Tag Archives: Age of Darkness

Breaking all the rules

I’m currently working on my 7th novel (since being published – not including all the trunk novels) and something weird has happened. I’m breaking some of my own rules.

You have to write every day. You have to plan every book. You must not plan the story, let it flow organically. You need to set a daily word count. You should write to music. You should write in silence. Write in different places. Don’t have a set routine, be organic. Write in public. You absolutely have to get scrivener (or another program) in order to write. Use cards on a white board and plan stuff that way.

There is not one way to write a book. I need to make that clear because the most common questions I’m asked by writers trying to get an agent and then get published are focused on the above. Do I have to write a 100o words a day? Is it better to write in the morning or afternoon? Should I write with music? Should I work on more than one book at once?

Find your own way. Find what works for you. My way might not work for you. I’ve included a few conflicting statements above as I know some people who plan and some who write organically. Some who write in silence, some who need music. The following in my approach. It may not work for anyone else except me.

I always write at home, on Word, and nothing else. I plan my books, start, middle, end and milestones. The creative part comes in the leaps between milestones. I make notes in a notebook, on post it notes, on my phone, on scraps of paper, then write them up, and collect them together. I plan my stories. I always write with soundtrack music and can’t write with any music that has lyrics. I tend to write most days but am not rigid about taking a day off and I tend to set a daily word count for myself as I have deadlines. The word count keeps me moving, keeps me motivated and I constantly have one eye on the calendar. All of those are my rules and that’s what works for me. The music and being at home helps get my brain into a familiar space and off I go, sort of like muscle memory.

For my 7th novel, I’ve broken quite a few of my own rules. I found out when I started I couldn’t write with any kind of music. Nothing was working, which at first had me worried. So one day, after I’d revised my notes so many times I knew I had to actually write something I just tried it without any music. And suddenly it worked. The words started flowing. I had a new rhythm. I didn’t care why it was working only that it was working, so I continued. Months later I’m still writing this book without any music.

I’m tweaking my chapters. I never do this. When I sit down to write, I look back at what I’ve done on the previous day, I might tinker with the last paragraph or two, if it’s mid-chapter, or just glance at it if I am starting a new chapter. Then I move forward. Always forward so I finish a first draft and don’t get stuck in the endless cycle of trying to make it ‘perfect’. A first draft is never perfect. It’s always a mess. As Terry Pratchett said ‘A first draft is just you telling yourself the story’ and I absolutely believe that. The reworking comes later to make it flow and make it into more cohesive whole.

But this time I’m…tweaking things. Not to the point where I’m frozen and stop, but overnight, or when I’m away from the keyboard, I’m running conversations or bits of the previous day in my head, then I rush back and fix it that day, or first thing the next day. I’m still making good progress but this is very new and different. It might be because it is set in a new world, and I am still discovering it and the characters, but I also think it’s partially because this is a new style for me.

No music and polishing as I go. The first draft is still going to be rough, no doubt, but I’m happy with it so far. Ask me again in 6 months when I start to revise it and I will have a different answer, but it’s good to feel that way right now. I’m still planning and I have a skeleton plot which I’m following. I still set daily word counts and I still take a day off when I feel like it, especially if I’m tired or the well is getting a bit dry. A rest and complete break really can help me recharge the batteries.

So, somehow this time, it’s all new and different and fresh, despite it being my fifteen or sixteenth novel. I’ve honestly lost count at this point. But the important thing is it’s working and I will finish this first draft as planned. Stop worrying about how other people do it. Find what works for you and just finish the book.

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Achievement Unlocked: Blacksmith

Here’s the thing. I write fantasy books for a living featuring warriors and wizards. In every single book there are many characters waving weapons around. Swords, axes, bows, daggers, the occasional mace, spears and all manner of weapons designed to main, mutilate and murder. But I’ve never done a day’s work as a blacksmith in a forge in my life…..until now!

BLACKSMITH badge

 

 

 

The moment I entered the forge the smiths all asked us level 1 noobs, what we did for a living. I then spent the rest of the day apologising for everything wrong in my books about blacksmiths, making weapons and forges. I do research but some things are always going to be wrong. The owner of the forge, John, promised to seek out my first book and read it. So I had to apologise to him some more.

I wouldn’t say I got everything wrong, but just like any other craft or skill, unless you do the thing, you won’t know what it’s really like. Just talk to Mike Shevdon about archery in films and TV and he’ll put you straight! I’ve done 2 years with a recurve bow so I’ve already unlocked my archery achievement. Now I know slightly more about being a blacksmith than before but there’s still an awful lot to learn before I could comfortably say I know 1) how a forge works and more specific to me 2) how to make weapons.

One of my birthday presents this year from back in March was an experience day in a forge making something. I thought it would be great fun to make my own sword. In one day.

A Sword in a Day

Every professional blacksmith is now laughing at me a lot. Making a sword takes time. A lot more time than one day, which I didn’t have. The people on Forged in Fire make it look easy because they’re professionals and they have something I lacked – editing. It also takes skill and precision, neither of which I naturally possess when it comes to working metal. Nevertheless, I had one day in the forge and at the end I was determined to come away with something. It’s a sword to be sure, but we cheated. A lot. Ultimately the goal was to have fun, learn about being in a forge and have a great experience which I did.

Here’s the other thing about being a blacksmith. It’s hard work. It didn’t help that by chance I happened to be in the forge on one of the hottest days of the year so far, but hey, I didn’t know what the weather was going to be like in early July in the UK. It could have been raining or cloudy.  There might have been snow on the ground. By chance it was hot in the morning and then over 30 degrees in the afternoon and it was even warmer in the forge.

The Riddle of Steel

So I started with a big chunk of steel. No, I didn’t fold my own metal. Then I used a grinder to shape the tip of the sword and after that came the toughest part. After heating up a section of the metal one piece at a time I then firmly began to hammer the edge flat on an anvil. Now, at the start of this process, I had a piece of metal long enough for a 5-6 foot longsword. After 3 hours of working the metal I hadn’t really progressed very far. Partly because it was hard work and very hot, but mostly because I was a total beginner and it’s really not that easy. So we chopped off a chunk of the steel and made it a slightly shorter sword.

Here’s the other thing I didn’t realise. When you start beating the metal one way it tends to bend, so I then had to flip the steel over and beat the other side to try and create a straight weapon. Then flip it back to do side 3 and flip it again to do side 4 of the same section before the metal grew too cold. If you didn’t manage it in the given time then the metal had to go back into the fire to heat up. Repeat and rinse. Over and over. For hours. So, my blade is kind of straight. Just don’t look down the length of it!

So, short of time, I skipped a bit and then jumped to using an axle grinder to sharpen the sides of the steel and give it an edge. This got me up to about 3-4 foot. There was the option of making the crossguard, but with the time remaining and my skill level, it would have been basic. So I opted for something that looked a bit cooler and was pre-made! Normally you’d continue shaping the rest of the steel, cut the tang, work on the grip and pommel but we fudged a few parts with welding and the like. The end result looks like a sword and it is actually fairly sharp (in places) but it’s not a weapon I’d use in a real sword fight as it might break.

I haven’t named the sword yet but feel I should at some point. Overall the day was enormous fun, I learned a great deal, have an even healthier respect for blacksmiths and weaponsmiths than I did before and I came home with my own sword. All in all a pretty good day which is why I look so smug.

finished weapon

 

 

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On Time Every Time

This post has been bubbling under for a while but it was brought to the forefront of my mind today by a tweet. Someone commented that they wait until the series of books is finished before picking them up in one go because they were shy about starting a series with an unpublished finish. Ok, there’s a lot to chew on there.

First, I’m not picking on this individual as I know it is an attitude shared by some SFF readers. However, it’s actually one that is damaging for writers. Myke Cole sums it up very succinctly here.

It really is that simple. I know binge watching is now common and binge reading is a thing too. There’s nothing wrong with either. So, one person posted a simple and elegant solution if binge-reading is your thing – Buy the books (or pre-order them) on the day they come out and then leave them on the shelf until the series is done. Then you can still binge read the whole lot in one go. There are drawbacks to this approach such as talking and engaging with other readers in the SFF community as the books come out, but I also realise that some SFF readers don’t get involved in conventions or social media. They just buy and read the books in their own time.

The second important point I wanted to raise is the vast majority of SFF published authors deliver their books on time, every time. Yes, there are a few very high profile, very celebrated authors who are behind on their deadlines (we all know who they are and the books in question) but everyone else just gets on with it and delivers their books. And no, this is not a dig at those authors either. The only issue is, some readers then assume that the rest of us will follow suit and it is just not true.

Here’s my current timeline of published books from Orbit :-

Battlemage – September 2015

Bloodmage – April 2016

Chaosmage – October 2016

Mageborn – October 2017

Magefall – September 2018

Mage3 – Sept/Oct 2019 (first draft is written)

Of Gods and Men (novella) – February 2018

That list is not there so I can pat myself on the back. Nor is it a pity party, because while it was difficult to work on the first trilogy of books at the same time, all of them at different stages so they could come out every 6 months, it was and is my dream job and something I’d wanted to do for decades. I also want to stress something because it is very important – writing is my job. This list is there to demonstrate I delivered the books on time, every time.

To that end, I’ve already handed in Mage3, and my deadline is December 2018. I’m now hard at work something new and different, which if all goes to plan, it will be published in 2020, or sooner, who knows. In theory, I could finish the first draft of the brand new book by the end of this year. It’s possible. Again, this is not here for people to pat me on the back. I love writing books. Yes, sometimes the process is difficult and challenging and I’ve written about that in previous blog posts. This isn’t about that. If I don’t hand in the books I don’t get paid and as I’ve said, writing is my job.

How you can help

The bottom line is if you like an author and want to support them – buy their books when they come out (from your local bookshop if possible). If you want to do more, then tell someone else about the book and the author. Word of mouth and personal recommendation from friends are very powerful. Shout about a book on social media if you loved it. If you want to go one step further, write a review and post it somewhere online. Goodreads and Amazon if possible because that will help other people find the books. Even if you didn’t buy the book from Amazon, it is the first port of call for a lot of people and reviews on there matter. Lots of people now have book blogs and vlogs on YouTube. Talking about books on there is another great way to spread the word.

Buy the books. Don’t wait.

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Back home from Les Imaginales

I’ve just returned from Les Imaginales, a French literature festival which takes place in the town of Epinal. Without a doubt it’s the best book-related event I’ve ever attended.

In terms of organisation and how it is run, it is very different to UK, or US conventions from what I’ve been told about them. Sponsored by the town, and a number of local businesses, the four day event is free to attend and held in a park. With dozens of craft and book tents, 3 big marquees for panels, and a huge signing tent for authors, the all-ages crowd could come and go as they pleased. With lots of shady places under trees to get out of the sun (it was super hot and sticky in the tents) crowds of people drifted about to visit the festival or wander into the nearby town centre for meals.

On two of the days bus loads of local school children were brought in and there were also art exhibitions, period weapon demonstrations, body painting competitions and all kinds of stuff going on that I didn’t have time to see. A real festival of the creative arts. There was also a fair bit of cosplay. Bravo to the guy dressed up as Conan and also the stormtroopers who must have been sweating so much!

 

 

I’m starting to recover now from the event but my voice is still a bit tired from talking so much. The festival celebrated fantasy, SF and the fantastic, which the French use as an umbrella term to include horror writers and I believe the supernatural. The event was brilliant, the organisers couldn’t do enough, and the many volunteers who helped run the event worked tirelessly, including all of the great booksellers.

Also, because my ability to speak in French is limited to what I learned before I did my GSCEs I had to work really hard to break the scar tissue off some old memories. It allowed me to speak to people on a very basic level but everyone genuinely appreciated the effort which was lovely. Thankfully RJ Barker, Ed McDonald and I were provided with interpreters who did a brilliant job translating what other panellists and the moderator were saying, and then they had to translate our rambling nonsense into French. So my thanks to Helene, Romain and Claudine for all of their hard work.

I also had a chance to get to know some lovely authors including my fellow UK peeps, RJ Barker , Ed McDonald, Al Robertson and, of course, Christopher Priest. Also, over the course of sitting beside him for 4 days straight I got to know Steven Erikson a little too. Below is a picture of Steven Erikson, me and Romain, trying our best not to look tired and sweaty!

I met a number of other lovely authors including Marie Brennan, Robin Hobb, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, plus too many great European authors to name. At times the whole thing also felt a bit like a kind of holiday camp for writers, especially the long breakfast chats which were worth the trip alone.

After the festival I spent a couple of days in Paris with my French publisher, Bragelonne, during which I had a little time to explore the city. It’s an amazing city and I need to go back and see more of it.

If any author has the opportunity to attend Les Imaginales I would highly recommend it. The French fans are so passionate about fantasy and the festival was just a brilliant experience. Now, I’m off to get some sleep and rest my voice.

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Fantasy Authors in Conversation – Tuesday 24th April – Stafford

Fantasy authors in conversationIn a couple of weeks time I will be in conversation with GX Todd and Storm Constantine at Stafford Library on Tuesday 24th April.

Last week I joined Brad Beaulieu and Anna Stephens at Waterstones in Birmingham for a similar event where we talked about a range of topics including world building, creating characters and planning stories. As it turned out we all have a slightly different approach so it made for a fascinating evening  talking to them about our differences and similarities.

The next event at Stafford library is from 7-9pm on Tuesday 24th April and tickets are priced at £3.

If you would like to reserve a ticket you can contact the library on their web page here.

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Birthday Book Giveaway

My birthday is this month so I’m doing a book giveaway competition where you can win signed books.

All you need to do is post a review of one of my books on Amazon UK or Amazon USA, between March 1st and March 31st and send me proof (a screenshot will do) via email (stephenaryan56[at]gmail.com) together with your name and postal address. Also tell me if you’re a new reader or an existing reader. The reason for this is explained below.

Please read all of the rules carefully and if you have any questions let me know.

The rules:-

1. It has to be a new review on Amazon UK or Amazon USA and it has to be a review of one of my books. It can be a copy of an existing review on Goodreads if you’ve already done one on there. It has to be posted on Amazon during March 2018.

2. This competition is only open to people in the UK or the USA.

3. If you post a review of Battlemage, your name goes into the hat to win 1 of 5 signed copies of Bloodmage.

4. If you review Bloodmage, you get a chance to win 1 of 5 signed copies of Chaosmage.

5. If you review Chaosmage, you can win 1 of 5 signed copies of Mageborn.

6. And here’s the kicker, if you review Mageborn, you will have the opportunity to win 1 of 5 copies early copies of Magefall.

Note – The book is not published until September, however, I receive a few copies from my publisher a little while before publication date (usually a couple of weeks) and you will have a chance to win one of those copies. So you will have to wait a little longer to collect your prize, but you will still get a signed copy of Magefall before anyone else.

7. If you review Of Gods and Men, then :-

a) if you’re a new reader you’ll go into the hat to win 1 of 5 copies of Battlemage

b) if you’re an existing reader, let me know which book you’re interested in reading next.

c) If you’re up to date and have read everything,  then please read the next rule carefully.

8. You can increase the chance of winning a book by posting more than one review.

Your name will go into the hat one more time for each additional review.

For example, if you post a review of Battlemage and Bloodmage, you will have 2 chances to win Chaosmage instead of 1. You can have a maximum 5 chances of winning a copy of Magefall (that means posting reviews of Battlemage, Bloodmage, Chaosmage, Mageborn and Of Gods and Men) during March.

9. The names will be drawn randomly via a number generator. You will be informed early in April if you’ve won.

10. If you’ve spotted anything I’ve missed then let me know ASAP via email.

11. You do not have to post a long review for any of my books. It does not have to be five stars, but please give a little detail, even if it is just a couple of sentences, about what you liked.

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New Podcast Interview – The Functional Nerds

I recently chatted to John and Patrick from the Fuctional Nerds podcast and had a great time. We talk a little about the books but mostly we just geek out about some TV and geek news from recent headlines.

The Functional Nerds Podcast – Episode 351

The Functional Nerds

 

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Stuff this week

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men novellaThe new digital and audio novella has now been published!!!!!

Of Gods and Men is a prequel to the entire series so far, it is set before the events of Battlemage, so if you’re brand new you can read it as an intro to my style of writing and the whole world. If you’re an existing reader then it gives more info on a favourite character that people often ask me about, Vargus, and it has easter eggs that feed into the second trilogy. It’s available on Amazon UK, and Amazon US, with links from there to the audio Audible version.

Reddit Fantasy AMA

REDDIT LOGOI’m doing an AMA tomorrow on Thursday 7th February. What’s an AMA? Well, it’s an Ask Me Anything thread where fantasy fans can log on and ask any question they like about the books, characters, my writing technique, publishing, my hobbies, computer games, my favourite cheese, pretty much anything really. For about 24 hours I will periodically log on and answer all questions on there.

Reddit is free to join and free to use if you’re not already on there. And the Fantasy section is where fans, and many authors, gather to geek out about all things fantasy related, be it books, TV, films, games or whatever.

 

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Beer and Fantasy Books

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, or even a short time, you’ll know I like beer. More specifically real ale or craft beer as it is called in America, small batches of beer produced by independent or small breweries. I was lucky enough to be able to create my own special beer with a local brewery, Fownes Brewery, to celebrate the launch of Mageborn last October. We called it Mage, of course.

In this article I wrote just before Christmas I expand on beer in the fantasy genre as a whole and there’s also some photos from the Mageborn launch and photos of the Mage ale too. Enjoy!

Beer and fantasy books Medium Article

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The Year Ahead

A new year and already I’ve got a number of plans, events and books plotted out for the coming 12 months. It looks as if it is going to be a busy one.

Books

In less than a month in February, Of Gods and Men is published, a digital and audio novella. It will not be available in paperback or hardback. Maybe, perhaps, if I wrote a number of them then they could be collected in the future. But at this stage, it’s only ebook and audiobook, but the good news is we managed to get Matt Addiss back in to record it. He did the audio books for Battlemage, Bloodmage and Chaosmage. He’s also coming back for the new trilogy and has already recorded Mageborn.

So, Of Gods and Men, what’s it all about? It’s a prequel to Battlemage, and it focuses on Vargus. If you’ve never read anything by me before it works as a great intro and standalone story. It gives you a taste of my world, characters and style while also being a complete story.

If you’ve read everything then it provides more background on a popular character, but it also has info for the current series buried in there too. Yeah. So it was a bit tricky to write but was also enormous fun. The title is a direct nod to Steinbeck, as this story also focuses on two drifters moving from town to town in search of work. And yes, before someone says it, I know the original quote comes from Burns.

Magefall – Book 2, in the Age of Dread trilogy is being published on 6th September this year. This trilogy is much more integrated than the first. It focuses on the same main characters and there isn’t a time gap between them like there was with the previous trilogy.

Mage3I’m currently writing the last quarter of the first draft of Mage 3 (working title) of the Age of Dread. This will be published in 2019, probably around September or October time again. So later this year I will be editing it and then sorting out the proof.

Something New – Once Mage3 is done I will be getting stuck into something completely new and different. It’s already planned. The first chapter is already written but I need to look at it with fresh eyes, rewrite it, write a few more chapters and then send it off to my agent for her opinion. If all goes well we’ll pitch it to a publisher later this year and by Christmas I’ll be well on the way with book 1 in this new trilogy. New world. New characters.

Events

There are a couple in the pipeline already, a couple in the planning stages and I’m really excited them but can’t talk about them just yet. More info on them as soon as I can share. I might be looking at doing a more northern signing event for Magefall later this year too. Just an idea but as well as hopefully doing one in Birmingham (my now-adopted home city), I might be drifting up to Manchester or even further north to Liverpool. If anyone reading this is up that way let me know.

 

 

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