Under The Waves

The very excellent Fox Spirit Books have released the fifth in their series of Fox Pocket anthologies this last weekend. Under The Waves is now available in paperback and, very shortly, in electronic formats too.

Under The Waves – Click to Buy!

This is noteworthy because, alongside stories by Den Patrick, Fran Terminiello, Margrét Helgadóttir, Hardeep Sangha, KC Shaw, Emma Maree, JB Rockwell, and Alec McQuay (and that’s not all!), there’s a small tale entitled That Sinking Feeling by little old me.

I might be somewhat biased, but I recommend you go add Under The Waves to your basket right now. And then go find the first four Fox Pockets as well, because nobody likes an incomplete series….

This Week’s All-Time Top Ten

I got asked what my current all-time favourite genre books are. After much head-scratching, ceiling-staring, and sifting through the stacks, I’ve come up with this list – unnumbered, and definitely not in much order otherwise, these are still my top ten reads. For now, at least.

The Barbed Coil, by JV Jones.
barbedA standalone epic portal fantasy, in which our tinnitus-afflicted protagonist finds herself drawn into a terrifying battle against a king who wears the magical titular Coil, this was always going to be top of the list, come what may. The sheer detail that has gone into creating the world, the characters, the magic, on top of the brilliant prose, all draw me back again and again to this book. It feels like a series, and when you reach the end you’ll wish there was more, but Jones pulls off a masterstroke by limiting this to one book. It never outstays its welcome. If I ever manage to write a book that’s as well-regarded as this one, I’ll be damned happy. A while back, I wrote about it here.

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed.
throneGrand, epic, and yet slender too, Throne of the Crescent Moon is modern sword & sorcery with an Arabic base and tone, and is bloody brilliant to boot. Saladin Ahmed has a definite voice, and he uses it to perfectly evoke his setting and the God that watches over all. Be warned however: food is frequently and passionately described. I put on three pounds just reading this book.

The Also People, by Ben Aaronovitch.
alsoYes, it’s a Doctor Who novelisation, rather than any of the Peter Grant novels. Why? Well, for one, I’ve only read Rivers of London so far and good as it is it doesn’t quite qualify for this list. For another, The Also People was the first chance I had to explore the New Adventures range that carried the Who torch after its TV cancellation, and the Culture-style pastiche was spot on and lovingly done. It turned me on to Iain Banks’s epic space operas, and yet I keep coming back to The Also People for the dry humour and the Doctor’s glacial manipulations of time and people alike.

Pandora’s Star, by Peter F Hamilton.
pandora_coverReading Banks led me to Hamilton. You can argue that The Reality Dysfunction was the better, faster-paced epic (and indeed the sequel to Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained, has a rather interminable second half) but I love Pandora’s Star for the world-building alone. How better to beat the limitations of FTL than by sending trains through wormholes on regular timetables? How can you not love that concept? A wonderfully British interpretation of wormholes that surely must have been dreamed up while stranded five minutes outside Grantham on the Trans-Pennine Express…

The War of the Flowers, by Tad Williams.
flowersAnother excellent epic standalone portal fantasy – there aren’t too many of those, so I’ve lucked out on this list! Again it feels like it could have been a series, and length-wise it’s certainly long enough to be two books rather than just one. Tad’s version of fairyland is one that I’ve revisited a couple of times and has actually been a small inspiration for at least some of Project:TFL.

The Burning Land, by Victoria Strauss.
The-Burning-Land-ReissueReissued this year, I tore through it at a rate of knots. If it’s odd to find an atheist loving a book that has at its core a question of faith, then trust me on this – Strauss isn’t preaching. Instead we are treated to a brilliantly detailed exploration of both sides of a schism. It’s about the characters more than the god. (And that statement applies also to The Throne of the Crescent Moon, in case you’re wondering)

Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett.
Wyrd-sisters-coverIf you’ve already read the more recent entries on this blog then you’ll understand parts of why this is on here. In the ’90s I was involved with an amateur theatre group that staged a production of Wyrd Sisters in Sheffield. It was wonderful fun. This retooling of Macbeth is probably the best of Pratchett’s earlier Discworld novels. My copy is signed with the note: “I was expecting somebody taller”. :)

Breed, by KT Davies.
breedI read this earlier this year after it had sat on the TBR pile since the launch at last year’s Fantasycon. Like Throne of the Crescent Moon, it’s a fast-paced sword & sorcery romp; unlike that book, it absolutely revels in chaos, violence, and arse-pickle. Breed is a very unreliable narrator, and Davies plays a couple of cards very close to her chest to keep the reader guessing. It’s a shame Breed hasn’t made it onto the longlist for this year’s David Gemmell Award, as I would certainly have voted for it there.

London Falling, by Paul Cornell.
london-falling-UK-pb_500Another book I read just after Fantasycon, having won a copy of The Severed Streets there. Holy smack… having been thoroughly traumatised by London Falling, I’ve had to bury the sequel in a lead-lined box in the outhouse so that I can rest easy at night. I say that as a good thing, mind you – it’s rare that a book shocks me so much as I’m reading it that somebody asks me if I’m OK, and London Falling did that. If Rivers of London is “Harry Potter with a warrant card”, then Cornell’s take on urban fantasy police procedurals is “CSI: Hellraiser” (not convinced that simile works, but read it and see for yourselves). One day I might be brave enough to get through the first pages of The Severed Streets; until then I must try to ignore the gentle rustling of pages from down in the outhouse…

Dream Park, by Larry Niven.
dream parkIt’s the oldest book on the list, and it’s something of a guilty pleasure – Dream Park has dated quite horribly since the original publication. Some of the tropes and characters are embarrassing, played seriously rather than for laughs, but I always loved the idea of technologically-assisted LARPing that Dream Park relies upon. As an old school D&Der myself, Dream Park is a throwback to that sort of wish fulfillment. It’s a bit like cheese before bedtime however – too much is definitely a bad thing.

So no, no Tolkien. No GRRM either. Don’t get me wrong, I still like them both, and as soon as The Winds of Winter lands, I’ll be on the ASoIaF horse again, but right now they aren’t my actual favourite things. No Juliet McKenna, as I couldn’t squeeze 11 into 10, and Paul Kearney lost out for the same reasons. Like the post title says though, it’s this week’s top ten. Sometimes it really does depend on which way the wind is blowing…

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The Turtle Moves

Once upon a time, I worked as a classroom assistant at the Sacred Heart Primary School in Hillsborough, Sheffield. I thought I wanted to be a teacher (I was wrong, but don’t hold that against me). I discovered that it was quite difficult to do much with Y3 and below (severe lack of concentration span, loads of Sunny Delight), and Y5 and Y6 were just as difficult as they were beginning to learn to not pay any attention at all (as well as throw filched packets of condoms around the playground which, in a Catholic School, is probably the very height of anti-establishment behaviour).

So I wound up helping out in Y4. Most afternoons, half an hour before the end of the day, the teacher would read to the class. The kids would gather around and listen and, wonder of wonders, they were quiet and they enjoyed the stories.

I asked the teacher if I could choose the next book. She was a little suspicious: I wasn’t Catholic, I wasn’t one of Them, and I wrote my zeroes and sevens in “the European style” on the chalkboard (“we’re not European, we’re English!”), and she hadn’t heard of my choice of book to read. For all she knew, I could be warping their tiny, fragile minds.

Well, she was right.

The book was Truckers, the first in Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad series for younger readers. The story, if you need a quick reminder, concerns the adventures of Masklin and his fellow nomes, when they are evicted from their home under the floorboards of a massive department store. It might have been a little “advanced” for Y4, perhaps, I certainly wasn’t an expert in judging that, but I figured I could skip over any difficult bits if I really needed to.

We began. I had brought my own copy of Truckers in to read from. Masklin crossed a road, evaded predators, and helped his tribe into the back of a lorry. Y4 listened intently.

By the end of the first week, a couple of them were reading along, using copies that they had evidently sourced from the local library. By the middle of the second week, I don’t think there was a single copy of Truckers left in the Sheffield Library system. They were all here, in this classroom. We parcelled out some of the speaking roles – that was ambitious. The kids took it in turn to be Masklin and Grimma, stumbling over the printed words enthusiastically.

Those kids will be in their mid-20s now, I think. I bumped into one a few years back. He blamed me for getting him hooked on reading and hooked on fantasy.

Not my fault: that honour belongs to Terry Pratchett, I reckon. After all, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic did the same for me when they turned up in the boxes of books that my uncle left behind when he emigrated to South Africa.

Thank you, Terry.

Reading is important. It makes you think.

Pass it on, folks. Tell your children.

The turtle moves.

Up the Junction… (Chopper on Tour, 2015)

It’s holiday time, so naturally I’m relaxing. No, of course I’m not. I’ve been off on a quick tour of locations that will be used in the next-but-one novel project (Project: TFL, acronym fans), walking the towpaths of the Shropshire Union Canal, camera swinging, mud flying everywhere.

Project: TFL takes place – or at least, the real world portions of it take place – between Market Drayton and Norbury Junction. I’ve done that route before, but that was probably around ten years ago, and I remember being exhausted and ill for at least part of the journey up the Shroppie. I could blag it all, and crib my descriptions from the Pearson’s Guide, but it seemed much more fun to go walk the route myself. After all, part of the fun is going to the pubs along the way…

I had three major aims: to scout the Tyrley Locks, to scramble through the tangles of Woodseaves Cutting, and to work out exactly where the mysterious “TFL” of the working title would be located. I managed two out of the three; that’s not a bad score.

Tyrley Bottom Lock
Tyrley Bottom Lock

The Tyrley Locks rise from a deep cutting, with sandstone walls on both sides. The Tyrley Cutting is typical of many Shroppie cuttings – deep, dark, grown over in the summer so that rays of sunlight battle through the leaves overhead. Many are associated with tales of hauntings. The canal is quite wide here, but you can still see that the foliage reaches over from the top of the sandstone. As you walk uphill, past the five locks, you reach rolling fields and bright sunlight instead. Peculiarly, people have left small toys in clefts and cracks in the sandstone just below the bottom lock – out-of-place meerkats, wedding cake decorations, and even a tiny house. Gifts to the fae, perhaps?

House in the cliffs
House in the cliffs

Woodseaves Cutting was inaccessible: the towpath was being repaired, and the entire path between bridges 59 & 56 was closed off. I was tempted to squeeze through the cordon, but I was mindful of the fact that my Pearson’s Guide reckoned walking the route was certifiable lunacy at the best of times and hopping over on my own was probably not a good idea. Instead I navigated overland to Bridge 56 and took a few photos from there. Even from these you can see how narrow the canal becomes, hidden deep inside the cutting, and how muddy and treacherous the towpath is. I missed Woodseaves’s pair of high bridges, described in the Guide as “portals to the mysterious chasms of another world”, but they’ll wait for another day.

Above Woodseaves Cutting
Above Woodseaves Cutting

It was time to move on to Norbury Junction, for a two mile walk back along the canal into Grub Street Cutting. Bridge 39 is a very odd feature – one arch atop the other, to shield the old telegraph pole. Rumour has it that the bridge is haunted by a “black, monkey-like creature”. A book called Shadows on the Water, by Allan Scott-Davies (The History Press, ISBN: 9780750952774) elaborates:

grub street


I didn’t see anything. I did find a steak & kidney pie the size of a small island at the Junction Inn, however. :) And I also manged to sort out the first third of this book. Now I just have to put that darned thing on paper….

Heir To The North: Cover Reveal!

It’s here!

Heir To The North
Heir To The North

If you need a reminder, here’s the deal:

The Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell centuries ago, murdering the High King Jedrell and his bride, and cursing the land itself. Since that time, the mountain kingdom has become little more than a dark legend, and the bloodline of the High Kings has been lost.

Until now.

Old soldier Baum and heroic warrior Meredith seek to defeat Malessar and his foul curse. Conscripted into their quest, young Cassia quickly realises she could make her name as a storyteller by witnessing such an epic confrontation. But neither of her companions are quite as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories Cassia has not yet heard.

By the time she discovers that both Baum and the Warlock have hidden devastating secrets from each other for centuries, it may be too late. Cassia must decide which side she will stand upon and for whom she will fight – for Malessar, or for The Heir To The North.

Coming in paperback and e-formats from Kristell Ink/Grimbold Books in Summer 2015, The Heir to the North is an epic fantasy of legends, love, and slow revenge.

That’s Meredith and Cassia right there on the cover – ready for action, ready to take the fight to Malessar, ready to reclaim Caenthell. I love the traditional feel of this – it’s about the characters themselves, rather than a slightly abstract object (with apologies to fans of slightly abstract objects – I have nothing against you!), and I think it reflects the tone of the first stage of Cassia’s journey and the way she sees that quest herself. Optimism and heroics, that’s what Cassia wants! Ah, naivety… :)

Our artist, Jorge Torres (you can see his work here) has done a proper spiffing job on this. His work on the cover for the sequel, The High King’s Vengeance, takes it to another (darker, more desperate) level – but that, dear reader, is a reveal for another day…

Meanwhile, if this tempts you to adding it to your TBR pile, here’s a link to Goodreads:)

Announcement of imminent Announcement!

I have news!

The news is that there will be fresh news next weekend!

Yes, I am announcing the announcement of an announcement. It may have something to do with a book cover.

What book cover, you may ask. Perhaps it is this one?

The Sinner's Daughter, by Gillian O'Rourke - available late 2015!
The Sinner’s Daughter, by Gillian O’Rourke – available late 2015!

No, it is not that one. Bloody good cover though. Add it to your TBR list on Goodreads!

Perhaps it is this one?

Green Sky & Sparks, by Kate Coe - available later this year!
Green Sky & Sparks, by Kate Coe – available later this year!

No, it is not that one either. Again, however, that’s a stunning piece of work. Makes me want to read it. How ’bout you?

What about this one?

ooooh - shiny!
ooooh – shiny!

Oooooh, shiny! Stop trying to distract me. No, these are not the covers you are after. Here – I’ll give you a clue….

Teaser sketch!
Teaser sketch

Oooooh – shiny!

That’s my line. Stop it. Want more? Want to see the whole shebang? Keep your eyes on Kristell Ink’s website for the full reveal!

Fox Bites, Socials, and beyond…

Leah Osborne reading at Fox Bites
Leah Osborne reading at Fox Bites

This afternoon I popped down to Leicester for the inaugural Fox Bites event. Set up by Adele Wearing, the Auntie Fox of Fox Spirit Books, it’s an open mic event for writers and a chance for like-minded, book-loving people to get together and chat and get to know each other. You might be thinking that this sounds a little familiar, and I suppose in some respects you’d be right, but that’s no bad thing. Exactly the opposite, in fact. There ought to be – and indeed there are –  more events like this, set up across the country. With the advent of the e-book, and the attendant revolution in self-publishing and small presses, publishing (at least, from my perspective within the SFF genre) has certainly gone global, but it has also gone back to grass roots as well. Older heads amongst you may think of the post-punk DIY ethic and the home-distributed cassettes of the C-86 era and work an analogy from that (with Spacewitch as Rough Trade, perhaps?).

For a long time if you wanted to get into the genre you had to go to one of the Big Conventions. There wasn’t a lot else out there. I’ve nothing against those, but mahoosive crowds, anxiety, and costs aren’t a good mix (that’s why I never did Glastonbury). I imagine a lot of people also feel a bit intimidated by the investment (time and money) required for a major con. The biggest sea change over the last year or so seems to be that small, localised events like the York Pubmeet, Super Relaxed Fantasy Club (who pretty much started the ball rolling), and Fox Bites (and the SFSF Social, of course) are taking off and getting some traction. There’s one-day cons like BristolCon and EdgeLit too. A chance for authors and fans alike to mingle in relaxed surroundings, enjoy themselves, maybe even grab a book or two. It’s a good way forward – regular, or semi-regular, events that bring people together without all the major organisational headaches of a full con. And in the end, it’s good for the genre as a whole.

So today I got to chat to Amanda Bigler, Leah Osborne, Adele, Alex Davis, Selina Lock and James Everington amongst others, all super talented folk who are post-punking their individual ways through their genres. Next weekend sees the second SFSF Social, at the Old Queen’s Head in Sheffield, and other heads are working on more events for both Leeds and York for later in the year, as well as looking ahead to the run-up to FantasyCon in October. It’s the beginning of what someone else called the Northern Circuit – come and join us!