Two months until Small Places is live!

It’s two months to go until Small Places is out on August 3rd! There’s been a lot of progress – the paperback copies are now finished and looking great. Most of the merch has arrived, and I’ve got a range of bookmarks, grimoire-style notebooks, witches hat lapel pins, fantasy notecards … and one steampunk scorpion to give away. Everything looks incredible, and I’m so pleased with how it’s turned out. You can see some of the content below – please excuse my amateur photography.

The tiny steampunk scorpion is probably my favourite here – it’ll be given away during a certain book tour later in August, so stay tuned for details!

I’m really delighted that review copies are now available, so if you’d like one, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you think about the book, so please contact me if you have thoughts, or would like to run a Q&A at any stage.

I’ve tried to leave plenty of time before launch – hopefully the fact that we’ve got two months until the official date will mean that there’s time for long postage delays (for some reason, Parasites took about five weeks to get to Canada, and three weeks to India) as well as time for you to get through your lengthy TBRs before August! That said, please don’t pressure yourself to speed-read – it’s more important that you enjoy the book 😊

In other news, I’m continuing to make slow progress with Dusk, although it’s always tough to split your attention between promoting one book and writing another (not to mention ‘actual work’ and life admin!) but we’re getting there. I’m feeling a little happier with how it’s working out, and hopeful that things will accelerate in future. Without giving too much away, our heroes are divided fairly early on in the book, so there are two parallel stories to follow. I’d written (and been dissatisfied with) one stream, and then started to write the other afresh – so once that’s finished, it should be faster to work with the other one and upgrade it, using some of the earlier details. Keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll keep this site updated with my word count etc.

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!

What happened between November and January? Small Places edits, Dusk re-writes

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted, and it’s been a relatively productive time. Although Christmas was not what I was expecting, we nonetheless had a cosy, happy time, despite not seeing friends or family. It’s been a shock being back at work during January, but I think that’s true universally!

After a preliminary read of Small Places back in October by my chief beta reader (my wife), I decided to make some fairly sweeping changes to it. That meant a few rounds of edits and re-reads, before passing it back to her and another beta reader. The beta reader suggested a few minor changes, but my wife is still halfway through – although the feedback has been largely positive. I’ve been encouraged by both of them to re-query, so although this means that it’ll be delayed for slightly longer, hopefully what comes to you will be a slicker, better book.

I’ve also started a Dusk re-write. Last year, I’d written around 69k words, but one of the characters felt very flat, and it felt like I’d lost the sense of wonder that I enjoyed conveying so much within Parasites. I’ve restructured and re-built a lot of it, and although a lot of the previous work will stay, there have – again – been some fairly radical changes. I do hope that this means a better reading experience and a more enjoyable book in the long term.

Editing always feels relatively frustrating to me, almost as if I’d got the words wrong in the first place, but I’m gradually learning not to watch the word counts and simply try to enjoy the process, write the best thing I can – rather than simply producing a book, producing something I really like. I’m not sure if that’s clear, but last year I’d certainly fallen into the trap of feeling bad about not writing as many words as I theoretically could. Perhaps it’s different when you’re a more skilled writer, or a writer with a deadline, but I’m sure that for me, it was probably a product of pandemic stress!

What happened in August? Dusk, Small Places and Wild Court updates – and BBNYA news

Hi solarpunk fans! I hope that you’re all faring well. I didn’t get around to doing a July update, so here’s August – I’ll be honest with you, 2020 is a tough year and progress has been superslow. But we’re getting there.

So, where are we at right now? Well, Dusk is currently sitting at just over 58k words, but my writing brain does not want to engage over about 27 degrees Celsius. It’s also quite difficult to know exactly what percentage of the book that constitutes – the book flips between two different parties of people, and after struggling to shift my brain every chapter, I’m just writing the entire storyline of one before moving to go back to the other later on.

I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but it seems to sit best with my head, so I’m going with it!

Small Places, my urban fantasy title, is getting close. It’s been read by two beta readers and a sensitivity reader, and generally got positive and constructive feedback. It’s now being read by – gulp – my wife, who has a laser eye for detail. She hasn’t read any of my work before, so this has been a fairly nerve-wracking affair so far. I’m pleased to say that her feedback is all incredibly useful, but that doesn’t make it any easier, psychologically!

She’s also extremely busy with her job at the moment, so that’s slightly slowing things down. The book is dedicated to her though, so I thought it only fair to give her a look at it first. Once she’s done, I’ll give it a final read to make sure everything is consistent and smooth, then it’ll need to be print / kindle formatted … but then we’re good to go! I’m excited to have you all read it at some stage, although I wouldn’t recommend reading it seven times in one year, which is essentially what I’ve done so far. 

I’ve also got to level with you about Wild Court. It’s stalled again. It really needs a huge amount of focus, inspiration and love to get going, so once I’ve finished Dusk, I’m going to see how I’m feeling. If I’m in a good place, I’ll strip it back, re-plan it and absolutely run at it. If not, then I’ll either work on the third book in The Navigator series, or the sequel to Small Places, although the latter is only half planned out at the moment. I guess that makes Navigator 3 more likely…  

In other news, I was absolutely delighted to be shortlisted for the BBNYA Awards – Parasites is currently in the Top 30 shortlist, with the Top 10 to be decided by September 30th. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

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.

First Lines

The first lines of a book are vastly important. Lots of readers are very patient and willing to give books a chance, but when you’re reading something for the first time or from a new author, it can be make or break. And the first lines of certain books become famous in their own rights, like “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” from George Orwell’s 1984. It’s the subject of pub quizzes and trivia games across the world!

I’ve fallen in and out of love with the first few lines from some of my books – and WIPs – but thought that it’d be fun to have a quick look at a few of them. Some of this stuff isn’t ‘in the wild’ yet, so hopefully it’s an interesting teaser rather than being cruel.

It’s a garden world this time.

Genetically engineered plants and trees, huge biodomes sprawling overhead; white metal honeycombs with transparent panels, most now missing or decayed.

This is from Parasites and I’m still pretty pleased with it. I really wanted to convey what Kael and Alessia do in the first line – exploring new worlds – but to also get across the emptiness, the silence and loneliness of the worlds that they explore.

“You know, for someone who hates people, you sure do care a lot about what they think,” the man next to me says slowly. He reeks of stale body odour and urine, overlaid with cigarette smoke and cheap alcohol.

We’re friends.

This is the first line from Wild Court, my paused WIP. It’s a fantastical look at the effect of declining empathy in our society, and opens with a conversation between one of the protagonists and their friend, who is experiencing homelessness. I’m really quite fond of this; the protagonist Ben is a quiet, isolated character with occasional anxiety, and I like the contrasts in this line. I’m keen to get back to the book at some stage, because I’m very fond of Alice, the nerdy archaeologist, and Matt, Ben’s laddish best friend. That said, there’s something that’s just not quite working for me in the book. I paused after about 50k words, which isn’t like me at all.   

As I remember it, and as far as anything really has a beginning or an end, it all began when I was ten. With childlike dreams of grandeur and adventure, my friend Sam and I got lost in the Royal Albert Hall at the prom one summer.

I’m slightly embarrassed about this one. It’s the first line from Aenigma, my first – and unpublished – book that desperately needs a rewrite. I’m assuming it’s how Christopher Paolini feels about Eragon in hindsight; great themes, lovely energy, but certainly not the work of a practiced writer. A lot about this book feels too personal, too emotional, and the pacing is way off at the end – but there’s definitely something there worth rescuing! I’m playing with a few ideas for it in the future; I could definitely see a grimdark interpretation of it working, but I’m not quite sure…

“But where’s the cake?” I blurt, staring through the window bemused and frustrated. “When did this happen? Why is there an antique shop here?”

Finally, this is from Small Places, my current WIP. I’m really undecided about it – the first two chapters are told from the perspective of the protagonist when he’s ten, so everything has to be from a slightly childlike-but-growing-up-fast perspective. I’ve changed it a couple of times, but quite like the indignation.

There we go; I’d be interested to hear of first lines that you love as well – what stands out for you?

Editing is not my strong suit…

When I was a kid, I read Maggie Prince’s Memoirs of a Dangerous Alien three times straight because I couldn’t bear to leave the world it was set in. Later, I found my sister’s hardback copy of The Time Traveller’s Wife, read it and immediately set out to find a signed paperback copy and read it all again, in all its sharp, painful beauty.

Unfortunately, it turns out that reading your own book – in the name of editing, of course – four times in a row is a sure-fire way to fall out of love with it. And maybe I’ve pushed it too hard.

I was supposed to go away with some friends at the weekend, but after a long, hard week, decided that I needed some self-care. And again, of course, that’s exactly what I didn’t do, finishing a third edit of Small Places and immediately starting on a fourth, only pausing on Sunday afternoon once I’d made the hundred and fifty-eighth change.

(In fairness, there are just over 72,000 words. Messing around with a couple of hundred each time isn’t awful)

But it did occur to me as I switched my brain off to enjoy a Fast and Furious film (guilty pleasure) that it probably isn’t the nicest thing to do to myself. So I’m slowing down a little. I’ve made a list of possible agents to query, but maybe I’ll do another edit first. Perhaps it’s best to wait until I’ve stopped dreaming of line edits and woken up thinking that there’s a massive plot hole somewhere in it.

I’m fairly sure there isn’t a massive plot hole in it.

Who knows – if all the agents say no, then it’s full speed ahead with self-publishing and you could be reading this by summertime.

I think my brain needs to recharge. And I know book blogging is hard for you guys, so please, look after yourselves as well.

I will if you will?

Introducing Small Places: The Best of Intentions, The Blackest of Magic

I’ve been intrigued by urban fantasy for a long time. As a teenager, I was quite into Shadowrun, the faery cyberpunk series, and later, I picked up Charles de Lint’s wonderful Spiritwalk and inhaled a host of his books, continuing with Moonheart (backwards I know), The Onion Girl, The Blue Girl, Widdershins and more. At the same time, I came across the Merry Gentry faery detective erotica series (it feels unkind calling it paranormal romance) which I also greatly enjoyed, and need to finish at some stage!

It’s something that I sort of explored in Aenigma (apologies – it still needs a bit of a re-write) which is set in a modern world very much like our own, with the simple addition of faery and humans trying to co-exist uneasily.

But I wanted to write something tighter, something closer to a modern faery story, closer to what might be considered a ‘classic’ tale with a modern twist. Partially inspired by a few concepts I’ve come across in a book I’m reading, at the same time (well, sort of) as going walking in the woods, and a host of other pieces of inspiration, I’ve started a draft provisionally entitled Small Places which looks at faery in modern day England.  

It’ll have witches and woodsmen, the seelie and the unseelie, fantastic beasts and weird alchemists, as well as friendship, hope, despair and growth. I’m still working on the structure a bit, but it really seems to be flowing much more easily than Wild Court was. So bear with me, and hopefully I’ll have updates soon.