It’s always worth taking a look at the novels long- and shortlisted for genre awards – even if you’re not a member of organisations like the BSFA, the BFS, or SFWA. Likewise, it doesn’t matter if you’re eligible or not to vote for awards linked to conventions such as the Hugos. These are books that have appealed to a solid number of well-read SF&F fans. The juries who pick the winners for accolades such as the Arthur C Clarke Award and the World Fantasy Awards are fans first and foremost, and assess all submissions diligently. Not every book is for every reader, but there’s every chance you’ll find something to your particular taste that you haven’t come across before.
Then there are the short stories, the novellas, the non-fiction and related works. The odds are good that these lists will offer you unfamiliar names whose writing you’ll want to check out, both of authors currently published and of authors being written about. There’ll be discussions about aspects of the genre which you may very well find of interest. When something on any of these lists comes from a small press you haven’t previously encountered, it’s definitely worth seeing what else they’re publishing. And don’t forget the art awards, which invariably illustrate the breadth and depth of skill enhancing SF&F stories these days.
Why am I mentioning this now? Because the BSFA long lists have just been announced, and yes, I have an interest to declare because The Green Man’s Quarry is among the nominations for best novel. Will it be shortlisted? Who knows? At the moment, knowing enough readers enjoyed Dan Mackmain’s latest to nominate the book gives me a nice, warm feeling on this chilly wintry day.
If you are eligible to vote, but haven’t read this latest in the series yet, this is great timing, as the ebook is currently a Kindle UK limited time deal for the bargain price of 99p – and so are a good few other BSFA longlisted titles. Amazon have a wide-ranging SF&Fantasy offer on at the moment. That’s well worth checking out whether or not you’re interested in voting for any awards at all.
The first exciting news of 2024 is Amazon Kindle have The Cleaving ebook on offer from 15th – 21st January. Check your local price.
This Arthurian retelling follows the tangled stories of four women: Nimue, Ygraine, Morgana, and Guinevere. These women 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. The 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. 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 as decisions that shape their lives are taken out of their hands. This is their untold story. Now these women have a voice.
In local news, this household and assorted guests had a very enjoyable festive break. Now we’re adjusting to life since my husband retired on 31st December. So far, this January has seen a major and long-overdue sorting out of cupboards, drawers and wardrobes which has proved remarkably stress-free and very constructive, so that’s a big tick in the plus column, and a good few other things have been ticked off the Domestic To Do List as well. When the weather improves, we intend to make good use of his free time to travel around the country and to catch up with visiting friends we haven’t seen nearly enough of over this past couple of years.
In between sessions of shared household chores, I’ve been reading random books on folklore and a few other things. That’s prompted mulling over ideas for the next Green Man book in a relaxed, unfocused fashion as I sort and tidy. I now have several pages of notes outlining what promises to be an exciting story to write and to read later in the year.
Other projects on the Work To Do List include the Ampyrium shared-world project I’m part of alongside other ZNB authors, and the collection of my short stories to be published by NewCon Press in their Polestars series. There’s another potentially very interesting possibility under discussion – more to come on that in due course, hopefully. Then there’s Eastercon, WorldCon in Glasgow, and Fantasycon to come. I will also be continuing my work on the Society of Authors’ Management Committee, in the interests of all writers.
So we’re set fair for 2024. We are also keeping a weather eye on those folk beset by the many storms, real and metaphorical, that are swirling around so many people these days, and helping out where we can.
Since you may have missed these pieces I’ve written recently, and you might find them interesting reading.
Myth-making has never stopped and that can be useful – Guest Post for Sarah Ash
Why you must be your own, first, and most ruthless editor – Guest Post for the British Fantasy Society
Looking at the male gaze in the mythic foundations of fantasy fiction from a 21st century perspective. Guest Post for The Fantasy Hive.
Tackling The Guinevere Problem in The Cleaving – Guest Post for Sarah Ash
In other news? Life has been extremely busy, personally, professionally and socially, through October and November. Now the pace has slowed somewhat, I can start thinking about the upcoming holiday season and hopefully get that sorted out at a leisurely pace. We’re also looking ahead to changes in the life-work balance hereabouts as my husband officially retires on 31st December. Next year promises to be interesting in all sorts of ways.
This month’s a busy one. On 15th October, I’ll be running an online writers’ workshop for the British Fantasy Society, looking at revising your own work. I’ll share examples of ‘before’ and ‘after’ drafts of a piece I wrote some years ago, and discuss the changes I made and why, to highlight the underlying principles of being your own editor. Full details here on the BFS website.
As I imagine you already know, The Green Man’s Quarry will be published on 21st October. You can pre-order paper editions from the Wizard’s Tower Press bookstore (UK only) which includes the ebook free.
You can pre-order ebook editions from your local Amazon, Barnes & Noble Nook in the US and Kobo. Paperback and hardback editions can also now be pre-ordered through Amazon and in the US from Barnes & Noble. Bookshops, chain and independent, should be able to order through their usual wholesalers.
We will be launching the book on the Friday evening before Bristolcon, 20th October, at the Hilton Doubletree hotel, Bristol. By the way, Wizard’s Tower Press are starting their own newsletter as social media fractures. You can sign up here for all their updates.
The first enthusiastic reviews are appearing on Goodreads – spoiler-free, which I very much appreciate.
Alas, I cannot stay to take part in Bristolcon on the Saturday. The diary gremlins have got me good and proper this year. I’ll be travelling to Sheffield to join dear friends as they celebrate a notable anniversary with family and friends, theirs and mine.
Looking further forward, I’ve selected the short stories for my Polestars collection, coming from NewCon Press. Choosing those and writing a short note for each one has been fascinating. More news on that in due course on the NewCon Press website.
Readers may recall the anthology Fight Like a Girl, from Kristell Ink. I’m delighted to say a second volume is on its way. Following extremely helpful feedback from the editors, I’ve revised my story and I am very pleased with it.
I’m currently working on my story for Ampyrium, the shared world project for the American small press ZNB, now that this year’s Kickstarter has funded. The open call for submissions for their other two 2024 anthologies, ‘Familiars’ and ‘Last-ditch’ has started and will run until December 31st. Remember, ZNB are committed to giving debut writers opportunities.
Looking back, long-standing pals may recall the days when I wrote a review column for Albedo One, Ireland’s foremost SFFH magazine, founded in 1993. As with so many genre publications, this has been a labour of love, and as happens for many reasons, the project has reached the end of this particular journey. Issue 50 is the final, valedictory, fiction edition, and that’s an honourable number for such a conclusion. My story is called ‘The End of the Road’, and you can buy the magazine through Amazon here.
Social media update: I’m using Twitter-as-was less and less as it becomes more and more pointless, and I look forward to the day when I can bin it, frankly. You can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/jemck, on Bluesky @julietemckenna.bsky.social, and on Mastodon @JulietEMcKenna@wandering.shop.
The Green Man’s Quarry will be published by Wizard’s Tower Press on 21st October 2023, following our launch on Friday evening 20th October at Bristolcon. Artwork once more by the supremely talented Ben Baldwin.
So what’s this story about? Here’s the cover copy…
“The Green Man sends Daniel Mackmain to stop threats from folklore making trouble in the everyday world. Now a naiad and dryad want him to deal with the big cat they’ve seen prowling in their woods. Reports like this turn up in the tabloid press from time to time, though no one has ever caught such a cat, or even found evidence of a large carnivore’s kills.
Can Dan discover the truth behind this modern myth before social media turns his hunt into an internet sensation? He knows that not all animals are what they seem. A huge cat which can appear and disappear without a trace must be more than meets the eye. Dan knows one thing for certain. He’s on the trail of a killer.’
Pre-orders are open. Here are the links so for. For more buy links as soon as they become available, check the Wizard’s Tower Press website.
Feel free to spread the word!
Cover art – Ben Baldwin
I’ll be heading off to Fantasycon in Birmingham (UK) shortly. If you’re there, feel free to say hello, even if we haven’t met before. I’ll have some copies of of the Green Man books so far with me. If you want to buy one or more of those, ping me on social media or catch me after a panel. I also have some sets of the Lescari and Hadrumal trilogies to give away to interested readers.
My programme is as follows:
Saturday 9.30 am – readings. I’ll have the title and draft cover for the next Green Man book to share, along with a short reading just to give those who can make it a taste… Plus a short reading from The Cleaving to give a flavour of the different approach I’m taking with this Arthurian retelling.
Saturday 11.30 am – Fantasy in Contemporary Times. This promises to be an excellent discussion.
Signing – straight after this panel, I’ll be heading for the Angry Robot table in the Dealers Room. They’ll have copies of The Cleaving for sale, and I’m happy to sign other books as well.
Saturday 2pm – The Muse. We’ll be exploring ways to sustain your creativity as a writer through a writing career.
It’s pretty much my ideal convention schedule. A chance to share new work, a couple of really interesting panels, and a good few programme items where I’ll be in the audience. Plus plenty of time for chatting about all and sundry to established pals and newly made friends.
In some ways, writing for a shared world is as close as most SF and Fantasy writers will get to writing for TV, a comic series, or a movie franchise. The creative challenge is intriguingly different from working on a solo project like a novel. You’re asked to tell an original, dramatic story with vivid, compelling characters, while you’re working within the restrictions of people, places and backstory drawn from other people’s imaginations, which you cannot change.
I’ve written a bit of short fiction for Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Warhammer 40k, as well as contributing to an anthology set in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt world, and writing a novella for the Tales of Catt and Fisher collection, set in Solaris Books’ “After the War” fantasy world. Devising and writing stories on these terms is great fun. Plus there’s the chance to sneak your own invention into the background lore or history, to leave a permanent reminder that you were there…
The more backstory or ‘canon’ there is, the greater the creative challenge can be. You must find a tale that hasn’t already been told. Your story cannot contradict established rules or precedents. It must not clash with a narrative someone else is working on, even if you’re not aware of it. If you’re told to dump your idea and find something else, you have to accept that, even if no one explains.
I wrote one Doctor Who story for a Christmas anthology, only to see my contribution yanked and spiked for reasons I couldn’t be told. You’ll understand when you watch the new TV series, they said. They were right. You can read more about that here.
I’ve particularly enjoyed being invited into the start of a new project, where a world’s rules and precedents are first being laid down. Working on The Tales of the Emerald Serpent, set in the mysterious city of Taux, I could help shape the common ground where we would all be working. Everyone’s creativity contributed, as that group of writers and artists explored concepts and possibilities, creating a collective vision as our individual ideas blended and melded.
The benefits that a shared world can offer an author more than balance those restrictions. This framework of detail becomes scaffolding as you build your story. With people, places and backstory already established, you don’t have to stare at a computer screen trying to think up cool names and concepts. A tangled plot problem can unravel itself when you seek input from whichever author is the designated authority on some element of the scenario. When another writer comes to you, their question can strike sparks from your own imagination to illuminate some unsuspected aspect of this world.
When different authors reference the same people, places and events, they bring their individual characters’ perspectives to these things. Every writer brings their unique voice to relating what is said and seen and done. This ties a shared world together like nothing else. For me, as both reader and writer, this gives shared world anthologies their distinctive and unique appeal.
Why am I thinking about this just now? Because it’s that ZNB time of year! This fabulous small press will be launching this year’s Kickstarter later today. There will be two themed anthologies, with an open submissions call and slots for debut authors as per established custom. There will also be a whole new shared world project which I am involved in. Details to follow soon!
Time flies when you’re busy! What have I been doing? First and foremost, I am very pleased to report that this year’s Green Man book is currently being honed and polished with the invaluable input of Editor Toby.
My next major task will be reviewing twenty-plus years of my short fiction to choose the stories for a collection to be published by NewCon Press, as part of their new Polestars series. I am tremendously honoured to be invited to be part of this, as you will see from the list of authors involved. The first three volumes are now available.
My Arthurian novel, The Cleaving, is being very well received, and I’ve written a couple of pieces about my thinking as I wrote this female-centered take on the classic myth. Sarah Ash will host the first of those on her blog tomorrow, and the second will be my contribution to the Fantasy Hive’s Women in Fantasy Month – where you’ll find all sorts of fascinating posts. This makes the Kindle offer on the ebook very timely. Until 14th July you can snap that up at a bargain price – £0.79 UK, €0.79 Fr, $1.99 US, $1.99 CAN, and I believe there are comparable discounts elsewhere. Check your local store.
The last couple of months haven’t all been work. I took a day off yesterday to see the Labyrinth exhibition at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. This is about Crete, Knossos, the Minotaur and such. The Ashmolean and the Bodleian Library have lots of stuff about Arthur Evans and his excavations to share, as well as exhibits looking at the Minotaur and the Labyrinth as cultural images and ideas through the ages.
These include a video installation from Ubisoft showing a character going into the ruins of Knossos in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey with a written commentary track highlighting the research they did into the site, the archaeology, and the classical literary references to the Minotaur in their monster concept. I think this is very cool.
Then there the little ceramic figures of what are reckoned to be priestesses in ornate headdresses doing some sort of snake ritual. The card earnestly told us that while a cat had been found buried where these figures were found, it’s not believed that the ritual was actually conducted with a cat sitting on someone’s head. Personally, thinking of some cats I’ve known, let’s not be so hasty…
For those who might be curious, this is what I’ll be doing over the Easter weekend, as well as seeing established pals, making new friends and a whole lot more interesting things besides.
If you’re at the convention, feel free to say hello, and I’m always happy to sign books and chat – as long as I’m not actually on my way to a panel.
Hey, you! Pay me!
Balmoral – Fri 12:00–13:00
Even the most experienced authors sometimes find invoices unpaid. Our panel talks about the art of valuing your work, and getting what you deserve – and some of the barriers to that.
With Wendy Bradley, Mike Brooks, John Jarrold
Readings: Adult Orientated and the Fantastical
Balmoral – Fri 19:30–20:30
With F. D. Lee, Sandra Bond and Wole Talabi
I’ll be reading from The Cleaving, and remember, Books on the Hill in the Dealers’ Room will have advance copies.
GoH Interview: I have the pleasure and privilege of talking to Kari Sperring about her work and her involvement with fandom, and doubtless other things as well.
Queens – Sat 12:00–13:00
Thirty-four years, and an interim survey
Sandringham – Sun 13:30–14:30
In 1989, Paul Kincaid surveyed working UK-based science fiction and fantasy writers, and wrote up the results for Mexicon. In 2009, Niall Harrison repeated the questionnaire, and wrote up the results for the BSFA, considering the changes in the SF field during those twenty years. We’re not quite due another iteration, but this panel will ask some current writers to answer some of the questions.
With Niall Harrison, Stew Hotston, Anne Charnock, Neil Williamson, Nina Allan
Queens – Sun 15:00–16:00
As a canon written by many authors down the ages, Arthuriana is uniquely flexible in letting you choose which version canon you want, and how you want to adapt it.
With Russell A Smith, Gillian Polack, Kari Sperring, James Bennett
This time next week, The Cleaving will be published. The Angry Robot team are doing splendid work spreading the word – Caroline and Amy are absolute stars.
Over at Lithub, Natalie Zutter includes The Cleaving in her recommendations for some spring reading, alongside books from Peter S Beagle, Emily Tesh, Fonda Lee, Vivian Shaw, Andrea Stewart, TJ Klune, and Catherynne M Valente.
“Juliet E. McKenna retells the familiar Arthuriana epic through the eyes of enchantress Nimue, who possesses the same magic as Merlin but has more scruples than he does about interfering in mortal lives. So while Merlin helps Uther Pendragon trick the lady Ygraine into conceiving Arthur, Nimue is by Ygraine’s side, disguised as her handmaiden.
While the saga’s familiar male characters—Merlin, Uther, Arthur, Lancelot, Mordred—make their big moves through the rhythms of war, The Cleaving focuses on the women’s work and equally vital intrigues back at court. When Arthur’s half-sister Morgana and future wife Guinevere are brought into the mix, Nimue’s interactions with each provide additional context as to why both women make such dangerous choices that will eventually spell the fall of Camelot.”
I’ve mentioned the various interesting and enjoyable podcast chats I’ve had recently, and you can now listen to a couple of those conversations at the following places.
And here’s where you can find me in person over the next little while.