LONDON CALLING pt.1 – Thursday (Fantasy In The Court)

So the majority of the end of last week and the weekend was spent in London. Pull up a dalek, dear reader, while I recount the events. Bear with the length, for the events were many and the specifics (particularly towards the end of this entry) may be of interest.

Two years ago, in August 2014, my UK publisher Del Rey UK (now subsumed back into the parental embrace of Penguin Random House) took me to Fantasy In The Court, held at Goldsboro Books just off Leicester Square (one of my companions on that day was Django Wexler, whose fourth Shadow Campaigns novel The Guns of Empire I have just read in about seven hours and can heartily recommend, as with the rest of the series). One year ago, in August 2016, I went to Nine Worlds, my first ever convention.

This year, in August 2016, I went to both.

I travelled down to London on the Thursday, a daring descent from Nottingham to the very base of the M1 and then a trip around the North Circular Road before cutting up the A40 to places like Whitechapel, which you assume exist because they have a tube station but you never really think there’s actually anything there. I’m not fully convinced that anything within the M25 actually exists when someone isn’t looking at it, and I reckon that Watford might in fact be some sort of bastion against all that potential unreality sneaking out across eight lanes of traffic and infecting the rest of the country. I mean, I’m pretty sure somewhere like Mam Tor exists all the time, but Holborn? Not so much.

But anyway.

Nine Worlds was being held this year at Novotel London West in Hammersmith, and I’d managed to grab one of the “convention rate” rooms which meant that my stay would be considerably less expensive than if I’d try to stay in it at any other time. I’d even checked in online ahead of time so theoretically I could set my own arrival time rather than being bound to the tyranny of a 2pm check-in. I say “theoretically” because what actually happened was I arrived at 1.30pm and was told my room wasn’t ready yet because the hotel was completely full that weekend (of geeks) and that instead of ten or so online check-ins that day they had over sixty (geeks again – we’re wonders for doing things efficiently over the internet to minimise personal interactions). So I got into my room at about 2pm after all, then grabbed some food.

I then met up with Eleanor, who was my companion at Nine Worlds last year and this year was going to be exhibiting her Dragon Mouse (and friends) goods at the pop-up market on the Friday afternoon. A quick sidetrack: I LOVE Dragon Mouse. I have a knitted one, I have both of Eleanor’s comics, and I commissioned her to do a piece of custom artwork featuring him that I laminated and stuck on the door of my “study” (spare bedroom where I write, bite me). Dragon Mouse is one of the coolest things ever. Eleanor was also buzzing because after missing out on tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child when they went on sale she had been offered a ticket by a friend only a few days before, for a performance taking place on the Saturday afternoon when she’d already planned to be in London anyway for Nine Worlds (please don’t send her envious/abusive messages). Eleanor was staying in a hostel just down the road where she said she was greeted with the information “If you come back after midnight you may want to use the side door” (so far, so expected) “because after 12 the ground floor is a nightclub” (not so expected). Eleanor agreed to come with me to Fantasy In The Court, and so off we went.

Fantasy In The Court was a weird experience last time I was there. For one thing, although I was there as An Author at the invitation of Del Rey UK, I hadn’t actually had a book published (and wouldn’t for nearly a year) so I was wandering around with a name tag on feeling a bit out of place. Also, the sheer amount of people packed into a small space made it very noisy and somewhat overwhelming for someone who’s hard of hearing anyway. That second part didn’t change this year, but at least I felt like I had some reason to be there since my books were actually on sale in the shop. I also met a bunch of other authors I’d either met previously or had interacted with over the internet: AJ Smith, author of the Long War series, whom I’d met two years before; Rob Boffard, author of the Outer Earth series, whom I once challenged to a fight over Twitter because our debut books came out at the same time and both had the words “In Space” on the cover (followed by different other words, but that’s not the point); Jen Williams, author of the Copper Cat Trilogy; Edward Cox, author of the Relic Guild series, whom I was introduced to on the night by Helena, whom I met at FitC two years ago when we ended up pressed next to each other as everyone sheltered inside from a torrential downpour; Jamie Sawyer, author of The Lazarus War, also represented by my agent Rob Dinsdale; Tom Pollock, who gracefully agreed to sign my copy of Our Lady Of The Streets; and Claire North/Kate Griffin/Katherine Webb, whose writing in the Urban Magic series is probably some of my favourite prose of all time, whom I’d met at a “kaffeeklatsch” at Nine Worlds last year, and who greeted me with a hug and a demand to know what my favourite swear word was (I think this was part of an ongoing conversation; I replied that it seemed unfair to the others to pick just one). I also remembered to tell her about Juliet d’Aubigny, although I’d forgotten the name (click the link: it’s worth your time).

The strangest thing of all was seeing how the wheels of publishing work, just a little bit. I met an editor and a publicist from a publisher (I won’t say which one), both of them female. When showing Eleanor and I the leaflet of authors whose books were going into the Nine Worlds goody-bags the editor observed “Hmm, we don’t seem to be publishing any women at the moment. We should probably change that.” Then she turned to Eleanor and said “Do you write at all?”

Now, I’m not thinking that had Eleanor said “Yes, I write epic fantasy” instead of “Well, I’m an independently-published comics artist” (and me finding pictures of her artwork on my phone) that it would have turned into a contract offer there and then, but it really opened my eyes to how this works. You have to think that had Eleanor been an aspiring author of some sort and she’d said “yes” that it would have turned into a conversation about her work, and if it had sounded at all interesting to the editor then something might have been said along the lines of “well, get in touch”. And that in itself means nothing if the work in question turns out to be rubbish (or even just okay), but never underestimate the importance of a personal connection. My agent noticed my work because I came recommended by Luke Scull, who had read some of it and whom I had given feedback to on his first novel before he’d even been signed by Rob, let alone by his publisher Head of Zeus. Sometimes just one thing – a personal meeting, a recommendation by a mutual friend – is all it takes to make you stand out in someone’s mind and get your work noticed as opposed to dropped on the submissions pile with all the others. And if you don’t believe me, listen to Jim Butcher: I’ve read an account from him before about how his first agent had previously rejected his work but then took him on after meeting him in person. When he asked her about what had changed, her response was something along the lines of “Well, that was before I’d met you”.

This, then, is the lesson to anyone wanting to break into being a mainstream published author: meeting an agent or a publisher in person won’t get you a deal by itself (especially if you’re an arsehole), but that interpersonal contact might just make you stick out the crowd a crucial amount. So it’s worth going to things like Fantasy In The Court, if something’s happening like that near you. Don’t stalk or harass people, obviously, out of general decency as well as the fact that it won’t help you, but publishing is not a meritocracy: not purely, at any rate.

The trouble is, of course, that so many of the sort of people (warning: incoming generalisation) who like fantasy and science fiction enough to write it may struggle with social interactions (see above about online check-ins).

Anyway, after Fantasy In The Court had wound down Eleanor and I made our way back to Hammersmith and went our separate ways, ready for the first round of Nine Worlds on Friday.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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TO LONDON!

It’s time to go to London for a long weekend of geekery!

To begin with I will be at Fantasy In The Court at Goldsboro Books just off Leicester Square on Thursday 11th. It runs from 6-9pm and will be your chance to come and mingle and chat with a whole bunch of scifi and fantasy authors (including me, but also more well-known names like Claire North/Kate Griffin, Mike Carey, Den Patrick etc). We’ll also sign anything you buy from the store. Tickets are £5 and I believe get refunded if you buy a book…

Then I will be at Nine Worlds from Friday! I’ll be going to various different panels and talks etc throughout the weekend, but if you want to see me Actually Doing Stuff then the schedule is as follows:

SATURDAY

6.45-7.45pm Beaujolais Suite

“EWOKS! A shameless commercial creation or the creatures that crushed an empire?”

8.43 (according to our very exact running schedule) Cremant Suite

BIFRÖST – The Cabaret: see me playing my acoustic guitar and singing two exceptionally geeky songs.

10.15pm-2am Cremant Suite

BIFRÖST – The Disco. I join forces with two other brave volunteers to play tunes until the early hours for your listening and dancing pleasure. Beware of the almost inevitable punk covers.

SUNDAY

2-2.45pm Chablis Suite (the Geekfayre Hall), Forbidden Planet stall

Signing session (alongside Gav Thorpe of Games Workshop/Black Library fame. Come for the Space Marines, stay for the space smugglers!)

 

SEE YOU THERE!

 

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Functional Nerds and a music video!

I was on Functional Nerds! Go listen to me being English and pausing a lot.

On the show we talk about my band Interplanetary Trash Talk’s music video!

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Sad news, and then a little good news

On Thursday we bid goodbye to the smaller of our two cats, Silly (short for Drusilla). She was diagnosed with a tumour on her lung on Monday having been coughing for a week or so, and by Thursday she had gone downhill to the point where we felt that we had no option but to take matters into our own hands with a final trip to the vet. While immensely sad, I am glad in a way that her decline was so rapid it was obvious when we needed to make the call. If a pet is gradually going downhill I imagine it can be very hard to look back and say ‘well, this is definitely worse than x amount of time ago, therefore we need to take this decision’. When the change just from one day to the next is profound, and there is a known terminal illness present, it’s about as easy a decision to make as it can be in the circumstances.

Goodbye, Silly. She loved all humans (or at least all humans that would stay still long enough for her to sit on them, which was about 0.8 seconds), and would then claw you mercilessly if you dared to move. Easily the most affectionate cat I’ve ever known.

The belly might look inviting, but tickle it at your peril.

 

The good news? I’ll be appearing at Fantasy In The Court again this year. I missed out last year, and my previous “appearance” in 2014 (I signed that bag that’s been used as the image for this year’s site) was before Dark Run was released so I was basically an Author In Waiting. This year, however, I actually have not one but two books out! So if you see a guy with a black mohawk wandering around then feel free to come and say hi. Just bear with me if I seem a little distracted: with that many people that close together it’s a bit hard for me to hear conversation, and I’ve yet to work out if my hearing aids help more than they hinder (they’re supposed to cut out background noise, but last time I was there I think everyone else was so loud that the people I were talking to were the background noise!).

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That Was The Week, That Was

Well.

It’s hard to know where to begin, really. I suppose I will start by profusely thanking all of the people in North America who’ve already bought Dark Run. It’s been selling really well (or so I’m told – it’s not like I have figures for what anybody else’s books sell to use as comparison) and has been getting positive buzz from websites and reviews in the process. Thank you, all of you, who’ve bought it, or stocked it and sold it, or reviewed it, or Tweeted about it. It means a tremendous amount to me, and I hope you enjoy it. I also hope to be able to give you more news about the Keiko series soon, but more on that as we get it.

Second, the European Championships. I’m something of a football fan… and by “football fan” I don’t mean that I support a particular team, or even a particular country: I just enjoy watching football. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the Euros so far, and was highly entertained by England getting dumped out by a very worthy, very determined Iceland team with a truly terrifying supporter clap/chant combo. A shame to see them get decimated by France, but I guess that really shows England fans where we are on the world map of football. i.e. we’re not really on it. I’m pulling for Wales now.

Lastly… well, the referendum happened and now it seems that my country is heading out of the European Union, where we’ve been for far longer than I’ve been alive. I won’t lie: I find the prospect positively terrifying. Not for me personally, so much: as a white male who’s reasonably financially secure it’s likely to amount to little more than inconvenience really, unless all of the absolute worst predictions come true. What I’m more concerned about is the impact on others. We’ve already seen a huge rise in racism and hate crime since the vote, with the bigots in this country apparently taking the narrow Leave margin as licence to start acting hatefully towards anyone with skin darker than a particularly milky tea or who might seem to have been born elsewhere. A white European friend of mine who’s lived here for nearly a decade has already been told to “go home”, and I’ve heard many, many stories where the offenders were nowhere near as polite. It’s absolutely disgusting.

Even worse, we now have the Conservative leadership election to look forward to. I have no time for David Cameron, especially since he orchestrated this whole affair by unleashing a monster he didn’t manage to contain solely in the interest of keeping his little political party together (which he probably didn’t manage anyway). However he is, as Jonathan Pie put it, ‘Diet Tory’ compared to those hankering to pick up the reins from him. We’ve got Theresa May, the Home Secretary who wanted us to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights; Stephen Crabb, who supports a “charity” that says homosexuality can be “cured”; Michael Gove who was rabidly Leave, stabbed both Cameron and Boris Johnson in the back at different times, did his best to wreck the education system and has voted against what I would support on pretty much every issue I’ve been able to check… the list just gets worse and worse. I dread to think what state the country will end up in if any of them become Prime Minister.

The only crumb of comfort I’m currently clinging to is that it seems our withdrawal from the EU via the activation of Article 50 will actually have to go through Parliament for it to be legal. That means that the MPs (the majority of whom were for Remain) will get to vote on it. I have a nasty feeling that many of them will go “well, the referendum clearly shows the voters’ will, so be it” and vote through this thing that so many of them have argued vociferously against… but I hope not. The referendum wasn’t legally binding: it was simply a giant opinion poll. I hope enough of them stick to their guns that it doesn’t get through and we don’t follow through on this ridiculous, hideously self-damaging move.

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DARK RUN hits North America (and your headphones)

Well, that was a bit of a busy week.

I was on holiday in Scotland, walking up mountains and around lochs and celebrating my nine-year wedding anniversary while I was there. It was a lovely week, and I’ll put some pictures up in a subsequent blog. However, on the 24th May DARK RUN was released in North America, and a whole lot of stuff’s happened around that.

So first of all, Barnes & Noble did this post about 15 books for fans of Firefly who miss the show after its untimely cancellation. Happily, DARK RUN was featured.

Tor.com decided to get in on the act as well, publishing this guest blog post from me about my love for punk music, and how that fits in with my love of science fiction and fantasy.

Next, Barnes & Noble decided that DARK RUN “deserves to be this year’s breakout space opera“, which is higher praise than I ever thought I’d receive! Given the sort of competition I’m up against in the genre, that’s absolutely fantastic.

Kirkus reviews have also decided to give me a mention in this selection of SFF books, for which I thank them.

And finally (for now), io9.com (who, lest we forget, put me on their list of ’40 SFF Books That Will Rock Your World In 2016′) have been kind enough to do an author interview with me about the book and my creative process.

The positive press the novel’s received has been wonderful, and I’m so glad that people seem to be enjoying it! I’d like to thank everyone at Saga Press for all their hard work in bringing this to fruition, and I look forward to DARK SKY coming out in N.A. in March 2017 (or at least, that’s the current plan).

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Yes! On the same day as DARK RUN landed in North America, both DARK RUN and DARK SKY came out as audiobooks on Audible. They’re both narrated by Damien Lynch and you can pick them up right now.

So, yeah. It’s been a busy week.

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DARK RUN is gathering speed

It’s all been a bit hectic! DARK RUN is coming out in North America on the 24th May and there’s actually been a bit of a buzz around it! I mean, we’ve had:

– Tor.com releasing the first chapter

– Tor.com running a giveaway of a copy

– Barnes & Noble’s Scifi & Fantasy department running an article about summer space opera books to read for fans of Firefly.

Also, the cover is in this poll on The Qwillery to see which debut author has the best SFF cover of May. And I mean, I may be biased, but I think it deserves some love, don’t you? It’s by John Harris, who has done covers for some of the best-known names in science-fiction. It’s a tremendous buzz to have such a well-reknowned artist doing the cover for my debut US release, and commissioning a piece of his artwork was apparently something of a realised dream for Joe, my editor at Saga (he told me that he also always wanted to do a cover featuring a cube spaceship, so he got a two-in-one with mine). That said, I do still love the UK cover, and not just because it was my first.

Anyway, tomorrow I’ve driving up to Scotland for a week’s holiday, so I won’t actually be at home when DARK RUN comes out! However, I should still be online so I’ll likely be surfacing and burbling unintelligibly or SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE I’M EXCITED YOU GUYS.

Have a good’un.

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Getting sunburn on Froggatt and Curbar Edges

Last weekend I ventured off into the Derbyshire countryside once more, as the weather promised to be fine. In fact it promised to be sixteen degrees and overcast, and ended up LYING TO ME by being more like twenty degrees and bright sunshine, and I got sunburnt. Oops.

Anyway.

This walk, which is probably one of our favourites, starts from the Hay Wood National Trust car park just south of the Grouse In on the A625. It’s £4 for a day’s parking, and while I doubt anyone comes around and checks that seems a fair price for a maintained car park. There’s a path that runs north and south from the car park; we took the route north, then almost immediately took another path leading west down through the woods towards Grindleford (winner of the Brooks Award For Real Life Place Name That Sounds Most Like It Should Have Been In Harry Potter).

Hay Wood, w/ Intrepid Companions

Hay Wood bluebells.

Keeping on the path in a straight line, we reached a lane at the base of the hill that leads down to the B6521, Grindleford itself and the River Derwent, whereupon we took an almost immediate left turn into a field and cut away from the river again to take the path that runs through Froggatt Woods.

It contains rocks and pools.

Once through the woods the sun came out (curse you, evil daystar) as we tramped over a couple of fields and on into Froggatt itself, which is a delightful little village (and had a Sainsbury’s home delivery van in it, which bumped it significantly up the list of Places We Might Retire To Assuming The World Is Still Here). We then took a path that runs directly alongside the Derwent itself, and which these days is positively abundant in wild garlic.

The path runs on, eventually crossing the A625 and then carrying on south to reach Curbar. Here we took a sharp left up the road running to the north of the church and climbed a steep hill (which was rather warm, I can tell you). We then turned right at the public phone box and walked for a little way down Cliff Road, which provides a nice view of Curbar Edge to the east:

3edgy5me.

As the road bends to the right there’s a stone stile on the left with another footpath that cuts down between two houses and then reaches a T-junction with another path: we turned right here and headed south alongside a nice little stream until we reached a gate on the left. This announced the most gruelling part of the walk, as we proceeded to climb up over various fields until we reached the southern end of Curbar Edge (which was at least the right place to have lunch, looking out south over Chatsworth Estate).

The south end of Curbar Edge.

We did, however, have to stand aside while a shepherd on a quad bike herded some sheep past with shouts of “piss off!” when they strayed too far to one side or the other.

After lunch we set off again, following the track around and simply heading north over first Curbar and then Froggatt Edges. There was no more tricky navigating, just a wide, well-surfaced path (with an optional, smaller one slightly closer to the actual edge itself), but we understandably met far more people up here.

The Eagle Stone.

Froggatt Edge, as seen from Curbar Edge.

Looking down into the Derwent Valley.

Looking back south along Froggatt Edge.

From here the path runs north back into woods, finally dropping back down to the A625 and crossing it, dipping into a small valley with a nice stream at the bottom and then back up to the Hay Wood car park. We finished off by visiting The Grouse Inn for a drink (and the toilet) before heading back to Nottingham.

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DARK RUN excerpt up on Tor.com!

Those lovely folks over at Tor have graciously agreed to host the opening chapter of DARK RUN, which is coming out LATER THIS MONTH in North America! So go take a look and please feel free to order it if you like what you see…

(also keep your eyes peeled for a guest blog from Yours Truly which should be popping up on the same website soon)

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Back Tor and The Three Dales

As regular readers may know, I like to go on jaunts to the Peak District when I can. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to do that twice in one week, through the method of not being at work. For those of you who may also like to do walking, I shall recount my adventures herein:

WHEELSTONES AND BACK TOR (9 miles)

This walk was done on a cold, rather misty day, and starts at the top of Ladybower Reservoir, which is west of Sheffield: the best starting point is the car park at Fairholmes, due to the provision of toilets and refreshments (as well as potentially suicidal ducks. Don’t assume they’ll move out of the way of your car: they probably won’t). From there we headed up the east side of Upper Derwent Reservoir, past the dam where the Dambusters practiced:

Still not sure why it has mini castles on it.

Upper Derwent Reservoir

Upon reaching the Abbey Tip Plantation, where Upper Derwent Reservoir meets Howden Reservoir, we turned right following a footpath up onto Little Howden Moor, past Howden Dean and Howden Edge.

Looking back at Howden Dean.

We then followed the path up onto High Peak, which involved a rather narrow path and a slightly precipitous drop to the left, but did give us a view of an interesting-looking rock formation worn by a waterfall:

Not actual size.

The path became rather indistinct up on High Peak, especially where we were supposed to pick up a flagstone path leading back south, which you’d have thought would be easy to find. We tracked it down in the end though, at which point we found that the bits of white we kept seeing were in fact snow drifts, still present even in late March:

It wasn’t the warmest day, it’s fair to say.

Once we’d found the path it was easy to follow it along the Cartledge Stones Ridge until we reached Back Tor, at which point we followed a new path west back towards the reservoirs.

Back Tor’s trig point.

I can’t stress enough the importance of having an Ordinance Survey map on a walk like this, as it’s easy to become lost even in a place not *that* far from civilisation. The walk direction we were following told us to veer left when the barbed wire fence stopped, but there was no fence at all: if we’d just been followed the directions instead of checking our location against the map and the surroundings we’d probably have kept straight on and ended up very confused and in the wrong place. However, once we’d taken the correct turning then it was easy to follow the signposts back to the reservoir, and from there back to the car.

 

THE THREE DALES (9 miles)

In contrast to the above walk, we did the Three Dales (Miller’s Dale, Cressbrook Dale and Tideswell Dale) on Maundy Thursday, which was absolutely glorious weather: instead of being wrapped in hoodies and coats we were strolling along in T-shirts (albeit we were down in valleys instead of being exposed on the top of High Peak). We started from the car park at Monsal Head, which gives this lovely view:

We took the route to the right, and then kept right instead of veering left and heading onto the Monsal Trail, which while an excellent, wide and flat route (being a former railway line) tends to get very crowded. This is Upperdale, and we followed the road along until it reached the former mill at Cressbrook, at which point we took a right and started climbing.

The road keeps rising until it reaches a hairpin bend but we cut off slightly before then to branch slightly right and walk down past Ravensdale Cottages (wild garlic grows plentifully on this path, which was one reason for us choosing this route). This is Cressbrook Dale, a typical White Peak dale with impressive rock formations.

The path is clear and continues north: at one point you have the option of following the river bed or climbing up and to the right. The climb is obviously harder, but does give you nice view at the summit:

I can see your house from here.

At the top end of Cressbrook Dale you cut left across a field just before you reach the unlikely-named Wardlow Mires, and then walk along what is basically the left-hand ridge in the picture above before joining a road. Here we were treated to the sight of a buzzard very close up, and heard it calling, and in fact when we were walking on the road we were able to look down on the buzzard as it swooped down into the dale, which is something I’ve never experienced before.

The road leads into Litton, which is a rather picturesque little village with handy benches for walkers who want to avail themselves of some lunch:

The daffodils are still uncertain about this whole ‘spring’ notion.

Out the west end of Litton you turn left, following the footpath that runs next to the road that runs south down Tideswell Dale. A little way down you turn left at a junction instead of turning right to Tideswell itself, and then you can cut left again through a gate to walk through a green area that runs next to the road but increasingly further from it.

With more rocks.

Tideswell Dale runs south (past some usefully-placed toilets) to reach Miller’s Dale, where we turned left once more to follow the River Wye east back towards (eventually) Monsal Head. Miller’s Dale is actually possibly the most picturesque of the three in many ways, but I didn’t take any photos because by this point the path was someone thronged with other walkers and they’d have got in the way.

We once more decided not to take the Monsal Trail back and instead returned the way we’d come, with a final climb up to the Monsal Head Inn and then rewarded ourselves with a drink in the beer garden.

As I’m sure I’ve said before, anyone who wants good walks in the Peak District would be well advised to check out Walking Britain. This walk is actually an adapted one from there, since their Three Dales walk starts and ends in Litton and is only 7 miles since it doesn’t have the stretch along Upperdale.

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