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In a world of broken dreams, we need to find the mythic in everyday life. Myths are meant to express truth, goodness and beauty where words fail.
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My amazed appreciation! I'm not going to say no!

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To the Bards

When lies and anger cloud our land,
Truth is denied, and life is cheap,
And demolition seems close at hand
(Those will not sow, who only reap!).
I see with horror, the Enemy's hand
In madness raised, with every leap
Of crazed unlogic, with statement grand
Meant to excuse, but only keep
Those few, that hard-beleagured band
From talking sense, who though they weep
At Logos denied, yet still they stand,
Their 'perilled vigil yet they keep.
I look now at my hand of cards,
But Lo! I have a band of Bards!
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Chapter I extract, The Ironwood Staff

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Four wings over water - 
hovering, dashing, pivoting - 
flamelike body suspended between two pairs of glistening, membraneous wings. 
A wonder of ancient natural history. 

Do you wonder, O dragonfly? 
Have you sufficient being to appreciate such freedom, such poise?
Are you just a link in another food chain,
Or an arc of the circle of life?
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A Dragon comes to Dulwich

The dragon and his rider moved down the street. The man, his kevlar armour gleaming  dully in the stormy autumn light, bore a glaive in his right hand and a sawn-off shotgun on his left hip.
The dragon, his reticulated brown hide gleaming healthily, trotted birdlike down the road, his arms folded neatly at his side, his head bobbing back and forth with the rhythm of his walking. The dragon stopped, chirrupping and chuttering in his deep voice.
The man on his neck listened intently, understanding. He said, 'Well, we'd better go in, then.' The dragon turned off the street, stalking between the parked cars, stepping easily over a garden hedge. The man dismounted, sliding down the dragon's flank onto the garden path. The door opened before he reached it. A woman looked out, her eyes wide.
'W-what's going on?' she stuttered. 'What do you want?' There was a fearful catch in her voice.
'Sorry, ma'rm,' said the man. 'My dragon feels a dark hollow inside or behind your house. I have to investigate – please.'
'You can't just walk into people's homes –' the woman's protest cut short as a whooshing, hollow sound came from within, followed by the thump of something large landing on the floorboards. The woman gave a little scream and ran out of her door. Seeing the dragon, she stopped, relief warring with anxiety on her face. The man went in.
After a few seconds, he came out again, saying, 'Call air support! It was a frog-dog, it got out the back, down the alleyway. We can't chase them through these terraced houses.'
The dragon's golden eyes closed for several seconds. Then he opened them again and stooped for the man to mount up again. Sheathing his glaive in a long scabbard on the riding-harness, the rider pulled himself up onto the saddle on the dragon's neck. The beast straightened up and turned away rapidly. Stepping back out into the street, he trotted down the road towards the end of the terrace.
As they left, the woman heard a bugling call, and a pair of wyverns came into view, a blue and a green. They swept over the house in a wide curve, their riders visible as small figures between their wings.
Such was life in the Time of the Swarms.
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Early Morning

Silver grey on pale blue:
marbled morning sky!
Glowing promise,
potential, expectations,
greatness yet to germinate.
How beautiful mornings are!

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Dabbling in Poetry

After watching the bizarre spectacle of the protests, I stewed for several days. Finally, a line from a song by [The] Offspring sprang to mind, all unbidden. It kicked off a creative streak, and because I've been trying to up my game by adopting classic form, I thought I'd attempt a sonnet. So, with all due apologies to Offspring, here it is:

When will the truth come into season?
I have a feeling it'll be a long time.
'It's Patriarchal, Bigoted, to ponder with reason,'
Said Experts, trying to justify crime.
'Away with your facts! Hatred and treason
Are the only response to this kind of crime;
And dissenters approve of a death with knees on
A neck, you *bastard* you SUCKER OF SLIME!!'
And so we are shamed, to stoop with our knees on
The ground, to try and atone for a crime
We did not commit, nor look for a reason
For collective guilt over centuries of time.
But this self-righteous kind of sentiment
Ferments a deep, very dark resentment...

[BTW, do you know how few words rhyme with 'season'? Seriously, why couldn't I think of that before?]
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The Retribution of Thengon - Chapter Extract

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Sample of The Ironwood Staff

Here is a sample from my first book, The Ironwood Staff

   It was springtime, at the end of the ninth month, when Tomas first saw action. In the small hours of morning, they were roused from their thin pallets by the strangely melodious shouts of Ethenceldo Cordun, the leader-of-120. Men came tumbling out of their huts, some still tying up sandals, or with cloaks in hand. The Ethenceldo just sighed and shook his head. When all were gathered together, they were given a briefing: the regular guards had had to go to take part in operations up the river, and the Militia was required to set up a perimeter at the west end of the settled forest, in case any enemy units got through.
   ‘This is your chance for some strokes against the Fouls, O Men!’ bellowed the Ethenceldo, looking far too young and refined to be the martinet that the humans knew him to be. A hard elado he was, but scrupulously fair. ‘Perform this task well, and ye shall be trusted with greater things!’
   He struck the right note with that, thought Tomas. There was cheering and a clashing of staves on shields. Tomas felt his stomach twist with tension, but reminded himself of Hunter’s Wells and checked his bowstring. He had twenty-four arrows, and each one had a kchaban name on it. He loosened his short, elegant equet in its sheath. This was it!
In short order, the humans had formed up into their deployment groups, the largest of enctostari or spearmen, one of econstari or javelin-throwers, another of quenstari or bowmen. There were around a hundred all together. In the moonless, dead cold of early morning, with no-one to mark their passing, the tawny-cloaked figures jogged along the high road eastwards, a bloodthirsty eladon song rising in the steam of their breath as they went. They passed a hallows in the dark, and moved out of the settled forest and down into a shallow, wooded valley. Here during summer ran a tributary of the Green River, but at this time of year the stream was little more than a muddy gully. At the crest of the rise above the watercourse, they were separated into groups of four to six, each with at least two spearmen and one bowman. Then they took a long run in a wide arc, and one group was left at regular points along it, each within shouting distance of the next. The forest was thick in places.
   Tomas’ group consisted of himself, two enctostari who he knew only as Ben and Andy, and an econstar from Hunter’s Wells called Simon. Their station was at a place where a faint track led down the short, steep slope to the gully, passing through thick undergrowth on the near side, but not crossing the watercourse. The far side was much more open, with a gentler slope.
   After the Ethenceldo had left, taking the torch with him, Tomas could at first see little. After a minute or less, his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, and he found himself able to see surprisingly well. The budding stinkwood trees formed eerie, scrag-fingered shapes against the starlit sky. Time dragged on, and Tomas began to feel cold, as the heat of his run began to dissipate through his cloak. For some time, the men crouched quiet and alert in the shadows. Eventually though, the two enctostari, who were old friends, started talking to each other in quiet whispers. Their voices gradually became louder, and Tomas shushed them as he sat shivering in the cluster of stinkwood trunks where he hid. From their positions below him on the track, they looked up at him, then at each other, and started talking again, only not quite as loud. Tomas looked back at Simon. He sat quietly in the dry leaf-litter further up the track, his three javelins leaning against a tree-trunk.
Tomas was surprised by a strange feeling of being watched: he could see only vague shapes across the gully, but there was a faint rustle in the darkness ahead. He gave a quiet hiss, and nocked an arrow on his bow, looking for the source of the sound.
   The men below him jumped to the alert, readying weapons. They adopted combat poses without even thinking. For a time they all stood still, as the tension grew, then slowly dissipated. Then, as the men started to relax, Tomas’ sense of threat suddenly increased. One of the spearmen said quietly, ‘Must be a bird,’ but as he said that, there was a crackling and a thumping in the dead undergrowth on the far side, and a party of kchabani moved out into the gully, bristling weaponry.
   Time seemed to slow down for Tomas, but he just couldn’t seem to move fast enough. Gritting his teeth in concentration, he drew the bow, sighted and loosed an arrow at the nearest kchaban. The missile whooshed lethally as it flew, then clanged as it ricocheted off the thing’s helmet. The kchaban reaction was frighteningly fast: they ducked, bounding like monkeys back towards the sparse cover of the trees. Tomas loosed another arrow after the last of them, and was rewarded by a short, sharp scream. He was just nocking a third, when an arrow, shorter than his, thudded into one of his sheltering tree-trunks, just in front of him. He jerked back, slamming into another trunk. There wasn’t enough space to dodge in here, he thought.
   ‘How many are there?’ called one of the spearmen in a hoarse whisper.
   ‘More than us!’ Tomas replied. Another arrow thwacked into another tree-trunk, spraying wood-splinters. There was a whiff of the tree’s pungent bark. He peeped out quickly. He couldn’t see a thing. ‘They can see in the dark!’
   ‘To me, Militia!’ bellowed the other spearman. There was no response, but Tomas knew the other groups must have heard. There was a hoarse shout from the other side, and about ten kchabani charged down into the watercourse, pelting for the track where the humans were. Tomas saw a javelin from Simon soar down the track, transfixing the hide shield of the biggest kchaban in front. Disregarding it completely, the big one came on and engaged one of the enctostari. Tomas readied another arrow, and fired it neatly into the crotch of another kchaban. The target collapsed with an incredibly high-pitched shriek. Tomas, exulting at finding his mark, exposed himself too much: an arrow, fired by a night-eyed kchaban, found its way between the trunks, hitting him in his left hip. Bellowing with pain like a bull, Tomas was knocked back. He saw the archer-kchaban break cover across the gully, moving to fire at him again, but it was a fatal mistake: Simon’s last javelin arced over, embedding itself in the kchaban’s ribcage.
   As Tomas battled in agony to right himself, the enctostari were overrun. Ben fell, slashed by kchaban machetes. Andy, realising he was alone, made a break for it, but was shot in the lower back by another arrow which found its way past the panels of his armour as he ran. Simon, to his everlasting credit, stood his ground. Standing over Andy, he drew his equet and put it through the face of the big kchaban, before he too was beaten down. Tomas managed to nock another arrow, but he panicked. His shot went wide, as three kchabani came at him in his hiding place at once. Tomas drew his equet, but as he did so, there was the whipping sound of eladon arrows, and most of the remaining kchabani fell. Reinforcements had arrived! Tomas’ assailants knew nothing of it though, and one lunged at him with a great spear. The heavy head hit him below his right collarbone, punching right through his armour, and he reeled in shock. He fell screaming, waiting for the death blow – but it never came. Instead, he was seized by friendly hands. The kchabani attacking him were killed or taken. Human and eladon figures whirled in the dark above him, and he heard the words, ‘... stuck like a pig, but still alive!’ For some minutes he lay sobbing in agony, coughing up blood, until some eladi came. One held him still, while the other deliberately broke the arrow in his hip. Tomas was engulfed in a wave of pain, and he fell into darkness. 
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Horses, Zebras, Quaggas

In my quest to make the Southlands as new and interesting as possible, I thought of including domesticated zebras instead of horses. However, I knew that there were problems in real life with that, not least of which is that it's been tried before: during the gold rush to Pilgrim's Rest in South Africa, there was a time when there were stagecoaches being pulled by teams of zebras. I've seen faded Victorian Daguerrotypes of them, but there don't seem to be any online, unfortunately. The reason why they went to such lengths was, zebras are immune to Sleeping Sickness, caused by parasites passed by bites from the tsetse fly. The disease affects humans and domestic livestock, but the local wildlife just laughs it off!

Research in later years found that the tsetse fly breeds in some species large trees. Over time, the trees grow, the tsetse fly flourishes, elephants are attracted to the trees, then they eat so much foliage that the tree cover decreases. As the tree cover decreases, the tsetse flies disappear, and the land becomes safe for humans and their livestock again; then, because they've exhausted the tree fodder in that district, the elephants no longer feed there (grass is a poor substitute for leaves). With no elephants, the trees grow back, and the cycle begins again. However, this only affects the hotter, wetter parts of South Africa, so most of the land is safe for domestic livestock. Pilgrim's Rest, which is in the biome where tsetse fly is common, is not. The town is within the Barberton Mountain Land, which was the inspiration for the Greenstone Country.

So, that's the background to the problem of horses in the hotter parts of Africa. There weren't any horses, because flies. The problems with domesticating zebras have been very well documented by CGP Grey, who put together a very nice vid here. (vid down below)

Which illustrates the problem very nicely.

So zebras were out. However, there was another equine in South Africa until about 120 years ago, the Quagga:

Colourised photo dated 1870

These were a subspecies of Plains Zebra, going by genetics, and they've been trying to re-create it by selective breeding since the 1980s. The last I heard, they had managed to breed zebras with white legs and hindquarters, but the brown coat on the rest of the animal hasn't re-appeared. Maybe evolution isn't only genetics, after all.

If, I thought, there were a people using quaggas for draft for thousands of years, they may have had enough time to make them bigger and more biddable than their wild relatives. After all, it did take that long to get horses big enough for humans to ride. Warfare in the ancient world was dominated by chariots, not horses, because they weren't yet big enough to carry armoured riders.

So, I had my elves use quaggas as horses. It could happen, right? Assuming quaggas had similar herd hierarchy to horses, which is a big assumption.
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A note on Maps

 The maps for Ironwood Staff and Retribution are based on the same map, scribbled down by me in the early 00s, when I first started seriously writing down my story. As is tradition, North is at the top, and I thought there was enough new and strange in my book without changing that as well!
 Mountains are shown as if drawn from life, which would have been the case in pre-modern times. The mountains around Greystone are drawn to resemble the Magaliesberg, which inspired the story in the first place:
Magaliesberg (from

One of the first issues I encountered was that of distance - I couldn't use modern units, because it would (badly) violate suspension of disbelief; but I couldn't really use Imperial ones either, since I couldn't guess as to the progress of the caravan through the Drylands (for example) and translate that into map distance. So, I made the map assuming distances in metric, then translated that into miles, and hence into leagues. I didn't want to use miles either, so I thought, 'What does "Mile" mean?' It comes from 'unum mile passsum', a thousand paces in Latin. So I use units of 'Thousand Paces' on my map.

The Spear Fence - its real-life name is Dragon Mtns, so that's taken (also Shutterestock)

I thought that for future reference, I should remember this literal translation for any other measurement. For example, there would be twelve thumbs (inches) to a foot, three feet to a measure (translation of metre), a hundred measures to a furrow, etc.

I thought of this in connection with the legacy of Christopher Tolkien, son of The Professor, and his epic work in rendering the maps of Middle-Earth. He set the standard for fantasy maps, with many imitators or followers adopting the "East=Evil" convention, which lasted for a time. That convention even cropped up in the Game of Thrones world, where West=Home. The crucial action all takes place on the continent of Westeros.

Of course, there's some understandable chauvinism involved here. English-speaking cultures and their literature assume that West=Home because their starting point was at the western edge of the Old World. It's burned deep into our genetic memory.

(My own personal beef with Westeros is how the whole continent seems to be in a temperate latitude, pretty much regardless of its size. Again, it's a problem of perspective. Where I grew up, you could drive from one major population centre to another, and cross at least one biome boundary in the process. Of course, none of that affects the maps as such anyway.)

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The End of an Era

Christopher Tolkien, son of The Professor, has passed beyond the West and the circles of the world, where there is more than memory. He was a good and faithful son, having taken part in the creation of the Legendarium (he was the cartographer), and bringing to light the background mythology of the Silmarillion, Lost Tales and the History of Middle-Earth series.

The world is a little more grey, now. This affected me more than I expected. RIP, CJRT. We hope to see you again, some day.
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Creativity Music

The Ironwood Staff was written with a variety of background music: The most obvious is the LoTR Soundtrack, by Howard Shore.

But more importantly, there was the music of Johnny Clegg. Known in France as 'le Zoulou Blanc', he was famous in South Africa starting in the early 80s. My earliest memory of his music on the radio was African Sky Blue, with its memorable lines

the Warrior is now a Worker, and his war is underground
With cordite in the darkness, he milks the bleeding veins of gold
When the smoking rock-face murmurs, he always thinks of you
African Sky Blue...

But the track that had the greatest influence on the world of the Southlands was Nkosibomvu, the Red King.

Johnny Clegg had a stellar career in South Africa, and his music was hugely influential in racial conciliation. He was rewarded for it by being effectively banned from the UK (where he'd been born), as part of the cultural boycott enforced by the Actors' Union, Equity. Undeterred, he moved into France, where one of his concerts outsold one by Michael Jackson.

Since then, with the Retribution of Thengon, I've favoured one other item: Mike Oldfield's The Music of the Spheres. I can't find a link to the original  on YT, so this is a random guy's upload of the whole album.

This is Oldfield's first offering written specifically for orchestra, and it is glorious. I first heard the track 'Empyrean' from it on Classic FM on the way home from work in the late 00's, and adored it at first hearing. After listening to the whole thing, I scribbled down the history of the Sunlands in my Big Black Book at one sitting (something that had been percolating in my mind for some time). I regularly use it at the time of writing, when I take a writing day off.
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A note on the last post

The photo in the post below was taken at the Sappers Club, near Skeerpoort, South Africa. The place has now been replaced by a rather garish golf estate, but when I was growing up it was our favourite place to go on holiday, a haven of peace and old-world hospitality.
The ecology is riparian forest, heaviest in river-courses and south (poleward)-facing slopes. The most common trees are white stinkwood (Celtis africana), ironwood (Olea capensis cuspidata), and mulberry (Morus mesozygia), with karee trees (Searsia lancea) acting as shelter for their seedlings. It's hard to overstate the value of shady forests in a climate which is otherwise uncomfortably hot. At that latitude, autumn is very short, only 4-6 weeks around Easter. Spring (Sept-Oct) is more noticeable, with the stinkwoods and mulberrys showing the new green of sprouting leaves.

Before the area became such a tourist site, the local architecture, whether for settlers or indigenes, looked a lot like this:

These houses, known as rondavels, are thick-walled and thatched, making them cool in summer and warm in winter.
In the city of Greystone, the older or poorer houses were round and thatched like this, but fancier dwellings had drystone walls, tile roofs, and were elongated ovals like traditional celtic houses. The best ones had extended eaves or porches for shade, or were built with a courtyard behind them for a sheltered garden.

Grander structures would be of dressed local stone, much like this monument to SA Sappers in Skeerpoort, North West Province:

Used with Permission

This is the kind of environment that just cries out for epic tales and magical beings. Starting in my mid-teens, I imagined what kinds of elves would live there, how they would look, what they would have to contend with, and how they came to be there.

Welcome to my world: now in paperback!
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The Children of Tomas and Liriel

Here is the lore of the family of Tomas, background (and contemporary to) The Retribution of Thengon.

After the events of The Ironwood Staff, Tomas and Liriel lived in the Green River Valley. As the only living relative of Lord Engolaran, Liriel was recognised as the Ruling Lady; and Tomas became the Seer of Greystone, whose counsel was sought far and wide, by rich and poor, man or elado. In the 60 years since the sack of Greystone, they had 12 children, in whom the blood of the Elder and the Younger were so thoroughly mixed, few could say who was more or less of one or the other.

Bethnero and Andros were born less than 5 years apart, which by eladon reckoning, made them practically twins.
Ben, as Bethnero was known, became a Beastmaster. He grew up hearing tales of the Fourth Foul War, and was always wanting to know about elephants, and about his great-grandfather who took the original herds away from Greystone. It was his lifelong ambition to see the great animals return to the Green River valley, which he eventually realised after Thengon's return.

Andros always looked up to his elder brother, but after failing at his apprenticeship to a Beastmaster became a bitter loner for a while.  After Thengon's return, he traveled to Hunters' Wells, where his father had worked for a time. There he encountered human Hermits, and learnt at their feet for a year. He returned to Greystone to tell his family that he would become a Wise of the Human Path. His mother was less than happy. His father was both proud to have a human Wise in the family, but also sad that he would have to fade and die as Men do.

Turondil was a tough child: never as deft or as quick-witted as his brothers, he was was physically powerful, a very fast runner and tenacious. Starting Apprenticeship as soon as he was able (Beastmaster College being the only one available at the time), he became an expert in grazing animals. Like his older brother, he wanted a protected area in the Green River valley where his beloved antelope could roam free. He had a dislike of humans, with their ever-increasing herds of domestic cattle.

Torvegil started his Apprenticeship while Turondil was an Initiate. He was notorious for having animal 'friends' of very different, sometimes antagonistic species, which could also be pests, such as crows, baboons and honey-badgers. He loved animals too much, often spending extended periods out in the forest. He took a long time to settle down. His younger brother, the Historian, wrote down his encyclopedic knowledge of animals in later years.

Randuron, the fifth child of Tomas and Liriel, was a quiet, studious lad from the start. He got on well with his father (better than all the others, in fact). He was gifted with Arcane Writing and slowly, almost singlehandedly, over the course of a century or so, re-assembled the Library of Greystone! He was personally involved in the design of the new one, which included a printing press. His documentation of Torvegil's Beastcraft made Greystone a centre of learning for the craft, and his phenomenal writing activity gave him the title of The Historian of Greystone.

Thengon was in nearly every way the polar opposite of Randuron. He could never stay still. He shot his first bow aged seven, killed his first hunt at age 13 and went on a quest to rescue his sister in the East. His story forms the sequel to The Ironwood Staff.

Laitor was the seventh son. Like Randuron he was quiet and studious; like his father he had natural Sympathy with birds, and inherited his father's Sight. He was the only child of his father's to be born practically all human, though he lived to be 360. Laitor was a peacemaker, guiding politics in his mother's name for over 200 years. He completed a book of obscure predictions for Greystone, spanning (some said) thousands of years! He fathered seven sons and two daughters by two different wives, the first of whom was human, and died after giving him the seven sons. His seventh son was extremely gifted as a Seer and Healer, and it is said that in him the Prophets have come again.

Valmie was born just a few years after Laitor. She was a big child, in many ways much like Thengon, though more sensible. Like Thengon, she wasn't exceptionally talented, but had a passion for games and war-craft. Having heard horrible stories of the sack of Greystone and acutely remembering her sister Aratanie's abduction, she resolved to teach eladan women how to fight, and oversaw the development of Ladies' Glaives, pole-swords designed for female use. She personally taught her sisters, nieces, daughters and grand-daughters how to use them. She eventually married an Orelado of Greenland, and had four daughters and three sons.

Turacaniel was a Birdmistress, at least as talented as her father. She liked to live alone in her youth, and it was in the forest at sunset that she met a grandson of Ioseth, who had been a fellow student with her father during the War. He was also araneladon. They had a family of eleven! Unfortunately perhaps, the human strain in Turacaniel is strong, and she seems to be aging, though slowly.

Aratanie inherited her mother's Healing gift. Her abduction by a human magician forms the basis of the tale of Thengon of Greystone, but she recovered well from the event. For the time of her Beastmaster brothers' establishment of the Protected Land, she ministered in Greystone and helped her brother The Historian start his new Library. Then, she fell in love with the heir to the seat of the Highland Dukes, and went to become Duchess of the Highlands. Her love led her to accept mortality.

Wilwariel the Herbalist single-handedly made Greystone self-sufficient in foods by cultivating edible plants. In later years she created a Pharmacopia, and a medicinal crops industry. She married a Greystone elado named Faragon.

Galmie is the most gifted Healer ever born in Greystone. She has her own hospital, and lives for tending the sick. Though she is part human herself, she has little love for humans, having lost her favourite sister to the Duke and losing another to age.

Below is an old photo of the real-life location that inspired Greystone...
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Reader Praise for The Ironwood Staff

A lady of mystery, known only as 'M', has this to say about The Ironwood Staff:

If you like Tolkein (The Lord of the Rings), Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), or Carmody (Obernewtyn Chronicles), this book is a must. It clothes the best narrative/plot tools used in the above books in a new and comely garb. Let me try to elaborate without giving too much away (I don't want to spoil your fun with it!)...

There are elves and goblins, sorcery and abilities, nature and travel (in fact, almost a safari in your armchair!), war and love... The African-inspired universe is a clever twist on the scenery, the descriptions are excellent, and the book comes with its own map (oh, yes, every REAL new world needs a map!) and a glossary. And believe me, you need the glossary. Hamilton has such an imaginative brain that pretty much everything important has a new name (don't let that put you off, it all makes perfect sense within the parameters of that world), and there is even an entirely new but totally cohesive system of deities...

The main character, Tomas, is likeable, and - as many heroes before him - he sets off on a journey throughout the pages of this book. It's a heroic journey of growth and transformation (though I would have liked his character, not just his ability, change a bit more, perhaps as strikingly as his body), underpinned by the very real and personal struggle with evil. The encounters with darkness are breathtakingly immersive thanks to the "language Ability" Hamiton possesses. It sucks you in with its own magic of brevity and accuracy.

I hope there will be a need for a reprint in future, edited to smooth out the 15 or so typos that have crawled into the text (mostly a missing space after a full stop, so not too bad for close to 300 pages! So it did not merit me taking a star down for it). And yes, a blog accompanies this universe too.

And you know, I think she's absoutely right! Get your copy today, folks!
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Abilities, or Arts, in The Ironwood Staff

If you're interested in some background to the magical system of The Ironwood Staff world, please see my blog post, Magical Systems and the Problem of Evil,

Musical imaging
Lifelike images
Musical dance
Magical light
Arcane writing
Hidden calligraphy
Combat arts
Craft Augmentation
Inanimate lift
Inanimate reflex
Divination (water/metals)
Animal sympathy
Plant sympathy
Augmentation of life
All eladi have at least one ability, at worst incompletely developed. Araneladi are proportionally less likely to have them. Full-blooded men have only a 1 in 7 chance of being born with any Ability, but their dissatisfaction and restlessness leads them to desire more once they have it, leading them into dark paths. For this reason, human magi trained by eladi are not permitted to have students of their own - the weakness of human nature is too risky. All training in these art forms is done by eladon masters. Natural Abilities are all heritable, with the children of two magi getting gifts from both parents.

Discernment (first stage) – less than a month, where you find what you’re capable of under a master who can draw it out of you.

Disciple (second stage) – ideally, 40 months. The candidate becomes the servant of a master chosen for him by the one who found him. Ideally, someone related or at least of the same ethnic or linguistic background. They are given books to read, essays to write, and consultations with masters of the arts they are to train in. The candidate gets New Moons (three nights on either side of a new moon) off, where they are released to their families or set at large. 

Initiate (third stage) – as long as necessary. The candidate goes to live with the Master of an art they are to learn. They have regular meditation, daily practice, and weekly tutorials or consultations with the Master to ask any questions that come up. If the candidate is gifted in multiple arts, they stay with the master of their chosen discipline, but take a month at a time with the master of any others they may be studying.

Once the Initiate shows sufficient mastery of self and of their art, they are tested in it by a group of three masters. No-one takes the test without having a good chance of passing, and nearly all who take it, do. They are then granted the rank of Magus, and entitled to carry an ironwood staff as a badge of office (which also doubles as a weapon).

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Non-human species in the Ironwood Staff world

After a few questions from folks who read the book, perhaps some names or classes need to be defined.

Eladi - These are elves, practically immortal (though they may age very slowly); they are most gifted in physical ability, words and crafts. The oldest people are Moreladi, who settled the lands in remotest antiquity and built cities all over the Sunlands under the guidance of Prophets. The Prophets were spiritual leaders to whom the Powers, or the Lesser Gods, revealed the arts of civilisation, to prepare them for the arrival of the Others. With the coming of the Kchabani, they were beaten back by the superior technology of the Foul Folk, and for the most part they fled and settled in Greenland, across the sea to the south. Those who remained became a furtive, nomadic people, the Oreladi. Some time later came the Celadi, who came on great ships from other lands far away to the north. They settled first on the coasts and then further inland, and with the help of humans from the same northern lands, cleared the Southlands of kchabani, settling where they would. Their language was distantly related to that spoken by the Moreladi, but for the most part unintelligible to them. In time the Celadi came to dominate parts of the South, but they tended to look down on the Oreladi, who they found primitive and uncivilised, though there was no exploitation or conflict between them. The Moreladi in Greenland remained there for millenia, growing in wisdom and culture until a dynastic struggle led to internecine warfare that lasted for centuries. In the time of The Ironwood Staff, that conflict had comparatively recently ended with the accession of King Arandamundon.

Kchabani - These are goblins or orcs, who were created from a mixture of monkey, human and possibly Eladon stock by the filthy arts of the Unnamed Enemy in the dark of the world. They are such an abomination to some Eladi that it is considered a mercy to kill them. Their stock is similar in kind to dogs, in that breeding for certain characteristics produces separate types with differing appearances. Large fighting breeds, of man-size or even larger, are common, but there are also trackers, craftsmen, spies and engineers (among others), who tend to form underclasses in kchaban societies. Males and females are indistinguishable, and offspring mature very quickly in less than seven years, raised either in bands of their group, or in communal schools in the case of fighting kchabani. It has been documented that living beings of non-kchaban stock can be used as living incubators for gestating kchaban imps, in a dark magical process which invariably kills the host. If a kchaban (or even human) leader is sufficiently degenerate, he may arrange for cross-breeding between humans and kchabani, which produces Arkchabani, large, aggressive types with pasty white skin who can fight in the daylight, unlike normal kchabani. Fortunately arkchabani, like mules, are infertile. Kchaban societies tend to be small and isolated in the absence of a strong leader, because they are based on predatory warfare combined with hunting and gathering.

Araneladi - these are halfelves, or eladi with some human ancestry. The word comes from Celadon Aran (Man)-Elado. They have been common in some places at some times, but not always tolerated by eladi. Humans, with their easily corruptible minds and bodies, short time horizons and lack of learning, are not thought of as suitable matches, but trysts, affairs or even marriages were not very rare where the races have mingled in the past. The offspring have at times been the majority population of some territories, and the Southland Men are thought to have large proportions of eladon ancestry, even as their language contains a large portion of Celadon words. The Moreladi of Greenland actively dislike Araneladi, because they settled in the lands from which they had been driven in antiquity. As the Southlands became corrupt and unjust with the long peace after the Third Foul War, their dislike hardened into prejudice. 

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The Retribution of Thengon

The sequel to The Ironwood Staff is The Retribution of Thengon. It tells the story of the quest of Thengon Tomasson to rescue his sister, who was abducted from their home in Greystone. Compared to the first book, there's a lot more action and violence, substantially less metaphysical speculations and very little of the 'magic' system (come to think of it, I should probably explain that somewhere along the line!).
It's also shorter. This book was mostly written longhand while waiting for laundry to get done in a laundromat! We were without a washing machine for a month or two, and the bulk of the writing was done during long evenings or Saturday afternoons. Ironwood Staff was written in coffee-shops during a long spell of unemployment, a longer one of underemployment, and revised in breaks during full-time work, so there's a lot more of it!
Anyhow, the action of the sequel takes place in Greystone and in the lands of the Seven Cities, also known as the Greenstone Country. The time is some sixty years after the events of The Ironwood Staff, when the eladi of the South are within reach of re-conquering the Seven Cities, which they had had to abandon a few thousand years previously when the kchabani first appeared. How they come to be in the position of being able to re-take those territories is another subject, which I'll delve into in another post.
For now, here is a map of the Seven Cities.

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Review/s for The Ironwood Staff

Here are some favourable reviews some nice folks have been good enough to put up:

L. Jagi Lamplighter, authoress of a thumpingly deep and detailed school-of-magic series, the Rachel Griffin books

This is a Superversive book. The story is like a high fantasy set in Africa with Zen elves, but the progressive ideas of the villains and the way in which evil corrupts and spreads, as well as what the hero must do to fight it, lends a Superversive thread to this simple fantasy.

And of course assorted sympathetic comments on the book's Amazon page, and on Goodreads, where a user named Cat posted the following:

I love a good fantasy novel. I knew nothing about the book's genre when I started reading it so that was a pleasant surprise. I found the african-ness of some of the wildlife and situations a lovely unique touch. A classic tale of good vs evil. I loved it.
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Cosmology of the world of the Ironwood Staff

The Celadi of the South have little written lore concerning the Powers. Most of it is in the form of the Great Songs, and those yet live who knew the Prophets. What follows is the account of the Southlander men.

In the beginning was the One Who Is, the only Light That Kindled the All, who created time and space, matter and energy. In the Heavens He created the Lesser Gods, as the Prophets told of old. Though created beings, the lesser gods are refracted colours of the One Light, and have attributes that transmit an aspect of His Wisdom, Skill and Care for Speaking Beings. These are the Powers.


She is dearest to the One, or at least the closest. Shown as a woman of beauty and modesty, sometimes pregnant and sometimes holding a child on her lap, she wears green. She rules the moon and is the protectress of mothers, miners, family life, of child bearing and rearing. She is the patroness of agriculture, medicine, clerks, housekeepers, holy people and hermits. Her favourite virtue is love, and she is a matchmaker. Her totem is the Elephant.


Consort and husband to the Earth-Mother, he is shown as a bearded man in blue, or standing in the sea. He rules the rain, running water and lakes and lagoons, and the sea. He is the protector of fathers, all those who work on or in boats, of labourers, judges and lawyers, of the King and Crown Prince, and of all sovereign authority. His travels around the earth cause the cycles of rainfall, as the rain falls diligently only where he is. In the lands that he leaves behind, there may be drought. His favourite virtue is Truth. His honesty and his wife’s love together produce Straight Living, personified as The Innocent Child. The Heavenly Family is a favourite image in the homes of speaking beings. The rulers of old codified as much of the Straight Path as they could in the Law of the Kings. Where there is untruth in a region, nation or family, he punishes it by means of droughts and floods, cold and livestock disease. If he is especially angry, there may be fatal lightning. His totem is the Eagle.
The Heavenly Family

Shown as a young man crowned with a sun-disc, his images are golden or yellow. He is the patron of scholars, philosophers and teachers and of arts of all kinds, and helps young men find their calling in life. He is the inventor of humour, music, sports, games and alcohol, and uses these things to prevent discord, hatred, sloth and strife among all speaking beings. However, there is always a time for war, and his acolytes are always consulted as to the right time to engage in armed force. He is the protector of young men and boys, of apprentices, entertainers of all kinds, brewers and vintners, inventors, poets and scribes. His favourite virtue is Joy, and he loves a good party. He is often shown with a Lion.


Shown as a beautiful young woman in white and grey. She rules the wind, and can be capricious, causing hurricanes, tornadoes or cold snaps. She amuses herself in open spaces by creating dust-devils. If she’s moody, as all girls can be, thunderstorms can be dry, with heavy cloud but no rain, or there could be sand-storms in arid regions. When her father is away from a place and the land is dry, her wind-weaving can be dangerous, if fire starts. When she’s being a dutiful daughter to the Rain-Father, she helps her father distribute the rain, and her mother is glad. She is the patroness of young women and virgins, of weavers, tailors, perfumers and teachers, medicinal plants and potions, of Magi and Prophets. She protects babies, domestic animals and crops. Her favourite virtue is Passion, and is often shown with a zebra, swift and untiring as the wind.


Shown as a heavily-built man in red, he is the patron of all craftsmen, of engineers, artisans and architects. He invented mathematics, helped the fathers of Men and Eladi discover iron, and inspires inventors. He loves order and good form, and his prime virtue is Diligence. His totem is the buffalo.


Always shown bare-chested, the hunter’s colour is copper or bronze. He is the protector of soldiers, hunters, trappers, snake-bite victims and war animals. He loves wild places and can be heard in empty lands where no men live. He sends honey-guides and dolphins to help men and eladi, and is also the patron of watchmen, animal handlers, drovers, cowboys and shepherds. If a person is favoured by him, they will find food in the wild and survive armed conflict. His favourite virtue is Courage, and he is always shown with a leopard.


She is always shown as an old woman in purple. She is the one who calls men to judgement and eladi to death. She is quiet, dignified, solemn and stern, but with her heavenly clerks she records the prayers of the bereaved and relays them to the One, adding her own skill to the prayer, that the deceased may find sympathy at Judgement. Judges and Magisters pray to her for wisdom and discernment, and always ask for her forgiveness when passing a death sentence, that the guilt of blood will not fall on them. A person in good favour with her will die happily and peacefully (or bravely, if in conflict), with all their affairs in order, though the decision of the hour of their death is not hers to rule. She is the patroness of grandparents, the bereaved, of the sick and the dying and of undertakers, of grave-diggers, executioners and the condemned. She is invoked before battles, hunts for dangerous animals or any kind of surgery. Her favourite virtue is Mercy, and all merciful acts committed by a person during their life are written down by her and her angelic clerks, and read out to the One at his judgement of the deceased.

Then there was one other, the brightest of the Powers, who strayed in the beginning, weaving his own domination into the fabric of creation. He fell from grace by his own pride, and is locked away in the Abyss. Being unable to die, he haunts a hell made for him by He Who Is. There go all immortal spirits who act with evil in their hearts. Alas, this Enemy, burned black by the fire of the love he would not accept, still has ways of influencing the world. His were the trolls, dragons and the undead, and especially the kchabani, animals made in mocking likeness of Speaking Beings; his are the Dark Arts, where powers forbidden to Speaking Beings are granted as a fee for acts of evil; his are the dark deeds of Speaking Beings, inspired by evil dripped into the world by their own weakness. Have a care to act with love of goodness, beauty and truth in all things, for love alone builds and sustains. The Enemy has no love in him, save love of himself, and all his works are of decay and destruction.

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Landscapes of The Ironwood Staff

Hi, all. I thought it would be good to give a few examples of the landscapes that inspired The Ironwood Staff. These are real-world locations (and royalty-free photos!), but they form the background to the travels of Tomas.

The Highlands


The Drylands

The Southland Kingdom

The Forest of Greenland

Shout out to!
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The Ironwood Staff

As part of my efforts to give everyone a break from the insanity that passes for daily life, I've created my own epic fantasy story, The Ironwood Staff. The biggest difference between my stuff and the usual efforts is that this one is set in southern Africa, where the blurred line between myth and history, and between man and monster, can be seen in surprising places.
For an introduction, I went rooting around for some royalty-free photos (shout out to Shutterstock!) for some images of the landscapes that inspired the story.
However, I can't show them here right now, but they are at my blog. The map (every good epic needs a map!) is this:

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Race with a rhino
Believe it or not, this is based on a dream I once had...

It was a bright, sunny morning, cool before the heat of the day. The sky was an aching, dark blue. I was on horseback, riding in a group of other guys, spread out wide to search for something (Lost cows? Hijackers on the run? Who knows?). We rode in a flat space edged in the distance by tall, green trees, through grass that was bright gold, and so tall that it came up to the horses' withers. It looked like the horses were swimming in a sea of grass.

All at once, I surprised something in the grass: it was a young rhino calf, the pointy-lipped ('black') kind. The little calf, already the size of a large dog, stopped dead and sniffed at me and my horse. My horse also stopped suddenly, as surprised as I was. The calf didn't like this strange new creature. It gave a mewing moan, somewhere between a bleat and a scream.

My first thought was, 'Where's the mother?' quickly followed by, 'That's a black rhino, its mother is the chargey kind!' Frantically, I spun around, looking for mama. There she was, a dull brown hunched back coming towards me through the long grass. How had I missed her? The mother suddenly broke through to a clear patch, and saw me and my horse – between her and her calf.

My horse knew what was coming. With a lurch that almost unseated me, he took off. The mother wasn't buying it. She lowered her head, and charged!

Horses take a short while to build up speed. Fortunately, so do rhinos. In my fear, I searched for some facts:
'How fast do rhinos run?'
'Forty kilometres an hour, I think.'
'OK – how fast do horses run?'
I had no idea.
Freeing my feet from the stirrups, I gripped for dear life with my legs. My horse's movement smoothed from a canter to a full gallop, as my wide-brimmed, shady hat went bowling off. I gave my horse his head, praying that horses could outrun rhinos. And, that there weren't any rabbit holes or warthog burrows in this floodplain.

If you grow up in Africa, you learn from a young age that rhinos have excellent hearing and smell, but are very short-sighted. You can (theoretically) wait in front of a large tree, and then dodge the beast at the last second. The rhino won't be able to stop his charge, and he'll stun himself hitting the tree, giving you precious time to escape. But, it has to be a tree – they charge through thickets of finger-length thorns without noticing them.

I managed to direct my horse towards the trees at the edge of the plain, hoping to lose my pursuer there. I could hear the concerned shouts of my buddies, but they could do nothing to help me, and were too far away now, anyway.

There! Not a big tree, but a pair of decent-sized Camelthorn trees, leaning close together. I could fit between them, but a rhino couldn't. I carefully directed my horse's gallop between the trunks. He was a canny beast, hopefully he could get the idea if I thought it hard enough.

Leaning low on the horse's back, I risked a look behind. The rhino cow was still there, her horribly sharp horn heaving up and down as she ran. How could something that huge move so fast? Was she getting closer? I couldn't afford to work it out.

The trees were suddenly close. It suddenly occurred that there might not be enough clearance for both horse and rider. Was there? Wasn't there? Too late! I laid my face hard against my horse's neck. If there wasn't, I would soon be beyond all pain anyway. The horse, picking up on my anxiety, slowed down slightly as he ran between the trees. I felt the breeze of a near miss, and we were through! Raising my head and looking back, I saw the rhino crash into the trees. She wedged herself between them, with a crash that shook every leaf. There was a sullen crack from one of the trunks, and she stopped! Perhaps hurting, perhaps satisfied that I had been well and truly scared off, she backed away as my horse slowed to a canter, then jolted into a trot.

I turned him around, breathing almost as hard as he was. The rhino trotted back to her calf. I walked the horse parallel to the tree-line until my buddies caught up with me, laughing and jeering about Jim's race with a rhino.

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