... another BristolCon bites the dust.

So this one was a little out of the ordinary. Particularly as it was my first ever book launch. Amunet, previously much touted on this blog, was launched on Saturday with much fanfare and fancy. Exciting, despite a couple of tech hitches, but I think I acquitted myself well. Much appreciation to the BristolCon team and to my publisher (Kristell Ink) for organising everything, and to all the other Grimmies who dug in and helped with logisics and baking.

The real heroes of the day, though, were my family, who got totally into the the theme of things and supported me to the hilt. They are all great, and I am a very lucky man

And what would the day be without a little whimsy :)


I was going to leave Carey a nice review on Audible/Amazon - right up to the moment I clicked on the button and was presented with five boxes that had to be filled in about what moments moved me, what I thought of the vocalist, etc, etc.
I'm guessing they're trying to steer people away from just regurgitating the story, full of spoilers and all. Does annoy me when folk do that.
I just don't like being told what to do.

That's something of a theme here, too. Lots of folk who don't like being told what to do. Curiously, the ten year old girl who spends most of her life strapped to a wheeled frame doesn't seem to worry so much. But then, I guess its easier when you have a crush on the teacher.

This book is very difficult to review without giving away so much it would spoil your experience if you chose to consume it. There's no secret that this child, or the others in her class, are treated in an uncomfortably unhuman way. Nor any secret that those around them are deeply afraid of the children. Its the slow exposure of just how far some of the adults are prepared to go, both to abuse the children and to help them, that I simply cant tell you about. It is the backbone of the plot, and I dont give away plots. At least, not intentionally.
The tone of the story is almost unrelievedly dark. Even the conclusion asks more questions than it answers, and delivers a terrible inversion of the captivity the children are forced to endure at the beginning. The only bright light in the tale is the girl, Melanie, inquisitive mind and her utter devotion to one of her teachers.

In some ways the characters are harsh stereotypes,  the Cold Scientist, the Angry Soldier, the Compassionate Psychiatrist, and yet they need to be. The story material deals considerably with what is a post apocalyptic morality play, and we need Noh-type, or Punch and Judy, standards to compare it and ourselves against.

Certainly not a read for the feint hearted, but I enjoyed it.


Dont forget the competition: 
go to http://eepurl.com/b_XpVX and you may win a copy

New Con, Old Con

Busy times. Several cons attended and, last night, finally finished a troubled first draft of the third and final Warrior Stone novel. Given me a lot of trouble, has this one, and almost seemed it didn't want to be written.

So, a little time on my hands, and a few moments for a blog update.

First of all, FantasyCon last weekend (23rd Sept). FCon was my second ever con a very long time ago. It was a magnificent experience, not diminished by the fact that my partner and I were new friends with some of the organisers, and it felt very inclusive and wonderous.

Sadly, immediately after, a group of people within the BFS tried a very dirty, very nasty smear campaign against the then Chair (my friend). As is usual with these things, all the accusations appear in 72-point bold. When all the accusations were proven to be unfounded, the apology was written in 6-pt feint. A few nasty experience.

We went the next year, but found it  a bitter and cliquey affair. This year, for some reason, we decided to give it another go. The organisers were different and the location promised interesting diversions if the Con itself proved uninspiring.

Sadly, it didn't work for me. FCon has become less of a convention and more of a trade fair. The lack of inclusion felt worse than ever, and this year both I and a friend got accosted and harangued for no clearly definable reason.
I'm sure the organisers put a lot of work in, and I'm happy for those who enjoyed it, but I wont be making any more appearances at a FantasyCon.

On a lighter note, a few days with light duties means I'll hopefully get around to writing a few new reviews of some exceptional books that have recently crossed my path. One will certainly be 'The Girl With all the Gifts' by M R Carey, and I believe Mr Ruins (Michael John Grist) and A Star Curiously Singing (Kerry Nietz) will all be getting mentions.

Also, we have BristolCon looming ever closer to the horizon. Watch out for more news on that too.


Very Proud To Announce.....

I am most monumentally proud and happy to announce the publication date of my new novel,and to share the cover with you.

Amunet will be published by Kristell Ink, and launched at BristolCon on October 29th

We are also announcing a free-to-enter competition to wind a hardback copy, signed by myself and the cover artist, Ken Dawson

Simply follow this link to http://eepurl.com/b_XpVX

Can't thank Kristell Ink enough for their support and this wonderful opportunity.

Amunet is a gritty blend of urban fantasy and steampunk; fast paced action for all readers


A curse of writing...

Bit of a ramble today.
One of the downsides of being a writer, or an editor (although saying you are one usually implies you are also the other), is that it is very difficult to 'switch off' when you read. Apart from that initial creative eruption as you lay down the first draft of a novel, every time you pick it up after that, you are looking for errors.
So, by extension, when you pick up someone else's book, you do the same. It can make something you used to enjoy suddenly become toxic and unreadable. This may be why I don't read my old favourites as much as I used to.
For some reason - I think mainly because my wife asked to read it again - I recently picked up the Belgariad, by David Eddings. I first encountered this author in my early teens and its no exaggeration to say he changed my life. Eddings wrote fantasy in a way nobody had ever done before; approachable and free flowing, not like the high-Tolkenian stodge most people were churning out.
Anyhow, after much deliberation, and because we were on holidays and the books I had taken with me weren't engaging me, I picked up the first volume.
It wasn't until I was starting the fourth volume I realised that something was wrong, and it took me some time to analyse exactly what it was. When I figured it out, it came as something of a revelation, but not realy a surprise.
There were no errors.
Not one.
Now I figured I must just have my rose tinted reading specs on, so I put some real effort into looking for anything I could pick at.
Still nothing.
Not an awkward phrase, nary an echo, nah-ah on the typo.
The damn books were perfect.
Which surprised me. So much of what I read today, even by big six houses and very widely known authors, keeps kicking me out of the 'fictive world' of the novel by stuff most people would overlook - but as I writer I can'. And here was Eddings, absolutely clean.
Part of me suspects thats why I fell in love with the Eddings (as his wife Leigh was always involved but rarely credited). Think I may have to extend the experiment to see if the same is true of any of my other first loves. 
I feel an urge coming on to read Magician, by Raymond E Feist.


Bracing Skegness

Just a quick post. I shall be at Skegness on Sunday, plying my trade at their very own and first Comic con, orgaised by the wonderful people who bought you EM-Con. Great trip out for a Sunday, and I believe there may still be door tickets available (check the site for details on that, at http://skegnesscomiccon.com/tickets/

I shall be on table 3, right next to the inimitable Crafty Miss Kitty, purveyor of fine jewellery and stuffed things made of yarn.


The Devil's Detective, Simon Kurt Unsworth

Well this is a first. I’m writing a review for a book before I’ve even finished it. I’m currently audiobooking The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth. I was drawn to it because I recognised the name from Facebook and could have sworn at some point we had been ‘friends’, so having a social media presence obviously works, folks. Apparently.

When I read the description, I was even more intrigued. Hell is no longer a place of fire and brimstone torment, but has become the epitome of the worst of modern life; an eternity of waiting in limbo, only to be en-corporated (and yes I did spell that right) in a hell of drudgery and oppression, fear of the Demons who still wreak terrible violence on humans at the slightest provocation. Nobody knows what their sins were, only that they are being punished. Death sends the soul back to limbo, and the worst torment of all is that there is a hope, just the slightest sliver of lottery-rare hope, that you might be pardoned and elevated to Heaven.
And then come the new murders. Killings so dreadful, so horrific, that the soul is ripped from the body and consumed – but by what nobody knows. Not even Thomas Fool, the Devil’s Detective, and head of the Information Department.
Right from the opening words, this tale grips. From the opening description of the new Hell, the subtly ordinary yet disquieting ways of tormenting sinners, and the parallels with societies run by capitalist, brutal overlords the reader is drawn in to a world of remarkable richness, simultaneously unexpected yet familiar. I was very forcefully reminded of the first time I audiobooked The City and The City, by China Mieville.
If I had to throw any flies into the ointment, there is one character I felt the narrator had got wrong, and the tone used grated on my nerves and ears. I was left perhaps inappropriately pleased when the character was killed, which is why I haven’t named him, her, or it.
Through Unsworth’s characters, the sense of hopelessness, of fear, or desperately trying not to get noticed, soaks in to you. The constant terror of showing any enjoyment, lest it is taken away, nor loathing, lest it be heaped upon you, grinds the characters down. Punishment is crafty and cruel. But, grind at the end of a worm and eventually, it will turn, and we find that Elevation is not the only source of hope in Hell.

I am not looking forward to finishing this book, and I only have about 2 hours to go. On the other hand, I can then try out another of Unsworth’s novels, although I believe there is another volume in this series. Silver linings are where you find them, I guess.


And the award for Best Sunday Afternoon Read goes to... Green Sky and Sparks

That sound s a bit precriptive. Could be Sunday evening, or even Saturday evening if you're not a party person and cant be tempted by Ant or Dec.
I was flicking through my kindle, through a bunch of new e-books, and having a disappointing time of it (three books in a row I had not managed to get past the first couple of pages). Then it felt like I'd take a dive into a refreshing, sparkling sea off the coast of some medittereanean beach... OK, so I'm stretching the metaphor. I'm trying to say the contrast was almost shocking.
Folks who have read my reviews before will know I rarely say much about the story. I dont get the kind of reviews that precis the book for you and tell you about all the charcters. I mean, then whats the point of reading it? I'm much more about style, about the way the book is engineered. This is a gem.
You know instantly that its going to be an easy read, you may even pause for a moment to make a mug of something and grab a packet of biscuits. You know this one is going to be a long ride, probably a single sitting. Now that I think about it, I believe the last time I got 'that' feeling was when I opened up the first volume of The Belgariad, by David Eddings. It's accessible and open and could be used as the definition for 'easy read'.
That's not to say its simplistic. Characters grow quickly, and the descriptive passages are intense without being laboured. There are always one or two characters in any book that don't seem to flesh out, but given this is the first novella in a series (currently of three), I have my suspicions they may be being saved for something else.
One of the things that intregues me about the setting is
I cant decide if its an emerging technology, or a declined one. Kate Coe, like myself, seems to enjoy mashing tech and magic, and here it really works well.
Looking forward to the second volume. And the third. Find it here on Amazon


A little bit of what you fancy...

...in the sense of not a particularly focused post but, for the first time in a while, I actually have a little free time. Now that in itself is a novelty.
Also a novelty is that I haven't written a word in a whole month. Can't remember that happening for about the last six years.

I mean, I'm not a believer in the 'a writer must write something every day' diktat. If you are working with your editor(s) prepping a book, you often don't have time to write, and sometimes, you just don't have anything to say. But still, its odd.

And its not that I haven't been busy. We went to SFW7 earlier in the month, where the ever awesome Sam Stone organised some great panels and we picked up some great ideas from other traders there. I suppose most of the month has been taken up with implementing those changes (and decorating, over which we will draw a discrete veil). Our next con is EM-Con, over the Mayday bank holiday weekend, where we will be sited next to Crafty Miss Kitty (best friends and purveyors of wonderful handmade jewellery). The event promises to be spectacular, and we will again be carrying a selection of books from my new publisher, Kristell Ink

And as for writing? Good point. I really should be picking up the third Warrior Stone book, but something is stopping me. Not sure what it is yet, but 'writers block' tend to be trying to tell me something is wrong somewhere. Perhaps my muse thinks I need to change something, or even that I need to write something else first. Either way, I have faith in my muse. It will tell me what I need to do when it's ready. In the mean time, where did I put that saw? There's decorating to finish off


Dresden Rides Again: Cold Days

Seems I have a bit of a bromance going on with Harry at the moment - though it seems inevitable ti will come to an abrupt end as there are no more Harry Dresden books, at least for a while. I have to wait for my next Audible credit.

This is the second Dresden book I've listened to in 6 weeks, and I have to say its considerably better than the last one (Ghost Story). In some ways it feel that Ghost Story was actually nothing more than a setup piece, akin to the second Matrix move or Empire Strikes back. That could account for all the introspective whining - filler.

Setting Ghost Story aside, I admit I approached Cold Days with more than a hint of trepidation. After all, nobody really likes the realisation that a formerly favoured writer has taken the silver penny and is writing ground meat for the publishing machine.

Fortunately, Cold Days is a vast improvement, and very much more Dresden-esque. It is not without its flaws. I dont know if it is because I am listening to it rather than reading it, or perhaps because I have just finished going over my latest novel with an editor. Whatever the reason, I'm finding the reptetitions of 'Hells Bells', 'Stars and Stones' and whatever his brother uses for a catchphrase that for the moment escapes me, very annoying and obvious. I get it that this is the purpose of a catch phrase, but there are limits. Or should be.

As I mentioned, just about every string Butcher has set up in Ghost Story get pulled here, and it would be a little bewildering if you hadnt read the other book first. It still works, Harry still blunders about making bright flashed, loud noises, and getting the bejazus kicked out of him yet still miraculously staggering to his feet and fighting off the bad guys. There are the usual collection of misdirections during the first 90% of the story, and a flurry of explanation and exposures at the end.

In fairness, though, the end is unexpected, very dramatic, and 'wanna know what happens next'-y. Which is pretty much what I want out of a book. So it worked. For me at least. Enjoy.


I'm delighted to announce my publisher, Metaphoric Media, is expanding the number of outlets my e-books will be available from. At the moment, just these two are re-published, but over the next three months all my ebooks will be available on Apple iBooksNook (Barnes and Noble)Kobo and Scribd.

Too many links to mention individually now, and the ones above only link to Underland, but if you want one of my books to read on something other than a Kindle, please navigate to one of the fine sites where a panoply of formats and varieties are available to you.


Review: 'Ghost Story' by Jim Butcher (A Harry Dresden Novel)

I just finished reading Jim Butcher's 'Ghost Story' - the latest but one (I believe) Harry Dresden novel.
I'm a big Harry fan. I do not, for all the world, understand why they canned the TV show. Having said that, Amerian TV broadcasters and Producers have proven over and over again how unbelievably stupid they are, so I should't really be surprised. If you need proof - Dresden Files, Firefly, Total Recall (no, not that one), and Almost Human are at the top of my bitch list.

Anyhow, this is about the book - or, rather, the AUDIO book. Yes, I'm back to long commutes without the use of my hands, so Audible gets its claws into me again. In this instance - in fact in all instances of Harry Dresden audiobooks, the narration was superbly executed by James Marster (aka Spike, from Buffy). He so gets it.

Now, I will play fair. I just got through going through my newest book with my editor at Kristell Ink, so I may be hyper-sensetised, but I swear there were points I nearly threw - well, maybe wanted to throw - my iPhone out of the window. One trigger was the expletive 'Hells Bells', which I swear was mentioned at least once every two pages.

But the thing that drove me right around the corner and up the wall was the waffle. Lets not pretend Dresden books are sophisticated. Harry gets mad, knocks things around with magic, nearly gets beaten, then comes up with a cunning escape plan that more often than not has an element of divine intervention. But we love him for it.

In this book the waffle quorient was astronomical. I can't really go too much into the 'why' of it, as I try never to put even teeny spoilers in my reviews, but the amount of self obsessed navel gazing was a trial, even if there is sort of a reason - Dresden has to do a lot of personal reassessment in this novel, but its overbearing, with too many historical flashbacks. The Harry-esque blunders come thick and fast and more monumental than ever. 

Then, when you get to the end, you realise this was 'The Empire Strikes Back', 'Matrix Reloaded', or any other middle film you care to mention. Its the one that wasn't really strong enough, but they made it anyway, most often because they had about 30 minutes, or 150 pages, of set-up for the next film (or book). And that is very much what this book is - a filler.

Having said that, I'm glad I 'read' it. Butcher develops a few previously secondary characters into real and impressive people, which is a pleasure to read, and Molly's fight scene is worthy of an award - and of that I shall say no more. Even the closing 75 pages or so help to make up for the mediocre bulk of the novel, even though there are echoes of a different Harry standing in a cleaner version of Kings Cross.

Conclusion? If you are a dedicated Harry Dresden fan, read it - but maybe be prepared to skip a few pages here and there. If you are not already hooked on Dresden, go back to one of the earlier books and start there.


Pelquin's Comet: Ian Whates

I promised a review of this a couple of weeks ago, but I'm afraid I got busy. However, never one to knowingly go back on a promise, here are my thoughts.

This is what I call 'traditional' science fiction. There is the beat-up but trying hard spaceship with a rapscallion captain complete with dubious past. The crew is a bunch of misfits and everybody has a hidden history, including the baddie your not sure is a baddie and the 'mystery girl' who is both a killing machine and a ripper engineer, but who doesn't understand how or why she can do either. Add in a hostile group of aliens, and a 'lost in the mists of time super powerful aliens' group and...

Hold on, sounds like Firefly. Or maybe Farscape. Or was I thinking of...

That's what I mean by 'traditional' science fiction. Some would call it space opera (I wouldn't). It sits firmly inside the comfortable definition many of us have about 'old school' SF.

The good news it that it works. I mean really works. It is a page turner (or button tapper, depending on your media). Thing is, you can take pretty much any story down to its fundamentals and its ends up like every other story (check out the 'net for similar comparisons that show Harry Potter and Star Wars to be essentially the same story).

Its not about the story. It never is about the story. There are only five stories (yes, I know opinion varies on the exact number, but cut me some slack here).

Its about what you do with it. Its about what you do with the characters, and the setting. Its about how you tell the tale. Whates is a Master storyteller. Enough description to sets scenes without spoonfeeding detail, enough depth to bring his characters to life without giving everything away about them  - actually quite a difficult thing to write. It pulls you in, doesn't demand too much from you, and lets you wash along with the story.

Certainly worth a read, and I am looking forward to the next book.


I love days like today, because today I get to announce my next book - 'A Meeting Of Minds'. 

The book will be 'launched' and available for sale on March 18th - to co-incide with Sci Fi Weekender 7. Pre-order is not available yet, but I will announce it here and on my publisher's site as soon as we have a date. Or you could sign up to my publisher's mail list

Here's a taster of what you'll find inside:
Jaxon’s world, our world, has been scorched by a solar flare. The Dagashi came to help in city-sized space ships, but all they do is use what is left of humanity to scavenge technology - and to get taken for ‘rides’ by youngsters with neural implants. Everybody thought the Dagashi could only use the interface to receive, to listen, watch, or feel - until one of them speaks to Jax.

On the other end of the link is a human girl, around his own age and soon they become friends. When she tries to break off their contact because she is in danger, Jax offers to rescue her from the Dagashi ship. Once there, he not only discovers his friend has been hiding a secret, but that the Dagashi aren’t rescuers at all. They triggered the solar flare, and intend to strip anything of value from the Earth before abandoning it.


Twofer! Just like buses

Nothing for months, then two book reviews at the same time. Or that was the plan when I started this. However, given how long I have enthused over Airship Shape, I'm going to put the review for Pelquin's Comet up in a few days

Now, I have to admit that neither of these are entirely new; Airshipshape is almost two years old, and Pelquin's Comet came out around April last year. But I finally caught up with them in my reading list, and have been sufficiently impressed by both to set finger to keyboard.

Airship Shape first. Published by Wizard's Tower press, this is an anthology of Steampunk tales set in Bristol, or an alternate universe remarkably like it. Its always good for an anthology to have a theme, but in this case the editors (Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall) have added and extra thematic twist by splitting the book into three sections. Some believe (personally I dont) that 'proper' Steampunk should involve examination and/or damnation of slavery or the struggle of the disadvantaged classes to 'stick it to the man'. The first section, 'Less Than Men', looks into this but with wider eyes than the subject suggests. and I was delighted to see a 'Brassworth' by Christine Morgan consider a pet concept of mine; the rights of and Artificial Intelligence - And to do it with an excellent and witty tale.

The other two sections are 'Lost Souls' (creepy and fantastical), and 'Travelling Light' (bold adventurers and tales told over brandy and cigars in the smoking room of the club). The sub-divisions work really well, and I loved the mix of styles and stories it promoted.

As with all anthologies (pretty much), there is one, or possibly two, tales you are surprised made the cut, but apart from Brassworth, three more impressed me enough to deserve individual mention. First, a surprise from Andy Bigwood. I know Andy as a remarkable artist, but had no idea he could write as well. 'The Lanterns of Death Affair' was a clever little tale that fit neatly into the 'Travelling light' category.

John Hawkes-Reed's 'Miss Butler and the Handlander Process' may be misplaced in the 'Lost Souls' section, but for me is an excellent, archetypal Steampunk tale involving plucky young women, shady military organisations, and mechanical elephants with exploding knee joints. An absolutely superb romp, only narrowly beaten from first place by my third and final selection.

If 'Lost Souls' had not existed as a section, it would have needed to be created just for this story. 'The Girl With the Red Hair' by Myfanwy Morgan is a splendid tale, set comfortably in the milieu and oozing paranormal activity, with a triumphant end that makes you want to punch the air and hiss 'Yesss'.

In fact, both Morgan and Hawkes-Reed produced stories which I thought so good they poked, briefly, at my writerly confidence and left me think 'how the hell will I ever write like that?'

As I say, I know its not old, but the book is still available and I strongly recommend it.

I shall post the Pelquin's Comet review in a day or two.


Dont panic, no retrospectives here

Tis the season for the usual glut of posts on blogs and social media generally, all trawling over what we did last year. Relax. None of that here. Oh, I've no objection to people doing it - I guess it neatly summarises the year and brings it into focus, and perhaps even gives an opportunity to thank people or organisations. On the other hand, if it needs to be said again, somebody wasn't paying attention! (Only kidding).

I'm also a little cautious about prognosticating too fully on what's planned to happen in 2016 - things have a nasty habit of changing due to circumstances beyond our control. For example, I've filled out my holiday form in work already. I've two holidays, three long weekends and (and I can barely believe this myself) EIGHT conventions lines up. Less than two days after getting those approved it looks like I may need to change at least one of them to cater for an unexpected diagnostic procedure for a close family member. I'm not saying its bad to plan, but I am saying nothing is cast in stone.

Incidentally, the Cons I am booked for this year are

Feb 6: True Believers in Cheltenham
March 17: SFWeekender(Wales)
April 1: First Contact Day (Telford)
May 30: EM-Con (Nottingham)
August Bank Holiday: Asylum, Lincoln

And later in the year, Fantasy Con, Bristol Con, and possibly Swindon and Gloucester

Hectic, eh? Hoping it will be fun though.

Other major events I'm looking forward to are at least two new books coming out this year. 'A Meeting Of Minds' will hopefully be out in time for the SF Weekender. This is back to my Science Fiction roots, but with a liberal dash of romance. Expect the cover reveal in the next week or so.

Also, 'Amunet' will be published by Kristell Ink in the autumn. Gritty alternate-reality supernatural steampunk. Very excited about this, and to be working with the fine people at Kristell Ink.

And if I'm really lucky, I may get the last volume of the Warrior Stone trilogy out for Asylum, though I will freely admit to a large dollop of wishful thinking there.

Hmm, well, I kept half my opening promise. At least I haven't rattled on about last year. Having said that, did I tell you the story about...?