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Goodreads giveaway

Just a quick (and belated) update this week, as I’ve been too jetlagged from my day-job trip to California to put together a proper blog post…

Next week I’m doing a giveaway on Goodreads – two signed copies of The Merchant of Dreams are up for grabs. The giveaway runs from 3rd to 6th March, so get in there quick!

View the giveaway on Goodreads

NB: this is a worldwide giveaway – no geographical restrictions – and is for the UK paperback (which is bigger and, IMHO, nicer than the US mass market paperback).

Convention update

I had planned to do a proper report on PicoCon, which I attended last weekend, but since I was unable to go on Saturday it felt a bit unfair to judge the whole event by the second day. So instead I’m going to give an entirely subjective and informal account of my day there, followed by a bit of news about EightSquared aka EasterCon 2013.

PicoCon 2013

Richard Morgan signing “The Steel Remains” for Michela D’Orlando (photo courtesy Michela D’Orlando)
Richard Morgan signing “The Steel Remains” for Michela D’Orlando (photo courtesy Michela D’Orlando)

PicoCon is a small but long-standing SFF convention based at Imperial College, London. Traditionally it’s been a one-day event, but this year the organisers decided to extend it to two days. As with most such arrangements, the second day tends to be the quieter of the two, and since that was the day I attended, there wasn’t a lot happening that I wanted to go to. In fact, to be honest the main reason I went was because Richard Morgan was a guest of honour (see my review of The Steel Remains), and as far as I’m aware he doesn’t attend many conventions so it was a rare opportunity to meet him.

The morning kicked off at 10.30am with a talk by Morgan – and as a result I had to be pretty damned early in order to get a train into London, a tube to South Kensington and then locate the registration desk and lecture theatre. Thankfully this mission was accomplished, and I arrived in plenty of time. The talk itself was very entertaining: Morgan began with a reading from his forthcoming novel The Dark Defiles (the third in the A Land Fit for Heroes series) – thankfully spoiler-free, since I haven’t yet read The Cold Commands! Afterwards he solicited questions from the audience and we got a lot of insight into his writing process – he admitted he has serious trouble planning novels, which was rather comforting! – and his attitude to violence. I haven’t really digested all of the latter yet, but the gist of it is that he sees humans as innately violent and hardwired to be suspicious of strangers, but considers that to be a poor excuse for actual violent/racist/sexist behaviour.

After the talk he did an informal signing in the seating area outside the lecture theatre, which turned into a long chat with us fans, including fellow writers Michela D’Orlando and James Buckley whom I’d met at previous conventions. As a result I didn’t get my hardback copy of The Cold Commands signed before he went to lunch, so I attended another panel he was on in the early afternoon (a general discussion about SFF by writers and editors) and then hung out with him and the others until it was time to go home.

All in all it was a pretty good day, and my only complaint would be that the bar was an awful long way from the lecture theatres, which reduced socialising options a good deal.

EasterCon news

I don’t have a lot of details at this stage, except that I’m reliably informed I’ve already been pencilled in for at least one panel (on cities in SFF) and probably several, so it’ll be another busy working convention for me. I shall be at the convention all weekend (around midday Friday to midday Monday), so I hope to see you there!

The Prince of Lies is handed in!

I’m very happy to say that on Sunday afternoon I finished the first clean(ish) draft of The Prince of Lies and sent it off to my editor Marc Gascoigne at Angry Robot Books. Unlike the previous two manuscripts, this one has been running a bit late – not something I’m proud of, but sometimes these things happen.

The two sweetest words any writer can type?
The two sweetest words any writer can type?

In this case I don’t have any solid excuses apart from inexperience. Tying up all the loose plot threads so that my third book made sense was the hardest part; I knew how I wanted the trilogy to end, but getting there? Sheesh! Talk about herding cats… Anyone who’s read the books will know that by the end of The Merchant of Dreams there are a fair few balls in play, and I had only one book to resolve them all in. My choice, admittedly; I didn’t want Night’s Masque to be one of those sprawling fantasy series that drags on for book after book until the author is utterly sick of it. Better to wrap it all up neatly before my heroes outstay their welcome!

So what now, I hear you ask. Well, there’ll be another round of revising and polishing before it goes off to copyedits, but I need a break from this project in order to get some distance (and avoid burnout), and in any case it’ll be a while before I hear back from Marc and my beta-readers. In the meantime I’m going to catch up on my reading and DVD-watching and generally enjoy having a normal life for a little while.

What, you expect more books?

Yeah, OK so I have a notebook where I’ve been jotting down ideas for a new series, but I’ve not committed to anything yet. I want to let the ideas brew until something jumps out and grabs me so hard I can’t not write it, just as happened back in 2006 when I wrote the first draft of  The Alchemist of Souls. Writing a novel is damned hard work, so it’s worth finding the right idea before knuckling down to it.

I also don’t want to dive into this new project only to have to come to a screeching halt when it’s time to polish up The Prince of Lies. I’m pretty happy with how the book turned out, but I know there are pacing issues and dropped plot threads that need fixing, so it’s going to need all my attention one last time.

And then it really will be The End…or will it?

Prince of Lies, 2nd draft: Chapters 34-38

…and an epilogue!

Yes, I finally finished the second draft of The Prince of Lies yesterday. I’m not going to say too much about it here, as I intend to post on my main blog and don’t want to repeat myself, so I’ll just say for the record that the last few chapters still had a few surprises in store for me. The biggest one was a revelation that put a new slant on events, so that will need foreshadowing in the final edit pass!

As a result of this new perspective I ended up discarding my intended Chapter 35 with its new scenes. It briefly looked like I would be down a chapter overall, then I read the remaining scenes and discovered just how fragmented they were – in my rush to get the story down on paper, I had jumped ahead to the bits I was most certain of, leaving massive gaps in the story flow. Hence I decided to split the final chapter into two so that I could add the missing scenes without it becoming horrendously long. I fear it may still be a bit rushed, but at least it isn’t a train wreck now!

Final word count: 123,488

Material discarded: 26,705 words

So at least I seem to be getting more efficient at writing early drafts! 🙂

Prince of Lies, 2nd draft: Chapters 26-33

Once again I’ve been too wrapped up in the process of writing to stop and blog about it – or more likely too annoyed by the slow rate of my progress to want to talk about it.

These past few chapters have been tricky, in that I had one side of the story pretty well nailed but the other was distinctly shaky (and mostly unwritten). There was thus a lot of new material required, and then I kept stopping and reshuffling the scenes to try and get the maximum dramatic impact out of the revelations – when you can see an event from both sides, the order of scenes becomes crucial if you want to build suspense. I’m not sure if I’ve nailed it yet, but it’s good enough for a first draft.

I’ve thus nearly completed the sequence of chapters before the finale, so I guess you could say I’ve just about finished Act Two – and Act Three is suitably short. Now to re-outline the last few chapters and try and bring this book to a satisfying conclusion!

A Game of Bones: the finding of Richard III

Yesterday morning I was glued to my laptop, watching the press conference announcing the results of the research into the skeleton found in a Leicester car park last year. To cut a long story short, they confirmed that yes, the body is that of Richard III, beyond a reasonable doubt. I was immensely moved by the whole proceedings – after all, Richard is the most vilified king in English history, and this discovery goes a long way towards teasing out the truth from the Tudor propaganda.

But what is that truth? Well, for a start, it confirms that although Richard suffered from scoliosis (a twisted spine) which would have likely left him with one shoulder slightly higher than the other, he was not a “hunchback”, nor did he have a withered arm. So Shakespeare’s representation of his deformities is a gross exaggeration but not wholly without foundation. The remains and the facial reconstruction based on them even fit the portraits of Richard: a handsome young man with delicate, almost feminine hands despite his reputation as a great fighter. Indeed, far from making him appear the wicked king of legend, most portraits show a care-worn figure, perhaps troubled by chronic pain caused by his scoliosis.

Secondly, the Leicester investigation provides touching insights into the events of his death. The body bears several potentially fatal head-wounds, the most severe of which almost certainly killed him, but there are other, minor wounds that seem most likely to have been inflicted after death. Dagger cuts to the face, and stabs to the back and buttocks (areas that would have been protected by armour during the battle), all echo contemporary accounts which say that his body was stripped and tied across a packhorse for transport to Leicester.

None of this, of course, bears much relation to the real mystery associated with Richard: did he murder his nephews (or at least, cause them to be murdered)? I’m not one of those rabid Ricardians who believes he was practically a saint, viciously slandered by the Tudors – as we now know, there were grains of truth in the unflattering physical description presented by Shakespeare, so why not in his behaviour too?

My personal belief is that Richard fully intended to carry out his role of Lord Protector (as set out in his late brother’s will), but found himself thwarted at every turn by the queen and her ambitious relations. Richard was very popular in the North, his home ground, but he was little known in the South and may have been out of his depth at court. Remind you of a certain fictional character?

Rather than back down and see the Woodvilles rule through a child king, he declared the boys bastards (just as Ned Stark in A Game of Thrones tries to disinherit the Lannisters) and took the throne for himself. It turned out to be a disastrous decision, but at the time he might have felt it was the right thing for England, and the House of York. After all his own son, Edward, was still living at this point and his wife was young enough to bear more children.

So what about the princes in the Tower? To my mind there are two possibilities:

1. Richard realised that the princes would be too tempting a target for rebels, and so they had to die. Medieval kings were ruthless in protecting their interests, and perhaps Richard was no exception. Or maybe the king balked at such an act, just as Queen Elizabeth later hesitated over signing her cousin Mary’s death warrant, and it was one of his courtiers who acted in his name.

2. The princes were killed by a Tudor sympathiser looking to simultaneously blacken Richard’s reputation and clear Henry’s way to the throne. The boys’ deaths certainly made Henry Tudor’s job a lot easier. If they had been alive when he defeated Richard, he would have had to get rid of them himself – not a good start to his reign!

The problem is that both are plausible, so I don’t think we’ll ever know which is the truth. It wasn’t to Richard’s advantage to cover up their deaths so clumsily – if he had access to either the living princes or their bodies, why not put an end to all the speculation? – but then unlike a novel, real life doesn’t always make sense. At least his remains have been rescued from their ignominious fate and will now be buried with honour. Richard III was no better than many medieval kings, but I reckon he was no worse, either.