Back from holiday (photos to come later this week, once I’ve caught up with chores). But a quick note to say that the Lucan Drakenfeld short story, “The Messenger”, is now up for sale on Amazon Kindle and other ebook shops. If you’ve never read the Drakenfeld books it’s a good chance to see what they’re about. If you have read the first one, then this adds a fraction more depth
It can be read in isolation as a taster of the series, or to add depth if you’re already a fan of the book. In fact, the events of “The Messenger”, which concern the attempt on the life of a young prince, are referenced within the first novel – for those keen-eyed readers among you.
The story will be released some time in August. I’ll know more soon, and will update accordingly, but keep an eye out for it.
Having just solved a difficult case in his home city of Tryum, Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his associate Leana are ordered to journey to the exotic city of Kuvash in Koton, where a revered priest has gone missing. When they arrive, they discover the priest has already been found – or at least parts of him have. But investigating the unusual death isn’t a priority for the legislature of Kuvash; there’s a kingdom to run, a census to create and a dictatorial Queen to placate. Soon Drakenfeld finds that he is suddenly in charge of an investigation in a strange city, whose customs and politics are as complex as they are dangerous.
Kuvash is a city of contradictions; wealth and poverty exist uneasily side-by-side and behind the rich façades of gilded streets and buildings, all levels of depravity and decadence are practised. When several more bodies are discovered mutilated and dumped in a public place, Drakenfeld realizes there’s a killer at work who seems to delight in torture and pain. With no motive, no leads and no suspects, he feels like he’s running out of options. And in a city where nothing is as it seems, seeking the truth is likely to get him killed . . .
That picture’s from Empire online, which has been decorated rather nicely in Drakenfeld paperback colours. Advertising aside, there’s an interview with me over at Fantasy Faction – the questions being asked by fellow fantasy scribe Juliet McKenna. I talk about history, books, writing etc.
You’re absolutely right, and women were far more powerful in history than we tend to believe. Figures such as the legendary Empress Theodora of the Byzantine era are among the most interesting and powerful characters in all of history, for my money. Women had pretty much equal rights to men during Anglo Saxon Britain, something conveniently forgotten by those who make claims in their own work that it’s just how things were for women. Imagine what life would be like if it wasn’t for the Norman conquest and those rights hadn’t been taken away?
With Drakenfeld Newton moves in a very different direction than his previous series, but the world and characters he creates are instantly compelling and very entertaining. I loved the details Newton inserted into his world building, such as the graffiti everywhere and the political structures not just of Tryum, but of the Vispasian Union over all. Drakenfeld is a wonderful start to the series and I can’t wait to read Lucan and Leana’s next adventure later this year in Retribution.
What with it being paperback release week, I’ve a few things out and about online. The first is a guest post at SFX Magazine, where I talk about The Fantasy Of Ancient History:
Imagine the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Imagine he’s going to write down what life is like for the British people. (If you’re reading this in America, try this with Mitt Romney instead of Dave.) Imagine Dave is trying to paint a vivid picture of British life, and also that he was going to write down what ‘great things’ he’d done for the country. Now imagine that, in a thousand years, historians were going to read Dave’s great writings, along with Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and other wealthy members of the Cabinet, and these writings were going to inform the people / robots of the future that this is what life was really like for people in 2014.
There’s an interview with me at A Fantastical Librarian:
Investigators are a great way of exploring a secondary world without info-dumping on the reader. A detective will get to meet a wide array of character classes, and get a first-hand look at the underbelly of any world you create. I love creating worlds and I’ve found that investigators are, for me, the best way of painting a great picture for the reader. I also like the ‘engine’ of a crime novel, more so than, say, a quest (not to say it’s bad, this is merely my preference). With a mystery there’s an inherent narrative drive to keep the reader turning the pages. No matter what kind of writer you are, you still want readers to follow to the end.
And on UpComing4Me I talk about the story behind Drakenfeld:
I’m most passionate about writing when I’m annoyed with something. For Drakenfeld, I had become a bit annoyed with various discussions of fantasy books. I had noticed a trend, in very broad and casual terms, that people were beginning to associate the level of violence and ‘grit’ in a fantasy novel with how good a book it was. That dialogue in certain quarters, subconsciously or otherwise, was being dismissive of fiction that did not have much in the way of visceral action. ‘Grimdark’ characters could rape, murder, and revel in it – and that was being deemed as mature fiction. As grown up.
Which is plainly crap.
A very quick reminder that today is the publication for the paperback of Drakenfeld. Online you can order it from Amazon, WH Smiths, Waterstones, Foyles or your local independent. Or you can walk into a physical store to pick it up. Apparently WH Smiths have got behind it, so it should be seen especially in their travel stores at airports and train stations etc. Don’t forget, tonight is the Twitter Q&A!
As you can see, I have a few copies of the paperback of Drakenfeld, far more than I really need. So I’d like to put them to good use. I’ve got eight copies to give away, which I will sign (or not) and send out to the first eight people who drop me a line via the online contact page. Just say you’d like a copy – no emotional manipulation required – and if you’re one of the first eight I’ll let you know. I’m happy to send them to all corners of the globe, too.
Update: they’re all gone!
It’s arrived, and it’s looking rather lovely in its regal purple jacket. Nice gold foil on the lettering; and the title font has been illustrated for this book. But what you can’t see is the velvety SuperMatt cover finish, which is all kinds of touchy feely. I also think the Twitter logo is a nice touch, as well as a sign of the times, so I should probably stop posting pictures of my allotment or bottles of whisky on there lest I scare off the new folk. I’ll be getting a big box of these in the next few days, so I will probably do a giveaway in exchange for an honest line or two on Goodreads or whatever. You can pre-order it from Amazon, WH Smiths, Waterstones, Foyles or your local independent. Tell a friend.
I was rustling around for some old paperwork the other day when I came across a printed email dated from June 2004. It was from my agent, John Jarrold, saying that he’d read and loved my submission, and he’d like to represent me. My first thought was to smile at remembering my excitement at having an agent. I remember reading this on my terrible desktop computer in a rented room that was little short of a garret, and doing a stupid dance.
Then the other thing hit me: June 2004.
Next month, it’ll mark a whole decade of having an agent, though I’d been writing for a little while before that date. That means writing has taken up over a decade of my life – an hour a day, almost every day. I had a couple of failed novels before I finally signed a publication deal sometime in 2007, when I was 26; and that book, Nights of Villjamur, wasn’t published until 2009. I’ve been lucky enough to have a wonderful editor and great publishing team that has allowed me to keep writing ever since then.
Have things changed much in that decade? Well, writing is less special for me than at the start. It doesn’t mean I don’t love or hate it any more or less, but that there’s a certain good feeling about the prize being simply to get published. But then what? What’s the ambition after that? To get good reviews? To win things? To sell lots? To get a movie deal? It doesn’t matter which of those a writer really achieves, they’ll probably always want something else next and be miserable with their lot. Anyway, for the most part, those aims are out of your control. All you can do is roll up to the next book, with the next deadline in sight, and try something else. Improve on your failures. And try again.
Over the ten years, I’ve learned not to compete with other writers, even though it feels that you are at first. Another author’s success does not eat into your own, but rather good books keep people reading, and create a vibrant community and marketplace (the latter is important because it props up the community).
I’ve also learned to ignore any doomsayers. Publishing has been dead or dying since I was sending my first book out on submission, and things seem to be doing just fine. The Internet hasn’t killed books, but supported their sales. Ebooks are just another format, and are helping publishers make money and bringing back out-of-print books. The most sobering point of all, though, is that the thing that probably matters most about an author’s career? Having a good book cover.
I’ve learned that getting a bad review makes no difference to anything – in fact, if there’s a picture of your cover and a bit of a blurb, it’s all to the good. The best thing is to get a mixture of love and hate, because then the book is talked about more. (I get that it’s difficult to cope with this, because writers are, by nature, reflective souls in order to get the best out of their art, which exposes them to the slings and arrows of online reviewing.) I’ve learned I’m of the PD James school of writing, in that I’ll never give up the day job. Writing is more liberating when it is my hobby, without financial stress, as the thing I do to unpack ideas or unwind. Plus, when I’m interacting with other people at work, I’m brushing up against little stories that I can store away. That wouldn’t happen if I sat on my own in a room sighing all day.
What about SFF fandom? I can only really speak of online fandom, which has been very kind to me early on in my career. The digital community is larger by a long way, but it has settled into a wide array niches, meaning it is difficult for any one person, or one author, to make an impact. Generally I’ve noticed that these communities have many recycled debates about good book covers and awards debacles etc, which is to be expected with newer people coming into and poking an established fandom. Also the vitriolic arguments people have online are nothing unique to the genre. By that I mean the genre is not self-imploding under angry froth, it’s just what people do on the Internet. Twitter has only served to speed up each incident. However, I have noticed a wonderfully progressive trend over the past five years especially. I’ve never known any genre to be so utterly aware of race and gender equality in fiction, and of consciously trying to improve things. That’s a pretty good place to be.
So what next? Well, I’m still writing. Maybe for another decade, who knows? At the moment, I’m working on the draft of another Drakenfeld novel, but there are more ideas in my head (in all honestly, I’ll probably keep doing this for as long as someone lets me do it). I’ve the paperback of Drakenfeld out in July, and – I think! – a Drakenfeld short story being published in August. Then Retribution, the second Drakenfeld novel, in October. That’s a healthy place to be.
Am I happy with writing, though? Never ask a writer that.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog series about my road to publication. If you’re interested, here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. A little of the content is cringeworthy, but new writers just love giving advice – as I proved!