one or two might hit a horse at the walk. Another few years, and most will hit a horse at the trot or the canter.”

“You fight against horses?” He sounded shocked. “What harm have the horses ever done to you?”

Nikleos shrugged. “We fight to win battles. No horse: no chariot. No chariot: no kingdom. Better for you that you never become a rider, perhaps.”

Look out for The Flame Before Us early next year!

Back from the HNS London conference

This weekend the Historical Novel Society London 2014 conference took place, in a university building conveniently close to Baker Street. I was there for Friday evening and all day Saturday, and had a great time enjoying the mixture of planned presentations, workshops, and free time mingling with other delegates. It was especially fun meeting face to face with people I have chatted with online, and having time to find out more about them than just a shared interest in fiction! Unlike me, who had at most a 3/4 hour journey on the London Underground to get there, many people had travelled from different parts of Europe, the USA and Australasia to be there. I’m sure that the continuation of these conversations, as well as following up the various bits and pieces I collected, will take some time.

Cover idea, The Flame Before Us
Meanwhile, I participated today in a “Game of 7’s” chain post on Google+. Rather like a similar thing a few week back, you had to post 7 lines from the 7th line of the 7th page of your current WIP. Inevitably I interpreted this a little loosely and came up with the following extract from The Flame Before Us:

It had been a long journey for them all, south and east after the great city of Wilios had fallen. That siege, and the sack which followed, had been a moment of concerted initiative for them, a beginning of something new. Afterwards, a few of the smaller clans had returned across the sea to their former homes, but most of them had carried on travelling, lured on by the thought of other rich prizes scattered up and down the land.

That was a great many months ago, however. Nikleos’s clan, and its leader Antos, had started to grow weary of the endless, relentless movement onward. Over the months they had lost friends and kinfolk: a few from sickness, but the larger part in war. It might well be a good way to die for those concerned, but for the ones who were still alive, every loss left the remaining families a little less able to manage. Before too long they would need to settle for a while and recover.

The heady unity of the original impetus was ebbing away.

Blog hop – Game of Seven

I was recently tagged by Antoine Vanner on his Facebook page ( in an ongoing blog series called “Game of Seven“. The rules are that you turn to page 7 or 77 of your current work in progress, count down 7 lines, then post the next 7 sentences, interpreting the last two instructions a bit liberally so that the whole thing makes sense.

First off, the extract. A brother and sister who have escaped the fall of Ugarit and have fled to the south are talking, while trying to decide on a course of action:

He waited, watching the dappled light and shade play across her face. She continued.

“I miss the sun rising over the hills ahead of us, and setting into the open sea behind. I miss our house, and our garden. I miss our mother and father terribly. I miss the singing from the temples and the ceremony of the royal processions. I miss the ships coming in to the docks, and the endless flocks of wading birds around the bay to the north. I even miss the fish we used to eat four days out of five, and I never thought I would say that.”

Prototype cover image, The Flame Before Us
Now, whoever made up the rules for this blog hop obviously works in a word processor (which has paged output) rather than straight to Kindle as I do (which is a continuous stream like a web page). So for me, trying to work out where on earth page 77 might be was something of a guess, not to mention the fact that the sequence will almost certainly be chopped and changed before release. But it’s a nice piece of fun and one that I am very happy to have joined in. The above is an educated guess where the extract might live.

Going forward, I asked Teresa Thomlinson ( if she was happy to be tagged next, so look out for her contribution. I have emailed a couple of other people and am waiting to see if they want to join in as well. Links will get posted when available.