Monday, 31 December 2012

5 Minutes with Joey Pinkney

Another short but sweet interview, this time conducted by the delightful Joey Pinkney.

This was a nice surprise, as Mr. Pinkney actually contacted me rather than vice versa.

The 5 questions (and 5 answers) can be found here.

Must say that marketing/publicising stuff is one of my least favourite parts of writing, and it's a very nice surprise when a chap wanting to do a review/interview comes to me rather than the other way around.

For more interviews, either conducted by me or with me answering the questions, click here.


Thursday, 27 December 2012

Things to look forward to in 2013

Now that the year is almost done, it's time to look forward to what we can expect in 2013.

One game that I'm really looking forward to is The Last Of Us. It's a zombie apocalypse game, and, to be honest, I can take or leave an apocalypse or zombies. However, the real reason I'm excited about The Last Of Us is that the core of the game seems to be the relationship between the protagonist (a fortysomething man who may be a military veteran) and his charge/sidekick, a girl of about 14 he's smuggled out of a secure facility. A pseudo-father/daughter relationship is pretty unusual for a game, and the voice-acting, from the clips I've seen, sounds tremendous. Not only that, the game appears extremely well-designed, the combat looks visceral and gruesome and the zombies aren't run-of-the-mill 'BRRAAAAIIIIINNNSSS' sorts. It comes from Naughty Dog, makers of the Uncharted games, but will strike a more gritty/realistic note. It should come out in May 2013, and is PS3 exclusive.

In March Tomb Raider, the unhelpfully titled reboot of Lara Croft's series, comes out for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Miss Croft has taken quite a spanking from Nathan Drake, so this game may mark the resurgence or loss of a series that's been around for ages (in gaming terms). It goes back to Lara before she was a seasoned adventurer and killer of endangered species, and will feature a reasonable amount of survival gameplay. I can take or leave Tomb Raider (I've probably played about three of them over the years), but the game does look like it has potential.

A day before Tomb Raider, on 4 March, the second season of Game of Thrones comes out on DVD/blu-ray. It's still bloody annoying to have to wait so long, but I'll be pre-ordering this for certain. The first series was hugely enjoyable, and the DVD extras (especially the commentaries) were surprisingly good.

March also sees the release of God of War: Ascension. It tells the tale, which I have a feeling includes quite a lot of violence, of how Kratos became the Ghost of Sparta, and his betrayal by Ares. It's PS3 exclusive and will feature the first multi-player offering of the series, although I must admit I find multi-player gaming as tempting as multi-player colonoscopies. A while ago I read an article indicating that Kratos would be slightly softer than his later self, and less prone to do things like murdering women. We'll have to wait and see if that's the case.

A possible release (Autumn 2013 is the present forecast) is Dragon Age III: Inquisition. Origins, the first game, was very popular, although DA2 was less so due to an obvious lack of time that led to environments being very heavily reused and music copied and pasted a lot from Origins. However, the Arishok was cool. Inquisition has had far more development time, and, according to one report, a single dungeon in it is larger than the whole of DA2. The game will take place in Orlais, and the plot is largely guessable if you played DA2 (big civil war: sort it out). Inquisition has a job on if it's to stand comparison with the likes of Skyrim, but it could be a very good game.

I'm hoping that Sworn in Steel (Tales of the Kin 2) by Douglas Hulick will be out next year. I think it was originally pencilled-in for this year, but it got pushed back. The first book was enjoyable and included some fascinating lore/world-building, and I've been wanting to read the follow-up ever since.

Another possibility is the next book in the Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson. The first book, Way of Kings, was a rather enormous book that I absolutely raced through, and I'm hoping that we get the second instalment this year. A word of warning, though. The Stormlight Archive is set to be a mega-series (akin to A Song of Ice and Fire, or Wheel of Time) so it's possible that later books might have long waits between them. However, Mr. Sanderson's a pretty snappy writer.

Using exhaustive and cunning research techniques (I googled it after nothing showed on Amazon) I've discovered more good news, with an October release planned for The Ace of Skulls, the fourth book in the Tales of the Ketty Jay series, by Chris Wooding. I really like this series. It has an unorthodox world, with approximately Victorian/early 20th century technology mingled with a more scientific approach to magic. There's also a great blend of drama and humour, which can sometimes be missing from fantasy.

Incidentally, if you got an e-Reader for Christmas and want to fill it with reasonably priced (free to $2.99) independent books, there's a fine list here (including Bane of Souls, a sure sign the list is of high quality):

Last but not least, I hope to have Journey to Altmortis published this year. There's still much work to be done, but, with luck, it'll be out in the first or second quarter of 2013.


Friday, 21 December 2012

Judging a book by its cover (and title)

Never judge a book by its cover.

Sounds like good advice, for both books and most other things, and yet it's also highly misleading for authors/readers. We do judge books by their covers. In fact, one of my reviews specifically stated that a part of the reason behind the chap buying it was because of the cover (and also title).

Judging a book by its cover is like judging someone by their appearance. We probably shouldn't do it, but the blonde girl wearing a bikini will get more attention than the unwashed fifty year old man swigging gin.

The title is similar. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but as The Simpsons suggested they'd probably be less popular if they were called crapweeds.

Tip for new authors: try and get the cover done much earlier than you think you'll need it. This'll ensure any issues with slow production or difficulty finding an artist won't delay the book's release.

Covers generally need to work in several ways. They need to look good full-size, but also as a thumbnail. Less important, but still helpful, is if they look good in black and white (for an eReader screen). A good cover can help gather more interest, which in turn leads to more purchases and hopefully reviews/word-of-mouth promotion.

By coincidence, after I wrote most of this but before I put it on the blog, I got an e-mail from a potential reviewer asking how gruesome Bane of Souls is (there are one or two grim bits but mostly it's not gruesome) because of the cover. Something for me to consider for future covers.

Personally I found the title of Bane of Souls trickier than the cover idea. You don't want to spoil your plot with the title, and at the same time it's best to be distinctive whilst making it plain the sort of thing that can be expected.

Tip for new authors: try and avoid very generic terms as titles. Otherwise, when people try searching for your work they'll get a massive list of results and may have difficulty finding your book.

Finding an artist did take me a while, but I was lucky to get one whose work I not only really like but whom I get along with very well too. (Lee Yoong, whose work can be found here: ). I searched Deviant Art, and there are lots of good artists on there (when asking about commissioning a piece check and, if necessary, ask to ensure they do commercial work. Otherwise you might get far down the track only for the artist to realise it's commercial and for them to reluctantly stop work on it, wasting your time and theirs).

Happily, artists tend to be rather more prompt than agents when accepting or rejecting work. Of the ones who got back to me, just about all of them did so within a week (and most within a day or two).

The cover and title are superficial compared to a hundred thousand words, but they're also far more noticeable and can be key to making potential readers into actual ones.


Friday, 14 December 2012

An interview with Paul Dorset

Paul Dorset asked the questions and I provided the answers. Click on the link to find out just what I can do without using my hands [although, having written that, I'm not sure if that'll put off more people than it'll entice…]

It's available for your reading pleasure here:

I still plan on doing more interviews (where I ask the questions as well as ones where I answer them) next year. I enjoyed thinking up hopefully interesting things to ask Toby Frost and Terry Mancour, and their interviews can be found on the Interviews tab immediately below the picturesque banner.


Monday, 10 December 2012

The Butcher's Bill

Lots of fantasy takes place in incredibly dangerous worlds. Tyrants and dragons abound, villains and varlets are commonplace, and heroes (or anti-heroes) struggle to survive.

Or do they?

The questions of how many characters of importance to kill off and whether or not very major characters should be killed are not easy ones to answer.

Killing off a character brings their part in a story (usually) to a dramatic and permanent close, and can either make a story all the more enthralling or irritate the reader to a significant degree. Particularly in series, killing characters can be something that writers are often loathe to do, as it permanently removes someone to whom the readership has hopefully become emotionally attached.

But, if the world is dangerous and the adversaries are deadly, how credible is it to have everyone survive with nothing but flesh wounds?

Credibility in fantasy can be tricky, as it often involves suspending disbelief when it comes to dragons and magic and elves. However, I think a key part of a believable fantasy world is having credible, realistic characters and people who survive every danger are incredible.

Killing off significant figures presents a great opportunity for writers as well as terminating (hopefully) entertaining characters. When major characters die it instils a sense of uncertainty about whether or not others will live and gives subsequent violent scenes a greater edge of danger.

It's important that death fits the story and isn't included purely for shock value. It has to at least make sense and be plausible, if not actually meaningful.

Sometimes a plot also demands that someone not wearing a red Star Trek uniform gets killed. War is the most obvious example, and because Bane of Souls revolves around one or more murderers I wanted to make sure that it didn't fall into the trap of having lots of murder victims but everyone connected with the plot/protagonist surviving.

I think it's also the case that a death can be a strong, character-defining moment. If the village idiot sacrifices his life to save a spoilt brat it can recast the idiot as a hero and set the brat on a new path.


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Interview with Mia Darien

My first interview (as the interviewee rather than interviewer) is now up!
The lovely Mia Darien asked the questioned, and the interview can be found at:

I'm going to add this, and subsequent interviews where I answer rather than ask the questions, to the Interviews page at the top of the blog. On a related note, I'm still planning on doing more interviews where I ask the questions. I'll try and get a few done next year.


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Top 10 Books of 2012

These are all books that I've read and reviewed on this blog. They aren't in any particular order and links are provided to the full reviews.


Joe Abercrombie's one of my favourite authors, and I think this is the best book he's written to date. Red Country mingles the mood of the Wild West with a medievalesque civilisation, wrapped up in Mr. Abercrombie's trademark gritty gruesomeness. It's fantastically entertaining.

This is the second Shadows of the Apt book, and whilst I liked the first I thought it was a bit hit and miss. Dragonfly Falling, however, is very much a hit. The addition of several new characters and a wide-ranging, and engaging, story make it well worth reading.

Spellmonger is the first book in Terry Mancour's Spellmonger series, and tells the tale of an invasion that one man (the Spellmonger of the title) more than any other works to foil. It's tense and very well-written. (An interview with the author can be found here).

I could've picked any of the three parts of the Riyria Revelations but went for the last one because it was perhaps the most enjoyable. Can't spoil the plot, but Michael J. Sullivan does a great job of creating a coherent world and a very well integrated plot which covers three (or six, as each book has two parts) books. It never stutters and never ceases to be entertaining, and is great to read.

This is the first book, I think, by Douglas Hulick, and follows the misadventures of Drothe, a criminal seeker of knowledge who finds himself entangled in a scheme far beyond the usual nefarious plotting of the underworld. Mr. Hulick's world has a very interesting religious/power structure and the plot has a number of unexpected turns.

This was one of the earliest books I read this year but it was a definite for this list. I'd never read anything by Mr. Kay before and was greatly impressed by his style of writing and the world he'd created (sadly, I think it's only used in this one book). Romance is usually an area (in literary terms) I dislike, but even here the book's offering was very enjoyable to read.


I reviewed this very recently, and was quite taken by the unusual adoption of the present tense for a history book. Most parts are delightful to read, and some (the description of plague, for example) were quite brilliant. To get a flavour of Medieval England, this book provides an excellent introduction.

I deliberately read this book slowly, because I enjoyed it so much. Perhaps a smidgen slow at the start, Livy does a perfect job of capturing the mood (or the mood as it was suspected to have been several centuries later) of early Rome and charts, mostly accurately, the rise of the city and the fall of kings. The Rome covered in this period is not the all-conquering superpower of centuries later, but a strong yet challenged city state facing significant local rivals. It's extremely easy and enjoyable to read.

I knew sod all about Jugurtha and little about the rise of Marius until reading this book. The lack of historical sources means it's occasionally patchy, but the author always points out where sources fail and conjecture/varying theories fill the gap of fairly reliable evidence. The period covered is very interesting (and not one of the better known bits of Roman history) and the book's well worth reading.

This is a splendid collection of miscellany about the ancient world (mostly Roman and Greek, as you might expect) and covers the gamut from jokes to odd little anecdotes and lists of lesser known gods and various means of ancient transportation. As with his Legionary and Gladiator Unofficial Manuals, Philip Matyszak displays a witty sense of humour to accompany his in-depth historical knowledge.

Shameless self-promotion

I couldn't really do a list of books for the year whilst omitting my own. Bane of Souls came out around the middle of this year and tells the tale of Horst, a barbarian youth who finds himself conscripted by mages when visiting the city of Highford. Abandoned by his uncle and forbidden to leave on pain of death, he then learns the city is being terrorised by murders, and the culprits have a taste for dead mages…