As a matter of structure, stories are meant to happen in a world. They happen in the context of a place with some degree of homeostasis: There is a natural order, a way things are, and then this order is disrupted, leading to the events of the story. I feel that in a good story, there are as few of these disruptions as possible – that a good story is about how a minimal number of disruptions re-contextualise existing tensions and operating order into the path of what we call the narrative. The Netflix series Stranger Things is a good example where one major event happens and everything else is just reactions to that event, or reactions to reactions to that event. Everything is in a stable loop until the event, and then that event results in the greater narrative.
Now, I’m going to give you a chance to bail out on this reading because SPOILERS FOR ONE STONE. And I mean it, this is a pretty big spoiler, as in ‘you can read the whole book and not realise this is in there.’ I’m going to briefly outline something about One Stone I was thinking of in this vein:Continue Reading →
How you doing, folks? Rested up? Happy? Comfy? Feeling snuggly in your Christmas Pajamas, fiddling around with the things you got for Christmas? That’s great and I am super glad of that.
If you’re a One Stone reader – or maybe wanting to be a reader, or something like that – then I have some news for you! I’ve put it together to these formats for reading:
I do not know how to install those formats on your computery-type machines, I have to trust your judgment there. But if you don’t want to do that, then you can sit tight! Because I’m working on revising One Stone, improving and tightening it up, expanding some sections, and releasing it to the Amazon and GooglePlay Book stores.
So keep an eye out for it!
When the great wheels of The Benjamin were set right again, few people talked about it. There was just that one strange day, where three hours vanished in one, and one hour stretched out to make up the difference. To most of the people of Timoritia, that’s all they’d remember, of the day that they almost had a king. Some would remember their parts in the riots, which were over taxes, or over the nobles abusing people, or over the farming collective in Parcel Street, or some such business. They’d remember throwing punches and laughing with the people they hit, two months later. They’d remember breaking business windows in the Dims, but it was all in sport.
The hoofbeats weren’t stopping, not for Marko Fiver.
The riot had been cleansing, to be honest. To be surrounded by bodies, the press of violence, to hear people shouting and yelling over the rain, to hear anger and spite and rage, even if he couldn’t find the places where words began and ended, it was a relief. It was a relief to be fighting an actual battle.
He’d lost the knife somewhere. Probably in Yull, in the general, in his f- in the man he respected. No sword by his side when he’d fled the palace, no weapon, which it seemed, had been for the best. Nobody had died in his chaotic whorl throughout the city’s lowest places in his lowest moments. The feeling of rain on his cheeks had cut lines of emphasis for the tears that followed, and nobody seemed to want to fight him when they looked him in the eyes.
The safehouse wasn’t clean per se, and it probably wouldn’t be until some royal functionary, with their proper permissions and appropriate bottles of royally-appointed bleach turned up to get the blood off the walls. There was a royally appointed cleaning product for such things – Aderyn had used some, for a school project, once. It wasn’t particularly effective – and certainly not when compared to setting evidence on fire. Still, the bodies were outside, in a pile, by the wall, and the guard had been notified about the ruckus. Soon, a cart would come, and the soldiers Calpurnia assigned the task would load the bodies onto the cart, which would inevitably take them away to be sorted out and dealt with as some other person’s problem, eventually reaching a morgue probably no worse the wear if not for the death problem. This was, after all, a good neighbourhood – dead people would probably not lose their teeth or boots on the way to a slab. Probably. Unless they were very nice boots. And maybe then, a Gorange would find Asca’s body and he could be interred appropriately in his family grave.
Nice and tidy!
Trot past the guards, look like you belong there. Rafe unslung the book from his back and pulled it up underneath his armpit, throwing his hair back over his shoulder while he went. With an alarming efficiency, people moved out of his way – pushing open doors, stepping out of his path. Always the same basic conversation snippet.
“Ah, you’re sent by-
“And that’s the book-
“Ah, that way, then. Lord Gorange is waiting for you.”
Inside the church, four soldiers sat, wringing the rain out of their clothes and hair. Vince’s own hair was remarkably resistant to the rain, but poor Gael, with her long braid, she looked like she’d dived into the river. Brother Fratarelli’s seat at the head of the table was still, his hands folded, perhaps in prayer.
Leigh groused as the sound of broken glass tinkled from nearby. “Riots still going huh.”
“Where’d you think those bodies came from?” Stannisfeld asked, confused. “I mean, of course the riots are still going on.”
Leigh tapped her fingertips on the table, resting her elbow on the table and her chin on her hand. She was sitting on her bag, supplies forming a decent booster. “Can’t really do anything about them, can we?”
“It should wear itself out in time. Timoritians are very punctual people.” Stannisfeld said, waving a hand.
Kivis twirled the hook in her hand. Aderyn may have moved like a kingfisher, darting down to lampposts and gutters, but she was at least careful picking a route where Kivis could follow with a long, galloping, hook-assisted leap after her. They’d made their way half-way across the city, which was a useless measurement when the city had such a strange, wriggling border as Timoritia. There were points where the walls of the city folded inwards, points where they’d crossed the river by running along bridge towers’ parapets.
The house down on the ground level broke most of the rules of the homes in Timoritia. Rather than leaning against every other house, pressed into a tiny space, it had a space of around three ems around it on all sides, and a high metal fence protecting it. While the property ran up against a city wall, the wall stood far away from it, and had actual spikes jutting out from it to discourage even the birds.
I’m going to have some Words about Nanowrimo later this week but tomorrow’s a One Stone chapter! And you know how I am about those. Except you might not be!
Right now I’ve been working very hard on finishing all of One Stone. It’s almost done. Partly this is because I want to finish it and spend the rest of the year relaxing. The question I have is: If I do finish it, do you think you want to read it all, or should I still release chapters week by week?
The busy streets were not a place you wanted to be, unless you were part of that aching, roiling swell of angry people, smashing into and against one another. It was a mass of limbs and shouting, of graceless rage. It was no place for anyone who didn’t already approach life full of resentment and spite, but Ligier Rangst fit in perfectly well.
“Move it you fucking peasants,” he bellowed, raising one huge arm, elbow out, pounding and punching his way through the press of people. Bright green jacket flared behind him with every wild swing. A thoughtful man might consider how punching and kicking and fighting everyone smaller than him was slowing him down, but Ligier wasn’t really a thoughtful man.
A thoughtful man might notice the two figures in the crowd moving behind him with stout boots tied up high, work pants rolled low and knives in their hands. The push and pull of the crowd, the swell and the slack, they pulled them further away from Ligier at some points and pushed them closer together.
Timoritia’s working class as a culture tended towards a very fair view of the world, a sort of all-purpose good intention. Unfortunately in any outbreak of public violence, that intention takes on an ugly, unthinking form. The first rocks thrown hit fancy houses, but high metal fences and good brickwork meant the heave of the crowd had to find some other place to release its stress.
A hole in the rain, the cold and the discontent, gave people some focus. The gates of Westminster were high as cliffs to the raging and bellowing crowd, crashed against them moment to moment, empty yells at a crownless kingdom.
There wasn’t even a chant, no great rhyme, no reason for it. It’d started like that, at first – sure, there was something about getting paid, or a stipend, or a king? – but eventually it became about that guy who had looked at me funny and the whole brawling mass of scuffling, outraged people ramming against the limitations the city put around them.
The city could look, from the top down, like a series of pipes. Down through those channels flowed the people of Timoritia, unsure, angry, and loud. Where no general’s voice called out, they bellowed and swung and fought – an undirected mass of slow-motion violence, unsure of what even it fought for.
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“So, what do you expect to see at a coronation, anyway?” Rafe asked, shuffling with his hands in his pocket, through the crowds outside of Westminster. Crowds. Why the hell were there any crowds outside the palace? Who would gather for this anyway? Some guy gets a hat?
As far as Rafe knew, he’d never been in any city in the world but Timoritia, and he was keenly aware that his limited perspective probably accepted a host of things that didn’t have to be considered normal as normal. There were still things that stood out though. Right now, for example, people were flocked over both sides of the street despite the rain, the gloomy ash-coloured clouds heaving rain down upon rank upon rank of people huddled under hastily constructed tarpaulins and awnings for The Coronation. Some part of Rafe was sure that you went inside when it rained and you left the pathways clear for people who had Things To Do.
Human spirits were only meant to endure so much, in a city like Timoritia. People could be poor and they could be cranky and they could occasionally be bristlingly drunk, but they shouldn’t have to feel afraid, properly afraid, very often. This was the philosophy of the city that Patty, or Padraig to the right people, had internalised, long ago, and he was finding himself endlessly uncomfortable with the way he kept glancing over his shoulder. There were only so many minutes in a day and now he was spending a significant number of them looking for the tips of a very big shoe to drop.
Tenner had never dealt with the military before he’d met Marko. He’d read a few adventure books, though, and travelled on the train to visit Hadrian where he’d seen craters in the ground from grenades. In his mind, he felt he held a good image of what it looked like when a grenade was thrown in the midst of a group of people.
Out in the courtyard, Yull swung right, down one of the paths the guards lined, but hadn’t decorated for the parade. Gesturing to the fence, he waved with one hand – and like the soldiers they were, Gael, Stannisfeld and Leigh broke away from the crowds and moved along the fence. It was only a few short moments of walking, crunching gravel under their feet, before guards were opening a side gate before Yull and Vince, and the giant man swept through it in dudgeon.
“Sir,” Vince began, as they drew back into a single unit. The thronging people filling the streets were melting out of the path as they realised nothing else was going to happen today, but the people were still mostly gathered on the other side of the palace.
“Quiet, law,” Yull grunted. The four fell into step, a few brisk steps past the gates, out of earshot of the guards, before he spoke again. “Alright, law, we’re back on the clock,” he growled, stomping down the street.
Traditionally the importance of an event is directly proportionate to how many people notice it. Some of the most important discoveries in the history of humanity passed by unnoticed at first, and it’s the person who made a fuss about them afterwards that enjoys being remembered by all but the stickiest of nerds.
Just like bloody little struggles that didn’t matter to anyone.
“Alright, Vince, was it?” Marko asked, as they walked up the steps through Westminster.
“Sir, yes sir.” The soldier was looking all around himself with a fairly reasonable mix of awe and awareness. This kid was some kind of middle-classer, had enough money to recognise how important Westminster was.
“He’s not a soldier,” Yull laughed, undercutting that sir Vince had used. “Marko’s retired.”
“I’m sorry, I thought you were-“
“I was!” Marko said, turning back, slowing his pace slightly and grinning. “Years ago, though. Another story for another time. Either way. You know your dress parade rules?”
Westminster Palace was one of three Palaces set around the city, and the one closest to the seat of power. It was the one that sat closest to the Old City and claimed its foundations had been built from those very walls. With that age came importance, as any Chilver would happily tell you. Age was important, age was how habits became traditions. It was also where the throne had been vacated – and had been maintained and cared for for over a century as a symbol of the inevitable return of the monarchy. It had been designed some time ago but slowly refined over that time – shells of building slowly forming around each layer, with more land purchased and flattened in the centre of the city to give the palace space. It was very important, after all, being a King’s palace.
The palace’s expansion stopped when the King died; that meant it was locked in a century-old fashion and so, most buildings around it, even newer ones, strove to emulate it. White facing walls, painted and carefully marked. All about these white panels was black edging and curved-inward shapes marking the edges. Windows were huge – smooth, flat glass panes of high quality cut as big as walls, and reinforced with delicate iron lines. Lead was for poors.
Wardell could measure a day in cups of tea.
There was the first cup of the morning. Months ago, when this whole affair had begun, he was the only person in the kitchen in the morning, and the solace afforded him a little license. The owners of the home didn’t care about the state of the upstairs bedrooms or the curtains or the dust – they came here to meet, and they left afterwards. To the mind of someone who never had to buy milk or cheese, the idea of a larder that wasn’t decently stocked was strange, and Wardell had enjoyed cheese sandwiches cooked under a grill as breakfast alone.
The lack of oversight pleased him. It was one of the least challenging, and easiest positions Wardell had ever worked, though he wasn’t planning on staying a house-servant forever. And after all, most nobles didn’t really know how to run things. They just thought they did, but they had money.
The church roof had become a favourite perch for Aderyn DuThane, lady of Lleywa and, currently, successful and active Assassin.
From the rooftop, she could watch schedules finishing. She could see peoples’ days, and their plans, culminating. It was an ending of things, but it came with signifiers. Lights came on, lights stayed on for a reasonable amount of time, then lights went off. Blinds were pulled, shutters were closed. The Benjamin would toll, and its loud bell would swallow the sound of all the smaller, nearer clocks as well. It was close to that moment.
While her career was not particularly active, she did have the start of a support network, a client who had led to some other business. There was not a lot of call for her services. Maybe she should advertise?
Few things comforted Brother Fratarelli quite like being back in his church. There were chores to do, a congregation to reassure, and many missed sermons to restore. Missing two sermons felt like agony – and it wasn’t until he’d given six more that he realised how his surroundings had settled. Like cheap flaked cereal in cardboard boxes, everything had just fallen gently into place.
Had he really, two seasons ago, sat down with Kivis and spoken to her about the proper methodology for hiring a murderer? It seemed such a strange thing to have done. On the other hand, he could remember more than once, his entire life changing based on simple changes in his perspective. Once, he had been a man who had never been involved in a crime, and now, he was a man who had an assassin living in his basement, and one of the most notorious not-quite-outlaws in the city visiting every day.
I don’t think you need to know me long to know I have a lot of problems with religion.
In Immortal Engine, the NanoWriMo that created the world of One Stone, I expressed this pretty simply, focusing on a small part of the world with one predominant church entity, which was derived in part from a highly legalistic Christian tradition. There was a little bit of your sort-of-but-not-really Catholic style, with a deliberate use of mangled Christian doctrines and canonisation of American political history.
Technically this is spoilers for a book you’ll never read.
Anyway, the point of that story was the world ended, and it was re-made thanks to science, but the science was corrupted by the work of ignorant religious ninnies, which is why the world had all sorts of messed up stuff in it. There were dinosaurs roaming the land and horses weren’t quite right, and magic worked but it was a meritocracy inspired by silicon valley. There were entropy engines and whales that sang songs of the world that had died.
Every single priest in Immortal Engine has a name that is a rude word in another language.
One Stone is set in that same, slightly mangled world, except it’s in not-Britain, in not-London, in the height of the not-Empire. The characters are pulled from across the social classes of that nation, and come from a variety of different backgrounds. There’s even a priest who isn’t scum.
What’s been on my mind in this though is the presence of other religions, and racism.
Right now, in the various parts of the world we can call Whiteland, there’s a problem with religions from let’s call them Brownland being conflated into one big generic mess of culture that we in Whiteland want to claim is The Problem and it’s not more our core fear of other races and all that.
I try to not write about other religions because any beefs I have with them are either heavily externalised and part of greater frameworks (I don’t like sexist power structures, for example) or root to the whole exercise (I think deific belief is beneath our dignity as people). Anything else feels a bit like taking pot-shots and nobody would respect the legitimacy of my complaints. Not that they do anyway – but if I spent my time complaining about Islam’s religious inconsistencies, I’m sure all I’d wind up doing was getting irritating randos quoting me at other people in horrible ways, or be derisively told that I ‘just don’t get it.’
Now, I’m not making this story up as I go along – I have a fairly solid idea of the cast and their stories since about December last year. But recently Veerender Jubbal, just being himself, suggested adding a Sikh character (to everything, this wasn’t advice to me).
Now, look, adding a Sikh character to One Stone at least in the third arc is a good idea; part of the point of the story is the side effects of military colonialism and India and the Sikh people can sorta tell you all sorts of stories about just how nice the British Empire was to them. The thing is, Sikhism doesn’t quite exist in this world. Neither does Islam, or Christianity. Things like them, shadows, memories of them, misunderstood and mishandled by outside influences, exist.
But what I find really strange – and interesting – about it is that I don’t think I’d be willing to distort Sikhism or Islam when they’re in focus. There’s already a term in the setting for the not-quite-Muslims – it’s Mohammadian. But I make sure they’re not focal – I’m not commenting on their doctrine or their beliefs, and their presence in the story is as the predominant religion of the nation of Hemulkar. And then that leaves me with a stranger problem. What if I put in a character who was ‘coded Sikh’? Say he’s got a turban and a beard, say he’s got a ceremonial knife and he’s a pacifist. Would that be good enough? Would that be acceptable? Because I can’t help but feel that ‘Sikh-ish’ and ‘Muslim-ish’ are more likely to be offensive than not.
These are serious things that I’m not comfortable dismissing in my work.
The journey from the Holy Land to Tiber could be, in Vince’s mind, an outline curling around the edge of the sea and up along the coastline. They’d cut across a few places, but travelling as quickly as they could took a circuitous route. If they wanted to push through Gallia, they’d have to travel across a coastline that was owned by the Gallians and patrolled by the Djansk. Easier, Yull had argued, to travel to Gibratar, head north through Hemulkar – he seemed quite comfortable with the people and the language – and board a vessel from the northern coast due for Tiber. Tradeships went through there all the time, from the Ivory cape far to the south – and it wasn’t hard to board on there.
The circle route seemed a little slow to Vince’s practical mind. Rails ran all the way to the border of Gallia, through barbarian-owned territory. It was faster to escape the whole system by horseback, but as they drew closer to Tiber, they’d taken a slightly slower route.
Climbing buildings was so calming. Not that Aderyn was particularly bothered at the moment – after all, she had the book, her obligation was fulfilled, and she had stolen a few tasty snacks from the party when they were setting up. It had really been quite an easy, good night, though the planning stages had perhaps taken too long.
Whenever she found herself in these situations, parallel to Rafe, Aderyn couldn’t help but wonder why Rafe always went up. It’d been that way in the Praefoco estate, too – she had very sensibly ducked down out of sight, and he had thrown himself into the rafters. Up was unpredictable, and the human eye did, to some extent, look vertical as it moved forwards. Duck down, duck under things. Perhaps Rafe felt that he didn’t fit under things, or maybe it was his ego wanting to avoid being ‘beneath notice.’
Hah, that would be silly.
Moments like those should come with a curtain, really. Someone made such a meaningful declaration, put such weight behind their words, and then, everything should stop and everyone should just move on to another thing. On Bottle Street, you deliver a line like that, and in a fair world, the sting of the moment would sail you through to freer places. Normally, though, Rafe knew it just led to a tiny pause before he’d had the living shit kicked out of him. The chess game played a little further, while he looked at the coins on the side of the board, wondering about what they meant.
Well, to him they meant some safety. Right now it was hard to forget that he was running around in clothes that, for want of a better consideration, Mama Cass owned, down to his skin. A spray of blood on his clothes and he’d be five pounds in debt. Five pounds was the money necessary to pay her back, and it was more money than he’d ever seen before, and… if the dress somehow came out of things alright, five pounds was more money than he’d ever held in his hands.
Xenops grew up on the river, watching gulls overhead and swans down below. The gulls ate trash and insisted they could take everything, and nobody liked them. The swans on the river slid through the scum and the muck and looked so serene, because you didn’t see the frantic movement underneath the surface. Here, at the party, she saw them both again. There were the swans in their dresses, drifting from table to table, talking amongst themselves, and there were all the gulls around them, diving down and pecking at things they assumed they owned.
The woman across the table from her was a pretty one, prettier than Xenops may have dared to talk to this evening. Women of status were dangerous when they thought they saw something out of the ordinary – and she, a girl of dark skin with white spots, was definitely out of the ordinary. Just like a swan hiding its swimming, she kept the sigh deep inside herself. Women, pretty women, funny women, sweet women, laughing women, tough women, angry women – and yet just by talking to them, Xenops could cause someone a bit of a scandal. God only knew what would happen if they knew who her father was. If her grandfather had done all the murdering, she’d be welcomed by these people with open arms.
Well, if not for the other thing.
Rafe took a seat at the chess tables, but under some form of protest. The wall was behind him, which made him feel a bit like he was being pinned in by this… this fucking guy. All the chairs were so arranged – black pieces faced the walls, and along the row of tables, other young ladies occupied the seats closest to the wall. Weird. Wouldn’t they want to start the game occasionally? Still, from that vantage point, Rafe could look over whatsisface’s shoulders and keep an eye on the crowd. Whatsisface. Oh, yeah, he’d introduced himself, some name that had ‘And/or’ in it or something like it, and now he was gesturing down at the chess board like he’d invented it. “It’s quite an old game, of course, from the lands around Salem,” he said, as he settled in to the chair.Continue Reading →
The sheriff’s estate was in one of the gentrified areas along the The River. It was beautiful, in its old ways; the building loomed high and proud over the river. The walls were flush with the foundation, shooting straight down into the river. On either side of the estate there were well-lit bridges which opened to permit through the larger river traffic. The only place to go was into the estate itself, which was shaped like an U, facing outwards to the river flow with a little lock inside for boats to fill. Normally, it was used to store something like a delightful riverboat, or perhaps a yacht – with the doors open. At the crests of the U, there were two huge gates, shaped out of decorated plates, and interspersed with empty spaces to resist the wind better, that were shut fast. Down beneath the water line, for those brave enough to touch the water outside of thick rubber pants, a weighted mesh net sunk down the floor.
“Oi, you fat bastard,” Rafe grumbled, hunkering down the steps into the cellars. Mama Cass had given him her obligatory stink-eye, insisted he was racking up a bill, sneered at his peace offerings and threatend him with an axe. Pretty typical, to mildly good, really. “Aderyn here? Got something for her.”
Vince had seen the sea from the shores of Timoritia before, and it had always looked nothing as much as a continuation of the grey dullness that was the sky. When they’d rounded the Hemulkar cape, and passed Gibartar, he’d seen a shore of white cliffs, bright green grass, and a lovely bright blue sky overhead. When he saw that, he realised why as a young boy he’d read stories in cheap little novels and boys’ compendiums that spoke about going down to the seaside for a lovely holiday. The seaside in Timoritia was a grim grey-brown place with a dark grey-brown river vomiting into the ocean; the seaside at the gulf of Hemulkar, and here, on the far side of the Phoenecian Sea, was beautiful. The sand was yellow-white, the people were laughing and comfortable, and the sunshine no longer beat down on them like it was trying to do them violence. It just was. And somehow, after the freezing nights crossing deserts in a straight line, to feel a sea breeze on his skin was a welcoming reminder of home. Or rather, a welcoming reminder of what home would be, if it wasn’t so grimy and stank so much. A reminder of what home should be, really.
Here at the half-way point of the year, I wanted to stop and take a moment to thank those of you who have been reading One Stone for following along with the story so far. There’ve been some teething problems and some really embarassing mistakes made, but I’m happy with the story as it plays out and I’m even more happy that I’ve been able to maintain this schedule.
I know that there are some of you folk that come to this blog and may be interested, but not particularly enthusiastic about reading it on a webpage. Well, since we just hit the half-way mark, I wanted to offer you this opportunity to read the first half of the story in a convenient, easily downloaded way: I put it up in an .epub file.
It’s been twenty-six weeks, over fifty thousand words and over a hundred A4 pages of text so far. I hope you’re enjoying, and I want you to know that I treasure all the feedback I’ve received so far. Thank you so much for your time, and for letting me share with you this strange little set of ideas I have.