Girl at the End of the World

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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)

 

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

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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.

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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.

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.

 

Banished, the GIF review.

Banished

Apologies in advance for anyone using a phone or slow internet, or if they get distracted by a forest of blinking, constantly moving images. I can’t stop myself. It’s an addiction.

*Cough* So, caveat established, on with the show – the show being me “reviewing” books by waffling for a bit and then covering up my total inability to deliver on or communicate the sort of insight that makes a review worth reading by flobbering a handful of GIF images all over the shop. It gives me something to do to fill the time when I should writing/hoovering/weeding/etc.

More caveats! Well, a confession, really. I got a proof of Banished at World Fantasy Con. I got it signed, and everything. It took me a couple of days to read, and then I passed it on to my girlfriend to read. It ended up forgotten on a KLM flight from Sweden, so if I fail to drop specifics to solidify a point you should know it’s because I don’t actually have the book any more. Sorry, Liz.

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A prediction of what Liz will do to me for losing her book next time I see her.

So yeah. Banished. It’s a contemporary fantasy, centred around the uneasy parallel existence of humanity and the Fae. More specifically, it focusses on the Blackharts. They are a human family that not only has deep connections to the other, but also a duty. They are the line between humanity and the darker, more predatory aspects of the fae. Well trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened, the Blackharts are nevertheless stretched thin by the demands of their role and the tensions that it creates for them in both the human and faery realms. Kit Blackhart is one of the youngest and least-trained members of the Blackhart clan, but she’s got an edge that hasn’t been seen in a generation: magic.

Bewitched

Everyone over thirty can now hear the theme tune in their head.

I was a little wary going into Chapter one, if only because I’ve been a little burned out by contemporary fantasy. I think the last thing I really got into were the Harper Connelly books by Charlaine Harris, if only because they were something different to the standard He’s a shifter! She’s a detective! Sparks FLY! narrative that seems to saturate the market. It took a while for me to find the correct GIF for my reaction to Banished.

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In short, it’s a lot of fun to read, and a pleasant surprise. One of the big problems that the genre faces is power creep. As the foes get bigger, the hero has to become more powerful in order to have any hope of facing off against them, and after a certain point it just starts to feel silly. Anyone familiar with Anita Blake, for example, will know exactly what I mean. It’s a problem that could have plagued Banished from the get-go, with the Blackharts established as figures of power and respect, but de Jager enacts a scorched-earth policy that is satisfyingly dramatic and problematic for Kit and her whole familt. I mean, she really puts a torch to it.

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Note: spoilers for book 1, 2, and doubtless 3.

So, Kit rescues a fae prince, they are hunted by the forces of darkness, and adventure ensues. You can read the blurb. You can, you clever people. It’s fast and neatly put together, and surprisingly visual considering how little space de Jager has to fill in the gaps between people running or kicking one another in the head. The world of the Blackharts – an existence on the boundary between the Real and the Other – runs through the book like a thread, catching your eye between breaths and there are treats galore for anyone with a passing knowledge of folklore. The world of Banished is big, and varied, and endlessly imaginative, but it’s never pushy about it. Here’s some cool stuff, it says with a wink. It might be useful later.

It’s no surprise that the author has extensive Pinterest boards related to the book and characters. It does surprise me, though that there aren’t many anime or manga-derived influences in there, though. Banished has the same feel to it in my head – the powers, characters, and conflicts have a flavour that reminds me of devouring episode after episode of an animated advventure show. That might seem like oblique praise, but if you’ve ever found yourself at three in the morning thinking, just one more episode, you’ll know that it’s not.

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Samurai Champloo, btw. It’s on Netflix, iirc, and is *excellent*.

And that’s it. Banished comes out on the 27th of February, and I can heartily recommend picking it up.

On the reading and not-reading of books.

Culture! Have some Auguste Cain!

This week’s XKCD What If? is the excellent – if somewhat difficult to answer – “At what point in human history were there too many (English) books to be able to read them all in one lifetime?” It’s a great question, and the answer, despite the necessity of being an estimate, is fascinating.

This got me thinking about the books I read, and the books I have read. The other thing that’s been turning in my head was the reaction I sometimes get – usually online, or at cons – when I mention that I haven’t read a particular book: “how have you not read it?

The answer is, of course, with an unsurprising amount of ease. There are a LOT of books out there! I get that everyone has their favourite books, but really? I have, I will admit, avoided books out of sheer bloody-minded spite because someone has been so desperately adamant that I simply have not lived because I haven’t read them.

I came pretty late to science fiction and fantasy. I actually remember attempting the first book of the Belgariad as a teen and shutting the book at the first use of the word “grolim”. I grew up in a town whose tiny library was stocked with Enid Blyton (Island of Adventure, yo), R.L. Stine in the children’s section, and very little else. I remember bugging the living hell out of the librarian for access to the “grown up” books, and her giving in with a world-weary sigh. I read Tom Clancy, Wilbur Smith, Stephen King: one of the first things I wrote (outside of the exercise books that I chain-filled in English class) was a re-write of scenes from The Dark Half, great, curving sweeps of longhand on unlined paper that were crammed into a blue folder. I showed it to a curious teacher and almost got a phone call home for my trouble (it included a home invasion scene that saw the homeowner being choked to death with expanding foam filler poured down their throat*).

I came to SF/F the long way round. I lived my teens through Westerns, techno thrillers, and the uniquely awful gun fantasy that was the post-Vietnam world of pulp fiction. Books like Point of Impact, Stephen Hunter’s lone gunman betrayed by the country he served. I missed cyberpunk. I missed Wheel of Time, pretty much all of Gemmell (playing WoW, someone made a reference to Druss and then refused to believe I didn’t know who that was), and gave up on Terry Goodkind at the first book. It wasn’t until I picked up Feersum Endjinn (I recall checking it out along with Colin Wilson’s The Space Vampires, the novel Lifeforce was based on) and Assassin’s Apprentice that I started to think, hey, I like this stuff a lot.

It feels strange to me when people say I have to read something, or that I am somehow lesser for not having read it until now. It’s nice to have the odd recommendation now and again, but I baulk at the sentiment that I have to read something.  Read what you like! You’ll find the stories you love, no matter what path you take.

 

*this scene appeared in an episode of CSI once, and I did a running circuit of the living room yelling, “hey! I wrote that!”, much to the consternation of my other half.

Halloween Shorts: Team Mushens at WFC edition

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So! As promised, the Halloween Shorts are almost here. This year, Halloween coincides with the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, and I thought it would be really fun to tie the two together.

It just so happens that my agent, Juliet Mushens, will be there along with ten (TEN!) of her clients. She will be appearing on the Not-So-Secret Agents panel on Saturday at 11 am in Hall 04, and otherwise will be generally there at the convention. Since there are so many Team Mushens authors there, I asked the others if they would like to write or offer up a Halloween Short and post it on their ‘blog over the next 4-5 days leading up to the start of WFC. Everyone has been quite busy, but nevertheless there was a great response! Starting Saturday, spooky tales will begin to coalesce out of the ether for your entertainment. We’ll be flagging them up on Twitter and other social media, but I’ll do a round up of links at the end just in case you miss them.

In the meantime, though, here are all the Team Mushens authors who will be attending WFC!

Lou Morgan – author of Blood and Feathers and Blood and Feathers: Rebellion (Solaris)

Amy McCulloch – author of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow (Doubleday Children’s) and upcoming sequel, The Shadow’s Curse

Den Patrick – author of The War Manuals (Gollancz) and The Erebus Sequence (also Gollancz), beginning with The Boy with the Porcelain Blade

Liz de Jager – author of The Blackhart Legacy (Tor), beginning with Banished

Laura Lam – author of Pantomime (Angry Robot) and upcoming sequel, Shadowplay

Jennifer Williams – author of The Copper Promise (Headline), first in an as-yet unnamed Fantasy trilogy

James Oswald – author of The Inspector McLean mysteries: Natural Causes, The Book of Souls, and upcoming The Hangman’s Song (Penguin) and upcoming fantasy series The Ballad of Sir Benfro (Penguin)

Richard Kellum – newly-signed author of Fantasy and Horror.

Stephen Aryan – newly-signed Fantasy author and encyclopedia of all things comic-related.

 

 

Tales of Eve release!

So! I have another story out which, if you don’t count audio publications (which I totally do because I’m just like that okay), doubles my publication list. Oh yeah.

Baby steps, guys. Come on.

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It’s in the anthology Tales of Eve, from Fox Spirit Books, edited by Mhairi Simpson. It features eleven stories surrounding the theme of women creating their perfect companions.

You can pick up a copy via Spacewitch or Wizard’s Tower books or even Amazon if you so desire.

So, yeah! Cool. I hope you enjoy it.

Things change. People change, hairstyles change, interest rates…fluctuate.

Again, bonus internet points if you can identify the movie I’m quoting.

So Worldcon was on this past weekend, and thus the fields of genre discussion have been a little touchy this week. It’s nice to see that the majority of discussion exemplifies the oft-repeated advice for authors and other industry professionals to try and keep their tempers in check and not say anything online that they wouldn’t say to someone in a pub. Even if we all disagree, at least we can get along.

Well, most of us can. On the upside, you can gauge quite well who is likely to give you the time of day if you talk to them in the bar at a con and who isn’t based on their online conduct.* Someone who goes from zero to explosively insulting in three tweets flat is probably one to avoid.

Anyway. Tom Pollock (author of The City’s Son and The Glass Republic, available in all good stores now, buy them, seriously, what are you waiting for) wrote a ‘blog post last night about world building. It got me thinking about the stuff I have been writing and am planning to write in the future. More specifically, it got me thinking about magic.

What I’ve been writing of late is fantasy, but there’s no magic in any of it. I’ve been worrying about that because one of the big hallmarks of fantasy is that it’s a space where magic can exist, and as a fantasy writer it feels like I have a duty to put magic in.

The thing is, for these projects, I don’t particularly want to. I think I can achieve pantsless crazy  (good term) and create something fun and satisfying without it.

For example, Gunslinger Symphony is an alternate-earth western. There’s no magic, but what I have done is transpose almost all of the scientific development of the 19th (and early 20th) century to post-Civil War America. Mass nostalgia for the boundless energy of the gold rush combined with some leaps in scientific discovery have created a second rush, but instead of gold the commodity is ideas.

Of course the first thing people say when I tell them this is, “oh, steampunk,” but I’m loathe to apply the label because although steam power certainly exists, it’s not the driving force. Everything that’s in the book has existed, in one form or another, in the real world – I’ve just switched it all around.

Okay. Okay. Maybe I need to give you an example. Gregor Mendel was a monk and a pioneering geneticist who very famously crossed pea plants. He also worked with bees, and spent a lot of time trying to breed bees that produced especially delicious honey. The latter plan didn’t go so well, though, as he ended up breeding bees that made tasty honey, but were also incredibly aggressive.

So, in Gunslinger…, Mendel ends up accidentally killing the abbot at St Thomas’s and ends up in exile in the US, still trying to breed the perfect bee.

Long story short, KILLER BEES.

Note: this is not actually Gregor Mendel.

Gregor Mendel, beekeeper and ninja

Similarly, the draft of The Spirit House (terrible placeholder title, I know, but it has the BEST first line**) I pulled out a few weeks back is fantasy, but it isn’t terribly magical. It’s full of spiritualism and madness and dances along the line between the rational and the supernatural. It’s not about magic being real or not, but more about how the world is shaped by belief.

I guess my point is that it has taken me a long time to get used to the idea that fantasy doesn’t necessarily need to have magic. All it needs is to be is fun.

 

*Caveat: talk to them in a “normal human interaction” way. When I was at Eastercon a guy came up to me in the bar and asked who my agent was. No “hi”, no introduction, just “you have an agent who is it tell me.” I told him (because it was a very easy way to get rid of him) but I made sure to add, if you do submit, please don’t do it like you’ve just approached me. I felt embarrassed for him, really. He just laughed and said “it’s okay, I’ll tell her you recommended me.” EPIC CRINGE.

**which I will probably edit out.

Edge Lit 2: Baby’s Day Out

If I was to sum up Edge Lit 2 in a picture, it would be this one:

BabysDayOut

 

You might question the wisdom of taking a five and a half week old baby to a convention, especially on a day when it was already 20 degrees at seven in the morning. Certainly I was questioning the wisdom myself, as we screamed and gibbered our way down the M1, stopping at every service station we saw. There were changes. There were feeds. There was a lot of walking up and down with her until she calmed down enough to strap her back into the Car Seat of Ultimate Despair (And Vibrato Wailing ). Just past the halfway point Lisa said, “maybe we should have stayed at home.”

I must admit, the thought had also crossed my mind.

But there was a higher purpose to it all. With a family holiday looming, we’d never gone any farther than York with her and we needed to know how bad it was going to be to drive her for several hours, even without a plane journey on the far side of it.

It was slightly stressful.

So we arrived at Edge Lit feeling wary about she would handle it. Naturally, she slept through the entire day. The entire day. I didn’t even have to play dance music on my phone and jump around with her until she passed out.* There was a brief bit of crying during the one panel we managed to attend (SO WARM) but aside from that – out for the count. This didn’t stop me from worrying about her for the entire time.

Kim Lakin-Smith said much the same thing to me at Eastercon. If you bring your kids, all you can really focus on is are they okay? Are they hungry? Bored? Too hot? Not hot enough? It was really, really nice to see people (and a couple of new ones!) but I have to apologise to almost all of them for being weird and  because I spent the entire day feeling fractured and on edge.

Also, it was very, very warm. Someone at the con must have sat an ant farm on a windowsill in their childhood because the heat and glare through the Quad’s lovely glass facade felt like karmic payback being dished out. I think the one time my brain actually started coping normally was when we went for lunch in a restaurant so air conditioned it felt arctic by comparison.

But still, all that aside, it was a great event. I caught up with some lovely friends, saw my agent-bro Jennifer rock her first panel**, got some books, got to sign a book (which I was so excited about I added a little doodle as well), and saw the launch of both Noir Carnival and Spacewitch. As with last year, I had to leave early, which was a shame. The events in the Quad have always proven to be good fun, and I look forward to going back.

 

*the standard 2 am tactic.

**two thoughts on that panel: 1) what editors and agents look for – you get some interesting specificity off Twitter on this. Not long ago there was a pitch thing on Twitter where agents could participate by saying what they wanted to see in their inbox. One that caught my eye was the incredibly narrow spec, “a modern version of Tam Lin”. It  felt like a callback to the Harper Voyager open call announcing their first deal…which was for a modern fantasy based on Tam Lin and made me wonder – was the agent being reactive to that sale (even if it was unconsciously done) or had the idea formed parallel but separate to that sale? 2) as a general point to other con attendees – if your question involves recounting the plot of your novel, then save it for the bar. Seriously.***

***usually I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt when they ramble because I’d be a terrible hypocrite otherwise, but that room was very, very warm.