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Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReread Instalment 11!

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

The Skyscraper Throne Reread Week 11

BY  | PUBLISHED 17 APRIL, 2014

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

spoilers3 spoilers1 spoilers2

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

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

‘Rally. Your. Troops.’

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

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

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

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

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

‘My, my, what a mess.’

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

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

‘Do more. Do more than just run.’

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

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

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

Exciting Events from JFB

 

The Best of All Possible Worlds artwork

This week, Andy, our publicist has been away.

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

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

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

Nicola

London Book Fair: The Aftermath

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

Well, the short answer is No. And Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReread Part 10

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

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

The City’s Son re-read (Ch 37 – 41)

The City’s Son by Tom Pollock
Published: August 2nd 2012 by Jo Fletcher Books
Format: Paperback, 454 pages
Series: The Skyscraper Throne #1
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Goodreads • The Book Depository • Booktopia • Bookworld
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

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

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

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

Ch. 37

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

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

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

Ch. 38

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

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

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

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

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

Ch. 39

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

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

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

Ch. 40

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

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

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

My thoughts

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

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

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

 

The London Book Fair Circus has arrived …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo

Jo sig

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 9

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

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

Chapter 33

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

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

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

Chapter 34

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

Chapter 35

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

Chapter 36

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

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

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

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

We’re currently reading…

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

Nicola

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

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

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

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

Andrew

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

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

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

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

Jo

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

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

The Benefits of Tae Kwon Do

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

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

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

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

On the rewards of patience …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo

Jo sig

 

 

 

 

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

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 8

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

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

Chapter 29

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

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

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

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

Amazing right?

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

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

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

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

Chapter 30

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

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

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

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

Chapter 31

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

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

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

Don’t you just love it?

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

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

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

Chapter 32

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

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

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

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

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

Hell, hell, hooray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Heitz
Homburg, Germany

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

SF in’a Calabash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Saulter

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

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 7

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

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

CHAPTER 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 27

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

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

[Pause for LOLs]

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

CHAPTER 28

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

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

Right. I’m off to get stuck back in…

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

Voting in the Hugos

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

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

So get voting everyone!

Our books that are eligible include:

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

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

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

Spreadsheets and Other Matters

Nicola's Greatcoat Seal

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

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

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

Nicola

On the importance of avoiding Thog…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo

Jo sig

Discover your Greatcoat seal

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

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

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

Nicola's Greatcoat Seal

Nicola’s Greatcoat Seal

Andrew's Greatcoat Seal

Andrew’s Greatcoat Seal

We Need Your Help to Help Others!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo

Jo sig

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear him, hear him
Love and fear him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about Rachel Pollack (Part II)

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

11. How did you first get published?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16. Do you let your parents read your books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snorri Kristjansson at Bristolcon Fringe

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

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

Celebrate the upcoming release of The Unquiet House

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

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s time for you to become a Greatcoat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Find out more about Rachel Pollack (Part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 5

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

Quick recap of where the story is so far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both take a major twist.

Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 18

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

The main feeling throughout this chapter is one of fear.

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

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

Sadly it comes to nothing.

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

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

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

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

Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 20

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

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

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

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

It’s hard not to fear for the main characters with the path laid out as it is.

A definite mood has been set for the chapters to come.

Thanks once again for reading folks, don’t forget to let us know what you think about these chapters below and with #SkyscraperThroneReRead. And check out @brightsuzaku re-reading Chapters 21-24 next week at Brightsuzaku’s LiveJournal.

Traitor’s Blade is here, get your copy now!

Traitor's Blade SealThe day has finally arrived, Traitor’s Blade has hit shelves!

To celebrate we are giving EVERYONE who changes their twitter handle to their Greatcoat name and their twitter profile picture to our Join the Greatcoats stamp (on the left)*, will get 30% off the hardback of Traitor’s Blade when they purchase it through the Jo Fletcher Books website.

All you have to do to get your discount is send a tweet with #JoinTheGreatcoats in once you have changed your profile. We will then DM you your discount code.

Don’t worry if you haven’t worked out your Greatcoat name yet, it’s easy. All you have to do is:

1. Write down the name of your first school – Mine was Gilbert Scott
2. Write down the MAIDEN name of your Nan on your Mum’s side – Mine Nan’s maiden name was Morgan
3. Combine the two – My Greatcoat name is Gilbert Scott Morgan† So do it now and get ready to #JoinTheGreatcoats!

And don’t forget to keep hold of your Greatcoat name, soon you will have the chance to #JoinTheGreatcoats for real!

*It should look like this:

Traitor'sBladetwitterExample2

We’re currently reading…

Welcome to the first post in a new monthly feature on the JFB blog where we will let you know what we are reading outside of work and what we think of it.

Have you read any of these books? What are you currently reading? Let us know below.

Nicola

Tangled Web artworkLast week I read two collections of Anne Bishop’s short stories, Dreams Made Flesh and Tangled Webs. For those of you who don’t know (where have you been?!) we’re just about to publish my first acquisition the Black Jewels trilogy. However, there are also a series of short stories set in this same world with the same characters. For a while, I’ve been too scared to read them simply because I loved the Black Jewels trilogy so much, I didn’t want to potentially spoil it (I’ve never really liked short stories). But I bit the bullet, and boy am I glad I did! I spent all of Sunday evening lying on my sofa with a blanket, listening to the storm outside alternately laughing my head off and crying at the stories.

Where Daughter of the Blood examines the damage one human can inflict on another (and does not flinch away from all its detail – not for the faint-hearted), and Heir to the Shadows and Queen of the Darkness examine the healing process after that, these short stories are prevalent with love and affection, with danger, certainly, but they are like coming up for air – a guarantee that the characters you fell in love with really are okay. And christ did they make me laugh! I enjoyed every moment and highly recommend them.

Dreams Made Flesh and Tangled Webs are published by Roc at £4.83 and £4.86 respectively.

AndrewFool's Fate artwork

I am currently re-reading Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb as part of my re-read of all of her works set in the Realm of the Elderlings.

I will add a disclaimer now … I LOVE Robin Hobb … Serious fan boy love!

So as you would guess I am thoroughly enjoying Fool’s Fate. It is a masterfully written book which continues Robin’s streak of delivering nothing but amazing books. It also holds a soft spot in my heart as I was at a signing at Forbidden Planet London for the launch the book, at which a 16-year-old me tentatively asked if this was the last we would see of the Fool and Fitz and Robin replied, verbally and in my book, “Journeys end!” this to me was an emphatic yes, thankfully I was wrong and as we all know they are coming back this later year.

Fool’s Fate is published by Harper Voyager at £8.99.

Jo

When one’s literary agent husband gets excited about one of his books, it behoves a sensible publisher wife to take note . . . And when the hot-off-press copy of Martin Windrow’s The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar arrived, it mysteriously found its way to my side of the bed . . . And I knew that was the right decision as I embarked on the first chThe Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar cover artapter: Man Meets Owl – Man Loses Owl – Man Meets His One True Owl and I got to this:

“Perched on the back of a sunlit chair by the open winds was something about 9 inches tall and shaped rather like a plump toy penguin with a nose-job. It appeared to be wearing a one-piece knitted jumpsuit of pale grey fluff with brown stitching, with a balaclava helmet attached. From the face-hole of the fuzzy balaclava, two big, shiny black eyes gazed up at me trust fully. ‘Kweep,’ it said quietly. Enchanted, I leaned closer. It blinked its furry grey eyelids, then jumped very deliberately up onto my right shoulder. It felt like a big warm dandelion head against my cheek, and it smelt like a milky new kitten. ‘Kweep,’ it repeated, very softly.”

I was hooked. And when I got to the bit where visits to Martin and a grown-up and very less cuddly Mumble meant you were issued with a tin helmet from Martin’s extensive collection (one would expect nothing less of a military historian and founder of Osprey!) I was laughing out loud.

I know the ending, and I know I’m going to be in pieces, but the journey is so worth it …

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Life With A Loveable Tawny Owl is published by Bantam Press at £12.99.

Art and the Cover Brief

The Best of All Possible Worlds artworkToday I was doing one of my favourite tasks as an Assistant Editor – writing the cover brief for a new title. In my opinion, this is one of the all-time best tasks I can be invited to perform at work. When you’ve read a book that you just so happen to love, that you just so happen to have bought, that you just so happen to have dragged through the acquisition meeting successfully, kicking and screaming your little heart out, there is a sense of enormous satisfaction when you get to this bit,. For me, when you’ve read a book that you love, you haven’t just read it, you’ve felt it, and that’s often where the idea for a cover will come from.

Conveying that to the designer is the trickiest part.

How do you say to someone ‘Well, when you read it, it feels like it should have an exotic cover/an intricate cover/a plain cover, and the reason is because of absolutely nothing but my intuition’. It is hard because it is a set of ideas in your head only. No one else thinThe Silver Bough artworkks like you and the designer hasn’t read the book. And I’ve learned the hard way to be particularly clear about what the book needs because some things have come back and all my brain can do in response is go What?!

More often than not though, we get some epic covers thanks to our art department. Try having a look at Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds for example – nothing like what we briefed but beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. On the other hand, sometimes the designer just gets your brief – check out The Silver Bough, that came back exactly as it is first time round. Or Unholy War, another one that was pretty much perfect; just wait until you guys get to see it.

(I have to interrupt you here to announce some exciting news: we’ve just been told that – a week before publication – our very own Traitor’s Blade is the 5th biggest fantasy and SF seller of the week! Just under Brandon Sanderson, Joanne Harris and Terry Pratchett! Hello! And also number 47 for ALL hardback fiction! Buyit, buyit, buyit.)

But, even if it needs tweaks or is perfect the first time round, one of the best parts of my job is still coming up with a cover concept for the books you love (your own) and then seeing that cover come to life before you. As Mastercard would say: it’s priceless.

Nicola

I want to hate Gurvon Gyle because he’s a tosser, but I love him

MoontideQuartetHave you read Mage’s Blood and The Scarlet Tides?

To all of you spectacular – and sensible – people who have (and if not, why not?!), I think you would agree there are A LOT of characters in the series. Some are loveable, some deplorable and some downright irritating (I am sure intentionally so).

But, as the title of this post might suggest, we are here to talk about one particular character: a cold-hearted, calculating nuisance. Seriously, he’s selfish, he drops people as easily as he manipulates them and ensures, all the while, that he is the person benefiting from these actions. The reader sees all of this in his frequent POV chapters, which show us just how calculating he is.

The thing that worries me is that as much as I know I should – and do – hate him, I also kiiiinda . . . love him. I mean, he can hold his own in a fight, he is wise enough to know when he shouldn’t fight, he can stare down the most powerful woman on the planet and even though EVERYONE knows he is a conniving good-for-nothing scoundrel, he has also made himself so invaluable to them they can’t do without him. For some reason I find that oddly cool and endearing.

Is there something wrong with me? Anyone else out there who has fallen for a character they shouldn’t?

Andrew

The Jonathan Ross Fallout

As I started reading the outburst over Loncon’s announcement that Jonathan Ross would be hosting the Hugo Awards at this summer’s convention, my heart sank. I was horrified by what happened – but not just at *what* happened, but more importantly, the *way* it happened. Disagreeing with someone does not give us licence to start viciously attacking them. We of all people should know how powerful words are.

It has nothing to do with how good a host Jonathan Ross would or would not have been – that would be a matter for individual taste, which, let us not forget, is what all art comes down to. There is no doubt Ross is a controversial polarising public figure, but I can also see there are as many advocates for him out there as there are against.

What appalls me is the nature of the Tweeted tirade that started the moment the announcement was made. Of course everyone has a right to his or her opinion, but when did that right give us carte blanche to fill the Twittersphere – and indeed, the Internet as a whole – with such vilification? I do understand that some people feel very deeply that Ross was not a good choice to host the Hugos. I can see people are deeply offended by things he has done – but even more scarily, they are offended by things he is *alleged* to have done, which is not at all the same thing.

If those who disapproved had contacted the convention committee, made their disapprobation plain and asked for Ross to be replaced, well, fine and good. Yes, go ahead and express your dismay – but that’s not what happened here. What we got was a sudden outpouring of hateful and bullying messages, and not just to the convention committee, but to Jonathan Ross himself: the avowed and passionate SF fan who offered his time and services free of charge to host an awards ceremony for the field he loves.

And now the SFF community is making front pages, and not for the right reasons, for the amazing literature or the outstanding artwork science writers and artists working within the genre are producing, but for the vindictive trolling reaction to something a number of those within the community don’t approve of. Watching the fall-out on Sunday and this morning, I felt ashamed for the community in which I have grown up. I hoped we were better than this.

We must be better than this.

Jo

Jo sig

Celebrating the erelease of the Black Jewels Trilogy

Daughter of the Blood cover artMost of you will have heard me banging on about the Black Jewels trilogy whether on Twitter, here on the blog or out in the wilds, so I won’t keep you too long this time (even though there’s a damn good reason for me banging on – of 91 customer reviews on Amazon 89% are 5 and 4 stars). Suffice to say that we have an opportunity for you to win yet more free books from us.

Today, yes, today, we at JFB have made the entire Black Jewels trilogy available for sale in eBook. You still have to wait for the hard copies, BUT, you get in there now with the eBooks. And the first 5 people to send us a screen shot of their buyers receipt for ANY of the ebooks (whether that be on Amazon, on Kobo, on Apple, whatever), will receive a free copy of Daughter of the Blood (Black Jewels 1) in paperback. Anyone who buys ALL THREE eBooks will get copies of all three books in paperback once they are released.

To send us your pic, @ us on twitter [@jofletcherbooks] or post it below! Good luck!!

Nicola

 

Terms and Conditions:

Purchases of the Jo Fletcher Book UK edition only

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 4

The City's Son by Tom PollockThis week the lovely @maureenkspeller brings your Part 4 of our Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead which looks at chapters 13-16 of Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son. Don’t forget to check it out over on her blog here and let us know what you think of the chapters with #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

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

Now read on (and there are inevitably spoilers).

Chapter 13

something was crawling up her lamppost

Chapter 13 is short but extremely interesting, the first complete chapter that is not told from the viewpoint of a human being or, in the case of Filius, someone who appears to be human. Before now, with one exception – the episode concerning the fate of the lost Whitey – everything has been shown either from the third-person narrative viewpoints of Beth or Pen, or else from Filius’s first-person viewpoint. So what does this shift to an omniscient viewpoint give us?

Up until now it might just have been possible to read Beth’s experiences as a product of her own imagination, arising from her encounters with Filius. We’ve already seen how she and Pen spark off one another creatively, What’s to say she’s not constructed something similar around meeting Filius. Even the Whitey’s encounter with the barbed tentacle could be read as their joint invention. But here no human observers are present, and the reader sees one of the Sodiumites directly. This reinforces the idea planted by the Whitey’s encounter that something strange really is going on. The viscerality of both encounters confirms too that this magical London we’re dealing with is a place that is downright nasty.

And that’s even before we get to the astonishing pathos of this short scene. We’ve already seen the Sodiumites in action, dancing with Filius, suspicious of Beth, generally volatile, and we’ve also seen their antipathy towards the lost Whitey. Attractive as they are in their way, the Sodiumites are also difficult to like; they’re jittery, menacing. Yet here, when we see them under attack, presumably victims of whatever it was that took the Whitey, our feelings towards them must inevitably shift to sympathy. Voltaia’s discovery of Galvanica’s body in particular is made more horrific by the beauty in the details – the body lying half unfolded, the skin frosted with tiny cracks. This moment becomes symbolic of what it is that Filius is fighting against.

Chapter 14

When we return to Filius, we can see already that Beth is setting the pace; while the chapter begins with Filius’s observations, it quickly shifts to third person again as Beth, driven by her desire to help Filius, sets about finding him his army. Although Filius has sent out messages via the Pylon Spiders, this chapter marks the start of their actually visiting people to recruit them to the cause (and here one might think of Lewis’s Prince Caspian and the series of calls that Caspian pays on talking beasts and mythological creatures). The question is, who should they call on?

“Doesn’t your mum have a vicar or two to help us out?” It sounded so simple, so logical.

One of the reasons I wanted to talk about this section of The City’s Son in particular is because I am fascinated by the Pavement Priests, and this is where we first meet them. The setting is a graveyard – we might be familiar with the big burial grounds of London, like Highgate Cemetery, but there are many smaller graveyards, lost, overgrown, dotted around the place, and Filius has taken Beth to one of these forgotten places. Even as they travel there, Beth notices for the first time the cranes ‘sprouting like malign winter trees across the skyline’.

And suddenly, they are in ‘a clearing filled with gravestones where life-sized statues stood sentinel.’ In particular a ‘stone monk stood at the heart of the crowd, his heavy granite cowl shading his eyes’. This is Petris, another of Filius’s tutors, ‘who taught me nearly every dirty trick I know’. Petris is one more in a long line of English monks who go about God’s business in a particularly worldly way – Friar Tuck is the obvious model. But while it is one thing to encounter a stone monk who can speak, the full horror of the predicament of the Pavement Priests is yet to be revealed. One moment Beth is making artless jokes about having a heart of stone (that ‘Petris’ suggests petrified is left for the reader), the next she looks into the stone monk’s face to see in his mouth, ‘flesh lips, pink, parched and peeling’. It will be hard to look at a statue in the same way ever again.

And it is perhaps at this point that we see most clearly what it means to be Mater Viae. She may be a goddess, this does not mean that she is ‘good’. Filius has already commented how she ‘made’ the Pylon Spiders, who live on human bodies, especially their voices, but now we see first-hand what she is capable of. ‘His mother’, says Petris, ‘is not as merciful as she might be’. The Pavement Priests turn out to be trapped in their stone punishment-skins, their deaths sold on by Mater Viae to ensure they pay their debt to her for whatever sins they committed in past lives, leaving them to be born over and over again.

My life had a beginning, but it has no end to give it shape. That’s what our Goddess took from us in payment for our sins: the outlines, the boundaries, the very definition of a life.

How a life is defined is something that haunts this novel. Thanks to her mother’s death and her father’s inability to accept it and move on, Beth’s life has also lost any sense of outline, and since her meeting with Filius, what she thinks she knows about her world has become uncertain. For Pen the problem is quite the opposite; her life is far too well defined and she works constantly to blur the boundaries. As for Filius, one has the sense that he has been marking time, waiting for his mother to reappear or to be confirmed as dead so that he can assume her role, but perhaps also he is content in a way with this invisible life. Yet, as Petris notes, ‘the infinity [Mater Viae] has condemned us to is rather easier to tolerate without her actually around’. In other words, is it worth the cost to now disrupt the status quo? Does the possibility of a broader freedom outweigh the certainty of a limited freedom inside the punishment-skins?

And much of what is about to happen is based on worth, even down to those deaths that Mater Viae has traded. Who would buy those deaths, Beth wonders, and is given her answer: the Chemical Synod – ‘traders, bargainers, barterers’. London has long been a place of commerce, a place where everything has a value, even debt, but the Chemical Synod take this to its logical extreme: height, gravity, heartbreak and death – literally everything has a price, but death most of all, given what the Synod can do with it.

Chapter 15

Every step carried Beth further from the city she knew.

There are so many Londons in fiction (there is a useful list here). More than most cities, it’s easy to imagine alternative Londons in which its past comes alive again. So what marks this London as different from the others? For me it is in part the very modernity of the place. We’re dealing with electricity, telegraphy, neon, razor-wire, lampposts, underground trains and of course, cranes. This is not the past re-emerging so much as the present shaping itself in unexpected ways. And to do that it works with a new urban mythology. Other writers may reinscribe older myths on the city – and why not, given it has seen more influxes of immigrants than we can ever imagine – but Tom Pollock’s characters emerge from the more recent fabric of the city.

And if we were ever in doubt of that before, in spite of Railwraiths, Pylon Spiders and Pavement Priests, this chapter makes it absolutely explicit, when Filius takes Beth to the Demolition Field. Here we see the remains of the Women in the Walls and the Masonry Men, victims of Reach’s demolition men. This is a fantastically resonant scene. We might think of the layers upon layers of burials under London, that turn up in archaeological digs. We might think too of those who lost their lives during the bombings of World War Two. We might think, too, of all those who are displaced as a result of rapid or inappropriate redevelopment in post-war London, with communities uprooted and scattered.

The Masonry Men and the Women in the Walls stand for all those who are displaced by Reach’s ‘pretty little towers [built] out of glass and steel’; this is a novel that is deeply preoccupied with the ongoing rebuilding of London and what it does to the city. How has the city changed as much as it has done yet seemed to somehow remain the same? The city has survived Reach’s earlier depredations and returned stronger than ever, presumably thanks to Mater Viae. Yet, if Reach is now manifested in the cranes that dot the skyline, we’re prompted to think about how the nature of that rebuilding is changing, not least the speed and scale of it. London’s Walkie-Talkie skyscraper, the one that reflects light and melts cars, may have come after the publication of The City’s Son but it’s clearly one of Reach’s buildings, inimical to the people who have to live and work around it.

Chapter 16

London is, as I’ve said, a layered city. It is also a city in which so many people are invisible. Not just the beggars and the homeless sleeping in doorways, those people we mostly pretend not to see, but there are the people who choose not to be seen, not because they live in the interstices of the city, but because they regard themselves as too important to be seen. Business people, aristocrats, people who regard themselves as part of the fabric of the city too, but not in the same way as ordinary people. Tom Pollock hits on an ingenious way of commenting on this by introducing us to the Mirrorstocracy, hidden London’s so-called nobility, with all that entails.

I find the Mirrorstocracy as fascinating as the Pavement Priests, though they are much less likeable. Here we have a glimpse of a deeply privileged group of people determined not only to maintain the status quo but also willing to exploit the situation to their own ends, reminiscent of all too many people at work in London as we know it (this is a deeply political novel, if you look closely). The romance of the Son of the Streets taking up arms on behalf of his absent mother is countered by a group of people who can see how they will benefit from Reach’s building glass towers. Their contempt for Filius is clear in the way they refer to him as the Urchin Prince. It may be a term others also use too but in the mouths of the Mirrorstocracy it is an insult. Clearly, they see themselves as better than royalty. Which may be the case, given their London is not precisely a mirror of Filius’s. London-Under-Glass seems to stand at an angle to Beth’s London as well, relying on accidental juxtapositions to create new inhabitants. Note too the anxiety when Filius offers to flood London-Under-Glass with new Mirrorstocrats. The parvenu is always the greatest threat to the blue-blooded – like them but not like them, undermining their exclusivity, and how. But the means of their creation can, at the same time, become the means of their destruction.

And this, then, may be counted as a small victory for Beth and Filius. The Mirrorstocracy won’t fight willingly but they have been forced to honour their obligation to Mater Viae.

Thanks for reading again folks, don’t forget to let us know what you think about these chapters with #SkyscraperThroneReRead and to check out Paul Walsh at Pip’s Book Reviews next week for the re-read of Chapters 17-20.

Preparing for the launch of Traitor’s Blade

Traitor's Blade SealThat’s right folks, there is only one week left until the launch of Traitor’s Blade. Excited? We know we are, so excited in fact that we have something special lined up for you!

Now remember a couple of weeks ago we told you how to work out your Greatcoat name? Remember we also told you to remember it? Well here is why!

On the 6th of March EVERYONE who changes their twitter handle to their Greatcoat name and their twitter profile picture to our Join the Greatcoats stamp (on the left)*, will get 30% off the hardback of Traitor’s Blade when they purchase it through the Jo Fletcher Books website.

How will we know you have done it? I hear you cry. That bit’s easy too, simply send a tweet with #JoinTheGreatcoats in and we will DM you your discount code.

So if you have worked out your Greatcoat name already, be sure to dig it out, if you haven’t, work it out now and get ready to #JoinTheGreatcoats!

Oh and one more thing – DEFINITELY keep hold of your Greatcoat name and we promise you very soon you will have the chance to #JoinTheGreatcoats for real!

*It should look like this:

Traitor'sBladetwitterExample2

 All you have to do is:

  1. Write down the name of your first school – Mine was Gilbert Scott
  2. Write down the MAIDEN name of your Nan on your Mum’s side – Mine Nan’s maiden name was Morgan
  3. Combine the two – My Greatcoat name is Gilbert Scott Morgan

And the winners are …

Astra cover artWe recently ran a competition to win one of three signed and dated copies of Astra by Naomi Foyle, all you had to do was listen to a clip of the audio book and answer a simple question.

We are very happy to now announce the winners. Drum roll please …

Steve Walsh

Sarah Watkins

David Harris

Congratulations! We will be emailing you all now to organise sending you your copies.

 

That Difficult Second Album …

The last few months have been exceptionally hard, in editing terms, because I have had a slew of second novels coming through, and second novels are always the most difficult to deal with. It makes sense, if you think about it. The first novel has the luxury of time, and the third has the added weight of experience, but the second …

Our Beloved Author has given the first novel everything. It’s been written and rewritten until it’s polished and sparkling. Every sentence has been lovingly worked over until it’s as good as OBA can get it. Admittedly, that might not mean it’s perfect, but it’s as perfect as OBA can make it without help.

And once it’s as good as OBA can make it, it generally goes off to what in my days we’d call ‘friends and relations’ and these days are now called ‘beta-readers’. (They’re still friends and relations, of course, but beta-reader’ sounds so much more professional, doesn’t it?)

That will doubtless entail another round of rewriting as OBA fixes all the things they hadn’t spotted themselves because they’re too close to it all. We have to remember that nine times out of ten they’ve lived with this story for years, which means that they are intimately acquainted with every single character, even the walk-on red jerseys; they know the back story inside out, and they can recite the history and background of their country/city/ planet/galaxy in a way which would have any self-respecting history teacher handing out gold stars . . . and often that’s where the problems arise. If as an author you find yourself telling your reader, ‘But it’s obvious why he’s saying this, because he went to the Galaxy Council when he was 16 with his dad, and that’s where he met The Grand Poobah, and that’s when he fell in love with Scarlatta, who is the mother of the Chief Wizard’s best friend and inventor of the Faster-Than-Light Widget—’ but none of this is actually in the book, so how on earth is any self-respecting reader to guess?

(That’s also one very important reason for having an editor …)

All this means that by the time the first book crosses an editor’s desk, it’s in a pretty good state – it’s got to be, if it has any hope of being bought, because very few editors have the time to take a book that’s almost there and whack it into shape. Potential is all well and good, but we need to see it realised if we’re to take on a book now.

But the second book is a whole different kettle of fish. First of all, OBA is working to a deadline, for maybe the first time in their life, and not everyone finds that conducive to good writing. Me, I needed the news editor standing over me tapping his fingers on the desk and muttering, ‘The presses wait for no one, Ms Fletcher!’ Give me a year and I’ll start work the week before it’s due . . . but I understand not everyone likes to work that way.

Unquiet_House_PBOSecond, they haven’t always had the second book plotted out and ready to go. Editors tend to contract two or three books at a time, for a variety of reasons. First, you’ve seen how much work it takes to get a book through the acquisition process; second, if the first book takes off you don’t want to have to wait another year before you have a new manuscript to start working on; third, it’s good for the author to see that you the editor and the publishing house are investing in you for the long term, not just for one book, and so on. But even though I might contract three books, doesn’t necessarily mean the author has two other books in mind.

Third, even if you do know how the story is supposed to go and what the characters are supposed to do, characters do not always behave as they should. With the first novel you have the time to either start again or beat your hero into submission, because it’s up to you when you submit it. With the second novel, that clock is ticking away …

And then we get to the edit. With the first book that combination of euphoria over getting the contract in the first place and complete ignorance of how the editing process works can often take the sting away. Of course it can still come as a shock to see your beautiful gem changed from a radiant to a marquise cut, but I have found that no matter how much work is done to the first book, the second edit always hits much harder, and particularly if you’ve been received well and have a shedload of good reviews. It can be very difficult to accept an editor telling you that your beloved similes are just not quite cutting the mustard, or that the Cockney dialect you’ve slaved over sounds more like it’s from the Far East than the East End. Never forget that no one has to accept the suggested edits, but if something’s been changed, there must be a reason – so don’t just change it back: look at the problem and find another way round it.

And even once we’ve got the book into production, the difficulties are not over: reviewers are often generous to first-time authors, but getting the second book space is harder – ‘Oh, we reviewed the first one!’ is a phrase I am sick and tired of! And then bookshops follow up with orders like, ‘We sold five copies of Book 1 so we’ll take three copies of Book 2’ – which is an attitude I have never understood …

But in spite of all these problems, I actually enjoy the second book a lot more: first of all, very few authors don’t grow with each book. Second, if it’s a sequel, I can’t wait to find out how the story’s progressing. And third, especially in our genre, we tend to grow slowly but surely as new readers discover OBA, and then go back and find the first book.

I love it when a reviewer says, “Book 1 was good, but Book 2 is great!’

Of course, after the second book, OBA should be getting into their stride now. With any luck they’ve been paying attention to the edit (‘Oh look: I really do use, “raising an eyebrow, he glanced up and nodding his head, he shrugged” every other line’) so the writing will be getting better, the plotting tighter, the characterisation more emotive, so by the time Book 3 comes along, OBA is on a roll*.

So here’s to the difficult second album: long may they rule!

Jo

Jo sig

 

 

 

 

*Talking of third novels, look out for Alison Littlewood’s tremendously spooky The Unquiet House, coming next week: Richard & Judy picked her and compared her to Stephen King, so pick up this one and see if you agree!

Mammoth #SkyscraperThroneReRead: Part 3

The City's Son by Tom PollockThis week, courtesy of the lovely Lisa @effingrainbow, we have the third part of the Skyscraper Throne reread, in other words, chapters 9-12 of The City’s Son. Don’t forget to check it out over on her blog here and follow @jofletcherbooks on Twitter to let us know what you think of the #SkyscraperThroneReread.

Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen. But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind.  (Source)
Today I’m playing host to the Skyscraper Throne Reread, organised by Jo Fletcher Books in the build-up to the third and final book in the trilogy, due in August! This week we’re reading through chapters 9-12. Let’s recap – and in case you haven’t deduced it, please beware of spoilers!“Night seeps in from the sky. The breath from the manholes starts to steam. The city shivers, and draws darkness about it. This is when the Sodiumites dance.” (Chapter 9)

This section introduces one of the fantastical creatures that I love most – the Sodiumites. Glass-skinned dancers who reside in London’s streetlamps, formed of light and electricity, they provide Beth with her second glimpse of the hidden London she’d never known about before her encounter with the Railwraith, and Filius. Here, she tracks him down (as he challenged her to, silly boy) and meets Electra, one of the Sodiumites, into the bargain. Though it seems Electra is less than pleased to find Beth on her patch… Jealous much?!We also get a look at the ruthless side of these beings when they defend their homes – Electra’s lamp, in particular – from what seems to be an invader… Beth may be determined to join with Filius instead of staying lost and alone on the streets, but she might just be in over her head…

In addition to all the wary wonder of Beth’s second meeting with Fil, though, we get another ominous look at what Fil’s enemy is up to. Looks like Reach has a minion, and it’s up to no good… Poor Whitey was just trying to get out of the rain!

“…and here she was, eyeball to eyeball with a spider the size of a small car.‘Remind me why we have to do this again?’ she said. The thing’s eyes were like glittering pits of ash.‘Communications.’ He didn’t look away from the creature as he answered. ‘There’s no point having an army if you can’t talk to it.’” (Chapter 11)
…Ah, yes, the Pylon Spiders.Excuse me while I shudder helplessly… But yes! Following the Sodiumite encounter, Fil introduces Beth to the Pylon Spiders, while he tries to negotiate with the ‘Motherweb’ and gain himself an ally against Reach. Upon finding out how the Spiders maintain their food supply, though, Beth very nearly screws everything up when she tries to set it (read: her) free… Yep, the Motherweb feeds her kids lost souls, the missing persons, the true down-and-outs. Or rather, she feeds them their voices. THIS BOOK HAS SPIDERS THAT EAT VOICES *goes back to shuddering*Thankfully, we get away from all that for a bit, for Chapter 12; it’s back to Pen, who’s got more problems than anybody could guess at… The truth of why she let Beth be expelled instead of keeping her silence comes out here, and the real depths of their friendship, all strain upon it aside, begins to show as well. And to make Pen’s guilt worse, she meets Beth’s dad as well, as he becomes more desperate to find her. Thanks to the graffiti trail left by Beth previously, they’ve got a place to start… But how far will they be able to go?

Find out next time…

 

Anne Bishop is doing a Virtual Book signing

Bishop, AnneAnne Bishop, author of the Black Jewels trilogy, is running her annual bookplate offer to celebrate the launch of her books in 2014.

Here’s how you can join in!

1. This offer ends begins on Thursday, February 20 and ends on Sunday, February 23, 2014, at 8 P.M. US Eastern Time.

2. Quantities are limited, so only one bookplate per person.

3. You MUST put “bookplate” in the subject line of your email and send the request to Anne at anne@annebishop.com.

4. If your name and/or address has any accent marks (especially if you use a yahoo or hotmail account), please please please send your mailing information with the appropriate accents (on the odd chance that they come through correctly) AND also put that information in the same email WITHOUT any accent marks.

Example – An˜®e versus Anne.

If Anne can’t tell what your name is, you will not receive a bookplate.

5. Anne will need a full mailing address in this order:

firstname lastname

street address

street address (if second line is needed)

town state zip code (or the equivalent of those things)

country (if outside the U.S.)

The mailing labels are limited to five lines, so please make adjustments to accommodate that limit. And please type carefully. What you send is what the post office gets. If they reject the address for any reason, there is nothing more Anne can do.

6. If you don’t receive a confirmation email within 72 hours, please resend your request. (But keep in mind that I’m still finishing the third book about the Others, so my response time may be slower.)

7. Yes, Anne will send bookplates to fans outside the U.S.

8. Remember the biggest rule of all! Requests must be sent to me at: anne@annebishop.com

Happy reading!

The Importance of Making a Point

I forgot . . . I’m meant to be doing a blog today. I haven’t even thought about it, which means my brain is coming up with something like:

Fuzz
In my absence last week, many things happened here at JFB towers, including the extremely exciting acquisition of one The City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. We’ve been rooting for this one for a while and by gum is it excellent. In fact, my brain has now gone meandering in the direction of its cover image …

I’ve also missed the many, many emails that have been filtering through to my inbox – including the delivery for typesetting of The Child Eater, by Rachel Pollack, Into the Fire, by Peter Liney (sequel to The Detainee) and Murder by Sarah Pinborough (sequel to Mayhem) and the corrected proofs of Oath of the Vayuputras by Amish (sequel to The Immortals of Meluha and Secret of the Nagas). The result is that I have been running around like a headless chicken attempting to catch up with stuff that is already late anyway. Oh the joys of being an Assistant Editor.

Meanwhile, I am also trying to sort out my house in my ‘spare’ time. Do you know the hardest component to find? The humble soap dispenser. The problem is, I know exactly what I want – which inevitably makes it unobtainable. Luckily this hasn’t happened with The City of Stairs, or this blog would be a lot more melancholy.

Anyway, this whole thing has just reminded me of the importance of making a point. So far, this blog has been a bit of a ramble – what it lacks is a plot, a central hook around which I can build an argument and present something of interest to you, the reader. Too often I come across well-written pieces that do not go anywhere, or synopses that ramble on, much like I am doing. For any aspiring writers out there, do bear this in mind: your plot doesn’t have to be overly complicated or brilliantly twisty, but it does have to be present and you must have a clear idea of it when you are writing your submission letters – it will become the reader’s thread through the labyrinth. When writing a submission letter, identify your hook and boil everything down to this. Because, take it from me, there is nothing worse than a 48 page synopsis popping into your inbox …

On the Need for a Victory Dance!

Robert Jackson BennettI’m going to be brief today (quieten your sighs of relief, Beloved Reader, for my feelings will be hurt!) on account of having a mound of cover copy that needs doing, and it needs to be fitted in amongst a number of vitally important meetings, like marketing budgets, for example: absolutely vitally important, no one would deny, but possibly not the most scintillating subject matter.

And the editorial meeting, where one by one we go through what we’re reading so that everyone else can explain why we should be turning it down instead of hoping to take to acquisition meeting. Obviously immensely important.

And the editorial progress meeting where – wait for it! – we go through the progress of each book up to February 2015. That’s the meeting I dread most, for that usually goes something like: ‘How are you getting on with X?’, to which my response is invariably, ‘It’s on the list.’ And today’s editorial progress meeting is extra important because the lovely George is handing over (temporarily, if she knows what’s good for her) to the sure-to-be-almost-as-lovely Sarah while she goes off and produces a small child. (George, not Sarah. Do pay attention at the back!)

And the meeting with a social media guru, who’s hoping to persuade me to invest in his all-singing, all-dancing software which will help my beloved Authors to use social media effectively (ie to sell books rather than just swap cute cat pictures) – at least that one’s going to be a bit different.

And the meeting with Andrew and Nicola to catch up with all the publicity that’s been happening in the past week while Nicola’s been on her deathbed (and no, not faking just so she can stay home and paint her new house, judging by the pulled muscle from where she’s been coughing so much). Because I am a caring and sympathetic boss I have given her the name of a miracle liniment that will soothe the pain so she can make and carry the tea in without coughing and spilling it …

And the meeting with the eBook team about getting one of my titles – Cemetery Girl, in case you were wondering – into the Kindle Half-Term promotion.

So you can see that much as I would love to spend time enlightening you further about the arcane world of publishing, right now I have other commitments.

But I will take a few minutes out of my insanely busy life to do a little victory dance around the desk, joined by Andrew, Nicola and a gratifyingly large number of Q colleagues, to welcome a new author to the JFB stable.

Yes! I know you have been waiting (im)patiently for weeks and weeks while I tantalise you with hints, but the time has come when I can reveal that all those months of intense negotiation have culminated in the acquisition of The City of Stairs, a sort-of spy novel set in a wonderfully dark and twisted world where the gods that once existed were all killed, and so obviously there can no longer be anything with godly powers …

The author himself said on his website, ‘I mentally sold myself the novel by pitching it as, “Gods as weapons of mass destruction in a realpolitik world.” I wondered what such a world would look like, and then one night I was watching The Third Man and the way Post-WWII Vienna was broken and regulated and divided was so surreal to me, and yet so perfectly true and obvious, that it pretty much had to be used in the book. But the farther I get into it, the more I realize that this is a book about history, and how it’s present with us, influencing what we do, and yet it’s also inaccessible and remote – not unlike a god, in a way.’

And even better news? There’s a sequel – The City of Blades – and I have that too!

So please, let’s have a drumroll and a big welcome to Jo Fletcher Books for Robert Jackson Bennett! I’ve been a big fan of his since Mr Shivers won him his first award and I am thrilled he’s joining the family. Even better: you won’t have to wait too long for The City of Stairs as we’ll be matching the US publication date.

Is that not worth a victory dance?

Mammoth Skyscraper Throne Read-Through: Part 2

The City's Son artworkWith the concluding part of the Skyscraper Throne trilogy, Our Lady of the Streets, hitting shelves in August we decided to do a Jo Fletcher Books first and conduct a complete re-read of the series so far. Last week we looked at chapters 1-4 and this week we delve deeper into @tomhpollock’s secret London, looking back on chapters 5-8 of The City’s Son.

After meeting Beth, Pen and Fil in the first 4 chapters of The City’s Son we are immediately introduced to Beth’s father in chapter 5. It is a short meeting but one that reveals a lot, both about Beth’s past and how it has affected her character. She isn’t just a rebellious teen with a chip on her shoulder. She has lost her Mum, and in many senses her Dad as a consequence, and is a girl struggling to cope, whilst searching for a connection in the world. This was Pen. With this realisation we can fully understand the strength of her feelings after Pen’s betrayal.

Another thing we draw from this brief encounter is a theme that will re-appear throughout the series – people break, ‘but people also heal’. This sense of hope and belief, fuel’s Beth and it is her father’s inability to heal that hurts her the most. The theme of people’s ability to heal is one which comes across throughout not only this novel, but the series, and serves as a positive backdrop as events take our characters to dark places.

We are then once again greeted by a now familiar Thrum-clatter-clatter as Beth is thrown headfirst into Fil’s world and Tom creates an amazing battle between Railwraith’s, Fil and Beth. The culmination of this is the first time that Beth and Fil meet and it is remarkable how similar they are –Motherless, searching for human connection, bravado masking their fear and loyal. Immediately they are connected, and although this meeting is short lived, it fills us and them with the hope that they can help each other, whether it be in fighting monsters (real or internal) or to heal from past pains.

The reaction of both characters after this meeting highlights just that. Beth is able to walk away from Pen, safe in the knowledge that she is not alone, although not without leaving a few breadcrumbs for Pen, and Fil is able to smile at the thought of ‘We’.

Yet this is also a ‘fractured harmony’, another recurring theme in the books. Fil is forced to face the size of the threat not only Reach, but a returning Mater Viae, Our Lady of the Streets, presents to him and Beth finds herself unable to fully heal after the pain of Pen’s betrayal. She is forced to walk away in the knowledge that the only person she could trust to tell the events of the previous night too is someone she no longer feels she can.

In chapters 5–8 Tom builds on the first 4 chapters brilliantly. We are drawn into the characters of Beth and Fil as Tom shows us deeper parts of the souls and starts to reveal what has shaped them. This means we become drawn to the characters as if we have known them through multiple books, rather than multiple chapters, and when combined with the slow revelation of the fascinating Secrete London and its monsters and wars, you can’t help but really care what will happen next.

That brings to a close chapters 5-8. Let us know what you think below. Chapters 9-12 will be the focus of next week’s catch up and the lovely Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow will be hosting. See you there!

Don’t forget … It’s almost Valentines Day

We here at Jo Fletcher Books like to be able to provide you with the occasional public service as well as the frequent great book; and so we feel it is our duty to remind you that it is Valentines Day on Friday! Not sure what to get that special someone in your life? Here are three suggestions for the man or woman in your life – or yourself if you fancy a treat :)

Cementry Girl artworkCemetery Girl

Not only is Cemetery Girl our first graphic novel it is rather good too!

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

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

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

Astra cover artAstra

Our latest SF masterpiece from Naomi Foyle just hit shelves!

Like every child in Is-Land, all Astra Ordott wants is to have her Security Shot, do her National Service and defend her Gaian homeland from Non-Lander ‘infiltrators’. But when one of her Shelter mothers, the formidable Dr Hokma Blesser, tells her the shot will limit her chances of becoming a scientist and offers her an alternative, Astra agrees to her plan.

When the orphaned Lil arrives to share Astra’s home, Astra is torn between jealousy and fascination. Lil’s father taught her some alarming ideas about Is-Land and the world, but when she pushes Astra too far, the heartache that results goes far beyond the loss of a friend.

If she is to survive, Astra must learn to deal with devastating truths about Is-Land, Non-Land and the secret web of adult relationships that surrounds her.

Blood's Pride artworkBlood’s Pride

The first in the Mongrel Trilogy is now out in Paperback so why not start this amazing trilogy now!?

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

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

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

Public service achieved we are heading back to the fun job of reading your Greatcoat names – it’s a tough life we know. But with the time we have saved you by sorting out your Valentines Day purchases why not take a sneak peak at Traitors Blade, discover your Greatcoat name and #JoinTheGreatcoats!?

A sneak peek at Traitor’s Blade

With the Traitor’s Blade eBook hitting [digital] shelves yesterday, Goldsboro Books’ exclusive signed and numbered first edition selling out and less than one month until general release of the Hardback we thought we would give you a special sneak peek of the debut fantasy novel that has everyone talking.


Traitor'sBladeFlipbookAd

Plus – don’t forget to work out your Greatcoat name (combine the name of your first school and the maiden name of your maternal grandmother) – it will come in handy soon! #JoinTheGreatcoats

On being truly excited!

Traitor's Blade artworkLet me start with today’s statement of the bleedin’ obvious: no editor buys a book unless they are genuinely excited about it. I am quite sure you already know this, if for no other reason than you’ve been sharing my excitement this past two years every time I find another gem for Jo Fletcher Books. There are a number of reasons for getting that frisson when we find a new book: because we just love the writing (with any luck that means both story and characters, because we’re very demanding here at JFB!), maybe because it’s got award-winner written all over it, or maybe because it’s got enormous commercial potential …

Unfortunately, publishing is a pit of blighted dreams and failed hopes far too much of the time, and so by the time we get to publication, our expectations are generally rather more modest. But we try never to give up. Ian Rankin’s first Rebus book was not a bestseller. Nor were the second, or third, or fourth … in fact, it was with Black and Blue – his fifteenth book, and eighth Rebus novel – that he finally took off. Patrick O’Brian was no overnight bestseller either, and nor were Charlaine Harris or George R.R. Martin. In fact the list of authors who have slaved away for years before becoming overnight successes far, far outweighs the number of genuine first-time-out-of-the-box bestsellers, and thank heavens for that. It enables us to keep publishing writers who are as yet selling only modest amounts, because there’s plenty of proof out there that just because Daughter of the Blood cover artthe first book didn’t hit the charts doesn’t mean the next won’t.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple: no acquisitions board is going to let an editor continue publishing someone if there’s absolutely no indication that anyone out there is paying any attention, and in these straitened times it’s much harder to persuade the headshed to keep betting on Author A when we’ve got debut Author B who comes with no baggage …

But if the reviews are stellar, and the awards season rarely passed without at least one nod in that direction, and the bloggers greet each new book with cries of joy, then there’s reason to believe that Author A is worth hanging onto for just that bit longer.

It’s also why, every time I hear at a convention (and it is generally on convention panels!) ‘My publisher just threw away my book!’ that I want to stand up and start ranting, starting with, “You have no idea!’

But it’s also why Nicola was almost overcome with excitement at the end of last week when finished copies of Anne Bishop’s Daughter of the Blood came in. She’s told you how she came to read this the first time, and you know it’s her first acquisition – and believe me, you never forget your first!The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar cover art

But here’s the thing: two books came in to JFB on Friday: Daughter of the Blood and Traitor’s Blade. And @LitAgentDrury got one too: The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar (Osprey Books founder Martin Windrow’s heart-rending tale of his life with a tawny owl; kudos to Sally Gaminara, who’s publishing this month!). I can’t begin to guess how many books I’ve published before Sebastien de Castell came my way, or how many Ian’s been responsible for, as publisher, author and agent, but I am pleased to report that Ian was positively ecstatic when he announced this first copy had arrived, almost as overjoyed as I was when I brandished Traitor’s Blade. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that we two veterans of the profession were every bit as thrilled as Nicola was with her first-ever acquisition. I know the Black Jewels trilogy won’t be her last, and I know she’ll get just as much pleasure out of her hundredth as her first.

And that’s why I’m still an editing publisher, all these years on, despite lures thrown out to move up and out. The day I don’t get that overwhelming thrill at seeing that first copy is the day I change jobs.

Jo

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Three signed copies of Astra to give away

Astra cover artThe brilliant Astra by Naomi Foyle was released in Trade Paperback, eBook and Audio Book yesterday. To celebrate we have three signed and dated copies to give away (and yes Naomi did use green pen for this:))

All you have to do is listen to the extract from the audio book below and then answer the simple question. The competition is open until the February 21st.

Good luck!

This competition is now closed.

Some lucky Greatcoats win some prizes

Traitor's Blade SealWith the Traitor’s Blade eBook hitting [digital] shelves on Monday 10th February we decided to give some early eReview copies away to celebrate. We are very happy to announce the lucky people who will receive eReview copies.

All have to do to claim your prize is sign up to Net Galley (it’s free) and email us so we can send you a link to your copy. And don’t forget to remember your Greatcoat name, it might just come in handy!

P.S. Feel free to post reviews on Net Galley, amazon, Good Reads or your own personal blogs once you have finished. Enjoy your books!

Mammoth Skyscraper Throne Read-Through: Part 1

The City's Son artworkYes, readers, in August the final book in the Skyscraper Throne trilogy, Our Lady of the Streets, will be published, and to get ready for it we’ll be reading through the entire series so far – that’s both The City’s Son and The Glass Republic – in a countdown to publication. In a feat never-before-attempted by JFB, bloggers and publisher will come together to summarise and discuss sections of both novels. Beginning with me and chapters 1-4. So, sit back, relax, and let us take you through @tomhpollock’s secret London …

Thrum-clatter-clatter, thrum-clatter-clatter, these are the ominous noises that follow you from chapter one and beyond. It is the noise of the Railwraith coming for Filius Viae, the Son of the Streets and heir to the Skyscraper Throne. He readies himself to throw his spear – and we are launched into Beth’s narrative.

Here Beth and her best friend Pen have broken into their school under cover of night, and Beth is using her artistic talent to deface the tarmac with a monstrous representation of Dr Salt – one of their teachers. The police arrive too soon and they are involved in a chase through the streets of London. The two of them decide to press on through the night, forgo sleep, and head straight to school in the morning.

Meanwhile, Fil is found unconscious by Gutterglass, a rubbish-spirit charged with his care in the absence of his mother, Mater Viae, Our Lady of the Streets. It is this chapter that sees the Crane King Reach established as Fil’s enemy – and the entity trying to kill him.

Finally, having escaped the police, covered their tracks and made it to school, Beth is called to the headmistress’ office – where she finds Pen, Dr Salt … and the backpack containing her paint cans she so carefully buried. Pen has snitched, but is there a more sinister reason behind this betrayal?

Tom does a lot in these short chapters – we are introduced to our hero and heroines, our gods and goddesses, our monsters and the enemy; the world is established in a system so well-rounded, that we assimilate this new information rather than learn it; and the characters are constructed in a way that lets us know them. One of the things that I thought particularly strong about these chapters, is the way in which we are introduced to Beth’s and Pen’s friendship. They are two sides of the same coin, both brave and both artistic in entirely different ways; while Pen’s strength is in silence, Beth’s is in action and they complement each other perfectly. The other theme introduced in these chapters is that of the monster – while there are plenty of actual monsters in this series (creatures which Tom clearly delights in creating), we are reminded that humans can be monsters, too, that our skin is merely a mask for who we really are. In doing so, he shucks convention and brings a darker side to the novel, one that does not shy away from pain or fear, but tackles it head on.

That’s it for this week folks. Come back next week for our thoughts on Chapters 5-8 of The City’s Son and be sure to let us know what you thought of the first four chapters below.

The Joy of a Good Book

Traitor's Blade artworkThere is nothing better than a great book. Recently I have come to appreciate my collection even more because I have not had immediate access to it (the entire contents of my library are currently in residence at my dad’s while we basically rebuild my entire flat). Since removing most of my books, I have had actual cravings to read them. I’ve also come to realise that (along with kickboxing) they play an essential part in keeping me sane. Especially when tube workers decide to cause abject misery to thousands of commuters – I would have been far less angry if I’d had a good book with me.

I love the way time disappears when you really get into a book. When I read the Black Jewels trilogy I read all day and all night forgoing both sleep and food just to finish it. The same thing happened when Jo gave me Traitor’s Blade for the first time, except it also had an unexpected side effect – it made me want to become a badass, sword-wielding hero trained to dispense justice to the land, in other words I wanted to #JoinTheGreatcoats. (Incidentally, when I rewatched Buffy recently, it made me want a similar thing.) Luckily, although I am not eligible to win our competition, Andy made up a way we could get our Greatcoat name. Mine is St Mary O’Donoghue (yes, I am a very Irish Greatcoat), and now I feel like my desire is somewhat sated, all I need to do now is get a thorough grounding in fencing and MMA. If you fancy joining me (and you are eligible to enter the competition) check out Andy’s earlier post here. And remember to keep a note of your Greatcoat name, it could be useful later.

Now, I am off to do *real* work. I wish you all luck in your quest to find the King’s charoites and uphold his Law. Until we meet again …

Nicola

On the Choosing (or Otherwise) of Names…

Traitor's Blade artworkWhitstable Endowed Hurry: it’s not much of a name, is it? I blame my grandmother. Dogwood Burns: now that’s a name. Mattos Mach and Lady Pity Hobson: those are great names. But sadly, as in much of life, you cannot choose your Greatcoat name (well, not exactly) …

If you’ve spent the last week deep in the middle of the Sonoran desert or climbing a remote peak in the Andes or exploring the Mariana Trench you are forgiven for having no idea what I’m talking about. If you do know and have not yet worked out your Greatcoat name, what are you waiting for?

Now’s your chance to catch up with the latest excitement at JFB: the publication of Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade, the first of The Greatcoats quartet.

I was pretty sure we had something special on our hands when Carsten Polzin, the genre publisher at German powerhouse Piper, pre-empted Germany rights on the first few chapters. A pre-empt is when an editor makes an offer large enough to persuade us to take the book off the table; in effect to sell it to them immediately, without going to auction, which is what we would normally do. That used to happen a lot in the good old days of publishing, when no book sold fewer than 10,000 copies and fortunes were made overnight, but in these more circumspect days, offers for foreign language rights tend to be based on having read the whole book – and sometimes the whole series!

Carsten wasn’t alone; Sebastien’s Canadian and so Adrienne Kerr of Penguin Canada rushed in with an offer too …

And we’ve had word that other interested parties are beginning to work out what the fuss is all about, so we’re hoping to have tied up even more foreign deals long before the London Book Fair hoves into view.

But back to Britain, where the proofs went out, as proofs do. When we get to that stage, generally we then have to hang around, kicking our heels, waiting for the bloggers and reviewers and critics to get around to us …

Not this time. Within a day we were hearing the first excited comments (‘Is Sebastien de Castell his real name?’* (‘Can I hate him for that?†’) ‘Does he really sword-fight?††’) And within a couple of weeks Goldsboro Books, who specialise in signed first editions, had sold all their 250 copies on pre-order.

I’d like to be a little blasé and say, ‘Oh, that happens all the time,’ but of course it doesn’t. If our excitement and enthusiasm for a book were always rewarded commensurately, every book we published would be a bestseller.

Traitor's Blade SealIs it just because Nicola drew a fantastic seal (which we got made up into an actual seal) to stamp the invitations we sent to reviewers and bloggers to join the Greatcoats? Obviously that’s got something to do with it.

Is it because everyone loves a superhero name? Maybe …

Mostly, I suspect, it’s because Traitor’s Blade is that unputdownable mixture of fast and dark and funny that captures Our Beloved Reader’s attention from the get-go …

Now, we’re not publishing the print edition until March, but we are making the ebook available from Monday 10th February, and to celebrate that, we’ve come up with a use for your Greatcoat name.

We have a host of special prizes, to be announced with great fanfare and hullaballoo, in due course – but to be in with a chance – and you have to trust me when I tell you they are great prizes! – all you need to do is know your Greatcoat name. Still not worked out how to find it? It’s easy: you combine the name of your first school and the maiden name of your maternal grandmother.

See? That’s why I blame my grandmother!

Watch our Twitter feed and the blog for when and where to use your super new name to win points! And what do points mean? (Sorry, wrong show . . .). But it still means prizes!

Oh, and I know you’re waiting with bated breath to find out if we’ve won our auction, but I’m afraid we’re going to be on hold a while longer while author and agent weigh up their options. So you cannot yet untwist those digits …

Jo

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* He assures me it is.
† Nope, absolutely not.
†† It appears so – watch this space!

And the winner is …

Signed copies of Mage's Blood and Scarlet TidesWe are very happy to announce that we have a winner for our Something special for one lucky reader competition! Before we announce who it is we feel we should let you all know that the winner WAS NOT picked based on how we feel about the character they choose.

Down that road there is only arguments, dissatisfaction and lost friends – and that is just between us preaching the merits [and flaws] of your favourite characters. No, it is not for us to judge who is right in this regard, and neither do we think we could.

So instead we were ‘scientific’. Yep, we closed our eyes, moved the scroll wheel on our mouse up and down and picked the entry the mouse was on when we stopped. And that person was …

Steven Poore!

So well done Steven, if you email us your address we will send you the signed copies, and commiserations to everyone else. But no one goes away completely empty handed. For the viewing pleasure of everyone we give you an interview with David Hair – author of The Moontide Quartet.

Get your hands on Traitor’s Blade sooner than you think

Traitor's Blade artworkHave you heard about Traitor’s Blade? Of course you have! Who doesn’t want to #JoinTheGreatcoats?!

We are very excited to tell you that due to popular demand we are bringing the publication date of the eBook FORWARD to February 10th! To celebrate we are offering up to 100 eReview copies of Traitor’s Blade via NetGalley!

All you have to do to enter is tweet your Greatcoat name* to us, along with #JoinTheGreatcoats between now and 9 am (GMT) on the 6th of February. We will select the winners and your copy will be available that same day!

What are you waiting for? Let the world know you are ready to #JoinTheGreatcoats.§

 

 

 

 

*This is easy to work out, you simply have to:

  1. Write down the name of your first school – Mine was Gilbert Scott
  2. Write down the MAIDEN name of your Nan on your Mum’s side – Mine Nan’s maiden name was Morgan
  3. Combine the two – My Greatcoat name is Gilbert Scott Morgan

§No matter what be sure to remember your Greatcoat name – it may come in handy later. Maybe :)

On the Frustrations of Simply Not Knowing…

Murder cover artI know what you want to know, Beloved Reader, and you are not alone. I am quite sure you will be unsurprised to discover that. Your curiosity is shared by all our JFB authors and their agents, not to mention anyone else connected with JFB (or Quercus or Maclehose or Heron).

But here’s the thing: as much as I would love to do the big reveal, I can’t. In fact, I spent most of last week explaining personally to everyone that I could tell them nothing. And now I am explaining to you that I cannot tell you anything. And it’s as frustrating for all of us here at JFB as it is for you.

So I fear you too will have to gird your loins and wait in foot-tapping impatience for an announcement, just like the rest of us. And I promise as soon as I have something to tell you, I will.

But in the meantime, it’s business as usual – and some very exciting business at that. You will recall, a couple of weeks ago, I shared with you the fun of pulling together an offer for someone who’s written something completely different to previous books – brilliant, but different. I did think it might be a bit of a battle to get this through Thursday’s acquisitions meeting, but in fact my colleagues were positively helpful, even enthusiastic, dare I say, to the point that my suggested advance was approved, as was the publicity plan Andrew put together with Nicola and me. And no, this is not something we normally do, however much agents would like us to, because it’s a waste of valuable time if we don’t win the auction – but in this case we felt that the author and agent needed to see how we would deal with the particular circumstances surrounding this project.

So over a scrummy Pad See-ew (also spelled Si-ou, Sey-oo and ผัดซีอิ๊ว) I presented the pitch to the agent.

And as a result, I am once again back to not knowing … in this case, not knowing if my offer comes anywhere close to what author and agent are expecting. I had hoped @LitAgentDrury was mocking me when he said that ‘Inscrutable Offer Face’ is one of several they have to learn in Agent School, except that this particular agent – a friend of many years’ standing – also has it down pat.

So I have no idea at all how my offer – which I will freely admit was on the sensible side rather than the aspirational* – was actually received.

So watch this space, Beloved Reader, and all will be revealed over the next few weeks. I am depending on you to keep all digits crossed – and when you find out who the author is, I know you’ll understand why.

And now, I am returning to the murky streets of Victorian London, where a scientist who thought he knew better has finally had to accept that there are such things as monsters . . . and his own life is about to change beyond recognition as a result.

Jo

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*An aspirational advance is one that’s never going to be earned out, not in a million years, not unless the book catches the public attention and the next thing you know, every other person around the swimming pool is reading it, and people like Mariella Frostrup are talking volubly – sorry, I must have meant knowledgably – about how it cannot possibly be genre fiction because it’s a literary masterpiece…

Something special for one lucky reader

Signed copies of Mage's Blood and Scarlet TidesTo celebrate that it is Friday, the sun us rising later in the day and setting later in the evening and it is [or is almost] pay day we have a VERY special present for one of you lovely people!

SIGNED COPIES of Mage’s Blood and Scarlet Tides, the first two books in The Moontide Quartet. With book three, Unholy War, due later in the year this is the perfect chance for you to re-acquaint, or introduce yourself, to the series Tor.com said ‘promises to recall epic fantasy’s finest’.

And all you have to do to enter is tell us in the comments section below, before next Friday, your favourite ever character in Fantasy Fiction . This may sound easy but believe us when we say you will soon start debating with yourself, and each other, who should be top of the list. Issues such as humour, courage, skill with the sword, deviousness, entertainment value, and simple badassery have all been bandied about the office as we discussed our favourite characters this morning and so we decided to pass the question over to you.

Let the debating being!

On Treasure Troves

John and Caitlin MatthewsI’ve been thinking a lot about treasure troves. We are Friends of the British Museum, and when the magazine arrives there’s an unseemly tussle as @LitAgentDrury and I vie for first glimpse, which in turn leads to a lot of covetous ‘Ooohing’ and ‘Ahhhing’ and general admiration of the treasures of times past. We both particularly enjoy the stories of discovery – how an unprepossessing lump in the ground turned out to be hiding a barrow containing the remains of a Viking longship and appropriate horde, or the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh was spared from looters because it had been buried beneath workmen’s huts…

Treasures don’t have to be gold or silver (or cursed), of course: we all dream of discovering that spectacularly ugly vase that Great-Great-Aunt Dorrie left us is in fact made of rare Murano glass, or that dusty black and white picture we bought from the junk shop specifically for the frame turns out to be an original Virgil Finlay, or the carpet offcuts in the trunk in the attic are hiding a complete run of Weird Tales

And it’s the heart-pounding excitement of discovery that makes this weekend’s editing so dear to my heart*, for this particular book very nearly never existed … so I am enormously thankful to John and Caítlin Matthews, Penny Billington, Helen Jones, David James and Peter Buckman that it does.

So now the book has been edited and is off to the typesetter, here’s the story I’ve been promising you.

Caítlin and John Matthews are experts in the fields of Arthurian legend and the Dark Ages in general. They met John James, the author of Votan and Not for all The Gold in Ireland† through a mutual interest in the Arthurian cycle (the study of which is known, rather poetically, as the Matter of Britain). They were all attending a performance of The Birth of Merlin, or, The Child Hath Found his Father, a Jacobean play attributed to William Rowley (or Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher ‡ – oh, and William Shakespeare, of course, who is believed by a significant number of experts to have written virtually everything published in the sixteenth and seventeeth centuries; that’s obviously what we in the trade call a marketing ploy!).

At any rate, the play drew John, Caítlin and John to a Welsh theatre and as they sat on the grassy sward, drinking ale and discussing the Dark Ages, Arthurian literature and Celtic Magic (as you do), James told the Matthews, both great fans of his writing, that he had another novel, nearly completed, called The Fourth Gwenevere.

They were, as John said, full of anticipation, but the years rolled on and when John James died in 1993, there was no sign of the book.

Two decades later, the Matthews were discussing the merits of John James with their friend Penny Billington, a Druid and writer (her fiction includes a series of books featuring the Druid detective Gwion Dubh) and they happened to mention the plot of The Fourth Gwenevere. Penny got very excited – until they admitted that as far as they knew, the manuscript had vanished into thin air. They’d long ago lost touch with James’ family – his widow had died in the intervening years – and so that was that.

Except that it wasn’t. Perhaps inspired by her own Druid detective character, Penny started to do some investigating herself, and finding the James’ family became something of a personal quest. Anyone who’s ever tried to track down something specific with little actual detail to work from will have quickly realised that the Interweb is not always as useful as you might think; putting in ‘John James’ family’ today gave me 111,000,000 possible entries…

But the old gods were obviously on Penny’s side, for she eventually found a photograph of James’ gravestone – and now the game was on. She called the cemetery to find out if anyone was still maintaining his grave, which led in time to Helen Jones and David James, his children, and an exchange of letters as she enquired about the manuscript.

And finally an expedition was mounted to the far reaches of the James’ family’s attic, where several boxes of their father’s effects had been stored, and (I really feel we need a racing crescendo here, culminating in a wonderfully timpanic drum roll): they unearthed a collection of dusty, long since obsolete 5¼-inch floppy discs§ that had not been in use for twenty years. They were labelled The Fourth Gwenevere.

Penny, wildly excited, called John and Caítlin, and together they persuaded the family to pack up the discs and take them – personally, by hand! – to a company in Cornwall that specialises in retrieving the contents of such ancient discs. John said the wait for the material felt like years, but they were able to collect the Word-friendly files in just a few weeks.

And what they found was what appeared to be more than two-thirds of a book…

And here’s the BUT you’ve been awaiting:

But: the chapters were not numbered! Not only that, as well as the individual chapters, there were shorter sections, written in a different voice to the main story, that were obviously supposed to fit in between – and at first glance Caítlin and John could see neither rhyme nor reason to their intended sequence.

After Penny’s sterling efforts to find the manuscript, there was no way the Matthews were going to admit defeat. They settled down to reading and rereading the pages, studying them closely until, slowly, they began to make sense of the jigsaw, and John James’ final novel began to take shape in front of them. It took months, but to their delight they discovered that the book was much more complete than they had at first thought.

Finally, with the whole story clear, they started on what they both said was the hardest part: filling in the missing pages. It might have been only a handful of the interludes, and both John and Caítlin had spent years reading and re-reading James’ work, but there was nonetheless a certain amount of trepidation as they set to work.

Finally, they had a complete manuscript, the full approval of the James family and literary agent Peter Buckman, and, after a negotiation hampered by torrential rains and flooding which took out the phone lines in central Germany (where I was on tour with my choir), I finally managed to get my hands on The Fourth Gwenevere.

You have to be patient until this summer, but I promise you that that extraordinary work by Penny and Caítlin and John was well worth it. This is the culmination of the Arthur legend, the final piece in the story, for which we have been waiting for hundreds of years, told with wit and earthy charm. And I defy anyone to find the joins: this is the novel John James wrote, and whilst I regret that he won’t be here to see it published, I am thrilled that it will at last get to see the light of day, for this is true treasure, unearthed from a dusty attic and polished to perfection.

Jo

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*Of course it should go without saying that all my Beloved Authors are dear to my heart.
† Soon to be available in omnibus as a Gollancz Fantasy Masterwork
§ An ancient form of disc used for software storage back in pre-Mac days

Friday giveaway

Seoul Survivors cover artIt’s Friday! To celebrate this wonderful news, and the upcoming release of Naomi Foyle’s Astra, out on February 6th, we are giving away three copies of Naomi’s first novel Seoul Survivors.

And all you have to do to enter is let us know the three things you love about SF, easy right! So don’t be shy, let us know your three things below and before you know it you could have your hands on the beautiful, and brilliant, Seoul Survivors. Winners will be announced later today!

Helping you prepare for Our Lady of the Streets

Tom PollockIn case you didn’t know the final part of Tom Pollock’s The Skyscraper Throne trilogy, Our Lady of the Streets, hits shelves on the 7th of August. Exciting right!?

Well to get you in the mood for it, and make sure none of its amazing intricacies are lost on you, we here at Jo Fletcher Books are going to be running a MAMMOTH read-through of the series so far. Starting with The City’s Son (of course) we will be reading four chapters a week and recapping, and discussing, what happened in them.

Tom will be helping out with the re-read and posting some of the recaps, plus in the final week he will do a Google hang out in which he will discuss the first two books, reads an exclusive extract from book three and answers some of your questions!

But it’s not just about us; we want you to get involved! Pick up your copy and read along, let us know your thoughts, and more than that let us know if there is a week where you would like to do the recapping.

That’s right, if there is a section you just love let us know and there is a chance you could get to write the re-read!

So starting on February 6th be sure to take part in the big #SkyscraperThroneReRead.

Special Editions of Traitor’s Blade

Traitor's Blade artworkWe had a little bit of very exciting news the other day… wait for it… Goldsboro Books, the UKs leading hardback special edition retailers, will be stocking EXCLUSIVE signed and numbered editions of the Hardback of Traitor’s Blade.

Traitor’s Blade is a lead title for next year, it being the first in a brand new series already being compared to Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, so this news is very welcome indeed.

There’s only 250 of them, so we recommend you go and preorder your copy now! I’ve already reserved mine…

Nicola

On Authors Who Change Ship Mid-Stream…

The City's Son artworkI have a busy week ahead of me as I start the process of putting a potential new JFB author through the publishing and acquisitions meetings. I won’t bore you by repeating the process – you know how it all works now – but I tell you this so you’ll feel suitably sympathetic as Nicola, Andrew and I do our damnedest to explain to our Quercus colleagues why the particular author deserves to join Jo Fletcher Books… So please keep all appropriate digits crossed for us, particularly on Thursday morning.

The reason I mention this is not just for the fun of seeing twisted digits all over the place, but because we have a slight problem with this particular acquisition, because this is not a brand-new writer for whom all doors are open, but someone whose name will be (should be) well-known to you. And that name should have readers jumping up and down in excitement (it certainly had me jumping up and down in excitement!)…

So what on earth is there to be worried about, I hear you ask? What on earth can the ‘slight problem’ be?Traitor's Blade artwork

And the answer is easy: it’s that the writer is trying something new.

Now, rest assured it’s worked a treat and the book is wonderful (I promise you I will never take on an author just for the name; if the book’s not good enough, then it doesn’t get that snazzy JFB colophon on the spine, simple as that). But it is different, and different always worries sales forces. You can see their point: imagine the sales pitch if someone who’s made a name for themselves as a writer of literary fantasy suddenly decides the next book’s going to be a John Norman pastiche called Pleasure Slaves of the Counter-Earth, or if a best-selling writer of hard-nosed detective fiction decides chicklit is really the place to be. And don’t laugh: it happens far more often than you might realise – and at least half the time, the new genre suits the writer in question much better, which is of course, the tack I shall be taking.Mages Blood artwork

You can always use a pseudonym if you’re making a dramatic change in style and/or subject – a very close friend of mine made far more money as a female writer of gothic romance than he ever did writing some of the best horror of the 1970s and ’80s, and another’s doing really well in historical fiction after moving through two other related genres… But a new name is not always the answer, not least because not every author wants to do that.

In any case, that’s not an option here, and so our job is to persuade our colleagues that different – in this case at least! – still means commercial, and that, just as importantly, there’s no reason at all why anyone who loved the previous book wouldn’t enjoy this one just as much.

And then I’m off to tell the two authors who delivered (books, not babies, just is case you got momentarily confused) at Christmas that each of them has produced something very special indeed. So, Tom, Sebastien and David: thank you! Our Lady of the Streets, Greatcoat’s Lament and Unholy War are what are known in the trade as absolute blinders. Beloved Reader, I know you are going to love them all.

Jo

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A sneak peak at Daughter of the Blood

Daughter of the Blood cover artJust in case you aren’t excited enough for Daughter of the Blood we bring to you a sneak peak. Enjoy!

PROLOGUE

Terreille

I am Tersa the Weaver, Tersa the Liar, Tersa the Fool.

When the Blood-Jeweled Lords and Ladies hold a banquet, I’m the entertainment that comes after the musicians have played and the lithesome girls and boys have danced and the Lords have drunk too much wine and demand to have their fortunes told. “Tell us a story, Weaver,” they yell as their hands pass over the serving girls’ rumps and their Ladies eye the young men and decide who will have the painful pleasure of serving in the bed that night.

I was one of them once, Blood as they are Blood.

No, that’s not true. I wasn’t Blood as they are Blood. That’s why I was broken on a Warlord’s spear and became shattered glass that only reflects what might have been.

It’s hard to break a Blood-Jeweled male, but a witch’s life hangs by the hymenal thread, and what happens on her Virgin Night determines whether she is whole to practice the Craft or becomes a broken vessel, forever aching for the part of her that’s lost. Oh, some magic always remains, enough for day-to-day living and parlor tricks, but not the Craft, not the lifeblood of our kind.

But the Craft can be reclaimed—if one is willing to pay the price.

When I was younger, I fought against that final slide into the Twisted Kingdom. Better to be broken and sane than broken and mad. Better to see the world and know a tree for a tree, a flower for a flower rather than to look through gauze at gray and ghostly shapes and see clearly only the shards of one’s self.

So I thought then.

As I shuffle to the low stool, I struggle to stay at the edge of the Twisted Kingdom and see the physical world clearly one last time. I carefully place the wooden frame that holds my tangled web, the web of dreams and visions, on the small table near the stool.

The Lords and Ladies expect me to tell their fortunes, and I always have, not by magic but by keeping my eyes and ears open and then telling them what they want to hear.

Simple. No magic to it.

But not tonight.

For days now I have heard a strange kind of thunder, a distant calling. Last night I surrendered to madness in order to reclaim my Craft as a Black Widow, a witch of the Hourglass covens. Last night I wove a tangled web to see the dreams and visions.

Tonight there will be no fortunes. I have the strength to say this only once. I must be sure that those who must hear it are in the room before I speak.

I wait. They don’t notice. Glasses are filled and refilled as I fight to stay on the edge of the Twisted Kingdom.

Ah, there he is. Daemon Sadi, from the Territory called Hayll. He’s beautiful, bitter, cruel. He has a seducer’s smile and a body women want to touch and be caressed by, but he’s filled with a cold, unquenchable rage. When the Ladies talk about his bedroom skills, the words they whisper are “excruciating pleasure.” I don’t doubt he’s enough of a sadist to mix pain and pleasure in equal portions, but he’s always been kind to me, and it’s a small bone of hope that I throw out to him tonight. Still, it’s more than anyone else has given him.

The Lords and Ladies grow restless. I usually don’t take this long to begin my pronouncements. Agitation and annoyance build, but I wait. After tonight, it will make no difference.

There’s the other one, in the opposite corner of the room. Lucivar Yaslana, the Eyrien half-breed from the Territory called Askavi.

Hayll has no love for Askavi, nor Askavi for Hayll, but Daemon and Lucivar are drawn to one another without understanding why, so wound into each other’s lives they cannot separate. Uneasy friends, they have fought legendary battles, have destroyed so many courts the Blood are afraid to have them together for any length of time.

I raise my hands, let them fall into my lap. Daemon watches me. Nothing about him has changed, but I know he’s waiting, listening. And because he’s listening, Lucivar listens too.

“She is coming.”

At first they don’t realize I’ve spoken.Then the angry murmurs begin when the words are understood.

“Stupid bitch,” someone yells.“Tell me who I’ll love tonight.”

“What does it matter?” I answer. “She is coming. The Realm of Terreille will be torn apart by its own foolish greed. Those who survive will serve, but few will survive.”

I’m slipping farther from the edge.Tears of frustration spill down my cheeks. Not yet. Sweet Darkness, not yet. I must say this.

Daemon kneels beside me, his hands covering mine. I speak to him, only to him, and through him, to Lucivar.

“The Blood in Terreille whore the old ways and make a mockery of everything we are.” I wave my hand to indicate the ones who now rule. “They twist things to suit themselves. They dress up and pretend. They wear Blood Jewels but don’t understand what it means to be Blood. They talk of honoring the Darkness, but it’s a lie. They honor nothing but their own ambitions. The Blood were created to be the caretakers of the Realms. That’s why we were given our power. That’s why we come from, yet are apart from, the people in every Territory. The perversion of what we are can’t go on. The day is coming when the debt will be called in, and the Blood will have to answer for what they’ve become.”

“They’re the Blood who rule,Tersa,” Daemon says sadly. “Who is left to call in this debt? Bastard slaves like me?”

I’m slipping fast. My nails dig into his hands, drawing blood, but he doesn’t pull away. I lower my voice. He strains to hear me.“The Darkness has had a Prince for a long, long time. Now the Queen is coming. It may take decades, even centuries, but she is coming.” I point with my chin at the Lords and Ladies sitting at the tables.“They will be dust by then, but you and the Eyrien will be here to serve.”

Frustration fills his golden eyes.“What Queen? Who is coming?”

“The living myth,” I whisper.“Dreams made flesh.”

His shock is replaced instantly by a fierce hunger.“You’re sure?”

The room is a swirling mist. He’s the only thing still in sharp focus. He’s the only thing I need.“I saw her in the tangled web, Daemon. I saw her.”

I’m too tired to hang on to the real world, but I stubbornly cling to his hands to tell him one last thing.“The Eyrien, Daemon.”

He glances at Lucivar.“What about him?”

“He’s your brother.You are your father’s sons.”

I can’t hold on anymore and plunge into the madness that’s called the Twisted Kingdom. I fall and fall among the shards of myself. The world spins and shatters. In its fragments, I see my once-Sisters pouring around the tables, frightened and intent, and Daemon’s hand casually reaching out, as if by accident, destroying the fragile spidersilk of my tangled web. It’s impossible to reconstruct a tangled web. Terreille’s Black Widows may spend year upon frightened year trying, but in the end it will be in vain. It will not be the same web, and they will not see what I saw.

In the gray world above, I hear myself howling with laughter. Far below me, in the psychic abyss that is part of the Darkness, I hear another howling, one full of joy and pain, rage and celebration.

Not just another witch coming, my foolish Sisters, but Witch.

On my first acquisition

Nicola BuddA first acquisition is a big deal, a BIG deal. This is what I want to do with my life, it is my chosen career and I want to make it a good one. It does not necessarily have to sell millions (although that would be nice!), but I do need to give everything to this. This one book (or three) could set the course of my career. Have I made the right decision? I think I have, but I guess, in the end, it’ll be up to you lot.

About three or four years ago I left on the trip of a lifetime, heading round the world. But that’s not where this story starts. This story begins in Laos where, on the tiny Island of Don Khong, near the border between Laos and Cambodia and (incidentally one of the only places in the world where you can still see the Irrawaddy dolphins), I walked into a second-hand bookshop and began to browse. Finally, I found a book called Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop. I bought it and read it in almost one sitting whilst swinging on the hammock outside the little wooden hut we were staying in. Then, horror of horrors, I couldn’t find the second book anywhere. And let me tell you, internet connection on a tiny island at the bottom of Laos is not exactly brilliant.

I had to wait until I hit Australia, a full month later, to look for the book again. And look I did, in all the bookshops I could find… to no avail. It was in New Zealand that I finally got enough internet connection to download it on to my iPod – that’s right, iPod, with a tiny screen – that’s dedication if you ask me. I then read the next two books straight through, over the night and into the morning. They were fantastic, they were utterly, utterly gripping.

Three or four years later (I forget when I was where), I’m sitting at my desk in my shiny (not-so-new at the time) publishing job, when I remember how much I loved it. I check it out on the internet and *pounding heart, sweaty palms*, figure out that the name of the trilogy is the Black Jewels trilogy and that it has never been published in the UK. You cannot imagine the excitement, well, perhaps you can, but it was BIG excitement either way. I downloaded all three immediately (internet connection is slightly better here ;) ), reread them in almost one sitting again (I wasn’t very effective at work for the next few days), and then hesitantly approached Jo with the idea. Who, luckily, is awesome and very Daughter of the Blood cover artsupportive and who said, ‘You know, that sounds like a good idea’. I did some research on the sales numbers (the Black Jewels trilogy also won the William L. Crawford award) and put it to the members of the acquisition meeting.

A quick jig and a very long hop later after some serious contract wrangling, we had the trilogy. I am practically bursting out of my skin in excitement. Also nervousness. Also excitement. Also nervouseness. Excitement. Nervouseness . . . you get the point.

We have some fantastic new covers for them and the first, Daughter of the Blood, is out in March, the second, Heir to the Shadows, in May, and the third, Queen of the Darkness, in July. They are out in PB. You can check out Anne Bishop’s website here: www.annebishop.com for more info. If any reviewers out there fancy checking it out, just Tweet us @jofletcherbooks or DM us, it’ll get to the right people (namely Andrew, he’s the man behind the Twitter account, he’s also our publicist – handy).

Finally, if this blog hasn’t reiterated enough, I heartily recommend this book; it subverts the usual fantasy tropes, contains romance that does not result in a loss of world-building and explores difficult subjects and then the healing to come, all contained in a gripping, fast-paced read. Why not give it a go for yourselves and decide what you think?

Nicola

On an over-abundance of riches, or, you cannot ever have too much of a good thing!

Cementry Girl artworkAnd what better way to start the New Year than having too many wonderful books to choose from instead of too few?

(’Choose for what?’ I hear you mutter. ‘Starting the middle again, Fletch!’) Fair point: so let me take you back three weeks or so, to when I was asked by various websites and bloggers to pick X number of books to preview for the coming year, where X is a number between three and six. You know what I’m going to say at once, of course: how on earth can I just pick X when all our books are wonderful and anyone I don’t select is going to crawl off into the corner and pretend they don’t care?

Here’s the thing: editors are always being asked to rank their books – when they’re scheduling, when they’re presenting to key accounts meetings and sales conferences, when they’re trying to sell rights at London and Frankfurt Book Fairs* – even when they’re trying to buy more than one project, they have to list them in order of importance – even if there are no real differences in practical terms.

It doesn’t matter what the reason, it’s one of the most difficult things we have to do, because (and here’s the big secret!) no one takes on a book they don’t wholeheartedly believe in. I know a lot of writers who feel that their publishers have let them down because they didn’t immediately become overnight bestsellers will not believe that, but it’s true: buying books, whether it’s new writers or continuing authors, is not easy. No one is going to go through the publishing meetings and acquisition meetings and acquisition forms and canvassing opinions and presenting and fighting and then, once they’ve got the book, making the offer, chasing the offer, going back to the acquisition meeting to raise the offer (or not), then writing the AI, briefing the cover, writing the cover copy, checking the cover, rewriting the AI, rewriting the Empress of the Sun artworkcover copy, writing the catalogue copy, rewriting the rights guide copy, editing the manuscript, putting together a style sheet, going through the edit, collating changes, finding a proofreader, collating author and proofreader’s changes, presenting the book to sales colleagues, talking to publicity and marketing teams, visiting bookshops, shifting copies from one shelf to a better one – what have I forgotten? Oh, so much! But my point is, publishing is not simple and no one goes through all that just for the hell of it.

So when someone says: what are your five best books for 2014, it’s not a simple choice. First, you have to look at the audience: if it’s a horror-based website, you can put the SF to one side for now (unless it’s Colin Wilson or HP Lovecraft, who was originally published as SF. But let’s not confuse the issue, shall we!) But if it’s a general genre website you can’t do that. You’ve only got a few spaces, so you can get away with new writers – no one in the stable is going to get upset if you’re doing that. But what if you haven’t enough to fill all the slots? Or you have too many? So you need to bring other criteria into play.

And that’s why such a simple request took me longer to write than almost anything else. And even then, even after slaving over my list, and swapping backwards and forwards, I ended up pressing ‘Send’ and thinking, ‘No! I should’ve mentioned . . .’ not once but half a dozen times.

And the reason for that is that as I enter my third full year of publishing (my, doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself?) I find myself almost salivating over the basket of goodies I have for you. It almost makes up for the thunder and lightning and black skies and torrential rain currently sweeping the streets of East London in fine apocalyptic manner.

But because I have already run out of space, and because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I will do this a month at a time . . . doesn’t mean I won’t mention othCrimson Psyche artworkers from time to time – after all, you all know how very excited I am to be publishing John James’ last, long-lost manuscript, The Fourth Gwenevere, as well as introducing Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats to the fantasy canon, not to mention bringing Rachel Pollack into the JFB stable, and -

No! This way lies madness, I tell you!

After all, it’s not like January is not full of riches in itself, for we’ve kicked off with Cemetery Girl, Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden and Don Kramer’s first graphic novel together – and mine – and it’s already getting some stonkingly good reviews. I can’t wait to see Lynda Hilburn’s Crimson Psyche released: if you’re into vampires, then Kismet Knight, Vampire Shrink should be right up your street (and do look out for the terrific new covers for the first two in the series: Vampire Shrink and Blood Therapy). And Ian McDonald’s thrilling YA series continues with Empress of the Sun – Everett Singh and the Airish girl Sen, airships and dinosaurs? What could be cooler?

So welcome to 2014. Ignore the weather, don’t mourn the tree and tinsel but warm yourselves in the heat of some great books.

Jo

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*And yes, since you ask, I have had my first request for a meeting at London Book Fair. In April.

Beat Blue Monday

Cementry Girl artworkJo Fletcher Books would like to help you beat Blue Monday and get your 2014 off to the best start possible. And so we will be giving away 5 copies of our very first graphic novel, Cemetery Girl. All you have to do to enter is tell us who your favourite female heroine is and why, they do not have to be from the world of comics, in the comment section below.

5 lucky winners will be chosen next Monday, each of whom will receive a copy of the graphic novel. Good luck!

Crimson Psyche is here!

Crimson Psyche cover artBook 3 in the Vampire Psychologist series by Lynda Hilburn, Crimson Psyche, hit shelves yesterday and to celebrate we are giving away 5 copies of the book. To enter all you have to do is let us know what you think the biggest ‘perk’ of being a vampire would be.

Tell us in the comments section below and we will pick the winners next Friday!

And so 2013 has come to an end …

I won’t keep you long…

…but I can’t let the New Year arrive without saying:

THANK YOU!

I won’t pretend 2013 wasn’t a hard year, with the loss of so many dear friends, including some true greats of the fantasy world, but there were also some amazing moments too, not least the 2013 World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. WFC brought together so many fantasy authors, artists, agents, editors and publishers, not to mention reviewers, bloggers and Tweeters, and of course readers from all over the world, and that was a real thrill.

So thank you, WFC team, for all your hard work.

And I’ll take the moment to wish the team behind Loncon, this year’s World SF Convention, an equally successful event; I’m already looking forward to meeting you all again, this time by the side of the Thames rather than the English Channel.

I’d like to personally thank all my colleagues at Quercus, too many to name (and more importantly, I’m bound to forget someone, who will be incredibly hurt by my thoughtlessness), for everything from getting contracts out to physically producing the books, to marketing, publicising and selling books and rights, with extra-specially huge thanks to the much-missed Lucy and her very welcome replacement Andrew in publicity, and of course, to Nicola, my Girl Friday and Right-Hand Woman. This would be so much harder without you.

But even more than Q, even more than Lucy and Andrew and Nicola, I must thank our Beloved Authors, for not only would Jo Fletcher Books not be here without you, but we would all be much the poorer for your lack.

And without our Beloved Reader, these magical tales might as well be whistling in the wind.

So let me end by raising my glass to you and wishing you all the compliments of the season:

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Jo

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Why is Christmas so early this year?

Blood will Follow artI have just realised that Christmas is now just nine days away – nine* – and I, of course, have at least a month’s work of worth to finish by then. How very thoughtless, to put Christmas on December 25th!

And the trouble with this time of year is that @LitAgentDrury and I have to actually behave like Real People for a change: we have to entertain (and be entertaining), and go to events and generally Make Merry when what we should be doing is Painting Toy Soldiers (him) and Editing Books (me). Some years ago there was a Lifestyle Quiz that told you what sort of party person you were, and both Mr Drury and I came out as Gregarious Anti-Social, which was, we thought, the perfect description. So as we can’t roll up the drawbridge and drop down the portcullis and cut Fletcher-Drury Towers off from the world, we will instead gird our loins and venture out to sing carols and drink mulled wine and worry about the editing next week.

I’m not even going to mention the builders who are at this very minute making sure every door is left wide-open, so there’s a hefty through-draft; that’ll ensure the house achieves Arctic temperatures as quickly as possible so they don’t have to divest themselves of any of their layers before they tear my kitchen apart. Again. (I’ve decided the whole ostrich-head-in-the-sand thing is the best way to deal with builders. If I can’t see what they’re doing – or not doing – I can’t possibly be as bad as I think it might be. That’s obviously the adult way to handle such things.)

Murder artIt’s impossible to work when builders are around at the best of times, so instead I’m going to get on with some JFB housekeeping in the form of scheduling for 2014/5. I’ve had to move a couple of books because they’re running late, and the knock-on effect is always a nightmare, even in a small but perfectly formed list like mine.

It’s a bit like musical chairs, and it goes like this: I have to move A Putative Bestseller from April to August because the copy-edit’s three months late. That means I’ve got to (a) see if there’s anything that is close enough to done to move into April in its place, then, (b) move Critically Acclaimed Tearjerker out of August (which is lucky, because the author’s late delivering, so that can go to October). So that makes space for A Putative Bestseller – but look: I’ve got two books in July and the other is A Possible Hit, which is a bit too much like A Putative Bestseller, so perhaps we’d better shift the latter to September and replace it with Phew What a Scorcher!, but I really wanted to move that to July, because it’s more of a summer read, but that would mean I would have to shift Hot Tales to May so they don’t clash . . . but I’ve now got three books in May and I don’t want to bring out more than two books a month, so Wonderful Worldbuilding: An Essay Book 2 will have to go to September August…

I can have hours of fun with scheduling…

Of course, I wouldn’t want you to think my job is all hard. Here’s what I’m looking forward to over the next few weeks: Tom Pollock delivering Our Lady of the Streets – Huzzah! Finishing editing Peter Liney’s Into The Fire – poor old Clancy; he really does go through the mill for those he loves! Following Snorri’s hapless Vikings as they start on their Scandinavian odyssey in Blood Will Follow. And returning to the mean streets of Victorian London, where a certain Eastern European monster has plans for Britain’s very first profiler in the appropriately titled Murder . . . How festive is that?

Next week: Oh My God it’s Christmas already…

*And now it’s eight days away because Life got in the way of finishing this. Again.

Merry Yule!

Something special this Christmas

LPhoto appropriated from Aidan's website (www.aidanharte.com) Left to right: Odysseus, the artist, the Lotus Eater, Telemachusooking for a really extra-special Christmas present for your nearest and dearest? Want to make it a Yule you’ll never forget? If so, we have just the thing – but you have only four days to nab what will undoubtedly be a truly unique gift. After all, who would not be thrilled to find a three-foot-tall head of Odysseus (for example) under the Christmas tree, or a mythical bronze monster peeking out from a Christmas stocking?

Thanks to our very own sculptor-turned-writer Aidan Harte, you now have the opportunity to make someone’s wildest dreams come true! In between writing The Wave Trilogy for Jo Fletcher Books, Aidan’s been busy sculpting and casting his a new show, ITHACA, which debuted at the Sol Art Gallery in Dublin at the end of last month.

Now Aidan’s collection of striking portraits, elegant figures and fantastical creatures inspired by Odysseus and his adventures are joining the works of fellow Irish artists for the Irish Originals exhibition, opened Tuesday night by Irish designer and artist Paul Costelloe at the prestigious Mayfair Gallery in Cork Street. But you’ll have to move quickly: the works will be in residence only until Saturday 14th December!

JO THE RIPPER…

…is what BBC producer Geoff Ballinger dubbed me on Thursday as we were discussing the reaction of writer Rhian Waller to the on-air critique of her book…

Perhaps, just like the letter accompanying an unsolicited manuscript exhorted Nicola last week, I should start at the beginning. (Yes, I know, where else would you start reading a novel? I doubt it’ll come as any surprise that we weren’t overwhelmed by that particular submission either . . .)

Phil RickmanSo, as promised, I shall start at the beginning. From time to time I am invited by bestselling crime writer Phil Rickman (check out his latest, The Magus of Hay, published by Corvus) to join him on his regular BBC Radio Wales radio book show Phil the Shelf in the section of the show where he asks a writer, publisher or agent to critique a chunk of novel submitted by a willing listener. It’s not unlike doing a workshop, but in this case it’s not up to twenty people hearing the unvarnished truth about what I think of someone’s work; it’s thousands of listeners, and thanks to the magic of the BBC iPlayer, not just in Wales. Phil’s producer – in this case the redoubtable Geoff – will send me a synopsis and first few chapters of a novel and a week or so later Phil and I will discuss it on air, and when we’ve expounded on both the good and bad, then he’ll bring in the author to pass on our various words of wisdom. I do it for a number of reasons, only one of which is that I might well find something wonderful (and although it’s not happened yet, I live in hope).

Until Ian turned to the Dark Side and became an agent, I generally turned down submissions by saying, ‘Sorry, it’s not right for me.’ That simple sentence has the added bonus of being absolutely correct – but as @LitAgentDrury always points out, it might well be true, but it’s not very helpful. If there are specific things that didn’t work for me but might be right for someone else, it would be a little churlish of me not to point that out. So now, if there is something specific I can say (and do bear in mind that there isn’t always) I try to add a little more, even if it’s just an extra line (‘I personally don’t care for second-person-present-tense narratives where “you” turns out to be a stuffed crocodile sitting in a long-forgotten Cabinet of Curiosities stuffed away in the back of a seldom-visited town history museum in the middle of nowhere.’) That sort of thing.

When it comes to doing a show like Phil the Shelf, it’s even more important that the authors are left with an idea of where to go next. As the show’s pre-recorded and I never know which of my comments Phil and his producer are going to go with (pay attention to this line as it has an unexpected knock-on effect later on), I try to find several good things to say. What’s used (or not) can depend on timings as much as anything; sometimes a script can really spark off a debate and it takes the loud clearing of a time-conscious producer’s throat as a less-than-subtle reminder that the studio’s booked for an hour, not a week, to get us to shut up.

This particular show, recorded a couple of weeks ago, was going to be pretty easy, I thought. Geoff had sent a choice of two and as I had neither authors’ names nor biogs to influence me in any way, I picked the one he described as magical realism. As soon as I read the brief synopsis for Eithe’s Way I asked my Irish colleague Niamh how to pronounce ‘Eithe’ (assuming it was Gaelic and not wanting to make a complete fool of myself on radio). In fact, it wasn’t; Niamh was born at the height of the Gaelic craze and her schoolfriends were all Sineads, Aoifes and Aislings, but she’d never heard of an Eithe… so it was with some trepidation I opened the manuscript and started to read, as I was already trying to work out how I could avoid mentioning either the title or, as I quickly discovered, the name of the main character.

As it turned out, the author managed to win back some of the Brownie points lost for unpronounceable names (always high on my list of Things to Avoid) by including a conversation on how to pronounce her name (Ee-thee, if you’re wondering). The downside was that I had to get to Chapter Five; the upside was that the chapters were very short.

I generally read through the piece once, for immediate first impressions, then I go back and work my way through looking for specific point to talk about, and then when Phil and I are patched through to each other, we both have a list of things to discuss. And as it’s for radio, I have to read the whole piece. (You know what happens now: I start whining about how much time it all takes, especially when I’ve got edits stacking up behind me. So as that now goes without saying, let’s move on.)

Once we’ve wrapped, Phil and I generally keep on chatting a bit, exchanging state-of-the-nation wisdoms and witticisms – and then one of us will say something that will spark another thought about the book we’ve been discussing . . . at which point Geoff will reveal that he was still recording so we don’t have to say it all again. (Phew! How fortuitous is that?)

And from my point of view, that’s generally that. Thanks to the wonders of iPlayer I can at least listen to Phil the Shelf these days… and thanks to having the memory of a stuffed crocodile, I never do actually remember to tune in (or by the time I do it’s two weeks down the line and I’m listening to Jasper Fforde or Phil’s report from the Hay Winter Book Festival instead of me. I bet you’ve guessed I didn’t manage to listen to this one either.

But this one was slightly different, as it turns out, because the author in question turns out to be not just a Ph.D. student in creative writing but a journalist too (and yes, one of the nice things Phil and I both agreed on was that it was pretty obvious the author could write, so we called that one right at least). She writes for the Leader group and has a column in News North Wales, which somehow got picked up by BookBrunch, the British publishing industry’s daily news magazine. David North, Quercus’ MD, took great delight in forwarding me the link… which said starkly, ‘Jo Fletcher told me what was wrong with my novel – on the radio’.

Well, that was okay: I did, and it was. (But I said nice things too!)

Unfortunately for me, I was out all that day with an author, and it is such a nightmare trying to download anything from the internet on my phone that I don’t generally bother … but I was interested to see where this had come from, so I did try to click on the link.

All I could get up was: TEARS AND TRAUMA AS CRITICS RIP MY BOOK TO SHREDS.

NO! I thought, followed swiftly by, But I said nice things too! followed equally swiftly by, I’m sure I said some nice things . . .  and then, Did they cut out all the nice things? followed by, ARGH!

And in between trying to concentrate on my one-on-one edit session, I kept running back Phil’s and my conversation through my head and coming up with the same result, which boiled down to ‘Maybe a little harsh in places, but I’m sure we were fair.’ (And when I emailed Geoff in a little bit of a panic, he agreed with my summing up.) So I almost stopped panicking…

When I did finally get home and called up the piece, I discovered to my enormous relief that the headline of Rhian Waller’s piece had in fact been written by a sub, not the author. As a journalist I was impressed; it did the job it was supposed to: it got me to read the piece (and was marginally within the bounds of truth!). As one of the critics accused of destroying someone’s life, I was less impressed, because contrary to the headline, Rhian’s piece must have been almost as hard to write as listening to us tear her book apart was.

Here’s the link to Rhian’s piece:

http://www.newsnorthwales.co.uk/news/128809/tears-and-trauma-as-critics-rip-my-book-to-shreds.aspx

Which I commend to the house, because you always hear things from my point of view, but very rarely from the jilted author, and in this case Rhian’s really made me think. I’m doubly glad I try to find reasons for why a book doesn’t work for me (although I will say again: sometimes you can’t. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to explain why a book’s not for you other than gut feeling). Rhian said she’d been trying to get published for several years and had amassed more than 40 rejections thus far, but this was the first time she’d been given a straightforward critique, so I’m pleased that Phil and I were able to give her that.

When you read Rhian’s piece you’ll discover that it was a horribly painful experience, not least because thousands of listeners heard us turn her down too, but she’s still glad she submitted her book to Phil the Shelf. I admire her doubly for then going through it all over again by writing about it in her column (just in case someone missed the show).

Here’s the thing that I never do forget, but sometimes it just doesn’t show: every time I send out that ‘not for me’ letter, and every time I do a workshop, or a show like Phil’s, it may be just one more time for me, but it’s months and years of a writer’s life. We editors and publishers, we do know that, and if sometimes we come across as harsh or unfeeling, it’s weight of work, not that we don’t care. We do, I can promise you, and the proof is that we still read unsolicited manuscripts; we do workshops and programmes like Phil’s.

Phil asked Rhian, ‘Where are you going with this next?’ and in her piece, she says, ‘To the bin, I think.’

It may be that Rhian feels this particular book’s unfixable, or that she’s spent enough of her life on it, or she’s sick and tired of it, or that she can’t see how to make it work, and any and all of those are perfectly valid reasons for binning this particular project. It may be that Eithe needs to sit in a bottom drawer for a while and percolate, and it may be that Eithe should disappear… but just because this book doesn’t make it, doesn’t mean the next one won’t. Writers write because they can’t not write. Sarah's EventI suspect I’ll be seeing more of Ms Waller in due course. I certainly hope so.

And I am extremely glad I didn’t reduce her to tears and trauma…

And so to Blackwell’s in London’s Charing Cross Road for last week’s launch of Sarah Pinborough’s highly acclaimed and much-lauded novella The Language of Dying, where I had the great pleasure of meeting ‘Dad’ (aka Mr Pinborough senior) and Sarah’s sister Laura. It’s a great shame that diplomats know all about ‘off the record’ (as do journalists, obviously), so I am sworn to secrecy…

But ah, the tales I now know. Thanks, ‘Dad’!

Jo

Jo sig

Is it too soon to be excited for January?

We know Christmas isn’t even here yet. There’s shopping to do, food to eat, drink to drink and family and friends to see.

BUT …

Why not take a second and plan what you will be spending all of your Christmas book vouchers on?

Cementry Girl artworkCemetery Girl

Written by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden. Artwork by Don Kramer.

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

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

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

Empress of the Sun artworkEmpress of the Sun

Ian McDonald

When Everett Singh’s dad was randomly sent to one of the many parallel worlds in the multiverse, Everett discovered a way to find him on the quarantined planet E1, home of the terrifying Nahn.

Now he, along with the crew of the airship Everness, has followed a trail to the next world and his father.

But this is a world where dinosaurs have had sixty-five million years to evolve, where death is the key to the throne and where the Empress of the Sun has a plan to wipe out every other creature on her planet… and then take her conquest to Earth.

All she needs is Everett’s infundibulum…

Be My Enemy artworkBe My Enemy (Paperback release)

Ian McDonald

Everett Singh has escaped from his enemies with the Infundibulum – the key to all the parallel worlds. But his freedom has come at a price: the loss of his father to one of the billions of parallel universes in the Panopoly.

E1 was the first Earth to create the Heisenberg Gate, the means to jump between worlds, but it was quarantined long ago. No one goes in… and nothing comes out. But E1 has something that Everett needs: the means to find his father.

It’s lucky that he has the support of Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth, her daughter Sen and the unique crew of the airship Everness, because Everett is about to discover the horrifying secret of E1 and, with it, his deadliest enemy.

Crimson Psyche artworkCrimson Psyche

Lynda Hilburn

When Kismet Knight became the Vampire Psychologist, she didn’t bank on discovering that vampires are, in fact, real – let alone falling for an 800-year-old master vampire.

But that’s now the least of her worries. A hunter is out there, and he has plans for Kismet. When a strange, cold darkness brushes the back of her thoughts, it awakens Lust, a dangerous part of her psyche she cannot control.

Kismet had better hope that her friends will find the answers, because this is enough to make anyone lose their mind…

Blood's Pride artworkBlood’s Pride (Paperback release)

Evie Manieri

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

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

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

Launch of The Language of Dying

Sarah Pinborough and Will CarverNot only was yesterday the launch day of the amazing The Language of Dying but we also had a little party to celebrate!

Starting off in Blackwell’s on Charing Cross Road in London Sarah was interviewed by the ever charming Will Carver in what proved to be a very enjoyable ride through the world or swearing, apologising to parents, glows and bubbles within bubbles. Sarah then signed copies of the book as the crowd mingled, ate cookies and drunk wine before we all headed to the pub to continue celebrating!!

Thank you Sarah, and Will, for entertaining us and everyone who came along for making the night so special!

 

 

 

Sarah's Event

On Keynotes and Trends (without the boring bits!)

So now you know all about my fabulous four-day extravaganza in Singapore, and I realised the only thing I haven’t told you about is the actual keynote speech. There are many times that I’m grateful for my previous life as a journalist (or gutter press hackette, as my nearest and dearest christened me after my first splash and spread – a front page story that leads on to two or more pages inside, in case you were wondering. And yes, it was a doozie! I earned so much money that I bought a washing-machine. I wanted a Porsche, but I always was the sensible Fletcher . . .) One of the things that career left me with is an understanding that try as I might to change, I actually do my best work when someone is standing over me with a scowl and a stopwatch shouting, ‘The presses won’t be waiting for you, Miss Fletcher: when I said I wanted it now . . .’

46847_Alex_MMP_Blue.inddSo discovering that I was in that strange fugue state you get after a high-octane week of meetings, parties, panels, parties, interviews, parties and absolutely nothing resembling sleep whatsoever and I had less than a day in which to come up with a half-hour speech on publishing trends that would be both entertaining and informative – and that all the notes I’d so carefully prepared had been filed somewhere safe and wherever somewhere safe was, it wasn’t immediately accessible onboard flight EK002 to Singapore via Dubai – was obviously no real problem at all. Well, once I’d  ascertained there was no way on earth to reschedule this particular gig.

Luckily for me, everyone always asks about new trends in publishing, and right now there’s only one thing they want to know, and that boils down to: When will ebooks take over the printed word once and for all? (Oh yes, there’s another one too: how can I become a bestselling writer? But this being a publishing symposium I felt it fair to assume most of my audience would be more interested in ‘A’ than ‘B’*.)

At any rate, I have my own views on the ebook question, not to mention some notes from some previous speeches and a couple of ebook-focused industry events I’d recently attended, and I boiled them down to this: many people are vocal in their certainty that ebooks will overtake print books in volume sooner rather than later, but I think we’ve a way to go before that happens – leaving aside collectors and specialist subjects like art and photography, which do not yet lend themselves easily to the ebook format, too many people still like to own physical copies.

(There you are: you get the main point without having to listen to the rest of the boring facts and figures. Or the joke.)

I talked about the pluses for ebooks, which are glaringly obvious: lower costs, which get increasingly important as the price of raw materials and production soar; the ability to change font sizes (and I won’t pretend that’s not becoming more and more useful in an ageing population), and let us not forget ease of use: on a beach in Turkey, @LitAgentDrury and I were discussing crime writer Adrian McKinty, of whom we are both fond, and we realised we’d missed the new book. It took enormous effort to track it down: we walked a few yards to the little café perched on the mountainside, Ian summoned it to his ereader and read it that afternoon as the Aegean Sea gently lapped the sands of our secluded little bay.

And there’s another upside to e-publishing that we might not have foreseen, at least at the start, and that’s the ability of writers to react quickly to readers’ views. Serial publishing is again becoming popular, and some are using the old ‘Fighting Fantasy’ format: Your hero can either: A: Kill father, mother and siblings to take the crown, or, B: Dress up like a boy and learn how to be an assassin so she can take the crown, or, C: dress up in your prettiest frock and run off with the prince of the country next door so he can take the crown.

I tracked down this one example, which I found fascinating: a romance writer, Tawna Fenske, who chose to allow her readers to decide which of three suitors her heroine would pursue. The statistics (67.3 per cent of which are invariably made up on the spot) showed that 53.3 per cent chose Collin, a Hugh Grant type; 16.8 per cent chose Pete, the handsome but unavailable co-worker; and 29.7 per cent of readers liked Daniel, the heroine’s emotionally distant boyfriend.

Ms Fenske had originally planned to ditch poor old Daniel by sending him to prison (because obviously a romantic heroine can’t fall for the bad guy when he’s actually in prison) – but when she saw the statistics she decided thirty per cent was too big a chunk of her audience to ignore, so Daniel got to stay free to fight his corner. (And no, whilst I have no idea who won the gal in the end, I do know it was reader choice!)

There’s lots more – the ebook-only lists, like the Gollancz Gateway project, bidding fair to publish every out-of-print English language SF and fantasy novel ever (the redoubtable Darren Nash has already digitised close to 3,500 titles), and Little, Brown’s The Crime Vault, which aims to do the same with crime and thrillers. And there are downsides too, the most obvious one of which is that there were more than 420,000 ebooks published in English last year – compared with around 140,000 print titles – and only a handful became bestsellers. The average sale is a few dozen copies.

There is also the issue of ‘gatekeeping’, especially in light of both WHSmith’s & Kobo recently having had to shut down their websites and apologise while they tried to remove porn after one British newspaper discovered just what you could find when you typed ‘daddy’ into their search engine: as well as heartwarming collections of bedtime stories for youngsters, it also brought up (alleged) tales of bondage and sexual humiliation. Amazon had to remove some porn last year after similar complaints – mind you, thanks to the indiscriminate nature of their search engine, they also removed dozens of classics (a bit like early UK government websites famously blocking anything from Scunthorpe . . .)

So there we are: pages and pages of speech on ebooks, and all of it fascinating. And the ebook stuff led inexorably onto the second trend, which comes about as a direct result of e-publishing, and that’s the democratisation of publishing. (You’ll note I am not saying ‘good’ or ‘bad’ after each of my trends!) Writers no longer have to rely on publishers to bring their work to market. Of course, people like me think this can be a bit of a problem: how is our Beloved Reader to tell whether something self-produced is going to be written well enough to hold a sentence together, let alone a plot?

Nonetheless, it is both cheap and easy to produce print or ebook copies on demand, and self-published authors do have a competitive advantage: they get better royalties, they never go out of print, they can get the book straight to the market without bothering about any of that pesky editing, proofreading, marketing, selling in and so on. Most importantly, at least as far as the authors are concerned, they have complete creative control. That is obviously a good thing if you are trying to sell your 800,000-word YA opus The Twilight Prince’s Game of Thorns, about a psychotic 17-year-old boy who has to fight all his fellow psychotic 17-year-olds if he is to take the throne and marry his vampire sweetheart. (I think it’s a winner!)

As a result, the stigma of self-publishing is fast disappearing. When I started out as a journalist, everyone in the newsroom used to dread being sent to interview the local who had self-published – not for nothing was it called vanity publishing: those who took that route did so only because they could not find a publisher – and because we had to read the books before we interviewed the author, it became glaringly obvious they generally couldn’t find a publisher because they were simply not good enough writers.

Things are different now: anyone considering going the self-publishing route can actually hire an editor – and, more importantly, they’re called indie authors (it’s all in the name!) and they can even get crowd-funding so they don’t have to invest a penny of their own money in this great adventure called publishing.

I would not want you to think for a moment that everyone who self-publishes is not worthy of a traditional publishing contract – that’s not what I’m suggesting, not for one moment. After all, there’s a reason for the New York Times bestseller list having more and more self-published authors on it, not to mention I have two such authors on the JFB list. And we’re seeing more and more previously-published authors with track records, reviews and backlists deciding to take matters into their own hands.

But it’s also fair to say that whilst a minuscule proportion of self-published authors can sell hundreds of thousands of ebooks, those who are tracking how far people are reading (not to mention how long they spend reading them, which search terms they use to find books, and what lines they deem worthy of marking) are discovering that an equally miniscule proportion of ebooks tempt readers to go beyond page 10.

I went on a quite a bit more (no, no surprise there!) about globalisation, then moved on to publishers like us getting in on the ecommerce act, and I thought I was coming to the end when I suddenly realised I’d missed out the most important trend of all. Let’s go back to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton for a moment, on only its third time in its 39 years of existence outside the North American continent – and even more excitingly, for the very first time in its history there were thirty-five countries represented. Normally, at best, they manage half a dozen.

And at my own JFB party I realised that on my current schedule I have authors from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Iceland, Canada, America, Jamaica, Barbados, Australia, New Zealand and now India – for a list that’s publishing around thirty books a year, that’s pretty global. (I didn’t intend it that way, but I get bored easily . . .)

And I’m not just talking about authors of foreign extraction living and writing in the UK or America, but people actually writing in their native languages too.

untitledAnd the more I started thinking about that, the more I realised that translated fiction is no longer just to be found on extremely classy literary lists like Maclehose Press and Harvill and Atlantic: foreign authors have not only snuck onto mainstream lists and genre lists too, but they’re regularly hitting the bestseller lists. Stieg Larsson was not the first to introduce Scandinavian crime to the English-speaking world; the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö have sold more than 10 million copies in 35 languages around the world; and there’s Hennning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series, the Detective Erlendur books by Icelander Arnaldur Indridason and Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole sequence. You don’t have to be Scandinavian to write cracking crime either: check out Pierre Le Maitre’s Alex and Roberto Costantini’s Deliverance. Cuba’s Juan Carlos Somoza’s The Athenian Murders won the CWA Gold Dagger in 2002, which has also been won by Arnaldur Indridason and Henning Mankell. Frank Schätzing’s German eco-thriller The Swarm sold a million in the UK (and let’s hope they all rush out and buy his giant new SF thriller, Limit!).

It’s not just in crime, either: in the fantasy world I myself brought Polish superstar Andrzej Sapkowski without much of a fight at the editorial board – which I won’t pretend didn’t surprise me at the time, but was completely vindicated when the translation won the very first David Gemmell Award for Heroic Fiction. And that same award was taken the following year by French fantasy writer Pierre Pevel.

Shortly thereafter, just as in the crime field, we saw translations of German writer Markus Heitz, Swedish horror maestro John Ajvide Lindqvist, a clutch of Russians, including Dmitry Glukhovsky, Mikhail Bulgakov, Alexey Glushanovsky and Sergei Lukyanenko. From Japan came Koushun Takami’s million-selling Battle Royale and Fuyumi Ono’s Twelve Kingdoms novels. And the Spanish superstars like Carlos Luis Zafon might not be published as fantasy but his translator Lucia Graves won the World Fantasy Award for Special Achievement in the professional category. That’s not the first translation to feature in the World Fantasy Awards by any means; just two years ago, in 2011, Angélica Gorodischer won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement after her episodic novel Kalpa Imperial was translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, bringing her to the attention of the west.

I could go on, but I’ll stop now. Lists are boring, but I think this one in particular makes the point.

After years of standing outside foreign bookshops looking in at unreadable potential gems, we’re finally beginning to take the plunge. Translation is no longer a word that makes editorial boards shudder – it’s not that it’s no longer as prohibitively expensive; of course it is – but we’re proving again and again that ‘expensive to publish’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘won’t make money’. Let’s be honest with ourselves: we are all, publishers, editors, agents and writers alike, in this to make money, at least enough to rent the garret and pay for the odd crust of bread.

We’ve stopped being afraid of foreign fiction, and I for one think that’s a new trend we can all be very pleased about!

Jo

 

 

 

*Just shows how wrong you can be.

Christmas is coming!

ChristmasTreeAs festive cheer spreads, and with less than one month until Christmas, it is time to announce the Jo Fletcher Books Christmas Advent Calendar Extravaganza!

From December 1st up until Christmas Eve (we are traditional and don’t give out advent treats on the 25th) we will be picking one lucky person to win a Jo Fletcher Books goodie bag! With prizes from signed books to posters who knows what treats you will get! And all you have to do to enter is send as a tweet. At 10am (GMT) every day we will pick our favourite tweet from the previous day to decide a winner.

So send us links to anything interesting on the web or just share your thoughts with us; and you could have a chance of winning an extra Christmas treat.

On fluff and trivia and bonding and name-dropping

Following not one but two radiators deciding to leak all over the (laminate-and-thus-not-waterproof) floors, I am sitting here shivering in a central-heating-free house and wondering if Southern & Domestic are going to continue to lie to me about the imminent advent of their engineer. He’s been promised not once but five times so far – we even had two of the ‘he’ll be with you in an hour’ phone calls from Head Office. That sort of call always reminds me of one particular Beloved Author who was extremely late delivering his novel. (When I say ‘extremely’, we’d gone beyond ‘weeks’, were well into ‘months’ and looked to be heading seamlessly into ‘years’.) On the afternoon in question I’d girded my loins and called the BA, who promised me – no, assured me – that all was well: it was printing out at that very moment! And he held the phone to the printer so I could hear the manuscript being spat out, page by lovely dot-matrix page. (Ah – what did we do before Amstrad?) But just like my Beloved Author, who – and only because when he did eventually produce the novel it turned out to be brilliant – is still Beloved, and still mine!,  the central heating company turned out to be lying through its little pink teeth. So three weeks after returning from Singapore I am still in a heat-free zone. Thank heavens for open fires. (Mind you, for the first time I am beginning to regret the introduction of ereaders for submissions: in the old days I could have heated the house for years on my rejected slush pile! In fact, there was one competition we ran, to have a short story published in the anthology series I was publishing, where I sat around a fire in a little down in Mexico with judges Stephen Jones (the editor) and short story maestri Ramsey Campbell and Dennis Etchison, consigning the failed entries to the eternal flame . . . It felt right, for a horror anthology… Now, when I’m in desperate need of combustible material, I have to rely on junk mail and it has nowhere near the satisfaction value! At any rate, the failure of my one-year-old central heating system is making me miss the glorious heat and humidity of Singapore, and it’s also making me wonder what on earth was going through my head when I agreed to come back the day after the Publishers’ Symposium at the Singapore Writers’ Festival ended. The lure of all those unedited manuscripts and unread novels was apparently so great that I momentarily lost my mind – I can think of no other reason for not staying an extra week to actually explore some of what looked to be (in my very short acquaintance) a really fascinating city. Still, it might have been an exotic location, but getting there was a bit of a trial: last week I think I mentioned that I went straight after World Fantasy Convention – almost literally; my Singapore suitcase was ready-packed and sitting by the front door so all I had to do was stagger out of bed after four whole hours’ sleep and into the taxi. Still, I thought, two eight-hour legs to Singapore: lots of time to sleep, and to write my speech (we’ll come back to the speech) . . . famous last thoughts: In fact, I shared my flight with thirty-three absolutely charming and very excited veterans and their Royal British Legion companions, off to lay a Remembrance Day wreath in Burma. Now, I am a huge supporter of the British Legion; they do an astonishingly good job of looking after those who gave lives and limbs and health to fight for our country, and their families, in times of often overwhelming need, and I was touched by the tales I heard: these men and women have carried those memories around for all those years, and that must be a hard burden to bear. But … and here’s the selfish bit: they were very excited. And they talked and chatted and shared stories … for the whole journey. Which was a very long way. So by the time I arrived in Singapore, I felt like the proverbial wet dishrag, and more importantly I hadn’t written a word of my speech. ‘Ah – the speech!’ I hear you cry. ‘Er . . . what speech?’ That would be the speech the symposium was expecting from its keynote speaker: aka, me. You would have thought I’d’ve picked up on that detail when the lovely Jay Vasudevan of the Jacaranda Agency invited me, wouldn’t you? My only excuse is that we fantasy chaps don’t normally get to go to things like literary symposia and book festivals in exotic locales; the literary circuit is more usually the stomping ground of the literary giants, people like Grove Atlantic’s Ravi Mirchandani and Q’s own editor-in-chief Jon Riley: the men and women who publish Booker Prize winners and Nobel Prize winners, not the likes of us who publish Arthur C. Clarke Award winners and World Fantasy Award winners … except that as I discovered in Singapore, just because you happen to be good at spotting literary gems doesn’t mean you might not be one of us really… You see, the aforementioned Mr Mirchandani, editor-in-chief at Atlantic, was one of my fellow guests in Singapore, as was Deepthi Talwar, managing editor of the Indian publishing company Westland. And Ravi was rather sad he’d not been in Brighton the previous weekend, for his author G. Willow Wilson won the World Fantasy Award for best novel (for the wonderful Alif the Unseen*) – and Deepthi was rather sad too, because she publishes Amish’s multi-million-copy Shiva series in India! And then fellow guest Jo Lusby arrived from Penguin China and we all bonded over Bar in SingaporeChinese spirits (the supernatural type as opposed to the unpronounceable and generally lethal kind, although I’m sure if they had been available we’d have bonded over those too), and it transpired that Ravi and I were both deeply envious that Jo had been entirely responsible for Paul Finch’s astonishingly good Midnight in Peking … and then Rachel Kahan joined us from William Morrow, and she includes Kate Mosse (a fantasy writer if ever I read one!) on her roster of bestsellers . . . All we needed then was to add in Indian writers Trisha Das and Krishna Udayasankar, whose novels The Mahabharata Re-imagined and Govinda respectively are what I would call fantasy (except in Asia where it’s religion and/or mythology, and we’ll come onto that in a minute), and Curtis Brown agent and creative writing school director Anna Davis, not to mention Jay and her Jacaranda Agency colleagues Andrea Pasion-Flores and Helen Mangham, and we had a party … well, almost: the last of our merry little group was Archana Rao – and the last time I saw her, I was presenting the JFB list to her at a Faber Alliance sales conference so she could sell it into her export territories … but Archana had in fact left Faber some months earlier and is now happily ensconced in the middle of India, working for an NGO installing water pumps. But much as she loves the new job, she wanted to keep up her publishing links, and so she too is now part of the Jacaranda family… Jo, Ravi and Rachel already knew each other from a previous literary shindig, but I feared it might take a while for us all to bond. And it did. Whole minutes … we might all have come from very different backgrounds, but we all share a love of good books and Diwali Lights in Little Indiathe sort of can-do attitude that took us (thanks, Jay!) to such diverse venues as a fish market to eat stingray and crab, a Chinese dumpling house and a South Asian café, and finally, to Raffles to drink Singapore Slings that probably cost more than the previous meals put together – and was entirely worth it! In case you’re wondering, thanks to the miracle of jetlag I was wide awake at 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning and writing said keynote speech – and being an erstwhile journalist, I found myself knee-deep in research before I quite knew what had hit me . . . and as a result, said keynote speech turned out to be completely different from what I’d expected – but I’ll tell you more about the actual substance next week (this week is all about fluff and trivia and bonding and name-dropping, if you hadn’t already worked that out for yourselves! The symposium was such fun that we found ourselves actually staying in the conference room to watch each other perform – and even ‘helping’ when necessary (it’s heartening how cheering a good eye-roll can be at the right moment!). There was the usual band of hopeful authors, wanting to learn the magic to getting published in the northern hemisphere (exactly the same as getting published anywhere, I fear: a lot of talent and a lot of perseverance and a little luck), but I probably learned more than they did. I discovered, for example, that in Singapore everyone’s a poet (well, of those who attended the symposium, at any rate!)  – almost everyone I met had at least one collection to his or her name, and sometimes many more. And I found that YA in the Asian markets covers a much wider age range, and is as much more about lessons children should be learning – filial responsibility, staying away from drugs, and so on (I fear they tend to be a bit preachy). And I learned that in India particularly, what I think is fantasy is shelved under mythology or, more generally, religion: that behind the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, for example, is, many believe, the truth. But most of all what I learned that even reeling from exhaustion and voiceless after a week of WFC (no sleep, too much talking, too much fun generally), I had a fantastic time at the Singapore Writers’ Festival. And now I sincerely hope that means I’m on the literary circuit! So if you’re reading this, lovely organisers, I love writers’ festivals…

Jo

Launch event for The Language of Dying

The Language of DyingTo celebrate the launch of The Language of Dying Sarah Pinborough and Jo Fletcher Books will be at Blackwell’s Charing Cross on Thursday 5th December at 18:30.

There will be wine and nibbles as well as the chance to get a signed copy of The Language of Dying, or three! PLUS Sarah will be interviewed by the lovely Will Carver.

So why not come along and celebrate the launch of this beautiful book with us!?

See you there.

Down to a Sunless Sea

Stephen Jones and Neil Gaiman at the Fearie Tales launch at the World Fantasy Convention photo by Peter ColebornThis week I read Neil Gaiman’s Down to a Sunless Sea for our #FearieTalesBlog. It is a dark, disconcerting tale that sucks the reader into the story in just a few short pages.

The use of the second person narrative – something I personally don’t see often – places the reader in the tale and gives the writing a dramatic edge, whilst the introduction of the reader as a character after the scene has been set catches you off guard – creating the unease that infuses the words so beautifully.

As a protagonist in this story you find yourself in a drab environment while the rain beats down on the tarpaulin covering your head, being told a tale you are not sure you should believe, or be listening too. As a spectator, you find yourself reading the story Gaiman has to tell in much the same way as you would listen to it: not wanting to do so, but with nowhere else to go.

It’s uncomfortable. And it is brilliant.

Gaiman has chosen the voice of an old crone as the second protagonist, and you should listen carefully to her tale, because her story is macabre enough and her life tragic enough to have you hooked, both as you read and as ‘you’ listen.

EXCITED FOR CEMETERY GIRL YET?

If last week’s blog post with the world exclusive Cemetery Girl artwork didn’t get you excited for its release on January 2nd we received some beautiful posters and postcards this morning that should do the trick. We just had to share them.

Enjoy!

Postcard back and front

Cemetery Girl Postcard 1

Cemetery Girl Postcard 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poster

Cemetery Girl Poster

I’m back, complete with some long-overdue apologies and some big thank-yous

Beloved Reader, I owe you an apology. I promised I’d come and play with you at the beginning of every week – explain what I’ve been doing (or am about to do), talk you through some of the mysteries of the arcane world of publishing, share with you my new discoveries . . . and it was all working so well. And then Life got in the way and all my promises got buried under the most enormous pile of Work.

As you know, we lost the lovely Lucy in May – but thank heavens, we now have the dapper Andrew to pick up the publicity reins: he joined us days before the World Fantasy Convention opened its doors in Brighton and my gosh, did he hit the ground running! But the publicist-free intervening few months did mean that Nicola had to deal with a lot of extra work, even after Becky from Midas joined us to take over a big part of the job, and that in turn meant more for me to handle.

As an aside, as we say goodbye to Becky I’m convinced it’s only farewell, for I’m very pleased to report she’s been well and truly bitten by the genre bug. So here’s a huge public ‘thank you’, Becky, from everyone at JFB, for your stalwart work on behalf of our Beloved Authors: we’ve had some blinding coverage thanks to your not-inconsiderable efforts, not least the forthcoming Fearie Tales extravaganza in Stylist magazine (due this week; watch this space).

Andrew JumperAnd hello, Andrew – who has already displayed an unerring taste in seasonal knitwear which I know is going to bring us all hours of pleasure.

So where was I? Oh yes, apologising. It all started so well – I had plenty to talk about, and the total absence of any sort of reaction at all was, I was assured, nothing to worry about (that you really were out there, Beloved Reader, taking in my every cough and splutter). And then all of a sudden we were into the autumn, which is always my busiest season. It generally kicks off with the six-monthly sales conference, at which all the company’s books for January through to June are presented, not only to the sales reps and key accounts sales directors (those selling to the chains, Waterstones, Amazon, WHSmith’s, the wholesalers like Gardners and Bertrams and the supermarkets) but also to those selling to the export markets. Then I have at least one major convention (WFC), and usually the British Fantasy Convention as well. And of course, October is the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Of course, this year was always going to be a little different, but not entirely as I’d expected. Our sales conference has been postponed whilst we upgrade our sales department (and we bid a joyous and hearty welcome to Brett Walker, looking after London, and Paul Gill and his team, Lottie Chase and Liza Paderes, who are now in charge of our export sales).

And instead of going to Frankfurt and hosting my first-ever Book Fair cocktail party (with canapés!), I was camped out in the A&E department of Whipps Cross Hospital trying to convince myself that the excruciating pain in my chest was not a heart attack (all those years of hospital attendance finally came in handy: *heart* is on the left-hand side; pain is on the *right* – who needs an Anatomy degree?) It wasn’t a heart attack, of course, but it was pleurisy – and that meant poor Nicola, having spent six months doubling up as JFB publicist and assistant editor, now had to don a rights assistant hat. She thought she was attending Frankfurt to man the stand, run the diary, make sure everyone gets tea and coffee and brandy at decent intervals . . . Instead she had a real baptism of fire, taking on all my appointments – more than thirty of them! – to sell foreign rights to our lovely authors.

Of course my spies reported back that she did a fantastic job – no surprise there, to be honest – and that’s one more task I can hand over in the case of dire emergency. So thank you, Nicola, for sterling service above and beyond the call of duty!

(And Nicola’s combat training continues apace. More on that in due course.)

So pleurisy knocked me out for the best part of a month, but I managed to pull myself together enough to get to Brighton for WFC’s first visit to Britain in a decade. Thanks to the aftermath of the hurricane there were plenty of wild seascapes to admire as @LitAgentDrury took himself off for his ‘bracing’ morning run (it wasn’t so bad as to be ‘character-forming’, he told me!). Mind you, with that wind behind him he might even have beaten his own record: the last time he ran along that seafront he was completing the Brighton Marathon in just under 4 hours (not bad for someone on the Dark Side!).

Amish At SALFThere’s no doubt the highlight of WFC for me was getting the chance to meet so many of my Beloved Authors face to face – and thanks to the British Council and the South Asian Literary Festival, at the very last minute we were able to add Amish to our roster, on his very first visit to the UK. So here’s another thank you: To Ted Hodgkinson from the British Council and Bhavit Mehta and Jon Slack from SALF, for putting on a brilliant event and introducing Amish to London in fine style.

(It’s beginning to feel like the Oscars, isn’t it? I promise you I am sitting here writing this in a gold brocade and Swarovski crystal frock with diamond chandelier earrings and six-inch Louboutin heels with tears streaming down my cheeks and my mascara staying put! My fantasy, my rules.)

So picking out just two events from the many, I’ll take you onto the Jo Fletcher Books slap-up Fish ’n’ Chip lunch (it was the seaside! If it’s any consolation, the Palm Court – a typical Victorian end-of-pier restaurant – is recommended by Heston Blumenthal: JFB knows how to throw a lunch party! With mushy peas and everything!) Nicola, Andrew and Becky helped me host our writers, who really did come from all over the world for the event: Amish from India, David Hair, accompanied by his wife Kerry, flew in from New Zealand (via what Kerry described as ‘a real education in Italian wines !’), Christopher Golden came from America, Snorri Kristjansson is our resident Icelander, Stephanie Saulter, one of our two Caribbean SF writers, Swedish horror star John Ajvide Lindqvist, Irish sculptor-turned-author Aidan Harte (introducing his brother Michael to our little world), Welshman David Towsey, Scot (via Texas) Lisa Tuttle, with her daughter Emily, Yorkshirewoman Ali Littlewood and her partner Fergus, and Londoners Tom Pollock and Sarah Pinborough all got a chance to meet each other properly.

And later that evening we launched The Scarlet Tides, the second in David Hair’s monumental epic fantasy The Moontide Quartet, Amish’s The Secret of the Nagas, the second in his two-million-copy-selling Shiva Trilogy (and yet another thank you: to George and Barry and Manjit for pulling publication forward by two months so we could launch it whilst he was actually in the country – who says there are no miracles any more?), David Towsey’s Your Brother’s Blood and, with a

signing line to end all signing lines, Fearie Tales, edited by Stephen Jones and including Ramsey Campbell, Peter Crowther, Neil Gaiman, Joanne Harris (and well done to Gollancz for publishing her new fantasy novel, out soon, even though they got there before me), Markus Heitz – who flew in from Germany for the signing: thanks, Markus! – John Ajvide Lindqvist, Brian Lumley, Garth Nix, Reggie Oliver, Robert Shearman, Angela Slatter, and Michael Marshall Smith.

Photo credit: Peter Coleborn

Photo credit: Peter Coleborn

Photo credit: Peter Coleborn

Only artist Alan Lee – who’d had to pull out of WFC to finish the latest Hobbit movie – Christopher Fowler, Brian Hodge and Tanith Lee weren’t able to make it. (Oh, and the Brothers Grimm, but I think we’re all rather glad about that!)

It’s just a shame the Idiot Publisher completely forgot to get her own copy signed…

And I’ve only got as far as the end of October…

So I’m going to leave you there and crack on with the paperwork for this week’s launch meeting, because those forms don’t write themselves. (Well, actually, they do, pretty much, thanks to Nicola!)

And here’s my final apology for this week, and my new promise: I’m sorry for deserting you, and I will try not to let it happen again (if only to stop Andrew looking at me in such sorrow).

I will be back next week, same time, same bat-channel, if only to share with you the excitement of my very first visit to Singapore (as keynote speaker at the Publishers’ Symposium, part of the venerable Singapore Writers Festival).

Until then, there’s a whole heap of books you ought to be reading!

Jo

Fräulein Fearnot

Markus HeitzWeek three of my #FearieTalesBlog saw me look at Markus Heitz’s Fräulein Fearnot, based on tale number four in the Grimm Brothers collection, The Story of a Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.

I found Markus’ take on this traditional German fairy tales to be truly refreshing. He included many subtle references to the original tale so that if you have read The Story of a Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was you were able to reminisce and ‘geek out’ (like at a good easter egg in a film). At the same time if you are not familiar with the traditional tale these subtle references will not ruin Markus’ story for you, in fact you just won’t recognise them (much like J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot which, for me, included many references which I loved but didn’t ruin the film for my friends who had no idea what they were.)

In his retelling Markus introduces us to Asa – a woman who has never known fear and her journey as she eventually breaks the curse Mephistopheles and Faust placed on Leipzig, at the bequest of Barabbas Prince. As a fan of the Faust legend and all of its iteration I enjoyed how Markus entwined it into his story and played on Goethe’s portrayal of Mephistopheles leading Faust through experiences that culminate in a lustful relationship in Barabbas Prince leading Asa through experiences which culminate in her finding love, and eventually *SPOILER ALERT* … fear.

Along with this Markus also brought a modern feel to the tale. From his scientific explanation of why the girl feels no fear to his use of a highly intelligent female protagonist, as opposed to a male one who is portrayed as ‘stupid and could neither learn nor understand anything’, Heitz delivers a version of The Story of a Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was that doesn’t feel dated to a modern day reader.

The conclusion of Fräulein Fearnot again highlights this modern interpretation, whilst allowing Markus to provide us with one of the ‘easter eggs’ I mentioned earlier (in the form of his ‘gargantuan creature … half-fish, half-monstrosity’). Markus’ tale concludes with Asa experiencing the real fear, something she never sought out (unlike the younger son from the original tale), of losing the person she loves. This thought alone frightens her to her core, and is one which many people will be able to relate to.

Cemetery Girl

On January 2 2014 we are very excited to be publishing our first ever graphic novel; Cemetery Girl.

Written by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden, and illustrated by Don Kramer, Cemetery Girl follows the story of Calexa Rose Dunhill who was just fourteen when she woke in a cemetery, bruised, bloody and left for dead, with no memory of her previous life, and took a new name from the headstones that surrounded her.

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

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

We are so excited for Cemetery Girl we thought we would share one of our favourite panels with you. Let us know what you think of it!

Cemetery Girl panel

CROSSING THE LINE

Crossing The LineWeek two of the #FearieTalesBlog is here and this week I read Crossing the Line. Before we begin I must apologise for the delay in getting this out, I was a little put behind by World Fantasy Con (which was amazing by the way!).

But back to the matter at hand, Crossing the Line. I have to say this is such a cleverly thought out take on the original Hair’s Bride story. Nix’s use of a strong single Mum who strives to, and is capable of, protecting her daughter is a great modern twist to the tale and really gave the story a unique feel.

And yet it wasn’t all modern twists on a classic tale. Nix did drop in some ‘Disneyesque’ gems (such as Laramay’s singing attracting birds to sit on the washing line to listen) which for me showed the progression fairy tales have taken from the original Grimm tales to today. And I loved it.

Another thing I loved about Nix’s story was his sentence structure. No, not because I am a literary genius. I found the long sentences punctuated with commas really helped keep the pace of the tale and enabled for dramatic moments to have a big impact, like when Rose’s posse realise where Alhambra has taken Laramay:

‘You know,’ he said. ‘You know. There. She’s gone, Rose.’

In the context of this blog the impact is nowhere near what it is when placed in the story. But after the fast paced continuous prose of the beginning of the tale this one line of short direct statements really did convey the fear felt by the men, both at telling Rose they wouldn’t help, and of the place Alhambra has taken Laramay.

This fast pace and brilliantly written tale eventually leads to what I can only call a unique, refreshing conclusion. It draws on the morals, problems and opportunities today’s society offers children and single parents and provides a ray of hope that there is a place for us all, even if we have to go through some troubles to find it.

AUTHOR TEAM UP

Paul Finch Alison Littlewood and Sarah PinboroughWith my second book, Path of Needles, hitting the shelves at about the same time as Sarah Pinborough’s Mayhem, we decided to team up and hit the road on a mini-tour of readings and signings. We kicked things off with a Big Green Bookswap at a pub in north London. In conjunction with The Big Green Bookshop of Wood Green, this was a really relaxed event with lots of laughs. We started off by swapping copies of our books, though I did have to borrow mine back to do a reading! It was great listening to Sarah’s extract from Mayhem, which was suitably chilling.

Then there was a Q&A with a difference – no bookish questions allowed. Once we’d established our favourite Simpsons episodes, we had to decide which book we’d memorise if we were characters in Fahrenheit 451. Sarah very sensibly plumped for 1984, and I let the side down with The Very Hungry Caterpillar (hey, it’s short, and I’m lazy). The organisers also laid on a great buffet, so we rounded things off in style – all in all it was a lot of fun, and great to meet some lovely bookish people.

After London we headed north, to the home of Twisted Tales, who hold events with Waterstones Liverpool One. It was lovely for me to go back there, because I gave my first ever reading at a Twisted Tales event. It was back when I’d only ever had short stories published, so it was particularly good of them to support a new writer.

This time the event was themed ‘Hunting Shadows – an evening of dark investigations.’ It was rather apt, since my book, Path of Needles, crosses a police procedural with some darkly fantastical fairy tales, and Sarah’s supernatural thriller Mayhem involves a gruesome serial killer stalking the streets of London. We were also joined by Paul Finch, author of crime novels Sacrifice and Stalkers. I met Paul some years ago at a horror themed event, so it was great to see him again. He gave a gripping reading, and it was good to see some familiar faces on the night too.

After Liverpool, Ali Littlewood in Coventryit was time to head down to Coventry Central Library for a This is Horror event. This time we were joined by crime writer Howard Linskey, and the train journey gave me the chance to start on his book, The Drop. The train was absolutely packed with folk on the way to footie matches, but fortunately the book was engrossing enough to blank it all out.

We found the room all bedecked in suitably spooky fashion, since the local children had been busy! The event posters, designed by Lee Davis, were rather good fun too.

Once again we had readings and a Q&A, with some terrific questions. It’s always a bit worrying when this section of an event begins, but we were very lucky throughout our mini-tour. We also had the pleasure of an intro by the brilliant Jasper Bark, who certainly lived up to his billing as ‘the charismatic voice of horror.’

So with the events over it was on to World Fantasy Con where I was surrounded by lovely booky people once again, including the team from Jo Fletcher Books, with more panels and readings plus gossiping in the bar. Hooray!

All there is left to do is to say a massive thank you to the teams from the Big Green Bookshop, Twisted Tales, This is Horror, Jo Fletcher Books, Sarah and our fellow readers, and of course everyone who came along to the events.

ALISON LITTLEWOOD

A SNEAK PEeK AT SCARLEt TIDES

Scarlet Tides JacketWe are so excited that Scarlet Tides has launched that we decided to give you guys a look at the prologue for free! Enjoy and beware – it is longer than your average blog!

Prologue

The Vexations of Emperor Constant
(Part Two)

The Imperial Dynasty

The Blessed Three Hundred, though revelling in their godlike powers and fresh from destroying a Rimoni legion, were cast into confusion by the death of their charismatic spiritual guide Johan ‘Corineus’ Corin. His murder at the hands of his sister, Corinea, had horrified his followers, and left them with an immediate problem: who would succeed the man who had bequeathed them the gnosis?

But Ganitius, Corineus’ loyal ‘fixer’, and Baramitius, whose potions had opened the gateway to the gnosis, acted quickly to ensure the future of the group. Uniting behind the nobleman Mikal Sertain, they established a new leadership that saw Sertain anointed Corineus’ successor, the successful destruction of the bewildered Rimoni armies, and the instalment of the Sacrecour dynasty that still rules Pallas and the empire today.

Why Sertain? Because his family were well-moneyed.

Ordo Costruo Collegiate, Pontus

Pallas, Rondelmar
Summer 927
1 Year until the Moontide

One year until the Moontide. It seemed like no time at all.

Gurvon Gyle studied the faces about him anew as they settled back into their seats. Over the last hour, the atmosphere of the room had changed. His plan for the conquest of Javon had been agreed, but that was just the first step. The rest of this meeting would be more contentious, and test the ability of this group of people to work together. He smoothed the sleeve of his rough dun-coloured shirt, wondering if his plans for Javon would go as intended.

When does anything ever go as planned?

To his left, fellow Noroman Belonius Vult, Governor of Norostein, was riffling through his notes as he prepared to speak again. He was clad in the finest cloth, of silver and blue. His noble visage spoke of wisdom and secret knowledge, like some legendary guide to the future; appropriate, Gyle thought, as their plans were set to shape the world for years to come. Five others shared the meeting chamber deep within the Imperial Court in Pallas: the four men and one woman were all Rondian, and amongst the most powerful people in the known world.

It was only natural to look first at the emperor. He was a young man still. Though he ruled the greatest empire in history, the crown did not weigh easily upon his brow and he looked shrunken in his glittering robes. He was sour-faced, with flawless pale skin and wispy facial hair, and his nose twitched constantly as he looked about him, as if he imagined himself surrounded by enemies. As well he might: he had ascended after the premature death of his father and the incarceration of his elder sister. Intrigue festered in his court.

The emperor’s nervous eyes were drawn most often to the woman at his right hand: his mother. Mater-Imperia Lucia Fasterius-Sacrecour did not look frightening, but it was her machinations that had brought her favourite – and most pliable – child to the throne of Rondelmar. With a serene face and simple taste in clothing, she was outwardly the picture of a devout and matronly woman. Yesterday, in a vast ceremony before the massed populace of Pallas, she had been made a Living Saint, but no one then had seen any sign of her chilling and callous intellect. Gyle had witnessed enough evidence of her ruthlessness to know that her approval alone would see the second part of the plan accepted.

And we will need her favour even more urgently if anything goes wrong.

The man who had invested Lucia as a saint, Arch-Prelate Wurther, sat opposite Gyle, swirling his wine and looking about contentedly. He met Gyle’s eyes and smiled amiably. The prelate looked harmless enough, like a parish priest promoted past his capability, but he was a wily old hog. The Church of Kore was no place for fools.

Next to the prelate, the Imperial Treasurer Calan Dubrayle was leaning back in his chair, eyes unfocused; mentally counting money, perhaps. He was a slim, dapper man with careful eyes. He’d been appointed Treasurer following the ascension of the emperor; his analytical mind and head for the gold that flowed through the coffers of Urte’s mightiest state made him perfect for the job.

Gyle had no love for either of the two men talking in the corner. When his homeland had revolted against the empire eighteen years ago, he and Belonius Vult had been part of that rebellion. Kaltus Korion and Tomas Betillon had been the generals who’d eventually crushed the uprising – and now here they all were, part of a fresh conspiracy, the Noros Revolt forgotten. Except it wasn’t, not really. You didn’t forget things like that, no matter how many years had passed.

Kaltus Korion looked like a hero, and was, to the man on the street. His pale hair was swept back from a strong face, framing steely eyes and a jutting jaw. His combative manner only heightened the heroic illusion. The man with him – burly, uncouth Tomas Betillon – swilled wine as he tapped Korion on the chest, making some point.

Neither will like the next part of the plan, Gyle thought.

He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together, invoked his gnosis and bled a little heat into his red wine to combat the chill in the room. All eyes went to him as he did it: everyone else was a pureblood mage and highly sensitive to any use of the gnosis. He opened his hand palm-up, to indicate that what he’d done was no threat.

Mater-Imperia Lucia inclined her head to him gracefully, then called to the two military men, ‘Kaltus, Tomas . . . I believe Master Vult is ready. We await your attention.’

Korion and Betillon stalked back to their seats. Korion’s low grumbling quieted only when Lucia narrowed her eyes. The Living Saint glanced down at her papers, then around the table. ‘Gentlemen, in twelve months the Third Crusade begins, giving us the chance to achieve certain of our objectives. Among them, the destruction of the merchant–magi cabal; the death of Duke Echor of Argundy – the only real rival to my son; the destruction of the Ordo Costruo and Antonin Meiros; the plunder of northern Antiopia and subsequent enrichment of our treasury, and the recapture of Javon. Magister Vult and Magister Gyle have invested much time and thought and we’ve already covered the Javon problem.’ She turned to the two Noromen. ‘That aspect of your plans already has our approval.’ She looked at Vult. ‘So, with my son’s permission, Governor, please continue.’

The emperor inclined his head distractedly, not that anyone really noticed.

Belonius stood and thanked her and then began, his clear voice easily filling the room, ‘Your Majesties, gentlemen. According to our plans, Javon will be paralysed and unable to support the shihad by the time the Moontide arrives and the Leviathan Bridge rises from the sea, thus securing the northern flank – and our supply lines – for the armies of the Crusade. This leaves us free to turn our attention to other things, namely the destruction of the enemies of the empire. As Mater-Imperia Lucia has outlined, many of those are internal enemies. You’ve all seen the documents Gurvon provided before the meeting. They prove not only that Duke Echor Borodium, the emperor’s own uncle – and outwardly a strong supporter – has been in contact with the emperor’s disgraced sister Natia, but that he has made approaches to the governors and domestic rulers of all of the empire’s vassal-states on her behalf, canvassing their support. These are treasonous acts worthy of death. But the fact remains that Argundy is the second-largest kingdom in the empire. When Echor’s brother conspired with the emperor’s sister and was executed, Echor was not in a position then to prevent that, or take the field in her name, but his resentment remains strong, and now he is in control of Argundy—’

‘We should have killed him when we had the chance,’ the emperor grumbled, pulling a face. ‘When he was kneeling before me, kissing my signet and pleading for his brother’s life, I should have seized an axe: chop chop!’ He sniggered at the mental image.

Gyle saw Lucia’s eyes tighten just a little: impatience, tempered with a mother’s indulgence. ‘Darling, you remember that was impossible,’ she chided him gently. ‘Echor has married into the Argundian kings. Beheading him would have guaranteed revolt at an inopportune moment. Buying him off bought us time to deal with him. That time is now.’

Constant’s nostrils flared at her tone, but he ducked his head and fell silent.

Belonius breezed past the interruption. ‘To weaken Echor’s standing, we need to lure his vassal-state allies to destruction. We need them to join the Crusade. The Second Crusade yielded inadequate plunder and all but destroyed trade. The vassal-states claimed they had emptied their treasuries to fund it and got nothing back, and because of that, they would not support any more Crusades in the future.’

Betillon scowled contemptuously. ‘If they’d committed more troops, they might have—’

Unexpectedly, Calan Dubrayle broke in. ‘No, actually, Magister Vult is quite right: the Second Crusade was a waste of money. The Sultan of Kesh is not stupid. In the preceding years he and anyone with wealth shipped their gold and riches eastwards, far from our reach. They also poisoned waterholes and burned their own crops for hundreds of miles inland. We spent millions marching our armies all the way to Istabad and recovered – what, a third of our outlay? By the time I’d taken the emperor’s share and the Church’s, the vassal-states were left with nothing.’

You might have added another group, Treasurer: the noble magi who robbed their soldiers to enhance their own coffers. They took as much as the Imperial Treasury and more.

‘You say that as if it were a bad thing,’ Betillon chuckled. ‘Keeping the provinces weak is half the battle.’

‘Maybe,’ Dubrayle noted, ‘but it doesn’t leave much enthusiasm for more Crusades.’

Vult coughed to regain the floor, and went on, ‘Argundy, Bricia, Noros, Estellayne and Hollenia have all said they will not join this Crusade.’

‘Noros,’ Korion snarled, jabbing a finger at Vult. ‘If your people don’t join the Crusade in their thousands, I’ll give them another crackdown that will make Knebb look like a holiday.’

Betillon laughed harshly: he’d been the Rondian general to order the slaughter at Knebb during the Revolt. He was still known as ‘The Butcher of Knebb’.

Gyle still remembered entering the smoking ruins of the town and seeing the carnage for the first time. Something inside him had changed forever that day. For now, he worked hard to keep his expression carefully blank.

‘I will demand their participation,’ whined Emperor Constant. ‘They’re my subjects.’

‘Darling,’ Lucia chimed in, smiling sweetly, ‘even dogs have to be fed or they become unmanageable.’

‘Our Beloved Mater-Imperia is wisdom itself,’ Vult put in quickly. ‘The Crusade needs the manpower of the vassal-states. Every province of the empire must participate.’

‘Why?’ Korion demanded. ‘Rondelmar must control the action in Antiopia when the time comes, and that means dominating the military. We’re only one third of the empire’s population: if every state sends every eligible soldier, we will be outnumbered. If Echor were to unite them, we would be overwhelmed.’

‘But my lord,’ Vult countered, ‘during the Second Crusade, the armies of the vassal-states were in Kesh and therefore, they were not here. They were grubbing around for loot as desperately as we were. The circumstances have changed now: they don’t want to go. If they hold back and Rondelmar sends all its troops into Antiopia for two years, who will stand up to Echor?’

‘He wouldn’t dare,’ Constant said, outraged. ‘He bowed to me! He kissed my ring!’

Kissing your arse doesn’t mean he loves you, Gyle thought.

Silence greeted the emperor’s declaration, but Gyle saw Mater-Imperia Lucia’s eyes narrow again.

‘Magister Vult,’ said Arch-Prelate Wurther, ‘you say that getting the vassal-states to commit to the Crusade is vital, but if we do that, how will we control them? More importantly, how will we ensure that the plunder finds its way to the proper places? Your notes on this matter were frustratingly vague.’ The prelate wagged a finger admonishingly.

‘Their commitment is paramount,’ Vult replied. ‘If Echor and his allies are not in the vanguard of this Crusade, then a domestic coup while the Crusade is in progress is inevitable.’

‘Rondelmar has all the strongest magi,’ Korion countered. ‘A Pallas battle-legion is worth at least three from the provinces. They would not dare.’

‘Actually, that is not entirely true,’ Calan Dubrayle put in mildly, again taking Vult’s side, making Gyle wonder what was in it for Dubrayle. Maybe he just likes annoying Korion? ‘The most recent census revealed that more than half of all magi live outside of Rondelmar. Most of the strongest are here, it is true, but numbers matter. And the loyalty of those within is not to be taken for granted,’ he added.

Emperor Constant’s mouth fell open and his eyes went to his mother’s face as if for reassurance. ‘My people love me,’ he squeaked. ‘All of them.’

Yes, yes, they kissed your rukking ring. But some love Echor and others love your poor, tragic, imprisoned elder sister and they all wonder whether your arse on the throne really does represent the will of Kore.

‘Carry on, Magister Vult,’ Lucia instructed, silencing her son with a warning look.

‘The Treasurer is correct: a ruler must always be vigilant. Our emperor is a paragon of all the virtues; lesser men have baser morals.’ Vult made a subservient gesture to Emperor Constant, then to Lucia. ‘I therefore propose that we make a public concession, one that will ensure that we get all of the zealous manpower we could want from the vassal-states and at the same time put the heads of our enemies firmly in the noose: we offer Echor command of the Crusade.’

‘What?’ Kaltus Korion leapt to his feet, exploding with fury. ‘That isn’t in your notes! Who the Hel do you think you are? It is my right to command the Crusade!’

‘General Korion!’ Lucia’s voice cracked like a whip. ‘Sit down!’

‘But—’ Korion looked set to shout at her, and then abruptly swallowed his words. ‘Your Majesty, I apologise,’ he said, trying to calm himself. ‘But I don’t understand; I am the Supreme General of the Rondian Empire, I must lead the Crusade.’ He struck his own chest, over the heart. ‘It is my due.’

Gyle watched Korion thoughtfully. Plunder the east, return with all the loot, with a massive adoring army at your beck and call . . . Perhaps you’re eyeing the Sacred Throne yourself, General?

‘You’re still standing in our presence,’ Lucia reminded the general in a voice that dripped acid. ‘Sit down, Kaltus, and let us debate this like adults.’

Korion stared at her for half a second and then sat, abashed.

Gyle looked at Vult. Interesting.

Emperor Constant looked puzzled. He obviously didn’t understand what was going on. Betillon looked as outraged as Korion. Dubrayle and Wurther were expressionless, which seemed exceedingly wise.

Mater-Imperia Lucia tilted her head to Vult. ‘Continue, Magister.’

Vult took a breath. ‘Thank you, Mater-Imperia,’ he said, emphasising her title as if that might deflect some of the fury that was radiating from Kaltus Korion. The two men had hated each other since the day Vult had betrayed the Noros Revolt by tending his surrender to Korion.

‘It is my command, turncoat,’ Korion told him in a low voice.

Vult flushed angrily. ‘The future of this empire is at stake. This is not a time to think of one’s personal standing. This is a time to reflect on how one can contribute to the greater good.’ His eyes focused on some imaginary point halfway between Korion and Mater-Imperia Lucia. ‘This is a time to put the wellbeing of our emperor first.’

‘Hear, hear,’ said Wurther, sipping wine with a twinkle in his eye, earning him a belligerent glare from Betillon, which troubled the Churchman not at all.

‘The common people, the merchant–magi and even many of the loyal magi spread throughout the empire do not wish to see another Crusade like the last. They were promised the world, my lords. They were told to expect plunder beyond all dreams, that the East was awash with gold. And I believed that too, as firmly as any.’

Gyle knew Vult’s financial situation. The Governor had invested heavily in the Crusades and lost.

Vult continued, ‘Argundy, Bricia and Noros are from the same stock as Rondelmar, yet they baulk. The people of Schlessen, Verelon, Estellayne, Sydia . . . they refuse involvement outright. Last time they invested men, money and stores, and they lost all but the men. They slaughtered heathens by the thousand, but what did they gain? Nothing – Pallas took it all. Why would we march again? Why?’

We? Gyle smiled to himself, then caught Lucia watching him. She raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

Vult tapped his papers. ‘Only one thing will bring the provinces into this Crusade: the belief that this time will be different. And only one thing can send that signal: the leadership of this venture being given to the man they associate with balancing the power of Pallas with that of the provinces: Duke Echor of Argundy. Appoint him, and the provinces will join. Fail to do so, and you may as well prepare to man the entire Crusade on your own.’ He didn’t say ‘if you can’, but those words hung in the air.

The room fell silent. Korion and Betillon exchanged a glance as if daring each other to protest. Constant still looked childishly confused, but the others were catching on: Lucia wants this. It will happen.

Korion stood, and Gyle watched the man swallow his pride as he addressed himself to Lucia. ‘Mater-Imperia, I apologise. This plan is wise. A military commission is nothing when compared with the perpetuation of the might and majesty of the House of Sacrecour.’

No one had ever called Kaltus Korion stupid.

The same could not be said for Tomas Betillon. ‘I don’t understand,’ he grumbled. ‘Let the proclamations go out, see how many sign up first, before we commit to something we don’t need to.’

‘And be seen to back down?’ Dubrayle asked caustically. ‘I think not. An emperor states a path and does not deviate. He does not negotiate with his subjects: he just makes sure his proclamations are realistic and enforceable.’

‘There’s another thing,’ Gyle threw in, as if it had just occurred to him. ‘You have the battle-standards of the Noros legions in your hands, and many from previous rebellions in Argundy and other provinces. Give them back.’

Korion’s jaw dropped. ‘Fuck you, Noroman. I keep my trophies.’

‘If the battle-standards are returned, men will flock to enlist,’ Vult chimed in. ‘They will see themselves as forgiven. It will give them back their pride, and give them a reason to forgive the empire.’

‘Forgive?’ sneered Constant. ‘I taught them a lesson in the forgiveness of the empire: there is none!’

You taught us, did you, your Majesty? Gyle thought. Was that how it was? I understood you spent most of the Noros Revolt cowering in fear of assassins like me.

‘It is but the misguided perception of the common man,’ Vult replied smoothly, ‘but these feelings persist.’

The emperor’s mother stroked her son’s arm and whispered something in his ear. The emperor nodded slowly. ‘My mother reminds me that the people of Noros are yokels. We are fortunate to have two such rarities as yourselves able to attend upon us without chewing grass and stinking of cowshit.’

Betillon smirked. No one else moved a muscle. The moment stretched on.

Well, that shows us the true extent of our welcome. Gyle turned slightly. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Belonius, apparently impervious to the insult. But then, he probably shares Constant’s assessment of his own people.

‘The suggestion is an excellent one,’ Mater-Imperia Lucia told the room. ‘The provinces know who their masters are. Rubbing their noses in it is counter-productive. Give them Echor in charge and their battle-standards back and they will enlist in droves.’

‘They’ll outnumber us in Kesh,’ Korion reminded her.

‘Not significantly. And once there, I am quite sure you will turn it to our advantage.’

‘How?’ sniffed Korion. ‘There’s no one to fight. We hear the Amteh priests have declared some sort of holy war but, realistically, they’ve got no magi, no constructs and no discipline. Crusades aren’t wars, they’re two-year treasure-hunts.’

Lucia permitted herself a small smile. ‘To which Magister Gyle has a response.’ She made a welcoming gesture. ‘Our guest awaits.’

‘Our guest?’ chorused Korion and Betillon in mutual exasperation.

‘This is the Closed Council,’ Constant whined, ‘not the tap-room of a tavern.’

Gyle ignored him, rose and walked to the door. He tapped, and the guard opened it. He breathed deeply as he went into the antechamber, inhaling fresher air. They’re like squabbling children, not leaders of men. They’ve no vision, no plan. It’s all just pettiness, self-interest and boasting.

Except Lucia. Her, I could follow.

The man waiting in the antechamber was robed in black with heavy furs draped about his shoulders, despite the summer heat. He dropped his hood and stood as Gyle entered the room. With his dark coppery skin, jet-black hair pulled tightly back from his face and a neatly trimmed beard and moustache, he was both striking and alien. His eyes glinted like emerald chips. Rubies adorned his ears, and a diamond periapt hung about his neck.

‘Emir,’ Gyle said, striding forward. ‘I trust you are well?’

‘Magister,’ Emir Rashid Mubarak of Halli’kut purred in welcome. He embraced Gyle courteously, kissing both his cheeks and patting his back in the space between the shoulder blades. In Kesh that was a gesture of reassurance – see, I could kill you, but I do not. Rashid was officially the fourth-ranked mage of Antonin Meiros’ Ordo Costruo, a three-quarter-blood descended from a pure-blood and a half-blood mage. His half-blood mother had been the child of a pure-blood who had married into a Keshi royal line before Meiros’ Leviathan Bridge was even completed. Her son was the result: a polished gemstone of a man, finely cut and glittering. ‘I am deathly cold. How do you stand it?’

‘This is summer, my lord. I advise you to depart before it snows.’

‘I shall be leaving immediately afterwards. How goes the meeting?’

‘Well enough,’ Gyle said. ‘Constant is in a sour mood. Address yourself to Lucia and ignore the idiocy from Korion and Betillon.’

‘Tomas Betillon is well-known to me. I am practised in dealing with him.’ Rashid shrugged. ‘What is that word you use for us: barbarian? He is that, I am thinking.’

Gyle glanced at the guard, who was staring at Rashid as if he were a construct beast of unusual strangeness, and suppressed a smile. ‘He surely is.’ He gestured towards the door. ‘Shall we go in?’
Vult met them at the door. ‘Ah, there you are.’ He inclined his head towards Rashid.

The Emir bowed. ‘It is my great pleasure to meet you at last. Magister Gyle has told me so much of you.’

Vult’s mouth twitched with humour. ‘Nothing bad, I trust, Gurvon?’

‘Only the truth, Bel.’

‘Oh dear. Well, Emir, you came despite that. We are about to discuss your role in our plans. Come in, my friend.’

Rashid paused. ‘Do not mistake me for a friend, Magister Vult. I am far from that.’

Belonius Vult smiled smoothly. ‘We have enemies in common, Emir. That is the strongest form of friendship I’ve ever known.’

WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION IS ALMOST HERE

Nicola BuddLast week something amazing happened, something miraculous, something so gods-damned (points for guessing the reference) wonderful that I (very nearly) ran up and down the office crying ‘yaaayyyyyy’ like a child. Fortunately, I did not do that, otherwise I may well have lost my job. ANYWAY, the point is, we’ve got a new publicist. That’s right: our very own, in-house, sparkly new JFB publicist. This meant a few things to me, but to detail a couple of the most important a) I don’t have to do the tweeting any more b) I don’t have to sort out the blog any more – that is, until Andrew said those fateful words, ‘It would be good if you wrote a blog on the World Fantasy Convention.’

So here I am. And in a rather odd twist of fate, it seems I am using this blog post to avoid real work on this fine, stormy morning (don’t tell Jo – oh, this is a public forum you say? – damn).

Anywhoo, this blog post is on why I am looking forward to WFC. Welcome and enjoy.

1. When I first joined genre circles I was a total greenhorn. I’d never been to a convention, had no idea what to expect and – most worrying of all – could not decide what to wear for love nor money. I know! Bad times! Fortunately, I quickly learned one of the things that still, to this day, is my favourite aspect of a genre convention: no one cares. No one cares who you are, what your background is, what you choose to be. Genre fandom accepts who you are, it doesn’t question or judge, it doesn’t mind if you are an ‘outsider’, it doesn’t matter if you’ve only read one genre novel in your life, everyone is accepted into the fold. This is something to be celebrated and it’s why I always look forward to going: for three blissful days, no one will give a damn that I don’t quite fit in, that I can be a little weird or that, sometimes, I choose to wear earrings shaped like the Enterprise.

2. When rival publishers and rival authors get together in one slightly mangey hotel (hopefully not in Bradford) and remain cooped up together there for three days, you don’t expect that merriment and drinking will commence. It does. Always.

3. I learn new things: the panels at these cons are, almost without exception, intelligent discussions on contemporary topics given by those you want to hear from – the authors. They can be funny (I’m thinking particularly of the race panel at Eastercon this year, or the SFX Weekender panel two years ago with China Miéville, Joe Abercrombie and Sarah Pinborough), they can be serious, but they always give me something to think about.

4. I get to know our authors. Normally when Fantasycon rolls around, Jo recommends that all of the authors come. This is not compulsory, but when our authors do turn out in force it is always fun.

5. And finally, the last reason I am looking forward to WFC this year in particular (and it’s a bit of an odd one, so bear with me) is Garth Nix. Garth Nix is coming over here! Sabriel has been my favourite book since I was about fourteen. It is my comfort book, it’s my reset book (when I read so much slush that I need to read something good to reset), it is the book I want to have written … I’ve already told Jo she might have to stop me talking to him, because it’s guaranteed I won’t say anything intelligent.

So I hope to see you all there in a couple of days, joining me on the dance floor to throw some god-awful shapes, because, let’s face it, who doesn’t like the prospect of four days of drinking with friends?

NICOLA

FIND MY NAME

Fearie Tales JacketFor the next couple of weeks I will be posting a blog a week looking at one the tales in Fearie Tales. Kicking off this week with a look at Ramsey Campbell’s Find My Name.

I thought this short story was a wonderful retelling of the traditional Rumpelstiltskin story because it which brought the tale into the modern era without losing any of the menace that I remember from the original Brothers Grimm tale. With the simple, accurate, portrayal of a Grandmother looking after a child, Campbell was able to create scenes which readers could relate to and by doing this gave the piece a stark realism. Gone are the Kings and Queens and threads of gold, replaced by an abusive husband, a wife who is willing to do anything to save her child and escape and a loving Grandmother who can’t help but blame herself for the life her daughter fell into.

And through all of this permeates the character we know as Rumpelstiltskin, as intimidating and arrogant as ever. And yet Rumpelstiltskin isn’t just accepted in the tale. The Grandmother worries about her sanity before coming to believe that there is a magical creature who wants to take her grandson away, something I think we all would do in that situation.

With this firm rooting in the real, Campbell creates the thing I love most about traditional folk and fairy tales, a true feeling that this can happen. By removing the surreal wallpaper put up around many modern re-telling of fairy tales Find My Name is able to deliver strong moral lessons, which are remarkably similar to the original, do not brag, do not boast and do not be selfish.

The character of Rumpelstiltskin oozes arrogance and boasts and brags that the Grandmother will never be able to stop him and it is this arrogance which, as in the original tale, led to him accidentally providing his name. In this the lesson to not brag and boast is enforced.

The selfless act of the Grandmother is the other lesson. The story highlights how much she will do for her Grandchild and because of this she is able to save him, not only from Rumpelstiltskin but from his abusive father and a parentless life. This is the strongest message in the tale for me, that the love of a caregiver, in this case the Grandmother, can provide a life for any child. Campbell’s twist of having the grandparent be the most selflessness person in the tale is brilliant. Originally it was the would be grandparent who’s bragging created the situation where Rumpelstiltskin has a claim on the child. By turning it around so that the grandparent is the saviour Campbell nods his hat to the original tale, also done with his use of the revised 1857 ending of Rumpelstiltskin tearing himself in two, providing a modern take on family structure.

All in all I found thought this was a fun modern twist on the Rumpelstiltskin tale, and a great place to being the #FearieTalesBlog. But what did you think?

 

FEARIE TALES IS HERE!

To say we have been very excited about the launch of Fearie Tales at the Jo Fletcher office would be something of an understatement.

And now the laFearie Tales cover artunch day is finally here!

The collection is edited by Stephen Jones, the multiple-award-winning editor and author of more than 100 books in the horror and fantasy genres and is full of modern masterpieces of the macabre by Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Ramsey Campbell, Joanne Harris, Markus Heitz, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Angela Slatter, Michael Marshall Smith and many others. Oscar-winning artist Alan Lee illuminates the collection throughout and also provided the magnificent cover painting.

Following the launch of Fearie Tales the newest boy on the team, Andrew, will next week start a series of blogs which discuss a different tale in the collection each week, starting with Find My Name by Ramsey Campbell.

So grab your copy and come back here next Monday to share your thoughts on Find My Name. And if you can’t wait until then tweet us your thoughts with #FearieTalesBlog.

START YOUR WEEK THE RIGHT WAY

So it’s Monday, it’s wet and it’s gloomy. Great start to the week hey!

But we have just the thing to spread a little light into your Monday blues. With books available for as little as 56p from the kindle store why not start your week the right way – with a new book.

This is the perfect opportunity to catch up on some of our best books that you might have missed.

Emperors Knife coverFor instance why not buy the first book in The Tower and Knife Trilogy: The Emperor’s Knife for just 56p.

When a plague is attacking the Cerani Empire and the victims fall under the power of the Pattern Master only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl who once saw a path through the waving grass.

Start this book now to give yourself plenty of time to finish it before the release of Knife-Sworn, the second book in the trilogy, on the 7 November.

Or why not pick up something to get you in the mood for Halloween? With Path of Needles by Alison Littlewood discounted to just £4.12 you can discover fairytales which are born of nightmares rather than dreams. With a bit or horror and a touch of crime this book is great for lovers of both genres and is perfect to get you in the mood for All Hallows’ Eve.

So start your week the right way and pick up a great read for a great price.

Hi from the new guy

Andrew TurnerWow. My first entry on the Jo Fletcher Books blog. So much to say, maybe too much thinking about it! So I will keep it brief(ish).

I am the newest member of the Jo Fletcher Books team and I will be letting you all know my thoughts, ramblings and geeky habits for the foreseeable future. First let’s get the ‘boring’ stuff out of the way: I went to Kingston Uni and completed my undergrad in English Literature and History; I then travelled for a bit before doing an MA in publishing, also at Kingston, and have spent the last three years working at Nelson Croom, a lovely e-learning company, as well as working for the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) committee.

Now to the fun! SF and Fantasy stuff: I like to think I have been a geek since way before it was cool to wear a T-shirt proclaiming it. I still fondly remember my first favourite book as a child, Ratspell, a book about witches, spells, British history and, most importantly, rats which unwittingly hooked me on fantasy fiction from a very early age.

Since then my love for Fantasy and SF has only grown, ranging from Lord of the Rings to The Wheel of Time, War of the Worlds to I, Robot, Preacher to Transmetropolitan. And let’s not get me started on Stargate, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica.

I promise I do read and consume other things too, I love MMA for instance, but SF and Fantasy will always be my soft spot. This is why I am so excited to be working at JFB and to have the opportunity to discuss all things SF and Fantasy with you guys.

I will be taking over the JFB twitter, and you can find me at @justandy21. So don’t be shy to talk to me about anything at all, and if there is anything I have missed which we should be talking about on the blog, please give me a heads up.

Happy reading!

Swimming Darker Waters – new post by author David Hair!

I was thinking about Heath Ledger this morning. Not because I am suicidal – far from it, life is great at the moment – but I was thinking about how immersing oneself in the mentality of a real villain is a thoroughly unpleasant experience.

Context: I’d been going over in my mind, at about 2:33 a.m. (because that’s one of the hazards of writing), a couple of scenes from The Moontide Quartet contained in Book Two, Scarlet Tides. In those scenes, a sympathetic character has fallen into the power of an evil one. The scenes required some evil acts to establish the villain’s credibility, to illustrate certain plot points and set up some ongoing threads. All well and good. But to write the scenes, I had to imagine them. I had to put myself into the mentality of a vicious and malicious person, envisage all the things they might do, explore them all, pick one and then bring it to life as vividly as I could.

Doing this is akin to plunging into filthy water. It’s got a high yuck factor, and it leaves a stain. It makes you wonder where the ideas that occur to you came from. Some you can rationalise back to things you’ve seen on TV, or scenes that were hinted at and your imagination filled in the rest. Or real crimes you read about in the newspapers. Some of those are far worse than anything I could come up with. But you’re left feeling dirty, and it often takes a good work-out or a walk in the park to clear your head.

The other factor in this is that of course none of your protagonists are real, but you’ve been carrying them around in your head for such a long time that they feel real. They are a part of you. As a writer you’ve got to really get to know your characters, so that you can bring them into any scene knowing what they’d say and do. So the character you’re having mentally or physically tortured feels like a long-time friend. I’ve been carting around the main characters of Moontide inside me since late 2007 and I’m only up to Book 2. Some of my YA characters have been with me since the late 1990s. When one hears that J K Rowling cried when she killed off a favourite character, it may sound a bit precious of her, but I can empathise.

Hence the thoughts about Heath Ledger: actors have to inhabit characters in a far more tangible sense than writers. They have to dress up as them and walk and talk like them, to completely become them. That must be harrowing at times. But then again, when they’re doing it, they’ve hopefully got people around them to pull them back to reality. Film sets are busy places filled with people. And they can take the make-up off, which must be an important end of shoot ritual: to shed the character in a tangible way. Support networks must be a huge thing for them.

Without wanting to over-dramatise a writer’s ‘plight’, we usually have no one around but ourselves, and no costume to shed: the character has been inside your head all day and won’t be leaving. You need to know how to make them go to sleep, and give you time to be yourself. Even then, you’ll still be turning over the scenes you’ve just written when you wake in the middle of the night, or dreaming up what comes next. The little crowd in your head will wake up and join in.

Do not get me wrong: I love writing. It’s just that like anything, it can come with some tough stuff. Most of the imaginings are fun, for sure: I get together with Alaron and Ramon and have a few laughs while we work out how to outsmart the bad guys. I have some terse conversations with Elena, she dispenses some hard-earned wisdom and we agree our next moves. I give Ramita a hug and tell her to be strong, but she’s surprisingly nuggety and clearheaded, despite her predicaments. Kazim needs to be reassured, a softy under his tough guy persona. But time with Gurvon, Malevorn, Belonius and Lucia, I don’t enjoy at all. They belong in the dark hours.

All of this underlines why it is good to have people you can trust step into your created world. I’m talking about test readers and of course editors, to tell you whether you’re hitting the right notes, making the right choices. Whether your taste-o-meter has been set correctly. Whether those beautiful descriptive phrases about the mountains the characters are walking past is really needed. Whether it’s all moving fast enough. Whether the plot and characters are actually as interesting as you think they are. That requires other perspectives from yours, as emotional distance from your own creation is difficult for a writer, and often takes the distance of time and a break to cultivate. That’s not always possible if you’re working to tight deadlines, or juggling a day-job and family life. You need people you trust to help you out.

That’s why writing, which looks like a solitary pursuit, requires a team (quite apart from all the practical stuff like printing, distributing and marketing the end product). Writing is perhaps akin to long distance running or cycling: the athlete needs a support crew around him or her, to ensure they get water and meals, that the equipment is working, and to provide encouragement and the odd stern talking-to, to keep them grounded, on-track and going strong. So when you read the acknowledgments at the start of a book and wonder what value these people added, you can be sure that they were vital to the delivery of the book, even if they never wrote a word of it themselves. We all need that support.

 

David Hair

David Towsey On Family

Families are one of my favourite things to write about. It sounds obvious when said like that – family as a theme is at the heart of so many novels, films, TV shows, etc. But I think it’s something that is sometimes forgotten or not prioritised in the SF/F genres. This can happen in either the writing of the texts or the reading, or sometimes both. And it’s totally understandable and no bad thing. SF/F are, however you define them, genres of cool stuff. World destroying space stations, downloadable personalities, colonies on Mars, magic systems, these are all exciting things that drew me to the genres in the first place – as a reader. As a writer, I find myself strangely less interested in these ideas. I still avidly read SF/F that is arguably more focussed on ideas than family relationships, but when it comes to writing this seems to be reversed.

In Your Brother’s Blood I have the central ‘cool idea’ of the living dead, but everything about them is family-orientated. All moments, big and small, are connected to the central theme of family relationships. You don’t need to be a professional psychiatrist to realise something is going on there. My own family situation is interesting, but not exactly unique. Growing up I was just another child whose parents had divorced. Most of my close friends were going through the same kinds of experiences, some later, some earlier. It wasn’t something we as friends talked about much, just accepted. And perhaps that’s why I keep coming back to it in my writing. It’s an unresolved issue in the sense that life is an unresolved issue – it’s constantly changing as I get older and my understanding of what happened and why is altered by my own experiences of adulthood. So, in my Walkin’ novels, I examine some of these themes and I get to do it from both the perspective of the children and the adults. This duality really interests me. But it’s obviously not the only way to handle family.

One of my favourite books, the late Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, is also an undead narrative that I consider family-focussed. It’s a harrowing but poignant tale of survival and isolation that had a profound effect on me as a reader and a writer. It’s not one of my favourite films, but all three versions (The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man with Charelton Heston, and Will Smith’s I Am Legend) have a place on my DVD shelf. I like the book so much it became a major part of my PhD thesis. And one aspect of this Masterwork that doesn’t garner much attention is the role of family in the story.

For those who haven’t read the novel – which I hope is the minority of readers of the JFB blog – here’s a brief summary. Robert Neville has survived a pandemic that has left the population in a zombie-state (Matheson uses the word ‘vampire’ but in terms of archetypal tropes and characteristics some have argued they resemble zombies more than vampires). He struggles against nightly tirades and maintains his house like a fortress. But he’s doing more than just surviving – he’s looking for a cure.

Through effective use of flashbacks the reader witnesses Neville as a caring husband and father. Without giving too much away, some of the most affecting moments in the book come from these close family relationships and their breakdown. Neville’s dark experiences with his wife and daughter are the more obvious vehicles for the discussion of parenthood and love. But the role Neville’s own parents take in the novel are more subtle and just as important.

Neville’s mother and father are both dead by the beginning of the narrative and they don’t get the same flashback treatment as his wife and daughter. Instead, it’s their influence on Neville’s behaviour that comes through. His mother teaches him about music at an early age, which is essential tool for his survival against the taunts and temptations of the horde outside his door. He cranks up the music to drown them out – and this goes a long way to creating a safe environment for Neville both physically and psychologically. Every time he puts a record on, he conjures the reassuring presence of his mother. His father gives him science. Neville is methodical in his search for a cure, which involves understanding why the ‘vampires’ are affected by certain weapons and not others. It becomes an interesting examination of the moral dilemmas scientists can face when pushing boundaries in their work. Matheson further complicates the situation as Neville isn’t happy he has inherited his father’s way of looking at the world, however essential it is to his survival. Matheson shows three generations of one family – not necessarily giving them their own perspective, but suggesting their significance to the story.

I am always wary of comparing my novels to great works of SF/F. But I Am Legend and Your Brother’s Blood share more than just an interest in the undead. Both explore the on-going influence of family relationships and how extreme situations can test them. For some readers a post-apocalyptic landscape is not the most obvious setting for family drama, but when you tear away all the other elements of our technological culture, what else is left?

Family Matters

Families are one of my favourite things to write about. It sounds obvious when said like that – family as a theme is at the heart of so many novels, films, TV shows, etc. But I think it’s something that is sometimes forgotten or not prioritised in the SF/F genres. This can happen in either the writing of the texts or the reading, or sometimes both. And it’s totally understandable and no bad thing. SF/F are, however you define them, genres of cool stuff. World-destroying space stations, downloadable personalities, colonies on Mars, magic systems: these are all exciting things that drew me to the genres in the first place – as a reader. As a writer, I find myself strangely less interested in these ideas. I still avidly read SF/F that is arguably more focused on ideas than family relationships, but when it comes to writing this seems to be reversed.
In Your Brother’s Blood I have the central ‘cool idea’ of the living dead, but everything about them is family-orientated. All moments, big and small, are connected to the central theme of family relationships.

You don’t need to be a professional psychiatrist to realise something is going on there. My own family situation is interesting, but not exactly unique. Growing up I was just another child whose parents had divorced. Most of my close friends were going through the same kinds of experiences, some later, some earlier.

It wasn’t something we as friends talked about much, just accepted. And perhaps that’s why I keep coming back to it in my writing. It’s an unresolved issue in the sense that life is an unresolved issue – it’s constantly changing as I get older and my understanding of what happened and why is altered by my own experiences of adulthood.

So, in my Walkin’ novels, I examine some of these themes and I get to do it from both the perspective of the children and the adults. This duality really interests me. But it’s obviously not the only way to handle family.

One of my favourite books, the late Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, is also an undead narrative that I consider family-focused. It’s a harrowing but poignant tale of survival and isolation that had a profound effect on me as a reader and a writer. It’s not one of my favourite films, but all three versions (The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, and Will Smith’s I Am Legend) have a place on my DVD shelf. I like the book so much it became a major part of my Ph.D. thesis. And one aspect of this Masterwork that doesn’t garner much attention is the role of family in the story.

For those who haven’t read the novel – which I hope is the minority of readers of the JFB blog – here’s a brief summary. Robert Neville has survived a pandemic that has left the population in a zombie-state (Matheson uses the word ‘vampire’ but in terms of archetypal tropes and characteristics some have argued they resemble zombies more than vampires).

He struggles against nightly tirades and maintains his house like a fortress. But he’s doing more than just surviving – he’s looking for a cure.

Through effective use of flashbacks the reader witnesses Neville as a caring husband and father. Without giving too much away, some of the most affecting moments in the book come from these close family relationships and their breakdown.

Neville’s dark experiences with his wife and daughter are the more obvious vehicles for the discussion of parenthood and love. But the role Neville’s own parents take in the novel are more subtle and just as important.

Neville’s mother and father are both dead by the beginning of the narrative and they don’t get the same flashback treatment as his wife and daughter. Instead, it’s their influence on Neville’s behaviour that comes through. His mother teaches him about music at an early age, which is an essential tool for his survival against the taunts and temptations of the horde outside his door.

He cranks up the music to drown them out – and this goes a long way to creating a safe environment for Neville both physically and psychologically. Every time he puts a record on, he conjures the reassuring presence of his mother. His father gives him science.

Neville is methodical in his search for a cure, which involves understanding why the ‘vampires’ are affected by certain weapons and not others. It becomes an interesting examination of the moral dilemmas scientists can face when pushing boundaries in their work.

Matheson further complicates the situation, as Neville isn’t happy he has inherited his father’s way of looking at the world, however essential it is to his survival. Matheson shows three generations of one family – not necessarily giving them their own perspective, but suggesting their significance to the story.

I am always wary of comparing my novels to great works of SF/F. But I Am Legend and Your Brother’s Blood share more than just an interest in the undead. Both explore the on-going influence of family relationships and how extreme situations can test them. For some readers a post-apocalyptic landscape is not the most obvious setting for family drama, but when you tear away all the other elements of our technological culture, what else is left?

- David Towsey

Goodbye, Dot

Many years ago, while attending Fantasycon, the annual convention of the British Fantasy Convention at the late lamented Imperial Hotel in Birmingham, I met a lovely editor from Methuen, a women called Dot Houghton. She wasn’t part of the circle – not then – but after a weekend hanging out with us, she fell into our group as easily as if she’d always been with us.

It wasn’t long before Dot gave up publishing and moved to the Dark Side – to become a literary agent! – and she soon collected a fine roster of authors covering her own personal tastes – and then some. So amongst the romance and women’s fiction writers, there’s a slew of horror and fantasy writers and editors too, including Stephen Jones (oh, and me . . . she sold a novel of mine before I got sucked into the maw of publishing). I published (or wanted to publish; not always the same thing as I think you now know) a fair few of them.

She married bestselling horror writer Brian Lumley, and though the marriage didn’t last forever, the friendship did, and she’s been Brian’s agent all these years. I’m sure I’m not alone in laying some of Brian’s enormous success over the decades at her door, for she may have come across as a very pleasant, slightly naïve woman when you first started talking about buying one of her authors – but once she started negotiating you were left in no doubt who was in command here. And at the end of it, you never felt beaten, but that you’d worked together to get the best possible deal, for author and publisher. That’s a real art.

Why am I telling you about Dot? Because this weekend she joined the dreadfully large roster of friends we’ve lost this year, and although I knew it was imminent, and I got to say my goodbyes and tell her how much she meant to me, it doesn’t make it any easier.

I know she was thrilled to receive her agent’s copies of Fearie Tales ten days ago. And we’d just concluded a deal for Steve’s new anthology, Horrorology. So she started ringing or writing to first her authors, then her editors and contracts people to say goodbye and to make arrangements for ay necessary handovers so her authors wouldn’t be left in the lurch if she could possibly help it.

I’d actually already been talking to her regularly, so it wasn’t as great a shock to me as some. But I was in awe of her strength: she told me, quite matter-of-factly, that the drugs had stopped working some months before, that she hadn’t eaten for days, that she could no longer walk. And she said that she was ready. That’s true bravery, isn’t it? To lie there knowing that any day – any minute – could be your last, and in the certain knowledge that there are no deals left to be done. Until the beginning of this month she’d still been hoping a last-minute miracle would allow her to come to Brighton, to the World Fantasy Convention, so she could personally say goodbye to the hundreds and hundreds of people she felt had enriched her life.

Instead, the hundreds and hundreds of us who believe she enriched our lives will have to raise a glass in absentia to the wonderful Dot Lumley. We lost Pete Godwin earlier this year; he had a line he used throughout his Arthurian books that I have always loved:

Rest you gentle, sleep you sound.

Dot, I wish that for you.

Zombie Rules

As a tutor of Creative Writing I find myself saying the following titbit more than I’d like: ‘You have to know the rules before you can break them.’ I think this is as close to a universal truth as you can get in any creative endeavour – so universal it has quite rightly fallen into the realm of teaching cliché. But when I have a student raise their hand and say: ‘What about author X and their book Y?’ I like to have a quick and to-the-point rebuttal. Because everyone knows that authors break rules all the time, especially in the nuts-and-bolts like grammar, syntax, formatting, or point of view. So it will please my students no end – the handful that might read a post like this – to know I broke the rules without knowing them. Big rules. For Your Brother’s Blood I broke the rules of the zombie without knowing them properly.

I know the basics. Most people do. Zombies eat people, specifically brains. They move slowly, shuffling, and like to do so in large crowds. A bite or even a scratch from a zombie can turn you into one. They don’t stop and, despite their penchant for consuming brains, they are mostly mindless.

I’m aware there are numerous critical and theoretical studies into zombie fiction and films and their cultural appeal. But looking at my bookshelves I can count a grand total of four novels involving zombies, two of which I haven’t got round to reading. You could say, and I’d be the first to agree with you, that I am no zombie expert.

It was from this shaky position that I began to play with conventions and tropes. I always advise my students to learn as much as they possible can about a literary tradition before engaging with it. . . Do as I say, etc, etc. Instead, I jumped right in. From a very early stage I knew I wanted to write about characters that died and came back to life, but kept their memories and feelings. It seemed like a simple idea but one that got me really excited about the possibilities it presented. What would you possibly be thinking when you came back? What kind of things would be immediately important? My characters had to be able to think. Broken rule #1: zombies in Your Brother’s Blood are not mindless. It’s at this stage that I expect to lose the hard-core zombie fans, but hopefully also interest the casual or non-zombie fan.

The breaking of this rule led to breaking more, as is often the case. Thinking is all well and good, but talking is where it’s at. I couldn’t have my reanimated characters going around thinking at each other; I’ll let another author tackle telepathic zombies. (That there is a freebie.) I gave my zombies a voice, and not in the ‘Walking (and Talking) Dead’ sense – a great Youtube vid; check it out.

That’s broken rule #2: zombies in my novel speak, and their vocabulary is not limited to braaaaaaaaains. And if you took my cue and did watch that Youtube clip, you might be able to spot an issue with this particular choice: talking zombies are funny. Or at least they can be. It’s a classic comic technique that relies on defamiliarisation – taking one thing and presenting it in a new context. I didn’t really want to write a comedy. I wanted to tackle big ideas in a big person’s book. So I had to introduce the idea of talking zombies gradually and in a way that would be convincing. It couldn’t just be deadpan (sorry) because that could be funny too. I used a common device, and had my protagonist find his voice after death alongside the reader; that way they were both experiencing it for the first time. Grounding the writing in the physicality of the experience also helped to remove all danger of humour.

This led to broken rule #3: zombies in Your Brother’s Blood are point-of-view characters; they’re not plot or thematic devices. It seems to me that often in zombie narratives, both on screen and on the page, the zombies are used to up the tension. Need characters to move on to a different part of the world? Zombie horde. Need an exciting way to end a disagreement? Zombie attack. And then there’s the classic emotional moment when a character has to kill a now-zombie relative. I’m not knocking it. Narratives like The Walking Dead are edge-of-the-seat gripping. But I wanted to try something different. I wanted to bring the zombies into the emotional content.

To do that, I needed to tell the story from my zombies’ point of view. Otherwise, I’d have human characters saying things like: ‘Boy, that zombie looked real sad’ and we’d be back into comic territory. This was something I struggled with as a writer, until I got some great advice from a tutor. I was battling with how to even begin writing a father character who had died at war, come back to life, and then wanted to see his family. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I also had to figure out how a wife would feel about the whole situation. When I started asking: ‘How would a woman—?’ my tutor interrupted me. She explained it wasn’t ‘a’ woman. It was ‘this’ woman. I needed to think about these characters as individuals, not representatives for their entire gender, race, age, culture, or state of life. It can be easy to lose sight of this as a writer – characters are so complex and we make them endure so much that they start to stand for things. They become thematic. Keeping in mind a character is still a unique individual made it possible for me to write such a strange and difficult situation for my protagonist; I only had to worry about how he would react. If that was consistent and well-handled the reader would be convinced.

There are other rules I broke: #4 my zombies don’t eat brains, they don’t eat people, in fact they don’t eat anything at all; #5 my zombies rarely congregate in hordes, most of them are loners, and they’re not locked into one speed of walking; #6 my zombie-ism is not contagious. I would love to go into detail about all of these, but I think the kind of reasons I broke the first three rules should explain the last three. I’m sure there are more rules of the zombie-canon that I broke in Your Brother’s Blood, and I invite readers to tell me all about it on Twitter and at Cons. You can buy me a beer, and if I really broke the rule badly, I’ll buy you one.

 

David Towsey

To Classify

Last night I left @LitAgentDrury lying at Death’s door (I’d call it man-flu were it not for the distinctly green hue of the extremely productive cough that has enlivened the past five nights) to visit one of the haunts of my youth. Scarily, I think the barman at Cecil Sharp House was still pouring from the same bottle of Hirondelle . . . so just as well I wasn’t there for the wine. No, I was there to see Step Hop House, the fantastic show put together by Folk Dance Remixed* (@Folkdanceremixd) . You could say it’s ostensibly a maypole dance – and there was most certainly a maypole and there were elements of morris and step and tap and clogging, and house and hip-hop, popping and locking, moon dance and strutting and B-boying and bopping – not to mention the actual maypole dance – and all done to the sounds of a beat-boxer, a fiddler, a banjo-player and a drummer . . .

It was the most glorious mash-up: energetic and colourful and technically superb – and enormously, vibrantly fun. I recommend it wholeheartedly, and not just because of the aforementioned familial connections.

Whilst waiting at the bar, I got into conversation with the barman, as you do, who announced – as they always do – that he himself had a book he was trying to get published, but he’d been right through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and still hadn’t managed to find either an agent or a publisher.

And because I am a well-brought-up publisher (and Ian wasn’t there to drag me away before I opened my mouth) I asked him what it was about.

‘Ah,’ he said, ‘there’s the problem. It’s not really like anything else. It’s not any definable genre.’ And when he started to explain that it was about the Second Coming, only He was already here, but it was a question of when or if anyone would notice, that immediate absolved me of having to add another manuscript to my groaning pile, since I work in a very defined genre, and I couldn’t see how that could be classified F or SF.

But I did feel a little sorry for the man, for he was struggling so hard to explain what his book was about, without ever considering that if he – the writer, the person who has lived with this story for months or years on end – cannot tell me what it’s about in two or three sentences, how on earth is an agent going to be able to explain to an editor, or an editor pitch it to a sales team?

It might perhaps have been easier if it had been a mash-up of subjects, rather than something he proudly described as ‘unclassifiable’. The idea of mixing up different genres is by no means new, but over the last decade it’s become increasingly visible – first the whole paranormal romance market exploded, and then we started to see more focused combinations – Jane Austen might not have considered zombies as suitable protagonists in 1813, but if she’d been writing today, why not? If Abraham Lincoln had looked around for other career choices, vampire hunting might have looked appealing. And I’d back Jo March against a werewolf any day . . .

Of course, it must be a bit of a nightmare for the conscientious bookseller trying to shelve something made of two such disparate parts. Books bonding love stories or murder mysteries with monsters of the night got around it after a couple of years of ‘This is more crime than werewolf so we’ll put it with the mystery books,’ and ‘This is more sex than vampires so we’ll call it romance’ by selling so many copies that a new category had to be invented. But you can’t go inventing a new BIC category every time a new sub-genre’s invented, can you?

Think how poor old Melvil Dewey must be turning in his grave. The Dewey Decimal System is the most widely used library classification in the world – but when he invented it in 1876 he organised all knowledge into ten main classes. A librarian recently told me it has since gone through twenty-three major revisions. (I’m sure someone out there can tell me have many categories and sub-categories there are now . . .)

As I was saying, I don’t expect the bookshops to invent a new listing for David Towsey, for example. Your Brother’s Blood is being described as a Zombie Western (and technically that’s right: it is a Wild West setting, albeit post-apocalyptic, and Thomas is technically a walking talking dead man, even if he has little in common with the more familiar type of zombie). So you could also call it dystopian, and it’s got a little girl as a protagonist, so you could probably add coming-of-age . . .

Categorisation is great when it helps readers to find more books they’ll like, but we shouldn’t let it become a noose for our own necks. (Note to self: maybe lay off the Westerns for a while . . .) So this week, why don’t you pick up a book from a genre or section of the bookshop or library where you’ve never before ventured. You won’t regret it!

Jo

PS And in other news: we’ve just had finished copies in of the most beautiful book I will publish this year: Stephen Jones has gathered together an astonishingly good crop of authors to mash up the Brothers Grimm’s fairy-tales, and Alan Lee has taken time out from working on the movies of The Hobbit to visualise some of those stories. We’ll be launching Fearie Tales at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton next month (and it’ll be great to see you there).

*In the interests of transparency, my sister Kerry Fletcher is one of the show’s two artistic directors.

She can spell, but she had to lose a letter for the Twitter tag. I have decided to forgive her (this once).

Also in the interests of transparency: my mother Dixie Fletcher made all the maypole ribbons, so woe betide anyone who gets them twisted or dirty . . .

*§, ‖, 

 

Talk Like a Pirate Day!

The background to this (you’re going to need it!) is that Jo and I have just received the covers for our first ever graphic novel Cemetery Girl by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden. Our usual procedure, at this point, is to send a jpeg to the author, just, you know, to see if they’re happy with it. In this case, off we sent it to Charlaine and Chris, and (we just had to share this with you!) here’s the response we got:

‘Looks good to me. Or, since it’s “Talk like a Pirate Day,” an annual event among a certain group of nerds here in the States: “This be lookin’ mighty fine, Captain Fletcher. Run out the cannons and fire! Aaargh!”

Charlaine’

TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY! How cool is that?!
Let’s roll it out internationally . . .

It’s Monday, it’s 13 degrees and it’s The Joy of Forms!

Today – oh joy! – I’m filling in forms. See how inexpressibly exciting my life is? I have returned to what feels suspiciously like winter in Waltham Forest after three glorious weeks in an ancient land – sadly, without wifi, so you missed out on the adventures of the Little Owls (still busy hunting over the maquis, I’m delighted to say) and the arrival of a flock of Little Egrets (a dozen or so of these long-legged beauties are now ensconced on Lake Tuzla). We’ve seen a lot of the local wildlife around there, but friends setting off early for Ephesus had a real treat when they came face to face with this chap on the causeway across the lake.
As a result, @LitAgentDrury got into conversation one evening with one of the locals who was extolling the virtues of a good old-fashioned boar-hunt. When Ian said, a little disapprovingly, ‘I suppose you just throw the meat away?’ the hunter was shocked! ‘No, he said, with a big grin, ‘we eat! Is good!’ Ian started to query this, since Islam is known to have strong views on pork, but was swiftly corrected: ‘No, no! Is boar! Is good!’ So now we know . . .
Holidays are for recharging batteries, and often a break from the usual manic daily treadmill gives me a chance to rethink current ways of doing things. As I walked the bazaars and markets of Guvercinlek and Güllük and old Bodrum town, Ian and I couldn’t help thinking our sales force might benefit from a crash-course in Turkish sales techniques. This year our favourite line was, ‘This, from me to you – I sell you this from my heart!’ He still expected £200 of my money, mind you (‘I take Turkish money, English pounds, dollar, euros, I take credit card – whatever is good for you, yes? Cheaper than Aldi!’) – even if he was selling from his heart!
But that was last week, and now I must tear my attention away from the early-morning mist rising over the lake lapping the ruins of Bargilya and the deep turquoise Aegean, the water so clear you can see the huge pinna nobilis shells, pointy-end down into the sand, and the nightly cry of the muezzin over the village of Boğaziçi . . .
. . . and instead I must concentrate on completing the launch meeting documents. Note to Self: need a catchy acronym for the forms that tell my sales colleagues everything they need to know for their upcoming one-to-three-minute pitch to booksellers: where the author lives, what else they’ve done, what the book’s about, what we expect to be easy (for example: previous book was a bestseller, shortlisted for X awards) , what we expect to be difficult less easy (previous book got brilliant reviews but no sales), what other similar books/authors our Beloved Reader should like – that sort of thing. It should be an easy task, because most of that information already appears on the acquisition form, not to mention the AI, the cover briefing form and the rights catalogue . . .
The forms have to be completed today because on Thursday we have the immense pleasure of actually presenting those books to the sales team – and no, that’s not just reading out the aforementioned forms!
I have always believed the launch meeting to be one of the most important in the meetings calendar. It’s a mini sales conference, in effect, discussing one or two months’ books in details. This is where the sales team find out exactly why the editors think these books are all going to be bestsellers . . . and it’s also when the editors find out exactly what the sales team are up against. This is the time when we have a full and frank discussion between departments, and whilst I can’t deny that it can be immensely depressing hearing how this book chain no longer take the quantities they used to of debut dystopian urban SF, or how that key account thinks the bottom’s fallen out of the YA zombie romance market, it can also be inspirational to hear one of the sales directors reporting back that one account is gagging for this new book, or that those covers have wowed this bookseller so much that they’re thinking of holding an event . . .
I make a point of not having a copy of the LMF (catchy enough?) in front of me when I’m presenting a title: after all, I of all people shouldn’t need it to remind myself what the book’s about (theoretically, at least!), nor where the author lives or what other books this one’s like. Instead, I just start talking, and that’s when the extra facts come out, the ones you hadn’t remembered when you were rushing through the LMDs (maybe?) first thing Monday morning. And it’s a reciprocal process too. Of course our sales colleagues try to read as many of the books as they can, and it’s great when I’ve just presented a title and one of them says something like, ‘I just finished it and I loved it, but actually, I think this might do better if we sold it in as crime instead of genre (on account of the murder mystery at the heart of the story).’
When it’s two o’clock in the morning and you’ve been working flat-out on an edit all week, it’s easy to imagine that you’re the only person who really cares what happens to this book – but that’s about as far from the truth as you can get. Publishing’s the absolute definition of teamwork: without the author we’d all be nowhere, and of course we must have that edited text – but someone needed to sort out the contract and organise the royalties. Our book would be next to useless without the art department providing the fabulous cover. We’d all be stuffed without Production providing the physical finished copy, and we need the audio and ebook chaps to sort out the different formats to get our book to the widest possible audience. And if we don’t have marketing and publicity people, who’s going to find out about it in the first place? We need rights to sell the book to as many different territories as we can (World domination? Clue’s in the name!)
And most important of all: without sales, we’d have a warehouse stuffed full of JFB titles going nowhere . . .
So the one meeting I try never to miss is the launch meeting, and I’ll be looking very hard for anything I can tell the sales team to make it easier to sell the socks off my books.
Because, after all, they, like me, are selling Jo Fletcher Books from the heart . . .

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