Tag Archives: fantasy

Do You Believe in Dragons?

Dragon 1

“Mummy, are dragons real?”

Big Brother is five years old. Nearly six. He loves stories of knights and dragons. He wants to be a superhero when he grows up so he can protect people.

“Are they extinct?” he asks.

I don’t know how to answer.

I feel like I’m standing on a tightrope, my position precariously balanced between two core beliefs.

I believe in honesty always.

But I also believe in fairies and dragons and elves.

Salvatore quote

So I stand, unsure how to cross the gaping chasm between truth and imagination in a way that doesn’t disrespect my son’s question.

I must delve into my own beliefs. I question them; turn them over and over in my mind; put them to the test.

(This is one of the great wonders of parenthood — the way our children push us to examine our own feelings and become better, stronger people.)

I do believe in dragons.

But do I believe dragons are out there, ready to fly forth from their hiding places at any moment and raze our cities to the ground?

Dragon 2


Probably not.

It’s fairly unlikely.

Do I believe that was true once-upon-a-time?


Scientists tell us that dragons were never real, but scientists aren’t always right.

As a friend of mine recently bloggednot finding something doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t there. And scientists learn new things every day.

The Brontosaurus never existed. Dinosaurs may not have been cold-blooded reptiles. New living species of plants and animals are discovered every day. Who’s to say what will be discovered in the future?

Maybe we’ll find dragon fossils.

Maybe we’ll find dragons.

But even if we don’t…

I’ll still believe in dragons.

I stand on that precipice while my son watches me expectantly, secure in the knowledge that his mother knows everything. Not yet old enough to understand how much I don’t know.

Dragon 3

So I look him in the eye and I say…

Nothing for a second. Instead, I gather my thoughts.

Then I cross that chasm of doubt, the chasm spanning untruth and disbelief. And I do it one slow step at a time.

“No one has claimed they’ve seen a dragon in a very long time,” I say.

“In fact, it’s been so long, most people don’t think dragons were ever really real. Some people think dragons are just stories. Some people think dragons are still alive but they’re very good at hiding. And some people think dragons are extinct.”

My beautiful son looks up at me, and his lips curl into a smile.

“I knew it,” he says. Then he skips off to play.

A minute later, I hear him telling himself a story about dragons and I smile.

I believe

Do you believe in dragons?


Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion

The Hobbit: My Secret Shame

The Hobbit

Ask any fan of speculative fiction, and they’ll doubtless list The Hobbit  as one the must-read books of the fantasy genre. It’s the book that precedes The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and sets the stage for one of the most dramatic and epic stories of all time; one that spawned the ideas for thousands of other novels, movies, songs, and artworks and forever changed the world.

Am I over-selling Tolkien’s work? I don’t think so.

In a few days, The Hobbit will be the name on everyone’s lips. The first installment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on the book will hit cinemas around the world, and people of all stripes will be engrossed in the story of Bilbo Baggins as he ventures forth from Hobbiton in search of treasure and adventure. It’s an exciting time.

Several years ago, my sister expressed her enjoyment of the Lord of the Rings movies. She’s never been much of a reader, but she mentioned that she’d quite like to read the books. So I picked her up a lovely boxed set that included all three LotR books as well as a copy of The Hobbit. Being the type of person who likes to work through things systematically, she decided to read the first book first. (Makes sense, right?)

A few months later I was talking to her on the phone and asked her how she was going, and if she’d finished reading The Hobbit.

“Yes,” she said. “Well, no. Well… Yes.”

“What does that even mean?” I asked.

“I was almost at the end, and I was really tired. So I stopped reading on the second last page. But that’s really the end. The story’s really over.”

And that was that. She never did read the last page of the book. I mean, sure, there’s no likely to be any grand surprises, but really? It just seems crazy to me.

So my husband and I were chatting last week about seeing The Hobbit in the cinema, and he reminded me of my sister’s unfinished book. I nodded and smiled and agreed that it was funny and then tried to change the subject. But it didn’t work. He talked about his favourite parts in the book, and told me about the first time he’d read it, and got all excited about seeing the movie, and then turned his attention to me.

How old was I when I read it? How many times have I read it? What were my favourites parts?

And that’s when I had to admit my secret shame.

I haven’t read The Hobbit.

Look, it’s not my fault. No, really, hear me out. See, when I was a teenager I was largely introduced to the sci-fi/fantasy world by a guy named Adam. He also introduced me to role-playing and war-gaming and the joys of Iron Maiden. (I had a crush on him, okay? He had a fair chance of introducing me to just about anything.) So he was reading The Lord of the Rings and I showed an interest in it because, you know, then we’d have something else in common, and so he loaned me his books one after the other so I could read them, and I read them all and LOVED them and thought they were the best things ever and then we started roleplaying MERP — which is the original Lord of the Rings roleplaying game — and I got to play a half-elf and go on adventures, and that only made me love LotR more, and…. okay, I’m getting off topic.

The point is, I read Lord of the Rings without any idea that The Hobbit existed. And when I learned about The Hobbit years later, it seemed silly to go back and read it. I was 16, and at that age where reading “kids’ books” was super uncool, and besides — I already knew basically what happened. Why read the beginning of the story after you’ve already read the middle and the end? Right? Right?

And then time went on, and people assumed that I’d read The Hobbit because… well, who hasn’t? And I went along with it. I read the wiki on the book so I knew the plot, and I got involved in conversations as though I knew what I was talking about.

Yes, I faked it.

But no more!

I admitted it to my husband and now I’m admitting it to you. Because the time for faking it is gone. Now is the time for reading it.

So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go update my TBR list and put The Hobbit at the top.

Have you ever faked having read a book? What books are you secretly ashamed never to have read?


Filed under Reading, The Inner Geek

Flash Fiction: Revenging the Rhythm

This week’s challenge from Mr. Wendig over at TerribleMinds was a good one:

Use the sentence “A novice revenges the rhythm” in a 1000 word story. At the beginning, at the end, somewhere in between… It doesn’t matter.

Well, I did it. And I enjoyed it. So let me know what you think.


Revenging the Rhythm

 There was a group of children playing a skipping game in front of the Temple. Alix watched them with a smile, until he heard their song. Then he shuddered. He was probably the only man alive who knew what the words meant.


No, there was at least one more. “Hello, Bale.”

The other man fell into step, and they started toward the door at the rear of the Temple. “How much longer do you think we’ll have to do this?” he asked.

“You ask me that every year.”

 “Doesn’t mean it’s not valid. I’m not getting any younger, you know.” Bale shot a glance at his friend. “And neither are you. You look ancient.”


“So? How much longer?”

“I don’t know, Bale. As long as it takes for the debt to be paid.”

“Yes, but—“

Alix rounded on his friend. Every year, they’d had this discussion. Every year for sixty years. “I don’t know, alright?”

Bale looked hurt. “Alright,” he said. “Just trying to make conversation.”

They reached the door in silence and Alix pulled an iron key from his pocket. He took a deep breath and slid it into the lock. It turned smoothly. “Ready?”


The men went inside, and passed through the kitchens and servants areas before coming to the Temple Proper. It was brighter there, illuminated by the Eternal Flame.

It was said that if the Eternal Flame was extinguished, all life in the city would cease. Back when he was an Initiate of the Temple, Alix had questioned Master Vidas about it. “What if it goes out accidentally? What if there’s a gust a wind? What if someone lights it again straight away?” He didn’t get any answers, but he was forbidden to work in the Ritual Space without supervision.

Elder Ceren had tried to reassure him, told him it wouldn’t be forever. The old man was right about that, at least. Four years later, he’d been stripped of his Novice rank and told he wasn’t welcome to return.

Well, what they don’t know hasn’t hurt them yet.

Both men paused to bow their heads to the Flame. Then they looked around the Ritual Space. Drums and cymbals lay in a Circle, and a large basin of water sat in the centre. In a dozen hours, the Temple Priests would conduct the Ritual of Healing, a Ritual designed to improve Sun’s health and bring Her warmth back to the world. But first, Alix and Bale had their own Ritual to perform.

Bale sat in front of a drum at the top of the Circle. Alix stood in the centre and rested his hands on the edges of the pool of water.

They waited.

They waited until their bones stopped aching and their muscles grew strong, until their spines straightened and their vision grew sharp. They waited until they heard screaming.

Elder Ceren knelt at the foot of the Circle. His head was thrown back and his chest was bare and bloody. On the stone floor in front of him was his still beating heart.

Alix started to dance.

Bale’s drumbeat was fast and furious, loud enough to drown out the Elder’s screams. Alix matched the rhythm with his body. He danced like he was young, his Novice robes whipping about him as he turned and twisted, leapt and spun.

Once, he’d been the Novice chosen to dance the Ritual of Healing. Now, he danced that day in reverse. Now, he danced the Ritual of Undoing.

The screaming stopped. Elder Ceren’s heart fell into his chest, and his flesh and robes were made whole. Ghostly figures appeared around the Circle. Initiates and Novices, Masters and Elders. All the Priests Alix remembered from his youth were watching.

He danced.

At the foot of the Circle knelt a boy in Initiate robes. Like the, his heart beat a rhythm on the cold stone floor. Alix danced toward the boy, a knife in his hand. He thrust the bloody blade into the boy’s wound. Once. Twice. The heart fell back to its place. A final thrust and Alix danced away, his knife clean and new.

The drumbeats stuttered.

Something was wrong with Bale’s drum. The rhythm was broken. The rhythm was wrong. And if the rhythm was wrong, the dance was wrong. If the dance was wrong, the Sun wouldn’t Heal.

The rhythm must be revenged.

A sacrifice must be offered.

The drum slowed. Alix danced to the sluggish beat. The Ritual was drawing to its beginning.

The drum stopped.

Alix stopped, his hands on the edge of the pool.

His thoughts turned to Master Vidas. It was Master Vidas who gave Bale the faulty drum, Master Vidas who failed to bless the Initiate Sacrifice in case something went wrong, and Master Vidas who made amends by exiling Alix and Bale.

But it was Elder Ceren who had been taken as Her punishment.

Sixty years. For sixty years, Alix and Bale had danced the Ritual of Undoing on Bane Night, doing penance for the wrong that had been done to Sun and to the Elder. But now they were old.

How much penance did She need?

“Did it work?”

Alix looked over to answer him, but the words froze on his tongue. Standing behind Bale was the ghost of Elder Ceren.

“Thank you,” the Elder said. His body filled with golden light, shimmered, and disappeared.

“Yes,” Alix whispered. “It worked.”

The sun was up when they left the Temple. They said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

The children were back at their game when Alix reached the main road. For a moment he considered telling them to change the last line of their rhyme. Then he laughed, the first laugh he’d had in a long, long time, and kept walking. Behind him, their song went on.

An Initiate gets what he’s given
A Novice revenges the rhythm
A Master pretends
That he’s made amends
But an Elder is never forgiven


Filed under Flash Fiction

BWF: Building Castles in the Air

Last weekend I was thrilled to attend the Brisbane Writer’s Festival. I attended four workshops over three days, talked to established authors, beginning writers and everyone in between,  and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to immerse myself fully in the art and craft of writing.

The second workshop I attended was Building Castles in the Air with Kate Forsyth. The write-up on the BWF page talked about “creating believable worlds” and the like, and my understanding was that this would be a world about… well, creating believable worlds. World-Building, if you like. As it turns out, that wasn’t the focus at all. The focus was on the broader topic of Writing Fantasy. But I’m not complaining — the actual session was even more amazing than I expected.

Here are my Top 3 take-aways.

1. What do you need to ADD?

In a very broad sense, a story can be broken down to three elements, each with a distinct purpose.

  • ACTION is the engine that drives the plot.
  • DESCRIPTION conjures the world.
  • DIALOGUE adds sparkle, wit and personality.

Kate’s advice was for every page of the story to have at least some of each element. Without action, a scene doesn’t drive the plot forward. Without description, you end up with “talking heads” in nowheresville. And without dialogue, you have no character to your story. So if something doesn’t seem to be working, look over each page and see if there’s anything you need to ADD.

2. What role do your characters play?

Every story has a cast of characters. You can’t even have a story without at least two characters. (Keeping in mind that a “character” doesn’t necessarily need to be human.) While you don’t need to have a character fulfill every potential role, I found it incredibly useful to think about which role my minor characters play and how I can use them to their full potential within that role. Perhaps you will, too.

Potential Cast of Characters:

  • Hero: The protagonist; the most important person in the story.
  • Villain: The antagonist; the second most important person in the story.
  • Sidekick: Often acts as a foil to the hero; may sacrifice himself for the hero.
  • Mentor
  • Friends & Allies
  • Enemies & Cohorts
  • Complication: Someone with no malicious intent who inadvertently makes things harder on the hero.
  • Animal Friend: A “lesser being” who offers unconditional comfort; may sacrifice himself for the hero.
  • Secret Friend: Someone you suspect of working against the hero, who is secretly a friend.
  • Hidden Enemy: Someone you think is a friend, who is secretly working against the hero.

3. What’s your ideal pace?

Amongst all the other great information, Kate talked briefly about pacing. One of the tricks to effectively control the story’s pacing is sentence length.

A full stop (aka: a period, for all you North Americans) = a breath. Back in the early years of learning to read, that’s what we were taught. When you see a full stop/period, you pause in your reading and take a breath. It’s such an ingrained part of our reading that we instinctively do it, even when we’re not reading out loud.

And that is why we’re told to use short sentences during dramatic and action-packed times in our story. Lots of short sentences means lots of full stops. Lots of full stops means faster breathing. Faster breathing means a faster heart rate. Simply by changing the sentence structure, it’s possible to make the reader feel like they’re in a dangerous or high-risk situation.

Alternately, of course, lots of long, slow sentences will slow the reader’s breathing rate and heart rate and lull them into a sense of peace and comfort. 

About Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth is the author of 25 books for children, young adults and adults, most of them either Fantasy or Historical Fiction. Her books have been sold in 13 different countries around the world, including the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Russia, Japan and Italy, and regularly feature in the fantasy bestselling lists. She is best known for her Witches of Eileanan books, The Gypsy Crown series for children and her time travel adventure, The Puzzle Ring. Her most recent novel for adults is Bitter Greens, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale, interwoven with the dramatic, true life story of the woman who first told the tale, 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.

In real life, Kate is was funny, down-to-earth, pragmatic, and as genuine as it’s possible to get. If you ever have the chance to take a class or workshop with Kate, I urge you to do so. You won’t regret it.

Did you already know these things? Or are they are interesting to you as they are to me?


Filed under Writing

Five Reasons to Read Outside Your Genre

Life is a busy thing these days and sometimes it’s hard enough to carve out writing time every week. But as Stephen King says:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

If you don’t know that quote, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. If you don’t know Stephen King…. Well, I’d suggest you come on out of that cave you’re living in. You can’t be getting very good wi-fi in there.

Reading is an important part of being a writer. To quote Stephen King again:

I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.

Reading is important. And reading outside your genre is just as important as reading within it. Why? Allow me to explain.

1) Wax On, Wax Off

In much the same way you can learn ancient Chinese martial arts through doing household chores, you can learn a lot about writing through reading. That’s true regardless of what genre you read or write. Chances are, you probably decided to write in a particular genre after reading that genre extensively. Don’t stop doing that. Keep reading your favourite genre. But every few books, branch out and read another genre as well. Like the Karate Kid, you’ll eventually find that painting the fence, polishing the car, and cleaning the deck will invest you with practical skills you didn’t even know you were learning.

2) Learn From a Master

If you wanted to learn portrait painting, you wouldn’t ask a sculptor to teach you. So if you want to write a strong romance sub-plot, why are you reading science fiction? I’m not saying you won’t learn anything about romance writing from a sci-fi author, but wouldn’t you rather learn from a master of the craft? Broaden your reading horizons and you’ll find yourself adding all manner of writing techniques to your repertoire.

Reading romance novels will teach you how to build realistic romances. Thrillers will teach you how to build suspense. Police procedurals will teach you how to structure investigations. Fantasy novels will teach you how to build an authentic setting and reveal it without info-dumping. Science Fiction and Historicals will teach you how to seamlessly weave facts into your fiction. With all these masters at your disposal, don’t settle for learning from anyone else.

3) Understand Your Audience

Readers don’t generally delineate themselves by genre. If you ask someone what they like to read, they’ll say things like, “Oh, I like anything with a good story.” They may still gravitate to particular areas of a book store (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, YA, Crime, Literature, Whatever) but that doesn’t mean they don’t read other genres. Do you really think everyone who enjoyed Twilight describes themselves as Young Adult reader? Or everyone who read Harry Potter was a Fantasy reader? 

Reading outside your genre helps you identify what it is about your own book that will attract readers. It’s easy to say, “My book will appeal to Crime readers,” but that doesn’t say much. “My book will appeal to Crime readers who enjoy Lee Child,” is a little more helpful. But it shows how well you understand your audience when you say, “My book is a space opera set in the year 3420 and will appeal to readers who enjoy the feel of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and the suspense of Lee Child.”

4) Avoid  Snobbery

 Literary snobbery is ubiquitous in the writing world.You’ve got everything from the old Literature vs Genre Fiction divide through to people who look down on YA fiction (“It’s not as sophisticated as “real” fiction.”), romance novels (“They’re all formulaic.”), and fantasy  (“It’s all just made up.”). That type of snobbery doesn’t do anyone any favours. But once you’ve learned how to write your sub-plots from the masters and you’ve identified that your audience probably reads other genres as well, it’s hard to maintain that level of snobbery. I’m not saying every single book every published is worthy of your respect, but at least you can start dismissing individual titles instead of entire genres.

5) There’s No Place Like Home

One of the best things about going on vacation is coming home. Not just because it’s familiar (although it is), and not just because you can relax (although you can). No, the great thing about coming home is that you see your surroundings with fresh eyes. You notice details that you haven’t before. You realise the roses in next door’s garden are blooming (just like the ones out front of the B&B you stayed at!) and the guy who says hello every morning when you’re walking your dog always wears a red jacket (just like the one your tour guide was wearing!). You also notice what’s missing. (How did you not realise your town doesn’t have a Korean restaurant? And how have you survived all this time without a good china teapot?) In short, the world looks different, not because it has changed, but because you have changed through your travels.

Reading outside your genre works like this. When you return to the genre where you feel comfortable and relaxed, you’ll notice the changes. You’ll notice the techniques your favourite author has borrowed from other genres and you’ll notice when s/he should have done so and didn’t. And that in turn will help you use and avoid those things in your own writing.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and start reading!

Do you usually read outside your genre? Do you think it’s worthwhile?


Filed under Writing

Flash Fiction: Smoke and Mirrors

The below story is one I wrote quite a few years ago, and then tidied up a bit last month. It’s a lot lighter and fluffier than most of my more current work. I hope you enjoy it.

As always, I love hearing your thoughts in the comments box below.

Smoke and Mirrors

“So it was all a lie?”

I looked into her eyes for a long moment, and then sighed and lowered my head. “Yes,” I said.

I could hear the frown in her voice. “I don’t understand it, Christopher. Why? Why make up all that nonsense?” There was a moment of silence, and then she said,. “I’m not even going to talk to you about this anymore. I’m sick of you lying to me. You can stay in your room until your father gets home.”

I didn’t answer. A moment later she left, closing the door as loudly as possible without actually slamming it. I waited a couple of minutes to make sure she wasn’t coming back, and then whirled into action.


I flung open the closet door, and rummaged through the piles of clothes and books scattered on the floor. After a few seconds, my hand closed on the pack stashed beneath them. I grabbed it and opened it, stripped off my jeans and t-shirt and abandoned them in a heap on the floor. Then I dressed in the pants and tunic I pulled out of the pack. I checked to make sure I had everything I’d need, including a selection of coins marked with the Swallow insignia of Greyholme, and slung the pack over my shoulder.

Then I moved to the bed and reached underneath it for my sword. It was a beautiful weapon, and very well used. I ran a hand over the topaz set into its hilt and smiled. I loved that sword like my friends loved their playstations. I buckled the belt around my hips with practiced ease and turned towards the mirror.

“And the Great Kristof returns to battle,” I said aloud, thrusting out my chest and striking a heroic pose. Then I gestured and muttered the esoteric words I’d been taught by Paavo, the great Greyholme mage. The image in the mirror shimmered and disappeared and the mirror took on the familiar green glow of an open portal. I took a deep breath and stepped through.

I was in an alley. Alone, thankfully. I didn’t have time to explain my sudden appearance to bystanders. Sasha was in trouble, and it was up to me to save her.

Sasha was my companion, colleague and, I liked to think, something of a soul mate. She had fiery red hair with a temper to match, and she was at least as good at flinging spells as I was with my sword. We’d met the first time I came to Greyholme, and had worked together ever since.

We’d been on our way to see the King when my wards were tripped and I was summoned home a few hours earlier. Just as the transition spell took hold, bandits attacked. Together, we could have taken them without breaking a sweat. But we weren’t together. I couldn’t stop the transition spell, and Sasha was left to face them on her own.

Now that I was back in Greyholme, Sasha was my priority. My plan was simple. First, find the bandits. Second, kill them. Third, rescue Sasha.

Surprisingly, the plan worked. That doesn’t often happen. But three hours later, I pulled my sword from the chest of the last bandit and wiped my blade clean. Then I made my way to the hut where Sasha was being held prisoner and unlocked the door.

“Never fear!” I announced grandly as I made my way inside. “I’m here to rescue— Oh.”

Sasha was halfway out the window, having somehow pried the bars and shutters loose. She rolled her eyes and slid back into the room. “Let’s go,” she said, stepping towards the door.

“No kiss, then?” I asked, attempting to keep up my heroic pose.

Sasha just looked at me. Silently. I guessed that was a no.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that she doesn’t like me. She just hasn’t fallen for the mighty Kristof charm yet. I would have said something to have her swooning into my arms, but I was interrupted by the familiar, irritating sense that my wards had been compromised.

“I have to go,” I said.

Sasha nodded. “Very well.” She paused, and then said grudgingly, “Thank you for coming to rescue me.” Then she shot me a wicked smile. “Hurry back or I’ll defeat all the bad guys before you get here.”

With a promise to return the following day, I murmured the transition spell and stepped through the portal and back to my bedroom.

The battle had left me tired and sore, but not wounded. I would probably have a few cuts and bruises to show for it, but I didn’t have time to check. My wards had been crossed – someone was approaching my bedroom. I pulled off my Greyholme clothes, bundled them into my pack, and pulled on my jeans and t-shirt.  I slid my pack and sword back under my bed – I could clean and oil it later. Then I collapsed onto the bed just as there was a knock on the door.

It had to be Dad. Mom never knocked.

“Come in,” I called.

My father opened the door slowly and peered around the room. He paused in the doorway a moment, and then came in and sat on the end of the bed. “Your mother says you’ve been telling her stories again.”

I nodded, not making eye contact.

He rubbed a hand across his beard, and shook his head. “She says you told her you couldn’t clean your room because you needed to rescue Sasha.”

I nodded again.

He sighed. “We’ve talked about this, Christopher. When I taught you the transition spell, I thought I made it clear. If you can’t keep this secret, I won’t permit you to return to Greyholme.” He paused and leaned forward, looking at me seriously. “Now, is Sasha alright?”



Filed under Flash Fiction