Friday, 6 January 2017

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. Nuns and magic and... just wow!

 Imagine an ice-bound world where the polar caps have expanded as the power of its sun dwindles. A world where life is confined to a 50 mile wide corridor circling the globe, and maintained by the power of the focus moon. This is the world of Red Sister. The world of Abeth, where the ice-wind howls down and hurls shards of ice at those foolish, or unlucky enough, not to have found shelter.

I was lucky enough to receive an Advance Reader Copy of Red Sister, and I have to say, Lawrence does not disappoint. The first book in a new trilogy, Red Sister is a departure from Lawrence's previous novels which take place in the Broken Empire. There is an immediate difference from his previous books, both in tone and content.  Red Sister is far closer in tone to the Red Queen's War than to the Broken Empire trilogy, with none of the hateful protagonist that many found themselves loving despite themselves.

Most of the characters in this book are female, with men playing largely minor roles. Lawrence also has both homosexual and disabled characters, and does a fantastic job of making neither fact matter. All characters are treated purely as people.

Nona Grey is unwanted and broken, given to the child-taker without a price, and consigned to a life of blood and violence as she passes on the Convent of Sweet Mercy. If you were expecting women devoted to a life of meditation and seeking to be closer to god, you will be disappointed.

"It is important, when killing a nun, to bring an army of sufficient size."

Lawrence paints a picture of a world where mankind is just barely clinging on. The worldbuilding is organic and unfolds slowly through the eyes of the characters, through flashbacks and stories, rather than by bombarding the reader. 

The magic system is both simple and effective, with magical power passing through the ancient bloodlines of Hunska, Marjal, Gerant, and Quantal, each conferring various abilities. Strong blood strains (primes or pure strains) are a rarity, and strong mixed lines are rarer still.

Nona's story unfolds as she adapts to life in the convent and progresses with her training. She is faced with the challenges of discovering what friendship is supposed to be, and learning the lessons of trust and betrayal, as she studies the business of violence, poison, and blood. But Nona is not without a past, or enemies, and both have their part to play in this tale.

The prose is what we have come to expect of Lawrence. Lyrical and bordering on poetry in many instances. There is a dark beauty to the author's writing which makes it hard to put down and I am already waiting for the sequel.

Red Sister will be released by Harper Voyager in both hardback and ebook format on April 6th and is available for preorder now.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Paternus by Dyrk Ashton - A Book Review.

It's done. It's dead. 2016 is no more! Actually it wasn't a bad year, in many ways it was an excellent year. But EVERYONE died! In that one stretch of 12 months we lost Bowie, Harper Lee, and Alan Rickman. 

You killed Snape, you bastard! 

Christ, we lost Prince! We lost Muhammed Ali. We lost Victoria Wood and Ronnie Corbett!

We lost Carrie Fisher!

2016, you sucked!

I was going to go on but, I'm too depressed to spend any more time on that list. So let's go onto brighter things.

Thing is, for me at least, 2016 was a great year. I released the final book in my trilogy in the last weeks of 2015, and it sold stonkingly well. 

I was awarded not one, but two stipends from ACX to help attract a narrator for the audiobook versions of my books.

I managed to agree terms with the ever excellent Jonny McPherson and the first of the trilogy is out now, with book two to follow in March (ish).

More importantly, I got back into the writing saddle and wrote 97% of my next novel. 

Frankly, if 2016 taught me anything, it taught me not to waste time - and to be kind. Life is simply too short to waste on things that don't excite you. When it comes to books, I'm going to combine both those thoughts and will no longer review anything that I wouldn't give more than three stars to. 

Reading is incredibly subjective and there are very few absolutes. I get sent a fair number of books. I'm pretty rubbish at getting around to reading them all, and some I simply can't get into. No author needs to have their book dragged through the mud just because it wasn't to the reader's taste. So from now on, if I don't like something, or can't finish something, I simply won't review it.

With that in mind let's take a look at Dyrk Ashton's offering - Paternus.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. It's one of the SPFBO finalists. If you don't know what that is then, (seriously, where have you been???) you should take a look at Mark Lawrence's website.

I had heard a few things about it beforehand but I like to think I have a reasonably open mind.

After a rocky opening chapter Ashton settles down to the business of reminding me why I read so many of Dean Koontz's books. This is urban fantasy done right. Not a sparkly vampire or shirtless werewolf in sight, and the pace! Don't make any plans to do anything else once you start reading this.

Ashton weaves multiple mythologies and legends together within his own cunning tapestry. The main character is thrown into a series of events that manage to demonstrate how just about everything she knew about the world was wrong, without falling prey to the dreaded info-dump.

The classic clash of good vs evil is re-imagined into something that seems far more human. This isn't really angels vs demons (plus four or five more mythologies), it's a lot closer to 'them vs us' and Ashton does a good job of painting both sides in various shades of grey. 

The book is clever, and fast-paced with more than enough twists to keep you guessing. Paternus is not pretentious. It makes no attempts to be anything more than a rollicking adventure. This isn't Tolkien or Rothfuss, it's closer to Anne Rice or Clive Cussler. But then, it never pretended to be anything otherwise. 

If I can pick holes for just a moment, it does seem to fall prey to the American belief that everyone in the UK still drinks tea from fine china and wears tweed, but perhaps that was just this one character. We'll forgive that this time (but I'll be watching you Ashton.)

Paternus seems to be the first book in a series but holds together well enough on its own that no reader will be left hanging. (What kind of author would do that anyway?)

Overall this is a very impressive debut and I'd be happy to read the sequel. You can get copies in paperback, kindle, and audiobook versions here.

Four stars.

Monday, 11 April 2016

My Experience of Publishing (or what NOT to do)

So I was asked recently if I had any general publishing tips/thoughts. I have a few, here goes.

I'm not traditionally published, I'm self-published (with a small stint with a small press that didn't work out). I'm also not Michael J Sullivan or Hugh Howey. I'm not a massive success. That said, I am doing pretty well right now which, I think, qualifies me to advise on what NOT to do (and, trust me, I've done most of these things).

As a writer (and we'll assume a complete manuscript to keep life simple) then your first choice is whether to go the traditional or self-pub route. This, largely, is a question of how much patience you have. Traditional publishing is a long, long, slow game (add in a few more long and slows if you like.) IF you can find an agent willing to take you on, and this alone can take a long time, and IF they can find a publisher interested in your work, then the road from submission to bookshop can easily be more than a year. Self-publishing can have you out there in much less time but the road out of obscurity can take longer than traditional publishing.

I self-published. I'll hold my hands up and say I screwed up. Had I more patience then I would have reworked my book another five or six times before I sent it out to the agents that rejected it. By the time it was of a standard at which they might have accepted it, I had already self-published. So lesson one, be more patient than I was.

So, before we go on, a caveat: This is not a post about writing. This is not a post about world-building, or how to create a great character. This is a post about publishing and the first thing to bear in mind is that publishing is a business.

Any Idiot can Publish a Book
Kindle Direct Publishing, B&N's Nook, Kobo and the like have made it so that anyone can publish anything, whether it's good or not. This is often confused with vanity publishing but I think you can argue a difference. Vanity press was about paying to have your own books produced in print. The days of vanity press are more or less past us and, if the Hugh Howey's of the publishing world teach us anything, it's that self-published authors can be, and in many cases are, a success.

It's Going to Cost You
One of the biggest lies out there is that you can self-publish for free. Perhaps “lie” is too strong a word. You can publish on KDP or Smashwords (which then distributes to Kobo, iTunes, Barnes and Noble before the demise of Nook, and a host of other e-platforms) for free. They won't charge you a fee and you'll get a generous royalty cut.
99.9% of us however, do not have the skills to do this. Self publishing isn't free for most of us. The costs include cover artists, formatters, editors and that's before you even get into the marketing side of things. So to reiterate my earlier point, publishing is a business. It has up-front costs and, if you choose to self-publish, it is a gamble.
Amazon has over four and a half million eBooks on sale. That doesn't include those books which are paperback only. No matter how good your book is, there is a reasonable chance it will never be discovered by the majority of your target audience.

Covers... Get One.
Obviously there are things you can do to improve your chances. For me, this started with a good cover. I'm very pleased with the way my covers turned out. I'm NOT an artist. I'd struggle to draw a decent circle. A good cover makes a HUGE difference. People might not judge a book by its cover (Who are we kidding? They will.) but unless they pick it up, they're not going to be judging it at all. This is where your cover artist comes in. I've heard stories about people paying over $1000 for cover art. Personally, I think that's insane. I'm not saying that art can't be worth that figure, or that the level of skill and work involved doesn't have a value, but as a s/p author I'm a consumer. The cover art is there to help me sell books. If it's going to take me a year to recoup the costs of the cover, then there's a problem. I have never paid more than $300 for a cover, actually the figure is lower than that but I'm not going to get that specific.

Get an Editor!
Once someone has picked up your book then the editing comes into play. For the sake of argument let's just take is as read that you're a decent writer. Your editing will make or break your book. Unfortunately this is where things get pretty damn hard. I believe it's pretty much impossible to self-edit, it just is. There are books out there professing to teach you how to do this but, in my opinion, they may as well be teaching you how to fly. It just isn't possible.
You wrote the book, you're invested in it, you're just too close to it to edit properly. Now, you might be able to do a reasonable job. You might have a great eye for typos (I don't) and a knack for great prose, but your book will never have been as good as it could have been with the right editor. The trouble there, of course, is finding a good one. The best editors are already working in publishing. Either that or they are extremely expensive. The Internet is chock-full of people touting their editing skills, yours for a reasonable price. All I can say here is to do your research and keep your fingers crossed. I've written three novels and I've had seven editors. Only two or three of those have been worth what I paid them and one or two did more harm than good. Even then things get missed. I hate it when a typo gets found. Most people are pretty good about it and let you know so you can make the changes.

Erm, Anyone Want to Buy a Book?
Finally it's down to release day and marketing and this is where the real challenge lies. No matter how good your book is, it's just another self-published book. AND it's your first book. The internet is actually dripping with newly self-published authors and all of them are struggling against the stigma that goes along with that label. Even traditionally published books can find it hard to find traction and they have a publishing house behind them.

Your challenge here is to find a way to make yourself stand out. I've tried a number of things. I've done blog tours, advertising on Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon, blog reviews, interviews, podcasts and subscription email-list advertising. Of the lot, the latter is the one I've found most effective. Unfortunately the king of that particular realm is Bookbub. Bookbub is basically a subscription mail-out service. Sign up for free and they will email you whenever they have a book in your chosen genre on sale at a discount, or even as a free download.

For the consumer Bookbub is brilliant. You get well-vetted books at a massive discount that you can be reasonably sure aren't awful. For the author/publisher they are even better. A Bookbub promotion is pretty well guaranteed to catapult you into the bestseller lists on Amazon and any other e-platform you advertise through them. The catch? It is nigh on impossible to get listed with them. I've managed it twice, which I consider a minor miracle. In addition they have no real competitors, so if Bookbub turn you down then your next best option isn't really going to compare.

I also think I've gained some traction by virtue of r/fantasy, Fantasy Faction and Grimdark Readers and Writers on Facebook. In those cases it's been about not being THAT guy. Not standing on the internet street corner screaming “buy my book!” I've been guilty of it in the past and I've witnessed others doing it. I think it's safe to say we're all sick of it and it doesn't work.

I'd like to be able to say I've worked out a sound marketing strategy, that I know what I'm doing. The truth is I'm blundering along and somehow, my frantic flounderings are allowing me to make some head-way. The bookshop stocking my books came as a result of the right person reading my book. I suppose, if you think about it, most publishing success comes down to that.

The only concrete advise I can offer anyone is to slow down. Your book will always be better for taking a bit of extra time on it. As for traditional vs. self-pub? IF you can get enough traction you can probably make more money in self-pub. That said, I'd take an agent and a deal tomorrow. Any author needs to put in the work with marketing but at least with a good publishing deal you get some level of help (I hope.)

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Sooo... some news...

I'm  not normally a fan of memes but in this case....

The game is in the early stages of development but is definitely happening. I've been told to expect something that works like a blend of Magic - The Gathering, Stratego, and War (the card game).

There will be much stirring of cauldrons, thaumaturgy and things best left unsaid involving chickens. I'm not involved in the creation itself, I'm not sure what lengths they go to.

I'm told Lords of Karma will work so that you can use a variety of different "platforms" as the base, but come on... who would pick anything other than the fae as the foundation of their deck?

The rough concept is that a player would focus on one "Lord" card, using support cards in an effort to become the Lord of Karma. You could choose from a variety of characters to use as your Lord, so there will be a Klöss card, an Aelthen card, a Selena card... you get the idea.

Realmwalker Gaming, a new division of my publisher, will produce the game which we expect to launch in 2016. There are plans to follow this up with a computer based version too. I don't have many details on that yet, which is just as well as my head might explode.

To say I am excited about this is a colossal understatement. There may have been *squee* noises... It wasn't pretty.

For now, it's back to the fae 3 draft... I'm pretty excited about this book too. In fact I'm more or less unbearable to be around at the moment. My wife rolls her eyes a lot.

Friday, 28 August 2015

A writer's holiday, complete with soggy sheep.

"Take the kids on a holiday to the beach," they said. "You'll have fun," they said...

North Wales, it's a lovely place, possibly one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. Our cottage was nestled on the outskirts of a tiny village looking down towards a bay and miles of sandy beaches. Sheep dotted hills surrounded us, covered in grass so lush it barely looked real. The original plan was to steal an hour a day to write, and hopefully finish this book. Apparently someone out there had other ideas.

The Grand Writing Plan lasted roughly five minutes.  Shortly after our arrival, all of the rain-clouds in the northern hemisphere descended upon our little corner of Wales and set up camp. This had the result of transforming our beautiful view and picturesque village, into a collection of waterlogged fields complete with soggy sheep that looked almost as miserable the children trapped with me inside our rain-lashed prison.

In what was clearly a stroke of genius, the owner of the cottage had equipped it with absolutely nothing for kids to do when it rained. No DVD player, not even an old video recorder. It was also positioned FOUR HUNDRED LIGHT-YEARS from the closest town of any real size, and since the interwebz hadn't yet arrived in the village, there was no way of checking for things we could do. If you're setting out on a four hundred light-year trek to entertain your soggy kids, it's nice to know that there'll be something for them to do at the end of it.

I know we should have researched properly before we left. I understand this. I can't do anything about it now, and any helpful comments I receive about this may result in actual bodily harm.

As an added bonus, the owner proved to be a very strange man indeed who liked to check up on us by peering through the windows, and accosting any visitors we had. The kids named him Mr Snoopy-snoop. I had nothing whatsoever to do with this, and any rumours to the contrary are vicious lies.

By Thursday we'd had enough. We lashed a raft together made from the tattered remnants of our holiday plans, and plotted our escape. We'd make a break for it in the early morning, under cover of darkness, before the rain-clouds could spot us and foil our attempts. I have four kids. We didn't make it out of the place until 11am.

"Get us out of here!" we screamed at the satnav. It had other ideas apparently, and decided to take us on a rambling tour of the smaller, and more terrifying roads passing over the hills and mountains of Snowdonia. After we had to swerve to avoid the third suicidal sheep on the road, I began to think it was a conspiracy.

Suffice it to say, my book isn't finished. I'm sorry about that, blame Mr Snoopy-snoop if you like.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

It's Competition Time!

So, my author copies just arrived. Boxes once more line the shelves of my spare room to the delight/annoyance (delete as appropriate) of my wife. 

Following along in the general tradition with author copies, I've decided to give some away, but rather than handing them out at random I thought it might be fun to have a competition.

I'll be giving away three signed copies of Fae - The Wild Hunt, or Realm of Twilight, the winner's pick. 

To enter you simply have to send your entry to me here

Your entry can be anything fae related. Fan-art, photoshopped images, fae-themed photo's, even a piece of writing... So long as it's fae-related, it counts. I'll  post them up here for everyone to see and comment,  then cut it down to the ones I like best, the top three will win a signed copy and the overall winner will receive a special prize that will be announced just as soon as I think one up.  

This contest is open to entrants world-wide. Competition Closes Oct 31st, 2015 at midnight GMT,

Monday, 25 May 2015

The one with the brand new logo

About a month ago I announced I'd been signed by Realmwalker Publishing Group, a small but rapidly growing publishing house in the U.S. It was a big step for me. I released my first novel in March of 2014 and relinquishing control now is a bit like sending your kids off to school for the first time. Will the bookshops be nice to it? Will it be able to fit in with the cool books from the bigger publishers? What if it gets bullied by a hardback? (I sense I should stop now.)

It's hard to take a step back as well. Right now I can log in and see exactly what sales have been made on a given website. I can change the price, or do promotions any time I like. All of this is about to change, and it's going to take a bit of mental adjustment.

There's a lot of going back and forth with something like this. Legal stuff, discussions over whether the word colour should have a U (it should), and whether tea she belong in Boston harbour (it doesn't). Despite the six hour time difference, these guys been great. I wanted to keep my original covers because Vin had done such a good job with them. RPG have ruined them, of course, by sticking my ugly face on the back, but doesn't that logo look good down there?

Click here for a larger image

There's a lot going on in the next few months. Both books should be on shelves by August on both sides of the Atlantic and I'll be at a number of conventions, releasing my inner geek. It's all a little surreal to be honest, thankfully I have a very cool wife to keep me grounded. There's nothing like being sent off to deal with a dirty nappy (diaper) to bring you back to reality.