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Posted on April 14th, 2014 in announcements, news
Sorry to report there’s going to be a very slight delay in the US publication of Half a King.
Don’t panic! It’s only a week. Promotional, book selling thing, the book itself has been finished for some time now. So US publication moves back from 8th to 15th July. The UK publication date remains on the 3rd July. Can’t imagine either of those dates shifting at this point.
On the upside, the sequel, Half the World, has gone down rather well with my editors so it looks like a February 2015 release is pretty much certain for that one. The plan is to release the final book, Half a War, in July 2015, and I very much hope to manage that, but since it’s still in the planning stage the jury’s still out on that one. More news as I have it…
Posted on April 11th, 2014 in reviews
Delighted to say that I got a quote for Half a King from some George RR Martin guy. Not familiar with his work myself but apparently he wrote some Game of Thrones thing which is quite popular at the moment…
“Joe Abercrombie does it again. Half a King is another page-turner from Britain’s hottest young fantasist, a fast-paced tale of betrayal and revenge that grabbed me from page one and refused to let go.”
In all seriousness, it’s always great to get a quote from a popular author, but George is one of very few living writers that I think had a big impact on the way that I write. When I first read A Game of Thrones back in the 90s (oh God, can it really be nearly 20 years ago?), I saw summed up in that book a lot of things I felt had been missing in commercial fantasy – the shocks, the grit, the vivid characters, the moral ambiguity, the brutal disregard for convention. Seeing that you could write a book like that and still stay firmly within epic fantasy was a big inspiration to me, and without A Game of Thrones I don’t think the First Law would have been as it is, if it happened at all. Admiration is always great, but admiration from people you admire is that much greaterer, so I’ll hope you’ll allow me this moment of insufferable smugness.
Should you hold George’s opinion in as high esteem as I do, you might consider preordering Half a King, or if you’re still undecided reading a considerable extract over here…
On another note, I love that I’m in a profession where at 39 you can be considered young and exciting. Ryan Giggs is considered a freakish old man for continuing to play football past 40…
Posted on March 28th, 2014 in announcements, news
Regular visitors may have noticed an extensive redesign of the site over the past few weeks, courtesy of the marvellous Darren Turpin, who actually built this site in the first place way back in the mists of time shortly after the fall of King Arthur. Reflecting the leap forward in display technologies we have a wider, more informative format, new front page, more usefulization in the sidebaritude, far more content in the books sections, and, one hopes, slightly more frequent updating of this hear blog than has been going on over the last few months.
But one other special bonus thing that’s been included are much chunkier extracts from all my books, including the forthcoming Half a King. If, by any chance, you’d like to sharpen your appetite by reading the first seven chapters (around 12,000 words) of that you can do it right now, right here.
Or you can find all the extracts over here, viewable on-screen through your browser or available to download, examine, share, and peruse at your leisure on the mobile device or e-book viewer of your choosing, in e-pub, kindle, or pdf formats.
Posted on March 24th, 2014 in film and tv
I have, of course, entirely missed the boat on this, as ever, and no doubt it’s all been said already and the Sauron’s eye of popular culture moved on to fresh pastures. But I just saw the final episode of Breaking Bad last night, and felt the need to muse a little on this extraordinary show. I’m going to try to avoid major spoilers in the text but I can’t say the same for the comments, so if you haven’t seen it, just go and watch it. Then come back.
There’s been a true revolution in television drama over the past decade or two. It’s becoming almost old hat to assert that the small screen has taken over from the big as the place where exciting work is aired. But even so it’s hard to think of long-running tv series that maintain their consistency, let alone present any kind of coherent arc from beginning to end. Indeed the commercial imperatives of US TV make it likely shows will be kept going at least a little bit past their best. The Shield had a fantastic first couple of seasons and a dynamite last, but sagged in the middle. Battlestar Galactica produced two superb seasons, one reasonable one, then wandered off into the philosophical desert. Deadwood was brilliant but meandering. By the end it was clear the writers of Lost had been lost all along.
Breaking Bad’s first season – somewhat hamstrung by the writing strike – was maybe no better than promising, but since then it’s been brilliant, and the fifth and final season was truly stupendous, more or less every episode a proper corker packed with shocks, horrors, big moments and huge payoffs. And it maintained its focus throughout, kept a steadily mounting pace in spite of the commercial pressures of tv, had a thematic purity that you very rarely see. Bold in concept and meticulous in execution, it’s maybe the most impressive example of a single, focused story brought to long-form TV. The closest you’ll come to a televised novel.
It’s an absolutely towering central performance from Bryan Cranston – hard these days to imagine as the Dad from Malcolm in the Middle – by turns pitiful, vile, likeable, self-defeating, terrifying, and yet somehow combining into a totally coherent and believable human. You believe in him as a harassed and hopeless chemistry teacher. You believe in him as a ruthless criminal mastermind. By the end of the final series he’s done some truly appalling things but when he’s finally portrayed as a monster unmasked you feel his sense of injustice at it because each step along the path has been natural, believable, even inevitable, his righteous motives of providing for his family after his death mutating by deft degrees into greed, ambition, self-preservation and a driving desire to win by any means necessary, the nature of the show changing with him to cover new ground, a grander scale, and an ever darkening moral climate.
The style undoubtedly developed over the course of the five series run, and became something truly exceptional I think. It often seems understated because what the camera is pointing at is so humdrum, banal, routine. There are long pauses, endless silences, in the desert of New Mexico, and in the deserts of the character’s emotional lives. Wide shots are sometimes left punishingly long (often the mark of great editing is not intricate cutting, but the confidence to let one shot breathe). There are strange, unsettling angles, weird fish eyes and points of view taken of smoke, equipment, cameras, faces looming disconcertingly into shot, distorted, monstrous. There are concentrations on odd details, ultra close-ups, recurrent motifs that in some way encapsulate the message or theme of a given episode. There are frequent glimpses of the past, reinterpreted with hindsight, and hints of what is to come whose horrible significance only becomes clear with time. There are occasional barn-storming grandstand sequences, like the one in which ten witnesses are murdered in prison within two minutes to the merciless ticking of Walt’s lovely new watch, the use of sound reminding me of a classic sequence from John Boorman’s Point Blank, in which tension builds to the tapping of Lee Marvin’s shoes as he strides implacably to a reckoning. Sometimes the visual inventiveness is far quieter – a brilliant moment in the final episode when Walt’s wife Skyla, sitting in her kitchen in static wide shot near a faux wood clad pillar, receives a phone call warning her that Walt might be on the way. You begin to suspect that Walt is in fact already in the house. In a more typical show he might have stepped out of a doorway or moved into shot as his wife put the phone down. Here the camera begins to crawl inexorably forward, so that Walt is revealed, behind the pillar, as having been standing in the middle of the room the whole time.
But, as with any great tv, or film, or books, it’s the characters that really make it. The acting, and the writing, is great throughout. It’s hard to think of anyone who doesn’t convince. Walt overcomes a raft of psychos, thugs and gangsters through his ill-starred criminal career, but his most dangerous and memorable antagonists – Fring, Mike, Jessie at various times and in various ways and finally, awfully, inevitably, Hank – are all fully realised people, often admirable in their own ways, usually considerably more sympathetic than is Walt himself. Walt is at times truly loathsome – small, vicious, selfish, manipulative, ruthlessly ambitious – and yet he remains human right to the end. Indeed there is a kind of redemption in his desperate attempts to hold things together that his own actions have irrevocably blown apart. He retains our sympathy because he remains utterly believable as a person, despite the fact he has done unforgivable things, then worse, then worse.
Posted on March 21st, 2014 in announcements, artwork, news
Final hardcover will include all manner of wondrous textures, foils and finishes. And now, of course, you are free to tell me just how much you love it…
Should you desire to pre-order one, incidentally, you could do it via this page. A considerable extract will be coming in the not too distant future…
Posted on March 14th, 2014 in process
I’ve had a few minor bits and pieces to deal with the last couple of weeks including a short story now squared away, which leaves me with no alternative but to tackle a third draft of Half the World, curse it. Few weeks ago I was talking about work on the second draft, which focused on getting the arcs of the two central characters right, adding a couple of key scenes and setting a few things up better, and doing a lot of general cutting. That’s now been done, read by my first readers (mum and dad, bless ‘em), and reacted to.
Reader reaction is always an interesting, even a slightly challenging thing to take on. Your gut reaction to the first mild critique usually varies somewhere between you’re wrong and fuck you. Working as a TV editor – where you often have to accept changes from others and use them as a jumping off point to making things better from your point of view as well as theirs – helped me overcome some of this instinctive reluctance to change things, shall we call it, and experience over the past six books has helped me overcome a lot of the rest. These days I ignore my initial reaction and try to listen, absorb, and mull over. Things that one reader says but the other doesn’t necessarily, I many act on if I see a sensible way, but may ignore. Things that both agree on, I’m likely to act on at least to some degree. Things that cause the strongest resistance on my part are often the ones that I later find myself agreeing with most, and if we’re all agreed, I better attend to it. Once you start considering and acting on comments you often find that a few quite minor changes or additions can shift emphasis or clarify or flesh out in a way that subtly answers a point that might have seemed like it would need major work.
In the case of this book there’s really one serious issue throughout – my laser-like focus on getting the two central characters and the relationship between them right has led to a bit of a spotlight effect in which a lot of the secondary cast are lost in the shadows and not really coming through very strongly. Not enough screen time, and what time they have isn’t making an impact. At the same time I’m labouring the point a bit with some of the development of the central two. In particular one is training to fight, and there are too many scenes of training which are a little repetitive and also maybe detract from the impact of actual violence when it occurs. So, cutting of some training, cutting of some repetition, to leave room for some development of some of the secondary characters, including a bit of backstory, a few recurrent concerns and personality features, some more arresting and distinctive mannerisms, some work on their looks. Once you get stuck into this kind of thing you often find they strike interesting sparks from each other and from the central characters too, making the whole interplay of the group more arresting.
A second issue is a bit of a lack of clarity in the politics, the background issues, the importance of what the characters are doing, the stakes if they succeed or fail, with a consequent loss of tension. So some more spelling out of those things, preferably done in such a way that it fulfils some of the previous aim of fleshing out some of the secondary characters while I’m at it. Two birds, one stone. The end is also slightly weak right now and maybe needs some attention to give it a bit more punch.
Aside from those there’s a lengthy checklist of specifics to tweak and details to introduce. Some of this is setting-related, and may get rolled up into a separate pass where I’m stuck into the setting specifically, both the world building aspects (creating an interesting, vivid, coherent backdrop for the action that ideally impacts on the way the characters think and behave) and the smaller scale issues of bringing in vibrant detail that makes the locations feel real, even if only in passing, thinking about lighting, giving scenes some weather or landscape that enhances the action, this type of stuff.
When all that’s done we’ll have a third draft which is getting reasonably close to as good as I can make it without further outside input (though the details of the language will still need a fair bit of work towards the end), and it’s time for it to go off to the editors. Four of em, all told, in this case…
People keep asking me whether Half a King is a Young Adult book. Well, yes it is. Kind of. But also an adult fantasy. Kind of. Crossover, you know. Depends a little on who you ask…
Categorisation is always a bit of a strange business. Books are often put into a certain genre, or shelved in a certain part of a bookstore, because of things that are nothing to do with the content of the book – the history of the author, the nature of the publisher, the whim of a bookseller, the font on the spine. Young Adult is a particularly tough category to define as it straddles all kinds of different styles – fantasy, historical, thrillers, romance, tough real world stories. The one thing a young adult book must have is a young adult protagonist, but outside of that, there are no hard rules. They’re often shorter and more focused than adult books, but not always. They’re often less explicit in the areas of sex and violence, but not always. They’re often softer on the swearing, except when they’re not.
And of course all these categories are constantly in flux. The boundaries of what’s permissible in a young adult book are constantly expanding, and books that might once have been considered firmly in the camp of adult fantasy (like Eddings’ Belgariad, for example), are sometimes rebranded YA as the years roll on.
A little background as to how I came to write Half a King. I had a meeting with Nick Lake, young adult publisher at Harper Collins, what feels like a hundred years ago but was maybe four. He liked my adult fantasy and thought I might have a good young adult book in me. At the time I was finishing up the Heroes, I think, and the idea sat with me, in a vague sort of way, for some time until, by chance, as these things do, the seed of the idea for Half a King took root in my brain loam. Having written six big, chunky, complicated, relatively similar, unapologetically adult books I felt the need for something of a change. So I started writing.
Now, I will admit to being no kind of expert on young adult literature. Some people might think it’s rather presumptuous of me to try writing it. Maybe it is. Sorry bout that. But then I have a far from encyclopaedic knowledge of adult fantasy either. I’ve always felt strongly that you don’t write something good by trying to slavishly assess what’s working in the marketplace, still less by trying to read everything in a category so that you somehow eliminate everything done before and leave yourself only with the fresh and original. I think you write something good by drawing on all kinds of diverse influences from fiction, from non-fiction, from film and tv and games and life and combining them in a way that only you can to write the kind of book that you would like to read. Or, perhaps, the kind of book you wanted to read at 14.
My main touchstones in the young adult arena were things I read and loved when I was younger – notably Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical books (Blood Feud especially) and John Cristopher’s post-apocalyptic Sword of the Spirits. These were books full of authenticity, honesty, moral ambiguity, shocks and tough choices. These were not books that ever simplified, preached, or talked down to their audience. But I also had in mind the powerful voices of some adult viking fiction, like Frans Bengtsson’s classic The Long Ships, Robert Low’s The Whale Road and sequels, Bernard Cornwell’s Anglo Saxon Chronicles and others.
I started from the standpoint that young adults are, above all, adults. Just young ones. Many of them are extremely sophisticated in their reading. What they want to read isn’t radically different from what old adults (like me) want to read. I get emails, after all, from 11 year olds who read my adult work. When I was 14 I was reading Dragonlance and David Eddings. I was also reading Dickens and Dostoevsky (I may have been enjoying them less than Dragonlance, but you take my point). People in that 12-18 age range are dealing with serious issues of sex, money, identity, responsibility. The last thing they want to read is simplified, childish, toothless pap. The last thing they want to be is talked down to. Talked to as if they’re children. What adult does?
So my aim was not to soften, or bowdlerise, or pull the teeth of my existing style, but to modify it for a new audience, a younger adult audience, but also a wider adult audience who might have found themselves turned off by the big size of some of the fantasy out there. My aim was to write something shorter, tighter, more focused, perhaps a smidge less cynical and pessimistic. I spent some time with horror writer Adam Neville not long ago, and he explained to me his philosophy of life and death on every page. I modified that just a little to a slap in the face on every page. No wasted space. A driving single thread which is all killer, no filler. My aim was to write something tighter and simpler in its narrative, perhaps, but certainly not simpler in the way it was written or in the themes that it tackles. Something a little less explicit in the sex, violence and swearing departments but absolutely with the edges left on, with the same shades of grey, the same moral complexity, the same shocks and challenges, the same visceral action, the same rich vein of dark humour that I fondly imagine my other books have offered. Whatever I came up with, I wanted it to retain the strength of my other work, to bring new readers to that work, and absolutely to appeal to the readers I already had.
There’s a degree to which, once it’s finished and released into the wild, it’s not necessarily up to me to say whether Half a King is Young Adult or not. Publishers, booksellers and, of course, readers, will make their own determinations. The fact that I’m already known for adult fantasy certainly plays a role. In the UK there were 6 publishers interested – 1 children’s, 2 general fiction, 2 adult fantasy and a collaboration between an adult fantasy and a young adult list, all of them with slightly different ideas and emphases on how they’d package and market it. There was much talk of Crossover – that sweet spot between children’s and adult fiction where many of our most beloved fantasies sit, but is always difficult to aim at. It was the collaboration that won through in the end, between Harper Voyager (adult fantasy) and Harper Collins’ YA list with what you might call a comprehensive approach aiming at both markets. In the US, where categories are less flexible, Del Rey will be selling the book primarily in fantasy sections, but with wide-ranging attempts to bring in a young adult readership too. There are already ten or so translation deals done and the various international publishers – some of whom already publish the First Law books and some of whom are new to me – will all have slightly differing approaches depending on their own strengths and their own market.
The term YA is sometimes used disparagingly (probably by folks who’ve never really read any) to mean something superficial, fluffy, disposable, lacking in depth and edge. That is not what I had it in mind to write. That is not what I believe I’ve produced. That is not what I think any serious writer of YA fiction produces. From a recent review by the redoubtable Adam Whitehead, at the Wertzone:
“This is still very much a Joe Abercrombie novel, meaning there’s an air of both cynicism and humour to proceedings and there’s a fair amount of violence. There isn’t much swearing and no sex at all, but beyond that the only way you’d know this was a YA novel is because the author said so on his website.”
I would argue there’s a degree to which – other than by the way it’s talked about, marketed, packaged, and sold – I’m not sure you should be able to tell a good young adult novel from a good adult novel. For me they’ll both be tough, honest, truthful. They’ll both have wit, excitement, strong dialogue and vivid characters. They’ll both leave you desperate to turn the next page, and when you’ve turned the last page, they’ll both leave you with something to think about.
I read a chapter from Half a King at the World Fantasy Convention last year, and at the end, as you do, I asked for questions. Someone called out, ‘is that meant to be toned down?’ That got a laugh from the room, and from me as much as anyone.
Because no, it isn’t meant to be toned down.
Why would it be?
Posted on February 27th, 2014 in progress
Excellent progress since early December, I’m pleased to say, partly due to *ahem* lack of interesting video game releases. Half a King is done and copyedited and done and proofread and done and TOTALLY DONE. ARCs are out in the wild and even now being read and reacted to. WITH UNIVERSAL JOY AND AWESTRUCK ADMIRATION. Publication is early July 2014, US and UK.
Better yet, the second book in this trilogy, Half the World, is done too! Well, I say done, the finished second draft has gone off to my early readers for a first opinion, which I shall attend to and absorb along with some thoughts of mine during March to produce a totally done 3rd draft. Which will then go to editors for further changes. Some more detail on exactly how those processes go down in due course. There’s a fair bit of work still to do on the book, that’s sure, but I think one would have to say that Half the World is looking very good for its provisional publication date of Feb 2015, a mere seven months after Half a King drops.
Alongside the editing of Half the World I’m going to be getting started this month on the planning of the third book, Half a War, with a view to getting the drafting underway in April, with a view to getting the book half done by the time I start travelling for Half a King’s release in July, with a view to getting it finished by the end of 2014, with a view to getting it published a mere five months after Half the World in July 2015. All three out within 12 months. That’s a pretty challenging schedule, but at the moment it’s looking doable. We shall see…
Also got a quick First Law-related short story to knock out in March with a view to getting a collection of all my short fiction together for probably an early 2016 publication. Then we’re on to more adult fantasy in the First Law world, with a very, very provisional pub date of some time 2017. If I haven’t gone insane. Or perhaps if I have.
That is your progress report for February.
Posted on February 25th, 2014 in appearances
I’m going to be out and about a lot this year, what with the release of Half a King in July. There’ll certainly be a few bookshop events in the UK around that time which are yet to be scheduled, but a few festivals and conventions that are already definite:
March 1st-2nd – Cominks, Messina, Italy
May 22nd-25th 2014 – Imaginales, Epinal, France
July 19th 2014 – Edge Lit, Derby, UK
July 22nd-27th 2014 – Comic Con, San Diego, US
July 30th-August 2nd 2014 – Celsius Festival, Aviles, Spain (this one’s a possible, depending on the touring schedule, but I’ve been there the last couple of years, and with Rothfuss and Sanderson along this year, I’d like to make it for at least a couple of days).
August 14th-18th 2014 – Loncon 3, London, UK
April 23rd-26th 2015 – Eurocon, St. Petersburg, Russia
No totally firm details of what I’ll be doing when at these various events, but by all means consult the websites for further details, and I’ll post more when I have more…
Posted on February 19th, 2014 in reviews
Advance Reader Copies of Half a King have been out in the wild for a couple of weeks now and a few bold pioneers have already read and commented upon them, and I must say the onslaught of positivity is almost enough to thaw the splinter of deadly ice I have for a heart. Shall we go over a couple? Why not. Just for you guys. Not for me. For you.
NYT bestseller Robin Hobb:
‘I’ve enjoyed Abercrombie’s books before but this one had an exceptionally tight focus on the protagonist that I really liked. And the story does not compromise anywhere. It’s a coming of age story but that trite description does it no justice. No spoilers here, just a whole hearted recommendation.’
NYT no. 1 bestseller Patrick Rothfuss:
‘I’ve been a fan of Abercrombie’s stuff for years. His worldbuilding is great, his characterization is marvelous, he writes an amazing action scene … That said, sometimes I put down one of his books and think to myself, “Well, I guess everything sucks and everyone in the world is awful and we’re all pretty much fucked in the end, aren’t we?” Sometimes his books leave me feeling a little bleak … This book didn’t hit me that way. I got all the grit that I love in Abercrombie, and the craft, and the character. And the book was grim… but it never got so far as being bleak. Simply said, I think this is my favorite Abercrombie book yet. And that’s really saying something.’
NYT no. 1 bestseller Rick Riordan:
‘I’m a big fan of Abercrombie’s stark gritty fantasy books for grown-ups. His fiction pulls no punches and takes no prisoners (unless those prisoners are later tortured and executed). So I was curious to see how he would approach the world of young adult fiction in Half a King. The answer: brilliantly … As in all Abercrombie’s books, friends turn out to be enemies, enemies turn out to be friends; the line between good and evil is murky indeed; and nothing goes quite as we expect. Abercrombie also throws in his trademark dark humor and got me to laugh even during some grim scenes. With eye-popping plot twists and rollicking good action, Half a King is definitely a full adventure.’
Myke Cole, author of Control Point:
‘HALF A KING can be summed up in a single word: Masterpiece … It’s a coming of age story. It’s a Viking saga. It’s a revenge tale and family drama and the return of the prodigal son. But most of all, it’s this: a short time alongside people as weak and blundering as we are, and in the midst of it all, as heroic. Far too short a time, as it turns out. What a wonderful book.’
Sam Sykes, author of Tome of the Undergates:
“holy crap this is a good book … Half A King is full of all the adventure I’ve come to expect from Abercrombie and a tenderness I never knew he had. There’s infinitely more to Joe Abercrombie than we ever thought.”
Sound good to you guys? Thought so. It’ll be out in July in the UK and US…