Wednesday 28 November 2018


Prince of Thorns reaches 75,000 ratings on Goodreads today!

I remember wondering if it would reach 1,000 and later being amazed that it had reached 10,000. Sales figures are nice to see, but somehow the fact that 75,000 people have taken the time to rate the book on Goodreads seems a more concrete and impressive number.

75K is a good milestone. Sights now set on six figures!

And of course the younger members of the Lawrence book-family are giving chase. Congratulations are in order for Prince of Fools currently celebrating on 21 and Red Sister recently reaching 18!

Sunday 25 November 2018

Autism and authoring.

Despite the colourful nature of the above spectrum, the high functioning end of the autism spectrum is a bit of a grey area. The boundaries between some aspects of Asperger's Syndrome and being introverted, socially anxious, or plain antisocial are quite blurry in places.

I should note here that I'm no expert and intend no offence here if I make factual errors.

I've met quite a few individuals representing a broad sampling of the autistic spectrum between the end where the effects are barely noticeable and the other where speech and many other abilities can be lost. It seems that somewhere along the line between those two extremes the ability to model other people is lost and that the individual can lose the capacity to recognise what information they share in common with others, leading them to launch into conversations without preamble or foundation. As the other party you can find yourself at a loss as to what is being talked about.

This is the antithesis of story-telling. A common "error" among would be writers is the failure to see things from the readers' perspective and to realise that the glowing city they visualise in their imagination, or the vital motivation, or the vibrant passion, are in fact still not on the page and remain only in their minds with the sentences as a support structure rather than the entirety of their vision.

An autistic person may, by not forming internal models of their audience, not consider whether what they are saying is relevant or interesting to the other party. A writer very much needs to be able to place themself on the far side of the page and consider the words there as they would seem to some other person without access to the contents of the writer's head.

And yet, my diagram places a significant number of writers on the mild end of the spectrum...

It's my feeling that whilst the effects of more severe autism are detrimental to storytelling, it may be that the mildest effects can help. I feel that I am in the group of writers who hover near the end of the spectrum. Very mild Aspergers still puts a barrier between you and the wider world. It can give you social anxiety. It can make normal social interactions require an effort. Maybe not a huge effort, but one that if sustained for too long without respite, becomes exhausting.

The net effect is to make folk like me more at ease with observing than with taking part. And because the miracles of social interaction don't come to us as easily as breathing or taking the next step, we become students of them. We put a great deal of mental energy into modeling other people, understanding what makes them tick, trying to see things from their point of view. We may still not be very good at it on the fly. The mental effort, the concentration required for real-time socialising may quickly tire us out. But we can end up being pretty damn good at it on the page, given a little longer to think it over.

As an example: I am phone phobic. I hate making phone calls. I've spoken to my best friend maybe four times on the phone in the last twenty years. It took seven years as an author before I agreed to do my only podcast. As a teenager pre-internet attending a central London school miles from my home with pupils spread out across the capital, I needed to use the phone if I were to have a social life, go to parties, meet girls etc. So I bit the bullet and did it. But I still remember, before every call, the time spent thinking about how the conversation would go, what they might say, what I would say in return, like an athlete visualising the win. I think any talent I have for dialogue between characters has its roots in that anxiety, that visualisation and rehearsal.

So anyway, that's my theory, backed by observation of many of my fellow authors. I feel that a good number of us share a weakness that we have made a strength.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

A Book of the Ancestor short story!

You wanted a Nona short story for Christmas, so I got you one!
Only ... you have to buy it. And wrap it up. And give it to yourself.
Out December 19th. Pre-order now while stocks last.
#MayContainNuts #AlsoKissing
Buy it here for the UK and here for the US.

Friday 16 November 2018

REVIEW: The Hod King

As an author I know there’s an inevitable degree of fear when you cast your book out on the waters of the reading public and offer them the chance to tell you that your baby is ugly, or worse … average.

I’m less familiar with the other side of the equation, the fear that a long awaited and much anticipated book will not capture the magic held by earlier books from the same author. In a series this can be a particularly sharp anxiety as the author holds in their hands the legacy of beloved characters. To see that squandered would be a sad thing.

This is a long book. Not a George RR Martin doorstop, but substantially longer than anything I’ve written. And … let me end your suspense … it is not merely a 5* book, it’s a masterpiece. 

The recent explosion of adoration for these books doesn't surprise me. What shocks me is that it's not much bigger. I’m not surprised that Senlin Ascends made the Goodreads Choice Award semi-final, just sad that it didn’t make the final. My prediction is that readers will be talking about these books long after much of what currently keeps them company on the shelves is forgotten.

Reading these books makes me feel as if I'm a really clever intellectual sharing in something magnificent that only a rarefied few could appreciate. When of course that is the genius of the writing. Actually the series is highly accessible and loved by many, as witnessed by the high ratings and general praise.

To the book then! It’s no secret that I love Bancroft’s prose. If the story were mediocre this book would squeeze 5* from me just because of the razor sharp wit edging the lines. The descriptions deliver whole personas in a single line. In context they are amazing, even in isolation they are impressive. They encapsulate new characters immediately:

Lady Xenia de Clarke talked with the urgency of a burst pipe.

Or deliciously remind you why you love familiar ones:

Voleta surveyed her options miserably. "I think humanity peaked at the spoon, don't you?" 

"And I will tell you again, if you ever eat your fish with a spoon, I will appear out of thin air wherever you are in the world, snatch the spoon from your hand, and rap you on the head with it!"

The observational wit had me chuckling on many occasions and I am not given to chuckling.

The Hod King is a masterclass in contrast. In the book a particular ride is described as including a ponderous rise and a sudden terrifying fall. The story begins with a similarly slow (but fascinating rise) then takes sudden appalling turn into darkness. After that it’s a sequence of dizzying highs and terrifying lows. Sometimes in the space of two lines. At one point I was starting to laugh at one line and startled out of it by the next line, one that made my face fall and had my eyes prickling. You’ll know it when you get there.

I read a chunk of this book on a trip to a hospital, a day on which I laughed out loud in a hospital foyer beside a bald skeletal child on chemo and later on the bus home had tears in my eyes while crammed on a bus beside a giant with world class, paint-peeling BO. And not from the ammonia stink … though that would have done it soon enough had I not opted to stand.

There is, on nearly every page, a line so weighted with warmth, wit, or humanity that it makes you pause to consider it. Sometimes all three at once.

A word on the plot, which will potentially have SPOILERS for book 1 & 2, so if you haven’t read them … go do that.

The books so far have centred on Senlin’s quest to find Marya. The previous book ended with us seeing that the Sphinx has located her. In The Hod King Senlin is sent to spy on the ringdom where Marya is. The story unfolds from Senlin’s point of view, and from those of Edith, Voleta, Iren, and Bryon. I love Bryon, he’s such a complex character and so artfully rude. Actually I love all of them. We spend a long time with each of them and it’s generally a leisurely stay, I never felt bounced around. The story telling device has us moving to a new character as the current one falls into peril but I was always captured by the new view on the unfolding but glorious mess. In several places we step back in time to see how the other characters separately arrive at some critical point. It’s all very well done and adds a nice multi-layering to some scenes.

The stakes are raised and raised again, both at the world level and at the character level. Bancroft is not gentle with us. Nobody feels safe. Nobody is safe. And the villains are oh so villainous, while at the same time being frighteningly ordinary and understandable. Take random people and allow wealth and a regimented class system to elevate them above the constraints of morality … and a fair few will become monsters.

Anyway. To conclude. I was thrilled by the story, wildly jealous of the writing, and am now very keen to read the final book.

If you’ve seen my ravings about the previous books. Well this was certainly as excellent, and very possibly better. I would have to re-read to be sure, but this one felt as if it raised the bar in terms of heart-in-the-mouth moments while maintaining the wonder and charm.

Gaze upon my early copy and despair that you have to wait until January! Still, you can pre-order now.

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