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.

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 🙂

The Pixel Project – anti Violence against Women

This year I’ll be taking part in the “Read For Pixels” 2018 Google Hangout campaign (Fall Edition), in company with a veritable host of other authors supporting this non-profit fundraiser backing initiatives to end violence against women.

Google Hangout sessions will run on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from September 1st to September 30th 2018. Each session will feature an author reading from one of their books and discussing women and girls in their books, why they support ending violence against women, and women in the media, geek culture, and popular culture. Each session will also include a live moderated Q&A session for fans and book lovers to ask their favourite authors questions in real time. My slot will be 4pm UK time, on Sunday 2nd September.

You can find the full schedule here, along with tech instructions, if you’ve yet to get the hang of Hangouts.

The first Read For Pixels Google Hangout live panel session will tackle Trashing The Rape Trope: Writing Violence Against Women in Fantasy. Martha Wells, Kate Elliott, and Jim C. Hines will be discussing violence against women in the Fantasy genre and techniques for tackling the subject without dehumanising female characters. There will also be a live Q&A segment for writers and fans interested in writing about female characters and approaching themes such as misogyny, sexism, gender, and violence against women with depth, empathy, and accuracy.

There are giveaways and gifts to be had from Adrian Tchaikovsky (with Macmillan Books UK), Aliette de Bodard, Ann Aguirre, Charles de Lint, Jodi Meadows, Ken Liu, Leigh Bardugo, Peter V. Brett, Steven Erikson, Susan Dennard, Juliana Spink Mills, and more. These include swag bags and book bundles, signed first editions or special editions of participating authors’ books, a chance to be a minor character in someone’s upcoming books, and more. Katherine Tegan Books at HarperCollins and award-winning NewCon Press are each donating a Mystery Book Box. Donations begin at as little as US$5 and the goodies are available to donors as “thank you” gifts and perks depending on the donation amount. I’m donating three book bundles; The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy, the Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, and my two Wizard’s Tower Press books, The Secret Histories of the River Kingdom and The Green Man’s Heir. I’ll cover the postage worldwide.

Fundraising will take place on Rally Up in tandem with the Google Hangout series over the month of September 2018. Authors involved include Alison Goodman, Brandon Sanderson, David D. Levine, Fonda Lee, Fran Wilde, Jay Kristoff, Julie Czerneda, Marie Brennan, Richard K. Morgan, Sarah Beth Durst, and Tananarive Due.

For more information about Read For Pixels, contact Regina Yau at info@thepixelproject.net or visit: http://is.gd/Read4Pixels.

What can SFF fandom do about the inherent bias of Wikipedia?

Well, that was an interesting experience. Last Friday I was alerted to the fact that my Wikipedia page had been flagged for deletion. Well, I say my page but one of the few things I know about the whys and wherefores of Wikipedia is that the subject of a page is not allowed to actually edit it. Anyway, I clicked a few links and established that the argument for my deletion was that I was not notable, and had not created a notable body of work. There was apparently a dearth of evidence that I was in any way a notable person, and as such, I had no place on Wikipedia.

Somewhere between startled and baffled, I noted this on social media. Consequently, I have learned a whole lot more about the whys and wherefores of Wikipedia. First and foremost is their idiosyncratic definition of ‘notable.’ This means statements about a subject must be backed by citations, by which they means links to material elsewhere on the internet to prove that a person has not merely done stuff but other people have written about them doing it, to establish proof. Not all online material is acceptable however. Blogs are not. Amazon reviews are not. Goodreads pages are not. These things are all deemed too likely to be unreliable.

Given my work on issues around representation and diversity, one thing in particular immediately strikes me about such insistence. This desire for verification is wholly laudable. It is also indirectly and unintentionally discriminatory. The fact that this discrimination isn’t deliberate in no way excuses it.

When 60-70% of all review coverage, media mentions and other online material that provides these verifying citations goes to white western male authors, then women, writers of colour and LGBTQ+ authors are always going to find it harder to provide ‘evidence’ and their pages will be much easier to challenge, given our consequent far greater reliance on our own blogs to publicize our activities and other special interest blogs and websites that won’t appear in a cursory search, looking for example at Google News reports.

It seems Wikipedia is aware of its systemic bias, as detailed in this article. Read this, and related pieces, and I imagine many of you will note, with the weary contempt of familiarity, the repeated insistence that it’s up to women themselves, and other under-represented groups to do all the hard work here. Though I haven’t found anything addressing the issue I raise above, explaining what we’re expected to do when sufficient acceptable citations simply do not exist, and those references that do exist are not deemed acceptable. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

On the plus side, I have learned that there are dedicated groups of female and other special-interest Wikipedians spending considerable time and effort updating and expanding pages, intent on correcting this bias. Mind you, I also learned their work is frequently challenged and even undone by other Wikipedians applying the all too prevalent and far too often white western male logic of ‘not of interest to me personally = not of interest to anyone’. And of course, such challenges can very easily be a thinly veiled cover for actively discriminatory behaviour. Having read the Wikipedia page on handling tendentious editing, I am not in the least reassured that this is in any way satisfactorily addressed.

So what do we do? Give up and leave Wikipedia to perpetuate its skewed world view, further erasing women, writers of colour and LGBTQ+ authors?

How about no, we don’t?

A couple of constructive ideas emerged from last Friday’s conversations. The first was having panels at SF conventions where experienced Wikipedians could explain the idiosyncracies and intricacies of editing and updating to people like me who are, for example, unaware of the specific ways in which Wikipedia defines ‘notable’ and ‘citation’, and the vulnerability of certain groups to deletion and challenge.

The second suggestion was making a time slot and space available at conventions for Wikipedians and fans to get together to update and expand author and other SFFnal pages. That would definitely help out all those authors, not only women, writers of colour and LGBTQ+ folk, who don’t have personal assistants, web-elfs or other people who can routinely do this without being struck down as a biased source.

At least as importantly, informed and engaged fans are going to be able to find acceptable citations that a cursory websearch simply will not locate. My updated and now apparently acceptable page is a prime example of this. When I flagged up this issue last Friday, online pals rallied round and crucially, since they already knew all about the many things I’ve done over the years, they used specific and targeted searches to find Wikipedia-acceptable material to link to.

Get a bunch of like-minded fans together at a convention and I’ll bet that adding their knowledge together will prove extremely productive, as someone flags up a Best Of, or Recommended Reads list online that other folk are unaware of, just by way of one example.

How about we try this?

Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar – release moved up to June 15th

All fans of ZNB’s fabulous anthologies will be thrilled to learn that this year’s three wonderful projects will now be released on June 15th rather than August as originally scheduled 🙂

For those of you in the US, this means copies will be for sale at the various summer conventions where ZNB are in the Dealers Room (or equivalent), so do check in with them on social media, to find out where they’ll be.

Kickstarter supporters will receive their copies in customary fashion, and everyone else can pre-order the ebooks online, and the trade paperback via ZNB’s online store.

Wondering what on earth I’m on about? Here’s what’s on offer for your reading pleasure –


Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar:

For thousands of years the immortal Gilgamesh has presided over the legendary Ur-Bar, witnessing history unfold from within its walls. Some days it is a rural tavern, others a fashionable wine shop. It may appear as a hidden speakeasy or take on the form of your neighborhood local. For most patrons it is simply a place to quench their thirst, but for a rare few the Ur-Bar is where they will meet their destiny.

Join R.K. Nickel, Rachel Atwood, Kari Sperring, Jean Marie Ward, Gini Koch, Jacey Bedford, William Leisner, Garth Nix, Diana Pharaoh Francis, David Keener, Mike Marcus, Kristine Smith, Aaron M. Roth, and Juliet E. McKenna as they recount all new tales from the Ur-Bar. From humor to horror, from the Roman Empire to Martian Colonies, there’s something to please everyone. Just remember to beware when the mysterious bartender offers you the house special …

Preorder SECOND ROUND here:
Trade Paperback
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Nook
Kickstarter Edition (limited)

The Razor’s Edge:

One man’s insurgent is another man’s freedom fighter…

From The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to The Hunger Games, everyone enjoys a good rebellion. There is something compelling about a group (or individual) who throws caution to the wind and rises up in armed defiance against oppression, tyranny, religion, the government—you name it. No matter the cause, or how small the chance, it’s the courage to fight against overwhelming odds that grabs our hearts and has us pumping our fists in the air.

Win or lose, it’s the righteous struggle we cherish, and those who take up arms for a cause must walk The Razor’s Edge between liberator and extremist. With stories by Blake Jessop, William C. Dietz, D.B. Jackson, Gerald Brandt, Sharon P. Goza, Walter H. Hunt, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Kay Kenyon, Steve Perry, Seanan McGuire, Christopher Allenby, Chris Kennedy, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Alex Gideon, Brian Hugenbruch, and Y.M. Pang.

Preorder THE RAZOR’S EDGE here:

Trade Paperback
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Nook
Kickstarter Edition (limited)

Guilds & Glaives

Stop right there!

If you like your fantasy filled with fellowships and noble quests, this anthology is not for you. And if you love lengthy tales of politics and power, then it won’t be to your taste either. But if you like a little intimacy with your evil, and your vengeance short and sweet, with perhaps a pinch of silliness in the witchcraft, then these fourteen delicious sweetmeats of sword and sorcery will prove right up your alley. And it will be a dank, twisting, fetid alley, too.

In this book you will find no high elves (only low), no politics (unless assassination is involved), and certainly no nobility. Join Lawrence Harding, Howard Andrew Jones, Esther Friesner, Jenna Rhodes, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, Leah Webber, David Farland, R.K. Nickel, Ashley McConnell, D.B. Jackson, James Enge, Jason Palmatier, and Amelia Sirina as they explore the perilous streets and clashing blades found in GUILDS & GLAIVES.

Preorder GUILDS & GLAIVES here:

Trade Paperback
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Nook
Kickstarter Edition (limited)

Victoria (V.E.) Schwab’s Tolkien Memorial Lecture – video available. Does not contain Tolkien.

For those who couldn’t be in Oxford last Tuesday, the video of this year’s Tolkien Memorial Lecture is now available. Victoria (V.E.) Schwab gave a fascinating talk entitled ‘In Search of Doors.’ Set aside an hour for her thoughts and then the Q&A. It will be time well spent.

This an excellent series of lectures exploring many facets of fantasy fiction, as varied as the speakers who have delivered the talks thus far. You can find videos of the full series here.

Meantime, my life continues to be divided between World Fantasy Award reading, and my own writing. Along with being inordinately thrilled by how popular The Green Man is proving. 🙂