UPDATE: All proof copies have now been claimed! I’m completely out. BUT. Drop me a line around the end of September and I may well have a couple of extra hardcopies…
Advance reading copies for Drakenfeld have been printed! And no doubt they’ll be going out to reviewers and bloggers pretty soon. All good. All exciting.
But, I’ve always thought it’s pretty frustrating for those new bloggers to actually get their hands on review copies, trying to build up a catalogue of posts so that publishers will take notice enough to get you on their mailing lists. At the same time, I’m also a fan of supporting new blogs, new reviewers. It’s pretty healthy from time to time to spread the love a little; to get some new blood talking about books and to freshen up debate.
So I actually asked for some extra proof copies of Drakenfeld to be printed.
Here’s the deal. If you’re a relatively new blogger and fancy giving Drakenfeld a read, drop me a line about your blog and I’ll send you a copy. I’ll include your review – even if you hate the book – on a round-up of reviews. Maybe I can persuade my publisher to at least tweet it too.
I’ve only got a dozen or so extra copies spare for this purpose, so if you’re a new genre reviewer and you want a copy of Drakenfeld, you know what to do. Likewise if you’re an established blogger, please do give this post a tweet to this so that other bloggers can find out about it.
Here we go, the cover design for Drakenfeld, which is published in October. This was created by the talented in-house team at Pan Macmillan. Pretty good, right? Told you there’d be no hooded figure.
Of all my many covers, this is by far the best and most appropriate. It really sums up the book, because nations (or rather nationalism) are core to the series, and the idea with the covers is that each novel features a coloured banner representing the country in which the novel takes place. The one above is the banner of Detrata, with a double-headed falcon, various glaives and swords and a lovely icon. It also evokes the classical world, which was – as regular followers of the blog might have guessed – a major inspiration for the novel. I like to think that the main continent of Vispasia could sit just off the classical maps, as some forgotten corner of the world yet to be discovered by archeologists.
Anyway, just as important as all that, I think this cover has pretty wide appeal, connecting with fantasy fans, while not putting off crime or historical readers. And it’s just very striking, either as a thumbnail (like here) or simply sitting on a bookshelf. In addition to this cover, there will be internal art as well such as maps. The whole book will be rather lovely to look at. Hopefully you’ll find the words are all in the right order, too.
Here’s the back cover text:
“I am Lucan Drakenfeld, second son of Calludian, Officer of the Sun Chamber and keeper of the peace. Sometimes people get in the way of that ambition…”
The monarchies of the Royal Vispasian Union have been bound together for two hundred years by laws maintained and enforced by the powerful Sun Chamber. As a result, nations have flourished but corruption, deprivation and murder will always find a way to thrive.
Receiving news of his father’s death Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld is recalled home to the ancient city of Tryum and rapidly embroiled in a mystifying case. The King’s sister has been found brutally murdered – her beaten and bloody body discovered in a locked temple. With rumours of dark spirits and political assassination, Drakenfeld has his work cut out for him trying to separate superstition from certainty. His determination to find the killer quickly makes him a target as the underworld gangs of Tryum focus on this new threat to their power.
Embarking on the biggest and most complex investigation of his career, Drakenfeld soon realises the evidence is leading him towards a motive that could ultimately bring darkness to the whole continent. The fate of the nations is in his hands.
Publication date: October, 2013.
This is the fun stage. Having this big pile of paper arrive, and seeing drafts of the cover design, have made me rather excited to say the least. There are maps to be included (and potentially an extra illustration), but only now does Drakenfeld start to take the shape of a real book. It seems an opportunity for reinvention. The whole package, from story conception to the cover itself, feels more considered and mature. Yes, I’m definitely excited.
“I am Lucan Drakenfeld, second son of Calludian, Officer of the Sun Chamber and peace keeper. Although sometimes it seems I am the only person who wishes to keep it …”
The monarchies of the Royal Vispasian Union have been bound together for two hundred years with treaties and laws maintained and enforced by the powerful Sun Chamber. As a result, a long harmony has existed, nations have flourished, and civil wars are a thing of the past. But corruption, deprivation and murder will always find a way to thrive…
Upon receiving news of his father’s death and recalled to his home city of Tryum, Drakenfeld is soon embroiled in a mystifying case. King Licintius’ sister, Lacanta, has been found brutally murdered during a night of festivities – her beaten and bloody body discovered in a locked temple. Despite hundreds of revellers, no one saw anything. With rumours of dark spirits and political assassination, Drakenfeld soon has his work cut out for him trying to separate superstition from certainty.
With his assistant, Leana, he embarks on the biggest and most complex investigation of his career, revisiting the ancient streets of his past, tracking down leads, interviewing suspects and making new enemies in his search for the truth.
His determination to find the killer soon makes him a target, as the underworld of Tryum focuses on this new threat to their power…
Publication date: October, 2013
Flavours: fantasy, locked-room mystery, crime, historical, nostalgia.
Aesthetics: Ancient Rome, Byzantium.
Male to female death ratio: pretty much in harmony. Despite the first body being female.
Ethnicities: a real-world comparison being people from the Mediterranean through to Asia. Drakenfeld in my eyes is very much of Persian origin.
Magic: viewed as per the ancient world. Sort of.
Ghosts: real, probably.
For those wondering, the edits have pretty much been finished and handed back to my editor – who likes the changes (always useful). There may well be one or two very minor things to massage out, but the bulk of it has been worked on and we move on to the copyedit, which is marginally less humbling.
1. It’s definitely going to be called Drakenfeld.
2. We have a blurb – I’m not sure when we’re going to release it. It’s probably the sort of thing we’ll sit on until the right time, but then Amazon auto-updates and it gets out there anyway.
3. I’ve discovered Drakenfeld shares the name with some sort of ceramic glaze.
4. With distance (and you need distance to really assess these things) this is the book I’m most proud of – and that’s a personal perspective, of course. Other people might think it’s not as good as one of the Red Sun books, but I hope I’m now writing with much more subtlety and consideration. Each novel is a failure of some kind, but I like to think I failed less with Drakenfeld.
5. Still awaiting the cover art. Word on the street is that it’s going to be quite different to the previous series. Not a hooded figure in sight, you’ll be pleased to know. I think there’s going to be some sort of reference to the classical world – probably more inspiration than it being a fresco, but I’m looking forward to seeing the new direction.
6. There will be ARCs.
Person, that is, not bases or gears. I’m not going to talk about what you should use third or first person voice for – you make your own rules on that. These are just a few thoughts on why I decided to change from third person to first for the new Drakenfeld series, which will be out next Summer.
I spent four books (and the stuff before that) writing in third person. Most of my writerly life was spent doing that, jumping around from character to character, giving a different perspective of things. I made the switch for a few reasons. It was not to create a hard-boiled or noir style – I think those are among the most incorrectly used words to describe a certain post-Hemingway style, but that’s not my issue today. I chose first person because:
1) I wanted a sense of intimacy that I’ve not used before. I’m writing about a character who is sensitive, who would rather preserve a life than remove one without a second thought, and who views the world in a way that would be best expressed through such intimacy with the reader.
2) A challenge. I was well aware that I’d filled previous novels up with characters, perhaps too many, and I wanted to restrict myself utterly to one point of view. If you choose first person, there’s no escaping that.
3) I can express my ideas in a much more subtle way in a first person narrative. Ideas become rather blunt in the third person format, but they can be approached far more gently and deceptively in first person. (Writing’s largely about deception, right?)
4) First person worked better with respect to the locked-room mystery. The character could never be aware of the full orchestration of the murder and, therefore, neither could the reader. If I was writing in third person, there would always be the chance that I could reveal something to the reader that I hadn’t to the character. Where’s the fun in that?
5) Reinvention. I wanted to start afresh – pretty self-expanitory, since it’s a new series and a chance to reach to a new audience.
The thing that surprised me more than anything was how much I preferred to write in first person. I mean, I had to settle into the style – I rewrote the start several times because I wasn’t happy with it (in fact, I scrapped the original first chapters and started afresh twice) – but I found that it was far more rewarding, far more interesting, and far more immersive. Hopefully readers will think the same.
So, that’s a wrap. I’ve sent in the finished manuscript for the first Drakenfeld novel, tentatively titled A Death Divine (though that’s not confirmed yet).
What’s it about? Well, if I could summarise that in a paragraph, I probably wouldn’t have written a book; so I take it as a good sign that I can’t. Essentially it’s about a guy called Lucan Drakenfeld. He’s an officer for an organisation responsible for enforcing the law that binds a continent, and kings and queens, together in a royal union. It’s pretty much his story – he returns to his home city of Tryum when he receives news of his father’s death, and there’s lots for him to cope with on arrival such as burying his father’s ashes, and he spent most of his life living in his shadow. That’s the backstory. From there, Drakenfeld and his assistant are summoned in the middle of the night to investigate a very high-profile murder, which takes place in a locked room (or locked temple to be precise), where despite hundreds of potential witnesses, no one saw anything related to the killing. From there, all sorts of stuff happens.
The aesthetics for the world, as you might have guessed from various blog posts over the past year or two, is very much borrowed from the ancient world. The more I examined classical cultures – Greece, Rome, Byzantium, Carthage – I was increasingly surprised. These were staggering cultures, massively more sophisticated than I’d ever realised, and even though they were very distant, they feel uncomfortably close to our own. Fantasy writers often borrow from history, usually the middle ages for the most part, whether it’s a conscious or unconscious act. Using classical culture as the starting point allowed me so much more freedom.
A few very general notes about the book:
- Whereas I tended to work forwards for the previous series of books, I had to start at the end and work backwards for this one. That’s because at heart it is a crime novel. I didn’t want to write a pastiche piece of sub-noir crime fiction either, since the crime genre is vast and nuanced. Imagine an author who wanted to write fantasy and ended up writing the usual fantasy-by-numbers? Indeed, fantasy fans would be pretty pissed-off. So this book had to function perfectly as a crime novel, too, which meant I had to change my approach to planning.
- One aim of this book was to write a mature piece of fiction that did not rely upon violence alone to get its thrills. That’s not to say it isn’t rough at times, but there’s been a noticeable trend in fantasy fiction in particular to try and gross-out or be full-on in graphic violence, a celebration of death, which is a stark contrast to our real-world attitudes. I’ve often said that violence really, really does not make a book mature, so instead of mouthing off about it, I wanted to plug that idea into a book. It ended up with Drakenfeld being cerebral in a world full of macho posturing, where he tests his logic and faith against matters, rather than hitting out with a sword. After all, people are far more useful to him when they’re alive.
- This is the first time I’ve written in first person, and I’ve found it far more natural than writing in third-person. It started off as a challenge to myself, but first-person seems so much more useful, especially for a crime novel. As a result, I enjoyed it: perhaps because of its intimate nature, I really connected with the story, themes and characters more than previously.
- I’m far more aware of not white-washing a cast of characters than I ever used to be. There’s been some great debate online in recent years which, if authors care to take it all in, they can learn a lot from. Previously in my work race has been split down the species line, so this time I had to be more accurate.
- As mentioned before, I wondered if I was relying too much on weirdness for the excitement of novels, rather than the excitement and cool coming more from the structures of story. I also am increasingly convinced that readers tend to be put off by really surreal characters or events in fiction, and it prevents them from taking in certain ideas or themes. The challenge, then, was to get my kicks from elsewhere.
And personally I believe this book far better than anything I’ve done before, from the prose itself (more sensual than brutal) to the structure. Writers can learn a lot with each book they write, so with a series done, hopefully I’ve done just that. If anyone was put off by previous work, I like to think this book is different enough, and far more considered, that they’ll give it a shot.
I’ll probably have more details over the next few months, but I think we’re currently looking at a publication date for summer next year. And thanks to those of you who read early drafts to give feedback. I’ve not really done that before, so you were an immense help.
I’m more conscious than ever about Racefail in new projects. Over the past few years, writers, blogs and forums have done a cracking job in dissecting various types of issues that form part of an ongoing debate. We are, I’m sure, more educated on when novels go wrong.
I think most novelists will agree that part of writing a novel is minimising problems. There will always be flaws in novels. Someone, somewhere, no matter what you write, will always take issue with a writer’s portrayal of race, gender, and so on. All a writer can do is be aware of where they have failed and try to fail better next time. For my previous novels, I had the excuse that race was split along the species line, but for Drakenfeld, everyone is human, so I felt I should confront the issue of race head-on rather than avoid engaging with it at all.
I’m currently writing a black character, but painfully aware she’ll easily be perceived as the ‘sidekick’ to the first person lead, who is not black (he’s not particularly white, either – I’m evoking a classical, Roman-Perisan location, but that’s besides the point). I’m aware, then, of the gaping chasm of racefail that stands before me, like I imagine it can stand before every author.
I’m trying very hard to make sure she exists in her own right, has complexity, doesn’t exist solely to further the plot of the non-black character, that she’s strong without being magical, that her race is addressed in the context of the world, that I’m making sure the reader understands such things without it being a lecture, and without me incorporating guilt of Western privilege (probably unavoidable, if I’m honest). In a secondary world of my own building, I must address such things.I like to think I’m not going to head feet first into the ZOMG turban dudes = bad like some. I’m half-Indian, but I’m not sure that really helps all that much, other than perhaps it reinforces some vague awareness of the inherent problems with addressing issues of race in a novel.
It should be simple, but unfortunately it isn’t. To some extent, I feel a little like Italo Calvino’s Mr Palomar in my efforts to engage and over-engage with the situation, but I’ve decided that’s a healthy thing. It’s better to be Mr Palomar than to waltz into a novel blindly and reinforce current cultural prejudices. Not thinking is no excuse.
Anyway, one particularly fantastic short-hand resource, I’ve discovered, is tvtropes.org, which assiduously lists the many pitfalls of film and literature tropes, but has a good deal to say about race, too:
In order to show the world that minority characters are not bad people, one will step forward to help a “normal” person, with their pure heart and folksy wisdom. They are usually black and/or poor, but may come from another oppressed minority. They step (often clad in a clean, white suit) into the life of the much more privileged (and, in particular, almost always white) central character and, in some way, enrich that central character’s life.
A vast and brutal database, it’s actually been very helpful in showing me where I can go right as well as wrong, and I recommend spending a bit of time looking up the tropes if you get a moment. Anyway, as ever, not sure I was going anywhere with this – it ended up being more navel-gazing than I hoped. I just wanted to share a healthy concern.
There’s a brief chat with me over at Rowena Cory Daniels’ blog, in which I say Many Things, and talk a little bit more about the new series:
The lead character, Lucan Drakenfeld, is a bit like a young lawyer-slash-detective, and certainly the polar opposite of a private eye (if anything, he’s a public eye). I’m really trying to steer away from noir pastiche because I feel that would be disrespectful to crime readers. The book is as much a crime novel as it is a fantasy novel. Imagine a mainstream writer trying their hand at a fantasy novel, and filled it with a paint-by-numbers story – they’d be strung up by the fanbase, which is why I’m not doing a paint-by-numbers crime novel, either.
There’s a video interview with my agent, John Jarrold, for those of you who are interested in tales and tips of publishing.
And I review a book about making compost for the Ecologist. More interesting than you might think…