So I’ve jumped back aboard my longship. After a two-book sojourn in the 17th century, amongst Roundheads and Cavaliers, flashing blades, flaring muskets, horseflesh and the carnage of set-piece battles, I’ve packed my sea chest and turned my bristles into the salt spray once more.
Here’s where I tell you the whale’s road was whispering to me like water across the bows. That the wonder-lust (plunder-lust?) was just too bright to ignore. And that’s all true. They do say a criminal always returns to the scene of the crime. But there was also some good old-fashioned Viking opportunism behind my decision to go dark (Ages) again. You see, the Vikings are coming.
Michael Hirst’s critically acclaimed television series Vikings is a global success, viewed in almost every market in the world. The second season will premiere on LOVEFiLM on Friday February 28th, just 24 hours after its broadcast Stateside on History. Following exhibitions at the National Museum of Scotland and the Smithsonian, The British Museum launches The BP Exhibition Vikings: life and legend. This is the first major exhibition on Vikings at the British Museum for over 30 years and will run from 6 March – 22 June 2014. Former Lord of the Rings producer Barrie Osborne has revealed plans for an epic series of Viking movies; a proposed $100 million Viking trilogy, with Leonardo DiCaprio tipped to star. Storm Rosenberg, the Norwegian film company that bought the movie option for my own RAVEN trilogy, is in talks with a major Hollywood studio to develop two films from my three RAVEN books. From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord… to quote a phrase as genuine as Hollywood.
Last April I was 40k words deep in book three of my Bleeding Land (Civil War) trilogy when I started to see this Viking wave on the horizon. I put it to my agent that, well, if anyone was going to ride said wave it was going to be me. And perhaps Robert Low too, if we were lucky. It was a bold move, leaping from saddle to ship and taking the ‘P’ out of WIP, but my publisher Transworld backed me to the hilt. I started writing. I didn’t have long if I was to have a book out the following spring, so I did what comes naturally. I didn’t plan a thing. I didn’t have so much as a single page of plot worked out or written down. I just wrote. Gods, it was fun! And I wrote standing up, too. For man-points, obviously. Hemmingway, Churchill and Dickens all wrote standing (they probably didn’t even know about the several hundred extra calories one burns doing it. At least I hope that wasn’t their motivation). I also had this idea that scribing on my feet would imbue the writing with a vibrancy, with the energy of a berserker before the steel-storm. I was fluid and free and coffee-fuelled. And I wasn’t falling asleep at my desk, which is what 5 hours of broken sleep per night and two difficult but brilliant kids will do to you unless you take evasive action.
Furthermore, I was writing about a hero of mine, Sigurd the jarl from my RAVEN books. I’ve always had a thing for Sigurd and now I was telling his story, which was made all the easier because I hadn’t really given him a back-story in the RAVEN saga. I guess I didn’t plan those books, either. So Sigurd’s story was weaving and in June I headed out to Norway to drink up inspiration like Thor quaffing mead after a heavy sesh slaying giants. I was there to fish and eat cinnamon buns and mess about in motor boats. Oh, and to row the largest replica Viking ship ever built. Named after Harald Fairhair, the king who unified Norway into one kingdom, Draken Harald Hårfagre is a beauty. A hundred and fourteen feet of crafted oak and twenty-seven feet on the beam, the ship displaces seventy tons. The sail alone, made of thirty-two hundred square feet of pure silk, is breathtaking to behold. Our job as crew was to put our muscle into the oars so that the Norwegian team could test drive the beast and get a feel for its ways. And there were a lot of us too. The Harald Fairhair has twenty-five pairs of oars and so with two on each oar the dragon requires a crew of at least one hundred. Yet it can be sailed by just twelve.
We tried rowing two to an oar and then we tried one to an oar, the result being that we got a little bit more out of the ship but nothing like twice the speed. The conclusion was that you’d be better off working in shifts, one crew rowing while the other rested. We tried rowing standing up, pushing the staves down to our shins to bring the oar blades high out of the water, a useful technique in a swell or rough seas, but back-breaking business. We tried orientating our sea chests (which we sat on) abeam and then lengthways fore-and-aft, as these small details were so mundane in the Viking Age as not to have been recorded. Both ways worked fine as I recall. And we found the most efficient rowing technique was one in which each stroke was so long that we ended up with our heads in the lap of the man (or woman) behind and we had to get the timing just right to avoid pain, or having to back it up with a proposition.
I came back to my standing desk with a nose still full of the sweet, tarry scent of the pine resin that coated every inch of wood and rope aboard (and which would’ve told any landlubbers within a sniff that a seafaring man was amongst them). My eyes were still crammed with the beautiful, intricate knot-work carved on the sheer strake and prow. My mind’s horizon was all pine-bristled islands and sea, and so I poured it all into the book. God of Vengeance is set on the island of Karmøy, where we rowers stayed in a basic, but clean, boarding house (with a Liverpudlian named Roy who growled ‘drink up!’ in his sleep – but that’s a tale for another time), and the story’s imbued with the whiff of the hearth smoke from the longhouse a friend and I lingered in.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy writing the Civil War stuff and will wade through the musket smoke again soon enough. But, and without wishing to sound too sentimental, ‘getting my Viking on’ felt like coming home. Perhaps not surprisingly given my Norwegian heritage and natural affinity with brutes in boats. In a way I suppose I’ve appealed to both sides of myself as a half-blood (the Battle of Stamford Bridge would have been awkward for me), as you don’t get more Scandinavian than Vikings (nobody mention Ikea), and no more British than the English Civil War.
So do look out for God of Vengeance when it is unleashed on April 10th. They say it is my best yet. I don’t know about that – other than it might not be the compliment it at first appears to be - but I can tell you that writing probably shouldn’t be as much fun as it was for me, weaving this tale on the hoof.
So, pack your sea chest and climb aboard. The sea road beckons and you can’t afjord (sorry, couldn’t resist) to hang around expecting the good plunder to still be there by the time you’ve combed your beard and done your plaits. The Vikings are coming.
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While I’ve been on blog tour, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on how this story came into existence. I’ve always subscribed to the theory that stories exist independently of writers, and that we are tasked with the job of revealing them. During the excavation process, we somehow leave our brand on them: the thing that makes that story unique to us.
I’ve been searching for this story [Peacemaker] since I was an eighteen year old sitting in my father’s old green armchair reading his beloved, worn copies of Zane Grey – everything from Light of the Western Starsto Knights of the Range and The Last Trail. I thought about it for going on thirty five years. Where should I look for it? Under which metaphorical pile of rocks? Where to dig? How deep? In which direction?
I’d have ideas that fizzled out when I tried to explore them more deeply, and characters that came and went. In about 2001, I managed to unearth from Story Ether, a tale set in the outback of Australia. It was a tantalising find. Not quite THE story I was after, but interesting anyway. I wrote it and branded it, and sent it out into the world. Not much happened, other than its life was extended by a reprint. The main character, however, refused to fade. She started to whisper questions in my ear. What if I actually lived in the city, not the outback? What if the continent had become immensely overcrowded? What if the Wild West, came to us [the story], instead of us going to the Wild West?
The character was persistent and insistent, and I found myself rummaging through my bookshelves looking for the leather bound Time Life series about the Old West. I hadn’t opened those books in years. Some pages were stuck together, and there was silver fish damage. As I began reading, I felt like I was eighteen again, discovering the confounding gap between the reality of the frontier days and the romantic mythology that most of us preferred.
And there it was … the story I’d been searching for … a dime Western, set on my home soil, that asks all sorts of questions about the power of mythology. I’ve been digging and brushing ever since.
Marianne de Pierres
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"Story Behind the Book: Volume 2" collects over 30 non-fiction essays from some of the most exciting authors working today. Chronicling the process of writing and editing speculative fiction, these essays provide a unique glimpse behind the scenes.
Contributors include Ellen Ullman, S.M. Wheeler, Laurie Frankel, Paul McAuley, Marcus Sakey, Neal Asher, Ian Tregillis, Edward M. Lerner, Will McIntosh, Madeline Ashby, Nina Allan, Ken Scholes, Keith Brooke, Jasper Kent, Yoon Ha Lee, Ted Kosmatka, Daniel Abraham, Erin Hoffman, Samuel Sattin, Jack Skillingstead, Douglas Nicholas, Paul Tobin, Jill Shultz, Jay Posey, Eric Brown, Samit Basu, Gina X. Grant, Elizabeth Massie, Tom Vater, Django Wexler, Bradley Beaulieu, Jason M. Hough, Lou Morgan, Paul S. Kemp.
In line with our previous collection, cover art for Volume 2 is a photograph of Hoechst stained non-small cell lung cancer cell. Finding cure for cancer is part of daily work for one of our journalists but similarly to Volume 1, all proceeds from Volume 2 will be donated to Epilepsy Action, in our opinion an equally important cause.
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Table of Contents:
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell will be published on September 2, 2014 by Sceptre.
One drowsy summer's day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for 'asylum'. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking . . .
The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly's life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland's Atlantic coast as Europe's oil supply dries up - a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes - daughter, sister, mother, guardian - is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.
Metaphysical thriller, meditation on mortality and chronicle of our self-devouring times, this kaleidoscopic novel crackles with the invention and wit that have made David Mitchell one of the most celebrated writers of his generation. Here is fiction at its most spellbinding and memorable best.
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In one of his interviews Rupert Thomson compared the creation of a novel to the art of the sculptor. The sculpture never appears all of the sudden - it must be slowly coaxed from the stone, layer by layer and requires an insane amount of patience and there's no guarantee that the end product will be rewarding. I always found that this is the perfect description of Rupert Thomson's writing. He is never afraid to try something new and each of his novels, no matter how different they are from each other, has been a true feat of imagination. His ninth novel, Secrecy, is set in 17th century Italy and is narrated by Gaetano Zummo, a Sicilian wax sculptor whose works can still be seen in La Specola museum in Florence.
Zummo is quite a character. He was exiled from his hometown amid rumours of necrophilia, subsequently changed his name and is known for his fascination with macabre - his works often depict detailed scenes of harrowing torture and death. This reputation eventually leads Zummo to join Medici court at the behest of Grand Duke who commissions him to do create a life-size wax woman. During this time Zummo also falls in love with apothecary's daughter Faustina but the Florence is still not ready to release its firm grip. In the following pages there's cabinet filed with decaying corpses, a body of a murdered girl delivered as a model for his waxwork woman, strange potents and lots of dark alleys.
While notionally a standard historical novel, Thomson's style is anything but ordinary and while you'll probably guess the outcomes of some of the plot lines, the road to reaching them is always unexpected. Also, writing in Secrecy is not as immediate as you would expect - often the characters and the unraveling of the story slide in front our our eyes with certain amount of detachment. Because of all this, Florence of the era becomes a truly fascinating and bizarre place, a city of opposites where everything is both forbidden and allowed. Occasionally, Thomson channels the best moments of Borgess and this fine novel just begs for repeated rereading. With its immaculately researched details and multiple engaging plots, Secrecy is another triumph for both Rupert Thomson and his loyal readership. Very recommended.
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Review copy provided by Other Press.
It’s 1am, 6 June 2002. I’m half-awake, half-adream, in my bed in São Paulo, Brazil.
I see the story of a man, brilliant but poor, a lover jilted in favour of some flash harry, writing his farewell letter as he wreaks his revenge through the new-fangled underground train upon the careless bigwigs who have ruined him and his people.
In the morning, I told my flatmate the story. I bought a notebook and a green fountain pen. I went to Água Branca Park and wrote out the story in longhand. Several months of reading, several of scribbling. Bang: Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square.
It is a tale of three tunnels. I love the old lurid illustrations in London Under London, by Trench and Hillman. First Brunel’s Thames Tunnel: flooded during construction; a forlorn boat, lives lost; then the opening banquet, not long afterwards. The Metropolitan Line: under construction, collapsing 1862, disastrously crisscrossing the Fleet Sewer; opening day banquet, 9 Jan 1863, so soon after.
What if these timings were less propitious? I thought of Samson pulling down the pillars of the temple, of Guy Fawkes under Parliament, of London’s oppressed masses fighting for attention as their jobs were banned and their slum dwellings swept away in the name of Progress.
These days we are never allowed to ask if terrorism might be justified. Apart from the French Revolution. The Boston Tea Party. Nelson Mandela. What about the Haitian revolution? What about the American Revolution? The English Civil War?
I wrote a short story, The London Underworld, in 1996. I mentioned an imaginary Victorian novel, The Worms of Euston Square. An agent, who liked my writing, asked for more on this idea. I wrote a chapter. She didn’t bite. Nonetheless, I wrote the book. Seventeen agents nearly liked it. None took me on.
On the fringe of the Edinburgh Fringe, at the wonderful Thirsty Lunch happenings, where I brushed shoulders with Alasdair Gray (bought him a whisky), ex-agent Sam Kelly enjoyed my reading and gave me contacts with agents and publishers.
More near misses. But I was surprised that Edinburgh’s Mercat Press never replied, as they’d republished Inspector McLevy’s tales of his real 1860s detection. Six months later, I chased them. They said, ‘But we did reply: we asked to see the rest of the manuscript.’ Bloody Italian postal system.
In 2006, we launched The Worms of Euston Square at the Edinburgh Festival. It did well enough, and received glowing reviews. Mercat were bought up by Birlinn-Polygon; I never heard much from them about my ideas for a sequel. After five years wrangling with the next manuscript, novelist Emlyn Rees read Worms and recommended me to Phil Patterson of Marjacq Scripts.
Phil re-sold the first novel in a two book deal with Angry Robot’s Exhibit A crime imprint. It was published 2013, retitled Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square (clearly crime and not young adult: more genre, less fantastical).
In the years since I wrote it, genres have grown up wildly around it: VicLit, Tartan Noir, steampunk, techno-thriller. Now I’ve written the next one. Which is sexier.
A ten year journey to that first book. And, funnily enough, my agent vaguely remembers receiving my manuscript chapters back in 2005.
An unexpected offshoot has been performing. (And that my Latin pupils have just discovered my YouTube channel. Oh dear. And my Twitterfeed appears at the side of my website. Alack. The subject matter of my second Lawless book may be rather inappropriate.)
It’s so easy to find yourself isolated when writing. Two years ago I promised myself I’d meet some writers. Since then, I’ve joined the Authors Cricket Club (thanks to Kay Sexton). The ReAuthoring Project (thanks, Greg, Katherine and Sam) led to me reading and singing aboard LV21 Light Ship in Gillingham, in a Whitstable restaurant, in a field at Lounge on the Farm festival, at the Canterbury Festival (thanks, Sarah), at Guildford World Book Night (thanks, Kay Hadwick), and more.
Through their workshop, I’ve met 26 writers in Portsmouth and Southsea, where I live. We’ve performed in towers, restaurants, libraries, bookshops and festivals. We have a collection out, and another due this summer, Portsmouth Fairy Tales. I launched my book with two cabarets of readings and songs (thanks, Jo and Blackwells; thanks, Waterstones). And I loved recording the audiobook (thanks, Alec).
Which means the authors who make it are the ones who don’t give up. Which means don’t give up.
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Normal by Warren Ellis will be published on November 4, 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux.
A smart, tight, provocative techno-thriller straight out of the very near future—by an iconic visionary writer
Some people call it “abyss gaze.” Gaze into the abyss all day and the abyss will gaze into you.
There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geo-engineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks.
For both types, if you’re good at it, and you spend your days and nights doing it, then it’s something you can’t do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if the “abyss gaze” takes hold there’s only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest.
When Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist, arrives at Normal Head, he is desperate to unplug and be immersed in sylvan silence. But then a patient goes missing from his locked bedroom, leaving nothing but a pile of insects in his wake. A staff investigation ensues; surveillance becomes total. As the mystery of the disappeared man unravels in Warren Ellis’s Normal, Dearden uncovers a conspiracy that calls into question the core principles of how and why we think about the future—and the past, and the now.
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Alafair Burke's latest stand-alone mystery is one of those books that is destined for the movie screens. Bursting with cinematic quality, "If you were here" introduces us to McKenna Jordan, a New York City journalist with a troubled past. Her successful stint covering the DA's office ended with a scandal when it was revealed that she falsely accused a cop called Officer Macklin of committing murder. These days her assignments revolve around more mundane things and currently she's involved in investigating a heroic act of an unidentified woman who saved the life of a teenager who fell on subway tracks. Closer look at the footage reveals that the woman in question has an uncanny resemblance to Susan Hauptmann, a person close to McKenna's heart who disappeared without a trace some 10 years ago. Back then, NYPD gave up on investigating the disappearance concluding that Susan just left the town to start again but McKenna always had a niggling sense of doubt that there was more to it.
Unable to let go, what originally seems like a shallow routine story quickly turns into a full fledged investigation into what lies behind Susan's disappearance. In the process McKenna loses a job and what she eventually discovers turns out to have significant consequences on her professional and private life
As always, Burke is fantastic when it comes to creating three-dimensional characters that feel real and her detail when it comes to legal proceeding is unprecedented. Having said that, "If you were here" is a bit different to an usual Burke offering because it leaves most of the legal stuff in the background, putting the mystery filled with twists and turns to the front. The result is a story that, if my own experience is anything to go by, will be finished by most of the readers in a single sitting. At times I felt like I was reading Jack Reacher novel. "If you were here" is a wonderfully engaging mystery that flows naturally all the way to its spectacular ending.
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Review copy provided by Faber Books.