Next week’s event at Portishead Library, Monday 17th October, has been cancelled, with apologies for any inconvenience. Well, these things happen, especially when funds are squeezed and folk are concerned about health risks. You can still find out about my JM Alvey dyslexia-friendly quick read here and at the Books on the Hill website.
In more cheerful news, it’s Octocon this coming weekend, and I’ll be on the online panel discussing ‘Peace and Ways to Find It’ on Sunday, 16 October 2022 at 11:30 am. Do check out the full hybrid programme.
And don’t forget you can see me and Cheryl Morgan talking about The Green Man’s Gift, courtesy of ‘Octocon Presents’ – click here.
On the 29th October I’ll be at Bristolcon – full details here. The programme is currently being finalised, and will include some streamed elements for fans who can’t be there in person.
So that’s the news for now.
Today sees The Green Man’s Gift published in ebook, hardback and paperback. Head to your preferred retailer for the format of your choice.
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.
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.
I had an excellent time at Fantasycon, in that I saw established pals, made new friends, and had some really interesting conversations on my panels and informally. Readers’ interest in The Green Man’s Gift, and in The Cleaving is rewarding and encouraging in equal measure.
Massive thanks and congratulations to the BFS team and volunteers for putting together a really great programme, in monumentally difficult circumstances this year. It was so good to see the community of readers, writers and publishers supporting them.
And everyone was very clear that the issues with the hotel were completely beyond the Fantasycon organisers’ control. UK conrunners should note that the problems evident at Eastercon with the reservations and check-in system do not appear to be resolved. New problems now add to that. There were simply far too few staff, and those present were clearly inexperienced.
I’m guessing that explains the cut backs on food service – no bar food, lunch was a one-price, expensive take-it-or-leave-it buffet, and not just for people at the convention. This is an airport hotel, so weary travellers couldn’t get food either! For Fantasycon folk, the petrol station over the road did a roaring trade in takeaway sandwiches. The evening restaurant menu was a stripped back version of what had been the bar menu – all at London prices and with 10% service automatically added to your bill, so declining meant telling your already overworked server they weren’t good enough, which I consider inexcusable. The food itself was fine, but the coffee from the bar was during the day was utterly revolting!
Unless and until major improvements can be guaranteed, fan event organisers should avoid this as a venue – and yes, I am well aware how difficult finding SF convention venues already is, so I don’t say this lightly.
So let’s look forward! Fantasycon 2023 will be at the Jury’s Inn, Birmingham, where we had a very good time in a decent venue last year, with amenities and food options within easy reach. Great!
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.
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.
I’ll be out and about through September and October as follows. As more details on convention programming becomes available, I’ll update this page.
The event planned for Friday 16th September will not be taking place. Due to lower than hoped-for ticket sales, the Boston Book Festival is revising its programme. This is a shame, but with so many people feeling financial pressures at the moment, these things are going to happen here and there.
On 17th and 18th September, I’ll be at the BFS Fantasycon, at the Radisson Red hotel, Heathrow. My programme includes panels discussing love, sex and marriage in SFF, on building a lasting career as a writer, and on using more than medieval Europe in fantasy world building.
I’ll also be giving a reading from the new book, The Green Man’s Gift.
Convention details here
(On 19th September, I intended to be on the sofa at home with the cats and a good book, rather than watching a state funeral. Now I suspect I’ll have one eye on the telly while I prepare this year’s apple harvest from the garden for the freezer. )
On 6th October, I’ll be celebrating the publication of The Green Man’s Gift with Cheryl of Wizard’s Tower Press in an online event. Details coming soon!
On 15th and 16th October, I will be taking part in the online programme at Octocon 2022, the Irish National SF Convention. Really looking forward to seeing what my programme’s going to be there.
Convention details here
On 17th October, I’ll be at Portishead Library with Gareth Powell and Alistair Sims of Books on the Hill, to talk about the stories we have written for the BOTH Press dyslexia-friendly quick reads project. I’ll be there in my guise as JM Alvey, writer of historical mysteries, as my story Silver for Silence, features my classical Athenian detective Philocles.
More info here
(18th October definitely looks like a sofa day!)
On 29th October, I’ll be at Bristolcon in unsurprisingly, Bristol at the Hilton Doubletree Hotel.
Convention details here
So now you know where and when to find me. Feel free to say hello, have a chat, get a book signed, whatever.
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.
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…
Regular readers will recall me flagging up the Books on the Hill project last year, aiming to publish quick reads specifically intended for dyslexic adults, to encourage them to explore and enjoy the great range of fiction available these days. I wrote about that here.
I’m delighted to say the initiative has been a great success! Alistair and Chloe are running a second Kickstarter this year, offering another tremendous selection of stories to give readers a taste of different genres. You can find Open Dyslexia: The Sequel here. You will note that names from the bestseller lists and TV adaptations such as Bernard Cornwell and Peter James are supporting this splendid initiative. I was naturally most honoured when Alistair asked me – or rather, my alter ego JM Alvey – to write a short history mystery (12,000 words) for this year’s line-up.
What you may well not know – because I certainly didn’t, and yes, I am embarrassed by my ignorance – is that making a read dyslexia-friendly is a case of formatting and layout and similar. For an author, the writing process is exactly the same. I’m aiming to challenge, entertain and intrigue with this new Philocles short story in the same way that I do with anything I see published. The only difference is more people will be able to read it – and I love the thought of that.
This project really highlights how much new technologies can do to make books more accessible for people with dyslexia. And that makes the absence of such initiatives by the mass-market publishers glaringly obvious. The book trade needs to take a long hard look at this situation.
Last night’s thoughtful and thought-provoking JRR Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature by Rebecca F. Kuang is now available on the organisation’s YouTube channel – along with previous years’ talks from Pembroke College, Oxford, where Tolkien served as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1925-1945. All very well worth your time.
I went into Oxford to be in the audience, and it was great to see established friends and to make new acquaintances. I used the Park & Ride – and on the way back, I really thought I was going to just miss the bus and have to wait half an hour in the rain for the next one. But no! There is a special place in heaven* for a bus driver who sees you start running as he’s driven past, and so waits at the next stop for you to get there, even though there are no other passengers waiting to board. (*or equivalent spiritual reward)