Tuesday 31 December 2019

My writing decade.

I have been occupied with the business of authoring for the whole of the decade just about to expire.
Here's an email I got in January 2010:

Sent: Monday, January 18, 2010, 11:27:34 AM GMT
Subject: The Hundred War

Dear Mark, 
Thank you for approaching the agency. I enjoyed the opening chapters and would very much like to read the rest of the script. This is exactly the sort of fantasy I enjoy and for which there is a buoyant market. You can send me a printout at the address below or email it to me.
Two minor housekeeping points: please (1) indent each paragraph by one hit on the tab key and (2) don’t leave a line between each paragraph.
I look forward to seeing how the story develops.
Kind Regards
& then in March less than 2 months later:
Sent: Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 5:09:48 PM GMT Subject: You have a deal Dear Mark, I am delighted to report that we have a deal for PRINCE OF THORNS plus two sequels. There will be others to follow, as the main deal with Ace books is for World English Language rights; we are now negotiating for translation rights and indeed, have just concluded a deal in Germany. The interest in PRINCEOF THORNS was so great that it went to an auction between publishers both sides of the Atlantic with four of the big British companies bidding and three American. Editors kept saying that Jorg is exactly the character they have been looking for, and loved the verve and style of the whole thing.

I remember being stunned by the phone call that preceded the email, and floored by the size of the advance being offered. My research had led me to expect something in the $5,000 range, and what I got instead broke into six figures and kept on going for a fair way after that. I had my very disabled daughter on my lap during the call, and afterwards I 'hung' her on my shoulder (she was able to be carried at that age) and went into the kitchen to tell my wife. She took one look at my face and thought that Celyn had died on me or something. Anyway, it has been a privilege to write books for publication for the past 10 years. It added colour and hope into a very stressful existence at the time. It also meant that when the Advanced Research Group I worked in closed down unexpectedly five years later, making ~150 Ph.D scientists redundant, I was able to transition smoothly into full time writing. I've no idea how long my luck in these endeavours will continue and I've taken care not to define myself by the success of my writing as it's an ephemeral thing that contains large elements of chance. But if the 2020's allow, then I shall endeavour to put many more books before you. Have a great new year, all. Mark


Sunday 29 December 2019

My best books of the decade!

The first thing to note is that I'm a slow reader! This is 10 years' worth 😲

(click for detail)
(note - the 2011/12 category also contains stray books missed off my lists)

"Best" is obviously subjective. In many ways it comes down to how the book has stuck in my memory. I've got a lot of things bouncing around in my skull, so if a book manages to claim some lasting real-estate there long after my salad days have left me then it's clearly doing a good job.

It turns out that books that have managed to stay with me are the quirky, unusual ones. I'm not going to be listing here any titles where the hero pulls down his (or her) visor and storms the enemy lines. I like traditional fantasy A LOT, but I don't tend to LOVE it anymore.

Like a Usain Bolt race from 10 years ago I can look at this field and see one clear winner. Behind that it's a photo finished for handful of others.

On another day some other selection might have made it into this top 4. I'm a big fan of the highly divisive The Magicians and it might have featured along with The Name of the Wind had they been written this decade. Strange the Dreamer might have featured had I written this post another week.

Let's look at some of those remarkable runner ups:

The Library at Mount Char is possibly the weirdest book in the world. A strangely addictive stand alone novel that hits you with crazy until you love it.

Master Assassins is neither highly rated nor highly popular. I feel perhaps the title and cover have turned off those who would enjoy it and drawn in those less inclined towards such books. For me the writing was a literary joy. I loved the prose, the delicacy and mystery of the backstory, the art in the relationships.

The Girl With All The Gifts is a book where I can't pin down what made it so good, but the fact is that it sucked me right in and didn't let go.

Assassin's Fate is here on behalf of all the Fitz and Fool books and to stand testimony to Robin Hobb's evil cruelty. She made this old man cry. Lots.

And the best of the best?

Unsurprisingly to those of you who know me … it's the books I can't stop talking about. All three of them.

I know that not everyone loves these books as much as I do, or even likes them, but all you people are wrong. There, I've said it.

I loved Senlin Ascends for many reasons, initially and enduringly for the prose, but also for the wit, imagination, and humanity.

And there it is. My best books of the decade. You'll have to wait at least ten years to see its like again!

Saturday 28 December 2019

Watch Witcher

I have a small vested interest in the success of the Witcher series on Netflix.

A recent Guardian article summed it up neatly:

"The show’s reception – with its audience if not with critics – may also give a boost to the producers and backers of a slew of fantasy shows set to hit TV screens over the next few years as eager executives hope to replicate the global smash of Game of Thrones."

And as someone with three series under option for film/TV it would be nice to have them move toward the next step!

As it turns out, Witcher has done exceptionally well despite a kicking from the critics. The same Guardian article reported:

"The Witcher is currently listed as Netflix’s highest-rated original series on IMDb, a ranking that means it beat out Stranger Things, Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror, The Crown, Ozark and Haunting of Hill House."

Though there may be some journalistic sleight of hand going on there. Highest-rated does not mean highest number of ratings, and it's number watching the show that counts most, not how highly those watching it scored the show. Still, it's an encouraging sign. As with average ratings on Goodreads though, this score is likely to decrease as the audience grows and extends beyond the natural demographic.

The real question is whether Witcher will appeal beyond the borders of fantasy fans and players of the games to the mass audience who enjoyed Game of Thrones despite their instinct that fantasy was not for them.

Here the question remains open, and viewing figures over a longer timescale will tell the tale. I don't know the answer.

Certainly, in my view, Witcher is not filling the Game of Thrones hole. It's a very different beast. A Game of Thrones thrived on foundations of realism, politics, and low levels of the fantastic (i.e little magic). The sets and costumes were often dark and dirty, the characters were complex, their motivations rooted in the human condition.

Witcher has its feet firmly set in fairy-tale. I've read one of the books (The Last Wish (a short story collection), which is the source material for much of the first season). It's clear there that many of the short stories are retellings of actual fairy-tales like Beauty and the Beast. The fairy-tale vibe permeates the over-arching story with destiny being the grand driver and archaic rules (the law of surprise) holding sway over common sense. This is all fine. Once you've bought into that set up then the book, like the show, is very entertaining.

But asking the general public to buy into the fairy-tale en masse is a step further than Game of Thrones took them. I hope they take it. If they do it will be because George RR Martin held their hand for the first step.

Some of the negative reaction I've seen has been based on this difference. I've seen the show called cheesy and seen it accused of not making sense. To my mind these concerns spring from a desire to have something closer to Game of Thrones. Fairy-tales do their own thing. The world-building is not required to be so robust. The plot will of necessity have more "because it is" & "because it does" in it. We're not intended to look too deeply into it. We're expected to lean back and enjoy the ride. And so far I have been!

As a footnote: I've been deriving some amusement from the way that everything in Witcher World seems to cost one hefty bag of coins and how every grubby peasant seems able to fish the necessary sum from the depths of his trews!

"I'd like a stale bun, please."
"Certainly, sir. That'll be one bulging bag of coin. Let's not bother counting the contents."

"I've just murdered this huge monster."
"Well done, Witcher! Well done indeed. It does seem quite large. Have this large bag of coins. There's enough in there for 3 stale buns and half of a regular session with a whore."

Friday 27 December 2019

My reading in 2019

I've read a fairly impressive (for me) 16 books this year. If I beat one a month I feel I'm doing pretty well.

I know some bloggers devour 200 or even 300 books in a year. I've no idea how. But I do like the fact that I can remember what happened in the books I've read, and I doubt that would be possible if I read ten times as many.

Here's my reading in 2018. I've been doing this a while so you can step back quite a way.

As ever, every headline links to my review of the book on Goodreads.

(highest average rating of my 2019 reads)

The rest of my reads in the order I read them:

(highest number of ratings out of my 2019 reads)

(longest book I read in 2019)

(shortest book I read in 2019 - also lowest number of ratings)

Friday 20 December 2019

The Girl and the Stars ARC contest!

Contest Closed!

To enter the draw for a signed and doodled Advance Reading Copy of The Girl and the Stars all you have to do is send me a photo of you, dressed for the COLD. You can wear your Xmas scarf, ten woolly hats, fake furs, everything you have in your wardrobe... just dress to impress keep warm!

The winner will be chosen randomly but I may add in some free books for the best entries.

The randomly chosen winner is #3 Cameron.

#13, Rebecca, is our popular winner and gets a signed book of some description!

62. Jennifer

61. Vanessa

60. Taylor

59. R.

58. Jess

57. Mia

56. Mike

55. Chris

54. Karl

53. Nadine

52. L.A

51. Christian

50. Adam (outside his house today!)

49. John

48. Lilith

47. Linsey & Frederick

46. Andrew

45. Nico

44. Presti

43. Bob

42. Vincent

41. Craig

40. Ross

39. Alison

38. Melissa

37. Ken

36. Hannah

35. Aoife

34. Sean

33. Fraser

32. Tammy

31. Alan

30. Ciprian

29. Cherry

28. Calin

27. Tony

26. Doug

25. Stevie

24. Steve

23.  Milica (& sister - reacting to Jorg's excesses!)

22. William

21. Pamela

20. Jazmyn (sunny Tasmania!)

19.  Krystal

18. Mattie

17.  Daniela

16.  Kerri

15.  Tori

14.  Marielle

13.  Rebecca

12.  Jonathan

11.  Kevan

10.  Cindy

9.  Mark

8. Zelijko

7. Angi

6. Greg

5. Megan

4. Sarah

3. Cameron

2. Tracey

1.  Colin