Friday, March 27, 2009

Dragon Orb Author Mark Robson Speaks to MFB

I have wittered on and on about Mark Robson's Dragon Orb series and have eventually got enough courage up to go and ask him to do an interview for MFB for the blog. He's agreed and the following is the result. I hope you enjoy!

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Yep, I think I can manage that! I’m 42 years old. Married with two children. I left school after A Levels to join the RAF as a pilot, where I spent 21 happy years dashing around the world in jets and generally never growing up. All that happened was the toys got bigger and more expensive! I’ve been a full time writer for about three and a half years now, and I’ve loved every minute of that, too.

What made you decide to put pen to paper?

Boredom! I was in the Falkland Islands. The weather was horrendous – 75mph winds blowing snow like you’ve never seen – and I got very irritable. My navigator, out of sheer frustration, said something like ‘For goodness’ sake, Mark! Do something useful – write a book or something!’ I made a deal with him that I’d write the opening few pages of a novel and if he liked it, I’d write the rest. Eleven books later I’m writing faster than ever and loving it. I gave up the flying over 3 years ago and haven’t really looked back.

Why write for children?

Initially I didn’t think I was writing for children. This is possibly why my books have been so popular with adults as well as the younger readers. To begin with I wrote stories that I knew I would have enjoyed reading as a teenager – but at the time, I read from the adult sections of the bookshops and libraries. These would include books by David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Brooks and the like. Interestingly, many of the books I enjoyed most from the adult fantasy section in the 1980s are now being re-launched into the YA sections of bookshops. I still go back to some of those stories occasionally when I’m looking for ‘comfort reading’. When I started writing my own story, I just wanted to something that could be enjoyed by any age, so I didn’t specifically have young people in mind.

So far 2 books in the Dragon Orb series are published with two more on the way – how did you come up with the idea for the series?

Dragon Orb grew from an online discussion about dragon stories. I argued that dragons had been overdone and swore I’d never write about them. (Boy, do I feel the fool now!) Besides, Anne McCaffrey ‘owned’ dragons as far as I was concerned. I didn’t think anyone could create dragons that were more engaging than hers.

One of the ladies involved in the ‘discussion’ was so pro-dragons, her internet name was Dawn Dragon. As I had been rather harsh with some of my comments I felt that a little appeasement was in order, so I wrote a short story called Dawn Dragon and it featured day dragons, night dragons, dusk dragons and a dawn dragon. To my surprise the response from readers of the website was instant and very positive. So I wrote a bit more … and a bit more … and Dragon Orb was born.

The basic premise is a classic fantasy quest – four dragonriders on a mission to save their world. The twist is that one of the dawn dragon’s abilities is to open gateways between worlds. When the gateways are opened, the world that the intrepid quartet find themselves in is ours – 1916 France. The result – dragons flying in secret with the Royal Flying Corps against the Red Baron! I had huge fun with the research and the flying scenes, which I believe stands this series apart from my previous work.

Do you have favourite characters in the Dragon Orb series?

I think the girl characters, Nolita and Kira, are possibly more likeable than the boys, Elian and Pell. Nolita is an obsessive compulsive with severe phobias. I had great fun with her – especially in the first book, where I made her experience all her worst fears time and time again. I have a mild phobia of heights myself. This no doubt sounds a strange admission from a pilot, I know, but I found the worst thing about flying big aeroplanes was climbing up the ladder to get in! Once in the cockpit the height felt more like depth and I was fine.

Kira is also fascinating. Born into a pseudo-African tribe, she has a driving ambition to become a hunter – normally an occupation reserved for the male members of the tribe. I know all about driving ambition! She did everything in her power to make herself fit the mould of a hunter. Just as she had convinced the men to accept her, Fang, her dragon, appeared and whisked her off to become a dragonrider. She was not best pleased! As a result, she has lots of compatible skills and oodles of confidence, but she would really rather not be a rider at all.

The boys, Elian and Pell are fun, too. Elian is the rather cliché, naïve boy hero, who thinks adventuring is going to be fun, but soon discovers it’s a lot more dangerous than he expected. Pell is darker – power hungry and willing to tread on anyone to get where he wants to be. They make an interesting quartet.

Tell us more about your two previous series’ – Darkweaver and Imperial.

The Darkweaver Legacy was a traditional epic fantasy series in the Tolkienesque style – magicians, battles, magical duels, but written with a distinct military setting that stands it apart from most. I was aiming to catch those readers who enjoyed Eddings and Gemmell – the heroic fantasy market.

The Imperial trilogy was never intended to be a trilogy. Imperial Spy was written as a one-off novel. It was an experiment to see if I could write a successful story in the same fantasy world as the Darkweaver books, but without utilising magic in any way. At the end of the first draft I killed the villain and tied up all the loose ends. When Simon & Schusters offered a two book contract, I was thrown initially. They liked the characters and the low-magic content spy/thriller/fantasy mix so much that they did not want me to stop at one … and who writes fantasies in twos? No one that I can think of! Hence, I changed the ending, and developed the idea into a trilogy with a certain amount of overlap with Darkweaver to draw in my established readership.

What is your writing day like?

A typical writing day begins with an hour of trivia from 9am until 10am (I don’t write well first thing in the morning!) Then I go to work. I leave the house and go to one of several writing ‘caves’ I’ve found – café’s, pubs, library, games shop etc. I then write from 1030ish until just after 12, and again from 1pm until 5pm. If I’m pushing a tight deadline, I will also write from 9pm until midnight. I did this during January this year in order to finish Aurora on time. I think my word tally for January was approaching 50 000.

I realise you have been let out of your cave by the monsters to take part in this Q&A, tell us more about being trapped by them (Trapped by Monsters) and what devious plans they are forcing on you.

Being Trapped by Monsters was a terrible shock. I suppose we should have seen it coming, but somehow none of us did. The effect on my writing has been surprisingly positive. Within a week of being trapped, I had already written an entire book for younger readers that has a monster as the hero. It is currently being submitted to publishers. I’ve always been able to work through noise, which was why I was happy writing in cafes and pubs. The noises in the caves are different, but once you get used to the screams and snivelling of the authors, blocking out the growls and slurping noises of our captors is easy.

The monsters think they have us totally under their control … and for much of the time they have. However, plans are afoot to get our own back. The anthology we were planning to write before we were captured is continuing in secret. I can’t say too much more for fear of word getting back to the monsters.

I’ve spotted that you are a big Ann McCaffrey fan – who else influenced you as a writer?

It was most of the usual suspects: Tolkien, David Eddings, David Gemmell, Julian May, but perhaps more than any of them, Elizabeth Moon, who I discovered initially when she wrote her collaboration with McCaffrey – the Dinosaur Planet books, but I went on to read her fantasy and loved it. The Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy is one of my all time favourites.

What made you decide to take up Tae Kwon Do?

I did it for two reasons – firstly to encourage my daughter to persevere with it, and secondly as research for writing Imperial Assassin. To be honest I’ve always been a bit of a coward when it comes to fighting. My big yellow streak has always been visible to anyone picking a fight with me, as it runs down the middle of my back … which was in clear view as I ran away!

Two years of training in Tae Kwon Do has changed me. I’m about to take my red belt. I feel I’ve gained a good understanding of the martial art and how to hurt people effectively. It hasn’t made me more aggressive, but it has made walking along a street at night a more comfortable experience.

Have you considered writing a book about a boy, a dragon and kung fu? (in other words, what will be the next project after Dragon Orb comes to an end?)

I have a huge idea that will take in the Mary Celeste, the Loch Ness Monster, the disappearances of Amelia Earhart and Glen Miller, as well as a whole host of mysteries in the Bermuda Triangle … and yes, it will involve dragons. Not sure about martial arts, though. I can’t quite see a link at the moment to take that in as well. I have yet to sell it to my publisher, so it may come to nothing, but that gives an idea of where my thoughts are straying towards.

I also just noticed that Dragon Orb: Firestorm has made the shortlist for the Explore Book Award 2009 – congratulations! How did you celebrate when you heard the news?

I cracked open a bottle of very nice red wine and proceeded to drink it while editing Aurora. I just hope it won’t show!!

Who is the most famous person – apart from yourself, that is –that you have met as published author?

Well, that depends on who you are, I suppose. Most people of heard of the Queen, so I guess that would make her the most famous person. However, I met Sean Connery briefly at the Edinburgh Literary Festival last year. He’s pretty much the King of Scotland these days, isn’t he? That makes him quite famous as well.

What is, in your opinion, the best thing about being a writer?

Fan mail. No doubt about it. Getting a letter or an email from a reader telling me how much they’ve enjoyed reading my work makes the whole process worthwhile.

Do you have any good books that you have recently read that you would recommend to readers?

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. Having said I liked her fantasy, I was never hugely taken with her Science Fiction work. Remnant Population was unusual and enjoyable, but her other stuff never really grabbed me. The Speed of Dark, though, is an unforgettable book. It is a near future science fiction story. The main character, Lou Arrendale is a forty-something year old autistic man working for a big pharmaceutical company looking for patterns in streams of data. Both the story and his viewpoint are fascinating. I’ve read books with autistic protagonists before – ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ springs to mind, but this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In short, it’s inspired. Drop whatever you’re reading (unless it’s one of mine) and go get a copy right now! You won’t regret it.

Similarly, any good “how to” books to read on writing for aspiring authors out there?

I’ve not read many, but those I have read have all been good. Two spring to mind straight away - The Fiction Writers’ Handbook by Nancy Smith is simple, well constructed and easy to read (I’m not sure if it’s still in print, but I’m sure there will be copies available on the web somewhere). Also, Writing For Children by Linda Strachan is a fantastic read for anyone thinking of writing for a younger audience.

Find Mark's website here and his publishers, Simon & Schuster's site here.
**Competition News**
The lovely publicity department at S&S have kindly offered the first three books in the Dragon Orb series as a freebie to a randomly selected person (3 books = 1 winner) - only trick is, you have to enter to win, a bit like the lottery. Only, your chances are probably better. So, email us at myfavouritebooksatblogspot(@) (remove the brackets around @) with your name and address details. We'll announce the winner on Saturday, 4th April.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Foundling (Monster Blood Tattoo) by D M Cornish


Set in the world of the Half-Continent- a land of tri-corner hats and flintlock pistols-the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy is a world of predatory monsters, chemical potions and surgically altered people. Foundling begins the journey of Rossamund, a boy with a girl's name, who is just about to begin a dangerous life in the service of the Emperor. What starts as a simple journey is threatened by encounters with monsters-and people, who may be worse. Learning who to trust and who to fear is neither easy nor without its perils, and Rossamund must choose his path carefully.

Complete with appendices, maps, illustrations, and a glossary, Monster Blood Tattoo grabs readers from the first sentence and immerses them in an entirely original fantasy world with its own language and lore.

It has been a long old time since I felt so immersed in a story - in fact, it was probably when I fell for Lira's story in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy all those years ago... There is something utterly magical about Foundling by D M Cornish. It's the whole package, I think - the story, Rossamund's shiny character, the action, the adventure, the language, the monsters (!) and this entire world Mr. Cornish has created.

Rossamund Bookchild has grown up as an orphan (foundling) at Madam Opera's Estimable Maritime Society for Foundling Boys and Girls. His life has not been one of luxury, to say the least, but he has been fortunate enough to have made friends during his stay there. Rossamund realises that he has to leave Madam Opera's and has his heart set on becoming a sailor, so when he is chosen to become a lamplighter instead - soldiers who protect the Empire's roads from all evil - he is only half disheartened. At least he will still be adventuring! But for someone as innocent and naive as Rossamund, it spells trouble!

Foundling follows Rossamund's journey as he travels the Half Continent to the lamplighter's HQ. The journey is pretty dangerous - even for hardy seasoned adults, travelling in a group, never mind for a young boy travelling on his own, especially a boy who has never left the town he's grown up in.

What I enjoyed about Foundling is how Rossamund goes from someone who is scared of monsters and who has lived a very sheltered life, to someone who can feel empathy for a slain monster. Although, in their society, feeling anything but dislike towards monsters, is akin to social suicide and will no doubt be followed by a swift death. The image I have of the world is harsh - probably close to being an incarnation of an early industrial era. There are thieves, robbers, scary monsters, enhanced humans (humans who have extra glands inserted into their bodies, making them faster, stronger, capable of fighting creatures and defending the human race) - but then there are also kind and gentle people who are sharply juxtaposed against a backdrop where you realise that monsters aren't just the ones who LOOK like monsters, the ones who like you and I are sometimes even scarier.

Rossamund's journey is wonderfully told - the language is elegant and almost antique sounding with almost-familiar names culled from words we would recognise as being Germanic or Dutch. One item that I found only lightly jarring at first, but then became used to, is some of the character's dialogue - the colloquial speech of some of the other characters was really hard to get into and felt a bit jarring, detracting only slightly from the story - but then, I understand exactly why it was done, giving you an example of how the people from the different regions within the Half Continent spoke the same language, but with it's own "accent" for a lack of a better word.

I am really looking forward to reading more about Rossamund - his character is so sweet and it would appear that there is more to this little boy with the girl's name, than meets the eye. The other characters who make their appearances - either villain (monster/human) or hero (monster/human), brings a little bit of magic to the story.

Importantly, I think everyone should visit the author's website because, like Gillian Philip's site, it is just too cool for words. Find the link here. Many thanks to Penguin USA for sending a copy of this amazing book out to me. It is a treasure to read and I am really pleased that I got the chance to spread the word about D M Cornish and Rossamund! D M Cornish has also been published here in the UK (by David Fickling Books, part of Random House) and both Foundling and it's follow-up novel, Lamplighter are available to purchase.

Welcome to the Jungle (The Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher and Ardian Syaf


When the supernatural world spins out of control, when the police can’t handle what goes bump in the night, when monsters come screaming out of nightmares and into the mean streets, there’s just one man to call: Harry Dresden, the only professional wizard in the Chicago phone book. A police consultant and private investigator, Dresden has to walk the dangerous line between the world of night and the light of day.

Now Harry Dresden is investigating a brutal mauling at the Lincoln Park Zoo that has left a security guard dead and many questions unanswered. As an investigator of the supernatural, he senses that there’s more to this case than a simple animal attack, and as Dresden searches for clues to figure out who is really behind the crime, he finds himself next on the victim list, and being hunted by creatures that won’t leave much more than a stain if they catch him.

First and foremost, let me say thank you to the chaps at Dabel and Random House US for sending me a copy of this to review. Needless to say I was ontop of the world and over the moon when it arrived earlier this week.

I am a huge graphic novels geek but I am very much aware that I am still lacking in my geek-education. This however does not detract me from picking up these glossy little treasures and reading them to bits.

As a fan of Jim Butcher's work (yes, even the TV show, The Dresden Files) when I found out that Dabel were going to be doing graphic novels of his stories, I was - along with the rest of the JB-Fandom - very excited. And it is justified - we have not been let down.

Welcome to the Jungle is expressly written for Dabel by Jim, with a foreword by him. It made me grin reading it as you can really tell that JB is a total fan-boy at heart, no matter how well his novels sell and how famous he is!

Welcome to the Jungle is set in modern Chicago. The story is wonderfully illustrated by a very adept Ardian Syaf, capturing the nuance of the storyline with the slightly deeper darker shadows and the effective use of "show not tell" imagery. He captures Harry and Murphy in an unfussy way, bringing movement to their actions. An excellent artist and very well chosen by the chaps at Dabel.

We follow Harry as he's called in by Murphy, to investigate the weird happenings at the zoo, in his on-off capacity as consultant for the police. Everyone else seems very happy to turn their back on the strangeness of the attack and to say: "the monkey did it". But, of course, this is not the case. It never is. Especially not where Harry's concerned.

As a pointer, this story takes place just after the first novel "Stormfront" and if read it as that, you immediately notice the tension between Murphy and Harry - Murphy is still a bit unsure and wary of Harry and his abilities whilst defending him to her colleagues. They are friends, but it is as if she is hovering on the brink to take his word as the truth or to toss him in jail for obstructing the investigation. The few pages in which Murphy appears is revelatory - her scowl is prominent, as is her negative body language - it is one of defense and almost annoyance. In this instance you cannot fault Mr. Sayef in his drawing of her. He captures her hesitancy as she hovers over the crime scene with tremendous ease.

Back to the story: Harry, being Harry, gets lumbered with a damsel in distress, then gets in over his head and has to desperately figure out exactly why wild animals are becoming possessed and chasing him and the damsel and more people are killed! Of course Bob is there, as leery and informative as ever. The depiction of Mister is hilarious and well, the story works - it works because Jim has cared enough about Harry to give him an "aside" adventure, something new, something which the Dresden Files fans did not know. It is an interesting aside as there is a bit of character development thrown in for good measure and it is a vehicle to show off the evolving relationship Harry has with Murphy and how things can go pearshaped, so very quickly.

It is a very good read - if I listen to my friend Kaz Mahoney and I attribute stars to the books I review, I'm here giving it ten out of ten stars or five out of five. Welcome to the Jungle gets that extra star for the concept art in the back - it is wonderful stuff and really worthwhile picking it up if you are a Dresden fan or even, if you've never heard of Harry Dresden or his wizarding prowess and you are in the mood to own a four in one graphic novel with some amazing artwork, you cannot go wrong picking up a copy of this.

Find the Dabel Brothers website here. If you look through their site, there are some illustrated pages of Welcome To the Jungle that will no doubt wet your appetite for more.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

**Interview With YA Author: Gillian Philip**

After reading Crossing The Line, I made contact with the author, Gillian Philip and begged her to pop by for an author interivew. And she agreed, which thrilled me no end.

Photo by Les Hester

1. Please introduce yourself to us.

I’m an obsessive writer and I’ve been writing all my life – give or take a few periods of denial, when I tried to do – ahem - ‘proper’ jobs. I live in the north-east Highlands of Scotland with my husband, seven-year-old twins, a Labrador and two cats. I lived in Barbados for twelve years – that’s where I started writing professionally (I couldn’t get a work permit, so I contributed short stories to women’s magazines back home). But Scotland is definitely my natural habitat – as are Young Adult novels. I discovered them in the children’s section of bookshops after my kids were born, and that’s when I found what I truly wanted to write.

2. What is Bad Faith all about?

It’s the story of a girl called Cassandra, who has a dodgy leg, a dodgy boyfriend, and a seriously dodgy memory. Bad Faith is set in a state ruled by theocratic government, and Cass’s father is a respected cleric, so she’s had a privileged life. But after a car accident, there’s a period in her life she has trouble remembering – and her family seems to be harbouring some terrible secrets.

Then Cass and her infidel boyfriend Ming find the corpse of a missing bishop - and decide that he has to stay missing. That’s when things really start to go wrong...

3. Tell us a bit about your newest novel, Crossing the Line.

It’s about a boy called Nick Geddes who has done some terrible things. After the killing of a boy a year ago he’s trying to turn his life round, but it’s complicated. Nick is in love and lust with the dead boy’s sister, but he’s also having to keep an eye on his own deranged sister and her imaginary friend. Things take a turn for the worse when a dangerous figure reappears from Nick’s past.

4. How did the story for Crossing the Line come to you?

I always have trouble thinking back to the exact moment a story started. I do remember the spark of a particularly shocking knife murder a few years ago. The characters grew in my head when I was out for a walk one day – Allie started out as a boy, and I never knew Nick was such a thug till I started to write him. But they took over, the way characters do, and told me their stories. Lola Nan was very vociferous!

5. Both Allie and Nick are fantastic characters – do you think you will at a later stage return to their lives?

I don’t think so. Never say never, but I think their stories have been told now. I hope their lives go well. Maybe they’ll let me know...

6. Tell us a bit more about the Darke Academy and when we can expect to see it in the shops.

The Darke Academy is a school with secrets. It’s a truly international school in that it moves to a different location every term, and the students come from all over the world. But as my scholarship heroine discovers, they are an even more cosmopolitan bunch than they seem on the surface. And the school brings a whole new meaning to the term student body.

I collaborated on the Darke Academy series with Hothouse Fiction – they are the company responsible for the Darkside books, which I thought were terrific. Hothouse provided the outline and I wrote the story with input from the editors. It was a new and different way for me to work, and I enjoyed it a lot.

7. What is your writing day like?

I’m terrible at getting started. I have a coffee, and then another. I fill the dishwasher. I do emails, I go on Facebook. Anything rather than write. But once I get started I try to stay in my chair and focused. And if it’s going well – whoosh. I can write through till evening. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s amazing.

8. What do you do to relax and unwind?

Write. I know, that sounds sad! Well, I do love to go for long walks, and if I can motivate myself, a workout at the gym is fantastic. But if I’m not writing, I feel so guilty that it’s best just to get back to it. I love movies, especially thrillers or good superhero movies or epics, but about halfway through I’ll think of something for my story, and I’ll be hankering after my laptop so much I can’t concentrate.

9. Does music play an important part of you, writing scenes / creating characters.

Absolutely. I like to have a whole unique soundtrack for each book, and I’ll play it over and over again to get me into the right mindset. Songs can be a wonderful trigger for atmosphere and theme. I got four books out of John Cale singing Hallelujah...

Image from Gillian's website

10. I notice on your site that you are very active doing talks and workshops at schools and libraries – how do you prepare for them and what do you talk about?

I’d like to be even more active! I really enjoy doing talks and workshops, getting feedback from readers. I like to talk about my own writing process, about how I got started and also why it took so long for me – all the things that get in the way of being a writer. If someone can write and wants to write, they shouldn’t waste time not writing (like I did). All you have to do is start. I find that ideas and plots come when I get started, not before, so I talk about that, about breaking down the barriers between the writer and the story.

11. Who is the most famous person you’ve met in your “job” as an author?

Oh – hard question! I’m lucky enough to be a member of a children’s writers’ internet group, where I’ve ‘met’ terrific authors like Susan Price and Mary Hoffman and Leslie Wilson and many others... Oh, and I’ve met Ian Rankin in the flesh, but I was far too starstruck to do more than mumble.

12. Are there any “how to” books that you have on your shelf that’s helped you with your own writing?

The best writing book I’ve ever read is On Writing by Stephen King. He’s realistic, he’s helpful, he’s so readable... and he’s very entertaining.

13. Will you be touring for Crossing the Line (she asks, desperately wanting her copy signed)?

I hope I’ll be getting out and about, definitely!

14. You specifically write for the young adult market – what made you choose this “sub-genre” (if you can call it that) in children’s literature.

I was drawn to the YA shelves when I was looking for books for my own children. There was such a great range of stories, such terrific plots and characters, so many wonderful authors; I’d discovered what I wanted to write. There’s a lot of scope for crossing boundaries in YA fiction, and it’s a great, open-minded, passionate audience to write for. One thing it’s not about is ‘writing down’. I like to steal a quote from YA imprint Flux Books – ‘Young Adult is a point of view, not a reading level.’

15. Do you have favourite movies / books that influence your writing at all?

Lots! I see my books inside my head as if I’m watching a movie, and I try to leave out the parts where I’d wander away to get some more popcorn...
I try not to read much fiction while I’m immersed in my own stories, because I’m afraid of the style ‘leaking’ and affecting mine. But there are so many authors I love – Bernard Cornwell, Malorie Blackman, Ruth Rendell... and I’m completely in awe of Russell T. Davies. That man is my idol.

16. Finally, any recommendations on either “how to” books or favourite authors / books, that influenced you and your career decisions.

There are so many ‘how-to’ books – I can’t recommend better than Stephen King’s – but it’s too easy to get hung up on reading them all. You can take good advice, but the only way to learn how to write is to sit down and do it, and do it again, and do it again. Get objective feedback – pay for it if necessary; there are lots of companies that provide manuscript services. You have to be determined, and you have to have talent, and you have to be willing to listen to criticism and take rejection – but if you have all that, don’t ever be discouraged by naysayers.

Monday, March 23, 2009

* Press Release - Dan Abnett signs with Angry Robot*

Okay, so having met The Man himself this Saturday, for the umpteenth time, and Liz having met him for the FIRST time, this is really good news:

Angry Robot is HarperCollins’ upcoming imprint devoted to all that’s new in genre fiction – SF, F and WTF?! Today, we are delighted to announce we’ve signed noted SF & Fantasy author DAN ABNETT for three original novels, for a substantial five-figure advance.

Dan Abnett made his name in the tie-in SF and Fantasy fiction field, selling more than 1.2 million copies in English language of his Warhammer 40,000 novels. They’ve also been translated into ten other languages. He’s also recently made the UK fiction charts with original Torchwood and Doctor Who novels. His comicbook scripts, for major publishers such as Marvel, DC Comics and the UK’s 2000 AD, have attracted critical plaudits and strong sales on both sides of the Atlantic.

The three novels for Angry Robot will allow Abnett to play to all his strengths as a writer. His penchant for wildly imaginative world-building and lovable characters comes to the fore in TRIUMPH, a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped version of our present day … only with Elizabeth the First on the throne. This will be published by Angry Robot, in both the UK and US, in October 2009.

Next year will see two novels in a stunning new future-war setting. EMBEDDED sends a
journalist into the frontline of a distant planetary war… chipped inside the head of a combatveteran. When the soldier is killed, the journo must use all his resourcefulness to get safely home again, reporting on a live feed all the way. No one writes future war as well as Dan Abnett, and fans of tie-in series such as “Gaunt’s Ghosts” and his “Horus Heresy” novels will be blown away by this bold new move into original science fiction.

Joshua Files - Ice Shock by MG Harris


Josh thought the worst was over - but it hasn't even started...

Josh is even more certain now that his father's death was no accident - and he's starting to wonder if he can really trust his closest allies. When he learns of a secret buried within the Ix Codex, he must journey back to the secret Mexican city of Ek Naab. Shocking news awaits him about the mysterious Bracelet of Itzamna. Did Josh's dad really take it? And where is it now? Josh has no idea what's waiting for him...

If I was a raving bunny after reading and reviewing the first Joshua Files - Invisible City - well, colour me bright yellow (to match the sleeve for Ice Shock) and now call me Raving Rabbit.

Whereas I thoroughly enjoyed Invisible City and had a mini-crush on Joshua, MG Harris' new offering, Ice Shock, has stepped up the character development, storyline, plot exploration and the all out adventure to Ridley Scott levels.

Joshua thinks that things have quietened down after his adventures in Ek Naab - he almost has his life back to normal. His mother is a ghost of her former self - the conversations they have are stilted and unhappy, trailing off with either one of them leaving the room. She is still struggling to come to grips with the death of his father. Joshua still isn't convinced that things are as explained as they could be. He wants closure, actual answers and he's happy to push the boundaries to make sure he gets them.

He has also not stayed as close to Tyler and Ollie as he wanted to - they still regard him with a bit of suspicion as he left them behind whilst he went off to search for answers on his own in the jungle.

Now, here I confess utterly that I suspected both Tyler and Ollie from the start as being double agents. I suspected one more than the other but boy, was I taken aback in Ice Shock when the real traitor stood up! And boy was it a carefully planned and plotted - in that respect, I loved the reveal scene because the protagonist was pretty scary but once you met his follower (the traitor!) and you realised the level of that person's delusion, you can't help but empathise with Josh even more.

The story mostly takes place in and around Mexico with brief stop-overs in Oxford. I love the richness of the culture which MG Harris is so deft at adding to the storyline without deviating from the action and the characters. Joshua grows tremendously in this novel as a person - he has to face that one of the people whom he held as a confidant has betrayed him to the enemy, he finds out that if he isn't careful, the group of lunatics keen to destroy Ek Naab, are looking for him specifically as you know, it will be a good way to get hold of a test subject in order to try out some fun procedures to test his resistance to certain illnesses and see if he has any further gifts...not pleasant, at all.

But, being Joshua, he only knows one gear: and that is forward.

With the help of Ixchel (whom Joshua is supposed to be marry one day...or not!) Joshua has to face up to who he is, his own destiny and that maybe, just maybe, what he has been told about Ek Naab, may not be all of the truth. It raises questions of trust, belief in yourself and the levels of belief in your friends and family and how far you are prepared to go to find what you seek.

I can say a lot more about the novel, the set pieces which are very good and the final action sequence which is just completely inspired. But I won't because you know, I trust you guys to take my word when I say: excellent read and worthy of a best buy tick.

Ice Shock is a multi-layered plot and it is very well written. For those who are after action and adventure and puzzles to solve, this is an excellent novel. For those who want to dig deeper into a developing character and follow him through twists and turns, this is for you too. Whilst travelling in an exotic locale, no less!

I didn't think that there could be more twists and turns, but MG Harris said on Thursday evening at the Scholastic Author Event, that we have to bear in mind that this is the second of a five book series. A lot more will be happening! We have to realise that the bad guy we have seen in Book 1 and Book 2, is an underling, the real baddy hasn't even shown up yet to confront our hero!

The mind boggles! And the heart waits impatiently. Find MG Harris' site here and the official Joshua Files website here.

Kingdom of the Deep by Frank Hinks


Boris the skull persuades the witch Griselda that she needs a holiday. Before she departs for her cousin Veronica’s home Morgan Castle in Pembrokeshire she castes a spell to change the boys’ holiday plans, but to her distress discovers on arrival that her cousin will not allow children of holiday makers to be eaten whilst they are staying in the castle (bad for custom – the parents get upset and will not come back next year). So Griselda magics the boys to the Kingdom of the Deep and follows to eat them there. In the Kingdom of the Deep the boys are taken by a little mermaid to meet her mother a mermaid queen who in her foolish desire to dance has allowed the Princess of the Night to steal her tail and take possession of her kingdom. With the help of Snuggle the boys get back the tail and in her delight the mermaid Queen begins to sing, breaking the spell of the Princess of the Night.

This has to be one of the most amusing, wonderfully illustrated and quirky books I've ever had the opportunity to review.

The author, Frank Hinks, has a high humour factor in this little book and I was giggling to myself on the train and at work whilst I was reading it, because, you know, the tongue in cheek remarks by Boris the Skull is just so excellent.

The book is aimed at very young readers and the illustrations are colourful, very funny and eye-catching. There is an almost "over the top"-ness about the boys' adventures that make you throw caution to the wind and you just have to run with the story as it is that fun and silly.

The dialogue is quick and snappy and the book is a very quick read and will suit reading out loud to an audience. In fact, it cries out to be read out loud - the action is fast and the characters are very vivid - especially Griselda.

To give you an example of the predicaments the boys get themselves into (this extract is available on the author's site):

"Hallo!" cried a huge wheezing squid swaying out from behind the rock. "How nice to see you boys. Do let me give you just a little squeeze!"

"Oh no! Not again!" grumbled the boys as they began to run.

"Come back! Come back! I only want a little squeeze!" wheezed the squid as she let loose a cloud of choking black ink which enveloped the boys.

The boys were stumbling in the dark when voices whispered in their ears, "Quick! Quick! Climb on our backs before she gets you." The boys clambered on the backs of the sea horses, which swiftly galloped through the waters leaving the squid gasping in anger, "I only wanted a little squeeze!"

So, on the surface Kingdom of the Deep appears as frivolous fun and it can be read as such, but there is an important element of the boys sticking together and remaining firm friends through out their crazy-mad adventure. Family matters! No matter how improbable the adventure, with quick thinking, team-work and resilience, the boys manage to escape the clutches of Griselda and the denizons of the Deep!

The author has one of the best sites I've seen so do pop by and check out the drawings and the rest of the boys' adventures. I did try to upload some of the artwork but the resolution is too high and I didn't think it fair to the author and illustrator to diminish it in size and quality!

Kingdom of the Deep by Frank Hinks is out on 1st June 09 and there will be more crazy-mad adventures to enjoy in The Land of Lost Hair.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Rock 'n Roll Life of Mark and Liz at MFB

Thursday evening saw me attend a very interesting evening at Scholastic's offices - an author evening with MG Harris, Sharon Dogar, Josh Lacey and Rachel Ward. It was incredibly interesting listening to the authors chat to Damian Kelleher about their books, how they came to be published and how their stories developed from first draft to finished product.

I tried my best not to, but I completely geeked when I came face to face with MG Harris - what a truly gracious and amusing speaker she is! - and I tried to haphazzardly explain that I got to review her very first Joshua files book when it was first published. She signed my books and I went squeeing back to Steven who works for Scholastic. *titter* oh, the joys of being able to be a complete fan-girl!

Then, Saturday we took ourselves off to Forbidden Planet for the big THARG signing. I got to meet Dan Abnett for the first time, after pestering him loads of times on Facebook. And this time, it was Mark's turn to go complete fan-boy. He was in his element, chatting to James Swallow, Dan Abnett, Simon Davis, Rufus Dayglo (not to be called Roof), Al Ewing, Brett Ewins, Henry Flint, Frazer Irving (not Frazier!), Tony Lee, Simon Spurrier and the legend that is Matt Smith. I am pretty sure I may have left out someone...and that is not my intention, I swear!

And between Mark and I, we've decided that I am not allowed control of the digital camera anymore. I shake so much - everyone looks like they are moving super fast, but I have managed to salvage two relatively good pictures.

Mark (in his Sin City t-shirt) getting some of his items signed by Al Ewing with Tony Lee on the left of the picture, drawing some artwork for a fan.

James Swallow and Dab Abnett posing for the camera.

This coming Thursday Mike Carey and Kate Griffin will be signing copies of their books at Forbidden Planet. I am over the moon! What is new, right? I am sure regulars on the blog are under the impression I live my life in a state of high excitement and to be honest, they won't be wrong! I will definitely try to get some pics of that event up before we leave for our holiday on Malta this Friday. Most of the week will be spent agonising about what books to take with to read - one thick one or several smaller ones? It is a very hard life!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Publishing Day: The Adamantine Palace, Stephen Deas

Dear author Stephen Deas - Happy Book Day!

I very briefly met Stephen Deas at Mr. David Devereux's book launch a few months ago here in London. We maybe spoke for all of two minutes but I was struck by how nervous he seemed about speaking about his upcoming novel, The Adamantine Palace, published by Gollancz in the UK. Having said that, he was incredibly nice and probably overwhelmed by the group of shrieking people (me, Kaz, Mark, Jaine Fenn, Alex Bell and Suzanne McLeod) we were at the time, so I don't blame him at all for beating a hasty retreat to the back to speak to Jon and Simon from Gollancz.

When I spoke to Suzanne about his apparent shyness and how excited I was about The Adamantine Palace, she firmly but gently said that it is a very odd time for an author - he is being published, there is hype about the book, but he can't actually talk about it, because it's not been published as yet. And she reminded me that it can be overwhelming because you go from being a member of the public to one of the "in crowd" and so it is a bit of a change and something to get used to. Upon reflection I realised that it made complete sense and I felt that when the day came, I wanted to do a bit of splash on MFB because you know, debut novelists deserve it and also, in a way, to apologise to Stephen D for coming across a bit "heavy" before his publication and assured star-dom.

I've just visited Stephen's LJ site and decided that it is today that warrants an all-out shout-out.

It is his debut today - The Adamantine Palace is officially released today. So, a massive congratulations to Stephen and the team at Gollancz.

On his LJ Stephen mentions the split of opinions between reviewers who had already read it - some love it, some don't. But, and this is where I've had several conversations in the past with publishers, authors and agents: in my mind the reviewers CHOSE to review the book. They picked it up, from their tottering piles of TBR stacks and they CHOSE to review The Adamantine Palace because something about it drew their attention. So, in that respect, it is already winning. And it is generating conversation and interest. So it's going to be interesting to see how it progesses. I will be buying a copy on my return from Malta to read and will definitely review it because, you know, it has Dragons!

Stephen will be appearing at Eastercon (which Mark and I will also be attending) so make sure you get your copies signed if you are around. This is the link to his website and this is the one to his LJ.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Orange Book Prize Long List

The Bookseller has just delivered this to my inbox.

The longlist in full:

Debra Adelaide The Household Guide to Dying (HarperCollins)

Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress (Tindal Street Press)

Lissa Evans Their Finest Hour and a Half (Doubleday)

Bernadine Evaristo Blonde Roots (Hamish Hamilton)

Ellen Feldman Scottsboro (Picador)

Laura Fish Strange Music (Jonathan Cape)

V V Ganeshananthan Love Marriage (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Allegra Goodman Intuition (Atlantic Books)

Samantha Harvey The Wilderness (Jonathan Cape)

Samantha Hunt The Invention of Everything Else (HarvillSecker)

Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog (Chatto & Windus)

Deirdre Madden Molly Fox's Birthday (Faber)

Toni Morrison A Mercy (Chatto & Windus)

Gina Ochsner The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight (Portobello Books)

Marilynne Robinson Home (Virago)

Preeta Samarasan Evening is the Whole Day (Fourth Estate)

Kamila Shamsie Burnt Shadows (Bloomsbury)

Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife (Doubleday)

Miriam Toews The Flying Troutmans (Faber)

Ann Weisgarber The Personal History of Rachel DuPree (Macmillan New Writing)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

**Press Release: Judges announced for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2009**

The judges for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2009 are announced today, Tuesday 17th March 2009. Acclaimed author and journalist Candida Lycett Green will chair the panel of judges and is joined by Literary Editor of The Independent on Sunday Suzi Feay and Rodney Troubridge of Waterstone’s.

The Desmond Elliott Prize was launched in 2007 as a biennial award for a first novel published in the UK. The inaugural prize, won by Nikita Lalwani for her novel, Gifted, was so well received that the trustees were prompted to change the prize to an annual award. Gifted 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 inaugurated in honour of publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, one of the most charismatic and successful men in this field, who died in August 2003. 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.

Candida Lycett Green, who was represented by Desmond Elliott, comments: “The Desmond Elliott Prize for Fiction is a wonderful celebration of new writing talent. The emphasis on original fiction reflects Desmond’s passion and I and all the judges are delighted to be involved in such an exciting and worthwhile prize.”

The judges will look 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 will be considered from all fiction genres, as illustrated by the 2008 longlist which included Child 44 by Rob Smith, Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinemann, The Outcast by Sadie Jones, Sunday At The Cross Bones by John Walsh and The Truth About These Strange Times by Adam Foulds.

This year’s longlist of ten books will be announced in late March, followed by the shortlist of three books in May. The winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2009 will be announced on Wednesday 24 June at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, London.

About the judges

Candida Lycett Green (Chair)
is the author of sixteen books including English Cottages, Goodbye London, The Perfect English House, Over the Hills and Far away and The Dangerous Edge of Things. Her television documentaries include “The Englishwoman and the Horse” and “The Front Garden”. She has also edited and introduced her father John Betjeman’s letters and prose in three volumes, to critical acclaim. She was a commissioner of English Heritage for nine years, is a member of the Performing Rights Society through her song-writing lyrics and has been a Contributing Editor to Vogue since 1987. She was part of the original team who started Private Eye and has written a regular column called Unwrecked England for The Oldie since 1992.

Suzi Feay is a journalist, broadcaster and critic specialising in books, theatre and the arts. She has judged the Whitbread Novel Prize, the Impac Prize, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial prize and the Orange New Writers Prize, and was chair of judges for the National Poetry Prize in 2002 and the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 2007. She is currently Literary Editor of the Independent on Sunday where she has been since 1997.

Rodney Troubridge began life as a bookseller eighteen years ago with the chain Dillons in a long-defunct branch in Kensington High Street. Dillons turned into Waterstone's and, aside from a brief spell at the Pan Bookshop, he has stayed with the chain and now works at their head office in marketing. Apart from reading, his leisure interests include walking in overseas countries and classical music. He usually reads about ten books a month and is in the fortunate position of receiving proofs of forthcoming books from publishers.

For updates and news, please see

Crossing the Line by Gillian Philip


Nick Geddes is the loneliest thug in school, but that’s not entirely his own fault. True, he should never have thrown in his lot with the homicidal Kev Naughton in the first place, but he's trying to live down his past.

It isn’t his fault his mother is a New Age hippy chick with a mortifying god-slot on local radio; as far as he knows it isn't him who drives his father to drink. Nick isn’t the one who hangs out shoplifting with an imaginary friend: that’s his deranged sister Allie.

Worst of all, the girl he loves hates him with a passion, and that's understandable. But it wasn't Nick who stabbed Orla Mahon's brother to death with a kitchen knife...

Interested yet? You should be.

Firstly, let me tell you what this novel isn't about: Crossing the Line isn't about the action act, or knife crime (which is so much the topic these days in the newspapers and on TV), it isn't about making excuses, it isn't about gangs, it isn't about gratuitous violence - instead it is about what went before and what came after and how a stupid pointless act committed by a scared boy trying to save face created a whole world of problems for those left behind.

Beautifully written from Nick's point of view, the story skips backwards and forwards, telling the story of his sister Allie, his own involvement in a gang of bullies and how he walked away from that, to his own detriment and that of his sister. It tells the story of Allie's strangeness and how she fell in love with Aidan and how, after his murder, she's conjured him to be her imaginary friend. Nick's parents are not emotionally equipped to deal with his problems, or his sister's as she seems to be going off the rails and definitely not his nan's rapid decline.

In other words, Nick has a lot going on. And for all his surly ways, he is immensely likeable. His character is handled with ease and his emotions are explored with great sensitivity. There is also a lot of humour, some black, some wry and some laugh out loud funny. It takes a very talented author to broach a topic such as knife crime and tell it from the point of view of one of the perceived baddies.

The novel is very easy to read. My favourite character through all of this is Allie - with her strange ways and imaginary boyfriend by her side. There is something so vulnerable about her character that I fell for her hook line and sinker. It doesn't mean that she's annoying or wimpy - she's just tougher in other ways than Nick - where he is all muscle and brawn and scowls his way through school and conversations, she's quiet, quick and maybe a bit manipulative.

I thought that Nick's character could have gone badly wrong - he could have been a truly unlikeable character, one that you do not have any empathy for and somehow resent reading about. Instead his motivations are explained with great care and you can see where he comes from and why he acts the way he does. A very good creation and to be honest, it was like having a window into the head of some of the surly kids I see hanging around our local offie.

Crossing the Line is an excellent read for ages of 11+. I did some searching and found the author, Gillian Philip's very cool looking website here. It's fantastic to see how much work she currently has on. Crossing the Line is published by Bloomsbury and will be available during the first week of April.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thicker than Water by Mike Carey


Old ghosts of different kinds come back to haunt Fix, in the fourth gripping Felix Castor novel.

Names and faces he thought he'd left behind in Liverpool resurface in London, bringing Castor far more trouble than he'd anticipated. Childhood memories, family traumas, sins old and new, and a council estate that was meant to be a modern utopia until it turned into something like hell . . . these are just some of the sticks life uses to beat Felix Castor with as things go from bad to worse for London’s favourite freelance exorcist.

See, Castor’s stepped over the line this time, and he knows he’ll have to pay; the only question is: how much? Not the best of times, then, for an unwelcome confrontation with his holier-than-thou brother, Matthew. And just when he thinks things can't possibly get any worse, along comes Father Gwillam and the Anathemata. Oh joy . . .

I finished reading Thicker than Water on the way home Thursday night from the Raymond E Feist signing. I put the book on the seat next to me and exhaled. And realized I had been holding my breath for quite a while.

What a stonking read. No, seriously. There are levels of excellence and this has to be Mike Carey’s best Felix Castor novel, by far. I don’t actually have coherent words to form a proper review, except to say, holy smoke, Batman, I didn’t see that one coming! Well, I expected something but not that!

Shakes head. Okay, so, here’s the review now that I’ve had several cups of tea and managed to process the story in my head and the implications…

The story opens with an Ocean’s Eleven style kidnapping of an inmate of a hospital in South London. And that’s the good part. Well, Mr. Carey allows us to labour under the impression that that is the good part, until he pulls the rug out from under all of us, including Fix and eveyone’s favourite grumpy exorcist is hauled off and interrogated for murder. The item that implicated him in the murder being the words F Castor written in blood in the victim’s blood at the crime scene. And you know, what are the chances that anyone’s going to believe that Fix didn’t do it, especially when it turns out that he knew the victim from growing up in Liverpool and that the victim tried to kill him once, when they were kids…

Fix knows something is wrong with the estate where the murdered party comes from – he senses it as he looks towards it and once he gets there in person, he’s enveloped in its darkness. Something sinister is definitely going on, but what exactly? Why are his old enemies the Anathemata sneaking about the place and what is his brother, a priest, doing there? And why does he look so very guilty and why is he refusing to come clean about what he was up to?

London is a large sprawling metropolis with some very pretty areas and some decidedly ugly places. Mr. Carey takes us on a ride to these not so pretty places as this is where the action takes place and his descriptions lend an air of sincerity to his writing. You know he’s walked these streets he describes and you can almost recognize the places he writes about.

The violence in the novel is pretty brutal – I seriously thought in one section that Fix had bought it. He was going to be d.e.a.d. and will have to exorcise himself. But, he pulls through and then, as it went on a bit, I realized what a sneaky man Mr. Carey is – he’s set up this major incident, almost killing Fix, so that he could make contact with someone rather nice, who will give him a fresh perspective on the case. Very clever, Mr. Author!

The story is a pocket-rocket – it zooms ahead and you have to pay attention to keep abreast of things, as with all the other FC novels. Fix’s character is one that can either grate or you identify with – at the end of the day, he’s just a guy trying to do the best he can in a shitty situation and he just happens to be the one everyone seems to pick on. Having said that, he does himself no favours by being a sarcy and antagonistic git.

The main story within Thicker than Water gets concluded satisfactorily and I heaved a sigh of relief. Although, as much as it concluded, it threw up a few more questions – you know, about religion, the origin of good and bad, angels and demons…the usual noir questions every urban fantasy should ask.

There is a lot more that is due to happen in the forthcoming books. The overall story-arc which started off in book one seems to be heading one way now. Or so it would seem. The end of the novel ends in this blanket of silence and you think to yourself…oh crap, what now?

Thicker than Water is published by Orbit and is out now in all bookshops. Mike Carey will be doing a signing over at FP next week Thursday (26th March) for Thicker than Water and the lovely Kate Griffin will be there too, celebrating her release of Madness of Angels.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Blood Hunters by Steve Voake


In the middle of the Mexican jungle a small scientific team prepare to embark on an exploration of the world’s deepest sinkhole; a naturally-formed underwater shaft that no one has ever reached the bottom of. What they are about to discover could change the world forever.

Three thousand miles away, Joe McDonald’s father is arrested for murder. Joe and his friend Giles are desperate to prove his innocence, but when more people are attacked in mysterious circumstances, Joe begins to suspect that a predator is on the loose. Maybe the dark shapes he has seen in the woods and canal aren’t just his imagination. Could the attacks in Joe’s town be linked to his dad’s research at the university? Could Dad’s colleague have brought something back with him from the expedition in Mexico?

Suddenly the search for justice becomes a desperate fight for survival…

I am not entirely keen on books with dinosaurs on the cover or of wild crazed eyes staring at me. It makes me feel...watched, which is probably the idea, so when Blood Hunters arrived in the post I wasn't entirely sure if I was going to give it a go. I was thinking of maybe slipping it into Mark's bag to read...but then I read the back and I thought I had to give it a try. Go Team Liz!

In twenty words or lessL it is a mix of Michael Crichton and Stephen King at their best. It is bloody terrifying.

I am paranoid enough about bugs and flying things and have a relative fondness for reptillians because, you know, they've had a tough time of it. But Blood Hunters has changed that. Now I am staying clear of all kinds of insects and animals, unless they are cats and dogs. Oh wait, there is that story about Cujo...

I digress. And I apologise. Overall Blood Hunters reads like an excellent script for an episode of Primevil . Only thing is, instead of a bunch of scientists trying to figure out what the hell happened, we have two very likeable teens, Joe and Giles and they do a remarkable job of putting the pieces together. But, of course, how do you get adults to pay attention once you've figured it out and at best, the story sounds like a hoax?

The action is fast paced and thrilling - none of the characters walk away unscathed after several attacks by these mysterious creatures. There is gore and muck aplenty and like all good novels, there are twists and turns and a false ending which had me go "what the hell!?!" as I neared the end of the novel and discovered that it wasn't all sunshine and roses and that there was MORE to come. And THEN the ending.

A very interesting novel, making you think about the bigger picture - what happens if nature decided to snap back? How do we cope? What do we do? What happens if we are no longer the top predators out there? What happens if we can't run and hide anymore because they will find us and eat us? And it's not aliens or vampires or other mystical creatures, but something from our earth's past? Fascinating stuff. It has just enough science to keep it interesting and enough grown-up input to keep the kids from being solitary heroes.

It is creepy and fantastic and although there was one small section I struggled to suspend my disbelief, it is easy to see past small glitch (boys and their toys, you know?) and I found it a quick fun read - a book boys would definitely enjoy, especially for the "ewww" factor. And girls would like because Joe and Giles sound pretty cute and they are heroic enough saving each other and some cops in the process.

Steve Voake's an old hand at writing good novels for kids, he's written a handful of others: The Dreamwalker's Child, The Web of Fire and The Starlight Conspiracy. I couldn't find his actual site, but there is a very pretty site for The Starlight Conspiracy here. Blood Hunters will only be released in the first week of April by Faber Kids. The date is not far away at all, and I'm pretty sure it will find favour with a good many existing and new fans.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday Ketchup

Thursday night Mark and I and our friend Kaz Mahoney pulled outselves together to go and meet the legend that is Raymond E Feist at Forbidden Planet in London.

It was amazing - he is a lovely erudite gentleman with a lovely speaking voice and a keen sense of humour - he shushed us a few times after we got our various books signed by him - we were standing chatting to the lovely Danie Ware from FP - BUT he did it with good humour and told several funny stories. There were many fans, some of whom clearly met him in the past.

Here's a pic of him signing a nice chaps proof copies.

He also posed with Mark but I shook too much to take a decent photo - so although you could tell it was Mark and it was Mr. Raymond E Feist, they all look a bit blurry. So, apologies for that!

This week has also been a very busy week at work. The only thing that kept me going insane was knowing I had parcels waiting for me at our neighbour, Ray. Our postie knows the drill and drops all our parcels with him. Cool, isn't it? In return we make sure the postie is supplied with wine and chocolate during the year - this keeps him happy lugging all those parcels around. And his wife thinks he's very thoughtful...

Anyway, here's a pic of a selection of the books we received this past week.

An exceedingly choice selection of books. I've already started on two of them. *beams*

I have two very hearty recommendations on books I've recently read - one review I can't post as yet as it is not yet published for a few looooong weeks yet but trust me when I say this, it's going to be big and it is going to rock your socks, especially if you are a fan of young adult urban fantasy.

The book is called Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda. I'm not saying a single thing more except for: make a note, pre-order it and read it. Or, stick around till closer the time, in May, when it's released and I'll be running an interview and a competition to win copies of it. Made a note in your diary.

Secondly, lie, cheat, buy or steal yourself a copy of the newest Felix Castor novel, Thicker than Water by Mike Carey. It is mindblowing. A non-stop actioner in which Fix comes up against a big bad, that makes even his demon-mate Juliette think twice. The review should be up early next week.

Today I got myself wiped out by the mother of all migraines. I've had several of them now, quite badly, these past few weeks. Having said that, today has also been an incredibly productive day writing-wise. I popped enough pills to fell an elephant and by midday I could actually make sense of what was going on around me. I had a burning need to write. And I did. 2000 words, people! My little piece of WIP which I am studiously working on, grew by 2k. I am very proud. I even re-read some of it and it all makes sense! I then went back upstairs to recharge and slept till five. If you were wondering where Mark was, well, he took himself off to the misty beaches of Kent looong before sunrise today and went fishing. He came home at around three with some lovely little pieces of fish. I'd show you the pics but I'm not all that into showing dead things on the blog.

So, watch out for a few upcoming reviews in the next few days. A lot of young adult stuff, a bit of fantasy (okay, maybe a lot) and some fab literary stuff too. Oh, and comps.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

**Allison and Busby - Revamped Site**

I am in lust. With the new Allison and Busby site.

It's been updated, reworked and rejigged and it looks really good!

It looks to me (she says slowly, browsing the site, whilst typing this) like there is a bit for everyone. For the reader and book club gurus there is a bookclub tab with suggestions, for the writer, there is a Writer's Corner with links to events and competitions, as well as a blog and the all important newsletter.

It looks like I will be spending some time there, whiling my time away. It is a hard life, I swear!

As a reminder, Allison and Busby will be bringing us Rachel Caine in a few months' time - which is going to be faintingly fantastic.

Happy browsing!

The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox


In the sunburnt deserts of eastern Turkey, archaeologists are unearthing a stone temple, the world's most ancient building. When Journalist Rob Luttrell is sent to report on the dig, he is intrigued to learn that someone deliberately buried the site 10,000 years ago. Why? Meanwhile, in London, a bizarre attack is baffling the police. When a weird killing takes place on the Isle of Man, followed by another in rural Dorset, DC Mark Forrester begins to discern a curious pattern in these apparently random murders. What weaves together these two stories is the Genesis Secret: a revelation so shocking it may threaten the social structure of the world. Only one man knows the secret, and he is intent on destroying the evidence before it can be uncovered. Spanning the globe from the ruined castles of Ireland to the desolate wastes of Kurdistan, Tom Knox's intense and compelling thriller weaves together genuine historical evidence, scientific insights and Biblical mysteries into an electrifying tale that grips the reader mercilessly from beginning to end.

*witness my little dance of joy* - in fact, if you were in the WHSmith’s at Charing Cross on Saturday evening, you would have seen me do a bit of a dance of joy when I discovered this book! I then politely paid for my book and left swiftly, in case I got tossed in jail for lewd behaviour.

I adore – as everyone who reads this blog should know by now – quest, thriller and adventure novels. Man, they can be rubbish and kitch and pulpy and I’ll still devour them with a relish. I won’t even say they are my secret shame because, ya’know, I tell everyone about them!

When I saw The Genesis Secret winking at me on the shelf, I snatched it up, saw how very pretty the cover was...and what immediately struck me was: no cover quotes from other authors in the genre and no newspaper quotes. I was immediately sold – 150%. I appreciated the fact that the publishers expected the book to sell on cover and book title alone. I loved that. I read the write-up on the back and had to have it even more.

I started reading it on the train. And went ice cold after I read the first few pages.

Do you believe in serendipity or even synchronicity? I definitely do.

A few months ago I spotted an article on my RSS feed from about a temple uncovered in Turkey. I read the article and fell in lust with the adventure of it, but I didn’t think about it any further than that. Then Mark asked me last week if I had heard about this place in Turkey called Gobekli Tepe and I had to say no, until he sent me this link to the Smithsonian website - and I realised that I did. It was all part of the same thing!

I digress: back to The Genesis Secret – it is all about Gobekli Tepe and the mystery surrounding this fascinating place. A sacred place, no doubt, which had been buried. Older than the pyramids and Stonehenge, its existence doesn’t make sense, at all.

Tom Knox, pseudonym for Sean Thomas, journalist and all-round good guy, has pulled out all the stops in The Genesis Secret when it comes to action, entertainment, twists and turns. The novel is a strong example of what makes action adventure worthwhile reading – like David Gibbons’ work, The Genesis Secret is not just well researched, but anchored very much in what is currently happening in archaeology and the world at present. It also helps to bear in mind that the author spent some time at Gobekli Tepe and his main character is a journalist. So, he had a good solid background in both instances and he does not disappoint when it comes to spinning a good yarn.

The main character, Rob Luttrell is a nice guy. Maybe a little too nice and a little too trusting. He gets sent to Turkey on a nice easy assignment by his editor to cover an interesting snippet about a new temple discovered.

Once Rob arrives at Gobekli Tepe he is struck by the strangeness and the beauty of the place. With the help of a young female French archaeologist called Christine Rob tries to puzzle out the secret of the place, the acts of violence against the leading archaeologist and he tries to figure out the significance the site has to various religions from the area, one of which is akin to Satanism.

There is a lot of information that gets imparted but because it is done quite well, it does not become tedious or boring. The scenes are written to great effect and although there are no true kapow!punch! scenes, the action sequences are gripping and you don’t feel you have to skip tedious fight descriptions or obligatory weapon porn descriptions. A definite different kind of book...

Back in Blighty, bad things are happening to random people. A murderous gang butchers their way across various historical sites and it is up to DC Mark Forrester to find out why. Personally, I liked Mark Forrester more as a character than I did Rob. Both characters are normal guys, taken outside of their comfort zones, and pushed up against something truly nasty and it is a case of sink or swim. Both of them do admirably well. But it is Mark’s solid strong and methodical character that made me like him a lot – he was happy to look at the evidence but not be blinded by what they represent.

There are twists, turns, revelations and reveals aplenty in The Genesis Secret. Some, I think, once the ball truly gets rolling, can cause a lot of upset in various religious quarters. But then, the point is: it is fiction and conjecture, based on what has been found and the author's ability to plait it all together in a gripping yarn. There is also some very solid research. In fact, the storyline is not something I’ve come across before and it was such good fun to read something that had not been done before and rehashed by a hundred authors since (Jesus, The Holy Blood, Mary Magdalene – you know, the usual…). And I’m hoping that there will be more adventures from Tom Knox, nee Sean Thomas, featuring Rob Luttrell and Mark Forrester.

Find the excellent website of the Genesis Secret here but be warned – unless you’ve read the book do not go past the About The Book pages because there are a lot of spoilers and Tom/Sean says so himself, so be warned.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Skarlet, Thomas Emson

Fear grips London as dozens of clubbers die after taking a sinister new drug. But that's only the beginning. 48 hours later, the dead clubbers wake up - and it's open season on the living, who are butchered for their blood.

Soon, London gives a name to its terror: Vampires.

Jake Lawton, bitter and betrayed after the Iraq War, find himself fighting another battle - against the growing army of immortal hunters and their human cohorts. Lawton joins forces with the journalist who brought about his downfall and the dealer tricked into distributing the drug. And together they take on the spineless authorities, the ruthless cohorts, and the hungry dead.
But the vampire plague unleashed in London is nothing to what lurks beneath the streets -Waiting to be fed . . . Waiting to be resurrected . . . Waiting to reign again over a city of human slaves . . .

I remember vividly how Thomas’ previous novel, Maneater, got under Liz’s skin last year, so when she foolishly took her eyes off the shelf where Skarlet lay, I pounced without hesitation and dragged it off to the sofa.

Firstly, I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant about the vampire angle; my greatest fear was that the potentially groovy antagonists were going to turn out to be angst ridden, pretty Lestat knock-offs that spent their days poncing about and hissing like asthmatic tomcats.

It’s been a while since being wrong has been this much fun. Right from the sucker punch of an opening line, I knew I was going to enjoy this; by chapter 3 I’d have chewed the arms off anyone who tried to take it away from me.

Jake Lawton is a damaged hero, a soldier betrayed by the all too accurately portrayed British media. The chain reaction that follows the first deaths throws him into the path of the blinkered, self-righteous reporter who instigated his ignominious dismissal from the army. Their journey from mutual scorn to grudging co-operation isn’t forced or contrived, and evolves at its own pace throughout, without eroding what defines them.

The writing is tight and reads effortlessly; the chapters are short and sharp, accentuating the pace of the story.

The premise behind the rise of the vampires is fresh and clever, and with this established and pieces of the backstory falling into place, the suspension of disbelief can be all but taken out of the equation, leaving you to enjoy the bloodthirsty rampage that Thomas has unleashed on a well researched London.

And it most certainly is bloodthirsty in every meaning of the word. These vampires are uncompromisingly vicious bastards, with a palpable thirst for blood - and not a cravat in sight. There’s no hiding from the tide of violence that surrounds a horde of these unleashed killers and the lengths their creators will go to in order to realise their vision. Thomas gets bonus points for an unflinching portrayal of the toll this exacts on those unfortunate enough to be engulfed in that tide.

Skarlet is a crimson delight. A gripping,action rich adventure thriller that breathes new life into the vampire mythos.

It's the first book of The Vampire Trinity, and I can’t wait for the next instalment!

Galaxy British Book Awards 2009 Shortlist

This article in via The Bookseller:

Cactus TV, which produces The Richard and Judy Show, will film the awards and the ceremony will be broadcast on Watch on Sunday 5th April. This is the link to the Galaxy Site:


Borders Author of the Year
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Atlantic Books)
Somewhere Towards The End by Diana Athill (Granta Books)
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber)
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (Atom)
The Audacity Of Hope by Barack Obama (Canongate)
The Road Home by Rose Tremain (Vintage)

Tesco Biography of the Year
At My Mother's Knee … and other low joints by Paul O'Grady (Bantam Press)
Coming Back To Me by Marcus Trescothick (HarperSport)
Dear Fatty by Dawn French (Century)
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama (Canongate)
Miracles of Life by J.G Ballard (Fourth Estate)
That's Another Story by Julie Walters (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year
The Business by Martina Cole (Headline)
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (MacLehose Press)
No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay (Orion)
Revelation by C.J Sansom (Pan)
When Will There Be Good News? By Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)

Waterstone’s Newcomer of the Year
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster)
Inside the Whale by Jennie Rooney (Vintage)
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (Sceptre)
The Marriage Bureau For Rich People by Farahad Zama (Abacus)
Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (Windmill)
One of Us by Melissa Benn (Vintage)

Sainsbury’s Popular Fiction Award
Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins)
Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks (Michael Joseph)
The Outcast by Sadie Jones (Vintage)
Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern (Harper)
Things I Want My Daughters to Know by Elizabeth Noble (Penguin)
This Charming Man by Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph) Popular Non-Fiction Award
The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson (Allen Lane)
Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr (Pan)
The Mighty Book of Boosh by Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt (Canongate)
Stephen Fry in America by Stephen Fry (HarperCollins)
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)

Richard & Judy's Best Read of the Year
The Bolter by Frances Osborne (Virago)
The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman (Sphere)
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (Atlantic)
December by Elizabeth H. Winthrop (Sceptre)
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (Canongate)
The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin (John Murray)
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (Fourth Estate)
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (Doubleday)
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)
When Will There Be Good News? By Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)

WHsmith Children's Book of the Year
Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman, illus Ben Cort (Simon & Schuster Children's Books)
Horrid Henry Robs the Bank by Francesca Simon (Orion Children's Books)
Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic)
Artemis Fowl & the Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer (Puffin)
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (Atom)

The Irish Farmers' Market by Clodagh McKenna


Both a cookbook and a culinary tour of Ireland, celebrating the diversity and quality of local food and showing how the experience of shopping at farmers' markets can transform your everyday cooking.

When Collins sent me The Irish Farmers' Market by Clodagh McKenna I was really chuffed. When I carried Clodagh’s newly released copy (released in paperback in February 09, after its initial release in 2006 in hardback) home, I didn’t expect some of my friends to turn into sneak thieves.

I kid you not. I got to make one of the delicious soups from the cookbook and showed it off to said “friends” and before I could say “keep it secret, keep it safe” I had an email saying: “I’m sorry, but I accidentally put that cookbook in my bag...” from one of them. *narrows eyes*

But, all is forgiven. As I bought them their own copy! And I got mine back last week.

Cooking is a very personal experience. I like to think of myself as a foodie, but I know, compared to some, that I fall far short of that ideal, but I am happy to nibble my way through stalls and find out more about flavours and experimenting. It is always a pleasure walking around Bromley’s market on Saturdays or even on a secret holiday Friday, which is when the big farmers' market takes place. I love Borough Market and wish I could live closer to it, as it is, twenty minutes down the line to London Bridge is sometimes just not close enough.

There is a huge drive to slow and natural cooking – I have always been a fan of this – my chili cooks at least for a full day, then stands overnight, to be served the next day. The flavours are immense and wonderful as it has developed and melted into one another. You can’t go wrong with this type of cooking. And it is something most South Africans grow up with and it is a good way to entertain.

In The Irish Farmers' Market, Clodagh is definitely an ambassador for Ireland’s cuisine as well as a champion of good food and taking it easy. It is a lovely meandering book, letting you visit some of the markets in each of the regions in Ireland, meeting some of the farmers selling their goods and showcasing some of their fantastic products and how it is made into delicious dishes.

The recipes are interesting – there are over a hundred of them – and they range from very traditional Irish favourites to some dishes which have more than a hint of the Med about them. The focus is however – very heavily – on local produce and organic fresh ingredients. It also showcases seasonal foods – which, in this day and age when we can eat whatever we like, whenever we like – is something I quite like, it makes you feel like you are really “living” off the land.

So, Mark’s favourite is definitely the fried mackerel recipe – not entirely my favourite thing, I have to admit, but he swears by it. I’m much more partial to the thick stews which go fantastically well with the soda bread. And let me say: soda bread is one of the easiest things to make – ever. Even if you are petrified of cooking and baking. (I made some this weekend to go with leek and potato soup but guess what, it was eaten so quickly, I only managed to take photos of the crumbs!)

A big plus point about this cookbook is – apart from the fact that it is like chatting to a well known and enthusiastic friend – is the way the recipes are explained and recommended. Also, the photography makes you want to go and make the food. I have two more on order, for two other friends, as the “legend” of the cookbook is now travelling through our circle of friends. Don’t you love it when you get an item which you can then just share?

If you want to find some of Clodagh’s recipes, check out this site. The Irish Farmers' Market is now available in paperback and will make a very good pressie for Mother’s Day!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Monday FOOB

So, I'm a sucker for a good site with lists of interesting blogs.

More importantly, I love a site with lists of book blogs. And even more crucial, a site that not only lists book blogs but this one lists YA book blogs!

Check it out here to see the coolness of the YA Book Blog Directory.

I've emailed them to ask them to please add me to the list. If anyone else reads this and you're doing YA book blogs, let them know! A list this extensive is an excellent research tool for authors, publishers and agents. And of course, it's a good way to keep up to date with what is coming out in the States and then also the UK.