Thursday, 30 June 2011



Welcome to new attendee Gerry!

Congratulations to Jan on the nomination of her short story ‘Otterburn’ in the British Fantasy Society Awards 2011 short story category.

After the standing-room only attendance of last week we were down to just six of us this week, but small in number though we were the quality of the writing was good.

Jan kicked off with a new short story called ‘Midnight Twilight’ set on a desolate artic island ‘somewhere north of Fennmark’ and involving the experiences of an intrepid reporter Ellie as she tries to get to the bottom of the nightly appearances of a mysterious sledger. We were all agreed that the piece was well written and the planned hook a good one. Specific comments were:

• Ellie (as a novice arctic-nik) seemed remarkably unphased by the strange dawn/duck ambience and her ability as a cross-country skier a little too good.

• The time spent describing the dogs was probably excessive.

• Jan has to check her speeds and distances.

• Maybe Ellie should be on a mission to check out all the unexplained legends (Yeti, BigFoot, the Abominal Sledger etc.).

Peter read a short story entitled ‘Ghost House’ which was a tale of a sceptic challenging his disbelief by spending some time in ‘the most haunted house in Britain’ where he has a close encounter of the weird kind. Again a good, strong story. Comments were:

• The Edwardianesque syntax of the girl threw one or two of the listeners, maybe more could be made of her being an en-actor?

• There was a feeling that the ending should be made shorter and punchier and that Peter should find a way of communication the lead characters scepticism earlier.

• Not make the lead character married so the sexual chemistry between him and the girl could be played up.

I read an excerpt from the end of ‘The Demi-Monde: Spring’, the sexy bit involving the seduction of one of his characters. It seemed to go down well with the listeners. Comments were:

• Perhaps make it a little snappier in places.

• One particular switch of POV has to be emphasised for clarity

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


Amanda from HarperCollins has just sent me a few copies of the white-label copy of the US-edition of 'The Demi-Monde: Winter' which is being given out to the William Morrow sales force. I'm now getting knee-deep in various versions of the book (I'd like my dining room back please) so if anyone would like a copy I'd be delighted to send one. Just drop me your address on

Sunday, 26 June 2011


I attended the panel discussion entitled 'The World of Publishing', the panel being John Jarrold (my agent), Lee Harris (editor of Angry Robot), Julie Crisp (editorial director of Tor), Jon Weir (publicity manager for Gollanz) and David Thomas Moore and editor).

Some of the points raised bear repeating. It seems that 90% of submissions to agents/publishers torpedo themselves by not following submission guidelines and by being infested with poor spelling/grammar/punctuation. This results in them heading binwise. New writers have got to realise that publishing is a business and hence has got to be approached in a businesslike manner. I emphasised this at my workshop: getting these hygiene factors (grammar/spelling/layout etc.) is essential. If a writer can't be arsed to spellcheck his or her work then they are signalling that the chances of them meeting editorial deadlines etc. are piss poor. Of course, the corollary of this is that if you do get them right then you're immediately in the top ten per cent of all submissions.

On the subject of self-publishing the panel was surprisingly dismissive. They acknowledged that some new writers had come thru the Kindle ranks but noted that these were amazingly small in number (a handful out of the 3 million books self-published last year in the States) so really nothing much has changed.

There was a comment that some writers, tho' talented, had written books which were perceived as not commercial enough (been there with 'Dark Charismatic'!).

They also looked for enthusiasm in their writers: if a writer wasn't passionate about their work then i) it showed in their work and ii) how were they supposed to be enthused about a book if the writer wasn't.

Food for thought.


Attended Alt.Fiction held at the QUAD in Derby today. The big change in the twelve months from the last one is that this year I was there as a delegate rather than an attendee. I didn't realise that being a delegate was such bloody hard work!

That's the back of my head folks,
my best side.
 I kicked off at 10 am hosting a Writing Workshop entitled 'That Killer First Page' (see a previous blog for details) and what was nice was it was well attended ... eight people which was about eight more than I expected. It seemed to go okay too, helped by the audience being smart and enthusiastic. I rambled on for the prescribed hour, answered questions as best I could and I hope gave some good advice.

Following on from this I enjoyed a coffee with Alison Drakes (lovely lady) re the book she's working on 'Ad Infinitum' and which she'd sent me the first chapter to have a look at. I hope what I said was constructive and helpful and look forward seeing her book in print.

From left to right: me, Pat Kelleher,
Colin Harvey and Guy Haley
Next up was a panel discussion entitled 'Breaking into Writing'. This was my first PD so it was fortunately that I was flanked by people who seemed to know what they were talking about (Guy Haley, Colin Harvey and Pat Kelleher). The room was packed (twenty people?) so it was standing room only and bloody hot. I'm afraid my advice differed a little from that of the other panellists but I suppose it's good that there was a variety of opinions on offer. It was transmitted as a PodCast so I'll post the link as soon as I have it.

Then it was lunch with my agent, John Jarrold, which was very enjoyable. I'm going to be pitching an idea I have for a vampire
whodunit to John which I'm excited about: it'll make a change from the Demi-Monde! I drank too much merlot, tho'.

Tony Ballentyne with two minders
Got back to the QUAD in time do a reading with Tony Ballantyne. Tony read an excellent short story about an enterprising owner of a Chinese restaurant and I read (slightly blurred by merlot, it has to be said) the intro to the Demi-Monde which seem to be well received. We'd finished inside fifteen minutes and I thought it was early shower time but the questions kept coming and we had a really enjoyable forty-five minute discussion. Excellent.

The last thing I attended was the panel discussion entitled 'The World of Publishing' but I'll talk about that at length in a separate blog.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Nelli and I took in Green Lantern last night. Kit (+ boyfriend) and Ellie had opted for Pirates (Johnny Depp!!!!!) and as five is certainly too many for company and I didn't want to see Pirates (Johnny Depp!!!!) we finally picked Green Lantern (I mean, the alternative was Kung Fu Panda!). I did this with a certain trepidation having been disappointed by both 'Thor' and 'X-Men: First Class' and with the GL reviews being decidedly mixed. We were both pleasantly surprised.

I have to admit to being a closet fan of GL. I was always drawn to the 2nd tier of superhero comics. I bought 'Metal Men' (now that would make a great movie!) religiously before it folded so prematurely and had a real soft spot for GL. I liked the back story and the reasoning behind GL getting his powers seemed more 'oh, why not' than kids being bitten by atomic spiders or coming to live under yellow suns.

The film's story is pretty straightforward. Hotshot test pilot Hal Jordan - troubled, rebellious, irreverent, defier of authority - in love/hate relationship with classy girl, is a man with a damaged psyche (dad died testing an aircraft). All this angst doesn't stop him being selected to take over as a Galactic Guardian by a dying alien and given the power ring which turns his thoughts into green-tinged reality (cue some really impressive SFX). Taken to alien planet where he is pronounced useless. Goes back to Earth to discover himself. Ultra baddy shows up looking like a cloud with attitude. GL battles cloud and comes out on top. GL gets girl and comes out on top.

Okay, okay ... I know. We're not talking Kubrick here and you won't be seeing a landmark in cinematographic history but shit GL did everything it said on the tin: it was fun, with an engaging hero complete with a mischievous sparkle in his eye, good-looking love-interest, a story that was by-the-numbers but with enough irony to carry the day (though it did get a bit creaky in the middle), some scary moments (too scary for a 12A?) and a few good one-liners. Yeah, it was a good solid Saturday night movie and not a bad way to spend two hours winding down after a hard day.

The big plus was Ryan Reynolds: I thought he nailed the cocky, engaging bastard bit, tho' what Tim Robbins was doing and what role he was playing heaven only knows.

I'd vote it the best superhero movie of 2011 thus far (tho' the Cap America trailers looks terrifc) but that, folks ain't saying a lot.

Score: 7/10

Thursday, 23 June 2011


I’m holding a workshop at Alt-Fiction in Derby this coming Saturday and I chose for my subject ‘That All-Important First Page’. I did this for the simple reason that unless a would-be author gets this right then all the work he or she has put into their novel is just a waste of time.

Apparently people select their mates on the basis of the first ten seconds of interaction – eyes meeting across a crowded room and all that – and that once this initial impression is forged it is almost impossible to overturn it. It’s the same with books. My agent told me once that he knows by the end of the first paragraph if the book’s any good, and I’m guessing that if a book hasn’t jingled the jangles of the reader (be they agent, publisher or punter) by the end of the first page (max!) then it’s bin time.
On this basis you’ve got 300 words to prevent your magnum opus interfacing with oblivion, so you’ve got to make each and every word count!

Now I’m no expert on creative writing but from what I’ve read (and here I’m referring to the SF/fantasy genre) it seems to me that there are certain things that get me hooked.

1. An intriguing, odd set-up. One of my favourite novels of all time, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ begins like this:

‘What’s it going to be then?’
There was me, that is Alex. And my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.’

How can you resist reading on? I know the odd language might be daunting (a criticism that has been levelled at The Demi-Monde) but to me this communicates a really subversive feel and also that Alex isn’t quite operating on all cylinders.

Then there’s the classic: ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen’. Genius!

2. A crisis, with the hero/heroine in danger. Let’s begin with a cliff-hanger! This is the one I chose for The Demi-Monde (see below) and to make it work you’ve got to avoid passive writing (essentially telling not showing), over-complexity and too much description. Try:

‘The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.’ Stephen King, ‘The Gunslinger’.

3. Mystery. Everyone’s a sucker for a puzzle and well-written mystery will persuade the reader to turn that page in order to find the answer. I suppose the modern master of this is Dan Brown (yeah, I know he ain’t SF but I’m buggered if I can think of a great SF whodunnit. Now there’s a thought ...). If you check out The Lost Symbol (great first page, rotten book) how’s this for a hook:

‘Since the beginning of time, the secret had always been how to die’.

But as they say, physician heal thyself, so I thought I’d analyse the opening page of ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’ to see how I stacked up.



Probably a mistake: it seems that a fair few readers don’t read Prologues. Strange but true. Probably better to have been Chapter 1

The Demi-Monde: the 37th Day of Winter, 1004

I used this to communicate that we were in a different world and a different time. Also as I hop between the Demi-Monde and the Real World in the rest of the book it’s a useful device to flag to the reader just which world they’re in.

Norma ran. Picked up her skirts and ran as she had never run in her life. Ran as though the Hounds of Hell were at her heels.

I wanted a short, sharp and exciting opening, this to signal that the book is a thriller. It also introduces my lead protagonist Norma and shows she’s in danger. I put the ‘picked up her skirts’ thing in as an afterthought to show that she’s dressed a little unconventionally.

Fuck it…the Hounds of Hell were at her heels.

Norma’s a feisty modern girl who calls a spade a spade so the use of the ‘Fuck it’ was deliberate to comunicate this. The thought lines are a substitute for dialogue.

And as she ran she heard a crackle of gunfire behind her, the sound of the shots ricocheting through the curfew-silent streets of London. The gunfire told her that Mata Hari and her Suffer-O-Gettes had kept their word. They had tried to delay those SS bastards for as long as they could. Suffer-O-Gettes died hard.

I’m told that the best hooks in a first page are sex and death ... I used danger. The juxtaposition of Mata Hari and the Suffer-O-gettes was an attempt to show that the Demi-Monde is out-of-kilter with our own world.

Run, Norma run! Mata Hari had screamed at her as Clement’s SS-Ordo Templi Aryanis thugs had smashed down the pub’s door. And she had run. She couldn’t - wouldn’t - let the SS catch her.

Mad, evil bastards.

But she was running blind.


The short elliptical sentences and paragraphs are designed to give the opening a breathless aspect, just like a running Norma would be.

The snow was so thick that she could barely see a dozen strides in front of her, snow that the icy wind was whipping into her eyes, making them water with pain.

Scene setting: the book is ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’ when all said and done.

Angrily Norma shook her head, ordering herself to ignore the pain, ignore the cold, ignore the frosted numbness crawling along her fingers and her toes, ignore the protests of her mutinous body. Ordered herself to ignore everything but the need to put as much distance between herself and the animals chasing her as was humanly possible.

The repetition of ‘ignore’ is a writing device called ANAPHORA which consists of repeating a sequence of words thereby lending them emphasis. I did this to help build the tension, to show that Norma was starting to panic and to mimic the rhythm of her running.

She had to forget everything but the need to run. Forget that duplicitous, scheming, treacherous, underhand, slimy, son-of-a-bitch Burlesque Bandstand.


Over-the-top I know but Burlesque is an important character, but he doesn’t make an entrance for a hundred or so pages so I wanted the reader to remember him and Norma’s loathing of him.


Considering it's almost three years since I wrote these words I'm not too disappointed with them. I'd probably tweak the opening few words - Run, Norma run! - but other than that it's okay. Got me an agent and a publishing deal anyway, which ain't too shabby!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


At one of the recent meetings of the Renegade Writers' Group I attended I betrayed my lack of knowledge of the writing process. One of the attendees read out a story and listening to it I had the distinct impression that the POV jumped around a bit and said so. I was then informed (firmly) that the story had been written in Third Person Omniscient.


It seems that TPO is written from the viewpoint of an all-knowing narrator and not from the POV of one of the characters. I had never really thought about it before so I did some investigating and low-and-behold it seems that it's the preferred aspect for such luminaries as Tolkien, Jane Austen and John Grisham, to name just three. The advice is that it's particularly suited to sweeping fantasy tales and those with multiple characters.

My opinion is that it's also bloody difficult to write effectively. The problem seems to me that written badly it evokes a lack of involvement, everything seems to be at arm's length and it takes a master (or mistress, in Austen's case) to prevent it coming across as flat and emotionless. Of course, it's a personal thing but that's probably why I've never been a great fan of 'The Lord of the Rings', it was just too uninvolving. Grisham pulls me in because his books are so dialogue heavy and the peerless Ms Austen does it by using a device which is anathema to modern editors, lots of letters (too much 'tell' and not enough 'show' for modern sensibilities).

No, I think I'll stick to Third Person Multiple for the time being: at least then I'll always know which character I am at that point of time ... though it's a bugger when you're writing the fourth book of a quartet remembering what each character knew or didn't know. But at least they get to live a little.

Oh hum.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


The Rees family took a break from revising for A-levels and editing books to take in a movie yesterday. The vote on what to see was split but finally on a minority vote we opted for 'X-Men: First Class'.


Now I'm getting to think that I shouldn't be reviewing superhero movies as I seem to be genetically inclined to loath them but that's not always the case: I loved 'Kick Ass', 'Batman Begins' and am probably the only person on the planet that liked 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.'

I think my problem is that I appraoch superhero films expecting them to aspire to the same emotional content and the same 'suspend disbelief' rigor I demand of every movie I watch. And this is where First Class comes up short.

What underpins the movie's story is the relationship between Charles Xavier (rich American) and Erik Lehnsherr (Jewish auschwitz survivor) who are both possessed of amazing mutant powers. Erik's outlook on life is deformed by his experiences at the hands of the Nazis especially those suffered as a result of him falling into the clutches of a despicable item named Sebastian Shaw. As might be expected, Xavier's attitudes are much more middle-class and liberal. This is an excellent and intriguing premise for the movie and the reason why I wanted to see it in the first place.

So far, so good and the first quarter of the movie (though a trifle long and exposition heavy) augers well. Then we slip into familiar 'superhero origins' territory and the mutants come at us thick, fast and increasingly superficial. With most of the action set in the early 60's it's almost inevitable that the Cuban missile crisis should be the centrepiece of the story (tho' Kennedy's assassination might have been more resonant) and here things start to become unravelled, the killer question being why would Shaw be inclined to precipitate WWIII when as many mutants will die as Normals?

And while the plot is flimsy so unfortunately is the casting. Michael Fasbender as Lehnsherr/Magneto is good, but James McAvoy/Xavier is both too old (Xavier is portraited as a 12 year old in 1944 which makes him only 30 in 1962, not McAvoy's 40)  and too British. But while the male characters are bearable the female ones are awful. Coming after the class turn of Rebecca Romijin as Mystique in the first three X-Men films why oh why did they think that Jennifer Lawrence could fill her ... whatever. And January Jones as Emma Frost is nondescript to say the least.

In all the film is too long, too predicatable, has zero emotional heft, has all the characterisational depth of a puddle, has some surprisingly ropey effects (Beast's make-up was appauling) and the historical accuracy is suspect (it was the USSR in 1962 boys, not Russia).

A boring disappointment.

Score: 4/10

Saturday, 18 June 2011


Being of the opinion that the eBook revolution sweeping thru the publishing world is a Good Thing and that in future books will need to be written to accommodate the abilities of eBooks I was delighted that Quercus were up for giving me a shot at showing what an eBook really can do.

I had written the Demi-Monde so that it would be a submersive experience but unfortunately this is  impossible to communicate in print but with eBooks ... the sky is as high as your imagination. The one thing I didn't want is for these features to look tacked on, to be an afterthought. They had to add to the suspension of disbelied by the reader.

Quercus obviously feel the same way so Nelli, Nigel and I went to Quercus on Friday to meet with their new eBook Technician, a chap named Nick Barreto and his boss Iain Millar.

Good meeting.

What has been decided is that there will be a ‘Special Edition’ of the DM Winter eBook, which will take full advantage of all the features available on eBooks to create something unique in the fantasy/SF canon, with a tentative launch date around that of ‘The Demi-Monde: Spring’ hardback (27th December 2011). The extra features to be include are, inter alia:

1. Deleted chapters (totalling about 20,000 words) including
  • A scene in the White House introducing all the major players in the ForthRight;
  • A scene showing how Vanka Maykov fell foul of General Skobelev;
  • A scene showing how Trixie Dashwood met Dabrowski;
  • An extended scene at Dashwood Manor.

 2. 'Woodcut’ pictures illustrating five key incidents in the book. These in the style of the ones used in ‘The Strand’ to illustrate the Sherlock Holmes stories. Ideas we're thinking about include:
  • The hounders tracking down Norma;
  • The battle of the barges;
  • Ella dancing in front of the hounfo;
  • Terror Incognita seen from the balloon;
  • Atop ExterSteine.
3. A whole bunch of appendices to include:
  • The cigar cards of the main characters;
  • Illustration of how the hounfo trick was done;
  • ParaDigm’s ‘Product Description Manual’;
  • The existing Glossary; this hyperlinked to the first use of the term in the book proper.
4. Other extras including a forward by moi (giving me a chance to explain the use of camelCased words and other idiosyncrasies of the DM) and some easter eggs which (natch) we're keeping quiet about.

It's all terrifically exciting!

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Slow Reader has just posted a retraction of part of his review of 'The Demi-Monde: Winter' where he had a little pop at yours truly for not explaining how Norma (my lead character) got into the Demi-Monde.

Having recovered from the shock of a critic apologising (and with my computer STILL not allowing me to post comments) I will explain.

I have written how Norma was traduced into entering the DM, but it would have dragged the pace of 'Winter' if I'd have digressed to explain so I opted instead to indulge in a little script-tease and leave it to later books. Unfortunately having got to 'Fall' (where I had intended to do the final reveal) I suspect that that book's gonna be so long I won't have room. Maybe I'll post it on the web site when all four of the books are out there. I also have to work out how to have Norma use the Ampi-Tor devices without it getting too gynaecological!

Anyway, anyone wanting to check out Slow Reader's review it's on

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


Thanks for your comment re Fall - I've been trying to reply but Blogger is playing silly buggers and won't let me.

Yeah, there is a reason why it's called 'Fall' rather than 'Autumn' but I'm afraid you're gonna have to wait until then to find out why. This isn't me being coy or playing Secret Squirrel but mainly because I ain't written the bloody thing yet (and with all this editing I ain't likely to, either!), but the clue is in the word.

Oh, and thanks for the review. Rapid!


Amanda at HarperCollins sent me the galleys of 'The Demi-Monde: Winter' and I have to say the Americans have done a cracking job. The book looks really slick and stylish. She also gave me permission to post a few pages for readers to sample so if you're interested here's the link.



I seem to be doing more editing than writing at the moment. I only just got 'The Demi-Monde: Spring' off to Jo Fletcher at Quercus, than I had to turn back to 'Summer' in order to bring the beginning of that book into line with the amended ending of 'Spring'. And no sooner had I done that than I received the galleys of 'Winter' from the Americans! So rather than hitting 'Fall' as I'd planned, I've now got to re-read 'WInter' for about the umpteenth time.

Oh hum. No one told me that editing would come to dominate my life like this. It's a bloody nightmare.

Monday, 6 June 2011


I got the final edit of 'The Demi-Monde: Spring' from Jo Fletcher ten days ago and have been working flat out ever since knocking it into shape. Jo made some interesting observations which necessitated me doing some quite major tinkering - with a book of 150,000 words even a small change ripples through the book and care is needed to ensure consistency. She also wanted a recap of Winter at the start of the book so that had to be written and she thought that one of the new characters deserved a little more page-time. The upshot was a lot of bloody hard work.

I can though give you a sneak-peek at a bit of artwork that'll make its debut in Summer. Again this is curtesy of Nigel Robinson.

Unfortunately all this extra stuff had an inflationary effect: the book ballooned to 156K and as I'm determined it shouldn't go over 150K this required surgery. I ended up dumping one of the chapters, which had the unfortunate effect of reducing Casanova to something of a bit-player, but that's life ... or editing for you.

So, it's off to Merlin the copy-editor now which, hopefully, will be relatively painless, while I turn my attention back to Fall!