Friday, 30 September 2016

Shadows of the Oak cover reveal

Among trees, it is understood that the Oak is King. He stands tall, his branches reaching sure and strong into the sunlight. His noble bearing is proud, and he suffers no fools. He offers shade and shelter to those who need it, and he holds firm against the might of the wind for the safety and comfort of his lesser brothers.
But he who casts too deep a shade – who will not bend to allow the light to touch those who shelter beneath his might – should beware. For in the darkness, under cover of fallen leaf and decaying branch, feeding on the damp, dank earth that is their lot, the mould, the rot and the fungi grow and fester. From beneath the splendour of widespread bough and far-reaching root, the weak and wicked wield their own power – a power which devours from below, slow and insidious.
The Oak who does not share the light knows nothing of this dark threat . . . until the very moment he is toppled.
The long-anticipated follow-up to our first fairy tale collection, Willow, Weep No More, is finally on its way, and now it’s time for the new cover to be revealed. In another beautifully detailed original illustration, artist Līga Kļaviņa shows us the reverse view of Willow’s cover and we catch a glimpse of the dark deeds that go on in the Shadows of the Oak.
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Cover art by Līga Kļaviņa, cover design by Ken Dawson
Shadows of the Oak explores the role of the anti-hero in this illustrated collection of original fairytales from thirteen talented authors, to be released in November 2016 as a stunning hardback.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Savour your small victories

FantasyCon 2016  - FantasyCon By T'Sea

For the last few days I've been up North at that there FantasyCon and had a splendid time.


The Grand Hotel (from the beach) - 

I was in Room 00001 deep, deep in the bowels of the hotel - the last window on the left, at the bottom - there would have been a nice view of the beach if the window wasn't so encrusted with filth... the food at the hotel was, er, interesting and the clientele odder than the con-goers (including Brexit man and man telling anti-American jokes) and boy was the Royal Ballroom swampy! But they got the basics right (for me) and I have stayed in worse places!

The Grand Lobby

There were books (including mine)

The Grimbold book table

There were readings (including mine - for which there is no photographic evidence)

BFS award nominee Steven MPoore

The Glasgow SF Writers group

There were panels. Including mine which was a fun one, ably moderated by Alasdair Stuart and which ranged over a wide array of superhero related topics. It was very early in the morning, which is what saved me Friday night - I'd visited a few things with free alcohol but managed to get to bed at a reasonable time so was relatively OK on Saturday...

There were awards

Gemmel Award winner Pete Newman

The (very hot) BFS Awards

Congratulations to all the Gemmell and BFS award winners!

There was karaoke (no photos or videos to spare the guilty)

And, of course, there were many, many conversations in the bar.

One such conversation, far too late on Sunday evening, fuelled by alcohol and quite maudlin, has prompted the title of this post. A few fellow authors - two English, on Italian, one Polish, one Maltese, one Scottish and one who lived in Sweden, sat discussing everything from ancient Egyptian mythology to the Black death to antibiotic-resistant bacteria to exoplanets to Easter Island to, oh many other things, you get the idea. Authors being the modern polymaths, interested in everything really do have the most fascinating conversations.

One conversation we had though, or a sub-conversation, was about why we put ourselves through being writers. Pouring heart and soul into a piece of work only for it to get rejected by all and sundry. To spend literally years writing a book and then struggle to get it published, then struggle to market it then struggle with reviews when it's finally published. Not everyone can win awards, or be nominated for them or even get a publishing deal with the big publishers. And that's why we should celebrate the small victories, and savour them as much as possible. It was fantastic to see friends nominated for awards, and brilliant seeing friends win awards. But I'm so far away from that right now (if I'd even ever get there!) Hence the small victories.

When I got a story published in an anthology for the first time (Airship Shape) I saw that as the first of many, my expectation was that arrogant (thankfully, humbly, other people have subsequently liked my work enough to publish it, for which I am grateful) but another friend, also with his first published story in the same anthology said something at the launch which made me change my expectations, and my attitude. He said - "I am determined to enjoy this experience, because it may never happen again."

And so I always try (sometimes I don't succeed) to enjoy the small victories, as well as the large ones. My small victories this weekend were that I was on the program (doesn't always happen at every Con I go to), I did a reading and the audience was in double figures (better than last time I did a reading at FantasyCon), I sold two books (not a massive amount - but better than not selling any books) and I got to meet and talk to an amazing bunch of industry folk. Some I knew already (including two of the guests of honour), some I didn't.

Being a writer may be hard, and it may occasionally be bleak, but that really does mean that when there are moments of joy you should make the most of them. But like a drug addict you always seem to need another hit, and bigger hits too. Another story is sold? Is it to a more prestigious outlet than the last? Just signed a deal on a new book? Is it a better deal than last time, is it for a better book? etc. Don't be content, use any discontent you have as a spur - "oh they rejected that story? They won't reject the next one!" but do celebrate any victory, however small...

Monday, 12 September 2016

Interview with Dave Hutchinson

Davey Six-Toes
(photo by Cecilia Weightman)

Dave Hutchinson is best known as the author of the Fractured Europe series, the first two books have made the Clarke Award Shortlist. BRSBKBLOG asked him about the latest in the series - Europe in Winter coming in November 2016

Europe In Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

This is the 3rd in the Europe series - what's the general overview for people who aren't aware of them (as if there are still people not aware of them!) & any hints on what the third is about?

The Europe books are set in Europe – no spoilers there – between fifty and eighty years from now. Economic collapse, a flu pandemic, and reaction to a flood of refugees from the South have caused the EU to fracture into its component nations, and then to fracture further into many smaller nations and statelets, some of them stable, others short-lived. The hardening of European borders has proven an opportunity for a group calling themselves Le Coureurs des Bois, who are basically smugglers. The first book, Europe in Autumn, followed an Estonian chef named Rudi as he joins the Coureurs and then gets mixed up in a conspiracy involving a parallel Europe called the Community. The second book, Europe at Midnight, follows two intelligence officers from very different places as they become involved with a plot to derail union between the Community and Europe. And the third book, Europe in Winter, returns to Rudi, who in the middle of investigating what seems to be a massive terrorist outrage discovers that many of his assumptions about the world – and his own life – have been wrong.

Was it an especial challenge or easy to return to the world you created in the first two books?
It was really easy to go back to what a friend of mine called ‘Autumnal Europe’. I’ve had the whole thing ticking over in my head for years. If anything, it’s harder to write stuff that isn’t set in that world. It takes a real mental U-turn.
Last post I made about you was for your short story collection Sleeps with Angels ( do you write a lot of short stories?  
Europe at Midnight by Hutchinson Dave

I used to write nothing but short fiction; I’d been writing for about twenty-five years before I got round to producing a novel. Actually, I think I’m really a short story writer by nature rather than a novelist. I find writing very hard work, and a novel is a huge project for me; at least with a short story it’s over quite quickly. Also, I have quite a short attention span. Having said that, there’s been a spell of five or six years now when I’ve done nothing but work on books, although I’ve recently finished a couple of short stories.

The first two books were nominated for the Clarke has being on a prestigious shortlist twice changed how you approach writing?
The nominations thing has all been a bit mad and wonderful, to be honest. Better writers than me work for years and don’t get a single nod, so the attention the Europe books have received is deeply humbling, and if I’m honest not a little baffling. But I don’t think it’s changed the way I approach writing; it’s still as chaotic as it ever was.
What are you currently working on (apart from this interview)?
I’m working on a non-Europe novel. I’m not sure I should say very much about that, for various reasons, until the publishers make an announcement about it. But it’s very different.

If you could be a character in the series who would it be and why?
Which character would I be? That’s a hard one. Rudi’s the little voice in my head, the sort of person I’d quite like to be, so I’d have to say Rudi.

How much planning and research do you do before a novel?
I don’t tend to plan a lot, but I do usually have some bits and pieces of dialogue and action and a vague idea what’s going to happen. With Winter, I had the beginning and end and a sort of feeling about some stuff in the middle. Mostly I just keep writing and fit it together as I go along. I do a bit of research before starting a book or a story – although quite often that ends up being thrown away because it becomes irrelevant as the story develops. Most of the research takes place while the book’s being written, as and when it’s needed.

Why's your website called "automatic cat"? -
I honestly can’t remember why I called the blog The Automatic Cat; it seemed like a good idea at the time, I suppose. It’s mostly just a place for opinionated and poorly-informed rants and I need to do more of it.
In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?
Advice for new writers? Just keep writing.

Thanks to Dave for the answers - go check out his books, there's a very good reason they keep being nominated for prizes - they are very good!

We're lucky enough to have been sent an ARC for Europe in Winter so expect a review 'soon' (for a given value of soon)

Friday, 26 August 2016

some reviews - House of Shattered Wings, Cinema Alchemist & Under the Skin

Aliette de Bodard - The House of Shattered Wings

Paris has been devastated in a great war between rival houses. Fallen angels are the source of magic in the city and they scrabble around in the ruins vying for domninon. Mortals and immortals all chasing the last wisps of magic in a corrupted world. This book mainly revolves around the story of Silverspires, one of the great houses, formerly the greatest with Morningstar himself as its head. As we follow a cast of characters, as flawed and broken as the city they inhabit.

There is a murder mystery conceit but that just serves as a vehicle for intense character exploration. Mainly of the mysterious Vietnamese Philippe and the ingenue Isabelle, newly fallen and tied to Philippe though his imbibing of her blood (since fallen are the source of magic, people tend to harvest them). There are a host of interesting minor characters, although at the beginnign I was mixing some of the minor, less fleshed out characters up.

There's a lot here to like - the grand houses, the magical system, strong imagery and character. I would have liked to have seen more of post-fall Paris (a city I know quite well through many visits) but it's a world that Bodard will obviously return to. And some of it needs to be returned to I feel, I'd like to explore the under the Seine kingdom more and see inside the other houses so I will definitely return to the world once she writes more.

Overall - Enjoyable aftermath tale featuring fallen angels battling for Paris

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Roger Christian - Cinema Alchemist

Roger Christian is the legendary set designer for Star Wars and Alien and if that in itself doesn't make you want to pick up this book where he tells all about his experiences working on those films then I'm not sure what will.

The iconic nature of the films is such that any insight into how they were made is welcome. But especially the art department's role in creating some of the most recognisable characters - including of course R2D2 & C3PO.

Christian has obviously polished some of the anecdotes that appear in this book and it is a delight to see the films through his eyes, as well as the directors, actors and other crew. Tales of regular ten hour drives back and forth through the desert during low-tech days without mobile phones seem like a different world (the past is a different country after all)

If I had any criticism, and this is only very minor as I hugely enjoyed the book, Christian has the tendency to repeat himself - for example telling you there was a Roman road to Tozeur and then a few pages later telling you the drive to Rozeur is down a straight Roman road or the description of the Chinese restaurant is repeated a page later, or saying that there were no cellphones on page 124 and then repeating it on page 125. It happened so often that it was a little distracting once I'd noticed it and I think a good copy-editor could have picked up on that and smoothed it out for the reader. But, as I say, a minor criticism.

I enjoyed the Alien chapters more than Star Wars, but mostly because I'm a bigger fan of Alien than Star Wars (Geek friends don't hate me!) It was also interesting to read about his own directorial work on his own film Black Angel and his stint on Life of Brian (which re-used a lot of the same locations as Star Wars as any good fan knows)

There are a set of nice photographs of Star Wars and a storyboard of Black Angel but I wondered why there were no pictures of Alien.

Overall - This is an excellent book to add to the shelf if you are a Star Wars or Alien fan or any sort of film buff.

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Michael Faber - Under the skin

This was recently made into a film (a major motion picture in the jargon of the industry) starring Scarlett Johanssen which I haven't seen. It is the story of Isserley, a female driver who cruises the Scottish Highlands picking up hitchhikers. I'm not sure it's much of a spoiler to say - she's an alien - but Faber seems to think so as he doesn't explicitly reveal that fact for a third of the book, although it's obvious from very early on. For some reason that conceit is a little irritating - it's a bit like watching a zombie movie where no-one is saying the z-word. 

The glimpses into the POV of her victims is fairly repetitive, apparently all men can think of are tits - but then again that is her main feature, as Faber continuously tells us.

On a sentence by sentence level this is good writing. It just failed to engage me overly much, although I read it in just a couple of days of easy reading. And in the end it left me a little cold and unchanged. But I do want to watch the film to see how it has been adapted. 

Overall - It may just be a very long advert for vegetarianism

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Interview with Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. She is the author of The House of Shattered Wings, a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which won the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award. She lives in Paris.

Aliette has dropped in to talk about her book - The House of Shattered Wings

Tell us a little about the book - why is it called the House of Shattered Wings?

The House of Shattered Wings is a dark Gothic fantasy set in a decayed and dangerous Paris: in the wake of a devastating magical war, factions are fighting in the ruins of the city for power and influence. House Silverspires, once the first and foremost of these factions, finds itself in a precarious position when a newly-arrived youth from Annam (Vietnam) inadvertently unleashes a curse within its walls. 

It's called that because I brainstormed the title on twitter :) More seriously, the various magical factions are "Houses" because they're geographical units that control a set of streets, but also hierarchical ones that function like quasi-feudal, enormous households. And "shattered wings" refers to a major feature of this universe, which is that amnesiac Fallen angels arrive in the city (and all over Europe), and are the source of the dominant magic: both innate magic-users, and a source of a power that can be passed on to others and/or harvested from their dead bodies... 

And it's got Lucifer Morningstar sitting on a throne in the ruins of Notre-Dame. If that doesn't convince you to read the book I don't know what will! 

What was it about Paris that made you want to set a novel in the city?

Well, I live there :) It was very much a case of "write what you know", or at any rate what is close to hand. I originally set out to write an urban fantasy about families of magicians fighting for influence in Paris--except that my writer brain could never muster any enthusiasm for it. Then I decided I needed a setting that was a little more overtly fantastical, and I decided that destroying the entire city in a magical conflagration sounded about right--I could have a hint of the familiar but also the freedom to make up arresting visuals and an entirely different universe (I swear I don't have a grudge against the city, lol. I just wanted a particular vibe to go with the book, and I've always had a weakness for Gothic). 

Did you do any specific research for the book - was it difficult to stop researching?

I did a lot of research into places, mostly: monuments of Ile de la Cité and their history (trying to find out if there was a crypt in Notre-Dame, for instance, was rather more involved than I thought, since I was on bedrest for health reasons at that time), and also into the history of 19th Century Paris and 19th Century Vietnam, since that was the period vibe I wanted to give to the book. I didn't have trouble stopping to research: what I usually do is stock up on research until I can get a plot to coalesce together. When that happens I usually put away the research books and only dip into them for the occasional detail. 

If you could be one of the characters in the book who would it be and why?

Uh, I don't really think I would like to be anyone in the book, because so many unpleasant things happen to them (it's my job as the author *grin*). But if I had to pick someone I'd be Claire, the head of House Lazarus: she's this old woman who people keep underestimating--running one of the weakest magical factions in Paris, and getting away with it by sowing dissensions among the other factions. I'm not saying I like what she's doing, but she's certainly one of the characters who excels at getting what she wants! 

Do you write a lot of short stories?

I've lost count! I started writing short stories because I thought they'd be easier to get critiques on than a novel (I now know that was a really bad idea, in the sense that while there are common points, knowing how to write a good short story doesn't mean you know how to write a novel). I wrote a lot of.. middling ones before I came to a realisation in 2012--which was that, as uncomfortable as it was, I should focus on things that mattered to me and that touched on my personal history and culture. I ended up writing "Scattered Along the River of Heaven" (, a story that focused on wars, diaspora and forgiveness, and was rather surprised to see it well-received--and I haven't looked back since. 

Do you prefer the short or the long form & why?

I like both, but they're very different beasts! Short fiction is great for mood pieces, for experimenting with structure and unusual voices (all right, I confess to a liking for present person second tense, a POV I'd never try to write an entire novel in), and novels are good for tackling complex themes, complex plots, and for a deeper form of reader immersion. It's easier for a universe to feel lived in in a novel, I feel, because there's more space to show details, texture, and all the things I usually ruthlessly have to cut out of short fiction. 

How do you decide what is a short story idea and what is a novel idea?

Mostly it's a question of depth? Not of the world as I've become rather good at highlighting only the pieces of the world that the plot is interested in: in my Xuya universe stories (they're short stories set in a recurring Vietnamese galactic empire), I don't have too much trouble throwing the spotlight on one feature or another and still keeping the result short. But rather it's plot and characters: in a short story I have a fairly simple plot, and a limited number of characters who aren't spear-carriers; in a novel there's more scope for several entwined stories, longer timeframes, complicated plots... The House of Shattered Wings, for instance, has three main characters, the Vietnamese youth, an alchemist addicted to a lethal drug, and the head of House Silverspires, who's desperately trying to safeguard her faction from the curse; and I had a lot of space for delving into these characters--what made them tick, how their past got them where they are, and also how best to use the plot to put them into uncomfortable places (my way of writing tends to be "how can I make this character's life miserable", accompanied by "what could go horribly wrong here?"). 

What are you most proud of in the book?

Having written it at all I think! I hadn't written a novel in five years, and I started seriously working on this one while I was pregnant: it moved in fits and starts because I had to juggle fatigue, health issues, and later a newborn. I was convinced I would never finish it, and the process was extremely draining. But I hung on because I've always been stubborn (and my agent was kind enough to send encouragement as I was making my way through it). 

You have lots of recipe links on your web page - is food important to your writing? If so how? 

I love food! I'm a foodie (I love to eat well, I love to cook for myself and especially for friends and family, and I'm always on the lookout for new experiences I can try to improve my cooking). And because food is important to me, I feel like it should be important in my worlds as well. If you think about it, how we prepare and eat a meal packs up so much meaning: what kind of staple food and how it gets there (agriculture, commerce), how it is prepared, in what company and what conditions (families, social hierarchies, implements and sources of heat available), how it is eaten (communally, in individual meals, how restaurants and cafés and inns differ from home cooking, food as a sign of social standing), how food plays into memory (childhood meals) and perceptions of home, etc. In my fiction I use it deliberately as an indicator of some or all of those things: there's a scene in The House of Shattered Wings where a magical faction serves shrimp on toast, an indication that, in a devastated country, they can afford to have fresh seashell--it's not only a matter of taste, but also a statement of wealth and power, a "you do not want to mess up with us" sign!

In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?

What you feel while writing something and the quality of that something have absolutely no correlation. 

Thanks to Aliette for her interesting answers - please do go check out her work here 

Ive just started the book so expect a review shortly

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