Friday, 14 December 2012

The next big thing...

Last week Susan Murray tagged me for The Next Big Thing. This is a tag chain which, if it remains unbroken, will swiftly fill the web-o-verse with everything you wanted to know about the latest projects of writers (which is preferable to a lot else that can be found swilling around out there).

The idea is simple. There are ten questions about the latest project you are working on. You answer them, tag five people who will answer them, and so on. No money changes hands (damn!), but it is a good way of letting writers talk about what they are doing at the moment (between sessions of Angry Birds).

So, away we go...

What is the working title of your next book?
I’m actually three books ahead of my next book, if you see what I mean. The next one to see print (I hope) will be called Exile and Pilgrim and is the first sequel to Stealing into Winter which was published in September of this year (and which would make an excellent Christmas present for anyone you know who enjoys fantasy). The third book (Players of the Game) has also been drafted and I am currently drafting the fourth book in the series. So the other answer to this question is Retorsion, which is the fourth book about Jeniche of Antar. There may be more, but that’s as far as I’ve travelled.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I have my ideas shipped in from Fortnum & Mason – nothing but the best. They come in hampers...

If only it was that easy. In a sense it is about logical progression. After I had finished the first book, there were so many characters and events that needed exploring and expanding, that I simply let them loose, asked for reports, and created a narrative from the letters they sent back to me.

The series began life with the desire to write a straightforward fantasy that had pace and a central character whose only desire was to stay alive, have enough to eat, and somewhere safe to sleep. No great house to restore to the throne, no magic quest to complete, no elves or dwarfs, no dragons.

What genre does your book fall under?
I hope it doesn’t fall. I have bills to pay. If it keeps on its feet, it will be found on the fantasy shelf of the book store. If you are interested in sub-genres, this one is future fantasy (post apocalyptic).

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Sharifah Amani has exactly the look for Jeniche...

...and Rufus Sewell would be just right for Alltud.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A young thief discovers that you don’t always get what you want.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
That depends on sales of the first in the series. So why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be looking for it on an online bookstore?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Each of the books has taken just over a month to draft – that’s a chapter a day (about 2,200 words)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This harks back to the days when typewriters roamed the earth and fantasy meant Michael Moorcock; the days before a fantasy novel had to be in twelve volumes and have a prologue longer than most of my novels. Most mainstream publishers don’t touch anything this short (70,000 words) any more. Apparently people don’t read it. Which makes me wonder who the hell is buying my books.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Michael Moorcock. Fritz Leiber. I wanted to get back to those basics. Well-written, pacy, lively, character-driven works that didn’t rely on a conservative view of the world in which everything would be well if we could just get the right sort of ruler back on the throne. It doesn’t happen. Yeah, I know this is fantasy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t reflect the real world.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Well, it concludes a four book arc, but leaves the way open for more stories. And, like the others, it won’t give you a hernia carrying it around, you can read it in a fairly short time, and there is absolutely no guff, waffle, or padding of any kind.


So, there you go. And now all that's left is for me to tag some writers who will answer the same questions next week - over to you chaps:

Rachel Green (who was tagged by someone else first, but is worth visiting twice)

Friday, 9 November 2012

Amazon Fail - Again!

Amazon appears to be doing another stupid. As if bigotry dressed up as faulty software/caving into consumer pressure* was not enough, they have continued along the path of pissing off the people they should be making efforts to keep onside. Yes. Writers. Those people who produce the things you sell.

Writing is not well paid. There are a few exceptions, but the majority of us can only dream of getting close to a living wage. It doesn’t make us any happier then to see a highly successful company that has already eroded our income with bully-boy tactics to cut their costs now doing all it can to avoid paying tax. Tax that, in part, helps to seed fund the arts, a sector on which writers rely and which, incidentally, is one of the largest sectors of the UK economy.

That is bad enough; now they are trying to censor writers. Reports are circulating that Amazon intend (and have already started) to remove any book review on their sites that is written by an author. Presumably this means anyone who has an Author’s Page. It would seem this is a belated and ill-conceived response to the sock-puppetry that went on. There is a simple solution to this problem. Do not allow reviews to be posted anonymously or pseudonymously. They must have your real name on, the one on your account.

Censoring people who are likely to offer considered and knowledgeable opinions on a book is plain stupid. Why should I (a) be deprived of reading reviews of people whose opinions I trust and value; and (b) not be allowed to comment on books which I have enjoyed (or not, as the case may be) or which lie within my field of expertise and experience? And there’s more. There is also talk that Amazon wants to ban reviews posted on Amazon from being posted elsewhere. Quite how they intend to police that, I do not know – perhaps they’ll set up a spy unit funded by all that tax they didn’t pay.

Censorship isn’t the answer. It never has been. Attempts to impose it have always backfired. Transparency is the answer. It is simple and may lead to some people being a little less spiteful, which is no bad thing.

And remember, Amazon, taking on or pissing off people who are good with words is a particularly stupid thing to do, especially if your core business depends on their co-operation.

(*delete as appropriate to the particular excuse they trot out)

Monday, 29 October 2012

'Stealing into Winter' - Review

I have had some wonderful reviews for 'Stealing into Winter' but this is one of those an author dreams of. Sometimes dreams come true. My thanks to Nimue Brown. Clearly a discerning reader.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Pot. Kettle. Black. #274

Dear Mr Jacobson

Genre – a category of literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.

For example: contemporary ‘literary’ fiction in which the central character is a writer.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Stop gazing out of the window!

I saw it again today and it made me cross enough to dust off this blog and make one of my rare forays into the ether.

Will you please stop referring to yourself as an aspiring writer or a wannabe writer.

You may aspire to being a published writer (by whatever definition of ‘published’ you care to choose); it is possible that you are a wannabe published writer. However, you write or you do not write. An aspiration to write is a waste of your time. If you do not actually write anything, you cannot aspire to being published (unless you are someone with an agent who can get you a book deal despite the fact you cannot string three words together in crayon). Writing means working. Hard. For years. Without reward. That is how you produce short stories, novels, poems, screenplays. Well, that is how you produce good ones. I’m enough of a realist to know that a lot of garbage gets picked up and published – look at the best seller lists. You may wish to try that route. That’s your choice. I have made mine.

Accuracy is important in writing, using words to pinpoint an emotion or state as exactly as possible whilst using the resource that is language to do so in a new and memorable way is part of what you are meant to be doing. If you cannot get it right at this stage you will be adding to the heap of garbage.

And before you get on a horse of any height, I’ve argued before that good writing can (and should) be used in all cases – high literature or the latest thriller/romance/sci fi/fantasy epic. It may make me sound [insert description of your choice – the words ‘old’ and ‘fart’ will probably be included if you lack imagination], but I happen to believe that writers (as well as agents and editors) have a duty to see that only work of quality gets put out before the public. It is what makes writers worth supporting.

You will only ever get that far, however, if you write. Stop aspiring (a fancy word for daydreaming without intent) and get on with it. Now.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Stealing into Winter

No apologies for a bit of self promotion.

Please check out the publisher’s page for Stealing into Winter. Look at that endorsement! Thanks, Mike. And look at those reviews! Those guys have been lucky enough to see pre-publication versions of the book.

If that whets your appetite, then Amazon UK, Amazon Canada and The Book Depository currently have fabulous pre-order offers.

You can, of course, do your bit for the health of publishing by supporting your local bookshop and ordering Stealing into Winter from them. They might not be able to discount like the big operators, but diversity is good; small is good.

For the opportunity to obtain a signed copy directly from me, join the Jeniche of Antar Fan Club page on Facebook. From there you can send me a message and let me know you would like a signed copy. Full details will be posted on the page in the near future.

If you are strapped for cash, then please order a copy of the book from your local library (if you still have one). That way I get a sale, you get to read the book, and other people get to see it and maybe like it so much they want a copy of their own. In fact, please order a copy from your library anyway.

Finally, if you read the book and enjoy it, please leave a review on Amazon, The Book Depository, your blog, or any other website that accepts book reviews. Just a few lines will, but it all helps.

My thanks to you all.

PS - Book two is already written, the first third of book three is nearly drafted with the rest plotted in detail, book four is plotted out in detail, and there are notes accumulating for a further trilogy.

Friday, 3 August 2012


Being creative has always been more than just about, well, being creative. You can be the world’s greatest literary/artistic/singing/tap-dancing/filmic genius, but if you don’t share your work with others, only your mum will ever know.

And if you are the slightest bit serious about putting your talents in front of an audience (maybe even making money from it), you have to make use of whatever social networking comes your way. It often sounds daunting, but is quite simple. It simply means making friends – in person or online. Now, I know us creative types have a reputation for being curmudgeonly loners, but it is unfounded. When we start out we are nervous about others’ reaction to our work. But talking and sharing with fellow writers/artists/singers/tap-dancers/film makers gives us the opportunity to tap into a vast community through which we can learn to improve our own skills, help others with theirs and spread the word about what we do.

One such avenue is one I found on Facebook recently.

Stoosh PR

In their own words:

FB networking arm of the retainer based NYC cross platform marketing, branding and PR initiative.
Authority from experience without the self aggrandizing floss!
Originally from England STOOSHPR’s Jane Buchanan started her career as producer and presenter of the SONY award winning show "Streetlife" on the BBC. From radio she moved on to television with seasons as Entertainment Producer for the network Granada TV show, "This Morning" and later "Jameson Tonight" on Sky TV.
Headhunted from Sky TV by Sir Bob Geldof and Lord Waheed Alli’s company at 25yrs old, she was appointed to the position of US Producer for Planet 24 Productions. Based out of NYC she coordinated and produced all US strands for the controversial show "The Word" and later, "The Big Breakfast".

When Planet 24 relocated to LA to produce the successful "Survivor" reality show, Jane decided to make NYC her home and continues to live and work in the media. She has held positions at New Video Group/Docurama (Home Video arm of A&E/The History Channel), Disney Theatrical (Lion King, Mary Poppins and Phil Collins' Tarzan) Maxim Magazine/Dennis Publishing, and Bad Boy Entertainment hand picked by Sean P Diddy Combs.

This is their website:
And this is their Facebook page:

Go take it a look. It might just be what you are looking for.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Please read...

Please read this blog. Saundra Mitchell writes eloquently about the damage that piracy does to authors.

Saturday, 2 June 2012



Although it's a way off yet, I thought you might like to know that Stealing into Winter will be published by Roundfire on 28 September 2012. The paperback ISBN is 978-1-78099-625-7 and the book will be £9.99

There will also be an ebook version (ISBN 978-1-78099-626-4), but as yet I have no further details.

All very sweet. And sweeter still is what you'll find on the rear cover; an endorsement from my all time favourite author:

A first class adventure which moves with a pace and panache rarely seen these days. If you like good future fantasy you'll love this. Reminiscent of M. J. Harrison or China Miéville at their fascinating best. I enjoyed Stealing Into Winter a lot.
Michael Moorcock

You can be sure that closer to the time of publication there will be plenty more of this!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

A new censorship?

I was thinking about Soviet censorship of writers in the shower the other day, as one does. Having not long finished reading a couple of books written in Soviet Russia (one that got past the censor and one that didn’t) I was trying to work out why the one that was highly critical of a totalitarian regime that suppressed creative thinking got published, whilst the surreal work that explored the difficulty, even impossibility of successfully putting anything into written words was blue pencilled. I was also wondering whether living under the gaze of a censor (terrible as that is) did not make better writers of those inclined to be subversive. They did, after all continue to be subversive right under the very noses of those they criticised and got away with it. They were forced by circumstance to be inventive.

Notwithstanding the thought that anything that makes one a better writer must have some good in it (from a purely craft point of view) I thanked my stars that I do not live in such circumstances. Advocating a Stalinist state just to get better writing would be stupid and even I am not that daft.

I was at the rinsing down stage by now and another thought did strike me. Two in succession. After I recovered from feeling a bit faint, I developed this second thought. We might not, as writers, live under a formal regime of censorship but our work does face various forms of censorship nonetheless if we follow a mainstream route to publication (self-publishing in the modern age is something else altogether). Some are obvious and to be welcome. I don’t want to pick up a book that is riddled with spelling mistakes, typos, bad grammar, rubbish structure, and so on. It doesn’t mean such books don’t get published, even after going through the mill. Book shops are full of such tat. But for the most part they are properly designed and have the worst of their errors removed.

But capitalism censors just as readily (if in different ways) to any other socio-economic system. Books need to make a profit for the companies that publish them. At least, there must be an expectation that a given book will make a profit. You cannot expect such companies to make a loss. They wouldn’t last. But they have got themselves in a bit of fix recently. Like many other businesses they are staggering under increasing layers of people who want their cut of the money without actually contributing anything to the process that generates the money.

Books now get rejected on the grounds they won’t make enough profit. It is no longer sufficient that they bring in more than they cost. Now the level of profit must be increased to feed all those hardworking shareholders and all the layers of middle men who don’t do very much.

If your book is out of the ordinary, exploratory, ground breaking, has a small audience, then forget it. It will not generate enough profit. It will not appease the free market dogma. It will feed the leeches in the system. Therefore it gets censored. Good writing, stuff that doesn’t fit the stupidly narrow pigeon holes invented by marketing people who really have no conception of how writing works, stuff that is written by a dull looking disabled person who won’t dazzle the camera or be able to get out and do all their own promotion. It gets censored.

Thank goodness then for modern technology. These works rejected by the capitalist censor at least stand a chance of being printed and distributed (even if the average income is just above zero because reaching a market when you are self-published is something that has yet to be cracked).

But whilst this alters the picture, it also throws responsibility onto those who are taking this new route. It may be the future of publishing so I beg of you – don’t foul the path; don’t shove out any old crap because you think it’s a masterpiece. It most likely isn’t, but that doesn’t matter. Only one in a hundred thousand of us are going to produce a work that lasts for generations. The rest of us should aim to produce work of better quality than you find in traditional print. Better designed, better written, better edited. This isn’t difficult. You have friends. Involve them. You probably know a struggling artist. Get them to do the cover. Learn how to spell. Learn how to use your computer. Because if you don’t do these things you will be just as bad as the mainstream that has rejected you and on which you have turned your back.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

How narrow is the door?

Do you remember those maths lessons where six men dig a trench forty feet long, how long will it take a train to fill a bath? Or something like that.

The other day, I started a calculation. I had to give up because search as I might, I cannot find anything like an accurate figure for one of the elements. Perhaps, in the end it doesn’t matter.

Anyway, think of all the people in the UK who read science fiction and fantasy. There must be quite a few. Hundreds. Thousands. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Maybe millions.

According to the latest yearbook, there are 22 publishers of science fiction and fantasy, several of those are for women only, and only a couple of the others will accept submissions that have not come via an agent.

So, how many agents are there that... etc etc?

This is more difficult. Most agents won’t touch SF&F with a tractor beam (see what I did there?). There are a handful who specialise. The rest are ambivalent. They don’t say they don’t, but most will sigh and dump anything with a whiff of swords or spaceships that is not some hack piece produced by an already established ‘literary’ writer. Based on my own experience, there are about a dozen agents in the UK who will consider looking at SF&F. And some of those aren’t taking on new clients.

Now. Think about that. Ten people who are deciding what gets into print. And what does their decision making process consist of? Personal taste of course. Quality of material submitted? Well... possibly (although considering some of the stuff that does get into print, one has to wonder). And looking at sales figures. They want to make money; of course they do. Which means they put forward and try to sell things similar to those that have already sold well. Ten people. Giving you more of the same to choose from.

Result? SF&F lists are now like our high streets. Everywhere you look there is more of the same. True innovation has disappeared to the small and struggling independent presses (which very often are overwhelmed and have long since closed their doors to new submissions). What passes for cutting edge these days is as innovative as a disposable razor – all hype, packaging, built in safety, and not worth keeping.

I chose a specific genre to make this point as it is an extreme. Ten people in the UK are deciding what SF&F gets to be considered for print. Other genres (and, yes, ‘literary’ is a genre) have this problem to one degree or another; a small group of people deciding what you get to choose from. And there are other problems we haven’t even considered. For example, who is going through the slush pile and drawing manuscripts to the attention of senior staff? If it is true that this is more and more in the hands of interns, then writers are in deep shit and sinking fast.

Answer? I don’t know. I told you in the last post that I’m an idiot. What would be nice, though, for whatever you write, is a wider door with more gatekeepers whose experience of the literary world goes a bit beyond what they were force fed to pass their A level/BA.

Sorry for the inconvenience...

Sometimes I am not very bright (sometimes? I hear you ask); and today I have realised just how stupid I can be.

I read the book and literary pages of a number of magazines and newspapers. When I say ‘read’, what I mean is that these days is that I flick through in hope of finding something substantial to ponder. Now and then, I get lucky, but most of the time I come across insubstantial dross, fillers that are about the level of ‘what’s your favourite colour’? Whilst it might be mildly diverting to know what people think about the latest hissy fit thrown by a well-established and comfortably off author you have to wonder, given the parlous state of publishing why there is a lack of in-depth investigation into what is going on.

This morning, I was equally mystified by the vast wash of trivia. It’s like all that plastic that gets washed up on beaches. Unsightly, useless, hiding the real beauty of the place, and you know damn well that before it got there it has strangled god knows how many birds and poisoned god knows how many fish. I found myself itching to organise the equivalent of a beach clean-up.

And then it struck me. All this garbage is produced by journalists on comfortable salaries (and don’t start bleating, journos, you get a damn site more in a month than most authors see from their writing in any given year). And who are they writing for? Mostly for people who don’t have the first idea about what writing involves and the conditions under which it is produced.

Indeed, the kind of stuff you see littering papers and magazines these days is, on the whole, mirroring the general malaise in publishing. The only time authors get consideration (yes, I know it’s a generalisation, but I can’t keep qualifying) is when they are fodder for gossip. If they’ve said or written something that is considered controversial (and it rarely is actually controversial, just a bit of tired mouthing off that displays their ignorance), if they’ve landed an absurd book deal, if they are up for yet another prize.

Anyone would think there was little else to report, discuss, or investigate. True we get spates of e-book versus p-book, but nothing new is said. And even in that discussion, the focus is invariably on the reader and what they think/are prepared to pay/etc.

Which leads me to think that, all-in-all, writers are a bit of an inconvenience. It is increasingly the case that people expect writers to work for free. Digital thieves (I won’t call you a ‘pirate’ because no, you’re not an online Johnny Depp; you’re a snivelling little wanker sitting alone in your bedroom ripping off people who work bloody hard). Organisers of events who expect writers to give up a day or more when they could be working to give talks and then expect them to pay for their own travel and keep (how much do you earn as an organiser?). Multi-national book retailers – well, they are doing their best to kill off publishing altogether. Agents can be incredibly sniffy about the ones that aren’t making them money (for ‘sniffy’, read ‘downright bloody rude’). Publishers... well, the way some of them carry on you get the impression they would much rather do without authors altogether; that way they can shed even more spine and give those big retailers an even bigger discount.

See the huge weight of the industry there? All of them supported by the work of writers. And the big players in that industry seem to forget that. There are exceptions, often small, independent publishers who are struggling on a daily basis to keep going because they are forever undercut by the big players whose main concern is profit and dividends for their shareholders (and don’t get me started on those bloodsucking scum).

Now, I’m not trying to make out that all authors are ground under the heel of fascist corporatism. Many make a living of sorts. Some do very well. But the vast majority do not. The vast majority are made to feel like they are in the way. And that is the surest way to bring about the collapse of the industry as it exists today. Because now, as never before, authors can take the process into their own hands.

True, the vast majority of self-published work is garbage. Badly written, ignorant of the basics of grammar, poorly formatted, but what the heck. That never stopped mainstream publisher producing garbage of the same standard. And in amongst all that manure there are good books that will, I hope find an audience and free their authors of the tyranny that currently keeps their words from a readership that is hungry for new work.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Still around...

...and still writing blogs. Just not posting them. Partly because they are repetitive and partly because they are loaded with expletives. And by the time I have drafted them, the therapy has worked (until next time).

They are all the usual variations on a theme - an attempt to understand why, when everyone (including agents and editors) tells me what a good writer I am and other writers are prepared to endorse my work (thanks Mike), I still cannot get either an agent or a publisher to take me on.

I know I am not alone in this, but I despair.

And despair and anger is not something to be spreading about at the moment, when the world seems to have been taken over by heartless, greedy bastards intent on kicking ordinary hardworking folk until they bleed. Action is what is required to bring these people down and cast them out.