There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.
But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.
The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter.
Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.
It’s better in person
When researching a setting for a novel, Google Maps is nice in a pinch, but never better than actually being there. But if you’re writing during a pandemic, it’s super difficult to research any settings beyond your front doorstep. Especially if those settings are in Australia, which would be a honkin’ long (and miraculous) walk from Canada.
I had planned a trip to Australia in April of 2020 to make sure I could describe everything accurately in Paper & Blood, because there’s a different climate and ecosystem, independently evolved plant and animal life, and a charming accent to soak up. But air travel pretty much shut down at that time for reasons we all know, and my research trip got canceled like a gift subscription to Cauliflower Monthly.
Luckily, I was able to rely on the next best thing: Awesome Aussies helping me out. Two authors, Amie Kaufman and Nicole Hayes, were kind enough to take both still photos and videos of the areas I was interested in, and their literal legwork helped immensely.
Nicole did some driving around Glen Waverley for me, a neighbourhood outside of Melbourne, and that helped me with a crucial chapter involving wizard vans.
Amie took some friends on an actual hike in the bush for me, heading out to the Dandenong Ranges where the majority of the novel’s action takes place, and her videos were simply invaluable. I owe so many details of the area to her. She also walked through Fitzroy Gardens (in Melbourne) and up Clarendon Street for me, following the path Al and Buck take in Chapter 3.
Could I have written the book without those contributions, and relied on the Internet? Sure. But it wouldn’t have been the same book.
Always ask the locals how stuff works
Australians have organized themselves to meet the challenging (and frequent) dangers they face. The Victoria SES (State Emergency Service) is quite a bit different from emergency services I’m used to in the US and Canada: Here one usually calls 911 and the appropriate police, fire, or ambulance service gets dispatched, and if it’s anything medical in the US, yeah, you’re gonna be billed for it later. But the SES holds underneath its umbrella an association of volunteers who get trained to assist in certain roles, and they are called to local areas to help find missing hikers, or perhaps provide aid in the aftermath of a natural disaster like fires or floods. The SES, therefore, in all their orange-jumpsuited glory, would have been called in to help search for missing people in the bush of the Dandenong Ranges, along with uniformed police. I would not have known that (and therefore presented an unrealistic situation) if I hadn’t spoken with Amie about it.
Australian slang is fun as heck
In very general terms, you can shorten a noun, slap an o or a y on the end of it, and call it good. Thus football becomes “footy,” and a bottle shop (which is what they call liquor stores) is a “bottle-o.” My favorite, however, is “unco,” the shortened version of uncoordinated, usually used to describe someone (or one’s self) with low dexterity, as in “I’m too unco to hop on a skateboard without fear of death, mate.” I feel unco pretty much all the time, so I was delighted to find the perfect word for my daily existence.
Spelling doesnae matter in some cases
Scots slang continues to enchant me, and it has no settled orthography—in other words, however you decide to spell something, you’re not wrong. One of my favorite Scots words for a fight is “stooshie,” which can also be spelled “stushie” (or any other way that gets the phonetics across). It’s an adorably cute word for folks crunching fists into the teeth of other folks. But proper place names in Scotland do not necessarily follow the rule of spell-it-how-it-sounds-and-go-about-your-day. “Milngavie,” for example, is pronounced with just two syllables, like “mil-guy,” and absolutely no attention is paid to the n and the v in the middle there. For this reason, I included a pronunciation guide in an Author’s Note at the beginning of the book. It’s not required reading, but it might make the reading go a bit easier when I use terms or spellings that are outside standard usage.
I didn’t try to replicate Scots exhaustively because it might have been exhausting to read, but I wanted to use enough to get the flavor of the language across, and I owe heaping piles of thanks to Stu West for that, a Glaswegian who now lives in Canada.
A vastly entertaining side effect of becoming familiar with Scots language is that I’ve been really enjoying Scottish noir mysteries, because when Stuart MacBride writes “You look like someone left a jobbie in your corn flakes,” I know what he’s talking about.
Making good choices
This book was written from March to August of 2020, during a time when we were huddled in our homes and actually thought the pandemic might be over in a few weeks, which turned into a few months, and…haha, yeah, we’re still in it, because almost every time an elected leader had a chance to make a choice in the interest of public health, they made a choice in the interest of business or politics instead. It got me thinking about how the choices we make can have dire consequences, and we can run from them sometimes, but dang if they don’t catch up to us eventually. So Paper & Blood is full of people thinking about their past decisions and how they want to shape their future with new choices. One, in particular, is a figure last seen in The Iron Druid Chronicles. I don’t want to spoil anything, but how this figure tries to reinvent who they are by making new (perhaps better?) choices was one of the key delights in writing this book. And, by the way—you don’t have to have read the Iron Druid Chronicles, or even Ink & Sigil, to enjoy this book. There’s a handy recap of Ink & Sigil in the beginning, and everything else is pretty self-explanatory. So I hope you decided to give it a read and are happy with your choice.
Kevin Hearne is the New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, the Ink & Sigil series, the Seven Kennings trilogy, and co-author of the Tales of Pell with Delilah S. Dawson. He loves dogs, trees, and nature photography, and often quests for street tacos. When not writing novels, he writes snail mail with a fountain pen and plans road trips he can’t possibly take right now.