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.

Rocks and Shoals – the third free story from the Aldabreshin Archipelago

Dyal has become a valued confidant of the Daish domain’s warlord and his family. That means he can be trusted to carry information so vital and so dangerous that it cannot be committed to paper.

Ensuring this message reaches the man who must hear it, and no one else, may yet prove to be Dyal’s most challenging mission for his master so far, and mot only his life is at stake.

Click here for the free download from Wizard’s Tower Press in the format of your choice.

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…

A lockdown reading report – of varied results

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.

Distant Thunder – the second free story from the Aldabreshin Archipelago

A brief post to let you know the second instalment of Dyal’s adventures is now available as a free ebook – in epub or mobi format as you prefer.

You’ll find it here, and don’t forget to take a look at the fine selection of other reading.

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…

Fire in the Night – a free story from the Aldabreshin Archipelago

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.

Artwork by Ben Baldwin

Stories of Hope and Wonder – an anthology to support the UK’s healthcare workers

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

A Sunday Lockdown Update

So, we’ve watched The Witcher, and found it entertaining, in a ‘Dungeons and Dragons for the telly’ kind of way. Which probably says a fair bit about our family approach to tabletop and LARP gaming. It was uneven at times – the range of accents was occasionally distracting for me. The dialogue lurching from ‘verily, we must make haste to yonder castle’ to ‘bollocks to that, pal’ could do with smoothing out. Some more obvious cues about the different timelines wouldn’t have gone amiss. That said, the perspectives on magic and politics, and the continental setting were interesting and did some testing of cliches. Other cliches were embraced, alas, at least for the moment. I’ll be interested to see where those particular story elements go. Overall, I’m sufficiently engaged to look forward to Season 2.

In other news, Husband and I were both overdue a haircut when all this started. I have now resorted to a hairband to keep my fringe out of my eyes. He’s developing an unexpectedly Tintinesque look. No, there will not be pictures.

The recent special offers for The Green Man’s Heir and The Green Man’s Foe have prompted a very nice flurry of positive reviews and ratings by satisfied readers on Amazon and Goodreads. That’s very much appreciated and a boost for morale. I’ve also been making an effort to sit in the garden or the lounge and read a bit each day, for destressing purposes.

However my subconscious is still finding lightning rods for the nebulous anxiety that surrounds us all, sending my thoughts down unproductive pathways. This gets me about as far as a hamster running on a wheel. The latest has been seeing other authors busy doing readings and panels and chatting online by video. Should I be doing that ?! Why am I not doing that?!

Well, I am honestly too busy – my next deadline is still in place and it’s a tight one. True, but that doesn’t get the hamster-brain off the squeaky wheel.

But I don’t know how to do this stuff. I’ve done plenty of video interviews, but that’s always been with someone else doing the tech. Yes, I’m sure I could work it out, but that would take time I don’t have to spare – see above. All true, but once again, that doesn’t get the hamster off the wheel .

But I simply don’t want to do it – and it’s not only because my hair’s a ragged mess at the moment, though that is a part of it, because I prefer to present myself professionally. It’s the thought of the total demand of prepping material, being on time for something remotely organised, coordinating with other people, doing the tech stuff at my end etc etc etc – when I am so busy and life is still so odd and uncertain. I do not need more stuff to do.

Thankfully admitting that to myself gets the hamster to stop scampering. I am under no obligation to do this stuff. Time I can spare from work is at least as well, if not better spent on self-care just at present. If I decide I want to, that’s fine, and I can ask for tech help then. When I’m ready. If I want to.

So I will continue to write the next Ancient Athens murder mystery and focus on that – which is proving very enjoyable. So far I have encountered another of those things they don’t tell you about being a writer – that you will need to look up the history of fruit. No, Philocles can’t have peaches for breakfast. If he does, someone somewhere will know that’s wrong, and a) be thrown out of reading this book, and b) will say so online these days. So – and apologies for spoilers – Philocles is eating cherries instead.

Sunday thoughts on manifestations of stress.

It’s all still very odd, isn’t it? And at the same time, such a lot hasn’t changed so very much for households like ours – those of us without kids out of school and with jobs we can still do. Believe me, I appreciate that good fortune. Even so, the possibilities… the uncertainties… It doesn’t do to dwell on these things, but it can be hard not to.

As a novelist, I can’t help observing what’s going on around me as people react to all this – and realising that I am in no sense immune. I found doing the supermarket run peculiarly stressful. There was the oddity of having to queue to get in, though I didn’t have to wait particularly long. There was seeing the anxiety on so many faces, and the awkwardness of social distancing when all you want to do is get some frozen peas and there’s someone in your way. Will there be any peas?! Such questions assume an importance out of all proportion at the moment. Rationally, I know the supermarkets are getting their supply chains sorted out – and honestly, the world won’t end if we eat green beans instead this week. But the part of my brain that’s chasing possibilities and uncertainties like a hamster running on its wheel doesn’t want to hear that.

I’m seeing other manifestations of stress on social media. There are a lot of spats and bickering around that I could well do without. Personally I’m trying to focus on posting useful and/or mildly amusing things. People need to curate their own level of exposure to distressing news at the moment, so I’m leaving that up to them. But I have had some responses which have struck me as unhelpfully abrupt and even confrontational. People saying their individual experience is different, or that they simply don’t agree based on nothing more than personal opinion. Or going off on a tangent, wanting to discuss another topic entirely – something that I don’t want to be drawn into. These responses are very much the exception, thankfully, but hamster-brain and writer-brain can’t help being drawn to them. Are people more inclined to sense of humour failure at the moment? Am I being unduly sensitive? Are both sides reading more into casual posts than is really there? I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle, at some ever-shifting point.

We’re all going to need to find our own ways of managing stress – all the more so, the longer this weirdness goes on. Books, films, TV and my own work are what I am using to get that bloody hamster off its squeaky wheel. Successfully, for the most part, thankfully.

Special Offer on the first two Green Man stories, and the first news of Book 3…

Good morning, and here’s some good news. The Green Man’s Heir is a Kindle Daily Deal in the UK (and depending where you are based, it may show up cheap on the US store). To celebrate the offer, Wizard’s Tower Press and I have also temporarily dropped the price of The Green Man’s Foe worldwide. So that’s both ebooks for around the price of a fancy cup of coffee today – which you won’t be buying anyway just at the moment.

This means everyone can get nicely caught up with Dan’s adventures, before reading The Green Man’s Silence, coming this summer from Wizard’s Tower Press. Dan’s in the Fens, in the east of England. It’s a part of the country he’s never visited before, so everything’s unfamiliar, from the roads and rivers raised up above the black peaty fields that surround them, to the supernatural creatures that live there. One thing he soon notices is the lack of oak trees. He’s going to need help from elsewhere to solve the complex challenge he faces.

So boost the signal, spread the word and tell your friends! And if you’ve already read both books and enjoyed them, remember that leaving a review or rating however brief on your preferred website will help the team bringing you these stories long after this offer’s done. Thank you kindly.

Purchase links – ebook edition
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Artwork by Ben Baldwin

Sunday thoughts – things learned this week.

Something this past fortnight has shown me is just how many people I know and work with have a close connection to the NHS. Another thing I’ve learned this past week, reading reports from Spain and Italy, is how appalling the impact of all this will be on all of them, to a greater or lesser extent, I’m not (just) talking about the risks of serious illness that they all face, but the effect of being far closer to mass deaths than any of the rest of us. So staying home when we can, and keeping our distance when we can’t takes on an added personal dimension, as well as being essential for the greater good.

So I’m doing what I can, for the GP my friend T is married to, and for my friend B’s partner the ICU nurse, for my friend S’s brother the nurse-manager, for young L and my long-standing friend K who work in hospital admin, and for my friend G’s in-law the hospital pharmacist. Those are merely the ones that come immediately to mind.

Something else I have learned is how good it is for morale to actually see someone’s face and hear their voice when we’re catching up with more than just work stuff. Keeping in touch by messages, email and texts is great, but the added impact of that personal connection, when my day to day contacts are now just the family really surprised me. I foresee a lot more Skype and Zoom in my future.

In other news, we are both still working so won’t be tackling any new/overdue exciting projects or taking up a musical instrument or learning a new language in some wealth of unexpected down time. The usual chores remain, and yesterday I caught up with the ironing. So far, so routine – except I keep finding the new surreality intruding into such mundane things. I ironed the last shirt and stopped in my tracks to wonder how long it will be before I’m doing that again. I have no idea and nor does anyone else. (Yes, I iron my husband’s work shirts. No, that does not make me a bad feminist. How we apportion tasks is up to us.)

We have done some sorting out of the Son in the North’s erstwhile bedroom to give the Husband a better workspace for the duration. Now, I freely admit I am not a tidy person and I am inclined to hold on to stuff, as friends and family will attest. The final thing I learned this week is, compared to my younger son, I am Marie bloody Kondo…

Free reading for the cooped-up, from me and other writers

There’s been a flurry of SF&F authors having a look in the back cupboards of their hard drives this week, to see what stories they could make available for free. We know a lot of readers have time on their hands just at the moment, but we are also well aware that they may be finding themselves uncertain as to prospects for their bank balance and bills for the next however-long.

With the always invaluable assistance of Cheryl at Wizard’s Tower Press, and artist Ben Baldwin, I’m offering up The Wizard’s Coming, a short story that stands alone, and as such, should give a good introduction to my style and my approach to epic fantasy. In the overall chronology of my successive epic fantasy series, it sits between The Lescari Revolution trilogy and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, so there’s added interest if you’ve read those books.

You can download the ebook in your preferred format from Wizard’s Tower Press here – worldwide.

You should also check out the BSFA page where a whole lot of interesting things are on offer.

Looking forward, Cheryl and I are also working on making some Aldabreshin Compass short fiction available as ebook singles. Details to follow in due course.

Meantime, happy reading, and hoping you and yours are well.