Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Adventuring In The World of Sleeping Dragon

In the times of old, adventurers would venture east over the World’s End Mountains and into the wild, untamed wilderness that lay beyond. The world of Sleeping Dragon is an ancient one. For several tens of millennia, civilisations had risen and fallen, with each new civilisation built upon the foundations of the old. Abandoned complexes littered the Eastern territories, filled with the treasures of earlier ages.

Glory and wealth was the prize that drew Adventurers to the East; but death was often their reward.

Of course, that was then, and in the now tamed world of the Sleeping Dragon, adventuring is very different.

Adventuring now is both a hobby and a sport; that is, there exists a professional level at which it’s a competitive sport, broadcast to a watching audience of tens of millions; while at amateur level it’s a hobby or pastime.

The professional sport of adventuring, usually referred to as “ASport”, is played in huge indoor arenas. Teams of five – typically comprised of warriors, wizards, scouts, and bards – take it in turns to get to the end of a timed and scored “run”, facing on the way physical obstacles, puzzles, and animated constructs.

Meanwhile, at the amateur level, groups of men and women spend time in what passes now for wilderness, camping, hunting, and exploring (where exploring typically consists of hiking, rock climbing, or caving).

A large industry has grown up to support the amateur hobby, of which perhaps the best known is the leading chain of adventuring goods shops, Pete’s Adventure Warehouse, famous for the series of adverts staring grey-haired founder Pete himself. At any branch of Pete’s, adventurers can stock up with camping, climbing, and hiking equipment, dehydrated food, navigational gadgets, potions, swords, bolts[1] (essentially magical laser-guns), wands, and even Pete’s classic own-brand combat cigars.

As they say. “If you can’t get it at Pete’s, you probably don’t need it. And if you could have got it, but didn’t, it’ll probably turn out that you did need it.”

From the Sleeping Dragon…

The commentator shuffled his papers as the production assistant finger-counted down to zero and the little light beside the camera went red.

“And we’re back. I’m Brod Rellend, with me is Kren Krennella, and you’re watching Lastday Night AdventureSport on EBS1, bought to you in association with StayFresh toothpaste, the toothpaste that leaves your breath fresh all day, every day.”

He took a quick glance at the slightly rumpled middle-aged man sitting next to him, received a quick nod in return, and then resumed speaking.

“We’re just moments away from bone-crunching action, with Blade’s Marauders scheduled to be making the first run of the evening in a little over two minutes. Now there have been a lot of rumours swirling around the ageing legend over the last few days, so what should we be looking out for, Kren?”

His middle-aged companion took a last sip from the something-on-ice that sat on the desk in front of him, and then spoke.

“Well Brod, firstly we’ll be looking to see if he comes out at all. We know that after three heavy defeats in their last three outings the rest of his team are unhappy.”

“I think unhappy’s an understatement. Isn’t Denbi Tallfellow suing the league for racial discrimination?”

“That’s what the rumour mill says, Brod, but I hope it’s just the news-slates trying to sell copy. It would be a new low for the modern game and a sad, sad day.”

“Not how it worked in your day, eh, Kren?”

“Certainly isn’t. In my day you took your lumps in the arena and then went out and got drunk and perhaps picked up a girl or two. Now they get one scratch and they’re off to see their psychological consultants. The whole game’s gone soft, if you ask me!”

The first commentator chuckled.

“Well, you’re here to be asked Kren, and you’re certainly never scared to give us answers. Are there any other problems we should be looking out for in the Marauders?”

“Would that be in addition to the fact that their leader’s the wrong side of thirty and looking to be on an inevitable slide to retirement, Brod?”

“Sugar-coating it as always, eh, Kren?”

“Just calling it how I see it, Brod.”

The first commentator threw in another chuckle. “One minute,” said the voice of the producer in his earpiece.

“So, in addition to that, what should we be looking out for, Kren?”

“Well, like I said Brod, it’s not even certain that we’ll be seeing them at all. Some highly placed sources have told me, off the record, that his sponsorship deal with Pete’s Adventure Warehouse is up for renewal and that they’re looking to end it.”

“That would be a blow for him, right Kren? Pete’s have sponsored him since pretty much the start of his career, haven’t they?”

“Fifteen years, at record levels. Landmark deal. But like they say, Brod, everything comes to an end.”

[1] As befits a pseudo-European setting, the Sleeping Dragon is in many ways an analogue of Europe. But like many a roleplaying setting written by American authors, its past history fuses this pseudo-European setting with a very American style concept of a “wild frontier”. Although now gone, the continuing myth of the frontier endures to this day, and this myth highly influences the attitude the citizens of the Empire have to weapons, with the result that when it comes to walking into a shop and purchasing a lethal ranged weapon, it has much more in common with twenty-first century America than twenty-first century Europe.


Sleeping Dragon’s Phonetic Alphabet

Like our world, the world of Sleeping Dragon has a phonetic alphabet. However, given that world’s history, the words chosen are rather different.

A – Amulet B – Bard C – Candle
D – Dagger E – Ether F – Flame
G – Griffin H – Hammer I – Ice
J – Jade K – Kraken L – Lamp
M – Mace N – Net O – Opal
P – Paladin Q – Quill R – Ruby
S – Sword T – Torch U – Unicorn
V – Viper W – Wand X – Xavier
Y – Yaeger Z – Zombie

In the story of the Sleeping Dragon, the phonetic alphabet is seen being used to identify carpets and skyships, using the last two letters[1] of the vehicles’ unique four-letter registrations, as in the following conversation between Blade and Sky Traffic Control.

In the driver’s seat, Blade was talking into his headset. “Craagon Control, this is carpet Candle Dagger requesting vector approach.”

The reply came back within seconds, blaring out of speakers set around the carpet’s cabin.

Carpet Candle Dagger, this is Craagon Control. You are cleared for visual approach on vector fiver-niner.

Blade punched a few buttons on the crystal screen in front of him. “Craagon Control, this is carpet Candle Dagger beginning approach on vector fiver-niner.”

Happy landings carpet Candle Dagger.

The voice paused for a moment, and then continued, presumably talking to someone else now.

Skyship Sword Griffin, please descend to flight level two-three…

The carpet swung through a graceful turn and then began a slow descent.

[1] This is the way it’s done in our world. A former boss once took me for a flight in his helicopter, which had the registration “[letter][letter]DX” painted on its boom, and which was referred to by air traffic control as “Helicopter Delta X-Ray”. What struck me about the whole thing was the need to constantly multitask, in that you were simultaneously flying the helicopter while conversing with air traffic control (admittedly we were flying across Heathrow airport at the time). I couldn’t do it. Imagine if it was this way for driving a car? A car journey would consist of you having to commentate your entire journey. If, say, you were approaching a roundabout you’d have to thumb your transmit button and announce, “This is car Whiskey Lima requesting a the right turn at the Clockhouse roundabout”, then wait until given permission to enter the roundabout, before navigating across the roundabout without crashing, only to then launch straight into the next bit of commentary. All the while changing lanes if requested by road traffic control, and changing your speed when requested by road traffic control. And always being aware that if you sound flustered, the controller might report you. Me? I’d hand my license back in.

New Look

Any of you who’ve previously visited might notice that my website now looks very different, as I’ve changed both the core theme (I’m now using Hemingway) and the header image. The old website was getting on four ten years old, I think, and its look and feel was starting to appear a little “fussy”. I think this is a sign of how trends have changed; think how “flat” the current version of iOS looks, for example, compared with its predecessor of ten years ago. Back then, we expected a website to look like a website. Now we expect it to look like a magazine, which is ironic that we don’t read magazine so much nowadays.

But actually, the main driver behind upgrading it was that my old theme didn’t support mobile devices. So if you navigated to one of my posts on your mobile, which – lets face it – is going to be the case in about 90% of occasions, you were greeted with a desktop website shoehorned onto your tiny screen. Yeah, you could read the article, if you turned your phone sideways and perhaps just zoomed in a bit. But it’s not the best introduction a visitor might have to one of my posts.

The new header image is probably temporary. I might replace it at some point with cover images of my novels. But for now, it’s my favourite selfie of me writing, in a 34th floor bar of a hotel in Istanbul, during some evening downtime while on trip for work.

Sleeping Dragon: Geography

Like many a fantasy world before it, the Sleeping Dragon is an analogue of our own Europe. I could give some kind of academic style answer to that, involving much talk of metaphor and historic analogue, but the truth is that since the Sleeping Dragon has elements of a comic fantasy novel, one in which I make jokes about standard fantasy settings, it made sense to have a standard fantasy setting.

At the heard of the setting is the Empire, which is what our Europe’s Holy Roman Empire (a.k.a. Germany) might have become had Russia not existed. (In the world of Sleeping Dragon, there was no equivalent of Russia for the very good reason that the territory where it would have existed was instead home to orcs, beastman, and other assorted barriers to human civilisation).

Map produced by Jacob Rodgers

Once the Empire occupied only the territory between the Middle Sea and the World’s End Mountains. But after the development of ranged weapons firing bolts of pure mana, its territory expanded rapidly; within a century it stretched more than a third of the way round the world, to the borders of the Empire of the Sun[1].

To the south of the Empire are the Border Principalities, a patchwork area of notionally sovereign princedoms, some not much larger than the metaphorical postage stamp. Beyond that is merely burning desert, home to hardy nomads and scattered cities.

To the north lies ice, and warriors famed in equal measures for their resourcefulness and savagery.

Around the Middle Sea, which is this world’s ancient cradle of civilisation, lie other human realms, sometimes enemies of the Empire, often rivals, but still bound by common bonds of species[2] and culture.

Dotted across the lands of man are other species: in the forests one often finds halflings; in the canyons and caverns of the World’s End mountains one finds dwarves. Once, relations between these different species were difficult, but now legally protected rights against discrimination and a commitment to multiculturalism ensure that all three species can live and work together peacefully for the common good.


And finally, across the Western Ocean lies the lands of the Elves. Once they lived in the lands that now form the realms of humanity; indeed as a species they predate humans. But humanity’s arrival in this realm displeased them; the energy humans threw into their so short lives changed the world in ways they found unacceptable. After several millennia of increasingly uncomfortable coexistence, the elves built a fleet of wonderful ships and set sail for the then empty lands that lay across the Western Ocean. There they dwell still, locked in a relationship with the lands of humanity that is not war, but not quite peace either.

[1] And yeah, that is a sort of Japan / China mishmash, and yeah I get that when fantasy settings do that, it rides roughshod over huge cultural, ethnic, religious, historical, and linguistic differences in a manner that is a best, Western-centric, and at worst, quite dodgy. But like I said, I deliberately wanted to start with a very typical, standard fantasy setting – and then twist.

[2] Strictly speaking, if I was really wanting to get the standard fantasy feel I’d say “race” rather than “species”. But that word (rightly) has such negative connotations in that I’ve decided in this case, linguistic discretion is the better part of narrative valour. (Well if I’m really strictly speaking, my copy-editor Ro Smith suggested I use species rather than race, and upon reflection I agreed with her).

Sleeping Dragon: Gadgets & Items

Sleeping Dragon’s world is a world of magic, not electricity, with the universal laws of magic explaining that universe in much the same way that physics explains ours. The devices that Sleeping Dragon’s civilisation is built upon are powered by magic, having been designed by mage-programmers and mass-produced in factories.

In our world, one word can often serve two meanings, with the correct meaning being obvious through context. For example, a mouse can refer to either a rodent, or a pointing device. Or if I tell you that a tank once crashed through the ceiling of my bedroom I’m referring to a water tank, while if an elderly German man raised in East Prussia tells you that back in 1945, a tank crashed through the wall of his family’s house, he’s referring to a T34[1].

Similar double-meanings exist in the world of Sleeping Dragon, but they are different double-meanings, typically derived from either:

  1. The spell that a wizard would have cast to perform this task back in the days before magic and magical items became mass-produced (e.g. a wizard would once have cast a whisper spell to communicate at a distance, so now people carry mobile-phone like devices that they refer to as “whispers”).
  2. The device originally designed for other tasks that a wizard would once have enchanted to perform a different task, back before the physical item being enchanted was specifically designed for that purpose (e.g. where once a wizard would have grabbed a broomstick / sweeping brush, and cast a levitate spell on it, now engineers design what is essentially a flying motorbike, which then has a levitate spell cast upon it – but which for historical reasons is still referred to as a broomstick).

The point here is that while to our eyes it might seem strange that when the inhabitants of the world of Sleeping Dragon can be referring to either a flying car or a rug when they refer to a “carpet”, but it’s no more strange than us using the word “tank” to refer to an tracked, armoured fighting vehicle[2]. We don’t notice it, because we’re used to it[3].

To make things a little easier for the reader, I’ve put a glossary at the start of the novel. Here’s a sneak peek.

bolt noun

A ranged weapon firing a beam of pure mana. A modern refinement of earlier wands enchanted with lightning bolt spells, bolts are available in small one-handed versions and larger two-handed versions.

broomstick noun

A small personal flying vehicle for one or two passengers. Originally a broom magically enchanted with a levitation spell, now a metal spine equipped with handlebars, seat, and footrests, and propelled by a mana-powered lift/repulsion unit.

buggy noun

A wheeled ground-transportation vehicle, typically seating two to five persons, controlled via a steering wheel and pedals, and propelled by a mana power unit turning a rotating drive shaft.

carpet noun

A personal flying vehicle carrying two to five passengers. Originally a rug magically enchanted with a levitation spell, now a metal monocoque shell propelled by a mana-powered lift/repulsion unit.

crystal noun

A round, flat-screened device used to broadcast entertainment and informational programming via ethereal plane transmissions, originally derived from crystal balls used for communication.

dial noun

A timepiece, either wall-mounted or free-standing, or worn on the wrist (a wrist-dial). Originally passive outdoor devices requiring sunlight to operate, dials now use chronological spells to track the time and a magical face to display it.

guard noun

A law enforcement officer, often a member of a city or town guard.

herb noun

Collective term for plant-derived psychoactive substances. Herb is often ingested in powdered form via the nose and is illegal in most jurisdictions.

mana noun

The fundamental energy force that powers all magical spells and devices.

oracle noun

A mana powered device incorporating thinking spells. Used for data calculation, analysis, and storage. Smaller models typically incorporate a crystal screen for display and a keyboard for input.

pictograph noun

Image of a person, scene, or object, taken by a camera. Originally saved on paper magically sensitive to different wavelengths of light, pictographic images are now usually downloaded to oracles in informational form.

pictographic memory noun

The ability to remember or recall information, particularly visual information, in exact detail.

wagon noun

A larger wheeled ground-transportation vehicle, typically used for the transportation of cargo, controlled via a steering wheel and pedals, and propelled by a mana power unit turning a rotating drive shaft.

whisper noun

A personal communication device used for person to person voice communications. Originally derived from the use of whisper spells for long-distance communications.

whisper verb

To contact someone using a whisper.

worm noun

Colloquial term used for Empire City’s underground rapid transportation system.

So now if I talk about leaning out of a carpet with a hand-and-a-half assault bolt in one hand, and a whisper in the other, while trying to evade the herbed up nutter who’s pursuing you on a souped up broomstick, and thinking maybe you should just have stuck to white-collar crime using oracles or picking pockets on the worm, you’ll know what I mean[4].

[1] That’s a hypothetical example, but back in the mid-nineties, when I was just starting my career in programming, I met a German guy who in 1945, at the age of 15, had been conscripted into the German army. His career ended somewhere in East Prussia when he stumbled across a tank whose turret was already turning towards him. Luckily the shell missed, and he was captured. He ended up in a prisoner of war camp near Stalingrad where he was fed only watery soup and was to hard labour. Pretty soon, he realised he was going to die if he didn’t change something. (Of the four million German soldiers taken prisoner by the Soviets at the end of the war, only one and a half million survived to eventually, some years later, go home, with the other two and a half million being worked / starved to death). Then a guard came around asking for engineers. He wasn’t an engineer; he’d been a schoolboy. But he had been at the German equivalent of a grammar school, so he put up his hand and was taken away to a drawing office. The older men there quickly clicked that he wasn’t an engineer. But they covered for him, and taught him. In 1948 he was released. His family were gone, and the family home was now in communist Poland, so he made his way to West Germany, enrolled in university to study engineering, and ended up becoming a successful businessman. When I asked him how he felt about his experiences he just said, “It was a good training for life.”

[2] The reason why we call tanks “tanks” rather than the more obvious “landships” is because when, in 1915, the British army were developing the first tanks they wanted to keep it secret. So they developed a cover story that they were intended as mobile water tanks for delivering water to the troops in the trenches, and in keeping with this referred to them as “tanks” – and the name stuck.

[3] I should give a hat tip here to Harry Turtledove, because this whole area of language and terminology is a line of thought that occurred to me having read his Great War series (an alternate First World War in a world where the Confederacy won the American Civil War). In this timeline, it was the USA who developed the first tanks, and their cover story was that they were mobile water barrels. So through this entire three book series, and the WWII trilogy that followed it, you have the phrases “barrel” and “anti-barrel gun”. And you know what? It ingrained itself in me. Right now, some ten years later, if were to read the phrase “three barrels appeared over the horizon” I’d be picturing tanks in my mind.

[4] That’s a made up example by the way, any not any kind of scene or plot line from the novel. You’ll have to wait for someone to produce a Sleeping Dragon RPG if you want to see that scene played out.

Countdown to Sleeping Dragon: An Introduction

The Sleeping Dragon, my third novel, is set in what I call a “post-Tolkienesque” world. Five hundred years previously, it possessed all the standard trappings of a typical fantasy setting – kings, wizards, warriors, magic, dwarves, dragons, and elves who’d been so pissed off at the rise of men that they’d sodded off over a western ocean in a monster sulk.

But that was then, and by the time of my novel’s now, the world has changed beyond all recognition.

After enduring thousands of years of largely unchanging culture and history, the discovery of the means to mass-produce and commoditise magic triggered a tsunami of world-changing events and developments. Adventurers equipped with hand-held weapons shooting beams of pure mana tamed the wild East, broke the power of the once lawless Orc tribes, and looted so many abandoned dungeon complexes that paper money had to be invented as an alternative to wheelbarrows’ worth of not-particularly-valuable gold.

It is now a world encircled by flying ships and linked by a web of instantaneous communication links. Huge metropolises, each home to several millions of people, sprawl across what were once unspoiled landscapes.

And all of this is powered by magic; there is no electricity in this universe.

The once heroic past is apparently over. Where once adventurers wove tales of myth and legend, now they wield their skills and talents in towering arenas against programmed constructs, competing in sporting contests for audiences that number in the millions, their prize not glory or treasure but sponsorship and salaries beyond the dreams of the average Joes who worship them.

The story of the Sleeping Dragon is built around a central question. In a world changed so utterly that heroism itself seems an obsolete concept, will there still be heroes?

From Sleeping Dragon’s prologue…

Five figures sit around a table. In a heroic age, these men are heroes. They have humbled tyrants, slaughtered dragons, and reduced entire tribes of rampaging orcs to tears. Occasional difficulty with taxes aside, no man or beast has bested them, and no challenge have they feared.

Until this day.

For even they feel stunned disbelief at what has just been revealed.

One of them, a priest, clears his throat before breaking the awed silence created by his previous announcement. “And so that, gentlemen, is that. In a little over five hundred years our world as we know it will be destroyed. Civilisation will fall. Starvation and plague will stalk the land. All that we value, all of our learning, all that we hold dear: gone. Nothing left save dust and ashes.”

At the far end of the table sits an armoured warrior, his sword and shield placed on the table before him. The sacred symbol painted on the shield testifies to his faith and piety; the bloodstains and nicks on the sword bear witness to the fury and vengeance with which he has recently expressed that faith and piety. “Are you sure?” he asks.

The priest nods, his face a solemn mask. “The runes do not lie, Sir Ethelded. Nor the stars, nor the cards, nor the numbers. I have consulted them all, and it is certain: in five hundred years the sleeping dragon will wake and bring forth an apocalypse upon our world.”

Cover vs Cover: Fight!

Last weekend, during a browsing session in an Oxfam bookshop in Chester, I found an interesting pair of books on opposite shelves, which resulted in me making the following tweet shortly after:


Now I should say at this point that referring to these two novels as “Dan Brown wannabes” is unfair. Shorn of the shackles imposed by the Twitter’s 140 character limit, I would probably have described them as books in the “religious-conspiracy-secret-history” genre created by Dan Brown’s hugely successful 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code.

But what I find fascinating is that we have his two books, published at around the same time, that are not merely in the same genre, but on themes so similar that the designers of their covers were probably given near-identical instructions. Which means that just as identical twins are irresistibly fascinating to biologists, these two books allow us to see two forks in the wood, both of which were taken, and decide which fork we think was the most successful.

The Brief

Both books focus on the Knights Templar, a Catholic military order active between the years 1139 and 1312, and about whom much myth and legend has accrued in the years since their violent suppression by the French King Philip IV.

Both covers were produced with a quality finish with embossed text.

Potential Resources Available to the Designers

Templar knights wore distinctive white mantles with a red cross, and to this day, the red cross is associated with them. In addition, the order had a seal, which depicted two knights sharing a single horse. I found some examples of both:


The Contenders

The Red Corner The Blue Corner
Title: The Last Templar Title: The Templar Legacy
Author: Raymond Khoury Author: Steve Berry
Nationality: British Nationality: American
Published: 2005 Published: 2006
LastTemplar-Front TemplarLegacy-Front
LastTemplar-Back TemplarLegacy-Back

(Click for higher resolution images).

Thoughts on the Designs

What I find fascinating is that both cover designers have gone with the same elements (the cross and the seal), but in very different ways.

The Last Templar uses the whole cross, and puts the seal at its centre. It then adds a background of a New York skyline inside the cross (click on the image to see this in more detail). It combines this with an “old, torn manuscript” backdrop.

The Templar Legacy by contract, is much more abstract. The cross is there, but in a blurred, partial form, and the seal is used only as a very muted backdrop to that cross (again, you might have to click on the image to see this). Combine that with the black background and you get a much darker image, which perhaps is not trying quite so hard to project the “religious-conspiracy-secret-history” angle.

Me? I think I prefer The Last Templar. Perhaps the cover isn’t quite so subtle, but I just like the aged manuscript theme. What about you? Please let me know in the comments.

* * * * *

P.S. I will be at Innominate (Eastercon 2017) in a few weeks selling Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly. I’m going to bring both of these books along and run a vote as to which one people like best. So if you’re at the con, and fancy examining the actual physical items, please drop by.

You Think 2016 Was Bad?

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking on plots of novels, and so it’s only natural that when I think about events occurring on our world, I try to imagine how they would develop were they events of fiction rather than reality.

People talk about 2016 as being the year from hell, but the thing is, most of the bad things about 2016 were the taken of decisions to do something bad, with the something bad itself having not yet occurred.

In other words, if 2016 were fiction, it wouldn’t be a stand-alone novel, but would instead be one of those slightly frustrating first books of a trilogy where lots of plot lines are initiated but nothing ever gets finished – and you then have to wait a year for the next book.

And that leads onto a second thought: if 2016 were merely the first book of a trilogy – what’s going to happen in the next two books.

Well with thanks to my friend Ian McDonald for the crucial plot development at the end, here goes…

2016: The Unfolding (Book I of the End Years Trilogy)

2016 begins in a world still struggling to extract itself from the Great Recession of 2008, and racked by wars triggered by climate change and ill-advised imperialist interventions.

In Europe, the European Union is under assault from the forces of left and right, while in the United States dark populist forces are gathering.

As mainland Europe struggles to cope with the refugees pouring out of a war-torn Middle East, the disastrous result of a recklessly called referendum plunges the United Kingdom into political and constitutional chaos. Meanwhile, the American presidential election produces a stunning shock of unprecedented proportions as a racist and misogynistic narcissist utterly unsuited to the role is elected on a tidal wave of neo-fascist populism.

2017: The Unravelling (Book II of the End Years Trilogy)

2017 begins with the results of the American election turning from tragedy to farce as the president-elect is revealed to be a Russian intelligence asset whose election was largely due to the Kremlin’s intervention. Meanwhile in Britain, the phony period of fudge and bluff comes to an end as the process to leave the European Union is begun.

As the world economy spirals further into the chaos triggered by Brexit and the nationalistic protectionism of the American president, Russian president Vladimir Putin invades the Baltic states. Shorn of effective leadership, and betrayed by the United States at the moment of invasion, NATO disintegrates.

Alongside this, and goaded by the United States’ ascendant right-wing, an increasingly belligerent Israel attempts to increase the pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As the Western World attempts to celebrate an uneasy Christmas, a drunk American president engaged in a late night Twitter argument with the president of Iran orders a nuclear strike on Tehran. Following a rehearsed script written several months previously by Pentagon lawyers, and deploying pre-written letters signed by certain departmental heads, the Air Force officer carrying the “nuclear football” announces that by issuing such an order the president is clearly incapacitated as defined by the twenty-fifth amendment, and as such, presidential authority will now lie with the vice-president.

2018: The Unleashing (Book III of the End Years Trilogy)

2018 starts with the United States engulfed in a full blown constitutional crisis, with a still-tweeting president claiming to have been the victim of a military coup and the Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming to be following the now legitimate commander-in-chief, the former vice-president.

Both the military and civilian authorities are split as to the legality of the Joint Chiefs interpretation of the 25th amendment. A majority of state governors declare allegiance to the former president, with several calling up their state national guards. The regular military itself fractures into uselessness. Within weeks constitutional crisis has given way to a limited, but still bloody, civil war, with fire fights breaking out in Washington DC between different factions.

The American economy, paralysed, enters a death spiral; the world economy follows. Vladimir Putin meanwhile, follows his move into the Baltic states with an invasion of Poland and a declaration of a new Russian Empire, with himself as emperor.

With the world on the brink of an all out war, only one leader remains with the moral and political authority to hold the centre: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Gathering together the remains of NATO, she forges a new alliance. While her forces meet and defeat the Russian invasion, triggering a democratic uprising in Moscow, a Canadian led force allied with the anti-Presidential forces occupies Washington DC in the last hours of 2018.

When the sun rises on New Year’s Day 2019, it is on a new world, in a new era.

My Top Ten Writing Haunts




  1. a place frequented by a specified person.

“the bar was a favourite haunt of artists of the time”


hang-out, stamping ground, meeting place, territory, domain, purlieu, resort, den, retreat, favourite spot;

For any author, finding somewhere to write can be of crucial importance, doubly so for authors such as myself for whom writing is something that sits half way between a hobby and a job, and which has to be squeezed into the cracks of a life otherwise occupied by a family and full-time, mortgage-paying employment.

It was Albert Einstein who first observed that space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as space-time, and no-where is this more true than for a writer’s writing haunts. It’s true of course that you want the places you write in to inspire you, to provide the kindling to your creative fire – and if they can serve you a good coffee that’s an added bonus. But a haunt is as much about time as it is about space. It’s about a place that you can escape to, free of the calls of every day life. A place with no dishes waiting to be washed or laundry waiting to be hung up. A place that will give you not merely a space in which to write, but the time in which to do it.

Moving twice in the current year, first to Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, and then to Littleborough in Lancashire, has given me a renewed appreciation for the role that my various writing haunts have played in my writing “career” thus far. As Joni Mitchell sang, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. I’m on the lookout for new haunts now, but that search and the thoughts it’s aroused have inspired me to write this.

My top ten personal writing haunts.

#10 Paul Robeson Theatre Café Bar


paulrobesontheatreThe café of Hounslow’s Paul Robeson community theatre makes it into my top ten list not because it was one of my better writing haunts, but because it was my first. This was back in around 2003, when I got my first laptop, a cheap reconditioned Hewlet Packard which I used to supplement the Dell desktop that at the time was still my primary writing machine.

The café wasn’t a particularly great place to write at. And since this was before the widespread introduction of soya milk into UK coffee shops and the resultant availability of soya lattes (a development which has frankly played an embarrassingly large role in my development as a writer), I was restricted to black coffees. (I’m not any kind of coffee aficionados out there, but I do like my rocket fuel to have a little frothed milk to help it slip down).

This wasn’t where it started: I was already started, having been writing on and off since I was a child. But the Paul Robeson cafe bar helped me move to a productivity model where I could write on a continuously enough basis to actually start producing the novels I’d aspired to write. And for that reason it makes my list.

#9 Coffee Cali

Hebden Bridge

coffeecaliCoffee Cali’s a funny entry, one that’s almost snuck onto this list, because when I was thinking back on all the places that I’ve written in I realised that although I felt no huge emotional link to this place, I actually spent quite a lot of time over the last year writing in it.

It’s a curious place, which in some ways comes across as a small independent coffee shop trying to feel like a corporate chain, and which sometimes appears to be staffed entirely by look-a-likes (there’s a Tina from Coronation Street, and a rather good Rylan from X-Factor). But I like it because its reasonably large upstairs seating area offers me a secluded space to write where I don’t feel like I’m taking a table away from other, potential customers. And despite what I’ve said, it’s nice place, which offers a lovely view of the bridge that gives the town its name.

Now that I’ve moved away, and my Hebden writing is confined to the occasional Saturday excursion, it’s actually Coffee Cali that I most often end up in. So for that reason alone, it deserves a place on this list.

#8 Various Piccadilly Line Carriages


ontubeFrom the time I acquired my first laptop around 2002 until we moved to Brighton in 2009, the majority of my writing took place on my Piccadilly Line commute to and from work. It’s where I wrote most of my columns for Mongoose’s Signs and Portents gaming magazine. And it’s where most of my first novel Game Night was written. Along the way I replaced the Hewlet Packard with a G4 Macbook, and then replaced that with an Intel Macbook after one-too-many trips through the bumpy express section between Acton Town and Hammersmith destroyed its hinge.

The seats weren’t always comfortable and the view varied between mundane and literally non-existent. But it gave me a time and a space to write, and for that I will always be grateful.

#7 Villa Källhagen Lobby Bar


kallhagenThe Källhagen (which is actually pronounced something like “Shallhagen”) is where I always stay when I visit my company’s Stockholm office.

(With one exception when the Källhagen was booked out one July and I had to stay in a rather cheap and nasty place. Since then I always say, only half joking, that the worst jet lag I ever had was a week in Stockholm in July in a hotel with cheap, thin curtains. By the end of the week, having been woken up every night at about 2am by the light flooding into the room, I was so wrecked that I fell asleep sitting bolt upright while the plane home was making its final approach into Gatwick. This was during a period when I made three trips to Singapore in four months. As I spent that weekend walking around like a zombie, concerned friends were asking “Have you just come back from Singapore, again?” and then being a bit perplexed when I replied, anguished, “No! Stockholm!”)

The Källhagen has good curtains.

But more than that it has a lovely ambiance, especially in its lobby bar which with its log fire and restrained decor is far more cosy than any lobby bar has a right to be. It’s just a nice place to crack open your laptop on an evening and get a bit of writing done.

#6 Caffé Nero


cafenerobrightonThere are actually three Caffé Neros in Brighton, all of which I’ve drank at. But the one that I spent quite a bit of time writing in was the one on the corner of Preston Street and Western Road, just a few minutes walk away from our house. (It was also where Violet and I would chill out over a soya latte and a soya babychino, but that’s another story).

It wasn’t particularly funky, and its parent chain are a tad Starbucksesque on the tax front, but the staff were always friendly and they were always kind to my dog.

#5 Verano Lounge


veranoloungeOkay, here’s the thing. I don’t like pubs. Now maybe it was because I was raised a Methodist during an era when pubs were drinking places for adults rather than the pub-themed restaurants they’ve now mostly become. Or perhaps it’s a result of an incident during a sixth form pub crawl when I was seventeen where having randomly encountered my family’s milkman, he got it into his head that I was making fun of him, threatened to kill me, and then shoved me up against the glass frontage of the local Tesco and held a knife to my throat as a demonstration of his intent.

Or perhaps it’s just that not having any particular taste for alcohol, I usually end up drinking flat coke from the tap machine and cursing the non-availability of coffee. Whatever, the point is that I don’t like pubs. I don’t feel happy in them. I don’t feel comfortable in them. And I don’t feel particularly safe in them. If there’s a pub vibe, it’s one that entirely passes me by.

So for me, Verano Lounge was like a perfectly genetically engineered fusion of a bar and coffee shop, combining the opening hours of a bar with the relaxed chilled out vibe of a coffee shop.

Late in the evening, when all the coffee shops were all closed, I could get Violet to bed and then head on out to the Lounge, get out my laptop, and enjoy a nice soya latte, on my own, without feeling like an out-of-place, no mates, freak.

(It was also a good place to go to when my wife and I had managed to sneak out on a rare date and she wanted to go to a bar and I wanted to go to a coffee shop, but that’s also another story).

#4 Genoa Coffee Shop


genoacoffeeshopThe Genoa was not a good place. Hell, given that it was a mock American diner set a stone’s throw from the historic waterway of the Golden Horn, you could almost argue that it’s very existence was an affront to history, architecture, and plain damn common decency. And with soya milk a mere dream in most of Istanbul, I was back to the black coffees.

But it’s made it to number four on my list because it appeared at a point in my life where I’d found myself becalmed in a manner that was not so much writer’s block as life overload. I hadn’t written anything for months, and then I found myself spending a week in Istanbul, not in the out of town executive box that my later Istanbul visits for my day job took me to, but at a hotel right in the heart of the city just across the water from the old town.

istanbulgenoa-view3After a day spent conducting software training (professional pride and ex-programmer’s snobbery compel me to point out at this point that I’m actually a business analyst, but being rather multi-functional I dabble in training on the side) I’d grab something to eat and then wonder down to the Genoa, flip open my laptop, and enjoy a view across the Galata Bridge at the old town and the Yeni Cami (New) mosque.

To be in such a place was inspiring in a way that’s hard to describe. I spent five nights in Istanbul, soaking up the layers of history like a desert absorbing rain, and then poured that into the writing of a short story, Constantinople. (Which I might one day publish on Wattpad).

#3 Various Southern Railway / Thameslink Carriages

Brighton, London, and Points In-between

southernrail2From the summer of 2009 until early 2016, this was where most of my writing took place. From 2009 through to 2013, when I was commuting into Farringdon, I had an hour and a half each way, or up to fifteen hours a week of guilt-free writing time. Even after we’d moved offices and I was commuting into London Bridge, I still had a little over an hour each way.

I write two complete novels and most of a third on these trains: If Pigs Could Fly, an unpublished time travel novel, and the Sleeping Dragon, which will hopefully be published at some point this year.

My writing career went through some life-related ebbs and flows during this period, and there were plenty of false dawns, but as I said in the dedications of If Pigs Could Fly, the seats were usually comfortable and the views were often superb.

#2 Mooch

Hebden Bridge

moochMooch was basically my favourite hangout in the world, ever, and it’s perhaps unfair that it hasn’t made it to the number one spot on this list. Located just a stone’s throw away from our temporary rented house in Hebden, and opening until seven or eight most evenings, I could squeeze in a quick hour or so after finishing work and still make it home in time to put Violet to bed.

Like the Verano Lounge, Mooch occupies that space some way between a bar and a coffee shop, but where the now-closed Lounge was part of a chain and just a little bit corporate, Mooch has the wonderfully funky, independent vibe that you’d expect from a place situated in a town, Hebden Bridge, that is itself sometimes described as the “fourth funkiest place on the planet.”

I’d settle down with a soya latte and a toasted tea cake, listen to whatever record was playing on the bar counter’s slightly retro record player, soak up the vibe, and write.

I miss Mooch.

#1 Le Méridien Etiler Rooftop Bar


istanbulmeridian-intAnd so we come to the number one, which makes it in not for quality of the coffee, nor for any regular repartee I had with the staff, nor necessarily for the vibe. This wasn’t a quirky out of the way place in the historic centre of Istanbul, but the lounge bar of the thirty-four story executive box to which all my later work-related trips to Istanbul have taken me.

No, what pushes this bar to my number one spot is one thing. That view. When we Western Europeans think of Istanbul we think of the old city, of ancient Constantinople and Byzantium. But this is the modern twenty-first century Istanbul, the largest city in Europe. Home to more than fourteen million people, a population that has expanded ten fold in just sixty years. From the Le Méridien’s thirty-fourth floor I could gaze over an urban landscape so vast, and so plain damn cyberpunky that it damn near took my breath away.

istanbulmeridian-viewIt was the sort of vista that makes you want to write the next Neuromancer, but as it was, a week of post-work evening writing sessions at that penthouse bar back in early 2015 got me through a particularly difficult period of structural edits on If Pigs Could Fly.

It’s no secret that Turkey’s going through a tough time right now, both in terms of its domestic discord and the regular terrorist attacks. When my colleagues and I now travel to Istanbul our company’s security procedures (sensibly) prohibit us from travelling outside of either the hotel or the client’s site. For most of my colleagues this is an irksome restriction.

But not for me. Because after a day’s work on-site all I want to do is get a bite to eat, grab my laptop, and head to the thirty-fourth floor.

And write.

* * * * *

I’m going to share this post on twitter with the hashtag #writinghaunts. If any of you writers out there feel like sharing some of your writing places, I’d love you to do so under this hashtag.

Film Review: Suicide Squad

IMG_1357.PNGDirector: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Stars: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie

Shit, epically so.

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