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 . . .
With her brand new epic fantasy adventure THE LASCAR’S DAGGER out today, we asked Glenda to tell us a bit about the book and the story behind that title.
“What’s your book about?” It’s a question dreaded by every fantasy author.
After all, what if Tolkien had said, “A company of little guys with hairy feet who go on a long journey to throw a ring into some molten rock under a mountain…” Would you have bought the Lord of the Rings trilogy?
With my latest book – THE LASCAR’S DAGGER – I discovered a new problem.
“What’s your book about?”
“A lascar, and the spice trade and –”
“Alaska? Really?” (At which point I am on the receiving end of a peculiar look.) “I didn’t know they had a spice trade! And have you even been to Alaska?”
So I usually end up telling people about lascars instead.
The word ‘lascar’ rather carelessly bundles together men of many different nationalities. The only thing they had in common was that they were south Asians who worked for Europeans. They could come from any country from Yemen to Indonesia. They were mostly sailors, although sometimes the term was applied to the servants of British army officers. Generally, they were worked hard and were poorly paid.
Possibly the very first lascar was an Indian who sailed with Vasco da Gama in 1498. By 1660, they were so common on board British ships that the British Government enacted a law to limit their employment to no more than 25% of the crew. By the First World War, there were over fifty thousand lascars actually resident in Britain; lascars were in fact the first wave of Asian migrants.
But THE LASCAR’S DAGGER is not just about a man and his knife. It’s about a western civilization on the cusp of change as it comes into conflict with cultures on the other side of the globe. It’s about ambition and greed and the spice trade. It’s a fantasy, set in a world that never existed, but which evokes a time when Asia and Europe were on a collision course. In our world, Asia lost, and most countries ended up under colonial rule. In my world … there may be a different ending.
The cast of my trilogy is large and varied: clerics and royalty, merchants and servants, assassins and beggars, a lawyer, a prince, a privateer and a woman wanted for murder … and more importantly, there’s the lascar — and his blade.
The lascar’s dagger is, in fact, a character too, one that can manipulate events. After all, I write fantasy and there’s got to be magic, right? Better still, with magic, perhaps one can change the course of history.
Today we are proud to release ARCANUM (UK | US | ANZ), a majestic standalone epic fantasy from none other than the Philip K. Dick award-winning Simon Morden.
Having won the prestigious award for his science fiction series starring deliciously sociopathic Russian genius Samuil Petrovitch, Simon has now turned his considerable intellect to fantasy. And what’s resulted is rather mind-blowing . . .
Imagine that long ago, the Roman Empire was crushed by wild spell-casting shamen.
Imagine that a thousand years later, a mighty kingdom has been founded on this formidable power – with magic their tool and their ultimate weapon.
The secret to Carinthia’s dominion is the Order of the Hexmasters, whose magic can power cities, build bridges and exterminate whole armies.
But then imagine taking this power away . . .
When the age of magic dies, the world will be ignited. Some believe that any act, no matter how horrific, is justified to bring the magic back. But some believe that when the magic has gone, the age of science will be born anew.
The twelve-year old Felix will be thrust onto the throne after his father’s demise, the fiery Nikoleta must wield her power carefully as the last remaining hexmaster, and the librarian Thaler believes that salvation lies in the knowledge stored in the great library of Carinthia . . .
Chaos and order, future and past, technology and superstition – all will clash with violence in the magnificent ARCANUM, out today.
‘An enthralling read for aficionados of intelligent, impeccably rendered fantasy’ Kirkus
‘A captivating novel as well as an interesting commentary on fantasy as a genre’ Tor.com
‘A masterful foray into an alternate universe . . . An engrossing rollercoaster of a plot winds up with a solidly satisfying climax that leaves the reader craving more’ Publishers Weekly
If you’re based in the UK and would like to celebrate the release with Simon and get hold of a signed copy, there will be a signing held at the Newcastle branch of Forbidden Planet on Saturday 15th February from 1-2pm.
I’m a movie nerd from small times—my parents had an impressive betamax collection growing up, and a dearth of actual cable led to my worshipping the sacred VCR. In college (okay, and for a few years beyond) I managed an independent video store called Video 21—it was and is a great little rental joint that caters to both FSU’s film school elite and the more salacious tastes of Tallahassee’s underbelly. The stories I could tell of some of our regulars…but that would be akin to breaking the physician-patient privilege, and so mum’s the word. You can learn a lot about people from their taste in movies, is all I’m saying, but then who am I to judge if an otherwise upstanding member of society gets their kicks watching 2 Fast, 2 Furious on a bi-weekly basis?
Right, so I’ve digressed. The point is, while I could make a blog post about the process of writing The Folly of the World, the ins-and-outs of negotiating a blurry historical record with creative license, the unique struggles one faces when working primarily in shades of grey, or even just cataloguing my literary inspirations for the novel, I’d much rather talk about movies. Sure, I could tie all the films I want to talk about into a cohesive essay touching on the salient points of each and the greater cinematic quilt they contribute to, but because certain things are hallowed by usage and consecrated by time (points for whoever gets that reference), I’ll just lay them out in a top ten list instead. The Top Ten what? The top ten films that might vaguely relate to my new novel in ways both obvious and obscure, of course, laid out in an order of my own inscrutable devising. So poke through the list below and see what inspiration you might find for your next movie night, and in the event you’ve already seen them all, well, have I got the book for you.
A flimflam man and a young girl who may or may not be his daughter travel around the dustbowl during the Great Depression, fleecing suckers and exchanging banter. A tough-beyond-her-years youngster and an embittered grifter forging an unlikely bond and possibly finding redemption even as they continue to use one another and anyone else who gets in their way? Uh, no comment.
Kurosawa’s fast and loose play on the Prisoner of Zenda set-up is pretty goddamn great—not the director’s best three hour long samurai epic, but a close second. As war and social upheaval throw a land into turmoil, a lower-class crook takes on the role of an important man and loses himself in the process, to results both tragic and wry. Brilliantly conceived, beautifully executed.
The long-awaited day is almost here! In a few short hours, The Hobbit will be hitting the silver screen. To mark the occasion, we decided to ask several of our Orbit authors with recent and upcoming books what Tolkien’s The Hobbit has meant to them. We hope you’ll also share your own story in the comments below, and if any of you are going to the movie in costume, we’d love to see pictures!
I was introduced to The Hobbit and to Lord of the Rings in high school by the same friend who got me into Dungeons and Dragons (gee, think there was a connection?). While I had been a Star Trek and Star Wars fan for a while, and had read a few sci-fi novels, I had never read anything with the scope of The Hobbit and LOTR. I was totally hooked, and I credit it with giving me another nudge toward growing up to write epic fantasy.
Gail Z. Martin, author of ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS)
I have to admit a shameful secret — I was a late bloomer as far as Tolkien is concerned. While I knew of his work, I’d never read any of it until I was 25. I was introduced to the incredible world of Middle Earth by my then-boyfriend (whom I later had the good sense to marry), Steve. My older sister is a fantasy and science-fiction fan. Without her I don’t think I would have developed a love for either genre. She has in her possession, an illustrated, hard cover, gorgeous edition of The Hobbit that I … liberated from her library for a brief time. Steve couldn’t believe I’d never read it, so it then became a ‘thing’. Every night one of us would read The Hobbit to the other. Mostly he read to me, because he would comment on things characters did, make up voices, and basically make the entire experience wonderful because of his love for the story.
Now, 25 wasn’t yesterday, but there are things about The Hobbit that linger for me. As a small-town (I’m talking mud puddle small) girl, I instantly related to Bilbo. In fact, I’m pretty certain my maternal grandmother was a hobbit. Poor Bilbo was so outside his comfort zone, but he found so much courage inside himself. Who wouldn’t love such a character? Of course finding ‘the’ ring was a big moment in literary history, but I remember the trolls more than the ring. I remember loving the character Beorn, even though I can never remember his name. And despite having a deep-seated crush on Richard Armitage, I think I’d love Thorin no matter who played him, because his character was just so… great. Of course, who can forget meeting Gollum for the first time? In the end, The Hobbit is — literally and figuratively — all about the little guy taking on seemingly insurmountable problems to triumph at the end. But there’s a cost. There’s always a cost. I think what I took away from The Hobbit are two lessons I try to remember in my own writing — 1: It’s the journey, not the destination, and 2: Bittersweet endings are sometimes better than happy ones. Oh, and I guess there was a third as well, though it doesn’t apply to writing – second breakfast is the most important meal of the day. :-) Thank you, Mr. Tolkien.
Kate Locke, author of THE QUEEN IS DEAD (US | UK | AUS)
I can’t recall how or why I first picked up the Hobbit – I suspect one of my brothers left it lying around. I can recall how it inspired my son into reading voraciously, something he still does even now he’s a teen. It was the first proper book he’d ever read on his own, and it was that and the new and unexplored vistas that utterly captivated him.
For years afterwards, every book report that he could get away with was on the Hobbit. Every book he read was compared to it, and most often found wanting. He reads, I sometimes think, to try to rediscover that sudden realisation that the world is a different place, that things and people are strange. He reads because he wants to fall for a world, a story, the same way he did with Middle Earth. It was his first literary love.
As legacies go, I think that’s the best one to hope for – Bilbo and his friends inspired my son to read.
Francis Knight, author of FADE TO BLACK (US | UK | AUS)
The Hobbit is, more or less, the distillation of the purest, deepest of wish of the child (or of any adult who still has a spark of curiosity smoldering away in them, for that matter): the wish that one day, while you’re bumbling through your silly little routine, adventure will walk right up your front path, knock upon your door, and refuse to be turned away.
When I first read the Hobbit, I yearned so much for the leafy, cool shadows of Middle Earth that one summer, in an attempt to recreate that world, I carried a hefty bag of wax myrtle seeds to my grandmother’s house – for she had a much bigger yard than ours – and planted them all over her property, as well as the piney properties of the people on either side of her. Wax myrtles, as it turns out, can be wildly invasive, so within several years the damn things were popping up everywhere; but by then, unfortunately, I was a bit too old to enjoy them properly. I still hope that some child may come along, rest in their shade, and feel, for an instant, a bit more hobbity than before.
Robert Jackson Bennett, author of AMERICAN ELSEWHERE (US | UK | AUS)
In a word, what The Hobbit means to me is Fantasy, with a capital F, for the same reason that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy means Science Fiction in Bullingtonese—my parents had book-on-tape versions of those two novels when I was a kid, and long before I even understood most of what was going on in the stories, I adored the broad strokes and general cadence of the narratives. The Hobbit was actually a radio play version produced by the Mind’s Eye in the late seventies, and to this day I can’t talk about the book without imitating some of the silly voices that imprinted the text on my young brain.
When I was older and read the book on my own I was delighted to discover all the content which had been abridged from the radio play, but my progression to The Lord of the Rings was not met with the same enthusiasm—I found it a colder, less-engaging read. Although with age I’ve grown to appreciate a lot about the trilogy, its epic, fate-of-the-world action and dully black-and-white ethics can’t hold a light of Earendil to The Hobbit’s comparatively small-scale adventures and petty moral dilemmas, at least for this particular Sackville scribe. Like many of my peers, I owe a great debt to Tolkien; he still has a lot to teach, both by his strengths and his failings, and The Hobbit is the text of his that keeps pulling me back, even after all this time, and always with a smile on my face.
Jesse Bullington, author of THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD (US | UK | AUS), available now
Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Assassini trilogy – described by the Sunday Times as “Gritty, grimy, decadent and compelling” – is a dark vision of a Venice in peril, and the rise of a young man cursed with amnesia and a taste for human blood. This epic tale began with THE FALLEN BLADE [UK | US | ANZ] and continued in THE OUTCAST BLADE [UK | US | ANZ].
The third and final instalment, THE EXILED BLADE, will be published in April 2013. For now, here’s the finished cover – courtesy of our talented designer Emma Graves – in all its grandeur.
If you’ve not yet delved into the depths of Grimwood’s dark, dangerous Venice, you can read a sample chapter from THE FALLEN BLADE here.
I’m delighted to be able to unveil the cover for a very exciting new title to be released in October this year: ARALORN (UK | ANZ).
It’s an omnibus edition of two fantasy titles that are yet to be released in the UK: Masques and Wolfsbane, from the fan favourite (and New York Times bestselling) Patricia Briggs.
Masques was in fact the first full-length novel that Patricia wrote, but since then it’s been revised and updated. It features the wonderfully unconventional heroine Aralorn, a girl who flees her noble birthright and the expectations piled upon her to become a mercenary and shapeshifting spy.
Patricia Briggs recently revisited the series with Wolfsbane, and so we decided to collect these two novels in ARALORN. With these stories, the author expertly turns her hand to a setting which is a little more historical/high fantasy than urban fantasy – but fans of the Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega novels will undoubtedly also love this book.
ARALORN shows off Patricia at her best – with characters that are so intriguing that you’ll never want to say goodbye to them. The relationship between Aralorn and her mysterious companion Wolf, for example, is so deliciously intense that you’ll definitely want to see it through to the end.
In case you’ve missed it, the fantasy legends Terry Brooks and Patrick Rothfuss have been interviewing each other on their websites throughout July, and it makes for some very compelling reading . . .
My personal highlights include Terry describing himself as being like the OCD-ridden TV detective Monk, and where Pat talks about skipping his writing teacher’s class to go on a date with that same teacher’s daughter. Very sneaky indeed.
Check out part one here on Terry’s site. Also, check out this awesome cartoon of the two of them.
Don’t forget also that Terry’s conclusion to the Legends of Shannara duology, The Measure of the Magic(UK | ANZ), is released tomorrow in paperback! Read an extract here. And here’s what fans have been saying on online retailer sites about the book:
”Terry Brooks is one of the best fantasy novelists of our time . . . He does not disappoint his many fans with this latest book’ Dee
‘Terry Brooks continues to be my longest standing favourite author’ S. Wilson
‘This is a really great series of books that have haunting and fleeting references to present worldwide problems. Long may he keep on writing these great books’ Colin L. Williams
There’s also not long to wait now until Terry’s brand new series begins with The Dark Legacy of Shannara:Wards of Faerie(UK | ANZ) – released 23rd August.
If you like what you hear above, this will a great place for any new readers to jump in and experience the Terry phenomenon!
Published this week, SHARPS (UK | US | ANZ) is the superb new fantasy from K. J. Parker in which a single fencing tournament could decide the fate of two warring kingdoms.
One of Parker’s most passionate fans is Jared Shurin, half of the team behind Pornokitschand a judge/administrator for the Kitschies awards. Jared has given SHARPS a stellar review – “Sharps may be the book that fantasy fans are waiting for” – and has just conducted an in-depth interview with the enigmatic Parker.
When we asked Jared what it is about the books of K. J. Parker that he loves so much, and why you should be reading them, he was only too happy to tell us . . .
Jared: As a shamelessly vocal, frothing-at-the-mouth K. J. Parker fan, I may be exactly the wrong person to write a piece on “Reading K. J. Parker”. For me, it is a no-brainer. For fifteen years, Parker has been consistently writing some of the best books in fantasy. Clever, thoughtful, funny, dark, political – stories with empires and sieges and swords and gods and magic – everything I love about the genre.
However, taking a step back, I realise that not everyone’s been obsessively stalking Parker’s creative output. Sharps, as a stand-alone novel – and one of Parker’s best to date – is the perfect starting point for a new reader. But in aid of those who need a little more convincing, I’ve tried to break down the reasons I read Parker. On a long list, here are the top five:
1. Plain-spoken. Parker writes in a straight-forward, direct way. The prose is easy, which lets the reader concentrate on the story and not fuss about deciphering the text itself. There’s no mythic vocabulary, no chanting in italics, no poetry (whew) and not a whiff of Ancient Elvish. Parker proves that you can write about complex, big ideas in plain language. The books are deceptively simple and wonderfully quick to read.
2. Educational. This sounds like a joke, but Parker’s books will open your eyes to the fascinating world of button-making. Also: currency regulation, fletching arrows and, dare I say it, charcoal-burning. Each book has one or more central metaphor: a self-reflective device that’s used to structure the story. As the symbol that ties everything together, that charcoal becomes really important – and, thanks to Parker’s skill as a writer, surprisingly enjoyable.
Still, it isn’t all briquettes and buttons. If you’re nervous that lumber mills and drop hammers aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of excitement. Blue and Gold is about alchemy. Pattern brings in volcanoes (nothing boring there). The Escapement focuses on siege warfare. And Sharps? Sharps is about swords. Another reason that this book makes the ideal first Parker: what fantasy reader can resist a book about sword-fighting?
3. Proper badasses. I don’t want to give you the impression that Parker’s books are all bone-grinding and economic theory, because they aren’t. Some of fantasy’s hardest warriors lurk within these pages – Bardas Loredon, Suidas Deutzel and Poldarn among them. Deadly fighters from all walks of life: highly trained and extremely motivated. Parker’s books also contain some of the most compellingly vicious fight scenes. The sword-monks and raiders of the Scavenger trilogy, the mechanised warfare (and epic sieges) of the Engineer trilogy, the underground battles in The Proof House, and, of course, the swordplay of Sharps. From classic fencing to brawls, pitched battles to lethal duels, Sharps has a glut of action. As always, everything is exhaustively researched as well. (What else would you expect from an author that makes their own swords?) Read the rest of this entry »
In the UK you can buy the ebook for one month only at a special price, meaning that should you fancy getting a bit closer to royalty after the Jubilee festivities, you can get both THE HEDGEWITCH QUEEN and THE BANDIT KING at a great price.
Tristan d’Arcenne killed his King. Now he is faced with betrayal, war, and the mistrust of his Queen. She should mistrust him, for there is nothing d’Arcenne will not do.
The Bandit King approaches . . .
You can find a sample chapter of THE BANDIT KING here.