Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2018 and 2019

It just so happens that my alternate Tuesday blog falls on 1st January 2019, so it’s a good time to assess 2018 and see if I can peep into the future to 2019. I’m not sure where 2018 went to. It seems to have passed in a blur!

2018

I don’t usually post personal stuff on this blog, but family-wise things are good. Our son came home from the USA and got married in January. Our daughter and her spouse finally managed to buy a house between London and Brighton big enough for their family. No one had any major traumas. I count that as a win.

I always try to go to a few cons. The first was Eastercon in Harrogate and I took part in a Comedy panel with Jaine Fenn and Juliet McKenna discussing ‘Men in Science Fiction and Fantasy’ with the delightful Adrian Tchaikovsky as our token male.

I also attended Fantasycon in September and Bristolcon in October. Both very enjoyable. In July I also went to the Science for Fiction event at London’s Imperial College, one of the finest science universities in the world. Prof. Dave Clements, astro-physicist and also a science fiction writer, organises two days of lectures by scientists at the cutting edge of their fields. We get everything from cosmology to gene splicing. This year (amongst other items) we had a talk by the chap who decides where the Mars Rover is going on a day-to-day basis. Fascinating stuff!

Rowankind_cover 400Writing-wise 2018 was a good year for me. My sixth book, Rowankind, was published by DAW on 27th November, and initial reviews are good. Publishers Weekly said: “Series fans will be glad to see old friends and antagonists, and will find this a strong and satisfying wrap-up of the series.”

Between working on the various drafts of Rowankind I completed another book, provisionally called The Amber Crown, a historical fantasy set in an analogue of the Baltic States around 1650. It’s a standalone, not the start of another trilogy.

I’m the secretary of Milford SF Writers. 2018 saw our first writing retreat week in addition to our regular Milford SF Writers’ Conference. The conference (a peer group critiquing week for published SF writers) is always in September, however the retreat week, in the wilds of Snowdonia was the week in the cusp of February/March when the ‘Beast from the East’ storm socked in and we were treated to the wildest Welsh weather for thirty years–snow and howling winds. Luckily by the end of the week trees blown down across the village road had been cleared and the motorway across the Pennines was open again. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be able to get home. September weather for the main Milford week was greyish and damp, but much more benign.

Laprop window snow

I read lots of books in 2018, and saw lots of movies, all of which are blogged here.

We’ve been having some work done in our front garden (demolishing a stone wall and re-laying paving and paths) but the horribly wet December held up work, so it wasn’t finished for Christmas. It’s now an ongoing project continuing into 2019.

Christmas has been quiet and restful. Our kids couldn’t make it home for the festive season this year because of either work commitments or distance. Thank goodness for Skype! I still cooked far too much. I want to know how a ton of food plus five hungry people results in two tons of leftovers.

 

2019

We’re looking forward to family visits. Our daughter and family are coming in February and our son and his wife in May.

Convention-wise, I’m giving Eastercon a miss in 2019 because it’s at Heathrow, which is not my favourite location. Besides, I’m already signed up to the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin in August, which is going to be very expensive. (And looking even further ahead I’m planning on going to WorldCon 2020 in New Zealand. I’ve started saving up already.) I haven’t decided whether or not to go to Fantasycon in October. It’s in Glasgow, not the city centre, which is relatively easy by train, but some 20 minutes out of town, which is more problematical by public transport (hauling a suitcase). I’ll wait until they publish venue details before I decide. I do like Fantasycon. It’s the most writerly of all the British conventions.

Writing-wise, I’m looking forward to finishing the final polish on The Amber Crown. One of the main things with finally finishing both trilogies (Psi-Tech, and Rowankind) is that I have to leave favourite characters behind and move on. I have several ideas for new stories, but I don’t know which one to go with. I like them all equally. Fantasy or science fiction? I haven’t decided yet. I also still have four books on the hard-drive, written before I got my first publishing deal, so I’ll be taking another look at them as well.

I’ll be going on the second Milford Writers’ Retreat, this time in May to avoid getting snowed in (hopefully), and I’ll also be at the main Milford week in September.

I can’t see beyond that at the moment. I’m open to whatever the world throws at me. (Note to world: preferably not hard brick-shaped objects, please.)

I hope the year ahead brings you all joy and success, health and happiness.

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My 2018 Reading

It’s getting towards the end of the year and this is the time I usually post a summary of my reading. I’ve kept a booklog since 2009, and oh, how I wish I’d started decades ago. I post my booklog to my Dreamwidth blog, which you can find here: https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/

It’s not a serious review site, so don’t expect anything scholarly. I use my booklog to jog my own memory and to give my unguarded first impressions. I also post my booklogs to Goodreads.

As you can see from the list, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, plus historical fiction. Some of this year’s list are re-reads. There are few non-fiction books, but since I mostly dip in and out of non-fiction for research puroposes, I don’t list them here. The only exception being those I’ve read from cover to cover.

Standout books that I read for the first time this year include: Juliet McKenna’s Green Man’s Heir; Jodi Taylor’s An Argumentation of Historians; John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War; Jim C Hines Terminal Alliance, and Sean Grigsby’s Smoke Eaters.

As I’m preparing this blog piece I’m reading T Kingfisher’s Clockwork Boys (Clocktaur War #1) and enjoying it very much. (Edit: Clockwork Boys is now finished and reviewed at: Booklog 55/2018 – T. Kingfisher: Clockwork Boys – Clocktaur Wars #1)

(Edit #2. The Wonder Engine, #2 in The Clocktaur War duo by T. Kingfisher is also now read, thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed here: https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/605428.html)

Here are my book blogs for 2018. Click on the link to take you straight to the individual reviews on my Dreamwidth blog site.

Books read in 2018

 

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Busy November

I’ve had a busy month writing blog posts and giving interviews in support of the publication of Rowankind. Rather that writing another blog post today, perhaps you’d like to check out some of the links below.

30th November
Here’s my interview for Civilian Reader.
29th November.
My blog post on Sharon Stogner’s I Smell Sheep blog.
Rowankind27th November
BOOK DAY! ROWANKIND is published today. Yay!
26th November
I have an interview up on the Jean Book Nerd blog.
21st November
New blog post up at Skiffy and Fanty. Thank you Paul Weimer
19th November
The second part of my interview is now up at The Scribe. Thanks to Mark Iles
17th November
An interview with me re Rowankind is now up at File 770. Thanks to Mike Glyer for hosting and to Carl Slaughter for the interview itself. Good questions, Carl.
17th November.
A complete rundown of the Rowankind trilogy ia now up at Fille 770.
11th November
First of a 2-part guest blog post on The Scribe
This one is about Rowankind.
The next will be about writing in general.
9th November
My author copies of Rowankind arrived today! Whoo-hoo! Publication date is now 27th November 2018.
3rd November
New Blog Post: First chapter of Winterwood. Read it here.
3rd November
Rowankind publication date has been brought forward to 27th November. You can pre-order your copy now.
(Please!)

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Happy Book Day to Me

My new book, ROWANKIND, is out today.

WHOO-HOO!

Winterwood-Silverwolf-RowankindIt’s my sixth published book, and the third in my Rowankind trilogy, so it represents a milestone. It not only completes my second trilogy, but it means that my published words have topped the million mark. I’ve written about 400,000 words of historical fantasy, plus over 500,000 words of space opera in my Psi-Tech trilogy, and those are just the words that made it to the final cut. With my published short stories, that means I’ve got over a million published words. Wow!

I’m still slightly surprised, even though I’ve worn the letters on (or should that be off) my keyboard while producing the aforementioned works – and probably worn the fingerprints off my fingers. I so wish I’d learned to touch type when I was younger and better able to acquire the skill (and more time to do it). However I confess I am still a three-finger hunt-and-peck typist. It’s not as bad as it sounds because it gives my brain time to formulate the next sentence while my fingers are adding typos into the last one.

Ah, yes, typos. One of my skills is rattling out typos. And I never spot them on a read-through, because my brain sees what I intended to write, not what I actually wrote.

But even though my typing is problematic, I love the process of writing, both producing the first draft and the editing process

Though the Rowankind trilogy is finished I still can’t look on it objectively. I’m far too close. I’ve enjoyed spending time with the characters, Ross the summoner and witch, and Corwen the wolf shapechanger. The supporting characters have been interesting, too. I particular I’ve enjoyed writing James Mayo, the pirate known as Gentleman Jim, and Hookey Garrity, now captain of Ross’ ship Heart of Oak. Jim has his own blog post here.

You can buy ROWANKIND from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, but it’s only available on Kindle in North American Territories due to contractual issues. It’s also available from Barnes and Noble in the USA (including on Nook). The earlier books in the trilogy are also available similarly, that’s Winterwood, and Silverwolf.

Here’s the cover copy

ROWANKIND
What do you do with a feral wolf shapechanger who won’t face up to his responsibilities? How do you contain magical creatures accidentally loosed into Britain’s countryside? How do you convince a crew of barely-reformed pirates to go straight when there’s smuggling to be done? How do you find a lost notebook full of deadly spells while keeping out of the clutches of its former owner? How do you mediate between a mad king and the seven lords of the Fae?

Ross and Corwen, she a witch and he a shapechanger, have several problems to solve but they all add up to the same thing. How do you make Britain safe for magic users?

It’s 1802. A tenuous peace with France is making everyone jumpy. The Fae, and therefore Ross and Corwen at their behest, have unfinished business with Mad King George, who may not be as mad as everyone thinks–or if he is, he’s mad in a magical way. The Fae have left mankind alone up to now because they don’t care to get involved with mortals, but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re harmless.

“It’s like an irresistible smorgasbord of all my favourite themes and fantasy elements all in one place, and a strong, compelling female protagonist was the cherry on the top.” – Bibliosanctum

“Swashbuckling action, folklore and characters to care about: this is an authentic English take on historical fantasy, magic and class.” – Karri Sperring, author of The Grass King’s Concubine.

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Guest Blog. Peter Sutton Answers Five Questions

Tell us your biography in three sentences or fewer.

Pete SuttonMy first book: A Tiding of Magpies was shortlisted for best short story collection in the British Fantasy Awards 2017. I’ve since published two novels – Sick City Syndrome: a horror tale of urban decay and grief and Seven Deadly Swords a historical fantasy thriller about guilt, sin and redemption. I’m one of the North Bristol Writers, so called because we meet in north Bristol, and I’ve been variously an event organiser for Brisrol Literature festival, BristolCon and Bristol Horrorcon as well as a magazine editor, RPG ‘creative director’ and book reviewer. My website is here: https://petewsutton.com/ and I’m @suttope on Twitter

How and when did you begin writing, and what was your first published piece?

I started off writing for a roleplaying game and had little thought about writing fiction or trying to get published but when things changed at the RPG company I started writing short stories. My fourth attempt was published after a LOT of polishing by Joanne Hall and Roz Clarke who took it for Airship Shape. Being edited by those two taught me a huge amount about how stories should work on the page. The story is called Artifice Perdu, and was a bit more gothic than steampunk.

What’s so special about writing speculative fiction?

A lot of what I write is the here and now but with a speculative twist. I find that looking askance at the world lets you approach it like you would a skittish horse. If you sidle up to it you may be able to grab hold of something you wouldn’t be able to by tackling it head on. Speculative fiction is the modern myths, dreams and fairytales and stories make the world. Through allegory and metaphor we can show great truth and do so with one of man’s oldest tools – narrative.

Tell us about your most recent publication or current writing project

seven-swordsMy most recent publication was the novel Seven Deadly Swords. This is the tale of a group of crusaders who committed a crime against God in the late 1100’s in the Holy Land and then they come back over and over through history to enact the seven deadly sins. We follow Reymond as he tries to atone, as he seeks redemption:

What’s next?

I’m currently writing my next novel, tentatively called The Certainty of Dust about music and poetry, death and obsession and funerals, I’m also slowly working on a follow up to A Tiding of Magpies  – a new collection of mostly unpublished tales tentatively called The Museum of Forgetting. I’m also working on a few short story commissions.

 

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Jacey’s Quick Book Links

With the publication of Rowankind just a few days away (27th November), I thought I’d post links to all my books. Obviously the (not-so-hidden) subtext is, go out and buy them, but seriously folks, those advance orders for a new book are really important because it encourages the bookstores to stock more copies. They re available in paper format or for Kindle or Nook in the USA and Canada, but only in paper format in the UK, due to contractual issues. They are classed as US imports in the UK (yes, even though I’m British), so probably only available via Amazon or maybe via specialist SF bookstores.

3bookpsitech

Psi-Tech Trilogy

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

Rowankind Trilogy

6books 800 px

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Interrogate Your World – Worldbuilding Questions for Writers

I was asked to give a talk on worldbuilding and research at the Escafield SF event in Sheffield on 10th November. I came up with a checklist and promised to post it here for the people who attended. I may yet refine the order, but here’s the first draft as it came off the top of my head.

  • Is it Earth / not Earth / alternate Earth / a mind boggling habitat / somewhere in space?
  • Does it have a history? Do specific countries or regions have their own histories? (Hint, they should do.) Are you using Earth history? Is it an alternate Earth history timeline? If so at what point does your alt. history diverge from real history?
  • What’s the climate like? What about the weather? Remember no one planet (esp ours) is all one thing or all another. What are the regional variations?
  • What about the geology of your planet? Are there regions of vulcanicity? How are mountains and rivers formed? What has erosion done to the scenery? Has there ever been an ice age? Did Slarty Bartfarst design your fjords?
  • Are there huge urban centres or spread out rural populations? Is there overcrowding. Are some people oppressed? Is there exploitation and slavery? Or is labour valued and a worker well paid for his/her hire.
  • Are there non-Earth creatures? How have species developed?
  • What’s the flora like?
  • Has your planet been terraformed with earth flora and fauna, or is it very different to Earth? Are the trees and plants sentient? Can they move? Are they poisonous to non-native lifeforms?
  • What is the status of men and women (or any alt. gendered or genderless individuals) relative to each other? Are you going to use non-gendered pronouns?
  • What languages do people speak? How common is it to speak more languages than your own?
  • Who are the people/peoples? What variety of customs, foods, ethics, religions are there? Are you basing your world on something equivalent on Earth? Are your inhabitants alien or human?
  • How are you going to name people (and places)? You could probably have John, Paul, George and Kethukuthula in present day Britain, but you wouldn’t have had that mix of names in apartheid South Africa. Be careful to keep names culture-relevant and not to mix cultural names unless it’s appropriate to do so.
  • How does the calendar work? Does everyone subscribe to the same calendar?
  • What are the politics? How are the separate countries governed? Social organisation, laws/legal system, foreign policy? Class structure? Elite? Poverty? Is race/racial discrimination a thing? Is apartheid (or something like it) a thing? Are some cultures looked up to or looked down upon?
  • What’s the level of scientific discovery? Is science revered or proscribed? What about education? Are there schools? Colleges? Universities? Does everyone have the same opportunities?
  • What is daily life like for the elite and the underclass and all those inbetween?
  • How do people dress? What fashions are there?
  • How do they travel?
  • How do they communicate? How is information disseminated?
  • What’s the level of technology? Have you pinned it to a point in history which is the equivalent of one of our own?
  • What weapons are there? How is war waged?
  • Is there a magic system? If so it needs a set of immutable rules. Does magic replace technology or supplement it? Are magic users respected, feared, loved, or killed on sight?
  • What’s the level of manufacturing? DIY, cottage industry, industrial revolution, factory system, advanced (done by robots)?
  • What’s the currency? How does it differ between regions/countries? Is there a banking system? Is it acceptable to haggle and barter?
  • Is there commerce between nations/regions? Do some countries need to import food to avoid famine or are they self-sustaining? Does exporting food and fuel give some countries an advantage? Who controls business/trade routes?
  • What’s the level of medical knowledge?
  • What’s the state of the Arts? Are they valued? Do people participate? Are Arts for the elite or for everyone?
  • Is your society egalitarian or are there ‘superstars’? If so, how do they become famous?

REMEMBER: You can make stuff up as long as you are consistent and you have your own internal logic.

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Winterwood Chapter One – Read it Here

In anticipation of the publication of Rowankind, due on 27th November, the third book in my Rowankind Trilogy, I offer for your delectation, the first chapter of Winterwood. It’s the beginning of the trilogy, Rowankind is the finale – with Silverwolf in the middle.

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

WINTERWOOD
by Jacey Bedford

CHAPTER ONE
A Bitter Farewell

April 1800, Plymouth, England

The stuffy bedroom stank of sickness with an underlying taint of old lady, stale urine and unwashed clothes, poorly disguised with attar of roses. I’d never thought to return to Plymouth, to the house I’d once called home; a house with memories so bitter that I’d tried to scour them from my mind with salt water and blood.

Had something in my own magic drawn me back? I didn’t know why it should, though it still had the capacity to surprise me. I could control it at sea, but on land it gnawed at my insides. Even here, less than a mile from the harbour, power pulsed through my veins, heating my blood. I needed to take ship soon before I lost control.

Little wonder that I’d felt no need to return home since eloping with Will.

My ears adjusted to the muffled street sounds, my eyes to the curtained gloom. I began to pick out familiar shapes in the shadows, each one bringing back a memory and all of them painful. The dressing table with its monstrously carved lion mask and paw feet was where I had once sat and experimented with my mother’s face powder and patches, earning a beating with the back of a hairbrush for the mess. The tall bed–a mountain to a small child–upon which I had first seen the tiny, shawl-wrapped form of my brother, Philip, the new son and heir, pride and joy, in my mother’s arms.

And there was the ornate screen I’d once hidden behind, trapped accidentally in some small mischief, to witness a larger mischief when my mother took Larien, our rowankind bondsman, to her lonely bed. I hadn’t known, then, what was happening beneath the covers, but I’d instinctively known that I should not be there, so I’d swallowed my puzzlement and kept silent.

Now, the heaped covers on that same bed stirred and shifted.

“Philip?” Her voice trembled and her hand fluttered to her breast. “Am I dreaming?”

My stomach churned and my magic flared. I swallowed hard, pushed it down and did my best to keep my voice low and level. “No, Mother, it’s me.”

“Rossalinde? Good God! Dressed like a man! You never had a sense of decorum.”

It wasn’t a question of decorum. It was my armour. I wore the persona as well as the clothes.

“Don’t just stand there, come closer.” My mother beckoned me into the gloom. “Help me up.”

She had no expectation that I would disobey, so I didn’t. I put my right arm under hers and my left arm round her frail shoulders and eased her into a sitting position, hearing her sharp indrawn gasp as I moved her. I plumped up pillows, stepped back and turned away, needing the distance.

I twitched the curtain back from the sash window an inch or two to check that the street outside was still empty, listening hard for any sound of disturbance in the normality of Twiling Avenue–a disturbance that might indicate a hue and cry heading in my direction. I’d crept into the house via a back entrance through the next door neighbour’s shrubbery. The hedge surrounding the house across the street rippled as if a bird had fled its shelter. I waited to see if there was any further movement, but there wasn’t. So far there was nothing beyond the faint cries of the vendors in the market two streets over and the raucous clamour of the wheeling gulls overhead.

Satisfied that I was safe for now, I turned back to find my mother had closed her eyes for a moment. She snatched a series of shallow breaths before she gave one long sigh. Opening her eyes again she regarded me long and steady. “Life as a pirate’s whore certainly seems to suit you.”

“Yes, Mother.” Pirate’s whore! I pressed my lips together. It wasn’t worth arguing. She was wrong on both counts, pirate and whore. As privateers we cruised under Letters of Marque from Mad King George for prizes of French merchantmen, Bonaparte’s supply vessels. As to the whore part, Will and I had married almost seven years ago.

“So you finally risked your neck to come and say good-bye. I wondered how long it would take. You’re almost too late.”

I didn’t answer.

“Oh, come on, girl, don’t beat about the bush. My belly’s swollen tight as a football. This damn growth is sucking the life out of me. Does it make you happy to see me like this? Do you think I deserve it?”

I shook my head, only half sure I meant it. Damn her! She still had me where it hurt. I’d come to dance on her grave and found it empty.

“What’s the matter?”

I waited for Cat got your tongue? but it didn’t come.

“Give me some light, girl.”

I went to open the curtains.

“No, keep the day away. Lamp light’s kinder.”

I could have brightened the room with magic, but magic–specifically my use of it–had driven a wedge between us. She had wanted a world of safety and comfort with the only serious concerns being those of fashion and taste, acceptable manners and suitable suitors. Instead she’d been faced with my unacceptable talents.

I struck a phosphor match from the inlaid silver box on the table, lifted the lamp glass and lit the wick. It guttered and smoked like cheap penny whale oil. My mother’s standards were slipping.

I took a deep breath; then, to show that she didn’t have complete control of the proceedings, I flopped down into the chair beside the bed, trying to look more casual than I felt.

Her iron grey hair was not many shades lighter than when I’d last seen her seven years ago. Her skin was pale and translucent, but still unblemished. She’d always had good skin, my mother; still tight at fifty, as mine would probably be if the wind and the salt didn’t ruin it, or if the Mysterium didn’t hang me for a witch first.

She caught me studying her. “You really didn’t expect to see me alive, did you?”

I shrugged. I hadn’t known what to expect.

“But you came all the same.”

“I had to.” I still wasn’t sure why.

“Yes, you did.” She smirked. “Did you think to pick over my bones and see what I’d left you in my will?”

No, old woman, to confront you one last time and see if you still have the same effect on me. I cleared my throat. “I don’t want your money.”

“Good, because I have none.” She pushed herself forward off her pillows with one elbow. “Every last penny from your father’s investments has gone to pay the bills. I’ve had to sell the plate and my jewellery, such as it was. All that’s left is show. This disease has saved me from the workhouse.” She sank back. “Don’t say you’re sorry.”

“I won’t because I’m not.”

Leaving had been the best thing I’d ever done.

Life with Will had been infinitely more tender than it had ever been at home. I didn’t regret a minute of it. I wished there had been more.

The harridan regarded me through half-closed eyes. “And have I got any by-blow grandchildren I should know about?”

“No.” There had been one, born early, but the little mite had not lasted beyond his second day. She didn’t need to know that.

“Not up to it, is he, this Redbeard of yours? Or have you unmanned him with your witchcraft?”

I ignored her taunts. “What do you want, forgiveness? Reconciliation?”

“What do I want?” She screwed her face up in the semblance of a laugh, but it turned to a grimace.

“You nearly got us killed, Mother, or have you conveniently forgotten?”

“That murdering thief took all I had in the world.”

That would be the ship she was talking about, not me.

“That murdering thief, as you put it, saved my life.”

And my soul and my sanity, but I didn’t tell her that. He’d taught me to be a man by day and a woman by night, to use a sword and pistol and to captain a ship. He’d been my love, my strength and my mentor. Since his death I’d been Captain Redbeard Tremayne in his stead–three years a privateer captain in my own right.

“Is he with you now?”

“He’s always with me.”

That wasn’t a lie. Will showed up at the most unlikely times, sometimes as nothing more than a whisper on the wind.

“So you only came to gloat and to see what was left.”

“I don’t want anything of yours. I never did.”

“Oh, don’t worry, what’s coming to you is not mine. I’m only passing it on–one final obligation to the past.” Her voice, still sharp, caught in her throat and she coughed.

“Do you want a drink?” I asked, suddenly seeing her as a lonely and sick old woman.

“I want nothing from you.” She screwed up her eyes. Her hand went to her belly. I could only stand by while she struggled against whatever pain wracked her body.

Finally she spoke again. “In the chest at the foot of the bed, below the sheet.”

I knelt and ran my fingers across it. It had been my father’s first sea-chest, oak with a tarnished brass binding. I let my fingers linger over his initials burnt into the top. He’d been an absentee father, always away on one long voyage after the other, but I’d loved his homecomings, the feel of his scratchy beard on my cheek as he hugged me to him, the smell of the salt sea and pipe tobacco, the presents, small but thoughtful: a tortoiseshell comb, a silken scarf, a bracelet of bright beads from far off Africa.

I pulled open the catch and lifted the lid.

“Don’t disturb things. Feel beneath the left hand edge.”

I slid my hand under the folded linen. My fingers touched something smooth and cool. I felt the snap and fizz of magic and jerked back, but it was too late, the thing, whatever it was, had already tasted me. Damn my mother. What had she done?

I drew the object out to look and found it to be a small, polished wooden box, not much deeper than my thumb. I’d never seen its like before, but I’d heard winterwood described and knew full well what it was. The grain held a rainbow from the gold of oak, to the rich red of mahogany, shot through with ebony hues. It sat comfortably in the palm of my hand, so finely crafted it was almost seamless. My magic rose up to meet it.

I tried the lid. “It’s locked.”

She had an odd expression on her face.

“Is this some kind of riddle?” I asked.

“Your inheritance.”

“How does it open? What’s inside it?”

“That’s for you to find out. I never wanted any of it.”

My head was full of questions. My mother hated magic, even the sleight of hand tricks of street illusionists. How could this be any inheritance of mine?

Yet, I felt that it was.

I turned the box around in my hands. There was something trapped inside that wanted its freedom. No point in asking if anyone had tried to saw it open. You don’t work ensorcelled winterwood with human tools.

Wrapping both hands around the box, I could feel it was alive with promise. It didn’t seem to have a taint of the black about it, but it didn’t have to be dark magic to be dangerous.

I shuddered. “I don’t want it.”

“It’s yours now. You’ve touched it. I’ve never handled it without gloves.”

“Where did it come from?”

She shook her head. “Family.”

“Neither you nor Father ever mentioned family, not even my grandparents.”

“Long gone, all of them. Gone and forgotten.”

“I don’t even know their names.”

“And better that way. We left all that behind us. We started afresh, Teague and I, making our own place in society. It wasn’t easy even in this tarry-trousers town. Your ancestors companied with royalty, you know, though much good it did them in the end. You’re a lady, Rossalinde, not a hoyden.” She winced, but whether from the memories or the pain I couldn’t tell. “That blasted thing is all that’s left of the past. It followed me, but it’s too much to… ” Her voice tailed off, then she rallied. “I wasn’t having any of it. It’s your responsibility now. I meant to give it to you when you came of age.” She narrowed her eyes and glared at me. “How old are you, anyway?”

I was lean and hard from life at sea. You didn’t go soft in my line of work. “I’m not yet five and twenty, Mother.” I held up the box and stared at it. “What if I can’t open it?”

I suppose you’ll have to pass it on to the next generation.”

“There won’t be a next generation.”

She shrugged and waved me away with one hand.

“Give it to Philip.” I held it out to her, but she shrank back from it and her eyes moistened at my brother’s name. What had he been up to now? Likely he was the one who’d spent all her money. I hadn’t seen Philip for seven years, but I doubted he’d reformed in that time. He’d been a sweet babe, but had grown into a spoilt brat, manipulative and selfish, and last I saw he was carrying his boyhood traits into adolescence, turning into an opportunist with a slippery tongue.

“Always to the firstborn. But you’re behind the times, girl. Philip’s dead. Dead these last seven months.” Her voice broke on the last words.

“Dead?” I must have sounded stupid, but an early death was the last thing I’d envisioned for Philip. The grievances I’d held against him for years melted away in an instant. All I could think of was the child who’d followed me round begging that I give him a horsey ride, or told him a story.

“How?”

“A duel. In London. A matter of honour was the way it was written to me.”

“Oh.” It was such an ineffectual thing to say, but right at that moment I didn’t really know how I felt. Had Philip actually developed a sense of honour as he grew? Was there a better side to my brother that I’d never seen? I hoped so.

“Is that all you can say? You didn’t deserve a brother. You never had any love for him.”

I let that go. It wasn’t true.

“I thought you might have changed.” My mother’s words startled me and I realised my mind had wandered into the past. Stay sharp. This might yet be a trap, some petty revenge for the wrongs she perceived that I heaped on her: loss of wealth, loss of station; loss of son. Next she’d be blaming me for the loss of my father, though only the sea was to blame for that.

“That’s all I’ve got for you.” She turned away from me. “It’s done. Now, get out.”

“Mother, I–”

“I’m ready for my medicine.”

I knew it would be the last time I’d see her. I wanted to say how sorry I was. Sorry for ruining her life; sorry for Philip’s death. I wanted to take her frail body in my arms and hold her like I could never remember her holding me, but there was nothing between us except bitterness. Even dying, there was no forgiveness.

I turned and walked out, not looking back.

-o0o-

End of Chapter One

-o0o-

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SF Conventions and How to Survive Them

I have just returned from FantasyCon in Chester. Run by the British Fantasy Society, this is an annual event and is the most writerly of British SF conventions. The panels are generally writing oriented and the dealers’ room is mostly full of independent small presses. It’s a weekend con, with events starting on Friday afternoon and continuing to Sunday early afternoon, with the awards dinner beginning at lunchtime and the awards happening through Sunday afternoon. To be honest, since I don’t have a horse in the awards race, and since I like to get home reasonably promptly, I usually leave mid-afternoon.

Chester Rows

I arrived on Thursday because I wanted to see something of Chester, a city that I’ve always managed to miss visiting in the past. So this time I got to see the Roman amphitheatre and the Rows, with their two-level medieval shops. The venue was the Chester Queen Hotel, right opposite the station. It’s an excellent venue for a convention. The rooms are good and the convention facilities excellent. Added to that the staff were all extremely friendly and helpful.

My first ever convention was 2007, so I’m relatively new to fandom. I started attending cons regularly, and volunteering for panels from 2012. My first ever panel was the history/fantasy panel at the Heathrow (London) Eastercon with George RR Martin. I’m not saying I wasn’t overawed, but George is an old hand at conventions and he’s a lovely man who doesn’t make you feel like a raw newbie (even if you are). At that point I’d got my first three book deal with DAW, but my first book hadn’t yet been published.

Now I have five books published and my sixth is coming out in December. In the intervening years I’ve done a lot more panels.

Eastercons are lovely and I tend to treat them as social occasions, catching up with writer-friends I haven’t seen (probably) since last Eastercon. Fantasycons, however, are all about the business. Yes, we make it social, but the panels are practical and interesting. This year I went to one about blogging for writers, a panel about the publishing industry, a workshop on plot pacing, and several more. I sat on panels about writers’ groups and about plot generating. The latter was a strictly fun panel – the last one of the convention – where a panel of writers had to take random plot bunnies shouted out by the audience and make them into… well I’m not quite sure what we made them into, but there was a lot of laughter, especially when we ended up with a (fictional) sentient dildo in a murder-mystery scenario.

Plot panel

The plot panel on Sunday afternoon.

There were writer-friends there, of course, many of them who had some connection with Milford, so we ate together and drank together (mostly coffee to be honest), and managed some social time as well as panel time. I’d taken a stand for Milford, which I set up in the Dealers’ Room with leaflets and a pull-up stand, but since I wasn’t selling anything I didn’t need to be there with it all the time.

If it hadn’t been for The Train Line selling me tickets for a train that didn’t exist on the way home, causing me to spend an hour on the freezing cold platform of Newton Le Willows station while trying to get back on track for my journey, it would have been perfect.

Next weekend I’m going all the way down to Bristol (by train again) for the one-day Bristolcon, held at the Double Tree by Hilton in Bristol city centre. I’ve been several times before. It’s a small convention with an excellent atmosphere and – yes – there are quite a few writer-friends in attendance, mostly a different bunch than the ones who were at Fantasycon.

Though it’s a one-day con, because my train journey is close to four hours, I have to go down on the Friday and return on the Sunday, so for me it’s still a weekend convention. It will mostly be a social convention for me, but I am signed up to do one panel:
Saturday 27th October, 3.00 How to Become a Published Author
With Jasper Fforde, Anna Stephens, Jacey Bedford, Simon Kewin, Cavan Scott (M)
Blurb: It’s not easy. But with a manuscript under your belt you’ve done the hard part. Our panel of professionals from the writing and publishing worlds will offer hints and tips based on their own experiences and careers to date.

I’m looking forward to it.

Surviving two consecutive conventions might be tricky. I’ll need to catch up on sleep this week. I room-shared with Tina A at Chester and I’m room-sharing with Terry J at Bristolcon. Because we don’t see each other all that often we do tend to talk well into the night, and then, of course, have to get up for hotel breakfast the following morning. Being from Yorkshire, if I’ve paid for it, I’m going to eat it, so come hell or high water I will not miss breakfast! (Though I often skip lunch.)

So advice on surviving conventions:

  • Take the easiest, most hassle-free form of travel you can manage.
  • Stay in the convention hotel, even if it’s a few pounds more per night.
  • Arrive early if you can.
  • Get as much sleep as you can.
  • Don’t imbibe too much alcohol. (Hangovers are not fun and people don’t like you snoring through panels.)
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Don’t buy more books than you can carry home.

Enjoy yourself.

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Gentleman Jim Speaks Out

The Rowankind books, Winterwood, Silverwolf and Rowankind (the latter due in December 2018) are narrated by Rossalinde (Ross) Tremayne, but every now and then one of the other characters likes to have his say. You can find Corwen’s piece here. This time it’s the turn of pirate captain Gentleman Jim…

stormy ships

James Mayo isn’t my real name and I never intended to become a pirate, but things happen.

My family had—still have I expect—a plantation in Virginia. With three older brothers, I was never in line to inherit much, so my father determined I should have a profession. He sent me to be educated at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, to study divinity can you believe? Unfortunately that was very shortly before my country had a serious argument over taxation with King George, and I absconded to join a militia.

If I have one very serious piece of advice it’s never to get roaring drunk with your comrades in a seaport while the fleet is recruiting. Portsmouth, Virginia was my downfall. When I came to my senses the ground was rolling beneath me and I perceived myself to be at sea. To make matters worse, it was a French ship of the line, a third-rater called the Jason in the fleet of Rear Admiral Destouches.

I had a few disagreements with my sudden transfer from the militia to the navy, but to my surprise, and to that of my captain, a fine sailor by the name of Jean de la Clocheterie, I took to the ocean. In recognition of my education I was elevated to the grand position of his cabin steward, where, I may say, I prospered. It’s surprising what you can learn once you’ve acquired a position of trust. I survived the battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, was on board the Jason at the Battle of Mona Passage a year later when she was captured by the British. I had no liking for the idea of being at the mercy of King George, who had a tendency to insist that Americans were subjects of the Crown and therefore eligible to become cannon fodder in the Royal Navy. Along with a few compatriots, I contrived to escape in the ship’s jolly-boat, and we made the shores of Hispaniola where there are many opportunities open to a young man of keen intelligence and fighting spirit.

I joined the crew of the Black Hawk, then captained by Edgar Ransome. It took me six years to work my way up to the top, but by the time I was twenty-seven I was captain, and Ransome was at the bottom of the sea.

Heart of OakI first saw Rossalinde Tremayne when her husband Will and I both chased down the same French merchantman. I wasn’t in the mood to fight two battles, and neither was he, so we agreed that I would take the cargo and he would take the ship for the bounty paid by the British. I was intrigued by Tremayne’s woman, fighting like a maniac, sword and pistol in hand. I didn’t know then that she was his wife. Though I’d barely spoken two words to the lady I couldn’t get her out of my head. Lust at first sight you might say.

A year later I received a missive from Tremayne asking for a parlez between privateers and pirates to sort out who would raid where. I might have refused outright. What concessions did we pirates need to give to those who considered themselves above us just because they had letters of marque from their monarch? Then I remembered the wench and wondered whether she was still with Tremayne.

I granted them parlez and invited those other pirate captains plying their trade in the Caribbean and across the Atlantic. Tremayne did likewise amongst his privateer acquaintances. We met three months later at the Golden Compass, in Ravenscraig, on the Island of Auvienne. My Island. My town. My tavern. My rules. Except Tremayne was a fierce negotiator and in the end I gave more concessions that I had planned. I blame the distraction. Tremayne had brought the wench with him, though she was a pale shadow of the woman I had seen before.

It turned out that only two months before, she’d given birth to a son, born early. He barely lived a few days and her grief was palpable. Tremayne did what he could, but I perceived she needed cheering up and so I went out of my way to be kind and attentive. I had my reasons, of course. Many a marriage has been soured by the death of a child, and I determined to be the one to pick up the pieces if their relationship shattered.

Alas, we became friends. I say alas, because in the end I wanted the best for her and that meant relinquishing her to Tremayne when we concluded our parlez. Her loyalty to him was unshakeable.

It took several months for the news of Tremayne’s death to reach me. To my credit my first instinct was shock. Men like Tremayne are not easily disposed of. But the sea had other ideas. He’d been killed by a falling spar at the height of a storm, and my lovely Ross was a widow. An available widow.

Ross Trenayne 4I hadn’t expected her to take over the captaincy of her ship, but news reached me that the Heart Of Oak was cruising the Caribbean for French shipping. I set my sails in that direction, but she was elusive. Then I heard she’d gone back to the Atlantic sea routes.

It was another couple of years until fate dropped her into my lap unexpectedly. A storm had damaged the Heart of Oak and she was forced to take shelter in a cove on my island. I hadn’t had any inclination, then, that she was mixed up in magic, but when I rode, with my men, to confront her and her crew, there was a box which made my stomach tingle. I’ve always been a little sensitive to magic and the box drew me almost as much as Ross did. I’d heard there was an Englishman prepared to pay well for such a thing. She gave up the box easily—maybe too easily—and accepted an invitation to dinner. I took the box and left Ross a mount to make the journey to Ravenscraig. I was half afraid that she wouldn’t come. To my surprise she did. I wined her and dined her, and wooed her as delicately as I could when all I wanted to do was to rip off her clothes and bed her until she was insensible. It seemed that she’s had enough of widowhood for she came to me willingly. I will not give away secrets of the bedchamber, but I thought that having come to me once she was mine.

I was wrong.

Ravenscraig came under attack that night from two British warships and in the panic and confusion, my lovely Ross slipped away, taking the magical box with her. I hadn’t known, until that night, that she was a witch. No wonder I was drawn to her.

Unfortunately I had already despatched a messenger to the Englishman who sought the box. His name was Walsingham and he made the journey to Ravenscraig and offered me a generous sum for laying a trap for the Heart of Oak. Ross wasn’t aboard, he said, so I was happy to do it. Unfortunately Walsingham was not only a liar, he was a magic user. We trapped Ross’ ship, and she was on it. I thought he was going to kill her, but when I objected he turned his magic against me. The next thing I knew I was in the water and swimming for my life as my ship’s powder magazine blew up behind me. I’ll gloss over the rest as it’s not a time I wish to remember. I was picked up by a pirate called Nicholas Thompson, Old Nick to his enemies; I doubt he has any friends.

By the time I escaped, I’d lost my ship, my crew, my island, and my self-respect. I slipped down the neck of a rum bottle, and might have stayed there, but Ross came into my life again. She had a new husband, Corwen, a wolf shapechanger, and they seemed very much in love. I can’t fault the man. He and Ross gave me back my island, my place at the head of the pirates, and my life.

The very last time I saw her I took both her hands in mine and kissed her cheeks. “If you get tired of dry land,” I said, “you know where to come.”

She smiled at me and said, “I do, but I won’t.”

I knew in my heart I would never see her again when she said, “Have a great life. Stay well and safe.”

I squeezed her hands once and then let her go. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever done, but her time on the ocean was over. She’d go back to England with her husband and continue to fight for the rights of magic users, because my dear Ross could never refuse a fight. She was – she still is – the bravest woman I ever knew, but didn’t count herself as anything special. That’s what made her so special to me. And I saw it in her husband’s eyes every time he looked at her.

She paused once on the gang plank to turn and wave, and then walked into her husband’s embrace. She’d found a good man. If I ever find a woman half as good as Rossalinde I might even be tempted to settle down, but until then I have my island, my ships, my tavern, and all it’s womanly delights.

But a man, even a pirate, can dream.

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My Week at Milford

My writing week

The view from the window of my little room.

Many thanks to last week’s guest blogger Joshua Palmatier for doing a post for me while I was away at Milford SF Writers’ week in Snowdonia at the lovely Trigonos, Though they do have wi-fi there now, it tends to be intermittent, so I wasn’t sure how much connectivity I would have. Also I was working on my little Dell laptop, bought (reconditioned) for travelling. It’s nowhere near as convenient as my desktop machine which has a 23 inch monitor and a lovely clicky keyboard.

What’s Milford?

Milford is  practically an institution in it’s own right. It was started by a bunch of well known, well respected professional SF writers in Milford Pennsylvania in 1956. Damon Knight being one of the prime movers. James and Judy Blish brought it to the UK in 1972 and with only a couple of exceptions it has run annually ever since.

The Blishes organized it at a venue in Milford on Sea. Anne McCaffrey chaired the first one, and the rank and file consisted of Mark Adlard, Brian Aldiss, John Brunner, Ken Bulmer, George Locke (‘Gordon Walters’), John Murry (‘Richard Cowper’), John Phillifent (‘John Rackham’), Chris Priest, David Redd, Josephine Saxton, Andrew Stephenson and Peter Tate. In the subsequent four-and-a-bit decades many SF luminaries have passed through: George RR Martin, Brian Aldiss, Bruce Sterling, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, John Brunner. David Langford, John Clute… and many more. You can see more about MIlford’s history here http://www.milfordsf.co.uk/history.htm and more about Milford itself here http://www.milfordsf.co.uk.

Panorama01

Milford 2017 (Photo: Matt Colborn)

What do we do?

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

Coffee break and conversation 2018

Milford is all about writing. Stick fifteen writers in a small venue in the middle of Wild Welsh Wales for a week and you get some amazing results. Everybody bonds. (Note bonding is not compulsory, but in all the years I’ve been involved there have only been a couple of people who have resisted the camaraderie.) That’s not to say we live in each others’ pockets for the week. We have a schedule which goes something like: Saturday arrive and settle in (and have dinner together) Sunday to Thursday inclusive, mornings are your own; afternoons are formal critique sessions and evenings are social time. (Though if you want to sneak back to your room and write, there’s nothing to stop you.) We send round our pieces for critique two to three weeks before Milford starts to give ourselves chance to read and critique in advance. And the workload is heavy, so it makes sense to get as much done as possible beforehand.

When choosing what to send in the general advice is to send an unpublished piece (or two pieces) of not more than ten thousand words altogether. Make it as good as you can but sometimes if you’re having trouble with a piece that’s also a good reason to select it for scrutiny. This year I sent a section from the work in progress, The Amber Crown. It’s a book with three viewpoint characters and though it’s kinda, sorta finished I just added a whole load of story for my female character, Mirza. Though her chapters are interspersed with the other two (Valdas and Lind) I pulled them all together into one continuous piece. I received some really interesting critiques, but nearly everyone said that the long flashback was problematical, but a couple of people suggested writing it in real time and inserting it as an extra chapter earlier in the book. At one time Mirza didn’t appear until Chapter 9, now she’s right there in Chapter 2. I’m happy with that.

Few people got massively adverse comments. Everyone said that the comments they did get were really helpful. (And they are always delivered constructively.) You probably learn as much – if not more – from critiquing otherpeople’s pieces than you do from having your own piece critiqued.

It was one of those weeks where we seemed to be laughing all the time, even though Wales was trying to drown us in rain for most of the week. Predictably the rain cleared up on the last day for the drive home.

Valley in gloom

Nantlle Valley in a gloomy mood. You should be able to see Mount Snowdon in the distance, but it’s obscured by low cloud.

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Guest Blog From Joshua Palmatier

Jacey Bedford graciously invited me to guest here at her blog today so that I could talk about the small press Zombies Need Brains and our current Kickstarter (check out tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals) attempting to fund three brand new SF&F anthologies.  I thought it might be nice to explain where the themes for these three anthologies came from.

PORTALSsmallFirst, the lead anthology, which is really my own little baby.  I grew up reading fantasy novels in the 80s, which means I read a ton of novels with characters from our world transported to another world.  Books like Andre Norton’s WITCH WORLD or Stephen Donaldson’s CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT.  There were many, many others, but I noticed that I hadn’t seen or read many “portal novels” in either fantasy or sci-fi recently.  I loved those stories, so thought, “Why not do an anthology with portals as the theme?”  Hence, PORTALS was born (although the original name I had for the anthology was WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE; I think PORTALS is much more concise and explains the theme rather well though).  Even though this was my concept, I decided I’d let Patricia Bray and S.C. Butler edit it.  I expect I’ll read a fair amount of the submissions to the open call though, perhaps stick my nose in occasionally with a thought.  *grin*

The second anthology in the Kickstarter is TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED.  This theme came about when I received a spam email from a bank I didn’t have an account at that warned:  “Your account will be temporally deactivated unless you respond to this email now and confirm your account! [suspicious link here]”  Zombies Need Brains had just released the anthology TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER (to great success) and I immediately thought “SEQUEL”!  I added it to my list of potential themes and then promptly forgot about it … until David B. Coe got the same email a few years later (these things never die) and pinged me about it.  He’d had the same thought:  “SEQUEL!”  And so the theme was revived and of course David B. Coe is now editing it with me.

The last anthology for this Kickstarter came out of the blue.  I’d honestly been considering doing just two anthologies this time, but Steven H Silver emailed me with this cool concept for an alternate history anthology, ALTERNATE PEACE.  Most alternate history novels and stories begin with a change in the outcome of some kind of violent event, such as a different result for a battle or a war.  His idea was to find alternate history stories where the divergence from our own timeline came from a peaceful change, such as a discovery (or lack of) in science or a societal culture change.  That change could lead to violence, but the change in the timeline itself was peaceful.  I liked the concept and thought it fit well with the other two themes, so I decided to add it to this year’s roster.

So that’s how the three themes for this year’s Kickstarter were selected.  If you’ve got a moment, swing on by the Kickstarter at tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals and make a pledge!  Help bring these themes to life!  It’s only $15 for the ebooks and $48 for the paperbacks.  And once the Kickstarter is funded, there will be an open call for submissions, so anyone can submit a story for consideration.

And if you haven’t heard of the small press Zombies Need Brains before, we are a relatively new press with 10 anthologies under our belts.  We’ve been recognized by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SWFA) as a professional market and we have had three of our past stories in anthologies up for the WSFA Small Press Award.  Two of those stories are up this year and we hope that one of them wins!  Fingers crossed!

You can find out more at www.zombiesneedbrains.com and tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals.  I hope to see you on the backer list!

BenTateJoshua Palmatier has published nine novels to date—the “Throne of Amenkor” series (The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, The Vacant Throne), the “Well of Sorrows” series (Well of Sorrows, Leaves of Flame, Breath of Heaven), and the “Ley” series (Shattering the Ley, Threading the Needle, Reaping the Aurora).  He is currently hard at work on the start of a new series, as yet untitled.  He has also published numerous short stories and has edited numerous anthologies.  He is the founder/owner of a small press called Zombies Need Brains LLC, which focuses on producing SF&F themed anthologies, the most recent being Guilds & Glaives, The Razor’s Edge, and Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar.  Find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at www.zombiesneedbrains.com.  You can also find him on Facebook under Joshua B. Palmatier and Zombies Need Brains, and on Twitter at @bentateauthor and @ZNBLLC.

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Finish What You Start – Or Don’t

Unless you stop faffing about re-writing the beginning of your story/novel, you’ll never finish it.

Believe me, I know this. I am an expert in faffing around.

I’ve spent untold hours/days/weeks/months getting the start of my novels just right. Sometimes that means rewriting the first few scenes time and time again. Sometimes it means starting the story in a different place, either earlier or later than I had first envisaged.

The acknowledged writerly wisdom is that even though you know the opening isn’t perfect, you can move on to the rest of the novel then come back at the end and rewrite the beginning with the hindsight of having a finished story. And, indeed, that’s not a bad idea at all.

But…

But…

For me the opening is my launch pad into the story. Unless I have a clearly defined jumping-off point I find I’m floating in a bit of a vacuum. I need solid ground from which to jump.

I’m one of those writers who is halfway between a plotter and a pantser. At the beginning of a novel I’m usually ‘pantsing’ – i.e. writing by the seat of my pants, trying to discover what the story is about and who the characters are. Though I often have an ending in mind, I can get twenty thousand words on the screen before I start to jot down notes-to-self on where the story is going.

Nimbus front coverWhen I started to write Nimbus, the third book in my Psi-Tech space opera series, I think I must have written four or five different openings. (The first one I wrote eventually ended up as a story thread that appeared about one third into the book. So don’t ever throw your rejected openings away. They may still be useful elsewhere.)

The writers’ group I belong to must have been punch drunk when presented with my multiple alternative beginnings, but eventually I got to where I needed to be and with great relief, moved forward.

The book I’m working on at the moment, The Amber Crown, had a clearly defined beginning from the moment of its conception and yet… it has three individual viewpoint characters, all separate at first. So, really it has three beginnings. I wrote it right through to the end and then decided that one of my characters began her journey in the wrong place, so I’ve just gone back and inserted two additional chapters to begin her story much earlier. Not at the beginning, but at her beginning.

Rowankind_cover 400In my upcoming book, Rowankind, (DAW, December 2018), the final book in my Rowankind trilogy (a historical fantasy set in the early 1800s) I was almost ready to send the finished manuscript to my publisher when I finally figured out that I’d left something out that needed to be right at the beginning, so I added in a new chapter.

But what happens when you can’t get an opening to work?

Unless you are a serial abandoner of half-finished novels, there’s really nothing to stop you from saying, “This simply isn’t working.” We all have moments when we think what we’re writing is trash, and it will never work, and it’s the worst thing we’ve ever written, so we have to judge very carefully. Is this one of those phases that all authors go through, or do we really, truly know this book is not working? I have one of those. It’s a book I started writing and spent several months on, but the further I got into it, the less confidence I had. In the end I showed it to my writers’ group and though they didn’t hate it, they didn’t totally love it either. I felt justified in retiring it to the bottom drawer. Maybe I’ll look at it later and be able to see why it didn’t work for me. Maybe I’ll have a sudden insight and know what I need to do to set it right, or maybe it will languish, forgotten forever. Since I have six books published and four more finished, I don’t feel guilty about the one that got away.

Sometimes a thing simply doesn’t work, and we have to admit it.

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Jaine Fenn Guest Blog

HiddenSun_cover 144dpiEvery writer has their obsessions, the themes we return to; real-world stuff that bothers us enough that we pick and peck at them repeatedly through our stories – because y’know, writing is therapy.

I’m fascinated by juxtapositions. Especially physical ones: I’ve lived much of my life between the rural and urban, on the edge of towns, seeing the best and worst of both worlds, escaping to one when the other got too much. Perhaps that’s why I love the idea of divided worlds. How do they come about? Can one exist without the other? What happens when they rub up against each other?

Although it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, looking back I can see that this obsession was there from the start. Khesh City, the setting for my first novel Principles of Angels, is physically divided into an upper and lower city, one on top of the other. I spent a long time getting to know that setting while I learnt the craft and wrote (and rewrote… and rewrote) the novel, but one book wasn’t enough for this particular obsession.

Not that the idea of a divided world was the seed for the Shadowlands books. I’d had it in mind to write something with weird-yet-accurate cosmology for some time, and from this cosmology came the division of a world into skylands – where the heat, radiation and scary wildlife would soon put an end to an unaugmented human – and the shadowlands – isolated low-tech settlements not unlike the old Greek or Italian city-states.

Writing the shadowlands books has been in challenge in many ways, as I’m taking the stories into places I’ve not dared before, and I’ve had to get various scientifically trained grown-ups to help me design the world. But once the underpinnings were in place, the physical set-up became a major driver for the story – all the while allowing me to explore one of my favourite obsessions.

 

JF torso shotJaine Fenn studied linguistics and astronomy to a level just high enough to be able to fake it and worked in IT just long enough to never trust computers again. She is the author of numerous published short stories and of the Hidden Empire series of space opera novels, published by Gollancz. She also teaches creative writing and is currently writing for the video games industry. Her upcoming novel is Hidden Sun, out on 4th September 2018 in paperback and ebook from Angry Robot.

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Book Covers

The page proofs for Nimbus just landed in my desk, so I’m a bit busy this week, so rather than rushing to write a post I thought you might be interested in my book cover illustrations for the Rowankind trilogy, and how they turned out after the designers had turned them into the actual book covers. Sometimes I’ve looked at the initial images and wondered how on earth the designers (not the same people as the illustrator, Larry Rostant) were going to fit in the type, but they always do.

Enjoy.

Rowankind Vis

Rowankind_cover

Silverwolf Revise

Silverwolf final front cover

Winterwood Vis 2

Winterwood front cover

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Dropping a Pebble in the Pond

I used to think that if I could only get one book published by a major publisher I would be able to die happy (though I did not necessarily plan that particular event soon). Now I have five books published and another coming out in December, so my ambitions have changed. Now I not only want my books to be published, but I actually want people to read them, to like them, to tell their reading friends about them, to review them (favourably, I hope, but also honestly) and to talk about them online via Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon reviews.

And that’s where you come in, gentle reader.

These days–unless authors are already ‘best sellers’–publishers don’t really give our books much of a push. Oh, yes, they publish them, and make sure they are the best they can be in terms of editing and cover design. They put us in their catalogue, and tweet about us the day our book is released, but my publicist is also the publicist for any number of other authors, and the time she can give my new book (or any new book) is limited.

I’m not grumbling about this. I love my publisher. It’s just the way it is for many, many authors out there who are published by any number of publishers, large and small.

So what we rely on, gentle reader, is YOU.

I’m not just begging for myself, but for all author-kind. If you like a book, shout out about it. Mention it in your blog, recommend it to friends, tweet about it, add your review to the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and any other bookish sites that solicit your opinions.

Borderlands-shelfie

For almost a decade I’ve been blogging about books and reading to anyone who will listen. Some are books that I like, others not so much (but I try to be fair). I blog every book I read and have done since 2009. I have a completely separate book and movie blog on Dreamwidth: https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/

Sometimes it feels like a bit of a bind to finish a book and have to write it up, but I’m so glad I’ve stuck to it. Flicking back through my blog reminds me of all the books I’ve read. How I wish I’d started doing it years ago.

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Character self-determination

There’s one of those little graphics floating around Facebook that says: Main Characters: You do everything you can to raise them right, and as soon as they hit the page they do any damn thing they please.

Yes, fellow writers, we can all grin at that because sometimes our main characters do go off and do something that we hadn’t originally planned for them to do. However, if we’ve raised them right, i.e. drawn all aspects of their character well enough to make them a fully functioning, three-dimensional person, then whatever they do should arise from the character we’ve created. Their actions and exploits will be in character. And if they aren’t, we need to go back to the drawing board.

Characters should have not only basic traits but quirks and flaws – consistent ones – and they need vulnerabilities to make them interesting. No one is going to root for a hero who gets it right all the time. A character’s bad decision is often what makes for a good story as long as you follow it through to its logical conclusion.

Empire of Dust

Empire of Dust – Cover

In Empire of Dust (DAW 2014), the first book in my Psi-Tech trilogy, Cara Carlinni makes a bad decision – possibly the worst of her life – before the book opens, and she spends the rest of the book trying to get out of the mess she’s created. Why did she make that decision? What drove her then and what drives her now?

It took me a while to sort that one out in my head. I knew Cara as a character, all the many different aspects that make her, for me, a real person, but it took listening to a John Tams song (from his fine album, Unity) to suddenly crystallise a central point. Everything was there in the character I’d already drawn, but I hadn’t joined the dots. When I heard the line I had an ‘Oh, of course,’ moment.

The line is: ‘I must be getting easier to leave.’

Of course! That was what drove Cara.

Her parents had split up when she was a child. She’d shuttled between them until her father died suddenly and she was dropped back in her mother’s lap. Her mother had a series of new projects and new men, each one more important to her than the little girl who was always being left behind. Cara grows up and gets a job which sends her scuttling off for long periods (to the other side of the Galaxy, but the character motivation isn’t dependent on the SF setting) and in one traumatic incident she loses a lover, i.e. is left again. So when she’s offered something that looks like stability she grabs it. She puts her trust in the wrong person.

It’s the wrong decision, but getting out is not an option until it becomes the only option. What happens in the rest of the book follows on naturally from that one bad decision.

Ross Partial

Ross Tremayne, from Winterwood.

Sometimes what a character wants is to get out of the situation she finds herself in through no fault of her own. In my Rowankind novels, Ross Tremayne is backed into a corner by events in her family’s past. She’s given a quest, which she tries to ignore. She’s bounced around by fate (on land and at sea) but it’s not until she accepts the responsibility that’s fallen to her that she becomes proactive and takes charge of her own future. Ross doesn’t want the quest, but she needs it, and it changes her life (eventually for the better).

The problems often occur when a supporting character tries to take over. That happened to me when I was writing Empire of Dust. Max kept trying to get more page time. I liked him as a character, but his antics were distracting me from the forward thrust of the main story (Cara’s and Ben’s). I had to cut out about five chapters of Max’s shenanigens. You really have to keep a tight rein on some of the characters. They can so easily run away with a story.

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Writing New Series Vs. Sequels – A guest blog by Gail Z. Martin

HawthornMoon1Readers ask, “What do you like better, starting a new series or writing another book in an existing series?”
That’s like asking, “What do you like more, going to visit old friends or taking a trip somewhere you’ve never been before?”
I like both, but of course, they’re very different. Writing a new series is exciting, because it’s very much a trip to uncharted territory. Whether the setting is somewhere in the real world, or in a place I’ve made up, there’s so much to learn before I feel like a ‘native’. I need to get immersed in the history, landmarks, geography, and magic system, as well as getting to know the main and secondary characters. Until I really understand the characters, they won’t feel real to the reader.
TangledWeb_500Then again, writing a sequel in an existing series is like going to visit old friends, or coming home. I already know the people and the territory. I can slip into it like a comfortable pair of sweats and write with confidence, because I know where I’m going, and the characters whisper in my ear in familiar voices.
Building a new series requires a lot of research, delving into history, geography and folklore/mythology to build the world. Or if the series is set in the real world, getting my details right so people who actually live in that location won’t call me out! I’ve got to think through the characters, their personalities and motivations, their hopes and fears and insecurities, so that they come alive for the reader.
This summer, I’ll have sequels out in both the Darkhurst series and in the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures. And we’ve just recently brought out Tangled Web, the third book in the Deadly Curiosities series, as well as Deep Trouble, the third Mark Wojcik Monster Hunter novella (co-written with Larry N. Martin).
FC (Vengeance)Vengeance is the second Darkhurst book, a sequel to Scourge. When undertaker brothers Corran and Rigan Valmonde became outlaw monster hunters and fled beyond the walls of Ravenwood, they thought they had defeated the source of the abominations that killed so many of their friends and loved ones. But the more successful they become at destroying the creatures, the more they realize a greater evil is at work – larger and more monstrous than they ever could imagine…
Darkhurst is a sprawling, complicated world and the plot has a lot of moving parts. What seemed like a fairly straight-forward problem in Scourge turns out to be much bigger and more dangerous now that Corran, Rigan and their friends understand the true scope. I had a lot of fun with the storyline, although it’s definitely one of my darker reads, and I think the big battle is one of my favorites that I’ve written.
DarkRoadThe Dark Road is the second book in the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, a prequel series to the Chronicles of the Necromancer. It takes us through Jonmarc’s years as a mercenary, the massive betrayal that makes him a wanted man with a royal death warrant on his head, and his years as a Nargi fight slave, and later as a bodyguard and smuggler. By the end of the book, we’re about five years out from when Jonmarc meets Tris Drayke in The Summoner. I plan to write more about his smuggling years at some point to bring Jonmarc’s story up to right before he meets Tris and the others in Ghorbal. (Both The Shadowed Path and The Dark Road are collections of previously published short stories and novellas that make up two serialized novels. This is the first time the stories have been collected and available in print as well as ebook.)
Tangled Web is the third book in the Deadly Curiosities series, set in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s so much fun to be back with Cassidy, Teag and Sorren—as well as their awesome friends and allies—battling big evil in the Holy City! Then in Deep Trouble, Mark Wojcik tackles vengeful spirits, the pissed off ghost of Revolutionary War general ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne, the Pig People of Radio Tower Hill and a hungry dragon lurking in the ruins of an abandoned amusement park. It’s snarky, sarcastic comedic horror!
On the new stuff….I’m working on Sons of Darkness, a brand new dark urban fantasy set in Pittsburgh, PA. I lived in Pittsburgh for ten years, and it’s a perfect city for a demon-hunting ex-priest and a former Special Ops soldier to team up against the forces of evil! Assassin’s Honor, the first in the new Assassin’s of Landria series, is a buddy flick epic fantasy, sort of like if Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were medieval assassins. Expect it to be a little lighter and not as sprawling in scope as my other epics, more of a high adventure. Look for those new books this fall.
Stay tuned—there are a lot more new adventures coming up!
Enter for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate in my Hawthorn Moon Blog Tour giveaway! http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/9751c04211/?
0061-eWomenNetwork

Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

About the Author

The Hawthorn Moon is the annual summer blog tour for Gail Z. Martin, and features guest blog posts, giveaways, surprises, excerpts and more on a number of blogs worldwide. Find the master list of posts and goodies at www.GailZMartin.com
Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books, Orbit Books, and Falstaff Books. Series include Darkhurst, the Chronicles Of The Necromancer, the Fallen Kings Cycle, the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, and Deadly Curiosities. The Mark Wojcik Monster Hunter series and Iron & Blood in the Jake Desmet Steampunk series are co-authored with Larry N. Martin, along with the related Storm and Fury Adventures. She also writes urban fantasy MM paranormal romance as Morgan Brice, including the Witchbane and Badlands series.
Vengeance: A Darkhurst novel, is the second in a new epic fantasy series. Her Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC has a new novel, Tangled Web, and a new collection, Trifles and Folly 2. The Mark Wojcik Monster Hunter series includes Spells, Salt, and Steel, Open Season and Deep Trouble in a new comedic horror/urban fantasy series (Falstaff) and the Iron & Blood universe has the  Storm and Fury Adventures collection of short stories, and an upcoming new novel, Spark of Destiny.
Gail is also the author of Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst, Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, War of Shadows and Shadow and Flame in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novels Deadly Curiosities and Vendetta. Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures.
Her work has appeared in over 35 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, Gaslight and Grimm, Hath No Fury, Journeys, #We Are Not This, The Baker Street Irregulars, In a Cat’s Eye, and Afterpunk: Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife.
Find her at www.GailZMartin.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin. She is also the organizer of the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign www.HoldOnToTheLight.com
Gail Z. Martin
Proud Member: SFWA, Broad Universe
New in 2018
Vengeance: A Novel of Darkhurst
Trifles and Folly2: A Deadly Curiosities Collection
Tangled Web: A Deadly Curiosities novel
Storm & Fury: The Collected Stories
Salvage Rat (new space adventure by Larry N. Martin)
Assassin’s Honor: Book One in the Assassins of Landria
Plus all-new novellas in the Spells, Salt & Steel universe and several new series!
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Make me Immortal with a Kiss

SecondRoundFrontCoverRightZombies Need Brains press ran a Kickstarter in 2017, to fund a set of three themed anthologies. Each anthology has New York Times bestselling authors alongside authors who’ve just made their first professional sale. One of the anthologies in this batch is SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR, which is a follow-up to a previously released anthology called AFTERHOURS: TALES FROM THE URBAR. Here, Gilgamesh bartends a time-traveling bar where history mixes with a touch of magic. For thousands of years the immortal Gilgamesh has presided over the legendary Ur-Bar, witnessing history unfold from within its walls. Some days it is a rural tavern, others a fashionable wine shop. It may appear as a hidden speakeasy or take on the form of your neighbourhood local. For most patrons it is simply a place to quench their thirst, but for a rare few the Ur-Bar is where they will meet their destiny. Anchor authors include Gini Koch, Juliet E. McKenna, C.E. Murphy, Kristine Smith, Kari Sperring… and me.

I was delighted to be invited to contribute a story to this, but I confess my knowledge of Gilgamesh was a little thin, so it was great to get some guidelines. The bar can pop up anywhere at any time and it displays the ancient recipe for beer on a clay tablet Gilamesh himself is immortal but can’t leave the bar. He can (but doesn’t always) offer his own special drink which might just serve to give the drinker what s/he wants (or maybe what s/he needs which is not always the same thing).

children book cover final 2Those of us who were invited were allowed to choose a time period, so that we didn’t duplicate, so I got in early with my choice: 1916, the eve of the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest action in the First World War. I’d just written THE HORSE HEAD VIOLIN, another First World War story about Belgian refugees in 1914 for Alma Alexander’s fundraising anthology CHILDREN OF A DIFFERENT SKY, so my head was still in that particular time period. I’d set THE HORSE HEAD VIOLIN in Leeds and included a few real characters and incidents, so I continued that theme.

I have two main protagonists, one, Alastair Gaunt, a lieutenant in the Leeds Pals, one of those regiments comprising young men all from the same area. The other lead character, Amelia Pentney-Knowles, is a volunteer nurse who’s left a sheltered place with her family, and has had to grow up very quickly as she’s faced with the horrors of injuries and illnesses incurred in the trenches.

And so MAKE ME IMMORTAL WITH A KISS grew into being. A doomed love affair mitigated by a moment of resolution, courtesy of Gilgamesh. No, I’m not going to give away the story. Please buy a copy of the anthology. It’s out in mid June and it’s got some fantastic stories in it. I will say that one of the early readers tweeted:
Damn. @JaceyBedford just made me bawl with her story in the new @ZNBLLC antho #SecondRoundReturnToTheUrBar

I must admit to a few salty tears while I was writing it.

This is the real world background.

The Leeds Pals Regiment was raised in 1914 by volunteers. They trained in Colsterdale, North Yorkshire, and in 1915 deployed to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal against the Turks. They were shipped to France in March 1916 to join the British build-up for the Battle of the Somme. On the first day, the battalion casualties numbered 24 officers and 504 other ranks, of which 15 officers and 233 other ranks were killed. Private A.V. Pearson, a survivor, later said: “We were two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying.”

Victor RatcliffeLieutenant Victor Ratcliffe, who has a walk-on role in this story, was a real person, a minor war poet and nephew of Edward Allen Brotherton, Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1913-14, one of those responsible for raising and equipping the Leeds Pals regiment. Victor also died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, killed in action at Fricourt. He was twenty-nine years old, and left behind a fiancée, Pauline.

Private Tommy Bennett was very loosely based on my grandfather who volunteered and joined the KOYLI in 1914 (Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry – not a Pals regiment). The songs in the story are the ones Grandpa sang snatches of all the time. He survived the Somme but was invalided out at Passchendaele in 1917 with half his calf shot away.thomas bennett It bought him a ticket home, but he was a year in various hospitals undergoing a long slow recovery. He always walked heavily on that leg and when pressed would roll up his trouser leg and show you his ’empty’ calf and his middle toes that crossed over each other as if wishing for luck. Like many soldiers who’d been through the trenches he rarely talked about it, but I gleaned enough to have some idea of what it was like. Once he was fit again he returned home to life underground in a coal mine which may not have been a lot better, but at least no one was shooting at him. Despite the trenches and the coal mine he lived to his mid-eighties, married his sweetheart and raised a daughter – my mum.

All that background was in my head, though I couldn’t get it all on the page because what mattered was the love affair between my two protagonists under almost impossible circumstances.

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What times we’ve lived through.

Annie Shaw

Grandmas Annie Shaw circa 1918

My grandma’s house was a miner’s cottage in Mapplewell, probably built in the mid to late Victorian period. It was red brick, two up, two down with a toilet in the yard. There was a cellar with a freshwater spring in it, forming a little well, which may have once been the water supply, but by the time Grandma and Grandpa moved in, there was running water to the kitchen sink. Though it was a tiny house they hardly ever used the front room except when there were visitors. The back room was always referred to as the ‘house’ and was the only room that was heated regularly using the coal allowance from Grandpa’s job as a miner.

My parents’ house, the one I recall from my childhood, was a few miles away in Athersley, on the outskirts of Barnsley. It was probably built in the 1920s/1930s, a two up, two down semi with an indoor bathroom. We lived in the back room during the day – a combined kitchen, living room and dining room, with a coal oven and two gas rings on the sink draining board. Outside was a gas street lamp – replaced by an electric one when I was very young, but I can still just about remember it.

What times we have lived through! From black lead fireplaces and gas street lamps to personal computers the size of a slim paperback book.

I’ve spent the last few years, off and on, researching family history, going back (through some lines) to the 1600s.

Clifford's postcard 1925 front

You won’t find any lords of the manor or toffs of any kind in my family tree – certainly no royalty or nobility. We’re a boring lot. As far back as occupations are recorded we’re mostly miners with a few nailmakers thrown into the mix – a job, in its own way, almost as dangerous as working at the coalface, at least for the children of the family who often played around the family’s forge while both parents worked.

I’ve done quite a lot of history research for my Rowankind books which are set in 1800, 1801 and 1802. It’s the period of Regency romances (though strictly speaking the Regency didn’t begin until 1811).

Duke and II love Regency Romance. It’s my guilty pleasure. Though sometimes I wonder how many dukedoms have been invented by authors writing in the genre. Pretty debs in Regency romances always have to find a rakish duke, or at least an earl or a viscount they can reform into good husband material. The aristocracy has never been so populous.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love reading all that kind of stuff, especially if it’s written with wit and a touch of humour. (Julia Quinn’s books come to mind! And, of course, Georgette Heyer.)

Winterwood front cover

Winterwood by Jacey Bedford, published by DFAW, Feb 2016.

Northern working class folk didn’t mix with the likes of the ton, so I’m happy to write books set in that era where the ton is never mentioned at all. The heroine of my Rowankind books, Rossalinde navigates through life on the outskirts of polite society. Ross’ family is firmly middle class. Her father was a sea captain, and she took to the sea herself when she ran off with her first husband (who features in the trilogy as a jealous ghost).

My Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmothers  were born around the same time as my fictional heroine, Ross. Ann Wyatt in Somerset, and in Yorkshire, Sarah Pollard and Ann Auckland. Ann was born in 1774 and lived to be 78 years old. She married Reuban Hargreaves and they had at least eight children. Mary Fleetwood was born in Staincross in 1774. She married Timothy Crow and proceeded to pop out nine children at approximately two year intervals. That (and looking after them) is hard work! You can bet your bottom dollar that she never aspired to travel to London, and never had a voucher for Almacks.

Though Timothy Crow’s exact occupation is unknown, he’s listed as a labourer. His father, Robert, was a blacksmith, a respectable profession for a working man. Timothy’s grandson, George, was a coal miner, living in Mapplewell, a pit village in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

george & eliza crowe

George Crow and his wife Emma. He was a coal miner. She was from a nailmaking family.

George Crow is the son of Timothy’s youngest daughter, Mary. He was born in 1838, two years before her marriage to Charles Pickering. George’s siblings are all Pickerings. As to whether Charles is George’s father I’d hazard a guess that he’s not. None of the indicators are there. It was common for bastards to have the surname of their father as a middle name, but George had no middle name. Also, if Mary and Charles were going to get married after George’s birth, it’s not likely they’d have waited two years. Neither George’s birth certificate nor his marriage certificate name a father, so I draw my own conclusion.

Unlike my characters I don’t think there would have been much magic in my ancestors’ lives.

Now that I’ve finished writing the Rowankind trilogy, and my next book after that is written, my mind is turning towards writing something new. Am I going to stick to the past or travel into the future? I’ve got a few interesting characters in my family tree such as Fletcher Fletcher who was a colliery engine wright and whose third wife, Ann Randle, was listed as a schoolmistress on the 1861 census. There’s Moses Lockyer, born around 1600 in Radstock, Somerset, who married Mary Wiles, had nine children and lived through the English Civil War.

Inspiration for a story? Maybe. It’s certainly worth looking into my family history a little more closely while I’m contemplating my next book.

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Rowankind Delivered

On Friday night I sent off the final edited version of my upcoming novel ROWANKIND.

Let me say that again because it never gets old. On Friday night I sent off the final edited version of my upcoming novel ROWANKIND.

Jacey Office 4It’s the culmination of seven months of work, five months to write the first draft and deliver it, a gap of a month while my editor (Sheila Gilbert at DAW) went to work on it, and another month of (structural/story) editing.

Of course, work on the book isn’t finished yet, but most of my work is. From here it goes to my editor for a final check. I’ve gone through one edit with Sheila already, and made the changes she suggested, but if there are any issues she still needs me to address, of course, she can send it back to me and I can do more edits.

Once Sheila is happy with it, it goes to a copy editor who changes my British English to American English, and checks my prose for clunky sentences and bad punctuation. (Americans use a LOT more commas than we Brits, do for starters. And don’t get me started on the Great Oxford Comma debate. Sometimes Oxford commas are necessary, and sometimes not.)

Rowankind_coverI get to see the book again after the copy editor has worked on it, and I can make any necessary alterations (or query what the copy editor has done in specific cases) before it goes to the typesetter. My final view of the book will be the page proofs, which I like to do on paper (though I send any resulting changes to my publisher by email). Once it gets to the page proof stage I can only make small changes. Trying to add or subtract substantial chunks will make more work for the typesetters.

Before it comes out in it’s final form DAW will produce ARCs, advance reader copies, which will be sent out for review, hopefully so that published reviews will coincide with publication.

DAW’s publicist (DAW is part of Penguin Random House) will do some work on getting the book some promo, but it helps if I can do some of that, too. Setting up a blog tour is something I can help with, i.e. writing guest blogs for anyone who will host me on their blog. Sometimes I get to write an opinion piece, or something about the nuts and bolts of writing, and sometimes I get to answer interview questions. I’m happy to do any of those types of posts.

Do contact me if you can either offer to review ROWANKIND or host a post on my blog tour.

Ross PartialCorwenROWANKIND is the third and final book in the Rowankind trilogy which began with WINTERWOOD and continued with SILVERWOLF. It continues the story of Ross (Rossalinde) and Corwen set in 1802, in a magical Britain. The Fae are threatening magical retribution if the newly enfranchised rowankind are not protected from the Mysterium, Corwen’s shapechanging brother is a constant source of trouble, and an unexpected peace treaty with Napoleon’s France brings an old enemy back to England’s shores. Can Ross and Corwen protect Britain’s magicals without sacrificing themselves? Expect adventure on land and sea, an unexpected encounter with a pirate, magical creatures on the loose, some politicking with a guest appearance by Mr. Pitt the younger, and a desperate final struggle against Walsingham.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had some input into the selection of a cover artist for the trilogy. Larry Rostant has done a marvellous job of bringing my characters to life. I absolutely adore his artwork. The cover of ROWANKIND features Ross and the rowankind Charlotte with Corwen in Silverwolf form. The book is due from DAW on 4th December 2018. It’s available for pre-order on both sides of the Atlantic from the folks named after a South American river.

Winterwood&Silverwolf-800px

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The Reading Conundrum

When I got my first publishing deal back in 2013 I found that when I was writing to a deadline it was difficult to keep up with my reading. This reading conundrum is something many writers suffer from…

  • When I’m writing I’m always slightly worried that if I read books in the same genre that they will subconsciously influence me.
  • Yet all authors are advised to read widely in order to keep up with what’s being published.

To address these difficulties I made sure that when I was writing fantasy, I read science fiction, and when I was writing science fiction I read fantasy or historical novels. That kept me happy for a few years, but gradually I’ve eased up on my own self-imposed rule. There are too many great books out there to limit what I allow myself to read.

GollanczSince 2009, I’ve blogged every book I’ve read, not on this blog (where I mostly blog about writing) but on my Dreamwidth blog at https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/. This has several advantages. Firstly it introducers people to books they may not have considered, and secondly it forms a database to help me remember book details. I so wish I’d done it decades ago.

I’ve always been a science fiction and fantasy reader. I my teens I read (from the local library) everything I saw which had one of those Gollancz yellow jackets. Oh boy, I do wish I’d been doing writeups then. I read a lot of the classics (which I was probably too young for at the time) but sadly very few of them have stayed in my brain.

Battersea BarricadesSo my advice is not only to read, but to keep track of what you read and even if you don’t do reviews, jot down something which will jog your memory five years from now; ten years from now. Go on… you’ll be glad you did.

Having said that, though I’ve been reading, I’ve had a lapse and I now need to catch up with this year’s book blogging. My reading is fifteen books ahead of my blogging. I promise to catch up soon. My random 2018 reading includes historicals by Julia Quinn, Ella Quinn, Danielle Harmon, and Sheila Walsh, a couple of delightful St Mary’s offerings by the wonderful Jodi Taylor (one novel, one short story), Patricia Briggs’ latest Alpha and Omega novel, the first Lindsey Davis Falco novel, and a couple of history books (non-fiction) by Peter Ackroyd.

 

 

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Cover Reveal Rowankind

Cover reveal: Rowankind, the last book in the Rowankind trilogy is due in November from DAW. Need to read the first two? They are Winterwood and Silverwolf in that order.  The cover illustrates Ross (Rossalinde) with Corwen the wolf shapechanger and Charlotte, the young rowankind housekeeper we met in Silverwolf, and who also appears here in Rowankind.

Rowankind_cover

The artist is Larry Rostant who illustrated the first two books in the trilogy, too. I love his work. Here’s his website: http://rostant.com/illustration/ He mixes photography and digital artwork to get amazingly natural results.

Winterwood&Silverwolf-800px

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The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Empire of Dust

My first book, Empire of Dust, launched on 4th November 2014 from DAW and, boy, was I excited. I’d waited a long time for that moment.

When I got the first review , from Publishers’ Weekly, no less, I read it with trepidation. (Hey, it was the first review of my first book, I was allowed to trepidate!) I read it, and then I read it again and gradually it began to sink in. It was a good review. Then I looked back at the email that it had arrived in – a congratulatory email from my editor, enclosing the review. (I should have read that bit first and saved myself a giant case of the trepids.)

It started off: “Bedford mixes romance and intrigue in this promising debut, which opens the Psi-Tech space opera series.” Then it goes on to talk about the book’s plot and premise and ends with: “Bedford builds a taut story around the dangers of a new world…. Readers who crave high adventure and tense plots will enjoy this voyage into the future.”

And it struck me, as I read it for the fourth or fifth time how author worries morph as you move along the path towards publication. I was talking to Alastair Reynolds on Twitter just before the review came out (Al and I did our first ever Milford SF Writers’ Conference  together back in 1998 before he got his first publishing deal and became mega-famous), and he reminded me that: ‘Worrying is the gift that keeps on giving.’

First, you worry that your writing just isn’t good enough to make the grade, that you’ll never finish the damn book, anyway, and if you do that you’ll probably never even dare to let anyone else read it. Then you do finish it and think that, just possibly, it doesn’t suck too badly. You begin to think that you’d like to show it to someone who actually might know something about writing and publishing, but you worry they’ll just laugh at your puny efforts.

Once the manuscript is finished and it’s as good as you can make it, you begin to wonder if your dream of being published is getting closer. Hey, you’ve written the book and polished it. What’s the next step? An agent? Is that even possible? Yes, it is (in my case four agents, but that’s another story, and a long one), but it takes a long time, much research and many queries (see my blog piece on How to Get a Literary Agent) and you worry that it will never happen for you.

It may take months, it may take years, but eventually (if you are persistent) it happens. You get an agent. And then you worry about whether your precious manuscript will ever sell. Truth? It might, it might not, but while you’re waiting you should keep on writing more.

Then, all of a sudden, a sale, and your life changes in an instant. Are your worries over? Far from it, but they turn into different worries. Will the reviews be good? Will readers like it? Will sales be good enough to cover the advance your publisher has paid you? Will you get a follow-on publishing deal after this? I think most authors will recognise this cycle of self-doubt and worry (and hard work), but the thrill of seeing the finish line racing towards you makes you forget the speedbumps along the road to publication.

In my case it took years of writing science fiction and fantasy in secret before I even dared admit my genre-vice to my friends. Then a chance meeting with Nebula Award-winning author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough gave me my first nudge along the road, and my first short story sale, way back in 1998. Yes, that’s right, my overnight success, from short story to novel publication took only sixteen years. I’ve lost track of the number of might-have-beens and nearly-bought-its along the road. There was the publisher who sent a sincere ‘We nearly bought this’ letter way back in 1999, and the major publisher who said, ‘The first couple of chapters look interesting,’ and then hung on to the manuscript for three years without doing anything with it. And then there were several false starts with agents before finding my current agent, Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency.

I kept on going, in part due to the encouragement of fellow writers in usenet newsgroups, online critique groups, and face-to-face at Milford . I can’t tell you how important it is to get feedback from other writers. I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of writing and publishing from denizens of the online usenet newsgroups, misc.writing and rec.arts.sf.composition. I’m still in touch with many of them, and some have become good personal friends. I joined a small email critique group which ran for eight years, and then (through a r.a.sf.c contact) I was invited to attend Milford for a week of face-to-face critiquing and plot-noodling. The right critique group will pull your work apart constructively to help you make it better. They’ll point out the clunky sentences, the yawning gaps in your plot-logic, the excessive use of hand-wavium when trying to explain your magic-system or your latest scientific gadget. And they’ll do it without making you feel small or stupid.

2book-Rowankind

My first completed book didn’t sell, and neither did my second (unsurprising because it was a sequel to the first – duh!), but my third one did. I not only sold Empire of Dust, but in the same deal I sold my fifth completed manuscript (Winterwood, a historical fantasy) and got a commission for a sequel to Empire. Yeah, a three book deal with DAW, my dream publisher of science fiction and fantasy! Pretty cool, huh? I’ve now sold DAW six books. My Psi-Tech trilogy (Empire of Dust, Crossways, and Nimbus) is complete and the Rowankind trilogy completes this year. Winterwood and Silverwolf are out already and Rowankind follows in November 2018.

Sheila Gilbert, my editor, is hugely experienced, totally insightful, and has been working with nervous authors for long enough to know just what to suggest and how to suggest it. She’s also got great taste in cover art and commissioned the amazing Stephan Martiniere to do my science fiction covers, and Larry Rostant to do my fantasy ones. These are both very different artists but in both cases absolutely perfect for the books they are working with. My covers are a thrill and a delight.

So after four years of drafts, edits, rewrites, additions, inventions, reinventions, and just about the craziest most creative spurt of my life to date, my five books are on the shelves and my sixth is incubating. I’ve had some good reviews. My editor is happy. My agent is happy. I’m happy. I hope my readers will be happy. I look forward to more and different worries ahead of me.

3bookpsitech

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Men in Science Fiction and Fantasy

A comedy panel at Eastercon 2018 with Jaine Fenn (moderator), Juliet McKenna, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jacey Bedford.

Comedy panel on Youtube

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My Eastercon Schedule

Very much looking forward to Follycon, the 2018 Eastercon in Harrogate. I’m arriving Thursday and leaving Monday afternoon. I’ll have a Milford Writers’ Conference display (with leaflets and information).

It will be lovely to meet up with friends and see some interesting panels… and to participate.

This is where you’ll find me over the Easter weekend.

Sunday Apr 1, 2018

11:00 AM
6:00 PM

Monday Apr 2, 2018

10:00 AM
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Pleasantly Pleasing Progress

I’m delighted to say that I’ve beaten my February 28th deadline and already delivered a draft of Rowankind to my publisher. OK, only 3 days ahead of schedule, but AHEAD is the important word here. Of course the book isn’t finished yet. My editor will have a long string of comments, and then I’ll have some fairly serious editing to do, but the whole process is chugging along nicely.

So now I’m allowed to forget about Rowankind for the next few weeks. In fact I want to forget about it, because when I start the edits I want the perspective of distance. I’m too close to it now to assess it properly. If I can give it a few weeks and come back to it fresh, I’ll be able to read it as if I were a reader, not its writer. That’s the plan, anyhow.

So what am I up to now?

I’m on a writing retreat.

Yeah, I know. Shouldn’t I have taken a few days off? Well, yes and no. A few of us who met at Milford decided to come to the wilds of Welsh Wales, to Trigonos where Milford happens every September, to spend six days with a laptop and a stunning view in order to get some uninterrupted writing time. No day job, no phone ringing, no meals to make, no kids to see to…

Sunshine portraitWe arrived in glorious sunshine on Sunday. It was a blue sky drive and then the clouds began to roll in. This is the view from my bedroom window.  You can just see the edge of the lake (Llyn Nantlle) in the middle distance and the hill opposite is the Nantlle Ridge. I did a little furniture removal and shifted the writing table to the window,  of course… because why would you want to stare at a wall when you could be staring at this.

Am I actually getting any writing done? The short answer is yes. I’m working on the edits of a book that’s largely written, but still needs a bit of polishing. It’s a fantasy set in an analogue of the Baltic states around 1600-1650. I don’t have a contract for this one yet, but I’m working with my agent, Don Maass, to ’embiggen’ it before sending it out.

It’s a political/historical fantasy and though I’ve taken the Baltic as my base, I’ve messed with both the history and the geography. I suppose it’s an alternate Baltic. For a time the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth was huge. I’ve taken a chunk of that and made it the kingdom of Livonia, encompassing present day Latvia, Lithuania and the northern part of Poland, and used it as a setting for a story of political intrigue spiced with magic.

Laptop window sunshine

It’s told from three viewpoints, Valdas, the king’s failed bodyguard, Lind the (successful) assassin, and Mirza a witch of the Atsingani travelling people. They start off separately, but come together. We know who killed the king, but we don’t know who paid him to do it, or why. There’s an obvious culprit if you follow the money, but they need to look beyond the obvious.

Yesterday I stated writing in sunshine and today I woke to snow.

Laprop window snow

snow view portraitI have to say that Trigonos is lovely in all seasons. The snow is beautiful, especially since there’s no requirement to actually trudge out in it. except for pleasure.

Compare and contrast the first picture  with the last. Chilly but gorgeous. Hopefully they’ll have cleared the roads by the time I have to travel back on Saturday. Looking at the news, it’s nowhere as bad here as in Kent.

So I guess we just hunker down and get on with the wordsmithing for the next four days.

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How to get a literary agent

I’m writing madly to a deadline, so I don’t have time to write a new blog post this week, so this is an updated reprint from my own blog, previously published in two parts and now condensed to one. I hope you find it useful.

donald-maass-photo

Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary

I’m delighted to be settled with Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary agency in New York. My own personal journey to agency representation (at least until 2016) can be found on my blog. What I’d like to discuss here are the practical aspects of finding a literary agent, from research to submission packages.

The Right Agent
There are agents and agents. Some are hands-on who will see potential in your writing and help you with your manuscript before sending it out to publishers. Some agents are hands-off. If they judge that your manuscript is something they can sell, then they’ll offer representation and send it out, as is, on your behalf. Do your research. (Hint, don’t send your blockbuster space opera to someone who only wants the next great literary novel.)

Always remember that when seeking representation and a traditional publishing deal money flows to the writer. There are lots of genuine agents out there who operate professionally, but there are a few who will charge reading fees (never pay them) and then try to direct you to their chum who is a freelance editor or book doctor. All of which you will pay for – often through the nose – without getting any closer to your goal of publication.

This isn’t to denigrate professional freelance editors. They perform a valuable service and I would recommend anyone going down the self-publishing route to consider employing a professional editor – preferably one with a good reputation and a solid history of working in your genre. Sadly, these great editors are not the ones a scam agent will be sending your book to. If you’re going to use a freelance editor, pick one based on recommendations and reputation.

Seek wisdom about scammers who prey on writers from the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) on their Writer Beware site.

Witers & Artists YearbookSo, carefully avoiding scam agents, what type of agent do you want? Hands on or hands off? Are you looking for an agent who works with a specific genre of book? Do you want an agent who is country-specific? Take a look at http://www.agentquery.com. Most of the agents you’ll find listed there are in North America, but you can find British literary agents listed in The Writers’ and Artists Yearbook. Witers’ Digest hosts Chuck Sambuchino’s blog (Guide to Literary Agents) which often highlights new and ‘building’ agents.

Check the following:

  • Does the agent rep your genre and your intended age range?
  • Is the agent actively seeking new clients/building their list?
  • Is the agent willing to help and advise with your manuscript?
  • What is important to you in contract negotiations? Size of advance / foreign rights / e-publishing rights / audio rights / movie options?
  • Where is the agent based?
  • Is there anything special that may connect an agent to your pitch?

Some agents work alone, others work within the framework of a literary agency. If you sign with a single agent you are vulnerable if that agent leaves the profession. If you sign with an agent who works within an agency, your contract is usually with the agency, so if your individual agent is no longer able to represent you, then you will be resettled with a different agent within the organisation. Also a large agency is likely to have foreign rights specialists and contract specialists, so your agent has expertise to call on.

Keeping Track
List all the agents you think might be a suitable match and check their guidelines carefully. When I was agent hunting, I actually put all mine into a database. Make sure you note what you’ve sent, and when, and to whom – especially if it’s a submission to an agency rather than to an independent agent. Regarding agencies, some will tell you to submit to their agents individually, others will say that a submission to one agent is a submission to all because if your first choice agent doesn’t feel the manuscript is right for her/him it will be passed on to other agents within the organisation.

If the guidelines give a time period for response, note down when you expect to hear back. When the deadline date has passed you can politely enquire about your submission. (I always give them a little leeway – maybe a week or two.) Some agents simply don’t respond if they aren’t interested, which leaves you hanging. Didn’t they get your sub? Are they so overworked they haven’t had chance to look yet? Did they read the first paragraph and throw it in the bin? You simply have to decide to walk away if you haven’t heard back after a sensible time period, but it’s up to you to decide what that time period is. If the submission has gone more than two or three months beyond their stated response time and your queries have not been answered, then I would write it off. Having said that, I got a rejection from one New York Literary agent thirteen months after I’d signed with my current agency and several months after my first book had been published.

Following Guidelines
What should you send to a prospective new agent? The short answer is: send whatever they want you to send. It’s all in their guidelines. The agent might ask you for a cover letter, synopsis and the first three pages, or maybe the first five thousand words. A few agents still ask for paper subs, but most accept (and prefer) electronic submissions these days. Paper subs can be shockingly expensive if you have to post them transatlantic.

Your Submission Package
Many words have been written on how to submit. I recommend reading up on manuscript format online and reading blogs on the topic of submissions from pro-agents.

  • QueryShark, by literary agent Janet Reid has excellent advice.
  • The Miss Snark Archive, though dormant since 2007, is a fascinating (and funny) insight into the lit agent world from an insider’s point of view.
  • PubRants is a rant about publishing and submissions by literary agent Kristin Nelson and is very educational.

The Query Letter
This consists of two parts – the query and the pitch. The whole thing should be not more than a single page, single spaced. This is a business letter, be polite, be concise, be clear.

The Query
The order can be fluid depending on which side of the Atlantic you are sending it to — most British agents seem to prefer an opening statement of something like: Please accept my query on BOOK TITLE, complete at 77,000 words, but most American agents seem to want you to begin with the pitch and include that information at the end.

Your query letter should contain the following:

  • If you’re querying by email don’t forget your full contact details: name, address, phone number, email and website if you have one
  • The agent’s name must be correct.
  • You will have to reformat your query letter to individualise it for each query you send. Don’t make it look like they’re getting a mass mail out.
  • The title, genre and length of the work and whether it is complete or not (and for a first novel it should be). It should also say whether it’s aimed at adults, new adults, YA or middle grade. Some agents will rep a variety of ages, others rep only adult, or only children’s fiction.
  • Ditch opinion. Concentrate on facts. (Not: ‘Hello, I’m the next J.K.Rowling,’ or ‘like Stephen King, but better.’ Don’t say you know this is best-seller material. Don’t say that your Aunt Mathilda loved your book (unless she’s the Guardian’s book critic).
  • The pitch – more anon.
  • A bit about you – not your complete life story, but writing-relevant experience, especially if it’s a story about mountain climbers and you shinned up Everest last year. Say whether you have any other publications, or have won any competitions, or have attended Clarion, Viable Paradise, Milford, or similar serious writers’ events.
  • You don’t have to include something that tells the agent why you’ve picked them, but it there’s something obviously relatable you can include it (as long as it’s brief). ‘I read your interview in Writer’s Digest and note that you are looking for stories about climbing Everest…’ etc., or even  ‘I’ve followed your agency blog for a number of years and have checked out your guidelines and it looks like we have interests in common.’
  • The query letter is not the place for a full synopsis. (Though you may include a separate synopsis if the agent’s guidelines ask for one.)
  • I always thank the agent for their time.

The Pitch
The pitch is crucial. How do you describe your book succinctly while making it sound exciting? You have limited space to make your point. Here you can afford to allow your writerly ‘voice’ sneak in. If you are pitching an urban fantasy with a wisecracking heroine, consider using your heroine’s voice in your pitch (but only if you can do it successfully).

Start off with two or three succinct sentences that will hook your reader into what the story is about. Sound enthusiastic without using unnecessary ‘puff.’ You can say: Like Game of Thrones set in modern day Glasgow (because you’re not trying to say it’s better than Game of Thrones) or you can simply describe the book. Try to find its unique selling point. It’s about a wizard, a knight and a stable boy who go on a quest sounds like every other quest fantasy you’ve ever read, but maybe: An elephant shapechanger and a lavatory attendant from Bombay, have to journey into the jungle to seek the tiger’s eye, might snag on your agent’s imagination. (OK, I’m being facetious here, but you get my drift.)

Here’s a single paragraph pitch for my novel Winterwood, which sold to DAW in 2013 as part of a three book deal, and hit bookstore shelves in February 2016. (The second in the Trilogy is Winterwood and I’m currently working on the third, Rowankind.)

Winterwood front cover-smallWinterwood Pitch – 113 words
Winterwood is a tale of magic, piracy, adventure and love, set in an alternative Britain in 1800. Mad King George is on the throne, and Bonaparte is hammering on the door. Ross (Rossalinde) Tremayne, widowed privateer captain and witch, is torn between the jealous ghost of her dead husband, and a handsome wolf shapechanger; between the sea, and her unsavoury crew of barely reformed pirates, and the forest, where her magic lies. Unable to chart a course to her future until she’s unravelled the mysteries of her family’s past, she has to evade a dangerous pursuer and discover the secrets locked in a magical winterwood box in order to right her ancestor’s wrongdoing.

This may not be perfect, but it did the trick. Once your cover letter is as good as you can make it send it out. If this is your first time making submissions to agents you might want to start by sending to a few to see whether you get a good reaction, i.e. form rejections / no response / requests for more pages, or full manuscripts. Keep a record of what comes back and when, so that a year from now you don’t send almost exactly the same query for the same book to the same agent. (You can, however, query an agent who has previously rejected your first book, for your second and subsequent books.) Once you’ve got the hang of the submission process and you’ve refined your query letter and pitch, you can query as many agents as you have time to research (as long as you don’t send a mass mail out with no pers0nalisation).

If you get a rejection from an agent, note it down, learn from it and move on to another submission. Never send a snarky response or that door will close on you forever. Even sending a polite ‘thanks for your rejection’ is not required. Agents get enough email. Do you want to clutter their inbox?

General advice: Pare down / Focus / Revise / Polish / Test on a few / Revise again / Send widely / Send again / Send again / Send again / Don’t give up!

Good luck with your search for the right agent.

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Beginning at the Beginning

I’ve always been particularly fascinated by book-beginnings. One of my favourite opening sentences is the one which opens John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids:

Day of the TriffidsWhen a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts out by sounding like Sunday, there’s something seriously wrong somewhere.

What a classic! It sets the scene, sets up expectations and leads brilliantly into the story of a man who wakes in hospital with his eyes bandaged to find that the world has changed forever.

The Day of the Triffids was the first adult SF novel that I read. I was eleven or twelve and I’d bought it via a school book club. It made such an impression on me that all these years later I can still quote the first line. Now here I am, a writer with five books already published and under contract for a sixth, and I’m still searching for the perfect beginning of my own.

Finding the right opening line, the right opening scene is a gift. It’s difficult at the best of times, but even more difficult when the book is not the first one in a series. People often ask which comes first, the characters or the plot. It’s a bit like asking a songwriter whether the tune comes first or the words. The two are often so intertwined that it’s impossible to separate them. They arrive at the same time.

And so it is with books, at least, it is in my experience. I usually find a scene that plays in my head. I know who the character is and what the situation is and I have an idea of the basic conflict that’s going to be the engine of the plot. I may not have all the details, but I can work them out later. At the beginning of Winterwood I knew that I had a young woman drawn to visit her dying mother. There was enmity between them, and the young woman had put herself in danger simply by being there. It begins:

Winterwood front cover

The stuffy bedroom stank of sickness with an underlying taint of old lady, stale urine and unwashed clothes, poorly disguised with attar of roses. I’d never thought to return to Plymouth, to the house I’d once called home; a house with memories so bitter that I’d tried to scour them from my mind with salt water and blood.

It was a strong image which became the opening scene of Winterwood. As I wrote I discovered that the young woman was dressed as a man, was the captain of her own ship and was, in her mother’s eyes, a pirate. She was also an unregistered witch, a capital offence in a Britain with magic. As the scene opened up in my mind and on the page, I found out that it was 1800, almost a century after the golden age of piracy, and the house we were in was on the edge of Plymouth, a town with a long maritime history, both naval and commercial. The young woman in the shadows, Rossalinde, known as Ross, is visiting her dying mother for the first time in seven years, but there’s still no forgiveness between them. Later Ross says: I had come to dance on her grave and found it empty.

Thus the Rowankind trilogy begins. Ross captains her own ship because she’s a widow. Will Tremayne, the man she ran away with seven years earlier, died in an accident leaving Ross in charge of a ship-load of barely reformed pirates. Ross’ mother passes on a legacy, a task that Ross doesn’t want, and a half-brother she didn’t know she had. No, I’m not going to tell you the plot of Winterwood, suffice it to say that Ross has to use all of her ingenuity and her courage to fulfil the task, and along the way she meets and falls in love with Corwen, a wolf shapechanger, much to the consternation of the ghost of her late husband.

And so the scene is set for Silverwolf. Starting a sequel is a far different thing from starting a new story. I already have two fully-formed characters, Ross and Corwen, who have committed to each other and who should be enjoying their happy-ever-after, but that’s about to be curtailed by the arrival of a visitor. So I have to open with that happy-ever-after. Ross and Corwen have hidden themselves away in a modest cottage on the edge of the Old Maizy Forest, a liminal place part way between the mundane world and Iaru, the magical world of the Fae. Silverwolf opens:

silverwolf-final-cvr-400A large silver-grey shape trotted out of the trees, a grizzled brown hare dangling dead in his jaws. In wolf-form Corwen was almost the height of a small pony, but he had to hold up his head to prevent the hare’s legs from dragging on the ground. He dropped it to the side of the path, and in one smooth movement changed from wolf to naked man.

Ross and Corwen’s rural idyll is interrupted by a thunderous knocking on the door. Corwen’s old friend, Hartington, a stag shapechanger, has brought a message from the Lady of the Forests. What Ross and Corwen did in Winterwood inadvertently paved the way for the return of magical creatures to Britain. A rogue kelpie has taken two children in Devonshire. Ross and Corwen must return to the real world.

If Winterwood was Ross’ story, then Silverwolf is Corwen’s, though still told through Ross’ viewpoint. After dealing with the kelpie, Corwen is called back to his home in Yorkshire to resolve a family crisis.

At the end of Winterwood Ross and Corwen, with the aid of the Fae, wrought a change which has far-reaching consequences for the magical inhabitants of Britain. The mundane world and the magical world, long separated by the heavy hand of the Mysterium, the organisation which regulates magic throughout the land, are about to merge.

And now I’m writing Rowankind, the third book in the trilogy. And the beginnings get more difficult. I currently have just over 100,000 words of the first draft, complete with a provisional opening. I’m aiming to finish the first draft at around 120,000 words and then add in where necessary. And that beginning? It might be the very last thing I write. It could change, but at the moment it begins:

I’m a witch.
I can hear someone sneaking up on me a mile away.
This time it wasn’t the clip-clop of hoofbeats, nor the soft tread of boots, but the rustle of a small animal running through winter-dry grass followed by the snick of claws on the flaggstones of our front path.
“We have a visitor,” I said.

Winterwood and Silverwolf are on bookshop shelves now in the USA and also available in electronic form. In the UK they are available in print form as an import from specialist SF bookshops, and online from the big firm named after a river. Rowankind is out in November 2018.

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Discovering what I didn’t know I didn’t know.

I wrote my first two (unpublished) books on my trusty Amstrad PCW using Locoscript. I was fairly late to the computer party in general and email in particular (1996) but the internet was still young. Google didn’t exist. Wikipedia wasn’t even a twinkle in its father’s kneecap. Back in those days if you wanted to talk to a random bunch of like-minded people, you went in search of a usenet newsgroup.

I found a couple of great writing groups on usenet, misc.writing and (later) rec.arts.sciencefiction.composition (r.a.sf.c.). The serious writers hanging out there gave me my first lessons in manuscript format and pointed me to the group FAQ which taught me how to submit stories. Hey, you don’t learn these things unless someone tells you. Since writing is generally a solitary occupation, you don’t know what you don’t know until someone points you in the right direction. I remain eternally grateful for those first lessons.

There’s a learning curve in the publishing world, or more likely a chain with links in it. Actual writing is only one part of it. Misc.writing taught me that I had to write, revise, polish, send it out, and while waiting for an answer, stick my derriere in the office chair, place my fingers on the keyboard and write some more. It’s still the best advice I can pass on to new writers

Every time someone posted a little self-congratulatory ‘I’ve finished a story’ post, someone else would say, ‘So what are you writing now?’

After being a very solid newsgroup with a small (tolerable) percentage of spam and hardly any flame-wars, eventually misc.writing began to be overtaken by trolls and a few of us writing speculative fiction found the rec.arts.sciencefiction newsgroups. Those who knew how, formed a new group for SF writers, rec.arts.sciencefiction.composition. If r.a.sf.c didn’t roll of the tongue as easily as misc.writing, it was still a great group full of interesting and knowledgeable people. (Though no one could ever decide how to pronounce it. I called it ras-fic, a friend called it ras-eff-see.)

HetleyIt was through r.a.sf.c. that I joined my first online critique group. There were twenty of us to begin with and though numbers fell, about ten of us stuck together for eight years, helping each other to get better and better until some of us actually sold novels. I think the first of these was Jim Hetley who writes very fine fantasy fiction as both James A Hetley and James A Burton

I’d never have found Milford if it hadn’t been for ‘meeting’ Liz Holliday on r.a.sf.c., and without Milford I wouldn’t have found another link in the chain that eventually led to my publishing deals. I made good friends on usenet – and some of them are still friends, real world and virtual.

Some of the old misc.writing crowd have resurfaced as a facebook group twenty years on. Still the same bunch of good people.

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What’s the Psi-Tech trilogy about?

Nimbus, the final book in my Psi-Tech trilogy, is out now.  Who-hoo, I have five books out and this is the first complete trilogy.

Sometimes big ideas start with a bang and arrive fully formed, sometimes they start small and grow. The Psi-Tech trilogy has not one big idea but two, though neither works without the other.

Way, way back in the mists of cliché, when dinosaurs walked the earth, we all cleaned our teeth with sticks, and Amstrad was cutting edge technology for a scribbler like me, a scene presented itself and begged to be written.

Empire of Dust

Empire of Dust – Cover

A telepath sits in a small, grey room on a backwater space station, acting as a human phone operator, making instant calls across the galaxy for anyone who can pay the going rate. It’s a dead-end job, not what she’s trained for, not what she’s capable of doing, not what she’s used to. So why is she here?

 She’s here because she’s afraid. She’s on the run from… someone. (I didn’t know who or why, right then, but I knew it was serious.) If they catch up with her they’ll kill her and she’ll be very lucky if it’s quick and painless.

 She needs to escape, but her luck and her credit have run out.

 She’s contemplating cruising the transients’ bars to see if she can hitch a free ride. She’ll take anything, even the worst bucket-of-bolts mining barge, even if she’s got to sleep her way on board.

Then a last-minute job comes in. She doesn’t want to take it so she jacks the price right up, but the caller agrees anyway. It piques her interest. Telepaths always hear, but they mostly choose not to listen. This time she does. There’s talk of a new colony. The settlers are back-to-basics Ecolibrians who’ve opted for a closed planet. If she can talk her way on to that mission she can steer clear of her pursuers, find safety.

That was how it all started. It grew slowly and changed over time, of course. The first scene didn’t survive, though the frightened Telepath and the Ecolibrian colony did.

The gestation period of a book varies from months to years and this one was years. I wasn’t under contract to a publisher back then, so there was no pressure. I wrote the first draft in four months then let it sit on a back burner, revised it, wrote a different novel, and another. A couple of years later I returned to it, revised it yet again, and sent it to my (then) agent. On her advice I cut it drastically. When I parted company from that agent I sent it out under my own steam then waited three years while a major publisher hung on to it after saying: ‘The first couple of chapters look interesting, I’ll get back to you…’ Three years later I withdrew it from that publisher still, as far as I know, unread beyond the first two chapters. More time passed, another agent came and went. When I sold my first book to DAW (Winterwood, a historical fantasy) and signed up with the Donald Maass Literary Agency, my editor said those words that every writer hopes for: ‘What else have you got?’

Crossways

Crossways: Book Two in the Psi-Tech series.

DAW’s publishing schedule had an empty slot for science fiction before one for fantasy, so Empire of Dust became my debut novel. Under Sheila Gilbert’s gentle but thorough guiding hand, I added back a fair amount of what my first agent had asked me to remove. I restored plot layers and character complexity, while growing the universe around the twists and turns of the narrative. By this time I knew that DAW wanted a sequel, so I was building the world for at least a two book series and possibly three.

What has become my Psi-Tech Universe now contains a galaxy-spanning human society which uses jump gates and telepaths to navigate foldspace.

Neither jump gates nor telepaths are unusual tropes in science fiction. So what makes them different in the Psi-Tech universe? Mega-corporations more powerful than any single planetary government. race each other to colonise worlds and gobble up resources, using as their agents psi-techs, humans with psionic implants. Each one of them is economically tied to the megacorp that paid for their implant. They are treated well as long as they don’t step out of line. If they do rebel, their attitude can be readjusted, but they may not come out of it exactly… sane.

Add to this the platinum problem. Platinum is a valuable catalyst and though it exists in lots of places, it’s usually only found in tiny quantities and it takes a long time to process tiny quantities from a huge amount of ore. Fun fact: in the whole history of our world to the present date, the amount of pure platinum produced amounts to less than 25 cubic feet. In my psi-tech universe, with every jump through foldspace a small but significant amount of platinum is lost, so the need to find more and bigger platinum deposits drives everything. And the megacorp which controls the most platinum is in the strongest position.

And now back to that frightened telepath, Cara, fleeing from her former boss because she knows too much. When she hooks up with Navigator Reska (Ben) Benjamin, she plummets them both into danger. Friends become enemies. Betrayal follows betrayal. Knowing where to place your trust becomes the ultimate survival skill. If they make the wrong move an entire colony planet will pay the ultimate price.

Cara and Ben’s story is just the beginning, though. Solving one problem highlights another. Ideas demand room to grow and Empire of Dust is only the first outing for my troubled psi-techs.

Nimbus front coverIn the second novel, Crossways, the survivors, now wanted by the megacorps on trumped-up charges, take refuge on a huge space station run by a coalition of crimelords. Crossways fought for its freedom from the big corporations, so its denizens don’t ever intend to let it be taken over again. It’s a kind of future version of Tortuga-in-space where pirates, smugglers and free-traders can take refuge alongside displaced persons, refugees, radicals and opportunists. The megacorporations have been looking for an excuse to take down Crossways and the psi-tech presence there might just be the excuse they need.

But something is stirring in the unfathomable depths of foldspace. Pilots and navigators are trained into believing that foldspace visions are an illusion, but that’s a lie perpetuated by their teachers ‘for their own good.’ Yeah, right! In the third book, Nimbus, what’s really happening in the Folds will change the future of humans in space, but not unless the conflict with the megacorporations is resolved and humankind tackles the problem together. There are some hard choices to be made.

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Looking Forward and Looking Back – Ten Years of Blogging

I blog every other Tuesday on my WordPress blog – mostly things which are writing-related. My next Tuesday post should fall on 26th December which all Brits will recognise as Boxing Day – still very much in the middle of the holiday. We’ll have family staying for a few days, so I will be out of the office, hence this is an early post. Daughter, G, her husband and two kids arrive (by car) on Saturday 23rd, and son, J, and his intended arrive by train the same day. Both lots are here until 27th.

We’re looking forward to family time with kids, grandkids and my mum (who lives next door). I’ll be cooking Christmas dinner for nine – turkey, ham and a veggie option, with all the trimmings.

So today, I’m both looking forward and looking back

It’s ten years since I started personal blogging – first on Live Journal and latterly continued on Dreamwidth (mirrored on Live Journal). My author blog at WordPress is much newer, dating back only to August 2013, shortly after I was offered my first book deal by DAW, but before the first book actually came out.

This seems to be a good time to do a review of the last ten years and also of 2017.

To begin at the end: 2017

Freya's hat-sm

Granddaughter

2017 has been another good year for me. I’ve had two books published, gained another grandchild (now 10 months old) courtesy of my daughter and son in law, my son has achieved his doctorate and announced his intention to marry in January 2018. I managed a trip abroad in the summer to Worldcon in Helsinki with a side-trip to Tallinn for some writing research. Trips at home included a week in North Wales for the annual Milford SF writers’ conference and three conventions: Eastercon, Fantasycon and Bristolcon (which also gave me the excuse to spend a couple of days in Bath for more research). Altogether not a bad year! Between those momentous events I’ve been sitting behind a desk, tapping keys and hopefully making some sense. As the year ends I’m halfway through writing book number six which is due out in November 2018 and I have another writing project on the go which is not yet ‘sold’ officially, but I have high hopes.

In the music business (my day job) I’ve done tours for Eileen McGann (Canada), Cloudstreet (Australia) and Dan McKinnon (Canada) as well as gigs for Keith Donnelly, Zulu Tradition (South Africa), Robb Johnson, Union Jill, Lee Collinson, and Tania Opland & Mike Freeman (USA).

Vin5917

Vin Garbutt RIP

I was devastated to lose Vin Garbutt in the middle of the year. Vin had been struggling with heart problems, but had successfully undergone surgery and looked to be recovering nicely when a different heart problem snatched him away from us. Vin was not only one of my busiest agency artists, but he was also a good friend. A talented, charismatic performer, a dedicated family man and one of the nicest people on the planet. To say he is missed is a vast understatement

But life goes on, and I’m already working on gigs into 2018 and 2019. I’m looking forward to having Ritchie Parrish Ritchie back in the UK for a tour in May 2018, and Dan McKinnon in the autumn. Also I’ve been doing a lot of immigration paperwork for musicians coming to the UK from outside the EU. At the moment EU musicians can travel freely and perform anywhere within the EU, but who knows what will happen after Brexit.

And now delving back into the last decade.

When I started my Live Journal blog (blogging as ‘Birdsedge’) it was mainly to keep up with friends who hung out on there. December 15th 2007 was my official welcome to the world of blogging, but I didn’t really get underway until January 2008. My first real post was 7th January 2008 when I wrote about managing time. Looking back I see not much has changed. I still have too many things on my to-do list and not enough time. That’s a recurring theme.

I didn’t start blogging books until 2009, and that’s largely because in December 2008 I added up the books I’d read in the year and it was a very slim list – only about 30 in total. In 2009 my book log for the year recorded 61 titles. In 2010 it was 56, in 2011 only 43, but in 2012 it was back up to 53. In 2013 it started shrinking again – down to 36, but in 2014 I had my worst year ever for reading, only 19 books, but I suspect that was because I got my first book deal in 2013, so I was writing like mad. I’ve always said that I can’t read when I’m writing (or at least when I’m first drafting) but I’m getting better at that. In 2015 it was creeping back up to 34, but in 2016 it was up to a massive (for me) 97. This year so far it’s been 74, which is pretty respectable. Over 500 book blogs (and early blogs) can be found on Dreamwidth at https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/ I also blog around 25 to 30 movies a year in my Movie Of The Week posts. Ten years of blogs. If you’re reading this on Dreamwidth (since this is one of the few posts I’m triplicating to WordPress, Dreamwidth and Live Journal) you can catch up with my writing blog at https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/

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Ooops – blog duplicated and deleted

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My best books of 2017 – A personal overview of my reading year

There are inevitably lists of ‘Best SF Books of…’ such as this one from Barnes and Noble  but with the amount of books on offer from this year and from previous years, it’s almost impossible for any one person to keep up with everything that’s on offer, so this is my very subjective list of the best books I’ve read this year. Some are newly published, others aren’t. Most are SF, but not all.

Rivers of LondonBen Aaronovitch: Rivers of London – Peter Grant #1
This was my year for catching up with Ben Aaronovitch and his Peter Grant series. I’d been meaning to read them for several years, and not managed to get round to it, but I’m so glad I finally made the effort. In fact though I’ve only names the first I would like to include the whole lot in this recommendation. So far that would be: Rivers of London, Moon over Soho , Whispers Underground, Broken Homes, Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree (books 1 – 6). I also read the novella, The Furthest Station which slots into the sequence at #5.7 and the graphic novel, Body Work which slots in at  #4.5. What can I say? Marvellous. A mixture of urban fantasy, police procedural and the supernatural with young British policeman, Peter Grant, suddenly falling into the world of magic when he sees a ghost while helping with a homicide investigation. That brings him to the notice of Nightingale and The Folly, the Met’s department of magic that no one likes to talk about. I love all these books and read them quickly, one after the other. Especially good is Peter’s cheeky voice, often with added pop-culture references, but quickly snapping to attention when things get serious,. Nightingale as the mentor is very old school British but the rest of the cast of characters run the gamut of inclusivity. As you would expect in multi-cultural London the characters are multi-ethnic, too, from Peter himself who is mixed race to Guleed and Kumar. And it doesn’t stop there. There are half fae plus a housekeeper who has more teeth than seems strictly necessary and a strange culinary relationship with offal. The overarching story is a puzzle to be solved and I’m looking forward to the next one in the series.

 

Wedding Bells Magic SpellsLisa Shearin: Wedding Bells, Magic Spells – Raine Benares #8

I didn’t realise there was going to be another Raine Benares novel after everything seemed to be all set for a happyeverafter in Book 7, but I’m delighted to find that there is. All the old favourites are back again as Raine, Elf soldier Michael and dark Goblin lord Tam Nathrach try to prevent peace talks between the various kingdoms from being undermined. If Raine thought she’d given up her magical powers when she parted from the soul-sucking stone, the Saghred, she’d better think again. If it sounds as though it’s too much of a leap to start with book number #8 I can thoroughly recommend the whole series, starting with Magic Lost, Trouble Found. They are second world fantasy books that read like urban fantasy with a quick-talking but vulnerable heroine in deep trouble from the word go. The pacing is breathless and each book picks up where the last one left off.

 

BintiNnedi Okorafor: Binti – Binti #1 and Binti Home – Binti #2

#1 This is very short – novella length – telling the story of Binti, a mathematical genius, who is the first of the Himba people (Namibia) to leave home and travel to university on another planet. Her customs are strange to her fellows. She uses otjize paste made from butterfat and ochre paste on her skin and hair – which is traditional because of the lack of water in the hot desert climate. On the way to the university, the ship she is on is invaded by the alien Meduse. Binti is the only survivor and must use all her skills to effect a rapprochement between the Meduse and the people of Oomza University who have inadvertently wronged the Meduse through not understanding their culture.

Binti – Home is the second in the series. When I read Binti, I wasn’t aware that it was the first part of a series of three novellas, and when I read Binti: Home I wasn’t aware that there was still one more novella to come. I’m going to state right at the beginning that I hate cliffhanger endings, so I’m looking forward to the third part to finish off (I hope) the story arc. Basically the Binti novellas are about acceptance of other cultures and miscommunication. When Binti returns home to Namibia of the future with her Meduse friend, Okwu, the first of his people to come to Earth in peace. Binti has become an oddity. Her family never wanted her to leave, now they aren’t sure about her return. It may be the old story of ‘you can never go back’. The third Binti book just dropped into my Kindle, but I haven’t had chance to read it yet.

 

PerditionAnn Aguirre: Perdition – Dred Chronicles #1

Almost a spin-off book from the Jax books, taking a minor character, Jael and making him one of the two central characters along with the Dred Queen. This is set on a prison ship in space where the inmates are left to their own devices and death takes the weak and the meek very quickly. Jael is a new fish, straight off the prison ship, and Dred is one of the bosses who have carved out little kingdoms for themselves. No one there is innocent. Mostly the inmate population consists of psychopaths, sociopaths and mass murderers – those considered beyond redemption. Jael and Dred both have secrets, but no one here is interested. A person is what a person is. This is the sort of book that makes you want to climb in the shower after reading, but it stays with you for a long time. It’s full of blood, guts and excrement, but there are moments of human emotion, too and it’s certainly a page turner, like all of Ann Aguirre’s Jax books. (Also highly recommended.)

 

Mira's Last DanceLois McMaster Bujold: Mira’s Last Dance – Penric and Desdemona #4

This picks up immediately after the last Penric Novella, Penric’s Mission, and should be read after it. Not without cost to himself, Penric has succeeded in rescuing and healing the betrayed General Arisaydia and they are now fleeing across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia with Arisaydia’s widowed sister Nikys. And Penric is falling in love. Penric is complicated. He’s inhabited by a demon, Desdemona, who carries the echoes of her previous ten human riders and at any moment they can pop up in Pen’s head offering help, advice, or sometimes unhelpful suggestions. When the trio takes refuge in a whorehouse, Mira, one of the aforementioned previous riders, a courtesan, comes to the forefront with some rather alarming knowledge. No spoilers because it’s funny and sweet, and Penric certainly has to step out of his comfort zone to get them all to safety. Anything by Lois McMaster Bujold is buy on sight. She’s one of my all-time favourite writers (perhaps at the very top of the list, in fact). If you haven’t read any of the Penric stories yet, I heartily recommend them. I would suggest reading them in chronological order, but just to confuse matters there are two more Penric novellas that have come out since this one, and one (Penric’s Fox) slots in before Penric’s Mission, while the other, The Prisoner Of Limnos, carries the timeline forward.

 

LongbournJo Baker: Longbourn

This is supposedly the story of Pride and Prejudice from the servants point of view, except it isn’t, really. Yes it’s set Longbourne, and the story of Pride and Prejudice is happening in the background, but it doesn’t do a full Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. I was expecting something like Tom Stoppard meets Jane Austen and in that I was disappointed. The story doesn’t spin round pivotal scenes in Pride and Prejudice and, in fact, continues beyond Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage. This is a completely separate story that just happens to be running parallel to the romantic adventures of the Elizabeth and Darcy. Mrs Hill, the cook/housekeeper is keeping everything together while Mr. Hill quietly drinks the sherry and gets on with his somewhat unexpected lifestyle. The story really belongs to Sarah the elder of two maids (though still in her teens) and to James Smith the enigmatic new footman in the household. This is a realistic look at life below stairs. The main characters are the people who have to scrub that white muslin dress clean after Miss Elizabeth has trailed it through the mud. There are fires to light, floors to scrub, chamber pots to empty and monthly rags to wash. We are spared no detail of the minutiae of daily life in the early 1800s. Unlike P&P the Napoleonic Wars feature in a long  middle section detailing James’ backstory, revealing the hardships of the ordinary soldier for whom life is never fair. A measured pace filled with rich detail does lead to a satisfying ending.

 

BoundBenedict Jacka: Bound – Alex Verus #8

Number eight in the series is not necessarily a good place to start and I would recommend reading all of these in Series order. Each book is complete in itself, but an overall plot arc emerges and by the time we ghet to #8 it’s in full swing. Alex Verus is in trouble – again. Or perhaps that should be Alex Verus is still in trouble, because this is a continuation of the trouble he was in last time, under a death warrant from the Mage Council. He’s only managed to sidestep it because his old boss and longtime enemy Richard Drakh has once again got him in his power and this time Anne is involved as well. Alex feelings for Anne are… complicated. This story is spread over a longer period that previous Alex Verus books, but the pacing is still smart and the twists many and various. At last Alex is starting to be proactive and (prompted by Arachne) starting to plan long-term. There’s a twist in the ending that makes me eager to see what happens is Alex Verus #9. I galloped through this in less than a day. Highly recommended.

 

And the rest is historyJodi Taylor: And the Rest is History – Chronicles of St Mary’s #8

I adore Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary. I recommend you start at the beginning with One Damn Thing After Another. This is the eighth and she’s not running out of places to take the story. Still quirky, this is darker than the rest because Clive Ronan is back and he’s even more determined to inflict pain and suffering on Max, her family and all the staff at St Mary’s. There’s some gut-wrenching stuff in this as well as Jodi Taylor’s usual wit. It’s a laugh-and-cry rollercoaster and not everyone makes it to the last page. The history side of it is, as usual, fascinating, from the Egyptian desert to the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

 

Going GreyKaren Traviss: Going Grey and Black Run – Ringer #1 and #2

This is a near future techno-thriller featuring illegal science, military contractors, family values and ethics. When Ian Dunlop’s gran dies suddenly and unexpectedly the teen is faced with a problem. Ian is either going nuts or he has a talent that will make him the target of huge corporations, and he doesn’t know enough about the world or himself to make a plan. Luckily the first people to find him are a pair of military contractors, Mike Brayne and Rob Rennie, with resources, connections in high places, and a conscience. Mike and Rob, though coming from opposite sides of the Atlantic and opposite branches of the magic money tree, are buddies in the way that has been forged by military comradeship. Ms Traviss has always been able to get under the skin of the common (and uncommon) soldier. Though the pacing of Going Grey is measured, it never loses interest, and I leaped straight from this to the sequel, Black Run.

In the sequel, Black Run, Rob’s son and ex, back in England, are threatened by an unseen stalker, so both Rob and Mike have families to protect and Ian’s unique chameleon skills could prove useful, but neither man wants to put him at the sharp end if things get dangerous. Ian proves difficult to keep down, however. He’s learned a lot from his two mentors, the main thing being that if you have friends, you make sure you have their back. You can class this as a near-future thriller, or military SF, but the characters are the heart of the story. Another hugely enjoyable book from Karen Traviss. The third book, Sacrificial Red, is out in 2018.

 

Long Day in LychfordPaul Cornell: A Long Day in Lychford

This is the third Lychford novella from Paul Cornell and I heartily recommend all of them. Lizzy, Judith and  Autumn are the three resident witches of Lychford, a sleepy Gloucestershire town. In the wake of Brexit Autumn is questioning her place in Lychford because of her skin colour, and Judith is struggling to keep herself together and pass on her knowledge to Lizzy and Autumn before it’s too late. When people start to go missing, our trio discover that they are being pulled across boundaries. There’s political trouble at home and trouble in the world of faerie, too. Each woman is on her own to rescue a particular group of strayed humans. Cornell managed to bring real world concerns into the magical world and the wave of anti-foreigner sentiment affects Lychford, too. A thoroughly enjoyable read, though not particularly cosy as the three women’s sentiments are laid bare.

 

ArtemisAndy Weir: Artemis
I finished this yesterday, and haven’t even done a proper blog write up yet, but it’s certainly a page-turner. This time the main character is Jazz (female) who has lived in the Moon’s only city since she was a small child. She’s fiercely intelligent, but pretty much a delinquent, doing a low-pay courier job while running a smuggling racket on the side. She takes on a job that she should walk away from (the money’s too good to refuse) and after that she’s scrabbling to recover frim the consequences. If you enjoyed the problem-solving in The Martian, there’s problem solving a-plenty in this, plus intrigue and nail-biting peril.

 

Mississippi RollGeorge R.R. Martin (Editor): Mississippi Roll – A Wild Cards Novel

I hadn’t read any Wild Cards books before this, but the blurb said it was a good jumping-on point for new readers. It’s the story of a Mississippi riverboat, the Natchez, in the not too distant future. It’s a future in which humanity has been changed forever by a plague which either kills or turns the survivors into Wild Cards – jokers or aces. Aces have superpowers, whereas jokers might have a fox’s ears and tail or maybe half of them has turned into a fish. Each affliction is different. You get the idea. Edited by George RR Martin, the writers are Stephen Leigh, David D. Levine, John Jos. Miller, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Cherie Priest, and Carrie Vaughn. Each writer takes a particular character and sees them through their part in the story. So… the story. The central character in this ensemble piece are Steam Wilbur, the ghost of the builder and first captain of the Natchez. The Natchez herself is both setting and character. She’s steaming up the river with an illicit cargo of illegal joker immigrants. A vindictive immigration officer is close behind. But it’s not only the immigrants who are in trouble, the Natchez herself is in danger, which also puts Steam Wilbur in jeopardy. This is the story of how the ensemble cast fights a triple threat. I now have a dilemma. I can’t decide whether to wait for the next Wild cards book, or whether to go back and start reading the series from the beginning.

 

So that’s it. As the year finishes I’m reading Sandra Underman’s Spellhaven and I already have a number of books lined up on my kindle… some re-reads of Diana Wynne Jones and Andre Norton, Seanan McGuire’s Beneath the Sugar Sky, Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country, which I managed to miss when it first came out. So many books – so little time.

Do leave a comment and tell me what you’ve enjoyed reading this year. What have I missed? What should I be loading onto my Kindle next?

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My Top Ten Children’s Books – a Personal List

I used to be a children’s librarian (way back) and I’ve always retained my love of books for all age groups. Many of these are from my own childhood, some from before I was born and a few from more recent times, but all of them stand out as personal favourites.

No Going BackMonica Edwards: No Going Back
I loved all of Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh stories when I was a kid. They are very gentle and of their time (written in the 1940s/50s/60s, though remaining in print and ‘current’ for many years.) Ponies, boats, adventures, a cast of interesting characters. The children are central, of coursem but the adults aren’t conveniently shuffled off in unlikely fashion so the kids can have adventures. Choosing a favourite is difficult because there are so many good ones. (Special mention to Storm Ahead based on the Mary Stanford of Rye lifeboat disaster which Monica Edwards experienced as a child waiting on the shore.) No Going Back is the one where the four protagonists are beginning to grow up and a special relationship develops between Tamzin and Meryon. Well, about time, too. Sadly these books are all long out of print, but you can pick some of them up from used bookstores at wildly varying prices.

PennK. M. Peyton: Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer
Patrick Pennington (known as Penn) is the school’s bad boy, out of control, self destructive, and heading for disaster, but he’s also a musical prodigy – a pianist with huge potential. This book has dated a little, especially the details of Penn’s secondary school (1970s) and the power the teachers had to make a student’s life miserable, but read it as a historical novel. The characterisation is excellent. Penn, despite being everything you should hate, is actually a sympathetic character because, despite all, he has a good heart. This is the first in a series.

J.K.Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
What can I say? The Potter phenomenon was well underway before I was tempted to read the first one and I was hooked. I didn’t enjoy them all equally (Harry was a bit of a brat in Order of the Phoenix, and the final book suffered from the endless camping trip) but I liked them sufficiently to grab the later ones as soon as they were published.

Horse & His BoyC. S. Lewis: The Horse and His Boy
At the time when I was reading my way through every pony book in the children’s library I stumbled across this. It’s always been my favourite Narnia book. It was my gateway from pony books to fantasy. Lucy had to climb through the wardrobe to get into Narnia, but all I had to do was to open this book.

Alan Garner: Weirdstone of Brisingamen / The Moon of Gomrath
Breathless fiction that sucked me straight in. Visceral writing. A great sense of place. The scene in the tunnels with the backpack gave me nightmares (and still does). My all-time  favourite Garner books. Should both be read consecutively.

Eagle 9thRosemary Sutcliff: Eagle of the Ninth
I’ve always enjoyed Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing, but this tale of the Romans in Britain and what might have happened to the lost Ninth Legion which marched north from York, never to be seen again, is fascinating. I recall that the BBC children’s adaptation for television was much better than the recent Hollywood movie ‘Eagle’. Just read the book, it’s better than any screen version!

Marguerite Henry: King of the Wind
A Newberry Medal winner. The fictionalised story of how the Godolphin Arabian (one of the three ‘fathers’ of the English Thoroughbred) came to Britain, told through the viewpoint of Agba, the horse’s mute handler. Whether Agba existed or not, the Godolphin Arabian is real. I adored this book as a child.

DogsbodyDiana Wynne Jones: Dogsbody
The first Diana Wynne Jones book I ever came across. I became a fan of hers immediately and remain one to this day. When Sirius, the Dog Star, makes a mistake he’s sent to earth to rectify it – as a dog. Very neat.

Elyne Mitchell: The Silver Brumby
I loved this book so much during my pony phase that I’m almost scared to try and read it again, though it’s still sitting on my bookshelf. It’s all from the horse’s point of view – about a wild stallion, a brumby in the Australian Outback.

Dodie Smith: The Hundred and One Dalmations
The book from which the Disney movie was adapted, featuring Pongo, Missis and Perdita, the evil Cruella DeVille and missing puppies. Perdita and Missis were rolled into one character for the Disney animation, but in the book they are individuals.

ElephantsDavid Henry Wilson: Elephants Don’t Sit on Cars
The hilarious adventures (and misadventures) of Jeremy James, episodic in nature, chapter by chapter. The first chapter (the title story) is a gift to anyone who has to read a story out loud. I dare you to do it without breaking into fits of laughter. It’s about poo (and the elephant on daddy’s car). I bought another copy this Christmas for a small person in my life.

 

Oh, that’s eleven out of ten already and I haven’t even mentioned Leon Garfield’s The Ghost Downstairs, or Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, or even Each Peach Pear Plumb by Janet Ahlberg, which I read so often to my kids that I can still remember it word for word and recite it as a poem.

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NaNoWriMo – almost the halfway point

My current project is the third book in my Rowankind trilogy, due for publication by DAW in November 2018, but because publishing always takes longer than you think it’s going to, I need to send in my finished piece (for editorial comment) by the end of February. I’m aiming at a finished length of 130,000 words, but I’ll be happy with 110,000 words because I always tend to add a bit more detail at the editorial stage.

So, it’s November and I’m busy writing like mad to keep up with the NaNoWriMo target of writing 50,000 words in thirty days. Today is 14th, and I’m pleased to say that as of last night (13th) I’d hit 26,135 words, just slightly ahead of the curve. Fifty thousand words in a month sounds like a slog, but it’s not really, as long as you write every day. If you can manage 1,667 words a day, consistently, you can do 50,000 in a month. I’m aiming for 60,000 by 30th November, which, I think, is a realistic target.

Of course, though I’ve cleared the decks as much as possible, I still have the day job (my music agency) so It’s not a question of sitting writing all day every day. On the days when I get the opportunity to do that I can manage an easy 4,000 – 5,000 words a day without pushing too hard. On a normal working day I can manage 2000 words.

Chantry today

I would, however, get more work done if I didn’t stop to do a bit of research along the way. I’ve been writing about Ross and Corwen having to solve the problem of  a troll occupying a bridge. They say write what you know, so the bridge I’ve chosen is Wakefield’s Chantry bridge. The chapel, one of only a handful still surviving in Britain, is built into the structure of the medieval bridge (which is probably what has saved it from demolition over the years)

. I lived in Wakefield in my late teens and early 20s so I thought I knew the bridge, however I needed to know what it looked like in 1802. So here, I’m sharing some of my research…

Chantry 1793 Philip Reinagle

The St Mary the Virgin Chantry Chapel was built between 1342 and 1347. Chantries, built by bequests, were established as places where priests prayed for the soul of the deceased. The chapel underwent major renovations in 1848. So I needed to know what it looked like before the renovations. There’s a paining by Philip Reinagle (1793) which gives me the river bank as well as the nine-arched bridge and the little house at the far end, which was built as the priest’s residence.

This is what it looked like from the water in this century. There’s a new bridge now, but the old one is carefully preserved. This old postcard is (I guess) from around the 1950s.

Chatry chapel from the water

It turns out that I passed the original frontage of the old chapel every time I took the bus into Wakefield because the original facade of the Chantry is on the grounds of Kettlethorpe Hall on the outskirts of the city. I don’t know if it can still be seen as I haven’t been back for many years, but you used to be able to see it from the top deck of the Wakefield bus.

Chantry-Chapel-old-facade-pc-l

The chapel fell into other (non religious) use before being restored to the Church of England, and as far as I can tell, in 1802 at the time of my story, it was in use as a library… oh good, a troll who likes books

 

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It’s Official!

With the Psi-Tech Trilogy completed, and Nimbus now in the shops, I’ve signed a contract for the third Rowankind book, called simply: Rowankind, and due for publication in late 2018 from DAW in the USA.

Winterwood front cover-smallIt follows on from Winterwood and Silverwolf, as Ross and Corwen try to stop the Mysterium’s persecution of magic users, particularly the rowankind, in the Britain of 1802. If they don’t succeed, the Fae will take action, and their solution might be radical enough to obliterate King George and Parliament, and leave a smoking hole where London used to be.

The declaration of peace between Britain and France poses a serious problem for the crew of Ross’ ship, the Heart of Oak as they have to make a change of occupation from privateering to something more peaceful. When Ross suggests they find a legitimate trade, she doesn’t mean smuggling.

In the meantime, Corwen’s shapechanging brother, Freddie, is an unhappy wolf which makes him dangerous. Without locking him up, or worse, how will they calm his violent temper?

silverwolf-final-cvr-400Corwen’s sister Lily has fallen for a handsome Mysterium officer, and he for her, but can their love survive the revelation that she’s the very thing that he’s hunting?

It seems that the only young member of the family not in trouble is Ross’ Fae half-brother, David, but wait… David wants to marry his childhood sweetheart, the rowankind girl, Annie, while his Fae father, Larien, has a noble marriage alliance in mind.

At least Aunt Rosie and Leo are happily together now, and no one is threatening the good blacksmith of Summoner’s Well, and his new wife. But Aunt Rosie is worried about Walsingham, mortal enemy to the whole family and to all magical beings in Britain. Ross and Corwen trapped him on a ship and sent him into enemy waters to rot in a French prison, but the same inconvenient peace that scuppered the Heart of Oak’s activities, has released the prisoners, so Walsingham is free again. He may be blind and maimed, but don’t think he’s harmless. The notebook with all his dark spells is missing. Does the pirate Old Nick have it? Can Ross and Corwen find it before Walsingham does?

So there you have it. That’s what i’m writing now. Watch this space.

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The Writer’s Pen

This in not a blog post about writing, it’s about writing implements, specifically fountain pens. You can blame Karen Traviss, because she reminded me how much I used to enjoy writing with a fountain pen, and… well… one thing led to another and now I have a pot of seventeen fountain pens and a bank of fifteen bottles of different coloured inks.

Yeah, okay, they are not going to improve my prose, but I’m really enjoying writing with them.

I keep a bullet journal by my right elbow. It helps me to organise my life because it’s a to-do list, a day book and a things-done list all in one, plus a diary. If you want to know more about bullet journals take a look at Anne Lyle’s blog. All I can say is that it works for me. I’ve been keeping a bullet journal since 2015, and I’ve got my daughter hooked, too. We both keep slightly different styles of journal, but once you acquire the general principle, you can adapt to suit. She has a handbag sized notebook, I have a desktop sized tome. Something with at least 31 lines to a page works best because at the beginning of each month, you write a forward calendar for the coming month with reminders that you can transfer to your day by day journal. (At the beginning of the year you do a twelve month forward-plan, number your pages, and leave space to index the important things you might need to refer back to.) Your daily entries consist of bullet points of appointments, reminders, messages and things to do, either crossed out or with a forward arrow if you’ve not managed to do something but need to move it forward to another day.

All that is by way of saying that I do a fair amount of handwriting. One of the nice things about bullet journals is that they are a pleasure to use if you use a good quality notebook and – yes – a fountain pen.

So, back to Karen Traviss’ reminder and the fountain pen saga.

Karen was crooning over a new Jinhao pen, so it set me thinking, so I wandered out of the office and  rummaged through the top drawer of the desk in the living room – a desk I don’t use for actual work, so things can sometimes sit in the drawers for years. In this case for decades. Right in the back of the drawer I found the pens I knew were there, but had rarely looked at in later years: my late father’s Parker 51, and my own Parker 61. The former was the pen Dad treated himself to when he got his first management job in the 1950s. He lent it to me to do my Eleven Plus exam (yes, I am that old!) and when I passed the exam and got a place at the Barnsley Girls’ High School, he bought me my very own Parker Pen, the 61. In those days – before the availability of the kind of felt tips that are almost indistinguishable from fountain pens – ball points were forbidden in school. It was pencils for writing in our cheap ‘rough books’ and fountain pens for everything else. My Parker 61 has seen some mileage. I may have sat my Eleven Plus with the 51, but I took both O-Levels and A-Levels with the 61, and probably used it throughout college as well. (I have a weird memory gap about that.)

Parker Pens

If not the Rolls Royce of pens, Parkers were certainly the BMWs of their time. Sleek cigar-shaped bodies, hooded nibs and the elegant and distinctive arrow clip on the cap. They wouldn’t still work after decades of residing in a drawer, would they? Surely the ink reservoirs would have perished by now, or the ink so dried up in the nibs that I’d never get them writing again. I had a trusty bottle of Quink Ink (Parker’s standard blue) so with paper towels handy in case of leakage, I filled the 51, and lo… no leakage and it worked perfectly. The 61 has a different fill-system, a weird vac fill that no one seems to understand, but it worked, too. Both pens write like a dream. They glide over paper, smoothly and my sloppy handwriting is suddenly more considered… neater.

My dad died in 1987, but here I was, suddenly writing with his prized pen. It almost gave me the shivers.

As I said, one thing led to another, and my pen pot now contains pens by Pilot, Jinhao, Lamy, Platinum, and Kaweko. I have cartridges in a multitude of colours, and ink pots from Basic Quink and Watermans to Diamine Shimmertastic Enchanted Ocean. Yes, sparkly ink, but subtle, as opposed to my-little-unicorn glittery.

Maybe I’ll write more about some of my newer pen and ink acquisitions in future blogs, but if you’ve never tried using a fountain pen, I urge you give it a try. There are many good starter pens on the market for just a few pounds. It makes writing more of an experience and less of a chore.

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Happy Book Day To Me!

Nimbus front coverMy new book, NIMBUS, is out today.

Let me say that again because it never gets old.

My new book, NIMBUS, is out today!

It’s my fifth published book, and the third in my Psi-Tech universe. It represents a milestone because it completes my first trilogy. I’ve written over half a million words of space opera, and those are just the words that made it to the final cut.

It’s been a learning curve, sometimes a steep one. So what have I learned?

Writing short and adding takes a lot less time than writing long and cutting.
That may seem obvious, but a lot of us tend to write our way into a book, sometimes because we aren’t quite sure of the right starting point. We have ‘story’ in our heads but not necessarily in the right order. I started NIMBUS  four times before I found the right place to start. The other four beginnings were not necessarily scrapped, but they were not suitable as beginnings. One of them ended up being broken for scrap… err… backstory, and two ended up being middle chapters.

Even a pantser can plan when she has to.
Yes, even me.
I’ve always been a discovery writer, writing by the seat of my pants (a pantser, not a plotter.) My usual method of tackling a story is to start with a scene that presents itself particularly strongly. I sit down and write to see where and how far it will take me. At some point, usually between 10,000 and 25,000 words (yes it really does vary by that much) I reach a stopping point, and at that time I sit down and look at what I’ve done and where I think this might be heading. By this time I usually know what the end is (at least roughly), so I scribble a few notes and – hey presto! – that’s my plan. Now, that might work reasonably well for the first book in a series but what about the overall story arc? Exactly! I hear you say. Yes, you’re right. If you’re writing a trilogy, you need to plan. You need a story arc that can be delivered in (more or less) three equal segments, each with its own beginning, middle and (satisfying) end. And the climax of the final book has to provide a payoff, not just for that one book, but for all three books.

Writing the opening of a second or third book is monstrously difficult.
You hope that readers who liked the first book will come back for a second and third helping so that you’re writing for people who already know your world, but there are always those who pick up the second or third book, either without realising that they are coming into a story already part-told, or maybe they’ve just taken a fancy to the cover and the cover copy. So you need to dripfeed in enough backstory to set the scene without giving the whole game away. After all, you really hope that they’ll go back to the first book and play catchup.

You have to like your characters to write half a million words about them.
Fortunately I’ve enjoyed spending time with Cara Carlinni and Reska (Ben) Benjamin. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of telepathy and associated skills. Are they ever likely to exist? biologically, there’s no evidence to suggest that they will, but with a neural implant? Who knows? Cara is an implant-enhanced telepath, able to sling a thought across the galaxy. Ben’s telepathy is weak, but he’s a navigator, that is, he can find his way from anywhere to anywhere else. Cara has trust issues, which isn’t surprising given the nature of her one-time relationship with Ari van Blaiden. Ben’s trust issues are entirely the opposite. He tends to believe the best in people, which either means he’s horribly let down, or the people he believes in truly step up to the plate and become trustworthy. Sometimes he gets a good surprise. I also became fond of some of the supporting characters, so I enjoyed accompanying my characters through a landscape filled with trials and tribulations.

Psi-Tech 2015 6x4sm

Some readers are wary of buying the first book in a trilogy until all the books are published.
Yes, I can understand that. Like many readers I too have invested in the first two books of a trilogy, or the first five only to discover that the author and oublisher have parted company and the concluding part will never see bookstore shelves. No need to worry about the psi-techs. Cara and ben’s story is now complete. It’s available from all good book retailers in the USA and Canada:
Amazon.com (paperback and kindle)
Barnes and Noble (Paperback and nook)
Amazon.co.uk (paperback)

You can visit my website
Follow me on Facebook
Tweet me @jaceybedford

 

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IAm/Am Not a Word Machine

A reprint from a blog I did for Emerald Musings back in February 2017 – with updates.

Douglas Adams famously said: ‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’ That may have worked for Mr. Adams and for those writers who have reached that elusive peak in their career where their publishers are grateful for their output, even if it arrives late, but for most of us deadlines are something that we should stick to.

Jacey Office 4At the risk of pointing out a tiny fact that we all know: writing is hard. We do it in a vacuum. There’s no instant feedback for a writer. Nothing that gives us a pat on the back for producing excellent prose, or a tight-knit plot, or solving a particular character problem with a brilliant stroke of imagination. We get exactly the same feedback for three lines of hackneyed prose dragged out of our brain letter by painful letter as we do for five thousand words of sheer genius produced in one wild outpouring of fevered creativity. That is to say: none—at least not at the time.

We stare at a screen and type. The screen stares back. It’s not even grateful for our attention.

So why do we do it? Why do I do it?

To be honest, half the time I don’t know. But the other half of the time I know that it’s the best thing I could possibly do. I write because I have to. I write because I simply can’t NOT write. Sure, I can take a few days off from writing every now and then, but leave it too long and I start to get twitchy. I’m sure a lot of other writers go through the same thing.

Once you get to the stage where someone is paying you to write, however, you encounter deadlines. I love writing. I don’t necessarily love writing fast. I often have other demands on my time: a day job, family commitments, cooking dinner, entertaining guests, taking my mum to the supermarket, walking the dog. Somehow all those things try to take priority over writing because the words can wait. They’ll always be there when I need them. I can take the time to stack the dishwasher and then start to write… can’t I?

The answer is yes… and then, possibly, no. No one is forcing me to pay attention to my writing. The computer screen isn’t screaming at me. The notebook isn’t jumping up and down demanding to go for a walk around the block, however… At the back of my mind, there’s that itchy-scratchy feeling that tells me my characters are at the starting gate and ready for off—anxiously waiting for whatever I’ve decided to put them through today. I need to listen to those voices.

I need the ability to say: sure the dishwasher needs stacking, but no one is going to die because the pots sit around in the sink for a couple of hours. On the other hand, last night I left my characters in a burning building and who is going to get them out if I don’t?

Writing is what I do. It’s a part of me and I need to give it space to breathe. (Listen to John Cleese speaking about creativity and getting into the right headspace to allow it to happen: https://youtu.be/5xPvvPTQaMI) Making time for writing is harder before you’ve achieved publication, of course, because sometimes families/partners/spouses don’t get it. My family didn’t always get it, but they indulged me. Or perhaps thought I was indulging myself, but they went along with it anyway, for which I am eternally grateful.

Like most published writers I spent many years as an unpublished one. I learned that if you don’t finish a piece/story/book and send it out, it will never be published. So if you’re serious about publication you need to apply the seat of your pants to the office chair, and your fingers to the keyboard, and write. You must not only write, but you must finish what you write, revise it, edit it, polish it, and send it out. If it comes whistling back with a rejection, send it out again. And again.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the more stories you send out the more you sell. (Yeah, who’d have thought it?) At the beginning of 2015, I had a spurt of submitting hitherto unsold stories to magazines and anthologies, and also some previously sold stories to reprint and foreign language markets. (I’ve been translated into Estonian, Polish and Galician. How cool is that?) Altogether I sold about seventeen or eighteen short stories in that three-month burst of activity, but after that, I got really busy with the novels and stopped sending out story subs. Surprise, surprise, my short story sales tailed off dramatically.

3bookpsitech

Nimbus, my fifth novel (the final novel in the Psi-Tech trilogy) is out on 3rd October 2017. It’s the fifth novel I’ve sold for publication. If you count the ones I wrote before I got my publishing deals it’s my tenth. Plus around fifty short stories—more than thirty of which have been published. That’s a lot of words. At a rough estimate 1,500,000 words, and those are just the ones that made it to the final edit.

People ask what motivates me. I can only say that it’s a mixture of enjoying what I do and knowing that I have signed a contract to deliver the next book and that I’ve agreed a timescale. If I didn’t enjoy doing what I do, I could never have committed to doing the work. It is work. Enjoyable work. Work I love to do, but it’s work. I have to respect it as such.

nano_08_winner_large

Winner’s Badge 2008

I did NaNoWriMo 2016, that’s National Novel Writing Month. (I first did it in 2008, and I’m doing it again in 2017.) During the month of November, you sign up to the NaNoWriMo website and commit to writing 50,000 words in a month. If that sounds a lot when you break it down to a daily rate that’s 1,666 words per day. That sounds much more manageable, doesn’t it? It’s just a tiny bit longer than this blog piece. Of course, it doesn’t always work out at a steady 1,666 words per day, but I finished my 50,000 words on 29th November 2016. NaNoWriMo was originally for inexperienced writers, however, I know a lot of published writers who now pace themselves alongside NaNo, entering daily word counts into the meter on the web, racing their NaNo friends and other writer colleagues. You only count the words you write in November, of course, but since I started out with 19,900 words on 31st October, by the time I got to 30th November I had 70,000 words of my upcoming novel in the bag. I had a few slow days, but there were also days in the high two thousands, one day at just over four thousand, and one day at just over ten thousand. What I’m saying is that I’m not a word machine. I have poor days and brilliant days, but I keep my eye on the target and get there in the end.

2book-RowankindAnd that’s what I have to do when I have a book to write and a deadline looming. These days it’s the fashion for science fiction and fantasy books to be long. DAW, my publisher, tends towards long books. My historical fantasies, Winterwood and Silverwolf, are 133,000 and 134,000 words respectively. My science fiction (space operas) are around and 170,000 words, and I’m just beginning work on Rowankind, the third in the Rowankind fantasy trilogy. I’m aiming for 130,000 words, but I’ll be happy to finish the first draft on 100,000 – 110,000 words, at which point I’ll look and see where the gaps are and add in extra on the first revision pass. I used to write long and cut, but now I tend to write short and add.

Revision is all about getting the book’s structure and plot right, making sure the characters are well fleshed out and there are no great, gaping logic holes. I’m one of those writers who enjoys working on revisions and edits, adding in, moving round, taking out, smoothing off. Writing would be a difficult job, indeed, if you only liked one aspect of it.

Advice? Well, the one thing I would say is to stick with it. Being a writer is not an easy option, but if it’s for you, then you already have the drive to write. Listen to your inner writer and get those words down. The one thing you should know is that all writers have slow days and fast days. We are not machines, so don’t expect miracles of yourself, but do expect that if you keep going you will get there in the end. Good luck.

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Wars, refugees and the twilight of the spirit – a guest post by Alma Alexander

Wars seem to come naturally to our species. Too naturally. I once read  that we and a handful of species of ants are the only creatures on this earth that actually WAGE WAR upon others like ourselves, for whatever reason – booty, territory, the not-us syndrome, the if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us syndrome.

I don’t know about the ants. Maybe they have their own problems. But us humans… we’ve always fought, with something, with somebody, against some “foreign” idea or some person who looked different from ourselves. It’s always been easy to pick a fight, and even easier to roar defiance in response and accept a challenge flung – and off we all go again chasing each other with increasingly lethal weapons.

Wars began with armies. You had a Battle of [Something], and places gained fame throughout history by  being associated with particular locales. You will recognize them. Agincourt. Hattin. Culloden. Crimea. Gettysburg. Khyber Pass. Passchendaele. The Somme. Gallipoli. The Western Front.

You declared a war; you got an army together and often made them wear ridiculous uniforms (red coats, anyone?); your opponent got an army together, and made them wear some other ridiculous uniform to differentiate them from your guys. And then, like little boys with their little tin soldiers, the generals would move their armies across fields, facing one another – deciding on who would lead the van, how the enemy could be outflanked, where the charge would be released.

The armies fought and died on those fields, man against man, using increasingly sophisticated weaponry – bows and arrows, swords and daggers, spears, lances, halberds, axes, muskets, rifles, bayonets, machine guns, cannon, grenades. But by and large, it was army against army, men killing other men upon orders of yet more men, nations resolving disputes on the battlefield by throwing the cream of their manhood at one another and abiding by the battle outcomes.

The collateral damage of these wars has always been present – when men fight there are always those who aren’t combatants but who get in the way. The women, the children, the old, the crippled and the disabled – the ones who get run over when armies fight. The ones who get left to starve after their menfolk vanish into the battlefield blood and mire. The ones who get abandoned alongside fallow fields they can no longer till, or in houses from which they are turfed out because they cannot pay the rent, or who have to run because their side lost and they are now behind enemy lines in enemy territory and they speak the wrong language or worship the wrong god.

The refugees, ones who flee, the ones who are driven to run without pity and who run without hope, they have always been with us. There are enough accounts of them, enough drawings of them, enough paintings, enough evidence remains.

But they were always the flotsam and jetsam that washed up on the tide, where the tide was the greater war.

Until recently.

When war changed, I am not entirely sure – but it became prevalent during WW2 when everyone began bombing cities filled with civilians, including women and children… and worse. Think of the horror that was Stalingrad.  It was no longer a question of an army against an army and the civilians were left to suffer the side effects of the war – no, now it was no longer armies. Now war was being fought on the backs of those civilians, directly.

People’s homes and fields and livelihoods were being deliberately destroyed as a PART of war, not as unintended consequences.

Now… now we no longer need an army facing an army, a sword facing a sword, a rifle facing a rifle. Now we have other things. Now we have landmines. Now we have aircraft – the ones that strafe from above, and the ones who drop anonymous bombs which don’t care if they devastate an army on a battlefield or destroy a city – and even worse, we have  drones “flown” by “pilots” thousands of miles away who kill as easily as if their targets are only pixels in a computer game . Now we have white phosphorus and napalm and depleted uranium. Now we have the looming threat of nuclear war – and we know about what that is like because one nation on this globe (and only one) has used nukes against cities and civilians already.

Now the refugees who flee all this are endemic. They are everywhere. They are no longer running to escape a war, because war can no longer be escaped – things are burning everywhere. Now they’re running to see if their ten-year-old child has any hope of seeing his eleventh birthday, or if their twelve-year-old daughter  can escape being  raped and murdered by the wayside. Now they run with no more than the hope that they might end up somewhere that is better than the place they leave behind – now they run because the places they leave behind are being obliterated as they leave them. Not only is there nowhere to run, these days – there’s nowhere to run from, because as soon as you turn your back on your home and your past it somehow ceases to exist.

Human beings are being driven into a twilight of the spirit – there are more and more of these refugees every day. Some leave literal dust and ashes behind; others run because there is no longer a way to coexist with others who happen to be holding power in their home and who no longer wish to take the time to talk to anyone, not when they can throw a bomb at them instead.

Some end up hopeless and apathetic in refugee camps across the globe. Others radicalize and return to get revenge. They in turn will displace other refugees. It is a vicious self-perpetuating spiral, and it leads down into more and more human misery and human despair.

I have never fled from actual rubble and fire – never been hungry – never been forced to deny my history, my family, my culture, my name, if I wanted to accept help which is sometimes offered conditionally. But I know people who have. I think the world is getting to a place where most of us know someone like that, or know someone else who does – I don’t think there is a greater gap than those two degrees of separation. Some of us who have been born into a quiet and peaceful place and who have lived in comfort and safety all of our lives will find it hard to even begin to understand the mindset of somebody who has lost half their family and most of their possessions and who is grateful for a bowl of what we might consider to be inedible food for their supper. But it would take so little – so little! – for that person we cannot understand… to be ourselves. So little. The margins are so, so small. There but for the grace of God go all of us, every last one of us.

For some of us over here in the safe and comfortable enclaves, it is hard to look over there, hard to see, hard to comprehend, and when we do steal an appalled glance, the problem seems  so huge, so intractable, so impossible, that we cringe away and wring our hands and say, but what can we do? It is so much bigger than ourselves.

But there are things you can do. There are always things you can do.

children book cover final 2One such thing is the anthology “Children of a Different Sky”, a collection of twelve stories and two poems from a group of  authors who range from multiple award winners to writers who are seeing their first published work on these pages. The profits from the sales of this book will go directly to two charities working with refugees and migrants, both internationally (the International Medical Corps) and within the United States (Center for New Americans).

The problem is too big for any one of us to tackle alone – but those of us who can tell stories  can tell in fiction  stories which  illuminate that lost and bewildered and abandoned state of mind and how to overcome it.

The readers who pick up this book and read those stories are both picking up a treasure-house of tales which will deeply touch them, and supporting a cause which will directly help those who are living many such stories right now.

The problem is big. We, the storytellers,  are trying to do our part. Our readers will also be doing something tangible. Their purchase of a copy of the non-profit anthology “Children of a Different Sky” will mean they will be directly sending aid to charities who work with refuges who need help so desperately.. You can make the world a better place… by buying a book.

“Children of a Different Sky” can be preordered here (ebook or paperback): https://www.facebook.com/pg/KosBooks/shop/

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Zombies Need Brains

Zombies Need Brains is proud to present its 2017 Kickstarter, with three new anthology themes! ZNB is a small press founded by fantasy author Joshua Palmatier. Every year, they run a Kickstarter to fund a set of themed anthologies and so far have managed to produce seven anthologies over the past four years. What makes ZNB unique is that they fill half of the anthologies with well-known SF&F writers, but the remaining slots are up for grabs with an open call for submissions running from the time the Kickstarter funds until the end of December. So each anthology has New York Times bestselling authors alongside authors who’ve just made their first professional sale. ZNB is also recognized by SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) as a qualifying market.

They’re pretty excited about the themes and anchor authors they have up for grabs this year. THE RAZOR’S EDGE is a military SF&F anthology where the stories will explore that fine line between being a rebel and becoming an insurgent. We hope to see some great sci-fi—and yes, fantasy—from their anchor authors, including Gerald Brandt, William C Dietz, D.B. Jackson, Chris Kennedy, Kay Kenyon, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Seanan McGuire, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and Steve Perry. In GUILDS & GLAIVES, authors will explore their sword & sorcery sides, with a dash of guilds for flavor; anchor authors include David B. Coe, James Enge, David Farland, Esther Friesner, Howard Andrew Jones, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, and Seanan McGuire. And lastly, they have SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR, which is a follow-up to a previously released anthology called AFTERHOURS: TALES FROM THE URBAR published by DAW Books.  Here, Gilgamesh bartends a time-traveling bar where history mixes with a touch of magic. Anchor author include Jacey Bedford, Gini Koch, Juliet E. McKenna, C.E. Murphy, Kristine Smith, and Kari Sperring.

If any (or all) of these themes intrigue you, check out the Kickstarter at tinyurl.com/insurgenturbar! Help to bring these three themes to life by backing the project! You can find out further details about their past project and the small press at www.zombiesneedbrains.com.

RazorsEdgeSmallThat’s the background.

I was delighted when Joshua Palmatier invited me to contribute a story as one of the core authors for SECOND ROUND, which is a return to the Ur-Bar. I confess to knowing little about Gilgamesh, but I could certainly get my head around a time travelling, magical bar. Maybe it appears at times of great need. And what more needed time than the eve of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 30th June 1916.

thomas bennett

Thomas Bennett, KOYLI

We’re currently in the middle of a strange five year period in which we’re remembering (not exactly celebrating) the First World War, 1914 – 1918. This is a conflict my grandfather fought in as a lowly British Tommy in the trenches. He volunteered in 1914 and joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He took part in that famous Christmas Eve game of football in 1914. (There wasn’t just one game there were many along the battle-lines.) He survived the Somme and was invalided out at Passchendaele in 1917 with half his calf shot away. When I was a little girl he used to tell me stories, but he was more likely to tell me about the trouble his mate Billy got into for eating a neighbour’s pie left to cool on a windowsill, and about catching a train to Pontefract to enlist (with the same Billy), than about the trenches. My dad was the same. He drove a tank across the Western Desert in World War Two, but neither Dad nor Grandpa was inclined to relate the gory bits, the terrifying times, and the incidents that woke them in the middle of the night decades later.

I had to find out about that for myself.

DUR 1

Dorothy Una Ratcliffe

As part of a music project I was involved in many years ago, I researched the life of Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, a minor but well-loved Yorkshire poet. In 1913-14, at the outbreak of the war to end all wars, she was the Lady Mayoress of Leeds for her widowed uncle-in-law, Edward Brotherton, politician and self-made millionaire, the owner of Brotherton’s Chemicals. Brotherton had the resources and he funded the equipping of the Leeds Pals Regiment. Pals regiments were springing up across the north of England in the early days of the war, on the presumption that men would volunteer more  enthusiastically if they could be guaranteed to train and fight alongside friends and fellow workers. And so it proved. Dorothy’s organisational skills and Brotherton’s money was the impetus behind the Leeds Pals.

I live in a little Yorkshire village that still has its memorial to the local men who fought in the First World War. Their photographs and names are displayed in an impressive mahogany frame in the village hall. Over sixty men fought and only five died. I speculate that’s largely because there wasn’t a handy Pals regiment to join. They served in the navy, in army regiments, from artillery and lancers to light infantry. No one man from the village served with any other. When death found them it crept up on them one by one, and in that great lottery most of them were lucky. They survived.

Roll of Honour-top

Not so the Pals regiments.

Men who joined up together fought together and died together. In that carnage on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Leeds Pals regiment was decimated. The plan was that a week of shelling in advance of the infantry going over the top would severely damage the German trenches and personnel, and destroy the barbed wire barricades in No Man’s Land. It was a horrible and many-times-fatal miscalculation. The Germans took little damage and were ready and waiting.

The Leeds Pals Regiment was raised in 1914. They trained in Colsterdale, North Yorkshire, and in 1915 deployed to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal against the Turks. They shipped-out to France in March 1916 to join the British build up for the Battle of the Somme. On the first day, 1st July 1916, the battalion casualties numbered 24 officers and 504 other ranks, of which 15 officers and 233 other ranks were killed. Private A.V. Pearson, a survivor, later said: “We were two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying.”

In total the British forces suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 fatalities to gain just three square miles of territory on that first day alone.

Victor Ratcliffe

Lt. Victor Ratcliffe, killed 1st July 2016 at Fricourt on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, age 29. (Brother-in-Law of Dorothy Una Ratcliffe.)

So a junior officer, a lieutenant, in the Leeds Pals might have spent the last night before the battle worrying whether he was capable of leading his men over the top at 7.30 the next morning. Egypt had been a walk in the park; the push towards the village of Serre, his regiment’s objective, didn’t look as if it was going to be easy. Maybe he was in need of a stiff drink, but the rum ration hadn’t arrived—again! So a magical time travelling bar might be just what he was in need of.

And if a volunteer nurse stationed at the main dressing station in the Chateau de Cuin, a few miles distant from the forward trenches, needed to kick back after her shift to expunge the stench of blood and shit from her nostrils, perhaps she might meet a young lieutenant and remember their one stolen night while on leave in Paris.

What if Gil is on hand to pour a magical potion which grants someone’s heart’s desire? What might it mean for these two? And will it work out as they expect it to?

My story ‘Make Me Immortal With a Kiss’ will appear in ‘SECOND ROUND’. Please support it. If you check on the special rewards section I’m offering a Tuckerisation if you want to appear in the story.

www.jaceybedford.co.uk

@jaceybedford

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What I learned about Tallin that I couldn’t have found out from a guidebook.

Following my trip to the World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, I took a side trip to Tallinn to do some research for my novel-in-progress ‘The Amber Crown’ set in an analogue of the Baltic States in a time period roughly equivalent to the mid 1600s.

It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do an actual research trip, and I’m so glad I did because there were things which I couldn’t possibly have learned from a guidebook. Getting a general feel for the place was just the start of it.

So what did I learn by being there?

Tallinn-cobblesCobbles are very difficult to walk on. Most of the streets I think of as cobbled in England are actually paved with flattish stone sets (as are some of the Tallinn Streets) but Estonian cobbles are round-topped, uneven in size and shape, and really easy to trip and slip on. Street chases will have to be re-thought.

 

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Our carriage. Note the stone sets in the troad.

We took a horse-drawn trip round the Old Town in a landau-type of carriage drawn by a single (gorgeous) Friesian horse. The horse didn’t seem to have problems with either the cobbles or the stone sets, but the carriage was a bumpy ride despite the springing – and that was at a sedate walk. In an older type of unsprung vehicle any pace faster than a walk would be likely to shake your teeth out of your head.

I knew Tallinn (or Reval as it was called way-back-when) was one of the northern outposts of the Hanseatic League, that confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns which dominated Northern Europe and the Baltic maritime trade for three centuries from the Gulf of Finland through the Skagerrack and the Kattegat to the North Sea. I hadn’t realised, however, how enormous the Hansa influence was.

The medieval buildings are very different from English Medieval architecture, and houses are not unlike the frontages in Bruges, Ghent and Brussels in terms of the colour-washed walls, the steep gables (houses often gable-end on to the road) and the multiple rows of tiny attic windows set into red tiled roofs. Could this commonality be to do with ideas spread via the Hanseatic League?

The architectural style is labelled ‘Gothic’. Since I always associated Gothic architecture with the great sweeping cathedrals such as York Minster, all pointy windows and flying buttresses, I’m not sure Gothic in this context means what I think it means.

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6 Kuninga Street

6 Kuninga Street

Helpful wall plaques

6 Kuninga plan

6 Kuninga Street. The frontage is to the left of the plan. Keldrikorrus mean basement in Estonian.

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This is a blurry shot (no flash photography or tripods allowed) of a fireplace in the Tallinn City Museum with a strange lowered ceiling supported by a masonry pillar. This wasn’t a one-off, similar constructions appear all over the town.

I looked up Tallinn’s architecture on the web and found (on visittallinn.ee) which seems to back up my ideas about the Hanseatic League:

The most important period in the architectural development of Tallinn was 13-16th century. Tallinn’s gothic architecture was influenced by the architecture of the island of Gotland, Lower Rhine and Westfalen and subsequently by the architecture of the Hanseatic Towns and the German Order. Local construction material – limestone – added character to the architecture.

And:

In the 15th century (Late Gothic era), a town hall, guild building, convent buildings and residential houses were built in the town. These are characterised by the high dormers on the high-stretched facades. Of the different layouts, the prevalent type of house was that with two rooms, a diele and a dornse. A diele is a spacious room that extends to the height of two storeys with a fireplace at the back wall; this type of building was primarily used as an office or workshop. And behind it was the dornse – a living room with hot-air heating. The upstairs, cellars and attics were used as storage rooms.

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More merchants’ houses with cranes

Tallinn’s town plan is largely unaltered from the 13th and 14th centuries, with narrow streets and even narrower alleyways. Unlike Medieval York where streets such as The Shambles are tunnel-like because of the cantilevered upper floors hanging over the road, the houses of Tallinn are straight up, and then up some more, with narrow houses rising three or four storeys and then two further levels of windows in the steep pitch of the red-tiled roofs. There are plenty of houses which might have been merchants’ houses because they have a crane over a tall doorway on the upper floors and – according to a model in the city museum – the upper floors in the roof-space were often used as storage. Though it would seem logical to store heavy goods on, or close to, ground level, I guess that using the attics for storage was also good for security.

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Tallinn Town Hall

Almost every entrance to a medieval building was either up or down steps – sometimes just one or two, sometimes seven or eight. Of course, street levels may have changed. (They’re not likely to be the same stone sets and cobbles from the 1600s or earlier, though to be fair the medieval doorways did not appear to be compromised by a significant change in street level.) The ‘ground’ floors of many shops (such as the old apothecary’s shop still running as a pharmacy is half a flight of steps up (with, no doubt, a cellar below). The Town Hall entrance is down half a flight of steps, so the lowest level (a vaulted space, probably once a cellar) is half above/half below street level. The old steps to the next upper level are massively steep and narrow, and there’s a similar set of steps to the ‘posh’ bit, i.e. the council chamber and court room. (Luckily there’s a newer stair that we discovered after climbing the first flight and that meant we didn’t have to brave the second flight and could exit via the easier steps.)

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Town Hall interior

I am always humbled when I travel abroad that English is spoken in so many countries, at least in the main tourist centres. In today’s Tallinn I heard Russian, French, German, Japanese and a number of Nordic languages which my ear couldn’t differentiate from Estonian – Finnish and Swedish, I expect. But most people had a smattering of English and many people spoke it well and almost unaccented. And so it must have been when Tallinn was a great trading port. I doubt that English was common, but to trade with Germany, Sweden and Russia, there must have been a core of multi-lingual people, at least in the port area and the trading heart of the city.

In addition to all the things I gleaned that are useful for my book, I also discovered that Tallinn is just as beautiful as its reputation says and that I want to go back there some day.

Tip for first time Tallinn tourists. Avoid the bicycle taxis from the ferry port to the city. They’ll charge you twice as much as they originally quoted by saying the price is per person, and lie about being able to take you into the Old Town itself, leaving you to lug heavy cases from the Viru Gate to your hotel. (Luckily that was only a short walk for us.) So the last thing I learned form Tallinn is that there’s always someone to take advantage of a stranger. A good lesson.

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Blog Archive

As promised.

2013

  1. Bated Breath
  2. Seven Short Men and a Waif
  3. Preparing for Milford
  4. Jumping in at the Shallow End
  5. Serendipitous Book Browsing
  6. Four days to go
  7. Three Book Deal
  8. Milford Writers
  9. Publishers Marketplace Announcement
  10. Editor Talk
  11. New Book Log on LJ: Karen Traviss: Star Wars: Clone Wars – No Prisoners:
  12. World Fantasy Con
  13. That Difficult Second Novel
  14. Revision – First Pass
  15. Wordle
  16. Wordcount
  17. Timelines

 

2014

  1. Book Blog Roundup for 2013
  2. Thinking about Images
  3. Title News
  4. SFWA
  5. Scrivening
  6. Character self-determination
  7. Jacey’s Eastercon Panel Schedule
  8. Donald Maass: The Fire in Fiction
  9. More Book Logging Over on T’Other Blog
  10. Amazin’ Amazon
  11. Empire of Dust
  12. Guest Blog 1: Ben Jeapes – Infinite diversity in infinite combinations
  13. Writers Blog Tour
  14. Guest Blog 2: Gaie Sebold – How (Not) To Write A Steampunk Novel
  15. My Loncon Schedule – Provisional
  16. First Draft – Progress Report
  17. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Panda
  18. How long is a novel?
  19. Editing and Time Travel
  20. My Updated Loncon-3 Schedule
  21. August, Cons, Page Proofs and Milford
  22. Write What You Know
  23. Why I love my cover for Empire of Dust
  24. Submitting what you write
  25. It’s real
  26. My Guest Post on Ruth Booth’s Blog
  27. My Guest Post on the Bristol Books Blog
  28. My Guest Post on Ben Jeapes’ Blog
  29. Milford 2014
  30. Guest Post on Deborah Walker’s Blog
  31. Bristolcon Schedule
  32. Guest Post on Gaie Sebold’s Blog
  33. The Goodreads Odd Choice Awards
  34. Happy Book Day To Me
  35. Guest Post on Anne Lyle’s Blog
  36. Guest Post on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Blog
  37. Guest Post on Book View Cafe
  38. The Three Letter Word
  39. Guest Interview on Diabolical plots
  40. Order Books For the Holidays
  41. Interstellar
  42. Mind melding
  43. Guest Blogs Roundup
  44. Listed
  45. Nuts and Bolts of Writing #1
  46. Interview and book discussion
  47. Katharine Kerr needs our help.

 

2015

  1. 2014 – Looking Backwards and Forwards – 2015
  2. Short story Sales 2015
  3. Selling Short Stories
  4. Another short story sale
  5. Listen to Good Advice, but Trust Yourself
  6. How to Create Multi-Dimensional Characters—Everybody Lies (Kristen Lamb)
  7. Jacey Bedford Answers Ten Questions
  8. Ten Books I Couldn’t Put Down
  9. Ten Favourite Children’s Books
  10. Lonely Panda Reprinted Again
  11. Published Today: Last Train
  12. Crossways Cover Reveal
  13. Stars in your Reviews – The Goodreads Conundrum
  14. Goodreads Starry Update
  15. Eastercon Schedule 2015
  16. Goodbye Sir Terry
  17. Pelquin’s Comet: What’s It All About?
  18. Lost in Translation
  19. Selling Stories
  20. Attending Eastercon – Dysprosium 2015
  21. Short Story Roundup
  22. Eastercon 2015
  23. On Delivering the Second Book
  24. SFSF Social #3 – 27th June 2015
  25. Crossways – the Process
  26. More Short Stories Available Online
  27. Book Blog and Pinterest
  28. Two Worlds Collide: Guest Bloggage from Terry Jackman
  29. Re-reading my own book: Winterwood.
  30. My First Writing Rewards
  31. View From a Hotel Window, 5/26/15 + Thoughts on the Deal Money  (John Scalzi)
  32. Another Country
  33. Sheffield SF Social
  34. SFSF Social – June Report
  35. Science for Fiction Writers
  36. Book Cover: Crossways
  37. New Two-Book Deal
  38. CROSSWAYS is OUT TODAY!
  39. Winterwood Edits
  40. New Series of Guest Posts
  41. Guest Blog: Ian Creasey answers five questions about his writing
  42. Guest Blog:Tony Ballantyne tells us about his writing.
  43. Another Successful Milford
  44. Publishing progress
  45. Winterwood Page Proofs
  46. Agents and Publishing
  47. Fantasycon 2015
  48. What has NaNoWriMo Ever Done for Us?
  49. Winterwood Cover Revealed at Fantasy Book Cafe
  50. Gail Z Martin – Five Questions – Guest Post
  51. Winterwood Cover Reveal
  52. Christmas is Coming
  53. So Many Books, So Little Time.
  54. You never get Blasé About… a Good Review
  55. What did I say about good reviews?
  56. Guest Blog: Toby Venables Answers Five Questions
  57. My Writing Year – 2015
  58. My Reading Year 2015

 

2016

  1. Fan mail
  2. Happy Book Day To Me: Winterwood Published Today
  3. Winterwood Interviews and Reviews
  4. More Post-Winterwood News, Interviews and Reviews
  5. Winterwood Cover
  6. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #1
  7. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #2
  8. Looking forward to Eastercon / Mancunicon
  9. Details Details
  10. Science for Fiction Writers 2016
  11. Silverwolf
  12. Humour in Fantasy and SF
  13. Gotten, Tannoy, and Trug
  14. Thoughts on Editing
  15. Silverwolf Cover Reveal
  16. Editing Anthologies – A Guest Post by Joshua Palmatier
  17. Milford 2016
  18. Fantasycon-By-The-Sea, 2016
  19. What’s in a name?
  20. Guest Blog from Gail Z Martin in Praise of Halloween
  21. Pitfalls of Publishing, or Lest I Forget
  22. Overnight Success in Only Sixteen Years
  23. The Yin and Yang of Writing Advice
  24. My Reading Year 2016

2017

  1. Silverwolf
  2. Ten Quick Tips for Writers
  3. Style Sheets
  4. Agent Update
  5. Bloggage or not…
  6. Stories Far and Near
  7. Write What Someone Knows by Ben Jeapes
  8. Cover Reveal: Nimbus
  9. Committing Trilogy
  10. Worldbuilding for a Series
  11. Due Process
  12. Some Random Thoughts on Revisions and Edits
  13. Life, Death and the Writer’s Pen
  14. Ambition and Poison – a Guest Blog by Gail Z. Martin
  15. History Lends Perspective
  16. Corwen Silverwolf Speaks
  17. Bladdered or Shitfaced? The gentle art of word choice and the bogglement of page-proofing.
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Heading for Helsinki and Worldcon

I’m running away from home for ten days, leaving Best Beloved and the dog to look after each other, and I’m heading for Helsinki, to The 75th World Science Fiction Convention at the Messukeskus Convention Centre on the outskirts of Helsinki. I’m travelling with my writer-friend, Carl Allery, and after Worldcon finishes we’re going to take a couple of days to look round Helsinki itself, and then we’ll be taking the ferry across to Tallinn in Estonia for a couple of days. More about all that – with photographs – when we arrive home.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with old friends, and to making new ones, and, of course, seeing my editor, Sheila Gilbert, who is once more nominated for a Hugo in the Editor, Long Form category, which she won last year.

I was going to reblog something instead of writing an involved blog post for next Tuesday, but I decided to  let you choose for yourselves. My blog index is coming up in a separate post. have at the archive.

Send a comment if you’ll be in Helsinki for the con.

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Bladdered or Shitfaced? The gentle art of word choice and the bogglement of page-proofing.

Nimbus-TitlePageNo, I’m neither bladdered not shitfaced – that’s one of my characters. I’m sober as the proverbial judge, and doing page proofs. Five hundred and thirty four pages of closely printed text – almost one hundred and seventy thousand words. This is the final time I will see Nimbus in its raw state until I get the ARCs – the advance reading copies, (the ones that go out for pre-publication reviews) I’ve just taken a break from staring at the printed sheets because my vision is blurry. (One of the reasons I usually read for pleasure on Kindle is that I can increase the font size when my eyes get tired.) I’m on page four hundred and twenty of my page proofs and I’ve been at this for four days so far. It’s Sunday night and my deadline is Tuesday. At this rate I should finish on time

I like to check the page proofs on paper because I spot a lot more typos than I would on screen. I have a piece of card the width of the print and I go through the whole thing one line at a time to make sure I really read it. Without the card moving down the page it would be too easy for my eyes to skip a line. It’s easy to read what you think you’ve written, not what’s on the page.

Eliminating bloopers isn’t just my task, thank goodness. There are other eyes and brains on the job. After the content edit, the manuscript goes to a copy editor who changes my British English into American and smooths out any clunky phrasing, verbal hiccups, incorrect spelling, and grammar mistakes. He (in this case) also checks continuity of spelling and formatting. Is it air lock, air-lock or airlock?

Sometimes a copy editor makes a change that you really don’t want. If this happens you usually have the opportunity to query it, revert to the original, or discuss it with your editor.

There are the words and phrases which characterise American speech, which you may or may not want. Mom versus mum. Got versus gotten. Arse versus ass. I’ve had to revert diaper back to nappy because my characters are not American. I’m sure my American readers are clever enough to get that.

In copy edits for previous books I discovered that Americans don’t appear to have the words tannoy or trug in their vocabulary so I ended up with the much more cumbersome public address system, and the non-specific basket Instead.

Nimbus front coverThis time my copy editor substituted completely drunk for bladdered. Yes, it’s a Britishism but, in context, doesn’t bladdered make sense? The dialogue in question is (one friend to another over a second glass of whisky), “Slow down. I don’t want to send you home to your wife bladdered.” The phrase, completely drunk just doesn’t cut it here. It’s way too bland. I suggested reverting to bladdered or substituting shitfaced. (I couldn’t substitute pissed, because that’s likely to misinterpreted by USians as angry.) But shitfaced is a little too harsh and I still prefer bladdered. You may have to read the book to find out which term ends up in print.

Now I have the page proofs, I can see what Nimbus will actually look like in printed form. This is my last chance to catch typos and brainos, but at this stage I can’t make extensive changes or rewrite chunks. There are lots of little things (commas) and a few lucky catches. (I’d changed someone’s name and done a global search and replace but missed the fact that Mr. Hyde was referred to as Mr. Hunt, just once.)

All that text is eye-boggling. It’s a necessary job, but it’s tiring. I’m relieved to know that it will still go through one more proof-read \t publisher level before being finally committed to print.

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Corwen Silverwolf Speaks

Denby Hall, September 1801

Corwen

Corwen Deverell

I don’t usually get the opportunity to say much. It’s not that I’m henpecked, you understand, but—well—my author is female and she lets my beloved, Rossalinde, tell the story. So it’s nice, for once, to be able to speak for myself rather than letting my actions speak for me.

Let’s get the important bit out of the way first. I’m Corwen Deverell and I’m a wolf shapechanger—not a werewolf! I sometimes have to make that very clear to people. I’m not moon-called, which means if you’re with me when I change into my wolf, I’m not going to tear out your throat and crunch your bones. Please don’t get the wrong idea. I can, but I won’t. No, that’s all right, don’t apologise. I didn’t know the difference between a werewolf and a shapechanger at first, either. I was, after all, only nine when I changed the first time.

I’m the youngest son of a respectable family. My father is a gentleman of means with an interest in the cloth trade. No London seasons for us, though my mother prides herself on the fact that we count for something locally, amongst the society of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Our house, once modest, now boasts two new wings, the lower floors added by my grandfather and the upper ones by my father soon after my twin and I came into the world. He said that if he was going to produce children two at a time, that he’d better make sure he could house us all comfortably. My little sister was the survivor of a second pair of twins. Lily was still a babe in arms when I became a wolf.

After that there were no more children. Who wants offspring who might turn and devour them?

Corwen Silverwolf 01

Silverwolf

My first change was brutal. My bothers, both witnesses, were terrified, however my mother reconciled herself to it once she’d spoken to her sister and found out that shapechanging ran in the family. It had skipped a generation so no one had thought to warn her. My father never accepted my wolf, however. He believed I was changing to taunt him and that I could simply stop being a wolf whenever I wished. To a certain extent I can—now—but as a child, the changes were involuntary. He decided to beat it out of me until one night when I was about fourteen. I’d been out running—there may have been a lamb involved, I’m not proud of that—and I crept into the house via the back door, naked and muddy. Father had been waiting for me all night. He had a cane in his hand that he swished against his boot. He cornered me in the hallway. By that time changing was easy and quick, so I allowed my wolf to let him know that beating me was inappropriate. What can I say? I was at that snarly age. I didn’t bite him, but he suddenly saw the wisdom of leaving me alone.

Let’s skip over a few years. When I was nineteen I left my parents and siblings to their normal life. My mother didn’t want me to leave, but she’d spent a decade trying to protect me from discovery and I thought she deserved a rest. My brother Jonathan, whom I loved dearly, had new-fangled ideas about agriculture and spent a lot of time on our estate. My father’s biggest interest was our woollen mill. He was thinking about getting one of those fancy new steam engines made by Mr. Boulton and Mr. Watt, and it was all he could talk about. My twin brother, Freddie, who hadn’t shown any wolf-tendencies at all, was still at Oxford, and my little sister, Lily, was the apple of our father’s eye. They were a normal—if privileged—happy family—much better off without me. So, after one final row with my father, I found a place for myself with the Lady of the Forest and the Green Man, good people once you get to know them.

I became an agent for the Lady, able to pass between the magical and the mundane worlds easily, fitting into both, gathering intelligence, solving the occasional problem. When not on one of her errands I spent my time in the forest, running as a wolf with the Lady’s retinue.

Winterwood Vis 4

Ross Tremayne

That’s when I first saw Ross. She was on the run, a pirate’s widow with a price on her head for a murder that she didn’t commit. It’s a long story, and Ross told much of it in Winterwood. The Lady asked me to guide Ross and her two companions out of the forest safely to the Bideford road. Even dressed in man’s array I could see how beautiful she was. I’m always surprised that people don’t immediately spot Ross’ gender. She always looks feminine to me. Ross thought I was simply a trained wolf, of course, but right then I wanted to chase her down and eat her. Hmm, eat may not be quite the right word to use in this context, but it’s all I’m going to say. I was a civilised wolf, just as I’m a civilised man, so I let her go on her way, not without regret.

She didn’t even recognise me the next time we met. There was no reason why she should, of course. I was in human form then. The Lady had seen things coming that neither Ross nor I suspected, but as a precaution she sent me to be Ross’ watch-wolf. Ross didn’t take too kindly to that. It took a while for her to trust me, but when she did, we… Well, actually we didn’t, not right away. There was a small problem. Ross wasn’t disinterested in sex, and by that time she was starting to see my worth. She was a widow, dammit, not a blushing virgin. It was her widowhood that was the problem. Her late husband, William Tremayne, was still hanging around. It’s hard enough to compete with another man for the woman you’ve come to love, but when your competition is a ghost, and the ghost of a much-loved, much-missed lover at that, it’s almost impossible. I mean, how are you ever going to live up to the memories of a perfect man? Yes, I know Will Tremayne wasn’t perfect, but he was Ross’ idea of perfect.

The Lady of the Forests had sent me to do a job, or rather to ensure that Ross did what was needful to free the bonded rowankind, but the nearer we got to knowing what that was, the less I liked it. This thing that Ross had to do could suck the life right out of her. For a while I thought she might refuse to do it. There were issues other than her personal safety, and she wondered for a time whether doing it was the sensible thing to do. I had no doubts that she would do it if she thought it was right. She wasn’t lacking in courage, but part of me hoped that she would decide it was too big a step to take. It could do more harm than good—even cause a social revolution. Part of me hoped that in the weighing up of potential consequences, she would decide against it, but she didn’t, and all I could do was to support her as she risked herself to right a wrong that had been done two hundred years earlier.

You’re still reading this, so you’ve realised that Ross didn’t die, or I’d have been running round the forest howling at the moon by now, mad with grief.

We had a brief chance at a happy-ever-after, but that didn’t last. With the rowankind freed, it seemed that Ross had opened the gate for a lot of other magical creatures to find their way into the world, and the Lady asked us to deal with a kelpie who’d been eating children in Devon.

CannonHall paintIf that had been all we could probably have gone back to our happy-ever-after, but that wasn’t all. A letter called us back to Yorkshire, to my family home. Yes, I know I said I was never going to go back, but things had changed, though until my sister Lily wrote I didn’t know any of it. My brother Jonathan had died. The number of times I’d been near to death because of some injury—protecting Ross isn’t without its hazards, so it’s lucky that I heal quickly—and yet Jonathan, always healthy and never in trouble for anything, had succumbed to a burst appendix. Our father had suffered an apoplectic fit at Jonathan’s funeral and my twin, Freddie, just when he should have been taking charge of the family, had ducked out and run off to London to enjoy the season with his disreputable friends, rakes all of them.

Anyhow, I won’t go into all that, Ross has told that story in Silverwolf. And yes, despite everything, we found time to wed. I thank providence each day that she loves me in spite of everything. I never thought I’d marry. Finding a wife is difficult enough, but when you need one who won’t run away screaming if her children turn into cubs one day, you can’t just attend the next assembly and court a pretty lass for her looks or her graceful dancing. (And believe me that’s all that’s ever on offer as the proud mamas show off their daughters in the hopes of a good match.) Ross accepts me for what I am. That’s one more reason why I love her. Did I say she was beautiful, and brave, and resourceful? I probably did. So if I’ve started to repeat myself I shall put down the quill, blow out the candle and go to bed. Ross should have warmed it by now and with any luck she won’t be asleep yet.

If you want to catch up with all this from Ross’ point of view the stories are here in the first two books of The Rowankind. As for how the story ends, well, you’ll have to wait for the third book, just called Rowankind. Due in November 2018.

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History Lends Perspective

I had an email from a reader who asked:

Empire of Dust

Empire of Dust – Cover

Just finished Empire of Dust. Enjoyed it very much. I’m confused about an allusion to Dunkirk you made on page 478 in Daw paperback. Ben states that Dunkirk was something that happened “during a civil war.” What civil war? Ben is referring to WWII. Did you mean to infer that it happened so long ago that Ben was just misinformed?

My answer:

Thanks for asking.

Yes, you got it. Ben wasn’t exactly ‘misinformed’, but when you live and work in space, and there are many colonies, wars that are localised to one planet are seen, from a distance, more like a civil war. WW2 looks a lot smaller from a thousand light years away and a timespan of 500 years.

Bear in mind that between the 1940s and Ben’s ‘now’ there has also been a multiple meteorite strike that almost knocked humanity back to the stone age, destroyed most of the USA and a big chunk of China and put earth through the whole ‘nuclear winter’ thing. (Which is why Pan-Africa and Europe are the main superpowers.) If it hadn’t been for the colonies sending aid and helping with the rebuild, the meteorite strike could have been an extinction event – at least as far as humans-on-earth were concerned.

Still clanking the keys. I’ve just finished the final edits on Nimbus – the third in the Psi-Tech series after Crossways – and I have another Dunkirk reference in that.

 

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Ambition and Poison – a Guest Blog by Gail Z. Martin

What would it take to drive you to murder?

Maybe you’d never think about it unless someone harmed your family, threatened your way of life, blackmailed you or a loved one. How about money?

It’s not unheard of for people to murder for money. Not just paid assassins or hitmen, but impatient heirs or the husbands of gullible heiresses, business partners who want a bigger piece of the action, corporate rivals in a situation where only one can win a high-stakes role. For the ruthlessly ambitious, murder is just another tactic.

Gail Martin ScourgeThe world of my new Darkhurst series (first book Scourge debuts July 15) rewards ruthless ambition in its ruling classes. It’s not set in our world, but the Medici Family of the heyday of the Italian city-states would feel right at home, as would Machiavelli. Everything hinges on the trade agreements that bind the ten city-states of the kingdom together. Not only do the fortunes of the city-states themselves rise and fall depending on whether the best partners and best terms are won, but so do the power and money of the Crown Princes, Merchant Princes, nobles and Guild Masters.

And when the guys at the top screw up, the tradespeople at the bottom pay in blood.

Ravenwood is one of the ten Darkhurst city-states, and it’s where Scourge takes place. Assassination is a common tactic to handle disagreements. Those who serve the ruling class are at risk as ‘proxies’ who can be killed or wounded in order to send a message to their patrons. The old grudges and pissing matches of the nobility spill over into consequences for everyone who is beholden to them.

Corran, Rigan and Kell Valmonde are undertakers, members of their trade Guild, and oblivious to the politics and intrigue occurring within the ruling class. But when monsters savage the dark streets and kill family and friends, and the Lord Mayor’s guards do little to stop them, the tradespeople take up arms themselves to defend their neighbors–even though doing so is a crime worthy of hanging.

Undertaking is a hereditary profession, and each of the Guild trades has its own trade-related magic. Rigan, Corran and Kell possess the grave magic necessary to send the dead to their rest, but Rigan has additional forbidden magic that not only poses a danger to himself and others until he learns to control it, but could get him burned as a witch. Magic either serves the Guilds or the ruling class, or it is outlawed.

When the brothers and their friends begin to hunt the monsters to protect those they love, they discover that the monsters have masters, and that the schemes of the Lord Mayor and the Merchant Princes are far darker than anyone dreamed. Everyone is a pawn in a ruthless game of profit or loss that is corrupt to its core, and they may have to burn down their world to save it.

 

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Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

About the Author: Gail Z Martin

The Hawthorn Moon is the annual summer blog tour for Gail Z. Martin, and features guest blog posts, giveaways, surprises, excerpts and more on sixteen blogs worldwide. Find the master list of posts and goodies at www.GailZMartin.com

Gail Z. Martin is the author of Scourge: A Darkhurst novel, the first in a brand new epic fantasy series from Solaris Books. Also new are: The Shadowed Path, part of the Chronicles of the Necromancer universe (Solaris Books); Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); Shadow and Flame the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books); and Iron and Blood a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

She is also author of Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novels Deadly Curiosities .  Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures. The Storm and Fury Adventures, steampunk stories set in the Iron & Blood world, are co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

Gail is also the organizer for #HoldOnToTheLight, authors blogging about depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide, self-harm and other mental health topics to encourage inclusiveness in fandom and stand in solidarity with fans. Learn more at http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com

Find her at http://www.GailZMartin.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and  free excerpts on Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

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Life, Death and the Writer’s Pen

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Vin Garbutt

Last Tuesday, 6th June, I awoke to a world without Vin Garbutt in it – a world less bright, a world less funny. For those of you not in the folk music world, Vin was a unique performer, A Teessider who for nearly fifty years sang about (mainly) social issues in a deeply personal way, but between songs had audiences in stitches with his hilarious patter which often lasted longer than the songs. He took his music around the world and had legions of staunch fans who consistently filled venues wherever he played.

Vin was not only a singer I admired greatly, he was also a client on my music agency roster and, more importantly, a personal friend. This is not the place for an obituary. I’m told obits will be out soon in the Guardian and the Telegraph.

Vin’s untimely exit from the stage (at the age of 69) set me musing on life and death and how we sometimes portray it in the fictional world.

As a science fiction and fantasy author I often put my characters through hell. Indeed, one piece of advice is to work out what the worst thing that might happen to your characters in any given situation, and then write it. This is usually a whisker short of death for main characters (unless their death is significant, i.e. Has Meaning ™) but there may be any number of other characters, good and bad or somewhere between, who kick the bucket, buy the farm, pass over, or any other euphemism for die.

I’m not advocating not killing off characters when it’s necessary for the story, but my thoughts this week have taken me in the direction that everyone is someone’s child, or father, or lover, or brother, or friend, and that killing characters should not be done lightly or without consequences.Nimbus front cover

Some books and movies have body-counts in their thousands, simply dismissed as collateral damage. As readers (or viewers) we shrug it off, but as writers we should think more about the consequences.

In Nimbus (due in October from DAW) I killed a relatively minor character in the first draft and then ‘unkilled’ him in the revision. His life was in the balance in Crossways, too, though he survived to the end (once more having been killed and unkilled). I always had it in mind that he probably wouldn’t reach the end of Nimbus alive, but I think I’m going to let him live to enjoy a peaceful retirement. He deserves it, and my main characters deserve to see a friend survive.

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