I had an excellent time on Saturday, down in Clevedon at their literary festival. This is a little Victorian seaside town between Bristol and Weston Super Mare if you’re trying to place it. I had a very straightforward run over from West Oxfordshire as the traffic on the M4 was nowhere near typical summer Saturday levels. It was also striking how many cars were content to do 65 in the ‘slow’ lane rather compete with each other in the usual mad racing ahead. I suspect, like me, drivers were realising how little long distance driving they’ve done this year and taking it steady. Everything slowed right down when the M4 joined the M5 unsurprisingly, but the traffic kept moving, and since I’d allowed for horrible traffic, I arrived in good time.
The Princes Hall community centre was clearly once a grand villa with a sea view and the large gardens are now a charming little park. I met up with Alistair from Books on the Hill, Anna Smith Spark and John Llewellyn Probert and we sat down with an interested audience to chat about fantasy fiction under a gazebo in a corner by some trees. The three of us have very different ways of working, and different approaches to what we write, so that made for an absorbing discussion.
This may seem odd, but I was surprised to remember just how much fun doing this sort of thing in person really is. Don’t get me wrong, virtual events have been an absolute lifesaver for authors, bookshops, conventions and publishers, and I have no doubt that they’re here to stay – but it will be lovely to get back to meeting up with other writers and fans again. So I will be signing up for Bristolcon, which promises to be a fabulous event this year. I will also be signing up for Octocon because if I can’t get over to Dublin just yet, the online convention will do very nicely in the meantime.
It was great to see some local friends, and yes, they were startled to see me with long hair. It was also an opportunity to see the actual copies of BOTH Press’s dyslexia friendly books after the success of the Kickstarter. The books are very handsome and this is an initiative well worth supporting.
As an unexpected thank you, we were given goodie bags with little gifts from the local independent businesses supporting the festival, which added up to a very generous collection. If you’re within striking distance and looking for a place to go to browse interesting shops for gifts and treats, head for Clevedon!
And there was even less traffic on the way back.
For all those wanting to know what’s next for Dan – and when – Wizard’s Tower Press is delighted to announce the next book in the Green Man series. With uncanny events in the Cambridgeshire Fens now resolved, will Daniel be able to get back to a quiet life as a carpenter, maybe enjoying a few weekends away with his girlfriend, Fin? Not a bit of it. As autumn deepens, there’s a new supernatural menace stirring down in Wessex. Dan will face, The Green Man’s Challenge…
All going well, the new book will be launched at FantasyCon in Birmingham over the weekend September 24-26. Meantime, we’re into the last few days of the ‘Green Man’ sale. The Green Man’s Foe ebook is 99p on Amazon UK until 31st May, and that’s been matched on other platforms & territories by Wizard’s Tower, with The Green Man’s Heir and The Green Man’s Silence reduced. That means new readers can get all three books for £8.97 as long as they buy before midnight on Monday.
Next, I have an honest to goodness in-person author event in the diary for June 12th! You can find me at Sunhill Park, North Somerset, BS21 7SZ at 3:30PM, as part of the Clevedon Literary Festival. I’ll be discussing fantasy fiction with Anna Smith Spark and John Llewellyn Probert. More details here – and the wonderful Books on the Hill will be there selling books. It really will be great to get out and see people!
July 15th will see this year’s anthologies from ZNB published. My story in The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity sees ancient Greek gods discovering the Internet and social media. The other 2021 titles are ‘Derelict‘ and ‘When Worlds Collide‘, and as you would expect by now, all three collections have a stellar roster of established and new writers. You can get preorders in with your online retailer of choice.
What else have I been doing? I’ve returned to the Aldabreshin Archipelago, believe it or not, to write the fourth of the short stories I started absolutely years ago, to go alongside the Aldabreshin Compass series. There’ll be more news about that in due course.
Last but by no means least, me and mine continue to keep well, and I hope the same is so for all of you.
Far too often ‘elevator pitches’ give a misleading impression of a book. This time ‘Imagine Camelot but in Gotham’ is both accurate and merely a starting point. There are countless good reasons for reading this book, even if – no, especially if – like me, you’re a reader for whom Arthurian retellings are a very hard sell indeed.
This is a world where knights ride motorbikes, and fight as champions to see justice done in legal bouts, as well as for fame and fortune as their battles are broadcast for their adoring fans. Artorias, son of Uther Pendragon, rules as a reluctant king, trying to stay alive amid the malign conspiracies of rival noble families. This might be some alternate timeline, or perhaps it’s a dystopian future. There are hints that this gritty, dangerous and neon-lit world could be either, or both. The reader can decide, or simply revel in this vividly and deftly described version of London.
So far, so high-concept, but this book offers a whole lot more than mapping a familiar story onto an inventive setting. The reader will certainly find some of the characters they are expecting, though several are less obvious than you might expect. There are new players as well, rounding out a diverse cast drawn from different genders and origins. This is fantasy for contemporary readers, and definitely a world away from tales of white knights rescuing damsels in distress. The story is compelling, charting two timelines through alternating chapters. We follow Artorias through the nineteen dramatic years since he was plucked from bastardy and obscurity and landed with his birthright. At the same time, we join a would-be knight as she struggles through her training over the course of a brutally demanding year. This is made all the more absorbing by use of first person present tense narrative. This is one of those rare books where this is a valid choice to enhance the writing rather than just some ‘creative’ gimmick.
As these two stories unfold, we learn both protagonists have private aims and ambitions that won’t necessarily fit with the roles they’re expected to play. As their timelines converge, we start to realise they will surely come into conflict, even if we’re not entirely sure when or how that will happen. Gradually the pieces fall into place with the merciless clicking of a well-engineered trap which can nevertheless still spring surprises.
I thoroughly enjoyed this supremely well-crafted urban/epic/alt-reality/mythic fantasy novel. It would have been an excellent read in its own right without any of the Arthurian elements. That gloss does add another fascinating level, proving even to sceptics like me, that new takes on these well-worn myths can still capture a reader’s imagination and not let go.
Blackheart Knights by Laure Eve
27th May 2021
Jo Fletcher Books
Trade paperback £18.99, plus ebook and audio.
In my primary school and teenage days, I was an avid reader of both boarding school stories and what I have since learned are variously called ‘juveniles’ or ‘planetary romances’ by authors such as Robert Heinlein or Arthur C Clarke. Thanks to Chaz Brenchley, I now realise those books had far more in common than I was aware of back then. All these stories were set in worlds that were equally alien to me as kid in a UK state school in the 1970s. I was no more likely to ever be a pupil at somewhere like Mallory Towers than I was to go to Mars, to skate along frozen canals and meet marvellous, scary creatures. A great deal of all these stories’ appeal for me was following characters who could be my contemporaries as they learned and navigated the unknown rules of unfamiliar and not necessarily safe environments, to come through their adventures unscathed – for mostly non-lethal values of ‘unscathed’ in English boarding schools.
So combining these traditions is quite simply a brilliant idea, creating an alternate reality where Mars is a stalwart colony of the British Empire and while boys go back to Eton or Harrow, the girls can be educated satisfactorily and more cheaply there. Thus Brenchley offers an entertaining read that’s both familiar and brand new.
This is far more than an exercise in inventive nostalgia though. Looking back, I can see how all those stories were founded on the assumptions of their respective decades and authors. Those assumptions are now to a greater or lesser extent often problematic. For a start, the stories of St Clare’s, the Chalet School, the Abbey Girls and the like, were the pretty much the only books I was reading that focused on female protagonists, viewpoints and concerns. I remember that was one reason why I actively sought them out. Everywhere else, any sort of adventure was exclusively male, or at best, male-led. Even so, I now see these girl-centered stories were as laden with outdated views on class, race and society as their overtly masculine counterparts. Brenchley is way ahead of me. With a deft and subtle touch, he interrogates the attitudes of those ‘classic; books and their era with charming ruthlessness. The reader is cordially invited to consider how many such attitudes persist and why.
All told, this book is an excellent diversion; an escape from everything that’s besieging us all at the moment. In the very best traditions of SF, it also offers us somewhere to go, where we can see where we came from more clearly.
As of yesterday, that’s the first pass of the next Green Man book completed at a frankly implausibly round 101100 words. That won’t be the final total – I’ll do a polishing pass over the next week or so, then Editor Toby will apply his eagle-eyed editorial skills.
I’m very pleased to have reached this point on the journey. I have always been able to escape trials and tribulations by turning to books -by reading and latterly, by writing them – but maintaining focus and a decent work rate amid the ongoing everything has been a particular challenge this year. I know this is the case for a great many many fellow authors and any number of readers.
I’m extremely pleased with the way this particular story has turned out. I’m confident Dan’s fans are going to enjoy this one. I’m also intrigued to see what Ben Baldwin will come up with by way of artwork for the cover.
So what’s next? Well, the first thing was checking the page proofs for my story in the upcoming anthology THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY. One bonus of doing that is getting a sneak peak at the other stories by this splendid roster of writers – Crystal Sarakas, Tanya Huff, Edward Willett, Daniel Roman, Jennifer Dunne, Jean Marie Ward, Mike Marcus, A.L. Tompkins, Daryl Marcus, Alma Alexander, Kari Sperring, A.J. Cunder, Irene Radford, and N.R. Lambert.
Among other things, you can see Hera try her hand at marriage counseling, while Macuilxochitl conquers the world of online gaming. Buy a ticket to Anubis’ magic act or roam the back tents at the local carnival and catch Doc Saturday’s medicine show. Take a sip of wine at Dionysus’ winery or grab some potato pancakes at Baba Yaga’s café.
I’ve also been taking a look at the concluding chapters of Eastern Tide. I’ve been promising myself – and readers – a fourth short story to complete the series accompanying the Aldabreshin Compass novels. You can find the first three here, staring with ‘Fire in the Night’.
Books on the Hill is a dyslexic friendly, independent bookshop in Clevedon, North Somerset, run by Alistair and Chloe. They are both passionate about books of all genres, and about getting as many people as possible reading. Alistair is dyslexic himself and so is always on the look out for ways to help people who have dyslexia, or any difficulty with reading, to access the joy of good fiction. For instance, he advised me and Cheryl on fonts that would suit dyslexic readers better in the Green Man books – I had no idea that something so simple could make such a difference!
As a bookseller, Alistair has long been aware of the Barrington Stoke books for dyslexic kids, but hasn’t found any equivalent for adults. So he’s decided to do something about that, and has recruited a group of very fine writers specifically to write stories for a new publishing project, funded by Kickstarter. As of this morning, the first funding goal has been reached inside the project’s first week. So the first three books will definitely be happening. Now let’s see the stretch goals reached, so more books will be available. This should be the start of a long term initiative.
Do take a look, and definitely spread the word to whoever you know who’ll be interested. Given up to 10% of the population is dyslexic, there’s sure to be someone.
So that was an interesting experience. I had a lot of fun catching up with pals I haven’t seen for far too long in Gathertown – but I was evidently running the optimum software on a relatively new, hi-spec computer – I know other folk had serious issues with access.
I had some interesting panels which turned into really good conversations – but online panels are much harder work than in-person events, and having no sense of an audience was disconcerting. Plus lack of info on the tech requirements beforehand and ongoing tech issues made for added stress I could well have done without, especially given the heightened level of background stress we’re all living with at the moment.
I watched some very good panels and talks, and being able to catch up with recordings of panels I’d had to leave early because of my own programme commitments was a real plus – but it’s very frustrating trying to decide how long to spend looking at a black screen when you have no idea if the thing you want to see is going to happen in the next two minutes or not at all.
The online art show was wonderful! My reading went very well, and seeing there were actually people there plus a bit of Q&A made for a thoroughly enjoyable session.
Please note – none of these observations are in any sense a criticism of the phenomenally hard working programme, tech and ops teams who did an amazing job in the face of multifarious challenges. There would have been no event without them.
Please also note I’m not getting involved in any of the debates about how things went, here or elsewhere. There are more than enough conversations ongoing. Let’s hope those lead to future conventions capitalizing on the good as well as learning where different decisions beforehand would have led to better outcomes.
Right, back to work 🙂
As you may or may not be aware, this year’s UK Eastercon is an online event – you can find all the details here
I’m on an interesting selection of panels as detailed below. Hopefully these times are now set, but do double check. The unexpected can always crop up at conventions and online events are no exception.
Friday, April 2 21:00
The last 20 Years: Fantasy in the 21st Century
Tiffani Angus, Juliet E McKenna, Jacey Bedford, Ekpeki Donald Oghenechovwe discuss how fantasy has changed, developed and grown since 2000 and talk about their favourite writers, books and trends.
Saturday, April 3 19:00
Fantasy Weapon Smackdown!
Stewart Hotston, Juliet E McKenna, Phil Nanson, Gerry McEvoy
We pit the panellists’ favourite fantasy weapons, from the sublime to the overpowered, to decide which is the greatest of them all. Excalibur or Albion? Lightsabre or well-placed flashlight? Choose your weapon!
Saturday, April 3 21:00
Male Power Fantasy: Can We Stop Now?
Fiona Moore, Tiffani Angus, E.M. Faulds, Juliet E McKenna, Ibtisam Ahmed
Mighty thewed-warriors, dashing starship captains, lone wolf heroes. Pulp sff had its roots a in culture of heterosexual white male dominance and male power fantasies. How do we frustrate these historical cliches and move into brave, diverse, new worlds?
Monday, April 5 12:00
Storytelling through repetition
Robert S Malan, Tiffani Angus, Catriona Silvey, Avery Delany, Juliet E McKenna
Time loops, time travel, and replaying games: how narratives are built by repeating actions & discovering new elements – including building relationships, and positive queer depictions
Amid the ongoing everything, talking to fellow writers and readers does make for a welcome change of pace.
Over on Facebook we went away to the unseen realm as James Chambers, Angel Martinez, Joshua Palmatier, Tamsin Silver and I talked with host Gail Z. Martin/Morgan Brice about the faeries in our fiction. I’ll post a YouTube link when that goes live.
Over on YouTube, you can enjoy Mihaela Marija Perković, Adrian Tchaikovsky and I in conversation as part of the charity event, ConTribution.
If you’re curious about the next Green Man book, you may pick up some clues…
I first met Juliet as one of my tutors at a writing retreat at Moniack Mhor back in December 2016. Oh, what a glorious luxury it now seems to travel all day by train to a remote location and spend a week in face-to-face workshops with a whole group of other writers! I really hope that can become a reality again sometime soon.
Anyway, on this occasion, Juliet ran a series of excellent workshops throughout the week, in tandem with the other tutor, Pippa Goldschmidt. The theme of the week was Science Fiction and Fantasy writing, which was exactly in my wheelhouse. I remember the workshops being very inspiring and the atmosphere at the writing centre very convivial.
The most important lesson I took away from that retreat was the value of external feedback on my writing. Both tutors gave detailed comments on a piece submitted by each writer, and we also had the opportunity to share our work amongst the group to get further opinions. I’ve always struggled with identifying how to improve my writing on my own, so it was great to be able to gather fresh perspectives and utilise them to make the story I had chosen immeasurably better.
Writing can be an isolating activity and getting together with other writers to share and collaborate is always a joy.
I was at an interesting stage in my writing journey at that point. I had completed a draft of my first novel at a similar retreat the year before and was starting to focus more on writing original short stories and trying to get them published.
Reading my newly expanded and polished short story out to the group on the last night of the retreat was a daunting experience, but it was a very supportive group and the enthusiastic response I received really boosted my confidence in my writing.
I also applied the lesson about getting feedback to my novel and sent it out to a group of beta readers, as well as a professional editor, over the course of several rounds of revisions.
The confidence I gained through attending the Moniack Mhor retreat bore fruit over the next few years, as I submitted more and more short stories to various publications and started to see my writing getting accepted for publication. I’ve now had nearly 40 short stories and articles published on fiction sites and in print magazines and anthologies
And, in February 2021, my ultimate dream came true when I finally held a copy of my first novel in my hands.
The military science-fiction short story I refined at Moniack Mhor is still one of my favourites. Even though it’s been rejected by more than twenty different editors, I still have faith in it and I still keep submitting it, because I have also learned that perseverance is the key with writing. I’ve had stories accepted on the first submission and the fifteenth, and I know the perfect home for that little story is out there somewhere. I just need to keep looking until I find it.