BRIDESMAID REVISITED

The 2013 Aurealis Awards were announced this weekend. Marching Dead was shortlisted in the Best Horror Novel, but lost out to Fairytales for Wylde Girls by Allyse Near.

A full list of winners has been posted at the Aurealis Awards website. Congratulations to the winners in all categories: with several hundred novels, stories, anthologies, collections and graphic works published each year it’s a big mountain to climb.

LYING LIKE CARDS: A MARIUS DOS HELLESPONT FIX

To note the Aurealis Award nomination for The Marching Dead, here’s a little bonus for those of you who knew him before he went electric.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont fix is a vignette I wrote to mark the publication of The Marching Dead. It concerns the game of Kingdom, which I invented for the novels and which nobody has had the decency to licence and make me a rich man by producing limited edition gold-plated versions thereof. Or even a DOS game. The story takes place just before the opening of The Corpse-Rat King, so if you want to get the full benefit of the narrative, buy my goddamn books already. It’s appeared at the Angry Robot website and some delightfully hand-made booklet versions were given to people who attended the book launch, but it appears here for the first time.

Enjoy.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont Fix

An hour ago there had been six at the table. Now there were two. Marius don Hellespont, late of His Automancer’s Court of Taslingham, even later of the cells beneath the court, took a moment to glance down at his cards before casually flicking over a stack of riner coins so they splashed across the green paper tablecloth.
“Whatever that adds up to,” he said, deliberately yawning. The fat Tallian across from him pursed his lips.
“That is bad etiquette, sir.”
“In this fine place?” Marius waved a hand at the shabby, peeling wallpaper, the warped floorboards, and the boarded up windows that surrounded them. “Where are my manners?” He nodded at the coins. “Whatever that adds up to. See it or raise, tubby.”
The fat man waited enough that Marius knew he was beaten. The game of Kingdom was a complex one, if you paid attention to the cards, and it became more difficult the fewer players were at the table. Ostensibly, the object was to build the hand most closely resembling the current ruling class: Royal family, if you were in Scorby, Council of Elders in Zerpha, Automancer’s Cabal in Taslingham, and so on. If you were paying attention to the cards. Only the most trusting of beginners did that.
Real players, and Marius was a real player, knew that the object of the game was much simpler: to take your opponent’s money. The cards were immaterial. What counted was keeping your opponent off-balance– learning their tells, their psychological weaknesses, and then exploiting them. Like all truly great sports, Kingdom was won by the one who best played the man. The Tallian hesitated the tiniest smidgeon, and Marius had him.
“Gods damn it.” The fat man blew out his cheeks, aiming to recover lost bravado. “Gods damn.” He made a show of counting the coins, then counting them again. Marius very deliberately did not leer like a greedy baby snatcher. “All right,” his victim said. “All right.” He riffled his stack, came to the decision Marius knew he was coming to all along. “All in.” He moved his pile into the centre of the table.
Marius didn’t count them. He had no need. He knew he had the bet covered. He paused just long enough to make him sweat, then casually smiled and laid his cards face down before him. “Call.”
A queen, a prince, a knight, three nobles, a peasant. Pretty close. Good enough to win most hands. The fat man stared at them for several seconds, then raised his gaze to Marius.
“One peasant.” He snapped the card onto the table. “Three nobles.” Snap. “One knight.” Snap. “One prince.” He held up the last card, turned it so that it faced Marius. “One King.” He laid it down with a grin, slid it into place with the others. “My hand, I think.”
He reached out to draw in Marius’ coins. To their right, a door crashed open.
“What the fuck?” Both players reared back from the table as if stung. A soldier was standing in the doorway.
“The King!” he roared. “The King has been killed!”
“What?”
“Assassins from the house of Belchester! The King is dead!” He flung himself back out the door. The room erupted in a mad scramble to follow him: off duty guardsmen and civil militiamen hurling themselves towards distant guardhouses, to swords tucked over lintels, to scythes and halberds and sharpening wheels in front yards. As the room emptied, Marius raised a sympathetic eyebrow at his stunned opponent, and began scooping coins into his pockets.
“Tough timing,” he said, and rose before the fat Tallian could recover himself enough to object. “Still, the cards never lie.”

# # #

Marius sat in a booth at the back of ‘The Hauled Keel’ and watched his young apprentice Gerd weave through the crowd, two tankards of Krehmlager in his beefy fists, plonking down opposite his master and passing one over. Marius raised it in salute, and took a long swallow.
“You hid the armour?” he asked, once he’d recovered his breath. Gerd took a sip, and choked.
“In a barrel on Pudding Alley.”
“Good. Good.” Marius removed a short stack of coins from a pocket and slid it over. “Your share.” Gerd accepted it without counting. Trusting lad. Stupid boy. Marius felt the weight of all the winnings secreted around his body, and took another swallow to help ignore a sudden pang of conscience. From outside came shouts, and a clattering so loud that even the seasoned drinkers within the pub were silent for a moment.
“What’s that?” Gerd stood, and turned towards the window. Marius tilted his head.
“Soldiers,” he said after a moment. “Forming up in front of Traitor’s Gate.”
“Isn’t that the…”
“Road to Belchester?” Marius nodded. Gerd slowly sat down.
“You don’t think..?”
Marius took a long draught of his lager, shook his head, and signalled a passing girl for another while he recovered the feeling in his face. Krehmlager was traditionally strong. The Hauled Keel’s brewing room deserved its own hospital. “No,” he said, finally, flipping a coin through suddenly-clumsy fingers. “And even if there’s a little skirmish or something, nothing will come out of it but opportunity.”
The new pints arrived. He picked his up and gestured to Gerd to do the same. “Drink up,” he said. “We’ve got to get our stuff and be ready to follow them.” He smiled, thinking of the riches to be had on the battlefield to come. “I’m going to teach you how to be a corpse-rat.”


PRETTIES FOR YOU

Things have been quiet on the writing front in recent days as the day job has taken over my life. Two weeks ago we had the lovely Kaaron Warren over for the weekend as part of an art exhibition based upon her book ‘Through Splintered Walls’, and this last week has been eaten by the annual Castaways Sculpture Awards, which we stage on the beach every year and is bigger than a Justin Beiber-shaped rash. I normally keep the day job of these pages, but I might sneak some photos on here once I’ve got a few moments to do so, because frankly, they’re cool.

In the meantime, there’s a teensy bit of Battanalia still going on to keep you entertained. I’ve been interviewed over at Shelf Inflicted (great name!), and discuss my favourite dirty joke and how often an aspiring writer should have sex, along with a whole bunch of other fun things.

And my favourite type of package– mysterious– arrived in the mail the other day, containing these beauties:

Marching Dead audiobooks from Brilliance Audio. 9 discs, 10 3/4 hours of reading time, narrated by audiobook veteran Michael Page: I’ve had them on in the car and a fine job he does, too. They’re available now through any number of audiobook outlets.

Full updatery soon.

WORD FROM THE WEST

A nice surprise in yesterday’s West Australian newspaper: a mention of The Marching Dead in the writing WA Recommends… column. That’s the peak writing body in the state, recommending my novel in the largest daily newspaper in the state. Which, anyway you cut it, is pretty nice.

And let’s be honest, what are the odds, normally, of a dark fantasy horror comedy novel with ninja skeleton nun sex getting a good write-up in a conservative mouthpiece like a daily paper, eh?

So I’m well chuffed. And for those of you who may not have picked up yesterday’s paper, I have an ego and a photocopier, so here it is, in wondrous photocopyrama:

MARCHING ADO ABOUT SOMETHING

It’s a hectic time at Dayjob, so I’ve been a touch remiss in keeping the Battersblog up to date (takes blog down from shelf, blows dust off). Writing’s been on the back burner, and I’ve managed pretty much only graphic novels when it comes to reading time, too.

There will be a few Goodreads reviews popping up here today.

Thankfully, while I’ve been busy doing what I need to do to keep the roof above us, others in the interwebbersphere have been helping to keep the word of Marius, er, alive. Here’s a quick round-up of some of the fun and frivolity, including a couple of guest posts that have emerged from the murk:

  • My Shelf Confessions has discovered The Corpse-Rat King, noting its comedy and outrageous circumstances and admitting to looking forward to seeing more of his (Marius’) misadventures. They also requested a guest blog from Marius himself, and my never-gonna-be-a hero duly obliged: These Are the Rules is the result, a missive from the mouth of the Thinking Man’s Corpse to you.
  • Fantasy Mag Black Gate have also discovered my first novel, and finds it an intriguing mix of humour, madcap characters and stylish prose. I could never get into this market as a short story writer, but there’s always a back door, people…
  • A Fantastical Librarian saw enough in The Corpse-Rat King to come back for more, and deems Marching Dead to be a fabulous final to this duology and concludes that my first series can be chalked up as a success. I still have my fingers crossed for a book 3, so hopefully it won’t spoil the record if it happens.
  • And The Bookshelf Gargoyle has chosen Marching Dead for a Read-It-If… review, advising you to give it a crack if you enjoy a bit of jollity and good fun in your fantasy tales. What they think actually constitutes good clean fun gave me a bit of a giggle 🙂
  • And to round things off, Upcoming4.me requested a guest blog on the story behind Marching Dead: the what, the how, and most importantly, the why. You can read my response here.

There you go. That should keep you reading for a minute or two.

AND LO, THE BOOK SHE WAS LAUNCHED

Thank you to everyone who joined us at Stefen’s Books this last Saturday to help launch Marching Dead. A fabulous time was had, with a smattering of readings, a plethora of signings– including my first ever autograph in invisible ink (ask Carol Ryles)– and as always, when catching up with friends and colleagues, brilliant conversation. Books were sold, a simply amazing window display was sighted, and all in all I came away feeling like a special and pampered little writer boy, the better for being able to do it all in front of Lyn (who was too sick to come to the Corpse-Rat King launch) and my kids for the first time.

My thanks to Stefen Brazulaitis for hosting the event, and to everyone who came along and picked up a book or two.

So, to let you know what you missed out on if you didn’t make it it, here are some photies:

Author boy, with books. Oh, do say mine is the prettiest, teacher!

I may be slightly biased, but I say this is the most amazing window display ever.

A pile of corpses, all stacked up.



If a joke’s funny once: a pile of dead, all stacked up.


Jovial author boy.



With the family, mugging it up. Our ‘Ian Dury & the Blockheads’ moment.




With the inimitable and indomitable Stefen.


Signing with the aid of the Junior Helper Squad

I promise to owe the bearer….

Milling crowd mills.

I don’t know what they’re talking about, but I can make jokes about it all day…

Enjoying the reading. I hope.


Friends and mentors, Stephen Dedman and Dave Luckett, power-chat, while Sally Beasley looks on indulgently because she knows who really has all the power.



The photographer gets all artistic about it…


And if I thought the occasion couldn’t get any better, these little darlings arrived on my doorstep while I was at work yesterday. Admittedly, most of them will go out to awards panels and the like, but even so, it all looks damned pretty to me 🙂

LAUNCH DAY T MINUS A DAY AND A BIT

And it’s precision like that which is the reason why I don’t work for NASA.

A couple of little moments of cool to share with you this morning, with the Marching Dead launch coming up tomorrow.

Firstly, a photo to warm the cockles of your heart. Here they are, 25 copies of the exclusive, launch-only, signed and numbered Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont Fix booklets, all signed and numbered and lined up and ready to reward the first 25 people to buy a copy of The Corpse-Rat King or Marching Dead (or both. Both is good) and present them for signing at Stefen’s Books tomorrow.

And if you need more incentive, listen to Kate of Mind, who calls me “…one messed up dude. Delightfully so,” and reward me ‘all the stars’.
According to How it Works daily.com, there are currently between 1 sextillion and 1 septillion stars in the Universe. Either way, that’s a bloody positive review out of five 🙂

So, if you need another reminder, here’s the where and the when of it:

Marching Dead Launch

Stefen’s Books
8 Shafto Lane
2pm
Saturday 6 April

I’ve got my booklets, I’ve got my multi-coloured signing pens, I’ve got my reading pages marked out, I’ve got my nervous anticipation…… I’ll see you there.

THE MARCHING DEAL

All right, my darlings, I’ve got a little deal for you:

Having set out to write a guest post to force the overlords at Angry Robot to put up on their blog this week, to help promote Marching Dead, I find that I have, instead, written a 1000 word short story prequel to The Corpse-Rat King.

 “Ooooooooooooohhhhhhhhh”, I hear you say.

So here’s the deal. I’m still going to send this to Angry Robot, but I’m also going to print out 25 copies of the story into a nicely-folded and signed A5 booklet.

Be one of the first 25 people to purchase either of the Marius dos Helles novels at the ‘Marching Dead’ book launch this Saturday and present it to me for signing, and you’ll receive the signed and numbered booklet as a signing-on bonus.

 Which means you can be, potentially, one of only 25 people in the known world to have signed copies of all three Marius texts currently extant. Which means girls will like you, your boss will give you a promotion, and that nasty thing your partner of choice does with their tongue that turns you on so much? They’ll do it *every* time.

 What more could you ask for?

MARCH WITH THE DEAD!

Only one week until the official Marching Dead launch in the convivial surrounds of Stefen’s Bookstore. By this time next week we’ll be nestled together, swapping jackets and rummaging around behind the bookshelves to see where Stefen hides his money, as well as getting stuck into the reading of some well-chosen excerpts, book signings, dwarf-throwing, bear-baiting and all-in Mexican custard wrestling, before we troop over to the Generous Squire for quaffing and toasting.
Spread the word! The more who come, the more entertaining it’ll be for me to see people fighting over books: even funnier if they happen to be mine!


The Marching Dead
Stefen’s Bookstore
8 Shafto Lane, Perth
Saturday, 6th April
2pm



DEAD EASY

With less than two weeks to go until the official Marching Dead launch at Stefen’s Books (full details at the end), I’ve got two ongoing competitions at my Facebook author page:

Much like I did with The Corpse-Rat King, I’m running shout-outs every few days: simply ‘like’ my page, and when I call for responses, post a number between 17 and 369 (start of Chapter 2 to end of Chapter secondlastone). First one to respond gets an excerpt posted in their honour, and every respondent goes into the hat to win one of two copies of the e-book edition of Marching Dead.

Aaaaaaand……

I’ve created a bunch of book plates based on the brilliant cover art by Nick Castle, and I’m posting questions every couple of days. All you have to do is respond with the post that amuses me most highly, and a signed book plate will be dispatched immediately to your place of residence.

You want one of these babies, don’t you?

Boooookkkkssss……boooookkkkkssss…….

Currently, the question is: what book would have been vastly improved had the main character been killed before they undertook their quest?

To get in on the action, head over to my Facebook page, click that ‘like’ button, and join us: the water is lovely and warm…

And if you haven’t already written the details of the book launch into your calendar in fat, red crayon so that it can’t possibly be wiped off your iPad screen, here they are again:

Marching Dead Launch

Stefen’s Books
8 Shafto Lane, Perth
Saturday, 6 April: 2pm until it’s all over and we head across to the space reserved for us at The Generous Squire drinking establishment for discerning persons and get all drinky and folk-songy and dance on the table-topsy.

Come on dowwwwwwwn.

LOVING THE DEAD

Another biffo review of Marching Dead has been posted over at Book Snobbery, all the more happifying as reviewer SJ announces herself enamoured after not quite loving The Corpse-Rat King as much as she’d hoped, especially noting some of the best fantasy worldbuilding I’ve ever encountered in a very long time… and tons of laughs, many of them of the uncomfortable variety.

She also says she’d desperate for someone else to read the book so she has someone to discuss it with, so you’ll all be pleased to know that US/Canadian and e-book versions are released TOMORROW.

As Jesus said to the apostles at the first all-Jerusalem Ostrich wrestling championships, get on it, my darlings!

(This is one of my all-time favourite paintings: Reg Mombassa’s Skeleton trying to have sex with a fence (Skeletons have no eyes so it is easy for them to mistake a fence for a lady skeleton). It has nothing to do with Marching Dead, even though the book actually does feature skeleton sex. I just think it’s great. It’s reproduced here without any sort of permission from the artist on the assumption that he’ll forgive me because I think he’s so cool. If you’re still reading this, stop and go buy my book, dammit!)

REVIEWING THE DEAD

Well, the first review of The Marching Dead has been posted, over at Beauty in Ruins, and, well, I think they like it.

 The Corpse-Rat King and The Marching Dead make for an entirely satisfying duology, firmly establishing Marius dos Helles as one of the finest – and funniest – reluctant heroes in the history of fantasy.

Yeah. I think they like it.

The Marching Dead is released by Angry Robot Books on the 26th of this month. If you needed a reminder, here’s the cover again, just because it’s so damned pretty.

And if that doesn’t make you want to buy the book, here’s a picture of a small dog:

I think you see my point.

LAUNCH THE DEAD!

All right, my darlings, it’s official and going awwwnnnnnn…..

Thanks to the brilliant Stefen Brazil we’ll be launching Marching Dead at the picturesque Stefen’s Books, 8 Shafto Lane, Perth, at 2pm on Saturday 6th April.

Stefen's Books: Crime, science fiction, fantasy, horror and more.

I’ll be signing copies, inflicting a reading or two upon the gathered multitudes, and generally making with the fabulous author dahlink behaviour– kissing babies, shaking hands with dogs, pinching arses, sniffing seats…. no, wait, that would make me a Liberal Party politishithead….. not to mention a cavalcade of entertainment like dancing girls, bear-baiting, midget death-trap wrestling and arbalest surfing*, and then we’ll finish it all off by heading over the lane to The Generous Squire, where Stefen has set aside an area especially for general mingling and the quaffing of hearty ales.

Told you he was brilliant.

Come on down, introduce yourself, grab a signed copy of Marching Dead or The Corpse-Rat King if you’re the kind of lazy layabout who hasn’t read it yet, and generally hang out with us and have a good old nattery, beery, Sunday afternoon you know you’ve earned.

What could be better?

*may not contain any of these things. Except for midget death-trap wrestling. That shit is hilarious.

MARCHING TOWARDS THE MARCHING DEAD

Friends, bloggers, reviewer types!

Want a sneak peek at Marching Dead, so you can mock your friends at parties and drop obscure hints about its contents just so you can torture people with the superiority of your inside knowledge?

Course you do.

That’s why you’ll be cock-a-hoop (or cock in a hoop. We make no judgement here) to learn that Angry Robot has released an electronic advanced reader copy— e-ARC, if you’re cool like me– of the book via NetGalley.

Now: there are a few rules, provisos, guidelines, quid pro quos and other bits of that gag from Aladdin I can’t remember coz it’s years since I’ve watched it. You do have to be a reviewer or book blogger of some kind. You do have to promise to actually review the thing once you’ve read it. You do have to commit to sending me no less than 100 of your finest major currency bills.

Or two out of those three.

Frankly, if you commit to the last one I don’t give a monkey’s whether you read the book or not.

In fact, just send me the money now and we can forget about the whole thing.

Unless, of course, you’d actually like to read and review the book. In which case you should probably read the Angry Robot NetGalley guidelines.

But seriously, send me some money.

SEXY, DEAD, AND RATHER ORANGE

Fiends, ravens, condiments, let me humbly unveil what is, in my utterly objective and unbiased opinion, simply the goddamn prettiest book cover in the history of the entire Universe.

The Marching Dead will be out in March 2013 from Angry Robot Books, and features the return of Marius dos Hellespont and Gerd, reluctant heroes of The Corpse-Rat King, as well as Granny, Keth, an undead dominatrix, psycho-killer warrior nun skeletons, smugglers, naked troglodyte cannibals, an underground nunnery, and the word ‘fuck’ 71 times.

Can’t wait now, can you?

THE NEXT BIG THING, LAAAAAAAAAADIES

Last week, the inimitable Steven Saviletagged me on his blog as part on an ongoing chain of book/author recommendations called The Next Big Thing, a happy reach-around for writers where we all stride about like avenging peacocks with ICBMs where our penises should be. Today it’s my turn to take possession of the giant cockmissile, and answer the ten questions originated by Paul Magrs, then pass over the reins to five other writers who will be doing the same on their own blogs in a week’s time. Ready?

What is the working title of your next book?
The Marching Dead

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s the sequel to The Corpse-Rat King, which came out this October from Angry RobotBooks.

What genre does your book fall under?
Loosely under Fantasy, although very much at the absurdist end of the genre. Angry Robot claim they publish “SF, F and WTF?” I’m aiming for “WTF?”

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I don’t really envisage actors when I’m writing characters, at least, I do so very rarely. There was one character in the first Marius dos Hellespont novel who I based on Bill Nighy’s ‘uptight’ characterisation because it was a nice fit, but that’s as far as it went for these two novels.  If you absolutely had to have an answer, I’d say perhaps Paterson Joseph for Marius, but that’s all I’ve got.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
He found a King, won the girl, and saved the day. If it wasn’t the end of the world as we know it, he’d be bored shitless by now.

Which is 2 sentences, but sue me.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
As with the first novel in the series, Marching Dead will be published by AngryRobot Books, in April 2013. It was represented by the tall, virile and generally froody Richard Henshaw of The Henshaw Group.


How long did it take you to write a first draft of the manuscript?
I completed the first draft in a shade under 5 months. It’s currently with the publisher, who has probably had to call out for more red ink by now.


What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
That’s a hard one: I actually don’t read a huge amount of fantasy. The Corpse-Rat King seems to have collected a bunch of comparisons to Joe Abercrombie, so let’s say that.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
 A contract that said “two books, with an option on a third”.

The Corpse-Rat King was inspired by a dinner table conversation with a good friend in which we bemoaned the soft-focus, taking-itself-way-too-seriously, hyper-hygienic worlds of too many Fantasy novels. CRK was an attempt to subvert those tropes, and Marching Dead was a good opportunity to introduce a different tone into the world I had created, and push the characters into states of mind they hadn’t experienced in the first novel.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Anybody who read and enjoyed the first novel will—hopefully—enjoy the chance to meet with some characters alluded to in the first book, particularly Marius’ parents, plus there’s a randy smuggler queen with a patch and an undead dominatrix with a degree in gymnastics and a really really big tub of goose grease. And Gerd loses his virginity. And if you didn’t read the first book, and that makes no sense at all to you, then you’ll be pleased to learn that Marching Dead stands alone as a separate adventure, and you’ll get to experience all this sort of thing for the first time. And, as usual, everybody says fuck far too often for their own good.

And finally: A reminder… (the 5 who will be tagged)
In the interests of sharing the pimp—and really, isn’t that what life is all about?—I shall be tagging the sensational KA Bedford, Stephen Dedman, Wesley Chu, Daniel Russell, and Guy Salvidge. They may have already done this—I was too slack to check. They may not wish to be involved—I was too self-involved to ask. They may be dead—I was at home with my wife and she’ll vouch for me. But won’t it be fun to come back to their blogs in a week and see if they join in?

STOAT OF THE NOTION

It’s been almost a month since I blew the dust off this baby and made with the updatery, and there’s a very good reason for that: I’ve been off enjoying life.

Response to The Corpse-Rat King has been positive, and if you haven’t got your copy yet then there’s really no excuse– it’s in all the good book stores and most of the rotten ones, and if you haven’t picked it up then I can only assume it’s because you hate me and you’ve never really liked me and you’ll be sorry when I’m dead and all this guilt will be on your head, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand losing…. wait a minute.

Marching Dead is finished, and has been delivered to Angry Robot for their consideration. All being well, it will appear on shelves next April.

And right now, I’m giving myself some down time before I turn my attention to the next project on the block: either a return to Father Muerte & The Divine or if the Angry Robot overlords activate the clause in my contract, the third Marius dos Hellespont novel which I’m nominally calling Fall To Heaven. We shall see, we shall see.

But for the moment, I’m clearing my mental palette, watching a buttload of documentaries, playing with the kids, and getting the house ready to put on the market before the end of the year so we can downsize. Give me a week or so, and I’ll be back on the bloggery treadmill, but for the moment, no signal is a sign of contentment.

MARCHING DEAD: A TOTAL CRK-TEASE

 

“I’m going to be sick.”
            Just look at the basket.”
            “I mean it. I’m going to be sick.”
            “Dead men don’t vomit, Gerd.”
            “Don’t care.”
            “Just look at the basket. Nothing else exists. No cliff, no sky. You’re standing on a nice, flat piece of land, and there’s only you and the basket, nice and close and easy.”
            “You’re a lying bastard and I’m going to be sick.”
            “Just close your eyes. Go on, close them.”
            Slowly, reluctantly, Gerd did so.
            “You have no idea how many things I blame you for.”
            “Yes, I’m a truly terrible person. Now, there you are, on a flat piece of land. You feel it, beneath your feet?”
            “Of course I do.”
            “That’s good. Now, can you see a cliff?”
“Of course I can’t see the sodding cliff!”
            “It’s not there.”
            “I’ve got my eyes closed, you git.”
            Marius poked him in the ribs. “It’s not there,” he said through gritted teeth. “And there’s no sky. Just you and the basket. That’s all. Open your eyes and all you’ll see is the basket.”
            “How will—“
            Marius took a step back, and to the side, so that he stood directly behind his friend. “Open your eyes.”
            Gerd opened his eyes.
            “Do you see the basket?”
            “Yes, I—“
            “Good. Don’t forget to grab it.”
            He drew his elbows back and pushed Gerd as hard as he could, flush in the centre of his back. Gerd teetered for a moment then, with a scream, pushed off from the cliff’s edge and fell into the basket. It swung out from the cliff with his momentum, swung back to crash into the white stone, then slowly, in diminishing arcs, returned to its original position, twisting this way, then that, around the taut line of the rope.
            “Gerd?”
            “You’re a bastard.”
            “Are you all right?”
            “I’m going to be sick.”
Marius turned to Brys.
            “He’s all right.”
48 500 words in, three beta-readers killed off, two to go, and it’s all progressing rather nicely. Marching Deadcomes out in early 2013.