Posts belonging to Category ebooks



Light and Shade in Epic Fantasy Fiction versus Grimdark

The ebook of The Assassin’s Edge sees The Tales of Einarinn series finally completed for e-readers. Preparing these editions has been interesting for many reasons. It’s been fascinating to revisit what I was writing a decade and more ago. I honestly had forgotten quite how gruesome, violent and downright spine-chilling some of the events in Assassin are. But even then, and even though the term wasn’t in general usage in those days, I don’t think the book can ever be labelled Grimdark. That’s true of the other epic fantasies I was reading at the time. Because there’s so much else in the Tales and other such series.

More than that, when I compare Assassin and its contemporaries to the epic fantasy novels I’ve been reading recently for review, the more convinced I’m becoming that Grimdark is devolving into a narrowing focus that’s stifling creativity in our genre. The more the current visibility bias in bookshops drives sales towards downbeat stories dominated by moody blokes in cloaks, the worse this will get.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating fluffy feel-good tales where everyone gets a happy ending and even the villains are redeemed with hugs and kisses. I’m all for hard edges in epic fantasy. Those were definitely a feature of books such as Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane and The Darwath Trilogy, Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksennarion and Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies, all of which enthralled me as I turned to writing seriously myself. I vividly recall the visceral impact of reading David Gemmell’s Legend for the first time, swiftly followed by The King Beyond the Gate and Waylander.

These writers were absolutely what epic fantasy needed to stop the genre trundling down an equally stultifying path towards naive, consolatory fiction. I can assuredly see the value and appeal of tales where characters learn in the hardest possible way that life isn’t fair, virtue isn’t necessarily rewarded and you just have to get through hard luck as best you can. These are all aspects of real life and as I’ve said so often, realism is essential to give fantasy fiction a solid foundation.

That’s my first problem with Grimdark. Unrelenting and universal misery in a story is so often as unrealistic as non-stop rainbows and kittens. Unless there’s sufficient context within the world-building to explain why brutes behave as they do, all this violence becomes merely nasty set-dressing. Without some degree of exploration of what underpins it, Grimdark slides far too easily into tacky exploitation.

Yes, we can readily point to historical and contemporary real-world examples of innocent people living utterly wretched lives, but whole societies based on such brutality have always been an exception and rarely endure. More than that, even amid such horrors, individuals emerge time and again in whom the human spirit strives towards hope, altruism and defiance.

There will always be those who fight to light a candle instead of yielding to curse the darkness. It’s exactly that light and shade which makes for a far more realistic reading experience as far as I am concerned. Take a look at the works of Robin Hobb or Kate Elliott, among many others. They don’t shy away from the worst that humanity can do but they aren’t labelled Grimdark, even when their work includes toe-curlingly shocking events. Indeed, the impact of such brutality is heightened by the contrast of such darkness with the glimmers of hope and warm light of happiness elsewhere in their characters’ lives.

Which brings me to my next problem when books have an endless supply of shit, literal and metaphorical, for everyone to wade through. Pain and poo have their place among trials and tribulations which test and reveal character but the story overall must sustain and justify that. If there’s no narrative progression – and I don’t just mean some simplistic triumph over adversity, but some sense that events shape and drive the story – what’s the point? Grimdark too easily becomes a series of increasing misfortunes bombarding passive or at best reactive individuals who never take any initiative to change their own fate.

Why should a reader bother engaging with such a character or investing emotion in their fate when the unfolding narrative so clearly indicates that everything is going to go horribly wrong time and again? If any hint of light at the end of the tunnel is only ever an oncoming train, I find myself progressively distanced from the characters and their predicaments. This becomes even more pronounced when the central characters themselves are grim and brutal. When a reader can’t identify with, or simply doesn’t much care about, such people, the impact of their suffering is drastically reduced, further lessening engagement.

And incidentally, just in case anyone thinks I’m making a gendered argument here, the most recent striking example for me of all that I personally dislike in Grimdark is Rebecca Levene’s Smiler’s Fair. But this debate really isn’t about any one book or any single writer.

Epic fantasy needs light and shade to give it three dimensions. Detail and colour get lost in unremitting gloom. Thankfully there are plenty of current epic fantasy writers who understand this; Sam Sykes, Helen Lowe, Aidan Harte and Elspeth Cooper are just a few such authors whose books I can see on my shelves as I write this. Please feel free to flag up more in comments.

And equally, do feel free to speak up in favour of those authors who are most often labelled Grimdark; to explore different perspectives on such reading. I’m curious to know if, how and why you’re getting something rewarding that I’m missing.

But I’m still concerned about the artificial skewing of the market towards the Grimdark tendency, when a narrowing selection of books increasingly gets the bulk of promotion and front-of-bookstore presence. Not bad books by any means; I have found undoubted merits in novels that have exemplified the worst of Grimdark for me personally, yes, including Smiler’s Fair where I see plenty that’s positive in the book with regard to diversity, inclusivity and pacing. Even when the grimdarkery still kills that particular title for me. Though I have no problem with other folk reading and enjoying such books if they wish. Tastes vary after all.

But if disproportionate visibility means Grimdark increasingly dominates sales then retailers and publishers alike will look first and foremost for more of the same. That’s how the book business works. Then those of us with other tastes in reading will lose out if the authors we enjoy simply can’t sustain a writing career. If competition for that remaining market then sees Grimdark authors striving to outdo each other with ever increasing nastiness, ultimately those fans will lose out too, as epic fantasy hurtles towards that creative dead end. Just look at the way the serial killer narrative has devolved so far towards unredeemed ghastliness in a lot of recent crime fiction.

Thankfully we’re not there yet. So let’s do all we can to avoid taking that particular path by celebrating and promoting the full breadth and depth of epic fantasy fiction, past and present.

Mid-month update

I don’t suppose you’ll be in the least surprised to learn that campaigning against the new EU VAT legislation on crossborder digital sales continues to take up a lot of my time. We are now collecting evidence on just how unworkable the supposedly simple system is – and that is thankfully getting the attention of various MEPs and MPs. Updates here, from EU VAT Action and here on the other blog I started to handle this issue.

Since all this means making noise about other things like the representation of women in SFF is taking a back seat, I’m particularly pleased to see this on Marianne de Pierre’s blog

So here’s the thing guys… I need your help. I began my Research Masters on Future Feminism today, and I’m compiling a list of contemporary female SF authors (not fantasy, not YA, and not straight SF romance) who have been published in novel length work since 2000.

I’d love to hear who your favourite female SF (post 2000) author is so I can add them to my reading list. Please leave the names in the comments section and I’ll add them to my main list. I’ve made a solid start, but there are many more! I’ve alphabetised by surname.

Do check out the blog and see if you can add to the list?

In other news? Well, I’ve had a short story accepted for an anthology and am currently turning that from a draft into a final version thanks to the editor’s helpful feedback. It’s nice to be tackling some fiction again!

In between times, I am working on prepping the texts of the Aldabreshin Compass novels for their ebook editions. We’re also briefing an artist for cover art. The plan is to get all four done at once so we can release them in alternate months later this year. I’m also seriously considering writing some related short stories as re-reading the books has tempted me into tugging on a few lingering loose threads…

Once that’s all underway, I’ll turn my attention to getting the River Kingdom novella ‘The Ties that Bind’ out as an ebook as well as a collection of the short stories I’ve written in that setting.

Meantime, the novel I wrote last year is doing the round of agents… Reactions so far remind me just how subjective this game is. I’ve had ‘thanks but no thanks’ responses like ‘Aspect A is great but I’d really be looking for more Aspect B’ to set against ‘Aspect A is lacking for me, though Aspect B is very well done’. Plus the always baffling ‘I really like Aspect A and Aspect B… but I don’t quite love the whole thing enough to represent it…’

So on we go…

‘Temporally Out of Order’ – how can you resist this new anthology via Kickstarter?

A while ago, I got an email from Joshua Palmatier (a fine writer, do check out his books) proposing a new anthology project for the small press , to be edited by Joshua himself, along with Patricia Bray (another fine writer).

Now, I’m always interested in any project which these two are proposing. I’ve written stories for them before, in After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar and for The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity. Not only did I find them excellent editors to work with on a personal level, these anthologies proved to be fascinating reads as a whole, with an excellent mix of stories from a very interesting range of writers.

The only reason I didn’t submit anything for their next project Steampunk Universe: Clockwork versus Aliens was lack of time due to other commitments – but you may be certain I followed the progress of that Kickstarter with keen interest. As you’ll see they ran a very professional, successful fundraiser and that anthology’s now available for Kindle, Nook etc, as you prefer (like the earlier titles).

So what’s the new anthology going to be about? Well, here’s what Joshua had to say in his initial email –

While sitting at the airport waiting for a flight, I saw a phone booth with a note reading “Temporally Out of Order.” Obviously it was a typo, but the mistake takes on a whole new meaning when viewed from a science fiction/fantasy frame of mind. This anthology will take on the challenge of interpreting what “temporally out of order” could mean for modern day—or perhaps not so modern—gadgets, such as the cell phone, laptop, television, radio, iPod, or even that microwave or refrigerator!

Doesn’t that sound intriguing? I can’t wait to see what the other authors involved come up with and have been musing on ideas of my own ever since.

But wait, there’s more! For the first time, as part of a Kickstarter, I’m a Stretch Goal! I’ll be contributing once the total raised reaches $15,000. There’ll also be the chance to get yourself into my story at that point, or at very least your (or some lucky friend’s) name, by means of a Tuckerisation – something I’ve never actually done before, so this will be another first :)

That’s by no means the only incentive on offer. All backers of $15 or more in the first 24 hours will be getting a free ebook called FOUR FOR MORE (with four short stories) from Jean Marie Ward. She’s another stretch goal author, along with myself and Jack Campbell (aka John Hemry).

There are a few limited pledge levels, such as tuckerizations in some of the authors’ stories, a “missed out on the first kickstarter for CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE, but I want to catch up” reward level, and a few other limited items, so get there early if you want those. The anchor authors for this anthology are: Seanan McGuire, Gini Koch, David B. Coe, Faith Hunter, Laura Anne Gilman, Stephen Leigh, and Laura Resnick (in no particular order because, honestly, how could you rank them against each other?).

Do you fancy seeing your own name on a Table of Contents alongside those authors? Once the project is funded, the remaining slots (a minimum of 7) not being filled by anchor or stretch goal authors will be filled by an OPEN CALL for submissions. Yes, ANYONE will be able to submit a story for a chance to be part of the anthology!

Excited? I am and you should be. So click on through, get a better look at that fabulous artwork, and get involved!

“Challoner, Murray & Balfour; Monster Hunters at Law” – my new ebook out today.

As established fans may remember, I’ve had three stories featuring these characters previously published; one in the BFS ‘A Celebration’ anthology and two in Murky Depths magazine. If you’ve read those, you will recall one tantalizing loose end. What becomes of poor Bertie? Well, now you can find out. As well as those three earlier stories, this little collection includes a whole new story, The Fate of the Villiers, in which the hunt continues…

Artwork by Nancy Farmer

Artwork by Nancy Farmer

You can find the book here at the Wizard’s Tower Press shop and it’ll be rolled out to other ebook retailers over the next few days.

But hang on, I’m an epic fantasy writer. Why am I writing adventure stories set in the 1890s with supernatural monsters and steampunk apparitions? Well, first and foremost, I write to entertain; to engage and thrill my readers. I can do that just as well in late Victorian England as I can in Einarinn. Because one of the great things about writing SF&F is the immense freedom it offers.

Wait, what? Surely that’s a bizarre thing to say about writing in a genre – any genre. Isn’t the whole point of genre following the rules? Well, yes, and no. Bear with me.

When I’m writing epic fantasy, I’m looking to honour that particular genre’s core traditions while at the same time examining, testing and driving those traditions forward to ensure the genre still stays relevant to the world today and readers who live in it. Which is why aspiring fantasy writers really should be reading Robin Hobb, Kate Elliott, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Stephen Deas (among many, many other excellent current writers) as well as Tolkien, CS Lewis and Lord Dunsany – to see how the genre develops.

Er, how is this relevant to a book with a werewolf in evening dress on the front? Because as well as appreciating the roots of speculative fiction in Tolkien, Lewis and similar works, aspiring writers will also do well to read the classics of Victorian and Edwardian popular literature by the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, H G Wells, H Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. These are at least as much a source for modern SF, Fantasy and Horror as anything Tolkien or Lewis wrote. They are as much part of our literary heritage as anything by Dickens, Hardy or the Bronte sisters – and written to be enjoyed in an age before artificial genre boundaries arose. Indeed CS Lewis was a passionate advocate for the values and virtues of popular reading, as his letters to FR Leavis reveal when the latter was determined to embed literary snobbery in university English degree courses between the wars.

So I wrote these stories – and may yet write more featuring these characters if this collection proves popular – to honour these other forebears of our genre. Also, as you’ll discover on reading, I wrote these tales with an eye to both recognising and challenging some of those forebears’ less palatable assumptions about men, women and their respective roles a hundred-plus years ago. Because such debates are still relevant today.

Because it is never enough to merely revisit our literary sources. We should all aim to be breaking new ground, not merely trailing after well-trodden footprints which will only bring us back to our starting point. That’s where the real challenge – and the most fun – lies in writing genre fiction.

(And once you’ve written it, if you’re as lucky as me, you’ll have the immense fun of seeing your creations envisioned by a talented artist, in this case Nancy Farmer.)

Writing? As a Career? (The St Hilda’s Media Network Conference, May 2014)

As we planned this conference, we chose and briefed our speakers carefully. What we wanted above all else was to show the attendees the day to day reality of writers’ working lives here and now. The dedication to both deadlines and quality. The challenges and chances. Where we can compromise and where we hold fast. The flexibility that’s required more than ever as the publishing world adapts to new technologies and systems.

So they will have some answers when friends and family greet their ambitions with the incredulity or concern we so often encounter, as indicated by those question marks…

I’m delighted to say that all of our speakers delivered splendidly – and speaking purely for myself, it a fair while since I’ve heard so much solid good sense, and good advice offered, given how many sharks and charlatans I see out there in the ‘creative writing biz’.

What I can’t do is summarise everything that was said. Sorry, I’d be here for days. What I can offer is links to our speakers’ websites etc so you can have a browse for information and links of particular interest to you – along with my heartfelt recommendation that you take whatever opportunities you may have to hear them speak in future.

Hugh Warwick (ecologist, author & broadcaster) spoke on using specialist knowledge. www.urchin.info/

Discussing their own writing careers and also their work teaching creative writing
Julie Cohen (novelist & creative writing tutor)julie-cohen.com
Paul Vlitos (novelist & creative writing tutor at the University of Surrey) Paul at the University of Surrey
Nicolette Jones (journalist & literary editor) nicolettejones.com

John Simmons (copywriter & author) spoke about business writing – do check out Dark Angels for more on this very interesting topic.

Gill Oliver (journalist & copywriter) is really too busy doing all that to run a blog so I suggest you follow her byline at The Oxford Times and she’s @Justajourno on Twitter.
Charlotte Pike (food & cookery writer & blogger) can be found at Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary – and the samples of her baking on the day were a great recommendation for her recipes, especially the dairy and gluten free cakes.

You can find the latest news and updates from Justin Richards (SF novelist & scriptwriter) at justinrichardswriter.com
– and you don’t need a link to Juliet E. McKenna (fantasy novelist) since you’re already here!

Last but absolutely by no means least on the day, the panel offering the publishing perspective featured
Andrew Lownie (literary agent & author)of The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency
Andrew Rosenheim (publisher & author) is now editor of the Kindle Singles project for Amazon – more on this from The Bookseller.
Elizabeth Edmondson (novelist) elizabeth-edmondson.com

That should keep you going for a good while – and do free free to share and link to this post, for the benefit of other writers you know.

(Yes, I know this is a belated post, for a variety of reasons including but not limited to our home broadband going loopy for a week, now sorted)

Invisible: essay collection edited by Jim Hines. See Why Diversity & Inclusion Matter in SF&F

I’m all in favour of diversity and inclusion. It matters to me personally and professionally. I have felt that bafflement at being excluded just for being female. I have felt that bitterness at being expected to ask permission to be included when men are not. I have felt bloody angry over things too numerous to mention; like being labelled arrogant and pushy where a male author doing far more self-promotion than me is congratulated for his initiative.

So I understand that the inclusion which I’m entitled to should extend to those of different race, sexuality, and mental or physical make-up to me as a matter of natural justice. The thing is though, I understand that by way of reason and logic. On an intellectual level if you like. I can sympathise with those who suffer the same or worse exclusions, for reasons different to me. I can stand beside them as an ally. But I struggle to truly empathise. I have never walked a mile in their shoes.

This collection of essays relates first-hand experience told with clarity and bravery, from the points of view of children, parents, those in the world of work and those with the life experience to see how things have changed. It really, really helps me see what those other paths are like. Not just for folk who I’d think of, if someone asked me to list excluded groups, like gay, lesbian and trans* or wheelchair users. You’ll find insights into living with mental illness in reality and as it’s portrayed on screen. I’d never noticed how gendered such portrayals are, in addition to their other flaws. Personally I dislike The Big Bang Theory TV show but discussion in another essay of what Sheldon means to those living on the autistic spectrum rocked me back on my heels. Then there’s the Evil Albino trope which I’d never considered until now and is truly chilling.

The ebook is $2.99 and all proceeds are going to the Carl Brandon Society, for Con or Bust – helping folk of colour/non-white people get to SFF Conventions.

You can find links to the book on all the usual ebook outlets – and if you’re not already reading Jim Hines blog (and books) I heartily recommend you start.

Meantime I will be continuing to do all I can for diversity and inclusion in SF&F. These essays have reminded me that for some, finding folk like themselves in fiction is literally a lifeline. So it’s not just enough for the books to be written. We have to make them visible both to those who need them, and to those who who will benefit in ways they never expected, when they look outside their own experience and broaden their mental horizons.

Heroes are hard to write – and The Warrior’s Bond has two of them…

I’m delighted to let you know that The Warrior’s Bond is now out in ebook! Just in time for Eastercon!

Huge thanks as ever to Elizabeth and Cheryl, and you can currently buy the book at the Wizard’s Tower Press online store. The roll-out to other outlets, Kindle, Nook etc, will happen over the next few days as usual.

Meantime? As with each of these ebook releases, I’ve been thinking back to the challenges of writing each particular story and here, the problem was heroes.

Let’s face it; virtue is assuredly admirable but it can all too often be rather dull. A good man in a story really can struggle to rise above that single, defining characteristic. Be honest; who’s more interesting; Superman or Batman? Consider Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Luke’s story is as straight-forward as his personality and both of these things make him increasingly predictable as the first three (and only worthwhile) Star Wars films unfold. Yes, he faces trials and tribulations, with a noteworthy performance from Mark Hamill, but Luke’s done nothing to deserve any of this, good or bad, beyond being born. Consequently our emotional reactions to his story are likely to be just as straight-forward.

Han Solo? He’s unpredictable from start to finish (as Greedo discovers when Han shoots first) and that’s merely one aspect of his appeal. His back story is full of secrets and misadventures with lingering consequences that can and do come back to bite him. Our reactions are consequently complex. Yes, we’re anguished for him but honestly, Han, you do bring these things on yourself… As a result his story is a many-layered one of challenge and redemption and overall that’s so much more interesting, isn’t it?

I sometimes wonder how influential Star Wars was on my generation of fantasy writers. Is this one of the reasons why epic secondary worlds seem currently mired in grimdark, with characters displaying an infinite number of shades of grey rather than seeing heroes ride into battle on their white horses to face off against the black hooded menace of Tolkien’s day? Though this cuts both ways. We see a convincing complexity within evil now and that’s definitely a good thing. Motiveless malignity just doesn’t convince anyone these days. But I digress.

So where did thinking about heroes in these terms leave me, when I realised that the unfolding logic of the Tales of Einarinn would see Ryshad and Temar working together in Toremal, searching for the remaining artefacts needed to restore the lost colony of Kellarin. Oh, I had the framework of the plot, with any number of difficulties and puzzles to test them as they face treachery and rival ambitions determined to frustrate them.

But I knew that wouldn’t be enough. Both men’s personalities had to be integral to the story’s resolution and we had to see the effects of success and failure on their individual characters, from the start through to the end of the book. There had to be metaphorical journeys for both men, driven by intense, fast paced events, with The Warrior’s Bond unfolding almost entirely within the city of Toremal over the course of five days.

Well, as with so many aspects of writing, it’s always worth considering what other authors have done, when looking for a starting point. For instance, Jack Aubrey is an interesting hero, in Patrick O’Brien’s tales of Napoleonic sea-faring from Master and Commander onwards. Jack’s definitely a good guy but he’s what I’ve seen defined as a mono-competent hero, as opposed to the omni-competent hero; one in the Captain American mould. Jack Aubrey is second to none when it comes to fighting a naval battle, but when he has to deal with everyday life ashore? He is, to coin a phrase, all at sea. This gives him vulnerabilities and challenges which add complexity and interest to his story, by prompting actions and reactions which reveal more depth to his character.

So I looked to put both of this story’s heroes on a shaky footing. That was readily done with Temar because he’s a man out of his time. He cannot necessarily rely on what he thinks he knows about this place and how it works, while every day brings harsh reminders of what he has lost. He has to depend on what people are telling him, aware that they’re likely to have their own agenda but without the background knowledge to tell him what their personal interests might be and how far they might be shading the truth. Unlike Captain America (a very interesting current portrayal of a hero incidentally), he doesn’t have an Einarinn Internet to help him work through a list of things he finds to check out. Add to that Temar’s comparatively young, and as readers of The Swordsman’s Oath will know, he has been known to make ill-considered decisions with less than ideal results.

Ryshad is older and wiser and well used to thinking things through, as we have seen in The Thief’s Gamble and The Swordsman’s Oath. So how could I throw him off balance? Well, if an anti-hero struggles to reconcile the noble and selfish sides of his character, a good man can be pulled in two different directions by conflicting loyalties. As Ryshad returns to Toremal, he discovers he’s increasingly a man out of place. His travels and his experiences, including but by no means limited to falling in love with Livak, have changed him. But his old life and duty cannot easily be discarded. Given his age and life experience, the one thing he simply won’t do is make a rash choice and consider everything else well lost for love. But his relationship with Livak isn’t some casual rush of lust either. He’s absolutely not about to give her up.

So now I had my heroes each with one metaphorical hand tied behind their backs. Now we could see if the bond between them would enable the pair to overcome the challenges they were about to face…

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Me and the eBook Experience

As good friends will know, I’m generally at the trailing edge of new technology rather than the cutting edge. It has been said with some justification that my cosmic role with regard to tech is to balance out the enthusiastic early adopters. But when I find I have a genuine need for some piece of kit, I will get it…

Of late, I’ve been concluding that I really do need an ereader. I’m involved as a writer with a couple of ebook-first projects such as Tales of the Emerald Serpent and Aethernet Magazine and while reading the other writers’ stories on a computer screen at my desk is doable, I’d much rather be sitting on the sofa and enjoying them in ‘reader’ mode rather than in my ‘writer’ environment.

There’s also the undeniable fact that we have run out of physical space for books in this house. Seriously. I have stacks ten and twenty deep on the floor in the study and along the landing upstairs. That’s after we have disposed of over 250 books to friends, the local school and Oxfam’s charity bookshop in recent months.

Thanks to seasonal family generosity I now have a Samsung Galaxy 3 tablet, the 8-inch one, since I really couldn’t convince myself that buying a single-use piece of kit like a basic Kindle or Kobo ereader was my best option. I want something I can use as well as or instead of a laptop when I’m out and about. I’m already finding that’s proving extremely useful.

Yes but what about the book reading? And for pleasure, not just using it as a work tool

I initially found myself extremely reluctant to get started. More so than I expected, so I wondered why that might be. I realised that when I’ve read ebooks on my phone and back in the day, on my palm pilot, I have always found myself being aware of using a piece of tech, rather than losing myself in the story in the same way that I do with a book. I’ve been reading books for 45 years after all. Where I’ve been really engaged in the story, notably with Jo Walton’s Farthing, I found that wasn’t a problem overall. Where it took me a while to get into the story, I found that sensation became a barrier to me, to the extent of me abandoning a couple of reads I found uninspiring. That’s just not something I do with print books, unless they’re really, really failing me…

Okay, that was then, this is now. So what to do? Let’s start with books I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy, and see how I get on. Oh and also, ideally ebooks I can pick up cheaply to begin with… because I still found myself reluctant to pay out good money for pixels… I have the same problem with other digital media. When I buy something I expect to have something physically in my hand, a CD, a DVD. Yes, I accept that’s because I’m a product of my generation but that doesn’t make my reluctance to buy something I perceive as ephemeral any less real. Though as an aside, I have already used my tablet to access the digital versions of assorted DVDs we’ve bought recently which have offered that facility bundled with them. Publishing really does need to adopt that model.

So, anyway, I began with Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix since that looked like a fun entertainment from a skilled writer which I was likely to enjoy. Yes, that’s what it turned out to be and if you like the idea of a light-hearted and at times distinctly tongue-in-cheek Regency Romance with magic in it, I recommend you check it out. Personally I’d love to see him write some more complex tales in this setting. As to the ebook experience, I found I got on pretty well with it. I was still aware that I was using a new piece of tech but I got well into the story regardless. Good.

Then I picked up The Diaries of a Fleet Street Fox when it was on a 99p daily deal which I saw flagged up via Twitter. I’ve been curious about this book for a while, but not curious enough to pay the full price for it, pretty certain it was going to be a ‘read once only’ book and I generally get those out of the library. But 99p? Okay, let’s see how that works as a test. Well, it’s a good read, though I would say it’s much more Divorce of a Fleet Street Fox than an overview of life as a journalist. There is colourful and entertaining detail about the realities of the London news trade but it is primarily the story of a year dominated by domestic upheaval. That’s illuminating of itself, in what it has to say about modern life and behaviour but my interest in such stories is pretty limited. I definitely got my 99p’s worth. I might have felt a bit short-changed if I’d paid the full rate.

So that’s something else I can see me specifically doing with ebooks; keeping an eye open for special deals on books I’ve noted as likely to be interesting but not compelling enough to be a ‘must-buy’. And in this case, I also got to try out the low-light facility, since I woke up early one day over the Christmas break and read it in bed, without having to put on my bedside lamp and disturb my husband who was having a well-earned lie-in. I found that worked very well so that’s another definite tick in the plus column.

Okay but what about a book I would otherwise have bought in hard copy? Because that’s the ultimate aim, isn’t it? So when was I going to do that, and what was I going to buy? Well, Sainsbury’s gave me a push by adding a ‘500 bonus Nectar points if you buy an ebook’ on to the special offer vouchers they print out with their receipts nowadays. So I went looking on their website for Bleed like Me by Cath Staincliffe.This is the second book she’s written featuring the Scott & Bailey characters from TV. I really enjoyed the first one, as an excellent complement to the drama series, set in the gap between the first two TV seasons. So I bought it and yes, I really enjoyed this one too. It’s a fine crime novel in its own right as well as adding depth and breadth to the stories we’ve seen on the screen.

On the ebook aspect, what’s worth noting is I had to download Sainsbury’s own ebook app in order to read it rather than use one of the three other ereader apps I already had loaded and used. I wasn’t overly impressed with the Sainsbury’s own software. I ended up changing the font and background to find something easier on the eye and had to manually dim the app’s settings for reading in bed rather than just being able to tick the ‘auto’ box for the tablet itself. That didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book in the least but does make me much less likely to buy ebooks from Sainsbury’s unless there’s some kind of bonus or special offer attached.

At the same time, I’ve still been reading actual hard copy books, some re-reads and some new. Now I find I’m aware of reading a paper book in a way I haven’t been before, noting the differences like not being able to adjust the screen-light level or print size… Okay, that’s new…

So I think that the more used I get to reading ebooks, the more use I’m going to be making of them, if that makes sense. I don’t imagine I’ll abandon new print books altogether, not least for the authors I’ve been buying for years and periodically re-read but for authors new to me and read-once things? Yes, I think I’ll be training myself to look for ebooks rather than defaulting to paper from now on.

I’m also going to be looking out for the ebooks of favourite authors’ backlists which have gone out of print and are being made available by the authors themselves.

This is what I’m doing with The Tales of Einarinn, of course, and that’s shown me one last unexpected thing. I’m currently proof-reading The Warrior’s Bond as we prepare the ebook edition. I downloaded the file onto my tablet yesterday and began reading on the sofa. After half a chapter, I had to go back to my laptop and sit at the desk. Because I realised I was already too far into ‘reader’ mode and losing myself in the story, rather than picking up the formatting and word-break typos that I was supposed to be looking out for! Maybe I’m getting used to ebooks more quickly than I realised…

Albedo One – Issue 44 – now in ebook formats

The latest Albedo One magazine is now out – and is the first issue to be available in a comprehensive range of ebook formats.

My review column in this issue is ‘Tales from the Unexpected’, where I’m looking at writers doing something different to the books they’re best known for. Specifically, Ian McDonald – Planesrunner (YA SF), Charlie Stross – Merchant Princes series (parallel worlds more fantasy than sfnal), Patricia Briggs – Aralorn (epic fantasy) and Stella Gemmel’s The City – not the Gemmell you were expecting to write this epic fantasy.

Click here to check it out.

My very first Science Fiction short story has just been published! Wait… what?

Let me explain. Yes, of course, I’ve had a good number of short stories published since I began writing professionally. Not nearly as many as some writers but then I’m not an instinctive short story writer. My natural length is the novel – and it’s been said – with justification, especially about my early short work – that my short stories often read like extracts from a longer tale. Less so as I’ve gone on writing, since my appreciation and understanding of the differences between various writing lengths and styles has grown.

But almost all of my short fiction has been fantasy – some lighter, some darker, a few even verging on horror. Apart from that I’ve had a crack at steampunk a couple of times and I’ve written a few media tie-ins, for Doctor Who, Torchwood and Warhammer 40K. There’s a sort-of-time-travel one waiting for the relevant anthology to be published as well.

But Science Fiction? A modern-day setting with y’know, actual Science at the heart of the story? Not before this one. Yes, I was surprised as well. And I wasn’t at all sure I would be able to come up with a decent idea when Mahiri Simpson got in touch and asked if I’d like to offer a story about women designing the perfect man.

A fascinating premise… So what would I personally like to see… What are some personally memorable moments for me, in the ongoing battle of the sexes? Well, there was that famous tennis match, wasn’t there, between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King… And I keep reading news stories about women working in science having to fight for respect…

Well, if you want to find out where that sort of thinking led me, you can read my story, Game, Set and Match? in Tales of Eve (ebooks via Wizards Tower Bookshop), published by, and available in a range of formats from Fox Spirit books.

Alongside stories by Paul Weimer, Alasdair Stuart, Fran Terminiello, Colum Paget, Andrew Reid, Rob Haines, Ren Warom, Suzanne McLeod and Adrian Tchaikovsky

Will I write more SF? I think that will depend if someone offers me a concept that intrigued and inspired me as much as this one!