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NaNoWriMo 2012

Way back in 2006 I was struggling to finish a novel—any novel—so I decided to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to push me past the opening chapters, which is where I always used to stall. It worked so well that I did it again in 2007, and those two drafts formed the basis for my first two novels, The Alchemist of Souls and The Merchant of Dreams. They had to be practically rewritten from scratch, but writing them had proved to me that I could indeed finish a novel-length manuscript in a short period of time.

Fast forward to 2012, and I’m trying to finish the first draft of The Prince of Lies, the final book in my Elizabethan trilogy. This is the first all-new book I’ve written since 2007, and I’m still finding the drafting process difficult. My first draft prose is better than it was six years ago (thankfully), but wrangling a novel-length plot doesn’t get any easier! And since the book is pencilled in to be published in November next year, I need to get my skates on!

I’m therefore doing what you might call an “unofficial” NaNoWriMo, in that I’m not starting a project from scratch (one of the “rules” insisted on by NaNo-purists), but I do hope to finish it by the November 30th deadline and it will take me approximately 50,000 words to do that. We have a large NaNoWriMo group here in Cambridge, and joining in with them always gives me a buzz (I’ve used NaNoWriMo in the intervening years to get me through revisions and editing).

Anyway, I probably won’t be online much for the next month (apart from weekly blog posts and occasional @MalCatlyn tweets, which I can schedule ahead of time), so I’ll see you all on the flip side!

@MalCatlyn is back!

To mark the upcoming release of his latest adventures, Elizabethan spy Mal Catlyn will once more be tweeting his exploits for the next three months. Why, you might ask, would a spy be broadcasting his whereabouts on a public network? Well…

  1. He could well be using one of the many cunning ciphers that were invented by 16th-century cryptographer Thomas Phelippes;
  2. He’s a spy, so you can’t trust anything he says;
  3. The internet didn’t exist in 1594, so who’s going to read them? Duh!

As with his previous outing, #malsdiary, I’ll he’ll be tweeting in “real time” (give or take 418 years), segueing into the events of The Merchant of Dreams in January.

Mal’s Diary

Want to read the original “Mal’s Diary” tweets, all in one convenient free download? I’ve compiled an ebook version of the feed for your reading pleasure:

ePub | Kindle | PDF

Mal’s tattoo in the flesh – literally

Back when I was writing the pre-submission draft of The Alchemist of Souls, I rashly promised myself that if I ever sold the book, as a memento I’d get a copy done of the tattoo Mal is given during the course of the story. It felt particularly appropriate since Ambassador Kiiren says that it’s “for remembering”…

The manuscript did indeed sell, and a lot quicker than I expected! However it also happened just before one of the big SFF conventions of the year, so I put off getting the tattoo until I had time between events for it to heal. Weeks turned into months, and logical delays into procrastination (a bit like writing!). I found myself making excuses: I needed someone to design it for me…not true (I’ve worked as an illustrator, I can design a simple tattoo, for heaven’s sake!); this was a serious decision…well yes, but when did that ever stop me from doing rash things before? 🙂

A couple of months ago I realised that if I didn’t get it done ASAP, there wouldn’t be time for it to heal before WorldCon, and then I’d have to put it off—again!—until the end of the 2012 convention season. So, I sat down with sketchpad and pencil and drew a design. Here’s the description from The Alchemist of Souls: “…a knot of thorns surrounded by five-petalled flowers”. At the time of writing I wasn’t exactly sure what it looked like, only that it was meant to represent white hawthorn, a North American species similar to our native English hawthorns. On reflection I decided it was probably a stylised, symmetrical image similar to a Japanese mon (a type of heraldic emblem). I really wasn’t happy with the first attempt and I nearly gave up, but I knew I’d kick myself if I did. Instead I did some research online, looking at real tattoo designs similar to what I had in mind, and tried again.

The initial pencil sketch – thank goodness for protractors!
The initial pencil sketch – thank goodness for protractors!

The second sketch (right) was 1000% better, so I went ahead and drew up a final version in black ink. The hardest part was summoning the courage to phone a local tattoo parlour (recommended to me by a friend) and enquire about appointments. As it happened they were all booked up, but they do drop-in sessions on Saturdays. I duly turned up as soon as they opened on Saturday morning, and thankfully they were able to do it there and then, since it was a small straightforward design. Having made my decision, signed the consent form and handed over payment, I felt a lot calmer—the only way to get out of it now meant making an utter fool of myself!

Thankfully tattoo parlours have come a long way from the grubby backstreet establishments of my youth. The basement of Tattoo Crazy is spotlessly clean and looks like a cross between an art supplies shop and a physiotherapy clinic, with big adjustable reclining chairs down one side of the room and boxes of marker pens and layout paper on the other. In the window, watching over proceedings, is a two-foot-tall wooden statue of the Teaching Buddha with, appropriately enough, earlobes stretched from wearing plugs.

The finished tattoo, a few days later
The finished tattoo, a few days later

The procedure took a little over an hour. To begin with it was a lot less painful than I expected—it felt a lot like being drawn on with a very fine fibre tip pen—but towards the end it did get rather uncomfortable, as my arm and neck were stiff and Thomas (my tattoo artist) was going over areas that had already been done, filling in gaps and generally tidying up the design. I was thus very glad when it was over, but also thrilled with the finished tattoo. In tracing the design for transfer, Thomas had tidied up my rather wobbly flowers but left the more meticulously drawn thorns as-is; as a result, the design is superficially symmetrical but not so rigidly so as to look like it was drawn by a computer. Which is fortunate, since it’s supposed to have been drawn freehand by a skrayling!

I’m told that tattoos are addictive and it’s rare for people to have just one, but this one is so personal that a second tattoo would have to be something pretty special to merit a place alongside Mal’s hawthorn.

Chicon 7 Schedule

An unexpected post today, as I belatedly* received my Worldcon schedule this morning!

Thursday 30th August

4.30-6pm  Signing

Friday 31st August

9-10.30am Panel: Writing gender roles in science fiction

1.30-3pm Panel: “To Be” or not “To Be”: constructed languages in SF&F

Saturday 1st September

10.30am-12pm Panel: Why I love my editor

6.30-7pm Reading

So, a busy couple of days at first, then I’ll be chilling out on Sunday so that I can enjoy the rest of the con without collapsing in a heap!


* I didn’t receive my confirmation email at the same time as everyone else – must have been lost in the ether, or perhaps caught in a spam trap? – so on impulse I contacted the organisers yesterday, just in case. So glad I did!

Chapter 1 of The Merchant of Dreams

Last week, the first chapter of my forthcoming novel The Merchant of Dreams premiered on Staffer’s Musings. In case you missed it, or more to the point would like to read it offline, I’m posting it here as various downloadable formats. No doubt there will be a longer excerpt available in a few months, just before the book comes out!

ePub [wpdm_file id=18] Kindle [wpdm_file id=19] PDF [wpdm_file id=17]

HTML (on Justin’s blog)

(Please note that the text has undergone minor edits since I sent it to Justin. Nothing significant, just a few words here and there.)

Ask Me (and 9 other debut authors) Anything!

Justin Landon of Staffer’s Musings is holding a special blog event this July, Debut Authorpalooza, which will showcase the work of ten debut fantasy authors from 2011/12, including yours truly. Visit Staffer’s Musings on the dates below to read about the trials of writing the second novel in a series, read exclusive extracts from forthcoming novels, and enter giveaways. Yep, that’s the first public release of Chapter One of The Merchant of Dreams, plus a chance to win copies of my books!

There will also be an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on the evening of July 19th (7pm CST, i.e. 1am the following morning UK time), where you can ask us all questions. Since it’s at a crazy time on this side of the Pond, I’m not sure if I’ll be around during the actual session, but will definitely drop by as soon as I get up the next morning to answer any questions. So, fire away!

The ten authors will be contributing guest posts as follows:

Week 1:

7/16: Mark Lawrence
7/17: Kameron Hurley
7/18: Elspeth Cooper
7/19: Courtney Schafer
7/20: Stina Leicht

Week 2:

7/23: Teresa Frohock
7/24: Mazarkis Williams
7/25: Bradley Beaulieu
7/26: Anne Lyle
7/27: Doug Hulick

So, don’t forget to drop by Justin’s blog and Reddit to find out more, and good luck!

The Alchemist of Souls – now in audiobook!

June is Audiobook Month, so I’m delighted to be able to contribute with my own slice of aural entertainment. You can now wrap your lugholes around the adventures of Mal, Coby and friends with the latest co-production between Angry Robot Books and Brilliance Audio. Read by Michael Page, award-winning narrator of Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, this is an unabridged edition of The Alchemist of Souls. That’s 15 whole hours of Elizabethan intrigue, romance and action – enough to entertain you through quite a few commutes.

I’ve been listening to it myself the past few days, partly to find out how Michael got on with the skrayling names and languages, and partly to try and absorb the rhythm of my own prose when read by a great narrator. Of course there’s the small problem that I do occasionally wince and wish I’d written a sentence better, but that’s part of the learning process 🙂

What’s particularly interesting about the narrator is that he’s a professor of theatre with a particular interest in Shakespeare – I do hope he enjoyed reading the theatrical sections and didn’t find my made-up play too terrible! He certainly does a good range of accents and voices, and does a creditable job of pronouncing all the skrayling stuff despite not having had a pronunciation guide from me (I guess my orthography was a success, then!). In some respects he pronounces it better than I do, since I’m rubbish at a trilled ‘r’; he does speak it rather slower than the skraylings would, but that’s perfectly understandable. At some point I shall post a pronunciation guide on my website, and perhaps a bit of background information about the languages, for the delectation of the conlangers out there.

All in all I’m delighted with the end result, and hope you enjoy it too. The audiobook is available from Audible, Amazon and the iTunes Store – see my Alchemist of Souls webpage for links. For more about Audiobook Month, search for the #JIAM2012 hashtag on Twitter or see the link at the top of the page.

The Merchant of Dreams: publication date confirmed

I’m very happy to announce the publication date of the second book in the Night’s Masque trilogy, The Merchant of Dreams.

Ebook & US paperback: 18 December 2012

UK paperback: 3 January 2013

Now, before you grumble that the US is getting the paperback edition ages before the UK, the explanation is simple. Usually the US publication date is near the end of the month, but that means a Christmas Day launch date, which is less than ideal! So, the US date has been brought forward a week, whilst the UK date has to remain where it is to, again, prevent a clash with Christmas. All clear? Awesome.

Below is the (draft) back cover text:

Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year. But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.

When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice—and a conflict of loyalties that will place Mal and his friends in greater danger than ever.

So, all I need to do now is finish writing the damned thing! Wish me luck…

The Merchant of Dreams: finished cover

Last week I got my first glimpse of the gorgeous cover art for Book 2 of the Night’s Masque trilogy, and thanks to some hard work by artist Larry Rostant and Angry Robot supremo Marc Gascoigne, I’m now able to reveal the finished article:


As you can see it features Mal Catlyn’s partner in crime, Jacomina “Coby” Hendricks, ready for action on the murky streets of a certain Italian city…

I’m particularly pleased with this cover, as I really wanted Coby to feature on it since she again plays a significant role in the book. I gave Marc a detailed brief of what I envisaged, and he and Larry have translated that perfectly. The timing is also ideal, as I’ve just started work on the final revisions, and this image is really going to help focus my imagination on the atmosphere I want for the book.

The Merchant of Dreams is due to be published in spring 2013 – watch this space for more news!

Eastercon 2012

This weekend I was at Olympus 2012, the 63rd annual convention of the British Science Fiction Association, affectionately known as Eastercon. Mostly I was there to promote my newly published novel The Alchemist of Souls, but thanks to guest of honour George R R Martin it turned into somewhat of a Game of Thrones fan-fest!

I arrived around midday on Good Friday to find the convention already well underway and my book selling like hot cakes on the Angry Robot stall. I was determined to take it easy, as I had a busy schedule on Saturday, so I spent the afternoon catching up with friends and drinking as little alcohol as I could get away with (well, I could hardly refuse the champagne that Lee from AR bought to toast my book publication, could I?). I took myself off to bed early and was up equally early next morning, ready to face the world. Literally.

Hmm, where shall I conquer next?
Hmm, where shall I conquer next?

First up was the biggest event of the weekend, for me at least: a panel called How Pseudo Do You Like Your Medieval? with none other than George R R Martin himself. I met him in the green room, and he proved to be very friendly and easy-going – the farthest from a primadonna author that you can imagine. The other panelists were Juliet E McKenna, whom I’ve known for several years, and Jacey Bedford, who carried herself with aplomb despite this being her first ever convention panel. We were ably moderated by Anne C Perry, better known as co-founder of Pornokitsch and the SFF literary award The Kitschies, and I soon forgot that we were being filmed and live-streamed over the internet.

After all that excitement it was time for a quick lunch before my reading. I’d managed to forget to sync a copy of my book to my iPad, so I had to borrow a paperback from the Angry Robot stall. Fortunately I did this before my panel, as they were rapidly selling out. In fact, by the time I went back down to the dealers’ room to do my signing, the only copy left was the one I had read from! A great result, although Lee is probably kicking himself for not taking twice as many copies…

The afternoon was enlivened by an extra session, not featured in the original programme – an hour with cast and crew members from A Game of Thrones. First up was a fight demonstration by Jo Playford, aided by Miltos Yerolemou (Syrio Forel) and volunteers from the audience. Of course it was all about how to make a fight look good whilst remaining safe – rather the opposite of what I try to achieve in my fiction! – but nonetheless interesting to watch (and Miltos was very funny, ad-libbing to the audience). After that was an interview with John Bradley-West, who plays Samwell Tarly. John hung around afterwards and I got to chat to him in the bar that evening. Well, I did say it was a bit of a fan-fest 🙂

The Radisson Edwardian - a typical convention hotel
The Radisson Edwardian - a typical convention hotel

My final duty of the day was a panel on world-building with Chris Wooding, Simon Spanton, Suzanne McLeod and Robert VS Redick. Thankfully that was in one of the smaller rooms, though still well-attended, and we had a good discussion comparing real-world and secondary world fantasy. The evening was a social whirl, meeting lots of new people as well as hanging out with big-name authors like Joe Abercrombie and the aforementioned Mr Martin, and by Sunday I was exhausted! On Sunday morning I just managed to get to my final panel, on fantasy in Shakespeare, then retired to my hotel room to nap and follow the convention on Twitter.

Monday morning was spent catching up with friends once more, and of course the obligatory photo perched on the Iron Throne (above), which had been set up in the hotel reception. My husband collected me around noon, and we headed home to Cambridge, via lunch at Carluccio’s in Chiswick. All in all, a fantastic if exhausting convention – I’m just glad that AltFiction, this coming weekend, is a much smaller event!

A final thanks to all my friends, of whom there are far too many to mention, though I will give special shout-outs to Mike Shevdon, Tom Pollock, Laura Lam and Kim Curran, all of whom have books out in the next twelve months. Here’s hoping you guys sell out too!