A Flash of Nuance in The Revenant’s Wake

This isn’t a review, but still, Spoilers abound.

I had the unusual pleasure of watching The Revenant last night. I say unusual because it’s essentially grimdark and something of an ordeal to experience. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and starring Leonardo di Caprio and Tom Hardy, it follows Glass, a tracker who embarks on a monomaniacal quest for revenge after being left for dead following a terrifying bear attack. The performances are excellent and the film is, grimness aside, astonishingly beautiful – you might even say it achieves something spiritual, if you’re that way inclined (I’m not… but it stirred something, that’s for sure).

But this isn’t a review. I think everybody praised the film when it was released so by now you know it’s great, right? I wanted to talk about a specific moment which astonished me and got me thinking about depth and richness of character, about that special nuance that makes characters interesting, as opposed to simple archetypes and caricatures. Now this is a movie, not a literary work (although the film is based on a novel that in turn was based on a poem) but I still felt that I’d either learned something as a writer, or had an opinion validated, through watching it.

The film is full of stand-out scenes, but as if so often the case, the one that made my brain light up the most was something quiet and almost thrown away. Two thirds through the film, when Glass has rescued a Native American from a band of rapacious mercenarial traders, one of the survivors manages to find his way to the settlement where the rest of Glass’s original band are based. After listening to the man’s story, and after finding on his person a canteen that was left with Glass when he was abandoned, they realise that the hardy frontiersman is still alive and they prepare a rescue party.

The survivor sits down opposite Fitzgerald, the man who abandoned Glass and also killed his son. Fitzgerald, having assumed that Glass was long dead by now, is obviously alarmed at the turn of events. The camera is fixated on the whites of his eyes and you can see the wheels desperately turning as he strives to work out how he might extricate himself from the situation. As this is happening, marginally in frame, you see Fitzgerald slide his half-eaten plate of food across the table to the survivor.

Why do I love this moment so much? Because Fitzgerald is the ‘dark lord’ of the film. He’s the monster, the villain. The film stops just short of putting any real weight behind the idea that he was forced to kill Glass’s son, or that he was motivated by genuine fear of another attack by members of the Arikara tribe, but some flecks of grey are certainly present in the gloomy darkness at the heart of the character. Nevertheless, he’s the bad guy in this story and Glass wants him dead. So do we.

Yet in this moment of cold dread, when he knows the game is up, Fitzgerald pushes his plate towards the shivering, traumatised survivor. Perhaps he’s lost his appetite, but he doesn’t get up and leave as we might expect. Is this some adherence to a code of conduct? Is that a chink of light in that heart of darkness? Nothing is clear, and this is precisely what I love about the moment.

Iñárritu doesn’t even pass comment. As I say, the plate is barely in the frame. But it certainly slides across the table, silently, guided by Fitzgerald’s hand. It’s a piece of subtle magic that provides an extra level of depth to what is already a well-drawn character. We’re left to ruminate on it, unsure as to what the message of the shot actually is. Unless we missed it altogether, which is easy to do and part of the incident’s charm.

This, in a nutshell, is what gets me. We’re drilled to write everything for a reason, to delineate our characters and keep things clear. If someone does something, there should be a reason, and it should all cohere. It should be neat, so unlike the universe we live in. But these little moments, these sparks of magic and mystery, that little off-note that makes us furrow our brow and not quite get it can have as much power as the most clearly-written passage. At least, that’s how it is to me.

I can’t pretend there’s a solid lesson here, but I’m a sucker for nuance. Offer me a Dark Lord who wants to take over the world because, well, he’s the Dark Lord, and I could care less. Give me a brutal and remorseless killer who makes the effort to slide his meal over to a complete stranger and I feel like the story (movie, novel, whatever) has connected me to the actual universe, with all its messy and convoluted strands, grey areas and puzzles. Sometimes this is exactly what I want from a story.

Sometimes, I suppose, we achieve authenticity through chaos rather than clarity. Mystery rather than truth.




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Time’s Torment

Time's Torment Front Cover Social Media

‘Here is all you need to know about this world.

It’s dark.

It’s devious.

And its foul and rancid heart is bloated with an endlessly churning malice.

Still, an adventure could be fun, no?’

My new novel, Time’s Torment, is available now in ebook format. If you have access to Kindle Unlimited you can read it for free. It’s the first in a series of adventures focusing on two rather unique characters. I should say here that it contains some bad language. There are also several scenes of mild peril, but these tend to be sandwiched between moments of extreme danger.

I don’t want to give away too much, so here’s the blurb I’ll be running when the paperback is ready.


An urchin of the Clasture slums, Scurry has known only fear, poverty and degradation. After a violent encounter with a black-clad stranger forces her to flee her homeland, she begins to wonder whether a life of misery and servitude might have been preferable to the fate that lies ahead.

Transported to the other side of the known world she finds herself tested in ways she could not have foreseen. Yet Scurry is not entirely powerless. Her unique gift – also a terrible curse – is that she never forgets. Drawn into a daring quest she realises that if she can master that gift, and conquer her fear, her fate may no longer rest in the hands of strangers.

In fact, if she can escape the pain of her past… she just might have a future.

The first step along a perilous road of high adventure, Time’s Torment is a violent, fast-paced journey into a mystical land full of ancient sorcery, vengeful gods, dashing pirates, dirty tricks and sadistic, sentient blades that enjoy their grisly work a little too much.

Will This Be Just Another Day?

Waking up to news of the Parkland high-school shooting.

I don’t like to talk about politics here. Not because I don’t care about current affairs but because I would much rather discuss philosophy than policy. From experience, I think it’s more constructive to explore various ideas (the role of the state, the legacy of empire, the viability of military interventionism, etc) through writing than it is to grab someone by the scruff of the neck and shout at them, which is sadly what most political discourse is these days. Get people to think, get people to confront their own ideals, get people to engage and you have a more constructive process.

But there comes a point when this feels dishonest. As a writer I’ve always struggled with the aspect of professionalism that requires one to be diplomatic and, to an extent, emotionally distant. Eventually, I knew the veil would fall and I’d have to wade in on one side or the other. It’s inevitable, right? Especially in an increasingly polarised world.

You know what I’m talking about. There’s been another shooting in a US school and several kids are dead. America, once again, is in mourning. I don’t know when the last period of mourning ended, and by now it feels like a constant thing, a vast and incessant parade of public agony, but now the news anchors are weeping and people are calling for better gun control. Once again, people across the pond are lecturing you on how to run your own country.

Now, I know that the philosophy of ferocious individualism runs deep in American culture. You don’t like outsiders telling you what to do, and many of you like to think that you have enough firepower in your basement to take on drones, battleship-mounted railguns and Navy SEALS if the government decides to go full Stalin. You like to stand alone. You like to say ‘don’t tread on me’ instead of ‘don’t tread on us’ because solidarity sounds like communism to you. Decades of libertarian dogma can’t be deprogrammed in a heartbeat. But the US is also a country in which the spirit of community looms large. The first three words of your constitution are not “I the Individual” but “We the People”. And as one, you can change things. Individuals can stand together without losing their independence of thought, without losing their own little chunk of the American Dream. So when I say that, on gun violence, Europe is with you, the UK is with you, don’t be threatened by that. This isn’t some call for you to put on overalls and overthrow capitalism. It’s a message of unity. We feel your sadness. We don’t want to see parents in tears and their kids in the ground. We don’t want these sorts of wasteful, miserable, gut-twisting acts of slaughter to happen again. Anywhere.

So who does this three-eighths-Irish Brit think he is, poking his nose in your business? Well, despite my lack of geographical proximity I’ve got a stake in this too. I love the US. Growing up, my favourite TV shows were American. My favourite comedy show of all time is Seinfeld (Only Fools and Horses runs a close second). My favourite band is Smashing Pumpkins. My favourite poetry came out of the Modernist period, which involved Americans coming over here to show us how to get our mojo back. So many of my favourite movies and plays are American. I can’t count how many hours, how many years of joy your nation has given me. So when I say all of this, it comes from the heart. It comes from somebody who absolutely and categorically gives a shit. Somebody who, many times in his life, the lowest and most difficult times I’ve ever had, found kinship and solace in the work of American artists. Someone who might not have made it through his teens had it not been for Billy Corgan, a libertarian from Chicago. Believe me when I say that I have a vested interest in your country healing itself.

You stood up to the British Empire when it subjugated you. In 1941 you stood up to the Axis when it threatened to overpower the whole world. I’m pretty sure you can stand up to a handful of middle-aged men who run the NRA and the politicians nestling in their pockets.

I have faith in you. You’ve never given in to powerlessness and inertia before. Don’t start now.


Invincible, Inviolable or Just Plain Invulnerable?


There’s a tendency in many writers to reach for the word that sounds right, that fits the deportment of the sentence and the flow of the writing, instead of the word most suitable in terms of meaning. I catch myself doing this a fair bit. Alongside more ‘highfalutin’ novels I also consume a fair amount of pulp. It’s accessible, which I think is important, and it’s fun, which I think is essential. But it’s often lazy, full of received wisdom, second-hand concepts and terms borrowed from elsewhere that do not precisely mean what the author thinks they mean.

This is all forgivable. When you’re consuming something for sheer entertainment, knowing that this is precisely the intended function of the text, it’s unreasonable to expect it to measure up to what we call literary fiction in terms of the employment of language. But those of us that also write should probably be careful that we don’t find ourselves falling too much under the influence. We should, in short, take care that we always try to use the right word.

The Modernists, who by and large took these things seriously, had a term for this: le mot juste. It simply means, the correct or exact word. It’s a term you might have encountered in college or university, probably when studying Eliot’s The Waste Land. Or you might have come across it on a writing forum or in a creative writing class. It’s concept that’s always in the popular consciousness amongst writers and poets because it’s a concept that should never be forgotten.

So I’m going to look at three terms which are used in fantasy (or pulp SF) a fair bit, and are treated as though they are interchangeable. If we dig deeper, we’ll see that they’re actually charged with unique meaning. These words are Invincible, Inviolable and Invulnerable.


I’m invincible!”
“You’re a loony.”

          Monty Python and the Holy Grail

This is a really common word, right? Last night my son came across it in a school book about Norse Mythology and had to query what it meant. I’ve seen it used to mean indestructible or impervious to damage. It doesn’t mean this but I suppose, if we’re being generous, it’s pretty close. But le mot juste isn’t about being generous. It’s about being a heartless, nit-picking bastard.

So, invincible actually describes something that cannot be conquered or subjugated, something that cannot be overcome. It’s root is in the Latin vincere which means to conquer. So if someone zaps your hero’s shaceship with an energy beam, but the armour repels the beam, this isn’t invincibility (especially when the enemy changes tactics and teleports onto the ship’s bridge, capturing it). When your dragon blasts an enemy knight but his armour turns the flame aside, requiring your sorceror to bind the knight in magical chains instead, he wasn’t invincibility either, since in both cases the thing being described has eventually been conquered by other means. But if an enemy city is under siege for 10,000 years but still isn’t close to falling, or a hero keeps being assailed by, and keeps defeating, villain after villain, I reckon you can go ahead and slap them with the label invincible.

So is the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail invincible? Well, he refuses to surrender, so he has that going for him. One thing’s for sure though, he’s neither of the following things…


Here’s a good one. It’s more unusual, but you still see it thrown around. The kind of word writers use when they’re not so afraid of being misunderstood, or branded pretentious. But it’s also a word that we see being used incorrectly.

I wanted to describe a character as inviolable because they had been through all manner of misery and emerged intact and fearsome. But the trouble was, that’s not what this word denotes. If something is inviolable, it is incapable of being infringed upon, corrupted, violated. So a character who has endured some sort of catharsis cannot be said to be inviolable. In fact, you have to be violable in order to be able to experience catharsis, because of the purging and invasive nature of the cathartic process. You can’t be shoved through an emotional wringer if you’re too resilient for the mechanism.


This is another common one, of course. We probably see it treated as a synonym for Invincible. But again it’s quite different. As the word suggests, it’s the opposite of vulnerable. It implies a lack of weak points. So an invulnerable character can still be captured and incarcerated. They can still lose battles, just as long as the defeat didn’t require them to be harmed or damaged. An invulnerable foe can be defeated simply by trapping them on an island or firing them into space on a rocket. Just don’t try and hit them with sticks or run them through with a sword, because that’s not going to work.

To a lot of you, this will seem elementary. But I’m deep in the editing process right now (with the light now visible at the end of the tunnel) and this is the sort of thing that’s keeping me awake at night.

The Dangers!

Searching for the right word can lead you down some dark alleys. I asked someone close to me what they thought of the word ‘uninterrogable’ as a description of a deep pit and they visually recoiled. It’s a very cool word (to me) and means that something cannot be interrogated. You can learn nothing from it, there’s no way to study and glean from it any truth or fact. Sure, some readers are flat-out going to hate the word, but others will enjoy it (if I like it, there must be someone else out there, surely?). So I went ahead and used it, despite my test audience’s reaction. It appealed to the Lovecraft reader in me.

So I guess my advice is, if the only word you can find is one that some people will hate (there’s a large number of readers who really don’t like encountering words they haven’t already encountered) and you choose nevertheless to make use of it, don’t expect every reader to thank you. But at least you will be saying what you mean, which as we all know is quite important.

Keep writing and being awesome.


The Last Jedi Lights It Up

A spoiler-free review (I’m 99% sure…) of Star Wars: The Last Jedi


No balls were dropped during the making of this movie.

The Force Awakens seemed an odd fit in an era of genre fandom obsessed with the badass and the dark. It shone, twinkled and joked its way through a story that leaned too heavily on J.J. Abrams’ trademark mystery box for its dramatic hooks, almost asking us to focus more on the secret of Snoke’s identity, or that of Rey’s parents, than on the incidents that took place on-screen.

Though punctuated with some momentous scenes (Han’s fate, for instance) it felt like a story about what lay behind the characters more than what occurred in front of them, and for that reason it felt incomplete to me. That’s the problem with mysteries that span multiple movies, of course; you have to wait for the next instalment to put your mind at rest.

But for all that, I had enjoyed it. There were some who found Rey’s force-grab of the lightsaber predictable, but this was Star Wars. They’ve always been, ultimately, predictable movies. You get the pay-off eventually, and that particular moment still, after several viewings, makes me grin. That’s the magic that these films have, and if you change that, you wreck the entire universe (I won’t say franchise. I grew up with these films. That word cheapens them).

Going into The Last Jedi, I had reservations. Will it have the same slightly hollow feel to it, as we are forced (sorry) to wait for the follow-up for our questions to be answered? Will Luke be mishandled, as we’ve seen Batman, Superman and the Transformers mishandled? Will it fail to give me that glow that Star Wars always gives me, even in the prequels? Will the worst of all scenarios occur, and I come out of the cinema having seen something that’s just, well, average?

I had prayers that I wanted answered. I didn’t want any more mystery boxes. I wanted the drama to come from the characters clashing, events unfolding, the cards being on the table, not hidden behind the back of the director. I wanted it to feel like a big deal, too, and to not waste these characters into which we had so much invested. It was all a big ask. So, as I sit here, 16 minutes after leaving the cinema, how did it measure up?

I’ll start with the negatives, because there are a couple. First – and I felt the same way when I saw The Force Awakens – I’m tired of the blaring orchestra and the yellow train of exposition that starts every Star Wars movie. It feels redundant to me. I would have been happy without any of it, especially since very little has changed between this movie and the finale of The Force Awakens. It’s a bit like an old friend who has a habit that was once endearing, but now just has to be endured if you want him to stick around (which you do, because he’s awesome, but damn that habit’s tired).

The other negative is that it contains a little bit of Disney Nonsense™. There are cute creatures, which are funny only if you fight against that sense of cynicism which separates grown-ups from their innocent child-selves, and maybe one or two bonkers sequences in which physics no longer seems to apply, one involving a sprinting, half-decapitated war-machine. Now these are precisely the sort of things that sunk* the prequel trilogy. So does it hurt The Last Jedi?

Categorically nope. The scant few moments that pushed the envelope too far in terms of space critter kawaii and theme-park ride/videogame cutscene craziness were completely forgivable because they come wrapped in several layers of lean storytelling and perfectly-executed action. The mysteries that made the first film sluggish are not quite jettisoned, but are instead touched upon with an almost ruthless desire to streamline the story in favour of what lies ahead, rather than behind the characters. New relationships are formed in the spinning wreckage of battle and the duels we all wanted to see are either provided, though cleverly subverted, or transform before our eyes into something superior to what we were hoping to witness, to the point where you find yourself hoping that what you’re seeing unfold isn’t some force-induced hallucination.

Most impressive was the pace of the film. It has it’s placid moments, most of them taking place on Luke’s island, but there’s a lovely pathos to these sequences as Luke ends up being less, yet also more, than we hoped. As a thrilling hunt begins to dominate the narrative, the audience is treated to a sequence of stunning set-pieces, each of which feels like a climactic battle, only to feed into another fracas, the palette cleansed by a costume-change of weapons, characters and location.

The sound isn’t quite as fierce as it was in The Force Awakens. Lightsabers don’t fizz and crackle with that distorted roar, and the ‘force moments’ lack the same, dominant thrumming bass that underpinned the mind-duel between Kylo Ren and Rey in the interrogation room, for example. But the sound is fine. It’s just less invasive.

In terms of visual grit, it follows the lead of Rogue One. Heavy laser blasts from swooping TIE fighters batter ground positions with double-bass drum potency and artillery chews up trench lines, tossing soldiers through the air. Despatched foes topple into generators and are shredded into confetti. Goodness knows how many fools are taken down with creative employment of lightsabers. Burgeoning fireballs consume countless minor characters (as well as some you could actually name). There’s an overwhelming amount of fighting and it’s all done with a grace that allows new characters to be introduced, enjoy a sweet arc and then perish without it feeling rushed, something we see less of in this age of workshopped-to-death screenplays produced in the heat of duels between studios and directors. Indeed, it’s partly the poor execution of other big-budget films that makes The Last Jedi seem more of a triumph, perhaps, than it is. But that’s hitting the wrong note; this isn’t a film that feels good because it doesn’t make as many mistakes as other big movies do. It’s a film that feels good because it is good. So good, that it takes you aback.

Is it the sci-fi film of the year? Well, I didn’t come out of it emotionally wrung out as I did when I emerged from Blade Runner 2049, a movie that dazzled me beyond words. But it’s very strong, well put together, leaner than its predecessor and full of hopeful messages we can all get behind, including a criticism of free-market capitalism which gels perfectly with the attitude of the Resistance and also makes the film feel politically relevant. C-3P0 gets plenty of metaphorical sand kicked in his face, Luke is wonderful, Hux is a properly-hissable space-fascist, Finn is brimming with agency, the ships are well-designed and the story of Rey and Kylo Ren takes centre-stage in thunderously engaging fashion.

Also, this isn’t as safe a film as I expected. Chances are taken in ways that we usually see in DC:EU movies with storyline twists that the safer (and more successful) Marvel universe tends to avoid in favour of playing it safe and getting the ball over the line. But here, the chances pay off. You hope they get Luke right, and they do. You hope something amazing happens in Snoke’s throne room, and it does. You hope to see the Falcon’s shadow carve across a landscape illuminated by the blaze of lasers, and you do. There’s even a nice nod to those of us too jaded to love the cute critters when one of them, hitching a ride on an iconic vessel, is slammed face-first into the glass when the vessel pulls a spin. Some of the jokes are a little flat (it’s not wholly inaccurate to say that Luke’s wink at C-3PO, which is amazing by the way, is as close as this movie gets to TFA’s “You’re cold?!”) but they serve the characters and the tone well enough.

So yeah, that’s my spoiler-free (I think) review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I really liked it. I’m relieved that they didn’t drop the ball with Luke. I like that they gave Leia a jaw-dropping force moment, which she should have had ages ago. Good job, people. Good job.


Rian Johnson, ladies and gentlemen. If you see him, buy him a beer. 

*The story the prequels told was good. The way it told that story was, for the most part, not good. That’s as much as I want to say about that here, except that Hayden Christensen deserves none of the blame, people. None. Of. The. Blame.


Chris O’Mara is a fantasy writer. His novel Healer’s Ruin is available on Amazon in ebook and paperback format. You can read it for free with Amazon Prime, so give it a shot. It’s short, sweet and self-contained. 

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Worldbuilding, One Bridge At A Time.


The cover art for Katharine Kerr’s Daggerspell, by Keith Parkinson

Worldbuilding is an art in itself, a process that requires us to think about a range of different topics from geography to economics. We often find ourselves concocting detailed timelines showing the various wars, famines, necromancy-aided zombie outbreaks, dragon attacks, royal successions, orc invasions and other major incidents, and sketching out maps of the entire globe, with even the most far-flung nation states named and their kings, queens, customs and preferred methods of warfare carefully outlined. The reader might never even glimpse these places, or find them mentioned in the story, but that’s often the way with worldbuilding. Most of the hard work is hidden behind the text, never to be seen.

But sometimes we can overlook the simplest and most evocative method or worldbuilding: the exploration of the immediate world. It’s the struggle between the grand and the granular vision; do we peer into the distance and dream of what might lie beyond those gleaming, sun-clad peaks, or do we instead choose to describe how the hero’s wizened guide picks his teeth with what looks like an arrowhead which hangs fixed from his wrinkled neck on a filthy leather band?

Let’s think about the arrowhead. Perhaps our hero is erudite enough to know the history of this part of our world. She astutely judges the guide to be some years shy of sixty, though his hard life has made him seem decades older. From this, she deduces that he might have been around when the kingdom was attacked by the Gorrokhin Flood, a horde of warped creatures in the sway of a cabal of mad sorcerers. She might also know that the Gorrokhin were beaten back not by the celebrated Greatswords of the King’s Own, or by the well-armed militias, but by a large band of local huntsmen who placed themselves in harm’s way, completely unarmoured, with only their bows and arrows to protect them. At this moment, she sees the crooked guide in a different light. Pities him perhaps, that his glorious courage had not been better rewarded. That most – but not her, not now – might see him as a mere peasant offering to lead travellers through the countryside for a few copper pieces.

This tiny detail lets us peek into the history of the immediate world. Not the globe, with its distant power brokers, pensive empires and fabulous beasts, but the people around the protagonists. Their history, their pathos. By paying this kind of attention, we end up crafting a lived-in world, a place that feels authentic.

The Road Itself

I was clearing out some old books recently – a pretty gruelling experience in which I discovered not only the frightening number of books I purchased in recent years, but how many of them I hadn’t managed to read – and came across English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages. Published by J. J. Jusserand, it’s precisely the kind of charming old book in which wisdom is expressed in that archaic and convoluted way that we might call flowery and ‘very much of its time’. I can’t judge this too harshly, of course; it was published in 1889… and besides, that’s how I write now, so how can I point fingers at good old Triple-J?

Flicking through it, I found a lot of stuff that resonated with me, beavering away as I am beneath the mantle of fantasy writer. Things I would have found tedious before seem vitally important now. Take, for instance, the focus of the very first chapter: roads and bridges.

Now this is what I mean by the immediate world, the granular detail rather than the grand vista. What could be more commonplace, more emblematic of a fantasy world, than a battered old bridge over a trickling stream in the depths of the darkest forest? We can already hear the staccato clacking of the horse as it tentatively picks its way across the stones, unsure of its footing. Will the bridge hold? It’s sure to tumble down one day. Perhaps today?

But this bit of mild peril isn’t the point. I’m interested here in what our bridge might tell us about the world in which it finds itself. Jusserand’s book talks of the trinoda necessitas, the three obligations of the King’s subjects, one of these being the repairing of bridges. Now, most worlds we build are much like our own. They are shaped by three things: gods, gold and greed. The building and maintenance of bridges in England was seen as “pious and meritorious work”; it’s no coincidence that the word Pontiff means bridge-builder.

Bridges allowed the lifeblood of the nation to flow. And this lifeblood was of course labour, and therefore money. Jusserand tells us of the unscrupulous Godfrey Pratt who installed iron bars and a toll, charging travellers for the right to cross his bridge, but allowing nobility to cross for free (since they had the power to censure him). He was eventually removed from duty by an abbot who swiftly abolished the toll. Now there was a bridge with a story to tell.

We can unpack all of this. The drama tells us that the church had a great deal of power, as did the nobility. In this society money is exchanged for services. There must also be reasonable enforcement of the law, too, since Pratt wasn’t caved in with a mace for daring to try and extort money from wayfarers.

It’s not just the bridges that tell a story about the society that produced them. Jusserand also details how the Romans constructed their roads.

  1. Pavimentum, or foundation, fine earth, hard beaten in.

  2. Statumen, or bed of the road, composed of large stones, sometimes mixed with mortar.

  3. Ruderatio, or small stones well mixed with mortar.

  4. Nucleus, formed by mixing lime, chalk, pounded brick or tile; or gravel, sand, and lime mixed with clay.

  5. Upon this was laid the surface of the paved road, technically called the summum dorsum.

Not only is this interesting (if you’re into that kind of thing) but we can start to see how even the roads beneath a traveller’s feet can reveal a violent history of invasion, domination, rebellion and overthrow. The people who built these roads are no longer present, their empire no longer in command. But the roads themselves remain, and are absolutely essential to the function of the nation.

Dipping into Jusserand’s book helped to crystallise those ideas I was having about the importance of small details and perhaps from now on I’ll try to pay more attention to the immediate environment in my worldbuilding. I’ll think not only about the distant past, the loftiest peaks and the greatest wars, but also of the charms around the necks of vagrants, the old bridges and the roads that run from city to city over which tradesmen travel in horse and cart, without themselves looking down at the rich history beneath hoof and wheel.

Sure, we want to dream big. We want to show the reader how vast our world is and what wonders await later in our series. But we should never forget how the simplest, smallest details – those things that are closest, rather than hugely distant – can bring a world to life.



Chris O’Mara is a fantasy writer. His novel Healer’s Ruin is available on Amazon in ebook and paperback format. You can read it for free with Amazon Prime.

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Sitrep! Or, where’s the next novel, loser?


Because it’s not all coffee, real ale and Netflix. Occasionally, there’s writing.

Hey everyone, hope you’re all doing well. Its been a little while since I published anything and I wanted to take a moment to let you know what’s going down in O’Maratown (except for my income, obviously).

The good news is, there are two projects nearing completion. The first is a fantasy novel that has been in the works since Healer’s Ruin was first published. Originally intended to be another short tome, it mushroomed into a much larger story. The plan to publish in April 2017 looks like it might have to be abandoned (you like books with endings, right?) with June looking more realistic. This June. Probably.

It’s a little darker than Healer’s Ruin, with a few more characters and multiple threads. This one will be a standalone narrative, so won’t be continuing on from that first novel. Sorry to those who’ve been asking for Healer’s Ruin 2: The Return of Happy Endings. You might have a longer wait for that.

The second project is a novella about two adventurers. It’s fun and violent, full of dark magic and mild (alright, extreme) peril, and will be the first of many forays for these quirky mercenaries. This book should be available by the end of May. Which is really exciting. Eeeeeek!

Artwork has been sorted out for both books and beta-readers will be invited pretty soon (although soon is, as you know, an elastic concept in O’Maratown) so give me a follow on Twitter and I can keep you informed of my misadventures.

I’m also doing a few chapter surgeries, in which writers send me a chapter of their work, and I give them notes. This is great fun, and humbling. There are a lot of really talented people out there. I really must do better.

So, that’s me. How are you doing? Well, I hope!

Stay cool,