Winterbirth

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A good while back, I did a post here pontificating about how the question ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ was not a particularly good query to fire at a writer.

This is the sequel to that post, in which I answer the question in question. Just thought it’d be fun. Might also help to illustrate my case that ideas are the easy bit, coming as they do from everywhere, all the time, unpredictably.

So, here’s where the idea for every piece of fiction I’ve sold came from, in chronological order of publication.

Farm Animal, my first published story, appeared in the UK’s venerable sf magazine Interzone a long, long time ago. It has a unique, and unusually simple, origin in the context of my fiction output: it’s loosely based on a dream I had. It was a kind of creepy, not very nice, dream so we won’t go into any more details except to say it involved a human-pig hybrid. The hard bit, as ever, was turning that seed into a narrative of some sort, and in the process the story became about the transformation of a human into a pig. (Sidenote: I remember being quite pleased with myself, at that presumptuous age, for coming up with a title that reverses Animal Farm, in which pigs transform into humans, just as my story reverses that transformation. Doesn’t seem quite so clever now.)

Gibbons, my second published story, appeared in another UK magazine: The Third Alternative – still going, under the new title Black Static. Its origin is also unique in this list, in that it comes from my own direct, personal experience. In my early twenties I spent three months in Borneo, finding, following and sound-recording gibbons in a remote part of the rainforest. In hindsight, as you might expect, it was a powerful, rather formative experience in various ways (including career-wise, since it would later result in me getting a job that sent me to many other unusual, out of the way bits of the world), though at the time – as with many such experiences – I didn’t fully appreciate its significance. What did imprint itself on my mind even then, though, was the potent atmosphere and character of the place. It took years for the story that gave voice to my impressions of the Bornean rainforest to take shape, but Gibbons was the eventual result.

Winterbirth, and the Godless World trilogy of which it is the first part, has a messy kind of idea-origin. I knew I wanted to try writing novels, and I was instinctively interested in the possibility of a fantasy trilogy. I needed an imaginative nudge of some sort to get the process of world, character and story development going, and it came from the TV, in a way. This was way back when the Balkans, and the former Yugoslavia in particular, were in post-Communist meltdown and filling our TV screens and newspapers with stories and images of horrendous and cruel violence. Because I was even then a history nerd, I knew a lot of what was happening was the indirect fruit of bitter rivalries, enmities and events that went back many, many hundreds of years, and I was struck by the thought that it might be interesting to write about a fantasy world similarly torn apart by long-suppressed, half-hidden enmities that were somehow allowed to re-emerge.

Now, that initial idea got considerably complicated and diluted by the aforementioned process of world, character and story development. It provided the impetus for the process, but was itself changed and elaborated by it. Such things happen, once you get into the flow of turning a small spark into a fully fledged fire. But that’s what ideas are for really: they start the process, but unlike a chemical catalyst, they don’t have to survive that process unchanged.

Beyond the Reach of His Gods is a short story that appeared in the anthology Rage of the Behemoth, from Rogue Blades Entertainment. Much to my delight, it’s since been reprinted in the excellent online magazine Lightspeed, so you can read the whole thing for free over there if you like. This was the first time I’d been invited/commissioned to write a story for an anthology, and the brief was highly specific: heroic fantasy involving a giant monster set in one of several specific environments. I had no pre-existing ideas that fitted the bill (hardly surprising!), so the idea for this story had to be kind of ‘forced’. Except it came to me very easily, very quickly and very completely. I’ve no idea how that happens, but now and again it does: I just looked at the brief, thought about it for a bit, and the setting, characters, monster and the basic skeleton of the plot just turned up in my head. Very nice, and forunate really, since I would probably have turned down the invitation had things not bubbled up so easily, and had the story they suggested not struck me as being fun to write.

Flint was another short story for an anthology – Speculative Horizons, from Subterranean Press, edited by Patrick St-Denis. Again, I was asked if I would contribute, but this time there were no prescriptions regarding subject matter or even specific genre. So I pulled out a partially developed idea I’d been keeping on a mental shelf for ages, and used this as the opportunity to turn it into an actual story. That idea had its roots in my non-fiction reading: books like The Golden Bough, After The Ice and Shamanism. In learning and thinking about early magical beliefs, hunter-gatherer societies and the deep, deep past of human society and imagination, it struck me that a Stone-Age shaman would make an interesting central character for some kind of story. I knew very early on that his name would be Flint, but much of the detail of his adventures only got filled in when Patrick asked me if I fancied writing a story for his anthology …

The Edinburgh Dead has a very clear and fairly simple idea-origin. Having grown up in Edinburgh, and living there again now after a good few years away, I know a lot about its history and geography. Mind you, even people who’ve never been here have heard of Burke & Hare, the infamous baddies who murdered a lot of people so that they could sell their corpses to lecturers for dissection in anatomy classes in the early 19th century. For whatever reason, one day while musing on Edinburgh’s rich and complicated history, I just asked myself: ‘What if there were other people around back then, who wanted corpses for a different kind of experiment?’. From that question, after a good deal of research and the addition of a good many other influences, the whole novel emerged. And, inevitably, Burke and Hare stayed in the mix as characters in the story.

Rogue Trooper, the comic I’m writing for IDW (first issue in comic shops and on Comixology on Feb 26th!), is a different kettle of fish, idea-wise. This is a pre-existing character and milieu that I was asked to re-imagine. So the ideas required are of a different kind: what games can I play, what details can I add or subtract, what themes can I develop, with this already-established character? Those kind of ideas just come from looking at what’s there already, thinking back or re-visiting all the previous Rogue Trooper stories I read as a youth, applying my personal instincts as a writer to the property. To be honest, lots and lots of possibilities presented themselves to me as soon as I became aware of the opportunity, so it wasn’t too difficult. When someone else has done the hard work of creating a strong character, setting and framework, riffing on it is pretty straightforward (at least in terms of ideas, if not execution; believe me, I can now say from personal experience that writing comics is not straightforward or effortless!).

The Free will be published this October by Orbit, and it’s kind of fitting that it comes last on this list because in one sense it’s an extreme example on the original idea front. This book, alone of all the fictions on this list, has shed its originating idea like a snake shedding a skin. Literally no trace of the idea to which it can trace its roots remains in the novel that will be published. Weird, huh? Anyway, one day – or night, I think perhaps I was trying to go to sleep – a scene just popped into my head. In an underground cavern, someone discovers a prisoner, trapped in a huge cage. That was it. This was way back when I was still writing the Godless World trilogy. I had half a notion I might try writing another trilogy after I was finished with that one (a notion I soon thought better of!), and that single, unformed scene became the seed from which I gradually grew the outline of a whole plot, world, magic system, characters – I didn’t have a full trilogy worked out in detail, but I had a lot of stuff churning around in my head.

Except, I wrote The Edinburgh Dead instead. But the story-stuff that had sprung from that single imagined scene kept stewing in my thinking parts, and kept changing. In the plot I’d loosely imagined, there were a set of secondary characters – mercenaries – who struck me as interesting. To cut a long story short, I ended up pitching an idea focused upon them to the publisher as a stand-alone novel. The Free. The world in which they operate is not the one I dreamed up for that trilogy; the magic system is utterly different; there’s not a single character who has survived from my earlier musings into the text of the The Free; at no point does anyone even go underground, let alone discover a subterranean chamber with a caged prisoner in it. (But who’s to say what might happen, should I ever write any more stories about The Free?)

So there you are. I get my ideas from dreams, from personal experiences, from current affairs, from history, from commissions, from non-fiction books, from other people’s creations, from random scenes popping into my head. And I could add, in respect of fictions I’ve thought about or am currently pondering, which may or may not ever see the light of day: I also get them from idle reflections on the under-use of particular mythical creatures in fiction, consciously setting myself the challenge of coming up with an idea for a TV/radio series, writing tasks based on a single word set by tutors on a short course I did many years ago, looking at maps, etc. etc.

All seems clear enough. Question answered.

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A couple of recent developments that I guess if I was obsessively on the ball about this kind of stuff, I might be able to offer a bit more info on what, if anything, they mean in practice.  But I’m not (on the ball, I mean); not in the way I used to be a few years ago, anyway.  But developments they are, nonetheless.

Historic regional divisions of the world, that put restrictions on what kind of e-books publishers could sell where, have been a bugbear of authors, publishers and readers alike since the whole ‘books don’t have to be paper and ink’ idea took off.  I’ve certainly had an occasional e-mail from folks complaining about their difficulty in getting hold of e-versions of my books in various parts of the world.  Maybe that’s changing, since it appears my publisher is finally going to be actively selling English language e-books everywhere, to anyone.

A press releasey type summary of the changes is over here, but the bottom line if I understand what’s happening correctly (never 100% garuanteed, I confess) is that before too long, if you want to buy an English language version of any of my books in digital form, you will be able to do so.  Wherever in the world you are.  That, if it works as seems to be intended, will be a v. good thing, if you ask me.  All the territorial restrictions inherited from a paper past never made a lick of sense, once e-books became an actual thing.

The other development, which came as a bit of a surprise, is that Piper, who hold the German translation rights to my Godless World trilogy, have – after a veeeery long delay – put out a mass market paperback version of Winterbirth (or Winterwende as it’s known over there).  As evidence, I can offer this Amazon.de link.  Does this mean German editions of the subsequent books in the trilogy might be forthcoming?  I’ve no idea, to be honest.  Like most such things, it’s no doubt sales dependent so if you or anyone you know speak German, can I humbly suggest this might be a suitable Christmas present perhaps?

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I’ll try to wrap up a couple more thoughts on this topic a bit more concisely than I managed in the first post.

Yes, I have yet more reasons why Winterbirth had a somewhat bleak tone to it.  The first of which is …

It wasn’t just a reaction to history, but to the contemporary world.  As I mentioned in Part 1, part of the reason the book/trilogy has the feel it does was my enthusiasm for narrative historical non-fiction, and the notion of borrowing some of its texture to create the illusion of reading about real people in a real world.  It wasn’t just the past of the real world that fed into it, though.  It was also the present when I was coming up with the story.  At the time – at any time, let’s be honest – it wasn’t hard to find dramatic and disturbing things being reported in the news, and the stuff that was at the back of my mind when I was pondering ideas for Winterbirth was the post-Yugoslavia convulsions affecting the Balkans.

Thousands of people were killed there as long-suppressed national, religious and cultural divisions resurfaced.  You could trace back some aspects (not all, by any means, but some) of what was going on many, many centuries.  I was struck by the notion that the present remained a prisoner of the past.  That the capacity for extraordinary and horrible violence remained latent in even apparently ordered societies.  The last bit of the 20th century saw us move away from the long era of vast empires confronting one another on vast battlefields, to one which was more chaotic.  More gruesome in some ways.  Everything looked greyer than it had once done.  Good and evil were more subjective, locally defined, transient qualities.  A lot of evil was going unpunished, in those days.  It always has done, of course; but a pervasive media has made it steadily more obvious.

Obviously you don’t have to write what you see around you, when you’re writing speculative fiction.  But it’s hardly surprising that sometimes people do.

Authorial inexperience.  I mentioned in Part 1 that sometimes an author, especially a novice author, might be making fewer conscious choices, and doing more going with the flow, than readers assume.  Separate but related point: perhaps an inexperienced author isn’t always as fully aware of the tonal effect his or her writing is generating as he/she might be.

I mention this only because I wonder – and I specifically don’t know, can’t remember quite clearly enough – whether I fully understood the cumulative effect of the style in which I was writing the Godless World trilogy.  Some of the small choices I was making.  I’ve got a feeling, and it’s no more than that, that were I writing the trilogy now, I’d probably lighten the tone a little bit.  Reading fantasy of this sort should, after all, be entertaining if nothing else.  It should provide enjoyment, excitement, alongside whatever other responses it’s generating in the reader.

Setting a bleak overlay to the whole thing doesn’t preclude entertainment and enjoyment by any means, but perhaps it does mean that entertainment and enjoyment have to work a bit harder to express themselves.  It’s possible I overdid the bleakness a bit, because my inexperience made it that bit trickier to step back from the day to day business of writing sentences, paragraphs and see the big picture; project myself into the reader’s shoes and visualise the cumulative effect of those sentences and paragraphs.

The thing about violence is …  I’m on thinner ice with this point than with most of the other stuff I’ve mentioned.  I’m not totally sure what I feel about it.  It’s complicated.  But there’s no denying I’ve thought about it, and that I had it in mind while writing the trilogy.

I’m a great big softie.  Never been in a fight in my life, so far as I remember.  Not a big fan of violence in general.  Except in entertainment, obviously.  It makes for exciting books, films, whatever, I do not deny.  But when I really think about it, I can’t get away from the notion that actually, really killing someone with a sword, or an axe, or a spear, is – it must be – by our modern standards an absolutely, horrifically dreadful business.  Cutting, hacking, stabbing a living human being at close range is not romantic or clean or easy.  Any world in which it was any of those things, not just for certain individuals (there will always be some, sadly), but on a widespread cultural level, would be a world I emphatically did not want to live in.

What’s odd, and makes this a bit complicated, is that I’m perfectly happy to watch, or read, and enjoy fictions that to a very great extent sanitize such violence, or revel in it, or completely ignore its inherent brutality. For some reason, when I’m the one doing the writing, things become more problematic.

There is a part of me, I think, that just instinctively rebels at the idea of painting a world in which people habitually kill each other, face to face, with blades as anything other than in some way cruel, bleak and traumatising.  I am, rather obviously, more than happy to write violent scenes.  In fact, I confess I actively enjoy it.  But it’s possible that I’m just on some level not happy, or perhaps not able, to write violent scenes that do not have unpleasant consequences, that do not reflect my personal repulsion at the very idea of killing someone with a sword.  That do not acknowledge that to my way of thinking, any imaginary world in which such violence is necessary on a large scale, or is celebrated, or is treated as normal, is to at least some extent inherently and inescapably grim.  Dark.  Grimdark, if you like.

And that’s a wrap.  Let there be no more talk of bleakness.  It’s the Vernal Equinox, after all.  The first day of Spring!  Sunshine and flowers will be with us any day now.  (But yes, it is true that it is currently snowing outside my window …. ho hum).

And P.S. here’s a random and trivial teaser: the word ‘vernal’ appears a lot in my next book, The Free.

 

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There was a tiny wee brouhaha on the internets earlier this month (really tiny by the standards of most internet skirmishes), as I found out while listening to the latest episode of the jolly good Coode Street Podcast.  Mentioned therein was the latest round of disagreements over the merits or otherwise of so-called ‘gritty’ fantasy.

If you’re interested, you can sample the back-and-forth with an early salvo, then Joe Abercrombie’s defence of grit, then a mildly derailing discussion thread, then a considered response to Abercrombie’s response.  Etc.  There’s lots more out there.

To none of which I have much to add, except stuff that’s specific and personal to me. Since I wrote stuff – in the form of The Godless World trilogy, starting with Winterbirth – that’s undeniably gritty and/or grimdark (ugly neologism, that) in general terms, it won’t surprise you that I’ve got opinions about some of this stuff.

They’re very much personal opinions, though. They’re not part of an agenda, or a manifesto. They’re not a defence of any other writer or what they’ve written. They’re certainly not a defence of ‘gritty’ fantasy in general, because I have to confess I’ve read very, very little of the stuff. I only know (roughly) why Winterbirth is written the way it is, so that’s the only thing I can talk with authority about. (I realise it defeats the entire object of the internet if people start talking only about stuff they actually know, but there you are.)

One more thing this is not, by the way: an argument for the quality or otherwise of Winterbirth and the rest of the trilogy as books.  It’s only about why I wrote them in the tone and style I did, not whether I wrote the things well.

So why is Winterbirth so bloody bleak? There are quite a few reasons, so I fear this is going to run long …

It just came out that way. Sometimes books, especially I suspect first or early books in a writer’s career, are a bit less considered and controlled than some readers might assume. There’s less conscious choice and more going with the flow happening.

To go back to a basic level, when I started writing stories in my pre-teens, they were all speculative fiction of one sort or another. When I later started writing short stories to try to sell, they were all speculative fiction. When I decided to try to write and sell a novel, it was a speculative fiction novel. In none of those cases did I choose from a wide range of possible ideas or genres; I pretty much had no ideas for fiction that weren’t fantastical or science fictional.

I wrote Winterbirth because that was the novel idea that presented itself. I wrote it in the tone and style I did because that was the tone and style that presented itself when I started typing. I think there were reasons why that gritty tone was what came out, as we’ll get to in all their overlapping imprecision below, but saying that is not quite the same as saying I chose it.

Trying to write a real history of real people. Not literally trying to replicate the messiness or complexity of real world history, but trying to imitate it in broad strokes. Why? Because I had been reading – still do, in fact – a lot of historical non-fiction. Mountains of the stuff. And I had been deeply, and consciously, struck by the dissimilarities between most secondary world fantasy fiction and real world historical non-fiction. The radical simplification (and to some extent cleanliness) of psychologies, conflicts, societies, histories that seemed to be present in some epic fantasy, especially of the 70s – 80s, compared to the moral ambiguity, messiness and general intricacy of real history.

Simplification serves its purpose when one is trying to create the impression of myth or folktale. I wasn’t inclined to do that. I was after the feel of history, because, to be honest, I was at that time more interested in reading about history than about myth. And my impression of human history is very much that it’s more often than not about psychologically complex people doing complex things for complex reasons. And that there’s a lot of grit involved.

Fostering immersion by analaogy with the real. So I had an instinct to write in a style that borrowed from certain aspects of the real world’s history. (Only certain parts, clearly). But I did also have in mind a sort of minor experiment.

I had personally lost interest in epic fantasy fiction at some point, in large part because I no longer found it nearly as immersive or engaging as I had in my youth. One reason for that was that I found it ever less easy to care about or be interested in characters and plots that ceased to seem plausible to me in psychological, cultural or moral terms. As I got older I, like many of us, became more sensitive to the complexities and grey areas in our own world and lives, and I saw very little of that reflected in epic fantasy. Quest fantasies involving contests between objective good and objective evil just no longer did it for me.

I could see, in the 90s, that secondary world fantasy was moving in a direction that did interest me more, through the work of folks like Guy Gavriel Kay and George R R Martin. I started to suspect that fantasy written in a style that echoed in some way the intricacies and texture of real history had much, much more potential to be a fully immersive experience for readers like me (not all fantasy readers by any means), by virtue of precisely that echo. It was emphatically not about actually trying to replicate the full spectrum of historical experience, but about trying to remove barriers to reader immersion by imitating some aspects of it and thereby trying to sell the reader on the illusion that they were reading about real people with real problems.

So part of the reason I approached Winterbirth vaguely as if I was writing a real history of real people was a conscious experiment to find out if that did create a more engaging, immersive experience for some unknown subset of the reading audience.

The real past was bloody miserable.  Most secondary world fantasy, if it’s going to borrow from any real world history, is going to borrow from pre-modern history of some era.  Now if – as I was – you’re consciously trying to replicate some of the texture of that history, how you perceive it’s inevitably going to colour the tone of the fiction you write.  I fully acknowledge that the distant past is a veritable rainbow of experiences, with an abundance of light to offset the dark.  Nevertheless, I’m personally satisfied that by comparison with the present state of much of the world the past was in certain important respects a harsh, grim and often brutal place.

Inter-personal violence was, I’m reasonably convinced, more frequent and extreme.  The violence of authority (or what passed for authority) against its own subjects and against external bodies was more frequent and extreme.  The value set on individual human life was lower, or at least thought of significantly differently.  The circle of empathy was, in general, more restricted, with sameness being more narrowly and otherness more widely defined than is broadly the case today.  I could go on and on.

None of that means that I think fantasies which borrow from that past should replicate its bloody miserableness.  Not at all.  It merely means that I, as an individual writer, who was borrowing from the past and consciously trying to replicate some of its texture ended up with something pretty bleak and miserable in part because my entirely personal opinion is that any empathetic contemporary observer of the lives most of our ancestors lived would be downright apalled by the suffering that was tolerated and inflicted.

Reaction against past fantasies.  This isn’t a complaint about pre-grit epic fantasy in any way.  It’s an observation about the inherent and undeniable fluidity of trends, styles and approaches in any creative medium.  ‘Gritty’ fantasy is recognisable as such only in contrast to ‘non-gritty’ fantasy.  In some sense, it couldn’t exist if it hadn’t been preceded by stuff that created a style from which it could diverge.

As I said above, I frankly lost interest in epic fantasy for some time.  It was only the early stirrings of gritty that brought me back to the genre as a reader, let alone a writer.  GRRM is the obvious, and oft-cited, forefather of all that is grit, but for me personally, my first sense of it came earlier, with Guy Gavriel Kay.

Nobody could accuse Kay of writing the sort of grimy, violent fantasy that many of the tone’s critics would define it as, but nevertheless I saw in his books much that would come to influence the way I wrote Winterbirth.  A turning away from notions of unnuanced good and evil.  A gradual deepening and layering of the psychologies at work in the characters.  An explicit turning towards real world history as the model for fantastical tales.  Cautious steps, in other words, towards a sort of psuedo-realism in secondary world fantasy; an inclination to write history instead of myth.

Personally, I was absolutely writing in some sense in reaction to my memories of early commercial epic fantasies, which had lost my interest.  Inevitably, because they had lost my interest, I wasn’t going to replicate their tone and style.  I was going to do something slightly differently, and folks like Kay and Martin had planted some ideas about what that ‘different’ might look like.

I personally find, incidentally, the distinction between the imitation of myth and the imitation of history a much more interesting way to think about trends in secondary world fantasy writing over extended periods than focusing on comparative levels of violence, grit, swearing, dirt, bleakness etc. etc.  So much so I might even get around to doing a separate post on it some time.

And … this is all getting a bit out of hand.  I’ve still got two or three more, decidedly significant reasons for Winterbirth‘s bloody bleakness just off the top of my head, but enough’s enough for now.  I shall pop back up to the post title and stick a Part 1 in brackets and maybe … perhaps … get back to this and round it off in a day or two.

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There’s a non-trivial chance I’m going to regret this tomorrow, but hey ho, off we go. I spoke, the machine recorded it, so I might as well post it up here.

At the foot of this post you will find something in the region of eight minutes in which I read out, and talk about, a few of the character names from the Godless World trilogy. Listen in wonder to the secret origin of ‘Orisian’, and the mental hiccup that allowed me to name a character ‘Wagon’.

I should point out that, naturally, I sound nothing remotely like this inside my own head. As my personal experience of the world is the only one that really counts, I would like to assure you that I do not in fact sound anything like this recording would appear to suggest. I sound much, much better. You’ll just have to imagine it.

I believe that if you click on the link below, a window’s likely to pop up from which I address you. Alternatively, I believe that if you right click and do the ‘save link (or target or whatever) as …’ thing you can download the mp3 for more convenient listening. The file’s c. 1.9MB.

Enjoy, or not. Feel free to let me know if the former, and to keep it to yourself if the latter. Further audio files may, or may not, ensue if there’s any interest. I promise nothing, and rule nothing out.

Godless World Commentary by Brian Ruckley – Names

So, as promised in the last post, we’re going to have a bit of news and stuff this week.

Of which the first item is: The Godless World trilogy got optioned for film/TV development a little while ago.  That’s nice, don’t you think?

Not nice because I assume it means we’ll ever actually see Orisian, Aeglyss and co. marching across our screens – going from selling an option to any moving pictures actually getting made is a gigantic, probability-defying leap – but nice in that someone liked the books enough, and saw enough filmic potential in them, to put a little bit (and it really is a little bit, at this stage) of their money into buying the right to talk to other folks about it.  That’s all an option really means: the author rents out, for a limited time, the right to explore possibilities for film/TV adaptation.

So I won’t be drinking champagne from gold-plated glasses or anything, but it’s a pleasant vote of confidence in the books.  And I can amuse myself by wondering what Daniel Craig’s filming schedule looks like a few years hence.  As also mentioned in the last post, he’s the man to play Adam Quire in any adaptation of The Edinburgh Dead, but I’m sure he could do a fine job of Taim Narran in Winterbirth, too.

An interesting incidental consequence of selling the film rights: I was asked to send off a recording of me reading out some character names from Winterbirth, so that everyone was clear on the pronunciation.  The names, and the naming conventions attached to them, in The Godless World have drawn the odd bit of not entirely positive comment from readers over the years.  In hindsight, I can see why, although I’m still kind of attached to the choices I made.

Anyway, sitting there reading out a few names inspired me to test the audio waters a bit further, so I’m thinking I might try to put together a brief little mp3 of me talking about/reading out the character names in the trilogy for posting here on the website.  It’ll be dreadful, quite possibly, as I’m no great reader-out-loud and I don’t have decent equipment for the job, but I’m curious to see what’s possible with the limited material to hand (i.e. me and a tablet’s in-built microphone) so prepare yourself for the possibility – and it’s no more than that at this stage – that tomorrow’s exciting instalment in the ongoing saga that is News Week will be … me talking.  Oh dear.

Winterbirth arrives in France this month, courtesy of Editions Eclipse.

It comes with a slightly tweaked version of a familiar cover:

And with its own little corner of the Eclipse website.

And with a minor role in a snappy little video promo for the November releases from this perky new imprint:

Tell all your French friends the good news!

Enough of this Autumnal blogging inactivity. Got to take baby steps back into the habit for fear of straining my moribund blogging muscles, of course, so just a couple of quick notes to start with:

Czech edition of Winterbirth emerges blinking (and perhaps even bawling?) into the world, under the title ZROZENI ZIMY. It sports a distinctly striking cover – not sure who, if anyone, the specific characters are supposed to be, but they definitely look … alarming. Tempted to think of them as some heavily-armoured version of Wain and Kanin, but who knows? Thanks to reader Martin for sending me a useable jpg of the cover.

My parents were awesome. A completely and unreservedly true statement, of course. In fact, they still are awesome, but that’s not the point. The point is this: the My Parents Were Awesome blog. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it an extraordinarily affecting, interesting, hypnotic, moving, evocative etc etc site, given that it is such a simple idea: reader-submitted photos of their parents, mostly as young(ish) adults, offered without commentary, without location or context or anything but the most simple identification. Page after page of them, and as I work my way through them it feels like I’m looking into lives, into stories, into the past, into other worlds almost; and I invariably find myself thinking ‘Why, yes. What obviously awesome people. Just look at them. They look wise, and fun, and kind, and thoughtful. Awesome.’

It’s a silent, restrained archive of childrens’ love and respect for their parents, an acknowledgement that those parents lived lives as rich and strange and individual as anything their children have managed. Fantastic stuff.

More waffle here soon.

For a measly one dollar, those of an e-book inclination can, all through April, get themselves one whole copy of Winterbirth for their e-reading pleasure, as this little site confirms. Available on Kindle, Sony and from booksonboard, whatever that is. One dollar! Nearly two hundred thousand words! That’s … a measly 0.000555 cents per word. And at least some of the words in there are truly great, I can tell you; worth a whole lot more than that.

I’m guessing most people stopping by here already have a paper and ink copy of Winterbirth, but if you’ve got an e-reader, I guess you might want a digital copy too? More importantly, if you know anyone who’s into the whole e-book thing, perhaps now’s the moment to point out they’ve got almost nothing (well, one dollar and a bit of time) to lose by giving Winterbirth a shot. Spread the word! I need to buy food!

EDIT TO ADD: Meant to mention, but failed dismally, that this is a US promotion, so all you non-USA type people can ignore all of the above. Sorry about that.

A few quick notes as 2008 heads towards its end and 2009 looms on the horizon.

I am one of a great many guest posters on the Fantasy Book Critic blog, offering some brief comments on stuff I read this year and stuff I might read next year.

New for 2009! The latest addition to the universe of prizes for genre books is the David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy. The inaugural winner will be announced in 2009, once it has been chosen by … you, the public! You can check out the long list of nominated books here (and yes, Bloodheir‘s one of them), and vote for your favourite here.

For any early-adopting, US-based, ebook geeks out there, Winterbirth has made it onto the Kindle.

Most Shocking Realisation of 2008: I have reached a point – I don’t know whether it’s age-related, or career-related or just a transitory state of mind – where the single most exciting shopping experience I can have is apparently delivered by … stationery superstores. The long lines of endlessly but subtly different office chairs (ever single one of them just crying out to be sat upon, and every one of them seeming more welcoming than my current model), the packages of photocopy paper stacked in bricky towers, the notebooks – the notebooks! – of every hue and size and binding. Pens. Even better: pencils! Folders. I have no need of folders – I already have more of the things than I have stuff to put in them – but I can’t help but embark on a critical examination of their robustness, their rigidity. It’s possible I may need to get some professional help in 2009, to cure me of this strange affliction. I mean, I realise these places are sort of consumerist temples to the business of writing, and therefore bound to be of some interest to the likes of me, but I can’t help but feel there’s something vaguely unseemly and deeply uncool about finding them so … exciting.

For those who are Facebookers: you can now follow this blog, or be a part of its network, or something, over there. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what the deal is, but it’s available. Whatever it is. And you’ve already joined the gang on the Winterbirth page, right?

Novels that have come into my possession, in one way or the other, over the course of the festive period so far: Vinland by George Mackay Brown, Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks, Black Man by Richard Morgan, Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory. Such bounty! Is any of it going to be any good? Oh, I should think so …

Etymology! I like a good word, and ‘swashbuckling’ is a good word. But where, I wondered, did it come from? Thus I discovered the very handy Online Etymology Dictionary. And the quite interesting origins of ‘swashbuckling’.

Finally, and most importantly, to all readers and visitors to these parts, all best wishes for the year about to be new. Here’s hoping 2009 is good to us all. See you next year.

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