Post-apocalyptic paranormal romantic fantasy
The Political World
The Choices and Consequences series is set far into our future, after the world has suffered through war, disease and natural disaster and the population has been reduced to a small fraction of what it is today. Much of the land is still uninhabitable – the Badlands. The world is feudal and hierarchical. There are a number of independent ‘kingdoms’ known as Great Houses, each ruled by a High Lord, a title which applies whether they are male or female. Succession varies depending on the Great House. It might be hereditary, by challenge, democratic or just at the whim of the current High Lord – or some combination.
Each Great House has a number of High Houses who pledge their allegiance to it, and in turn, Low Houses pledge to High Houses, and individual establishments pledge to Low Houses. That’s usually on a geographical basis, because that’s easier with limited transport options, but it doesn’t have to be.
The High Lords meet from time to time in Council to discuss matters that affect them all but they don’t normally interfere in the workings of another Great House. That doesn’t mean they get on, far from it. Several Great Houses are at war with each other. Council disapproves but doesn’t act unless the impact of the war spreads widely outside the Great Houses concerned.
There are three main types of Great House. The phrase Great House refers to the residence of the High Lord, and also formally to the territory as a whole. In practice people tend to drop the word ‘Great’ if they are talking about the territory.
House St Peter is a Religious House, which means its ruling principles are founded on a specific religion. It doesn’t mean that all residents follow that religion by any means, but if they weren’t sympathetic to it, they probably wouldn’t find it a comfortable place to live. The Great House is also a dual monastery – both monks and nuns – and runs a hospital and a college. House St Peter is both the largest and the oldest Religious House and most of the other Religious Houses tend to follow its lead.
The second type are Sanctuary Houses which provide a safe haven to anyone who is running away from anything, whether they are guilty or innocent, and gives them a fresh start. Any pursuers who come onto the House’s territory will be severely dealt with, but everyone is expected to contribute to the extent that they can. If someone is escaping injustice they’ll be protected, but if they are escaping justice then the moment they break the Sanctuary House’s laws or try to freeload, they can be handed back to where they came from. Sanctuary Houses are neutral in any war or dispute and often act as mediators. House Tennant is the largest of the Sanctuary Houses.
The final type are Secular Houses, basically any Houses which aren’t either Religious or Sanctuary. The largest two are House Chisholm and House Lindum. They’ve been at war as far back as anyone can remember and no-one can remember the original reason. They are neighbours so the war mostly takes the form of border skirmishes rather than all-out battle. Things have been fairly quiet for the last fifty years or so, apart from a brief flare up about twenty years ago. Many of the other Secular Houses side with one or other of these two.
There’s also a nomadic Clan, the Traders. They travel in groups of horse drawn caravans from House to House, selling goods and providing transport. Each caravan is led by a Headwoman and a Merchant, and the caravans all meet up at the Gathering once every five years. One Headwoman and one Merchant represent the Traders at the Council. Settlers are Traders who have decided to stop travelling and stay in one place.
Each Great House has its own logo, signature colour and signature gem stone. For House St Peter, the logo is the crossed keys of St Peter, the colour is blue and the gem stone is sapphire.
I live in jeans, t-shirt and hoodie, as do many people. I’m fortunate in that I work from home, so that’s my work wear too, most of the time. It’s comfortable and practical, and it’s an outfit that can be dressed up or down, depending on your choices and personal style.
When I was developing the world of the Choices and Consequences series, I thought about clothing. It needed to be practical for both physical and sedentary work, and for travel, which is at a far more mediaeval level than our own world. I wanted it to be comfortable and broadly unisex, at least for everyday wear and it would need to be reasonably economical – my world has limited resources. So I settled on something that is basically jeans, t-shirt and hoodie.
It consists of trousers, which might be replaced by shorts in hot weather, a close fitting undershirt which can be long or short sleeved and then a warmer top or overtunic which again can be long or short sleeved, of varying length and may or may not have a hood. But there’s a lot of variety, based on colour, or fabric, or fit.
For the monks and nuns the trousers are straight cut in soft brown cotton. The undershirt is white, with either long or short sleeves, depending on weather and circumstances. The over tunic is hip length, brown and hooded again with either long, or no sleeves. For formal events the undershirt is long sleeved and the over tunic has no sleeves. Monks and nuns both tend to have short hair, but the nuns do not cover their heads.
For everyone else, there’s much more variety. Women tend to choose softer fabrics, brighter colours, and more close fitting designs often with a longer over tunic and more decoration but there’s no hard and fast rule about it. The overtunic might fasten back or front with buttons, buckles or zip or be a pull on style and might or might not have a hood. In hot weather, many will wear shorts and a short sleeved under shirt with no over tunic, or women might wear a short sleeved dress (slight gender bias there because I like summer dresses).
For formal wear, the colour, embellishment and material of trousers, undershirt and tunic will tend to be fancier and will often indicate the House the wearer belongs to. Each House has its own logo, and this will form part of the decoration on formal wear. For example, the logo of House St Peter is a crossed keys symbol – it’s incorporated in Leonie’s necklace and some of the clothes that Brother Edward makes for her. It’s also embroidered on the overtunics worn by all the monks and nuns.
Thread of Hope introduces House Tennant, where the signature colour is green, and the logo is a stylised castle with little castellations. Tennant’s the birth House of Prospero (Perry). In this extract towards the end of book 1, Strand of Faith, Brother Edward knows that...and Leonie doesn’t.
Edward had brought me yet another new outfit and again he seemed to have woven some magic into it. This one was a shimmering emerald green silk which made my hair look redder than ever. There was no undershirt, just a short-sleeved tunic which fitted closely to my hips and then flared out, worn with matching leggings and ankle boots. The embroidery at the neck and hem line was in silver, little castellations like a picture book castle, interspersed with the cross keys of House St Peter. I found I was eagerly looking forward to wearing it, to Perry seeing me in it.
My hair was longer now, though still very curly, and Lady Eleanor came and styled it for me. She insisted I wore my necklace and bracelet too, even if the jewels weren't the same colour as the dress. I looked in the mirror when she was done and thought I looked almost as grand, as beautiful as any of the ladies I'd seen at other Houses.
I don’t like doing housework and I’m sure I’m not alone. But I know people who enjoy it, and I’m told that if you’re being paid to do it for someone else it can be very satisfying. I enjoy doing the laundry and the ironing, yet my husband will agree to doing almost any other domestic task just to avoid that. (Early in our marriage he agreed to do all the washing up. Somehow we bought a dishwasher within a week!) Anyway, my point is that any household has a range of domestic chores that need to be done and different people like or dislike different jobs.
When I started creating the environment in which my main characters lived, I wanted it to be a place where, if I lived there, I wouldn’t have to do the chores I don’t like (it’s my world, after all). Strand of Faith is set in the Great House St Peter, which is the home of the High Lord, Abbot Lord Gabriel, who effectively rules the whole territory of House St Peter. The community includes the monks and nuns who live in the monastery and the immediate household of the High Lord.
They also run a college, hospital and extensive farms with any number of people who attend or work at these, but those people aren’t part of the household. Those people might eat with the household, or live under its roof, as many of the students do, but they aren’t committed to it in the same way that household members are.
Everyone who is part of the household has their everyday needs – accommodation, food, clothing etc – provided. But they all have to contribute to the household too, not only in what we would call ‘the day job’ but also in the domestic chores necessary for the household to function. Andrew, one of the monks, explains it to Leonie (Lord Gabriel’s new ward) one day when he, she and Brother Prospero are in the gardens.
Andrew was amused by Leonie’s surprise at Prospero’s detailed knowledge of the wide range of flowers and greenery used to decorate hospital, House and Abbey.
“While everyone in the House has a job – you’re a student, we’re doctors, Pedro’s the chef,” he said. “We’ve all got a domestic role, too, to keep everything functioning. You work in the kitchens, I work in the stables, but Prospero works in the gardens, so naturally he knows about the plants.”
Leonie frowned. “How can the kitchen be Pedro’s job and my domestic role? Aren’t they different things?”
Andrew agreed, “Yes, they are different. But everywhere, gardens, kitchen, stables, the workers will be a mix of those for whom it’s their job and those for whom it’s their domestic role. But those for whom it’s their job tend to be more senior, and in charge in each area.”
That satisfied her and she went charging off to look at another plant that had caught her eye.
I’d be happy to work in the kitchen, laundry or gardens – just so long as I don’t have to do the cleaning!
One of the questions authors get asked a lot is ‘where do you get the names for your characters?’
For me, the names of the main characters just appeared in my head with the key characters. To start with I just gave the minor characters ‘placeholder’ names but then I found those stuck and I couldn’t change them. Now, for every new character I think about what name would suit them, and try not to make the name too similar to one I’ve used before. If necessary, I scan baby name lists to get ideas.
But names are fascinating things. In writing you’re told to avoid characters with the same name, and even to avoid characters whose names start with the same letter. That’s just not how it is in life. If you’ve been given one of the popular first names of your birth year, when you start school there could be four or five kids in your class with the same name.
When there’s a limited range of first names in use, we turn to second names or family names to distinguish people and these help a little. But anyone who has researched their family tree will tell you once you find Brown, or Smith, or Jones in your ancestors, working out who is the right one becomes very hard indeed. If that’s you, I have three of the twelve most popular English surnames in my four grandparents so I feel your pain. And if you are trying to trace the female line in many cultures it becomes even harder because the female will take on a different family name on marriage.
Indeed, should a woman marry and divorce, maybe more than once, she could have several different names during her lifetime. A man is still far more likely just to have one name and for his family name to be carried by his children. Of course, there are a number of people doing this differently today, and cultures who do this differently too. Children might be given both their parents family names as a double barrelled name (although I’ve often wondered what happens when they have children with someone with a double barrelled name…). Sometimes girl children are given their mother’s family name and boy children their father’s. Some couples create a new family name for their partnership.
What we consider surnames have a fascinating history too. They might have come from where someone lived such as Wood, Forest or Green, from what they did such as Baker, Wright or Smith, from a personal characteristic like Long or White or from their father’s name – Johnson, Roberts, Williams – which is where most of the commonest English surnames fit. In Iceland, historic surnames have been illegal since 1925 (with a few exceptions). Instead, they use patronymics. Children take their father’s name with the addition of ‘son’ or ‘daughter’. So Magnus’s son Fred would be Fred Magnusson, and Fred’s son Jack would be Jack Fredson.
In the world in which the Choices and Consequences series is set, people take their second name from where they have pledged their loyalty, so both men and women will change their name if their allegiance changes. If they pledge directly to a Great House, they’ll take the name of that Great House. If they pledge to a High House, or a Low House, they’ll take the name of that House, rather than the Great House that those Houses are pledged to. Children will take their mother’s allegiance until they are old enough to make their own choices.
As an example (there may be spoilers if you haven’t read the earlier books), Perry’s (aka Prospero) parents are Lords of Deepriver High House. So Perry’s childhood family name was Deepriver. When his Uncle, High Lord of Great House Tennant chose him as a possible heir, his family name changed to Tennant. It remained Tennant while he was just a student at Great House St Peter but when he became a monk his full name became Prospero St Peter. When he left the monastery he reverted to Prospero Tennant, but his name is going to change again and his next name will depend upon where he and Leonie chose to pledge their allegiance. You’ll have to read Cloth of Grace to find out the answer to that.
To any genealogists who would prefer people to have the same name from birth to death, I apologise for my world building. I know I’ve let the side down here. But at least you can use someone’s name to work out where you need to go to look at the records…
One of the things I found when I became a mother was that I said ‘Be careful,’ a whole lot more. My kids teased me about it, naturally (still do, in fact, as does my husband). One of my own mother’s phrases was, ‘Life is made up of choices’ which was sometimes followed by ‘and choices have consequences’. Actually, it’s still one of her phrases and, to be fair, my brothers and I still tease her about it.
You can probably see where the series title for my books came from!
Clichés and phrases may also take on different meanings depending on our own circumstances. The phrase ‘I don’t know them from Adam’ will have a very personal feel if you’re close to someone called Adam. ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ strikes home if you’re a published author – because of course we judge books by their covers, that’s the first thing that attracts us to them. And the cover can tell us something about the book including its genre and tone.
As a writer you’re told not to use clichés, but in everyday life and speech we use them all the time. They are short cuts in speech to help us convey an idea or make ourselves understood. Every cliché or known phrase has its roots in some past or common experience, even if we don’t always know what that experience is or it isn’t a common experience today. For example, if I say ‘hold your horses’ you’ll understand that means slow down, don’t race into some activity without thinking. It comes from a time when transport was by horse drawn vehicle and ‘holding your horses’ meant keeping excited horses still while something else happened. Few of us would have that experience today.
Clichés don’t often translate well, either. What works in one language doesn’t work in another due to different cultural experiences and history. If you’re writing fantasy and building a different world you have to be particularly careful about clichés. You can’t have a character say ‘avoid it like the plague’ if your world has never experienced a widespread plague. It’ll jar on readers because your characters won’t have the personal, cultural or historical experience for that to have meaning. You can’t ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ if your world doesn’t have dogs, or be ‘poor as a church mouse’ if it doesn’t have churches.
In Thread of Hope, the second book in my Choices and Consequences series, Andrew uses a cliché when talking to Prospero. He says “…this is the one that has knocked you for six?” That cliché comes from cricket, where hitting a ball over the boundary scores a six. Cricket isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the series, but it does exist in that world’s past, and, in my mind at least, in that world’s present, because the series is set in our world’s future. So I hope I’ve got away with that.
In Cloth of Grace we’re introduced to a phrase that is specific to the world I’ve created, in the quote below:
He just shook his head and Lady Eleanor answered, “Many years ago, something happened and as a result, Gabriel took a vow not to leave the campus. ‘Until the four seasons meet,’ he said. That was the condition.”
I recognised that phrase. It was a Trader one, meaning something that will never happen because the four seasons go in a cycle, never meeting together.
But each season has a colour assigned to it – although there is some dispute as to which colour means which season.
“White for the winter snow, green for the spring growth, blue for the summer sky, red for the autumn leaves,” he said. I knew that as red for the summer heat, blue for the autumn rain…