Tales of the Emerald Serpent – Shared World Anthology – a Kickstarter Project.

Now it can be told… I’ve been working on this for a while now, alongside and in collaboration with a tremendously talented and amiable group of writers and artists, all directed/cat-herded by R Scott Taylor of Black Gate Publishing.

Set in Art of the Genre’s trademarked universe, The Nameless Realms, this anthology takes readers to the Free City of Taux, a fantasy port of cursed stones, dark plots, and a core of rich characters who share space inside the infamous Black Gate District. This anthology links characters and tales in an interwoven mosaic that helps draw the reader on, and with other authors like Lynn Flewelling, Harry Connolly, Martha Wells, Robert Mancebo, and Julie Czerneda sharing characters with newcomer Michael Tousignant and iconic fantasy artist turned writer Todd Lockwood, the book explores all the paths and back-alleys of city-born fantasy.

Editor and contributor R. Scott Taylor helped create the shadowed metropolis of Taux, where Razor Duelists and mailed and heavily armed Sturgeons try to hold back the tide of ghosts, Moon Cultists, and shadow magic that lurks inside the slithering coils of Wizard’s Mist. Rogues, harlots, and merchant princes share the same streets, and all watch their backs as the stones of the city call out to the living in a never ending game of cat and mouse for the true ownership of the great port. Fantasy artists Jeff Laubenstein and Janet Aulisio bring form to each story with their incredible pen and ink renderings. Contributor Todd Lockwood also lends his artistic vision to an epic cover.

Do you remember those early 80s anthologies like Robert Asprin’s Thieves World? I do and I loved them. I also always found shared world writing great fun and very rewarding when I was writing for table-top and LARP gaming. So I jumped at the chance when I was invited to take part in this anthology, not least for the chance of working alongside some of the finest writers in today’s science fiction, fantasy, and horror markets. As with my other short stories in recent years, I also thoroughly enjoyed working in another milieu to my own books – and I’m already thinking ahead to the next Beyond the Black Gate story I could write… and I really want to write it…

And then there’s the Kickstarter aspect. I’m fascinated to see how this funding system works for projects that don’t quite fit with the traditional publishing models in this time of such flux in our industry. Since I’m based in the UK, this isn’t something I can try for myself as yet, with Kickstarter being US based BUT and this is important, you don’t have to be US based to sign up to support this project.

So click on over and see what’s on offer and what you’d like to sign up for. Remember that you’re not committed unless and until the project reaches its target on April 18th.

This project needs $10,000 to see fruition, but bonus levels for every $10,000 after the first will get EVERYONE in the Kickstarter a digital copy of another anthology in the series. If we get $20,000, that’s 2 anthologies, $30,000 is 3 full anthologies, etc. Let’s show the publishing world that anthology series do matter and that people love evolving story lines with great characters all set in the same city. With each new level of support we’ll also be placing in ‘secret bonus’ rewards for all participants.

And here’s how it’s going so far…

Spread the word!

So why did we hold a launch party for Darkening Skies in Ireland?

Well, the book (first chapter and more info here)was going to be published on the 28th February (US)/1st March (UK) and I was going to be at the 9th Phoenix Convention, Dublin (known to its friends as P-Con) from the 2nd -4th March. So that immediately offered me the chance to celebrate the new book among friends, fans and book lovers.

Then in a wonderful coincidence of timing, it turned out that CE Murphy (Catie to her friends) also had a book published on 1st March, namely ‘Raven Calls’, the seventh of her excellent urban fantasy series, The Walker Papers.

So we decided on a joint launch party at the Irish Writers Centre, a glorious Georgian building on Parnell Square and P-Con’s new home. Do we qualify as Irish Writers? Well, my paternal grandfather left Ireland in 1923, heading for the UK, and Catie’s grandfather left around the same time heading for the US. Catie’s family returned to Ireland in 2005 and now live in Dublin. My father lived in County Laois till last year. Good enough.

It was a great start to the convention weekend. We shared a few glasses of wine and Catie and I shared a few thoughts about our books. For a start, although this is my fourteenth book and her eighteenth, yes, we agreed, every publication day is still really exciting. We talked a bit about writing in extended series, how it’s great to see characters and ideas develop – and how you casually write half a line in one of the early books that comes back to bite you on the ass years later. We both have experience of that.

We swapped notes on our different approaches to magic. Joanne Walker is a shaman living in modern-day Seattle; her magic is fluid and mysterious, both enabled and limited by Joanne’s own imagination. So Catie’s drawing on Native American and Irish myth (her heroine is of Cherokee and Irish descent), which opens up a tremendous amount of possibility for finding similar elements in both cultures (there are more than you’d think!) and massaging them into story arcs. The magic in her stories is less elemental than fundamental: shamanic practitioners believe everything has a life force and a purpose, and so much of what Joanne does is activating and working with that force and its natural purpose.

I’m writing in an entirely secondary world with magic based on the four classic elements of air, earth, fire and water and wizards who take an almost scientific approach to their studies. So I’m drawing on our own world’s history of science as well as modern sources like experimental archaeology to find plausible justifications for the spell effects I’m devising. If an earth wizard needs to find out how old something is, he can use his innate affinity with for example Carbon 14. Except of course, that would be on a good long list of words I cannot use without wrecking the fantasy atmosphere of my secondary world, along with ‘diatom’ and ‘isotope’ and so many others. We agreed the challenges of writing can prove quite unexpected.

It was a great evening, especially because I could share my admiration and enjoyment of Catie’s books, and she’s a fan of my writing – we both read outside our particular sub-genre for relaxation and enjoyment. Since one of the most toe-curling things about a book launch is being expected to praise your own work, it was so much nicer to be enthusing about a good friend and fellow writer’s work instead!

Incidentally, if you fancy a trip to Dublin next spring – and need some sort of excuse – plans are already in hand for P-Con X, where the Guests of Honour will be Cory Doctorow and Sarah Pinborough. Keep an eye on that website for updates!

Darkening Skies

So if Darkening Skies, the second book of The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy is published in the US on 28th February and in the UK on the 1st of March, what happens on this leap year day of 29th February?

Well, for a start, you can go and read the opening chapter, wherever you might be, over on the Solaris Editors’ Blog.

I’ve also done an interview with the Solaris chaps talking about this book and trilogy as well as what I write and read more generally. There’ll be a few more guest blog spots here and there over the next week or so as well.

In addition, I’m celebrating along with the fabulous and talented CE Murphy, whose new book Raven Calls is also published this week, with a joint launch party at the Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin on Friday evening, by way of kicking off the fun at P-Con IX where I’ll be spending my weekend along with an array of great writers, great fans and many good friends. I’ll be discussing issues of gender in writing and publishing, internet piracy and the erosion of writers’ rights, and running a writers workshop alongside George Green of Lancaster Uni. By way of lighter topics, a group of us will be tackling ‘I didn’t get a letter from Hogwarts so I left the Shire to become a Vampire Jedi: how do authors avoid writing this book?’

Next week, when life calms down a bit, I’ll see about a book giveaway competition. Why so busy? Well, apart from the above, I’ve been working on a redesign of my website, which will see a whole new blog-based set-up, with a fair bit of additional background material about my writing added to what’s already been available, along with my articles, review, diary and other such stuff. At that point, this interim blog will go into mothballs.

I am indebted to Cheryl Morgan for all her help with this website relaunch, at the same time as she’s been tackling the publication angles for the forthcoming Further Tales of Einarinn ebook. There’s just a few final t’s to be crossed there and that’ll be available soon. Then we finalise an ebook of Turns & Chances, the Lescari Revolution novella. Meantime, of course, the Lescari Chronicles and both of the Hadrumal books to date are available in the eformat of your choice from your preferred supplier.

Right, I had better get back to finalising an Einarinn Gazetteer for the new site…

… after I’ve admired Clint Langley’s fantastic artwork for Darkening Skies one more time…

Ready, Steady, Flash! Instant fiction at the SFX Weekender 2012

Since a consensus has emerged that we’re all going to blog our various pieces, here goes.

“We” being myself, Stacia Kane, Tony Lee and Paul Cornell. I am still wondering how Lee Harris talked any of us into doing this; namely, writing five minute short stories from subjects given to us on the day, no forewarning, no nothing. I’ve never done anything so nerve-wracking at a convention – my first fear being crashing and burning personally, closely followed by the fear that someone else would crash and burn, because that would have been pretty much equally dreadful. Thankfully instant camaraderie was apparent as we took our seats along the table – in a ‘we who are about to die’ kind of way – and as it turned out, we could all turn our hands and different styles to the challenge without disgracing ourselves. Phew.

On reflection I’m entertained to see what inspiration my writerly subconscious grabbed for under this pressure, and trust me, I can identify all their sources… It’s also interesting to see how naturally I fell into a three-beat structure, and also, into writing from first person. I’ve not done that in my novels for a good few books now. It’s equally fascinating to see how very different our styles and approaches were, as you’ll see when you compare and contrast my efforts with everyone else’s.

So, here goes – bearing in mind this is what I have written down but I know I verbally edited a bit as I read them out…


The Old Gods

“The Old Gods are jealous gods. They live in out of the way places. They have been forgotten. They have not forgotten you.”

Not the most reassuring note to find in among the gas bill, the letter about the water rates going up and two pizza delivery leaflets.

And this was a new house. Some smarmy bastard had bought it as a buy-to-let to make a fortune out of people who can’t get a mortgage even though the rents they’re paying cost more than a mortgage would. Sore point? Too damned right.

So, anyway, I screwed up the note, binned it and went to work. When I got back the landlord was there, bitching about the stain on the carpet that had been there when we moved in.

So I killed him. The next day I got that new job I’d applied for. And the next note in the post said ‘The Old Gods approve of your sacrifice…’


(I won that round on the basis of audience acclaim)

Zombies in Prestatyn

Seaside towns. God’s waiting room. I used to live in Bournemouth. Talk about Days of the Living Dead.

So I didn’t have high hopes when we found ourselves driven to the North Wales coast, trying to avoid the Plague, the Syndrome, the whatever-it-was dropping people in their tracks, in the hospitals, until they started getting up and ripping lumps out of people.

Then I found out what old people can really do, with a walking stick, a zimmer frame, a golf club. Did you know that old boys who remember their National Service can be quite handy with a Molotov cocktail? That grannies who went out with buckets of sand to put out incendiaries dropped by the Luftwaffe aren’t easily intimidated by zombies.

I asked one of the old ladies about that and she told me, when you don’t have much life left, you’re not about to let some rotting youth take it away from you.

(Tony Lee won that round with a POEM!)

Unicorn Sandwiches (this was the audience participation suggestion…)

I don’t know who decided that unicorn sandwiches are the official, sacred, royal food for a coronation but that was the kingdom’s tradition and kingdoms like their traditions. The king’s mage said it had to be done and that was that.

The thing is, unicorns are bloody dangerous. Horses are dangerous enough with hooves and teeth and kicking. Unicorns have that horn too and it’s not just for show.

The other thing about unicorns is only a virgin can tame one. I was the princess and thus was uniquely qualified by virtue of royal birth and being untouched by human hand. That’s what the king’s mage said and that was that. Bloody wizards.

So the night before the hunt, I cut up my sheets and plaited and knotted and made a rope and tied it to my bedstead and hung it out of my window. And Sir Pelin climbed up.

And the next morning, I wasn’t qualified to go hunting unicorns and the king’s mage couldn’t do a thing about it and that was that. Because sometimes, once a night is enough.

(Stacia Kane won that round and you’ll see exactly why when you read her offering)

(while my own piece demonstrates so clearly how vital the revision phase is in writing, because reading that back, I now see that last sentence should be ‘Sometimes one (k)night is all it takes.

(and this is when we ran out of time)

A Few Further Tales of Einarinn – my first ‘indie’ ebook!

It’s very nearly here! Once the last few tweaks to the text and the ebookery tech are locked down, this February should see ‘A Few Further Tales of Einarinn’ published, with my profound thanks to Antimatter ePress for the initial digitising of the texts and to Wizard’s Tower Press, for handling the actual publishing, including but not limited to making sure the formatting matches up with all the various ereaders available, sorting out ISBNs, making the files available through the full range of ebook outlets, so on and so forth.

It’s been a fascinating and eye-opening project in keeping with the finest traditions of collaboration and mutual support within the SF & Fantasy genre. Because even if I could find the time to learn the necessary skills, and this tech stuff doesn’t come overly naturally to me, there is simply no way I could have found the time to do all the preparatory work I’ve merely summarised above.

The book is a collection of five stories featuring characters from the Tales of Einarinn, beginning with the full story of an early adventure which Livak sometimes alludes to, followed by encounters and incidents in the intervals between the books of that series and finally concluding with one of the marriages promised in the final volume.

Four have been previously published:
2005 Win Some, Lose Some – Postscripts 5, PS Publishing
2006 A Spark in the Darkness – Postscripts 6, PS Publishing
2001 Why the Pied Crow Always Sounds Disappointed (as The Tormalin Necklace) – F20, The British Fantasy Society
2003 The Wedding Gift – An Illustrated Tale of Einarinn, Einarinn Ltd

Absent Friends has never been published before; it was written for a magazine that folded before my story hit their pages, and it has been freshly revised for this collection.

With tablet computer tech now at our fingertips, we’re also making good use of the portfolio of artwork originally commissioned from some of Britain’s finest illustrators and comics artists to go with The Wedding Gift chapbook. Those black and white character illustrations appear throughout the book and we have a splendidly inked version of Livak for the cover.

So this will be coming to an ebook store near you soon!

For more, do visit The Wizard’s Tower Press website.

Next up? We’re working on an ebook of Turns & Chances, the Lescari Revolution novella.

On piracy and copyright and file sharing and free speech

Home taping is killing live music. Isn’t that what those old adverts used to say? The ones supposed to shame those of us with a drawer full of bootleg cassettes in our student rooms? I don’t recall such campaigns doing much good. But I also remember why we had those cassettes and why such small-scale, furtive illegality bears no comparison with the massive digital piracy that’s now going on and which so many people seem to think is somehow acceptable or excusable.

We copied those tapes because we were broke. I was, in 1983, and I am not talking about not having the cash to buy everything that I might want. I am talking about not having the money to buy the essential necessities of life. After paying my hall fees out of my student grant (which included daily breakfast and six other meals a week), I had £17.30 a week to live on, by which I mean buy clothes, food, books and everything else I might need. At the time, unemployment benefit was £25.40. And that was just in term time. Outside term, I worked in supermarkets, pubs, hotels and old folks’ homes, often two jobs at a time, as well as studying for the upcoming term. So no, I couldn’t afford legitimate music.

But here’s the thing back then, and it was the same for everyone I knew. As soon as we could afford to, we did buy legitimate copies of the music we loved. Being able to do that was almost a rite of passage and definitely a cause for celebration. Not least because the quality was so much better but also because we knew what we were doing was morally suspect, if not outright wrong. When we didn’t need to do it, we stopped.

In more recent decades, I’ve known pals with computer hard-drives loaded with illegal copies of UK and US TV programmes and films. This was because they had no legitimate way of seeing them; their local TV stations and cinemas weren’t showing them and at the time, because Amazon seemed convinced that the Balkans were still a war zone, they couldn’t buy anything online for local delivery. Once again, these friends worked very hard to get hold of legitimate copies, unhappy with the necessity of dodgy downloads. I’ve bought boxsets and books here in the UK and shipped them overseas. As soon as local conditions allow, those friends make legitimate purchases because they all understand that supporting the creative minds behind the things they loved would mean more of the same in the future.

That’s what copyright does. As Katherine Kerr says in her blog post which I urge you to read in full

The Founding Fathers established copyright protections with a short term to encourage writers and artists to create works ultimately for “the public good.”
… I doubt if it ever occurred to them that poor people might write books and thus need the money from the sale of those books to fund the next project. Fortunately, other legislators did realize it.
…Copyright frees the writer, in particular, from dependence on the patronage of the rich. …Books that would appeal to those “lower orders” were in short supply as well — until copyright. Books by and for women were most definitely in short supply …

This is not to say that copyright law is all wonderful. It’s highly complex, nationally and internationally and has been badly skewed by successive interventions by powerful special interests. I absolutely agree that it needs reform and I wish those campaigning for change every success. Mind you, I’m not convinced we’ll see much change until legislators at the highest levels really understand the need for change and are also prepared to take on those powerful interests, like, oh, for example, Disney. I’m not holding my breath, given those Rules for Life that include ‘Never start a land war in Asia’ also include ‘Don’t mess with the Mouse’.

Anyway, what has that got to do with the immorality of someone offering someone else an illegal digital copy of an author’s book, depriving that author and their publisher of at least the chance of legitimate revenue?

Deciding that a whole body of law has serious flaws is not an excuse for ignoring those aspects of it which are clear and straightforward, especially not when ignoring it is for one’s own personal gain. I object on both practical and moral grounds to the damage done to the UK dairy industry by the monopolistic practises and buying power of the big supermarkets. This does not entitle me to take a pint of milk from Tesco’s without paying for it. That is still theft. Or to give a technological example, for the benefit of those arguing with me on their iPads and iPhones – disapproving of the conditions in Apple’s Chinese factories doesn’t entitle me to help myself from the nearest Apple Store.

Ah but copyright law restricts free speech, I have recently been told. It is certainly true that restrictive regimes have used and abused various copyright laws to restrict and muzzle opposition. Yes, thanks, I know all about the history of samizdat publishing.

Once again, I ask, what’s the relevance of this entirely separate and yes, necessary debate, to the question at hand? How does how protecting my legitimate right to stop others illegally using my work for their own personal profit restricts anyone else’s free speech?

Since I’ve yet to get any satisfactory answer to that, let’s consider another entirely irrelevant argument that keeps being made. The file transferring technology that we now have offers so many varied and valid uses, not least enabling those under repressive regimes to share their thoughts and organise dissent. So do those undoubted benefits mean we have to tolerate the flood of digital piracy as a regrettable but inevitable consequence?

In what other sphere are abuses of technology ignored for the sake of its legitimate uses? I live in rural England where farmers and others have many and varied, legal uses for shotguns. I’ve yet to see any thug using a sawn-off to rob a bank given a free pass by the police.

Because what we are talking about here is illegality. And I am thoroughly sick of the supposed defence that file-sharing sites aren’t actually hosting the illegal files, they’re just putting the people who want to share them in touch with each other. Right, and pimps don’t prostitute their own bodies and fences disposing of stolen goods don’t actually go housebreaking. That doesn’t make what they do any less morally and legally reprehensible.

No, I am not in favour of SOPA or PIPA or similar. These are all fundamentally flawed attempts at legislation made by people with no real understanding of the complexities and realities involved. It’s on a par with the UK government’s response to the last outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease here; when the slaughter-and-cremate policy they insisted on was so outdated that procedures included instructions on requisitioning wooden sleepers and coal from local railway marshalling yards to build pyres. Yes, really. They were relying on plans made in the age of steam trains. But I digress.

Once there is the will, there must surely be a way to do something to address this very real and growing problem. Law courts can generally distinguish between those innocently caught up in handling stolen property and those who make a career out of knowingly engaging with organised and wholesale theft. Why can we not see those behind these file-sharing sites, claiming their hands are so clean, in court being asked to explain on what basis they imagined the latest John Grisham best-seller wouldn’t be subject to copyright and thus showing people where to find a digital copy for free was all so fine and dandy?

Because writers and artists are being deprived of their legitimate income. No, I don’t equate every illegal download with a lost sale but a percentage surely are. No, I don’t blame digital piracy for the way writers’ incomes have plummeted in this past decade. This is down to a perfect storm of changes in retailing and short-sighted moves by individual publishers and legislators resulting in a slew of unintended, destructive consequences. No, I won’t digress on all that here. If you want to know more, find me at a convention some time but be warned, you will end up feeling that the Wedding Guest collared by The Ancient Mariner got off lightly.

We have to deal with the situation we’re now in and the cold, hard facts are writers’ incomes are now under such pressure and publishers’ margins have been trimmed so finely, that even a small drop in sales lost to digital piracy can make the difference between contracts being renewed or writers being dropped. Forget the money for a moment. The current situation is bad for readers and the wider world of literature. Great writers are made, not born. Enduring and important works of literature emerge once authors have learned their craft and honed their skills in exploring and conveying the essential truths of the human condition. No one can do that if their writing career is cut off at the knees after two books.

Actually, no, let’s not forget the money. Because whether or not you care if any writers earn a living wage or not, let’s consider who is really raking in the cash from illegal piracy. Individuals like Kim Dotcom, who’s apparently made millions out of Megaupload, after his earlier convictions for computer fraud and insider trading. Then there’s the student facing extradition from the UK to the US over his website offering links to pirated TV shows and films, which was earning him £15,000 a month in advertising revenue. Okay, let’s say a book site wouldn’t get the same traffic. Reduce that by a factor of ten. That’s still £1500 a month for such a parasite abusing other people’s creativity.

How about the latest massive ebook piracy operation; a very slickly deceptive site from a cabal of thieving scum, offering unlimited downloads for a monthly subscription of $14.95, ‘just like Netflix’. No, not like Neflix (and I do hope their lawyers are aware of this) because not a penny of those revenues was going to authors or publishers and all those links were to wholly illegal downloads.

This operation has enraged me more than any other in recent times, because I can so easily see innocent new owners of a kindle/nook/kobo/whatever, with little Net savvy or understanding of publishing being duped. People like my Dad who’s contemplating an ereader on account of aging eyesight, a book lover who would never dream of actively seeking out illegal downloads. Someone like him could easily think this was an entirely legitimate site, just like Netflix, not least because he was honestly paying his monthly fee and the way such sites mouth pious platitudes about observing the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and here’s how to notify them of unintended infringement. Right, infringement of that brand new Patrician Cornwell bestseller which they had no reason to believe was under copyright.

Granted, such sites comply with DMCA takedown notices. Yes, they do, because it’s no skin off their nose if the people they’ve duped into handing over their cash can’t actually find the books they want next week. But why should the onus be on publishers and authors to police this theft of their intellectual property and then to laboriously issue those DMCA notices, a separate one for each of the separate formats in which any individual title is offered. This now takes up entire working days for editorial and legal departments, adding still more to a publisher’s losses.

And since we’re talking money, let’s consider how hard up someone must be to need to find illegal downloads, in the same way that we poverty-stricken students would club together to buy a pack of C90 cassette tapes. If you are able to afford to buy an ereader, still an non-trivial and discretionary expense, surely you cannot be that hard up. Okay, some people will get them as gifts who might struggle to find the price of a fancy coffee to spend on a new book. Then there are no end of free and entirely legitimate downloads available. Not just copyright-expired material though Project Gutenberg but offers and promotions from the publishers themselves.

I am no enemy of ‘free’. I choose to offer some of my own writing without expecting payment. Head on over to the Solaris blog for a copy of ‘The Wizard’s Coming’ if you like. Yes, this sort of thing is excellent advertising and a valuable promotional tool, more than ever in this digital age. The difference is, I have chosen to do this. My rights to earn a legitimate return from my own work have not been illegally and immorally ignored by someone out to line their own pockets.

I am a great fan and a lifelong user of libraries and while I value my Public Lending Right money from the UK, Irish and other European governments, I would donate my own books to libraries without any such recompense. I never mind seeing my own books in second-hand shops, even though I won’t earn a penny from resale. I see that as another way for my work to gain greater currency and circulation. The difference is libraries, physical or digital, are regulated and second hand copies of physical books are always going to be limited in number. Digital piracy downloads can add up to tens of thousands within hours.

Forget debates on cultural differences and history behind copyright or whether or not authors should write for art or money or the uses and abuses of technology. How is the current situation when amoral third parties can profit so massively from wholly illegal behaviour in any way acceptable? Answer me that and I’ll give you a free book.

Good Housekeeping’s Writing Competition does NOT rule out SF&F

Some weeks before Christmas, a couple of pals alerted me to Good Housekeeping’s forthcoming competition. “Have you got a best-seller in you?” the magazine asked. If so, the winner could see a £25,000 advance, their book in print and get introduced to a top literary agent. Come to that, free laptops to the runners up isn’t to be sneezed at.

The competition’s in association with Orion Books and literary agent, Luigi Bonomi. Such credible, professional involvement is even more encouraging, especially when there are so many sharks and charlatans preying on aspiring writers in the murkier shallows of the creating writing biz.

So far so good. Until I read… “We’re looking for entries from any grown up genre whether it’s historical romance, whodunit, comedy or international spy thriller.”

No mention of SF& Fantasy. What does that mean? Was this intentional? Do they perhaps not consider SF & Fantasy grown-up? It wouldn’t be the first time. Or do they not think the magazine’s readership would be interested in our genre? Once again, the outdated stereotype of the teenage fanboy might be lurching around in zombified fashion.

But this seems all the more puzzling when we consider Orion/Victor Gollancz are one of the longest-established and currently strongest SF&F lists in publishing.

So I decided to ask, courteously rather than table-thumping which would hardly help. Not that finding out who to contact and how was particularly easy, and there was also the Xmas/New Year rush/hiatus being typically unhelpful.

Anyway, I’ve just got a reply, from which I quote –

I would like to stress that science fiction and fantasy are by no means excluded from the competition – the only genre excluded was children’s.

Gollancz is part of Orion Books, and even if the winning entry isn’t SF (and it may be!), a good entry could still find its way onto their desks. So please tell your pupils or any aspiring writers you know to enter and I wish you all the best. The entry form is still on our website.

So, those of writing SF&F are not ruled out and while there are no guarantees here, any more than in any other area of life, that’s a usefully positive response.

Here’s the webpage with all the info. All entries must be received by 31 March 2012.

On reviews and reviewing – a few thoughts.

A surge of opinions on this perennial debate has followed recent heated exchanges over on Strange Horizons. I’m not discussing the specifics of that case, nor do I plan to, here or in comments to this post; I haven’t read the book in question, and the reviewer and the commenters’ words can speak for themselves over at SH.

But reviewing is a subject that interests me, as a professional writer and also as a reviewer myself. Because reviews are important, arguably even more so now that changes in bookselling mean the days are long gone when a customer could expect to see a fully representative selection of lead, midlist and classic titles in the shelves of their local bookshop, all on a level playing field as regards price. For an author, if anyone is going to buy your book, they have to know it exists in the first place. On that score, all of us in SF&F, readers and writers, are very fortunate indeed to have so many good-quality online resources.

It may surprise you to learn that negative reviews don’t have the negative impact you might expect. According to academic research

“while well-known authors suffer from negative reviews by decreased sales of 15%, “For books by relatively unknown (new) authors, however, negative publicity has the opposite effect, increasing sales by 45%.

it’s better to have your book attacked than ignored. Over time readers will forget the mean stuff said about you, and will only remember your book’s name. After buying and reading the book, however, they might remember again—but that’s a topic for another study.”

This doesn’t change my mind about writing negative reviews; in general I don’t do it. Personally I would much rather offer that vital oxygen of publicity to a book that’s worth reading and thereby hope to bolster a fellow writer’s success. No, I absolutely don’t expect any kind of reciprocation but I do know what a tough life this writing gig is and would rather offer a colleague a helping hand than a kick in the teeth. After all, there will be plenty of other people ready to say if they don’t like a book.

And anyway, if I’ve enjoyed a book, I want to share that enjoyment. That’s what most readers do and I was a reader long before I became a writer. On one level, it really is as simple as that.

As far as more complex considerations go, I also appreciate the need for a publisher’s list to offer a broad selection of books to maximise profits. I’ve read a fair few books that don’t work for me personally in the least but where I can see both the commercial justification for publication and the writer’s skill in crafting something in that particular style. Fair enough; book-selling is a business. That said, I see limited value in me saying ‘I really don’t like this kind of thing but those of you who do, probably will.’

Besides, once again, my own decades of experience as a reader have shown me how subjective personal opinions can be. I’m sure we’ve all had the same experience; we’ve really loved a book and pressed it on a friend, only to find when we ask them later, that it left them completely cold. In the same way, I’ve been given or loaned books by friends whose judgement I trust, only to find I completely fail to find whatever so enthralled them.

Which isn’t to say I’ve never published a negative review. I have; one of a small-press/self-published book and one of a mass-market commercial paperback. In both cases, my displeasure at the poorly written, shamelessly derivative and uninspired material tipped over into active annoyance that this rubbish could get into print when I knew of far better books languishing unpublished on hard drives. No, I don’t propose to identify either book because that’s not important and please note, all my criticism was directed at the books themselves; focusing on the quality (or lack of it) of plot, characterisation etc. I stand by everything I said.

In both cases, I ended up with more arguments to weigh against the value of negative reviews. In the first case, the outraged author bombarded myself and the editor with increasingly personally abusive emails, castigating our idiocy for being blind to his staggering genius. Okay, I paraphrase but not by much. No, I’m not taking this personally, especially not when I know how common such a response is from such amateurish authors – one reason why self-published writers still face such a major credibility problem with reviewers.

But I don’t have time to waste on such nonsense, so see no need to invite such vitriol into my inbox by pointing out such an arrant amateur’s deficiencies. Which is not to say I consider all unpublished/self-published/aspiring authors to be amateurs by the way. “Professional” is an attitude and an approach, not some badge only ever awarded by a publishers’ contract.

As far as that commercial paperback went, it was followed by two sequels and for all I know, there may be more to come. Did I manage to warn anyone off wasting their money on such cynical, exploitative tosh? That was my motive in writing the review but I have no idea if I succeeded. Indeed, I’m now wondering, in light of that quoted research, did I inadvertently help bolster sales? That’s a nasty thought.

Overall, with the benefit of hindsight, I reckon my time would have been better spent offering a positive recommendation to whoever was spending their time reading my opinion. Which is not to say I won’t ever offer a damning verdict on a book again, if one crossing my path really provokes my ire.

I also consider this debate a distraction from the most important issue in current reviewing. As authorial visibility and sales encouraged by reviews are so important in the current, frankly brutal marketplace, it is all the more vital that the balance of reviews reflects the gender and ethnic balance of writers. The current situation where books by white, male writers get a disproportionate percentage of reviews is unacceptable.

Everyone involved, from individual reviewers to magazine editors, online or in print, has a responsibility to offer equality of visibility to all writers. No one is asking for special treatment, just fairness. While all the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard over the years indicates SF&F has a rather better track record on that score than many other genres, there is still considerable room for improvement.

Yes, I appreciate that presenting a representative selection of reviews is not necessarily easy, particularly when some months simply won’t see a proportionate spread of male and female and ethnically diverse writers across the new releases from any one or indeed, all genre publishers. Any particular skewed selection cannot be taken in isolation to indicate deliberate bias. However, that still doesn’t make the unconscious and unintended biases revealed when reviews are collated on an annual basis any more acceptable.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – English language version

We – that’s myself, husband and Senior Son – went to see the English language version of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ last week – and we all agreed it was very good indeed, both as regards the lead and the minor performances. I was particuarly interested to see that plot and character all hung together well for Husband and Son who don’t know the books nor have seen the Swedish original. I was also relieved to see it hadn’t been overly’Hollywoodised’.

I’ve read and re-read the books and have seen the Swedish cinematic releases – though not as yet the extended versions/TV mini-series – and thought this adaptation was well done, making allowance for a couple of very trivial plot tweaks which I thought so trivial as to be unnecessary. Overall, I reckon this film is both sufficiently distinctive from the Swedish as well as sharing that version’s strengths to have been worth seeing in its own right – though granted, I probably wouldn’t have gone if Husband and Son hadn’t wanted to see it.

While Mara Rooney simply cannot match Noomi Rapace’s screen presence, she brought her own take on Lisbeth Salander to the role, reflecting the books in a slightly different but equally valid way. Just as Daniel Craig brought other aspects of Mikael Blomkvist to the fore, compared to Michael Nyqvist. In particular, I did find the theme of male bafflement and fear at being placed in the agonisingly vulnerable position of abused women had all the more impact when it’s the 007 actor who… no, no spoilers.

Talking of impact, I can’t decide if That Scene was slightly underplayed compared to the Swedish version – or if my reactions weren’t as heightened, since I knew what was coming. What I was very interested to see was just what a shudder that all gave my 18 year old son – so much for endless computer games desensitising the youth of today to violence. No, not in this case – he’s well able to distinguish between pixellated fantasy and cinematic representation of reality.

I would also be very interested to know what he made of the 18-cert straight-forward, grown-up sex depicted, as opposed to 15-cert naked-limbs-montage-occasional-flash-of-tit cinema. But since that’s a conversation I can’t see either of us being comfortable having, I will just have to wonder …

Anyway, both Husband and Son are keen to see the next two books filmed asap – and Son has collared my copies of the books to add to his TBR pile.

As to whether a remake is necessary, and whether or not viewers should just get over subtitles, I can see that argument. Then again, I can see the likes of my husband, who really hates watching subtitled films. Having to concentrate on reading text means he feels he’s not actually watching the film – and he is a very strongly visually oriented person, so that really, badly, limits his enjoyment.

Since he’s of the generation that either did maths/science or languages/humanities at school with no overlap – and he did maths/science, he has no foreign language skills at all to help him out. Whereas, having done Latin, Greek, French & German, I can get the gist of an awful lot of languages I don’t actually speak by listening closely and just glancing at the subtitles. Apart from Danish for some reason – I *cannot* get my ‘ear’ tuned right for The Killing at all – and for the first time, I actually get an idea of what he means!

More Q&A, very entertaining for me to do, so hopefully for you to read.

For more insights into the writerly life, or at least my part of it, check out this interview with Bob Neilson of Albedo One posing the questions. He plans on making this a series of interviews, so make sure you bookmark the page.

Then there’s Dolly Garland’s Bookshelf Snooping over on Writer Revealed, where you’ll find a varied selection of writers sharing their book memories and current enthusiasms -er, mostly at more length than me, I now see.

right, back to work here!