As you may or may not be aware, this year’s UK Eastercon is an online event – you can find all the details here
I’m on an interesting selection of panels as detailed below. Hopefully these times are now set, but do double check. The unexpected can always crop up at conventions and online events are no exception.
Friday, April 2 21:00
The last 20 Years: Fantasy in the 21st Century
Tiffani Angus, Juliet E McKenna, Jacey Bedford, Ekpeki Donald Oghenechovwe discuss how fantasy has changed, developed and grown since 2000 and talk about their favourite writers, books and trends.
Saturday, April 3 19:00
Fantasy Weapon Smackdown!
Stewart Hotston, Juliet E McKenna, Phil Nanson, Gerry McEvoy
We pit the panellists’ favourite fantasy weapons, from the sublime to the overpowered, to decide which is the greatest of them all. Excalibur or Albion? Lightsabre or well-placed flashlight? Choose your weapon!
Saturday, April 3 21:00
Male Power Fantasy: Can We Stop Now?
Fiona Moore, Tiffani Angus, E.M. Faulds, Juliet E McKenna, Ibtisam Ahmed
Mighty thewed-warriors, dashing starship captains, lone wolf heroes. Pulp sff had its roots a in culture of heterosexual white male dominance and male power fantasies. How do we frustrate these historical cliches and move into brave, diverse, new worlds?
Monday, April 5 12:00
Storytelling through repetition
Robert S Malan, Tiffani Angus, Catriona Silvey, Avery Delany, Juliet E McKenna
Time loops, time travel, and replaying games: how narratives are built by repeating actions & discovering new elements – including building relationships, and positive queer depictions
Amid the ongoing everything, talking to fellow writers and readers does make for a welcome change of pace.
Over on Facebook we went away to the unseen realm as James Chambers, Angel Martinez, Joshua Palmatier, Tamsin Silver and I talked with host Gail Z. Martin/Morgan Brice about the faeries in our fiction. I’ll post a YouTube link when that goes live.
Over on YouTube, you can enjoy Mihaela Marija Perković, Adrian Tchaikovsky and I in conversation as part of the charity event, ConTribution.
If you’re curious about the next Green Man book, you may pick up some clues…
I first met Juliet as one of my tutors at a writing retreat at Moniack Mhor back in December 2016. Oh, what a glorious luxury it now seems to travel all day by train to a remote location and spend a week in face-to-face workshops with a whole group of other writers! I really hope that can become a reality again sometime soon.
Anyway, on this occasion, Juliet ran a series of excellent workshops throughout the week, in tandem with the other tutor, Pippa Goldschmidt. The theme of the week was Science Fiction and Fantasy writing, which was exactly in my wheelhouse. I remember the workshops being very inspiring and the atmosphere at the writing centre very convivial.
The most important lesson I took away from that retreat was the value of external feedback on my writing. Both tutors gave detailed comments on a piece submitted by each writer, and we also had the opportunity to share our work amongst the group to get further opinions. I’ve always struggled with identifying how to improve my writing on my own, so it was great to be able to gather fresh perspectives and utilise them to make the story I had chosen immeasurably better.
Writing can be an isolating activity and getting together with other writers to share and collaborate is always a joy.
I was at an interesting stage in my writing journey at that point. I had completed a draft of my first novel at a similar retreat the year before and was starting to focus more on writing original short stories and trying to get them published.
Reading my newly expanded and polished short story out to the group on the last night of the retreat was a daunting experience, but it was a very supportive group and the enthusiastic response I received really boosted my confidence in my writing.
I also applied the lesson about getting feedback to my novel and sent it out to a group of beta readers, as well as a professional editor, over the course of several rounds of revisions.
The confidence I gained through attending the Moniack Mhor retreat bore fruit over the next few years, as I submitted more and more short stories to various publications and started to see my writing getting accepted for publication. I’ve now had nearly 40 short stories and articles published on fiction sites and in print magazines and anthologies
And, in February 2021, my ultimate dream came true when I finally held a copy of my first novel in my hands.
The military science-fiction short story I refined at Moniack Mhor is still one of my favourites. Even though it’s been rejected by more than twenty different editors, I still have faith in it and I still keep submitting it, because I have also learned that perseverance is the key with writing. I’ve had stories accepted on the first submission and the fifteenth, and I know the perfect home for that little story is out there somewhere. I just need to keep looking until I find it.
Before I review this novel, a declaration of interest. I first met Annie at the Scottish writers’ centre Moniack Mhor, when she was a student and I was tutoring alongside Pippa Goldschmidt. Along with the rest of a talented group, I was impressed by her lively imagination, and her keenness to learn all she could to improve her craft. So I was naturally interested and pleased to learn that her debut novel was coming out from a small press.
Does this mean I can’t review it impartially? Certainly not in the way you might expect. Not for the first time with a former student’s work, I initially found myself reading it as if it were a submission rather than a finished piece. I really needed to get out of my own way and look at this story on its own merits. I also needed to get over my own inclination as a fantasy writer who gets totally absorbed in world-building to keep asking ‘but why?’ about things that ultimately don’t have a bearing on this story. These things add up to an important point about reviewers. We really need to be aware of what we’re bringing with us when we read a book, and to make very sure that that personal prism isn’t giving us a distorted view. Fortunately, I was only a chapter or so into reading this when I realised I was sitting there with a metaphorical red pen in my hand, gave myself a stern talking to, and went back and started again!
The Defiant Spark is a fluent and fun read. The premise is simple on the surface. Mana – magic – is essentially the same as electricity in this alternate, recognisably modern world. Those people with a talent for it become artisans, inventing artefacts – that’s to say, all the gadgets and appliances we’re familiar with – for the megacorporations which profit from them. Those with some but lesser talent for mana become maintenance engineers. Abelard is one of those, working in a call centre to solve ordinary people’s day to day problems.
So far, so simple. Once you stop wanting to how this situation developed if you’re me, and can flip that particular mental switch to ‘this is how it is, accept it and move on’.
But of course, things soon become complicated. An accident supercharges Abelard’s talent, with very dangerous consequences for him and for his friends. Friendship is an important theme and thread throughout this narrative, which draws the reader in and keeps those pages turning. Percik is very good at writing solidly believable, ordinary and flawed characters who make this story matter.
Another consequence is Abelard comes to the attentions of the powers that be. How could he not? This stuff is genuinely hazardous. His induction into these inner circles cuts both ways though. He soon learns a whole lot of secrets about the ways in which mana is controlled, along with those with a talent for handling it. Secrets that are doing more harm than good, from an outsider’s perspective. He also manages to set some wholly unintended consequences in motion because he doesn’t understand the full implications of what he has done, particularly in his dealings with mana-driven AI. Fortunately, Abelard still has friends he can rely on, who are still on the outside – once he mends a few fences broken by his own missteps. Unfortunately, the powers that be are determined to preserve their secrets and their control at all costs. The pace of the story accelerates fast and the action hots up!
The use and abuse of power is of course a classic SF and Fantasy theme. Percik manages to make it her own, and that’s an achievement in a first novel. She definitely avoids the all-too-common trap for debut writers of trying to engage with every other book that’s currently exploring a particular topic. Far too often, trying to join a conversation like that means a new author loses any sense of their own voice. Reading this book, I have no idea if Percik has been reading all the SF she can find over these past few years, or none. That is emphatically a good thing. This is her story, and she tells it in her own, distinctive way.
Is this novel SF though? Doesn’t magic make this book a modern fantasy? Is sci-fantasy a thing? We could debate this all day and that would be a waste of time. The story is the story, and that’s all that matters. At least, it should be. It’s worth noting here that small presses can have a lot more freedom to pick up and run with novels that defy pigeon-holing. The bigger publishers can be constrained by the practicalities of marketing categories and the commercial imperatives of offering the most acceptable books to the greatest number of possible readers. That can lead to a whole lot more of the same dominating their output, however enjoyable those books can undoubtedly be. It’s very well worth checking out small presses for unusual and unexpected novels to read alongside the established stalwarts of the genre.
So those are my thoughts on this book today. I also thought it would be interesting to invite Annie to share some thoughts on what she got from her week at Moniack Mhor, so that guest post follows this one.
It’s here, and I will be in conversation with Adrian Tchaikovsky and Mihaela Perkovic at 5pm UK time, 6pm Croatian time today. That will be on Zoom, and you’ll be able to see how long my hair is now, after a year without a trim! Plus there are all sorts of other things happening over these two days on Zoom and Discord.
Click here for the Convention website where you will find the timetable as well as full programme details. As well as all sorts of interesting and entertaining things, this offers a great introduction to Croatian fans – hopefully encouraging you to visit European conventions in future, when we can get together again. Meantime, hurrah for technology and the fans who work so hard to put online events together.
A reminder of this particular event’s aims. We’re raising money for earthquake relief in Petrinja and the wider area severely hit in December 2020. The convention is free, so you are invited to donate however much is appropriate to your own situation. You’ll be helping people who have lost their homes in the middle of winter and a global pandemic.
I have something to put in my diary! Croatians are organising this online event to raise money for earthquake relief after a quake on 29th December hit the small town of Petrinja – around 50 km (31 miles) SE from the Croatian capital Zagreb. Numerous, severe aftershocks followed. Seven people died and a lot of people are now without homes in the middle of winter and a global pandemic. Many buildings (which were old, to begin with) are completely uninhabitable and will have to be torn down and rebuilt.
Do get involved! Croatia is a fabulous country with lovely people – and terrific fandom.
So far there is a Facebook event page here
I’ll post full website info and further details as soon as I have them.
Please boost the signal and share the word as far as as fast as you can.
HIs death is sad news, even given his long life, well-lived. He was not only an author who wrote excellent novels, both in terms of well-crafted plots and superb prose. He was an astute and often merciless commentator on politicians and other powerful people, and on the abuses and temptations of power. At the same time, his fiction was always informed by a profound and sympathetic understanding of human frailty and flaws. This comes through in every interview with that I have seen or read. His own memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, is a fascinating and illuminating read which I thoroughly recommend. Is it truthful? I think so. Is it the whole truth? I doubt that.
A while ago, I was delighted to learn that the twenty-something son of a friend had recently discovered Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Not only was he now reading every Le Carré he could get his hands on, he was recommending them to his friends, who rapidly became fans. Their reading experience is necessarily very different to my own, when I was reading those novels in my teens and twenties. If anything, this new generation is getting even more out of these books than I did. As well as insights into what makes men and women tick (and sometimes go off bang), these novels are period pieces, showing them a divided and suspicious world that passed away before they were born. A world that nevertheless still influences media magnates and politicians whose decisions today can be coloured by old prejudices and preconceptions. My friend’s son finds that highly illuminating.
There is an added personal poignancy to this news in the week of my stepfather’s funeral*. He and I got on well enough when he and my mother married, but with a background in academia and industry, he unsurprisingly found dealing with an adolescent girl baffling. Add to that, we were very different people; he was a scientist and I was determined to study history. We found no common ground in his passions for sport and steam trains or in my enthusiasm for SF and fantasy. Then the BBC broadcast their celebrated adaptation of Tinker, Tailor… Our shared enthusiasm for the programme, and then for Le Carré’s novels, made a connection between us that I value.
* He had been ill for some while, so we could prepare ourselves up to a point. However, the end came more swiftly than expected. So this cruel and difficult year ends on a deeply sad note for me and my family.
So November came and went without any professional news, but with family matters taking up a fair amount of time and focus.
December sees another Kindle UK ebook offer. This month, both The Green Man’s Heir and The Green Man’s Silence are on offer for 99p! So this is an ideal time to recommend the first story to friends, and if book-budget considerations or whatever else have seen you waiting for a bargain, now’s your chance to catch up with the series.
(And if you’re fully up to date with these books, and fancy some historical murder mysteries by way of a change of pace, the ebooks of my crime novels set classical Greece are good value at the moment – take a look at Shadows of Athens by JM Alvey)
They say three things make a post, so here goes.
Firstly, I’m involved in another Kickstarter, though in a different role this time. Prospective Press is an inclusive, pro-diversity, feminist-friendly, queer-welcoming, and #ownvoices-embracing publishing house. Jason Graves is the series editor of their Off the Beaten Path paranormal anthologies, Tales from the Old Black Ambulance, and the Concrete Dreams series of urban fantasies. Jason has invited me to write a foreword to the next Concrete Dreams anthology – Fiendish and the Divine. These stories will explore the intersections of what we think we know and what is undiscovered, the prejudices of the past and the startling newness of fresh perspectives. In these pages, you will meet gods, real and imagined; dragons of air and earth; beings alien to our world, with indecipherable intent; and monsters, some human, some not…
Secondly, I’ve mentioned a few times this year that I’ve written a novella for a shared world project. Now all can be revealed! So far Adrian Tchaikovsky and Justina Robson have each written a novel for Rebellion Publishing, set in a fantasy realm that’s recently seen a dark lord overthrown. The series title is After The War, and the novels so far are Redemption’s Blade, and After the Fire. Now there are The Tales of Catt and Fisher, a collection of four novellas by me, Adrian, Freda Warrington and K T Davies, to be published on 3rd December 2020. These two characters from the novels are scholars, shopkeepers, collectors, obtainers of rare antiquities … who can’t resist a lead, even when it takes them into terrible danger. There’s always an opportunity to be found amid the confusion, in the wake of the terrible Kinslayer War. There’s always a deal to be done, a tomb to open, a precious thing to… obtain.
This project was a lot of fun to write for, and I really enjoyed getting back to some epic fantasy. There was plenty of leeway for inventing new aspects and elements to expand on the existing scenario created by Adrian and Justina. Reading the books have already written in this world, I found a handful of lines here and there which added up to something very interesting indeed, when I summoned up my inner GM…
Third and last, but by no means least, I’ve written a guest blog post for my good friend and fine writer, Sarah Ash. I’ve been thinking a lot about mythology lately, and our relationships with folklore, old and new. We had a particularly interesting discussion about these things online at this year’s Octocon, so I welcomed the opportunity to explore this in an article.
So that’s all the latest from me. Have a good weekend!
I was talking to one of my sons, and I commented that life felt stuck in an endless holding pattern these days. He likened it to treading water, and the more I think about that, the more apt it feels. Repetitive activity that gets tiring without actually moving on, and no sense of solid ground under your feet.
Thank goodness for things to break up the monotony!
First up, the Irish National SF Convention Octocon is happening online this weekend. Participation is free and should be a lot of fun! At 1pm on Saturday, you can join me and other writers discussing the uses of myth in our work and I’ll also be doing a reading at 4.30 pm on Saturday. You can see how much longer my hair is now…
Next week, the 15th October, sees the publication of my alter-ego’s third murder mystery set in classical Athens. Philocles is looking forward to the Great Panathenaia – until one of the poets due to take part in the dramatic performance of Homer’s Iliad is brutally murdered. The authorities want this cleared up quickly and quietly. Philocles finds himself on the trail of a killer once more…
You can find out more here, including preorder links. If you do NetGalley, you can find it there.
In other unsurprising news, publication dates and acquisitions continue to be delayed and pushed back as the book trade continues to try to navigate the current chaos with varying consequences for writers. Those books that do reach the shops – bricks and mortar or online – have to compete in a scrum where the big names and lead titles are getting pretty much all the promotion and shelf space. I think we’re going to see the shift to independent and smaller press publishing accelerate, with greater online engagement direct between writers and readers. I’m seeing more Patreons and Kickstarters appear, alongside a growing realisation from fans that these are an increasingly good way to get the books they want.
As for my own work, The Green Man’s Silence is selling well, and gathering very good ratings and reviews. I’m extremely grateful to everyone who is sharing their enthusiasm for this, and the previous books. Thank you all. I am getting some ideas together for Dan’s next adventure… and I have a couple of short fiction pieces to write, as well as a few other things to do. Then there’s the shared world novella I wrote earlier this year – as soon as I have a release date, I’ll share it.
I’m also amused by a recent review of The Green Man’s Foe, where the reader includes the very minor spoiler that THE DOG DOESN’T DIE. To be clear here, I’m not making fun – when these things matter to a reader, they matter, and it’s not for anyone else to say they should feel different. Thankfully, this reader enjoyed the book, even though they found their concern over the dog’s fate distracting. All I can say is, hand on heart, it never occurred to me to put the dog in danger!