New story – Chapter 1. Why must it be a pirate’s life for me?

The first draft of chapter one of a new story I’m working on about magical pirates. All feedback welcome.


A cannonball crashed through the wall of Buccaneer Jones’ tiny cabin. He yelped and fell out of his bed. Through the newly made hole he could see out to the raging ocean outside, and the pirate ship that was rapidly approaching.

There was a crash from above as the ship that Buccaneer called home, The Singing Seal, returned fire. Buccaneer grabbed a padded hat from a hook and rammed it onto his head, the thick material covering his ears to muffle the sounds. He picked up a dog-eared old book about different types of plants and tried his hardest to ignore the battle around him.

The two ships closed the distance until men and women swung from one to another with cutlasses in their mouths. Now shouts and laughter filled the air, punctuated with the clang of swords and pistol shots.

Buccaneer sighed and started to hum loudly. Despite his name, Buccaneer didn’t like fighting. In fact he hated it, just like he hated his name. To his friends he was just Bucc. Not that he had many. Bucc was considered odd by most people. He didn’t like violence, couldn’t stand loud noises, and he willingly washed at least once a week. How where you supposed to treat someone who didn’t like to fight, pillage, and drink?

For you see, Buccaneer Jones was the son of two pirates. That was nothing special though. In Hylantia everybody was a pirate. It was a world of vast seas and tiny island. A place where humans lived on ships and wandered the waves in search of adventure.

Bucc’s door was kicked open and his parents rushed into the cabin. His father was tall and gangly, with a bald head and a missing thumb. He held a pistol in his good hand and a modified cutlass in his other. A black snake with spiked fins was draped around his neck.

His mother was a stout woman with a mallet in each hand. Where his dad wore nothing but an open jacket and shorts, Bucc’s mum was decked out in an array of layers that were all different colours. Perched on her shoulder was a six legged cat with horns.

“What are you still doing in here, Buccaneer?” asked his dad. “Come quick. Big Tim got a splinter in his eye. We need you to man the cannon.”

“You’re not serious.”

His mum grabbed him by the hand. “It’s time for you to become a real pirate. When the adrenaline starts pumping through you, you’ll realise what you’re missing out on.”

Bucc didn’t have time to argue. He was pulled from his cabin and dragged through the wooden corridors up to the deck. They emerged into a scene of chaos as pirates fought all around them. Some swung above their heads while others fell into the water below where they continued to fight with other floating pirates. Smoke billowed out from fires and cannon, obscuring everything more than a few feet away in places.

His dad pushed him towards an unmanned cannon. “Go and maim some seadogs. Do us proud, my boy!”

Both of his parents rushed off into the thick of the battle without another word. Bucc stared at the cannon, then at the battle. All of the movement and noise was too much for him. He just needed to do something so he could leave as quickly as possible.

Bucc unlocked the cannon’s pivot and tried to turn it but the cannon didn’t budge. It was already aimed perfectly at the other ship but Bucc didn’t want to damage someone else’s’ home. He knew that there would be young children and injured people still on the ship, just like there was on the Singing Seal. He didn’t want to risk any lives.

The metal suddenly lurched. Bucc looked to his side to see Jesse and Adward Reeds, fair haired siblings and Bucc’s only friends.

“What you doing?” Jesse asked in her soft, slightly playful manner.

“My parents won’t let me stay in my cabin. They said I have to take part in this stupid battle. I don’t want to hurt anyone though. But if they find I haven’t fired a single shot then they’ll make me walk the plank!”

Adward made a sympathetic shrug. “It was only a matter of time until they put their foot down about it. You know that, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Doesn’t mean I have to like it. Look, just help me aim at that figurehead on the front of their ship. It causes wanton destruction without hurting anybody. Everyone’s happy.”

“If you say so,” Adward said sceptically.

The three strained against the heavy metal, slowly bringing it around until it clicked. The weapon was built to lock every few inches to stop it from swinging around in rough weather. Bucc pulled the lever to unlock it again then moved the cannon a slight bit further until it was staring down the shark shaped figurehead.

He grabbed a cannonball and barely managed to lift it off the ground. Adward helped him to lift it into the barrel of the cannon while Jesse lit the fuse. Bucc took several steps back and put his fingers in his ears. The ship hit a wave then the cannon fired. The cannonball shot over the figurehead and splashed harmlessly into the sea beyond.

Bucc sighed with relief. “Well, we tried our best. Nothing more we can do here. Let’s leave the fighting to the experts, eh?”

“Come on, Bucc. We can at least try one more time,” said Jesse. She was already replacing the gunpowder and fuse. “Just think of the reputation we’d get for blowing up that ugly shark head.”

“Fine. One more shot,” Bucc agreed.

He took a step towards the cannon only to be thrown back as a cannonball smashed into it from the opposite ship. Bucc picked himself and stared at the twisted metal. Jesse stood with the torch held above the wreckage, her face white. Adward was laid on his back but gave a shaky thumbs up.

“On second thought, one shot was plenty. That’s enough battle for the next, ah, I don’t know… fifty years at least. I’m out!”

Bucc ran to the door and skidded down the stairs into the corridors below. Breathing heavily, his feet pounded across the wood until he threw himself into his cabin. He sat in the corner beside an old boot filled with dirt and hugged his knees as he tried to curl into himself. Jesse and Adward joined him a few moments later.

“Not to point out the obvious,” started Adward, “but you do know that you’ll not be able to avoid fighting for much longer. In a few weeks we’ll have the Rite of Age and then we’ll be adults. You’ll be a full pirate then, and pirates have to fight. It’s who we are.”

“But why is that who we are?” Bucc snapped back. “I don’t want to be a pirate. Just you wait, at the ceremony when they unlock my gift, I’m going to have an affinity for earth and then go to an island to become a farmer. That’s my dream.”

“Earth is a pretty rare gift. There’s no guarantee that’s what you’ll be,” Jesse tried to point out gently. She pulled on one of her pigtails anxiously as she spoke.

“Maybe there isn’t, but our affinities are suppose to represent our soul. We have a gift for the element that suits us best. I love nature, and watching plants grow. I know all about them, and have already grown some myself. I’m gentle and nurturing, what other element could I be?”

Bucc picked up the old boot and showed it off proudly as he spoke. Inside was filled with dirt, and growing from it was the first shoot of a flower.

There were a series of cheers from above. Through the whole in his wall, Bucc could see the other ship pull away.

“Looks like we won this one,” Jesse said with a small smile. She had the heart of a true pirate, it was everything else that let her down. She was petite with a young face and soft voice. It would take a lot for her to win respect as a warrior. She was the kind of person who would try anyway.

“Good,” muttered Bucc. “At least my folk should be in a good mood.”

A bell rang out to call all of the Seal’s inhabitants to the deck. Bucc placed the shoe in the light that spilled out from the damaged wall then made his way out of the cabin. As he emerged into the hustle of the deck, it was no less crowded than before.

Some pirates were putting out fires and clearing debris, while others were already breaking open caskets of rum to celebrate. Hundreds of people were crammed onto the deck. A near equal amount of familiars filled the remaining space, clinging to their owners or darting through the crowds playfully. Together they were the Singing Seal family.

This was how Pirate society was formed in Hylantia. With so little land to support settlements, vast ships were built over many years. These ships became mobile villages where hundreds of pirates lived.

Bucc found his parents standing over the remains of the cannon he had been asked to man. His mother held her hat in her hands solemnly as his father inspected the crumpled metal.

“Poor thing,” his father said quietly. “She was a good cannon, wasn’t she. Pity it had to end like this.”

“Err, I’m okay,” Bucc announced. “Just in case you were wondering what had happened to me.”

They both turned to him without changing their expressions. “Course you are,” his mother said. “You’re a Jones. Mine and your Pa’s families have survived since the dawn of time. That takes a special luck, that does. Born survivors, you see. Why, the chances of you dying early just seem ridiculous.”

Bucc frowned. He passed the speech through his head a second time but it didn’t make any more sense.

“You do know that everyone alive today is only alive because their families survived, right?”

“See! That’s you thinking with your head again instead of your heart. Bad habit, is that.” his father said sagely.

“Hearts don’t think, they pump blood!” Bucc started to argue. He was cut off though when a single gunshot cut through the noise and silenced the crowd.

A man in a red coat had stepped up onto the helm. It was the captain of the Singing Seal, Golden Gus. He held a smoking pistol in his hand. An oversized hat rested atop his matted hair. He looked fairly plain aside from a fake nose made of gold that was strapped to his face.

“Well done, me hearties!” Captain Gus announced in a bellowing voice. “Those seadogs thought they could pluck a crow with us but we proved them wrong, didn’t we.”

The crowds cheered and raised mugs of ale.

“It was a good fight. Just enough to get the old blood pumping. A few bumps and bruises were passed around, but all and all a fun little encounter with the devils, eh?” This was met with more shouts and cheers.

Captain Gus motioned for calm again. “Our poor ship did take a beating though. Sightsaw has just confirmed that Cantruug is vacant, so we set sail for the island to make our repairs and restock. The Seal’s too unstable for the riftways. I want a team of wayfarers assembled and ready. Everyone else to your stations!”

The captain’s familiar, a winged cat-like creature with a wicked beak, cawed assertively. It surveyed the crew before taking off into the air, no doubt to return to its observation. Sightsaw was the captain’s eyes and ears.

Bucc watched the pirates return to their business. Relatively few crew members were needed to actually man the giant ship. Most of the residents simply resumed their drinking. A group was gathering at the base of the front sail.

There wasn’t anything special about these particular men and women. Most pirates were wayfarers. Any pirate with an affinity for water or air, the two most common elements, were suitable wayfarers. Individually their powers could barely effect the power of the sea and wind, but in large enough groups they could calm the tides and bring favourable winds.

Pirates weren’t great at keeping records but it was thought that seventy percent of people had an affinity for water or air. Another twenty five percent favoured earth. It was these pirates that usually stayed on the scattered islands to grow food and smelt ores. They were the craftsmen of the world while the water and air elementals were the sailors.

The wayfarers stood in a wide circle and held up their hands. Each had their own method for channelling their powers. Some waved their arms, others wiggled their fingers, and a few chanted words under their breath. Nothing outwardly happened. At least nothing that was visible from this distance. There were no flashes of light or glowing colours. The only sign when somebody was using their affinity was in there eyes. Any use of the elements caused the iris to become a vivid violet colour.

Bucc felt the wind change direction and the tides calmed. He was eager to be back on land. Nothing was better than feeling the earth beneath his feet and embracing the smells of flowers and trees.

Knowing that his parents would start looking for him soon to question him about his exploits in the skirmish, Bucc left the deck and made his way through the labyrinth of passageways within the hull. His cabin was too obvious a place to hide so instead he made his way down to the galley.

The cook was a round man with a huge handlebar moustache that he usually wore pulled back and tied behind his head. He offered Bucc a slight nod of his head as he chopped potatoes. Bucc was a frequent visitor to the galley.

Seated beside the cook was the giant of a man known as Big Tim. He made even the cook look small in comparison. He was prodding tentatively at a new eye-patch he was wearing. The two men’s familiars were on the floor nearby, playfully fighting over an apple. When Big Tim saw Bucc he smiled broadly and pointed at it proudly.

“Look what I’ve got.”

“Looking good,” Bucc said with false enthusiasm. Pirate skirmishes were more of an exciting game than a real battle. Serious injuries were rare, but any wound was a sign of honour. Peg-legs, hooks, and eye patches were the ultimate status symbols.”How bad’s the damage?”

Big Tim’s face dropped slightly. “Not bad. Only a little splinter. The surgeon said it’ll be all better in a few weeks.”

The distinctive sound of footsteps was audible from the corridor outside. Bucc recognised their rhythm instantly.

“Noodle protect me, they’ve found me already. Quick! Tell me where to hide,” Bucc begged.

“You’re on your own kid,” the cook said with a disinterested grunt.

Bucc didn’t have time to run. The door opened and his mother stepped into the galley.

“I thought I might find you here. Replenishing your energy after your first battle?”

“Err, yeah, sure. I’m totally doing that. I’m just so hungry after all that action.”

The cook eyed Bucc wearily then threw a banana over to him. Bucc tried to catch it and failed. It hit his head then fell to the floor.

His mother’s smile only made Bucc feel a sense of guilt and lurching dread. It was a good job that he had at least been born with a pirate’s innate ability to lie and tell tall tales. She ushered him out of the galley.

“Come on lad, your Pa and me want to hear all about your first skirmish.”

“Okay, Ma,” he sighed, all the while wondering if he could choke himself with the banana if it meant avoiding the eager looks of pride in his parent’s eyes.

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Editing your story.

I am bad at editing. I don’t plan my stories and find that I don’t like rereading my own work. The story is only ever fresh to me in that brief moment between conception and preservation, between the initial idea and its translation to the page. Because of this I find the process of going through the work after the fact so much more difficult. Growing a story without clear structure is all fair and good but it is easy to create plot-holes while an excited flurry of wring leaves you prone to typos.

As such, while editing is often dry, demoralising and not remotely creative, it is a vital thing that all writers need to be able to do well. Being bad at it, I have spent a lot of time learning how to get better, some of it by proactively going and reading advice from other writers and editors, others by doing the wrong things and learning from my mistakes. I am still far, far from perfect but since I am in the editing phase myself at the moment, I felt that it might be worth presenting what I have learned for others in my position. Continue reading

In Death’s Shadow – 1st Chapter (2017)

It has been over a year since I first posted an extract of my current story. In that time I have learned a lot about editing and actually pushed to get reader feedback so now have a far more polished version of the story. This polishing isn’t fully finished yet but I figured that I would show how far the story has come by posting the 1st chapter of its current draft.

The original version can be found here.

Once again, any feedback is welcome. Enjoy.


Chapter 1

A dark shape flew through heavy clouds far above Abernethy Forest. In a land of ancient myths such as Scotland, where mountains vie with dark forests while snow and cold winds dominate the rugged landscape, it was all too easy to see contorted faces staring down from the icy heavens. The shape disappeared into the churning clouds before erupting out from the silently screaming mouth of an angry god to swoop down low above the treetops. Leathery wings glided serenely for several seconds then lunged into the greenery to vanish from sight completely.

A short distance from here was a large wooden building known as Aife’s Lodge. It had once been a private manor house but had been converted into a hotel in recent years. Fitting with its remote location it was the kind of place where people went to escape society completely.

The clouds parted just enough to reveal the moon through the black veiled sky. A warped howl echoed through the snowy night. Nobody heard it over the festivities though. It was just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and the few guests of Aife’s Lodge had forgone seclusion and gathered together in the main hall to celebrate. A stone fireplace dominated one wall while numerous stuffed animals showcased the local fauna. Long dead deer and wildcats seemed almost alive in the flickering light. The guests mingled awkwardly in groups of two or three, the conversations gradually becoming less passive as the alcohol flowed. Continue reading

Wonderland Blues

Just like Alice had to awaken from Wonderland

So too do we find ourselves torn from the pleasant fantasy

Of our dearest conventions.

We the weirdos and oddballs who find no peace in life

Who are beaten down and left alone in a sea of reality

Come together to indulge in the make-believe worlds

And form bonds of family that none outside can grasp.

For days we have laughed, loved and lived,

We have belonged. Continue reading

Words of Fate: Of Quills and Swords.

City walls of pale stone stood proudly on the horizon ahead. Around it rougher stone structures clung together in a hodge-podge of designs and materials like a cancer. Farmland covered the ground between the settlement and a lone hilltop many miles from it where a young man stood taking in the sight of the legendary city. Dense forests made a ring around it all.

It was early in the morning and the young man hoped to be within those walls come nightfall. He wiped an arm across his face to remove a trickle of sweat and grimaced at the smell that rose from his sleeve. He had been travelling by foot for over two weeks now without a single change of clothes. Washes had been few and far between and the summer’s heat had been like the innards of an oven for the entire time.
Continue reading