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JFB Christmas Advent Day 19 – When is a Christmas story not a Christmas story?

Saulter, StephanieI’ve been thinking about this on and off for a few years now, ever since I finished writing Gemsigns. Although the events of the novel lead up to and conclude on Christmas Day – a fact which is hugely significant within the narrative logic of the book – you would never know from the jacket blurb or the majority of the reviews that it has anything to do with Christmas.

That’s fair enough, as the narrative is not constructed to reinforce the traditional religiosity of the season, nor the contemporary commerciality with which we are all familiar. The novel is, however, very interested in the construction, interpretation and evolution of myth. Part of what I was interested in when I wrote it is how the founding mythologies and legends of a future civilisation might develop, and how the cultural standards with which we here in the twenty-first century are familiar might morph and shift and adapt themselves to new ways of thinking and being. I don’t buy the idea that ancient cultural touchstones and archetypes simply disappear under an avalanche of techno-advancement, or that they survive only as a sort of throwback primitivism. I think that in the same way the pagan festivals of the winter solstice and the spring equinox were co-opted and adapted into Christmas and Easter, these cyclical commemorations, these holy-days will adapt and evolve again. One of the many things I was trying to achieve with Gemsigns was an imagining of that sort of deep cultural evolution.

Gemsigns opens with a short introductory passage related by an omniscient narrator who speaks in the riddling, mythopoeic voice of legends, epics, and sacred texts:

When describing a circle one begins anywhere. Each step precedes and succeeds with no greater or less meaning: the tale they tell remains unvaried.

The narrator then tells of a hunted child fleeing unnamed but terrifying pursuers; an escape whose end is indeterminate. Told in the present tense, the subsequent context makes it clear that this incident has occurred in the story’s past, forming an in-the-beginning backdrop to a tale that unfolds in our future: in a London that has survived the apocalypse of a generational pandemic and the dystopia of the resulting slave state. The omniscient voice is gone now, for in the confusion that follows few people are sure of anything, and absolutely no one knows everything.

Day by day over a winter week, the reader witnesses events from the perspective of a range of characters who identify with different political, social, economic and, yes, religious camps. But it is only on the sixth of these days that the reader learns precisely which week they are witness to: for the sixth day, the day of reckoning, is Christmas Eve and the seventh day, the day of resolution, is Christmas.

Within the world of the story these commemorations are no longer the common knowledge of our own era. They are significant to some of the characters, and that significance drives their actions within the narrative, but they no longer matter to society as a whole. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are historical artefacts, observed only by a minority and neither commercially nor socially important.

Gemsigns by Stephanie SaulterThis is not, then, a Christmas story. Except it kind of is. Among its many characters and influencers are a small child of great significance to the world he inhabits, a powerful bureaucracy (and outlaw theocracy) who are threatened by what he represents, and a band of second-class non-citizens struggling to assert their own humanity and their right to the same freedoms, privileges and responsibilities as everyone else. Their ability to do so is both compromised and symbolised by their commitment to protect and cherish the child, whose existence has the potential to undermine the system under which they are oppressed.

The fact that these conflicts play out to their conclusion over Christmas was not merely for the convenience of the plot. I very consciously wanted to construct a new cultural paradigm within a science-fictional setting. Science fiction rarely, it seems to me, takes the past as seriously as it does the future (one could make the parallel argument that fantasy rarely takes the future as seriously as it does the past, but that is a subject for another essay); it rarely acknowledges how much of its future-world-building must perforce be influenced by the full depth and richness of what has gone before. I thought it would be interesting to use a holy-day of great historical and cultural significance for the unveiling of a new revelation; to take the date that gave us anno domini and from it launch a new era. What happens in Gemsigns at Christmas is what that day, in that possible future, will be remembered for.

This is not, of course, something that religious traditionalists – either within the world of the book or out here in the ‘real’ world – are likely to be pleased about. They generally cannot countenance the notion that the way people live and the things they believe can, must, should be constantly subject to question; subject to change. But I like to think that the legendary rebel whose life informed and whose death founded our own era, if he ever existed and was as good and brave a man as we imagine, would approve.

Stephanie Saulter

JFB Christmas Advent Day 18 – Karen Lord’s Reddit AMA

Karen_LordBehind our festive door today we have a Reddit AMA with our very own Karen Lord, author of Redemption in Indigo, The Best of All Possible Worlds and the forthcoming The Galaxy Game.

That’s right, today you get to ask Karen ANYTHING! So be sure to head over there and find out all you want to know.

JFB Christmas Advent Day 17 – Why train Journeys are Perfect for Knitting

KnittingI’ve discovered this little fact this winter because, in the run up to Christmas, I have been making my entire family various knitted garments. I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but I’m poor and it’s thoughtful, dammit, thoughtful. Here are a couple of handy tips for knitting while on trains:

1. Do find the seat on the aisle side – you’re not going to be able to knit if you’re sat between someone else and the wall, there’s no room for your elbows
2. This goes for the middle seat, too
3. Do make sure you have time to complete your row before you get to your station and that you note down the row you’ve finished on – many of my hours have been lost to figuring out which row I’ve just completed
4. Do perfect your ‘Yeah, I’m knitting, so what?’ face to use on all the people who stare at you
5. Don’t contemplate all the ways knitting needles could be used as weapons should you need to defend yourself – it’s distracting and you will inevitably make mistakes

I have so far completed four hats and am half way through a scarf. I’m not sure I’m going to finish all of these presents in time, but for all the knitters out there (I think there are a few in SFF circles judging by the regular presence of classes such as Knit Your Own Dalek at conventions) I thought I would share just some of the websites where I find my wool and patterns etc., and some extra tips.

1. Deramores. This is where I buy all of my wool. They have numerous deals that crop up frequently and a huge selection of knitting kit. It’s also the website that is the most navigable. I can’t stand messy websites; this one is clean and easy to use. And you can pay with Paypal.
2. Etsy.  Has some awesome knitting patterns if you’re willing to pay – especially good for beanies
3. Ebay. If you’re looking for vintage patterns, this is a good place to be, but again, you must be willing to pay
4. Ravelry. A great forum for free patterns. My only gripe with this is how difficult the website is to use, but if you’re patient and willing to trawl through thousands of patterns, you will probably find the one you want for free
5. Simple Knitting by Erika Knight. If you’re a knitting beginner, this book is frankly genius. Filled with beautiful illustrations and using simple, instructive language, it is easy to follow and explains everything you will ever need to know
6. YouTube. Have you come up against an instruction you just can’t fathom? YouTube it. There are hundreds of video instructions that will show you what you need.
7. Finally, check out some of the knitting blogs and websites for helpful tips and free patterns. I’ve recently been following this scarf pattern from Cotton & Cloud, which is a simple and easy, but beautiful pattern that grows quickly once you get the hang of the Make Knot (MK) instruction (YouTube it). You can also check out Wool and the Gang, Skein Queen, and Love Knitting.

Good luck with your knitting projects everyone! And If any of you have any tips for me, do leave them below :D

Nicola

JFB Christmas Advent Day 16 – A Preview of Fortunes Blight

Day 16 of the Jo Fletcher Books Christmas Advent is here and it brings to you . . . the prologue of Evie Manieri’s Fortune’s Blight, the highly anticipated follow up to Blood’s Pride. Enjoy.

Prologue

Fortune's Blight cover artExcerpt from the manuscript, The History of the Shadar, by Daryan (Daimon, ninth of that name)

This is now. This is the present.

This is the time to lay aside our past, and the nostalgia that buffs our happy memories until they gleam. We must keep our eyes from straying towards the future, with its hazy aura of wishful thinking. The present is yet the hot ground under my feet, the hunger in my belly, the insect buzzing in my ear. It is the pause after the question I cannot answer.

I spent most of my life living apart from this city. I could look down on the Shadar from the windows in the temple, but I could not remember what it felt like to walk through the streets with the dirt kicking up in clouds around my feet or the heat pulsing from the whitewashed houses in the flaming noonday sun. I could only imagine what it felt like to have running children knock into my legs and then dart away, laughing, while I pretended to scold them. I used to be able to smell the sea when the wind blew from the east, but I only could imagine standing on the beach with that same wind blowing through my clothes, listening to the thin voices of the men on the fishing boats calling out to each other or singing ancient songs.

It was nearly thirty years ago that the Dead Ones came to the Shadar, with their white hair and skin, their blue blood, their silent language and their gleaming swords, to dig the black ore out of our mountains. They housed their flying beasts in our sacred temple, enslaved our people and made weapons – black blades, mixed with their own blood, that obeyed their minds as well as their hands – which they then used to carve the rest of the world into the mighty Norland Empire.

The temple is gone now, destroyed by the mad ambition of the Norland governor’s elder daughter, and by the grief felt by one little boy – a Shadari child with the ancient power of our people to move the rocks and sands – for his murdered mother. The entrances to the black ore mines are now blocked up with boulders and the Shadar is free from the rule of the Norland Empire. The city is my home now – but it is not as I once imagined it would be.

Now I walk past houses charred by the fires that swept through three months ago on the night when Frea Eotan, the White Wolf, tried to destroy it all. I see children sitting among the rubble, hungry and crying. I no longer need to imagine the beach, but I have to hold my breath as I pass between smoking funeral pyres to make my way down to the sea. The men on the fishing boats don’t sing anymore.

Ours is a victory counted in losses.

We have sent emissaries to the emperor across the sea to bargain for our continued freedom: the Norland governor’s son, Eofar; the child Dramash, whose terrible power to move the sands cannot be controlled, and the soldier, Rho, atoning for his crimes.

Our allies are few. King Jachad and the Nomas have come to our aid again and again, but they must roam: their men to the desert, their women to the sea. The Mongrel has disappeared, taking her secrets along with her. A drink in any tavern will buy you an account of her death, but I know this: if the Mongrel is dead, it is only because someone new has walked away in her boots.

And there is Isa, the Norlander governor’s youngest daughter, sister to the White Wolf, who stood with us in the uprising against her own people. Victory took her sister, her status, her sword, her left arm, and the love of her gods. It took the hopes she had for a future with the man she loves, who loves her more than his own life. Victory did not take Isa’s courage, nor her honour, because nothing ever could.

Our Shadari ancestors decided to protect our future by destroying our past. It was a decision made in fear and exhaustion. Now our history goes no further back than a glance over our shoulder, and yet I can feel that past closing in on us now, edging its way towards a reckoning. Forgetting what went before neither erases it nor absolves its debtors. Just because you don’t remember drinking in the morning doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay for the wine.

And I fear the bill for our victory is about to come due.

JFB Christmas Advent Day 15 – A quick Q and A with Sebastien De Castell

de Castell, SebastienFirstly apologies. Due to illness in the JFB office we were unable to open Day 16 of the Jo Fletcher Books Christmas Advent. But fear not, today you will get two treats from our lovely advent, starting with a quick Q and A with Sebastien De Castell, author of Traitor’s Blade.

1. What was the best Christmas present you ever received?

My brother John and his lovely wife Terry once gave me this long, wool coat for Christmas. I had no idea what it was (turns out, it was a greatcoat) and couldn’t imagine what I was going to do with it. Over the years I kept finding myself in all kinds of odd situations – working on a night shoot as an actor, travelling somewhere far away, needing to look formal at a meeting while not freezing to death – and every time I found myself turning to that coat. A few years after I got it I started working on a fantasy novel where I wanted my characters to have something different from the usual knight’s armour. You can probably guess how the rest goes.

2. What was the best Christmas present you ever gave?

I found one of those blank books they sell at stationary stores but this one had a strange silvery medallion on the front and all the pages were of a sort of woven blue cloth-like material. I was often on the road as a musician in those days, leaving Christina (now my wife) alone on weekends. I found a bunch of different little presents – weird things like a poetry keychain or a lighter shaped like a knight’s helmet – and placed each one between two of the pages which I sewed together. I then wrote a very short (terrible) poem as a kind of clue for each one so when I was on the road Christina could have a little surprise whenever she wanted.

3. If you could only give one book as a gift this Christmas what would it be?

I think it would have to be The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It’s a terrific story that has something in it for everyone and it also happens to be about a secret cemetery of forgotten books – who wouldn’t want to read about that?

4. What is your favourite Christmas song?

Ugh. I’m not a Christmas carol kind of guy. That said, I once had to sing and play Feliz Navidad for about twenty-five minutes non-stop so I’m going with that one.

5. If someone gives you a present you don’t like do you: a) only use it when you are with them b)Return it c) Re-gift it?

I usually try to tell them honestly that it’s not something I can see myself using but appreciate the thought behind it. I’d rather they get the money back and spend it on something that someone will truly enjoy. That’s why books make such great gifts – they’re easy to store and you never know when it might be just the thing to inspire you!

6. Christmas puddings – yay or nay?

Desserts that aren’t made of chocolate are an abomination and must be eliminated from our culture and our world.

7. Finally, what are you currently working on?

A few things like . . .

1. Final edits on Knight’s Shadow (with the delightful Jo Fletcher herself!)
2. Writing the draft of Tyrant’s Throne (working title of Greatcoats Book 3)
3. Just wrote the first draft of a fun dark YA portal fantasy with three other collaborators that’s kind of a Narnia meets Game of Thrones sort of thing.
4. Waiting to hear back about the future fate of Spellslinger, my other fantasy series.
5. Desperately hoping for time to get back to my strange mystery novel that I’m lovingly referring to as ‘Nancy Drew meets Memento.’
6. Learning some rather odd Top 40 songs for a couple of musical gigs coming up.
7. Planning a move to France in 2015 for a couple of months.
8. Writing this list and realizing I’m going to have to cut back somewhere . . .

Merry Christmas!

JFB Christmas Advent Day 14 – David Hair’s Alternative Christmas Playlist

Hair, David

. . . for those who’d rather shove pencils through their own eardrums than listen to any more carols.

By David Hair, author of The Moontide Quartet. David will be enjoying Christmas with family at home in the summer heat of the Antipodes, drinking cold beers and cooking up a storm on the barbeque.

1)     December will be Magic, by Kate Bush.

Beautiful, whimsical and moving, always makes me wish I was in the northern hemisphere for Christmas. Snow is at its best when viewed on Christmas cards while sipping beer, in the sun, on a sandy Pacific beach, I’ve always thought.

2)     Christmas Valley, by The Walkabouts

The world’s most criminally underrated band do festive melancholy as they do everything: perfectly. A lovely Carla Torgerson vocal gently unfolds while the world turns white, and sad people drink to forget the rest of their year. “Sister says in Lewiston, three rivers come to meet; she’ll get us jobs in a restaurant, we can stagger home each night.” Christmas is for family.

3)     Joy, by Tracey Thorn

“You loved it as a kid, and now you need it more than you ever did. It’s because of the dark; we see the beauty in the spark”. The words are lovely and reflective, and it’s EBTG’s Tracey singing them! What more could you want?

4)     The Fairytale of New York, by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

Yes, it’s been horribly overplayed and scarcely counts as alternative anymore, but it’s also one of the greatest Christmas themed songs EVER. When Kirsty and Shane start trading abuse halfway through, it’s riotous and joyous and makes you want to stand on your table and belt it out while spilling Guinness over your mates.

5)     Christmas Reindeer, by The Knife

Hurrah for playful, obtuse and slightly sinister Christmas-themed Scandi-electronica! Play it loud and confuse your relatives!

6)     Unwrap Me, by Saint Etienne

Flirty, cheeky and funny, complete with Sarah Cracknell’s trademark breathy vocals and even a talky bit, for that complete pseudo-70s vibe! If songs were wine, this would be Babycham.

7)     I want an Alien this Christmas, by Fountains of Wayne

Because who wouldn’t? The song has just the right mix of kitschy fun for the festive season.

 and finally…

 8)     Christmas was better in the Eighties, by The Futureheads

Yes it was! And this song is bonkers, like four or five different songs thrown into the mixing bowl, laced with brandy and set alight.

Merry Christmas from New Zealand!

Don’t forget to follow the rest of the #JFBChristmasAdvent on Twitter @JoFletcherBooks and here, where there will be plenty more competitions, author posts, short stories and wish lists to work your way through this Christmas season.

JFB Christmas Advent Day 13 – Snorri Kristjansson’s Rune Tablets to Finnbard

Kristjansson, SnorriHello, dear readers! As your resident Viking Elder, I get a lot of rune tablets sent to me around this time of year. Most say things like ‘Dear Finbrad. I not rune good but what I gaf gyvv gif’ and then it becomes hard to read on account of the scratching and the tablets being broken, but occasionally the questions are coherent. Here are a couple that might guide you through the stressful time leading up to Winter Solstice.

Dear Finnbard. I am away a-Viking for eight months a year, often more. What should I fetch for my wife for winter solstice? Last time I gave her the hewn-off hands of my enemies she was not impressed.
– Concerned Helmet-holder, Norway.

Dear Helmet. Trusting in raids as your primary source of gifts can be a double-edged sword. Often you need to make decisions on the fly and it can be quite hard to get blood-stains and the smell of smoke out of clothing even though it has been worn sparingly and cut off the previous owner with the utmost care. However, most if not all women like a strong man who can provide for the home, so I can see your dilemma. I am surprised at your wife rejecting your generous gifts. Have you considered writing and singing to her a seven thousand line skaldic poem? I will just about guarantee that that will put a stop to further requests for gifts.

Dear Finnbard. My son just killed his first man in an ice-hockey game. He wants to come a-Viking with me this winter. Should I let him, as a Winter Solstice present?
– Grim Kveldulfsson, Iceland. P.S. he is seven.

Dear Grim. I think there is sound sense in letting the boy have a go at the rest of the world. If he continues killing in Iceland there might not be that many of you left. Just make sure he doesn’t get tangled up too badly in the politics of court and for the love of everything that’s pagan keep him off the mead.

Dear Finnbard. Last time my husband came home from raiding he had a bunch of rancid, cut-off hands with him in a sack. What should I suggest?
– Disgruntled, Norway.

Dear Disgruntled – divorce him. Right now. He clearly doesn’t understand what women want and need in this modern age. In fact, I’d say you would be within your rights to kill him unless he writes you a seven thousand line skaldic poem.

Dear Finnbard. I am thinking of going over to see my father, who has recently started a colony out west. I’ve got most of the presents sorted but I’m looking for something extra. What should I bring him?
– L. Eriksson, Iceland.

Dear L. Eriksson. You have a choice. Bring three extra barrels of mead or a competent navigator. I’d go for the navigator.

That is all for now, readers or listeners to the one person in the village who can read. Wait patiently until the snow melts for my next instalment in Rune Tablets to Finnbard – 10 things to wear a-Viking in spring!

And that’s it from Snorri Kristjansson, and if you liked this post, you might like to check out The Valhalla Saga ;) . Follow the rest of our #JFBChristmasAdvent series on Twitter @jofletcherbooks for more author posts, wish lists, short stories and competitions!

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 12 – It’s competition time!

Prizes

So, today is Friday, and as it is Friday, we thought we’d give you lovely people the chance to win a little book prize. I say little; it’s actually you know, fairly good . . .

To be in with the chance to win the books pictured here - The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, The City’s Son by Tom Pollock, Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough and The Child Eater by Rachel Pollack – simply tweet us @JoFletcherBooks and include the hashtag JFBChristmasAdvent, or retweet today’s shout out for the competition.

Good luck!

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 11 – Lisa Tuttle’s Christmas reading

There’s nothing better than a good book at Christmas and so asked Lisa Tuttle, author of The Mysteries, what her Christmas reading would be this year. Find out below.

The idea of having something special picked out to read on Christmas Eve goes back to childhood, when I’d be too excited to go to sleep – but also desperate to do so because it would make morning and presents come more quickly.  The conflict of Can’t Sleep/ Must Sleep means that the book I read had to be really good, but not so new and surprising (and long) that it would keep me up all night to finish, which meant the best bet was short stories, or a book I’d read and loved before. I’m more blasé about presents and Christmas morning now (alas!), but when so much of the year is spent trying to keep up with new publications, it’s nice to relax and reread and old favourite.  That means I tend to return to the same authors again and again at Christmas.  Let’s hear it for comfort reading!   Everyone will have their own favourites – what makes the best comfort reading is a very personal thing, of course – but here are my top three authors for Christmas:

Little Women
Louisa May Alcott – Little Women was the top of my Christmas list when I was ten.  I had read an abridged version, found in my primary school library, and although I loved it, the idea that it was not complete, that there were whole chapters I was missing out on, nearly drove me crazy.  So I impressed upon my parents that what I wanted was the original, complete and unabridged edition, and they came through with the goods.  I still have the same, much-read, much-loved copy, still feel happy whenever I pick it up, and for me it may be the Christmas book, because this is how the March sisters (some of my favourite characters in all fiction) are introduced on the first page:

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

            “It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

            “I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

            “We’ve got father and mother and each other,” said Beth contentedly, from her corner.

            The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly:

            “We haven’t got father, and shall not have him for a long time.”  She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of father far away, where the fighting was.

The Mezzotint
M.R. James – The English don and perennial bachelor, master of antiquarian ghost stories, could hardly be more different from the female, family-oriented American who is my first choice, but also a great choice to read in front of a crackling fire on Christmas Eve, whether to yourself, or aloud to a close circle of friends, as James actually did with his own spooky tales. The tradition of a ghost story at Christmas-time is not one I came across growing up in Texas (where ghost stories were for Halloween – or scaring the life out of your friends at a slumber party).  But in Britain, the ghost story is one of those classic Christmas traditions established by Charles Dickens in Victorian times.  Dickens’ own ghost stories are well worth reading, but M.R. James surpassed him. His stories, deceptively simple, rooted in his own academic life and interests, filled with humorous, down-to-earth touches, retain their power even after multiple re-readings. Might be better not to read these too close to bedtime, but I recommend “Casting the Runes,” “The Mezzotint,” or “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” to start with.

One last look behind, to measure the distance he had made since leaving the ruined Templars’ church, showed him a prospect of company on his walk, in the shape of a rather indistinct personage, who seemed to be making great efforts to catch up with him, but made little, if any, progress. I mean that there was an appearance of running about his movements, but that the distance between him and Parkins did not seem materially to lessen. So, at least, Parkins thought, and decided that he almost certainly did not know him, and that it would be absurd to wait until he came up. For all that, company, he began to think, would really be very welcome on that lonely shore, if only you could choose your companion. In his unenlightened days he had read of meetings in such places which even now would hardly bear thinking of.

13 Clocks
James Thurber – Is Thurber still as popular now as he was when I was young? I don’t know; he’ll always be important to me, but I’ve just realized that it has been years since I’ve re-read anything by him.  I encountered Thurber first as a cartoonist – my parents had a collection of his work – and, probably around the same time, as the author of the witty, sinister, magical fairy tale for all ages, The Thirteen Clocks. I was attracted by the pictures, and I remember my father reading it to us at bedtime,  before I was able to read it myself. The Thurber Carnival is a collection of some of the best writings and drawings by James Thurber, received (as I noted on my bookplate) as a Christmas present in 1966. It is a wonderful collection, too, containing many of his best and funniest cartoons and essays, short stories, fables, illustrated poems, and all of My Life and Hard Times – the only notable omission are the fantasies – The Wonderful O, The White Deer, and, above all, The Thirteen Clocks, a timeless classic which has had a great influence on many subsequent writers. Here’s how it starts:

Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales. He was six feet four, and forty-six, and even colder than he thought he was. One eye wore a velvet patch; the other glittered through a monocle, which made half his body seem closer to you than the other half. He had lost one eye when he was twelve, for he was fond of peering into nests and lairs in search of birds and animals to maul. One afternoon, a mother shrike had mauled him first. His nights were spent in evil dreams, and his days were given to wicked schemes.

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 10 – ALison Littlewood’s Christmas Wishlist

We recently asked Alison Littlewood, author of the fantastic The Unquiet House, what was on her Christmas Wish List and e thought we would share the answers with you.

First of all, every Christmas list needs a book. There’s always a book, isn’t there? This year, I’m hoping for The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition. The editor, Jack Zipes, has produced translations of the original stories, the ones that existed before later versions stripped most of the darkness away. Here, Cinderella’s sisters slice up their feet to fit that slipper; Rapunzel has her ‘merry time’ with the prince; and the evil queen is no stepmother to Snow White, but her own dear parent. I’m also looking forward to reading new gems, like How the Children Played at Slaughtering. Well, the Grimms never did set out to collect their tales for children . . .

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Next on the list is a pack of Santa’s Special tea from the Cumbria Tea and Coffee Company. Apparently it’s a loose leaf Ceylon complete with cinnamon, cloves and jasmine buds, but really, who cares? What matters is, it looks and smells like the most lovely festive pot pourri, and whatever those little red and green bits are, they are shaped like little teeny weeny Christmas trees. It’s gorgeous to look at and tastes like warming wintry wonderful goodness in a mug. If I don’t get any in my Christmas stocking this year there’s always chocolate tea, mocha chai or vanilla tea . . . (Ah! Tea!!) But really, it has to be Santa’s Special for me.

Santa's Special Tea
After a good Christmas dinner, I could probably force in one or two of these chocolate brussels sprouts, Vicar of Dibley style. Of course, some would say that chocolate sprouts are the best kind, but in the interest of avoiding arguments I shall move swiftly on.

original_chocolate-brussels-sprouts
 There’s nothing like a bit of nostalgia at this time of year, so as the weather turns I might just treat myself to a new brolly from the Alice in Wonderland shop. It’s covered with Tenniel’s illustrations of some of my favourite characters from childhood.

Next on the list is what every well-dressed Christmas tree will be wearing this season. The blinking angels Christmas tree topper comes straight from Doctor Who’s nightmares to your front room . . . It’s a great excuse to sit about on the sofa, sipping fancy tea and staring at the deccies. After all, someone’s got to keep an eye on that thing, haven’t they?

And now, because pooches deserve presents too,  I give you the zombie foot dog toy. There’s really no explanation needed for this one. It has to be worth it, just to see the neighbours’ faces as he tries to bury it in the garden.

Zombie Foot Dog Toy
Lastly, here’s a little present I give myself each year – the treat of watching this animated version of Neil Gaiman’s poem, Nicholas Was, produced by a motion design studio called 39 Degrees North. It’s festive and quirky and deliciously creepy, and I hope you enjoy it too. Happy Christmas!

 

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 9 – Meeting Peter by Sue Tingey

Behind door number 9 of the Jo Fletcher Books Christmas Advent there is a wonderful short story by our newest author Sue Tingey to get you in the mood for her Debut novel, Marked.

Meeting Peter

Sue TingeyI hate Christmas, Peter thought, then immediately felt guilty for doing so.

He glanced around at the other members of the team – no one was paying him any attention. He sank back into his seat. Christmas Eve had arrived, and with it the ten busiest days of his year. It didn’t help that in recent times the one-man department ‘downstairs’ had decided to start throwing out natural disasters on a regular basis: tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, you name it – and Peter was left to contend with the endless queue of frightened and bemused people that resulted from those actions. Perhaps it’s time for me to retire.

‘Ready for the off?’ a gentle voice said from beside him. ‘There’s already a queue.’

‘What have we got so far?’

‘Two naturals and a motorway pile up.’

‘All right, let’s get going,’ he said, and reached for his admissions book and pen.

The two naturals turned out to be an earthquake in Japan and a mudslide in Kenya. Twenty-four souls in total and all but one received admission. The pile up on the M25 was a different matter. The driver and his three mates who had caused the accident were high on crack and had robbed a pensioner an hour earlier, and their lives were a litany of cruelty heaped on innocents. Peter heaved a weary sigh as the last soul from the crash disappeared round the corner. He couldn’t fathom why humans were so self-destructive.

He glanced up from the register and took a moment to watch Teresa patrol the growing queue as it shuffled forward. She was an angel in every sense of the word. She calmed and placated with just a word, a gentle smile or a light touch of the hand. The rest of the team were also hard at work, sorting the huge numbers of souls as they arrived. Some were terrified, some were angry and others were still in shock, but each and every one of them was handled with quiet and calm efficiency.

‘There’s been some kind of mistake,’ a voice said.

Peter started, pulled from his contemplation, then turned his attention to the young woman in front of him. She was clearly agitated, but defiant.

He studied the ledger. ‘Amy Sanders, aged twenty-four from South London?’ he said.

‘That’s me,’ she replied.

Peter regarded her pretty, pale face for a moment then ran his finger along her entry in the book. This was definitely not what he needed so early in the shift: a self kill. And she was either in denial, or had a serious attitude.

‘Amy,’ he said, keeping his tone gentle but firm. ‘It says here that you deliberately ended your life at ten twenty-eight this morning.’

‘Why would I do that?’ she asked, genuinely surprised.

‘I don’t know. You tell me.’

She chewed on her lip in thought for a moment. ‘Okay, I can see how someone might think I wanted to, but I didn’t really. I mean he’s been such a pig and I wanted him to feel sorry for what he’d done and— Oh Hell . . .’ she said as the penny dropped.

Teresa led the woman away, speaking to her softly.

‘Up or down?’ Paul, his assistant asked.

‘It looked genuinely unintentional; a cry for attention gone wrong. The boss wouldn’t let her go downstairs for that.’

The hours passed in a whirlwind of sad and confused faces. Most of the new arrivals still did not comprehend what had happened to them, and Peter became more despondent with each admission. Im getting too old for this.

‘Hello. My name’s Olivia.’

Peter looked up. A small girl was peering at him from across the other side of the desk, her chin almost resting on the polished wood. Her face was pale and she had dark smudges under eyes so big that Peter wanted to weep. Soft blonde down covered her head where her hair had started to re-grow and when she stepped back he could see that she was wearing a hospital gown.

‘Hello Olivia. How are you today?’

‘I’m very well thank you,’ she said. ‘I feel much better now.’

‘I’m glad to hear it.’ He glanced at his ledger. Olivia Harris, aged seven.

‘Is this Heaven?’ she asked.

It usually took a while for the souls to understand where they were, but this little girl must have been living with death for so long that she had known immediately where she was. He nodded, unable to speak.

‘Can I wait here for David?’ she asked. ‘I think he’ll be coming soon.’

As Peter ran his finger down the lines of names, Olivia joined him behind the desk.

‘There, see.’ She pointed. ‘David Parks, he was in the bed next to me. We promised that whoever was first would wait for the other—’

‘I’m afraid that’s not allowed,’ said Paul from behind them.

Peter glanced back at him, irritated by the interruption. ‘I think we’ll make an exception for Olivia,’ he said, his voice unusually gruff. ‘Her friend won’t be long.’

Paul looked like he was about to argue, but then thought better of it.

Olivia rewarded Peter with a huge smile: payment enough for breaking one rule . . . and perhaps a few more.

Peter stood and turned to Paul, ‘You take over here for a while.’ His assistant looked at him, surprise in his eyes, and Peter well knew why – not once, in all his long years of service, had he ever left his post during a shift.

Peter ignored Paul’s shock and took hold of the girl’s hand, smiling. ‘Let’s go and see if we can find your friend,’ he said.

Her fingers curled around his and she pulled him with surprising force back along the waiting queue, chattering happily as they walked.

Perhaps I ought to retire, he thought looking down at Olivia’s animated expression, but sometimes this job really isn’t so bad after all.

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 8 – A quick Q and A with Snorri Kristjansson

Snorri KristjanssonWith Christmas fast approaching we sat down with Snorri Kristjansson, author of Swords of Good Men and Blood Will Follow, to ask him some festive questions.

1. What was the best Christmas present you ever received?

A Playmobile pirate ship. I was, I think, four or five. It was the most massive thing ever. My late and much beloved grandmother bought it (possibly on the cheap – there was no stopping that woman when she spotted a bargain) on something like the third stop of a seventeen-stop coach tour of Europe and carried it with great difficulty through seven countries. It was a regular feature in the bath for a good couple of years.

2. What was the best Christmas present you ever gave?

Two years back I spent a bit of my first publishing advance on a sorely-needed laptop for my wife. I am very bad at keeping secrets, but I managed to keep that one. The look on her face was fairly priceless.

3. If you could only give one book as a gift this Christmas what would it be?

Who on earth only gives one book? That seems to me to be an odd thing to do. Even dividing by the massive JFB bias I’d have to say at this point in time it’d be a toss-up between City of Stairs and Your Brother’s Blood. They’re the best books I’ve read in a while.

4. What is your favourite Christmas song?

Fairytale of New York. Has to be. Even though it has been done to death over the past half-decade or so. A close second is Tim Minchin’s ‘White Wine in the Sun’, which as an expat I can’t really listen to without it getting really dusty in the room.

5. If someone gives you a present you don’t like do you: a) only use it when you are with them b)Return it c) Re-gift it?

I have to say that I don’t really have a go-to in this scenario.  I don’t really get presents from people who don’t have a clue what I want, like or use.

6. Christmas puddings – yay or nay?

At the risk of being thrown out of the country – nay. In fact, Christmas Puds are on a very short list of things I would rather not eat. I don’t even know what it is about it that I don’t like – it’s just not for me.

7. Finally, what are you currently working on?

A timely question! At the moment my dance card is relatively full. I have just shipped the last book of the Valhalla Saga off to my beta-reader. I am working on a handful of film things that are currently slorping their way through the vast mire of Development. Novel-wise, I’ve got two different things I’m playing with, and I am also waiting for news on a super secret thing that I cannot tell anyone about just yet. I also look forward to working on a half-stone pound Christmas weight gain, followed by the constructing of a solid January guilt trip.

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 7 – A Preview of The Galaxy Game

Day 7 of the Jo Fletcher Books Christmas Advent is here and behind the door today is . . . the first chapter of Karen Lord’s upcoming The Galaxy Game. Enjoy.

PROLOGUE

The only cure for GALAXYgame_R.indda sleepless night was to lie in bed and watch the constellations projected on his ceiling. He knew them by heart, had known them since his boy-days on Cygnus Beta when he would climb the homestead water tower to stargaze (and escape his father). Then, they were a distant dream, an ancient tale that he could only trust was true. Now they were the dirt on his boots, the dust in his lungs and a constant pang of care and concern that he carried in his heart. He was homesick for everywhere, for scattered friends and family and colleagues, each with a claim on his attention.

He whispered names in soothing ritual. The First Four, crafted worlds found already seeded with life – Ntshune, Sadira, Zhinu and Terra. Then there were the colonies, bioformed planets shaped and settled by emigrants – Punartam, Ain, Tolimán and more. The Terran system was nearest to his Cygnian heritage, but the Punartam system was closest in travel time and galactic rank. Its sole habitable planet, a first-wave colony almost as prominent as the First Four, was reputed to be the first fully bioformed world, a point still debated by the Academes. Was Cygnus Beta a crafted world that had failed and been restored by human or non-human effort, or a bioforming experiment unrecorded in human history? Punartam could prove its origins; Cygnus Beta could not. Punartam was, of course, the Cygnian name (from a Terran language, like so many other Cygnian names). In Terran stellar nomenclature it was β Geminorum, and Galactic Standard offered a collection of syllables that told the full story of the star’s location, age, luminosity and life-bearing potential. The name they used for themselves was in Simplified Ntshune and it meant the same thing as in Galactic Standard – behold! we are here, we have been here long, see how brightly we shine, we are we.

The founders of Punartam traced their origin to the system called the Mother of humanity. Cygnian name: Ntshune (also from a Terran language). Terran name: α Piscis Austrini. True name: a delicate and yearning melodic phrase in Traditional Ntshune. But there was another claim to Eldest – Sadira. Terran name: ε Eridani. Sadiri name: something unpronounceable (the Sadiri language, even in the simplified standard form, was still a challenge for him to speak). Former leader of the galaxy . . . or at least policeman and judge and occasional executioner. Not much liked though rarely hated, and now occasionally pitied. Sadira was dead, or almost dead, its biosphere locked in toxic regeneration for centuries to come. The seat of government had moved to New Sadira, formerly known to Cygnians as Tolimán. Survivors had settled throughout the colonies, mainly Punartam and Cygnus Beta, but not Ain. Certainly not Ain.

Next in rank. Cygnian name: Zhinu. Terran name: α Lyrae. Most Zhinuvians used the Galactic Standard name, but there were variations of that. In spite of several layers of modern tech and some extreme bioforming, the origin planet of the system had begun as a crafted world. Then there was Terra, Earth. Source of most of the settlers on Cygnus Beta (Terran stellar nomenclature: the unmelodious 16 Cygni B). Youngest of the First Four and most in need of protection. Zhinu, an example of long-term, well-intentioned meddling from both Ntshune and Sadira, was now playing the role of delinquent middle child while the two elder siblings tried to shield Terra from outside influences.

With eyes still fixed on the stars, he reached towards a bowl of datacharms on his bedside table and brushed a familiar piece with the tip of a finger. A woman’s voice filled the room and he sank back onto his pillows with a sigh of comfort.

‘In the beginning, God created human beings, which is to say God put the ingredients together, embedded the instructions for building on the template and put it all into four separate eggs marked “Some Assembly Required”.

‘One egg was thrown down to Sadira. There humanity grew to revere and develop the powers of the mind. Another egg was sent to Ntshune, and the humans who arose there became adept at dealing with matters of the heart. A third egg arrived at Zhinu, and there the focus was on the body, both natural and man-made. The last egg came to Terra, and these humans were unmatched in spirit. Strong in belief, they developed minds to speculate and debate, hearts to deplore and adore, and bodies to craft and adapt. Such were their minds, hearts and bodies that they soon began to rival their elder siblings.

‘When the Caretakers saw the Terrans and their many ways of being human, they were both impressed and appalled. Some declared, “See how they combine the four aspects of humanness! Through Terra, all will be transformed – Sadira, Ntshune and Zhinu – into one harmonious whole.” Others predicted, “How can any group survive such fragmentation? They will kill each other,and the rest of humanity will remain forever incomplete.”

‘After some discussion, the Caretakers decided to seal off Terra from the rest of the galaxy until Terran civilisation reached full maturity. They also decided to periodically save them from themselves by placing endangered Terrans on Cygnus Beta, where they could flourish and begin to mix with other humans.’

The voice chuckled and concluded, ‘And that, my dear, is five creation myths for the price of one.’

He smiled. ‘Love you,’ he murmured to the recording. He would see the owner of the voice soon enough. Reaching out once more, he stirred inside the bowl with a finger . . . and frowned. The weight, the chime and the texture of the contents – something was off. He immediately sat up and turned on the lights. Grabbing the bowl, he sifted through the charms with one hand and glared at every trinket and token that rose to the surface. Finally, he turned the bowl upside down, dumping everything into his lap. He scanned the spread of charms on the bed-sheets, counting and cataloguing, although he already knew what was missing.

He looked up, furious. There was only one person who could have taken them, and only one place they could be.

 

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 6 – Top tips for a perfect Christmas day

ChristmasEveryone has a different view on what would be their ‘perfect’ Christmas day, but in my book there are some common ingredients which pop up. I thought I would list them and see what you all thought. So in no particular order:

Stockings

Presents under the tree are great, but nothing beats the magic of waking up to see that Santa has visited and filled up the stocking at the end of your bed.

Bucks Fizz

It’s a Christmas tradition right? Buck’s Fizz to accompany your cooked breakfast. Start the day as you mean to go on!

Cooking

I LOVE cooking, and I LOVE cooking on Christmas day. Last year I was cooking from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon and I couldn’t have been happier. Everyone was in the kitchen chatting and laughing, the beer was flowing and food cooking . . . heaven.

Set your Christmas Pudding on Fire

I will admit something to you . . . I don’t like Christmas Pudding. But I love setting one on fire after dinner :)

Cheese boards

After dessert, when you think you can fit no more in, there is always room for cheese.

Board Games

I don’t care if it is Monopoly, Cluedo, The Logo Game or Articulate. Christmas isn’t Christmas without an evening board game.

Not Rushing

For me Christmas is about the whole day, don’t rush things and don’t stress. You are surrounded by the people you love and people who love you. Relax and enjoy every moment.

Oh and I have to add . . . Booze

This is a personal one but there are certain things I have to have on Christmas Day: Buck’s Fizz to start with, as mentioned earlier, beer (for before, during and after the meal), red wine for with the main course and Whiskey for later in the evening.

Combine those ingredients and, for me, you are well on your way to the perfect Christmas day.

Andrew

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 4 – Murder and The Tower Broken

The Tower Broken and Murder Cover ArtBehind the door of the Jo Fletcher Books Advent today are the paperbacks of Murder and The Tower Broken. And not just their pretty covers. No no no. There are 5 shiny copies of each books just laying behind that door for you to win.

And all you have to do is send us a Twitter story which has at least 2 of the following words in: – Tower, Murder and Broken

For example Andrew, genius that he is, came up with: I went to the tower and there had been a murder!

OK, he’s not a genius, but you get the idea.

Good luck.

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 3 – A quick Q and A with Rachel Pollack

Rachel Pollack by Rubi RoseIn the build up to Christmas we sat down with Rachel Pollack, author of The Child Eater, to ask her some festive questions.

1 . What was the best Christmas present you ever received?

A Marlen red and silver fountain pen from Italy.

2. What was the best Christmas present you ever gave?

A luxurious red bathrobe that my friend says she loves wearing.

3. If you could only give one book as a gift this Christmas what would it be?

Boneland, by Alan Garner ( because here in the States no one knows about it)

4. What is your favourite Christmas song?

Silent Night

5. If someone gives you a present you don’t like do you: a) only use it when you are with them b)Return it c) Re-gift it?

If they made it, a.  If from a store, b.

6. Christmas puddings – yay or nay?

Since I never eat sugar, nay.

7. Finally, what are you currently working on?

A series of shamanic noir novellas, featuring a “Traveler” named Jack Shade.

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 2 – Nicola’s Christmas Wish List

I’ve been asked by Andy to give you my Christmas wish list for 2014 – and as it doesn’t have anything to do with books, it’s a bit of a weird one! Nevertheless, I’m throwing in my lot with all of our wonderful authors, who are producing loads of lovely extra blog content for advent, and doing my little bit for publicity in the run up to Christmas. So here we go!

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It may not look like much, but I’ve wanted this little teapot, with it’s scandi-inspired design, for aaaaaages. Somehow, though, I can never seem to justify spending £35 on it. But that is what Christmas wish lists are for, don’t you think? To find things you can’t get for yourself but really covet?

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The next on my list is a tartan check scarf, because frankly I’m fed up with my penchant for buying boring old blue. This little beauty is £16 from ASOS and looks so cosy it could almost be a blanket. Awesome.

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The third on my list is this beautiful vintage-style Kenwood K-mix toaster and kettle set in almond. When I re-did my kitchen at the beginning of next year, I was going for a contemporary country theme . . . and then I bought a very modern red kettle and toaster. It’s time to rectify this mistake.

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A slightly off-the-cuff thing on my Christmas wish list: Proskins Slim Leggings. Now, I do a fair amount of exercise and if there’s anything that can enhance the results of that a little bit, be it an app or a pair of leggings, I’m taking it. I’ve looked at hundreds (okay maybe an overstatement, but it’s definitely a lot) of reviews for compressionwear and these come out on top. £45 from many good retailers online.

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And finally, the fifth thing on my Christmas wish list is, of course: Guardians of the Galaxy on DVD (and if I may sneak in an extra one, I totally want the soundtrack, too). Yes, this is an awesome piece of silly fun and I’d love it in my stocking this Christmas – Santa, you listening? You can get it online for around £14.

So that’s it from me! Happy shopping everyone – and merry Christmas ;) .

The JFB Christmas Advent Day 1

Christmas Advent PrizeThe Jo Fletcher Books Christmas Advent is back and this year do we have some amazing treats for you! To kick things off behind door number 1 we have . . .

Copies of The Language of Dying, Mage’s Blood and Scarlet Tides for one lucky person.

All you have to do for your chance to win is follow us on twitter and let people know that the #JFBChristmasAdvent is here by sending a tweet including #JFBChristmasAdvent.

Good luck!

On the loveliness of booksellers . . .

Traitor's BladeWe love booksellers at all times of the year, but spare a special thought for them at Christmas: they are going to spend the next 27 days rushed off their feet trying to find the perfect book for Auntie Mabel to give to Cousin Johnny’s son Knievel or for Granny to wrap for little Susie . . . and it’s not always easy.

But with booksellers like the wonderful Christina Le Galloudec, from Waterstones Oxford, on the case, we know the Christmas presents for the nation are in good hands.

And if you’re wondering why I’ve singled out Christina* this morning, it is just because I awakened to this, from Waterstones’ Blog.

And whilst I know you’ll immediately be clicking on the link, I will just tell you that Christina was one of the Waterstones booksellers asked to pick their most overlooked book of the year, and she’s chosen Traitor’s Blade. I’m obviously not chuffed at the idea that it’s been overlooked (but whilst I think all you Greatcoats out there would disagree I must admit it’s not made the top twenty, so it’s a fair point!) – but I am very happy that she notes ‘a fast, funny, and heartfelt swashbuckling fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Three Musketeers or Scott Lynch. An awesome cast of characters and a richly imagined world rounds out a story full of wit and wisdom.’

So THANK YOU, from Sebastien and me and all at JFB, for that encomium. I’m thrilled you love the book as much as we do.

Now, let me just push this pile of JFB gems your way . . .Jo sig
 

 

 

*And please believe me, Jon, Gina, Dani, Alex, &c, &c, I love each and every one of you just as much!

We’re Currently Reading . . .

It is time for us to let you know what we are curtrently reading, and once again Jo is away – this time visitng the states after the World Fantasy Convention. But never fear Nicola and I are still here to keep you up to date with our reading habits. Have you read any of these books? What are you currently reading? Let us know below.

Nicola

The Bone Clocks CoverThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I’ve only just started this book, so forgive me if the first thing I talk about is the cover, because I think this is one of the most beautiful book covers I’ve ever seen (only marginally beaten by The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, another stunningly beautiful David Mitchell novel). It’s unusual, detailed and the more I find myself looking at it, the more I find I want to look at it.

Besides that the story itself (insofar as I’ve managed to read it) is compelling, and provokes a good deal of curiosity in the reader: I am not sure what’s coming, but I am sure that it is going to be good. The main character is an embittered young teenager who is both wise and naïve – annoyingly so – but it is all written in the way any self-absorbed teenager is, it does not go overboard, and as such she is written perfectly. I have been hooked pretty much since page one, and I can’t wait to see where the plot goes from here.

The Bone Clocks is available in Hardback from Foyles for £15.00.

 

Andrew

Hawkeye My Life As A Weapon CoverHawkeye – Volume 1: My Life As A Weapon by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido and Alan Davis

The best Marvel comic, if not the best comic, I have read this year. If you had not read this I recommend that you order it now. The art work is different from anything else I have seen in a Marvel book and it is breath-taking. Every single panel is beautiful, as you would expect once you see the stunning cover.

To match this Matt Fraction’s take on Hawkeye is a delight. He is funny, charming and fully capable in his role as Hawkeye, a member of the Avengers, but he also doesn’t take himself too seriously. This makes for a fun, fast paced read that I would recommend to any fan of comics.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned Pizza Dog yet. You will love Pizza Dog!

Hawkeye – Volume 1: My Life As A Weapon is available online from Waterstones for £10.69.

 

Armistice Day

PoppiesAs we are sure you are aware today is Armistice Day, a day to remember those who have fought for the freedoms we all enjoy.

Millions of people buy Poppies, and this year have visited the Poppies in the Moat at the Tower of London. Team JFB would love to see how you have supported the Poppy appeal this year and ask you to tweet us a picture of you with your Poppy or visiting the Poppies in the Moat. At the end of the day, 5:00pm GMT, we will select two random entries to win one of two bundles of 10 Jo Fletcher Books titles to say thank you for supporting the British Legion.

Giveaway bundles

Nicola’s Top Ten

Marked_MMP_BGuess what I’ve just finished? Only the edit on my first ever full commission for Jo Fletcher Books – Marked. But it wasn’t just me who worked on it, of course, because the author and I worked in tandem to get this done, whilst Jo oversaw the whole project. In fact, a whole host of people will have gone into this book by the time it’s done – because I’ve also just passed it to our sales, marketing, publicity and rights teams to read. Not forgetting the art team, who created the stunning cover a few months ago.

Pretty soon it will also go off to the typesetter, who will turn it into the print version, and then to the proofreader, and then to the reviewers, who will put it in front of the readers . . .

Making a book is a team effort, but making a book work? That depends on you. On the reading public. Because really, the only thing that makes a book work is word of mouth. So, having seen something going round Facebook recently asking for people to think of the ten books that have influenced them, I thought I’d repost my answers here and invite you to do the same in the comments below – because there’s nothing like a recommendation, but there’s also nothing like a recommendation paired with the words: ‘this book changed my life.’

1. Jane and the Dragon by Martin Baynton and The Little Red Car (I don’t know the author, but it was about a little red car that helped its owners rescue a sheep from a hedge – if anyone knows the author, comment below!) My nan gave me these when I was little and the pictures and lessons they taught have stayed with me for a long time.

2. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. Who wouldn’t want to climb a magic tree and enter a different world every time they did so? Reading these books gives you that (even if it can’t quite bring you magic medicines and whatever you want for your birthday).

3. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. This one stayed with me because of the image of guinea pigs running around with multicoloured rings tied round their necks in some in-between world. Oh, and I love reading about the emergence of Narnia and the White Witch. Who else was thinking Don’t ring the bell! But also wondering what would happen if they did . . .

4. The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is just such a heartwarming story about kindness and cruelty and love. We should show everyone a little bit of kindness – it could make someone’s day.

5. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. I cried for fully 15 minutes at the end of this trilogy. There really is not a lot like it – and I wanted a daemon so bad!

6. Sabriel by Garth Nix. This was recommended to me by my English teacher, Mrs Forte and I credit it with getting me into fantasy. This is my comfort book, the novel I turn to when I’m feeling sick or scared or anything; I’ve read it so many times it’s silly. It’s excellent writing combined with fantastic characters and a plot that just will not let you go, even after you’re done. No wonder so many people were waiting with baited breath for more books set in this world.

7. Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop. I read all three of the Black Jewels books in one sitting, overnight. Nuff said.

8. Blood River by Tim Butcher. An excellent non-fiction novel about a journalists journey overland through the Congo. It highlights – very effectively – some of the worst things going on in the world today, but these are things most remain completely oblivious to. It opens your eyes.

9. Porcelain by Chris Wildgoose and Benjamin Read. A graphic novel that has stayed with me for it’s sheer beauty and unhappy melancholic feel, it’s just a complete delight to look at and read. Recommended for anyone who likes a dark fairy tale story

10. An Ancient History of Britain by Neil Oliver. I love history, especially ancient history, and this novel takes you on a journey from the last ice age to Roman times without ever feeling like a non-fiction novel or hard work. It’s interesting, engaging and perfect if you’re a beginner in this field who doesn’t want to be patronised – like me.

If you want to, join in on Twitter – @jofletcherbooks – or in the comments below. I look forward to reading your top tens whether they be your top ten of the year, your top ten most influential books, your top ten books that must be read – let’s get these recommendations going, shall we?

Have you won something special?

City of Stairs JacketThe results are in and we have our winners. Did you enter our City of Stairs competition? If so find out if you won below and be sure to email us your address so that we can send you your prize. In no particular order the winners are:

Steve Drew

As a god of Bulikov: Binding Papyrus where contracts with artists, authors are always honored.

Gavin Wall

A carving knife that only cuts the amount you need.

Sean Smith

A form of transport which takes you where you *need* to go, rather than where you *want* to.

Wendy Smart

I would like to create a Moral Compass. The owner could consult the device whenever they required ’direction’, looking for guidance to show the right or wrong path for any given dilemma.

Jan Beal

A ring that will allow you to understand and speak any language.

All five winners get a copy of City of Stairs and on top of that one winner also won a £100 Red Letter Day experience. And we are pleased to announce that winner is . . .

Drum-roll please . . .

Wendy Smart!!

Congratulations Wendy and well done to all of our winners.

Book 2 in the Greatcoats Quartet has a new name . . .

de Castell, SebastienSebastien de Castell follows up 2014′s best debut, Traitor’s Blade, next March and we are pleased to announce that the book has a brand new title!

Unfortunately we aren’t going to tell you what it is, instead we challenge you to guess the title. We would hate for you to think we were being unfair so we have a clue for you (below) and will offer the first person to guess a signed copy of Traitor’s Blade.

“2 words: Our heroes consider them thugs and take great ombrage at their influence on Tristia.”

Just let us know your guess in the comments section below or on twitter with #Greatcoats2 for your chance to win. Good luck!*

*As no one has got the right answer yet here is your first clue – The word ‘ombrage’ is misspelled. Intentionally.

The Great Hallowe’en Horror Signing!

Steve signing thing lemooreNo tricks, just trreats this Hallowe’en as the greatest names in British Horror gather at Forbidden Planet, London, to sign their terrifying tomes on Saturday, October 25, from 1:00 – 2:00 pm!

This may be the biggest Hallowe’en signing ever – a host of talent and a pile of fabulous books to gleefully horrify. Come down and join the gathering!

An English Ghost Story (Titan Books) Kim Newman.

Quatermass and the Pit (Palgrave-Macmillan/BFI Film Classics) Kim Newman.

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome (Jo Fletcher Books) Stephen Jones, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Crowther, Christopher Fowler, Reggie Oliver and Robert Shearman.

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #25 (Robinson Publishing) Stephen Jones, Ramsey Campbell, Michael Chislett, Kim Newman, Thana Niveau, Reggie Oliver, Lynda E. Rucker, Robert Shearman, Lavie Tidhar and Stephen Volk.

Best New Horror #1: 25th Anniversary Edition (PS Publishing) Stephen Jones, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Gallagher, Kim Newman and Laurence Staig.

Zombie Apocalypse! Endgame (Robinson Publishing) Stephen Jones, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Crowther, Jo Fletcher, Paul Kane, Alison Littlewood, Paul McAuley, Gary McMahon, Lou Morgan, Kim Newman, Thana Niveau, John Llewellyn Probert, Joe Roberts and Conrad Williams.

Zombie Apocalypse! (Robinson Publishing) Stephen Jones, Pat Cadigan, Peter Crowther, Jo Fletcher, Christopher Fowler, Paul McAuley, Kim Newman, Sarah Pinborough, John Llewellyn Probert, Mark Samuels and Joe Roberts.

Zombie Apocalypse! Fightback (Robinson Publishing) Stephen Jones, Pat Cadigan, Peter Crowther, Les Edwards, Jo Fletcher, Amanda Foubister, Christopher Fowler, Paul McAuley, Reggie Oliver, Sarah Pinborough, John Llewellyn Probert, Robert Shearman and Joe Roberts.

Zombie Apocalypse! Washington Deceased (Robinson Publishing) Stephen Jones and Joe Roberts.

Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital (Robinson Publishing) Mark Morris, Stephen Jones, Joe Roberts.

The Wolves of London: Obsidian Heart: Book One (Titan Books) Mark Morris

Brazil (Palgrave-Macmillan/BFI Film Classics) Paul McAuley

Shadows Over Innsmouth (Titan Books) Stephen Jones, Ramsey Campbell, Adrian Cole, Kim Newman.

Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (Titan Books) Stephen Jones, Ramsey Campbell, Les Edwards, Paul McAuley, Kim Newman.

There will be in-store give-aways and, for the first 10 people to buy all five Zombie Apocalypse! titles on the day, a prize draw for the latest Sony XperiaTM Z3 phone (worth more than £470!) to tie-in with the publication of Zombie Apocalypse! Endgame.

Other titles by the featured authors will also be available for signing and for those who cannot make it into London, you can pre-order your signed books through the Forbidden Planet website.

On Forgetfulness

Righteous Fury cover artEarlier this week I promised Andy I would get him a blog . . . for yesterday. Naturally, I forgot, as I am wont to do when in the middle of an editing project and my brain is largely filled with dwarves and dark elves and battles and above all consistency. But now I am here! Remembering once more to do as I have promised.

The brain is a funny thing. My brain, in particular, loses stuff all the time, leaving thoughts behind me like little trails of breadcrumbs only to be followed when something triggers my memory. It’s why I’m overly fond of lists. And not just any old digital list, oh no, I am old school, I am that pen and paper list person whose scraps of neatly-written-on paper can be found in pockets of drying clothes, in the bottom of my bag, carelessly strewn over desks and, occasionally, on my bookshelf and floor (I live alone, I can make as much mess as I want).

I love lists, because not only do they remind me of things I need to do, but they help to put my head in order; they restore sense to my flighty and fractured universe, these mighty words comfort and hold me, reassuring me that everything I need is safely contained and now unable to be forgotten about.

That is until I lose the list . . . then forget that I made one.

What I do find odd is that, despite my general distracted nature and forgetfulness, I can read a book once and I can remember sentences from it, actions and scenes and where these parts occur in the book and where the consistency fails. When I am editing, I can remember everything with a clarity I barely recognise as my own – I can mentally flip through a book as though it is there in front of me. I know Jo can do this, too, and I also know that Andy is particularly good at spotting consistency errors. So I often find myself wondering, why am I so crap at remembering everything else? At least it’s a useful skill in my career, I suppose. Imagine if I’d chosen to be a teacher – I’d probably forget the kids.

Now it’s back to Devastating Hate and Tark Draan, where the älfar are currently conquering Girdlegard.

Don’t forget to comment below, come see us on Twitter and enter our amazing competition for £100 worth of red letter days vouchers and a copy of the brilliant-beyond-words City of Stairs – open until 30th October.

Your chance to win something special

City of Stairs JacketTo celebrate the launch of City of Stairs we are offering a very special prize.

We have five copies of the book to give away, plus one lucky winner will receive a £100 Red Letter Day experience.*

All you have to do for your chance to win is let us know on our blog, Facebook page or Twitter – with #CityOfStairs – what tangible miraculous object would you create if you were a god of Bulikov? A door which takes you to the past? A knotted cord that brings rain when untied? These are just some of the miracles the gods brought to Bulikov, but what would you add?

Let us know by October 30th for your chance to win.

*Prize will be supplied in a £100 worth of vouchers for Red Letter Days. Full terms and conditions can be found here.

On the Advisability of Optimization . . .

Frankfurt Book FestivalWhen I’m slaving away over a hot manuscript, I don’t like the constant interruptions of email, so I have come to an agreement with myself (that I keep to at least forty per cent of the time): when I am editing, I check email once an hour. Even that’s a bit of an imposition (and it’s one of the reasons I get most editing done in the evenings, when everyone else has settled down to watch twenty-seven episodes of the fifty-third series of Get That Foul-Mouthed Shouty Person in the Tacky Designer Gear Out of The Kitchen of the Littlest Sister’s Grandly Designed House Boat Bake-Off  II). Anyway, that’s my rule and I stick to it enough that sometimes I can even achieve the 50-page-a-day target I set myself*.

It’s always a little aggravating, then, when I discover I’ve broken my concentration for an email that has as its subject line:

May we drop by during the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014?

You have all shared the pain of my back-to-back Frankfurt schedule before now, and as Nicola stood in so brilliantly for me last year when I was felled by a lupus flare, you know it’s not just me; every editor and rights exec attending the book fair is completely booked up and entirely focused on selling the rights to their wonderful authors/ finding amazing new authors for their burgeoning lists in easy-to-digest half-hour slots.

This year the Frankfurt Book Fair opens on October 8 – which is 16 days away (ARGH! Breathe deeply. Okay, better now . . .) – and my first appointment is about an hour after I arrive in that fair city. At least that one is in a bar! And the first meeting scheduled this year was actually booked on the last day of the London Book Fair. Which was in April.

So 16 days before the biggest book fair in my calendar, someone thinks I’m going to have time for them to ‘drop by’.

Sweet.

I should just have stopped there, but unfortunately, I did actually open the email. Not only does someone want to ‘drop by’, they want to ‘identify opportunities in the e-book market space where we can jointly work together†’.

Now maybe I’m just aggravated because this is the thirty-seventh such email this month offering to ‘optimize my IT operational cost, and achieve my business goals’ and I’m getting bored of typing the words ‘all my production needs – including my digital needs – are handled by Quercus/Hodder and Hachette UK’.

On Friday I was offered:

the kind appointment at Frankfurt book Fair 2014 to take our business forward mutually.

(Do I give Brownie points for use of colour as well as bold and an entertaining font, I wonder? Perhaps not . . .)

On Thursday, after the initial query email got my aforementioned terse but polite and entirely factual response, I got this virtually by return:

As spoken to you, if you could meet us on any day convenient to you.
If you like our proposition (Indian Pricing & Quality), we can move forward.

And on Wednesday my favourite was:

we are working with  Top university presses & publishers for their publishing , e-learning requirements in a larger way.

And did I mention these latter three all offer proof-reading services too? Oh joy!

But I get even more aggravated when my politely worked ‘thanks but no thanks’ email immediately elicits a ‘Yes, but you don’t understand what we can offer you’ response. @LitAgentDrury has taught me an invaluable coping mechanism here (but as I am not sure this is a suitable use for such high-powered toys I have instead taken Option B and ticked ‘This is Spam’ and ‘DELETE!DELETE!DELETE!). It’s the adult way.

I know they have a job to do, and probably if I were offering those services I too would be emailing for appointments. But here is what I would do: I would (a) find out who in the company deals with what I’m offering, and (b) contact them six months before the book fair and (c) give them an example of why my service is much better than anyone else’s. Oh, and I would make sure my initial email was literate and properly spelled and punctuated (especially if offering proof-reading and copy-editing). I would not (a) email everyone in the company and hope someone responds, (b) pepper my email with exciting and emotive phrases like take our business forward mutually and work together for a mutually beneficial business future and We service the world’s largest Children’s Book publisher (although I suspect he didn’t mean it in that way) and (c) I would never ever ask someone if they are having a great day!

So having got that off my chest, and secure in the knowledge that Nicola has pretty well filled my Frankfurt diary anyway, I am returning to my scorching hot manuscript: you will be delighted to know that Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoat’s Lament is everything I’d hoped it would be! And I have more treats in store: Naomi Foyle’s Rook’s Song, the next part in Astra’s story, and A Cold Silence, Ali Littlewood’s follow-up to her Richard & Judy hit A Cold Season, have been delivered, and I have the first chunk of the final part of Clancy’s story, Peter Liney’s In Constant Fear, ready to read too.

You’ll forgive me if I ignore you all for the next few days . . .

Deadpool is Officially Happening – Gets 2016 Release Date

The Merc With the Mouth is FINALLY getting his own movie.

After the debacle that was his treatment in X-Men Origins: Wolverine a Deadpool movie was shelved by 20th Century Fox. But after some test footage was recently leaked, and loved, there has been a u-turn and the movie will once again happen.

We can’t wait – and to show you just why here is that leaked test footage. We should warn you there are a few profanities and a little violence in it, as you would expect from Deadpool. Oh and yes that is Ryan Reynolds’ voice and yes, he is still attached to the movie, as are the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland).

 

On Fight Scenes

de Castell, SebastienFight scenes. They’re fast, they’re dirty, they’re bloody . . . and more often than not they are totally unrealistic. Even the fabled Buffy was very much on the unrealistic side, and not only by dint of it being dramatised; if you were caught in a street fight, Tae Kwon Do (Sarah Michelle Gellar’s martial art of choice) would probably be one of the least effective forms of fighting you could use – anything that requires you to punch from the waist would be (as you leave the head almost completely unguarded). And don’t get me started on the fact people in films always wait until their adversary has turned around (just bash them on the head while they’re not looking and be done darn you – it’s not valiant, but if I were actually fighting someone I know which method I’d choose).

Of course, I’m getting off topic. This is film and I’m talking about books. (Which makes me wonder: is there much difference? For me, I guess, rubbish fight scenes in films are slightly more forgivable than in books – maybe it’s because I don’t have to edit them ;) .)

Sebastien De Castell has his fight scenes down. Although, you might expect that as he’s a fight choreographer at the Vancouver Film School. His fight scenes are fast, frenetic, funny and varied and you never get the same fight twice; a difficult balance. In fact, they’re so good they’re almost a bit of a pain to check through because you get so caught up in them. It took me three days to check the proofs because I kept rereading it!

On the slightly less fun side are the fight scenes you get when someone jumps into the air and somehow manages to fly across the room whilst scissoring their leg back and forth Crouching Tiger style. Think about that for a moment, it looks silly when real humans are doing it, doesn’t it?

So if you must include a fight scene in your novel, have a little think about it first, do a little research, indulge in some martial arts or fencing or whatever, yourself – a proper fight scene is a delight to read; one in which your hero has suddenly become both supremely bendy and super strong is not and it throws you out of the novel. Unless, of course, your hero is Spiderman or the equivalent, then you’re forgiven.

Nicola

What I Did on my Holiday

untitledHonestly, you turn your back for two brief weeks and what happens? Your team go crazy and start doing things without you . . .

So this week’s little ramble is specifically for those of you who noticed my absence in our regular ‘We’re Currently Reading . . .’ blog.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that two weeks in an antique land gave both @litagentdrury and me time to catch up on the gigantic pile of books we’ve been promising ourselves, and as everyone else in the country is settling down to the first essay of the term, here’s mine, because, as you guessed, this is what I did on my holiday. I should assure you it’s not just pure pleasure, thought: apart from anything else, publishers, editors and agents all need to recalibrate once in a while, and that means reading books of all genres that you know to be good – it’s the only way to ensure you’re taking on truly brilliant writers, not just writers who are less bad. If you’ve spent the last month ploughing through the slush pile it’s far too easy to look at something properly formatted, with paragraphs and not line-spaces, which has obviously been properly spell-checked (rather than just leaving it to Word’s somewhat random dictionary), and think: My gosh, but this person can write!

So whilst it’s true I had several manuscripts delivered just before I went, I decided that they should wait while I reminded myself what really makes a good book.

So in no particular order, here’s what we read on our summer holiday!

First off was Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes, translated brilliantly by Jamie Bullock for Maclehose Press. I made a mistake here: I should have ensured we had two copies so Ian and I could have read it together to avoid the almost overwhelming need to share lines that (deeply embarrassingly) had me snorting in laughter in public. At least it wasn’t just me; Ian found himself in exactly the same situation a day later. I have made it clear to the publisher this book should come with a Public Embarrassment warning – but don’t let that stop you indulging yourself. This is one of those rare cases where the tagline – ‘A merciless satire’ – is not just apt but perfect. And the cover is excellent.untitled

A change in pace was needed after that, so it was off to sixteenth-century Paris on the eve of Saint Bartholomew’s Day for one of the bloodiest, most gruesome novels I have read in a very long time (and I publish horror!). What makes The Twelve Children of Paris so compelling is not just the vivid storytelling, the wonderful characterisation or the gripping plot, but the fact that this is based firmly on real events: the massacre of the Huguenots, when tens of thousands of people were murdered – and not just killed, but raped, maimed, brutalised, tortured, desecrated, and generally destroyed by the rampaging citizens of Paris. Tim Willocks is undoubtedly a writer of genius, and I heartily recommend this, as well as its precursor, The Religion, based on the Siege of Malta (and both published by Jonathan Cape): in both books Willocks doesn’t stint on historical or military detail, while never letting the underpinnings overwhelm the story. But be warned: neither of these books are for the faint-hearted.

I’ve been a fan of Robin Hobb’s since her first novels (back when she was Megan and everyone who was anyone was raving about Wizard of the Pigeons) but haven’t had a chance to read much of her recently. So I was delighted to remind myself of what a powerful storyteller she is when I picked up a reissue of one of her early epics, Assassin’s Apprentice. (Hint to chums at Voyager: I cannot leave the story there . . .)

I’ve told you before to go out and get acquainted with Hermes Diaktoros, Anne Zouroudi’s wonderful protagonist in the (slightly mistitled) ‘The Mysteries of the Greek Detective’ series published by Bloomsbury – mistitled, in my view, because Hermes is not a detective but one who answers to a far higher power than the police; as he himself points out, he is one who understands the broader picture and how all the threads of a situation are woven together . . . The Feast of Artemis was my treat for this year, and I savoured every word, almost as much as the descriptions of the food described so lusciously. I love this series . . .

untitledAnd from Greece to Turkey with Barbara Nadel: I caught up with an old favourite, the Turkish police inspector Çetin Ikmen, in Death by Design (Headline) – whilst I prefer those set in Istanbul, there is no shortage of excitement when Çetin gets sent to London to work undercover as an ignorant non-English-speaking peasant. From there I moved on to her new series, about a team of private investigators, Lee Arold and Mumtaz Hakin. An Act of Kindness (Quercus), is a fascinating multi-racial murder mystery set in the East End of London, and full of secrets both old and new.

And finally, I ended the first week with a vivid story of love, loyalty and blood feuds in the Borderlands: Andrew Greig’s Fair Helen (Quercus) turned out to be a particularly timely choice, set as it is in the 1590s, as Jamie Saxt waits to take the thrones of Scotland and England. Handsome young Adam Fleming has fallen in love with Helen of Annandale, his best friend’s cousin, but Helen is about to be married off to Rob Bell, a charismatic, ambitious and violent man. Greig’s is a masterful telling of the Border Ballad ‘Fair Helen of Kirconnel Lea’, and I happily sobbed my way through much of it.

So for my second week . . . no, you’ll have to wait for that!

Jo

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It’s beginning to smell a bit like Frankfurt . . .

SwallowSo within days of arriving back from our summer sojourn in Parts Foreign, watching the graceful little egrets stalking the lake, listening to little owls hunting across the mountainside and delighting in the swoops (an eclectic mix of crag martins, swifts, house martins and swallows) cruising the skies, chittering with excitement as they demonstrate their aerial dexterity, not to mention the equally acrobatic and considerably faster F-16s (a different of martin entirely!), I have dived straight back into Publishing. Those heady days of bright blue skies and lots of degrees have already faded into grey as the temperature sinks down into the teens . . .

No matter, for the spunnocks are delighted to have us back (if only to refill the seed holder; how is it possible for a flock of small birds to have demolished a kilo of assorted seeds in two weeks, I ask myself?) and there is plenty of excitement on the horizon as this week we are mainly preparing for Frankfurt – as publishers and booksellers have been doing for more than five hundred years . . . Nope, not a misprint: the first Frankfurt Book Fair was organised by local booksellers not that long after Johannes Gutenberg revolutionised printing by inventing a new type of printing press using moveable type in 1439 . . .

These days, rather than paying Lederhosen-clad young boys and dirndl-wearing girls to take messages from one bookseller or publisher to the next, we send out a hundred or so emails, announcing our presence and requesting appointments. These days I have Nicola to do the juggling of diaries and negotiating for slots – and she’s much tougher than I ever was about leaving time for a lunch break! We have even managed to fight off the many, many companies who are apparently desperate to meet me to discuss the possbilities around Digitization and Content Conversion of your Publications (sic). In the past a couple of these enthusiastic entrepreneurs have managed to slide into the schedule somehow – imagine how desperately disappointed they were to discover that when I said ‘Quercus provides all my production needs, so I can see no point in a meeting!’, what I actually meant was: Quercus provides all my production needs so you turning up here is a complete waste of my time as well as yours. Apparently both of the gentlemen who’d blagged appointments expected me to be so wowed by what they were offering I would instantly tell Quercus – and obviously now Hachette – that I’d rather hand all my ‘Digitization and Content Conversion’ needs to Eboksizusinnit, thank you very much. Sadly for them, this time Nicola is being extra-vigilant* (although she did point out that if they do sneak in, it gives me 30 glorious minutes to rest my voice – but no, I need those slots to make sure our Beloved Authors are distributed far and wide.

So the hotel is booked, the Fair Passes have been distributed (even the one that was found hiding in the greenhouse, for reasons I can’t even begin to explain), and the meeting tables have been allocated (at least, we have to assume the tables have been allocated as this year we will be joining the ever-increasing entity that is the Hachette UK Stand – every year it takes up a few more aisles of Hall 8).

We’ve been through the rights guide to update the entries, changing the titles where necessary, adding the new acquisitions – and because we’re apparently not using printed catalogues this year but displaying the information on our tablets, Nicola’s spent the afternoon collating, printing out and stapling quote sheets and preparing blads of first chapters of our new authors, to give editors a little taster, right then and there, of the delights in store for them.

So now all we have to do it get the AIs up to date . . . but I think that’ll have to wait for tomorrow.

Jo

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*ARGH! No! That’s what happens when I interfere will a well-oiled machine: I have accidentally offered an appointment to just one of these! Retires to corner to write out 50 times: I will let Nicola make my appointments and not get in the way when she has already got it sorted . . .

FantasyCon 2014

NicolaAtFantasyConSo, for those of you paying attention the Con schedule this year, FantasyCon – our last major Con of the year – has just been and gone. It marks the end of one hell of a busy time for us here at the publishers, what with Nine Worlds, Loncon, FantasyCon, Fantasy in the Court and publisher parties thrown by, I think, every SF and Fantasy publishing house in London, all having occurred in the space of about a month and a half. I’m pretty sure this busy season was reflected in the number of people who attended the Con – about half of those I usually see – but it was a lovely weekend, nonetheless.

This year FantasyCon moved to York – a brilliant choice of venue as York is one of the most beautiful places in the UK. Andy and I even managed to wonder into the city and visit the Shambles – a wonderfully crooked little street that marks one of the oldest spots in the city. The hotel itself was probably just the right size for a con as big as this one was. Any bigger though, and I suspect they would have struggled (they were seriously slow at the bar and if there’s one group of people you don’t want to keep waiting for their alcohol, it’s publishers).

Of our authors Tom Pollock, Ali Littlewood, Sarah Pinborough, Stephen Jones and newest author Sue Tingey, graced the con this year – with Tom, Ali, Stephen and Sarah up for awards for The Glass Republic, Path of Needles, Fearie Tales and Mayhem, respectively.

On Friday, Andy and I were roped into seeing the My First Con panel by Ewa Scibor-Rylska, of Waterstones. Even though it quite clearly wasn’t our first con, we joined in and attempted to make some of the newer people feel welcome (although you guys know how scary Andy is, so I’m not sure it worked). After that, we headed upstairs to chat with some of our authors and catch up with other publishers, fans, bloggers, you name it, before heading over to take part in Paul Cornell’s version of Pointless. This was a fantastic set up from Paul and his wife, you could tell they’d gone to a lot of effort to make it happen and it showed in the audience reactions and the amount of fun everyone had. One of four pairs, Andy and I even managed not to come last, winning the first round, which was on literature, obviously (we then failed miserably at the Doctor Who round, but hey, can’t win them all!). After that, we went to Tom’s reading, where he read something from the latest thing he’s working on (that’s right Skyscraper Throne fans, something else emerges from Tom’s imagination), and then disappeared off to dinner with Stephen Jones (getting hopelessly lost on the way), where we had a fantastic evening chatting to Pete and Nicky Crowther of P.S. Publishing. We spent another couple of hours after that chatting with people in the bar and meeting the lovely editors of the shiny Holdfast Magazine, Laurel and Lucy.

On Saturday Tom was on a number of panels, so we attended his But Does it Make Sense? panel on economics in fantasy, then his panel on The Chosen One, in which the panel discussed ideas and versions of The One in SFF and beyond. Quickly popping out to dinner, we then came back and chatted with Ewa and Nazia of Waterstones and the organizer of all these wonderful panels: Glen Mehn. Then it was time for the disco where the only song the DJ had out of the 5 Andy requested was the Macarena – which was promptly played and danced to. I collapsed into bed a little earlier than the others though, because on Sunday I had a panel.

Sunday morning and I woke up nervous. I dislike public speaking quite a lot, so it’s hard for me to get up and do these things. Nevertheless, it was my third panel, so I knew what to expect, and I also knew that Simon, Gillian and Dave would be awesome, thereby taking the pressure off me! In the end, I forgot that I was in front of a room full of people and it turned into a chat with friends. Also, I made people laugh and I reckon that’s about all you can ask for.

Then it was time for the banquet and awards ceremony. I’ve already told you our nominees, so I won’t waste your time again here, but what I will tell you is that the cannelloni was delicious (as was the little lemon meringue that came afterwards – yum!). The banquet ran a little over so the awards began just as we were finishing desert. Although we didn’t win anything, it was fantastic that we had been shortlisted for so many! Then the whole thing was over and there was just time for some quick goodbyes before we had to run for the train.

Overall, this was a nice, relaxed weekend and the perfect end to con season. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have in store for us in Nottingham next year.

Nicola

Graham

IMG_0940 Neil et al B2I honestly don’t know what to say, except that with the death of Graham Joyce this afternoon from cancer, our world has lost a giant: not just because of his writing – for Graham was undoubtedly one of Britain’s greatest writers of the fantastical – but personally, for you could not hope to meet a nicer man. There will be many, many of us this evening raising a glass to Graham: let us all remember the good times as we cheer him into Valhalla.

Jo

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And the winners are . . .

Gleam cover artLast week we launched our Discard Vs Pyramid competition, giving 5 people the chance to win a copy of Tom Fletcher’s latest novel, Gleam and we are please to announce the winners who were choosen at random. They are:

Hannah G – Who would live in the Pyramid

Michelle Herbert – Who would live in the Discard

Brian Stabler – Who would live in the Discard

Daphne – Who would live in the Pyramid

Nicole Helfrich – Who would live in the Discard

Congratulations to all of our winners, if you email us your addresses we will get your copies sent to you straight away.

We’re Currently Reading . . .

Although Jo is currently away it is once again it’s time for us to let you all know what we are reading this month. Have you read any of these books? What are you currently reading? Let us know below.

Nicola

Blue Remembered EarthBlue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

Blue Remembered Earth is the story of the Akinya family, a veritable dynasty whose riches began building with the grandmother, Eunice (a shrewd, calculating, incredibly intelligent character that you just have to love), and continue to do so under the reign of her children and grandchildren. Now, the Akinyas practically rule the galaxy through their businesses.

Except Eunice has died, and she has left clues for the family to follow to her final secret. It is left up to Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya – the only two members of the family to have rejected the family business – to trace her journey through the stars to one of Jupiter’s moons, pursued by the cousins and the shady Pan alliance, to uncover what could be her greatest discovery.

I couldn’t possibly describe the scope of this novel in this small section, because this is a mystery that spans the galaxy in stunning detail. The characters are fully-formed individuals whose stories you can’t help but get involved in, the science quite literally blows my mind – even more so because even my limited understanding accepts that most of what Alastair Reynolds is writing about is at least theoretically possible, given that he was an astrophysicist. There is not one moment in this novel where I thought yeah, I’m getting bored now. This book will help you see the galaxy in colour.

And now I’m off to buy all of his other books . . .

Blue Remembered Earth is published by Gollancz and you can get it for £6.99 in Waterstones at the moment.

Andrew

Red Seas Under Red SkiesRed Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

If you read this blog every month you will know that I only recently got around to reading The Lies of Locke Lamora. Well I loved it so much that I HAD to bump Red Seas Under Red Skies up my To Be Read pile.

After escaping from the attentions of the Gray King and his Bondsmage, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen have fled Camorr and taken a ship to the city state of Tal Verrar. They are soon planning their most spectacular heist yet: the luxurious gaming house, the Sinspire, which no one has ever taken even a single coin from that wasn’t won on the tables or in the other games of chance on offer there. But before long Locke and Jean find themselves involved in an attempt to bring the pirate fleet of the notorious Zamira Drakasha to justice.

I have only just started Red Seas Under Red Skies but already love it, Lynch has maintained the great characters, interesting plot and vivid settings from his first book and I can’t wait to see where this novel takes Locke and Jean.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is published by Gollancz and available from Waterstones for £7.19.

Discard Vs Pyramid

Gleam cover artYesterday our very own Tom Fletcher had a guest blog up at Over The Effing Rainbow where he discussed what it is like to live in the Discard and what inspired him to create the world of Gleam. And now we want to ask you: would you rather be a Discarder or a Pyramidder? 5 copies of the book are up for grabs if you give us your answer, and to help, here are 3 pros and cons of each:

Living in the Pyramid

Pros:

1. You have a roof over your head and don’t have to worry about food, clothes and other necessities of life

2. Security

3. You’re not living in the Discard

Cons:

1. Weekly Bloodletting

2. No control of life’s choices – partners, work even what time you have to be home

3. You do exactly as you’re told or you are sent to the Discard

Living in the Discard

Pros:

1. There’s limitless space for you to explore and disappear into

2. You have the freedom to do what you want, your life is yours

3. You’re not living in the Pyramid

Cons:

1. There is no law

2. There is little in the way of medicine and food

3 Everything you need you have to find or steal for yourself

And now it is time for you to decide. Let us know where you what you would rather be – a Discarder or a Pyramidder – and you could win one of 5 copies of Gleam by Tom Fletcher. Simply tell us below or tweet with #DiscardVsPyramid to @jofletcherbooks and 5 winners will be picked at random next Tuesday.

Editing Nightmares and Editing Dreams

Marked cover artThis Friday will mark the start of FantasyCon 2014. For those of you who are unaware of what this is, it is the annual convention run by the British Fantasy Society. This year we’ll be in York along with Guests of Honour Kate Elliott, Charlaine Harris, Toby Whithouse and Larry Rostant, the Master of Ceremonies, Graham Joyce, and hopefully some of you wonderful people also.

I’m pretty excited this year, because it’s the first year in which more than one of our authors has been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Awards. We’ve got Tom Pollock’s The Glass Republic up for Best Fantasy Novel, Sarah Pinborough’s Mayhem and Ali Littlewood’s Path of Needles up for Best Horror Novel, and Stephen Jones’ Fearie Tales, illustrated by Alan Lee, up for best anthology. Accordingly, Andy and I will be at the banquet and awards announcement cheering them on.

As well as all of the authors above, Sue Tingey, author of Marked, the newest addition to the JFB list and the only author to have so far been published from our unsolicited submissions, will also be there with us. And if you have a moment, CHECK OUT THE SHINY!! Yes, the cover currently illustrating this blog is the cover of Marked, the cover for the first in Sue’s new series The Soulseer Chronicles. If you would like a bound first chapter of the book, give us a shout @jofletcherbooks or below, we may be able to send one out to you ;) .

To see which panels they are all on, you can check out the panel announcement here.

You may also notice that I will be on a panel, too, discussing an editor’s dreams and nightmares with Dave Moore, Simon Spanton, Gillian Redfearn and Abigail Nathan. So if you want to pop along to that on Sunday at 11am, please do so – any support would be lovely (I’ll be the one hiding under the table).

For the rest of the time, Andy and I plan to be buzzing round the con/propping up the bar/dancing/maybe competing in Paul Cornell’s version of Pointless. So come say hi if you see us. We don’t bite. Unless it’s a full moon. In which case, avoid Andy like the plague.

Nicola

Rave Reviews For Our Lady of the Streets

Our Lady of the Streets cover artThe concluding part of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne series, Our Lady of the Streets, hit stores three weeks ago today. As it has been greeted by rave reviews, we thought it was time that we shared some of these with you.

‘I didn’t want Our Lady of the Streets to end, even as I wanted the torment to stop. I’m going to miss Pollock’s London and his nuanced, vivid characters. 5 Owls’

Speculating on SpecFic

‘Beth and Pen, the Railwraiths, London-Under-Glass, the Pavement Priests and Gutterglass are so real to me that they can’t stop existing, in the corners of our imaginations and in the bricks of London Town. 5 Stars’

Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

‘This trilogy is a remarkable achievement for Tom Pollock . . . He writes like someone who has mastered the craft over many, many years . . . certainly in my personal top 5 favourite YA writers of the moment, and probably of all time’

The Book Zone for Boys

‘In all three books Pollock shows he has imagination to burn; that he will be the urban fantasy go-to guy for countless readers . . . he is more than just about the weird and wonderful. Heartfelt and real . . .Pollock can handle and reflect on subtle and delicate emotions’

Robin’s Books

‘The Skyscraper Throne trilogy is a fantastic achievement by a really talented writer. It’s action-packed, passionate, visceral and yet also humane, gentle and perceptive.’

Adventures with Words

‘The last part of a trilogy is an important step for not only the books, but for the author themselves. There’s a lot of pressure to close the trilogy perfectly and please all of the fans. Tom has done this and he absolutely fucking nailed it’

Utter Biblio

‘One of the finest rogue’s galleries in all urban fantasy . . . With Our Lady of the Streets, he (Tom) goes three for three. I couldn’t have asked for a more satisfying finale.’

Tor.com

‘The entire Skyscraper Throne Trilogy [is] a series of books which has just about redefined the way how Urban Fantasy should be written and which stands head and shoulders along [with] the other great works such a Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere’

Upcoming4me

‘Tom Pollock’s portrait of London is extraordinary and I’ll never look at the city – its statues, cemeteries, tubes, cranes or glass towers – in the same way again. That’s quite a gift the author has given us’

For winter nights – A bookish blog

Our Lady of the Streets is a fantastic conclusion to an extraordinary series’

A Fantastical Librarian

‘It’s just all amazing . . . Tom Pollock has done himself proud with this finale, and with this trilogy as a whole . . . literally unputdownable, and is going to be a very hard act to follow. 5/5’

Over The Effing Rainbow

‘If you can, read them one after another. The result is an emotionally charged and powerful roller coaster that will both exhaust and delight you in equal measure. Our Lady of the Streets is a fine ending to a very fine series, and we can’t wait to see what Tom Pollock produces next. 9 out of 10′

Starburst

30 Second Questions with Simon R. Green

Green, Simon RWe are very excited to be publishing the first eight of Simon R. Green’s Nightside novels in eBook. And to celebrate we gave Simon our 30 second questions. See what he said below.

Where were you born?

In Bradford-on-Avon, under a deep dark cloud.

What’s your comfort food?

It used to be fudge. Since I got diagnosed with diabetes last year; oat cake biscuits.

What’s your favourite tipple?

Used to be cider; now diet coke. It’s a hard world . . .

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

The power to always be right. And; Superman, obviously.

Dog or cat?

Dog. If you fell over and hurt yourself, a dog would get help. A cat would just sit and wait for you to die, so it could eat you.

Who is your favourite hero/heroine?

The Saint; Simon Templer. The original version from the books.

What keeps you sane?

Going a little crazy now and again.

Beaches or adventure?

The right beach can be an adventure!

What’s your holiday read?

Avram Davidson; Limekiller.

What is the best present you’ve ever received?

The orange Dalek annual, in my Christmas stocking, when I was about twelve.

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

There’s nothing you’ve got that the world can’t take away.

What would people be surprised to discover about you?

I really have seen a ghost.

Sweet or savoury?

Savoury. Sob, sob . . .

What is your favourite sport?

Watching sport. From a safe distance.

What is your favourite way to travel?

Motorbikes.

Would you rather read the book or watch the film?

The book. Books last longer.

What are you currently listening to?

Within Temptation; a Dutch band who sound like Abba on crack. And a compilation of 60s spy music, called Come Spy With Us.

So Loncon came and went

LonCon3 LogoSo Loncon came and went, and despite my deep and abiding loathing for ExCel (about which I can rant for hours; it’s still a nightmare for anyone with walking difficulties) I am glad to say the organisers and staff of the 2014 World SF Convention did everything they could to make it a stand-out convention – not least the second biggest WorldCon ever. And how wonderful to see so many old chums, from all over the world, all in one place to celebrate the best in science fiction and fantasy writing and art. That’s what conventions are all about.

Even the Hugo Awards went pretty well, and I was thrilled to be there to see Ginjer Buchanan win the Best Editor Award – not before time, for she’s just retired: a legendary publisher with a string of hits to her name.

Best party locale had to go to Voyager, who celebrated George R>R> Martin, Robin Hobb and Jane Johnson (huzzah!) on top of the Gherkin with the most amazing views of London, even through the rain. The Orbit party views weren’t too shabby either. But of course, the highlight had to be JFB’s fourth birthday party – with *balloons* and specially designed *badges*! And a *cake*! And a *magician*! And a *face painter* – who was enjoying it so much she stayed much later than she’d been booked . . .

So a big thank-you, not just to the behind-the-scenes team, but to the JFB team too: Nicola and Andy, you did good!*

Jo

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**And I’m glad I bought you the badge-making machine . . . Watch this space for the next JFB badges . . .

The Crazy Ride that was LonCon3

LonCon3 has whizzed by in the blink of an eye, but oh what a ride it was. It had a great atmosphere, great parties and – most importantly – great people, and I think I can safely say that I speak for all of team JFB when I say this was one hell of a convention!
Everyone we bumped into was as amazing as we knew they would be, so we’d like to send a big thank you to everyone who made our weekend so special: authors, bloggers and friends in the industry.

But particular thanks go to everyone who came to our 4th birthday party on the Friday night, and to our very welcome ‘gatecrashers’ SFX and Tor, who helped make the night what it was. We can confirm the rumours that there was a magician, a cake, a (spectacularly popular) face painter and that both Robin Hobb and George R R Martin made an appearance! It was great so many people could come and celebrate with us – we had a blast! And now for your viewing pleasure: some poor quality photos of the night :)

LonConParty1   LonConParty2

LonConParty3

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A week of fun topped of with LonCon 3

LonCon3 LogoUrk! It’s Wednesday, it’s ten to ten and it’s . . . no, not Crackerjack! As if you need me to tell you . . . It’s LonCon! As Nicola said yesterday, the World SF Convention is rolling into London this week and nothing will ever be the same again . . .

All right, so maybe there’s a little bit of exaggeration there, but there is no doubt that more than 8,000 avid fans of science fiction and fantasy – publishers, agents, editors, artists, writers and readers – descending upon our fair city is certainly going to have an impact, especially now that we’re practically mainstream, thanks to the inordinate book-and-film-and-tv success of series like True Blood and Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games and Twilight, amongst others. The week’s already full of exciting events, from Goldsboro Books’ Fantasy in the Court last night to a slew of publishers’ parties ranging from the insanely exclusive to the mad fun of our own birthday celebration, with gatecrashers and all. And yes, it’s true: I bought my team a badge-making machine, and they are now expert in the use of same (and a great many Quercus colleagues have been sidling by, muttering things like, ‘Oh! Could I just—?’ and gazing with lascivious envy at the kit ). Masters of the genre old and new are arriving in London as we speak and you’ll be bumping into the likes of George RR Martin, Robin Hobb, Robert Jackson Bennett and Mark Lawrence, not to mention most of the JFB stable, all over the place.

There’s only one problem with all this, and that’s that four or five days is simply not enough time to fit in everyone who’s coming to the con, and I know that I’m going to be spending the whole weekend repeating, ‘Hello! I had no idea you were coming! We must catch up—’ whilst knowing that the Keeper of my Diary (aka Nicola) has already said, ‘You have no more appointments left.’ So it looks like I’ll have to squish all my mad socialising into a few hours in the bar after the parties and the dinners and the awards ceremonies . . .

Still, I’m not complaining. The World SF Convention comes to Britain every decade or so, and it’s always a tremendous event – and even though my diary is full, I know that I’ll have caught up with lots of old friends, made some new ones, collected a pile of books I’m desperate to read and have added a whole lot of new authors to my ‘Must Publish One Day’ list’ – and that’s what it’s all about. Hope to see you there – and don’t be shy about saying hello!

Jo

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Loncon 3 is almost here!

LonCon3 BaloonsThis week we have been busily preparing for Loncon 3, or, the World SF Convention. This is the first time it has been held in the UK for a number of years and, with something like 8,000 attendees and counting, this will be the biggest convention I have ever been to. I’m pretty excited about it; I’m not going to lie.

And not just because of the size of it (pun not intended), but because JFB are having a party!

That’s right, folks – it’s our fourth birthday and we’ll be celebrating in style! There’ll be a magician, a face painter, a GIGANTIC BIRTHDAY CAKE, party bags (with badges in – Andy and I made all 390 with our own fair hands), authors galore, a bar (because this is a publisher’s fourth birthday party, after all) And, of course, it wouldn’t be a proper party without a couple of gatecrashers, so Tor and SFX will also be coming along for the ride and adding their professional might to the evening.

This is going to be one hell of a night. Buckle up and make sure to check back here and our Twitter account @JoFletcherBooks for all the news and pics from Loncon 3!

Nicola

Stephanie Saulter at LonCon3

Saulter, StephanieLonCon3 week is here, and we are sure you are as excited as we are. Following on from sharing Robert Jackson Bennett’s schedule with you last week we are now happy to be able to share Stephanie Saulter’s schedule with you all.

Does the Future Need to Be Plausible?

Thursday 14 August 10:00 – 11:00, Capital Suite 3 (ExCel)

One of the most common complaints about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is that the world she proposed was, at best, implausible. Collins is not alone is this. But to what extent do we need veracity from our imagined futures, and how much does the measure of ‘plausibility’ differ from reader to reader? Is a science fictional story diminished if it’s too divorced from the physical reality we live in? Is there a difference between a future we can see and a future we can only hypothesize in the abstract?

Howard Davidson (M), Janet C Johnston, Kin-Ming Looi, Ian McDonald, Stephanie Saulter

Kaffeeklatsch – Ken Macleod, Stephanie Saulter

Friday 15 August 10:00 – 11:00, London Suite 5 (ExCel)

Paradox Book Launch

Friday 15 August 16:30 – 17:30, Library, Fan Village (ExCel)

SF: What It Is, What It Could Be

Friday 15 August 19:00 – 20:00, Capital Suite 13 (ExCel)

SF as a genre is both loaded and contested, bringing with it decades of controversies, assumptions, prejudices, and possibilities. What do the genre’s various practitioners and consumers think SF is? Are we speaking the same language, or talking past each other? How do perceptions of SF – in terms of who can write it, who can consume it, and what kinds of stories can find a market – create or reinforce realities? Is ‘core’ SF still about space exploration and colonisation, or is there room for other types of stories? If SF is ‘dying’, as we’re frequently told, what does that mean and in whose interests are the preparations for its funeral?

Tobias Buckell, Jeanne Gomoll, Ramez Naam, Alastair Reynolds, Stephanie Saulter (M)

Reading – Stephanie Saulter

Friday 15 August 22:00 – 22:30, Capital Suite 13 (ExCel)

Race and British SF

Saturday 16 August 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 5 (ExCel)

Four years ago, Tricia Sullivan threw a spotlight on the gender balance of SF authors published in the UK, leading to a continuing conversation that is – perhaps – finally having an effect. However, although other aspects of representation have been mentioned in the course of this conversation, they have rarely been the focus, and in particular it can be argued that UK fandom and publishing have not talked enough about race. To use the same barometer as Sullivan, only one writer of colour has ever won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and so far this century only three have been shortlisted. Yet the success of diversity-led events such as Nine Worlds suggests the audience is there. So what else should publishers and fannish institutions in the UK be doing to support writers of colour? Whose work should Loncon attendees rush to buy in the dealer’s room? And whose novels and stories are we eagerly anticipating?

Dev Agarwal, Amal El-Mohtar (M), Tajinder Hayer, Stephanie Saulter, Russell Smith

Autographing 1 – Stephanie Saulter

Saturday 16 August 16:30 – 18:00, Autographing Space (ExCel)

You Don’t Like Me When I’m Angry

Sunday 17 August 15:00 – 16:30, Capital Suite 10 (ExCel)

Commenting on the portrayal of Magneto in X-Men: First Class, Abigail Nussbaum noted that there is an “increasing prevalence of vengeful victim characters, who are condemned not for the choices they make in pursuit of revenge, but simply for feeling anger … There is in stories like this a small-mindedness that prioritizes the almighty psychiatric holy grail of “healing” – letting go of one’s anger for the sake of inner peace – over justified, even necessary moral outrage.” Which other stories – on TV or in books, as well as in films – follow this template, and whose interests do they really serve? Where can we find screen depictions of the power of anger, and/or other models of anger?

Abigail Nussbaum’s full review can be found here (although the discussion is intended to range wider than this single film or franchise, and include stories from any media).

Nin Harris, Martin McGrath, Mary Anne Mohanraj (M), Tansy Rayner Roberts, Stephanie Saulter

SF/F Across Borders

Sunday 17 August 16:30 – 18:00, Capital Suite 9 (ExCel)

Genre writers such as Vandana Singh, Geoff Ryman, Tricia Sullivan, and Zen Cho are already travellers to other worlds. Many authors write as resident outsiders, and want to write their new homes as well as their old. How does the experience of moving between countries affect the writing of fiction? How can or should writers respond to the varying power dynamics of race, language and culture involved in such migrations? And how should readers approach the stories that result?

Jesús Cañadas, Glenda Larke, Yen Ooi Ms, Stephanie Saulter (M), Suzanne van Rooyen

Paradox Book Discussion

Monday 18 August 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 14 (ExCel)

A discussion of the science and fiction elements in the stories in the Fermi Paradox anthology from the authors who wrote them.

Pat Cadigan, David L Clements, Paul Cornell, Adam Roberts, Stephanie Saulter, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Ian Whates (M)

Robert Jackson Bennett at LonCon3

Robert Jackson BennettWe are sure you are all aware that next week (finally) sees the arrival of LonCon, and with it a plethora of our favourite authors will be visiting London. One such author is our very own Robert Jackson Bennett, whose City of Stairs hits shelves on 2 October (but will be available exclusively at our LonCon party at The Fox from 18:30-20:30 on the Friday night). To ensure you don’t miss out on seeing Robert, we have compiled this lovely little list of panels he is on. We hope it helps.

I Like My Secondary World Fantasy a Little on the Techy Side

Friday 10:00 – 11:00, Capital Suite 4 (ExCeL)

Some secondary world fantasies, like Brandon Sanderson’s Alloy of Law, Francis Knight’s Fade to Black, and Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt, have ventured into industrialisation. To what extent can the kinds of narratives common in secondary world and epic fantasies find a home in these kinds of settings? Is technological development less “believable” in a world with magic?

Django Wexler (M), Robert Jackson Bennett, Floris M. Kleijne, Glenda Larke, Adrian Tchaikovsky

Carving A Legacy Among Legends

Friday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 10 (ExCeL)

Horror is a genre dominated by icons. Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, and others have paced the horror field for a generation. Does this hugely successful minority disproportionately demonstrate a viable market for horror stories? How does a debut author break in? Have urban fantasy and paranormal romance replaced horror to any extent? Does this correlate to the success of horror stories in the independent publishing markets?

David Nickle (M), Robert Jackson Bennett, John Jarrold, Lisa Tuttle, Ann Vandermeer

Imaginative Resistance

Saturday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL)

Hume in his essay ‘Of The Standard of Taste’ asked why we are willing to suspend disbelief when authors make all sorts of wild claims but draw the line when the author makes moral claims contrary to our own. This might be less true today than it was in Hume’s time but we have our own moral rubicons. From sexual taboos to the role of government, what are the sort of things that readers tend to reject regardless of how skillfully the author makes the case? In other words, what sort of stories provoke imaginative resistance? How can this feeling be used to deliberate effect, for example within the horror genre?

Jeff VanderMeer (M), Robert Jackson Bennett, Pat Cadigan, Daryl Gregory, Sarita Robinson

Autographing 5 – Robert Jackson Bennett

Saturday 15:00 – 16:30, Autographing Space (ExCeL)

Kaffeeklatsch

Saturday 19:00 – 20:00, London Suite 4 (ExCeL)

Robert Jackson Bennett, Bridget Landry

Books, readings and so much more (Brownies)

TomNewsletter1
 

Tom Pollock and Jo Fletcher Books would like to invite you to come and celebrate the launch of Our Lady of the Streets with us THIS Thursday (7 August) at Forbidden Planet London.

‘Vivid, inventive – and truly weird.’ Daily Mail

Pollock, Tom 1Ever since Beth Bradley found her way into a hidden London, the presence of its ruthless goddess, Mater Viae, has lurked in the background. Now Mater Viae has returned with deadly consequences.

The streets are wracked by convulsions as muscles of wire and pipe go into spasm, bunching the city into a crippled new geography; pavements flare to thousand-degree fevers, incinerating pedestrians; and towers fall, their foundations decayed. As the city sickens, so does Beth – her essence now part of this secret London. But when it is revealed that Mater Viae’s plans for dominion stretch far beyond the borders of the city, Beth must make a choice: flee, or sacrifice her city in order to save it.

That’s right folks. The final book in the Skyscraper Thron trilogy is almost here, and TomNewsletter2we would like you to come along and celebrate with us.! Get your signed copy of Our Lady of the Streets (or the entire trilogy if you want!) and you can also hear Tom doing a reading from the final installment in the trilogy and get your hand on some lovely home made brownies (previewed to the right).

And once everyone has had their fill of sugar we would love you to join us for a celebratory drink at The Hercules Pillars on Greek Street.

We look forward to seeing you there, and if you are coming, why not RSVP on this very special Facebook page?

Finally, to get you in the mood don’t forget to explore our very special map of Tom’s secret London!

Win a copy of The Glass Republic

With the paperback of The Glass Republic hitting shelves today and Our Lady of the Streets coming next week we decided to celebrate by offering you the chance to win 1 of 10 copies of The Glass Republic. It’s easy to enter and you have until next Tuesday at 10:00am to do so. So what’s stopping you?!

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Find out more about John Matthews (Part II)

The Fourth Gwenevere cover artThe Fourth Gwenevere will be hitting shelves soon and in preparation we sat down with John Matthews to ask him a few questions. The first half of the interview can be found here, and part two is below.

11.     How did you first get published?

By accident. A friend heard that his publisher was looking for a book about the Grail legends and told them I knew more about it than anyone else. The rest is history . . . And that first book is still in print from 1981

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 always play music. Generally film soundtracks, which I try to fit to what I’m writing. For this one, almost anything by Hans Zimmer or Howard Shore

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

Not really. Just someone who gets excited by what they read.

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

I was very scared at the idea of trying to finish off a book by an author I idolised.

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

Huh? Read. Sleep occasionally. That’s it

16.     Do you let your parents read your books?

Both mine are dead. But my mother was very proud of my books and used to go into bookshops to engage assistants in conversation in order to tell them I was a writer! My dad, alas, died before I wrote my first.

17.     Who is your favourite fictional hero/heroine? And what about your favourite villain?

Gandalf and Lyra Balaqua.

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

Bits of people. I like to put places in though, especially if it’s somewhere my friends will recognise.

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

Show up. Sit in front of a blank screen or sheet of paper. Write whatever comes. Tear it up if necessary and start again. Don’t be too in love with your words.

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?

Le Morte D’Arthur
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
The Lord of the Rings

(Yes, I know, obvious, right? But they are the ones I go back to again and again.)

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

Do you think you’ll ever stop writing? Answer: not as long as I’m breathing.  Maybe obvious but I’ve been asked it a few times by fans.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

So to say we are a little excited for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies would be quite an understatement. And so there were definite squees of excitement around the office when the first trailer was released. And once we had stopped squeeing we thought we should share the trailer with all of you.

Enjoy!

On Drawing

For a change I thought I’d talk about the other part of my life this week (my job being the first part) – art.

Oh, don’t worry, I’m not one of those people who is going to tell you that that thing, which looks suspiciously like a pile of excrement, is in fact a comment on the transience of life*; I did a four-year Fine Art degree, during which I had quite enough of that, thank you. No, I’m primarily going to talk about it because I drew this the other week:

Skyscraper Map

Now we’re using it in order to illustrate the secret London of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne series. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty proud of it, it took me over 24 hours (if you added each hour up into a solid block) to draw it. And yes, it is to scale. I got a lightbox to help me draw over a map and everything. I felt like a proper grown-up artist. If you get a moment, go over and check it out www.skyscraperthrone.com, because Tom has written some stuff to go with each major landmark and, let’s be honest, the man can write.

Nicola

* If in doubt, know that everything in modern art can be linked back to the transience of life – a little tip for you there.

P.S. *Shameless plug alert* If you fancy looking at other things that I draw, or some of my book-related art, or you are just plain bored, you can check out my new shop at www.onemagpie.bigcartel.com or my facebook www.facebook.com/onemagpie.

 

A glimpse of Tom Pollock’s London

Everyone who has read any of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy will have been immersed in the secret London he has created in the series. And to celebrate the forthcoming release of Our Lady of the Streets we are pleased to bring you an interactive map so you can see Tom’s London yourself, and get a reminder of what happened where if you need it. You can see the map below and if you click it you will be taken to the interactive version. Enjoy!

SkyscraperThroneMap

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

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 14.00.32

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

Free sampler!

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