It’s time to set sail:

Okay, I think I’ve waited long enough.

Four hundred years ago, when control of the world came to depend on naval power as never before, a courageous few set off on journeys of discovery and conquest that would alter the fates of nations in ways no-one could imagine. But once they’d sailed the seven seas, what if they found another?

This is the question that Charlotte Ashley, the largely unlinkable-to Kurt Hunt (spoiler: that’s not a link) and myself have decided to answer. With three episodes available to readers by browser, email and ebook each month, ARCHIPELAGO is a collaborative, competitive, interactive historical fantasy adventure serial — but perhaps that mighty mouthful needs some clarifying.

We are setting out into unknown waters of our own creation, each guiding one of three groups of unwitting rivals towards inevitable conflict when they finally cross paths. But even though we’re in control, exactly what will happen on the way is out of our hands, because our readers will be able to influence the course of events via monthly polls: White Pearls inject some random element into our narratives; Blood Pearls will dominate an entire episode; and the dreaded Black Pearls will critically alter the entire story world…

In my last post I briefly introduced my collaborators, so this time I’m going to do the same for the factions whose stories we’ll be writing.

Our setting is the early 17th Century, and with the last gasps of my national pride I’ve breathed life into a band of plucky English privateers — pirates, by any other name — authorised by King James I to plunder the silver fleets of Spain as they pass through the Caribbean. Yet with victory at hand, disaster strikes: a vast portal opens on the ocean’s surface, sucking friend and foe alike towards a seemingly terrible fate. With his ship unable to resist the overwhelming vortex, one captain orders his crew to prepare themselves for whatever lies beyond — which may be death.

Check out part one of my storyline now for free: IN EXTREMIS.

Kurt Hunt has chosen the fledgling colonies of North America as his jumping off point. The first attempts by the English to settle the New World were disastrous: all the colonists of Roanoke disappeared without trace, but that may be preferable to what happened in Jamestown twenty years later. The Jamestown survivors face a long journey back to England, where their actions will never be understood, nor accepted, but their fate is diverted by rumours of the impossible… and maybe answers to the mystery of what befell those lost on Roanoke Island.

Check out part one of Kurt’s storyline now for free: WHATSOEVER IS NEW.

Finally, Charlotte Ashley takes us to Mogadishu, capital of Somalia and heart of the Ajuran Sultanate, from which a new Islamic culture is about to spring. When an apprentice engineer witnesses the destructive opening of a magical portal in the city’s harbour, he fights to make himself worthy of being the first of the Sultaan’s subjects permitted to cross to the other side — and with a Portuguese war fleet bearing down on his home, he may be the only one who can deliver his people from the hands of the early European empire builders!

Part one of Charlotte’s storyline is being guest-hosted at Black Gate now: THE UR-RING.

Charlotte’s story at Black Gate is prefaced by one of two great interviews she’s done to promote the project’s launch: the other can be found at the blog Books and Tea, where she talks about the themes we want to explore and our intentions as we prepare for future episodes.

SO (I hear you scream) HOW CAN I READ MORE?

The launch stories will be permanently free-to-read on the main site, but starting next month new episodes will be going up three times a month for the eyes of subscribers only. For a $1 subscription you’ll be able to read it all in the browser and your inbox, but for $2 you’ll receive early access to each month’s content via a fancy-pants ebook — and there are opportunities for even deeper involvement coming later in our first year. Check the options out here.

Finally, we’re running a promotional Kickstarter campaign until the end of May, offering digital exclusives in return for donations to help us hit the ground running: themed wallpapers for the device of your choice, plus an ebook containing the three launch stories, a world guide, character profiles, and a trio of exclusive prequel stories not available anywhere else.

It’s going great guns: we hit our £100 target in less than twelve hours, and with ten days to go we’re over halfway to hitting our £500 stretch goal, which will fund cover art for the Year One book release and unlock a digital poster of it as a gift to our backers — why not get in on that?

I think that’s enough linkage for one day, don’t you? Charlotte, Kurt and I hope you’ll take a look at what we’re starting here, and if you like what you see, come get involved!

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