There are some books you write for fun – for pure entertainment. There are some stories you tell because a quirky idea has you hooked and the only way to shake it is it get it down on paper and explore it. I've written a lot of books now, and in the main, they're all books I've wanted to write, for the fun, for the adventure of them. I wanted to entertain people. I've never really had higher aspirations than that.
The Language of Dying is different. It was not a book I wanted to write. It was a book I needed to write.
I can't talk about this book without giving some context because The Language of Dying lives in the blurred space between fact and fiction. Several years ago a friend of mine (my ex-father-in-law to be exact) came to stay with me while he was dying of cancer. His son and I were long divorced by then but he and I had always got along and so it was that he moved into the little room at the back of my house and there he stayed until the night before he died.
He was an unusual man – there was never a simple conversation, everything was analysed in depth, frivolous or otherwise, over several cups of tea and many cigarettes. He was a recovered alcoholic, a psychiatric nurse and a divorced and devoted father of five. He was my friend and I loved him, but I have to be honest, I wasn't entirely certain of the decision I'd made. I have a horror writer's imagination – we think about the fear far too much – but my friend? As far as I could fathom – he seemed completely unafraid of death. They dying part bothered him, but whatever fears he might have had, he made it easier for me by not sharing them. We talked about it - we picked out coffins and visited crematoriums - but I never once saw his fear. Like I said, he was an unusual man. But still, in many ways that I didn't realise at the time, it was a harrowing experience. I still had both my parents – the slow dissolving of a life wasn't a situation I'd experienced before. It lingers with me still. I haven't used Listerine mouthwash since that time. The smell of christmas candles burning always takes me back there – and if you read the book, you'll understand why.
The Language of Dying is based on my experiences of the last week of my friend's life, when he'd gone to bed and stayed there, and family gathered round and nurses and doctors came and went. The characters are fictitious although there are elements drawn from my life and others', strands of fact and fiction woven together to make a new, maybe stronger, cord.
After a few months had passed since my friend's death, I knew I needed to, rather than wanted to, write the book. Nature heals us. Time passes and we forget things that damage us – it's easier that way. I didn't want to forget the details of that experience though, because I knew they were important. This was not a unique situation – people are living through it now, and we will all come to play the central role when the time comes. I didn't want to remember, but I didn't want to forget, and the writing process was cathartic for me. Writing is the way I deal with the world. I get to put it down on paper and then I can put it away in my mind.
It's a book I think my friend would be proud of. It's an emotionally honest book, as much about life and living as death. It's about families and love and the strengths we don't know we have. It's about the rippling effects our lives have on each other. It's about how the indignities of death are not what lingers of a person.
And, also, of course, it's about a strange magical creature that sometimes visits in the night.
We are very happy to showcase cover art and synopsis for the new book by Arne Dahl, To the Top of the Mountain The book is scheduled to come out on 26th June, 2014.
After the disastrous end to their last case, the Intercrime team - a specialist unit created to investigate violent, international crime - has been disbanded, their leader forced into early retirement. The six officers have been scattered throughout the country. Detectives Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm are investigating the senseless murder of a young footballer supporter in a pub in Stockholm, Arto Söderstedt and Viggo Norlander are working on mundane cases, Gunnar Nyber is tackling child pornography while Jorge Chavez is immersed in research. But when a man is blown up in a high-security prison, a major drugs baron comes under attack and a massacre takes place in a dark suburb, the Intercrime team are urgently reconvened. There is something dangerous approaching Sweden, and they are the only people who can do anything to stop it.
The only problem I have with reading Neal Asher's books is that by the time I finish them I want to read some more. And then some more. And then more. However, since I read much faster than Neal writes this plan obviously has a fatal flaw. Eh. But not to go on a personal tangent here, Jupiter War has just been published and it is a conclusion of the Owner trilogy which started with Departure and Zero Point. As such it shouldn't be read as a standalone novel. The events from all three books are pretty much one continuous affair and despite the fact that there is a small chance that you'll manage figuring it all out, you just shouldn't do it. Having said that, I must admit that I'm having hard time looking at Jupiter War as a book on it's own as it's heavily ingrained in the general story of the series.
If you read the first two books in the series you'll remember that both Departure and Zero Point were quite hopeless and bleak. Jupiter War continues the trend and is more of the same. After he dropped the satellite network on The Committee, effectively freeing Zero Asset citizens, Alan has left the Earth in tatters. These days Alan is part-human and part-machine and is still caught in machinations surrounding the Mars rebellion. He is doing his best to save his sister and if, in the process he manages to leave the solar system, all the better.
On the Earth, a radical leader, and by now quite possible a dictator, Serene Galahad is up to her usual evil tricks and is literary trying to start an interstellar conflict. The third spoke of the story comes in the guise of Clar Ruger who by a streak of luck holds the most important bargaining chip of them all - a stolen gene-bank data which contains seeds necessary to rebuild Earth. Chaos ensues. Jupiter War is very big on bombastic, massive, bloody fights and as it concludes it becomes perfectly clear that it's a provides a stunning ending to the Owner series. But is this really the end? I seriously doubt as in my opinion there's still plenty more to tell. For example, what happens once Alan Saul leaves the solar system? I would definitely love to read that book.
To conclude, Jupiter War is a proper Neal Asher book and that just about sums it up. As always, Asher is the master of creating tangible and uneasy tension which makes you completely forget about sleeping and forces you to keep on reading all the way to the end. You simply shouldn't miss it if you like exciting, wide reaching science fiction. And that goes for the series as a whole.
In this giveaway you can win one copy of The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough, published by Jo Fletcher Books. Giveaway is open for EU and lasts until 13th December, 2013.
You can enter by sending an e-mail with the subject line LANGUAGE to info @ upcoming4 . me. Also, a tweet or Facebook post related to giveaway will each give you an additional entry - please send us an e-mail with a link to tweet or Facebook entry. Winner will be chosen at random and contacted using submitted e-mail.
Thanks to Jo Fletcher Books for providing us with the copy!
The Clown Service marks the beginning of a new series of novels for Guy Adams and judging by the first book, we're in for a treat. As you are probably aware, Adams is one of those uber-productive authors who make you wonder about when they find the time to sleep. So far he has been writing for both established franchises as well as original works for publishers ranging from Angry Robot Books to Solaris Books and now DelRey UK. Rule of thumb shows that a bit of quality is almost always sacrificed for the sheer quantity of the output but Adams' example brakes the rule. Throughout his career Adams has somehow managed to keep the quality of his work at a surprisingly high level and this new series is not exception.
Writing on his web-page Adams explains that the is contracted to produce three adventures set in the company of these unusual spies. The Clown Service which has just been published is the first one. Straight away we are introduced to Toby Green, a secret agent who after a botched mission in the Middle East gets reassigned to infamous Section 37. To clarify, Section 37 is described as follows: "if the Security Service is the Circus, then Section 37 is where we keep the clowns."
The main mission of Section 37 is to deal with all things supernatural and paranormal. Soon Toby finds out that things have changed since the Cold War when vast sums of money were poured into these kind of activities. These days Section 37 is nothing but a forgotten affair and Toby is just about its only employee so when things suddenly turn nasty, he and his chief August Shinning are on their own to sort things out. Toby is quite an accomplished lead character. He gets used to casual weirdness quite early in the story (probably due to his training as a secret agent) so while us common people would be freaking out, he, teamed with his boss August, cracks the case with ease.
For me, The Clown Service was a very enjoyable romp through paranormal espionage weirdness. Adams has created a great and original premise which has a huge potential for growth and expansion in the future installments. Therefore I'm really eager to check out the further books in the series. I would especially recommend The Clown Service to readers of Mike Carey's Felix Castor and Charles Stross' Laundry Files - you'll definitely enjoy it.
We are very happy to showcase cover art and synopsis for the new book by Henning Mankell, An Event in Autumn. The book is scheduled to come out on 4th September, 2014.
Some cases aren't as cold as you'd think. Kurt Wallander's life looks like it has taken a turn for the better when his offer on a new house is accepted, only for him to uncover something unexpected in the garden - the skeleton of a middle-aged woman. As police officers comb the property, Wallander attempts to get his new life back on course by finding the woman's killer with the aid of his daughter, Linda. But when another discovery is made in the garden, Wallander is forced to delve further back into the area's past. A treat for fans and new readers alike, this is a never before published Kurt Wallander novella
Sometimes I imagine the ideal novelist’s career. Early on – with any luck, in your early twenties – you come up with a killer idea for a book. You work on it, and it’s hard to do, and you take awful jobs to support yourself, but when the book’s done you find an agent, find a publisher, and you’re on your way. Maybe that first book doesn’t sell many copies. But people notice you. The publisher wants more, and you give them more, and in a few years’ time you’re a name. One of your books, maybe the third, the fourth, the fifth, becomes a big hit, and it’s good that it’s taken a while. When success comes, no one thinks you’re a one-book wonder. You’ve got a track record – and after that, you add and add to it. The years go by, the books come out. Your readership grows. You’re a writer.
Well, I’m a writer, but my career hasn’t been like that. It’s been a rough ride: stop-start, up-down, in-out. The novel I started in my early twenties never got finished. Distraction followed distraction. In writing terms, the decade of my twenties was almost all a waste. Finally I got desperate. With my thirtieth birthday looming, I forced myself to write a novel and finish it. I sent it to agents. Several rejected it, but one didn’t. I thought I’d made it, but that didn’t last long. No publisher would touch the book. I wrote another. This time, the agent turned it down. The book was too weird. What sort of book was it? What was the genre? Who would read it? I was all washed up before I’d even started.
Around that time I started reading the British sf magazine, Interzone. No. 60 was a special fantasy issue. Suddenly I was excited. I could do this, I thought. If they wanted to know what genre I was, I’d make it so clear that nobody could miss it. Being nothing if not ambitious, I planned an epic fantasy series in five volumes. I set it in a world based loosely on the eighteenth century, with society balls, powdered wigs, duelling pistols, and contending armies dressed in red and blue – all mixed up with magic, mythology, and strange creatures. I called it The Orokon, and, because for some reason I didn’t think “David Rain” sounded like a fantasy writer, I called myself “Tom Arden.” I went back to my agent. All I had was a few chapters of Volume One and a synopsis. She sold it straight away.
Second time lucky. This time I’d made it – hadn’t I? The publisher had big plans for The Orokon. I was going to be the next big thing. Now all I had to do was write those five volumes, all million words of them. It was the single biggest task I’ve undertaken in my life. It took me six years, but I did it. And that, if all had gone well, should have been the end of the story. I should have lived happily ever after.
But I didn’t. I loved writing The Orokon. Plenty of critics praised it. I got great fan letters. I was told I was original, daring, innovative. I was doing something right. What I wasn’t doing was selling – or selling enough. By the standards of many books, the series didn’t bomb. But if a publisher has given you a lot of money – not that much, but, as my editor said, “a lot for Gollancz” – you had better make it back or you’re in trouble. The series was never going to “earn out.” In the space of a few years I went from promising newcomer to washed-up has-been.
And that, again, should have been that. It’s a common publishing story. The industry is brutal and being considered talented (as I was often told I was) is never enough. Fighting my way back from the Tom Arden days took years. I never stopped writing. I worked on several books that went nowhere. Then I came up with The Heat of the Sun. It isn’t science fiction. It isn’t fantasy. It isn’t even by “Tom Arden.” But it’s a book that would have been very different if I hadn’t ever been Tom Arden.
The Heat of the Sun is a novel about early twentieth-century America, Japan, and the development of the atomic bomb. It’s a sequel, of sorts, to Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. Some years ago in Prague, I was leaving a production of the opera when my partner asked me: “What happened to that boy?” The boy in question was “Trouble,” the half-American son of the opera’s tragic heroine. At the end of the opera, Trouble is about to be taken back to America by his father, Lieutenant Pinkerton, and his new wife Kate. For Butterfly, who has loved Lieutenant Pinkerton hopelessly, the end has come. She kills herself. But for Trouble, it’s just the beginning. What did become of him? I wrote The Heat of the Sun because I had to know.
Or, at least, imagine. It was a daunting task. How could I, an Australian living in London, write a book set in early twentieth-century America and Japan? But of course there was no need to answer that question. I’d written plenty of books set in times and places where I’d never been. The worlds depicted in stories are never real, however much they echo what we call the real world. Madame Butterfly attracted me in the first place because it is, in a profound sense, a mythology of sorts. Like Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein or The Wizard of Oz, Madame Butterfly is one of those few examples of a modern (as opposed to classical, medieval, or folkloric) story which has taken on the status of myth.
The Heat of the Sun uses real countries and real history, as opposed to worlds I’ve invented. I’ve been as accurate with facts as I can be. But accuracy isn’t my be-all and end-all. To me, the book is not an historical novel, but an historical fantasia, using the term in its musical sense – a composition working freely with known themes – or, perhaps, a sort of opera in prose. And that, come to think of it, is pretty much what The Orokon was too. I’ve been told time and again, by people who think they know, that my work is “too literary” to be genre fiction, and “too genre” to be literary. Well, too bad. I don’t care about literary fiction and I don’t care about genre fiction. I care about stories.
The Heat of the Sun has turned my career around. Permanently? I have no idea. I’ve had some great reviews. The book has gone down well in America. Things look a lot better now than they did five years ago. There’s even talk of reissuing the Orokon books. I hope that happens. But I’m not looking back at what I’ve written before. I’m too busy. I have another book coming out in 2014. It’s different again, but it’s still me. No, I haven’t had the ideal career. Nothing has been easy. I’ve been dismissed, let down, disappointed over and over. But I’m still here. I’m still writing. And nothing, short of death, will stop me doing that.
"Unfashioned Creatures", an impressive new novel by Lesley McDowell, revolves around the life of Mary Shelley's real-life childhood friend Isabella Baxter Booth. This is a second novel I've read this year that concerns itself with the strange lives of Shelley's and the chaotic circumstances followed in their wake. While "A Fatal Attraction" by Lynn Shepherd was at its heart a literary mystery, one that was trying hard to explain and describe previously unknown parts of their biographies, "Unfashioned Creatures" is a Gothic novel extraordinaire.
We find Isabella Baxter Booth in 1823 London living a troubled life, one where she is seeing ghosts and is dependent on narcotics. She is also a victim of her increasingly violent husband. Finally, frightened by the murderous feeling towards her husband, Isabella finds the courage to flee to her childhood home in Broughty Ferry. Once there, Isabella encounters Alexander Balfour, a psychiatrist troubled by demons of own. Despite her life filled with ever increasing hardships, Isabella is an extremely strong and defiant woman. It doesn't happen very often to me but since she's written so well I've started caring about her straight away. Standing on the other side Alexander Balfour is a flawed genius. The research into mental illness is in its beginning and Alexanders fervor often has the capacity to damage the patients he's trying to protect. Over the course of many subsequent sessions, Alexander finds a perfect case in Isabella, in the process both creating a new theory and turning himself into egoistical delusional monster. From today's perspective, what happens next is simply unthinkable and, as always, I was struck by how far we've come as humanity in treating and understand ills of the mind. The amount of research done by McDowell clearly shows, and being an excellent writer as well as a scholar, she successfully captures the overwhelming unease and dread of the age.
As I've mentioned at the beginning, Unfashionable Creatures is an impressive tale of dark personalities. McDowell's elegant prose jumps from the pages providing a reader with an intelligent page-turner. It is simply one of the best books I've read this year.