Category: New Releases
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
The Green Man’s Gift is here!
Today sees The Green Man’s Gift published in ebook, hardback and paperback. Head to your preferred retailer for the format of your choice.
Barnes & Noble (Nook) – USA only
If you’re going to be at Bristolcon, you can pick up a book direct from Wizard’s Tower Press – and let Cheryl know, so she can be sure to bring enough copies.
Dan Mackmain’s heading to North Wales in this particular story. It’s an area I’ve visited on holiday a few times over the years, but thinking about it for this story, and seeing it through Dan’s eyes gave me an interesting and different perspective. Driving through Snowdonia in particular offers such marked contrasts between remote, timeless, numinous landscapes, and then sudden encounters with post-industrial landscapes and modern economic hardship. I already knew I’d be setting this new story there, so the Milford SF Writers retreat at the Trigonos centre that I went on back in May was as much a research trip as a chance to get plenty of uninterrupted work done.
What else got me thinking about Wales? Well, I found a fair amount of overlap between Welsh myth and the stories of King Arthur which I was researching last year for The Cleaving, my novel coming next year. Don’t worry, King Arthur has absolutely nothing to do with Dan’s new adventure, but those encounters prompted me to read more Welsh folklore and reminded me of childhood reading like The Owl Service and The Chronicles of Prydain. I started making notes and I soon began to see the shape of this particular story.
I also knew I had the people I’d need to call on to make sure I got the fine detail right. Kari Sperring was generous with her time as I sought her perspectives on the Welsh landscape and language in the first instance, and Liz Williams may not realise how a few passing comments she made were useful too. Once the story was written, Toby Selwyn and Cheryl Morgan could offer further advice and amendments which were very much appreciated. I am very fortunate in my friends – and any errors or clangers that Dan drops are absolutely my responsibility.
It’s been an interesting story to write as I consider how the changes in Dan’s life over the past few years have affected him. We are the sum of our experiences, after all. We handle some of those experiences better than others…
I had a chat with Cheryl about all this and a whole lot more besides yesterday evening, courtesy of the Octocon Presents online programme of events. You can find the recording here, including a short reading from the book (mildly sweary in a couple of places, just so you know). And the Octocon convention is well worth checking out, in person and/or online.
Early readers over on Goodreads have definitely enjoyed the book. I have no clue what’s going on with Amazon ratings and reviews at the moment, where every book seems to be getting every review of the whole series, but hopefully readers will share their thoughts on this new adventure there and with other retailers in due course.
The Golden Rule – a few thoughts about writing steampunk
Today sees the publication of The Golden Rule, my contribution to a collection of four steampunk novellas from Newcon Press which can be purchased individually or as a set. These stories are linked by their cover art, but apart from that, they stand alone. The other titles are Under Pressure by Fabio Fernandes, The London Particular by George Mann, and The Visionary Pageant by Paul Di Filippo.
Steampunk is great fun, in comics, in stories, and in the cogs and goggles aesthetic of the terrific costumes people create. It also draws on the popular literature of the Victorian era that can be too easily overlooked as a significant forerunner of the science fiction and fantasy genres that have evolved in the last century and a half. So far, so good.
However… when I was first invited to try my hand at a steampunk story, revisiting a classic of such literature, I opted for the author H Rider Haggard. Rereading his work for the first time in decades, I was appalled by the racism and sexism underpinning the melodrama. It was scant comfort to realise none of this unpleasantness had made any lasting impression on teenage me. Hopefully, anyway. Certainly, I do know to check for any lingering echoes in my work these days. This rereading did alert me to one major potential pitfall of writing steampunk. While contemporary writers should have the sense to steer clear of the overt bigotry, I realised it could be far too easy to slip into an uncritical pro-Empire mindset, defaulting to Rule Britannia and all that.
Fortunately, as well as H Rider Haggard’s books, those library shelves I had scoured as a teenager held other classics of Victorian literature which offered no such rosy view of their society, such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies. I also came across non-fiction like Mary Kingsley’s Travels in West Africa (1897) which gave a very different view of colonisation. So I was aware that critical voices were speaking up in that very era. That gave me the starting point for that first story ‘She Who Thinks For Herself’. As I wrote more late-Victorian stories, in the overlap between steampunk and horror, I continued to use the viewpoints of the overlooked and disregarded to shine a different light on the great deeds of the great white men who assume they are in unquestioned charge. You can find those stories in Challoner, Murray and Balfour: Monster Hunters at Law.
In the decades since I was a teenager, the Establishment’s vision of benign imperialism bestowing railways, democracy and afternoon tea on grateful colonials has been increasingly challenged by a wide range of historians and journalists. We are starting to see a far more complex and multi-layered picture of peoples, places and events. When I was invited to contribute to this quartet of novellas, I recalled one such book and wondered if that might give me a starting point for an exciting steampunk story with a different perspective on the alleged Glories of Empire. I found Anita Anand’s “Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary” on my bookshelves and went from there. This story of an exiled Sikh princess, god-daughter to Queen Victoria, led me to the Golden Jubilee of 1887, where I found that celebration had dramatic facets I had never suspected. Here is a photo of the Indian Cavalry who played a central role in the procession. If you want to know their role in my story though, you’ll have to read The Golden Rule – now available from Newcon Press, and you can find the ebook on Amazon.
Cover reveal – The Cleaving, coming May 2023
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.
There’s more on the art and design over at the BFS website.
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.
The Green Man’s Gift – coming soon!
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.
You can pre-order ebook editions from:
Barnes & Noble (Nook) – USA only
The Golden Rule – now available for pre-order
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…
Curious to know more about The Cleaving? My take on Arthurian myth…
The enthusiastic response to this week’s news is tremendously encouraging. I will be doing my very best to reward readers with a book that’s well worth their time and money.
You can learn a fair bit about the approach I’m taking to the Arthurian legends, and why, in this interview with The Fantasy Hive. Enjoy.
If you want to be certain that you don’t miss out on any of the news between now and publication, you can register with Angry Robot to get all the updates, be first in line for review copies and suchlike.
And now I will get back to writing!
I’m writing an Arthurian novel. Yes, really.
It’s in The Bookseller, so it must be true! “Angry Robot Books has landed an “exciting and fresh” feminist retelling of the Arthurian legends by Juliet E McKenna.”
Now, it’s been a fair while since I was on a panel at a convention discussing the Arthurian myths, but those who remember such conversations may well find this a surprise. After all, my view was pretty clear; how can a writer bring something new to such an oft-told story? Especially when we all know how it ends – and that’s certainly not happily ever after!
So what has changed? Well, a few things came together in one of those accidents of serendipity that every writer will recognise. While I was doing background reading for The Green Man’s Challenge, looking for the roots of myths about giants in British folklore, one source was Geoffrey of Monmouth. He’s one of the early sources for the Arthurian myths, and I found myself rereading those bits as well, and thinking about why Geoffrey told those tales in the way that he did.
I’ve also been reading Kari Sperring’s Arthurian novellas from Newcon Press. Those are as enjoyable as they are interesting, and they took me back to Malory’s version of these myths in the Le Morte D’Arthur for the first time in decades. I had forgotten how much magic, mystery and downright weirdness there is in those particular stories. I’ve had some interesting chats about that with Kari, and with Liz Williams, who’s currently writing rural fantasy that harks back to all manner of ancient British folklore.
At the same time, the wider conversation about epic fantasy within the SFF genre has continued. We see a fascinating range of heroes having adventures in fabulous worlds drawing on intriguing mythic traditions these days. But there are still those who try to insist that ‘true’ epic fantasy can only be white knights on noble steeds rescuing damsels in distress. There’s certainly no denying that a great many of the conventions and traditions of the genre can be traced back to these age-old myths. That doesn’t mean that out-dated ideas and themes can’t be challenged though. As anyone who’s read my epic fantasy novels knows, I’ve been doing that since The Thief’s Gamble was first published in 1999.
It was a smaller step than I expected to go from looking at these ‘heroic’ Arthurian stories from a woman’s viewpoint today, to wondering what the women caught up in that whole myth cycle would be thinking and feeling themselves…
The Cleaving will be out on 9th May 2023
(And just in case you are wondering, yes, I am also working on the next Green Man novel)
Recent reads – The Amber Crown by Jacey Bedford
I’ve enjoyed Jacey Bedford’s previous books; the SF Psi-Tech novels, and the Rowankind series. In both these trilogies, she shows a keen understanding of the core appeal of the tradition she’s working with, namely space opera on the one hand, and alternate-history-shapeshifter-fantasy, for want of a better term, on the other. Accordingly, I’m very interested to see what she offers readers in this epic fantasy with a slew of classic genre elements apparent in the cover copy. We have a dead king, a lost queen, magic users on the fringes of society, and a scheming usurper setting up an innocent man to take the blame. Not to mention an assassin.
I note in passing that this is a standalone novel. I hope readers new to Bedford’s work are encouraged to give her writing a try by the reassurance that they’ll get a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
This tale opens in Biela Miasto, the capital city of the insecure realm of Zavonia. King Konstantyn is dead and guardsman Valdas Zalecki must avoid being hanged for the murder while he hunts down his royal master’s killer. First he needs to find loyal allies which isn’t easy when so many of his friends have been executed on newly acclaimed King Gerhard’s orders. Meanwhile, far away, Mirza must claim her right to succeed her dead teacher’s place as the healer and witch of a Landstrider clan. That would be a lot easier if she wasn’t so unpopular with the clan, who would much rather have someone else. Lind the assassin just wants to be on his way out of the capital city with his payment. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done, with the new king’s vengeful advisor Kazimir sending men to turn the place upside down as they search for Valdas. Lind is glad to take on the mundane job of escorting a young mother-to-be to her family out in the countryside.
Readers will not be surprised to learn that these three narratives become intertwined. Bedford strikes a deft balance between hints and foreshadowing on the one hand, and unexpected twists and turns on the other. The scene-setting is equally assured, creating a world that’s very like but not quite our own, reminiscent of central Europe a few centuries ago. These similarities ground the narrative while the differences will keep readers guessing. The central characters and the supporting cast alike are satisfyingly three-dimensional, with their motivations and flaws stemming believably from their past experiences, good and bad. Crucially, Bedford’s portrayals are sympathetic without ever getting sentimental, so these people’s lives have realistic hard edges. Her villains are equally convincingly foul.
So far, so traditional, as far as epic fantasy goes. Bedford offers more to lift this story out of the genre’s well-worn ruts. As she works with classic themes and archetypes, she recognises where these have become outdated and even offensive, reshaping them to suit her story’s purpose. Newcomers to the genre will find a story with an up-to-date perspective. Those who have been reading these tales for decades with find a thoughtful contribution to the ongoing evolution of epic fantasy.
As I say, this is a standalone, and I am content to leave this story and these characters at their hard-won conclusion. That said, the rich potential of this milieu means I’d happily read another adventure set in this world.
Guest post – Jacey Bedford on writing epic fantasy for modern readers
As a fan of her SF and her alternate-history-shapeshifter-fantasy, I was very interested to learn that Jacey Bedford’s new novel is a standalone epic fantasy. So I invited her to share a few thoughts on her approach to writing this sort of story for modern readers.
Writing Epic Fantasy for a Modern Audience by Jacey Bedford
You are what you eat, or should that be, you write what you read?
The Amber Crown is set in a historical fantasy version of the Baltic countries, in the imaginary kingdom of Zavonia.I have robbed history for the details.
I got into fantasy a little late in life, not reading the Narnia books until I was at least nine years old. Of course I’d been primed for fantasy from an early age with traditional fairy tales, the watered down Disneyfied versions, not the gory Grimm versions with the cutting off of heels – they came later. I somehow missed Tolkien in my teen years, being more into science fiction and then in my early twenties I discovered Andre Norton, especially her Witch World books. That was it, I fell in love.
This was before the advent of easy internet access, Google, Amazon and Abe Books, so when I first travelled to Canada in 1995 I thought I’d landed in heaven when a friend introduced me to (what was then) Bakka – Toronto’s specialist SF/.F book store (now Bakka-Phoenix). I bought so many books, many of them Andre Nortons, (then unavailable in the UK) that I shipped half of them home, and bought a new suitcase for the other half which then cost me $100 in excess baggage. It was worth every cent.
I loved Andre Norton’s Witch World with a deep passion, though not blindly. They were generally much shorter than a lot of SF/F today. Her dialogue was always a little stilted as though she was trying to mimic older patterns of speech, and there was romance, but no sex. It didn’t matter, I loved them unconditionally, but when I started writing my own stories, I didn’t necessarily want to emulate them.
For starters my books are relatively hefty. The Amber Crown is 469 pages, that’s 160,000 words. Luckily my editor said she doesn’t mind a lot of words, as long as they are good words.
Dialogue is so important. It not only moves the plot forward but it says a lot about character and emotion. I try to avoid the kind of dialogue that screams, ‘Prithee, sirrah, I am writing a story set in ye past.’ (OK, I’ve never quite come across that kind of dialogue but you know what I mean.) At the same time I try to avoid more modern slang words. When Valdas curses he often uses, “God’s ballocks!” – religious curses being more likely than sexual ones.
I avoid longwinded descriptions. I haven’t a clue what colour Valdas’s eyes are, but I do know that he shaved off his drooping moustache so it wouldn’t identify him as a renegade army officer. I do know that Lind has golden curls when he lets his hair grow out, and that he was pretty as a boy apprentice, which is what earned him the trouble which has clouded his life ever since. I needed these bits of description to advance the plot.
Pacing is so important for a modern audience; less infodumping and more dripfeeding of background information as the story progresses. My books are long, so I try to make every word count.
With The Amber Crown I wanted to write something that was, if not pacier, at least racier. I’ve never shied away from writing sex in my books (to the consternation of my son, though not my daughter). Can you imagine if Tolkien had written sex scenes in Lord of the Rings? No? Me neither. And any sex in Witch World books happened tastefully off the page, though it must have happened or how else did Simon and Jaelithe produce triplets?
I decided not to be coy about it. The Amber Crown has got plenty of sex in it, though it’s there to drive the plot, not to titillate. My three main viewpoint characters have vastly different attitudes towards sex. Valdas loves and respects women, every part of them, fat, thin, young, old, pretty or plain. He likes what’s between their ears as well as what’s between their legs, and he’ll take no for an answer. When the book opens, he’s captain of the King’s High Guard, responsible for the king’s safety which means he spends a lot of his time at court and in the palace, but he’s sensible enough not to form liaisons with court ladies, or even palace servants. He takes his pleasure in the whorehouses of the Low Town, often with his favourite, Aniela. Occasionally whores are smuggled into the palace by the turning of a blind eye by one brother officer for another. This becomes a plot point later in the book, as does Valdas’s relationship with Aniela. But I’m getting ahead of myself, Valdas’s life changes in an instant when his king is assassinated. I’m not giving away spoilers, it happens on the first page.
Mirza is the shulam (witch-healer) of the Bakaishans, a Landstrider band of travellers. She’s loved and feared in equal measure for her ability to walk the spirit world, and her scolding tongue. She has a port wine stain on her face and neck which the band thinks is a witchmark, and the men firmly believe that if they bed her their kok and stones will shrivel and fall off. Unsurprisingly she’s a virgin, and so approaches sex as a voyage of discovery. Other issues arise further into the book and, again sex drives one aspect of the plot, but if I told you, I’d have to shoot you.
Lind is the clever assassin who worms his way into the palace kitchens as the fishmonger’s delivery man. He was a fascinating character to write. He has more hangups than a closet full of coats. Due to an appalling history of childhood abuse, he can’t bear being touched and the last thing he wants is sex. He rents a room in a whorehouse because it’s a place he feels safe. He reasons that the whores only want sex if he pays them, and since he’s not going to do that, they’ll leave him alone, which is largely true.
I try to write honestly about sex. It’s part of life and it’s part of the plot – but only part. So, what else to expect in The Amber Crown? Political machinations, strong female characters who play an active part in the story, dark magic, natural magic, a cranky horse called Donkey, a missing queen, bandits, betrayals, diverse characters (white, black, brown, straight, gay, asexual), an epic sword fight, and an unexpected villain. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The Amber Crown is out today, Tuesday 11th January 2022, published by DAW
Do check your own preferred retailers as well