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Tag: swordfighting

Hail, oh people of the sword or pen! I am sitting in Bar Pult, in Lucca, with a filthy cold, and a head full of snot. Yet today is an excellent day, because today I uploaded all the final files of Swordfighting, for Writers, Game Designers, and Martial Artists to Amazon, Lightning Source, Kobo and Selz; all except the last take time to filter through their systems, so they should be live on Friday. The printed book should be available in about a month.

Hallelujah, people. This one has been quite a marathon. I hope you enjoy the result.

Campaign Backers: I will get your physical copies out as soon as they are available through my printers; expect them in May. You should already have the ebook versions, on the books for backers page of this site. Any problems, contact me on Thanks again for your patient support!

Swordfighting Cover

My friends at Pulp Literature are running another crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for their second year; I have greatly enjoyed the four volumes of short stories, novellas, poetry and artwork that constituted year one. One of their founders, Jennifer Landels, runs the mounted combat program at Academie Duello, and writes and draws swordfighting scenes (yes, chaps, huge chunks of Pulp Literature have no swords in them at all. And are STILL worth reading. Amazing.) So I sent Jen the current draft of my next book, Swordfighting, because it has advice for writers on creating good swordfights. She has been following my advice (not that she necessarily needed it!), and allowed me to share some of the results with you.

Here is a previously unpublished exclusive excerpt from Allaigna’s Song, which has been serialised in Pulp Literature issues 1-4, and will continue in 5-8; this will be part of issue 6 or 7.

We were almost at the end of the alley, when something else that glittered caught my eye.  I pulled Chal by the sleeve into a swordsmith’s shop.  Hundreds of swords and dirks hung from their hilts on the walls, and more sat scabbarded in bins behind the counter.  I paused for a moment, stunned by the bristling array of steel:  great swords and long swords by the dozen, short broad blades and long slim duelling swords, hunting daggers, ceremonial daggers, throwing knives and poignards sharp as hat pins.  It seemed there was more weaponry in this tiny shop than the whole of the Bastion’s armoury. 

Enraptured, I wandered slowly around the store under the silent, watchful gaze of  the shopkeeper.  When the sense of impatience from both her and Chal became oppressive, I stopped at the furthest case.  Catching my breath, I pointed at a slim short sword.  Page’s training aside, I still found it terrifying to talk to strangers, so I allowed myself no time to think.

“Can I see that one … please?”

The storekeep looked at me appraisingly.  “That one?  You’ve good taste, young lady,” she replied, but made no move to open the cabinet.  “Do you know what it is?”

Chal save me from answering.  She was as aghast as I had been in the apothecary. 

“A sword?  What do you need with a sword?  Don’t you get enough of that with arms practice?  And what’s wrong with the ones they give us, anyway?”

“They’re heavy, clumsy, and too big for me,” I snapped back at her.

The shopkeeper still stood with her arms crossed.

“That’s good training, that is,” she finally said.  “Learn with a heavy practice sword and you’re twice as fast and strong when you get a good one in your hands.  Like that one there. Ilvani craftsmanship.  No child’s toy.”

My ears burned.

“I’m not a child!  I’m –” I stopped.  “I can afford it,” I challenged, not knowing if I really could.

“Perhaps.  But can you use it?”

I nodded sharply.

“Very well, then.  Show me.”  She unlocked the case and brought out the sword.  It was a beautiful thing.  The handle was wrapped in green and gold threads, ending at a carved brass pommel.  The swept knuckle guard was minimal and elegant, and the blade itself, just as long as my arm, was no more than a slim two finger-widths at the hilt.  The unsharp portion was etched with delicate tracery my eyes couldn’t quite follow, of flowers and beasts intertwined in a continuous river.

It felt almost weightless compared to the clunky swords we drilled with, and it sliced the air with an easy thrum when I gave a few tentative cuts.

The shopkeep was out from behind the counter now, and for the first time I noticed her size and the muscles of her arm.  No doubt she could use any blade here, but in her hand was a short sword, of a length with the one I held, though not so beautiful.  She handed a blunting scabbard to me.

“Let’s see you use it, then,” she said, tying a matching scabbard on her own blade.

Chal gasped.  I stepped back and looked the shopkeeper in the face to see if she was joking.  She stood in a casual guard position, sword point level with my head.

“Here?”  My voice came out in timid squeak as I glanced at the narrow space hemmed in by cabinets.

She nodded, the barest smile lifting the corners of her mouth.  “Don’t break any glass or you’ll be paying for that.”

“No … thank you.  I don’t think so.”  I turned the sword over to my left hand and proffered it, hilt first.

She gave the blade a smack with her own, sending it spinning from my hand.  Without being aware I was doing it, I caught the hilt in my right once more.

“No, I think so,” she said, her smile stretching.

That smile was the goad.  With trembling fingers, I tied the blunting on, not daring to look at her face till it was done.  Stepping backward I lifted my sword into a guard that matched hers, though my point dipped and wavered while hers hovered steady before my eyes.

She began slowly, circling my point with hers to cover my sword.  I stepped back, nerves making me disengage her blade with a jerk too fast to be polite.  Still smooth and smiling she followed my turn and ended up on top again.  We spent a few moments like that, me flicking my blade back and forth, down and around, trying to gain advantage; and she never losing her unruffled calm or her superior position.

Frustrated I swung the blade around in an arc, smashing against her sword, which came up to meet mine invisibly fast.  The impact shuddered down my arm and threw my sword away.  Hers hardly moved.

She stepped forward, laughing, and tapped my exposed side with the flat of her blade.

“Never throw your weight against someone who weighs four times as much, little bird.” 

The blow stung, but not as much as the words.  Only Rhiadne was allowed to call me that.  I ducked low and cut at her feet and legs.  She stepped back almost casually and caught my sword again with hers.  I flicked my hand over, hoping to catch hers in an upswing, but she countered easily.  Neither Baredh nor the weapons master at the Bastion had ever moved so fast.  I knew she was toying with me and it was infuriating.

I ducked again and lunged, this time driving my sword upward under hers, careless of the fact she could bring her blade down fatally on my unguarded head if she chose.  With a turn that happened so fast I didn’t see it, she locked my hilt and twisted the sword from my hand.

“Tt,”  She shook her head, holding my blade in her left hand.  “It’s not done, aiming for the vitals in a friendly match.  Especially when you want something from me.  Or were you planning to walk past my bleeding corpse with a new sword?”

Fury and humiliation welled in my eyes.  I blinked them back down, but said nothing, having no faith in my voice.

She put both blades down on the counter behind her and folded her arms across her broad chest.  Head cocked to one side she peered at me once more with skin-flaying eyes.

“The sword is yours if you can afford it.”

I blinked again.  “How much?”

“A hundred and forty.”

I sagged.  It was at least a hundred more than I had.  The tears fought their way back up.  I had come into the shop on a whim that had been transformed to an obsession.  The newfound object of my desire pierced my heart and stayed there, burning.  I thought bitterly of the jewelled gold cups and flagons I filled and refilled every day.  A single one would pay for this treasure.  What good was having a prince for a grandfather when I lived on a page’s allowance?

I shook my head, and swallowed the fire.  “It’s too much.”

Her eyes, for once, looked sympathetic.  “I have others – less costly.”

She offered me the one she’d wielded.

I eyed it without moving.  It was a plain, sturdy sword, almost identical to the ones we polished every day. I shrugged and crossed my arms protectively against despair.

Chal, who’d stayed pressed in the corner till now, came forward.

“I could lend you some, Allaigna. I’ve got twenty or so left.”

I shook my head.  Not enough.  I looked up, still hugging myself.

“Could I,” I hesitated, desperately unbold, but desperate enough.  “Could I pay you some now and some later?”

“Why certainly little bird.  But I’ll keep it here till you’ve paid in full.  Twenty falcons a week for twelve weeks.”

I did the sums in my head and opened my mouth to protest.

“And I’ll throw in a lesson each time you come.”

I was torn between outrage and hope, but my lust won out.  I fished twenty falcons worth of mixed coin from my purse and spilled it on the counter,  though my hand hovered over the pile.

“How do I know you won’t just keep my money and sell the sword to someone else?”

“Well, you don’t know, do you?  That’s the nature of trade.  We can shake on it though.”

She put a fist to her heart, spat in her hand, and held it out.  I did the same, clasping her large hand with my tiny one.  She scraped the coins off the counter and passed them back to me.

“You can start paying next week.  This lesson was free.”

I nodded, and backed toward the door.

“And what about you, young lady, she called to Chal.  A dirk, perhaps?  A fine stiletto?”

“Do you fight with all your customers?” Chal asked warily.

The shopkeeper smiled.  “That depends on what they want.”

“No thank you, then,” said Chal as we made a hasty exit into the chilly winter afternoon.

Now, as if that wasn’t enough, she has also shared some of the early sketches for a mounted combat scene in one of the stories; oh you lucky people!

1a  1b2a2b

So, if you like this stuff, as you jolly well should, then hi thee to the Starter of Kick, and part with some of your hard-earned. Because if you don't, they might not make their target, and then I won't get my next four issues, and that will make me grumpy and sad. And you wouldn't want that, now, would you?

I am writing up the Fear section of my new book, Swordfighting for Writers, Game Designers and Martial Artists. This particular section seemed like a useful snippet. About half the book is blog posts from here, so cannibalising a section of it to make a blog post seems, well, fair. Here goes.

“One of the many things that martial arts training can teach you is the ability to deal with fear: the ability to control your autonomic responses, the ability to choose all your actions from a position of confidence and strength, rather than just react out of fear and dread. [At this point I tell stories about the many times I have been variously anxious, frightened, terrified, and gibbering in panic, in hospitals, schools, fencing arenas and the mean streets of Sydney (yes, the Spider story) and Edinburgh.]

In addition to fear management strategies, it is also useful to actively practise handling fear. For this you will need one irrational fear inducing activity, ideally one that requires little cash or preparation, and a commitment to daily practice. One easy option is cold showers; not ideal, because most people are not actively afraid of cold water, they just don’t like it. But having the nerve to turn the tap all the way to cold and let it hit you, is a good start.

I personally have a wildly irrational fear of hanging off things. Especially upside down. I’m ok hanging off a pull-up bar by my hands, but jumping up to catch hold of it in the first place gives me a heart attack. In the back of my mind I am completely certain that if I miss my catch, the contact of my fingers on the bar will flip me upside-down, and I’ll fall on my head. Yes, really.

But I know that it isn’t so; the forces at work just cannot make that happen. My rational mind overrules my irrational body, in this case. So every day, I jump and catch the bar. And every day, I nearly die of fright. But it is much easier to handle now than it was a year ago. I can feel the dread building as I approach the bar, and steel myself to jump and catch. It’s horrible. But useful. And good practice.

Hanging upside down by my knees is another one. For the longest time, I could not do it. In my heart of hearts, I knew that if I let go with my hands, my legs would straighten, and I would fall. As if my legs were not under my control at all. And as if the teeny little muscles in my grip were somehow able to generate more force than the ginormous (in comparison to my forearms at least) muscles in my thighs.

My cousin is a professional aerialist (she organised the Mary Poppins’s at the London Olympics opening ceremony), and way back in 2005 she was performing in Berlin, doing scary-as-hell rope tricks. You can see her in action here:

I flew over to see her and while I was there she invited me along to their training hall, to have a go on ropes and trapezes. It was fantastic good fun. While she was teaching me to get onto a trapeze, I managed to get my legs over the bar, but I could not let go with my hands and hang down. No way. Instant fall onto head. So she shinned up the rope next to me, laid her arm on my shins and said “don’t worry, I won’t let you fall”. (The physics do not work, of course. She was about half my weight, and hanging off a rope. But irrational fears do not require rational solutions.) And so I let go, and after a moment, she could take her arm away, and there I was, hanging by my knees upside down for the first time ever.

Unfortunately, trapezes are quite tricky to find round here, so I didn’t do it again, until this summer. We have a climbing frame in our yard, and my eldest daughter and I were playing on it, and I did Katherine’s trick of holding her shins (though in this case the reassurance was backed up by physics!) and in short order, my 7-year old turned into a monkey, as regards hanging off stuff at least. So I decided to join her, and had my wife hold my shins, and I let go with my hands. After a few reps of that, I could do it without her. And now it’s easy. Scary, but easy. I still know in my bones that I’m about to fall, but I still do it. When that stops being scary enough, I’ll have to find something else to be frightened of. Because the benefits of daily overcoming terror are way too great.

photo credit: Sarah Frechette of Pikku Arkki.
photo credit: Sarah Frechette of Pikku Arkki.

So, give it a go. What are you afraid of?

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