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Want to know a secret?

This week my friend Emma Newman’s second urban fantasy novel is being published. To mark the occasion she’s hidden a bunch of cool (magical?) objects on her website for readers to find, but you can steal a march by following the link below…

Any Other Name is the second novel in the Split Worlds series, following on directly after the events in Between Two Thorns. Cathy is secretly seeking a way out of Nether Society by helping Max and the gargoyle to investigate the murders in the Bath Chapter. When she learns more about the mysterious Agency which oils the wheels of life in the Nether it becomes clear that the privileged few are enjoying their existence at a price far higher than they realised. It’s time to change Nether society, but with assassins, Fae lords and revengeful fallen Rosas to deal with, can Cathy survive long enough to make a difference?

Join in the treasure hunt by visiting the Split Worlds website and read about the first of the secret objects!

Release date: 28th May US/Canada paperback, audio and e-book worldwide, 6th June 2013 UK paperback

Signed copies will be available from Toppings Books, Bath and Forbidden Planet.

Pre-order options

UK Print & Ebook

Amazon.co.uk | Book Depository | Waterstones

US Print & Ebook

Amazon.com | BarnesandNoble.com | IndieBound.org

DRM-Free Epub Ebook

On-sale May 28th 2013 from the Robot Trading Company

Pre-order the audio version from The Book Depository | BarnesandNoble.com

Friday Reads: Last Argument of Kings, by Joe Abercrombie

While the King of the Union lies on his deathbead, the peasants revolt and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No-one believes that the shadow of war is falling across the very heart of the Union. The First of the Magi has a plan to save the world, as he always does. But there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, after all, than to break the First Law…

Warning: contains spoilers! Read more

Seduce me

No, not like that – eww! I mean with your book, dammit…

Well, hellooo…
Well, hellooo…

Since I’m working on a new project at the moment, that’s got me 1) reading a lot more, because for once I actually have time to spare to find out what my peers have been up to, and 2) thinking about what I enjoy in a fantasy novel. About why I love some books and hate (or at least feel ‘meh’ about) others. Why I prefer books with male protagonists. And it all comes down to one thing: falling in love.

I want a protagonist who’s witty and charming (Locke Lamora). Or snarky and clever (Sand dan Glokta). Or who defies prejudice despite the horrible consequences (Ringil Eskiath). Give me that, and I’ll put up with most other flaws or bugbears* in a novel. Because I’m there to spend time with the hero. Read more

The Prince of Lies: finished cover

Yesterday one of my favourite genre websites, Fantasy Faction, did an exclusive cover reveal for the final book in my Night’s Masque trilogy. However I can’t resist posting it on my blog as well, as I’m so pleased with it!

As with The Merchant of Dreams, I briefed my editor Marc on what I wanted to see on the cover and he passed it along to Larry Rostant, who interpreted our instructions beautifully. The lightning bolts weren’t in my original brief but I have to admit they give it an extra pizazz that leaves you in no doubt that some serious magic is going on here!

To go with the cover I have an updated description as well:

Elizabethan spy Mal Catlyn has everything he ever wanted—his twin brother Sandy restored to health, his family estate reclaimed and a son to inherit it—but his work is far from over. The renegade skraylings, the guisers, are still plotting; their leader Jathekkil has reincarnated as the young Henry Tudor. But with the prince still a child, Mal has a slim chance of destroying his enemies while they are at their weakest.

With Sandy’s help Mal learns to harness his own magic in the fight against the guisers, but it may be too late to save England. Schemes set in motion decades ago are at last coming to fruition, and the barrier between the dreamlands and the waking world is wearing thin…

I’m really looking forward to unleashing the book on the world come October – the fact that I shall be waving goodbye to Mal, Coby, Ned and friends hasn’t really sunk in yet…

What next?

The Prince of Lies is revised and handed in, which means it’s all over for Night’s Masque apart from final tweaks and copyedits. Yes, sorry, fans of Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel – their adventures are over, at least for now. I have no immediate plans for any more books in that universe, though if I were to get a great idea for a story, it’s certainly possible.

So what next, you might ask? Well, I’ve been jotting down notes in-between drafts of The Prince of Lies so that I could hit the ground running once that book was complete. However I couldn’t really allow myself to commit to it until now because I don’t have time in my busy schedule for distractions and side projects. Now I can, I’m sooo excited to be launching into something new! Read more

The Prince of Lies final draft – done!

I know – I didn’t post here at all after the first week, but I was so focused on the draft itself, I didn’t have the time or energy. Usually I give myself two months for initial revisions (and that’s what’s specified in my contract) but this book was already running late and I didn’t have that luxury.

It was a gruelling process, trying to revise a substantial novel in a month, but I got it done, finally handing in the draft to my editor Marc on Tuesday 7th May. He may still want a few tweaks before it goes to the copyeditor, but it’s basically complete as far as I’m concerned. If I got hit by a bus next week, the book could still go out and I’d be happy at the result. Well, not the being dead or incapacitated part, but you know what I mean.

At first I was so relieved to have hit my deadline—and so mentally drained—that I was just glad to have it done and out the door. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I started to feel a bit sad that I won’t be writing about Mal, Coby and friends again, at least not any time soon. Their story has come to (for me at least) a satisfying conclusion and I’m ready to move on to new things. In any case it’s not over yet; there’s copyedits to check and the book release itself to look forward to, and even sooner than that—the cover reveal! Watch my main blog for more news on that, very soon :)

Friday Reads: Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

Having left Camorre after the deaths of their fellow Gentleman Bastards at the hands of the Bondsmagi, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are running a new scam in the Sinspire, a high-class casino in the city of Tal Verrar. Unfortunately the Bondsmagi haven’t finished with Locke yet, and he and Jean find themselves working—decidedly unwillingly—for a Verrari warlord with an ambition to rule the city outright. Temporarily abandoning the scam they take up their new mission, starting with a crash course in seamanship and a new cover identity as the dread pirate Orrin Ravelle…

Warning: here be spoilers! Because it’s otherwise hard to say what I liked (and didn’t like) about the book. And hell, it’s six years old, so I reckon many of my visitors will have read it already anyway. Read more

Epic fantasy? What does that even mean?

Yesterday I finished the final draft of The Prince of Lies – yay! – which inevitably left me feeling more than a little punch-drunk, like I’d been hit round the head with a 135,000-word manuscript…So I goofed around on Twitter a bit, and whilst chatting about book lengths and genre I realised that fantasy really needs a new name for a rather common sub-genre.

Cover art for “Shadow’s Master” by Jon Sprunk
Cover art for “Shadow’s Master” by Jon Sprunk

OK, before we get going, yes I know that sub-genres are artificial and that you shouldn’t try to shoehorn your work into one of them, but once you have a book – or three – written, and you start to look at what market you’re going to be aiming at, it can be helpful to have a label so that everyone knows what you’re talking about. Except – are they really talking about the same thing?

The discussion that sparked this was about the ideal length for a debut epic fantasy, which varies from agent to agent, but certainly somewhere in the 100-150k ballpark as a rule. For other kinds of fantasy, as well as SF, the suggested length is more like 90-120k.

The thing is, what do agents mean by “epic fantasy”? I suspect that for some in the business it’s a synonym for secondary world fantasy, or indeed anything that isn’t very clearly either steampunk or urban fantasy. Because it’s like Tolkien and George R R Martin, right?  And in one respect they’re right – all non-contemporary fantasy has broadly the same audience, and it’s distinct from (though it may sometimes overlap with) urban fantasy/paranormal romance.

The thing is, a lot of the secondary-world fantasy that I read isn’t what I’d call epic. There are no continent-spanning wars or treks through sweeping landscapes, no wide-eyed young heroes venturing out of their comfy hobbit-holes and being swept along on An Adventure. Typically they’re based in one city (just like urban fantasy), with a cast of characters who are far from innocent: thieves, spies, assassins and the like. You know, those Hooded Men who’ve been gracing the covers of our favourite books for the past decade…

(As an aside, if you google “hooded man” images, the cover art for The Alchemist of Souls comes up quite high in the results. Which is ironic, since there’s not a hood in sight!)

This sub-genre used to be known as swords’n'sorcery, and it was typified by Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories. Lots of swashbuckling swordplay, but also lots of monsters and evil wizards and the like. The thing is, modern-day S&S is typically quite low in magic and often the characters are all human, so the label doesn’t really fit any more. Nor does the newer label “grimdark” really help, as it’s a tone, not a subgenre as such. Both GRRM and Joe Abercrombie have been described as writing grimdark, but their books are also epic fantasy.

I raised this on Twitter, suggesting “cloak’n'dagger” as an alternative. I got some great (not always serious) alternative suggestions:

  • The Streets of Darkness
  • Hooded Figure Fantasy
  • Poignards’n'privies (very apt in my case!)
  • Mock-Tudorpunk
  • Grime’n'punishment
  • Alchemical romance (by analogy with Wells’ “scientific romance”)

What do you think? Do we need a new label for non-epic, non-contemporary fantasy?

Tech review: Story Skeleton

I started using virtual index cards back in 2006 when planning for my first NaNoWriMo, and I still find them a useful way of managing a big project like a novel. I like physical index cards as well, but they’re a pain to carry around with you – which is where an app like Story Skeleton comes in.

is an iPhone app that allows you create and export outlines in a variety of formats, including as a Scrivener .scriv project. It’s this that first interested me, and I used it for an initial outline of The Prince of Lies.

Overall it’s quite a nice little app. The design is a bit fussy in some respects – on a small screen, I prefer the controls to adhere more closely to Apple conventions – but not difficult to get the hang of. You can display cards fullscreen and swipe between them, or list them as thumbnails (see screenshot, right) and scroll up and down.

There’s no hierarchical structure, however. If you want to assign scenes to chapters or acts, a workaround is to set up “card types” (a customisable list of categories), but then of course you have to recategorise cards when you move them. It’s also iPhone-only – you can use it on an iPad but the whole interface gets resized to fit the large screen and is therefore rather blurry.

Another point against it from my point of view is that whilst it has import and export capabilities, it doesn’t actually sync with Scrivener as such – you can only import outlines previously created in StorySkeleton and exported in its custom format (e.g. as backup). As a result, I found it useful for quick’n'dirty outlining at the beginning of a project, but the limitations of both synchronisation and screen real-estate mean that it doesn’t really fit well into my workflow.

StorySkeleton is available from the iTunes App Store, currently priced at $2.99.

The Joy of Stationery

My name is Anne Lyle and I’m a stationery addict. There, I’ve said it. I have more notebooks, pens and other impedimenta of writing than is strictly necessary. A lot more. I discovered just how much more when I was between drafts recently…

I’d handed in the first draft of The Prince of Lies to my editor and was taking a few days off to decompress. I didn’t want to get too engrossed in a new project, as I knew I’d have to dive back into revisions pretty soon, so I decided to tidy the drawers of my desk and bureau, which had descended into chaos over the previous few months. So, I emptied them out, put all my “work-in-progress” notebooks, index cards and so on into my desk drawer, and all my unused notebooks into the top drawer of my bureau. The latter filled the entire drawer.

My notebook drawer. Problem, what problem?
My notebook drawer. Problem, what problem?

Now admittedly it isn’t a big drawer, and I also store spare loose-leaf pads and unopened packs of index cards in there, but still…! I have numerous Moleskines in different colours, sizes and paper types, including two specifically for use with EverNote and two special editions (Lego and Star Wars); a bunch of LiveScribe notebooks, also in several sizes, for use with my Echo smartpen; and a few other miscellaneous notebooks from Paperchase, WHS, Rymans etc. I even have a gorgeous leather-bound journal that I bought in Florence, which I will probably never use because it’s far too beautiful to sully with my scribblings…

Europa Major notepads – fat enough to plan a Big Fat Fantasy!
Europa Major notepads – fat enough to plan a Big Fat Fantasy!

And then there’s my “archive” drawer of used notebooks. I have had obsessions with different brands before Moleskine; for a while it was Bur-O-Class Aurora exercise books, in which I wrote my earliest longhand drafts, then more recently it was the Europa Major spiral-bound reporter’s notebook, with 300 pages between richly-coloured cardboard covers, in which I brainstormed the plots and characters for my Night’s Masque trilogy.

Rationally, I know I do not need all these notebooks, because I do a lot of my work electronically. And yet I’m addicted to the damned things! When I was in California in February, I bought two Moleskines in a bookstore solely because they were in colours (green and purple) seldom seen in UK shops.

It’s a common foible of writers, judging by my friends’ reactions, and I think it comes down to a combination of traits:

1. A love of books and paper. There’s something very sensuous and satisfying about a high-quality notebook: the handsome cover, the way your pen glides across the thick creamy surface of the paper, the snap of the elastic fastener, the slither of the silky placeholder ribbon… You just can’t get these pleasures from an app, no matter how cool it might be in other ways.

2. Romanticism. We imagine the great authors of the 19th and 20th centuries scribbling golden prose into their pocket notebooks, and we think that if only we could do the same, our books would be just as wonderful.

3. The OCD impulses of the typical writer. Allied to the above, we believe that if we have just the right notebook, fresh and crisp and virginal, we too can be brilliant. We start a notebook with dewy-eyed optimism, which often devolves into despair at our terrible handwriting, multiple crossings-out and rambling prose. So, we abandon it for a fresh notebook. Once the habit becomes entrenched, we make sure we always have a good supply of shiny new ones to hand, because the next one is going to be perfect…

I think, though, that the seeds were sown in school. All those separate exercise books for each subject, often with a different colour per subject as well. And—this being a provincial girls’ grammar school with pretensions of grandeur—we had to write our homework in fountain pen (biros were for “rough” only). That kind of thing is liable to make a girl just a little obsessive!

How about you? Do you have a weakness for a particular brand or style of notebook? Or do you eschew paper for a purely digital writing experience?