Monday, 24 March 2014

Researching Forts and Castles for Fantasy Novels: A Post by R A McCandless in the Nine Heroes Anthology series

Ladies and Gentlemen, our first ever anthology Nine Heroes has been released and in celebration of that we are doing a series of posts called "That is the moment when". Each post deals with an experience or experiences that each author who contributed to the anthology has had that helped shape the way they write or tell stories.

This time around we have RA McCandless, who contributed the short story 'Through the Sting of Fairy Smoke' to the anthology.

Nine Heroes: That is the moment when . . .

It was November of 2013, at Fort Rinella on Malta.

That is the moment when I realized just how important, and how impressive, even small fortifications could be, and why I loved writing about them.  I’d been all over the island nation checking out the massive turrets, bastions, towers, walls and defenses of the Knights Hospitaller, and they were all fantastic.  It was research and inspiration in one for a heroic fantasy author.  You definitely understand that the men who held claim to Malta and dedicated to a life of piety, were trained and skilled in war and violence.

But the British-built Ford Rinella, constructed between 1878 and 1886 to house and defend an Armstrong 100-ton gun, is what really brought the concept of siege-craft into sharp focus.  This was brought to my full and complete attention when the tour guides, dressed in an era-appropriate red British uniform, led us along the approach, which bent sharply to the right just as we approached the counter-escarpment.  Twenty firing points line the defensive wall, part of a sheer drop into a dry moat about thirty feet deep.  Five of the firing points were manned, and additional reenactment volunteers began to mass-fire blanks in our general direction.  The noise of the commands to aim and fire, given in quick succession, followed by the booming report of weapons, gave me pause.

Considering the approach from an attacker’s point of view, you’d have to order men down that death shoot.  Without any kind of armor or shielding, it would take hard, fast running and a great deal of luck to avoid the massed fire coming from all twenty of the firing points when full manned.  This doesn’t take into account at all the assault required to breach the moat, pull open the solid siege door (which had its own firing point) and then attempt to storm into the fort proper . . . which had its own defenses.  I haven’t even mentioned the caponier with additional firing ports, defensive ditches and narrow choke points throughout the rest of the small fortress.

Reading about castles and towers and fortifications is one thing.  Even visiting them helps give a good sense of scale and perspective.  For an author this first hand knowledge is invaluable.  But actually seeing, even as a reenactment, soldiers moving into position with their weapons to repel an attack . . . that’s quite something.

Explaining attack or defense or even a soldier’s day-to-day life to an audience in the context of heroic, valiant or villainous even dastardly deeds is what made the experience so rewarding.  The thrill of fear in just the approach, the resolve of the defenders in their position of tenuous strength – it’s the very essence of any good story.  Objective and challenges, set-backs and triumphs are an author’s main stock in trade.  The goal, though, is to take the reader to a place that is so real that if they ever actually go there, it won’t be for the first time.

Nine Heroes is available in both paperback and kindle.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Hello one and all! Well, the Nine Heroes anthology has been released and we here at the Heroic Fantasy Group couldn’t be happier how it turned out. In celebration of this we came up with an idea that will help readers get to know our authors a little better. So with this in mind we shall be doing a series of blog posts known as ‘That is the moment when’. These blog posts are about a certain experience each author has had in their lives that helped influence the way they write and tell stories. So without further to do let us begin!

First up to the plate is Shane Porteous who contributed the short story ‘Dozen’ to the anthology. Over to you, Shane!

Hi, Everyone!
Ghosts, vampires, zombies, demons, killer robots and all kinds of other monsters are scary things. I think you would struggle to find anyone that wasn’t scared of them sometime in their life; I was no different of course. As a boy I would often read comics/books about them. You know the ones I am talking about Goosebumps, Choose Your Nightmare etc. As children we have all had those moments, the ones where in order to impress our friends we have pretended to be brave and enter a supposedly haunted house or say the word of a spirit in a mirror x number of times. Of course the truth was none of us were brave, we were all scared, I know I certainly was.

I suppose it is unsurprising then that I was drawn to superheroes and pulp fiction barbarians. The men and occasionally women, who not only showed little fear in the face of these monsters but often at times, hunted them down. I think that is the reason why a lot of people like super heroes. I mean as a kid it was down right cool to see Spiderman getting the better of the monstrous Lizard or the ghoulish Venom. Who could pass up a chance to see Batman laying the smack down on the likes of Croc Killer? 

I have written stories my entire life and while sadly I cannot remember most of the earliest ones I am quite sure they all entailed such things. They were filled with all sorts of monsters, but the monsters weren’t just hunting helpless victims, instead men and women bravely thwarted them and became the nightmares of the very monsters they hunted. 

Essentially those early stories were a celebration of good triumphing over evil. A classic and often used theme, but that doesn’t diminish its importance or effect, I mean after all there is a reason why such a theme is considered timeless. For most of my childhood those are the stories that I wrote, good triumphing over evil. They were simple stories, but boy, were they fun to write! 

I remember when I was ten or so I had a friend called Andrew, he was obsessed with a sci-fi movie called Guyver: Dark Hero. He was constantly talking about it, I don’t remember specifically what he said. But using the sparkling word play that children are fluent in it would have been something like, “Dude, it is about this guy who can summon space armor and he uses it to fight these transforming monsters!” Definitely sounded like my kind of thing.

Of course the problem was this was during the hype of the television series MacGuyver. So whenever I tried to tell my parents about it they just thought I was making up stories about that particular television. Eventually (or more likely rather quickly) I gave up my search for it.

I had pretty much completely forgotten about it by the time I was eleven as I am sure Andrew had as well. Then one day I was in my local video store, (this was back when a video store was more or less on every corner.) I was browsing the shelves as usual, looking for my weekly fix of professional wrestling tapes, when I walked down an isle I had never been in before. In that isle I saw something on the shelf, something that sparked a memory in my mind. It wasn’t Guyver: Dark Hero and it wasn’t a movie. It was Guyver Bio Booster Armor, a cartoon series (okay I later learned that technically it is called an anime, because it is a Japanese cartoon based on a manga). But at the time to me it was just called a cartoon and was the influence behind the movie Andrew often so fondly spoke about.

Reading the back of the tape I began remembering all the things Andrew had said about it and indeed it really looked like my kind of thing. So I rented it, took it home, chucked it in the VCR and set myself up for a viewing experience.

The first thing that struck me were the monsters, they were darker, grittier and downright creepier than most monsters I had ever seen before. While this scared me I remember feeling a little bit excited because this had to mean that the hero was tough and brave, the kind of person who could put these monsters in their place. Apart from that I really wasn’t expecting anything different than to what I was use to. I saw Sho (main character) as this world’s Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne, defending good people from evil monsters.

Now I should probably stop here and just explain the plot of Guyver a bit. I mean no offense to my old friend Andrew but I got a feeling my paraphrasing of his description of Guyver just doesn’t quite get the job done.

Essentially Guyver told the story about three sets of alien armor, when activated they would be spiritually attached to whoever had activated them. The easiest way to describe them is basically think of a cross between Ironman’s armor and an alien symbiote. Now these sets of armor were being sought after by the Chronos Corporation, who used genetically engineered shape-shifting monsters called Zoanoids as foot soldiers. 

So anyway there I was watching the episodes enjoying them thoroughly when a new group of villains were introduced (I apologize for not remembering the episode number.) These guys were called the Hyper Zoanoid Team 5, as you may have guessed they were a team of 5 Hyper Zoanoids. Essentially these guys were the best of the best of the best, the elite of the core of the Chronos Corporation. I thought they were great bad guys, they were scary, they were powerful and they certainly would give Sho a run for his money. But little did I realize that the Hyper Zoanoid Team 5 would forever change the way I saw stories and how I wrote them.

There is a certain scene that occurs within the series, revolving around Elegan, a member of this elite team. Elegan, after being beaten in a fight was on the ground, heavily injured, bleeding badly, in other words it was pretty obvious that he was going to die. Another member of the team ZX-Tole found the injured Elegan and silently listened to his pleas for help. He then got down on one knee before Elegan and…told him that it would be alright, that he was there for him.

Now this might not seem like much, but to my 11-year-old brain it was earth shattering. Because bad guys, let alone bad guys who were monsters, weren’t suppose to actually care about one another. At that time in my life whenever a situation like that arose the uninjured bad guy was suppose to look down at the injured bad guy and say something like, “Hey sucks to be you now I get a chance to use your weapon.” Following that they would either leave the injured bad guy to die or kill them themselves. But this wasn’t the case, ZX-Tole was visibly upset that his companion was moments away from death.

That scene really threw me at the time and with a new kind of curiosity I watched the rest of the series. It wasn’t so much questions of were the Zoanoids really evil and was Sho really a good guy. Those were already made clear, what wasn’t clear to me was why a bad guy would care about the well being of another bad guy? I watched on and slowly began to see the Hyper Zoanoid Team 5 not as faceless monsters doing evil things for the sake of being evil, but rather I saw a group of soldiers fighting for a cause they truly believed in. Even if I didn’t agree with their cause I was beginning to understand it more and more. It made me think in ways I never really had before, I began asking what reason did Sho have that gave him a better right or claim to use the power of the Guyver over the Chronos Corporation? It was a question I could easily answer in terms of good and evil, but that answer didn’t satisfy me.

That is the moment when I realized what had fascinated me so much about it. It wasn’t a question of good and evil, for that was a question too easily answered. But rather who was right and who was wrong? And more importantly who decided who was right and who wrong? In any conflict both sides believe they are right and the other wrong, but they both can’t be correct, can they? In terms of story telling, it was a question I had never asked myself, never even considered asking it until then. The question was far more complicated than simply knowing good and evil. It seemed only to lead to more questions, but in place of becoming frustrated I became ever curious. That made the question seem deeper to me, much worthier of exploring. And so I began searching for a conclusive answer in my own writings. I wrote new stories, tales much different to the ones that I had already written. These stories were more intriguing, more complex, more interesting, frankly they were superior in pretty much every way. It put me on a new literary path, one richer and grander than any other I had ever taken and I have Guyver Bio Boost Armor to thank for that.

It has been quite a while since the first time I saw Guyver Bio Booster Armor and I still find myself on that path, searching for that elusive conclusive answer. You would think searching for that long without an answer would dampen my spirits. But nothing could be further from the truth. I am glad to still be on this path, happy that my search continues. 
Shane Porteous 

Now why not do yourself a favor and check out the awesome anthology that is NINE HEROES.