Good things in 2016

Given that for a lot of people 2016 has been a pretty tough and demoralising year, I thought I’d just post some of the good stuff that happened to me.

Bloodmage is Published
Way back in April, which feels like a decade ago right now, Bloodmage was published. In some ways it’s a more accomplished novel than my debut, because the story is more complex, more personal, smaller in scale and yet it builds on the previous book. I’ll always love Battlemage, because it was my debut and because it was the book that got me an awesome author and  great publisher. Bloodmage couldn’t exist without Battlemage either, because I could go places in the second book that I would have struggled to reach if I’d done it first. It’s also so different to the first, as was always the plan, as it’s more of a crime thriller story, set in a fantasy world. I never wanted to do a predictable three part trilogy as my debut series and I believe I accomplished something a bit different.

Chaosmage is Published
By contract October feels like a couple of weeks ago and this novel wrapped up my first trilogy, the Age of Darkness. I’ve seen it called the Battlemage trilogy in some places, but that’s just what some people called it, for some reason. I’m not sure why. So Chaosmage closed out the trilogy which turned out to be a lot more ambitious than a lot of people were expecting. I went in all different sorts of directions, but all under the guise of epic fantasy. This book started out as a love letter to Matheson’s I Am Legend, although so far no-one has mentioned that when they’ve talked about it despite the clear parallels at the start. This book was a lot of fun to write, and was both challenging (as I had to wrap things up and pull certain threads through from the previous two books) and satisfying, as I got to close the door on the series. It’s not the end though.

New Trilogy – The Age of Dread
I’ve been picked up by Orbit to write another trilogy, the Age of Dread, set in the same world! This second book deal was a wonderful boost as it shows I’m not a one-hit wonder and that I’m not going anywhere for a while. Orbit have been fantastic and  despite book 3 not being out very long, it shows the faith they have in me and my work. I’m very grateful for all of their hard work on my behalf and that of my agent over the last few years. It’s odd to think I’ve only been published for about 14 months as it feels like a lot longer at times.

Awards
I was nominated and then shortlisted for the David Gemmell Morningstar award for debut fantasy novel. This was very important to me and even though I didn’t win (that honour went to my agent-bro, the very deserving Peter Newman for The Vagrant) it was a great night. As I’ve said many times before Gemmell is the biggest influence on my work and it was a very special night for me to be there, with some of his family in attendance, at the ceremony.

The Sheffield Fantasy and Science Fiction Social Club had their inaugural awards and the Age of Darkness was awarded the Mycroft Award for Best Completed Series alongside another agent bro, Jen Williams, for her Copper Cat trilogy that also wrapped up this year.

Charity
There is still time to take part in a charity thing I’m involved with. The deadline is getting close but there is still time. 100 authors have donated 100 signed books. For a small donation of £1, your names into the hat and there are several prizes to win batches of signed books. All info is on the page and the money raised is going to Doctors Without Borders.

2017
Next year will see the debut of the first book in the Age of Dread in October, but in the meantime I’ll be busy with events (January in Birmingham at Waterstones), attending Eastercon in April and no doubt other events after that.

Guardian Masterclass and Fantasycon

Yesterday  I was at the sold out Guardian Masterclass on ‘How to find a literary agent’ in London, being run by my agent Juliet Mushens. For a portion of the afternoon she was ably assisted by two of her clients, Elodie Harper and myself.

It was a really great event where the engaged audience listened intently as we answered some questions about our individual journeys to publication, and also learned about some of our mistakes that they will hopefully avoid.

guardian masterclass

Juliet Mushens, Elodie Harper, Stephen Aryan

There was just enough time for a short Q and A session, before the break. The time flew by and I had a great time and even managed to coax a few laughs from the audience.

Looking back I wish there had been something similar when I had first started searching for an agent, but such a thing didn’t exist. The internet was in its infancy and all agents only accepted paper submissions. If you’re getting ready to submit or will be in a few months time, I would definitely keep an eye out for similar events like this in the future.

This weekend coming I’m off to Fantasycon in Scarborough. On Saturday I’m on a panel at 2pm called ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ asking – Should we be killing off our main characters?

In the evening, from 7pm-9pm, I will be attending the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy, where Battlemage has been shortlisted for the Morningstar Award, the category for best debut. I have a one in six chance of winning, so fingers crossed everyone.

Apart from that I’ll be wandering around the event and you’ll most likely find me either at the bar in the evening, talking and drinking, or pottering around the dealer room and sitting in the audience at some other panels as there are some wonderful guests of honour. Hopefully I will see some of your there.

David Gemmell Awards

David Gemmell Legend Awards - SnagaDavid Gemmell was and is a huge influence on my work. More so than Tolkien, which many people cite as being their main foundation, Gemmell showed me many worlds where the main characters were not always perfect people. Long before anyone coined the phrase Grimdark, he was writing about grey people in difficult situations.

The longlist for the three awards are now available and you can vote, online, for free, by visiting this page. You can only vote once on the long list.

Battlemage is on the list for the Morningstar award. This is the award for the best début fantasy novel.

The cover for Battlemage has also been nominated for the Ravenheart award, with artist Steve Stone.

I’m delighted to have been included on this list and the winners will be announced in September at the Fantasycon event in Scarborough. As it happens I am attending this event, so I will be cheering on the others and either celebrating or crying into my beer, depending on the outcome!

So, get voting. The longlist closes on 24th June. The shortlist for all categories then opens on July 8th for the final vote.

 

A Black Time

I was going to do a post about writing, about juggling different parts of being a writer and having a day job, but then three pretty big things happened in the last few weeks.

First, Leonard Nimoy died at the age of 83. I’m sure I don’t have to explain who he was to anyone. I was going to try and write something about how important he is  and was. I was going to try and write about how important Star Trek and the principles set out in the universe created by Gene Roddenberry are to me, but I’ve not been able to find the right words. In the end, Scott, my CBO podcast co-host and I, decided to talk about why we loved Trek, why it means so much to us and the impact the various shows had on us both growing up. I’m editing the podcast at the moment and it will be out on Sunday. We wanted to celebrate all of the awesome things about Star Trek and we highlighted some of our favourite moments, as well as how we were first introduced to Trek and what we think will happen to it in the future.

The second big thing that happened this week was a lot more personal. A friend passed away. It wasn’t expected, he wasn’t old and it has hit me like a real gut punch. I was dazed for a few days and felt very listless and just not with it. A few days later and I’m back in the real world, no longer out of phase with everyone else, but that will all change again I’m sure with the upcoming funeral next week.

The third thing that happened was this week Terry Pratchett died aged after a meagre 66 years. That’s not a good run at all. Given how long people are living these days, that’s nothing. I’m not the biggest fan of Pratchett’s work, but I am close to a number of people who are enormous fans of his. They own every single book and have met him a number of times. I’ve read a few of his books over the years and despite them not being my favourites I admired him enormously. He also essentially had his own genre of fiction in bookshops. You could write a satirical and amusing fantasy novel, but if you then tried to submit I doubt many publishers would take it on. In fact I doubt any would. That was his.

Putting his work with Alzheimer’s to one side and focusing purely on the creative, he was an incredibly sharp, witty and a very funny man. I believe he had a very strong moral code and this came through in every book. To an outsider at first glance his books were nothing more than wildly fantastic stories set on a flat world. But if anyone took even five minutes and scratched the surface they would see the many layers in each story. Over the years he developed a huge following of millions around the world because of who he was and his ability as a storyteller. I admired him for his wit, his creativity, his warmth, inclusiveness and sense of humour. Several people close to me have met him several times over the years and on each occasion he was friendly, funny and just a generally lovely man.

On one occasion I met David Gemmell at a talk and book signing before he passed away. I can’t remember where the story came from now, whether it was him telling the crowd or something Stan Nicholls recalled at a convention, but several years ago David and Terry were abroad somewhere (I think it was in Europe – maybe Vienna) on a book tour. Terry thought it was would be fun for them to get to their next appearance (a radio show interview), by themselves and what followed was an adventure that meant they arrived 50 minutes late to what should have been an hour’s interview on the radio. Despite my sketchy remembrance of the details the story by itself speaks to me of a man who enjoyed himself and enjoyed life.

They were remarkable men, doing remarkable things and both of them will be greatly missed.

Books That Changed My Life – Part 2

This has slightly morphed into authors that changed my life more than particular books, but it’s still appropriate as I do mention specific titles by each of the authors.

g1Legend by David Gemmell – Gemmell was an enormous influence on me growing up, and together with Eddings and Brooks, he is partially responsible for my continuing love of the fantasy genre. Long before someone coined the phrase grim fantasy, or the more recent mocking term, grimdark fantasy, several writers were telling stories about grey characters. People who walked the line between good and evil. Those who stepped over the line in one direction and then the other, so that you were never certain of their loyalty. Starting with Druss, Gemmell showed me a world of very human men and women who were able to achieve the impossible when caught up in extraordinary circumstances. But there was always a cost. Even when magic was involved, which some people say gives you the ultimate mcguffin to get out of any trouble, there were consequences and the piper had to be paid. His characters lived by their own moral code and while some were to be admired, others were definitely disturbed individuals who believed they were doing the right thing. A couple of years ago I wrote a short article about why you should read Gemmell over at Fantasy Literature and I still believe he is required reading. Fantasy has even more striations and sub-genres than a few years ago, but he covered several of them over the course of his career and his audience went with him because of the strength of his writing. I hope some modern fantasy writers will also spread their wings in the same manner rather than continually mine the same sub-genre for the entirety of their career. Many modern fantasy writers are walking in Gemmell’s shadow and some may not even realise it, but long before they came up with it, he’d done it a few times and done it well. After the almost antiseptic feel of Eddings and early Brooks (I say early as his later novels were murkier), where good characters were nice people who fought the good fight, and the bad people all wore hoods and were born in darkness, Gemmell showed me that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it what’s you do that defines you. A hero can be  cut-throat who saves an old woman from being mugged or a villain is a warrior who’s fallen from grace or has a moment of weakness. Redemption, loyalty, honour and protecting the weak. These themes were common in Gemmell’s stories and while some people find them archaic and quaint, I think they’re incredibly important and apt, now more than ever in our busy modern lives.

g2I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – This is an incredible book. It’s short, and as I mention below with Le Guin, Matheson tells you a great deal with very few words. I’ve read this novel several times and I’m never bored of it. It’s truly horrifying, it’s disturbing, it’s worrying and it’s a story that has sat in the back of my mind for many years, lurking in the shadows like a patient toad. It’s one of the main influences on my comic series, Empyre, and there again Matheson showed me the power of having a good ending that really pays off. I’m not going to spoil it, but the end of this book is a real gut puncher. It makes you look back at everything you’ve just read and reassess it from a different angle. None of the film adaptations have done it justice and the ending is never loyal to the heart of the novel, which is a shame as it is incredibly powerful. One day a ballsy film-maker might do it right but we’ll see. This book also showed me how thin the veneer of modern society is and how quickly people can revert to something more primordial when a few modern comforts are taken away. It’s also a novel about the human spirit, about hope, about faith in humanity and struggling against seemingly impossible odds. There are so many things to discover in this novel and, depending on what you bring to the table when you read it, you can get something different from it every time. A remarkable novel by a master storyteller.

g3A Wizard or Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin – I borrowed this book, and then the sequels, from my local library when I was a boy and the stories stuck with me for years. A couple of decades later I bought my own copy of the trilogy (there was no quadrology in my day!) and re-read them. Le Guin taught me about the power of words and how you can use the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks. She taught me about how being frugal with your word count can force you to shape a sentence or paragraph so that it creates a very clear picture in the mind of the reader. You don’t need to ramble on and on, filling pages with endless details and world building, in order to make a character, race, city, or object appear convincing or realistic. In fact some of the most powerful books I’ve ever read are very slim volumes and some, not all, of the modern fantasy novels that are huge doorsteps are extremely padded with fluff. As a boy these novels fired my imagination and that is exactly what should be happening, especially in more fantastical novels. Your mind should help shape the world and characters and be partially responsible for transporting you there. In my opinion putting every single little detail on the page is a bad idea and it can have a negative effect. It can make the reader lazy, it can make the reading experience more passive than engaging, and no matter how exciting the story is, it can appear dull and flat, because the reader is observing it from a distance. Simplicity can beautiful and leave the audience wanting.

g4Storm Front by Jim Butcher – I’ve put Storm Front but in reality the whole Dresden Files series has had a massive impact on me. To date this is the longest series of books I’ve ever read by a single author. I’ve read more books by Stephen King and some other writers, but they’ve not been parts of a much larger story. In my opinion Jim Butcher is the best architect I’ve ever read. He spends a lot of time planning his novels and he’s done lots of interviews online if you want more info about how he does this. But in short he lays out the structure, works out the ebb and flow and the character arcs so that he knows exactly where he is going with the story. From speaking to some writers I know this approach horrifies them as there is less spontaneous creativity and no veering off down side streets to explore unexpected ideas that crop up during the writing process. The flip side of that is all of his novels have several pay-offs that are really well executed and extremely satisfying for the reader, and when you read the novels one after another, they hang together as a cohesive whole. Despite each novel in the series being a standalone story, each builds on the last as it follows the life of the main character, the wizard Harry Dresden. Butcher has taught me about the benefits of planning a story ahead of time, how subtle foreshadowing can pay off further down the line. He’s also taught me to trust the reader and to respect them. If you start to build towards something then you’d better do it right when the time comes and don’t wimp out or you’ll lose your audience if they can’t trust you. If that means wiping out a favourite character, and it is fitting with the story, then you should do it.