This is a test piece of a larger idea for a short story that I have. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a fairly depressing in tone (and probably much more obviously reflective than I would like) but I’d be interested in knowing if any readers out there would like to share their thoughts on the text and whether or not they think it works as a piece of writing

The steel blade hung like a glittering diamond in the air. The arcs of afternoon sunlight illuminating it’s ghastly shape for all in attendance to see. The crowd gobbled like turkeys in the ramshackle courtyard.  

As Sebastian shambled across the mottled wooden boards, he took a moment to consider what makes up a life. The life of a man. It wasn’t a story that he saw in his mind’s eye, a tidy sequence of events with a narrative flow that made sense from beginning to end, it was simply sensations. The smell of flowers in the hallway of the chateau. The taste of a lover. The feeling of fresh air, glancing across his face.

All he could see around him were the faces of the righteous, the disposed, and the furious. There to judge him. Were they so pure? Were they so innocent? Could they claim to be without guilt? Can any man, wondered Sebastian, do enough to earn a place in heaven?

A thick, wad of spit flecked against Sebastian’s cheek. Spat from the gummy maw of an old woman, her face was cruel and wizened. She glared, bloated eyes staring gashes into him.

She despised him.

She hated him.

Could he blame her? He did not know. Sebastian considered that he had always tried to do the right thing but his life of privilege, of position, his connection to materialism, to the value of objects, had perhaps denied his attempt to live a holy life and now, at this moment, all of that was gone and for the briefest time he felt utterly free.

Sebastian stood atop the rickety wooden platform and felt it shift beneath his weight. He waited there, exposed. His once fine, silken clothing that had caressed his flesh was gone, replaced with tattered, lice infested hessian that hung from his skeletal frame like a sullen scarecrow.

He had fought when the baying mob had come for him. It was on a quiet, moonlit night that they burst through the door of his home. He had lashed out, his beautifully manicured fingernails scraping against the fleshy cheek of one of them. Sebastian glanced done at the fractured, broken mess that were his fingers now. What were once his pride and joy had been left broken by the torturer’s hammer.

Leather gloved hands gripped Sebastian from behind and forced him to kneel, his soft skin forced against rough wood, the forgotten blood of other’s before him licking his neck. Milky white eyes gazed up at him from the wicker basket inches from his face. Who amongst them were friends? He did not know. The rotten remnants of their identities kept that a secret from him.

Sebastian raised his eyes and looked out once more upon the baying mob, there to find freedom in anger and hate, despite those being the very things that bind them than even the most oppressive regimes of class and wealth.

The steel scythed downwards. A man was gone. And yet still the crowd bellowed for more.

Going Berserk

Sometimes life can push a man to the edge. As I sit here at my desk I received a papercut from a maniacal piece of A4 paper, I too, was pushed to the edge. This resulted in my breathing becoming erratic and strained, my eyeballs turning bloodshot and bulging, whilst froth began to spurt from my mouth. I looked like a fifteen-year-old who’d just taken on the challenge of consuming both coke and mentos in front of their friends and peers and then realising, just a few seconds later, that the bodily result of this combination was not an urban myth and they’d just made a terrible, terrible mistake.

I’d gone Berserk. 

The word Berserk derives from the word Berserker, which reliably informs me is ‘an ancient Norse warrior who fought with frenzied rage in battle, possibly induced by eating hallucinogenic mushrooms’.

Sometimes in life going Berserk can be great. For example, your boss has just told you that you misfiled Form 11D… how surprised would he be when you pop a couple of fungal friends in your mouth, rip open your shirt and begin to strangle the shocked jobsworth with the end of your tie. I think that answer to that would be… very surprised.

The same applied to a battle. Sometimes having a small group of Odin worshipping, half naked, axe wielding weirdos who feel no pain or fear on your team can be great.

There’s some debate amongst history loving people (I believe they’re called historians) about whether or not Berserkers ever actually existed. In my opinion they are far too awesome not to have existed. But for those of you who like evidence to back up my wild statements there’s also plenty of that too. Way back in the first century AD, the Roman historian Tacitus described similar warriors within the German tribes. This was followed up on by the historian Prokopios, who spoke of ‘the wild and lawless Heruli’, a group of warriors who went into battle butt naked and played little notice to any wounds that were inflicted upon them, and who were quite possibly the predecessors of the Norse Viking warrior. There’s plenty of references to the Norse Berserkers in the sagas (poems, written by people with a deep hate of rhyming couplets, for Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders) where they are described doing the kind of things that would make Brock Lesnar (a UFC fighter and professional wrestler with a neck so thick you could use it to straighten out the leaning tower of pisa) look like a thing that isn’t very dangerous whatsoever. In the Volsung saga Berserkers are described as ‘mad as dogs and wolves, they bit their shields, were as strong as bears or oxen, they killed everybody, and neither fire or iron bit them’.

Being a Berserker is essentially pausing your life, entering a very long string of commands through your controller, and then activating God mode.

Hell Insurance

‘I’m fucked’

Bishop Rutherford raised a bushy eyebrow at the verbal indiscretion, the gentle, swirling sweeps of his quill coming to a brutal and sudden stop upon the parchment laid in front of him.

‘I’m fucked’ reasserted the old man, spluttering the words from beneath beer splattered beard.

Rutherford gently eased the turkey feather into the ink pot at his desk and crossed his gnarled fingers in front of him. When he spoke, it was of the calm demeanour of a man who has seen far too much and understood too little.

‘To be fucked once could be seen as an accident, to be fucked twice? One would have to see that as intentional’.

The old man looked confused, at least Rutherford assumed that the expression was one of consternation. It was rather hard to tell, the saggy skin of the old man’s face seemed to simply crumple like paper into an undiscernible mess. Rutherford thought it best the old man sat down, and gestured with ringed fingers to the chair.

‘I’ve found the right person?’ questioned the old man as he creaked his limbs onto the wooden seat.

‘That rather depends’ intoned Rutherford ‘on what you mean by the right person?’

‘You’re the bishop, who offers’; at this the old man spoke in wheezing whisper, as if afeared that the shadows of the room hid away prying ears, ‘hell insurance?’

Rutherford’s eyes widened slightly, though the old man was not aware of this, for the dark deep bags surrounding them, hid any expression.

‘That is not a service I have been called upon in quite some time, the nature of your fucking must be severe indeed for you to require such a thing.’

‘I’ve been told’ the old man continued ‘that you can stop me from going to hell, that you can make sure I avoid that fate?’

The old man peered at the Bishop, wetness forming from the mess of his milky white eyes.

‘Is it true? Can you do it? Can you guarantee God’s forgiveness?’

Rutherford nodded, the fatty bulge of his neck folding into itself.

‘And if not God’s forgiveness, I can guarantee the Devil’s ignorance. For a fee.’

‘Anything’ the old man spat with desperation, ‘anything’.

‘This is not a fee that a man would like to pay. Are you certain?’

The old man reached forwards, grasping at the warped wood of the desk, ‘Yes. Please God yes.’

‘Very well’ Rutherford eased his bulk from his leather chair, and with a sweep of fine flowing robes, moved to the corner of the room. From a compartment, hidden from the old man’s eyes by the weakness of the pale candlelight, Rutherford retrieved an aged parchment and unfurled it upon the desk. He pointed with a stubby finger at the small and plentiful writing upon it.

‘A straightforward enough piece of legislation. And by the grace of God invested in me, capable of sparing you from an eternal fate of hell and fire.’

The old man grasped for the parchment but Rutherford swiftly swatted his hand away.

‘Can you write?’ asked Rutherford. It was a rarity for any of his clients to be able to do so, but he liked to ask, for if they could it would save him the tedious work of having to transcribe their dull transgressions. Thievery, adultery, murder. Hate, shame, fear, grief and pain. A man, Rutherford knew, could become distant and detached by the constant and reliable tedium of human frailty.

To Rutherford’s surprise the old man nodded. The Bishop whipped the quill from the pot and passed it to old man, a flick of ink darting from it to stain the wood of the table. The old man gripped the stem of the quill with trembling fingers.

‘Simply write your crime upon the dotted line. I, and the glory of God the everlasting, will take care of the rest for you.’

The old man slowly wrote four words on the parchment, his body tense and taut as he did so. And yet, Rutherford considered, on the completion of the fourth word the figure sagged and placed the quill upon the desk with focused consideration.

Rutherford gathered the parchment in his hands, turning it to face him and read the four words.

He read them again.

And again.

‘What is the fee?’ asked the old man.

Rutherford’s eyes glanced up from the parchment to focus on the man. He considered the possibility of this frail and feather light figure reshaped and reformed into the man he claimed to be.

‘What is the fee?’ repeated the old man.

Rutherford snatched the quill from the table and rammed it into the old man’s neck, who let out a soft, aching wheeze from the very depth of his lungs. Rutherford twisted and pulled, cold and crimson, across the papery skin. The old man’s life blood poured forth, darkening the deep red knots of the wooden desk, as his soulless body flopped, discarded, to the floor.

Rutherford carefully slid the bloodied quill into the ink pot from whence it came.

‘The fee is far greater than you can pay.’

Guest Post: How I Began Writing My Book (As told by a real live author!)

A guest post from me for Write Through the Night. It’s all about my research techniques and writing intentions behind Escapades in Bizarrchaeology (don’t worry, it’s way more interesting than it sounds. Honest).

Write Through the Night

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing author Adrian Burrows to the blog!  He has written an incredible comical history book called Escapades in Bizarrchaeology, a story which follows protagonist Max Vitrus on his unusual journey through history.  Guaranteed to make even non-history lovers fall in love, it most certainly seems like a book everyone should read!  Adrian was kind enough to tell us about how he decided to first start writing, the research process, and developing the unique story that he has written today!  Already know you want the book and don’t want to scroll through the interview?  Head to Amazon or Waterstones right now

Handing Over the Microphone…

When I first decided to write a humorous history book my first thoughts conjured up an elaborate fantasy, it was of myself conducting research, clad in a thick wool jumper, with horn rimmed glasses perched upon my nose (possibly smoking…

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Book Review: Escapades in Bizzarcheology by Adrian Burrows.

Thanks for the review Josh!

Adventures In Historyland


Length: 168 pages
Publisher: Williams & Whiting
ISBN: 9781911266280

Hemingway, (or was it Chandler?) used to wrestle with his opening sentence and would not continue until he got it perfect. Given their respective brevity I can therefore imagine that Adrian Burrows must have toiled long and hard with his opener. Man that’s an introduction! It’s long and perfectly describes what I tend to do when I wander thoughtfully through a bookshop. My eyes scan, scorching each shelf with a critical glare, my head turns methodically, often with a birdlike twitch as I go. If he hasn’t captured my personal bibliophilic quirks, then he has certainly got what I do when I open a book. The item in question has a sort of fantasy, steam punk, adventure feel to the cover, it’s small and is littered with accompanying images.

The question remains however, does this book live up to the…

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Escapades in Bizarrchaeology – On sale now!


The history book for people who don’t like history… yet!

Captain Max Virtus has spent his life Excavating the Extraordinary and Unearthing the Unusual, Gathering the history of the Bizarre to exhibit in his Warehouse of Bizarrchaeology.
Now you have the opportunity to take a guided tour of his life’s work, in this, his personal journal (you know, the book you’re holding in your hands).
Discover why bats were used as bombs, how an emu can defeat a tank, the reason that guns were installed in cemeteries and how you can get shot with an arrow… and survive.

All this… and then things get really weird.

Take History to the Max


Paperback Version Available for £7.99 from





Music to Write Books By – Adrian Burrows


9781911266280-424x600This is the  final post in this series where writers have been sharing the music they write to. Today I have Adrian Burrows who has written a  history book for people who don’t like history – yet. In Escapades in Bizarrchaeology you can discover why bats were used as bombs, how an emu can defeat a tank, the reason why guns were installed in cemetries … and how you can get shot with an arrow … and survive.

Hi Adrian do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

My favoured way of listening to music is by being surprised. Now by this I’m not suggesting that my undersized man servant (who is trained in martials arts of course) leaps out of my fridge freezer to karate chop me in the back of the neck whilst I listen to some Beethoven. Instead I mean that I find a mood list on Spotify, set it to…

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Bullets in a Pot, a.k.a. Repeaters & Pork, an authentic WWI recipe

A Guest Post for Max Virtus. I’ll allow the good captain to explain more.


A little while back I challenged the legendary Leisel to concoct one of her ingeniously inventive recipes that tied into a historical theme.

Don’t forget the tastes of cultures have varied significantly over the years. An examples of this? Back in the 1800s prisoners used to be force fed lobster, which was considered a cruel and unusual torture. How times have changed, at my seafood restaurant (what… you DON’T have a seafood restaurant?), we charge £90 for a lobster (and that’s just to pull it out of the fish tank, if you want to eat it dead we charge an extra £50. How else could I possibly fund my Warehouse of Bizarrchaeolgy?)

Anyhow, she managed to combine World War 1, video games and ammunition to create ‘Bullets in a Pot’.

Don’t know what that is? Then I’ll let Skill Up Skillet illuminate!

Skill Up Skillet

Difficulty2Valiant Hearts: The Great War

A bit over a month ago I was contacted by the illustrious Captain Max Virtus of Escapades in Bizarrchaeology asking if I would be interested in digging up some bizarre foods eaten by WWI soldiers in the trenches. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity as A. I rather enjoy history; and B. I consider myself to be something of an expert in digging. Why, you may well ask? Once upon a time, I was an amateur grave digger. Quite the leap from computer work, no? Allow me to explain:

My freshman history teacher was something of a legend in the school. Tenacious, passionate, and mildly eccentric about getting his students to pay attention in class. Let me tell you, when your teacher steals a Barbie doll from his daughter, fills its head with fake blood, and ‘chops’ her head off with a…

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The Bizarrchaeology Interview: Douglas Jackson

Max Virtus, Captain of Bizarrchaeology, interviews Douglas Jackson, author of awesome historical fiction.


Sometimes, whilst in Virtus Castle, I like nothing more than tuck up in my Magnetic Floating Bed (embedded inside the chrome frame are 1500lbs magnets, which keep me hovering above the floor like an extra from Back to the Future 2) pull the plush duvet up to my chin and read a good book.

And few books come better than the Gaius Valerius Verrens series written by the author Douglas Jackson.

For those who haven’t had the delight of casting their eyeballs over the selection of words written in a certain order that detail the adventures of the ‘Hero of Rome’, then you are most certainly missing out. Deftly combining historical fact with intriguing fiction, the series of books manages to be both illuminating and thrilling.

And making Historical Fiction thrilling is a challenge in and of itself, especially when the ending has already happened (and anyone can visit Wikipedia and read massive spoilers even before the book is released).

So, as you can imagine I was rather excited to have the opportunity to interview the main man himself, when he visited the warehouse, and we chatted all things historical fiction.  Here’s what he had to say.

Hi Douglas, thanks for joining me in the plush confines of my warehouse of Bizarrchaeology, I hope you didn’t find the moat, pit traps and barbed wire tipped walls too difficult to navigate on your way here?

Fortunately I had my chain link armour on so the pit traps and barbed wire weren’t too much of a problem, but I had to hold my breath for a long time at the bottom of the moat. By the way, did you know you have the wreck of the Titanic down there?

I’d forgotten that was down there! Thanks for the memory jogger, I’ll have to retrieve it for a future Escapade in Bizarchaeology. You’d think I would have remembered it was there seeing as I left it next to Atlantis, talking of Ancient cities, what led you to set your Gaius Valerius Verrens books in Ancient Rome (other than the fact that Verrens is a Roman, obviously)?

I actually landed in Rome by mistake. As a journalist, I’d been out for lunch with a writer friend who said ‘You should write a book I bet it would be really gritty.’ I had a thought and decided why not give it a go. On the way home that night in the car I was racking my mind for a subject for the great novel. Write what you know? What I knew was work, eat, sleep, family – and repeat; pretty mundane stuff. Okay, I thought, write what you love. I’ve always loved history and I happened to be listening to Simon Schama’s History of Britain on CD and the narrator Timothy West intoned: ‘And the Emperor Claudius rode in triumph upon his elephant in Colchester to take the surrender of eleven British kings.’ A big lightbulb went off in my head – I’ll tell the story of the first elephant every to land in Britain. That revelation led to a book called The Emperor’s Elephant, which eventually became my debit Caligula and the follow up Claudius. I had a third book, but Transworld decided two was enough for that series and my editor asked me to come up with a more main stream hero. During my research I’d stumbled on a story about the two hundred odds and sods the procurator Catus Decianus sent to reinforce Colchester/Camulodunum as Boudicca’s horde came the other way. I thought it would be interesting to tell the story of the officer who led them, and Gaius Valerius Verrens was born.

Recently I delved into discovering who were the Top 3 Terrible Roman Emperors of all time. With your extensive knowledge of both Caligula and Nero, who would you say was the cruellest of the Emperors and why?

I’d have to say Caligula, because his violence was so unpredictable, random and, dare I say, imaginative. When the jails were full and he needed more space for the aristocrats he was planning to disinherit so he could take their money, he came up with the novel solution of feeding them to wild beasts in the arena for the delectation of the mob. As far as I know he was the first Emperor to do that. There’s a scene in Caligula where my hero Rufus’s old boss, Fronto, is invited to dinner and then beaten to the brink of death with chains. In the book, Caligula keeps him sitting at the table for two nights to see his guests’ reaction. The idea for that scene came directly from Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Suetonius says the animal trainer was actually kept there for three nights, but I thought people would think that was a bit far fetched. In this case truth was definitely stranger than fiction.

One particular moment of pure Emperor Nero evilness occurred in ‘Avenger of Rome’. Nero had constructed (well, his slaves had) what can only be described as a death dealing fun house. A life size doll house with no façade, ‘volunteers’ were forced to rush through the various levels to try to find treasure, at the same time as attempting to avoid premature death due to the building being on fire. Was this sequence based on historical fact? Did this ‘Fun House’ actually exist? If so, where can I get on for my Warehouse of Bizarrchaeology?

I try to base as much of my books as possible on fact, and the scene is based on a play by Afranius called The Fire which Nero sponsored at the Theatre of Pompey and gave free matinée performances for the public. The backdrop was a house that caught fire. I just though what would a man like Nero do to spice things up, and came up with the world’s first game show, only with a deadly and incendiary twist.

The level of historical detail in your books is outstanding, what methods do you use to research them?

I try to create a situation where the reader experiences the history as Valerius sees it. I’ll only describe a building if it’s new to him, or if it has a story that stirs some memory, and it’s the same with events. I found an old review of Sword of Rome from a reader who enjoyed the book, but slightly grudgingly said: ‘There wasn’t a lot of history, but it was a good quick read.’ It made me want to shout out ‘All the bloody history was there, you just didn’t notice it because it was woven into the story.’ I could have poured reams of unnecessary detail into the books, but it gets in the way of the narrative. My goal is to create a real world that contains all the detail necessary to the people who experience it. I don’t have a methodology as such, but I’ve learned that you don’t have to know every tiny detail about the period before you begin a book. I’m fortunate these days that I’ve been immersed in the Roman world for so long that it feels natural to walk the streets, see what people are wearing, smell what they eat and hear the clamour of their voices. Or to stand in the blood and guts of the battle line with the weight of the armour on your shoulders and your arm on fire from the weight of the scutum. Nowadays I’ll write until I reach something I don’t know and, probably because of my journalistic background, I’m usually able to get the detail of it very quickly.

What is the weirdest historical fact that you have discovered whilst researching your books?

I’m not sure if it’s weird or not, but when the future (short-lived) Emperor Vitellius set off to take up the post of Governor of Germania, he pinched Julius Caesar’s sword from the Temple of Mars Ultor because he thought it would make him a better general. I portrayed Vitellius as a fat man with a big heart and I think I liked him most of all my Emperors.

If Ancient Rome had never existed, what period of history would you base your next work of fiction on and why?

That’s a tough question. I’d love to do an alternative Arthurian series because the story and the characters are so fascinating, but Bernard Cornwell has done it so brilliantly that there’s no point really.  The HF genre is incredibly congested with talented writers that just about ever period is being covered and finding an age which is well known enough to be commercial that also offers an opportunity to take a fresh look at great events is going to be difficult. That said I’ve just completed a book set in World War Two, so possibly that’s the answer.

If I had just invented a time machine and gave it to you for a test drive, where would you go and what would you do for the next 24 hours (obviously if you had a time machine then 24 hours would no longer be any sort of restriction… but if you could ignore that sizeable question hole that would be great)?

I’d nip over to Gallipoli exactly a century ago and tell my grandad to keep his head down or twist his ankle and not take part in the 1/4 Kings Own Scottish Borderers attack on Ache Baba where he was disfigured for life by a Turkish bullet, but I know he’d still have gone over the top with his mates. More than four hundred Borderers were killed in about half an hour on July 12 1915 leaving a dozen small towns in mourning. Maybe the answer would be to put a bullet in Sir Ian Hamilton who ordered the pointless attack and later blamed the high casualties on ‘over-enthusiasm’. Later, I’d head for Gettysburg in 1863 and watch events unfold. It’s always fascinated me that a general as clever as Robert E Lee could have allowed himself to be sucked into a battle that was unwinnable from the start.

You are holding an important soiree, which historical figures would definitely be on your guest list and who would be getting beaten up outside by the bouncer?  

I’d like to have a chat with Hitler and Stalin, but Churchill could stay out in the cold. The attack on the Dardanelles was his idea and was always destined to be one of the most futile, bloody stalemates in history.

And finally, can you give us any insight or gentle spoilers with regards your upcoming projects?

My next Gaius Valerius Verrens adventure, Scourge of Rome, is out on August 30. It’s set in Judaea in 70AD at the time of the siege of Jerusalem with Valerius at the heart of the action as epic events unfold, and full of fascinating characters like the future emperor Titus, his lover, Berenice, and the duplicitous Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.

Thanks very much for your time Doug, I’ll leave you to find your own way out. Just watch out for the lions. And the boulder trap. And the lasers. And the Hippos. And the ballista. And the Chinese Fire Lances. And the Tsar Tank. And the Ninjas. In fact… just watch out.

You’re very welcome Max. Some cracking questions there. Now, where did I leave that time machine?

You can discover more about the novels of Douglas Jackson at his website

You can also tweet him over at twitter @Dougwriter

And you can check out his Amazon Author Page too!