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Posted in good stuff from other authors reviews

A Reading Recommendation – The Tangled Lands from Glenda Larke

A major plus of being an author is reading new work from other writers ahead of publication. I thoroughly enjoyed The Tangled Lands from Glenda Larke, published by Wizard’s Tower Press on January 26th 2023. The story starts with the birth of a royal heir to the realm of Talodic, but it’s clear the king has enemies who are hatching an audacious plan to force his hand to – do what, exactly? And who are these sorcerers the plotters hope will help them, and where have they come from?

Before we find out any of this, the story leaps forward eighteen years. We meet Taygen Hervan-Gariane, locked up in the King’s Keep, and awaiting execution for treason. King Edwild’s historian Lady Sianta has ordered him to write an account of his crimes. That’s quite a story, thanks to Taygen’s propensity to make bad choices for what seem like good reasons at the time. Since he’s quick-witted as well as quick on his feet, he mostly manages to outrun the consequences – until now. He finds himself facing no good outcomes. Worse, his family have become enmeshed in his misfortune and he brings down disaster on them.

Then – a different character entirely takes up the narrative; Haze, the wanderer whom Taygen unwisely befriended. We see events through very different eyes, enabling the reader to piece together more of the underlying mystery that swirls around Haze’s travelling companion Innata. Not even Haze knows this mature and alluring woman’s true identity, or her connection to the dreaded Red Weaver sorcerers.

Larke is a skilled and experienced author. Her characters are rounded and convincing, from the major players down to those who come and go in the course of a few pages. She balances supremely well-timed revelations with twists that throw up new questions. The highly inventive world building is as unobtrusive as it is coherent, giving readers crucial context before they realise they need it. As with all good fantasy, these people and places also hold up a magic mirror to our own world, giving the narrative depth and relevance, though always with a light touch.

The story takes classic epic fantasy ideas and turns them into a fresh new story that’s as uncompromising as it is satisfying. Dangers here are very real and so are deaths. What’s done cannot be undone, as long as Innata can stay a few paces ahead of her enemies at least. If not? All bets are off. The story gathers pace, with surprises right to the end. Though Larke always plays fair; everything that happens is rooted in what has gone before, even if only hindsight that reveals this.

If you’re an epic fantasy fan, you won’t want to miss this. If you’ve drifted away from the genre, finding stories becoming too predictable, take a look to be reminded just how powerful such tales can be when they’re this well crafted.

You can purchase it from your preferred store through the links at the Wizard’s Tower Press website.

Posted in News public appearances

Dates for the diary

On Tuesday 24th January – 7 pm GMT/2 pm EST. I’ll be part of TBRCon’s ‘Slice-of-Life Fantasy’ panel alongside Tom Bookbeard (moderator), Travis Baldree, Rebecca Ross, Stephanie Burgis, Travis M. Riddle and Quenby Olson. This will be a live panel, lasting no more than 90 minutes, streaming on the FanFiAddict YouTube channel.

#TBRCon2023 takes place January 22-29, 2023, and is an all-virtual SF/F/H convention with 30 author panels, 25 author readings/Q&As, 3 live podcast episodes and 3 live D&D sessions. It will be absolutely FREE to watch live or catching up later. Check your social media for the hashtag and marvel at the full programme.

On Tuesday 14th March – 10 am GMT. I’ll be online again, taking part in the Society of Authors At Home panel discussing ‘Making a living from writing’, alongside Katrina Naomi, Abie Longstaff and Sam Blake.

As far as other travels and events are concerned, I plan on being at Eastercon and Fantasycon, and I’ll doubtless be heading elsewhere as well. If our paths cross, feel free to say hello.

Posted in forthcoming fiction New Releases News

Making plans for the year to come

I’ve had some exciting book post! An advance reading copy of The Cleaving has arrived. And to be clear, this cover is just for the ARC, to distinguish those from the novel that will go on sale. Those will have the full colour cover art that I have posted previously.

The Cleaving – ARC

I’m looking forward to making plans with the Angry Robot team to get this novel in front of as many readers as possible.

Which prompts me to add a reminder that I’m starting up a newsletter for 2023 – you can sign up here

Posted in News writerly administrivia

New year, newsletter?

Let’s try this as a way for staying in touch. You can sign up at here and I’ll do a trial run next week. Feel free to let me know what you like to see in a newsletter, assuming you’re interested in them in the first place.

Don’t worry if they’re not your thing. I’ll continue posting updates here and on Mastodon as well as Facebook as I always have. I’ll stick with Twitter until it implodes or becomes wholly unusable – though my account there is currently locked to limit fake followers and junk replies.

And writing this post, I’ve just spotted the typo ‘Faebook’ and must now resist the urge to write a short story about social media for supernaturals…

Posted in reflections and musings

Here we go again…

I normally sign out of social media around Christmas Eve with a look back at the year just gone and pick things up on New Year’s Day with a few thoughts about what may lie ahead. The sign-out didn’t happen this time because my December was so very busy with Stuff To Do. None of this was particularly dramatic in either a dire or an exciting way; it was all just time consuming. So prep for the Christmas-to-New-Year break was going on right up to the 24th December. That’s okay, because that focus on getting everything done meant we could have a relaxed time with family and friends over the holiday, eating, chatting, playing cards and board games, and watching a bit of telly in the evenings. I really appreciate the way digital recording and streaming has banished the tyranny of TV schedules to the dustbin of history and the Christmas aggravation that went with it when I was a kid.

I got a good haul of reading gifts, and three very different books have turned out to have an elegiac atmosphere in common as I’ve settled down to read them since Christmas. That was no great surprise from “Terry Pratchett, A Life With Footnotes.” This biography was entertaining, illuminating, and makes me fiercely cross about his untimely death all over again. The other books looking back at lives well(?) lived were the new Michael Connelly, “Desert Star”, and the new Ian Rankin, “A Heart Full Of Headstones”. Very different writers, very different books, set in California and Edinburgh respectively. But both Harry Bosch and John Rebus are now ex-policemen, coping with retirement in very different ways, and facing up to the fact that they are now old men. Well, we’re none of us getting any younger. After all, I’ve been enjoying both writers’ work for around thirty years now… I still find them excellent reads, not least because these characters grow and change.

It’s a bank holiday here today what with New Year’s Day falling at a weekend, so the rest of the household go back to work tomorrow. Accordingly, I’m picking up the threads and making a few notes rather than getting right back to my own routine today. I can look back on the past 12 months, satisfied with my achievements. I wrote ‘the Arthur book’ as well as three short stories. I also wrote Dan Mackmain’s most recent adventure and my steampunk novella for NewCon Press was published. Wizard’s Tower Press and I are delighted with readers’ enthusiastic reception for The Green Man’s Gift, and The Golden Rule has been much admired. My alter ego JM Alvey also had a book out. “Silver for Silence” is a 10k word story for the BOTH Press ‘quick reads for dyslexics’ project and that has proved tremendously popular.

One thing high on my priority list for the New Year is a newsletter. Yes, I know I’ve said this before, but the way Twitter has deteriorated makes this a Must Do. I’ll unlock my Twitter account for a while when that’s ready, but for most of the time I’ll be keeping my account protected unless and until there’s some major improvement. That said, a recent pleasure has been reading answers to a thread on ‘what was your first Discworld book’, so some of the old, fun Twitter lingers. I will always accept follower requests from new people whose accounts show they are real and interesting folk. As far as other social media goes, you can find me on Facebook and Mastodon.

What else have I got planned for 2023? There’s the next Green Man book to research and to write. I have an intriguing idea for a new challenge for Dan and I’m keen to see where that takes me. “The Cleaving” (aka the Arthur book) comes out in April, and it really will be fascinating to see what folk make of that view of the mythos. Those three short stories I mentioned will hopefully see the light of day, and – well, I’ll see what else comes up. There will be conventions to go to and new books to read as well as new people to meet, as well as new vaccinations and boosters to hopefully keep Covid at bay.

Because the pandemic’s by no means over, while flu and other health problems are overloading health services on the edge of collapse. The UK government are proving utterly incapable of meeting such challenges, even if they wanted to, and there’s no sign of that. There’s no way to ignore the hardships and stress that are so prevalent at the moment, at every level from the international to the personal here in the UK. So I will do what I can, where and when I can, to help out – always mindful of the advantages which keep me and mine from such tribulation.

Posted in bookselling culture and society Publishing & the Book Trade

A few thoughts on seasonal book sales

The book-trade press is reporting that hardback celebrity biographies aren’t selling at all well this year. Folk with long experience in the writing and retail bits of the book trade will read this with a massive sense of deja vu. Such books are highly discretionary purchases mainly aimed at people who rarely buy books. They might buy five books in a good year, often as gifts, and who won’t buy any at all when times are tough. And times are very tough, as we all know far too well. Even with these titles heavily discounted in the supermarkets, potential purchasers may well be opting for a box of chocolates or a favourite drink as a cheaper and more immediately cheering present.

Has high staff turnover in publishing seen this sort of institutional knowledge lost? Along with other information which surely could prove useful for boosting sales in the short as well as the longer term?

Far too few titles are now offered to the 5-12 books a year readers of mass market fiction whose major contribution to the publishing bottom line used to keep the midlist viable. Here’s an idea for the Big Five. Why not try offering a choice of fiction for all tastes across all genres, varying authors month by month, in WHS and supermarkets? Start building readerships again. That’s where future best-sellers with sustained sales will come from, not the latest pop-culture trend/personality.

Meantime, let’s raise a cheer for the smaller presses who are working so hard and publishing great books. Don’t forget them when you’re doing your seasonal shopping.

Posted in News writerly administrivia

A quick social media update

As social media gets more fractious and fractured, I am still on Twitter for the moment, but my account’s currently protected from the recent deluge of fake followers and junk replies, as well as unnecessarily combative responses from people with no obvious interest in books, SF&F or anything else I do. Follower requests from self-evidently real readers will get approved.

Now I have a better understanding of how Mastodon works, I’m at @JulietEMcKenna@wandering.shop. You can also find me at facebook.com/jemck. And when I get a bit of spare time, I am going to set up a newsletter. Honest!

Posted in Unexpected things about Juliet

A few thoughts on the weather, to help with a nephew’s homework

A nephew is doing a school project on climate change so he is asking family members for their memories of winters through the decades from 1960 onwards. Doing that for him, even briefly, has really underscored the changes I have seen through my lifetime so far.

I was born in 1965 and until I was 7, I lived in Lincolnshire. I remember snow every winter, but only after Christmas, falling in January and February. I remember walking to school in a woolly hat and gloves, and snowball fights in the playground. The heaters in the classroom would be covered with knitted gloves drying out with a faint smell like a wet dog.

When we moved to Dorset, and lived right by the sea on the South Coast, snow was very unusual. Winters were still cold though, with frosty mornings, and fog, and crisp brown leaves crunching underfoot. As a 6th Former, I would describe the changes in the seasons in my letters to my mother who was then living in West Africa, in Cote D’Ivoire.

I came to Oxford to study in 1983 and have lived in this county ever since, which is about as far away from the sea as it’s possible to get in the UK. Through the 80s, we would get a severe winter with heavy snow every third or fourth year, when the weather would be cold enough to freeze the small rivers, like the Cherwell which flows past St Hilda’s College where I was an undergraduate. I remember seeing ducks trying to land, not realising they were about to hit ice and skidding along on their bottoms. The weather would stay cold enough for the snow not to melt for several weeks, maybe even a month or more. Then the thaw would mean flooding in the bottom of the river valleys, which is why those fields are called water meadows.

Through the 90s, cold and snowy winters didn’t happen as often here, maybe every fourth or fifth year or less. I only remember a couple of occasions when my sons’ primary school was closed because of snow, and I think that only happened twice while they were at secondary school. The weather would warm up enough to melt the snow within a week. Winters were still chilly, but the really cold weather didn’t last as long. From 2010 onwards, a heavy snow fall has been unusual. I can only recall that happening a couple of times, and the snow melted within a few days.

There are still floods between January to March most years, following heavy rain that usually comes at the end of the winter. Sometimes these are bad enough to flood the new houses that have been built on the water meadows – as everyone with local knowledge confidently predicted. Flooding at all times of year is now a serious local concern.

Since 2020? I was sorting through my sweaters last spring and I realised I hadn’t worn my really thick, woolly jumpers at all for several years. It simply hasn’t been cold enough for me to need them, even though I don’t have the heating on when I’m working at home on my own. My friends and I tell each other about flowers and trees in our gardens getting confused and blooming at the wrong time of year. I have seen photos on daffodils at Christmas a few times on Facebook. This year seems warmer than ever. It’s mid-November and I am sitting here in a t-shirt without the heating on.

Posted in writerly administrivia

The UK Society of Authors AGM and issues arising

I would like to ask friends who belong to the UK Society of Authors to consider attending this year’s online AGM on 17th November or to register a proxy vote by 15th November.

Please note that while I am a member of the Society of Authors’ Management Committee, this post is made entirely in a personal capacity. Since I am a member of the Management Committee, I will not be debating these matters here and comments are disabled.

There are five resolutions to be decided which deal with procedural issues and two resolutions proposed by a group of members which are as follows.

“Resolution 6: That in light of her documented behaviour and comments, which are not compatible with the Society’s goals of protecting free expression and their policy of dignity and respect, that Joanne Harris stand down as Chair of the Management Committee.”

Proposed by Julie Bindel, Amanda Craig, Jane Harris, Milli Hill, Richard Morgan, Jane Roffe, Michelle Smart, Michelle Styles, Heather Welford, Julia Williams.”

No evidence is offered to support these assertions, but this subjective opinion is presented as objective fact, requiring punitive action that takes no account of the Society’s established complaints procedures.

Those of you who have been following the so-called ‘Terf Wars’ on Twitter and in other media will recognise prominent ‘Gender Critical’ activists among these signatories, whose personal antagonism towards Joanne Harris can readily be found online.

You may care to note that Joanne was recently honoured by Pink News as ‘Ally of the Year’.

“Resolution 7: That in the light of disturbing recent press coverage about the Society, that the Society urgently reviews how to pursue its stated aim “to protect free speech” and puts in place a robust framework to do so, including a member and Management Committee working group that looks at how best to protect the fundamental right of all authors to express themselves freely within the law, and to uphold the impartiality expected of the Society, including all who govern and work for it. This should include a sub-committee of the Management Committee.”

Proposed by Julie Bindel, Elizabeth Buchan, Marika Cobbald, Amanda Craig, Jane Harris, Milli Hill, Richard Morgan, Jane Roffe, Michelle Smart, Michelle Styles, Heather Welford, Julia Williams

No evidence is cited to prove the implication that the Society has failed to be impartial, and no reference is made to the Society’s existing policies and ongoing work to defend free speech. This proposal nevertheless requires the Society to undertake an ill-defined review process which would take up considerable staff time as well as financial resources, all of which would otherwise be directed towards practical support for authors which is the organisation’s proper function.

Please note that none of these signatories stood in the recent elections to the Management Committee in an attempt to address their concerns. As far as I can see, almost all the recent antagonistic press coverage has been the result of journalists being briefed about these resolutions in a very one-sided fashion.

Please find the time, if possible, to consider the implications of these resolutions for the Society going forward and cast your votes accordingly.

Posted in Unexpected things about Juliet

A few thoughts on fridge magnets

Er, excuse me, you may very well ask? Well, as social media becomes ever more fragmented and fractious, a blog is still one space that an author can use to maintain contact with readers. So I’m going to make more of an effort to post more day to day stuff on here. I’m still on Facebook, and you can find me on Mastodon as well now. I’m still on Twitter for the moment, and we see what happens over there, though frankly, I’m not optimistic.

So anyway, replacing the kitchen fridge means taking the souvenir magnets off the old one. Yesterday turned into an interesting retrospective on the various styles and designs used by the National Trust and English Heritage over the years, as well as prompting enjoyable recollections of family holidays and other travels.

The question now becomes, what do I do with them once the new fridge is in place? Replace them chronologically, as far as I can recall? Or should I group them by category, which at first glance would seem to be castles, stately homes, militaria, aquaria, zoos, miscellaneous? I shall give this some thought over the weekend.

We have them on the bread bin and the microwave as well. It’s very nice to look at them while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil and think ‘yes, that was a lovely day.’ If I’m not emptying the dishwasher or assessing the cupboards for the week’s shopping list, as one does.