July 2020 news

July 2020 – Newsletter


I Ate’nt dead, as one of my very favourite characters writes. It turns out, however, that it’s been even longer that I’d realised since I sent an update. Even before the year that all time and reason forgot I’d already been overdue so….

Soon the God Fragments will be finished! I mean it is for me, but the rest of you get to see it as well! While it feels just like a few months since I delivered God of Night, publication day is coming sooner than I’d realised. On the 1st of October the final book of the God Fragments will hit the world.

To say goodbye to Lynx and the rest I’ll no doubt be raising a large glass of something over an even larger plate of something else. I may expand on my thoughts closer to the time, but suffice to say I’ll certainly miss that bunch of idiots. It’s always strange to imagine the stories that will never be written, the lives of characters extending beyond those last words. A world never just ends with the final chapter and the better a job you’ve done, the easier it is to see the adventures stretching beyond for those still standing. I like to think there’s some life in the Cards yet even if I’m not going to write about it.

As for everything else that’s gone on, I decided it was time to part company with my agent, Simon, for reasons that aren’t exciting or gossip-worthy, it was just time for a change. It does leave me out of contract, agent-less and drafting a coming-of-age fantasy like the last 20 years haven’t happened! Which is an odd sensation, but nothing’s normal these days.

Unfortunately Verona in Autumn didn’t happen. We got over 50% on the fundraising then I decided to pull it. Not because there was a particular problem, but I simply couldn’t devote the attention necessary while completing God of Night and builders ripping apart large chunks of our house. It’s a tough process at the best of times and not one an introvert like me is a fan of, so leaving it on pause for months and months seemed unfair to people who’d so kindly offered up their money.

Hopefully everyone’s managed to get their pledges refunded – I know a few had been under the impression that the money just went to me but I *think* that’s all cleared up and Unbound haven’t got any left to hand back. One day it’ll appear in a different form – every month or two you hear about a prequel/sequel to the classics so maybe tastes will change and people will be clamouring for it – or I’ll find the money for editing and a cover to self-publish.

I mentioned a new fantasy earlier, but actually that’s not what’s next for me. I’ve set that aside for the moment (~50k words in) realising that after a big fantasy project I shouldn’t jump straight into the next – particularly in these mad, exhausting times. Instead I found an older idea had started clamouring for attention – an SF novella or short novel. Writing that in short bursts is working a lot better with the kids home for six months or more too! I’m sure there are people out there being wonderfully productive at the moment, but I ain’t one of them. I’m having fun though and one day it might be worth publishing.

Until October then, stay safe and keep healthy.

Verona in Autumn – making up history

Not every idea pans out. Something that seems brilliant in your head never translates to the page however you approach it. But sometimes it almost feels like the world is giving you a hint that a book is right and you should stick with it as things fall into place.

I had this strange sensation when I started doing research for Verona in Autumn. It was still a game at that point. I’d written an opening chapter and liked it, but it wasn’t serious. I wasn’t definitely going to write the whole book based off that. I didn’t even know what sort of book I wanted to write. I could start and see where it took me, but there were stumbling blocks I needed to get over first – period and politics. If this was going to be historical fiction, I need to have a better idea of when it took place and how my idea could be plausible. How might Romeo and Juliet could live abroad for years (because I wanted them to be grown-ups when they returned, preferable with children of their own) then return under any circumstances?

In the play, Prince Escalus is the ruler of Verona, but that’s all the information you get. So I did a bit of googling and fell down the rabbit hole, as it were. Possibly based on Bartolomeo I Della Scala said various websites. I did a little digging around the family there and… made a mistake. Or rather, someone on the internet did. When names are so similar, passed on through families, it’s easy to get things wrong with links to other webpages especially as some will have been written or translated from Italian.

In short: Bartolomeo I was elder brother of Cangrande I. A few generations later you’ve got Cangrande II being assassinated by his brother Cansignore, who’s son Bartolomeo II was murdered by his other son Antonio…. The link I followed brought me to this murder and the end of the Scalier line as rulers of Verona because it was taken over by Milan, most particularly one Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who’d been at war with them until the Veronese got fed up of their fratricidal rulers.

Of course, Shakespeare wasn’t a scholar of 14th Century Italian dynasties. Would he have been so particularly tied to one historical figure he wasn’t willing to take liberties with the detail? Absolutely not, so Bartolomeo might have been little more than a name, a ruler who wasn’t one of the strangling despots. I had a quick read about Gian Galeazzo and before long became just a little bit fascinated – while in my head I could almost hear pieces of the puzzle slotting into place.

A cunning ruler, Gian Galeazzo wasn’t the warrior thug his famous uncle, Bernabo, was, but a bookish, sickly man with a ruthless streak his uncle certainly never saw coming. Certainly the sort of man who’d ignore Romeo’s death sentence if he saw advantage in it. Also the sort of man who would use lawyers and bureaucrats in conjunction with mercenaries. I’d already decided Romeo was a bit too sensitive to become a condotierro himself, but he was noble-born and therefore probably well-educated. At the time Milan was the place for such skills.

A little more scouting around and I started to look at Gian Galeazzo’s mercenaries, Jacopo dal Verme, Alberico da Barbiano, Facino Cane… and then I spotted a peasant boy who joined a mercenary company very young but rose to become the Count of Carmagnola. In the service of Milan for a long time, Francesco Bussone was too poor to have a recorded birth date but around 1400 he might just be about the same age as Romeo and Juliet’s daughter… The divisions between noble houses might be hard to breach, but what would parents who’d lived through this think of a division in social class? There was perhaps only one way to find out – start writing and put it to them.


Verona in Autumn – starting the novel

Even if you’re so foolish as to think “sure, Shakespeare; I should definitely write something that has people using Shakespeare as the benchmark” you still need to have a plan – a direction to approach it from. BUT Where to start?

I’ve always found that trying to get the whole idea straight from the start just results in a headache. I have to write – something, anything – to find out what the book’s going to be, taking little steps without worrying about the destination yet. I had the unusual position of having a platform to work from this time round, but still I tried to keep to some fundamentals.

The very first question I needed to address was the link between the play and the novel. How and where does the latter diverge? Obviously I needed to change the death scene in the play, when Romeo and Juliet are reunited, and unless it’s the crux of a mystery or key to the plot simplicity is usually best.

Could Juliet wake early? Catch Romeo before he takes the poison? Simple but unsatisfying I thought, so I moved on to the next step, the poison. Being a devious soul, I quickly realised that if I were a crooked apothecary, I might be tempted to cheat a suicidal young man. The suicidal probably don’t travel to a different city to ask for their money back and if you needed to justify it to yourself, wouldn’t you be doing him a favour? Wouldn’t it be a good deed, if you squinted a bit?

This felt right to me. It’s a book of good intentions in a way – saving Romeo and Juliet should be a good thing after all. That spirit naturally carries over to the act itself. It’s hard to argue that stopping someone’s suicide is wrong after all. And now they were saved, Friar Lawrence comes in to discover the bodies and finds instead the young lovers, they flee into exile before Romeo can be caught and executed. I had my beginning, but where to go from there.

If I was Hilary Mantel I would have probably written the full epic. Their years in exile, the birth of their children and the slow decline of Verona in their absence. And it would be brilliant – I imagine she would sell millions of copies and win the Booker too, but I’m not a famous literary novelist. I was a fantasist with a few months to spare while my publisher decided if they want to take the next books of the God Fragments series. I couldn’t spend years writing this, I didn’t know if I could even afford to write the whole thing. (Even now I’m a bit surprised I did and how well the book turned out.)

There was one thing in its favour however. I was tired, very very tired. It’s not exactly an auspicious starting point, but Princess of Blood was a tough book for me, 150,000 words written while a little boy who shall remain nameless did his best not to sleep for longer than four hours at a time.

I was a bit burned out by the process and wanted to do something different. A short novel? Sounds lovely. Historical? Nice. Written in the present tense to give the slight sense of a play? Intriguing… A change is often as good as a rest and if I just abandoned it to go back to the day job, I’d have at least stretched myself, learned something new. At that point I started doing some basic internet research and… well, I was there quite some time.



Announcing Verona in Autumn!

I’m delighted to announce that the crowdfunding drive for my historical fiction novel, VERONA IN AUTUMN, is now live!

You can find the page here if you want to earn my deepest gratitude and pledge something towards getting it published: https://unbound.com/books/verona-in-autumn/

This is a side project I started a few years back when my lovely wife got us tickets for Kenneth Branagh’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Nothing says “happy anniversary” like a double suicide right?

The idea for the book is a simple one – What if Romeo and Juliet didn’t die? Over a few whiskies that evening we had been talking about the play, how the failings of those around them led these children to their deaths. The play is about love and enmity, life and death – it shows the follies of a feud and the spiralling monstrosity of hatred. The city is saved by the loss of Romeo and Juliet so the author in me wondered “what if?” One small act could change that, either a responsible one or deceitful, and what then for those people who aren’t the titular characters? What about everyone else?

That stuck in my mind, tangled in the thicket from which ideas sometimes emerge. There’s a Terry Pratchett dedication (the great man himself not averse to playing with Shakespeare) that has long stuck with me because I’m a fantasy author normally and a lot of people die in such books, particularly epic fantasy. In Guards Guards, Pratchett writes this at the start:

“They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asks them if they want to. This book is dedicated to those fine men.”

In my mind it seemed a nice thing to save Romeo and Juliet, at least over the course of an hour’s musing as we travelled to pick up our own children from their grandparents. The young lovers given life and the chance to fulfil their potential. But in this life the famous names get all the headlines and even in fiction there are other imaginary lives at stake! So I started to think about what might be the result for everyone else, where the city goes as much as what future Romeo and Juliet might have.

The following afternoon I had an hour or two spare and this idea was still rattling around in my head so I sat down to write. If I tweaked the death scene, neither Romeo nor Juliet died. They would have to flee – the watch had been summoned and I didn’t want Romeo to leap up and cut a bloody path through them (as much as anything else the ghost of Pratchett might over-salt my porridge in revenge). Instead they would travel into exile, leaving behind the dead body of Count Paris and an empty tomb. Juliet was dead, everyone knew that, but now her body had been stolen by Romeo. That probably wouldn’t help matters.

I had the starting point. I had no idea where I would go with it, but the fun bit of being a novelist is finding out. Building a world, building a story and following someone’s actions to see the ramifications. It took a lot of time and a lot of research rabbit-holes before I knew whether there was a story I wanted to tell, but here it is at last. I hope you enjoy it.

The Man With One Name

Publication excitement!

One of the funny things about publishing is the delay you often experience – the times you have to remind yourself about the work you did last year and why people should care about it now. Today is one of those days – now don’t get me wrong, it’s not hard to remind myself why I enjoyed writing this novella, but it feels slightly surreal because… well, part of me can’t quite believe this is new to the world. I delivered the text 16 months ago so there’s a bit of me that just assumes the world’s already seen it!

I am however delighted to say that THE MAN WITH ONE NAME is released today and you should go out and buy it – or maybe, stay in and buy it since you should be able to do that from the comfort of your e-reader. It’s a fun little novella that is equally good for new readers and existing fans of Lynx, which means it’s perfect for absolutely everyone! Set several years prior to the events of Stranger of Tempest, it follows a slightly slimmer, slightly more brittle, wandering gunman called Lynx and what happens when he’s faced with a bully.

When I had the idea of doing novellas to go between novels and bridge the gap between publication, it was exactly this sort of fun story I wanted to write. I must admit I hadn’t thought of the story yet, or even written that many novellas, but part of the fun of writing is challenging yourself so that’s what I did. Stranger of Tempest had two elements that led me naturally to this – firstly the wilds that exist between human spheres of influence and secondly the man with ‘a past’ as its lead character.

Lynx evolved as I planned and wrote Stranger, but from the outset I wanted someone who fundamentally wanted to do the right thing, even if that put him in danger. There’s an element of the wild west lawman/hero about that and the more the setting hinted towards it, the more I found myself drawn to this idea. Throwing in the fact that Lynx is his assumed name, I kept being reminded of the classic Eastwood character and decided a little homage was in order. So Lynx appears on a pale horse (in a manner of speaking anyway) among several small nods to the movie Pale Rider. He does things his own way of course and I wanted to keep the faint silliness I put into the novels, but who would want a straight clone of the story anyway?

Now sit back and enjoy the story. It’s not required reading for the series, but if you like that you’ll certainly enjoy this. And yes, the dogs are a real breed. Sometimes real life is even sillier than your imagination.

February newsletter

For those who don’t subscribe to the newsletter, here it is in all its glory!


A new year and a renewed effort on the God Fragments.

First of all, I’m very happy to share what I believe is the final cover for The Man With One Name – my stand-alone Lynx novella. It’s set in the years after his release from prison and serves as an alternate entry point to the series, rather than a new instalment.

Now while Honour Under Moonlight has sold rather better than I’d expected, I’m hoping this benefits from the fact it’s both a Lynx story and a shorter (+cheaper) way to give the God Fragments a try. It’s published in March and hopefully lots of new people will get on board as it’s an excellent alternative entry point. Lynx is a few years younger and slimmer, but he’s recognisable as the man who’s determined to keep living despite everything that’s happened to him, so I think existing fans will be happy too.


I’ll blog about the story closer to the time perhaps, but it’s basically a Western since the God Fragments setting has always cried out for the direction. It’s not a reworking of anything, but just from the title you can tell there’s a heavy nod towards Pale Rider and there are a few more minor ones in the text itself for those who know the film really well.

As for everything else that’s going on, my side project has started to get some good feedback from beta-readers so hopefully I’ll find time to rework sections and see if it’s worth any money to anyone. With freelance work picking up however, that is firmly in the drawer for the time being because I have a deadline looming for Lynx.


I’m slowly working my way back into the writing of Knight of Stars, having put it aside for various reasons, returned and ripped up sections and now overhauled my plan for the second half for the second time. 50k in and I I might just have an idea of how it’s going to work, but don’t worry, that’s totally standard for me! We’re not going underground this time around because I really don’t want to stick to a formula like that. The reworked plot was suggesting I could wander in that direction if the book really had to be a 300k epic, but it doesn’t and there’s the normal level of magic, monsters, hangovers and trigger-happy idiots remaining.


And finally… I thought it might be interesting for some to see what I’ve been reading of late – or rather, what’s worth telling people about anyway. I’m not a rigorous book reviewer however. These days in particular I try not to look very professional when it comes to reviews because I don’t want to appear as critiquing my peers from any perceived professional standing. I do like to say what I like, as it were, because good books are always worth celebrating.


So, as it turns out I have a great run over Christmas of 5* books:

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway was as odd and charming as usual from Nick, a less-than-fantastical take on the superhero genre that was a fantastic book still.



Then The Neon Court by Kate Griffin – book 3 in an exceptional urban fantasy series that has moments of jaw-dropping writing, and a lovably shambolic main character.



Next came a first novel that I heard about because I consulted on the contract, but I expect it to make quite a splash – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Agatha Christie meets Inception meets Groundhog Day meets Gosford Park. It’s brilliant and will appeal to fans across the board.



Then came The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin – a multi-award winning fantasy series that took me a while to connect to, but its quality was on show right from the start. It’s interesting, clever, different to the standard secondary world fantasy setting and more focused on personal relationships than world-changing events, but still has those too. Highly recommended.




Princess of Blood is out!

That (Third) Difficult Second Book


So by now hopefully everyone has noticed that Princess of Blood is out – as of a few days ago, but I’m nothing if not disorganised about blog posts. You should really go buy it now!


Now you hear a lot about that difficult second novel, but in some ways it’s a regular thing if you’re writing series fiction. This is the third time I’ve had to do one, but it’s a slightly different beast each time.


You go into a series with an idea, sometimes the plot of a book, and some vague ideas about the future probably. Usually there’s something you’ve built the story around – the character, system of magic or whatever and that’s going to inform the rest of the series, but to a large extent that’s all. And with book 1, you’ve now done a lot of what you intended. You’ve explored this idea, you’ve made the character come to life, you’ve enjoyed the mayhem your cool new idea has resulted in…. but now what?


You could always basically write the same book again, and to a degree that’s what readers want. If they’ve got to book 2, they liked 1 and you have to retain some of that. But especially in secondary world fantasy, that’s not quite good enough. For the Laundry Files books, another mission for Bob will be fun to read because it’s a familiar setting and I enjoy the books within that settle. I’m interested to read the book from Mo’s POV because the author is evolving the series rather than pumping out yet another instalment only because it sells. But it’s set in a world I know, albeit with some tweaks.


For the God Fragments, it’s a different world and there’s a lot more yet to see so if I don’t show more then people are going to wonder why not. To take a tour of the same corner would be foolish even if what happened on that tour was still fun. Having conceived the series as individual missions, I want to do something a bit different but don’t want to lose what people liked. For a long time I was debating whether they should even go underground – whether the Cards should do something totally different or more properly explore a Duegar ruin. So I settled on a compromise – a ruin unlike the usual sort and more impact on the human world above. Not the Wisp settlement and tomb I’d originally planned, but something bigger and better.


The problem with these second novels is, as much as anything, you’re writing on faith. Someone bought book 1, they had an idea of what they were getting and wanted it. If book 2 is contracted, you’ve just got to hope they like it, that the choices you made nine months ago were the right ones. If they weren’t, all those cool little ideas you used to pave the way to your grand finish turned out to be just good intentions and you’re standing in the hell of rewriting.


Of course, the more you move the plot along, the more you need to keep the threads that tie the books together. Stranger was a simple story, easing people into the world, but there is more going on in the background and I would need to bring some of that in without getting too far away from what readers liked in the first place. All the while bringing in some of Toil’s past since, a) it impacts on events and b) she’s the title character who drives the plot. Much of the story might be seen through Lynx’s eyes, but he’s not the only one who matters. Toil joined the story later on than the rest so she’s got some catching up to do and they’re all busy about her agenda. You can’t leave a figure like Toil on the sidelines, she just won’t permit it.


All things change. When a story doesn’t, you’re in trouble. Of course, change it too fast and you lose what made it good in the first place. So the Cards still get drunk or high and Lynx still tries to be a good man. Toil still works to further her employer’s goals and people still die a long way from sunlight. New faces appear and new problems arise however – this time the world is watching events and the stakes are raised far beyond just a few dozen lives. It took me a fair while to work out what sort of book I wanted from Princess, but I hope you’re as happy with it as I now am.

Gollancz Festival

For the handful of you who’ve not seen any mention of it, The Gollancz Festival will be taking place in London on the 17th and 18th of September and despite a petition from certain authors, I’m going to be there!

You can find all the details here – http://bit.ly/2caytM5 I’ll be there all day Saturday and as much of the evening as I can manage before I fall asleep, plus the Sunday morning. There’s also, I believe, a bonus event on the Monday night in Manchester featuring myself and a couple of bestselling novelists besides.

How Many Fuck’s Do I Give?


Swearing in fantasy – perhaps not quite the most polarising of subjects in the genre, but usually one where people have an opinion they’re unlikely to ever change. For several reasons I went back through my books recently and did a search for how often I’d included the word “fuck” in one form or another, curious at how things might have changed for me over the years. I’d specifically been looking at how sweary my mercenaries in Stranger of Tempest were, how much it was natural and how much I needed to try and be a bit more inventive or entertaining in their cursing.


Some people think there’s no place for it in secondary world fantasy – that it should be era-appropriate or world-appropriate. Others want to hear characters speak in a way that’s familiar, following some idea of realism or authenticity. For myself, I’m a fairly sweary person, but that doesn’t mean my characters should always be.


Doing the sums, it’s clear I’m reminded that I was overly cautious about it in the early days. For Stormcaller and Twilight Herald, while things hadn’t got as desperate as they did later on in the series, Isak is an angry young man from a poor background, and nowadays I realise that (particularly in the first edition of Stormcaller) he spoke a bit too proper, as it were. The more comfortable I got in the series, the more confident Isak became in his role and the more relaxed his speech became. And the more people swore, in part because of that but also simply because there were more veteran soldiers and awful things happening.


I read The Way of Kings recently, and to someone like me it really stood out how Sanderson had avoided real-world swearing. You swap in “fuck” for every time you have “storm” used as a curse and you’ve got a reasonably sweary book, so I found it interesting that he’d avoided the word. Battlestar got around it with “frak” in a way I got used to soon enough, it didn’t distract me, but in Way of Kings it nagged more. My impression of the US is that everyone outside of NY swears a fuckton less than the average Brit and Sanderson is of course writing for the US readership (and standards of US publishing). It’s a market where I suspect many more fans will put a book down at too much swearing, but to me it jarred to so overtly avoid it. I’ll be very interested to see if my language gets mentioned in feedback from US editors as we try to find a publisher for Stranger there, whether anything would need to be toned down even.


There’s certainly a lot more naughty language in the new series. It’s about hard-drinking and somewhat childish mercenaries so there was never a way to avoid that even if I’d wanted to. Moon’s Artifice wasn’t the same sort of book so the numbers dropped there, but for these ones I’d have felt almost dishonest to pretend they weren’t foul-mouthed folk. Like sanitising violence, it can be a tricky slope towards hypocrisy. You spend too much time glorifying it, enjoying the gory detail, and you come across pathetic and sad, but if you hide it you risk cheapening your work and more besides.


Authenticity, or a perceived version of it, is important for some and I can see their point in many ways. But I’m not writing a historically accurate novel and while there are some things that need to be broadly era-appropriate for the level of technology and state of society etc, I’m writing for people who live in the same world as me. Crucially I feel, I’m writing what I hope to be fun, exciting and occasionally irreverent books. To tiptoe around such things when most people aren’t experts in the field forces me to change the style I’m working towards.


If you don’t like swearing in books then that’s an entirely different matter and hopefully from the way the book is presented, you’ll be able to see what style it is before you pay money for it. I’m not out to deceive or offend, but I write for me first and foremost.


So, for those of you who’re interested, here are the figures.

How many fucks I gave in each book:


The Stormcaller: 6

The Twilight Herald: 2

The Grave Thief: 31

The Ragged Man: 52

The Dusk Watchman: 63


The God Tattoo: 12


Moon’s Artifice: 24

Old Man’s Ghosts: 20


Stranger of Tempest: 82

Princess of Blood: 142 (first draft), 71 (second draft) 84 (third draft)


That last figure, I’d not even intended to bring the number up again. I’d gone through every mention of the word and tried to be a bit more inventive or amusing with it – some of them worked, others I realised I just needed to say “fuck” and pretending otherwise would be silly. It’s going to remain on the list of things I’ll check at the end of each draft however.


My sense of humour may be childish and crude, but sometimes I need to rein it in a bit. Indulging myself needs to be justified in every case and one day my kids may be reading this. That’ll be a fun day…

Fantasy in the Court & Nineworlds

So, I’ve been on holiday and am bewildered to discover the world has not stopped for me. As a result, I’m late about stuff and generally unprepared for reality. In case anyone is interested however, I’ll be at Fantasy in the Court tonight and at Nineworlds on Saturday with a panel in the morning and one in the evening. The rest of the time I’ll be loitering around the bar and would be delighted to be told exactly what’s wrong with my books over a beer!

As for those panels themselves: