Thursday 26 January 2012

Hi, my name is . . .

I will preface this post by saying that I refuse to confirm or deny that I am KJ Parker. I also refuse to confirm or deny that I’m anyone else, including Mark Lawrence.

Six months after the publication of my first book and things are going very nicely thank you. I am though, by many counts, old news. The eyes of the blogging community are firmly fixed on the 2012 debutants, with Myke Cole and Saladin Ahmed at fore of the January charge. It’s Christmas every day in blog-world with the permanent excitement of opening new presents, and there are always more waiting under the tree. Sure the favourite toys get played with, but those unopened boxes have a special pull.

I can’t, even for a heartbeat, resent this state of affairs. I rode the newbie wave and benefited hugely. The new kid on the block needs the spotlight, needs that chance to catch people’s attention. And special kudos to the bloggers who try to spread the love and cover some of the releases from smaller houses without a mega-push behind them. It does, however, make me pause to think about the business of discovering new writers and how people think about ‘old’ ones.

I recently contributed to an anthology to help out with Fantasy Faction’s web costs. (I really like the site and hope to be able to continue enjoying it without adverts for skin care products and medical miracles taking up half the screen.) I sent a bunch of short stories for them to select from, and the first reaction was great surprise that they were all so different in style, from each other and from Prince of Thorns. And that kinda brought it home to me. Even people who had high expectations of me expected me to dole out the same goodies time and again. That I could write a good horror tale, or a weird Gaiman-esque yarn, or a literary fiction piece . . . ran contrary to the opinions formed from my single book. Which underscores the sad fact that people who didn’t like Prince of Thorns (and yes, a few such strange beasts exist) will like as not never pick up another Mark Lawrence book because they ‘have me pegged’. It’s not that I can’t surprise them – it’s that I’ll never get a chance to, not with a book that has Mark Lawrence on the cover.

Now as it happens I have had several opportunities to see people read and rate work I’ve written under different names, ignorant of the fact the fiction is from the same pen. And I’ve had 1* on one, 5* on the other, and vice versa depending on the particular tastes of the individuals (and almost never 3* on both!).

So it’s not the bloggers’ spotlight and love affair with the new that is the true reason a writer might have for keeping a collection of masked identities in their writing cupboard, it’s the fact that we’re typecast by our first book. Readers, in the main, like to know what they’re getting. If they want something different they’ll try someone new – if they come to you, they want some more of the reason they liked you.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

King of Thorns - fragments, part (i)

Brother Kent
In the red ruin of battle Brother Kent oft looks to have stepped from hell. Though in another life he would have tilled his fields and died abed, mourned by grandchildren. In combat Red Kent possesses a clarity that terrifies and lays waste. In all else he is a man confused by his own contradictions – a killer’s instincts married to a farmer’s soul. Not tall, not broad, but packed solid and quick, wide cheekbones, dark eyes flat with murder, bitten lips, scarred hands, thick-fingered, loyalty and the need to be loyal written through him.

part (i) in a series of bits & pieces from King of Thorns including 'Brother snippets' and some deleted inserts. To be released with increasing tempo as we head toward August. )

Saturday 14 January 2012

Turning the tables #5 – The Wertzone

Instalment #5 of my series of Turning the Tables. The last such for a while, ending as I started with someone who hasn’t interviewed me & very rarely interviews anyone. So, not turning the tables at all, except in the broadest sense. I did, however, want to interview Adam Whitehead of the long established and highly regarded Wertzone

since it’s a site I have a high regard for, offering reviews at a modest rate but all of them insightful and well considered & building into a huge review archive which is great to explore. Moreover, there’s no better place to go for news and views on George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, of which I’m a fan.

So, possibly for the last time, here come the Q&As.

The first 6 of these questions are ones that have been asked of me in interview, re-targeted on book-reviewers. The last 6 are mine.

1. So what's the 411 on Adam Whitehead? Tell us a bit about your background? (Question stolen from Pat’s Hotlist – I don’t even know what 411 means)

I'm a 33-year-old guy from Colchester, the oldest town in the UK. I grew up with SF and Fantasy from a young age: the first film I ever saw at the cinema was RETURN OF THE JEDI, and I grew up on a steady diet of STAR TREK reruns and DOCTOR WHO episodes, not to mention a lot of TRANSFORMERS toys and comics (first time around, when they didn't almost all look the same). I've been reading SF novels since the age of 9 and fantasy from a couple of years later, so the blog was a natural outlet for that interest and knowledge.

2. Why should we read your blog? Convince us?

I'm interested in the genre of SFF, not the medium of books alone. More so than a lot of other blogs, I like to cover books, computer games, films and TV shows all at the same time, mixed in with a bit of news and commentary. I try to give more of an overview of the genre than just concentrating on books. I probably don't succeed as much as I'd like, but that's the general idea anyway. I also like to throw in some other personal interests (like my interest in history, World War II stuff in particular) to mix things up a bit.

3. What inspired you to start a review site?

I didn't have plans in that direction, but several people suggested it to me whilst commenting on books on, SFFWorld and other forums where I was active, so it seemed a natural development.

4. Where do you get your ideas for new books to review from?
I have a large stack of review copies sent to me my publishers over the past few years, along with newly-arrived books, old books on the shelves I read years ago that I might want to re-read, or books that I've heard a lot about from people but never gotten around to, so it's a mix. Sometimes I grab whatever's next on the pile and sometimes I have a planned reading schedule that I'll stick to (which usually lasts no more than a few weeks before it's disrupted by something new!).

5. What's your favourite book and why?

A tough question. I have a great, abiding admiration for Tolkien's The Silmarillion, but there's also the mystery and atmosphere of Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama or the stupendous climax of dozens of storylines in Martin's Storm of Swords. Overall I'd probably have to go for Peter F. Hamilton's The Reality Dysfunction, for the interesting characters, the way he combines horror and SF together and for the monumental pace the book picks up as it goes along.

6. If music be the food of love, what do you think book reviewing is and please explain your answer? (Question stolen from the Falcata Times)
If music is the food of love, then book reviewing is the zoo monkey of audience participation. As long as you're doing something people find entertaining and agree with, cool. The second you don't, the shit starts flying. Or something like that anyway, :)

7. Everyone says they understand that people's tastes vary, but not everyone truly accepts that. If someone adores a book you hate ... does that give you any pause, emotionally or mentally?

No. It just means tastes differ. I tend to value character and story above 'beautiful prose' but then there are those who value prose even if the characters are thin and the plots poorly-developed, or some other combination of factors. Sometimes people can read the exact same book and take away completely separate things. You also have to consider that everyone is reading books at different stages of their reading development: a teenager may have a different viewpoint to a cynical thirty-something (or a book that was cutting-edge in the Seventies might be considered tame today). Sometimes a book is so mind-bogglingly awful on every single level that it's hard to see why someone would like it, but that's a very rare occasion.

8. Do you ever hold back when you might want to vilify a book, or put a more positive spin on it in an attempt to be even handed and not colour the review too much with your personal reaction?

Reviews are personal reactions, nothing more and nothing less, so that's not really possible. My most regular criticism is that the books I review tend to get positive-to-good reviews and I rarely rip a book apart. This isn't because I never read anything bad - quite the contrary - but if I'm not enjoying a book I tend to not finish it, and if I don't finish it I consider it amoral to review it, so books I don't enjoy don't get covered on the site.

9. Does your personal opinion of an author ever sway a review in any direction?

I was having this discussion with an author who - on a personal level - I like a few months ago. I'd read and reviewed three of this author's books, one positively, one negatively and one in the middle. He was glad that I was honest enough to overlook any personal feelings about the author in order to deliver an honest review. Generally speaking, authors shouldn't want you to be dishonest in your opinions.

10. Are you all about story, or does the beauty (or otherwise) of the writing count for much? Or more broadly - what is it, between the covers, that's most important to you?

I'm interested mostly in characters and by what they get up and how well they are developed. Also, as an old-school D&D player who's created several different fantasy and SF worlds, I'm intrigued by the furniture of world-building. It's not critically important, but the setting and how well it is defined is something I like, though not when it starts overloading the narrative. Prose is something I do rate, but generally I find that excellent characterisation can survive so-so-prose, but poor characters cannot be saved by beautiful prose.

11. Do you write yourself? If so what're you working on?

I've tooled around with stories, but never to a great extent. I have a short attention span, and generally find that I can only work at something for a few weeks before I get burned out on it. That said, there are two concepts that have survived over the years. The first is an epic fantasy set in a world riven by religious discord. I liked the idea when I came up with it in the late 1990s, but a lot of other fantasy authors have covered the same ground over the years and I've had to rejig the concept a few times to avoid similarities with other works. Due to that, I suspect it will never see the light of day. The other thing is an alternate-history take on WWII based on the idea that Hitler is killed before he can declare war on Russia, allowing the generals to concentrate all their attention on the Brits alone. Again, there's a lot of alt-history WWII stuff out there, so I'd have to be convinced I had something really fresh and interesting before I really went to work on that. In the shorter term, I'm planning to get into writing non-fiction stuff about SFF, and already have a couple of projects in the planning stages (at least one of which should see fruition in late 2012, all going well).

12. What are your goals and hopes for the Wertzone? 

My biggest sense of achievement comes from getting people to pick up under-appreciated works: if even ten people pick up a Paul Kearney novel or a Robert Holdstock book or something they wouldn't have tried otherwise, then the last five years' work has been worthwhile. As for goals going forwards, it'd be great to find a way to make a living from the blog without bombarding people with advertising. If I can find a way of doing that, I'd be very happy :)

Wednesday 11 January 2012

If you hated Prince of Thorns you'll hate these...

Every man and his dog's website these days is busy trying to extrapolate your tastes in whatever they happen to sell and propose you buy extra stuff off them in the same vein. Bought a chainsaw? Perhaps you'd like a Friday 13th mask. Bought Justin Bieber's new album? Perhaps you'd like this loop tape of an adenoidal howler monkey we kicked in the nuts. Etc etc. They do it with books on Amazon - if you liked this, you'll love these.


I looked at a random sampling of the people who awarded Prince of Thorns one gleaming star on Goodreads and looked at how prone to 1*ing books they were and who else got the love off them.

And here are the results (15 voters examined). I noted any 1*s they awarded to famous classics that have stood the test of time, or acclaimed SFF.

If you hated Prince of Thorns... you'll hate these! Star runners in the 'also hate' league are Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, Gormenghast, and To Kill a Mockingbird.... Frankly that's company I can live with!

1) 51 1* ratings from 1250  including
Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mocking Bird, Lord of the Flies, Scar Night, Ship of Magic, Good Omens, Fellowship of the Ring

2)  4  1* ratings from 57 including:
Of Mice and Men

3) 2 from 132:
Catcher in the Rye

4) 12 from 556:
Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, Gormenghast

5) 24 from 892:
Gormenghast, Night Circus, The Blade Itself, Legend, Infinite Jest, Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Darkness That Comes Before, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Xenocide

6) 2 from 64:
Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War

7) 2 from 65:
A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about International Business

8) 48 from 449:
Assassin's Aprentice, Catch 22, Shadow and Betrayal

9) 3 from 359: 
Lord Fouls Bane, The Passage

10) 30 from 1631  
Kushiel's Dart, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, A Clockwork Orange, Cold Mountain, The Time Traveler's Wife

11) 1 from 144
12) 1 from 60
13) 2 from 78 (both of them Prince of Thorns!)
14) 4 from 87

15) 200 from 342
Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, Gormenghast, Neverwhere, Gardens of the Moon, The Blade Itself, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Lord Fouls Bane, The Warded Man, Magican, The Name of the Wind, Tigana, The Once and Future King, Game of Thrones, The Shining, The Dark Tower, IT, Narnia, The Hunger Games, American Gods, Redwall, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Enders Game, The Hobbit, Silence of the Lambs, Lord of the Flies.

Friday 6 January 2012

David Gemmell Awards

The David Gemmell Morningstar Award is now open for votes! This is for 'best debut of 2011' and Prince of Thorns finds itself in august company! To vote all you need to do is click on the link then click on the book you like best.
The Morningstar Award - Best Debut
Also The Legend Award - Best Novel and The Ravenheart Award - Best Cover

There are multiple awards coming up, and many of them (like the Hugos) are more prestigious (currently) but this one is close to my heart. You don't need to be a paid up $50 member of something literary, you just need to be able to mouse-click. And while I'm sure Mr Campbell was a great person (I learned about the Campbell award today) ... I've _read_ David Gemmell, many times, and loved his work. He died too soon and this award is a great tribute to him and I'd love to see it go from strength to strength. So this is the one I'm going to talk about and the rest can go hang :)

Sunday 1 January 2012

List of Lists

2011 has been kind to Prince of Thorns!

Below are the 27 'Best of 2011' lists that I know of featuring Prince of Thorns (assembled in chronological order of publication). And also 12 'Best of 2012' lists, 7 'Best of 2013' lists, 4 'Best of 2014' lists, and 1 'Best of 2015' list!

The two main reasons for assembling this list of lists are:

i) A thank you to the reviewers in question. It's a labour of love maintaining a book blog.

ii) You're probably here because you liked Prince of Thorns. These reviewers (or in one case, these 20,000+ voters) appear to share your taste in one book, perhaps you will enjoy the other books on their lists.

Larael's Blog

Books Without Any Pictures
Bibliosanctum (whole series)
Buzz Entertainment News
The Grimdark Review

The Lord Baelish
Graeme's SFF
J. Michael Melican
Fantasy Review Barn
T.L. Gray
Fantastical Imaginations
Rants of Fantasy

Word Tipping
Fixed on Fantasy
Draumr Kopa - Fantasy Book Blog
Soul Mate Author Group
Scribbling in my car
Knutter's Choice
My Little Corner of the World
Great Reads
The Flushies
Cynical Reads
Nightlife Books

A Fantasy Reader
Mihir on Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Faction
Literary Musings
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
The Wertzone
Vilutheril Reviews
Fantasy Book Review
Edi’s Book Lighthouse
Book Monkey
SFF World Review
The Ranting Dragon
Fantasy Literature
A Fantastical Librarian
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Only The Best Scifi
CSI Librarian
Barnes & Noble
Staffer's Musings
LEC Book Reviews
Forbidden Planet
Bastard Books
Little Red Reviewer
The Reading Frenzy

Happy New Year