Posted in forthcoming fiction News Short fiction & anthologies

A slew of my shorter fiction coming your way

*** Breaking news update! The release date for Ampyrium (and this year’s other ZNB anthologies) has been brought forward to July 15th – that’s right, Monday!***

With one of those quirks of timing the book trade comes up with, the second half of this year will see a whole lot of new short stories I’ve written coming out with different publishers.

First up, available from 15th July, and with huge thanks to the Kickstarter supporters, you can read my contribution to the Ampyrium anthology from US small press, ZNB. This new and original shared world project has thrilling potential, and it’s great to be part of it. (More thoughts on such projects here)

Ampyrium is a city of a thousand wonders! Powerful magicians created this massive city, contained within an eight-sided wall, each with its own portal to another world. Different magical lands collide as the races from those worlds come to trade, to politic, to carouse, and to murder. Merchants and royalty, thieves and assassins; caravans and envoys, armies and entourages are all here. Don’t stray though. IGet lost in the streets of Ampyrium and you’re on your own. The Magnum stay aloof … even if their Eyes are everywhere.

My story, Unseen Hands, introduces a family of exiles from Daruvia, a forested world whose healers and herbalists are second to none. Joshua Palmatier, David B. Coe, Esther Friesner, Patricia Bray, S.C. Butler, and Jason Palmatier offer you other stunning worlds.

Coming soon from Wizard’s Tower Press, I have a story in Fight like A Girl 2. Regular readers will recall the excellent first anthology from Grimbold books – if you haven’t already read that, I highly recommend it. All these stories feature women using their wits, skills and determination to prevail in a range of SF&F settings.

The other authors for this second anthology is KT Davies, Dolly Garland, KR Green, Julia Hawkes Reed, Cheryl Morgan, Lou Morgan, Naomi Scott, Anna Smith Spark, Gaie Sebold, and Danie Ware. You’ll recognise several names from the first book, and this new anthology will feature an introduction by Charlotte Bond. My story is Civil War.

The excellent Polestars series of single-author collections from NewCon Press has so far featured Fiona Moore, Liz Williams, Aliya Whiteley, Cécile Cristofari, Justina Robson, Emma Coleman, Teika Marija Smits and Jane Fenn. I will be honoured to be in their company when my own collection Different Times and Other Places appears later this year.

As well as shorter work selected from my writing over the past twenty-plus years, there are two entirely new stories. The Green Man’s Guest sees a wholly unexpected encounter for Dan Mackmain, while Tapestry gave me an opportunity to explore an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while. This is merely one of the things I enjoy doing with short stories.

Last, but by no means least, an intriguing opportunity came my way some months ago, when Dr Rory Waterman and Dr Anna Milon of the School of Arts and Humanities at Nottingham Trent University contacted me. They are leading a fascinating project ‘Lincolnshire Folk Tales: Origins, Legacies, Connections, Futures’, which sets out to explore the origins and influences of Lincolnshire legends, to promote interest and awareness of this storytelling heritage.

You will be unsurprised to learn that I was thrilled to be asked to write a story for the Lincolnshire Folk Tales Reimagined anthology, which will be published in partnership with the University of Lincoln. More details to come!

Posted in creative writing culture and society reflections and musings supporting the SFF community

Thinking about escapism … back in 2006

After writing my previous post, another recollection has been prodding me. I’d had a few things to say about escapism. A fair while ago. I must written that up for the blog, surely? It’s a challenge thrown down in front of fantasy writers often enough.

No… I couldn’t find that on the blog anywhere. So what was I thinking of? Checking the archive on my hard drive, I found my notes for the BFS Fantasycon in 2006. As a Guest of Honour, I was expected to say ‘a few words’ after the banquet, along with the other GoHs Neil Gaiman, Raymond Feist, Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker. (Talk about ‘one of these things is not like the other things’…)

So here you go – bearing in mind what we actually say when speaking from notes is never precisely what we’ve got written down. Regardless, I stand by these thoughts here in 2024.

“I’ve been checking diaries with friends recently, trying to find weekends when we’re all free to meet up, and when this weekend’s come up, I’ve explained I’m going to be away, here at FantasyCon. And they’ve said, with varying degrees of bafflement or envy, ‘so you’ll be escaping for a few days.’

And I am. I’m escaping running the house and the shopping and the laundry situation and organising my sons so they have their sports kit and their swimming gear and ingredients for food tech on the right days so I’m not expected to produce pizza ingredients at 7.30 in the morning and they’re up to date with their homework and all that kind of thing.

But it’s not what I’m escaping from that’s important, it’s what I’m escaping to.

This weekend, on panels, in the bar, in the lifts, I’ve had conversations about about children’s fantasy literature and how books influence a child’s moral and mental development. We’ve been talking about crime fiction and its relationship to fantasy and that takes us into questions of motivation and morality. I’ve talked politics and current affairs and this is important stuff. So this weekend I’ve escaped to a space where I can look at wider horizons for a while and I’ll go home mentally refreshed and feeling the better for it.

I’ve escaped my own work. I’ve escaped the clutter in the study. I’ve escaped the shelf of science fiction and fantasy books that I feel I really must read. And the shelf under that of non-fiction waiting to be read.

I’ve escaped to a place where I’ve been meeting other writers and hearing about how they work and the ideas and impulses that drive them, that inform their fiction. This weekend, I’ve had a revelation. I don’t do horror. I just don’t get it. Yesterday Raymond Feist was talking about horror being a roller coaster ride. That explains it. I can’t stand roller coasters. So I’ll go home with a far clearer perspective and my writing will be the better for it.

I’ve escaped to a place where I’ll get support and new arguments and new reasons to convince people that heroic fantasy is no more about patriarchal, misogynistic heroes offering a consoling pat on the head, any more than horror is just some pervy hackfest with blood, slime and tentacles or hard SF is merely the technobabbling rapture of the nerds. So I’m certainly not escaping to anywhere where I just stick my brain in neutral.

I’ve escaped to somewhere where I’ll have my own prejudices challenged. Last year Simon Green was talking about The Haunting of Hill House as a classic in the horror genre. As I say, I don’t do horror. But Simon was talking about it and then I heard it mentioned in a talk about the development of psychological crime fiction, so I did go away and find a copy and I read it, sitting the garden at midday in bright sunshine and I got some interesting things out of it. Fortunately I only got the one night of waking up in the small hours, wondering what that noise in the hall was and being unable to get out of bed to find out, because if I did the thing under the bed would grab my ankle. So I’m thankful for that.

All of this is why when I tell people that I write fantasy fiction and they say oh, but that’s just escapism, I’m always going to ask why they say that like it’s a bad thing. Because fantasy fiction, across the whole gamut from vampires and werewolves, through swords and sorcery, all the way to ray guns and rocketships is all about just this sort of positive escapism.

Whenever we’re reading a book, we’re stepping away from our own world to a place where we can see what we’ve left behind from new angles; where we can better appreciate complexities that ordinarily we’re too close to, or alternatively, where we can see a crucial simplicity within the bigger picture that we haven’t noticed before. We’re in a place where the normal rules don’t necessarily apply and that means we can look at those rules and maybe even test their validity. And with fantasy fiction, probably more than any other, we’re in a place where we can have fun doing this.

I reckon this is what winds these people up most, the people who want to dismiss the whole spectrum of speculative fiction. We can explore the intricacies of the human condition with wizards and dragons and dirty work at the crossroads. We can apply ourselves to the eternal verities with zombies and entrails if we want to. If we so choose, we can discuss philosophical, political and psychological development with green-skinned women on planets with four moons. We’re doing everything that the snobbiest literary critic demands of books and we’re having fun and they’re not. So I hope you’ve had fun at this convention because I most certainly have. Thank you.”

Posted in good stuff from other authors reviews

Mary Ellen, Craterean – the new novel from Chaz Brenchley

The third book in Chaz Brenchley’s Crater School series is now available, and I highly recommend it.

For those so far unaware, Chaz has combined Old Mars of classic SF with the traditional British school story to create an entirely original and fascinating scenario. One where the underpinning assumptions of both those literary traditions are politely and ruthlessly questioned.

In this book we see both Old Mars and the Crater School itself through an intriguingly different lens, as Mary Ellen, scholarship girl, finds herself in this alien environment. Thus Brenchley deftly offers fans of the series a fresh perspective while new readers share her discoveries and will surely be drawn into this fascinating world.

Mary Ellen comes from a farming family in the remote and rural hinterlands. She doesn’t only have to find her way through the unfamiliar social hazards and arcane customs which her classmates from the colony planet’s privileged classes have grown up with. A chance discovery demands that she choose between keeping quiet and self-preservation on the one hand, and speaking up and facing the shocking consequences on the other. What’s a nervous girl far from home and feeling friendless to do?

Interested? Take a look at my thoughts on Three Twins at the Crater School and Dust-Up at the Crater School

Full purchase details at the Wizard’s Tower Press website

Cover art by Ben Baldwin

Posted in creative writing culture and society diversity in SFF Equality in SFF Links to interesting stuff

The J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature 2024 – Speaker Neil Gaiman

Living in Oxfordshire, I’m fortunately able to attend most of these lectures in person. Heading into Oxford yesterday afternoon, I already knew this would be as good as any previous year. In the twenty or so years since my path first crossed Neil’s at a convention, I’ve heard him talk many times, and he will always have something new, different and fascinating to say. This was no exception – but I’m not going to attempt to summarise, as the video will soon be available, and believe me, you really don’t want to miss that.

(While you’re waiting do check out the videos of previous years’ speakers available at the Tolkien Lecture website. Varied, fascinating and thought-provoking.)

One thing Neil said prompted me to make a note. He quoted CS Lewis quoting JRR Tolkien: ‘The only people who decry escapism are jailers ‘.

That reminded me of something which I couldn’t quite remember, if you know what I mean… I’ve found it now, and it is very well worth the read – Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown on Who Gets to Escape

That article was particularly interesting for me, given the responses I was seeing at the time to my trilogy The Hadrumal Crisis, where who can and cannot escape various situations underpins a lot of the story. I discuss that here.

One other note. As I reached the venue, Oxford Town Hall, I was struck by the tremendous variation in the ages and appearances of those waiting patiently for the doors to open. Proof, if any were needed, that there’s no readily identifiable demographic for fantasy fans. This is possibly one reason why passers-by catching buses home from work were so bemused by the queue – which was very soon reaching well down St Aldates and past Christ Church’s Tom Tower. The town hall is a big space and it was packed!

Posted in fandom News public appearances The Green Man's Quarry

My weekend at Levitation (Eastercon 75)

Yes, I had an excellent weekend. The highlight was (obviously) winning the 2023 Best Novel Award from the British Science Fiction Association, as voted on by members. The full list of winners is here and you can learn a bit about the BSFA while you’re there, if you wish.

I was pleased and honoured to be shortlisted. Yes, that’s what people always say. The thing is, it’s true. A nomination for a genre award means readers find your work worthy of recognition alongside books written by your professional peers and personal friends. That in itself is wonderful. When a friend’s novel which I have enjoyed turns out to win, I’m thrilled for them.

The Green Man’s Quarry actually winning this award was a wholly unexpected delight, and an honour not only for me. Writing may be a solitary occupation, but getting a book into print most assuredly is not. I am intensely grateful to Cheryl Morgan of Wizard’s Tower Press, who first set up her publishing enterprise to help writers like me make our backlists available in print and ebook formats on terms that brought us a worthwhile return. When The Green Man’s Heir was met with a discouraging lack of interest from the agents and publishers I approached, she was absolutely ready to see how the book fared as WTP’s first original publication. The rest, as they say, is history – and do check out the subsequent original titles from Wizard’s Tower Press.

My further thanks go to Toby Selwyn, whom I have known since he was a teenager reading my epic fantasy novels. We’ve met at conventions and stayed in touch through his university years and subsequent career as an editor. This combination of his rigorous professional skills and his finely-honed understanding of my writing makes a significant contribution to these books. I also thank Ben Baldwin for his outstanding artwork, for the whole series, and especially for The Green Man’s Quarry. This latest cover did everything the previous art did to catch the eye and stir the imagination, as well as hinting this time, readers should expect something a bit different… Each of these books brings new members to the team. Since The Green Man’s Quarry sees Dan venture north of the border, I enlisted Shona Kinsella, also a fine writer and meticulous editor, as Scots cultural consultant. She made an invaluable contribution, so thank you to her for that.

It’s thanks to SF conventions and the wider SF&Fantasy fan community that I know these people. Conventions are where I first met Cheryl and Shona. Ian Whates of Newcon Press, another friend made through conventions, recommended Ben when we were looking for an artist for The Aldabreshin Compass reissues. Our genre’s early and effective adoption of websites meant Toby and I could make contact all those years ago and stay in touch ever since. The online world has long enabled keen SF&F readers and reviewers to share their enthusiasms. This virtual word of mouth makes it possible for small press publications to find the people who will love their stories. So thank you, everyone in SF&F circles for that.

The rest of the convention? The panels I took part in were fascinating and informative conversations. I listened to various talks and discussions with keen interest and my notebook to hand, coming away with new information and perspectives that will improve and inform my own work. The convention’s guests were wonderful to meet, and to hear talking about their writing and their working lives. In between times, I caught up with long-standing friends whom I haven’t seen in person for far too long, given the weird dislocations of these past few years. I met online pals in person which is invariably a pleasure, and I made connections with people I wouldn’t have encountered elsewhere, who will assuredly become friends and colleagues. If anyone ever asks you if SF conventions are worth their time and money, feel free to cite all of the above.

There was one notable difference from many UK conventions this year. Rather than being based in a main hotel, this Eastercon used the Telford International Centre for its programme and events, and for central social space. This turned out to work extremely well. Accommodation was readily available within easy walking distance in a range of hotels to suit all budgets. There was similarly a good choice of restaurants and other refreshments options within easy reach, as well as food and drink on site. I recommend event organisers in search of a venue take a serious look at both this site and at this slightly different model for themselves.

As those of us who’ve been involved in event organisation will know, nothing as big and complicated as an Eastercon runs as apparently smoothly and successfully as this weekend did, without a tremendous amount of hard work by a great many people both beforehand and through the event itself. Last, but emphatically by no means least, my thanks and admiration go to the Convention Committee, everyone working in the various departments on site, and to the Levitation volunteers.

And thanks to my husband, for tackling the interesting photographic challenge of this shiny transparent glass award alongside shiny dark-hued book covers.

Posted in forthcoming fiction News public appearances

A forthcoming story and my Eastercon programme

I’m extremely pleased to share the news that my story Unseen Hands will appear in the shared world anthology, Ampyrium, to be published later this year by ZNB. As I’ve said previously, shared world writing has some particularly interesting angles for authors. Seeing the ways in which this particular setting has grown in the telling of our various stories, I can see it’s going to offer tremendous potential for all sorts of tales. Do check out ZNB’s anthologies. They always offer great reading, as well as opportunities for debut authors through their open calls.

In other writing news hereabouts, the next Green Man novel is coming together nicely, with Dan Mackmain using what he’s learned in recent years to counter new challenges. There are a couple of other short stories in the works, of which more, later.

In upcoming events, I’ll be at Eastercon over the bank holiday weekend. I’ll bring some print copies of the Lescari and Hadrumal trilogies with me, which I’m happy to offer for free to keen readers. If you’re interested in these books, let me know – or find me at the convention. If you have anything you’d like me to sign, feel free to say hello and ask.

As well as seeing friends and colleagues, and enjoying the programme myself, I’m participating on a varied selection of panels, alongside writers whose thoughts I’ll be very interested to hear.

Choosing Character Voice – Sat 11:00–11:45
What are the relative benefits to the storyteller of adopting 1st, 2nd and 3rd person point-of-view? What can the author achieve with each and what are the challenges? What opportunities does the choice of past, present or future tense present? What other stylistic elements contribute to character voice?

Making Systemic Change – Sat 16:00–17:00
The British SF and Fantasy field is still very monocultural in terms of both authors and readership. How do we define and support the kind of systemic change we would like to see to make British SF&F more diverse?

Motherland Fort Salem: a complex allegory… – Sun 13:00–14:00
…about contemporary US politics. Motherland Fort Salem is queer, women-focussed, gloriously intersectional, and complex.

This Green and Pleasant Land – Sun 16:00–17:00
Not everybody was terribly enthused by the industrial revolution. British SF & fantasy is full of alternatives to the industrial future, pastoral, communitarian, and a Britain made over for tourism.

Faery, folklore and fairy tale in fantasy – Mon 12:00–12:45
The exhibition at the British Library this year has placed folk and fairy tale at the heart of fantasy. The panellists will discuss the role fairy tale has played in modern and contemporary fantasy, the sources people have drawn on, and the ways in which authors, artists, film makers and others have weirded and subverted the folk and fairy tale.

(edited to add)
Consider the Loom – Mon 13:00–14:00
How do fashion and technology interact in sf and fantasy. Do you ever find yourself wondering how on earth a character can wear a thing that their culture clearly could not produce? The panellists will talk about clothing and fashion design and trends from different sci-fi universes and fantasy ones, how people describe cloth and fabric and construction, how they use it as part of their worldbuilding and their character design, what people’s fave outfits were and which they’d like to lift wholesale to add to their own wardrobes.

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

Why Do We Write Retellings? A guest post from Shona Kinsella

I’ve been back and forth with myself, pondering the answer to this question. With so many new ideas just waiting to be worked on, why do we, as writers, return to old stories? Why do some stories hold such power over us that we retell and reimagine and reexplore them over and over, centuries after they were first told? Perhaps, in some cases, it’s because there are voices in those stories which have never truly been heard, whether that’s the women of Arthurian legend as in Juliet’s The Cleaving, or Snow White from the point of view of the stepmother, as in Cast Long Shadows by Cat Hellisen. In other cases, maybe it’s following clues through history and archaeology to shine new light on old tales, as with Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy which places Robin Hood in Wales, in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest.

Ultimately, I can’t speak for those authors, or tell you why they revisited these tales (although I can definitely recommend that you read the books, each one of them is wonderful). All I can really tell you, is why this story called to me.

So, why then did I feel the pull of a Scottish myth so old that its origins are lost to time?

Like many fantasy readers, I have always loved myth and legend and folklore, especially from Scotland. I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child, often in semi-wild places rather than in cultivated gardens and parks. I clambered over rocks on loch sides and riverbanks, made dens in the roots of trees, hunted for tadpoles and dragonflies in marshy, undeveloped land near my home, felt the wind and the sun and the rain – always the rain – on my skin as I searched for signs of the fae. Even now, though I spend more time in my office than outside, I never fail to turn my face to the sun on the first warm days of spring, to find joy in the changing of the seasons and to point out these markers to my children as we walk to school.

It is perhaps unsurprising then, that I should have such love for a myth which touches upon the lives of the gods said to govern the seasons – The Cailleach, the lady of winter, who formed the highlands by striding through the land dropping boulders from her apron; Bride, queen of spring, who is celebrated at Imbolc at the beginning of February; Aengus, god of Summer, love and poetry. It is not a particularly well-known myth outside of the Scottish highlands and certain pagan groups dedicated to the worship of one or other of these deities, which is initially how I stumbled across it. As a pagan dedicated to the worship of Brighid (also spelled Brigid, Bride, Brigit) this myth has deeply personal resonances for me.

In the original myth, The Cailleach is jealous of Bride’s youth and beauty and so imprisons the younger goddess in her cave on Ben Nevis. Aengus dreams of Bride, falling in love with her, and he borrows three days from summer to put the Cailleach to sleep. He rescues Bride and they flee across the land, bringing spring in their wake. The Cailleach wakes and chases them, which is why we have a false spring, often followed by blustery weather in March and April.

As much as I loved this myth as a way of understanding and explaining the seasons, it never sat quite right with me. In other tales, Bride is not a meek princess who would weep and wait for a man to come and rescue her and the Cailleach is powerful and fierce – unlikely to be so jealous of another’s beauty that she would resort to such measures. In fact, in many versions of the Cailleach’s story, she is said to grow young and beautiful over the course of winter, only to age again during the summer.

I began to wonder what this story would look like if the two women were not placed in opposition to each other. I thought about what the myth I was familiar with told us, not about the gods themselves, but about the people who wrote it down. The Cailleach is jealous of another’s youth and beauty because we imagine aging beyond attractiveness to men as being the worst thing that can happen to a woman, but what if it’s not? Wouldn’t it be far worse to have your value and contribution constantly overlooked? Bride is meek and mild and obedient because those were virtues that were valued in a wife, but what if she was strong? What if she was determined to have power over her own life?

Was it possible to keep the exploration of the seasons and what they mean to people, while honouring the gods as I saw them? The Heart of Winter is my attempt to do just that. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not I achieved my aim.

Scottish fantasy author Shona Kinsella is the author of The Heart of Winter, The Vessel of KalaDene series, dark Scottish fantasy novella Petra MacDonald and the Queen of the Fae, British Fantasy Award shortlisted industrial novella The Flame and the Flood, and non-fiction Outlander and the Real Jacobites: Scotland’s Fight for the Stuarts. Her short fiction can be found in various magazines and anthologies. She served as editor of the British Fantasy Society’s fiction publication, BFS Horizons for four years and is now the Chair of the British Fantasy Society.

Shona lives near the picturesque banks of Loch Lomond with her husband and three children. She enjoys reading, nature walks, and spending time with her family. When she is not writing, doing laundry, or wrangling children, she can usually be found with her nose in a book.

A view of Loch Lomond's waters from the bank, overhung by oak branches
A view of Loch Lomond’s waters from the bank,
overhung by oak branches
Posted in creative writing culture and society Links to interesting stuff reflections and musings

Thinking about the lenses we use to view history

We went to the Earth Trust/Dig Ventures festival of discovery on Sunday. We listened to two talks by teams of young, enthusiastic archaeologists discussing the finds from digs around Wittenham Clumps. One was on everyday objects, and the other was on ancient animals. In between, we had a very nice lunch, strolled around the local landscape, and went to the pop-up museum where a small selection of the thousands of finds was on display.

I expect many of us have seen Roman tiles with cat and dog prints left when the clay was still wet. This is the first time I’ve seen a fox leave its mark.

Then there were the mystery objects, such as this. I always ask Husband what he thinks. After studying it for a few moments, he proposed a use that one of the archaeologists confirmed is their experts’ current best guess.

Apparently a feature of Bronze Age sites is ‘pots in pits’, and there’s much discussion about what deliberate deposits of selected items might mean. Rituals linked to ‘end of use’ are generally proposed, though it’s impossible to know whether these marked, for example, a death, the demolition of a dwelling, or moving away from an area. One such pit here is particularly interesting as the objects deposited are a well-used, smashed pot, broken loom weights and a 4 year old sheep. When swords and other weapons are deposited in water or pits, they are deliberately broken to put them beyond use. Is this a similar ritual involving objects associated with textile production? Sheep for meat were usually slaughtered by the end of their second year. Beyond that, they were primarily kept for wool. What does this tell us about spinning and weaving and those who did it? That these women and their skills were respected with such rituals? What does that tell us about these ancient people and their society? Maybe it wasn’t all mighty-thewed warlords defending helpless women and children?

Another speaker observed that ‘hillfort’ is increasingly considered a misnomer for enclosures ringed with ditches and banks, as modern archaeology increasingly indicates they weren’t built for defence, not primarily at least. People could retreat into them at need, but for most people, most of the time, these appear to be trading and gathering centres, possibly seats of power for tribal leaders. Where did the people come from to trade and meet? DNA work on burials on this site is still pending, but at least two skeletons have been interpreted by bone experts as likely of African heritage.

This got me thinking about where that term ‘hillfort’ had come from. Field archaeology pioneers from the 1850s onwards started surveying and excavating these landscapes. The British Empire was at war with someone or other through most decades of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. How much did that background noise of perpetual conflict influence these men to see such earthworks as military and defensive? What assumptions followed? You only build defences when there’s an enemy out there. Therefore anyone new must be an invader! But what if that initial assumption is wrong? The the whole framework collapses. Finds that have been interpreted to fit that world view should be reassessed. This is just one reason why I find current archaeology so fascinating.

Since one of my personal lenses for viewing history is its use in world-building for fantasy writers, it’s apt that the next creative writing article from my archive is on this very topic.
The Uses of History in Fantasy

Posted in culture and society Publishing & the Book Trade reflections and musings supporting the SFF community

Ego-Surfing for Self-Defence in 2024

Is it still called ego-surfing? That term was coined in the 1990s as more and more people got online, and would put their names into a search engine to see what came up. It soon became clear this was hazardous for authors. A few months after The Thief’s Gamble came out in 1999, I found two very negative reviews. According to one, the book proved I was a patriarchy-enabling betrayer of the sisterhood. The other reckoned it showed I was a ball-breaking man-hater. I was all set to respond, to explain, when a friend working in IT told me to take a breath, step away from my keyboard and think this through. I remain eternally grateful to him for explaining my chances of success were minimal, compared to the significant possibilities of things going badly for all the online world to see. As a more experienced writer told me soon after, ‘Arguing with a critic is like starting an arse-kicking contest with a porcupine. Even if you win, the cost to yourself won’t be worth it.’ The decades since have seen memorable catastrophes when authors have challenged reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

So no, checking reviews and comments is not what I’m talking about. But another online saying in the 1990s was three things make a post. So here are three solid reasons for writers to stay vigilant over what’s being said about them online these days.

Generative AI has seen an explosion in misinformation. This year’s hobby among writers has been asking ChatGPT and similar for their biography. The inaccuracies that result can be hilarious, as very-far-from-intelligent software scours the Net for anyone with the same name and produces a mishmash of results. After that initial laughter though, this isn’t so funny. How can someone without any prior knowledge of the subject untangle the truth from the nonsense? How can they fact-check when search-engine results are increasingly poisoned by this rubbish?

This gets much worse when some inaccurate statement could have negative professional consequences. Tobias Buckell recently discovered he was being cited as an author praising AI for helping him finish writing a novel, in a lengthy and entirely made-up quote. He was justifiably furious. The excuse that the article was AI-generated so no one is to blame is ridiculous. A human decided to put that lie online – unless no one checked what was being posted, which just makes this worse.

There’s also been an upsurge in online impersonation, especially of literary agents, editors and other people working in publishing. Hopeful writers are being contacted with wonderful offers, and some will be too naive to know this is not how the book trade works. Generative-AI makes these scams more plausible and more common. Writers are being impersonated by scammers creating supposedly new stories in much-loved and long-ago completed series. They find themselves listed as authors of books they have never heard of on Amazon and other sites. These ‘books’ are AI-generated garbage, but how is a reader to know that before buying one and finding out that it’s trash? If the reader doesn’t know what’s happened, the danger of reputational damage for that writer is very real.

Not all of this misinformation can be blamed on generative-AI. I have been checking in on a particular Wikipedia page for over a month now, since I noticed a major rewrite that stripped away an individual’s positive achievements and inserted highly critical and inaccurate material. By which I mean paragraphs that no newspaper’s lawyer would let go to print as some statements would be legally actionable. The person making these edits was doing so under a pseudonym, while Wikipedia culture does not accept the subject of a page making changes themselves. (I have written before about issues with Wikipedia.)

I discussed this with several friends who are active on Wikipedia, who were naturally concerned. They undertook to take a look, and assured me that Wikipedia does have systems to deal with such situations. I have observed these systems in action, and I am glad to say that the page now offers fair and balanced content. But resolving this has taken quite a while, and there have been periods when that seriously inaccurate content remained visible. Two things follow from this. Firstly, if you are the subject of a Wikipedia page, check it from time to time. You need to know if inaccurate material has appeared before you can find help to get the facts straight. Secondly, if you are using someone’s page as a source, and something doesn’t seem right, do click on the Talk tab to look for any current disputes between Wikipedia editors.

In conclusion? All these things strengthen the arguments for an author maintaining and updating their own website, to ensure there is at least one source of accurate and up-to-date information about them online, which they control.

Posted in good stuff from other authors Guest Blogpost

Is knowing how many books are in a series a spoiler? Guest blog post from Tej Turner

Back in 2020, when Elsewhen Press were about to announce the forthcoming publication of Bloodsworn – the first instalment of my Avatars of Ruin series – I had a sudden stroke of inspiration whilst reviewing the press release they had prepared. I decided to email them with an idea that had been playing in the back of my mind for a while, as I realised that it was now or never.

See, in the original version of the press release they had referred to Bloodsworn as ‘Book 1 of the Avatars of Ruin’ followed by a word that I asked for them to redact and replace with a more ambiguous one; ‘series’.

Now that I have told you this I am guessing the first suspicion that has popped into many of your minds is that I was worried this series might befall the fate of others and birth more sequels than originally intended, but no. That wasn’t the reason. I am – mostly – a planner, and do have a good grasp on the overall arc this series will take. When I first submitted Bloodsworn to Elsewhen Press back in 2019 I told them precisely how many more there were to come, and it was something they considered when they committed to publishing it.

There are a few reasons for I decided to make this suggestion to them. Some of them are specific to the arc it takes, so I won’t – for the sake of spoilers – go into them here, but one of them is a more general point I would like to discuss.

For me, knowing how many books are in the series that you are reading can often feel like a bit of a spoiler, especially when it comes to genres such as epic fantasy, and its various cousins such as grimdark. For example; if you know that the book you are reading is the finale in a trilogy, quartet, pentalogy, etc, the reader will feel some form of reassurance that, no matter how high you up the stakes in that climatic battle, there is a good chance that something will happen to give this book the closure that they have been waiting for. Whether that be a hearty resolution, something bittersweet, or the death of your villain-protagonist and restoration of a bleak status quo, will likely depend on what kind of vibe the series has taken, of course. There are various ways that one can still surprise people with a twist at the end, but most books will have some kind of closure that fits its particular subgenre and for good reason. To not have this will often be a disservice to the narrative, its characters, and leave readers feeling cheated.

Elsewhen did accept my proposal, and the reaction so far has been quite mixed. This series has done fairly well for one published by an independent press. It does not automatically make it onto all the high-street stores nor have all the publicity that comes with one of the bigger houses, of course, but some good reviews and a bit of luck have drawn a bit more attention to this series than my previous urban fantasy duology that didn’t get as much attention than I would have liked. I am certainly more on the map now but far from being a household name, and I am not the kind of author where this experiment has drawn enough attention to be scrutinised much online. I have noticed – on a few occasions – people referring to my series as a ‘trilogy’, but that is an assumption they have made based on its genre. I have not gone out of my way to correct people when this happens – as to confirm or deny either way would be revealing – but neither have I told any lies. Some reviewers (and even, on a few occasions, readers) have reached out to me and asked for clarification, and, whenever this has happened, I have always been honest and told them that this is something that myself and Elsewhen Press are choosing not to disclose for now. I haven’t had any negative reactions to this so far. Some have commented that they find this approach intriguing.

I feel that it will be in the coming months that I will finally find out how successful this little experiment has been. The third instalment – Blood War – is to be released on the 2nd of February. Its name and the blurb do hint at a climactic battle, and I certainly don’t think it will disappoint in that regard. But whether this battle ends up being the closure to a trilogy or the instigator for more volumes to come is something my readers are yet to discover. The only thing that I am certain about is that many people have made assumptions either way so there are going to be at least some who will be surprised, and it will be interesting to see what their reactions will be.

Tej Turner is an SFF author and travel-blogger. His debut novel The Janus Cycle was published by Elsewhen Press in 2015 and its sequel Dinnusos Rises was released in 2017. Both are hard to classify within typical genres but were contemporary and semi-biographical with elements of surrealism. He has since branched off into writing epic fantasy and has an ongoing series called the Avatars of Ruin. The first instalment – Bloodsworn – was released in 2021, and its sequel Blood Legacy in 2022. The third – Blood War –is due to be published in early 2024.

He does not have any particular place he would say he is ‘from’, as his family moved between various parts of England during his childhood. He eventually settled in Wales, where he studied Creative Writing and Film at Trinity College in Carmarthen, followed by a master’s degree at The University of Wales Lampeter.

Since then, Tej has mostly resided in Cardiff, where he works as a chef by day and writes by moonlight. His childhood on the move seems to have rubbed off on him because when he is not in Cardiff, it is usually because he has strapped on a backpack and flown off to another part of the world to go on an adventure.

He has so far clocked two years in Asia and two years in South America, and when he travels he takes a particular interest in historic sites, jungles, wildlife, native cultures, and mountains. He also spent some time volunteering at the Merazonia Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Ecuador.

Firsthand accounts of Tej’s adventures abroad can be found on his travel blog.

For links to his website and travel blog, social media etc –