Friday, 13 July 2018


Back in 2015 I got an email out of the blue from a guy called Derek Bradley who had read the Broken Empire books and seen on my bio that I was a long time computer gamer.

He wanted to know if I wanted to write for the game that he was creative director for, and sent this early demo video:

It looked good and I liked Derek's approach to world building, so I agreed! I soon found myself writing lore and history for the various factions in this unusual world. I designed and wrote histories for a variety of items, magic and mundane, that can be found during exploration. The idea here was to present a history of the world organically through the artefacts that players encounter rather than as a big info dump / cut scene. Hopefully thereby making the place more of a living and breathing world where the players' understanding and sense of the scale and history of the place is assembled painlessly as they go.

I also got to design a whole bunch of characters along with their origin stories and current goals that might lead them to suggest and collaborate on various adventures. It was great fun and I'm looking forward to playing the game to see which of my contributions survived into the final version and how they have been realised by the artists and designers.

Here's a more up to date video of the game in action. That first line is one of mine, the first line in a "book of lore" I wrote for the game: "Wise men say that the dark is older than the light. They say it reaches further and that no matter how swiftly the light travels it finds that all it touches was first in darkness."

The artistic design and game play are pretty unique though there is a clear Dark Souls vibe at work too.

Here's the sort of thing I got to write!

They say the dark is empty, but it is not so. The Bral dwell in the ancient night and they are legion. Their nature and form offer endless variety. A few as old as the Ashen themselves. A multitude new-born from the blackness.

When the Ashen fell there were some few among the many races of the Bral drawn to the great beast, drawn by the pollution of its blood, both fascinated and repelled.

These scavengers crawled from the utter dark and burrowed amid the Ashen’s feathers. A multitude living and dying. Generation upon generation, breeding and building, all within the space of one breath. The Ashen’s dying light was something they both craved and despised. It ate at them, turning night-flesh to dust and ash and cinders, but it filled them with such power, such possibility. And it changed them.

Anyway, the release date is 2018, so check it out when it arrives and let me know what you think.

Here's what Xbox say about it.
And here's the page for the designers, Aurora 44.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Did grimdark start in 1984?

Did grimdark start in 1984? By which of course I mean did it start in 1949?

1984 is a novel I first read at a time when 1984 was the future. It's a work of literary genius. Also it is very definitely science fiction. Also ... it might be the first, or at least most famous, grimdark novel.

This post contains spoilers for the book.

Even though much of the science foreseen in the book (primarily mass surveillance through networked cameras) has come to pass, albeit not generally in our own homes, some has yet to be effectively implemented. We haven't yet got any novel writing machines for example, unless you count Brandon Sanderson and some rather less successful AI attempts.

More recently the book's prediction of the wholesale undermining of truth have been realised in a deeply disturbing fashion with the surge of that many headed hydra #FakeNews. The phrase "alternative facts" could have been plucked directly from the dictionary of Newspeak that our "hero" Winston's colleague is working on.

And whilst the Thought Police have not yet become a state institution we all know that there are more than enough recruits to fill their ranks ready and waiting on Twitter whichever side of the political divide issues the call.

However, it is not this grim prescience that makes the novel a strong candidate for the first grimdark book. It is the fact that the whole society described in 1984 is designed to destroy hope, force conformity, replace truth with political narrative, and oppress the population. Not only this, it is achieving all these goals with near total success.


Our hero in all this is not a paragon. Winston is an everyman, and his opposition to the state is driven by the fact that he can't help his "free thinking" and finds the constraints intolerable. He's driven by very basic needs rather than laudable ideals, desperation rather than bravery. A woman he is attracted to shares his interest. Their sexual relationship is against the law because Winston is married and sex is only allowed for procreation within wedlock. Winston wishes he had killed his wife when he had the chance to make it look like an accident. In short, Winston is no hero. He is in opposition to the regime because he is not getting what he wants from it.


And tonally this is a dark, dark book. Let me hit you with some quotes.

"In the face of pain there are no heroes."

"We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them."

"To die hating them, that was freedom."

"Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me."

"History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."

"He was a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear."

& of course the famous:

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." 


And of course there is violence. The book approaches its end, where SPOILER the bad guys win comprehensively, via an extensive sequence of torture involving the dreaded and infamous Room 101. In Room 101 you get to meet your own worse nightmare, and you can be sure that Big Brother knows exactly what it is.

So, that's my pitch for 1984 being one of the grandfathers of grimdark. Go check it out if you haven't already. And if you have then try some more Orwell. It's all good, from the incredibly short but hard hitting Animal Farm to his autobiographical works Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in London and Paris.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Holy Sister has a cover!

Thanks to Tomasz Jedruszek for the artwork on the UK trilogy.

Pre-order here!

“Sister Pan! I am giving you a direct order as your abbess. You will remain here at the convent!” Sister Pan shook her head, smiling. “I’m Mistress Path, child. I go where I please.” And with that she began to shuffle toward the pillars. Holy Sister, Third Book of the Ancestor

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Cover Contest #SPFBO 4

Carrying on from the cover contest of 2017 & 2016 here is 2018's turn.

The public vote is open HERE. Please consider the covers on merit rather than voting for a friend or favourite author. 

Blogger Votes (updated as they come in)

4 Those Brave Foolish Souls from the City of Swords
4 The Fire Eye Refugee
3 We Ride the Storm
2 The First Fear
2 Songs of Insurrection
2 Over Raging Tides
2 Sworn to the Night
2 The Blood-stained Heir
1 Balam, Spring
1 Fallen Empire
1 The Vale
1 A Dance of Silver and Shadow
1 Dragon Sphere
1 Revenant Winds
1 Orconomix

Each blog will privately let me know their 4 favourites from the finalists and the covers with most votes win. Ordering is only considered for tie-breaking.

A Dance of Silver and Shadow: A Retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses (Beyond the Four Kingdoms Book 1) by [Cellier, Melanie]The Snowtiger's Trail (The Windhaven Chronicles) by [Davis, Watson]Dragonsphere (The Fallen King Chronicles Book 1) by [Fierce, Richard]

2. Fantasy-Faction
The Rise of the Fallen (The Rotting Empire Book 1) by [Fugazzotto, Peter]Carnifex (Legends of the Nameless Dwarf Book 1) by [Prior, D.P.]Blood-Stained Heir (Ascent Archives Book 1) by [Norman, T.]

3. Fantasy Book Critic

4. Lynn's Book
The Great Hearts: A swords & sorcery fantasy epic by [Oliver, David]Banebringer (The Heretic Gods Book 1) by [Park, Carol A.]Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords: A standalone Yarnsworld novel by [Patrick, Benedict]

6. The Alliterates
Fallen Empire (Ironstone Saga Book 1) by [McArdle, Keith]Whiskey and Dragon Fire: A Dragon Shifter Paranormal Romance by [Peake, Marilyn]Darkmage (The Rhenwars Saga Book 1) by [Spencer, M.L.]

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Revenant Winds (The Tainted Cabal Book 1) by [Hogan, Mitchell]Moroda (World of Linaria) by [McNeil, L. L.]The Vale: Behind The Vale by [Anderson, Brian D.]

We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire Book 1) by [Madson, Devin]The Tainted Crown: The First Book of Caledan (Books of Caledan 1) by [Cowley, Meg]

Friday, 29 June 2018

The SPFBO is making big waves!

So, Barnes and Noble are America's biggest bookshop chain. Which makes them the biggest bookshop chain in the English speaking world, and maybe the whole world.
This means they are a pretty important voice in the business of fiction.

Yesterday they published their list of the best SFF books of the year so far.

I was very pleased to see Grey Sister among the 25 books listed. Red Sister was on last year's list too, hoorah!

It's no small thing when you consider that there are around a thousand books published (traditionally) in the US each day, and that a decent percentage of these will be SFF titles.

It was also great to see Master Assassins on the list. An excellent book.

But, the real eyeopener here was that on this list of 25 SFF books, selected by the biggest bookshop chain in the English speaking world to represent the best offerings over the last 6 months, were TWO books that broke big directly as a result of their involvement in the SPFBO!

Senlin Ascends and The Grey Bastards were both on the list.

Think about that for a moment. Nearly 10% of the biggest English speaking bookshop chain's list of best SFF books came from our little contest. 

That, it seems to me, is pretty awesome.

It could even represent a sea change of sorts where the SPFBO is truly a major channel in bringing excellence from the ocean of self-published talent to the attention of the wider world.

Not bad, huh?

A testament to the hard work of the many blogs and reviewers who have put so much effort into making the contest succeed.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

SPFBO blogger demographics.

Here is how this year's SPFBO blogs break down, gender-wise.

Over all we have 38 reviewers involved.

23 female.
16 male. 

6 of the blogs are majority female.
4 majority male.

This is fairly representative of previous years.

Finalists by year:
2017: 9 male, 1 female
2016: 5 male, 5 female
2015: 8 male, 2 female

Highest placed female author (in the year & over three years):
2017: 9th / 28th
2016: 5th / 16th
2015: 4th / 11th