Guest Post: “Voices Across Time” by E. J. Swift

SwiftEJ-CoralBonesUKOne of the themes I wanted to explore in The Coral Bones was the relationship between human beings and non-human animals and beings, and how those relationships have changed — and could change for the better — over time. I’d always conceptualised the novel with multiple timelines and knew that I wanted to reflect both forward and back. Each timeline brought its own specific challenges.

Climate breakdown, and the bleaching of coral reefs caused by heating oceans, is at the heart of Hana’s contemporary storyline, so I decided the historical narrative should be situated early in the fossil fuel age. Whilst Judith is writing her diary in 1839, steam is beginning to revolutionise the world, at a cost no one — at least, no one in Judith’s colonial British society — could imagine. My last novel, Paris Adrift, included historical sections, but those were from the perspective of a time traveller. Writing a historical POV offered a whole new challenge in developing the voice and trying to instil some period texture. Whilst Judith pushes against her social constraints, she is still a product of her time and subject to the worldviews and prejudices of the Western age of exploration — full of enthusiasm for knowledge and discovery, but inextricably linked with imperialism. Continue reading

Guest Post: On THE EXTRACTIONIST by Kimberly Unger (Tachyon)

UngerK-ExtractionistToday, Kimberly Unger walks us through the genesis and premise of her latest novel, The Extractionist.

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Underground hacker Eliza McKay is one of the best in the virtual space where people create personas that can interact as data.

Back when I first conceptualized The Extractionist, VR had been through a couple of failed generations already and Google’s Cardboard hadn’t seen the light of day. At the time I’d been thinking much more along the lines of Star Trek’s holodeck with some of Gibson’s style and Nylund’s metaphoric spaces mixed in for good measure. So, of course McKay had to be a “hacker” of some stripe, although as we learn that’s rooted in a fundamental inability to respect locks rather than a desire to good or harm. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Accuracy & Writing Historical Fiction” by Adrian Goldsworthy

GoldsworthyA-CoV1-FortHCI have always loved history, was lucky enough to study it at the highest level, and after teaching for a while have been even luckier to make a living writing non fiction history books. At the same time, I have always loved historical novels. At their best they give a flavour and feel for a place and an era much faster than reading conventional history. So when I came to write historical novels, accuracy was very important to me. A novel will only work if readers get caught up in the plot and want to spend time with the characters, but the world it conjures up has to feel real, at least on its own terms, and that is as true of fantasy or science fiction as it is for stories set in the past. The world of the story has to be convincing enough for readers to visit it in their imagination. Many readers and authors do not care too much if that world bears little or no relation to the reality of the past as long as it is consistent. That is fine, after all, reading should be about pleasure and we all have different tastes. However, I am a professional historian and find it hard to switch off, which makes me an unrepresentative reader, and I only stick with a novel if I feel that the research behind it and the author’s sensitivity for the period are good. Since, like most authors, I write books – whether novels or non fiction – that I would like to read, that is how I try to write my stories. So each novel begins with research. Continue reading

Annotate Excerpt: THE SHADOW OF THE GODS by John Gwynne (Orbit Books)

GwynneJ-B1-ShadowOfTheGodsUSThanks so much for the invite onto Civilian Reader, I’m chuffed to be here and have this opportunity to share with you a chapter from my latest release, The Shadow of the Gods, book 1 of the Bloodsworn Saga.

This book is set in a world called Vigrið, the Battle-Plain, and is heavily influenced by my love for Norse mythology.

I grew up on tales of mythology – when I was a child I fell in love with the stories Arthur and his quest for the Grail, of Troy and dark lairs and minotaur’s, and tales of those enigmatic and fickle Norse gods. Amongst my favourites were the legends Beowulf and his band of monster-hunting shield men, and of Ragnarök, that end-of-days battle amongst the Norse gods, and to my mind this book and series is my love-letter both to Norse mythology and Viking-era history, merging the blood and grit of shield walls with the terror and thrill of monster hunting.

I hope that it feels markedly different from my previous books in its tone and world-setting, but there are also similarities. Family and friendship are themes that I will always write about, and you will find them here, although I’ve come at them from different angles than you find in my previous works.

Other things you should expect are: shield walls, longships, betrayal and vengeance, and a lot of monsters. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Deleting Digits” by Oliver Langmead

LangmeadO-AuthorPicA confession: I don’t know how much a billion dollars is. Not really. Sure, I can write it down ($1,000,000,000), but that number doesn’t really mean much to me. I imagine that it gets even more meaningless the more zeroes you put on the end. I know how much a tin of beans costs, and I know how much my monthly rent is, but I would genuinely struggle to tell you the major differences between a millionaire and a billionaire, despite the staggering disparity between their relative fortunes (billionaires have more jet planes?).

Similarly: I don’t know how long a thousand years is. It’s beyond my ability to comprehend. When it’s written down as a figure (1000) it’s lovely and neat, and I know it’s a hundred decades, or ten centuries, or any amount of artful mathematical ways of putting it, but I struggle to imagine what living through a thousand years would actually be like; how that vast amount of time would feel. Neither can I effectively contain all the events that would happen during a span of a thousand years in my head. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Genre Mashups” by Tim Major

Perhaps all novels are genre mashups, in some sense. Or at least, any novel has several key influences circulating within it, informing its tone, the tendencies of its characters and the directions of its plot. Few romantic novels are exclusively about the mechanisms of two people becoming a couple. Few SF novels concern solely scientific concepts.

But the pitch for my novella Universal Language is more overt than most. It’s an SF murder mystery. I’ll be honest: it’s refreshing to be able to pitch one of my books in such simple terms. You like SF? You like murder mysteries? Come over and take a look! Continue reading

Guest Post: “Writing During Lockdown” by Dan Coxon

CoxonD-AuthorPicUntil 8 April, Unsung Stories are crowdfunding a new anthology called Out of the Darkness. The theme of the anthology is mental health – with contributions from writers like Alison Moore, Jenn Ashworth, Tim Major, Aliya Whiteley and Simon Bestwick – and all royalties and my editor’s fees are being donated to charity Together for Mental Wellbeing. The Kickstarter campaign has meant that my attention has been turned towards mental health more than usual, and at the same time the topic is frequently in the news, as the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are felt. Everyone has struggled to cope during the lockdowns, and often during the more ‘open’ periods in between, and writers are no exception.

When the first UK lockdown was announced in March 2020, I saw several comments online about all the free time we’d have – and in particular (given the circles I move in) the amount of time to write. The everyday distractions of the outside world would be behind lock and key, and we’d finally all have time to ourselves, to let our imaginations run riot and our pens (or keyboards) flow freely. We’d have so much time, so the supposition went, that there would be a flood of new novels and short stories once the lockdown was lifted. I almost believed it myself. Continue reading

Excerpt: THE BEST OF WORLD SF, VOLUME 1, by Lavie Tidhar (Head of Zeus)

TidharEd-BestOfWorldSFNext week, Head of Zeus is due to publish The Best of World SF, Volume 1 — a collection of science fiction stories by authors from around the world, it was collected and edited (and in some instances, translated) by award-winning author Lavie Tidhar. The publisher has kindly provided me with an excerpt to share. But, first, here’s the synopsis:

Twenty-six new short stories representing the state of the art in international science fiction, selected by Lavie Tidhar.

The Best of World SF draws together stories from across the spectrum of science fiction – expect robots, spaceships and time travel, as well as some really weird stuff – representing twenty-one countries and five continents.

Lavie Tidhar has selected stories that range from never-before-seen originals to award winners; from authors at every stage of their career; and a number of translations, including a story translated from Hebrew by Tidhar himself.

A full Table of Contents can be found at the end of this post — it’s an impressive line-up, too: I’ve already read three of them (de Bodard’s, Tidbeck’s and Moreno-Garcia’s), so if the rest are as good, then this will be an excellent read. Read on for an excerpt taken from the introduction to the collection, by Lavie Tidhar. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Progression Fantasy – A Merger of Genres?” by Alex Knight

KnightA-AuthorPicFantasy, as we know it, is an ever-evolving genre. It’s wild, sprawling, and impossible to pin down for any length of time. It’s the beauty of the genre.

At the present, though, I believe we’re seeing a relatively unique evolution in progress.

In recent years, the genre of LitRPG has exploded on the indie and small press scene – and is now reaching into traditional publishing and media. For those that don’t know LitRPG, there are a bunch of definitions, but the one that’s always helped me is this: LitRPG is any story where the characters go into a video game OR the story takes place in a game world OR the story takes place in a world where game logic and mechanics replace physics. Continue reading

Guest Post: “What I Ripped Off From My Life And Used In My Book” by Sharon Doering

DoeringS-SheLiesCloseWhen I was writing She Lies Close, my debut psychological thriller, I was feeling desperate for the first time as a writer. I hadn’t felt it before in my twenty years of writing (countless short stories, a horror novel, a romance, a PI novel, and three tech thrillers). Out of nowhere, a terrifying thought hit me. Wait. Wait. What if I never get published?

That desperation I was experiencing in my writing career? I gave that to my main character, Grace Wright. Grace wasn’t worried about her writing career, but she was worried about, well, pretty much everything.

My desperation didn’t just work its way into Grace’s psyche, it weaved into the novel’s plot. I threw the kitchen sink into this novel. I wanted She Lies Close to be a car crash where you (and first, an editor) couldn’t look away. Grace is running; she’s crying; there’s an attack. Put her on stimulants. She can’t sleep. Her neighbor might be violent. She’s sleepwalking. What about the missing girl? Oh my god, who just ran across the lawn? Did her menacing neighbor give her three-year-old candy? Continue reading