Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

One year after the publication of Vita Mortis, we posted its sequel, Canteen Gossip. A third part of the Nil Desperandum series will be sortly underway.

While T.A. and I are in the process of writing a new novel (working title “The World to Come”) we are having fun still with James Bond and Q.

Enjoy!

canteen gossip cover

 

And now for something a little different…

I don’t usually write derivative works AKA fanfiction, but very rarely something grabs me and tickles my fancy. The last time I wrote anything inspired by a film was Hoot/Sanderson (Black Hawk Down) and we all know what happened: that triggered the creation of Hooch in the epic Special Forces and eventually Hooch’s and Matt’s very own novel, Deliverance (and don’t worry, the vignettes for the latter will be available shortly).

So now, inspired by the latest James Bond film Skyfall, my co-author TA Brown and I wrote a nice, substantial 59K twenty-chapter story called Vita Mortis. It has all the ingredients my novels and short stories are known for (e.g. action), just set in the 007 universe. Obviously, it was only written for fun, not for profit at all, and we own no rights to the James Bond Franchise whatsoever.

vita mortis cover

Vita Mortis

MI6’s most notorious agent and their new quartermaster are an unstoppable force and counter-force, bound to collide. Despite promising beginnings, Bond and Q seem destined to crash and burn.

Their long path towards acceptance is dangerous and paved with destruction – until death begets new life.

 

P.S. All of my derivative work is only published on AO3, not on my website.

dan-maturedDan could see the light covering of snow out the windows of the plane as it touched down at Budapest airport. He listened with one ear to the repeated exhortations by the purser for the passengers to stay in their seats and estimated the minutes until he could sneak a fag. No matter how many times he had to chew those nicotine gums, he still got the cravings during the bloody long flights.

At last, the plane taxied to the terminal and came to a shuddering halt, and Dan unbuckled his safety belt as the light went off.

He felt more anxious to get off the damned plane and into the city than usual. It wasn’t every day an old, scarred battleship like him would soon become…he couldn’t even think that word that should be impossible. The expected date was still a few weeks off: plenty of time to get used to the idea.

Dan went through the mercifully quick – for once, he wondered what was wrong – queues to the baggage claim and, after an extremely quick fag, was in the car sent by his usual hotel. He turned his phone on again, and as always, it took some time to pick up its messages, once it had started roaming. Eventually, a couple of messages from Kisa appeared on his screen. He sat up straight and tense at the first one, but then relaxed at the second. False alarm it said. She was still in the hospital, but only for observation – and, he figured, because she was a private patient with all expenses paid for by her husband’s annoying but conveniently wealthy family – and he should meet her there once he’d checked in.

The holiday traffic was irritatingly slow, not helped by the light, yet steady snowfall, but eventually Dan arrived at the hotel, where he was ushered through the check-in procedures with the courtesy and efficiency of a frequent guest. What he liked most about the country, and the hotel, and generally just about any place in Hungary, was that he could still smoke. Until January, he was told, but he wasn’t going to look a Christmas-gift-horse in the mouth.

A leisurely fag later, Dan arrived back at reception to wait for a taxi to the hospital. He’d picked up enough Hungarian over the years to have basic conversations, and while he wasn’t as quick on the language uptake as he had been, back in Afghanistan, he still had the knack for it.

The concierge indicated that the taxi had arrived and held the door open as Dan stepped out into the cold. The taxi-driver gave a semi-grunt of surprise at Dan’s request in Hungarian, but pulled out into the traffic, heading west. After a pause, he told Dan that it would be about forty-five minutes with the wet roads.

Dan nodded at that statement, comparing the increasingly falling snow and the white roads to one particularly harsh winter in the Afghan mountains…but he better not think about that freezing encounter, since Vadim wasn’t due to arrive for another two days, on Christmas eve.

Settling back in his seat, Dan watched the winter scene unfolding outside and told the driver to take his time if he needed to.

Dan was thumbing through his emails as the taxi exited the freeway and drove up the long drive to a large building, set in the middle of what looked like expansive grounds. This place looked less like a hospital, at least not from his fairly extensive experience, and more of a stately home.

He paid the driver, then took care when exiting the car. It would have been easier had he fitted his cane with the spike he’d acquired for winter weather, but while he was an old man according to most peoples’ standards, he wasn’t going to behave like one.

Dan snorted with amusement as the door was held open for him by a uniformed doorman. The serene marble-floored foyer wouldn’t have looked out of place at a fancy hotel. Nothing so plebeian as a nurse’s station, there was a long reception counter and a number of very comfortable sofas, mostly empty. This was pretty much like any hotel he’d ever known, and unlike any hospital he’d ever had the displeasure of staying in.

The immaculately coiffed receptionist smiled as he approached. “May I help you?” she asked, in American-accented English.

Dan flashed a smile. “I’m here to see my daughter, Kisa Krasnorada.”

The woman smiled in return and tapped something into her computer, frowning for a second while Dan remembered that Kisa might be using her married name. He was about to correct himself when she looked up and asked: “that would be Mrs Kisa Farkas?”

“Aye, that’s her. Sorry, I forgot her married name.”

The woman nodded. “Mr Daniel MacFadyen?” she asked. “Could I trouble you for some sort of photographic identification? I shall have someone show you to her wing.”

Dan’s brows shot up to his hairline, both at the ‘Daniel’ and at the request for ID. Particularly the latter, but he wasn’t going to cause a scene and had vowed to be the most well-behaved impending grandfather imaginable – there, he’d thought it. “Dan, it’s Dan McFadyen.” Still smiling his smile, albeit more strained now, he produced his passport proclaiming that ‘Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.’ Never had it been more apt, he figured.

The woman took it and typed a few more numbers in before returning the little dark red booklet. “Thank you. Lt. Farkas is still here, though Madame Krasnorada left half an hour ago.” Clearly they were used to delicate family relations here, and as Dan nodded, he was damned thankful for Katya having already left. Their truce didn’t mean he would ever forgive her for an unforgivable deed, despite the joy its consequence had brought.

“Miss Molnar will show you to the ward,” the receptionist added.

A second young woman appeared near the lift, seemingly from thin air.

Dan followed her after another polite nod at the receptionist, and was taken to a plush looking level.

Kisa’s room was at the far end of the corridor and, after what seemed like an endless stretch of immaculate off-white carpeted floor, Miss Molnar stopped in front of the door and pressed what seemed to be a doorbell.

After a few seconds, the door opened a crack, and then wide, as Jakab saw who it was.

Dan looked him up and down with an increasingly knowing smirk, since Kisa’s husband was leaner and more tanned than he’d been when Dan had seen him last, and considerably more muscular across chest and shoulders. “Been anywhere sunny lately?”

Jakab attempted a smile, which didn’t quite work, and stepped aside to let Dan in, simultaneously nodding to Miss Molnar in thanks. “I don’t think it’s changed a bit since you were there,” he said.
“Aye, different sides and factions, same shit.” Dan knew, and Jakab knew, and everyone else knew who’d ever been in that hellhole Afghanistan. Soviets or Americans or Brits or anyone else, it was all a crock of shit.

Jakab closed the door behind them once Dan had stepped into the large and comfortable room. Kisa was sitting up in the bed, looking bored.

“Hey, kid,” Dan grinned. “I’m not ready yet to be a grandfather.”

Kisa snorted and leaned back on the pillows, the enormous swell of her belly more obvious because the rest of her had remained slender. “Tell that to them,” she said, brushing a hand on the bulge. “Can’t make up their minds about whether they’re coming or not.”

“They are probably trying to avoid being post-Christmas babies, because the presents would be crap.” Dan grinned and leaned down to kiss his daughter’s cheeks.

Kisa laughed and made an effort at a hug.

Dan grunted a ‘thanks’ at Jakab, who’d brought a chair close to the bed. “Apart from that, how are you?” He sat down.

“Do you mind staying for a bit, Dan?” Jakab asked from behind. “I was thinking of going back to the flat for Kisa’s things.”

“Sure, it’s not that I have anything better to do.” Dan winked. He really did mean it, and Kisa knew hat.

“Thanks,” Jakab replied and leaned past Dan to kiss Kisa, before picking up his overcoat and gloves and heading out of the room.

Kisa waited for thirty seconds before letting out an exhale. “Too bloated to do anything with everyone offering me stupid advice,” she grumped. “You’d think that nobody had ever had babies before.”

“Well, yes, but the point is that you have never had babies before.” Dan pointedly looked at her, but his attempt at a glare failed spectacularly, when he started to grin. “Right, then, tell me all about how they are annoying you and what you’d like to do to them.”

“I’d like to lock them all in a room with each other,” Kisa snorted, “and see how they like being hounded. If it’s not my mother, it’s his. Or my sister. Or his. What I’m supposed to eat, not eat, do, not do, and how no matter what I’m doing, it’s not the right way. Not to mention his dad decided to phone my boss every bloody day to make sure I wasn’t ‘overexerting’ myself. It’s a desk job at the Ministry. The only danger of overexerting myself is a papercut. It’s so irritating that I can’t even get a punch in.” She paused while Dan tried valiantly to hide his chuckle. “Better now with Jakab back to act as a human shield. He just nudges them out the room and quietly shuts the door. You should have seen the look on his sister’s face the first time he did it.”

Dan finally cracked and laughed out loud. “Damn, I would have liked to see that, but after the couple times I met his sister I rather stay on a different continent to her.” He leaned forward, murmuring in a conspirator’s fashion, “is there anything you’d like to eat and which had been deemed unsuitable?”

She returned the smirk, identical to his. “Chocolate. Cake. Ice Cream. No surprises there since it’s obvious where I got my sweet tooth from.”

“I approve of that sweet tooth. I bet there’s a cafe in this posh pile of stones?”

“First floor, turn right out of the lifts.” Kisa grinned back.

“I’ll be back in a jiffy.” Dan winked as he stood up. “You better be hungry.”

“For anything other than milk and chicken soup.” Kisa wrinkled her nose.

“That’s not something I’d ever feed you. Not that you’d want to eat what I cook.” With a short laugh Dan was out of the room and on his foraging mission.

As expected, the cafe was stocked with a large and full cake cabinet, with both single-serve and enormous complete cakes. Dan chose several of the most elaborately iced, cream-filled and chocolate topped cake slices and pastries on offer. The waitress behind the counter gave him a slightly startled look at the number he was requesting, but apparently she had decided he did not appear to be a gastric band patient embarking on a binge, when she served him. She only asked whether he was going to be having them in the cafe or taking it up to a room, before packing the cakes away in a heavy cardboard box for him, together with napkins, and good-quality disposable plates and forks.

Dan gave her his best smile and thanked her in Hungarian. He headed back to Kisa’s room, where he proceeded to lay out the cakes and pastries onto plates in a tempting offering, worthy of a Mayan sacrifice.

“I didn’t know what you fancied, so I got you one of each.” With a positively wicked grin, he held one of the pastry forks out to her.

Kisa, who had been looking at the spread with increasing awe, returned the grin as she selected a cake that appeared to be layers of chocolate and caramel.

Dan was about to tuck into a strawberry and cream tart, when he turned his head towards the window. “Holy shit, when did it start turning from gentle snowfall to fucking great big snow white-out?”

Kisa followed his gaze to the large window, which was now completely white. She fumbled with the remote control before turning the television onto the weather report. The radar report showed a huge band of white settling over the city. “Crap,” Kisa exhaled.

“What?” Dan swallowed a mouthful of strawberry and pastry, while focusing on the TV screen. “City can’t deal with this weather?”

Kisa gave a rude snort. “Course not. Too much like actually doing their job.”

“Good thing it was a false alarm, then.”

“Yep,” Kisa replied, going back to her cake. “Hope he gets home, though at least it’s the Volvo and not my old car.

“Course you got a Volvo.” Dan rolled his eyes like a particularly ridiculous six-year-old. “My daughter is a walking talking cliché. When the fuck did that happen?”

“Around the time this, “Kisa indicated the bump, “did.” She put the empty plate and fork aside. “Don’t worry, no Labradors or Hermes scarves…yet.”

“I’m going to de-daughter you if I ever see you with a poncy silk scarf.” Dan pushed the cakes with a fingertip. “Which one next?”

Kisa laughed and picked out an elaborate sculpture of cream and pastry. “How have you been, anyway?”

“As expected,” Dan shrugged while wiping his lips with a napkin. “I’m an old, mangy dog with creaking joints. Well, except for the high-tech ones, those are hunky-dory.” He leaned back in his chair. “I don’t kill or maim anymore, nor get shot at. It’s boring, really.”

Kisa snorted around a mouthful of cream. “Only you would think that an absence of mayhem equals boredom.” She hesitated a moment, changing the subject abruptly. “It pretty much sucks being the one left at home.”

Dan looked closely at her, a smile on his face. “What are you planning to do once the twins are here?”

“I’ve got a year off to decide properly. The job’s good – considering I only got about three months in on it before they started being difficult – and they’re surprisingly short of good Russian speakers,” she exchanged a grin with Dan. “I might see if there’s a chance I can transfer the job down to Szolnok. I mean, there are Intelligence positions down there, just not quite the same as what I’d be doing in Budapest. It would save the travelling, and we could get a house.”

Dan had been nodding along, but tracked back to the beginning. “Aye, makes all sense, but a whole year? Nothing but babies? You’ll go insane.”

“I think that’s a given, what with the genetics of these babies, don’t you?” Kisa said drily. “And Jakab’s gone rather extreme in avoiding it all, though admittedly he did manage to get the rest of winter off before he goes back to you-know-where.” She paused. “Short of good Russian speakers.” she repeated, quieter.

“Damn shame he’s so good at it, aye?” Dan’s smile was soft.

“Yeah,” Kisa fiddled with her fork, “still, I suppose that’s part of what was always going to happen since it was sort of inevitable I’d go for a blond special forces type.”

“At least you didn’t go for an enemy.” Dan huffed a laugh then cast another glance at the weather outside, which seemed to be getting worse.

“No, at least there’s that.” Kisa finished her second cake. “I hope that stops soon, or the city’s going to be one great big squelching mess tomorrow.” She gave a little wince, as though she’d been kicked. “Stay,” she told her stomach sternly.

“What’s up? Too much cake?”

“No, just one of them’s probably having a sugar high,” Kisa’s hand rubbed the bump. “They’ve been running around in there and kicking and probably having fights for weeks. But they’re still not cooked yet.” She sighed. “I feel like a beached whale. I’ve forgotten what my feet look like.”

“Like feet.” Dan deadpanned, then went to pack the cake and pastry pieces back into their cardboard box. “Did I tell you about Hooch’s latest venture? In case he hasn’t told you yet.”

“No,” Kisa shook her head, “we asked whether he and Matt might want to be part of the horde of godparents, but he went all quiet after that.”

Dan let out a soft sound while finishing the re-packing of the desserts. “Godparents equals church, aye? He doesn’t do church, as far as I know.”

Kisa shrugged a shoulder. “Neither do I, but it’s important to Jakab. For tradition, really, more than any real observance. That stopped – a long time ago.”

“Well, is there a need to have Hooch as a godparent? He could just be Uncle Hooch.”

“Not need,” Kisa replied slowly, “and he’d be great either way. Just we thought it would be nice, show that we did want some sort of official connection. Also,” her grin was sly, “gives him and Matt and Uncle Matyas a great excuse to keep in touch and for them to stay with Matyas when they visit.” She tried to leer, and failed.

“Kisa!” Dan pointed an accusing finger at her, “you may be my daughter, but that doesn’t mean you should be thinking of ‘such things’.” He couldn’t hide the grin, though.

Kisa grinned back. “Ah, they didn’t tell you? Quite interesting: the three of them took off for a spontaneous two week driving holiday in Croatia two days after the wedding. Never seen Uncle Matyas look so relaxed as he did the week after he got back. Then he got into another shouting match with the Prime Minister and he was back to normal, but still…”

“My daughter is having a vivid imagination about her uncles getting it on.” Dan fake-sadly shook his head and let his shoulders slump. “Never did I think would I live to see a day of such horrors.”

Kisa burst into giggles, but then stopped abruptly. “Dan,” she said, voice soft and quite serious, “I think I might need the nurse now.”

“What?” Dan tensed, ready for action, as if all those years of retirement hadn’t happened.

“Can you…push that button,” Kisa panted. “I think…urgh! …I think my waters just broke.”

“Fuck!” Dan’s hand flashed towards the button, pressing it. “I’ll phone Jakab.”

“Thanks,” Kisa nodded, but there were beads of sweat already forming on her forehead as the door opened to a stern-looking matron.

Dan had his phone in hand, still as prepared as he had been during his active service, and speed-dialled his son-in-law’s mobile.

The name at the other end of the line, when Jakab answered, sounded a little different, until Dan realised that it was the proper pronunciation and not the Anglicised one Jakab used around English-speakers. “Yes?” Jakab continued, realising it was Dan.

“Kisa thinks her…uh, her waters broke. That means the birth is going to happen now, aye? You better get here ASAP.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then a single, exhaled word. Dan wasn’t up on all the Hungarian swearwords yet, but he got the idea. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Jakab said, too calmly, with the tone of a man seriously considering a mad run through a blizzard.

“Aye, shall I call anyone else in the meantime? Anyone closer? Katya?”

A noise before Jakab took a breath and answered. “No, she’ll be on the other side of the river by now and it’s packed. Thanks, but I’ll text her.”

It was one of the times that Dan was glad Jakab was so logical and got to the correct answer (that Dan would have preferred to avoid any contact with Katya if at all humanly possible) by the incorrect, but most reasonable route (the little matter of Vadim, to be precise).

“Anyone else?” He kept a close eye on the nurse who was still checking Kisa, asking her quiet questions that he couldn’t understand.

“No,” Jakab said after a pause, “I’m not too far, I’ll get there as soon as I can,” he repeated.

“Aye, just me then. Got it.” Dan flashed a smile at his daughter when she caught his eye, trying to reassure her. “Looks like your kids have decided to be here earlier than expected, but I’ll hold the fort.” With that he terminated the call and turned his full attention onto Kisa, who was getting more agitated at whatever the nurse was telling her.

The nurse made a gesture over to Dan, and Kisa’s reply made the older woman’s eyebrows go up to her hairline, before Kisa said, slowly and clearly enough in Hungarian that Dan could understand.

“He’s my father.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Dan huffed, then remembered the one word in Hungarian that was going to be very important very soon. “Grandfather.” He glared at the nurse for good measure.

The nurse at least had the grace to look slightly embarrassed, before turning her attention back to Kisa, and then going to the internal phone to call someone. “Delivery Room,” she said curtly in English. “You come?”

“What?” Dan’s eyes flicked to Kisa, confused. “Kisa?”

Her eyes were huge, and the closest he’d seen to being frightened. “Will you?” she asked.

“Aye. Of course.” Dan didn’t hesitate for another second. He’d gone into enemy territory on his own, he could bloody well go and be at his daughter’s side, no matter how much this freaked him out. He got up and nodded to the nurse, “lead on, McDuff.”

The relief in Kisa’s eyes was worth it. The door opened to the arrival of two orderlies, who went to take the breaks off the bed. Dan followed the procession, as Kisa was being pushed along corridors and into a different room, not too dissimilar to her own one. It was cheerfully decorated, but had a variety of furniture and equipment in it, which confused the heck out of Dan. Accepting his utter ignorance came fairly easy. Holding his daughter’s hand – that was something he could do easily, as long as he didn’t have to witness the more messy aspects.

Shortly after they arrived, the doors opened again to another woman, older than the nurse, with an air of efficient confidence. She sent a questioning look at Dan, who merely uttered “grandfather” in Hungarian once more.

She started asking Kisa questions in rapid Hungarian, too quick for Dan to follow, before putting both hands and feeling, soon starting to frown.

Her frown caused an unfamiliar sensation in Dan’s chest, and it took him a while to acknowledge it as fear. Before it could turn into anything worse, there was a flurry of movement and orders, as equipment was rolled to the bed Kisa was on, and the doctor started to examine in earnest.

All Dan could do was hold onto his daughter’s hand and smile reassuringly at her. Which, he figured somewhere in the back of his mind, probably looked more like a grimace, but she didn’t seem to mind.

What he hated most was the very obvious pain she was in. He really, completely, loathed it, and all he could do was squeeze her hand tighter.

The doctor stepped away for a few seconds to pull on a pair of gloves and let one of the orderlies tie the apron on, before returning, feeling around the lower part of the bump, as Kisa squeezed even harder on Dan’s hand. The doctor’s eyes flickered to Dan, before deciding he was one degree too removed for her to explain things to directly, before going to speak to Kisa. Her expression and voice grave, but calm.

Kisa’s eyes widened and the grip on Dan’s hand tightened even further.

“What?” The fear immediately notched up to panic, an entirely new experience for Dan. This was about his daughter; his grandchildren. This was more important than anything had ever been. “What did she say?”

Kisa swallowed audibly. “One of them’s around the wrong way, blocking everything up. It’s going to have to be a Caesarean.” She gasped as another contraction hit and Dan lost all feeling in his fingers, but he didn’t care, not one bit.

“When? I mean, now? Oh shit.”

An orderly emerged behind Dan and had to tug quite hard before he noticed. The man started miming putting on a hat, and after a few seconds Dan realised he was to follow to an adjoining room.

“I’ll see you in a moment.” Dan smiled his best reassuring smile at his daughter, who looked increasingly frightened. A sight that made him feel worse than anything ever had.

The scrubs he was handed were clearly the largest size they had – tall enough for him, but far too wide. He fumbled with the help of the orderly who had been waiting in the room, before getting completely suited up, except for a mask.

By the time he emerged and was taken through to the operating theatre, it seemed that a whole lot of new people had joined the enormous cast at Kisa’s bedside. There was an empty space left near her head, and the orderly pointed in its direction, indicating that was where Dan should place himself.

With heartfelt relief that he really was going to be as far away as possible from the ‘messy end’, Dan sat down and took Kisa’s hand in both of his. He could feel the slight tremor in hers, so much more slender than his calloused ones, and he squeezed gently. “Hey, kid, never thought you’d be stuck here with me, huh?”

“Thank you.” Kisa breathed, the sweat beading on her forehead. There was a little screen set up shielding the scalpel sight, but the surgeon bending over was hardly much of a reassurance. While Kisa couldn’t see herself, Dan could, if he lifted his head. Something he was determined not to do.

“You’re my little girl, even though I never met you as a little girl.” Dan patted her hand, guessing she was being prepped for the anaesthetic right then. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you – and your kids. Nothing, aye?” He leaned closer, murmuring with a soft grin, “I might not be fast anymore, but I’m still a great shot.”

Kisa tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a moan, as matters picked up pace at the other end of the table. There was an intense discussion between Kisa’s obstetrician and the surgeon that was too fast and too low for Dan to pick up. Besides, he had decided that distracting Kisa was his job just then.

“At least you don’t have to push. Honestly, squeezing a kid, let alone two, through that?” He opened his eyes as wide as possible, in not-so-mock horror.

Kisa tried to laugh, which turned into a little groan, and Dan felt his finger-bones crunching. At the other end of the table, he could sense more than see, a flurry of movement.

“Are you in pain?” Dan’s words were toppling one over the other in his haste. “I tell them to wait, give you more anaesthetic.Tell me!”

Kisa didn’t reply at first, just moaned and almost-whispered “get it over with,” just as a thin, furious wail penetrated the room.

Dan’s head whipped up to come face-to-face with a blood and gunk covered red and wrinkly bundle that flailed with more force than a gunky-bloodied-wrinkled thing should be able to. “Oh fuck,” he gasped out, “it’s a baby!”

Kisa gave a gargled chuckle. “Really? What else did you think it was going to be? And wait, there’s more…“

“Aye, of course, a baby, sure, but shit, it’s really, I mean,” Dan stood up, unthinking, looking at the controlled flurry of gloved hands and blood, skin, flesh, movement, child and fluids and body and open and tiny hands and head and…the sound his unconscious body made as it crashed into the chair and onto the floor had everyone stop in their tracks.

After a moment, the bigger orderly crouched down at Dan’s side, slapping his face none too gently a couple of times. When Dan jerked awake, disorientation immediately replaced with embarrassment, the orderly shook his head, commenting drily in heavily accented English, “I’ve had fathers do this, but never a grandfather,” as he helped Dan up.

Kisa was looking as though she was about to burst out laughing, no bad thing when the activity had resumed and a second screaming, flailing bundle emerged. A moment later, the first-born was laid onto her chest, bundled up warm.

By that time, Dan had made his way back onto the chair. Face a blotched mix of sheet-white and flaming red, as he held onto his daughter’s hand once more. “Don’t you dare tell anyone!” He pleaded. His eyes fixed onto that remarkably ugly bundle of tiny human that couldn’t have been more precious to him, unless he counted the second one that was soon placed beside the first.

They were tiny, with heads of dark hair and screwed up faces, and a mighty wail. Evidently very unhappy at being so unceremoniously introduced to the world.

“We’ll stitch you up now,” the surgeon spoke in English for the first time. “All went as it should be and we’ll move you back to your room.”

“They are…” precious, wonderful, tiny, amazing, a complete miracle, “ugly as fuck.” Dan grinned shakily at his daughter, “but I guess they will have to do.” The twinkle in his eyes wasn’t caused by emotions that made his voice just as shaky as his grin. Honest.

Kisa understood the true meaning behind his words. “Amazing,” she breathed out, “they look so much smaller than they felt.” She brushed back the hair of first one, and then the other, who had by then calmed with the contact.

“Aye, amazing.” There really wasn’t another word that could describe those miniature humans. Dan looked up as the orderly who’d coerced him back into consciousness gestured at him. “I’ll be right with you, just getting de-scrubbed.” He leaned down to brush a calloused fingertip oh so carefully over each of the tiny, messy heads, then kissed Kisa’s clammy forehead. “Thank you,” he whispered.

Kisa looked right back. “Thank you,” she replied, still looking at her babies in wonder. One of the nurses hovered at the other side of the bed, keeping one eye on Kisa and one on the concluding procedures.

“Anytime.” Dan winked as he stood up, and added, “just never again, please.” With a grin at Kisa’s tired chuckle he watched her being taken out of the operating theatre, before he went into the side room to change clothes and splash water into his face. He really was never going to live this down; he, Dan McFadyen, ex-SAS and ex-Mercenary, fainting at the sight of blood.

TA Brown and I have been busy writing – amongst other stories in progress – some vignettes for Hooch & Matt. We’ve just entered the editing phase for these wee stories, which explore the lives of Matt & Hooch beyond Deliverance.

You’ll be meeting new characters and old ones, especially one who has grown up. 😉

These vignettes will be available on my website as free reading.

Watch this space!

Wired freedom
A few days ago there was good news about Paypal’s backpedaling from being morality police and banning their services for legal fiction they deemed ‘obscene’.

CNet’s article gives a good run-down on what took place:

Back-and-forth talks between the online payment company and e-publishers leads PayPal to change its position on the sale of e-books containing bestiality, rape, incest, and underage erotica.

After vocal outrage from authors, e-publishers, and free speech activists, PayPal has shifted its “acceptable use” policy on e-books containing certain erotica content. The online payment company announced today that mostly books with images will be under scrutiny.

It’s important to note that the EFF weighed in as well. From CNet:

As the talks proceeded, the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation also launched its own campaign. In collaboration with other free speech groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Authors Guild, and the PEN American Center, the nonprofit sent a protest letter to PayPal. Since then, several more organizations signed onto the campaign.

The point here is, and I feel I cannot make it often enough, that legal creative outputs (fiction, in this case) was to be banned. Not illegal, but legal. Also, not individual works, but whole website. A broad brush that was completely unacceptable censorship-wise.

This whole debacle shows us again that we all must remain vigilant. This will happen again. Perhaps another company, perhaps something else, but it will happen again. Let’s make sure we continue to fight inappropriate censorhsip.

 “The Internet cannot be a true global forum for expression if private companies that provide communication and payment services operate as morality police,” EFF Staff Attorney Lee Tien said in a statement. “We’re especially pleased that PayPal will only target specific works and not entire Web sites.”

Reader-Response Theory
AKA why no one is right and no one is wrong – or both at the same time

I have always believed that every review of a creative work i.e. in this instance a fictional text/work of fiction, is as valid as the other, because there is no “true” or “ultimate” meaning in any text. The author’s is just another meaning, and the moment the text is out there it becomes owned and understood by each and everyone who engages with it.

Every reader makes their own meaning of a fictional text, and that’s why one can find wildly different reviews and opinions of every work of fiction that has ever been made available to readers. Have we not all encountered this phenomenon and sometimes thought “but how can this reader like this? It’s crap!” or “I don’t understand how they could not like this, it’s fantastic!” and every single shade in between. This is particularly true for sequels, where reader expectations play a strong part, because they will have built their own meaning already.

Let’s have a look at Reader-Response Theory, which to me explains the above admirably.

Back in the 1930s a new attention to the reading process – and thus the reader – emerged to focus on the reader’s role in creating meaning. Louise Rosenblatt was the pioneer in 1938 in Reader-Response Theory, with other leading proponents being much later in the early 1960s Wayne Booth, and in the late 1970s Stanley Fish.

Back in the 1980s, when I was in grammar school, I remember that we were still looking for meaning in a text and interpreting literature by trying to understand what the author might have meant – and by learning everything about the author and what might have influenced this meaning-making. All well and good, and certainly interesting, but as someone else has said: “sometimes the meaning of ‘the wall was blue’ is not that the author tried to express melancholy, but that the wall was f****ing blue!”

Reader-Response Theory, on the other hand, is built on “Text and text alone”, and there are two fundamental beliefs:

  1. The role of the reader is vital for our understanding of literature.
  2. Readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an ‘objective’ literary text. Instead they actively make the meaning they find in the text.

Therefore, different readers will read the same text differently, and the reader is the necessary third component in the relationship that constitutes the literary work:

Any literary work is not fully created until the reader assimilates it and actualises it in light of their own knowledge and experience. Even the same reader reading the same text on two different occasions will probably produce different meanings because of the many variables contributing to the experience of a literary text.

READER + TEXT = MEANING

Reading is a process, and during this process the reader continually reflects on the text while meaning-making within their own context. Each reader reads literary work for himself/herself, while drawing on past experiences, and molding new experiences from new text.

As a literary text is read, readers respond to it in their own personal way:

  • Feelings, associations, memories, etc. occur as we read
  • These responses influence the way in which we make sense of the text as we move through it.
  • Literature read prior to this reading has an effect on the meaning-making
  • The reflection is based on the sum total of accumulated knowledge at any given reading
  • Current mental (mood) and physical condition are influencing factors

The second reading of a literary text produces greater (different) insights:

  • Knowledge acquired between first and second reading (including other literary texts)
  • Personal experiences that have taken place since
  • Change in condition and mood between two readings
  • Change in purpose/why the text is read again

Transactional Reader-Response

Transactional Reader-Response analyses transactions between the reader and the literary text. Both elements necessary in meaning-making i.e. no text = no meaning, no reader = no making, and vice versa.

Well, does this ring a bell for anyone? Of course there are also varied criticisms of the Reader-Response Theory, and I encourage you to take a look around and make up your minds for yourselves.

Next up I will take a look at Cognitive Reading Theory and Theory of Mind to further understand why no story is ever read the same at any given time, and no reaction is ever the same, either.

References

Knapp (2010) Reading Fiction—an Introduction to Reader Response theory. Available at: http://instructorknapp.blogspot.com/2010/09/reading-fictionan-introduction-to.html

Lorenzen, J (2006) An Application of Literary Theory: Considering Reader Response Theory in the Writing of Book Reviews. Available at: http://www.oppapers.com/essays/Theory-In-The-WritIng-Of-Book/439750

Rosenblatt, L (1938) Literature as Exploration, New York: Appleton-Century.

It is with great concern that I, too, feel compelled to post about the shocking recent bullying/censorship by Paypal – a company that is nothing more but a finanial middleman – on erotic fiction.

I have collected a short list of excellent articles on this matter, and urge everyone to read up on what is happening here, and how a company that has a monopoly is enforcing arbitrary rules that affect legal products/fiction. It is important to spread the word, because where else will they go? What else will be forbidden even though it is legal? Where will private monopoly companies be made to stop wielding censorship?

This is not ‘just’ about erotica readers and authors and the associated publishes and distributors. This is potentially also about classic literature, such as The Story of O, Venus in Furs and Lolita. And not just literature: where will this slippery slope end up? If consumers and world citizens are not vigilant, we will be censored not by the church or the state of history, but by corporations.

Please consider signing the petition Stop Internet Censorship! 

After all, anyone who enjoys reading my books and those of my fellow M/M authors, you are in real danger that rather sooner than later you are not allowed/able to do so anymore. If I cannot use PayPal for transactions anymore (and PayPal did freeze accounts and all money in it) I can neither publish through international publishers any longer, nor publish through Camouflage Press. BDSM = between consenting adults! today; gay sex tomorrow?

TechCrunch posted on Sunday 26th February:

 PayPal As Moral Police? Forces E-Book Sellers To Remove Certain Erotica Content. The letter – written by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords – has been posted on Smashwords’ own site, and gives a fuller explanation of what is going on: it all stems from an “ultimatum” that PayPal issued to Smashwords on Feb. 18: “PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services.”

Coker says that other e-book retailers have also been served with the same orders, but he does not name them. He also says that PayPal has been helpful with working out exactly what kind of content falls foul of the new rules, but that “gray areas remain.” (For example incest also includes “pseudo-incest.”) One other area that PayPal named, related to underage children, is already prohibited on Smashwords, Coker notes.

He also points out that this latest order is part of a bigger push by PayPal to start “aggressively enforcing a prohibition against online retailers selling certain types of ‘obscene’ content.”

Anonymiss posted on 21st February:

 The #PayPal Fiasco Continues … #epicfail. Yesterday saw what seemed like the second wave of PayPal’s censorship and attempt at policing what they find “morally objectionable”. All Romance eBooks has sent out an official notice for the take-down of all books containing pseudo-incest themes, non-con, etc. It’s not hard to connect the dots and see that they’re doing this as per PayPal’s “orders”. They do, after all, pay author royalties via PayPal and take PayPal as a form of payment.

This is a truly slippery slope. What will the PayPal Morality Police want to ban next? This form of “corporate censorship” by financial means has to be stopped, especially when said company has practically a monopoly in the business as middleman. A friend of mine put it this way: it’s coercion, plain and simple.

PulpTech posted on 27th February:

 PayPal Strong-Arms Indie Ebook Publishers Over Erotic Content. PayPal’s new aggressive campaign wants to stop independent e-book publishers that use its service from including certain kinds of erotic content in their catalogs.

On Saturday February 18, PayPal began threatening indie book publishers and distributors with immediate deactivation of the businesses’ accounts if they did not remove books containing certain sexual themes – namely, specific sexual fantasies that PayPal does not approve of.

PayPal told indie e-book publishers and retailers – such as AllRomance, Smashwords, Excessica and Bookstrand – that if they didn’t remove the offending literature from their catalogs within a few days of notification, PayPal would close their accounts.

Of course, the immediate termination of payment processing would devastate these businesses and all of their authors (not just the erotic writers) overnight.

In case you haven’t noticed, PayPal has a monopoly on the market of online payment processing. There are few alternatives, though none that are widely used by online shoppers.

The Self Publishing Revolution posted on 19th February:

Slippery Slope: Erotica Censorship. (…)Note that they list not only “incest” but “pseudo-incest” as well. Now, while “incest” is illegal in most states, “pseudo-incest” is not. (Woody Allen, anyone?) Having sex with a step-relation or an adopted relative is just… sex. It might seem creepy or weird, but it isn’t illegal.

Now they’re not just targeting illegal acts (this is in fiction mind you) now they’re targeting acts that may simply just be “morally objectionable.” Where else do they do this? Are they targeting authors who write about serial killers?

I don’t know what this means for the future of erotic self-publishing, but like the banning of certain titles begun by Amazon, it is a very slippery slope indeed. Today it’s “pseudo-incest” and “rape” (including BDSM titles) which is nothing more than legal sex between consenting adults.

What will it be tomorrow?

 Don’t leave it up to PayPal to choose how you spend your money or where!

As promised, February isn’t over yet and Deliverance is published. 🙂

Deliverance (paperback)
Paperback: 278 pages, 100,000 words
ISBN 978-0-9559880-1-1
Deliverance (ebook)
eBook: ISBN 978-0-9559880-2-8

Nothing in life is ever simple, especially if you are a Delta Force instructor and an ex-Marine trying to make a new life together – not when you live under the constraints of ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell,’ the shadow of nightmares, and a darkness that will destroy you unless kept in check.

Deliverance is the story of Hooch, a US Delta Force soldier and Matt, his former-Jarhead lover. It is a spin-off from Special Forces and spans the years 1998 to 2011. Both Hooch and Matt were created by Marquesate as secondary characters in the epic Special Forces (© 2006-2009), but they took on a life of their own.

Deliverance is available in paperback and as ebook from Camouflage Press. As a special treat from TA and Marq, Deliverance can be read online on Marquesate’s website.

Deliverance © Marquesate and TA Brown 2011. All rights reserved.

Publisher: Camouflage Press
Publication Date: February 2012

Both T.A. and I were unwell at the end of last year, at different times, which meant that we were two months behind, and obviously, the December 11 publication date didn’t happen. Sure, I could have logged in and let everyone know by posting a blog entry, but, well, I didn’t. Sorry for that.

However, I do have some very concrete news for anyone waiting for Deliverance.

– letting the novel rest for 2 months was a good thing to happen. While not planned, I’ll definitely plan this in the future for anything I/we write, because the distance to the text is excellent.

– we have been editing like fiends, and while doing so, we realised that we have to write an additional part, which we are currently working on.

So, all in all, things are moving forward at a mighty pace. Most is edited, some is being written right now to be added, and then when that is edited and everything is put together and then proofread, we shall have Deliverance ready for publication.

I don’t want to raise hopes that we might not be able to fulfil (again) and thus I’m on the safe side and say March.

I am writing again!

Co-authoring in fact, and having a blast. Writing in the Special Forces universe, Hooch and Matt’s story will soon be available. We are close to the finish, and it is going to be novel length.

Deliverance is the story of Hooch, a US Delta Force soldier and Matt, his Jarhead lover. It is a spin-off from Special Forces and spans the years 1998 to 2011.

Both Hooch and Matt were created by Marquesate as secondary characters in the epic Special Forces (© 2006-2009), but they took on a life of their own. Hooch in particular became a firm favourite of many readers, especially after chapter 64 in Veterans.

When Marquesate met TA Brown, it was time to finally tell the untold story of these two men.

For Hooch and Matt’s story before 1998, and to understand context and references, you must have read Special Forces.

Deliverance is co-authored by Marquesate and TA Brown © 2011. All rights reserved.

For Queen and Country is an 18k short story about two very different Officers in the Cavalry regiment.

The story has been published as part of the In Uniform anthology. It is currently available in ebook format on Rainbow eBooks and will be widely available in print and Kindle format on Amazon by the end of Octber 2010.

Dave and Andrew loathe the sight of each other, because one Tankie officer worked his way up through the ranks, while the other came straight from Sandhurst. The result of this animosity is explosive, full of rows, fights, snipes and eventually endless banter.

These two men are thrown together in an unfortunate incident in the middle of the jungle, which leaves them stranded and captured in an environment they know nothing about. They have to learn to work together to survive, and throughout their journey they might just begin to respect each other.

Short Excerpt from “For Queen and Country” © Marquesate 2009

“It seems your ‘friendly’ manner does not impress the locals.” Andrew commented drily.

“It might have occurred to you that I tried to get something for you, you idiot. Even though I have no idea why.”

“A strange and surprising sense of duty, perhaps?”

“Fuck you.” Dave growled.

“Really?”

Dave was suddenly presented with an unexpected smirk from Andrew, so uncharacteristic and out of context, it threw him off track.

“Are you out of your mind?”

“Hardly, but I do admit to enjoying a moment of light relief by seeing you out of your shallow depth, in this otherwise most pernicious situation.”

It took Dave a few moments to process what Andrew had just said. How he hated the bastard’s ability to wrap his insults in a package of posh words. “You’re an arsehole.”

“You are repeating yourself.”

“It’s worth repeating a thousand times.” Dave growled.


Meme: writers writing

Posted: May 7, 2010 in Writing
Tags:

Question 6: Where are you most comfortable writing? At what time of day? Computer or good ol’ pen and paper?

Let’s once again pretend it is still the 6th. I was a tad busy with following the UK election hoohah last night.

I am most comfortable writing at home, at my PC, not the netbook, late at night, when it is dark outside and everything is silent. However, I have been known to write with pen and paper into my moleskin notebook during deadly boring meetings that went on for hours and I looked as if I was taking notes for myself while actually writing bits of story, usually dialogue. I

I’d say, I can write anywhere and with anything – as long as inspiration strikes and that can be in the oddest places. The weirdest one is probably scribbling on an exercise sheet while on the exercise bike in the gym.

Generally, though, my favourite time is 22:00 – 24:00 or later.

Question 5: By age, who is your youngest character? Oldest? How about “youngest” and “oldest” in terms of when you created them?

I shall stick to the published characters, because I might just … well, you will see. The youngest characters are probably Tom’s nieces in HMM, because they have “lines”, while Kisa in SF doesn’t, until she s around 12. My oldest character is probably Baroness Margaret de Vilde at the end of SF. She’d be in her 70s then.

As for when they were created, if I stick to published ones again it would be Tom, he is the first one ever who got published (still love him to bits) and the youngest one would be Phil and Jon in Friendly Fire. Of course, if I took all characters into consideration, including the non-published ones, the picture would be a very different one. 😉

Question 3: How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)?

That’s easy regarding location: research, research, research. I can’t possibly get it wrong, because I write contemporary or modern history stories (AKA 1980s) and if I set a regimental HQ in the wrong place … oh dear.

Since I write about British squaddies I look for the simplest UK guy names that I know, and/or the simplest abbreviations. Anyone in the Forces tends to abbreviate anyone’s name to a one-syllable name, or a nickname that is just as short. For example, someone called Andy Ure will be known as Midge. (and if you are not old enough you won’t get this one). What my most coveted resource for names is, though? Well, that’s an Excel file which contains many names of squaddies. It’s a fantastic resource of real life squaddie names/nicknames.

Wonderful news, dear readers who bought BHMM, I received the second revenue from Lulu, and in March 66 copies of Beyond Her Majesty’s Men were sold, which makes it – with £0.40 revenue for each wee book – £26.40 for MSF plus £7.45 gift aid because I am a UK taxpayer. 🙂

The money has gone straight to the fundraising page: http://original.justgiving.com/marquesate and thus to Médecins Sans Frontières. Thank you everybody!