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This week I am mainly eradicating tics . . .

No, not the annoying little bugs that dig deep into warm, moist areas and then infect you with a deadly disease, the other sort.

The sort that have you continually nodding or shaking your head, or raising an eyebrow (amusedly), or chewing your lower lip (distractedly), or tapping your fingers on whatever surface comes to hand, or twirling your silky hair, or slurping your coffee (even at two o’clock in the morning when a nice cup of hot milk would be a much more sensible choice of beverage, as our American cousins would say).

We all do it: we look at a plain, simply conversation and think, ‘That needs something more.’ And then you think, ‘What would I do?’ And the next thing you know, you have a piece of script that looks something like this:

Corrections
Now, technically, there’s nothing much wrong with this (other than the eyebrow-raising: you try lifting one eyebrow, amusedly or otherwise!*): but you’ve wasted a great chunk of text with nothing but fiddling about; it doesn’t move the story on one little bit.And right now I’m editing four scripts (all at different stages of the process), and all with varying numbers of types of tics, which is why the subject has been on my mind. So what I’ve been trying to do is to show my Beloved Authors they don’t need to be afraid of the text equivalent of silence. Your characters don’t need to be continually fidgeting; let them expand to fill the space. I promise you, your prose will be the better for it – and so will their health, once they cut their caffeine levels substantially!

I did take time out last week to welcome Sebastien de Castell on a surprise – and very brief – visit to the UK; he interrupted his much-anticipated yoga retreat in Greece to spend a day  talking swordsmanship with my art director Patrick, Nicola, Andy and me, and to swing by Goldsboro, Forbidden Planet and Waterstones to sign copies of Traitor’s Blade while he was in town . . . so if you missed the pre-publication release, this is your last chance to make sure you’ve got the hardback sitting on your shelves.
Right, got to go: the team is starting to get excited about LonCon . . . we’re currently putting together our party list, and checking it twice . . .

Jo

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*@LitAgentDrury can. Apparently Nicola can too (who knew? In three years I’ve never seen her do it!) . . . but most people can’t.

We’re Currently Reading . . .

It’s that time again folks. Your chance to find out what we are reading this month. Have you read any of these books? What are you currently reading? Let us know below.

Nicola

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 13.49.33The Grass King’s Concubine by Kari Sperring

It was actually one of our authors, Stephanie Saulter, who recommended this title to me, so when I saw it in Forbidden Planet a couple of months back, I thought it was about time to give it a go. And I’m glad I did.

Set in a sumptuously thought-out world – the whole of which is brilliantly evoked, even when all of the action is taking place in just one setting – The Grass King’s Concubine follows a naïve woman’s journey to find the Shining Palace she once saw as a child. What she discovers is the ruined WorldBelow, where the Grass King rules with his Cadre and the land is slowly decaying due to a spell cast many years ago. Thought to be the origin of this spell, the Cadre take her prisoner. But, unknown to them, her husband follows her into the WorldBelow with the twins – two ferrets who used to be the Grass King’s favourites (and who are the actual source of the spell).

I haven’t got all the way through yet, but this is shaping up to be a very good read and one that should delight fans of the mystical realms, and of realistic characters who are not heroes, but instead normal people, who have the makings of them.

The Grass King’s Concubine is published by Daw Books, and I bought my copy from Forbidden Planet for £7.

Andrew

Yet another re-read for me. I first read The Hobbit when I was 8 and I loved it! I have seen both films and left both listing the differences Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 13.52.48and additions that have been made. But as it had been so long since I read the book I found myself having to Google to check if I was right, and that’s just not good enough.

And so I vowed to re-read the book before the next installment in the film, and it is just as good as I remember (and just as much has been changed and added as I suspected.)

If you don’t know the story follows the journey of the reluctant adventurer Bilbo Baggins as he joins a company of Dwarves as the head out to reclaim their home, and the treasure it holds, from the dragon Smaug. Goblins, giant spiders, trolls,  giants, heroic eagles and wargs.

If you haven’t read it stop what you’re doing and start this book now, it really is a classic.

My edition of The Hobbit is published by Collins but there are many editions available.

 

 

Jo

It’s a two-extra-curricular-book month because my ereader ran out of juice at a most inconvenient moment: I’ve just finished Mark Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 13.57.36Lawrence’s excellent Prince of Fools, the first book in his new series (and inexplicably Number One in Amazon’s Norse/Vikings section – just because it’s got a Viking character? When it’s High Fantasy (well, this being Mark, low High Fantasy!) or Heroic Fantasy (or Unheroic Fantasy), depending on where you want to position it) . . . still, the important thing is that Mark Lawrence gets better with every book, and he started with the bar set very high indeed. Instead of a psychotic 13-year-old, we have Prince Jalan Kendeth, third son of the Red Queen’s third son, a cowardly princeling interested only in wine, women and gambling – until he becomes trapped in an enchantment with Viking hero Snorri ver Snagaso

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n which is going to entail them travelling to the frozen north to face their enemies at the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice . . . Prince of Fools is published by Voyager.

That’s the upstairs book. The downstairs book was published three years ago by Quercus, but I’d only just started JFB and so it passed me by . . . until last week when, casting around forsomething (having read the wine label, the ketchup bottle label and the local freesheet – again) I spotted The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan on the charity pile and got completely caught up the academic controversy about whether birds were originally dinosaurs – or if they are instead a completely different and unrelated species . . . Oh, and then it turns into a murder mystery. Charlotte Barslund has done an excellent job of translating from the Danish and I’m looking forward to discovering if the irascible young single mother Anna Bella Nor (named after the apple) is going to beat The World’s Most Irritating Detective in the race to discover who killed her supervisor, Professor Helland . . .

 

 

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 24

This week brings us to the end of our #SkyscraperThroneReRead as paperknife_mks looks at chapters 37-40 of The Glass Republic. Enjoy, and don’t forget to let us know what you thought below or with #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

‘combine heat, sugar and dairy products in the magnitude required until evil is defeated’

The Glass Republic cover artAnd so we come to the last four chapters of Tom Pollock’s The Glass Republic. Like the difficult second album, the middle volume of a trilogy is always problematic. On the one hand, the author has to ideally provide some sort of interim resolution. On the other hand, the ending hs to be such that it will inexorably draw the reader into the final volume. It is a difficult thing to achieve but I think that Tom has struck that balance extremely effectively.

Chapter 37 opens with the Glass Chevaliers in hot pursuit of Pen and Espel, Jack Winborough and Garrison Cray. Margaret Case’s arrangement with Mater Viae has been revealed and Our Lady of the Streets has finally found the means to return to the Lonon on the other side of the mirror. For Pen there is little alternative but to get the hell out, with the added problem of Espel, whose id has been awakened, meaning that the two sides of her are literally fighting one another. To escape into the middle of a riot, a riot that your words have apparently initiated, is then the purest bad luck, mitigated only slightly by the fortuitous arrival of Jack Winborough and Garrison Cray.

One of the things I really admire about this chapter is the way in which Tom invokes the random terror of the riot. In The City’s Son, the closing conflict had clearly delineated sides and a distinct purpose – Beth and Filius and their supporters against Reach and his minions – but here things are by no means so clearcut. And this is nothing to do with London-Under-Glass specifically, and everything to do with the nature of the mob. Historically, London is familiar with riots, and with the ways in which they can flare up suddenly, even in the midst of something previously benign. Every march attracts followers with their own agenda. Any clearly focused protest can suddenly lurch out of control. And once that happens, everything is up for grabs. There are no sides, as such; everyone is fighting for survival, and survival is personal. And this chapter show it over and over, in many different ways.

Jack and Garrison are fighting for a cause, but it’s not necessarily quite the same one, and yet they are temporary allies, and at the same time they’re fighting what the Glass Chevaliers represent on a more abstract level. Whatever else they might be, the Glass Chevaliers are an expression of establishment power. Their mirror surfaces are designed to suck the life out of protestors but they are a reminder too of the facelessness (and I choose that word advisedly) of a government that sets so much store by appearance. Confront a Glass Chevalier and you see yourself – we are all in this together as the UK government is so fond of saying – while simultaneously being reminded of how little power you actually have. These people only work for you if you agree with them. And yet the personal concerns remain. Pen cannot leave Espel, and neithre can Garrison. Garrison will help Pen, not for what she’s begun but because she may be able to save Espel, and that is as important to him as challenging the system. Even Jack nurses a quiet hope that he can return to his former life.

All this lies in the background that Pen and her friends flee the scene, only to find themselves pursued by the Chevaliers, in one of the more disturbing chase scenes in recent fiction. One might wonder how horses, even strangely supernatural horses, can or can’t outrun a car, even one driven by someone who knows how to drive fast cars in tight spaces. In fact, stop worrying about it because reality as we understand it has long since been suspended, and all that really matters is this moment – Jack and Garrison preparing to defend their barricade – or this one – Pen watching the disparate parts of Espel struggle for supremacy, a Freudian theory made actual. That confrontation with the Chevaliers catches too the strangeness of so many street actions in London in recent years – Tom’s fascination with the nature of the street itself is well to the fore here but there is a sense too that London itself changes everything that comes with in its purview in ways its rulers simply cannot account for.

After the hectic panic of Chapter Thirty-Seven, Chapter Thirty-Eight is altogether more contained. We’re back at Frostfield High School, or at any rate its analogue Under-Glass, back in that bathroom, which I realise finally, owes a certain something to M John Harrison’s ‘A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium’, also known as ‘A Young Man’s Journey to London’ (and yes, it has taken me the whole novel to realise this – some critic). After the broad canvas of the streets it’s in this incongruous safe place, about as contained as one can find, that Pen must not only help Espel but also come to terms with her own nature. She has been literally fractured for the whole of this novel, Pen and Parva, and now Parva is lost, part of Mater Viae, and Pen remains. And here Pen has her moment of insight: ‘She was my opposite, but she didn’t hate me, not at all. So maybe – maybe – your id isn’t born to hate you. Maybe it’s only fighting you because you’re fighting it’ (419). Which leads to that small, delicate, deeply moving moment when Pen frees Espel’s hands and the two sides of her begin to rub their hands.

Chapter Thirty-Nine brings us back to Pen’s real world, albeit it through the mirror, and the reappearance of Trudi, the girl who set Pen’s hijab alight at the behest of the repellent Gwen. Abandoned now, Trudi retreats to the same toilet block, because it feels safe. I’m struck even now by how well Tom captures that school vibe. My school days are long, long behind me, yet the Gwens and Trudis of this world are very familiar – I could give them different names but they’re the same people – as are the situations, and indeed the toilet block was always, oddly, a place of safety and danger simultaneously.

With Trudi’s appearance the pace of the novel changes because, finally, Pen can make contact with Beth again, and proceeds to do just that. In the moment when she roars ‘THEN FIND ONE!’ as Trudi complains her mobile phone has no signal, we see Pen in all her glory and power. And this, incidentally, is the moment when the novel turns its face forward., preparing for the third volume.

Though this is inevitably topped by the moment when Pen sees Beth again and we begin to realise just how much Beth has changed. ‘The irises in its eyes glowed softly, the green of traffic lights. Pen recoiled from the rooftops that overlapped on its cheeks like scales, from the black cable hair that coiled over its ears, from the church spires that showed between its lips as it mouthed: Pen’ (427).

And as if that were not enough there is the moment when the Masonry Man takes Espel even as Beth drags Pen back through the mirror.

The final chapter of The Glass Republic is a wonderful mixture of humour and drama. Paul Bradley, Beth’s father, is currently ranking as the coolest father in fiction, obviously disturbed by what has happened to his daughter and yet determined to keep everything together and help however he can: ‘combine heat, sugar and dairy products in the magnitude required until evil is defeated’ (435), as Pen so memorably observes.

And then finally, we come to the moment when Mater Viae, Our Lady of the Streets, returns to London in an eruption of blue flame, a tide of cats, and once again the Masonry Men, ‘erupt[ing] from the road like sharks from water’ (438).

I cannot wait to read Our Lady of the Streets. Coming soon.

On the Vagaries of Memory

Unholy War cover artLast night @LitAgentDrury and I sat down with a big glass of fizzy water each (weekdays. We’re not supposed to drink during weekdays. This is us trying to be healthy. Grump) and watched an episode of Endeavour. What puzzled us both was that we were certain we had seen every single episode from the beginning, and impressive as the new Smart TV is (after I spent a morning trying to plumb it in because it’s so Smart it doesn’t bother with such menial things as instructions), I don’t think it’s capable of playing episodes that haven’t yet been filmed. (Or maybe it is, but without a manual I can’t tell.)

At any rate, we sat there watching with great enjoyment, no clue as to whole the villain would be (other than Drury’s law: it’s always the most famous actor in the place. Except when it isn’t). And at the end, we turned to each other and said at the same time: ‘We have seen it before: I recognised the scene in the post office.’

But that was it: one scene – and not actually what happened, just one particular image. Admittedly it was of an old bloke with two fingers cut off by the raiders, but still, just one scene in 90 minutes of glorious entertainment. It’s true that brain fade moments are not as rare as we might like (during an appointment with my consultant last week I could remember dossil, but not plughole, which is pretty embarrassing) – but this was more: the blanking of a whole storyline, characters, setting . . . And yet earlier in the week, whilst editing David Hair’s magnificent Unholy War (the third part of his Moontide quartet – and if you haven’t yet given Mage’s Blood a go, I have to say there’s a reason for all those starred reviews and comparisons with GRRM and other great writers of fantasy epics – but I digress . . .) At any rate, one of my notes to the author said, ‘You can’t have this because in the first book we had that.’ And after writing that, I thought, perhaps I’m wrong? So I went and checked, and I was right. So I can remember a pathetic little detail that no one other than David and I are going to notice, the best part of three years and 60 books ago, and yet I cannot remember a linear detective plot I saw earlier this year* . . .

Actually, I am glad it’s that way round, because it would make my job even more difficult if that were not the case! Plots are pretty easy, but spellings, of names and words specific to each author, are not, and that’s why every editor who knows what they’re doing keeps a style sheet, which is then passed on not just to the copy-editor and the proofreader, but also to the author – as a lot of fantasy and SF writers are working on series, it’s absolutely imperative that they keep the same spellings throughout. (I’m not even going to mention my frantic email to Nicola Sunday night asking her to check the spelling of a piece of coinage in the finished edition of Book 1, because I was pretty sure we’d called it something else in Book 2 . . . luckily for me, my clever author came up with a reason which is both valid and sensible.

And now the best part of the day: I’m going to spend a happy fifteen minutes trawling the web for reviews: we’ve just published Peter Liney’s fantastically exciting Into the Fire: yes, Big Guy Clancy is back, and this time he’s not just facing the super-scary Infinity, but a villain from his past. Peter does villains exceptionally well (I will never forget his description of the fog coming down in The Detainee, and the drums beating, and the old and sick and desperate inhabitants of the Island covering in their shanties  knowing the hunt was on – it still sends shivers up my back). The Detainee is out in paperback now, so if you haven’t yet treated yourself, now is the time. And if your tastes run more to high fantasy, Rachel Pollack’s gripping The Child Eater is the one for you: a wizard who has found the secret to eternal life must be stopped, and that will take a boy from one world who wants nothing more than to learn to fly, and a boy from our world who is trying to be ‘more normal than normal.’ There’s always that uncomfortable wait when the books are first sent out for review, then the notices start trickling in and we all heave a sigh of relief: it’s not just us who love the books; other people get what we see in them as well.

So now all you have to do, Beloved Reader, is go out there and buy, buy, BUY! I’d love to know which books you’re not able to put down right now.

Jo

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*I have decided to follow Ian’s advice and be grateful we can’t remember TV plots, because that means we can watch all those boxed sets we’ve bought again, and again, with huge enjoyment. Phew! Silver lining, tick.

An Unquiet Launch

Alison Launch 1Ah . . . the fear and the fun of the book launch! The worrying over whether anyone will turn up or the pub have lost the booking, the sudden terror at the thought of the Q&A session or indeed that no one will have a Q and indeed, I won’t have an A . . . not to mention the sudden remembrance that I MUST sort out which extract to read before the whole thing actually starts.

Thankfully, the unleashing of The Unquiet House on the world turned out to involve rather more fun than fear!

We started off at the New Conservatory pub in Leeds, with nibbles very kindly provided by my beloved publisher – and very much appreciated they were too. There couldn’t have been a better venue, since the pub has its very own library space, which we were more than happy to take over for the duration.

Alison Launch 2Following the pub, Waterstones Leeds were our wonderful hosts for the launch itself. A big thank you to them for putting on a terrific display! It was great to meet and greet old and new friends for the occasion, followed by that moment when I remembered I had to actually stand up and say something. Argh! Always scary, but being in such good company, it turned into a blast. Anyway, after wittering a while, I read an extract and went on to the dreaded questions . . . which also turned out to be rather more fun than should strictly be allowed.

After talking about how I came to write the book, short stories vs. novels and other writerly things, someone (perhaps unwisely) asked something about whether I’d like it to be a film. Cue long ramble how if it meant I could bob along to the set and meet Daniel Craig it would be really rather lovely, before someone managed to shut me up and we had a book signing.

Alison Launch 3The night was topped off with the surprise presentation of an Unquiet cake – made by a friend of mine and somehow quietly stashed away until the end of the evening! The spiders tasted particularly good, though I don’t know what happened to that jelly baby . . .

A huge thank you to everyone for coming, including some terrific writers. It was great to see Simon Bestwick, Gary McMahon and Mark Morris, as well as Roy Gray of Black Static magazine and friends from Leeds and further afield. And of course, thanks to Jo Fletcher Books for supporting the evening!

Alison Littlewood

Find out more about John Matthews (Part I)

The Fourth Gwenevere cover artWith The Fourth Gwenevere hitting shelves soon we sat John Matthews down to find out the most important things about him, from his biggest inspiration to his fantasy dinner party guests.Here is part one of that interview, be sure to look out for part two in the coming weeks!

1.    Did you always dream of becoming a writer? And if so, has it turned out to be how you imagined

Yes and no. I thought I would become a successful novelist, live in a big house and have a private plane. It didn’t happen like that. Instead I wrote more than 100 books about myth and legend and am only just now beginning to complete some of the many fiction books I started over the years.

2.    Do you write primarily from experience, or are you a keen researcher – and has that research ever changed the course of the story?

I research as deeply as I can then let my imagination take over. My research has never changed the direction I was going in, but I have found things I thought I had made up to be true after the event!

3.    Who or what is your biggest inspiration?  Why?

Other writers, my amazing wife, and the actors, artists and musicians I have the good fortune to know personally. All of the above have an abundance of energy, love life, and don’t sit around congratulating themselves but get down to the job. I try to follow this myself, but I can be an arch procrastinator.

4.    Do you plan your books? And where do you begin a story, at the beginning, in the middle or at the end?

I plan very carefully as I like to know where the story is going, but it often takes off and surprises me – always, I think, with a better result than when I try to stick too closely to the script! I generally start at the beginning.

5.    You’re throwing your Fantasy Dinner Party: who are your five other guests, living, dead, real, mythological or made-up, and why?

Taliesin the Bard, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Sherlock Holmes, Mark Ryan. (Good grief, they are all men! I love the company of women but find I have a lot more laughs with the guys)

6.    When and why did you first start writing?

I wrote my first story when I was 8  – about a kid who fell though the floor and ended up in a room full of skeletons. Why? I couldn’t think of anything better to do.

7.    What was your favourite book as a child? And what was the last book you started but couldn’t finish?

Boy’s version of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. Read it over and over till it fell to pieces. We didn’t have many books in our house!  I finish pretty much everything I start. The last one I gave up on was The Queen of Dreams by Peter Hamilton

8.    Other than writing, what would be your dream job? And what’s the most interesting job you’ve actually had?

Film director. I’ve had the most fun being an historical advisor to a couple of epic productions, the best of which, funnily enough, was Jerry Bruckheimer’s King Arthur. The stories I could tell . . .

9.    What’s the book – or who’s the author – you turn to when you’re sad, ill or worried?

J.R.R.Tolkien.

10.     What’s your view of eBooks and online writing – blogs, fan-fiction, etc? Are you involved in any online writing yourself?

Not desperately keen on these. I love books. I do write occasionally for blogs and I write a lot of reviews on Facebook – but I’m not a fan of fan fiction.

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 23

Time for another reread folks! And this week I’m doing the penultimate four chapters of The Glass Republic. Which means there’s only one month to go before the release of Our Lady of the Streets. Hold on to your hats and make sure to leave your comments below or with #SkyscraperThroneReRead! (And watch out, there are spoilers!)

Chapter 33

The Glass Republic cover artIt’s the day before The Looking-Glass Lottery and Pen, fresh from finding Parva and being chased by Masonry Men, is being driven towards the compound, from which The Looking-Glass Lottery will be televised. Once there she is separated from Espel, but makes a promise to her ‘I’ll find you at the end of the day.’ Little does Pen know the things she is about to discover.

Now in the clutches of Corbin, and therefore Case, Pen is taken deep underground where the foundations feel ‘impossibly deep and cold, like an ancient grave sunk into the bedrock beneath London’s clay.’ There, she finds something horrifying; every sound she heard echoing up to the kitchen, was the sound of someone – a child, a man, a wife – being shot. But their life is not all Case has been taking; she has also been taking their memories and storing them in little glass bottles, the clink of the glass all that is left of what were once people.

Then, out of the darkness, comes something even worse: green pinpricks of light grow closer and closer; they are eyes; Mater Viae is here and she wants to find a way back to her child, to our London, and she doesn’t much care what happens to Pen.

Chapter 34

On their way out, Case threatens Pen with torture so that Pen will continue to front the lottery, but Pen has already been through hell with the Wire Mistress, there is nothing Case can threaten her with.

‘I’ll have to find something,’ Case replies.

The full extent of Case’s treachery has been revealed and now Pen is trapped, locked in her room so that Case can ensure The Looking-Glass Lottery can go off without a hitch.

In the quiet of her room, Pen swears she will not perform for the senator, and knows that there is nothing Case can do to make her stay and be the face of the lottery. She knows there is one thing she can do to make herself feel calmer; she can use the rituals and prayer she has known since she was a child. Once she’s finished, she finds that she is ready to face Case – and tell her to bugger off.

That is until Case reveals the thing she’s found to threaten Pen with: Espel.

Chapter 35

Forced to perform for the Countess by Espel’s capture and the threat against her life, Pen steps into the spotlight and begins presenting The Looking-Glass Lottery.

Then she sees Espel mouth ‘Do it for me’, and Pen realises that Espel doesn’t much care if she dies – but she does care that the tyranny of the Looking-Glass Lottery is ended.

Pen begins her own speech, going directly against Case, and broadcasts the truth to millions of people. Chaos ensues and Case reveals herself in front of all the mirrorstocracy. She is shot by Pen’s bodyguard, but manages to send a message to Corbin ‘wake the steeplejill’s id.’

By the time Pen fights her way to Espel, the damage has been done and her id has been awakened, which means there are two sides of her fighting for supremacy. Pen knows it’s over, but she can’t leave Espel there. She picks her up and makes her run, and together the dive through the rubbish chute and towards freedom.

Chapter 36

As they run, a large group of rebel Faceless  walk towards them; a war for London-Under-Glass is about to begin and Pen and Espel are in the middle of it.

Just as Pen thinks all hope is lost, Cray finds them and runs to help them both. They dive into the crowd just as hundreds of Chevalier soldiers arrive to restore order to the boiling streets.

As they run – Espel on Cray’s back – Cray is brought down at the point of a Chevalier’s lance, but manages to survive and fight back, killing the Chevalier. Then, just in time, his friend Jack arrives with a car. They pile in and run for it, but there is no way they can take Espel to a hospital, and besides – the Chevaliers have found them.

That’s it for this week folks. Be sure to head over to The Paper Knife for the final installment of the #SkyscraperThroneReRead next Thursday.

The option blog . . .

MGMLogoThis week I’ve had three people I’ve never heard of before ask me for copies of books (one not even published by Quercus, let alone Jo Fletcher Books!) for potential film and/or television interest. I have to assume that they’re kosher and they haven’t just bolted on ‘Pictures’ or ‘Productions’ or ‘Development’ onto their company name as a cunning wheeze to scam free books . . .

I don’t normally tell my Beloved Authors when I get such requests because I know from bitter experience how excruciatingly long and painful is the walk from ‘I like the book’ to ‘let’s make a movie’, let alone to the big lion opening his mouth and roaring as the music swells. Of course it’s really easy to start getting your hopes up if someone starts making ‘director’s scene-setting’ hands at you and saying earnestly, ‘Scarlet’s been ringing me every day, begging to be in it, and Brad’s just desperate, and George won’t take no for an answer . . .

It can be hard to bring yourself back down to earth at times like that – after all, you aren’t to know that Scarlet is not some glamorous Hollywood A-list beauty but the so-called-director’s ginger cat; Brad isn’t an eco-warrior-action-actor-hero but the spotty kid from the next street over (and anyway, he spells it Brahdd, to be different) and George is no coffee-pimping hunk but the best friend who just happens to have an edit suite in his mum’s back bedroom (although it would have to be filmed around his shifts as an orderly at Whipps Cross Hospital) . . .

So it’s up to me to be the voice of reason. Of course, it doesn’t matter how often I say, ‘Don’t get excited, not until the film’s actually made and in the cinema!’ because at the first mention of the words movie deal, our BA is already planning that sixty-foot three-storey extension with indoor swimming pool, G&T bar, hamam and cinema room . . .

I have some experience in the wacky world of the movies, not just some great friends in Los Angeles who are very successfully employed in the biz; I myself was once film critic for a national newspaper (ah, those balmy days as ‘our girl in the stalls’) and I did spend some years – no, sorry, months – working in Sofia as unit publicist (with legendary anthology and film writer Stephen Jones) on a memorable SF/horror movie that eventually ended up being called Mindripper . . . but that’s another story entirely.

It does mean that I have a general idea what to expect when I get that tremendously excited phone call telling me ‘X is about to make an offer on my book!’ If someone is prepared to pay good cash money for an option on your book – and that sum can range from a penny, to secure the rights legally, to millions – that’s a tremendous boost to the ego, and it can be a nice boost to your finances too. But I’ve had a lot more options for a thousand pounds or less than I have for $35,000 or more . . .

Even after that phone call, getting the option actually signed up isn’t going to happen overnight, because there are often meetings needed . . . dozens and dozens more meetings, which could mean travelling to film festivals from Cannes to Berlin to Palm Springs, and on, and on . . . and those days soon turn to weeks, and to months . . .

And even with the option safely locked away, there’s the vast expense of getting staff and stars attached, and finding a studio to finance it, and sorting out locations and permissions, and finding a shooting slot, by which time the option’s expired and you have to start all over again . . .

But because it can happen and does happen, when three people I’ve never heard of before ask me for copies of books for potential cinematic interest, I get them in the post as quickly as I can!

Jo

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30 Second Questions: John Matthews

The Fourth Gwenevere cover artOn the 7th of August we are very happy to be bringing you The Fourth Gwenevere by  John James and completed by Caitlín Matthews and John Matthews. To get you ready we asked John some 30 second questions. Enjoy!

Where were you born?

London

What’s your comfort food?

Chocolate

What’s your favourite tipple?

Jack Daniels

What superpower would you want/which superhero would you be?

Speed/The Flash

Dog or cat?

Cat

Who is your favourite hero/heroine?

King Arthur

What keeps you sane?

Music

What scares you?

Spiders

Beaches or adventure?

Neither

What’s your holiday read?

Fat Historical Novel/Adventure/Crime

What is the best present you’ve ever received?

An iMac

What have you learned about yourself as you’ve got older?

I don’t delegate enough

What would people be surprised to discover about you?

I’m not as crusty as I seem to be

Sweet or savoury?

Sweet

What is your favourite sport?

None

What is your favourite way to travel?

Car

Would you rather read the book or watch the film?

Film

Night in or night out?

In

What are you currently listening to?

Sir John Taverner

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 22

This week the #SkyscraperThroneReRead is brought to you once again by @Pallekenl from A Fantastical Librarian. Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the chapters on twitter with #SkyscraperThroneReRead or below.

Welcome back for another stop in the Jo Fletcher Skyscraper Throne Reread. In week 22 we’ve come about halfway in The Glass Republic and I’ll be recapping chapters 29-32. As in the previous posts I hosted there will be spoilers galore. If you haven’t read these books before and want to remain unspoiled, best beware, as Milady says: SPOILERS!!!

cerseispoilers
The Story So Far . . .

The Glass Republic cover artThe book starts about three months after the events related in The City’s Son. After months of healing and re-constructive surgery, Pen has returned to Frostfield High, with scars but without her best friend Beth. Pen is lonely at school, but has found refuge in a closed-up school building, where she’s also found her only source of comfort. Her mirror sister Parva. Parva lives in London-Under-Glass and is identical to Pen in looks, but quite different in many other ways. Still Parva knows exactly what Pen has been through and as such is the best ear to pour her problems into. When Parva disappears, Pen needs to find her, to make sure she’s safe. Desperate she goes to the Chemical Synod to bargain for a way beyond the mirror. She succeeds but at a steep price: her parents’ memories of her growing-up, unless she returns within 21 days with a unique artefact from behind the mirror. Once Pen steps through the mirror, she discovers that Parva is her mirror image and so is the way she is regarded. Parva is part of the mirrorstocracy and the face of the Looking Glass Lottery, the most beautiful woman in the world. To say Pen is shocked is an understatement. She’s also told that she’ll need to be ready for a photo shoot with a few days. Pen wanders around her rooms, trying to wrap her head around things, when she sees weather sweeps on the roofs of the buildings around her and one of them is swept off the roof by slate hail. Pen rescues the girl, called Espel, and in a desperate move to get some explanations and to keep Espel safe she makes Espel her lady-in-waiting. Having survived the photo shoot and Espel’s attempt to kill her, Pen agrees to meet with the leadership of the Faceless, the people that oppose the mirrorstocracy. After travelling across London-Under-Glass through increasingly unfamiliar streets Pen has a meeting with Garrison Cray and his cabal and agrees to help the Faceless bring down the Lottery. On their return journey they are caught out by a weatherturn and need to seek refuge in a building that turns out to be an entry point for immigrants into London-Under-Glass. Here Pen witnesses the application of IDs first hand and is confronted by the Under-Glass version of the masonry men. They are rescued by Captain Corbin and when Pen wakes up back in her bed, Senator Case assures her that what she saw was a ‘terrorist attack.’

Meanwhile Beth is roaming London, familiarising herself with her city, catching a sewermander, trying to get the baby Pavement Priest that was Filius his memories back, and discovering that she might have gotten more in Fil’s bargain than they might have expected as she’s developing a true spire-toothed smile. This creates a somewhat tense situation with the Pavement Priests both the true believers and the apostates. In search of answers Beth goes to visit the Chemical Synod and discovers her new nature is due to differing semantic interpretations. She also finds a picture of Pen and discovers the bargain she made. Determined to go after Pen, she persuades the Chemical Synod to help her, with the application of some judicious threats. The Synod reveals that the only one who can help Beth is Gutterglass. On her way out to confront Glas, Beth also swipes the bottle containing the memories Fil bartered for her transformation out of its alcove.

‘You poor, naïve goddess.’

Chapter 29 starts us off back with Beth. In fact it starts us off with Beth and a horde of cats following her around the streets of London. This of course is a nod to Beth’s transformation to the true Daughter of the Streets. Pollock provides a wonderful explanation for why people dismiss what they see when they witness this odd procession: its late at night and many people write it off to drunken hallucinations. Beth arrives at a tower besieged by an army of stone statues interspersed with numerous randomly placed street lights. The visual created was striking and given what we know of the pavement priests rather imposing. The tower is Gutterglass’ retreat, where she has holed-up to defend herself from the angry mob of Pavement Priests. Before we go any further into this tower can I be the first to say ‘Eeeeww!!’ Beth wades through decaying trash to find Glas who has seemingly just moved her tip inside. Beth has come to Glas to get a way to travel to London-Under-Glass from her. When Beth asks how Glas knows how to effect this, Glas admits to coming from the other side of the mirror. We get a short insight into Glas’ history, which is interesting and a revelation, because it seems Glas didn’t just worship Mater Viae, she loved her as well. When Beth asks Glas’ price for the phial of potion to get Under-Glass, Glas is surprised and names what seems a low price, saying Beth is already becoming all she could wish for. But Beth realises that Glas’ price for the phial — that Beth command her to hand it over — is far higher with further consequences than it appears at first blush.

‘It means I’m into you.’

While we leave Beth to consider Glas’ price, chapter 30 brings us back to Pen. She and Espel have returned to the Hall of Beauty telling the guard that she’s nervous for Draw Night and that she wants to practice her speech. Pretending to practice — with Espel having a lot of fun at Pen’s expense — they use the Goutierre Device to scan Pen’s face and look for Parva. While they’re working Espel asks Pen why Case wanted her to give Espel a raise. Pen admits that Case thinks Espel should buy extra facial features to make their relationship more respectable. Torn between amusement and anger Espel tells Pen she’s ugly by her society’s standards, but ‘That’s fine. I don’t want them to think I’m beautiful. What I want is for it not to matter that they don’t.’ Pen takes a chance and tells Espel she thinks she is beautiful. Before Espel can react the Goutierre Device kicks into action. After a few tense moments they have what they came for: they know where to find Parva.

Before they leave the Hall of Beauty Pen switches Goutierre’s Eye with Espel’s marble to fulfil her end of the bargain she struck with the Faceless. When Espel hesitates before leaving, Pen thinks she’s having second thoughts about saving Parva. Instead Espel wants to know whether Pen meant what she said before. In answer Pen kisses Espel. Pen is elated and frightened at the same time as Espel reciprocates. When Espel asks whether this means Pen’s into girls, she prevaricates as everything in her upbringing tells her this is wrong. She pushes these thoughts aside and decides to enjoy the moment and save the worry for later.

‘We’re a little tight on exits.’

Now they’ve located Parva and swapped out the Eye, it’s time for a quick getaway in chapter 31. With all the exits being guarded, there is only one way out left, the steeple-jill way—out the window. After a fun scene where the girls have to change clothes, which has received a whole new tension are last chapter’s revelations, Pen takes the plunge both literally and figuratively, telling Espel to call her Pen in the instant they go out the window.

‘They were watching her.’

We fall straight on into chapter 32 with Pen and Espel once again secretly winding their way through the city. Pen’s skill at stealth, learned from the Mistress, serve her well in this place. When they get close to their destination, Pen chokes as the streets remind her forcefully of home and Beth and her longing for them is almost a physical sensation. Once she’s regained her poise, they walk on and find themselves at the mirror version of Frostfield High. While the girls are contemplating how they’ll get past the Khannibles at the gates, Pen suddenly hears a familiar laugh. It’s Parva. At least, it sounds like Parva, but when Pen sees her, she has a silver seam down the middle of her face. Pen is disappointed, until she notices that the girl’s head scarf is the exact one she had on the day Parva was born in the mirror.

Pen makes Espel distract the girl’s friends and drags her into an alley. Studying her closely, Pen remembers the half-mask worn by Mirrorstocracy in hiding, and sudden;y has her suspicions about what happened. When the girl thinks Pen is Parva and introduces herself as Aisha, Pen puts everything together; Aisha is Parva, but somehow she’s been bonded to a half-mask and her memories have been wiped. When she asks Aisha about whether she was happy before she came here and started at this school, she answers that it was okay, but that this is better. Pen longs to make Aisha remember she is Parva, but decides she deserves a chance at happiness and lets her go.

As Pen and Espel get ready to leave, they discover another Masonry Man who is clearly watching Aisha. They start running only for more of them to appear. They flee and against all odds outpace the monsters, but not without Espel being wounded. They finally make it to the main road, where a car pulls up, almost running them over. Out of the Chevalier vehicle pops Captain Corbin. While Pen tries to decide whether to trust him – how could they have known where she was? – Corbin starts pleading with the sole Masonry Man that has caught up to them to let Pen go. The creature announces that ‘The agreement is breached.’ And that Pen has to attend his mistress, will she, nil she. Corbin, white with fear, acquiesces.

And that was it for another week. Be sure to come back here for the next installment of the #SkyscraperThroneReRead next Thursday.

The Question of Capitals

Unholy War cover artYou all know that Nicola’s taken on her very first slush-pile author, and for the last few weeks she’s been busily editing Sue Tinguey’s terrific urban fantasy Marked under my guidance (and no, that doesn’t just mean me shouting, ‘Are you crazy? Surely you know you never use a comma in that construction?’) Nicola’s obviously been a quick learner, and the first thing she put together was the Style Sheet: this is the document where we make a note of all the principal spellings as well as our instructions for the copy-editor, and/or the typesetter and/or the proofreader. In the case of JFB, that means stressing Anglicised spellings (and not Anglicized, as Word would prefer), and three spaced ellipses . . . like that, and closed-up M-dashes— for broken-off thought, word, speech or action, and spaced N-dashes – like this – when the dash is used as parenthesis or colon.

We also use this to say if we want chapters to start on a new folio or recto (by which I mean, to start on a new page, or a new right-hand page), and if there are some odd chapter-headings, or sub-headings, or epigraphs or poetry, we explain how we want them set out.

The rest of the sheet is as much use for the author as for the production staff, especially if there’s more than one book in the series. For example, I am halfway through the edit of David Hair’s magnificent Unholy War, his epic (in every sense of the word!) third volume in The Moontide Quartet, and to my horror I have just discovered that we’d spelled one unit of currency two different ways in the two earlier books . . . so when I finish this I’m going to have to unearth the second book to see if the proofreader caught it and corrected it . . . and if not, we’ll have to correct it in future printings. Whilst no one else but me is likely to notice, now I have, I can’t let it stay!

There’s another really important use for the Style Sheet, and that’s when it comes to questions of capitalization and hyphenation, as sources most definitely don’t agree. Nicola had capitalised six-shooter, as that’s how it was most often shown when she checked it out on the interweb – but the truth is, six-shooter is a description, not a trade name – Smith & Wesson made six-shooters, and so did Colt (lucky for her I’m married to a military historian who owned and competively shot his much-missed Smith & Wesson model 686 .357 Magnum, and I myself have ghost-written military memoirs! Lucky, lucky, lucky . . .) But the truth is, as long as it’s consistent throughout the book, that’s probably more important. It’s when capitals start appearing willy-nilly that readers start to notice.

So I’m back to David, to pretend I’m not really upset at missing the whole pfennig/fennick thing, and Nicola can get on with Marked secure in the knowledge that she’s doing an excellent job.

Something else to leave you with: a couple of nights ago I found myself staring at the night sky, as you do, and wondering the eternal question (no, not ‘will @LitAgentDrury have my gin-and-grapefruit ready when I get home’, or even ‘has Ian’s daughter Sophie invented the perfect Sophie cocktail yet?’) No, I was thinking about alien life . . .

So it must have been sheer coincidence that the following day, Ian sent me this link to an excellent feature on the Fermi paradox – which can be summed up as ‘Where is everyone else?’ I’m not going to repeat everything so succinctly written by Tim Urban (with support and brainstorming from Andrew Finn, I have no doubt! On the Wait But Why* website) because you can and should check it out for yourself – but it did remind me again – not that I ever need a reminder! that I have always loved SF because clever writers are busy imagining what might be out there – or what could have happened to them. And just because we haven’t met anyone yet doesn’t mean we won’t . . .

Jo

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*Find Wait But Why on Facebook and Twitter.

A call to arms

A Call To ArmsThis week we need your advice. That’s right, readers, Andrew and I – contrary to how it obviously appears – can not solve all problems, so we need you to put on your pointy hats, grab a long gnarled stick that glows at the end and don an oddly freeing but murder-when-you’re-trying-to-flee-a-balrog grey robe/maxi dress, in order to give us the benefit of your wisdom.

I really only need to say 4 words: Loncon 2014. Masquerade ball.

Here’s what you need to do: we need suggestions of SF duos/pairings (be it from books, film, TV, whatever), for us to dress up as. The outfit will need to be fairly easy to put together/make (we’re not made of money, you know!), and we’re easy on the gender of said roles (for example, Andy has already declared his intention to dress as Buffy, should that be one of the suggestions, but I’m not sure any of us want to see that). You can tweet your suggestions to @jofletcherbooks, or comment below.

We will then pick a shortlist of 3 out of all the suggestions and put it to a vote.

You will then get the added and amazing bonus of being able to laugh at us as we attempt to put together a costume and then wear it at the Masquerade Ball at Loncon 2014.

Thanks for your help!

And be warned: there will be pictures.

Nicola

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 21

This week the #SkyscraperThroneReRead is brought to you by  @maureenkspeller over at Paper Knife who looks at chapters 25-28 of The Glass Republic. Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the chapters on twitter with #SkyscraperThroneReRead or below.

‘They’re ugly.’ Espel’s jaw looked like she was fighting some rebellious instinct. ‘They’re so empty – so blatantly incomplete.’ (280)

The Glass Republic cover artAt the beginning of Chapter Twenty-Six, Espel and Pen have taken cover during a weatherturn in what Espel calls Immigration Centre SW 1 butwhat Pen knows as Victoria Station. Here, they witness immigrant half-faces being brought in from detention camps elsewhere, and given IDs (that is, Inverse Depictors or prosthetics, to complete their appearance – Cosmetic, Prosthetic, Completing Your Aesthetic, as the jingle goes). Pen already knows something about this because Espel as a half-face herself needs an ID to, as she puts it, ‘keep me legal’. Here, for the first time perhaps, we fully understand the horror that is London-Under-Glass.

This is a society which is driven entirely by appearance. Perhaps not surprising given that it is a mirror world, and the mirror not only tells us (in theory) what we look like, but reminds us that other people are also always looking. In this world we accept, but rarely articulate and often forget, that other people are always looking. We perhaps become most aware of it when we look at celebrity photographs or cctv footage, yet all of us are on show, every day, in even the most casual encounter. The difference between this world and London-Under-Glass is perhaps that we make these judgements in a very casual sort of way. We are swayed by appearance yet we recognise too in our hearts that appearance is not quite everything. In London-Under-Glass, by contrast, the entire structure of society is predicated on a clearly articulated and institutionalised aesthetic hierarchy, one that is legally enforceable.

Rather than glancing at someone and making aN ephemeral judgement, in London-Under-Glass a person’s face tells you everything you need to know. London-Under-Glass is a panopticon, with everyone always on display, always observable, the outward expression of a deeply conformist society in which everyone is obliged to adhere to one rigidly defined notion of aesthetic acceptability when it is fairly obvious that the ‘norm’ is anything but.

Words such as ‘power’ and ‘control’ are in play throughout these chapters, and one expression of that power is to be found in the insistence that everyone look a certain way; though, here, that insistence works on two levels. First, the half faces must look like the full faces, because otherwise they’re ‘incomplete’, as Espel puts it; but then, having had symmetricality forced upon them, they must work for assymetricality all over again, except that surgically enhanced assymetricality can never be quite the same as the genuine article, can it?

That’s one of the things I find so fascinating about London-Under-Glass. It’s blatantly unequal and yet at the same time, there are even more layers of subtle inequality buried below the surface. Where, for example, we might expect Espel to feel a certain sympathy for the immigrants, because they are like her, needless to say, she doesn’t because she is of course local and they are not. To her they are ‘incomplete’ yet she misses the intrinsic irony of her accusation because she chooses to see herself as ‘complete’ and to ignore the means by which she came to be complete.

And this is perhaps the ultimate reminder of the status of the immigrant in a new city. Pen, or rather, her sister Parva, is immediately successful in London-Under-Glass because she has something London-Under-Glass prizes, or wants, or can exploit. She can immediately rise to the top of the heap. For most immigrants, however, life in a new city is a constant struggle; the treatment they undergo at Victoria is a literal expression of the need to assimilate and integrate, to become like everyone else while permanently marked out as being different.

And yet, as Senator Case would have it, ‘looking’ dilutes power as well as conferring it. For Pen this is particularly significant, given that in our world the sight of her scars causes revulsion whereas in London-Under-Glass, her scars excite envy because of their very assymetricality. In the end, they are still little more than a fashion. What happens when tastes change and people want a different form of assymetricality? Does Pen retain the beauty that London-Under-Glass confers on her? Or is it as ephemeral as the beauty of any model or celebrity in our world? Pen should in theory be happier in London-Under-Glass because of this apparent acceptance of her looks but her experience suggests that even there happiness comes at a price. The Faceless Ones know this … as Pen realises in Chapter Twenty-Five, they hide their faces not to disguise themselves but to step away from that constant judgement: ‘it helped them ignore the aesthetics they’d been raised to judge each other by’ (267).

And if we are in any doubt, it is made clear that Pen’s power is minimal. Her face is well-known, she is famous, but her power is literally skin-deep. She cannot do anything to stop the integration of IDs and half-faces, and her motives in doing so are anyway confused. Instinctively, she recognises that something is wrong here, but there is no quick, obvious way to determine what’s going on, and the weight of practice is against her.

The complexity of these aesthetic discussions is such that it comes as a shock at moments to realise that the other London, the other ‘other’ London is still out there. However, it makes itself felt in the most forceful of ways with the attack of the Masonry Men and their abduction of the immigrants. I’ve noted before my fascination with the Masonry Men and their female counterparts, the Women in the Walls, and although they appear less often in The Glass Republic my interest in them has not abated. Here, though, we see them in a very different role. Whereas we have previously seen them trapped by the activities of the Crane King, or else struggling to survive, here, as Pen notes, ‘They were disciplined; when they swam under the floor, they held formation. I think they had a mission – they were very specific about what they took’ (309). ‘What’ being immigrants. Something, then, controls the Masonry Men. More interesting, though, is how they come to be in London-Under-Glass, when they seem to be so very much creatures of Beth’s London. Which may provide just a hint of what is going on, especially given that Pen recognises the tattoo on the Masonry Man’s wrist, city tower blocks arranged to form a crown. And we all know who’s insignia that is.

Yet, mostly I find myself haunted by the image of them ‘swimming’ through the floor, and of Captain Corbin suddenly finding his leg caught in concrete. There is a dreadful terror in discovering that the world you think of as solid is anything but. Creatures swimming through solid concrete provides a whole new level of horror. More so than stepping through a mirror because there has always been that idea of a world beyond or in the mirror. It’s the cost of gaining entry to such a world that Tom has once again highlighted here.

And that brings this weeks #SkyscraperThroneReRead to a close. Be sure to let us know what you thought and head to A Fantastical Librarian for next week’s re-read.

On Elevator Pitches

WinchesterWritersFestivalLogoWinchester Writers’ Festival celebrated its 34th year by inviting @LitAgentDrury and me to present a Masters’ Course in Publishing, and then to spend the following day destroying hopes and dreams doing a series of one-to-one edit sessions . . . and we both spent a lot of time being completely blasé about the event before accidentally bumping into each other in the lounge . . . at 4 o’clock . . .in the morning . . .

At least I had a good excuse: I’d had a brilliant ideaTM   of how to get a great deal of information over quickly without sending our class of hopefuls either to sleep or over the edge, and I wanted to get the details down before I fell asleep and forgot the subtle nuances. (I’m not sure @LitAgentDrury does ‘nuance’! He’s more your slash-and-burn-type representative of the Dark Side.) And Ian wanted to make sure all the statistics he had gathered were up to date . . .

When we agreed to this little lark we weren’t quite expecting 25 students (even though we’d been told the other master class running that day had sold out almost instantly as well!) but we were given an excellent volunteer (thanks, Josh!) and plentiful tea/coffee breaks, so it wasn’t just six and a half hours of blah. We both enjoyed it, but I think one of the highlights was the elevator pitch session – you know, where you walk into a lift and realise you’re standing next to a highly influential agent or editor, and then as you gibber and introduce yourself, said HIA/E says, ‘Go on, then. Pitch me your book. `You have until the 6th floor . . .’

It’s not the easiest thing to do when you’re sitting in the comfort of your own garret talking to a plush raven (not least because you know all you’ll get from him is, ‘It’s a sign!’), but when you’re put on the spot, it’s even harder.

We gave our students fair warning, telling them that we’d be expecting their pitches first thing after lunch – but we were genuinely impressed with the quality of pitches we got. And even the two or three which didn’t work first time out were beaten into shape in pretty short order. So a hint to all of you busy writing your bestselling novel out there: make sure you can always pitch your book in one line, and one paragraph – not just because you never know who you’re going to meet when, but also because if you can’t tell me what your book is all about and who it’s aimed at, how am I ever going to be able to explain to my own sales staff and booksellers?

Following our Master Class we had the one-to-one sessions, with a new hopeful every fifteen minutes. This being a writers’ festival, the delegates had the choice of up to five sessions over the course of the weekend, and that meant that both @LitAgentDrury and I heard, ‘Oh yes, the other agent/editor said that!’ during the course of the weekend. So it was a real relief to know we were not the only people saying, ‘No, I don’t think your stand-up-comic talking dog is a great protagonist for your dystopian YA science fantasy octet!’

So all in all, a good weekend – but a plea from the heart: your computer’s default settings should be Times New Roman, 12 point, double-spaced, and if it’s not, change it now. A lecturer in creative writing recently told me she’d had to reinstate the marks she took off for poor formatting, which is completely wrong: these things matter, a lot. It’s not hard to do, so why not give yourself a head-start from the beginning? I never want to see anything written in Arial again . . .

Jo

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30 Second Questions: Rachel Pollack

Child_Eater_Animated_CoverOn the 3rd of July we are very happy to be bringing you The Child Eater by Rachel Pollack and to get you ready for it we asked Rachel some 30 second questions. Enjoy!

Where were you born?

Brooklyn, NY.

What’s your comfort food?

Chicken wings.

What’s your favourite tipple?

Sercial Madeira (very dry).

What superpower would you want / which superhero would you be?

Flying/Promethea.

Dog or cat?

Dog.

What keeps you sane?

My friends.

What scares you?

Right-wing extremists.

Beaches or adventure?

Adventure.

What’s your holiday read?

Thrillers.

What is the best present you’ve ever received?

A Nakaya hand-made fountain pen from Japan, for my 60th birthday.

What have you learned about yourself as you’ve got older?

I would like to live forever.

What would people be surprised to discover about you?

I love playing poker.

Sweet or savoury?

Savoury.

What is your favourite sport?

Baseball.

What is your favourite way to travel?

Train.

Would you rather read the book or watch the film?

Book.

Night in or night out?

Both.

What are you currently listening to?

Folk music from the 60s.

iPhone or BlackBerry?

Neither.

We’re currently reading . . .

it’s that time again folks. Your chance to find out what we are reading this month. Have you read any of these books? What are you currently reading? Let us know below.

Nicola

Wildflower The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Murder of Joan Root cover artWildflower: The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Murder of Joan Root by Mark Seal follows the life story of the naturalist, filmmaker and lifelong conservationist Joan Root, one half of sixties filmmaking duo Alan and Joan Root, who brought natural Africa to millions of people around the globe.

This is the story of both her marriage to the man who was her one true love, the breakdown of it, and how she rediscovered herself whilst fighting to maintain the natural beauty of her home: Africa.

Ultimately it is a sad story: Joan Root was gunned down at her house on the shores of Lake Naivasha on 13th January 2006, just five days short of her 70th birthday. But that doesn’t stop her story being an interesting, vibrant and inspirational one. From feeding wild hippos to chasing ‘deadly’ gorillas, she was fearless, calm, capable, indispensible and strong: a true heroine.

This book is published by Phoenix in the UK and you can get it from Foyles marketplace for £5.56.

Andrew

Shalimar the Clown cover artShalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie is set in the imaginary small town in the region of Kashmir this novel shows you the life of Shalimar, a villager who performs a tightrope act for amusement. A life once full of affection, love and laughter is turned on its head when Maximilian Ophuls comes to his village and steals the heart of Shalimar’s wife. Scandal and a pregnancy ensues and Shalimar turns to a life of revenge which sees him train with various Jihadi organisations and become a renowned assassin.

I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that Shalimar is successful in his attempt on Maximilian’s life; the book start here and follows with a series of flash backs depicting how Shalimar became this person and why he choose to murder Maximilian.

Whether you read the book as a critique of how the politics of the sub-continent affected Kashmir or not it is impossible not to find the beauty and depth in this book. For me Rushdie’s best work.

This book is published by Vintage in the UK ans is available from Waterstones for £7.19.

Jo

A Singular Hostage cover artStuck on a doctor’s surgery with a dead Kindle and a banned phone, I grabbed the only book on the pile of 10-year-old magazines – in fairness the book was 10 years old too (published by Headline Review), but at least it was something I’d wanted to read at the time it was first published, A Singular Hostage by Thalassa Ali.

And once I’d started, I couldn’t bear to leave India in 1838, and the spirited Mariana Givens, sent out by her parents to find a suitable husband and instead finds herself caught up with members of the enigmatic ‘Brotherhood’. She’s acting as translator and companion to Miss Emily and Miss Fanny, the sisters of Lord Auckland, the British Governor-General, as his ten-thousand-strong party journeys across India to meet the fabled Ranjit Singh, Maharajah of the Punjab. Thalassa Ali’s wonderful descriptions of India made me quite understand why Mariana found herself more entranced with the country than with the eager young officers competing for her favor: the baggage elephants of the durbar; the scents and tastes of the unknown foods; the exotic natives themselves . . .

Lord Auckland is there to forge an alliance with Ranjit Singh which is supposed to deliver Afghanistan into British control, but the wily one-eyed Maharajah has other ideas, one of which includes seeing Mariana locked up in the Jasmine Tower with his other wives and his Pearl of Pearls: the child Saboor, taken from his family as a hostage and reputed to have mystical powers.

Before she quite knows what’s happened, Mariana is drawn into a perilous conspiracy involving the child Saboor, her munshi, the odd little man who teaches her languages, Dittoo, her native servant, and some powerful Muslim mystics with powers that have come straight from a fairy tale.

And damn it. Now I need to find the rest of the trilogy . . .

 

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 20

This week the #SkyscraperThroneReRead heads back to the Jo Fletcher Books blog and we are happy to bring you a look at chapters 21-24 of The Glass Republic. Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the chapters on twitter with #SkyscraperThroneReRead or below. And remember . . .

Chapter 21

The Glass Republic cover artWe are back with Beth . . . and she is looking for some answers! We all know what this means: a trip to the Chemical Synod. But for this visit Beth doesn’t want to arrive on their terms:

‘. . . winding her way through the sewers and sub-basements, rather than presenting herself at the old dye-works. She was using the workmen’s entrance, the back door, aggressively casual . . .’

Yet another example of Beth laying her claim to all of London. You have to love it! Also at this point I have to mention:

Sewermanders RULE!!!

Now, back to business . . . Beth knows she is now the child of the streets, and once Johnny Naphtha and his buddies emerge we find out the true depth of this statement – and one or two other startling revelations. Firstly, we discover that Filius Viae gave the Synod his ‘Childhood outlooks, proclivities and memories, complete to sixteen’. And, in some ways, this is the exact opposite to what Johnny Naphtha asked Pen to give up.

Next comes the revelation that Beth hasn’t become what she and Filius intended her to be. And there’s the lesson boys and girls: when dealing with the synod, always be careful to say EXACTLY what you mean. They had intended that Beth become like him: one with the streets, but what they asked was for Beth to be ‘as much a child of Mater Viae’ as they could make her. And they were able to make her very like the goddess of the streets: in other words, she is the new Mater Viae.

And the revelations don’t stop there. Tom goes on to even out the dramatic irony he created when Pen struck her deal with the Chemical Synod, by having Beth discover just what happened during their deal. This leads to, perhaps my favourite, quote; one that really sums up Beth’s loyalty to and love of Pen;

Only the people you really love can scare you witless enough for true courage, Beth thought. She was scared now – really scared – but she would have dug her way out of her own grave to stand beside that girl’

This fear turns to pure anger when Johnny tells her they can’t send her to London-Under-Glass to find Pen. In fact, Beth is so angry that she attacks Johnny and the boys, sending Oscar after them. This doesn’t end well for Oscar [big sob], but also shows us the first time the Chemical Synod are fractured, as Johnny reacts before the others. But, soon enough, they all round on Beth, backing her into a corner. Then they threaten her with the ‘Great Fire’.

This doesn’t work out for them: as a child of Mater Viae, Beth is impervious to the Great Fire, and boy oh boy the synod weren’t expecting that. In fact, they underestimate Beth quite enormously, because not only does she has the ability to summon her own Masonry Men, but she also has an incredible ability to think on her feet. By threatening their ‘profit’ (the things they acquire as part of their bargains), Beth is able to gain the upper hand and discover the final revelation of the chapter: that it was Gutterglass who traded the ability to visit London-Under-Glass with the Chemical Synod in the first place.

And, to close the chapter, Beth takes something she has been trying to create artificially, the exact thing Filius traded with the Chemical Synod: 16 years of his ‘Childhood outlooks, proclivities and memories’.

Chapter 22

Welcome back to London-Under-Glass as Pen makes her way down to the kitchens and a garbage chute; the easiest way to get to the streets of London-Under-Glass without being seen.

During this journey, Pen’s feelings for Espel continue to build and her attraction to the girl who tried to kill her grows.

Also, we get to see that Pen cares for Beth every bit as much as Beth cares for her. In fact, just thinking of Beth makes Pen’s chest so tight that she has to snatch for breath. I love how this friendship has grown so that both characters can survive, grow and develop independently of each other, but they still need and miss each other, and would be there for each other no matter what: true friendship!

And so the chapter comes to an end with Pen heading for ‘the real badlands . . . Kensington’.

Chapter 23

On the streets of London-Under-Glass we are shown the poor/rich divide, which, unsurprisingly, is quite the opposite of where it forms in our London. In London-Under-Glass, the rain is made up of bricks, dust and slate, so debris litter the floor. As Pen travels, she notices that this debris has cleverly been maneuvered into defensive formations. As the poor do not have their streets cleaned, the people of the area have used the debris to their advantage, making the street impassable for any forms of transport other than people on foot.

It is whilst walking the streets of London that Espel’s true strength of character and conviction really shine through: Pen and Espel come across a girl who is contemplating suicide. Whilst Pen waits in the depths of the maze created from bricks, slate and dust, Espel goes to the girl and tells her to ignore the bullying that has driven her to this.

‘It’s your face. Not theirs, yours. It bears the marks of the choices you made. Be proud of that.’

This, for me, is the main message Tom conveys with this book: be happy with how you look and who you are. And if anything this message is even more important in London-Under-Glass where beauty is a commodity.

Beauty is something Pen has struggled with in our London, and even though she is now deemed ‘beautiful’ in London-Under-Glass, her sympathies are aligning more and more with the revolutionaries. Her experiences are similar to theirs and she truly understands that a person’s appearance does not dictate who you are.

Chapter 24

And finally, Pen and Espel reach their destination; a place that only exists in London-Under-Glass. A place with ‘no glass or metal to reflect’. Pen finally meets Garrison Clay and his fist instinct is to kill her, but his curiosity stops him: why would the face of the looking glass lottery want to meet with him?

Their meeting shows how much Pen has grown. She defends herself with sharp and courageous retorts and refuses to let her fear show. Even she admits ‘The words coming out of her mouth didn’t sounds like her . . . They sounded like Beth’, and this is no bad thing. As you grow, the friendships you make and the experiences you have change you. It makes sense for Pen to stand her ground here, she has already made the plunge, there is no backing out for her.

And then comes the twist . . . Jack Wingborough isn’t faceless; he joined the revolution! The video circulating the internet that Pen saw earlier in the novel actually features his brother Simon and was made by Senator Case to punish Jack, explain his absence and allow her to inherit the family’s money. Wow! That’s an unbelievably cruel and ruthless action from Case, and I think it is summed up perfectly by Jack when he says: ‘Auntie Maggie is ever so efficient’. That’s right, efficient. It isn’t her cold hearted and violent nature that stands out most. Oh no, these things are a given, they don’t need explaining. It is her efficiency that is her stand out feature: she acts swiftly and decisively in calculating ways, and she is all the more evil for it.

And so I was giddy when Pen was eventually welcomed to the revolution for promising she would take ‘the one irreplaceable part of the machine that makes the whole system work’: Goutierre’s Eye.

I have a feeling things are about to get very exciting!

And so ends week 20 of the #SkyscraperThroneReRead. Be sure to head to Paper Knife next week when @maureenkspeller will look at chapters 25-28 of The Glass Republic.

Mainstream versus Genre: The Smackdown

Your Brother's Blood cover artOn Tuesday (that’s yesterday Tuesday, not last week Tuesday, or even next week Tuesday, but Tuesday 17th June), I attended the weekly Quercus editorial meeting, during which we bring up any submissions we’re reading that are interesting to us. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a book we are definitely going to buy, but it’s an important step in the publishing process: you get to know everyone else’s list, and it’s often where you garner the support of your other colleagues for things you might wish to acquire.

However, we had an interesting discussion this week, because the name China Miéville came up. I nearly had a heart attack: genre authors are almost never mentioned in this meeting unless by Jo or me. Long story short, his name was mentioned as a comparison for a book that was interesting. Then we were told that, despite having been compared by this point to Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Kazuo Ishiguro and China Miéville, that this book belonged on a non-genre list.

It’s important to note now that I have no problem with this. A lot of people I would consider genre authors have hit the big time by their books not being sold in as genre, but by having found another hook that has caught the reading public’s imagination, be it sparkly vampires or crime that just happens to involve time travel. But it did get me thinking.

Why?

The Best of all Possible Worlds cover artWhy do people consider these authors – Lauren Beukes, Neil Gaiman, Stephenie Meyer, J K Rowling – to be non-genre? And is that really why they hit the big time? As a specialist publisher, we primarily cater to a group of people we know to be our core fans. Of course, we’d like to reach a wider group, but it seems that sometimes the labels of ‘Fantasy’ or ‘SF’ can put people off. I’ve even heard people say ‘I don’t like fantasy!’ and when I then ask, ‘But you like Game of Thrones?’ they then say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s brilliant!’

What is Game of Thrones, I ask you, if not fantasy?

In short, I reckon more people like genre titles than actually realise it. The question is: how do we get this across to the audience?

There are a number of options when considering this question: we could change the packaging (something we actually do a lot of at JFB – see Your Brother’s Blood, The Language of Dying, The Best of All Possible Worlds), the titles, change the straplines, the blurb, the way we market our books . . . et cetera – but then, at what point does the book become not that book any more? At what point does it then not appeal to the loyal core fans of genre? And do we then risk alienating all of our audience by trying to be several things at once? It’s an incredibly fine line to tread.

And it’s made very difficult by the fact that genre readers do read titles other than genre, but that doesn’t necessarily work the other way round. I guess, in some ways, we have a stigma other genres don’t have that we need to shake. Because, frankly, fantasy, science fiction, horror, is all fascinating. It takes themes you might feel unable to explore in a normal fictional world and makes you question them. I wrote the other week that some of the best fiction makes you look up at the end of the book and see things in a whole new light, and this is what genre is; it is the medium for carefully explored opinions. I guess what I’m saying is that fantasy has evolved since it began and it’s become a platform for new and exciting thought and debate that needs to be had.

But this is a difficult thing to get across. They say that once you meet someone for the first time, it takes an average of seven more meetings for you to change your first, immediate opinion of that person. Perhaps that’s something that has happened to fantasy: one opinion has been formed and we need to keep chipping away at it until that opinion is blown apart.

What do you think? How might we be able to bring genre to a wider audience? I’m inclined to think this question is one without an answer; after all, if we knew what made a bestseller, we’d only buy those books, wouldn’t we?

Or would we . . . ?

Nicola

An axe, an axe my kingdom for—

Gemmell Award Winners

It’s not the easiest thing, travelling on London Underground knowing that in the unassuming box under @LitAgentDrury’s arm there is a large . . . axe . . . Don’t look at us: we are perfectly normal citizens out on a Friday night, nothing to look at here, Officer, oh no . . .

On reflection, it probably wasn’t the most sensible idea to stop and show our SF/F-loving friends at our local Tube station the results of the evening’s entertainment but we did both say, loudly: Award! NOT edged weapon, no, no! But *award*!  It possibly didn’t help that this is not the first time we have rocked up at our local stop with something sharp and shiny . . .

Yes, we’re talking about the David Gemmell Legend Award for best novel, which this year went to Mark Lawrence for Emperor of Thorns – and I’m very envious (whilst obviously being very pleased for Mark) that Voyager had a double whammy, for Jason Chan picked up the (very impressive, if less sharp and shiny) Ravenheart Award for best art for the cover of Mark’s book  . . . And I was equally disappointed not to see any of our own debuts on the Morningstar shortlist, though obviously happy for Brian McLellan and Promise of Blood from new housemate Orbit . . .

Emporer of Thorns Cover ArtBut that’s enough celebration: right now I am busy preparing for my debut performance at the Winchester Writers’ Festival this weekend. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not going to be anywhere near as much fun as Nicola’s festival last week (on the Isle of Wight – for which read sunburn and canvas tents and mud and vodka disguised as water and dancing all night long to rock and folk music!) . . .  but I am pretty sure the delegates getting ready to congregate on the King Alfred campus are looking forward to it with just as much trepidation and excitement as Nicola was, albeit for different reasons.

And so this week has been mainly devoted to dealing with the one-on-one sessions on Saturday, going through submission letters and opening chapters so I’m prepared to dest encourage all these sparkling new talents. Now I’m sorting through my other pile: that’s where I keep all submissions that I feel might be useful in a lecture situation . . . So for the twenty-five lucky souls who are taking part in the Friday master Class being run by Ian and me: here is a taster of the delights in store for you, including some of my favourite-ever submission lines:

I’M TYPING MY QUERY ALL IN CAPS SO YOU WILL BE SURE TO NOTICE IT.

I am writing to ask you to arrange for my novel to be a best seller in the market.

I have written a story that is strange, astonishing, interesting and dynamic.

This is groundbreaking work that will change the way we view everything.

And one of @LitrAgentDrury’s faves:

I have queries 50 agents and have gotten no where so now I’m querying you.

I’ll tell you how it goes next week!

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 19

This week @Pallekenl hosts the #SkyscraperThroneReRead, looking at chapters 17-20 of The Glass RepublicDon’t forget to share your thoughts on the chapters on twitter with #SkyscraperThroneReRead or below.

As in the previous posts I hosted there will be spoilers galore. If you haven’t read these books before and want to remain unspoiled, best beware, as the gentleman says: SPOILER ALERT!!

nph-spoileralert

The Story So Far . . .

The Glass Republic cover artThe book starts about three months after the events related in The City’s Son. After months of healing and re-constructive surgery, Pen has returned to Frostfield High, with scars but without her best friend Beth. Pen is lonely at school, but has found refuge in a closed-up school building, where she’s also found her only source of comfort. Her mirror sister Parva. Parva lives in London-Under-Glass and is identical to Pen in looks, but quite different in many other ways. Still Parva knows exactly what Pen has been through and as such is the best ear to pour her problems into. When Parva disappears, Pen needs to find her, to make sure she’s safe. Desperate she goes to the Chemical Synod to bargain for a way beyond the mirror. She succeeds but at a steep price: her parents’ memories of her growing-up, unless she returns within 21 days with a unique artefact from behind the mirror. Once Pen steps through the mirror, she discovers that Parva is her mirror image and so is the way she is regarded. Parva is part of the mirrorstocracy and the face of the Looking Glass Lottery, the most beautiful woman in the world. To say Pen is shocked is an understatement. She’s also told that she’ll need to be ready for a photo shoot with a few days. Pen wanders around her rooms, trying to wrap her head around things, when she sees weather sweeps on the roofs of the buildings around her and one of them is swept off the roof by slate hail. Pen rescues the girl, called Espel, and in a desperate move to get some explanations and to keep Espel safe she makes Espel her lady-in-waiting.

Meanwhile Beth is roaming London, familiarising herself with her city, catching a sewermander, trying to get the baby Pavement Priest that was Filius his memories back, and discovering that she might have gotten more in Fil’s bargain than they might have expected as she’s developing a true spire-toothed smile. This creates a somewhat tense situation with the Pavement Priests both the true believers and the apostates.

‘That maybe how I see myself is how I really am—‘ Pen said before she thought.’

At the start of chapter 17, Pen is attempting to do her own make-up in preparation for the photo shoot. Having been told that the pictures will be seen by three million people she wonders how Parva dealt with it all. ‘It felt like her lungs were packed with barbed wire.’ Pen’s descriptions of physical pain or displeasure are often marked by references to barbed wire, a way in which Pollock reminds us how completely pervasive Pen’s trauma is. Espel offers to help Pen with her make-up, putting her at ease by sharing a childhood memory of her and her brother with her. Her brother used to tell her that make-up is a mask that allows you to hide your true self, except from those who know how to see you. We get more family history from Espel, which also explains more about the realities of life for the half-faced in which the central tenet seems to be that no reflection comes for free.

Pen is called down for the shoot and Edward warns Pen about being rumoured to be involved with Espel, a half-face, as it’ll be dangerous for both of them but especially Espel. Pen almost puts him straight, but stops herself as it’s the perfect reason to keep Espel close and have her explain things. While they wait for the photographer Beau Driyard, Pen notices Espel is more twitchy than usual and Espel explains she’s excited to see the Goutierre Device, the machine at the heart of the lottery. Pen suggests going ahead and having a closer look as they wait. They nonchalantly wander into the hall and into chapter 18.

‘I think the word people use is wow, Countess.’

The Hall of Beauty is huge, but dominated by the Goutierre Device. Espel explains how the Device and the Lottery work; essentially the machine is connected to every reflective surface is London-Under-Glass. It can collect and match all the stray facial features that are brought into Mirror City through the face rain, an element of precipetecture. Espel knows so much about it as she’s into mirror meteorology, which this is part of.

They are interrupted by Beau Driyard, who turns out to be something different indeed. A half-face, he’s spent a fortune on augmenting his id and plays off the division by dressing each of his halves differently. He completely overwhelms Pen, spouts off about three different photo ideas in under a minute and shows Pen the dress she is to wear. When Pen opens the bag, her heart almost stops: the dress is designed to look like barbed wire. Parva has told the truth about her scars, but those Under-Glass think it is a metaphor or a tale. Shaken, Pen retreats to the dressing room with Espel. She starts to undress and realizes Espel is watching. She hesitates, and then scolds herself for fearing this after all she’s been through. Once the dress is on, Pen feels exposed, Es is almost speechless, and once Pen returns to the hall people are staring. When they are about to start shooting, Corbin interrupts to summon Pen to court, as they’ve gotten a confession from Pen’s alleged kidnapper.

‘—PARVACOUNTESSPARVAWILLYOUPARVAPLEASE—’

Pen is carted off to court at the start of chapter 19, worrying about who has confessed and to what. Has her deception been uncovered? But if they haven’t found Parva, what happened to her? She listens in on Corbin’s conversation with dispatch and learns the court session and the sentencing is to be broadcast live, something that’s never been done before. And that they’ll likely press for the maximum sentence, but what that is remains mysterious.

When they arrive at court, Parva is ushered into the building amidst scenes that are reminiscent of those seen wherever One Direction puts in an appearance. It’s chaos; everyone wants to catch a glimpse of Parva and capture her attention if only for a moment. Espel later reveals these fans call themselves the Khannibles, which Pen finds somewhat disconcerting. Once inside they see a TV screen, which shows a live broadcast of the latest attacks by the Faceless, who are revealed to be led by Garrison Cray. This surname should set bells ringing for those familiar with London’s criminal history. After being received by Case and two of her fellow senators they enter the courtroom proper, where we find that the jury box has been replaced by a camera.

‘In your name,’

The defendant, Harry Blight, is quickly led into the courtroom and he turns out to be the man who was in the river with Pen. He’s looking the worse for wear, though he’s been made to look ‘presentable’ for his TV appearance. He’s followed by the doctor who attended Espel and the judge and court comes to order. Blight is made to repeat his confession for the cameras. He claims to have been recruited by Cray himself and befriended and drugged Parva during her daily run, so the Faceless could devisify her to make a statement. Parva escaped, went into the river and Blight followed, which is when he was caught. Pen quickly realises Blight is telling a lie and that it’s a set-up, but she knows she can’t help him without betraying her own secrets. After Blight’s confession, the lines to the public are opened and the popular opinion seems to favour “off with his head”. Case and her colleagues concur and Blight is condemned to excitation, i.e. the waking of his id. Case tells Pen that they do this for her and Pen sees her chance to save Blight. She pleads for clemency, but Case denies her, claiming an attack on Parva is an attack on the state and can’t go unpunished. And here Pen learns the true nature of mirrorskin as Blight’s id is wakened and proceeds to kill him. It’s a horrible scene and Pollock writes it well, leaving Pen and the reader horrified. Once done, Pen is led back to the car through the gauntlet of her admirers. One of them catches her attention by asking Pen to sign her scars; Pen obliges, but is horrified at the same time.

‘The personal is political’

Chapter 20 sees Pen welcomed home by Edward and Espel quickly takes charge, telling him to have dinner sent up as Parva needs to rest after her difficult afternoon. She offers Pen a drink, which she declines, but pours herself one anyway. She starts to try and massage the knots from Pen’s neck – creating a sense of intimacy – and Pen lets her and asks why Blight’s id attacked him. Espel explains that ids are inimical by nature, calling it his Intimate Devil, but says it’s the price the half-faced pay just to get by. She sounds and feels tense and when Pen opens her eyes, Espel with her steeplejill knife ready to strike. A struggle ensues and Pen manages to activate the panic button, which she’d previously dropped on the sofa. While Edward tries to open the door to come to her rescue, Pen realizes that Espel can’t bring herself to kill Pen and when Edward finally breaks down the door she makes a split-second decision and makes it seem as if she and Espel triggered the alarm by accident while making out on the sofa. Edward retreats in embarrassment and Espel gives up on her attempt. Pen demands an explanation, while Espel wants to know why Pen didn’t turn her in. Espel explains she’s one of the Faceless and that she thought because Parva was mirrorborn she might be convinced to join them. When Pen confronts her with the immigrant attacks, Espel scoffs that they have no reason to attack them and points the finger at Case. She says she was sent to Pen to convince her to join the Faceless and Pen is shocked as she thought she’d saved Espel from an accident. Angry, she asks why then the knife? Espel answers that the excitation of Harry Blight and its broadcast were symbolic of the half-faced’s status as second class citizens. Parva’s death would have been a counter symbol. When Espel asks why Pen spared her, she doesn’t answer. Instead she thinks of Parva and tells Espel: ‘The Faceless want me on side?’ she said at last. ‘Then take me to them.’

And the last line of the chapter just made me shiver:

‘She could almost hear the sibilants stretch in her mouth as she said, “I have a proposition for them.”‘

And that concludes week 19 of the #SkyscraperThroneReRead. Be sure to come back here next week when we will bring you part 20 of the #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

Belong to a Book Club? Let us know!

BookclubIf you belong to a Book Club we would love to know. Why I hear you ask!?

Well, we would love to occasionally contact you about books that we think you might like. We’ll ever offer you a few free copies, a reading guide and, in some instances, bring the author along to visit your club and be part of the discussion.

If you would like to be part of the initiative we just need to know how many people you have in your club, and the kind of books that you read, so that we only send you information about books we think you’ll enjoy.

This week’s busy social whirl

20140605_180030There’s so much going on at JFB right now that I hardly know where to start. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll already have seen Morag Kristjansson’s excellent Viking cupcakes (made with her own fair hands) to facilitate the launch of Snorri’s Blood will Follow and the paperback of Swords of Good Men at Forbidden Planet – thanks, FP! – last week. That was followed on Friday by the British Fantasy Society’s Open Night, and the Big Reveal of the shortlist for the British Fantasy Awards.

Nicola and I were delighted to be there to cheer on Sarah Pinborough and Alison Littlewood, shortlisted for best horror novel for, respectively, Mayhem and Path of Needles, Tom Pollock’s The Glass Republic up for best fantasy novel and Stephen Jones’s Fearie Tales shortlisted for Best Anthology – a hearty congratulations to you all, and of course to the rest of the nominees. Now we just have to wait until September and Fantasycon to find out the winners.

Then on Saturday I had the great pleasure of joining wonderful children’s writer Frances Hardinge at the joint BSFA/SF Foundation mini-con and AGMs. She was the British SF Association’s Guest of Honour; I was asked by the Science Fiction Foundation. And I am sure Frances will agree: we had a blast! It’s hard to pick a favourite part of the day – I really enjoyed Tom Pollock’s interview with Frances (except that there was one of her books I realised I didn’t have, and my to-read pile is already teetering, but what’s a person to do? Gullstruck Island is now enroute), and even more, Sophia McDougall’s very penetrating interview of me (she’s not one to hold back on the awkward questions, which meant I didn’t get bored as I never knew where we might be going next).

AwardCovers2But most Brownie points go to whoever devised my panel game – was it you, Shana Worthen? If so, copyright it at once! With Edward James (last seen moderating the JFB-sponsored ‘Women in SF’ panel atBlackwells ) in the chair, Kate Keen, Martin McCallion and Tony Keen took turns in pitching an (already published) book for my fledgling list, with ‘help’ from the very enthusiastic audience . . . It was all worth it just to listen to Tony extolling the virtues of Terrance Dicks’ classic  Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks against Martin’s passionate plea for Robert Charles Wilson’s Hugo-winning Spin – and then Kate trying to pull a flanker by sliding in a piece of fanfic when I wasn’t paying attention . . . Who says academics don’t know how to have fun?

And this week we’ve got the Gemmell Awards, and then next week there’s the Winchester Writers’ Festival, at which @LitAgentDrury and I are making a guest appearance or two . . . and somewhere amongst all this fun and frivolity I have to produce a two-page synopsis (which, unusually, includes the ending) for a book I want to enter into another prestigious award. And before I’ve finished that, can I just check these four cover run-outs, and can I write a paragraph for the end-matter for the paperback of Traitor’s Blade, and can I do a quick author intervention. Oh, and I have three copy-edits to finish.

All I can say is: thank heavens Nicola is about to finish her water-only stint* and is on hand to ply me with tea and blueberries. And whilst I’m not pleased that Andrew’s torn a tendon trying to do a forward flip on his niece’s trampoline**, it does at least mean that he’s got to sit still for a bit to let it heal instead of dreaming up more boisterous ways to get JFB noticed . . .

And now I have to bid you adieu so I can go over the US schedule with the home and US teams . . .

Jo

Jo sig

 

 

 

 

*Forgotten to sponsor her? Fear not: you still have time! She agreed to say farewell to fizzy pop, bye-bye to beer and laters to lattes for two whole weeks (and this is nowhere near as easy as it sounds) to raise money for the RNLI and their lifesavers at sea, who drop everything at a moment’s notice to save lives on the water. You’ll find her page at www.justgiving.com/nicola13

** No, he didn’t manage it!

And the winners are . . .

To celebrate the launch of Blood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson we gave you the chance to win a tour of the British Museums Viking exhibition from our very own Viking Snorri Kristjansson. And we are please that we can now announce the winners. Or at least Snorri can.

So if the winners, K R Green, Tom Dare and Jazz, email us we will confirm the tour date. Congratulations to the winners and thank you all for entering!

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 18

This week @EffingRainbow hosts the #SkyscraperThroneReRead. She looks at chapters 13-15 of The Glass Republic, why not share your thoughts on the chapters on twitter with #SkyscraperThroneReRead or below.

For those who are unfamiliar with the book(s), here’s some summary info (please note that spoilers will be galore below!) . . .

The Glass Republic cover art
Series: The Skyscraper Throne #2 | Genre: Urban Fantasy, YA | Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books | Publication date: August 2013 | Format(s): Hardcover, paperback, ebook (Kindle)

Pen’s life is all about secrets: the secret of the city’s spirits, deities and monsters her best friend Beth discovered, living just beyond the notice of modern Londoners; the secret of how she got the intricate scars that disfigure her so cruelly – and the most closely guarded secret of all: Parva, her mirror-sister, forged from her reflections in a school bathroom mirror. Pen’s reflected twin is the only girl who really understands her.

Then Parva is abducted and Pen makes a terrible bargain for the means to track her down. In London-Under-Glass looks are currency, and Pen’s scars make her a rare and valuable commodity. But some in the reflected city will do anything to keep Pen from the secret of what happened to the sister who shared her face.

Right then! Let’s get to the recapping. From here I’ll do quick summaries of each chapter, and give my thoughts on the segment as a whole afterward. So here goes:

Chapter 13

‘Countess.’ He inclined his head respectfully. ‘My name is Edward. I’ll be your bodyguard from now on.’

Pen took him in. He was like a cliff with a head on it. He had two small scars patched to one side of his perfectly symmetrical chin, just to the right of the silver seam that bisected his face. She blew out her cheeks. ‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Why not?’

Pen starts to familiarise herself with her new digs and her new environment here, from the layout of her rooms to the fact that anything printed or written seems to appear backwards – mirror-writing, naturally. Then comes the ‘weatherturn’ – a brief, violent storm consisting of bricks, slate and dust rather than rain or hail. We’re introduced to ‘steeplejacks’ and ‘steeplejills’, whose job is apparently to use this storm debris to add to buildings and make them taller. One such steeplejill is injured in the slate storm, and rescued by Pen.

Chapter 14

Edward coughed uncomfortably. ‘That’s your prerogative, of course, ma’am,’ he said, ‘but I doubt Slater’ll let her back into his precipitecture crew. Not after she let Your Ladyship get all cut up on her behalf.’ He glared down at the steeplejill, who didn’t meet his eye.

After rescuing the steeplejill, whose name is Espel, Pen manages to speak to her alone, and convinces her that, as Parva, she’s lost her memory of life in London-Under-Glass. She offers Espel a new job as her lady-in-waiting in exchange for the information she’s ‘lost’.

Chapter 15

Pen blinked. ‘Say again?’

‘You’re the most beautiful woman in the world, ma’am.’

Espel explains a bit about why Parva Khan is such a celebrity, and why people love her so much – those with symmetrical faces have them because they’re born with only half a face. Prosthetics complete them via surgery, hence the lines of stitches. Parva’s face, however, is considered beautiful because it’s all her own. No surgery, no symmetry; this is why people pay to imitate her look.

Chapter 16

‘We brought him in here when the weather turned nasty,’ the Pavement Priest rumbled in the gloom. ‘It’s dark, but it’s a bit warmer and at least it’s dry. It’s…’ The gruffness in his voice faded slightly. ‘It’s what we thought you’d have wanted.’

Here the story returns to Beth in London above. She’s gone to Petris, who’s been guarding the reincarnated Filius since the battle with Reach. He isn’t very pleased to see her, but he stands against Ezekiel when he shows up demanding Beth’s life for her blasphemy.

. . . And here’s where this section of the re-read ends. It’s my first time reading The Glass Republic, so all of this is completely new to me. As such, my thoughts are pretty much first impressions.

It’s awesome. All of it. Once again, Tom Pollock’s imaginative and intricate worldbuilding gives me joy. I love the idea of precipitecture, even if it is unnervingly dangerous work! And the deal with people only having half of a natural face… Creepy. Fascinating as heck, but creepy! And I have a pretty good feeling it isn’t going to end there . . .

I’d also like to add here that, without risking outright spoilers for other new readers, my early suspicions about what was in store for Beth after what happened in The City’s Son would seem to have been confirmed! This delights me. I definitely can’t wait to find out where it all leads!

And that brings a close to week 18 of the #SkyscraperThroneReRead. Be sure to head to A Fantastical Librarian next week where @Pallekenl will be looking at chapters 17-20 of The Glass Republic.

On the Importance of Consistency

ConfusionI’ve been editing recently (surprise surprise, I think if I hadn’t, I’d be somewhat neglecting my job), and ruminating on the importance of making things consistent.

To the casual eye, some inconsistencies might be glaringly obvious. For example, if a person has green eyes on one page and blue eyes on the next (unless you happen to have a creature with changing eye colours, in which case, go crazy with it). But there are still other, more subtle things you should always be on the look out for: consistencies in spelling and grammar, character beliefs, personalities and actions, the politics of your world, etc. When editing, and when all else including reason fails, I usually go with one simple rule: if it’s going to be wrong, make it wrong consistently.

Now, you might say, ‘What? Aren’t you supposed to be spotting what’s wrong and fixing it?’ And to that I say yes, yes I am, but at the end of the day an author’s work is just that: their work, not yours. If they really want it a different way then you’d better damn well make sure that it’s a different way consistently. It’s incredibly important to do this, especially in fantasy where you have fictional words all over the place. If one word is spelled several different ways and the reader notices, it’s going to throw them out of the novel, and that is always something that should be avoided. Another reason consistency is so important is that, without it, your world becomes unbelievable. Your reader can’t be sitting there going, ‘But a minute ago it was this . . .’ because if they don’t trust the fictional world the author has created, how the hell are they to be expected to climb into that world and join you there, as every book asks them to?

It will, mostly, be up to your editor to spot this. I know from personal experience that it’s very hard to spot this kind of mistake yourself, but what I’m saying is be aware. Picture who your character is, have firm ideas and the reasons for them in your head, or on your external hard drive, or written in your notebook, or in calligraphy on beautifully illuminated pages or whatever. Just get it down somewhere and then check back over it, because the things you thought at the beginning of your novel, won’t be true of it by the end.

And for those of you writing: good luck!

Nicola

On changing track . . .

Gleam cover artThe spunnocks have had third breakfast already and have moved on to do some serious spunnocking in the mulberry tree, so now I am sitting here watching two adult blue tits feeding the very fluffy fawn baby blue tit from the veritable bird banquet I have generously suspended from the washing line outside the dining room. They much prefer the pink berry suet block to the buggy balls, and just spit out the extremely expensive high-protein mixed seed – mendaciously labelled ‘no mess’ – in disdain. Even @LitAgentDrury forgives them because of their joyous presence.

However, I have to admit that the lilting twitter and blue tit acrobatics are making it very hard to concentrate on the exceptionally dark world Tom Fletcher has created in Gleam.

But concentrate I must, if this is going to get to the typesetter in time for autumn publication . . . for a moment, inspired by the world outside my window, I was going to suggest he add some more birds (other than the odd raven or two who put in a brief appearance – although I hasten to add there’s nothing wrong with ravens!), but then decided a joyful little tit was quite likely to turn into something quite other in this dank, leprous world full of scaly poisonous beasts, of silvery-trailed slugs and snails of gigantic size, of bone-filled swamps and slimy mushrooms.

I should have guessed, when I suggested Tom try his hand at something a little wider than the (admittedly excellent) stand-alone horror novels he’s been writing, that I was not going to get your standard fantasy fare. Granted, it is a quest novel, and there are companions – and technically, Wild Alan is an orphan, since his parents were massacred when he was a boy . . . but that’s about where Gleam parts company from the more traditional quest novels.

It’s always a bit of a scary moment waiting for the script after you’ve suggested an author change tracks, and I am the first to admit that yanking a writer out of their comfort zone doesn’t always work. But when it does . . .

Poor you lot: you have to wait until September!

And as for me, you’ll forgive my brevity this week – I am turning my back on the birds as well as you and returning to the Discard, where Wild Alan, Bloody Nora the Mapmaker, Spider, Eyes and Churr are about arrive in Dok, the source of the mushrooms Alan needs if he is ever to see his beloved son again. Sadly for them, I suspect they are not getting there alone.

Jo

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Karen Lord tells you a bit more about The Best of all Possible Worlds

Karen Lord was recently in the UK, where she took part in out Women in SF panel at Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road. But we didn’t let her do just that whilst she was here. Oh no, before she left we sat down to talk to her about a variety of topics and this week we are happy to share with you two videos where she discusses the amazing The Best of all Possible Worlds.

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 17

The Glass Republic cover artOur #SkyscraperThroneReRead this week reaches week 17, with @speculatef looking at chapters 9-12 of The Glass Republic. be warned . . . Possible spoilers ahead!

Ch. 9

“For a split second she kicked at empty air, and then she plummeted down through the hole in the river.”

Pen screws up all her courage and makes her way behind the mirrors. The chapter is mostly inner reflection and shows Pen’s determination, not only to rescue her mirror-sister but also to get back to her world.

Ch. 10

“Fifty feet high, every pore blown up to the size of a dinner plate, immaculate dark makeup making her eyes luminous and picking out each individual scar: Pen’s own face smiled back at her from the billboard canvas.”

There’s a lot going on here. From the moment Pen surfaces from the Thames into the strange mirror-land, she’s in danger. First, of drowning, then of being shot, and finally, of giving herself away. The confusion and fear Pen feels in this world is clear to readers because we are just as confused and fearful. This chapter marks the end of Part I.

Ch. 11

“She’d assumed that the London she knew would be a map for London-Under-Glass, but it wasn’t.

We get to see more of London-Under-Glass, and Pen slowly gets her bearings. She meets a bunch of new people who all defer to her because she’s the ‘Mirror Countess’. Pen makes a decision to pretend she’s Parva, but soon realises it’s not going to be as easy as she’d hoped.

Ch. 12

“We are the Faceless.”

Pen’s barely regained her footing in London-Under-Glass, and she’s got a clue about Parva’s fate. The Faceless are introduced as a rebellious (terrorist) cell.

My thoughts

These four chapters are full of action, with Pen making the journey into the mirror world and then struggling with trying to understand Parva’s place within the Mirror society. I think they’re cleverly done, and set us up for the amazing adventure Pen has in London-Under-Glass.

That’s it for this week folks, but dont forget to let us know what you thought of chapters 9-12 of The Glass Republic below, or with #SkyscraperThroneReRead on twitter. And be sure to head over to Over the Effing Rainbow next week when @EffingRainbow will be looking back at chapters 13-16!

Where‘s my swimming pool?? On ‘Getting Published’

With the second book in his Valhalla Saga hitting shelves next week resident Viking Snorri Kristjansson brings you his thoughts on ‘Getting Published’.

Snorri KristjanssonIf the Internet is to be believed, ‘to get published’ is up there with ‘world peace’, ‘an end to starvation’ and ‘a crack at Karen Gillan/Ryan Gosling/both when they’re slightly tipsy and judgment-impaired’ as the thing most people covet most in the world. It is a dream for a lot of people, and a strong one too – involving any combination of peer respect, hordes of fans, a rock-star sex-god partner and millions in the bank.

However, statistically there can only be one Neil Gaiman at a time (if there’s more than one they must do battle, Highlander-style, and I for one would pay GOOD money to see that) and so it stands to reason that there is a difference between the idea of being a Published Author and the reality of same. Incidentally, this gap is one that has frustrated me repeatedly in my adult life.

In writing as in other arts, there are bottlenecks. I’ve been busy avoiding ‘real life’ so I’ve had a stab at a couple of other disciplines – in music, you first have to rehearse. Then you have to get actually half-decent. Then you meet the gatekeepers – my time was B.I. (Before Internet) so we had to deal with Top 40 DJs. I will say little about the experience – let’s just say it was, ehm, informative. You need fuel for writing limp-wristed, tasteless and brain-dead bastards from somewhere. Frustrated by music, I turned my hand to acting and found that the highway to superstardom, hordes of fans and a mansion was less that and more mountain road traversed by donkey. I applied for Drama School, got into LAMDA (past Bottleneck #1) and thought I Had It Made, only to find that a similar percentage who got through the first bottleneck (about 7%) and into drama school actually got jobs going out of drama school. For those playing the home game, that equates to about 11 people working regularly on stage out of 3,000 applicants.

Which brings us to writing.

On the 17th of July 2012 I got an email from my agent asking me to give her a call. The first words she said were: ‘Are you sitting down?’ Fifteen minutes later I remembered to breathe and my brain caught up with the realities of the situation.

I was going to be a published writer!  And I had been signed by none other than World Fantasy Legend Jo Fletcher Herself!

I was staying with my family in Iceland at the time, and bless them, they put up with me nattering on about it for four days straight before flying back to London mostly powered by the emissions of my own planet-sized ego. I went to JFB headquarters, signed a contract and strode out to red carpets and flashes of paparazzi bulbs which I found out later were mostly ‘imaginary’.

Because frankly? The world didn’t actually change. I still had a job that I needed to pay attention to, no swimming pool materialised outside a house I certainly didn’t own and not a single national newspaper wrote an article on my massive and unprecedented success.

Blood Will Follow cover artWhat I did have was a flat where I could sit and read the contract. Particularly the bit that said ‘Book 2 due by’. Because essentially, what happens when you sign a publishing contract for a series is that someone who knows books goes ‘I like what you’ve done here and spent the last three years polishing and shining. Now do it again, three times faster and much better plzkthxbai.’

Undaunted by ‘reality’, I spent about two weeks going ‘Haharr! I am a published writer! Well, I will be – in a year! I will be taking delivery of an 18’ statue of myself any time now!’ I wondered whether anyone would like the books. I wondered whether I’d ever be on a panel at a convention. I thought I’d be awesome. I thought I couldn’t write for toffee. Then I realised that the only thing I could actually control in this situation was my own output – and so I got to outputting. And here I am, two  years and a bit later, nearly a year into being a published writer, a year after my awesome publisher threw a launch party where she gave me mead in a skull goblet, and I find my life still hasn’t changed that much. Work is going well, writing is fun, the book has got mostly favourable reviews, my friends have bought it, grumbled at me about the ending and put the release date for Book 2 into their calendars – and I’m waiting with bated breath for the reviews of book 2 and well into writing book 3 when I can tear myself away from hanging out on Twitter with all the other Published Authors.

I suppose now I’m writing for that next bottleneck – the one I didn’t know about. There is apparently quite a leap from being a Published Author to being a Full Time Author. But while I am not nor ever have been the most athletic of men – with the belief of JFB and the encouragement of Fantasy readers, I feel I’ve got at least decent pace on the run-up.

Keep getting lost in books that make you go ‘. . . cool!’ out loud on public transport,

Snorri

Women in SF panel Part 3

Following on from the first two parts of the video from our Women in SF event at Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road, we now bring you the final video from the event.

Six authors discussed the debate surrounding the representation of female authors in genre fiction, why there is a lack of it, and the solutions that could be implemented to ensure equality in the future. Enjoy!

What will you be reading in 2214?

Louis HachetteSorry, sorry, sorry – I promised I’d be here regularly, but life keeps getting in the way of the best intentions. In this case you really do have to forgive me because I’ve been concentrating on the finalisation of the sale of Quercus (which obviously includes us imprints, Jo Fletcher Books, Maclehose Press and Heron Books) to Hodder. Some of you may know that I am no stranger to Hachette, having left Gollancz (part of the Orion Publishing Group, which is a separate division of Hachette) to start JFB . . . but I’m also no stranger to what was Hodder-Headline, as I actually started my publishing career at Headline, right at the very beginning, when the fledgling publishing house set up business in a little office suite round the back of Harrods . . .

So in some ways I’m coming home – and for those of you who might be worried about what the future holds for us, I’d like to reassure you and say that from JFB’s point of view, I can’t actually think of a better home for us.

I thought you might want to know a little bit of the history of our new company, which is one of the world’s largest publishing conglomerates. In the UK, the group – now called Hachette UK – comprises (in no particular order, and I am quite sure I am forgetting someone, so my apologies!) Hodder & Stoughton, Headline, Orion, John Murray, Little, Brown, Hachette Children’s Books, Hodder Education, Octopus – and now Quercus.

So as I was writing this, I started to wonder if Louis Hachette had dreams of world domination when he spent 13,956 francs to buy Jacques François Brédif’s little bookshop in 1826 . . . and that meant that I needed to find out a little more about M. Hachette . . . and obviously, I then had to share with you the fruits of my labours.

You see, it turns out that Louis Hachette was a remarkable man. What he really wanted was to be a teacher, but the French Restoration Government of the early 19th century scuppered that idea (in case he had liberal leanings!). So he bought the bookshop and initially focused on educational publishing, selling particularly to high schools, universities and religious institutions. He had a brief blip in 1832, when he had to borrow 10,000 francs to save the company from bankruptcy, but after that he never looked back.

Then in 1851 he visited the World Book Fair in London, where he met one W.H. Smith – yes, that Mr Smith! – who was talking about his master plan: setting up bookshops at railways and selling books and periodicals to travellers . . .

The following year, Hachette proposed his own version of this to all the major railway companies in France. The Bibliothèque des Chemins de Fers or Railway Library would fulfil his three ideals: it would be a public service, it would educate the public – and it would make money!

His intention was ‘To turn the forced leisure of travel and the boredom of a long route to the profit of amusement and education for everyone.’ The collection would be characterised by its instructional value, variety, political neutrality and high moral calibre. And just to clinch the deal*, he produced a useful comparison: in England, such a network existed, ‘where bad books are sold by the thousands in stations, purchased by young people and even by young women who travelled with the sole goal of devouring books which they would be embarrassed to bring into their home.’ (Outrageous!)

So what was not to like? It didn’t matter that a fellow publisher named Gervais Charpentier actually had the library idea in 1838 – Hachette just lowered his own prices even further – and numbered the books so people would collect the whole set. Genius.

From the Bibliothèque des Chemins de Fers he went on to publish Le Journal pour Tous, a general interest magazine with a circulation of some 150,000, and as the library idea had been so well-received, he did more, including dictionaries of universal reference, an illustrated library for the young, ancient literature, modern foreign literature, modern foreign romance, and a series of guide-books and maps aimed at the tourist visiting Paris for the first time.

Louis Hachette himself died in 1864, but his empire passed to his sons and continued to grow, and eventually the Hachette publishing firm came to dominate French publishing.

Louis Hachette’s self-appointed motto – sic quoque docebo (Thus I will teach again) – was well chosen. The fusion of his drive to educate with his entrepreneurial spirit made him one of France’s most eminent educators, and I came away from my research with a profound regret that I never met the man, and the certainty that Hachette is the right home for Quercus and JFB.

Now all I need is a motto and a plan for the next two hundred years.

Jo

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* I recommend to the house Eileen DeMarco’s excellent Reading and Riding: Hachette’s Railroad Bookstore Network in Nineteenth-Century France

Women in SF panel Part 2

Last week we brought you part 1 of the video from our Women in SF event at Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road, and now we bring you part 2!

Six authors discussed the debate surrounding the representation of female authors in genre fiction, why there is a lack of it, and the solutions that could be implemented to ensure equality in the future. Enjoy!

A Guided Tour of all Things Viking, from a Viking

Blood Will Follow cover artJo Fletcher Books are giving you the chance to win tickets to the Viking Exhibition at The British Museum with our resident Viking and author of the Valhalla trilogy, Snorri Kristjansson.

The exhibition runs until the 22nd of June and the 3 winning entries will be guided around the exhibition, with one guest, by Snorri.*

All you have to do to enter is let us know your ‘Top three Handy Hints for Vikings’ below. Each tip should be a maximum of 200 words. The winners will be announced by Snorri on Friday 6 June in a very special video.

So what are you waiting for? Enter now!

*The date of the tour will be confirmed soon

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 16

The Glass Republic cover artWe are back with part 16 of our #SkyscraperThroneReRead. This week we are looking at chapters 5 – 8 of The Glass Republic. Don’t forget to let us know what you think of the chapters below or with #SkyscraperthroneReRead.

Chapter 5

This chapter opens with, I think, one of the most horrifying scenes of the entire trilogy, exemplifying the cruelty children can wreak on other children.

Over her shoulder, Pen hears a voice calling her name and she immediately realises who it is: Gwen. Something in the pit of her stomach warns her that Gwen is not there to exchange pleasantries, and when Pen turns she finds that the entirety of her maths class surround her, watching. They accuse Pen of lying about her abuse at the hands of Dr Salt and about her scars, but when she refuses to take her story back, Trudi threatens her with a lighter. ‘Do it!’ are the words that come from the back of the crowd, and just like that, Trudi sets Pen’s hijab alight. Pen screams and tears off her hijab; the crowd stares numbly at the horrifying extent of her scars. Pen pushes her way through the crowd and runs to the abandoned school bathrooms where someone waits for her.

Except Parva – her mirror-sister – isn’t there.

What is there is a bloody puddle reflected in the mirror, that doesn’t appear on the actual floor, and a trail of bright red liquid across the reflected bathroom.

Pen is caught by her English teacher, screaming her name into the mirror, and when that happens, she runs.

Chapter 6

Pen has run into central London; she needs to find a way to get into the city behind the mirrors, but the only way she can think of to do it, is to find the Chemical Synod. But they bargain dangerously, it cost Filius his life – it wouldn’t be worth it, would it?

Some time later she walks into their factory – and a living nightmare. The synod are brewing scotophobia, the fear of the dark, and dark, oily creatures snap at her heels as she runs across the cement floor. Only to be halted – and saved from a messy death – by Johnny Naptha. Now Pen owes them.

She needs to pay a price, not only for that, but for her request: she wants Johnny to give her something to get her into London-Under-Glass.

They take her to a room which contains ‘Ssselfishnesss, greed, sssyrupy sssentiment, commemorationss of a few fumbling firsst romancess, an irrational love of peanut butter and an equally inssane loathing of arachnidss’ – he pointed at individual lights as he spoke, naming constellations on the wall. ‘Courage, compossure, a confection of courtesssy. Ssentiensse.’ In other words, their best synthesis of a mind. They are only missing a complete set of adult memories of a child growing up. When Pen asks what it’s for, she is told: ‘To patch the perceptionss of a prissoner – a client whose cognition iss sso corroded by hisss long languisshing’. [This is important, you might want to remember it]

In other words, they want Pen’s parents’ memories of her – which will inevitably result in them forgetting her.

Eventually, Pen agrees and they make a bargain: once Johnny has her parents’ memories, she will have 21 days to get behind the mirror and bring them back something more valuable, or their memories of her are forfeit and she can never go back home.

Chapter 7

Over in Brixton, the Blankleit market is in full swing, and Beth moves through the crowd, searching for Candleman. Finding him, he tells her she needs to watch out for Ezekiel – the pavement priest who believes she is a blasphemous deceiver for exposing the death of Mater Viae. Then Candleman hands her a bag of connected lightbulbs; a web built to restore the memories of individual pavement priests. The payment Beth must give him is a Sewermander, which sits on her shoulder. He jumps back in fear: Sewermanders are wild creatures controlled only by Mater Viae herself, how is it doing what Beth says?

Then Ezekiel bursts into alley with an army of pavement priests. Beth fights and her hood comes away from her head. Her face is exposed, and so is the church spire tooth that has erupted from her gums. The pavement priests stop their attack – Beth now has the smile of Mater Viae.

Chapter 8

Back in the Khan household in the dead of night, Pen is busy erasing herself from her parents’ life; removing every trace of her. She hides everything in the cellar then goes for a last breakfast with her parents’.

Pen offers them a second cup of tea, into which she pours a little of the silvery liquid Johnny gave her. They drink and for a moment pause, then Pen decants the liquid from their tea back into a container and assumes her new identity – a schoolchild conducting a geographical survey. She asks a couple of questions, to ensure her parents have forgotten her and then leaves the house. As she does so, Johnny comes to collect and, without looking back, she hands the flasks to him.

She has 21 days and the clock is ticking . . .

Thanks for coming back and don’t forget to let us know what you thought of chapters 5 – 8 below or with #SkyscraperThroneReRead on twitter. Head over to Speculating on SpecFic next week for part 17 of the #SkyscraperThroneReRead courtesy of @speculatef.

We’re currently reading . . .

We are back with our monthly blog letting you know what we are reading outside of work, have you read any of these books? What are you currently reading? Let us know below.

Nicola

A History of Ancient Britain cover artA History of Ancient Britain by Neil Oliver, as the shout line so concisely states, is ‘The epic story of a nation forged in ice, stone and bronze’.

Epic it definitely is. This is the story of the emergence of the modern human in Britain and of the land as we know it. It covers the period from the end of the last Ice Age (and before) to the Romans and is an unbiased, well-researched account of a period the author is clearly fascinated by. It takes the time to explain itself, without talking down to the reader and is succinct, fast and compelling.

If you’re new to ancient history, you will be learning something at least every page; if you aren’t, this book is a refreshing, vibrant dip into a period of time that you’re already interested in. It will see you reading 101 pages before you’ve even blinked and even comes with handy full-colour pictures. You can’t say fairer than that.

A History of Ancient Britain is published by Phoenix and can be bought for £7.29 in Foyles.

Andrew

Preacher Until the End of the World cover artI am doing another re-read this month as I delve back into the world of Preacher with part two in the collection – Until the End of the World. Preacher is perhaps my favorite graphic novel of all time (although at intermittent times I also claim it is Transmetropolitan, Y:The Last Man, Batman: The Killing Joke, Superman: Red Son and Pride of Baghdad to name a few.)

Until the End of the World picks up where Gone to Texas, the introduction to the series, left off. We follow Jesse Custer as he searched for God to hold him to account for abandoning humanity. In this installment that journey takes him to the southern America where he confronts the extremely dysfunctional family that abused him as a child and planted the original seeds of his disillusionment with the world.

This is a spectacular follow up to the amazing Gone to Texas and manages to match, if not better, the first installment for wit, pace, violence, intrigue and quite simply amazing writing. Oh and let’s not forget the artwork, which is just beautiful!

Preacher, Volume 2: Until the End of the World is published by DC Comics and has an RRP of £14.99.

Jo

The Bull of Mithros Cover ArtI have been a huge fan of Anne Zouroudi ever since @LitAgentDrury and I stumbled over The Messenger of Athens, which turned out to be the first book in her series called variously, The Seven Deadly Sins or The Mysteries of the Greek Detective. The latter is a bit of a misnomer, for the fabulously wealthy Hermes Diaktoros – apparently named after the messenger god by his classicist father, who enjoyed a joke – is not your normal, every day investigator (his response, when asked if he’s with the police, is, ‘I answer to a far higher power’.) The fat man (he’s not actually obese, more well-breakfasted) generally finds himself on some hard-scrabble Greek island far removed from the Maeve Binchey covers of brilliant blue skies, azure waters, peopled with young men with bodies like Greek demi-gods and young women who would vie with Aphrodite herself for the shepherd’s apple . . . no, Zouroudi’s Greece is what’s left behind when the tourists go home: the back-breaking work to grow anything on the arid soil, the family feuds that grow, generation after generation, behind the faded wooden shutters, the careless unkindness of the young and the vicious unkindness of the old for whom all choices have now vanished . . .

This, sadly for me, is the sixth of the series (unless they invented some more deadly sins when I wasn’t paying attention), and this time Diaktoros is forced to pull in to the harbour at the island of Mithros by a faulty engine. That means he’s on hand when a man who recently arrived on the island penniless and with no ID after being thrown off a merchant vessel by his travelling companions and swimming to shore, is found dead in an old well . . . and it’s not long before Diaktoros is unravelling years of deception and despair. At the heart of this particular book is an ancient artefact, a Minoan bull, which went missing shortly after it was found, but has resulted in a useful tourist trade for the island as people come to hear the story, to buy knock-off copies and to wonder if it will ever be returned to its ancient home . . .

In fact, I have no idea why I’m still here and not sitting outside under the roses finishing this wonderful book. Αντίο, ελάφια μου.

The Bull of Mithros is published by Bloomsbury and is available for £7.99 at Blackwell’s.

Submissions and Dancing

Yesterday, this happened:

Daughter of The Blood Amazon chart

And then this happened:

That’s right; I did a Carlton dance round the office. Because the first ever book I bought for JFB was right up there in the bestsellers with the man himself, GRRM. Which leads, rather nicely as is happens, into a new announcement we have to make.

You probably know by now that I am the force behind the unsolicited inbox (sorry to anyone waiting! It takes me a good long while to get round to it, but remember, I am on my own!). But, what we haven’t yet told you is that a couple of months ago I found a little gem hidden in the grass; a diamond in the rough you might say.

For nearly three years now (I’ve been in the company three years next month!), I have periodically gone through the unsolicited submissions. And for three years I haven’t found anything that quite captured my imagination.

Until Marked came along.

Marked is the story of Lucky De Salle, a human with the ability to see ghosts. This ability has made her an outcast; she has no family left and her only friend in the world is the ghost girl Kayla, who has grown up with her.

Except Kayla is not a ghost, Kayla is daemon, and she is about to drag lucky into the middle of a political fight for the throne of the daemon king, Baltheza.

Lucky travels to the Underlands where she begins to question the true nature of Kayla’s friendship – for the girl she thought she knew holds yet more secrets – and there she finds herself caught between the charms of the guardian Jamie and the charismatic daemon of death, Jinx, wondering who of the three she can trust . . . and if she will ever get home.

Luckily, Jo agreed with my judgement and last week the contract was signed, sealed and delivered to all respective parties. That makes this the first unsolicited manuscript JFB have bought and that makes this blog the official announcement of my second commission for JFB: The first in the Soulseer Chronicles, Marked by Sue Tingey.

And as it’s the first manuscript I will be looking after and editing from start to finish (under Jo’s guidance, of course), that makes this DOUBLY, TRIPLY, INFINITELY EXCITING.

Marked will be out in May 2015 in paperback original, the lovely Sue is just about to deliver the final version of it for line editing and we’ll be briefing the cover asap (for those of you who’ve been reading the blog, you’ll know this is one of my favourite parts of the job!). If anyone wants to register their interest in reviewing it, catch Andy over on the Twitter account @JoFletcherBooks.

Otherwise, it’s time for another Carlton dance methinks.

Live long and prosper.

Nicola

Women in SF panel Part 1

Last Thursday we hosted our Women in SF event at Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road. Six authors discussed the debate surrounding the representation of female authors in genre fiction, why there is a lack of it, and the solutions that could be implemented to ensure equality in the future. And now we have part one of the video from the night. Enjoy!

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 15

The Glass Republic cover artThis weeks #SkyscraperThroneReRead takes us onto The Glass Republic as @serifinaxxx looks at Chapters 1-4 of the second installment in the Skyscraper Throne series.

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I really like Tom Pollock’s The Skyscraper Throne series, and I’m hugely excited for Our Lady of the Streets. To lead up to its release in August, Jo Fletcher has been holding a reread of the books, and we’re now at the start of The Glass Republic. This summary will have spoilers for The City’s Son, but I’ll try and keep them to a minimum.

Chapter 1

Pen’s back at school,following her being held captive by Reach, explaining her scars to her new “friends”. They don’t believe her, even when she tells the truth. Who would? Still, their disbelief and promise that they will find out what happened don’t matter for the time being, as it’s off to go see Parva. I started off by thinking more Pen! Heck yes! I loved her in The City’s Son. It’s great to see she’s the focus of The Glass Republic. I really like the idea of another version of Pen, and the added intrigue of the mirror world, which we were kind of introduced to in The City’s  Son, but it seems like it’ll be a bit more involved in this one.

Chapter 2

This quickly looks back to when Pen was first adjusting to her scars. It shows the awkwardness you get when you don’t fit in, and with her scars and the fact that for the first week, she really doesn’t fit in as she chooses not to wear makeup. There’s also lots of bad flashbacks for Pen, for abuse from both Reach and Dr Salt. I loved seeing how she reacts to everything, with her religion and her choice to work to become physically strong. It’s these little things away from the big fantastical elements that really build up her character.

Chapter 3

This is a more happy chapter, in which Pen and Parva talk, and dance, and have fun.  It’s a lot of fun, and sets Parva up as a totally different character to Pen, despite the physical similarities and them both being equally awesome. I definitely wanted to know more about Parva, how Pen and Parva came to be different, and life in the London-under-glass that we were briefly introduced to in The City’s Son.

Chapter 4

Longer chapter, back to Beth for the time being. I’m glad she isn’t forgotten about, even though the focus has changed. She’s exploring the city, and finds a sewermandar. And names him Oscar. And has a text conversation with Pen that shows the friendship between Beth and Pen really well, and  gives way to one of my favourite lines from this book: “I only went and got a bloody dragon!” This chapter brings out one of my favourite things about Tom’s writing and this world, the fantasy and imagination and description that creates such a beautiful new  world for the story to happen. This chapter then sets up some more of the plot: Pen asks if there’s a way to go behind the mirrors. Beth’s not sure. Beth leaves, a little awkwardness in the air, and sees Pen dancing with someone who isn’t there.

What did you think of this? Leave comments here, at Death, Books and Tea, or use the hashtag of  #SkyscraperThroneReRead. And don’t forget to go to Utter Biblio next Thursday for the next part of the #SkyccraperThroneReRead.

Blood Will Follow, but not until it is launched

Blood Will Follow cover artOn June 5th we are delighted to be publishing the rip-roaring follow up to Snorri Kristjansson ‘blistering debut novel’* Swords of Good Men, Blood Will Follow.

Ulfar Thormodsson and Audun Arngrimsson may have survived the battle for Stenvik, but they lost the very thing that made them human: their mortality.

While Ulfar heads home, Audun runs south. But both men are about to discover that they cannot run away from themselves. For King Olav has left the conquered town of Stenvik in the hands of his lieutenant so he can journey north, following Valgard in the search for the source of the Vikings’ power.

And all the while older beings watch and wait, biding their time, for there are secrets yet to be discovered . . .

To celebrate the second installment in the Valhalla Saga Forbidden Planet will be holding a launch event. The event will be held on the 5th of June and will feature:

1. Snorri awkwardly shuffling near a pile of his books

2. Snorri speaking a little (possibly general comedy on Vikings)

3. A reading featuring Snorri’s best Viking accent

4. Snorri signing books, helmets (no horns) and personalized weaponry.

The event will kick off at 18:00 – make sure you’re there on time or risk the wrath of the Norse gods!

*Thanks Geek Planet Online

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 14

The City's SonThis is the last week that the #SkyscraperThroneReRead will focus on The City’s Son folks, so hold on to your hats – this post will contain some MAJOR spoilers.

CHAPTER 54

‘She’d already lost too much to the brutal mathematical economy of death.’

In this chapter, Beth and her dad wait anxiously for news of Pen after her rescue from the Wire Mistress. But the gentle tone of forgiveness the chapter begins with is soon replaced by a piece of news that has Beth running, once again, for the streets . . . Filius Viae did not begin life as the Son of the Streets; he was once human and his name was Michael. His parents’ faces stare anxiously out of the newspaper report her dad has found. All Beth’s dad can do is call after his daughter as she slips out of the hospital and runs away across a telephone wire, back into her city.

CHAPTER 55

‘Killing the liar, won’t kill the lie.’

She goes to Gutterglass, the architect of many devious plans only now revealed. But the reason for these plans stems from one thing . . . Mater Viae is dead through suicide – a suicide brewed by Johnny Naphtha and paid for with the deaths of her subjects, who become the Pavement Priests. Filius was the first child Gutterglass managed to kidnap who was young enough to be raised to replace the dead Goddess. However, the extent of Glas’ scheming runs much deeper: Reach did not attempt to kill Filius with the Railwraith, she did. The citizens of this hidden London needed someone to believe in.

And for the chance to create a new god . . . she gave Naphtha her beauty.

CHAPTER 56

Beth stands on top of the Skyscraper Throne. Here she draws a map into her world for anyone adventurous enough to come looking for it. Then she reveals the full extent of the bargain made with the Pylon Spiders, in order for them to spread the word of Glas’ betrayal: their cooperation for her voice.

Pen is at the bottom, waiting for her to finish and as they talk, discussing their return to school, Pen knows what she has to do. She cannot tell Beth about Salt, but she can report him to the police. She takes a deep breath and dials the number.

CHAPTER 57

Somewhere a baby is crying. He wears the skin of a pavement priest, but his flesh is the grey of concrete, his arm sports a tattoo of the tower block crown . . . and he grips a railing in his pudgy hands . . .

With the closing chapters of The City’s Son, Pollock neatly brings his world to an open ending. In just a few short pages he introduces a mystery – and solves it, concludes Beth and Pen’s story, but leaves the door open just enough for us to follow it into our own hidden London. Themes of change, forgiveness, fear and courage, faith and that grey area between right and wrong are explored, and flow back in to the themes introduced at the beginning of the story, completing a cycle. In fact, you might want to think of these three novels as a cycle of life: with The City’s Son, the birth of a new London is seen, prompting us to see London with new eyes . . . and giving most of us a fear of cranes. In The Glass Republic (the reread of which begins next week) we see more of Pen’s story, it fleshes out the world and, if possible, gives it more of a personality. Then there’s Our Lady of the Streets . . . well, you’ll just have to read it, won’t you?

Are you adventurous enough to go looking for a way in to the world of the Skyscraper Throne?

Don’t forget the check out Death, Books and Tea next Thursday when the #SkyscraperThroneReRead continues with chapters 1 – 4 of The Glass Republic.

Doing a Grisham – the opposite perspective

Last week Dr Russell Schechter was on the blog talking about the new MA devoted entirely to Writing the First Novel being launched at St Mary’s University this September. And this week our very own David Towsey follows that up as he lets you now the view from the otherside of the table as someone who has completed an MA and had their work published.

Towsey, David 1There’s been a lot of talk in the media recently about what Creative Writing courses can and can’t do for students. It’s not a particularly new discussion or one that will be going away any time soon. If I had a pound for every time I was asked: ‘Creative Writing, how do they even teach that?’ I’d be able to retire to a yacht somewhere very sunny and write a book every decade through a margarita-haze. One blog post isn’t enough to even scratch the surface of what is essentially an ongoing pedagogical debate both inside Higher Education and out. Instead, I’m going to take the easy route and just talk about me. Specifically, my experience of doing a Creative Writing Masters degree.

I began the year-long course as a fresh-faced twenty-two-year-old who’d managed to hold down a real job for all of nine months after finishing a BA in English & Creative Writing. Out of a student cohort of more than forty people I was the second youngest. And despite the good range of ages and experience, it showed. I was so green it makes me cringe when I think back to some of things I did and said. To my fellow students’ credit, they rarely held my lack of worldly wisdom against me and were plenty game when I was calling for shots in reputable family pubs.

The variety of people you tend to find taking a Masters degree is one of the real strengths of that kind of course. It makes workshopping and sharing work an infinitely more eye-opening experience – especially if coming from a BA course where almost everyone in the room is 18-21. If you want to take a rather cynical view, a Masters seminar makes one hell of a focus group. Everyone in the room is an active, often passionate, reader of all kinds of literature. They might not be into the kind of anthropomorphic cyber-punk you enjoy writing, but they’ll read it and tell you when your eye-patch-wearing fox is a bit flat as a character. In the same vein, if your reading habits are in danger of becoming a little narrow – and mine definitely were – a Masters group is a great place to expand them. Every student on my course was either working on a novel, collection of short stories, or their first collection of poetry. These were hugely diverse, not just in subject but style and delivery. My zombie-Western idea raised a few eyebrows but went on to become my debut novel, Your Brother’s Blood, and certainly wasn’t the wackiest piece discussed. A number of my classmates also turned their MA work into published novels, including the wonderful historical fiction writer James Aitcheson. Regularly, really helpful peer-feedback from this kind of group would begin, ‘I’ve never read something like this before, but . . .’ Sometimes it takes this kind of reader to highlight where we’re going wrong. And, boy, was I going wrong in all kinds of ways.

Before the Masters my handling of point-of-view was a mess. I was melting all over the place in scenes, which was hugely confusing, and my characters were seeing through walls. My dialogue was flabby, neither pushing the story forward or revealing character – yes people talk about the weather all the time, no, a reader doesn’t care. I had some pretty good ideas, but I was being far too subtle and expected the reader to grasp exactly what I meant with minimal help from me. I was also tying myself up in knots about how to write experiences outside of my own, one particular example being: how could I, a young man with no children, faithfully represent what it felt like for a woman to lose a child? I knew plenty of other writers managed this kind of thing, arguably some better than others, but I had no idea how I was going to do it.

Some problems can be dealt with concretely during seminars and one-to-ones with tutors. Thanks to those sessions, these days I’m very careful about what my characters can actually see or hear in any given room, etc. I’m hyper-aware of my tendency to over-rely on dialogue, so after discussing tactics with a tutor I now dedicate a whole part of my editing process to doing a sweep of unnecessary chit-chat. I was given a great piece advice by a tutor during my MA when I went to her with my problem of writing a grieving mother. She said, ‘Stop worrying what a mother would do, and figure out how this mother acts and feels.’ It sounds almost obvious now, but it was a revelation at the time. Other challenges I encountered on the course are now part of an ongoing battle I have with writing, as my fantastically patient editor will no doubt agree. But I can say one thing with some conviction: without the help of lecturers and other students I wouldn’t have reached this stage of self-reflective understanding of that nebulous term, my ‘writing process’.

In my opinion, something like a Masters degree isn’t so much about teaching you how to write, but revealing how you write – the good and the bad. Some people are honest enough with themselves to see this on their own. I wasn’t then, and I’m not sure I am now. A Masters is a lot of hard work. In fact, for me it was the first step into a world of a lot of hard work. There are plenty of ways of taking that first step without getting a degree. But, looking back, I know I wouldn’t have written – let alone managed to publish – my debut without the support I received during my Masters.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experience of their MAs – either in the comments or on Twitter!

Doing a Grisham

Today on the blog Dr Russell Schechter talks about the MA devoted entirely to Writing the First Novel being launched at St Mary’s University this September. And be sure to head back to the blog on Tuesday to find out what David Towsey has to say from the alternative perspective – the point of view of someone who has completed an MA and had their work published.

A while back I ran into an old professor of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in years and amid our 60-second catch up on life, work, etc. I told him I had published a few novels.

‘Yeah,’ he said, nodding knowingly, ‘I’ve been meaning to do a Grisham myself.’

I nodded back, not really knowing how to respond. Each of those novels had taken me the better part of a year – not to mention more than a tad of heart and soul – to complete. But my prof friend had the charming/ludicrous idea that writing a bestselling novel – ‘doing a Grisham’ – was something that could be knocked off as easily as reheating takeaway pizza.

‘Oh,’ I think I said. ‘That would be good.’

And it would be good – if only he had been serious about it and considered what might be required to plan and write a novel. There are lots of horrible untruths about writing: everyone has a novel in them, write what you know, never judge a book by its cover . . .

What is the truth about writing, and writing novels in particular?

It is hideous hard work.

Okay, it’s not digging in a mine, or assembling widgets on a factory floor, or scrubbing airport toilets.

But it is digging through your mind. And assembling handsome sentences out of thin air. And sometimes scrubbing the smelly bog of your own existence for truth and meaning, and maybe a little decent action and snappy patter.

For the past nine years, I’ve been teaching Creative Writing at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. As you might imagine, I’ve read an enormous range of writing, from the exciting to the execrable. I’ve seen a lot of energy, a lot of desire, a lot of talent and a lot of . . . confusion.

We are launching a new MA at St Mary’s University this September, devoted entirely to Writing the First Novel. Just that: no poetry or screenwriting or journalism (though we love those things, too). Just the novel. Our goals in creating this postgraduate degree are to nurture talent, usefully channel energy and desire, and attempt at all times to alleviate confusion about the process of drafting a novel. Too many aspiring writers misunderstand the requirements of a novel. They believe that passion is a substitute for hard work (though of course you need passion to do the hard work) and that inspiration is a stand-in for planning, structure, discipline. We at St Mary’s – novelists all – plan to offer new writers the tools, ideas and rigour of thought and deed that can help them progress from vital first sentence to final full stop.

We have no snobbery about what people want to write. I am a proud writer (and reader, of course!) of genre fiction. Nothing would make me happier than to see one of my students produce a manuscript worthy of Jo Fletcher Books. I think people should – indeed, must – write the kind of story they are moved to tell, regardless of which section of the bookshop it lands in. If you don’t love what you write, who will?

Can we succeed in this challenge? I hope so. I think it will be a fun and exciting venture as we try to hone the talent that walks through our door and begin to build a small community of like-minded writers.  If you are at all interested in joining our MA, you can email David Savill for more details. Or click here.

And then maybe you, too, can ‘do a Grisham’ . . .

Dr Russell Schechter
Strawberry Hill,
Twickenham

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 13

Welcome back for another stop in the Jo Fletcher Skyscraper Throne Reread. This week @Pallekenl recap chapters 49-52 for you. As in the previous post she hosted there will be spoilers galore. If you haven’t read these books before and want to remain unspoiled, best beware, as the gentleman says: SPOILER ALERT!!

SpoilerAlert
But first the story so far:

City's SonAfter having been betrayed by her best friend and expelled from school, Beth flees her unhappy home life with a dad who’s still lost to his grief over the death of Beth’s mum. On the streets she encounters Filius Viae, the Son of the Streets, child of Mater Viae, a goddess long-disappeared from her London turf. Filius must now battle Mater Viae’s ancient enemy, the Crane King Reach, all alone with only the help of his foster parent Gutterglas, a garbage spirit. Beth throws in her lot with Fil’s and together they set about gathering an army, which doesn’t go smoothly. To make Beth more capable of defending herself against Reach, Filius bargains with the Chemical Synod to change her to be more like him, a true Child of the Streets.

Meanwhile, Beth’s dad Paul and her best friend Pen have gone searching for Beth and Pen was taken as a host by The Wire Mistress, one of Reach’s most powerful minions. After Filius was seriously wounded in the first battle against Reach, Beth has decided to rescue Pen on her own, but she’s joined by the Old Russian Victor. Together they defeat the Wire Mistress and free Pan, but at the terrible cost of Victor’s life. Meanwhile, Paul has discovered the Pavement Priests and has joined them for the final battle against Reach.

‘I am Reach. I will be.’

After Pen’s rescue in the last chapter and her exhortation that Beth must stop Reach, in chapter 49 Beth moves on to the heart of his domain to confront him. Deafened by his voice and blinded by his lights, she is nevertheless urged on by the voices in her head. The light is created by the windows of the half-formed towers Reach has created, ‘Reach had surrounded himself with mirrors.’ This echoes back to earlier in the book when the mirrorstocracy refuse to help Filius and Beth in their fight and it foreshadows the setting of the next book.

Beth is opposed by three Scaffwolves, but they just corral her, they don’t attack which confuses Beth. Then follows a brilliant bit of misdirection ̶ Beth gets speared by a crane hook and she’s lifted up, which suggests that the wolves didn’t attack to distract her, instead it turns out the reason is completely different. Because once she’s lifted above the building site, she finally sees Reach. He’s a half-formed face emerging from the ground, slowly being revealed by his workers.

‘Christ and Thames. The idea came to Beth through a fug of pain. He’s a child. Beth didn’t want to believe it, but the conviction settled in her gut and wouldn’t shift. He’s a young child, too, not yet fully born. The diggers and drills were still birthing him from the rock.’

Suddenly Reach isn’t evil any more, his motivations can be grasped. His unrelenting desire to be is mindless, the destruction he’s caused unintentional. It also harkens back to the imagery we saw in last week’s chapters where Beth and Victor have to struggle through the tunnel, which is likened to a birth canal. While Beth is still reeling from the realisation of Reach’s true nature, Filius appears and after some nimble acrobatics retrieves his spear from Beth.

‘FIL!’

Filius’ appearance also means a shift back into his first-person point-of-view in chapter 50. And Filius too feels the lifelessness of the ground in Reach’s domain and he knows there will be no help for him there. Still, he is glad to finally be able to confront Reach and be the son his mother wanted or at least the son he believes she wanted. Despite injuring himself and being caught by the ankle by a Scaffwolf, Filius manages to ram his spear into Reach’s throat. And even in this dire moment he remains the flippant sod he’s been throughout the book—’I am quite a mouthful.’ But at this pinnacle of achievement, just when we think they’ve done it, Pollock pulls the rug out from under us: Filius is stabbed through the gut by one of Reach’s hooks.

‘Delenda Reach.’

Beth is still suspended high above and can do nothing but watch helplessly at the start of chapter 51. Strangely enough, the wolves leave the incapacitated Filius alone and Reach lets Beth go. She rushes over to Filius and gets him to safety in the labyrinth she followed to get to Reach. when they are safe she tries to figure out why Reach let them go. The reason she comes up with is that Reach is a baby with a baby’s attention span. This reminder of Reach’s apparent age also attunes the reader to the fact that Filius is only a child as well. And that all three of them – Reach, Filius, and Beth – are motherless.

‘Where’s my mum? The question caught in Beth’s chest. She remembered all the desolate months she’d asked the same question. Now she smothered the question instantly whenever it arose in her mind.’

No matter age or distance, the impulse to call for mum when hurt is instinctual. But the battle isn’t over and we’re drawn from the intimate scene between Beth and Filius back to the building site by a loud and tangible noise. It’s the Pavement Priests come to worship their Goddess in the only way left to them. They are impressive in their numbers and their devotion.

‘The Warrior Priests stepped forward as one, the thud of their feet the percussion to their chant. They were the guardians of the old faith, wearing skins in the shapes of London’s heroes from other times. They sang their eulogy for their fallen city.’

Their battle against the Scaffwolves is ferocious, but they also manage to attack Reach directly by digging him up. And even during all of this chaos, Beth manages to notice that there is one strange Priest among them and that his looks oddly familiar. The Priests can’t turn the tide, however, and Filius can only think of one solution: the Great Fire, which means Mater Viae. And suddenly everything comes together for Beth. She knows the price the Mater paid for Filius’ transformation. When she shares her conclusion with Filius, he tells her she needs to kill him. Beth freaks out and demands to know why. Filius tells her ‘… making bad deals with the Chemical Synod runs in the family.’ Beth finally learns the price he paid for her. Filius tells her it’s the only way. Killing him will bring the Synod and they can use the Fire to get Reach. But Beth can’t do it; she doesn’t want to lose Filius as well. Filius reminds her of Petris’ words ‘The outlines, the very definition of a life,’ and tells her it is his choice to make.

Left with no other alternative Beth accedes to Filius’ wishes and the life – and the chance of victory – he offers. In a way, Filius is like the sacral Year King of Celtic myth giving his life for the good of the land, sacrificing himself and leaving his position to a new king, or in this case queen, much like his mother did with him. And no, these aren’t tears in my eyes; there’s a lot of cement dust floating around here, or hadn’t you noticed?

‘Here’s your price!’

Chapter 52 launches Beth back onto the battlefield carrying Filius and dropping him in the midst of the horrified, few Pavement Priests left. As Filius predicted the Synod appear to collect what they are owed. To get to Filius they have to destroy Reach, something they do in short order. In fact, Reach’s eventual demise is somewhat anticlimactic after the charged scenes that went before: ‘The child-king of the cranes died not with a scream, but with a slow hiss of metal like an exhausted breath.’

The Synod carries Filius’ body off, leaving Beth to explain her actions to the Priests, who not only understand – all too well according to Petris – but reunite her with her dad as well. Together the two go to retrieve Pen, who has fought her own battle to regain her will. When Beth wants to take her to Gutterglas to get her healed, she tells Beth: ‘No further down the rabbit hole, B’ Pen said. ‘No more. If you want to take me somewhere, take me home.’ After Pen also tells her she’s missed her and could never let her go, Beth does just that.

And with that we’ve reached not only the end of the third part in the book, but also the end of this week’s post. Please check out next week’s post over at the Jo Fletcher Books blog for the final set of chapters in The City’s Son. I’ll see you again in six weeks when I host another post this time recapping chapters 17-20 of The Glass Republic. See you then!

We’re currently reading . . .

Once again it’s time to let you know what we are reading outside of work, have you read any of these books? What are you currently reading? Let us know below.

Nicola

By Light AloneIt has been recommended to me a number of times that I read Adam Roberts’ work. Initially I hunted for Jack Glass – and this because I love the cover. But, as I was browsing, I saw the cover for By Light Alone, and I was too interested to just leave it.

In this, world hunger has been cured by the Neocles bug, which allows hair to photosynthesise. But this is no utopia: the rich shave their heads and eat because they can afford to, even going to the lengths of chewing on food just to spit it out again, while the poor must grow their hair and live off sunlight; a fact which makes them, some might argue, easier to exploit.

In amongst this, we are introduced to George and his wife, a wealthy couple with two children. While they are on holiday their ten-year-old daughter, Leah, gets kidnapped and they enter into a year-long hunt to find her. Eventually, a girl is brought to their door and they rejoice in her return. But she has changed so much – can this really be their daughter?

This book is so full of ideas that you can see I’m already having trouble fitting it all into my section of this post, and I haven’t even covered half of it! It dips its fingers into revolution, corruption, exploitation, morality, familial love, and so many other themes that you’d be forgiven for thinking it might lose its way, but Roberts has neatly sewn it all together with one overriding concern: that of hunger and the role food plays in our society. In the first world we take food and water for granted, but the horror of living without it is acute, and is reality for a lot of people. In By Light Alone, a future is imagined without the necessity of food, but it does something I believe all really good literature does: it changes your world. Once you’ve looked up from this book, you will not be able to go back to the way you were.

By Light Alone is published by Gollancz and I bought it from Foyles for £6.56

Andrew

The Lies of Locke LamoraI know, I know . . . I have come to this party late but I have finally got around to reading Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora.

I have to say the only thing I am regretting is that I am so late to the party. Brilliantly written with vividly imagined characters and setting I can already see what all of the hype was about.

Following the life and adventures of Locke Lamora in Camorr, a city of shifting revels, filthy canals, baroque palaces and crowded cemeteries which is built of Elderglass by a race no-one remembers. Home to Dons, merchants, soldiers, beggars, cripples, and feral children. And to Capa Barsavi, the criminal mastermind who runs the city.

With his band of fellow con-artists and thieves,  the Gentleman Bastards, Locke uses his wit and cunning to con, wheedle, trick and steal from the rich.

But there are whispers of a challenge to the the criminal mastermind who runs the city, Capa Barsavi’s power. A challenge from a man no one has ever seen, a man no blade can touch. The Grey King is coming and a man would be well advised not to be caught between Capa Barsavi and The Grey King.

From the first introduction to Locke I loved his subtle, sly, trickery and cheeky confidence and as I follow him through the novel I have to say, I love it even more and I can’t help but think that I would love to be a Gentleman Bastard. If you are yet to read The Lies of Locke Lamora I am happy that I can now join the chorus of voices telling you you must.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is available from Gollancz for £8.99.

Jo

TheKnightWhoSavedEnglandWhat girl didn’t grow up dreaming of dashing knights in gleaming mail on spirited white chargers, pounding up to her doorstep (not, sadly, of her castle, as my father carelessly lost that!) to spirit her away so she could run off to the Crusades to fight beside him for King and Country? (Or was that just me? No wonder I love Aidan Harte’s Wave Trilogy so much!) At any rate, no fantasy publisher worth her salt reads just genre fiction; it’s only by recalibrating now and then with real-world books that I’m able to keep my head straight. So this week I’m immersed in (and loving) the true story of a real-life hero, a man who ought to be as well known and lauded as King Arthur, Robin Hood or the Black Prince.

I am, of course, talking about William the Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke, eulogised simply as ‘the best knight who ever lived’ – and a truly astonishing man. Richard Brooks has written a wonderfully rich biography to reveal all about this flower of English chivalry – but I’ve not finished yet, so please, no spoilers. This penniless younger son rose to serve not one, not two, but – count ’em! – four kings of England: Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, John, and Henry III, for whom he became regent. Without William the Marshal, England would have been a very different country . . . but don’t take my word for it: read The Knight Who Saved England (William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217), out now from Osprey (12.99). It may be published as Military History, but it’s as rip-roaring a life as anything Ulrich of Lichtenstein might have dreamed of!

Fiction’s Boogie Man

NicolaBlog2014-04-29We haven’t had one of these in a while, so I reckon it’s time.

What follows is a post for budding authors. More specifically, it is a post about what we call writers’ tics. These tics are kind of like fiction’s Boogie Monster – something to be avoided at all costs. And, trust me, if you pay attention to this, your editor is going to love you.

Every writer has a tic. What this is is something that crops up too often – maybe a particular word or phrase – that is just plain wrong. It’s hard to be aware of your tic, of course, but there are certain things that we see time and time again that we can at least make you aware of.

The Shaking of Heads tic

This happens a lot. Frankly, people just don’t shake their heads that much in real life, but they do almost every other sentence in fiction. You have the rueful shake of the head (which no one actually does unless you use it to illustrate your sarcasm), you have the laughing shake of the head (come on, when have you ever seen anyone laughing while shaking their heads), you have the affectionate shake of the head (no, just, no), and all their pals in between. In fact, the only time we ever shake our heads in real life is to say ‘no’, but it’s the only instance in which I never actually see it used in fiction. Next time your character shakes their head, stop and have a little think about it. Would you see this in real life? In fact, that’s a pretty good rule of thumb when you’re writing character reactions, ask yourself: would it happen really? This goes for all gestures: shrugging of shoulders, nodding of heads, whatever.

The Appeared/Seemed tic

Okay, so sometimes things can appear to be something they’re not, but every time? If, for example, there is a jar on a shelf and what it appears to contain is a load of eyes, but it actually is a container of eyes, don’t write ‘appeared’. General rule of thumb on this: an object doesn’t appear to be something, if it is actually something.

The I’m Writing in an Upmarket Way tic

This is something you’ve really got to watch for because, often, it’s an appropriation of someone else’s style, or merely something that sounds good in your head and not so much on the page. For example, when you look at someone, do you look at them or to them? I can answer that: you look at them. You look to them for helpful advice, or to show you what to do. I don’t know the psychology behind this, but I’m guessing people think it sounds more upmarket to write ‘She looked to her friend.’ This is not true. It’s just wrong. Much like the word ‘very’, another one to watch out for: ‘as if it was affecting his very being’. It’s okay once in a while, not so much when everything is ‘the very’ something.

The Sentence Without Subject tic

Long flowing hair, beady eyes, blood on her chin.

Know what I’m talking about? No. You don’t. And that is because my sentence does not have a subject. I’m guessing this is an offshoot from the I’m Writing in an Upmarket Way tic, but it just doesn’t make sense and it also happens a lot. Make sure your sentences have a subject because if there’s one thing an editor will probably be fed up with doing, it’s trying to unravel what an author means when they write one of these obscure sentences.

There you are: a little guide to writers’ tics. If you’re looking for much more helpful and sage advice, I would recommend a book that Ben Aaronovitch once recommended to me (so you know it’s good): How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. People get a bit angry at it, mostly because I suspect they’ve done exactly what Newman and Mittelmark have said not to do, but I think it’s a very helpful tool for budding authors and will at least help you see what to watch out for.

Nicola

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TRAITOR’S BLADE by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor's Blade

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission.

But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

Quercus | Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

 

 

DAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD by Anne Bishop

Daughter of the Blood

The Darkness has had a Prince for a long, long time. Now the Queen is coming.

For years the realm of Terreille has been falling into corruption, as the powerful Queens who rule it have turned to cruelty.

But there is hope – a prophetic vision has revealed the coming of a Queen more powerful than any other. And once the foundations of her power – father, brother, lover – are in place, she will emerge from the darkness, bringing freedom.

For she is the living myth, dreams made flesh; not just any witch, but Witch.

Quercus | Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

 

 

THE UNQUIET HOUSE by Alison Littlewood

Unquiet House

Mire House is dreary, dark, cold and infested with midges. But when Emma Dean inherits it from a distant relation, she immediately feels a sense of belonging.

It isn’t long before Charlie Mitchell, grandson of the original owner, appears claiming that he wants to seek out his family. But Emma suspects he’s more interested in the house than his long-lost relations.

And when she starts seeing ghostly figures, Emma begins to wonder: is Charlie trying to scare her away, or are there darker secrets lurking in the corners of Mire House?

Quercus | Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

 

 

 

 

THE CITY’S SON by Tom Pollock

City's Son

Hidden under the surface of everyday London is a city of monsters and miracles, where wild train spirits stampede over the tracks and glass-skinned dancers with glowing veins light the streets.

When a devastating betrayal drives her from her home, graffiti artist Beth Bradley stumbles into the secret city, where she finds Filius Viae, London’s ragged crown prince, just when he needs someone most. An ancient enemy has returned to the darkness under St Paul’s Cathedral, bent on reigniting a centuries-old war, and Beth and Fil find themselves in a desperate race through a bizarre urban wonderland, searching for a way to save the city they both love.

Quercus | Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

 

 

 

 

 

MAGE’S BLOOD by David Hair

Mages Blood

Most of the time the Moontide Bridge lies deep below the sea, but every 12 years the tides sink and the bridge is revealed, its gates open for trade.

The Magi are hell-bent on ruling this new world, and for the last two Moontides they have led armies across the bridge on ‘crusades’ of conquest.

Now the third Moontide is almost here and, this time, the people of the East are ready for a fight … but it is three seemingly ordinary people that will decide the fate of the world.

Quercus | Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

 

 

 

 

CEMETERY GIRL by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden

cemeterygirl

Calexa Rose Dunhill was just fourteen when she woke in a cemetery. Bruised, bloody and left for dead, with no memory of her previous life, she took a new name from the headstones that surrounded her.

Now, three years on, Calexa still lives in Dunhill Cemetery, struggling with the desire to know her true identity – and the all-consuming fear of what she might discover when she does.

Then, when she witnesses a gang of teenagers staging a stunt that goes horribly, fatally wrong, Calexa Rose Dunhill discovers she has a unique ability. One she cannot control…

Quercus | Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

 

 

 

 

BLOOD’S PRIDE by Evie Manieri

bloodspride

A generation has passed since the Norlanders’ great ships bore down on Shadar, and the Dead Ones slashed and burned the city into submission, enslaving the Shadari people.

Now the Norlander governor is dying and, as his three alienated children struggle against the crushing isolation of their lives, the Shadari rebels spot their opening and summon the Mongrel, a mysterious mercenary warrior who has never yet lost a battle. But her terms are unsettling: she will name her price only after the Norlanders have been defeated.

A single question is left for the Shadari: is there any price too high for freedom?

Quercus | Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

 

 

 

ASTRA by Naomi Foyle

astra
Like every child in Is-Land, all Astra Ordott wants is to have her Security Shot, do her National Service and defend her Gaian homeland from Non-Lander ‘infiltrators’. But when one of her Shelter mothers, the formidable Dr Hokma Blesser, tells her the shot will limit her chances of becoming a scientist and offers her an alternative, Astra agrees to her plan.When the orphaned Lil arrives to share Astra’s home, Astra is torn between jealousy and fascination. Lil’s father taught her some alarming ideas about Is-Land and the world, but when she pushes Astra too far, the heartache that results goes far beyond the loss of a friend.If she is to survive, Astra must learn to deal with devastating truths about Is-Land, Non-Land and the secret web of adult relationships that surrounds her.
Quercus | Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

 

 

GEM SIGNS by Stephanie Saulter

Gem Signs
For years the human race suffered from a deadly Syndrome, but when a cure was found – in the form of genetically engineered human beings, gems – the line between survival and ethics was radically altered.

Now the gems are fighting for their freedom, from the oppression of the companies that created them, and against the norms who see them as slaves. And a conference at which Dr Eli Walker has been commissioned to present his findings on the gems is the key to that freedom.

But with the gemtech companies fighting to keep the gems enslaved, and the horrifying godgangs determined to rid the earth of these ‘unholy’ creations, the gems are up against forces that may just be too powerful to oppose.

Quercus | Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

The Wheel of Time and The Hugo Awards

A Memory of Light UK coverMany years ago I was asked to Interview Robert Jordan when he was expected in the UK on one of his rare overseas visits, and because I was always one to do my research, I devoted the next couple of months to reading Books 2, 3 and 4 in The Wheel of Time saga (I read the first when it was originally published). Sadly, Jordan had to cancel his trip, but I was glad to have read the books, if only so I could see what all the fuss was about. And course I could see what the fuss was about.

Now, a large number of books later, the entire cycle has been shortlisted for a Hugo Award, and as a result, there’s been a great deal of flapping on the interweb.

I could just mention the phenomenal amount of work Jordan (and latterly co-author Brandon Sanderson) put in – according to the Guardian, who have very kindly done the sums for me, that includes a little under five million words and 129 point-of-view characters; or the number of copies sold, which is estimated at some eighty to ninety million books worldwide – but instead, and with thanks to the author for allowing us to use his piece, I’m going to hand over to Brandon, who was chosen to finish off this monumental undertaking after Jordan’s untimely death.

I think he speaks for a great many of us .

Jo

Jo sig

 

 

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 12

The City's Son artworkThe Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead hits week 12, with chapters 45-48 being looked at by @maureenkspeller. You an find the original post over at Paper Knife.

The story so far: Beth Bradley has taken to the London streets after being betrayed by her best friend, Parva Khan. Pen has confessed that she and Beth sprayed an unflattering portrait of a much-hated teacher on the school playground. Beth’s father has withdrawn from the world since his wife’s, Beth’s mother’s, death, and Beth has no one else to support her. In the streets Beth meets a strange grey-skinned boy, Filius Viae, the so-called Son of the Streets, and begins to discover a London she has never known before, one inhabited by Railwraiths, Pylon Spiders and other surprising creatures. Filius’s mother, the Lady of the Streets, has been missing since he was a baby, and without her to defend the city, it is under threat from Reach, the Crane-King. Now there are rumours that Mater Viae is returning and Filius is preparing for her return. Filius and Beth recruit an army to fight Reach, but they are struggling to match his strength, and they are losing too many of their fighters.

Meanwhile, Pen has been seized by the Wire Mistress, to use as a host, and has been terribly disfigured by the barbs of the wire. Beth’s father, Paul, has finally been jolted out of his torpor and has gone looking for his daughter. He now finds himself about to go into battle, alongside the Pavement Priests.

Now read on (and there will be spoilers):

Chapters 45-48

In Chapter 47 of The City’s Son, we find this paragraph:

In some places the walls were tight on her, tighter than a coffin, tight as a birth canal, and she had to thrust her arms ahead of her, wedge her elbows and undulate forward. The spear was strapped to her back, the metal so cold against her neck it almost blistered.

Tom Pollock has noted on a number of occasions that he admires the work of Alan Garner (as indeed do I); and for me that admiration is most fully articulated in this moment. Those familiar with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen will undoubtedly recall Colin and Susan’s epic journey through the Earldelving, a narrow tunnel deep under Alderley Edge. They’re escaping from Grimnir, the Morrigan and the svart-alfar, and with them they carry the Weirdstone, which they are taking to Cadellin. It is by far the most terrifying sequence in the novel, to my mind, much more so than any of their confrontations with Grimnir or the Morrigan, and it is terrifying because the children are not fighting an external enemy but their own deepest fears. Will they become irrevocably stuck? Will they suffocate and die, become fossilised under a vast weight of rock?

Tom is far too much his own writer to simply copy Garner, but I can’t help thinking Beth’s journey is in part a homage to Colin’s and Susan’s flight through the Earldelving, although the setting is so very different. Like Colin and Susan, Beth has to inch herself along on her stomach, with that constant fear of getting stuck. Like Colin and Susan, she is carrying with her an unwieldy item that needs to be manoeuvred through the confined space. But Tom’s description also emphasises a couple of things that Garner’s descriptions, claustrophobic as they are, only hint at – ‘tighter than a coffin, tight as a birth canal’. Garner’s novel was originally intended for a younger audience, and they might not have given much thought to the idea that the passage through the Earldelving represents death and rebirth, the fear of entombment in the darkness, the relief of the return to the world of light. Here, though, Tom makes plain what’s at stake: the passage down the birth canal, into the light, the first steps towards the final enclosure, the coffin, the tomb. Beth may be young, she may have new powers, but there are still consequences.

The Colin and Susan who emerge from Alderley Edge are very different people to those who first went into the caves. They have become an integral part of the battle between Light and Dark, independent agents in the fight, and Cadellin can no longer send them away for their own safety as he did before, any more than Bess Mossock can insist they stay at home while the others travel to meet Cadellin. Susan in particular now has a significant role to play in the action, a role that will be more fully developed in The Moon of Gomrath. (It is only much later, in Boneland (2012) that the adult Colin, will finally take up a more prominent role.)

Much the same can be said of Beth, although I’d argue that there is no one great cathartic moment for her, no single moment of epiphany. Her passage through The City’s Son has been a series of small rebirths, a gradual assuming of new power. Not even her plunge into the Chemical Synod’s toxic pool, baptism as it so obviously is, entirely transforms her. She is not stripped of doubt and uncertainty in that way that Susan is. The key moment, for me at least, comes in Chapter 44, as Beth weighs her options: will she take the fight to Reach or accept she can’t win, and walk away? We know what her decision was, and in this section we see her begin to act.

Except, of course, that not even making a difficult decision brings sudden clarity. We do not find Susan’s intuitive knowledge and certainty in Beth. There is directness, yes, but also poor choices: ‘They die because you are bad general,’ says Victor, her self-appointed guardian, and if he’s blunt he’s also right. After all he is not the first person to tell her that. What Beth can’t take from Ezekiel, the stone angel, she must take from Victor. Unlike Susan, Beth’s job is to recognise her human frailties, and having acknowledged them, work with others in order to deal with them. Even Beth’s projected moment of glory, running to meet Reach head on, is derailed, thanks to Victor, the old military man, guerrilla, whatever he really is, who knows the value of reconnaissance – but more importantly, perhaps, to reiterate what Ezekiel has already made plain to Beth, that it is not just about her. Victor too is willing to say out loud that he is scared, afraid of the dark, of dying, that dreadful thought that Colin could never quite say out loud (in Boneland we can see the effect that this has on him as an adult).

Yet there are quite clearly parallels between Beth and Filius and Colin and Susan. In each case it is the girl who is active, coming into her power, the boy who seems somewhat bemused by the accelerated change of the situation, who is unable to voice fear. But Tom’s protagonists are that bit older, and for Beth at least, the world is no longer black and white. Childhood certainties must be replaced by the harsh verities of teenage life in the city. Beth can make the easy choice of becoming like Filius, but the choice of supporting Filius or going after Pen is a less straightforward one. Whichever choice she makes involves abandoning someone; Beth is always loyal but loyalty is a complex business and in this instance Pen is the winner. Beth’s directness in choosing to go after Pen mirrors Susan’s refusal to retreat in Gomrath.

Susan, of course, represents the Old Magic, that is the intuitive magic, while the other characters, mostly male, represent a more classical form of magic. (The Morrigan although a ‘Celtic’ figure nonetheless employs Latin in her magic, but her hybrid form is a discussion for another day and another place.) And the same is true of Filius and Beth. Filius plays by the rules he has been taught by Gutterglass and the others; it’s Beth’s spontaneous actions that most often move the action forward or encourage others to actually do something rather than simply discuss or else reject it. Beth is idealistic, and perhaps in thrall to the power of story, and how it ought to work itself out, but nonetheless, her position as an outsider is at times vital to break the deadlock when it comes to acting.

But it’s not just The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath that are referenced in this section of The City’s Son. That spear that Beth carries, the spear that belonged to Filius, the spear that looks oddly like an iron railing, has its counterpart in Garner’s work as well, in Elidor, his third novel and the only one with a truly urban setting. The opening chapters of Elidor are set in Manchester in the early 1960s, with wartime bomb damage about to be superseded by the demolition of entire neighbourhoods in the cause of post-war development. The Watson children – David, Nicholas, Helen and Roland – are drawn to an old church in the process of being demolished, and are led through this unpromising portal by Malebron, the maimed ruler of Elidor, a land as damaged as its leader. Malebron sends the children back to their own time with the four treasures of Elidor, including a spear, which is carried by Roland, the youngest of the children, and is transformed into a length of fence railing when he returns to his own world. Again, there are parallels; London is a wasteland, thanks to Reach’s depredations. Filius is injured, like Malebron. Like Malebron he struggles to keep his kingdom intact, as the light fails.

Beth has certain things in common with Roland, not the least being their fierce desire to do the right thing, and their conflicting loyalties, as well as their willingness to give up everything to help a comparative stranger. Like Beth, Roland accepts the presence of magic, even when his siblings try to deny it, and even if this means he must turn away from them in order to do what he believes to be right. But like Beth, he will turn back to help a friend.

And so, with this weight of allusion on them, in Chapter 47, we find Beth and Victor crawling through tunnels under London, undulating, such a horrible word, one that makes me think of worms or snakes (though both can be, in their way a force for good). Note how Beth hates the ‘deadness’ of the place: ‘there was no energy, no life flowing where her bare skin touched the masonry’. We might suppose this is because brick and stone, the built environment, are dead anyway, but by this point in the novel, we know this is not true. Time and again, we’ve learned, as Beth has, that the city is as alive as the countryside, that it exhibits the same interconnectedness that, say, Alan Garner proposes for the Cheshire landscape around Alderley Edge. (It’s also worth noting that Garner returns to the idea of the living fabric of the earth in the Stone Book, in an extraordinary sequence when Mary goes into the heart of the Edge to see the hand- and footprints of all her predecessors.) But, as Beth realises, ‘[t]his neighbourhood had been broken, its vitality leached’; that is, Reach and his cranes are literally ripping the heart out of the ‘living city’, a city created by layers of historical accretion. (This actually raises an interesting point that may be answered elsewhere; can there ever come a point when Reach’s constructions might similarly come alive, given enough time.) And life, when Beth does sense it, comes again from the Masonry Men and the Women in the Walls, not dead this time, but trapped under the cranes. Here, as never before, Beth is confronted by the enormity of the task ahead of her – so much is at stake.

It is in Chapter 48 that Beth confronts her most immediate enemy, the Wire Mistress, one of the nastiest antagonists I’ve ever encountered in a fantasy novel. Barbed wire is the ultimate symbol of modernity and exclusion Animated, it is truly horrible. Snakelike, the wire penetrates the ‘living concrete’ of the city, attacks the Women in the Walls and the Masonry Men, uses their power. The Wire Mistress has already taken Pen, and it is here that she crushes Victor, mysterious, brave, sardonic and selfless Victor, leaving Beth undefended. And it is here, too, that Beth fights for Pen, and Pen offers herself as a sacrifice to save Beth. until Beth finally works out how to save Pen. And again, it’s Pen who reminds Beth of her greater duty to London, telling her that Reach doesn’t understand what he is doing, that he’s killing the city.

And so far I’ve ignored Chapter 46, and for a good reason. Chapter 46 briefly breaks away from Beth’s story to turn to her father, Paul, who has finally emerged from his blankness, to realise that he needs to find his daughter. Parents have always been a problem in fantastic fiction for and/or about children and teenagers. The understanding, in the past, was always that the writer needed to get rid of the parents. In Weirdstone and Gomrath, Colin and Susan’s parents were abroad; in Elidor the Watson parents were present but distracted. Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence uses a similar solution, losing Will Stanton in a huge family, or having him sent away after illness. Which is not to say that there isn’t value in having an adult present, but adult figures seem to be wizards, like Cadellin or Merriman Lyon, though Gowther Mossock might stand as a surrogate father to Colin and Susan. The City’s Son has a plethora of parental figures very much in evidence, reflecting a more modern emphasis on parents keeping a closer eye on their children; even Filius has Gutterglass and Petris watching out for him. Paul Bradley is very much the odd one out, blinded as he is by his own grief and inability to function. When he does face up to his own responsibilities it’s interesting to watch how he sets about trying to find Beth, first in the conventional ways, then in the unconventional, suggesting his own openness to the strange. For readers of my generation it would have been unthinkable for actual parents to get involved in magical battles; here, it seems entirely right that Paul Bradley would become involved, not least because he has shown the creativity and imagination necessary to locate where Beth has gone.

And this is where I pause, and hand over the baton, or should that be the railing-spear, ready for the battle to come.

Don’t forget to let us know what you think about these chapters below and on Twitter with #SkyscraperThroneReRead. And be sure to head over to A Fantastical Librarian for next weeks re-read when @Pallekenl will be looking at Chapters 49-52.

WOMEN IN GENRE: THE DEBATE. NEW EVENT!

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 14.33.48JFB have a rather exciting announcement to make. On 8th May, at Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road, six authors will discuss the debate surrounding the representation of female authors in genre fiction, why there is a lack of it, and the solutions that could be implemented to ensure equality in the future. You can reserve your ticket through this link!

Includes authors Stephanie SaulterKaren LordNaomi Foyle, Jaine Fenn and Janet Edwards, moderated by Edward James, and features the launch of an exciting display of books at Blackwell’s promoting female authors in SFF.

Karen Lord was born in Barbados and published her multi-award-winning debut novelRedemption in Indigo in 2011, originally in America, but also here through Jo Fletcher Books. Her second novel The Best of All Possible Worlds will be released in paperback in May and her third,The Galaxy Game, a sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds will be coming soon. Her writing has been described as ‘Refined, meditative and life-affirming’ by the Financial Times and highly acclaimed both here and internationally.

Naomi Foyle lives in Brighton, and published her debut novel Seoul Survivors with Jo Fletcher Books in 2013. Her second novel – and the first in a new trilogy – Astra, was published in February. Seoul Survivors is an end-of-the-world fast-paced thriller set in Seoul; Astra is a quieter coming-of-age set in a world destroyed by man and just beginning to heal.

Janet Edwards is an English author of science fiction books for both adults and young adults. Her debut novel, Earth Girl, was published in the UK and Commonwealth in 2012 by Harper Voyager, and in the USA in 2013 by Pyr. It was chosen by both Amazon and Kobo as one of their best Young Adult books of 2012, awarded a starred review for exceptional merit by Kirkus, and a starred review for being outstanding in its genre by Booklist. The sequel,Earth Star, is also available now, and the final book in the trilogy, Earth Flight, will be published in the UK and Commonwealth this August.

Stephanie Saulter hails from Jamaica and now lives in London and is the author of Gemsignsand its sequel Binarywhich was published last month. They are social science fiction with a thriller edge that really makes you think.  She is also the brains behind the Scriptopus app, which helps writers to write every day.

Jaine Fenn studied Linguistics and Astronomy before going on to a career in IT, which left her with ambivalent feelings about technology that some may consider unusual in a science fiction writer. After various short story publications, her first novel, Principles of Angels, was published by Gollancz in 2008 to critical acclaim. Her most recent book, Queen of Nowhere, is part of the same sequence of far future intrigue-heavy SF stories, the Hidden Empire series.

Edward James is a retired professor of medieval history, currently living in London. He has published a number of books on science fiction and fantasy, including A Short History of Fantasy(with Farah Mendlesohn) (2009). With Mendlesohn he has also edited The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (which won a Hugo Award in 2005) and The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (2012). He edited the academic journal Foundation: The International Journal of Science Fiction for a number of years, and is now Chair of the Science Fiction Foundation.

Come along! It’s bound to be a brilliant evening! Join the discussion @JoFletcherBooks. You can reserve your ticket through this link!

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReread Instalment 11!

This week Mieneke over at A Fantastical Librarian takes over our mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReread! So what are you waiting for? Dig in! And don’t forget to check back for next week’s instalment!

The Skyscraper Throne Reread Week 11

BY  | PUBLISHED 17 APRIL, 2014

TomPollock-TheCitysSonThis August Jo Fletcher Books is publishing the final instalment in Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy, Our Lady of the Streets and to get ready for it, they’ve organised a massive reread for the first two books, The City’s Son and The Glass Republic. It’s no secret I adore these books and I’m eagerly awaiting the concluding volume to find out how Beth and Pen’s story ends. So I’m really pleased to be part of this reread and today I’ll be your host to the recap and discussion for the relatively short chapters 41-44. Remember, this is a reread, so there will be spoilers galore coming up, so as the lady saysSPOILERS!  

spoilers3 spoilers1 spoilers2

But first the story so far:
After having been betrayed by her best friend and expelled from school, Beth flees her unhappy home life with a dad who’s still lost to his grief over the death of Beth’s mum. On the streets she encounters Filius Viae, the Son of the Streets, child of Mater Viae, a goddess long-disappeared from her London turf. Filius must now battle Mater Viae’s ancient enemy, the Crane King Reach, all alone with only the help of his foster parent Gutterglas, a garbage spirit. Beth throws in her lot with Fil’s and together they set about gathering an army, which doesn’t go smoothly. To make Beth more capable of defending herself against Reach, Filius bargains with the Chemical Synod to change her to be more like him, a true Child of the Streets.

Meanwhile, Beth’s dad Paul and her best friend Pen have gone searching for Beth and Pen was taken as a host by The Wire Mistress, one of Reach’s most powerful minions. Paul is now looking for both Beth and Pen by following the trail of Beth’s art through London. During the first big battle of the book, Beth has discovered Pen’s predicament, resulting in a seriously wounded Filius. In the aftermath of the battle we see the army regroup and Beth decides to move against Reach and save Pen on her own…

‘Rally. Your. Troops.’

Chapter 41 opens with a very hung-over Petris, who has spent the previous night over ‘devotions’ being woken by Beth. This time we see Beth through Petris’ eyes and we feel her drive and desire to save both Filius and Pen in her strident attempts to rally him and his fellow Pavement Priests back to Filius’ cause. Beth also articulates something that has been looming around in the background for the entire novel:

‘Just as well,’ she said coldly, ‘because she’s not coming back.’

And with that truth about Mater Viae out in the open, Petris is finally able to stand with Filius. But Beth can’t wait for him to convince the other, she’s off to rescue Pen.

‘People believe the story,’ Glas had said, ‘not the facts.’

In chapter 42 we track Beth across the city on her way to Reach’s domain. During this journey it becomes clear that Beth is truly more part of the secret London than part of ours. I found the way Beth is actually noticed by more people the closer she comes to Reach an interesting image in two ways. First, it shows that the prosperous and covetous a person is, the closer they will be to Reach and as such his influence might make them more aware of his enemies. Second, the way Beth goes from ignored to unseen to stared at – and presumably disapproved of – while she travels through the different areas and social strata is a reminder of the amount of social commentary encapsulated in the narrative. When Beth arrives at St. Paul’s she finally realises how scared she is.

‘My, my, what a mess.’

With chapter 43 we move back to Filius, who is reliving his near-drowning in a dream and in the dream reveals the price he paid for Beth’s transformation. The nature of the price only strengthens the hypothesis about Mater Viae’s fate. The fact that he kept the price a secret also shows that Filius is well aware of Beth’s tendency to blame herself for everything.

When Filius wakes up, he argues with Glas when he discovers Beth has gone to confront Reach alone. He blames Gutterglas and tells them he should have stopped her, not given her the idea that she might succeed. Glas reveals that Beth isn’t as alone as she and Filius both think: Victor has followed her. Filius is still furious with Glas and also realises how much Beth means to him.

‘Do more. Do more than just run.’

Beth arrives at the edge of Reach’s domain at the start of chapter 44 and loses her nerves at the sight of the scaffolding surrounding the perimeter, reminded of the lethal Scaffwolves she encountered during the battle. In this very short chapter – three pages all told – Pollock shows us the core of Beth’s drive and her inner turmoil at what she’s demanding of herself. He shows the true extent of her bravery.

After scolding herself for even hesitating, Beth sets off to climb the scaffolding surrounding Reach only to be grabbed by the ankle…

And that is it for this week. Be sure to check out the JFB blog for next week’s chapters and I’m looking forward to being your host again in two weeks when I’ll be recapping and discussing chapters 52-56. See you then!

Exciting Events from JFB

 

The Best of All Possible Worlds artwork

This week, Andy, our publicist has been away.

It’s a short sentence, but it’s an important one. Because it means that my working world has suddenly become a lot . . . busier. In fact, manic, I’d say the word is manic. Not only do I have all of my regular editorial duties (which, by the way, decided to all come in at once), I also have publicity to sort out. And, while up to a few short months ago this was my regular working day, Andy’s presence in the office has somewhat upped the publicity workload – and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t given me an eighth of what he usually does in the day. However, he is away for an awesome reason, the lucky sod is in the Maldives having just got married. So I can’t really begrudge him that – or can I . . .

Either way, we have a lot of very exciting events coming up; one of them we are not quite ready to reveal, but it involves Karen Lord – who is over from Barbados – Stephanie Saulter and Naomi Foyle at Blackwell’s (who are being superbly awesome at the moment by the way, more on that next week, probably), another involves Forbidden Planet and both Tom Pollock and Snorri Kristjansson signing their little hearts out for their new releases Our Lady of the Streets and Blood Will Follow (coming up soon). In fact, you might want to toddle over to the Forbidden Planet website in the next few weeks in order to see when these might be. Sarah Pinborough will be launching her new novel Murder in the London area (official pub date for that is 1st May) and finally we’ll be up at Eastercon, where Stephanie Saulter will be presenting an award and talking on a couple of panels (do drop by if you’re in Glasgow for the convention!). Incidentally, they have the snazziest lanyards ever for Eastercon this year . . . I wonder who could have possibly provided those?

So keep checking back for event announcements – I promise you you won’t want to miss them. Meanwhile, have a nice Easter everyone!!

Nicola

London Book Fair: The Aftermath

47158_FearieTales_JKT.indd‘So how was the London Book Fair,’ I hear you ask. ‘Was a mad social whirligig? Were you inundated with foreign editors desperate to spread the Word of JFB far and wide across the world?’

Well, the short answer is No. And Yes.

I was prepared for it to be a lot quieter this year because probably a third of the people I usually see told me they weren’t coming – but I still managed to fill my days, on the half-hour, every half-hour, from ten till six. It was nice to see some new people too.

But probably my favourite appointment was my Bonus Russian, because it was so unexpected . . .

Stephen Jones, who’s responsible for A Book of Horrors, Fearie Tales and Curious Warnings for JFB, asked if I’d be able to wave hello at some Russians who were interested in BoH and Fearie Tales – he knew I was already booked at the one time they had free, so he would do the sales pitch; he just wanted them to be able to say they’d met me.

‘No problem,’ I said; ‘wheel them in at 3.30.’

But a couple of hours earlier, one of my editors was a no-show (turned out he’d gone down with the Book Fair Lurgy, a nasty bug that invariably runs riot through the hallowed halls of Earls Court and the Frankfurter Messe). I was sitting there quietly, catching my breath, when someone I didn’t know asked if he could look at the copy of Fearie Tales in the window and said in a strong Russian accent, ‘I love Stephen Jones’ work . . .’

Quick as a flash I thrust a Rights Guide into his hand and suggested, as I had a few minutes free, I could talk him through that and maybe a few other JFB gems . . . and we were off. And when he said he worked for AST ­– Russia’s second-biggest publisher – I realised who he was, and said, ‘Of course – you’re meeting Steve later; I’m delighted to have a chance to get to know you properly.’

So we went through the list and he was suitably enthusiastic about – well, everything! A man of taste, obviously . . . We parted with me agreeing to send him everything, and a promise to meet in Frankfurt to further the forthcoming bond between JFB and Mainstream, his list at AST.

I’ve been trying to get back on the Russians radar – books-wise, I hasten to add – for a long time, and this felt very fortuitous. So two hours later, when Steve pops up, I say airily, ‘Oh, I’ve met your Russian, he’s really nice; he’s taken a rights guide and he’s very keen . . .’ and thank him profusely for the intro. But then I turn and actually clock the two men he’s with, and they are definitely not my Russian. They’re both much larger . . . and, scarily, they’re both called Alexander* and not Sergey . . . and they’re from Azbooka-Attica, not AST.

So: turns out there are two Russian publishing houses represented by charming editors at the Fair, who are all mad keen on Fearie Tales and the rest of the JFB list. With any luck we’ll end up with a nice healthy auction and I will be able to laugh away the aching bones, lack of voice and exhaustion that are the other aftermath of LBF.

Right. Time to make my appointments for Frankfurt . . .

Jo
*As is Steve’s Russian Rights Agent, just to confuse the issue

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReread Part 10

Sorry this is a little late this time round, folks! London Book Fair got in the way! But here it is, finally, part 10 of the mammoth Skyscraper Throne reread as we build up to the release of Our Lady of the Streets. Beware, if you’re reading along, there are spoilers. Massive thank you goes out to Shaheen @speconspecfic.com for last week’s instalment!

Hello!! Jo Fletcher Books is holding a re-read of The Skyscraper Throne series by Tom Pollock in anticipation of the third book in the series, Our Lady of the Streets. This week I get to host it, and recap Chapters 37 – 41. Let’s begin with a little information about the book:

The City’s Son re-read (Ch 37 – 41)

Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen. But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction.

Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind.

This is the first of a series, an urban fable about friends, family and monsters, and how you can’t always tell which is which.

Ch. 37

“The irony of praying to a Goddess they’d rejected even as they stood in the ruins of her temple almost made Petris smile.”

The Pavement Priests have a funeral for their fallen. Petris feels guilty for not having joined the cause, even though he hates the Goddess and won’t fight her war for her. The Goddess sold their deaths with the “oil-slicked traders”, enslaved the Pavement Priests.

A poignant and unsettling chapter that gives readers the sense that there’s a lot more to come from the Pavement Priests.

Ch. 38

“All she could see was her best friend, bound and bloodied by the barbed wire.”

Beth has just seen Pen and found out she’s a prisoner of the Wire Mistress. Having seen, for the first time, the real horrors this war against Reach will bring, Beth regrets asking Fil “Is that your plan? Run?”

“She wished she’d let him save himself.” Beth think she’s led both Pen and Fil into danger. “That’s me: a siren call to self-destruction.”

Ezekiel sets her straight, she’s taking the agency away from the soldiers and diminishing their sacrifice – they each made the decision and fought in the battle. They followed Beth because she’s right, and they would have followed anyone else had they also been right.

This chapter made me think a lot, because Beth has a tendency to internalise everything and make everything that happens her own fault. She needed to be brought back down to earth, and be reminded that this war was probably going to happen, it just may not have happened so quickly.

Ch. 39

“Walk into the Demolition Fields looking for a happy ending and an ending is all you’ll find.”

Beth wants to see Filius and Gutterglass takes her to him. Beth has decided to go and rescue Pen, go into the heart of Reach’s territory. Glas tries to stop her, Electra has just died and Fil loves Beth, “For the love he bore you, I’ll ask this once. Don’t go.” But of course, Beth is still gong, because Fil has Glas, and Glas has the army, but Pen has no one except Beth. Glas gives Beth Fil’s spear, and tells her to drive it into the Crane King’s throat, if the opportunity arises. Beth kisses Fil’s forehead, and reminds him that she saved his life and not to squander the chance she gave him, and that she’ll try to do the same.

Another poignant chapter, with Beth leaving behind everything that’s familiar to her in the new world she’s found, to go off and confront danger alone. I never thought she’d be standing idly by while Fil fount his war, but I also didn’t think she’d take over for him. The story has morphed from being a bout a girl who helps a boy in his fight, to a story about a girl who fights for the boy when he can’t.

Ch. 40

“She didn’t want to want it, but Pen wanted to see Reach stand.”

This chapter begins with another hallucination by Pen, where Beth comes and rescues her from her family’s attempt to marry her off even though she’s physically and emotionally damaged. Pen has conflicted feelings about Beth – she’s only in this mess because she was looking for Beth, and she’s a little angry at Beth for not “killing the host”, because that would have been a way to escape her imprisonment. Pen is finding it hard to focus, she admits to not thinking about escape for hours at a time, and that she’s assimilating the thoughts and desires of the Wire Mistress. She caves the hunt, she wants to kill, she’s excited to see Reach come into being.

This chapter highlights how dire Pen’s situation is. She’s slowly becoming a part of the Wire Mistress. It’s pretty terrifying, when you think about it.

My thoughts

These four chapters are quite poignant – in the lull after the dramatic battle, Pollock takes stock of where his characters are both physically and emotionally. Flilius is injured and unconscious, Beth is guilt-ridden and anxious to help Pen, the Pavement Priests mourn their dead and the rest of the army has set to work helping the wounded. Pen is falling deeper and deeper into the enemies hands.

This pause feels short-lived – it’s a brief hush before the next encounter, but it’s powerful all the same because it allows readers to process what has already happen, and to think about the ramifications of this battle.

Beth knew she was going into a war, and even though she’s seen some horrible things throughout life, she’s just seen people being killed. It’s addled her a little, and now she’s desperate to do anything she can to prove to herself that she’s not a destructive force, and that she is helping, rather than hindering, the war effort.

 

The London Book Fair Circus has arrived …

Our Lady of the Streets cover artI’m just popping my head over the parapet today for long enough to wave and say sorry, don’t have time to chat because the London Book Fair has rolled into town, and if you’ve been paying attention these past 28 months, you know that this is one of the two busiest weeks in my year . . . actually, when I say ‘week’ I mean ‘fortnight and then a bit more’ as people have taken to arriving earlier to ‘spend a bit more quality time’ (by which they mean ‘get a march on the competition’, of course.)

So on Monday the hallowed halls of Quercus echoed to a variety of accents as my colleagues and I entertained a variety of nationalities to highlights of our lists . . . and we were not an hour into the day before everyone was running late. For example, my specially booked leisurely hour-or-so-long appointment with Tina, a lovely German editorial director I’ve known for years, turned into a rushed twelve-and-a-half minutes before she dashed over to Hodder and I rushed off to meet Julian, Robert Jackson Bennett’s US editor …  and so the day proceeded. (Mind you, Tina did want to see Nicola’s latest acquisition – not that I’ve told her yet – so that was 12½ minutes very well spent!)

By the time you read this, Nicola will be ensconced in our corner of H700 (having fought off any of our colleagues who might have had the temerity to try to steal my corner!) and we’ll be well into our seventeenth appointment of the day, presenting our fantastic list to editors from all around the world, from Japan to Iceland and all stops in between!

Just as well I finished editing Tom Pollock’s magnificent Our Lady of the Streets over the weekend; I don’t think I could have borne to have stopped in the middle of that particular climactic scene. And no, I already told him: the only reason I had tears in my eyes was because I’d got so wrapped up in Beth and Pen’s travails trying to save London from a wrathful Street-Goddess that I was late with my medication. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it …

So I’m off – I’ll fill you in next week on the fun of the Fair (and I’m still sorry there’s no actual carousel).

In the meantime, I hope you’re busy preparing your school recommendations for our World Book Night Giveaway: we can’t do it without you!

Jo

Jo sig

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 9

The City's Son artworkThis weeks #SkyscraperThroneReRead is brought to you by @BookZone and looks at chapters 33-36 of Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son. You can check out the original post here and let us know what you think of the chapters with #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

Please be warned, the very nature of this project means that there will be spoilers aplenty:

Chapter 33

This chapter is the calm before the storm that will be the final battle between Fil’s forces of good, and Reach’s forces of ‘evil’, and as readers we can only fear for the worst given the somewhat ragtag nature of Fil’s army. It’s a little reminiscent of the Ewoks going up the highly trained and well equipped stormtrooper forces of the Empire. You have the Blankleits (aka Whities) acting like excited children, whilst their arch rivals Sodiumites (Amberglows) take themselves off, away from the gathering army, to practise their “war-waltzes”. And whilst the foxes and feral dogs engage in a spot of overenthusiastic play fighting, the Pavement Priests wander through the disparate groups, bestowing their blessings. Hell, this lot make the Ewoks look like a crack team of commandos.

Meanwhile, Beth and Fil are taking a breather from this chaos. Fil outlines his rather sketchy plan of attack (whilst supping on his first ever cup of tea), only for Beth to pick holes in it, and pretty big holes they are too. This is Pollock showing us that even at this critical hour Fil, is still far more of an excited teen than he is a leader of an army. How can he possibly lead an army of amateurs to success?

And then it’s the long-awaited sexy time for Beth and Fil, although like the kiss it is interrupted far too prematurely by the announcement of the arrival of Fleet and the Cats. Again, we see Fil desperately searching the skyline for sign of his mother – he really does not want to shoulder this huge responsibility – but “as they stared together into the darkness of Battersea Park, only the darkness looked back.”

Chapter 34

The arrival of the Cats is a major development for Filius and his army, but Pollock keeps us hanging by switching POV and taking us back to Paul Bradley and his desperate search for his daughter. His tracking of Beth’s path, using her graffiti art as his only guide, has finally brought him to the abandoned tunnel where she spent so much of her time. It’s a very poignant moment, as he sees the face of his beloved Marianne on the walls, amongst her artwork, “over and over again, smudged and pale as a ghost”. It’s also the moment at which he finds some inner strength, and becomes more determined than ever to find his daughter to apologise for everything, but all we can do as readers is fear for him as we know that his daughter has been changed for good by the Synod’s toxic pool.

Chapter 35

The arrival of Fleet and the Cats does not initially seem to have the effect on Filius that Gutterglass desires. Fil is confused, as the Cats have never been known to appear without their Mistress, and this scares him more than anything else. However, Beth digs deep and uses her own experience of losing a mother to snap him out of his confusion and, through his skillful handling of an altercation between rival Lampfolk, for the first time we see Filius the leader. And it’s not a moment too soon, as the Scaffwolves are on their way and the battle is about to start.

Chapter 36

This is the big battle scene of the whole story, and the part of the book that had a number of readers questioning why the real world people of London were not asking what the hell was taking place on the bridge and the Embankment. When I first sent my review of The City’s Son to Tom Pollock, I mentioned this (it didn’t bother me, by the way), and I know from discussing it with Tom that it was something he agonised over whilst writing the book. I’m not going to dwell on the battle scene here, except to say that it is brutal, as there are two other incidents in this chapter that I need to highlight.

The first is Beth coming face-to-face with her best friend Pen, for the first time since they parted under a dark cloud near the beginning of the book. Pen, of course, is now little more than a host for the parasitic barbed wire creature: “Pen’s right nostril had been ripped away and her mouth slit was wider: a jagged grin towards her ear”. Fil is about to become the creature’s next victim, his cries of agony calling for Beth to kill the creature’s host. But. This. Is. Pen! For me this is one of my (many) favourite passages in the book – Beth being put in the position where she has to choose between her best friend and her new love.

And this leads directly on to the second truly memorable moment in the battle. Electra, the Sodiumite who has found herself losing out to Beth as the object of Fil’s affections, first helps her rival, and then makes the ultimate sacrifice for Filius, throwing herself into the Thames to tear him from the clutches of the Wire Mistress. Water, as we all know, does not mix well with electricity, but Lec is a spirited and cocky ‘girl’ and can’t depart without one more dig at her rival Blankleits, whispered into Fil’s ear as her light goes out for the last time.

That’s it for this week’s re-read. Don’t forget to check out the original entry at The Book Zone and to head over to Speculating on SpecFic next Thursday for part 10 of the #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

We’re currently reading…

We’re back again to let you know what we are reading outside of work, our new monthly feature on the blog.
Have you read any of these books? What are you currently reading? Let us know below.

Nicola

Newt's EmeraldSo, along with Blood Will Follow, Our Lady of the Streets and Greatcoat’s Lament over the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been reading Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix. Garth Nix is one of my favourite authors ever ever ever and so I had to buy it. I’ve also preordered Clariel, but that’s a whole different story.

Anyway, Newt’s Emerald is a mystery about a jewel that is supposed to have given its owner power. Lady Truthful (Newt) is the main character just about to have the jewel bestowed upon her when the lights go down, a storm rolls in, the table with the gem on goes over and *poof* the stone disappears. It is then up to Truthful to track down this gem after her father falls ill and her three older (drunken) friends (brother-figures), declare they are going to go off to different parts of the world to find it.

Newt travels to London where she meets her aunt and must dress as a man to hunt down the gem – when she gets caught up with the enigmatic Charles Otterbrook. Action, romance and perfect pacing ensue and we are caught up in the world of Regency London with a dash of magic that ensures we are hooked from beginning to end. Spectacular and funny. I urge you to buy it.

Newt’s Emerald is a Kindle only novel and available for £4.83.

Andrew

Half of a Yellow SunAfter a year re-reading The Wheel of Time series in preparation for the big finale, A Memory of Light, I decided to try to read more fiction outside of the SFF genre. For this reason I am currently reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

A winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction this novel beautifully tells the story of three lives that intersect in 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war. Jumping between events that took place during the early 1960s and the late 1960s you follow Ugwu, Olanna and Richard as the horrific Biafran War engulfs them and they are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they had never imagined.

A great read and one I would certainly recommend for any who want a short break from the SFF world.

Half of a Yellow Sun is available from Harper Perennial for £8.99.

Jo

Truth and FearWhen I read Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Century, I knew it was something very special indeed: a twisted alternative Soviet Russia resonant with real-life totalitarian horrors, blended seamlessly with fantastical elements that are truly unique and completely compelling. In the first line we are introduced to Vissarion Lom, a man with a piece of dead angel set in his forehead, and that’s it, we’re dragged into a fast-paced thriller that is as unpredictable as this astonishing world Higgins has built.

And I’m now immersed in the sequel, Truth and Fear, and loving every single riveting, terrifying sentence … Peter Higgins is a real find, and I envy publisher Simon Spanton and Gollancz for getting to it before me!

The Benefits of Tae Kwon Do

BuffyI’ve been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer recently. I finished the last episode of season 4 last night whilst drawing a map that will eventually become … wait for it … interactive (ooooo). And it occurred to me that nothing has ever been quite as good as that TV series. Oh, sure, I’m obsessed with The Musketeers, but that is for entirely different reasons (that I suspect involve more superficial concerns). And, you know, I gave Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D a good go. And I really quite enjoy the Great British Bake Off, but that is slightly off topic. And sure, having no TV I don’t really go in for TV series anyway and probably haven’t watched nearly enough to make that claim but … don’t you just agree with me? Buffy was, pretty much, the pinnacle of TV – from a time before we got a million channels all playing repeats of the same crap thing over and over. I just don’t think they make TV like that any more.

I love Buffy for its perfect mix of humour and seriousness, for the way it is able to take the mick out of itself – for its sheer genius and ingenuity: I defy you to think of individual monsters for 144 episodes and not let one single plot line get tired. It also takes me back a bit to things I had forgotten. And makes me want to be better – watching it makes me want to be strong, and not just in the badass ‘I’m going to kick you to hell and back and then a little bit further’ sense (although that might have been part of the reason for my little stint in the Tae Kwon Do circuit way back when). And that, I think, is something TV could aspire to more: giving us something to look up to rather than the vacuous dross that is TOWIE or whatever (sorry if you like it – this is just my opinion).

Plus it has man candy nearly as much as women candy. And that I can get on board with.

Do you think I’ve got it wrong, is there more to TV than I’m seeing? Comment below!

On the rewards of patience …

Traitor's Blade SealYou may have seen a little flurry of excitement last week at the news that Hodder, one of the publishing groups under the Hachette UK banner, have made a bid for Quercus – and yes, that includes Jo Fletcher Books, the Maclehose Press and Heron Books as well, I’m pleased to say.

I know you’ve been waiting patiently waiting for me to tell you what’s going on, and I do appreciate that patience – but I fear you’re going to have to grit your teeth and wait quietly for a little bit longer because there’s still not a lot I can say until the offer becomes unconditional, which the headshed hope will be in a month’s time.

However, I can reveal that Hodder’s CEO Jamie Hodder-Williams and Hachette UK CEO Tim Hely-Hutchinson have said they intend Quercus to become a distinct division, keeping both Quercus’ own name and its imprints’ names. Hodder has also stated that it intends to honour Quercus’ obligations to its authors and to work assiduously with them to promote their publishing objectives, and that’s the bit of the offer that I was particularly interested in.

And the last thing I can tell you is that the Quercus Directors intend to recommend unanimously that Quercus Shareholders accept that offer.

Here’s a little bit of background: Hodder is an old family firm, nearly 150 years old, part of Hachette UK, the second-largest publishing conglomerate in the world. Those of you who have been paying attention may know that my previous alma mater, Gollancz, is an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, which is also part of the Hachette group. And I did in fact start my publishing career at Headline … also part of the Hachette family …

As that’s about all I can tell you at this stage – for anything else you, like me, will have to wait for the deal to go through – I shall move on to the next bit of excitement: the JFB Greatcoats competition.

Traitor's Blade artworkI was agreeably surprised to see how much work so many of you put into the competition, not just into working out your Greatcoats names (and no, you were not supposed to just pick the coolest ‘musketeer’ name you could think of!) but also in picking out your weapon of excellence and your special skills. We had all the obvious, of course – and no shortage of brawn over brain, either! – but we also had a fair bit of imagination at work too. As a result, what was supposed to take me just a few minutes, half an hour at most, ended up occupying the best part of a couple of days …

Ah well. At least it was worth it. Sebastien, Nicola, Andrew and I are all impressed at the standard, and we’re delighted that we’ve come up with some really notable winners.

So: pause for a big drumroll and a three-musket salute to our newest Greatcoats. May I welcome you, Darriana Preston, Antrim Thomas, Mateo Tiller, Allister Ivany and Chalmers Zagdunski. Darriana Preston, as our overall winner, will feature in the second volume of The Greatcoats, and will also receive early copies of each subsequent book in the series. The other four winners will be featured in Book Three.

As well as that – and because JFB’s generosity knows no bounds! – the following fifteen Greatcoats-in-training will win signed copies dedicated to their Greatcoat names, so look out for the postman!* And I’m talking to you, Inspector J. Crijns Meijer; Bert Oldfield Chandra; Clint Howat; Johana Knizek; Stark Henderson; Thiago di Luca; D’Rura Galann; Kilbowie Swan; Joseph Carter; Kaylin Seline; Justin Barimen; Telford Infante ap Griffith; Aquila de Saeva; Midnight Eruk; Julian Gyrenthe.

I’d like to thank you all for entering, and hope you continue to enjoy the series!

And now I’m returning to the City, where Beth and Pen are about to face Mater Viae, Our Lady of the Streets: the Goddess of London …

Jo

Jo sig

 

 

 

 

*Be sure to email us your address to receive your copy.

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 8

The City's Son artworkThis weeks #SkyscraperThroneReRead is brought to you by @timelordfury who looks at chapters 29-32 of Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son. Check out her original blog here and let us know what you think of the chapters with #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

(spoilers for the book below, so look out if you haven’t read it yet)

Chapter 29

After the encounter with the mysterious Chemical Synod, Beth is enjoying the perks of her newly-transformed body.

“She could feel the ground under her, the city rubbing up against her skin. She could feel the charge that build up between them. Urbosynthesis, she thought. A smile split her face, so wide it made her mouth ache.”

Man, I must say that out of all the made up words and phrases I’ve come across in this book, Urbosynthesis is probably one of my favourite.

Anyway, as this chapter goes on we get a cute scene of Beth and Fil scaling the Canada Tower, racing up it’s shiny surface. Which looks like this, for those like me who’ve never been to London:

Amazing right?

With this scene, we get to see how it really feels to be a child of the city, just as Beth does. The excitement she feels and that strange, deep-rooted connection to the city.

And then yet another surprise, we see the Throne Mater Viae placed on top, a move to spite Reach, the Crane King, who we learn is the father of all skyscrapers, the reason they exist at all.

There’s a lot going on in this chapter, with the long-awaid kiss between Beth and Fil, amongst it all.

To end it all if, we get anothet glimpse into the intense political situation where some of the pavement priests have begun to side with Filius against the terrifying Reach, an army is slowly being built. This is probably another aspect of the series I really admire, the intensely.

Chapter 30

In this chapter, we move back into Pen’s point of view and her continued nightmare of being the Wire Mistress’s host. It’s honestly unnerving, seeing the way Pen has come to accept her suffering.

It brings us back to the darker side of the novel, the scary, gritty part of the city that isn’t at all friendly or exciting. This is the city that will eat you alive if you’re not careful, the dim and dark places where the danger is.

In fact, it’s last line is brilliantly ominus of things to come:

“The iron giants strode beside her. The clang of their footsteps on the shale of the building site was like war drums.”

Chapter 31

Right into part three of the novel, we’re thrown into an excellent peice of prose and possibly my favourite peice of prose in the book (also half the reason I picked this set of chapters):

“Our memories are like a city: we tear some structures down, and we use rubble of the old to raise up new ones. Some memories are bright glass, blindingly beautiful when they catch the sun, but then there are the darker days, when they reflect only the crumbling walls of their derelict neighbours. Some memories are buried under years of patient construction; their echoing halls may never again be seen or walked down, but still they are the foundations for everything that stands above them.

Glas told me once that that’s what people are, mostly: memories, the memories in their own heads, and the memories of them in other people’s. And if memories are like a city, and we are our memories, then we are like cities too. I’ve always taken comfort in that.”

Don’t you just love it?

Anyway, this chapter is very telling of the kind of person Filius is, the boy who wants desperately to meet his long-absent mother and the fear of it too. He’s scared of shattering this illusion he’s built up in his head.

There’s also those lovely recollections of his childhood, him and his best friend Electra the “glowing-glass girl” as he describes her.

So despite his strange, alien nature, Filius is still very human at heart, still so much a lost young boy who wants to meet his mother.

Chapter 32

This chapter doesn’t hesitate to get right into the politics of this building war effort against Reach. Eziekiel, the leader of the few “faithful” pavement preists helps Filius plan the attack on reach.

The dialogue in these scenes is very telling of how much people are still unsure of Filius and what we can do, that there’s still that comparison between him and his mother, a reminder he’s not her.

The city’s stranger inhabitants are still relectuant to take Filius on as thier leader and Gutterglas is doing all they can to make sure they try (just another show how much of a manipulator Gutterglas is).

I like this chapter, because I’ve always been a fan of complex worlds with thier own political dramas, but this is beautifully telling and I just adore Fil’s witty dialogue and cocky attitude.

Anyway, that’s it for this week’s part of the re-read. You can read last week’s re-read of chapters 25-28, over at overtheeffinrainbow and check out The Book Zone for Boys next week when @BookZone will be bringing you part 9 of our #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

Hell, hell, hooray!

Righteous Fury cover artMy evil blackeyes have conquered the German paperback bestseller list – what a darksplendid goodbye for the Älfar.

Raging Storm is the fourth novel about the Älfar and it will be the last: just as the Älfar are ending their journey in Germany they are beginning to conquer Great Britain.

Carmondai and Co struck the German bestseller chart at Number Four – how terrific! It is almost incredible that the Älfar have become as successful as the Dwarves – in fact, looking only at the positions of the books in the list, they are even MORE successful – it’s the power of darkness ;)

Now, no kidding about: it’s amazing! I am so glad and happy and a little bit proud – and it’s all thanks to the fans! So saying THANK YOU is the most important thing, because it’s the readers who have brought the Älfar to the top.

So I will show a grim and dark smile for some days, and than I will brew a pot of pitch-black tea and start work on the fifth volume of The Dwarves, because that’s where the Älfar in Raging Storm have led me. Without detouring.

And of curse – course, I mean – Dwarves 5 will include the Älfar. And my darkeyes are still not nice, but they are always interested in art – made of dead enemies …

Markus Heitz
Homburg, Germany

P.S. I promise you won’t have to wait too much longer to meet the Älfar yourselves: you’ll be able to get your hands on Righteous Fury on May 1 – and then it’ll be up to you to get Markus on the UK bestseller list as well as the German chart!

SF in’a Calabash

Stephanie SaulterI’m here to talk about Calabash. But what does that mean? It’s a word that’s lent itself to a variety of uses over the years, from tropical resorts to clothing lines to software. I want to talk about it in the context of stories, and I want to start at the beginning; which is close to the beginning of the human story itself.

When I was a child growing up in the Jamaican countryside, calabash was the name of a plant which bore large, globular gourds. Harvested young, it can be cooked and eaten like any squash. But its real magic is revealed when it is allowed to age; hollowed out and dried, it becomes a light, watertight, glossy brown container. Looked down on by wealthier, more educated and more aspirational ‘town people’, it was the crockery of the rural poor. For my family, who had left the town for the country precisely to escape its prejudices and pretensions, calabash bowls were as natural an addition to our kitchen as was the calabash vine on our fence.

I later learned that calabash has been cultivated for many thousands of years in tropical and subtropical regions, possibly even longer than food crops or livestock. Its spread around the globe from source plants in Africa owes as much to the migration patterns of early humans as its own tendency to drift on ocean currents, and germinate on distant shores. Whether driven before a hurricane, or riding on a Neolithic hip, calabash has gotten everywhere. And, as the formerly colonised tropics grow into their independence, develop a unique sense of identity and pride in the arts and crafts of the past, calabash utensils have gone from shameful to chic.

Not unlike our sense of story, the exuberance of our language, our celebration of communal tale-telling and the rhythm that underpins our words as much as our music.

Once these things too were seen as primitive and undesirable, the relics of a past then still described as savage. When I was little, children could still be punished for speaking the native patois language in school. One was meant to aspire to ‘refined’ things, for which read: the language and culture and commercial goods of England and America. And I think this is a big part of why the development of a literary tradition in my home country has been such a slow, painful process.

Almost everything I read as a kid came from somewhere else. The world as understood through and celebrated by the books on my shelves bore little resemblance to the one I was born into. Even more insidious was the sense that these modes of being were intrinsically separate; that if you wanted to read and write and live a life of letters, in the company of like-minded bibliophiles, you’d be hard-pressed to do it at home. It’s a particularly pernicious cultural ghetto, not shared by most other arts. Theatre has thrived for as long as I can remember, there is an internationally recognised visual arts tradition, and the music of Jamaica has circled the world like a rambling calabash vine. But literature – as a conduit of story, a cultural artefact, and a shared experience – stalled.

Fourteen years ago three people decided to change that. They were novelist Colin Channer, poet Kwame Dawes, and producer Justine Henzell (who just happens to be one of my oldest friends). They weren’t a slow, or cautious, or unambitious bunch, oh no. They knew that a high level of literary appreciation, and sophistication, existed in the private sphere; what was lacking was support and a sense of community. But neither they, nor the demographic they wished to attract and nurture, were interested in being insular. The desire was for a local literary culture that would be in dialogue with the words of the wider world, even as it recognised and helped to develop talent at home.

Calabash International Literature Festival 2014 LogoTheir aim was nothing less than the creation of ‘a world-class literary festival with roots in Jamaica and branches reaching out.’ They got Justine’s brother Jason to host it at his hotel Jake’s, in the Treasure Beach area of the decidedly un-touristy south coast, and, in 2001, the Calabash International Literary Festival was launched. Since then its guests have included Nobel laureates alongside local lasses and lads, debut authors with Booker Prize winners, poets and journalists and academics, musicians and singers.

The Calabash programme is more concerned with flow and feel than conventional format. There are no panel discussions or formal book signings; it’s all about the words, everybody’s words, spoken and sung and shouted and shared. In between the readings and performance and talks from eminent authors, there are open-mic sessions where anyone can take the floor. And they do, and they are often just as magnetic as the Big Names that, by the way, no one has paid to come listen to. Passion is the only price of entry to Calabash – which makes fundraising an endless worry for the organisers. But it’s worth it, because it is one of the most welcoming, least elitist cultural events I’ve ever been to, anywhere. It’s won phenomenal praise from authors, attendees and the international press. It’s been at the heart of building – finally – a sense of community and pride in the literary arts.

So you’ll understand why I’m so proud to be on the programme for its biennial outing in May, along with fellow JFB author Karen Lord. We join a pretty impressive lineup*, and we’ll be part of Calabash’s first ever focus on science fiction – a genre I fell in love with as a child, reading all those books from England and America, but which felt as remote from my everyday life back then as the Arctic. I get to bring it home, and I get to demonstrate that it is neither alien nor intimidating. I’ll be sharing my imagined community of the future with a community that, not so many years ago, would have seemed just as futuristic.

Which brings us back to the history, the meaning and the magic of the calabash. On the face of it the name of the festival is merely an accident of its location; Jake’s sits on beautiful Calabash Bay. But in that strange way that stories happen, when different bits of imagination and desire and memory travel and merge and morph, the name feels as inevitable as the thing it describes: a humble container, durable, organic and unrefined, holding the world’s stories.

Stephanie Saulter

*Yes, I know who the Surprise Guest is. I can’t tell you. How I wish I could tell you! Suffice it to say that being part of the opening act for this person is forever going to be a notch on my literary belt.

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 7

The City's Son artworkThe Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead this week hits week 7, with chapters 25-28 taking the spotlight. This week’s re-read was completed by @EffingRainbow on her blog – Over The Effing Rainbow.

If you’re new to the book please note that there will be spoilers galore below. Okay? Okay! Onward…

CHAPTER 25

“‘You know what?’ Beth snapped. She folded her arms and glared at him. ‘Piss off!’”

So, Beth isn’t happy about being told to go home. Hell, after everything she’s already gone through, I can’t really blame her. I kind of spent much of this scene squinting at Gutterglass, who is (perhaps rightly?) accused by Beth of putting Filius up to telling her to leave. Happily for my ‘shipping sensibilities, however, she puts her foot down, and in the end Filius gives in. This means that more will be demanded of Beth, and for her own good, but more on that in a bit…

‘That’s what she wanted: not safety, home. To be able to curl into the warmth of that word. To call the city home – to be home, with him on these streets.’

Her determination to stay is about more than just any sparks that might fly between her and Fil – Beth sees something about this other London, his London, that could offer her what she really wants, and that’s somewhere to belong. This is what makes Beth a really sympathetic character; for all her sharpness of tongue and her hard outer shell, the truth is that she’s as vulnerable as anyone else. Just, perhaps, not in the ways that Gutterglass would evidently have Filius believe…

“‘Can you make me braver?’ he asked quietly, ‘because given the suicidal bloody nature of he enterprise I’m on, it looks like she can.’”

…And apparently Filius is well aware of that. Good for him!

CHAPTER 26

“‘-what? What? I’m building a picture up, all right? I’m “setting the scene”. You want me to get on with it? Fine. it’s night. It’s dark. It’s enemy territory. They’re sneaking. It’s risky. Get it? Good. Excuse me for trying to make it interesting.’”

No hanging around in Drama Land, then. The snark is alive and well, and oh, how I love it. The story Filius tells Beth, of how he came to be the way he is after being born perfectly human, is told only from his point of view, ‘talking’ to the reader much as he’s talking to Beth, and I love this approach to it. We don’t actually get anything of what Beth says in her turn, and yet we can imagine it all too well. A wonderful touch, here.

And now, it’s onward to the domain of the Chemical Synod. These guys are seriously creepy, with their (literal) oiliness and their synchronicity and their snapping lighters – and it’s awesome.

“‘The men that live there, the Chemical Synod, they exist beyond my mother’s sway, but she’d done deals with them before – making deals is their reason to be.’”

(A nod to faerie lore, here? Couldn’t help noticing that one…)

We don’t find out what kind of deal Mater Viae made with the Synod for Fil, though he has his ideas about it, and seems fairly convinced of them – that she disappeared in order to find the payment they demanded, and is returning now because she’s finally done so. Is it going to be that simple? Somehow I doubt it…

CHAPTER 27

“‘Filiuss Viae,’ the oil-soaked man acknowledged. His deep voice was smooth, pleasant. ‘The Sson of the Sstreetss. Pipssqueak of the Pavementss. Visseroy of the Viaductss. Sswame of the Ssidewalkss. Malingerer of the M25-’

Fil sighed and interrupted. ‘Could you possibly stop taking the piss, Johnny?’”

[Pause for LOLs]

Short and sharp, this chapter. As with Mater Viae’s bargain, we don’t get to find out just yet what Filius agrees to in order to put Beth through her transformation, but Beth being Beth, she doesn’t waste too much time wringing her hands or asking questions. She trusts Filius, and she wants this – and so she (quite literally) dives in…

CHAPTER 28

We get the details of Beth’s transformation from both points of view here – hers and Fil’s – and I have to say that I love this approach to it. As if the nerve-wracking tension and squirm-inducing detail of what Beth goes through, submerged in toxic water and conscious for the entire transformation, wasn’t enough, we get Fil’s onlooker perspective as well. The whole thing scares him, perhaps even more than it scares Beth – and there’s that growing connection between them, again. This scene is almost worth a swoon… Until Beth emerges and comes to with her usual supply of snark very much in evidence, despite what she just went through. Because of course. Can’t have anybody swooning here, can we?

The chapter ends on what appears to be Johnny Napththa’s collection of Fil’s debt, though we still don’t get to find out what, exactly, it cost him to do this for Beth. Damn those cliffhanger chapters!

Right. I’m off to get stuck back in…

And that brings week 7 to a close. Don’t forget to let us know what you think of chapters 25-28 below and on Twitter with #SkyscraperThroneReRead. And don’t forget to come back next week when we will be looking at chapters 29-32 of The City’s Son.

Voting in the Hugos

Hugo Award LogoAre you attending Loncon in August 2014? The first time the World Science Fiction convention has been held in Britain for 49 years? If not why not?! If you are, you are eligible to vote/nominate in the Hugo Awards. At some point you will have been sent an email giving you your personal pin, which you can use here, to vote for your favourite science fiction and fantasy novels of 2013/2014. There has been some confusion as to what is eligible, so we at JFB have been decidedly helpful and put a list together of the books that can be nominated from our list ;) .

Please note that Loncon 3 must receive your ballot (postmarks do not count) by Monday, March 31, 2014, 23:59 Pacific Daylight Time (April 1, 07:59 British Summer Time).

So get voting everyone!

Our books that are eligible include:

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter
Seoul Survivors by Naomi Foyle
The Warring States by Aidan Harte
Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough
Path of Needles by Alison Littlewood
The Detainee by Peter Liney
The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock
Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson
Your Brother’s Blood by David Towsey
Mage’s Blood by David Hair
Scarlet Tides by David Hair
Fearie Tales edited by Stephen Jones (and the short stories contained within it)
The Tower Broken by Mazarkis Williams
Limit by Frank Schatzing

For the John W. Campbell Award, the following authors are eligible for nomination:

Aidan Harte
Tom Pollock
Evie Manieri
Naomi Foyle
Alison Littlewood
Stephanie Saulter
Snorri Kristjansson
David Towsey

Spreadsheets and Other Matters

Nicola's Greatcoat Seal

So, something very exciting came our way the other day – Sebastien de Castell, author of Traitor’s Blade, has created a quiz that allows you to build your very own Greatcoat seal! So far, almost everyone has had a different badge, which is fantastic, because it’s creating quite a good little collection on Twitter. Mine featured a bear, an axe, a cup and the colour indigo – and each stands for something different. Want to create your own? Head here and answer the questions to reveal your Greatcoat seal. Then, if you get a bit obsessed, like me, you can also work out your Greatcoat name – don’t forget to share your seal and name on Twitter with the hashtag #JoinTheGreatcoats and then head to our blog for you chance to winsome fantastic prizes – including the chance to get your name in upcoming books in the series. I want to enter! But I can’t … although perhaps I can sneak a suggestion into the edit notes …

Anyway, the whole thing connects quite nicely with this idea Andy and I have cooked up to mark the third birthday of Jo Fletcher books … something I can’t tell you about yet, but I will, in due course, I will. Suffice to say I spent a happy hour creating a spreadsheet for it the other day. ‘An editor?’ you say, ‘Spending a happy hour creating a spreadsheet? Specifically, an editor who gets a headache simply looking at numbers?’ Yes, dear reader, I can tell you categorically that it’s true. Although the spreadsheet was far less numbery than you might think – and I’m leaving Andy to work out all the technical details so, actually, that’s fine.

Now, must dash, I’ve still got to get Righteous Fury, Blood Will Follow, The Child Eater and Into the Fire ready from copyedit by the end of this month, and keep an eye on The Galaxy Game and Our Lady of the Streets, both moving to extremely tight deadlines, and do the AIs for the beginning of next year, and fill out that damn form for the launch meeting, and read the unsolicited and solicited submissions, and get the numbers together for a new acquisition, and argue with the new typesetter.

Nicola

On the importance of avoiding Thog…

Thog Cover - painting by Peter Andrew JonesWhat I have been mostly doing this week is going through our Beloved Authors’ responses to copy-edits, and it always surprises me how very different the reactions are. Whilst editors and copy-editors always do their best to keep the authorial voice intact, if there are a lot of corrections needed, that may not always survive, or at least, not as much as our Beloved Author might like. Luckily, we have the proofreading stage to come, where anything that’s accidentally been chucked out with the dishwater can be fished out, given a good old rub-down and reinstated as seamlessly as if it had been there all along.

The end result should be something both BA and the editor are happy with, and I’m pleased (and relieved!) to say that’s what happens most of the time. There might be a few panicky moments in between receiving the copy-edit and fixing any over-enthusiastic cutting and changing, but we always aim to have the end result be a book which is better for the editor’s attentions, not worse.

One of the things we particularly focus on (especially in these days of instant gratification) is to keep our BAs from the all-seeing eye of Thog … and if you haven’t come across Thog’s Masterclass, then I will pause for half an hour or so whilst you acquaint yourself with Dave Langford’s peculiar genius.

I was thinking about Thog this weekend particularly because of @LitAgentDrury, who, as you know, spends a great deal of time painting toy soldiers (and cannon and armoured trains and battleships and camels and the like) and then marching them across the dining room table as he and his highly intelligent, highly educated chums recreate various battles. They’re there not just to see how different command decisions (bone-headed or otherwise) would have changed the historical outcome, but to test out individual theories on – well, everything, really, from firepower to infantry numbers, from terrain to weather, and all stops in between. (Having a coterie of wargamers with specialisms covering the gamut from mediaeval to modern warfare is also one of my own personal Secret Weapons; how else to find out how many men you need to guard a castle that big, or how many battalions you would expect to be marching out to overthrow a third-world country with these sort of defences . . . In fact, there are a number of writers of alternate history who would do well to game out their proposed changes in battle outcome if they’re going to result in the world taking a different fork before they commit to a whole novel, let alone sequence …)

Back to Thog: the manuscript I was editing included a number of distressingly Thoggable lines, and as I was the only thing standing between the BA and fame of an entirely unacceptable nature, I took the opportunity to share a couple of them with Ian – who reciprocated with this rule in a commercial game he was looking at:

‘In ******, players carefully create and move their forces as they capture territories and expand their empires. A player’s skill and strategy are all that stand between him and ultimate victory!’

My, how we laughed! One of his forums had picked up on it too, and that led to a whole slew of poorly written (or un-edited) rules, including another of my personal favourites, from Sniper:

‘An erect man may expose himself at the window if he fires.’

I’m willing to bet the author did not mean what you’ve just read…

Of course, all this pain could have been avoided if the author had just stopped and read exactly what was written, not what they thought they’d written…

Now aren’t you glad we edit everything we publish?

Jo

Jo sig

Discover your Greatcoat seal

Every Greatcoat needs a seal, and now we have given you the chance to become a Greatcoat we thought it was only right that you are able to create your seal also.

Head over to Sebastien de Castell’s website, answer the 4 simple questions and the Royal seal designers at Tristia will create your seal for you in seconds. it really is that easy, even Nicola and Andrew managed to do it (see below).

So get creating and sharing. We’re look forward to seeing your seals.

Nicola's Greatcoat Seal

Nicola’s Greatcoat Seal

Andrew's Greatcoat Seal

Andrew’s Greatcoat Seal

We Need Your Help to Help Others!

Planesrunner art workSorry I’m late – in fact, I’m very conscious that I’m so late this week it’s nearly next week . . . It started because we had a couple of really urgent non-moveable deadlines (those are the ones where if I don’t get my act together we’re going to have to move publication dates, rather than just requiring a substantial amount of schmoozing to persuade the typesetter (No, not typo-setter, as I originally wrote), or production to squeeze in an extra manuscript …

And because we at JFB are such a small team, that invariably has a knock-on effect: so dropping everything to turn around a late-delivered copy-edited manuscript so it can go to the typesetters on time means the editing planned for that day now has to happen the following day – but that didn’t work, because of an important meeting, which then got cancelled at the last minute, and—

Well, you get the picture: it’s now Friday and I am just starting on Monday’s work …

So I’m keeping this very brief and instead of sharing with you some more deep and meaningful publishing insights, I’m going to tell you about something we’re planning for next month – and for which we need your help.

The Snowmelt RiverApril 23rd is World Book Night: an annual celebration of reading and books, when people who are passionate about books go out into their local community to try to inspire people who don’t normally read for pleasure, or who don’t own books.

World Book Night is run by The Reading Agency, and the charity’s highly laudable mission is to give everyone an equal chance to become a reader. They, like we, know that everything changes when we read.

According to the World Book Night website , a whopping one in three people in Britain do not regularly read. Personally, I think that’s shocking, and so we at JFB would like to do our bit to help introduce those thirty-five per cent of non-readers to the joys of books.

We’d like to play this year, and we’ve decided the best way is to give free books to schools. As we’re publishing three YA series right now, we’re going to donate a selection of those books – so we’ll not just get kids reading; we’ll get kids reading SF, Fantasy and Horror!

Just to remind you, we’ve got SF in the form of Ian McDonald’s Everness books, about Everett Singh, Sen and the crew of the airship Everness. Using an app on his iPad called the Infundibulum, Everett and his friends travel the multiverse looking for his kidnapped dad.

The City's Son artworkFrank Ryan’s The Three Powers quartet is a classic quest fantasy story, following four children who find their way from Mount Slievanamon in Ireland to the enchanted but war-ravaged world of Tír.

And of course we have Tom Pollock’s The Skyscraper Throne: urban fantasy at its best. Beth and her best friend Pen have discovered a London they never even dreamed of – but with all the wonder of a secret, magical city comes terror too, for Reach, the King of the Cranes, is intent on taking the city, and only Filius Viae, London’s ragged Crown Prince, and his human friends stand in his way.

And that’s where you lot come in. We’d like you to nominate schools, please – the name and address, and one line on why you think that school deserves to win.

And between 7pm-midnight on April 23rd, we’ll draw a new winner every hour to receive a bumper hamper of JFB YA titles.

You’ve got six weeks: so start nominating now!

Jo

Jo sig

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 6

The City's Son by Tom PollockWe’re back with our Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead, this week looking at chapters 21-24 of Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son. This week the re-read was completed by @brightsuzaku at Brightsuzaku’s LiveJournal.

To run up to speed quickly, Pen learns that Beth is missing, and joins up with Paul Bradley (Beth’s dad) to look for her, a venture which ended rather unfortunately with Pen kidding kidnapped by a barbed wire monster called the Wire Mistress. Fil and Beth try to assemble an army to fight Reach, which is hit or miss. They are only able to recruit two groups. One is the Mirrostocracy, who are the living images of people that live on the other side of mirrors, and are led by delightfully big-headed nobles. The second group are the Blankleits, the bright white-glowing male streetlamp counterparts of the female Sodiumites. With the Blankleits comes Victor, a homeless, drunken Russian who serves as a translator of lamp-language who is perhaps two sparks short of fuse when it comes to the sanity department.

In Chapter 21, Fil and Beth have just recruited the Blankleits, and have little idea how to prepare them for battle. For so long, the lampmen have lived in fear of Reach and the spread of his cranes, and thus they have done nothing to fight the Crane King. They are unprepared for war, and while Beth of course neither understands nor could speak lamp language, Fil isn’t much better off, either. Just as soon as Beth hands a flashlight over to Victor to ease communication between the translator and the Blankleits on their journey, Beth spots some graffiti that reminds her of Pen. A poem her best friend had written on the wall about love, and how it makes, shapes, hurts, and changes you. Mends you like a cast to bone.

Arguably, one of the most subtle, and arresting details in the chapter, is how Pen focused her gaze on Beth just a few moments after writing the poem. It wasn’t about the cute classmate Leon; heck, it was hardly about a boy. And yet, troubled and pained deep inside, Pen kept her silence on the matter. Just as, Beth recalls, she was utterly silent, even after ratting her out to school. This memory adds dimension and complexity to Pen’s character, though she is unseen outside of the flashback in this chapter.

Regarding Pen, the emotional turmoil her sexuality brings her is apparent in how it has been manipulated around her and thus forced her to keep silent. Manipulations formed by her tradition-bound parents, and the unwanted advances of Dr. Salt- pressed her into being unable to express herself outside of poetry. The pressure was suffocating, but Pen couldn’t blame her best friend for being unable to reciprocate. Pen knew that she could never honestly be with the person she loves so deeply, nor have those same feelings returned. She accepts that knowledge, and just as she was described as doing before, Pen bottles up her private secret, and tries to ensure it never escapes.

And just as my thoughts swim with concern for Pen, Gutterglass seeking Fil and company. He is terribly injured, and despite his condition, he professes his pride in Fil.

But, the interruption of the garbage spirit is brief, and ends Chapter 21. Chapter 22 begins with a poem, written as if it could be set to a beat, like a snippet of crane rap. Pen is still imprisoned by the Wire Mistress, whose coils of barbed wire violate her will and control her body. The creature is maniacal and obsessed with the glory of the Crane King, Reach. Pen, however, is scared and confused. The clamor of destruction rings around her, and the Wire Mistress explains where she is and who she is “serving”. To add insult to injury, the metal parasite explains using poems.

Hear him, hear him
Love and fear him

And hear him, she does. Pen can hear the cutting cry of Reach’s “voice”, formed from the sounds of death and demolition. “I am Reach“, he shrieks, as if any less-direct introduction fails to suit him. Above, below, and around her, bound by wire, Pen bears witness to the awe, glory, and terrible majesty of Reach’s domain. She can hear the screams of the people living in the foundation far below, and the cacophony of Reach’s machines. Cranes work and do their duty.

In Chapter 23, we return to Beth, Fil, and learn just what had happened to Gutterglass as he is reassembled. One of Reach’s minions, a Scaffwolf, had attacked the rubbish-spirit within an inch of his life. And the group isn’t out of danger yet, when the metal wold arrives on the scene. It’s a monster of metal and machinery, launching the first true battle between Filius Viae, Beth Bradley, and their army against one of Reach’s soldiers.The battle rages at a desperate pitch, the group hopelessly outmatched by a single wolf. A howling whistle pierces the air, and Beth remembers that wolves rarely hunt alone.

But, the whistle signaled not a pack to follow the lone Scaffwolf, but instead the return of the Railwraith Beth had ridden back in Chapter 6! The ghostly trainbeast swerves around Beth, and rams the wolf. Not much can survive being hit by a speeding train, even if it’s a dying speeding train. The creature fades into the distance, and Beth is left awestruck by the experience. She realizes now that not only was she witness to something that was weird even in Fil’s world, but that yes, indeed, London’s nonhuman residents were no different than her, regardless of appearance.

Gutterglass pulls Fil aside to speak in private. Might it have to do with the disturbing little fact that the Scaffwolf was prowling alone? But instead, when the two return, Beth is ordered by Fil that she must leave!

While Beth is on the verge of being forced out of this war, Pen is in the exact opposite situation. Trapped somewhere high above the streets at Reach’s home on a site at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Pen has suffered rigorous, near-sleepless nights, and is on the brink of starvation. She desperately wants to leave, to command her own body, to be free. Pen is reminded of stories she had heard in childhood of Islamic martyrs who, despite the pain of torture, had meditated to remove their minds from their body, and find comfort in faith. She tries to pray to Allah, and to meditate, but she fails to grasp to it. Pen wonders if there really is a point in her attempt, and fears that her body is all she has. She cannot make herself believe that she could be anything other than the slave of this barbed wire monster, forced to suffer, while her mind begins to despair.

Reach interrupts again, affirming that he is Reach (old news), and adding, “I will be.”

Pen suddenly realizes what is going on. The strange reason for Reach’s obstinate mode of self-affirmation. What he lacks in eloquence, he has in his directness, and to her horror, the Crane King cannot express much more than what he has already said. There are two sides of this same coin. By the force of destruction, there is also the force of creation, and in order to do anything at all, Reach has to be. Pen, however, can hardly continue on as-is, and faints. That’s rightly so, because the real kicker here hasn’t truly manifested itself, yet. It’s among the things I (excuse my language) shat a few bricks over.

When Pen awakens, the Wire Mistress has made use of her unwilling host to hunt for food. It is night, and the barbed wire creature has made a concerted, if not somewhat hilarious, effort to find things that Pen might find edible. This arrangement consists of a battery, a lump of clay, and actual possibly-edible food up to and including, roadkill. The wire grants Pen the momentary freedom of reaching out her hand to take the food, and then the relieving ability to chew and swallow her own food. With that, Pen realizes that she can still talk.

The moment lasts briefly, and Pen finally understands that she is, yes, a host to this parasitic skein of barbed wire. It needs her to be alive, and it needs her to eat. Finding the patience and determination she had failed to discover early in the chapter, Pen vows to use the wire’s needs against it. Pen hits on a cornerstone of her character development, a true grasp upon her self, and one that will be tried and tested again in the not-too-distant future. Pen will survive, and like Reach, she swears, “I will be.”

That’s it for this week folks, don’t forget to let us know what you think about these chapters below and on Twitter with #SkyscraperThroneReRead. And be sure to head over to Over the Effing Rainbow for next weeks re-read when @EffingRainbow will be looking at Chapters 25-28.

Find out more about Rachel Pollack (Part II)

Child Eater cover artWe promised you that part 2 of our interview with Rachel Pollack, author of The Child Eater, would come today, and we would not lie to you. So here it is, find out how Rachel first got published, who her ideal reader is and more.

11. How did you first get published?

My first novel, Golden Vanity, and my first non-fiction book, 78 Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot, were published at the same time, 1980, the novel through an agent, the non-fiction through a personal contact.  The novel is long forgotten, 78 Degrees has never been out of print, and is sold all over the world.

12. How do you like to write: in silence, or with music? Do your books have a soundtrack (and if so, what’s the soundtrack for this one?)?

I can’t listen to music, it would only distract me, or else I would ignore it.  But I do love to write in cafés, for the energy, and the lack of personal distractions (computer, books, radio, etc.).  I should mention that I write everything longhand, with fountain pens, so I can write anywhere.

13. Do you have an ideal reader in your mind when you write?

Someone intelligent, interested in the same sorts of things as I am, and a lover of stories.

14. What was the most difficult part of writing this novel, and how did you overcome it?

Weaving the two threads together.  The book moves back and forth between a mediaeval fantasy world, and the modern day, with two main characters who never meet each other.

15. What do you do when you are not writing?

See friends, read, watch TV, write long letters to friends around the world (one of the perks of fountain pen collecting is meeting some very interesting people online and then switching to hand-written letters)

16. Do you let your parents read your books?

My parents are long gone.  My first novel was dedicated to my mother, who sadly was killed in a car accident before the book was published.

Rachel Pollack by Rubi Rose17. Who is your favourite fictional hero/heroine? And what about your favourite villain?

My favourite heroine is Jane Claire Doe, from the novel Tropic Of Night by Michael Gruber (I’ve read it four times).  My favourite villain/hero is Dr Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs.

18. Do you ever put people you know in your books?

Only obliquely, though Temporary Agency had a character inspired by the writer Jack Womack, and when the editor, Gordon van Gelder, read the ms. he asked “Is that Jack?”

19. Here’s the question everyone’s always desperate for the answer: what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Keep writing, pay no attention to rejection letters.  Network with other writers.

20. Here’s the Desert Island question: if you’re going to be stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life and you could only take three books, what would they be?

Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, because it would last a lifetime.  For the Time Being, a collection of linked essays by Annie Dillard (I’ve read it four times, taught it twice).  The Boy Scout Handbook, to learn how to build shelters, start fires, etc.

21. And finally: what’s the one question you wish I’d asked – and why?

“Fountain pens?  Really?”   There’s a bond between the hand, the pen, and the story that is simply not present when using a keyboard. Plus, the tactical pleasure of an expressive pen (and a beautiful journal) helps overcome the writer’s great handicap, procrastination.

Snorri Kristjansson at Bristolcon Fringe

Blood will Follow artworkOur very own Snorri Kristjansson was at Bristol-Con in February, where he read from Swords of Good Men AND Blood Will Follow. What’s more it was all captured and has now been put on Bristol-Con’s Podcast.

So don’t miss your chance to hear Snorri reading (mostly about Vikings, Beards and Swearing).

Celebrate the upcoming release of The Unquiet House

Littlewood, AlisonWith the brilliant Alison Littlewood’s next novel, The Unquiet House, hitting shelves on April 10th we thought we would whet your appetite by giving away 5 copies. You can enter below.

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s time for you to become a Greatcoat

Traitor's Blade SealWe have been teasing you with the promise of something BIG to celebrate Traitor’s Blade, well here you go!

We are excited to let you know that you have the chance to join the Greatcoats … for real!

We are giving you the chance to get your Greatcoat name in future books in the series. All you have to do is answer the King’s call by letting us know your Greatcoat name, weapon of choice and what special skills you will bring to the Greatcoats. To enter, simply write your answer in the comments section below.

The competition will be open for two weeks (terms and conditions apply*). After two weeks we will be picking 20 winners. All 20 will receive signed copies of Traitor’s Blade, dedicated to their Greatcoat name.

Five of these winners will get this and their Greatcoat names put into the third book in the Greatcoat series.

And one of these lucky five will have their Greatcoat name appear in book two of the series, receive all of the above and have exclusive early copies of all of the remaining books in the series sent to them before publication.

So what are you waiting for? Answer the King’s call today!

*

  1. All copyright for characters chosen remains with the author and Jo Fletcher Books
  2. Greatcoat names may be altered slightly to work within the linguistic parameters of the world

Find out more about Rachel Pollack (Part I)

Rachel Pollack by Rubi RoseWe are very excited to be publishing The Child Eater, our very first book from Rachel Pollack, on July 3rd. Rachel was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1945 and holds an honours degree in English from New York University and a Masters in English from Claremont Graduate School. She is also a poet, an award-winning novelist and a Tarot card and comic book artist.

But we are sure you want to know more about her than that, you want the juicy information like what was the last book she couldn’t finish, her views on eBooks and if her parents have read her books. And so we are happy to bring you part 1 of our 2 part interview with Rachel letting you know all of this and more!

1. Did you always dream of becoming a writer? And if so, has it turned out to be how you always imagined it?

Yes, since I was very young.  One thing I certainly did not expect was that I would write a good deal of non-fiction, in particular about tarot cards.  I had never heard of them growing up.

2. Following on from that, when and why did you first start writing?

I began writing about the age of 8, on a family vacation.  My parents gave me a Big Indian pad and a pencil to keep me quiet, so they must have known I wanted to write.  I had in mind to write a grand fantasy epic, more or less stolen from something I’d read.  I didn’t get very far, but became more serious at the age of 11, when we had a creative writing series of classes in school.

3. Do you write primarily from experience, or are you a keen researcher – and has that research ever changed the course of the story?

I don’t do much research of facts or technical details, but I read a great deal about shamanic and magical traditions around the world, and many of my stories come out of this.  The Child Eater was inspired by, among other things, mediaeval Jewish myths, in particular a belief in magical severed heads of boys taken from their families before their bar mitzvah.

4. Who or what is your biggest inspiration? Why?

Fairy tales, mythology, esoteric practices, anthropological accounts, tribal shamanism.  These things have an intense reality that I find very compelling.

5. Do you plan your books? And where do you begin a story, at the beginning, in the middle or at the end?

It varies from story to story.  Sometimes a single detail will grab me.  My novel Temporary Agency (nominated for the Nebula) began with a sentence originally intended as part of another story (“When I was fourteen, a cousin of mine angered a Malignant One.”)  The Child Eater began with the severed head idea, but also something else – a gold fountain pen from the 1920s, engraved with the name M. Matyas.  Just about instantly the title “Master Matyas” came to mind, and out of that the story of a boy who becomes a great wizard only to fall as far as he’d risen.

Child Eater cover art6. You’re throwing your Fantasy Dinner Party: who are your other guests, living, dead, real, mythological or made-up, and why?

Joan of Arc, just because.  George Bernard Shaw, because I admire him, and he should get to meet St Joan.  Isaac Luria, great Kabbalist rabbi from the 16th century.  Marie Laveau, New Orleans Voodoo queen, because why not?  James Joyce and Philip K. Dick, two of my writing heroes.  Emily Dickinson, because she should get out of the house more.  Walt Whitman, to see how he and Dickinson would get along.  Arthur Waite and Pamela Colman Smith, creators of the Rider tarot deck, to learn about how they did it.

7. What was your favourite book as a child? And what was the last book you started but couldn’t finish?

Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a child.  Most recent unfinished book, The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner.  Great stylist, but the subject of at least the first half, the art world of the ’70s, annoys me.  I probably will return to it.

8. Other than writing, what would be your dream job? And what’s the most interesting job you’ve actually had?

My dream job would be high stakes poker player.  My most interesting job is one I have now, faculty member in Goddard College’s MFA program for creative writing.

9. What’s the book – or who’s the author – you turn to when you’re sad, ill or worried?

No single book or author but I will distract myself with thrillers.

10. What’s your view of eBooks and online writing – blogs, fan-fiction, etc? Are you involved in any online writing yourself?

I have an intermittent blog – intermittent because the time spent writing it could be used for working on a book or story.  The future of ebooks seems uncertain to me.  They began with a big splash but they may have levelled out.  A great many serious readers like to hold actual books.

Be sure to come back next week for the concluding part of our interview with Rachel Pollack.

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 5

The City's Son by Tom PollockThis week @Paul_J_P_W brings your Part 5 of our Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead, looking at chapters 17-20 of Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son. Don’t forget to check it out on Pip’s Book Reviews and let us know what you think of the chapters with #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

Quick recap of where the story is so far.

Beth has left the London she knows, following trouble at school and has been drawn into a London she never knew existed by a chance meeting with Fillius Viae, the Son of the Streets.

Fillius’ Mother is the Lady of the streets and has been missing since he was a baby.

Beth discovers the city is under threat from Reach, the Crane King and Fillius prepares for his mothers return in the hope that she can stop him.

He and Beth are trying to recruit an army of the various fantastical beings spread across London.

Meanwhile Beth’s friend Pen (who Beth thinks betrayed her) and Beth’s emotionally destroyed father are preparing to search the city for her.

In chapters 17 -20 Fillius and Beth continue their recruitment drive, while Pen and Mr Bradley set out to find Beth.

Both take a major twist.

Chapter 17

Here we get an insight into Beth’s father. He is a man who has become emotionally crippled by the loss of his wife. He doesn’t know how to deal with Beth so hasn’t tried. He has closed himself off completely to the point where he has no photos of his daughter which could be used for the search.

His state goes some way to explaining Beth’s rebellious streak at school and her reliance on Pen.

Pen has little sympathy for Mr Bradley felling he didn’t try hard enough to connect with Beth.

So a wreck of a man and a girl with little respect for him set off on the search and come across the sight of a recent massacre of sodiumites.

Here things speed up and Mr Bradley is attacked by the Wire Mistress, Reaches terrifying minion.

He is saved by a combination of Pen and the intervention of Electra looking for revenge for her recently destroyed family.

Tragically Pen is then taken and in one of the more terrifying aspects of the book is imprisoned within the Wire Mistress to become her puppet. Blood and agony colour her existence from this point on.

The chapter finishes with a helpless Mr Bradley feeling like he’s let someone else down and lost another girl.

Something clicks inside him and the start of a potential redemption begin as he realises Beth is in a very different London.

Chapter 18

After the failure to recruit the Pavement priests we now come across one of their number, Petris.

The main feeling throughout this chapter is one of fear.

This is compounded by Petris constant reminder that he has nothing to fear, then remembering why he’s afraid. His loyalty to Fillius has made him face up to his fears by firstly going against the other Pavement priests and secondly seeking out protection for the boy no matter how much the source scares him.

Petris stands out, for me, as a brave character despite all the fear, as he faces it to help Fillius.

Sadly it comes to nothing.

We get introduced to Johnny Naptha, a sort of leader of the Chemical Synod mentioned earlier in the book. The Chemical Synod come to play an important role in the series but is a fearful group to deal with. Petris is aware of the role they play in the imprisonment within stone that he suffers.

The Synod are dealers of a sort and will bargain anything for a price. Balance seems to be important to them. No balance, no deal.

Johnny Naphtha pollutes his surrounding, killing the vegetation around him showing how vile the synod must be to the terrified Petris.

No deal can be struck as Johnny knows any price would be out of Petris reach and no balance could ensue

Chapter 19

Beth and Fillius continue their recruitment drive, this time focussing on a market place for Lamps. Here we come across a different group to the Sodiumites, the Blankleits or Whitelights.

The Blankleits show themselves to bare both a superiority complex and extreme hatred towards the more coloured Sodiumites leading to past wars and a current weak treaty.

The interesting concept of racism within a fantasy species is developed here and in the next chapter we learn of massacres undertaken by the Blankleits against Electra’s Sodiumite family.

From the off it seems any appeal by Fillius is doomed as the Blankleit leader associates him with his enemy. In the face of failure two things turn the tide.

Firstly Beth finds Victor, a drunken Russian who, while being human can see the stranger side of London. He also understands the semaphore language of the Lamps and helps to translate.

His assertion that you need to be drunk or crazy to see everything adds a nice comic twist to events.

Beth’s accidental insult of the Blankleits is the second turn leading her to realise they can understand her. She proceeds to insult and berate them until some form a grudging respect and decide to follow them. There is still a divide in the Lamps but Fillius’ army has grown again.

Chapter 20

Here we get another look at Reaches stronghold, reminding us of how difficult a task any army cobbled together from the streets will have.

Electra has followed the Wire Mistress and the imprisoned Pen to Reaches domain and has to resist the urge to charge. Her memories at this point layout her past fears, including the wars between the two Lamp groups.

Her need for revenge for her family’s deaths and her love for Fillius are her overriding thoughts and she sets an alarm of sorts to wait for the Wire Mistress so she can avenge one and protect the other.

The sense of foreboding increases in these chapters. While some part of an army is recruited, Pen is enslaved, Petris is failed and the impenetrability of Reaches Kingdom is emphasised.

It’s hard not to fear for the main characters with the path laid out as it is.

A definite mood has been set for the chapters to come.

Thanks once again for reading folks, don’t forget to let us know what you think about these chapters below and with #SkyscraperThroneReRead. And check out @brightsuzaku re-reading Chapters 21-24 next week at Brightsuzaku’s LiveJournal.

Traitor’s Blade is here, get your copy now!

Traitor's Blade SealThe day has finally arrived, Traitor’s Blade has hit shelves!

To celebrate we are giving EVERYONE who changes their twitter handle to their Greatcoat name and their twitter profile picture to our Join the Greatcoats stamp (on the left)*, will get 30% off the hardback of Traitor’s Blade when they purchase it through the Jo Fletcher Books website.

All you have to do to get your discount is send a tweet with #JoinTheGreatcoats in once you have changed your profile. We will then DM you your discount code.

Don’t worry if you haven’t worked out your Greatcoat name yet, it’s easy. All you have to do is:

1. Write down the name of your first school – Mine was Gilbert Scott
2. Write down the MAIDEN name of your Nan on your Mum’s side – Mine Nan’s maiden name was Morgan
3. Combine the two – My Greatcoat name is Gilbert Scott Morgan† So do it now and get ready to #JoinTheGreatcoats!

And don’t forget to keep hold of your Greatcoat name, soon you will have the chance to #JoinTheGreatcoats for real!

*It should look like this:

Traitor'sBladetwitterExample2

We’re currently reading…

Welcome to the first post in a new monthly feature on the JFB blog where we will let you know what we are reading outside of work and what we think of it.

Have you read any of these books? What are you currently reading? Let us know below.

Nicola

Tangled Web artworkLast week I read two collections of Anne Bishop’s short stories, Dreams Made Flesh and Tangled Webs. For those of you who don’t know (where have you been?!) we’re just about to publish my first acquisition the Black Jewels trilogy. However, there are also a series of short stories set in this same world with the same characters. For a while, I’ve been too scared to read them simply because I loved the Black Jewels trilogy so much, I didn’t want to potentially spoil it (I’ve never really liked short stories). But I bit the bullet, and boy am I glad I did! I spent all of Sunday evening lying on my sofa with a blanket, listening to the storm outside alternately laughing my head off and crying at the stories.

Where Daughter of the Blood examines the damage one human can inflict on another (and does not flinch away from all its detail – not for the faint-hearted), and Heir to the Shadows and Queen of the Darkness examine the healing process after that, these short stories are prevalent with love and affection, with danger, certainly, but they are like coming up for air – a guarantee that the characters you fell in love with really are okay. And christ did they make me laugh! I enjoyed every moment and highly recommend them.

Dreams Made Flesh and Tangled Webs are published by Roc at £4.83 and £4.86 respectively.

AndrewFool's Fate artwork

I am currently re-reading Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb as part of my re-read of all of her works set in the Realm of the Elderlings.

I will add a disclaimer now … I LOVE Robin Hobb … Serious fan boy love!

So as you would guess I am thoroughly enjoying Fool’s Fate. It is a masterfully written book which continues Robin’s streak of delivering nothing but amazing books. It also holds a soft spot in my heart as I was at a signing at Forbidden Planet London for the launch the book, at which a 16-year-old me tentatively asked if this was the last we would see of the Fool and Fitz and Robin replied, verbally and in my book, “Journeys end!” this to me was an emphatic yes, thankfully I was wrong and as we all know they are coming back this later year.

Fool’s Fate is published by Harper Voyager at £8.99.

Jo

When one’s literary agent husband gets excited about one of his books, it behoves a sensible publisher wife to take note . . . And when the hot-off-press copy of Martin Windrow’s The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar arrived, it mysteriously found its way to my side of the bed . . . And I knew that was the right decision as I embarked on the first chThe Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar cover artapter: Man Meets Owl – Man Loses Owl – Man Meets His One True Owl and I got to this:

“Perched on the back of a sunlit chair by the open winds was something about 9 inches tall and shaped rather like a plump toy penguin with a nose-job. It appeared to be wearing a one-piece knitted jumpsuit of pale grey fluff with brown stitching, with a balaclava helmet attached. From the face-hole of the fuzzy balaclava, two big, shiny black eyes gazed up at me trust fully. ‘Kweep,’ it said quietly. Enchanted, I leaned closer. It blinked its furry grey eyelids, then jumped very deliberately up onto my right shoulder. It felt like a big warm dandelion head against my cheek, and it smelt like a milky new kitten. ‘Kweep,’ it repeated, very softly.”

I was hooked. And when I got to the bit where visits to Martin and a grown-up and very less cuddly Mumble meant you were issued with a tin helmet from Martin’s extensive collection (one would expect nothing less of a military historian and founder of Osprey!) I was laughing out loud.

I know the ending, and I know I’m going to be in pieces, but the journey is so worth it …

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Life With A Loveable Tawny Owl is published by Bantam Press at £12.99.

Art and the Cover Brief

The Best of All Possible Worlds artworkToday I was doing one of my favourite tasks as an Assistant Editor – writing the cover brief for a new title. In my opinion, this is one of the all-time best tasks I can be invited to perform at work. When you’ve read a book that you just so happen to love, that you just so happen to have bought, that you just so happen to have dragged through the acquisition meeting successfully, kicking and screaming your little heart out, there is a sense of enormous satisfaction when you get to this bit,. For me, when you’ve read a book that you love, you haven’t just read it, you’ve felt it, and that’s often where the idea for a cover will come from.

Conveying that to the designer is the trickiest part.

How do you say to someone ‘Well, when you read it, it feels like it should have an exotic cover/an intricate cover/a plain cover, and the reason is because of absolutely nothing but my intuition’. It is hard because it is a set of ideas in your head only. No one else thinThe Silver Bough artworkks like you and the designer hasn’t read the book. And I’ve learned the hard way to be particularly clear about what the book needs because some things have come back and all my brain can do in response is go What?!

More often than not though, we get some epic covers thanks to our art department. Try having a look at Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds for example – nothing like what we briefed but beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. On the other hand, sometimes the designer just gets your brief – check out The Silver Bough, that came back exactly as it is first time round. Or Unholy War, another one that was pretty much perfect; just wait until you guys get to see it.

(I have to interrupt you here to announce some exciting news: we’ve just been told that – a week before publication – our very own Traitor’s Blade is the 5th biggest fantasy and SF seller of the week! Just under Brandon Sanderson, Joanne Harris and Terry Pratchett! Hello! And also number 47 for ALL hardback fiction! Buyit, buyit, buyit.)

But, even if it needs tweaks or is perfect the first time round, one of the best parts of my job is still coming up with a cover concept for the books you love (your own) and then seeing that cover come to life before you. As Mastercard would say: it’s priceless.

Nicola

I want to hate Gurvon Gyle because he’s a tosser, but I love him

MoontideQuartetHave you read Mage’s Blood and The Scarlet Tides?

To all of you spectacular – and sensible – people who have (and if not, why not?!), I think you would agree there are A LOT of characters in the series. Some are loveable, some deplorable and some downright irritating (I am sure intentionally so).

But, as the title of this post might suggest, we are here to talk about one particular character: a cold-hearted, calculating nuisance. Seriously, he’s selfish, he drops people as easily as he manipulates them and ensures, all the while, that he is the person benefiting from these actions. The reader sees all of this in his frequent POV chapters, which show us just how calculating he is.

The thing that worries me is that as much as I know I should – and do – hate him, I also kiiiinda . . . love him. I mean, he can hold his own in a fight, he is wise enough to know when he shouldn’t fight, he can stare down the most powerful woman on the planet and even though EVERYONE knows he is a conniving good-for-nothing scoundrel, he has also made himself so invaluable to them they can’t do without him. For some reason I find that oddly cool and endearing.

Is there something wrong with me? Anyone else out there who has fallen for a character they shouldn’t?

Andrew

The Jonathan Ross Fallout

As I started reading the outburst over Loncon’s announcement that Jonathan Ross would be hosting the Hugo Awards at this summer’s convention, my heart sank. I was horrified by what happened – but not just at *what* happened, but more importantly, the *way* it happened. Disagreeing with someone does not give us licence to start viciously attacking them. We of all people should know how powerful words are.

It has nothing to do with how good a host Jonathan Ross would or would not have been – that would be a matter for individual taste, which, let us not forget, is what all art comes down to. There is no doubt Ross is a controversial polarising public figure, but I can also see there are as many advocates for him out there as there are against.

What appalls me is the nature of the Tweeted tirade that started the moment the announcement was made. Of course everyone has a right to his or her opinion, but when did that right give us carte blanche to fill the Twittersphere – and indeed, the Internet as a whole – with such vilification? I do understand that some people feel very deeply that Ross was not a good choice to host the Hugos. I can see people are deeply offended by things he has done – but even more scarily, they are offended by things he is *alleged* to have done, which is not at all the same thing.

If those who disapproved had contacted the convention committee, made their disapprobation plain and asked for Ross to be replaced, well, fine and good. Yes, go ahead and express your dismay – but that’s not what happened here. What we got was a sudden outpouring of hateful and bullying messages, and not just to the convention committee, but to Jonathan Ross himself: the avowed and passionate SF fan who offered his time and services free of charge to host an awards ceremony for the field he loves.

And now the SFF community is making front pages, and not for the right reasons, for the amazing literature or the outstanding artwork science writers and artists working within the genre are producing, but for the vindictive trolling reaction to something a number of those within the community don’t approve of. Watching the fall-out on Sunday and this morning, I felt ashamed for the community in which I have grown up. I hoped we were better than this.

We must be better than this.

Jo

Jo sig

Celebrating the erelease of the Black Jewels Trilogy

Daughter of the Blood cover artMost of you will have heard me banging on about the Black Jewels trilogy whether on Twitter, here on the blog or out in the wilds, so I won’t keep you too long this time (even though there’s a damn good reason for me banging on – of 91 customer reviews on Amazon 89% are 5 and 4 stars). Suffice to say that we have an opportunity for you to win yet more free books from us.

Today, yes, today, we at JFB have made the entire Black Jewels trilogy available for sale in eBook. You still have to wait for the hard copies, BUT, you get in there now with the eBooks. And the first 5 people to send us a screen shot of their buyers receipt for ANY of the ebooks (whether that be on Amazon, on Kobo, on Apple, whatever), will receive a free copy of Daughter of the Blood (Black Jewels 1) in paperback. Anyone who buys ALL THREE eBooks will get copies of all three books in paperback once they are released.

To send us your pic, @ us on twitter [@jofletcherbooks] or post it below! Good luck!!

Nicola

 

Terms and Conditions:

Purchases of the Jo Fletcher Book UK edition only

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 4

The City's Son by Tom PollockThis week the lovely @maureenkspeller brings your Part 4 of our Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead which looks at chapters 13-16 of Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son. Don’t forget to check it out over on her blog here and let us know what you think of the chapters with #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

The story so far: Beth Bradley has taken to the London streets after being betrayed by her best friend, Parva Khan. Pen has confessed that she and Beth sprayed an unflattering portrait of a much-hated teacher on the school playground. Beth’s father has withdrawn from the world since his wife’s, Beth’s mother’s death, and Beth has no one else to support her. In the streets Beth meets a strange grey-skinned boy, Filius Viae, the so-called Son of the Streets, and begins to discover a London she has never known before, one inhabited by Railwraiths, Pylon Spiders and other surprising creatures. Filius’s mother, the Lady of the Streets, has been missing since he was a baby, and without her to defend the city, it is under threat from Reach, the Crane-King. Now there are rumours that Mater Viae is returning and Filius is preparing for her return. In this section of The City’s Son, Filius and Beth begin to recruit an army to fight Reach.

Now read on (and there are inevitably spoilers).

Chapter 13

something was crawling up her lamppost

Chapter 13 is short but extremely interesting, the first complete chapter that is not told from the viewpoint of a human being or, in the case of Filius, someone who appears to be human. Before now, with one exception – the episode concerning the fate of the lost Whitey – everything has been shown either from the third-person narrative viewpoints of Beth or Pen, or else from Filius’s first-person viewpoint. So what does this shift to an omniscient viewpoint give us?

Up until now it might just have been possible to read Beth’s experiences as a product of her own imagination, arising from her encounters with Filius. We’ve already seen how she and Pen spark off one another creatively, What’s to say she’s not constructed something similar around meeting Filius. Even the Whitey’s encounter with the barbed tentacle could be read as their joint invention. But here no human observers are present, and the reader sees one of the Sodiumites directly. This reinforces the idea planted by the Whitey’s encounter that something strange really is going on. The viscerality of both encounters confirms too that this magical London we’re dealing with is a place that is downright nasty.

And that’s even before we get to the astonishing pathos of this short scene. We’ve already seen the Sodiumites in action, dancing with Filius, suspicious of Beth, generally volatile, and we’ve also seen their antipathy towards the lost Whitey. Attractive as they are in their way, the Sodiumites are also difficult to like; they’re jittery, menacing. Yet here, when we see them under attack, presumably victims of whatever it was that took the Whitey, our feelings towards them must inevitably shift to sympathy. Voltaia’s discovery of Galvanica’s body in particular is made more horrific by the beauty in the details – the body lying half unfolded, the skin frosted with tiny cracks. This moment becomes symbolic of what it is that Filius is fighting against.

Chapter 14

When we return to Filius, we can see already that Beth is setting the pace; while the chapter begins with Filius’s observations, it quickly shifts to third person again as Beth, driven by her desire to help Filius, sets about finding him his army. Although Filius has sent out messages via the Pylon Spiders, this chapter marks the start of their actually visiting people to recruit them to the cause (and here one might think of Lewis’s Prince Caspian and the series of calls that Caspian pays on talking beasts and mythological creatures). The question is, who should they call on?

“Doesn’t your mum have a vicar or two to help us out?” It sounded so simple, so logical.

One of the reasons I wanted to talk about this section of The City’s Son in particular is because I am fascinated by the Pavement Priests, and this is where we first meet them. The setting is a graveyard – we might be familiar with the big burial grounds of London, like Highgate Cemetery, but there are many smaller graveyards, lost, overgrown, dotted around the place, and Filius has taken Beth to one of these forgotten places. Even as they travel there, Beth notices for the first time the cranes ‘sprouting like malign winter trees across the skyline’.

And suddenly, they are in ‘a clearing filled with gravestones where life-sized statues stood sentinel.’ In particular a ‘stone monk stood at the heart of the crowd, his heavy granite cowl shading his eyes’. This is Petris, another of Filius’s tutors, ‘who taught me nearly every dirty trick I know’. Petris is one more in a long line of English monks who go about God’s business in a particularly worldly way – Friar Tuck is the obvious model. But while it is one thing to encounter a stone monk who can speak, the full horror of the predicament of the Pavement Priests is yet to be revealed. One moment Beth is making artless jokes about having a heart of stone (that ‘Petris’ suggests petrified is left for the reader), the next she looks into the stone monk’s face to see in his mouth, ‘flesh lips, pink, parched and peeling’. It will be hard to look at a statue in the same way ever again.

And it is perhaps at this point that we see most clearly what it means to be Mater Viae. She may be a goddess, this does not mean that she is ‘good’. Filius has already commented how she ‘made’ the Pylon Spiders, who live on human bodies, especially their voices, but now we see first-hand what she is capable of. ‘His mother’, says Petris, ‘is not as merciful as she might be’. The Pavement Priests turn out to be trapped in their stone punishment-skins, their deaths sold on by Mater Viae to ensure they pay their debt to her for whatever sins they committed in past lives, leaving them to be born over and over again.

My life had a beginning, but it has no end to give it shape. That’s what our Goddess took from us in payment for our sins: the outlines, the boundaries, the very definition of a life.

How a life is defined is something that haunts this novel. Thanks to her mother’s death and her father’s inability to accept it and move on, Beth’s life has also lost any sense of outline, and since her meeting with Filius, what she thinks she knows about her world has become uncertain. For Pen the problem is quite the opposite; her life is far too well defined and she works constantly to blur the boundaries. As for Filius, one has the sense that he has been marking time, waiting for his mother to reappear or to be confirmed as dead so that he can assume her role, but perhaps also he is content in a way with this invisible life. Yet, as Petris notes, ‘the infinity [Mater Viae] has condemned us to is rather easier to tolerate without her actually around’. In other words, is it worth the cost to now disrupt the status quo? Does the possibility of a broader freedom outweigh the certainty of a limited freedom inside the punishment-skins?

And much of what is about to happen is based on worth, even down to those deaths that Mater Viae has traded. Who would buy those deaths, Beth wonders, and is given her answer: the Chemical Synod – ‘traders, bargainers, barterers’. London has long been a place of commerce, a place where everything has a value, even debt, but the Chemical Synod take this to its logical extreme: height, gravity, heartbreak and death – literally everything has a price, but death most of all, given what the Synod can do with it.

Chapter 15

Every step carried Beth further from the city she knew.

There are so many Londons in fiction (there is a useful list here). More than most cities, it’s easy to imagine alternative Londons in which its past comes alive again. So what marks this London as different from the others? For me it is in part the very modernity of the place. We’re dealing with electricity, telegraphy, neon, razor-wire, lampposts, underground trains and of course, cranes. This is not the past re-emerging so much as the present shaping itself in unexpected ways. And to do that it works with a new urban mythology. Other writers may reinscribe older myths on the city – and why not, given it has seen more influxes of immigrants than we can ever imagine – but Tom Pollock’s characters emerge from the more recent fabric of the city.

And if we were ever in doubt of that before, in spite of Railwraiths, Pylon Spiders and Pavement Priests, this chapter makes it absolutely explicit, when Filius takes Beth to the Demolition Field. Here we see the remains of the Women in the Walls and the Masonry Men, victims of Reach’s demolition men. This is a fantastically resonant scene. We might think of the layers upon layers of burials under London, that turn up in archaeological digs. We might think too of those who lost their lives during the bombings of World War Two. We might think, too, of all those who are displaced as a result of rapid or inappropriate redevelopment in post-war London, with communities uprooted and scattered.

The Masonry Men and the Women in the Walls stand for all those who are displaced by Reach’s ‘pretty little towers [built] out of glass and steel’; this is a novel that is deeply preoccupied with the ongoing rebuilding of London and what it does to the city. How has the city changed as much as it has done yet seemed to somehow remain the same? The city has survived Reach’s earlier depredations and returned stronger than ever, presumably thanks to Mater Viae. Yet, if Reach is now manifested in the cranes that dot the skyline, we’re prompted to think about how the nature of that rebuilding is changing, not least the speed and scale of it. London’s Walkie-Talkie skyscraper, the one that reflects light and melts cars, may have come after the publication of The City’s Son but it’s clearly one of Reach’s buildings, inimical to the people who have to live and work around it.

Chapter 16

London is, as I’ve said, a layered city. It is also a city in which so many people are invisible. Not just the beggars and the homeless sleeping in doorways, those people we mostly pretend not to see, but there are the people who choose not to be seen, not because they live in the interstices of the city, but because they regard themselves as too important to be seen. Business people, aristocrats, people who regard themselves as part of the fabric of the city too, but not in the same way as ordinary people. Tom Pollock hits on an ingenious way of commenting on this by introducing us to the Mirrorstocracy, hidden London’s so-called nobility, with all that entails.

I find the Mirrorstocracy as fascinating as the Pavement Priests, though they are much less likeable. Here we have a glimpse of a deeply privileged group of people determined not only to maintain the status quo but also willing to exploit the situation to their own ends, reminiscent of all too many people at work in London as we know it (this is a deeply political novel, if you look closely). The romance of the Son of the Streets taking up arms on behalf of his absent mother is countered by a group of people who can see how they will benefit from Reach’s building glass towers. Their contempt for Filius is clear in the way they refer to him as the Urchin Prince. It may be a term others also use too but in the mouths of the Mirrorstocracy it is an insult. Clearly, they see themselves as better than royalty. Which may be the case, given their London is not precisely a mirror of Filius’s. London-Under-Glass seems to stand at an angle to Beth’s London as well, relying on accidental juxtapositions to create new inhabitants. Note too the anxiety when Filius offers to flood London-Under-Glass with new Mirrorstocrats. The parvenu is always the greatest threat to the blue-blooded – like them but not like them, undermining their exclusivity, and how. But the means of their creation can, at the same time, become the means of their destruction.

And this, then, may be counted as a small victory for Beth and Filius. The Mirrorstocracy won’t fight willingly but they have been forced to honour their obligation to Mater Viae.

Thanks for reading again folks, don’t forget to let us know what you think about these chapters with #SkyscraperThroneReRead and to check out Paul Walsh at Pip’s Book Reviews next week for the re-read of Chapters 17-20.

Preparing for the launch of Traitor’s Blade

Traitor's Blade SealThat’s right folks, there is only one week left until the launch of Traitor’s Blade. Excited? We know we are, so excited in fact that we have something special lined up for you!

Now remember a couple of weeks ago we told you how to work out your Greatcoat name? Remember we also told you to remember it? Well here is why!

On the 6th of March EVERYONE who changes their twitter handle to their Greatcoat name and their twitter profile picture to our Join the Greatcoats stamp (on the left)*, will get 30% off the hardback of Traitor’s Blade when they purchase it through the Jo Fletcher Books website.

How will we know you have done it? I hear you cry. That bit’s easy too, simply send a tweet with #JoinTheGreatcoats in and we will DM you your discount code.

So if you have worked out your Greatcoat name already, be sure to dig it out, if you haven’t, work it out now and get ready to #JoinTheGreatcoats!

Oh and one more thing – DEFINITELY keep hold of your Greatcoat name and we promise you very soon you will have the chance to #JoinTheGreatcoats for real!

*It should look like this:

Traitor'sBladetwitterExample2

 All you have to do is:

  1. Write down the name of your first school – Mine was Gilbert Scott
  2. Write down the MAIDEN name of your Nan on your Mum’s side – Mine Nan’s maiden name was Morgan
  3. Combine the two – My Greatcoat name is Gilbert Scott Morgan

And the winners are …

Astra cover artWe recently ran a competition to win one of three signed and dated copies of Astra by Naomi Foyle, all you had to do was listen to a clip of the audio book and answer a simple question.

We are very happy to now announce the winners. Drum roll please …

Steve Walsh

Sarah Watkins

David Harris

Congratulations! We will be emailing you all now to organise sending you your copies.

 

That Difficult Second Album …

The last few months have been exceptionally hard, in editing terms, because I have had a slew of second novels coming through, and second novels are always the most difficult to deal with. It makes sense, if you think about it. The first novel has the luxury of time, and the third has the added weight of experience, but the second …

Our Beloved Author has given the first novel everything. It’s been written and rewritten until it’s polished and sparkling. Every sentence has been lovingly worked over until it’s as good as OBA can get it. Admittedly, that might not mean it’s perfect, but it’s as perfect as OBA can make it without help.

And once it’s as good as OBA can make it, it generally goes off to what in my days we’d call ‘friends and relations’ and these days are now called ‘beta-readers’. (They’re still friends and relations, of course, but beta-reader’ sounds so much more professional, doesn’t it?)

That will doubtless entail another round of rewriting as OBA fixes all the things they hadn’t spotted themselves because they’re too close to it all. We have to remember that nine times out of ten they’ve lived with this story for years, which means that they are intimately acquainted with every single character, even the walk-on red jerseys; they know the back story inside out, and they can recite the history and background of their country/city/ planet/galaxy in a way which would have any self-respecting history teacher handing out gold stars . . . and often that’s where the problems arise. If as an author you find yourself telling your reader, ‘But it’s obvious why he’s saying this, because he went to the Galaxy Council when he was 16 with his dad, and that’s where he met The Grand Poobah, and that’s when he fell in love with Scarlatta, who is the mother of the Chief Wizard’s best friend and inventor of the Faster-Than-Light Widget—’ but none of this is actually in the book, so how on earth is any self-respecting reader to guess?

(That’s also one very important reason for having an editor …)

All this means that by the time the first book crosses an editor’s desk, it’s in a pretty good state – it’s got to be, if it has any hope of being bought, because very few editors have the time to take a book that’s almost there and whack it into shape. Potential is all well and good, but we need to see it realised if we’re to take on a book now.

But the second book is a whole different kettle of fish. First of all, OBA is working to a deadline, for maybe the first time in their life, and not everyone finds that conducive to good writing. Me, I needed the news editor standing over me tapping his fingers on the desk and muttering, ‘The presses wait for no one, Ms Fletcher!’ Give me a year and I’ll start work the week before it’s due . . . but I understand not everyone likes to work that way.

Unquiet_House_PBOSecond, they haven’t always had the second book plotted out and ready to go. Editors tend to contract two or three books at a time, for a variety of reasons. First, you’ve seen how much work it takes to get a book through the acquisition process; second, if the first book takes off you don’t want to have to wait another year before you have a new manuscript to start working on; third, it’s good for the author to see that you the editor and the publishing house are investing in you for the long term, not just for one book, and so on. But even though I might contract three books, doesn’t necessarily mean the author has two other books in mind.

Third, even if you do know how the story is supposed to go and what the characters are supposed to do, characters do not always behave as they should. With the first novel you have the time to either start again or beat your hero into submission, because it’s up to you when you submit it. With the second novel, that clock is ticking away …

And then we get to the edit. With the first book that combination of euphoria over getting the contract in the first place and complete ignorance of how the editing process works can often take the sting away. Of course it can still come as a shock to see your beautiful gem changed from a radiant to a marquise cut, but I have found that no matter how much work is done to the first book, the second edit always hits much harder, and particularly if you’ve been received well and have a shedload of good reviews. It can be very difficult to accept an editor telling you that your beloved similes are just not quite cutting the mustard, or that the Cockney dialect you’ve slaved over sounds more like it’s from the Far East than the East End. Never forget that no one has to accept the suggested edits, but if something’s been changed, there must be a reason – so don’t just change it back: look at the problem and find another way round it.

And even once we’ve got the book into production, the difficulties are not over: reviewers are often generous to first-time authors, but getting the second book space is harder – ‘Oh, we reviewed the first one!’ is a phrase I am sick and tired of! And then bookshops follow up with orders like, ‘We sold five copies of Book 1 so we’ll take three copies of Book 2’ – which is an attitude I have never understood …

But in spite of all these problems, I actually enjoy the second book a lot more: first of all, very few authors don’t grow with each book. Second, if it’s a sequel, I can’t wait to find out how the story’s progressing. And third, especially in our genre, we tend to grow slowly but surely as new readers discover OBA, and then go back and find the first book.

I love it when a reviewer says, “Book 1 was good, but Book 2 is great!’

Of course, after the second book, OBA should be getting into their stride now. With any luck they’ve been paying attention to the edit (‘Oh look: I really do use, “raising an eyebrow, he glanced up and nodding his head, he shrugged” every other line’) so the writing will be getting better, the plotting tighter, the characterisation more emotive, so by the time Book 3 comes along, OBA is on a roll*.

So here’s to the difficult second album: long may they rule!

Jo

Jo sig

 

 

 

 

*Talking of third novels, look out for Alison Littlewood’s tremendously spooky The Unquiet House, coming next week: Richard & Judy picked her and compared her to Stephen King, so pick up this one and see if you agree!

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 3

The City's Son by Tom PollockThis week, courtesy of the lovely Lisa @effingrainbow, we have the third part of the Skyscraper Throne reread, in other words, chapters 9-12 of The City’s Son. Don’t forget to check it out over on her blog here and follow @jofletcherbooks on Twitter to let us know what you think of the #SkyscraperThroneReread.

Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen. But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind.  (Source)
Today I’m playing host to the Skyscraper Throne Reread, organised by Jo Fletcher Books in the build-up to the third and final book in the trilogy, due in August! This week we’re reading through chapters 9-12. Let’s recap – and in case you haven’t deduced it, please beware of spoilers!“Night seeps in from the sky. The breath from the manholes starts to steam. The city shivers, and draws darkness about it. This is when the Sodiumites dance.” (Chapter 9)

This section introduces one of the fantastical creatures that I love most – the Sodiumites. Glass-skinned dancers who reside in London’s streetlamps, formed of light and electricity, they provide Beth with her second glimpse of the hidden London she’d never known about before her encounter with the Railwraith, and Filius. Here, she tracks him down (as he challenged her to, silly boy) and meets Electra, one of the Sodiumites, into the bargain. Though it seems Electra is less than pleased to find Beth on her patch… Jealous much?!We also get a look at the ruthless side of these beings when they defend their homes – Electra’s lamp, in particular – from what seems to be an invader… Beth may be determined to join with Filius instead of staying lost and alone on the streets, but she might just be in over her head…

In addition to all the wary wonder of Beth’s second meeting with Fil, though, we get another ominous look at what Fil’s enemy is up to. Looks like Reach has a minion, and it’s up to no good… Poor Whitey was just trying to get out of the rain!

“…and here she was, eyeball to eyeball with a spider the size of a small car.‘Remind me why we have to do this again?’ she said. The thing’s eyes were like glittering pits of ash.‘Communications.’ He didn’t look away from the creature as he answered. ‘There’s no point having an army if you can’t talk to it.’” (Chapter 11)
…Ah, yes, the Pylon Spiders.Excuse me while I shudder helplessly… But yes! Following the Sodiumite encounter, Fil introduces Beth to the Pylon Spiders, while he tries to negotiate with the ‘Motherweb’ and gain himself an ally against Reach. Upon finding out how the Spiders maintain their food supply, though, Beth very nearly screws everything up when she tries to set it (read: her) free… Yep, the Motherweb feeds her kids lost souls, the missing persons, the true down-and-outs. Or rather, she feeds them their voices. THIS BOOK HAS SPIDERS THAT EAT VOICES *goes back to shuddering*Thankfully, we get away from all that for a bit, for Chapter 12; it’s back to Pen, who’s got more problems than anybody could guess at… The truth of why she let Beth be expelled instead of keeping her silence comes out here, and the real depths of their friendship, all strain upon it aside, begins to show as well. And to make Pen’s guilt worse, she meets Beth’s dad as well, as he becomes more desperate to find her. Thanks to the graffiti trail left by Beth previously, they’ve got a place to start… But how far will they be able to go?

Find out next time…

 

Anne Bishop is doing a Virtual Book signing

Bishop, AnneAnne Bishop, author of the Black Jewels trilogy, is running her annual bookplate offer to celebrate the launch of her books in 2014.

Here’s how you can join in!

1. This offer ends begins on Thursday, February 20 and ends on Sunday, February 23, 2014, at 8 P.M. US Eastern Time.

2. Quantities are limited, so only one bookplate per person.

3. You MUST put “bookplate” in the subject line of your email and send the request to Anne at anne@annebishop.com.

4. If your name and/or address has any accent marks (especially if you use a yahoo or hotmail account), please please please send your mailing information with the appropriate accents (on the odd chance that they come through correctly) AND also put that information in the same email WITHOUT any accent marks.

Example – An˜®e versus Anne.

If Anne can’t tell what your name is, you will not receive a bookplate.

5. Anne will need a full mailing address in this order:

firstname lastname

street address

street address (if second line is needed)

town state zip code (or the equivalent of those things)

country (if outside the U.S.)

The mailing labels are limited to five lines, so please make adjustments to accommodate that limit. And please type carefully. What you send is what the post office gets. If they reject the address for any reason, there is nothing more Anne can do.

6. If you don’t receive a confirmation email within 72 hours, please resend your request. (But keep in mind that I’m still finishing the third book about the Others, so my response time may be slower.)

7. Yes, Anne will send bookplates to fans outside the U.S.

8. Remember the biggest rule of all! Requests must be sent to me at: anne@annebishop.com

Happy reading!

The Importance of Making a Point

I forgot . . . I’m meant to be doing a blog today. I haven’t even thought about it, which means my brain is coming up with something like:

Fuzz
In my absence last week, many things happened here at JFB towers, including the extremely exciting acquisition of one The City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. We’ve been rooting for this one for a while and by gum is it excellent. In fact, my brain has now gone meandering in the direction of its cover image …

I’ve also missed the many, many emails that have been filtering through to my inbox – including the delivery for typesetting of The Child Eater, by Rachel Pollack, Into the Fire, by Peter Liney (sequel to The Detainee) and Murder by Sarah Pinborough (sequel to Mayhem) and the corrected proofs of Oath of the Vayuputras by Amish (sequel to The Immortals of Meluha and Secret of the Nagas). The result is that I have been running around like a headless chicken attempting to catch up with stuff that is already late anyway. Oh the joys of being an Assistant Editor.

Meanwhile, I am also trying to sort out my house in my ‘spare’ time. Do you know the hardest component to find? The humble soap dispenser. The problem is, I know exactly what I want – which inevitably makes it unobtainable. Luckily this hasn’t happened with The City of Stairs, or this blog would be a lot more melancholy.

Anyway, this whole thing has just reminded me of the importance of making a point. So far, this blog has been a bit of a ramble – what it lacks is a plot, a central hook around which I can build an argument and present something of interest to you, the reader. Too often I come across well-written pieces that do not go anywhere, or synopses that ramble on, much like I am doing. For any aspiring writers out there, do bear this in mind: your plot doesn’t have to be overly complicated or brilliantly twisty, but it does have to be present and you must have a clear idea of it when you are writing your submission letters – it will become the reader’s thread through the labyrinth. When writing a submission letter, identify your hook and boil everything down to this. Because, take it from me, there is nothing worse than a 48 page synopsis popping into your inbox …

On the Need for a Victory Dance!

Robert Jackson BennettI’m going to be brief today (quieten your sighs of relief, Beloved Reader, for my feelings will be hurt!) on account of having a mound of cover copy that needs doing, and it needs to be fitted in amongst a number of vitally important meetings, like marketing budgets, for example: absolutely vitally important, no one would deny, but possibly not the most scintillating subject matter.

And the editorial meeting, where one by one we go through what we’re reading so that everyone else can explain why we should be turning it down instead of hoping to take to acquisition meeting. Obviously immensely important.

And the editorial progress meeting where – wait for it! – we go through the progress of each book up to February 2015. That’s the meeting I dread most, for that usually goes something like: ‘How are you getting on with X?’, to which my response is invariably, ‘It’s on the list.’ And today’s editorial progress meeting is extra important because the lovely George is handing over (temporarily, if she knows what’s good for her) to the sure-to-be-almost-as-lovely Sarah while she goes off and produces a small child. (George, not Sarah. Do pay attention at the back!)

And the meeting with a social media guru, who’s hoping to persuade me to invest in his all-singing, all-dancing software which will help my beloved Authors to use social media effectively (ie to sell books rather than just swap cute cat pictures) – at least that one’s going to be a bit different.

And the meeting with Andrew and Nicola to catch up with all the publicity that’s been happening in the past week while Nicola’s been on her deathbed (and no, not faking just so she can stay home and paint her new house, judging by the pulled muscle from where she’s been coughing so much). Because I am a caring and sympathetic boss I have given her the name of a miracle liniment that will soothe the pain so she can make and carry the tea in without coughing and spilling it …

And the meeting with the eBook team about getting one of my titles – Cemetery Girl, in case you were wondering – into the Kindle Half-Term promotion.

So you can see that much as I would love to spend time enlightening you further about the arcane world of publishing, right now I have other commitments.

But I will take a few minutes out of my insanely busy life to do a little victory dance around the desk, joined by Andrew, Nicola and a gratifyingly large number of Q colleagues, to welcome a new author to the JFB stable.

Yes! I know you have been waiting (im)patiently for weeks and weeks while I tantalise you with hints, but the time has come when I can reveal that all those months of intense negotiation have culminated in the acquisition of The City of Stairs, a sort-of spy novel set in a wonderfully dark and twisted world where the gods that once existed were all killed, and so obviously there can no longer be anything with godly powers …

The author himself said on his website, ‘I mentally sold myself the novel by pitching it as, “Gods as weapons of mass destruction in a realpolitik world.” I wondered what such a world would look like, and then one night I was watching The Third Man and the way Post-WWII Vienna was broken and regulated and divided was so surreal to me, and yet so perfectly true and obvious, that it pretty much had to be used in the book. But the farther I get into it, the more I realize that this is a book about history, and how it’s present with us, influencing what we do, and yet it’s also inaccessible and remote – not unlike a god, in a way.’

And even better news? There’s a sequel – The City of Blades – and I have that too!

So please, let’s have a drumroll and a big welcome to Jo Fletcher Books for Robert Jackson Bennett! I’ve been a big fan of his since Mr Shivers won him his first award and I am thrilled he’s joining the family. Even better: you won’t have to wait too long for The City of Stairs as we’ll be matching the US publication date.

Is that not worth a victory dance?

Mammoth Skyscraper Throne Read-Through: Part 2

The City's Son artworkWith the concluding part of the Skyscraper Throne trilogy, Our Lady of the Streets, hitting shelves in August we decided to do a Jo Fletcher Books first and conduct a complete re-read of the series so far. Last week we looked at chapters 1-4 and this week we delve deeper into @tomhpollock’s secret London, looking back on chapters 5-8 of The City’s Son.

After meeting Beth, Pen and Fil in the first 4 chapters of The City’s Son we are immediately introduced to Beth’s father in chapter 5. It is a short meeting but one that reveals a lot, both about Beth’s past and how it has affected her character. She isn’t just a rebellious teen with a chip on her shoulder. She has lost her Mum, and in many senses her Dad as a consequence, and is a girl struggling to cope, whilst searching for a connection in the world. This was Pen. With this realisation we can fully understand the strength of her feelings after Pen’s betrayal.

Another thing we draw from this brief encounter is a theme that will re-appear throughout the series – people break, ‘but people also heal’. This sense of hope and belief, fuel’s Beth and it is her father’s inability to heal that hurts her the most. The theme of people’s ability to heal is one which comes across throughout not only this novel, but the series, and serves as a positive backdrop as events take our characters to dark places.

We are then once again greeted by a now familiar Thrum-clatter-clatter as Beth is thrown headfirst into Fil’s world and Tom creates an amazing battle between Railwraith’s, Fil and Beth. The culmination of this is the first time that Beth and Fil meet and it is remarkable how similar they are –Motherless, searching for human connection, bravado masking their fear and loyal. Immediately they are connected, and although this meeting is short lived, it fills us and them with the hope that they can help each other, whether it be in fighting monsters (real or internal) or to heal from past pains.

The reaction of both characters after this meeting highlights just that. Beth is able to walk away from Pen, safe in the knowledge that she is not alone, although not without leaving a few breadcrumbs for Pen, and Fil is able to smile at the thought of ‘We’.

Yet this is also a ‘fractured harmony’, another recurring theme in the books. Fil is forced to face the size of the threat not only Reach, but a returning Mater Viae, Our Lady of the Streets, presents to him and Beth finds herself unable to fully heal after the pain of Pen’s betrayal. She is forced to walk away in the knowledge that the only person she could trust to tell the events of the previous night too is someone she no longer feels she can.

In chapters 5–8 Tom builds on the first 4 chapters brilliantly. We are drawn into the characters of Beth and Fil as Tom shows us deeper parts of the souls and starts to reveal what has shaped them. This means we become drawn to the characters as if we have known them through multiple books, rather than multiple chapters, and when combined with the slow revelation of the fascinating Secrete London and its monsters and wars, you can’t help but really care what will happen next.

That brings to a close chapters 5-8. Let us know what you think below. Chapters 9-12 will be the focus of next week’s catch up and the lovely Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow will be hosting. See you there!

Don’t forget … It’s almost Valentines Day

We here at Jo Fletcher Books like to be able to provide you with the occasional public service as well as the frequent great book; and so we feel it is our duty to remind you that it is Valentines Day on Friday! Not sure what to get that special someone in your life? Here are three suggestions for the man or woman in your life – or yourself if you fancy a treat :)

Cementry Girl artworkCemetery Girl

Not only is Cemetery Girl our first graphic novel it is rather good too!

Calexa Rose Dunhill was just fourteen when she woke in a cemetery. Bruised, bloody and left for dead, with no memory of her previous life, she took a new name from the headstones that surrounded her.

Now, three years on, Calexa still lives in Dunhill Cemetery, struggling with the desire to know her true identity – and the all-consuming fear of what she might discover when she does.

Then, when she witnesses a gang of teenagers staging a stunt that goes horribly, fatally wrong, Calexa Rose Dunhill discovers she has a unique ability. One she cannot control …

Astra cover artAstra

Our latest SF masterpiece from Naomi Foyle just hit shelves!

Like every child in Is-Land, all Astra Ordott wants is to have her Security Shot, do her National Service and defend her Gaian homeland from Non-Lander ‘infiltrators’. But when one of her Shelter mothers, the formidable Dr Hokma Blesser, tells her the shot will limit her chances of becoming a scientist and offers her an alternative, Astra agrees to her plan.

When the orphaned Lil arrives to share Astra’s home, Astra is torn between jealousy and fascination. Lil’s father taught her some alarming ideas about Is-Land and the world, but when she pushes Astra too far, the heartache that results goes far beyond the loss of a friend.

If she is to survive, Astra must learn to deal with devastating truths about Is-Land, Non-Land and the secret web of adult relationships that surrounds her.

Blood's Pride artworkBlood’s Pride

The first in the Mongrel Trilogy is now out in Paperback so why not start this amazing trilogy now!?

A generation has passed since the Norlanders’ great ships bore down on Shadar, and the Dead Ones slashed and burned the city into submission, enslaving the Shadari people.

Now the Norlander governor is dying, and as his three alienated children struggle against the crushing isolation of their lives, the Shadari rebels spot their opening and summon the Mongrel, a mysterious mercenary warrior who has never yet lost a battle. But her terms are unsettling: she will name her price only after the Norlanders have been defeated.

A single question is left for the Shadari: is there any price too high for freedom?

Public service achieved we are heading back to the fun job of reading your Greatcoat names – it’s a tough life we know. But with the time we have saved you by sorting out your Valentines Day purchases why not take a sneak peak at Traitors Blade, discover your Greatcoat name and #JoinTheGreatcoats!?

A sneak peek at Traitor’s Blade

With the Traitor’s Blade eBook hitting [digital] shelves yesterday, Goldsboro Books’ exclusive signed and numbered first edition selling out and less than one month until general release of the Hardback we thought we would give you a special sneak peek of the debut fantasy novel that has everyone talking.


Traitor'sBladeFlipbookAd

Plus – don’t forget to work out your Greatcoat name (combine the name of your first school and the maiden name of your maternal grandmother) – it will come in handy soon! #JoinTheGreatcoats

On being truly excited!

Traitor's Blade artworkLet me start with today’s statement of the bleedin’ obvious: no editor buys a book unless they are genuinely excited about it. I am quite sure you already know this, if for no other reason than you’ve been sharing my excitement this past two years every time I find another gem for Jo Fletcher Books. There are a number of reasons for getting that frisson when we find a new book: because we just love the writing (with any luck that means both story and characters, because we’re very demanding here at JFB!), maybe because it’s got award-winner written all over it, or maybe because it’s got enormous commercial potential …

Unfortunately, publishing is a pit of blighted dreams and failed hopes far too much of the time, and so by the time we get to publication, our expectations are generally rather more modest. But we try never to give up. Ian Rankin’s first Rebus book was not a bestseller. Nor were the second, or third, or fourth … in fact, it was with Black and Blue – his fifteenth book, and eighth Rebus novel – that he finally took off. Patrick O’Brian was no overnight bestseller either, and nor were Charlaine Harris or George R.R. Martin. In fact the list of authors who have slaved away for years before becoming overnight successes far, far outweighs the number of genuine first-time-out-of-the-box bestsellers, and thank heavens for that. It enables us to keep publishing writers who are as yet selling only modest amounts, because there’s plenty of proof out there that just because Daughter of the Blood cover artthe first book didn’t hit the charts doesn’t mean the next won’t.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple: no acquisitions board is going to let an editor continue publishing someone if there’s absolutely no indication that anyone out there is paying any attention, and in these straitened times it’s much harder to persuade the headshed to keep betting on Author A when we’ve got debut Author B who comes with no baggage …

But if the reviews are stellar, and the awards season rarely passed without at least one nod in that direction, and the bloggers greet each new book with cries of joy, then there’s reason to believe that Author A is worth hanging onto for just that bit longer.

It’s also why, every time I hear at a convention (and it is generally on convention panels!) ‘My publisher just threw away my book!’ that I want to stand up and start ranting, starting with, “You have no idea!’

But it’s also why Nicola was almost overcome with excitement at the end of last week when finished copies of Anne Bishop’s Daughter of the Blood came in. She’s told you how she came to read this the first time, and you know it’s her first acquisition – and believe me, you never forget your first!The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar cover art

But here’s the thing: two books came in to JFB on Friday: Daughter of the Blood and Traitor’s Blade. And @LitAgentDrury got one too: The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar (Osprey Books founder Martin Windrow’s heart-rending tale of his life with a tawny owl; kudos to Sally Gaminara, who’s publishing this month!). I can’t begin to guess how many books I’ve published before Sebastien de Castell came my way, or how many Ian’s been responsible for, as publisher, author and agent, but I am pleased to report that Ian was positively ecstatic when he announced this first copy had arrived, almost as overjoyed as I was when I brandished Traitor’s Blade. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that we two veterans of the profession were every bit as thrilled as Nicola was with her first-ever acquisition. I know the Black Jewels trilogy won’t be her last, and I know she’ll get just as much pleasure out of her hundredth as her first.

And that’s why I’m still an editing publisher, all these years on, despite lures thrown out to move up and out. The day I don’t get that overwhelming thrill at seeing that first copy is the day I change jobs.

Jo

Jo sig

Three signed copies of Astra to give away

Astra cover artThe brilliant Astra by Naomi Foyle was released in Trade Paperback, eBook and Audio Book yesterday. To celebrate we have three signed and dated copies to give away (and yes Naomi did use green pen for this:))

All you have to do is listen to the extract from the audio book below and then answer the simple question. The competition is open until the February 21st.

Good luck!

This competition is now closed.

Some lucky Greatcoats win some prizes

Traitor's Blade SealWith the Traitor’s Blade eBook hitting [digital] shelves on Monday 10th February we decided to give some early eReview copies away to celebrate. We are very happy to announce the lucky people who will receive eReview copies.

All have to do to claim your prize is sign up to Net Galley (it’s free) and email us so we can send you a link to your copy. And don’t forget to remember your Greatcoat name, it might just come in handy!

P.S. Feel free to post reviews on Net Galley, amazon, Good Reads or your own personal blogs once you have finished. Enjoy your books!

Mammoth Skyscraper Throne Read-Through: Part 1

The City's Son artworkYes, readers, in August the final book in the Skyscraper Throne trilogy, Our Lady of the Streets, will be published, and to get ready for it we’ll be reading through the entire series so far – that’s both The City’s Son and The Glass Republic – in a countdown to publication. In a feat never-before-attempted by JFB, bloggers and publisher will come together to summarise and discuss sections of both novels. Beginning with me and chapters 1-4. So, sit back, relax, and let us take you through @tomhpollock’s secret London …

Thrum-clatter-clatter, thrum-clatter-clatter, these are the ominous noises that follow you from chapter one and beyond. It is the noise of the Railwraith coming for Filius Viae, the Son of the Streets and heir to the Skyscraper Throne. He readies himself to throw his spear – and we are launched into Beth’s narrative.

Here Beth and her best friend Pen have broken into their school under cover of night, and Beth is using her artistic talent to deface the tarmac with a monstrous representation of Dr Salt – one of their teachers. The police arrive too soon and they are involved in a chase through the streets of London. The two of them decide to press on through the night, forgo sleep, and head straight to school in the morning.

Meanwhile, Fil is found unconscious by Gutterglass, a rubbish-spirit charged with his care in the absence of his mother, Mater Viae, Our Lady of the Streets. It is this chapter that sees the Crane King Reach established as Fil’s enemy – and the entity trying to kill him.

Finally, having escaped the police, covered their tracks and made it to school, Beth is called to the headmistress’ office – where she finds Pen, Dr Salt … and the backpack containing her paint cans she so carefully buried. Pen has snitched, but is there a more sinister reason behind this betrayal?

Tom does a lot in these short chapters – we are introduced to our hero and heroines, our gods and goddesses, our monsters and the enemy; the world is established in a system so well-rounded, that we assimilate this new information rather than learn it; and the characters are constructed in a way that lets us know them. One of the things that I thought particularly strong about these chapters, is the way in which we are introduced to Beth’s and Pen’s friendship. They are two sides of the same coin, both brave and both artistic in entirely different ways; while Pen’s strength is in silence, Beth’s is in action and they complement each other perfectly. The other theme introduced in these chapters is that of the monster – while there are plenty of actual monsters in this series (creatures which Tom clearly delights in creating), we are reminded that humans can be monsters, too, that our skin is merely a mask for who we really are. In doing so, he shucks convention and brings a darker side to the novel, one that does not shy away from pain or fear, but tackles it head on.

That’s it for this week folks. Come back next week for our thoughts on Chapters 5-8 of The City’s Son and be sure to let us know what you thought of the first four chapters below.

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