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.

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!