Category Archives: General

Publishing Adventures in London

Earlier this week I had my first official trip to London as a soon to be published author. It was an intense and pretty exhausting time, but overall proved to be fascinating. On Monday morning I visited my fantastic agent, Juliet Mushens, and Sarah, her lovely assistant, at their offices for a chat about the book and the trilogy, my plans and what happens next.

After that it was my first trip to the Orbit offices to meet with my editor, Jenni Hill, for the first time. Orbit have their offices at 100 Victoria Embankment, which is a massive and very impressive building, inside and out. I was nervous about being late, so rather than risk getting lost, I got off the tube and did the sensible thing. I asked the nearest security person at the station how tin find the building. The woman was very kind and patient, as she walked with me to the entrance to the tube station and then pointed at the giant edifice directly across the road. Whoops! I grinned sheepishly and scuttled off.

Over lunch Jenni and I talked about the book, the characters, and really got into a meaty chat about the first book, Battlemage, and how it connects to the others in the trilogy. I think it’s the first time I’ve had a proper discussion about the series and the shape of it with someone who had read the first book. For the longest time characters have just lived inside my head and on the page, but suddenly they were breathing again as we talked about the future and what happened next. I could answer all of the questions but I think it was the first time I’d said some of it aloud to someone else. I probably got a few strange looks from other people in the restaurant but I didn’t notice.

After that I was shown around the Orbit offices and met the rest of the team who were all fabulous and so enthusiastic. With little time to spare I zipped back across London, checked into my hotel, then ran back out again for an early dinner with some friends. The rest of the evening I could just sit back and try to unwind and unclench, as the attention was firmly on Jen Williams (she of the fabulous The Copper Promise fame) and Den Patrick (he of the equally awesome The Boy with The Porcelain Blade). At Blackwells on Charing Cross Road, Jared Shurin was asking the questions and the topics ranged from influences to monsters to magic. There was a great crowd who queued up in the typically polite English fashion to get a copy of each book signed. Technically Porcelain wasn’t out on Monday, but there were a few cheeky copies that had been released early, so I made sure I snagged one and got it signed by Den.

Not long after we adjourned to a local pub for drinks where I nobly battled to stay awake after a long and tiring day. I think I managed fairly well and had a few geeky conversations as well as getting a chance to talk archery with Gillian Redfearn. It wasn’t a late finish, for which I was grateful, and I crashed out in my hotel.

Tuesday morning I was back on the train, headed north again, towards home and also an appointment with a photographer. I think they came out quite well, despite the bags under my eyes and the stubble, but they’re both usually there anyway, so it’s going to be accurate.

It’s quite a few months until my next convention, 9 Worlds in August in London. I’ve settled back into my normal daily routine again, and have got back to work on book 2, but somewhere in the back of my mind I am now aware that other people are talking about the characters from Battlemage, and that they’re waiting to see what I do next in book 2. I also have a deadline for the first time, but so far, very little has changed day to day. I’m sure that will change next year but for now, it’s head down and keep writing.

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Reading as a hobby

During my day to day life some people view my reading habit as odd and unusual. By that I mean I am always reading a book. Always. I never read more than one at once, but am always reading. In a spare 5 minutes, or on a bus, train platform, in a waiting room etc, my default is not to pick up phone and play a game, but to read a book. When I don’t have my book with me and I’m waiting, I will pop on Twitter, but I’d much prefer to read a book.

Among my group of friends my reading habit is not unusual as most of them are always reading as well, but outside that circle, during my day job or when I meet strangers or friends of friends, I sometimes get funny looks. To them it is unusual. Normally, if I can, I ask them why they don’t read and the responses vary. Other people have spoken at length and with far more clarity than I about why reading, books and libraries are important, for example Neil Gaimain’s recent lecture on why our future depends on libraries, so I won’t go over that. I wanted to focus more on the type of responses I have received over the years.

Some people have told me they only read one or two books a year, and one of them might be on holiday around the swimming pool. A paperback they pick up at the airport and then throw away as it’s been covered in sun tan lotion and the spine has been cracked and the cover bleached by the sun. Some say they simply don’t have time to read, which I would argue isn’t true, but I don’t press the point as reading obviously isn’t something they want to pursue. Others see reading as a chore, and not something you would choose to do for fun. As if they had to endure it at school and looking back on it gives them a chill and bad memories, as pulling apart the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner down the atomic level at school, does for me. I’m not sure I ever want to read that poem again, so thank my high school English Literature teacher for that and for ruining Shakespeare for me as well.

When I see that horrified reaction to reading I feel sorry for those people and I really pity them, because they’re missing out on so many amazing worlds and so many fantastic stories (fiction and non-fiction) than can shape and change a person, even as an adult. Of course that sort of response isn’t restricted to books, but that’s what I’m focusing on here.

The weirdest and also saddest response I ever heard was a few years. I had been in a new job for a few weeks and my boss saw me reading at lunch in the canteen. She asked what I was reading so I showed her the cover. She’d never heard of it. A few weeks later she saw me reading again, stopped by, looked at the cover and said ‘Another book?’ as if one book was more than enough for a lifetime, or all books are the same and once you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all. She was genuinely surprised that I would choose to read, for fun, in my spare time.

At school I wasn’t very good at sport, not because I was particularly awful or overweight, but simply because I didn’t really enjoy it as a whole, so didn’t apply myself. If I had enjoyed football more as a boy then perhaps I would have developed a passion for the sport and tried harder. I might even have become a supporter and followed my local team over the years, although I still doubt that. Over the years I tried all sorts of sports and got involved with several to various levels including martial arts, swimming, rugby, and later fencing, but for various reasons they never stuck. I would focus on one for a few years but circumstances would change, sometimes beyond my control, and I’d find myself drifting away and then trying something else.

I distinctly remember in middle school (ages 7-10) sitting on a bench during lunch hour and reading a book, while others ran around on the field chasing a football. Sometimes I would join in, but not very often. I preferred to read about Garion and Aunt Polgara, I scoured the entire myths and legends section of the school library, I regularly visited the library in my home town with my mum and I spent a lot of time in second hand bookshops looking for fantasy books. I remember my mum reading me stories at bedtime when I was very young and being overjoyed (I still am) when I received books at Christmas. I also remember getting annoyed at having to be social and not being allowed to lock myself away and just read my new book, which also still happens.

With the saturation of technology into our daily lives I suspect for some young people growing up today it’s a very different story. What fills me with some hope for the future is that I have several friends with small children and all of them are very passionate about their children’s education and reading is big part of that. Reading has always been a part of my life and always will be and I hope it will be the same for others.

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My Top 5 Books from 2013

Recently I recorded another episode of the geek culture and comics podcast I co-host, Comic Book Outsiders. We looked back at 2013 and talked about our favourite films, TV shows and other geek moments. I didn’t get around to talking about comics or books. So this is a list of my favourite 5 books I’ve read this year. Some weren’t published this year and they are not in order of preference.

The Public of Thieves by Scott  LynchThe Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – This was probably my most anticipated book of 2013. It’s been a long time coming and when it was published I dedicated a good chunk of time to reading it before I went to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. This is because Scott Lynch was attending the convention and even with the best intentions, someone usually manages to spoil a couple of things, so I made sure I was up to date. I also re-read the first two books as it had been a while since I’d read them and my previous impression was, the first book was excellent, the second not as good. This time around I thought the second book was actually really good. It had to be different from the first book for lots of reasons and there again The Republic of Thieves was different again, but very enjoyable for many reasons which I won’t spoil. Meeting Scott at a coffee get together thing he did at a local coffee shop, along with thirty other people, as well as hearing him speak on a panel, was also a highlight of the event. The book showed he had not lost his touch and even better is the news recently announced, that the 4th book in the series will be out next year. Two new books in two years. Fantastic. This novel gives us more detail about the main characters, the adventure is full of delicious duplicity, dodgy deals and as ever nothing goes according to plan. Apart from that I won’t say anymore but it’s a cracking good read and I highly recommend it.

The Big Reap Chris F. HolmThe Big Reap by Chris F. Holm – I’m very picky and fussy about my urban fantasy and supernatural noir, and unfortunately I just don’t enjoy most of it. It’s totally a personal thing. So I always approach a new author with a lot of trepidation. The Collector series by Holm, is probably best described as supernatural noir, as it’s set in our world, and there are demons and angels creeping around, but most people have no idea what’s going on. This is the third and final book in the Collector series (for now at least) and it was probably my favourite, although that’s splitting hairs as the series is excellent overall. The prose is incredibly tight, and sharp enough to cut you like a razor, it’s trimmed down to the bone with no fat or unnecessary exposition, and yet I never felt as if it was just three hundred plus pages of conversation which is what can sometimes happen. Dark, moody and rich, the series is tense, exciting, creepy and it always leaves me guessing. Plenty of twists that I didn’t see coming. There was an ending to this series, and if Holm and Angry Robot never do any more Collector books then I would be satisfied, but the door is open for more and I hope he’s able to revisit the series in the future. Other points of reference that I would pair it with, to give you an idea of what to expect, would be the Felix Castor novels by Mike Carey, as this is definitely a close kissing cousin, and the novels of Justin Gustainis, which both veer on the darker side.

Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell – This is the second book Exit Kingdom Alden Bellby Bell in his post apocalyptic world where zombies destroyed the earth many years ago. I should preface this by saying I’m not really a fan of horror, or zombie books in general. They’re just not my cup of tea. I don’t like zombie films at all and am not a fan of horror films either. So, when I first read The Reapers Are The Angels, I went into it cold, knowing nothing about it, except that it was the story of a girl named Temple. The book is amazing. It was my favourite book of the year when it came out and when I heard Bell was doing another I was very nervous. Then I found out it was a prequel, so I unclenched and bought a copy to savour during my summer holiday. The story follows the earlier life of Moses Todd, a character from Reapers and once again Bell has captured something wonderful in the pages. Moses is such a big character, a big man, and the story has a real southern gothic feel to it. The language used has a real poetry to it and the characters have a particular way of speaking that fits within that world, but would sound unusual in the modern world. This is an excellent prequel but you should definitely read Reapers first and then this second. I sort of hope Bell does more stories set within this world but I guess we’ll wait and see.

The Wise Man's FearThe Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss – I re-read The Name of the Wind before starting this, as it had been a couple of years and I’d forgotten some of the smaller details. A friend has recently started reading The Name of the Wind for the first time and she described it as a delicious meal, something you want to savour. The prose is almost poetic, it flows incredibly well, has fantastic rhythm and pace, and the story is very intriguing, full of mystery, suspense, magic and unexpected twists and turns. It’s not a spoiler to say the story follows the main character telling a scribe about his life and adventures, and he’s narrating the tale and during the first book I had suspicions that he wasn’t a reliable narrator. People exaggerate, they lie, they conceal details they don’t want to share, and I think we’re getting a version of the truth. The main character is a figure of myth, he’s a folk tale most people don’t even believe was ever real, but we see him in the present, and then in the past as he retells his adventures. It’s an interesting storytelling device, one I’ve not read before in a long running fantasy series. The second book builds very well on the first, Kvothe the main character goes into some very unexpected areas and we experience some of the stories that created the legend others talk about. Rothfuss is spinning a lot of plates in the story, but he’s also playing with the idea of story, expectation, myths and legends and how they are built, and I think how a story is told, hence lies mixed in with the truth. It’s an adventure story about a boy with red hair who grows up to be remarkable renaissance man and how he impacts the world around him. A wonderful read and I’m looking forward to the third and final book when it arrives.

Cold Days Jim ButcherCold Days by Jim Butcher – This book came out in late 2012 but I read it this year after holding on to the book for 3 months. That was all I could manage. I tried really hard not to blot out all other activities, work, food, sleep, and blast through a book in one sitting from the moment I received it as a present. Even though I would have enjoyed doing it. Because I knew the next book would not be publishing for at least a couple of years. So, Harry Dresden, we meet again. I won’t spoil the series and what’s happened up to now, but I will say that this is a series that never stands still. The Dresden Files is a long running series of standalone chronological stories that build on one another, all focused around the same central character. For me, it’s urban fantasy done the right way. The characters feel so incredibly real, despite the weird and magic, and after 13 books and several short stories, I feel as if I have a fairly good grip on who they are. However, I’ve no clue about the wizard behind the curtain, because he continually surprises me and the story is full of twists and turns. Time has moved on, Harry has changed, the world has changed and he can either start running and try to keep up or fall behind and curl up into a ball. If you know anything about Harry, you know he’s a fighter who never quits. Even when the odds are hideously stacked against him as they have been many times in the past. I’m dancing around the subject very carefully, but suffice to say, something goes wrong and Harry must once more fight to protect his city and the people that he loves. Overall I loved this story and it was another excellent addition to the series. Without a doubt this is one of my favourite series, maybe ever, so I can’t wait to see what Butcher does next and where the story goes.

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Why is reading important to you?

Someone in my day job asked me this today as they see me reading every day during my lunch break. I’ve always got a book on the go. Always. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a book in progress.

The most amusing and worrying thing I ever heard about reading was from a manager a few years ago. She saw me reading one book at lunch time, then a few days later, I had started another book and her comment ‘Another book?’ As if somehow one was enough. As if reading two in a row was unusual. As if all of life’s answers or mysteries could be contained in just one book. As if I was unusual to list reading as a pastime and something I volunteered to do, without being forced into it, by a stern teacher or manager.

There are many, many reasons why reading is important to me, personally, and why I think it is vital for children, and people in general. But what about you? Why does it matter to you as an individual?

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6 Things I Discovered at World Fantasy Convention 2013

1. Some panellists like to talk a bit too much. To the point where others panellists can become silent witnesses. The point being raised may be valid, but time is always limited and panellists need to be mindful of that. Personally I always like to hear a range of opinions and everyone is up there for a reason, so they should have an opportunity to speak. On one panel I attended, it was dominated by one speaker, on another, the panellist actually said ‘I’m talking too much, someone else go’ and he zipped his lip and sat back, so he was very aware of how much he talked and made a conscious effort not to talk too much.

2. Joe Hill is a really funny guy. I was genuinely surprised, although I’m not particularly sure why, as I’d never met him before. But we all create versions of people in our head from the little information we know and we fill in the gaps ourselves. I didn’t expect him to be brooding and sulky, or maybe I did, but he was warm, witty, very friendly and he spoke with great passion about his books and comics collaborations. Listening to him speak during his guest of honour panel made me want to go out and buy his new book Nos4R2, or Nos4A2 as it’s known in the US. I was already a big fan of Locke and Key, but I saw several people picking up comics in the dealer room after he’d spoken about the comic book series.

3. Moderators are there to moderate, not be an active participant. Quite often the moderator is knowledgeable about the subject, so they can offer interesting counterpoints, or use their experience to raise interesting and thought provoking questions. There’s a huge difference between that and actively talking as much, or more than one of the panellists. Some people might not mind that and might disagree with this, but to me sometimes it felt as if the moderator felt snubbed for not being on the panel as a participant, so they took the opportunity to insert themselves into the discussion. The best moderators at WFC guided the discussion, made sure everyone had an opportunity to speak, even brought someone else’s comments to a close in order to hear from someone who had not spoken very much. Some had a list of questions and they ran down them one by one, others picked up on points raised in the discussion and then asked follow on questions, which made it more organic.

4. Authors are lovely. Speaking in general terms, of course, most of the writers I met at WFC were really, really nice people. Some I’d talked to online for ages but never met in real life (hello Liz, Jen and Den!). Some I’d never met before but was introduced to them over the weekend (hi Amy, David, Richard and James!), and some were old friends (Hi Adrian, Kim, Andrew, Laura, Catie, Mike). It was great to catch up with them as I don’t see them more than once or twice a year, as we live all over the country, so it’s great to just hang out in the flesh, talk nonsense and writing. If I’ve forgotten anyone then please excuse me as it’s not been done on purpose, but if you want to make me feel guilty then say hi.

5. Some people are just dicks. Other people have gone into the specifics of what happened at WFC in detail elsewhere, but from my perspective these events are social gatherings where like minded people can get together, have a bit of fun and relax. It’s supposed to be enjoyable and a little secret universe away from the real world and daily life. Most people during my day job and ‘normal’ life couldn’t tell you who Neil Gaiman was, or what Gollancz is or does. That’s not a criticism (ok maybe a little) but it’s just not their thing. So, in saying all of that, I am always horrified, shocked and appalled when someone from our corner, who is one of us, turns out to be a revolting, creepy and pervy dick. Most conventions have very specific harassment policies, others have general guidelines, some have none. Regardless, behaving like a creepy dick in any situation, bringing what is unacceptable behaviour in the real world into the SFF con scene, and somehow thinking it might be ok or that you can get away with it, is seriously messed up. I’ve read a number of horror stories about women being harassed, or leaving the con scene because it’s just too horrible, and I’m very sad to hear it’s still going on. However, I’m am glad to hear the WFC organisers have stamped down hard on what happened and the person responsible will be ejected from the convention scene.

6. Card and board game are awesome. Cards Against Humanity is a fun game. If you have a dark and slightly twisted sense of humour, like me, then it’s hilarious and it is not in the slightest bit politically correct. I laughed until my stomach was aching from some of the random combinations and answers Adrian and I played, while a slightly bemused and possibly scared Mike Shevdon looked on in surprise at our antics. One convention that I missed this year was the 9 Worlds, and they had a games thread with board games in there too. Hopefully I will be able to attend the event next year and if I get there, I’ll definitely take along a few games and spend some time destroying empires and so on. For all that I love computer games, and I have been playing them since the ZX81 Spectrum days, there is still a lot of fun to be had with some of the new and really interesting board games knocking around. At WFC we played a few card games, mostly because of transport and lugging stuff around, and these included Gloom, Pirate Fluxx and Cards Against Humanity. Drinking probably helps with the last one, not so much the first two as there are rules.

Overall for me the convention was a great long weekend away by the sea and I spent my time surrounded by some wonderful people from the writing world and all extensions of that area, agents, editors, publicists. Hopefully I will see some of you again at events in the near future.

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World Fantasy Con and Tabletop

Later this month I will be attending my first World Fantasy Convention. I’ve been to many different conventions over the years, but never this one, and never one this big before. WFC is also a bit different. It has not been in the UK for a few years, is typically held in the US or Canada, and several authors attend from overseas who I wouldn’t normally see at a UK SFF convention. This year there are several attending who I’ve admired but never met before, including Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss.

The programme of talks and events has not been released yet, but closer to the time I’ll no doubt be sitting down with a schedule and a marker pen, highlighting all the talks I absolutely want to see, the ones I wouldn’t mind seeing, and the ones I will get to if I have time and energy. This three tier system means I’m not disappointed as long as I get to see most of those in the first group, the rest is a bonus. Sometimes it’s not always possible due to scheduling conflicts but I guess we’ll see what happens and also how tired I am.

However, even with all of the panels and talks, there will be downtime at a convention like this. There always is, usually the time after the last panel and before the evening entertainment starts. First thing in the morning or just after lunch is sometimes quiet as well. Or there could just be a long stretch where there isn’t a talk I fancy seeing, so I find myself browsing the dealer room endlessly, talking to folk in the bar, or just wandering about aimlessly wasting time until the next thing I want to see. To combat the last, I suggested to a few friends that we spend our downtime doing some tabletop gaming. Due to what will probably be a lack of space, I’ve suggested card games only, stuff that is easy to transport, that doesn’t have lots of tiny markers, is easy to learn and fun to play.

I’ve recently been on a bit of Tabletop binge, the gaming show on Geek and Sundry YouTube channel presented by Wil Wheaton. Every week or so he sits down with some friends to play a board or card game and I’ve seen a few I wouldn’t mind playing. One card game which looked like a lot of fun, and I’ve subsequently purchased, is Gloom.

gloomIt’s the opposite of Happy Families. You are supposed to drown your Family in misery and you win when all of them die and are very miserable with negative points. You reward other players and their families by bestowing good events on them, earning them positive points. Very dark, a bit morbid and exactly my kind of thing. There is also a storytelling element to the game which is great as everyone I’ll be playing with at WFC are writers. Other people are bringing other games too so I suspect the downtime, and catching up with people on an evening, is going to be more fun than the panels during the day.

I’m going to do another WFC related panel closer to the time with something a bit different, but for now, I’m off to learn the rules of Gloom and practice my wicked laugh.

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Finding Your Voice

Quite a while ago in a previous post I mentioned finding your voice and said it was a topic I would come back to. It’s a difficult thing to talk about, and I’m not in any position to offer advice on the subject, so I’m just going to put down some of my thoughts in a vaguely ordered fashion. I guess another reason it’s taken me so long is that I’m still not sure if I’ve found my own voice yet. I can point at certain characteristics common to my work, but beyond that it’s a hard thing to judge from here, so someone else might be better at it once they’ve read some of my work. Or I will look back in a few years and it will be a lot easier.

Another reason I’ve hesitated is that I think for most people the process of finding their voice isn’t something that happens overnight. Some young writers might get it right first time and have a clear picture of themselves, and therefore can write with a clear and precise perspective. Perhaps they just matured faster than others, but I think that’s rare and not everyone is like that. We all have to do a lot of growing up first. I believe the majority of people still have a lot of growing up to do even in their 20s, so it takes time to settle, to know yourself, to know who you are and therefore find your true voice. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I think maturity definitely plays a part.

Growing up, and to this day, I admire many writers, and for a time I aped their style in an attempt to find my own. There are a number of issues that are very important to me that might not be top 10 concerns for other people, and so I wrote stories with quite unsubtle references as I wanted to see these topics explored and discussed. I wrote TV scripts for some of my favourite shows that had open door policies, and once I’d got out of the habit of putting a brand new character I’d created front and centre ahead of the main cast, I tried to learn how to copy the house style and rhythm. I received some positive feedback and kept writing and trying new things, new mediums and new genres. This helped expand my horizons, find out what I liked and didn’t, and therefore what I wanted to do with my writing and what I wanted to avoid.

I’m not sure I believe the rule about writing X million words before you become good at it, whatever that means, but I definitely think it is a long process. Whether that is years gestating somewhere in the back of your head, constantly writing and rewriting before you finally sit down, or years at the keyboard constantly writing and inching forward towards something better and sharper. I think it’s different for everyone. I believe Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy was his first major piece of fiction, but he’s spoken several times about thinking about the story for many years. About what he wanted to do with the series, what he wanted to avoid and what tropes he wanted to twist. Whereas contrast that with Patrick Rothfuss, who spent 13 years or so writing The Name of the Wind and the Kingkiller books. The amount of time they actually spent working on it, be it in their heads or on the page, could be about the same.

Another way to look at it is from writing about other people, their styles and characteristics. I’ll stick to fantasy authors and comic book writers as they’re two areas I know fairly well. Joe Abercrombie is known for writing characters that are fairly grey and you’d never mix up one of his novels with one by Ursula Le Guin. In the comics world, Jonathan Hickman is known for writing comics that are all pieces of a much larger puzzle, or are layers of an onion. He recently did a long run on Fantastic Four, which lasted a few years, and it was one big story, with lots of other stories wrapped inside. Brian Bendis is known for his realistic dialogue, and for reinventing old characters and franchises, and making them cool, interesting and relevant to the audience of today. Ed Brubaker has written a lot of espionage and crime comics, so he is very good at stories that constantly surprise the reader. When I pick up a comic by each of these writers I know a little of what to expect, but even if were given one of their comics with a blank cover, I could work out who had written it. The same goes for fantasy authors. There are similarities, different stripes within the same sub-genres (particularly with fantasy), but each writer has unique qualities.

If you were to create a word cloud about yourself and then zoom out, and zoom out again, what words would stick out the most? What do you spend time talking about? What is important to you? What are the themes you want to explore? Even more simply, as the theme may not come out until later, what type of story do you want to write? Writing stories about important issues can work, but whether it’s coming from an environmental, religious, ethical or moral standpoint, I think you need to be careful and not come across as preachy and holier than thou.

The other piece of advice people often trot out is ‘write what you know’. That works, but only up to a point. I predominantly write fantasy, so there are lots of sharp and pointy weapons. I’ve done my homework but even so, I’ve never been in a real battle surrounded by hundreds of others and I never will be. Creativity and passion has to come into it, because if you’re not interested in writing about it, why would anyone else be interested in reading about it? Writing is hard, and it can be difficult, but when you are in the moment, when you are in the groove and the words are flowing, it’s a remarkable feeling and there is nothing like it and at those moments it’s very enjoyable. At other times it can be a massive ball-ache and a slog, but hey, no job on this planet is fun 365 days a year. Not even being a chocolate taster and this is coming from someone with a massive sweet tooth!

So, I’ve no idea if any of that makes any kind of sense, but as I said it’s not an easy thing to write about which is kind of why I’ve avoided it for so long.

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Recharged

I’m back from my holiday, feeling refreshed and recharged and ready to face the second half of the year. I saved up some favourite books I’d been holding onto for months, and a couple of new ones, and then spent most of the week lying by a pool, drinking cold beer and reading in the Portuguese sunshine. I’m not the fastest reader but still managed to get through four and a half in a week, which is pretty good for me. There is an earlier post about which books I took with me and below are my initial thoughts.

This was my second time reading The Name of the Wind, and actually, it was more satisfying this time. It must be two years since I first read it, and although I had an idea of the overall arc of the story, I had forgotten so much. So many details, so many little clues and nuances, and now, with the whole story fresh in my mind I am ready to dive into The Wise Man’s Fear. It’s a monster of a book, plus I have the weighty hardback, but apart from it being a tax on my wrists, I can’t wait to start it.

Small side note. It was recently announced that The Kingkiller Chronicle has been optioned for a TV series. In the wake of the enormous, galactic success, of Game of Thrones, it was inevitable that TV execs and others would be looking for another fantasy series they could adapt. I’m really not sure about this. It’s far too early to be worried, it may never actually happen and could get stuck in development hell, but my initial gut reaction was not one of celebration. Now, I love Game of Thrones, and I read the books before the TV series, and am also a fan of the TV series. The Kingkiller Chronicle is not even remotely like Game of Thrones, it’s so very different, maybe more so than some people might realise. It’s definitely a wait and see. I could be proven totally wrong and the TV show might be amazing, so for now I’ll say no more and just stay quiet.

The Eighth Court was the final book in The Courts of the Feyre series by Mike Shevdon and although I really enjoyed it, so much so that I read the whole thing in one day, I was left feeling a little sad because there will no more tales of Blackbird and Dogstar. I feel that Shevdon has barely scratched the surface with some of the characters and the world he has created but it’s not my book or my world, or my story for that matter. I’d love to see more stories set in this world and I guess only time well tell if Shevdon comes back to it. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve very picky about my urban fantasy, and this is a brilliant series that I highly recommend. So if you’ve never read them, savour the books and don’t race through them, as four is all you are getting.

I gobbled up Exit Kingdom in a day as well. This is the second book by Alden Bell, set in the same world he created with The Reapers are the Angels. It’s a prequel, of sorts, but it also references a few events in Reapers, but without spoiling anything. So in theory you could read this first and then Reapers and it would not spoil the story. The dialogue is glorious and overly dramatic at times, but it is also very in keeping with the world Bell has created and I found myself loving the rhythms and sound of it. The story is dark, twisted, unpredictable and bleak at times and once again it is a story not about zombies, but about humanity. In my opinion, this and Reapers are far superior to some of the other zombie material out there at the moment that is flooding the comic book world, our TV screens and even the cinemas. A fantastic read and I am keen to read more by Bell, whether set in this world, or something completely new.

Ack-Ack Macaque is just a giant bag of fun, wrapped up in a monkey shaped blanket. Ok, I admit that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but suffice to say there are a lot of ideas thrown onto the page and they all gel and come together nicely in the end. Powell has a lot of fun with the story and dialogue in particular and it really translates into making it an enjoyable experience for the reader. I know that this is only the beginning as there is still a lot to explore in this strange new world Powell has created with its own alternate history. Hive Monkey, the second book featuring AAM is due out next year and after reading this I am really looking forward to seeing where he goes next.

Can’t really comment on the fifth book, Ice Forged, as I’m still reading it, but so far it’s a down and dirty fantasy series with several likeable characters and some rather hideous villains.

Next up will be The Wise Man’s Fear, and then Rebellion, the second Blood and Feathers book by Lou Morgan.

So what have you been reading over the summer? Can you recommend any new urban fantasy series I might not have heard about before?

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Heroic Scents

Inspiredstan1 by the recent news that Stan the Man Lee has released his own branded cologne, I thought for a bit of fun it would be nice to come up with branded aftershaves for superhero characters. I’m slightly disappointed Stan Lee’s is not called Excelsior! and it has to have the exclamation mark afterwards because that’s how you say it.

Anyway, about three months ago a similar conversation came up and I brainstormed some ideas with Gav from the Sidekickcast.

So far we’ve got SNIKT for Wolverine. Thwip! for Spider-man. Armor for Tony Stark and possible three different ones for Captain America called Red, White and Blue. Still not 100% happy with the Cap ones.

Had a few ideas for Thor on twitter, but none of them have really rocked me just yet.

So, send in your ideas for other smellies. Subtle and clever wins….a firm handshake from me. Cos it was my idea, I’m the final judge.

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The Good Life

If you’re of a certain age then you will remember a day when there were only three TV channels in the UK, then a miracle happened and they introduced a fourth channel. Many years later, a new and exciting (and to begin with slightly dodgy) channel 5 was beamed into our homes. Now there are hundreds of TV channels, and more decent TV programmes than I can keep up with. But back then, when choice was limited, there were only a handful of shows I actually enjoyed. But I watched all sorts because there was literally nothing else on. Of course I did other things, play, read, see friends, whatever, but when I wanted to watch TV, there wasn’t much on.

goodOne of the TV shows was called The Good Life. It featured the late, great, Richard Briers, who a more modern audience may recognise as that old mad bloke from Monarch of the Glen, or very recently, the granddad with a zimmer frame spying on women with his binoculars in Cockneys versus Zombies. Anyway, for those who have no idea and never saw it, here’s a link to the Wiki page for the show. Very simply put, Tom and Barbara give up the rat race to become totally self sufficient, growing their own food, raising animals, making their own clothes and so on. It was silly fun and their neighbours, the posh Jerry and Margo, were often horrified by their green fingered grubby antics. I rather enjoyed the comedy and the laughs were genuine, but I never really took much away from it. Or so I thought.

Roll on twenty years or so and although I’m not Tom, I’ve started to find that I’m inching my way towards his point of view. I like the idea of being self sufficient, living green, looking after the environment and the planet. I don’t make my own clothes, or generate my own power with methane from my farm animals, but I’m more willing now to explore new ideas around housing, generating power, growing food and trying to reuse stuff rather than keep making more and more. Recycling is pretty much par for the course now, whether it’s water, glass, paper, plastic, all sorts of stuff. Some people don’t bother, but every week I see local recycling centres are busy. We still get the occasional rag and bone out coming around for scrap metal, but most people do it themselves now. Also most places have several bins now, whereas when I was young, you dumped everything in one and the bin man took it away and someone else sorted it out. Landfills still exist of course, but lots of work is being done to do more with what we all throw away.

Recently I’ve also started to dabble in growing some of my own veg, although at this stage it is only a hobby. I definitely don’t have a green thumb, maybe a green finger nail at best. Even so, I’m finding there is something immensely satisfying about planting seeds or tiny plants, and seeing them grow and flourish into edible produce. Over the last ten years or so I’ve also started trying to buy more local produce, support local businesses over the big names and therefore support the local economy. The old Tom Peters business adage was always ‘think global act local’. More and more people are now aware of the global landscape (due to the 24 media news cycle and social media), but they are more becoming interested again in local issues, local businesses, local events and dare I say it (or perhaps I’m just wishing it) a slow return to a local community mentality.

The other thing is, the whole planet is becoming a bit more like Tom from the Good Life. Fossil fuels are no longer seen as a long-term sustainable way of generating power and there are thousands of wind turbines dotting the landscape. Bio-fuels and other techniques are being explored. Electric cars are no longer a radical idea and saying ‘you should be lowering your carbon footprint mate’ in public will not get you a dirty or quizzical look. Water conservation and also water storage is becoming more important in many western countries, particularly in places like the US and very hot countries like Australia. Supermarkets are sourcing more products locally, dairy and free range eggs and better treatment of animals is now something people expect. Paper is coming from renewable sources, fair trade tea, coffee and other products are common in supermarkets and no longer a rarity. My grandparents are of the generation where you could only buy certain produce at certain times of the year, and they never ate or saw certain fruit until they were much older, as it wasn’t imported in the large quantities that we have today.

Where I’m going with this? I’m not completely sure, other than to say the Good Life ran on TV from 1975 to 1978, and since then it has been repeated many times over the years. The thing I wonder about is, why has it taken us so long to get to this place? And why are some people still totally unwilling to believe that we’re having an impact on the environment, climate change and the planet? Some of them are the same people who don’t believe we landed on the Moon, so I don’t pay much attention to them.

How we respond to change, big and small, is something I think about. How we’re quick to embrace some things, and yet it takes us decades before something else becomes part of our everyday landscape. How we are constantly looking to the future and yet we seem slow to learn some of the lessons of the past. Why it often seems to take something really shocking to happen before people look a little more closely at the environment, or how international business drills for oil in their back yard. I don’t know what the answer is, I don’t think there is one definitive answer, but for me it means taking stock every now and then, looking at how I live my life and making changes.

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