Longsword by David Pilling

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The World Apparent, Part One...

Following the release of The Path of Sorrow, the second full-length novel in our fantasy series co-written with Martin Bolton, I want to post a series of articles about the universe we have created, and the characters that populate it.

World-building is a fascinating process, as well as a challenge: unlike historical fiction, where everything is set up and ready to go, you have to create the backdrop before writing the story. To that end we spent many evenings - usually in various central London pubs - ranting at each other about the geography of our fantasy planet, the names of the countries, oceans and cities etc, and whose turn it was to stagger to the bar.

Thus The World Apparent was born on a series of damp beermats and notepads, first as a barely decipherable squiggle (drawing is not my strong point) and then as something rather more impressive and easy on the eye, courtesy of Martin Bolton, who is a talented artist as well as an insufferable clown. Below is the world map we eventually agreed on.

To avoid arguments spilling over into bloodshed, we decided to carve up the world between us: I chose the northern half of the map, developing the history and layout of the Winter Realm and the Old Kingdom, while Martin took the lands south of the Girdle Sea. Temeria, the big continent to the west, was more or less a blank space until we fleshed it out for The Path of Sorrow. Other parts of the map will be explored as and when we invent them.

I had great fun shaping The Winter Realm, the teardrop-shaped northern island at the top of the map. Since this was fantasy, I was able to slap together lots of different elements to create a land of snow and ice, ringed on all sides by impassable mountains, and with only one entrance/exit. This is the Iron Gate, an enormous man-made barrier on the southern tip of the island, raised and lowered by a complex mechanism of chains and winches. The sentries on the rampart have absolute control over who can sail in or out, making the Iron Gate the most important fortress on the island. 

The Winter Realm is populated by the descendants of refugees from The Old Kingdom, the continent immediately to the south, who fled when that ancient realm was devastated by civil war and a series of earthquakes. Harsh conditions - the land is covered by snow for all but three months of the year - mean that the population remains low, no more than half a million souls thinly spread over the rocky, inhospitable plains and mountains. 
Cardinal Flambard, by Zennor Matthews

The culture of the Winter Realm is (naturally) medieval, vaguely 11th-12th century Western Europe, and with few refinements. There is only one real city, founded by the first refugees on one of the few patches of fertile land, and home to a few thousand people. The city is named Hope, and from here the Winter Realm is ruled by a series of kings who claim direct descent from the leader of the refugees. By the time of The Best Weapon, the last king has died, leaving only an infant daughter to succeed him. Until she comes of age, the land is governed by a regent, Cardinal Flambard. Flambard is a grotesque, corrupt, cynical, hugely intelligent and politically able man, a mixture of Baron Vladmir Harkoonen (from the Dune series by Frank Herbert) Cardinal Wolsey, Narses and various other svengali figures culled from fantasy, history and my imagination. 

The rest of the Winter Realm is bare and desolate. Much of it is howling wasteland, with lots of scattered baronies and strongholds. One of the larger of the ugly stone bastions dotted about the land is Clifford's Mount, an imposing pile of grey rock on a mound, known as Evil Hold by the local peasants due to the brutal nature of the lords who reside there. 

Fulk, by Zennor Matthews
The only major settlement in the western part of the island is Mount Silverback. This enormous spire of rock rises from the windswept flatlands that surround it, like a great finger pointing at the sky, and is home to the Temple of Occido. Occido is the War God, the most bellicose of the pantheon of gods that dwell in the Celestial Sphere. His worshippers on the mountain are a reclusive cadre of Templar Knights, the best fighters in the Winter Realm - possibly in the whole world - and semi-independent from the Kings at Hope. 

One of the two main characters of The Best Weapon, Fulk the No-Man's Son, begins the story as a young recruit at the Temple. Orphaned while still a baby (hence his name) he was adopted by the Templars and raised amid the strict martial temple-fortress of Mount Silverback. Fulk, however, is destined to become much more than just another priest-knight of Occido...

More on the Winter Realm, and The World Apparent in general, to follow!


  1. I cannot imagine how two people can come to terms over writing one book. As far as I am concerned, the writing process definitely is a "solo' affair. Although, as I suspect, you two must have loads of fun working together (I came to the conclusion after reading some of your comments on FB :-)).

    1. Well it is something of a trial carrying Martin as extra baggage ;)