Free stuff (28/4/2009)

Posted in News

So I’m going to be at the Sci-Fi London festival next weekend pretending to know stuff about contemporary fantasy. I have two free tickets to give away for my panel at 11am on the Sunday. Anyone interested should say so. I’ll put names in a hat and make a draw and notify the winner on Friday evening. Tickets can be picked up on the day from the door.

Possibly slightly more useful: Anyone who buys tickets for any of the literary panels over the weekend can have two for the price of one if they use the words AUTHOR BLOG when they book by telephone on 020 7451 9944. This offer is good until Friday 1st May.

So there. If you haven’t got anything better to do this weekend, come to London and do Sci-Fi stuff.

One month gone (21/4/09)

Posted in News

Before I started this blog, I spent a good long time sitting around, drinking tea and scratching my head, wondering what the point was. Not, like, The Point, otherwise I’d still be sitting here scratching, but the point of this journal. Do I need to do this? Do I want to do this? Doesn’t everyone want to wax lyrical about everything that ticks them off and imagine they have an audience of millions?

Well maybe or maybe not, but that’s not the point.

So I had a look at some other blogs, and picked out what I liked and worked out what I liked about them and decided to be like that (naturally assuming that everyone in the world and space probably liked exactly the same stuff I do). One of the things I wanted was to see if I could get any idea of what to expect from being a “proper” (i.e. lucky) author. I wanted to know everything that happened, step by step, and so that’s partly what I’ve set out to do here (although I know I’m not the first).  I wanted to be amused and entertained, but most of all I wanted to be informed. There are plenty of author blogs out there already that chart the progress from concept to publication. There’s not too many that go on at length about how it all feels, though.

So here’s how it goes:

1. Get offered book deal. Massive exhilaration for a week or two followed by weeks of anxiety about ability to deliver something that’s good and on time.

2. Submit manuscript to editor. Massive exhilaration for a week or two followed by weeks of anxiety about what he’s going to say and why he hasn’t dropped everything to deal with my manuscript ahead of everything else.

3. Finish revising manuscript. Months of anticipation waiting for publication day mixed with a steady mounting anxiety about having to write a second book. Flashpoints of panic and terror at the prospect of reviews. If you’re me, you can be up for days over a good review and down for weeks over a bad one (or even a bland one). I imagine I’m not unique. Reviews can be a real roller-coaster and you still have to do the day-job, remember.

4. Publication day. OK, that’s pretty cool. Solid weeks of being tanked up on adrenaline. Might be a bit wearing for everyone else. Better than getting that first deal? I’d say about the same but lasts longer.

5. And then the come-down. Pointless fretting about sales figures. Wondering about what the future holds. Wondering why you’re not the centre of attention any more. Life goes on, the day-job goes on. You still have to do everything you used to have to do, only now you have to write another book and sit around worrying a lot.

Worrying about books two and beyond probably sucks too.

So overall how does it feel? It feels like I’ve gone to war and just about won. It feels mostly good but it’s hard work and the rest of life doesn’t stop to watch in admiration, far from it. And like everything, even the good things in life, too much without a break can wear you down. I’ve met lots of new people and I wish I could spend more time getting to know nearly all of them. Spare time, rest and having enough sleep are things that happen to other people. Am I pleased? Absolutely. Has it changed my life? Well a bit, but not really a lot, not yet and not anytime soon. There’s probably still an edge of smugness that didn’t used to be there. I’m sure it’ll go away soon enough.

The Order of the Scales (or whatever book three gets called) is probably about a week away from first draft completion. And then, I think, a little bit of a break. Lounging in the garden in the sun with a steady supply of Caipirinhas for a few days. That should do nicely.

Oh. Wait. I have a day-job and a family. Crap.

Eastercon, Football and More Reviews (14/4/2009)

Posted in News

Eastercon was a lot of fun. A lot of lot of fun. Stuff happened. Excellent stuff. Lots of excellent people too. Ranted about dragons some. I might post more about some bits some other day. Maybe.  About David Gemmel Legend Awards. And how you should all vote for either The Last Argument of Kings or The Blood of Elves. Or existential claptrap about why this blog exists at all.

Appear to be blogging like Rorschach now. Not sure why. Will stop.

But never mind Eastercon. Instead, after what I’ve just watched, I’m going to beg, against the grain, that Chelsea play as well against Barcelona next month as they did just now and that you all put down your books for an evening and watch two excellent teams on the top of their game kick a ball about. Last week Chelsea were at the top of their game too and that time  we weren’t. This week we both were and I’ve not seen anything like it since the UEFA Cup final in 2001 (you might argue about Istanbul. Be my guest). Obviously the wrong side came out on top, but if you have to go out of a cup, that was the way to do it. So go, Chelsea and let’s see a 5-3 aggregate win over Barcelona followed by a 3-0 destruction of Manchester United in the final while we nick the league out from behind them. Keep playing like that and I might admit you’re not too bad actually. One day.


It occurs to me at this point that most of the people reading this might just about have formed the idea that I’m talking about that Association Football malarkey and are now wondering why. So let me re-phrase: Steve spent the evening doing something other than writing and made no useful progress on any on-going projects. There’s a significant risk that other similar evenings may occur. Elsewhere, to keep you happy, the crosshairs of completion are slowly drawing a bead on the end of the third dragon book and The Adamantine Palace has quietly made the national press in the form of The Daily Telegraph:

“[Dragons] …restored to all their scaly fire-breathing glory.”

You can also now read the Falcatta Times review on-line, should you so wish: “Roll over McCaffrey, there’s a new Dragon Lord in town.”

There. Better?

Oh, and thank-you to those of you who’ve been putting up Amazon reviews. If I’d managed to do the T-shirt printing thing and had any left over, I’d have sent you one…

Where Be Dragons? (12/4/2009)

Posted in Critical Failures

(An abridged version of this article appeared in the April issue of Sci Fi now, and got repeated loudly and with much gesticulating at the Eastercon panel ‘Don’t trust a book with a dragon on the cover’)


Here be dragons. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Filled with mystery and anticipation. You don’t know what to expect, but whatever it is, it’ll be something impressive, something vast, something that will change anyone who comes by it. Something not easily faced. It sits there on the edge of the map[1], impassive, implacable, a challenge to anyone who dares to explore the unknown corners of the world.

So where be dragons? At first glance the answer appears to be absolutely bloody everywhere. There’s something about them, something that fascinates us with a grip that no other mythical monster has. Flip through the myriad of satellite channels and you’ll come across a cartoon of some sort with a dragon in it. Fantasy literature can’t get away from them (mea culpa and proud of it); even when we’re not writing about them, we’re thinking about them or flirting with them or actively avoiding them. Not only is that true now, it seems to have been true forever. Dragons (or lion-snake-raptor things that might be a bit like dragons) appear in indigenous art across Europe, the Far and Middle East and the Americas. As early as Babylon’s Ishtar Gate[2], as geographically disparate as Vietnam and the Arctic Circle. Pretty impressive for something that doesn’t exist. You might point at crocodiles or giant snakes or lizards, or at the unearthed fossil remains of dinosaurs, but none of that seems to account for the geography of the beasts. I think, if we can’t leave it as a mystery, I like the collective hard-wired subconscious fear of large flying, slithering and clawed predator-things all rolled up in a tidy fire-breathing package. OK, I’m not sure where the fire bit comes from[3], but I’ll put that down to those early fantasy authors who wanted to make their Beowulf and Sigurd characters look really hard.

But what is a dragon? What does it mean? A common conceit among fantasy writers is that names matter. To call something a dragon should mean much more than ‘four-legged flying fire-breathing big thing’. The dictionary is, at first, a little less than helpful:

dragon, n, a fabulous winged scaly-armoured fire-breathing monster…[4]

Right. So four-legged fire-breathing big thing. With wings and scales. Did that bit already and anyway, lots and lots of fabulous creatures that get labelled as dragons don’t have wings and/or don’t breathe fire. That just tells you what some (i.e. contemporary European) dragons happen to look like. Wings and scales and fire might define how a dragon appears (or they might not – most early depictions of ‘dragons’ don’t tend to have the wings or bad breath; given the origins of their name, they’re more likely to have the same deadly gaze as a basilisk[5]), but they don’t define what a dragon is. They’re colouring, clothing, dressing to hang over the fundamental essence of dragon-ness that lies underneath.

dragon, n, Something very formidable or dangerous. [6]

That’s more like it. For me, that fits, whether we’re talking about Fafnir or Smaug or the more benevolent dragons of Asia. Something formidable or dangerous. I don’t think that’s enough, though. The dragons that Beowulf and Sigurd fought weren’t merely dangerous. They stretched the strength and courage of the greatest heroes of their time to the very limit. Their point, I think, was that they were so formidable and dangerous that they could not be stopped by any man save one. They defined the heroes that defeated them. Without their dragons, the myths of Sigurd and Beowulf wouldn’t have existed.

Which brings me back to the very first question. Where be dragons? Things with the label ‘dragon’ are regularly wheeled out in works of fantasy, both book and film. But do they deserve the name? Are they something very formidable or dangerous? The answer, in my opinion, is almost always no. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with flying, fire-breathing ponies, or with an armoured company aiming their 30mm cannons and Stinger missiles at things with wings that flap instead of wings that don’t. They can wear the clothing and the label of a dragon, but that alone doesn’t make them  a dragon, at least not in a symbolic sense. They become trappings of the background world, a colourful piece of scenery.

I think, with a very few exceptions, we have emasculated our dragons. We give them traits that are recognisable as human. We try to explain how they work, how they live, what they eat, how they came to be. We steadily bring them within the circle of our understanding. In the end, we make them like us, and there’s probably a very straightforward reason for that. There’s no space on the map any more for Here Be Dragons. Sigurd and Beowulf are, to be blunt, rather one-faceted heroes. Modern protagonists (and I’m talking about fiction in general now) are expected to be much more human, much more multi-dimensional and, frankly, are much better for it. Dragons have simply followed the trend. Besides, you can’t get away with having a dragon and simply going ‘Oooh! Dragon!’ and expect anyone to be impressed, because we’ve seen it all before. Dragons have evolved in order to survive within our changing stories, but I think they’ve lost something on the way.

We have a book at home called You’ve Got Dragons. It’s a story about a boy who is chased by scary dragons. Gradually he learns about them, turns to face them and they stop being scary. It’s fine enough for what it is, as a parable for children. It’s a natural human thing to do after all, to try and understand something. That’s how we deal with the unknown. That’s how we conquer fears, by understanding things, by breaking them down into little pieces and assimilating them one by one. It’s a thing that children need to learn. The dragons in this case are a blunt metaphor for childhood fears – as you come to understand them, they diminish and go away. In the context of teaching children not to be afraid of the dark, that’s fine. In the context of a work of fiction, I think we’ve shot our collective selves in the foot. By understanding our dragons, we’ve diminished them. In doing that we’ve diminished the heroes that fight them and ultimately ourselves.

The very last sentence of You’ve Got Dragons is: No dragon is more powerful than YOU. However well intentioned, that sticks in my craw. No dragon is more powerful than me? Excuse me? Yes they bloody well are! That’s their whole point, damn it! Something formidable and dangerous, remember? Something that only a hero can overcome. And anyway, don’t we need a few dragons? A few lurking monsters and terrible mysteries to keep us from apathy and complacency?

And that’s just dragons. Don’t get me started on what we’ve done to vampires.

[Exits to the strains of The Stranglers “No more heroes”]

[1] Dragon trivia: The phrase ‘Here be dragons’ seems to originate from the Lenox Globe, c.1505. That appears to be about it, until fantasy writers took up the baton. Never mind, eh.

[2] Creatures that look like hybrids of eagles, lions and serpents are documented in descriptions of the gate and appear on the reconstruction in the Berlin museum.

[3] Alright, alright, it’s probably an embellishment of the flickering red forked tongue of some snakes and lizards or something like that.

[4] The Chambers dictionary

[5] From c.1220, from O.Fr. dragon, from L. draconem (nom. draco) “serpent, dragon,” from Gk. drakon (gen. drakontos) “serpent, seafish,” from drak-, strong aorist stem of derkesthai “to see clearly.” But perhaps the lit. sense is “the one with the (deadly) glance.” Nice.

[6] A secondary definition from wikipedia’s online dictionary.

Eastercon (7/4/09)

Posted in News

Now most likely you’re already either already going to Eastercon or not going to Eastercon, and if you are, then you’re certainly not going to see me. However, if you have nothing better to do first thing on a Saturday morning while the Friday hangover is wearing off, come and listen to me and others be opinionated about stuff about which we’re no more qualified than anyone else:

Saturday 10am: Do/should the opinions that authors display on their blogs affect whether you want to read them or not (and then for fun you can come back here afterwards to see whether I suddenly change the way I post).

Saturday 5pm: “Don’t trust a book with a dragon on the cover.” But wait – my book has a dragon on the cover. What am I doing on this panel…?

There are probably lots of much more interesting panels, but I do intend to try and make the dragon one a bit fun, at least. Much more importantly, there will be a bar full of Gollancz authors on all three nights. Thirsty Gollancz authors. Sadly some of us shall be missing on the Sunday, so I’ll we’ll be extra thirsty on the Friday and Saturday. As the T-shirts that I haven’t managed to get printed might have said, will sign books for food beer.

Yes, no T-shirts. Boo! Hiss! I know. Fantasycon it will have to be.

Order of the Scales is a little over a hundred thousand words and we’re talking about covers for King of the Crags, but just at the moment I’m a little distracted by something else… heh heh…