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Dead Line

Relic Guild ManuscriptA certain kind of vindication, a validation, comes with signing a book deal. Someone like Gollancz doesn’t buy your novel unless they believe it is good enough to publish. Knowing this will patch up the shaky confidence of any writer, at least for a time. However, writing a novel good enough for Gollancz is only the beginning, because when you’ve signed up for a trilogy, you sort of have to do it again.

There’s a big difference between knowing a thing and experiencing it. I’ve often learned this the hard way, and it’s one of the themes of The Relic Guild, a book that took me two and half years to write. Actually, no – it took me two and a half years to finish. Other stories were written during that time, I took breaks from writing altogether, and when I did work it was at a leisurely, relaxed pace. In fact, writing The Relic Guild was no more stressful than deciding which sort of cake I would eat with my cup of tea, primarily because there was no deadline.

Dead. Line. Sounds sinister, doesn’t it?

I always knew that getting a book deal would mean that any sequels had to be written to a deadline, but I’m not sure anything can prepare an author for how it will affect them when it happens. Signing that contract carries a responsibility, which I understood straight away, and was ready to shoulder. There was a whole year and a quarter to go before deadline, and that was plenty of time to get book two written. No worries! You should have seen how carefree and confident I was at the beginning. I only wish that I had a before and after picture to show you.

 

Children of Time

Children Of Time

I read CHILDREN OF TIME by ADRIAN TCHAIKOVSKY and…

Shortly before the fall of Earth and the human race, Avrana Kern is conducting a bold and outlandish experiment. With a genetically engineered virus, she plans to radically accelerate the evolution of monkeys. She has found the perfect planet on which the intelligence and awareness of her test subjects can grow. But when a saboteur strikes, catastrophe follows, and the monkeys never make it to Kern’s World. The virus does, though. And something else discovers it. Something with eight legs, a gob full of poison, and a ridiculous number eyes. And so the spiders take their first steps into sentience.

ARRRRRRGH!

Thousands of years later, the remnants of the human race is travelling across the stars in behemoth ark ships, searching for a home, a new Earth. They find Kern’s World and it seems at first to be an idyllic place to start afresh. But Avrana Kern has found a way to survive the passage of millennia and she hasn’t given up on her experiment. She guards her world like an orbiting Robocop, and she ain’t letting no bugger near it. But humans are only human, and we’ve never been very good at taking no for an answer.

Adrian Tchaikovsky is a fascinating and mysterious fellow. Not many people know this, but he invented Tuesdays, Wagon Wheels (the chocolate round things not the makes-wagons-go-along things) and walls. What is more apparent about him is that his knowledge of creepy-crawlies is encyclopaedic and that he writes a damn fine story.

Children of Time does something very rare for me: it is as intelligent as it is entertaining. The science of zoology isn’t a field I’m particularly clued up on, yet the author integrates the science into his storytelling smoothly, without great dollops of bamboozling LOOK HOW CLEVER I AM. It is intellectually considered, intriguing, and accessible.  And I think he achieves this by not focusing on the otherness of spiders. They are erudite, relatable characters. Their struggle is your struggle, the drive of the story, which makes you wonder if the survivors of the human race have simply lost their right to a place in the universe. Because, refreshingly, the spiders aren’t the baddies here, and Tchaikovsky puts you right in the thick of things with them, instils in you all the hope that their enhanced evolution can overcome social fractures and hardships to birth the glorious new species they’re supposed to be.

And to boot, there’s a war between giant spiders and giant ants that had me rolling around in a giant nerdgasm because MONSTERS FIGHT! I really, really like this book.

There’s something about Children of Time that makes it unlike anything I’ve read before. As a writer who is usually associated with fantasy tales, Adrian Tchaikovsky has created a smart, fun science fiction story that actually might be important to the genre. It deserves to be read, it deserves to be discussed, but most importantly it deserves to be enjoyed.

The Feeling

The great question: why do I write? I’ve been asked this a number of times, and my answers have been varied. I’ve taken the pretentious route, proclaiming that no one chooses to be a writer, writing chooses you. I’ve tried to brush it off by saying that writing is the only thing I know how to do. The truth is, I definitely do know why I write, but it is difficult for me explain simply. It comes from an experience, a visceral reaction that I now call the Feeling.

So what’s a good example of what I’m talking about?

Take The Diamond Throne by David Eddings. I bought this book in the late 80’s. I read it in a single sitting in my bedroom. Outside, the sky was dark, full of black clouds, and rain was pelting my window. To the distant rumble of thunder, the flashes of lightning, I turned to chapter one and discovered a knight riding a horse through a storm. Accompanied by the sound of hooves on cobbles, the knight slowly made his way along the streets of the city from which he had been exiled, as the dark sky drenched him with rain. Call it art imitating life (or should that be the other way around?), but it felt as though the weather outside my bedroom window was the soundtrack for this story, and I was sold.

I’m sure that the coincidence in atmospherics is what hooked me initially, and it sharpened up my receptors for what came next. I remember needing to know why this knight was returning to the home that had exiled him. I had to discover what adventures lay ahead for him. I remember battle scenes that made my heart race, camaraderie that made me laugh aloud. There were scary moments that made me acutely aware of being home alone, and that the only light on in the house was the reading light in my bedroom. I welcomed the knight’s friends, despised his enemies, and I wished to be a member of his fellowship that was on a quest filled with such wonder and magic. I was hooked by The Diamond Throne because it had given me the Feeling.

The Feeling is investment, the moment a story grabs you by the collar and drags you into the fray . . . it’s being Luke’s co-pilot as he storms the Death Star; it’s taking Sansa’s hand and running away to safety; it’s telling Harry to be brave in his cupboard beneath the stairs; it’s standing alongside Druss on the battlements of Dros Delnoch; it’s begging the crew of the Nostromo to stay inside the ship. There is nothing on Earth like a good story, and I want someone, somewhere, to read my stories and experience the Feeling. That is why I write.

Stranger of Tempest

Stranger of the Tempest CoverI read STRANGER OF TEMPEST by TOM LLOYD and…

Lynx is an honest man, haunted by the atrocities of his homeland, his past is nicely dark and mysterious. He is misunderstood, viewed with suspicion, and often treated as an enemy even by his mercenary comrades. Lynx is fundamentally good, he just finds getting into trouble very, very easy.

Stranger of Tempest is one of those books that gives you the kind of fantasy yarn that you recognise but rarely in the way you expect. There are magic and monsters and magical weapons, along with action and intrigue and a great mix of characters, but it’s how Lynx’s penchant for doing the right thing throws a spanner in the works that sets this story apart. In a world that’s lawless and corrupt, his honest ways really aren’t particularly helpful.

It’s while the mercenary company that Lynx belongs to is on its way to rescue a noble’s daughter that trouble brews. Sitain, Lynx’s countrywoman and a mage, is being held captive by a small company of fanatical knights. Lynx doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like that at all. He frees Sitain, and by doing so his fellow mercenaries become unwilling participants in the deaths of every knight. This moments sows a seed that complicates what should be a straightforward mission in hideous and glorious ways. Lynx didn’t stop to think that the small company of fanatical knights might be missed by a lot of fanatical friends.

There’s much to admire in this book, but I sort of fell in love with Lynx. He’s a little old and frayed around the edges, and he’s a portly fellow who eats for pleasure. Being something of a food-loving dumpling myself, I appreciate and relate to Lynx. He makes me believe that I can set off with my sword and mage-gun and take on the world while still being allowed to enjoy a pie or two. There’s something down to earth and refreshing about this character, and it’s interesting to see how his colleagues fit in around him.

Stranger of Tempest grips you from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the end. This is Tom Lloyd at his best, and my money is on Stranger being a standout fantasy for 2016. And just look at that cover!

IN RETROSPECT: When I was fresh out of the wrapper

In Restrospect picAs a debut author, a first time novelist, an unknown writer from the small presses stepping into the brilliant light of a major publisher, I remember feeling utterly lost, bemused and very afraid. I was ecstatic that I’d signed a book deal with Gollancz – a dream come true! – but I had no idea what came next, and couldn’t help wondering: Who the hell am I?

Of course, I needn’t have been so worried; there were plenty of kind people who were quick to greet me. Team Gollancz were – and always are – amazing. Lots of fellow authors approached me to say hello, congratulations, and welcome to the gang. To all these people, for helping me through that initial round of newbie jitters, I will remain forever grateful.

However, returning home from the cons, events and festivals, where all these wonderful elves dwell, only leads me straight back to the dark confines of my office; that mysterious, shut away sanctuary where there are no windows to let in light, and into which teacups and mugs enter and are never seen again. You know that place. It’s where writers do what they’re supposed to do. Once I’m there, the doubt creeps in. Irrational imaginings make wormholes in my thoughts. I convince myself that when I’m out of sight, everyone I’ve met will instantly forget that I exist.

It’s difficult in those moments to refrain from waving your hands in the air to let everyone know that you’re still around, still alive, and please don’t forget about me. It’s an absurd state to be in, especially as I know deep down that I haven’t been forgotten. But if there’s one true tonic to ease the anguish of self-doubt, it’s having folks around who are in exactly the same boat as you.

This year, Gollancz has been proudly promoting the Class of 2014. That’ll be me and my fellow debuts Den Patrick, Jon WallaceAnna Catlabiano and John Hornor Jacobs. Here were four other writers in the same position as me, waiting to be published for the first time with Gollancz. We found each other on Twitter, waved hello across the internet, checked out each other’s books, and celebrated this exiting and nerve-wracking experience together.

Den, Jon and I got the campaign rolling in terms of live events, but always feeling the absence of John and Anna who live in America. We had to wait until Nineworlds before the Class of 2014 fully assembled. And it felt good to be in a room for the first time with my compatriots, to stand up and be counted alongside them. To their faces, I got to tell them how much I loved their stories. I got to express my gratitude for the support and encouragement they had given me in those moments of self-doubt and irrational imaginings. I hope – deeply hope – that I in turn was of some help to them.

The experience culminated at GollanczFest, and a panel moderated by Gillian Redfearn to introduce the Class of 2014 to the world. Sadly, Anna had flown home to America by that time, and she was missed. However, the rest of us got to sit alongside each other and have some fun before a full house. It was the happiest and safest that I’ve felt throughout this whole journey, because I knew JonDen and John were there with me. It should have been a vulnerable time, when I felt the most exposed, but we were the Gollancz Class of 2014, and we were in it together.

As proud as I am to have been a part of this, there’s also sadness that it has to come to an end, as the Class of 2015 will soon be flying the debut flag. But I’m also buoyed by the fact that my happiest and safest moment was captured on the night, recorded for Gollancz’s YouTube channel. I take comfort from knowing this documentation is there, and long may it serve as a reminder for all writers that we are in this together.

13 Minutes

13 minutes cover

I read 13 MINUTES by SARAH PINBOROUGH and…

Natasha is the popular one at school. Every girl wants to be seen with her, every girl want to be her. Becca used to be Natasha’s best friend - best friends forever, they said. But the school food chain is a capricious and unforgiving monster, and Becca was long ago swapped out for a girl called Jenny, because Jenny was cooler, Jenny was thinner and prettier than Becca. Jenny and Hayley – another of Becca’s ex-friends – are Natasha’s henchwomen. They rule the school roost.

Dynamics change when Natasha dies for thirteen minutes. She doesn’t know how she fell into the river; she can only remember the suffocating darkness that tried to drown her, that returns each night to haunt her dreams. Experiencing death hasn’t left Natasha with memories of the afterlife’s warm glow, but it has given her a rekindled fondness for her old friend Becca and suspicion for her best friends Jenny and Hayley.

There’s a reason why Natasha died for thirteen minutes, and she and Becca want to know what it is.

When I think back to how I fitted in at school, I can acknowledge that I was much cleverer than I realised, but also every bit as naive as I remember, especially about needing acceptance from the select groups. 13 MINUTES uses the caste system that most of us recognise from school but turns it into something far more sinister. The mystery of what happened to Natasha is swirled around in the chaos of popularity wars, schoolyard power plays, social media and the general angst of being sixteen. Everything is important. No one is innocent.

Parents and adults float around the outskirts of the story like the ghosts of youth. However wise and experienced they might be, they have forgotten what it means to be a sixteen-year-old student; they no longer understanding their children. Natasha and Becca, the queen and the rogue together again – they are free to make their plans and investigate the ever-deepening enigma of Natasha’s missing memory. And their journey will keep the reader wrong-footed to the very end.

As a writer myself, I have a habit of studying the mechanics of a novel – how the story was pieced together, which plot devices and character tropes were used – but 13 MINUTES well and truly broke that habit for me. Sarah Pinborough is a writer whose works I’ve always enjoyed, but with this book she might’ve raised her own bar. I thought I had predicted so much of the plot, but I was wrong nearly every time; and even when I was right, events never unfolded as I was expecting. Pinborough has written a clever story that uses the misguided and self-centred microcosm of the sixteen-year-old’s world to blur the edges of reality.

Question everything, guess at nothing. You really need to know why Natasha died for 13 MINUTES.

A Love Letter

The Cathedral of Known Things continues a dual narrative which began in The Relic Guild. The story is split into two timeframes, separated by forty years, with one timeframe always tying in and driving the other. There were moments when I wanted to tear my hair out, stamp my feet and shout, “Impossible!” at this format because it felt too complicated, too hard to see through to the end. It got to the point where even the detailed notes I’ve always made in notebooks – my writing staple – couldn’t help, and I gave serious thought to throwing away my pen (he says, happily sitting in a café, writing this blog post in his notebook with his pen, while waiting to meet Den Patrick).

I got over myself. I prevailed and (mostly) managed to tame The Cathedral of Known Things, with both timeframes intact and pushing the story into the third book of the trilogy. However … there is a side plot, which started in The Relic Guild and that I discovered had very little room for development in Cathedral. Much to my chagrin. When I was redrafting and editing the book, I kept looking for ways to incorporate more of this side plot, to find what I considered a small but important piece to the story that was missing. Thankfully, the split timelines came to the rescue. And I’m talking about the relationship between Marney and Van Bam.

Theirs is a misguided and doomed love affair that took place in the old days, forty years ago, when the Labyrinth and the Houses of the Aelfir lived in the shadow of the Genii War. Marney and Van Bam are magickers, agents of the Relic Guild; they aren’t supposed to have anything other than a platonic relationship. They try to keep their romance secret, but their fellow agents know. And so Gideon, the Resident, the sociopathic leader of the Relic Guild, and he is going out of his way to ensure that Marney and Van Bam can’t be together.

The initial problem I had was that at the beginning of The Cathedral of Known Things, Marney and Van Bam are already separated by magical distances, having been sent on different missions by Gideon to strange and mythical worlds. I was able to keep the heart of their romance beating by having them discuss it with other characters, highlighting the pros and cons of such a forbidden relationship; but there was no way I could place Marney and Van Bam in the same room together, and it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to change at any time in the book.

So, in the absence of physical presences, I turned to the spiritual and emotional traits of both characters.

There is a scene in the book where Marney is thinking about a gift that Van Bam gave her. This leads Marney into considering the nature of secrets, the permanence of emotions, and her hopes for the future. She raises questions in herself, which don’t receive any answers until we spin forward forty years in time and arrive at what is my favourite scene in The Cathedral of Known Things.

Van Bam sits in a chapel, praying, remembering, nursing emotional wounds. He is joined by another character, and during their discussions they inadvertently answer the questions that Marney raised forty years earlier. It is a slight account, having very little influence on the grander plot of magic, monsters and mayhem, but it’s important because this is the moment when Van Bam acknowledges how he feels – how he has always felt – about Marney.

I think of it as a love letter, sent from one timeframe to the other, like a final, stolen kiss between doomed lovers. I wouldn’t call it a blink and you’ll miss it moment, but it is fleeting. The scene can be found in a chapter called Sandalwood, and for me it fills the hole; it is the missing piece of a small but poignant side plot.

It is my favourite moment.

(And just in case any of you were wondering, I met with Den Patrick and we had a lovely cup of tea and a good old natter.)

The Cathedral Of Known Things by Edward Cox is available now from Gollancz. 

Jonathan Dark or The Evidence Of Ghosts

J Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts

I read JONATHAN DARK or THE EVIDENCE OF GHOSTS by A. K. BENEDICT and…

Maria is blind. She sees London in a different way to most. For her, the city is a collage of sounds and scents and feelings. Jonathan Dark is a policeman. For him, London is a dangerous and shadowy place, far stranger than most would believe. Maria has a stalker. The stalker says he loves her, but the last time he told someone that the object of his affection wound up as the star of an unsolved murder case. Jonathan’s unsolved murder case.

Maria has seven days to reciprocate the stalker’s feelings or suffer the consequences. Jonathan has seven days to catch a murderer who is exceedingly good at covering his tracks. London is a big place, nothing is as it seems, and the dead are restless…

JONATHAN DARK or THE EVIDENCE OF GHOSTS is one of those books that crawls under your skin from the very first page. Part crime drama, part ghost tale, part gothic love story – A. K. Benedict’s spade stabs deep into the human condition and digs up the very best and worst that people have to offer. There is an itchy creepiness to the plot as it spirals down into places where everyone is a suspect, where no one can be trusted.

I have to admit that, on more than one occasion, I thought I’d solved the crime in this book, but Benedict is a sneaky writer who knows how to dangle red herrings and deliver a well-timed sucker punch or two. JONATHAN DARK or THE EVIDENCE OF GHOSTS is an engrossing story of mystery and danger, love and loss, life and death, but at its heart it’s a tale of people and the complicated nature of existence. It is so much more than your average police procedural, and you really need to add it to your reading list.

This one is not to be missed.

A Forgotten Tale

The Wolves of Glastonbury

A FORGOTTEN TALE…

About seven or eight years ago, Terrie Leigh Relf and I discussed the idea of writing a story together. We both have a fondness for werewolves and decided that this would the focus of our tale. I suggested Glastonbury in England for a setting, as my wife and I had spent a few days there and found it to be a magical place steeped in myth and mystery. Terrie suggested that we used the POVs of two different characters to tell the story, with her writing one and me the other. A big old ocean separates the two of us so we couldn’t discuss our ideas face to face, and writing our own characters seemed a good way to collaborate across the mystical highways of the interweb. And it was. Thus we began our tale.

I wrote the first chapter and emailed it to Terrie; she wrote the second and emailed it back, and so on and so forth. Over a period of three or four years we wrote and rewrote, shelved the project when times got too busy, edited ourselves and each other, talked about new ideas, what worked and what didn’t, wrote some more and redrafted, and slowly bashed out a novella called THE WOLVES OF GLASTONBURY. And we were pleased with our efforts.

But just at the point when we felt the story was finished and ready for submission, life changed for me. A literary agent signed me and my fantasy trilogy THE RELIC GUILD. He advised that I held off submitting any new works, just for a short time, while he tried to sell my novels to a publisher. This was in 2012, and by early 2013 I had signed a three book deal with mighty Gollanczand my life changed again. The short time that THE WOLVES OF GLASTONBURY was supposed to be on the backburner became a long time, longer still, and I all but forgot about it. For this, I apologise to fabulous and patient Terrie Leigh Relf, and to Alban Lake who expressed interest in publishing the novella back in 2012.

For almost three years I wrote the remaining books of THE RELIC GUILDtrilogy, thinking of nothing else. I had (and I’m still having) an incredible time meeting amazing people, attending conventions, and enjoying a great relationship with my marvellous editor Marcus Gipps. But when I finished writing book three of THE RELIC GUILD last year, I wondered what came next and remembered a forgotten novella that I once wrote with a friend of mine. I got in touch with Terrie. We got in touch with Alban Lake. I was happy – and lucky – to discover that everyone was still interested in the story, and I awoke this morning to the brilliant surprise that it had finally been released.

So here it is, seven or eight years after its inception, THE WOLVES OF GLASTONBURY by Terrie Leigh Relf & Edward Cox. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

 

A Mini-Review

The City Stained Red

I READ THE CITY STAINED RED by SAM SYKES and…

Lenk and his fellow adventurers have arrived to the gloriously named city Cier’Djaal. There, they want to collect the money they’re owed, settle some debts, and perhaps go their separate ways. Simple, right? Wrong. Nothing is ever that simple in any city, and Cier’Djaal is a simmering haven for trouble and secrets you’d rather not know. Which is perfect because this band of adventurers are experts at trouble and secrets.

I read a lot of brilliant new titles from Gollancz last year, but The City Stained Red would have to be my pick of 2015. It ticks so many boxes for me as a reader. There’s a great balance between action and dialogue, plot and world building – not to mention the monsters, warring factions, rich culture, magic and mayhem. Sam Sykes has written a story that gripped me, intrigued me and genuinely made me laugh out loud (a personal humour highlight being Gariath’s method of bartering!).

It’s been a long time since a story made feel as though everything else I had to do in the day was an annoying obstacle that prevented me getting back to reading. The City Stained Red is damn fine entertainment, and I was genuinely saddened when it ended. I cannot wait for the next book in the series, The Mortal Tally. Bring it on!