My First Book Signing!

So, yesterday I had my first signing at Forbidden Planet in London. It was nerve racking (I did a reading too – eek! I kept wanting to edit the sentences as I went….) but ultimately a lot of fun.

Thankfully, I wasn’t playing to an empty room, as several of my writer’s group (the T Party) came along, as well as a few Fantasy Factioneers, and the lovely Benedict Jacka as well as a few more.

So I did my reading – my family decided not to stand around making me nervous, and then got caught up browsing the graphic novel section, thus deserting me in my hour of need. Swine! I then had some people come and get books signed. I even signed some for some people I didn’t know! Pretty sure I only spelled my name wrong the once….and like a numpty, totally forgot to take any photos!

And so for drinkies, with several of the above mentioned, and my editor Anna, and a fun evening gabbing about books, films, games, you name it.

For those of you who made it, thanks! For those of you who couldn’t, maybe next time.

Another Fabulous Cover!

So today, the cover for Book 2 was released: Before the Fall (deets here)
before the fall

Gorgeous, ain’t it?

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing – what is that I hear you ask? (Well I don’t, but let’s pretend). It’s a blog chain – writers answer a few questions about their next book, and then link to five other writers. Technically these should be people who haven’t been linked yet, but, ya know, I’m cheating a bit. *blows raspberry at rules*

So, on with the questions! Disclaimer: I may or may not have been entirely serious with the answers. Because I’m contrary like that.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Fade to Black, which is the final title.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Gah, hate this question! All over the place, like most of my ideas – a bit here, a bit there, then the ideas get together, start partying and gang up on me. If I told you the main inspiration you’d look at me funny.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy Noir. Possibly.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Ooh, now, see I can play this game all day. I’ve got a picture of Christian Bale with one eyebrow raised, like he’s questioning the world (very Rojan!) but he’s not quite right. Maybe Adam Beach.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Bladerunner, only with mages instead of replicants. Yes, I know that’s not a synopsis. But it’s what you’re getting.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’s represented by my lovely agent, Alex Field, and will be published by Orbit books in February 2013.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It was initially a NaNo book (my one and only time up till this month). The first 20k came out in one mad weekend. I made the 50k by the end of the month and then went back to other projects. It sat on my hard drive for a while (bar the occasional tinker) until I decided I really ought to do something with it at the start of last year, and it took another month to finish the first draft. All told, it took five months writing time to get it finished and ready to send out.

8 ) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It’s a bit Harry Dresden, but then again it’s a bit Sandman Slim too, with a soupçon of Perdido Street Station for good measure.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Didn’t we cover this in question 2? Anyway, for the atmosphere, I very much had Bladerunner and Sin City in mind. I wanted to write something different to anything I’d done before, something dark.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Hmmm. Well, the magic system is based on pain. Want to play with magic? Dislocating a thumb works well for smaller spells, although Rojan thinks this is a bloody stupid way to get his “juice”. Hence he doesn’t use his magic very often. Until he has to.

Rojan was hellishly fun to write too – he’s your natural sarcastic bastard, on the outside at least. So he and I got to unleash our inner snark. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

And on to the linkies:

First up, Benedict Jacka, whose Alex Verus series is WELL worth a read for anyone into UF. Seriously – go buy one.

Then the estimable Sara Townsend, who likes a bit of the horrors. So does Luke Walker (yes, we call him Sky, bless his heart)

And for my cheats, I’m going with Anne Lyle (cos she writes some pretty great historical fantasy and obviously has waaay more patience with research than I do) and Tom Pollock (who is fearsomely smart. Fearsomely, and also bloody good at the writing malarky)


And what a cover it is!


Of course what I find even better than the picture (even though I want to take the image and love it and squeeze it and call it George) the words, naturally.

You can find the gist over at Orbit, but let’s just say I’m rather pleased to have such authors mentioned in the same breath (and the author named on the copy I’ve got made my jaw drop open). <– This is an understatement.

This week…and popularity

Book just finished. Three Musketeers. Oh and Fade to Black (got my galley proofs! Mostly I read and thought, who wrote this? Cos it wasn’t me…)

Words written: only 4k this week – see above re galley proofs. But I have next week off work, so fingers crossed for more wordage.

And onto…popularity.

This one has been brewing awhile, but a sudden outcrop of ‘OMG 50 Shades of Grey is crap’ prompted this.

So maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t – I couldn’t really say, having only read the sample. Not my cup of tea, but does that make it crap? Because while right now, maybe people are reading because of the hype, to begin with people picked it up and read it because, well probably because one of their friends or someone online said ‘OMG you have to read this!’ because they liked it. Whatever you think of the writing, people liked it. It gave them pleasure. So the author has undoubtedly done something right. Good for her, is all I can think. Same goes for Twilight, and the Davinci Code etc. The authors of these stories got something right. They gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure, and that’s why they are popular (and why my sister in law has a picture of Edward Cullen as the wallpaper on her phone).

And it seems when something becomes popular, or it gets nommed for an award when you or I don’t particularly care for it or whatever, it gets fashionable to say it’s crap. Tosh, pulp, hack-work. Why is that? I mean, my husband loves a particular series of books, which I won’t name. But it has ‘bestseller’ stamped all over the covers, they always have multiple copies in stock in Waterstone’s, and it is from what I can gather pretty popular. I couldn’t get past page 3 of the prologue without rolling my eyes. Does that make it crap? Or just not my thing? I don’t like it, but I can’t call it crap. Why? Because I see the pleasure my husband gets from it, how excited he gets about the story and I think, well then. It’s done its job. Not for me, but for him.

When reader voted awards short lists get announced, you see people mutter about ‘well, those aren’t very good books, it’s just a popularity contest’ and I think, ‘So? What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with a book being popular so people vote for it?’

Because I am writing, for the most part, to give pleasure to people who like a good story. I read for pleasure – I expect we all do, though what form that pleasure takes will differ in all of us. I like to be transported from this world to another, to see excitement, adventure and really wild things. I like to see new worlds from someone else’s eyes, and emotion and passion and tragedy. If you can give me deeper meaning as well, bonus! Some people read only for deeper meaning. Some people read to escape. Neither is any better reason to read. Someone once told me online that reading only for pleasure/fun would make me stupid, like eating only Big Macs would make me fat. Which kind of boggled me…I know highly intelligent people who read just for vicarious pleasure, not for anything else, but for escapism. The lawyer who sees enough grit every day, thankyouverymuch, and so escapes into a romance when she gets the chance. One of my brothers, who tbh is so intelligent it’s scary, has a job requiring large inputs of brain power, so when he isn’t working, his books are pure escapism – James Bond being favourite.

These books are popular, and they are doing the job the reader needs them to do – giving them the sort of pleasure they require. If they do that, then they aren’t crap, no matter what I think of the writing.

The Mid Novel ARGGGHH!

Last book I finished reading: Whispers Underground, by Ben Aaronovitch. Highly enjoyable, though am now left slightly worried because I got all the geeky references…

Book I’m still reading: The Three Musketeers – why does it seem to take longer to read a book on my Kobo? Hmmm.

Words written this week: 7000

Times I thought ‘Holy hell, how much does this WIP suck?’ Too many to mention. Because I have reached the dreaded Mid Novel. The point where I, without fail, say to myself ‘Why the hell did you ever think you could plot/write decent dialogue/create characters?’

I’m not alone in thinking like this. It’s a sort of function of the mid-novel for me, and for other writers too

There is a graph somewhere on the net about the stages a writer goes through as they write a novel. I’ll link to it if I can remember where it is, but it goes something like this:

OMG best idea ever! I’m going to get a best-seller out of this and no mistake. Cake for everyone! *throw confetti*

Okay, could still be good

This sucks

This makes *insert worst book you’ve ever read here* look good

I want to die

Please let me stab my own eyeballs out

Okay maybe this doesn’t suck quite as bad as I thought (about 80k for me)

I think I can make this work!

At least it won’t be *insert worst book you’ve ever read here*.

Okay, it doesn’t suck donkey balls. Much.

You know what, I think I may be able to salvage this…

Done, now where’s that damn tequila?

I’m writing my ninth novel now. I’m at 30k words, and wondering whether I’ve forgotten how to plot, or whether I should just spork my own eyes out now. You’d think I’d be used to it, but I still despair of it ever working. ‘Ack! It’s awful!’ I wail. ‘It’ll never work/be crap’ ‘You say that every time,’ says Other Half. Usually while rolling his eyes. ‘But this time I mean it!’ ‘You say that every time too.’

And, while I am loathe to admit it, he’s right. But I think a case of the Acks! is actually a good thing – if I think it’s crap I work hard to try to make it less crap. If I thought it was good, I’d not work as hard. And then it probably would be crap.

Allrighty then!

So, having decided that I really should, you know, blog more often (or indeed at all), and having taken a massive poll (read: asked a couple of people) about what they’d like to see on an author’s blog, I have decided to stick with writery things, with added occasional Stuff What I Am Interested In.

So, today, as per request…inspiration. Where does it come from, and when you’ve found it, what do you do with it?

Sooo then, what inspired my Pain Mage books?

Answer: Lots of things. For me, it’s never just one thing that sparks the book, it’s the combination of things. In this instance, it was a random sentence about the Maddie McCann case on a forum, combined with a character (not my MC, Rojan) who’d been knocking about for a while asking to have her story told. Only I wasn’t sure I could really use her POV to do it. I could have, I suppose, but that would have been a VERY different book. Harry Dresden was in there somewhere I think (what if I make him darker, more cynical? A bit more British in essence? Oh, and on another world. And noir, with rain and a femme fatale and…) The pain magic itself grew from a little piece in Thomas Covenant which interested me, the city was part inspired by Dan Abnett’s city hives, and part Bladrunner, part Sin City, part all the other dark books I’ve read and films I’ve seen. Rojan just…turned up and started talking to me. And being the sort of person he is, refused to be anything other than the centre of attention.

Very few of these were concious inspirations or influences. But they were all hanging around in my head as I started to write. And the thing is, inspiration only gets you so far – it’s how it all hangs together that is the proof of the pudding. Mmm pudding. Once I start to write, all those inspirations morphed, and the story became its own thing. By the time I realised that Rojan and his brother had been estranged for several years (a surprise to me!), and why, the story became not just a loose bunch of influences/inspirations/ideas/other things beginning with ‘i’, it became something else.

Which, for me, is absolutely the best part of writing – when a loose jumble of ideas becomes its own living thing.

Eastercon: Why I love a good con.

Sooo, Eastercon 2012 has come and gone. I have returned home so tired you could bottle it and sell it to insomniacs. I have lost my voice from yakking too much. Many awesome things occurred.

So, where to start? The highlights for me:

Meeting up with the T-party-my writers’ group. Due to work shifts, I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, so it was great to catch up with Gaie, and Martin, with Dave and Sarah and Tom and everyone else. And, you know, shoot the shit.

I got to meet some great new peoples, chat with Charlie Stross (wearing his Internet Puppy T-shirt. Way to really own that bad review!) and David Hodson, moderate Cory Doctrow and Nick Harkaway on a panel about e-pubbing (I sat between them and felt like I’d been hit by the stupid stick!) Gail Carriger was fab, and so elegant I immediately felt like a total scruffball. I met up with some peeps I’d met before too, which is always good. Especially when they are your editor :D The highlight may have been the utterly charming Adrian Tchaikovsky asking if I remembered him…Um, yes, cos you’re the famous person lol.

Doing my usual trick with a certain Andrew J Wilson–it seems every time we meet, we start to talk and then at some point one or other of us will say ‘Holy crap, it’s 5am!’ Which is probably why I’ve lost my voice, but Andrew is a darling so I forgive him. I just hope he forgives me!

Highlight for me was the Sunday panel on Robot Elf Sex (great name, huh? Loved it) All about how SF and Romance can inform each other as genres. I was waaay less nervous than I expected to be–it helped tremendously that the lights were so bright I couldn’t actually see the audience at the start! Tanya Brown was a gracious and funny mod, and it seemed to go quite well. Very odd to have people recognising me from it afterwards – and I got a possible interest to interview off the back of it (more on that when I have deets). I got a couple of laughs, that’s the main thing….

Monday was pretty much taken up with the T-Party writers’ workshop, which the group holds every year. People sub a short story or novel opening, and we critique them. Our little group had me, Martin and Helen as critiquers – a good mix as we all see different things, and approach crits in a different way, but to the same end. I am particularly jealous of Helen’s mad crit skills. It’s actually nerve racking from both sides – from the writers’ end, it’s OMG what will the crit be like? From our end it’s ‘OMG will they come over all precious, or break down in tears or….’ I mean we aren’t there to stamp on dreams, but you never know quite how people will take it (especially if it’s the first crit they’ve ever had). But we had a really GREAT group of people and we all talked writing for fours hours, with extra derails and hand gestures. Got two very sweet thanks from two of the submitters. Always nice to think you may have helped in some small way.

I did think about commenting on the whole gender disparity thing, which almost came across as a theme, but decided that discretion is the better part on not having blood all over the floor. Then I thought..,well, it can’t come across much worse than some other stuff I’ve read on it.

Suffice to say that I think a couple of panels that are all men (particularly when you consider some panels are more women than men) is a mere annoying blip compared the very real oppression many women in the world suffer today – female circumcision, forced marriage, being banned from working so if their husband dies they can’t support themselves or their children, honour killings…That is oppression.

Gender parity is a subject that needs to be discussed, sure, but, because I feel that most men are not inherently sexist, merely maybe that there’s been a little thoughtlessness, what is needed is a dialogue between men and women, and to that end, a more gender equal panel on the subject would have been more useful. Parity for the parity panel.

Also, mansplaining my experience of male oppression to me is actually humorous in retrospect, and there are bigger barriers than my gender to me becoming a bishop. Like I am the wrong religion. :D My own reaction to any perceived ‘oppression’ is this: It’s been a very long time since a man stopped me doing/getting what I wanted because I am a woman (they have for other reasons, which I then think about before I do it,or not). I fail to see how me doing what I want is me being ‘oppressed’. Because while slaves may say ‘I am not oppressed’ so do people who are pretty much free to do as they will. To say I am oppressed, when I can do all I dream of, is to belittle the women who really are.

So why don’t you sit right back…

And I, I may tell you a tale.

Internet brownie points for anyone who gets the reference without looking it up.

So, it all began in June ’11. After polishing my MS to within an inch of its life, and until I never wanted to see it ever EVER again, with the help of the squirrels at Absolute Write‘s Query Letter Hell, I got my query into shape. I decided to send out three – one to a small agency which was the only one I could find who said they were specifically looking for fantasy noir. During the course of my nosing research, I found that Alex Field was the agent for an online acquaintance (a lovely chap who I had the pleasure of reading a story for, TC McCarthy whose books you should totally read, because they’re great), and had scored him a sweet deal.

So, I sent out my little batch, the first one being to Alex, and three days later, he requests a partial. Two days after that, he asks for the full. Woohoo! Ten days after that he emails me to say he’s still reading but asks a lot of encouraging questions. And then, the biggie. Roughly two weeks after me sending the query, I have an offer of rep from someone who is a) hugely enthusiastic and b) has recently sold something in a similar vein and has several editors in mind to sub it to. After a little back and forth with questions from both sides, I sign. Three queries, two requests for partials, one signing.


So I spent the next couple of weeks furiously working up a proposal for a trilogy (because series sell better in fantasy). After a mix up with mailing the agent contracts (Read: I am a complete ditz) and a couple of tweaks to the proposal, it was sent out about a month after I got the ‘I would like to rep you’ email. Sit back and relax, Alex says. It’ll take a while – we’ll nudge after X weeks.

A week before X weeks, I got an email – Alex had received an offer. Actually he received it earlier but was waiting on the details before he made my day.

An offer.

For three books

From Orbit.

Roughly three months after I sent the initial query.

I ran round in circles, saying a rude word.

Sooo, long story short – I have the first book of my trilogy coming out in 2013. From Orbit. Details here

*runs round in circles* Wheeee!

You have no idea how hard it has been not to say anything!

Reading and writing, an unholy form of twincest

There are, surprisingly, a number of aspiring authors who claim that they ‘don’t like to read’ and also that ‘you don’t need to read to be able to write a story’.

On the face if it, this may actually be true. But is the resulting story going to be worth reading?

Now I’m not going to say you HAVE to read, voraciously and in every spare second you get. I’m sure there are a few genii who could crank out a great story without ever having read a word of fiction. However, the vast majority of us are not genii. For us mere mortals, there are several very good reasons why reading fiction will improve what you write.

1 – Reinventing the wheel.

So there you are, having finished your magnum opus. It’s taken you three years of hard slog, and as far as you know it is perfect. You get a chance to pitch to an agent.

So, there’s these four short dudes, right. One of them has an evil Ring of Doom and they need to travel across forbidding landscapes among an escalating war to drop it into the fiery chasm from whence it came. Oh, and there’s some dead/undead kings on dinosaurs trying to kill them, but it’s okay because the eagles save the day! (admittedly for this example, you’d need not to have watched the films, but still)

Or: There’s this wizard, in Chicago. He advertises in the white pages. He fights trolls under bridges, yes they really exist in Chicago, only no one knows but this wizard, see. And he has a humorous skull in his basement, and I’ve got a really great tagline. Magic, it can get a guy killed.

Or: well it’s an allegory about politics, only using farm animals!

Watch that agent plant their face in their palm before they politely tell you no. It’s true, there are not really any fresh ideas, but if you don’t read, at least a bit, especially in your chosen genre, you could end up writing a book that’s already been written. And if you don’t know the tropes of your genre, how can you know how to use them? Or avoid/twist the clichés that have been done to death?

2 – Technique.

Yes, there are books that tell you how to write books. Just as there are books that tell you how to paint. But by studying what someone else has done directly – reading a book, studying the layers of paint on a painting – you learn way more than all these how to books can, because you’re are seeing it put into practice, rather than filtered through someone else’s perception. You can analyse – how did the writer make me feel that? How did they introduce that twist and did it work? Why do I like this character? Why don’t I like him? We all make mistakes, but if you look at fiction in action, you can learn from other people’s mistakes too, and from their successes.

3 – Inspiration.

No story exists in a vacuum. It is influenced by society, by cultural expectations, by all the stories that have come before. Now, you don’t (well you might but…if you’re doing a retelling you really need to read the source!) want to write a book that’s already been written. But by reading, you are fertilising the ground of your imagination. It might be a throwaway line that sparks something in you, it might be that you hate how an author has handled X, and can suddenly see a great new spin on it. Stories feed on each other, and writers feed on stories. By not reading, you are limiting your own creativity. You are starving it. Yes, you can get inspiration from elsewhere, from non fiction, from art, from a place or time. But if you combine inspirations from all these sources, then you’ve got something that is uniquely yours.

Now yes, you learn from doing, from writing. A lot. But if you have nothing to compare it to, no frame of fictional reference, then you are doing yourself a disservice. If you’re only writing for your own pleasure, well, knock yourself out and more power to your elbow. But if you want readers, then you need to be a reader too. By reading, you learn about the craft of writing.

It’s part of the job of being a writer.