Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Tag: The Wild Hunt (Page 1 of 7)

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Frequently Asked Questions, DRAGON HOUSE edition

I’ve been getting a few emails from readers asking what’s happening with THE DRAGON HOUSE, the final volume of the Wild Hunt Quartet. I’m happy to answer these emails individually, as and when they come in, but it occurred to me that it would save a lot of wear and tear on everyone’s typing fingers if I just did a post about it.

So, without further ado, here we go.

I can’t find THE DRAGON HOUSE in the shops

It hasn’t been published yet. I’m still writing it. I am pleased to report that it’s more done than not done, though (see So where are we at? below).

Why is it taking so long?

My health hasn’t been great for a while now. For those that don’t know (*waves to new people*) I have multiple sclerosis, which I’ve been dealing with for over 20 years now. I’ve blogged about this before, but that was a year ago and I realise not everyone will have read that post.

I haven’t always dealt with my illness in an ideal fashion. When it was still in its relapsing-remitting stages, I coped by largely ignoring it, and trying to bull my way through the limitations it imposed on me. That’s why I stayed in full-time employment longer than I should have. Why I resisted moving to a house without stairs for so long. When we finally did move, in 2015, the process brought a load of new stressors all its own, which did not help my mental health.

Having MS has so thoroughly altered the way I navigate the world. Physically, I can’t do a lot of things I used to enjoy, like travel, or needlecrafts, or tending my garden, but it’s also affected stuff I used to take for granted, simple things like fastening my clothes. Mentally, it affects my concentration and clarity of thought, though not so badly that I can’t see what’s happening to me. Even after 20 years, I get immensely frustrated with it. Frustration becomes rage, which becomes tears, becomes exhaustion, becomes depression and round and round we go.

Lately I’ve been getting better at dealing with that cycle. Though far from perfect,  I’m still here, still trying. I’m still making words, because I can’t not. It’s just not happening as quickly or as easily as any of us would like.

Post it note says "Don't panic"

Will the book ever be finished?

Yes. Absolutely. I owe the story and the characters a fitting ending, something that feels right for them. I also owe it to all the readers who have come along for the ride.

That said, I won’t turn out a piece of crap just to call it done. I won’t put my name to something I’m not proud of.

When?

That I can’t tell you. Yet. Rigid schedules don’t work with a fluctuating condition; that’s why I had to give up my 9-5 office job. Please trust that I’m working as hard as I can, but unfortunately, I can’t predict when I’ll be done. There’s no point in promising a date when I can’t guarantee to meet it, and to get a firm date means plumbing it into the schedules of literally dozens – if not hundreds – of other people in the publishing supply chain, and it’s not fair on them to over-promise and then under-deliver.

But when I hit SEND on that script, y’all will be the first to know.

So where are we at?

The book is about two-thirds done (I think), but there’s the whole final arc to nail down. A series-ender is tricky – many individual arcs to close, lots of moving parts!

As I said in my newsletter:

Last time I made any kind of announcement about THE DRAGON HOUSE, I was at 120,000 words, or about two-thirds of the way through. I’d actually written 169k, but was revisiting the whole manuscript (again) after some tough love from my agent, because, well, it wasn’t in great shape.

Since then, I’ve stopped keeping an eye on the word-count. Instead, I’m measuring my progress by the far more nebulous and instinctive metric of “Does this feel like it’s getting more in focus than it was before?”

You see, I’ve never had a good relationship with daily word-count targets. It’s co-morbid with my dislike of chapter plans, beat-sheets and whatnot. Those things make me feel hemmed in, and if I fail to hit a target e.g. because I’m ill, it sets up a stress spiral of pushing more and falling further short. The quality of my writing always suffers.

Learning that I do this was such a “Well, duh!” for me. I’m still working on recognising it in the moment, though, because it’s hard to see when you’re mired in it. I was raised to be a self-reliant sort, so I tend to just soldier on in the belief that I can wear any problem down with sheer persistence, when what I need to do is not work harder, but work smarter.

So I’ve had to go backwards to go forwards. I’m at about 125k, but there’s a lot more changed than just adding another 5000 words. I think the script is leaner now, more together. There’s new scenes. I’ve made peace with the fact that the POV count (as well as the word count) is going to be higher than the other three books. THE DRAGON HOUSE will be a bit of a monster, but I can see the shape of the beast in the rough cut stone now, and it pleases me. I just have to set it free.

So there you go.

Is Gair going to be OK? Will he end up with Tanith? Do we see Ailric/Ytha/Drwyn get their comeuppance? TELL ME.

You want spoilers, now? No, I’m not telling. Yes, I am a big meaniepants.

So what are we supposed to do while we wait, huh?

If you haven’t already read them, there’s two sample chapters here under ‘Books’ in the top menu. If you have already read them . . . um. Sorry? Please read someone else’s books – there’s lots of great ones to choose from. I’ll still be here when you get back.

And on that note, I want to apologise to everyone for taking so long with this book. It’s not what I wanted to happen. I hope I can repay everyone’s patience with a worthy finale to the series. I want THE DRAGON HOUSE to be the best that I can make it.

And you will get to read it.

 

Under the influence

Baked. Wasted. Paralytic. Bombed. Hammered. Blotto. Three sheets to the wind.

There’s countless ways to describe being intoxicated, from the humorous to the obscene. This is probably because human beings, as a species, have invented similarly countless ways in which this state can be achieved – many of them thousands of years old, and still popular today.

The humans inhabiting the world of the Wild Hunt Quartet are no different. They enjoy getting tanked just as much as we do, so I thought it might be fun to discuss a few of the ways in which they can do it. Some are quite benign, and others definitely fall under Schedules 1 to 5 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, or equivalent legislation.

Beers, ales & ciders

Painting of man drinking beer from a tankard by Karel van Mander III

Man Drinking Beer from a Tankard, by Karel van Mander III – Christie’s, Public Domain

As long as there’s been bread, there’s been beer. Consequently, beers and ales are drunk wherever grain is grown in the Empire and beyond. These drinks vary from the thin, rather sour ales of the Northern Isles to the darker, nuttier brews of provinces like Syfria, Elethrain and Tylos, which form the breadbasket of the Empire. Northern Syfria in particular produces some excellent stouts and porters.

In rural parts, where grain is too valuable as a cash crop to use in brewing, or the terrain is unsuitable for growing cereals, cider is the more common drink. Apples will grow almost anywhere, and in the presence of humans a cider press will usually spring into being, as if by magic, not far away.

The resulting product rarely travels far from the home farm, but some are locally quite famous – the late Squire Mattison’s ‘Yelda Gold’ being one such, attracting labourers to work for him from miles around.

Wine

The Empire and its immediate neighbours have several wine-growing regions. The largest and most famous are clustered in the temperate belt north of the Inner Sea, with each region producing its own distinctive vintages. Syfria is known mainly for its whites, which vary in style from fresh, green-apple zingy to honeyed dessert stuff that would put a Monbazillac to shame.

In Tylos, it’s the reds that take top billing. Robust, hearty wines with notes of damson and plum jam from the west of the province are a popular accompaniment to roast meats and peasant-style dishes. In the east, the free-draining shale-rich soils offer lively tannins and a smoky, layered finish. The whites produced there are few but stellar, including a range of small-vineyard sparkling wines  – much prized for celebrations – made from the famed marchion grape.

Grapes on the vine © publicdomainphotos | ID 95657061 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

South of the Inner Sea, the climate is generally unsuited to viniculture. It is too harshly hot in the summer and inadequately cool in the winter, which produces rough wines of a somewhat varnishy nature. These are usually consumed domestically.

That being said, some growers  have had remarkable success with more heat-tolerant varietals on the northern slopes of the Glass Hills and similar highland regions. These wines are not well-known outside of the area, except among connoisseurs.

Fortified wines are not widely made around the Empire, although port is occasionally mentioned among the more well-travelled.

Spirits

Many unique varieties of spirit are available. The clans of Arennor and Nimroth imbibe liberally of uisca, a clear, biting spirit not dissimilar to poteen. It is rare to find a clansman or woman without a flask of the stuff somewhere about their person. Arennorians are a friendly people, and hate to drink alone so they share their uisca freely, in celebration and commiseration, for new life and fallen friends and whenever else they can find an excuse.

Elsewhere in the Empire, brandy is popular. As you would expect, the quality of the source wine dictates the refinement and character of the resulting spirit. There is a smoother, double or triple-distilled variant called goldwine, which is commensurately more expensive.

There are also a number of regional speciality spirits, such as Bregorinnen kavit, which is made from birch leaves, not to mention various types of mead, own-label liquors, fruit brandies and the like. Some of these can be an acquired taste.

Incense © publicdomainphotos | ID 95830331 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Narcotics

Pursuit of intoxication is not limited to only that which can be fermented and drunk.

The drum and dance rituals of the inikuri shamen make use of several compounds, whose ingredients are kept secret outside their island community. The dancers throw these powders into their fires; the resulting fumes lower inhibition and promote sexual arousal in the participants and spectators alike. The precise spiritual purpose of these rituals in iniku culture is not fully understood, beyond ensuring a good time for all concerned.

It is also worth mentioning yarra root, which is used by many Astolans for its meditative properties. Thin shavings warmed in a little oil give off a pleasant earthy aroma, which is relaxing and calming. Prolonged use has a soporific effect, and will leave the user foggy and slow for some hours after they wake up. Not recommended for anyone likely to be performing delicate surgery the next day!

In the lands south of the Inner Sea, quite the palette of recreational pharmacology has developed. Most common is chaba, a plant that grows in the fertile deltas and flood plains. Its leaves are dried and then smoked, often socially, via a shared waterpipe. The effect is mildly stimulant, and somewhat addictive.

Photo of ivory opium pipe with terracotta bowl

Ivory opium pipe | Credit: Science Museum, London | By Wellcome Collection, CC BY 4.0

At the more dangerous end of the spectrum is mezzin. This psychoactive compound is extracted from the sap of the kalabal tree. Mature trees are tapped like maples, and the collected sap cooked down to a gummy resin which is rolled into pellets that are then wrapped in pieces of kalabal leaf to prevent them sticking together. The finished pellets must be stored in a dry environment, as the kalabal leaves are prone to mildew.

To consume mezzin the pellet, wrapping and all, is smoked in a specially-shaped pipe. Inhalation produces an initial feeling of wellbeing, followed by hyper-real hallucinations and perceptual anomalies, such as synaesthesia. It is highly addictive. As the user builds a tolerance over time, the risk of overdose increases proportionately. Symptoms of overdose include paranoia, night terrors and in extreme cases, death from cardiac arrest.

So if you’re determined to party hearty in the world of the Wild Hunt, you may want to think twice if someone offers you a hit from their pipe. It might not be just chaba in there!

 

Featured image by Thaler Tamas – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62474724

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