Dialogue is one of the most difficult aspects of writing. At least it is for me. First of all, there’s the punctuation. Then there’s the way a character speaks and with it, all the related mannerisms – these have to be consistent throughout. Then, is the character actually speaking at all or am I relating thoughts, not words, passing through his/her head? Then there’s the nature of the character. Good or bad? Yes. Really. It’s important to me. Is it just me?

Good characters are usually doing good things, and, quite honestly, good things can be boring. Writing is a solitary profession at the best of times and that’s only accentuated when you’re sitting there for endless periods of time trying to breathe life into these self-obsessed bloated do-gooders. Sometimes the things that they are doing are so good, they’re cringeworthy and it’s difficult not to make them sound overbearing, pompous even. Let’s be honest – it’s difficult at that point not to edit them out altogether.

As you’ve probably guessed, in PILGRIMAGE you won’t find too many of them. In fact, you might have to search fairly assiduously to find even one. I certainly hope so. Just in case you manage it though, I’m hoping that I’ve managed to redress the balance. I’ve tried in two ways.

The first is by way of humor (I know, I know… humor is very subjective, but let me put it this way: I think it’s funny), through the unstoppable vehicle of the Infamous Ninth: an impeccable military unit of finely-honed precision.

Everyone, even the best of us, has a few flaws, and it’s much more interesting to accentuate those flaws. The Ninth is definitely composed of flawed characters. I could say that those characters are multi-faceted – but multi-flawed would be a much better description. Their leader, Sir Egbert the Splendid, Illustrious Commander of the Infamous Ninth, Heir to the Principality of Gavalorn, Slayer of Base Demons, Devourer of Souls…, is a case in point. On the face of it, his decision to incorporate a certain Jorlin into their ranks, an individual who has all the hallmarks of a homicidal maniac, who cuts down the serried ranks of those sent to oppose him in a fashion akin to chaffing wheat, would definitely raise a few red flags in civilized society. Egbert however, for better or worse, has simply had enough of civilized society. Much of his time is now spent astride Widdershins, his mechanical horse, contemplating the wrongs of the world through the comforting haze of heavily laced cheroots. Just to mention in passing, Widdershins too is by no means perfect, but that’s another story. Jorlin, for his part, goes about his task with religious zeal. His simple take is that he’s dispatching his victims into an adjacent realm, where they can spend time contemplating their mistakes. He’s doing them a favor really. And I haven’t even mentioned the Ninth’s “Heavy Infantry” brigade: its experimental corps. That would be Slice and Dice, Four-balls, Rape ‘n Pillage, Cut and Thrust and Riff Raff. Carefully nurtured in the birthing pods of Chrochus. Bred for stamina, on the basis that two heads are better than one; one head sleeps while the other is awake, allowing the monstrous body that connects them to operate continuously, with seamless efficiency. Alas, no-one had really considered what might happen if both heads were awake at the same time.

Then there’s the second balancing act. The complete flip side of the coin. The ne’er do wells, the villains, those who ooze evil from every pore. Those who are just one big flaw. This is where I begin to worry. Is it just me?

Imagine, if you would, that I’m sat, not at a laptop, but at an old-fashioned typewriter. Pluck any of the dubious characters at will from the pages of PILGRIMAGE and further imagine that I’m about to start writing about them. It could be Cardinal Constantin or any one of his despicable lackeys; it could be the overzealous Kalis Assriah with her murderous charms; it could be Jherrdhi, who stalks the pages with singular intent, his porcelain features observing everything, but betraying nothing, as he pursues an agenda wholly his own; it could be the arch-schemer Jazmina, weaving a tapestry of deceit about the lesser mortals around her. Watch in dismay as my fingers dance across the keys, their movement almost too quick to follow, as the carriage slams from one side to the other without pause, as reams of completed pages flutter down over my shoulder. Of course, even I can’t envisage this – would that I could ever type so fast – but you get the picture: I seem to be allied to the Dark Side. I always preferred the Klingons to the Federation. Why did those damn Hobbits have to interfere and stop the ring getting back to Sauron? Why couldn’t Steerpike rule over Gormenghast? Wasn’t there a potion strong enough to get rid of Dr. Jekyll altogether?

I used to think that this worrying alliance was a mere figment of my imagination, but I know now, that simply isn’t the case. So please, can you offer me a few crumbs of comfort? Tell me, there are more of you out there, aren’t there? It’s not just me?