The Return of the Huldrasaga

This weekend I have laid Aiella aside, on the grounds that, pending any further reports from beta-readers, it is as finished as it is going to get, and also I’ve had enough of it for now.

Instead I have taken up my other work-in-progress, untouched for nearly two years, to see what might be done with it.  The Saga of Gorm the Less and the Huldrafolk (hereinafter referred to as the Huldrasaga) is actually the older work, having been started about five or six years ago now. It is a fairly conventional comic fantasy, trying hard not to be a pale imitation of Pratchett, set in a fantasy Northlands very (very) loosely based on Norse sagas and mythology.

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The Pathless Wood

I’d like you all to have a read of this and tell me what you think. Is it properly creepy, or does it need a bit more chill?

Let me explain. This is an inset story in Aiella, and replaces the original version, which was a) not very good b) somewhat derivative and c) irrelevant to the setting.

To set the scene, Aiella and Dartea have been commissioned to escort young Lady Talia D’Inverno on a secret trip across the mountains, and they take the first part of the journey by boat up the river. Our heroines soon discover that Talia is what Dartea describes as a ‘flouncy little whatsit’, spoiled and arrogant, and a sore trial of their patience. One night they camp in a forest glade by the river. As a form of mild revenge for all the trouble Talia has caused them Dartea decides to wind her up by telling a creepy story.

It is an evening in late summer, it’s getting toward dark, the trees stand tall around them, seeming to move slightly in the haze from their campfire, and this is the story Dartea tells:

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I’m only making plans for Aiella

The best thing for the blues is to do something constructive, so I’m going to have a look at the major surgery needed for my novel Aiella. Briefly, it has been suggested that the first part of the first chapter, dealing with her childhood and the Lamentable Tragedie that drove her into exile, be moved to stand instead as the next-to-last story in the sequence. This means that the book starts with our heroine staggering half-dead down from the mountains, starved and snowblind, and the reader has no more idea of who she is than the farm folk who take her in have. So that part of the story needs re-jigging, so there are no references back to the previous story, only mysterious hints, and also it needs more description of her to be added, by way of introducing her to the reader. (I’m thinking out loud here).

Then, as the stories progress, her Mysterious Past and just what it was that led her to a life of wandering and exile is almost as much of a mystery to the reader as it is to the other characters … there are a couple of crucial scenes involving a wanted poster I need to look at, to determine how much to give away there. I think this is a better effect than having all the backstory explicated at the beginning, and the readers (if any such there be) can let their lurid imaginations speculate on what might have happened.

So far so good. Now, the really hard part is transplanting that backstory, currently sitting proudly at the head of Chapter One,  to the less elevated position of Chapter Thirteen. There is going to have to be some kind of framing for it, to account for its anachronous position, and as it stands it isn’t very suitable for framing. I haven’t worked out how to do this yet. Obviously the trigger for its appearance is Aiella finally confessing all her past misdeeds to Dartea, which is a thing that already happens, but the story is too long and too objectively written (3rd person) to be passed off as Aiella’s recollections. If it were a film I could do a slow dissolve and then a caption, RHEGED: 35 YEARS EARLIER, but writing it in to a novel is a little trickier.

More thought required!

Aiella: the novel

One of the things I did in 2016 was to finish one of the two novels I have been writing for most of the last two years. Would you like me to tell you all about it?

Oh. Well, tough. I’m going to tell you all about it anyway.

I say finished, but I’m still editing bits of it, and I say novel, but … well, it kind of isn’t. It’s actually fourteen discrete but connected stories, of varying lengths, covering thirty-five years or so in the life of the main character, the eponymous Lady Aiella.

Aiella is … a wanderer, a thief, an exile and to most of the people she meets, an enigma. The stories follow her from childhood, through love, loss, tragedy, exile, and long years of restless wandering, until she at last finds some kind of redemption. Along the way she meets her faithful companion Dartea, and together they encounter assassins, authors, elephants, pirates, music-hall performers, diplomats, smugglers, a Princess and a very troublesome mule. Recurring at various points in the story is the third major character, the notorious Black Jackie Nyman, smuggler, burglar, fence and lover.

The story is … a romance, a comedy, a thriller, and a tragedy. But for the purposes of general classification, I call it a fantasy, inasmuch as the action is set in the imaginary land of Tenaria.

The story is not … a conventional fantasy, however. There is no magic in Tenaria. No gods, no elves, wizards, werewolves, vampires, dragons, amulets, witches, ghosts or any kind of magic ring whatever. You will not find so much as a hint of a prophecy, and not a trace of a Quest. I have invented no languages, nor do my characters use gratuitous faux-medieval English. (Any thees and thous you find are dialect, not archaisms).

Also, there are no … guns, improbable mechanical devices, knights in armour shining or otherwise, no lurid descriptions of sex and no map.

There are … jokes, kisses, bits of song and poetry, stories-within-the-story, adventures, arguments, fights, swearwords and characters who are anything but straight (in several senses of the word).

Oh, yes, and I’ve already started writing the sequel.

So if any of that intrigues you at all, I’m looking for readers to tell me if it’s any good or not, because I’m damned if I know. Drop me a line in the comments below, or send me a direct message on Twitter @sloopjonb1960, and I will provide you with an e-book copy to the format of your choice. It’s 144,000 words long, just so you know how much of your time it is going to waste.

Thanks 🙂

Update

I still aten’t dead 🙂

Currently engaged in writing the conclusion to the Lady Aiella saga … some readers may recall an earlier iteration of this in which the lady was taken a bit dead. To say this was not popular is an understatement … nobody liked the idea, and the only excuse I can offer is that I was in a very bad mood at the time.

I have been persuaded by my Muse to write it again – only now the assassin misses her target, Aiella lives, and the subsequent events are very different – and a much better story. The previous work isn’t entirely wasted, I can recycle parts of it into the new story – quite fun, reconfiguring situations and dialogue into a new context.

The old story was approaching 30k words when abandoned .. but I think this one will be even longer!