Sunday, 18 December 2022

A Year In Numbers ... 12!

For 9 of the last 12 years I've said: "It has been a very good 20** all told!".

2020 & 2021 & 2022... hmmm ... Not so much. My books have done fine, but I've spent the sizeable majority of December in hospital with my youngest daughter which is never much fun. She decided that things like breathing and maintaining a measureable body temperature weren't for her. She's been improving slowly though and we hope to be out of here before Chrismas day. In a touching move a group on my Patreon discord clubbed together and sent a care package for me and Celyn, thoughtfully including gifts for my wife, cat, and dog too!

This post follows up from similar posts at the same time in 2021202020192018201720162015201420132012 and 2011 I record a year of ups and less ups. I take a minute to do the sums and raid the scrapbook.

I've now had my Patreon for more than a year and it has been great fun so far. It's a platform that allows readers to support authors directly and encourages more exchange. I've done loads of chapter critques, sent out 50+ signed books as prizes, tuckerised a bunch of people. We have a Discord that gets a lot of chat, and each Patreon tier comes with perks, which can be anything from book plates, and free stories, to free signed books and writing consults. I currently have 113 patrons - many thanks!

Since King of Thorns turned 10 this year, I'll be doing a smidgen of looking in the rear view mirror.

The Girl And The Moon came out in 2022, finishing the Book of the Ice trilogy, and reaching out to connect to all my other work so far.   

 


May 2023 sees an entirely new trilogy start - The Library Trilogy begins with The Book That Wouldn't Burn.

I can't share the (human drawn) covers yet - so here's a AI art placeholder.
Pre-order for the win (US or UK)! 

10th anniversary editions of King of Thorns are available for pre-order!

They're signed & numbered.

In the US you can order a leather-bound deluxe copy with internal art from original cover artist Jason Chan. An object of beauty!


Lies, damn lies, and statistics to follow:

Goodreads severely mucked about with ratings numbers on Prince of Thorns and Red Sister in 2022 (possibly other books). There was a year PoT got a weird bump, which GR attributed to "flushing the buffers". It really is a befuddlingly badly coded site. I suspect the disapperance of 1000s of ratings was somehow linked to that event. A correction of a correction perhaps? In any event Red Sister now has FEWER ratings than it did this time last year, having gone up ~8,000 the year before...



The blog is bumping along around 1,000 hits a day - which isn't terrible - and passed 4 million in total in 2022.


I'm still on InstagramPintrest, and Tumblr

And finally, as ever, our favourite cesspit of witch hunts and fake news: Twitter, where I continue my crawl forward with an extra 2,700 followers this year, despite having lost ~300 since Mr Musk's takeover.



Many thanks to all my readers for keeping me going! I hope you all have happy holidays and that 2023 is much much better for all of us!




 Join my Patreon.






Thursday, 15 December 2022

My reading in 2022


2022 has not been a bumper year reading-wise, just 9 books read, nearing my lowest ever total of 8 reads. It was a really varied bag of books ranging across all manner of styles. The SPFBO champion and finalist are definitely worth a look if they appear to align with your tastes. And Shauna Lawless's debut is top notch, again caveated with it being the sort of book you're looking for. Hopefully the reviews linked from the brief descriptions below will help resolve those questions. A Gamble of Gods - Mitriel Faywood's genre-spanning debut has my praise on the cover!

Since I've been doing this my annual totals have run thusly:

2022 - 9 books

2021 - 9 books 

2020 - 8 books

2019 - 16 books

2018 - 16 books

2017 - 12 books

2016 - 16 books

2015 - 12 books

2014 - 12 books

2013 - 10 books


This year I spent 6 months on two books - both quite long, one rather dense (Satanic Verses - hardcore literary fiction) and the other somewhat out of my wheelhouse (Outlander - romantic historical fiction with lots of sex). I made up for that by speeding through two novels and a pulpy sci-fi book.

I'm now reading Phil Williams' Kept From Cages and enjoying it, even if it did give me a painful papercut on the way into Accident & Emergency.

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 a link to my reading in 2021. 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. 

Presented in chronological order, most recent read first.





























Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Page 1 critique - Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind


This continues the reprisal of my series of page 1 critiques - you can read about the project HERE, and there's a list of all the critiques so far too.

I'm also posting some of these on my Youtube channel (like, subscribe yadda yadda).

***

So, I've critiqued page 1s that were sent to me, my own page 1, and three page 1s from fantasy books I loved.

This one's a bit different. More than 10 years ago but fewer than 20, I picked up Wizard's First Rule from our bookshelves. My best friend had recommended the series and either loaned us the books or my wife had bought some. Either way, we have three of them on the shelves, big fat 80s-looking fantasies, published to great acclaim in the mid 90s.

I read the first page, rolled my eyes at it, and said, 'no thanks'.

In the intervening years I discovered that Terry Goodkind was an unpopular figure in the fantasy forums I started to haunt post my own publication. He was massively successful in the early part of the century. He was the first or one of the first authors ever to become #1 New York Times bestseller with a fantasy book.

He has, however, said some things that are neither good nor kind about the genre, and by extension, his fellow writers:

"I don't write fantasy. I write stories that have important human themes. They have elements of romance, history, adventure, mystery and philosophy. Most fantasy is one-dimensional. It's either about magic or a world-building. I don't do either."

OK, Terry...

But, I knew nothing of this or of his Ayn Rand worship when I made my eye-roll and abandoned his book, never to return. So that was unbiased.

Mr Goodkind passed away a couple of years ago, so there are no egos to bruise here, and I feel safe addressing the work.

Note - echoing and emphasising the disclaimer (below) that I always include on these things. Goodkind was WILDLY successful. He sold way more books than I have or am ever going to, and to great acclaim, including from my best friend.

What this underscores, is that my judgements are purely subjective, I'm telling you what I like. There may be some correlation to "what sells" but it's not a strong correlation. And of course, we all tend to call "what I like" good. But 'good' is in the eye of the reader.

Enough - let's go for it. I've not read this page in 10+ years. Perhaps my opinions will have changed!


(My standard disclaimer which, by chance, mentions Terry Goodkind)

It's very hard to separate one's tastes from a technical critique. There are page 1s from popular books with which I would find multiple faults. I didn't, for example, like page 1 of Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule (I didn't pursue the rest of the book). But that book has 150,000+ ratings on Goodreads, a great average score of 4.12 and Goodkind is a #1 NYT bestseller. His first page clearly did a great job for many people.


I'm not always right *hushed gasp*. You will likely be able to find a successful and highly respected author who will tell you the opposite to practically every bit of advice I give. Possibly not the same author in each case though.

The art of receiving criticism is to take what's useful to you and discard the rest. You need sufficient confidence in your own vision/voice such that whilst criticism may cause you to adjust course you're not about to do a U-turn for anyone. If you act on every bit of advice you'll get crit-burn, your story will be pulled in different directions by different people. It will stop being yours and turn into some Frankenstein's monster that nobody will ever want to read.

Additionally - don't get hurt or look for revenge. The person critiquing you is almost always trying to help you (it's true in some groups there will be the occasional person who is jealous/mean/misguided but that's the exception, not the rule). That person has put in effort on your behalf. If they don't like your prose it's not personal - they didn't just slap your baby.


I've flicked through some of the pages looking for one where I have something to say - something that hopefully is useful to the author and to anyone else reading the post.


I've posted the unadulterated page first then again with comments inset and at the end.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


It was an odd-looking vine. Dusky variegated leaves hunkered against a stem that wound in a stranglehold around the smooth trunk of a balsam fir. Sap drooled down the wounded bark, and dry limbs slumped, making it look as if the tree were trying to voice a moan into the cool, damp morning air. Pods stuck out from the vine here and there along its length, almost seeming to look warily about for witnesses.

It was the smell that had first caught his attention, a smell like the decomposition of something that had been wholly unsavory even in life. Richard combed his fingers through his thick hair as his mind lifted out of the fog of despair, coming into focus upon seeing the vine. He scanned for others, but saw none. Everything else looked normal. The maples of the upper Ven Forest were already tinged with crimson, proudly showing off their new mantle in the light breeze. With nights getting colder, it wouldn’t be long before their cousins down in the Hartland Woods joined them. The oaks, being the last to surrender to the season, still stoically wore their dark green coats.

Having spent most his life in the woods, Richard knew all the plants—if not by name, by sight. From when Richard was very small, his friend Zedd had taken him along, hunting for special herbs. He had shown Richard which ones to look for, where they grew and why, and put names to everything they saw. Many times they just talked, the old man always treating him as an equal, asking as much as he answered. Zedd had sparked Richard’s hunger to learn, to know.This vine, though, he had seen only once before, and it wasn’t in the woods. He had found a sprig of it at his father’s house, in the blue clay jar Richard had made when he was a boy. His father had been a trader and had traveled often, looking for the chance exotic or rare item. People of means had often sought him out, interested in what he might have turned up. It seemed to be the looking, more than the finding, that he had liked, as he had always been happy to part with his latest discovery so he could be off after the next.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

OK - so I still think this is terrible. It has the 80s stamped all over it. It's the sort of slow, wandering, distant start that lots of 80s fantasy favoured. The 'I'm going to occupy 1200 pages so I might as well start wasting space immediately' approach. Many 80s fantasy authors assumed (perhaps correctly at the time) that the reader had nothing better to do and, having already purchased the book, they would eat up what was served to them.

Clearly they/we did. Would we do so now? I don't think so - but I've been wrong before.



It was an odd-looking vine.

Not a great opening prose-wise. It does pose a question at least. What was odd about it? Did it have eyes? Was blood oozing from its thorns?

 Dusky variegated leaves hunkered against a stem that wound in a stranglehold around the smooth trunk of a balsam fir. Sap drooled down the wounded bark, and dry limbs slumped,

Wow ... he just spent 10% of page 1 telling us about a vine. A pretty ordinary-looking vine if I'm honest.

Many 80s fantasy writers were trying to clone Tolkien and the main thing they picked up on was lots of description. But they tended to try to outdo JRRT on quantity rather than quality.

 making it look as if the tree were trying to voice a moan into the cool, damp morning air. Pods stuck out from the vine here and there along its length, almost seeming to look warily about for witnesses.

This really is wordy - trying to voice a moan into the cool damp morning air...

And he slaps "making it look as if" and "almost seeming to" - this is verbiage that adds nothing and in fact subtracts.

It was the smell that had first caught his attention, a smell like the decomposition of something that had been wholly unsavory even in life.

I mean, points for using another sense, but ... do I care, and then so many words to describe the smell. Did it matter? Do we return to it? I'm not saying never add colour - but here, now, on page 1? HOOK ME!

Remember - I literally did walk away from this book, and not to make a point, just because the 1st page let me.

 Richard combed his fingers through his thick hair

A deep (read good) PoV thinks like a person. They don't consider themselves tall or long-fingered etc. Similarly, he's unlikely to consider his own hair thick, or at least to remark on it to himself. This is distancing - it puts us outside Richard, not in him.

as his mind lifted out of the fog of despair, coming into focus upon seeing the vine. He scanned for others, but saw none. Everything else looked normal. 

Well, he's in despair, I guess that's a possible interesting thing among all these vines and trees and leaves... 

"scanned" is weird way to put it. Is he a T1000?

++ full confession - I've since seen that I use 'scanned' in the same way - my nitpicking got out of hand! ++

Everything else looked normal ... a bit of a nothing line.

The maples of the upper Ven Forest were already tinged with crimson, proudly showing off their new mantle in the light breeze. With nights getting colder, it wouldn’t be long before their cousins down in the Hartland Woods joined them. The oaks, being the last to surrender to the season, still stoically wore their dark green coats.

Dear god... We've moved on from describing an allegedly unusual vine to describing normal trees.

If this was excellent prose then I'd give it a pass as I have with other page 1s as the author displaying their writing chops. Read on, you'll get more of these word-wonders. But this isn't great prose. It's ok. It passes the bar, but past that, it's standard, generic. If it were a new writer just starting out, I'd say "well done", but here it's just sufficient.

Having spent most his life in the woods, Richard knew all the plants—if not by name, by sight. 

Uh huh... Is there a story? Is there a problem? Some action? A unique selling point?

From when Richard was very small, his friend Zedd had taken him along, hunting for special herbs. He had shown Richard which ones to look for, where they grew and why, and put names to everything they saw. Many times they just talked, the old man always treating him as an equal, asking as much as he answered. Zedd had sparked Richard’s hunger to learn, to know.

So ... this is on page 1 ... telling us about something pretty boring in the character's past. It's not doing it for me. At all.

This vine,

Hooray ... we're back to the vine...

 though, he had seen only once before, and it wasn’t in the woods. He had found a sprig of it at his father’s house, in the blue clay jar Richard had made when he was a boy. His father had been a trader and had traveled often, looking for the chance exotic or rare item.

And now we're being told more stuff about the past. Rather generic, boring stuff to boot. 

I'm not one for scattering adjectives - remember the "cool damp morning air"? but I'll give a point for the "blue". It is, as I've said, good to add *some* (not lots) pinpoint detail. And here, the unnecessary qualification that it was a blue jar actually makes the memory seem a bit more real.

However, a 2nd memory on page 1? Nah. Come on, let's have some immediacy. Put us there. Have something happen.

 People of means had often sought him out, interested in what he might have turned up. It seemed to be the looking, more than the finding, that he had liked, as he had always been happy to part with his latest discovery so he could be off after the next.

And I'm done! Distant and wordy to the last. An unexciting memory filled with stray words. I had no incentive to continue, so I didn't. I plucked a different book from the shelf and left the 773 following pages unread.

I do not think this book would get published today. If it did ... I do not think it would sell. But I have been wrong before! 


The book failed to do on page 1 any of the things I would advise a new writer to do. But unlike some of the other page 1s I've critiqued, it didn't do anything clever/unique instead.

It presented a character without an interesting voice. It gave us a dull situation without threat or tension.
It jumped into some dull memories. Everything felt generic and distant. I was left with only two minor questions: why is he in despair? & what's up with this vine? Neither of which felt compelling and neither of which I ever want answered.

Was Goodkind's self aggrandisement whilst shitting on fantasy writers in general a justified flex? Well, I know half of it was bollocks because fantasy does all the things he claimed to do. Did he do them too? Don't know, and based on this page 1, don't care.

But I return to the start. He sold millions, made millions. What you gonna do, eh? 

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

Critiquing my own first pages! --- Solomon.

Since I've now put 10 page ones through the mill, variously ones sent to me for exactly this kind of critique, and the first pages of books I've loved, I felt it time to put up or shut up!

Obviously, it's not possible for me to subject my own work to an unbiased dissection, but I can at least discuss it within the same framework as previous page ones and see to what extend I follow my own advice.

I thought I'd start with page one of a short story I have in the upcoming anthology Unbroken II. It's a Jorg story and its target audience is people who've enjoyed the Broken Empire, but it still has to work for newbies who are arriving at line one with no understanding of what's come before.


This continues the reprisal my series of page 1 critiques - you can read about the project HERE, and there's a list of all the critiques so far too.

I'm also posting some of these on my Youtube channel (like, subscribe yadda yadda).



Solomon

Details matter. Most people would say that there’s never a good reason to cut a baby in half. I maintain that you should never cut a baby in half without a good reason. See the difference?

They say that the devil conceals himself in the details, and some think that’s quite a trick, but in my experience the whole of hell can hide behind a single comma with room to spare.

In ancient literature heroes from Gilgamesh to Superman are halted in their tracks not by giants or dragons but by moral dilemmas. For my part, laying no claim to heroism, I’ve tended to overcome the moral dilemmas in my path by ignoring them, by cutting through them like the Gordian Knot or Solomon’s famous baby problem, or – in most cases – simply failing to notice their existence.

Life with my road brothers tended to flatten the moral landscape into something more easily traversed and with few tripping hazards. But in my fourteenth year I’d come to the throne of a postage-stamp-sized kingdom comprising mountain peaks, deep gorges, and everything in between – which turned out to be almost entirely steep, rocky slopes.

The books I inherited in my uncle’s library, a small forgotten room that came with the castle, tell me that the topography of my domain is the result of an ancient and ongoing act of violence wherein titanic fire demons, trapped deep below the ground, battle to visit us. We live such mayfly lives compared to these beasts beneath us that the chaos and upheaval they’ve wrought appears to us as frozen in, incomprehensible, the very definition of stability though it is all in churning motion.

Language is much the same, everchanging, bearing the scars and tombstones of the past in its flow. Postage-stamp-sized kingdom. I know it means small. So, a postage stamp must have been a very small thing. To know more than that I would have to spend more time at my late uncle’s books. Something I would have no objection to, save that a more urgent matter came to my attention.

“They’re saying it’s yours and they’re going to disembowel it before the gates,” Lord Makin said.


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Let's switch to red! 

Details matter. Most people would say that there’s never a good reason to cut a baby in half.

Taking these two together I think this is a decent opening. The immediate implication is that there's a "but" coming. And when it's a "but" in the context of cutting up babies, that puts us out of the usual playground and into the long grass. It raises questions and starts telling us things about the narrator from the get go.

I maintain that you should never cut a baby in half without a good reason. See the difference?

We now know the PoV is in first person, and they're narrating about this rather awful subject in a comfortable, conversational style, as if to them it's not beyond the pale. This person is not like us. Which makes them a question too.

They say that the devil conceals himself in the details, and some think that’s quite a trick, but in my experience the whole of hell can hide behind a single comma with room to spare.

This would be one of those openings where to some degree I'm laying my prose-wares before the reader. I'm hoping not just to write about interesting things, but to do so in an interesting way, and attempting to catch the reader's attention on as many levels as possible in this entertainment saturated environment in which we live.

In ancient literature heroes from Gilgamesh to Superman are halted in their tracks not by giants or dragons but by moral dilemmas. For my part, laying no claim to heroism, I’ve tended to overcome the moral dilemmas in my path by ignoring them, by cutting through them like the Gordian Knot or Solomon’s famous baby problem, or – in most cases – simply failing to notice their existence.

So, I'm ignoring my advice about action and dialogue, and simply seeking to engage with character and questions. Here I tease the post apocalyptic setting by describing Superman as ancient literature. It is - I hope - an efficient, tangential way to broach the subject without being wordy or heavy handed.

Life with my road brothers tended to flatten the moral landscape into something more easily traversed and with few tripping hazards. But in my fourteenth year I’d come to the throne of a postage-stamp-sized kingdom comprising mountain peaks, deep gorges, and everything in between – which turned out to be almost entirely steep, rocky slopes.

More setting and background with a touch of humour. This is really all about Jorg's amoral, dryly witty character, throwing in some world building too. Our narrator is a king (let's assume he's a he). A minor king.

The books I inherited in my uncle’s library, a small forgotten room that came with the castle, tell me that the topography of my domain is the result of an ancient and ongoing act of violence wherein titanic fire demons, trapped deep below the ground, battle to visit us. We live such mayfly lives compared to these beasts beneath us that the chaos and upheaval they’ve wrought appears to us as frozen in, incomprehensible, the very definition of stability though it is all in churning motion.

More world and character building. I think if I weren't aiming this squarely at the faithful then I would by this point have moved into the now and the problem and things happening. As it is, that's a little delayed.

Language is much the same, everchanging, bearing the scars and tombstones of the past in its flow. Postage-stamp-sized kingdom. I know it means small. So, a postage stamp must have been a very small thing. To know more than that I would have to spend more time at my late uncle’s books. Something I would have no objection to, save that a more urgent matter came to my attention.

More world building with the 'lost past' post apocalyptic squarely in the reader's face now. 

“They’re saying it’s yours and they’re going to disembowel it before the gates,” Lord Makin said.

And finally, the problem foreshadowed by the graphic, the title, and the first lines, is given to us with some long awaited dialogue and a second character.

And hopefully (had the story started at the top of the page and this was the bottom) sufficient interest and motivation to turn over.

Let me know which first page of mine you'd like me to talk about next.




Join my Patreon.

Join my 3-emails-a-year newsletter #Prizes #FreeContent 






Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

The Book That Wouldn't Burn

In May 2023 I have a new book coming out!  Pre-order it (please)  https://lnk.to/tbtwb


& here's Tom Roberts's glorious art unadulterated by my name etc


(drink in that detail!)


It's called The Book That Wouldn't Burn, and it's book 1 in a trilogy (provisionally called The Library Trilogy). 

You can help me (& you) out by marking it "to read" on Goodreads.

& you can pre-order it in many places, including Barnes & Noble, US Amazon, and UK Amazon.

Pre-ordering is a great help to any author!

Books 2 & 3 are finished (bar editing) and due for release in May 2024 and May 2025.



I don't like discussing what my books are about, never have done. It feels as if it lessens them. But I know many readers like to know. Hell, some readers turn to the back page and read that before starting on page 1. I mean ... those people are evil, and there should be laws against such behaviour. But yes, it takes all sorts.

If you read on you'll get a series of progressively more expansive (though still vague) descriptions of the content / themes / motivations.


The books concern a vast, ancient library. I mean big. Like REALLY big. (see how good I am with the words!)


The blurb on Goodreads says:

"A boy has lived his whole life trapped within a vast library, older than empires and larger than cities. A girl has spent hers in a tiny settlement out on the Dust where nightmares stalk and no one goes. The world has never even noticed them. That's about to change. 

Their stories spiral around each other, across worlds and time. This is a tale of truth and lies and hearts, and the blurring of one into another. A journey on which knowledge erodes certainty, and on which, though the pen may be mightier than the sword, blood will be spilled and cities burned."

It's a story that plays out across worlds and times, and involves doorways to new places. It features, unsurprisingly, a lot of books, and librarians, and some bookshops too!


A real bookshop in Porto, Portugal - they have my books in Portuguese!



It surprises me, but I’m actually more excited for the release of my 16th book than perhaps for any of its predecessors. Prediction is notoriously difficult in this business – which is why publishers need to be brave souls, prepared to gamble on their instincts and experience – but I feel THE BOOK THAT WOULDN’T BURN has the potential to reach my widest audience yet. The reaction from my editors and test readers has shown it to be a book that generates enthusiasm. And it’s that kind of excitement that can catch fire and make great things happen.

            It’s a book that’s been bubbling around inside me for a long time. My oldest memories are of libraries. When my (English) parents brought me to the UK from the US for the first time at age 1 my mother’s first job was as a librarian, and I still carry those toddlerhood impressions of wandering what seemed huge halls filled with impossibly tall book-laden shelves. I wanted to wrap up every book-thing I had in me, from library to bookshop to home-shelf and make it into a story. In the end it was clear to me that the story had to be inside a library, lost in it, trapped in it, sustained by it.

            THE BOOK THAT WOULDN’T BURN is about many things, adventure, discovery, and romance for starters, but across the trilogy it becomes obvious that it’s also a love letter to books and the places that they live. The focus is on one vast and timeless library, but the love expands to encompass smaller more personal collections, and bookshops of all shades too.

            It’s a novel wrapped around theme of books, and society, and how they interact. About access to information, the difference between information and truth, the seduction of convenient lies, and the danger of knowledge not tempered by wisdom. It’s also about the almost sacred awe a big library, church-quiet, can inspire. And about the comfortable heaping of paperbacks in a second-hand shop. Also, there’s kissing. 

An imagined bookshop, drawn for you by the AI Midjourney.




And here's Tom Roberts' original colouring on the cover art:



Join my Patreon.

Join my 3-emails-a-year newsletter #Prizes #FreeContent