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! 😀

Notes on surviving Nanowrimo AND KICKING ITS BUTT

It’s Halloween! Which not only means it’s time to eat lots of novelty shaped chocolates, it also means it’s practically Nanowrimo: that special month of the year where a bunch of very enthusiastic people attempt to write 50,000 words or more in 30 days.

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This pleases Skeletor.

I am, in my own small way, a Nano veteran. When I first started taking writing seriously, I decided to try Nanowrimo as a way of teaching myself some discipline, and much to my surprise (being an inherently lazy person) it worked! In 2008 I reached my wordcount with an odd little fantasy book for younger readers called Bird and Tower. In 2009 I won with a YA book called Ink for Thieves, and in 2010 it was with an oddly named SF crime romp called Dead Zoo Shuffle. 2011 was where it got complicated – I intended to write the rest of this odd little serial I was writing, called the Copper Promise or something, but then the first section of it received a lot of attention and Nanowrimo dropped off the radar for me…

I was back in 2012 with another YA book called London-Under-Sea, with which I did reach the 50K goal but the novel itself remains unfinished, alas. By then, The Copper Promise was on the verge of being a real book, and what I found was that publishing schedules neatly elbowed Nanowrimo out of the way. I never seemed to be writing a first draft when November rolled around – I was always in the midst of edits. Consequently, 2013 was a miss for me, but with 2014 I squeaked in with 50K words of The Silver Tide. Similarly, history records that last year I registered The Ninth Rain as the novel I would be working on, but edits for The Silver Tide put a stop to that.

This year I have decided, with a heavy heart, that I will not make the attempt. I love Nanowrimo dearly, but I am in the middle of the copyedits for The Ninth Rain now, and there is no greater antithesis to the spirit of Nano than the dreaded copy edit. However, I thought it would be fun to have a think about all the things I have learnt about surviving a month of super-fast writing, and collect some of it here. If you are about to experience the strange adventure that is Nano for the first time, it might be useful. Or it might at least indicate what not to do…

No edits
It’s the most obvious and tiresome piece of advice, and if you are doing Nano you will have heard it 800 times already but: take your inner editor by the hand, give her one last hug, and then give her a sharp shove down the basement steps. Ignore her squawk of outrage and snapping limbs – for the next 30 days, you don’t need her. Soz, lady.

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Stop! Put that editing pencil DOWN!

Time is precious
Nano is brilliant because it teaches you to give yourself periods of time dedicated solely to writing. This time is precious. It must be offered up in sacrifice to bring your characters to life. But with Nano I would also suggest looking closely at all those bits in your day where you briefly have nothing to do, and snaffle those as well. Write bits of your novel on the phone when you’re on the bus. Scribble a section on your lunch break. Stuck in a waiting room? Get those words out. It sounds a little, uh, over the top, but even 20 words or so will help when you’re dragging yourself towards that 1667 words a day.

With that in mind…
I almost always write in a linear fashion these days, with scene following scene, etc. But with Nano, all rules are out the window. I highly recommend, particularly when you’re on the bus or stuck at work, scribbling little extra scenes, snatches of dialogue, conversations that pop up out of nowhere. The beauty of these little isolated fragments is a) they add to your word count and b) they can often lead to unexpected things – a secret about a character you didn’t know, a piece of worldbuilding that suddenly slots into place, and so on.

Sweets
A more responsible writer would tell you to eat healthy snacks, and if you like them, go for it, but I am not a responsible person and I like sweets. Snickers Flapjacks are bloody amazing, and there’s always the trusty Peanut Butter Chunky Kit-Kat. PLUS I highly recommend buying up all the cheap Halloween candy on November 1st.

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Shredder cannot *wait* to get his mitts on those tasty kit-kats.

The Desk of Awesome
If you can, make yourself a base of operations for November. I like my desk to be quivering under the weight of a thousand toys, but you might like a more minimal approach. I dunno. I guess some people like that. Jeez. I found that having a dedicated space to return to for writing sessions made more of an occasion of the whole process, and helped to get my mind into the right head-space.

Share it
Get other people to do it with you. Or, at least tell other people that you’re doing it. Abandoning the project halfway through November is much easier when it’s your secret challenge – if you have friends and family asking you how it’s going, that little flicker of guilt can be enough to get your bum back in the writing seat. And with Nanowrimo the little things count.

Incentivize!
Decide beforehand some landmark word targets, such as 10,000 words, 15,000 words and so on, and treat yourself when you hit them. An hour playing videogames, a special cake, a big glass of booze, or a giant Lego set. Or all of the above.

Get involved with the community
Although I was always more of a lurker than a poster, I spent quite a bit of time on the Nanowrimo forums. It’s comforting to know the struggles other writers are facing, and I was always fascinated to see what other people were writing. It goes without saying that the forums are packed with advice themselves.

Above all, have fun! The spirit of Nanowrimo is wild abandonment, so write whatever you bloody well like, and relish the freedom! FREEEEDOOOOM!!!*

*Wild spelling and outrageous use of exclamation marks are an inevitable side-effect of Nanowrimo.

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Look! Mumm-Ra believes in you!

This week – where to find me, plus sneaky mini competition!

Welcome to August, the month of either boiling to death or vaguely regretting the lack of a jumper in your tote bag. It’s also the month that seems to kick off a lot of EXCITING BOOK ACTION, as it were, so this is where I’ll be popping up this week:

Fantasy in the Court at Goldsboro Books

I do love Fantasy in the Court. If you want to observe writers in their natural habitat, i.e. hanging around drinking booze and gossiping, then this truly is the event of the year. Come along and have a chat, and if you have books with you, I’ll happily draw dragons in them. There will be more fantasy authors there than you can shake a magical stick at.

I will also be bringing along a copy of the US edition of The Copper Promise – not easy to get hold of over here. The first person to find me and utter the secret phrase ‘Have you got any chips?’ gets it (with attendant dragon drawings, of course).

Nineworlds

I will be at Nineworlds on the Saturday, hanging out and burbling nonsense on a couple of panels. Again, I will be bringing a copy of the US edition of The Copper Promise, so find me and murmur the secret phrase ‘moon-faced assassin of joy’ and you can have it. Below is my schedule, and of course I’m always happy to sign books and chat the rest of the time too (hint: I’ll probably be in the bar).

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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.

SilverTide

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

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)

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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.

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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.

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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!

The Copper Cat Conquers New Territories!

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BOOOM!

Sometimes in publishing, you have sit on a piece of news for rather a while, as you wait for things to be sorted out and contracts to be drawn up in the blood of a righteous unicorn etc – sometimes it can feel like you’ve been sitting on a nugget of news for so long you have compressed it into a beautiful news-diamond of sparkling frustration.

Well, finally, I may present my twinkly gem of news: the top folks at Angry Robot have purchased the North American and Canadian rights for THE COPPER PROMISE and THE IRON GHOST.

That’s right, I’m COMING TO AMERICA BABY! (every time I think about this I am earwormed by the song at the end of Coming to America, a film I have seen at least 50,000 times – in fact, I once snuck into a cinema to see it. I know right?)

Anyway, I’m over the moon. The Copper Cat will be making her way across the pond, bringing mead, mayhem, monsters and magic. There will be a new cover too, which is beyond exciting, and for extra levels of glam it was announced on the Barnes & Noble blog, where I also wrote a guest piece on 21st century fantasy.

As ever, huge thanks to my wonderful agent, the now near-legendary Juliet Mushens, and to Angry Robot, for letting me be a part of the robot army. Now, where’s my giant mecha suit?

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?