I have a plan...

Not a 'new year's resolution'. Don't believe in them. If you want to do something, do it - don't wait for Jan 1

So, there I was, trying to relax of the holiday and just feeling edgy because I wasn't 'working' on something. Aphrodite's Dawn will hopefully be out in January, Warrior Stone is out looking for a home, and I'm catching up on reading - but that's not 'working'.

So the grand plan is that I will write at least three short stories from my 'ideas pile' and do at least three book outlines before I start on my next novel. Looking forward to it. It will be a nice change, and you know what they say about a change being as good as a rest.

Have a wonderful New Year, and I sincerely hope the next twelve months moves you smoothly towards your next life goal


Review - "Demon Trappers: Forsaken" by Jana Oliver

Right, lets get this out of the way here and now. Up front. Before we get in to anything else. I refuse to let jealousy taint this review. Got that? Fine, then I'll continue.

I finished this, literally, thirty minutes ago. It impressed the hell out of me. It pushed every button, and I have just ordered the next volume and downloaded it to my Kindle. That I have to wait until March for the third volume is intolerable - but at least Jana seems to write quickly and Pan-Macmillan are churning them out with only a six month gap.

This story has everything a YA story needs (at least, in my opinion). Riley is a wonderfully strong female lead, instantly visualisable and you identify with her before the middle of page 2. The male supporting characters are all believable and extremely three dimensional and, despite being surrounded with eye-candy and potential relationships, Riley doesn't descend into gooey-heartthrob-land. Don;t get me wrong, the boys are most certainly not ignored - it just romance isn't the main focus. The threat's are all very real, and the tension high.

The story is tight, very well paced and expertly balanced between action and introspection. Riley is confronted with the boss from hell, a new school and a new bitch-squad, family problems, boy problems, and still wants to catch demons in between. Only, it seems the demons have something similar in mind for her, and that's not good.

Wouldn't say I couldn't put it down, but it was real easy to pick it up again and I read it in a week. Five stars, and more, please :)


Deadly Dares

I've just finished 'The Deadly Dare Mysteries' by Malorie Blackman, and I read it mainly on the recommendation of my 10-year-old niece.

I have to say it was something of a revelation. I don't read children's books. I guess properly this would be classed as 'MG' (middle grade). I loved all three stories in this book. It was pacey, humorous, and neatly wove in messages about trust, honesty, anger management, and being their for friends.

But, as a writer, it raised a couple of questions. The first of these was that sometimes the 10 yr old protagonists spoke with vocabulary or phrasing that simply didn't seem appropriate for their age. Two examples are boys saying "satisfy your need for concrete and absolute proof" and "was not as spontaneous as it looked". I may be out of touch- not having boys of that age - but it seems out of character. I've always been told that its a no-no. Its certainly not something I would expect the target audience to pick up on, though, and I guess it develops their vocabulary. So here I'm wondering if it was deliberate.

The second thing that struck me was differentiation. In three stories we have threats of extreme violence, being threatened with a gun, several kinds of verbal intimidation, attempted murder, lying, cheating, being deliberately run over, burgalry... I think there's more but I can't remember all of them. So where is the differentiation? OK, so perhaps here is less graphical description of the gorier bits, but the only thing that seems missing to me is any deeper relationship (or pre-sexual context).

I'm not cocking snooks at any genre, or any book or style of writing. I'm genuinely curious what - apart from the ages of the protagonists - makes this MG rather than the younger and of YA, and I'd be more than happy to enter into a discussion here or on facebook about it, if anybody felt the urge


Publishing news

Proxima , who are publishing Aphrodite's Dawn, have recently announced 'major changes' for the new year. Can't wait to see what they are. Its almost like an extra Christmas present.

Both House of Murky Depths and Angry Robot have launched new YA focused imprints (called Murkee and Strange Chemistry respectively). Have to say I'm very impressed with Strange Chemistry so far; very positive and active, with a busy discussion board already. Worth a visit at strangechemistrybooks.com

My new novel is all finished. Its got a working title of 'Warrior Stone: Underland' and I'm taking a break now until the new year. I want to catch up on some reading, and then I'll start trying to find a home for 'Warrior Stone'.


New Blood

I was doing the Santa Run this weekend, delivering Xmas cheer to relatives in Wiltshire. Whilst its always a pleasure, especially to see my niece, on this occasion she was even more animated than usual.

She had discovered books :)

While the rest of the family bustled and jabbered around us, I spent more than an hour in a one-2-one with this astonishing 10-year-old, talking about her favourite authors (currently Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman) and how the teachers were pacing them, what she was allowed to read, what she didn't think she was old enough to yet. Her face lit up as she told me of characters and storylines (I went out and bought Blackman's Deadly Dares on her recommendation) and I cant remember having a more rewarding time for ages.

But what I walked away with (apart from a new reading list) was a worry; and that being what - if anything - I can do to feed these tiny flames of enthusiasm. I see my niece maybe twice a year. I dont want to interfere with what sounds like a good job by her teachers, but before long she will be going to senior school.

Maybe the best thing is to do what I did on Saturday - and listen when she wants to talk.


New Feature

During a conversation with the excellent new YA imprint 'Strange Chemistry', I realised I hadn't carried over one of the features from my alter ego's blog; namely my 'what am I reading' box. I know its something of a vanity, but why not.

Like I've said elsewhere, though, don't expect me to review everything I read. For one thing I don't always have the time, and for another I'm chicken. Being a new writer, I really don't want to go around annoying the very people I may need to be networking with. Does that make me a bad person? I don't think so. Its pretty much the same policy as Stephen Fry.

Still no update on a publication date for Aphrodite's Dawn. As soon as I know, you'll know


New YA imprints announced

Busy day today on the announcements front. First, Angry Robot announce a new YA imprint and then, to my lasting delight, Terry Martin, of the House of Murky Depths has also announced that he is venturing into the younger reader's market, starting with a book by the very talented Kim Lakin-Smith called 'Queen Rat'. Keep up with the news on Terry's blog.

I knew I should have spent more time chatting with him at FantasyCon :)

Review: Hard Magic by Larry Correia

I don't often review stuff. If you aren't just a reviewer, its so easy to offend friends and colleagues by giving their books anything but glowing praise. I should know. Even through we all say 'tell me the truth', there is a part of us that still doesn't like to be told our latest baby isn't perfect.

This, though, is an exception. 'Hard Magic' blew me away almost as soon as I started listening to it (I consume a lot of audiobooks). With audiobooks, the narrator is hugely important. Who is reading it and how can make or break the best book in the world. All it needs is a screechy voice, or an irritating odd pronunciation of a word, and the book is lost. You could call it a limitation.

Bronson Pinchot narrates Hard Magic, and he is masterful. He easily passes between an eighty year old man dying of a wasting disease to a teenage Okie and all points in between, making you believe each voice, and is a one man theatrical experience.

Correia is a force to be reckoned with, and can I first point out how deeply annoyed I am at how many really good ideas he has consumed in this book - and I wish I had used them first. The story has 1930's Steampunk, Alternate reality, Urban Fantasy and even elements of science fiction bound together by one of the most original interpretations of magic I've seen for a while, with a kind of Micky Spillane tone over the top of everything.

All right, the overall shape of the story is a fairly well used 'team of slightly under-powered supers taking on the invincible bad guy', but Correia twists it just enough to make it feel almost fresh, and it actually gives the story a somehow comfortable frame to hang in while he does all the other clever bits.

One of two of the characters lack dimension, but they tend to be minor, and the depth of the half-dozen or so prime movers more than makes up for this slight. Shining above them all is Fay (or Faye) who is one of the most masterful pieces of characterisation I have seen in a long time; starting as an almost co-incidental nobody in the first chapter, and ending up as the one person you really care about by the end.

It's not for the younger reader, and there is bad language and violence. But it was simply too good not to say something.


The fine art of...?

I saw an interesting FB post last night. I wont say who by. I don't want to start any conflicts. When I started reading it, I thought it was a really positive and carefully thought out article, pointing out that there is a massive amount of attention being given to these horrible poppy burning extremists - and yet nobody is giving any publicity to the hundreds of Muslims who go out collecting for the British Legion.

It was really disappointing that the post almost instantly degenerated into anti-government and anti-establishment ranting that had nothing to do with the original post.

I can already hear most of you saying 'so what', and yes this sort of thing happens all the time. What disturbed me was the well reasoned argument I typed in - and then deleted! It took me a few minutes to understand why I had done it.

This is the name I publish Young Adult fiction under. My alter-ego publishes other stuff. In either case, it seems my politics and views don't always fly in the same direction as those of my peers, and the people I hope will some day publish me. I'm not used to worrying so much about what other people think of me. I'm certainly not used to worrying about what I say. I have a right to my opinion, and in most cases the right to state it, and in the past I've never been too backward in exercising either.

So am I constraining myself to present a certain image, or am I just growing up a little and learning to keep my mouth shut?

Beats me :)


Of mice and mean... and women and cats

its 0540. I'm sitting down to eat my hoops, the wife has just ascended for morning ablutions. The catflap clatters, and a moment later, my heart sinks as I hear one of the cats growling. Growling is not a good noise.

There's a ginger flash in the corner of my eye, and then he's crouched under the airing horse, growling again, holding a fat mouse between his paws. "Oh, let it be dead," I wish. He moves, it isn't, and we suddenly have a rodent problem.

Now I'm the insect man. Deb deals with mammals, and heaving furniture around trying to trap a well fed and agile mouse under a box is definitely a team sport - except this mouse is Olympic class. Eventually, we give up and allow the cat back in, who eventually deigns to take an interest. Mouse is distracted by two predators at the same time and, after one false start where the cat ends up under the box, said mouse if duly incarcerated, transported, and released back into the wild.

I love my cats, but sometimes.......



Woo Hoo. Just finished the first draft of my new YA novel. Bit of a 'working title' at the moment, but I'm leaning towards something like 'Warrior Stone: Trapped in the Under"

Now I shall tuck it away in a corner and let it ferment. I have another story to edit, a round of crits to write, and I need to focus on getting ready for the launch of 'Aphrodite's Dawn' in December.

No end in site, which is just how I like it :)


"Cyrus Darian & the Technomicron" by Raven Dane

When I do reviews, I always think its important to balance the bad against the good. Even an atrocious book has some good in it somewhere.

Raven Dane sometimes makes an unorthodox use of the comma.

Right, that's the bad point out of the way. This was a rip-roaring adventure in the best tradition of steampunk and I loved it from end to end. There really was nothing I didn't like about the story (apart from the occasional comma). Cyrus is a totally lovable rogue, and his main sidekick, the demonic Belial a wonderfully tortured soul. The other characters fit around him like a glove and the baddies are at once wonderfully simple yet with unexepected depths that are peeled slowly away as from an elegant onion. Even the structure of the book itself is comfortable; its dense enough to feel you are getting a good literary chew out of the pages, but the chapters are sort and snappy and give plenty of places you can put the bookmark without feeling you are breaking off in the middle of things.

All through the read I would get delicate scents of 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', Artemis Fowl, and even slight notes of Sherlock Holmes and (oddly, but from the baddies) Dr Who. Having said that, the style and the tone are very uniquely Raven's.

I very rarely include plot line in my reviews. Its far to tempting to slip something in that might be a spolier. What I will say is that this would appeal greatly to anybody who liked, for example, the 'Mortal Engine' books, as well as any of the tales mentioned above.

I sincerely hope there is to be a sequel. First class read, five stars.


"This is the quickest way down" by Charles Christian - Review

Christian has put together an intriguing collection of stories here. Its a short book, with eleven stories, but its a classic example of quality over quantity.

Particulary worth noting are "Waiting for my Mocha to Cool", "Already Gone" and "Empire State of Mind", but I'm not going to tell you anything about them. Its too easy to accidentally give out spoilers on short stories, but the book is a great collection of ghost stories, supernatural and sci-fi.

What I will say is I love the way Christian writes. Its smooth and elegant without being overly literary. Sometimes it feels as though literary authors can be shoving how clever they are down your throat, but Christian eases you along and makes it very difficult to put the book down.

If there is one slight smudge on the shine, its the last story. "By the Steps of Villefranche Station" is not a bad story, but it doesn't quite have the polish of the others. It feels as though it might have been written some time before the others. 

Not enough to stop me giving this a full five stars, though. Nice work, Mr Christian :)


Review: Mrs Darcy vs the Aliens

Mrs Darcy vs the Aliens, by Jonathan Pinnock (Proxima, 2011)

This book will make people look at you. It will make you make a fool of yourself in public places. Your life-partner will ban you from reading this book at bedtime. You will be glared at on public transport.

This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is a book that makes you laugh out loud, uncontrollably. Consistently.

Unusually for outright comedic novels, there is actually a storyline rather than just a skeleton on which to hang the jokes. There are aliens, they are trying to take over the world, and Mrs Elizabeth Darcy is at the middle the effort to prevent this happening. That the aliens are shape shifters serves to throw confusion into the bona fides of some of the rest of the cast, and to top it off there are strong hints of temporal anomalies.

The greatest appeal of the book, though, is undoubtedly the humour; at times delicate, at others brutish, Pinnock even makes use of the delayed punchline; dropping an amusing seed, then slapping you with a guffaw when you had almost forgotten it. To me, this was a blend of Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde.

Thoroughly recommend it if you don't mind standing out in a crowd, or disturbing the bucolic paper rustlers on the 8.15 into work.


FantasyCon Rocks

Oh Wow!
This was the best weekend I can remember in an awfully long time. Better than my last two overseas holidays! I met so many of may facebook friends I've built up over the last year, and they all turned out to be even nicer 'in the flesh' than they are online. Special mentions to Simon Marshall, Raven Dane, Terry Martin (of Murky Depths) and the incredible Sam Stone, Queen of Vampire Fiction, and deserved winner of this year's awards for Best Novel and Best Short Story.
On a personal note, we launched Proxima books and each of us did a short reading from our books - great fun, and the first time we have all met. Also, because I have a short story in the BFS anthology, I got to sit on my first signing. I must of signed twenty of thirty books.
There were some horror stories about hotel rooms, but I have to say ours was fine. Brighton was nice too, with great places to eat.
I could rant on for hours. Probably enough to say I signed up for next year while I was there :) Corby, brace yourselves. FantasyCon is coming to town


FantasyCon Update

More information about the Proxima launch at FantasyCon. Its still on Saturday 1st, and still at 10 am in the Rogue's Bar. All the attending authors and our esteemed editor will be giving short readings from our various books, and I'm up right behind the introduction and the first reading by Steve Haynes, our editor, from 'Aly's Luck'. After me, Charles Christian, Niall Boyce, and Jonathan Pinnock.

Hope everybody is gentle with me. This will be the first time I have publicly read any of my work :). What an awesome experience, though. Whoda thunked it?


Fantasy Con Looms Ever Closer

I cant wait for Fcon. I really cant. Just the book launch schedule already has me all of a flutter. On the Friday afternoon at 5pm I get 1/40th of the glory of Full Fathom Forty being launched. Then on Saturday at 10 my publisher, Proxima, launches not just the imprint, but two of their hottest authors, and then at 11 Sam Stone lainches her 4th book int he vampire gene trilogy. All, I believe, in the Bar Rogue. Who needs the rest of the program? :)


Cool Animation

My editor at Proxima seems to have been spending his vacation time scourinfg the net for cool animations and imagery. He found one by Fragomatix that looks a lot like how I imagined Aphrodite would look, and an amazing short cartoon by a guy called Jonathan Harris that sort of fits in with another Proxima book coming out this year, 'Hikikomori'. Go take a look here on Proxima's website


And away I go. I have 22 typed pages of backstory, background material, story outlines, and a dozen reference web pages.

It's time to start writing. Under:The Novel is officially started.

Now what would be really nice is if someone decides they like the short and publishes it, and then you can all get a hint of what the novel will be like. I like to have my cake and eat it :)


Kids dont read books, sez BBC

How was that for a newspaper style headline. Not so good, I know.

I just saw a disturbing report on the BBC's website. This is the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14621621

Apparently, less than 50% of children (8-17) read at least one novel a month. Superficially, I suppose, this makes for a good 'shock/horror' headline in the best tradition of British media.

But when you dig down into the article, you pull out little snippets like "just under half said they enjoyed reading a lot". This sort of thing - deliberately misrepresenting statistics to bolster an otherwise 'meh' headline - really annoys me. Its up there with 'taking [insert benign medication] doubles risk of [insert horrible disease]'. No real information, just the sensationalism.

I take some comfort for this report. Half of kids still like to read. That's a good thing. Boys read more comics and girls read more books and magazines. Also not unsurprising.

The only thing that does make me raise my eyebrows is the news that ebooks come bottom of the list for 8-17 year old readers. I would have expected a bigger pickup in the tech. After all, even girls like smartphones and laptops.

So I think I'm happy to go with glass slightly less than half full on this one.


Making work for myself

Why did I decide to write speculative fiction? Crime thrillers would be so much less effort, or romance, even. At least they are based in the real world.
But maybe that's why. I'm sitting here with thirty sheets of handwritten notes covering everything from the rules of magic to what people eat, from who is best at doing what, through to maps of important areas that exist nowhere except in my head. And I haven't even started on the plot yet!
Every time I start a new story, short or novel, I have to build a world. Usually from scratch. All of us writers of speculative fiction do, to one extent or another. Maybe that's why there are so many massive trilogies, or stories set in a common milieu, like The Culture.
And I guess that's part of the fun. Its also a huge source of frustration, when you find you cant do something because earlier in the universe you decreed magic worked a different way. Do you stick to the rules, or bend them? All up to you. How much do you want to rewrite.
Still, this universe has the scope to host several stories. Doesn't make me any more or less careful with it, and doesn't change how much detail I put in, but it make me think a little farther ahead.
Should be able to get to the plot by the weekend. Can't wait. The Under is such a rich universe, the options are going to be endless :)


Full Fathom Forty

You have to love the cover art for this antho. So pleased to be appearing in it



I'd almost forgotten how nice it is to be in that creative space where you are discovering where your next story is going to take you. Now that I've done as much as I can (for now) for the story I started in January (one written under my other, secret identity), its time to start scoping out the next project, and it looks like an unexpected front runner has made itself known already.

I had three possibles that had been kicking around since the new year; two were already more developed (a sequel to 'Aphrodite's Dawn' and a straight-ish fantasy tale) but its the runt of the litter that has suddenly taken off. After all, its a little over-confident to write a sequel for something you don't know if people will like :)

Plots and backstory and characters are all crowding around and jostling to be noted down. All I will say for now is that it is going be something of a Steampunk/Urban Fantasy cross.


New YA Fantasy and SF Podcast

Cast of Wonders is a new podcast specifically for younger readers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy fiction. I've subscribed, listened to the first two stories, and I'm impressed. Great stories and good production.
Cast of Wonders comes from the same stable as Cast Macabre, and other of my regular subs, also with a great selection of stories. Both are worth looking at 
I commented on the Cast of Wonders forum about this week's story, "The Unicorn Tree" by Alethea Kontis. I am not a great contributor to forums usually, but this really impressed me and I felt I had to tell them so.
Definitely worth a visit


Is Young Adult literature becoming too sexually explicit?

Hard on the heels of the recent furore over YA stories being too violent and gritty, it seems we now have to go through the same process with sexual content. Depending on who you talk to, 'sexual content' can be anything from kissing with intent right up to 'doing it'.

Tracy Clark-Flory, a staff writer at The Salon, recently put out a very well balanced argument (found via YARN) against the finding of a recent survey on the subject. Its well worth a read, and its unsurprising to find out who sponsored the research.

I was lucky when I grew up. My local library with the imposing and - to a ten year old - endless Bristol Central Lending Library, who were kind enough to let me check out adult books from the age of 12. I got my introduction violence and sex from James Bond, and my first exposure to romance from 'The Green Grass of Wyoming' (yes, embarrassing, I know).

Maybe books for a younger audience are getting more explicit. Personally, I don't see the issue. I don't write stories that preach, or try to educate my readers about real life events. I try to write things that are relevant, but escapism; something to take you away from the real world for a time. Teen readers are going to find books to read that interest and excite them, even if they have violent or raunchy themes, and they will get them from the adult market if they cant find them in their own section of the bookstore.

But maybe, in the YA literature that makes some older people uncomfortable, there is an opportunity for the people who are they are written for to find out about stuff in a way that's more relevant to the age they are. Life is very different between 14 and 24.


Full Fathom Forty

The British Fantasy Society ( a fine body of slightly strange people) decided to bring out an anthology to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the BFS. This will be free to members and available to buy for non-members.

And why would I be mentioning this? Because my story 'Jack in the Box' is in it, along with forty other stunning stories lovingly selected and edited by David J Howe. I am really proud to be sharing paper with the likes of Graham Masterton and Sam Stone. 500 pages!

Its available for preorder, and  you can find out who else is in it here


"What I did on my Holidays"

Editing, mostly :)

Well, that's not entirely true, but it was a great way to pass the time when the weather kept us pinned down. I have another story I am editing, and I am in a 'writer's group' where we share things we have written with each other and make comments on it.

I did get to go to a few places though. The Eden Project was interesting - but make sure you buy your tickets online before you get there (otherwise its really expensive). Lots of walking and the Rainforest Biome was like a sauna. The food is really different too.

Tintagel, though, was a disappointment. I'm not quite sure why. I'd been there before, many tears ago, but it seemed to have lost some of its mystery and 'aura'. Perhaps it was because the cafe had been taken over and no longer served 'excaliburgers' :)

Oh well, back to the real world and my day job, but look out for some really exciting news in the next couple of weeks.


Editing, editing

My editor at Proxima just sent me back his first pass over Aphrodite's Dawn, and I must admit I was a bit nervous when I opened the first file. As a relatively new writer, you hear a lot of horror stories about draconian editors ripping your literary child to shreds or demanding copious rewrites.

Well, I'm about 2/3rds of the way through reviewing his notes and I have to say its wonderful. There are one or two things I don't agree with, or understand (yet), but every edit adds to the the story in some way, and yet none of them take anything away from the story being definitively 'mine'.

Its a very satifying process so far, and I'm learning a great deal from it.

(And no I'm not trying to butter my editor up so he will be nice to me)


"Aphrodite's Dawn" announced by Proxima

I am delighted to say that Proxima have formally announced my first science fiction novel for younger adults. Here is an extract from the announcement:

"Joseph Mead joins Proxima Books with his contemporary fantasy horror,’Aleera: Tainted Blood’, set in New York, a half-succubus is hunted by a serial demon-killer, or is it the other way around?
R.B. Harkess releases Proxima’s first YA story, ‘Aphrodite’s Dawn’, a science-fiction adventure set inside an ancient decaying asteroid ark; the last hope for mankind.
Both stories will be released either as e-books, or in Proxima’s exciting new e-serial format, during Autumn /Winter 2011. Watch this space for future details."

So exciting to move a step closer to publication, and so grateful for all the help Proxima has been giving me making "Aphrodite's Dawn" such a great read.


Busy, busy, busy

Rude of me, I know, not to post more up here, but I plead other commitments; I've been cathing up on reviews for fellow writers in the 'writing circles' I belong to, and I've been putting together a short story. Should be finished in a couple of weeks and then all I have to do is find someone who wants to publish it. I have high hopes for it, though, and think it might evolve into my next novel if its recieved well.

Best wishes


Royal Wedding

I wanted to put up a quick post to wish The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge every happiness with their new life.
I've been quite shocked, and in some cases disturbed, by some of the horrible, hate- and anger-filled posts on Facebook denouncing the wedding and the politics around it. I think that's a shame. People and cultures from all over the UK have joined together to celebrate this eventand I hope they all have a wonderful time.

And to those of you who aren't?
Bah Humbug!


Top Ten Unsuitable Books for Teenagers

My editor posted this link to his facebook page. I'm not sure how he finds the time to read newspapers, even virtual ones. Maybe he has a netbot scanning for interesting articles.

Anyway, I went off and read this article in the Guardian, and ended up adding two of them to my own reading list. Won't tell you which two, though. You might be a teenager and I wouldn't want to lead you astray ;)


New Beginning

Welcome to the new blog
All a little messy at the moment as we only just got this set up, but it will settle down soon.

So have a look around if you like, but keep an eye out for wet paint and splinters