Eastercon down, Clarke Award to go… meantime, here’s something to read.

So, that was a tremendously successful Eastercon, thanks to the dedication and hard work of a great many people before and during the weekend. I will write more fully about it all later – when I have completely got rid of the truly vile cold that I came down with last Friday. I’m over the worst but the post-viral fatigue is proving particularly vicious. Fortunately my main responsibilities this week have been addressing the Clarke Award shortlist and that can be done from the sofa without too much physical exertion. The cat approves.

Meantime, you will recall me mentioning Aethernet, the ebook serial fiction magazine I’m writing a story for. That was successfully launched at Eastercon and you can get a taste of the story which Adrian Tchaikovsky is writing here. Er, unless you’re an arachnophobe – it is called Spiderlight…

You can also read interviews with and extracts from the stories by other contributors – and there’ll be something from me coming soon.

Aethernet – The Magazine of Serial Fiction

On 30th March, a new ebook magazine will be launched, offering you the first instalments of stories from an intriguingly varied handful of science fiction and fantasy writers. There will be ‘Gela’s Ring’ by Chris Beckett, the sequel to his 2012 novel Dark Eden, which has attracted much well-deserved praise. Philip Palmer is writing ‘Murder of the Heart’; a contemporary and spooky tale, and that sounds intriguing since his versatility as a writer includes detective fiction for radio and screen alongside his SF novels. ‘Spiderlight’ by Adrian Tchaikovsky promises a completely new epic fantasy, humorous in places, deadly serious in others, by way of a deconstruction of the traditional prophecy-journey-dark lord narrative.

Ian Whates is contributing ‘The Smallest of Things’ while I’m offering ‘The Ties That Bind’, an extended story set in the River Kingdom where I’ve written three (or possibly four) short stories in the past few years. Subsequent editions will see the start of ‘Bartholomew Burns versus the Brain Invaders’ by Eric Brown and ‘Cosmopolitan Predators!’ by Tony Ballantyne, who has set this whole enterprise in motion. You see, not all the stories will have the same number of episodes. Some will be longer, some will be shorter but all aim to prompt pleasurable suspense as you wait in between instalments to see how a story unfolds, to learn if your expectations will be fulfilled or confounded, to see if the characters you’re learning to love or to hate will face triumph or disaster.

Aethernet Magazine will run for 12 issues. The first issue will go on sale on 30th March 2013, and subsequent issues will be on sale on the first of the month from May 2013 onwards. Individual issues will cost £3 and a full year’s subscription for all 12 issues will cost £20.

So why did I have a good long think and then say, ‘Okay, interesting, yes, count me in,’ when Tony Ballantyne contacted me? Firstly, that’s a roster of authors with whom I’ll be very proud to share a Table of Contents. Secondly, serial fiction isn’t something I’ve written before, and I’ve lost count of the authors over the years who I have heard advise never passing up the chance to do something new. Constantly challenging ourselves as writers is how we avoid stagnating.

Thirdly, as a reader, I’ve always really enjoyed serial fiction. When Tony Ballantyne first explained the plan, like most bookish types, my thoughts immediately turned to Sherlock Holmes’s adventures in The Strand Magazine, and to Charles Dickens’s novels first appearing in various Victorian periodicals which no one but Dickensian devotees can now name. More recently, some of SF’s greatest names from Asimov to Clarke, Le Guin to McCaffrey published serial fiction in genre magazines such as Analog and Astounding Stories. And let’s not forget that this tradition of episodic story telling woven around cliff-hangers and tantalising anticipation goes all the way back to Schehezerade and The One Thousand and One Nights, one of the foundations of our epic fantasy tradition.

At the same time as those classic pulp SF magazines were on the news-stands, Buster Crabbe was on cinema screens as the original Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in those wonderful black-and-white space adventures with rocket ships apparently driven by sparklers and stories driven onwards by weekly last-minute betrayals and revelations. With a wonderful sense of the wheel turning full circle while moving forward, the advent of the DVD boxset and online streaming has seen TV drama return to serial formats after years of weekly reset-button writing, now that missing a scheduled broadcast isn’t the disaster for an ongoing narrative which it was in pre-VHS days.

In similar circular yet progressive fashion, ebook technology now offers us, readers and writers alike, new opportunities to enjoy the varied and shorter forms of fiction so popular in the past which the current costs and logistics of hard copy publication and distribution now make unfeasible for the most part. Not entirely, mind you. It’s worth noting that Alexander McCall Smith first publishes his ‘Scotland Street’ novels as daily serials in The Scotsman newspaper. Daily? How on earth…?

That would be a challenge too far for me to contemplate but the notion of putting together a story over eight monthly episodes is an intriguing prospect. Not least because once an episode is in print (or pixels, in this case) I am committed. There will be no going back to the beginning and rewriting, as there is with a novel, until the final draft is delivered. How will that work out? At the moment, it’s an unknown quantity, especially since I’ve already found my ideas changing between my first episode’s draft outline and putting fingers to keyboard. On the other hand, I will have the chance to adapt what I have planned for subsequent instalments in response to far more immediate feedback. Dickens used to do that a lot, apparently. Will I? I honestly don’t know. For one thing that will depend on what feedback is forthcoming.

So have a look, have a think, and if you’re as intrigued as I am, sign up at www.aethernetmag.com

Serial SF and Fantasy Fiction

Defiant Peaks – Is This The End?

This is the question I’m getting asked most often at the moment. The obvious answer is, well, obvious. Yes, this is the final book in the Hadrumal Crisis trilogy so it brings this particular story to a conclusion.

Yes but, people persist in asking, is it, y’know the end? Trying to fathom what they mean, I realise that at least some folk have been a bit unnerved by my remarks over the past couple of years about this final book’s cover art. I’ve explained on panels and at conventions how writing this series has set me thinking more deeply than ever before about the way that Einarinn’s elemental wizards actually have an understanding of matter at the sub-molecular level. Which is great for them but a bit tricky for me since I went down the Languages and Humanities path at school rather than doing Science. Thank goodness for those marvellous history of science programmes which the awesome Professor Jim Al-Khalili has been doing for BBC Four.

I have been wondering precisely what Archmage Planir is doing in that final picture ever since I first got Clint Langley’s awesome artwork. Well into the writing of this series, I have honestly had no clue. Is it, I have wondered aloud more than once, something akin to The Manhattan Project? The Hadrumal Project? Will Planir end up quoting Robert Oppenheimer; “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Okay, now I realise where some of that nervousness is coming from, especially from people who’ve already read Dangerous Waters and Darkening Skies. Anyone expecting that this trilogy’s middle volume would be mostly focused on getting characters in place for the big battle to come must have got a bit of a shock reading that. As Defiant Peak’s back cover notes, “Archmage Planir and the wizards of Hadrumal have unleashed their devastating magic…”

So I can see that readers could be a bit nervous about the possible consequences for the end of the series if Archmage Planir decides it’s never too late to escalate. Especially since those readers who are familiar with my previous books now have very well-founded suspicions about just who and what Hadrumal’s wizards will be facing. “The Archipelagans are baying for wizard blood, enraged at magic invading their domains…” Yes, and it’s not just the Aldabreshi Planir has to worry about as this series sees everyone – me included – learn a lot more about Hadrumal’s internal rivalries, wizardry in Solura and the different groups perfecting Artifice’s enchantments elsewhere.

Not that everyone asking this question is quite so apprehensive though. A few people have simply asked me because they realise this is my fifteenth novel set in the same world and with a continuous timeline threaded through the different stories told in each of my four epic fantasy series. Haven’t I said everything I’ve got to say with these characters and through this milieu? I have been writing shorter fiction in an increasingly wide range of other worlds and styles lately so isn’t it simply time for a change of scene?

You won’t be surprised to learn that most of those asking this aren’t primarily genre fans. One central aspect of epic fantasy fiction which I have always adored as a reader is the way that these stories generate questions and asides which the main narrative can’t spare the time to focus on. I’ve never felt that those ‘but what if’ and ‘how come’ and ‘but who’ loose threads detract from fantasy tales. They add depth and interest, a sense of a complete world continuing on when that final page is turned, and besides, real life is just as full of tangents and unknowns. Like so many other writers I’ve often found that pondering answers to those questions leads me to a whole new story. This has been a staple of epic fantasy writing ever since reading The Hobbit prompted us to wonder just where Gollum’s magic ring had come from and what it might signify.

So, is this the end? Oh, come on, do you honestly expect me to answer that? Read the book and find out for yourself!

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

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.

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.

Brief update and how a picture of a cat can win you books!

I am currently extremely busy, but I imagine you’ve guessed that from the lack of updates. I’m currently finishing up Defiant Peaks, the third and concluding Hadrumal Crisis book – and that’s taking up most of my time and mental energy.

What’s over is being devoted to my Chair of EightSquaredCon (Eastercon 2013) duties, where I am pleased to say plans and arrangements are progressing very satisfactorily indeed. We’ve just spent the weekend on a site visit for recce and meetings with hotels purposes – which is why I wasn’t at Edge-Lit in Derby by the way.

I will be at Congenial in Cambridge, August 10th-12th by the way and that’s going to be a splendid weekend. If you can make it, do!

I have a busy diary from September onwards so I’m also trying to get ahead with a few other things, reviews, articles and such. And of course, it won’t be long before the next slew of Arthur C Clarke Award reading starts hitting the doormat…

And then there’s been more than the usual family and household stuff with both teenage sons at crucial points in their education/exam schedules over these past few months.

Like I said, busy, busy, busy. So while I haven’t forgotten about blogging, all too often when I think about a post, all I can come up with is … um, well this list of things keeping me busy.

Fortunately, there are other folk out there doing more interesting things. One of whom is the ever-charming and talented Kari Sperring (author of the highly recommended Living with Ghosts). Slide on over to her LiveJournal and see her adorable cat Ish. Offer up the best caption and you can win copies of Dangerous Waters and Darkening Skies, Books 1 and 2 of the Hadrumal Crisis

And while you’re doing that, I’ll get back to writing Book 3.