Rural Fantasy

Enough of this Urban Fantasy malarkey, because I’m now interested in Rural Fantasy.

I’ve written a Book Club feature for SFX Magazine, on Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock. It’s probably no surprise to long-time followers of this blog that I’ve chosen that book to write about. I hope I’ve done Mythago Wood justice, and that I’ve served Robert, who sadly died not that long ago, as well as he deserves. I think I sufficiently explored the numerous themes within, pleasing the many fans of this novel, whilst also exciting any potential new readers. As an aside, before he passed away, I was lucky enough to have exchanged a few emails with him, and I browsed through these hoping to glean something for the article (unsuccessfully) but found the experience of reading the emails of someone no longer with us remarkably poignant. The digital age preserves everything.

I’ll give no detail here on what I’ve written for the article, but if you’ve read and admired the book, why not pop along to the SFX forum page, and leave a comment, since I believe they use some of the forum comments to feature alongside the print edition.

So then.

Where are the great Rural Fantasy novels?

I’d love to compile a list of Rural Fantasies – stories which depend upon and inherently involve the natural environment, rather than those which merely use it as a casual backdrop, scenery through which the characters stroll. And also, I’d be more interested in narratives that veer away from folk tales as such, because I can easily see how, for example, the Brothers Grimm have left their mark upon literature.

In the contemporary genre form, I guess Rural Fantasy novels are rarer by far than Urban Fantasy because city populations are obviously denser, therefore (a) there are more people to tell stories about, more human interactions to inspire thought, and (b) statistically, a lot more writers grow up with bricks and concrete around them, and their relation to that environment is more easy to explore – leaving nature a relatively wild and untamed part of the genre.

Or maybe that’s all complete nonsense and it’s simply down to Buffy.

Discussions of genre origins often descend rapidly into argument, so I’m not interested in where one species peeled off from another, particularly considering the difficulty when throwing folk tales back into this particular mix. That said, I suppose modern Rural Fantasy could possibly be traced to the Romantic thinkers, with their rebellion against the scientific rationalisation of nature (and of urban encroachment) combining with the growth and development of the fantasy genre. Fantasists such as William Morris, who in so many aspects of his life embraced rural and environmental concerns, was perhaps a founding father. (It’s also worth stating that he was one of the earliest environmental thinkers, period.)

This sort of thing is much clearer in the writings of Lord Dunsany, and anyone who’s read The King of Elfland’s Daughter, or many of his short stories, can easily see how the natural world supplies the material from which he builds his prose. Even Tolkien had a love affair for the natural world, which is well-documented.

Of more contemporary writers, I can only really think of Robert Holdstock, but after that, I’m struggling to recall names and books. So, feel free to drop suggestions of Rural Fantasy novels or writers in the comments section, and fuel my next book spending spree.

And it occurs to me that, at some point in the future, I really need to write a Rural Fantasy novel – even though most of my output has been about cities, I feel more comfortable with my head in greener places.


Final Copies

They finally arrived, City of Ruin and the new UK paperback of Nights of Villjamur. People have been saying, on Twitter, how pretty the artwork is on the new hardcover, and I certainly agree – also, it’s nice to see a gay albino on covers these days, isn’t it? Behold the greatness of Tor UK:

And what’s this? For those of you with a cartographic fetish, it is an actual, real map.


Forbidden Planet Signing & Singing

It is a balmy summer’s evening and a crowd is gathering. China Miéville, Adam Nevill, myself, publicists and organisers, all head into Forbidden Planet and down the stairs, preparing ourselves for the signing.

China Miéville: I feel like there should be some kind of grand music on our arrival.

Me: What, like the kind of thing you get at a wrestling match?

CM: Absolutely. What song would you have playing as you head out for a signing?

Me: Um… I’ve never actually thought about it.

CM: Oh come on, surely you’ve got a song you’d want playing as you go out for these things?

Me: Nope. So what’s yours?

CM: “Original Nutter”, by Shy FX & Apache Indian. This song changed music in London.

Me: Huh?

CM: Oh you must have heard of it? [China begins to sing the main riff]

At this point I make an observation that I’m of a younger generation (as I will continue do until I am no longer the younger generation). Later, China whips out his iPhone to reveal the video. And here it is, in fact, the song that Three Clarkes Miéville would have playing, if authors were to walk out to music at signings.


I never got to find out what Adam’s music would be, but since he was going to Download, you can be sure it’s none of this Drum & Bass filth. And I still haven’t decided upon my own. More thought required.

The Forbidden Planet signing was, quite simply, a great event, and while I remember I should thank Danie Ware and the gang at FP, as well as Chloe Healy at Pan Mac, for making it such a splendid evening for myself, Adam and China. Here is a picture of me doing some actual, live signing, stolen from courtesy of the lovely Adele:

There was such a big crowd there, and a huge turn-out of bloggers, and given the open-plan nature of the day, it meant that many people could attack the authors from all sides. I signed solidly for the hour, met lots of very lovely people, signed their books, signed a monstrous pile of stock, then did a short video interview, which I failed to take seriously again. A lot of people were extremely kind about the blog, too, which makes typing into this little box a little more rewarding.

Afterwards, we all went to the Phoenix Club, and I enjoyed chatting properly – you know, in meatspace – to readers and bloggers. I’m not going to name everyone here, mainly because I’ve just got back and currently my memory will neglect someone. Oh, but Gav from Next Read, deserves a mention because he gave me a tarot reading on the night. There were several people who I didn’t get the chance to talk to for long enough (including Adam – top guy) but I’m sure the chance will come again in the near future. Other write-ups are materialising, and I’m sure there will be more very soon.

By the way, for those of you seeing me moan on Twitter, I finally managed to get copies of City of Ruin. While I’m at it, here is a very lovely review of the book.



Whilst it seems I have to wait until tomorrow morning to collect my copies of my books from the post office, other reviewers are flicking through it already. One thing that has come to light is this:

I just wanted to add that this isn’t some marketing ploy (I’d apply something much more sinister than this if I was interested in pleasing the gods of publicity). No, this is a genuine thanks. It’s incredibly difficult to forge a new career as an author, especially with all the white noise out there, and many bloggers have been directly and indirectly supportive through lovely reviews, but mostly constant coverage and links, and the cumulative effect is that it has significantly raised my profile. I’m doing far better than I should be, so I felt it would be foolish not to mention that.


Harriet Klausnered

For those of you who read this SF Signal post, there’s nothing new here. But one of the joys of expanding my literary horizons to the US market, is that I’ve finally been reviewed by Harriet Klausner, who was formerly Amazon’s Number 1 reviewer (until they changed the system), with over 21,000 reviews. First, here’s her review of Nights of Villjamur:

As the ice continues to spread as forecasted decades ago across the Jamur Empire archipelago and when it became obvious the sun was dying, increasingly humans and others coming from all the islands take refuge in the ancient city of Villjamur. Some of the horde of thousands comes for more insidious reasons. Thus stability of leadership even if the top person is insane is critical at this time although some in power like Chancellor Urtica choose personal ambition over what is good for the island empire. When the mad emperor Jamur Johynn dies suddenly, placing his untested heir, his elder daughter Rika as the queen, Urtica plans to act to replace her with himself immediately. His strategy is to foster hatred of the desperate immigrants flocking the city before he leads a coup d’etat and an ethic cleansing of all outsiders.

As Rika sits on the throne precariously though sympathetic towards the plight of her people, her mentor Randur Esteyu advises and encourages her while her sister Eir supports her, but her council wants to use her for personal power. Meanwhile someone murders Councilor Ghuda leading to Inspector Rumex Jeryd a nonhuman rumel to investigate at a time the city and kingdom needs unity, not divisions and conspiracies plotting to overthrow the monarchy.

Although the plot starts just a bit faster than the encroaching ice age, Mark Charan Newton creates his world of human and nonhuman; once set (just under a third of the way), the fantasy thriller turns into a police procedural that grips the audience. The cast is solid whether they are human, banshee, rumel or other; but the key player, the dying sun fed ice never feels as if it threatens to destroy all life. Still this is an entertaining tale as death squads initially sent by Johynn and now employed by Urtica use eradication to solve problems though sometimes the dead come back.

Ignore the poor sentence construction, grammar, detours from the actual plot and so on – I’ve left it as I found it. What I’ve found particularly interesting, via the medium of Google Ego Alerts, is how the post has made it onto several blogs: notably, Genre Go Round Reviews, Worlds of Wonders, The Merry Genre Go Round Reviews, and Alternate Words. It’s cut and paste stuff, basically, on simple template blog sites for the most part, and will certainly appear on commercial sites like Amazon soon.

Okay, I think it’s pretty important it goes the other way, and that blog reviewers copy their reviews to commercial sites. Why? (1) Collectively, it forces internet standards to be raised (never a bad thing). (2) It weakens the effect when people hide behind avatars. (3) Bloggers mostly focus on new releases anyway, which serves customers who don’t have the time (or who have poor Google-fu) to trawl for reviews online. Though (4) perhaps the most deep analytical reviews are not likely to be appreciated on Amazon. But (5) ultimately, bloggers might get some new readers, which is all good.

That out of the way, I just can’t see the point in these kind of multiple blog fronts. There’s no personality, and ultimately, what can be gained? To boost search engine rankings, perhaps, but why? I like to think I’m pretty clued up about online activities, but where does the benefit come from this?

Still, as David Louis Edelman says, a review’s a review, right? But I’d like to know how bloggers feel about this industrial, scatter-shot approach to reviewing.


Chomsky Takes A Break

From the constantly hilarious Onion:

Describing himself as “terribly exhausted,” famed linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky said Monday that he was taking a break from combating the hegemony of the American imperialist machine to try and take it easy for once.

“I just want to lie in a hammock and have a nice relaxing morning,” said the outspoken anarcho-syndicalist academic, who first came to public attention with his breakthrough 1957 book Syntactic Structures. “The systems of control designed to manufacture consent among a largely ignorant public will still be there for me to worry about tomorrow. Today, I’m just going to kick back and enjoy some much-needed Noam Time.”

“No fighting against institutional racism, no exposing the legacies of colonialist ideologies still persistent today, no standing up to the widespread dissemination of misinformation and state-sanctioned propaganda,” Chomsky added. “Just a nice, cool breeze through an open window on a warm spring day.”

Sources reported that the 81-year-old Chomsky, a vociferous, longtime critic of U.S. foreign policy and the political economy of the mass media, was planning to use Monday to tidy up around the house a bit, take a leisurely walk in the park, and possibly attend an afternoon showing of Date Night at the local megaplex.

If you’ve never read his books, I do recommend Hegemony or Survival. And elsewhere, on a more serious note, it looks like the dude has been refused entry to the West Bank.


Get More Fantasy In Your Life

Dear struggling writers. What’s the best way of getting your fantasy novel published? Well, the obvious route would be to spend several years pouting up and down catwalks and generally selling your soul to the fashion and media gods. Just like Tyra Banks did.

I’m so EXCITED!! I said I was going to do it, and here it is! It’s for all the girls and guys who want a lot more FANTASY in their lives… and some fierceness and magic, romance and mystery, crazy and wild adventures, and yeah, some danger too. It’s my novel called Modelland (pronounced “Model Land”) that takes you to a fantastical place you’ve never seen, or heard about, or read about before… Where dreams come true and life can change in the blink of a smoky eye. 😉

I think Modelland is going to really touch the dreamer in all of us, whether you’re aged anywhere from 8 to 80. (Please don’t be mad if you’re 7 or 81, but “eight to eighty” sounds better!)

Isn’t that sweet. I liked the way she had to stress the pronunciation of Modelland. (It’s Model and Land, get it?)

Ever since I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to pick up a new book and see what worlds the writers had created for me. I especially loved books with strong girls and women – you know, girls with guts, smarts and attitude – and then one day it came to me… MODELLAND!

You know, girls, because “Intoxibellas are drop-dead beautiful, kick-butt fierce and, yeah, maybe they have some powers too.”

I, for one, can’t wait for the fan fiction.


Authors & Politics

Readers seem to surrender themselves to the idea of politics within fiction on a regular basis. They are open to worlds of hugely varying political structures and concepts, and many genre authors are willing to explore new ways of thinking. But when it comes to actual, real-life ideologies, authors and readers start staring at their feet. Everyone feels a tad uncomfortable. We talk about, uh, the weather. Look at this piece of artwork instead!

Why is this?

Authors: we’ve had a general election in the UK. Why have so few of us commented on the results? Are we afraid of getting up on a soapbox and and entering into time-consuming debates? Are we afraid of losing sales from readers who might not agree with our stance? (Readers: is this the case?) Or maybe we just don’t care what goes on in the world around us.

Granted, there are cases across the internet where authors have made rather unsuccessful attempts at social commentary in the past, but should such examples put us off from expressing an opinion? Authors have an audience and have opinions and are in the ideas business. To me, this sounds like fertile land in which to engage in rational debates.

SF and Fantasy possesses a long history of authors with open political leanings (on the left: Miéville, Morgan, Banks, MacLeod, Le Guin and so on). There’s just no so much of it around today.

Or perhaps we should not encourage such discussions outside of the fiction?


What’s The Best Way To Enter An Author?

Think about it. You suddenly hear about Author X from a friend, but when you get to the bookstore you find out you’re ten years late to the party. Author X has a dozen novels under his or her belt, and a vast career stretches out before your eyes. They might have written series or stand-alones. Some novels might have sold massively, others titles not so well but might have won an award or two.

If you want to get into Author X, where do you start?

Traditionalists might say you should start at the beginning and work your way through Author X’s career, tracking the developments of their themes, observing the subtle nuances of prose, and how they develop over time.

Others might equate high levels of sales proportionately with utility, and will say you MUST by Author X’s bestselling title to date because that’s the one EVERYONE loves and ZOMG by definition is TEH BEST. And by bestselling, I mean the one that got the most review coverage / advertising spend / award noms / best cover art. You get the picture: it had everything going in its favour.

Booksellers might direct you to their latest 3 for 2 offers. Publishers to the one most recently published (and if you wouldn’t all mind buying it on the release week so it stands a better chance of hitting the charts?)

What do authors think?

Perhaps those with commercial sapience might point readers towards the novel at the highest price-point. Hardcover royalties, if you please. Artistes might suggest their latest offering as something truly representative of the accumulation of their career. Authors with an anarchistic bent might direct you to torrent sites. (Me, I’d actually point to City of Ruin, because I think I’ve grown massively since Nights, and I would want people to enter me somewhere that shows me on my best form. First impressions count.)

What approach do you take when discovering a new old author?

Note: this was prompted by a conversation on Twitter with Next Read, when recommending where people should start with a particular author.