Friday, May 29, 2009

Winner! HATER Competition


And we have a winner in the David Moody Hater competition. Thanks to Random.org who came up with entry number 22, which happened to be Robert Banning. Sadly, I have no idea where Robert lives...which is why I'm using his full name here....

Congratulations Robert! I've sent you your confirmation email so please do get in touch with us with your address details as soon as possible which I'll forward onto David so that he can send the signed dedicated limited super dooper edition of Hater onto you.

Can I just say that this has been a blast - thank you everyone for entering! I was worried our inbox was going to explode. I wish I had treats for all of you - some of those emails were so funny. I love chocolate, I honestly do, just not THAT much!

Thank you to David for this fantastic gesture and for making this competition possible. To those who didn't win, thank you for entering regardless. You've proven your dedication to your man!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow


Synopsis:

Dru Anderson has what her grandmother called “the touch.” (Comes in handy when you’re traveling from town to town with your dad, hunting ghosts, suckers, wulfen, and the occasional zombie.)

Then her dad turns up dead —but still walking— and Dru knows she’s next. Even worse, she’s got two guys hungry for her affections, and they’re not about to let the fiercely independent Dru go it alone. Will Dru discover just how special she really is before coming face-to-fang with whatever — or whoever — is hunting her?


I have WANTED to read Strange Angels since the first time I saw the cover up on Lilith's site. The look is dark and moody and you just know the main character is going to be kick-butt and cool.

As my friends Karen and Ana can testify, once I started reading Strange Angels I had my doubts. I won't deny it. It was not what I expected. But then I realised how biased I am being, reading this as an adult novel in the same vein as Lili's other books for adults (which she writes under her name Lilith Saintcrow). So, I made the effort to stand aside, see Strange Angels with fresh eyes and take it in as a newcomer to Lili's work and seeing it from a YA reader's perspective, and you know what? This book is pretty darn fab. (Liz eating humble pie)

Dru is not a happy person. She's grumpy and a bit of a cow and she has an attitude. But taken into consideration the type of life she's lead and how close she is to her father and how demanding he's been of her, you understand her motivations and her grumpiness.

Lili's world-building in Strange Angels is quite good but what shines is her characterisation of Dru, Graves and Christophe. The bleakness of the landscape the novel is set against highlights the characters' isolation and forms a strong contrast for the warmth of real friendship which grows between Dru and Graves.

There is the teeniest, tiniest, bit of romantic interest but it is almost an aside as the situation these characters find themselves in does not lend itself to a furtherance at this time. Which - I personally - found refreshing.

The mystery surrounding Dru is revealed in good old fashioned drips and drabs and even then there are some questions remaining. The mythology is strongly European and probably a bit more brutal than expected - readers should be warned that this is not a novel to be tackled lightly, expecting it to be LJ Smith or Stephenie Meyer-alikes.

Strange Angels has this brutal and intense fight scene towards the end and you know something? If there is one thing that Ms. St Crow can write, leaving her contemporary YA and adult urban fantasy authors in the dust, it is fight scenes. Well executed with tremendous action and superb descriptions it leaves you aching and breathless.

I think that Strange Angels sets up the characters and storyline very well and in retrospect, my regret is now that I rushed out and bought it early...and therefore have a long(ish) wait for the second novel: Betrayals to show up. *waits*

I am unsure if Strange Angels will be published in the UK but it is available online and from bookstores - I bought my copy from one of Amazon's sellers: aphrohead_books because Amazon did not have copies in, at that time.

Find Lilith Saintcrow / Lili St. Crow's site here. Strange Angels has been published in the USA by RazorBill, part of Penguin USA.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer's Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon' by David Grann


Synopsis

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was the last of a breed of great British explorers who ventured into 'blank spots' on the map with little more than a machete, a compass and unwavering sense of purpose. In 1925, one of the few remaining blank spots in the world was in the Amazon. Fawcett believed the impenetrable jungle held a secret to a large, complex civilization like El Dorado, which he christened the 'City of Z'. When he and his son set out to find it, hoping to make one of the most important archeological discoveries in history, they warned that none should follow them in the event that they did not return. They vanished without a trace. For the next eighty years, hordes of explorers -- shocked that a man many deemed invincible could disappear in a land he knew better than anyone, and drawn by the centuries-old myth of El Dorado -- searched for the expedition and the city. Many died from starvation, disease, attacks by wild animals, and poisonous arrows. Others simply vanished.

In The Lost City of Z, David Grann ventures into the hazardous wild world of the Amazon to retrace the footsteps of the great Colonel Fawcett and his followers, in a bracing attempt to solve one of the greatest mysteries. It is an irresistibly readable adventure story, a subtle examination of the strange and often violent encounters between Europeans and Amazonian tribes and a tale of lethal obsession.


I grew up with Indiana Jones – I wanted nothing more than to be an explorer and an archaeologist or an anthropologist, discovering ancient lost things and mysteries, finding lost tribes and learning about them. In fact, I dug up our backyard for years keen to find a lost treasure. I went so far as to bury some of my toys and then a week later I would dig around to “rediscover” them. My parents despaired. I lost a lot of toys. In fact, I still mourn my box of smurfs I hid on a beach in Durban all those years ago! Upon our return a year later the entire beach had been landscaped and my smurfs were gone!

When I received Lost City of Z from S&S I was initially not that keen to read it – I thought, bah humbug, search for El Dorado, done, done, done – it cannot be anything new. But then I read the blurbs, did some googling on the main character of Fawcett and fell under the sway.

Lost City of Z is the story of writer David Grann (who presents himself in a very humourous, non-heroic fashion to the readers) in pursuit of the legend that is Percy Fawcett who in turn was a British explorer at the turn of the 19th century.

Fawcett’s obsession was the Lost City of Z (a term he coined) – we know it as El Dorado - was all consuming. He became paranoid, keeping his diaries and the place he thought it would be, hidden from everyone, even his family. In the early 1900’s Fawcett walked into the jungles of America and off any known map. He disappeared without a trace. There were clues though – several in fact, about the route he took. Initially the world waited with bated breath – here was a true adventurer – stoic, heroic, stubborn and almost superhuman when it came to endurance.

Before setting off on his last journey, Fawcett mapped several remote areas on South America and came home victorious – if a lot thinner with a reputation. As much as he appeared in public as an amazing explorer and wayfinder and mapmaker, he was also an intensely personal man, which I think, helped keep his legend alive.

David Grann’s description of his journey and who he is, is an honest one – he states: “Let me be clear, I am not an explorer or an adventurer. I don’t climb mountains or hunt. I don’t even like to camp. I stand less than five feet nine inches tall and am nearly 40 years old, with a blossoming waistline and thinning hair.” More honest than that, you do not get.

We follow David on his hunt, as he tracks down the real Fawcett. What I thoroughly enjoyed in this book, is how he got into Fawcett’s mind. Yes, there is conjecture, but it is all based on common sense and supported by factual letters and other papers held by various people (including papers held by Fawcett’s remaining family members).

The resulting and incredible research, the dedication to detail, the conversational tone of the book and the author’s own adventures make for gripping reading. The author touches on what can only be called mythic anthropology during his journey – conjecturing on the fates of forgotten explorers who in turn went searching for Fawcett and El Dorado / City of Z and hoping to find those elusive the lost shadowy tribes of this dense jungle.

As important as Fawcett and his expedition is to Mr. Grann’s story, what looms and overshadows and takes centre stage is the amazing jungle which seems to swallow everything before it. We read about other badly managed expeditions into the jungle where one or two survivors managed to make it out – close to death, with horror stories of being eaten alive by insects as they were traversing this dark and dangerous place. So much happened back in the early 1900’s – it was the time of the amateur adventurer, the gentleman soldier – and Grann serves to cut through the gloss down to the bone of the matter, stripping the veneer of Victoriana away, revealing the hardships and horrors these men had to endure, during the race to map and explore the furtherest reaches of our known world.

The book is a hugely entertaining read – shocking, illuminating and beautifully written. No wonder it’s being turned into a movie (starring Brad Pitt). I kid you not. Read it now, before everyone else does – read it because this is what adventure writing is really about.

David Grann’s journey into the jungle and his search to find Fawcett is plainly said one of the best reads I’ve had this year when it comes to non-fiction or rather non-fictional writing. Non-fiction has the bad rap for being dry and boring and dull and only good to buy for parents or friends you don’t like. I think David Grann manages to pluck that image out of our heads and trample it in this instance.

It is the perfect summer read and one that will make you look at books written during this time by Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, Lord Dunsany and a host of others with fresh eyes. They lived in a time when people like Fawcett became legends to content with – real men of discovery who made fictional stories appear pale by comparison.

Find David Grann’s site here. The Lost City of Z can be found here at Simon and Schuster, his UK publisher’s site or in any good bookstores. David's also written a very interesting and in depth article for the Telegraph which can be found here. And I am happy to report that Lost City of Z has been nominated for the long list and chosen for the shortlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize with the winner being announced on 30th June 2009. Hold thumbs - Lost City of Z must win!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

THE DESMOND ELLIOTT PRIZE 2009 SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED



The shortlist for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2009, the award for a first novel published in the UK, is announced today, Tuesday 26 May 2009. The line-up features three outstanding first novels described by the judges as “three haunting books, all gripping in different ways.” Edward Hogan, Nathalie Abi-Ezzi and Anthony Quinn from Derby, Lebanon and Liverpool respectively, all use their homelands as the backdrop for their novels.

The three novels shortlisted for The Desmond Elliott Prize 2009 are as follows:

Blackmoor by Edward Hogan (Simon & Schuster)There's a subtle magic to Hogan's prose, and a passionate concern for the part of the world where this novel is based, which invites comparison with D H Lawrence – but that would be lazy. This novel … has confidence, mystery and an entrancing sense of itself.’ The Independent on Sunday. Find the link to S&S page for Blackmoor here.

A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi (Fourth Estate)‘Captivating. A subtle, pertinent depiction of civilian life in the midst of bewildering conflict.’ The Guardian Find the link to Harper Collins (Fourth Estate) site here.

The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn (Jonathan Cape)
Ambitiously conceived...perfect pitch when it comes to the prose of each period' The Observer Find the link to more information at Random House (Jonathan Cape) here.


Candida Lycett Green, on behalf of the judges, comments:

“We have been both entertained and inspired by the quality of writing amongst the contenders for this year’s shortlist and it was very difficult to decide on a final three. The result is a shortlist of three haunting books, all gripping in different ways while dealing with the complications of love and life in extremis. Together they are a celebration of new writing of which Desmond Elliott would be proud.”

The Desmond Elliott Prize 2009 panel of judges is chaired by Candida Lycett Green who is joined by former Literary Editor of The Independent on Sunday, Suzi Feay, and Rodney Troubridge of Waterstone’s.

William Hill bookmakers gave the following odds on this year’s shortlist:

Blackmoor by Edward Hogan (Simon & Schuster) – 5/4
A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi (Fourth Estate) – 7/4
The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn (Jonathan Cape) – 2/1

William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe commented, “There is a well-known horse racing adage which says 'always back the outsider in a three horse race'. This is one of the most competitive three horse literary races I can recall, and it is impossible to rule any one of the three out as a potential winner. Each has its own very worthy merits and I don't envy the judges their task of selecting a winner from what looks to be a genuine three-way photo finish.”

When judging the Prize, the judges are looking for a novel of depth and breadth with a compelling narrative. The work should be vividly written and confidently realised and should contain original and arresting characters. Books from all fiction genres have been considered.

The inaugural prize was won by Nikita Lalwani in 2008 for her novel, Gifted. The novel enjoyed great critical and popular success and went on to be named as one of The Observer’s Books of the Year.

The Prize was established in honour of publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, one of the most charismatic and successful men in this field, who died in August'03. He stipulated that his estate should be invested in a charitable trust that would fund a literary award “to enrich the careers of new writers”.

Worth £10,000 to the winner, the prize is intended to support new writers and to celebrate their fiction.

The winner of the 2009 Desmond Elliott Prize will be announced on Wednesday 24 June at Fortnum & Mason, Desmond’s ‘local grocer’, in London.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Horror Blog Fest - Allyson Bird nestles in for a chat

Mark and I got to meet Allyson Bird this year at Eastercon and after several long chats I got her to agree to take part in the Horror Blog Fest. We did a review for Bull Running for Girls a while back and I knew I had to pick her brains a bit! And in her own words...


1) Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about you and your writing career.

Allyson Bird is my name and I live on the edge of the South Yorkshire moors in England.

My short story collection Bull Running for Girls (for adults) has been published by Screaming Dreams Press and has been recommended for The British Fantasy Society awards http://www.britishfantasysociety.org/ for best collection 2008 and my short story The Caul Bearer has been recommended for best short story. The story can be found on the Screaming Dreams website as a rather cool Issuu flip-book or PDF. http://www.screamingdreams.com/

The cover is by the artist Vincent Chong and the process of getting to the final artwork was a wonderful experience. I gave him a photo of Diana Rigg in The New Avengers and we developed it from there.

I’ve always written but after my mother died recently I started to write short stories to work my way through the grieving process. I spent many long nights at the computer due to insomnia and sometimes in floods of tears. It didn’t end there. Last year my sister Sylvia died too and with the deadline fast approaching for the collection to be finished I once more turned to horror to relieve my darkest fears and nightmares. I wrote through fear of death, anger at many and was amazed that I got through it all. Now the book stands as a tribute to my strong and fascinating women.

I kept this in front of me as I wrote.

‘To live is to war with trolls
In the holds of the heart and mind;
To write is to hold
Judgement Day over the self.’
by Henrik Ibsen.

2) What is your most recent novel about – if you are allowed to tell us?

My novel Isis Unbound is under consideration by a publisher at the moment so I can’t say much about that. Hope to soon though but I can talk about Bull Running for Girls which is a selection of adventure-horror stories set in many locations, from the excitement and danger of bull running in Pamplona, to small town life in Madison County U.S. Stories set amidst the bustle of Hong Kong and under a hunter’s moon in Bordeaux. It is about women protagonists who ‘seize the day.’ The collection explores innocence and experience. Not all the main protagonists are female, and some of them aren’t even alive. Bit of a blurb there.

There are 21 stories in all so too many to mention here but The Conical Witch and Medium Strange are set in Penistone Yorkshire, although names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent…In the Hall of the Mountain King, The Bone Grinder and Wings of Night are all set in Manchester. On Shadow upon Shadow. When Alice Harwood committed adultery she expected to pay for it one day but the form and manner of that payment touched the essence of evil. Quote from Ramsey CAMPBELL. ‘A Dark tale indeed!’ In the Wake of the Dead: set in nineteenth century Sligo where magic and ritual have terrible consequences for the occupants of Elsinore House. ‘A potent brew of historical facts and gruesome imaginings.’ Simon CLARK.

Influences include Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell, Hemingway, Orson Welles, Christina Rossetti, Edith Wharton, R.L. Stevenson, Yeats, Keats, Shakespeare, Bram Stoker, Boccaccio, William Blake, Aleister Crowley, Lisa Tuttle, Lansdale and Robert Aickman.

3) What do you think makes the horror genre so fascinating to readers and writers?

I’m quite a personal writer so I never hold back within the narrative therefore there is quite a lot of thinly-disguised autobiography in some of the stories. I look for that in other writers and some sort of challenge for the mind and to the senses too. One such writer is Herman HESSE and in particular Steppenwolf which I read at a pivotal time in my life and it really made me think about human nature. Reading Lisa Tuttle’s A Nest of Nightmares recently has done the same. The isolation of protagonists and their relationships come to mind – especially those of siblings which I’ll return to time and time again. Readers look to identify with characters – sometimes even to see them go through worse ordeals than they do in their everyday lives. People read horror for escapism, identification with emotion – for all sorts of reasons.

4) As a horror writer / fan, what sells a story / concept to you?

Horror is ‘any medium which intends to scare, unsettle or horrify.’ If we just take the last 2,000 years we could mention revenge tragedy written by the Roman stoic philosopher/dramatist SENECA and also OVID both mentioned as being sources for SHAKESPEARE’S Titus Andronicus (one of the more famous full blown blood bath revenge tragedies, cited as having been written during Shakespeare’s Quentin Tarantino period). In this play we have rape, murder, and so much mutilation that the Victorians put it to one side. It has seen a revival lately and was put on at the Globe Theatre in London 2006, directed by Lucy Bailey.

Think about original fairy tales for children – quite gruesome sometimes, told perhaps as a warning to children and so for didactic reasons there is the good old fashioned ghost story too. DICKENS wrote A Christmas Carol (by the end of that tale Scrooge indeed treated people a little better). Oscar WILDE—The Picture of Dorian Gray. There are always consequences for usurping the natural order of things. Be careful what you wish for— for indeed it may come true; The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. JACOBS comes to mind. Be careful what you dabble with, it might just come back to haunt/kill you—Frankenstein by Mary SHELLEY.

Exotic places and travel are often featured in weird tales. We have stories set against a background of ‘arctic ghostliness’ in The Captain of the Polestar by Arthur Conan DOYLE. A quote from TENNYSON, ‘nature—red in tooth and claw,’ aptly introduces a story by David MORRELL called They. Incidentally this story which appears in Best New Horror 18, edited by Stephen JONES focuses on the creatures that I am most afraid of—snakes.

We could look at the gothic novel Northanger Abbey by Jane AUSTIN, Wuthering Heights—Emily BRONTE. Lovecraftian cosmic horror—which explores our place in a chaotic universe. In The Willows by Algernon BLACKWOOD travellers camp by the Danube river in the worst spot possible where another dimension touches our own.

H.P. LOVECRAFT can conjure up more identifiable characters such as the witch in The Dreams in the Witch House. Robert AICKMAN—simply read any strange story by him. Fritz LEIBER presents us with 1970’s modern eerie scariness in Our Lady of Darkness.
There are writers who explore reality and madness, Robert BLOCK’S Psycho. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas HARRIS and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken KESEY. Alice SEBOLD’S Booker prize winner, The Lovely Bones. This one is a compelling read about the murder of a child.

5) What movies / books influenced your development as a genre writer? Similarly, what books, movies, comics, get you excited as a fan?

When I was younger films like The Poltergeist, Quatermass and the Pit, Dr Who, the witches in Macbeth, Stephen KING’S Salem’s Lot, any ghost story on the telly would do it and now the more traditional work of LOVECRAFT, the strange stories of Robert AICKMAN and watching the news does the same. Horror is a part of life, whether it is going through the harrowing experience of nursing a dearly loved sick relative or facing the fears that dwell deep within our own minds.

Joe R LANSDALE serves plenty of humour with his horror in this little novella, Bubba Ho-Tep, where an ancient mummy is terrorizing a retirement home. It is a comedy, (Elvis and J.F.K have ended up there) but could be seen to be about aging and growing old in a society which puts youthfulness first. Thomas LIGOTTI—modern writer of the weird tale, including his collection, The Shadow at the Bottom of the World so - from gothic to weird, the new weird and the miserablist writers. All influences for the genre writer.

6) Who do you go all fan-boy about when it comes to the horror genre? Have you ever met anyone more famous than yourself and how did you react?

I’m crazy about Joe R. LANSDALE ’S fiction and I got to meet him at the World Horror Convention in Toronto in 2007. I was a little awe struck but managed to tell him that he influenced my writing. I love The Steam Man of the Prairie and The Big Blow especially – the latter set against the great Galveston storm of 1900. I sent my collection to him and he actually read the stories. He wrote back and said in his Texan way ‘Kid, I like all your stories. Your book is killer and a class act for a first collection. Allyson BIRD is a rare bird indeed. An original voice in a world of plain vanilla. She rides some dark waves with grace and a heart full of light and shadow. If there’s any justice, she’s on her way to true recognition.’ Cool.

7) If you had a chance to invite any horror legend, be it actor, writer, director, author (living / dead / undead) over for some tea, who would you choose and why?

Slightly cheating here. I’m going to say Orson WELLES. Why him you might well ask?

Well for his borderline horror in Macbeth, and the fact that his radio production of War of the Worlds definitely scared the living daylights out of some people. I’d have him for tea with H.G. WELLS. I heard them both interviewing each other on Youtube the other day.

8) Lights on or off when watching horror flicks?

Off.

10) What is the best advice you ever received from someone about horror writing?

Put your heart into it and don’t hold back. Be honest.

11) The horror genre has seen many incarnations over the past few years – what do you think the future holds for the genre?

Probably more apocalyptic fiction because of the recession and worries about the planet. Hopefully more introspective fiction too.

12) Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan – apart from going to hide in the Winchester, that is! – and will you be able to implement it?

Way too cold for the zombies up here on the moors and if they have any sense they will swap places and stay in the Winchester.
13) Are there any “how to” books on your bookshelf you would recommend to aspiring authors?

I have some but the best for me has been Fear in a handful of Dust by Gary BRAUNBECK.

Patrick Rothfuss: The Legend

Mark speaking actual words at the legendary Patrick Rothfuss.

As I mentioned in the previous post we got to hang out with some cool people attending the Patrick Rothfuss signing on Thursday evening at Forbidden Planet. Not only was Simon, Jon and Gillian from Gollancz there basking in the afterglow of a well arranged signing, Danie Ware from FP shepherded everyone along and took photos.


Graeme from Graeme's Fantasy Book Reviews was there as well as Adam from Wertzone. We also met an amazing new friend, April from Norfolk. Well, to be honest, she had no choice - she got roped into random discussions about book covers, fan-girling, cats and dogs and of course, Patrick Rothfuss as we stood in the queue with Karen Mahoney - all of us waiting for a few moments of Pat's time.



Mark anguished about what to get Pat to write in our copy of Name of the Wind. Eventually he struck on an idea and once his turn came up, he explained to Pat that he (Mark) is currently penning a zombie tale and would like to know what Kvothe would say if he ever came into contact with one...and you know what, Pat spun that around and came up with an amazing line from his upcoming THIRD NOVEL NOT YET PUBLISHED.



Kaz was up next and I didn't really get a chance to hear what Pat chatted to her about - but I did hear advice about writing and perseverance etc. I was too terrified about the story I wanted to tell him...

Karen chatting to Pat




My turn came up, I grabbed Ana's copy of The Name of the Wind along with a copy of the review she had done. I introduced myself and explained to Pat that Ana was a huge fan of the book and of Pat (of course) and please could he respond in his own words to this comment from Ana which I had received via email on Thursday afternoon:


"I simply said in my review that it was the best book I read since the Book Smugglers' inception. gave it a 10 and wanted to have babies with it."


He did falter. He quirked an eyebrow and burst out laughing. Then he paused. And said: "No, I can't possibly write that because I could be arrested for writing that..." Then he wrote his reply to Ana and well, I'm not going to say what he wrote - she can blog that herself when she gets the book, hopefully tomorrow if Royal Mail plays along.

After chatting to Jon from Gollancz for a few minutes he said we should come along to the Patrick Rothfuss Talk and Reading afterwards, at The Phoenix. And as we are free wheelin' we agreed and dragged a lovely new friend, Zoe along.



The evening went by in a blur of laughs and too much lime and lemonade. Patrick is a natural orator. Okay, that sounds rude, but it isn't. He appeared incredibly at ease chatting to a group of people who would quite easily rumble him for the contents of his backpack, especially when we realised he was carrying some pages of the second book with him...BUT we behaved ourselves and got do a fun, informal rambling Q&A session with him. He is a storyteller - every question he answered was a story. He is incredibly amusing and very down to earth - I mean, this guy is a god of epic proportions when it comes to writing and here he was, telling us about his writing techniques and what a weirdo he is. We lapped it up.


And when we didn't think it could get better, it did. He did a reading of one of his poems. Yes, you saw that correctly - a poem. Not just a skilled novelist but a gorram poetry writer too. We hates / loves him! The poem was light and incredibly funny and a little rude - like Patrick. Next he read us one of the pieces from the column he wrote when he was at Uni. Equally funny but incredibly erudite. Words are indeed his power. There was a small recess, a bit of a break to buy more booze and a chance to accost him with a handmade sign for Ana.



After the break it got even better - he read a few pages from his second upcoming novel and OMG - it is a hook and claw critter of goodness and I think we could quite happily have barred the Phoenix and made him read us all of it.


We left just after ten, filled up on encouragement, stories, too much lime and lemonade and feeling like we had a chance to spend an amazing evening with a new friend. It was very cool - one of the best events I've attended this year. Everyone had a blast and seemed genuinely reluctant to leave - but then you don't ever want to at the end of a really good evening.


Thanks to Danie and John at Forbidden Planet and to Jon, Gillian and Simon at Gollancz for arranging this. We loved it and we can't wait for Pat's next book - but you know, we understand perfection times time, so we'll not complain too much!

Patrick Rothfuss Loves Ana

I discovered today, via friendly email banter, that our good friend and fellow reviewer, Ana from The Booksmugglers is a huge fan of author Patick Rothfuss. As Mark and I were to meet him at FP whilst he was doing his European/UK tour, I promised Ana some pimpage. We chatted to Patrick at the signing and afterwards at his reading and told him of Ana's true love for him and his work. And we were very chuffed to discover that it turns out Patrick loves Ana as much as she loves him!

He was even doing kissing face without prompting. Go figure! Someone must have bribed him with an awesome review or something.
But is late / early and I will blog more about this amazing evening when I can actually think straight.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Atlantis Code by Charles Brokaw


Synopsis

An ancient artefact is discovered in a dusty antiquities shop in Alexandria, Egypt - the long forgotten trinket soon becomes the centre of the most deadly archaeological hunt in history.

The 20,000 year-old relic is inscribed with what appears to be the long lost language of Atlantis. Only one man would seem to be able to decode its meaning - the world's foremost linguist, Dr Thomas Lourdes - but only if he can stay alive long enough…

Meanwhile, an earthquake in Cadiz, Spain, uncovers a most unexpected site - one which the Vatican rush to be the first to explore… Perhaps the lost city of Atlantis is finally ready to be found?

But is the world ready for her secrets?


I am a very determined reader. Even if it takes me three months to read, I'll try not to give up on a book. In this instance it took me a week. I kept picking it up and putting it down again, undecided about finishing it. In the end I left it as I did not have the time to dedicate to it as I have so much else to read.


The novel has so much going for it - a fantastic high concept, interesting sounding characters and evocative settings and it is my favourite kind of genre, a quest novel, action adventure and some dodgy people from the Vatican thrown in to boot.


The Atlantis Code did not work for me because of the author's use of language. It was stilted and archaic. The story did not flow, the characters' dialogue was genuinely tough to read as it was just too over the top dramatically. I could not suspend my disbelief and found some of the actions the characters take in the novel very hard to equate with them.


I can give the author his full due when it came to thinking up a good twisty story but the writing let the concept down - very badly. The main character was too perfect in many instances - there wasn't enough conflict within him and between others whom he meets to keep him interesting and the story going. There is also a devastatingly static love scene in the novel which had my eyebrows climbing into my hairline. And the bad thing is, I could tell why the scene was put in there! It was purely to prove that Thomas Lourdes was a dab hand (sic!) in the bedroom and to create a bit of interest between the two female characters which attach themselves to Thomas Lourdes.


It follows so many - now very old - tropes in the action adventure genre that even if it wasn't for the unskilled writing and odd turns of phrase used, I would still have been disappointed with it. There is nothing new here to explore. Admittedly the setting of what they assume is Atlantis is new but others have been there and done it so much better.


I hope that someone else with fresh eyes can pick this up and find merit in the novel. I am devastated that I did not like it - as regular readers know I am a sucker for these books and have got an entire two shelves dedicated to action adventure and quest novels.


I am in fact going to set a challenge - I am prepared to send my unfinished copy off to anyone who would be keen to read it and let me know their view. So, if you are interested in proving me wrong, let me know either by commenting or sending me an email and I'm happy to post this onto anyone anywhere, not just in the UK. I will also be happy to blog your review!


I have been unable to locate a website for the author and will therefore only be able to point you to Penguin UK's website which be found here. The Atlantis Code will be published in the UK by 4th June.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Press Release: Agatha Christie breaks a third world record

43 murders, 12 poisonings, 143 cups of tea, 11 philandering lovers, 59 red-herrings, death by an arrow and one blow to the head ...

On Wednesday 20 May, Agatha Christie, the ‘Queen of Crime’, breaks a new world record for the book with the thickest spine – ever. For the first time, all the Miss Marple stories - 12 novels and 20 short stories - are collected and published in one volume, for fans and collectors alike.

The Complete Miss Marple runs to a staggering 4,032 pages. Its spine, a work of inspired engineering by master craftsmen, is over a foot thick (322mm). Agatha Christie already holds two world records – for the longest running play, The Mousetrap – and as the best-selling novelist of all time.

In all, 43 murders are solved: 12 poisonings; 6 strangulations; 2 drownings; 2 stabbings; a burning; one blow to the head; one death by an arrow and 2 people pushed.

There are 68 crimes committed; 11 philandering lovers; 68 secrets and lies; 22 false accusations; 59 red-herrings and 21 romances. 143 cups of tea are drunk in the massive volume, there are 66 maids and 47 garments are knitted.

It is a visually stunning book bound in dark red leather with gold lettering and red-edged pages. Weighing 8.02 Kg, it is presented in a suede-lined wooden box with brass fittings and a leather handle.

The Complete Miss Marple is introduced by Kate Mosse, a lifelong fan of Agatha Christie’s work and bestselling author of Labyrinth. She writes, ‘The character continues to speak to readers some eighty years and more after her debut precisely because, in those quiet moments at the end of the day or when a
difficult decision needs to be made, each of us wishes for our own Miss Marple to give clear and unequivocal advice’.

The book will be launched and judged by Guinness World Records™ at Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London on 20 May, where it will be on public display throughout that day, with the adjudicated copy being sold at the end of the day.

In his preface, Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, writes, “My family and I are delighted to welcome the appearance of this giant Miss Marple book, the only way in which it has been possible to fulfil a long-held ambition of mine. Indeed, over the years, everyone has told me it could never be done – to collect together all my grandmother’s stories about Miss Marple into a single volume. Whilst this book is, in publishing terms, a landmark event, it also symbolises the great affection the public, both in Britain and elsewhere, have for Miss Marple. And with everything finally in one book, we hope that some people may even find a story or two they have not yet read!”

Crime writer Val McDermid, a fan of Christie’s work, comments, 'Miss Marple would love the idea of being collected in a volume that would make a perfect blunt instrument. Go Jane!’

Only 500 copies of this limited edition record-breaking book will be produced and they will retail at £1,000 each. They go on sale at 9am on Wednesday 20th May 2009

Copies, complete with Guinness World Records™ certificate, can be purchased via www.agathachrisie.com or by calling 0844 576 8112.

The Design

The Complete Miss Marple is 4,032 pages long and printed on Munken Pure 130gsm paper by Cromwell Press. It measures more than a foot in width (322mm) and weighs 8.02 kg. In its box, the book weighs 10.02 kg. It is made up of 252 sewn 16-page sections and the page edges are sprinkled with red dye. In a feat of engineering, it has been bound by Cedric & Chivers Period Bookbinding. It is cased in Winters Wintan leather, blocked in gold on the front and spine and includes head and tail bands and four silk ribbon markers. There is a full colour endpaper map of St Mary Mead, drawn by Nicolette Caven.

Miss Marple

The character of Miss Jane Marple first appeared in The Tuesday Night Club, a short story published in The Sketch magazine in 1926. Christie described her canny detective from the village of St. Mary Mead, as a ‘fluffy old lady’, and claimed that Miss Marple’s character was inspired by Dr Sheppard’s sister in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; certain friends of her grandmother and indeed her own grandmother. She appears in a total of 12 novels and 20 short stories.

Christie never expected Miss Marple to rival Poirot in the public’s affections but since the publication of The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, her first full length Miss Marple novel, Marple’s popularity continues to grow.

The role of Miss Marple has been famously played by many actresses on stage and screen. The first actress to play her in a (TV) film was Gracie Fields, followed by Margaret Rutherford – a friend of the Christie family; the Academy Award winning actress, Angela Lansbury, Helen Hayes, Joan Hickson, and most recently, Geraldine McEwan. Julia McKenzie is due to take over the role for ITV.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Strain, Guilermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan


Synopsis

A plane lands at JFK and mysteriously ‘goes dark’, stopping in the middle of the runway for no apparent reason, all lights off, all doors sealed. The pilots cannot be raised. When the hatch above the wing finally clicks open, it soon becomes clear that everyone on board is dead – although there is no sign of any trauma or struggle. Ephraim Goodweather and his team from the Center for Disease Control must work quickly to establish the cause of this strange occurrence before panic spreads.

The first thing they discover is that four of the victims are actually still alive. But that’s the only good news. And when all two hundred corpses disappear from various morgues around the city on the same night, things very rapidly get worse. Soon Eph and a small band of helpers will find themselves battling to protect not only their own loved ones, but the whole city, against an ancient threat to humanity.


Budding authors and existing authors in the horror and thriller genre, do not need the competition which Guilermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan created when they decided to tackle the vampire myth in their co-written novel, The Strain.

On The Strain website, there is an candid little video of Del Toro chatting about the concept behind the novel and I groaned inwards when he confessed that he collects vampire lore, it is one of the things he is passionate about. I groaned because I realised that even though I loved The Strain and was scared out of my tiny little mind, the next two follow-up novels are going to be equally insane and tense. I don't think I'll be able to cope.

The small group of people we follow in The Strain are average every day people who are asked, by the reappearance of something very old and evil in this world, to dig deep and become fighters on the side of humanity.

The novel is penned with great skill and the characters are brought to life in "show not tell" ways which is fascinating to read. We focus on Ephraim Goodweather for a section of the novel, getting to know him well. We are shown that he is a damaged hero, one with issues; an ex-drinker now dedicated to make the most of spending time with his very bright son, Zack, whilst fighting a running battle with his ex-wife and her new partner, and struggling to put a name to the relationship he had struck up with co-worker Nora. A complex hero and a likeable one.

My favourite character, the one with the most allure and an enigma, is the elderly Abraham Setrakian. Abraham holds the nexus of the story in the palm of his gnarled hand. He knows what they are up against. He knows because he had met this creature before whilst in a concentration camp in Poland. He has hunted the creature all his adult life becoming haunted by it, preparing for it. He appears unhinged when he first meets Ephraim but soon they are thrown together in their quest to uproot and kill the creature which destroyed all the passengers on the plane. His intimate knowledge of the vampire is invaluable and his presence of mind and logical ways during this highly unlogical time is well portrayed.

The story moves along at a tremendous pace. The reveals are done in a considered way, drawing you into the cinematically written storyline. I think, the most terrifying aspect of this novel is how real it appears - vampirism is seen as a disease, a virus that if not checked, will run rampant and destroy the world. It strikes a particular grim chord, especially considering the paranoid times we live in at present, with the continued fear of AIDS, SARS and Swine Flu and any other illness which you can get by human contact. It is an all too real fear and that is where the horror aspect of The Strain comes in. It explains the supernatural in terms of science and people, it is terrifying.

Del Toro and Hogan have plundered European folklore for the history and creation of their vampire mythos. It is, as expected, thorough and intriguing and compulsive. The horror is not Hollywood gore and splatter, it is contained, personal and intimate. They have stripped the vampire down to the terrifying creature he was since legends of blood drinkers surfaced in ancient Greek times. It is not romantic, it is terrifying and illogical, self centred and wholly on a quest to break the pact it had created with other Immortals back in history. It is keen on a war, humanity is firmly set between him and the very small group of ancient vampires still alive. And he is happy to destroy all of humanity for his own purposes.


The Strain is highly recommended as a read and the only sore point is having to wait until the next book in the trilogy is released!

The Strain will be released on 2nd June here in the UK by Harper Collins. Find the official website of The Strain here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Competition Winners - The Devil's Kiss and Fallen


Competition Winners for The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda:


Helen P from London

Jo B from Bretton

Carla H from Bexleyheath

May K from Manchester

Sara A from Kent


Competition winner for Tim Lebbon's The Fallen:

Rachel G from Chesterfield

HATER by David Moody - An Exclusive Competition


People, this is a once in a lifetime chance to win a mint-condition, extremely rare copy of the original ‘Infected Books’ paperback edition of ‘Hater’ by David Moody. Because this is such a rare opportunity and because every horror fanboy and his pet snake would want this, I am letting the competition run until the 31st May only and will then announce the winner. No need to answer questions, just email us at myfavouritebooksatblogspot (@) googlemail (dot) com and your name will go in the draw.

The book will be personalised by David and sent off to the winner - the winner will not be called "Dear eBay Highest Bidder", we are wise to that ploy! Amended to say: due to popular demand, this competition is now INTERNATIONAL! Good luck!

The Tiger Warrior by David Gibbins


Synopsis:


India. 1879. Lieutenant John Howard witnesses something so unspeakable it changes him for ever. His subsequent disappearance is never solved. Egypt. Present day. Marine archaeologist Jack Howard makes an astonishing discovery on a deep-sea dive. What's the connection? Jack Howard doesn't know yet. But he's about to find out.


This isn't just a treasure hunt; it's a desperate search for the truth. A truth that will unlock the mystery of Jack's great-great grandfather's disappearance. A truth so compelling Jack's pursuit is almost unstoppable. Almost. A formidable enemy from Jack's past has appeared in his present, and this enemy will stop at nothing to protect its earth-shattering secret.

David Gibbins offers us the new Jack and Costas adventure in an immaculately turned out novel which, apart from the treasure hunt (!), the action adventure, the intense research and historical scope, focusses strongly on family - past and present.

Before I continue with my review, I just need to say the following: In their previous novel Jack and Costas met up with one of Jack's old flames and it turned out that she had kept a secret from Jack - they had a daughter together. Elizabeth (the old flame) revealed the existence of Rebecca and the reasons why she had been kept secret from Jack and the rest of Elizabeth's corrupt and dangerous family. Elizabeth died, leaving Jack the sole parent of a girl whom he had never met before.

The review: fast forward a few months after Jack and Rebecca had met and we see them as a small family unit, with Jack a bit uncomfortable in his role as a new father, a bit possessive of his daughter, a bit amused, a bit scared and wholly enamoured with her as she is funny, highly intelligent and a quick learner. She also has an aptitude for the business (archaeology) and a keen eye for detail and a swift mind to unravel problems. She quickly becomes a favourite of the crew of the Seaquest II and it is a testament to David Gibbins' skill that he keeps her character from becoming annoying and precocious. She appears fully formed in the novel, very much her own person, with her own set of skills. She compliments both Jack and Costa and offers a softer perspective on their adventure. This is something I thoroughly enjoyed in the novel. It has given it a rounder more multifaceted edge and it allows the characters and Jack and Costas to show a different part of their personalities.

The Tiger Warrior is much more a character driven novel than any of the other David Gibbins books I have read in the past. The Jack and Costa camaraderie is still there and it is an easy one but there is a new depth to them and the historical characters we learn about. We spend some time with John Howard in a parallel story set in 1879. He is Jack's great grandfather and his deeds in India have left several questions unanswered and a mystery of sorts. Using John's diary and an in depth knowledge of regional history in India, Jack and Costas piece together an intricate puzzle which includes a band of Roman soldiers traversing the Silk Road after escaping from enslavement, right up to modern times where a group of Chinese warriors are doing everything in their power to regain their lost treasure. Whereas in The Lost Gospel you found yourself maybe slightly distanced from the action as the historical characters were that remote from us, in The Tiger Warrior the history is more recent, almost tangible and easier to research and relate to. It deals with the Great Game so many of the nations played in the 17 / 1800's and it brings home the atrocities committed in the name of colonial expansion and how those repercussions can still be felt in some areas today.

It is an exhilerating read - if you've read David Gibbins before you will not be disappointed as the exposition is there, how Jack sits down and spins a tale of a discovery is amazing to read and one of the best things in the book which I thoroughly enjoy. If you've not read his work before, The Tiger Warrior is easy enough to pick up and start reading. And you will no doubt want to make sure you pick up all the other books too as they are that compulsive.

As always, Gibbins relishes the research and the history and the novel is packed with amazing tales and supposition and I make a point of examining how he relays the information between the characters. It is an important part of the novel, keeping the dynamic going, whilst having to be informative. He seemlessly blends history and fiction and current events into a smorgasbord of dynamic summer reading.

David Gibbins' site can be found here. The site is currently undergoing renovation (I almost wrote excavation...) and although there is a lot of info on there, the new site is set to be larger and more comprehensive. The Tiger Warrior is now available in all good bookshops and online and is published by Headline in the UK and has been available in the States for a while already.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A visit to Oak Lodge Primary

My good friend Sarah Ash wears two caps - the first cap is that of international author of a series of acclaimed fantasy novels, the second hat is that of librarian and music tutor at Oak Lodge Primary in West Wickham.

Once I've read 'em, I have been donating loads of the children's and young adult books coming my way from various publishers to Sarah The Librarian who in turn passed them onto several of her students at Oak Lodge in her role as librarian.

I got to visit the school today, to chat with Sarah and with Carl Taylor, who is another teacher at the school. They invited me to come and "showcase" some of my favourite books and to talk to one class specifically, a very special year 6 class who all appeared to me to be voracious readers.

I took with a stack of books and amongst them were Gone by Michael Grant, Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith and The Dread Pirate Fleur by Sara Starbuck. I also took with The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda.

I was incredibly nervous, faced with over thirty pairs of eyes but I quickly overcame my flat-out terror when I started talking books. No one can beat me talking books. Okay, maybe Kaz can, but only when I'm tired.

I explained to them about Gone, the premise - that everyone over the age of fifteen disappeared one day, whilst everyone was at school, and no one knew why. Naturally they LOVED it - I read the first page and a bit to them and I think I would still be there if I didn't make myself stop. I told them to pick up any book in their well-stocked library, to page to the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence. That I told them is how you catch an audience - this is what draws a random reader in.

We moved onto Furnace - again I read them the opening page. Then we turned to the section where the Hell Hounds chase Alex and Zee and I had these kids in the palm of my hand. They were rapt. I was a bit freaked out as this section is not pleasant but they lapped it up. I looked up and all of them were squirming, wanting a copy of Furnace. I showed them that I had four copies with promo items to give away. They went still in anticipation.

Then, I bigged up The Devil's Kiss and explained to them who the Knights Templar were back in the day and that they were disbanded and persecuted by the Church but that now, in modern times, they've resurfaced as warriors against the supernatural. I told them about Billi, the only girl in the Knights Templar and the choice she has to make - save the world or let it go. Fantastic premise. I also think what helped is that it takes place in their backyards - they recognised the areas I read to them, Crystal Palace, Temple in London etc. All very excited!

Next up was the coolest book ever - purely for the title and fantastic artwork - The Dread Pirate Fleur. We quickly established that everyone LOVED Pirates of the Caribbean and that Fleur was definitely something they will be reading. I had four proof copies to donate to the class for reading pleasure.

Once all the books were discussed and I assured them that their copies were staying with Ms. Ash, they all expressed their relief. We next spoke about what they liked about books - what makes a book work for them. I was bombarded with answers - action, adventure, humour, horror, topical lifestyle commentary, the ability for the hero to win through. It was amazing chatting to them as they were all incredibly passionate about their books they had read. Next up they wanted to know what authors I know, did I like Darren Shan, did I like JK Rowling, how do I review books, what is the website called etc.

There was a small break for them to do some research in the library on a series of books they are currently reading, The 39 Clues. As everyone broke up into small groups, some of the kids came over to chat to me about books they really liked and to inspect the ones I had brought in. I discovered a group of the boys are really into their WW1 and WW2 books - which completely took me by surprise. I noted down the books they told me about and promised them some topical books I had at home.

As the afternoon rolled to a conclusion they thanked me for visiting and I was promised several reviews from them for the blog on various books that they had read in the past.

It was an amazing afternoon, I can't stop smiling. Meeting a group of incredibly bright young people like this is so encouraging and made me feel like I had contributed something to them, even if it was for only two hours of their young lives. Hopefully I taught them something about reading books that will stay with them and encourage them to read more / different things.

Back to the real world tomorrow and real work - at least my headcold is better and I don't sound like Darth Vader's dad!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Horror Blog Fest - A chat with Bill Hussey

One of our favourite new British horror authors, Bill Hussey, took some time from his very busy schedule to stop by and chat to MFB. We are also lucky enough to have a chapbook to give away as produced by Bill and his two other partners in crime, Joseph D'Lacey and Matthew F Riley. The chapbooks are a limited edition of 200 and they are signed by all three authors. Check the Competitions column for info on how to enter.

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about you and your writing career.

Hi Liz & Mark! Well, my name’s Bill Hussey and I write horror fiction. Whenever I say that it sounds like I’m attending an intervention and that I’m admitting to a particularly foul weakness!

Well, my ‘career’ started just last summer when ‘Through A Glass, Darkly’ hit the book shelves. Up until that point I’d dabbled at being a writer - dabbled seriously, but dabbled nonetheless. I took an MA in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University and bagged myself an agent pretty quickly. My agent was very enthusiastic about ‘Through a Glass’ but with one caveat - horror just wasn’t being published at that time. The rejection slips started pouring in and bore out his words – lots of very nice messages, all saying the writing was great, but that the market just wasn’t there any more.

Frustrated, I slipped back into a career in law – yawn – and then the telephone rang. My agent had found a great new publisher who had just started a horror imprint. Nine months later ‘Through A Glass’ was in Waterstones and Borders and picking up some very nice reviews. Another nine months on and ‘The Absence’ is out. It seems strange, after all these years of trying, that I have two books out in less than a year!

What is your most recent novel about – if you are allowed to tell us?

Well, I’ve got a YA (Young Adult) horror/adventure novel currently being considered by my agent. I won’t say too much about it – I’m superstitious that way – but it tells the story of a coven of really nasty witches, a secret society sworn to defend mankind, and has a scene in which a cat is sliced in half by an acid mist! All good clean fun, kids!

What do you think makes the horror genre so fascinating to readers and writers?

Lots of things, I guess. There’s something pretty ingrained in the human psyche that gets a kick out of being scared. Not everyone enjoys it, but those of us that do must be closely related to those early hunter-gatherers who enjoyed taking that unnecessary extra step into the orbit of the sabretooth. In a writing sense, I’ve always enjoyed the fact that, in horror, perhaps more than any other genre, you can push your characters to the extremes of the human condition. Like fantasy and sci-fi, it is a great ‘what-if’ genre. But with horror that ‘what-if’ is more of a psychological question than one of technology or pure make believe. You put characters in these hideous situations and see how it plays out. Horror is also allowed to go full throttle at those great existential questions – who are we? What are we doing here? What waits beyond the veil? We’re all fascinated by those questions and dark fiction perhaps allows us to catch a glimpse of the answers.

As a horror writer / fan, what sells a story / concept to you?

It’s like those four things a bride needs on her wedding morning: Something Old – I don’t mind, in fact I quite enjoy, a dose of the familiar in horror. As with any fiction, there really isn’t anything entirely new under the sun. We keep going back to the familiar tropes – the haunted house, the vampire, the restless ghost – because we love them so, but… Something New – let’s try to find something a wee bit new to do with them. Come at them from a slightly different angle; confront them with very modern characters… Something Borrowed – as with something old, we writers of dark fiction inevitably borrow a bit from the masters who have gone before us. That’s not to say we should steal, but I think a gentle homage is acceptable. When I wrote ‘The Absence’ it was obvious that something of Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ would come through. That said, I think King has acknowledged the debt that book owed to Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’. I think that, as long as we create a fresh cast of characters to confront these ageless situations and dilemmas, then that’s fine. Finally, Something Blue… erm, I’m stretching here! Well, a little sex is always a good thing in horror! What is a horror story except a battle between death (the ghost, the axe-wielding psycho, the plague of killer rats) and life (sex) – that disturbing scene towards the end of Stephen King’s ‘IT’, in which the kid characters try to escape the sewer, comes to mind…

What movies / books influenced your development as a genre writer? Similarly, what books, movies, comics, get you excited as a fan?

Oh, lots and lots. My main influence as a ghost story writer has always been MR James. I’m not sure that those quiet terrors could be completely replicated for today’s reader, but I have tried to inject a bit of Jamesian antiquarian disquiet into my books. I also love Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, Stephen King, Clive Barker… One of the lesser-known writers that I picked up in the 90s and absolutely loved was Jonathan Aycliffe. He’s not that widely known, but I think his ‘Naomi’s Room’ is just about perfect. Neil Gaiman’s another genius wordsmith who has quite obviously had a big influence on me – compare and contrast ‘American Gods’ and ‘The Absence’ and you’ll notice a thematic Something Borrowed! Outside the genre, I read and re-read Truman Capote – his almost-ghost-story ‘Miriam’ has to be one of the most chilling things I’ve ever read, and, of course, ‘In Cold Blood’ is a breathless masterpiece. Comics-wise, it has to be Gaiman again with his ‘Sandman’ series – the idea of a serial killer convention is pure genius! Obviously, Alan Moore is the godfather of modern comics.

Movie-wise, I love 80s ‘schlock’ like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, all the Romero movies, the giallo and supernatural movies of Dario Argento, Robert Wise’s film version of ‘The Haunting.’ ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and ‘The Orphanage’ were great last year – I’m a big Del Toro fan. I really liked Lars Von Trier’s ‘The Kingdom’ – impenetrably brilliant! – plus it taught me a lot about Nordic politics!

Who do you go all fan-boy about when it comes to the horror genre? Have you ever met anyone more famous than yourself and how did you react?


See all of the above! I’ve not yet met any of those people (some are now sadly deceased) but I’m sure I’d be a jibbering wreck if I did!

If you had a chance to invite any horror legend, be it actor, writer, director, author (living / dead / undead) over for some tea, who would you choose and why?

Once I got over being a jibbering wreck? I think I’d invite King. He’s the All Father of the genre, isn’t he?

Lights on or off when watching horror flicks?

OFF! Lights on? Goodness me!

Which do you prefer: Romero originals or remakes?

Originals. Although I very much enjoyed Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, I just don’t approve of running zombies. I’m an old fart that way. I agree with Simon Pegg on this - Romero’s zombies had a poetry and pathos that the triathelete zeds of today just don’t possess. In fact I blogged about it on Horror Reanimated, (Rules of the Living Dead or Should Zombies Run). I was very quickly shouted down!

What is the best advice you ever received from someone about horror writing?

Hmm. You know, this applies to all writing, but my lecturer on the MA in Writing was the novelist Jane Rogers (Mr Wroe’s Virgins), and she really instilled in me that old adage – to write is human, to edit is divine. That’s the best advice for any writer – keep redrafting – you’ll know in your gut when it’s right to stop.

The horror genre has seen many incarnations over the past few years – what do you think the future holds for the genre?

Who knows? I hear a lot about zombie horror/post apocalyptic horror being the future. But there are always cycles. One thing I can guarantee – the pure ghost story will never go out of fashion because it speaks to something primal in all of us – the hope and fear of what lies beyond the veil...

Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan – apart from going to hide in the Winchester, that is! – and will you be able to implement it?

I would just throw myself into the marauding, blood-thirsty horde. I’ve watched enough Romero to know that there is only one thing worse than being torn apart by zeds – and that’s surviving. Get it over and done with quickly, say I! Anyway, a world overrun by zombies would mean I’d never get to see Steven Moffat’s version of ‘Doctor Who’ – why bother living?!

Are there any “how to” books on your bookshelf you would recommend to aspiring authors?


Two – Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. After reading that you should be all set. The other is Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ – which is a how-to on screenwriting, but it has really important things to say about structure and character that can be used in novel-writing too.

The Keeper - Winner and Party Favour Photo


Jane E from Dorset is our winner for The Keeper party favour (as pictured above, taken with iphone this morning here at the office). Congratulations Jane and thanks to everyone for entering!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Are you an aspiring SF author?


SciFiNow and Tor launch War of the Words competition

SciFiNow and Tor UK announce competition to offer a new Sci-fi writer a book publishing contract.

Leading consumer specialist magazine SciFiNow and highly regarded SF imprint Tor UK have teamed up to launch a new competition, War Of The Words, in a bid to find the UK’s best new SF writer. The partnership will be announced to readers in SciFiNow issue 28, on sale 13 May. Both SciFiNow and Tor UK are committed to celebrating the best in science fiction and fantasy literature and discovering emerging talent in the genre. Writers will be encouraged to submit a full synopsis along with the first three chapters by 20 August. The judging panel will be
comprised of members of SciFiNow magazine and Tor teams, and a shortlist of six entries will be announced before the overall winner is revealed in SciFiNow issue 35on sale 25 November 2009.

Top Macmillan and Tor authors will offer advice and tips to competitors in exclusive interviews. The SciFiNow website will also host regularly updated author content, including podcast interviews and video clips, as well as Q&A opportunities for aspiring writers. After the winner is announced, SciFiNow will continue to follow the publishing process with interviews with the winning author and extracts in the magazine, plus a winner’s blog on www.scifinow.co.uk. The finished book will be published by Tor UK in 2010.

Julie Crisp, Senior Commissioning Editor at Tor UK, commented: “At Tor UK we’re dedicated to finding, growing and nurturing new talent. We’re very excited to be working in partnership with one of the leading specialist magazines to find a new science fiction or fantasy writer to join authors such as Neal Asher and Alan Campbell on our list.”

Aaron Asadi, Editor in Chief of SciFiNow, added: “We’re delighted to be working with Tor UK on such a fantastic competition. SciFiNow has always prided itself on championing the very best in sci-fi and War Of The Words exemplifies that.”

So, in the immortal words of Dickens: what the bloody hell are you waiting for? Get writing and polishing that manuscript!

Awakening by SJ Bolton

Synopsis:

An idyllic village is thrown into turmoil in a startling, heart-racing thriller.

Veterinary surgeon Clara Benning is young and intelligent, but practically a recluse. Disfigured by a childhood accident, she lives alone and shies away from human contact wherever possible. But when a man dies, following a supposed snake bite, Clara learns that the victim’s post mortem shows a higher concentration of venom than could ever be found in a single snake.
Assisted by her softly spoken neighbour and an eccentric reptile expert, Clara unravels sinister links to a barbaric ancient ritual, an abandoned house and a fifty year old tragedy that left the survivors fiercely secretive. Then the village’s inventive attacker strikes again, and Clara’s own solitary existence is brutally invaded. For someone the truth must remain buried in the past...even if they have to kill to keep it there.

How did it all begin? Well, I suppose it would be the day I rescued a newborn baby from a poisonous snake, heard the news of my mother’s death and encountered my first ghost. Thinking about it, I could even pinpoint the time. A few minutes before six on a Friday morning and my quiet, orderly life went into meltdown.

For someone who loves reading the opening page of a book, reading this small paragraph from Awakening, the second novel by the 2008 debut author SJ Bolton, is a pure treat. And it just keeps getting better with the crisis escalating higher and higher.

Our heroine, Clara Benning, is a brilliantly created main character. She has a great affinity for animals and much prefer their company to those of humans. Having moved to a small village she keeps to herself and minds her own business. Needless to say everyone in the village is intrigued by Clara, who she is and how she came to carry an ugly scar on her face.


When she is called in to help a panicked mother rescue her infant from a snake in it's crib, her life takes on a different dimension altogether. Snakes are being found all over the village, in people's homes and everyone is panicking. The majority of the snakes are harmless British snakes and it is illegal for them to be caught and killed. But not all of the snakes are harmless and Clara very soon has her hands full with a deadly taipan snake, its origins in the very far Papua New Guinea. No one knows where these snakes are coming from and there is a panic as an elderly man dies from a snakebite, whilst gardening. There is the mystery of the ghost which more than one villager has seen - the ghost of an elderly gentleman who had died the year before. Or had he? What happened back in 1958 and how did it involve the village being overrun by snakes?

Tautly written, Awakening is a gripping thriller with more than enough creep-factor. It is also a story about Clara finding herself and her confidence to confront her own fears by standing up for the truth - even it means that there is an arrest warrant out for her!

I saw a reviewer in The Bookseller say: "she just writes so well..." and it is true. SJ Bolton is a very gifted writer and although I loved her first novel, Sacrifice, I did not expect the same level of excellence in Awakening and I am truly happy to say that Awakening is even better than Sacrifice. Clara's characterisation is handled deftly - almost everything is seen from her point of view as the novel is written from first person perspective. In some other books I have read, this can become tedious very quickly but we are saved from any kind of boredom by an involved plotline and an unusual heroine who doesn't go so much with the flow as run flatout against it. She is contrary, a bit surly whilst being engaging at the same time - it is a very fine line which SJ Bolton treads here, creating a difficult heroine who could veer so very easily into someone unlikeable.

There are several strands in the novel which are tied up in a series of reveals and the success of these alone should indicate that the author has done a very good job. There is a very faint strand of romance and personally, I enjoyed the two male characters in the novel which Clara comes into contact with. I would have loved to have seen more of them in more scenes, but then this is Clara's story about her journey to discover the truth about the village, whilst it forms a backdrop to her own "Awakening".

Awakening is a fascinating read and will be going onto our "Summer Reads List" which we will be compiling from the end of May onwards during Summer. Awakening is published by Bantam here in the UK and is now available in all bookstores and online. SJ Bolton's site can be found here, along with the extract of the first chapter.

Some Writerly and Author Linkages

I've been meaning to post this amazing article by Cornelia Funke for ages now and only recently found the right person to speak with over at Waterstones Books Quarterly. Here is a tiny teaser of the article and if you click the link at the bottom in the text box it will take you to the main article. A good read for inspiration and to print off.







Telling tales



Outlandish beasts, magical objects, gods, immortality, death – children’s books are stuffed with the stuff of myth, says Cornelia Funke, because they help explain our world



Myths are strange things. We all seem to know about them even when we have never read them – quite often I........



Click here to read more



Carrie Ryan's novel Forest of Hands and Teeth is due to be released in the UK also by Gollancz in July of this year and Mark and I are looking forward to interviewing Carrie in a few weeks' time, if all goes according to plan. This time around, Mark will be doing the review for Forest in its UK guise, because it has Zombies in it.


Friend of the blog and urban fantasist extraordinaire, Suzanne McLeod, has her new book coming out in July too. It is entitled Cold Kiss of Death and Suzanne is running several competitions in a run-up to Cold Kiss being released over at her blog: http://suzannemcleod.livejournal.com/. Suzanne was telling me whilst we were chatting at Eastercon that she entered the spirit of it all because she felt that other readers should get the opportunity to enjoy the books she enjoys reading - especially whilst writing. And that is pretty cool to hear! So pop on over to Suzanne's LJ for a chance to win some cool prizes.

We are subscribed to receive the Del Rey newsletter over from the States and last night thenewest one popped into our inbox. I have heard so many good things about The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V S Redick that I was genuinely chuffed to see a small excerpt in the newsletter about how he came up with the idea:

Where did the idea for your novel come from?" is a question that writers traditionally dread. Simple answers are dull and trite, serious answers interminable. But The Red Wolf Conspiracy is an exception. Its genesis was too strange to forget.


The year was 1993, and the place was Argentina. More specifically, Peninsula Valdés, a huge, largely uninhabited almost-island midway down the Patagonian coast. I'd come as part of a research trip looking at park ranger training, before going on to the Andes and the subtropical jungles of the northeast.

Valdés is a nature lover's Elysium. Penguins and sea lions and elephant seals by the thousands calve on its beaches, and whales give birth in the coves. You can literally walk along the cliffs and watch the southern right whales rolling and playing at your feet.


One morning I set out to do just that and encountered heavy fog. This made for a ghostly seascape, with snatches of rocks and surf appearing for instants in the mist, and everywhere the sound of invisible breakers. And it was while trying to pierce this billowing fog that I suddenly imagined a gigantic and ancient sailing ship careening towards shore, and smashing with terrible violence against the rocks.


Who crewed that monster, and how had they come to such a pass? It would be years before I'd find answers to such questions—I spent eight years on a novel set in Argentina first—but the image never left me, and my curiosity about it only grew.


Those years in Latin America didn't take me down the career path I once envisioned. But they did flood me with stories—fantastic and otherwise—that I've only begun to explore.


Mark C Newton, whom the world probably knows as one of the hardest grafting critters over at the Black Library is due some shiny good news. Not only is his novel, Nights of Villjamur to be released here in the UK very shortly (June) but the world rights to the two novels were also bought by Del Rey over in the States. Congratulations to Mark and his agent John Jerrold on that excellent deal. Catch Mark at Forbidden Planet on June 4th (EU voting day) for a signing.


AS Byatt in a candid and in depth interview here .


Not strictly book related but still pretty to look at - new Prince of Persia behind the scenes footage has gone live.


As a fan of Marie Brennan I was chuffed to see this note from Orbit on their site - they've put up a link to a free novella she did, Deeds of Men . Marie's newest novel, In Ashes Lie is out in June from Orbit. *tries not to squeel too much*

Kelley Armstrong also has her new book out, The Awakening (review will follow shortly) and this is a bit about this young adult trilogy in her own words, as nabbed from the Orbit site.

This is the second book in my Darkest Powers trilogy. True trilogies—one story told over three books—have a long tradition in fantasy. With my adult urban fantasy series, I’ve always stuck to the “one story per book” format, but when I had an idea for a young adult plot, it quickly became clear that a single novel wasn’t going to be enough to tell it.

Chloe Saunders is a typical fifteen-year-old girl…until she starts seeing ghosts. She’s taken to a group home, where she discovers that she’s a necromancer (someone who can speak to and raise the dead). Through the other kids in the home she’s introduced to a world she never knew existed—a world of witches and demons and werewolves.


That would make a decent book. Not terribly original, but it would do. Except that’s only the start of what I had in mind for this story. Chloe isn’t just a necromancer—she’s a genetically modified one. She’s a failed subject in an experiment that has unexpectedly given her dangerous, uncontrollable powers.

There are two ways Chloe’s captors deal with their failures: rehabilitation or extermination. Neither is an option for Chloe and her friends. So what are they going to do about it? That’s where The Awakening takes off. And as the second book in a trilogy, it takes off fast. If you haven’t read The Summoning, I’d strongly suggest checking out that one first.


And that is all I have for you today news wise. If all goes well, two reviews will appear, as if by magic, during the course of today.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Blog Tour - Wordsmith Tim Lebbon


Mark and I are lucky enough to be able to be a small part in Tim Lebbon's blog tour - okay, maybe not so tiny - we are afterall the FIRST STOP on the leg of his whirlwind tour of other blogs and sites. Tim (pictured left) is celebrating the publication of Fallen in paperback AND the publication of his newest novel in hardback - The Island.
We have also been given the opportunity to offer a copy of Fallen to give away to a lucky entrant. We'll let the competition run a week only (entries in by Friday, 15th) purely because you just have to get your grubby paws on a copy to read as soon as possible!

And there is even more. We have been given some special content, exclusive to MFB, just for you to read. But that is not all I've got up my sleeve for you. further down is chance to win - from the Allison and Busby publishers' site - a copy of Tim's newest novel, The Island.

More of that a little bit later on, though. Here is our main act, Tim Lebbon, wordsmith and world conjuror, in his own words:

Sometimes it’s the world where your story is set. The geography, flora and fauna, and how that becomes a place you want to write about, a whole new world you want to explore ...

Sometimes it’s the idea. The heart of your novel, the sun around which the characters and events form, orbit, and occasionally collide ...

It can be the theme, an underlying concept that you want to explore to its fullest potential, and which can be most successfully analysed in this particular world, with these people, civilisations, and these mad monsters tearing the world apart ...

But with FALLEN, it was none of these. It was the characters. When Ramus Rheel and Nomi Hyden introduced themselves to me, I knew I had to write a novel about them. They were screaming to have their story told, and at the same moment they made themselves known to me, I also knew some stuff about their backgrounds, their relationship, and some of what must happen to them to set them on course for this book's finale. I could even picture them in my mind's eye ... quite a spooky feeling considering their names had yet to appear on paper. But who ever said writers are normal, right?

There's always a definite moment when a book feels whole to me. It's the instant when a book changes from a two-dimensional idea on a piece of paper, to a three dimensional, complete world, where the characters I'm creating and the landscape they inhabit come alive and are suddenly real. Sometimes it'll happen when I'm brainstorming an idea on paper—making notes, sketching scenes, trying to expand on themes. Sometimes it's not until the actual writing process begins, either when I create that all-important opening scene (or even opening line), or when I'm feeling my way through the first chapter. Usually if the feeling hasn't hit by then, I'll leave the story alone for a while, take a step back and hope that a new approach will bring it to life. Sometimes I push on, and the story might grow and grow until it reaches that state of 'wholeness' that is so important ... or it might fade away with a whimper.
With FALLEN, the instant these two characters came along my mind caught fire. They're explorers, dedicating their lives to discovering the unknown landscapes of Noreela in its early years. They work for the Guild of Voyagers, though perhaps in the Guild's eyes they're not the most successful ... that plaudit often goes to Voyagers who have gone so far that they're lost in the land, never to be seen again. They're lifelong friends, attracted to each others' weaknesses as well as their strengths, and theirs is a relationship built on the wonders they have seen, and which can survive petty squabbles. They're also competitors ... because Voyaging is a lonely calling with sometimes selfish aims. And perhaps they might even be lovers ... or if they're not, it's something they've danced around, and which perhaps they both think of but avoid. Their friendship is precious, and perhaps this is the one thing it could not survive.

But it was still not quiet there. It itched at the edges, this story just waiting to be born, but there was one little thing missing, and I didn't know what. I knew that theirs would be a momentous quest, perhaps even the last great Voyage in Noreela's Age of Expansion ... but that wasn't it. There would be dangers and challenges, of course. But there was still something absent, and it had to be to do with Nomi and Ramus, not the world around them.

It took a walk in my local woods to realise what that was. It's beautiful in there, and I imagined finding it for the first time, being the very first person to see those trees, that stream, those bluebells. And I had it. These Voyagers covet the wonders they seek, and so at some point on their journey they must become mortal enemies.

That was it. FALLEN was a complete, rounded story, a tale with soul and meaning, emotionally challenging and fantastic in scope.

All I had to do now was write it.

Did that peak your interest? Whet your appetite for more? Allison and Busby, Tim's publisher sent us an exclusive excerpt of Fallen for you to read. This is the link to that extract.

And now, for a chance to win a zigned copy of The Island - it is a standalone novel set in the same world as Fallen - follow this link and it will take you to the A&B website where you need to enter this word - RAMUS - in order to enter. There is a different code for each blog stop, so up your chances of winning by collecting the different codes as you follow Tim’s tour. You can then enter more than once, as long as you don’t repeat the same code.

As I mentioned earlier, this is only the first stop of Tim's blog tour. Next up he'll be over at A&B's blog. Pop by to catch him on the 13th, doing a reading from Fallen. Check out Tim's blog for a full list of stops on his blog tour.


Thanks to both Tim and the publicity girls at Allison and Busby for this fantastic opportunity and for making MFB the first stop in the blog tour!