I’m rarely hesitant to admit the truth when it comes to my ability to market myself; I am a writer, not a marketer. This summer, I am deep in my first non-science fiction project, an urban fantasy set on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, so my focus these days is on anything but marketing (Add to that the weather is lovely and I have a canoe, backyard and dog all beckoning for my undivided attention) Sometimes, marketing opportunities literally sit down in front of you over a glass of pinot grigio and announce themselves, and one buys into them with all of the thoughtless zeal of a hot dog contest participant. This particular opportunity came from my wife, an award-winning artist, who thought a collaboration between ourselves – my writing and her art, would be a grand idea. I did so as well, and like renovations, trip planning and changing flat tires, it had its trying moments… very trying indeed for two very stubborn and opinionated artists.
The collaboration is complete, her works are up in a show at a local art gallery, garnering no end of quizzical looks and my imagined questions: “So, the mammoth in the painting, why?” or “Is that soldier playing golf?” or “Is he throwing up?”
So, I plan to deliver the series of works with commentary on this blog, beginning with, Tin Pot Battleships.
My wife was quite keen to capture the battle of Coloe Vallis where a mixed force of United Nations Off-World Legion jawan soldiers, Pavonis Constables and a hundred or so Neo Celts, also known as the Feradadh Boys, attacked the Tong Fort located there in retribution for the earlier murder of a pair of jawan soldiers. She was interested in the paddlewheelers, wondering at how they were laid out, requesting imagery, and generally wondering what a recoilless rifle was. As with any question posed to me in 2014, I quickly directed her to Google, but she has the tenacity of a terrier when she has questions, and she would not be swayed. So we sat down while I pulled up images of British Columbian paddlewheelers from the 1890s, a picture of a recoilless rifle, and laid out my own imaginings of the climax of the amphibious assault with recoilless rifles blazing away. It was exciting stuff, mind, my descriptions of the explosion,s the fires, the licking flames, the horrific damage, and the inexorable assault as the three paddlewheelers punched through hell to get to the beach. The enthusiasm I held faded slightly as my wife sat unmoved, then proceeded to lay out her ‘impressions.’ My wife is an impressionist, I might add, whereas I am a zealot for realism; that should have been the greatest warning to me of the storms that would come. Her impressions were indeed impressions, and contained little of the, or maybe it was ‘my’, emotion of the events. She laid out her thoughts and I balked; she mused over the imagery and I was horrified; and she considered the sentiments and I nearly cried. Although it lacked the volume of our other discussions – more on that in another post – we did come to a somewhat amiable conclusion with the imagery she ultimately chose.
I present to you, Tin Pot Battleships with the appropriate narrative from the anthology, The Scarlet Bastards
We pointed our bow towards the beach and fired the recoilless rifle and the heavy machine guns. The battered Zhuanyun and the burning Belladonna did the same, but as we were in far better condition, we easily outpaced them. I kept low as we closed the beach for we again came under withering small arms fire. Lukinaos continued to blast the Black Hand defences causing great smoking rents in the fascines and Hesco while the streams of 50 calibre tracers punched deeply and ricocheted in a wondrous fireworks show. We closed the last 100 meters and entered a hailstorm of lead as the Black Hand focused everything upon us. I cowered quivering in terror at the thought of having to raise myself from my meagre protection and leave the ship for the open beach and its almost certain death. Yet that was my task, and as MacShaka crouched amongst us shouting encouraging words that I no longer remember, I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes and willed myself to work up the nerve.
I must admit that I was emboldened as the small arms fire began to fade, for the efforts of those three little tin pot battleships was enough to turn the Black Hand defences into a hellish mess. The fascines were nothing more than a low, smoking, splintered ruin; both of the towers had collapsed into burning messes; and the Black Hand recoilless rifles were silent.
In the diminishing din with less than 50 meters to go, MacShaka roared, “Steady lads, be ready tae gae!”
With Thoe steering and the Naimaidan Regina making best speed, we closed that beach with a rapidity that must have been daunting to the defenders. Then with a suddenness that belied my preparedness, there was a crunching sound and the bow rose as the paddlewheel drove the ship up onto the rocky beach.
“Now, lads! At ‘em!” MacShaka screamed. The jawans and Neo Celts on the foc’sle leaped over the bulwark to drop to the beach while those within the ship piled out of the cargo doors into a meter of water. While the paddlewheel continued to thrash and push the ship up farther, the heavy machine guns and recoilless rifle peppered the defences 30 meters away with an appalling destruction that showered the charging troops with splinters.
As you can imagine, I was not keen to move. I was well holed up in the bow with Usman, but MacShaka wasn’t having any of it. “Sikunder!” he thundered as he grasped me by the collar, “move yer fucking keelie ass!” With Usman in tow he manoeuvred me to the bulwark, picked me up with that latent strength of the Hyperion that dwelt within him, and tossed me over the side. I landed in a few centimetres of water on top of my backpack – which likely saved me a broken back – then rolled over and squirmed towards a rock that just barely protected my head. Usman pushed in beside me, and we had a wicked argument over who should get the rock and who should go find their own.
Around us, bullets chipped off rocks and fanned the air, bowling the jawans and Neo Celts over like skittles. They lay fallen, their cries rising into a chorus of soul wrenching shrieks that had me sobbing and cowering while above us Lukianos continued firing the recoilless rifle. The detonations from each hit were now so close that they reverberated through my body and sent waves of splinters around us. I shrieked my hatred towards the mercurial old Greek, but he couldn’t hear me. The sound, that terrible blasting bedlam that drowned out everything, the sound that pounded my skull beneath that horrific discord of death and destruction was too complete. Nothing could penetrate it.
Or so I thought.
As I sought to bury myself deep in the cold granite stones of the beach, a new sound entered my consciousness – the deep drone and screeling cries of the pipes. Yes, the pipers had struck up their tune again; standing in the water on each side of the groundedNaimaidan Regina they brayed Johnny Cope as theZhuanyunand the Belladonna pushed on the beach on either side of us. Suddenly, scores of newly arrived jawans entered the fray, and the focus on our group wavered. We weren’t in the clear by a long chalk, but by God it was no longer raining lead.
“Cope sent a challenge frae Dunbar:
‘Charlie, meet me an’ ye daur,
An’ I’ll learn you the art o’ war
If you’ll meet me i’ the morning.’”