Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Category: writing (Page 1 of 7)

Introducing a thing: the Tuesday Teaser

If you follow me on the Book of Face, you may have noticed I’ve been teasing you, somewhat erratically, with snippets from a chapter of THE DRAGON HOUSE.

Usually, I am hopelessly undisciplined when it comes to things like regular blog posts and refreshing my social media with new content, so I am making an effort to correct this. I am officially making these snippets A Thing, which I am calling the Tuesday Teaser. Each Tuesday, I will post a new snippet from this chapter on my Facebook page, and for the non-Facebook-isti among you, here on my website, where it will build over time into a complete chapter.

Hopefully this will encourage me to keep up the momentum finishing this edit/rewrite/partial do-over/grinding-out of the finale to the Wild Hunt Quartet. I also hope it will whet your appetite for when this damn thing becomes an actual book.

In the fullness of time I’ll tell you all about why it’s taken so long to get there. It’s a rather depressing story I really don’t want to dwell on just now, when things are moving along kinda nicely. In the meantime, I’m so sorry for keeping you all waiting.

Of magic and medicine

This post originally appeared at the Booksworn.com writers’ collective. I thought it deserved another airing.


Some years ago, I attended a series of night classes entitled “Myth, Magic and Mystery” at a local high school. Sigilization, Kirlian photography, odd exercises in dimly-lit rooms with candles and mirrors – it was Wicca-lite crossed with Fringe, off-the-scale bonkers and hugely fascinating all at the same time.

One session we paired up and attempted to sense each other’s aura. When it came to my turn, I swear I could feel something, a . . . resistance about an inch away from my partner’s head, like that thick sense of potential you get just before the static electricity goes zip and lifts the hairs on the back of your arm. As I moved my hands around there was a definite temperature drop in one area, and my study partner told me that she had a headache there. Make of that what you will, but it occurred to me recently that this was where I got some of my ideas for how Healing works in The Wild Hunt series.

Your average secondary-world fantasy usually incorporates some kind of restorative technique, be that overtly magical, like in the Wheel of Time series, or through the use of arcane herb-lore – kingsfoil, anyone?

Now I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the throw-some-herbs-at-it approach, as there are often injuries being sustained, especially battle wounds, where a few stitches and a smelly poultice just won’t suffice. Equally, I roll my eyes at the idea that a spell – kapow! – can fix a suppurating infection or treat someone who’s been poisoned. That’s unrealistic to me. I don’t care if the magic breaks the Laws of Thermodynamics or otherwise doesn’t make sense, the medicine should.*

Iranian bottle

Iranian bottle, Walters Art Museum [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

One of my characters, Tanith, is a master Healer, but she uses her magic the way she uses her surgical tools, and relies on drugs as much as either.

When the reader first encounters her, Gair has just been clouted round the head in the training yard. She cleans the damaged skin with a topical antiseptic, picks out splinters with tweezers, then sends him away with the secondary-world equivalent of a couple of aspirin. Another patient, who has a broken rib, she treats with the Song to start the bone fusing.**

So the core of all Healing with the Song is to harness the human body’s astonishing ability to mend itself, given enough time, by stimulating the natural process. Bruises fade, cuts close, pain recedes. Where circumstances such as uncontrolled bleeding dictate that immediate action is required, the Healer steps in to clamp and stitch and bandage in pretty much the same way as a surgeon does today.

For example, in THE RAVEN’S SHADOW, Tanith sets a displaced femoral fracture with traction and manipulation, using her magic instead of X-rays:

Gathering the Song again, she plunged her senses into the torn muscle, seeking the bone fragments and visualising their positions in the patterns of pain she saw in her mind.

‘I can save this,’ she murmured, then to the surgeon, ‘Take his foot and straighten the ankle.’

He did as she asked, meaty hands surprisingly gentle. She laid her own hands either side of Beck’s thigh, aligning them carefully, mapping the normal positions of muscle and bone in her mind.

Later she relieves the pressure of an acute subdural haematoma by trephination:

The instrument placed in her hand was still warm from being boiled. Carefully, she measured the distance above and behind the orbital process of [spoiler!]’s skull with the last joint of her index finger and set the toothed head of the trephine in place.

As she explains to the army surgeon assisting her, she can stop the bleeding with her power, but she can’t simply magic away the blood that’s already pressing on the patient’s brain.

So Tanith’s competent, she understands about sepsis and basic (by our standards) infection control, and her knowledge of anatomy is approximately equivalent to that of an early 19th Century surgeon. However, she’s not invincible. Whatever her skill and access to potent analgesics, she can’t perform certain kinds of surgery, such as those that would require artificial respiration. Her world is not sufficiently technologically advanced, and using handwavy magic there fails the “medicine needs to make sense” rule for me.

Of course, that rule has consequences. At the end of SONGS OF THE EARTH, a character receives major abdominal injuries. With no surgical tools or equipment to hand Tanith has only her Song and it’s not enough: the character bleeds out. Throughout the series she is haunted by the ones she couldn’t save – she calls it the shadow cast by the light of her gift, because she knows that she can’t have one without the other.

And that, to me, makes more sense than just allowing the magic to fix everything so that the characters go home in one piece. Some of them will be maimed or changed beyond recognition, and some of them won’t go home at all.

* Although I gave myself a pass on neuroscience – nobody really understands how thought and memory work and besides, MAGIC.

** He would be pain-free in only a few days, and anyone who’s had a broken rib knows it usually takes quite a bit longer than that before you stop popping the Advil.


Featured image credit: By Igore1913 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Yellow maple leaf over blue sky

Writing weather

I’ve always been the kind of person whose mood is influenced by the weather. Not in some New Age in-touch-with-nature sort of a way, I just notice things. Rainy days make me melancholy. Strong winds give me the fidgets. And sometimes I notice the seasons change.

Ever since I was small, too young to feel the relentless march of the calendar pages turning the way an adult would, I’ve associated autumn with crows. I say crows, but really I mean all the corvids we got where I grew up: rooks, jackdaws and carrion crows (no ravens or hoodies in the north east of England). In early September, they got restless, swirling across the sky in great raucous flocks before settling back into the tall trees next to my parents’ house. It always meant summer was ending for another year.

I went into the garden this morning and the first thing I heard was the rooks. The sky was still blue and patterned with housemartins, the air still warm, but that dolorous cawing made me feel change was afoot.

Now the clouds are blowing in. A fretful wind is tossing the jackdaws around, and the trees are hissing like surf over shingle beaches. It feels like autumn. That means it’s writing weather.

Featured image © Illreality | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I aten’t dead

Picture of alarm clockSo. I’m still here.

In case any of you had been wondering, like. I’ve just been a bit busy. And ill. And busying being ill – or being busy whilst ill, or ill whilst busy, or . . . You get the picture.

Chronic illness sucks. Who knew?

Anyway, it’s been a hard road so far, but I have ground out some words on THE DRAGON HOUSE and most of them I think I will actually keep. It’s not finished yet, but at 145k (give or take) I think I can see the end up ahead. Sort of. If I squint a bit.

I’m sorry it’s taking so long to get there. I’m not here to make excuses, but I genuinely am going as fast as I can. I want this book to be a fitting finale to the series, one that takes everything that has gone before and wraps it up into a conclusion that is satisfying for both me as the writer and you as the reader. I hope you’ll bear with me until we get there.

In order to make it worth your while, I have a little treat for you later this week: a sneak peek at what I’ve been working on. The usual disclaimers apply: raw as steak tartare, prod it and it’ll moo etc. I hope you’ll like it. Stay tuned!


Image courtesy of Graeme Weatherston at freedigitalphotos.net


Natural history






The curtains are drawn, cloaking the litter and countless half-drunk cups of tea in shadow. A dishevelled figure crouches over a laptop, face unhealthily pale in the glow from the screen.



Observe the WRITER in its den. Here it makes a nest of crumpled
paper and pencils, in which it will incubate its precious egg for a
period of up to a year. So attentive is its parenting – some would say
obsessive – that the writer rarely emerges from its cave. When it
does, it is easily confused by bright lights and sudden sounds.


The doorbell sounds. The writer’s head jerks up, its ears twitching. After a moment the bell rings again, followed by knocking on the door.



Yes? Hello?


The knocking continues. The writer gets to its feet as if it hasn’t moved in days, and shambles to the door. On the way it scratches its unkempt fur, dislodging biscuit crumbs and the occasional pencil. At the end of the hall it hesitates, squinting in the uncomfortably bright light.



Who’s there?


An indistinct figure in a bright red coat can be seen through the front door glass.



Got a parcel here you need to sign for.


(twisting hands together nervously)

Oh. Okay.



Writers are shy, introspective creatures at the best of times. During the
prolonged incubation period they often seem to lose the social skills
required to successfully interact with other creatures. Their attention is
so focused on their offspring that they frequently neglect their own
grooming and their diet deteriorates to subsistence level, scavenging
junk and whatever uneaten food they find lying about the den.



Um . . .


(muffled sigh)



The writer scuttles to the door, avoiding the patch of sunlight on the carpet as if afraid it will burn. After fumbling with the key, it manages to unlock the door and open it just wide enough to peer out.






Parcel? To sign for? You’ll have to open the door a bit wider, love.
It’s quite large.


A brown cardboard box appears in shot, just visible through the gap in the door. The writer looks around nervously, cringing at the passing cars. Instead of the large box, the postman proffers a smaller one with a screen set into the top, and a dangling stylus attached.



Just sign on the line, love.


The writer fumbles for the stylus and scrawls a crude symbol on the screen.


(pushing the larger box towards the door with his foot)

There you go then. Early Christmas present, eh?


(mumbles incoherently)


(adjusts cap, looks uncertain)

Er, right then. I’ll be off, shall I?


The postman holds out his hand for the data terminal. The writer stares at it, nonplussed.



Er . . . ?


A particularly large furniture delivery van drives past, belching diesel fumes. Panicked by the noise, the writer flings the data terminal at the postman, and claws the parcel inside. The door slams in the postman’s face.


(making a keening noise)

My precious . . .


The writer falls to its knees, pawing at the cardboard.



My bookses. Mine. My own.



Singing happily to itself, the writer retreats to its nest with its treasure.
The precious author copies will be placed in the shrine at the back of
the den, and the box and packing materials added to the the creature’s
bedding to keep it snug through the long weeks to come until eventually,
a new book is born.




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