Half a King

Posted on July 19th, 2013 in announcements, news, progress

What does an obsessive workaholic writer do with six months off?

Writes a book, of course.

The one I finished a few weeks ago is called Half a King. My agent Robert Kirby has expertly orchestrated a major deal in the UK and Commonwealth with HarperCollins, where it’s been jointly acquired by Nick Lake on the young adult side, and by Jane Johnson and Emma Coode for Harper Voyager on the adult fantasy side.  An announcement in The Bookseller is over here, and on Harper Voyager’s blog (with a tiny little description) over here.  Robert also brought in some new agents (for me) in the US, the wonderful Ginger Clarke and Jonathan Lyons at Curtis Brown who expertly orchestrated major US deals for print and for audio, the details of which should become clear later as the sun rises over the land of the free.  The current plan, subject to change, of course, is to publish the book simultaneously across the English-speaking world in July 2014, with two sequels following at six monthly intervals in January and July 2015.  Translation rights have already been sold in German to Heyne and French to Bragelonne with negotiations in other languages very much underway.

In some ways this is a very different sort of book from what I’ve written so far.  It’s aimed partly at younger readers (maybe the 12-16 range).  It’s much shorter – 80,000 words compared to 175,000 for my shortest, Red Country, and 230,000 for my longest, Last Argument of Kings (though still over twice the length of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, believe it or not).  It’s set in a very different world with what you might call a viking or anglo-saxon feel.  It’s much more focused, with a single point of view.  It’s not so overtly ‘gritty’ although it’s a long way from smooth.  It is punchy.  It has drive.  I aimed to deliver a slap in the face with every page.

Before some of you groan in horror at this wounding betrayal of all you believe in, I also wrote this with established readers, and indeed with a wider adult readership, very much in mind.  In some ways it’s a very similar sort of book to what I’ve written so far.  It’s fantasy, but light on the fantasy, and heavy on the vivid characters, the visceral action, the mixture of wit and cynicism, the twists and surprises.  I hope that it will have a wide appeal.  But I don’t feel that I’ve compromised on the way I’ve written.  I think it’s as tough, surprising, challenging, and morally ‘grey’ as the rest of my output.

It’s very important to say that this is in no way a split from my current publishers Gollancz (and their parent Orion) in the UK and Orbit in the US.  I cannot emphasise enough that Gollancz – and in particular my editor, Gillian Redfearn – have been and continue to be a brilliant, brilliant publisher for me.  They fished The Blade Itself from the slush pile, more or less, and have built on the success of every book, to the point where The Heroes and Red Country both made the Sunday Times Hardcover Bestseller list.  They’ve made deals in no less than 26 foreign territories and sold somewhere around 3 million of my books across the world in paper, audio and electronic formats.  That’s quite an achievement and I’m hugely grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me and the work they’ve put into making my books a success.

Gollancz will continue to publish the six First Law books in the UK (along with Orbit and Pyr in the US) – with their accustomed inspiration and aplomb, I do not doubt – and in due course will be publishing a collection of short stories (which hopefully will appear in late 2015/early 2016) as well as another trilogy set in the First Law world.  That trilogy is in the works, but there was always going to be a significant gap in the adult publishing while I worked out what I was going to do with it.  I wouldn’t bet on seeing the first one in your bookstore (or on your preferred e-reading platform) before 2017.

Some background on how this came about.

I’ve published six hefty adult fantasy books in seven years.  Although I’ve tried to make them all different in some ways – different structures, different settings, different points of view – they’re all pretty beefy, they’re all set in the same world, they have a similar tone, they cover some of the same ground.  Though I’m very happy with and proud of the result, Red Country was a difficult book to write.  I felt at times somewhat uninspired.  Somewhat burned out.  I really didn’t want, as I had every time in the past, to go straight on to working on the next book in the First Law world right after finishing one.  I felt the need to step back, recharge the batteries, try something at least a little bit different.  But at the same time I didn’t want the acorn to fall too far from the tree – I wanted it to be something that my established readers would enjoy, or perhaps even love with a flaming passion.  I wanted to set up two separate lines of work that would complement each other creatively and commercially.

There were a couple of different options.  One that I’d been toying with for a while was to do some sort of tie-in fiction, possibly to a video game that I really liked.  Sounds like a step back, in a way, perhaps, but there’s a certain appeal to working within established parameters in someone else’s creation.  Certainly if it’s a creation you like.  I’d had a couple of very interesting approaches in that line.  But in the end it just seemed like too much work ploughed into something I didn’t own and in the last analysis couldn’t control.  The other option was to write fantasy in a new world, perhaps in a different style or form.  I’d had a meeting with Nick Lake, YA (Young Adult, that is) publishing director at Harper Collins, a couple of years ago about the possibility of writing a YA fantasy, and I’d been turning over ideas in that line for a while.  Then an idea came up which stuck, and started to develop, and draw in other ideas.  So I wrote it.

I wrote the first part in October last year, between finishing Red Country and touring it.  The initial idea had been to pitch that first 12,000 words or so along with a detailed plan, but I wanted that sample to really blow the doors off anyone who read it, and when it came to it I didn’t think I could make the front as good as I wanted to without getting to the end, and having a whole book finished with a plan for two more seemed like a much more powerful proposition.  So I wrote the rest December to March, worked over and revised it in April, responded to reader comments and finished off in May.  June I wrote a couple of short stories but on the whole the month was taken up with meetings and conversations with publishers and agents in the US and UK to work out these deals.  Which is why my posting rate around here has been a little weak of late.

My plan now is that the two sequels, cautiously titled Half the World and Half a War, will be my main focus for the next year or so.  I’m already a few chapters into the first draft of the second book.  I hope to have those two books finished not long after the publication of Half a King in July 2014.  Then I’ll start work on the adult trilogy in the First Law world.  So that’s me kept pretty busy ’til … at least winter 2017, I’d say.  Which is both rather nice and rather horrifying.

Oh.  Maybe you want to know more about the actual content of this new book?

Guess you’ll have to wait just a little while for that.

But I think you’re going to like it…

I’ll be answering questions here, on Facebook, and on twitter @LordGrimdark for those who may be curious…

114 Comments So Far... (join in)

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  1. Hi Joe

    I teach 13 and 14 year olds. I have often wished I could reccommend your books to them, but they are not ready ….yet. When they are 15 – 16 they will be, or at least some of them will be. I am very excited to hear about the new novel. I often hear from my students about how they hate to read novels, and I respond that its because they arn’t reading the right novels. I can’t wait to show them your work.


  2. I look forward to the reads. The Hobbit was a childrens book the spawned the great lord of the rings series. I hope that the re charge has allowed you time to hown your craft and allow you to raise the bar again. I cant wait to revisit midderland but dont mind a detour.

  3. I’m interested in these new books because I’ve heard many great things about the First Law series, but can’t stomach the extreme descriptions of violence and torture (not a criticism, just a personal preference). If they were toned down just the degree necessary for a YA audience, I would probably pick one up. There are probably other would-be adult readers out there who feel the same way. So thank you for this effort.

  4. Joe…You single handedly renewed my faith in the ‘fantasy’ genre and I thank you profusely. I sense that you have a hefty disdain for maps and I appreciate your stance on the issue but I’m old school and love the god damn things. The maps I’ve seen on line for the 1st Law trilogy, Red Country and now the Half a King series give the impression that we are, at the very least, dealing with different continents, on the same planet in roughly the same historical period.

    The story in Red Country moved in an East to West direction with the Horse People a prominent part of the narrative and in the “King” series they seem to inhabit areas South and East of the Shattered Sea zone. As a result of this interpretation on my part my aged brain is consequently placing the events in 1st Law taking place East of the Shattered Sea or, if you will, somewhere in present day Southern Russia. This confusion is not causing me to experience sleep depravation but could you clear this geographical confusion up for me?


    Dave Hoeltje


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