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Savage Swords and Mighty Thews – A Tribute

June 20, 2013

 “If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from two, it’s research.” – Wilson Mizner

Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.  This little quote popped into my head while I was working on a recent writing project – a short story heavily influenced by my love of classic sword and sorcery stories, especially the work of the master of that genre – good old Robert E. Howard (The story itself can be found here if you are interested, though beware of first draft typos aplenty). I think it’s tricky to work in a long-established genre like this without being in some way derivative, particularly when one is such a fan.  But I’m taking the approach of writing the kind of stuff I like to read myself in order to keep my keen up, so hopefully I can at least be derivative in new ways.  Fingers crossed.

Did you spill my pint?

Did you spill my pint?

As it happens this short story is one I started several years ago, when I last had a shot at this writing lark.  When I was working on it originally it was with the intention of pitching it at Games Workshops publishing arm, The Black Library. The first draft was set in the Warhammer world and featured a mighty beastman gor by the name of Kruac cutting a bloody swathe through countless foes on a mysterious quest for his tribe’s mysterious totem god (an aspect of Tzeentch as it happens). He was to be accompanied on this epic quest by a wily, sneaky ungor by the name of Ghul, a character rather inspired by Moonglum from the Elric stories, with perhaps a tiny amount of the Gray Mouser in there as well. I’d intended to try and write a series of linked short stories featuring these two chaps, aping the format that was used so well by Howard for characters like King Kull and Conan of Cimmeria, but it never really came to pass.

I didn’t get very far into it at the time, and over the years the prospect of submitting anything to The Black Library has lost it’s appeal – the publisher seems to be becoming more of a sausage-factory for churning out an infinite number of Horus Hersey books and Space Marine novels of highly dubious quality, and it appears to attract some pretty spectacular frothing-nut-job type fans to boot.  So when I stumbled across the half-finished first draft for Kruac and Ghul’s introductory adventure by chance recently I thought I’d have a bit of a fiddle with it. The idea of re-skinning the story to move it away from the Warhammer setting had a certain appeal given the influence of the pulp genre. After all, Conan’s first appearance was in a reworked version of the Kull story By This Axe I Rule. Taking the skeleton of what I had written so far and transplanting it to a different setting struck me as nicely Howardian, so I set about re-writing it.

Deep, dark, and almost certainly chock-full of monsters.

Deep, dark, and almost certainly chock-full of monsters.

I didn’t much fancy the idea of coming up with my own fantasy world (which seemed too much like hard work to be honest) so after a bit of pondering I opted to set the tale in a slightly fantastical version of  my home county of Cumbria in the 5th Century ( I think was known as Rheged back then),which may have had something to do with the fact that I’d recently been reading Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord series that takes place in a similar time frame.  The fact that I’d been reading an article in the paper about the Rheged tourist centre in Cumbria which is focused on that era likely had some influence too. I also had a bit of an obsession as a kid with the idea that the picturesque bodies of water to be found in the Lake District national park were full of monsters, and when I got an idea to feature a lake-dwelling Great Old One like creature as replacement for Tzeentch I was sold on the location.  And it didn’t take me long to decide that said creature would lair in Wastwater, an unpleasant and almost lifeless lake which also happens to be the deepest in England.  I had my setting, but what of my lead characters? I couldn’t very well have Beastmen of Chaos running around Cumbria, so I came up with an alternative.

I’m not sure when Fomorians popped into my head, but it seemed to fit.  My take on them might be a bit more Dungeons and Dragons rather than classical Irish myth, but I kinda think it works.  And I don’t think my grasp of the Fomorians is any less shaky than my grasp of dark ages history anyway, and playing things a bit fast and loose with accuracy (if accuracy is something that can be quibbled over when dealing with fairytale creatures) is probably in keeping with the pulp era thing too.  As with the original beastman idea, using the Fomorians as the main antagonists is my feeble attempt at originality – trying to have what should be the bad guys as the heroes. If I was to end up doing more of them that would be something to try to work into the arc, the transition from terrifying monster to Conan-esque antihero.

Anyway, I won’t be doing any more of these anytime soon as I have another entry for a short story anthology to be on with, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to at least re-draft this one at some point.  With that in mind I’d love to hear any feedback from anyone who takes the time out to look it over, even if it’s just pointing out my copious spelling and grammatical errors.  I Sky plussed The Scorpion King for about the other day so I’ll think I’ll go and watch that for probably the thirtieth time now.  At least when I watch that film it proves the point that something doesn’t have to be original to be entertaining. so maybe there’s hope for me yet.

(Did I mention the story was called The Exiles?  And Could be found either here or via the Short Story tab up top?  Well, if I didn’t, I have now…)

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