It’s About Time

Most secondary-world fantasy writers love creating a whole world (or at least a significant part of one) for their characters to play in. They create geography, cultures, races, religions, politics… the list goes on. But there’s one thing most of them seem less thorough about — time.

Now, that might seem an odd statement, considering how rich many fantasy worlds are in history. But that’s the point. Whether it’s the memory of Bran the Builder or the ancient triumph of the Dragon, these periods are only ever seen from the perspective of a “present” — as history.

Authors might write stories about this history. Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, for example, includes a book called Tales of Earthsea, made up of short stories set long before Ged’s time (her “present”). However, these are told very much as “tales of old times”, rather than being immediate, as are the main stories in the series.

There are exceptions, and in general SF is better at this than fantasy. Both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, for instance, have shown themselves willing to move around in their universes’ histories. Most fantasy works that do the same, though, are still looking at the time factor from some kind of (at least relatively) fixed points.

For instance, both Tolkien and Howard were writing about fictional prehistories of our world and could therefore treat different periods essentially as a historical novelist would. Tolkien, in any case, was supposedly translating ancient works about the War of the Jewels and the War of the Ring.

The Chronicles of Narnia certainly cover a large amount of history, since they go from the creation in The Magician’s Nephew to the end of the world in The Last Battle. In this case, though, it’s all being seen from a relatively fixed point (a lifetime) in our world.[1] The same is true of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, where millennia of the Land are seen within a few years of Covenant’s lifetime.

A fantasy world that has time built into it is different. It’s like the contrast between a two-dimensional picture, where the distance is always the distance and nothing exists in front of the foreground, and a 3D virtual tour, where you can wander around and see points from each others’ perspectives.

My first real moment of enlightenment in this respect was when I read Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane series. An excellent but often overlooked sword-and-sorcery series, it tells the wanderings of the immortal main character (essentially the biblical Cain) through an antediluvian world. Each story is set in a different kingdom or civilisation, with locations of other stories sometimes mentioned as ancient history.

This inspired me to do something similar with an immortal of my own, the Traveller, who at this point had only appeared as a secondary character in one context. I realised that, like Wagner, I could tell tales of the Traveller’s wanderings where the setting of one story might be crumbled to dust in the next.

In time, I took that further, and now I have stories set in every period of my world, from its stone age to its computer age — and even the odd glimpse into an age even we’d find futuristic. There’s no artificial “present” — why should there be? My world isn’t in any way synced with our own, so no time period has more relevance than any other. Each story is set in its own present, with references back to characters who are now legends and foreshadowings of what’s to come.

Is that a unique approach? I’ve no idea. I haven’t read any other author approaching their world that way, but then I’m really only familiar with a small selection of recent fantasy. Any recommendations would be very welcome.

But I’d love to see more fantasy authors shake off the shackles of a false present and make time more fluid in their worlds. After all, as Einstein would tell us, it’s all relative.

[1] Yes, the “fixed point” is several decades (from the childhood to old age of Polly and Digory), just as Earthsea’s “present” is Ged’s whole lifetime. In historical terms, though, a lifetime can be seen as a fixed point.

Juvenile Delinquents Against the Future — Dweller in the Crack

Just over a year ago, my novella Dweller in the Crack was published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing — but I didn’t have a blog at the time, so I didn’t note the occasion. So here’s everything you always wanted to know about the book (didn’t you?).

Dweller in the Crack is the fourth published story about Karaghr and Failiu — Kari and Fai to their friends. They’d describe themselves as wandering teenage sorcerers, lovers and outlaws. Others might describe them as a couple of homeless juvenile delinquents who know a few spells and fake the rest. The truth is probably somewhere between the two.

Kari and Fai’s stories are set in the same world as many of my other stories, including At An Uncertain Hour and Eltava: A Sword for All Ages. In fact, the Traveller, who figures in both books, makes a cameo appearance in the first of the stories, while Kari, in a somewhat different later life, will appear in several other novels, including the one I’m currently writing.

The first three stories were published by various markets between 2009 and 2011. In Steal Away, they inadvertently saved the day and were given the resources to leave the city of Errish, where they were living in what can only be described as a squat. In Rainy Season, they tried to fix the climate for a community of islanders and only made things worse. While in The Temple of Taak-Resh, they actually managed to summon a demon — though a reasonably benevolent one.

For some reason, I didn’t write more about Kari and Fai for a few years, but a while ago I wrote a much longer story, Dweller in the Crack. Without giving away too many spoilers, this story involves a missing city, a child-goddess, time-travel, a nightmare future, a crack in reality, and a threat to the whole world and maybe more. And, in the end, Kari and Fai find that perhaps they really are the great sorcerers they claim to be.

I love writing about Kari and Fai because they’re neither heroes (even flawed ones) or villains (even with redeeming features). They’re something far more awesome and terrifying — teenagers. Absurd, romantic, passionate, chaotic, wildly in love with new experiences (and with one another), and always just on the edge of creating mayhem. Always with the best of intentions. Well, usually.

I have three more story ideas for Kari and Fai, and I just have to get around to the minor detail of actually writing them. And I’m sure there’ll be more.

Some years ago, I described Kari and Fai (with apologies to Johnny Mercer) as “two drifters off to see the world”. I still think that sums them up better than anything, and I’m going to enjoy following them as they see more of the world. And maybe blow up odd bits of it.

A Ghost Story for Christmas

In the fine old Christmas tradition, here’s a brief but creepy story. Inspired by MR James, who in turn was inspired by Shakespeare.

Christmas Neighbours

There was a man dwelt by a churchyard. He’d never wanted to live there, having since childhood a morbid fear of graves, but there was nowhere else he could afford. He boarded up the windows overlooking the church and its surrounding gravestones, and he always turned in the opposite direction when leaving his front door, even if it made his journey twice as long.

On the morning of his first Christmas Day there, he found a card posted through the door. That surprised him, since he never celebrated Christmas and anyway had no friends. Opening it, he found the words “Merry Christmas from your neighbours. Why not come to see us sometime?”

That was all. He pondered on the card, wondering which neighbours had sent it. He rarely saw anyone, and certainly there had been no sign of friendliness. Should he knock on various doors and ask if they’d sent the card? No, too embarrassing. Best to leave it alone.

Next Christmas, besides an identically worded card there was a small package in Christmas wrapping with three pairs of socks. And, as the years passed, the mysterious neighbours added other festive gifts to their usual invitation. One year, a Christmas wreath appeared on his door, while another saw the front of the house adorned with fairy lights.

Then came the year when, an hour from midnight on Christmas Eve, singing came from outside his front door. Carols. Instinct told him not to answer, but curiosity got the better of him. Could these be the mysterious neighbours?

As he opened the door, half a dozen figures immediately surged past him and into the hallway, bringing a terrible stench with them. He could see, by the hall light, that their faces and bodies were decaying.

“You never answered our invitation,” said one in a hollow voice, “so we’ve come to you. Give us food.”

“I’ve no food in,” he protested, but the carol singers only laughed hideously.

“Oh, but the food we like best is right in front of us.”

The man who dwelt by the churchyard was never seen again.

Never Argue With a Woman Holding a Sword

Earlier this year, my collection Eltava: A Sword for All Ages was published by the lovely people at Gypsy Shadow Publishing. I didn’t have an active blog at the time, though, so I couldn’t announce it. But here it is, better late than never.

The collection actually had its roots many years ago, when I wrote the novel At An Uncertain Hour. At one point, the immortal main character, the Traveller, tells a story about one of his long-ago adventures, and I wanted to give him a companion for it. So Eltava made her appearance.

And that was supposed to be that — but Eltava insisted she wanted more stories written about her, and you don’t argue with a woman holding a sword. So I started to write them.

At first, like most writers of action fantasy, I wrote about her in her twenties, but after a while I began to think — why? A male action hero has a little leeway to age (if not much) but if the character’s female, once she hits about thirty she’s supposed to settle down and raise kids or knit socks, or something.

That isn’t Eltava.

So I wrote stories about her in her teens, thirties, forties, sixties, and eventually even in her eighties. OK, she isn’t dashing around having adventures at eighty-four, but she can still wield a sword to good effect when she needs to. And, of course, she does need to.

So who is Eltava? She’s a woman of mixed race — her father (whose parents also appear in At An Uncertain Hour) is of a race similar to East Asian, while her mother’s race is not unlike Native American, although Eltava takes mainly after her father.

One point to note is that these similarities are only a matter of appearance. The various peoples have had very different histories from their terrestrial equivalents and shouldn’t be confused with those.

Eltava grows up in a privileged merchant family, but her love is always for adventure, and eventually she leaves home to wander the world with her grandparents friend the Traveller on board his magical ship. Some of these stories feature the Traveller too, in three cases as a roughly equal main character, but Eltava spends plenty of time apart from her companion, too, facing adventures, romance, betrayals and sorcery. Not to mention having to face her ultimate foe — the fact that she ages and the Traveller doesn’t.

This doesn’t mean that Eltava just fights for the sake of it. Although she comes alive in combat, she has a strong sense of right and wrong. Whether she’s defending villagers against aggression, striking against tyrants or just protecting a child, the causes she fights are always just. It’s simply that she really, really enjoys fighting them.

Seven of the eleven stories in this collection have been published before in various outlets, with the four most recently written appearing here for the first time. I’d like to thank Charlotte Holley at Gypsy Shadow for getting this ready for publication and particularly for the stunning cover.

So why not get to know Eltava — in all her ages?

Welcome to the Fantasy Worlds of Nyki Blatchley

So, I have a new website and a new blog — welcome to both.

OK, what do you write about for the first post in a new blog? It doesn’t seem right to post something that could just as easily be the two-hundred-and-twelfth blog, so I’ll use this to introduce the site. I did have a website before, which I created back in 2007. Now, I’m anything but a designer, and back

then it seemed like a great idea to have white text on a black background. And, for good measure, pack every inch of the screen full of stuff. What could be wrong with that?

I’m still not a designer, but I’ve hung around with enough designers to know better now. I wouldn’t actually call the new site minimalist (I’ve never liked minimalism), but I haven’t been afraid of white space this time.

The Home page and the About page do what they say on the tin — tell you about the website and about me, respectively. The photos of me were taken by the wonderful Arianna Cagli of Ari’s Thread, while the various other images on the site come from a range of sources, but all legally sourced.

The bulk of my fiction is set in a world I’ve been developing since I was at school, which I simply refer to as the Traveller’s World, after the immortal character who runs through its history. On the page devoted to it, I’ve explained how it came to be, as well as a brief outline of its geography and history.

On linked pages, you’ll find maps of the Traveller’s World, available books set there, and a list of all the stories set in the Traveller’s World that have been published, whether or not they’re still in print. I’d like to think that I’ll be adding to those pages on a regular basis.

I also have a number of unconnected stories published in a range of anthologies, ranging from epic to comic, and all those currently in print are listed on the Anthologies page.

I also write articles. In fact, I now write articles for a living, but even before that I wrote about my interests. Some years ago, the website Fantasy Faction published two series of my articles. One was a study of a new way of looking at fictional heroes, called The Chaotic Champion, while the other was a looser series of pieces about older masterpieces of fantasy that are often ignored by today’s fans. Links to all these can be found on the Non-Fiction page.

And then there’s the blog — this very page. I’ll be aiming to update it at least monthly (packed work schedule permitting) on a variety of topics — introducing aspects of my world, introducing new publications, giving reviews, discussions of writing, reading, speculative fiction, history, music — whatever takes my fancy.

I did have an old blog, as well as an old website, which ground to a halt in 2016. It’s still sitting there, and you can read my old posts, but I may repost some that were well received from time to time, as it seems appropriate — or if I can’t think of anything new to write.

You can sign up for notifications of new content at the bottom of the Home page and contact me through the Contact page (who’d have thought that?). In the meantime, I hope you enjoy trawling through the Fantasy Worlds of Nyki Blatchley.