Ahoy March! Surgery, The Ninth Rain, Mass Effect & Bats. Bats!

How did it get to be March? How did it get to be the middle of March, in fact? Timey wimey nonsense.

Actually, for me personally I will blame this particular space/time cock-up on the fact that I spent much of February recovering from surgery, and then the last bit of it launching a book (and having a birthday) which is a lot to fit into one month. Having surgery was interesting. I am, at heart, a coward, and I remain faintly stunned that I went through with it at all, and there were a few days afterwards, where Marty still had to help me in and out of bed, that I was convinced that I was in much more pain than was usual and it was all a bit outrageous. However, that proved to be me being overly dramatic and I must express my gratitude to Marty and my mum for looking after me, and all the lovely friends who sent me books and sweets and DVDs – what lovely people you are, I don’t deserve you.

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Me, signing like a boss, in my new favourite jumper.

Luckily, I was up and about in time for the launch of The Ninth Rain, which was handy because it was a brilliant night, with so many people in the queue at Forbidden Planet I suspected more timey-wimey shenanigans. Thank you again to everyone who came out to celebrate the publication of this epic fantasy with bats, bad-ass ladies and explosions, I had a completely amazing time and was very moved by all the support.

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So how’s it doing? Quite well, it seems, which is a lovely surprise. Everyone worries every time a book comes out, I suspect, but The Ninth Rain was quite a different beast from the Copper Cat trilogy, and a riskier undertaking in lots of ways. There have been some lovely reviews, and yesterday it popped up in a ‘best recent SF, Fantasy and Horror books’ round up in the Guardian, which you can see here. The word ‘eldritch’ is used! Hooray! If you have read it and enjoyed it, a review plonked up on goodreads or Amazon is always hugely appreciated – it does make a difference and helps get the book in potential reader’s faces. IN THEIR FACES.

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In other news, Den Patrick and I have stepped down from running Super Relaxed Fantasy Club. We have wrestled with the decision for a while now, but ultimately we are both horribly busy at the moment and we didn’t feel we could put in the time that SRFC deserved. The good news is that SRFC isn’t going anywhere: the running of the thing is being passed over as we speak, and you can expect monthly events of fantasy fun and booze to continue for the foreseeable future. We’re very proud of what we’ve built, and the little community of SRFC regulars should be very proud too. Watch out for updates on twitter, via @SRFantasyclub.

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I will be spending late March with these awesome dudes. YESSSS.

So, March then. March will see me working furiously on The Bitter Twins, which is the sequel to The Ninth Rain, whilst also furiously playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which I am ridiculously excited about. The original Mass Effect trilogy is my favourite piece of SF ever, and I can’t talk about it for any length of time without staring moodily out of windows, heroically holding back tears. If you don’t see me on social media much, this will be why.

See you on the other side, and remember, Isaac Newton is the deadliest son of a bitch in space…

2016 is over… and thank fuck for that

Well. I felt that I should write an end of year post, because that’s what you do with a blog, isn’t it? But how do you talk about 2016 without a lot of very energetic swearing? I won’t rehash the horrors and disappointments of this year, or the heroes we’ve lost, because I feel like I’ve spent months being alternately angry or sad. What I will do instead is poke myself with the great stuff that happened, selfishly, for me – because with these bits of glittering salvage I will build the good ship I’m Fucking Coming For You 2017.

2016 was the year I finished the Copper Cat Trilogy

The Silver Tide was published in February, bringing to an end my journey with the Black Feather Three. Lots of lovely people turned out to launch it with me, and I had a high old time. I will miss Wydrin, Frith and Sebastian a great deal (although not really, they’re with me all the time in my head) but I was very pleased to give them the ending I felt they deserved. Ye gods and little fishes.

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I didn’t manage to eat a single one of those bloody cookies…

The Copper Cat made her debut in the US and Canada

Thanks to Angry Robot, the Black Feather Three can now be found across the pond, with The Iron Ghost to follow in the first week of January. Surreal and exciting to know that my books are popping up in Barnes & Noble, and every time I look at the fabulous, almost movie-poster style covers I am filled with absolute glee.

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The Ninth Rain is imminent…

Starting a new trilogy is hard. Much of this year was taken up with writing the first book in the Winnowing Flame series, and it has been an interesting journey (interesting in this case can be taken to mean: difficult, alarming, nerve-wracking, thrilling, confusing). The Ninth Rain was a tough book to write; partly from the sheer terror of writing something new, and partly because I spent much of the period feeling quite unwell, and had to deal with a fair amount of physical pain and anxiety. What fun! I got there in the end though, and it’s a book I’m very proud of. It’s published on the 23rd of February, and I’m terrified.

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How amazing is this cover? *actual heart eyes*

Award nom nom noms…

To my genuine enormous surprise, The Iron Ghost was nominated for Best Fantasy Novel in the British Fantasy Awards 2016. To no surprise whatsoever, I didn’t win, but like The Ninth Rain, The Iron Ghost was a very tough book to write, and the fact that people loved it enough to put it forward for an award was hugely significant to me.

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SRFC continues to go from strength to strength

Super Relaxed Fantasy Club has had an excellent year. We moved venues to the very lovely Waterstones on Tottenham Court Road (check it out! It has a bar!) and guests included award-winners such as the brilliant Zen Cho and Adrian Tchaikovsky, and effortless entertainers such as Sarah Pinborough and Joe Hill. More to the point, our little community continues to grow and I hope to see you all back there for 2017. (Big thanks to my partner in crime Den Patrick, and all our excellent guest presenters).

There’s more I could write, but as usual when I come to construct these posts I realise what a terrible memory I have. Reading wise this year I have loved discovering Temeraire for the first time, and I loved The Flame Bearer, The Fifth Season, Station Eleven and The Lie Tree. Films I adored this year: Rogue One (oh Star Wars how you have my heart these days) and the new Ghostbusters, which was warm, clever, and really fucking funny. Here’s to more brilliant books and films in 2017 – I think we will need them, more than ever.

Happy New Year, my lovelies – let’s get out there and make things! 😀

Stuff! Plus – Win a signed and be-dragoned copy of The Silver Tide!

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Blimey, July is busy. After months spent squirrelled away indoors working on The Ninth Rain, I am abruptly going to be out and about a bit, AND my books are also spreading their wings and venturing further out into the world.

On the 5th, The Copper Promise made it’s debut in the US and Canada. Here I am over at Barnes & Noble, talking about writing and how the Copper Cat novels came to be.

On the 16th, I shall be at Edge-Lit in Derby, appearing on panels and hosting a special edition of Super Relaxed Fantasy Club with the marvellous Peter Newman. Edge-Lit is a great, friendly event full of good people, so I hope you can make it.

On the 23rd of July, me and Pete and Den Patrick are heading to Birmingham Waterstones (yes it’s true, I am sometimes allowed out of London) and we’ll be having a chat about fantasy, publishing, and probably signing books too. So much fantasy awesomeness, for free!

And on the 14th, the teeny weeny paperback of The Silver Tide will be available. The final part of the Copper Cat trilogy, it features pirates, dragons, old and terrible gods, and more mayhem than you can shake a stick at.

In celebration, I’m giving away a new shiny copy – signed and scribbled with dragons and other nonsense. To win one, simply tell me: if you had a magical sword, what would you name it? – let me know on twitter (@sennydreadful) with the hashtag #SilverTideSword or tell me in the comments here 😀

 

(UK only I’m afraid, and I’ll pick a winner at random on Wednesday the 13th of July )

*gibbering noises* THE IRON GHOST nominated for Best Novel in the British Fantasy Awards

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Totally over the moon to find out this morning that The Iron Ghost is on the Best Novel shortlist for the British Fantasy Society awards. Not only that, but it’s rubbing shoulders with a completely stonking bunch of excellent novels, and the nominations in general contain lots of dear friends and people I admire a lot. What an unexpectedly great Tuesday!

I am especially pleased because The Iron Ghost was such a hard book to write. Full of anxiety and self-doubt, I sweated blood over the thing, starting over twice and chucking away over 60,000 words at one point. That I made it out the other end with an actual book felt like a miracle at the time, so the fact that people appear to have enjoyed it makes all the sweat-blood worthwhile. Now I shall eat a giant cookie. 😀

EDIT: Bonus! Mentioned in the Guardian 😀

The Gemmell Awards and a Fox Pocket story

Oi oi! Just some quick bits and bobs. I’m very chuffed to say that The Iron Ghost has made it on to the long list for the David Gemmell Legend award (for best book) – alongside some incredible writers. Patrick Insole, the clever chap who designed all my covers, has also been nominated for the amazing Iron Ghost cover. If you should feel so inclined, voting is free and open to everyone, so CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR AWESOME BOOKS.

If you need a reminder of the awesomeness of The Iron Ghost cover, with the icy mountains of Skaldshollow and fabulous wyverns (and ridiculous pun), here you go!

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The Piercing the Vale fox pocket anthology is out now from Fox Spirit books, and I’m very pleased to have a short story in there. Short stories from me these days are as rare as griffin teeth, so I am quite proud of The Ghost-Trap, and this tiny wee book is bursting with fabulous tales. You can grab a copy here.

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Gorgeous cover design by Sarah Anne Langton

And a quick last minute plug – myself, Ed Cox and Den Patrick are off to Colchester on the 28th of May. I hope to see some of you there!
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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

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 1: Ideas

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.

Disclaimer the second: This is a giant wall of text so I have chosen to break it up with pictures of old cartoons. Look I’m sorry but I’m not sorry.

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The Thundercats just had the BEST idea – Let’s all laugh at Snarf!

 

Ideas

Let’s go back to the very beginning (a very good place to start*). Where do you get the idea for your fantasy trilogy? Well, the good thing about starting with this is it is a completely impossible question. I cannot answer it. ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is traditionally the question writers hate the most, and the truth is we do like to sound like we know everything, and it’s annoying when we don’t. I wish I could tell you where The Copper Promise really came from, or where exactly it started, but if there was a eureka moment it has been lost in the mists of time. The truth is, I think, that books start out as a gradual thickening of ideas. Lots of little ideas will start to bunch together, and eventually they will grow little legs, and suddenly you have a thing.

I knew that I wanted to write modern sword and sorcery, and there was this loveable rogue I wanted to write, who was a woman and *pop* Oh there’s Wydrin, and perhaps the characters are a sort of dysfunctional group who wind each other up, and I really like dragons…

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Actual picture of me, having an idea

 

I do have a theory about this thickening of ideas though. I think that writers tend to fall into two groups: writers whose ideas centre around characters, and writers whose ideas centre around stories. I am a very character-driven writer, and the characters of the Copper Cat trilogy were all in my head long before I knew what the story was. Other writers that I know well often talk about having an idea for a story first, and how sometimes bits of other stories latch on to that and become a book. I think (and this is a slightly wilder theory) that often story-centric writers (that is to say, writers who begin with the story idea) gravitate towards science-fiction, that genre of ‘what if?’. This is probably why the one SF novel I wrote revolved around a shoal of fish living in an exo-suit and a gangster spider.**

That isn’t to say, obviously, that character-driven writers have no story, or that story-driven writers can’t do characters. We’re all making the same journey, we just get there in different ways.

For me the question is rarely ‘What is the story?’ but ‘Whose story am I telling?’

Now, should writing a trilogy change how you approach having ideas? Does it differ, at this very early stage, from writing a standalone book? I think not. Is the idea big enough for a series? Does it naturally split into three, or four, or ten books? For me specifically, because I start with the characters (and I always have more than one main character) I am rarely worried that I won’t have enough story to go round, because I have their whole lives to play with. If anything, I’m not sure where to stop… (I’ll come back to this in the next blog, on planning)

 

So in terms of helpfulness, how do we assist the thickening of ideas? Here are some things I have been known to do:

Dedicated daydreaming time. Carving out a slice of time when you don’t have anything else to do for a bit. Easier said than done, of course. And I think the key to this is not to sit glaring angrily at your desk trying to boil your own eyeballs in your head with ‘THINK OF A BLOODY IDEA DAMNIT’ but to summon the sort of imaginative play-think-dream-time you would have had as a kid. Alright, that sounds like bollocks, I know. The truth is, 99% of your best ideas will come when you’re on the bus, or having a shower, doing the washing up or falling asleep, which is why:

Have a notebook with you. I HEAR YOUR COLLECTIVE GROANS: ‘Jeez Williams, everyone already knows this, you charlatan.’ Yes okay, but really, my notebook is never more than a few feet from me unless I’m in the shower. Ideas get thicker faster if you’ve written them down somewhere.

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True fact: Battlecat looks after He-Man’s notebook for him.

 

Read lots of everything you like. People have a lot of differing opinions on this, but I’m going to go with a straight up: read what you bloody well like. I know some people suggest you should read bad books so you can learn what not to do (ye gods no, life is too short) or read those stonkingly enormous bestsellers so you can steal their secrets. Some people I know won’t read books that are in any way similar to the book they are writing, just in case something seeps through, and I know people who read exclusively in their genre to absorb as much as possible. I try to read lots and lots of what I love, and I try to figure out why I love it so much.

(I do sometimes avoid reading books written in the first person while I’m writing, as I write third person POV and I like to keep my brain in the right headspace – however, this is clearly nonsense as I just read Fool’s Quest and The Empty Throne, both amazingly good first person books and I REGRET NOTHING)

Look out for odd things, and collect them to your bosom. Often for me, ideas tend to spawn from a single image or a scrap of random information. I read a description of an enormous ancient city in a history book not so long ago. Threatened by the possibility of invasion it had been abandoned, and this sprawling metropolis – one of the greatest cities in the world at the time – was claimed instead by weeds and prowling wolves. Reading that, I knew I wanted to write about such a place, and that was one of the seeds that eventually grew to be The Ninth Rain.

Ideas are attracted to each other. Get enough of them in the same place, and stories start to happen. You’ll know when it happens, because you won’t be able to scribble in your notebook fast enough, and suddenly everything makes a beautiful kind of sense as all the pieces plop delicately into place. It is, in my opinion, one of the finest parts of the writing process – the little hitch and flutter in your chest that means your book is coming alive.

When you have your idea – or your membranous collective of ideas – then you can start planning, which will be part 2 of this blog series. And if you have any questions about ideas, or why I have an unhealthy obsession with Thundercats, do stick them in the comments.

 

*thank you, Sound of Music.

** I probably shouldn’t write SF.

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Look, this just makes me happy, okay?