The Long Road to The High King’s Vengeance Starts Here!

The best thing about Heir To The North (apart from all the other things, of course!) is that the story doesn’t end there. Baum’s quest is completed, he has won, Malessar’s Curse has been broken, and now Cassia can see the enormity of what she has done.

So, what’s next? That’s what all the cool folks want to know. And, as it happens, there is an answer. That answer is The High King’s Vengeance, the second half of the story. This is the one with dragons and princes. This is the one with armies of stone and desperate duels. This is the one with romance and revelations. This is the one where Cassia comes to terms with herself and returns to Caenthell and the North.

Now all I have to do is let my editor beat the actiony action into it.

And all you have to do, for now at least, is add it to your TBR lists on Goodreads.

And soon – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon – we’ll be revealing the finished cover art for The High King’s Vengeance, and you’ll get your first look at Cassia’s new companion for this second half of her journey…


Close to the Edit

Wow, it’s looking a bit old and dusty around here, isn’t it? Sorry about that – as you might imagine, with Heir To The North looming on the horizon like great Leviathan rising to the surface, my attention has somewhat inevitably been focused elsewhere. edit2

The editing process. Now there’s a mystery that sets all authors to trembling with fear. It’s the first time that I’ve had to hand over a full novel-length manuscript to an external editor, and I wasn’t certain what to expect. To make matters more complex, HTTN was written over a couple of years, and my own style changed between the first and last chapters (though not to the extent that I stopped over-writing. Heavens, no).

But now Heir To The North is slimmer, quicker, meaner, and actually a darn sight easier to read. Here’s what I learned during the process.

Change is not a bad thing. Likewise and conversely, editing is not a dictatorial process. At the end of it, your book is still your book. The point is that the writer’s tired eyes may not have seen problems with structure, continuity, verbosity etc. If you thought you were killing your darlings in the second, third (and seventeenth) drafts, then this will hurt a bit (a lot), but seriously it’s worth the pain. For example, here’s something I totally missed on my reads… badwriting1

The editor does not hate your book. Far from it. The editor wants to make your book better, because s/he loves it and takes great pride in their work, just as much as the author does in their own. The trick is to realise that these first two points take your book to the next level.

Weasel words must die. At least, possibly, it seems to be that way.

Not everything has to be described as “old”. Or “great”. Or “great” and “old”. Some of the secondary characters in the book used to belong to Guhl’s Company, a band of Hellean soldiers. In the unedited version of the manuscript, they’re all described with the same phrase: “old soldiers”. When one talked to another, it became difficult to know who was talking to whom…

Make your action more actiony. Yes, really. Joanne Hall talks a good fight over here.

You are not a columnist for Fantasy Homes & Garden Magazine. This comes back to killing those darlings. It’s all very well lovingly describing Rann Almoul’s town house and the changes he made to it over the years, all to illustrate the man’s avaricious nature, but – really? Did I really need all that? Are we ever going to see that house again? (SPOILER: no.)

It’s easier to fix over-writing than it is to fix under-writing. And in this case a picture eloquently speaks a thousand words…..badwriting2


Last, but not least – It’s not all bad. Far from it. Editing doesn’t have to be an attritional process and, indeed, nor should it be. Turns out, see, that I write good. Long, but good.goodwriting1



Heir To The North, by the way, is scheduled for release around October of this year. If you’re on Goodreads, you can add it to your TBR shelf over here.

Meanwhile, if you want an example of me writing short but good, look no further than the recent release of Under The Waves, the latest in the series of Fox Pockets from the wonderful Fox Spirit Books. My contribution, That Sinking Feeling, is a small but perfectly-formed piece of shaggy-dog fantasy fiction, even if I do say so myself.

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….

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…


Fox Spirit Books, a rather cool indie press who run a natty line in pocket-sized anthologies (along with other cool goodies) will be publishing my short shaggy dog tale That Sinking Feeling in the upcoming Fox Pockets collection Under The Waves.

That Sinking Feeling, in which two hopeless thieves are bitterly disappointed with their latest haul, joins tales by my excellent fellow Inkbots KC Shaw, Emma Maree, and JB Rockwell.

In case that isn’t enough to tempt you, bear in mind that the first three Fox Pockets (Piracy, Guardians, and Shapeshifters) carried tales by Alasdair Stuart, Kate Laity, Den Patrick, and KC Shaw, amongst many others – and all are available as ebooks for under £2.50. Fox Spirit are presently doing a damned good job of getting tales from fresh new writers – join The Skulk, and make sure you’re at the front of the pack!

All the news that’s fit to print

It’s been a strange few weeks, though overwhelmingly positive in nature. New employer, new routines – and one of the biggest of those changes is that Christmas is no longer a bogeyman of stress and horror. From a distance, I can actually enjoy the time of year and, wonder of wonders, keep writing through it. If anything, Christmas week is going to be wonderfully quiet. I love it.

So, while I’m not indulging in NaNoWriMo quantities of wordcounts, I’ve certainly upped the pace somewhat. A whole arc of Johnny Silver stories is planned out, though I still have no idea how to market the adventures of a former South Yorkshire superhero in novella format; the first full adventure is completed, with the second already at 2.5k after only two days of writing; and a short introduction to the Forgemaster himself is out on submission with an upcoming and rather fun micropress. You wouldn’t have found me able to work like this in previous years.

Malessar’s Curse is still doing the rounds too – and though it didn’t find a home at A Certain Excellent Publisher, it certainly fought till the final bell, and I’ve received wonderful feedback from that Publisher. For a first novel-length submission, I’m calling that a definite win. (And I shouldn’t have to mention that Curse is already back out on query rounds – can’t stop the signal, friends).

Amazingly, the car even passed its MOT – held together by patches of rust as it is, I was expecting it to expire within sight of the garage.

Perhaps the only downside, craft-wise, is that ED4 has found itself pushed to the sidelines once more in favour of Johnny Silver, but while I’m enjoying myself, I’m not complaining.

It’s Finished!

Well, the first draft is, anyway. 154141 words. Phew. Not looking forward to the edit, I have to say.

But – positivity! It’s done at last, and Malessar’s Curse has been wound up in the way that I originally envisaged.  See, it’s always a good thing when you know exactly how you want to finish the story. (Which helps to explain why my previous efforts all remain unfinished, and why the Empire Dance is in a holding pattern…)

There’s an immense feeling of satisfaction to be gained from writing the final sentence of a novel; even more so when it’s the close of a series. And at long last I feel I can actually look up at another project – though, which one to pick?!

Hmm. Decisions, decisions…