I had an excellent time at Fantasycon, in that I saw established pals, made new friends, and had some really interesting conversations on my panels and informally. Readers’ interest in The Green Man’s Gift, and in The Cleaving is rewarding and encouraging in equal measure.
Massive thanks and congratulations to the BFS team and volunteers for putting together a really great programme, in monumentally difficult circumstances this year. It was so good to see the community of readers, writers and publishers supporting them.
And everyone was very clear that the issues with the hotel were completely beyond the Fantasycon organisers’ control. UK conrunners should note that the problems evident at Eastercon with the reservations and check-in system do not appear to be resolved. New problems now add to that. There were simply far too few staff, and those present were clearly inexperienced.
I’m guessing that explains the cut backs on food service – no bar food, lunch was a one-price, expensive take-it-or-leave-it buffet, and not just for people at the convention. This is an airport hotel, so weary travellers couldn’t get food either! For Fantasycon folk, the petrol station over the road did a roaring trade in takeaway sandwiches. The evening restaurant menu was a stripped back version of what had been the bar menu – all at London prices and with 10% service automatically added to your bill, so declining meant telling your already overworked server they weren’t good enough, which I consider inexcusable. The food itself was fine, but the coffee from the bar was during the day was utterly revolting!
Unless and until major improvements can be guaranteed, fan event organisers should avoid this as a venue – and yes, I am well aware how difficult finding SF convention venues already is, so I don’t say this lightly.
So let’s look forward! Fantasycon 2023 will be at the Jury’s Inn, Birmingham, where we had a very good time in a decent venue last year, with amenities and food options within easy reach. Great!
I’m off to Fantasycon first thing tomorrow morning, but before I go, here’s the cover for The Cleaving, my Arthurian novel out from Angry Robot in May next year.
We all know the imagery of the Arthurian legends; the sword, the castle, the knightly banners, and most of all, the king. This isn’t his story though. I love how Chris Panatier blends familiar elements with these wonderful portraits of the women who are central to this novel. As their gazes challenge the reader, the artwork mirrors my intent to do that as the writer.
You’d like to know more about the book? At the moment, the cover copy reads:
The Cleaving is an Arthurian retelling that follows the tangled stories of four women: Nimue, Ygraine, Morgana, and Guinevere, as they fight to control their own destinies amid the wars and rivalries that will determine the destiny of Britain.
The legendary epics of King Arthur and Camelot don’t tell the whole story. Chroniclers say Arthur’s mother Ygraine married the man that killed her husband. They say that Arthur’s half-sister Morgana turned to dark magic to defy him and Merlin. They say that the enchantress Nimue challenged Merlin and used her magic to outwit him. And that Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere ended in adultery, rebellion and bloodshed. So why did these women chose such dangerous paths?
As warfare and rivalries constantly challenge the king, Arthur and Merlin believe these women are destined to serve Camelot by doing as they are told. But men forget that women talk. Ygraine, Nimue, Morgana and Guinevere become friends and allies while the decisions that shape their lives are taken out of their hands. This is their untold story. Now these women have a voice.
I’ll be out and about through September and October as follows. As more details on convention programming becomes available, I’ll update this page.
The event planned for Friday 16th September will not be taking place. Due to lower than hoped-for ticket sales, the Boston Book Festival is revising its programme. This is a shame, but with so many people feeling financial pressures at the moment, these things are going to happen here and there.
On 17th and 18th September, I’ll be at the BFS Fantasycon, at the Radisson Red hotel, Heathrow. My programme includes panels discussing love, sex and marriage in SFF, on building a lasting career as a writer, and on using more than medieval Europe in fantasy world building.
I’ll also be giving a reading from the new book, The Green Man’s Gift.
Convention details here
(On 19th September, I intended to be on the sofa at home with the cats and a good book, rather than watching a state funeral. Now I suspect I’ll have one eye on the telly while I prepare this year’s apple harvest from the garden for the freezer. )
On 6th October, I’ll be celebrating the publication of The Green Man’s Gift with Cheryl of Wizard’s Tower Press in an online event. Details coming soon!
On 15th and 16th October, I will be taking part in the online programme at Octocon 2022, the Irish National SF Convention. Really looking forward to seeing what my programme’s going to be there.
Convention details here
On 17th October, I’ll be at Portishead Library with Gareth Powell and Alistair Sims of Books on the Hill, to talk about the stories we have written for the BOTH Press dyslexia-friendly quick reads project. I’ll be there in my guise as JM Alvey, writer of historical mysteries, as my story Silver for Silence, features my classical Athenian detective Philocles.
More info here
(18th October definitely looks like a sofa day!)
On 29th October, I’ll be at Bristolcon in unsurprisingly, Bristol at the Hilton Doubletree Hotel.
Convention details here
So now you know where and when to find me. Feel free to say hello, have a chat, get a book signed, whatever.
I’m delighted to say that the next book in this series, The Green Man’s Gift, will be published on October 6th 2022. I continue to work with the outstanding team of Cheryl Morgan of Wizard’s Tower Press, editor Toby Selwyn, and artist Ben Baldwin.
Each time now, one of the real thrills of writing these particular books is sending the draft off to Ben, and waiting to see what he comes up with. He’s given us yet another masterpiece distilling the essence of the story in an unforgettable image.
And that story…?
A teenage boy has turned up in Snowdonia, barely conscious and babbling
about beautiful women and fairy feasts. The authorities blame magic
mushrooms. The wise women say different and they want dryad’s son Daniel Mackmain to
investigate. He needs to watch his step in the mountains. Those who live
in the hollow hills mask their secrets and intentions with sly half-truths.
Far from the woods he knows, Dan needs help from the allies he
has made in past adventures. But he’s a loner at heart. As the
true power of his adversary becomes clear, he must decide if he’s
willing to see those he cares for put themselves in danger.
A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.
I’m delighted to be able to share the cover art and cover copy of the steampunk novella I’ve written for Newcon Press. The Golden Rule is my contribution to four independent stories which can be purchased individually or as a set, and which are linked by their cover art. The other titles are Under Pressure by Fabio Fernandes, The London Particular by George Mann, and The Visionary Pageant by Paul Di Filippo.
What is my story about? Here’s the link to order it, so you can see the full artwork for a start, and here’s what the cover will tell you…
It is the summer of 1887 and everyone is looking forward to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Young police constable David Price’s greatest concern is how much drunken disorder he and his colleagues will have to deal with. This changes when he is part of a force sent to a Lascar hostel on the docks to break up a disturbance. The constables arrive to find that trouble hasn’t even started. Close to the scene, David discovers an intricate mechanical rat, which is taken from him by a mysterious woman. He discovers she is a socialite, a friend of the royal family, and the eldest daughter of an Indian rajah. Tracking the princess down to her Richmond home provides the young officer with some answers. Many more questions arise. He finds himself embroiled in a deadly plot to raise racial tensions, set to culminate in a major incident that will rock the capital. Worse, David realises some of his own colleagues are involved. He has no idea who he can trust…
This is just one of the projects that have been keeping me very busy this year. I am pleased to say that my Arthurian novel, The Cleaving, has been delivered to Angry Robot and I should have news on that to share soon. The next Green Man book is being edited at the moment, and the cover art is in hand. As soon as we have a date for publication, I’ll be sharing that and other details.
Meantime, I have an unexpected invitation to write a new short story for what promises to be a fascinating anthology…
Regular readers will recall me flagging up the Books on the Hill project last year, aiming to publish quick reads specifically intended for dyslexic adults, to encourage them to explore and enjoy the great range of fiction available these days. I wrote about that here.
I’m delighted to say the initiative has been a great success! Alistair and Chloe are running a second Kickstarter this year, offering another tremendous selection of stories to give readers a taste of different genres. You can find Open Dyslexia: The Sequel here. You will note that names from the bestseller lists and TV adaptations such as Bernard Cornwell and Peter James are supporting this splendid initiative. I was naturally most honoured when Alistair asked me – or rather, my alter ego JM Alvey – to write a short history mystery (12,000 words) for this year’s line-up.
What you may well not know – because I certainly didn’t, and yes, I am embarrassed by my ignorance – is that making a read dyslexia-friendly is a case of formatting and layout and similar. For an author, the writing process is exactly the same. I’m aiming to challenge, entertain and intrigue with this new Philocles short story in the same way that I do with anything I see published. The only difference is more people will be able to read it – and I love the thought of that.
This project really highlights how much new technologies can do to make books more accessible for people with dyslexia. And that makes the absence of such initiatives by the mass-market publishers glaringly obvious. The book trade needs to take a long hard look at this situation.
Last night’s thoughtful and thought-provoking JRR Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature by Rebecca F. Kuang is now available on the organisation’s YouTube channel – along with previous years’ talks from Pembroke College, Oxford, where Tolkien served as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1925-1945. All very well worth your time.
I went into Oxford to be in the audience, and it was great to see established friends and to make new acquaintances. I used the Park & Ride – and on the way back, I really thought I was going to just miss the bus and have to wait half an hour in the rain for the next one. But no! There is a special place in heaven* for a bus driver who sees you start running as he’s driven past, and so waits at the next stop for you to get there, even though there are no other passengers waiting to board. (*or equivalent spiritual reward)
Last Wednesday, I headed into London with Husband to go to the second of this year’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace. Yes, really! It was certainly an experience.
Getting into London from Oxfordshire is so much easier now, using Oxford Parkway station near Kidlington. We got to Marylebone in good time – feeling a tad overdressed, even carrying my new hat in a bag. As we took the Underground, we started to see other people sufficiently frocked up that it was a fair guess where they were going. We got out at Hyde Park Station as the info said the queues at the palace back gate would be shorter. In fact, everyone was being marshalled towards the front of the palace instead, along Constitution Hill – which is pretty much level by the way. There was so much going on with Jubilee weekend preparations that clearly the normal routines didn’t apply. Anyway, since we were early we were thinking about taking a look at Hyde Park, but one of the many, many police around advised we go and get through the security check early, so we’d be at the front of the queue. This was extremely good advice. Waiting in the heat for about 45 minutes was a bit of a chore, but there were people to talk to, and things to look at – including many, many police with guns…
Once we got in, we had a pleasant stroll around the gardens, where there was lemon barley water or water on offer for anyone who might be thirsty. The grounds are big enough to have one military band by the palace (Welsh Guards) and another one (RAF) on the far side of the lawn, and for them not to be heard over each other. This is possibly why it didn’t feel overcrowded – even though there were apparently between 7000 and 8000 people there. Given the numbers, the way tea was served was astonishingly efficient. The main tea tent must have had twenty stations offering cakes, sandwiches and tea or Sandringham apple juice. Since we had gone for a walk rather than join the first rush, we queued for less than ten minutes – and when I asked what might be dairy free/vegan, the lady behind the counter waved at her elegantly morning-dressed supervisor who came over to talk to me. ‘Dairy free, madam? Of course. One moment, madam.’ He shimmered off like Jeeves and by the time the lady had loaded a plate for Husband and assured him he could come back if he wanted anything else, Jeeves reappeared with a dairy free plateful for me – which was lovely.
There were special presentations to the Royals up on the terrace, and then they (Prince Edward, the Countess of Wessex, Princess Alexandra, the Duchess of Cambridge) made their way across the lawn. The Yeoman of the Guard cleared the way – and Gilbert and Sullivan costumes notwithstanding, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of their pikes. There was also a contingent of tall men in morning dress and top hats who were divided into ones engaging the public with charming conversation and making sure people didn’t get over-excited – and the ones who weren’t smiling, who weren’t talking to anyone, and who were constantly scanning the crowd. We didn’t join the scrum of people eager for a handshake or a photo. It was much more interesting to find a chair in a shady spot by the RAF band and people-watch.
All human life was there. People are proposed by sponsors ‘to recognise public service and celebrate people who’ve made a positive impact in their community’*. I talked to people involved in youth sports, Scouting, the NHS, local government, food banks, local voluntary organisations. It was all very relaxed – once we were inside the grounds, the only police in sight were in dress uniforms as guests. (Okay, and the ones in black tactical gear up on the palace roof) There were also a good few military personnel of all ranks – a spotters’ guide to uniforms and insignia would have come in handy. There’s a diplomatic tea tent so I’m assuming that accounted for the morning-dressed folk. Clerics of all creeds, levels of eminence and gender were around as well. The invitation said national dress could be worn, so there were some striking African outfits and gorgeous saris to be seen. A green silk shalwar kameez decorated with silver embroidery and pearls caught my eye, and a young Japanese naval officer in full dress uniform was accompanied by his plus-one in a stunning kimono. Or he may have been her plus-one, of course.
Once the Royals had reached their tea tent, we walked around the gardens and the lake a bit more and then went to sit and listen to the Welsh Guards where there was a breeze. Quite by chance, that meant we were in an excellent spot when the Royals walked back to the palace, so we stayed where we were, and got a really good look at the Yeomen and their pole-arms. And, oh, yes, at the Royals as well. The Duchess of Cambridge stopped to talk to three British-Indian ladies from Northampton, all in beautiful saris, who were standing just in front of us. The nice ladies, especially the oldest, were utterly, utterly thrilled, and that was lovely to see. Prince Edward was chatting to some else not far away. Either the Royals are actors who deserve Oscar nominations, or they were genuinely enjoying themselves. I’m going with the latter – given all the nonsense they have to put up with, being somewhere familiar and secure, and meeting people who are so visibly delighted to meet them must make for a pleasant day.
And then it was time to wend our way home. By the time we got back, thunderstorms had arrived, but we didn’t care. We picked up fish and chips en route and that rounded off our day.
*The Society of Authors put me forward on the basis of my various endeavours on behalf of writers.
The Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain have published a joint report looking into companies that charge writers for publication. You will not be surprised to learn there are a lot of shady goings-on in this area of the book business. For one thing, the sharks and charlatans like to muddy the waters with terms like ‘hybrid’ and ‘indie’ publishing. They’re able to do this because these terms mean different things to different people.
‘Hybrid’ originally meant authors self-publishing alongside working with a mainstream publisher. ‘Indie’ used to mean small independent presses not owned by one of the multinational conglomerates. These days, ‘indie’ has been co-opted by self-publishers (not with any underhand intent), while what used to be called ‘vanity’ presses would have you believe that ‘hybrid’ now means the author putting in money up front for a project, as well as the (alleged) publisher.
Now, there are currently a whole lot of different ways to work with a publisher. At the moment, I have five separate agreements on the go, and the details of each contract are different. For one, I have chosen to commission and pay for editorial input and artwork myself and to then supply the complete package to the publisher rather than have them undertake this part of the publishing process. These choices I have made are reflected in the royalty rate I receive. All of this information is readily available to me, the whole process is transparent, and at no point am I paying the publisher for anything. This is a legitimate way to do business.
Compare and contrast the sharks and charlatans. When I’ve been judging genre prizes and books come in from a publisher I don’t know, I go and check who I’m dealing with. Legitimate small presses I just haven’t come across before are easy to identify , but when it comes to vanity presses, the tell-tale info is often very deliberately and well hidden on websites. There are weasel words like ‘contributory’ and ‘partnership’ as well as hideous rights grabs buried under layers of obfuscation, just in case they are handed some real gem.
Though that is unlikely. When it comes to the books, vanity presses are almost always horribly, wretchedly obvious. I mean 99.99% of the time at least! I recall one first person narrative which included the detailed description of a knife that had just stabbed our heroine in the back where she couldn’t reach it. So… how could she see it then? The whole book – okay, the 65 pages I read before I quit – was full of these basic creative writing errors. There had been no meaningful editorial input at all – though I bet the author had paid well above the going rate for that, from what I read on the website. Things like this might be funny, except these authors sometimes contact prize judges, wondering why they haven’t been short-listed (yes, really) and it’s painfully clear they’ve been fed wholly unreal expectations by, well, con-artists. It’s awful to be the person trying to explain what’s happened to them.
So it comes as absolutely no surprise to me at all to see from this report –
• 94% of respondents lost money, typically in the thousands.
• The average loss was £1,861 with some writers reporting losses as high as £9,900.
• The median cost of publication was £2,000.
• A median of only 67 books were sold per deal, resulting in royalties of only £68.
• 59% of writers said their book was not available to buy in retail outlets
Do spread the word, and bookmark the info, in case you come across another writer in danger of being bamboozled.
It still feels a bit strange to be putting in-person dates in the diary – in a good way. I’m also very pleased to still be putting online events into my schedule. We have learned how these can be done successfully now, and how important opportunities to participate have become to so many people who would be unable to join in otherwise. Hybrid events definitely need to be part of the future.
As far as my future plans go –
Thursday 7th April – London Book Fair
Talk: 10:45-11:30 Making a Living from Writing
along with Society of Authors CEO Nicola Solomon (Chair) Abie Longstaff and Katrina Naomi.
15th – 18th April – the 72nd Eastercon: Reclamation
I’ll be joining friends and fans at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Centre, London Heathrow for what promises to be an excellent programme.
20th April – an online talk and conversation session with the Chalk Scribblers Writers’ Group.
7th – 14th May – Milford Writers Retreat, Trigonos, North Wales
1st – 4th July – Westercon 74
Thanks to the marvels of technology, I’ll be part of the international online programming organised by this convention taking place in Tonopah, Nevada.
Friday 16th September – Boston Book Festival (that’s the original Boston, Lincolnshire, UK btw)
At 7pm I’ll be talking about Myth and Modern Fantasy Fiction, and how I write the Green Man books, as well as taking questions.
And there will doubtless be more to add in due course.