Friday, 21 December 2012

The trouble with trying to be clever...

A recent blog by fantasy author Nyki Blatchley on the prevalence of medieval, or at least pseudo-medieval settings for fantasy stories brought back the thought processes that lead to my major fantasy project of the moment.

I was on holiday at the time in Italy, near Lake Como. Wondering through the cobbled streets and winding alleys, ancient through-ways that no longer led anywhere, I was struck by the inherent sense of adventure in the place. I felt an irresistible urge to write something in this sort of setting.

A few days later I started a new book, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It was a good read, I had ordered the sequel from amazon before the holiday was over, but it set me thinking. Why were nearly all fantasy books in a medieval setting? Why couldn’t they be in any setting? Futaristic? Victorian? A 30esque Italian setting? Now there was an idea! And so began ‘The Walls of Tamorria’.

However a year and a half and three versions of the story later I began to understand some of the reasons why medieval has become the de-facto setting for fantasy. Whilst twists and turns are essential to a good plot (at least in my opinion) they have to follow some rules. The thing about unexpected events is, in a book they can’t really be unexpected. Of course this doesn’t mean the reader should be able to predict what is coming, but once it has happened they should be able to see that the story had been leading up to that point.

If for example James Bond were to have boarded the Orient Express in the climax of From Russia with Love, only to find it infested by KGB goblins, the reader would be left thinking, what the #%$*? Likewise if Dracula were unexpectedly defeated at the last moment due to a nut allergy, the reader would be left feeling somewhat cheated.

In creating a fantasy world it is essential that the presence of magic and fantastic creatures feels ‘right’. Our sense of the medieval world is so infused with legend and myth from that time, unicorns and giants, evil mages and mysterious damsels, that we are automatically open to the inclusion of such elements in this setting. By setting a story in a later age, one of diesel power and industrialisation, such associations need to be built up from scratch.

My first intended incarnation of the story was called ‘The Book Bound in Blue’ and was a novel  planned to be the first in a trilogy. However when I started writing it something was wrong. I got maybe a third of the way through before I realised that it was the setting. I hadn’t taken the time to develop the world as a coherent and logical backdrop to my stories. It was merely ‘you know fantasy, yeah? Imagine that, but in the thirties.’ The fantasy elements seemed bolted on to the world, not a part of it.

My next step then was to do some world building. I expanded the plot, reworked characters and tried to tie the whole thing together. In the process the story changed from a trilogy to a series of novellas. I wrote the first of these ‘The Winds Awaken’ and it was definitely better. But it still wasn’t right. I realised now that my story, despite all its trappings, was High Fantasy. And as such, it really wasn’t suited to novella form. I had given the main character, Lorenzo, a lot of background which ties in with the meta-plot, but none of this really came out in the first novella. I knew he was a troubled individual, eventually ripe for redemption, but to the reader he was just a cliché. I needed time and space to show the deeper aspects of him, and the other characters around him.

And so I changed again. Now we are back to a series of novels, I’m not sure how long a series yet. By changing form, not only does the reader leave Lorenzo at a later point in the plot, allowing them to see him develop, I can also slow the pace in the earlier scenes, allowing me time to insert some subtlety to his character that was missing from the novella.

So, in conclusion I think I can say that fantasy doesn’t have to be placed in a mediaeval setting. But doing so certainly makes life easier.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Future of Farming

First of all an announcement:


Things have been somewhat crazy over the past six months or so and this blog has suffered. Never fear though I’m back. The following blog differs from what I originally intended to write, but it is on a subject I feel very strongly about and so make no apologies that it is a meandering attempt at covering a topic that could easily take up a treatise.

As a farmer the freaky weather really affects my life and livelihood. For those of you not resident in the UK I’ll give a brief summary of the past 12 months or so.
Last Autumn: Dry. So dry a lot of the crops didn’t germinate.
Last Winter: Mild. So mild a lot of the autumn sowing finally did germinate, round about December.
Spring: Dry. Hosepipe plans were implemented. Crops pretty much didn’t grow.
Summer: Wet. Really, really wet. We got stuck trying to harvest the oilseed rape (canola), the same crop that we planted into dust the previous year. Disease is prevalent in the already weak crops.
Late summer: For two weeks it didn’t rain. Somehow we managed to get all our harvesting done in this patch. A lot of others were not so lucky.
Autumn: Wet. Again. The ground was already sodden from the summer and so there was nowhere for it to go. Floods around the country.

Well this may make me sound like a winging farmer: I’m not, honestly. The way the climate is going it looks as if the only thing we can predict about the weather is that it is going to be increasingly unpredictable.

I’m not an organic farmer, I don’t think that we should ignore modern science and it is my view that there is a place for it in the future of agriculture. Having said this however I don’t think we have been going in the right direction these past few years.

Cereal verities are bred up by global conglomerates who by and large are the same global conglomerates who sell us our fertilizer and spray. It is no surprise that to achieve the yield potential that these varieties are capable of a great deal of inputs are needed.

The argument for this is that the world’s population is exploding and all these people need to be fed, ergo production must be increased at all costs. This sounds reasonable enough, but to my eyes it doesn’t really hold up to closer scrutiny.

How much food the world is currently capable of producing is hard to calculate but there is certainly enough to go around. That’s not to say people aren’t starving, in fact the number of malnourished people is going up, but this has more to do with poverty and distribution than anything else.

The biggest cause of increase in demand for food is not the population increases in the third world, but a shift in consumption patterns in these countries. It is taken as a given that as a country develops, its population will ape that of the western world. So far this is proving to be true.

But should we just accept this as a fact? 1 in 5 early deaths in the UK are linked to over consumption of red meat. And yet as farmers we are pressurised into producing meat at lower and lower costs. Why? Meat is a very uneconomical way of turning land into food. I’m not suggestion we all become vegetarian. For health reasons the human diet should ideally contain some meat. Some. The western diet is currently wasting the world’s resources and killing its population. Surely to just accept this as fact is madness?

If the world were to move away from an over reliance on meat, and also to reduce wastage (a topic I won’t go into here, needless to say it really gets my dander up) then it would have a realistic chance of feeding the world’s population without resorting to massively yielding crops that rely on massive inputs, for generations to come.

If anything the current system of crop breeding could well lead to more starvation. Essentially we have spent the past two generations producing varieties that yield well in ideal circumstances. The trouble with this that the way the climate seems to be going, we are going to have less and less ideal circumstances. The UKs crops largely failed this year, we had less than ¾ of last year’s yield. America, Canada, Europe and many other countries also had harvests verging on the disastrous. As a result wheat prices have soured. Next year, who knows what will happen.

This wildly varying, unstable market might course the price of a loaf to go up in Britain or the States, but it isn’t us who is really going to suffer. Imagine you are a third world farmer. What do you do when it is a bad year and your crops fail? Will it help feed your family knowing that you could potentially have had a better harvest, had the conditions been different?

And what about when there is a good world harvest? When prices plummet from £200pmt to half that, or lower. What does this farmer do then?
Surely it’s time to stop maximising our yields, and start stabilising them. Let’s not think about what they can do, but what they will do in the real world, were droughts and floods are going to be ever more likely.   

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

And so the Rollicking Tales Blog Tour is finished. I won't bore you with yet more of my thoughts and opinions, in truth I'm sure sure I have any left. Instead as promised a celebratory cocktail.

Shropshire Sling
This is a version of the famous Singapore Sling as, being intelligent and well-travelled people, I am sure you will have guessed. The main difference is I have substituted some of the gin for sloe gin. This is excellent liquor, easily and cheaply made with the fruit of the blackthorn, simply added to sugar and gin.
Now be warned. This cocktail may be pink and frothy, but it is not to be thought womanly. As easily as it slips down it is prone to leave you with rather a heavy head the next day.
I have gone back to the original Singapore Sling recipe, which is slightly more complicated than a lot of modern versions, but is worth the extra effort.

½ shot Grenadine Syrup
½ shot Campari
½ shot Grand Marnier
The juice of 1 lime.
1 shot Cherry Brandy
1 shot Sloe Gin
1 shot Gin (I used Bombay Sapphire, any decent gin will do)
3 shots Pineapple juice.

Simply add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker, and shake. Garnish with a slice of lime.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Today's blog can be found at the Fan to Pro blog not at the Seventh Sanctum blog as advertised.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening and welcome to the Rollicking Tales Blog Tour: it all begins here. In a moment I will get to some very poncey talk about writing (forgive me) but first I thought you would like to see a timetable for the Blog Tour.
25th March The Various Electronic Missives of Thomas H Pugh Which is my blog and incidentally where you are now.

26th March The Seventh Sanctum Blog Where I shall pontificate on trying to be professional.

27th March Molly Spring Writes Where I shall be interviewed.

28th March Dieselpunk As the guest of Larry Amyett Jr I shall preach to the converted about how great Dieselpunk is.

29th March Swordfighter Creative Where I am interviewed again.

30th March The Scribbling Sea Sprite Where I shall issue forth some more pearls of wisdom.

1st April The Daily Steampunk Where I put the case forward that Steampunk is perfect for Rollicking Tales

2nd April Nyki Blatchley – Fantasy Author Where we have a discussion on the art and craft of writing.

3rd April We return to The Various Electronic Missives of Thomas H Pugh where I hope you will all join me for after tour cocktails.

All these blogs are great, and are worth visiting even when I’m not on them. But with out further delay I shall get on with the first post of the much anticipated (by me, probably not anyone else) tour:

The other day my wife and I went down to the big smoke to see a Lucien Freud exhibition. Whilst looking at his paintings something struck me: it was incredible how much of Freud’s relationship with each person came through in the painting. It was as if the portrait wasn’t of the sitter but of how Freud felt about the sitter, in effect it was a painting o the relationship.
It got me thinking how I could use something like this in my writing. When I develop characters it is normally by jotting a few notes on them in one of my many notebooks. Things along the lines of ‘arrogant’ or ‘had a bad childhood’.
But actually my view, as the author, of the character is almost irrelevant. Obviously if a piece is being written in first person then it is important to know how the narrator would describe the other characters (as well as himself). But this is no less important when writing in third person. The narrative will nearly always be written from a characters point of view and that will colour how everyone is being described.
I might have written Johnny as an arrogant, worthless waste of space, but if a scene is being written from Lucy’s point of view, and she thinks he is the best thing ever to happen to leather jackets then that will effect the language used in that scene. He won’t walk across the car park, he will strut, there will be less time spent describing his greasy hair than his intense blue eyes.
So I’ve started making character notes not so much along the lines of ‘arrogant’, but more ‘Lucy thinks he’s great’, ‘Lucy’s dad has grave reservations about him.’ I’ve even gone so far as to make a big grid with each characters name across the top and also down the side. I then fill in the grid with how each character sees everyone else, not forgetting themselves, after all Freud’s self portraits are very telling. I think this is helping me develop more rounded characters, after all who of us is seen in exactly the same light by two different people. When all is said and done everyone if defined by a million different perceptions, bringing this into writing can only be a good thing.

Follow the blog tour: tomorrow we will be at that haven of the professional geek, Seventh Sanctum

Thursday, 15 March 2012

I've been busy writing posts for the Rollicking Tales Blog Tour, which kicks off later this month. I’ve written so many posts on the subject, that I’ve actually run out of opinions on it, not something I normally struggle with. So, for this post at least, I shall be ignoring Rollicking Tales.

The first ‘Tale of the Albion Club’ has not yet been published but already I might have some exciting news regarding the second, provisionally entitled ‘The Bog-Man of Bond Street’ more on that when I have confirmation.

I was perusing some Steampunk websites earlier today when I came across a submission call for a Cthulu/Steampunk crossover anthology. Now this is a project that excites me immensely. I’ve been wanting to write a Steampunk piece for a while but just haven’t been able to come up with the right angle. A steam powered foray into unknown realms might just be the ticket. I fear competition might be hard for this market though, as it seems to have piqued quite a few people’s imagination.

I have a confession to make, though. I’ve never actually read any Lovecraft. I’ve been meaning to for a while, but have never quite got round to it. I love the imagery attached and from what bits I’ve picked up it seems right up my street. Well, I’ll soon see, a selection of his stories is, even as we speak, winging its way to me courtesy of Amazon and as soon as I’ve posted this I’m going to have a look on

Expect a review in the near future.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Hello, and welcome to my blog.

I'm Thomas H Pugh. I'm a farmer and more recently a writer and editor. I started accepting submissions in January for an anthology I am putting together ROLLICKING TALES: THE FARMER'S ALMANAC. The deadline for this is 31st December 2012, and it will be published in May 2013. There will be more about this project in a few weeks when a blog tour in its honour kicks off from here. For more details go to

My first self penned story will be coming out shortly in an issue of Bruce Bethke's Stupefying Stories. The story in question is 'The Curse of Lincoln's Inn: a Tale of the Albion Club.' It is a Victorian era murder/mystery/action/adventure, very much in the tradition of the penny dreadfuls.

The Albion Club is a society of like minded Victorian gentlemen and ladies who have sworn to protect the denizens of the British Empire at what ever cost. When one of their number Colonel Titby, late of the Norfolk Regiment and a Boer War veteran, fails to return to their base John Turnpike, better known as Ptarmigan is sent to investigate. What he finds leads him to some of the darkest corners of smog filled London, and pits him against a foe he won't forget in a hurry...