Chess, and Some Very Special Pieces

So, you know that Checkmate just came out, right? Of course you do, and you’ve already downloaded your ebook copy. And because you have, you know that it prominently features a chess game.

Oh, you mean you hadn’t got that far in reading the book yet? Sorry, didn’t mean to give any spoilers! But honestly, I’m not giving anything away by telling you that. I’m sure that even without getting to the part  about the game, you’ve figured out that the story has something to do with chess – because you’re brilliant like that, and put 2 and 2 together, i.e. deduced that the title Checkmate and the chess piece on the cover picture mean there’s some significance to chess here.


However, the chess knight on the cover is actually a tiny bit misleading – it’s the wrong style. If I’d had my druthers, the image that would have been on the cover is that of the Lewis Chessmen, a 12th-century ivory chess set that was discovered on the Isle of Lewis somewhere around 1831 and is on display in the British Museum now. The chess set in the book is modelled on them. But I couldn’t find any royalty-free images of the Lewis Chessmen, so we just went with a vaguely antique-looking ordinary chess piece for the cover.

The Lewis Chessmen © Trustees of the British Museum

One cool & nerdy thing about the Lewis Chessmen is that they were used as the model for the chess set that Harry and Ron play at Christmas in the first Harry Potter movie, where the pieces clobber each other over the head instead of being tamely taken off the game board. I’d like to get me one of those sets…

But it would only be for display. You see, the funny thing about me writing about a chess game is that I don’t really know much about chess, myself – I know how the pieces move, and that’s about it. But fortunately, I’m married to someone who makes up for my deficiency, and so my Man alpha-read Checkmate and then set about fixing all my chess-related bloopers. He sat down and designed a chunk of game that worked with the plot as I had it, step by step. Here’s one of the configurations of the model game:


You can see his notations in the background. This is from where I rebuilt the game while I was editing, so I could get an actual image in my head of what was going on. And yes, I learned to read chess notations – who says writing fantasy fiction isn’t educational?

So that’s a little background piece on Checkmate, how it came to be written, and some of its imagery.

Life, the Universe, and – Checkmate! Have you got your copy yet?

6 thoughts on “Chess, and Some Very Special Pieces”

  1. Love it! Carl used to collect chess sets – they are all stored under our bed right now, though since he’s taught Joy how to play some of them get pulled out more frequently for a game. I am a terrible player myself – I can’t look more than three or four steps ahead, and inevitably I always leave out one or more possible results, but I know enough about the game to be able to really appreciate how deceptively simple your description was in the book! The way that scene fits together is extremely impressive.

    1. I purposely kept the moves in the story kind of hand-wavey vague. But if it hadn’t been for the Man, there would have been stuff like the two kings facing off with each other…

  2. That’s a very cool piece of backstory! I have seen the Lewis Chess Set at the British Museum – it’s quite strange to see something so famous in real life 🙂 I don’t play chess at all, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy Checkmate 🙂

    1. I’d love to see them for real! The British Museum is going on my bucket list of places to see if (or rather when) I take that tour of England. And you most certainly don’t need to be able to play chess to get the story.

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