Silver Tide signings, excuses to draw dragons, etc

SilverTide

Updates, get your quick and juicy updates!

I don’t know. A lot of sun happened over the weekend and my vampiric genes cope with this by drinking cider, and I’m not quite with it on this Monday morning. Still, I do know there are a few things I should shout about soon:

Firstly, on Saturday the 28th of May I’m off to Waterstones Colchester with Den Patrick and Edward Cox. We’ll be signing books and getting up to the usual hijinks (eating biscuits, mostly) so do come and see us. Of course, Den Patrick is the author of the excellent The Boy with a Porcelain Blade and it’s sequels, and Ed Cox is responsible for the fabulous Relic Guild trilogy. I will be drawing any dragons as required.

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On the 16th of July, I’m off to EdgeLit, and I’m taking Super Relaxed Fantasy Club with me. I’ll be popping up on a couple of panels, and along with guest host Pete Newman, we’ll be presenting a special EdgeLit version of SRFC, featuring guest authors Jason Arnopp and Maria Lewis.

On the 23rd of July, I’ll be venturing off to Birmingham Waterstones for more fantasy mayhem, again accompanied by Mr Patrick but also by Peter Newman, author of highly acclaimed The Vagrant and The Malice. We’ll be talking about our books as well as signing them, so expect deep wisdom and sparkling discussion*, as well as increasingly erratic dragon doodles.

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In the meantime, The Silver Tide has been making its way in the world, picking up some lovely reviews, which I am dead chuffed about. Captain America: Civil War was good, wasn’t it? Team Ironman all the way. Oh and also in July The Copper Promise makes its way to the US and Canada, thanks to the awesome automatons at Angry Robot. I can’t wait!

*YMMV

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Writing a Fantasy Trilogy Part 3: The First Draft

Disclaimer: Ye gods, this is no how to guide. This is just an on-going collection of thoughts as I work my way through the process. They may or may not be useful or entertaining to people; it is more likely they may well end up providing a great deal of amusement to me when I look back over my posts and realise what a load of nonsense I was talking. So please do not think I am laying down rules here or instructions – I am just laying out some writerly jams. Or something.

(Here are Parts One and Two, on ideas and planning, if you want to read back)

So I bet you thought I had forgotten about this, right? Well, maybe slightly, but mostly I’ve spent the last six months or so writing the first draft of my new book, The Ninth Rain. As with all first drafts, there were times when I thought I had made a mistake, when I thought that I was writing entirely the wrong book, or that I would never finish the fucker; there were even times, let’s face it, when I thought I was a small asthmatic lemur called Nigel.

But I got there in the end. So here I am with some thoughts on writing the first draft, assisted by Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender, because, why not? There is, it has to be said, not an awful lot to say. The main thing is:

JUST KEEP BLOODY WRITING

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Sokka on hearing that the advice in this post is essentially ‘just keep writing’

You’ve developed your ideas, you have your plan. It might be super detailed, it might be just a series of linked events – either way, you are ready. It’s time to take the plunge.

The difficult thing to embrace about a first draft (especially if you’ve just finished a final edit, like I had, but let’s not go there…) is the sheer, free-fall creativity of it. You have to let go. You have to follow where the story leads. There will be times when you end up going down the wrong path and you’ll have to abandon that section and start again, but that’s okay. Just keep bloody writing. You’ll get fed up with the entire thing, usually when you’ve passed some excitingly large number of words (60,000 words for me) and you’ll be convinced that there’s this other, much better book you should be spending your time on, but ignore that, and keep bloody writing.

The first draft of The Ninth Rain has several sections marked up in highlighter, with notes next to them saying things like: THIS CHARACTER IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE NOW, REWRITE or OH GOD JUST DO SOMETHING ELSE. The important thing is, highlight those fuckers up and keep bloody writing – when you do the edit, you have the delicious task of deleting these unneeded sections later. Just keep bloody writing.

ALL PROGRESS IS WORTHY

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You will be tired. You will eat too many Haribo. But it will be worth it.

Sometimes there will be days when you only dribble out a few sad little words. A couple of sentences. But they are still words and sentences you didn’t have before. Cherish their little bottoms. As you go, you will also have thoughts and ideas about the future books in your trilogy. Write them down, and then go back to this book. This book gets written first, or the other books will never exist. Don’t worry about them too much yet.

THINGS DO NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN

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Everything is fine. No really. Fine. It’s the quenchiest.

This is frightening, but actually it is the great joy of first drafts. About three quarters of the way through The Ninth Rain I had a huge realisation about the nature of the fictional world I was writing that changed several things about the book. I made lots of notes, knowing that in the edit I would have to rewrite several chapters at the beginning – a pain in the hole, but it would absolutely make the book better. I genuinely think that sometimes you can only have these revelations when you’re in the middle of writing the book. They only come when you are waist deep in the world, trying to figure out how to get one set of characters to a new location, or wondering why you chose to give someone such a difficult name to spell. Your brain is working silently, figuring all these things out for you, and sometimes it throws up unexpected solutions. These are brilliant, because:

THE FIRST DRAFT IS ESSENTIALLY YOU TELLING YOURSELF THE STORY

This is hugely important. The book doesn’t have to be beautiful or polished, it doesn’t even have to make sense at this point – you just need to find out what it’s about. The edit, and all the following redrafts, are about making it readable. For now, you tell the story to yourself. And you will be surprised. So:

DON’T PANIC

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How cute is Sokka? Really fucking cute.

No one else needs to see this draft. It can be as monstrous as you like. I know lots of people do show their first drafts to other people, and that’s cool, but this is my blog series and I’m telling you what I know works for me, and no one sees my first draft. Oh hell no. I’m figuring things out on the page, and that private space is vital, because it gives you complete freedom. No one needs to see my inability to spell words like ‘eighth’ and ‘sorcerer’, or the fact that at least two character’s names are consistently spelt wildly differently from page to page, and none of that matters at this stage anyway. Listen to the story, chase it down, and when you catch it, hold it close to your shriveled, blackened heart. For now, it is yours alone.

KNOW THAT YOU WILL REACH THE END

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And it will be glorious. The first draft is hard, and beautiful, and can feel impossible, but if you just keep bloody writing you will get there. I did a poll on twitter recently asking writers if they preferred the first draft or the edit, and I got a wildly different range of reactions. For me, the first draft is where the story is really born, all bloody and screaming and ready to kick ass. The edit gives it clothes and a haircut and makes it presentable to general society, but enjoy those wild days while you can.

 

If you want more thoughts on writing the first draft, I also wrote this blog, which has a greater emphasis on kit-kats.

Guest post by Juliet Mushens: Unravelling the Mystery of the London Book Fair

My wonderful agent, the brilliant Juliet Mushens, has very kindly written a blog post all about book fairs: what agents get up to at such things, what they’re useful for, and exactly how many wild parties are involved. Over to Juliet! 

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It’s all about the books!

London Book Fair tends to be shrouded in mystery if you aren’t a literary agent. Some authors know roughly what it is, others only know the received wisdom that you ‘shouldn’t submit to agents then’, and others don’t have a clue (I didn’t until I became an agent). The word ‘fair’ makes you think of candy floss, roller coasters and circus tents but the reality – for agents at least – is a lot less glamorous. In simple terms, at the book fair, I meet publishers from all over the world and pitch them books, hoping they will offer to publish them in their territory.

At every fair, my agency pays to rent two tables in the International Rights Centre, and for the entirety of the fair, those tables are my home. By the end of the week they are covered in business cards, rights guides, and empty sweet wrappers (our sugar consumption levels are high at this time). Every 30 minutes, from 9 until 6, I take a new meeting, which will have been scheduled several months in advance. I will see people from the film industry, scouts (who are paid a retainer by foreign publishers/production companies to ‘scout out’ the hottest books), and a whole host of foreign publishers. This year I will see people from places as diverse as Ukraine, South Korea, Hungary and Taiwan. Big publishers also have stands in a separate part of the fair, where they meet foreign publishers and clients, and nowadays Author HQ runs programming for authors including speakers on traditional and self-publishing. I attended LBF as a student, hoping it would be useful as a networking tool, but whilst it was interesting walking around and seeing the scale of publisher stands, everyone was so busy in meetings that it wasn’t hugely worthwhile. We often have authors arriving at our tables asking to pitch their titles, but I’m always back-to-back in meetings and it’s not a particularly good use of time: better to research online and attend writing workshops and festivals where agents are specifically there in order to be pitched to by authors. I’m at LBF to sell, not to be sold to!

Before the fair, we draw up a rights guide. This contains our front list titles: cover images, blurbs, sales info and a list of countries where rights are sold already. I learn to pitch every title in the guide – some I know extremely well, but others are agented by my colleagues and it’s up to me to learn to pitch them as well as I do my own titles. I have to play up key selling information, and know the plot in depth. Some publishers will ask to know the twist at the end, whilst others just want a punchy overview. Sometimes I’ll have submitted a ‘big’ book just before the fair, to capitalise on the buzz the fair creates. At LBF 2013 I closed the UK and US deals for The Miniaturist the week before the fair, and closed another 20 territories during, or just after LBF. This year, I just closed a big UK deal for a debut author, and have offers pending in several other countries.

The publishers I meet are diverse, and not just in location – some publish romance, others only literary fiction, popular non-fiction, or upmarket memoir. I have a schedule of meetings which tells me editor name, publishing company, country, and any extra information I can find. Sometimes this is just a line telling me they buy ‘commercial fiction’, but sometimes this information is really in depth – some editors already publish other books of mine so I know their taste very well. I start the meetings by asking how business is in their territory, and what is working well for them: you learn a lot about different quirks of the publishing industry in other countries. For example, psychological thrillers often under-perform in Italy, dark fiction does particularly well in Scandinavia and France, and commercial women’s fiction is very buoyant in Germany. Often I am asked about word counts as translations have much longer page extents, so long books can be prohibitively expensive in translation.

Some meetings can be tough: maybe the editor says ‘no’ to everything, or sometimes they will tell you they didn’t like your books as they flick through the rights guide! But some are great, with very profitable discussions and the knowledge that offers are likely to follow. Last year I met an Italian publisher who was on the fence about one of my books – we had a great discussion about it and 5 minutes after the meeting I had an offer in my inbox. My best meeting in Frankfurt resulted in a Brazilian publisher offering for two of my books on the spot, and we closed the deal over email an hour later. I also see publishers who already have translation rights in my books. I can update them on UK book sales, when translatable text will be ready, reviews and marketing information. I can also get an update from them on the book in their territory: at LBF 2015 I learned that The Miniaturist was on the French bestseller lists!

In the evenings there are lots of events as well. This year I have three dinners and four parties to go to once I’ve finished meetings during the day. It’s a chance to catch up with people who I normally only deal with over email, and it can be great fun to spend time together, and forge lasting business and personal relationships. Face to face allows for more nuance, quick answers to questions which would be strung out over email, and in-depth discussions.

At the end of the fair I am exhausted: I normally start to lose my voice on day two. This year I will have 46 meetings with people from 14 countries, which is a personal best. After the fair I then have several days of follow-up: sending people manuscripts they have requested, negotiating new deals, sending covers and blurbs and editorial notes… It is an extremely busy time of year, but we always see a spike in business during or after, which emphasises just how useful it can be.

The book fairs are great for business, and great for renewing my feeling that publishers might speak a lot of different languages, but we are all united in our passion for good books.

Juliet Mushens

Juliet Mushens is a literary agent in the London office of UTA where she handles a bestselling and critically acclaimed list of writers including Jen Williams (THE COPPER PROMISE), million copy bestseller Jessie Burton (THE MINIATURIST) and popular brand Very British Problems (@soverybritish).

On The Ultimate Guide to Fantasy, The Ninth Rain and reviews. Also eggs.

Oh hello! How are you?

Some quick things. The Ultimate Guide to Fantasy is out now, which features the very beautiful Jon Snow on the front and an article by me on the inside, on optimism in fantasy. As a huge Game of Thrones fan, I am quite eager to get my mitts on this myself.
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Yesterday I finished the first draft of The Ninth Rain. It was a strange old journey, and I discovered much I wasn’t expecting (I like that about first drafts). There will now follow a fairly hefty second draft, where I re-jig and rewrite and polish and juggle until it becomes a thing that other people can read as well as me. Now that it’s all clearer in my head, I hope to be able to share more details with you soon, such as, what it’s actually about etc. Also, this means I can write the next blog post in my ‘How to Write a Fantasy Trilogy’ series, possibly the slowest blog series of all time.

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The Silver Tide has been out for almost exactly a month now! I have loved hearing reader’s reactions to the final book in the Copper Cat series (and dat ending), and I have been very chuffed to see some great reviews popping up here and there. Here is one from The Eloquent Page which made me a little misty eyed…

Us writers do tend to bang on about it quite a bit, but reviews really do help the book along – which in turn helps secure the future of future books. As it were. So huge thanks to the lovely people doing that. <3

Right, I hope you’re all having an excellent weekend (with the possibility of chocolate eggs). I am off to drink a cider in celebration of ending first drafts…

The Silver Tide… has happened

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So we launched The Silver Tide this week. The story of the Black Feather Three has come to an end. *distant wailing and sobbing*

It was, for me, a truly epic night. Huge thanks to everyone who came along and had a chat at the signing (which went on for about an hour and a half, apparently), everyone who had a slightly erratic dragon scrawled in their copy, and everyone who raised a toast in the Phoenix with me afterwards. In another time and place, Wydrin is telling outrageously exaggerated stories about you all.

Because the signing went on for such a long time, I failed to do any sort of official speech (a relief for everyone, I’m sure) so I wanted to pop a few things up on here:

Thank you to my wonderful agent, Juliet Mushens – always fighting in my corner, and ready with common sense when I need it (or a sarcastic gif of some sort).

Thank you to my excellent editors, Emily Griffin and Claire Baldwin, who also cried over the ending.

Thank you to everyone who downed a glass of mead, chucked on their boiled leather vanbraces and came on this adventure with me, Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith. It has been a most unexpected journey, and like all unsuspecting protagonists, I hope I’ve learnt from the difficult bits, because I’ve certainly enjoyed all the good bits. Onwards!

 

IMPORTANT THINGS no honestly

I seem to have accidentally created a tradition where the week before my book is published is the most ridiculously stressful of the year (we moved to a new flat the week before The Copper Promise came out, fun times). For this reason, I haven’t updated the blog when I should have and I’m slightly behind, so here are some IMPORTANT THINGS (on the subject of important things, if you have pre-ordered a copy of THE SILVER TIDE from Amazon, please have a look at the bottom of this post for a slightly boring but essential PSA)

The US/Canadian covers of THE COPPER PROMISE and THE IRON GHOST have been revealed. Go to Barnes & Noble for the full deets. I know the whole UK cover vs US cover thing can be slightly fractious in SFF circles, so I am chuffed to see such a positive response. I think they are sexy and brilliant, and they punch you in the face with sword and sorcery attitude. Big thanks to Gene Mollica and the team at Angry Robot for creating what essentially look like movie posters for a bad-ass film version of the books. YASSS.

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You know Wydrin is just about to kick someone’s butt

And next week (how is this happening already? Where did the last few years go? Who am I even?) THE SILVER TIDE will be making its way out into the world. The kindle version and the trade paperback (more on that in a second) will be released on the 25th of February. And I’m doing two celebratory event things to celebrate.

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On the 23rd of February, instead of running Super Relaxed Fantasy Club from behind the scenes, like some sort of shadowy figure of mystery, I will be reading from THE SILVER TIDE and answering questions (easy ones, I hope). There will also be early copies of the trade paperback to buy. Hooray! Remember, SRFC is always free, everyone is welcome, and on Tuesday the fabulous Adrian Tchaikovsky and Simon Morden will also be reading.

On Thursday the 25th of February we’ll be launching the book at my favourite shop since I was ten, Forbidden Planet. I will sign books and draw increasingly erratic dragons. There will be drinks afterwards, of course, and I suspect I will be super emotional. I hope to see you all there to celebrate and lift a glass of something evil to the Black Feather Three.

Now, the PSA portion of the blog post. There have been some problems with the Amazon listings of THE SILVER TIDE that I have only recently been made aware of. Essentially, for some time the kindle edition (out on the 25th of Feb) was listed alongside the small format paperback edition (out in July), while the trade paperback (out on the 25th of Feb) was listed, confusingly, separately. It’s on it’s way to being fixed, but as you can imagine this has been confusing.

If you want the physical book that’s out next week, and you’re ordering from Amazon, you want this one.

If you have already pre-ordered a copy, please do check you’ve got the right one. This probably only affects a few people, but I get very twitchy when I think of someone expecting their book to arrive next week, when it will be merrily going nowhere until July.

ANYWAY. How chuffed am I at the moment? Very chuffed. I love THE SILVER TIDE – it nearly broke me, but it’s the ending I wanted. A few lovely reviews have come in for it so far and I am not above dropping a few of them into this post.

“The result is more action, more adventure, more unlikely rescues, and more fun … the entire series is a delight” STARBURST magazine

“So it’s time to say goodbye to this amazing trilogy. I DON’T WANT TO … a story that’s true in every way to the spirit of epic adventure, while giving us something that’s right up to date at the same time” Over the Effing Rainbow 

“In the immortal words of The Copper Cat, Wydrin of Crosshaven: ‘Ye gods and little fishes, what are you waiting for?'” SCI-FI NOW magazine

Book Events over the next 2 months – shenanigans!

Accurate representation of me, lording it up at a book event

Accurate representation of me, lording it up at a book event

Well here we are in 2016 and already I’m losing track of where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. So:

a) I’m on Earth still. Good.

b) I’m writing a new book.

Right, good. Aside from that, there are a few events happening over January and February that I will be popping up at, so here’s a quick run down (as much for my benefit as anyone else)

On Tuesday the 19th of January at Blackwell’s in Holborn, Ed Cox and myself will be on hand to help celebrate the launch of Den Patrick’s third book, The Girl on the Liar’s Throne. The last book in the Landfall trilogy, you will want to get your mitts on this work of gothic fantasia, and I’ve heard rumour there will be wine and chat also. Ed will be signing copies of his own excellent books, The Relic Guild and The Cathedral of Known Things (and giving out hugs, if I know Ed) and of course I am always happy to sign books and draw dragons in them (it’s likely too early for copies of The Silver Tide, but there will be Copper Promise and Iron Ghost books around for the grabbing). The event is free but it’s helpful for the bookshop if you book a ticket.

On Saturday the 23rd Ed, Den and I will be taking our crazy show on the road to Southampton, where there will be more signings and shenanigans in Forbidden Planet. I will actually be leaving the confines of London! Crazy times.

If you want as much excellent fantasy book action as possible, the very first Super Relaxed Fantasy Club of the year is on the 26th of January. Reading for us will be the wonderful Liz de Jager (her new book in the Blackhart Legacy series, Judged, will be out and in your face!) and our very own Den Patrick. Get your butts to the Sky Bar and celebrate a new year of excellent fiction.

Skipping forward to February and it’s Silver Tide time! On Tuesday the 23rd of February, I’ll be reading at SRFC– I’ll also be doing a Q&A, but if you’ve witnessed me doing this before, you’ll know not to expect any particularly useful (or even coherent) answers.

Then on Thursday the 25th of February, we’re launching The Silver Tide at Forbidden Planet! It’s the last outing for the Copper Cat and her cohorts so I intend to celebrate in a fashion that would make Wydrin proud, which is a statement that should strike terror into the hearts of all right-thinking people. I would love to see you there!

Do click on the links for times and further details, and I hope to see a bunch of you over the next two months. Onward!

An End of the Year Waffle: featuring books, life & Star Wars

I like the idea of an end of the year post very much, but I am always somewhat scuppered by my terrible memory, where I’m never completely sure if what I remember happened this year, or when I was seven, or that night at Uni when I’d been at the Red Bull and vodkas. Anyway, here’s some stuff I’m almost certain happened in 2015:

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The Iron Ghost was published, and I survived releasing my second book into the wild

The sequel to The Copper Promise was a difficult book for me to write (I think I’ve waffled on before about the weird pressures of writing your first book to deadline when you know people will actually want to read it) so it was lovely to launch it with a bunch of friends and family, and generally people seem to be of the opinion that it’s a better book than the first one – even people who really loved the first one. I was worried about The Iron Ghost, but looking back on it, all the blood I sweated was worth it.

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The Silver Tide was written and edited, and I wrote the end of the Copper Cat trilogy

The last book in the trilogy was difficult for a different reason – I had enormous fun writing it, but ultimately I was saying goodbye to characters I love very much. It was the longest book I’ve written (so far) and I put everything I had into it, so suffice to say, what with all the crying and gnashing of teeth and general stress, I’m bleeding knackered. But happy. I have finished the trilogy and I am enormously proud of it. Roll on February, when we’ll be having the biggest Copper Cat party yet (come to the launch, it will be EPIC)

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Please note: Not an accurate depiction of the events of The Ninth Rain

 

I signed a new three book deal with Headline, and The Ninth Rain was born

I’m still getting over this, to be honest. I cannot tell you how much it fills me with glee to know that I get to continue writing books for a living, and that this next series has a home already. I’m writing the first book at the moment, and its too early to say too much about it I think, but I’m having a lot of fun with it – new world, new characters, new crazy stuff to engineer. It’s a challenge, this one, there’s no doubt about it, but I have witches blowing things up so I’m happy. Big love to my amazing agent Juliet Mushens for making amazing things happen.

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Angry Robot are sending The Copper Promise and The Iron Ghost to the USA

ROAD TRIP! I’ve had a lot of people ask me over the last couple of years why they can’t get the Copper Cat books in the States – you might think it’s to do with Wydrin trying to smuggle in copious amounts of rum, but actually its because no one had bought the rights. Thankfully, the most excellent legion of metal overlords have taken up the meady chalice and readers across the pond will finally be able to enjoy my nonsense. There will be new covers for the books, which I am very excited about – they are very different to the UK editions, but huge bags of fun, in my opinion.

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I was nominated for Best Newcomer at the British Fantasy Society awards

This was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me! And a totally lovely one. I didn’t win, but I did have a high old time at the banquet with fellow nominees Den Patrick and Ed Cox. It feels exceptionally cheesy to say it, but I’m honestly touched I was nominated at all, and super chuffed that The Copper Promise made such a favourable impression.

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I changed my day job!

I’m a copywriter at a creative agency now, which as well as sounding dead swish, also means I am a professional writer in both aspects of my life. When asked what I do, I can (almost) confidently say ‘I’m sort of well I’m a writer actually technically I suppose’ without looking too awkward. It’s fun, and it’s great to be using my actual skills between 9am and 5pm.

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I read lots of excellent books!

This is where it gets tricky, because I am awful at remembering what I read when, but off the top of my head here are a bunch of books that I enjoyed this year (If you want excellent reads, look them up): Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb, The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neil, The Vagrant by Pete Newman, The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

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So many amazing films

2015 gave us Age of Ultron (which I liked very much) and Mad Max: Fury Road which was fucking incredible. I’m currently obsessed with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (going to see it again soon) and feeling over the moon, tbh, that one of my favourite franchises has returned not just with a fantastic film, but with a fantastically diverse film. John Boyega is so enormously charismatic as Finn (how cool to finally get a Stormtrooper’s POV?), Rey is all I could have possibly wanted (I shan’t dally in spoiler territory, but thanks to her Star Wars has truly won my heart again) and like most of tumblr I now have a terrible crush on Poe Dameron (stormpilot trashlords unite).

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And we watched all of Thundercats. It was amazing. 

On that ridiculous fangirl note, I will stop waffling on, save to wish you all an excellent winter holiday and to hope that your 2016 will rock your socks off. I am looking forward to it.

Books you should buy for Christmas (and not just mine!) :D

It’s that time of the year again: the weather gets a little rougher, the nights are seeping into our days, and you start saying things like ‘I can’t believe it’s dark at four o’clock!’ even though you have experienced this strange phenomenon every year of your life… It’s actually my favourite time of the year, being an Autumn/Winter person rather than a Spring/Summer type person, and this is despite the looming stress of Christmas – what to buy? What for dinner? Who are we eating dinner with? What lingering family resentments need to be avoided? Posting cards this year or just pretending that I did?

So this year I offer the following to help with some of the Christmas stress. Have a fantasy reader you need to buy for? Or just need to alleviate the pain of buying presents with buying some for yourself? (I do this a lot). Then may I recommend, um, my books?

Here are some excellent reasons to buy the Copper Cat books:

The covers are really very beautiful and feature dragons. They will beautify anyone’s bookshelves and immediately convey a sense of good taste and gravitas.

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The books themselves are quite hefty, so you are a) getting good value for your money b) could potentially use them to batter an intruder with.

Some quotes from people who have enjoyed the Copper Cat books:

‘Tolerable. Needed more elves.’ – Aragorn, son of Arathorn*

‘I liked the bit with all the horses. Wait, which book was this again?’ – Shadowfax

‘There’s fighting, dragons, treasure. What’s not to like?’ – Beowulf

Alright, okay, some quotes from people who have actually read the books (and do really exist):

‘Near perfect fantasy-adventure… read it and remind yourself what made you fall in love with fantasy’ – Starburst Magazine

‘Williams has thrown out the rulebook and injected a fun tone into epic fantasy without lightening or watering down the excitement and adventure… Highly recommended’ – The Independent

‘Highly inventive, vibrant high fantasy with a cast you can care about’ – The British Fantasy Society

The Copper Cat books are sword and sorcery with a modern edge – adventure, snark, terrible dark deeds done in the name of magic, and a sprinkling of sexy times. You can buy The Copper Promise and The Iron Ghost right now, and even pre-order the final volume in the trilogy, The Silver Tide. However, if chunky sword and sorcery books aren’t your thing, then here are some other fantastic books from across the genre spectrum, all of which would be spectacular additions to the space underneath your Christmas tree:

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick – a darker shade of fantasy, with delicious gothic horrors and lashings of swordfights. The sequel, The Boy Who Wept Blood, is also available.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik – a gorgeous fairy tale with probably the most beautiful depiction of magic use I’ve ever read. Also, it’s quite sexy.

Battlemage by Stephen Aryan – like magic that punches you in the face? This is the book for you.

Banished by Liz de Jager – if you have young people to buy for (or you just fancy a bit of ass-kicking adventure yourself) then may I introduce you to Kit Blackhart? She is going to knock your socks off. The sequel, Vowed, is also available now.

The Vagrant by Pete Newman – a book that defies description, but it’s likely you won’t have read another fantasy book like it.

Anything by Robin Hobb – You’re a person of taste and distinction, so you don’t need me to recommend Robin Hobb to you, but perhaps you know a burgeoning fantasy fan who hasn’t read Assassin’s Apprentice yet. You know what to do.

The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder – a sudden horror/crime recommendation for you. If you like unreliable narrators and unspeakable evil (and who doesn’t, at Christmas?) I can’t throw this book at you fast enough.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky – a science-fiction reader you need to buy for? Expand their minds with this and never look at spiders in the same way again.

I hope that one of the books I’ve banged on about here will tickle your fancy, and remember that the greatest present you can give an author is a photo of you gleefully hugging their book you have just willingly purchased with actual money in a bookshop, or even, praise be to all the little goblins, a review.

Wishing you the best of times at the best time of year,

Jen x

 

*please note, there are no actual elves in the Copper Cat books.

Writing a Fantasy Trilogy Part 2: Planning

Disclaimer: Ye gods, this is no how to guide. This is just an on-going collection of thoughts as I work my way through the process. They may or may not be useful or entertaining to people; it is more likely they may well end up providing a great deal of amusement to me when I look back over my posts and realise what a load of nonsense I was talking. So please do not think I am laying down rules here or instructions – I am just laying out some writerly jams. Or something.

(here is Part One, on ideas, if you want to track back)

shera1

This is us, bravely preparing to plan our trilogy. Yes, we are as badass as She-Ra.

So here we are at part 2, after a lengthy break, ironically because I’ve spent the last couple of months finishing off my previous fantasy trilogy. I suspect it’s a thing that only becomes apparent when you’re in the midst of the publishing process, but writing professionally involves a lot of hopping around: there was a time there when I was promoting the second book, editing the third book, and writing the first draft of the new book. Exciting times! Anyway, the proof read of The Silver Tide is finally handed back and the story of the Copper Cat has come to a close (let’s just swiftly skip over all the crying I did) so I have a wee gap in which to talk about planning things.

This is a super brief outline of how I personally go about it. Take note, ignore or openly mock at your will: There are three stages to planning a fantasy trilogy that I can see. Expansion, whittling, and the abuse of stationery.

Expansion

So you have your idea. The seed that will become a trilogy of books is in your head now, and there’s a special aura to it, a certain feeling that this is the thing. You’re excited about the idea, and you get a slightly fluttery sensation when you think about it (not kidding). The idea may take different forms. A lot of people will have a hook, a thing that is almost handily like an elevator pitch – ‘sword and sorcery Escape from New York’ (I swear I am writing this one day) or ‘a girl fails her exams and flees into a radioactive desert full of mutants’ (already written that one). My ideas more often take the form of characters – ‘lovable female rogue with a tendency towards recklessness attempts to avoid responsibility for the end of the world’ or ‘teenage girl with latent magical powers and OCD discovers that her council flat is haunted by the ghost of a serial killer’. My first planning stage is writing down as many details as I can about that idea. All possible things that could come from it, even if I won’t use them or they don’t work, are written down into a fat notebook of some kind. I ask myself lots of questions.

What does this character look like? Where are they from?

How old are they? Do they have family? What is their relationship with them?

What do they care about? And then: What do they want?

What terrible thing has just happened to them? How do they react to this terrible thing?

From there, the story starts to spool outwards, and I follow the trail of things I find exciting. Which details pique my interest? What do I want to know more about? One or two notebooks will be filled up in this way, a great jumble of Lego bricks, and somewhere in there are all the pieces required for the awesome space-castle-dragon I’m thinking of building.

kitkat

You will need approximately 800 of these for this stage.

Whittling

This next bit is a little odd and will possibly sound a tad obsessive, but I’ve spoken to at least one other writer who also does it so I’m sure it’s fine. I have my fat notebooks full up with a zillion thoughts and ideas. I get a new notebook, and in that I write down everything I can remember from the first notebooks, without looking at them, if I can help it. All the really important stuff, all the significant stuff that has lodged in my subconscious, will come through, and what you end up with is a distilled version of the idea explosion. From there, I will work on them again, ask myself more questions, and these are the questions that start to become very important if this is going to cover more than one book.

There will be multiple setbacks. What are they?

My characters are changed by events. How are they changed?

What revelations will they have?

What sort of bad-ass cool things do I want to see in these books?

Now, that last question sounds somewhat daft coming on the back of everything else, but if I may drop an entirely wanky phrase in the middle of this: I am quite a visual person. My favourite ideas often come in the form of what I think of as ‘shots’: how cool would this look in the movie version? Early on with The Copper Promise I knew I wanted to have a scene where the heroes are riding griffins, whilst flying around an enormous dragon – the griffins are tiny in comparison, like fat bees buzzing around, um, a giant scary lizard. That image hung in my head while I was writing the book, along with many others (Wydrin and Frith in an opulent gaming house, a young girl with bare feet covered in blood) – ideas that knew it was their time to happen.

So I have a new notebook with the distilled ideas. I go and buy a new notebook, and I do it all again (I did say it was a little odd) – whittling the ideas down further. Everything becomes a little sharper, a little clearer. The characters become more defined, and crucially, the structure of the books start to emerge, like the wreck of a ship revealed as the tide goes out (but only, you know, more optimistic).

You might at this point say: Jennifer this is bollocks. You write everything down and eventually it becomes clear? Are you taking the piss? The difficulty is of course that so much of writing comes from instinct, floating up from the deep dark channels of your mind. Other writers will no doubt have an infinitely more systematic approach, but all I can tell you is: follow the things that give you that fluttery, excited feeling. Your trilogy is at the ends of those.

Next stage: notecards. Rainbow ones, if possible, because I have a stationery problem and will use any excuse to get pretty stationery. I have two sets of notecards: one set for characters, and one set for story. I write down all the vital things about each character (they each get their own notecard) and then everything I know about the story on a set of numbered notecards – these will be split themselves into three sets, one for each book. Inevitably, book one will need more notecards than books two and three, because I know more about how it all starts. This lot will then get pinned up onto my corkboard, usually with a variety of rainbow pins and pins that look like tiny turtles. Yes.

corkboardmess

A portion of my corkboard at about halfway through the process. I’ve smudged the notes so they are unreadable- my handwriting isn’t quite that bad, honest.

Sidenotes: Worldbuilding and The Rules

By this stage I will have lots of notes on worldbuilding. One of the most important questions I ask myself early on is: where is this character from? The place that they grew up, the experiences and relationships they had there, will inform the character in hugely significant ways. Wydrin Threefellows grew up mostly on Crosshaven; an archipelago of islands that’s a little like Mos Eisley, full of dodgy dealings and a wide variety of people. It’s not difficult to see how such an environment can produce a smart-arse mercenary with a morally dubious outlook. Similarly, Sebastian’s childhood in the largely religious and somewhat austere Ynnsmouth has led to a quiet, thoughtful man who is trapped by the need to do the ‘right’ thing. World-building notes at this stage are written down carefully on approximately a billion post-its, and carefully pinned around the notecards on the board. Over the course of planning and then writing the book, these post-its will normally end up three or four post-its deep – but they’re not really there for reference: they’re there so that the idea is fixed in my head.

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A selection of serious and important stationery currently being used to make The Ninth Rain happen

Now, the extra special pain in the arse about writing a fantasy book is the magic, of course. How you approach this will ultimately depend on the fantasy book you’re writing. Some fantasy books have barely any magic in them at all, while others will have a vast and complicated magic system. Or some will have simple magic, with strict rules, that is at the heart of how their entire world works. It’s not always possible, but it is a good idea, I think, to know what you’re going for before you start. Whatever you know about your magic, whatever the rules and restrictions might be – chuck them on to their own special notecard. Cover them in glitter, maybe. And get ready to change it as you go, because if there’s one thing that magic tends to be, its unpredictable.

Aaand when I’ve done all that, I take some fresh notecards and I write the story out again, and then I pin those over the top of the originals. It sounds ridiculous, but you’re starting to know what the story is now, deep in your heart. That golden thread you will follow from the start to the end is there, and you’ve just caught the beginning of it. Then you have to start writing the bloody things.

The next post will be all about the thrilling rollercoaster of horror that is The First Draft. Any questions or comments, do shout me in the comments!