Diary updates and online links to panel discussions
In a couple of weeks, 7th – 10th April, I’ll be at Conversation, the 2023 Eastercon in Birmingham. I’ll have the tremendous pleasure of interviewing Guest of Honour, Kari Sperring, as well as discussing assorted aspects of the craft and business of writing fantasy and science fiction with interesting people. I will also be reading from my new novel, The Cleaving, and discussing Arthuriana in its various forms.
The Cleaving is officially published on 11th April 2023, but Books on the Hill should have advance copies at Eastercon. If you want to buy sets of the paperbacks of either The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, or The Hadrumal Crisis trilogies, for the at-convention price of £5, email me – email@example.com . Then I’ll know how many books to stick in the boot of the car, and you can pay me at the Convention.
If you’re not at Eastercon, but you’re within striking distance of London, I’ll be at the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club on 11th April, celebrating the official publication day of The Cleaving, along with Anna Smith Spark, and Michael R Miller. This monthly event takes place as The Star of Kings pub near Kings Cross and I recommend you check it out regularly. We’ll give short readings from our upcoming books, and talk about writing, reading and well, whatever else comes up in conversation with everyone there. It’ll be a really fun evening.
In May, I’ll be at the Milford SF Writers Retreat in Trigonos, North Wales. As long as everything’s still going to plan, I’ll be polishing up this year’s Green Man book before sending the draft over to Editor Toby. No spoilers, but I am really pleased with how this one’s coming together…
Looking forward to 2nd – 4th June, I’ll be in Edinburgh for Cymera, Scotland’s festival of science-fiction, fantasy and horror writing, as a guest speaker. This will be my first time at this particular event, and everyone I know who’s been before has enthusiastically recommended it. It will also be great to visit Scotland again. We’ll take the opportunity to have a holiday there as well.
So I’ll be getting out and about. That’s not possible for everyone of course, and the SF&F genre is very fortunate in the range and variety of online events and podcasts that fans and creators now support. I’ve recorded a good few interviews and chats lately that will be coming your way over the next few months. I’ll post links when I have them.
Meantime, you can check out this year’s panels at TBRCon – there’s loads of good stuff. Scroll down and you’ll find me and others discussing ‘Slice of Life Fantasy’.
More recently, I joined children’s writer Abie Longstaff, poet Katrina Naomi, and crime writer Sam Blake in her everyday persona of Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, to discuss making a living as a writer, as part of the Society of Authors’ ‘At Home’ programme of events. You can catch up with the video here. Again, there are a whole of of other videos available, and you don’t have to be a member of the Society to access any of this invaluable advice. (You might like to think about joining the Society, do take a look at what membership offers.)
Diary updates – BFS Event 18th Feb, and more!
It’s all go at the moment, and in the best way. This coming Saturday 18th February, I’ll be taking part in the British Fantasy Society’s online February event. I’ll be on a panel at 1.45pm GMT discussing Hard vs Soft Magic Systems, with LR Lam and Steve McHugh.
Before that, at 1.30 I’m on the Author Readings schedule when I’ll be reading from The Cleaving for the very first time anywhere.
There’s a whole roster of great writers reading through the day, plus another panel on approaches to world-building, and an interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky, who is always worth listening to. You can find out full details and more besides on the BFS News page – click here.
On 14th March, I’m on a panel for the Society of Authors At Home event, discussing making a living from writing with children’s author Abie Longstaff and poet Katrina Naomi, chaired by Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (also known as the crime writer Sam Blake). This will be a reprise of our very successful event at last year’s London Book Fair where we lay out the realities of the book business and suggest ways to maximise your earning opportunities. Full details here – and like all online SoA events (apart from the AGM) this will be open to members and non-members alike.
I’m also having a lot of fun recording some interviews this week, with the Fantasy Fellowship for their YouTube channel, and for the Read Write podcast. I’ll post links when those are available for you to enjoy.
And there’s more to come!
Recent reading and an online interview
The ongoing Twitter fiasco makes it harder and harder for authors to connect with readers in the ways we – and publishers – have come to rely on. So please share your enthusiasm for recent books you’ve enjoyed on whatever social media you use. Whatever the route, word of mouth recommendations sell books and those sales keep writers writing.
Another response seems to be a revival in blogging. Not that it ever went away. I’ve had the opportunity to answer some interesting questions from The Big Bearded Bookseller and you can read that interview with a click here. Readers, writers and illustrators as well as booksellers should definitely be aware of this website which offers a wealth of information.
I will now do my bit with a review of The City Revealed by Juliet Kemp, published by Elsewhen Press. The hardback and ebook are out and the paperback is published on 20th February.
I can’t recall if I’ve ever reviewed the fourth book in a series without having read the others. Why do that now? Well, I find Juliet Kemp an interesting writer to talk to, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen of their work. So when they offered me an advance copy of their forthcoming novel I was quick to say yes. Obviously, I could have gone and read the previous ‘Marek’ books first – The Deep and Shining Dark, Shadow and Storm, and The Rising Flood, but I decided not to. One of the serious tests for an author writing the next book in a series, is not demanding a reread of what’s gone before. I’m pleased to report that Kemp more than meets this challenge with unobtrusive recap which reads as naturally as backstory in a first volume.
The city of Marek faces multiple challenges. Declaring independence from the neighbouring ruling power hasn’t gone down well with those erstwhile overlords. Whose will now hold the highest authority in the city itself is hotly debated, and not only among the powerful Houses of the ruling Council. The Guilds are determined to have their say, while other factions in the wider population have plenty to say about the Guilds. There are different schools of thought on the different schools of magic which come with various limits and costs. When it comes to sorcery, what some see as opportunity, others see as threat. But magic is central to the city’s defences, and there’s every reason to expect an attack.
Marcia, House Fereno representative on the Council, is trying to handle all these things at once, while she’s in the final weeks of a pregnancy. She still has to work out how she’s going to co-parent the baby with her friend and sometime lover Andreas while sustaining her relationship with her girlfriend Reb. Just to make life that bit more complicated, Reb’s a sorcerer. This is one of a range of relationships among the characters, along with varied expressions of gender and sexuality. Why? Because that’s simply how life is in this particular fantasy world and it’s not the world we live in. This facet of the book shows how far epic fantasy has come since the days of white knights rescuing damsels in distress. Other aspects of Kemp’s world-building have moved on from such default settings. There are guns and broadsheets and the complexities of trade and geography, all conveyed with a deft touch.
At the same time, Kemp understands and shares the fascination with the core themes which have sustained this genre for so long. We see different characters’ responses to change and upheaval. We see tensions between moderates and radicals, and the struggles of those longing for progress with those who seek security in the status quo. Some people look for allies, others only want personal advantage. Others just want to shut their eyes and hope it all goes away. Kemp makes these people solidly believable, in their flaws as well as their strengths, through well-written dialogue and convincing interactions. Readers will care about these characters, even when some miscalculation leaves us wanting to shake someone till their teeth rattle. This makes for an eminently satisfying narrative where the personal, the political and the magical are multilayered and interlocked. A book – and a series – well worth checking out.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
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!