my books

19May

First Drakenfeld Novel: Finished

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.
So there you go. It contains a lot of topics about fiction that I’ve been thinking about recently, but instead of blogging about this or that idea or notion, I’ve decided it’s really best if I just put that thinking into a book instead. When I was a freshly minted author, I had a tendency to assert my position or thoughts on various subjects with alarming regularity, but it really isn’t necessary. So I just shut up and did it.

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.

25Apr

Tor UK goes DRM-free for ebooks

As announced by my overlords:

Tor UK, Pan Macmillan’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, announces today that it will make its ebooks DRM-free over the next three months.

“We know that this is what many Tor authors passionately want. We also understand that readers in this community feel strongly about this,” says Jeremy Trevathan, Pan Macmillan’s Fiction Publisher.

Which is excellent news for ebook readers. It basically means you can read any Tor UK ebooks (like mine) across a range of devices without it being restrictive and annoying as hell. If you want to know more about DRM and ebooks, go here.

I’ve opted in right away!

17Apr

New Cover Art: Nights of Villjamur & City of Ruin


I am the man of many covers. From the 25th October, Nights of Villjamur and City of Ruin will be reissued with new artwork on the front, to fit in with the rest of the series and to finally have one cohesive look.

There’s more, though: I’ve actually made quite a few (over a hundred) changes to Nights of Villjamur. Call it the ambitions of a first-time author, call it crap writing, but there were a few points of the text in this book that I believed caused a clunky experience. I’ve managed to iron many, many of these out, thankfully. It’s only a word or two here, a line there – not a complete re-edit, mind you, but enough to give me peace of mind that the most ridiculous of the excesses have now been removed.

13Apr

German Editions

The lovely folk at Pan Macmillan forwarded on the author copies of Nacht über Villjamur, from the lovely people at Egmont Lyx. This month the Germans will be able to visit Villjamur in their own language. I’m excited! It’s a lovely edition – very nice paper quality, if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you live in Germany, you know what to do…

21Feb

Things I got wrong

The act of writing Drakenfeld (which is nearly completed, by the way) has enabled me to cast a more critical eye on my previous books. Recently I’ve been reflecting on the Red Sun series and – with the benefit of time – I think I can see that I got a few things wrong. Mostly with Nights of Villjamur, but one or two of these apply to the series as a whole. It feels healthy to air it all:

  • I tried too hard with the prose in Nights of Villjamur. Tried too hard to show off. It didn’t always work, and pissed off some readers. I streamlined it throughout the series, but have decided to aim for something totally different these days.
  • I didn’t try hard enough with female characters in the first novel, though I think I got better in City of Ruin. Previously they were too reliant upon the male characters, or simply weren’t strong enough in their own right. I believe a writer can try to justify why they do things, but ultimately – in a genre where one can do anything – the results speak for themselves. I hold up my hand on this. I’ll try to do better.
  • It took me a while to genuinely understand that ‘gritty’ does not equal ‘mature’. This is a big thing for me: when did we become a genre obsessed with violence? Surely (said to myself), I can write an adult book without resorting to writing about so much bloodshed. I think I could also say that a book being macho is not necessarily adult either, even though I’m sure we blokes (apologies for gender binary) sometimes believe that. I’ll hold my hand up again here. There’s a whole other blog post to be made on what makes something adult, but I’ve not quite worked that one out yet.
  • Trying to be clever can put readers off. There are more subtle means available to authors and I’ll try to use them in future.
  • I didn’t spend enough time with each character. I flitted about from different points of view, not really giving enough consideration to allow the characters to really breathe. Jumping around so much was an easy escape for me, but I confronted this issue in the new series, since it’s a first person narrative.

Don’t get me wrong, I stand by the books and believe wholeheartedly that writing a novel is an incredibly difficult thing to do. But I’m always looking to improve (or at least fail better). Also I should say this is my own interpretation of matters, not necessarily what readers have taken from it.

Coming to the end of the new project and, having allowed the Red Sun series to settle in a little, gave some much-needed perspective. It’s encouraging to know that, no matter how wonderful I might have thought my books were at the time, given the benefit of a few years, I can be more honest about them.

That distance can be humbling and it feels okay to accept that.

6Feb

Weekender write-up & East Midlands Book Award longlist

Over on the Tor UK blog, I’ve written a ‘What I did on my holidays’ report of the SFX Weekender:

For the third year of the event, the Weekender had moved on from Camber Sands (which had, someone claimed, closed down for health and safety reasons a mere two weeks after we’d been there). It moved to Prestatyn, in North Wales, where the Pontins was described by E46_Fanatic in their Trip Advisor review like this: “The room was disgusting, blood on the bedding of both beds, stains left in the toilet, a sofa which smelt like BO and a TV I am sure is older than me! There was grime around the kitchen and the windows were so covered in bird poo I don’t think they had been cleaned for years”.

And in other news, The Book of Transformations has been longlisted for the East Midlands Book Award 2011. They spelled the title ‘The Book of Transformers’ so, IP-related legal action aside, I’m choosing to view that as a good omen. There’s a cash prize, too, which is the kind of award writers prefer, if you’re asking.

3Feb

The Book of Transformations – Final Cover Art

I have to say, I really like this direction – and especially the fonts used. Say what you will about hooded figures (and I know you will), I think these aesthetics really capture the feel of the books for me.