The story of how I fell in love with writing

It’s crazy to think it’s already December of 2022. The new year is just around the corner, and like most people, it has me looking back on how my writing has developed since I first put words to paper.

For me, December 25th doesn’t just mark Christmas. It also marks the date I started writing.

December 25th in 2019 was the first time I sat down to write seriously, with the intention to publish. I distinctly remember sitting at the family dining table by myself after Christmas lunch. I opened a pages document on my laptop and began writing down the story that had been clamouring in my head for attention for months by then. 

I recall being nervous to write it. Being embarrassed that someone might see the words on my screen and realise what I was doing. It was hard enough for me to look at the screen and see what I was writing.

Somehow, I pressed past those feelings and stuck with it. Boy, am I grateful I did. In approximately six months, I had a complete manuscript and was ready to start on book two of three. The months that followed were a haze of writing, editing, and working my 9 to 5.

I thought back then my story was ready to submit to editors and agents. Fortunately, something held me back. In the almost three years since, my writing has grown and improved immeasurably. I’ve spent the past two and a half years reading, writing, researching, editing, and learning to kill my darlings.

For the time being, one of those darlings is the manuscript I sat down to write that fateful Christmas in 2019. I still believe in the story I spun, in the characters I weaved together, and the magic they brought to my life. But I know they need work.

They’re a tangible mark of how far my writing has improved in the three years since, but also of how my knowledge about the writing industry has increased. I want to share that knowledge progression with you here on this blog, to help anyone completely new to this like I was three years ago. For those not-so-new writers, I hope to share the resources I’ve found so far that have helped me.

But before I do anything else, I thought I’d share a little excerpt from the first book I’ve ever written. Obviously, I’ve edited it plenty in the years since, so the chapter you’re about to read is totally different to what I started out with. The story and the heart of my protagonist are still the same.

Below, you’ll find the first chapter of Soul’s Breath and meet the protagonist who wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote her story down.

Thank you, Evelyn Harper. I owe my writing to you.

I’ve also included the map I hand drew for this particular world. 

Happy reading!

The Eastern Continent Creator: Tahlia Engelbrecht Source: Soul's Breath (Elemental Trilogy)
The Eastern Continent, Soul's Breath (Elemental Trilogy 1); Tahlia Engelbrecht

Soul’s Breath (Elemental Trilogy 1)

CHAPTER ONE

“Here.” The young soldier thrusts a crust of stale bread into the prisoners manacled hands.

“And what am I to do with this?” The chained man asks, his voice muffled by the cloth sack secured over his head. Narrowing his eyes ever so slightly, the soldier reaches for the ties holding the bag in place.

I shift closer, too desperate to finally see the prisoner’s face to care about the sludge seeping into my clothes. After three days of crawling through muddy underbrush in pursuit of this prisoner, the cold, wet substance no longer bothers me.

I stifle a frustrated sigh when the soldier only raises the bag high enough to expose the man’s mouth. It’s the first time he’s fed the prisoner in all the days I’ve tracked them. I had hoped when he finally did, he would remove the bag fully.

How else am I to know who the prisoner is?

“Tell me,” the prisoner begins, speaking between bites. “Why do we linger in the South? For all your care to keep our whereabouts from me, I know these lands well.” The soldier frowns but remains silent. “Your King is too impatient for a delay like this. I know he wishes me dead.”

“He was your King too, once.”

My muscles go slack at the soldiers accusatory words. I don’t need to see the prisoner’s face to identify him anymore. I know exactly who the man is.

“Ah. I see. I’m to be a bargaining chip,” General Peters concludes, sounding entirely undaunted by the prospect. “What is it you hope to take from King Lucian?”

His question is met with silence.

“Or, perhaps, it is a someone, and not a thing at all,” Peters continues.

The soldier lunges to his feet, slapping the remaining food from Peters hands. He tugs the bag back into place, being careful to tie it shut properly.

“If I were you, I’d be less concerned with what my King wants and more concerned yours won’t be willing to pay.” The foreign inflection in his voice is unmistakeable, blatantly marking him a Northern soldier. He bends down, lowering his voice as he speaks his next words into the General’s ear. I have to strain to hear them. “We both know you’re practically worthless this time, traitor.”

Straightening to his six-foot-something height, the soldier summons two of his subordinates. Leaving them to watch over the General, he returns to the main part of the camp.

I wait until the guards have relaxed before moving. Pulling myself forward with my forearms, I stay close to the ground to minimise the crackle of branches and leaves. The soft squelching of mud brought on by the past few days of rain has me grimacing.

Not that I need worry. The two guards are rather ineffective, too caught up conversing with one another to hear the slight sounds of my approach. I make short work of them, utilising the minchin darts I carry on me at all times to render them unconscious. They slump to the ground, asleep before they can even register something is wrong.

My muscles clench at the dirty tactic. But considering a soldier could glance my way at any moment, I don’t have time for a fair fight.

My cold fingers are clumsy as I work the ties on the bag over Peters’ head. The General stiffens but remains quiet, undoubtedly tipped off by the sudden silence of his guards. It takes far longer than I’d like to loosen the cords enough to remove the bag, but given my hands are nearly numb, I’m just relieved I managed to untie the bag at all.

General Peters’ eyes widen when he finally catches his first glimpse of me. No doubt I resemble a walking swamp beast after so much crawling through mud.

“Evelyn,” he breathes, reaching for my hands. “How did you find me?”

“I assure you, this was entirely by accident,” I admit, offering a small smile. I give his leathery fingers a reassuring squeeze. “Let’s get you out of these chains.” I reach for the chain binding his wrists together, knowing we won’t get far if he doesn’t have his hands free for balance. I left my horse a fair way from the encampment so she wouldn’t be found by the soldiers on patrol.

“Leave my hands be,” Peters murmurs, pulling the chain from my grasp. “Help me with this instead.”

I mutter a curse when I see the chains around his ankles for the first time. An iron peg has been hammered through the metal links and the ankle cuffs. So long as the peg remains, Peters’ feet will stay trapped.

They must have added these particular precautions while I was stowing my horse. I give an experimental tug on the chain, cursing again when the peg doesn’t budge. The metal has been hammered through an old tree stump.

“You’re far too young to use words like that,” Peters chides, though the look in his eyes tells me the words are only in jest.

“And you’re far too old to constantly need saving,” I tease in return as I tug on the chain again. This isn’t the first time Peters has needed freeing from Northern soldiers, but things were very different that first time. 

“Ah, but you’d never have gained a reputation if I hadn’t needed saving.”

I grunt in response, too preoccupied with loosening Peters chains to comment on that. The General joins in and together we’re able to lift the metal an inch or two. The cold metal cuts into my palms, making me wish I had gloves.

Gritting my teeth against the pain, I keep tugging, bolstered by the support of my General.

Peters help was invaluable when we first rescued him, and he’s only continued to prove himself useful in the three years since. It’s why he’s still a General, despite having earned that rank in the Northern army.

It’s why I’m here, disobeying orders from our King, to free him.

I exhale harshly as we lift the iron peg another inch, marvelling at how firmly the wretched thing has been hammered into the wood. Surely it can’t be much deeper?

I shake my hands out, ignoring the sting of the winter air on my cut palms, before gripping the chain once more. Just as I ready myself to tug, Peters makes a soft sound of alarm.

I freeze, my eyes flicking up to meet his, just as foreign arms wrap around me.

My assailant tugs me away from the General, positioning their forearm across my throat to cut off my air supply. Their free hand flattens against my scalp, pressing my throat more firmly into their arm to hasten the choke.

Baring my teeth in irritation, I grip the wrist of their choking arm and tug on it, creating a small gap to breathe. I tuck one leg behind theirs and twist my body to the side, the sudden movement enough to toss my opponent to the ground at my feet.

I loose a quiet growl when I realise it’s the young soldier, the one who brought Peters his food, sprawled in the mud. It was clear during my days of observation that he’s the one in charge of this little military outfit.

A quick glance at the rest of the camp shows his soldiers remain unaware of my presence. As much as I would love to fight the young upstart properly, I can’t afford the attention it would bring. I reach for another minchin dart to drug him with instead, only to find my specially leather-lined pocket empty.

The soldier sweeps a leg towards me. I jump back to evade it. The young man rolls to the side, rising to his feet in one fluid motion.

That seems to be a theme with him – all his movements are liquid motion, lithe and graceful. Whoever taught him to fight trained him well.

It’s too dark to make out his features, but I can easily see his broad-shouldered silhouette in the moonlight. Perhaps I should be more wary fighting someone his size who so clearly possess the skills to best me. So long as the rest of his soldiers don’t become aware of my presence, I’m not worried. I can’t afford to be.

I lunge forward, the movement practiced and fast, jabbing a fist towards his abdomen. He blocks, but I’m already moving, meting out my next strike. I land a hit on his left shoulder, earning a glancing blow to my jaw in return. His eyes flash in the dim light, their forest green illuminated momentarily by the distant campfire. I grin, ducking under his next swing.

This is what I live for: the rush that comes every time I engage with the enemy.

I’m aware of Peters working on his chains as we fight. I silently urge him to hurry. Once he’s free, I can help us vanish into the forest – and return with backup before these Northerners can disappear over the border.

I grunt softly as the soldiers’ foot connects with my chest, knocking me back a step. The young man is skilled. Our fight is practically strike for strike, testifying to his skill.

Peters has just managed to jerk the iron peg free when the first shout goes up. I cringe as the entire camp becomes aware of my presence, and of Peters’ attempted escape. Illuminated by the small campfire, I watch as soldiers draw their swords and charge our way.

Locking eyes with my General, a conversation passes between us in the span of a heartbeat.

A fist slams into my face, hard enough blood bursts from my nose as I fall to the ground. I don’t bother retaliating. I roll to my feet and disappear into the trees instead.

It feels wrong to run, but I’m hopelessly outnumbered with twenty soldiers after me. If Peters feet weren’t chained together, we could have run together, but neither of us have the time it would take to pick the lock on his manacles. My only choice is to run now and return with help later.

Based on the conversation I overheard, it’s clear the young man is keeping Peters alive for a reason. I just have to return for the General before the Northerners decide he’s no longer of use.

I frown as I think of the young man again: I had expected him to summon his soldiers when it first became clear we were equally matched. Yet, he didn’t.

He didn’t call them at all, in fact. Almost like he was hoping to keep them unaware of our fight. To keep me from running, perhaps? But why?

A branch snaps close by, forcing me to set my questions aside. Right now, I need to focus on my escape. There will be time to think things over later.

After one final look over my shoulder, I return my focus to the thick forest before me. I disappear into the night with practiced ease, leaving the shouts and chaos far behind.

— Tahlia with an H

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