Category: Guest Post
by October 29th, 2014-
In ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS) and REIGN OF ASH (US | UK | AUS), Blaine McFadden is sent into exile in an arctic prison colony for murdering the man who dishonored his sister. When a war destroys mankind’s ability to control magic and bend it to their will, out-of-control wild magic brings deadly storms, monsters pulled through rifts from other realms and a madness that drives its victims to violence. Blaine discovers that he might just be the only one who can put things right.
In WAR OF SHADOWS, Blaine and his convict friends discover that plenty of people are trying to kill them. Blaine’s attempts to fully restore the magic affect the new status quo. With the king and nobility gone, there’s a power vacuum, and some ruthless players have decided to fill that gap themselves. As warring factions fight over territory in the kingdom of Donderath, Blaine emerges as a warlord trying to restore the rule of law, amid betrayal, intrigue and opponents who will go to any length to see him dead.
I’m not nice to my characters. It’s true. Blaine’s had a rum go of it. Raised by an abusive father, forced to make a choice no one should have to make in order to save his sister and younger brother, condemned by the king and exiled to the edge of the world—it hasn’t been a good seven years. Yet Blaine rises to the challenge, not because he covets power, but because he doesn’t want to live in the world as it is, and someone has to step up to make the difference.
Blaine doesn’t go looking to be a hero. In fact, when he kills his father, he fully expects to die for the crime to spare his sister and brother from further abuse. An act of ‘mercy’ commutes his sentence from hanging to exile, but the Velant prison colony is known for its inhumane, grueling conditions. But Blaine finds it within himself to adapt, and that ability to change lies at the heart of the series. Blaine and his convict friends, as well as the survivors back in Donderath, find strengths they never knew they had when confronted with challenges they never expected to face.
Blaine’s story is also about the power of ‘the family you make.’ In the brutal environment of Velant, and then later as colonists in the harsh environs of Edgeland, Blaine survives because of the ‘family’ of loyal friends who band together to protect each other. Back in Donderath, his ‘found’ family combines with what remains of his blood family, and several key people are added to the group. Blaine’s companion’s skills, courage and loyalty make the difference for his survival and for having a chance to fix the magic and set things right.
I’m also having fun looking at how a kingdom reacts in the face of overwhelming disaster, destruction of both economic and governmental infrastructure and continued instability. That ‘perfect storm’ combination affects everything from food production to religious identity to social cohesion, turning everything that people thought they knew upside-down. It’s a crucible from which everyone emerges changed—if they emerge at all. And whatever solution is found, one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same as it was before the disaster.
Depending on your view, that’s either a terrifying statement or the glimpse of hope at the end of the storm.
War of Shadows isn’t the end to Blaine’s story. I’m working on Book 4, SHADOW AND FLAME, right now. So there is more to come. Because surviving is just the beginning of the journey.
My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www. AscendantKingdoms.com.
by October 15th, 2014-
Brian Ruckley, author of THE FREE – a rip-roaring tale of action and adventure – talks about magic systems, and why they’re completely unnecessary. Except when they’re not.
While I was doing the interview I did here the other day about my new book THE FREE, I left out a heap of stuff. Because you always have to leave stuff out, right? But there were a couple of topics I’d like to have kicked around a bit more, and here’s one of them: magic systems.
Role-playing games have to have their magic systematised to some degree – defined, constrained, structured, all that – because otherwise the whole thing would get messy fast. But what’s the deal with magic systems in fantasy novels?
The fantasies I loved as a kid did not, as best I can recall, generally define what magic was or how it worked in any detail. In most of those books, magic was an immanent property of the world, or of individuals, or objects. It was just there, inherent in certain people or places or things. A capacity for change that was kind of unspecified, and with inner workings that remained entirely invisible.
Which, I tend to think, is the natural state of magic in fantasy novels. Why would we want to have this stuff explained and circumscribed? The ‘magic’ of magic is in its numinous quality. We don’t need to know the mechanics of it all. That’s not really the sort of awe-inspiring otherliness and wonder we’re after in fantasy. It’s engaging the wrong bit of our brain. Look what happened when Mr. Lucas tried to escape the clutches of fantasy by midi-chlorianising the Force. He gently systematized his magic, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.
So, naturally, having said all that, I’ve got a bit of a magic system in THE FREE. As you’d expect, I have reasons (excuses?) – aside from the basic one that I’ve got a brain that tends to see, and look for, systems and processes in the world around me generally.
First up, there’s the notion of having your approach to magic fit with the tone of a book. With THE FREE, I was shooting for a fairly hi-octane adventure vibe, with grounded characters making tough choices in psychologically plausible ways. It just felt consistent to have some structure to the magic that both reader and character could grasp and – to some extent – anticipate.
Of course, I decided I could have my cake and eat it too, because I didn’t want to lose the element of surprise and wonder and pyrotechnics that magic can bring. Thus, those who use magic in THE FREE (I call them Clevers) are theoretically capable of doing almost anything. Everything – physical and non-physical, every single aspect of the world – can become a part of magic, and that makes it both immensely powerful and almost infinitely varied. So although there is a sort of rationale for what’s happening and why, it’s not a prescriptive, circumscribing one.
Second up, there’s magic as an engine of plot, story, character. I figured that if I was going to have a magic system, it might as well help me as a writer, so I tried to come up with one that by its nature embodies some tension and conflict and climax. Read the rest of this entry »
by September 30th, 2014-
Angus Watson, author of debut epic fantasy AGE OF IRON – the first book in a rip-roaring trilogy of Iron Age warriors fighting off the Roman invasion of Britain, outlines five moments in history which could have gone very differently . . .
We should all be speaking Latin.
Julius Caesar’s first British invasion force in 55BC was the same size as William the Conqueror’s in 1066 – around 10,000 men. It stayed in Britain for just a few weeks. The second one in 54BC was two and a half times the size, but it returned to France after a few months. No Roman legionary set foot in Britain after that for a hundred years.
The accepted historical take of Caesar’s invasions is that the Romans won every battle and returned across the Channel victorious, twice. This version comes entirely from Caesar’s own diary and is clearly absolute bollocks. He didn’t come to Britain with 25,000 soldiers for a summer holiday and he didn’t leave because he was winning too much. He intended to conquer. He should have been able to. His army had overthrown all of France in two years. Something big happened to stop him.
My Orbit trilogy AGE OF IRON is a fictional, fantastical account of how an unlikely gang of Brits united to hand Caesar’s invincible arse to him. Had Caesar’s invasions succeeded, then the Romans would have had Britain for a hundred years longer. The extra resources might have enabled Rome to conquer all of Germany, Arabia and then the rest of the world, and the Roman Empire might never have fallen . . .
This blog post looks at four other events in history that really should have gone the other way, resulting in a completely different world today. Read the rest of this entry »
by September 10th, 2014-
My Orbit-published epic fantasy trilogy AGE OF IRON is set in Britain during the . . . you guessed it . . . Iron Age. After looking around for about twenty years, I learnt about Britain in the Iron Age and I’d knew I’d found the perfect place and time to set a novel. Here’s why.
An Almost Blank Canvas
The Iron Age ran from roughly 800BC to 43AD, so was relatively recent. Your great times ninety grandparents might have been running around then. The Age of Iron trilogy is set near the end of the period, between 61BC and 54BC.
This period of history was much busier than most would think. There were roads, towns and massive hillforts all over the country. However, we know almost nothing about it because the ancient Brits didn’t write and in 43AD – a hundred years after my book is set – the Romans invaded successfully, stayed for 400 years and wiped out any oral histories. The pre-Roman population was pretty big, the estimates range from one to three million, so there were loads of people, and they weren’t cavemen who sat around saying ‘ug’. They were men and women like us – full of wit, passion, inquisitiveness, jealousy, anger, love and so on. So, throughout the long Iron Age, there must have been epic love affairs, huge wars, intrigues, trysts, adventures, disasters and more, all of which we know absolutely nothing about, which, for me, screams out an invitation for us to create stories to fill the void.
It was a massive joy to learn as much as I could about the period and then make up a world and people to fill it. Anyone else can walk up a hillfort and do the same (see point five for the best hillfort to do this on). Read the rest of this entry »
by August 19th, 2014-
I have enjoyed the Bannon & Clare books thoroughly. From inception to proofs, even when frustrated at the characters’ insistence on doing what they pleased instead of what I thought was proper, I have felt a secret little thrill of joy at each page.
No little of that joy comes from research—a huge canvas map of 1880s London hanging on my office wall, full of notes and dirty from my fingermarks, a shelf groaning under various Victoriana books and assorted notes stuffed in a binder covered with fleur-de-lis, long emails exchanged with various people about pepperbox pistols and gaslamps.
The other half comes from gleefully throwing research out the window and taking off into the wild blue yonder with only a guess and a prayer.
The longer a series goes on, the more choices one initially makes in the first flush of creation become…well, not quite a straitjacket, but foundation specs that need to be honored if a work is to have any internal consistency at all. In other words, you can have utter lunacy on the page, but it must be consistent lunacy.
I am certain there is much madness in any book of mine, but I do try to make it consistent. Part of that consistency is Emma Bannon’s character. She is female in a time and place that doesn’t allow women a great deal of leeway, and navigating through such a sea is a difficult thing. Her talents and business acumen make it both more and less difficult in varying ways, and she is most often the one to “rescue” Clare. That inversion, and the power dynamics between them, is fascinating for me.
Even though Archibald Clare is a mentath and a gentleman, he is not so much a hero as a socially awkward misfit unable to compromise his honour for advantage, and not really caring what the world thinks of him. Emma Bannon cares even less, but is forced to play the social games of a lady as if she did, because it makes things easier for her and those she protects. Neither of them are quite heroes, and I like that the usual “gendered” roles—rescuer and rescued, logic and emotion—for both of them shift and change all through the series.
Another area of consistent madness is the uneasy relationship between magic and Industrial Revolution technology in the series. I hesitated over calling the Bannon & Clare Affairs “steampunk” because to me, that’s an aesthetic, not a genre. I much prefer the term “alt-history,” especially since I know the exact moment their historical timeline diverged from our own less-magical (perhaps?) one.
Above all, though, I set out to tell some ripping good, exciting yarns. I hope I’ve succeeded. I did have plans for what I called “the traveling books”—Bannon & Clare in America, in Russia, in India during the Raj—but alas, those are not to be.
So I hope you enjoy The Ripper Affair—and I hope my madness, so to speak, is consistent.
by June 18th, 2014-
If you were to ask me to list my five favorite novels of all time, I’d probably give a slightly different answer every year. I’m always discovering something new and glorious that blows my mind and leaves me in a giddy state of wonder. But one book that will never leave that list is Ender’s Game. In fact, it’s currently perched there at the number one spot, and I doubt anything will ever unseat it.
I’m not alone in this. For millions of readers, reading Ender’s Game was a transformative experience. It taught us that characters in a book don’t have to feel like characters in a book. They can feel like real, genuine friends.
That was my experience, anyway. Ender and Valentine and Bean and Dink. It’s like I knew these kids and felt a connection to them. Our hearts were knit together, as the saying goes.
So when Orson Scott Card invited me to join him in writing prequel novels to Ender’s Game, I was a little gun shy. I worried that fans would be expecting another Ender’s Game and that if our novels didn’t transform them and wow them as much as the original, they’d crinkle their noses and hate me for life.
Remember when George Lucas announced that he was going to make The Phantom Menace? I went fanboy bonkers. Another Star Wars movie? Glory hallelujah! I couldn’t believe it. I’m going to sit in a theater again and have an experience just like I had watching the originals.
And then the movie came out and it was, um, less than what I had hoped.
Is this the curse of all prequels, I wondered.
Scott Card put my mind at ease reminding me that we weren’t writing Ender’s Game. That isn’t the goal. This is something different.
So I dived in, and learned quite a bit along the way . . . Read the rest of this entry »
by June 16th, 2014-
When you write a first-person series for a few years you start to hear voices – other voices than your main character, that is. To let those voices tell their own story you have to give them their own chapters, and I began that process in the sixth book of the Iron Druid Chronicles, HUNTED ( UK | AUS). That was the first time Atticus’s former apprentice, Granuaile, had a few chapters to herself. The change from Atticus was lovely as an injection of variety but I quickly realized that the new point of view allowed me to develop both Granuaile and Atticus in ways not previously available.
The experiment worked so well (for me, anyway) that I expanded the practice in SHATTERED. We still get plenty of Atticus and Oberon in the seventh installment of the Iron Druid Chronicles, but Granuaile gets equal time and so does Atticus’s old archdruid, who goes by the modern name of Owen Kennedy. Writing in three very different voices was a delightful challenge for me and I enjoyed exploring their musings on the nature of power and how it should be employed. I also enjoyed making all of them very uncomfortable.
Both Granuaile and Owen have to adjust to a very different life from the one they led before. Granuaile must carefully choose her path now that she’s been bound to the earth and possesses great power, while Owen, brought forward two thousand years into the future, must struggle to adapt to a completely alien culture and level of technology. And Atticus, normally so confident in his abilities, learns that he missed some key facts and the true situation with the gods bears little resemblance to what he thought it was.
Writing from three first-person views—alternating between chapters—also forced me to write in a nonlinear fashion. I discovered that when I tried to write in order it was slow going, because each voice had its own verbal tics and style and switching between them required a mental adjustment. Once I ditched the idea that I had to write from beginning to end, work proceeded much faster. I would write three Owen chapters or four Granuaile chapters and stay in those voices for days, piecing them together in order later. And because of that I managed to finish writing the book in only five months, which for me is quite fast. (And I know that some speedy readers out there will finish the book in a single day and then ask, “When’s the next one?” at which point I will weep and clutch a teddy bear.)
I hope everyone will enjoy getting to know Granuaile and Owen a bit better and appreciate the light they shed on Atticus as well. Many thanks to you all for reading; I do hope to get across the pond someday to meet you.
SHATTERED is available now to buy in the UK and Australia.
by June 10th, 2014-
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS releases today in the US in hardcover, and will be out in paperback in the UK next week in (June 19th). Read the first ten chapters on Facebook or listen to a sample from the audiobook.
We know you’ll be hooked by Melanie’s heart-stopping story. M.R. Carey joins us today to tell you more about that journey.
I don’t know why I ended up writing a road movie. I almost never watch them.
I’ll make some exceptions to that blanket statement. I love Sideways. And Midnight Run. And if we’re counting yellow brick road movies, The Wizard of Oz is pretty damn cool.
It’s just that I’ve seen so many features where changing the scenery stands in for any kind of thought-through development in either the characters or the plot. Stories where it really is just one damn thing after another, episodes piled on episodes until you get to a slightly bigger episode that you realise (after the credits roll) must have been the climax.
If you’re still with me, you’re probably already compiling your own mental list of great road movies. “Hey, fool, you forgot O Brother Where Art Thou, Easy Rider, Wild At Heart…” And yeah, I did. For the sake of my argument, I’m willing to overlook a certain amount of inconvenient evidence.
Can we agree on one thing? When you take a story that depends on a fixed setting and works well within that setting, and for no reason other than variety being the spice of life you wilfully take it out on the road, you’re flirting with disaster. The very phrase “jumping the shark”, after all, comes from that terrible Happy Days episode where the whole gang goes off to Los Angeles and hangs out on a beach.
A long while back I read an essay by the French media guru Roland Barthes in which he talked about the appeal of utopias in fiction. Barthes claimed that most utopias are finite, enclosed spaces – “idealised caves” – that satisfy our need for security by providing an environment where stability is absolute and guaranteed. He made it clear, though, that this enclosure didn’t have to be a physical thing. The classic sit-com, he argued, is utopian because it presents situations and relationships that are entirely resistant to change. One of his favourite examples of a utopian world was that of the Carry On movies, the mildly smutty British comedies of the 60s and 70s in which a cast of beloved character actors would mount a series of gag sketches in a historical setting, effectively playing the same roles no matter whether we were in Cleopatra’s Egypt, the Khyber Pass or the London of Jack the Ripper. Read the rest of this entry »
by May 14th, 2014-
I’m aware this is a Quality Problem and expect not a bit of sympathy here, but a new book (THE OVERSIGHT) does mean book launches etc, and at some stage public speaking will inevitably be involved, and people who spend most of their lives being articulate on the page (where they have the great advantage of a) not having to do so in real-time and b) being able to edit and re-polish their words before public consumption) now have to perform without those safety nets. Talking in public and the demands of real-time articulacy are, on balance, probably good for you, like getting some bracing fresh air after the fug in the office, but the moment I dread is when the chairperson turns to the audience and wonders if anyone has any questions . . .
The truth is, I don’t mind the questions. I don’t even mind that they are usually the same ones, because at least the questioners are different each time. I mind my answers. I mind them because it’s always me replying, and I know what I’m going to say and that I for one am going to have to listen to it all again. So, to try and end-run the inevitable, here’s a pre-cooked answer to a couple of the Top Five FAQs, in the hope we can skip them next time and enable me not to have to suffer my own repetitiveness any more.
The questions are “How do you get your ideas?” and “Do you always have a clear plan when you start writing?”
The short answer to both of these is conveniently the same one: I like getting lost. More specifically, I like getting lost on purpose.
I got the habit a long time ago, when I was first working in London and trying to get to know my way around. It wasn’t anything like The Knowledge, that heroically compendious act of street-memorizing that all London cabbies have to master, but it was my small version of it. I worked a three-day shift at the time. That left me with four days off per week in an expensive city on a not enormous wage. So walking around and exploring was a good way to divert myself without spending all my cash. I would set off in one direction and when I got to a junction where I had previously turned left, I would turn right, and so on until I turned myself round and tried to get home as directly as possible. London has never been subject to any uniform grand design (though Wren had unbuilt and rather wonderful plans for a refurb following the Great Fire) so it’s an organic jumble with no grid to orient you, which made getting lost a doddle. If you want to conquer a city and make it your own, you need boots on the ground: and so I tramped the streets, loafing and looking.
I remember first stumbling across the ominous façade of Hawksmoor’s Christchurch Spitalfields with a perfect hunter’s moon hanging in the sky beside it. That led me to Peter Ackroyd’s book Hawksmoor in particular, then his London-centric writing in general (which stimulated a deeper sense of the historic weirdness in the city’s many shadows) and a renewed interest in Blake and Dickens that sprang from that. That led me to Dickens’ Household Words which contains masses of fantastic articles he wrote about walking around London. I’d take a reprint with me while I walked and read and compare past with present when I stopped in whatever café or pub I found myself outside at lunchtime. Sometimes the book was HV Morton’s London, which provided similar first-hand views of the same cityscape but nearly a hundred years later. Walking cities with a book (and a notebook) became a habit I still have. Not a bad result from a single serendipitously taken turn in the road whilst involved in the act of purposely getting lost.
More specifically, I got the idea for the plot of the entire Stoneheart trilogy (in which London’s Statues come alive, but only visibly to two children) simply by walking from statue to statue and letting the thing join itself up in my head. For example, I had to get my characters to the Blackfriar’s pub (conveniently situated outside the Orbit offices, by the way) and so just meandered in that general direction, picking up characters like Sphinxes, Dr Johnson and the tremendously lithe Temple Bar Dragon on the way. (An American academic called Andelys Wood has rather amazingly photographed all the statues mentioned in the Stoneheart books, efficiently mapping that all that serendipity.)
Of course ideas don’t only come from the simple act of getting lost; you have to be paying attention. You have to have a good memory, or failing that, the notebook in your back pocket. Most of all you have to follow up those unexpected links. Like good luck, serendipity happens most often to those alert enough to notice it and well enough prepared to grab it as it passes. Which is why even the most aimless loafer needs to keep their pencils sharpened.
“I like getting lost” is also the answer to that second FAQ. Getting lost in London is pretty stress-free for me. I’ve been lost in other more stressy paces so I’m well aware this isn’t always the case. I know that there’s usually an Underground (Subway) station close by, or failing that a bus stop to take me back into charted waters. In London the Underground is a hidden organic grid beneath the randomness of the city. It’ll get you from A to B, but it doesn’t tell you any interesting detail about the terrain you’re travelling beneath. When I write I have a similar schematic, at least a beginning, middle and end, but usually some more connecting stops along the way, but I don’t have the whole work mapped out as a detailed beat-sheet. Doing that detail of planning is, for me, wildly unproductive. As a novelist the real pleasure is 100% freedom to get lost in your own story and see what presents itself unexpectedly, but process can only be stress-free if you have at least a bare schematic underpinning everything. The very best days are the ones in which you re-read yesterday’s pages and can’t quite remember writing them, or how those associations happened or indeed where that new character jumped in from, as if you have been working in a fugue state (I think that’s what the “Flow” is). I’m not going to get all spoilery about the The Oversight, but when Lucy Harker first opened her mouth I, like anyone else, was entirely surprised by what came out.
And that’s why, for me, for at least why writing is inextricably all about getting lost: “It’s the serendipity, stupid”.
Of course that’s a steal from James Carville and the sign he put up in the Clinton campaign office in the ’92 election to keep everyone on-message, but then stealing is a big part of the answer to another prime contender for the FAQ Hall of Fame, which is “Where do your characters come from?” And that’s a question I do like, because the answer changes with each book. Maybe we’ll get to that . . .
by May 12th, 2014-
The Trouble with New Orleans
Just say the words New Orleans and you probably think of jazz music, cobblestone streets, cemeteries filled with monuments, and scrolling iron balconies. You might also think about vampires, ghosts and who knows what else that might be lurking in the shadows. The Big Easy has a certain reputation for the mysterious. And indeed, it is definitely a place filled with a special kind of magic. The tales that surround this city are part truth, part legend, part good old fashioned story telling.
As a writer, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by this place. I’ve been to New Orleans more times than I can count and it never fails to enchant me in some new way. There are moments when I could easily believe I’ve crossed a threshold where all the creatures of my imagination could truly exist. Maybe it has something to do with the city’s own sense of immortality. Very little changes here, whether it’s the architecture, the colorful presence of art and music, the tantalizing aroma of chicory-laced coffee, or the ever-present sense that an undercurrent of something dark and magic thrums just below the surface.
I promise it’s nothing to be intimidated by. The locals are friendly and the tourist even more so, perhaps helped by the loose liquor laws. Whatever the reason, the city welcomes everyone and has become a favorite for so many authors, myself included.
In my new Crescent City series, it became the perfect setting for my fae characters. A place where mortals and othernaturals could indulge in food, drink, music, love, and war, all while fully aware of each others’ existence.
If you find yourself in New Orleans and want to check out some of the places where the lines between this world and the supernatural seem to blur, take this list with you. A few of these spots show up in my series.
The cemeteries of New Orleans
Sometimes called the Cities of the Dead because their towering crypts and monuments create mini-skylines, a stroll through any one of these final resting places is something you’ll always remember. My favorite is Lafayette Cemetery No. One in the Garden District and conveniently located across from Commander’s Palace restaurant. Both spots make an appearance in, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN (US | UK |AUS), but the cemetery gets top billing as it’s also the location of the fae’s underground headquarters (via a secret entry through one of its crypts). Read the rest of this entry »