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Rensslaer

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It's time to reveal the authors from this round. If you had meant to provide feedback, and just didn't have time, you're still welcome to provide it! Also, the authors generally respond to feedback during this time, and explain what they had in mind when they were writing their pieces.

Author #1 - J. Passepartout (no Inkwell page)
J. Passepartout has started about 20 AARs in his long, long tenure on these Forums.... and may have finished one or two! :p Two of J. Passepartout's best known works are The Timid Timurids (EU2) and The Golden Pig and the Concrete Porker: A Rather Silly Tale (EU2). J. Passepartout has won various awards over the years for his writing. You can find many of his works at the EU2 Library.

Author #2 - Lighthearter (Lighthearter's Inkwell Page)
Recently, Lighthearter has been working on two HOI2/AOD AARs: The League of Mutual Co-Prosperity, and The Countdown Begins to Destroy Us All. He's also written Yes We Have No Bananas, an AOD Tropico AAR, and has earned a number of AARLand Choice AwAARds for Comedy works.

Author #3 - Loki100 (Loki's Inkwell Page)
Loki100 has written 3 HOI3 AARs playing Russia, including The Great Patriotic War and B'aar Baa Red Sheep, as well as an experiment with Turkey: Breaking the Sevres. He would also like to draw your attention to an AAR for AGEOD's Rise of Prussia, The White, Blue and Green.

Author #4 - Iain Wilson (Iain Wilson's Inkwell Page)
Iain Wilson, remarkably, won TWO top awards for comedy in the 2011 Q1 AARLand Choice AwAARds, for the recently completed Suenik the Beleaguered (CK) and These Oranjes are Not for Eating (V1). He also would like to draw attention to his first "serious" AAR, The Sleeper (EU3).

We had a good number of feedback comments this time around -- not so good as at times in the past, but not bad for a thread that's not been really active for a couple of years! I'll hope that next time around some of the more traditional commenters return, and some new people show up!

I will set up a new contest for June very shortly... Watch this space!

Thanks again to everybody who participated by writing, and those who participated by responding and critiquing!

Rensslaer
 
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iain_a_wilson

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Hi ya,

Thanks to all of you who gave me feedback - all of your comments are very much appreciated! I'll respond in fuller later on, but I'd like to point out that I did NOT write I Rodrigo - the other comedy award I won was for the now completed "Suenik".

Thanks again for your feedback!

Iain
 

Rensslaer

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Oops! My mistake, Iain! My eyes slipped a line in the Award list. I shall change that. :)

Renss
 

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Thank you for all your criticism - though I would like to add that LMCP has been dead for over a year now :p

I want to note I've already taken a lot of your advice and gone over my book file hunting for applicable situations - found a good few! Thanks again!

-L
 

WelshDude

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Two comedy awards for number 4. Who would have thought it? :D
 

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Just to thank Renns for running this and all the feedback, its a wonderful idea and generates some very insightful comments.

Given the confusion I seem to have caused I'll offer a bit of background at what I was trying. First I've been rereading some of George V Higgins' Boston set crime novels. To those who haven't read these, one characteristic is they are told almost purely as dialogue, so I wanted to see if I could pull that off (& managed to prove instead that just because someone who does it well makes it look easy doesn't mean it is easy).

The other bit is some background to the underlying idea. I've been reading around quite a lot for my current Soviet AAR on the partisan war waged within the USSR. One feature was the often harsh treatment handed out by the Soviet authorities to some partisan units when they came back within the front (this was most marked in the areas longest out of Soviet hands). Reading a bit more, the Soviets had some reason to be cautious as the Germans were trying to slip spies back into the USSR this way (whereas the Soviets could always get information out of Germany, not least using the remnants of the KPD cadres, it was much harder for the Germans to infiltrate the USSR). In effect, a number of former Red Army soldiers had joined the pro-German partisan groups, then joined the pro-Soviet ones. In some cases this was simple, and understandable, opportunism, in others it was an attempt at cross-infiltration.
 

iain_a_wilson

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I'll echo Loki's remarks about this thead; the feedback that I've received has been wonderful and I thank you all for it.

I completely agree with what people have said about the ending to my piece. It was very abrupt, but that was borne out of the format more than anything else. However, you are all very correct in saying that Chan's response was completely wrong. He probably shouldn't have responded in this way - I'd put that down to me trying to wrap this up as quickly as possible ;)

Believe it or not, the events that I outlined in this short piece are completely historically accuarte. In the 1812 war between the US and the UK, the United States, in a response to the British tying up the Napoleonic wars, starting offering substantially more money for people to enlist. Naturally, a not inconsiderable amount of people chose to take advantage of this, and you ended up with the odd situation where the figures showed that the rate of enlistment was hugely high, but the desertition rate went through the roof! Lo and behold this was caused with people signing up with one regiment, deserting after getting their enlistment bonus and then signing up with a neighbouring regiment.

Amazing what you can discover when you're looking for inspiration and you type "deserter" into Google - was certainly better than my first idea of something to do with ice cream.

Thanks to Loki for the historical context of his piece - it makes a lot more sense knowing that! The partisan war in the USSR is a fascinating (not to mention extremely bloody) piece of history.

Looking forward to June's GtA already!
 

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My piece? Heh - I took two of the main tenants of my writing: Female lead character/Subversion of common stereotypes. Then I picked two stereotypes(US being good guys/US rolling over Canada in nothing flat in a war) and subverted them. I may do an AAR off this premise - people seem engaged by the idea - but being a GM in several forum games on CFC right now I'm a little taxed. So probably not for the near future, at least.

Anywho, I'll be eagerly awaiting next month's round!

-L
 

SirCliveWolfe

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Just to thank Renns for running this and all the feedback, its a wonderful idea and generates some very insightful comments.
...snip...
Actually re-reading it after reading your comment, I think it does work well and the dialogue heavy style is good, probably just needs to be a longer piece than you could do here for it to be clear to the reader :)

I'll echo Loki's remarks about this thead; the feedback that I've received has been wonderful and I thank you all for it.
...snip...
Amazing what you can discover when you're looking for inspiration and you type "deserter" into Google - was certainly better than my first idea of something to do with ice cream.
...snip...
Looking forward to June's GtA already!
Again I agree that I think a longer piece would have polished away any of the slight imperfections with your piece :)

And is there nothing Google can not answer/dig up? :D

My piece? Heh - I took two of the main tenants of my writing: Female lead character/Subversion of common stereotypes. Then I picked two stereotypes(US being good guys/US rolling over Canada in nothing flat in a war) and subverted them. I may do an AAR off this premise ...snip...
Once again I think that it was the shortness of the piece that did for you :) Very interesting ideas though, hope you get time to turn them into a full AAR :)
 

Rensslaer

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June 2011 GTA Round

All right.... Time for 2011's second monthly round of GTA (yes, I know it's June! :p -- this has been dormant for a while). Please see the rules if you'd like to participate by being an author writing a piece of short fiction for the assigned topic.

The topic for this round will be:

A Rumor

The first four or five people to contact me by e-mail will be accepted, and you'll have to deliver a piece of fiction on the topic of 300-1200 words to me by June 6. DO NOT POST THE PIECES YOURSELF!!! I will post them.

Send both requests to participate and the final submissions to me BY E-MAIL at coloconservative@aol.com -- DO NOT send me a PM here on Paradox (my box is full, and your submission will be too long for PM anyway). Send any questions to that e-mail also. MARK ANY MAIL FOR GTA WITH THE SUBJECT LINE: PARADOX GTA - (YOUR FORUM NAME HERE).

A brief review of the rules from page 1:

1) Actual story posts will only be submitted by me or the designated person in charge, to retain anonymity. Critical/guess posts will be made under your own nick.

2) This is what happens: First, the coordinator will choose a topic for authors to write about. Topics will be very broad and general, and will cover topics in (if at all possible) the EU games, HoI, Victoria, Rome, or Crusader Kings so authors who own only one of those games (or, possibly, none) can still join the project.

3) Second, anyone who wishes to write on a topic must e-mail the coordinator (Rensslaer -- coloconservative@aol.com) and get approval. The number of authors writing on any particular topic will be limited to 4, or otherwise as designated by the person in charge, so it's important to inform the coordinator of your interest as soon as possible so you will be one of the first four. The coordinator will inform you of if you're going to write or not (ie if there are already four authors signed up).

4) Submissions will have a deadline that they must meet. This is to allow all the posts to be put up at once, so as to give "equal time" to them, in addition to keeping the manager of the project sane (actually, the latter may be a lost cause already ). This also keeps the project rolling, even if one of the authors has unexpected problems.

6) Anyone may offer guesses as to the identity of the author and may post constructive criticism. Spam will not be tolerated, nor outright attacks, as per forum rules.

7) The list of authors will not be provided until a set time has expired. Then all will be revealed. (As our community has grown enormously, guessing the author should no longer be as big a priority as providing positive feedback.)

8) Posts that discuss writing in more general terms should be posted in the SolAARium, not here. Not that we don't want to read them, but everything has its proper place, from artillery to literary criticism.

The last round showed more author and commenter/critique participation than we've seen in 2 years, so I'm looking forward to seeing this grow to become what it used to be -- a valuable, educational, confidence-building thread among those which make the Forum what it is.

Rensslaer
 

Rensslaer

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Still two slots open! (or three)

How about a veteran and a first-timer? Who wants to take the challenge?

Renss
 

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One more? :) Or two.

It would be really good to get a first-timer in. I know it sounds intimidating to have your work critiqued by people who may know more about writing than you do, but most successful authors indicate that kind of feedback may not always be welcome to ones' ego, but it's actually the most valuable kind of instruction to help improve skills, etc.

So what I'm saying is, once you realize how much it's helping you as a writer, you won't mind that not everyone liked your writing! :p :D And, generally, you'll find people will also tell you what they like about your writing, and that's good ego massage.

Rensslaer
 

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There will be a slight delay as I gather the last entries.

One author bowed out due to time constraints. I have three entries now.

There were two rookie authors who volunteered later -- one on the 26th of May, and another in just the last couple of days. If you'd still like to participate, let me know to wait and I'll give you 24 hours.

Obviously, I'm being vague to avoid revealing the authors early! :)

Thanks!

Renss

p.s. Btw I just found the e-mail where one of the authors (the 4th) definitely bowed out -- not a problem! So we're waiting to see if one of two rookies are going to be able to meet the deadline. In about 24-36 hours I'll post 3 or 5 entries, depending on what we get.
 
Last edited:

Rensslaer

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Okay... Time's up! :) I have four entries, and I shall post them here in no particular order for reading and comments in a moment. Remember, the topic for this round is "A Rumor".

The Rules:
1) Everybody will have 2 weeks to read and leave comments. What did you think about the piece? What did it make you think about (which is different than the first)? How did it affect you? Were you surprised? Emotional? Did something in the story distract from your enjoyment? Something stick out to you or impress you? Etc...
2) Please be polite, but feel free to be frank -- constructive criticism is okay, as is praise, of course. This is a more valuable writers' forum than almost any other out there, and real writers can learn/earn real skills here, but only if they get credible, heartfelt feedback.
3) Feel free to offer a guess as to who the writer is. This was easier back when there were fewer writers, but if you wish you can try. It's okay to identify a favorite piece, but no ranking of the 4 entries is necessary (or probably desired).
4) On June 23 (or so) I will post who wrote each piece (Surprise!) and list some of their AAR works so you can go check them out.
5) Have fun! :) This can be as educational for the readers and commenters as for the writers, so go for it!

___________

Author #1

The old man tapped out the ashes from his pipe and watched the last embers of
his camp fire slowly fade into the darkness of the night. He had tracked a
gazelle for most of a morning, bringing it down with a single arrow through the
neck, and now his stomach was full and he had enough meat left over to see him
safe from worries of hunger for several days to come. He would have considered
himself content but for the girl.

She had been climbing Shale Rock. Nobody climbed that treacherous cliff face.
He'd been at the edge of the forest when he spotted her and had hovered in the
shade of the trees watching, waiting for her inevitable fall. Instead after
perhaps an hour he had seen the reason for her climb, three men dressed in
forest garb had tracked her to the base of the cliff. He knew one of them -
even if she survived the climb he wouldn't bet on her survival. Balen was a
hard, ruthless man, skilled in ways of the wilderness; he would never give up a
chase. No, the girl would not escape even if she reached the transient safety
of the cliff top, and there were other, easier ways to traverse the Shale
cliffs. All of which suggested she wasn't from these parts, and yet was being
hunted all the same by Jarl Olaf's men. Before they could spot him he had
melted back into the security of the trees and set off at a brisk pace for the
only route the hunters could now take that didn't involve climbing that cliff.

Reaching for more firewood he cursed himself a fool. What was she to him? A
stranger hunted by a noble lord that's what. Sensible folk did not get
involved in the affairs of nobility if they knew what was good for them, so why
then did he now track the girl, trying to out-track the hunters? A loose word in
the tavern of the last village he'd passed through and so the reason he was in
these woods in the first place. Just a rumour, nothing more. The villagers had
said the daughter of the Wolf was gathering fighters and the old Jarl had put a
price on her head and on those of any who joined her. They said that she
intended to take up her fathers mantle and free the common folk from oppression.
An age old story and any man who believed it was born a fool. Such dreams died
outside the walls of Reyvadin. He knew. He'd been there hadn't he? So now
Jarl Olaf hunted this so called daughter of the Wolf, his own grand-daughter if
the girls claim was actually true. Now that really would be something to make
the old tyrant choke.

But there was always someone claiming to be the son or daughter of an old hero,
using a name to rally folk to revolt; invariably their fate was that of the
gallows or in this case more likely a witches fire.

He dozed for a while, lost in better times. The snapping of a twig broke his
reverie and he reached for his sword, too late. "Stay your hand old man, or
become a pincushion where you sit" the voice was soft spoken, a female, so at
least it wasn't Balen and his hunters who had caught him unawares. A moment
later the figure of the girl stepped into the clearing, barely illuminated by
the sliver of the moon. She made a show of the bow she carried, an arrow
notched and pointed his way. "Why do you follow me?" she asked sharply, keeping
the arrow tip pointed at his chest. She appeared to be dressed in fraying
buckskins that had seen better days, but the bow, now that was a piece of beauty
nobody could miss.

"I don't know" he answered somewhat truthfully, "or didn't until now".

"Not a very sensible thing for a grey beard to be doing, wandering the forest
alone. One can so easily get hurt, why just imagine if my hand were to slip?"
The girl spoke calmly, but the man wasn't fooled. She was frighted and a sudden
move on his part could easily see her release that arrow whether she intended it
or not.

"I see your point girl, but I can look after myself" he replied gruffly.

"Clearly" she laughed, "why I'm sure you'd be merrily chatting away right now if
it had been those three hunters who'd crept into your camp just now and not I".

Her barb was a little too close to the truth so he chose to ignored it. "That's
a remarkable bow you carry" he said instead, "can I ask how you came upon it?"

"Careful old man" she stepped slowly round the clearing, kicking the embers of
the fire into life, "I'll be asking the questions. You still haven't told me
why you're here".

"They spoke of you in the village" he said at last, "or of someone who fits your
description. Said you planned to raise an army like the man you claim for a
father and overthrow the Jarl. I didn't believe the rumours, but here you are.
Of course I expect you're still a fraud, and likely soon a dead one, but I guess
I was curious all the same. The names Firentis by the way", he watched as the
girl went still, "perhaps you've heard of me."

The girl finally lowered the bow and asked in a voice no longer quite as calm
"If you're Firentis, then tell me of Alayan."

"Well now, if it's tales of heroes you want, Alayan was the right hand man to
the Wolf, and a good friend to me many years ago. Shall I describe him to you?
Shall I tell how he fought like a panther and stood as a shield over the Wolfs
wife and babe when the three kingdoms closed in? How he took them both to
safety after the fall of Reyvadin and has hidden them from the world ever since?


"Why have you stepped forth now Lauren" Firentis shook his head, "this route
leads only to death."

"Alayan is dead" the girl stated flatly, "mother too. They attacked our farm,
the Jarl's men last spring. I was out hunting but came back in time to see them
ride away. Now I hunt them!"

They were both silent for a while. "I didn't know" Firentis finally broke the
silence. "She was a fine woman, but don't throw your own life away now."

"After everything Olaf has done" she hissed, "doesn't he deserve to die?"

"Perhaps. But he's an old old man and death will take him soon enough. Alayan
wanted to give you and your mother a fresh start, away from the old conflicts."

"Father didn't wanted me to forget" she held up the bow, "he gave me this on my
tenth birthday you know. Just rode into our farm one day, said it was my
birthright. I didn't even know it was him until years later.

"Do you know where he is, what happened to him?" she asked.

"I don't" Firentis replied, "to be honest I never even knew he survived
Reyvadin. Are you sure it was him?"

"Alayan said it was, when he got drunk one night and finally admitted who my
birth father was".

"Don't be harsh on Alayan, he loved your mother dearly."

"I'm not. He was the only father I knew and I loved him too, but now he's gone
and my real father is likely dead as well on some unknown battlefield."

"We could search for him you know" Firentis finally said, "I thought him dead
until this evening yet here it turns out he lived. Perhaps he's still out there
somewhere, there are always rumours told of him, until now I always dismissed
them, but who knows. It's better to seek out the living Lauren than concentrate
on the dead."

"I'll think about it" was all the girl said before laying down her pack and
spreading out a blanket. "You keep watch greybeard, I've been trekking half the
night to find your camp!"
 

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Author #2

The Bibliophile

ARRRGHH!

So sorry about that. Do forgive her. She's just naturally affectionate. Allow me to introduce myself, nameless guest. I am Bob, son of Bob, grandson of yet another Bob, and great-grandson of... but I'm sure you get the picture, and, indeed, Bob wouldn't be a bad guess.

I have at long last come to this deplorable situation after a long and arduous search that took me across two continents and twenty-three years, so if you would hear my tale, permit me to start at the beginning or, if you will, I can start at the end. It matters not to me.

At the beginning? You are most kind, good sir, most kind.

I will skip my youth, as it was nothing special – a military commission as befits a Bob of Bob, an arranged and largely loveless marriage, a foreign tour of duty, two children, a dog, a mistress, and an elephant. The usual. Having achieved what station my heritage entitled me to, like so many other middling officers, I was put on half-pay after the end of the war, if war you can call it. War, rebellion, insurgency, or "that deplorable affair" – unwelcome conflict has many names. For a while the wits amongst my friends, of which there were not a few, knew me as half-Bob Bob of Bob, which shows you the rough nature of the company I kept at the time.

Yes, yes, I'm getting to it, honoured guest, I just wanted to establish the ambience and introduce a bit of levity. No need to squirm. Be patient, and it will all be revealed.

In an attempt to better myself, I discovered within me the joy of the bookman and took up publishing. As you may know, the world of publishing is cut-throat indeed, so to succeed I had to carve out my own niche and be prepared to defend it against competition.

It cannot be said to have been intentional on my part, so if anything is to blame it must be fate or perhaps it merely followed the ineffable divine plan, but the niche I eventually ended up filling and dominating was that of publishing studies of natural art and the human condition, often with instructions on how to better it, and occasionally with illustrations. Yes, that sort of art.

Blood? No, surely not. Oh, I see. And on the neck too. Allow me, sir, here's a tissue. Forgive her, good sir, she's just naturally affectionate. It is a mere scratch. Pay her no attention.

As I was saying, I grew rich and powerful publishing art, for there is always a market for great art for the discerning customer, and truly great works of art command truly outrageous prices so long as they are discreetly delivered with no questions asked. Would you believe that a first edition "The Joy of Horses" by A Lady commands five figures?

Indeed, were it not for a most unexpected development, I'd probably still be publishing art rather than scouring the world, but no man is the master of his own destiny, and mine came to me by means of a rumour.

Yes, a rumour. Empty, insubstantial, worthless, you might well think, for such is the nature of rumours. They say this and they say that, but who are they and why do they say it? It came to pass like this.

I was meeting one of my writers to inspect his newest work, and we came to discuss, for reasons that I have forgotten, the lost works of antiquity. In good times as well as bad, the guardians of morality and conformity are ever vigilant, so given the nature of the work, banning and burnings were a frequent threat to the books that were my life, and few indeed are the works of the ancients that survive to this modern age. Many exist only as names and vague descriptions and some lack even that, more have been lost without a trace for the millstone of time grinds well indeed, and a few, a very few, exist as rumours. Books that might have been but have been officially denied. Books of which no known copies are extant.

Books such as the one my writer mentioned, going back to the first empire. A book that couldn't possibly ever have existed.

Ah, that caught your attention, did it? I thought it would.

It is a curious phenomenon that biographies of strong emperors tend to be written long after their death during the reigns of weak emperors, presumably because too great a danger is attached to evaluating a strong emperor during his lifetime, but this book of which my writer had heard was supposedly a biography based on written sources from the early days of the empire. A biography that had been suppressed by church and state in ages past for reasons unknown. A biography of one or several of the earliest emperors, perhaps even the very first. And, and this is what had truly caught my writer's ear, a biography with scandalous illustrations.

I knew then that if there were indeed such a book, then I, Bob of Bob, would be the man to publish it. It was practically a license to print money!

And thus began my inquiries.

The church denied the existence of such a work, but hard work paid off and in the fullness of time I tracked down a defrocked priest, who had heard of it from a drunk sexton he'd met on his travels abroad.

Tracking down the sexton took me two years. He was living in the gutter, a miserable wreck of a man, but he claimed to have seen the book in his youth. "More scandalous than the 12 lives and considerably better illustrated", was what he said, but what had become of the book he knew not.

I sent my agents to track down every last figure from the sexton's past that he could remember and returned to my work, but that trail was cold as the grave and after another three years I turned to other lines of inquiries. My collection of books from or about the first empire grew by the day and my business suffered from my lack of attention, but finally I had a challenge worth facing.

It was around this time that I realized that I were no longer a mere bookman but more properly a Bibliophile or perhaps, even, that most rarefied of beings, the Bibliomaniac.

And so I have ascended to the frame of mind that is beyond morality, the state of being necessary to accomplish my shining goal. My search has taken me through seventeen countries, two continents, twenty-three years, a divorce, five fortunes, and, arguably, my sanity, but I will not be denied. I am forbidden entry in six countries and a hero in two, a denounced heretic and apostate, though thankfully that carries less weight in these modern times, a genius and a madman, and, if I say so myself, the foremost scholar of the first empire.

Ah, I see, you recognize me, now. That is good. It means you know that this is nothing personal, merely the business of necessity.

Now, look what you made her do! Please relax. She's naturally affectionate, but startle her and it is the quick slash and the torment. She can't help it.

Yes, that's better. As I was saying, I have had many leads during the years, and false leads ending in nothing but sorrow and tears, occasionally mine, but it is my destiny. In every land I have travelled there are rumours of the book, if you know whom to ask, and that is a clear sign that the book not only exists, but that the time has come for it to be found again.

And time and time again your name has come up. A fellow Bibliophile, a collector without equal. I salute you, sir! Truly, I should have come visiting long ago, but I was always so busy. So many leads to run down, so many people to interrogate. And, of course, your taste is well known. The subject of the book would never appeal to such as you, so is it any wonder that I passed you by?

But of course, life is not that simple, and I was missing a piece. Would you believe what I heard just recently when I discussed this very issue with poor mr. Hiwan al Hiwan? He claimed to know nothing of the book, but when put to the question he claimed to have heard a little bird sing that it is not just a book, but a collector's edition - and you, sir, are foremost amongst collectors.

Relax, sir, and take your time. You've got all the time in the world, good sir. None will disturb us for the nonce. It is just you, me, and my attentive little friend. Thus I beg of you, tell me of the collector's edition.

I hear it has illustrations of an instructional nature.
 

Rensslaer

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Author #3

Hear-Say​

The sounds of a distant scream resonated around a masonry corner some yards off. To all those present it was a constant reminder of their predicament. Sometimes it would be a shrill scream, the obvious result of some unseen and yet all too familiar implement. Other times it would be a deeper, controlled scream: the laments of the guilty or the innocent. There was no real way to tell. You could tell when a new tool had been added to the repertoire, there'd be a scream in shock and horror. But a man cannot tell the guilt of another simply by the way he begged when presented with such a device, though that is not what they'd have you know. Between screams there was a silence that was more terrifying than the piercing terror that invade much of their day. The silence was the slow decay of the entire world. The creaking of beams in a ceiling far beyond reach; the labored breathing of your comrades; the slow flooding of the room from a leaking roof that might as well been in heaven. When the screaming stopped, there might be a few minutes before another was chosen to add their voice to the many of the choir.

A slow stream of rain water let mildew flourish where nothing else could. Even rats avoided the stench-filled chamber, leaving the dead to rot where they had fallen. The smell of mold was subtle. It did not dominate the way that feces or blood did. It was a constant, so eventually it melded into the background, becoming something familiar. But there was an instinctual loathing for the smell of human fluid, no matter its source. The brain became terrified; it knew that this place was evil, even if it had been the mind of a simple man. Your own stench, from lack of even the most basic washing, was the only interaction you had with your own body. A smell that welled up and gave a kind reminded that there were others. You were not alone: you could smell the sweat and tears of those close to you. You could almost figure what they were thinking. Tears for loved ones, farms that were no longer within reach, dreams centered on a single goal. A hope that one day they would be tears of joy. All the while it filled your nose and mouth, zapping it of water and leaving a bland taste, like that of a man who had slept for far too long.

An ever-changing field of wall-creeping fungus let you at least have some variance in your surroundings. The water-slicked stone cooled your back, but it also chilled the very core of your being. It gave you something to rest against, but had it not been for that very stone, you'd be free and it wouldn't matter. But as the fungus crept along those stonework faces, it gave some semblance of an evolving word; even if they did cause the headaches, which forced you to stop your struggle. The smooth cuffs that bound you to the wall were all that was within reach of your quickly shriveling hands and fingers. They too were both friend and foe. They held you upright, so you could have some dignity. But they also kept you against the wall, the entirety of a world collapsed to the few bricks against your shoulder blades; bricks and mold and chains and a helplessness that permeated everything. The chains to your left rustle, slightly, you could have written it off as a dream had a voice not spoken out in a slow and raspy grind, "I heard they might let you go."
 

Rensslaer

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Author #4

The man sat bolt upright in his bed; breath coming in desperate gasps. With a shaking hand he reached out to the rickety wooden table that stood next to the wrought-iron cot where he was lying and fumbled around for the glass of water that he knew was there.

As he drank, he shuffled upright and ran his free hand through his greying hair - now slick with sweat - and stared out of the grimy window opposite his bed. A few sickly rays of dawn light had begun to probe tentatively over the mountains that dominated the horizon, but the nearby buildings - the only structures for miles around in every direction - were still in darkness. Only the searchlights mounted in the guard towers made any effort to dispel the gloom that clutched at the little camp like a jealous lover. He placed the glass back onto the nightstand but didn't bother to lie down again. Although it would be several hours before the warden's guards came for him, the fact that it had been the dream that had shaken him from his slumber meant that sleep would not return, even if he wanted it to.

Swinging his legs stiffly off the bed, he suppressed a shudder as his feet touched the freezing floorboards. Despite the thick woollen socks that he wore, the winter's chill had permeated the very foundations of his hut; as if to serve as an unwelcome reminder that, even if he did manage to evade the guards and the dogs, he wouldn't get far before the cold claimed him for itself.

He went to pull on a pair of olive-green gloves that lay on the floor before deciding to fasten up the buttons of his tunic - a thick canvas garment with the legend '21576-P' branded above the right breast pocket. Almost a quarter of a century had passed since he had last been referred to by name - now he was simply prisoner 21576-P; an outcast kept separate from the other inmates. Naturally they did not know the reason for his isolation, but it didn't stop rumours spreading like wildfire, and in an environment as brutal as that of the Loch Na Tuadh prison camp where deaths from exposure and fatigue were not uncommon, the rampant speculation regarding what it was that 21576-P had done to merit his special treatment was one of the few forms of entertainment available to the wretched convicts.

Most assumed that he was merely some kind of dangerous lunatic, but more exotic theories abounded. Some whispered the he was a highly placed foreign agent who had defected and was kept here - far away from civilisation and enemy spies - awaiting his inevitable deportation to more favourable climes. Others mooted that the warden and some of his cronies - all of whom were invariably characterised as sadists of the worst kind - had taken a fancy to 21576-P early in his incarceration, and that in return for his exemption from physical labour he was made to perform all sorts of "favours" for the guards. They claimed that on some evenings the lights never went out in 21576-P's hut, and that the demented, animalistic braying of the guards who visited him could be heard echoing throughout the night. There were even those who believed him to be a royal bastard, whose confinement was at the behest of the king himself in order to avert the scandal that such a child would inevitably leave in its wake.

The truth of the matter was simple; nobody in the camp save the warden and the man himself knew who 21576-P was or why he was here. His solitary confinement was a nothing more than another measure to ensure that this remained the case.

From outside the hut came the coarse sound of boots tramping on gravel. The man finished buttoning his tunic and sat down; awaiting the inevitable thumping on the door and the call of "stand to!" that heralded an inspection by the warden. Despite have languished in this camp for most of his life he still took great pleasure when he saw the look of fury on the guards' faces when they marched in to find him sitting on the bed despite their command. Every time it happened, and every time they spat "Didn't you hear us? Get up and show some respect!" a tiny spark of defiance flared in his breast and helped keep him warm against the cold horror of his captivity.

This time, however, there was no knocking, and no shouting. Instead he heard the faint metallic scraping of the lock turning before the door was thrown open and two guards rushed in and levelled their rifles at him.

"Hands where we can see them!" yelled one of them. 21576-P didn't need telling twice - this wasn't a normal visit and he knew it. Without any fuss, he raised his hands in the air and clasped them behind his head. The guards, apparently mollified by this gesture of submission, lowered their rifles before one of them imperiously shout "Prisoner secure!" At this a third person entered the hut and stood between the two guards. Wheras they were tall, bearded, well-armed and decked out in cold weather battle dress this man looked like he worked in a bank. He was of average height, clean-shaven, bald and glared out at the world from behind a pair of half-moon glasses that perched on his hawkish nose. Like the other men he wore a full length military greatcoat, but it hung loosely on his thin frame giving him a slight stoop. In one gloved hand he carried his hat, while in the other he clutched a thick manila envelope. He stamped his feet against the cold before turning to guards and nodding towards the door.

"Gentlemen, you may leave us."

One of the soldiers went to speak but the third man shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"Off you trot. Should he try to overpower me I'll be sure to shout and should he make a break for it you're allowed to shoot him. Won't that be nice?"

He waved his hat irritably towards the door.

"Go. Now. I'll be fine. 21576-P and I are just going to talk, that's all."

The guards looked warily at each other, but backed out without any further argument. He pulled out a chair, placed his hat on the table and sat down before reaching into his coat and produced a silver cigarette case which he flipped open and offered to 21576-P who shook his head. The other man shrugged.

"Please yourself."

He struck a match which momentarily flared brightly in the gloom. Taking a couple of puffs he sat back and pointed at the prisoner.

"Prison's not been kind to you. I would have thought all that forced labour would have improved your physique. But it hasn't. You look terrible. Emaciated. Ill."

"What do you want, Styles?"

"Oh I don't want anything; I'm just the messenger. However", he tossed the envelope onto the floor by the bed and a folder spilled out, "if you take a look in there you'll see that there are plenty of other people - important people - who want to have a chat with you."

The prisoner bent down and scooped up the file. Tentatively he undid the string binding it and flipped the cover back. Inside was a stack of black and white photographs resting on documents. He lifted the top photo and stared at it, his eyes widening.

"Where did you get these?"

Styles raised his head blew out a puff of acrid, blue smoke that swirled lazily above his head before drifting upwards and dissipating across the hut’s ceiling.

"I'm assuming that's a rhetorical question."

He took another drag on his cigarette.

"In case you haven’t guessed, the people who provided me with these need your help."

"My HELP!?!" he half shouted. "My HELP?!? Those bastards threw me to the wolves half my life ago on the back of a fucking rumour and they have the audacity to send you here begging for my help?"

Styles sneered and flicked some ash onto the floor which he ground with the sole of his shoe.

"Nobody's begging, I can assure you. Well, not yet at least."

The prisoner ignored him and stood up, his whole frame shaking - his hands bunching into fists.

"Do you know what these last twenty four years have been like? Do you know what it's like to be spirited away in the middle of the night, with no chance to say good bye to your family or your friends, to not know what they've been told about you? Do you know what it's like to be incarcerated without trial on the back of something that may or may not have happened? Do you?"

"Am I to assume that those are rhetorical questions too?"

"You piece of shit!"

He went to lunge at Styles but the smaller man calmly reached into his coat and drew a pistol which he levelled at the prisoner's chest.

"Bang. You’re dead. Sit down, listen to what I have to say and stop being so emotional."

He raised his cigarette to his lips again and smiled out of the corner of his mouth.

"It’s good to see that prison doesn’t change everything about a man. You’ve been here a long time, yet despite this attempt at rehabilitation your fundamental character flaws remain intact and and as predictable as ever. Let’s face it; you always were the dramatic one, Douglas."

Hearing his name spoken for the first time in so many years was like being hit be a thunderbolt. Douglas put down one hand to steady himself and sat on the bed. Styles nodded approvingly and holstered his gun.

"Good. Now, take a look at the file. The people who sent me are willing to pardon you for what - how was it you put it? - 'may or may not have happened' in return for helping them out with their problem."

"And if I refuse?"

Styles raised an eyebrow.

"You stay here and rot for the rest of your days. And by 'rest of your days' I obviously mean until my paymasters decide that you are too old to be of any use to them. The choice of a facility whose mortality rate makes some of Stalin's gulags look like holiday camps was no coincidence. Ageing spooks have quite a short shelf life you know."

Douglas studied the file intently without looking up. Styles, seemingly content to relax in the chair with his cigarette, regarded him with the sort of hungry intent that an owl may lavish upon a fleeing mouse. Eventually the prisoner snapped the folder shut and handed it back.

"How do you know if I agree I won't make a break for it as soon as we're out of here?"

Stubbing his cigarette out on the table, Styles took the folder from Douglas and smiled nastily.

"Because we both know that while you were busy doing something that 'may or may not have happened' I was there too and doing far worse things. You remember those things, they haunt your dreams, and you know that I'm still capable of them. So that's why you won't run. Because you're a coward at heart Douglas, and you don't want your nightmares to become reality."

He cocked his head to one side.

"Well?"

Douglas stood up.

"I'll do it."
 

loki100

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Heres my comments for #1, #2 & #3, will read the other later on

First comment, and it probably says more about me than the pieces, is that both 1 & 2 are too long in the middle. They've each a really gripping start and an end that works in the context of the piece and hints at more interesting things to come. They each lost me, a bit, in the middle with detail that could have been pared down.

I really like the tone of #2, but then I like that sort of chatty complicity between author and reader.

#1 is perhaps somewhat more conventional - and none the worse for that.

#3 is a bit like a catherine wheel, there are so many ideas, similis (sp?) etc that its too busy. At the core is a great idea and its well written, but I think it would work with a 'less is more' approach - one idea per paragraph. To give an idea, I've recently seen the Algerian film Hors la loi by Rachid Bouchareb (for those interested its a pretty unflinching look at the brutal anti-colonial struggle waged by the FLN) & there are several prison cell scenes. Each works as it carries a single message/idea (the most powerful being a partially seen guillotine after a FLN militant is led out), & you have time to savour (not the right word) each before the next image hits you.
 
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J. Passepartout

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Going to do this one at a time again, like last round. I liked author #1's story. It's vague about the larger details, but that doesn't really matter in this sort of story. If it were part of a larger work I would want to know if this fine woman is one of those emancipated medieval girls of a certain kind of story, or driven to fighting by awful conditions, and it still might be interesting to know, but given what we have here stylistically, I don't think it matters which. I am curious to know whether the author is a native speaker of English because that may explain most of what I would criticize; namely, that commas and other punctuation marks are underused, especially in dialogue. It wasn't a major problem, but if you had had different wordings in some of the sentences, a lack of a comma would have made the meaning ambiguous. Especially when the speaker pauses to say a name, and a comma would show they are pausing rather than allowing us to think the name is the object of the verb or something.
 

WelshDude

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Using the name of the thread, I would like to predict that author 2 is BigBadBob.