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

The Next Big Thing – Defiant Peaks

I am loving the story-prompts from the previous post/competition. The challenge is going to be not writing a whole paragraph… Keep the suggestions coming!

While I work on the queries so far, have a read of my answers to the ‘Next Big Thing’ challenge that’s been doing the round of writers lately. I was tagged by Tom Lloyd, a writer whose books sit on my TBR shelf, awaiting my release from Arthur C Clarke Award judge-duties, which is currently taking up all my reading time.

So here are the questions we’ve all been answering –

What is the working title of your next book?

My next book is ‘Defiant Peaks’, published in the US 27th November and in the UK 6th December 2012.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

So far I’ve written a dozen books in three series set in the world of Einarinn, and it’s been firmly established that wizards don’t get involved in warfare. So the idea here was… what if they do?

What genre does your book fall under?

Epic fantasy – but if you think that means simplistic swords’n’sworcery, square-jawed heroes rescuing damsels in distress, think again. These days epic fantasy is multi-layered and thought-provoking, taking on the genre’s early assumptions about heroism, politics, gender and a whole lot else, within the framework of action and adventure.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I can never answer this. Overall, I’d like to see unknowns take the lead roles, so viewers come to the characters without preconceptions, as we did with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia all those decades ago. Famous actors doing cameos for the high-level wizards? That could be a lot of fun. But the problem with me saying, ‘how about Ralph Fiennes for so-and-so, or Judi Dench for her,’ is some people will go ‘ooh yes,’ some people will go ‘oh, no’ and some people will look puzzled and go ‘Voldemort? And ‘M’?’ So I will leave that up to everyone else’s imagination. Until HBO come knocking on the door…

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

For generations the edict has held, that wizards don’t get involved in warfare, but there’s always someone who thinks the rules don’t apply to them…

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’ll be published by Solaris Books, in the UK and the US.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Six months for the first draft and then two more to turn that into the final draft sent to my editor.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Over the years, reviewers have been kind enough to compare my writing to Robin Hobb, George RR Martin, Kate Elliott, David Gemmell, Stan Nicholls and Barbara Hambly’s fantasies. We’re all looking at the core strengths and themes of our beloved genre from new perspectives.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve already mentioned the ‘what if wizards do get involved in wars?’ prompt. As to who , this trilogy has definitely been inspired by my readers. A good many have been asking for a story exploring elemental magic more deeply and showing more of Hadrumal, the wizard city. Quite a few have wanted to know what happened next to the characters in my short story, The Wizard’s Coming (now available as a free ebook). Those emails definitely focused my thoughts as I contemplated my options at the end of The Lescari Revolution.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Have a good look at the cover art. Just what do you think that wizard is doing? Bear in mind that he is the Archmage, most powerful of all the wizards who’ve showed just what devastation they can wreak, if they see fit, in the first two books of this trilogy…

Hello, US and Canada, on your Defiant Peaks Publication Day!

I’ve been wondering how to do a book-giveaway to celebrate Defiant Peaks hitting the bookshelves and just lately, there’s been a very interesting game doing the rounds of writers, where readers ask for a sentence from a story the author hasn’t actually written (yet).

This strikes a particular chord with me because as I was writing Defiant Peaks, I had to curb repeated impulses to tell some of the stories going on in the background as these events unfolded, not least because that would have distracted from the main plot and the points of view would have been all wrong. You’ll see what I mean when you read Defiant Peaks.

So how about you ask me for a snippet from an unwritten story? Everyone can play, and I’ll give away two books to the best suggestions, one to celebrate the US edition and one to celebrate the UK publication on 6th December. So you have time to think of a good question and I have time to come up with some good answers. It doesn’t have to be an Einarinn story you’re asking about, and if the winners already have the full Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, I’ll happily substitute another of my books.

How does that sound?

US publication 27th November 2012
Read the book and find out exactly what Archmage Planir is doing here…[/caption

Chicks Unravel Time – Publications Date(s)

Appropriately enough for a book about arguably the world’s most famous time travellers, Chicks Unravel Time is published today/tomorrow, depending on your local time zone.

There are three reading/signing events for lucky fans in the US. Nov. 17 in Worcester, MA at Annie’s Book Stop; Nov. 24 at the Chicago TARDIS convention and Nov. 28 at The Churchill in NYC. I wish I had a Time Lord on speed dial so I could be there.

There’s also giveaway running this week which includes a copy of the anthology, the 50th Anniversary planner and Doctor Who sticky notes. Details here – and we’re told that next week’s giveaway will have even cooler stuff…

You can keep your diary up to date with future events via the Facebook page where links to reviews are also starting to appear. These are all thoughtful and positive and making me even more impatient to read the other contributors’ essays.

Finally, yes, I appreciate that a lot of my recent posts have been about new books. You and your bank balances have my sincere sympathy. It’s just that I keep getting asked to do such interesting things…

I did start writing a blogpost yesterday refuting some arrant nonsense Some Opinionated Bloke was spouting about the book trade. I found reviewing and explaining the assorted idiocies and screw-ups of the past couple of decades which have got us into the current mess so depressing I gave up half way through. Today I am thinking there’s not much to be gained by going over that old ground. The way forward is, well, forward. So onwards and upwards we go!

Resurrection Engines – Fifteen Extraordinary Tales of Scientific Romance

Resurrection Engines - a steampunk anthology with a twist

This comes out next month and I’ve written one of the stories. I enjoy writing short fiction, especially when it takes me away from my usual writing and when it takes me back to something significant in my own reading life. This anthology does both since we were invited to take on a classic of Victorian literature and find some new and specifically steampunk twist.

I chose H Rider Haggard as I recall reading his books avidly in my early teens, along with Edgar Rice Burroughs, H G Wells and other such classics found in a traditional girls’ grammar school library. I have always believed that our current speculative fiction tradition is firmly rooted in these first mass-market, popular novels of the late Victorian and Edwardian era, written before genre boundaries and definitions became established, arguably unhelpfully, thanks to the likes of FR Leavis. I was therefore delighted a few years ago to discover correspondence between Leavis and CS Lewis wherein Lewis argues passionately for popular literature as worthy of inclusion in university English studies. But I digress.

In this instance, my first task was to re-read H Rider Haggard’s ‘She’. Naturally I was expecting to find outdated Empire attitudes to race and gender and the influence of Victorian ‘Great Man’ theories of history and society. Yes, indeed, I found them, sometimes to a startling extent. I didn’t really recall such things striking me so forcefully thirty-odd years ago. In some ways, that’s reassuring. My world view doesn’t seem to have been warped as a result of such reading. On the other hand, this really does show up the dangers of looking at the roots of our genre and uncritically adopting such books as a template, unchanged in such fundamental respects.

More than that, there is no excuse for parroting such historical bias and ignorance these days. As the past decades of historical studies have moved on from the Great Deeds of Great (White) Men, there’s a wealth of material available about changing ideas, radical thought and the impetus for reform growing in the 19th Century, driven forward by men and women alike. Thus my story She Who Thinks For Herself is firmly rooted in historically accurate writings and societal and technological change of the time.

I had tremendous fun writing it and I really look forward to reading the other contributors’ stories. The full roster is as follows:

The Soul-Eaters of Raveloe by Alison Littlewood
A Journey To The Centre Of The Moon by Alan K. Baker
She-Who-Thinks-For-Herself by Juliet E. McKenna
The Great Steam Time Machine by Brian Herbert & Bruce Taylor
Silver Selene by Philip Palmer
White Fangoria by Roland Moore
The God Of All Machines by Scott Harrison
The Crime Of The Ancient Mariner by Adam Roberts
There Leviathan by Jonathan Green
The Island Of Peter Pandora by Kim Lakin-Smith
The Ghost Of Christmas Sideways by Simon Bucher-Jones
Talented Witches by Paul Magrs
Fairest Of Them All by Cavan Scott
Tidewrack Medusa by Rachel E. Pollock
Robin Hood And The Eater Of Worlds by Jim Mortimore

Hopefully you will enjoy the book too.

Resurrection Engines - List of contributors and their sources

Amazon UK ‘glitch’ with Defiant Peaks/Hadrumal Crisis Book 3; calculated or incompetent?

I’ve had some email over the weekend from confused fans who’ve advance-ordered Defiant Peaks through Amazon UK and have now been told the book will not now be available. Understandably they’re concerned/disappointed – and I’m extremely cross.

This is because Amazon UK was offering both the UK and US editions of the book on their UK site. This is in clear breach of all relevant publishing agreements on territories – and whatever can be said about the growing irrelevance of old-style territoriality in publishing in this digital age, the fact remains that those legally binding contracts remain in force for paper books. As Amazon UK have been reminded repeatedly ,since they keep on doing this with books like mine which are published pretty much simultaneously in the UK and US, by my own publisher and others.

Are they doing it deliberately? I don’t know how that might be proved and in general, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but this pattern of behaviour is starting to strain credibility for a cock-up…

Not that I expect readers to necessarily know all the ins and outs of this book trade stuff. They’ll just see this listing –

– and they’ll click through to the significantly cheaper ‘mass market paperback’ and think, hurrah, I can get the book a week sooner and for less. You’d be a fool not to choose it, let’s be honest.

Why does this matter? Because it significantly screws with sales figures if what should be UK sales end up listed as US sales. This distorts the picture when assessing a writer’s appeal in different markets and that directly influences important decisions on promotion, advances and ultimately, an author being offered future contracts. Yes, really, it does and not just for me.

But now all those readers are seeing is the price they were being asked to pay for Defiant Peaks has effectively gone up by £1.57. Are Amazon going to explain this was their screw-up? Not a bit of it. Are some of those readers going to think it’s down to the ‘greedy’ publisher? I wouldn’t be surprised. Am I going to lose sales over this? Are disgruntled readers going to find a pirate ebook instead ‘to stick it to The Man’? Let’s hope not…

If I do lose sales, Amazon won’t care in the least. Amazon are not interested in writers or books. They’re not interested in readers. First and last, they’re interested in Amazon selling more stuff to more people at maximum profit (exploiting every tax loophole they can) and ideally buying up or crippling any potential competition. This is unfettered capitalism at work.

I’m not saying boycott Amazon. I use their services myself – for things I cannot get elsewhere or where the mark up in the shops is truly ludicrous – the wall bracket for a flatscreen TV which B&Q offered for £120 and could be sourced direct from the manufacturer via Amazon for £20 leaps to mind there. The ability to shop online and get Christmas stuff delivered direct to far-flung friends and family is a boon. But I also shop elsewhere online as well. I support my local bricks & mortar stores. Because monopolies distort market forces to the consumer’s ultimate disadvantage.

The Romans had a phrase which still holds true today. Caveat Emptor. Buyer Beware.

Bristolcon (and other news)

I had an excellent time at Bristolcon on Saturday, first and foremost because I got to ask Guest of Honour John Meaney all sorts of questions about how he first encountered Science Fiction, where and when the impulse to write first got its claws into him, about the ways his own writing and career have developed, so on and so forth. We could have gone on for twice the time allowed – revisiting John’s work, and reading a couple of things for the first time, by way of preparation has been a real treat. If you’re not familiar with his writing, I recommend it highly, and of course, John is the SF Guest of Honour at the 2014 Eastercon, Satellite 4, in Glasgow. (Alongside me which will be added fun).

Anne Sudworth was the Artist Guest of Honour, ably interviewed by Ian Whates. That not only made for enthralling listening but sent me to the art room (truly excellent displays from a range of talented artists this year) to look at her work with fresh eyes and new ideas. I’m looking forward to her GoH illustrated talk at EightSquared with ever more eager anticipation.

After lunch I sat in on the Women in Sensible Armour panel which managed to be both light-hearted, good humoured and address serious issues about representation of women in speculative fiction. Then I chaired what proved to be a very interesting debate on Apocalypses (Why?) in SF, with panellists John Meaney, Janet Edwards, Tim Maughan and Michael Dollin. The panel and audience touched on all sorts of interesting ideas, even managing to show me there can be some point to zombies.

However, at that point, I decided to call it a day and head home. I was struck down by a particularly unpleasant gastro-intestinal bug last week and was still feeling pretty rough on Saturday. Also, while I knew I was past the crucial quarantine period for not putting other people at risk – and was equipped with hand sanitizer regardless – I still felt inclined to hold back from socialising, really not wanting to risk the remotest possibility of being patient zero for an outbreak of concrud. So if you were there and thinking I seemed less cheery/sociable than usual, that’s the explanation. And given how exhausted I felt on Sunday regardless, going home early was clearly the right decision.

In other news, the Fabulous Busking Boys (my Junior Son and his mate, no that’s not really what they call themselves) have won a local talent competition. As well as adding a hundred quid to their steadily impressive weekly earnings in Oxford, they were awarded an eighteen inch tall bronze eagle statue. Yes, really. It’s astonishing. We have no idea where the organisers got it or where it was made. But it’s already proved useful. I have an invitation to submit a story for an epic, heroic anthology (details to follow in due course) and yes, a brass eagle will now feature centrally in that. (Answer Umptyhundred-and-whatever to ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’)

If anyone can identify its likely origins, we’d be fascinated to know.

The Thief’s Gamble is now an ebook!

You can find it at The Wizard’s Tower Bookstore in mobi and epub formats, as you prefer. We’ll be rolling it out to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo etc, next week. The prices will be the same but buying from Wizard’s Tower puts more pennies in my pocket, just so you know.

There’s a brief intro to the book there and a link to the first chapter for you to read by way of a taster. You can also find out a lot more about the book and this series by clicking through on The Tales of Einarinn link in the right-hand column here.

For all those of you who’ve been waiting so patiently, thank you for your, er, patience. For those of you curious as to why it’s taken so long, the first blog of a three-part explanation of the complexities of ebooking a backlist can be found here. One final delaying factor has been preparing my latest book, Defiant Peaks, to go to print, so I’ve been head down and concentrating on copyediting and proofreading over the past few weeks.

This means that my first book, written in 1997, and my fifteenth written in 2012, are going to be available as ebooks within a month or so of each other. I have an interesting sense of things coming full circle since key elements of The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy’s storylines go all the way back to The Thief’s Gamble. Most notably, that was where I first explained why wizards don’t get involved in warfare. Back then, that was simply to draw a line under one possible ‘but why don’t they…?’ question from test readers. Through the intervening books, I’ve explored more reasons why that principle is so solidly enshrined in Einarinn’s wizardly edicts. I certainly didn’t expect to find it… what’s the right phrase here? Being tested to destruction? Proving the rule? I’m not sure. You’ll have to read Defiant Peaks and make up your own minds. Either way, this is a prime example of the way casual elements of world-building continue to inspire fantasy writers long after the immediate need for something in a particular story.

I’ve found myself revisiting characters from that very first book in this latest one, particularly Archmage Planir and other senior mages, like Kalion and Troanna, in the wizard city. As I wrote The Thief’s Gamble, like most debut novelists, I didn’t really think much beyond that first story. Getting one novel published was the summit of my ambition a decade and a half ago. As a consequence, while writing that first book’s climax, I committed myself and these wizards to some awesome demonstrations of magic. So I’ve just spent the last couple of years working through all the implications of precisely how and why wizards might do such things and what everyone else outside Hadrumal is going to think. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that if you’re actually living in a world where magic of that magnitude is possible, rather than just reading about it, your first reaction really isn’t going to be ‘whoa, cool!’

Alas, some characters from The Thief’s Gamble and the other Tales of Einarinn are only getting a brief mention in Defiant Peaks, even though I’ve worked out where they are now and what they’re doing, while thinking through where those who have come back are now and what’s happened in the intervening years. I would have dearly loved to go off on a few tangents to tell those particular stories. Unfortunately, their points of view would have been all wrong and those digressions would have badly slowed and disrupted the narrative flow in The Hadrumal Crisis. Very frustrating.

So now I’m looking forward at the 2013 calendar and trying to find some time where I could write up those episodes as short stories, for an ebook supplementary anthology for Defiant Peaks. NO PROMISES. More immediately to the point, looking back, I didn’t have the least idea that the people I was creating for The Thief’s Gamble would take on such depth and substance that I’d be so eager to be writing about them again, fifteen years on. Perhaps that was a bit dumb of me. Part of epic fantasy’s appeal for me is the on-going relationship I develop with characters as a reader. I should have realised the same would be true for me as a writer.

Characters from intervening books have also re-appeared as I’ve considered who the Archmage might call on as he needs something in particular doing or seeks out information from somewhere problematic like the Aldabreshin Archipelago. This has presented some interesting writing challenges. For the purposes of The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, these are new characters and their previous exploits are simply back story, in the same way that Livak’s early life was back story in The Thief’s Gamble. But referring back to Livak’s previous adventures didn’t risk spoilers for other books. I’ve worked hard to make sure that all four of my series can be read independently of each other, regardless of the ongoing timeline. So working out how people might mention significant events in The Thief’s Gamble or Southern Fire without giving away something crucial has been tricky as well as fun.

Because it’s been an eventful decade in Einarinn. Although I’ve been writing these books for fifteen years, I didn’t realise until I was checking some timeline issues, a full ten years have passed for these characters from The Thief’s Gamble. So I’ve been thinking how I pictured them while writing that first book and how I picture them now. As a rule I’ve always been content to admire the artists like Geoff Taylor who’ve done such wonderful covers for me over the years, without envying their skills, each to their own etc. Just at the moment though, I would dearly love to be able to sketch these characters as I see them in my mind’s eye, then and now.

So these are a few thoughts as I consider what this ebook release means to me. What it means to you will depend on what else you’ve read of my writing. If you picked up Southern Fire or Irons in the Fire or Dangerous Waters, here’s your chance to go back and see where it all began. If this offers you an affordable and convenient opportunity to revisit Livak and her adventures, enjoy! Meantime, together with my invaluable partners, Wizards’ Tower Books and Antimatter ePress, we’ll press on with preparing the ebook of The Swordsman’s Oath.

The Thief’s Gamble – ebook edition – artist Geoff Taylor

What? No deadline? Ah, but what about this inbox…?

Good Monday morning. The sun is shining and we’re back from a much needed family holiday – our first break of the year thanks to inconvenient overlaps of my work, husband’s work and sons’ school/college timetables making any kind of getaway before now impossible. It was a good holiday – of which more later. First I really had better tackle the email and post that’s arrived in our absence.

Happily I can take my own time doing that. I delivered the final draft of Defiant Peaks, aka The Hadrumal Crisis Book 3, to my editor at Solaris the day before we went away. I await his verdict with interest. Meantime I have some short story commissions to drag forward from the back burner where they’ve been simmering for the last few months. One SF, one fantasy and one… somewhere in between.

I am also idly contemplating a few Einarinn short stories – specifically detailing events/episodes which I refer to in Defiant Peaks but where I had to resist the temptation to include them in full. Doing so would have significantly delayed and/or distracted from the main narrative thread and besides the points of view would have been all wrong. We’ll see – maybe early next year, if I can work out how to write them without being too spoilery for the novel itself.

One other thing I did just before we went away was have a chat with Sandy Auden about Defiant Peaks and that’s the basis of this interview with SFX which will hopefully whet appetites from Defiant Peaks.

Next novel project? Nothing to announce as yet – I’m having a few conversations with a few people and we shall see what we shall see.

Right, I had better get on with that email and post then.

Tales of the Emerald Serpent – reviewed by Lou Anders

In haste and in passing – but I want to flag up this particular review of Tales of the Emerald Serpent – among the good many favourable notices the book has been getting.

Lou Anders likes it and says why and pretty much sums up why I am so proud to be part of this project.

And y’know, we all had such good fun that we are chatting idly about the possibility of a second volume…

Mind you, I have some embroidery to finish first.