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.
Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ll be part of the @ZNBLLC Kickstarter for three new anthologies this year. I’ve had stories in four of these collections so far, as well as two earlier projects from this team. Sometimes that’s been as an invited author, sometimes I’ve gone through submission because I had an idea that was too much fun not to write. That’s the thing about these projects – they’re always full of intriguing possibilities.
That makes for great collections of stories and excellent value for readers at the entry levels. For those of you looking for something extra, there are a whole range of bonus reward levels. I’m offering assorted books and a couple of Tuckerisations (your name for a character in my story). There will be more detail on each theme soon, but for now, readers aware of my alter ego’s mystery novels set in Ancient Greece will not be surprised to lean that I’ll be writing a story for the ‘Deities’ anthology – as long as the Kickstarter funds.
Alongside the designated authors anchoring each book, there is always an an open call for submissions offering first rate editorial advice as well as professional rates of pay for the stories that make the cut. ZNB are also very keen to offer debut publication opportunities. Any SFF writers starting out should definitely go and take a look.
Other formats will be available, and in other territories. We’ll update everyone with news and links in due course.
So what’s this new story about? Here’s what the cover will tell you…
“Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.
But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?”
“Helen put a couple of tea bags into a pot and then spooned coffee into a cafetière. ‘You like to fix things. You like to help.’ Those weren’t questions, but I answered her anyway. ‘If I can.’ She waited for the kettle to boil, looking thoughtful, not looking at me. She made the coffee and the tea and brought them both over to the table. I took a seat as she fetched milk from the fridge and mugs from the dishwasher. She sat in the chair across the table and filled a mug for us both. ‘Do you have hobs where you live?’ I didn’t think she was talking about kitchen appliances, but I wasn’t sure of much beyond that. ‘By which you mean…?’ ‘Brownies, pixies, they have a lot of different names. Earth spirits inclined to take a fancy to human hearths and homes.’ She took a sip of coffee. ‘Around here they call themselves hobs.’ ‘I know what you mean,’ I said cautiously, ‘but I’ve never met one.’
The book is now in production and we plan to publish in early September. As soon as the date is fixed, we’ll spread the word. Pre-orders will be possible soon, and there’ll be more details coming to whet your appetites…
As I get The Green Man’s Silence ready for publication, this is very much on my mind. One of the central elements of these books is showing recognisable, everyday normality alongside the supernatural that’s so close even if most folk can’t see it. That’s a key part of their appeal. I’ve been careful not to date these stories so far too precisely, but they have essentially reflected the years when they’ve been written. I researched and wrote this forthcoming book through the winter of 2019-2020 and that’s what you’ll see on the page.
What do I do now? If I show Dan’s life as it would be without the current pandemic, then the next book becomes a fantasy that’s far more distinct from the new abnormality that we now realise will be with us for an ongoing and indeterminate time. Will readers want that added escape, or will the disconnect with their current lives be too jarring amid the ongoing everything?
But is the alternative even worse? Not going to lie, I have been thinking about the ways that the UK lockdown, and the dire economic consequences we’re now looking at, will affect Dan and Blithehurst where he works, as well as the people he knows – and yes, how the dryads and others will react. I have quite a fun short story idea…
Except none of this is remotely fun. My family are so far unscathed, but the total of people I know personally and professionally, who’ve suffered a family death due to Covid-19, is now into double figures. This is serious for us all, and heart-breaking for tens, if not hundreds of thousands, in the UK alone. Won’t putting that grim reality on the page alongside myth-based puzzles and perils simply wreck reader suspension of disbelief?
I am reminded of the rewrites to the end of Western Shore, the novel I had finished writing just before the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. A tidal wave formed a large part of the backdrop to the conclusion. My editor and I agreed that had to be changed, no question about it. Readers seeing awful news footage in their mind’s eye as they read would ruin the book for them. Add to that, as happened to at least one writer whose book with an incidental tidal wave was just about to hit the shops, there was the risk of being accused of callously cashing in.
So I am pondering these questions, and thus far, not finding any answers. Your perspectives and observations are welcome.
If I was to post one of those side-by-side photo memes of ‘my plans for 2020’ and ‘me in 2020’, the images wouldn’t be one of happy optimism and one of everything gone wrong. Both pictures would probably be of a cat typing. The first half of this year was always going to be intense for me, well before we had a global health emergency.
Towards the end of 2019, Agent Max and I had a rescue plan in place for the Ancient Greek murder mysteries – of which, more in due course – and that meant writing the third Philocles book by 30th June 2020. That was going to have to happen alongside writing the third of the Green Man books, if Wizard’s Tower Press and I were going to get that out in August, a year after the last one. Which is to say, I would have to write one straight after the other, as I cannot work on two projects at the same time. So, a 100k word novel written January-March, followed by another one April-June. Okay… Since I had already done the research and outlining for both stories, that should be doable. Tight, but doable with my head down to concentrate.
Then I got an invitation to write a novella for a shared world project – of which, more in due course. The source material was great fun, some excellent other writers are involved – and professionally speaking, it definitely couldn’t do any harm to remind readers that I do write epic fantasy as well. The big question was, could I find the time…? Okay… if I stepped everything up a gear, it should be doable. So I said yes.
Then in January, I learned that family matters would require a week of my time away from home in March. Nothing drastic, thankfully, and I can work on my laptop, but oh, the timing… Okay, better find another gear.
By way of incentives, if I got this all done, I could take things easy for a fortnight and watch all the Wimbledon tennis I wanted. After the edits were done over Jul/Aug, we could have a nice holiday in Greece when the weather’s cooler in September. Oh… well… that was the plan back in January…
So now you know why I have been doing very little blogging or indeed, much of anything else. I have been working flat out – and yes, I have got it all done. To be precise, as of today, my word count for the year thus far stands at 222,323 words. I rarely post such numbers because every writer is very different, but for context, my highest previous annual word count is 246k.
So what now? Well, all three of these projects have to be edited for a start. Thankfully that is far less intensive work than the actual wordsmithing, certainly for me. The Green Man’s Silence is coming together very nicely, as I work on that with Editor Toby, and the cover art by Ben Baldwin is fantastic. Yes, you’ve guessed it, more on that in due course – but not so very long to wait now. We hope to reveal the cover and other details at this summer’s online Worldcon.
What next for me after that? Well, the book trade is still trying to find a new normal amid the ongoing everything, so that’s honestly very hard to say. I can at least confirm that I will be writing a story for one of this year’s ZNB Kickstarter anthologies – The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity. Watch this space for full details for all three anthologies. As always, these offer exciting opportunities for new writers.
So that’s the latest from here. We are all keeping fine, and I hope all is well with you and yours.
For the moment, this is the last of these stories, though as readers who’ve followed Dyal’s adventures will be well aware, this cannot be the end of his story. I know what happens next, and aim to find time to write that tale later this year.
At the moment, my Work diary is full! As of close of play yesterday, I’ve written 194231 words of original fiction since 2nd January this year, spread over one novel, completed in draft and with its editor, one novella ditto, and a second novel that’s due for delivery at the end of June and is currently about three quarters of the way to a finished draft.
I hope to take a few days off at the start of July, before I tackle the editor’s feedback on The Green Man’s Silence…
I’m making a concerted effort to have less news and more fiction in my non-work time, for overall morale reasons.
So I spent some time this morning reading a rural contemporary crime novel I will not name because it is so poorly written. By page three it was already an exercise in noting ‘what not to do’. E.g. slang from my mother’s era from contemporary teens, data dump on every page, and DO NOT get me started on the detective protagonist’s alleged martial arts skills. (Yes, drink problem, wrecked home life and ‘maverick’ attitude to authority forgiven on account of results.)
Zero evidence of research was evident throughout the quarter I managed to read before giving up. Knowledge of current police procedures appeared to come from assiduously viewing Midsomer Murders. Swearing added for grittiness had all the subtlety and ultimate pointlessness of a half brick lobbed into a garden pond.
Why am I mentioning this? Because perversely, it should be a encouragement to aspiring writers. Just about every student I’ve ever taught has been better than this! And yet, this saw print and numerous sequels for the very easily pleased. This author sells by the shedload in the US apparently. As an astute publisher realised would likely be the case.
No I’m really not going to say. That would be unprofessional as well as unkind. This author clearly gets a great deal of pleasure from writing as well as interacting with their readership. Horses for courses and all that.
Instead I will wholeheartedly recommend Alex Grey’s ‘William Lorimer’ crime novels set in Scotland. Read one of those yesterday. Very readable indeed. Well constructed and fast paced, solid characterisation and the right balance with contemporary true crime in the news.
Dyal has learned secrets that the warlord’s family would prefer not to share. That means he must be drawn into the domain ruler’s inner circle, whether he likes it or not. What use can the young swordsman be? Now he finds himself trusted as a courier – and sent into fresh danger…
Revisiting your own work is a curious experience for a writer, in my experience at least. When you’re working on a book, from first outline to final page proofs, that’s pretty much all you think about. You have every detail at your fingertips. You know the story inside out. You’ve been living with these characters for however long the work’s been in progress. Then quite suddenly, that’s done, and you move on to the next thing. This new story may or may not involve the same characters, but regardless, it’s a new adventure full of fresh challenges for you as a writer. As it fills your thoughts, it’s surprising how quickly the fine detail of earlier books fades from your memory. You’ll recall the broad strokes, obviously, but not the line-by-line. By the time I was on the third, fourth and fifth book of The Tales of Einarinn, my reference copies of the earlier volumes bristled with Post-It tags so I could find descriptions and incidents I needed to refer back to. Thank goodness for electronic versions and search boxes these days.
I revisited The Aldabreshin Compass books in 2015, when I was proof-reading the text we’d prepared for the new digital editions from Wizard’s Tower Press. This was the first time I’d really engaged with these stories and characters since Eastern Tide was published in 2006. I’m pleased to say I thoroughly enjoyed the process. The books held up well for me as an author, and as a reader, I found the story really exciting! At a couple of points, I genuinely caught myself wondering what’s going to happen next?! I knew the situation, whatever it was, would be resolved, but I had honestly forgotten exactly how?
Perhaps it’s because I was engaging with these books at least as much as a reader this time around that I began to see other things. There’s a young soldier who falls off a battlement in the first book, Southern Fire. As the writer, I hadn’t given him a second thought, because my focus was on Daish Kheda, the warlord whose personal journey drives the narrative of this whole series. As a reader though, now I kept wondering what had happened to that young man who had disappeared into the darkness…?
As I read the following books, I found I had other questions. Kheda goes on his journey, but life at the home he has left goes on without him. Some of the consequences of this become apparent, as other people’s paths cross his own, but as a writer, my focus always stayed with his story. As a reader though, I found I wanted to know more of what had gone on without him. What lay behind the choices and decisions made by the people he had left behind…?
I am a writer first and foremost. That said, I’ve always found inspiration in the questions keen readers have asked me. Now that I was the curious reader, these questions just wouldn’t go away. Ideas stirred. In between other projects, I began writing a series of linked short stories that sit between the volumes of The Aldabreshin Compass. These can be read on their own, as well as offering added depth and insights for those who’ve read the Compass sequence.
So I started with that fateful night when Daish Kheda was so treacherously attacked, and his faithful retainers risked their lives to defend him. You can find the free ebook here, along with other free reading from Wizard’s Tower Press, and the ‘Colinthology’ which raises money to support Bristol hospitals.
When I was asked to offer a story* for this digital anthology, I immediately said yes. So did a whole lot of other writers, making this an outstanding collection of quality short fiction. All proceeds are being donated to support NHS staff and other healthcare workers.
So for £5.99 you get 53 stories, 253,000 words of fiction, including several pieces that are original to this volume, featuring some of the finest writers of science fiction, literary fiction, fantasy, horror, and more. Click here to buy it
Boost the signal! Spread the word! And raise a cheer for Ian Whates of Newcon Press, and those who helped him, for doing an amazing job so quickly.
* I opted for The Sphere, previously published in the 2016 ZNB anthology Alien Artifacts