I’m known for my Polity books of which, since 2000, Macmillan have published 13. The only book not set in the Polity I’ve had published since that date was Cowl. This was a time-travel novel which went on to be shortlisted for the Philip K Dick award. Though in the Polity I deliberately created a setting in which I could tell just about any science fiction story, a writer can find himself in a cleft stick when writing ‘more of the same’. You can become stale, exhausted and formulaic, however, try to write something different and your fans can end up pillorying you for not providing what they wanted. I felt the need for a change; I needed to get out of a rut. I also felt it a good idea, from a career perspective, to wean my readers off of the Polity and perhaps acquire new readers with something new.
As is often the case when I’m thinking about writing a new book I looked to the many short stories I have produced over the last 30 years. The Skinner for example, which was my second book for Macmillan, takes its genesis from two short stories published in the small presses prior to 2000: Snairls and Spatterjay. In the case of the Owner trilogy, of which Zero Point is the middle book. I looked at some stories that appeared in my collection The Engineer (ReConditioned): The Owner, Proctors and Tiger Tiger. These concerned a character called the Owner, who was a man over 10,000 years old and the ‘owner of worlds’. He was far in advance of the rest of humanity who generally kept out of his territory. He terraformed worlds and laid strictures on the populations of those worlds because of what had happened to Earth in the past... Upon re-reading those stories I thought it might be an idea to tell the story of how he came to be.
Now, the Owner trilogy, consisting of The Departure, Zero Point and Jupiter war, are set in a near-future dystopia. I didn’t set out to write a dystopia but, having written more Owner stories since those in The Engineer, I found one of them (published in a Gardner Dozois collection) did concern an Earth that had fallen under totalitarian rule and so went from there. The reaction to that aspect of these books has been interesting. In creating a dystopia I had to create one I believed in and there I entered an area dangerous for writers of current day politics. The dystopia is how I see the future of authoritarian socialism i.e. an Earth dominated by something akin to the USSR. I’ve since found the division of opinion on these books is along political lines, which is a shame.
At this point I guess other writers would talk about planning out the story, making notes and perhaps designing the story arc. I don’t write like that. Essentially, I make it up as I go along. I started by deciding on a name for this owner character. His first name comes from an old friend who died a number of years ago – Alan – while his second name ... well, it just surfaced in my mind. I then took this character and put him, sans memory, in a box on a conveyor belt leading into the Calais trash incinerator. Thereafter I just told the story and built the world as it came to me, at the keyboard, writing 2,000 words a day five days a week. Certainly there were strictures because I was aiming at creating that character in those stories lying 10,000 years in the future. There had to be proctors – semi-organic androids – at his command, his power to control his environment and his mentality had to grow and, at some point, there had to be a particular space ship with a particular name...
All three books are done, and now I’ve returned to the Polity to tell a story of black AIs, renegade prador and ancient alien technologies...
We are very happy to reveal cover art and synopsis for the upcoming Rod Rees book, The Demi-Monde:Fall. The book is scheduled to come out on 29th August, 2013.
For thousands of years the Grigori have lain hidden, dreaming of the day when they will emerge from the darkness. Now that day draws close. Norma, Trixie and Ella fight doggedly to frustrate these plans, but they need help. Percy Shelley must lead Norma to the Portal in NoirVille so she can return to the Real World. Trixie's father must convince her that, if she is to destroy the Great Pyramid standing in Terror Incognita, she must be prepared to die. And Vanka Maykov - though not the man she knew and loved - must guide Ella to the secret enclave of the Grigori, where she will face the most chilling of enemies. In this explosive finale to the Demi-Monde series, our heroes will come to understand that resisting evil will require courage, resolve... and sacrifice.
The last part of the my contemporary fantasy series, The Courts of the Feyre, is published at the end of May 2013, completing a decade of work presented in four stories. Each book is a complete story, and each is a progression from the last, and though they can be read as individual stories they are best enjoyed in sequence. One of the things I wanted to achieve was to produce four different books, which turned out to be easier than I thought because I grew and changed as a writer with each book, enabling me to do more with each successive tale.
Sixty-One Nails is a relatively straightforward story with a single-threaded plot, following Niall in a first-person viewpoint almost in real time, from a heart attack on the London Underground to a final confrontation with an implacable enemy. It blends real rituals with hidden history into a tale of magic hidden in plain sight, set in the world we all know. Niall is a middle-aged man with responsibilities and commitments, and we discover secrets, mystery and danger through his eyes. It’s linear, but at the same time there are echoes throughout the story of things unseen and unheard - clues that he is caught up in a small part of something much bigger. The end of that story, when it comes, begins to expose the hidden world.
The second book, The Road to Bedlam is a more complex multi-threaded plot, with events interacting between plot-lines, and multiple sub-plots coalescing into the climax. It starts slow and builds throughout the book as the story gathers pace. It has two character viewpoints, rather than one, and takes the risk of separating the main protagonist, Niall, who is portrayed in first person, from his mentor and partner, Blackbird, shown in a third-person view-point. This book is about the shifting allegiances of court politics and the cold enmity between the Six Courts and the Seventh. It also contains a scene which is untypical for a work of fantasy, a child’s funeral, which remains the hardest thing I’ve ever written. The whole thing was ambitious, and it stretched me, and as a consequence, I grew to meet the challenge.
Strangeness and Charm was different again. This time I took another viewpoint - a teenage girl - Niall’s daughter, Alex, who is out on her own. She is established as a character in her own right, and this is her book more than anyone else’s. It’s about the way the human world rubs up against the hidden world of the Feyre. It is hinted in previous books that the human world knows more about the Feyre than they let on, but we begin to see how much is known and by whom. There are hints of other powers, other interests, sprinkled through the story. More than anything, though, this book explores what it’s like to be a teenage girl with supernatural powers she doesn’t understand and can’t control. Her moral agnosticism, challenging behaviour, selfish approach, and recklessness make her a highly ambiguous character, and yet of all the characters in the books, I have the greatest fondness for Alex. Someone asked me what my own daughter thought of the character, and whether Alex was based on her. I had to tell them I don’t have a daughter, I have a son, who is a very different character - much more grown up and self-confident. It was a huge compliment that they thought Alex might be based on a real person.
When I came to write the final book of the series, The Eighth Court, I suddenly realised what I’d created. This world was huge and highly complex - there were over a hundred identifiable characters, and the events that were coming to a head spanned a thousand years. There were four distinct political groups, the Six Courts were the established hierarchy of the Feyre, implacably locked in conflict with the exiled Seventh Court, who had tried more than once to eliminate the Mongrel Feyre. Set against the background of the development of Human Society, which had blossomed far beyond the expectations of the fey courts, it may be said that the Courts of the Feyre is the first epic urban fantasy unless someone beat me to it, of course.
I struggled with the Eighth Court, because as the final book I needed to finish the series and tie up all the plot-lines I'd created. In many ways it would be easier just to keep going, create more and more, without end. That might have been easier but it would also have been less satisfying for the readers, and for me. This story needed an end.
The characters came to my rescue. I had a Damascene moment when I stopped trying to resolve the multi-layered intertwined plot-lines and concentrated on the people I had created. I needed to give the main characters, the people we had come to know and love, the resolution that each of them deserved. As a consequence, the body-count started rising and I found out how hard it is to kill people you’ve created in your head. It shouldn’t matter - they are fictional after all - but it does.
The Eighth Court was the hardest book to write, partly because I’d learned so much from the other three and I wanted to put everything into it. I wanted the pace of Sixty-One Nails with the emotional impact of The Road to Bedlam intertwined with the character development of Strangeness and Charm. More than that I wanted an ending that would satisfy readers who had invested in caring about these characters and following their story.
My editor, Lee Harris, bless him, allowed me more time. There were extenuating circumstances which I won’t go into, but I needed more time to get this last book to where it needed to be, and I took it to the wire. It was incredibly hard work, intellectually, emotionally and even physically, and by the end of it I was wrung out.
The Eighth Court is released on 28th May, and ends a series of over half a million words spread across four books. I hope very much that you will enjoy reading it.
Our first encounter with Al Ewing came when he wrote couple of novels set in the Pax Britannia universe created by Jonathan Green. Even though he was working within the limits provided by another author, Ewing quickly made the setting his own, creating three installments which were just as good as the original series. So when The Fictional Man was announced, we quickly got excited because if this was what he can do in someone else's setting, what will happen when he creates his own? Luckily, The Fictional Man doesn't disappoint. In fact, it is even better and more original than we had any right to expect.
Set in the future version or LA, around the cloning scene, The Fictional Man deals with the story of self-centered and vain Niles Golan, author tasked with writing a remake of classic spy movie. In the said future, the boundaries between fiction and reality are blurred and it is perfectly normal when fictional characters end up being inside cloned human body. The actors are actually grown to perform a certain role. In this strangeness, it is becoming increasingly hard to decide who is real and who isn't, and at the end of the day, the real question is, does it really matter anymore?
Even though it is a bit chaotic at times, this insane premise works amazing well and is a pleasure to read as the story develops. The Fictionals are fantastic creation. Due to sheer madness of it all, I was at times reminded of another great metaphysical book series, Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde, but The Fictional Man is full of charm on it's own. Astonishing and original page-turner with a twist.
Eight years ago, Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, causing floods, death, and chaos that would last for months. As usual, the rest of the country sat in complete bafflement, wishing we could help, not knowing what to do. Too far away, don't have any skills that would help and just would likely get in the way, gave blood last month (or too scared of needles), etc.
My buddy David Wendt decided to harness some of his friends to use our skills to help - and that was writing. At the time I was active in the RPG writing community and we decided to write a gaming book focused on New Orleans, and put the proceeds toward the Red Cross.
I'd had much more experience with the flavor/adventure kind of RPG writing than the "crunchy" rules writing - if you ever want to know where you use algebra in the real world, it's in RPG design - so I figured I'd just write a little about the area. But I couldn't just babble about the area as if the gamer was a visiting tourist, people could pick up a usual travel guide, or go on a tour, for that.
Unless the tourists weren't human.
And then it hit me- when we put monsters into urban fantasy, we give them their own politics and societal rules, and we give them just enough human characteristics to relate to, but we don't have them travel. We don't have them just act like tourists, wanting to see the sites, needing to know where to stay and where to get a bite to eat. So if we did have monster tourists, what kind of tour guide would they need? So I wrote a short, 4000 word piece called "The Shambling Guide to New Orleans" where a zombie who was a tour guide in her previous life decided to keep her job and just show monsters around the city, instead of humans.
It was fun, it was a good thing to do for charity, but the idea didn't let me go. I began to think about the "entry point" into the world - the everyman/woman whose eyes we look through as we discover it at the same time they do- think Harry Potter giving us an introduction to the wizarding world, himself as innocent as the readers. So I invented a woman who worked with travel books, and a publishing company who desperately needed someone with experience, and put them together. And for some reason, I felt "done" with New Orleans, so the next obvious city was my favorite city, New York.
Thus, The Shambling Guide to New York City, an urban fantasy where a human learns about the monster world, sees the city from a new point of view, and, of course, gets caught up in the middle of some serious chaos.
It took several years to write, mainly because it kept getting interrupted by other projects. When I finished it, I'd had some bad publishing experience and was set on self-pubbing, but my husband insisted I knew enough people in publishing that I should send it out. I was lucky enough to meet with an Orbit editor at WorldCon in Reno that year, and he asked to see the book. He passed it to another editor, and in December, 2011, the book was sold.
Obviously one of my inspirations is Douglas Adams, and I suppose it's a good thing that only after I'd finished the book did I see the obvious parallels between my book and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, otherwise I would have cried and quit. Now I realize the book is a cross between the influences of Adams' light travel guide in space story, and Neil Gaiman's London underworld of Neverwhere. Both of them favorites of mine, and apparently so deeply ingrained in my subconscious I didn't think about either of them till I was done.
For the second book I decided to go back to New Orleans, taking my characters on the first ghost bullet train from NYC to New Orleans - titled The Ghost Train to New Orleans. It bears little resemblance to the first Shambling Guide to New Orleans, but it's clearly an evolution of the idea. Both of these books have been very fun to write and I can only hope that they turn out to be fun for the readers as well.
We are very happy to reveal cover art and synopsis for the upcoming Stephen Lawhead book, The Shadow Lamp. The book is scheduled to come out on 20th September, 2013 in UK and 3rd September in US.
The quest for answers—and ultimate survival—hinges on finding the cosmic link between the Skin Map, the Shadow Lamp, and the Spirit Well. The search for the map of blue symbols began in a rainy alley in London, but has since expanded through space, time, and to include more searchers. Kit, Mina, Gianni, Cass, Haven, and Giles have gathered in Mina's 16th-century coffee house and are united in their determination to find a path back to the Spirit Well. Yet, with their shadow lamps destroyed and key pieces of the map still missing, the journey will be far more difficult than they imagine. And when one of their own disappears with the Sir Henry's cryptic Green Book, they no longer know who to trust. At the same time, the Zetetic Society has uncovered a terrifying secret which, if proven, will rock the very foundations of Creation. The quest for answers is no longer limited to recovering an unknown treasure. The fate of the universe depends on unraveling the riddle of the Skin Map.
You are probably aware that original forms of just about every fairy tale have significantly changed throughout the centuries. Fairy tales have, just like organisms, evolved, branching in many different directions and flavours. The latest additions in this process are three short novels (or should I call them novellas) by Sarah Pinborough, first of which is Poison.
As you can probably guess, Poison is Pinborough's retelling of Snow White but Snow White in question is miles away from sanitized Disney version that we have been served for the last couple of decades. Poison harks back to old days and is filled with violence, sex and a whole plethora of very calculated characters - each with it's own agenda. Sarah has used familiar setting, elements and characters to successfully build a three dimensional living and breathing kingdom which revolves around Queen who is, with each passing day, becoming more angry and ruthless. Even dwarves are brought to life in a completely new way as part of the overarching Dwarf community. I particularly liked the tiny tidbits of background information that story throws our way, like psychotic Aladdin who spends his few days of freedom indulging in torturing and killing innocents. It will be interesting to see whether he plays a significant part in future installments of Pinborough fairy tales. But the biggest surprise came at the very end, when Pinborough all of the sudden pulled something so unpredictable and unexpected that I was simply left stunned. Without further spoilers, I'll just say that I will be eagerly awaiting next two part of the trilogy.
And here lies the biggest surprise of them all - Pinborough has somehow managed to do implausible and make overfamiliar tale fresh and exciting again and if that is not an achievement of a great writer, I don't know what is! Well done!