Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Seven

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Seven

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right

Part seven of a seven part series

Introduction to Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right

Well, here it is, the long awaited final to Seven Books in Seven Weeks. Okay, so it took a bit longer than seven weeks to complete but then you probably expected that from the start! Anyway, without further ado, here is the seventh book in the series, Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah Right, written by none other than me!


The Genesis of Drynwideon

The idea for Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right, also affectionately known as the world’s first anti-fantasy novel, first popped into my head in July of 2017. At the time, I was suffering from a fairly serious chest infection, which had developed into pneumonia and was spending most of my time lying in bed contemplating my navel and watching the world pass me by, while I waited for my white blood cells to do their job and banish the infection from the bounds of the pale, flabby thing that I call my body.

R A Gregory. Author of Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny - Yeah, Right

Rob Gregory. Author of Drynwideon.

Around the same time, the latest season of Game of Thrones was fast approaching and every time that I ventured from my sickbed, there was something on the television or the radio, hyping up the much anticipated series and saying how utterly amazing and fantastic it was going to be. I have never read Game of Thrones or seen the television series, apart from a few snippets that left me wondering what the heck was going on, but I had discussed it with a number of George R. R. Martin fans in the bar, who regaled me with its wondrous depth and complexity, all of which, I have to say left me a little flat. Now, I have nothing against Game of Thrones, but well, you know me, I like my stories simple and Game of Thrones or GOT as it was commonly known made me feel as if it was a soap opera set in a fantasy world, a bit like ‘EastEnders in Mordor’ or ‘Coronation Street in Wonderland’.

So there I was, incapacitated by illness and slowly climbing the walls with my inability to escape the GOT-hype and it got me thinking. What if there was a traditional fantasy story where the hero got killed off in the first chapter and the rest of the story focused on the most unlikely hero imaginable, someone who had no heroic qualities and just wanted to be left alone to get on with their life? And that, dear reader, is where the idea for Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right came from.


Drynwideon’s Storyline

The storyline of Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right is pretty simple. We start out with our hero, Gonald the Mighty scaling Mount Terror on a dark and stormy night, in order to slay Ka, the Dragon Princess, tyrant of the known world and the girl he had once called his daughter. Think Conan the Barbarian but better looking and a lot older and you’re on the right lines. He confronts her only to discover that Drynwideon, the mythical sword he stole from the king of the elves, is nothing more than a cheap replica of the ancient weapon and dies horribly when Ka incinerates him in a ball of searing flame. With me so far? Good!

Then we meet our protagonist, the anti-heroic, Drin. Sick to death of hearing about failed attempts to defeat the Dragon Princess, his main concerns are getting enough food to eat and avoiding winning the nightly ‘meat lottery’, which will mean he ends up on the dinner plate instead of one of the other villagers! His plans to flee the decrepit village he inhabits are thwarted by the village chief, but he escapes, as all good protagonists do and flees anyway, only to discover paradise just a few miles away! However, as with real life, things don’t always work out the way you planned and Drin’s stay is rudely cut short, whereupon he spends the rest of the book trying to find a substitute in which to spend the rest of his days.

Along the way, which inevitably involves arid savannahs, enchanted forests and countryside that wouldn’t be out of place in The Shire, he amasses a rag-tag assortment of unwanted companions, all of them with seriously disturbing personal problems and ends up on The Quest, a once in a decade Battle Royale, organised by the Dragon Princess, in which everyone apart from her dies in a most unpleasant manner.

Armed with only his trusty dagger, a thing called ‘Thing’ and his maladjusted friends, it is up to Drin to face Ka and win, if he wants a future longer than a few strangled breaths and a couple of mortal wounds that is!

I won’t tell you what happens, you’ll have to read the book, but it’s pretty darned good and a very welcome change from the usual run of the mill fantasy epic, I can assure you of that.


Drynwideon’s Main Characters

The main character in Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right is Drin. Half-starved, sarcastic and possessed of a natural cunning which saves his life on more than one occasion, as mentioned above, all he wants is a quiet life and being a hero is the last thing on his mind. When I was writing him, I couldn’t help but think of Michael Palin’s character, Dennis Cooper, in the brilliant Terry Gilliam film, Jabberwocky. Dennis, like Drin, is a reluctant hero, who has his own plans for his life but finds himself drawn into a far bigger adventure, despite his ongoing protestations to the contrary.

Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right. A book by R.A. Gregory Author

Drynwideon in all its glory.

Tefal the Dwarf is the Sancho Panza to Drin’s Don Quixote. Level-headed and cautious where Drin is headstrong and opinionated, he is burdened by the terrible afflictions of both claustrophobia and agoraphobia (or Clagraphobia, as a good friend of mine put it). The idea for Tefal came, believe it or not, from a line written by one of my favourite bands, Half Man Half Biscuit. Check out the opening to their song, San Antonio Foam Party and you’ll see what I mean. Apart from being a much-needed counterpoint to Drin’s acerbic nature, Tefal is a fully formed, if half-sized character in his own right and possessed of a pretty unique way to deal with his bodily fluids… well, one of them at least.

Then we have Rioja (pr. Ree-Oh-Jar), Drin’s ill-matched love interest. A half-fairy with a malformed wing, she was cast out by her fellow fairies for not being pretty enough and subsequently developed a thirst for violence that borders on the psychotic. She is one of the driving forces behind Drin and Tefal’s reluctant entry into The Quest, and the poor thing perennially mistakes their attempts to wheedle out of it as acts of heroic bravery. To be honest, I can’t recall where I got the inspiration for Rioja from and even if I could, I wouldn’t tell you. After all, Hell hath no fury like a crazy fairy’s scorn!

The Rog was another of those characters that seemed to pop up from nowhere. Half rabbit, half dog, he becomes Drin’s most loyal companion, which is a good thing because, as an Andarian Harehound, the Rog is a terrifying killing machine by both day and by night. No one knows why The Rog chose to befriend Drin. Maybe it was abused as a pup, who knows?

Finally, we have Spasmodicus the Ridiculous. An ancient, battle scarred barbarian, most definitely cast from the Gonald the Mighty mould, he is the unfortunate owner of the Farting Phoenix, a mythical creature that blows itself up with a foul-smelling gas when frightened, only to reincarnate moments later. Poor old Spasmodicus. The day he took ownership of the Farting Phoenix, which bonds to its owner for life, was also the day that he said goodbye to most of his hair.

I could mention the myriad of other characters that litter the pages of Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right, such as Captain Colleston, Mad Anja and Chamberlain Rousseau, Governor of the fabled port of Naxxis, but then there wouldn’t be much point in you reading the book. Incidentally, you can buy it here if you are interested!


Influences on Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right

Here is where everything in Seven Books in Seven Weeks comes together, for in their own way, each of the books that I have covered previously had an influence on Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right. Whether it was the magical world-building in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Lightstone, the contemporary humour of The Pyrates and The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, the wonderful vocabulary used in The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm or the simple fact that The Book of Three inspired both Drynwideon the mythical sword and the magical bag summoned up by Drin, each of them evoked feelings and memories which I drew upon in order to create my own unique anti-fantasy adventure story.


Printing the Paperback of Drynwideon

Shortly after Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right had gone through its umpteenth edit, a friend of mine persuaded me to publish the book as a paperback. Now, I’m not a fan of the vanity press and abhor the idea of anyone paying for their work to be published by a company that exists only to take advantage of people’s desire to see their name in print. However, vanity is a strange mistress and I was so excited by the fact that I had written a ‘proper’ novel that I eventually capitulated. To say that it was another adventure entirely would be an understatement of epic proportions…

With the printers. Drynwideon lives! Rob Gregory Author

Hot off the press, the first copy of Drynwideon.

First of all, we approached a local publishing house and while their principal editor was very keen on the project and eager to expand the company’s portfolio, unfortunately, like many first-time authors, I fell foul of the Monday morning publishing meeting and the book was ultimately rejected because it was a seen as a stretch too far from their usual fare… academic books about Thailand!

Dismayed but not deterred, we then decided to do it ourselves, not realising quite how fickle and challenging the world of professional publishing can be. A friend of mine who had worked in the printing industry in England did a line by line edit of the manuscript, which then had to be reformatted, by me, to fit the 8”x5” book format that we had decided on. Getting the margins and paragraph breaks right was a task that still gives me nightmares to this day and was a far cry from my previous experience of self publishing in the digital domain, which, by comparison, was an absolute breeze.

While all of this was going on, the friend who had first suggested paperback printing was busy trying to find a reputable printer to do the actual physical work of making the book. Fortunately, we were extremely lucky in this regard and found a local outfit with heaps of experience and a Heidelberg press, don’t you know, to do the job for a very reasonable price.

Then it was just a matter of checking the proofs and giving the printers the okay. There was one small glitch when it turned out that two hundred copies of the cover had been misaligned during the trimming process and had come out wonky, but we weren’t in a hurry, so a few days later replacements had been printed and I was the proud owner of one thousand copies of my book!

Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny - Yeah, Right lives! Rob Gregory Author

Standing there, like a proud father, the author with Drynwideon.

Like any major publishing house, we subsequently embarked on a media and publicity campaign, and sent out press packs to over two hundred different publications around the globe. Unfortunately, this is where the reality of the modern publishing industry and our naivety came home to roost. There is simply so much stuff out there these days that media outlets and magazines are unwilling to give column inches to unknown authors. As one editor of a well known science fiction and fantasy publication told me: they get so many books from mainstream publishers to review each month that they can’t take the chance on the indies, it just isn’t worth the risk for them. So, to cut a long story short, after many months of getting stuck into the DIY publishing game, we didn’t get a single piece of publicity, other than the free stuff I did on Reddit and various Facebook pages, plus a couple of paid adverts on Amazon.

However, all was not lost and just over a year since Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny, Yeah, Right, was first released, I have managed to make a respectable number of sales and that number continues to grow each month as word gradually spreads about the world’s first anti-fantasy novel. So, what is the take home message? Simple. You’d better grab yourself a copy of the first edition paperback version before they are all sold out!


Mistakes in Drynwideon (Should I really be telling you this?)

Like any published work, Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right has its fair share of typos and grammatical mistakes, I am sure of that and it is an inevitable part of the writing process, so I am in good company — right up there with the best of them in fact! Furthermore, like any author, my writing style continues to evolve over time, so now when I look back on Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right, it sometimes seems as if someone else has written it.

Author Antonin Cee at the drynwideon launch party. Rob Gregory Author

Dutch author, Antonin Cee, holding a copy of Drynwideon.

However, there is another mistake that I want to discuss here and it is the mistake that many emerging authors make. I didn’t listen hard enough to my reviewers. If one reviewer makes a comment then conventional wisdom says ‘take it under consideration’. However, if two or more reviewers make the same comment then you’d better darned well pay attention before you dismiss it!

In my case, at least two people commented that the first chapter was, in their opinion, too long and that they felt put out by the fact that they had invested time in getting to know Gonald the Mighty, only to have to start again in chapter two with Drin, the real main character of the book.

In my defence, that was exactly what I had intended! I wanted readers to think that they were getting a piece of traditional heroic fantasy fiction, only to discover in chapter two that it was anything but traditional, by which time they would be compelled to carry on. As a result, I ignored my reviewers comments and went ahead with the version as I had written it. After all, that is the author’s prerogative and to be honest, at that time I was damned if was going to let anyone tell me how I should write my novel!

Looking back, however, I realise now that I made a mistake. Had I been more receptive to criticism, then I would have rewritten the first chapter to make it more snappy and clear that it was a story within a story, rather than the main feature. It was a lesson hard learnt but one that has been put to very good use in my subsequent writing.


The Impact of Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right on Myself

It is fair to say that Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right has had a huge impact on me. Not only was it the first full-length novel that I wrote, it has formed the basis for the rest of my writing career to date. It showed me that I did have the ability to write a compelling piece of original humorous fantasy, which was my primary aim and gave me the confidence to continue writing, even though the challenges have been significant.

Since then, I have penned two further novels covering different genres, with a third, more recent one returning to the world of Drin and his colleagues. A proper sequel to Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right is on the cards for next year and a series of prequels are planned to follow that. Suffice to say, I have a lot on my plate as far as writing is concerned and my world is a far brighter place for it!


Conclusion to Seven Books in Seven Weeks

So, there you have it. Seven books in a little over seven weeks. All of them have touched me greatly in some way or another during my life and I hope that you have enjoyed reading about my various interactions with them. Perhaps I have even convinced you to hunt them down for yourself, in which case I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have. All that remains for me to say is thank you for coming on this journey with me and please do stay tuned for more fascinating insights into my world through the medium of my blog.

Oh, and please do take a few minutes to have a look at my various written offerings, including Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right. Quite a few of them are free and most of them should raise a smile or two!


Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny - Yeah, Right by Rob Gregory Author

Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right. Signed copies available for sale here.

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Six

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Six

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Six – Professor Branestawm

… Part six of a seven part series…


Well, you’ve made it this far, so welcome to the penultimate instalment of Seven Books in Seven Weeks. Having covered science fiction, epic fantasy and swashbuckling adventure on the high seas, we return to the world of children’s fiction, with what is possibly a long forgotten classic, The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm, by Norman Hunter.

I don’t recall where I got this book from, it was that long ago, but seeing as how it has travelled with me around the world and halfway back again over the last twenty years or so, I think it is safe to say that it is among my most treasured pieces of literary material.

Professor Branestawm was the creation of Norman Hunter, a man who began his career as an advertising copywriter, before becoming a stage magician, so, in other words, he moved from one type of illusion to another. He was a prodigious writer and racked up more than thirty-five different works in a lifetime that stretched almost ninety-five years. This was made all the more, dare I say it, incredible, by the fact that he took a thirty-year break in the middle of his writing career. Anyway, The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm was the first book in the Professor Branestawm series and was published in 1933. I have a copy of the 1976 version, published by Penguin Books, under their Puffin imprint.


The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter - Rob Gregory Author

Front cover of the 1976 edition of The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter.


Tales of a time gone past

One of the things that I have always found delightful about the book is the fact that it is set in a time that is completely alien to me, yet also strangely appealing. I have always had a soft spot for the 1930’s and it is quite possible that this was in some way kindled by reading about Professor Branestawm’s incredible adventures at a very early age.

The world of Professor Branestawm is a place of gas-lights rather than electricity, machinery rather than computers and catapults rather than machine guns. It is a place betwixt the old world of steam, coal and manual labour and the modern world of electricity, screens and automation. It is a place that no longer exists, if indeed it ever did, and the professor’s inventions reflect this magnificently, being full of cogs, levers and pieces of string holding press-ganged household objects together. Just look at the Penny Farthing bicycle on the cover of the book, with an oil lamp on the front and a reading attachment on the handlebars. Trying to imagine this sort of contrivance today, when we are surrounded by ultra-bright LED bike lights and clip-on smartphone holders would be almost impossible.

Other inventions are just as outlandish. The professor’s home-made fishing apparatus, the pancake making machine and his burglar catching contraption, are just a few examples of creations imagined, to paraphrase Norman Hunter, by a mind that was so clever that it had no time to think about ordinary things. And all were brilliantly captured in the beautiful drawings of W. Heath Robinson, who provided the illustrations for the book.


Professor Branestawm's burgular catching machine - Rob Gregory Author

Professor Branestawm’s burglar catching machine.


Main characters

Without a doubt, the main character of the book is the eponymous Professor Branestawm. Clumsy and forgetful, because of the all the wonderful ideas he has, he is indifferent to the motivations and social niceties of normal people and possessed by an optimism that is unquenchable in the face of every new disaster that his creations inevitably precipitate. With his balding head and scruffy appearance, he is an archetypal academic and his five pairs of glasses, including the pair he uses to find the other four when he loses them, only serve to reinforce the image of someone who walks among us, but is really living on an entirely different plane of existence altogether.

Then we have Colonel Dedshott of the Catapult Cavaliers. Militaristic, impeccably dressed and possessed of a mind that takes everything at face value, he is the very antithesis of the professor, yet despite this, or very possibly in spite of this, he is one of the professor’s few friends and a very loyal one at that. It is the colonel, who, never being one to run away from danger, bravely battles envelopes and paperwork, brought to life by one of Branestawm’s experiments, with nothing more than a poker grabbed from the professor’s fireplace.

Finally, there is Mrs Flittersnoop, Professor Branestawm’s long-suffering housekeeper. It is she who makes sure that the professor’s more mundane needs are taken care of and is the voice of common-sense and reason when things threaten to get too out of control. Although, on occasion, even she needs to retreat to the safety of her sister, Aggie’s, for a bit of peace and quiet when the professor get too caught up in his work!


Frontispiece for The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter - Rob Gregory Author

The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm, with illustrations by W. Heath Robinson.



Put yourself in the mind of a child for a moment and you will soon see why Professor Branestawm had such appeal to my younger self. You knew from the very first page of each story that things were not going to go as the professor had planned and that you would be carried along on a roller coaster ride, which would culminate with everything turning out alright at the end. None of the major characters would be seriously harmed — the poor soldiers of Squiglatania, in the first story, were less fortunate, after the professor happily rained home-made bombs on them — and you would get to see the latest innovation that the professor had dreamed up turn rogue on him and more often than not, on the much-abused residents of Great Pagwell, too.

Most of Professor Branestawm’s mistakes were the result of simple oversight and there is no reason to think that if he had ever corrected one of his errors in a Mark II version, then a life of fame and fortune would have awaited him. Take, for example, the clock that never needed winding up. Were it not for the fact that the professor forgot to include a mechanism that reset the clock to striking one, after it had reached twelve, then the world would probably have been a very different place, instead of one where every clock got so wound up that it eventually exploded! However, being possessed of such a great and highly active intellect, the thought probably never occurred to him to try and improve on a previous failure. Besides, had he done so, then there wouldn’t have been the need for any more Professor Branestawm stories.


Professor Branestawm's clock - Rob Gregory Author

The clock that never needed winding, Mark I version.


One of the things that I love about Norman Hunter’s writing is the way that he played with words. Consider this excerpt, from the beginning of the first Professor Branestawm story:

On went the machine, but nothing else happened. On and on they whirled, and nothing happened. And it kept on happening over and over again, till everything was so nothing that neither of them could notice anything.

Or this passage:

The clock in Professor Branestawm’s bedroom struck ten to seven the next morning, because it was one of the Professor’s own inventions, and because that was the time.

“That sounds like Tuesday,” said the Professor…

There is a wonderful, surreal edge there, which is coupled with a skewed logic that you can’t help but accept, once you are immersed in the world that Hunter created. Then there are the contradictions. Take, for example, this one line in the second chapter.

“In another moment he had dressed himself with his usual scrupulous carelessness…

‘Scrupulous carelessness?’ Absolute brilliance! Personally, I would love to see the Professor Branestawm stories included in the list of required reading for schoolchildren, because I think that it would do a lot to improve the appalling levels of comprehension and vocabulary that we see in young people today. Hmm, with a viewpoint like that, maybe I would be better off back in the 1930’s? Professor, where are you? I need a time machine!


Professor Branestawm's potato peeling machine - Rob Gregory Author

Not quite a time machine, but probably better than your average potato peeler.


Short stories

Another thing that I like about the Professor Branestawm books (and I have more than one of them) is the fact that they are written as discrete short stories. Not only does this make it easy for a child to read, it means that you aren’t bothered with cliffhangers, or interminable bouts of description in order to add body to the story. Each one is simple. The professor has an idea, invents something, it goes wrong and then there is a resolution. It may be formulaic, but it works and more than that, Norman Hunter was a master of the short story. In just a few pages, he could transport you to Great Pagwell and have a fully fledged adventure underway. I have tried my hand at short stories and I can tell you, it is a lot harder to write a good one than it looks.


Rear cover of The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter - Rob Gregory Author

Rear cover of The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter.



The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm remains as engaging a read for me today, as it was when I first picked up the book over thirty years ago. Hunter’s storytelling is superb and his characters are timeless, rather than staid or dated.

I think that the book has had a particular impact on me in two ways. First, it engendered in me, a love for short, self-contained stories, which I have tried to emulate in my latest work, a series of fantasy tales with a saucy, culinary theme. Second, it introduced me to a vocabulary and use of wordplay, which although old fashioned by today’s standards, I have found myself incorporating into my writing on an increasingly frequent basis, as you have probably noticed while reading this missive.

So, once again, thank you, Norman Hunter, for bringing us the wonderfully inept and scatterbrained Professor Branestawm to the world. I may only have two pairs of glasses at the moment, but rest assured, I am fast catching up!




Only one more book remains to be reviewed in Seven Books in Seven Weeks. Place your bets and stay tuned for the big reveal, coming soon!

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Five

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Five


Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Five

… The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser…



Welcome back to Seven Books in Seven Weeks. Last time, I left you with a taste of epic fantasy, in the form of The Lightstone by David Zindell, so what better way to resume the series than with another epic tale, this one of swashbuckling adventure and derring-do on the high seas?

The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser is a wonderful romp through pirate lore, with a comic turn that has, without a shadow of a doubt, influenced my own writing over the years. First published in 1983, it predates Pirates of the Caribbean by two decades, yet many of the scenes and situations it describes would not be out of place in that particular movie series. I have a copy of the 2003 edition, which incidentally came out around the same time as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and I have to say that when it comes to dishonesty, scurrilousness and downright self-serving behaviour then Fraser’s Colonel Tom Blood outshines Captain Jack Sparrow in every respect.


Front cover of The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser - Rob Gregory Author

Front cover of The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser. The strange ‘scratch marks’ on the top are due to de-lamination of the protective cover!



The Pyrates is a novel in three parts, with each part building on the one before. It follows the convoluted adventures of the aforementioned rogue, Colonel Tom Blood (cashiered) and Captain Benjamin Avery, hero of the Royal Navy, as they battle their way around the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and the Cape of Good Hope, to Madagascar and back again. Along the way, we stop off on remote desert islands, pirate ports and the lair of Don Lardo, the reptilian viceroy of the Spanish stronghold in Cartagena.

The main vehicle for the series of misadventures that befall the heroic Ben Avery and the decidedly anti-heroic Tom Blood, is a crown, fashioned with six great gems, which must be delivered from England to the African King who commissioned it. Of course, when Tom Blood gets to hear of its existence, he wants the crown for himself, as do the six great pirate lords that sail the high seas. I won’t tell you who gets there first, but the shenanigans that follow ensure that both Blood and Avery get tested to their respective limits.

Map of locations in The Pyrates - Rob Gregory Author

From good old Blighty to Cartagena and back again. Which way is Hollywood?


Supporting Characters

One of the things that makes The Pyrates such an enjoyable read are the supporting characters. While Ben Avery and Tom Blood are as black and white as you can get, in terms of their principal qualities, the six pirate lords add varying shades of grey to the mix, while Lady Vanity, the Admiral’s daughter and Avery’s sweetheart, is a study in bimboism and snobbishness, who would be equally at home in Sloane Square, a trendy New York cocktail bar or the back seat of a Range Rover.

Without giving too much away as far as the pirates are concerned, we have Calico Jack Rackham, immaculate in dress, less than immaculate in thought and leader of the pirate band by the simple virtue of being literate. Then there is Black Bilbo, an ex-guttersnipe, who is deadly with a rapier and harbours dreams of being a gentleman. Firebeard is a giant of a man, who ties firecrackers in his beard and sings the kind of sea-shanties that would get you kicked out of any self-respecting parish choir, while Black Sheba (the She-Wolf) is an ex-Barbados slave, with a taste for Pierre Cardin and a hatred for men that would rival even the most radical of 1960s feminists. Akbar the Terrible, hawkish, hairy and of the Islamic persuasion, runs a crew of slaves and has a penchant for gold lame trousers, while Happy Dan Pew, is a poor unfortunate, who, after suffering a blow on the head as a child, came to believe that he was a French filibuster, even though he can barely speak a word of the language beyond that in the Collins Primer!

Then there are the minor characters, such as King Charles II, Samuel Pepys and Goliath, the dwarf who accompanies Black Bilbo wherever he goes. All serve to help move the story along and make The Pyrates a far richer tale for their brief presence in the book.

Now, just for a moment, turn your thoughts to the Brethren Court in Pirates of the Caribbean. Comprised of nine pirate lords, rather than six, it is interesting to see a Frenchman (Chevalle), an ex-slave (Joacard), an Englishman with gentlemanly pretensions (Barbossa) and the terror of the Arabian Sea (Sumbahjee) among their midst. It is likely just a coincidence, however, if you have ever read The Pyrates, then it is the sort of thing that does make you raise an eyebrow in curious speculation.

Inside cover of The Pyrates - Rob Gregory Author

Beautiful inside cover illustration for The Pyrates.



George MacDonald Fraser is, to my mind, a master of both humour and the burlesque. Consider the following excerpt from The Pyrates:

She was not tall, but her carriage was that of a fashion model who has been to a Swiss finishing school and knows she has the equipment to stop a battalion of Rugby League players in their tracks with the flick of a false eyelash…

… Captain Avery and Colonel Blood stood together by the rail, drinking her in – one in respectful worship, the other with thoughts of black silk bedclothes and overhead mirrors.

In just a few lines, he captures the characters of both Colonel Blood and Captain Avery, while at the same time giving us a compelling image and insight into the kind of woman that Lady Vanity is.

Another area where Fraser excels, is in mixing up the old and the new. In fact, this is one of the things that I enjoy most about The Pyrates. Fraser takes the Seventeenth Century and liberally peppers it with Twentieth Century references. Purists would undoubtedly hate this molestation of history, but I love it. Consequently, we have references to Gucci, Cartier and Marvel Comics and that is just on one page! For me, this is what makes The Pyrates so special. Not only do we have an excellent historical adventure story, but we get to observe it and laugh from a modern perspective.

Then there is the pure silliness. One of my favourite examples is where Ben Avery renames a pirate ship that he has single-handedly captured. We are not told what his instructions to the pirate signwriter were, but when the name is revealed, he is horrified to read ‘The Glodden Vatiny’ on the rear of the vessel, rather than ‘The Golden Vanity’. I still laugh about that one every time I think about it!

Rear cover for The Pyrates - Rob Gregory Author

Shame about the rather plain rear cover!


Historical Accuracy

I mentioned the historical nature of The Pyrates above and this is something else that George MacDonald Fraser excels at, interweaving unique fictional characters and situations into a historically accurate background. Anyone who has read the wonderful Flashman Papers will know what I am talking about. In that series, he took a fictional figure, Harry Flashman, from the book, Tom Brown’s School Days, and placed him into history with a precision that was unnerving.

Cover of Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser - Rob Gregory Author

Flashman, another of my favourites by George MacDonald Fraser.

The same is true of The Pyrates. At the end of the book, Fraser briefly introduces the real-life individuals that inspired some of his characters and I have no doubt in believing that he more than thoroughly researched both the geography and history of seafaring and piracy in the Seventeenth Century, before setting pen to paper or finger to typewriter. As always, it is a case of knowing the rules before you break them and Fraser acknowledges this in the afterword, when he talks about some of the artistic liberties that he took when writing the novel, particularly those involving the time taken to make some of the sea journeys.


The Pyrates, by George MacDonald Fraser, is a fantastic book and one that is worthy of a place on anyone’s bookshelf, unless they have an aversion to pirates or the sea, in which case I would suggest that they leave it well alone.

As with all of the books I have covered so far, The Pyrates impact on me has been enormous. I love mixing up the old and the new in my writing and have probably done this most explicitly with my Fotherington-Tomas series of short stories. Incidentally, I freely admit that I followed Fraser’s lead with Flashman and lifted my protagonist, Fotherington-Tomas, from a pre-existing book by another author. You can check it out here if you are interested. Although some people might think that this is a little cheeky or disrespectful, in my view, I believe it is a way to breathe new life into existing fictional characters and take them in directions that their original authors would never have imagined. Call it a homage, if you will, to the brilliance of the originators that came before. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, is it not?

So, in a Cartier-diamond-encrusted nutshell, thank you George MacDonald Fraser for giving the world The Pyrates. More people these days might be familiar with Pirates of the Caribbean, but you got there first and for my money, did it far, far better!


With only two more books to cover in the series, it is anyone’s guess as to what will pop up next. Pride and Prejudice? A Tale of Two Cities? 2001 – A Space Odyssey? Place your bets here and make sure that you check out the next instalment of Seven Books in Seven Weeks!

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Four

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Four

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – The Lightstone

… Part four of a seven part series…

Welcome back to Seven Books in Seven Weeks. After beginning our journey in the realm of classic children’s fiction and then retreating to the far reaches of the galaxy, with a Vogon Constructor Fleet hot on our heels, we return to Earth with a bump. Well, not Earth in the sense that we know it, but the magical land of Ea, home to Valashu Elahad and the Ea Cycle. Yes, folks, it’s epic fantasy time and where better to begin than with The Lightstone by David Zindell?

Those of you who have read any of the interviews I have given on various blogger and self-publishing sites will know that I hold a special place in my heart for David Zindell and his Ea Cycle. Born in Ohio, in 1952, he began his writing career in the mid-1980s, with several, critically acclaimed, science fiction stories, before moving into the realm of epic fantasy, of which, The Lightstone was his first foray. Critics have praised the depth, skill and complexity of his work and I cannot think of any other author, whose books have had me at the bookstore on their day of release, waiting to get a pristine copy into my grubby little hands, before eschewing the real world, to lose myself in theirs for days on end.

However, my literary love for the man who lives at the end of the bookshelf nearly didn’t happen at all…

Like many of the books in this series of blogs, I was given a copy of The Lightstone by someone else. In this case, it was a good friend of mine, who, many years ago, worked at a university bookshop in the UK. I think that I was reading another great book, The Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb, at the time, when he passed me an early reading copy of The Lightstone, to see what I thought about it. Flattered by his generosity, I went home, put the tome on my ‘To Be Read’ pile and promptly forgot about it!


The Lightstone by David Zindell - Rob Gregory Author

Front cover of the UK early reading version of The Lightstone, by David Zindell.


It was only later when I had finished with Robin Hobb and was between books that I returned to The Lightstone. Sitting at around one thousand pages, the book was one of the longest that I had ever contemplated reading, but undaunted by the monstrous word count therein, I settled down and turned the first page.

A few pages in and I nearly closed the book for good. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t empathise with the main character. Maybe the fact that The Lightstone was written in the first person was to blame, but Valashu Elahad, a man who would rather play the flute than go hunting, was, to my mind, a simpering, soft-hearted fool, who had no place in the pages of a fantasy novel, which promised war, conflict and bloodshed on a biblical scale. I have to admit that despite Zindell’s own description of Valashu, I was put in mind of Prince Herbert in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who did his best to burst into song at every opportunity! In the end, frustrated and annoyed, I did put the book down and turned my mind to other distractions.

Several months passed before I decided to give The Lightstone another go, and boy, this time, was I glad that I did!

I struggled past my previous sticking point and was rewarded by an assassination attempt in the woods, followed by intrigue, shame and regicide in the Grand Hall, on a scale hitherto unimagined by my impressionable young mind. Before I knew it, I was immersed in Valashu’s epic quest in a way that had never happened to me with other fantasy books that I had read.

Part of what I liked about David Zindell’s writing in The Lightstone was, rather ironically, considering my initial reaction, his characterisations. As the story progressed, so did Valashu and while his sensitivity remained throughout, it was gilded with a hard edge of gritty realism, as he took on the mantle of leadership and led his rag-tag team of adventurers into the jaws of death and back out again, battered, scarred and forever changed by their journey.


First page of the early reading copy of The Lightstone by David Zindell - Rob Gregory Author

Most definitely an early reading copy!


On the subject of Valshu’s companions, some might see it as cliched, but I loved the physical and behavioural contrasts that Zindell created within the group. From the hedonistic and larger than life, Prince Maram, whose many voracious appetites ruled his heart and his head, to the grizzled monk that was Master Juwain, Kane the warrior, tortured by his past life and, of course, Atara, the warrior princess, who needed to kill one hundred men, in order to be released from her tribal bonds, each provided a perfect counterpoint to the ambitions and foibles of the others as the story progressed.

Talking of clichés, you can’t help but notice the significance of the number seven in The Lightstone and indeed, the entire Ea Cycle. Valashu is the seventh son of the king. He and his companions’ grow to number seven in total, and there are seven magical stones or gelstei, which they discover during their travels, which ultimately make them the most powerful group of warriors in the land and a real threat to Morjin’s plan to enslave the world.

Oh, Morjin! What a wonderful villain! Utterly ruthless and possessed of a twisted, bitter darkness that verges on madness, he is a brilliant character and the perfect opponent for the overly sensitive Valashu. The way that he shapes the truth to his own ends and challenges Valashu’s own view of the world around him, is nothing short of genius. I have no idea where David Zindell conjured him up from, but he did a great job and as a result, the Lord of Lies would be at home in any rogues’ gallery that you cared to name.

And the violence! Few things shock me these days, but the first time that I came across the climactic confrontation between Valshu and Morjin, in Argattha, his mountain stronghold, I was genuinely horrified. I will admit that I am not particularly well versed when it comes to contemporary epic fantasy, so I don’t know how common graphic violence is in these books, but for me, The Lightstone contains one of the most disturbing passages that I have ever read. I won’t spoil it for you here, but if you do ever read The Lightstone, then be prepared for a sleepless night when you reach that point and don’t worry, you will know when you’ve got there, trust me!


Song insert for The Lightstone by David Zindell - Rob Gregory Author

“But I don’t want to marry Princess Lucky. I just want to… sing!” Aargh, songs in fantasy books! Why do they do it?


If there is one criticism that I have of The Lightstone, then it is the fact that it contains poems and songs. Lots of them! I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the ones that David Zindell came up with or that they are not an effective device to impart important parts of the backstory. It is just that I don’t like to see them in books, period. They set my teeth on edge and make my skin crawl. I guess I must be allergic to them!

In my view, The Lightstone is a wonderful piece of writing and deserves far more exposure than it has received in the years since it was first published. David Eddings and J.R.R. Tolkien were mentioned on the front cover of the early reading copy that I was given, and I would have no doubt in recommending it to anyone who has enjoyed The Lord of the Rings. The other book that it puts me in mind of, is, oddly enough, Parsival, by Richard Monaco. Both works have a strong Arthurian element running through them — a whimsical fool’s quest to recover a golden cup that will heal the world — and it is surely no coincidence that the rear cover of the early reading copy of The Lightstone references Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.

One last aspect of The Lightstone and indeed the complete Ea Cycle that I absolutely adore is the way that, despite being a series, each book is a standalone story in and of itself. I despise cliff hangers and while I couldn’t wait for the next book to come out, at least I wasn’t left wondering what was going to happen to Valashu and his companions for the twelve months or more between each instalment.


Rear cover of the UK early reading version of The Lightstone by David Zindell - Rob Gregory Author

Now that is good company to be keeping with your first fantasy novel!


I think that you can probably tell that The Lightstone made a huge impact on me, both as a reader and a writer. It introduced me to magnificent world-building and epic storytelling on a par with The Lord of the Rings, and, in some ways, to the idea of having an anti-hero as a lead character. Valashu does end up as a hero but his journey is a difficult one, made no easier by his many flaws. Did he influence my main character, Drin, in Drynwideon – The Sword of Destiny (Yeah, Right)? You’ll have to read it and make your own mind up!

Finally, I have to say that having completed The Lightstone, I was hooked and followed the entire series until its end, after only four books. When I realised that book four was indeed the last and that the journey was coming to an end, I was genuinely upset and that, for me, is the mark of a truly great read! Well done, David Zindell!



Right, four down, three more to go. Stay tuned for the next instalment of Seven Books in Seven Weeks and in the meantime, please do have a look at the others in the series and check out the free sample chapters of Drynwideon.



Thank You!


An Interview with Jon Hillman

An Interview with Jon Hillman

An Interview with Jon Hillman

Hi there! Another month, another interview with an up and coming legend of the world-wide writing community. This time, I have the pleasure of introducing British author, Jon Hillman. If dark fantasy is your thing, then Jon is, most definitely, your man! Jon put a lot of thought into his interview, so rather than have me waffling on about it, let’s get stuck in!


So, tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you? Where did you spring from? What part of the world do you call home and what is your biggest love/pet hate?

As a writer, I didn’t really spring into existence until the middle of 2013. Sure, I’d been kicking about for 30 years prior to that but I lived in a part of England that is notoriously boring. Flat, dry, dusty. Any given look around that area would give you two colours: brown and blue, dirt and sky.  Eventually, enough was enough and I moved to Scotland. Going from years of a perfectly horizontal horizon to a land of hills and mountains, lochs and forests, stones and secrets was akin to being dunked down in another world entirely. Biggest love? She turned up in 2016 and is now three years old. Pet hate? It’s a controversial one, but it’s the Internet! A veritable rat king of conjoined personalities and opinions that seems to grow ever more dangerous every day!


What motivates you to write books?

As mentioned, Scotland broke the dam of ideas in my head and they’ve been rushing forth ever since. Everything I have written about has originated in an experience I have had, but has been heavily twisted in the way of fantasy. If you have read Grim Work you might be wondering “what part of that did you live out?!” All of it, in a manner of speaking.

The problem with me is that one thought leads to another and builds itself up into an entirely new story. I don’t want to sit around with all of that pinging around my mind, so the best way to sort that out is to write it all down! I have to say, gaining readership is generally quite low on the motivation scale. I write what I want to write and I would never want to try and manipulate it into something that could be perceived as more popular. That anybody has read anything I have written has come as something of a shock! That they’ve enjoyed it almost keeled me over.


Grim Work by Jon Hillman - Rob Gregory Author

Grim Work by Jon Hillman. What a striking cover!


What’s the biggest buzz you’ve had from your writing so far?

One day, at work, I went to speak with a member of another department that I generally have very little to do with. There he was, sat on Amazon purchasing one of my books! I’m sure that the chances of me being behind him at the same time were about as low as that of a lottery win!


If you had the choice, what would you prefer to do, publish traditionally or self-publish, and why would that be?

First and foremost, writing is a hobby for me. I enjoy hobbies. I spend as much time as I can doing them, be it writing, or hiking, or photography. Once anything becomes more than a hobby, it starts to lose its shine – even if it is working on something I love. I genuinely want to be able see my writing as a hobby in the future, even if the powers that be deem my work fit to be enjoyed by, dare I say it, thousands!

To me, traditional publishing is work. I don’t want to come home after a hard day’s graft and graft again. Self-publishing feels like the like the hobbyist version of traditional publishing. Self-publishing can definitely bring success (though it generally eludes me), but it also allows me to carry on with my work at my own pace, in my own time, and to work on whatever it is I feel you want to. Self-publishing is relatively low on the stress scale (table of contents creation excepted…) and again, I want my hobbies to be fun.


Cold Call by Jon Hillman - Rob Gregory Author

Jon Hillman’s first book, Cold Call.


A lot of writing these days, especially with regard to self-publishing, is about marketing. What marketing do you do, if any, and what has worked and failed for you?

Marketing is a tough one! I don’t make much money at all from my writing and any advertising I do work on generally comes when I have dropped my books to the low, low price of zero pence. I am literally paying people to read my stories. Seems perverse, especially given the hours spent on writing the stories themselves!

That said, I have had some degree of success (or at least what I am going call success): my first book, Cold Call, managed to reach number one on Amazon in the free horror e-books on Halloween 2016. My first book! A number one ‘best-seller’. My advertising for that came in the simple form of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram ads. Horror seems to be more widely accepted than dark fantasy, however, and I have not relived such delights since!


Have you always aspired to be a writer, or did the idea just spring into your mind later in life?

Now, while I said that I sprang into life in 2013, I mean in terms of actually telling myself I would get a book out there one way or another; I have been writing for as long as I have been able to manipulate a pen nib into making shapes that look vaguely like letters.

At school, I wrote, illustrated, and printed (kids publishing) short books that I became so inspired with that I went above and beyond the teacher’s request of jotting down some ideas of storytelling, turning them into entire short stories of my own. Recently, I embarrassed myself on Twitter with photographs of The Secret Land of Boglins, an absolutely terrible story about my favourite toys. I made a cardboard-bound book based on Escape from Kraznir, and added an additional three acts to Shakespeare’s The Tempest (all in iambic pentameter).

During my time at school and university, I took writing-based decisions where I could. Focused on language and literature at GCSE and A-Level, did a journalism degree. Back then, I had planned to get into videogame writing. I wrote and published (again, printed) a fanzine at University that earned me work on gaming websites and interviews at magazines down in Bournemouth.

That didn’t pan out, and I’m really quite glad it didn’t as I don’t like the internet and that would be where I’d be working full time today if I had continued on with it.


The Crystal Keep by Jon Hillman - Rob Gregory Author

The Crystal Keep by Jon Hillman. Another striking cover!


What are your top five books/authors of all time and why?

If I go with authors, I can get more books in…

Mervyn Peake. Titus Groan and Gormenghast were hugely inspirational to my way of thinking. The castle-scape that Peake showed us was so rich, even in confinement, that each time I read it I find new things and create richer imaginations of Gormenghast itself. His characters were incredible, all mad, but quite fantastic.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. As a fantasy writer, if I hadn’t read Tolkien what on earth would I be? I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine, reading so long and hard into the night that I also experienced my first migraine and temporarily lost the ability to see much of the page on my right! Tolkien’s greatest success for me was the world he created. For years, I wanted nothing more than to simply exist in Middle Earth.

Robert E. Howard. Without Conan, there would be no Marigold. Without Crom, no Greldin. Among my favourite memories of Conan is a time he emerged from a battle with a spirit that cut like knives. We don’t see the fight, but Conan appears wide-eyed and shredded, but alive. That was where Marigold was born. I wanted to take that moment in Howard’s tales and turn it into a series of my own.

Joe Abercrombie. The grim and dark works of Abercrombie are perhaps the most directly inspirational to the writing I do myself. He doesn’t shy away from violence, from language, or from vile scenarios. The sense of reality in his books is practically tangible thanks to this, and I strongly believe that writings of foul misdeeds, violence, and subterfuge is being done incorrectly if it doesn’t include a hefty a dose of words that make folks wince.

Howard Philips Lovecraft. The master of the impossible. Lovecraft brought us stories that frequently left us on the side of the loser. Only The Dunwich Horror seemed to suggest any form of victory for humanity over the cosmic almighties, leaving the score somewhere around 95-1. If you have read any of the books I have written, you may well see a hint of Lovecraft in them; fearful odds and vast powers.

Gareth Hanrahan. Earlier this year, Hanrahan released his first novel, The Gutter Prayer. It is written in an oddly present tense, everything is unfolding alongside you in a way that initially made reading a little uncomfortable, but now seems an almost natural way to write (and now I have to edit that to bring it back in line with how I write). The world on offer here is deep, chewy, and perilous. You wouldn’t want to live here! But, if you have read this fantastic book, you now also have Tallowmen permanently etched into your memory.

Tstutomu Nihei. Nihei is a manga artist who brought out this incredible series called Blame! The story takes place in The City, where construction began on earth by beings called Builders. The City grew and grew and at last count had reached Jupiter’s orbit. Blame! is very much the story of a manga artist. Dialogue is scant, visuals are the main feature here. Grotesque features heavily!

Oh, that was seven authors! Seven is a lot like five, only it is two more. That’s fine, yeah? Looking at these authors, it is clear to see that worlds are what draws me into a story. Guess that’s what I get for spending so long in a county of flat horizons!

[Editor’s Note: Okay, Jon, I will let you have a couple of extras, simply because I am merciful and your selection is so fascinating!]


Jon Hillman's world of Traverne - Rob Gregory Author

Map of Traverne, the world where Jon Hillman’s dark fantasy novels are set.


Are you a plotter, someone who maps out a story before writing it, or a panster, someone who just writes and sees how it goes? And would you change the way you write, if you could?

When I first began writing with the aim of releasing a book, I pantsed my way into a corner and ended up with some rubbish that couldn’t really go anywhere believable. After that I became the plottiest plotter that ever plotted. I have hundreds of thousands of words of worldbuilding, maps, full notebooks, creature designs, histories, and glossaries. I love plotting and designing, and I’ll readily admit that I can get thoroughly lost within it. I have stories everywhere, and nearly all of them take place in the world of Traverne, which is where Grim Work, The Crystal Keep, and my unpublished behemoth Havelock’s Path take place. I would never want to write any differently to how I do now, unless by some means I can stop time and do more with a single day!


If you couldn’t write, what would you do instead?

Scotland is a wild place, and I could happily spend the remainder of my time poking my nose into each and every one of its countless nooks and crannies. I soak up the atmosphere of this place, sit on mountain summits for hours and take it all in, leave the beaten paths and come back riddled with ticks and the threat of Lyme disease several times a month. If I couldn’t write, I know what I would do. I’d also be carrying my camera with me, and in many ways, photography is its own little method of storytelling.


Jon Hillman, the author - Rob Gregory Author

Jon Hillman, somewhere in Scotland, I would imagine.


What’s the most uncomfortable thing that you’ve had to do as an author?

Hmm, tough one. Does answering this question count? I think I’ve had it easy. I actually enjoy giving myself a challenge and writing something that should make me uncomfortable so I don’t think I can look to my actual writing here.

I’m going to have to go with physically uncomfortable, and that came when trying to write on a train during Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. Bloody nightmare, and it’s just around the corner again…


The Vile Realm by Jon Hillman - Rob Gregory Author

The Vile Realm. Coming soon…


Are you working on anything at the moment and if so, when and where can we expect to see it?

I am indeed! The Vile Realm will be the next book I release and will continue the legend (yes, legend) of Marigold the Barbarian. This entry takes place several months after Grim Work, and we find Marigold working through a heavy sense of loss; what is he now that he has nothing? Well, it turns out his run in with another dimension in Grim Work wasn’t quite the end of that story…

Marigold’s stories tend to be quite “small” in their scope. This is a character that finds himself in situations while the world carries on around him. The Vile Realm will open up the world a little bit more, the stakes are higher even if nobody else understands the true scope of the impending disaster.

Fun fact, perhaps: there is a land called Simmermund featured in The Vile Realm, and this area was named simply so that I could call those that hail from it “Simmerians”. I’ve got to thank Robert E. Howard one way or another!


Finally, do you have a message for your fans out there and also any sage words of advice for aspiring authors?

I suppose it sounds a bit silly coming from such a small-time author, but simply the confirmation that you should write if you have a story is all I really have to offer. To quote a friend of mine (with a slight twist), it is better to have scribed and lost, than to have never scribed at all.



Thank you, Jon, for a fascinating peek into your world. As I mentioned above, if dark fantasy is your kind of thing, then Jon’s books are most definitely worth a look. You can find them all on Amazon and if you would like to connect with Jon, then check him out on Twitter.


As always, thanks for stopping by. I hope that you enjoyed the interview. Another one will be along soon, but in the meantime, why not have a look at some of the others in the list, here.


Thank you and happy reading!