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Posted on April 20th, 2015 in announcements, artwork, news
Rejoice, for the UK edition of the third and (for the time being) final book in my Shattered Sea series, Half a War now has a cover and copy. Behold:
Words are weapons
Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. She must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge if she is to reclaim her birthright.
Only half a war is fought with swords
The deep-cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king’s minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace. But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God, and put Bright Yilling at its head – a man who worships no god but Death.
Sometimes one must fight evil with evil
Some – like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith – are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others – like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver – would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her iron wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness.
And I note that, should you desire, you can pre-order in electronic or hardcover formats from the retailer of your choice over here…
The David Gemmell Legend Awards are entering their seventh year and have a new and improved website. I’ve talked about the Gemmells in the past – in essence I’m a strong believer in them. In the notion of something that celebrates Gemmell’s very considerable contribution to British fantasy. In the notion of something that aims to involve as wide a range of voters as possible. In the notion of having an award for full-on, commercial, epic and heroic fantasy which, despite its very great popularity, does tend to get somewhat ignored by a lot of the other SF&F prizes. I’ve no particular problem with that, incidentally, it’s totally right and proper they should all have their own emphasis, but I see no harm in having one award that aims to celebrate the core, commercial epic fantasy which is, after all, bought, read and beloved by many.
So, please, go forth and vote. Anyone can do it. There are three categories – Legend for Best Fantasy Novel, Morningstar for Best Debut, Ravenheart for Best Cover Art and there are plenty of great books and writers on there. There’s a first round of voting to narrow down from a lengthy long list (which includes much of the epic/heroic style fantasy published this year) to a shortlist of 5, then a second round of voting to select a winner. I’ve often said I liked the original plan of a public vote to establish a shortlist and a jury to pick a winner, but they decided to go fully open public voting all the way and, though the Gemmells have come in for a fair bit of stick for being pointless and populist, in the light of what’s gone on with the Hugo award nominations this year, it’s suddenly looking like there’s a fair bit to be said for the Gemmell approach…
I join Adam Roberts in feeling a bit uncomfortable about the old self-pimpage, but I also think the Gemmell is in its infancy and relies to a degree on authors encouraging people through the doors so, yes, I will observe that Half a King is on the long list for the Legend this year, but I’ll keep it to a mention now and a reminder when the shortlist comes out, so I can shake my head wearily when I lose and blame it on the log-rolling rabble-rousing dirty tactics of the winner…
Posted on March 17th, 2015 in opinion
I was asked by a librarian in Visby, Sweden, to write a letter of inspiration for their fantasy section that might inspire people to read fantasy books. Thought I might as well re-post it here so that people outside of Visby might also benefit from my inspirationality (that’s a word now). Forgive my unusually pompous tone, if you can…
Dear Readers of Visby.
Fantasy is about myth, magic, monsters, mystery and wonder. It’s a window into other worlds, other times, other realities. Places that have never existed and could never exist, except in the minds of writer and reader.
But fantasy is also a window into our world. A way of talking about us. About the modern world. About the things that are universal to humanity. Love and hate, war and peace, truth and lies, courage and cowardice, victory and defeat, right and wrong and all the grey space in between. About politics, parenthood, money, violence, progress, belief, betrayal, ambition and triumph. About what it means to be a hero. About whether it is possible to be a hero.
And, of course, fantasy wouldn’t be much good if it wasn’t about fascinating, funny, strange, honest, conflicted people getting themselves into terrible trouble. And getting out again. If they’re lucky…
Posted on March 10th, 2015 in progress
Back from a very pleasant trip to the Emirates Literary Festival in Dubai and having, for the first time in some considerable time, a little bit of a break, actually. Maybe the one I was supposed to be having when I started writing the Shattered Sea trilogy a couple of years back. The last book, Half a War, was a tough one to edit and with limited time, but I’m pleased to say it’s now turned in, edited, copy-edited, and due for release in July in hardcover, e-book and audiobook in the US and UK. Still some work to do on covers and maps and so forth, and because of the tight turn around the dates aren’t totally set yet, but I’ll have further details soon.
There’s not much rest for the grimdark, though. I’ll now be turning my attention back to the adult arena, hoping to get a few more stories together for a collection of First Law-based short stories which should hopefully be coming out in 2016 some time – that’ll contain all the short stories I’ve written in the First Law world, including those that have been published in special editions and anthologies and a few as yet unseen. As far as full-length books go, the plan is still for another trilogy set in the First Law world, but I’m still at a very early stage in the development of that, earlier than I’ve ever been before when finishing up a book. My plan is still, ideally, to draft out all three books before preparing the first for publication, which will hopefully mean we can publish all three in a timely fashion and in as good a state as they can be, but would mean a long wait for the first. We shall see. There are a few other non-book irons in the fire at the moment which look like they may keep me busy while I’m dreaming up ideas for this next trilogy.
I also seem to have got a hell of a lot of travel stacking up for this year. I’ll be at Eurocon in St. Petersburg in April, in Barcelona in May, Berlin and Stuttgart in June, touring in the UK for the release of Half a War in July, Poland in August, and Ireland in September. No firm details on any of these quite yet, but I’ll hope to let you know in due course…
And that is your progress report for March.
Posted on March 2nd, 2015 in process
Things have been exceedingly quiet around here over the last month because I’ve been touring in Australia (further details on how that went over here) and also working flat out to get Half a War edited and then copy-edited. The downside of the quick publication schedule (three books in a year) is there’s always going to be a quick turnaround, and therefore high pressure on the edit for that last book. And so it has proved.
I cannot articulate how crucial a good edit is to a book. I finish a first draft knowing a lot of major changes I need to make, end up with a much tighter second draft and go through a whole round of further revisions focussing on secondary characters, on setting, on the detail of the writing, before turning it in to the editors, but even then new sets of eyes (and experienced expert eyes at that) will see shortcomings and areas for improvement you’ll never have thought of. It’s not necessarily the solutions you’re offered that are so important, as the problems that are brought to your attention and that you’ll work out your own solutions to – it’s important to maintain your own judgement. It’s also important to realise that your first reaction to every suggestion is to scream ‘fuck no!’ (preferably inside your head), and to give yourself some time to let things sink in, to see what you really do profoundly disagree with and what maybe hurts because it strikes a bit of a chord with some small doubts you’ve already had over a scene or character.
For the First Law books I had one editor, with the Shattered Sea books I’ve had four, plus three agents giving comments. That makes for a very different process, where rather than comparing one opinion with your own, you’re looking at a whole set of opinions, seeing what there’s agreement on, maybe discounting what there’s not agreement on, and trying to maintain your own judgement throughout.
The result was, in fact, not a lot of big changes, but an awful lot of small ones and also a general feeling that the book was a little loose and the writing not quite as sharp as it had been in previous books. There was concern about an event happening off-screen so I made an effort at writing a new chapter that brought it on-screen, but wasn’t totally happy with it and, indeed, my editors weren’t either, so I ditched it. There was one new one-page scene added and a few sections heavily cut and/or rewritten.
Otherwise it was a host of small tweaks, mostly centring on one of the three viewpoint characters, who, it was felt, was too sure of herself, too adult, and lacked a clear mission in the book. A lot of other minor issues to attend to, plus a thorough, detailed overhaul of the writing with an eye to cut, cut, cutting anything that made me the slightest bit uncomfortable. Ended up with a much improved book, I think, and one some 3,000 words shorter, despite all the additions of new thoughts.
The copy-edit, therefore, was pretty light, with just the usual hyphens, capitals and ‘z’s swapped for ‘s’s, and a few comments to consider, relatively easily dealt with. Job done. Half a War weighs in at 106,000 words, very close to Half the World in length. It’s due to be published late July, but I should know in the next couple of weeks whether that’s going to be possible. If not then, it should hopefully be very soon after…
Posted on March 1st, 2015 in film and tv
Sons of Anarchy Season 6 – My love/hate relationship with the Sons somewhat continues, but hey, I’ve made it this far, so they must be doing something right. It’s still an odd mix of the rather cliche, silly and wearyingly sexist and the utterly clever, shocking and unpredictable. Charlie Hunnam has grown into his increasingly darkening role, somewhat, and the surviving members of the biker gang are thoroughly comfortable there. The violence is, if anything, dialled up a notch and there are some really spectacular shocks in this season. I expect the next and final one to be an absolute bloodbath.
Walking Dead Season 4 – Yes. Tough, sweaty, shocking, uncompromising, zombies, even worse people, etc. etc. A slightly bitty season which spends the first half tying up the last season, in a sense, and the second on a set of scattered story lines of somewhat varying effectiveness, but the core values remain in place. Good stuff.
True Detective – I must confess that I found this a bit less impressive than some of the gushing praise on twitter led me to expect. Undoubtedly it’s good, with a great pair of central performances from the lately rehabilitated Matthew McConnaughey and Woody Harrelson, plus much beautifully filmed deep south strangeness, long-drive philosophising and one particularly cracking one-take action sequence. I found the central thread of the case more than a bit meandering, though. Maybe that’s the truth of detective work but a show like the Wire managed to seem just as true while delivering much more narrative payoff. Your mileage may vary, evidently. I’ll certainly watch a second season.
Marco Polo – Netflix exclusive historical hischmorical programming with hot young Italian Marco Polo abandoned among Kublai Khan and his various Mongol and Southern Chinese friends and enemies and their poisonous politicking. Early episodes seem intent on out-boobing game of thrones. Boobs everywhere, like a collision between two boob trains. Like an explosive accident at a boob factory. But the boob quotient reduces later in favour of riding around, catapults, mysticism and some odd kung fu. It looks pretty, there are some good performances, and it’s interesting to see a western-made series with only really the one white actor and an otherwise pretty diverse cast, but it’s not exactly electrifying.
Attack on Titan – My mind was blown by Akira when I first saw it – on a massive screen at Glastonbury festival 23 years ago, funnily enough – and there will always be a place in my heart for the overwrought insanity of Fist of the North Star, but despite the occasionally gobsmacking ideas my history with anime has been a rocky one. Death Note was my last effort a few years back and it didn’t really work for me, but when I was in Detroit recently there was something on the screen that kept drawing my eye and someone said, ‘oh, yeah, that’s Attack on Titan, that’s supposed to be brilliant,’ so when I noticed it on Netflix I thought I’d give it a try, and I’m very glad I did.
Humanity have been herded into a walled compound beyond which lurk herds of gurning, brainless giants. Who eat people. Horribly. When they start coming over the walls, the outclassed military must try to find a way to fight them. And get eaten. Horribly.
These things often can’t sustain, and there are are perhaps worrying signs towards the end that it’s going to go in a slightly more familiar special-teenagers-pilot-giant-robots-to-save-the-world direction, but the first half of the season is great, horrifying, with some crazy ideas, and communicates a really powerful sense of what it’s like to fight an implacable, incomprehensible, undefeatable enemy.
Knights of Sidonia – the horrifying charms of Attack on Titan led me to look for more Anime. Knights of Sidonia has similar special teenagers taking on an implacable alien enemy, but this time from the confines of a generation ship in space rather than a walled compound. Not nearly such an edge on this, though, and the slightly weird art style, though pretty, is a bit distancing.
Arrow Season 2 – watched the whole season on flights to and from Australia, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I must say. They’ve maybe dialled back the pretensions of depth and I think the show feels more comfortable in its own skin as a result, with an extensive cast of mildly absurd heroes and villains now well established and striking nice sparks from one another. It all looks a million bucks, there’s some nice patter, some nice action, some nice split narrative between past and present. If you don’t like watching really pretty people work out a lot you may be bored, but hey, if you don’t like watching really pretty people work out what the fuck is wrong with you?
Posted on February 12th, 2015 in Uncategorized
Half the World is published in the UK, let ring the bells!
Signed copies have been leaking out via Waterstones for some time now, in fact, but Amazon and other retailers should be shipping and stocking as of today. The mass-market paperback of Half a King, meanwhile has already been out for a couple of weeks:
Those across the pond need not despair, for Del Rey’s hardcover edition of Half the World will be with you in but a few short days on February 17th. Enjoy responsibly…
Posted on January 29th, 2015 in appearances
Details for a few forthcoming events. The UK tour for Half a King was but seven months ago, so we’re not doing a full tour this time around, just the one UK event at Forbidden Planet London, who have supported me with every book I’ve brought out, right back to The Blade Itself:
Sunday 8th February, 13.00-14.00, Forbidden Planet London, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8JR
I may read and talk a little beforehand, but the space isn’t ideal so we’ll see how it goes. I can’t promise to sign anything you don’t buy on the day, but I will try to as long as you buy something, and given that it’s a lunchtime event I expect I’ll fit everything in.
If you can’t make the event, I believe you can also order signed stock from Forbidden Planet at the bargain price of £9.99. You could probably even arrange a dedication…
THEN, shortly thereafter in February I will be touring Australia, with events in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, and Perth. Details:
Friday 13th February, 16.30-18.00, Dymocks 424-430 George St
Sunday 15th February, 14.00-15.30, Galaxy Bookshop 1/131-137 York St.
Monday 16th February, 18.30-20.00, Harry Hartog Bookstore, Westfield Woden
Tuesday 17th February, 18.00-20.00, Dymocks 234 Collins Street.
Thursday 19th February, 9.45-10.30, School’s Day Session – Keeping the Story Alive for ages 12-15, Murdoch Lecture Theatre
Friday 20th February, 13.00-14.00, The Hero’s Journey, Dolphin Theatre
Saturday 21st February, 13.00-14.00, In Conversation on Half a King, University Club Theatre
Sunday February 22nd, 16.00-17.00, Drawing from History, Woolnough Lecture Theatre
For further information on exactly what’s happening, you’re best off contacting the venues or events.
Posted on January 28th, 2015 in interviews
Here’s an interview focusing on Half a King conducted by my brilliant Italian translator, Edoardo Rialti. The Italian translation can be found over here. But I thought I’d put the English version up for those of you (like me) whose Italian is a little rusty…
Once in Italy you introduced your “First Law Trilogy” as a sort of Lord of the Rings combined with L.A. Confidential; then you spoke of “Best Served Cold” as a Montecristo mixed with Point-Blank, but with a female Lee Marvin. What image would you use to introduce “Half a King”?
Vikings meets the Lion King, maybe, but Simba’s a lot more like Scar than Mufasa this time around…
Why you decided to write a YA trilogy? What was in that kind of fiction which especially intrigued you?
I’d been approached about the possibility of writing some YA books a few years before, and the idea had stuck with me as an interesting one, an opportunity to try a different kind of tone and format, but at the time I was busy with my adult commitments.
By the time I finished Red Country, though, I’d written six big, complex, unapologetically adult fantasy books set in the same world in a row and I felt the need to try something different. I’m a big believer that you’ve got to push yourself as a writer and keep trying new things if you’re going to keep yourself, let alone your audience, interested in what you’re doing. This was a natural break in my adult books, and I thought that a young adult series would give me the opportunity to try something different, but complimentary. Creatively, I obviously wanted to maintain whatever I fondly imagined had made the adult books work – the cynicism, the focus on vivid characters, the crunching action, but I’d need to work with younger, unformed characters, which were a different kind of challenge to the older, experienced, world-weary people I’d tended to center on in my adult work, and I’d be aiming at something much shorter, tighter, more focused. Commercially it felt as though I could still produce something which would appeal to most of my established readers while hopefully reaching out to some younger readers and maybe a type of adult reader who is interested in fantasy but a bit turned off by the big length of some of the stuff that’s out there.
What have been the greatest challenges (style, characters…) on writing such a book? And what has been the greatest fun?
It was certainly a liberating feeling to start work in a new world, where I wasn’t having to consider what characters had done before or what bits of history I’d dropped in. And writing in a short, punchy format where I’m constantly aiming to keep everything as tight as possible is definitely exciting. Each book doesn’t seem like quite the huge project I was taking on with each of my adult books, and the rounds of reviewing and editing end up rushing by. I remember proof-reading three different editions of Before They are Hanged at once and the heap of papers on my desk was head high. But the shortness and focus of these books also means there’s less time for the characters to mature in the writing, if you like. The whole process is more concentrated, more intense, and with a six-monthly publishing schedule, there’s a hell of a lot to get done…
Where do you think lies the difference between a good YA novel and “just” a good, great novel for adults-at least for you? There are things, words or subjects that “should not be showed” to a younger audience, or is the eventual difference in something different?
I honestly don’t think there’s much difference at all. A young adult novel has to have a young adult protagonist, and so there’s likely to be something of a coming-of-age flavour to it. It may well be shorter and more tightly focused than your average adult novel. It may be (but certainly isn’t always) somewhat less explicit in the approach to sex and violence and the language used, but there are no hard and fast rules, and over the last few years there’s been a gradual shift in what can be accepted in young adult literature, to the point that there’s very little you can’t include if it’s done right and works for the story. My own feeling has always been young adults are above all adults, just young ones, and there are plenty of people in that 12-16 age range who read my fully adult work, after all. What I wanted to read at 12-16 isn’t so greatly different to what I read now.
Can you tell us something abut the peculiar culture of your “Shattered Sea” World, as it is reflected in its pantheon? We meet couples of Deites which often overturn our traditional images (or maybe our clichés). Is that just an echo of a different culture as the nordic, viking image of the cosmos, or there’s something more you want to tell?
I’d worked with a very patriarchal society in the First Law, and with the Shattered Sea I wanted a setting that would help me to get a lot of varied female characters into the stories. Women enjoyed a lot of authority and freedom in viking society compared to the rest of europe, particularly in commerce and the management of the households which were the basic unit of viking society. I took that and extrapolated it a bit into a society in which, although fighting and work are traditionally male spheres, money, commerce, and the keeping of knowledge are female ones. As business and trading have become more important, women have become more powerful, and the Ministers, who stand behind and advise kings, are mostly women.
I wanted to extend this division of labour to the gods as well, so they tend to take the form of binary pairs, a male and female deity such as Mother Sea and Father Earth, but I thought it would be interesting to suppose the relationship between a person and their patron deity is almost a marriage. So a male warrior worships Mother War. A female minister worships Father Peace, and so on. Another way of bringing some female-ness into parts of epic fantasy where, for some reason, we don’t tend to expect it.
Yarvi’s journey is interwoven of sayings from his difficult past: wise words by his mentor Mother Gundrig, but also by his hard parents, Queen Laithlin and even the dead King. Can we say that Yarvi’s journey is not just spatial, but also “temporal”, a journey “into” his past, where he will discover a deeper relationships, a new light on his own family and personal history?
Yeah, I think that’s quite apt. A lot of Yarvi’s past isn’t quite as he sees it initially. People he thinks are his friends turn out to be his enemies. People he thinks despise him turn out to have much more complex feelings. He’s also got a lot of self-disgust to overcome as a result of being something of an outcast due to his disability, having been told he isn’t and can never be a real man in the context of this warrior society. So Yarvi has a lot of reinterpretation and reassesment of the past to go about. This is a story about becoming an adult, coming to terms with yourself, accepting who you are.
It seems to me that both “The Odyssey” and “Hamlet” were playing a major part as references of your own tell. Is that true or were you pointing to other stories?
I don’t know that those two were necessarily at the forefront of my mind but I can certainly see the echoes. A kid at a school event asked me if I’d noticed that the story’s very like the Lion King … I pointed out there’s no lions in it, but she definitely had a point. I personally like a classic story retold in a new way, though. I think originality can sometimes be a little overrated. When you pick up a well known and well loved scenario or genre, it creates all kinds of echoes and expectations in the reader that you can then exploit to your own ends…
Many of your stories deal with the great, perennial theme of revenge. Recentely the noir writer J. Nesbo stated that revenge seduces us so much, because it shows our inner, rational nature: we are “creature of consequences”. Do you agree or do you feel there’s something different at stake?
Revenge undoubtedly does appeal to us on a deep level. Who hasn’t fantasised about murdering a room-full of other fantasy writers, after all? Oh, that’s just me…? I think for my part I’d become a bit frustrated with the world-saving style of hero we’ve tended to see in fantasy an awful lot in the shadow of Tolkien. People who always try and do the right things for the right reasons. I find people with good and bad in them feel a bit more believable to me. The best villains are those who have plenty to admire in them. The best heroes are the ones who have to overcome their own darkness. So I like to see protagonists with some darker motivations – greed, self-preservation, revenge.
You are often regarded as a major voice in the grimadark fantasy. Do you think there has been just a caesura between the classical fantasy and the path taken by some of the most beloved contemporary voices, or maybe that things are more complex? My (veeery poor) opinion is that-maybe- only a deep lover of classics can find also a new way for telling the shades, the ambiguities, the untold possibilities of “lighter” stories from our past, as Sergio Leone did with the John Ford’s western, just as an example.
I think you’re absolutely right. No one sets out to spend years writing a giant book series in a genre they hate. The desire to do something new with a form never arises from contempt for the form, but from a really deep love for it, I think, but perhaps a desire to move it on, to jolt it out of a rut, to bring something new into the mix. For myself I was (and am) a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, and read it every year as a kid. I read a lot of the commercial fantasy that followed in Tolkien’s footsteps, things like Dragonlance, David Eddings’ Belgariad, but I suppose after a while I started to become a bit frustrated by what I saw as a lot of repetition and predictability, and the lack of the kind of modern, visceral, exciting edge I saw in a lot of noir and western fiction I was reading. Then I read A Game of Thrones, and of course saw a lot of the grit, darkness, and danger there that I felt the genre had been missing. When I talk to other writers of my generation – guys like Scott Lynch, Brent Weeks, Peter Brett, Pat Rothfuss – they’re all huge lovers and fans of fantasy. They just want to make their own contribution to the genre in their own way.
Once R. L. Stevenson said that the great gift of works of fiction is that “They do not pin the reader to a dogma, which he must afterwards discover to be inexact ; they do not teach him a lesson, which he must afterwards unlearn. They repeat, they rearrange, they clarify the lessons of life ; they disengage us from ourselves, they constrain us to the acquaintance of others ; and they show us the web of experience”: would you agree? What would you say is the “gift” or the gifts you seek and receive on writing or reading a novel?
Phew…that’s somewhat of a big question. There’s a degree to which I don’t think you go into writing a book with big ambitions for theme, depth and meaning. You set out to tell a story, to entertain the reader, but if you try to write honestly I don’t think you can prevent your attitudes leaking into your work, nor would you want to prevent it. If you present vivid characters you’ll inevitably touch some readers in a profound way. The books I most enjoy are ones that present unique voices, that express things in a way I would never, ever have thought of, but that I nonetheless find to be true.
Posted on January 12th, 2015 in appearances
So I’m going to be over in the US of A later this week at ConFusion in Detroit as a guest of the wonderful Subterranean Press. I think it was 3 years ago I was last there, and it’s a great small con with an informal atmosphere and a lot of writers around. Plus there’s Peter V. Brett’s annual author D&D session, which I last attended three years back. I have a feeling elven thief Darque Shadeaux will be sowing chaos once again…
Afraid I have no further details, but I’m sure there’ll be more information on site. Usual rules apply, I’m signing on the Saturday afternoon, but feel free to ask me at other times, I will do my best to oblige.