Today, the blog has been taken over by Gollancz author, Edward Cox. To celebrate the release of The Cathedral of Known Things in paperback, published by our friends at Gollancz, Ed has agree tell us about his Top 10 writing cakes – a very important topic, I’m sure you all agree! Even more excitingly, he has also agreed to let us post an exclusive short story, set in the world of The Relic Guild. This story has been released in audio, but has never before been seen in print form.
Now without further ado, here it is. I will leave you in Ed’s capable hands (whilst I go and get a cake!)
Top Ten Writing Cakes by Edward Cox
While writing my fantasy trilogy I often had to rely on the magical properties of a special type of sustenance to help me get through. There are many variants of this mystical food product, all of which enabled me to set up the story in The Relic Guild, plot the intricacies in The Cathedral of Known Things, and conclude the story in The Watcher of Dead Time. I’m talking about cake. Without it, The Relic Guild trilogy would never have been finished. And so, generous as I am, I will impart my secret wisdom with a list of my top ten cakes and why they are sure to keep any writer on top of their game.
Lemon and Poppy Seed Muffin. You’re sure to have noticed that I’m starting with a big-hitter. There are many pretenders to this cake’s throne, but only one can claim the crown. The muffin must be shot through with poppy seeds and a zesty flavour, but the real genius is a centre filled with lemon curd. Only with this centre can a Lemon and Poppy Seed muffin truly be a friend and show the writer how it feels to experience real magic.
Scones. The controversial one. Is it cake? Is it bread? Or some strange conundrum sent by aliens to confound us? Adding raisins, or strawberry jam and clotted cream, can help defuse the worry, but Scones will always be the mystery that keeps us seeking answers. Only by accepting their undecipherable nature can the writer reach enlightenment.
Carrot Cake. Vegetables in a cake? What madness is this! Ah, but Carrot Cake is the sly one, the assassin, the spy within your midst. Carrot Cake is the unexpected; a bad name with a taste so sweet! It is the plot twist. Without it, the writer can never hope to understand the element of surprise.
Cherry Bakewells. The method writing cake. A strategy is required for eating this one. First, the writer must nibble off the raised circumference crust, then slowly devour inwards and equally until the perfect-sized mouthful remains to enjoy with the cherry at the centre. This way is the only way. How can the writer learn the art of plotting without Cherry Bakewells?
Victoria Sponge. The cake that brings balance to the force. If it is made right. The sponge must not be too dry. The dividing lines of cream and jam must be equal in measure. And every mouthful must simply command a sip of tea after it is swallowed. Only through the balance of Victoria Sponge can the writer hope to find the balance of storytelling.
Teacakes. The simple one. The friend in a teashop on a rainy afternoon. No more complicated than having to ask for extra butter because we’re never given enough to cover both halves in the first place. Teacakes serve to remind the writer that not everything needs to be clever and sometimes simplicity is best.
Hot Cross Buns. The posh Teacake. The Teacake infused with extra flavours that are strange and exotic and impossible to define. In many ways the Hot Cross Bun has no mercy, but it tempts subtly with its complexity, allowing the writer to discover the extraordinary in the seemingly mundane.
Eccles Cake. Because quite frankly every story needs a touch of regret, and the writer will understand why after eating one of these despicable Looks-Nice-But-Isn’t bastards.
Battenberg Cake. Because it shouldn’t work but it does! It’s the incongruous moment, the mix of elements, flavours, colours that surprises, disturbs, delights, changes everything you thought you knew. It is the red herring for the red herring. With Battenberg Cake the writer will alter perceptions with crackerjack timing.
Rejected Birthday Cake. I’ve left this one for last as it’s a specialist cake, requiring children in your life. Rejected Birthday Cake usually appears directly after the party of your child’s school friend, wrapped in a napkin, looking a little squashed and broken and mostly unappetising. You will eat it nonetheless the instant you hear it’s up for grabs, because waste is bad and you have a cup of tea in your hand. And then you will forever wonder why your child rejected it in the first place, without ever receiving an answer. And thus the writer will understand that all stories must leave behind a little mystery.
You are all very welcome. And now, please enjoy my short story, seen here on the Jo Fletcher blog in print for the first time ever! Champion of Dead Time was written as a prelude to The Cathedral of Known Things and fits snugly between books 1 and 2 of The Relic Guild. The audio version, narrated by the ever brilliant Imogen Church, is available from Audible and SoundCloud. And it’s FREE! A gift to you, from me and Gollancz.”
Exclusive extract! Champion of Dead Time
The demon’s axe rose and fell, chopping off the blubbery creature’s arm. The creature hissed putrid breath, raising a fat hand before its grotesque face to ward off a second attack, but to no avail. Blood poured as thick and rusty sludge, and the hand joined the other limb on the scorched earth.
Although the creature was twice the demon’s size, it was not made for combat; its ovoid head and two remaining limbs were connected to a huge slug-like body, lumbering, flaccid, slow. Its voice was a distorted and childlike wail as the demon dismembered the last of its arms, and buried the axe deep in its face. With a wrench, the demon split its adversary’s head in two. The creature slumped, dead, and the demon wasted no time. With speed and seemingly unlimited strength, it proceeded to butcher the corpse, hacking the slug-like body into bloody, steaming chunks.
This filthy creature was an abomination, an abnormality; wherever it dragged its blubber, it secreted a mucus that enriched the barren, lifeless earth, turning it into fertile soil. To breed order was the creature’s sole purpose; to pervert the land so life could flourish naturally. It was the demon’s duty to eradicate such blemishes from the Retrospective, where the chaos of dead time had to be preserved.
As always, the Retrospective accepted the demon’s offering. The creature’s remains steamed and melted to a viscous soup that was sucked down through cracks in the red and blackened rock. The Retrospective fed. It wasted nothing. And the raw matter that it devoured would soon be used to create true wild monsters who would roam this savage House and keep it untamed.
The demon looked out across the broken landscape. In the distance, behemoth storm clouds had gathered. Bloated and poisonous, raining acid and barking great spears of lightning at the ground. Beneath the storm, countless monsters fought in the perpetual war that raged across the Retrospective. Ten million of them at least, forming a writhing sea of corrosion. They were locked together in pandemonium, knowing no other way than violence and hate. But the demon had no interest in joining the monumental battle. It had its own war to fight.
The demon stiffened as a sudden, alien presence stroked its mind. Turning, huge axe raised and ready to attack, it was confronted by a strange sight, one it had never before seen in the Retrospective.
There was a rent in the air, a ragged hole that led to somewhere far from this House of dead time. And there, standing in the glow of silver light, was not a monster but a man. Dressed in a black cassock, long white hair falling about his shoulders, his skin was as pale as death, and he bore scarring upon his forehead. The demon did not know what to make of the man in the silver light. It only understood that he was an intruder and had to be expelled from the Retrospective.
With the axe held high, the demon ran at the man. He barely moved, only flexing his hands, but an energy came from him unlike anything the demon had experienced before, a foul kind of magic. As easily as swatting a fly from the air, the energy punched the demon onto its back. Axe slipping from its grasp, it slid along the ground and lay still, momentarily stunned.
Confused, daunted, the demon jumped to its feet, retrieving the axe and shaking it above its head threateningly. But it dared not launch a second attack. The man stared, again barely moving as more magic came from him, this time as subtle and slithering as a snake. It enveloped the demon, sank into its mind and memories, and a voice spoke in a language that did not belong to the Retrospective. And it asked a question: Do you remember who you used to be . . .?
For the first time, the demon knew fear. It turned and fled from the man in the silver light.
The demon continued its journey across the Retrospective. But where it had once travelled only with the objective of exterminating abominations from this House, it was now beset by doubt.
Sometimes, the demon remembered the person it used to be. Other times, it recalled that it had been many people, corroded and crushed together by the endless recycling of dead time, to be reborn over and over again, whenever chaos was threatened. But the man in the silver light had awoken something old in the demon. The residue of his voice remained in its mind as a clean and distant ringing, almost like a song. It reminded the demon of a long forgotten thing; an important thing that the demon used to believe in. And it was a word. A single word that represented power.
As the demon struggled to comprehend why the ringing remained in its mind, it arrived to where the Retrospective had led it: a hill of red rock and the mouth of a cave. Hefting its axe onto its shoulder, the demon entered the cave and began following a narrow path into a tunnel that sloped down deep into the earth. Almost immediately, the demon felt a chemical change in its body. Its blood was turning to venom in its veins; muscles and bones and organs and skin were becoming lethal toxins. With every step the demon took down into darkness, it changed into a walking, breathing poison; and before long, it understood why.
The tunnel opened into an enormous cavern, a subterranean hive where thousands of mites the size of the demon’s hand scurried and crawled. The noise of them was a deafening chatter. Their bodies were transparent, and a glow came from within them, filling the cavern with a sickly pale light. The mites worked tirelessly, crawling over each other, as they devoured the barren rock and used their excrement to build a huge pointed structure that hung from the high ceiling like a smooth glassy stalactite. It glinted wetly, already reaching halfway down to the cavern floor. The rich stench of minerals and nutrients coming from the stalactite cloyed the air of this filthy spawning ground.
Strength waned in the demon, and it welcomed the toxic changes in its body, which now festered with disease. It was repulsed by what it saw in the cavern. This was not the first time the demon had witnessed this kind of blemish.
If left unhindered, the thousands of luminescent mites would multiply to millions; they would continue breeding, devouring, nurturing, building and burrowing, until their enriched glassy tower fed the seeds of life into the very roots of the Retrospective. Even if fighting was the answer to this problem, there were too many of them for the demon alone to slaughter with its axe. The Retrospective demanded sacrifice, and it had altered the demon’s state, making it the plague that would spread and choke and exterminate this abomination.
Sensing its end approaching, the demon lifted its axe and hurled it at the glassy stalactite. The head sliced home with a deep toll that reverberated around the cavern. Thick, luminous liquid spilled from the wound, and the chittering of the mites reached a crescendo.
When the mites swarmed, the demon waited, calm and still. Knocked down and buried beneath a thousand scurrying bodies, it was blinded by the sterile brilliance shining from his attackers, but barely registered the pain as the mites tore and bit and fed upon poisoned blood and diseased flesh. Before it knew nothing, the demon heard the clean ringing of a distant song in its mind, and wondered if it would ever see the man in the silver light again.
A tornado of fire ripped across the damned landscape, shredding noxious clouds from the sky, tearing up the ground and leaving behind rivers of molten rock. Wider than a city, taller than a mountain, the tornado grew as it destroyed, sucking millions of wild monsters into its raging furnace, reducing everything in its path to raw matter that fed the belly of constant, random change. Ever recycling, ever expanding, the Retrospective had no concept of time. All time was dead in this House.
The demon once again knew awareness when it slipped from the base of the mighty fire tornado, riding a narrow river of magma on a skiff made from charred bone. Around it, ash swirled and danced in the blistering heat, thick as a snowstorm, borne on steam and smoke that sent it spiralling up to the festering sky. As the tornado receded into the distance, black rock began to mould the land anew, rising as jagged mountains, falling as ravines of obsidian glass. The stench of blood made a cloying atmosphere, and the shrieks of new monsters once again echoed across the smouldering plains.
How many times had the demon been reborn into this world? A thousand? A thousand thousand? And always with the voice of the Retrospective in its mind, steering its direction, leading it to where the next anomaly hid, to where the seeds of life waited to be destroyed. But this time there was a difference. The remnants of the man in the silver light remained inside the demon, that clean and distant ringing, almost like a challenge, or a summons to some inexorable change which could not be denied. It mingled with the voice of the Retrospective, tearing at the demon’s resolve and allegiance.
The skiff came to a halt, lodged in black rock as the river of magma cooled and hardened. Confused, torn, the demon stepped from the vessel of bone. Gripping its mighty axe tightly, it resumed its never-ending journey across the Retrospective.
Soon enough an abomination appeared in the poison sky. It drifted like a monumental jellyfish the colour of starlight. Fifty-foot long tentacles hung from the bloated bag of its body, radiating a purple hue as they protected a great sack filled with many eggs. Who knew where the creature was headed, or what manner of life would hatch from it. The Retrospective only cared about exterminating the anomaly before those eggs were laid, and it had once again charged its champion with the task.
But the demon was distracted.
As the creature drifted by overhead, the demon was transfixed by a line of silver light that had split the air. The light began to widen, spilling its sterile glow onto the red and scorched ground. The demon flinched, raising its axe, as the ringing in its mind became clearer, melodious. When the light widened enough, the man revealed himself. And this time, he was not alone.
Behind him, a strange treelike creature had wrapped its serpentine branches around the wrists and ankles of an unconscious human. As the captive was held aloft, the rest of the tree’s branches coiled and writhed in the air like a host of snakes. A woman studied the captive. She was dressed similarly to the man, in a black cassock, and her hair fell down her back as long and straight as a fall of oil. She showed no interest in the demon; and although the demon couldn’t see her face, it somehow knew that the woman bore scarring on her forehead.
The demon flinched a second time, as the man’s extraordinary, undeniable magic reached out and stroked its mind, gentle as a sigh. The demon resisted the urge to flee, and allowed the magic to saturate it. The man’s voice, so strong and enticing and alien, whispered with a question: Are you still loyal to the Genii?
The demon knew its answer instinctively. Dropping to one knee, laying aside its axe, it bowed its head to the man in the silver light. As it did so, old memories surfaced, of things the demon hadn’t realised it knew. Long ago, before the Retrospective had raged into existence, there had been a war. A mighty war that had shaken Houses, divided creatures of great magic . . . and the enemy had won.
Look for me, the man said, and the rent in the air vanished, taking the silver light with it.
The demon stayed down on its knee, hoping that the man would come back. The clean, vibrant ringing in its head receded to a distant song once again. The demon remained kneeling until the Retrospective decided to remind it of its duty.
A screech came from above. The bloated jellyfish and its sack of eggs had drifted into the distance, but flying towards the demon was a wild monster, borne on leathery wings. It landed with a thud not far away, and a final beat of its wings stirred up a cloud of burnt dust. The monster’s body was bulky, but its neck was sleek and long. It regarded the demon with soulless eyes, snapping a deep mouth filled with crooked, glass-like teeth. It was an impatient gesture, not threatening, and the demon noticed the saddle of bone growing from the ridges on the monster’s back.
Snatching the axe from the ground, the demon ran at the flying monster and jumped into the bone saddle. Encouraged by the demon’s heels, the monster beat its great wings and vaulted into the air. With the axe raised high, the demon soared skyward, racing to where the giant jellyfish floated into the horizon. The thrill of the hunt would have to suffice for now. But wherever the Retrospective chose to send its champion next, the demon would always listen to the song in its mind, and search for the man in the silver light.
The Relic Guild (Book 1) and The Cathedral of Known Things (Book 2) are published by Gollancz and are both available to purchase now. The Watcher of Dead Time (Book 3) will be released on the 18th August 2016 – you can preorder it here.
Find out more about Ed at his website or on the Gollancz website. You can also follow him on Twitter.