Fantasycon 2014: Cloaks, Curry, and Karaoke


We did not actually go to this pub, but it is my favourite, so here’s a picture.

This last weekend I attended by very first Fantasycon, which just happened to be in York, one of my very favourite places. I was initially quite nervous about the whole thing – my lovely bloke wouldn’t be attending this one, I’d be staying in the B&B on my own, and I had both a panel and the super mega bumper edition of Super Relaxed Fantasy Club to attend. I suspected I would get lost, or not know anyone, or feel terribly homesick, or simply fail to interact with people successfully. My experience of talking on panels in the past has been somewhat mixed, and I have to admit that over the last year I have wondered whether it’s something I should do at all, given it seems to be against my nature in lots of ways – I always enjoy listening to people, and having opinions on things (ye gods, do I ever have opinions on things) but I’m generally better at writing these opinions down, rather than managing to verbalise them in a witty and concise manner in front of a whole bunch of people. That, I’m not so great at.

As it happens, I think this time I managed to get away with it. The panel, which was titled “Beyond Grimdark”, featured me, Adrian Tchaikovsky, James Oswald, and Martin Taylor, with David Moore moderating. There appeared to be lots of people attending (I can only be vaguely certain of this, as once I’m in the chair I’m usually too scared to look at the audience) and the discussion was lively and interesting, AND, get this, I even managed to say a few things that might have made sense, and that were quite important to me.

My attendance of Super Relaxed Fantasy Club was almost scuppered by dinner at a curry house that had a) the cheapest glasses of wine I’ve ever seen b) narn breads so big they hung them from metal trees c) a casual approach to actually bringing the food, wine, or the bill, and c) a window seat that was apparently cat-nip to all of York’s drunkest and most exhibitionist citizens (thanks to Lucy Hounsom and Max Edwards for a dinner I won’t forget in a hurry). Having finally coaxed the waiters into bringing both the cheap wine and the bill, we necked the booze and made a hurried and dignity-free journey back to the hotel (who coincidentally had the most expensive glasses of wine I’ve ever seen) so that I was just in time to stumble apologetically into the room just as Den Patrick was contemplating throttling me, no doubt. Luckily, the event itself went swimmingly, largely thanks to Den, and as well as top readings from Laura Lam, Ed Cox, Emma Newman and Niel Bushnell, we also had a bonus section where James Barclay interviewed Simon Spanton – a lot of great people, talking about great books. It was fab, and I felt a tiny sliver of pride at how this odd little joke on twitter has turned into an event that people actually enjoy. (A note for newcomers to SRFC – the fantasycon edition was somewhat less chatty than usual, partly because we were overexcited and packed our time with readers, but normally there is a greater ratio of sitting around drinking cider)

Other highlights for me included my first ever win in Cards Against Humanity, watching the marvellous Juliet Mushens and Andrew Reid belt out “A Whole New World” at the Karaoke (some things cannot be unseen), almost getting Adrian Tchaikovsky to recite some Dr Seuss for me, the excellent lady who ordered a copy of my book on her tablet while I was standing next to her (hooray 21st Century!), being a nuisance in the sword shop, and listening to Charlaine Harris talk – she has the most wonderfully reassuring voice. I chatted with tons of marvellous people and caught up with lots of friends (I won’t attempt to name them all here because I will forget loads) and now I am absolutely knackered. Really, fantasycon has broken me. Big thanks must go here to the Redcloaks, as ever, who were simply fabulous. Roll on next year!

The Copper Promise: First Reviews

WARNING: There now follows a very self indulgent post where I shamelessly link to posts that are being lovely about my book.

posting cover

It’s been a tough sort of week really, with various things going wrong – I won’t bore you with it here, but I was stress-drinking large glasses of red by Wednesday – however, the very first reviews for The Copper Promise have started to come in, which is equal parts exciting and terrifying. So you can consider this post an obvious attempt to cheer myself up:

Andrew Reid provides the most modern of reviews, stuffed full of gifs: Tom Hiddleston Dancing out of Ten

Pete Newman declares The Copper Promise to be “a good thing”: Tons of bad guys, an abundance of scars and a mild hint of sauce.

The legendary Graeme Flory writes a review that I suspect knows more about the book than I do: can we have the sequel now please?

And just to top it off, there has been some chatter on twitter from a couple of my favourite writers:


Well, I don’t know about you, but that cheered me up. Remember, The Copper Promise is already available for pre-order

Halloween Shorts: Constance Withers and the Wall


Well, it’s that time of year again! This year’s Halloween Shorts have been herded into place by the marvellous Andrew Reid, and it’s a Team Mushens special – Andrew explains all here, where you can also find links to the other writers participating (and as they’re all Team Mushens, they’re all fabulous, witty and tremendously well-dressed, of course)

A quick note about the photo above: my mum showed me this photo for the first time this evening. The little girl with the awesome hat is actually my great-grandmother, and the mildly sinister couple (who were apparently lovely) were her adoptive parents. The tall woman in the back (who looks a little like Benedict Cumberbatch, or is that just me?) was the evil step-sister – no really, she stole my great-granny’s inheritance. It’s like Dickens or something.

ANYWAY. It was such a fabulous photo, I felt I had to share it with you, particularly as it feels very much in the spirit of my Halloween Shorts story. I like to think that in some magical alternate reality, that little girl grew up to be Constance Withers.

Click on the linky for spooky London-based strangeness…

Constance Withers and the Wall – Copy

You Keep Using That Word – A Guest Post by Andrew Reid

Andrew Reid is both my writing buddy and my agent bro (we’re both represented by the fabulous Juliet Mushens). He writes genre twisting fantasy no doubt coming soon from a publisher near you, and he recently had a story featured in an issue of Dark Fiction Magazine. He has kindly written this guest post on the wonderful Princess Bride and the numerous confusing paths of writing advice. 

Inhale this, but do not touch.

I smell nothing.

What you do not smell is called Iocaine powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadlier poisons known to man.BattleOfWits 

And so begins the battle of wits. The Princess Bride is one of my favourite movies. It is an absolute triumph. Almost everything about it should fail, from the clunky, clichéd dialogue right down to the rubber monsters. It has an instrumental track played exclusively on a Casio keyboard set to “Trumpet” mode, and a swordfight so heavily choreographed it’s a wonder the swords ever touch. And yet somehow, all of that just makes it more awesome.

I was going to write a blog post about how boring the concept of an odourless, tasteless, undetectable poison is, with a view to talking more generally about how we can learn from all the exciting, awful and very, very real things that are out there in science and history for us to learn about. But as soon as I started thinking it I realised that The Princess Bride kind of demolishes my point. It takes what would be a lazy shortcut (untraceable, undetectable poisons being, essentially, consequence-free for the poisoner) and uses it to set up one of the best scenes in the movie. The exchange is sly – both men are smiling, but neither is happy – and the sudden introduction of real, genuine death as an outcome invests the viewer immediately in the battle of wits that follows. That the battle is ridiculous, with Vizzini red in the face and blustering wildly, is immaterial. It’s genuinely suspenseful, even after the hundredth watch, and as a result it’s devastating to my argument.


So what I really want to talk about is awesome things and the removal of impediments to them.

There is a lot of advice out there about what you should and should not do as a writer. A great deal of it boils down to the incredibly useful maxim of sit down, write, finish what you start. Chuck Wendig talks a great deal of sense, in amongst the swearing and manatee sex anecdotes, and so does Gareth L. Powell. An even greater deal of it is just well-meaning churn that you can safely ignore.

Some of it is actually pretty damn unhelpful.

One of the big things doing the rounds among aspirant fantasy writers (much like myself) a few years ago was the idea of a “well-rounded magic system”. You’ve got to have one, was the thrust of things. It has to have rules, and those rules have to be consistently applied.

And really, I don’t have a problem with magic systems. I do kind of skim the sections where people explain to each other how they work (the Mistborn books went by damned fast) but I also know some people really, really like them. Each to his or her own, I say. What I do have a problem with is when one gets hoiked up onto a pedestal as a necessity for modern fantasy writing.

Got an idea for a magic system? Super. Go for it. Is you magic wild and untamed? Brilliant stuff. Go for it. Magic has been blasted out of the world by an eldritch calamity and the survivors struggle to live in a world where their powers are faded to nothing? Cracking. Go for it.

If you have an awesome idea that you love and you want to create it so hard that you wake up at four am going yes I want to do this right now I cannot wait then do not let anyone convince you otherwise.

Bonus caveat the first: the above is limited to awesome ideas. Awesome. Not offensive. Everyone writes for themselves first and foremost, but if you’re writing something hate-filled then you should probably take some time to think on why that is. Life’s too short to spend time fulminating because other people are different to you.

Bonus caveat the second: Write your heart out, but be prepared to either edit what you end up with beyond recognition, or even to bin the whole thing off. Every time I open my drafts for editing, I tell myself that everything is negotiable. – Andrew Reid

The Beautiful Books Post: The Age Atomic, Asimov and NOTEBOOKS

Last night I rocked along to the launch of Adam Christopher‘s The Age Atomic at Forbidden Planet. Despite working around the corner and wearing my awesome new tiger t-shirt (which should have given me super powers) I managed to be late and missed the reading, but did manage to get my hands on a copy of the marvellously green and ominous book itself. Check it out: this is a cover design that really punches you in the face.



(the inscription, if you’re wondering, reads “Thanks for everything, OK?!” which I think is because I demanded a witty inscription in a demanding tone of voice)

At the legendary Phoenix Bar I also managed to grab a drink with Andrew Reid, fantasy writer and totally my “Agent Bro”. We bumped fists and were close, I think, to coming up with some sort of Agent Bro tagline, like, “GO TEAM MUSHENS FROM OUTER SPACE!”. Andrew is a top dude and he gave me this fabulous notebook, which I love. The design on it is apparently an accidental screen print – mine looks like a herd of beasties running from an exploding sun. It’s ace.



And finally, today at work I snaffled a copy of this lovely little Foundation Trilogy boxed set, published by Panther back in the day when you could get a paperback for 30p. 30p! You can’t even get a Mars Bar for that now, alas. It has lovely Chris Foss covers and has been well read by several careful owners, I think.


Halloween Shorts Part 1: In the Wolf’s Glen by Andrew Reid


Happy Halloween, everyone! May your pumpkins be bounteous and your skeletons ripe with gore. In celebration of the most wonderful time of the year (shh) we have an excellent creepy story from the marvellous Andrew Reid. A bit later I’ll pop up a story by me, and then this afternoon I will direct you over to Dark Fiction Magazine, where more Halloween treats await. Enjoy!

(You can also go here for an audio version, read by the author!)

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