Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Back In the Swing O' Things.

Well, hello there! Sorry about the lack of activity as of recent, I've just moved into my new home with my girlfriend...and bought a puppy...DUN DUN DUN! Yes, Ronnie the puppy has arrived and is here to stay,. Between games of 'sit' and 'stay', the lack of internet in the new place hasn't been too much of a problem.

But, the puppy is settling, and Sky have finally managed to flick the little 'ON' switch.

So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce another UK based fantasy author for your reading pleasure. I'll be reviewing his novels imminently, but I thought it'd be a fantastic opportunity to learn a little more about the man pushing the pencil, first.

Ben Galley.

The Emaneska Series was born out of a frustration. A frustration in three parts.
The first was with the music industry. A student of the prestigious Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford UK, I spent two years studying bass guitar, all the while keeping my head thoroughly buried in an industry that was going through a period of radical and digital change. Much like the book industry today, record shops were dying, labels were merging, the rise of the indie was afoot. The only thing that hadn’t changed was how tough it was to make a living. At the time, and living in such a over-saturated scene, it was impossible. The “big-time” was still dependent on the major labels. It was then that my studies began to slip, my dedication wane. It was then that I restarted a hobby I hadn’t enjoyed for half a decade. Writing.
The second frustration came from work. Or, more accurately, unavoidable slavery. Being a music student, which, in the ranks of “poorest students alive” rank very highly indeed, I had a job to pay my tuition, rent, and general bills. My jobs were far from glamorous, but then I never expected them to be. They were a means to an end. Bar lackey. Kitchen porters. Cook. Waiter. I hopped from bar to bar to pub to restaurant, and with each one came the slow dread that my music career wiuld never take off, and I would be stuck in that cycle for ever more. The lowest point was working in a kiosk in Guildford Station throughout the winter. I sold hot pasties to commuters and used to keep the oven door open to keep me warm. It was that low point that was both the fiercest time of frustration, and yet the biggest spur to my goal.
The third frustration was the birth of my book, and that moment was the origin, the launchpad of where I am today. It was a simple thing, really. A moment’s spark on inception, but these sorts of things usually are. I was watching BBC’s pilot of Merlin, which, for nobody that has seen nor heard of it, is a television drama firmly entrenched in the pre-watershed programming schedule of BBC’s Saturday night. It’s a harmless program. It’s meant to be fun and for all ages. I didn’t like that. . As the pilot progressed, I got more and more irritated. It wasn’t fierce enough. I’d been reading the likes of American Gods and Joe Abercrombie and George RR Martin. I was expecting something darker and grittier from this Merlin. In a moment of annoyance, I decided it needed to be different. Emaneska was born in the grabbing of a notepad, and the scribbling of four simple things. Lord of The Rings. Sin City. Emaneska. And Farden. That was the birth of my career as a fantasy author. I remember it like yesterday.
It was then that these three frustrations culminated into a perfect mix. My disillusionment with my future in music drove me to read and write. My dead-end jobs drove me to seek a way out. It was during my time in the station kiosk that I wrote most of The Written, in between customers and on my mobile phone. Lastly, the strong passion behind a powerful idea. That moment of inspiration.
Almost four years on, on the cusp of four books later, Emaneska is going from strength to strength. Thoroughly fitting the original scribbled brief of “Lord of The Rings meets Sin City,” the Series has had a great response from critics all over the world.
The Written was the first book, released late 2010, and was the fast-paced opener for the Series and its epic plot. It introduced us to its morally ambiguous protagonist – dutiful, powerful soldier, lone wolf, a troubled drug addict of a mage Farden. Whisked into a net of politics and dark plans, Farden soon finds his own life and actions entwined with the survival of his people and the whole of Emaneska.
Pale Kings was released in February of 2012. A bigger and darker book, it follows the ongoing trials and tribulations or our favourite mage. Farden goes to dig up his past in the deserts of a land called Paraia, while the others, characters from The Written such as Durnus, Farden’s vampyre superior, Modren, a Written mage just like Farden, and Towerdawn, Old Dragon and lord of the Sirens, must do battle with a gathering storm of war and dark revelations for all. It isn’t just Farden’s fight any more, and the stakes are higher than ever.
Due for release in Spring/Summer 2013 is the two-part finale of the Series – Dead Stars Part 1 and 2. Dead Stars will bring the epic conclusion to the Series crashing down. There are already teasers at www.bengalley.com, and the covers are due for release by Christmas. Follow the progress at Ben’s website, or by Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Review: Best Served Cold

Best Served Cold
Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They paid her to kill.

They paid her to win.

But they did not pay her to die.

Styria is a country on a knife-edge. Grand Duke Orso stands to one side of the blade, on the other, the League of Eight. One little slip…and there’ll be blood.

Monza Murcatto has walked her fair share of knife-edge moments. The Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ. She climbed her way to the top of the popularity mountain, and in doing so has become a popular enemy for the League of Eight…and too popular for the Duke’s liking.

Sometimes it’s not enough to slip on a knife’s edge…it’s about being thrown off of a mountain. Literally.

Left for dead after being pushed from a cliff, Monza sets out on a mission to take what is owed to her. Joined by a man infamous for his death-defying drunken debacles, a poisoner looking out for number one, a prisoner looking out for whatever number he rolls next, and a Northman who’s number is up and is just out to do the right thing, Monza is about to discover that she’s playing the minor part in a greater game.

There’s a lot of parts in the great game of life, but…

The best part of betrayal?


Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Best Served Cold’ is a standalone novel set after his debut trilogy ‘The First Law’. ‘Best Served Cold’ is a story of redemption, revelry, and red-handed revenge.

In ‘Best Served Cold’, Monza Murcatto is a woman in demand. But not just any old demand, she’s at popular demand for her victories as Grand Duke Orso’s mercenary. But popularity isn’t all its cut out to be, and after Grand Duke Orso demands her death, Monza is betrayed. Clinging to life by her fingernails, Monza sets out with her own demand. A demand for revenge.

Though Monza is the key character of ‘Best Served Cold’, her companions proved to be just as pivotal to the plot. Friendly the ex-prisoner, the two poisoners (Master & Apprentice), Shivers the Northman, the mysterious Vitari, and the infamous Nicomo Cosca. Each plays such a part that the entire story could be about them, if not for the whole ‘Monza DEMANDS revenge’ piece. Cosca, Shivers and Vitari are familiar faces for those of you who have read ‘The First Law’, but each is fresh-faced (well…maybe not Shivers by the end of the book *wink*wink*) and ready to go in ‘Best Served Cold’, making for some interesting character developments.

Abercrombie, as ever, has a mastery of cinematic writing. The fight scenes are epic, bordering obscene, but you could easily imagine them on the ‘big screen’. Sex, violence, murder – and that’s just in the first few chapters. The ‘Revenge’ plot has been done time and time again in fantasy books, but ‘Best Served Cold’ drags the reader kicking and screaming down familiar corridors to an unexpected end. Though the pace of the plot slips at points, I found that the characters carried the story of their own accord.

I came away from ‘Best Served Cold’ with two black eyes. At first because the book beat the living day lights out of me with its relentless bloody-mindedness, and two because I spent both daylight and night reading it I was that hooked. It’s not for the fainthearted that’s for sure!

Best Served…? Cold blooded killers don’t come colder than this.

View all my reviews

Monday, 12 November 2012

Review: Last Argument of Kings

Last Argument of Kings
Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the end everyone gets what they deserve.

A shift of power has come to the Union. The King lies on his deathbed. The nobility scramble for their claim to the throne, as the peasants revolt to snatch their freedoms.

Good men are needed to set right the balance of power. If only Inquisitor Glokta could balance long enough on his crippled legs and stick to relieve himself, let alone tilt the scales in the favour of the many.

Jezal Dan Luthar understands the needs of the many – but he rathers the needs of the few. A few being namely one. Himself. Abandoning his quests for glory and betterment, he turns to love and its pursuit. Though, the pursuit of glory might have been an easier chase after all…

Logen Ninefingers is tired or running, chasing, hiding. As his father said, ‘Once you've got a task to do, it's better to do it than live with the fear of it’. So it’s time to go back to the North, to do one last battle, to face his friends and enemies – and he goes with the greatest of both at his side, for the Bloody Nine goes with him.

In the end a man finds his measure. He set his own rules, and breaks them. But there is no rule more terrible to break than ‘The First Law’ itself…

Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The Last Argument of Kings’ is the finale for his ‘The First Law’ series. ‘The Last Argument of Kings’ is an ending fit for a king.

In ‘The Last Argument of Kings’, everyone gets what they deserve. Our favourite cast of miscreants is thrown to the dogs one last time, fighting for all their worth. In true Abercrombie fashion, the characters kick-bite-gnaw-and-scratch their way through the novel. As a reader, I urged them on, glorying with them in their victories (no matter how slight), and mourning in their losses. It’s an ode to a great storyteller that you want a character to win, and Abercrombie certainly knows how to keep that last triumph just out of reach.

The fight scenes up until this point have been fantastic. Now, they’re epic. Abercrombie zooms in and out of his POV characters, providing a bird’s-eye view of the battles, whilst maintaining empathy for individuals caught in the middle of it all. The line between good and evil is blurred in the mud and the blood of the battle, and we’re reminded that the battles are fought between men, each with their own decisions be they good or bad.

With so many ties strewn about the plot, Abercrombie masterfully weaves them into a masterpiece. Drawing on threads two-books old, the final twists and turns will leave the reader wanting more, even after the satisfactory close.

True to his ‘realistic’ approach, Abercrombie closes the book on several characters’ stories, whilst leaving room for further exploits with others. Though some fans and readers may find this bittersweet, I like it. I mean, just because the words stop doesn’t mean that these characters stop living, does it?

‘The Last Argument of Kings’ is one of the books where you curse yourself because you should’ve seen it coming – but you didn’t. But make sure you don’t miss out by not chancing it a read!

View all my reviews

Friday, 9 November 2012

Review: The Rescue

The Rescue
The Rescue by Diane Strong

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before I begin, let me say that I received a free copy of 'The Rescue' in return for a review.

'The Rescue'...well, it's different. Very different. Not my usual sort of thing, but I did indeed finish it in a single sitting, easily devoured during my lunch break. It's 'out there'. It's straight up, to the point. No wasted time with over descriptions.

Character wise...well, it can be difficult to fully realise your characters in a short story, but I think Diane Strong did well with her constricts.

The plot was, again, different. Certainly thriller-esque. Reads like the victim-POV from an episode of 'Bones' almost.

I think everyone will come away with their own opinions of 'The Rescue', so I recommend that you read it before you judge the book by its cover. Fans of Diane Strong will enjoy.

View all my reviews

Monday, 5 November 2012

Review: Before They Are Hanged

Before They Are Hanged
Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ferro’s hatred drives her.

Jezal’s ego lures him.

Logen’s fear stills him.

…but the fear of the Bloody-Nine will see them through. Angland is overrun by the Northmen, Dagoska is surrounded by Gurkish, and Adua is about to be brought down from within. Pulled in three separate directions, the fate of the Union lies in the hands of a divided few. Whilst Crown Prince Ladisla straightens his best uniform for a dinner date on the battlefield, Inquisitor Glokta works his crippled legs to ‘march’ to war.

And all this hangs in the balance of a rabble’s quest…

A quest for heroes, men of courage, valour and conscience. Funnily enough, neither Ferro, Jezal nor Logen boast the desired qualities. Even if they can overcome their desires to kill each other, uncover the secrets of the past, and locate the key to their survival, they still have to make it back in one piece.

…better to hang a hope on a rabble, than to hang from the noose...

Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Before They Are Hanged’ is the sequel to his debut novel ‘The Blade Itself’, and the second book ‘The First Law’ series. ‘Before They Are Hanged’ is a hard-fought hard-earned story of ancient secrets, old foes, and fresh blood.

In ‘Before They Are Hanged’, the reader is plunged straight into the deep-end. Embattled on both north and south fronts, the Union struggles to keep its head out of the water. The plot is wide and wonderful, encompassing a journey to new-ends, a bitter fight to the end, and a charge to glory on the battlefield.

Old characters are unmistakeable in their weathered and worn guises, pumped up with the blood of a good scrap. Add to the already colourful cast an artist’s palette of pompous Princes, traitorous Underlings, and a helping of sell-out Merchants, and you’re sure to be in for a rip-roaring performance.

Abercrombie set the standard with his quirky prose in ‘The Blade Itself’ and continues it into ‘Before They Are Hanged’. However, I did find parts of ‘Before They Are Hanged’ a little slower than its predecessor, something of a slog at times. I’ll give it its due though, the promise of things yet to come is more than enough to keep any reader on board for the finale.

To win or to lose, it hangs in the balance…only blood can tip the favour.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Creative Writing 101: Critique aka Swallowing Fire.

    Be it a pat on the back or a 'smack upside your head', critique can leave you shell-shocked. Ah, critique, critical thinking and delivery of a response warranted by the impact of a subject's work. Layman's terms: opinion and advice on how to take your work to the next level, in the critique's opinion.

     Now, good critique is different for everyone. Some people need an extra spoon full of sugar with their review-brew, whilst others don't mind having their work torn to shreds for the sake of improvement. 'Good critique' has to be tailored to an individual, but seeing as I can't tell you how to submit or receive critique for each writer/artist, I'm going to give you a broad brush approach that won't get you hung, drawn and quartered.

How to Give Good Critique:

     Hope. Give a writer hope that there is promise in their work. No matter how had a piece is, it has potential. But, if you trash the creator and rip them a proverbial 'new one', how are they going to realise their hopes and dreams?

Honest – don't sugar coat everything, but don't poison a perfectly good mouthful. Be honest, be fair.
Opinion – remember, the work you are critiquing has stemmed from an idea, and opinions clash. What might be right for you might not be right for everyone.
Purpose – give your review direction. Either critique chronologically (start to finish) or by means of headings (characters, technique, plot etc.). Make sure its constructive yet critical - that's the purpose of critique after all, right?
Evaluation – have you weighed up the goods and the bads at the end? Not everything is bad, point out the strengths, consider the weaknesses.

     Bad critique is horrible. It's when someone smashes a writer to smithereens just for the sake of it. Yes, some may want to watch the world burn, but be fair…only go so far as to push them onto hot coals and make them dance for their money's worth! Good critique will give a writer the helping hand to the next stage. Don't forget: one man's story is another's life. What you say might directly offend or upset someone.

How to Accept Critique…Good?

     Thank your critiquer. Sounds odd trying to tell someone how to accept critique. But, you'd be surprised how many writers and artists react poorly to critique. Yes, it can be hard when you've got a rabid pit bull of a reviewer gnawing at the very bones of your greatest masterpiece (TO DATE!), but shaking it off is only to making the bleed worse. Don't be a sore loser if you're shortfalls are laid bare to you. But, then again, don't be a sore winner if you're heaped with praise! 

Timeliness – look, think of it this way: there are thousands of stories/pieces out there and someone took the time to discover, inspect and review yours. The least you can do is offer them a timely response…not three months down the line when they've moved on.
Humility – you're not god's gift to life, the Adonis of art, the Perseus of poetry, and so on. Take praise in your stride, as you would critique. Don't let it go to your head, as you'll take a fall when someone rips the carpet out from underneath you, and it'll hurt all the more with a swollen brainbox!
Acceptance – you're not the greatest for everyone. You never will be. You CAN NOT please everyone. So when someone points out a fault, or something that they don't like…fix it or move on.
Never argue back – if someone has ruined you in a critique, thank them and move on. Don't argue. You're lowering yourself to their level, and you're about to upset them (and possibly others) as much as they have upset you.
Know when to change – Sure, spelling mistakes and grammar need to be dealt with, but if it's a question of style…ask yourself, do you want to change your work to please someone else, or would you rather keep doing what you enjoy?

     Wow, now don't I feel like some sort of agony aunt? I hope that this has been an eye opener, and you'll keep my points in mind when you next turn to receiving or submitting critique. Remember, we're all part of a wider community, an artist community, and we don't just have an audience, we have peers!

     Anyhow, I'm off to go sharpen a few wooden stakes and dig a few holes, before any of you miscreants come charging over to give me a piece of your mind!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Review: The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A life of debauchery for the nobleman.

A life of pain for the torturer.

A life of blood for the barbarian.

Not much of a heroes hall, is it? Heroes are needed to defend against the growing threat from the Northmen and their alliance with the feral Shanka. Heroes are needed to root out the evil lurking in the heart of Adua, the Union’s Capital. Captain Jezal Dan Luthar, noble swordsman and promising officer, might just be the hero that the hour calls for – if only he can keep his breakfast down on his morning run. Inquisitor Glotka, ex-soldier of esteem and renown turned upholder of justice, might be able to uncover the dark secrets amongst the shadow of conspiracy – if his crippled body will let him mount the stairs without falling flat on his face. And Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian of the North, might just stand a second chance…if his bloodied past would just leave him be.

Each has a part to play, whether they know or like it.

Sometimes it’s not about turning the other cheek, nor is it about hitting first or hardest – its about sliding the knife in at the right moment and giving it a good, hard twist.

Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The Blade Itself’ is his debut novel, and the opening novel to his ‘The First Law’ series. ‘The Blade Itself’ is a bloody and bloodied tale of high hopes and stakes, dashed dreams and brains, and more knives than a battalion of butchers.

In ‘The Blade Itself’, everyone seems to in over their heads. Logen Ninefingers is somehow roped into accompanying a returned-from-the-ancient-past Arch Magi to the capital of civilisation. Inquisitor Glokta is chasing at shadows, marking smugglers and scriveners as traitors and conspirators. And Jezal Dan Luthar, who wants nothing more than to get drunk and wile away the nights in a buxom bosom, but has somehow ended up training for the grand tournament. The plot itself is twisted on itself, but its characters’ interactions that make the story.

A barbarian, a torturer and a nobleman walk into a bar…sounds like the start to a bad joke? Wrong. It’s the start of a really good story. In ‘The Blade Itself’, the veritable menagerie of characters are led into the depths of plot twists and turns, played like puppets at their own game. Other members of the cast are just as colourful, particularly the ‘Named Men’ from the North.

Abercrombie writes with a quick wit and a sharp tongue. His prose is refreshing, different, conversational even. At times it’s like being sat across the fireside from the writer at a campout, at others it’s as if you’re behind the eyes of each character. He dips into the darker side of humanity – or inhumanity in some cases – not afraid to pull the punches on just how low that some are willing to sink to. And the fight scenes…! Bloodied and bloody, if the printers ran out of ink, they could squeeze the pages and use the red stuff instead.

Say one thing about Joe Abercrombie, say he’s a dab hand with a blade as well as a pen. You’ll be sure to read ‘The Blade Itself’ as fast as if a knife was hovering at your neck.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Creative Writing 101: Tools of the Trade aka Rome wasn't built in a day!

     Rome wasn’t built in a day. Heck, it would’ve have been built at all without the rights tools and materials. Minus the stone, wood, manpower and hammers, what would have been made? A rough circle in the dirt?

     Writing is very much the same. You’re going to need plot lines, characters, scenes, landscapes, etc. etc. But today’s journal is going back to the foundation of writing. Imagine settling down to write…you pick up your pen – it’s run out of ink. You fetch a new pen, but the clicker is broken on this one. Fine, settle for a pencil, but there’s no paper and the lead is broken anyway. You’re reduced to scratching chalk on slate until it rains and washes away your epic, bestselling, genre-breaking novel.

     Take your seats class. Today we’re going back to basics. We’re going to discuss what a writer needs in this day and age to craft his/her masterpiece. Now, you might have differing opinions to mine here, and please feel free to share them below, but this is more of an ‘ingredients list’ for the writer, rather than the story.

     Firstly, you’re going to need a way of ‘rough writing’. This to me is first drafting, word-for-word, raw and unedited story-goodness. I prefer to write this in a notebook as I like the feel of paper and pen, but feel free to use whatever you life. Some write straight onto PC/Laptop, others use sheets of paper – whatever your fancy!

     I’ve just mentioned the old pc/laptop – and you’re going to need it. With it, you’ll need a good word processing program (MS word being the most popular). It may seem like I’m teaching you to suck eggs here, but, it’ll spot typos for you, and it’s a MUST for ease of editing. Try to type up your work as often and as soon as possible, as hard copies (stuff written in notepads) have a habit of getting lost, damaged, or in my case used as kindling when out on exercise with the Army.

     Now, you’ve got the materials to record your story, but what about the little ideas that pop up here and there? I carry a small notebook on me at all times. AND if all else fails? I use my phone. The iPhone has a handy ‘Notepad’ app that I populate with more story ideas than contacts in my phone. Back in the day, when all I had was one of those trusty Nokia’s that would’ve sustained a gunshot, I was known to text myself to save ideas for later.

     Right, it’s all falling into place! You’ve got hard and soft copies of your work, and a collection of notebooks strewn about the place to keep your writing going. Last, but definitely not least, you’re going to need a BACK UP! HUGELY important. I have several, and I implore you to do the same.

     Personally, for my backups I have: multiple folder structures on my laptop, emailed documents on several accounts, and a ‘Cloud’ (online storage – a must have). I also have a USB, which may not be all that reliable because I leave it in my pocket at all times (and it’s not as if I have a regular office job), but I do plan to invest in an external Hard Drive to keep the rest of the digitals safe. As with copying up from rough to good, your backups should be kept up to date.

     Other things that are useful to have to hand:
A pen…ok, I’ll take this more seriously!
Sketch paper – I find drawing diagrams helps me picture certain scenes, or the layout of a room.
Squared paper – for maps (oh, and for playing noughts and crosses with whoever’s about).
Music – for me it helps get the creative mindset in gear.
Internet connection – don’t let it distract you, but this is crucial for research.

     There we go. Very billy basics, but I thought this would be a fitting return to my ‘Creative Writing 101’ journal entries after a short break. If you have anything to add to this list, feel free to do so below in the comments section. Thank you all for stopping by, and next week we’ll continue as per usual.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Review: Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The soldiers gamble their lives.

The Empress raises the stakes of her rule.

The Gods keep their cards to hand…

Who has the most to lose? Three years past, but the city of Pale has fallen under siege. Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners have little time to mourn the dead as the Empress commands them on. Darujhistan, the last of the Free cities, still defies the swathe of the Malazan Empire.

There are no signs to an end. The soldiers have given their worth, but the fighting goes on. Will the last of the mortal cities signal the end to the years of bloodshed?

…Or will the gods enter the play?

Steven Erikson’s ‘Gardens of the Moon’ is the first book in his ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ Series. The series spans a boastful ten novels, but what’s worth shouting about is the fact that ‘Malaz’ encompasses three million, three hundred and ten thousand words. Chew on that!

‘Gardens of the Moon’ introduces the reader to a vast cast of characters. Well, actually it introduces us to a world of characters. And by world, I mean WORLD. Erikson has crafted a living, breathing universe, and he’s gone to the trouble of populating the four corners with more characters than you can shake a stick at. That’s a double-edged sword, right there. If you like scope, and you can cope with a theatre overrun by actors in the aisles, then this book is for you. If not, return your ticket at the box office before you get trampled by the extras. The characters do suffer for the swollen census – in ‘Gardens of the Moon’ development is shallow at times, and a lot of the cast share similarities or mirror one another. (Note: The rest of the series does not suffer from this so much, seemingly because as a reader we’ve already been introduced to the cast and character development can begin after the first impressions.)

This is where my usual review style falls down. Where I want to explore the deeper sides of characters and plot, I think it’s best I approach ‘Gardens of the Moon’ with a more summative eye.

Erikson isn’t for everyone. In ‘Gardens of the Moon’ the reader hits the ground running. When I say running, I mean sprinting but you’ll have to keep it up for a marathon. And when I say ground…I mean landing from a 100 ft drop onto a rock flatbed. I think the first 20 pages will make or break the experience for a reader. I’ve seen the mixed reviews, as I am sure you all have, and I have to say that I see everyone’s points.

Every page is something of a challenge – or at least it poses a challenge to a reader. It’s not an easy-read, but it’s well worth it. The plot is grand, operatic grand, and easy to get lost in. Again, the characters are many and mixed, but also easy to get lost amongst. The meticulous care that Erikson has taken with ‘Gardens of the Moon’ is (and take this as a compliment, I guess) akin to a god-like hand. It’s HUGE. MASSIVE. I know I keep coming back to this point, but I believe that part of the reason the series is a fall-fast to many readers, is because the sheer size puts them off.

Erikson’s prose is beautiful. That much I will touch upon. His complexity of word-weaving is at once poetic, but also befuddling. Yes, I count myself a high-level reader, but no, I did not find this an easy read at all times. I had to re-read sentences, passages, entire pages…but I discovered something new each and every time. It’s like a 2-for-1 on books.

This isn’t a story for the light-hearted, nor is it for the casual-fantasy-reader. You’re going to have to free up the brain space allocated to our own world history to fully immerse yourself in Erikson’s creation.

It’s epic. That’s it. I’ve mentioned operatic, epic, MASSIVE…that IS the ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ Series. Everything else before it? They are claimants to the crown of epicness. I’m not saying to discount them as Epic-Fantasies, but ‘Gardens of the Moon’ and it’s sequels put the fantasy into epic. Sure, even right at the end I found myself more than a little lost and confused, but Erikson has woven so many threads into his story, that when he pulls at one…it all unravels.

Why 5 stars? I’ve yet to justify a rating for one of my reviews, but I feel the need to do so in this case. This could just as easily been a 4, 3, 2, or 1 star review. But, no. Despite its many shortcomings, I believe that ‘Gardens of the Moon’ has set a new standard in fantasy. It’s the benchmark for others to aspire to in scope, world-building, lore… And for that alone, 5 stars is what you’ll get Mr Erikson.

Ever hear about Narnia, the land at the back of the closet? Well, you’d need more than a closet to hide ‘Gardens of the Moon’ in.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Ebook Debut & Exclusive Sneak Preview!

     A big thank you to you all. Yesterday 'From Man to Man' went live on both Smashwords and Amazon. I couldn't have done it without you - readers, watchers, followers and friends. Your support and advice has helped me to this stage, and I'm glad to boast myself as a Self Published Author. I hope you've enjoyed my stories thus far, and I can promise to do my utmost not to disappoint from here on in. As a big thank you, I've included the first chapter from 'It Began With Ashes' as a SNEAK PREVIEW in the ebook.

If you're able to, I ask you to support me one last time by downloading 'From Man to Man' on Smashwords and Amazon, and leaving an honest review.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Review: Heir of Novron

Heir of Novron
Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The war is lost.

The kingdom has fallen.

The enemy has won.

Two thieves are out to steal the show. With the fall of the Nationalists and the kingdom of Melengar, the Empire is set to celebrate the Wintertide holiday. The Witch of Melengar shall be burned at the stake, and the true Heir of Novron – and ex-leader of the Nationalists – will join her. The celebrations will end with the marriage of the Empress Melodina, before her own accidental end. But, there’s no such dead-end for thieves that know every escape route. Royce and Hadrian are at it one last time. They’ve bested the odds before, but even a winning hand needs more than a little luck.

Free the Princess, liberate the Empress, crown the true Heir…all in a day’s work. Why send an army when you only need two men? Against the church, the empire, and the return of an all-powerful nation, Royce and Hadrian have to raise the stakes anyway that they can…

…and when they’re in, they’re in to win.

Michael J Sullivan’s ‘Heir of Novron’ is the culmination of two of his originally self-published novels ‘Wintertide’ and ‘Percepliquis’, part of his 6-book-long Riyria Revelations series. Orbit picked up the rights and re-published the original 6 as a 3. ‘Heir of Novron’ is a show-stealing, pulse-racing fantasy with a finale that’ll hold you at knife-point ‘til the end.

In ‘Heir of Novron’, Hadrian and Royce set out to finish what they started. Though the Princess may not be a damsel in distress, someone has to save her, and whilst they’re at it they might as well rescue the Empress, too. They say that three’s a crowd, but the true heir could use freeing if there’s any hope to foil the church’s blasphemous conspiracy. But, even in the world of dirty dealings, the two thieves have never come across a scheme as dark as this. Hadrian and Royce need to unravel the secret ties of the present and the past if they’ve any hope for success – but they’ve always been pretty good at cutting purse strings.

If there is such a thing as going out in style, then this is it. I laughed, I cried – it was a rollercoaster. ‘Heir of Novron’ was…perfect. To put it in any other way would do injustice to the story, the characters, and the author. There’s never been a more fitting finish. All killer, no filler, everything and everyone plays a part. All the old favourites make a return, and there’s always room for a few more surprises.

Sullivan, what can I say? You had me from the opening line, but at the end…I’m still hanging on. I despair! I DESPAIR! Not because the book ended on a dumb-note. No, far from it in fact. I despaired because I knew that I had finished one of the greatest series that I would ever read it my life. And it was a part of my life. I lived and I breathed your world, your characters, your vision. I didn’t want to leave. I still don’t now – the books are already staring at me from the shelf begging to be reread.

‘Heir of Novron’ is a tale of love, treachery, adventure and triumph. Anything is possible; anything at all, even when all hope is lost. It’s not just the themes at play and the plot that drives the reader; it’s the realisation that this world isn’t fiction, its fantasy. It’s the stuff of dreams.

Riyria is a welcome change to the deeply political, overly ominous and all-too-complex fantasies as of recent. It’s enjoyable to read, fun and fast paced. From young to old, the books have something on offer for anyone who decides to pick them up.

It’s not just about stealing the spotlight, it’s about stealing the reader’s heart. The Riyria Revelations certainly did just that for me. Catch the finale to the epic tale in ‘Heir of Novron’!

View all my reviews

Monday, 8 October 2012

Review: Rise of Empire

Rise of Empire
Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The beast is slain.

The heir is found.

An Empire is born.

Two thieves are in a world of trouble. The kingdom of Melengar stands against the chuch and the new Empire, cornered like a crook in an alley. But, alleys have their shadows, and thieves lurk in the shadows. Royce and Hadrian are back, partners in crime. They’ve escaped a dungeon, stole a Prince, and more besides, but they’re in for their toughest job yet.

Going behind enemy lines is no job for a soldier, but for two thieves…? The only hope for Melengar is to ally with the Nationalists in the south. Caught between Royalty, Ancient Wizards, flesh-eating Ghazel and a Church that blinds all with holy light, Royce and Hadrian are going to do what they do best…

…Steal victory from the jaws of defeat.

Michael J Sullivan’s ‘Rise of Empire’ is the culmination of two of his originally self-published novels ‘Nyphron Rising’ and ‘The Emerald Storm’, part of his 6-book-long Riyria Revelations series. Orbit picked up the rights and re-published the original 6 as a 3. ‘Rise of Empire’ is a rip-roaring, tongue-in-cheek fantasy with a plot that’ll steal the hours in the day.

In ‘Rise of Empire’, Hadrian and Royce are hired by the kingdom of Melengar to establish contact with the Nationalists in the south, and assist Princess Arista in forging an alliance with their leader. As luck would have it – and for thieves, Royce and Hadrian have pretty poor luck – things don’t go to plan. Royce is convinced that they’re caught up in the games of an ancient wizard, and the only way to find out is to unravel the secrets of Hadrian’s past.

I’m so glad to be able to say it, but Hadrian and Royce are back! And the boys are on top form. ‘Rise of Empire’ delves into the mysteries of time, and the shadows of two of the most shadowy pasts ever secreted. They live and they breathe, but renewed vigour runs in their veins as we discover more about their history – not just as Riyria, but in their lives beforehand. Other old faces make a welcome return, though be sure that you’re in for a surprise!

Sullivan continues his punchy deliver. The plot races along, always two steps ahead. And, just as you think you’ve caught up, it twists out of reach and makes for the finish line to fanfare and applause. The characters drive the story as much as the plot, and the reader’s investment in them is more than worth its weight in gold.

Riyria is a welcome change to the deeply political, overly ominous and all-too-complex fantasies as of recent. It’s enjoyable to read, fun and fast paced. From young to old, the books have something on offer for anyone who decides to pick them up.

What they say is true – there is honour amongst thieves. Find out more in ‘Rise of Empire’!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Character Creation 101: The Fleshy Bits aka Quit Peeking!

     It was his upbringing…you can’t blame a boy after he was raised like that. But one does not simply walk into Mordor. You’d have to pay a fair penny for that to happen. Maybe that’s why he did it. For the money. Plenty o’ them celebrity-peoples do it for the money. What about Tinkers, tailors, soldiers and spies? Though, wasn’t it Colonel Mustard in the dining room with the candlestick? Don’t get me started on candles!

     Though the above sounds like the ramblings of a madman…ok, I’m not even going to try and defend it. It is what it is. HOWEVER, the point I’m trying to get across is the thought process going into creating a character. So you’ve got the name and you’ve got your tags from my last two blog posts, but now it’s time to breathe life into your characters.

     Let’s start from the top.

     History – the upbringing, the old, the new, the current. Everything that happens to a person shapes them in one way or another. This isn’t so much as their ‘destined path’ in life, but more their mood, attitude, likes and dislikes. Take the stereotypical ‘raised by wolves’ character. They grow up to be a little wild, rough around the edges, sometimes a bit of a loner. This fits with the upbringing. Now, if said characters was raised by wolves BUT was a debonair fop, blue-eyed, baby-faced, and able to use every utensil at the kitchen table whilst being able to concentrate long enough to eat with his mouth closed…then either the wolves were well versed in mealtime etiquette or there is another side to his history that we do not know. Sometimes it’s not necessary to explore the entirety of a character’s back story, but we were all young once.

     Motivations – what’s made the character act as they do? Not so much as in history, but why are they currently involved. Queen and country? Money? Fame? To get the girl/guy/Colonel Mustard? Revenge? A motivation can be anything, but it’s something that helps the reader connect to that character, and to relate to them. It turns a character into a being, a person. Take Luke Skywalker for example. He wanted revenge, peace, and a new haircut amongst other things.

     Methods – Everyone has their own methods. How they think, how they act. Most importantly, how do they REACT? Problem engagement and solution is critical to a story. I mean, that’s what a story is. A problem, and an account of how it is overcome (or not in some cases). Your character needs a clear-cut method of copy with things. This could be from having a berserker-like rage that sees them through the bloodiest of battles, to a severe arachnophobia handled only by the trance state of believing themselves to be a rolled-up newspaper. Put simply, your character is a priest. How do they respond to being attacked? Turn the other cheek (not literally…well…), preach the wrongs of their attackers’ actions, beseech mercy? Who knows, your priest could be a Warrior-Monk who beats 50-shades-of-whoop-ass into any who dares raise a hand to them.

     Functions – your character….do they have a function? Are they important to the story? Or have you just made them up for the heck of it? If they serve no function…chop them. It’s fine to have a background characters, or someone who acts as a plot device, but if your guy/gal is only there as eye-candy why not tie that role into someone else? That way you’ll have One more fleshed-out character rather than two sacks of bone and gristle.

     Purposes – what does your character want in life? Tied closely to Motivations, a Purpose is the long or current goals for that character. Save the world in time for tea? Go to the shops before they’re old? Giving a character a goal helps share a sense of achievement with the reader. I mean, we’re all going somewhere, right?...hello?

     Opinions – everyone has a right to their own opinion, and no opinion is ever wrong. This to an author is like handing a kid a box of matches and telling them to go play in the hay barn. Your character can have an opinion on anything, and their actions will be shaped thus. Look at Spiderman. ‘With Great Power comes Great Responsibility.’ Now, look at the Oracle in the Matrix Reloaded. ‘What do all men with power want? More power.’ CONFLICT = ACTION. ACTION = DRAMA. DRAMA = SUSPENSE. SUSPENSE = CLIFF HANGERS. CLIFF HANGERS = MORE BOOKS. MORE BOOKS = ….repetitive stress injury.

     After looking into the above, ensure that your characters are consistent in their ‘lives’, and develop how the world shapes them. External and internal factors make us the people that we are, and that goes the same for your fictional friends. Make them different, don’t be afraid to set them aside from the pack. Give them depth, a reason for existence, connectivity.

     And if all else, fails…I know a girl in a red hood who’s grandmother can school anyone in table-side manners.

D. E. M. Emrys. Author. Soldier by day, Soldier by night - Writer in Between. 
Author of Heroic Fantasies:

From Man to Man - Currently FREE from Amazon

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Review: Theft of Swords

Theft of Swords
Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The King is dead.

The Prince is missing.

Two Thieves have escaped.

Blame hovers like the executioner’s axe. The Prince and his Paupers are on the run, hunted by once loyal soldiers. But, the two men he travels with are the best in the business. Royce Melborn, master thief with a past as dark as his mood, and Hadrian Blackwater, veteran swordsman and general do-gooder. Together, Royce and Hadrian work as Riyria, a reputable front for dirty deeds.

Where do they go, when there’s nowhere to run to? Guarding a Prince, paid by a Princess, framed for killing the king…what’s next? The return of an ancient wizard?

There’s no other way to put it, but, there really is such a thing as being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Michael J Sullivan’s ‘Theft of Swords’ is the culmination of two of his originally self-published novels ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ and ‘Avempartha’, part of his 6-book-long Riyria Revelations series. Orbit picked up the rights and re-published the original 6 as a 3. ‘Theft of Swords’ is an adventure-bound, fantasy romp, with a page-turning plot and punchy delivery.

In ‘Theft of Swords’, Hadrian and Royce are initially hired to steal a nobleman’s sword from the King’s castle. No easy feat for the everyday cut-purse or burglar, but Riyria are known for the daring jobs. Only…things aren’t all as they seem. Thrown into the dungeons for the murder of the king, they are freed by an unlikely ally and paid a King’s ransom (see what I did there?) to spirit the young Prince away. Escaping one prison in search of another, the two Thieves are caught between doing what they’re paid for (a Princely sum! Ok, I’ll quit it now), and doing what’s right.

Hadrian and Royce are a joy to read. They embody the popular growth of what has become known as ‘bromance’. They bicker and they quarrel, they reminisce and they hope…the world is at their feet, and its theirs for the taking, but they have to decide which way to head first. Royce is your archetypical sullen grouch, with a history he’s none too willing to let on to, but one that has shaped him into a thief or world renowned skill. Hadrian is a veteran swordsman, having fought in countless battles, at the head of armies or in the back streets. The minor characters are also a joy, fully fleshed and breathing. They’re a joy to read about.

Sullivan writes with a simple yet speedy approach. It’s refreshing. The plot comes think and fast, the action sharp, the dialogue witty. The characters sold the stories to me, and how they exist and interact within the realm is a further testament to the immersion of the book(s). It’s nice to have a break from the ‘return of the ancient evil’ plot, or the ‘invasion of enemy forces’. Two friends, too many enemies, tonnes of adventure.

I have to say, I DEVOURED the series. I loved them. They were so easy to read, and I don’t doubt that I’ll re-read them before long. I smiled the entire way through, and they’re short and snappy enough to be read in furtive glances between stops on the London Underground train. There’s something for everyone with Riyria.

In a game of Hide and Seek, does a thief hide in the shadows, or seek the gold? Find out in ‘Theft of Swords’!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Character Creation 101: Tags aka Dancing Shoes

     Tall or short? What about somewhere in between?

     Redhead, brunette, blonde…oh wait, I know. BALD!

     Two hands, two feet, two arms, two heads. There’s something not right here.

     We’re going to continue picking apart the characters in your novel(s) this week. Today class, we’re going to have a catwalk, of a-sorts. From last week’s roll-call of names, we’re going to move on to the full body mug shots.

     First impressions count, no truer than this in a story, book or series. When your character(s) take stage, that initial introduce will stay with the reader throughout. How you describe them is key, as it’ll make or break them. A character needs to be memorable, discernible, distinctive, and bloody well interesting to boot. This is where a lot of novels fall short, particularly in the fantasy genre. My girlfriend loathes fantasy, and I can see her understanding after we duked it out over a Starbucks coffee. To her, fantasy is a far too complex world, with far too complex factions, with far too complex variables of characters, complete with far too complex names to read aloud. Needless to say, I have to agree…particularly on the character front. Sometimes characters feel all too much like place holders, forgotten in the turn of the pages.

     This was a terminal I’d have to remedy if I ever hoped to have my girlfriend read my stories. That, or lure her along with promises of Dinner and Dancing (I’m not too bad a groover, I have you know!). She enjoys chick-lit (no surprise! But, then again so do I), but her reasoning is that they are easy books just to pick up and read, the characters memorable. Of course they’re going to be memorable, particularly the male lead. Tall, dark and handsome. Or, unkempt blonde locks, ocean-blue eyes and a dazzling smile. Well-built, rough around the edges, but gentle in all the rights places…enough about me, back to the 101.

     However, what I’ve said is true. These characters stand out for their ‘tags’. A ‘tag’ is an identifier for a single character, and sets them apart from the rest of the cast. ‘Tags’ can be a physical aspect, a trait, a habit, a saying, anything! Used effectively, a character can be recognised without even their name being said (written, in this case).

     Take for example:
     Waylander from David Gemmell’s Drenai Series – double winged crossbow, a trademark piece in itself.

     Logen ‘The Bloody Nine’ Ninefingers from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Series – having nine fingers is obvious enough, but ‘the heavily scarred Northman’ with a penchant for knives (you can never have too many knives) head-butts his way into readers’ memory.

     Harry Potter from….obvious – a lightning bolt scar on his forehead.

     The Painted Man from The Demon Cycle by Peter V Brett - *SPOILERS* He’s a man…and he’s painted *SPOILERS OVER*.

     Draven Reinhardt from From Man to Man and It Began with Ashes by D E M Emrys – when stressed, bunches his bandana in his fists (selfless self-promotion).

     Kalekht Reinhardt from It Began With Ashes by D E M Emrys – grins, no smiling or beaming, just grinning. And it’s always mischievous, neither roguish nor feral, a mischievous grin…for mischief!

     Hopefully, I haven’t lost you here. The idea is that when a reader picks up on a single tag, the character comes to mind. It’s the appetiser in a way. A character shouldn’t have too many tags, or they’ll never become recognisable, but not having any at all is like having a blank canvas walk around your story. But then again, even a blank canvas has a tag, because it’s a BLANK canvas, not a painted or a ripped one. Right, before I confuse myself any more, I’ll leave it there.

     Anyway, I have to get find my dancing shoes, as I’m about to ask my girlfriend to read ‘From Man to Man’ before I finish it off.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Review: Hero in the Shadows

Hero in the Shadows
Hero in the Shadows by David Gemmell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The gate was locked under spell and sacrifice. Those gone were never to return.

The demons of Kuan Hador were banished from the world thousands of years ago. The mystic warriors the defeated the evil are lost to history and the grave. When Man is gone from life, Man does not return.

Now, mists of ice, and beasts of mist lurk in Kuan Hador. The ancient spells are fading.

Gone are the days of the demons, and gone are the Men that stood against them. Few stand against the gate. Kysumu the swordsman, of the line that defended the world in a distant era. Yu Yu Liang, a ditch digger. Ustarte, the priestess. And the Grey Man, a man thought gone who did not stay that way.

Things never truly stay gone, and such is the way with a man that cannot die. But, the Grey Man will kill him.

He has to. For the Grey Man is the traitor who killed the king, the Prince of Assassins.

Waylander is back.

David Gemmell’s ‘Hero In The Shadows’ is the final tale featuring Waylander, in the Drenai saga. Sequel to ‘Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf’, the novel gives a change of place and name to Waylander’s story, furthering his motivations and the development of the legendary Prince of Assassins.

After ‘Waylander II: In The Realm of the Wolf’, Waylander has turned his back on the lands of the Drenai, travelling to new shores in an effort to start again. Now, known to the locals as the Grey Man, he is seen as the rich foreigner, an elusive outsider that the other nobles and merchants can benefit from. But, when a group of Mercenaries attack a village on the Grey Man’s land, Waylander takes to the hunt. Waylander is not the only killer on the prowl, as an icy mist lurks from Kuan Hador, a city forgotten to time. Heroes, be they from the shadow or the light, are drawn to Kuan Hador to face the return of an old enemy.

Waylander returns with an old friend, and the scars both mental and physical of a life hard lived as an assassin. New additions to the cast Kysumu and Yu Yu Liang come from the pre-established land of the Chiatze, a richly envisioned realm with a heavy oriental influence. And, in regards to enemies, Waylander has fought demons and beasts before, but facing Demon Lords is a hardier foe than anything that the Prince of Assassins has ever matched.

Gemmell writes with a cinematic grandeur in ‘Hero In The Shadows’. As ever, the dynamic fight scenes are simple but deadly, painting a picture in blood rather than over-the-top descriptions. Waylander’s an old veteran of his craft, and Gemmell is the master of his own, and the familiar motions are as well-oiled and greased as the mechanisms of a crossbow.

Gemmell’s stray towards the fight against a ‘Greater Evil’ rather than the struggle of Man Vs Man is an escalation from the other Waylander novels, but it’s a fitting evolution for the Prince of Assassins. After all, Waylander has proved himself time and time again against mortals, so it’s only right that he pit his skills against a worthy opponent. As a fan of Gemmell’s work, and having read all of the Drenai books, it’s awe inspiring to see the author ‘tip his hat’ to tales set in the same universe, though a different time. Without saying too much, several characters appear in his other stories including ‘Winter Warriors’ (see my review here: http://written-with-a-sword.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/review-winter-warriors.html), and the books of The Damned ‘White Wolf’ and ‘The Swords of Night and Day’.

‘Hero In The Shadows’ closes the book on Waylander’s story, but can an Assassin ever have a happy ending?

View all my reviews

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Author Interview & Feature: MARK LAWRENCE!

     It’s one thing to make your readers smile, laugh or even cry. But, to inspire revulsion, abhorrence, outrage…that’s a whole other story. It’s a morbid fascination that keeps the pages turning, word a blur as you descend into the depths of depravity. Good and evil, black and white. But, when there’s little good and a hell of a lot of black, that sick obsession needs its fix.

     Mark Lawrence is a dealer to this addiction. He writes with a dark intellect; witty to the macabre, each line laced with a bittersweet poison. What makes his stories so delightfully compulsive is that he dares to tread the thin line between what can be said, and what should never, ever, ever, even be thought. At the reins of a first person Point-of-View, the reader is not just invited to the blood written tales of his creation, but dragged along, kicking and screaming. Combine a poetic psychopath with a power-hungry philosopher, and you have Mark Lawrence’s leading man.

     Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath…The Prince of Thorns.

     Mark has so far released two novels from the ‘Broken Empire’ Trilogy, these being ‘Prince of Thorns’ and ‘King of Thorns’. I’ve reviewed them both at earlier points (check back over my blog for the full features) but here’s a snippet of both reviews:

     ‘Is it true that we need to be broken before we can be reborn? No. But bleeding can sure do the trick.
     Thorns can bleed you better than a knife. Briar thorns so deep they hook to the bone. Where a knife goes in and out, you go in and out of a thicket. The knife goes in, blood comes out. You go in…who knows what comes out? But, I did.
     Before the thorns, before the person that I am now, I was a son and a brother. I’m still a Prince, but I gave that up for the road. Being a son and a brother was taken from me. The thorns gave me a new family. Brothers, though not by blood, but they’ve spilled enough of it for me. Yet there’s more blood to run, and though I lost my old family, I still have a claim to the family fortune.
     And that fortune is a throne…’

     ‘In chess, there are pawns, knights, queens, bishops, and more. But, there are no Princes, so in this Game I have become a king. Chess is black and white, which suits me rather well. A black king. But where's the read? There should be red, a lot of it. A lot of red, a lot of blood. Because, I've played all my pawns for check mate.
     I've got one castle, one knight, a queen and a king on my side of the board. But, there's six boards against my one side. Surely that's against the rules? Why am I complaining, I've never been one for rules, or played nicely with others.
     Maybe being the king isn't all it's cracked up to be?
     ...But being a player is.’

     Despite the darker than dried-blood saga, Mark Lawrence is a genuinely nice guy. If I sound surprised, then I guess I am a little. It’s like when you’re a kid and you look up to Superman only to realise he’s just an actor (personally, I never looked up to Superman. Dude couldn’t even dress himself in the right order – I mean, pants…on the outside? Please! Wolverine was my personal favourite). Now, I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing that when I spoke to Mark Lawrence he didn’t immediately slaughter me (unless I’m being unwittingly groomed for that eventuality!), but I’d built him up to be a big nasty. Boy was I shocked when I found out that he was an awesome bloke, more than happy to chat with a star-struck fan! Mark is a father of four, one of whom is severely disabled. On his ‘About the Author’ he mentions himself as an allotment tender….scary stuff?!?

     So what makes a nicer than nice do-gooder turned to the dark side, besides for the cookies? Well, I was lucky enough to ask Mark a few questions!

     As a research scientist, your job is very much fact. Why then did you decide to write a fiction book, particularly fantasy?
Not an uncommon question but still one that strikes me as peculiar. Most people’s jobs involve fact. Who gets to sit around making stuff up for a living or not obeying the laws of physics? Absolutely no reason a research scientist shouldn’t write fiction, any more or less than a bus driver or hairdresser. A scientist is called on to be far more creative than most people are in their day job.
Fantasy was an early love of mine – I was read Tolkien at an early age.

     How did you get into writing, and how long have you been writing for?
I started writing scenarios for dungeons and dragons games when I was eleven. I ran a fantasy play-by-mail game for a year between my physics degree and my Ph.D and continued to run it in my spare time for the next ten years.
When I moved to the States and stopped running the PBM game I started writing short stories for fun. Short stories grew into longer stories.

     What(who?) inspires and influences your writing?
Everything and nothing.

     Is fantasy your first love, in regards to writing?
It was my first love as a reader and as a writer but I write sci-fi, horror, literary fiction as the mood takes me.

     Now, tell us a little bit about your debut novel, 'Prince of Thorns'?
A violent sword and sorcery romp with deeper under-currents and a lyrical edge, inspired by Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.

     Did it live up to your expectations?
It wholly exceeded them. I just wrote it for fun with no plans to try for publication.

     Why so dark, why all the blood?
Why anything? It’s like me rolling a die and you asking ‘why 5?’. I just started typing and that’s what came up. My writing process is rather like rolling dice. The inspiration for this particular tale always meant there was going to be more than a touch of ultra violence.

     Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath...where he did come from? What spawned him in your mind?
Burgess’ protagonist in A Clockwork Orange is violent and amoral and does terrible things, and yet we find ourselves drawn to him because of his charm. I wanted to try that in a fantasy setting.

     Jorg philosophizes, and quotes many of the greats (Plato, Aristotle). Is this a reflection on yourself?
Well clearly I know a little about philosophy or I couldn’t have written about it. And clearly I quote philosophers (I did it in the book). But no, if you find yourself in conversation with me I am highly unlikely to start throwing in philosophical references.

     Can you reveal anything about the third and final book in the Broken Empire series?
Not a lot! It fills in some of the gaps between the two threads in King of Thorns as well as moving forward from the latter thread toward what’s hopefully an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

     Do you plan to revisit the world set out in the Broken Empire, or will the end of trilogy close the door?
I would like to return to the setting – though not to Jorg. There’s a power in knowing when to stop. I don’t plan to revisit Jorg. I want people to put down the last book of the trilogy wanting more, not to put down book 9 of an endless series thoroughly bored of him.

     What's next after the third novel?
What’s next is seeing if anyone will ever publish me again. And if not, then going back to writing for myself on the weekends.

     Any advice to would-be writers out there?
There’s no would-be about it. Start writing and you’re doing it. If you enjoy it then that’s reward enough in itself and everything else is a bonus. If you don’t ... then stop.

     Lastly, do you have anything that you'd like to say, anyone you'd like to thank? Any pearls of wisdom? (Or threats, in Jorg's case!)
Nope, I’m good. I make my thanks along the way. I’ll leave you with a Jorgism.
You’re either part of the solution or small and bloody chunks of the problem.

     And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that! Thank you Mark for taking the time to answer my questions, and thank you readers for stopping by! Both ‘Prince of Thorns’ and ‘King of Thorns’ are available to buy as ebooks and paper/hard backs in all major book stores! If you want a book to get you hooked, then be sure not to miss out!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Writing Update 4: Busy Times

     Time flies. I obviously missed the boarding call as I’m stick stuck in customs, snowed under by duty free sunglasses and Toblerone, trying to recover my ticket from the Haribo-High pre-teen who stole it from the not-so-legal frequent flyer hiding in the flower pot. Time is not a luxury that any of us can afford. First class is a king’s ransom on the clock, business class would be welcomed for the trade of minutes and seconds…if only we could get on the ruddy plane to ‘More Hours in the Day’ in the first place!

     Busy isn’t the half of it.

     But excitement is.

     Before I start, let me just tease you with a tid-bit of titillating trivia. Mark Lawrence, yes THE MARK LAWRENCE, published author of both ‘Prince of Thorns’ and ‘King of Thorns’ was gracious enough to sit down and answer a few of my questions. The interview (via email) will take up the feature slot on my blog, tomorrow. Be sure to check back for it.

     In regards to my own writing, it’s not going too badly. Work on ‘From Man to Man’ is almost complete, and I am um’ing and ah’ing whether to release the complete short story as a ‘free forever’ download across the web e.g. Smashwords, Amazon, Lulu etc. ‘It Began With Ashes’ is now in its final stages, the front cover is all but complete, I’m due to order the ISBN numbers, format the galley to ‘ebook friendly’, somehow plot a map, and complete a final test read. Sounds a lot, but things are looking positive for an October release. Work on ‘It Began With Ashes’s sequel has been stalled in the events of current, but at 35,000/50,000 words (approx. total) it shouldn’t take long to complete the first draft once I sit down with it again.

     All of my future titles, though self published, are due to be released under the publishing house ‘Four Branches’ – a company run solely by myself at this time. Long term, one of my dreams is to establish a publishing house to publish other authors, and if this is the first step towards that goal, then I’m psyched!

     Next week’s book review will close the door on David Gemmell’s ‘trilogy’ featuring the legendary Waylander. ‘Hero In Shadows’ is the final instalment featuring the assassin, and it’s kept me turning pages since I opened the book less than a week ago.

     All in all, it’s busy times, but business is good. You’ll all hear from me tomorrow, and be sure not to miss it as Mark Lawrence’s feature and exclusive interview will be on the headlines!

Follow me on:

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Character Creation 101: It's All In The Name

     Time for another Creative Writing 101, but this time I’d like to focus on something a little different. I had thought to write an entry dedicated to Character Creation for novels, but that in itself is a hugely diverse topic to explore (and I’m going to need a lot more coffee than I have to do that!). So I’ve decided to take baby steps…or at least keep the training wheels on a little longer.

     Let’s start simple. This might be teaching some of you to suck eggs, and in no means is it meant to. This entry is purely designed to highlight a few points, hopefully share my own experiences, and provide a few laughs (at my own expense, of course!).

     What do you call your characters?

     Potentially, this can be one of the hardest parts of writing. Imagine yourself a parent, a proud mother or father (both? If you’re that way inclined!) to a newborn babe. Your child has its whole life to look forward to, anything is possible! Now, imagine if Cletus was to become President, or Montgomery was destined to like the skin off of KFC…you get my point. Names define your characters, and if you can’t find one that ‘doesn’t quite fit’ you’ll be umm’ing and ahh’ing over the character as you write instead of doing the important thing…the ACTUAL WRITING.

     A name has to fit the character’s personality. This sounds obvious enough when you consider Druss from David Gemmell’s works. The name is short, sharp, simple, but most importantly: blunt. Druss is a ‘what you see is what you get hero’. Axe first, politics later. His name suits him to the bottom of his iron-shod boots. But what if we were to call him…Bob? Need I say more?

     Names need to stick to the theme of the story, and where each character comes from. Take Arlen Bales and Leesha Paper from Peter V Brett’s novels ‘The Painted Man’ and ‘The Desert Spear’. Each from village backgrounds set in a fantasy-medieval world, the names suit their origins. The theme of the story in this case being the setting = fantasy-medieval, where the characters come from being their respective villages.

     The same could be said for the time frame setting. I’ve yet to meet a ‘Sean’ in an Ancient Roman novel, nor an Odysseus in a crime thriller (though that’d be wicked! Time to add that to the ‘to do’ list).

     Names don’t just need to be pronounceable, they need to be memorable. This is a massive oversight particularly in fantasy, where writers squeeze as many vowels into a character’s name as possible. Eieieiouaiue is a damned sight hard to read, let alone say, though it’s memorable (better luck trying to spell it from memory though). Sure, our axe-wielding hero Bob might be pronounceable enough…but truly memorable? I know a ‘Bob the Builder’ and a ‘Bob the Axeman’.

     Think of your favourites. I dare you! Go on – and no peeking, no checking. If you read this, respond with 3 names, yes 3, from 3 of your favourite books. So that’s 9 names in all. Now, ask yourself if it was the character’s actions, the story, or the name itself that helped you remember them.

     Personally, the most memorable name in my mind is one from TV…

     Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock. Honest, it’s not something I’ve just made up. It was on ‘Friends’.
Might just call one of my kids that…wonder if they’ll make President? (NOT LIKELY – I LIVE IN THE UK!)