India Bones and the Indigo Caves available now!

The second book in the pirate fantasy series India Bones is available now on Amazon here.

I hope you all enjoy it; I had the most fun writing it. Packed full of pirate adventure (and danger).

Blurb:

India Bones was once just an ambitious street kid from Mexico Island, without family, without money, and without experience of the wider world.
Much has changed. Now he is an eager crewmember of the pirate ship the Devil’s Dress, sailing the Caribbean under the captaincy of his skeleton friend Grimmer, seeking adventure, glory, and stolen booty.
But sometimes adventures – those of the riskiest kind – aren’t looked for. When the powerful and unscrupulous merchant king Hong Kong Silver demands the crew seek out the pirate revolutionary Ebon Caesar, they are given little choice but to comply.
Yet Caesar is not in the Caribbean. To find him they must travel to Afrika, a vast land full of all new wonders and dangers. And that’s just the beginning of their troubles, for Caesar has his own dark plans . 

India Bones and the Indigo Caves extract

Morning rose, and they were too dead on their feet to keep going, especially with the shimmering wave of heat that struck them with the rising sun. Old Neg fainted, and that was that. They splashed water on his face, then half-carried him to a small gorge where they laid up in its shadows. Ink took the first watch; the rest were out like a light.

They were roused by Bilge Joe at midday, and wobbled their way out the gorge and west once more.

They relaxed somewhat as the days passed, for no pursuit seemed to be coming. Maybe Caesar really had decided he had better things to do than chase them down. They deviated from their course slightly to approach an old village. Half-naked children played in the red dust, and stopped to stare at the strangers. Somewhere women were singing, wailing, an ethereal sound that carried through the village. It spoke to India of waving lemon grass, of a boiling sun that rose giant and scarlet over the rim of the world as a million birds took to the air. Of titanic mumaphants shaking the earth with their steps, and rhinosaurs rolling in the mud. Of children playing and laughing in the dust and the doom palms and the fever trees.

They struggled to make themselves understood to the villagers, but with enough pantomiming by Bilge Joe they succeeded in both buying food and hiring camels – the only ones, it seemed, the village had. Bilge Joe thrust a handful of battered silver coins at them and their faces opened in wonder and delight.

‘Good thing too,’ India heard him mutter to Bill Timber. ‘I very much doubt they’re gettin’ these camels back.’

Their progress was much better mounted, and not having to pass the bags of gear between them. They kept the camels in a trot for a while – the beasts seemed eager for the rare chance to run – then settled them into a steady walk when they got tired.

There was still no sign of Captain Grimmer and the rest of the crew. India, now worried, asked if they should go back for them (despite absolutely not wanting to retrace all those steps and returning to their place of imprisonment), but Ink and Bilge Joe snorted practically in unison.

‘They’ll be out, don’t you worry,’ the first mate said. ‘Straight west, Cap’n’s orders. We ain’t to go against that.’

‘And if we don’t see him?’

‘Then we don’t see him,’ Bill Timber said in his deep voice.

‘We’re a crew up to a point, lad,’ Bilge Joe said. ‘After that, well, sometimes you can’t do somethin’ for someone more than they can do it for themselves. You understand?’

India didn’t, but kept his mouth closed.

*

Days, nights, days. The sky was cloudless, the country arid, but for verdant watering holes, crowded with grazing animals of every shape and size. Eventually long grasses returned, the air thicker, the trees frequent. They passed lines of quiver trees alternating with petrified wood in the most unnatural shapes; they looked almost like people who had been magicked into statues by one of the less merciful Afrikan gods. Bushwillows followed, and then, as the foliage grew denser and the climate more humid, red silk-cottons and giant kokrodua and heavy-leafed coffin trees, and many not one of them could name. There were no rocks in this land.

Another day and their camels rode awkwardly and out-of-place along winding forest trails. Black hardwoods and evergreens and blossoming flowers of every colour. The undergrowth thickened, and sometimes the way ahead to smoother grass had to be hacked away with Ink’s machete. Sweat rolled down every inch of their skin. The buzz of insects were regular, and Bilge Joe was attacked on countless occasions; they seemed to be the only things in the world that liked his odour.

They had shifted to riding in the days; the nights here seemed too dangerous, fraught by frightening animal cries. The forest became a predator. They saw slinking shapes away from the light of the campfire, and chittering in the trees, heard prey pounced upon and eaten. One night they all woke up one by one to the sound of discordant humming. None of them were making the noise – it was coming from the forest. Bilge Joe and Ink were on watch, and told them firmly not to investigate. India thought that wise, though he wondered at its source – the humming was wordless singing, now. It was scarier just for the lack of knowing. Oshun and Meria’s stories came back to him. Were they Obambo bush ghosts? Biloko treasure guardians? Mashetani spirits? Was it the trickster god Ogo in one of his disguises? Or was it the Rompo, that corpse-feeder that crooned as it ate?

India shuddered. Much as he liked to experience new things, he didn’t fancy meeting whatever was making that sound, at least not in the middle of the night.

Thankfully the sound faded into the forest, and after a while of staring into the black-green foliage and seeing things that weren’t there, India eventually drifted back into an uneasy sleep.

India Bones and the Indigo Caves is a work in progress. The first book in this series, India Bones and the Ship of the Dead, is currently available FREE as a US/UK ebook here.

India Bones and the Indigo Caves

I’m happy to report I’m working hard on my next book. ‘Tis the sequel to the pirate fantasy India Bones and the Ship of the Dead, and it’s called India Bones and the Indigo Caves. It’s vaguely standalone like the first (although it does reference the first), as well as being part of a series, so you don’t completely need to have read the first to enjoy it (though you should anyway!). You can find the first on Amazon here, currently free as an ebook in US and UK.

What to expect from the new one? AFRIKA. Hong Kong Silver. Die Kraai. Louisiana swamps. Le Jour des Morts. Mumaphants. Hammertown. Tartarus. Antlered cats…

The art used in the heading image is by Marina Ortega.

The Fifth Place Book 3: VOLSYNG now available!

The third book in the sci-fi/fantasy/dark western/dystopian series The Fifth Place is completed and up on Amazon! You can find it here.

I hope those who have been following this series enjoy this dark new chapter, as different again as SLADE was to WULF, but still featuring our diverse and tragic anti-heroes we can’t help but root for.

 

Volsyng Cover medium

WULF and SLADE soundtrack

In my writing-but-not-writing that occupies the middle ground between being genuinely productive and procrastinating, I make a lot of playlists. The Fifth Place series is a cinematic series; I often visualise it as a movie, complete with music. Hence I make Spotify playlists for these books. Officially unofficial. Music that inspires, accompanies and/or links in with the books.

I think they’re well worth checking out, although I would say that. I’ve spent a stupid amount of time of them.

Here is the playlist for the first two books, WULF and SLADE:

 

SLADE excerpt – The Fifth Place Book 2

Read below for a snippet from Book 2 of the Fifth Place. Don’t read if you haven’t read WULF (Book 1) yet and/or don’t want any spoilers!

 

 

‘Miss Slade, it is my delight to inform you that you will not die today. You are, in fact, coming with me.’

That’s what he’d told her, before he’d gone on with himself. She hadn’t been able to reply, given the silver band around her throat that stopped her from speaking, except when he allowed her to. Not that she would have offered much; it was the first time in her life she felt she could have outdone Savvi on swearing.

He never offered his name, but he referred to himself as a “Servant”. Information beyond that was scant. When she woke up (she’d no idea how he’d knocked her out and taken her; the last thing she remembered was talking to Jay in a bar in Stoneswell – had he drugged her drink?), she found herself in the middle of nowhere, her ankles and wrists bound with silver loops held together with a kind of slithery, jelly-like cord.

The design wasn’t wholly unlike common manacles, but as the days would wear on, she would be forced to acknowledge their superiority. The cuffs seemed to sense the tensions of her body, and perhaps even her mind. They were only loosely connected most of the time, allowing her to walk almost normally and use her hands. Whenever she tried to escape however (which was about eight times in all), and even when she was only preparing to escape, the glistening silver tentacle that connected the loops would draw itself in, quickly shortening the distance between her limbs. The more she struggled, the closer her ankles and wrists would press together, and the tighter the bands would be. Her legs would be unable to manage even the slowest shuffle, and her hands would clasp with such force that she was unable to use her fingers. This had been particularly frustrating when she’d tried to pick up a rock to hit her captor over the head while he’d been asleep. She thought he’d been asleep, at least, but maybe he never did. He’d opened his eyes glowing green in the night like a cat, and watched her with cool interest as she fell back down, tired and angry and hopeless.

The next day he’d handed her his gun. It was a cold grey thing, as smooth and featureless as a piece of paper. She knew at once it was pointless, but she aimed at him without emotion and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened, of course. She let it drop to the ground and he picked it up, and aimed at a stub of a tree and fired. He gave her what he must have thought was a smile. She stared back. It was a gun that only he could fire. She’d never heard of something like that before, but it didn’t matter. She understood. Until something changed, there was nothing she could do.

After that moment, she only tried to escape twice more.

At the beginning she thought he’d make her walk in front of him, but he never did. They walked in tandem, or side by side, close together or thirty feet apart. It hadn’t mattered. Unless she followed his direction, the bands tightened and she could no longer move. She thought she’d die from the frustration, the impotence.

They walked on in silence, west through the golden Sol Forests, and then into the wilds beyond. Always towards the Black Circle.

 

SLADE can be bought on Amazon here.

 

SLADE cover med-small

VOLSYNG teaser – The Fifth Place Book 3

I’m currently working on the third book in The Fifth Place series. Here’s a short teaser that doesn’t really spoil previous books, if you haven’t read them yet (which you should!)

The first book in the series, WULF, can be found here, currently free!

 

He was born small, smaller than the other kids. Some called him a runt, others protected him – though even at an early age he could see the disappointment in their eyes.

He had more enemies than friends, but he preferred it that way. Better an enemy than a friend that turned on you. Enemies were supposed to be mean; friends weren’t. But it seemed his friends were always the type to flip like a coin.

He was told to grow thicker skin, and he did. But as his skin thickened, so too the cruelty of others increased, growing in sync, and just like everything else, he couldn’t catch up. He was too white in a white culture and too short in a world where the buildings rose higher every day.

He was beaten often. He stopped wanting to leave the house; it was a big house after all, a great manor, one with plenty of places to explore.

He remembered the adults standing over him, always over him, looking down at him with their bright eyes and sharp teeth. He never knew who his parents were, he was never told. Perhaps none of them were, perhaps his parents had died. He was raised by the Family, and when he tried to remember them, after they had disappeared one by one, they were only black, looming shapes, indistinguishable from each other.

One day, after he came home bloody and bruised, they told him about himself. They said he was not like those he played with, those who hurt him and acted his friend. He was better (the word stuck a little in their throats) than them. He would outlive them all. In his life he would see riches turn to poverty and back to riches, and when he was poor he would have to hide from them, but when he was rich, when he had power, they would be at his mercy.

Many times over the years, they would ask him: ‘What are they?’

And he would reply, as they had taught him: ‘They are weakness masquerading as strength.’

And they would ask him: And what are you?

And he would reply, ‘I am strength masquerading as weakness.’

The next evening after they had told him about who he was, about the history of their kind, he left the house again. He was grabbed by his tormentors and one, the biggest, the meanest, put a hand over his mouth to stop him shouting out.

He bit it. Hard. The boy screamed.

The blood tasted good, but the pain tested better.

The boy tried to pull his hand away, but he came with it, still biting.

It was his first taste of justice. It felt right. That those who would harm him would themselves be harmed. The punisher would be punished.

Over the crawl of following years, as the memory of that boy’s wounded cries were joined by the cries of many others, he would come to know the idea as Equilibrium.

 

Vrowd art

How to be Nice to People

I’ve just (yesterday) finished writing the spiritual sequel (I mean, linked somewhat in category and theme, not that it’s actually spiritual) to How Not to Kill Yourself, entitled How to be Nice to People.

I’ll let a blurb do the explaining:

Set Sytes flicks between fervent positivity, sardonic cynicism and self-admonishment as he tackles our social and anti-social behaviours in our online and offline worlds. Battling his own nature as much as the divisive forces around him, he attempts to answer the most perennial of questions: How – and why – should we be nice to each other?

I’ve submitted it to Microcosm Publishing (who published HNTKY), and now – well, now I’m looking forward to concentrating on my fiction again! I hear there’s another Fifth Place book that might need writing…

 

I didn’t know what to put as a picture for this post, so here’s a tigerpuppy. tigerpuppy

Quetzacthulhu (Part Three)

Forgive me, I am weak, and thoughts of what occurred next rob me of my strength of mind. To recollect such a thing is like . . . I do not know what it is like. It is something I cannot block out, but to relive it, to speak of it is like inviting that stygian darkness to take its hold on me and not let go.

Huh. Why do I ask your forgiveness? Truly I have become a fragile, pitiful specimen. I do not recognise myself anymore. Nor would you, if you had met me before all this. Things between us would have gone very differently, of that I am . . . No. I am wrong, things would have not gone so differently. Such is the cruel will of the gods.

What can I tell you of the battle? I can tell you that it was not a battle. Death incarnate was before us, and like fools we marched towards it with spears and bows. What surprise is it that we were no different to a sacrifice? Our very finest, walking of our own will into the slaughter pit. A tragedy only outmatched by our folly.

He had begun moving when we reached him – have you ever seen or heard a god move? It is as though the whole world is being picked up and flung. Many times we were thrown to the ground, but we kept after him, running as fast as we could after those ponderous yet enormous strides. To our shame it took a long time before he even noticed us. But he finally stopped on the edges of Lake Texcoco, and that is where our attack began in earnest.

You want details? I have details. They are only disconnected flashes in my mind, but for a second it is like I am still there amid the carnage, and I tell you, the sounds, by the gods, the sounds . . .

It must have been after the initial frenzy of blood; I remember Quetzacthulhu turning to those who had reached the water, those desperately trying to swim to boats in the distance. I do not know what eldritch powers he exacted on us. The shoreline began to steam and then bubble, and the screams of those in the waves were the most terrible yet, pinkening as they were boiled alive.

I remember Quetzacthulhu reaching down with one arboreal arm and collecting a horde of my brethren, opening his gaping maw and tossing them in.

I remember . . . I don’t know when it happened, how much later, but I remember Quetzacthulhu had sat down – all the better to play with us, perhaps – and suddenly there came a host of sickly tearing sounds, and his soft belly began rupturing in half a dozen small places. Who should come out head to toe in yellow filth but my swallowed brethren?

Quetzacthulhu roared then, I hoped in pain, and his arms crashed into us, killing who knows how many. We clutched our fists to our ears, trying to block out the unearthly noise he emitted. I saw my brothers pound their fists into their head again and again, turning their temples bloody, desperate to do anything to make it stop, even if it meant unconsciousness or the mercy of death.

The sound stopped, and I . . . I had fallen to my knees, drained beyond imagining, my head feeling as though it had been scooped out. I turned to see the warriors who were still escaping from Quetzacthulhu’s stomach; they were only a fraction of those thrown down that tongueless chasm. They slid and slithered down his loathsome belly and after a heady drop – they were in too severe shock to wail – hit the earth with a series of thumps. Their eyes were those of the utterly lost and I knew that should by some miracle they survive, they would never recover. Those men were forever gone. Glancing at the spots where they had cut themselves out, I saw a glimpse of slick, wet things, and I saw their sickening movements, and I knew that unspeakable things lived within the god’s innards. I turned immediately away lest I should follow my brothers into madness.

It pained me immeasurably to see Quetzacthulhu now seemingly untroubled by the cuts, and I saw with weary shoulders that just like our spears thrown into his monstrous hide, the wounds were minute to him. It was then that I knew we could not defeat him. Hundreds had by now died at his hand.

 

Quetzacthulhu

Author and purveyor of all things dark and weird