Quit smiling, you’re suppose to be professional.

Writing

So, it has been two weeks since the surgery. The new kidney is working very well, as demonstrated by my blood tests (three a week, my veins are not happy) and – perhaps more importantly – by my general condition. I’m eating better, I feel more awake, and I feel motivated and a lot less depressed. Also, my diet is almost a total reversal of what it was previously so I can eat pretty much whatever I like. Double breakfast? It’s on, my friends. It is so very on.

On the downside, I have this pesky ten inch incision running from almost the base of my ribs right down to my unmentionables. It is held in place by 28 staples, and up until yesterday, four very deep stitches. Apparently for someone of my fairly slim build, this is ridiculous overkill. It certainly feels like it – as the swelling has gone down, both stitches and staples have started pulling on the flesh surrounding them. I get the remaining staples out over the course of this week, and that should make things a lot easier.

OH. YEAH. Apparently there is a stent in my bladder. They waited to tell me about that one. I’ll give you one guess as to how they get THAT out. Every day is a new surprise, you know?

Still, it leaves me with four weeks stuck waiting for things to heal up. I’m not allowed to lift anything heavy, and because of the immunosuppression I am not allowed to go hang around too many people. Really, I’m kind of stuck in a chair for the time being.

Since I can’t really do much else, I have started back on my novel. Interestingly, attempting to work on it shows that my concentration isn’t quite back up to full speed yet. It’s coming, but it’s not quite there. I also hit a slight snag in that the outline I had no longer worked with the draft I had written. I had the opening act fairly tightly plotted but after that it was just a series of vague signposts that I imagined I might be able to hit along the way. I’ve been burned by this before (Gunslinger Symphony was missing a transition into the third act for over a year) and so have spent the past two days writing out a detailed synopsis of what actually happens. I bashed most of it out last night as one long, meandering paragraph, and chopped it up into a rough outline today. It works! It actually works and *almost* very nearly comes close to making sense and – unlike all my other synopses – doesn’t read like an omnibus edition of Naruto*. I was quite suprised to discover that a not insignificant portion of my secondary world fantasy novel is, in fact, a courtroom drama. Look! Something that isn’t resolved by punching and or gratuitious swearing or magic! Kind of!

Now all I have to do is finish writing it.

Oh, and go see Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s good fun. Don’t bother staying for the after-credits sequence, though.

 

*Or any other shonen manga, wherein our heroes discover that GUTS and FRIENDSHIP overcome EVIL.

Girl at the End of the World

book-1-1-bk-cover-300x212

With all the excitement of surgery waiting for me, I missed off an update about this anthology. The Girl at the End of the World is the latest anthology (in two parts) from Fox Spirit books. Part one includes a story by me: The Ending Plague.

The remit for submissions was a fairly open theme – the title gives away exactly what that was – and I decided to try my hand at a secondary-world fantasy apocalypse. Hopefully people will enjoy reading my contribution as much as I enjoyed writing it.

It’s always nice to rub shoulders with people you know online and from conventions, but this one was made a bit more special as it includes a story by James Oswald, who has the same agent as me. Team Mushens Fistbump! There’s a special bond between all of her clients. Sometimes we like to get together and compare bruises she has given us, or swap stories about the number of times she’s chased each of us with a hammer. It’s all true.

Anyway. You can find the ebook of The Girl at the End of the World (Part One) on Amazon UK, Amazon US, or as a paperback (UK, US)

 

Kidney Transplant: Zero Hour

I love making Direct to Video titles up. The more colons, the merrier.

So one of the things I wanted to do with this ‘blog was to try and maintain some positivity.

This may go some way to explaining the lack of posts of late.

It’s entirely fair to say that the first half of this year hasn’t really been what you’d call brilliant. Not even in the same ballpark, even. My health has been slowly deteriorating for some time, and over the past few months the effects have gone from potential to actual. It’s quite hard to spot from the outside – I look absolutely normal, or as normal as I get – and aside from the odd tremor in my hands and a tendency to do things very slowly, it doesn’t really show. Nevertheless, it’s there. It’s the oddest sensation. Someone commented to me that I seemed very phlegmatic about it all, that they’d be terrified if it was happening to them. That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always panicking.

So. I go into hospital tomorrow, and on Tuesday my brother Alistair will be donating a kidney to me. It’s a hell of a thing to do. It’s the biggest thing, and I know he’s as nervous as I am. If you want to say howdy and good luck, he’s @lostcosmonauts on Twitter.

I’ll see you all on the flip side.

You know how I’ve always longed to see the fair city of Padua.

9900798785_1a8276ebe2_z

So, it’s been a busy few weeks. The new novel is coming along (slowly), I finished a handful of short stories (one of which was accepted the same day I sent it off – woo!), and we have had both friends and family staying over to visit. I’ve been working every day I can to save money for the summer (helped by a timely tax rebate) and aside from a few choice cuts from the Steam sale we’ve been pretty good at controlling our money.

Cross fingers, yo.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of all the stories that I’ve written that haven’t really ended up anywhere. Either they’ve vanished into the ether as single ‘blog posts, or they have just never found the right home to go to. Rather than make a new page here, I decided to set up a Wattpad account and start uploading them there. So far there are only five stories – three Halloween shorts and two previously available only as audio files – but I’ve got a reasonable stack to pile on there eventually.

You can find them all at this link. I did think about trying a bit harder with the covers, but honestly I probably couldn’t do much better without spending a lot of time hunting down fonts.

In other news (talk about burying the lede), I won’t be making it to any events this year, save perhaps for Thought Bubble. The whole kidney failure thing has seriously messed with any hope of attending what looks like one of the most event-packed summers in UK genre memory. That two-week stretch between 9Worlds, Fantasy in the Court, the Gollancz Festival, and Loncon 3 is going to be insane and I’ll be very sad to miss it. I hope you all have a great – and safe – time.

Time flies when you’re distracted by a tiny wailing potato baby.

14113528782_1590f3dab3_z

Next week, Aoife is going to be one year old.

One year. That has come on much faster than I expected.

So, next weekend we are having a party for her. She’s still a bit small to really grasp the idea of it – she was oblivious to Christmas – but we thought it would be nice to do something, especially when that something gives us an excuse to eat a lot of food. So, there are going to be an infinite number of pancakes, probably some cupcakes and at least one tray bake. There will also be sushi, but as my brother hates fish the majority of it will be vegetarian. Finally, there will also be shabu-shabu. Basically we will spend 99% of the time in the kitchen, eating.

To quote Will Graham, this is my design.

I’ve also been thinking that it’s a good time to stop posting as many pictures of her online. There’s an anonymity to babies, both in their appearance and their awareness, that makes it easy to forget that she has an identity (albeit a newly-developed one) all of her own. As she starts to grow into an individual (again, in terms of her appearance and personality*) we’ve been discussing that it’s probably a good idea to start giving her a bit of privacy. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop talking about her – she’s far more interesting than I am – but we can do our best to give future-Aoife a break by not sending her off into her teens with a decade’s worth of sometimes-embarrassing photos hanging over her. YMMV for that sort of thing, but at least I had the choice of who saw my baby pictures and terrible childhood hairdos, if anyone saw them at all. That, and when it comes to educating her about maintaining her own privacy, she won’t be able to hoist me up as a terrible hypocrite for having catalogued every moment of her life to that point.

That’s not to say she won’t hoist me up as a hypocrite at all. Obviously it is my duty as a father to make her feel that the world is both desperately unfair and that it is all my fault. I’m just saying she doesn’t need any extra ammunition to get the job done.

 

*being one, her personality dial is currently set to “TYRANT”.

Re-read – Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapters 1-2

Assassins-Apprentice-port

This post is the first in a series, reading through the Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy. Expect spoilers, and probably a lot of waffle.

One – The Earliest History

So we start with tradition, on the importance of names and how they are sealed to the child that bears them – and yet the narrator does not name himself. That must’ve been hard work getting that down, considering by the end of the first page he has given up on his history of the Six Duchies and launches into his own instead. We get Fedwren, and Patience, and the Skill, and Chivalry, and Verity, and Burrich, and Jason (feeling a little out of place, not that he would let it show on his face), and Regal, and Vixen, and Nosey…but the narrator remains nameless.

It’s established early doors that the Skill (it might be the Skill, he isn’t sure) has given him perfect recall, which – if true – tees the narrator up as that oddest of things: a reliable one. That said, he is telling a story entirely based on his own point of view and experience and the subjective truth of his account can’t necessarily be held as the objective truth. Certainly, he holds plenty back for chronology’s sake and – as we quickly discover – loves a good mopey wallow.

I like Verity. He says “damn” a lot.

Two – Newboy

We learn a bit about the Skill here – I love the idea that it comes from mixing the bloodlines between the mainland and the Islands – but more to the point we learn a lot more about the Wit. Fitz (still not officially named, but Burrich has dropped it a few times) has power enough at six to knock a grown man off his feet, although he doesn’t know how it works. He shares the memories and senses of his dog, and after a brief period spent running with street urchins down ‘t town (during which we meet Molly, who gets enough pages and backstory to label her “Gun” and stick her up on the mantelpiece for later) we discover that the Wit is an abomination. We learn this from Burrich, master of all things hawk, hound, and horse, who has an uncanny knack with animals and appears to be immune to Fitz’s power to repel. We’ll pop a pin in that one too, shall we?

Aside from his Aladdin montage in the town, Fitz doesn’t really do that much in the opening of the book. He is basically the wide-eyed conduit for all the stuff that’s going on and will presumably be important later. It’s saved from being dull as ditchwater by being really well written – lots of little bits of detail and flavour throughout but none of it really being slammed down on the page. Oh, and obviously Fitz feels horrible about everything. EVERYTHING. Just take it for granted that at every point so far Fitz has been desperately unhappy both at the time and in hindsight. He’s super psyched about running around sharing minds with a dog, but even that ends with his mental link vanishing in a “red flash of pain” and a well of depression so deep that the next two years pass in another montage.

I know, I know. Only two chapters. In my defence, they are very long, and I could easily have used up 600 words talking about just the first one.

Blowing off the dust and cobwebs.

It’s been a while since I posted anything on here. Frankly, it’s been a while since I’ve felt like posting anything. Eastercon was brilliant – I had a really good time – but I was a bit down after it because I know I won’t be attending the big cons over the summer. Eastercon was, basically, it. 

Piling onto that work commitments, hospital appointments, a leaky bathroom, a bedroom plagued by mould (we discovered it was not underlay under the carpet, but *another carpet*, replete with dubious stains and manky damp bits), and just a general feeling of being crushed by everything all at once, I just let the ‘blog go fallow for a bit. You all understand.

In other news, we put Aoife on a swing. She loved it.

13929798768_f6942f6c43_z

Along with the ‘blog, the writing has taken a bit of a hit over the past week or so. I’ve got a short story to finish, though, so that should be a nice leg up in getting back on it. I’ve been writing/planning a new novel, which – for the first time – has seen me cracking out the index cards to do a bit of planning. Developing some new skills can’t hurt, can it? Also, thinking up names is bullshit. Full-on bullshit. I want a sealed deck of cards covered in interesting, not-weird-sounding names that I can just crack open and start flinging up onto the corkboard. I managed to royally piss off an old WoW friend by admitting that I’d used the name of one of the other Rogues from our raiding days as a character and not him.

I was going to re-start the ‘blog with a book review, but the last book I read was not my cup of tea at all. It made me so angry I was sending all caps DMs to my friends on Twitter just so SOMEONE would know how much rage I felt. While a hatchet job would be cathartic, I’d really prefer to just keep things light on here.

Instead, I thought I’d do a re-read of the Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy. The Farseer Trilogy was one of the first fantasy series I read, coming on the tail end of a childhood defined by the vistas offered by our local library’s Withdrawn table*: techno-thrillers (Tom Clancy represent!), South Africa (Wilbur Smith), and horror (Stephen King/Brian Lumley). I was not an easy convert. I had avoided my brother’s complete Lord of the Rings (won as a prize for achievement at school, a beautiful edition which we immediately marred with a splodge of raspberry sauce from celebratory ice cream) and tried to read the Belgariad a few years earlier: I can distinctly remember slapping the book shut after it started on about Grolims.

The Farseer Trilogy worked for me. It was slow going, but I loved it. LOVED it.

So, when a new book in the series was announced, I was pretty excited. Excited enough that reading all six books again before release day (question: to do the Liveship Traders as well, or just the six? We’ll see how the time goes) struck me as a great idea. And since I haven’t ‘blogged on here in a while, I might as well write about it. Just don’t expect much structure or sense to it. I’ve never tried a read-through ‘blog before, much less a series of linked posts.

So, onward!

 

*true story. For a really long time, book shopping meant taking my £1 pocket money and filling a 65L purple rucksack with books.

Eleven percent.

groundhog-day-bill-murray-smashes-alarm-clock

 

It’s been a long week.

Let’s kick off with a genuine conversation that I have had with a student this week. An A*-target student.

Student: “Sir, do horses lay eggs?”

Me: “No. Horses do not lay eggs.”

Student: “So how do they breed? It’s not like they give birth to little tiny horses.”

Me: “That’s exactly what they do.”

Student: “They’d need a uterus for that. And a vagina.”

Me: “That’s exactly what they have.”

Student: “Don’t be stupid. *People* have vaginas, not horses.”

This conversation is pretty much my week, in microcosm. Like I say, it’s been a long week.

So, yeah. Other fun stuff that is happening: my kidney function has tanked somewhat to the titular eleven percent (way to bury the lede, I know). This means lots of appointments with nurses and consultants who are all very, very keen to discuss my “options” with me, which is a hilariously euphemistic way of saying it’s transplant time, with a potential side dish of dialysis, schedules to be announced. I thought a post appropriate so that I don’t have to endlessly explain on Twitter once my tweets start becoming really cryptic and hospital-centric.

It’s one of those things I’ve known has been in the post for some time. I was told by a consultant in 2009 that I would need a transplant within 3 to 5 years and it just so happens that a majority of that time has actually passed, much in the same way as the 90’s feel like last week but are, in fact, a decade and a half distant.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole thing, even though it’s been looming for sometime. It’s not like I have much choice in the matter, though, so might as well get on with it. I dissemble beautifully in a hospital situation. Outwardly phlegmatic, inwardly shitting it. Again, something of a microcosm, albeit one with a more personal slant.

The pamphlets the hospital send out are a joy, though. There’s one that’s obviously been written by someone who is probably far more comfortable writing copy for selling spectrometers than they are writing about renal failure, as the resulting document is quite dark – far more than they intended, no doubt – with its surprisingly upbeat bullet-point list of what happens to the human body if you decide to refuse treatment.

So, anyway. Yeah. That’s what’s happening, or will be.  As you were, internet.

This is my design.

blueprint

So, nobody warned me about Hannibal.

Actually, scratch that. *Everybody* warned me about Hannibal, but I just didn’t listen. Two episodes in and I am already having freaky serial killer dreams. Also, we need to have a serious talk about the costume design. Wait. Everyone has already had this talk. I am, as ever, late to the party.

So I’ve been kick the manuscript for Gunslinger Symphony around a bit. I keep giving it to people to beta, and always with the same vague notice – it’s missing something at the 2/3 to 3/4 mark, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on what that is exactly. I re-read it myself at the start of the year: it’s fun, quicker than I expected, and although there are a lot of transitions that need sorting out – it jumps a little too vigorously from point to point, expecting the reader to follow – it’s not too bad. And yet I still hesitate to call it done. It’s missing something – that spark that makes it special and meaningful and – to me – complete.

To be perfectly honest, I still don’t quite know what that is.

But, I’ve never been one to let things like “a complete lack of direction” or “no inkling of a cohesive plan” hold me back. I picked a natural break in the story, added a new chapter (thank you, Scrivener) and started pounding out words. Seven thousand words later, and there might actually be something coming. Not out of the stuff I’ve written – much of it will probably be binned once I edit the book again – but just wandering round inside the character’s heads gave me some insight into what I had been trying to say with the story all along.

One of the first things Juliet asked me when I signed with her was, “what is your book actually about?” She actually had to repeat herself because I spent the next minute making confused faces as I tried to work out exactly what to say. I had just spent six months writing and editing a book and  another six reading beta feedback on it – surely I could tell her what it was about…couldn’t I?

It’s a lot tougher than I expected. In amongst all the monsters and fighting and adventure and (some might say) excessive use of parenthesis, there was a story about the burden of sin.

You would think I’d be faster the next time round, but it’s taken me almost eighteen months (and a draft of a different novel) to figure out what the Hell I’m trying to say with Gunslinger.

Now all I have to do is make sure that it says it.*

 

*and yes, I *am* procrastinating with a ‘blog post.

Review: The Boy With the Porcelain Blade

Porcelain Blade

I’m sorry folks (and Den) – no GIFs in this review. I know it’s a desperate betrayal of all you know of me, but…honestly, I’m too tired to go hunting for really good swordfighting gifs. Instead, I thought I’d try my hand at a proper review. It may all go horribly wrong. There should be no real spoilers.

Lucien de Fontein is an orfano. As the name suggests, orfano are children of unknown parentage who are fostered into noble families. Even more than this, each orfano carries a mark – a disfigurement – that sets them apart from everyone else. In Lucien’s case, he has been born without ears. In spite of their disfigurement (or, perhaps, because of it) orfano rise fast in the nobility. Quick with their wits and skilled at arms, they draw intrigue to them as naturally as other men might draw breath.

Lucien’s star, however, is not ascendant. When we meet him he is on the verge of becoming outcast, bent double under the weight of a terrible burden: the truth.

The Boy With… is not a book about the revelation of this truth, although it is nonetheless revealed, told in part through a series of chronological flashbacks that alternate with the main timeline, each one a turn of the key that winds de Fontein’s soul tighter until we meet him in the present. It is about finding the strength to confront that truth. The sweet reek of corruption lies heavy on Landfall, and Lucien is not only forced to contend with the Machiavellian schemes of the other orfano, but also with the temptation of his own heart.

The least afflicted by the curse of his birth, he is the least accepted of the orfano. While everyone happily endures the monstrous Golia, his arms sheathed in spikes an outward reflection of his natural brutality, Lucien is mercilessly bullied for daring to pass – for desiring normality. His need to be accepted – to be respected – is as much the heart of this novel as the outward conflict with the mad King and his Majordomo. Lucien is not a glorious or dashing hero: all of his weakness and fragility are laid bare on the page and it is this that sets The Boy With… apart as a singular and brilliant fantasy debut.

The author’s prose is lean – this is no doorstop of a novel – but it is richly woven for all that. The world is not ours, but the thread of Italian terminology woven through the narrative conjures up a comparison to Dumas’ Rome in The Count of Monte Cristo, the wheels of intrigue turning, torchlight warm on a damask hung over marble. It’s Rafael Sabatini by way of a tab of acid.

The Boy with The Porcelain Blade is released in Hardback and Kindle editions on the 20th of March. You can see Den Patrick and Jennifer Williams at Blackwells in London (of course)* on March 10th.

 

*Book events in the north? HA.