Posted in author interviews forthcoming fiction New Releases

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!

Posted in forthcoming fiction New Releases News

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)

Posted in good stuff from other authors New Releases reviews

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.

Posted in creative writing good stuff from other authors Guest Blogpost New Releases

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

Jacey’s Website

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Do check your own preferred retailers as well

Posted in New Releases News The Green Man's Challenge

The Green Man’s Challenge is now out – in a challenging year for writers

So what’s the new book about? Well, Daniel Mackmain has been seeing out these strange and stressful months on his own at Blithehurst, the stately home where he works. That’s not a big part of the story*, but after a good deal of thought, I decided I had to keep Dan in the same timeline as the rest of us. Anything else simply wouldn’t be playing fair by Dan or his readers.

As this story opens, it seems the Green Man expects Dan to resolve another potential clash between those mysterious beings who dwell unseen in wild places and the ordinary people who have no idea what’s out there. Dan’s wondering what exactly this particular threat might be, when he hears from his girlfriend, Fin. She thinks she’s seen a giant in the Wiltshire twilight, high up on the chalk downs. What myths and folk tales can they find that might be useful? Not nearly enough…

If these were anything like normal times, I would now be telling you about the interesting places and local museums I visited as I researched the background for this story. Since these are far from normal times, other than visiting Uffington, I’ve had to do most of my research from my desk. Thank goodness for the Internet. Firstly for the second-hand and specialist booksellers online who were able to provide the books I decided I needed. Secondly, for the local history and folklore enthusiasts whose websites and podcasts who have given me a whole lot more, often wholly unexpected material. Lastly, and by no means least, I’m hugely grateful to the ramblers and walkers who’ve posted photos that gave me visual references for things I couldn’t go and see for myself.

I’m also truly thankful for the SF&Fantasy community of readers, reviewers and bloggers who have shared their enthusiasm for these stories far and wide. Books succeed thanks to word of mouth recommendation, whether that’s in person or via social media in its many forms. Amid all the current upheavals, that remains unchanged. And of course, this great community of ours first introduced me to the people without whom none of these books would have happened: Toby Selwyn, who’s now editing my work as a professional after reading my books as a fan for so many years; Ian Whates who recommended the fabulously talented Ben Baldwin to me when I needed an artist for my Aldabreshin series; Cheryl Morgan, who set up Wizard’s Tower Press specifically to help authors like me get our backlists out as ebooks – and who agreed to take that first leap into the unknown by publishing The Green Man’s Heir. Go Team!

*There is a bonus short story that does address one aspect of the impact of the lockdown on Blithehurst. I had to work out what was going on there while Dan is busy elsewhere. The answer turned out to be very entertaining to write, not least because this particular tale is told by Eleanor Beauchene. It was fun seeing events – and Dan – through her eyes.

You can find purchase links and where to find a few early reviews here.

Wizard’s Tower Press is also now doing online mail order for paperbacks and hardbacks (with bonus ebook included) – and not only for my books. Do check out the growing list of new titles.

Artwork by Ben Baldwin
Posted in forthcoming fiction New Releases News The Green Man's Challenge

The Green Man’s Challenge – the latest news

You can now pre-order the book from your preferred retailer as follows –

Paper editions from:
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble – USA only
Waterstones – UK only
Ebook editions from:
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble (Nook) – USA only
Kobo

If you want to go through your local bookshop, these are the ISBNs
Paperback: 978-1-913892-23-4
Hardcover: 978-1-913892-24-1
EPUB: 978-1-913892-20-3
MOBI: 978-1-913892-21-0

If you will be at FantasyCon you can order paper editions for pick-up there.

The first early reviews are in from satisfied readers, I’m very pleased to say.

The Middle Shelf – followed by a Q&A with mild spoilers, consider yourselves warned…

Jacey Bedford – do look up her books as well

Goodreads

What’s that you say? Didn’t I mention the bonus short story earlier? Well, having decided to keep Dan’s adventures in the same timeline as the rest of us, I had some fairly major questions about what months of shut-down would mean for Blithehurst, the stately home where he works. I soon had some entertaining answers, but there was no place for that particular thread in the story Dan has to tell here. But I was pretty sure established readers would be wondering the same things as me, so I decided to let Eleanor explain that ‘Luck Is Where You Find It’.

Artwork by Ben Baldwin
Posted in New Releases News public appearances The Green Man's Challenge

The Green Man’s Challenge – cover art and more!

I think we can all agree that Ben Baldwin has given us another stupendous cover. And what’s the book about? Here’s what the cover will tell you.

A while back, Daniel Mackmain’s life took an unexpected turn. Now the Green Man expects him to resolve clashes between those dwelling unseen in wild places and the ordinary people who have no idea what’s out there. Dan’s father is human and his mother’s a dryad, so he sees what’s happening in both these worlds.

Once upon a time, giants walked this land. So says everyone from Geoffrey of Monmouth to William Blake. This ancient threat is stirring in the Wiltshire twilight, up on the chalk downs. Can Dan meet this new challenge when he can only find half-forgotten fairy tales to guide him? Will the other local supernatural inhabitants see him – or the giant – as friend or foe?

A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.

Publication date is 28th September 2021, and you can contact Wizard’s Tower Press if you’re interested in an ebook review copy, and remember to state your preference for epub or mobi format. (We’re not offering paper ARCs, sorry.) Contact me if you’re interested in a guest blog post or an interview or something along those lines.

Ebook pre-orders are going up as we speak, and I’ll post links when the various retailers’ websites have sorted themselves out.

Paperbacks and hardbacks will be available for pre-order soon. If you’re going to be at FantasyCon in the UK, or at Bristolcon, you can collect a signed copy there – order those through Wizard’s Tower Press.

Did I mention the fabulous cover?

Posted in creative writing forthcoming fiction good stuff from other authors New Releases Short fiction & anthologies

It’s that ZNB time of year!

Book post from ZNB!

There are now two well-established annual summer highlights from ZNB LLC as far as I am concerned. First, here are the new anthologies to read. This year, I’ve contributed to The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity with a story about classical Greek gods discovering the Internet. There are a host of other great stories by established authors and new voices alike.

The other collections in this year’s trio are equally intriguing. There’s Derelict where a tremendous array of writers offer their takes on the ghost ship, the abandoned vessel drifting through space or over the trackless seas… In When Worlds Collide very different people and cultures meet with a whole array of consequences. As with all ZNB anthologies, the three themes have prompted an incredible variety of entertaining stories.

If you’re one of the many readers who’ve found settling into a novel a real challenge amid the ongoing everything, I can say I’ve found short stories a real boon when that has happened to me.

But wait, there’s more! The second fun thing from ZNB each summer is the new Kickstarter for next year’s anthologies. This will be launched on 11th August, and you can find out about the new themes right now, as well as take a look at the cover artwork.

NOIR:  

Since the days of Raymond Chandler and Dorothy B. Hughes, Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane, the down, but not quite out private eye has been an archetype of literature and cinema. Some of the most memorable of these lone investigators have been found in fantasy and science fiction. In the filthy lanes of an ancient magical city or the sterile corridors of a lonely outpost in space, there are always crimes to be solved.

SHATTERING THE GLASS SLIPPER:

Fairy tales have been around for thousands of years, but it’s time to turn these age-old stories on their head. Let’s step into realms where princesses plan their own rescues, where princes find a better line of work, and falling down a rabbit hole may be a deliberate act of sabotage…or a trip through a wormhole. Come explore roads less traveled and meet the little match girl determined to light the fires of revolution.

BRAVE NEW WORLDS:

Humans have dreamed of traveling to the stars for generations. Their hope? To discover verdant new planets where they can build new societies or escape past persecutions. Follow our prospective settlers’ uncertain paths—from the heart-wrenching departure from Earth, through the unknown dangers of the long flight through the cold vastness of space, to the immigrants’ final arrival on an alien world.

Remember, ZNB is committed to offering debut authors their first chance at publication when the Kickstarters fund an open call for submissions. You can read some advice on making the grade from ZNB Supremo Joshua Palmatier here.

Posted in forthcoming fiction New Releases News public appearances Short fiction & anthologies

News of the next Green Man book, Clevedon Literary Festival in June, and more

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.

Posted in good stuff from other authors New Releases reviews

Chaz Brenchley’s ‘Three Twins at the Crater School’ – a few thoughts

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.

You can find worldwide purchase links, the cover copy, and enthusiasm from other readers at the Wizard’s Tower Website – click here.

Cover art by Ben Baldwin