Blog.

BLOG: Of Dice And Pens; Collaborative Narrative.

Continuing my look at the effects of running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign on my own writing output, today I would like to dig into what is probably my favourite aspect of tabletop RPGs, the collaborative narrative.

Ordinarily as a writer you plot out the story beats and create the character arcs along with character growth throughout the narrative. In D&D you don’t get to create the characters, you have no control over their personality, history or what their goals are in life. That is the responsibility of your players.

The story is what matters most to me when I run a game, and so I find myself in this unique situation where we at the table rely on improv to drive that story forward. The choices made are not always what I would have done. At first, when I first became a DM, that was a problem for me and it almost led me to railroad my players onto a set narrative. There is no fun in being a player who is just a glorified pawn in someone else’s story. The story belongs to everyone at the table, we all contribute.

As the DM I can put down all the story hooks and fleshed out characters I want to, but they are completely open to my players interpretations, or their suspicions. I never like to railroad the people at the table, giving them freedom to add to the story we are all creating with a ‘Yes, and’ mentality that has led to twists and turns I had never expected. As a writer who usually knows every plot beat beforehand, it’s incredibly refreshing.

Sometimes a players choice will cause me to pull details out of thin air as I run the game by the seat of my pants. Your plans as DM usually don’t survive first contact with the players. This sort of improvisation is an incredibly useful creative exercise. It forces you to pick something and stick with it, the choice becomes set in stone and you have to make it work. Given the ability to edit and rewrite your own work, these rapid and permanent choices have taught me that it is ok to go with your instincts and have actually sharpened my creative process.

Other times a players offhand comment has completely changed how I saw an aspect of the story, or what I had planned for the story. One such comment about how a location on the map looked led to a sundered city surrounded by an underground forest. A memorable adventure, and the fallout of that simple comment and the narrative decisions it led to are still being felt in the campaign, and will for a time going forward.

Having to work within the confines of a player’s character choices, their history, flaws and goals can be incredibly challenging. It’s easier for some players than others. Some players are happy to be led, they are new or unsure about the character, so they allow you to draw them in, and over time they begin grow the character on their own. Others have a very defined idea of the character and all its aspects. This is a little more restrictive and can continue to be so should you work in a vacuum, but adding in the other character and story elements gives a DM many opportunities to create a personalised narrative that the player should enjoy and feels is right for their character.

This style of storytelling, fed by the narrative choices of others has led to some of the most exciting, funny and poignant moments in my personal writing experience.

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BLOG: Of Dice And Pens.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was keen on looking into the effects a creative outlet such as a tabletop RPG, or in my particular case Dungeons and Dragons, has on some bodies creative output.

Now obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone and is a textbook example of anecdotal evidence but I think it will curious to explore it.

Previously my daily word count target hovered at around 1000 words. I find it easy to put that amount of words down, I’m not short on ideas (though keeping to one project is a different matter). That target became, in terms of writing content for projects, almost non-existent when I began running a long-term game of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).

As the Dungeon Master (DM), or Game Master (GM) as some prefer, it is my job to present the world and the narrative hooks for the players. This is the first pitfall for myself. A DM can, if they choose, run an adventure or campaign in a premade setting. D&Ds 5th Edition (5e) uses the Forgotten Realms as a standard setting, home to a host of well-known literary characters and adventures.

But where is the fun in that? I’m the kind of person who simply has to play around with the established archetypes of fantasy. Tolkien is all well and good ( and I would point you towards Adventures in Middle Earth for a great 5e Tolkien setting) but it’s been done so many times before.

I don’t want to play in a pre-established world with its own lore and standards, I want to create my own. To that end I set about creating a homebrew (where a person creates their own setting) world for my players. That was possibly the first sign of my trouble, but I didn’t see it.

I set about laying down some bare bones for the world in preparation for the first session, I created a land, a town and the name of a few others. I put down some story hooks for quests and created a few Non Player Characters (NPCs) for the players to interact with.

I only set about this small amount as I was unsure if the players would want to continue, they were all first time players after all. Even this surface world-building cut into my daily word counts.

The first session went well, the players enjoyed themselves, I enjoyed myself and they wanted more. Now I am furiously laying tracks before the runaway train and because I enjoyed it, because it was new and exciting, I didn’t mind that game prep and world-building ate into my writing time.

Of course it’s all writing, it’s all creating. That’s something else I want to explore too.

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BLOG: Falling off the wagon.

It’s early and I’m trundling along on a bus towards St Helens of all places. It’s nothing personal against St Helens you understand, I’m just from Wigan.

I have fallen out of the habit of writing daily. Like many say, it’s a muscle that needs excercise and right now I’m drifting towards atrophy.

I let go of the time everyday where I would write, time that I used to guard jealously, and I have become doughy.

So it’s time to get back into literary shape. The programme calls for reading and writing daily, word count targets and a return to weekly blogs.

One of the things I am keen to explore is the impact of running a tabletop RPG (in this case Dungeons and Dragons) on my writing output.

I won’t pretend it doesn’t scratch the world-building itch I suffer from, and with its instant gratification of player interaction, it’s a hard allure to resist.

Beyond the creative time sink that running a game can become, I also want to explore the unique creative and narrative aspects a role-playing game can offer a writer, depending of course on the style of game you run.

Keep an eye out for upcoming blogs and short stories. Click the follow button if you would like notifications.

A Light In The Gloom: Part 1.

Bee swam down further into the gloom. The dark water was no problem though, her eyes easily adjusting. She had seen the fading light glint off something in the muck below. She wound her slight form down, her powerful tail propelling her though the water with a grace unmatched. She shooed away a greedy tench and ran her webbed fingers through the silt. Bee was small for one of the Folk but despite that she had been afforded the honour of being invited to the next Great Assembly. Her mother was very proud, imagine if a member of the Roach Tribe were the next Maid, such a thing was unheard of. Her brothers had teased her something awful but she could tell they were proud of her, brothers just had a funny way of showing it. Her fingers found something cold, a shiny ring pull. Dropping it into the pouch at her side she swam back up, the depths held larger fish than a fat tench, a full grown pike would think nothing of taking a bite out of her. Before she would break the surface she stopped to examine the content of her pouch. Three ring pulls, a few pieces of water turned glass of green and brown and a handful of bottle tops. Bee had decided to make a necklace for the Maid, to thank her for the invitation, even if she was not the next Maid it was still a great honour to be invited. Pressing on through the high growing reeds she startled a small school of bleak, the little silver fish scattered in every direction.

“Sorry,” she called as she continued towards home. Home for one of the Folk was the tribe they belonged to, there were many tribes that Bee knew of, some were always moving along the canals and rivers others stayed in one area. The Folk of the Open Waters held no tribes, or so Bee had heard from her mother, she had never seen one herself. Bee was part of the Roach Tribe, a small tribe but one of the oldest. For the most part they were farmers, though a few become errants, travelling folk without a tribe to come back too. An errant would help any tribe they came across, but would never be able to call it their own. Errants lived a life of travel and adventure. Her brothers Butterbur and Bogbean were training to become errants, learning all they could before they would leave. Her mother spoke very little of it, but would always sigh heavily whenever either of them brought it up and they would quickly fall silent. Bee thought such a life to be wonderful.

Winding her way through the water she was careful not to startle anymore schools and to avoid the human lines that dangled from the banks. She had once sat with her brothers watching a human pull fish after fish from the water only to return them shortly after. The fish were most confused by this turn of events, what an earth could the humans be doing if they were not eating the fish. The complexities and mysteries of humans were lost on her, they were strange folk better left alone, she had seen the dangers of getting tangled in the lines they cast. Still, it was fun to cut the lines and swim away with the little coloured sticks tied to them, they made for pretty headdresses. Bee was looking for more shiny items when the two large forms of her brothers swam out of the darkness. Butterbur was longer but Bogbean was heavier, both of them had fathers dark stripes and pointy spines.

“There you are,” Bogbean called, he waved her over.

“We have go, theres trouble,” said Butterbur grabbing her wrist. Bee pulled free and swam back, her brothers had played tricks like this on her before. They had once bound her in weeds and left her tied to the underside of a barge, a kind of human vessel. Mother had not been pleased.

“Bee, were not playing,” said Bogbean, “there’s trouble with Heron Tribe.” The Heron Tribe were the Roach Tribes closest neighbours, though they didn’t farm Starwort like the Roach Tribe. The Heron Tribe were almost all warriors. The warrior tribes of the Folk would patrol the waterways and deal with any threats that may put the Folk in danger. Most warrior tribes were under the control of the Maid herself, but Heron Tribe remained independent, independent and troublesome. They would bully smaller tribes into sharing food and resources or let the larger predators of the waterways into their territory. The Roach Tribe had been sharing the Starwort with Heron Tribe for a long time, and it was much more work for them. Trouble with the Heron Tribe wasn’t uncommon, but for her brothers to come fetch her like this, it must be serious. Bee nodded and fell in line with her brothers who led her through the tangles of weeds and larger human debris and back to the farm. Father was waiting at the hollowed out bank they called home, wringing his tail in worry. He beamed at them as they approached and quickly hustled all three inside. Mother was nowhere to be seen. Their hollow was simple, like most Folk dwellings, it was round and tall, with only four rooms. The centre room was were mother prepared meals and it had a large stone table big enough for the whole family to gather round. The walls were lined with glitterbells, a small green plant that gave off a soft glow that lit the inside of the hollow.

“Where’s Da, Bogbean said the Herons are up to no good again?” She asked her father. Her father bustled about the hollow setting food for each of them and fussing as only he could.

“I’m sure it’s all just a misunderstanding,” He assured her, “your mother has gone to see what’s going on.” That was all he would say on the matter. Bee knew better than to press her father, the women of the Folk ruled each family, if her mother had decided to see what was going on then that was an end to the matter. Butterbur and Bogbean gulped their food down quickly and left the hollow with only a quick goodbye. It wasn’t fair that they got to go off on their own. She edged close to the door whilst her fathers back was turned preparing more food. “No you don’t Bee,” came her fathers voice. Bee turned back to see her father still facing away from her.

“But it’s not fair, they get to go off and do what they like,” She protested swishing her tail in anger.

“Don’t you dare flair your tail at me young lady,” her father warned without turning, “Your brothers are big enough and ugly enough to take care of themselves, you are not.”

“But I am, I was invited to the assembly,” she pointed out. Her father turned and smiled at her. Bee was one of only five youngsters invited to The Assembly, an event which would determine a new Maid, the Guiding Chief of the Folk. Roach Tribe had never had a member become a Maid, it was a very high honour to even be invited.

“Now don’t you go getting too big for your fins. You were invited, and we are all so very proud of you, the whole Tribe,” he placed a hand on either side of Bees’ face and scrunched it up, “but if there is trouble out there I don’t want you to be any part of it.” That was the end of the discussion. Bee pouted and settled down to sulk in the corner. Emptying the items from her pouch she began to order them along a thin length of line. She was sure the Maid would have much finer pieces, but she did not have one from Roach Tribe.

Bee woke with the necklace still in her hands, she must have fallen asleep still making it. The glitterbells were bright and water outside the hollow was so dark that even one of the Folk would have trouble seeing through it. Her father and mother were in the middle of the hollow talking in harsh whispers. She decided to stay quiet, pretending to be asleep, grown ups had a habit of not talking about the important things in front of children. Sleep still fogged her mind but Bee could make out her mother’s worried tone, something about a beast in the water meadow and not enough food to go around. Her father was wringing his tail again.

“But to attack us!” he said in a louder voice. Her mother shushed her father and looked in her direction, it was a long moment before she was satisfied she was asleep.

“They drove the others out of the last meadow, set up guards to stop us getting back in,” she said, “When I got there, well, you know how Deadnettle can be. We were lucky to get away with a few bruises.” So the Heron Tribe had run them off their own farms and attacked them. Everyone knew they were bunch of bullies but they had never attacked another tribe before.

“What about the other meadow, did you find out what was in there?” her father asked. Mother shook his head.

“No, but if the Herons can’t take care of it then it has to be something big, not just a swarm of grindylows or a wayward kelpie.” Bee watched her through half closed eyes as she leaned in closer to her father, she had to hold her breath to hear her. “With only one meadow there wont be enough food for both tribes. Me and few others are going back tomorrow, and either they’re leaving, or we are.” She turned towards her and Bee closed her eyes, her mother lifted her effortlessly into her arms. “I want you to take Bee to the Assembly tomorrow as planned. If things go bad, I want you and her as far away from here as possible. It wouldn’t hurt to let the Maid know what Heron Tribe are up to either.”

Her mother laid her down gently in her bed of reeds and left her appearing to be sound asleep. So there was something in one of the meadows, something that scared even the Heron Tribe. Bee would find out what this creature was, a Maid after all was trusted to resolve the issues of her people. When her father would come to wake her he would find Bee’s bed empty and his daughter nowhere to be seen.

 

 

BLOG: THM article.

A short while ago I got the opportunity to try my hand at writing an article for a magazine. My friend John Kelly started his own publication called ToyHero Magazine (https://toyh3ro.wixsite.com/toyheromag) The article in question swang wildly away from any kind of review or test and instead fell to how my toys as a child inspired my imagination. John has been kind enough to let me post that article here.

It’s a tense moment on the bridge of the Enterprise, Captain Picard gives the order for Data to scan the surface of the planet. The Captain orders the Borg and Worf to prepare to beam down (that’s right, I had a friendly borg crew member first, in your face Voyager!) Data’s console beeps, it appears they are orbiting a planet populated by a giant cat-like race of people, they call themselves the Thundercats.

If you can’t tell I grew up in the late 80’s and early 90’s fed on a diet of Saturday morning cartoons and reruns of popular 80’s shows like Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers to name a few. Before cartoons had their own dedicated channels we had to make do with early Saturdays and a small slot after school. I can vividly remember sitting in my Nans’ living room watching Turtles on the DJ Kat Show or Spider-Man and X-men on Live and Kicking. Star Trek was there too, nurturing an early love of sci-fi and exploration along with short lived shows like Space Precinct. The great thing about these shows, and most of the cartoons that provide a flashback into my childhood, was that they came with a host of figures and toys.

I remember getting my first Power Ranger figure (Jason the red ranger) and I was thrilled with just how articulated with how it was. Ball and socket joints on action figures were not very common, and how could you hope to replicate the high-flying martial arts action of the Power Rangers with a figure whose arms merely went up and down. It was a revelation for me. My cousin chewed his head shortly after I got him, he went through life with teeth marks and a slightly squashed head. I love my cousin but to this day I’m still a little bitter about that. There were many times I gave myself a sore throat by imitating voices such as Mumm-Ra or making the noise a Transformer does when it transforms (it took me a lot longer than it does on the show.)

Besides the happy nerdiness of pouring over long forgotten toys I also could not pass up the opportunity to try my hand at a different style of writing. I saw what John was doing with ToyHero Magazine (THM) and it got me thinking about how truly appreciative I am of the toys I loved as a child. All the imaginative scenarios they let me play out, such as the bridge crew of the Enterprise stumbling across Thundera or the Skeleton Warriors vs The Ghostbusters. It seemed such an interesting concept to me, after all we have magazines for every other walk of life, clothes, movies and video games spring to mind. Why not one to appreciate the things, that for many of us, helped build our creativity.

I work in toy retail, so it is encouraging to see more of this kind of publication. Geek culture and the toys it spawns has never been larger, or more accepted. Throughout the northwest we now have toy fairs and cons on a regular basis, places for toy enthusiasts, artists and cosplayers to get together and bond over our mutual love of the fandoms out there. There are lines for children to enjoy as well as more delicate (and pricier) items that are designed for the collectors out there.

 There was a rich culture of cartoons and shows that spawned line after line of action figures. Street sharks, Ghostbusters, James Bond Junior, Batman (both the films and the amazing animated series), Conan, Pirates of Dark Water, the list goes on. Most of these toys expanded well beyond the range of the shows, with side characters and a whole host of accessories that only came in toy form. Batman the Animated Series Toys by Kenner produced no less than eight different batman figures, each with a unique colour scheme and gadget I don’t recall ever seeing in the series. My uncle gave me a box of original star wars figures, dozens of them (which I sadly treated roughly as a child) and I was amazed that there were figures for even the smallest of character roles (looking at you Gonk Droid)

Figures and play-sets were a way for me to expand my imagination as a child, we lived on a busy road so many of my days were spent indoors. The bridge crew of the enterprise would encounter a strange planet filled with giant cat-like people, or a robot that turned into a car would be battling with bike riding mice from mars. I was free to add or remove any character I wanted into my own little narratives. If I wanted Batman to show up in Spider-man, he would,  and for good measure the Turtles and He-Man would make an appearance too. I would create serial stories with these toys, often picking up where I last left off the next time I played with them. Looking back on it, this is probably the first instance of me creating my own stories, something that is now my passion.

I just had to take the time and opportunity to express my appreciation and love for the toys of my childhood and the creativity that they inspired and a quick apology to all of the army men I buried in the garden, your sacrifice was not in vain boys.

Amaranthine.

Nothing rang quite so unpleasant for her as the sound of footsteps upon the floor. There was a comfort in the silence, a reliability that she could depend on and burrow into. The sound echoed down the hallway, racing to and fro creating a chorus of sound, a mask, hiding the number of people approaching. One, it was always one. Few people ever set foot at this depth and fewer still willingly. Brisk and light. They were the footsteps of authority, of power, of one who was accustomed to a certain deference in life. Arrogance in the heel. These were not the usual footsteps. Within the cell she shivered and pulled the tattered remains of the blanket closer as the bright lights outside flashed on. Her hopes for just another uneventful day in the care and hospitality of the penal institution were dashed. The footsteps stopped outside the cell, there was nowhere else for them to go.

“Where’s Derek?” she asked in her parched voice. It didn’t echo like the footsteps.

“Sadly Mr Mason passed in the early hours of this morning,” there was no trace of warmth or sorrow. “I am to be your new liaison” said a prim voice, he smelled of lavender and camphor, a distinctive cologne indeed. She mouthed the word liaison to herself, that was a new one.

“I remember his first shift with me, he was sweating like a dog in a kebab shop, he was handsome though in a boyish sort of way,” she shifted but remained lying on the cot, “Good man Derek.” A small sniff from the newcomer.
“So I am told. Age however has its way of defeating even the greatest among us,” she ignored his unspoken accusation.

“Always going on about his missus, Barb-”

“The board has deemed that given your…status, nourishment shall be provided on a bi-weekly basis with the exception of water to be given every two days,” a small ruffle of paper, “forcibly if necessary.”

“-from what he told me it was as sound a name as there was ever given. She had a sharp tongue see, but Derek had a thick skin. Never shy of a bit of banter was Derek-”

“I do however hold such measures as too lenient.” It seemed the newcomer had a sharp tongue of his own.

“-all my insults were just like water off a duck’s back for that man,” the scratch of pen on paper. Always paper and folders with these people, always policy and regulation. She found it all to be far too clinical, at least Derek had some passion.

“It seems you will miss Mr Mason” said the paper man.

“I don’t like having things shoved in my mouth, words least of all,” She sat keeping her back to the light and the newcomer “Shall we at least try to get off on the right foot?”

“You will find that I am not a man to be taken lightly,” he paused for what she assumed must be dramatic effect “Nor am I to be crossed,” he let the threat linger in the air. Cute.

“And he comes out of the gate swinging,” she smiled going to the small desk at the back of her cell. “I imagine everything you know about me has come out of some file somewhere,” moving a small pile of her own paper she found what she was looking for. “Subject displays violent tendencies, subject does not interact well with others, subject does not respond well to authority figures,” turning into the blinding lights she slipped the small card through one of the spaces in the bars. “I’m not a model prisoner,” she waited until she felt him take it and then sat back on the cot, “But it seems some folk like me.” A heartbeat passed and the sound of tearing card filled the space between them. She nodded to herself and kept her hands relaxed on her knees, no point in being sent to The Tank for a card. It was just piece of card.
“You are an aberration,” spat Papers. True enough she supposed, true enough.
“One of a kind,” she said with a brevity she didn’t feel. The remains of the card floated back into her cell, she ignored them.
“Ignorant too,” he noted, pen scratching at paper.

“You got a name or should I just make one up for you?” she turned trying to get a better look at her new tormentor, but the lights outside the cell obscured his features, casting him only as a living silhouette. One arm held a ream of papers whilst the other adjusted the spectacles on his face.

“You may address me as Mr Highdale,” he replied.

“May I? That is awful gracious of yourself Papers,” she rolled to face the wall, ready to be done with the conversation.

“Water every three days,” the pen made a note. Check out the brass set on Papers. She sat up again.
“I’ve suffered your kind before,” the paper man said nothing. “I tell you what kiddo, go and find yourself a bloke who isn’t shy of doing a little knife work. This place should be full of them,” she stood suddenly making a stabbing motion “Test that way, shiv the freak,” her thin arms grasped the bars, “And then fucking feed me. It’s quicker for the both of us,” she slumped back down pulling the blanket tighter and made herself as comfortable as she could. “Or don’t. Run your little tests and experiments. When you and these bars are nothing but dust I will let myself out. Don’t worry Papers, I’ll be sure to turn the lights off before I leave.” She yawned loudly.

“You sound very confident of that,” she could tell he was smiling.

“And you’re an idiot if you think it will play out otherwise. Send my condolences to Barb though, tell her I’m sorry but it doesn’t look like I will be able to make the funeral. Good man Derek, good man.” The pen scratched briefly once more and the lights went out leaving her with dancing after effects in the dark. The footsteps, if anything, were much more confident in leaving. Her fingers found a scrap of card, Rasputin, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Derek and Barbara. She let it fall back to the floor forgotten. Just a card, she had time.

The Goblin Circus: An Excerpt.

It’s been quiet on here for a while, but I have been very busy. There is a bunch of content I’m working on both for the site and for somethings that are still in the pipeline. I wanted to share with you a snippet of what I’ve been working on. Enjoy.

William could hear such a ruckus outside, down past the bottom of the garden. It was an immense rhythmic chorus, THUMP THUMP, RATTLE RATTLE, THUMP THUMP, RATTLE RATTLE. It was coming from the cobbled alley behind his house. THUMP THUMP, RATTLE RATTLE, THUMP THUMP, RATTLE RATTLE. Mrs Thomlinson had settled herself in front of the television and was happily grumbling at the chat show informing her how to coomrdinate her outfits. William knew from experience she would not move from the settee for quite some time. Whenever she agreed to look after him, William ended up looking after himself. Before long William could no longer contain himself and was pulling a dining room chair through the kitchen to the back door. Climbing onto it he wrestled the bolt at the top of the door free and was out and racing towards the gates at the end of the garden. The big double gates looked out onto the cobbled alley where the noise was coming from. He found the spy hole he had made earlier that summer and peered into the alley.
THUMP THUMP, RATTLE RATTLE, but now William could hear a chittering noise above everything else, one low chittering followed by a high pitched chittering, almost like two people talking. The narrow view of the alley was blank, the damp cobbled stones and the gates of the garden opposite. The noise was so loud now that Williams body began to rumble along with it.
“H…hello,” he called out, “who’s there?”
The noise ceased at once. William stood very still, he even held his breath. Pressing himself closer to the gate he tried to get a closer look at the alley. To the very far right, just at the edge of his vision he something large, a wooden wheel. It was attached to something large he couldn’t quite make out, a carriage perhaps. The sudden quiet was almost as unnerving as the noise.

He let out a long, low breath as quietly as he could. The chittering returned, the pattern the same as before, one low and measured out and the other high pitched and fast. A large orange eye suddenly filled the vision of the peep hole, a most inhuman eye. He stepped back quickly his young heart racing and very thankful for the stout wooden gates between him and the things in the alley.
“Hello, I know you’re out there,” said a voice William recognised as his own.
“Amazing,” a low voice rasped, “the boything knows we’re here.”
“Nonsense, manthings can’t see us,” said a second high pitched voice.
“And yet it seems this one can. Roland, why don’t you take a peek over and have a look, there’s a good fellow.”
Leaves appeared over the top of the gate, long green oak leaves on thin twigs followed by a large grey boulder. THUMP THUMP, two more large grey boulders, no William realised, not boulders but hands, large rock hands covered in patches of green moss. The hands gripped the gates and the first large boulder rose higher and higher. It was not a boulder but in fact the giant head of the immense stone creature. The thing was massive, it must have been almost as tall as Williams house if it stood upright instead of hunching over the gate. It had a broad square jaw, a large rocky nose and two brilliant gemmed eyes the colour of the summer sky. The creature spotted William and gave a small surprised grunt. William did the only thing his body was capable of, he screamed. The rock creature paused for one moment and then it followed suit letting out the loudest rumble William had ever heard. Its hands came up to cover its eyes and it stumbled back into the alley, its footfalls shaking the ground as it went.

“Oh well now you’ve gone and done it,” said the high pitched voice.
“It isn’t my fault Roland is afraid of everything new,” replied the low voice.
“But you know how he gets.”
“Oh all right, I’ll fix this,” said the low voice.
William realised he had stopped screaming and was listening very intently to what was happening on the other side of the gate.
“Hello, you in there, boything?” called the voice, “I do so apologise for startling you, but would you be so kind as to pop outside for a moment so Little Roland can see there is nothing to be afraid of.”
“That thing is afraid of me?” breathed William
“Oh yes, Little Roland is still quite young and he is a little jumpy,” the voice sounded rather sincere, “of course most young Hill Trolls are a little more outgoing.” William jammed a finger in his ear, he could have sworn he heard him say Hill Troll.

His curiosity got the better of him and he quickly unlatched the gate, lifting it so it wouldn’t stick as it sometimes did and stuck his head out into the alley. He was totally unprepared for the sight that greeted him. There in the cobbled alley stood two quite remarkable, wholly inhuman creatures.

They were both rather short, the tallest being the same height as William. The smaller one was rather squat and round with gangly arms and legs. Its skin was dark green and looked tough, it had a bulbous nose and large orange eyes that twinkled with a mischief matched by its toothy grin. Large ears protruded from beneath a tattered top hat that paired with a suit of much repair. Long fingers with well kept nails held a black walking cane topped with a small crystal dragon.
“Its a small boything. Most remarkable,” it grinned wider revealing double rows of sharp white teeth. The taller one that stood behind had a much more unkempt appearance. It had wild orange hair that stuck out at all angles and it wore very dirty overalls. Its eyes were small and dark, its nose long and pointed. Its long fingers ended in long dirty nails.
“I can see that,” it hissed. The small one offered a hand to William.
“My name is Obadiah Ghogg, business Goblin and entrepreneur.” William shook the offered hand and was surprised that something so small could be so strong or he would have been if the word Goblin wasn’t bouncing around his head.
“Don’t mind Horace uh-”
“William”
“Ah, William,” Obadiah said softly as if the name were strange on his tongue, “well William, don’t you mind Horace one bit, grumpy fellow but he keeps things moving like a well oiled machine.” Behind Obadiah Horace merely grunted. Obadiah ignored him and kept his attention firmly on William “Truth be told we are both astounded that you can see and hear us at all, most manthings senses are not that sharp, are they Horace?”
“No boss, never met a gifted manthing myself. Heard of ‘em of course but…” he trailed off
“But never in our days did we think to meet one ourselves,” Obadiah finished.
“Don’t know ‘bout you boss but I think its other senses are a bit dimmed, seems a bit dull don’t it,” hissed Horace.
“Quite,” whispered the short Goblin. William realised he was standing with his mouth agape like some kind of landed fish.
“S…sorry,” he managed to stammer.
“Oh my dear boything it is not to me that you must make apologies, but to dear Roland. You gave him quite a fright, he is young and rather skittish you understand.”

William nodded dumbly as Obadiah led him up the cobbled alley to a large faded orange and green carriage. It had faded red lettering that read ‘Ogally Ghoggs Cirque Du Smele’ Behind the carriage, which was tiny in comparison, was the giant Hill Troll Little Roland, hands gripping the top of the carriage and peering nose first at William.
“Mista Ghogg,” it said in what William assumed was a whisper but made the carriage rattle, “I doesn’t like it, it scare me.” Little Roland pointed an accusing finger toward William. Obadiah was petting Roland reassuringly on one giant moss speckled arm.
“Easy Roland,” he said in tender tones, “it’s just a boything called William.”
“Willium” it repeated looking at him with massive sapphire eyes.
“Thats it, William was just shocked to see you.”
“But I didn’t do nuffin,” Roland rumbled
“I know my dear fellow, but just as you have never seen a boything, William has never seen a Hill Troll, even one as small as you. Be brave my boy.”
“Rollund brave,” the Troll assured as it lumbered forward, Williams body rattled with every enourmous footstep. Roland towered over him, “Willum,” it beamed, “boyfing.”
“Thats a good fellow, now can I persuade you to carry on, after all the show must go on,” encouraged Obadiah
“Show,” agreed Roland, “I is liking shows,” he rumbled as he returned to behind the carriage and hefted a huge rucksack onto his back
“Atta boy Roland, atta boy,” said Obadiah.

“Bout time,” sneered Horace, “this delay will cost us Obadiah so I hope your curiosity is sated.” Roland, who was now in front of the carriage waiting, poked Horace in the chest with one huge finger causing the lanky goblin to fall flat on his behind.
“Not Obadiah, Mr Ghogg,” he warned. Obadiah rushed between the two.
“Now now, no fighting you two, tonight’s show is far too important.” The little Goblin was waving his free arm and cane around trying to stop his two employees scuffling.
“What show?” asked William. Obadiah turned at once, his attention on WIlliam, a smile split his green face.
“My dear boything, I’ve been waiting for you ask.” Flinging his arms out wide he shouted “Ogally Ghoggs Cirque Du Smele, finest circus in the all the realm. Its been in the family for a thousand years. See amazing feats of strength and dexterity preformed by the juggling Hill Troll. Death defying aerial acrobatics by the Vivell sisters and see the mysterious Shade, Magic Extraordinaire pull a car from a sea shell and turn a tortoise fury.” He paused and gave William an appraising look “Come and see for yourself, I would love a manthings critique on the show, a fresh perspective.” Behind Obadiah Horace wrinkled his nose in disgust. William knew his Mother would be very displeased indeed if she returned home to find him gone.
“What does Roland juggle?” he asked
“Oh he juggles all kinds my boy, his best act is juggling three of those big grey things, what are they called…” Obadiah was having trouble finding the right word
“Dustbins” William supplied
“No, elephants” smiled Obadiah. Well thought William, that settled it, he was going to the Goblin Circus.