I was back at the King’s Head in Beverly for the latest Humber SF event. The evening featured two wonderful authors: Sunyi Dean and Daniel Godfrey, who provided entertaining readings from their latest novels, talked about their writing practice and answered lots of questions from the audience.
Sunyi’s said she wanted to celebrate the north of England and so set her book, The Book Eaters, in Yorkshire. Promoted as ‘gothic fantasy horror’ this is a story of ‘escape, a mother’s savage devotion and a queer love.’ This book contains two timelines, one in the present day and the other having a definite Victorian feel to it—inspired by Sunyi’s love of the work of the Bronte sisters. With a smile, Sunyi told the audience that her editor said her book was ‘fantasy for people who hate fantasy’—those in the audience who had read the book were keen to disagree—they loved it! This is Sunyi’s debut novel and it’s clearly a winner. When asked about the process of finding a publisher, she did comment that there is an industry shift away from ‘series’ and towards stand-alone books or duologies.
Daniel’s book, The Calculations of Rational Men, is set in the 1960’s, following an alternate history where the UK is subjected to a nuclear attack. Five hundred prisoners are trapped underground awaiting the ‘all clear’. Those that had read the book were impressed by the clear 1960’s level of awareness of medical knowledge (the protagonist is a medical doctor imprisoned for murder) and the then understanding of nuclear weapons and the effects of radiation. Daniel used a 1960’s medical book as a reference and said he was lucky to find information on how nuclear shelters would have operated. He even went to have a look around a nuclear bunker in York. One audience member commented: it was amazing how much happened (in the book) given the limited space the men were trapped in.
A very entertaining evening with two more books added to my reading list!
King’s Head, Beverly was the venue for another great event from Humber SFF, organised by the redoubtable Shellie Horst. The guests were a very entertaining double act: Stephen Aryan and RJ Barker. Both are established authors with multiple books to their names, and both offered the gathered audience useful insights into the publishing industry and the life of a writer.
Stephen Aryan’s latest novels are a duology: The Coward and The Warrior. The Coward looks at the reality of post-traumatic stress and what happens when the hero is recalled to save the world a second time.
RJ Barker regaled the audience with his journey from failed musician to successful writer. His Tide Child trilogy is set in a remarkable world where Bone Ships sail the seas. He asked himself what would a world look like without a resource which we take for granted? In this case: wood or material to build boats/ships. He was inspired by whalebone carvings and created a massive ocean-going leviathan that was pursued to extinction in order to use its bones to build ships. A fascinating world and a fascinating read.
Both authors treated the audience to readings from their current novels. A real pleasure to listen to. Questions from the audience were taken panel-style with both Stephen and RJ pitching in. It was a relaxed and enjoyable evening with several members of the audience being put on RJ’s ‘naughty list’ for asking particularly challenging questions that made both authors dig deep.
I’m looking forward to the next event on 27th November, with Sunyi Dean and Daniel Godfrey as guest speakers. Get your tickets early!
The British Fantasy Society annual convention was held September 17th – 18th at the Raddison Red Hotel, Heathrow. Although a slightly curtailed version of the annual convention that we all know and love, it was still well worth the time, money and effort it took to get there. I arrived on Friday night (16th) so that I would be ready for the full onslaught of panels running through Saturday and Sunday morning.
There was a lot to choose from! I opted to start with ‘Portraying Families in SFFH’ as my own writing is family orientated. The panel discussed the fact that the expectations of readers are now more focused on the depth of familial relationships–they want to see internal conflict and have an opportunity to flex their empathy. While this is certainly true, not all satisfying family dynamics are centered around conflict. For example, the four Fallow sisters in Liz Williams’ Comet Weather provide a more cooperative model of family dynamics.
My next port of call was the panel on ‘Writing Humour’, ably moderated by Sandra Unerman. The panel discussed ‘ways to approach the arduous task of being funny’. It certainly is an arduous task for me. The panel was interesting, informative and, yes, genuinely funny. David Wragg, by his own admission, aims to be intentionally funny in his books; he made it clear that you need the implied consent of the reader and that you must ask yourself: are you making a good point? Dan Hanks emphasised the need for humorous banter to be organic (‘organic’ is a term that came up a lot during the panels); and Jen Williams discussed her challenges around removing humour from her latest crime novel. When is humour appropriate? A good question.
‘Character Development in Short Stories’ was interesting and a good refresher. In short stories, characters are the ‘glue’ that holds everything together. All panelists agreed that any physical descriptions of characters need to be short and must appear early in the story. ‘Love, Sex, Magic: Romance and Relationships in SFFH’ was entertaining in its own way and covered familiar ground around gender issues.
The Guest of Honour this year was Liz Williams, a prolific writer and stalwart of the annual Milford Speculative Fiction Writers’ Conference. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her speak. Knowledgeable, insightful and overall deftly done.
The panels on ‘Religion in SFFH’ and ‘Mental Health in SFFH’ gave me plenty to think about in relation to my writing (and the writing of others). Religion is certainly a useful tool when it comes to world building and can be used to drive the plot forward. What I need to consider is how religion makes my characters think and how it influences their behaviour. And yes, when it comes to the depiction of mental health in SFFH, we really do need to do better. As pointed out by Tej Turner, a mental health issue could just as easily be a strength as a weakness. There was an interesting discussion on the need for trigger warnings in books–again, Tej suggested the use of links to the author’s website rather than include possible spoilers at the beginning of the book.
‘Writing Older Characters’ raised a number of interesting ideas. Firstly, the relationship between how old a character is compared to their natural lifespan, which can be very different in the SFF genres. There was an interesting discussion around the implications of older characters actually being immortal. The point was made that older characters already have their own story arc in motion (baggage, a complicated past) and are likely to have a different perspective on events. There are not as many tropes around older people, which may give a writer more freedom. While older characters can certainly learn new skills (e.g. technical skills), they can’t replicate the mindset of the young. I can’t remember which panelist quoted Oscar Wilde ‘I’m not young enough to know everything’. Terry Pratchett’s character, Nanny Ogg, was agreed to be everyone’s favourite older character. She gets my vote too!
I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fantasy Convention in Birmingham 🙂
This book is a great read. I was involved in critiquing some of the earlier chapters, so I knew I was in for a treat. I wasn’t disappointed! The three point-of-view characters (Valdas, Mizra and Lind) are engaging and believable; I was totally invested in their loves, their dreams and their dilemmas. The novel inhabits an alternative version of history (not my usual go-to genre) that plays out across the pages with a sense of authenticity, which is not dispelled by the traditional use of natural magic by the Landstriders or the darker blood-magic by the antagonist.
I was gripped by the story and enjoyed switching between the point-of-view of all three main characters. Within the pages of Amber Crown you will find rank treachery and heart warming loyalty, some great fight scenes, sensitive sex scenes and, best of all, characters who discover who they truly are. There is a real sense of healing and completion at the end, at least for two of the protagonists. It’s a bit of an open question for the third.
So EXCITED to have one of my stories in this most excellent anthology by NewCon Press…
“Have you ever wondered what the fairy tales of alien cultures are like? For hundreds of years scholars and writers have collected and retold folk and fairy stories from around our world. They are not alone. On distant planets alien chroniclers have done the same. For just as our world is steeped in legends and half-remembered truths of the mystic and the magical, so are theirs.”
When writing historical fiction it’s sometimes difficult to pin down names. Things change and sometimes the change is gradual. For instance I live in a tiny Yorkshire village called Birdsedge, or maybe it’s Birds Edge. No one really seems to know for sure. It’s currently in a state of flux and both names work. (My preference is for Birdsedge to be all one word.) When I first moved here in 1980 the village sign when approaching from one direction said Birds Edge, but the sign when approaching from the other said Birdsedge.
Confused? You will be.
An old diary (Adam Eyre’s Diary) from the 1770s called it Bursage and if you listen to some of the long-time residents they pronounce it something closely akin to B’zzidge, the vowel after the B being an uh sound that’s not quite E and not quite U. (A schwa?)
Guess where I’m going to be in just a couple of short weeks? The GollaczFest, of course! I attended last year and it was a real treat. The panel discussions were particularly interesting, with authors giving candid views on topical issues. I especially loved the way Gollancz used the event to promote its debut authors.
This year I plan to split my time between the author panels and the events aimed specifically at upcoming writers. Have a look at the list of authors taking part. It’s going to be so much fun!
There are times as a writer when I just need to step back and chill out. Give the creative side something else to do, a sort of re-charge of the writing batteries. I love the quiet discipline of adding colour to someone else’s kick-ass drawings. I have several fantasy-type colouring books, but my favourite by far is the ‘Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld’. It is packed with Paul Kidby’s amazing illustrations.
“The little dragon turned on Vimes a gaze that would be guaranteed to win it the award for Dragon the Judges would Most Like to Take Home and Use as a Portable Gas Lighter.”
Thank you Paul Kidby, and thank you Gollancz. I just need to decide what to colour next!
Saint’s Blood, Sebastien De Castell, Jo Fletcher Books
The third in the series detailing the life of Falcio val Mond and his constant struggle to save Tristia, his cess-pit of a homeland. Together with his fellow ex-Greatcoats, Kest and Brasti, Falcio fights to restore the ‘King’s Law’, even though said king is dead—betrayed by the Dukes whose greed and corruption is driving Tristia to its knees.
The Greatcoats are magistrates with a difference. Re-envisioned by the late King Paelis, they are duellists trained in all manner of combat. They ride the roads of Tristia, hearing cases in towns and villages and delivering their judgements. Cases are often decided via trial by combat—the Greatcoats overriding mantra is ‘fight hard, ride fast’.
Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow are set after the death of the King, with the Greatcoats reviled as traitors, scattered around Tristia trying to both survive and follow their last, secret, orders from their King. Falcio rescues a teenage girl, Aline, who turns out to be the King’s daughter. The trio of Greatcoats fight Ducal intrigues, assassins, and a pretender to the throne in their attempts to have Aline recognised as the rightful queen.
Saint’s Blood continues the story, with their greatest adversary ever: an actual God. All three books are packed with fast moving action, as you might expect, with expertly drawn and compelling one-to-one fights and larger group battles. The action is underpinned by believable and engaging characters, which you can’t help but empathise with and root for.
The books are written exclusively from Falcio’s point-of-view, giving the reader an insight into a man who was driven into the role of ‘protector’ by the rape and murder of his wife—a man who inspires others to his cause, despite his many flaws. The relationship between Falcio and his two best friends, Kest and Brasi, is masterly portrayed. The female characters that take a lead role in the story are portrayed as intelligent, determined and a source of impressive strength.
Saint’s Blood opens our heart to fear and then demonstrates by acts of uncommon valour by men and women alike how to overcome those fears.
I’m looking forward to the next book: Traitor’s Throne.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at FantasyCon this year. Great panels, great people and a wonderful atmosphere. Such a packed and varied programme that I (and plenty of others) skipped lunch in order to attend as many interesting and (to us writers) valuable workshops and panels as possible.
Needless to say, I took loads of useful ideas away with me. Here are a few little gems:
Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History (Jacey Bedford, Susan Boulton, Anne Lyle, Juliet E McKenna, Toby Venables, Susan Bartholomew)
What you think is true about history probably isn’t.
Think about: what are the usual rules in this time/society?
Find the base line (i.e. the ordinary people), so that you can then show what it means to be extraordinary in the time period.
There are so many ways that humanity has not changed over the millenia.
Protag/Antag: Character Creation (Ruth Booth, John Connolly, KT Davis, Peter Newman, James Oswald, Caroline Hooton)
Every character is a hero in their own minds (can justify their actions)
Play fair with the rules you have created
Keep your characters interesting and believable (know why your characters behave they way they do) then it doesn’t matter if they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’
The hook can be not what you know about the character, but what you don’t
Less is more in many ways
Blades, Wands and Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight Scene (Clifford Beal, Juliet E McKenna, Kevin Murphy, Jo Thomas, James Barclay)
Think about the psychological aspects of a fight: when experts fight, their moves and counter moves are done automatically
In real life, sword fighters aim to disable via strikes to the neck, wrist and behind the knees
The aim is to get as many combatants off the field as possible. If you kill your opponent, his/her colleagues will just step over them and continue the fight. If you injure you opponent, his/her colleagues are more likely to want to take them to a medic (so three off the field with one injury)
Young men are more afraid of being disabled than being killed
Luck plays a huge part in any fight/battle
All fights happen one-to-one, whether in a duel or a battle
Tactics when confronted: 1. Run Away; 2. Break their will to attack
When fighting: Don’t look at the eyes (they can fake you out); Don’t look at the weapon; LOOK at the body language.
Quote: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
The last quote applies to fighting, but I think you can apply that to writing too!
There was lots of fun stuff to do in the evenings, of course. I particularly enjoyed the performed reading of ‘One for the Road’. A comic short story by Paul Kane, ably performed by James Barclay, Guy Adams, Lee Harris and Phil Lunt. They certainly brought to life the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!
The live edition of Tea & Jeapardy was excellent and very entertaining. Emma Newman, assisted by Latimer the butler, interviewed Brandon Sanderson over tea and cake (and a cursed shield). Great stuff!