Feb 05 2015

Sneak peek – The Dragon House

Blue gift box

Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net

Today I have some exciting news!

As a thank you for all your patience, I have released an exclusive extract from the upcoming conclusion to The Wild Hunt Quartet, THE DRAGON HOUSE, and you can read it here (opens as pdf).

Hope this whets your appetite for the rest of the book!

And who knows, if I need a break from writing there might be another wee extract coming your way soon . . .

 

 

 

Feb 03 2015

A long short story

For those of you who don’t follow me on social media, here’s the full story of the day I said farewell to an old friend, one who’s had my back, quite literally, for over twenty years.

I’m talking about TH. TH was there with me throughout my IT career. TH was in my wedding photos. TH even accompanied me to London to meet my agent for the very first time as a newly-minted authorial entity. But all good things must come to an end, and the time had come for me and TH to part ways.

If you haven’t met me, you’re probably wondering what I’m wittering on about. Ladies and gentlemen: meet The Hair.

 

Me with long hair

Me and TH

Me and The Hair were kinda like Foul Ole Ron* and his Smell, in the sense that The Hair was really the rock-star in our relationship. Never self-effacing, it always took up two seats on the plane and had a tendency to make people stare. It had Personality.

Unfortunately, The Hair also had some bad habits. It choked at least one vacuum cleaner to death. It could commit actual bodily harm just by turning over in bed, and as for the shower drain, let’s not even go there *shudder*.

It was also becoming increasingly difficult to manage in terms of my MS: on most days I couldn’t stand for the 30-40 minutes required to wash and comb it. When I could manage it, I had to have no plans to walk anywhere afterwards for at least half an hour. The weight gave me headaches, and when it was wet it actually was heavy enough to affect my balance.

So something had to give. What gave was this:

My ex-braid

Yes, really. I measured it.

That’s 33 inches, y’all. THIRTY THREE. INCHES. OF HAIR. It hadn’t been cut since 2009, when I had these photos taken.

So what’s left? Not a lot. Here I am now, all shorn like a li’l lamb.

Me with my new short hair

Baaa.

My husband had never seen me with hair this short; when we met, some 17-anna-bit years ago, my hair was already past my waist. Amazingly, he’s still talking to me.

Do I miss it? A little bit. I used to love it all freshly curly, when I could toss it over my shoulder – swoosh! – like the girl in the shampoo commercial. However, when you have a long-hair perm, it takes something approaching a geological age to grow it out so you can go back to being curly-girl-in-a-shampoo-commercial again, and curly-girl doesn’t last long.

The vacuum cleaner, however, doesn’t miss The Hair at all.

 

* obligatory Terry Pratchett reference. Bugrit.

Feb 03 2015

I aten’t dead

Picture of alarm clockSo. I’m still here.

In case any of you had been wondering, like. I’ve just been a bit busy. And ill. And busying being ill – or being busy whilst ill, or ill whilst busy, or . . . You get the picture.

Chronic illness sucks. Who knew?

Anyway, it’s been a hard road so far, but I have ground out some words on THE DRAGON HOUSE and most of them I think I will actually keep. It’s not finished yet, but at 145k (give or take) I think I can see the end up ahead. Sort of. If I squint a bit.

I’m sorry it’s taking so long to get there. I’m not here to make excuses, but I genuinely am going as fast as I can. I want this book to be a fitting finale to the series, one that takes everything that has gone before and wraps it up into a conclusion that is satisfying for both me as the writer and you as the reader. I hope you’ll bear with me until we get there.

In order to make it worth your while, I have a little treat for you later this week: a sneak peek at what I’ve been working on. The usual disclaimers apply: raw as steak tartare, prod it and it’ll moo etc. I hope you’ll like it. Stay tuned!

 

Image courtesy of Graeme Weatherston at freedigitalphotos.net

 

Aug 11 2014

Incentivisation, I haz it

New books receivedToday brought me a modest haul of new books, these being the only ones I could remember from my missing-presumed-lost/recycled/eaten by dust-bunnies “Books to Buy” list. I have made myself a promise that I will not so much as crack the covers until THE DRAGON HOUSE is packed off to my editor.

Since I like reading about as much as I like breathing, I’d better crack on, eh?

I tweeted a picture of this lot as soon as I unpacked them, but for reasons known only to themselves HTC have seen fit to pair their phone’s pre-loaded Twitter client with bloody Yfrog, which has an unspeakably ill-formed splash page and does horrible things to image sizes, hence this post.

I really need to get my arse in gear and sign up with Tumblr or summat for those social-media-on-the-go moments. I am *such* a technophobe. Also too busy Actually Doing Stuff That Keeps The Lights On Around Here, which is likewise responsible for my lack of:

  • blogging regularly
  • self-promotion
  • updating the website
  • learning Scrivener
  • redrawing the map for the Wild Hunt Universe
  • getting a haircut

I don’t know how my fellow writers manage to do all this and hold down a day job.

 

 

Jul 30 2014

Where in the world . . . ?

Excerpt from original map. . . or why The Wild Hunt doesn’t have a map.

Pick up a fantasy book and you’re almost guaranteed to find a map somewhere upon its person: tucked in behind the flyleaf, gorgeously painted on the endpapers (Wheel of Time hardbacks, anyone?) or even as the outer jacket itself, like those splendid Joe Abercrombie ones.

The map seems to be an accepted – indeed expected – part of the fantasy furniture. Secondary world = must have a map (con-lang pronunciation guide, glossary and cast of characters optional). Some readers even feel faintly cheated if there isn’t one: a dimension to their immersion is missing.

I can completely understand this. Beyond being a visual treat, the map can be useful. In a military fantasy, where battlefield positions and objectives are fundamental to the drama unfolding on the page, it helps to see them laid out. Likewise in books that involve lots of travelling or a desperate race to reach Point X before the bad guys do, it’s fun to follow along on the map. Or maybe the plot revolves around small, peaceful Country Y which shares a border with the vast, acquisitive Evil Empire Z, and the map provides a graphic reminder of the stakes at play. There’s a reason the internet loves infographics so much: a picture really does paint a thousand words.

As for me, I love maps, especially old ones. Topographical maps, ancient place names and the roads that connect them, all these pieces of history under our feet – they have a thousand stories in them. Maps are like a seed catalogue for a storyteller and a worldbuilder like me, who’s a ‘gardener’ writer. I found out the other day that the Ordnance Survey people actually make a Map of Roman Britain, and I want a copy just because Maps! Romans! Awesome!

So it should be fairly obvious that I also love a good fantasy map. These days I’m not so fussed on the ones that appear geologically unlikely, or have only a few scattered settlements separated by large amounts of empty space in which nothing apparently exists but some plot-significant ruins. I prefer maps that show me a living world, one with navigable rivers and sea-ports for trade, a decent highway system, mixed population densities and variable terrain. A world that looks as though it ought to function reasonably well as a place in its own right, utterly independently of the story.

Another extract from the original mapBut what if the action in our fantasy story happens largely in one place, or the travelogue parts of the story are covered in summary rather than exhaustive detail? What if, at that point, the rest of the landscape is just *there*, in the background, doing nothing but keeping two oceans apart and stopping the mountains falling on your head? Does the book really need a map then?

When Songs of the Earth was about to be published, my editor at the time, Jo Fletcher, asked me if there was a map to accompany it. I explained that I’d drawn one mumblety years ago, before the Great Rewrite of 2004 destroyed the geography of the southern and eastern parts of the Empire [note, not Evil Empire Z above] thus rendering the map horribly inaccurate. Besides, it was a whimsical sketch, not to scale, and unrealistically constrained to fit a sheet of A4 paper as that was all I had at the time.

“Anyway, I’m not sure it really needs a map,” I said. “The story starts in the Holy City then fairly briskly moves to the Western Isles, and I’ve skipped over the dull travelling parts.”

Jo was cool with that, and then she left my publisher to start her own imprint. By the time me and my new editor all got in the groove and the question of maps came up again, it was too late to get one drawn up and in place whilst still keeping to the publishing schedule. Never mind, I thought, we can always do one later.

youarehere2Now here we are, three books down, and there’s still no map. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had to field an increasing number of questions in email, on forums and in interviews why this is so. This post is an attempt to answer them. Short version: it’s my fault.

After I decided that the first book didn’t need a map, it wasn’t until much, much later that it dawned on me that the *series as a whole* kinda did. I’d got tunnel vision with Book 2, and of course it was all perfectly clear to me where everything was, so not having a map isn’t that big a deal . . . Yeah. Right.

Now I could just say I’m the writer, it was my decision, so tough bananas, you’re stuck with it, but that sounds rather high-handed. The truth is I was concentrating so hard on writing the story that I lost sight of the fact that many readers like to see where said story is actually happening. I forgot that I’ve been noodling around this Empire place for twenty years, and you all only got here five minutes ago. It’s sort of my duty to make sure you don’t get lost on your way to the Plains of Nothing But Plot-Significant Ruins.

So, I’m sorry. I hope we can still be friends.

Nothing would please me more than to dust off the old Rotring pen and draw a new map (on a bigger sheet of paper!), or invest in some mapping software to play with, but I would probably enjoy that far too much. As some of you might have noticed, I am desperately behind on Book 4. THE DRAGON HOUSE has to be my priority just now, or my editor will glare at me, and I really don’t want that. She has range weapons, you know. She can pick me off from *anywhere*.

Nonetheless it bothers me that I don’t have a proper map to show you the world in which The Wild Hunt Quartet takes place. It bothers me so much that just as soon as I can, I am going to put some effort into making sure there will be a map (and a pronunciation guide, a gazetteer, a glossary, some deleted scenes and a list of characters) even if I have to make a special website on which to put it.

You can hold me to that.

 

Jul 17 2014

Natural history

 

FADE IN:

 

INT. WRITER’S CAVE – DAY

 

The curtains are drawn, cloaking the litter and countless half-drunk cups of tea in shadow. A dishevelled figure crouches over a laptop, face unhealthily pale in the glow from the screen.

 

VOICEOVER

Observe the WRITER in its den. Here it makes a nest of crumpled
paper and pencils, in which it will incubate its precious egg for a
period of up to a year. So attentive is its parenting – some would say
obsessive – that the writer rarely emerges from its cave. When it
does, it is easily confused by bright lights and sudden sounds.

 

The doorbell sounds. The writer’s head jerks up, its ears twitching. After a moment the bell rings again, followed by knocking on the door.

 

WRITER

Yes? Hello?

 

The knocking continues. The writer gets to its feet as if it hasn’t moved in days, and shambles to the door. On the way it scratches its unkempt fur, dislodging biscuit crumbs and the occasional pencil. At the end of the hall it hesitates, squinting in the uncomfortably bright light.

 

WRITER

Who’s there?

 

An indistinct figure in a bright red coat can be seen through the front door glass.

 

POSTMAN

Got a parcel here you need to sign for.

 

WRITER
(twisting hands together nervously)

Oh. Okay.

 

VOICEOVER

Writers are shy, introspective creatures at the best of times. During the
prolonged incubation period they often seem to lose the social skills
required to successfully interact with other creatures. Their attention is
so focused on their offspring that they frequently neglect their own
grooming and their diet deteriorates to subsistence level, scavenging
junk and whatever uneaten food they find lying about the den.

 

WRITER

Um . . .

 

POSTMAN
(muffled sigh)

Miss?

 

The writer scuttles to the door, avoiding the patch of sunlight on the carpet as if afraid it will burn. After fumbling with the key, it manages to unlock the door and open it just wide enough to peer out.

 

WRITER
(suspiciously)

Yes?

 

POSTMAN

Parcel? To sign for? You’ll have to open the door a bit wider, love.
It’s quite large.

 

A brown cardboard box appears in shot, just visible through the gap in the door. The writer looks around nervously, cringing at the passing cars. Instead of the large box, the postman proffers a smaller one with a screen set into the top, and a dangling stylus attached.

 

POSTMAN

Just sign on the line, love.

 

The writer fumbles for the stylus and scrawls a crude symbol on the screen.

 

POSTMAN
(pushing the larger box towards the door with his foot)

There you go then. Early Christmas present, eh?

 

WRITER
(mumbles incoherently)

 

POSTMAN
(adjusts cap, looks uncertain)

Er, right then. I’ll be off, shall I?

 

The postman holds out his hand for the data terminal. The writer stares at it, nonplussed.

 

POSTMAN

Er . . . ?

 

A particularly large furniture delivery van drives past, belching diesel fumes. Panicked by the noise, the writer flings the data terminal at the postman, and claws the parcel inside. The door slams in the postman’s face.

 

WRITER
(making a keening noise)

My precious . . .

 

The writer falls to its knees, pawing at the cardboard.

 

WRITER

My bookses. Mine. My own.

 

VOICEOVER

Singing happily to itself, the writer retreats to its nest with its treasure.
The precious author copies will be placed in the shrine at the back of
the den, and the box and packing materials added to the the creature’s
bedding to keep it snug through the long weeks to come until eventually,
a new book is born.

 

FADE OUT

 

Jul 16 2014

New arrival: German edition

German_editionsIf you’ve been waiting on Book 3 of The Wild Hunt in German, Der Schleier der Macht a.k.a. The Raven’s Shadow in English, should be available in stores now.

As you can see, Heyne have done another bang-up job with the cover, and it looks even better in the flesh – particularly when arranged with the others in the series. Click the image for a bigger view.

So I guess this means I’d better get back into my writing cave and finish Book 4, then . . .

 

 

Mar 02 2014

The Gemmell Awards longlist and voting is go!

The mighty SnagaIt’s that time of year again: the longlists have been announced for the 2014 David Gemmell Legend Awards, and voting is open. Go feast your eyes on the candidates on display. Go on, I’ll wait.

Right, so, if you’ve been and had a look you might have spotted that one of the names on that there list is mine, up for the Legend Award for The Raven’s Shadow.  If you feel so inclined, you can vote for it here. Personally, I think it’s my best book so far, and I am immensely proud of it, but it is for readers to judge whether it is worthy of a click on the voting form.

And you must do what you feel is right, of course.

 

Jan 18 2014

Of music and magic

Entrance to Fingal's Cave

Fingal’s Cave, the Isle of Staffa : Karl Gruber

One of my earliest memories is of listening to music. On Sunday evenings, to lull me off to sleep, my parents used to leave the radio playing just outside my bedroom door, tuned in to a programme called “Your Hundred Best Tunes”. It featured popular classics, like Morning from The Peer Gynt Suite, and the largo from the New World Symphony, forever to be known in the UK as “the Hovis music” after an inspired television commercial for bread.

That radio programme was my introduction to classical music. Long before I knew the names of the composers, I recognized the pieces by the pictures they painted in my head: the surging surf of Fingal’s Cave, Night on a Bare Mountain with its witches’ sabbat, and the gilded curlicues of The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Through music I began to explore the landscapes of my imagination, as the pictures prompted questions of who and where and why, and from those seeds, stories grow.

When I’m writing, I almost always have music playing. There are sound practical reasons for this: it blocks out ambient noise that would otherwise distract me, such as the school playground across the road, and creates an aural bubble in which I can focus utterly on what I’m working on, but there are other reasons too; reasons which are equally practical, if a little more ephemeral.

On those days when the creative fires prove difficult to ignite, music provides an extra spark. Whether it’s a mood or a mountain range I’m trying to invoke, the right piece of music can serve as a prompt – and sometimes takes me somewhere I wasn’t expecting. It doesn’t always have to be a classical piece, either: sweeping movie soundtracks, rock, country, any genre you like. If you put my mp3 player on random, it’s entirely possible to segue from AC/DC to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon via Thomas Tallis and Nina Simone, and I’ve found a use for all of them at different times as my stories unfold.

Certain pieces of music also have the power to evoke profound emotional responses, which I can use when I’m tackling a scene that goes beyond my own experience. It’s all very well saying “But you’re a writer, surely you just use your imagination?” but if I want the reader to feel what my character’s feeling, the words have to come not from dispassionate choices made in my head, but from deep inside.

Waterlily in the rain

Waterlily in the rain

I’ve never knelt in the rain with my first love dying in front of me, but start playing the adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez and I’m there, in that moment, and yes, I’m sobbing my eyes out.

Music has power. Music, to me, is very close to magic. Standing in my garden one summer’s morning, with the sun barely up and the dew still sparkling on the plants, I thought for a second that I could hear the flowers grow. In that moment of whimsy, I heard the songs of the earth, and learned the name of the music Gair heard in the dark as he waited for his sentence to be handed down. With that, another story took flight.

And if that’s not magic, I’m not sure what is.

 

This piece was originally written for my German publisher to promote me as a new writer. I stumbled over it when doing some housekeeping on my PC, and thought it deserved another airing.

 

Jan 13 2014

Cover news – overseas edition

Cover of Bk3 German editionMy spies have reported that this beauty will be the cover of the German edition of The Raven’s Shadow, out later this year.

Hats off to Heyne, who are producing a wonderful set of covers for the series – they look awesome on the shelf together. I can’t wait to get hold of a copy.

Der Schleier der Macht translates as The Veil of Power. Hazarding a guess at why they’ve changed the title, it occurs to me that it might be because Der Schatten des Raben, which is a literal translation of ‘the raven’s shadow’ doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue!

Der Schleier der Macht will be published in Germany on 14 July 2014, in paperback.

In the meantime, I’ll be up here in my office, basking. As you do.

 

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