Guest Post: “Unexpected Influences” by Jen Williams

WilliamsJ-AuthorPicAuthors are influenced by all sorts of things – their favourite writers, their childhoods, the amount of caffeine consumed at any one time. Sometimes though the influences that shape a book can come from stranger places, or show themselves in unusual ways. The Ninth Rain was a book that formed through an alchemy of oddities, so here are a few of the things that have their fingerprints on the first volume of the Winnowing Flame trilogy. Continue reading

New Books (Nov-Dec 2016)

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Featuring: David Annandale, Marie Brennan, Maurice Broaddus, Paul Cornell, Michael Crichton, Thoraiya Dyer, Warren Ellis, Christopher Golden, Lee Irby, Kathleen Kent, Christina Kovac, Jonathan Lethem, Laura Lippman, Gregory McDonald, Claire North, Andrew Pyper, Joshua Reynolds, Suzanne Rindell, Kim Stanley Robinson, Steven Savile, Norman Spinrad, Ingrid Thoft, Tim Walker, Alex Wells, Jen Williams, Jason Zinoman

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Guest Post: “Magic & Its Masters” by Jen Williams

WilliamsJ-AuthorPicIn The Iron Ghost, the second book in the Copper Cat trilogy, my very own troubled magic user Lord Aaron Frith comes face to face with one of the most famous mages’ in Ede’s history: the resurrected Joah Demonsworn. Unfortunately, although Joah is quite polite and rather pleased to find that there is at least one other mage still around, he is also murderously insane – driven beyond all sense by the pursuit of power, by his close association with a demon, and by spending a thousand years mouldering in a tomb. His plans for the Black Feather Three will prove to have disastrous consequences for everyone.

Magic is one of the foundations of fantasy, and often those who use it or are changed by it can be the most interesting characters in fiction. Here are a few of my favourites: Continue reading

New Books (February #2)

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Featuring: Nick Aires, Jesse Armstrong, David Baldacci, Adam Christopher, Sebastien de Castell, David Downing, Mark Andrew Ferguson, Matthew Glass, Daryl Gregory, Austin Grossman, Randy Henderson, Antonia Honeywell, Kameron Hurley, Ben Kane, Dennis Lehane, Evie Manieri, D.J. Molles, Benjamin Percy, Tamora Pierce, Christopher Reich, Loren Rhoads, Anthony Ryan, V.E. Schwab, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Simon K. Unsworth, Jen Williams, Jonathan Wood Continue reading

Guest Post: “Watership Down, Or the Film that Made Me” by Jen Williams

WilliamsJen-AuthorPicI was going to write about some of my non-book influences for this guest blog. There are a lot of them – the video game Dragon Age, which pretty much singlehandedly reinvigorated my love of high fantasy; the TV show Farscape, partly responsible I suspect for my obsession with snippy banter and weird creatures; and Labyrinth, of course – what fantasy fan of my age wasn’t influenced by Labyrinth? And then I remembered a conversation I had way back when The Copper Promise was a tiny wee novella. Someone asked me if I’d named Lord Frith after the god of rabbits in Watership Down. I laughed, because if anyone would object to being named after the god of rabbits it’s probably my grumpy Lord Frith, and then I stopped laughing, because I realised I had done exactly that. Not entirely consciously, but then Watership Down has been with me for a very long time, and I have over the years noted it cropping up in tiny ways in lots of things I did. For me, Watership Down was a film before it was the book – I love the book very much, but if you really wanted to mess with my head as a very small child, you needed to come in the form of a cartoon. Continue reading

Upcoming: Intriguing Early 2015 Titles from Headline

Here are a few books coming from Headline in early 2015 that have caught my attention…

Connolly&Ridyard-CI2-EmpireUKHCJohn Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard, EMPIRE

She is the trophy of a civilization at war with itself.

He is its rebel captive.

Separated by millions of light years, they will fight to be united.

And they will risk everything to make their world — all worlds — right again.

The second novel in the authors’ Invaders trilogy, following on from Conquest. Which I have but have yet to read. It sounds fun, too, so I should see what I can do about catching up. I’ve recently picked up the first three of Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels, which I hope to read as soon as possible. Empire is due to be published on January 1st, 2015.

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CutterN-TheDeepUKNick Cutter, THE DEEP

A plague is destroying the world’s population. The ‘Gets makes people forget. First it’s the small things, like where you left your keys… then the not-so-small things, like how to drive. And finally your body forgets how to live.

But now an unknown substance with extraordinary power to heal has been discovered in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Nicknamed ambrosia, it might just be the miracle cure the world has been praying for.

A research lab has been established eight miles below the sea’s surface, but all contact with the team has been lost. Dr Luke Nelson’s brother is down there and as desperation for a cure outweighs common sense, he agrees to descend through the lightless fathoms… perhaps to face an evil blacker than anything he could have imagined.

Cutter’s previous novel, The Troop was very well-received. And apparently spooky/horrific as all get-out. So, this could be just as interesting. The Deep should hit shelves on January 13th, 2015.

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JonesSL-WrittenInBloodUKPBStephen Lloyd Jones, WRITTEN IN BLOOD

High in the mountains of the Swiss Alps Leah Wilde is about to gamble her life to bring a powerful man an offer. A promise.

Leah has heard the dark stories about him and knows she is walking into the lion’s den. But her options are running out. Her rare lineage, kept secret for years, is under terrible threat. That is, unless Leah and her mother Hannah are prepared to join up with their once deadly enemies.

Should the prey ever trust the predator?

Is hope for future generations ever enough to wash away the sins of the past?

With a new and chilling danger stalking them all, and the survival of their society at stake, they may have little choice…

This is actually the paperback release, as I appear to have completely missed the hardcover release in November 2014. I’ve still not read Jones’s first novel, The String Diaries, but I’ve heard it’s excellent. So I should really get on to that… Written in Blood is published in paperback on January 29th 2015.

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WilliamsJ-2-IronGhostUKJen Williams, THE IRON GHOST

Beware the dawning of a new mage…

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking…

Williams’s first novel, The Copper Promise, was pretty fun. This is the follow-up, due out February 26th 2015.

Interview with JEN WILLIAMS

WilliamsJen-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Jen Williams?

I’m a writer from south-east London. I wear odd socks and live with my partner and our cat. I have a Lego fixation and I own too many notebooks. I don’t get as much sleep as I would like, but then I like to sleep a lot. I think those are the important things covered.

Your debut novel, The Copper Promise, is out now through Headline. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader?

I like to describe it as epic sword and sorcery, so you still get a fat book that could conceivably be used as a blunt weapon, but the story moves at a tremendous pace. Two sell-swords of dubious morals are employed by a mysterious lord to explore the haunted Citadel of Creos, only to find that not only does their employer have a destructive agenda of his own, but that the Citadel is forbidden for very good reasons. A terrible force is unleashed on the world, and our heroes have to deal with it, even though it looks like they won’t actually get paid.

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

At the time, I had a few short stories out in the world, and I thought it would be interesting to release a series of novellas. I was also just coming out the other side of a serious Dragon Age: Origins obsession (a fantasy RPG videogame from Bioware) and my love of traditional fantasy had been reignited. I’d written books in various subgenres before, such as Urban Fantasy and Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy, or just Weird Secondary World stuff, but I’d never written something that was dragons, caverns, dungeons and taverns. I decided it would be fun to embrace all those lovely trappings of traditional fantasy, whilst writing them with a modern edge – there were a number of tropes I wanted to twist and play with, such as the Loveable Rogue, the Honorable Knight, and the Minions of the Dark Lord. I started writing the first novella (The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel) and fell in love with the world and the characters so much the quick novella project quickly became a big fat book.

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Also on CR: Review of Copper Promise

How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?

My very first exposure to the fantasy genre was probably stealing my brother’s Fighting Fantasy books so I could look at the scary pictures. A few years later I remember picking up The Fellowship of the Ring from the library shelf simply because it was so huge, and I figured reading such a thing would make me look really clever (I think I was about ten years old at the time). It was the first book I fell in love with, as well as the book that made me love reading. From that moment on I read almost exclusively in genre, hopping madly from Stephen King to Terry Pratchett to Neil Gaiman.

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry?

I love it. I’ve written a number of books and stories, with many probably doomed to remain forever hidden on a memory stick, but I don’t believe I ever really thought I would get here: to have an agent, a publishing contract, to see my book on the shelves of actual bookshops. It seemed like too wild a dream, the sort of thing that happens to other people, and there’s part of me that still doesn’t quite believe it. There’s also a sense of validation too: when I was growing up everyone told me that writing would be too difficult a career path, and so you spend much of your time worrying that you’ve made a mistake. What if I’m deluded? What if I should be doing something else entirely with my life? When someone comes to you and says, “Oh, I really loved that character. And I laughed so much at this bit. Also, why aren’t these two having sex yet?” you can breath a big sigh of relief because to that person at least, you took the right path.

The novel was originally serialised. How did this impact your approach to writing the story? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

The book was originally split into four novellas. The tricky part of such a structure was making sure that each section had its own complete story to tell, as well as advancing the wider, overall story of the book. It was also important that the book not seem disjointed or like a series of short stories, so themes and character development had to be consistent too. The fun part was being able to have a number of slightly evil cliffhangers, and getting away with cutting out a lot of what I think of as “transition stuff”: moving the characters to where they need to be, or showing the passage of time. From a practical point of view, this meant editing each novella as if it were its own book, and then putting the whole lot together into one document and editing it again with a view to how it worked as a complete manuscript.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

I’ve had an interest in stories and wanting to write them for as long as I can remember. Two of the first presents I asked for at Christmas were a desk and a typewriter, and I cheerfully plonked out stories about dragons and pirates all day long. My first “proper” attempt at writing was a somewhat sprawling, heavily Pratchett-influenced book about a rogue witch and her scheming witch-mother. I started writing it one day after a particularly bad shift at work, and over the course of a couple of years it eventually became book-sized, and I even finished it. That book was significant for me because up until then I hadn’t believed that I could write an entire book, and although it’s full of enormous rookie mistakes and blundering cock-ups, I still have a lot of affection for it.

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

I think fantasy is in a healthy place at the moment, with a greater emphasis on a kind of realism, not just in the depiction of violence and the consequences of violence, but also in the depiction of characters. This feels like a good change, a move away from the lighter approach of farm boys who reveal themselves to be long lost princes, towards a genre that is taking itself a little more seriously. That is to say, we value what we do and we’re approaching it with the seriousness it deserves.

Which probably sounds like an odd thing to say given that The Copper Promise, as a piece of sword and sorcery with an emphasis on monsters and magic, is a slight step away from the Grimdark trend. What I hope is that the book takes the bits and pieces we loved from old school, pulp fantasy – the wild magic and the dungeons and the spectacle – and applies a modern approach, adding a degree of realism to the characters. I was very keen, for example, to have a female character who was not reliant on a male character to give her purpose as a love interest or a catalyst, and a gay character whose story is central to the entire plot, and so on. Generally I think fantasy is moving towards being more inclusive, and that’s definitely a good thing.

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

I’m in the midst of editing the follow-up to The Copper Promise, which is a slightly darker book but with the same themes of magic and monsters and general mayhem-making. Writing a sequel to a debut novel is an interesting and slightly alarming experience, because while I was finishing the first draft of book two, The Copper Promise was receiving its first reviews; it’s very hard not to get fixated on that, not to mention the added weight of deadlines and getting paid for the work. Behind the anxiety though I’ve had a great time hanging out with these characters again, and I’m already looking forward to getting into the third book.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

As I’m knee deep in the editing swamp I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on a single book – once your brain is stuck in hyper-critical mode it’s very hard to turn it off – but I’ve just started Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, which has some of the most spectacular magic I’ve ever read, and Ash by Mary Gentle, which is an extraordinarily vivid experience. I’m not quite sure why I’ve decided to read two such enormous books at the same time, but when I need a break from all the epic I’m dipping in and out of Twisted Histories, a short story anthology edited by Scott Harrison, in which I also happen to have a short story, The Tides of Avalon.

WilliamsJen-Reading

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

Despite writing a book that cheerfully embraces many of the tropes, I’ve never actually played Dungeons and Dragons myself. I was always far too shy as a kid to play a game that involved, well, talking to other people, and although as an adult I’m a fan of RPG video games I still have yet to sit down with the D20 and a dungeon master. Shameful, really.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

Lots of book related stuff! Sending book two back to my editor and starting work on book three towards the end of the year, as well as continuing to fiddle with my notes on the fantasy series I’ll be writing once this current trilogy is finished. I’m very much looking forward to going to my first Fantasycon this year, and returning to Nineworlds in August, where I may even be convinced to attempt some sort of cosplay. Stranger things have happened.

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Be sure to check out Jen Williams’s website, Twitter and Facebook for more information on her novels and writing.