A Face for Radio…

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I seem to be going the right way about it. Here’s a couple of links to pieces I’ve done in the last couple of weeks.

First up, a video interview for the SciFiFantasyNetwork, filmed at Fantasycon 2015 and hosted by the urbane and wordcrafty Joel Cornah. Please ignore the fact that I am overdue a haircut. The noise in the background is quite possibly people queuing up for the Brandon Sanderson signing.

Second, I wandered over the road to BBC Radio Sheffield for a chat on-air with Paulette Edwards. I’m not completely convinced she really got her head around fantasy and Heir To The North, but you can listen again here from around the 2h08m mark and tell me how I did…

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426 Pages of Epic Fantasy Goodness!

Did I tell you that I have a book coming out before the end of this month? Y’know, part one of an Epic Fantasy duology under the series title Malessar’s Curse? Heir To The North, it’s called. And if you want the digital version of it, you’ll have to wait until the official release date of October 23rd. (But you can still pre-order it, because pre-orders are cool. Like fezes.)

But – check this. The paperback listing is up on Amazon now. And if you order it, it may very well arrive before the official release date. How about that, heh?

If you want the chance of winning a signed copy of Heir To The North, meanwhile, get thee hither to the SFSF Social this Saturday, at Eten Cafe in Sheffield, where David Barnett will be reading from his latest Gideon Smith novel, and Amanda Rutter will be answering questions in an exclusive “Ask The Agent” session, and buy a raffle ticket or two.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, folks.

They Call Him Mr Nibs

It’s a truism that every writer needs a cat, although not every cat needs a writer. Some of you may be aware that we’ve been fostering a cat from the local RSPCA for the last four weeks or so, with the ultimate aim of fully adopting him (of course, there is the viewpoint that says one cannot simply adopt a cat; one is merely tolerated by a pan-dimensional hairball of evil instead). That fostering period has now ended – and the boy is officially part of the household. Yay!

nibs1Meet Claus/Mycroft/Mr Nibs. Claus is what the RSPCA called him, Mycroft is what Rachel has called him, and Mr Nibs is me being daft (I used to call my parents’ cats, Mungo and Jerry, by the more fun names Biscuit and Flapjack – and eventually my mum called them that too…).

It’s a giant step forward in many respects. Most importantly from the cat’s point of view, he’s got a home he can learn to feel comfortable in. When we first met him he was, in the words of the cattery staff, institutionalised. He’d spent six months or so in the “quiet corner” of the shelter, where they keep the more nervous animals, those that are pregnant, those recovering from injuries, and for most of the time he wouldn’t come out from the travel box he slept in. Nervous, shy, wounded; that’s the little fella. He’d play around a bit at night when the lights went out, knock a few toys about, but otherwise that was it. Shutdown. Not the happy, mewing, “love me!” sort of cat that most visitors want to see.

Rachel saw differently. She saw a cat who could be loved, helped, and given a great home. He might not be a lap-cat, but that didn’t matter. This was a cat who deserved a chance.

Having completed the adoption paperwork and seen the full medical records, I can see that the poor chap hasn’t had a great time of it. I’d been told he was in an accident, but that’s not quite true. As chance would have it, he was found not too far from where we are now, hiding in a shed, one front leg overwhelmed by a massive growth that turned out to be a necrotic tumour. There wasn’t anything the vets could do for that limb but amputate it completely.

When found, he was “whole” and unchipped – probably born and raised stray then, which accounts for his nervousness and the almost total shutdown he went into at the cattery.

On his first day in the house, he found the attic stairs and hid at the top, wedged face first into a corner, confused and miserable. That was upsetting.

Over the last few weeks however, he has started to come out of his shell. Three-legged, maybe he feels a bit vulnerable – he shies away from sharp movements, skitters around the kitchen, almost fell down the stairs once while fleeing past me. When not safe in his travel box bed, he prefers to sit under the kitchen worktop, surrounded by wooden stools, like a kid sat in the middle of a climbing frame.

But he’s also learning to be social – he knows that when we’re eating, he gets fed too. If we go into the front room to eat, he’ll sit in the doorway and mew  at us. And then he’ll leap into the kitchen and attempt to dismember one of his toys again. He’s very good at ripping the seams out of things, even with a front leg missing.

He still may never be a lap-cat, but in four short weeks he’s become a much happier cat. I’m guessing the pan-dimensional hairball of evil stuff comes later.

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.

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!

SFSF Social #1 – In the Aftermath

aka – What We Did The Other Weekend. Both Adrian and Jo were fantastic guests at the first SFSF Social, and from what I heard on the night I heartily recommend both Guns of the Dawn and 25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf. It was excellent to be able to get so many SFF fans in one room in Sheffield too – and we’re doing it all again on 1st March, at the Old Queen’s Head, with Dana Fredsti and Ian Sales. Come join us!

Sheffield Fantasy & Science Fiction Social Club

Hello everyone!

This is my first post on the SFSF Social Blog, which is rather exciting! For those who were there, I was the quiet hobbly one (not to be confused with Hobbity, as I am the tallest of the three of us behind yesterday’s (Okay, I started this the next day…. but things happened) and future events!) For those who weren’t, I’m Sara, and I do lots of stuff, and one of them is helping with this!!

SFSF Organisers Your Hosts here at SFSF

As you’ll know, yesterday (Okay.. yes it’s a couple of weeks now… ) was the first SFSF Social (huzzah!) And from what I can see, we all loved it. All in all we had over 30 people from not just Sheffield, but as far as York and Stafford and other places too, gathering at Eten Cafe to get together, chat, network, and listen to our guests of honour…

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All Quiet on the Northern Front…

…but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening. We’re into the Long Wait (available on request from all good shops, of course) that inevitably happens at this point of the publishing process, but HTTN is still on schedule. That means it’s time for other projects to take precedence.

ED5, for example. The Empire Dance is getting progressively more difficult to write, thanks to my insistence on threading together four or five plots at the same time, but I’m aiming to have Weapons Free! blocked out to full length by the end of December, at which point it should be on course for release in the late spring. In the previous volumes I’ve skirted around the edges of various battles, but ED5 features a real humdinger between First Fleet and the Irian taskforce sent to capture Belsea – it’s not as easy to pull it all together as I thought it would be.

Meanwhile, there are other story threads to knit back into the main narrative, and other “lost” characters to focus upon. To whet your appetites, here’s a little snippet of one of them…

When he opened his eyes, everything looked flat. Instinctively, he knew that something was missing; that his senses had been stripped to their most basic. To the core.
Core. That was an important word. He had a core; he was a core.
He closed his eyes again and attempted to recalibrate his visual cortex. He plucked diagnostic programs from his most immediately accessible files, rewrote them, and promptly discarded them when they failed to appreciably improve his biological functions.
He reopened his eyes. The view was still blandly three-dimensional, and available only from a singular perspective.
A face loomed into view above him; he adjusted the focal length of his vision. It was not yet a perfect reflex, he noted with mild disappointment.
“He’s coming out of it,” the medical officer said. “You’d better contact the High Admiral.”
“Of course.” This second voice was mellifluous, modulated and controlled. He could not fail to recognise it.
The face moved aside again. The room busied with activity. He listened to it all, analysing and filing it for later reference. At the same time he began to test the outer reaches of his new home. His new containment. He needed to be able to control the limbs of this body. Only then could he begin to control what lay outside of it.

After ED5 is put to bed, I’ll be turning in earnest to the next proper novel-length project, code-named TFL, which needs thorough outlining. HTTN & HKV were “pantsed” for the most part – I knew where I was starting from, and I knew where I was heading for, but everything inbetween was a mystery until I got there – but TFL feels like it needs a more considered approach.

On top of the writing, there’s a new, more socially-oriented project that I’m involved with too, and that really kicks off in January. You may have heard already of the Sheffield Fantasy & Science Fiction Social Club. If not, then I invite you to click this linky thingy to find out more about it. If you’re SoYo-based, or you fancy dropping by the Steel City on January 24th to hear Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jo Thomas read from their new works, shout up and join!

Right. This book ain’t gonna write itself…