Monday, 22 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

I thought it was time I got around to filling this out as the very lovely Kim Curran tagged me in her blog post here. Kim writes Young Adult Fiction for Strange Chemistry, an imprint of Angry Robot. I had the good fortune to meet Kim at the Blackwell YA Day, and have since thrown some shapes with her at the FantasyCon disco.

The following questions all relate to my project for Gollancz, which you can read about here, and here from Dark Lord Sir Simon of Spanton (Note: not actually a Dark Lord, is in fact my editor).

What is the working title of your book?

Well, there are three. The Elven Art of War, The Orc Harrowing: A Verbal Tradition and The Dwarven Field Manual. They are known collectively as ‘The War Manuals.’

Where did the idea come from for the book?

At the bar in a very hot hotel during the Gollancz 50th Birthday party. Simon Spanton and I started kicking the idea around. We met up for a drink a few weeks later in the Phoenix (where else?). I hit upon the idea of introducing a translator character who’d add footnotes and pithy opinions.

What genre does your book fall under?

100% High Fantasy. Elves, dwarves, orcs, magic, heroic destinies, possibly even dragons and shadowy nameless evil, all served with dash of sarcasm and (hopefully) wryly observed wit.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Due to the nature of the manuals there aren’t that many characters. However –

La Darielle Daellen Staern (Elf) – I’d have to go with Katee Sackhoff. She was excellent as Kara Thrace in Battlestar Galactica, and she comes with that recognition of ‘here is a woman who can handle herself’. She also has that slightly maverick vibe that is essential for La Darielle. Plus, you know, Katee Sackhoof with elf ears... excuse me a moment.

Kani Breakspear (Orc) – would have to be Ron Pearlman. He’s well used to prosthetics after Hellboy, so going orc will be no problem for the big guy. Plus he’s superb in Sons of Anarchy. He has that fantastic physicality you’d need for a orc Khagan (leader) and good comic timing too.

Sudnin Hallstøm (Dwarf) –  I’m going to go back to Battlestar Galactica again. Can you imagine Edward James Olmos in a huge beard being surly? It’s working for me. He has the right mix of grizzled veteran and steady-as-you-go charisma that would suit a dwarf down to the ground. Bonus points for rousing speeches (So say we all!).

Sebastian Venghaus – would have to be Johnny Depp. He’s very good at foppish characters (Sleepy Hollow, Pirates of the Caribbean), whilst still retaining an edge. He knows one end from a sword from the other and makes a convincing academic. Perfect really.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as written by the three major High Fantasy races.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I lost track to be honest. The Elven Art of War came together very quickly, the orc book took a little longer. The dwarves gave me the most trouble. It was a case of staring at the screen until blood started to form on my forehead, to use the old cliché.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

My editor, Simon Spanton initially, but other factors would include:
– All the Dungeons & Dragons I’ve played
– Not forgetting Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Three years in the trenches for Games Workshop
The Hobbit, it would be criminal not to mention it
The Prose Edda, because you need to go to the source if you’re writing pseudo-Norse Fantasy
– Sun Tzu’s Art of War, much of it is fairly abstract but it did spark some ideas
– The elves borrow ideas from Zen Buddhism, so props to Yamamoto Tsunetomo for Hagakure, and Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki for Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The illustrations. Each book is lovingly brought to life by the very talented Andrew James, who I count myself lucky to call a friend. He’s a ferociously gifted chap and kindly agreed to lend his skills to the project. I was delighted to have him aboard.

Over to the next big things:

Tom Pollock – debut author of The City’s Son, steadily working on the rest of the sequence. All round Gentleman, and winner of the Fantasy Con Dance Off

Will Hill – writer of the Department 19 series. I was lucky enough to sit in at Will’s Masterclass on YA at FantasyCon.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Thoughts on FantasyCon 2012

When I was initially told about FantasyCon I was a little dubious. A con made up of professionals with very few fans in attendance? That seemed like putting the cart before the horse to my mind. And my mind was firmly in fan mode. It’s difficult for me to admit that I’m a writer when the books aren’t on the shelves yet; the war manuals I’m writing for Gollancz aren’t out until next Autumn/Fall. This minor detail aside I figured I could go once and see what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did.

The Friday began with a long overdue catch up with Tom Pollock on the train journey down to Brighton. Tom has been blazing a critically acclaimed trail with his debut The City’s Son.  Impressive. Worth noting: Tom had people queuing in the corridor trying to get into his reading that evening.

Two handsome Gollancz devils at the mass signing.
Joe Abercrombie (L) and James Barclay (R).
Arriving at FantasyCon was a little surreal. You couldn’t turn around without setting eyes on someone familiar, from bloggers to writers and editors too. Naturally I caught up with my favourite Geek culture terrorists Jared Shurin and Anne Perry (from Pornokitsch). Anne was there in her official guise as Editor for Hodder and Stoughton. I also chewed the fat with fellow Pandemonium contributor Glen Mehn.

The Royal Albion Hotel seemed determined to disappoint. Miserable food, surly staff and barely drinkable lager all served as a huge incentive to wander off, which I duly did. Fortunately I wasn’t alone and enjoyed some Japanese food with Jared, Anne Clark (from Orbit) and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Fellow diners are rarely more interesting, or more charming than these.

Saturday was particularly important for me as I announced my signing with an agent, one Juliet Mushens of Peters, Fraser and Dunlop. You can read more about that here. ‘Announced’ sounds quite formal, suffice to say we goofed around at the bar taking pictures to upload to Twitter, then hung out with my editor Simon Spanton and Ed Wilson, an agent with Johnson and Alcock.

Saturday morning was a markedly fuzzy affair.
Determined not loaf around entirely I made sure I got myself along to a couple of Masterclasses and a panel. ‘Ask The Editor’ kicked off at 11:00am and was hosted by Nicola Budd from Jo Fletcher Books. The panelists were Simon Spanton, Gillian Redfearn (both from Gollancz), Oliver Johnson (from Hodder and Stoughton) and Duncan Proudfoot (from Constable and Robinson). It was a packed and rather hot room, and plenty of useful areas were covered, from trying to jump a trend bandwagon (don’t), to what to expect from structural and lines edits.

My main take away from the panel, and indeed the whole weekend was succinctly put by Oliver Johnson. ‘Everything is advocacy in a publishing office’ – if people aren’t passionate about the manuscript they aren’t going to talk about it, and they aren’t going to champion it at that all important pitch meeting.

It might seem a little redundant for a Gollancz author to go to a Masterclass on the editorial process, but I was determined to spend my time as a newbie with my ears open and my brain switched on. The class was neatly divided into two sections. The first covered the editors role as a project manager, and what that entailed. The second half was  dedicated to the manuscript itself and the intricacies of structural editing, developing characters, and avoiding the cursed info dump.

Will Hill, author of the Department 19 series.
My second Masterclass was with Will Hill, as I was keen to discover if my novel The Boy with the Porcelain Ears fitted the genre parameters for a Young Adult (YA) Novel. This might sound disingenuous, but I didn’t write Porcelain with YA in mind, despite it being a bildungsroman and covering much of the ground one could expect to find in a YA book. It was a pleasure to hear Will talk about his experiences as a YA writer. The take away from this class was that a writer should essentially tell the story they want to tell, rather than try and second guess what the YA market wants, or what would appeal to an editor. The integrity of the story is paramount.

After a quick power nap (absolutely nothing wrong with it) I was taken to dinner with my new agent and was delighted to spend time with Suzanne Mcleod, Kim Curran, Amy McCulloch and Adam Christopher. And then it was time for that disco, which may go down in history for having the most gladiatorial dance off in the history of dance offs. The guilty parties were one Joe Abercrombie and Tom Pollock (yeah, him again). Some of the moves were too fast to see, other perhaps quantum, shapes were thrown.

Sunday was mainly focused on breakfast (at the excellent JB’s Diner on the King’s Road) and saying goodbye to the people I’d met, including Twitter folk such as @mygoditsraining @babelfishwars and @ktscribbles

I’d just like to thank everyone who had a hand in putting FantasyCon together, and look forward to seeing you again at the next one. I’m a convert through and through.