Loving Luke Caporn’s “geek den”.
Fab story, all the way from Oz, at WAtoday about SF collectors and collecting, and über-collector Luke in particular…
Loving Luke Caporn’s “geek den”.
Fab story, all the way from Oz, at WAtoday about SF collectors and collecting, and über-collector Luke in particular…
Last week I spent six hours breaking lots of Health and Safety Guidelines. It wasn’t planned, m’lud; I should make that clear! I do understand why it’s important to take breaks from the screen, and I do get up and walk about every 15 minutes generally – I promise I didn’t have ‘ignore H&S advice!’ on the increasingly lengthy ‘to do’ list Nicola presents me with at regular intervals – but sometimes it’s just unavoidable. In this case, it was by dint of sitting at my computer with editor Stephen Jones and going through the copy-edit of Fearie Tales in one mammoth session.
Normally I would send the Track Changes-annotated manuscript to the author (or, in this case, the editor) to go through in the comfort of his or her own home, but in this case, we were running late. Steve had already spent three months working with the authors on the initial edit, and it had taken Nicola some weeks to go through the book once again, and then me another fortnight to go through Nicola’s copy-edits with her (that’s the mentoring bit of the job and it’s not one any publisher should ever skimp on, because we are desperately short of good copy-editors and if we can’t be bothered to train new people, we have no right to whinge about having no one capable of doing the job).
So Steve suggested he come in and go through the changes with us, so we could do the whole, ‘You must be mad: no idiot puts a comma there!’ and ‘What do you mean, you don’t hyphenate adverbs ending in –ly?’ thing in person. Well, we’re grown-ups and we can have that sort of professional discussion in a civilised manner without coming to blows, so that’s what we did.
As an aside, I have to say Fearie Tales is a truly fantastic anthology, and I am very sorry you have to wait until October to get your hands on a copy. Yes, yes, I know you expect me to rave about each and every book on my list; I’d certainly not go through all the hell of acquiring something I felt lukewarm about, would I? But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to celebrate when something’s delivered and it turns out to be even better than I’d expected. (I say that about all my books too? Well, okay, fair point . . . but I’m still going to ignore you.)
Let’s face it, where else would you get the likes of Chocolat bestseller Joanne Harris rubbing shoulders with British Fantasy Award-winner and relative newcomer Angela Slatter? Or Swedish horror star John Ajvide Linqvist appearing in the same tome as Markus Heitz, Germany’s heroic fantasy chartbuster? Or a line-up that includes Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell and Garth Nix, all sitting cheek by jowl? And there are many more treats within the Alan-Lee-illustrated covers too, so now you’ll just have to be patient until October, when I promise you that patience will be rewarded . . .
Where was I? Oh yes, sitting glued to the screen,
arguing over discussing the placement of each and every hyphen, dash and comma . . . and I could see, out of the corner of my eye, some of my colleagues thinking, as the minutes rolled into hours, does it really matter?
I hope I don’t have to tell you the answer to that one. It is, of course, an emphatic yes! – and yes, that was me, adding an exclamation mark. The placement of punctuation marks most certainly does matter, no matter how small the change. I think by now you’ve worked out that I am what might be charitably described as ‘a little anal’ about such things – but someone’s got to be. Some experienced (or previously burned) writers send in ‘Do not touch my text’ orders when they deliver their stories, but no matter how much work the author and editor do beforehand, things can still get missed, and no creative person worth their salt will refuse to be copy-edited – after all, they can always say no to the suggested changes.
Of course, I know at least one of the reasons for those requests: one very highly acclaimed award-winning writer had to have his brand-new collection pulped before publication because the copy-editor had decided she didn’t like his style and had taken it upon herself to rewrite the stories in her own voice – and as the author had not seen either the copy-edit or the proof pages before publication, the first he knew of it was when his author copies arrived. So you can understand why he doesn’t want his prose touched . . .
So I always have that little horror story at the back of my mind when I’m busy
eviscerating tidying up my Beloved Authors’ text. It’s of paramount importance to keep the authorial voice, so on this occasion, one story has had some ‘ain’t’s inserted – it’s not a word I use myself, but it’s what the character says, and so I’ve made it consistent. There’s a completely different character in the story set in northern Britain, where I’ve removed a couple of creeping Americanisms that couldn’t be explained by too much TV. There’s a wonderful stream-of-consciousness piece, and the problem there is putting aside my own natural inclination to pepper it with punctuation, because in this case that would destroy the effect the writer is aiming for.
I hope you begin to see the art in copy-editing.
And finally, after all those hours of pouring over the pages, making sure that every change is necessary, that it improves the story, we reach that glorious moment when I type THE END. Steve, Nicola and I have all agreed that a good job has been done by all (and all that fussocking around, deciding if it should be a semi-colon or a full stop, was worth it). I have finally remembered to actually save the text, and now I have sent copies to Steve, for his files, and to go through with the authors where it’s not just typos, to the Production department, to have the pages typeset, and to the Rights department, to start selling the book in and we can raise a metaphorical glass to each other, which will do until we can actually get to the pub and raise a proper glass!
So that’s Fearie Tales done and dusted (well, except for getting the final illustrations in, and the proofreading, and the voucher proof checks, and the—
Excuse me, but I can’t hang around here chatting to you all day. As you can see, I have work to do!
Another bad week. This blog is late because I just couldn’t write it yesterday. I know you’ll understand, and I know you’ll forgive me.
Having to say goodbye is always hard, whether we’ve known someone for many years or just a few. Having to say goodbye to two literary supernovae in one week? That’s frankly not fair, and I can understand why the outpourings of grief have rocked the writing world.
But I cannot ignore it, and nor can I leave it to others to do all the hard work. The papers, blogs, websites – in fact, the whole Interweb – have been full of eulogising voices, and I will add my own small contribution as a mark of respect to two writers who have both, in their own ways, made our field an infinitely better one. One was a personal friend, one someone I revered, and the hole they leave individually is the same: unfillable.
If you haven’t read Jack Vance’s Lyonesse or his Dying Earth series, do yourself a favour: go out and buy them now. Jack was 96, full of years, when he died a couple of days ago, and during that time he produced more than 60 novels of science fiction, fantasy, adventure and mystery (including some as the portmanteau author ‘Ellery Queen’), as well as dozens and dozens of short stories. He once told me he wrote so much because he got bored easily – that was why, when atrocious eyesight kept him out of the army, he blagged his way into the Merchant Navy by memorising the eye chart. His travels – and he did like to travel – took him all over the world, often with Norma, his wife, who predeceased him a few years back, and informed much of his fiction.
Jack was awarded the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award in 1984 and was made a SF Grand Master in 1997, to add to his collection of awards for individual works . . . all of which tells you that both his peers and his readers thought exceptionally highly of him. He was a genial man, but very private; generally when asked questions at conventions he’d whip out his ukulele and kazoo – check out this video if you don’t believe me.
But he was both a writer’s writer – just look at the stars lining up to sing his praises – and a reader’s writer: no one ever came away from a Jack Vance scratching their head and thinking, well, I can see it’s well written, but what did it mean? He was a many-storied man and I for one am grateful for his prolific output, for I can start reading his works from the beginning again (and try very hard not to think that there’ll never be a new Jack Vance story to surprise and delight me with its language, its characters, its sheer exuberance).
You had a good run, Jack, and we’re going to miss you.
Iain Banks had a good run too, at least in terms of the books he produced, but dammit, Iain: 59?! What were you thinking?
I was expecting at least another thirty years of clever, biting, curious, different science fiction and literary fiction (he used the ‘M’ in his name to distinguish between his genre and mainstream fiction, but he never fooled any of us; if you’re an Iain Banks fan you read everything, as soon as it comes out, no matter how the bookshops might label it.
I’ve still got the copy of The Wasp Factory he forgot to sign to me one rainy May Day Monday in Whitstable (I carried it around all day as we processed from pub to pub, but we were talking so hard and laughing so much I never pulled it out until he’d got on the train to return to Faversham). He hadn’t been entirely sure people would ‘get’ it.
Well, dear Iain, they ‘got’ The Wasp Factory and they ‘got’ you. I know I am far from alone in feeling cheated by his death. We had a few months to get used to it – and who else would post their imminent demise on the Web so we could all see exactly what was going on instead of relying on rumour and Chinese whispers?
Part of me was glad to have the news straight from the horse’s mouth, of course, but a larger part of me kept thinking, if you hadn’t done that, we might have been able to pretend it was all right really. Sometimes I think ostriches are not entirely wrong in their world outlook . . .
But let us not forget that Iain leaves a substantial body of work, including the brand new novel, The Quarry (a horribly prescient story, in retrospect). Let’s send it to the Number One spot as tribute to him, shall we?
I think fellow Scot and SF writer Ken McLeod said it best: ‘Staunch, generous, humane and loyal, with a great love of life, he was, as has been said, two of our best writers.’
So farewell, then, Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks. We are honoured to have known and loved you. And Adele, you have all of our fond wishes.
Last week I touched on the issues surrounding women writing Sci-Fi, and one point came up that I thought needed a bit more exploration: the myth of Science Fiction. I have found, during my time at JFB, that many people outside the genre don’t really understand SF. All they see are big spaceships and evil aliens and ‘no that’s enough thank you, it’s not my type of novel’. But it’s so much more than that. Take for example, the many facets of SF that are not Space Opera: dystopian, apocalyptic and post-apocolyptic, social, mundane, steampunk, spy-fi, bio-punk, dying earth, time travel, I could go on. And I’ll bet many don’t know that The Time Traveller’s Wife could be classed as SF, or Wool, or The Hunger Games, or The Shining Girls. Then, of course, there’s hard science fiction, soft science fiction and social science fiction . . . and all of these encompass thousands of different ideas, worlds and sub-plots. I ask you: how can you narrow the genre down to one tiny aspect of it? And how do you know if you never try? Just because Alastair Reynolds writes one type of SF, doesn’t mean that someone like Karen Lord is the same. Nowhere near, in fact.
To take the example of Karen; her book, The Best of All Possible Worlds is set on a planet called Cygnus Beta, where Sadiri settlers are trying to re-build their race after their home planet has been entirely destroyed. What follows is an exploration of race, gender and identity; of character, personality, individuality and love. As Tor.com puts it: ‘A class apart…Utterly astonishing. This is a sweet and gentle and sorrowful novel, realised with warmth and wit and wonder. It is beautiful yet blue; tragic, yet true’. This is an example of SF at its most inclusive, its most exploratory, and because of this Lord has already been likened to Ursula Le Guin.
And if you are going to go for a social science fiction – take Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter. Set in the near future on our planet, a deadly Syndrome caused by our reliance on technology has almost decimated the human population. But a cure was found in the form of genetically engineered humans – the Gems. This novel questions where the line should fall between survival and ethics, it asks the reader for their own opinions, their own discussions. It is intelligent, pacy, well-plotted and leans more towards thriller territory. And there’s not a spaceship in sight. Think about it.
I won’t pick out too many more of our SF books, but when you look at these two compared to Seoul Survivors: A cyber thriller described as ‘Sheer adrenalin’, or Planesrunner by Ian McDonald, a YA adventure that spans millions of parallel universes, or The Detainee, a novel set after the Earth’s financial collapse, voiced by ageing ‘Big Guy’ Clancy, a sixty-year-old ex-mafia heavy. You can see the sheer expanse of subjects and plotting that SF can touch upon.
And those are just our authors.
This diversity in the genre should encourage people to read it – Jo herself has mentioned it before: you can not find this kind of disparity in any other literary genre (barring fantasy). I dare you to take the leap.
And if all of this has failed to persuade you to pick up just one science-fiction novel, do bear this in mind: when you pick up a book it automatically transports you to another world, you might as well actually visit one while you’re at it.
I’ve dragged myself to my desk today to catch up with the 523 emails that accrued whilst I was off visiting one of the most beautiful areas of Germany. The Moselle Valley is littered with castles in various states of repair (and ownership). Perusing the handy-dandy Castles on the Moselle guidebook, it revealed just how many of these wrecks – most of which appear to have been trashed by the French at some point over the last five hundred years – have been gleefully handed over to a visiting prince, emperor or even merely enormously wealthy potentate who happens to have wandered by, lumbering them with enormous repair bills and no way to abrogate responsibility without losing face. Cunning, I thought.
It should have been the perfect choir tour: as a guide once said to @LitAgentDrury and me in Rhodos some years ago: ‘You got yer ’istory and you got yer culture – and some of it’s even quite interesting!’. (That was an interesting visit; the extraordinarily hungover young lady in question was clearly better able to deal with the drink-sodden louts of Faliraki than the educated winers-and-diners of Lindos . . .)
But back to the Moselle Valley from Koblenz to Trier: as I was saying before I got distracted by the thoughts of Greek sunshine, it should have been perfect: as well as the aforementioned castles, a variety of picture-postcard villages and towns and the spectacular landscape, the Moselle Valley has ten distinct grape varieties that make for some truly exceptional wines that rarely make it out of the country as the vineyards (mostly running up very steep mountain terraces), though perfectly formed, are small.
So what, we thought as we checked I had music (tick), choir folder (tick), choir dress (tick), picnic for train (tick) and fully loaded ereader (tick), was not to like?
We were suitably smug, @LitAgentDrury, Chris and I, the only three of us who had voted to go by train, leaving St Pancras at three in the afternoon after a lovely luncheon and arriving at Koblenz, three trains later, just before ten p.m.), rather than the 40-odd who struggled to the coach for a four a.m. start and staggered into the Hotel Scholz just in time for a six pm rehearsal (oh joy!).
And the first day was indeed everything we’d hoped for as we took the cablecar to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, high above the Rhine (‘Yer got yer ’istory . . .) and then a picturesque drive to the spa town of Bad Ems (‘Yer got yer culture’) for our first concert . . . perhaps we shouldn’t have tried the waters before we sang, but I don’t think many noticed the sulphuric tones to our voices . . .
And then things started to go slightly awry. First off, the promised internet coverage was conspicuous by its absence, and I’d promised to phone an agent with an offer for a rather wonderful little gem (more on that later; I’ll just give you a tiny hint: the Arthurian legend never goes out of fashion, if it’s done well . . . and this is).
I didn’t worry too much, as I had my trusty Batphone with me. More on that later too; I’ll just say: never trust the advertisements! (I’ll be having words with Neil later . . .)
We’d all seen the rather dour weather forecasts for the week, but Chris had decided that just as her cat would walk from the back window to the front, expecting the weather to be better, so she would search for a weather forecast that was more to her liking than the ones we’d all come up with . . .
And astonishingly, she did, and it looked like the sunshine on Tuesday had proved her right and the rest of London Forest Choir wrong . . .
Only, as a German publisher once told me at Frankfurt when I groused about the rain, ‘It was advertised!’ it turns out you can fool the weather gods only so often . . . within a couple of hours the sky had turned leaden, the wind had risen and the streets were taking on distinctly wet hues.
The following morning’s Rhine cruise – all four hours of it – looked much like this:
That evening’s concert was in Bad Münster. The spa water was even worse, but the audience was equally appreciative (if significantly damper than at Bad Ems).
The following day our excursion to Cochem (that’s Cochem in the first vineyard pic, by the way, as seen from the castle) was marginally less soggy, but it took me so long to climb up to Reichburg that we didn’t actually have time to go inside.
Good thing one of my fellow choir members bought some postcards: now you need never know we opted for a bit of off-piste wine-tasting instead of the aforementioned ’istory and culture . . .) The afternoon’s concert at the Florinskirche was greeted by a good audience and less-grey skies so we all celebrated with German beer, as you do.
And the final day took us to Trier, a particular favourite of Ian’s and mine. But it was hard to get excited about Germany’s oldest town when all you could see for miles around was open umbrellas and sad faces.
So instead we took refuge, first in the cathedral – sadly, the Robe of Christ, which is pretty high up on the relic scale – was locked up inside a big box inside a gated niche, so we had to imagine the glory of the sacred robe gifted to the town by Helena, mother of Constantine.
So after that we had no choice but to whizz over to the actual Constantine Basilica, where we stood in awe in the largest of the Roman basilicae, on the very place where Constantine the Great (aka Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus, AD 306–337) had his great throne.
The first Christian emperor, the man responsible for the Holy Roman Empire, made Trier (then Augusta Treverorum) the capital of Rome’s Western Empire and his home.
(Yer got yer ‘istory . . . don’t say I never share!)
The shiver down my spine was not just from being soaking wet.
I managed to finally get my phone to work that afternoon, four days late, but Constantine was smiling on me and I got the book. Sorry, Other Publisher – but I promise I’ll treat it properly!
The train journey home was uneventful, as I am sure are most of those 500-odd emails, but they both had to be done.
So I can hear you wondering: yes, okay, nice hols and all, but what has any of this got to do with publishing? Well, other than the fact that I did read Stephanie Saulter’s just-delivered sequel to Gemsigns (and I have no doubt you’re going to love Binary even more), today’s lesson, Beloved Reader, is to do with this: I’ve come home to the sky a very odd colour – I’d call it blue if I didn’t know better. And there’s a great ball of light there too. All very strange.
I thought skies were always grey, and generally on the wet side.
And here’s the thing: this is so unexpected, not just after the week that’s plunged central Europe into floods, but after months of cold, grey, miserable weather that I feel like I have stepped into a fantasy novel: it doesn’t feel normal.
And yet good fantasy and science fiction is where the author manages to do just that: to make the weirdness feel real, normal, understandable.
It’s one of the things I always say to those idiots who try to dis genre fiction as ‘shallow’ or ‘pulp’: those who write our sort of fiction have to do everything a literary writer has to do, and more, because as well as the characters and the plot and the pacing, you have to build your weird world so successfully so no one notices the joins – and that’s the same whether you’ve got two moons pulling the tides in different directions, or inserting vampires into downtown Denver or gun-toting androids into modern Seoul, or walking dead into post apocalyptic America . . . our Beloved Author’s got to put an enormous amount of thought and effort into how that world works so you, Beloved Reader, don’t have to.
That includes the flora and fauna too: they have to make sense within the context. If you have a high-gravity planet, large creatures are going to have a hell of a time managing all that force; likewise, if there’s next to no gravity, how’s something like a sparrow going to keep grounded? So you need to work out how that’s going to work before you even start writing, so that no one’s going to stop reading halfway through and chuck the book into the charity bag because it doesn’t make sense.
That’s no small task for any writer (and let’s not forget the editor, copy-editor and proofreader, who all have to check that it works too). So next time you get to the end of something and realise you’re looking around for a dereshadi or you thought you caught a glimpse of something that looked awfully like a scaffwolf, raise a glass to the imaginations who came up with all the nuts and bolts that turn out such exceptional works of fiction . . .
. . . and hope they are fiction . . .
While I have you, two brief mentions: Waterstones are about to launch a new promotion: ‘The Book That Made Me’, all about the personal influences that books have on us all.
The book chain is going to ask the nation for books that made the biggest impact on them and the stories behind those changes – maybe a book made you travel the world, take up a musical instrument or get married. They have a microsite – Waterstones.com/tbtmm, and they ask you to use the Twitter and Facebook buttons to tell all your friends you’ve taken part and to share your story.
And for all your short fiction writers: the British Fantasy Society’s short story competition is about to close. Award-winning editor and BFS stalwart Allen Ashley (he won the BFS award for Best Anthology in 2006 as editor of The Elastic Book Of Numbers from Elastic Press) is judging.
This year’s competition closes at midnight British Summer Time on Sunday 30 June. Word limit is 5,000 words. Allen is planning on announcing the winners at WFC, the World Fantasy Convention, in Brighton, if all goes according to plan.
BFS members can enter one story for free (and if you’re reading this and not a member of the BFS and the BSFA, why not?) and it’s just £5 per entry for non-members. For full submission guidelines click here
Now I really am going. Those 523 emails won’t read themselves, you know . . .
Do you write primarily from experience, or are you a keen researcher – and has that research ever changed the course of the story?
There is no better way to procrastinate than research but in a historical fantasy like Irenicon it’s key. Dates and trivia are not as important as learning to appreciate the ways people of the past thought differently. It’s easy to assume contemporary mores are universal and eternal. I like stories that begin by whipping the safety blanket away from you.
Research didn’t change my story – I knew the broad course before I started – but it definitely helped me to navigate and breathe life into it.
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?
Only three – seriously?!
I’d start with The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. It’s about a father and son trying to survive in a grey, dying world – it’s absolutely wonderful, and it’d hopefully make me appreciate the blue skies and turquoise seas and all the colourful fish!
American Gods by Neil Gaiman takes the premise that all the gods from all the lands that have ever been brought to America from different cultures are still there. This is the story of what they get up to.
I’d also take along a ‘Best of’ collection of short stories – maybe the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror #18, edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. It has the advantage of being big, for a start, and it has great variety, and on top of that it includes ‘Watch and Wake’ by M.T. Anderson, which gives me the complete heebie-jeebies.
I thought my admiration for Shakespeare couldn’t be higher. Then the story broke last month that he was a tax dodger.
Predictably, the story garnered a bemused reaction. I say predictably because most of his biographers have struggled to square the man who imagined Lear to the frugal fellow who bequeathed his long suffering wife his “second-best bed”. There’s an underlying assumption that real artists should be unworldly chaps who only contemplate elevated subjects, and certainly nothing so vulgar as cash. But is it really so surprising the Bard wanted to keep his money out of the Exchequer’s claws? Aside from the little we know about his life, he makes Debt the hinge of several of his plays. I submit that it is not Shakespeare’s behaviour that needs explanation but the bizarre assumption that writers ought not to mention one of the few subjects that engages everyone.
It seems doubly odd that that it shouldn’t be more of a consideration for Fantasy writers considering that war so often is. War isn’t dolce or decorum, and it’s not bloody cheap either. In fact it’s just about the most expensive things States do. A battle can change history, and so can trying to bankroll one.
In 1344, England’s King Edward III defaulted on his loans, wiping out the two most eminent banks of the day, the Bardi and the Peruzzi of Florence. This created a vacuum in which a family of lowly pawnbrokers could rise to power. A domino of bankruptcies crosses the continent because one man maxed his credit card. Perhaps this intricate pattern isn’t beautiful but at the very least it suggests another way of looking at the world, something the best art forces us to do. We think our world is unprecedentedly connected, and it is, but lines of credit girded the world long before broadband cables. Money, above all, is liquid. The stuff gets everywhere.
So much for seed capital, the complicated business of the battle itself is enough to make the most bullish turn tail. Fantasy readers know you’re in trouble when the kingdom’s armies are summoned to muster on the third night of Alderöch by the Rock of Doom and everyone arrives on time, flying splendid pendants and resplendent in armour. The horses are shod. The infantry is not only wearing in matching uniforms but perfectly drilled. Everyone’s well fed and fit to fight.
Whether you’re on Barsoom or Middle Earth, it’s not that easy.
Read about Caesar’s or Marlborough’s wars in France and you’ll find it wasn’t leading cavalry charges worrying those commanders so much as dull question of what’s for dinner. Armies never just show up. Some overworked quartermaster has to open his purse to see to that. I’m not saying what’s missing from contemporary Fantasy are dry logistics, that what is urgently needed are more scenes with Splaäg the Orc agonising over purchase orders of stockings, or Bjorn Dragonblood haggling with his farrier. All I’m saying is that a smidgen of consideration to the nitty gritty wouldn’t go astray. Indeed the nitty gritty can be a rich source of drama and humour – Joe Abercrombie makes this trick, besides everything else, look easy.
The name of the family that profited by King Edward’s bad faith of course was Medici. Florence’s most famous family are the inspiration for the Bombelli family in my Wave Trilogy. Fabbro, a sociable and ambitious merchant in Irenicon, becomes mayor in The Warring States. The business of running a town, the bribery, horse trading, compromises and chicanery causes him to lose his way. He becomes a weather vane trying to appease everyone – especially his spirited daughter Maddalena. His many sons meanwhile have spread throughout the city states of Etruria, becoming lenders to Doges, Dukes and even Concordians.
There’s plenty of pure fancy in The Warring States, but the Bombelli’s fairy-tale rise to power is quite plausible: the Medici went from coin changers to popes and queens in three generations. What magic made it possible?
I’ll give you a hint. It wasn’t Dragon’s blood . . .
If you’re an SF fan, you would have had to be living with your head in the sand to miss this debate. It’s such a big one, I feel like it needs caps, or possibly a scrolly, fading-into-the-distance introduction akin to something you’d find in Star Wars. It is: WOMEN IN SF. Or, more specifically, why the heck aren’t there more recognised women writers in the SF field?
Let’s start with one issue: the stigma surrounding SF. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s in SPACE, there are SPACESHIPS and warp speed and aliens with green blood who fight us puny humans and somehow we prevail! This is not helped by the SF films that tend to hit the big time, just look at what you’ve got coming out this summer: After Earth, Pacific Rim, World War Z. Now, I’m not saying these films are bad, and I’m certainly not saying that I don’t like them (I recently saw the new Star Trek: Into Darkness, and god did I want MORE), but what I am saying is that all of these films perpetuate the myth outlined above: SF is space opera. Alongside this you have the audience these films are targeting: men. Clearly, demonstrably, men. I’ve not seen many SF films specifically targeted at women, have you? I mean, you’ve got The Hunger Games, which is SF, but that’s for kids/teenagers/adult-kids, whatever. It follows then, that SF is seen as a male-dominated field.
But does that translate into book sales? I’m not sure. It has already been demonstrated that far more women read books than men, so, logically, this would suggest that more women read science-fiction. Except it’s not a perfect balance, is it? You can’t spread all the genders out over all the genres and assign each one slices of the pie. It comes down to personal taste: in my opinion, that’s unquantifiable. And in any case, why should the gender of the audience matter? I read books by both men and women, I see a book, I want that book based on the cover/the synopsis/the plot/a recommendation; I will buy that book regardless of the gender of the author writing it. So, am I unusual in this? I’d like to know (comments below please!). No matter how hard I try, I just can’t believe that male SF readers would genuinely be turned off by the horrifying sight of a woman’s name on the cover of an SF book.
I think, what we really need to know first is: how many female authors are writing in the SF field compared to male authors? This seems like a logical place to start, to me. If SF has always previously been seen as the realm of men, then it might follow that more men are interested in writing it, which would address some of the balance (bear with me). Of course, gender barriers are more broken down now than they ever were in say, the 1800s, but what I am thinking is that, if in the past it was less acceptable for women to write Science Fiction, then perhaps less women did? HOWEVER, I do not believe this would fully address the odd balance that prevails at the moment simply because of the numbers: SF writers would have to be almost 100% male to tip the balance in the way it currently stands. This, I think you’ll agree, is not true.
We do need more recognition of female writers in Science Fiction, but I also think we are in the process of addressing this. You’ve got Karen Lord, Stephanie Saulter & Naomi Foyle from us this year. And I, for one, have read Janet Edwards from Harper Voyager and Jaine Fenn from Gollancz. And – shock horror – neither of them have been asked to take male names. And this is just a very small sample. You’ve also got the issue that SF just doesn’t sell as well as other genres – whether that be Fantasy or otherwise – so you might expect recognition of the authors writing SF to be confined to just a very small percentage of them. And let’s admit it, the way it stands at the moment, the biggest SF authors are men; whether this was because, at the time, there were less women writing SF, or because male SF readers really do only read male SF writers, or because us evil publishers don’t publish female SF writers, or because these are just the best SF books and it just so happens that they’re written by men, I don’t know.
One thing I do know, however, is that you’re about to see far more female SF writers coming from all of the publishers, and hopefully, this will reflect in both next year’s awards system and sales numbers alike. Until then, keep reading, keep exploring and if you’re after a good rescource for finding female genre authors, you could check out worldswithoutend.com, who have a huge database, and whom JFB will be linking up with soon. If you’ve got any more recommendations, I’d love to seethem below. And I’d love to hear your comments, too, so feel free!
Did you always dream of becoming a writer? And if so, has it turned out to be how you always imagined it?
I always loved books, from a really early age. I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when I was five, and was addicted to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, even though they made me cry (or perhaps because of it). And I loved writing my own little books. When I got older, though, I just thought of writing as something other people did. It took me a good few years to get it into my head that I really needed to try it for myself – because deep down, the dream was still there. Now it’s within reach, it’s an absolute joy. I feel incredibly lucky.
Editor’s note: And don’t forget, you can follow Ali on:
and her website www.alisonlittlewood.co.uk
You can also buy Path of Needles, Ali’s latest book, now!
As you know, I’ve been having a high old time of it recently, what with international launches and cocktail parties and oysters and espresso martinis and the like. We even celebrated a whole month Without Builders by throwing a small but perfectly formed dinner party this weekend (and thank you for asking, the lamb and spiced prune tajine with quinoa and beet-leaves was every bit as delicious as I had hoped). But you don’t just invite people over and provide a delicious and nutritious meal and count that a dinner party success, do you?
First of all you have to excavate the lounge so there’s somewhere for them to sit, and of course ours is still full of Stuff – not just displaced kitchen items like the duck popcorn maker (which I refuse point-blank to give away; we were given it as a wedding present – eight years ago today, actually – and I think it’s cute. Who could not be cheered by a duck popcorn maker? And one day we will have the time to actually use it.) And the various bits of drawer and unit left over from the great Kitchen Débâcle are bound to come in useful at some point. And the box of kitchen implements excess to requirements that will be Freecycled in due course. And then there are all the books that have arrived in the house over the past few months that have not yet joined either the ‘unread’ pile or the ‘to be filed’ pile or the ‘to be gifted’ pile. And the tools have not yet returned to the airing cupboard as we are still fixing things. At any rate, you begin to see our dilemma.
But that’s what halls are for, so @LitAgentDrury manfully shifted a great pile of Stuff so there was room for our guests to walk from hall to sofa and chairs, and thence to dining table. Job Done. (He had to do a little bit of emergency shifting when he realised he hadn’t left a passageway from kitchen to table, but that was soon sorted.)
Then we had to clear another route so we could get to the lovely crystal glasses bought in Krakow for tuppence each, and move the books so he could reach the beautiful hare water jug my bestest friend gave us for Christmas (the only sort of jugged hare allowed in the Fletcher/Drury household, as hares are magical creatures. @LitAgentDrury took that diktat reasonably well, under the circumstances, and so we are both still very happy at being able to celebrate our wedding anniversary today!
Then there was cleaning and vacuuming and dusting, and even a bit of polishing (just the little bit of table that was actually visible, obviously). Plants were watered, the Whitsun Cactus was moved to the mantelpiece to display its amazing blossoms to better effect, SP retrieved his uniform, Spot the rescue dog was brushed down and Gloucester the foot-pig was rubbed up for the occasion.
Finally, while I moved on to peeling and chopping and slicing and dicing, grating and pounding and rubbing, sautéing and simmering, flaming and freezing and finally, sitting back and thinking: Yes, this might just work, @LitAgentDrury took charge of the evening’s wine choices (once he’d cleared routes to the wine rack under the stairs and the other wine rack under the piano and the other wine rack under the printer (on account of neither of us remembering where anything was).
By the time our guests arrived we were both exhausted, but thanks to the wonders of candlelight, the room looked lovely, the meal worked a treat and our guests played their part by being suitably entertaining. And when they left some time after midnight, we both started saying things like, ‘We really ought to do this more often . . .’
And then the next morning there was the washing up and drying up and putting away and relocating the piles so I could get to the manuscripts . . . you get the picture, I think . . .
So what has any of this got to do with publishing? Well, think about it: all our guests saw were relaxed hosts, a simple but delicious meal bubbling away and a welcoming room filled with interesting stuff to look at and wonderful books to browse. They didn’t see any of the two days of frantic tidying before and after, or the manic kitchen preparation, but had we not put all that effort in, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful.
And that’s pretty much the same with books: you pick up a book and think (I sincerely hope!), Hmm, that looks interesting. I’ll give that a go. You might even admire the cover. But what you’re not going to do is think, I wonder how long that took to proofread? or, I wonder how many different artists they had to try to get that cover? or even, I wonder if the author fought back over every single change, or recognised that the copy-editor knew what they were doing?
We are like swans, gliding serenely along on the surface whilst underneath our little feet are paddling sixteen to the dozen, desperately trying to keep us moving forward!
So when I say I’m dreadfully sorry that I can’t come out to play, don’t be miffed; be grateful! I’m rushing around like a mad thing trying to finish the editing so the copy-editor can do her thing, then the typesetter can do his thing, then the proofreader and author can do their things, then the typesetter can go back and redo their thing, so the printer can do his thing, so that in four months’ time you can hold a copy of (in this case Scarlet Tides) in your hand and say, ‘That looks great. I might just give that a go.’
Even I occasionally have to stop for a moment. For this weekend’s pause I ventured onto the Interweb for the BBC’s much-discussed grammar quiz at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22512744.
I will admit to a huge sigh of relief that I got it right, but Number 3 was a close-run thing. And I can’t help but wonder how many people these days know what a gerund or a misplaced modifier are – as far as I’m concerned, it’s more important you know how to use them properly (or avoid them) than what they’re actually called.
Note to self: maybe time to dig out my favourite grammar book for a quick refresher? Not Hart’s Rules or Strunk & White, though obviously they are invaluable. No, whenever I need a quick grammatical lift, I always reach for Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s The Transitive Vampire: a Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. Admittedly it’s American grammar (you’ll have noticed the Oxford comma) – but even so, grammar is so much more palatable when applied to vampires, succubi and other denizens of the night and heavily illustrated with Gorey-esque line-drawings!
Enough digression; now I must crack on with my editing. The Inquisitors have just entered the fray and I have this sneaking suspicion this is not going to be a good thing for poor old Alaron. Mind you, about time he stopped whining and started taking control of his life. Watch this space!
I adored fairy tales as a child. I still do, actually. Mysterious dark forests, magical mirrors, enchanted princes – what’s not to love? I think I always felt, curled around a volume of Hans Christian Andersen or the Grimm’s collected stories, that there was a little bit of magic hidden away at the heart of every story.
Of course, there’s a little bit of darkness too. I remember sobbing over the fate of the Little Mermaid, who for all her efforts couldn’t make the man she’d fallen for love her back. And then there’s the gruesomeness – heads rolling, feet cut off, eyes put out. In some ways, these are the original horror stories. As a child, though, I don’t remember ever being troubled by the physical violence in the tales. It all happened, after all, in a land far, far away . . .
But what if (ah, the ‘what if’ that haunts every writer) those things weren’t in some distant country, but in the land outside our door? What if they happened to someone real? It was when I began to envisage such things that Path of Needles began to take shape.
Of course, it’s led me along paths of its own since then, and some of them were ways I’d never travelled. If such things happened in our world, the police would be alerted, wouldn’t they? And they’d begin to track down whoever was to blame. So what began in my mind as a dark fantasy blurred with a crime novel and resulted in a whole lot of research and some discoveries of my own.
This was never going to be a hard-boiled detective novel, though – my character is no gruff older man with a drink problem and a pending divorce. Cate Corbin is new to the game, balancing her insights with following procedure, and undergoing a process of discovery herself.
In writing the novel, I also uncovered many new variants of the stories I thought I knew. Some of them found their way into the book; others simply provided me with hours of entertainment and wonder. Who couldn’t love an Italian folktale where the queen’s punishment for the heinous crime of showing her face is to be sent to Peterborough? Wonderful. (It’s in The Enchanted Palace, recorded by Italo Calvino, for the curious.)
The thing that has remained with me the most from my childhood love of these stories, though, is that sense that there is a little bit of magic hidden somewhere within them. Fairy tales, once unleashed, take on a life of their own . . . and so, in Path of Needles, they aren’t content to be retold. They begin to emerge from the woods and to influence the characters and shape the story in new ways. There are still some paths that, once started down, you never know where they might lead . . .
Where were you born?
In a place called Chapeltown, near Rotherham. My grandma insisted my mum went there instead of the nearest hospital, so that Barnsley wouldn’t be on my birth certificate – apparently she had a bit of a thing about it! Now everyone thinks of Chapeltown in Leeds, which is apparently pretty rough, so that didn’t work. Sorry, long answer to a short question! J
What’s your comfort food?
Leftovers! Leftovers means (hopefully) nice food which I don’t have to bother to cook. I’m not big on spending time in the kitchen.
What’s your favourite tipple?
I like a g n’ t with loads of ice. Or a bit of fizz (sparkly pinot grigot…yum!)
What superpower would you want / which superhero would you be?
Ooh! I quite like the idea of scaling tall buildings, spider-man style. It’d save queuing for the lift.
Dog or cat?
Dog. Cats stare. No, they do!!
What keeps you sane?
My partner, Fergus. Well, when he’s not being bonkers. Or sometimes when he is. J
What scares you?
Ooh – lots of things. Death. The idea of being alone and lonely. Loss. Dark things. Things with teeth. Yes, lots and lots of things. (I have a sneaky suspicion that horror writers are often scaredy-cats at heart.)
Beaches or adventure?
Both!! Or, if I had to choose, adventure. Had a great holiday in Morocco earlier this year where we went off with a local guide and saw some of the real Morocco – beautiful, different, and exciting. More please. (Although some of the toilets were a bit too adventurous for me.)
What’s your holiday read?
The last couple of holidays, I’ve taken along books by Hilary Mantel – Fludd and Beyond Black. Beautifully written, they just sweep you along.
What is the best present you’ve ever received?
A trip to New York – I finished off my birthday this year at the top of the Empire State Building, with a saxophonist playing on the observation deck. Well, inside the observation deck. It was blowing a gale outside. Well worth it, though!
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve got older?
That I’m not that awkward kid anymore.
What would people be surprised to discover about you?
I like to do things that scare me, just now and then. The last one was holding a tarantula, which I named Rosie, and decided was actually rather nice. Well, not entirely nasty, anyway.
Sweet or savoury?
What is your favourite sport?
The only sports I enjoy watching are things like diving and gymnastics. I used to enjoy running back in the days when I went to the gym, which is far too long ago, and I really need to start going again (mutter, mutter…)
What is your favourite way to travel?
Anywhere by Mini. Whoosh!!
Would you rather read the book or watch the film?
Read the book. Then watch the film.
Night in or night out?
Night in with Fergus, with a curry and a good film on telly. Can’t beat it.
What are you currently listening to?
Scenes from the Second Storey, by the God Machine. Hypnotic.
Women: Louboutin or Reebok?
I just had to Google Louboutin – that probably says it all!
If you’ve enjoyed these answers, or want to find out more about the #pathofneedles, you can follow Alison on Twitter @Ali__L (that’s two underscores for the unwary).
I am most devoutly sorry for standing you up last week – well, all right, maybe not devoutly, but you’ll forgive me a little bit of exaggeration as I am positively fizzing with excitement. Well, I would be fizzing if I were not about to fall over with exhaustion, thanks in part to sitting on the tarmac for three hours extra because the wind was coming from the wrong direction . . . (how churlish of it).
But let me explain . . .
I spent last week embarking on the next phase of my master plan for world domination . . . and before you start wondering if I have perhaps been editing a little too hard and am lost in some great fantasy epic, let me stop you right there and take you through the last few days, which started with a splendid weekend playing tourist in gloriously sunny and blossom-filled New York City. I’ve been going there since I was eight and I have never seen the city look so beautiful, which was good news as a chum and I had gone to celebrate a Special Birthday with someone who had never been to the city before and who left already planning her return visit. So: introducing Chris to NYC: tick. Art galleries: tick. Boat trip, Empire State Building, tick, tick. Restaurants: ticktickticktickticktick . . . NYC Bingo? Oh yes, that’s a huge tick. (I think Chris won with the chap on the subway with a flannel over his head, although Gilly came a close second with the over-Botoxed bus passenger).
And then to work . . . and I joined Mark Smith and Wayne Davies, founders of Quercus (and thus entirely responsible for my launching JFB as a Quercus imprint), Christopher Maclehose, founder and publisher of Maclehose Press, Q’s editor-in-chief Jon Riley, sales and marketing director Jane Harris and publishing director Richard Green for the launch of . . . pause for drum roll, please . . . QUERCUS INC!
Yes, it’s true! So watch out, America, for our fabulous Quercus, Maclehose and JFB authors will be coming to an American bookstore near you this very year!
It is hard to believe that Jo Fletcher Books has been in existence for only twenty-eight months, but by the time we celebrate our thirty-third month, I will be publishing my first books in the United States of America! (And yes, I am quite aware how many exclamation marks I’m using – but wouldn’t you?)
We spent the morning meeting our sparky new Quercus Inc. colleagues, and the Random House team who will be responsible for selling the books across the US, and then went off to explore Q’s New York headquarters, magnificently situated above the wonderful Rizzoli bookshop. For those of an architectural bent, you might like to know the façade of the six-storey townhouse exhibits a sober classicism that belies the elegant interior within, where cast-iron chandeliers, ornately decorated vaulting and a luminous Diocletian window create a serene setting for booklovers amidst the rush of Midtown Manhattan. (I knew that.)
And Roberto Costantini, author of Q’s fabulous thriller The Deliverance of Evil and our special guest for the ‘media lunch’ following, recognised it at once as the setting for Meryl Streep meeting Robert De Niro in Falling In Love (‘Right here,’ he said, standing in the very spot, ‘right here!’) I discovered the founder, Angelo Rizzoli, was a big-time publisher and movie producer (he worked on La Dolce Vita with Federico Fellini), and he opened the bookstore in 1964, since when it’s been featured in numerous films, including Woody Allen’s Manhattan.*
So where was I? Ah yes, coming up to the biggest coincidence of the week, at the media lunch, where we were entertaining a number of journalists from various trade and mainstream publications. Jon was already looking forward to it, because he’d discovered, coincidentally, that one of our guests was an old friend he’d not seen for years. So I certainly wasn’t expecting any more odd coincidences . . . until someone walked in and as I asked ‘Who’s that?’ I was already thinking to myself, He looks a bit familiar . . . but no— when a cry went up and next thing I knew, the stranger was hugging me and announcing, ‘Oh, of course I know Jo – although we’ve not seen each other for 14 years!’ And what a delight to discover ghost-story-writer Peter Cannon is now non-fiction senior review for Publishers Weekly! And in one of those moments that Douglas Adams would have loved, we discovered we were actually sitting next to each other . . .
So we had a very jolly couple of hours catching up on what’d been happening since Peter returned to the States after more than three years as part of the London fantasy/horror scene, which in turn had been a direct result of meeting Stephen Jones, editor of our forthcoming Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm & Gruesome, at a convention in NYC just before he moved to London. Which all goes to prove how important conventions are: you never know who you are going to meet . . . or who they will grow up to be!
Where was I? Oh yes, so Peter and his fellow journos and reviewers were all genuinely interested to learn at first hand about our launch list, which we start publishing in September, and by the end of the meal Peter was promising to get back to writing himself: a good job well done, I felt.
And our odyssey ended the way all good odysseys end: with a party. The Italian Consulate welcomed us in fine style, and with the great and the good of NY publishing we raised a glass to Quercus Inc and its imprints and, most importantly, to our authors!
As Mark so eloquently said: without our brilliant authors we’re nothing, and so I’m going to end today by raising a glass to all you wonderful JFB writers and editors – and (masterful segue, what?) to introduce you to Alison Littlewood, who stormed onto the scene last year with A Cold Season, her debut horror novel, a Richard & Judy pick and a paperback bestseller. She’s back with a wonderfully dark supernatural crime thriller, Path of Needles, in which an expert in fairy tales is called in to help after a sharp-eyed young police woman realises the murder victim has not just been mutilated, but has been posed in a very specific way – an uncommon variant of the Snow White tale . . .
So this week I’ll be handing you over to Ali, who will guide you through the woods. Just remember not to leave the path!
*See how much you learn here? There will be a quiz next week . . .
The planet-hunting game used to be a slow moving one. A grand total of eight planets had been discovered until 1930 when Pluto was spotted suspicious loitering on the outer rim. After Pluto was convicted of dangerous orbiting and retired to spend more time with his family, it was back to eight.
One would have forgiven astronomers for quitting, but they stuck at it. Their constancy paid off. In the last decade, they have found hundreds – 861 and counting, to be precise. What accounts for this soaring efficiency? Better telescopes? They certainly help, but it seems the real trick to finding a planet is not looking. The distances are so vast and planets are so small that astronomers have to resort to indirect detection methods. One of these is to study star orbits over time, checking for variations that suggest the presence of smaller bodies.
This is an essential technique when writing Fantasy.
There’s a lot of focus in the genre on building worlds, by which is usually meant building a city or, more ambitiously, a civilisation. Much time is spent elaborating the language, customs and mores of the citizens. The city need an antagonist, so there’s usually an Evil Empire floating about somewhere on the periphery. They dress in black fur, sound vaguely Germanic and chew with their mouths open. Suffice to say, they’re bad.
The problem is, that won’t suffice. Just like heavenly bodies, cities don’t exist in isolation. Neighbours exert continuing influence on each other economically, culturally, and, when things get bad, militarily. No man is an island, and no island is an island for that matter.
I spent most of my first novel, Irenicon, in the strife-torn City of Towers, Rasenna. I don’t think I did quite so bad with the wicked Concordians, but they certainly remain the Other. This left me with something to immediately tackle on the sequel. I wanted to see how the war that started in the first book looked from the other side. So we begin The Warring States with the troubled childhood of Torbidda, the boy destined to be Concord’s Last Apprentice.
It still surprises me how much I discovered about Rasenna by spending time away from it. But then I never was much good at astronomy . . .
The Wave trilogy is set in Etruria, a land of city-states. Each has a distinctive character – the Rasenneisi are fractious, the Ariminumese are duplicitous, the Veians are indolent and the people of the Black Hand are freedom-loving barbarians – and all react differently to the threat of Concord: a few resist, a few capitulate, most compromise. Diversity isn’t necessarily a recipe for peace. Hence the title: The Warring States.
When people ask me what’s it about, I say it’s about 500 pages long. When the ensuing mirth subsides, I say it’s about the long run up to a war. What I never say is that it’s story that explores the tensions between visions of centralised power and those who prefer loose confederation. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it has been a while since you cut your toenails. You’re also thinking, ‘Hang on, this sounds a bit political. Back away slowly.’
Well, damn it, it is political. The ability to road-test political philosophies is something that drew me to the SF/Fantasy genre. The genre’s great virtue, in my opinion, is that it can knock complacent thinking where it belongs: on its ass. By depicting societies that do not follow our current model, it can tackle political questions in a way that other genres don’t dare.
Since about the 1950s, the tsars of taste have decreed that Proper Novels must exclusively deal with the travails of middle-aged divorcées. The habit is so ingrained that contemporary writers of Literary Fiction get tongue-tied when they deal with politics. This self-censorship is deeply odd when you consider that the mischief that kings, courtiers and parliaments get up to tend to affect us all. Of course there’s a sensible reason that politics is taboo in fiction: it’s hard to do without making a fool of yourself. Good writing requires the author to put his opinions to one side and let his characters speak, and when it comes to politics few of us are willing to do that. It quickly gets tiresome to read manifestos disguised as fiction (take a bow, Ayn Rand) but the difficulty is no reason to avoid tackling it.
Shakespeare does it marvellously of course, in one breath defending the Divine Rights of Kings, in the next celebrating regicide. If that’s setting the bar too high, the historical novels of Robert Graves and Gore Vidal show that mortals can get it right too.
That said, when one compares SF to Fantasy, it’s clear the former have been doing the heavy lifting. Eviscerating holy cows is generally accepted as one of the functions of SF. Fantasy, let’s face it, is a homebody, a Mole to SF’s Toad. Like everything else in Fantasy, this is usually dropped at the doorstep of a certain Professor Tolkien. The prime mover of Fantasy, the argument goes, created a literary genre to cater for hairy-toed reactionaries who would quite enjoy living in a hole in the ground.
It’s a caricature.
Casual readers, or fans who come to Middle Earth via the films, often miss Tolkien’s fierce anti-authoritarianism and just see nostalgia for a time of courtly manners. I like to point people who cling to this limited and limiting view of Fantasy to avowedly political writers, like Ursula le Guin, Neal Stephenson and Philip Pullman.
I don’t include myself in this august company, but they’ve given me an example to follow. What makes them exemplars is that their books do not begin at the destination, perfunctorily dramatising preconceived positions à la Robert Heinlein. Rather, they are working out the complexities of their worlds for themselves as well as readers. It’s the difference between a lecture and a conversation. That’s what I hope to do with THE WARRING STATES: start a conversation, and you can’t do that from a soapbox.
Irenicon, the first book of the Wave trilogy was about the small town Sofia Scaligeri was born to rule. That makes its sequel The Warring States a story of exile. Although Sofia’s destiny takes her far from her beloved Rasenna, its towers still cast a shadow.
Rasenna’s rival city Concord is based on Florence (it’s not quite that straightforward; no point rewriting history if you don’t change it), but the majority of Rasenna’s DNA comes from two Tuscan towns that once seen can never be forgotten: San Gimignano and Siena. The wistful sadness of San Gimignano is obvious; it’s a ghost town marooned on a hill surrounded by a sea of crocuses. But Siena’s is the real tragedy.
It could have been a contender.
With wool, banking and culture, it was a triple threat sitting on the old pilgrim route between Lombardy’s fertile earth and the unearthly power of Rome. With all these gifts and its native genius besides, Siena ought to have become a regional power. It certainly had that ambition. Its dreams of glory, however, were snuffed out by its more disciplined neighbour from the north. Siena’s failure was not without its consolations. Those who die young, die beautiful. So with Siena. Florence is architecturally frozen at the zenith of its power (which came much later), but if you’re looking for the ghost of Dante, you’re better off taking a stroll around Siena.
When I say tragedy, I don’t mean to suggest the good guys lost. The Senese were every bit as avaricious as the Florentines – only they could never quite get their act together. While the success of quattrocento Florence, like that of fourth century Athens, has something almost superhuman about it, the Senese are more like us: prone to folly, misjudgement and bad luck. Their Duomo Neuvo illustrates this perfectly. This was the cathedral the Senese started in 1339 to impress all Italy and show up the Florentines once and for all. Eight years later it was the Black Death that showed up. The cathedral’s still unfinished.
If you’re born unlucky, it helps to be stupid. But the Senese were not oblivious to their misfortune. They recognised their propensity to always draw the short straw, and it drove them pazzo. They strove to correct the fault with constitutional safeguards and term-limits for its rulers that were elaborate even by Italian standards. Besides legislation, they sought to keep their decision makers honest, charmingly, with the example of improving art: the Palazzo Pubbico is decorated with a vast allegorical mural depicting the spectrum of good and bad governance. You can admire it today – naturally, the colours are faded and the surface is cracked – and while you do, ask yourself who is more inspirational: the Florentines, effortlessly beating the world or the Senese, always second best but always striving?
I know who I’m shouting for.
Because, let’s face it, even our best-laid schemes remain mostly unfinished, and most of our dreams fade and crack. In the long run, we all lose, and the world would be sweeter if we could all do it as gracefully as Siena.
Despite a hefty investment in so-called (and obviously misnamed) ‘herbal remedies’ ranging from echinacea via ginseng to ginkgo balboa, I fear I am still suffering from Book Fair Froat, a disease that has much in common with Teacher’s Froat. In short, I still can’t manage much more than a croak for most of the time.
Luckily for me, I’d already decided the best way to recuperate from the rigours of the Book Fair was to run away . . . how was I to know that the remote apartment in Turkey to where @LitAgentDrury and I repaired just happened to be ten minutes’ drive from the new Turkish publisher to whom I have recently sold rights in two of my Beloved Authors? That very same Turkish publisher who last week had both Nicola and me drooling over his descriptions of the dinner he intended to cook, should I ever happen to be in his neighbourhood . . . ?
It’s a little like when an American, upon hearing that you live in London, really truly expects you to know his Great-Aunt Mabel, who once visited her cousin Myra in Pontypridd . . . some people have no conception of geography.
So – and just picture a map of Turkey in your heads for this bit. Got it? Ankara sort of top centre, Istanbul around eleven o’clock? – so when I said, ‘Well, as it happens, I will be in Turkey next week, but I’ll be in Boğaziçi,’ I most certainly didn’t expect Kerem to say, ‘So will I!’ Actually, I shouldn’t exaggerate: Kerem was actually in Güvercinlik, overlooking the Aegean, while I was on the other side of the mountain overlooking Lake Tuzla. But it took less than ten minutes to drive from his house to our apartment . . .
Boğaziçi – that’s with a silent g that sort-of elongates the o, giving you something akin to Boh-aa-zeechee – is about an hour’s drive north of Bodrum (about eight o’clock), and thus nowhere near Ankara, which is Kerem’s family home, or Istanbul, where a lot of that country’s publishing is centred.
And as Turkey is more than 300,000 square miles in size, and around 1,000 miles from east coast to west coast and 500 miles from north to south, that’s a ginormous chunk of land in which to find two publishers holidaying within a mile of each other. I shall never laugh at Americans again.
So you’ll want to know if Kerem’s cooking lived up to the description? Before we went I did some investigating about what one should bring if invited to someone’s home for dinner, and every book said: bring empty stomachs! Lucky we took them at their word, because it was a real feast, and even after several helpings, I think the Erdal family will be eating leftovers for a while.
Almost nicer than the food – though it was seriously hard to top that! – was the chance to talk for longer than 20-30 minutes about the state of publishing in our respective countries. Without book fairs, trying to sell rights around the world would be an incredibly hard job, even now we have email. But as I have said before, those half-hour meetings are absolutely invaluable, for they give us a chance to get to know our fellow editors, and every year you learn a little more. This evening was like rolling a dozen book fairs into one glorious meeting and it was wonderful – I wish I could do that with all my foreign editors!
(And as a direct result I am now looking for a Turkish translator from Portuguese to English . . . the Turks have very advantageous translation rates . . .)
Mind you, they also have a far smaller readership, even given the size of the country, and fantasy is a very new genre there. But it’s also a growing genre, and will publishers like Kerem taking a chance on new authors like David Hair, this is an exciting time.
One of the most interesting themes of the evening was something that’s glaringly obvious – once someone mentions it! – and that’s that Turkish readers like books with Turks in them . . .
Thinking about it, there are two sorts of readers: those who like to read about things that are familiar to them, and those who like to explore brave new worlds. So sagas of poor-but-honest girls making good will always have a place, just as trilogies about a world that travelled down a slightly different path when King Herod killed the Christ-child, or a far-future exploration about the use of gene-technology to change mankind . . . (If you’ve been paying attention this month you should be able to Name Those Books!)
We are so used to being citizens of the world that we forget not every country has our advantages. English is a global language, and wherever you go, from the Crusader castle at Anamur to the high Atlas Mountains of Morocco or from a Mexican dive bar to a jungle deep in Brazil, all of which I can personally attest to, you’ll find someone who can manage a few words, and more often, many more who, like Kerem, make me blush in shame, because I can just about manage my numbers in Turkish, if you give me a moment to work out which whether eight is yedi or sekiz (it’s the latter, BTW) while he’s read enough of Mage’s Blood to know he wants to publish it.
Stieg Larsson might have started the craze in the UK for Scandi-crime, and he’s not the first foreign writer to top our bestseller charts, but they’re relatively few and far between – but in some countries most of the bestseller charts are ‘translated’ writers, by which I mean British and American, and a lot of that is down to English-language TV and movies making our worlds familiar in the furthest parts of the globe.
So when Kerem said to me, ‘If more people wrote about Turkey, they would get translation deals here,’ it made perfect sense. After all, all those readers who want to read about things that are familiar to them need entertaining.
But he also said that that the Turks had no interest in fantasy before The Lord of the Rings, and now . . . well, now I see several shelves devoted to fantasy in the new bookshop in Bodrum Airport, and writers like David Hair and Mark Lawrence are soon to be joining them. The Turks won’t know what’s hit them!
So that was my week off. My voice is slowly coming back, I’ve managed to transcribe my notes from the Book Fair, after a certain amount of ‘what the hell do you think I meant when I wrote this squiggle here?’ – and best of all, I’ve come back to a pre-empt on one of the books I was touting so vociferously last week!
(We’ll talk about pre-empts next week, shall we?)
Now I just have a week’s worth of emails to get through before I start on the cover briefs for Thursday . . .
I think I need a holiday!
Gemsigns is a thriller set in a near-future London. It takes place in the aftermath of an illness known as the Syndrome, which threatened to wipe out the entire human species until genetic engineers were able to build resistance into human embryos. With some babies the
modification was taken further, creating a sub-class of super-powered humans, known as gems, who were kept in indentured servitude to the rest of humanity. That system has recently been abolished, but the position of the gems remains tenuous. Most norms don’t consider them to be truly human. The story takes place against a backdrop of fear, suspicion, intolerance, and increasingly extreme violence.
A society saved by science has put its trust in a scientist to solve this dilemma. Dr Eli Walker’s job is to determine whether gems are really human, and whether they really can – or should – be integrated into norm society. That would spell disaster for the gemtechs that created them, and they are leaning very heavily on Eli to see things their way. As for the fundamentalist godgangs, they see gems as blasphemous creations that should be wiped out, along with anyone who supports them.
Eli has to unravel a series of interlocking mysteries before events spiral completely out of control. One has to do with a gemtech executive named Zavcka Klist, who might have evidence of a genuine threat that gems pose to norms. Another is a gem child named Gabriel who simply should not exist, and whose mother, Gaela, is one of the most powerful, valuable gems ever created. And a third is the true identity – and abilities – of the gem leader, Aryel Morningstar: an incredibly charismatic, terribly deformed woman who nevertheless exerts a strange attraction over Eli.
Why you should read it: It’s a fast-paced and exciting story, full of engaging, memorable characters. It’s old-fashioned storytelling in that there is a clear sense of what is at stake, who is on which side, and that the threat is huge and horrifying; but it’s unusual and quite modern in that it leaves it up to the reader to decide what they think is the right answer to the central moral question. There are characters you will probably like but not necessarily agree with, and characters you might find appalling, but think are actually in the right. And the ending is a real shocker – almost no one who’s read it sees what’s coming.
The tide’s out. The sun too. Gulls listlessly float on currents of hot air. A child taps on her bucket like a conjuror and holds her breath as – ever so carefully – she lifts it away to reveal a splendid castle. It’s a bit lopsided and its turrets are a little crumbly, but she’s pleased. A passing couple compliment it and wander away in contented silence, enjoying the hot sand beneath their feet and the tireless whisper of the waves.
Don’t kid yourself: savagery is lurking even here in paradise. Why build sandcastles except to smash them? The dark side of World Building has been on my mind while writing the sequel to Irenicon. What happens next, in the days and weeks and months after the hero brings back the boon and the exhausted author draws a veil over proceedings with those magic words: The End? The title of The Warring States is a clue that things don’t go swimmingly.
It’s not an account of war so much as the conflicting states of anxiety and irritation, optimism and paranoia that precede it. Irenicon took place in the quarrelsome City of Towers, Rasenna; I wanted it to be claustrophobic in a way that anyone who grew up in a small town would recognise. This time the miniaturist approach gives way to a larger canvas. We discover Etruria, the country that Rasenna’s renaissance takes place in. With the Concordians on the march, the southern states’ only hope lies in unity. Anyone who read the first book won’t be too surprised that the Etrurians are unwilling to trust each other. The consequences are tragic.
I’m not sure how George R.R. Martin murders his darlings with such sangfroid; for me, it wasn’t easy. For a resolution to satisfy the hero’s victory must be simultaneously plausible and highly unlikely. Happy endings require thought, planning and rewriting; undoing them is easy as throwing a match in a fireworks factory.
Whether it’s the last days of Lehman Brothers or Pompeii, doomed worlds are morbidly fascinating. Part of the appeal is that of the B-Movie horror: we know the gentleman in the hockey mask is down in the cellar. We’re happy to enjoy the decadent court of Louis XVI because we know the rowdies are already marching to Versailles; it’s okay watching Marie Antoinette trying on pearl necklaces because we know she won’t have use for them for much longer. The deeper reason the End Times captivate us is that they’re a mirror. In the long run, all of us are on the cusp of destruction.
Now that all my sandcastles are smashed, I’m left with an entirely new question as I write the concluding chapter of the Wave Trilogy: what happens after the world ends? I don’t know the answer yet but I do know that nothing lasts forever, even The End.
Well, what a week that was! I’ve talked about Book Fairs before, so I know you now know they’re not all carousels and candy floss and cross-my-palm-with-silver (well, okay, maybe a bit of the latter!) but row upon row of stands of various sizes, all filled with enthusiastic and well-read folks desperate to sell their rights – or buy rights – in books ranging from How to Stop Smoking in 37 Easy Lessons (don’t waste your money, @LitAgentDrury advises; you really just need one thing and that’s willpower) to Heathcliffe and Me: A Yorkshire Idyll to Jane’s All the World’s Beetles, and all stops in between.
Every time I had to make the 30-second dash between the Quercus/JFB/Heron/Maclehose stand and the Rights Centre I went a different way, so I could at least scan the bookshelves of the surrounding companies – and I’m very glad I did, for otherwise I might not have managed to score some excellent guidebooks for various Turkish locations from the Turkish Publishers’ quarter (and my colleague John Watt of Heron Books was equally quick in turn to snaffle from me the ‘Trekking in Cappadocia’ one because, fortuitously, that’s exactly how he intends to spend a forthcoming holiday, lucky man).
Sorry, slight diversion there; you know my particular fondness for that country, which has only increased after meeting the charming Kerem Erdal, publisher at the relatively new Turkish house of KRP. Our meeting this year started with him heaping praise on David Hair’s Mage’s Blood, which he has bought to publish next, and ended with him inviting Ian and me to dine with him and his wife next time we’re over there – and his descriptions of what he intended to cook had poor Nicola drooling and begging, ‘Me, me too! Me too!’ Anyone who’s not yet sampled the delights of Turkish cuisine (and by which I do not mean the iffy kebab place on the corner that you only ever patronise when you’ve been out on a bender) has a real treat coming.
So where was I? Ah yes, so my diary was looking relatively light this time last week – it still had the lunch breaks Nicola always insists on putting in, even though we both know they’ll vanish into thin air when all those people who forgot to make appointments show up with big puppy-dog eyes and hopeful grins . . and then the ‘can you just fit me in on–?’ questions started coming and before the first lunch break had disappeared I was back to the usual 18 appointments a day.
I hope you’re all impressed at the efforts I put in to get my authors out into the wider SF/F/H diaspora!
Mind you, there are compensations: if I said ‘agent dinner’; you’d doubtless all start feeling sorry for me, having to continue with the by-now pasted-on smile and pitching into the wee small hours. In this case, however, Fate smiled upon us, for Ian and I were invited to join the Cooke Agency’s Sally Harding and Suzanne Brandreth for dinner at a Spanish restaurant that was *so* superb I’m not going to tell you where it was in case we can’t get in next year! It was work, obviously – Sally represents the wonderful Karen Lord, and Ian represents the equally wonderful Stephanie Saulter, so obviously we needed to compare and contrast our female Caribbean SF writers. (I can’t wait for them to meet in person – hopefully, that will be later this year at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton.)
So there was me, one lone publisher surrounded by the Dark Side (no, doesn’t matter that I’m married to one and been chums with the others for ever; agenting is still the Dark Side) – and I have to say it was one of the best Book Fair evenings ever. A couple more like that and I might even start looking forward to the week!
After the three days in Earls Court, I finished the foreign publisher bonanza with some longer meetings in the office (which have the benefit of *daylight* and *fresh air* and *decent coffee*), and by the time we hit a little Friday night London gathering for Naomi Foyle and Stephanie Saulter’s friends and family I was without voice almost completely. So I’ll be spending this week writing up my report, trying to make sense of phrases like ‘bgn in ebks bt nt unt they srt wking w. androde’ (the sole saving grace is that I know it made sense at the time, so all I have to do is decode it, using who I was talking to, and what authors I’ve written down to send them. Fun, huh?
And the other thing I have to do this week gives me enormous pleasure, for I’m handing over the blog to one of my first acquisitions, the amazing Aidan Harte.
I have been immensely lucky since starting JFB, for I have found twenty-five authors and one editor, all of whom are brilliant at what they do. So if I repeat myself a little when introducing them to you, you’ll have to forgive me – but let’s face it: I would not have bought any of them if I did not think that each was very special in his or her own way. And having spent a week singing the praises of each and every one of them to my Europeans, South American and North American peers and seeing their reactions, I know I am not alone in my belief that I have been able to build such a superb list.
And back to Aidan: he started like as an award-winning animator (Skunk Fu, anyone?) then decided he’d rather be a sculptor, and moved to Florence to study. While visiting towns like San Gimignano, he got the idea for this world . . . and I fell in love with Sofia when I read Irenicon in its first draft and knew that I had to have Aidan on my list. And then he sent me the second book, The Warring States, and I was blown away. Trying to write alternate history is very hard at the best of times – for a start, you have to know all about what really happened in the first place. Setting it in a twisted version of Italy about the time of the Renaissance is not just brave, it’s a downright stroke of genius . . . and then moving the action to the Holy Land, in the time of the Crusaders? Come on, what’s not to like?
In the world, Jesus was killed by Herod as a baby, and the religion that has grown up is Marian, not Christian . . . and it’s changed everything just enough to make this as strange and wonderful as any full-on fantasy world. You have the religion-hating scientists of Concord, plotting to take over the whole rebellious land, and the tempestuous, fiery, bickering burghers of Rasenna, so busy fighting each other that they’re barely noticing the wolf at their doorstep.
If you haven’t yet ventured into Sofia’s world, now’s your chance. Me? I’ve got this vital report to write, so I’ll leave you in Aidan’s capable hands . . .
Do you write primarily from experience, or are you a keen researcher – and has that research ever changed the course of the story?
Well, futuristic fiction sort of dictates you’re writing primarily from imagination. In my case that’s coupled with prior experience and ongoing preoccupations. I’ve always been keenly interested in biology and how it responds to evolutionary pressures; I’ve always been drawn to mythological traditions and how they allow people to shape reality into a form that allows them to explain themselves to themselves; and I’ve always been interested in how we think about and deal with social issues (or not). I tend to do enough research to confirm whether an idea I have can be made to seem plausible, and then to develop it in a way which maintains and enhances that plausibility. Sometimes the research does change the direction in which that element of the story develops; sometimes it generates further ideas. But I’m definitely not research-led.
Don’t forget, you can follow Stephanie on twitter @scriptopus!
Here, Gemsigns author Stephanie Saulter tells us more about the thought behind her fantastic new novel…
The Subtext of Gemsigns
There are many layers to Gemsigns. You certainly don’t have to be conscious of all of them to enjoy the book – I think a story has to work purely on the level of characters and plot, or it doesn’t work at all. But my favourite stories are always those that try to examine some deeper truths as well.
Dealing with difference: To a huge degree Gemsigns is about is what happens when those who have been overlooked and elided and generally made absent are allowed to emerge, and a society that has become extremely homogenous has to confront diversity. For the most part the gems don’t have the option of ‘passing’ because visible identifiers have been engineered into them so they can always be seen to be different; these are the ‘gemsigns’ of the title. The big foreground conflicts are based in public safety scaremongering, the economic consequences of emancipation, and fundamentalist religious hatred; but the thing that gives all of those issues traction, that fuels the fire of the various factions, is a deep-seated unease with difference.
Post-emancipation politics: I’m really interested in the ‘what do we do now’ moments – the bits that come after the monster has been slain, the catastrophe averted, the battle won. It’s common in fiction for that to be the point at which the story ends, but I often think that’s when things really start to get interesting. Who picks up the pieces, and how do they put what has been broken back together again? How do the survivors actually survive? How does the experience of what they’ve been through alter the decisions they make and shape the society that results? An early, abortive attempt at writing the book had the action set before the Declaration of the Principles of Human Fraternity, when the gems were still fighting for even limited freedoms. I got a few thousand words into that version and thought, Hang on. I’ve read this story – I know where it goes and how it ends. What happens after that? That’s the story I decided to write.
Mothers and children: It bugs me how few believable family relationships we see in science fiction. They crop up more often in fantasy, but even there they are rarely explored beyond the standard tropes – the Denied Daughter, the Special Son, the Troubled Teenager, the Vengeful Wife, the Cruel Patriarch. But the dynamics of family are far more complex and subtle than that; not to mention fundamental to forming us into the people we become. What happens to family in a world where children are doomed to die? Or where mothers may bear children but not keep them? Where generations of children are raised by institutions instead of parents? Putting a child’s fate at the heart of Gemsigns gave me a way in to exploring those questions. The relationship between Gaela and Bal and their adopted son Gabriel is central to the story, but the fates of many other mothers and children are chronicled as well. If the big headline question the book asks (as has been noted by many others, not least Jo Fletcher herself) is: What does it mean to be human? then the smaller, subtler, but no less important question is: What does it mean to be a mother?
It is with a heavy heart, dear reader, that I tell you there will be no Monday blog from Jo this week – as this is the day the notorious London Book Fair begins. So commences a week of frantic emails (as we attempt to find appointments that have gone MIA and try to keep up with everything we’ve forgotten This Year), lost voices, no lunches and late nights. Now, I’ll only be there for one of the days (Tuesday), Jo (poor soul) will be there for the full three, during which time she will repeat the synopsis of all the books we hold rights for at least ten times – and remain enthusiastic for each and every one; be hounded by people who pretend that they know her in order to get just one minute to sell their fantastic novel, which is inevitably the Next Big Thing; and miss lunch every day (which is clearly the most important issue here). Afterwards will be time for her to write up all of her notes on books we get pitched by various different countries and books of ours which others have been interested in. We’re lucky, it’s mostly Rights that have to deal with the fallout (which lasts about a month), but there’s still a big cleanup operation after, marked by weeks of ‘could we have this manuscript please?’ and ‘here’s our manuscript, enjoy!’.
Anyway, you can see why Jo might not be able to write her Monday blog . . .
Luckily though, for the last week we’ve been running GEMSIGNS week on the blog and therefore, we’ve decided to make today special: we’re running a competiton for one of five beautiful SIGNED copies of Gemsigns.
All you have to do is comment below with the answer to this question: who is the author of Gemsigns?
We have five signed copies to give away so get commenting! The competition closes on Friday at 5pm. You can leave some way to contact you (whether it be your twitter name, an email, a facebook page, a pigeon . . .), or be sure to check back here next week for the announcement of the winners.
Those of you who have been watching may be aware that we’ve just started our Gemsigns month on the blog. This means that we will be posting new content relating to Gemsigns almost every day this month. Coming up next week, we’ll also be beginning our Warring States posts, too. So you have ONE WHOLE MONTH of author posts, opinions and reviews exclusively from Jo Fletcher, Stephanie Saulter, Aidan Harte and myself, which we hope will give you some insight into the industry, our authors and their books.
We’ve already had Jo on the reasons she bought Gemsigns, Stephanie on the experience of being published and today I’m bringing you a 30 second interview with Stephanie Saulter, just to give you a little introduction to the person behind the book. Tomorrow I’ll be running a competition to win a signed copy, so keep an eye out! Without further ado, then:
30 Second Questions!
Where were you born?
What’s your comfort food?
HOME-MADE CHICKEN SOUP IF I’M FEELING POORLY. I DON’T REALLY EAT FOR COMFORT.
What’s your favourite tipple?
IF I’M IN JAMAICA ON A HOT AFTERNOON, A GOOD PLANTER’S PUNCH. A GOOD RED WINE ANYWHERE ELSE.
What superpower would you want / which superhero would you be?
Dog or cat?
DOG. I DON’T HAVE ONE, THOUGH.
What keeps you sane?
What scares you?
Beaches or adventure?
What’s your holiday read?
WHATEVER’S BEEN PILING UP UNREAD ON MY COFFEE TABLE BECAUSE I HAVEN’T HAD TIME.
What is the best present you’ve ever received?
MY BROTHER STORM, BORN THE DAY BEFORE MY 17TH BIRTHDAY.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve got older?
I KNOW LESS AND UNDERSTAND MORE.
What would people be surprised to discover about you?
THAT I HAVE AN ACTIVE, VIVID AND UNCONVENTIONAL IMAGINATION. WHEN THIS BOOK IS PUBLISHED I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE VERY SURPRISED INDEED.
Sweet or savoury?
What is your favourite sport?
TO WATCH? PROBABLY FOOTBALL.
What is your favourite way to travel?
Would you rather read the book or watch the film?
THE BOOK. ALWAYS.
Sarkozy or Obama?
Night in or night out?
What are you currently listening to?
FLORENCE + THE MACHINE
Women: Louboutin or Reebok?
Men: Armani or JD Sports?
REEBOK. NOT THAT I HAVE EITHER, I’M MAINLY A CLARK’S GIRL.
Don’t forget, you can follow most of our authors on Twitter! You’ll find Stephanie @scriptopus – go on, ask her some questions!
‘So what does it feel like to be published?’ they ask me, and I hardly know where to begin.
The thing is, you know it’s coming; with novels you know from almost a year out, given the lead times required for sales and production. It’s mostly a quiet, even a sedate period, punctuated by occasional flurries of activity around an edit or proofing deadline, cover art and cover copy, permission clearances or the lack thereof. In fact it goes dead calm for the last couple of months; the book is at the printer’s, so it’s too late to make changes and too early to be able to show it to people. You are lulled into a false sense of placidity.
Then advance copies are delivered, oohed and aahed over, and winged back out again to bloggers and reviewers and critics who might say . . . who might say . . . well, whatever they like. No time to think about that now, certainly no point in worrying. Promotional activities start to ramp up; I had web, radio and video interviews in the week leading up to publication, each one a new experience. From the afternoon before it officially hit the shelves I was running around from bookstore to bookstore, signing stock and chatting to staff and customers with barely a moment to take it all in before heading off to the next thing, barely keeping up with the flood of congratulations pouring in via email and text and Facebook and Twitter. I’ve spent much of my working life doing project management, and to some extent it felt like the closing stages of a new property opening or product launch – loads going on, all new, all exciting, but there’s no time for contemplation; you see the ball, you hit the ball, you keep it moving. Don’t stop, don’t slow down. There’s a rhythm to it, and I fell into it like the old hand that I am.
Until the moment I stood in front of the Forbidden Planet megastore on Shaftesbury Avenue in London and looked at Gemsigns (proudly wearing its Signed Copy! sticker) looking back out at me through the shop window. And I couldn’t move. I just couldn’t. There was a lump in my throat the size of a 400-page manuscript.
It’s really there, I thought. I’m not seeing things. It’s there. I did that.
I am not by nature a sentimental person, but in the two weeks since then there’ve been a few of those moments. They happen when someone presses a book they’ve just spent their hard-earned cash on into my hands to be signed – and then thanks me. They seem to think they’re the lucky ones.
I know better. I’m published. And that is what it feels like.
You can reach Stephanie on Twitter @scriptopus and check out her blog at: www.stephaniesaulter.com
You can also see an interview with Stephanie and the Free Word Centre here
A radio interview with Cheryl Morgan at Ujima Radio here
And a video of Stephanie talking about Gemsigns here
Good afternoon, Beloved Reader. Sorry for my unavoidable absence last week; I was felled by flu (your actual too-sick-to-pick-up-a-twenty-pound-note flu, not just the old ‘dull-dull-dull-think-I’ll-stay-in-bed-today-so-let’s-just-say-it’s flu flu). It was doubtless a result of too much fun at Eastercon – that, or the fact it’s April and I can count the number of days in which we have more than a couple of degrees to play with on the fingers of one hand . . .
However, the forsythia and kerria are about to blossom, the pond is heaving with frog spawn, the spunnocks are singing their little feathered hearts out, and during @LitAgentDrury’s final training run before the Brighton Marathon next week* he nearly ran into a woodpecker. So as Spring is making a concerted effort to appear and I’m fed up with not being well I’ve decided to come back to work. I promise this blog is not infectious . . .
It’s actually none too soon, because I have just realised that London Book Fair has snuck up on me – in fact, it’s next week! As this is one of the most important weeks in my calendar, I have to get my game face on and start working out how to present my books in such a way that my European peers will get so excited they will break all their own editorial rules and try to buy rights on the spot . . .
(Well, a publisher can dream. That certainly used to happen at least a couple of times every Fair . . .)
Where was I? Oh yes, presenting books. It’s actually never quite as easy as you might think, even if it’s a nice, compact little story which is enough like X by Y (where X is the most recent Number One book and Y is the consistently bestselling author) to legitimately say, Here is the new Y!
The trouble with the fantasy, SF and horror genre is that the reason one buys a new author is often because the books is nothing like anything you’ve read before . . . But whilst editors might love the idea of publishing something fresh and unusual, trying to explain to their colleagues that they’ve come back from LBF with a fantastic book which isn’t like anything else is unlikely to win them lots of new chums, particularly in sales. I can’t exactly blame them; obviously it’s much easier to say ‘Here is the new Philip K. Dick’ than it is, ‘Here’s this fantastic new series about genetically modified people who are fighting to be seen as human – oh, but everyone’s been genetically modified to some extent . . . Anyway, it’s political SF – but that makes it sound very dull and it’s anything but dull . . . so let’s call it social science fiction – or perhaps not, because now it sounds worthy – so instead, let’s just call it an SF thriller and hope I can get across the intense emotions and the terrific characterisations and the twisty plot by the way I stand . . .
And there you are: already in trouble because there’s no simple description that explains exactly what this book is to potential readers.
(And, Yes! You at the back with your hand waggling in the air: quite right, I am talking about Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns right now. Seventeen brownie points.)
I know why I bought the series: I loved the writing – I always enjoy intelligent, twisted thrillers – and one of the most important reasons of all: I wanted to know what happens next, and there’s no doubt the best way to find that out is by buying the series.
I will also admit to a sneaking little thrill at being able to add another female SF writer to my fast-growing stable (and not just a female, but another Caribbean female writer – how cool is that?) but in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t buy the series because Stephanie is a woman, just as I didn’t buy Naomi Foyle or Karen Lord because of their gender.
(I’m going to come back to the naming of names another day, because that’s a whole different kettle of fish and I’m already running out of space, but it’s an important topic, and one that shouldn’t be ignored. So watch this space.)
But back to the question at hand: why did I buy Gemsigns and the rest of the ®Evolution trilogy? Because more than anything, I love good, old-fashioned storytelling, and this series has that in spades.
So for the next few days I’m going to hand you over to Stephanie, and you can all get to know another of JFB’s spectacularly wonderful writers.
Stephanie, JFB’s Beloved Reader; Beloved Reader, the awesome Stephanie Saulter . . .
* BTW, if you’re wondering if @LitAgentDrury has lost his marbles, pounding the mean streets of Waltham Forest and the muddy paths of Epping Forest to prepare for the Brighton Marathon, he claims it’s all worth it to raise money for Parkinson’s UK. This time next week (if the time he ran the London Marathon is anything to go by), he’ll be unable to walk, a couple of stone lighter and in possession of some spectacular bruises. Best get the champagne on ice . . . http://www.justgiving.com/Ian-Drury
Hello people of earth! While I was at Eastercon I was running around taking lots of photos (yes, I actually remembered my camera this time *and* it worked), so rather than give you a verbal bashing on my various exploits, I thought I’d stick a little album up instead. So here it is, Eastercon in photos:
Another day of sleet and snow, and another death . . . I hardly dare open my emails these days. Today I learn of the death of one of Britain’s finest writers of stories of the macabre. Bail just died at the age of 89 from complications from Alzheimer’s: another friend lost. Basil was a journalist and newspaper editor for many years, and as well as ghost and horror stories, he wrote crime fiction too – he published nearly 60 novels about Mike Farraday, hardboiled LA detective. Basil was not just a wonderful writer – and one of the few Brits to be published by Arkham House! – but he was the consummate gentleman, a charming man to the last, and like so many others, I’m going to miss him dreadfully. Here he is at the 1997 World Fantasy Convention with fellow guest and writer Christopher Lee. That’s how I’m going to remember him: smiling and swapping stories . . .
Photo number two: Basil Copper with Stephen Jones, his editor and biographer; Basil Copper: A Life in Books (PS Publishing), the wonderful in-depth study of Basil and his works they did together, won the British Fantasy Award.
The team behind Jo Fletcher Books and some of our lovely authors at Eastercon – a little behind-the-scenes glimpse
Thanks to the Interweb, the Twittersphere and BBC news, everyone now knows we are not to have the joy of Iain Banks’ company for very much longer.
It is with immense sadness I have to share this with you all. Everyone who knows Iain is devastated by this. He’s not just a brilliant writer, but a funny, clever, good-natured man, someone it’s always a pleasure to raise a glass with.
Right now what I’m going to do is to wish Iain and Adele a wonderful honeymoon, and to look forward to them both seeing The Quarry at the Number One spot.
Copied and forwarded from Iain(M)Banks.net website:
I am officially Very Poorly.
After a couple of surgical procedures, I am gradually recovering from jaundice caused by a blocked bile duct, but that – it turns out – is the least of my problems.
I first thought something might be wrong when I developed a sore back in late January, but put this down to the fact I’d started writing at the beginning of the month and so was crouched over a keyboard all day. When it hadn’t gone away by mid-February, I went to my GP, who spotted that I had jaundice. Blood tests, an ultrasound scan and then a CT scan revealed the full extent of the grisly truth by the start of March.
I have cancer. It started in my gall bladder, has infected both lobes of my liver and probably also my pancreas and some lymph nodes, plus one tumour is massed around a group of major blood vessels in the same volume, effectively ruling out any chance of surgery to remove the tumours either in the short or long term.
The bottom line, now, I’m afraid, is that as a late-stage gall bladder cancer patient, I’m expected to live for ‘several months’ and it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.
As a result, I’ve withdrawn from all planned public engagements and I’ve asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow (sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps). By the time this goes out we’ll be married and on a short honeymoon. We intend to spend however much quality time I have left seeing friends and relations and visiting places that have meant a lot to us. Meanwhile my heroic publishers are doing all they can to bring the publication date of my new novel forward by as much as four months, to give me a better chance of being around when it hits the shelves.
There is a possibility that it might be worth undergoing a course of chemotherapy to extend the amount of time available. However that is still something we’re balancing the pros and cons of, and anyway it is out of the question until my jaundice has further and significantly, reduced.
Lastly, I’d like to add that from my GP onwards, the professionalism of the medics involved – and the speed with which the resources of the NHS in Scotland have been deployed – has been exemplary, and the standard of care deeply impressive. We’re all just sorry the outcome hasn’t been more cheerful.
A website is being set up where friends, family and fans can leave messages for me and check on my progress. It should be up and running during this week and a link to it will be here on my official website as soon as it’s ready.
- ENDS -
Iain’s novel The Quarry has been delivered and will be published this year. For further information please contact Susan de Soissons on 020 7911 8069 / email@example.com
So here we are having just finished our SEOULMONTH on the blog, reflecting on the successful launch of both Seoul Survivors and Gemsigns at Eight Squared Con 2013. And well-deserved success it is too! Stephanie (@scriptopus) and Naomi (@naomifoyle) did a brilliant job on the panels and as debut female writers of SF, they certainly held their own! We can categorically say (whilst trying not to sound like a mother hen) that we’re proud of them.
Also in attendance at EasterCon this year was David Towsey (@D_Towsey), the author of Your Brother’s Blood – our undead Western (drawing comparisons to The Road) which is out in September. Who coped well with the general Eastercon mayhem, and whom we hope to launch at World Fantasy this year! I’d look out for that one if I were you . . .
I have to say a well done to the organisers of EasterCon, also, for the brilliant array of panels they presented us with. I had to choose – more than once – between two really interesting talks (Grimm or Asteroids? Magical Forests or Far Futures?) and (shock horror) could hear every single word that was said. It wasn’t too long ago I attended the SciFi Weekender and thoroughly gave up on going to any of the talks when I realised a) that I couldn’t hear a damn thing and b) the seats were being given to the ‘VIPs’, forcing t
he rest of us plebs to stand at the back while half the seats remained unfilled. There was none of that here. The only struggle I had was when I attended the gender and sexuality talk in the Hawthorn room and there were hardly any seats left (oh woe is me!), which I took as a good sign more than anything. The only real complaint I have is that it was held in Bradford at a hotel on the junction of a motorway. Bradford is . . . not great and you couldn’t go anywhere to eat but the hotel – and let me tell you, that food was unappetising and expensive – as was the train ticket up there, even with my young person’s discount.
My favourite panel had to
be the talk on race equality in SF & Fantasy fiction; it was hilarious, peopled by intelligent, funny authors (including our own Stephanie Saulter) and I could have listened to their views all day long – in fact, the talk went on for another half hour outside the room when we had to vacate it for the nextpanel. It really made you think and I had to stop myself from stealing the mic and talking about our own authors that are either part of a different cultural background, or write characters who are (Amish,Tom Pollock, Stephanie Saulter, Karen Lord, Ian McDonald – and yes, this is a bit of shameless plugging, but you’re on the JFB blog, what do you expect?).
We met some wonderful people, including the guys behind the comics/games/book franchise that it The Travelling Man, to whom I give a shou
t out and a hearty THANK YOU, for providing me with books when we didn’t have any for the Genre Get Together, thereby saving my life. Or at least my job.
And I also want to point your attention to a new bookshop I saw in King’s Cross on the way up called Watermark – they plan to open a chain in the UK and I wish them all the luck in the world. It’s so unutterably brilliant that new book chains feel secure enough to try their hand over here! I bought two books from them just to show my support . . . and also because I wanted to read them, naturally.
Anyway, there’ll be more on this tomorrow before we begin our Gemsigns and Warring States month on the blog. Yes – for those of you who want to know – this is the second in the Wave trilogy by Aidan Harte (after Irenicon) and it was also released this month and is one of the most original, well-written pieces of fantasy we’ve ever read. But of course – we would say that, wouldn’t we? You might just have to find out for yourself . . .
A whole bunch more questions for, and answers from, the wonderful Naomi Foyle, whose Seoul Survivors is out now!
Do you ever put people you know in your books?
Many of my poems feature people I know: that’s a well-known hazard of hanging out with a poet. Some characters in Seoul Survivors are loosely based on real people but if someone might be physically identified from my descriptions, I didn’t reveal any intimate details I might know about them. No one’s privacy was invaded.
Here’s the question everyone’s always desperate for the answer: what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Never give up. Find a workshop group, get honest feedback, and learn how to identify your own strengths and weaknesses: have faith in the former, and be ruthless with the latter.
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?
Prisoner of Love by Jean Genet
The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
And finally: what’s the one question you wish I’d asked – and why?
‘Do you believe fiction can change the world?’ Because I do, and I’d like to say so!
More from our Q&A with Naomi Foyle, author of Seoul Survivors…
Do you plan your books? And where do you begin a story, at the beginning, in the middle or at the end?
I do plan the general outline, but am open to diversions as I go along. Both my novels have a fairly conventional chronological structure. Seoul Survivors takes place over six months. I didn’t want too much back story as the three main characters were all trying to escape their pasts. Of course, that’s impossible, but I wanted them all to be driven by elusive pasts into an uncertain future, rather than be forced to confront their own histories in any great depth. Astra is a coming-of-age novel that begins in the protagonist’s childhood and follows her into adolescence. As Astra grows up she becomes more aware of the histories of the people around her, and her country, Is-Land. The roots of her narrative are conveyed via stories within stories. Here, I engage more deeply with the past, so you could say that the book begins in the middle of the story of Is-Land – whether that is the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end is still to be seen.
As #seoulmonth continues, some exclusive thoughts from Naomi Foyle, author of Seoul Survivors, on the crossing-places of words and music…
There are compelling stylistic reasons to explore the relationship of writing to music, but in the end we all know most writers would far rather be cult indie singers and it is a thwarted desire for rock and roll glory that drives us to collaborate with musicians. In my case, an abject failure to start an industrial Weimar orchestra ultimately led to what is now a sixteen year working relationship with electronica musician Richard Miles.
It was the mid-nineties. Inspired by the German tradition of cabaret as political dissent, I was listening to Lotte Lenya, Nico, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nina Hagen, Marc Almond and Nick Cave, and extreme vocalists Diamanda Galás and Meredith Monk. Though not a strong or shall-we-say accurate singer, I began working experimentally with my own voice, and in 1995 home-recorded a CD in reaction to my mother’s death. In Songs from the Blood Shed my voice slides up and down the registers from sepulchral groan to lacerating shriek. In 1997, encouraged by audience reaction (yes, some people did like it), I put up a notice at Brighton Art College, calling for musicians to form a cabaret collective I had already christened FurVent.
I had one response, from a record producer who invited me to his flat, told me if I wrote a song for Van Morrison he would pass it on, and then tried to stick his tongue down my throat. I pushed him off me, went home and wrote two songs for Nick Cave: ‘Natasha’, the saga of a Soviet double agent and her Polish lover which became my party piece poem, and ‘The Ballad of the Broken Hearted’ a shipwreck tragedy later adapted by London folk’n’roller Paul van Gelder into a song which earns me a bottle of single malt in royalties every year. But those heady days were yet to come, and back in 1997, salvation arrived when at last a friend introduced me to Richard Miles, mahogany guitar and Chapman Stick player, and weird-sound, loop and bleep connoisseur. Inspired by the Sufi poet Rumi, we found ourselves recording steam engines at the Hove Engineerium for a half hour electronica/poem cycle, Forgive the Rain. Steampunk it is not, but if Steamelectronica is a genre, we were there at the start.
I then left the UK for Korea, but when I returned from my travels in South-East Asia, Richard was still up for making noises. Over sixteen years we’ve produced sixteen song and spoken word tracks including ‘Good Definition’, later an award-winning eponymous videopoem, directed by Anneliese Holles in homage to Beckett’s Not I. Reviewing our oeuvre now, with the intention to release it gradually on Sound Cloud, I wonder why some collaborations work and others founder? Well, I suppose it’s not everyone who can work with a sensitive yet demanding radical Feminista, but Richard could give masterclasses in the art. His responses to my work are perceptive, intrigued and laconic, and his organisational habits and professional courtesy put mine to shame. He was an early supporter of Seoul Survivors, and given how much Damien’s musical taste was informed by my early days in Brighton, reading The Wire and asking Richard to record zippers, it was my great pleasure to ask him to perform with me at the Brighton launch. We chose a section with some jokes and an aural cityscape of traffic and CGI skylife. The result, ‘Johnny Boyfriend’ won Richard some new fans, one of whom later commented that (gasp) he’d sometimes stopped listening to the words.
Ah, I replied, the danger of working with talent. Or perhaps, other readers might argue, creating split attention is the risk of working with any musician. Some people, I know, do prefer their spoken word straight up. But for those who do like to read to music, my aim is to provide some custom collaborations for the Seoul Survivors e-book. To that end, Richard accompanied me last Saturday night to London for The C_R_U_X Hopkins St Disturbance – a filmed mash up of music, visual projections, spoken word and song aiming to bring artists together for unexpected results. Via the black bins at the brick wall entrance, we entered an underground Wonderland governed by a short-circuiting Leigh Bowery and populated by a host of Soho starlets in beehives, feather head-dresses and blond afro wigs – though best head-gear award had to go to a black-robed techie in a nylon facemask, who patrolled the narrow halls with a giant paper airplane taped to his head. We were back in Weimar territory. Had I ever strayed far? The sound guy dropped the mixing board, my head-mic produced grinding feedback, and it could all have gone horribly wrong; but then we started again, the house band delivered their gong beats, Richard set a mini-fan-blade whirring over his guitar strings and I returned to another small windowless room: Gongjang, the Seoul nightclub where Damien finally meets Sydney. Watch this space for links to the forthcoming clip. Meantime, thank you for listening, and if you like what you hear, do check out Richard Miles’s solo work and on-going project meshmass, and keep an eye on my Sound Cloud for further releases of our back catalogue. Oh, and if any junk-yard percussionist out there wants to help me resurrect a moveable blood and steel feast called FurVent, please contact me via my website . . .
What a truly horrible week. Thursday was the first day of Spring, and what happened? The temperature dropped like a stone and Britain has been enveloped in snow, ice, sleet and freezing winds. It’s officially the coldest March for fifty years – and as if the world is in mourning for the lost sun, and hot on the heels of the tragic death of James Herbert, I hear that two American horror writers have also met an untimely end. Rick Hautala and David B. Silva, also friends of mine and also in their 60s, have gone too, and all of us involved in the horror/fantasy/SF field are feeling wretched and bereft – and feeling our mortality . . .
We are incredibly lucky, we who work and read within this genre, for it is a family. Many years ago, after a particularly unpleasant accident, I was gently chastised by an acquaintance for not calling for help – he lived close to where the crash happened, and by the time he found out about it (we didn’t have mobiles or Twitter in those days!) my brother had found and rescued me. But Peter Cox was right when he said: no one in the genre is further from help than a telephone call – because someone in the field will know someone who can help. And indeed, when I was packed off to Bristol for an operation, Chris Bell – someone I met from time to time at SF conventions – arrived at my bedside and visited every day, because I had no family there. That’s what this genre is, and that’s why we grieve the death of writers we may have known really well – or may have known only through their writing.
I met Rick and David many years ago, when we were all part of the Horror surge in the mid-eighties, when people like Jim Herbert were rocking the top of the bestseller charts, and superb stylists and storytellers like Charles L. Grant and Dennis Etchison and Karl Edward Wagner were at the height of their not inconsiderable powers. And there was plenty of room for newcomers like Robert McCammon and Dan Simmonds and, yes, Rick and David and so many others. Bonds of friendship are often formed at conventions. You can meet someone for a weekend once a year, and within a couple of years, you are firm friends, forever. That’s a huge gift, and it’s one of the things that makes the genre special.
Horror may have faded from the mainstream market for a while (too long a while, in my opinion) but the storytellers persevered, rebranding themselves where they could (most often as dark fantasy), or turning to other genres, like crime and thrillers and mystery. But while the general publishing houses might have run scared of horror for a few decades, the small and independent presses have done a stalwart job of bringing in the new blood, letting new writers learn their trade while we all do what we can to return horror to the shelves of a bookshop near you.
We are indebted to editors like Stephen Jones, Ellen Datlow and many others, who have been instrumental in keeping the short fiction market alive too, getting paid peanuts because it’s better to get the anthology out there, even if your advance works out to so far below the minimum wage that it scarcely even counts as a ‘wage’.
In fact, very few writers make a decent living. Most of them will never have the opportunity to give up the day job, and most of those who do end up living a hand-to-mouth existence. No one goes into writing (or publishing!) to make money; we do it because we cannot consider not writing.
So here’s my message to you today: buy books! Buy lots of books! And think of the months and years of work that have gone into creating that tome you hold in your hand or are reading on your phone or ereader.
And while you’re at it, wish for the sun to rise from his wintry grave and bring the world back to life.
As #seoulmonth continues, another intriguing question and answer from Naomi Foyle, author of Seoul Survivors…
Who is your favourite fictional hero/heroine? And what about your favourite villain?
Favourite hero: Dr Zhivago.
Favourite heroine: Ásta Sóllilja (in Independent People by Halldór Laxness).
Favourite villain. Miss Jean Brodie.
Tell us yours in the comments!
The second part of an essay by Naomi Foyle, author of Seoul Survivors, about visiting the Korean DMZ-
We then began the next stage of our trip, toward the DMZ itself. A four kilometre wide no-man’s land that runs either side of the North-South border, though it looks like a peaceful green belt, the DMZ is one of the most heavily militarized frontiers in the world, rimmed with land mines and under constant surveillance from both sides. Nevertheless, South Korean villagers continue to live within it, mainly because the government pays them huge subsidies to do so. Their presence is of inestimable value in the propaganda war with the North; further weapons we were soon to see.
A great hush descended on the bus as we passed through the two kilometre stretch of “our” side of the border. No photo taking was allowed until we disembarked in the safe haven of Camp Bonifas, the UN Compound just before Panmunjom, where actual interaction with the North Koreans takes place. Here we were immediately shepherded into the “Home of the Mad Merry Monks of the DMZ”, a souvenir shop masquerading as a bar. One corner was dedicated to the memory of Captain Arthur Bonifas and his two companions, killed by North Korean soldiers wielding axes during a routine tree trimming exercise in August 1976. The gravity of the attack was somewhat undermined by the junk laid out for sale, not just T-shirts and baseball caps, but silk ties, key chains, coffee mugs and, most useful as far as my artist friend was concerned, a selection of mock pewter plates crudely engraved with images of various Panmunjom hotspots: the Peace Pagoda, Freedom Village, the border itself. I snapped one of these wall plaques up for around six quid. Mission accomplished, I could cruise the rest of the afternoon.
Lunch in the mess hall was a hearty buffet of chicken, gravy, veg and salads, munched down to the accompaniment of Korean pop videos on the several TV monitors mounted on the walls. Then we headed into Orientation Hall, where a crew-cut private barked a bullet-nosed narration of a historical slide show, including frame-by-frame shots of the Bonifas axe attack. We were given waiver forms to sign indicating we were aware that we took our lives into our hands with the next stage of the journey. Last year 111,000 people signed this form.
Our guide had warned us that there would be waiting time aplenty, so the following opportunity to hang out in the parking lot wasn’t altogether unexpected. I idled away the time taking photos of water tanks and wondering how much money the UN made from tourism to Panmunjom. At last we were introduced to our next guide, a strapping, milk fed Iowan, making his first unaided effort at leading a group. We promised to be extra kind.
Again, no photos were allowed as we left Camp Bonifas and headed toward the Joint Security Area, passing Freedom Village, where the South Korean farmers were busy with their rice crops. En route, our Corporal solemnly pointed out the site of the axe murders, promising we would be allowed to stop and take photos of it on the way back. Finally we were in sight of North Korea itself – a rolling stretch of green hills, much like the terrain we had just passed through, though with but one human settlement in sight. Visible in the near background was a group of buildings dominated by a tall pole, from which drooped a large North Korean flag. Here, our guide cheerfully explained, was the North Korean so-called Propaganda Village. No-one actually lived there, instead it housed gigantic speakers that blasted out invitations to defect to the North. These were ostensibly for the benefit of the well-subsidised South Korean inhabitants of cushy Freedom Village, but were most often broadcast at night when the soldiers were trying to sleep. We made little sounds of sympathy for our guide. Their flag was so large it took a typhoon to fly it, he told us, then, like a school kid confiding a prank, mentioned that the UN had at one point erected a taller flag pole, but the North Koreans had immediately raised theirs in retaliation. Goodness, we agreed, things could really have started getting silly.
Finally we arrived at the Joint Security Area. Here the battle for architectural supremacy raged on. The South’s two huge, gleaming, modern buildings were devoid of occupants, serving only as entrance lobbies for the streams of tourists anxious to step right up to the border itself. The invisible line we had all come to see was demarcated by a line a cement posts and row of barrack-type buildings each guarded by pairs of North and South Korean soldiers. From the Peace Pagoda, a traditional gazebo painted in the customary green, we all had a good ogle at our first North Koreans.
‘Look at them long and hard – they hate that,’ our guide exhorted. And stare we did, at the three men standing stiffly to attention beside two grey, Orwellian buildings on the other side. A pair of binoculars glinted inside a ground floor window, evidence of someone looking closely back at us. Good thing none of us were wearing the prohibited blue jeans or mini-skirts – we wouldn’t want to give some North Korean soldier a capitalist rock-and-roll thrill.
After another long wait, we were escorted back though the foyer of Freedom’s main edifice, and trouped into one of the barracks room. Pale blue, it was empty except for a table, chairs, a microphone, and two South Korean soldiers in sunglasses, standing motionless in a Tae Kwon Do alert position, legs apart, fists clenched at their sides. Except for these props and life size GI ‘Cho’ dolls, it could have been a motel room. It just lacked a fold out bed, a TV and velvet paintings of Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong-Il on the wall.
This was the room where all highest level negotiations with the North took place. Those of us standing beyond the microphone cord were officially in North Korea. An understated sense of jubilation filled the air, as we milled about, taking turns in the otherwise forbidden zone, snapping photos of each other next to the implacable sentries. Their stance, we were proudly informed, was designed to intimidate the North. It seemed to us not an especially enlightened strategy, when surely the UN presence on the peninsula should be motivated toward lessening tensions. But we had learned that what prevails at Freedom’s frontier is fundamentally an attitude of adolescent one-upmanship. Protocol at Panmunjom is a game to maintain a sense of purpose behind what is primarily now a stage set for an audience of three bus-loads of tourists a day: a game in which “Freedom” and “Propaganda” are interchangeable tags on shoddy, monopoly market goods.
Thanks to all the waiting around, there wasn’t time to visit the Tunnel of Aggression as promised. Or possibly this had been cancelled because the wily North Koreans had recently been discovered digging yet another such infiltration route. Either way, our tour was drawing to a close, with no time for a pilgrimage to the axe murder site either. On the way back to Camp Bonifas for another run at the souvenir shop, our young American guide stumbled on the pronunciation of ‘de-militarized’. Blushing, he gave a gap-toothed grin.
“Aw shucks, you guys know what I mean.”
We did now, but whether or not we shared his views of the place was another question. The most interesting thing I learned that afternoon was that the whole DMZ is now a wildlife haven, home to deer rarely seen elsewhere in South Korea, and a great variety of birds. Should the two Koreas ever peacefully reunite, I hope it would be possible to preserve this strip of natural beauty as a national park, to remind all citizens of the tranquillity possible when human beings are kept at bay.
A version of this article was published in The Independent, April 2000.
RIP James Herbert.
It’s not often one hears about the death of a friend on BBC Radio 4 News . . . but when I heard James Herbert’s long-time editor, Jeremy Trevathan, describing Jim as‘one of the giants of popular fiction in the 20th Century’ I realised I was not alone in feeling like a great piece of my life has been ripped away. I’ve been reading some of the many, many tributes that have been pouring in for the man who practically invented modern horror fiction. America had Stephen King; we had James Herbert – and Jim was always incredibly proud of the fact that he outsold King in this country!
His first book, The Rats, was the first book I ever reviewed, and it became an instant bestseller – Jim himself told me with great pride that it sold more than 100,000 copies in the first two weeks of being published in 1974. According to the stats now being bandied about, Jim went on to publish another twenty-two titles, which sold more than 54 million books, and have been translated into 34 languages. He was a colossus of the field, and that was recognised with an OBE in 2010, the year he was Special Guest of Honour and presented with the Grand Master Award by the World Horror Convention in Brighton.
But Jim was more than just an incredibly popular writer who appealed to all ages: he was a mentor to many, and a friend to many more. He had a devilish sense of humour (ask me about his launch party at the Ritz one day), and an endless imagination – he used to say that he plumbed the depths of his desperately poor East End childhood to conjure up his horrors, but even living in the lap of luxury in a gorgeous country house, I don’t think he ever accepted that he’d made it: he was always afraid the next book wouldn’t work, the readers would drift away . . .
They didn’t, of course. Jim was indeed a Grand Master, and as Jeremy also said, ‘He has the rare distinction that his novels were considered classics of the genre within his lifetime.’
I am enormously glad of that.
And now I shall raise a glass to you, my dear friend, Jim Herbert: the world is a lesser place today for your loss. – JO
As part of #seoulmonth, we present Part 1 an essay from Naomi Foyle, author of Seoul Survivors, about the surreal experience of visiting the Korean DMZ…
Freedom’s Last Frontier: A Tour Bus Ride to Panmunjom
As if the whole notion of a tour bus ride to Panmunjom, one of the world’s most sensitive military hotspots wasn’t tacky enough, I went on a secret mission to purchase the kitschiest item I could find. After two years living in Seoul, 40 km away from the last bastion of Stalinism, I was finally making a trip to North Korea and an artist friend had asked me to look out for a suitable piece of bric-a-brac.
I booked a tour through one of the hotel agencies, with the extra options of having lunch on the base, and visiting a Tunnel of Aggression. Except for the absurdly strict dress code, the whole thing was sounding just one step away from an outing to Seoul theme parks Lotte World or Everland. But I wanted to take the trip seriously; really, I did.
When I first arrived in Seoul, and fellow ex-pats filled me in on the brute facts of nuclear warheads, standing armies, landmines, air raid drills and unsigned peace treaties, I lived in fear of invasion for at least a month. A friend doing his doctorate in North-South relations had some fun by telling me that war was closer than it had been in forty years. In event of invasion he was going to drive his motorbike to the Han River, jump off and swim across, steal another bike on the other side, high tail it down to Pusan and stow on board a boat to Japan. Fearing I lacked the physique to make such a triathlon-esque escape, I registered with the Canadian Embassy, hoping they would call me when the helicopters were ready to pick up the stragglers on the rooftops.
Soon, though, I began to affect the nonchalance of my Korean friends and students, who were long immune to the daily media cocktail of grim reality frothed up by constant propaganda. I met a UN liaison officer who told me how the papers distorted events, to the point of out-and-out lies, and I relaxed even more. Shit happened, sure – North Korean submarines were caught in fisher nets; dead commandos washed up on shore; South Korean villagers were arrested while mushroom picking; missiles were launched over Japan. But the alarms raised always seemed to fade away, until only the stark horrors of a famine only forty kilometres away seemed worthy of genuine attention. When I moved apartments after six months I didn’t even update my Embassy registration.
Of course I wondered if it all would end in a “soft” or “hard” landing, as the military parlance had it. Would Kim Jong Il go out in a blaze of glory, taking the peninsula with him, or, as my UN friend predicted, would the reclusive leader’s love of creature comforts and Western videos prevail, leading him to accept a CIA-sponsored mansion in the Middle East somewhere? At the very least, would he hang in for the chance to co-host the 2002 World Cup? Perhaps, I thought, a trip to the border between riotous South Korea and its hermetic neighbour might help me more soberly frame such random speculations.
Unfortunately, the bus tour guide didn’t help me take the situation any more seriously. Though I got the impression he was speaking English, this neatly-suited elderly gentleman spoke so rapidly and softly into his microphone as to be entirely incomprehensible. Eyes closed, he beamed, crooned and chuckled away to himself like a Korean Tony Bennett impersonator. I soon gave up straining my ears, and just relaxed and enjoyed the mountain scenery. At last we pulled up at our first stop, the War Monuments.
The hundred-odd passengers piled out of the bus and headed straight for the concession stand. Coffee and junk food in hand, we perambulated the tall group of altars to the fallen soldiers and war correspondents of the Korean War. There were garbage cans on site, but many people chose to deposit their litter on the monuments. Perhaps this is a practice similar to one I observed in the city cemetery in Manilla, of leaving open cans of Coke and orange juice beside funerary urns. Perhaps not.
Check back for Part 2 of this essay tomorrow…
Another day of #SEOULMONTH, another Q&A with Naomi Foyle, author of Seoul Survivors!
You’re throwing your Fantasy Dinner Party: who are your five other guests, living, dead, real, mythological or made-up, and why?
There are so many people I would like to meet, but as a hostess I must make sure that I choose guests who will enjoy each other’s company as well. At a round table, then, I will seat to my right the world’s first known poet – the Ancient Sumerian priestess Enheduanna, who wrote cuneiform hymns to the goddess Inanna. Beside her, the late Palestinian poet Taha Muhammed Ali, whose rustic vernacular gleams with lyrical fire. To his right, Granuaille, AKA Grace O’Malley, the 16th century Irish sea captain, who knew a thing or two about resisting Occupation. She could compare notes on the English with Eric Cantona, who can also hold his own with any poet and takes a keen interest in Palestine. He’ll be seated between two warrior women, as on his right and my left – so I can quiz her about the lives of ancient Celts – is Boudica, who invoked Andraste before her battles, and can chitchat with Enheduanna about the changing protocols of war goddess worship.
Check back tomorrow for more from Naomi…
You will, I am quite sure, be thrilled to learn that my pond is currently a roiling mass of frog-flesh – for YES! – the amphibian population of Pearl Road appears to have woken up, despite the continued chill in the air. I celebrated by deciding to open emails only from nice people on Sunday, and was rewarded with the photograph below, snapped at Sydney Airport by contributor Angela Slatter.
Angela was delighted to see A BOOK OF HORRORS conveniently located between GRRM and Conn Iggulden – and she didn’t even have to move it there herself, so it felt like a double win.
For who amongst us has not spent a happy hour or more rearranging bookshops so our Beloved Authors – friends, family, or just people we like to read – are displayed rather more prominently than was perhaps at first intended?
If my authors actually ask me, I will always suggest that’s not entirely fair on the poor, benighted bookshop staff, who will have to spend hours returning said books to their original shelves (once they work out what’s going on, that it, although hopefully that won’t happen before a few extra copies have found their way to the tills.
So although I might not actively endorse putting every copy of your chosen title face-out on as many of the front tables as you can (and certainly not filling all twenty slots on the Bestseller Chart wall, as I once saw someone do . . . mind you, he is now a bestseller himself, so maybe it does work . . .), I do always suggest my Beloved Authors should go and introduce themselves to the staff and ask if they can sign their books while they’re there.
Most bookshops love that – in fact, most make a positive feature of signed books (and as we like to say in the trade: a signed book is a sold book! It’s not entirely true, of course, but in these straitened times, we need to do anything we can to draw the reader’s eye).
And let’s face it, we don’t have that many options for doing just that, do we? In truth, it generally comes down to three things.
First, the name of the author – that’s great if you’re already a bestseller; but frankly not much help if you’re a debut writer; name recognition is something we’ll have to build up to.
Second, the title of the book – an intriguing title can certainly catch the eye. I doubt I was the only person to buy Arthur Byron Cover’s The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists – which turned out to be a collection of four novelettes – ‘The Platypus of Doom’, ‘The Armadillo of Destruction’, ‘The Aardvark of Despair’ and ‘The Clam of Catastrophe’ – just because of the title. And let’s face it: you might not leap out to buy The French in the Desert, but rename it The Sands of Death and you’ve got a winner there. We sometimes end up spending a lot of time throwing titles around, trying to get the right one, and that little glow of satisfaction when we finally nail it is worth all those sleepless nights in between.
But good author name and great title are not much use without the third part. I am of course talking about the cover itself. There’s no doubt, looking back at this photograph (thanks, Angela!) that the combination of the skills of artist Les Edwards and my art director Patrick Carpenter have produced what can only be described as ‘a stonkingly good cover’. It certainly stands out in this display.
I thought it was about time we talked covers again as I have just been given my list of outstanding briefs, and that means I have to try to work out what I want a dozen (mostly unwritten) books to look like so we have images in time for the sales force and reps to sell in the books.
You’re probably sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a cinch! Let’s just make it look like X’ – and for X, read Current Bestseller. The trouble is, we’re briefing covers approximately a year in advance. I can tell you what’s selling right now – but who knows who’s going to be topping the charts in March 2014? Of course, I sincerely hope it’s (pauses to look at JFB schedule for March 2014) oh yes, the paperback of Aidan Harte’s truly magnificent THE WARRING STATES and the first publication of Naomi Foyle’s literary gem ASTRA . . . but it’s probably a fair bet they’ll be sitting alongside books by GRRM, Joe Abercrombie and Trudie Canavan, to pick three more established bestsellers at random.
So here’s what we generally do: we (aka Nicola) fill out the endless minutiae on the briefing form (you’ve doubtless worked out by now that everything in publishing is done with forms) before we can get down to the nitty-gritty: the brief description of the book (this is the time we pray that we’ve had more from the author than ‘there’s this guy with a big sword and a chip on his shoulder’) and the box for what else the reader is likely to read/watch/listen to.
Once we’ve completed the form, which also includes trawling the Interweb for covers for other (bestselling) books that are not a million miles from what we think our book is going to be, we then have the fun of presenting it at the cover meeting, in front of a full room.
The trouble is, I am not an artist and I am not a designer. I’m good with words, and I do at least have the experience and the eye to say: that is not the right cover – but I am not great at saying, This is the cover I think we should have and this is how we get there. At Gollancz, I had Simon Spanton – Simon’s artistic himself, and so he’s great at concepts.
But worry not, Beloved Reader, for all is not lost: now I have Nicola, and like Simon, Nicola’s an artist. Look carefully, and you’ll see her work popping up in JFB tomes here and there. I wanted runes for the lovely Snorri’s Valhalla Saga, and lo: no sooner had I uttered the wish than a sketchbook was rather shyly thrust under my nose and now SWORDS OF GOOD MEN has runes. And Amish’s THE IMMORTALS OF MELUHA has strange Indian sigils.
And I also have the aforementioned Patrick, my art director. Between them Pat and Nicola have the ability to interpret my vague thoughts and magically transform them into consistently superb covers, and for that I am deeply grateful.
Hmmm. Maybe I could persuade them to actually brief the books too?
Excuse me. I have some plotting to do . . .
We continue #SEOULMONTH with another bit of writerly insight from Naomi Foyle, author of Seoul Survivors.
Do you plan your books? And where do you begin a story, at the beginning, in the middle or at the end?
I do plan the general outline, but am open to diversions as I go along. Both my novels have a fairly conventional chronological structure. Seoul Survivors takes place over six months. I didn’t want too much back story as the three main characters were all trying to escape their pasts. Of course, that’s impossible, but I wanted them all to be driven by elusive pasts into an uncertain future, rather than be forced to confront their own histories in any great depth. Astra is a coming-of-age novel that begins in the protagonist’s childhood and follows her into adolescence. As Astra grows up she becomes more aware of the histories of the people around her, and her country, Is-Land. The roots of her narrative are conveyed via stories within stories. Here, I engage more deeply with the past, so you could say that the book begins in the middle of the story of Is-Land – whether that is the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end is still to be seen.
Astra, you say? Another book from Naomi and Jo Fletcher Books? You didn’t hear it from me…
Do you write primarily from experience, or are you a keen researcher – and has that research ever changed the course of the story?
My own experience is at the heart of everything I write, especially poems, but I research extensively too. In fact, I find it hard to draw strict lines between intellectual, sensual and emotional experience. Reading, at its best, is a powerful psychological experience that can shape your identity as much as direct experience. I’ve learned so much from reading about Palestine that when I set off to visit it, I felt I was going to meet an old friend.
I don’t think I’ve ever changed a book’s direction thanks to new research, but I do keep constantly adding and refining on the basis of new information. For example, I returned to the ProxyBod scenes in the last draft of Seoul Survivors after one of my best readers, James Burt, alerted me to the concept of the ‘uncanny valley’.
You can follow Naomi on Twitter @naomifoyle!
Are you enjoying our #SEOULMONTH? – feel free to leave comments below and let us know what you’d like to read!
Hi Guys – this week we’ve got a cover reveal for you – from the fantastic Your Brother’s Blood by David Towsey (@D_towsey). We’ve gone down a slightly different route for this fantasy because it’s so completely unique. Think The Road – but also think Warm Bodies, this book is going to stir up a storm. And if you don’t believe me, believe a certain Mr Christopher Brookmyre:
‘Haunting, elegiac, evocative and human. Combines the taut yet melancholy feel of a classic pursuit Western with an authentically horrific sense of history gone wrong. A beautifully crafted debut’
Hope you like it!
Today, as part of our #SEOULMONTH on the blog, we will be featuring some photography from Naomi Foyle’s time living in Seoul. These photographs set a beautiful backdrop to the book and, we think, add another dimension to the writing. So for all of those who have read, are considering reading or may not have heard of Seoul Survivors but might look it up after this – we hope you enjoy this small illustration of life in Seoul.
February 14 generally means something very special in the Fletcher/Drury Household. No, not the post-birthday hangover after celebrating @LitAgentDrury’s natal day a little too heartily, nor the ranty phone calls to whichever unreliable purveyor of overpriced blooms has failed (yet again) to deliver in a timely fashion, nor the even crosser emails to the courier company who has managed to leave the gift bellows with a neighbour who’s now gone away for the weekend. (Walk away from the hot air gags right now. I promise you it will be safer . . .)
No, much more important than any of that: I am talking about the joyous sound of mating amphibians . . .
For the more observant amongst you who are wondering why I am talking about February when we’re well into March, do keep up: all is about to be made clear.
For the last four weeks we have been sitting in the freezing cold lounge (yes, builders still leaving doors open, just in case they need to make an urgent get-away – unless anyone knows of another, more sensible reason for them to need every door in the house jammed ajar no matter what the temperature? And yes, lounge still piled high with post-kitchen debris, thank you for asking), desperately listening out for that first tentative frog call, which is generally followed by a great reverberating thunder as the twenty-odd denizens of the garden pond all leap into their annual breeding orgy.
So I have been repeating, ‘But it’s the coldest winter since X’ – where X is a year in the dim and distant past – ‘so they’re probably all still asleep in the compost bins’ and hoping that if I say it often enough it will become true.
Then on Friday we had 13 whole Centrigrades outside and at least one pair of bulging eyes was spotted, and I was quite sure we heard that first tentative rumble . . .
. . . and now it’s snowing again . . .
Which leaves me with no choice but to hope to the high heavens that the entire frog population of Walthamstow has had the good sense to crawl back into the compost bin for another few weeks.
The hardest thing is knowing there is nothing I personally can do to ensure my frogs do wake up properly and start filling the pond with bucketloads of frogspawn. I went on at great length just a week or two ago about the importance of sticking to deadlines – but did they listen? No, obviously not . . .
So to take my mind off my oblivious (and possibly frozen) frogs, I will instead turn my attention to the three urgent copy-edits that have landed on my desk this morning (all early, which is a wonderful change; obviously some people read my blog!) – but they do all require me to go through the books one more time. This is the moment where I discover just how good – or otherwise – my current copy-editors are.
The first question I had was about capitalisation: this particular copy-editor obviously recognised the different usages . . . but, sadly for both the author and me, didn’t apply the rule consistently. (Thank heavens for Track Changes and Global Search and Replace – even if I do always have to do a manual check afterwards.)
What we should end up with is, for example, ‘No, General, there is no way any captain in my regiment would have eaten my frogs for supper. I know Father would have had him flogged, and my mother would have sobbed over the parentless tadpoles.’
Confused? It’s actually quite easy: if you are using the word (Father, General, Captain, Mother, whatever) as part of the name, it is capitalised; if it’s just a descriptive term, it’s lower case.
The next question (different author, different copy-editor): when do you use ‘who’ and when ‘that’ or ‘which’? Well, it should be the man who promised to rescue the frogs which lived in the compost heap.
The third was really interesting: we have a Chinese girl swearing, and neither the copy-editor nor I believed that a Chinese character who spends a lot of time extolling the virtues of traditional Chinese culture would use phrases like ‘Oh God!’ or ‘Jesus Christ!’ in a pejorative fashion. It is with grateful thanks to extremely high-powered agent Sonia Land, who came to the rescue, that we now know the answer is ‘You son of a turtle!’ (And no: I don’t know why. Apparently that’s even ruder than ‘Son of a dog’.)
The final point is slightly more complicated: the copy-editor had queried a particular phrase, and I didn’t understand it either. The author sent a paragraph explaining it, and then a further follow-up explanation, all of which rather missed the point: if you have to explain, it doesn’t work. After all, our Beloved Readers do not generally have said author on tap to explain as they go through, do they?
And on that note, I shall return to the fray, so we can get three more JFB books off to production and en route to a bookshop near you – and you can add Peter Liney, Rod Rees and Frank Schätzing to your ‘coming soon’ list.
And I shall take up station by the back window again, waiting for that roiling bellow that means my pond is once again alive with webbed feet and slimy flesh . . .
* Frogs! Pay Attention! This means you!
Morning, morning everyone!
Right, let’s kick of the chilly Monday with a competition.
If you’d like to win a copy of Naomi Foyle’s fabulous Seoul Survivors then just comment below with your best anagram of SEOUL SURVIVORS.
Our favourites by 10am tomorrow will win copies.
We have two Derringer Award nominations for JFB authors: An Apple for the Creature contributors Mike Carey and Toni L.P.Kelner – who co-edited the anthology with Charlaine Harris.
Mike’s Iphigenia in Aulis and Toni’s Pirate Dave and the Captain’s Ghost are up against each other in the ‘Best Novelette’ category, so let’s hope the members of The Short Mystery Fiction Society love them both!
The winners will be announced on March 31.
We asked Naomi Foyle, author of Seoul Survivors, had she always dreamed of becoming a writer and, if so, has it turned out how she imagined it?
As a child I wanted to be an actress, a lawyer or a foreign correspondent. I was always a bookworm, though, and my late mother Brenda Riches, a poet and short story writer, encouraged me to write. Possibly her success intimidated me; in any case it wasn’t until I left home for university in Toronto that I started writing, producing short stories, prose-poetry, a still-unpublished experimental novel, and a libretto for a chamber opera, Hush, that was produced at Theatre Passe Muraille and won several awards. This early success gave me the confidence to decide I was now definitely a writer.
I remember dreaming of a life of adventure – I would travel the world, write about the places I’d seen, give readings, and meet interesting people doing passionate, revolutionary things. It all worked out pretty much like that, usually on a shoestring, and has even incorporated my earlier ambitions. I’ve done performance poetry and travel journalism, and my political activism for Palestine is grounded in international law. Though I thought I would publish a novel a lot earlier than I did, ultimately everything has unfolded in good time. In my twenties I thought I was a genius, of course, but in fact I needed to work on craft and going back to university for postgraduate degrees as a mature student really helped me refine my technical skills. I didn’t think I’d end up teaching at a university like my parents, but actually I enjoy it. A little bit of humility is not a bad thing in a writer – or any one!
Jo Fletcher Books is a publisher that isn’t afraid of risk-taking, to step outside the clearly defined and somewhat too-safe parameters of SF/Fantasy/Horror writing to deliver bold, innovative and imaginative novels.
The taboo-breaking melting pot of SF/Noir and Horror that is Naomi Foyle’s searing debut Seoul Survivors is no exception – an unapologetic, hauntingly poetic and politically-fuelled vision of an entirely plausible and very dark future.
So how do I convey my enthusiasm for this wonderful book? Do it justice in less than 200-words? The short answer is: I can’t, but I’ll try. This author has smooth satirical storytelling skills, characters you immediately emotionally invest in, an absorbing plot, intriguing near future setting and an immediacy and tension to her language which keeps the narrative moving at the pace of a Juggernaut hurtling through the dark vacuum of space.
Finally, here is a new author all you fussy readers’ out there can get really excited about… She cleverly exploits familiar SF trappings, deploying them in fresh and transgressive ways while still paying homage to her novel’s literary predecessors: William Gibson, Margaret Atwood, Anais Nin and Kathy Acker. Another thing the book accomplished is that it realistically depicts the cultural/social/economic and personal impact of science, sex and violence, there are myriad themes scattered throughout the novel and Foyle deftly navigates the labyrinth, effortlessly tying all her ideas together.
Seoul Survivors is a novel which merits high-praise, not only from genre fans but readers of every persuasion. Not only is she an important new voice in cyberpunk, but a powerful new force on the literary landscape.
I can’t wait to see what she does next…
Alan is the author of the pulp fiction novel Let Me Die a Woman and runs Hell’s Shelves at Rue Morgue.
Where were you born Naomi?
In Islington, within the sound of Bow Bells, on the night Jimi Hendrix played the Roundhouse.
What’s your comfort food?
Porridge with yoghurt and honey.
What’s your favourite tipple?
I’m quite partial to sharing a bottle of Cava. Beats Citalopram and water!
What superpower would you want / which superhero would you be?
The power to go to sleep when my head hit the pillow. Would that make me Zonkwoman?
Dog or cat?
Long-haired dogs, short-haired cats.
What keeps you sane?
What scares you?
The thought of dying young like my mother, though I have weirdly made an accommodation with the idea, especially now that I’ve achieved my dream of being a published novelist.
Beaches or adventure?
Adventures. But I live by a beach, so I don’t have to choose.
What’s your holiday read?
Best ever holiday read was The Brothers Karamazov, which I read in a hammock slung on the back deck of a three-day ferry to the Andaman Islands.
What is the best present you’ve ever received?
I have two friends who give great presents, so even if I could choose one, for diplomatic reasons, I had better not answer this!
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve got older?
That I hate touchscreens.
What would people be surprised to discover about you?
I can shake my eyeballs.
Sweet or savoury?
Savoury – unless it’s a liqueur-filled dark chocolate.
What is your favourite sport?
World Cup football.
What is your favourite way to travel?
A comfy ferry.
Would you rather read the book or watch the film?
Read the book.
Sarkozy or Obama?
Chief Theresa Spence.
Night in or night out?
Four in, three out.
What are you currently listening to?
Louboutin or Reebok?
Reebok, except they wouldn’t fit me because I’m a size 8 1/2 and require specialist shops and counselling whenever I buy shoes.
I’m often asked why I bought a particular book, and generally the answer is: because my list cannot live without it. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much always the reason . . .
But although I might be Queen of JFB, I still have to present the book to my colleagues, in sales particularly, and convince them that it’s just the book we need, and more importantly, that we are going to be able to sell shedloads of copies.
And that means knowing what the book’s about, and being able to showcase the highlights – and I’ve generally only got a couple of minutes to do that . . .
Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?
Let’s take this month’s new release: Seoul Survivors by Naomi Foyle:
‘There’s this Canadian girl who’s rocked up in Seoul City looking to make it as a model (although she’s not exactly who she says she is), and there’s this English bloke who’s desperate to make enough money so he can escape to Saskatchewan to survive the coming meteorite, and so he starts out by smuggling pot into Seoul City, and there’s this Korean-American mad scientist, Dr Kim Da Mi . . .’
No, hold on, I’ve forgotten the North Korean widows . . .
‘So there’s this North Korean girl, Mee Lee Hee, who lost her son and her husband to the famine that is devastating North Korea, and she agrees to be smuggled out in the bottom of a Foreign Aid convoy in exchange for becoming a surrogate mother as part of Korean-American scientist Dr Kim Da Mi’s brilliant plan to people a sort-of theme part with genetically manipulated children who will bring peace and happiness to all who see them . . .’
Ah – but what about Johnny Sandman?
‘Johnny Sandman is a psychopath—’
Ah, that’s a bit better . . . let’s keep with that one, shall we?
‘Johnny Sandman is a psychopath, but so far he’s managed to keep his urges in check . . . until genetic scientist Dr Kim Da Mi starts trying to oust him from the corporation he’s served so faithfully . . .’
No, no: that doesn’t work; I can’t get the android in that way.
Are you beginning to get the picture? No? Well, can’t say I’m surprised. The thing is, most books are more than just ‘boy meets girl, girl tries to persuade boy to donate his sperm so they can together beget a race of genetically modified children who will bring peace and joy to all who meet them, mad scientist lies to everyone and psychopath goes off the rails’, and trying to pick out a couple of strands, enough to enthuse the sales force, can take weeks of preparation.
Luckily for me, I can look at this another way: Seoul Survivors is a fast-paced cyber-thriller set tomorrow, with an astonishing cast of characters who will keep you guessing . . .
Damn. Still didn’t get the android in . . .
Maybe it’s best to hand over to the author herself and let her tell you about her debut book?
So watch this space tomorrow, and every day this week, as Naomi takes us into the world of Seoul Survivors . . .
And hot on the heels of Karen Lord’s tentacular success with Redemption in Indigo comes the Indian release of the long-awaited Oath of the Vayaputras, the third and final book in Amish’s phenomenal Shiva trilogy. More than a thousand people queued outside a Mumbai bookshop this week to meet the man himself, and 700 of them *bought copies* then and there – how cool is that?
I really wish I could have been there – Anuj Bahri, Amish’s agent and original publisher, told me loads of people were dressed as Shiva, and there was dancing on the streets: ‘This was launch was absolutely unheard of!’ he said, and I could feel the grin, all the way from New Delhi.
In fact, so many copies have been sold in the first week that Westland, Amish’s Indian publisher, has had to go back to press. Mind you, it was a pretty measly first print-run at just half a million copies . . .
Our photograph shows Amish in the middle of a stellar line-up, celebrating with acclaimed film director Shekhar Kapur and Bollywood superstar Kajol on his right, and newspaper columnist Anil Dharker and Gautam Padmanabhan, Westland’s CEO, on his left.
So echoing Anuj’s words, let’s say ‘congratulations’ to the Meluha team – and hope the Shiva trilogy finds just as big a readership in the UK!
I have awakened today as the proud (if temporary) possessor of a Golden Tentacle.
for last night I had the absolute pleasure of accepting on Karen Lord’s behalf the Kitschie Golden Tentacle Award for best debut novel for REDEMPTION IN INDIGO, her wonderful, lyrical (and award-winning!) retelling of a Senegalese folk tale. Karen sadly couldn’t join us at the Free Word Centre in Islington for the intelligent, progressive and entertaining Kitschie Awards presented by Anne Perry and Jared Shurin as she was halfway across the Pacific Ocean en route to the Adelaide Writers’ Week, where she is one of the guests. Sadly, nor could she partake of the excellent The Kraken Rum provided by the farsighted sponsors – a bigger shame than you might at first realise, for Karen, being a Caribbean writer, knows a thing or two about rum as well as writing!
But she was alerted instantly, thanks to the magic of smartphones, and when she wakes up in Australia later today, I know she’s going to be thrilled. Her agent, the lovely Sally Harding, said it for us all: ‘That is bloody brilliant!’
And while I’m at it, can I also say a big ‘Congrats!’ to Nick Harkaway, not just for his sartorial elegance but for winning the Red Tentacle for Angelmaker (William Heinemann), to Dave Shelton, who walked off with the Inky Tentacle for his cover art for his own A Boy and a Bear in a Boat (David Fickling Books), and to the World SF Blog who won the Black tentacle for ‘a work or body of work that does not otherwise fit The Kitschies’ criteria’, eloquently accepted on behalf of the team by Lavie Tidhar. All were, of course, intelligent, progressive and entertaining, as you would expect of any Tentacle-winner.
And I would also like to say an enormous ‘congratulations!’ to the shortlisted writers and artists, including, of course, our own Tom Pollock, whose THE CITY’S SON was up against REDEMPTION IN INDIGO in the Golden Tentacle category. Of course I wished with all my heart Tom was also taking home a tentacle – but his time will come, of that I am certain!
So now I’m going to take the Golden Tentacle for a walk – got to keep him fit and healthy for the handover to Karen at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, after all. And judging by the look @LitAgentDrury and I got when we carted him home on the Victoria Line last night, he will win friends and influence people wherever he goes.
And here it is! The fabled Kitschies trophy – presented for Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo, which won The Golden Tentacle – best debut novel of 2012!
Trying to find the perfect weekend city break for @LitAgentDrury’s birthday is not always easy. It’s got to have history, obviously.
Good beer goes without saying. A war museum with cannon and pointy weapons through the ages, naturally. Preferably a castle or two.
Amusing public transport. Mosques and/or churches. And either snow or camels (I find the two rarely go together.) Last year we went to the Red City, Marrakech – and having just read Jane Johnson’s mesmerising The Sultan’s Wife (which I recommend to the house), I foresee a trip to Meknes in our immediate future.
This year I decided it was time to explore the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Old Town of Vilnius in Lithuania (the one no one ever remembers).
Well, more fool them, frankly!
All the signs were right, just as they had been for Grand Duke Gediminas, who once dreamed of an iron wolf
and asked Lizdeika, his krivis, or pagan priest, to interpret the dream. The priest told him: ‘The Iron Wolf represents a castle and a city which will be established by you on this site.
This city will be the capital of the Lithuanian lands and the dwelling of their rulers, and the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world.’
So Gediminas, recognising a sign when he saw one, did what he was told and promptly built a very lovely castle and city at the confluence of the Vilnius and Neris Rivers.
That was in the 14th century, and it turned out to be a good move, for the Lithuanians’ animistic worship offended the neighbouring Teutonic Knights – or, more likely (at least according to @LitAgentDrury – and he should know, on account of being a historian and all) they decided it was a damn sight cheaper and safer to gird up their loins and ride over the border to bash the neighbouring pagans rather than to traipse all the way down to the Holy Land and end up being skewered by infidel dogs or dying of some noxious foreign lurgy.
You can see their point.
Of course, they might also have discovered one of Lithuania’s unsung charms: its beer. I spent my formative teen years in Kent, going to school next to the Shepherd Neame brewery (indeed, the Neames were Old Boys), and so I have strong views on the necessity for decent bitter, which were enhanced by my years immersed in the folk world.
@LitAgentDrury has similar views, obviously, and neither of us can understand why, when Europe has a plethora of extremely tasty lagared beers, we lionise the fizzy, tasteless gas-pumped rubbish that fills most English bars.
And breathe . . .
Where was I? Oh yes, it was snowing as we arrived in Vilnius, and so the streets were blanketed in fresh, glittering white. (So no camels, then.)
Within hours of our arrival we’d discovered honey beer and a dark porterish type (Good Beer: Tick), and the country’s national dish: the zeppelin (aka potato dumpling). And tasty beer snacks: in this case, pig’s ear (we were informed, and although there is no doubt Lithuanian is the hardest language in the world, there is also no doubt that’s what the chewy, rather odd-tasting slivers were).
And breathe . . .
We managed to tear ourselves away for long enough to visit St Casimir’s chapel in the great Arkikatedra Bazilika:
(his remains are allegedly ensconced in a marble coffin surrounded by a great piece of baroque splat; we were rather hoping it would be of the ‘insert-coin-and-light-up-the-mummified-limb type, but I fear St Stephen’s hand in Budapest is going to remain a one-off. As it were.)
And we also took the funicular up the hill to the aptly named (as the guidebook told us) Vilniaus pilių kompleksas – or castle tower, in the vernacular, where we followed the small but perfectly formed exhibition up the floors to the roof and spectacular views over the city. (Castles & Pointy Weapons: Tick.)
After that, we needed more beer and comfort food, this time in the shape of pike and bulvių plokštainis (potato pancakes) before heading off to wander the winding streets of Old Town, admiring the splendid baroque and gothic churches that litter the place and building ourselves up for our visit to the Museum of Genocide Victims.
Our time in the Riga Museum of the Occupation some years ago had me in tears, and Ian lugging home several hand-to-find histories of the atrocities committed by the Soviet Union on the Baltic countries, so we knew the museum might not be a bundle of fun.
We also knew it had to be done. (Lithuania, like Latvia and Estonia, spent a couple of centuries under the Tsarist yoke before generously being given their independence by Germany at the start of the 20th Century.
Not that that lasted long, for Germany promptly handed the Baltic countries over to Communist Russia after the two previously mortal enemies sealed their newfound friendship with the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact, and that lasted until the Nazis marched on the USSR . . .)
However upsetting, the Museum of Genocide Victims was undeniably interesting, especially for those of us who watched the excellent adaptation of Alan Furst’s The Spies of Warsaw (another great, inexplicably under-appreciated writer) a couple of weeks ago, for it’s housed in the massive building that was first the home of the SS while Germany occupied Lithuania, and then, when Soviet Russia fought back (in the process moving their borders a fair bit further west), it became the NKVD/MGB/KGB headquarters, torture chambers and prison.
And you will be unsurprised to hear that it was every bit as grim, terrifying and downright scary as anything that might appear in a horror novel, except that in the Baltic countries, as across the Caucuses, hundreds of thousands of real people – men, women and children of all ages – were murdered, tortured, displaced or send to prison camps to die at the whim of monsters, some in smart uniforms, some in everyday clothes.
What did it for me was seeing the water torture chambers: two cement cells, each with a pit in it, with a small stand in the centre.
The pits would be filled with freezing water (which was not just cold but frozen solid throughout winter), and those unfortunates selected would have to balance on the plate until they fell into the freezing water, or fell down on the ice. They were not allowed to sleep, nor to sit, for days on end. One man talked of the sight of blood on the ice . . .
Like Latvia and Estonia, the Lithuanians never stopped fighting for their independence, and finally, in 1991, the last Soviet troops left.
What left me shaking was that happened only 20-odd years ago. We should never take our freedom lightly, for others have had to fight to the death to win freedom for their sons and daughters and grandchildren . . .
After that, we definitely needed more beer, and some of the honey mead Lithuania is famous for.
And finally, yesterday morning, we girded our own loins and took the local bus (cost: 4.40 Litas, or just over £1 each – Amusing Public Transport: Tick –instead of 100 Litas each, or £27 in ready money, for the ‘guided tour’) to Trakai, one of the most picture-perfect seats of government ever, specially in the snow (Snow: Tick).
Castle Trakai was built on a tiny island in the middle of three lakes by Grand Duke Kęstutis (son of Gediminas), and finished by his son, Vytautas the Great. There’s a whole lot more history I could impart, but I shall leave you to do some work today; it’s well worth seeking out.
And I shall end with the most astonishing part of the whole trip: it’s not often one comes across a whole new people and religion, but there on Trakai, we found the Karaims, or Crimean Karaites: in 1397 or so, the pagan Grand Duke Vytautas (who did later get baptised into the Catholic Church) brought several hundred Karaims back from the Crimea.
They still follow the same religion today (it’s based on the Old Testament, with elements of Islam and Judaism) and speak their own language (remember I started by saying Lithuanian is the hardest language in the world? Well . . .)
And they have their own specialties, food and drink-wise: kibinas, also known as kybynlar, are like Cornish pasties,
stuffed with lamb or beef or cheese or spinach, amongst other things, and they are best washed down with ‘Karaimų tradicinė trauktinė’, or Krupnik: an alcoholic beverage made from a variety of herbs, roots and oriental spices. The composition is unique, apparently, and passed down from generation to generation.
So at the end of our brief visit, we concluded: yer got yer ’istory, yer got yer culture (as the most hungover young tour guide I have ever seen once told us on Rhodos), to which we add: yer got yer beer, yer got yer odd languages, and yer got yer freedom.
All in all, Vilnius a pretty terrific place to visit. What’s any of this got to do with books? Well, just as we were leaving we discovered the Vilnius Book Festival was taking place in some dire Soviet-built bunker on the outskirts of the city. (We did wonder at the absence of beautiful, leggy ladies of the night – we thought it was because it was below freezing all weekend, but obviously, as in Frankfurt, they all go on holiday when the Book Fair comes to town, as publishing folk are notorious for sourcing romantic liaisons with each other, to avoid having to fork out hard cash! Shame, when there’s a particularly effective Lithuanian drug, according to the ad we saw during the Lithuanian ‘Opportunity Knocks’ show last night: ‘You want erection? You take XXXX’)
It was too late to do anything about the Book Fair this year, but I feel a plan coming on . . .
I’m late – I’m sorry! I hate being late with or for anything – not least because if you’re late with something in publishing, the ramifications can be enormous. For example, let’s say one of my Beloved Authors* is late delivering – and it really doesn’t matter if it’s because last week’s meteorite blew out the hard drive of her computer on which Evil Empire Defeats Little Good Guy Vol. 2 was stored, or because Somali pirates kidnapped his only son and heir, who was holding in his hot, sweaty little paw the all-action Tank memory stick on which he’d stored Absolutely Unique Quest With Orphan Hero Part III – the effects remain the same: the book has to move.
When this happens, the first thing I have to cancel or postpone is the copy-editor. Good copy-editors are worth their weight in Helium 3 (and when you finally get your hands on Frank Schätzing’s LIMIT – coming to a bookshop near you in November! – you’ll understand exactly how much that is). And because there are so few really good ones, they are always booked up months and months in advance. So I pull Quest With Orphan, with huge apologies, and the copy-editor tries to shift things about so it can be fitted in a couple of months later (when BA has promised it will be ready). What’s more likely is that we end up delaying it even further, because no one can fit in an extra manuscript, not when every slot of the year has been blocked out since before January. If worst comes to worst, we’ll end up with me trying to squeeze in the copy-edit myself, in between everything else I have to do [like emails / editing / presenting / scheduling / cover briefing / reading / &tc / &tc].
But it’s not just a case of shifting the copy-edit, because Evil Empire Wins was down to be published on a specific day in a specific month, and that means a year or more ago I spent several hours practicing the arcane art of Scheduling. I’ll bet you thought that all we do is throw all the titles into a hat and then extract them one by one, right. It might sometimes look that that’s all we’ve done, or feel like that’s as efficient a way to bung the list together as many, but sadly, that’s not actually the case. Instead, I have spent hours pouring over lists – and not just mine, but all of Quercus’ imprints – because if you look closely enough you’ll find SF like Peter Terrin’s The Guard lurking in the Maclehose imprint, and horror writers like John Ajvide Lindqvist on the Quercus list, and plenty of fantasy, like Ilsa J. Bick’s Ashes trilogy, has the Quercus Children’s colophon on the spine. It’s a bit like backwards dominoes, making sure we don’t have two Orphan Quest novels in the same month, for example, or my fantastic new YA find GalMeetsGuyMeetsSarkyBestFriend doesn’t come out at the same time as Quercus Children’s terrific new YA novel SarkyBestFriendFallsForBFF’sGuy.
And that leads straight onto the next problem: because I have had to shift Evil Empire, it usually means relocating another half a dozen books too, and that may mean one, some or all missing an important event or sales cycle – Hallowe’en, maybe, or the World Fantasy Convention (coming to a seaside town near you in November!) or a supermarket range-change date . . .
And that means a lot more work, trying to fit everything back in to a schedule that was easy enough when I had six books, but not now I have a proper list of thirty-odd authors. (Mind you, in my former employ we were juggling more than a hundred books, so I really can’t complain that much.)
So I have now spent several hours revising schedules, not to mention sorting out new copy-editors and proofreaders, and now we come to the next knock-on effect: I am likely to end up presenting Orphan Quest again, because it’s moved to a different sales cycle. So when I stand up in front of a room full of sales reps and I start to explain why this touching story of a motherless, fatherless skivvy who turns out to be the son of the King’s evil wizard is a sure-fire bestseller, I can see eyes glazing over – not because it’s not all that, and more, but because they’ve heard it all before. And the thing is, we don’t save the good facts in case we have to re-present: we pull out all the big guns first time out, so generally in this case we end up with something scintillating like, ‘As I said the last three times I presented this—’
And trust me, that’s not helpful – so I’ll spend several more hours scouring the Interweb for something new and exciting to say about the book, the author or the subject matter. (Of course, occasionally it works in our favour; being able to announce a huge new TV series when presenting for the third time certainly makes the reps sit up! It’s a shame we can’t always guarantee that . . .)
Moving a book generally has another slightly aggravating side-effect: everyone else slows down work on that title. So the cover that was well on track for September publication doesn’t now need to ready for another three months – and instead of finishing it and ticking off one thing on the endless ‘to do’ list, it ends up dropping to the bottom of the pile because we don’t need it right now. It’s not intentional; it just happens . . .
Ah: I see you’re there ahead of me! Yes, so that invariably means that instead of having a finished cover for Evil Empire several weeks early, we’re now approaching the sell-in date and we have a half-finished rough and lots of excuses.
And then, at last, the manuscript of Orphan’s Empire or Evil Quest will inevitably arrive at the exact moment that the other five delayed manuscripts do . . . which means that I am equally inevitably going to be late in reading them . . . which means they are going to be late into production . . . which means I will have to reschedule . . .
It’s a bit like builders, really: a never-ending cycle of woe, but at least with books, no matter how late, I know that at the end, I will end up with a unique and wonderful book, and all that pain was completely worthwhile. You don’t get that with builders.
Oh, and why was I so late? Well, all I’m going to say at this point is: Watch Out, America – JFB is coming!
*BA is used for the purposes of illustration. No actual Authors were harmed in the making of this blog.
The much-dreaded unsolicited manuscript: it wakes me in the night and hovers continually on the edge of my conscious mind. It is the monster that daily haunts my thoughts, always with the same question: will today be the day I deal with them? The answer is, inevitably, no. As Jo wrote the other week, I have hundreds of things to look after, and the unsolicited submissions pile is right, right, right at the very bottom of the heap. Though it has the potential to be enormously rewarding (Alastair Reynolds was unsolicited), it is the least important thing that I deal with, and as such, spends its days in the shadows.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should explain what ‘unsolicited’ is first.
We, at JFB, accept unsolicited manuscripts – that is, manuscripts without an agent – and we consider those manuscripts for publication. You will not find many other publishing houses that will do this, not least because keeping up with the agented inbox requires no small amount of effort in itself.
The guidelines for submissions are laid out on our website under the ‘about’ page, and there’s a link to our email on the ‘contact’ page. I think you will understand, then, why I get so narked when I receive any kind of message that begins with ‘I can’t find the submission guidelines on your website’. Where exactly are you looking? I’ll lay it out here as well, just in case: we require either the first three chapters or the first ten thousand words, a synopsis and a covering letter to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Simples, you would think. But I also get emails through saying ‘will you accept this submission? I just wanted to check’. YES, THE ANSWER IS YES. Bottom line, I don’t want to have to waste my time replying to a question as silly as this – I just want your submission, as laid out on the website. I don’t even care if it’s in an email or part of an attachment – and this is clear because otherwise, I would have specified what I wanted *sigh*.
So, I hope I am helping your submission so far. Just follow these simple rules, and you should be okay at least as far as getting your manuscript considered.
Next. I’m going to share some of my biggest bugbears, so you know what to avoid when submitting to the unsolicited pile, because if I can help you, I can also help me: not mercenary at all, because you really do not want to get on my bad side when you have to get through me before you entertain any hope of going through to Jo.
No. 1. Check your first sentence
So many people fall into this trap. Your first sentence does not have to contain an epic within its words for me to be interested. If the many moons of Mordara are circling the bright and terrible blue world of Galazar that hangs suspended in a diamond-filled sky where the stars watch the world with an interest akin to a child watching a comet falling and the trees whisper of secrets that hide in the shadows and a man stands breathless and hidden in the darkness of the Dominant Mountains . . . well, frankly, I am already lost.
And if you’re stuck, take an example from Sarah Pinborough, whose first sentence from the brilliant The Language of Dying – her first novella – reads like this:
There is a language to dying.
Brilliant, I’m hooked already.
No. 2. Do not claim your novel is the best thing since sliced bread
I will be the judge of that, thank you very much. And then Jo will. And no, I have no interest in what your friends, children, or the Amazon reviews say about it.
And, while we’re at it, if you are going to compare your novel to other work, please make sure you have really thought about how you want your book to be seen, and what kind of market you think it belongs to. Saying that your book is a mix of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Twilight will not get you very far. (Unless it really, truly is, of course.)
No. 3. Be polite
The line ‘I don’t expect you publishers really read these things anyway, as you don’t really know when you’ve got a good thing in your hands’ will make me hit the delete button straight away. I will have no hesitation, even if your novel really is the best thing since sliced bread.
All your letter needs to stand out from the crowd is politeness with a formal overtone – although I don’t expect it to be too formal and rigid (you can address it ‘To Nicola’ rather than ‘Dear Miss Budd’) but it is nice to be treated with a small measure of respect. If your letter does this, gives a very short summary of your novel (very short – don’t forget, you’re including a synopsis), contains no spelling mistakes and fills only (at the very most) half a page, I will guarantee to read it.
No. 4. Don’t keep bugging me
It will not help if you to email me every few weeks asking what we think of your submission. Most of the time I don’t get round to the unsolicited inbox for a good three months. It’s why we have the automatic email stating so. I recently had someone email me five times in the space of two months demanding to know if we’d read it yet. A lot of publishing involves working closely with the authors – if we get on, it’s half the battle; please don’t lose it before you even start the fight.
And there is another part to this: don’t bluff – we can smell it a mile off. Saying ‘I’ve received another offer from another publisher’ only to mysteriously change your mind when we say ‘congratulations, good luck’ will not endear you to us – nor get your novel read any quicker. And if you want my advice? If you’ve received an offer, either take it, or find yourself an agent on the back of it. An offer is hard to come by these days.
No. 5. This one’s for agents
We love you, you bring us great novels – but please, please, please do your homework and find out who to submit to; don’t come through to the unsolicited email.
No. 6. Address it to the right person
Let’s get this straight, here and now, Jo is not reading the unsolicited pile. There, I said it, and I’m afraid it’s true. Jo is far, far too busy to read the unsoliciteds; this is my job and the job of whomever the unfortunate is that has to help me. As it says very eloquently on the website: please contact Nicola Budd.
And don’t say ‘I am seeking representation’, please. We are not agents and we will not represent you. If we like the book we will publish it. That is it.
And while I don’t wish to be the voice of doom, I just want to add one more small point. In all my time working on the JFB unsolicited inbox (more than a year and a half), I have only ever once read something I was truly excited about, and I told that person (who already had an offer from an agent) that they were better off going to the agent first before coming to me – even though I thought it was brilliant. We ended up passing on the book because it really wasn’t right for JFB, but I am delighted it’s being published (I see it all over Twitter), and the best of luck to that author. The point is: it happens so very rarely, so please don’t get your hopes up. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, because obviously it does – but your best bet is always with an agent first.
No. 7 And finally . . .
Do bear in mind that I have thousands of submissions to wade through, so I’m afraid I can’t give individual feedback – and I am getting to yours, I promise – so long as you’ve sent it to the right email anyway .
Life in the Fletcher/Drury household has become one very steep learning curve recently, but I really thought we had reached the end of it.
For reasons that now escape me, I truly believed the kitchen designer who sat there all smiley and authoritative and drinking our tea when he told us we would have a new working kitchen within two days. @LitAgentDrury did too, and so we forked over vast sums of money to a company who were called Interior Home Designs of Rossendale when we ordered the units and Really Cheap Kitchens when they arrived. I still don’t understand why (whatever they call themselves) they were incapable of supplying what we ordered and paid for, or why what did arrive was not only the wrong size – and clearly marked as such – and mostly damaged before the builders even started, nor why they have refused to answer phone calls, emails or letters since then – actually, that bit I do understand. They have our money so they feel they don’t need to bother to fulfil the contract now. Thank heavens for lawyers . . .
At any rate, come Friday, a month after the various parts of the new kitchen arrived, we thought we were just about there. (You at the back: stop laughing sardonically. That is very nearly as bad as shaking your head in disbelief or nodding sagely. We’ll come back to that.) The electricians came back to finish connecting the cooker and sockets and replace the horribly filthy, broken extractor fan with a sparkly new white one, and later that evening the lovely Desmond arrived to reconnect the gas hob. So certain was @LitAgentDrury that we were practically finished that he went out first thing on Saturday morning to buy vegetables. (Note to self: check out viability of Takeaway Vegetables as third career. Mushrooms scattered on a pizza do not count.) We checked the oven, which appears to work as it’s supposed to, and the hob is everything that was advertised.
Then we came to the extractor fan . . . and Ian noticed the writing was upside down. Actually, it wasn’t so much the writing; the whole unit has been fitted upside down. I went to look for the lump hammer (I know it’s in one of these boxes somewhere) while Ian started banging his head against the beautifully painted wall. (Now he’ll have to repaint.)
The electrician’s father popped round later that day to give us a quote on fencing (yes, yes, I can hear you: ‘Walk away from the builders!’ – but we can’t; the fence is down and whether we like it or not, it is our responsibility . . .) Anyway, I mentioned the fact that his son was an idiot, and he had the gall to say ‘Sometimes those units come like that.’
I beg your pardon?
I guess what made this even more stupid was that in between searching for the lump hammer (or any hammer, to be frank; by this stage I’d stopped being choosy about the weapon of choice to mete out our Just Retribution) I took a few minutes to read this email from my brother-in-law.
53RV35 7O PR0V3
H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N
D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5!
1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG
17 WA5 H4RD BU7
N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3
Y0UR M1ND 1S
W17H 0U7 3V3N
7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17,
B3 PROUD! 0NLY
C3R741N P30PL3 C4N
PL3453 F0RW4RD 1F
U C4N R34D 7H15.
So if I can read this – and I’ll bet you, Beloved Reader, can too – how can a supposedly educated electrician fit the unit upside down and not notice? After all, we know from the Albanian that to qualify on plugs and wires, the exams are all about writing. It’s the same with gas fires, ovens and chambers: to get accreditation, you have to complete a written test.
It was a huge relief to get back to my actual job, in this case, editing my lovely new heroic fantasy writer. Sebastien de Castell – he swears that’s his real name and he’s Canadian so it must be true – has written this wonderfully dark fantasy, Traitor’s Blade, first of a series called The Greatcoats, and I’m having enormous fun with this one (not least because he’s a man who appreciates a firm hand – editorially speaking, that is). I have had to ban most of my Beloved Authors from nodding and shaking of heads. Phrases like this can work, used judiciously, but because we ourselves nod and shake our heads all the time, it’s easy to think, ‘That’s just what this phrase needs to lift it’ and not realise you’ve used it seventeen times already and you’re still in the first chapter. From time to time I will give special dispensation, but obviously the request must be in writing, in triplicate, signed, dated and witnessed and must include two references . . .
I think that’s fair.
This is what I got back from my BA: ‘”Nodding and shaking of heads is hereby banned,” Jo wrote.
‘At first Sebastien shrugged. “Who am I to disagree?” he thought. Then he thought about it some more and shook his head. “Fat chance,” he said. He walked through the manuscript, line-by-line and found eighteen more places to add head-shakes and nods. He read through his final notes twice just to be sure. “Yes,” he nodded, “those’ll do just fine.”’
Which instantly reminded me that shrugging is banned as well.
That’ll teach him!
I’m now going back to waiting for the electrician to return and rectify the mistake. You’ll be pleased to know I have located the box of hammers . . .
Things I have discovered whilst suffering from builders part 73(B): it’s very hard trying to edit a manuscript when your electrician, your plumber, your Albanian builder and all and sundry not only leave every door in the building open, but keep popping heads around the door every five minutes to moan about (in no particular order) the straightness (or otherwise) and/or state of the walls in our Victorian terraced house; the work of the previous builders/plumbers/electricians/etc (mind you, they’re all justified there), the quality of the kitchen parts, and the idiots who changed the gas course so it’s all paperwork and no practical. (‘Why they not teach how to fit compression joint? Any idiot can tick boxes.’)
So @LitAgentDrury and I decided instead to while away the freezing cold hours surrounded by increasing piles of rubble and packaging and shelves and fittings of the wrong size by imagining how a builder might go about editing my manuscript.
We reckon it would go something like this:
‘You call that a title? Not where I come from, guv. You need something a bit more beefy, mate.
‘Who put this paragraphing in? Should be single tabs these days, mate, not all these single spaces. You’ll not get anywhere with “space space space”, that’s not how we do it now. ’Course, in old days, they had no standards, see? Any Tom, Dick or Harry could shove in paragraphs then, no certification needed, not like now.
‘Tsk, tsk, tsk. Who told you to put all this bloody exposition in, then? Listen, I’m losing money hand over fist on this job, but I like you, so I’m just going to charge you another ton for sorting out these two chapters in the middle, right? I know you’ll see me right.
‘Dear, oh dear: this is all “telling”. It’s gotta be “showing”, not bloody “telling” – who wrote this nonsense? What you should do here is strip out this description and just ease in some action, maybe a fight scene – all my jobs like a nice fight scene around here. I can get you one half-price, just a bit battered round the back but you’ll never see those scratches and wounds once it’s installed, I promise you – we do this all the time. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
‘Listen, mate, your protagonist is a bit weak, so I’ve added in a sidekick; that should do the trick. Mind you, I can’t see how you’ll get all these minor characters in now. Well, I’m sure you’ll think of something – sort it out at the end, yeah?
‘That metaphor’s never going to stretch . . . have you thought of using this analogy instead? I know it’s a bit dearer, mind, but it’ll last you longer. Nah, it’s not the right fit, but look, we can soon sort that out . . . [sounds of hammer being deployed enthusiastically]
‘Sorry, guv, but these pages are all going to have to go . . . well, we can try to keep the sense of them, but I can’t guarantee nothing . . . listen, I can get my cousin in and we can skim these pages in no time. You’ll never notice that lumpy prose once we’ve been over it. Tell you what, being as how it’’s you, he’ll do it for a few quid.’ [And afterwards: ‘That’ll be two grand mate – in cash, like.’]
‘I don’t bloody believe it. They’ve left no space for the index . . . So listen, if we rip out this last chapter here, and slice the index here, see, no one ever gets as far as W anyway, and we can slide it in here, neat as you please . . . nothing a bit of duct tape won’t sort out; you’ll never notice those widows and orphans once it’s printed up.
‘And obviously we won’t be able to finish the book today, but we’ll be back first thing in the morning . . .’
[and exit Builder, stage right, never to be heard of again]
Next week, if I haven’t taken out the entire community with a lump hammer, how the electrician keeps a promise . . .
I expect you are all dying to know how my builders are. Not even having two robins, two blackbirds, twenty-odd spunnocks and possibly a blackcap during our hour for the RSPB’s Birdwatch was enough to make up for Esat (my Albanian) spending most of the week saying things like, ‘I don’ know why – this not fit!’ and ‘Why you not go to B&Q? Why you buy this crap?’ and my personal fave, ‘I think this sink, it leak, he made in my country’! I tried explaining that the kitchen that disintegrated had been of that ilk, and that’s why I had found a company who claimed to produce solid units with thick back panels and long guarantees. In fairness, the back panels are as thick as promised. It’s just a shame they are all the wrong size. As are the shelves. And the drawers. And the doors.
I am not entirely sure how I managed to keep my temper when the so-called ‘integrated fridge-freezer’ (note the quotey fingers there) was unpacked to reveal not only a distinct lack of fitting instructions but a distinct lack of inclination to actually be integrated. It turned out the unit is about 10mm too small, so you cannot get the door hinges on.
Esat may have no sense of humour whatsoever (I stopped trying to lighten the mood when he looked blank and started to explain why my funny – if sarcastic – suggestion wouldn’t work), but he is hard-working and appears to take some pride in his work (the first builder @LitAgentDrury and I have found in 10 years to do so). But even he was flummoxed by this, and as a result we now have no refrigeration in the house (other than the drinks fridge, but obviously that can’t be touched). We can’t even retrieve the old one, for less than an hour after the boys lugged it outside someone had half-inched the gas kit and electric cabling, and this morning the rest of it had vanished.
I blame the tzigane.
And then today I had a bad case of electricians. They too started in with the tutting, and wishing I’d called them before starting, but at least they had the decency to shut up when they remembered it took several days to answer my pleas for help. Next it’ll be gasmen. And then, assuming the right-size doors, shelves and fridge-freezer arrive, the Return of Esat. King Zog should be proud.
So all this explains why, three weeks later, I am still trying to edit surrounded by the entire contents of my kitchen piled precariously around the lounge, in the hall, up the stairs, and spilling into the bedrooms. It’s not entirely helpful, I fear, so huge apologies to those of my Beloved Authors who are feeling somewhat ignored: I promise you, things will return to normal. One day.
Because my day was being interrupted every five minutes with cries of, ‘Jo, what you want do about X?’ where X is a problem both vital and insoluble, I agreed to help out an acquaintance who’s writing a guide to getting published. The questions were quite interesting, but there was one which absolutely stumped me, because he was asking what percentage of a novel usually needed work.
The short answer is how long is a piece of string? Every novel is different. But as I started to think about how I could answer this more usefully, I realised that it was a much better question than I had at first given Michael credit for. You see, I might know that I have never come across a manuscript that doesn’t need some work, but if you’re started out your writing career, you might still be labouring under the delusion that your every word is genius.
So when you get your first novel back and (thanks to the magic of Track Changes) it has virtually changed colour, you are not going to have the experience to think, Oh, that’s not as bad as it looks, or maybe, as one of my Beloved Authors said after being copy-edited by Someone Else, There are pages and pages with nothing changed and I know I’m not that good. (But she notices and pays attention, so she will be!)
I shall now spend a few builder-free minutes and talk you through this so when it does happen, you won’t retire sobbing to your cellar and drink your way through the pre-War port your partner’s father laid down . . .
Here’s the thing: my job as editor is to make you the writer the best you can possibly be. My name isn’t on the cover (other than my fabulous colophon, of course), and it doesn’t matter how much work I do – even if I rewrite every word from start to finish: it’s your name on the book and the only two people who will ever know what’s mine and what’s yours are you and me. And I never tell.
It can be horrifying, of course, but as I told Michael, you have first to look at all the changes that are done to bring the manuscript into House Style – if you use double quotes, I will change every single one to single quotes (unless there are double quotes within single, of course). And in a 400-page manuscript that’s usually between 3,000 – 5,000 changes already. Then there are ellipses – in Britain we use three, spaced . . . like this (Word likes to turn them into one horrible character… which I hate). If you’re not English, there’ll be all the Anglicised words too. And dashes will need changing – and there you are, the whole manuscript covered in colour and I haven’t yet changed a single word.
And when I do start, you’ll probably find a lot of what I’m doing is moving phrases around – so they’re still your words, just in a more effective order. But that’s more red or blue or whatever colour my computer has assigned me today.
I am now being summoned so the sparky can explain why I was wrong when I gave an explicit instruction not to put the socket for hob and fridge inside the unit because I have little enough storage space as it.
If I ever even think of having builders again, for whatever reason, can someone please tie me down until I have come to my senses!
This week we have an awesome guest post from blogger Aidan Moher of A Dribble of Ink for you. If you missed his introductory interview in December, you might want to check it out here. But until then, we hope you enjoy this inspired piece of writing.
One evening, I had the chance to sit down with Steven Erikson and several other people over a glass of wine and dinner. It was a wonderful evening, full of laughs, camaraderie and discussion. Despite what you might think, me being a book blogger and Steve being a popular author, only a small portion of the evening was spent discussing fiction, books or writing. However, one short conversation, not with Mr. Erikson but with one of his friends, led me to think a lot about why I read, and when I read.
The conversation began with a question, “Do you read before bed?”
Some of us answered no, others, including myself, said, “Yes, I can’t fall asleep otherwise.” Those who answered “no,” had some interesting reasons, though they escape me now, but one of the other diners, a woman whose name I’m sorry to say I can’t remember, began talking about why she reads before bed. She made an observation that has stuck with me since. You see, she reads before bed because it allows her to put aside the events of her day, the events that might be coming the next day, and immerse herself in the emotions, problems and triumphs of the people living in the fiction she holds in her hands. Instead of falling asleep thinking about what needs doing tomorrow, or how her exam went poorly, she falls asleep wrapped in thoughts of these characters, wandering through these other landscapes.
In November 2011, Matt Killingsworth, a PhD student at Harvard, gave a TED Talk called “Want to be happier? Stay in the moment“. He discussed the idea that humans are generally happiest when they are engaging directly with whatever it is that they’re doing at the moment, and that it’s within those moments where the mind is left to wander that worry and other negative feelings begin to take root. As you can likely attest to, there are few times when the mind is more likely to wander than during those quiet moments before bed, while you’re brushing your teeth, showering, or just snuggling into your blankets. Most forms of entertainment, like videogames, television or music, are good at allowing your mind a distraction, a new point of focus, but reading engages in a way that those other mediums don’t, asking the mind work as it wraps itself around the narrative and world half-created for me by the author, filling in that other half with the reader’s own interpretations and spirits. Fantasy, of the Epic or Secondary World kind in particular, is good for this, and that is one of the reasons that it’s my genre of choice.
Terry Brooks, an author often attributed with revitalizing the Fantasy genre after it faltered somewhat in the post-Tolkien doldrums, spoke recently, also at a TED conference, this one a TEDx conference in Seattle, Washington in November, 2012, about the symbiotic relationship between author and reader:
‘If you think for just a minute about the way that books work, books are an equation. On the one side of the equation we have the writer. The writer, through use of imagination, and through the use of writer’s skills and, hopefully, some experience and practice, creates a story by putting words on a page, and it’s like a million pieces of a giant puzzle. If the words are fit together in the right way, it creates a picture, it creates images, it fills out the plots, it tells about the characters, it describes the setting, all of the elements that go into making up a book. And, at some point, the author’s done everything the author can do, and the book goes out to the reader. The reader, as the other half of the equation, brings to the experience, his or her own imagination, which interprets the words on the page and images in an entirely different way, because books are personal to every single person who reads them, and so, for each person it’s a different experience’
Brooks brings to light that bond between the reader and the author’s creation, and emphasizes the co-authorship between the two halves of the equation of the story being woven as the reader turns each page. It’s an amazing ability that books have, to take what is essentially a linear narrative and create something unique out of it for every time it is experienced by someone new. Few artistic mediums challenge the consumer to contribute nearly as much of themselves to the actualization of the work as the author herself.
While it’s unfair to rag on popular literature for often featuring easily recognized contemporary settings (give or take a few decades), there’s a draw to Fantasy that I’ve never been able to ignore, and I think this co-authorship sits at the centre of things. See, if you buy into the idea of Fantasy as escapist literature, especially the Fantasy filled with invented worlds, languages, races and magics, there are many reasons why it’s a perfect genre to fall into when you’re trying to get your mind off of the real world. Many of the issues, emotions and challenges faced by the protagonists in Fantasy novels are familiar — we all struggle with self-doubts, or physical challenges to reach our goals — but the frame is different from contemporary literature. One of the most critically lauded novels of this new century is The Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. It deals with a fellow named, appropriately, Oscar Wao, who often uses Fantasy for its escapist qualities as he carves his path through life. As an avid fan of the genre, I was hoping that Diaz’ book would win its way into my heart, but even as I flipped the final pages, I found that I had never warmed to it. It’s not that it wasn’t well written, or witty, nuanced or emotionally resonant, it is all those things, but Oscar Wao’s struggles, when he crawled out of his novels, were all to recognizable to me, the world around him was all too recognizable, because we live in a closely mirrored reality. I was never able to sink into the novel, because things would happen, conversations would be had, or locations would be visited that would remind me of the things going on in my own life, good and bad. My mind would wander. Instead of living in the world inside the book, I found my contemplating the videogame I was currently playing (another favourite past time of Wao’s), a kitchen that needed cleaning, or a lovely wife who deserved more of my attention. Oscar Wao never made promises of adventure as I drifted off into dreams.
Fantasy, more than almost any other genre, has an unerring ability to help readers understand that the world is never exactly what they think it is. Fantasy has constantly helped me rediscover the wonder in the world and caused a deep-seated desire to approach the world with open eyes, open arms and an open mind. If Fantasy literature is anything, it is diverse – opening the readers eyes to the possibility that anything is possible. If there is anything that I fear we are losing in today’s culture, it is a sense of discovery and wonder, a sense of imagination and a willingness to find those things that are good and magical in our world. Many books explore these problems, but Fantasy provides answers.
To quote the oft-quoted, “A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.” I think Tolkien was onto something here.
So, I ask myself, “why do I read before bed?” Because, really, what’s more enjoyable than closing your eyes and being whisked away to a dream world where magic exists, good always triumphs over evil, and the kitchen boy winds up with the princess (or prince) of his dreams? And, hey, that sure beats dreams of web design code, remembering my umbrella and the balance in my bank account . . .
Huge congrats to Mike Carey, whose short story ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’, from An Apple for the Creature edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner, is up for an Edgar Award – huzzah!
The Edgars are given by the Mystery Writers of America; the winner will be announced at the Edgar Banquet on Thursday, May 2.
I have a bad case of builders. It started with a leaking bath next door, which soaked the kitchen wall, which disintegrated the mortar and destroyed the plaster, which in turn was soaked up by the kitchen units, which necessitated the insurers, which led to loss adjusters, which resulted in two years of bitter pleading, arguments and intransigence, which culminated in – THANK HEAVENS! – a cheque on Saturday . . .
. . . and the aforementioned builders on Monday. In fact, this is the third attempt we have made to sort out this particular mess (and so far at our own expense. Bitter? Me?) The Transylvanian disappeared at dawn, never to be seen again, and the alleged specialist kitchen fitter also vanished, en route to get some fittings for the sink (which he’d put in backwards). In fact, he wasn’t vanished (or dead, which is what the neighbours thought, having seen him lying in his van, unmoving, for five hours). Just not working.
So now I have Esat, SP’s Albanian (and no, he’s not a Tsigani!), who started the morning by telling me it would have made much more sense if I had stripped out the old kitchen and removed all the pipes and wiring and then rebuilt it properly, from scratch, rather than trying to work around the units that are already there. Oh, and if I’d bought the units from B&Q instead of a kitchen unit company, as they weren’t anywhere near the same quality. (In fact, they look exactly the same to me – but what do I know?)
I started to explain that I hadn’t actually wanted a new kitchen; I would have been just as happy not to have had the leak in the first place, but I gave up, realising that we were talking about a counsel of perfection and that’s difficult enough when we’re speaking the same language. And I should admit here his English, while indubitably better than my Albanian, is nonetheless not that extensive (although he’s very good on tutting, tsking and phrases like ‘what idiot did that bodge-job, then?’ I believe they must teach that in builder school).
At any rate, this has led me to cogitate on the vagaries of translation. I started off this weekend copy-editing a short story written in German and translated into English, a submission for the invitation-only anthology Fearie Tales Stephen Jones is editing for release at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton in November. It’s not too hard – the translator’s done a cracking job – but I’m currently pondering words like Autobahn. The story’s set in Germany, where motorways are called Autobahns . . . with a capital A. But in English, we don’t capitalise our nouns (unless they’re proper, of course). So should it be autobahn, as the translator has it? If it were French I’d probably call it the péage and not the toll road. (Mind you, I’d probably call a route nationale an A-road . . .) And if it were an American story, I wouldn’t change highway to motorway, would I? Well, not unless it meant something else in English English . . .
You begin to see what a minefield I am currently working in, right?
So I will go with autobahn, lower case, and then I will put the story on one side for the moment to finish off Lynda Hilburn’s fabulously sexy Crimson Psyche, the third in her Vampire Shrink series.
And it is then I remember the translation issue can raise its head with English too. In this particular case, one of her characters has a tendency to clench her hands and then rest them on her hips . . . and I’m explaining it like that so as not to get red-lit by any super-sensitive ISPs out there. And no, no prizes for guessing the word she actually used, which means exactly what I have just described in American and something far less polite in English.
I can’t wait to see what I’m going to find in the novel I’ve promised to look at by a young Turkish writer . . .
Huge congrats to Mike Carey, whose short story Iphigenia in Aulis, from An Apple for the Creature edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner, is up for an Edgar Award – huzzah!
The Edgars are given by the Mystery Writers of America; the winner will be announced at the Edgar Banquet on Thursday, May 2.
This is what the Looking Around blog had to say about Mike’s “wonderful short story” …
Carey’s [has a] beautiful way with characters, plot and language will no doubt be evident whatever his genre. The title refers to a Greek legend, previously immortalized in a Euripedes play. How the subject matter of that play is woven through the story is just one of Carey’s many masterful touches.
I am particularly anxious to avoid spoilers where this story is concerned, so I will say only that it provides an unusual take on a fairly common theme, and that it will break your heart — “in a good way,” as my daughter might say. This is a story that clutches at you and stays with you. I haven’t yet finished the anthology; so far, I have enjoyed some of the other stories, and leafed through others. But this one story, at least, is not to be missed.
Incredibly excited to announce that Karen Lord’s “Redemption in Indigo” AND Tom Pollock’s “The City’s Son” have been nominated for the Golden Tentacle for best debut in the Kitschie Awards!
Morning, all. I am hiding in the only corner of the house which is not covered with huge boxes of new kitchen, teetering piles of old kitchen and bags and bags of contents of same, trying to pretend this is a sane way to work. Thank heavens for the antics of the visiting blackcap, the squirrel and the pigeon, who are all interested in the same pile of seeds and not at all prepared to share. The blackcap is by far the quickest, so while pigeon and squirrel are posturing at each other and striking picturesque (outrageously cute) poses, he’s managing to stuff his little craw.
So, pay attention, you at the back. I’m going to talk to you today about titles, submission etiquette and what I do . . . and if you think that sounds a bit confused, you’re right – but there are reasons. The first was the receipt of a printed-out manuscript (properly double-spaced, with nicely written covering letter and return SSAE) . . . Leaving aside the fact that I really don’t want anyone to be wasting paper, ink and money by posting me manuscripts these days (especially when this person had a perfectly good email address and could just have emailed me the whole thing), I was most taken aback by said covering letter, which started, ‘I am looking for representation’ . . .
Well, if you’re looking for representation, you go to – altogether now, a literary agent! Yes, that’s someone like @LitAgent Drury, who was called to the Dark Side after years as a publisher and writer. It’s not me, for I am (pauses for response from the peanut gallery): yes! I am a publisher! Of course, I am also an editor, and the two are not necessarily synonymous these days (more’s the pity). We’ll come back to that. But I am not a literary agent, no matter how much people try to lure me to the Dark Side. (Mind you, ‘You need never go to another stock control meeting’ is a hard lure to ignore . . .)
No – NO! Turn back to the straight and narrow path!
If it had been one letter, I would just have replied politely (which I did), and returned the material (which I did), and forgotten about it – but it wasn’t. I have had at least half a dozen similar approaches this year alone, and it’s only the third week of January.
To make it worse, I was chatting to a chum last week (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) who told me about having to put right another would-be author who was absolutely convinced that my chum was wrong and that I am in fact an agent.
Apparently it comes down to this particular phrase: Jo Fletcher is open for submissions.
So, Beloved Reader, what do you think that means? I intended it to mean that you, the Would-Be Author, could submit your manuscript to me, and at some point over the next six to nine months I’d find a sliver of time to read it, with a view to publishing it on the Jo Fletcher Books list.
But it is clear that some of you are obviously confused by this, so let me take a few minutes of your Monday to explain the difference between the various players helping you to bestsellerdom.
A literary agent comes in many flavours, and offers a variety of services, but the very least a literary agent should do is to submit your books to publishers until, with any luck, at least one publisher offers a favourable enough advance to publish the book. Some agents will spend a great deal of time working with their WBA, discussing ideas, editing the script, and generally polishing the manuscript until it’s as perfect as possible. And then there’s all that dickering over the contract (sorry! Of course I meant ‘negotiating’).
An editorial assistant is the most put-upon member of this literary pantheon, for it is the EA’s job to keep me the publisher running. That means Nicola has not only to deal with the obvious – incoming and outgoing mail, in our case running the JFB Twitter account (which I think you’ll all agree she does with aplomb), the website (in conjunction with the webbery team), and the slush pile, she also has to find copy-editors and proofreaders, send out the relevant manuscripts, then collate the changes when they come back. She has to do the templates for cover copy and cover briefings (for me to fill in the more interesting bits later) and keep the various schedules up to date. She looks after our team of bloggers and website writers, and helps me to maintain author care – it’s important our Beloved Authors have someone to turn to at all times. What have I forgotten? Liaising with Art, Editorial Management, Publicity, Marketing and Finance, not to mention eBooks and now the QUS team. And of course there’s the need to keep her publisher (still me) refreshed at all times.
Nicola’s also learning to be an editor, and that’s the person who gets the manuscript into a publishable state. We’ll talk about the different flavours of editor another time; for the purposes of this particular rant all you need to know is that you need to have a firm grasp of grammar and syntax, as well as an ear for a cannily turned sentence for this job. And tact. You need lots of tact. (Apparently not every author can deal with comments like ‘Duh!!!’ Or ‘I am trying to save you from Thog’s Masterclass here!’ )
And that leads us seamlessly onto the publisher (me): it is my job to find and develop ideas for publication, to decide the shape of the list. Think of it as a business development role as much as anything: to come up with an overall publishing strategy. I am responsible for the revenue of my list, so I have to make key decisions as to where I think the book will sell and how many copies I think it should shift. Keeping up-to-date on market trends is crucial in this role, for it’s important to consider how current markets will react to new titles, and at the same time consider new markets for old titles (the backlist) – which is as important as the front list (the new titles), especially for a genre like SF/F/H. I have to consider when to bring out a new edition of an already published title (maybe there’s a tie-in film, or a similar book has been a hit and the packaging of another author’s works could be revamped – we call that ‘homage’, not ‘ripping off’, in case you were wondering!). Less happily, I also have to decide when to put a title out of print or to drop an author from the list. All these things come under my purview, which is why most publishers these days no longer have time to edit. (I just work every hour of the day.)
So that is why requests ‘seeking representation’ generally get short shrift from me. If you can’t be bothered to at least check what I do, I really can’t be bothered to waste my precious time on your manuscript. Sorry about that, but these days, with the whole of the Interweb at your fingertips, how hard can it be?
On a lighter note, I’m working through my delivered manuscripts, and I can confidently say that you have some huge treats coming in 2013. All those ‘looking forward to’ mentions we’ve been getting – for which enormous thanks, if I haven’t already said it, chaps – are entirely justified. If you’re very good, I’ll share some of those next week.
For now, the blackcap has been joined by our 30-odd spunnocks, two robins and a blackbird, and they are demanding my immediate attention. A publisher’s work is never done . . .
We’ve got some very exciting news for you today: JFB have acquired a new trilogy by Tom Fletcher called The Factory Trilogy. This marks a new direction for Tom as his first foray into SF/Fantasy. Needless to say, it literally give me shivers of good. I can’t wait to get my hands on this. Here’s the lowdown:
The gargantuan Factory of Gleam is an ancient, hulking edifice of stone, metal and glass ruled over by chaste alchemists and astronomer priests.
As millennia have passed, the population has decreased, and now only the central district is fully inhabited and operational; the outskirts have been left for the wilderness to reclaim. This decaying, lawless zone is the Discard; the home
of Wild Alan.
Clever, arrogant, and perpetually angry, Wild Alan is both loved and loathed by the Discard’s misfits. He’s convinced that the Gleam authorities were behind the disaster that killed his parents and his ambition is to prove it. But he’s about to
uncover more than he bargained for.
Doesn’t it sound awesome? To check out what Tom has to say on the subject, you can head to his website, or you can chat to him on Twitter @T_A_Fletcher.
Tom has also released three other standalone horrors with us – The Leaping, The Thing on the Shore and The Ravenglass Eye, and is due to release a final standalone horror The Dead Fool, currently scheduled in September 2013 (subject to change).
If you google ‘Tom Fletcher’, you might find news about a floppy-haired focus of many a teenaged girl’s fantasy. You may come across the British ambassador to Lebanon.
If you are more blessed, however, you will find the writer Tom Fletcher, the skilled purveyor of elegantly nuanced horror.
I was recently at the launch of his third novel, The Ravenglass Eye (Jo Fletcher Books, 2012). The following day I had myself a copy and didn’t emerge for the next day and a half.
Ravenglass is a village on the coast of West Cumbria. It should be idyllic, with the mountains and the lakes, the Roman remains and steam trains and stone circles.
In The Ravenglass Eye, these attractions exist like a painted background, peopled with the cut out figures of tourists in brightly coloured waterproofs visiting antique fairs and pedalling their bicycles.
They are in another dimension from Edie and the other regulars of The Tup, on whom a dark heaviness is pressing in.
A slightly belated Happy New Year to you, Beloved Reader, and welcome to 2013. What a year we have lined up for you – and it’s all kicking off with Amish’s million-copy-selling The Immortals of Meluha, the first part of his trilogy retelling the story of Shiva.
From time to time people ask where I actually find the books I publish, and this particular author is a good example of serendipity slapping you in the face with a wet kipper until you pay attention!
At the London Book Fair in 2011, just a couple of months after I set up JFB, Mark Smith, Quercus’ CEO and the man who inveigled me away from Gollancz in the first place, stopped by for coffee and a quick heads-up: he’d met up with an old friend, Mike, who was then chairman of Penguin Canada, and Mike’s lovely wife Heather had just set up as a literary agent and had this New Zealand fantasy writer she’d met while she and Mike were in India when he was running Penguin India.
(Still with me?)
And would I look at the book?
I never say no to questions like that, not even when I have 300+ books sitting in my submissions pile, and so I texted Heather and suggested we meet up so she could tell me about her author, David Hair . . . well, you know what happened there, because Mage’s Blood came out in October to some astonishingly good reviews – and if you haven’t yet picked it up, I recommend it to the house as the best epic fantasy I’ve read since Patrick Rothfuss . . .
So where were we? Ah yes, while we were bonding, Heather mentioned an Indian agent she had met whilst she and Mike were in India, and said that he was actually at the book fair; would I have time just to say hello, as she thought he had something rather special too.
You know about Book Fairs; I never have spare time . . . but in this case I did manage to sneak ten minutes to go and introduce myself to Anuj, who told me all about this banker-turned-bestselling writer, and thrust a copy of the book into my hands.
I promised him I would read it, but I also explained about the submissions pile, and that it would take a while . . .
Some months later, Immortals reached the top of my pile – just as I got an email from Anuj to say that he’d engaged my old chum Claire, an American agent with a very reputable company, to represent English language rights . . . and a month after that I made my offer for the trilogy . . .
So I owe a huge thank to Mark, who met Heather and Mike for drinks at exactly the right time, and to Heather, who introduced me to Anuj just as he was starting to looking around for UK publishers, and who inadvertently gave me a head start so when Claire took over I was able to leap right in with my offer already fully formed . . .
And that’s one of the reasons I love this profession, because chance meetings can end in such serendipitous results . . .
And whilst I’m celebrating the start of the year, I also want to raise a glass to The Demi-Monde: Summer, the third part in Rod Rees’ extraordinary SF/steampunkish quartet, and to Ian McDonald, forPlanesrunner, his first foray into YA territory, which is, quite simply, brilliant fun. What a terrific way to start the year!
Now, I’ve had six novels delivered in the past two weeks, so if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do – and you have some book buying to do. Have you made your New Year’s Resolution yet? Why not make it to support your local bricks-and-mortar bookshop – that’ll help us all! And think of all the great books you’re likely to come upon by chance, just by browsing and chatting to your local booksellers. (After all, @LitAgentDrury would never have sprung £40 on a Big Book of Epping Forest (aka Epping Forest Then and Now) had he not happened to see it in The Village Bookshop in Woodford Green, and then he wouldn’t have found out about the hill forts, and then he wouldn’t have decided that his training for the Brighton Marathon in April demand he run there and back, and then he wouldn’t have returned home yesterday, 973 calories lighter for the 14.3 mile run and covered in mud from head to food on account of the fact that Epping Forest has been under water for the last several months. Thanks, Alison!
And I guess that’s serendipity too.
In spite of the mud, I’ll make the same resolution, and in six months’ time we’ll compare and see how many wonderful new writers we’ve managed to add to our reading piles.
This week, to mark the release of The Demi-Monde: Summer, we’ve got an interview with Rod Rees for your delight and delectation. Curious about the man behind the cyber-hell that is the Demi-Monde? Read on, read on . . .
What is the working title of your next book?
The guys at Quercus have just sent me a mock-up of the paperback cover (which won’t be out until mid-2013) and I think they’ve done a terrific job capturing the flavour of the book.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
I designed the Demi-Monde (which is a virtual Victorian-esque dystopia) so that I could have some of my favourite characters from history come out to play. In The Demi-Monde: Summer these include Empress Wu (the only female Empress of China), Mao Zedong and Lucrezia Borgia.
What genre does your book fall under?
Difficult to say; it’s a bit of a mash-up of genres with cyber-fiction, steam-punk and even vampires making a house-call. Basically though it’s a science fiction thriller. The Demi-Monde series has been described as ‘Discworld’s savage noir cousin’ which I think is about right.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Toughie this. In a world without temporal boundaries my picks would be:
• Ella Thomas (feisty African-American): I’m leaning towards Zoe Saldana, though maybe Dorothy Dandridge would be in with a shot.
• Vanka Maykov (a Russian rascal: utterly immoral and without conscience): it has to be Errol Flynn.
• Trixie Dashwood (English aristocrat and spoilt brat): Vivien Leigh.
• Burlesque Bandstand (English low-life, pimp and petty criminal): Oliver Hardy.
Give a one sentence synopsis of the book.
Impossible, so I’ll cheat. ‘Set in 2018 the Demi-Monde is the most advanced computer simulation ever devised, a virtual world locked in eternal civil war – thirty million digital inhabitants living and dying in Victorian cyber-slums and led by some of history’s most vicious tyrants – Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the Holocaust; Beria, Stalin’s arch executioner; and Aleister Crowley, black magician and ‘the wickedest man in the whole world’ – but something has gone badly wrong and the US President’s daughter has become trapped in this terrible world – it falls to 18-year old Ella Thomas, black student and sometime jazz-singer, to rescue her – once Ella has entered the Demi-Monde she finds that everything is not as it seems, that its cyber-walls are struggling to contain the evil within and that the Real World is in more danger than anyone realises.
All that and only one full-stop!
How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I guess I spent a month researching the historical characters I was going to use and then another couple of months reading up on the elements I needed to incorporate into the story: artificial intelligence; the origins and spread of the proto-Indo-European Language; the ironclad battles of the American civil war; the concepts under-pinning radical feminism and so on and so on.
This world-building lark ain’t easy folks!
Once I had all this organised I started to write. I generally aim to average 2,000 words a day, so a 200,000 word first draft will take three months. Then I spend another three months reworking, remodelling, reshaping and getting rid of the crap I’ve written the only purpose of which is to slow the pace of the story. So … from start to finish, nine months, a natural gestation period, methinks.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The trouble I have with this question is that (shamefully) I read very few contemporary novels, but ‘The Demi-Monde’ has been influenced by any number of books – we all stand on the shoulders of giants – so incorporated into the DM’s DNA are:
• The First Men in the Moon: in my humble opinion Wells was the greatest SF writer of all time. ‘Etirovac’, which features heavily in ‘The Demi-Monde: Fall’, is the antipode of Wells’s ‘Cavorite’.
• The Man in the High Castle: Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece was the first time I encountered a counter-factual story and I guess the idea of bringing disparate historical characters together came from this book.
• The RiverWorld Series: Brilliant story and marvellous storytelling, the only regret is that Philip Jose Farmer got to Richard Burton (the Victorian explorer and linguist, not the film actor!) before I did. I’d have loved to have featured him in the Demi-Monde.
Who or what inspired you to write the book?
As an admirer of the writers of Classic SF and fantasy, I have always thought that attempts to update, or, as Tim Burton would have it, to re-imagine these stories have invariably been poor. But the nadir had to be the BBC’s ‘Jekyll’ which managed to eviscerate the story whilst simultaneously making it risible. Worse: it didn’t ‘honour’ the story. Sitting watching that muddled mish-mash I had the same feeling every writer since the dawn of time has had at one time or another: I can do better than that!
What else about the book might pique the readers’ interest in it.
As the books have a Victorian feel to them, for ‘Spring’ I’ve included plate illustrations of the various fashions sported by those living in the five sectors of the DM. Here’s one of them.
This is what the dissolute and erotically-charged citizens of the Quartier Chaud are wearing this season.
Dear Beloved Reader,
First of all, although I’ve been getting End of the World jokes like there’s no tomorrow, it turns out there is.
A tomorrow, I mean. (And yes, the joke’s on me if the great Mayan-predicted asteroid does actually hit this afternoon . . .)
But I have faith.
Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. The tree is up and the presents are wrapped (well, some of them). The beautiful pierced-paper star I bought at the Christmas market has not yet caught fire. The puddings are maturing nicely, the sloe gin is darkening, and the prunes are soaking in Armagnac. It’s a wonder I have had any time to edit!
Ah, but that’s the true wonder of midwinter for me: as soon as I’ve done the mandatory family thing, I get to settle down in front of our newly installed blazing (smokelessly, obviously) real fire and get stuck in. (And in case you wondered, while I’m editing, @LitAgentDrury will be painting up his naval acquisitions, for Intelligence reports from Norway reveal a reinforced squadron ready for operations in Walthamfjord, while in Italy, an equally powerful battlegroup is lying in the Perla Roads: so challenging times ahead for the RN players.)
Don’t feel sorry for me: once I’ve finished Sarah Pinborough’s riveting Mayhem, I have two more absolute treats to look forward to, for David Hair and Tom Pollock have both delivered their second books, and it looks like Scarlet Tides and The Glass Republic have one very important thing in common: they both raise the bar even higher: boys, I’m proud of you both! And following hot on their heels, I’m expecting my annual dose of Kismet Knight with Crimson Psyche, Lynda Hilburn’s third vampire/shrink adventure – so as you can see, I’ve plenty to stop me getting bored whilst the world slumbers the dark days away.
So I will end this year with a couple of treats for you (please ignore the plinky-plinky music; that’s not my fault):
This is how they deal with cheap electricity in North America:
And as the Christmas songs start to fill the airwaves, this is the little ditty I listen out for most:
Once again, a HUGE THANK YOU to our Beloved Reader, and all our Beloved Authors, and to everyone out there in the wider Fantasy/SF/Horror family…
I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Yule and a Spectacular New Year!
I’m sorry: I know you’ve been sitting there, waiting and waiting for my words of wisdom – and instead, where was I? Off carousing, in fact, for it is that time of year. It is only December 18th, and I have already had several Yuletide feasts, starting with an invitation from the legendary Sonia Land to join @LitAgentDrury at the Sheil Land Literary Agency’s bash, a fantastic Chinese banquet (helps when the boss really knows her Chinese banquets!), followed by a mass outing to see the highly seasonal offering The Man With the Iron Fists, starring Russell Crowe channelling Oliver Reed and Lucy Liu wielding a deadly bladed fan. (Hmm: hint to Husband: possible stocking filler for ever-loving Wife?)
Some 18 hours later I moved from China to Morocco for the SF Editors’ Christmas lunch at the excellent Maison Touareg in Soho, which came complete with more feminine grace under fire, this time in the shape of a belly dancer who was obviously far more used to raucous City types than embarrassed publishers who had no idea where to look!
The next country in my Christmas odyssey was Turkey, for the Jockey Fields Irregulars’ Winterval beanfeast at Tas in Bloomsbury. Whilst I took an hour out to sing carols with the infants of Henry Maynard’s School in Walthamstow – and no, it is not cheating to surround yourselves with cute kids when trying to raise money for Crisis! – the chaps spent the afternoon pushing ships about. The historical action in Norwegian/Arctic waters in 1940 was replayed to rules devised by Fletcher Pratt, a fantasy & SF writer who was also a military analyst and wargamer . . . once again, all very seasonal.
And yesterday, instead of writing my blog, I joined my colleagues at Quercus, Jo Fletcher Books, Maclehose Press and Heron Books to raise a glass, courtesy of Mark Smith and Wayne Davies, founders of Quercus, at the English restaurant Hardy’s for the Quercus Christmas lunch.
I may have to live on gruel for the next week . . .
. . . or maybe not, because the lovely Alison Littlewood has just emailed in high delight because her novel A Cold Season has been shortlisted for Novel of the Year in the This Is Horror awards (http://www.thisishorror.co.uk/awards/) – and JFB is up for best publisher! What better way to end the year, I ask myself?
Now, since awards are always in the lap of the gods, I’m going to get my thank-yous in now, in advance – because whether we win or not, the fact is that JFB has had a fantastic year, and a good part of that is down to you, Beloved Reader, for supporting our wonderful Authors, buying their terrific books, and generally keeping the fantasy/SF/horror flag flying high.
So THANK YOU, to our Readers and Writers, from the whole team at Jo Fletcher Books!
You guys know the drill by now, right? Or do you? Yes, it’s that time of the week again where we go out into the big World Wide Web and hunt down a blogger to answer questions for us. Because we love bloggers. A bit. Just a little bit. And this week, we have Aidan Moher of A Dribble of Ink answering questions for us. So sit back with a cuppa, relax and have a nice little read of our interview with him. And if you like it, come back next week for our guest post kindly written by Aidan for us .
1. Why did you start blogging?
In the spring of 2007, I graduated with a diploma in web design and, not falling immediately into a job, I wanted some avenue to flex my newfound skills, as well as something that might act as a centre piece for the portfolio I was assembling for myself. Around that same time, through a series of fortuitous events, and knowing the right people, I had acquired ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) or two novels: Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham, and The Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks. Durham’s novel was gaining some steam, through the publicity work of the tireless, and always awesome, Colleen Lindsay, and Brooks is, well, Terry Brooks, the man responsible for launching contemporary Fantasy to its current levels of popularity. I have piles of ARCs sitting around my apartment now, but the feeling of having those two books, before anyone else, was pretty special. So, I thought I’d write about them.
Naturally, a sense of self importance played a role in establishing A Dribble of Ink. I mean, those ARCs were nice, and surely there were some readers out there that would be interested in hearing the thoughts of another random Internet dude, right? I mean, they were already listening to the guys at Neth Space, SFF World, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and the other early blogs, and if they could do it, why not me?
Of course, that was a lot of hot air. I never expected to reach an audience like those blogs, I was just desperate for the opportunity to write about a genre that I loved, and (hopefully) connect with a few other readers with similar tastes to mine. I don’t have a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy readers in my life. Well, scratch that, I didn’t have a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy readers in my life at that time. Now, thanks to A Dribble of Ink, I’ve got hundreds.
2. Are you on Twitter? If so, do you think it’s useful?
I’m on Twitter, (@adribbleofink) and have been since before most people knew about it. It’s become a vital part of marketing the content on my blog, becoming closer with my readers and the SFF community in general, and providing a venue for those everyday, quick hit conversations and bits of news that constantly keep me on my toes as a blogger. There’s no better way to connect with your favourite author/editor/blogger than by seeking them out on Twitter and sending them a friendly, polite ‘hello!’
It’s been interesting to watch Twitter’s evolution and how it has grown symbiotically alongside the blogosphere. In many ways, the relationship between the two is immensely beneficial to blogs. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a terrific venue for advertising blog content and driving traffic to the various bits of awesome content that appears online each day. Conversely, I’ve often found myself thinking that the relationship is becoming more parasitic than symbiotic. Blogs provide all of the meaty, worthwhile content that Twitter isn’t suitable for (you can’t write a 3,000 word piece of criticism on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy on Twitter), but I’ve noticed in the past couple of years that Twitter is severely cutting into the amount of discussion that happens in the comments section of my blog posts. These days, people come to the blog, read the article, and then head back to Twitter for snark and discussion. I’ve spoken with several people who have indicated that Twitter is directly responsible for a decrease in their blogging activity.
At the end of the day, the important thing is that discussion and the overall health of the SFF community is strong. Blogs and Twitter as mediums for discussion both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table, but, they strengthen the community and play a role in allowing the SFF conversation to continue to grow larger and more passionate than ever.
3. What are your favourite blogs and why?
The blogosphere is a big place, and most of the blogs that have been around for over six months generally have a feature or two I admire, whether it’s the deep insight and wide knowledge of Larry Nolen at The OF Blog, the humour and torrid reading pace of Justin Landon at Staffer’s Book Review, or the sharp, intelligent writing of Sarah Chorn at Bookworm Blues. I find that my favourite blogs change from month-to-month, but those three, along with The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review, The Ranting Dragon and Pornokitsch, are mainstays that I find myself visiting on a regular basis. A lot of this has to do with the relationships I’ve built with these bloggers, who I now consider friends.
In addition to this, there are many author blogs that I adore. Daniel Abraham, N.K. Jemisin and Jim C. Hines are always writing intelligent things. Sam Sykes alternates between amusing, thoughtful and downright brilliant. The World SF Blog, edited by Lavie Tidhar and a few others, is a terrific resource that opens up the worldwide realm of genre fiction.
But, now I feel like I’ve listed so many different blogs that I’ll end up offending those I’ve forgotten or left off the list. For more, the sidebar on my blog contains links to all my favourites. Check it out.
4. What are your all-time favourite reads?
Oh, goodness. Does anyone ever feel comfortable answering this question? I’ll limit myself to three, chronologically.
Childhood: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Forget the ridiculous (though beautiful) Spike Jonze film. This book, written and illustrated by Sendak, is a beautiful exploration of youth, growing up and finding strength and compassion within one’s self. I grew up on a small island, and much of my childhood was spent adventuring in the forests that surrounded my home. It was alive with dangers and magic, journeys, heroics and wondrous imagination. So much of that was inspired by Where the Wild Things Are.
Adolescence: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
As I grew from childhood and into adolescence, I veered away from Fantasy, magic and adventure, replacing them instead with laser guns, time portals and spacefaring. Science Fiction ruled much of my pre-adolescence. I still remember being in grade four, I was nine, and getting gruff from my teacher because I wasn’t reading the assigned novel during silent reading. It was The Cay by Theodore Taylor, appropriate for most readers my age. Instead of reading The Cay, I was reading Jurassic Park. I lost touch with Fantasy because, well . . . I was a boy and Fantasy was full of princesses, unicorns and other such girly stuff. I don’t know where I got such ideas, certainly not from my parents, but there they were.
At age eleven, however, my mom finally convinced me to give The Hobbit a shot. She was an avid reader of both Fantasy and Science Fiction, and rarely steered me wrong. I expect the only reason I gave The Hobbit a shot, however, was because of the languorous, fiery Smaug, stretched out atop his pile of gold, scrolls of gold-etched dwarfish runes capped the top and bottom of the book’s cover. It was pretty cool. I still own that copy of The Hobbit I read it, and fell in love. The rest, if you’ll pardon the expression, is history.
Adulthood: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
One of my good friends, Shawn Speakman, often spoke of the magic in this book, mentioning time and again how important it was that I read it. Being somewhat stubborn, as evidenced by my previous dismissal of the entire Fantasy genre, and anxious about the idea that a novel couldn’t be that good, and only disappointment awaited if I decided finally to read it, I put the novel off for years. Until, finally, on a backpack trip through Eastern Europe with my (now) wife, I bent to pressure and brought it along. Maybe it was the romance of travelling by train while reading it, maybe it was the magic love and adoration for literary treasures that form the book’s core, or maybe it’s just that good, but, again, I fell in love. A tale of love lost, and love found, The Shadow of the Wind is tragic and heartening, melancholy and funny, and everything in between.
5. What are you reading at the moment?
Funny enough, I’m not reading genre fiction at the moment. I’m currently devouring Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which is an accessible book on science, creation, life, space and everything in between. It’s not the deepest read, and I’m often frustrated that he doesn’t further explain some of the concepts and ideas that he discusses, but it is fun.
Up next, like many others, I plan to re-read The Hobbit in preparation for the film. I mentioned in the previous question that I consider it one of my all-time favourite novels, and it’s always a delight to fall back into Tolkien’s world.
6. What platform do you use when blogging?
I use the only platform I feel is a genuinely viable option for any blogger: WordPress. Blogger is generally more popular for the average blogger, it’s easy to set up and people can be going in minutes, but nothing beats a self-hosted WordPress blog. I host on my own domain, built my blogging template from the ground up, so it runs silky smooth and looks (in my opinion) pretty great. Of course, I’m a web developer by day and welcome the challenge of maintaining and establishing a blog that goes above and beyond the average.
7. What is your best blogging moment? (i.e. did you get to interview a certain author? Were you contacted by a publisher personally?)
In 2011, Guy Gavriel Kay, one of the most celebrated Fantasy authors, well . . . ever, was doing a signing in Victoria, BC, about an hour-and-a-half from where I lived.
Great! I thought. I’d love to hear him speak, and I can even get one of my books signed.
You see, Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my literary heroes. Every book I plot out, every sentence I write, strives to incorporate something that I’ve learned from reading his novels. I often (always) fall short, but that is my goal, however lofty. So, meeting him would be pretty cool, yah? I hopped in my car, drove through several storm clouds (literally, I had to drive through a high mountain pass, capped in a tremendous storm), and made it to the signing just in the nick of time. Kay spoke, read from his novel, and enchanted the 75 or so people who had shown up. Everyone lined up to have their books signed. Being alone, I decided to wander around the bookstore, and wait until the line died down a bit. Forty-five minutes later, I was more-or-less the last in line, a bookstore employee came over to me and asked for my name.
“Aidan Moher,” I said. He wrote it down on a sticky note and stuck it on the appropriate page in my book.
When it was finally my turn, I put my book down in front of Kay and thanked him for coming all the way to Victoria for a signing. He was gracious and we shared a few more words. Then, he opened my book and looked down at the yellow sticky note. He looked up at me, then back down at the note. Then he said, “Why . . . I know you!”
Shellshocked, I believe my reply was, “Argh, hrmerglll, um . . . eek?”
Kay went on to explain that he was familiar with my blog, and introduced me to several of the staff members at the bookstore. We spoke for a while longer, and have since kept up correspondence via email.
It was one of the first moments where my blog felt real. And for that, I’m eternally grateful to Mr. Kay.
8. What advantages does blogging have for you?
I mentioned earlier that one the most advantageous aspects of blogging is its role in introducing me to the general Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom that I would struggle to find otherwise. I’ve made many good friends in the five plus years since A Dribble of Ink opened its doors, and I’ve had endless entertaining discussion with terribly smart people whom I wouldn’t otherwise have made contact with.
Oh, and all the free books. It’d be remiss not to mention those.
9. Do you plan to extend your blog in the future? If so, how?
Absolutely. A blog is an organic entity, always evolving, growing and changing as the environment changes around it. The blogosphere in general has changed quite significantly since I first arrived, thanks in part to the publishing world noticing that we’re more than just an enthusiast crowd and are actually an integral (if, at the end of the day, small) cog in the bookselling world. It’s important for bloggers to continually think about their place within the overall discussion of the genre, and how they best want to fit themselves into it. For some bloggers, that’s reviewing as many books as they can, or keeping up with all the latest news. For me, the evolution of my blog has led me to try to create a place that challenges readers, encourages discussion and gives a voice to a wide variety of people within the genre fandom, which is why I’ve been working on publishing more guest posts these days. Hopefully that continues into the future.
10. What would you recommend to anyone looking to start a blog?
The best advice? Find your voice. Or, rather, allow it to find its way into your writing naturally. It’s so easy to tell yourself that you’re doing it wrong. “Pat does it this way.” or, “Staffer’s Book Review does it that way.” Well, sure, they are. They’ve both taken the time to figure out what kind of content they want to produce, how they want to produce it and allow themselves to write and join the discussion with their own voice. Most leaders, in any industry, have gotten to where they are because they’ve allowed their voice to shine through.
This isn’t a call to be complacent, it’s healthy to challenge yourself, to put yourself up against your favourite bloggers and learn how you can become a better pundit yourself, but don’t feel like you’re expected to do something one way, just because the other guys do so.
11. Do you write yourself? If so, has blogging helped or hindered your writing?
Absolutely. I’ve been writing since before I can remember, and am actively pursuing a side-career as a novelist/short story writer. But, then, aren’t we all?
The relationship between blogging and writing is something of a double-edged sword, though. See, I’m an adult. I have a full-time job, a wife, a social life and other commitments. Like anyone, I have to carefully juggle my time and very consciously divide it between my various hobbies. Blogging is one of those hobbies, one that borders on a second job, and occupies the same time during my day that I would normally spend writing. After I’m done working on blog-related stuff, I have to then find another handful of hours to write. It’s tough, but I manage.
On the flip side, blogging has opened so many doors for me in a professional sense that it’s been worth every hour lost where I could have been writing fiction. I’ve become acquainted and formed friendships with some of the brightest and kindest authors/editors/publicists and fans in the industry. When it comes time, those connections won’t make or break any potential publishing deal, only a rock solid manuscript will do that, but it might give me a small little push in the right direction, a leg up over the writer I’d be if I hadn’t started my blog. Which is pretty cool.
Wow – so all that remains for us to say is a big THANK YOU to Aidan for giving us these wonderful answers and to remind you to check back later for a guest post from him. If you fancy chatting to Aidan, you can follow him on twitter: @adribbleofink or you can head on over to his blog www.aidanmoher.com/blog.
It’s Monday. The Christmas pudding (round, of course) is steaming merrily away. The tree is listing gently to one side. The log that refused to catch last night is sitting there awaiting a flamethrower (@LitAgentDrury is quite right: you never do have one handy when you need one). And I am surrounded by piles of stuff.
So I have decided there is only one course of action, and that is to ignore the piles of stuff, and to take my mind off the said piles by some sort of compensatory activity: in this case, bringing you up to date with the Life of a Publisher.
This week, Beloved Reader, we are going to talk about epigrams. (There: I can see how excited you are, and all I have done is written the word.) For the avoidance of doubt, an epigram is a pithy saying or remark which expresses an idea in a clever and amusing way. I am sure you will be fascinated to know that this literary device comes from the Greek, ἐπίγραμμα, via late Middle English, and it has been employed for more than two thousand years.
More generally, and for our purpose today, it’s that quote that you find at the head of a chapter or start of a book or part of a book.
Why am I particularly interested in epigrams today? Pay attention, and you shall hear of the travails of one of my Beloved Authors – we’ll call her BA – who has Tried To Do The Right Thing.
BA wanted to use a quote from The Book of Imaginary Beings by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, and I advised her that she would need to get permission, and to start with the agent for Borges’ estate, supplied via the Society of Authors (a font of useful knowledge for such things). Now, what generally happens here is that the copyright holder either (a) says, ‘Yay! Go for it! No fee! or (b) says, ‘Yay! Go for it! X pounds, please!’ And then there will be some forms to fill in, mostly dealing with how exactly we’re going to credit the writer, and that’s that. Obviously, we hope for option A, rather than B, which can work out costly, (lines of songs tend to be a bit on the pricy side, for example).
In this case, though, all started well: the agent who handles Borges’ estate referred BA to the UK publisher, Random House, and it didn’t take too long for them to come back with permission, free of charge for the UK and Commonwealth, excluding Canada.
The problem is, I generally buy World Rights, which means that BA needs permission to publish this quote everywhere – but after some discussion we agreed that as long as North America was covered – as we’ll be bringing the book out as part of QUSA/JFB USA – we’d not worry about the rest of the world.
So, girding her loins once more, off BA went again, this time to Penguin in USA and Canada, respectively.
In her explanatory email to me, she said, ‘Here’s where it gets sticky.’ She is a master of understatement, this one!
The Book of Imaginary Beings was written in Spanish, so the issue is not one of just permission to reprint, but to use a particular translation: in this case by the American translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni.
Penguin US did publish the di Giovanni translation, and do control world rights outside of the UK – but their agreement with the author’s estate means they can license only a completely different translation, by one Andrew Hurley.
So yes, we can have permission, and free of charge at that – but it’s for the wrong words – because both BA and I agree that the later translation, of this sentence at least, is not as good.
To make matter worse, Penguin Canada has still not responded.
Oh, and to get the okay for electronic rights, she was told she would need to go back to the agency.
So back she went to the agent. Any vague thoughts she might have had of circumventing the North American situation by dealing direct with the agency were blown out of the water when the agent revealed that yes, she could and would let BA have e-rights, for a small fee, – but only for the Hurley version!
This is the point BA came to me, and we agreed, after some discussion, that since it was clear the author no longer wanted the di Giovanni translation out there, she would step away from the epigram.
And there, I thought, we would leave it, and I would use this sorry tale of months spentchasing down the permissions to show you how hard your Beloved Authors work to make sure the books are as perfect as they can be.
But there is a post scriptum: I was checking the spelling of di Giovanni (because my copy of Imaginary Beings is mysteriously MIA) when I came across this. I am paraphrasing, but in short, Borges’ widow and erstwhile personal assistant, Maria Kodama, rescinded all publishing rights for the existing collections of his work in English – including the translations by di Giovanni, in which the author himself had collaborated – because (it appears) the translator received an unprecedented half of the royalties! Kodama herself commissioned the new translations by Andrew Hurley, which have become the standard English texts.
And now I have to tell Stephanie Saulter – for it is she – that my main reason for pulling out – that the author himself had gone off the translation – appears to be very far from the case. Still, we’ve made the decision and moved on.
The one thing I can promise you is that losing that line from Imaginary Beings will make not one jot of difference to the fantastic story that is Gemsigns, coming to a bookshop near you next spring.
Has anyone seen that advert recently which has a voiceover that says ‘Keys. They disappear at will’? I find I have it stuck in my head, mostly because I they really do disappear at will. However, I also recently found myself applying a similar thing to our AIs. AIs, they creep up on you at will. Okay, so I’ll never be a writer, and that wasn’t a great comparison. But I’m telling you, you think you’ve done them and then all of a sudden BAM! there’s a ton of AIs you suddenly need to do and you have absolutely no idea how they came to be there.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. For those of you who don’t know, AIs are advance information sheets. They usually have a photograph of the cover, or the author, the title (usually essential), any subtitles and then the author’s name; a synopsis, a keynote (the book summed up in a pithy 2 lines), a biography and any quotes the book has received; website and twitter details; then rights, format (Royal, B, A), any other available titles by the same author, ISBNs for all editions including ebook and the price.
And it is an editorial assistant’s job to set all this up for each title as they come in.
Now, here’s the important bit. That AI is then used for everything. It goes out with the press releases from our publicity department. It goes into the rights catalogues for the book fairs. It goes into our catalogues, to the booksellers, on our own website and then on to Amazon. You can therefore bet that it has to go through a fair few people before it’s counted as finished, signed off and allowed to fly free.
And I promise you – I think I have done them. And then we get a deadline for the catalogue, and then I realise they are not nearly as done as I thought and that I need to get a serious shift on and then panic basically ensues.
Actually, now I say it, it also reminds me of Boromir in Lord of the Rings ‘It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over such a small thing’. So, basically I’m comparing our AIs to both a set of keys and the One Ring. Brilliant. Just goes to show that it’s the small things that count, doesn’t it?
. . . and the answer is:
There is no cathedral!
I have to admit to being just the tiniest bit devastated to discover that.
So: hands up who knows what I am talking about? No?
Let me give you a hint: This is Broadsword, Broadsword calling Danny Boy . . .
Still no idea what I am talking about?
Surely you cannot have forgotten Sturmbannführer von Hapen saying (and you’ll have to imagine the heavy German accent) to Mary: ‘I though the cathedral was on the other side of the square . . . ?’
Well, it’s a timely discussion, because forty-four years ago today, December 4, that great action adventure film Where Eagles Dare, with a starry cast including Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Michael Hordern, Patrick Wymark and Mary Ure, was premiered in Britain, and @LitAgentDrury celebrated that fact by whisking me away to Düsseldorf on Friday night. Oh yes, he dressed it up as ‘Belated Birthday Treat’, and there was much talk of ‘Christmas Markets’ and ‘Shopping’ and ‘Glühwein’, but the truth was clear: we were really off to discover the answer to that all-important question.
Now, I don’t do this just for fun, you know: it is my duty in life to educate you and elucidate. And as it happens, there’s more of a reason for this piece than just to compare and contrast Glühwein, Weißerglühwein, Eierpunsch, Apfelpunsch, Teufelpunsch and the various other hot, alcoholic seasonal (did I mention alcoholic?) drinks (although we did make a manful attempt to try them all). Oh, and let us not forget the Altbier, for which Düsseldorf is also justly famous.
Worked out what it is yet? Well, it’s the importance of research, particularly if you’re going to set your novel in a country – or even a city – that is not your own. On this occasion I’m going to forgive Alastair MacLean because he turned out Where Eagles Dare in six weeks (apparently specifically to be made into a movie), and it wasn’t quite so easy, in 1967, to hop across the Channel to check out the layout of a small city for what is in effect only a couple of lines.
However, I’m not going to forgive the copy-editor, then or now, because it’s the copy-editor’s job to check such facts. He or she might not have had Wikipedia in those days (and I sincerely hope that whilst Wikipedia might be your first port of call these days, it is not your only port of call for fact-checking. But even then there were travel guides, encyclopediae and all manner of resources to call on.
It reminded me of a thriller I was submitted a good few years ago, which had our hero arriving in Cyprus, at Nicosia Airport. The trouble with that was that while it was true that Nicosia was (and is) the capital city, you couldn’t actually fly to Nicosia after the island was divided – Larnaca or Paphos serve southern (Greek) Cyprus, and Ercan Airport, near Kyrenia, serves Turkish Cyprus. Unfortunately for him, I’d spent some time working in Cyprus, and so I knew my airports.
When I pointed this out to the author, he wrote back rather sniffily saying something to the effect that no reader cared about things like that as long as the story was good.
Well, as it happened, his story wasn’t good enough anyway – but he’s also completely wrong: readers do care. Every time the author gets something wrong, it throws the reader out of the story, and it’s that bit harder to get back in. It’s all about suspension of disbelief, and it’s really important.
It might not matter to the plot of Where Eagles Dare if the cathedral is on the left- or the right-hand side of the square, but I started this by saying I was a little disappointed to find that the nearest to a cathedral Düsseldorf has is St Lambertus – that’s its twisty spire sticking up behind the last surviving bit of the original castle (which, if you’ll forgive the digression, is now a small but perfectly formed ship museum. With some lovely models. @LitAgentDrury really knows how to treat a girl!). And St Lambertus is not on the main town square either. Mind you, it does have some fines relics . . .
However, relics aren’t the point, in this case at least. A quick look at the Interweb tells me I’m far from alone in this: I see there are dozens of sites devoted to mistakes in the film and/or book. In fact, there are hundreds of sites devoted to mistakes in famous films and books!
So let this be our lesson for the day: spend that extra time making sure you get every fact right, and be pleased you’re taking the trouble. You may not get anyone pointing out you’re right – but I can promise you’ll always get someone pointing it out if you’re wrong!
Check this out!
This week we have a guest blog on horror from Matt Craig over at the Reader Dad blog. Let us know what you think – Don’t forget to leave comments in the boxes below!
Growing up, like many young boys, I found myself drawn to the forbidden fruits of horror, devouring short story anthologies – covers adorned with skulls, or candles, or crows, or any combination thereof (hey, it was the ‘80s) – as fast as I could get my hands on them. Two of the most striking occurrences in the formation of my love for the genre stick in my mind; both, I’m happy to say, encouraged by my parents: the first time I watched The Exorcist (it was still banned at the time, but my father had managed to get his hands on a bootleg VHS tape, and allowed me to sit in while he and my mother watched it) and, probably more importantly, the first time I read Stephen King.
I still own the paperback copy of Skeleton Crew that my parents bought for me at the tender age of twelve. Admittedly, it’s falling apart (much like its owner, to be honest), but it holds happy memories, and is an important part of my collection. Fans will by now have deduced that my first exposure to King’s work was his early novella, “The Mist”, a story that has stuck with me ever since. I was hooked, not only on this one author (though that’s a love affair that continues today), but on the genre in general.
As I have grown (I’m on the verge of my late 30s now), so has the genre, many of the garish covers from those heydays of the ‘70s and ‘80s replaced with more sedate versions, the genre splintering almost beyond recognition, so that what we once knew as horror is these days further classified, and placed in little niches. And as I’ve grown, I find I no longer have the stomach for some of the more gory and gruesome elements that appealed to my early teen sensibilities. Which is fine, because many of the authors I love to read have followed a similar path and, while an out-and-out fright is hard to come by for this battle-hardened veteran, I find plenty to unsettle me in the everyday horror novels that fit so well in a world where the newspaper or nightly news is more horrific than anything Stephen King might ever have dreamed up.
Back, though, to “The Mist”. In 2007, the wonderful Frank Darabont brought the novella to the screen. In doing so, he extrapolated King’s ending, and added one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. King himself, awed, said that he wished he’d thought of it while writing the story. Two years later, I became a dad. On long, dark nights, I often find myself thinking of that scene, and thousands of scenes like it in hundreds of horror novels and films: what would I do in those circumstances? How could I hope to cope in a world gone mad with a three-year-old son in tow? That, I can tell you, is true horror.
Like the rest of us, the authors we grow up reading mature. Like ours, their view of the world changes, and it affects the stories they write. There will always be a place for horror on my shelves, and I think there will always be a wide audience for it, because in comparison to what lies between the covers of that book, or behind that DVD cover, we are living in paradise.
So, all that remains for me to say is thanks Matt! For taking the time to do this for us. If you fancy reading more of Matt’s writing – head on over to his blog here, or you can follow him on twitter @MattGCraig
I have been thinking about copy-editing. I don’t just mean the huge pile of manuscripts waiting impatiently for my attentions, but the actual process of taking raw text (sometimes very raw!) and turning it into something magnificent. Copy-editing and sub-editing – the newspaper version – are not a million miles apart when it comes to correcting spelling and grammar, but there the similarities stop, and I discovered this the hard way.
I started my (almost) adult life as a journalist – a junior reporter on the Whitstable Times, a typical weekly newspaper in my home town in Kent.
I hadn’t actually meant to stay – I had a university place awaiting me – but at the end of my three-month probation I was offered the job full-time. My intention had been to spend three months earning a little (a very little!) money, and to see if I actually liked the job I had set my heart on. That’s not always the case – JFB’s brand-new Canadian author Sebastien de Castell planned to be an archeologist, but luckily for us all, it took only a few hours on his first post-university dig for him to realise it wasn’t for him (it was not at all Indiana Jonesy, for a start!). We’ll not mention the years of trying on a wide variety of other jobs before he finally started writing what is now The Greatcoats quartet; suffice it to say he got there eventually.
Back to me: when it came down to it, I found I loved being a hackette, and as I had begun to realise that newspaper jobs didn’t come up all that often, I decided I’d be crazy to leave – after all, I could always catch up on university later. That turned out to be the right decision, and I have never regretted it (although at some point I am owed a three-year sabbatical to drink until dawn, rise at noon and spend all my money on booze and gigs and books . . .)
So there I was, an indentured junior reporter. I picked up the actual journalistic job – find stories and writing them up – pretty quickly, but what took much longer was learning how to write in house style – and that’s where the subs came in.
You see, unless you’re a columnist, where your own voice matters, as a journalist you are supposed to be (a) accurate and (b) impartial. You’re a reporter, after all: you report the facts. And the idea is that every story should sound more or less like it’s been written by the same person: that’s the newspaper’s house style. It was a hard lesson for me, and I remember grabbing the paper as soon as it came off the presses and scanning my stories to see how badly they’d been butchered (generally, and especially in that first year, a lot!).
It was only when I made my first visit to the group’s production office in Chatham and met the chief sub that I got it. He took the time to sit me down and explain that when we’re writing news stories, reporters are not supposed to flavour the text. All the readers want are the facts, not conjecture, few adjectives, and certainly no adverbs!
And, by the way, would I please learn to spell megalomaniac! (The new Bond film was out and by that time I was also the film critic . . .). So here and now, I’ll say publicly: thank you, Mike Souter, and sorry for making your life hell!
And then I got to Fleet Street, and I had to learn all over again, because every national newspaper has its own house style. It did all feel a little schizophrenic at times – I might be working for the Telegraph in the morning, then the Sun on the night shift. Sometimes I even ended up covering the same story; the facts wouldn’t change, but the way I had to write them down certainly did! And finally, the day came when my story was printed exactly as I had written it.
I finally felt I got it.
So what’s all this got to with copy-editing? With copy-editing, house style refers to the preferred spellings and punctuation – three spaced ellipses, for example, instead of allowing Word to change dot dot dot ( . . .) into one horrible little character (… ), or English –ise spellings instead of Americanising everything by using -ize. But here’s the huge difference: when you are copy-editing, the one thing you try not to change is the Beloved Author’s voice – because that, after all, is what makes every manuscript unique.
Of course, that’s not always as easy as it sounds, particularly if the author, however beloved, has a tendency towards stylistic quirks that just don’t work. In that case, the copy-editor will try for a policy of Explanation and Re-education. Sometimes that works, sometimes . . . well, sometimes even the most
Beloved of Authors occasionally gets set in their ways.
Because I have been on the other end, both of being subbed and of being copy-edited, I understand the horror of getting your script back covered in red (or purple or green or whatever colour the computer has assigned the corrections today). But I also understand that the intention is good: the copy-editor is there to do one thing only, and that is to make that manuscript as good as it can possibly be. After all, the only name on the book is that of the author, so no one other than the author is going to know how much (or little) work was done, and that’s the way it should be: it’s the author’s vision, after all; the copy-editor is just cutting and polishing it to bring out all its best points. Oh, and to keep the author out of Thog’s Masterclass.
If you don’t know what Thog’s Masterclass is, you have a bit of a treat to come. If you are an author: let this be a valuable lesson for you. David Langford’s award-winning fanzine Ansible has been carrying out this valuable public duty for many years. Here is an example, from the Eyeballs in the Sky school: ‘It was as though his eyes were two planets that had suddenly broken free from gravity and got whirled off – victims of centrifugal force.’ From Master of Concealment Dept.: ‘Gill Templer could not find Rebus. He had disappeared as though he had been a shadow merely and not a man at all . . . He might have been hiding under her feet, under her desk, in her clothes, and she would never have found him.’ And from the Neat Tricks Dept: ‘Her supple arms drooped to the floor and encircled the lamp overhead. Then her long legs joined in.’
And that’s why we love and honour our copy-editors!
If anyone can name the books and authors, I’ll sign you up for a (free) subscription to Ansible. For everyone else, send a message to: email@example.com. You’ll be glad you did!
And now, back to saving authors from themselves!
PS And next week we answer that all-consuming question: is the cathedral on the right or the left side of the square?
Hello and welcome to my blog . . . err, I think that’s all I have this week. The problem I have with blogging is that I just never know what to write, I mean, I’m really not that interesting – it’s unfortunate, but there you are. So I’m constantly a little lost for words. Fortunately the same does not go for all of our wonderful authors. Each time I meet one of them for lunch, or dinner, or drinks, or just chat to them on email, I’m astounded by how diverse their backgrounds are – how much I learn from listening to them.
But what astounds me most is that they’ve started a book, and actually managed to finish it. They’ve gotten through all that self-doubt, and pain, and long nights spent in front of a computer (or early mornings) and the finding an agent, and the getting an agent and the finding a publisher and so on and so forth – not to mention all the editing we then make them do – whilst I have never been able to write much further than chapter seven of a novel. The key thing, they say, the key thing is just to start and to keep going – how many times I have heard this, but we underestimate just how hard this is to do. There will always be a point at which self doubt comes flooding in and the words seem to grow until they tower above you, and you do a word count and you think ‘Damn, I’ve only done 6,000 words out of a possible 100,000′ – it is far, far easier to stop than it is to carry on.
So, for the fact that they fight through to bring us a new world that’s like a little escape portal – a jump from this world to the next - I salute and thank you all you lovely, wonderful writer-type people. Long may the buying of your books continue.
Are you on Twitter? If so, do you think it’s useful?
I am. I started using Twitter before I started blogging and, in fact, the network was instrumental in me starting the blog in the first place. As a software engineer I find it essential: it gives me my only conduit into the book/publishing world, allowing me to keep up to date with what’s going on, what’s coming out, etc. It’s put me in touch with a lot of like-minded people and gives me some scope for conversation about my favourite subject: books!
What are your all-time favourite reads?
This is always a tough one, and one that changes every time I answer it. I’ll go for a (slightly cheaty) top five:
- The Dark Tower by Stephen King – I started reading this series when it consisted of just two books. It took me three attempts to get past the halfway point of the third book in the series. Now it’s one of my favourites, mainly because that 20-year wait was well worth it.
- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson – Neal Stephenson changed my life with this gem. It’s a huge novel, but it unlocked a small room in my brain that is now obsessed with cryptography. It’s not necessarily a book I’d recommend to others – it’s huge, it’s complex, it’s the ultimate Marmite book – but I wouldn’t be without it.
- Sandman by Neil Gaiman et al – Is there a better graphic novel series than this one? There are elements that stand out and make it special – “24 Hours”, Death, The Wake – but definitely much more than the sum of its parts.
- 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill – Hill’s novels are fantastic, but I think he has a long way to go to beat his first publication: the brilliant short story collection. It was released (and I read it) before his identity was widely-known, so I approached it with no preconceptions, but either way it’s impossible not to be impressed.
- More Tomorrow & Other Stories by Michael Marshall Smith – if you’ve never read Michael Marshall Smith’s horror short stories, you’re missing out on a treat. The title story of this collection is one of the best I’ve read.
What are you reading at the moment?
At the minute I’m back in the land of old-fashioned horror with an excellent zombie novel, Coldbrook. Tim Lebbon and Hammer, what else could a horror fan possibly want?
Has blogging changed how you read?
Absolutely. I started out wanting to review dark crime and horror novels. Through the efforts of many (but especially Nicci Prasa) my focus has shifted somewhat in the past two years, and I’ve done a lot of reading out of my comfort zone. I’ve found some real gems in this way that I would otherwise have missed. There’s still a theme there, there’s still a lot of darkness in most of what I read, but there has been a definite shift away from what would have been “normal” for me.
What platform do you use when blogging?
I’m a WordPress user. Because I wasn’t sure how long the blog would last, I stuck with WordPress.org and mapped a domain name onto it. Depending on what happens over the next couple of years, I might consider a self-hosted instance, but don’t see myself moving away from the WordPress platform
What is your best blogging moment? (i.e. did you get to interview a certain author? Were you contacted by a publisher personally?)
For me, it’s the first time I got an email from an author thanking me for the review of his book. It’s happened a couple of times since, and it always catches me by surprise, but that first time had me on a high for days. (The email, if anyone is interested, was from Otto de Kat.)
What content does your blog cover? (i.e. Just books, or other things?)
When I started Reader Dad, I wanted it to be a book review blog. I’ve had a couple of attempts in the past, with a more loose approach to blogging, with some personal posts/editorials salted amongst the book reviews. All, unsurprisingly, have been short-lived. This time around, the more focused posting approach seems to be working. I’ve started branching out in my second year with author interviews and the occasional guest post, but my passion has always been books, and the plan is to stick in that area.
Do you write yourself? If so, has blogging helped or hindered your writing?
I have been known to dabble, but have never made it past 50k words. These days, with a full time job, a full time parenting role and a hobby that requires me to read through every spare minute I can find, the writing has taken a back seat. I may be back. I’m telling myself that all this reading is helping to hone my tools.
What’s your most popular blog post to date?
Since starting, I’ve become a bit of a stats freak, which can become a bit of a time sink. The post with the most views in a single day is my review of Laurent Binet’s HHhH. My most-visited post since day one is Stephen King’s 11/22/63.
Thanks for your time Matt! Remember to look out next week for Matt’s guest blog on the horror genre! To read more of his work head to readerdad.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter @MattGCraig
To close out my week of guest blogging here at Jo Fletcher Books, I wanted to take a look at the debuts Jo has lined up for us in the first six months of 2013. With novels ranging from mythical fantasy to genetic modification science fiction and settings inspired by cultures all over the world, we can look forward to an interesting crop of debut novelists in the next few months.
Amish – The Immortals of Meluha (January 3rd 2013)
1900 BC: the once-proud Suryavanshi rulers of the Meluha Empire are in dire peril. The empire’s primary river, the Saraswathi, is slowly drying up. There are devastating terrorist attacks from the east, the land of the Chandravanshis – and to make matters worse, the Chandravanshis appear to have allied with the Nagas, an ostracised race of deformed humans with astonishing martial skills.
The only hope for the Suryavanshis is an ancient prophecy: when evil reaches epic proportions and all seems lost, a hero will emerge . . .
First up is Amish’s The Immortals of Meluha. A runaway success in his home country India, this first book in the Shiva trilogy sounds fascinating, not just because of its unfamiliar settings, but because of its mythological roots and philosophical exploration of the nature of evil. And as a bonus, the second book in the trilogy, The Secret of the Nagas is due to be published soon after on April 25th.
Naomi Foyle – Seoul Survivors (February 28th 2013)
A meteor known as Lucifer’s Hammer is about to wreak destruction on the earth, and with the end of the world imminent, there is only one safe place to be.
In the mountains above Seoul, American-Korean bio-engineer Dr Kim Da Mi thinks she has found the perfect solution to save the human race. But her methods are strange and her business partner, Johnny Sandman, is not exactly the type of person anyone would want to mix with.
Drawn in by their smiles and pretty promises, Sydney – a Canadian model trying to escape an unhappy past – is an integral part of their scheme, until she realises that the quest for perfection comes at an impossible price.
This standalone cyber-thriller is set in a near-future Seoul, which already gives it a head start in the unique setting stakes. On the author’s website mention is made of a revolutionary gaming theme park, colluding arch enemies and a world in eco-collapse threatened by an impending meteor strike. Colour me intrigued.
Stephanie Saulter – Gemsigns (June 6th 2013)
For years the human race was under attack from a deadly Syndrome, but when a cure was found – in the form of genetically engineered human beings, Gems – the line between survival and ethics was radically altered.
Now the Gems are fighting for their freedom, from the oppression of the companies that created them, and against the Norms who see them as slaves. And a conference at which Dr Eli Walker has been commissioned to present his findings on the Gems is the key to that freedom.
But with the Gemtech companies fighting to keep the Gems enslaved, and the horrifying godgangs determined to rid the earth of these ‘unholy’ creations, the Gems are up against forces that may just be too powerful to oppose.
I love books that pose these kinds of ethical questions; when is a being human, how do we treat those who are Other? Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns sounds like it has some fascinating answers and a great future setting as well. This is definitely one novel I’m looking forward to.
Snorri Kristjansson – The Swords of Good Men (June 6th 2013)
To Ulfar Thormodsson, the Viking town of Stenvik is the penultimate stop on a long journey. Tasked with looking after his cousin after disgracing his father, he has travelled the world and now only wants to go home.
But Stenvik is different; it contains the beautiful and tragic Lilja, who immediately captures Ulfar’s heart. Because of her, he persuades his cousin to stay. But Stenvik is also home to some very deadly men, who could break Ulfar in an instant.
King Olav is marching on Stenvik from the East, determined to bring the White Christ to the masses at the point of his sword, and a host of bloodthirsty raiders led by a mysterious woman are sailing from the north. But Ulfar is about to learn that his enemies are not all outside the walls.
Vikings! What more do I need to say? Well, actually, there is a lot more to say about this debut. It’s a book in which the Old Gods confront the new and where betrayal is just around the corner. It’s also written by a true Viking descendant, as Snorri is originally from Iceland. However, the book was written in English, a feat I find astonishing, because even if my English isn’t shabby, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to write an entire novel in it. Then again, I can’t imagine writing a novel in Dutch either, so I’m impressed by anyone who can write a good story. The Swords of Good Men has been on my radar ever since Jo announced she’d signed Snorri and I’m looking forward to finally being able to read the book come June.
These are the four debuts currently lined up for the first six months of 2013. What do you think? Any one of them catch your eye?
Warning: there will be spoilers for several different books and series in this post!
To spoil or not to spoil, that is the question. And while the answer is pretty easy when you’re talking child-rearing or food, in reviewing it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Spoilers are actually something I’ve struggled with from the time I started reviewing, as I’m never sure how or when something would be considered spoiling. Last June, over at the SF Signal podcast, there was a discussion on spoilers and whether there is or should be a moratorium for them and for how long. They didn’t really reach a consensus, other than if there’s a spoiler warning, all bets are off and when talking about second, third, or further books in a series, spoilers are par for the course. These are sensible guidelines, but still leave me with some questions, such as what exactly counts as a spoiler and when do you add explicit spoiler warnings and when should it be self-evident that there will be spoilers?
To start with the definition first, to me a spoiler is something that reveals a major plot twist, the death of a main character **cough**ned**cough**, the outcome of a romantic triangle, the identity of the culprit in a crime novel, or the ending of a book or series. By major plot twist I don’t mean just an unexpected development, such as Pug becoming a Tsurani slave in Feist’s Magician, but a development that completely turns a narrative on its head, such as Snape’s identity as a double spy. It makes you reconsider all his actions in the Harry Potter series, and if you read about it when you’re still on Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, you’ll never loathe Snape the way Rowling meant him to be loathed. But is that definition too broad or not broad enough? Are smaller details, that are less crucial to the plot, but are still surprising also to remain as unspoilt as can be?
Moving on to when is it okay to reveal minor spoilers. I like the position that once the next book in a series is out, you can talk about spoilery stuff from the previous book. But, like mentioned on the podcast, what if it’s A Dance with Dragons and you know you’ll have to wait years or as happens more often nowadays, books are published in consecutive months, as happened with Rowena Cory Daniells’ The Outcast Chronicles. In the first case, you’ll be waiting years to be able to freely talk about a book and in the latter case, the question is whether readers will be able to keep pace. And how would we treat standalones? So that would lead us back to a set time period. But with the varying publishing formats and lead-out times and the various differences in publication dates between different territories, that seems a rather nebulous line; which date do we take as the starting point?
In the first two years of blogging at A Fantastical Librarian I didn’t add spoiler warnings, mostly because I want to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as I can. However in recent months I’ve found myself adding warnings above second or later entries of series as I wouldn’t be able to talk about the books without either giving something away or indulging in a whole lot of handwavium. I decided it was okay to talk about spoilers if not doing so would mean being so incredibly vague about things that a review would basically amount to “I (dis)liked it, because of things I can’t tell you about, trust me.” Still, giving spoilers feels like a bad practice and I’m still debating with myself every time I include one. After hearing the podcast I referenced above, I discovered I wasn’t the only one unsure of spoiler etiquette, so I decided it would be fun and informative to ask some of my blogger friends where they stand on spoilers. So I asked them:
What is your take on what constitutes a spoiler and when, if ever, is it okay to include them in a review?
Here are their thoughts:
Anne Perry (Pornokitsch)
Me? I’ve been reading The Hobbit pretty much my entire life; I’m going to take to Twitter, and then Pornokitsch, to talk about the film after I see it (and I intend to see it as soon as I can). But will that talking constitute spoiling it? The Hobbit is a seventy-five years old. It came out in 1937. The year the Hindenberg exploded and the Golden Gate Bridge opened (to pedestrian traffic.) Old as The Hobbit may be, though, there are going to be people who’ve never read the book. And, furthermore, won’t be reading the book in anticipation of the film’s opening because, you guessed it, spoilers. As there were people who refused to read the Harry Potter books because they didn’t want to spoil the films. The Hobbit has entered that murky area where Game of Thrones is now perpetually stuck – we can, for example, talk about stuff that happens in Dance with Dragons (which is years away from being televised.) But we can’t talk about stuff that happens in Storm of Swords because, ZOMG it comes out next summer! So we can talk about Smaug the dragon, (who will presumably show up in The Hobbit 2: Through a Forest Darkly) but we can’t talk about [those monsters] or [those other monsters] or [that thing Gandalf does] in the first half of the book/first film. And we oughtn’t talk about any of the above without sticking a spoiler alert into the text of our discussion anyway, because we’re thoughtful folks who play by the rules, baffling though those rules occasionally are. And, in this case, those rules require that we discuss salient plot points from the film adaptation of a seventy-five-year-old book behind a cut.
Jared Shurin (Pornokitsch)
Luke is Darth Vader’s son. Rosebud is a sled. Bruce Willis is a ghost. Ripley’s got an alien inside her. Spock dies (and comes back). Aragorn is really a king (and Frodo – with help – succeeds). Dumbledore dies. The girl in the Crying Game is a dude. The apes, they live on Earth! Tyler Durden isn’t real. “She’s my daughter – my sister – my daughter!” SOYLENT GREEN IS MADE OF PEOPLE! At the end of Red Country, Glotka dies.
Ok, I made the last one up. But, hey, I’m betting that’s the one that got your attention (and, were I interested in spoiling the latest Joe Abercrombie for real, it would’ve gotten me a zillionty pageviews).
There may not be hard and fast rules, but there’s some common sense involved. For some people, their enjoyment of a thing comes from having it take them by surprise. Others appreciate by knowing, and find their tension in seeing how something happens. To each their own, as long as the reader gets to make that decision, and not the reviewer.
Paul Holmes (The Eloquent Page)
When I post a review I include the blurb that appears on the back cover. I’ll happily make mention of anything that appears in that but try to avoid more spoilery comments. I’m not really a big fan of spoilers in general. When I’m reading a review myself I don’t mind if a review mentions things like standout characters but I really don’t want much more than that. Big plot reveals would be a no-no.
Part of the thing I enjoy most about reading is that moment of discovery as a great plot unfolds. I think I would be disappointed if that sense of anticipation was missing or ruined by a spoiler. A positive book review should act as a hook and get a reader interested. Too many revelations would detract from that.
Paul Weimer (SF Signal & Functional Nerds)
–River Song, Doctor Who
Spoilers are something that any reviewer, or indeed, anyone communicating the nature of a work to another, has to face.
Taking the definition of spoilers as the revelation of a plot twist, twist in character, the denouement of a book or work, or otherwise unguessable outcome in a work as a given, the threat of spoilers in simple conversation about a work of art is high. It’s human nature to give away “the good stuff”, to excitedly tell your best friend that Sara winds up marrying Prince Bajor instead of Vicar Richards. Similarly it is very human to complain about unexpected negative plot twists.. “I can’t believe they killed Captain Quinn, after he survived that bloody three day battle, just because of a bad coconut!”.
Reviewers of books and movies, in the course of writing a review, face similar problems. In writing a review, we are putting a lens on aspects of the work of art, and so revealing things about the book to someone who hasn’t read it. It’s easy to inadvertently reveal things that might be considered spoilers. And yet an amorphous book review without any details tells you nothing about the book or movie at all.
But are spoilers even a bad thing? There are studies that being spoiled for a movie or a book increases the enjoyment of a work, especially if it’s a negative one. Consider when I rewatch, for example, the movie Serenity. The unexpected plot twist and character death hits me in the gut, upon a rewatch, because I can see its coming with all of its inexorability. Does that work for a first-run? I’ve been spoiled on movies and still managed to enjoy them even if I know some of the plot twists are coming. Inception, for example, comes to mind. I watched the movie in a state of anticipation, rather than surprise, and still loved the movie anyway.
I think that the overwhelming majority of people think that spoilers will ruin their enjoyment, even if they really wouldn’t, and might even improve their experience. So, I think that my audience demands that I review works with as few spoilers as humanly possible, and still tell them about a book enough to make a book purchase. It’s a high wire act. So in my own reviews, I take pains not to reveal spoilers except in the most general terms. But it’s a tricky business. Consider:
Was my revelation above about the movie Serenity above a spoiler, or not? See what I mean?
Why I’m any kind of Fantasy reader
I blame my dad. Which is funny, as he doesn’t read any sort of speculative fiction at all. Neither did my mum.
But Dad read to me every night before bed until I was about eight and he read me countless historical adventure stories, mostly nautical in nature, instilling a love for history into me at an early age.
These were mixed with Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story and other children’s classics.
Thus when I discovered the library, not so coincidentally also at age eight, it wasn’t a great leap from the historical adventures to Arthurian sagas, mythical tales, and Narnia. After I discovered Narnia, anything with the pictogram for either historical or fantasy books on its spine was fair game and I was a most regular visitor to the library, where I read not just fantasy but anything I could get my hands on.
This went on for a few years and then I encountered the works of David Eddings.
The reason was rather embarrassing—it’s a story of a boy, unrequited love and his love for Eddings, let’s leave it at that.
Anyway, at age fourteen I lost my heart to fantasy and it never returned it; almost twenty years later I’m a staunch fantasy reader and while I might now realise how clichéd Eddings’ use of tropes was and that his characters are in fact not that strong, I still have a very soft spot for them in my heart.
From Eddings I moved on to Mercedes Lackey and Raymond E. Feist. At which point my Dad re-enters the narrative.
You see, he went to Cambridge for a work conference and brought me back a book. Knowing I’d gone mad for fantasy books, he tried and bought me one of those.
Dad, however, never realised fantasy books often come in trilogies or larger series, especially in the early nineties, so he brought me back Jordan’s Lord of Chaos. That’s right, he bought me book six of the Wheel of Time.
So I went and bought The Eye of the World, and later books two to five, from my allowance and was thus introduced to one of the more influential series of recent fantasy history.
So that is how I came to read fantasy, but what was it about fantasy that hooked me and why am I still fascinated by it today? I think that originally, like Graeme, I was taken in by the escapism of it all.
I wasn’t the world’s happiest teen, so being able to disappear into a book and be someone else in a completely different world was heaven.
But as I’ve grown up and become more widely read, not just in speculative fiction, but in general, I’ve found that fantasy can be far more than just an escape; it can be a way to examine the world’s problems at a remove, to explore human emotion through the eyes of a non-human, and to hold up a mirror to humanity and show us the human condition without apportioning blame.
It’s this combination of layered depth and unadulterated fun that keeps me coming back for more and which makes me proud to say I’m a fantasy reader, any kind of fantasy reader. So, thanks Dad, I owe it all to you!
Good morning/afternoon/evening, Beloved Reader (no, it’s true: I’m not entirely sure what time it is – or indeed where I am). Note to self: next time, do not attempt to combine planes, Greyhounds and taxis in one 24-hour period: it might look do-able in principle, but it’s really not worth the angst. The feeling when you get off a Greyhound bus after six hours and realise that not only do you have just one hour to get to the airport, but that rush hour traffic starts two hours earlier in Toronto than it does in London is not one I wish to repeat any time soon.
However, all’s well, &c. &c. I am safely returned from Canada (Quiet Giant of the North) – and now I am staring in mildly controlled panic at the vast number of emails that have accrued during the week I was away. In my head I know that most of them will require nothing more than opening (to check they are exactly what I believe them to be) and deleting, but in my heart I am looking at those 563 messages and thinking, minimum of thirty seconds to open and scan, and let’s say 500 of them are not vitally necessary to the well-being of my books, my authors or to myself, that still leaves 63 that might be, and they’ll take at least a minute apiece – so that’s 250 minutes for the non-useful emails and a minimum of 63 minutes for the potentially useful ones and that adds up to (counts on fingers: none, some, many, lots) lots of minutes that I don’t have . . .
And now I do have to admit that jetlag has well and truly kicked in.
So instead of dealing with the emails, I thought I’d chat to you instead – after all, I imagine you’re dying to know how the World Fantasy Convention went.
I am pleased to report that, despite the dismal location (I was assured Richmond North was still in Canada, despite being many miles from Toronto’s centre), and the surreal surroundings (the hotel was situated in a giant parking lot), a good time was had by all who managed to make it despite the vicissitudes of Hurricane Sandy, which had just finished wreaking havoc as we arrived.
The best part of WFC is seeing authors, editors, agents, publishers and artists in their natural environment (the bar!), and catching up with chums you meet only once a year. Like the book fairs, those brief meetings can be the start of real and long-lasting friendships, which in turn can lead to some really special projects (which is why I think this convention is so important to the field).
Two of the highlights for me were breakfast with the lovely Karen Lord – the first of my Caribbean SF writers, she’s followed her retelling of a Senegalese fable, Redemption in Indigo, with a wonderful SF novel about race and humanity, The Best of All Possible Worlds, which will come out next spring. I can’t wait to introduce her to Stephanie Saulter, JFB’s other Caribbean SF writer, next year!
And I was also chuffed to meet our brand-new fantasy author Sebastien de Castell, who travelled from Vancouver just to say ‘hi’ – oh, and to sign the contract . . . I knew he’d fit right in with the JFB family when he managed to sit all the way through the JFB author dinner on Saturday night instead of running away laughing hysterically. It’s traditional at conventions for me to take my authors (and assorted special guests) out to dinner, and it’s also traditional that where possible, it’s a Chinese banquet (the idea being that you order lots of food and drink and chat convivially whilst sharing interesting delicacies hidden under equally interesting sauces).
The Chinese restaurant shouldn’t have been a problem as the convention hotel was slap-bang in the middle of China-Suburb (not quite as glitzy and picturesque as Chinatown!) – and it wasn’t just China; we spotted Mongolian, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malay and all-purpose Asian businesses within a half-mile radius, all festooned with script-only signs in semi-working neon – all very Blade Runnerish, especially in the freezing rain). The chosen restaurant had the requisite big round table, and I know it had a liquor licence, because when asked for the wine list, the very sweet waiter brought three bottles to show us. We chose one of the two reds and the white to start with; it was unfortunate that the very classy presentation of the latter gave no hint of the super-sweet vintage therein; guest author and fellow Brit Graham Joyce managed to smile whilst quaffing something that reminded him far too much of pomagne – and not in a good way, either). So sweet and fizzy was it that we abandoned the bottle and called for another of the Shiraz – only to discover that those three bottles the waiter had displayed with such pride were in fact the sum total of the restaurant’s cellar.
And of course North American servings tend to be on the larger side, so we got way more food than we’d bargained for. Just not any rice. Which was odd.
But in spite of those setbacks, the company was excellent, the conversation wild and varied, and I believe a good time was had by all.
(Note to self: when booking restaurant in Brighton for next year’s WFC, ensure wine list means more than three bottles and that banquets come with rice or noodles as standard.)
Of course I was disappointed not to be lugging giant heads of HP Lovecraft home, but the World Fantasy Awards are amongst the few where it genuinely is an honour just to be nominated. (And congratulations to novel winner Lavie Tidhar, who’s been generous with his help to JFB.)
I consoled myself with the thought that A Book of Horrors is selling very nicely even without the accolade it so richly deserved, and this way I didn’t have to explain to some over-eager customs official with a hacksaw that the Gahan Wilson-sculpted head really wasn’t a cunning repository for Colombian marching powder or rare jelly beans . . .
All right. The time has come. Those emails are not going to disappear unless I accidentally press delete a lot. Time to be pro-active!
This week the wonderful Mieneke (A Fantastical Librarian) has taken over the blog. Her is her first piece: an interview with herself!
Interviewing yourself is rather a funny business. But since here on the Jo Fletcher Blog they usually combine a blogger guest post with an interview with said blogger, it was kind of self-evident that I’d have to do one too. In addition, in the past six months (give or take a week or two) I’ve been interviewing bloggers for my Blogger Query, so I figured it was past time I had a seat at the opposite end of the table. That proved much harder than I thought it would be. I’ve been asking these questions each interview, but having to answer them myself was a very different proposition. Still, I managed something coherent for all of them, I hope. These are my answers to my own Blogger Query.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Mieneke van der Salm?
Well, my About Me section reads I work as an information specialist at a university library. In my free time I aim to create and read my own library at home and, together with my husband, raise two little geek girls.
But that’s sort of cheating so here goes: I’m a thirty-something from the Netherlands. I’ve always had a passion for books and decided to study English Lit at university because it combined my favourite language with lots of reading and in the end I thought I might end up a buyer for a bookstore and get to read for a living. Yes, that shows that a) I knew nothing about publishing and book-selling and b) I had no idea what I was getting into with the lots of reading part. Still I loved my time at university and after doing an internship at our Royal Library and some other jobs around libraries, I ended up at the University Library as an information specialist. That doesn’t actually mean I’m surrounded by books all day, as they’re actually on a different floor, but I do get to do many different things, among which is teaching information literacy.
What got you into blogging?
When I got my current position at the library, one of the things I was given to take care of was the Leiden2.0 course, which was a way for us to familiarise our patrons with the wonderful world of the social web. Since I was going to be maintaining it, I decided I needed to know what all the lessons were about and lesson number two was starting a blog.
Why then a book reviewing blog? I’d discovered book blogs early in 2010, after rereading GRRM’s ASoIaF and wondering whether book five was finally out yet. I went and Googled for it. Through this I ended up on a book blog and started clicking around and reading other reviews and following links to other blogs. I was amazed that there were all these people just as crazy for my kind of books as I was. After reading along for a couple of months, when I had to start up my own blog for work I thought why not and took a leap of faith and here we are over two years later and I’ve even graduated to my own domain, something I’d never expected.
Why A Fantastical Librarian?
To be honest? At the time I started the blog I read mostly fantasy, I was a librarian and The Fantastical Librarian was too much like The Speculative Scotsman, so after throwing some other options at Amanda, then of Floor to Ceiling Books, I decided to go with A Fantastical Librarian. It’s that simple, really.
What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?
This seemed such great question when I came up with it, but now I have to answer it myself it’s a lot harder than I thought. I could say my honesty, but that’s not really unique as there are many who give their honest opinion. I could say my diverse reading and blogging habits as I cover not just speculative fiction, but historical fiction, crime and YA as well. But again, not alone there. So I’ll go with my Blogger Query feature, as while I’m not the only interviewing bloggers, I think I’m the only one doing so on a weekly basis.
What are your goals for your blog?
My goals for my blog are many and varied, but the most important one has to be: Read Good Books. If I don’t do that, there wouldn’t be much fun in it now would there? (And yes I realise you could base a blog on bad books, but no—not that fun.) And I think that is the point for everyone involved in blogging, bloggers and blog readers alike; we’re all looking for our next great read, aren’t we?
A by-product of the above of course is to have fun and that’s almost just as important. Other things I have on my list? Getting my visitors back – and beyond – to where they were before I moved the blog over to its own domain, as growing your audience is always nice. And something that is completely shallow, but would make me really proud, is to get a quote on a book. That would be just so cool and also a confirmation that my reviews are actually readable and not just me waffling on.
One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?
I chose not to rate on A Fantastical Librarian because rating is so subjective. Ratings aren’t just based on the writing or the plot or the world building; the experience of reading a book is more than just the words on a page, it’s were the reader’s head is at during the reading, what her personal preferences are, whether it was raining on the day she started the book. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you see where I’m going with this, it all depends on context. It’s almost impossible to judge each book by some dry, empirical standard and I decided I wouldn’t even try on my blog. People can see whether I enjoyed a book from my review, they don’t need stars to elucidate it to them. However, since I also post reviews to Goodreads and Amazon, I do have to rate them there and at times deciding on the amount of stars takes me as much time as writing the review.
Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?
Yay, though preferably well underpinned with why. I don’t write very many negative reviews, though I believe that even most positive reviews will contain an element of critique in them, as the perfect book hasn’t been written (yet) and I do strife to point out things that worked less well for me. Sometimes I can’t think of one though and I’ll let it go, because thinking of a negative just to tick it off from a ‘must include’-list is just silly. But I think it’s imperative that reviewers write critical reviews in addition to positive ones, as it gives the reader more of a feeling for a reviewer’s taste and it’s more honest; no one can like everything they read unequivocally.
How important are blogs to your reading choices?
Not as important as they used to be. These days I keep pretty well-informed and I know what’s coming out, where previously blogs were my main method of discovery. However, it still happens that I’ll read a review for a book I’ve missed or whose back cover text hadn’t really gotten my attention and I’ll be convinced that actually I’m an idiot and this is a book I should read.
How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?
Would messily be an acceptable answer? I think there is a lot of potential for the book business in their interactions with bloggers, but I also think they’ve not yet found their feet in how to go about it. It’s tricky ground to tread as professionals (the publishers) have to deal in a professional capacity with non-professionals (bloggers) who don’t do this for a living and won’t all approach the interaction in a similar manner. The possibilities for miscommunication and misunderstanding are rife.
In a perfect world book bloggers would be the perfect middle man between publishers and readers to facilitate discovery. They are the online version of word-of-mouth, but with a more established online identity and location, unlike for example Amazon reviews, which have proven to be rather unreliable. In reality though, the past year has proven that there is a lot of drama in the book blogging community, with not just the Amazon sock-puppets, but numerous Goodreads kerfuffles and bad behaviour on both sides of the fence, which doesn’t do much for blogger credibility I’m afraid.
What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?
My current read is Geoffrey Wilson’s Land of Hope and Glory, an alternate historical fantasy. The book I’m looking forward to most, beyond all the usual suspects and the next instalments of series I’m reading, is Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls which is due for publication in May of next year. I fell in love with Ms Beukes’ writing when I read Zoo City and Moxyland shortly after it and I’ve been waiting ever since for a new novel by her.
Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?
Seeing as my husband and girls probably won’t count under this header, after asking Wiebe, the answer has to be London. It’s my favourite city in the world and if it were up to me we’d visit it at least twice a year. However, since I’m not a millionaire and not in the possession of a teleporter, I only get to go every other year. In the meantime I make do with reading books set in London such as Ben Aaronovitch’s The Folly series and Jo Fletcher’s own Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
It used to be a mixture of both, by genre and then by how it best fit on the shelves – I hate skipping to a new shelf in the middle of a series or author – but then my eldest daughter started crawling and things have never been the same since. We’ve been able to put books back on the bottom two shelves recently, but it’s still a bit of a mess and lots of double shelving. One day though, if we ever move to a new house, I hope to have more shelves and be able to single shelf all my books again.
Check out this video of Air New Zealand (The airline of Middle Earth!):
When I got in this morning I had, in my inbox, an excellent piece of news from the author of The Snowmelt River & The Tower of Bones, Frank P. Ryan. The message said that – in one day, The Snowmelt River had managed to storm the Amazon bestseller lists (Epic Fantasy) and rise to number 8, only just behind the likes of J.R.R. Tolkein and George R.R. Martin! So if you fancy seeing what the fuss is about – check it out here or get in on your Kindle for just £1.49 at the moment! And don’t just take my word for it – here’s the evidence:
Last week we had an interview with Graeme Flory of the blog Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review (check it out here); now, in a bid to bring some order to the murky world of our blog, we also have a guest post from him – a response to Gav Reads’s I’m Not That Kind of Fantasy Reader - we hope you enjoy!
I can’t remember exactly when it was but I know that when I saw Gav’s article here my very first thought was, ‘hang on, I’m very much that kind of fantasy reader.’ I never got round to leaving a reply so thanks to Nicola for giving me a whole post’s worth of space to do it in.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against Urban Fantasy at all. Well, not much . . . Well, quite a bit actually but that’s a topic for another post I think. It does the job it sets out to do and you can’t ask for a lot more than that, in a book, really. It’s just not what I’m after and that’s not the sub-genre’s fault.
I guess the reason I will always pick ‘Epic’ over ‘Urban’ is a lot simpler. It boils down to the fact that I live in London and there are times when I really don’t want to be reminded of that (although it is a great city). Take the morning commute for instance. I hate it and will always hide in a book until it’s over. Bearing that in mind, there’s no way I want to read a book where the heroine’s commute is as hellish as mine (even if she shares it with a vampire). Nope, give me a forced march across desolate moorland where cold undead hands burst from the earth and try to drag you down. Or frantic journeys through sinister woods where the rustling in the leaves could be a squirrel . . . or something far more dangerous.
I don’t want to read about our heroine’s crappy day at work, I have far too many of those myself. Nope, instead of office drudgery on the third floor of some grim office block (I don’t care if it’s staffed by werewolves) give me the third floor of a wizard’s tower that holds promises of treasure . . . if you’re prepared to fight for it.
And why would I want to read about what our Urban Fantasy heroine had for lunch? It’s usually a lot better than what I’ve managed to come up with. How about one of those medieval banquets where the knives are out (and not just for cutting the meat) and every false smile hides dark promises . . . ? That’s more like it.
Fantasy as a whole gets some stick for being ‘escapism’; I say, ‘why is that such a big deal?’ What’s wrong with a little coping mechanism to get you through the rough parts of your day? And if it comes wrapped up in a great story, well . . . so much the better ) And that’s where Epic Fantasy (and Sword & Sorcery too) and I have had a lot of fun together; I don’t see that stopping any time soon. A good story will teach you things, an even better story will entertain you while it teaches. And that’s why I’ll more than likely be picking up something Epic-Fantasy-based after I add a full stop to this sentence.
Those of you who have been paying attention will know that I am shortly heading off to the wilds of eastern Canada for this year’s World Fantasy Convention, which is why this blog is getting later by the minute: I have half a book still to edit and three urgent pieces of cover copy, plus two new Beloved Authors to be indoctrinated – I meant, introduced . . . and at some point I need to sort out my meetings, my diary, my covers – oh, and my clothes.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have spent quite so much time on the pumpkin – my excuse was I needed the innards for soup . . . but I did, and now I’m late . . .
And all the time I am rushing around trying desperately to sort all this lot before I book a taxi for Sparrowfart on Wednesday, the news reports are getting increasingly more hysterical about the Frankenstorm currently headed up the Eastern Seaboard of the North American continent.
Which is where I am also headed.
They’ve called the hurricane Sandy. Sandy? What sort of name is that for something that’s supposed to be the mother of all hurricanes?
Sandy’s a high school girl going through the throes of first love, not a Category 1 hurricane which is currently nearly a thousand miles wide and sporting winds in excess of 90 miles per hour, bringing with it 10 inches of rain, 24 inches of snow, extreme storm surges and power-cuts, not to mention rampant destruction and death. The number of people predicted to be affected is rising every hour (currently standing at 50 million, but that doesn’t include me as I am not yet on that side of the Atlantic).
I know it’s serious, because even publishers in New York are temporarily abandoning their desks, following the emergency services’ pleas for everyone to evacuate before it hits.
See what I mean? I’d expect a sibilant, hissing name, or maybe one stuffed full of xs, ks and zs, not a chirpy, upbeat name like Sandy! I guess North American meteorologists don’t have a lot of practise naming villainous storms . . .
Sorry, I am digressing: this is no time to be thinking about cool names for demon-inspired Frankenstorms – or maybe it is. It would certainly take my mind off how much I have to do in how little time!
So let’s do it! I hereby challenge you, Beloved Reader, to come up with something a little more apposite for Hurricane Sandy (even if it never leaves the confines of this blog) – and what’s more, thanks to editor Stephen Jones and artist Les Edwards, I’ll even through in a signed copy of the brand-new paperback of the World Fantasy Award-nominated anthology A Book of Horrors for the best suggestion.
I can’t say fairer than that, can I?
This week we have an interview with Graeme Flory of Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review - watch out next week for his guest post!
Why did you start blogging?
A number of things kicked it off, all inspired by a hellish commute and a dull job at the end of it. That kind of start to the day can really inspire you to do something creative! I guess I just wanted to see if I could dig a little further into my reading than ‘Wow! I loved it!’ or ‘Urgh, I hated it…’ The challenge then was to see if I could write something that people would want to read as well as get to grips with Blogger. I’m getting there ).
What keeps you blogging?
I know it’s a simple answer (almost too simple) but I love reading fantasy, sci-fi and horror; that’s what keeps me coming back each day. It’s really easy to just pick up that next book and keep going. That and my ongoing challenge to write coherently about why I thought a certain way about the last book I read.
Are you on Twitter? If so, do you think it’s useful?
I am on Twitter (@graemesfantasyb) and I think it’s a brilliant resource for anyone who wants to find out more about their favourite writers or just books in general. A lot of the ‘news’ features, on my blog, come from Twitter. It’s really easy to log on and start talking to friends as well; something that always comes in handy when it’s three in the morning and I can’t sleep…
What are your favourite blogs and why?
This list changes constantly as it really depends on what posts catch my eye on a given day. Right now, I love reading Civilian Reader (he’s into a lot of the same stuff that I am with excellent coverage of comics) and Pornokitsch (because you can never tell what’s coming up on that blog and it’s always entertaining and well written). The Wertzone is another blog that I visit regularly (for its detailed and very written reviews).
What are your all-time favourite reads?
My all time favourite reads? If it wasn’t for the blog I’d have a hard time telling you what I read last week! Series that have stuck in my mind though are Michael Scott Rohan’s first Winter of the World trilogy (well worth tracking down, written in the 80s but read like they were written today) and Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series (GRRM may be doing it better but Williams did it first and got me hooked way back when). I would mention Erikson’s Malazan books but I got bogged down in Dust of Dreams and never finished the series. Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice are incredible reads though.
What are you reading at the moment?
Well, I’ve just finished up reading Strontium Dog: The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha this morning and I’ve been casting my eye around trying to decide on the next read. It will probably be either Jonathan Oliver’s Magic anthology or Daniel Polansky’s Tomorrow the Killing (although it could be both of them at once, what with the way my reading schedule is constantly changing!) Steven Erikson’s Forge of Darkness is begging to be read as well.
Has blogging changed how you read?
I’d like to think that blogging has made me look at what I read a little more closely. I’d also say that I’m reading a lot more widely, within the genre, than I was five years ago. I do have my favourite genres but I’m a little more willing to give other stuff a go as well.
What platform do you use when blogging?
I do like to stand on my soapbox ) I’ve always used Blogger, mainly because I’m not very technical and Blogger was incredibly easy to set up and get going (even if it’s not particularly well supported). I can’t see myself switching platform any time soon, if ever.
What is your best blogging moment? (i.e. did you get to interview a certain author? Were you contacted by a publisher personally?)
Interviewing Michael Moorcock was probably the biggest highlight but being exposed to books that I wouldn’t normally read . . . That happens almost every day and never stops being cool.
What advantages does blogging have for you?
Blogging has proved to be a great way of cramming my shelves full of books and justifying it to my wife ) Other than that, it’s a great extension of something that I’ve always loved doing (talking about books) and I get to do it with more people now. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Have you met any other bloggers?
I have, mostly in the signing queue at Forbidden Planet. There’s nothing like a book signing to bring the bloggers out and they’re all lovely people. It’s half the reason I like to be in those queues actually )
Has blogging changed your social life? (i.e. attending conventions, meeting other bloggers) If it hasn’t, would you like it to?
It did and then I became a Dad which changed my life a whole lot more… I used to have a social life, it was fun… I’d love to go to a few conventions actually, maybe next year.
What content does your blog cover? (i.e. Just books, or other things?)It’s books and comic books mostly although that does offer a lot of scope to mix things up and do something a little different most days. If I ever get a chance to catch up on my DVD watching then you will invariably find a ‘Sci-Fi TV’ feature turning up as well.
Who are your blogging heroes?
We’re all blogging about the same thing so anyone who can make that well trodden path their own is a hero of mine. I’ve already mentioned Jared Shurin (Pornokitsch) but Aidan Moher (A Dribble of Ink) is another and Niall Alexander (The Speculative Scotsman) is another. If I can blog half as well as those guys then I’m doing a good job.
Do you write yourself? If so, has blogging helped or hindered your writing?
I dabble, a little bit, but have never got far enough into anything for the blog to have either helped or hindered the process.
What’s your most popular blog post to date?
I’m awful with the stats side of the blog so couldn’t give you an overall answer. Way back in 2008 though, my review of Paul of Dune scored a never-since-beaten four thousand hits in one day. I didn’t like the book and it turned out that a lot of other people weren’t too keen on Herbert and Anderson’s take either!
Thanks Graeme! And if you fancy seeing a little more of Graeme’s writing, head on over to www.graemesfantasybookreview.com, where you can find more news, reviews and interviews on speculative fiction!
So barely have I finished my Frankfurt Report (for which, dear Rights colleagues, read: I promise you’ll have it by the end of the week!) than it’s time to start preparing for the World Fantasy Convention, the annual gathering of the great and good of the fantasy world (or at least a goodly proportion thereof). From January next year you’ll be hearing a great deal from me and mine about the 2013 WFC, because it’s going to be held in Great Britain, for only the third time since it was started in 1975, and Jo Fletcher Books is obviously going to be supporting the event big-time.
It will take place in Brighton, and not only will JFB be going down en masse, but I’ve been trying to persuade all my European colleagues to sign up too, to make it the most international convention thus far: we’re trying to put the ‘World’ into the WFC!
But what, I hear you ask, of this year? Here’s a hint: I am digging out my warmest jumpers and my stash of dollars – Canadian dollars, that is (but not the Canadian silver dollar I won in 1968 when I was part of the team from Wakefield Elementary School which cleaned up at a very prestigious public speaking contest; that I will treasure for ever. In fact, Miss Templeman, my fifth-grade teacher, is one of the people responsible for my love of fantasy fiction, because it was in her classroom that I met the works of C.S. Lewis for the first time, when she read The Horse and His Boy out loud to us. I always find this sort of thing – the reasons one takes this path instead of that – fascinating, and maybe that’s one of the reasons that I have continued to write to Miss Templeman – or ‘Helen’, as I am allowed to call her, now that I’m a bona fide grown-up). At any rate, I’m very much looking forward to going back to Canada for this year’s WFC, and I will make sure I take a day out to drive to Wakefield, Québec, the idyllic village on the shore of the Gatineau where I spent two very happy years as a child, and just make sure it’s still remarkable.
So back to the convention, which technically is in Toronto (although I gather that’s like saying Chingford is London), and I have to admit to being the tiniest bit disappointed that we’re not anywhere near the city centre – one of the great delights of an annual convention that moves to a different location every year is that over the 30-odd (some very odd) years that I have been attending, I have been able to visit some amazing cities that I would never have got to in the normal course of my life.
I will never forget Providence, Rhode Island, for the fifth WFC, where a group of us (five Brits, and one American, who was promptly handed the chauffeur’s hat we, being British, had had the foresight to pack, and the keys to the enormous black town car we’d ended up with) rolled out to see H.P. Lovecraft’s grave. It had been a beautiful day, but whilst we were posing by the gravestone, as one does, it started to snow, so we made our way back to the monster car to discover the American from North Carolina had left the keys in the ignition and the Brits had rolled up all the windows and locked the doors . . . it was a long, cold wait, and I’m still not sure the grave keeper has forgiven us for our opening line: ‘Hello, I’m afraid we’ve locked ourselves out of our car; could we borrow a wire coathanger, please?’ (Too many shades of Sharpe there: ‘It’s hard to trust a man who’s just asked to borrow a set of lockpicks, sir.’)
But you’ll be delighted to know that the trusting gent from Carolina did indeed know how to break into a rented automobile, so we made it safely back to the convention, just in time for me to fall off the kerb outside the Shunned House and break my bad ankle . . .
Then there was the convention in Baltimore, where we arrived at the airport and looked around for the promised shuttle bus, only to discover that Baltimore has three airports, and the instructions in the progress reports were all for the local airfield, some 170 miles away from where we were standing in the International lounge. (In those days there were half a dozen of us from the UK who went regularly; many of the attendees had never actually seen a proper foreign person – with odd accent – before!) Thank heavens for a passing chauffeur who took pity on the poor Brits looking dumbly at the information desk employee who was explaining that there was no such thing as ‘public transport’ around there and perhaps we should just prepare to fork over a vast amount of money each to fly to the other airfield?
The WFC in Nashville included a trip to the Bluebird Café, where Chet Atkins just dropped in to play a bit . . . in Saratoga Springs there was an Aladdin’s Cave of a bookshop that made a mockery of weight limits . . . and in Phoenix, the customs officer, on being told why we were in the country, was proud to tell us Peter S. Beagle had been his next-door-neighbour many, many years before. (Well, that’s what I remember; Ian is probably not alone on remembering the Hallowe’en parade through town which mostly consisted of very pretty female students wearing the contents of a lingerie catalogue . . .)
And yet, as enjoyable as these memories are, they pale into insignificance next to the excitement of meeting some of the genre’s best writers and artists, and chatting to the editors and agents and publishers who have helped to shape those illustrious careers . . . just as Miss Templeman was one of those amazing people who introduced me to fantasy fiction at school, I truly believe that if I hadn’t gone to the WFC in Providence in 1979 with Stephen Jones (then ‘just’ the editor of an award-winning little magazine called Fantasy Tales and never even dreaming that would morph into a career as one of the world’s most prolific and acclaimed editors of horror and dark fantasy anthologies), I wouldn’t be getting ready to attend the thirty-eighth World Fantasy Convention as Publisher of Jo Fletcher Books . . .
. . . where I shall be meeting my latest signing, a terrific writer of heroic fantasy . . .
Guess you’ll have to wait for the name now!
Excuse the delay folks, we were so busy recovering from FANTASYCON we may have forgotten to write!
27th- 30th September marked our second FantasyCon, and it gets better every year. For example, this year our very own Nicola Budd sat on two panels and we hosted a very successful party for our attending (and absent) authors! (More on that later).
The Jo Fletcher authors really represented by coming down to Brighton en force, which was brilliant because we’ve been waiting for such a perfect chance to show them off.
Those attending included one of the FantasyCon organizers, Stephen Jones (Book of Horrors/Curious Warnings), Alison Littlewood (A Cold Season), Sarah Pinborough (Mayhem), Tom Pollock (The City’s Son), Stephanie Saulter (Gemsigns), Naomi Foyle (Seoul Survivors), and Snorri Kristjansson (Swords of Good Men).
Highlights were as follows: On Friday, Tom Pollock did an inspired (and world debut!) reading from the next book in the Skyscraper Throne trilogy entitled The Glass Republic, (complete with natural Game of Thrones pose) Meanwhile, Alison Littlewood sat on a panel called ‘Does Gender Matter?’ about gender roles in Fantasy and SF.
Saturday dawned, beautiful and sunny. For those participants who could drag themselves out of bed or away from the beach, the day had many fantastic things in store. Jo Fletcher’s lovely assistant Nicola moderated the panel ‘Ask the Editor’, where she posed many a tricky and insightful question to her interviewees, which included Gillian Redfearn and Simon Spanton, both from Gollancz. Alison Littlewood joined Thana Niveau and Tony Richards to talk about the makings of a good short story.
After a short break for lunch (and drinks!), and a brief jaunt by the sea with Stephanie Saulter, we were back for an afternoon of stimulating fantasy discussion including panels on fairy tales, steampunk, and the future of YA.
JFB re-congregated in the evening, first to support Nicola in her packed-out panel ‘Print versus Electronic’ (because, to be honest, who doesn’t have an opinion on that?), then for a dinner of fish and chips with the JFB authors organised by Quercus Head of Publicity Lucy Ramsey.
After stuffing ourselves with the fruits of the sea, we returned to the hotel for the JO FLETCHER BOOKS PARTY (once more, spectacularly planned and executed by the wondrous Lucy Ramsey!). There were cocktails, there were speeches, and there were beautiful books for sale. What more could you want?
. . . Icelandic brandy, of course (and thanks to Snorri, there was some of that too.)
Sunday morning saw a brief dip in energy as FantasyCon attendees struggled to recover from the . . . er . . . intellectual stimulation of the last two days, but everyone bucked up for the final party: the FantasyCon 2012 Banquet and Awards Ceremony. JFB proudly commanded its own table in the very centre of the room, and even won an award: Angela Slatter, author of The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter (from A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones) won best short fiction.
As you can see, it was a weekend of discovery for all of us, and great fun to see a lot of old and new faces. Perhaps the most succinct way to end my report is with a quote from JFB author Snorri Kristjansson (who probably could have summed up this whole article for me in the two sentences below). Snorri writes of his first FantasyCon:
‘FantasyCon was magical. It magically changed all my money into a suitcase full of new books and two champion hangovers.’
So last week we had an interview with blogger Paul over at The Eloquent Page, this week, for your delight and delectation, we have a guest post from him on the importance of location in horror. Enjoy!:
I’ve heard over and over again that there are character tropes in all different kinds of genre fiction, so isn’t it about time we recognised that there are also location tropes as well?
When it comes to horror, much like buying a house, finding a truly effective location is the key. It’s all about setting the right tone isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if your protagonist(s) are lost on the deserted streets of a zombie-infested city or trapped in one of those pesky, remote cabins in the woods. If the setting works with the author’s vision then you are guaranteed something truly special.
Think about it. Would the drawn out, sinister build up of The Shining be nearly as successful if Jack Torrance got a job caretaking a down-town boutique style hotel? (Actually looking at Stephen King’s massive back catalogue he is a bit of a master when it comes to location tropes). Would Dracula be quite so menacing if Stoker switched the wilds of Transylvania for the sandy beaches of Jamaica? A classic ghost story like The Haunting of Hill House wouldn’t work nearly as well in a two up two down semi in Bolton.
Consider all the horror that you’ve read before. Nowhere should ever feel safe should it? From the local high school or the isolated town, to the summer camp chock full of teens with dubious moral values, these locations are just as important as the events that unfold there. Before any blood curdling action ever takes place I want to already feel that there is a sense impending doom. The best horror really should send shivers up your spine. I think that sometimes readers fail to appreciate just how much where a story is set helps to enhance this sensation.
The next time you pick up a horror novel and you start to immerse yourself in an author’s world, take the opportunity to stop and look around. It’s highly likely that just as much thought, care and attention to detail has gone in to where things are happening as to whom.
To see more of Paul’s writing, news and reviews, head on over to The Eloquent Page now!
And a big thank you to Paul for doing this for us. Do you agree? Join in the debate below!
As some of you may/may not know, here at Quercus/JFB towers we have a work experience internship programme which occasionally sees one or two work experience people in at any one time for any length of time between one week and two months. Last week we had Jack. As Jack was only with us, he got a very quick overview of all the departments contained within the publishing machine. When he got to our department on the Friday, I therefore asked him to write a blog post to give you a brief outline of all that he did here, and therefore giving you an outsider’s, inside view of the industry. So, without further ado (or confusing explanations) here is Jack, with his week in the Quercus office.
Monday: Online Communities
On Monday morning I met Will the receptionist, who showed me around and very kindly introduced me to everyone in the office. I was with online communities that day, which is run by Mark Thwaite and Caroline Butler. For the bulk of my day I was creating a database, which documented different blogs relating to the book Ausperity. I was searching for blogs that were based on the idea of being frugal in the recession.
Tuesday: Sales and marketing
On this day I was with Caroline Proud and Bethan Ferguson down in sales and marketing. This was an eventful day as there was always something to be done in this busy sector. Just a few of the errands I performed on Tuesday were:
I particularly enjoyed calling up each of the Waterstones in Scotland because it was hands on and I enjoy interacting with other people.
In publicity I was with Alice and she set me to work in the printing station. I was scanning all of the press cuttings and sending them to my login, where I saved them as PDFs and documented each of them into the correct author’s folder. This took me about 5 hours (having scanned more than 200 documents!), but it was rewarding once it was all done. I was also sending Life in 5 seconds to celebrities like Jonathan Ross and David Mitchell in order to promote the book.
Thursday: Editorial, Non-fiction
This day I was going through the page proofs of The Complete Guide to Film making and checking for mistakes. I also created another database displaying the details of the following books:
Friday: Editorial, Fiction
On my last day I was going over some of the new fiction covers and looking for mistakes and checking whether the ISBNs and web addresses were correct. I was also looking through some of the unsolicited submissions and documenting what I thought of each one.
I have really enjoyed my time at Quercus due to everyone’s kindness and hospitality towards me. This week has given me a real taste of what the Publishing business is like and time has just flown by. Thank you to everyone at Quercus for having me!
Sign up to receive a sneak preview of our forthcoming titles and to get all the latest news, competitions and giveaways.