I recently read a great piece of advice from one of my favourite authors, Brandon Sanderson, and it has completely revolutionized the way I look at my work. He said that you shouldn’t aim to be an author who wrote a great book, you should aim to be a great author.
I took this to mean that you should nurture yourself as a writer, put time and effort into your craft and your personal development, as you would undergo training and professional development in any career. Because of this, I am now putting a lot of time and effort into improving my craft. I am taking courses on worldbuilding, character development and writing dialogue, as well as closely studying some of the greatest authors I know (Sanderson’s courses and advice being the main source of knowledge!). And I’m loving it! I’m already changing the way I write and altering my perspective on building a series.
So, I want to know, which authors have inspired or motivated you? Who has given good advice or tips to help you develop your craft?
Recently I’ve been working really hard on building and developing the world in The Light and Shadow Chronicles. Each of the novels to date has been set in a different location in the world. A Chronicle of Chaos was set mostly in Alcherys, the nation of the Children of Light, and The Shield of Soren took place in the country of Parador. Now, I am working on two different stories, both set in completely new locations. The Ballad of Benedict takes place in the distant, forested country of Thos, and The Sins of Silas will feature the wild jungles of Meraxor.
So, I decided to expand upon each country and pad them out
with further details. This post will explore Meraxor and its capital city,
MERAXOR – Home of the Brotherhood of shadow
Some context for or those who have read any of the books in the Light and Shadow Chronicles series:
Meraxor is the homeland of The Brotherhood of Shadow. The modern city was developed by Vincent Wilder and the Bavelize around 130 years before the bulk of the series takes place. However, there was civilisation in Meraxor many thousands of years prior to this (and remains of this ancient culture can be found throughout the nation.)
Meraxan FAST FACTS:
Width at widest point: 300miles
Size in area: 27,300 miles² (Roughly the size of Ireland)
Approx. 180,000 people live in the largest three cities (18% of the
Approx. 37,500 people live in the smaller three cities (4% of the
Approx. 280,000 people live in 123 towns (28% of the population)
Approx. 498,000 people live in 2660 villages (50% of the population)
Approx. 400 people live as hermits or wanderers, away from civilisation
(0.04% of the population)
Within Vincent’s closest circles, men are generally viewed as superior to women. Women are viewed as mothers, partners and carers for the men of the Brotherhood of Shadow. Due to this, misogyny and sexist prejudice are rife. Prostitution is common and Vincent himself has numerous concubines, with whom he fathers many children.
In the slums of the cities, men and women are considered equal – all are poor, destitute and lacking hope, and gender plays no part in this. Again, prostitution is common amongst both sexes, and people do as they can to survive. Children are cared for by both, or either, parent dependent on the family’s circumstances. Most common people live simple lives, working as farmers, fruit pickers, miners and shopkeepers. There is a huge number of tiny shops, stalls and tradesmen working out of the slums and the most successful and talented of these progress into the central market square where trade and transportation are accessible.
People who live in Belkeep or the other large cities generally spend their entire lives within their birth city. Travel is possible via the railways and rivers, but it is expensive, especially to travel on passenger transports. People can buy passage on trading boats and rail carts but the journey times are long and uncomfortable. Travel on foot is almost unheard of, as the dense jungles around the cities are so dangerous and inaccessible.
Terrain and climate:
Meraxor is a large country which sits upon the equator, meaning the majority of the climate is tropical, with smaller sub-tropical areas. It is prone to extreme weather conditions – tornados, earthquakes etc. 69% of the land is arable, but 31% is forested and inaccessible/undeveloped.
Meraxor is surrounded on three sides by ocean. The Perion Sea lies to the east, and the Bernian Sea to the west.
Meraxor is one of the most stunningly beautiful countries on the planet, with a huge diversity of wildlife. Central Meraxor is dominated by the expansive Meraxan rainforest – the largest jungle on the planet, parts of which are entirely inaccessible for humans. A large river and stream network feeds the jungles and connects the oceans and the mountains. The Meraxan people use the water networks for transport, trade, military expeditions and as a food source. Meraxor is one of the most stunningly beautiful countries on the planet, with a huge diversity of wildlife and flora in the expansive Meraxan rainforest.
‘The landscape was very different to the world in which he had grown up. It was spectacular. Vast, sweeping vistas met his gaze. Enormous, dramatic mountains sloped in from the east and west, creating a gorge in the centre, where a turbulent river crashed over rocks and tree roots, cascading in gargantuan waterfalls at intervals along its length.
The mountains and valleys were covered in lush, dense forests as far as the eye could see. The trees that covered the valley stood taller than any of the buildings back in Pabell. Rich, vibrant colours sprang forth from the canopy in the form of luminous foliage or the occasional tropical bird. Far beneath the towering trees, the forest floor was dark and overgrown with vines and mosses, but the understory was teeming with life and plants of such astounding beauty that Vincent was taken aback. Clear, bell-like bird calls or grating, screeching cries rang out through the air.
In the centre of the exotic jungle was a large structure made of wood and stone. There were platforms stretching between the taller trees to allow people to pass over the forest, rather than fighting their way through the thick undergrowth. Beneath the platforms, Vincent could just make out old, crumbling stone walls and domes.’
To the north of Meraxor is Terralia and the enormous Jardian mountain range which borders it.
There is also the Khardesian mountain range in the west of the country, and the Stenmirren range at the southern coast.
There are two huge lakes, Freyval and Teyan.
There is an underground cave network in the north west of the country, though it is largely unexplored.
Meraxor uses Embers – the same coins as Alcherys and Parador use.
1 Ember (a circular golden coin bearing a flame symbol – approximately
10 Sparks to an Ember (Sparks are tiny golden coins, rectangular in
shape and made of copper – approximately 30cents)
Money is scarce in Meraxor and people have to work for everything. If they have no job, they get nothing at all. Alternatively, if they are skilled or very lucky they can become incredibly rich.
Meraxor is a great provider of multiple resources: Medicines from the rainforest, fruit, animal hides, food, cloth and other materials for clothing and crafting.
Meraxor has excellent
transportation and trade routes, and therefore they trade with every other
nation except Thos.
Meraxor operates under a dictatorship. Vincent Wilder wields absolute power and his actions are not restricted by a constitution or laws. Vincent’s senior advisors and officers in the Brotherhood of Shadow advise him, but he can choose to acknowledge or ignore their recommendations. Appointed officers take care of administrative matters and the day to day running of the country, but all decision-making goes through Vincent personally.
BELKEEP: Capital City of Meraxor. Belkeep is the largest city on the planet, covering 780 square miles and with a population of 100,000. 60% of the city is covered by sprawling, heavily crowded slums, where thousands of people live in poor conditions.
There is a central hub to the city, where the markets, guild halls, shops, courtyards and nobles houses are located. This is also the centre of the transport networks.
A huge wall surrounds Belkeep and branches off around the country, offering both transportation via aqueducts and railways, and also a strong defensive system.
The richer people of the city are those that inhabit the forts that are stationed along the wall. Vincent Wilder’s family often defend these fortresses (Silas Wilder of the novel The Sins of Silas is one of these). Vincent himself, his highest ranking advisors, and his concubines live in the palace of Belkeep, which sits on top of the city itself. This is known as the ‘Diamond Tier’.
Khasimara: Population 40,000
Terakeep: Population 20,000
Vermidor: Population 10,000
Yunasdor: Population 7,500
Boldor: Population 6000
Phirkeep: Population 4000
Panekmara: Population 2000
Traditional dress in Meraxor is lightweight and flowing to allow the wearer to handle the heat. Most clothes are lightweight, cotton, and sporting bright colours, elaborate patterns, jewels and beads.
Poison-enhanced weaponry is common in the Meraxan elite armies. Using poison from the creatures in the rainforests, they utilise poison darts, and poison-tipped swords and axes. Older weapons, from before the Second Age, used bone ridged weapons and the jagged teeth of wild animals to give their armies more power.
The iron mines of the Jardian Mountains, including the enormous
Ironmaw, are under the control of the Brotherhood, since the occupation of
Terralia. Meraxor, therefore, has total control over all production and trading
of iron armour and weapons. The majority of this iron is sold on to other
nations (including, ironically, their main enemies!), but a percentage is kept
The higher ranking members of the Brotherhood of Shadow have access to Terralian steel, whereas the foot soldier army have subpar, mass-produced weapons made of inferior steel or sometimes even wood.
Ethnically, Meraxans are typically dark-haired and dark-eyed. They often have almond shaped eyes and creamy skin (similar to real-world Far Eastern characteristics). 2% of the population are born with blonde or red hair, and light-coloured eyes are even rarer.
Culturally, Meraxans are industrious and want to work to drag themselves out of the poverty that 90% of them suffer through. They will strive to work hard, and take their losses or failures hard. Stalls and temporary shops pop up often in the slums due to this desire to succeed, but resources and money are so scarce in the slums that they often fail and the owners slip into depression, poverty, drug use and alcoholism.
All Brotherhood of Shadow, Vincent Wilder, Silas Wilder, Drake Wilder, Requiem Wilder, Mercy Wilder, Odin Wilder, Serena Kariss.
The Meraxan people are superstitious and religious and most of the
country worship at the Cult of the Bavelize. The citizens are wholly obedient
to the Bavelize. They believe that everything in the universe is the creation
of the Bavelize and there is no point questioning anything as everything was
designed to fit a purpose that only the Bavelize knows.
There is an 80% religious following of the Bavelize, with the remaining 20% identifying as ‘undecided’ – a risky opinion to voice, but one which is increasingly more common among young people in the slums.
Believers are under no obligation or duty to convert or convince others in their belief. Therefore, they have no disdain for non-believers, merely a smug assurance that they are more knowledgeable.
The smoky deity has temples in its favour spread across the nation, especially in the city of Belkeep. There are no official services or gatherings at the temples, and rituals or ceremonies are a private affair. People may choose to serve the Bavelize as they see fit, providing they follow its every instruction when, and if, they are called upon. Some families barely acknowledge their god in their day to day lives, others pray 5-6 times a day and live their lives in the service of their ‘creator’. Followers of this religion are concentrated mainly in Meraxor, with a mere 0.3% of believers scattered across the rest of the world. It is the belief of all Bavelize-worshippers that Meraxor, and particularly Belkeep, are the chosen grounds of the Bavelize and as such many make a pilgrimage to the great city and remain there to live in the slums.
The Cult of the Bavelize is mostly based around fear of the smoke creature. Its appearances to the public are incredibly rare, and only very few people have ever been graced by its true appearance. Vincent Wilder is regularly in communication with the Bavelize and its wishes are dictated to him to carry out in his nation. In later years it is unknown how much of Vincent’s instruction comes from himself or the Bavelize. There are no commandments or instructions to live by, aside from the direct communications received from Vincent and occasional other people. As with the frequency of worship, people serve as they see fit. Early messages from the Bavelize indicated that the people should follow their own interests, beliefs and motivations with the intention of developing your soul. The meaning of life to those in the Cult of the Bavelize is to become the best human they can be to honour their god.
In the jungle, there is also an ancient amphitheatre where the original Meraxans used to summon their god. This ancient summoning location features carvings of creatures unknown to humanity. The central summoning altar is carved with a deep spiral, which is the only known symbol representing the Bavelize. It fell out of common use in the early years of the modern development of Meraxor and has since been confined to history.
There are no specific rituals to commemorate birth, death or marriage. Many people choose to take their new child to a temple immediately after birth, to have the Bavelize ‘bless’ the baby. The bodies of the deceased are also sometimes lain within temples for a day following their death. This is usually only applied to those of the nobility and the Brotherhood ranks. The dead of the slums are the responsibility of the slum citizens and as such they store bodies in cold cellars and then burn them all in monthly funeral pyres. Some traditions around these death ceremonies have appeared in the slums in recent years, with people beginning to recite poetry and sing songs to honour their dead.
Marriage exists in the Brotherhood of Shadow, but may only be permitted by Vincent himself. The lovers must approach him, state their reasons for the union and how it will benefit them, the nation, the state and most importantly, the Bavelize. If they are unable to give adequate reasons for their marriage, it will be declined. If accepted, Vincent assigns a senior member of the Brotherhood to complete a short ceremony within the central temple inside the Palace of Belkeep (Vincent’s private summoning room for the Bavelize).
Marriages also occur in the slums, but there is no official service, record or legal binding contract. Two people state their intention to become joined to one another, their friends and family gather and a raucous celebration will take place in the numerous bars, inns and markets of the slums. Due to the non-legal nature of marriages, the average length of a union is around 5 years and people may ‘marry’ as many times as they wish.
Meraxans go all-out with elaborate designs and architecture.
Vincent likes his chosen buildings to be the best anywhere on the planet, and
those he cares little for are left to rot and crumble. It is the responsibility
of all in the slum to build new shacks, maintain sanitation and trash disposal.
Vincent and the Brotherhood have no part in the upkeep or development of the
Belkeep palace: The centrepiece of Belkeep is the grand palace, which was stunningly crafted with years upon years of slave labour. Everything is designed to impress. The largest palace in the world, it is topped with handcrafted golden leaves and surrounded by impenetrable stone walls. The Palace of Belkeep has iron bars that run under the flooring like radiators – they are heated with steam and warm the entire palace. Gold, diamonds, and statues of marble and pearl are common inside the palace. 99% of the wealth within Belkeep is located within the palace building and its grounds.
Great Wall: The Great Wall of Belkeep is a stunning architectural marvel. It surrounds the city, stretching in a wide ring nearly 250 miles long. The wall is 20metres high around the city itself and nearly 10 metres wide. Some parts of the wall hold aqueducts and rail tracks to provide safe and easy trade and travel in and around the city. The wall then branches off in five directions to snake across the nation of Meraxor for a further 220miles.
Amphitheatre. Deep in the jungles, and hidden from civilisation by foliage, vines, enormous trees and sweeping hills, is the ancient summoning temple of the Bavelize. It is believed to have been built over three thouand years ago by the people of the first age, and used the blood of a human sacrifice to call upon their deity.
The cities are paved with cheap, sturdy and resilient asphalt using gravel and stone from the mines and quarries. Carts, horses and travel by foot are common within the cities. Outside of the city there are few roads. Northern Meraxor, and especially the semi-desert plains of the Holy Lands have some dirt and stone tracks. Southern Meraxor and the arable farmlands near to the South coast have tracks and some small roads to aid the transportation of produce and crops.
However, the bulk of the country is covered by dense
rainforest which is impossible to keep cleared and safe for roads. Horses and
carts are rendered useless in the jungles and travel is restricted to foot or
The rivers are offer an extensive travel system throughout Meraxor, especially those inaccessible forested areas. The forests are fed by a huge network of rivers, streams and lakes. The Meraxans developed narrow canoe-like boats to negotiate these streams and to be able to transport goods across the nation without having to go around the Meraxan rainforest.
Coupled with the railways, the Meraxans developed an ingenious transport system involving amphibious rail boats which can enter and exit the rivers via rail. Traders can load the boats on land or on water and transportation is fast, reliable and accessible.
When the rails and the rivers meet the city of Belkeep, there are huge pulley systems that allow the carts to be hoisted up the walls and onto the aqueducts which run around the perimeter of the city. This allows the goods to be taken to the very centre of the markets, and also provides an excellent mode of travel around the city. There are trade boats and passenger boats running often.
Water – To provide water for the largest city on the planet was no easy feat, but luckily Belkeep had been built at the intersection of two great rivers, beside the huge lake Teyan and within 100 miles of two different oceans – The Perion and the Bernian. The aqueduct and river systems bring fresh water to the city and the wells and pumps are kept fresh by this flow of water.
The people in the slums use wells, buckets and hand pumps to retrieve the water they need. There are large steam-powered pumps that supply water to the palace.
There is an elaborate sewage removal system in the palace of Belkeep. Large pipes and steam powered pumps flush the waste out to the rivers in the forests. The slums have no sewage system, so people go to the edge of the city and dig trenches. Some parts of the slums have very little sanitation, and therefore disease and infection are rife.
Meraxan cuisine offers some of the most delectable treats anywhere on the planet. The food is extravagant, spicy, and aromatic. Even the poor people of the slums can have access to delicious and nutritious foods for a low price (though many struggle to afford even such low cost meals). The people eat a lot of meat and fish which they have to hunt themselves in the lakes, rivers and at the edges of the forests. Vegetables, wheat and barley are grown in the arable areas and transported to the cities, but these foods are generally more expensive than the meat and fish the forests provide.
Juicy, tasty, colourful fruits are common in Meraxan cuisine, as well as unique herbs and spices – all of which grow in the rainforests. Meraxan food is difficult to cook, however, and some of the more interesting and elaborate dishes must be cooked by experts, due to the possibility of mixing tasty ingredients with poisonous elements.
Thank you for reading all about Meraxor and the home of the Brotherhood of Shadow. Meraxor will be the setting for the upcoming novel, The Sins of Silas.
Next on my list of worldbuilding locations will be Alcherys – home of the Children of Light.
My editing process is a long and tiring one, but strangely I wholeheartedly enjoy parts of it (especially the early stages.)
I initially write my books using two methods. I spend a few hours a week sitting in cafes or restaurants with my trusty notebook, where I will hand-write sections of my story. It’s a bit old-school, I know, but there’s something special about cutting off from technology and getting back to basics with good old pen and paper. I often find that this is when my creativity truly blossoms.
Well, summer 2016 has been a busy one. As a primary school teacher I have six weeks summer vacation in which to catch up with all the writing and editing I can’t do in the school term.
So, what have I been up to in these six weeks?
Aside from looking after my hyperactive, cheeky little 5 year old son, I’ve been away on two holidays – Snowdonia in Wales, and a cruise to the Norwegian fjords. Both had beautiful, mountain scenery – just what I need to get my writer’s inspiration flowing.
These two breaks, as well as a significant amount of time at home have allowed me to achieve the following:
My editor (and awesome friend) Pam Elise Harris asked me this July to take part in Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) I was terrified of the concept of only having one month to complete a writing project, but I decided to go for it. As it was my first challenge, I set myself a manageable target of 20,000 words and started a brand new novella entitled ‘Origin of Shadow’.
I am delighted to announce that I managed to completed my target! I now have a shiny Camp NaNo winner’s certificate to be proud of!
This story was written to complement Genesis of Light – a similar sized novella. Each of these novellas tells the story of the origin of one of the armies in my Light and Shadow Chronicles series. Origin of Shadow lets readers in on the secrets of how the Brotherhood of Shadow were formed.The two novellas will need to go through editing but I hoping to release them sometime next year (My cover designer, Irina French, is due to start work on the covers shortly!)
Author talk at Newbold Verdon library
On Wednesday 10th August I gave my first ever author talk at my local library. I did this 2.5 hour presentation/interactive Q&A with a fellow author named Stewart Bint (we live 500 yards from each other!). It was so much fun and the engagement from our audience was wonderful! I am pleased to say I even managed to sell a few copies! I can’t wait to do more events like this in the future.
#Writestorm marathon day
July 31st was our first #writestorm marathon. Facebook group ‘The #Awethors’ (of which I am co-creator) joined in with a 24 hour writing marathon. People were not required to write all day (that would have been crazy!) but they were asked to select certain hour long periods entirely dedicated to adding words to their current Work-In-Progress. The #writestorm methodology is a concept developed by talented author Andy Mengel, which involves short, intense periods of writing which are timed and structured. This method allows authors the chance to blast out a high word count without distractions, and helps to feed motivation in the next writing session.
The event was a huge success! Between us we managed to write 41,000 words! No small feat of accomplishment for 24 hours. We’ll be sure to run more events like this in the future.
For more about the #writestorm process – check out the official handbook:
I’ve finally finished the first rounds of edits for The Shield of Soren!
The next novel in my Light and Shadow Chronicles series is ‘The Shield of Soren’. The books in this epic fantasy series are not chronological so this new installment could be read before or after the first release ‘A Chronicle of Chaos’ (available to buy here – just saying…) There are some characters who will appear in The Shield of Soren whom you might know from A Chronicle of Chaos: Raven, Deacon, Callista, Vincent, the mysterious tattooed man in black…
Now I’ve finished first round of edits, the book will be heading back to my editor for round 2 and I am hoping to be finished editing by the end of 2016, with a view to release in 2017.
What writing advancements has this summer brought for you?
As an author, I constantly beat myself up about my work – day in, day out. Why haven’t I finished my work-in-progress yet? This piece isn’t edited well enough. Am I clearly defining the plot/character/location? Why isn’t my book getting as many reviews as other people’s?
I often forget to just sit back and look at what I do objectively. I wrote a book for goodness’ sake!
Do you know how many people yearn to write what is inside their hearts and never manage to actually get it down on paper? Well, I did.
So I say, forget all the stressful hard work and confidence bashing that comes with writing and, from time to time, just sit back and say to yourself – I achieved something incredible.
Will O’ the Wisp is a paranormal tale from C. S. Boyack. It involves a mildly handicapped girl facing a mysterious threat. The wisp has been killing off Patty Hall’s family for generations, and she’s next on the list. It is suitable for young adult readers. It’s a perfect Halloween read.
Interview with C.S. Boyack
Whenever I’ve followed a blog tour, there always seems to be one post about writing tips. This is always one of my favorite posts, because I think we can all learn something from one another.
With a story like Will O’ the Wisp, I really wanted to use a few suspense techniques. I keep a living document on my iPad that’s full of writing advice, tips, and tricks. When I find something new, I update the document. The suspense techniques have been languishing here for a long time, and this was the perfect story to play with them.
Suspense is all about the unknown and waiting until discomfort settles in. There are quite a few tricks to create this, and I used a few of them in this story.
Have someone ask a seemingly innocent question, but have the answer be something vague and cryptic. This perks me right up as a reader. Didn’t seem like that big a deal, why is Aunt Tilly avoiding the question? This makes me want to turn the page. Make sure some waiting is involved to get the reader salivating. Have the phone ring before the character can ask more questions. Distract and avoid. Change the conversation.
Tense moments work well too. If a guy in a hoodie and shades follows your heroine through the park, drag it out. Don’t tell the reader that he saw her drop her wallet and just wants to give it back. While your heroine is panicking, maybe she can come up with a lightbulb moment to propel the plot forward. That sigh of relief can be followed immediately by an encounter with the real bad guy. In other words, she thanks the good samaritan, shakes his hand, and watches him leave. She breathes a sigh of relief, turns and runs right into serial killer #1.
Make a character lie, but make sure the reader knows it’s a lie. This is not the place for immediate consequences. Drag the consequences out. It’s even sweeter if the other character knows it’s a lie, and doesn’t call it out. Maybe the other character has some nefarious reason not to reveal that she knows the truth.
Use distance to your advantage. Have your heroine sit next to serial killer #1 at the cafe. Have him pass the salt, and let them touch. He knows he’s serial killer #1, the reader knows, but she doesn’t.
Distance should be increased to isolate your character. The more distance to rescue, the more tension. Just your heroine and serial killer #1 all alone at abandoned castle.
Make your heroine sneak, even if it’s not completely necessary. Back at the cafe, serial killer #1 heads for the restroom. Your heroine could ask the waitress how to get to Carnegie Hall. Instead, she grabs SK #1’s cell phone and Googles it. You know, the same phone with pictures of his dismembered victims on it.
Throw in a few temptations too. Temptations are things your heroine wants. The new office stud muffin invites your heroine to Aspen for the weekend, his treat. She ought to torture herself over the decision. She wants this, but promised to watch Aunt Tilly’s cat. Aunt Tilly lives right next door to Serial Killer #1.
There are hundreds of ways to establish suspense, and I used a few of them in Will O’ the Wisp. I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out, but readers will be the ultimate judge. Please consider being one of them.
Patty Hall is perfectly prepared for the wrong problem. She is enamored with the space race, and knows the history of NASA by heart. She is faced with an ancient threat that has been targeting the Hall family for generations. Hampered by an overprotective mother, if Patty can’t figure it all out in time, she may be the next member in the Hall family cemetery plot.
It’s not hard enough to be a fifteen year old girl, and a social outcast. As she watches her friends mature and grow, she has to face the idea of never turning sixteen. Please consider joining Patty on her incredible adventure.
You can pick up a copy on Amazon using your Kindle or a free reading app. Download it here:
Author Bio I was born in a town called Elko, Nevada. I like to tell everyone I was born in a small town in the 1940s. I’m not quite that old, but Elko has always been a little behind the times. This gives me a unique perspective of earlier times, and other ways of getting by. Some of this bleeds through into my fiction.
I moved to Idaho right after the turn of the century, and never looked back. My writing career was born here, with access to other writers and critique groups I jumped in with both feet.
I like to write about things that have something unusual. My works are in the realm of science fiction, paranormal, and fantasy. The goal is to entertain you for a few hours. I hope you enjoy the ride.