Monday, 24 March 2014

What Happens When Kings Don’t Die: Sarah Cawkwell on an England where Richard III won

We know now that long after the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III, fatally came second at the Battle of Bosworth Field his body found itself unceremoniously lying beneath a car-park in Leicester.

But what would England look like if Shakespeare's favourite bad guy had won instead?

In June, Abaddon is launching a brand new historical fantasy series from an up and coming author: Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising is a thrilling alternative history by Sarah Cawkwell set in a world filled with magic and where, instead of the famous Tudor monarchs, there is an unconquered line of kings stemming from a victorious Richard III.

Sarah, who has previously written Warhammer novels, now brings her sense of history and visceral action to this fantastical re-imagining of the 16th Century. And we asked her to put together a few words to explain the series and what it's like resurrecting one of the most controversial Royal dynasties in English history...

What Happens When
Kings Don’t Die

When I was asked to consider an ‘alternative history-coupled with fantasy’ story, it took me about eleven seconds to decide whereabouts in history I would start.

A million years ago, when I was infinitely younger and certainly more impressionable, I went on a week’s holiday with my then-boyfriend to a remote little cottage somewhere in Scotland. Beautiful place it was: lovely walks, great fishing (for him), nice local pub (for me), no television and a shelf full of books that I could read whilst curled up beside a crackling log fire.

Amongst these books was the novelisation of a television series called The Devil’s Crown. I picked it up with vague disinterest and started reading it. By the end, I was in love with the Plantagenet family and this depiction of them. I can honestly say that returning that wonderful book to the shelf was the most heartbreaking separation from a book I can remember. I then started reading more and more about the Plantagenet family and find their legacy to be fascinating reading.

King Henry the Second was a true warrior king, a man who, whenever he saw something he wanted, would smack his hand down on a table, shout, ‘I WANT THIS THING!’, then go out and take it. I would put money down that he never once said ‘could you please pass the salt’.

This sense of self-entitlement also guaranteed him his wife, the remarkable Eleanor of Aquitaine, possibly amongst the most interesting and powerful women ever to feature in England’s history - and the mother of some of the most remarkable monarchs this country has ever seen.

Henry certainly did not suffer fools gladly and he was allegedly massively unpopular as a king. Yet in that novel, he became a sympathetic anti-hero. I’m a sucker for those.

Historical fiction is a delightful area of genre: accounts can be written that paint images of people who often exist only in dry, dusty history books, or as caricatures of their time. For example, the Bard immortalised Richard the Third as a tyrannical, hunch-backed monstrosity: others have argued that this is a great disservice to the long-dead king. History, so they say, is written by the winners and the losers are confined to pages where they are lampooned and ridiculed.

The Battle of Bosworth Field has been prominent in the news over the last couple of years due to the remains of King Richard the Third having been formally identified. Of all places for the last descendant of a great warrior king to be found, beneath layers of car park Tarmac in Leicestershire is probably one of the least dignified.

Richard the Third has perpetually been labelled as a nominal ‘bad guy’. That seemed like an interesting place to start.

What if, I hypothesised, Richard the Third beat Henry Tudor into a pulp on that August day in Leicestershire? What would have happened to England if he had reigned for more than the twenty-six months he did?

But even that was not the true point of divergence for this story. It would have been easy enough to re-write human history based on a Plantagenet victory that day and indeed, this is where Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising opens. But the story goes back further than that. What is it that gave Richard the strength to overcome on the battlefield?

For the answer to that, we look further back in history. We visit King Richard, the Lionheart, a man who is variously portrayed as either Sean Connery, or a shining beacon of English leadership (although many historians claim he didn't speak a word of English and preferred to live in Aquitaine rather than the country over which he ruled). The Devil’s Crown portrayed Richard in a very unsympathetic light which I feel was remarkably brave.

I went with the middle ground. King Richard the First returns from the Holy Land and the Crusades with a gift for the people of his country. He brings with him the gift of true magic: a mastery of the elements and weaving of spells and incantations that bring power and prosperity to his small island. The people of England embrace this gift and the country flourishes. The spread of magic across the known world brings an era of harmony.

You know it can’t possibly last. Let any power fall into the wrong hands and it will inevitably become a warped and twisted terrible thing. So once the ‘wrong’ people start using the gift, magic slowly pollutes the country and becomes something to be feared and banished, no longer to be embraced.

By the time King Richard the Third, the last of the Plantagenets takes to the battlefield at Bosworth, the monarchy is broken and England is a place torn apart by tyranny and war. Bosworth is the last hope for Richard and in order to perpetuate his line, he must  call upon the powers with whom his distant ancestor bargained and make a deal of his own.

For every bargain made, there is a price to be paid. Richard’s greed and lust for victory condemns his ancestors to a nightmare.

But eventually the time comes when someone has to make a stand and Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising brings together a number of unlikely individuals whose stories and journeys race towards a final, fateful showdown at dawn on the day of the Winter Solstice…

Heirs of the Demon King is out in June and can be pre-ordered through Amazon in the UK and North America.

About the author

Sarah Cawkwell is an English author based in the North East. Old enough to know better, she’s still young enough not to care. Married, with a son and two intellectually challenged cats, she’s been a writer for many years, contributing to the Warhammer universe. When not slaving away over a hot keyboard, Sarah’s hobbies include reading everything and anything, and running around in fields with swords screaming incomprehensibly. Her minimum bribe level is one chocolate orange.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

370km up and nowhere to run: Malcolm Cross on space station horror story Orbital Decay

Imagine being trapped in a tin can moving at five miles per second with unspeakable terrors inside and nothing but pitiless vacuum outside. That's the horrific situation facing the astronauts of the International Space Station in the brand new ebook from Abaddon Books - Orbital Decay.

This latest ebook exclusive from Abaddon in the Afterblight Chronicles series has been written by Malcolm Cross and we asked him to explain why setting his new novella on the ISS was the ultimate in horror settings.

My generation didn't have the moon landings.

The Space Shuttle was so passé it barely rated a news item, Skylab had long ago been abandoned and burned up, there was a fire on Mir and we hardly even heard about it. The International Space Station? It's been up there for sixteen years. Mostly we don't think about it.

For decades we all took human spaceflight for granted, and then Chris Hadfield burst onto twitter and Gravity rocked the Oscars, and then the spacemen over your head became real. For a lot of us it produced a brief disconnect with reality, a moment to dream in, a thrilling heartbeat where the silly childhood idea Star Trek might be real came back.

Obviously, I leapt at the opportunity when Abaddon Books offered me the chance to write about what happened on the ISS during the apocalyptic plague that kicks off their Afterblight Chronicles setting. Trouble is, for a good horror story, often you need to start somewhere normal and familiar, then take your reader to a place that's threateningly different. 

The International Space Station? It isn't familiar. It's a flying can with two very different architectural styles in the American and Russian sections, constantly noisy with the hum of air circulation fans. Silence isn't peace and quiet -- it's a reason to panic in case the air goes stale and asphyxiates you. There are dozens of sunrises every day, and just as many nights.

Trying to make it seem familiar felt sacrilegious. But that was my first goal, working in the routine around day to day research, everyday life with big 'family' dinners the whole crew gathers for, and even being forced to swallow down toothpaste because, after all, you can't spit into a sink without gravity's help. Even if the International Space Station's a place where you can turn the wall into the floor and a corridor into a canyon to fly through with just a twist of the body, to the Astronauts who call it home, it really is home.

And like any home, it's a great place to set a horror story.

Orbital Decay by Malcolm Cross is out now in ebook from Abaddon Books and available direct from the Rebellion Publishing webshop.

Monday, 3 March 2014

He's always seen ghosts ... but they've never offered him a job before.

Dead Stop
by Mark Clapham

The latest ebook exclusive release from Abaddon Books

ISBN (Mobi): 9781849975353  ISBN (Epub): 9781849975346

In 2012, we put out an open call for submissions from Abaddon Books and this month sees the release of the first e-novella from one of the authors who answered our call!

The new digital exclusive from Abaddon Books is Dead Stop – a chilling new Tomes of the Dead novella from Doctor Who and Warhammer 40,000 writer Mark Clapham.

David Larkin can see ghosts. It’s a blessing – or a curse – that’s been part of his life since his eleventh birthday. It’s not much use to him, and he mostly just tries to ignore them and get on with life, travelling around and keeping to out of the way places where not too many people have died.

Until the ghost of Melissa appears to him, in a forgettable truck-stop diner on a highway in the American Midwest, warning him about the flood of zombies heading his way. Melissa offers him a deal: she’ll help David escape the zombie horde – in exchange for finding her zombified body and destroying it...

Dead Stop is available through the Rebellion online store as well as on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and all good online retailers.

About the author

Mark Clapham has been writing professionally for 15 years, which probably counts as a career. He has written novels for the Warhammer 40,000 and Doctor Who book ranges, and lots of other things that you can find out about at the modestly named He lives in Exeter with his wife, the writer Mags L Halliday, and his daughter, but prefers to vacation in Raccoon City.