A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the pressures of writing a book a year, and how you have to start thinking about what to write next even whilst you’re working on your current novel. I still believe what I wrote in that post, and in fact I’ve been putting it into practice over the past few months.
At the time of the original post (summer 2011) I was four months into a contract that would see my trilogy being published at 8-10 month intervals during 2012 and 2013, so I was totally focused on those books. As of February this year, however, I handed in the final book in the trilogy and found myself with no deadlines for the first time since late 2010! This was an intoxicating feeling, but I knew it wouldn’t last for long because I still had to do one final revision pass on The Prince of Lies. Still, it marked the beginning of a transition period, when I was able—even obliged—to begin dividing my attention between the outgoing project and my plans for the next book.
Fortunately, as per my blog post, I had already started a notebook in which I jotted down my initial ideas. It was all very vague: based on my experience of writing the Night’s Masque trilogy, I knew I wanted to continue writing urban-based fantasy with a historical flavour (though not necessarily in a real-world setting), but I didn’t want to commit to anything beyond that. So, I simply jotted down ideas for characters, setting and plot as they came to me, without making any decisions as to which one was best.
I did this throughout February and accumulated a bunch of new ideas, as well as digging through trunk novels and their associated worldbuilding to see what I could reuse. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t come up with anything, because I’d been so focused on the Elizabethan stuff for the past five years, but that concern was misplaced. Once I let my Muse out of her cage, she really went for it, spewing out character backstories and plot ideas as if a dam had been burst (apologies for the mixed metaphors). Most importantly, the “gestation” period imposes a kind of “survival of the fittest” selection pressure on my ideas. If my Muse keeps gnawing on an idea even though my conscious mind has tried to discard it, that’s probably a clue that I ought to pursue it!
This month I’m back into editing mode on The Prince of Lies, which means that I have to put this new project on the backburner for a few weeks. After that, though, it’s all over for Night’s Masque bar the usual round of publicity when it comes out. That’s when I find out if my lengthy brewing of ideas has produced a firm basis for a new fantasy series. I’m pretty sure it has – and I’m looking forward to applying all the experience I gained in the past five years to the creation of new novels. I’m also looking forward to sharing it with you guys, but that’s going to take a lot longer, since I have to write—and sell—the damned thing first!
You know, I really can’t believe it’s only been eight months since my first novel came out – it’s been such a crazy hectic year, I feel like I’ve been doing this forever! And yet…today is the day that most editions of The Merchant of Dreams officially see the light of day (just waiting on the UK paperback which, owing to distribution schedules, won’t be out until 3rd January).
Back in the summer, after the manuscript was handed in and being copyedited, I started getting really nervous about how it would be received. Not because I thought it was terrible, or because it’s markedly different from the first (it isn’t), but there’s always the fear that you were a one-hit wonder and that the book you dashed off in under a year cannot possibly match up to the one you poured your heart and soul into for five times that long.
Apparently I needn’t have worried. Merchant has been getting some glowing reviews, most of which reckon it’s actually better than Alchemist. Maybe it’s the pirates, maybe it’s the steamy sex (well, steamier than the first book at any rate), but whatever it is, I’m just awfully relieved that readers are enjoying it!
Meanwhile The Alchemist of Souls is still humming along – it’s been chosen as the Nov/Dec read by The Book Club on Goodreads, and I’ll be recording a podcast in January with Steve Aryan.
If you have any questions about either book, I’m doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit on Friday 21st December – do come along and join in!
* Christmas Market – a fun bit of flash fiction for Literary Escapism, in which I take Mal Christmas shopping in Cambridge. Includes a contest to win copies of both The Alchemist of Souls and The Merchant of Dreams!
This year was my fourth FantasyCon and the second one in Brighton. As ever it was an excellent convention, with the added advantage of a great location by the sea.
Having been unimpressed by last year’s venue, I booked into the nearby Queen’s Hotel. It’s another old hotel like the Albion so the room was a touch shabby, but clean and spacious—and with a sea view at no extra charge. The fact that my room number was 101 was a little disturbing, but nothing ominous happened over the weekend, thankfully!
As often seems to happen at FantasyCon, I failed to attend much of the programming. There were a few reasons for this. In the case of the panels, there weren’t a great many, and they fell into three categories: the “how to” ones for aspiring writers (no longer of much use to me!), the once-interesting topics that I’ve seen again and again and sometimes even participated in (gender in fantasy – yawn), and topics I’m just not that interested in (anything about horror, for starters). So, not necessarily a bad selection, just not of much interest to me. As for readings, they were once again held in the small room on the front of the hotel that gets baking hot whenever the sun shines; it was bad enough in there at my own 11am reading, so I didn’t feel inclined to suffer a second time! That said, the reading went very well, and I got some good questions from the audience.
Mostly I hung out in the Regency bar (much less hot and stuffy than the seafront lounge), catching up with the multitude of friends I’ve met at previous Eastercons. This is getting harder and harder, as I know so many people now—my sincere apologies to anyone I missed! I went to the mass signing and got my copy of Before They Are Hanged signed by Joe Abercrombie, and although I didn’t have a formal signing session of my own I ended up signing several copies of The Alchemist of Souls just through being approached by readers (mostly friends, admittedly!). Also, Lee from Angry Robot gave me another set of author copies, this time CD boxed sets of the audio version, so I dare say I’ll be giving away one of those. Watch this space!
The one type of event I do try and catch is the Guest of Honour interview, and as usual these didn’t disappoint. I only made it to the Mark Gatiss interview, but apparently the rest were excellent as well. Gatiss was interviewed by Mark Morris, and the result was a long train of entertaining anecdotes covering his dual career as actor and writer. I particularly recall his description of being cast as Doctor Lazarus in Doctor Who; he said that the original script read “Lazarus emerges from the capsule, a blond Adonis”, but the final version that they filmed just said “Lazarus emerges from the capsule”! He also mentioned how much fun it was in Sherlock, playing around with people’s expectations that he would be playing Moriarty, e.g. Mycroft’s line about being Sherlock’s worst enemy.
I ducked out of the convention for a couple of hours after that, firstly to have my now-traditional fish’n'chips on the promenade—a somewhat surreal experience, with the full moon overhead and a motionless carousel playing traditional fairground calliope music—and secondly to watch the Doctor Who season finale on TV in my hotel room (unlike Eastercon last year, they didn’t show it at the convention itself). Add in a cup of tea whilst watching the telly, and my evening was about as English as you can get!
Saturday ended with the now-traditional FantasyCon Disco in the bar, ably hosted by Rio Youers and Guy Adams, with a little help from Sarah Pinborough. We danced and sweated from 10.30pm until the wee hours, though I confess that I bailed at 2am with aching feet. Still, I got off more lightly than Tom Pollock, who won his dance-off against Joe Abercrombie despite a sprained ankle which swelled up horribly the next morning.
On Sunday I had another official duty, and this time something that I couldn’t announce in advance. About a fortnight before the convention I got an email from fellow debut author Kameron Hurley, asking if I would accept the Sydney J Bounds Best Newcomer Award on her behalf, since she wasn’t able to make it to the UK. Thankfully all I had to do was introduce the video of her acceptance speech, but it was still somewhat nerve-wracking and I was relieved when all the photography was over! Nonetheless it was a huge honour to do it, and my thanks and congratulations to Kameron, who is now a multi-award-winning author on this side of the Atlantic.
It wasn’t all convention activity this weekend, though. Brighton is a great place to shop, and so I came home with two pairs of Terra Plana trainers (one pair free in the sale), a beautiful suede handbag and more Montezuma chocolate than was entirely sensible. Also, after the convention’s Dead Dog Party had begun to wind down, I went out to dinner with Lou Morgan, Adam Christopher and Will Hill, for steak, prawns, wings and a huge maple-pecan-brownie ice cream sundae (Lou and I shared it because, you know, we’re not total pigs!). A lovely end to a great convention; can’t wait for World Fantasy in Brighton next autumn!
A few days ago I flew out to Chicago for my first US convention, Chicon 7 (aka Worldcon 2012), the 70th World Science Fiction Convention. I was very excited about it, mainly because it was a chance to finally meet a whole bunch of writer friends from the other side of the Pond, as well as being only my second trip to the States. For starters, I got to meet fellow Angry Robot authors Chuck Wendig, Madeline Ashby, Lee Collins, Matt Forbeck and Wesley Chu; Wes is a local, so he took us along to a restaurant for the obligatory Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (though I have to confess I much prefer New York style thin crust).
I had a busy schedule at the convention: reading and signing sessions, as well as three panels. The first panel, on Writing Gender Roles in Science Fiction (and fantasy – we didn’t confine ourselves to SF) was at 9am on Friday morning, and I was feeling both jetlagged and hungover—the latter a result of staying up late drinking scotch and chatting with Doug Hulick and a bunch of fencers. I was therefore not really on top form, especially when it came to giving examples of good gender writing in fantasy; indeed my main interest in the topic is down to the paucity of same, particularly in epic fantasy. That’s not to say that epic fantasy is uniformly bad in this respect, but picking out books worth recommending is another matter entirely.
My second panel, on Constructed Languages in Science Fiction and Fantasy, was rather less stressful, and it was awesome to find myself sitting next to moderator David Peterson, who created the Dothraki language for the Game of Thrones TV show. I only wish I had had time to talk linguistics with David outside the panel, as he chose to focus on general advice for writers rather than a technical discussion of language design. Finally I did a panel on Saturday morning called Why I Love My Editor. Since I only have one book out, I didn’t have any horror stories of errors that made it into print, but I was able to talk about my own editing process and of course about the pleasures of working with Marc and Lee of Angry Robot.
In addition to sitting on panels I also attended a few. Violence in Fantasy, moderated by Scott Lynch, was entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking, as was Vivid Character Building. The latter panel’s members (Kay Kenyon, Carol Berg, Brian Thomas Schmidt, Teresa Frohock and Randy Henderson) had a wide variety of approaches to the topic, which is always helpful. I only wish I’d made more notes! The other really good event I attended was a one-man talk by Ramez Naam, one of Angry Robot’s newest authors, on Merging Mind and Machine. This was a look at past research, current technologies and possibilities for the future—all utterly fascinating.
Of course conventions aren’t just about the formal programme. For new authors like myself, they’re a great opportunity to meet one’s peer group and network informally, particularly in the bar! Mostly it’s just sitting around drinking and talking, but one night I did get roped into a silly card game called “Apples to Apples”. I won my first round out of sheer beginner’s luck, but Mur won the game overall. (Apologies for the terrible photo, which was taken with my phone.)
One of the most awesome parts of networking is getting to meet so many people who, until now, were just names on book spines. For example, the night after I saw him on a panel, I met Scott Lynch and just about managed to rein in my fan-girl reaction when he said that my book was on his TBR list! And in addition to Mur Lafferty, I got to meet a couple of other favourite podcasters: Howard Tayler and Mary Robinette Kowal of Writing Excuses. I also spoke to Elizabeth Bear, Carol Berg, Saladin Ahmed…the list just goes on.
As well as these famous names, I hung out a good deal with fellow debut authors Doug Hulick, Mike Cole, Kameron Hurley, Teresa Frohock, Courtney Shafer, Brad Beaulieu and Mazarkis Williams, drank some more whisky and ate dried crickets and mealworms at the Night Shade Books room party. It was all Kameron’s idea, since her book has bugs in; you were challenged to eat a bug in order to get a free book. I didn’t need any more books, but I ate some of the bugs anyone, just out of curiosity. For the record, the cricket was very dry and felt like it stuck in the back of my throat, but the mealworms were quite nice.
No convention would be complete without a tour of the dealers’ room. I’m afraid I went a bit mad and ended up with three t-shirts, two books (a secondhand paperback of Shadowspawn by Andrew Offutt and a personalised signed copy of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal), two necklace-and-earring sets and a steampunk pocket watch! I could easily have spent twice as much, but I didn’t want to over-stuff my suitcase and get charged for it.
On Sunday I took a day off from the convention to spend time with my husband (who came to Chicago but didn’t want to attend the con). We had a lie-in and a late breakfast, then walked through Grant Park in search of entertainment and culture. On the way I spotted a remarkably russet-coloured grey squirrel; like most urban park squirrels he was quite tame and came closer when called. Not too close, however, especially once he worked out we didn’t have any food for him!
We were going to go to the Chicago Institute of Art, but there was a horrendously long queue and it was a hot sticky day so we ventured further south. Eventually we reached the Field Museum, which specialises in anthropology and zoology—two of my favourite topics! The museum is enormous, and I could happily have spent at least a day looking around it, probably more. Sadly the Genghis Khan exhibition was sold out, but there was plenty to see in the extensive Native American galleries. All the major cultures of the Americas are covered, with artefacts ranging from Aztec gold and jade to woven baskets from the Pacific Northwest, and even replica houses.
At the museum shop I bought a book about pre-Columbian America and a hand-carved stone fetish. This little fellow now has pride of place on my desk, and I hope he will bring me some fox-like cunning to aid my storytelling
Sadly I was too exhausted from my tourist day to attend the Hugo awards, so I didn’t get to meet Neil Gaiman. Still, I did meet nearly everyone else I had hoped to, and more besides. All in all it was a fantastic convention, possibly the best I’ve attended so far, with a great programme of events and an amazing guest lineup. Apologies to anyone whose name I have omitted; there were just too many to list.
We flew back to England on Tuesday; I was happy to be going home, but sad to be saying goodbye to so many new friends. However World Fantasy is in Brighton next year and, better yet, London has won the bid to host Worldcon 2014, which hopefully means that some of them will be coming over to visit. I know I can’t wait…
An unexpected post today, as I belatedly* received my Worldcon schedule this morning!
Thursday 30th August
Friday 31st August
9-10.30am Panel: Writing gender roles in science fiction
1.30-3pm Panel: “To Be” or not “To Be”: constructed languages in SF&F
Saturday 1st September
10.30am-12pm Panel: Why I love my editor
So, a busy couple of days at first, then I’ll be chilling out on Sunday so that I can enjoy the rest of the con without collapsing in a heap!
* I didn’t receive my confirmation email at the same time as everyone else – must have been lost in the ether, or perhaps caught in a spam trap? – so on impulse I contacted the organisers yesterday, just in case. So glad I did!
Justin Landon of Staffer’s Musings is holding a special blog event this July, Debut Authorpalooza, which will showcase the work of ten debut fantasy authors from 2011/12, including yours truly. Visit Staffer’s Musings on the dates below to read about the trials of writing the second novel in a series, read exclusive extracts from forthcoming novels, and enter giveaways. Yep, that’s the first public release of Chapter One of The Merchant of Dreams, plus a chance to win copies of my books!
There will also be an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on the evening of July 19th (7pm CST, i.e. 1am the following morning UK time), where you can ask us all questions. Since it’s at a crazy time on this side of the Pond, I’m not sure if I’ll be around during the actual session, but will definitely drop by as soon as I get up the next morning to answer any questions. So, fire away!
The ten authors will be contributing guest posts as follows:
7/16: Mark Lawrence
7/17: Kameron Hurley
7/18: Elspeth Cooper
7/19: Courtney Schafer
7/20: Stina Leicht
7/23: Teresa Frohock
7/24: Mazarkis Williams
7/25: Bradley Beaulieu
7/26: Anne Lyle
7/27: Doug Hulick
So, don’t forget to drop by Justin’s blog and Reddit to find out more, and good luck!
One of my favourite UK conventions is AltFiction, a relatively small event based in the East Midlands and focusing more than most on writing and writers. I first attended last year, when it took place in Derby, but this year it moved to what I understand will be its regular venue in future, the Phoenix Arts Centre in Leicester. The convention is a day and a half long (all day Saturday, plus Sunday morning), with a packed programme of events.
My first day at the convention was pretty quiet – I had no panels or other appearances booked for Saturday – so I was free to mooch around, attend a couple of talks, and most importantly, catch up with a bunch of friends I had missed at Eastercon. In fact it was surprising how many Eastercon attendees managed to make it to another convention only a week later, especially given that many of them had been adamant a few weeks before that they couldn’t possibly do two conventions in a row! I think it’s a testament to the affection in which AltFiction is held that people turn up when they could be have a well-earned weekend at home.
The first panel I attended was “Not another f*cking elf!”, in which Paul Cornell, Emma Newman, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jenni Hill debated the well-worn fantasy races and how attitudes to them had changed over the years. It was entertaining and occasionally quite erudite, and the only downside was that many people had to be turned away as it was held in a tiny room with only about two dozen chairs. This turned out to be a significant problem of the venue – the huge size difference in rooms meant that the large one might be sparsely populated whilst the small one was overflowing. I’m sure the organisers tried to predict which panels would be most popular, but people can be contrary!
The afternoon panels were less successful. I went to one on genre TV which mostly discussed one-off mini-series that I’d never seen, pretty much ignoring all the big-name shows. Whilst I appreciate that shows like Doctor Who may have been discussed to death in other conventions, a panel that focused on British SFF shows and their mainstream appeal, and then totally ignored the success of Life on Mars and Being Human in favour of obscure titles, failed in my opinion to entertain – and I have to say that I blame the moderator, Steve Volk, for the narrow focus of the discussion. The other panel, writing as a day-job, was equally off-topic, in that none of the panelists earned a living as a writer, they simply didn’t have a day-job (for various reasons, such as unemployment). Anyone hoping to quit their day-job would have been better off going to Mark Chadbourn’s “workshop” (really a talk) on the business of writing, but numbers were limited and you had to sign up for it.
The evening passed in usual convention style, i.e. a bit of milling around whilst you and your friends sort out which restaurant you’re going to for dinner, followed by dinner itself (in our case, a good but unremarkable curry) and then back to the hotel bar. Most of us were staying at the Ramada Encore, only a few minutes’ walk from the venue – it was modern, clean and not too expensive, although the tea (at breakfast and in the bedrooms) was as terrible as one usually expects from a three-star hotel. Much better tea – and very reasonably-priced, good quality food – was available at the venue itself.
Although there were few book stalls, and none selling The Alchemist of Souls, I was asked to sign a few copies that had been brought along by friends. It was great to finally get to meet people I’d previously only known online, including book blogger Erik Lundqvist and my newest beta reader, Fatihah Iman.
The convention resumed late on Sunday morning, and I had a panel at noon on diversity in fantasy, with Mark Charan Newton, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Sarah Cawkwell. Mark was our moderator and came well-prepared with a long list of notes and questions on his iPad, and under his guidance our discussion covered a whole gamut of topics – gender, sexuality and race – with regard to the books themselves, the authors and the fans. The panel was well-attended and seemed to go down well with the audience, and for me made a satisfying end to a short but sweet convention.
Next year, thankfully, AltFiction will be in late May, thus avoiding butting up against Eastercon, which will make it even more of a must-do convention. See you there?
As an aside, the Discover Festival that was due to take place in Coalville in May has been cancelled by the organiser, so I won’t be in the Midlands again until Edge-Lit in Derby, in July.
It’s not often you achieve a lifetime goal – I think the last time I could say that, hand on heart, was when I graduated – but today is one of those days. The novel that I laboured over for more than four years has finally gone out into the world, or at least those parts of it that own Kindles or are within reach of my publishers’ North American distribution chain.
It’s been a funny old day so far. I was warned not to expect anything terribly exciting or life-changing, and to be honest it hasn’t been much different from any of the other days in the run-up to release. Some of my friends have congratulated me on Twitter; Lee Harris at Angry Robot showed off a photo of this month’s new titles, hot off the presses; and my guest post on John Scalzi’s The Big Idea went live. However both paperback and Kindle are now trending upwards on Amazon.com, which is nice (the UK version of Author Central isn’t showing any stats for the Kindle edition, so I have no idea how well that’s going).
I guess it won’t feel quite real until Saturday, when I attend my first signing in Waterstones in Manchester, and then of course there’s the official launch party at Heffer’s in Cambridge on April 5th (tickets still available if you can make it!). I’ll probably have to make a speech at the latter, but in case I have a fit of nerves and fluff my lines:
“A published novel is not the work of one person, even if it is less of a collaborative work than a movie. There’s all the editorial, production work and promotion work (handled by the lovely chaps at Angry Robot Books) and of course the beautiful cover art (by Larry Rostant), without which this novel would not be reaching you in such a desirable form. Anyway, thank you, guys, for all the hard work!”
Right, back to outlining The Prince of Lies. These books don’t write themselves, more’s the pity…
On Saturday I finally got my hands on a physical ARC of The Alchemist of Souls, which was pretty thrilling, let me tell you!
Of course I’ve seen the cover art before, in gorgeous high-resolution, and read the text a gazillion times – but it was still an extraordinary feeling to flip through the physical book and see my words there. Much as I love ebooks for their portability and resizable text, I do feel sorry for authors who don’t get to hold a paper copy of their book in their hands.
Speaking of which – he’s a big bugger! I knew that 140,000 words was considered on the long side for a debut novel, but it’s not until you hold your brick of a book in your hands that you realise just what that means. 500 pages. 35mm of shelf space. No-one’s going to overlook that on the shelves of Waterstones.
Here’s an interesting comparison with two similar debut novels from a few years back (The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch). Well, waddya know, they’re exactly the same size!
OK, so the print in mine is slightly larger, which means the book is shorter, but at my age I approve of readable-sized print
Just seeing my book next to those two awesome – and, let’s face it, wildly successful – novels gives me the shivers!
The spine and back are lovely too, bearing a beautiful damask-like pattern (which on closer viewing appears to be elaborately carved stonework) and of course more of the same exquisite lettering as the front cover. I’ve manipulated the picture below slightly to exaggerate the contrast on the pattern, otherwise it’s hardly visible in a photo, especially with light reflecting off the high-gloss finish.
Finally, the back cover, with the plot description (written by yours truly) and Angry Robot’s now-traditional “File Under” box.
In case it’s not clear in the photo, the box reads:
File Under – Fantasy
Midsummer Magic * Skrayling
Double Trouble * Comedy of Terrors
My thanks again to Marc Gascoigne at Angry Robot for wrapping my unworthy prose in such a delicious package
Anyway, the ARC now has pride of place in my SFF bookcase, where it will await the arrival of its swankier (but somehow less cool) brethren, the final print versions, in April!
Addendum: A little robot tells me that the final version will be fractionally slimmer as it will be on regular book paper rather than the hefty stuff required for short-run printing, with a more matt finish on the cover. I’m drooling already…
Whilst having a publishing contract is all kinds of awesome, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of seeing your book in physical form at last. Sad to say I haven’t laid hands on a copy quite yet, but at least I now know they exist!
Yes, a batch of ARCs (advance reading copies) arrived in the Angry Robot offices last week, mine amongst them. You can see The Alchemist of Souls there in the top left corner, in excellent company with several other titles from Angry Robot’s spring catalogue. The selection of covers just goes to show the diversity of books on offer, as well as the awesome design skills of Marc Gascoigne and the various cover artists (clockwise from top left): Larry Rostant, Amazing15, Joey Hifi and Nick Castle.
This first batch of ARCs has already gone out to reviewers, so I’m both excited and anxious to see what they make of my fledgling efforts. Obviously I think it’s pretty damned good, but no book is ever perfect and in any case you can’t appeal to all tastes. Regardless of how it’s received, I can’t wait to take delivery of my sample copies and show them off!
Fancy getting your hands on one of my ARCs?
You have approximately 36 hours to come up with an awesome caption to the cartoon I contributed to the Angry Robot “12 Days of Christmas” blog series. Closing date is tomorrow, Wednesday 21st December.