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I Am A Sloth

So a month has passed and I’m not exactly sure how, since I seem to be in the same place as when I last blogged. Oh, wait, I know what I did: I edited the first quarter of the Iron Jackal, and now it’s slicker than a greased otter. And I also spent some time editing Pandemonium for Scholastic US, which was a really weird experience, as I haven’t read it for, like, 5 years. After I finished laughing at my own jokes (I know, I know, I’m a walking tragedy) I found that I’d laid in clues for things to happen later on in the series and I’d forgotten what I actually intended to happen. So that took a bit of clipping to get into shape.

Anyway, it is intended to be the first part of several, though whether it will be or not is up to Scholastic, due to the astronomical time and expense involved in producing graphic novels. But the first volume is pretty much standalone, so don’t fret, my pretties.

Still in prelim meetings for All Fall Down, but everything’s progressing well. I’m also throwing a bunch of really big-idea SF movie pitches at some producers I know, and I’ve got the taste for screenwriting back so I’m knocking around another kind-of-SF script idea that I think I’m gonna write just for the hell of it just cos it’s so mind-bendingly awesome (he trilled modestly). But no worries, The Iron Jackal is still well on schedule for an end of year delivery and it will be out around June/July 2011.

Right, it’s too sunny to be inside any more. This being Britain, it’s probably the only glimpse of summer we’re going to get all year, so I’d better go take advantage of it…

Update And Info On Release Dates

Sooo, it appears I have reverted to my lazy blog habits that I hoped to break by revamping this website. Tsk. Trouble is, things move so slowly in the world of writing that I’m lucky if I have one new interesting thing to tell you per month. Otherwise I’d be forced to subject you to my rambling opinions on politics, religion, life, the universe and everything. You don’t want that.

Where I’m at: I’m a quarter of the way through The Iron Jackal, but I’ve stopped it for a little bit. I went on holiday for a week, and when I came back I decided I wanted to revise the first quarter of the book and make sure it was all as good as I could get it before I moved on.

I find that the further you get through a series, the more the need for recapping becomes a problem. How much do you need to remind the reader of what happened before? How much do you need to tell new readers to prevent them being lost? The Ketty Jay books are intended to be standalones, but the characters have still changed a lot from book to book, due to the things that have happened to them (otherwise it’d be like a Thundercats episode where everything ends up exactly the same as it began, and we fade out on everyone laughing at Snarf: poor little thing, I bet he was crying inside). Anyway, it’s a tricky balance to strike, so I’m going to do some editorial work on it before I continue.

By the way, this is something I always advise aspiring writers not to do. It’s better to finish the book and then edit it afterwards. But hey, I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years now, and that makes me a cranky old hand at this game; I get to do what I like 😉

I’m in talks with Scholastic about doing another two books for them, which may or may not be a continuation of the Malice and Havoc stories. And speaking of Scholastic, I just got contacted by their US division who look to have resurrected the long-rumoured Pandemonium graphic novel project. We have an artist, Cassandra Diaz, who has a very dreamy, ethereal style that should suit the story nicely. I’ve seen some sample pages and they’re very cool. We also have a new editor with a background in graphic novels who’s working on it closely. So it looks like, after 5-odd years, it’s pushing forward, which I’m very excited about. Told you the writing game was slow!

I’ve had preliminary story meetings about All Fall Down, and we’re going to be getting on with that as soon as everyone gets their heads straight after the film festival in Cannes.

In other news, I bought an iMac and it’s the greatest thing in the world. I am now officially PC-free, which means I don’t have to spend every third Sunday reinstalling Windows. Awesome.

INFORMATION ABOUT RELEASE DATES!!!!

(I put that in bold capitals, see, ’cause I want you to pay attention)

I notice that about 50% of the posts I get on here are asking when a certain book is going to be released in a certain country. Several times I’ve replied, only to have more people ask me the same question again because they haven’t bothered reading the thread before they posted.

So here’s the thing. I’ll update you when I can, but if you want to know release dates, look on Amazon for your particular country.  If the release date is changed in any country but the UK, nobody tells me unless I specifically ask. Usually I find out about it from Amazon myself.

As a general rule, Canada and Australia (and maybe NZ) have the same release dates as the UK. If it’s released in the UK a long time before your country, go buy it from The Book Depository which, since it has free shipping internationally, is probably no more expensive than buying it at home.

Everyone in the US waiting for Havoc, (release date is currently October in the US) just order it from England instead. It’s out now. I’ll make it easy: Click here. It costs six quid, which is about nine dollars. If you don’t have a credit card, ask your parents super nicely if they can buy it for you. There. Done. And while you’re there, you might as well pick up Retribution Falls too 😉

Seriously, you don’t need to wait for publishers in your home country to put out a book these days. When I was a kid it required an Indiana Jones-esque quest to find a book that wasn’t published in my country, or one that was out of print. Nowadays it’s a doddle.

Right, that’s my sales thing done. I’m off to eat Animal Crackers.

Retribution Falls shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award

Squeeeeee!

Ret Falls is down to the final six for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Of course I knew about this for weeks; I just wasn’t allowed to tell you till now. But it still makes me prolapse with joy.

Me, me, me! Self, self, self!

WANTED

Says it all, really! I’ll be lurking at Eastercon on Saturday & Sunday.

I’m trucking along with The Iron Jackal. Five chapters done out of a predicted forty or so. Ah, it’s so comforting getting back to the world of the Ketty Jay. Like shucking on an old overcoat and finding a dog-end and half a pack of Polos in the pockets.

In other news, I have a new movie project on the go. It’s one of those behind-the-scenes things I was darkly hinting about in previous posts, but since the deal is all but done now, there’s no need for secrecy any more. Brilliant Films – the guys who are doing Malice – have snapped up a movie idea of mine, tentatively titled All Fall Down. They’re signing me up to do a first draft and we’ll see where it goes from there. It’s a thriller/suspense movie, not fantasy or sf at all, which is kind of a welcome break for me; but I’m keeping the story close to my chest, so that’s all I’m telling you for now 😉

Apologies to everyone I haven’t replied to in the comments sections; I’ll be getting to you soon, honest.

Two New Ketty Jay Books, Directly Towards Your Face

News! News!

So Gollancz & I have agreed a deal for two more Ketty Jay books, to follow The Black Lung Captain. The first, with a working title of The Iron Jackal, will probably land on the shelves a year after the release of its predecessor, making it July 2011. The fourth is a bit far in the future to predict with much accuracy, but it’ll be targeted for roughly July 2012, assuming that year’s predicted Armageddon doesn’t put a crimp in book sales. News on US release dates for the new books when I get it; we still have to sort out all the little contract details in the UK first.

So, more adventures for Frey & co! Yay!

I’m pleased to say Malice has been shortlisted and longlisted for various awards around England, including the Manchester Book Award, which will be awarded on March 11th. Posi-vibes, please!

Eastercon: I shall definitely be there on Saturday and more than likely Sunday, but due to panel congestion I probably won’t be doing any this time around, unless there are cancellations. Not to worry: Gollancz will be running a little Retribution Falls promotion, which I’ll announce when we’ve got the deets sorted out, and I’ll no doubt be lurking about shiftlessly somewhere.

Mass Effect 2 was one of the best games I ever played except my XBox exploded just as I embarked on the finale. Since this is the second XBox that’s borked on me in the space of three years (especially considering I don’t play it much) I have got a little tired of Microsoft’s shoddy engineering and I won’t be buying another. Guess I’ll never know what happened, although I probably saved the universe so that’s okay. Am on Heavy Rain now. On the PS3. I trust those Sony guys.

Couple more deals in the works, still churning away behind the scene. News to come.

SFX Weekender

Ok, the deets for the SFX Weekender:

Friday I’ll be doing a half-hour reading and Q&A thing on the Slaughtered Lamb stage at 16.30. How much of that is reading and how much Q&A largely depends on how many people turn up. Come with questions! Many questions! Preferably multi-part ones of penetrating depth, but y’know, ‘what’s your favourite colour’ will do.

Saturday I’ll be on the Main Void Stage with China Mieville, Steve Feasey and William Horwood doing a panel on Writing For Young Adults. That’s at 11am.

Other than that, I’ll no doubt be drifting around somewhere…

Uncle Chris’s Writing Tips #3: What The Hell Is A Jazzlewozzy?

‘See there,’ said Rablaaaan the Octrazine. ‘A jazzlewozzy! It will make fine vittels, iffen we can catch it and stick it in a stew with some grated a’rair’thian’ttt’x!’

‘A jazzlewozzy?’ asked Bert.

‘See its long pointy ears, its elongated hind feet and round fluffy tail! See how it prances and snuffles!’

‘Are you talking about that rabbit?’

Rablaaaan looked bewildered. ‘A… rabbit?’ Then he laughed, so long and hard that several sentences after this paragraph ended he was found by a passing troll and got his head bitten off. ‘What kind of stoopid name is that for a jazzlewozzy?’

Naming stuff in fantasy and SF is a minefield. I’m gonna use fantasy for my examples here, but the same things apply in SF. It’s the worldbuilder’s dilemma: what the hell do I call a rabbit?

So there you are, happily creating your fantasy world, and it occurs to you that your heroes might need something to put in their stew. Now, you think to yourself, you’re going for a proper fantasy world, none of this Tolkien-knockoff pseudo-medieval elves-dwarves-and-goblins stuff. It follows that if your whole world is full of strange and wonderful races and beings, then populating it with domestic Earth animals like cats and dogs, or having people ride about on horses, is a bit lame, really. Why not just come up with something new to replace all those little animals?

Writer, you just bought yourself a whole world of trouble.

One of the little-discussed aspects of the fantasy writer’s art is the balancing act between telling the reader what they need to know to enjoy your world, and drowning them in information. Much has been said about info-dumping (for those that don’t know, this is when one of the characters picks up a pot and the author pauses to explain the history, culture and favourite flavour of ice cream enjoyed by the native people who crafted it) but the reason it’s so pervasive is that it’s so incredibly hard to deal with.

The thing is, everyone knows how elves, dwarves and goblins work. You don’t even need to explain them; they come with their own set of assumed rules. Ditto witches, wizards, vampires, werewolves and zombies, which explains why they massively dominate the bookshelves. They’re easy, both for the writer and the reader. The more original your fantasy world, the more time it is necessary to take to explain to your reader how the world works and who lives in it. Even with all the skill in the world, that’s gonna mire your story in swathes of explanation and backstory.

Now usually you can get away with a few awesome new races that no-one’s ever heard of. You can come up with a dinky magic system. You can create some great monsters. But what I’ve found is that, when you get down to the nuts and bolts of a civilisation, you have to cut corners.

If your heroes all cook with crazy containers of glistening crystal, then you have to give those things a name. Let’s call them valax. Now what do they eat with? Spoons? Too conventional. Let’s give them obzol, which are cups of dried and toughened leather they dip in on a cradle of string. Oh, wait, we can’t have string…

Wait a minute.

Rablaaaan the Octrazine dipped his obzol into his valax and drew up a mouthful of jazzlewozzy stew.

Hmm. Beginning to sound a bit like A Clockwork Orange now. I don’t envy the writer who has to explain to the reader all those new terms they’ve put in there. And not explaining them is worse. You can get away with it by context a few times, but if you barrage the reader with made-up words then eventually they’ll give up trying to decipher them and put your story down.

Sooner or later, you end up having to call a pot a pot.

The other thing is, even if you do come up with lots of new kitchen utensils, domestic animals, etc, you can only ever describe them by likening them to the thing they replaced. You either call it ‘a spoon-like utensil’ or you tie yourself in ridiculous knots by saying ‘it was made of steel, with a long handle, and a depression at its furthest end used as a receptacle for food, the better to transport it to one’s mouth,’ etc etc. It’s the same with animals. No matter how original you make your horse-analogue look and act, as soon as someone climbs on its back, we know it’s a horse (go watch Avatar if you don’t believe me).

In my opinion, a book is not just a record of the writer’s imagination.  A book is a bridge between the author and the reader. The author has a certain obligation to consider his or her audience. The reader doesn’t know a thing about the world they’re entering into. It’s up to the author to make sure they know everything they need to, without ever forgetting that all this stuff in the background is only there to service the story, not to overwhelm it.

In a perfect world, I’d never have anything remotely Earth-like creep into one of my fantasy books. I’d design everything from the ground up to fit my world. But it doesn’t work that way, because that would turn my book into an encyclopaedia, not a story. I could get away with it in a movie, perhaps, but words are too slow for that; it’s one of the limitations a book has. So a compromise needs to made. I need to throw the reader a bone and say: ‘screw it, this dog-like thing, it’s a dog, okay? Let me spare you two paragraphs of explanation and just say ‘In the distance, a dog barked.’ Not a the howl of kakarinch. Not the percussive chee chee chee of a optryx. A dog.’ You’ll thank me for it later.

Let me tell you the tale of a young, enthusiastic writer who one day decided he was going to write about a fantasy world that wouldn’t have anything even remotely Tolkein-esque in it. In fact, he thought, I’ll set it all underground, a fantasy world that evolved away from the light. There’ll be no horses or dogs or cats. I mean, there’ll be humans, or human-like races, and they’ll have an easily recognisable society (one a plutocracy, one fundamentalist), so we won’t go too crazy. But definitely no horses, dogs or cats. Because they just wouldn’t be there. Right?

I was halfway through that book before I tossed it in the bin and started again. The reason that The Fade is written the way it’s written is entirely because of the reasons I stated above. Whichever way I cut it, there was loads of explanation necessary. Every little thing that Orna came up against needed a lengthy description, otherwise the reader wouldn’t know how it worked or why it was there. It drove me insane.

I only cracked it when I rewrote it so Orna starts the book in prison. That way, I got to show the reader a tiny space in the world, and gradually expand it through flashback, until by the time they got to the big panoramas they were thoroughly prepped for what they would see. The entire story changed in service to the world I’d set it in. And even then, the animals still ended up being fairly obvious analogues (flying ray-like things, big cuttlefish-like things, dog-like things, bear-like things they rode around on, etc)

People do sometimes question the relative lack of originality in the world of fantasy and SF. Why, when we have ALL OF POSSIBILITY to explore, do we end up narrowing ourselves into little mini-genres? It’s because there’s no point writing a book if no-one understands it. It’s because fantasy and science fiction only works if the reader has some real-world thing to relate it to. Sometimes, it’s better to make your world an easily recognisable one, so it doesn’t get in the way of the story. Better to tell a great hero story in a feudal, medieval setting than to have the same story buried under masses of description in a floating, upside-down clockwork world populated by ghosts.

Of course, none of this applies if you’re just writing a story for your own enjoyment. But if you’re writing it for someone else to read, then it’s a fact of life. Strange to think, as a writer, that imagination and words can actually be limiting. But there you have it.

* * *

Speaking of clockwork, the word on the street (by which I mean the aisles between publishers’ desks) is that steampunk is on its way back to your bookshelves in a big way. This is kinda funny, since only a year ago I was telling a bunch of people at the SFX show that calling a book ‘steampunk’ virtually guaranteed its death on the shelves, as was the accepted wisdom at the time. How things have changed.

I hope it’s true, since steampunk rocks. And the thing is, this might be the right time for it. I think it might actually be ready to storm the shelves. Why this strange and frankly unusual optimism? Well, because it’s been around for so long. Like vampires and werewolves, it’s seeped into the public consciousness. Movies like The Golden Compass, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Wild Wild West and the new Sherlock Holmes have come and gone, along with plenty of good, bad, and indifferent novels. Steampunk has never been a big hit on the bookshelves, but writers (and publishers, to their credit) have kept on trying. Steampunk is not unusual anymore. It’s familiar enough that your casual shelf-grazer might just pick one up and, instead of thinking ‘This is clearly not about Thongar the Barbarian or anything similar! Fie upon this tome!’ they’ll give it a go.

Who knows? I for one would prefer steampunk to paranormal romance, zombie fiction, or any of a dozen other tired sub-genres. Bring it on!

Update

Random news:

The movie adaptation of Malice is progressing nicely. The screenwriter is working on the first draft of the script now and will probably deliver around the end of February, and we’ll see where we go from there.

I’ve spent the last couple of months knocking around some secret little projects, and discussing with publishers about my next book; I’ll let you know as and when something solid is in place.

I will definitely be at the SFX weekender, and more than likely showing my mug on a panel or two. It’s all being organised at the mo. Again, I’ll tell you as soon as I know.

I’ve received final copies of Havoc, resplendent in bilious green. Yay! As I posted elsewhere, is doesn’t have the big 3D cover of Malice because it would be prohibitively expensive to do that for both books in the series, but it’s still embossed so you can stroke Tall Jake and you’ll find him pleasingly tactile. Ahem.

The mass market paperback of Retribution Falls will come out in April in the UK (that’s the small, cheap paperback version). As a bonus, in addition to my lovingly crafted section on How To Play Rake, there will be included the Logbook Of The Ketty Jay, which was an informal prequel that I blogged online in the months before the book came out. Or you can just read it here for a taster. And if that’s not enough, there’ll also be the first chapter of The Black Lung Captain included.

Speaking of BLC, it’s been delivered to the publishers and I expect the edits back any second. That one will soon be in the bag, and I love it dearly…

I hope to be able to give to another update with some more definite news on proceedings and upcoming projects soon. Right at the moment it’s all about the behind-the-scenes machinations. Hang in there!

Gather ye!

News!

For those who live in the UK, or who like to travel a long long way, two biggie SF/Fantasy conventions coming up.

First is the SFX Weekender on the 5th-6th of February. A celebration of all things SF-ey, this one takes place at an out-of-season Butlins Holiday Camp which, as chance would have it, I’ve been to back in the day, when I went to All Tomorrow’s Parties to see Lightning Bolt. And bizarrely, while googling them to provide a link, I found out that someone took a crappy recording of that very gig on their phone and stuck it on YouTube. It was better than that, honest. You can’t see me, I’m somewhere near the back being badass or something.

I digress.

The other is Eastercon, 2-5th April. The biggest fantasy/SF book con in the UK, and this time it’s in London, so I really have no excuse for not going.  I’ll be at both of them I should think, whether as a lurker or a participant. If conventions are your thing, come along.

Also, I’m not sure I like this.  If anyone tried to continue any series of mine after my death, they’d be in for a damn good haunting.

Mezza Crimbo

Slightly belated festive greetings to all you posters! Here’s hoping you’re reading this with a wad of refried turkey jammed in your mouth and stuffing leaking out your nostrils, wearing an expression of stupefied joy as you slide gently into a food coma that will last you till New Year’s…

I’ve been passing much of the Christmas season (when I’ve been sober enough to read, that is) with Mr Lovecraft and his squamous entities from beyond the illimitable reaches of spacetime. For those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I mean Gollancz’s rather beautiful (and very heavy) collected edition of Lovecraft’s tales, the Necronomicon. For those who don’t know who H.P.Lovecraft is, read the wiki, buy the book and allow his purple-prosed tales of the macabre to caress your face like so many chilly wet alien tentacles. I haven’t read his stuff for years and I’m very much enjoying it on the re-read.

Oh, yes. The title of this post? That’s ‘Merry Christmas’, tortured by our vile Midlands argot into something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. God knows how it came about but somehow it’s slipped into the lexicon round where I come from. Gotta love the English language, it’s so elastic. It lets us writers get away with murder, frankly…