Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The First Round of Reviews for Porcelain

Released 20th March
It seems I made the appropriate sacrifices to the Criticism Gods –

Upcoming4me says ‘The Boy with the Porcelain Blade packs a lot of punch and is extremely well written in an excellent literary style which is sadly often absent in modern fantasy... The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is a rich, literary fantasy thriller which bodes well for the rest of the series.’

The Curiosity of a Social Misfit wrote ‘The characters are fantastically created here. They feel complete and have multiple layers. I also liked the fact that they're not perfect... Here, there are loads of moments where it feels like the characters won't win, in fact, it feels like the characters won't even make it to the end of the book alive. I loved that feeling of being uncertain about their fates.’

The folks over at The Book Worm (@RadioBookWorm) discuss the book on their podcast. They described Porcelain as ‘OM NOM NOM NOM’ which is probably about as high a watermark as a debut author could wish for. I’ve also recorded an interview with these folks, which I suspect will be online in a few weeks.

Sci Fi Now gave the book a pleasing 4/5, describing the novel as ‘A thriller set in grotesque caricature of Renaissance Italy, The Boy With The Porcelain Blade will appeal to fans of Robin Hobb, Scott Lynch and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Patrick’s writing is rich with detail, describing the intricacies of every finely-tailored doublet and the extent of every ruined battlement. This ornate style fits perfectly with the baroque setting, while fast-paced plotting ensures it doesn’t become a slog to read.’

Beer, Books and Browncoats were equally engaged – ‘Never before have I felt so truly behind a character as I did with Lucien. He is scarred, tormented, bullied and oppressed by the strange society he was born in, but he remains honest. Lucien is not the typical good character amidst a world of evil; he is flawed, violent and reckless but his belief in justice stays true.’

I feel extremely fortunate that people have warmed to the book. Those of you already clamouring for the sequel can rest assured it’s well on the way, currently due January 2015.

Meanwhile, over at Goodreads, there's a giveaway by my publisher, Gollancz. Enter your details HERE.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Response Times, Guest Post by Juliet Mushens

Before I worked in publishing I believed that all agents did all day was read submissions. I genuinely believed that 9-6 – with an hour for lunch – they would be sat at their desk, wading through piles of paper submissions, probably smoking a pipe and wearing tweed. I thought that when they took an author on they would post the submission out to a few editors, and then wait for the money to roll in. But mostly, it was about the reading.

I asked authors on twitter what they felt about how long agents took to respond and the answers I received reaffirmed for me that perhaps quite a few people believe – like I used to – that agents spend all day with the slushpile. (Maybe they also believe the pipe/tweed thing, I can’t be sure.)

‘… it’s slowly soul-destroying…’
‘… it takes too long…’
‘… response times give me a measure of their respect for my time…’
‘… when it’s a no you want it to be quick. Nothing worse than being rejected after months…’
‘… the longer it takes, the more the rejection feels insulting…’

I thought that a bit of myth-busting might be in order, and also might soothe the RSI writers develop from clicking refresh on their inbox.


The vast majority of our day has to be spent working on existing clients. I’ve blogged about my job before HERE and emphasised the fact that I read submissions in lunch-breaks, in evenings, and on weekends. Obviously when you’re just starting out as an agent, with very few clients, you have more time to spend just reading slush, but when you have 30+ clients, 99% of your time is spent dealing with them. I can normally be found editing, troubleshooting any issues clients have, dealing with foreign publishers, negotiating contracts, writing submission letters, answering emails from clients, answering rights inquiries, dealing with covers and page proofs and late edits and auctions and offers and anything in between. I can get up to 500 emails in a day relating to existing projects, and those have to be dealt with before I can even think about new ones.

I work FOR my clients, which means that money processing, doing deals, chasing payments, dealing with their queries and reading their manuscripts comes first. And that’s exactly what authors want from me if they sign with me! They want to be my priority, and for me to work hard for them. I am always looking for new talent – I’ve sold 5 debut authors thus far this year – but the time I spend on reading unsolicited submissions tends to be my free time, rather than during work hours.


When I receive a submission I immediately file it in my ‘submissions’ folder, and flag it. I then tick it off once I’ve read and responded to it. Submissions can hit my inbox at all hours – some at 3am, some on weekends, some when I’m out of the office at meetings – and I don’t get a chance to read and consider each one as and when they arrive. 

Sometimes (maybe 1 in every 300) a submission will hit my inbox when I’m on the bus with nothing to read, and it sounds AMAZING, and I read and respond right away. But I can count on one hand the number of times that happened last year. 

If you don’t hear from me it’s not because I know I want to reject your novel I just haven’t got round to it yet, it is because I haven’t read your novel yet. As soon as I’ve read it, I’ll respond. 


It sounds obvious, but it’s important to consider that it takes time to read. It’s not a matter of me simply looking at something and, Johnny-5 style, immediately absorbing what is on the page. I have to stop to consider it, weigh up if it fits my list, consider if the sample chapters have worth, worry if it needs too much work, analyse how strongly I feel about it. And that takes time. 

Amy Boggs, an agent at Donald Maass literary agency, did some number-crunching: ‘I get an average of 100 queries a week. Because I ask for a synopsis and the first five pages as well, that comes to around 700 pages. So my query pile alone amounts to two books' worth of reading each week. Some weeks this is totally doable. Other weeks I receive two client manuscripts in my inbox and thus read zero queries. Each week I fall behind means more that need to be read the next week, and so pile up occurs.’

For the writer, it’s just one submission, but for the agent it is one of many each day and all of them add up. I received 3,500 submissions of the first three chapters last year, and it’s no quick task to read them all.

Juliet Pickering from Blake Friedmann added, ‘I completely understand that an author is at home alone, wondering why it takes us up to 2/3 months to reply to an email and few of their pages. But times those pages by ten (approx. ten subs a day) and you have 300 pages;  that's 2,100 pages a week to read.’


A lot of writers get hung up on the stories of people who send their book in and overnight have agents clamouring to represent their book. But it all depends on how busy I am at the time and the thing to remember is that the overnight success stories are the exception rather than the rule, and the time taken has little effect in the long run on the success of the book.

Jodie Hodges at UA said, ‘I've taken people on within a week or it's taken months - same end result and didn't affect if/how quickly/for how much money their book sold for.’

Sometimes the quickest agent isn’t the best agent for you. I always say that it’s better to wait, to consider your options, before jumping at the first person to say yes.


Sometimes I’m behind on submissions because I’ve gone away for the weekend. Sometimes I’ve gone to the theatre, or out dancing, or for dinner. 

As Jodie Hodges says, ‘Does an author want an agent who has no grasp of other cultural influences because they have no time to read different books, watch films and TV, go to the theatre?’

Sometimes I do spend all weekend reading manuscripts, but sometimes I want to watch TV, or read for fun, or visit my family. We work long hours and it’s important to get downtime. I took two weeks off from reading submissions over the Christmas break – which put me further behind in my submissions pile – but just like a teacher or an office-worker has annual leave, it’s only fair that we do too.


I think it’s important to learn patience because publishing in general is a slow process. From finding an agent you can sometimes then spend six months drafting and redrafting, another three months out on submission, and then it can be 12 months before the book is published. Ironically, the process of finding an agent – which feels like it goes at a snail’s pace – can be the quickest part of all. I asked a few of my writers how they felt about how long the process takes, and all agree that once you have a book coming out a sort of amnesia takes place: those months of waiting fade away compared to the excitement of knowing that you have realised your dream.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Forthcoming Attractions

The publication date of 20th March draws near for The Boy with the Porcelain Blade and I am pleased to confirm to some events.

I’ll be appearing at Blackwells, Charing Cross Road, London on Monday, March 10th with the excellent Jen Williams. Jen’s debut novel, The Copper Promise, is released by Headline on 13th February. Four installments have been released as an Ebook serial. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s a breath of fresh air, fun, intensely readable and did I mention fun? Jen’s talent for creating likable characters shouldn’t be missed. Much has been made recently of how grim and dark modern Fantasy is. The Copper Promise doesn’t shy away from the darker side of fiction, but there is a lightness of touch that is a real joy to read.

This blog post has deviated somewhat from an events announcement to a book review – never let it be said I’m predictable. 

The second event I’ll be appearing at is on Saturday March 22nd. You can venture to the far away land of Hampshire to get yourself one of famously terrible signatures. I’ll be at the Southampton Forbidden Planet from 1pm. This is my main signing if you will, I may read, I may not.  

A Thing: I worked at Forbidden Planet Southampton for all of about three months a very long time ago. Mainly I worked the till and drank coffee, but I was also given the books department. It was around that time a shaven-headed brute of some notoriety released a book that inspired me to start writing. You may have heard of it, it was called Perdido Street Station. 

Here endeth the history lesson.

Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to visiting Southampton, especially as one Matt Lyons resides there. Matt has been a constant ally in bringing The Erebus Sequence to a readable standard. He is a superb test reader, unafraid to call me out on missteps and fuckery.

It’s been a very long road. It was about this time three years ago I was being made redundant from my job as comics editor. That period of redundancy was a key factor in the creation of The Boy with the Porcelain Blade. I’m currently pinging between some amount of trepidation, relief (Finally! It’ll be OUT), and some concerns over making Book II even more kick ass.

I hope to see you at one of the events,