Fall of the Cities: Planting the Orchard
by Vance Huxley
Genre: YA Fantasy, Apocalyptic
As the government begins to seal off rioting parts of the city, Corporal Harry Miller takes an offered discharge to get his sister and her kids to safety. But he’s not fast enough. Trapped in the city with a rag-tag collection of ordinary citizens, Harry struggles to create a small pocket of stability - a place to ride out the coming confrontation between rioters and the Army, and save themselves from complete annihilation.
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English food and exactly what the men wanted. The meal was served by half a dozen women
who Harry had assumed were kitchen staff. Two were definitely waitresses, their expertise in
handling the dishes and plates was clear. The others had smocks but theirs were pale blue
unlike the kitchen staff.
After finishing his meal Harry went to find out who they were, because he knew some bloody
officer would give him grief sooner or later if they weren’t cooks. The four in question were
missing. “Who’s in charge and where are the rest of the kitchen staff?”
The portly man with the hat spoke up. “I’m the assistant cook, Cullen. This is all the kitchen
“Plus those two waitresses and then there were at least four others. Don’t piss me about,
Cullen, because I’m the reasonable sort. Some officer or sergeant will be a lot more bloody
annoyed and then give me crap as well. So who are they?” Cullen’s eyes went round the kitchen
while he worked on an answer.
“Cleaning staff sir. They daren’t go home.”
Harry turned to the young woman, one of the waitresses. “Why not? The riot is over. Is that
why you and her have stayed? The rioting?” Harry realised that he was tired and probably
sounded angry when the woman flinched back. He gentled his tone a bit. “Who are you?”
“Janina, sir. We’re all frightened to go home. Some of us have been here three days now,
expecting the place to be wrecked. Then you all turned up. Is the army here to rescue us all?”
Harry stared. Rescue them? “We’ve just landed at Heathrow and there was a riot, so we were
told to stop it. Nobody said anything about rescues. Why can’t you go home?”
The young woman looked embarrassed. “It’s the rioters sir. They go back to the estates at first
light, but, well, they’re still there. Some of them look out for women. They caught Lucja on her
way in on Wednesday, sir. The manager took her to the hospital but we haven’t been home
“What about the others? The ones who left?”
Cullen spoke up at last. “They are the ones with houses or flats in the better areas, the ones
that only get rioters at night. Most of them have got families. We’re the ones who live in digs or
on the estates.” He sighed. “The manager didn’t come back after taking Lucja.”
Harry sighed as well. He’d been totally stuffed. “How many are actually kitchen staff?” There
was a lot of hesitation and then people started shuffling about. Six kitchen staff and four not,
plus the missing four. The orders were to send them home, but Harry just couldn’t do it. Not
after what the lass, Janina, had said. “Can you manage to feed us with six if the place fills up?”
“Not really. I’m a trainee cook, though we’re called assistants. None of the real experts are left.
We can cook basic food but with six?” Cullen shrugged.
Harry looked at the worried faces and sighed again. He would get so much crap if anyone found
out. “Can you manage with fourteen, if they peel spuds or whatever?” Tentative smiles
appeared on four faces, two of each sex. “Go and bring the other four in for God’s sake. They’ll
“They can hear, sir.”
“Stop the sir. Anyone with stripes is in charge of those with nothing, but isn’t a sir. The ones
with fancy badges are in charge of us and are all sirs.” There was a scuffling and a big cupboard
opened to show four apprehensive faces. “Come out here. Can you help this lot to cook?”
“Yes sir.” That smile was three parts relief and two parts cheeky, and all five parts were very
pretty. “I’m Cynthia, sometimes known as Cyn, and I can make cheese on toast.”
Harry laughed, he had to. “Good. If you can cook porridge as well it sounds as if you’re on
breakfast duty.” Harry looked round them. “The army will want three meals a day, and possibly
something for those on duty at night, so organise yourselves. If you are all sorted by the time
anyone else asks, they won’t bother to mess you about. You’d better show me which are the
staff rooms so I can make them off limits.” Harry looked round. “Do you all live in?”
There was a lot of feet shuffling and glances one to another. “There aren’t any staff quarters.
Some of us have been staying but we’re supposed to go home after shifts.” Cullen looked
defensive. “If we go home we might not get back.”
“Only the manager lives in. Lived in because he left. He’s got a flat and there’s two bedrooms in
there.” Cynthia smiled. “We know because we have to clean them as well.”
Harry made a quick decision. The officers wanted staff, and this way there would be cooks here
twenty‐four seven. “Are there settees in there, or maybe room for a mattress on the floor? If
not you need to take over the nearest room and make it look like a staff bedroom.” Harry
smiled. “Throw out the flower vases and posh soap and hang up some undies in the bathroom.”
There was a mixed response to that. “What’s wrong?”
“Most of us haven’t got any more clothes so we sleep in separate rooms. We’ve been washing
clothes out at night, but if we’re all living together?” Cullen looked around. “Your soldiers might
like the idea of seeing them running around while their undies are hung up to dry, but I doubt
they’ll return the interest.” He patted his large, round stomach. “I doubt they’ll appreciate this
either. Not exactly the body beautiful.” Cullen was trying to make light of it and some were
smiling but some were still very worried.
“The manager’s family must have left clothes, and what about the last guests? Those we told to
leave didn’t all take suitcases.” Most of the faces looked happier but one went scarlet.
Cullen glanced at her but spoke to Harry. “Some of our customers don’t have suitcases. They
only rent for a few hours and don’t leave together.”
Harry looked at the red‐faced one. “On the game?”
“Yes.” It was a whisper. “Do I have to leave? I’m in here because none of us are walking the
streets now. Those bastards don’t care why you’re out there, and they don’t pay either.”
“Don’t look for business in here. This lot are fresh back from Kuwait and you’ll start a bloody
riot. Then some officer will throw you out. Now all get into the proper uniforms and raid the
rooms for whatever you need.” There was still some hesitation. “What now?”
“Martial Law. We can be shot for looting.”
“Requisitioned for army use, just don’t list exactly what clothing you take.” Harry caught the
sparkle in Cynthia’s eyes. “Especially you, I reckon.” He hesitated. “Sort out the uniforms,
tunics, whatever, and I’ll get a couple of sensible blokes to stop anyone else asking difficult
working in many different fields – including the building and rail industries, as a workshop
manager, trouble‐shooter for an engineering firm, accountancy, cafe proprietor, and graphic
artist. He also spent time in other jobs, and is proud of never being dismissed, and only
once made redundant.
Eventually he found his Noeline, but unfortunately she died much too young. To help with the
aftermath, Vance tried writing though without any real structure. As an editor and beta readers
explained the difference between words and books, he tried again.
Now he tries to type as often as possible in spite of the assistance of his cats, since his legs no
longer work well enough to allow anything more strenuous. An avid reader of sci‐fi, fantasy and
adventure novels, his writing tends towards those genres.
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People who complain about waiting when attending appointments at hospitals. The NHS (National Health Service) is FREE! They are getting top class medical treatment, drugs and equipment for nothing. If they don't have a way to get there, the NHS send a FREE car or ambulance. If they end up sitting in a waiting room for an hour or two, so what?
Politicians who are more interested in clever quotes, or causing trouble, or fighting for influence or power, than in doing the job we elect them for.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Hard to stick to 10: So, (not in any particular order)
S. E. Stirling
and Vance Huxley? :-)
What inspired you to write this book?
An article about how the Gulf States, China and Russia were building super-refineries, and a comparison with the existing ones in India, Russia and Venezuela. It occurred to me that, within twenty years, up to half the world's refining would be carried out at a handful of refineries, and how vulnerable refineries are to simple sugar rockets. What would happen if all of them were attacked at the same time. Why would they all be attacked. The attack on the Russian Parliament showed how vulnerable our democratic representatives are, and the idea grew.
What can we expect from you in the future?
The rest of this series, Fall of the Cities.
I am also writing a series about teenagers who discover magic, in a world where the church and sorcerers conspired to keep knowledge of magic from most of the population. Since most magical creatures are invisible unless a human connects with the magic we all have, our world is actually overrun.
There are also the bones of at least twenty more books or series on my computer.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
Not in these series, or not yet. The nearest is an idea for a book about a character in Fall of the Cities who disappears in book one but returns in the last two books. I know the back histories of all the characters in my books, so side stories wouldn't be difficult but I'm busy with the main story.
I have the drafts of at least twenty books or series on my computer, and there are 'side stories' in some of them.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Hull but we moved when I was four because my sister was ill. The doctor warned my parents that the smog at that time (1950) would have killed her. I grew up in a succession of tied houses out in the Lincolnshire countryside because my dad worked as a farm labourer.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
On my electric scooter, with a flask and sandwiches, out in the countryside with my dog.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
Erratic, and most people's worst nightmare. I don't like either flattery or people who dress up their own agenda as 'in the public interest.' I haven't the faintest idea what would sort out the current world problems, because there are too many people, not enough resources, too much easily avoidable pollution (like plastic wrappings), and too many entrenched interests that would fight any real change. I'd end up saying the wrong thing and we'd have a Thomas Beckitt moment. (King Henry II - "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" - and someone did - with a sword - oops.)
Mine could be something like "as far as I can see the only practical way to fix the world population is nerve gas." I might not intend doing it, but there'd be a lot of people wanting to curry favour with a world ruler.
Describe your writing style.
Erratic. I get an idea, charge off and follow it, find it doesn't work, either invent a way round it or a new character, or backtrack and zoom off again. Sometimes I write two pages and shelve the whole idea for later, in a year or five when I've written other books.
In my books, minor characters grow on me, and supposedly major characters wither and die (or I kill them). I'd no idea who Zephyr on Ferryl Shayde would become, or Patty in Cities. If I falter, I put that work aside and write an entirely different book, in a different genre, then come back to the first one and suddenly I can see the way forward.
I'm trying very hard to be a bit more structured, even writing a rough (very rough) outline of where the story will go in book three or six. I know the end of Fall of the Cities, and the end of the Ferryl Shayde series, though I didn't when I wrote the first ones.
What makes a good story?
Tell me if you find out - please?
What are you passionate about these days?
The sheer stupidity and short-sightedness of those we elect, more interested in bickering and fighting for power than actually combining to fix the country's problems.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Walk my dog (using an electric scooter) or read. I often buy the 99p collections on Kindle because I get to find 'new' authors and off-beat ideas.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I wrote for myself, not to become an author. After writing nearly 3 million words, I felt better. While talking to other dog walkers about some of the ideas in my writing, they suggested I made them into books. The first attempt was, according to one beta, a boring travelogue. (That was a good review - he actually read it all). I spent a year, and a lot of money, passing files back and forth to an editor, Sharon Umbaugh in Hawaii, and slowly learned the difference between words and stories.
I finally wrote a book in the 'new' style and sent it to Goodreads for beta reading. It was still an exercise in finding out how to write a book. I am a private person and had no intention of exposing my work to actual publication. The betas liked the book, and shortly afterwards Rachel at Entrada emailed me and offered a publishing contract. That came as a shock, but I was hardly going to say no. That was seven books ago.
I'm still learning to be an author, and hope each book is a little better than the last. I'm enjoying writing, so it must have been the right thing to do even if I didn't plan on it.
A day in the life of the author?
From an outsider’s viewpoint: Sit in front of computer screen because I can't walk far. Read or type, because my eyes can't handle moving images. Keep the curtains shut because glare gives me migraines. Pet the dog and cats. Walk the dog (with an electric scooter). Feed me and the dog and cats (microwave rules!)
Actually: I stride or ride through exotic or ruined landscapes, full of violence, adventure, magic or fantastic scenery and people (that's in my head, so I try to write it down).
There's a poem called Enablement by John Shillito that kinda covers it.
Advice they would give new authors?
I am a new author myself, but here goes:
Write. Lots and lots about anything and everything. Then get your work beta read, pay attention to the reports, and adapt. Once the betas like it, (or two out of three :-), invest in an editor.
If nobody wants your first book, write another (and another). Write because you enjoy it, not for fame or fortune because you probably won't get either. If you are doing it properly, writing will cost you (mainly editing). If you don't enjoy writing, change how you do it or stop.
What are they currently reading?
The Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
Blood of the Earth (Soulwood) by Faith Hunter
Star Crusades - Black Widows
Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
How long have you been writing?
Five years. I wrote for three years but not as books, more as a learning exercise and to occupy myself. My first book, Fall of the Cities I - Planting the Orchard, was published in late 2015, two years and six books ago.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I get an idea, and it sort of rolls about in my head for a while. If it firms up I start to write. Some of the part-books on my computer are half a dozen key scenes that need a world and scenario fitting around them. Others are ten lines, or six thousand words. Fall of the Cities started in my head as some of the events in book IV, but the scenario they happened in had to develop first. Thinking of how that world came about gave me book one, and away we went.
I've got a rough outline of the series now, but the detail lives in my head and is still evolving.
Chapters happen, I never plan them (Ask my editor :-).
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I start a book with a small cast of characters, maybe only one though he or she soon has companions. As the book progresses, those characters and the situations they are in need more characters. I tend to name even minor characters, so if they catch my author eye they can grow and play a larger part in the book. A few actually change the course of the writing.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
Very little. I research as I write, to suit each situation. My internet searches are probably in a big red file in the Secret Services building (MI5). How to build a pipe bomb. What size and distribution of nuclear devices will destroy London the most efficiently. Will a slash or stab incapacitate the victim longer and which takes longest to heal.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
There was a man, and a woman, and a meeting. Neither are what they seem, and both have walked the valley of death on their way to this day. Sparks, and something changes for both of them. But how did their world get so dark and why were they, and everyone else, left in this situation. Cue an article on giant oil refineries, proposing that in twenty years half of the world's refining could be done in less than ten refineries.
Why would someone want to destroy them? That would cause chaos, and starvation because vast amounts of food are shipped to the populations in cities. If the someone wanted chaos, and to cut the world population, how would they stop governments reacting? Kill them. A plane full of explosives into a Joint Session of Congress, a pocket nuke under the Russian Parliament, a Chechen suicide squad storming the Kremlin, nerve gas in a meeting of the Chinese leadership. It would only take a few days without firm leadership for panic to hit, and if the likes of ISI took their chance?
How long would it take to plan that? How many plotters......
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Writing the first complete draft. It's exciting, getting the idea down while it is still fresh. The multiple edits and rewrites just aren't as much fun.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Harold comes from a broken home and joined the Army to escape. He learned to shoot in a rifle club but finds out he can't pull the trigger with a human in the sights. When he finally has to find a way, he has nightmares about his victims. Then his big sister and her kids are in danger so he finds a way to justify his killing, to protect others, but he never really comes to terms with it.
Liz the smith only learned to work metal to make ornaments and meet blacksmiths because muscles turn her on. She is very strong for a woman, and mad as hell about the local scroats, but when she tries to do something about it she can't. She freezes, can't even defend herself, and it eats at her. Instead she cracks jokes, and makes the nastiest weapons she can so the likes of Soldier Boy can kill the scroats for her.
Casper the Gay Giant, or Orchard Fairy as he calls himself, never really came out properly. His parents disapproved, and he didn't like the flamboyantly gay scene so he lived quietly on his own. Then he met Harold, who rescued him and didn't care if Casper was gay as long as he'd help him hide a body. Casper makes gay jokes about kidnapping lumberjacks, and threatens gangsters with gay searches, in some sort of euphoria because he's out of the closet and none of these people mind. He loves them for it, and would die for any one of them.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not yet, I'm still working on it.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
I came up with 'Planting the Orchard' because the refugees arrive in a road called Orchard Close, where they dig in and fortify. The series name, Fall of the Cities, came later and describes what is happening to them and others.
Do you see writing as a career?
No. I'm seventy and retired (allegedly). I'll write as long as I can, because now I've started I have lots of ideas. With a bit of luck I won't leave a series part-finished, but if so I hope someone finishes it. I've told my daughter where to find all my storylines.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
That hasn't been out long enough for me to have regrets. :-) I would change something in my first book, Fall of the Cities - Planting the Orchard, if I could. The opening is very military, to introduce the main character, but the series is about a disparate group of civilians struggling to survive. If I could redo it, I would write the opening scenes as a flashback later in the book.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I've found that magical entities can have emotions just like people.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Unknown UK actors and actresses from the locations in the book (mainly around Birmingham) so they naturally spoke with the right accents. I dislike many of Hollywood's attempts to copy an accent, and many famous actors 'colour' their roles with their perceived personas.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Please write reviews. Even if you don't give the book many stars, I'd love to know why because I'm still learning. I'm sure other authors feel the same.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
Sheer bedlam. There are so many books being published every month that the better ones are simply swamped unless the author is very lucky. Unfortunately many self-published books are not edited properly (though others are superb), so taking a dive into the unknown can result in reading a book that is really hard work. That doesn't encourage new readers to keep trying.
Do you have a favorite movie? Which of your novels can you imagine made into
It has been many years since I saw a movie because moving images give me migraines (no TV for me :-). I loved Top Gun, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Either Fall of the Cities or Ferryl Shayde would, I believe, make a good film. A disaster movie and a YA Fantasy.
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