Friday, 26 December 2008

Merry Christmas, and

a question:

We Yanks don't have a real clear understanding of Boxing Day. Anyone over there care to provide a cultural snapshot for us?


Thursday, 25 December 2008

With compliments of the season

1843 Xmas card
One of the first mass-produced Christmas cards

The lithographed card caused a controversy in some quarters of Victorian English society when it was published in 1843 because it prominently features a child taking a sip from a glass of wine...

Widespread commercial printing of Christmas cards began in the 1860s, when a new process of color printing lowered the manufacturing cost and the price. Consequently, the custom of sending printed Christmas greetings spread throughout England.


Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Just to wish everybody a very....

and a happy, peaceful 2009.
And thanks to all the MNW crew for your support, comments and cyber-friendship this year.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Hey, Matt? (Or anyone else, for that matter...)

How far in advance of the official release date do you typically get actual copies of the book in hand?


January's Publication

That's right, it's our blog founder, MNW Curran himself!

The Secret War continues . . .

Prepare to confront the incarnation of evil. It is 1820 and the world is on the brink.

A fearless cohort of soldier-monks, led by Lieutenant William Saxon, has been dispatched to Egypt on the most important mission in history. For thousands of years a great secret has been kept: a stockpile of appalling malevolence, which, if let loose, will plunge the world into eternal damnation. This is the Hoard of Mhorrer. The soldiers must find and destroy the Hoard before the daemonic agents of the evil Count Ordrane of Draak locate it.

In a heart-stopping race against time, ranging from Papal Rome to the desolate heart of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, the soldiers must battle murderous militiamen and pitiless daemons, and finally, terrifyingly, the bloodthirsty Guardians of the Horde.

If William and his men succeed, the clandestine war between Heaven and Hell will at last begin to favour the forces of light. But if they fail, and the agents of Hell claim the Hoard, then they will unleash an army of invincible daemons, and humankind – what is left of it – will come to know the true meaning of evil.

1)Tell us a little about your novel, The Hoard of Mhorrer.
The Hoard of Mhorrer kicks off several years after the events of The Secret War. It starts in familiar territory with a daemon-hunt through the streets of 19th century Prague, and the adventures progress to the Sinai after the main character, Captain William Saxon, is despatched there on a perilous mission to find the greatest threat to mankind: a hoard of artefacts capable of unleashing an army of daemons upon an unsuspecting world. It's a bloody, exciting adventure story of treachery, revelation and heroism.

(The plan was to write something that surpassed The Secret War in many ways, and judging by the feedback I've had from readers and the publisher, I've achieved that - I just hope everyone else agrees!)

2) The Hoard of Mhorrer is your second book published by Macmillan New Writing. How has your life changed since they published The Secret War in 2007?

My life hasn't changed that much - not in a world breaking-way. I still have a day job, I'm not stopped in the streets or mobbed by fans. And you know, I'm happy about that. I just want to get on with the writing, and that hasn't changed either - my writing-energy feels boundless. I suppose the 'little things' have changed, for example the money I've got from rights and royalties have cleared a few household debts so we're quite comfortable at the moment. It also means I can go part time (which I will be doing in January) to concentrate on the writing. So I suppose if anything has changed, my writing has become more serious because there is a bit of cash rolling in from it.

Oh, and I've fallen in with an amazing group of authors who have been a guidance and an inspiration. You might know them...

3)What is your typical writing day?
I used to be a fiend for writing during my lunch breaks at work, but now I spend most of my writing-time in the evenings or weekends. On a typical weekend of writing (if Sarah's working) I'll get up about 8am and be at the PC by 9am. I'll then write my way through to lunch, go for a walk, and come back to do "bonus writing" - the writing that's over and above anything I aimed to do in the morning. Weekdays it's a bit different. I'll be on the PC for about 7pm and write through to 9pm. On average, I tend to write about 2-3000 words in two hours, so I'm quite prolific during the first couple of drafts.

4) Four random facts:

  • Do you have a writing mantra?:

I have two. The first is "write for yourself". The second is the spark itself: "what if..?"

  • By pen or by keyboard, and why?:

Keyboard. I can't read my own handwriting. It's appalling. And I can type quick than I can write illegibly.

  • Greatest influences on your writing:

Clive Barker, Lovercraft, Steven Pressfield, my dad, a childhood love for the Napoleonic era and too many films to mention.

  • Most ludicrous moment in your life:

Being struck by lightning. Twice. So don't stand near me during a storm. Perhaps someone up there is a critic.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Not Just For Christmas 3 - Contrasting Influences

Brian and Aliya have put up great posts on the influences which have turned them into Macmillan New Writers. (As an aside, Aliya's influences are not dissimilar to mine, although we have gone to some rather different places since!).

It won't surprise anyone familiar with either my writing or my blog that Jack Vance had the biggest impact on me, and The Dog of the North probably owes more to Lyonesse than any other single book. I've already written about Lyonesse at length so I'm going address a different kind of influence here: not emulation but reaction. By this measure, the book I'm most indebted to is The Lord of the Rings, a wonderful book which now sets my teeth on edge. The Dog of the North is made up of half wanting to be Vance and half wanting not to be Tolkien.

This is a statement which needs qualification. All fantasy writers are indebted to The Lord of the Rings as the book which made a clear--and commercial--genre out of fantasy. Sadly many fantasy writers have repaid that debt by rewriting, sometimes repeatedly, the book which so inspired them. (In this they do Tolkien no favours, but that's a different story). There is no doubt that what The Lord of the Rings does, it does very well. If you want truly epic narrative, a richly detailed world, "Good" versus "Evil", you're probably not going to do much better. For the first ten or so times I read the book, that was enough for me.

Even Tolkien's staunchest defender would concede that The Lord of the Rings is nonetheless deficient in certain areas. The monstrous trilogy is a humour-free zone, female characterisation is perfunctory and the males scarcely more nuanced. The epic tone, too, can be wearing after 1,000 pages. Some feel Tolkien's work to be philosophically problematic--Christian apologetics generally don't wear well and he is perhaps tarnished by association with CS Lewis--but my real problems with the book are entirely artistic.

A lot of modern fantasy has been written in reaction to Tolkien: G.R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and China Mieville have all in their way reinvented a grittier kind of fantasy. In The Dog of the North, Beauceron is a direct response to the anodyne fantasy hero in line of succession from Aragorn, while all the main female characters are there to fill a gap I found in Tolkien.

Negative influences, it seems, are as strong as positive ones.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Not Just For Christmas 2: Puppy's Revenge

Following on from Brian's post, here's a little bit about the two books that were the direct inspiration behind my first attempt to write something longer than a short story. I ended up with a strange novella called Mean Mode Median that is now not in print, so don't go and look for it in the usual places. Go and read the two things that inspired it instead.

From an early age I was a lover of science fiction and fantasy. Lord of the Rings, obviously, but also writers like Michael Moorcock and Guy Gavriel Kay. David Eddings. Gael Baudino. Orson Scott Card. I loved the long long series, ten books' worth, that only that genre offered at the time. And a little escapism was good too.

The books that had the most effect on me at that tender age were Frank Herbert's Dune saga. Dune (the first book in the series) was about precocious children, and about looking at the bigger patterns of human behaviour, learning how to predict and affect emotions. To a weird child with no friends and a desire to control the universe, it was heady stuff. Plus it even had a character with a name like mine in it. I wanted to dress in black and predict the future and sort out why men were so different. I practically was a Bene Gesserit.

A lot of the themes of Dune ended up in my first novella. But the structure was just too huge and wide-ranging for me to attempt. I still panic when faced with the thought of writing over 100,000 words. So I wanted a handy template for my story. That's when I noticed that King Lear, my favourite play, contained roughly the same amount of similar characters. So I wrote down who appeared in every scene, and then wrote a chapter breakdown for my novella that fitted it exactly. I ended up with one very strange book, but nobody could argue it didn't have a great framework.

After Mean Mode Median I got a bit more confidence and dumped Shakespeare so I could start applying my own character arcs and pacing. I wonder in retrospect if firing the best writer who ever lived was a mistake. But it goes to show I'm still living with the legacy of reading Dune too much - I'm still a bit on the precocious side.

A very short news post

I am delighted to report that I now have an agent, namely the canny, insightful and generally agreeable Edwin Hawkes at The McKernan Agency. I look forward to working with him immensely.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A book's not just for Christmas...

In the run-up to Christmas, and always eager to find new books, I thought it might be an idea if any of us who are interested recommended a book. More than that, I thought it might be nice, as we’re all New Writers, to recommend the book that most influenced your first novel. Not necessarily the book that made you want to write, but the book that made you want to write your MNW title, if there is one in particular.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton made me want to be a writer when I was a teenager. The Great Gatsby made me want to write in the first person. But, James Lee Burke’s Last Car to Elysian Fields was the book that made me want to write Borderlands. Here’s Amazon’s description of the book:
It is a rainy late-summer's night in New Orleans. Detective Dave Robicheaux is about to confront the man who may have savagely assaulted his friend, Father Jimmie Dolan, a Catholic priest who's always at the centre of controversy. But things are never as they seem and soon Robicheaux is back in New Iberia, probing a car crash that killed three teenage girls. A grief-crazed father and a maniacal, complex assassin are just a few of the characters Robicheaux meets as he is drawn deeper into a web of sordid secrets and escalating violence. A masterful exploration of the troubled side of human nature and the dark corners of the heart, peopled by familiar characters such as P.I. Clete Purcel and Robicheaux's old flame Theodosia LeJeune, LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS is vintage Burke - moody, hard-hitting, with his trademark blend of human drama and relentless noir suspense.

Why it appealed to me? Beyond the stunning writing and the deep rooted sense of place and time? Beyond the sense of decency and anger at the way in which humans treat each other, and especially treat those unable to speak for themselves? There was one scene in particular. Late in the book, Robicheaux jogging in the park at dawn, believes he is having a heart attack and is going to die:
‘Is this the way it comes? I thought – not with a clicking sound ands a brilliant flash of light on a night trail in Vietnam, or with a high powered round fired by a sniper in a compact automobile, but instead with a racing of the heart and a shortening of the breath in a black-green deserted park smudged by mist and threaded by a tidal stream.’

I remember reading that scene and feeling sad at the thought that Robicheaux might not live to fight another day, almost as if I was losing a friend with whom, in my reading, I had spent a lot of time. Rebus was retiring, Morse had died, now Robicheaux. So I decided to write a new series that I would ant to read, with a detective I could understand, just in case all the other detectives died. And that was the catalyst that finally pushed me to write Borderlands.
As for Robicheaux – he lived to fight another day, thankfully.

So, anyone else want to suggest what book most influenced you to write your first novel?