Latest News and Blog Posts

Half the World Extract

Posted on December 16th, 2014 in announcements, news

Half the World, second book in my Shattered Sea series, is out in hardcover, e-book and audiobook in the UK on February 12th and US February 17th, and you can now read the first three chapters right here.

Blurb, a couple of early reviews, further information, other options for viewing and downloading the extract, and those all important preorder options over here.

2nd Draft

Posted on December 14th, 2014 in process

There was a time I was posting here three times a week, but there’ve been no posts for over a month because I have had my head firmly in putting together the 2nd draft of Half a War, third book in my Shattered Sea trilogy.

When I first started writing I’d revise every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter as I finished it.  Every time I wrote I’d start off by going over what I wrote last time.  This was a really useful exercise for working out the basics of how to write, how to pace, what to attend to in a scene and what to ignore, for getting confidence from seeing that I could produce something worthwhile, for distilling down the voices of the characters and getting comfortable in their skins.  But it’s not a very efficient way of working.

I’m a pretty thorough planner, but even with the best of plans, it’s not until you reach the end of a book sometimes that you really know where you’re going, really know how you’re going to get there, really know what you need the characters to be, how you want them to change to get you from the start to the end in a believable and compelling way.  Over time I’ve started to get a better result from scratch much more quickly, so I’ve started to really push through the first draft as fast as possible, sketching each chapter honestly pretty roughly, then having a look over and tidy up of each part as I finish it, planning the next one in detail, thinking about what I might need to change as I go on.

The result is, I must admit, a pretty shoddy 1st draft, often with the characters rather inconsistent and incoherent especially at the beginning, probably resolving themselves and taking their proper places as we get towards the end, and often with a few plot holes as new ideas occurred or I changed my mind about things.  Typically, I hate the book at this point.  The process of producing the 2nd draft is perhaps the key phase these days.  Here I’m doing the heavy lifting of revision, especially towards the start of the book.  I’m thinking hard about how the point-of-view characters might need to change to have a more interesting and coherent arc.  What defining experiences of the past and motivations for the future might shape them.  What character traits and emotions they might need to display throughout.  How their key relationships, especially with each other, might form and develop.  I’m further defining and differentiating their individual voices.  I’m fixing plot holes and introducing information that might have become necessary as new ideas have occurred.  Partly I’m working from a checklist of stuff I’ve put together that I know I need to include – some things specific, some more general to bear in mind as I go.  Partly I’m just reading it and seeing how it feels.  I’m doing an awful lot of tightening – partly cutting stuff that no longer seems necessary or appropriate, partly just general tightening and sharpening of the writing.  Some scenes might go altogether, though that’s pretty rare for me.  There might be new ones I need to add from scratch.

A lot of this is about just trying to get the book firmly in mind, knowing where everything is, reminding yourself what happens where, how everything interlocks.  I spend a lot of the first draft forcing myself to put the chair time in.  By the time I get to the second, hopefully, I’m at the screen for hours at a time, thinking about it constantly.  In bed.  In the shower.  Walking to the postbox.  Ideas should be constantly firing off.  Probably quite annoying for those around me, but I know I’m cooking when I frequently walk out half way through conversations in order to add something, flicking through chapters, yes, that conversation is the right place for that thought, that line, that idea which guides us through that development of that relationship.

This is the part of writing I most enjoy, where you take the ugly clay of the first draft and mold it, form it, chop it away until you have something resembling a book, where the characters make sense and develop in a meaningful way, where each scene is punchy and effective and contributes to a believable and coherent plot.  There’s still an awful lot of work to do, a whole set of further phases of revision and editing to go through.  But by the time the second draft comes together, I’m hopefully starting to feel I may have something worthwhile on my hands…

Half a King UK MMP Cover

Posted on November 7th, 2014 in Uncategorized

Because one cover reveal in a week is never enough, here’s the forthcoming UK Mass Market Paperback cover for Half a King:

B1rAzm9IQAAA0L0

A less graphic, more filmic design choice … This one’s going to be hitting British stores in January, just ahead of the February release of the hardcover Half the World.  You can find some further info over here

Half the World UK Cover

Posted on November 5th, 2014 in announcements, artwork

Yes indeed, SFX have revealed the UK hardback cover for Half the World…

B1q_zztIMAAxT8h

I said, “Half The World is the story of Thorn, a young woman determined to take a man’s place as a warrior, who finds herself on the crew of the deep-cunning Father Yarvi, undertaking a dangerous voyage up the unmapped rivers of the world to seek allies against the numberless warriors of the High King. There’s love, hate, death, wit, vivid characters, crunching action and, yes, an awful lot of swords…”

It’s coming 12th February 2015, but you could probably preorder via the publisher and a range of other key retailers, if you so desired.  OH LOOK YES YOU CAN.

Progress Report Oct ’14

Posted on November 3rd, 2014 in progress

Slight delay on this month’s progress report, but I’ve been at Lucca Games and Comics without a reliable internet connection.  An amazing event, by the way, with untold crowds rammed into the old walled city.  Don’t think I’ve ever seen such swarms of excited and enthusiastic people, or such a high density of dedicated cosplayers.

Anyway, another couple of months roll by.  Page proofs of Half the World for both the US and UK editions have now been read over so the text is finished, and aside from some work on maps, copy, covers and etc. the book is done and ready for its Feb 2015 publication.

In spite of a lot of dealmaking distractions which all seem to have come up at once, and a quick trip to the Frankfurt book fair, most of my time has gone into working on the third and final book in the series, Half a War.  I’ve drafted the third part and am now well underway with a first draft of the last, so it’s looking good for a finished first draft near the end of November.  I’ll then need to spend some time considering what needs to be done, before embarking on some hefty revision and rewriting in December to hopefully produce a coherent second draft by the end of the year.  We shall see.  Feels like there’s a hell of a lot of rewriting and reshaping to do, right now, and just a fair bit of detail, personality and, you know, good writing to add, but in the past things have come together surprisingly quickly once a first draft is finished.  That’s the moment when you know where you’re heading, when you know the paths the characters need to take, and therefore exactly where they need to start.  So, fingers crossed that we’ll still be able to get Half a War ready in time for a July 2015 publication as planned.

We should know by the end of the year…

Fury

Posted on October 27th, 2014 in film and tv

Fury, ladies and gentlemen, is a war film. Of this there can be no doubt. Some heavy spoilers ahead though, I would argue, nothing you can’t see coming from the opening few scenes…

Hard-bitten Brad Pitt steers a tank-crew of dehumanised veterans plus one raw recruit through a World War II shitty, gritty, and horrible even by the standards of World War II.  The crew are pretty horrible.  Being in a tank is really horrible.  Warfare is extremely horrible.

It’s a pretty good film, too.  Performances are strong.  The mud, the blood, the horrifying ruination are highly convincing.  The tank interior suitably claustrophobic.  The action is crunching.

But, for me, it was far from a great film.  It touts itself early on as unflinching, ultra-real.  It shoves the viewer’s face in the slaughter the way Brad Pitt shoves his raw recruit’s face in it.  Bodies are bulldozed into trenches.  Civilians dangle from lamp posts.  Corpses are splattered by tank tracks.  LOOK AT IT.  CORPSE.  TANK TRACKS.  SPLAT!  HOW HARDCORE IS THAT?

Well, yes, I suppose that is very hardcore, except that, as it goes along, the core of the film seemed to me to end up being very traditional. Tightly-knit group of tough veterans lead wide-eyed recruit through the war-torn country, dribbling casualties, to a violent and ennobling last stand is about the most classic 2nd World War film plot going, and Fury hits all the expected beats, but Saving Private Ryan, for all its occasional soft-centredness, seemed a more honest treatment of the material, with a lot more to say than Fury about warfare and what it does to the men caught up in it.  Fury lacked any theme, really.  Religion wandered in and out but to what purpose it was unclear.

There was negligible effort to treat the german soldiers like people, even up to the point that their tactics seem rather dumb – more intended to service the needs of the plot than to make any sense.  Unsupported Tiger crews drive straight at the enemy to expose their one weak spot.  Unsupported infantry swarm pointlessly into optimum mowing-down positions.  ‘I have a family!’ one prisoner shouts desperately in subtitles before Brad Pitt flings their photographs in the mud and forces his recruit to shoot him in the back.  This is deeply nasty at the time, except it’s presented in the long run to have been at worst grimly necessary.  The dehumanisation of the veterans is offered up as a real bad thing early on, but it’s not long before our reluctant conscience-ridden green recruit has been converted to a one-man slaughterhouse, literally dubbed ‘machine’ by his comrades, snarling ‘die motherfuckers’ as he mows down nazis by the dozen.  Nuanced it is not.

By the time of the climactic final battle, pretensions of deep hardcore-ness and realism seem to have been abandoned in favour of strangely traditional gung-ho noble last stand-ness.  Even the visuals and the editing go strangely dark and muddy, as though everyone ran out of ideas a bit.  Every significant death is accompanied by a little pause in the savage action for the crew and audience to contemplate the significance of that death.  Brad Pitt can get shot four times by a sniper and still slither back into the tank to growl his last lines.  ‘You’re a hero,’ murmur awestruck rescuers to the one survivor.  Finally, when we pull back from the ruined tank to show a veritable sea of German corpses, I felt I was invited to see this as a good, even a noble and heroic, even a religiously righteous thing.

It’s full of sound and fury, no doubt, and at times highly effective, but when the smoke clears I’m not sure Fury is signifying very much…

Destiny

Posted on October 3rd, 2014 in games

Destiny! A revolution in gaming that will finally justify the new generation of consoles! That will seamlessly fuse the compelling plot of single player games with the freewheeling interactivity of multiplayer ones! That offers tense gunplay in vast open-worldy vistas with oceans of content and customisability to explore!

So I was led to believe, anyway.

Hmm.

Destiny is OK. Pretty good, even. But revolutionary it is notably not. In fact, rather than feeling like an ingenious combination of the best features of a load of lesser games to make an utterly new and more compelling whole, it feels like a combination of features rather cynically poached from a load of better games to make something calculated to be maximally commercial but lacking any real soul or personality of its own.

It’s a 1st person co-op gunplay game like Borderlands but with less guns and no wit.  It’s an open worldy multiplayer like GTA V but with a far smaller world and that a strangely sterile, empty one.  It’s a random-drop equipment-grinding role-playing game like Diablo but with no role to play and all the equipment’s the same.

It gets a little bit of what makes each of those games work, but doesn’t really excel anywhere.  The background and texture of the game is just woefully generic and bereft of humour.  Your character offers nil personality, not even a name. Non-player characters are little better. Single player campaign makes no real sense and doesn’t dovetail at all with the multiplayer (can one really imagine one is the sole saviour of mankind when there are hundreds of other players around self-evidently having the exact same experience?).  Enemies, settings, and equipment are exactly the sort of enemies, settings and equipment we’ve seen in space games a thousand times.  This all leads to a repetitive experience. Get mission, blah, blah, something or other which comes down to following the white dot on your radar and shooting stuff on the way. Press square to deploy your personal Peter Dinklage for some phoned-in waffle bereft of emotion and onto the next white dot.

I’m being harsh, but really, the end of the previous generation, with games like the Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto V, Tomb Raider, proved you can do an awful lot better than this from a characterisation, plot, and emotional involvement point of view.  Destiny just feels so safe, sterile and over-produced.

Having said all that, I have been playing it pretty happily for some time, and I do keep wandering back.  An intense and hugely monotonous grind though it is, requiring an unholy amount of hours to make progress at the higher levels, they have managed to winkle out whatever it is that makes that kind of experience compelling.  I can’t say why, cause they’re basically just like the others, but I do seem to really want that pair of special boots that guy’s selling, and it’ll only take me 15 hours of grinding to save up… The saving grace is the action – it is repetitive but it is great – smooth, exciting, plenty of satisfying impact, easy to learn but hard to master.  The worlds are a bit generic but they are beautifully realised, full of texture and detail, you just find yourself ignoring it all a bit in your urgency to chase the latest white dot on your radar.  Adding a couple of friends does improve things but you’d better have a few who are online a lot because the game makes it strangely hard to get an ad hoc crew of strangers together for the most challenging tasks.

Destiny does do a lot of things reasonably well, it all knits together into a pretty compelling experience and after the opening fiasco of GTA V you’ve got to applaud the technical achievement of making such a massive online experience run smoothly.  But it’s nowhere near as big, as varied, or as original as promised, and for me completely fails to supply the much-vaunted knitting together of single and multiplayer experiences.  Maybe the additional content they’re planning to drip in will gradually offer more variety, more reasons to grind away for untold hours, and there is a solid foundation there to build on, but without anything truly innovative or, more importantly, any personality of its own, I can’t see it pulling me back much as the months wear on…

Half a French King

Posted on September 26th, 2014 in announcements, artwork

Apologies for the limited posting around here of late, it’s many years since I didn’t make at least one post a week on the site, but my nose is to the grindstone after all the events trying to get a decent second draft of Half a War together by year’s end, plus various finishing tasks for Half the World.  Tis a busy time.  But I do love a nice piece of art, so I thought I’d bring to you the recently revealed cover for the French edition of Half a King, from those wonderful folk at Bragelonne, art by my old friend Didier Graffet (who produced the weapons that adorn Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country):

630x1000x1410-mer-eclatee1.jpg.pagespeed.ic.eR5FqWeRc8

Nice, huh? Evocative, atmospheric, dramatic. Draws you in.  And it sits very comfortably alongside Jon McCoy’s excellent vision of the same world for Subterranean’s limited editions, I must say.  Some nice clean lettering too.  I particularly like the contrast with the more graphic covers in the US and UK.  The book’s coming out in French translation late October, with the other two books in the trilogy both following in 2015.  Further details over on Bragelonne’s site

Recent TV

Posted on September 8th, 2014 in film and tv

Recently watched, that is…

Vikings Season 2

It’s as if a set of TV Executives sat down with the express purpose of making a show Joe Abercrombie would really like, and they largely succeeded. Love, hate, violence and pagan strangeness abound as Scandinavia’s shiftiest opportunist, Ragnar Lothbrok, becomes embroiled not only in Viking blood-feuds but Saxon politics.  I doubt they’d make any high claims of historical accuracy but there’s vastly more authenticity on the bone than one might expect from a Hollywood treatment of the material and lashings of drama, shocks, shield-walls and wonderfully strange, inscrutable, and morally dubious characters. There’s a real stylistic boldness creeping into this second season as well, with gripping dreamlike sequences and whole episodes in which Ragnar barely speaks, communicating all that is necessary though his trademark unblinking wonky death-grin.

Orphan Black Season 1

Whenever Tatiana Maslany isn’t on screen this sfnal thriller looks decidedly wobbly, but she’s usually on screen at least once, and often more than twice, in a barnstorming multiple performance as a set of clones caught up in a sinister conspiracy.  The first few episodes are driven by breakneck pacing and the dialogue can seem pretty creaky, but soon enough we get almost soap-operatic glimpses beneath the skins of the characters.  You never for a moment doubt you’re watching a set of entirely distinct people who happen to look the same.

Hell on Wheels Season 3

I’m a sucker for a western, and I enjoyed the first and especially the second season of this railroad-based effort in which an ex-confederate soldier hell-bent on revenge gets drawn into the efforts of the Union-Pacific to cross the continent with ensuing political shenanigans, gunslinging, fist-fighting, Indian entanglements and moral ambiguities. This third season was a bit of a disappointment, though. Still some strong characters but while the pace was always full steam ahead before here things slowed to a crawl, with an awful lot of circling around, great attention given to sub-threads that never amounted to much, and a slightly baffling turn at the end.  I’d watch another but, boy, they need to get themselves together and strike for the Pacific.

House of Cards Season 1

This is just as great as it looks on paper, a re-invention of the classic British series based on the books by Margaret Thatcher’s ‘baby-faced hit man’ Michael Dobbs (who is an exec on the US show). Ian Richardson’s supremely manipulative tory whip Francis Urquhart has become Kevin Spacey’s supremely manipulative majority house whip Frank Underwood, and the skullduggery has been updated for the mobile-phone and internet generation, but otherwise the basic formula of ruthless political manoeuvrings translates easily from Whitehall to Washington, along with the central character’s almost Shakespearian soliloquies to camera, coaxing the audience very much into complicity. Kevin Spacey makes for a hugely charismatic and likeable Machiavellian megalomaniac but there are plenty more strong performances, including Robin Wright majestic as Underwood’s equally ruthless wife.  Well into Season 2 now and enjoying it just as much, particularly a masterfully executed shock in the first episode.

Suits Seasons 1&2

This was a very pleasant surprise, I must say. Hot-shit doesn’t-play-by-the-rules New York corporate lawyer Harvey Specter is asked to interview for a new associate and the only candidate who interests him turns out to be a genius drop-out who wandered into the interview to avoid the cops when a drug deal went south. Sounds like a recipe for cheese and indeed the pilot is pretty wobbly, but the writing quickly finds its feet and I ended up burning through two seasons of this in nothing flat. It won’t change your world but it’s hugely watchable, with some zinging lines and some great characters, especially Harvey’s bitter, pedantic, tragic, weirdly loveable nemesis Louis Litt. There is a tendency to run over and over the same ground, though, with endlessly will-they-won’t-they relationships that nearly do then don’t, and rivalries that become friendships that become rivalries that become friendships that etc. etc. At some point you have to crap or get off the pot and I wonder if they can get enough variety into the formula to keep it fresh.

Arrow Season 1

Enjoyable enough superhero hokum based on the Green Arrow comics, in which pampered rich boy Oliver Queen is shipwrecked on a mysterious island and returns after 5 years with superhuman powers of archery, handsomeness, looking troubled, and working out, powers which he is determined to use for (kind of) good in ridding his city of a deadly conspiracy and etc. etc. I guess they’re going for a comic book over-the-top shininess but the result is that everyone is so improbably pretty they all end up looking strangely average. Attempts to complicate the standard superhero narrative are somewhat hamstrung by, for example, our hero’s habit of ruthlessly slaughtering three dozen bodyguards who one supposes are just doing their job before he lets their malefactor boss off with a harsh warning.  Still, an enjoyable, if relatively predictable, way to while away a few hours…

Progress Report Aug ’14

Posted on August 29th, 2014 in progress

Half a King came out in early July and made no. 3 on the Sunday Times hardcover list, and at a competitive time of year too. Even more pleasing is that it then stuck in the top 10 for 4 weeks. Preorders give you a big boost that first week, so you’ll often see books pop onto the list strongly the week of release but drop straight off. Sticking around tends to mean your book is not only selling to your committed fans but also selling strongly off the shelves, which is a very promising sign.

With all the touring and events however, including Comic Con in San Diego and Worldcon in London, most of July and August got swallowed up by travel and signing and blah, blah, blah.  What with the stress and the jet lag and the convention hangovers I’ve always found it tricky to make a lot of progress with writing while on the road, usually sticking to a bit of light reviewing, planning and reading over rather than drafting new stuff, but things do grind inexorably forward.

I did my last reading through and checking over the detail of the language on the second Shattered Sea book, Half the World, at the start of July, and in a highly nimble bit of production work Harper Collins had proofs of the book ready for Worldcon in mid August:

photo

‘Andsome, eh? Once again they’ve gone for an impactful quote on the front with the title on the spine. These will be making their way out into the world over the coming weeks and are to excite folk in the trade, of course, the actual hardcover will have a cover in keeping with the previous one. Half the World is now copy edited too and therefore, aside from the proof-reading phase, basically done. Nothing (at least on the creative side) stands in the way of US and UK publication in early February 2015.

I’m now half way through the first draft of the last book in the trilogy, Half a War. This is pretty much always my lowest ebb with a book. The excitement of starting something new is far behind, but generally you’re still a way off getting the plot and the characters completely straight in your head and the whole thing feels plodding and dull. Oh god will I ever write a good book again? It is some help, though less than you’d think, that I know I’ve felt this way about every book since I finished the First Law. These shorter books do give you less time to get into character, as it were, though, and it doesn’t help that I’ve gone from one point of view character in Half a King, to two in Half the World, to three in Half a War, therefore there’s less time spent with each and at the moment they’re twisting about like snakes with their heads cut off as I struggle to smash them into a shape that fits the (constantly changing) plot. Still, I think I’ve now got a decent plan for the second half of the book which should provide some interesting moments. I just need the characters to be the people who’d do the type of stuff I’ve got in mind, and that means a fair bit of rewriting in the earlier parts. Sigh. So it goes. I’m still a heavy planner, but I find over time my process is getting more and more fluid. The basic plot I have in advance, but the details of how and who and why I get there shift around a lot more than they used to.

Anyway, this year’s big clutch of events is behind me, and though I’ve got a couple of much smaller commitments, the next three months are largely clear to get a full first draft of Half a War together, so I can spend December doing the heavy lifting of rewriting the first half of the book and have a decent, coherent second draft by the end of the year. That should leave ample time to get the book out by its planned publication in July 2015. Such is the hope, anyway.

That is your progress report for August…