I'm a professional writer of epic fantasy novels and assorted shorter fiction which includes forays into SF, dark/urban fantasy and occasional tie-in fiction. I review across the speculative genre online and in print magazines, notably Interzone and Albedo One. I've also written genre criticism and related articles. I'm currently serving as a judge for the Arthur C Clarke Award and for the James White Short Story Award.

The Green Man’s Foe – Cover Reveal

Since we know how many eager readers are looking forward to this book, we thought, let’s celebrate Midsummer’s Day by sharing Ben Baldwin’s fabulous artwork, and letting you know a little bit about this new story.

When you do a good job for someone, there’s a strong chance they’ll offer you more work or recommend you elsewhere. So Daniel Mackmain isn’t particularly surprised when his boss’s architect brother asks for his help on a historic house renovation in the Cotswolds.

Except Dan’s a dryad’s son, and he soon realises there’s a whole lot more going on. Ancient malice is stirring and it has made an alliance in the modern world. The Green Man expects Dan to put an end to this threat. Seeing the danger, Dan’s forced to agree.
 The problem is he’s alone in a place he doesn’t know, a hundred miles or more away from any allies of his own.

A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.

We’re in the final stages of production, and as soon as we have a firm date for publication, we’ll share that too!

Further forthcoming fiction news – Soot and Steel from Newcon Press

I’m very pleased to say that I will have a story in this anthology coming soon from Newcon Press. This is going to be a particularly interesting collection of original stories blended with reprints from classic writers whose names you may or may not recognise. We’re all exploring the dark corners and shadows of life in London from the Victorian era onward. In my case, I’m looking at the harsh lives of peripatetic governesses, and an unexpected opportunity for one unjustly dismissed young woman.

My story also proves the old maxim that no writing is ever wasted. I wrote it for a different project entirely which never came together, alas, quite a few years ago now. Editor Ian Whates remembered seeing it back then, and he realised how well it would suit this particular collection. I’m delighted to see it in print in such fine company.

The full table of contents –

  1. Introduction by Ian Whates
  2. Hunger – Bryony Pearce
  3. A Street – Arthur Morrison
  4. A Maze for the Minotaur – Reggie Oliver
  5. The Phantom Model (A Wapping Romance) – Hume Nisbet
  6. The Ghost of Cock Lane – Rose Biggin
  7. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – Juliet E. McKenna
  8. Watercress Girl – Henry Mayhew
  9. Queen Rat – David Rix
  10. Christopherson – George Gissing
  11. From The Casebook of Master Wiggins, Esq. – Paul di Filippo
  12. Albert And The Engine Of Albion – Terry Grimwood
  13. In the Tube – E.F. Benson
  14. A Romance of the Piccadilly Tube – T.G. Jackson
  15. Blood and Bone – Susan Boulton
  16. Behind the Shade – Arthur Morrison
  17. Southall Tantra – Paul StJohn Mackintosh


Problematic issues re Amazon reviews

Whatever social media you use, you doubtless see regular polite/pleading reminders from your favourite authors about how important online reviews are these days, and reviews on Amazon most of all.

This isn’t just needy writers looking for some ego boost. Publishers tell us authors time and again how reviews drive vital visibility when their numbers reach the ever-shifting tipping points that trigger different promotional algorithms. How even readers who don’t shop at Amazon use the site to see what other people think of books that interest them, as they decide to buy. How publishers can even use a title’s level of reviews as one measure of a writer’s popularity and a possible predictor (among others) of interest in a possible future project.

So please support your favourite authors with Amazon reviews. As long as you are allowed to. This is where all this starts to get problematic. A pal thought to do me a favour by leaving a genuinely favourable review on Amazon only to have it rejected because their spend on the site over the last six months didn’t reach the required threshold. I went to see what was what and found this on Amazon UK –
“To contribute to Community Features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers), you must have spent at least £40 on Amazon.co.uk using a valid payment card in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the £40 minimum.”

Since I remarked on this on social media, various other people have confirmed that the same thing had happened to them. Though what that qualifying spend might be clearly varies from time to time and place to place. That doesn’t surprise me. We already know that Amazon regularly tweaks their algorithms’ review number trigger points as they look for the best way to maximise their revenue. Other things also became apparent. You don’t have to be buying books to qualify, just stuff, because this isn’t about books, it’s about Amazon making money. Indeed, when some people found they were unable to post reviews they were told that their Kindle purchases didn’t count because the spend had to be on physical goods. Whether or not an Amazon Prime subscription counts seems to vary as well.

Why are Amazon doing this? The obvious answer is it’s a countermeasure against bots and review spam. That’s fair enough, but it’s a very, very blunt instrument. It does nothing to stop astroturfing (faking ‘grassroots’ support) by someone with a lot of pals who buy sufficient stuff online. But that’s not Amazon’s concern. They’re in business to make money, first last and always.

So what can we do? Well, the reason that reviews matter is what sells books is word of mouth recommendation. That’s been the case for ever. All the Internet has done has enabled us to tell each other about a good new book in a whole lot of new ways. So carry on doing that – but now, please try to remember to look beyond Amazon when you want to support an author by boosting a book and when you’re looking for recommendations. If you have the time and inclination, check out Goodreads maybe, and/or look for the bookbloggers that share your particular interests.

Whatever social media you use, whenever you can spare the time for a quick mention, even just a line or so, it all adds up and it all helps to boost the signal, and that’ll help keep your favourite authors writing. Thanks.

Another diary update, and another preview for The Green Man’s Foe.

If you’re within striking distance of London on Saturday June 8th, I will be the BSFA guest of honour at the annual one-day convention jointly run by the BSFA and the SFF, alongside their respective AGMs. More from the BSFA here.

The venue is the Department of Physics, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College, and the programme is as follows:

1000: Intro/welcome
1005-1100: Panel 1 – BSFA
The Zero Sum of Literature: are some SF writers wrong to not welcome “literary” writers with open arms to the genre?
1105-1200: Interview/talk 1 – Rachel Livermore
1200-1230: SFF AGM
1300-1330: BSFA AGM
1330-1430: SFF panel – “Return to the Moon: how and why?” – GS (M), Dave Clements, Rachel Livermore
1430-1530: Interview 2 – Juliet E McKenna interviewed by Sophia McDougall.

The Convention is free to attend and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

And now as promised, here’s another taste of The Green Man’s Foe, using the Book Quote Wednesday word ‘promise’. If this seems a little opaque at the moment, trust me, it’ll all become clear when you read the book.

There was an edge of desperation in Ben’s voice. I have to admit, that did intrigue me.
‘Just come down to take a look at the place,’ he pleaded. ‘We really need to get the project moving, and I honestly can’t think of anyone better than you.’
I wondered how much of that urgency was some instinct stirred by his dryad ancestry. Then there was my dream last night to consider. I had learned the hard way that the Green Man didn’t like being ignored.
‘I’ll talk to Eleanor.’ I raised a warning hand. ‘No promises.’
‘Great.’ Ben’s relief was obvious. He took a pen from an inside pocket and scribbled on the front of the Brightwell folder. ‘That’s my mobile, and my email. Let me know a good time for you to visit. Later this week, if you can?’
I nodded, still non-committal. There were potential complications I needed to discuss with Eleanor that I couldn’t explain to Ben.

What’s in a name? Better ask Google! (plus ‘The Green Man’s Foe’ excerpt)

One thing about writing a book set in the modern world is the challenge of finding character names. The business of naming epic fantasy characters is straightforward by comparison. Make sure they’re easily pronounced, and coherent for the society where they belong, and you’re pretty much good to go.

But when you’re dealing with the current day, the first thing you must do is stick whatever combination of name and surname you’re using into a search engine. Believe me, you will find pages of people called exactly that – and you need to take a look at the results to make sure you’re not inadvertently libelling anyone. This is particularly important when it comes to villains.

The cautionary tale for authors is what happened to Jake Arnott, in his crime novel, Johnny Come Home, published in April 2006, pulped in August 2006. It turned out that unknown to Arnott, there was someone with the same name as his appalling bad guy, working in the same industry, at the time when the novel was set. You can read the details here.

I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been finishing up The Green Man’s Foe. In particular, I’ve noticed how much things have changed since I wrote the very different novel that’s given me the setting and a few other things that are now the basis for Dan’s new challenge. Those other things include some minor characters. When I first wrote that other novel, I made sure even the most passing named characters had no presence online. Double-checking as we did the edits, I found a whole lot of instances where that’s no longer the case. So many more people are online these days that you can lose hours trying to find a no-results combination.

Well, I’ve changed a few names, and left ones where there really is no chance of a non-villain being mistaken for someone who lives in a different country and works in an entirely different industry. But even so, I will be careful to make sure that the standard disclaimer is in the book’s front matter, making it clear this is a work of fiction and no resemblance to any real people, living or dead, is intended.

Well, apart from one cameo appearance – but that would be telling…

Moving on, this week’s Book Quote Wednesday word is ‘luck’, and Dan’s got a new job, but will this turn out to be a stroke of good fortune? You’ll find out in due course, and meantime, here’s this week’s taster.

We walked along the corridor that ran in a U shape around this floor, with windows overlooking the mossy courtyard at the heart of the house. As Franklin opened successive doors, I saw that all the bedrooms had views looking outwards to the gardens and the woods beyond.

Something occurred to me. ‘This must be a listed building?’

‘Grade two.’ Franklin was unconcerned. ‘We’ve been through everything with the planning people. The Suttons did extensive alterations before there were any regulations to stop them, putting in dressing rooms which will be ideal for bathrooms. They had all the panelling to work with, so you can’t even see the joins. Old Aunt Constance’s father, John, had political ambitions, and plans for hosting house parties with the rich and powerful. Luckily he lost all his money before he could ruin the place.

He continued walking. I followed him around the next corner and came face to face with a display case of stuffed birds, where a mangy ferret glared at me with baleful glass eyes. Those could go straight in the skip.

A May update

A brief post to share a few things. Firstly, I will be a guest of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club on Tuesday 14th May, alongside Jen Williams and Stewart Hotson. We’ll be meeting upstairs at The Star of Kings (just north of King’s Cross) from 7pm. The event promises ‘a reading, some Q&A, a chat, a lemonade’, and the evening is open to all.

In writing news, The Green Man’s Foe is well on its way to a final text, with thanks to Editor Toby. The cover art is really coming together, thanks to Artist Ben. As soon as we have a definite publication date, and information on how to pre-order from Wizard’s Tower Press , I’ll post all the details.

Meantime, I’ll be posting weekly snippets as part of the Book Quote Wednesday hashtag #bookqw on Twitter and Facebook. It’s a fun bit of promo run by Mindy Klasky and taken up by an eclectic range of authors – if you do Twitter and/or Facebook. Obviously not everyone does, so I’ll cross-post here.

This week’s word is ‘friend’, so here’s a taste, just to whet your appetite…

‘Daniel, good to see you.’

‘Ben.’ I offered him my hand and we shook, by way of a greeting somewhere between friends and business acquaintances. ‘What brings you here?’

Benjamin Beauchene – pronounced ‘Beechen’ – is an architect who lives in London, even if Blithehurst Manor is his ancestral family home, and he has shares in the trust that now preserves the property for future generations. Not that the dryads were convinced that the humans who couldn’t see them could be trusted to look after their domain.

‘I’m looking for a favour,’ he said with a frank grin. ‘Shall we head up to the restaurant for a coffee?’ He gestured towards the repurposed stable buildings that stood at the top of the shallow slope by the main road.

I checked my watch. It wasn’t even nine in the morning. I wondered what this favour might be, to get him here so early.

In other news, we can now share the cover art for the anthology Alternate Peace, and Justin Adams of Varia Studios is the artist. This is coming soon from ZNB, and my story’s set in 1939, twenty-five years after a very different outcome to a tragedy in Sarajevo…

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