April – Dusk is Live!

Dusk is live!

[Full disclosure – this post contains minor hints as to what happens in Parasites]

I’m absolutely delighted that Dusk, the sequel to Parasites, is now live on the Amazon store. It’s been a fun book to work on, but for a while, I wasn’t sure if it would actually get written! The last two years of the pandemic has been a difficult time to write in, and Dusk was fairly problematic at best. Now that it’s here, I’m thrilled with it; the cover art came off brilliantly, and it all looks fantastic.  

One of the major challenges with Dusk was how to bring back – and continue – some of the themes, characters and mysteries that I’d started in Parasites. I had a number of notes for continuity from Book 1, but I certainly hadn’t planned it out the entire trilogy in depth. I needed to explore things like the unresponsive creatures that the duo finds, the continuity of the communities that Kael and Alessia come into contact with, and I also wanted to spend a lot more time exploring Lyra itself, all the while, driving the main plot forwards.

Then there were broader things to look at, like what happens when you add more resources to a resource-poor world; what do they do with these resources, and what does it do to the social and political climate of the planet? I really wanted to spend some time with the various colonies and outposts that Lyra established. What would they be like? How would the colonists behave? Would they have their own cultures? All of this gave me a pretty broad canvas to play with, and one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed tinkering with.

However, it was pretty clear that the overall plot of the trilogy couldn’t move forwards if we spent all of our time on Lyra, so that meant splitting up the main crew. I’d already spent a bit of time writing as Slyph in Parasites, and in Dusk, we see chapters from not only Kael and Alessia, but also Slyph, Basteel and Caroline, Basteel’s partner in crime. K&A are fairly calm and happy-go-lucky in Parasites, but when the tension ratchets up, and things really matter, it’s a test of their characters – and an opportunity to explore what they’re really made of.

 Now it’s out in the world, I’m keen to know your views on it – what did you think, what did you like, what didn’t you like?

February: Dusk is almost here!

We’re getting close.

In December, I’d been through two edits of Dusk. I’ve just finished the fifth (I think – it might be six) and am ready to declare the core manuscript finished. Editing is generally something I don’t really enjoy, and for me, is a sure-fire way to remove whatever enjoyment I take in reading (especially after the third or fourth re-read!) but I’m taking the fact that I still enjoyed parts of Dusk after the last re-read as a good sign.  

There are still a host of things to do; it needs a cover, it needs a map, it needs print formatting, the physical version will need a look over. We’ll need to sort out the details of whatever promotional stuff – tours, giveaways, gifts etc need to be sorted, and I’ve just been working out minutiae like the copyright page, the content and trigger warnings, so on and so forth. But we’re really close!

And … I’m also leaning towards the possibility of plunging on with the third book in the trilogy, rather than trying to get back to finishing Wild Court, the other urban fantasy novel I’ve been working on, on and off, for a few years now. WC (oops…) has been on/off for a while now, and although I’m making steady progress, it’s something I’d rather work on when I feel passionate about it, rather than forcing myself to finish the last 40k words.

We’ll get there.

Anyway, that’s about all the news I have at the moment – stay tuned, and we might even do a cover reveal for Dusk at some stage soon…

October: Wild Court paused, Dusk in editing

September and October were – strangely – pretty good months for writing. I reached about 90k words, or two-thirds of the way in, to Wild Court and then paused again. I’m not quite sure why this one is being so troublesome, but it’s falling into neat thirds, with a year-long pause between the first and the second, so I really hope this isn’t the case for the second and third! That said, it did allow me to go back to Dusk, the sequel to Parasites, which I started mapping out in early 2020, just as the pandemic started.

I’ve got three different introductions to Dusk, and no clear favourite. Thankfully, the rest of the book is much less troublesome, and after a fair amount of work, it’s now sitting at just north of 105k words (about the same length as Parasites) and I can just about claim that the first draft is finished.

There’s a lot of work to be done; there are at least two parts that just don’t work – one of them is just quite flat, and the other is a plot section that needs relatively major reworking, but I’ve got my eye on them, and they’re first and second on the list of a one-page word document entitled ‘Major Edits’. Admittedly, this document does seem to incorporate minor edits as well, but I suppose I can always retitle the file when I’m done with the major stuff.

All in all, I’m fairly pleased with how it’s come together. Kael and Alessia, along with the other major car crews, embark on an important mission to launch satellites from faraway worlds, gathering intelligence on the structure of the universes, while Basteel and Slyph head across Lyra to Vulpes, Lyra’s farming city, where there may be appearances of a creature worshipped as a deity on the city-ship of Carthusian. Of course, nothing is straightforward on either the rescue mission or the journey across the surface of a damaged asteroid to reach a planet formerly inhabited by a super-evolved species of aliens… 

It’s all compounded by a new threat, a robust and malevolent species seemingly incapable of diplomatic relations, throwing Lyra’s plans into disarray.

I’m not quite sure of when it’ll all come together – I doubt it’ll be this side of New Year, but it’ll certainly be early 2022 at some stage, and I’m also quite excited by the prospect of releasing both hardback and paperback versions, now that KDP allows both, alongside ebooks, of course.

I’ll keep you posted with any details about release as we get closer to the time, but for now, that’s about all. 

Small Places is coming!

I’m absolutely delighted to announce that Small Places, my new urban fantasy novel, is available for pre-order, ahead of its launch on Amazon on August 3rd. Small Places joins Jamie, a boy living in a country village, as he runs an errand for a friend of the family to collect medicine from a witch, Melusine, who lives in a hidden forest in the countryside.

Thirteen years later, strange earthquakes and storms are wracking Britain, Jamie’s parents have separated and his mother is suffering from cancer. He returns home to look after her, but receives a mysterious summons from Melusine. Figuring that if she needs him, she may be willing to help his mother, he meets with the witch, learning that the freak weather is being caused by something affecting the earth spirit, Gaia. Mel needs his help to find the source of the problems – and this means travelling to the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, hunting down clues, whilst simultaneously putting up with the irritable witch and dealing with his mum’s terminal illness.

It’s been an instructional (read: slightly painful) process, but I’m thrilled that it’s finally here. Looking back at the process, I finished the first draft on New Year’s Eve of 2019, and ran through preliminary edits by March … and then the pandemic happened and things *really* slowed down. Beta readers enjoyed it, but I did a relatively major re-write after my chief editor (and long-suffering partner) suggested a tweak that affected the entire book. Nonetheless, it’s a better book because of it, and thanks to the changes, we (most significantly) get to meet Jamie’s mum, which also affected a hundred and one other things throughout the book – including the ending!

As ever, you can see the content and trigger warnings on my site – please do consult them prior to reading, or get in touch if you have further questions.

If you’d like a review copy, please do get in touch – the kindle versions are ready for pre-order, and the paperbacks will be ready soon; I had a proof through today and they just need a little tweak. There’ll be a blog tour running with Storytellers on Tour from the 1st August, and merch, goodies and other bits and pieces are also in the works – so stay tuned!

February: Lots of good news and bad news, often together

Hi bookfans!

In the interests of complete transparency, there’s going to be nothing about writing in this post for one easy reason – there’s been no writing. You might remember back in October that I mentioned I was struggling with burnout from my (non-writing) job; well, it’s been worse than I’d imagined, and this month I left my job. Obviously, the good news is that I’ve got another one, and hopefully it’ll be less soul-sapping.

The bad news is / was that it’s been stressful. I called a doctor yesterday because for the past fortnight, I’ve been getting chest pains, headaches, and it’s been progressively harder and harder to breathe throughout the working day. Being a long-time asthma sufferer, I’d put this down to the onset of a chest infection, but without the cough. I’d even get the ‘brain fog’ towards the end of the day and be snappy and grumpy (huge apologies to my long-suffering partner).

After a chat on the phone, the doctor eventually concluded that it was stress, at which point I really just felt like bursting into tears – more with relief than anything (chest infections are horrible, and in some way, it was reassuring to have the stress validated).

I have some time off between jobs – again, double-edged sword; I won’t be getting paid, but I’ll have time off to recover and (hopefully) get back into writing a bit more. I’ve been trying to be kind to myself (which I’m not great at) and am mulling the idea of some therapy during my time off – I’ve never tried it before. I also treated myself to some noise-cancelling headphones, which are quite nice for escaping the world from time to time! I’m hoping that at some stage during the time off, I can travel, although the UK is still on full lockdown for some time. We’ll see.

Although I’ve not been writing, I have been reading. Like, a lot. I read through the Stormlight Archive, including Edgedancer, Dawnshard and Rhythm of War (rollercoaster doesn’t quite start to cover it!), the new Becky Chambers (love), Red Rising, Golden Son (also love) and the Path Keeper (by N.J. Simmonds – didn’t get along with it).

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before, but I have a bit of a thing for PC peripherals – I went through a big mechanical keyboard phase, and have just changed my mouse from the Corsair M65 to the Logitech MX Master, which is excellent. I didn’t think I’d ever swap from the Corsair, but the Logitech was a gift, and I’m very much enjoying it. I’m always up for a chat about peripherals and PC building!

That’s quite a long post, and I’m sorry that there’s nothing in the way of writing updates. I’m hoping that recovery will pave the way for a better, healthier me, and better, smarter books. I hope that you’re all ok, and surviving your respective lockdowns alright.

What happened in June? Dusk, Wild Court and Small Places progress, life issues and gorgeous books

June has been a fairly crap month writing-wise, and there’s not a lot to report on the writing front. I’ve written a measly eleven thousand more words on Dusk, the sequel to Parasites, taking it to 37k, and unfortunately progress on Wild Court has stalled again. Thankfully, despite not really being able to travel far, I’ve had a few ideas for the sequel to Small Places, and even tentatively titled it, but my structuring ran out of steam after what is probably the first third of the book!

After a fairly long dry spell, I’ve been writing more again in the last few days, but I think lockdown has definitely taken its toll. I suspect that, like others, needing to feel in control of my own life is something of a pre-requisite for functioning like a proper human being. I’ve really been trying to look after myself – running does actually help me, and I managed to see (socially distanced) friends the other day, which was a lovely slice of normality.

However, there’s still trouble brewing in my ‘real’ job. I’m working fewer hours, which is something of a double-edged sword. I have more time to write, but am slightly dreading my next paycheque! And despite working fewer hours for the last few weeks, I’ve just not been motivated to write.

Still, I’m hopeful. I’ve written more in the past two days than I have in the preceding two weeks, so with any luck it was just a small dry spell. As you might have seen from my Instagram, I’ve also been very lucky to get the Illumicrate version of The Last Wish and the Folio Society version of Howl’s Moving Castle. They’re both absolutely gorgeous and I’m looking forward to diving back into them – although I’ve also been reading the much-lauded Six of Crows and am just reading Crooked Kingdom, alongside Nora McKinney’s A Natural, which has been quite a change of genre for me!

Small Places is still being beta read, although one of my betas seems to have disappeared – so I can’t yet share a release date. I’m so keen for it to be read, but (especially since I’ve started to plan the sequel) I only want it out once it’s ready.

As ever, please take care, look after yourselves and read bloody amazing books.

What happened in May? Dusk, Small Places and Wild Court updates, pandemic problems and amazing books

April and May have been strange and difficult months, so I’ll start with the book stuff to avoid boring anyone with the personal updates if that’s not what you’re here for.

First up, progress on Dusk (Parasites sequel) has been a little slow – I’m on about 26k words, up from 15k this time last month. When I was working on Small Places, I once wrote twelve thousand words in two days over the Christmas break, so I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed at that … but in fairness they were very different times.

That said, I’m fairly pleased with how it’s coming together, although it definitely needs editing; I wrote a Basteel chapter that clocked in at about 4.5k words on its own! There’s a reasonable chunk of the book that takes place on the rest of Lyra, which was something I really wanted to do after finishing Parasites. You only really see Vega in the first book, so I wanted to explore a little more of the rest of the planet. 

We’re also coming close to the three-month deadline that I set for querying Small Places, so I may well be looking for beta readers and other bits and pieces soon, as well as setting a publishing date! With all the stuff that’s been going on, I tend to forget about it, then remember it quite fondly. I’m just not sure whether to do a last (sixth? seventh?) re-read before getting it out to a beta, but time will tell…

Finally, I’ve also started looking at Wild Court again, the low fantasy WIP I parked around the 50k word mark in the middle of last year. It’s now around 26k, although I’m finding that re-writing and re-editing a novel is much harder than writing it from scratch!

Onto the other stuff: I don’t know if any of you are gamers, but I remember when the first Baldur’s Gate game came out and there’s a narrated chapter break where there’s a reference to a journey being ‘an unfamiliar blur to your fractured nerves’, and that’s really how this month has felt. In mid-April, there were some difficult discussions at work where a few of my colleagues and I were faced with the possibility of a 40% pay cut. Thankfully that didn’t come to pass, but our physical office did close, so I had to go into London to pick up a few personal things that I’d left there.  

I was half expecting it to be apocalyptically quiet, but there were people around – lots of construction workers, and a small number of people travelling like me. There were maybe ten people in total on my train, so I was able to socially-distance quite easily.

My wife was furloughed fairly recently, which was initially stressful, but she’s now really enjoying it! We were supposed to be on holiday between two weddings a few weeks ago, and perversely, on the day my friend was supposed to be getting married (now postponed), he got hit by a car. He’s doing ok, thankfully.

I also found out that a guy I knew a while back had died, which was really awful. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, but he was a great guy, impossible to dislike. The silver lining was that I did get to attend the funeral remotely, which was very sad – but I was glad I could.

I don’t want to end on a negative note, so I’ll also add that I’ve been reading a lot more during lockdown; I’ve just finished the slightly disappointing Agency by William Gibson, but did re-read the magnificent The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is just a masterpiece. I’m now reading Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, which I’ve enjoyed before – I’ve got a weakness for South African Sci-Fi (Chappie and District 9, anyone?). As you might have gathered, I’m also a bit of a gamer and Terraria has been absorbing a lot of my time recently – the final update launches today, which I’m quite excited about – there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything!

I do hope that you’re all staying safe, well and healthy – take care.

On books, and change

Perhaps the greatest, most powerful story we hear, time and time again, is change.

Birth, live, death; beginnings, suffering and growth, endings. It’s a cycle that we all know, something that somehow feels etched in our bones, defines our living compass.

“Hamsters exist to teach children about death,” my wife once told me – I never had a hamster when I was growing up, but she was right. Experiencing life and death is something that we all eventually have to deal with.

Those who resist change, who try to keep things as they are, eventually seem unnatural – and usually fail; trying to hold the ever-draining sands of time static within their clutching fingers.

I used to think that we valued books because they were static; little pieces of constancy in our lives, adventures that we could turn to again and again. Despite their own changes, we know their patterns and rhythms, their protagonists and villains, their beginnings and endings.

But of course, this isn’t true. Books change because we change. The magic of a childhood tale can be worn away by cynicism, or because we see it for what it truly is – a simple story. New meanings come to light, once-common historic views are exposed for being dated or offensive.

Sometimes books become dearer to us, perspective giving us a different perspective on an old tale. I remember loving Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series, falling in love with Phedre and Joscelin, feeling somehow disappointed by the second trilogy, following another character. Sometime later, I came back to it when I was having a difficult time, but found the first trilogy a little unsatisfying. Excellently written, yes, but not resonant with how I was feeling. The second trilogy somehow felt a little darker, a little more in keeping with how I felt, Imriel’s struggles more in line with my own.

And sometimes we simply aren’t ready for a book; I remember trying to read the Lord of the Rings at a very young age, getting far too confused with all the characters, sub-plots and sprawling explanations.

Of course, some books remain great, and grow greater as you read them, every crease and mark on their covers and pages mapping to your own life experiences, struggles and adventures. And as Iain Banks and Clive Barker both said, they’re greater for it. These are the books that are your true life companions, masterpieces that somehow manage to change with you – and they’re few and far between.

April Updates

Introverts in lockdown is already a bit of a tired trope and it’s definitely been an odd experience for this introvert. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s been easy!

My wife and I are very lucky that we moved to a fairly quiet house with a garden about two years ago and have no dependents (other than the cat!). Our families and friends are generally doing ok. My wife’s uncle and aunt both had Coronavirus fairly early on but seem to have made a full recovery; we spoke to them on Sunday on a Zoom call with four generations of her family and they seemed great. In the same way as everyone else, videocalls have become something of staple, although doing one with her 95 year-old grandfather was an interesting experience!

My side of the family seems to be doing ok as well. I played chess online with my seven year-old nephew last weekend, narrowly scraping victory on both occasions, despite a couple of mistakes. I’m really, really rusty…

Writing hasn’t been *that* easy, to be honest. Thankfully, my ‘real’ job is still ‘business as usual’, but everyone is just a bit more stressed and on edge than usual, which is completely understandable. Despite strict self-care routines – alternating between a walk in the park in the morning or a run in the evening, yoga, cooking and taking it easy – it’s been stressful, and I guess it’s the same for everyone.

Despite that, I’ve tentatively started a high fantasy title, even more tentatively titled The Witch-Lord’s Apprentice. It might not go anywhere, but the overall idea is to take a new slant on the everlasting battle between angels, demons and humans. I can already see Laini Taylor and Carol Berg’s influence there (I’m currently re-reading Transformation) but there’s loads of fresh stuff there as well.

It’s a month since I started writing Dusk (also a tentative title) the sequel to Parasites and the second book in the Navigator trilogy. I’m just over 15,000 words in, and I think it’ll be about the same length as the first one, but maybe a shade longer. It’s going to be a bit darker than the first book, but I won’t say anything more just yet! I think that 15k words in a month is a little on the slow side, but like I said, stressful times.

It’s late here, so I’ll just finish by saying that I hope that you and all of your families and friends are as well as they can be, and please continue to take care of yourselves.  

Found Family

One of the themes that I’ve always enjoyed in literature, film and TV is found family. I was absolutely enchanted by Monica Hughes’ Invitation to the Game as a child, reading it again and again, following Lisse as she and her schoolfriends live together and eventually band together into a strong, family-like unit in the dystopian future.

It’s a theme that pervades much of today’s literature and film, from The Gilded Wolves to The Fast and the Furious, the latter of which I’ll admit to being a firm fan of! The idea that you might not fit in with your regular – biological – family (or you can!) but that you can find another close group of friends, so close that it becomes like family, is an incredible one and speaks to perhaps some of the deepest pack instincts within us.

I can’t use that word – pack – without giving a shout out to the Assassin’s set of books by Robin Hobb, where Fitz and Nighteyes, his wolf companion, literally bond and become a very close, two-person unit, occasionally bringing in others as the journey requires.

In Parasites, Kael and Alessia (along with Basteel, and in previous journeys, Caroline) have become a kind of found family, albeit a small one. They’ve been through a lot together, weathering the last ten years and becoming close. Their journey in Parasites does begin to test the relationship, but one thing I’ve noticed is that family dynamics are almost the third (or N+1) person in the family group. The relationship between Kael and Alessia, their friendship, is essentially its own structure, and structures can be stronger or tested in bad conditions.

Basteel, their bodyguard, strengthens that family structure, and the presence of others tests it, putting pressure on the two to consider other goals and possibilities. We don’t really explore the duo’s past in Parasites, but there’s plenty of time for flashbacks and conversations about it – there’s a little at the start, about some of the more memorable experiences that the two have had together – but rest assured that there will be more revealed in books two and three.

I’ve thought about doing a short novella about them, but I’m leaning more towards the possibility of a Basteel and Caroline short story; the sturdy bodyguard and his agile partner have been through their share of scrapes, and their relationship is going to be an important sub-theme through the rest of the trilogy.

The events in Parasites certainly brought Kael – always the natural pessimist (well, he would say realist) – and Alessia, the more hopeful of the two, closer together, and taught the engineer a thing or two about optimism. It’s a fantastic thing to find ‘your people’ whether or not they’re as close as pack or found family. Relationships don’t come easily, especially when you’re not tied together by blood – but they’re definitely something worth investing in.