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?

September News From the Writing Trenches

Just thought I’d update you on what’s going on on the writing front.

For one, Steve & I are in the process of moving house – or rather, office: we’re still in the same house, just two floors down. My Man and I decided that since we both work from home, it’s a little silly to communicate via Googletalk in the course of the day and hardly actually speak to each other, so we’re trying office-sharing. Not sure yet how well it’ll work – I might feel an urgent need for a door to close once in a while (a la “A Room of One’s Own”), especially while cooking up plots and trying to get them down in writing. However, for the time being, it seems to be functional. Here’s Steve with my temporary setup. (Might I draw your attention to my elegant monitor stand? It’s got class. And yes, it would still work, if it were hooked up to a TV. Retro hasn’t got anything on me.)

IMG_20150925_103149And speaking of cooking up plots, you know how I’ve been promising you a third Septimus book for a while now? Yes, that’s still coming. It’s in the works as we speak. In case you hadn’t heard, the title is Checkmate, and it prominently features a chess game – a rather special one, at that. Not to give you any spoilers, but this ain’t your ordinary ‘move-little-people-around-a-checkerboard’ type thing. Oh, sure, that too, but just what happens when those little people are moved…

Now, the thing is that I don’t actually play chess – I barely know how the pieces move. So I turned to the aforesaid Man, and he helped design some chess moves for me that would work. Here’s his game design and the little chess board I used to recreate it, so I could get it all straight in my head to work it into the story:

chess6And now I’m in the process of picking on the little nitty-gritty details and finalizing things – you know, spelling, punctuation, that sort of thing. I’m not going to give you an actual date for when Checkmate is going to make its appearance, because I need more stress like I need a hole in the head. But I do hope to get this book out before Christmas, at least.

Until further notice, that was Life, the Universe, and News From the Writing Trenches. Look out for Checkmate soon!