Writing update – no April Fools

First and foremost, today’s big news is The Green Man’s Heir ebook is included in Amazon’s monthly deals for the whole of April. It will be really interesting to see how this goes, a year after first publication. If you know someone who’s been curious about the book, and might just say ‘oh, go on then…’ do let them know.

Here’s the link

In other news, reasons for the lack of blogging so far this year are:
a) domestic distractions (nothing dire, just time- consuming)
b) a lot of very intensive writing.

I’ve been head-down and flat-out writing The Green Man’s Foe for the last few months. That’s going off to my excellent editor Toby Selwyn today. I’m very pleased with it as it stands – and I know Toby’s input will make it even better as he spots things that need snagging and suggests tweaks accordingly. Now I need to brief Ben Baldwin with cover ideas. More news in due course.

I did take a brief break to write a short story for one of this year’s anthologies coming from ZNB. I’m extremely pleased to say it was accepted, and will appear in Alternate Peace, edited by Steven H Silver & Joshua Palmatier and scheduled for release no later than August 2019 (maybe coming June 2019, depending on printer schedules).  You can enjoy fifteen alternate histories where the break from our timeline comes from some kind of peaceful change.

I found that was a very interesting premise, and two books I’ve read some years apart came together in an unexpected way to give me an idea. Those books were a history of the ‘Spanish Flu’ and Bill Bryson’s ‘1927’. Make of that what you will…

In keeping with ZNB’s excellent tradition, the stories will come from a roster of established and new authors. I can’t wait to read them.

“O-Rings” by Elektra Hammond
“A Dad Ought to Have Nightmares” by Dale Cozort
“Election Day” by Harry Turtledove
“A Fine Line, Indeed” by C.W. Briar
“Donny Boy” by Rick Wilber
“The Echoes of a Shot” by Juliet E. McKenna
“What Makes a Better World” by Michael Robertson
“Field of Cloth of Gold and Blood, Sweat and Tears” by Kat Otis
“Politicians, Lost Causers, and Abigail Lockwood” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“Or, the Modern Psyche” by Brian Hugenbruch
“Easter Rising” by Stephen Leigh
“The Sisters of the Hallowed Marsh” by Elizabeth Kite
“Selkie” by Ian R. MacLeod
“New Moon, Dark Skies” by Mike Barretta
“His Master’s Voice” by Kari Sperring



It was twenty years ago today – well, this month, anyway…

This January sees the twentieth anniversary of the first publication of The Thief’s Gamble. That’s quite some milestone, especially considering all the epic upheavals and changes that we’ve seen in publishing, book selling, and the SF&Fantasy genre over these past two decades. So I am tremendously grateful to all the enthusiastic fans who’ve enjoyed my books and spread the word that continues to bring new readers to the Tales of Einarinn. I’m also pleased, and proud, that these stories I devised so long ago stand up to readers’ expectations today.

The advent of ebooks, and an online environment that facilitates small presses, plays a huge part in enabling writers like me to keep our early books available. Accordingly, I’m very pleased indeed, that the digital VAT threshold that I helped campaign for, and secure, has come into force this month. This means that small presses can now sell their own ebooks direct to readers, free of DRM and with a choice of formats as they see fit, and without losing significant earnings for themselves and their authors as 3rd party platforms take 20% VAT straight off the retail price, followed by their own cut of over 50% (Google) and 30% (Amazon). When you’re considering a small press purchase, do check to see if it’s possible for you to buy direct. The cost to you will be the same, and the authors and publishers will benefit.

This change in the legislation means Wizard’s Tower Press has been able to re-open its online bookstore, and Cheryl and I have decided to mark this month’s anniversary with a special offer on all five Tales of Einarinn. From now until the end of January, the five novels are on sale. The prices are US$2.99, £2.35 and €2.99. You can also buy a fabulous omnibus edition that contains all five novels and the short story collection, A Few Further Tales of Einarinn. Until the end of January that’s just $9.99/£7.99.

These offers will also be available through Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, and Amazon, though apparently Amazon’s website is currently baulking at the omnibus thanks to the adds-on from their own file formatting. Hopefully that can be sorted out, and meantime, if you need a Kindle version you can buy it from the Wizard’s Tower Bookstore. As ever, I am indebted to Cheryl for tackling all these technical issues.

So now’s the ideal time to renew your acquaintance with the world of Einarinn, and to recommend the Tales to new readers. All signal boosting will be very much appreciated, naturally!

Reflections on 2018

This has been The Green Man’s Year for me, and who could have predicted that a year ago? Cheryl of Wizard’s Tower Press and I were aiming to get the book out for Eastercon, with the expert input of Toby for editing, and Ben’s outstanding artwork. If we made oh, say, a few hundred quid over and above our meeting our costs, that would count as a success. Reader, we did that in the first six weeks… As the year draws to a close, we have sold over 8000 copies – and that’s before the current sale.

What has this meant for me, beyond the massive boost to morale after a few years in the publishing doldrums? For a start, I now have the budget for attending Dublin 2019’s WorldCon in the bank, and that eases my mind tremendously. I could also afford to go to Octocon in Ireland last October, and to travel to Baltimore for the World Fantasy Convention. I was able to replace my aging and increasingly flaky computer, and buy a new printer to replace the even older and more temperamental incumbent.

Beyond the practicalities, writing a book that’s reminded the publishing industry that yes, I can spin a yarn that a whole load of people love to read, has significantly improved my chances of placing a new fantasy novel/series. So that’s what I’m working on, alongside plans for a Green Man sequel from Wizard’s Tower Press. I’ve also enjoyed myself writing an alternate history short story for ZNB’s 2019 slate of anthologies.

Though those people who’ve said to me, with all goodwill, that the bigger publishers must be kicking themselves for not picking up Green Man, are somewhat behind the times, as far as the book trade goes. Something that this experience, and the year more generally, has shown me, is how massively the book business has changed in the twenty years since The Thief’s Gamble was first published in January 1999. Those who did turn The Green Man’s Heir down for the mass market did so after honestly assessing the commercial chances of this very different style of book from an author best known for epic fantasy, and concluding that the odds were against it. Who’s to say they were wrong, as far as that particular bookshop/supermarket sales environment goes? Not me. But these days, the mass market is by no means the only game in town and that really is the game-changer. We’re seeing time and again that small press and ebook-led titles can succeed online in a wholly new way. For writers, this underscores how vital a hybrid career is becoming; combining independent projects with mass market writing.

Serving as a judge for the 2018 World Fantasy Awards showed me still more aspects of the changing nature of publishing and the SFFH genre. Online publishing and publicity, as well as fans’ ever-evolving digital reading habits, have given shorter form fiction like novellas and short stories a massive boost. We saw a wealth of excellent submissions, both individually and in collections and anthologies. We also saw novels from small, independent presses as good as anything from the mass market publishers. A significant element across all the submissions, regardless of length or publisher, was the presence of voices hitherto minimised or excluded in the last decade or so of mass market, hard copy publishing where the blunt instrument of commercial pressures skewed everything towards what was perceived as the centre of the readership bell curve.

As a judge, I saw these new voices, from indigenous writers, from writers of colour and various diaspora populations, from authors across the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and others besides, bring fresh perspectives and unexpected twists to classic SFFH themes and ideas, enriching and broadening the genre. This has definitely also invigorated white, western writers, encouraging them to explore new ideas and influences – as well as challenging them to up their game, because these more recent entrants really can write. If you think anyone got on this year’s WFA shortlists as any kind of token, or by being held to some lesser standard on account of some undeserved credit, think again. As judges we were unanimous on that score.

This trend towards an inclusive, expansive and diverse genre was a feature of all the conventions I went to this year, both in terms of programming, and in the informal conversations around the bars and restaurants, alongside discussions of the shifts in publishing and new opportunities arising from such changes. This really is an interesting and exciting time to be writing, though equally, it’s no time to be complacent. Decades of cultural inertia still take a lot of shifting. Thankfully, readers and fans are increasingly aware of that as well. My essay on challenges and barriers to broader participation on SFFH writing was shortlisted for a 2018 BSFA Award, which I find very encouraging, as well as a tremendous honour.

I could go on, but it’s Christmas Eve, and I have things to do. So now that I’ve looked back on this rewarding year, I’ll wish you and yours a happy holiday season, however you choose to celebrate at this time of year. I’m signing off social media pretty much till the New Year, so see you in 2019!

The Green Man’s Heir – seasonal sale, and audiobook news!

As the year turns, Cheryl and I have decided to offer The Green Man’s Heir for sale at £0.99, US$0.99 and €0.99 until 31st December, and this is not just limited to Kindle UK like the summer offer, but via Kobo, Google, B&N and Amazon US as well. So if you’ve been thinking about reading it – or recommending it – now’s an excellent time.

There’s a full roster of purchase links here or head for your preferred ebook retailer.

In other exciting news, there will be an audiobook version available from 24th January 2019. To preorder from Amazon UK click here.

I’m really thrilled about this as it’ll be my first ever audiobook! Yes, really. Twenty years ago, when I started out and audiobooks were still tied to physical media like cassettes and later CDs, the sales thresholds for a title to qualify were sky-high. Now that we have digital downloads however, it’s a whole different ball game.

Advising on what I was looking for in a narrator’s voice was a completely new challenge for me, as was listening to sample readings and seeing which voice and narrative style was the best fit. I don’t listen to audiobooks myself, so I enlisted my partially-sighted Dad (for whom audiobooks are invaluable) and my musician son, who deals with all sorts of audio material and listens to things in a very different way to me, if that makes any sense at all.

It’s going to be fascinating to see what audiobook fans make of it.

A brief eligibility post and/or ideas for seasonal gifts/purchases

Since this now seems to be a thing to do, and if you’re pondering award nominations, here’s my roster of 2018 publications, for your consideration.

Or if that’s not something you do, you might like some book-buying ideas for yourself or others.

First and foremost, The Green Man’s Heir is my first contemporary fantasy novel that’s proved very popular, to my delight alongside that of Cheryl Morgan of Wizard’s Tower Press, Toby Selwyn as invaluable, eagle-eyed editor, and Ben Baldwin whose artwork is award-worthy in its own right.

In short fiction, I contributed to Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar, from ZNB LLC. I had great fun writing ‘Wanderlust’, which is one of my occasional forays into SF territory, as it’s set on Mars a few hundred years from now.

Most recently, I wrote ‘The Unforeseen Path’, for The Scent of Tears (Tales of the Apt), published by Newcon Press, and the fourth in their novella series continuing Adrian Tchaikovsky’s stories set in the realms of the Apt. I was very honoured to be invited to write a short story set in this fascinating world of his creation, and decided to look more closely at the Ant-kinden. Telepathy in SF&F has always fascinated me, as it’s very much a two-edged sword, especially when Wasp-kinden attack…

The trans visibility conundrum for writers – how to demonstrate that something’s unremarkable?

They say three things make a blog post. Here’s one. A few weeks back at the World Fantasy Convention, as part of a good programme with respect to diversity discussions, courtesy of the hosts, the Baltimore SF Society, I sat in a packed audience for a ‘Gender 401’ panel. Trans, non-binary and gay writers discussed approaches to better representation in SFF, and recurrent mistakes – like worlds where dragons or sentient computers exist but apparently there’s no one who’s gay, nor ever has been… It was a very informative panel, and the room was full of authors like me who want to get this stuff right, but don’t have lived experience to draw on. I’m not going to recap the discussion – the panel recommended checking out Tiptree Award winners and recommended books, so start there if you want to know more.

Two was the recent Trans Awareness Week here in the UK, highlighting the issues that trans people face, as well as showing positive instances of trans lives for those who might be unaware that trans people are pretty much the same as the rest of us. The third thing followed soon after – Trans Remembrance Day, highlighting how persistent ignorance and prejudice leads to the appalling deaths of trans people who just want to live their lives in peace like the rest of us.

All of which underscores just how much representation matters – as we have seen over the decades as fictional portrayals in print and on screen have helped tackle sexism, racism, homophobia and ableism etc. Sometimes these portrayals tackle that central issue head-on, and that’s important work. It’s not the only option though. Time and again addressing prejudice is done very effectively by making a key character female/black/gay/disabled etc, and having no one remark on it, as that character plays their part in the story on equal terms with everyone else.

So here’s the thing. If I want to write a story with a diverse range of characters when it comes to gender, race, sexual orientation or disability, that’s straight-forward at the most basic level. There are women around, and character descriptions make passing reference to skin tone as well as hair, eyes, clothes etc. A male character mentions his husband, or a female character refers to her wife, or people being poly or non-binary is apparent. Someone is deaf, or has mobility issues, and that’s accommodated rather than being an issue for them or anyone else. Yes, as the author, I must then do the necessary work to make these characters ring true for readers who have the lived experience I lack, but simply having them present on the page is easy enough.

How do I do this with trans characters in a book? Because a trans woman or man living their life in an accepting society is going to be unremarkable. As we increasingly see with trans actors in film and TV, until the fact that they’re trans crops up as a plot point, it’s impossible to tell. I’m thinking in particular of recent episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med. I’ve also had people in real life tell me with absolute conviction that they don’t know any trans people, when I know for a fact that they do. They’re just not aware of it.

Yes, of course I keep my mouth shut in those situations, because it’s not my place to out anyone – and that’s going to be exactly the situation in our aforementioned accepting society that I’m writing about in my putative SFF novel. Trans people are going to be there. There’s going to be nothing to distinguish them from other men and women. No one’s going to remark on their presence because it’s unremarkable. Which means me mentioning it as the author is going to be so out of place that I might just as well add ‘LOOK AT ME BEING DIVERSE – GIVE ME COOKIE!’

So far I’m unable to come up with an answer here, but that’s not going to stop me trying to find a way. Because inclusion and representation matter for trans people just as much as these things matter for everyone. So if you have any useful thoughts, suggestions or observations I’m interested to know more. (Non-useful comments will be binned.)

A few thoughts on reviews, the good, the bad, the unfavourable, and what to do about them

As of today, The Green Man’s Heir has reached 100 reviews on Amazon UK, and is similarly gathering favourable ratings and reviews on Goodreads and elsewhere, like this appreciation in F&SF. So first and foremost, my sincerest thanks to everyone who’s shared their enthusiasm for this book.

Regardless of algorithms and suchlike, knowing that readers appreciate what we do is what keeps us authors writing. It’s great to see, and to share, a positive review, whether that’s a closely detailed essay showing that this reader really understood what you are aiming for in the story, or if it’s an enthusiastic ‘Loved it, a really great read – five stars’. Either is fine, because good reviews are an uncomplicated delight. What to do about them is simple for an author: be grateful and if the opportunity arises, say thank you.

Of course, not all reviews are good… and just to be clear, I’m looking back over twenty years and sixteen novels, as well as a lot of other writing. I’ve plenty of experience here, which is why I make a distinction between bad reviews and unfavourable reviews.

A bad review is one that is pointless. One that says nothing about the book. ‘Don’t like the cover – one star’. ‘Didn’t realise this was the second book in a trilogy – one star’. ‘Was buying this as a gift, but Amazon delivered it too late – one star’. You know the sort of thing I mean. A waste of everyone’s time.

An unfavourable review is different. It engages with the book. It says what the reader didn’t like and hopefully, gives some idea why. Sometimes this says a whole lot more about the reviewer than about the actual book. Back in 1999, you could find a review of The Thief’s Gamble condemning me as a ball-breaking, man-hating feminist, and a few mouse-clicks away, another one equally insistent that I was a patriarchy-enabling betrayer of the Sisterhood. That was an early lesson for me, demonstrating that the author has no control over the assumptions a reader will bring to a book, or their ability to read into it what they want to see, and which the author never intended.

But unfavourable reviews can also engage with exactly what the writer hoped to convey. They absolutely get it, and they really don’t like it. For instance, in The Gambler’s Fortune, a fair few readers had a real problem with the character Jeirran, who is deeply flawed, seriously unpleasant, and the leader of an oppressed minority. Readers who felt that such a leader should be a heroic figure were badly jarred, and some were thrown out of the story completely. Ten books later, and Zurenne in Dangerous Waters divided readers again. A widow in a paternalistic, patriarchal society, Zurenne is utterly unable to cope when a devious, manipulative man exploits and abuses her for his own gain. Some readers found her passivity exasperating, and that really doesn’t make for an enjoyable book.

But here’s the thing. For everyone who wished Zurenne would just grow a backbone and stand up for herself, someone else would comment that her plight made them realise even a benevolent patriarchy is ultimately no good for women, because when the going gets tough, they have none of the skills they’ll need to cope. For everyone who hated Jeirran so much that he ruined the book for them, someone else was prompted to ask why do we make assumptions about ‘heroes’ and the potentially dangerous consequences of doing so. So I learned early on that unfavourable reviews must always be seen in their wider context. Some readers may well not like a particular aspect of a story. That doesn’t mean the author wasn’t making a valid point by including it.

Writers should remember they can’t please all of the people all of the time. What’s way too fast-paced for someone can be a plodding plot for someone else, while it’ll be just right for a whole lot of other readers. Views on what’s too much violence, or too little action, or too much politics, or not enough depth of background vary similarly. The author has no control over any of these reactions, any more than the three bears could anticipate what Goldilocks might want in a bed or a bowl of porridge.

Of course, that isn’t to say that a writer should just ignore unfavourable reviews. If the majority view is that some aspect isn’t working, that’s something to look at more closely, especially with regard to whatever you’re writing at the moment. This is how we increase our understanding of our craft, and develop our skills.

What else should a writer do? Once again, that’s easy. Nothing. There is nothing to be gained by arguing with, or even debating, bad or unfavourable reviews, whether that’s in person or on the Internet for all the world to see. As one best-selling author explained to me, early in my career, and well before social media. ‘It’s starting an arse-kicking contest with a porcupine. Even if you win, the cost to yourself will not be worth it.’

So when I see someone didn’t find The Green Man’s Heir to their personal liking, I privately wish them happy reading elsewhere, and move on. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of good books for all tastes, after all. Meantime, I shall continue working on the sequel for all those who have enjoyed Dan’s adventures thus far, all the more encouraged by to those who’ve found a few moments to say so. As I said at the outset, many thanks for that.

Diary update – see me in Dublin, Bristol or Baltimore

I’ve got a fair bit of travelling ahead of me, which means lots of new friends to meet, and plenty of opportunities for folk to say hello.

19th – 21st October, I’ll be at Octocon in Dublin.

My prospective panels will be as follows:

‘Being Human’ and discussing how far can individuals be changed (mutants, cyborgs etc) before they can no longer be considered human.

‘Hand to Hand Combat’, discussing among other things the fantasy of the One Heroic Punch.

Being a Wikipedia Editor

‘Finding the Write Balance’, discussing what we authors do to complement and supplement our writing lives.

27th October, I’ll be at Bristolcon.

I’m running my workshop on Making Every Word Count, on the use of detail in your fiction. For those wondering if they’ve already attended this elsewhere, it’s ‘The Misadventures of Sally’. If that means nothing to you, and you’re keen to take part, sign up via the Bristolcon website.

I’ll also be on a panel discussing ‘Where have all the thin books gone?’ Given the stacks currently in my living room, I think I have at least one answer…

1st – 4th November, I’ll be at the World Fantasy Convention, Baltimore USA.

I’m there first and foremost in my capacity as a judge for this year’s World Fantasy Awards, but I’ll naturally be happy to chat about anything and everything SFFH related.

it’s going to be a busy few weeks 🙂

Off to North Wales for a writers’ week. Meantime, a writerly warning.

The very briefest of updates as I am racing around getting stuff done before disappearing to the Milford SF writers’ week in Snowdonia tomorrow. I expect to be largely absent from social media until I get back.

So I don’t have time to write a lengthy takedown at the moment, but this is worth flagging up. I’ve noticed that vanity/predatory ‘publishers’ are co-opting the term ‘hybrid’ in an attempt to veil their scams.

As widely understood in the booktrade for a decade or so now, ‘a hybrid author’ is someone combining self-published and small press projects with traditional writing contracts from major publishers. Someone like me, and any number of others I could name.

It is NOT an author paying an exorbitant sum of money to some outfit with no record of measurable success in the marketplace, for unspecified services that won’t be properly accounted for, under some exploitative ‘partnership’ contract that will see the scammer pocketing the cash while the writer ends up with an unedited, shoddily produced ebook that will never sell to anyone but family and friends.

And as a new pal on Twitter pointed out, it’s also muddying the waters as follows: “They may be yoinking its academic article publishing definition. There, money never flows to the author anyway and a “hybrid” journal is partially unpaywalled, funded by authors paying $$$ to make their article open access.”

All told, remember that con artists preying on writers haven’t gone away, they’ve just evolved for the digital age, along with other such vermin.

Do your due diligence, check with reputable author organisations for red flags, talk to other authors, check out Writer Beware!
Right, I’ll get back to getting on 🙂

The Green Man’s Heir – a UK Kindle Daily Deal – a truly astonishing 24 hours.

I’m updating this post to say a huge thank you to everyone who boosted the signal about that deal, and to all those who have rated and/or reviewed The Green Man’s Heir on Amazon and Goodreads before the Daily Deal and subsequently.

All of this support has really helped raise the book’s profile and increased sales – to the point where for a dozen or so frankly implausible hours I was outselling J K Rowling …

It’s a good thing I’ve been working in the book trade long enough to keep this all in proportion.

What this does mean is that a sequel is now definitely planned 🙂

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If you’ve been thinking about reading The Green Man’s Heir, but the book budget just hasn’t been there, now’s your chance!

It’s a Kindle Daily Deal – today only in the UK – and you can buy it for 99p. Click here.

Amazon US are matching that price so American readers can grab it for $1.26.

Go for it!

And all signal boosting will be very much appreciated 🙂