Monday, 1 August 2022

Prince of Thorns is eleven today!

 Prince of Thorns has been on the shelves for eleven years!

The UK paperback has reached at least 28 printings.

I'll take the chance to say thanks - thank you to my readers (and my publishers) for letting me spend the past 11 years writing stories, and more than that - living in them. It's been an unexpected privilege.

In other news, I now have a Patreon. Check it out!

Check out the 10th9th8th7th6th5th4th3rd2nd, and 1st birthday round-ups. 

I now have 16 books on the shelves!

The most recent addition was The Girl And The Moon, in April.

Being a numbers guy as well as a words guy I like to keep track of things and record them for when I'm doddery and old, looking back at my 'glory' days.

At this point I need to inject a comment concerning Goodreads. The Goodreads site has been an open joke for many years. It's one of the worst coded things on the internet. If you imagine a decent site as having an internal combustion engine, Goodreads is more a series of blackened saucepans propped up over trash fires, with a spaghetti mess of leaking twisted pipes siphoning off the steam in the hopes of driving a Victorian era piston.

It used to be that authors were forever questioning the admins about missing ratings, and the answer was always: "the buffers need flushing" and after a while a splurge of 200 ratings would appear.

Then, several years ago, my books and many others suddenly got a boost of thousands of ratings, which were attributed to some Goodreads engineer finally unblocking the pipes and dealing with the 'buffers' issue once and for all.

...this year though, my books started to lose hundreds of ratings a day, and ultimately several thousand from the most rated ones, like Prince of Thorns. I queried this several times. At first it was "an issue that the Goodreads team are aware of" and then finally it was "concluded". It was never fixed though. Those ratings just vanished. They weren't 'good' ones necessarily. The Red Sister average rating shot up...

What happened, I have no real idea. I'm not sure Goodreads do either. Certainly, they're not talking about it. My working theory (on no evidence) is that the big surge a few years ago was an error that has now been corrected. But it's just as likely that Goodreads randomly pissed away 10,000 ratings from my books.

Anyway - if any of you watch these stats closely enough to notice (and I would bet money that none of you do) then that's the story!

I have been slightly more active on the blog of late, it hasn't impacted the plateauing traffic, but still ~30,000 hits a month isn't too shabby and this year it so nearly reached 4 million hits in total.

And my quest to conquer Twitter crawls on...

It's also worth noting that this year saw the release of not one but two 10th anniversary special editions of Prince of Thorns (offering less eye-watering postage options). One in the UK from Broken Binding, and a super deluxe leatherbound one in the US from Grim Oak Press. Both publishers plan to follow up with 10th anniversary editions of King of Thorns.

Where things stand with my special editions:

Grim Oak Press
The Broken Empire omnibus - SOLD OUT
The Red Queen's War omnibus - 50 of 1,000 remaining.
10th anniversary Prince of Thorns - 60 of 750 remaining.

Broken Binding
10th anniversary Prince of Thorns - SOLD OUT

If you want to see how they appreciate, try buying a copy of the sold out editions on ebay.

Well, that's my annual stock-take. Over & out, until next year.

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Monday, 18 July 2022


The Passage is an interesting case to study if you want to learn about the non-linear frenzies the publishing world can throw itself into.

I read and reviewed the book a few years back. I watched episode 1 of the recent series on Disney+ last night.

This vampire book was sold half-written (along with the promise of 2 more books) for an advance of ~$4 million. The bidding frenzy was driven by Hollywood interest in making a movie based on the manuscript. The film rights (for book 1 by itself) were secured for $2 million.
It's this sort of thing that makes many readers believe that the author of a book they've heard of is financially set for life.
In reality a "good" deal, reported as such in Publishers Weekly etc, is generally in the region of $100,000 - maybe up to $250,000 for a 3-book deal. The vast majority of book deals are for much smaller sums, typically $10,000 or $5,000.
But take that recipient of the SIX FIGURE DEAL - $100,000 advance for a trilogy (note: the 6-figure deal is the holy grail for writers). If they manage to put them out at 1 book per year, that's $33,000 a year. Immediately we can reduce that to $28,000 having accounted for the agent's 15%.
Here are some average salaries against different professions in New York.
TEACHER $50,516
CHEF $48,827
CASHIER $25,790
WAITER $24,652
If the author were to take longer than a year per book ...
Chances are that if you're a fantasy fan and follow fantasy groups and forums, you'll end up hearing about that author with the six figure deal. You'll see their books if you haunt the fantasy sections of bookstores.
But if their book only does "OK" then they won't earn out that advance. They'll never see another penny from the books. And if they get another book deal after, it will very likely be at a MUCH reduced amount.
So, that big deal author you read, you saw their books on shelves, you saw discussions of their work on r/fantasy etc. That author, by dint of being extremely lucky and getting that six figure deal, will likely have existed on an income hovering between cashier and teacher for 3 years, with none of the job security, pension, health benefits etc. And after that ... crickets.
To return to The Passage:
Because such a vast sum was invested into it, the book debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at #3.
It did OK sales-wise. It came out a year before Prince of Thorns and has nearly twice as many Goodreads ratings, which is a fairly safe bet that it has about twice as many sales as my debut.
The three books came out over 6 years (reducing a $100,000 advance to $14,333 a year - try living on that) but with ~$6 million in their pocket the author wouldn't hurt over that.
The film was in development for well over a decade before being abandoned. In the end they made a TV series, which came out recently and was cancelled after the first season.
I watched episode 1 last night. It seemed pretty decent to me.
I'm sure the publisher and the film studio both lost a great deal of money. And the author made a mint.
But this is a WILD outlier.
It's also the sort of thing that explains the attitude shown in this recent comment following the death of author Eric Flint:

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Off Topic - big time!

Back in 1987 I helped run a Play-By-Mail game called Saturnalia. I ran it full time for a year with a bunch of other folk in an office. And I ran my area for another 12 years after that in my spare time.

There was an extensive Wikipedia page about it - but they decided in their wisdom to reduce it to a very brief summary.

I found the original text online today (I wrote a fair bit of it), and have copied it here for posterity in case that last site vanishes.

So, ignore this - it's just of interest to old Saturnalia players who might google their way here.

 Saturnalia (PBM)

Saturnalia (PBM)

Saturnalia was one of the first single-character sword and sorcery fantasy Play-by-Mail role-playing games run in the United Kingdom. The game started in 1984, being created by Neil Packer and Simon Letts and grew from its initial players at the University of Southampton up to over three thousand scattered across the United Kingdom and beyond. A company, Sloth Enterprises was formed, with many full-time GMs running Saturnalia from offices above a tyre/brakes/exhaust garage in the red-light district of Southampton. 

In time, the company gradually faded away, with several former players taking on the role of GM to run either existing campaigns or to open up new areas. Most of these successors ran through the early 2000s (decade), and the Harlequin Games Exile campaign in the Southern Isles remains active.

The game was named for the Roman festival of Saturnalia, in that making the game, forming the rules and applying for the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, was total chaos. The word "Saturnalia" was one which turned up under the entry for "Chaos" in a thesaurus. Players took on the roles of adventurers. The game started on two sets of islands off the North and South coast of the continent, Erythria. This was named for no reason better than it sounded good. The Northern Isles included Faldeheim, Jorleheim and Tafkhim. The Southern Isles were Alagas, Krang and Ghan.


Saturnalia was one of the first and certainly one of the largest PBM games run in the United Kingdom. It inspired numerous other games and was important in the initiation of game pub-meets. The game has, in various forms, remained in existence for since 1984.

Whilst there is no direct link between Saturnalia and online role-playing games, PBM games were their early forerunners. If it were not for PBM games showing the way, there would be no online role-playing games.

Campaign Regions

The campaign regions of Erythria have included:

  • Central - Narquoron
  • Distant Isles.
  • North East Erythria.
  • North West Erythria.
  • Northern Isles
  • Serpent Isles.
  • South Erythria.
  • Southern Isles.
  • Exile. The last remaining active region. 

  • At one time in the late 1980s the campaign regions were designated by colour:
  • Central/Narquoron (Pink)
  • North East Erythria (Red)
  • Northern Isles (White)
  • Southern Isles (Blue)
  • South Erythria (Yellow)
  • Character Statistics

    Characters were defined by the following statistics:

  • Combat Ability (CA).
  • Magic Points (MP).
  • Stealth and Agility (SA).
  • Perception (PER).
  • Vitality (VIT).
  • On initial start-up in the game, a player had 250 points to allocate between these statistics, with none given less than twenty points and none more than a hundred.

    Each turn, the Games Master would award the player bonus points to be allocated between these statistics. Points could also be lost (in most games) by injury or by using MP to cast magical spells. Bonus points would be awarded depending on how well a character performed during a turn, but also on how well the player wrote the instructions. This could be entirely subjective and at the whim of the GM.

    A character would begin as a very lowly adventurer, gaining in ability as points were added to their statistics. Their actions in the game would result in gaining renown as Fame and Infamy; the former would be awarded for positive actions and the latter for negative actions. These defined the character as Good or Evil, with an accumulation of major good or evil acts required to gain a double figure Fame or Infamy. This was the Saturnalia equivalent of Dungeons & Dragons Alignment.

    To prevent character death resulting in the loss of a player, Saturnalia included a Karma system so that in the unfortunate event of a character dying, the player could create a new character using the standard number of points, plus a bonus derived from their dead character's points, Fame and Infamy. This meant that the paying player did not lose their entire investment in playing the game. Saturnalia was the first single character RPG and the Karma system was a way of ensuring that players who lost their character did not lose everything they had invested.


    The game was set on and around Erythria, a massive continent approximately two thousand miles east-west and four thousand north-south, plus the island chains to the north and south. Different regions of the continent and surrounding islands were divided between different Games Masters, with geographical features separating the various regions. This permitted Saturnalia to become one of the earliest shared world building fantasy campaigns utilising a common framework of in-game religions and early history, whilst permitting the different regions to co-exist with minimal cross-campaign interference. Player characters could, under exceptional circumstances move from one campaign region to another, but only with great persistence and luck, or with the agreement of the relevant Games Masters.


    The major geographical features of Erythria included:

  • The Northern Ocean – A scattering of islands including:
  • The Serpent Isles, a small chain comprising four main islands: Bromo, Formo, Trefato and Sepakak.
  • The Northern Isles in arctic waters including Jorleheim, dominated by fierce clans, Faldeheim, dominated by Royalists, and Tafkhim, an isle of city states.
  • The Northern Plains – Extending across the entire northern portion of the continent, ranging from near featureless grasslands to stretches of arid desert or steppe.
  • The Great Divide - A monstrous range of mountains splitting Erythria into north and south, and impossible to cross. Compared with this mountain chain the rare hills and mountains of the Northern Plains were mere ridges.
  • The Great River – A gigantic river system flowing northwards from the Great Divide towards the Northern ocean splitting the northern extent of the continent into the campaign regions of the North East and North West. The Great River at places was more than a hundred miles wide.
  • The Southern Desert – A vast desert below the southern edge of the Great Divide. Away from the centre the land became more fertile with forests on the eastern and western coasts and jungle further south.
  • The Southern Ocean – including the tropical Southern Isles, an archipelago of sixty islands including Alagas, Ghan and Krang.
  • History

    The recorded history of Erthyria begins with the invasion of the Northmen of the Northern Isles, with their greatest leader being Erik the Forger. Their tide of conquest swept over the continent, clashing with the native tribes and defeating the nomads of the Great Plains, breaking the power of the Ocean King, the overlord of the tribes of the sea of grass. Reaching the Great Divide, the Northmen extended their conquest by sea, ultimately dominating the entire continent and uniting it under the rule of the Empire. In the far south the Northmen conquered the civilised Sahmen worshipping Mordish, driving them to the southern coast of Erythyria and across the ocean to the Southern Isles.

    Erik and his descendants were so pivotal to the history of Erythria that his name was used in the dating system: AE, After Erik.

    In time the Empire fragmented, and the resurgent nomads broke many of the successor states dotted across the Northern Plains, until all that remained were isolated city states, mostly on the coast. In the south the Empire endured until it too was smashed by wars with the desert nomads.

    After the fall of the Empire in the north, for a time the banner of the Ocean King was uncontested, but after leaving the inland cities as ruins his domain dissolved into many different tribes, awaiting the raising of his standard again. The remaining cities dwindled into fractious city-states, often pursuing religious conflicts between themselves.

    Campaign Dating

    The game dating system was derived from AE 901 in 1984, and incremented annually, so 2009 relates to AE 925.

    Common Themes

    One of the common themes shared by the different regional campaigns was the quest for the fourteen swords of power, each dedicated to a deity of the Saturnalia game world. 

    These swords had been created by dwarven master runesmiths during the second century of the expansion of Erik's Empire. The swords served as the motive for quests and struggles between the player character heroes attempting to become a champion of one of the gods. Other, less powerful magical weapons appeared across the campaigns.


    All of the Saturnalia games used a common currency. The whole currency system was based around the crucial facts that:

  • The gold cadoc. A cadoc was worth ten phymeres.
  • The silver phymere. A phymere was worth ten ogrods.
  • The bronze ogrod. Ogrods were many, Cadocs were few.
  • Pantheon

    The Saturnalia campaigns shared a common pantheon:

  • Corgul: God of Law.
  • Destu: God of Darkness.
  • Dianodus: God of Balance.
  • Drasci: Thief God.
  • Egar-Colmetch: God of Wealth.
  • Haquar: Goddess of Magic.
  • Morana: Life Goddess.
  • Orth: War God.
  • Renchu: Death God.
  • Sahmen: Sun God.
  • Somol: Weather God.
  • Suocona: Love Goddess.
  • Trolin: Healing Goddess.
  • Trorindar: Moon Goddess.

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  • Tuesday, 28 June 2022

    Title of Thorns!

    It seems that Prince of Thorns may have sparked a naming trend!


    Below is a “Chronology of Thorns”.

    Here are the books I could find listed on Goodreads with "Of Thorns" in the title and with over 500 ratings, plus a couple of fun ones with just under that limit. There are Christianity focused “Crown of Thorns” books scattered through the decades, but I’ve listed all those with 500+ ratings.


    Let me know if I’ve missed anything. But to me it looks strongly like Prince of Thorns put the “Of Thorns” … idea? Meme? Earworm? Not sure what you’d call it. But it looks to have put “Of Thorns” on the title table. Since Prince of Thorns came out, we've not had a year pass without a successful "Of Thorns" book being published. In the two centuries before it came out, we had two.


    Chronology of Thorns! (500+ ratings)


    The Hedge of Thorns                           – 1819 **

    Cradle of Thorns                                  – 1997

    Beyond the Valley of Thorns               – 2005



    Prince of Thorns                                  – 2011

    Queen of Thorns                                  – 2012 **

    King of Thorns                                    – 2012

    Emperor of Thorns                              – 2013

    Princess of Thorns                              – 2014

    Duke of Thorns                                   – 2014

    A Court of Thorns and Roses              – 2015

    A Gown of Thorns                              – 2015

    Tower of Thorns                                 – 2015

    Lover of Thorns and Holy Gods          – 2016

    City of Thorns                                     – 2016

    Jack of Thorns                                     – 2016

    Garden of Thorns                                – 2017

    A Harvest of Thorns                            – 2017

    A Vow of Thorns                                – 2017

    Queen of Thorns                                – 2018

    Shadow of Thorns                             – 2018

    Consort of Thorns                             – 2018

    Heart of Thorns                                  – 2018

    A Treason of Thorns                          – 2019

    Sorcery of Thorns                              – 2019

    Of Thorns and Beauty                        – 2020

    A Crown of Thorns and Lies              – 2020

    Crown of Thorns                               – 2021

    City of Thorns                                     – 2021

    Heart of Thorns                                   – 2021

    Violet Made of Thorns                        – 2022

    Chain of Thorns                                  – 2023


    ** fewer than 500 ratings

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    Saturday, 25 June 2022

    Random mortality-adjacent thoughts.

    I basically had my first sick-day in a decade yesterday. Wobble kept me company in bed, staking his claim to my corpse.

    This bout of man-flu (which has now proven to be covid) was not the cause of this post, it's cause-adjacent.

    Today, since my wife now has the same virus and my fever has broken, I went down to deliver moving boxes to my mother-in-law, who in her late 80s is moving into an old-people's home next week.

    Because I was still contagious, I didn't go in to help. And leaving when I did was why while I was walking up the hill on the way back, I was in time to be passed by a motorcyclist going stupid-mph and weaving.

    That young (probably) man (probably) will (probably) be OK, but it prompted one of the thoughts that visit me periodically.

    In 1990, or there abouts, I was doing a Ph.D at Imperial College in London. A friendly guy introduced himself to me. Juan was also doing a Ph.D in my group. He was basically the anti-Mark: friendly, chatty, warm, easy in his skin, given to sharing his secrets ... which I guess made them not secrets at all. 

    That winter, Juan went to visit friends and family in Mexico. The next thing we knew, he was dead. Killed in a car crash. There are only two conversations I remember out of the many chats I must have had with Juan. One of those two concerned how enthusiastic he was about the idea of having children. In a group of young men focused on their research he was the outlier. He wanted six.

    Juan was the first non-old person I'd known to die. We weren't friends, we were friendly. Since then I've had a handful of old school-mates and acquaintances die, and one good friend. And I carry them around - Juan drops in now and then. I don't know the circumstances of his death - maybe he was an innocent passenger rear-ended by a truck, maybe he was driving, pushing the envelope. Doesn't matter. The motorcyclist shot past me and I thought of Juan.

    People die and the ripples they left are carried forwards by the people who knew them - some small fragment of them propagating into the future until it's extinguished. And in the end they'll be just names in some indelible register of births and deaths, the occasional census, the archives of a school. 

    At some point after that some descendant who, has reached that point in life when they realise they've lived their whole life looking forward for answers and meaning, will incorrectly think that those answers might lie behind them instead. They'll look up records, build a family tree, copy the names. An immortality in name only.

    A blog is a place to dump random thoughts. They can't all be about selling you guys books. 

    There's no particular point to this post. It's just passing thoughts condensing through the keyboard. As I progress through life I'm carrying my dead with me. That's all. Some lived long lives. Some lived fulfilling lives. Some were short.

    To conclude. Be careful out there. And if you can't be careful then at least make sure you're getting a good exchange rate between risk and thrill.

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    Sunday, 19 June 2022

    10th anniversary Prince of Thorns - it's here!

    Want a Broken Binding signed and numbered 10th anniversary edition of Prince of Thorns? 

                        You can't! There were 1000 (+52 lettered), and they've all gone.

    Do not despair! At the time of posting there are 85 of 750 (+52 lettered) copies of the Grim Oak Press signed and numbered 10th anniversary edition of Prince of Thorns left. They won't last long - so hurry. The Grim Oak Press edition is seriously delux, and will add gravitas to any fantasy shelf!

    Get yours here:

    5 top reasons to buy:

    #1 Leatherbound.

    #2 Full colour internal art by the Broken Empire cover artist Jason Chan.

    #3 New cover by Jason Chan (alternate version on the signing page)

    #4 Signed by me and by Jason.


    #5 Printed in the USA, so cheap postage for Americans.

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