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Another Girls’ Guide to the Apocalypse Blog Post

I just can’t stop myself it seems. Another article with more feisty female fighters. Enjoy.

Another Apocalypse Girls Article

I’ve been at it again. This time focusing on historical examples of fighting females to inspire would-be women warriors of the apocalypse.

Apocalypse Girls Article

I knew my swordy skills would come in handy, one day the bullets will run out you know.

See my article at The Girls’ Guide to the Apocalypse.



Rapier 2012

Just a short one, as it’s not writing focused.

Back in September, my fencing school ran a tournament to mark the school’s tenth anniversary. It was unusual in historical fencing circles, for the fact that it was dedicated entirely to rapier (the majority of historical fencing schools tend to focus on longsword).

It was utterly brilliant, just about everyone who attended testified to that fact, and begged our instructors to run it again next year. To mark its occasion here’s a preview of the introduction to a DVD that is in the process of being cut. I’ve already tweeted it but thought I’d do a post as well.


Bristolcon 2011

My second con ever, and only twenty days after the first one (Fantasycon). Having learned my lesson from last time I went prepared (laptop, kindle, programme, pens, food), and I travelled by train so I could have the luxury of  a bit of me time – for reading, writing, eating and . . . er, tweeting.

It was strange to be leaving everyone else at home and being out on my very own for an entire day. Might not strike you as strange but for the last four years I’ve had two little people to wait on, I mean, care for (three if you include my husband). I left the house in darkness, as the light grew I settled down and read a quarter of Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick and some of the opening chapter of Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan.

The hotel was big, plush and modern, not the cosy, faded grandeur of The Albion. Their wifi actually worked which was a bonus. Because it was bigger and with fewer guests (roughly 150 compared to the 500 odd that were at Fantasycon) there was less of a shoulder-to-shoulder atmosphere with the other guests which had provoked a lot of conversation and made it a little easier to chat to people. However this time round I didn’t have David the icebreaker with me, and coffee, rather than booze, seemed very much to be the fuel of choice.

Soon after I arrived I bumped into Anne Lyle, the only familiar face, but everyone there was very friendly and I wish, as usual that I had spent more time talking to people.

Bristolcon was split into two streams so at any one time you had two options of panel or workshop to attend. In between each one was a reading. Simultaneously they were running something called Kaffeeklatch – a word of Dutch origin which is where a small group of people get to meet and chat over coffee with an author.

I got a very nice goody bag, with lots of sample chapters, badges, stickers, posters and a copy of Brisingr by Christopher Paolini. Which I guess means that I now have to buy the previous books if I want to read it! Read on for more commentary on epic fantasy.

I started in Programme one, where Joanne Hall, the chair of Bristolcon made a friendly introduction. There then followed a panel with Justina Robson (chair), Gareth L Powell, Alex Keller, Joanne Hall, Dolly Garland and MD Lachlan. The subject was If all men are authors, who are the audience?  The general consensus was that anyone should be allowed to write a book, but unless it is well written and edited it should not be unleashed on the public. Along the way there were a lot of insights into the working life of an author and the different writers’ experiences of the industry.

Later in the afternoon I attended The Genesis Panel – how does an novel become epic? chaired by Cheryl Morgan, with Alastair Reynolds, Philip Reeve, MD Lachlan, Harriet Castor and Alex Keller.

This was of significant importance to me because our manuscript is far bigger than we had originally intended, and I wanted some insight into whether this was because we needed to cut it into two books or do some serious pruning. It was very interesting to listen to. I got the impression that publishers are more than likely going to ask for a sequel soon after as they take a writer on board. Sometimes they ask for multiple book contracts, and sometimes they reject the book you’ve written in preference for the synopsis you’ve prepared for its sequel.

I listened to Philip Reeve’s reading from his latest book, Scriveners Moon, part of the Mortal Engines series. It’s a childrens story set in a post-apocalyptic future, I found it very entertaining and Philip has a commanding presence as a reader.

After a couple of hours of more mooching, looking round, eating and tweeting, I went to Mark Barrowcliffe’s (MD Lachlan’s) Write your novel in 45 minutes. Yes, I was intrigued by the title and the challenge. In this time we as a group outlined a comedic tale about an incompetent intelligence officer with an AI laptop that is working like a modern-day genie to improve his standing in life, with farcical results. It was a bit of fun and there were some interesting ideas thrown around, but the serious side of it was getting the stucture of a novel put together, and seeing how Mark (who teaches creative writing) goes through the process of creating a bare skeleton of a plot.

This was followed by a reading from Mark’s new WIP (which I believe he has another pen name for), set in the dark ages. It was certainly very intriguing, full of dark humour in a very vivid setting.

The last panel I attended was The Life Cycle of an Author – or – George RR Martin is not your Bitch, to quote the now legendary Neil Gaiman phrase. The panel consisted of Wayne Simmons (Chair), Joanne Hall, Anne Lyle, Jaine Fenn and Paul Cornell. It was both entertaining and intriguing, as the panellists explored the unrealistic expectations they had experienced of the readers of their work, ranging from ‘do you just write the words in the little balloons?’  to ‘Are you the next JK Rowling?’.

I finished the day by listening to Anne Lyle reading from her upcoming debut, The Alchemist of Souls. I can’t remember if it was the opening chapter but the atmosphere she set was tangible in the reading, and the supernatural elements quickly become part of the story. I can’t wait to read it.

In all it was a great day, busy. I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of publishing and the craft of writing. I scribbled a ton of stuff for my short story on the train ride home. And I was pleased to meet Marc Aplin of Fantasy Faction, who I didn’t manage to bump into at Fantasycon, and proselytise him into swordfighting, something he has been curious about for some while. He’s promised to teach me how to kick people in the head next time we meet.

Anne Lyle Interview

photoI was fortunate enough to come across the lovely Anne Lyle at Fantasycon this year in Brighton. Anne, whose debut novel is published by Angry Robot early next year, is one of the friendliest authors out there; both in real life and twitterville/the blogosphere, and full of great advice, humour and excellent taste in music! I would like to say that Fantasycon is where this interview took place, but I stuffed up and left my questions and dictaphone at home so we did this electronically instead.

Go crazy and tell us all about The Alchemist of Souls.
“The Alchemist of Souls” is an alternate history fantasy set in London in 1593. The protagonist, Mal Catlyn, is a former soldier turned sword-for-hire who is plucked, almost literally, from the gutter and offered a prestigious position as bodyguard to the soon-to-be-arriving ambassador from the New World. The problem is, the ambassador isn’t human, he’s a skrayling – a member of a fanged, tattooed people who live peacefully alongside the Native Americans – and Mal has reasons of his own to hate and fear these strangers. However Mal’s not the only person with a grudge against the skraylings, and soon he finds himself enmeshed in dark conspiracies and darker magics…

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There’s also swashbuckling adventure and a generous dollop of cross-dressing romance, as befits a story set in Shakespeare’s day. And some rather earthy language, I have to warn you! Not for Elizabethans the clinical, Latin-derived terms for bodily functions 😉

Who or what was the inspiration behind Mal Catlyn, the lead

cover art

 character of TAOS? Tell us about him.

When I started planning this book, I knew I wanted the male lead to be believably masculine – back in the eighties I read too many fantasy novels (written by women, for women) where the hero was an angsty wimp, and I really hated those characters! And since I loved classic 1950s swashbuckling movies when I was a teenager, what better for a red-blooded hero than for him to be a dashing swordsman?

As for the name, I stole it shamelessly from a real Elizabethan. I was reading a book about spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham and spotted the name Maliverny Catlyn – a spy who had worked for Walsingham in the 1580s – and found it so intriguing, I knew I had to use it. You can find out the full details at my website, where I’ve posted a few non-spoilerish background details on the world and characters.

Debut novels tend to have protagonists the same gender as the author, I notice both you and fellow new author Elspeth Cooper have male leads. Would you say this was dictated by your preference or the story and setting?

I can’t speak for Elspeth, but as for my reasons… I could blame the setting, but really, if I wanted to write a female protagonist, I would have chosen a setting and scenario that allowed that. So really it’s personal preference. I was a tomboy from a very early age and, unlike many little girls, never grew out of it; I’ve spent practically my entire life hanging out mainly with the “opposite” sex, so I find men easier and more comfortable to write than women. I do have a female point-of-view character, but since she’s disguised as a boy for the whole book, I’m not sure she counts!

Medieval Europe has been done to death in fantasy, some might say, is it this notion that drew you to the Elizabethan era with your books or is this a part of history that has always been close to your heart?

A bit of both, really. I was bored with fantasy that eschewed gunpowder for no readily apparent reason, and whilst gunpowder weapons were present in medieval Europe they were limited to cannon on the battlefield. I have always loved the Tudor period and been fascinated by the theatre, so setting my book in Elizabethan England was the perfect opportunity to combine the two.

You submitted your manuscript (presumably to agents first) and then a week later attended Fantasycon where you got your lucky break and engaged in conversation with Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot, which led to them offering you a book deal – do you think the chance meeting was your only window of opportunity or did you ever hear back from the agencies?

I’m sure it wasn’t my only window of opportunity, but I really liked what Angry Robot were doing with genre fiction, so when my agent asked if I wanted to submit the book elsewhere I said no.

Did you get an agent immediately, once you had received the offer from AR? I imagine that must have been an interesting process!

Yes I did. I had queried the Zeno Agency after I got a “revise and submit” request from AR, because they have an amazing client list, and John Berlyne at Zeno asked for the full manuscript when it was ready. However the offer came back from AR before John had had a chance to read my book, so I emailed him the same evening and asked him if he wanted to negotiate the deal. This is obviously not how it normally works, nor do things usually move so quickly. It was really a case of everything coming together at exactly the right time, which is the real element of luck in the writing game. You have to write a great book, of course, but after that it’s a matter of chance whether its the first person, or the hundredth, that loves your book and wants to publish it.

How has your life changed since becoming a professional author? What are the changes that you least expected?

It hasn’t really changed, to be honest, except that I have to be even more focused on writing than I was before. I’d been working on this book 24/7 since early 2010, to lick it into shape for submission, and now the only difference is that I have someone else’s deadline to work to instead of my own. Oh, and I get to do readings and panels at conventions, which is really cool. A bit scary, too, but definitely cool.

Do you blog about different stuff (excluding news about your book) now that you are published, or has that remained the same?

I did reorganise my blog in late 2010 when I started the submission process, separating out my “writing journal” (which is really only of interest to me and a few writer friends) from more general posts, but since then it hasn’t really changed. I try and write about stuff that other readers of historical fantasy might be interested in: book reviews, favourite movies, developments in the fantasy genre, and so on.

Do you think it is important for an author to create a ‘platform’ as it’s called (I ask this as you are a known technophile)?

I think all writers these days need to get out there on the internet and connect with readers – that’s all “platform” really means. Too many writers think that self-promotion means you have to be all “sell, sell, sell”, but nothing could be further from the truth; people respect genuine engagement, not spamming or brash trumpet-blowing. I’ve had so many people say they’re going to buy or even pre-order my book, just because I’ve been helpful or interesting on a forum (or because my cover art is, frankly, gorgeous!). I’ve recently begun a series of blog posts called “Web Presence 101” that looks at different strategies for writers, so do check it out!

TAOS is to be followed up by two more books. Do you think you will continue with this setting and characters in future novels, or do you have your sights on other eras and people?

Well, the two other books contracted by AR are sequels to TAOS, so you won’t have seen the last of Mal after next April! Whether I write any more books in the Night’s Masque universe after that really depends on how well the first trilogy sells, but either way, I have another project on the backburner at the moment – more fantasy, but not Elizabethan. That’s all I’m saying right now!

In your journey from aspirational to professional author, what would you say is the most important lesson you have learned?

Be careful what you wish for. Seriously. Being a writer of commercial fiction isn’t for dreamers and wannabes, it’s hard work, as hard as starting your own business – and that’s how you have to treat it. I have two jobs now: my day-job as a web developer, and my writing job. Of course I wouldn’t swap it for the world – although if I could write full-time, that would be awesome.

Thanks very much Anne!

Anne Lyle’s debut novel The Alchemist of Souls, book one of the Night’s Masque series, is released on 27th March 2012 for US paperback and ebook, and 5th April 2012 for UK paperback. Its sequel, The Merchant of Dreams, is due to be published Spring 2013.

The Salesperson and the Tortured Genius

Since reaching the end of the first draft of our book I’ve started to climb out of my writing cave and emerge, blinking, into the bright and sometimes confusing world of social networking – hence the creation of the blogs and a twitter account – in preparation for the next phase of our writing process.

I could write an entire post on twitter and what an eye-opener it is, how I had an account before, failed to make it work and then researched until I ‘got’ it and started again. But this post is about social networking and where it fits in a writing life.

There is this common perception of the writer as a cossetted genius, locked in their garret, bashing out words at midnight, sucking at whisky bottles and pleading with their muse. They’re a bit smelly and nobody wants to sit next to them on the bus. They like it that way, people are annoying, they stop them from writing.

But books are written specifically so that other people can read them – it is not about the author, it is about the audience who will experience that person’s work.

There comes a point where the artist, the creative genius, the loner who locks themselves away so that they can craft works of wonder, has to peel off that soiled and grubby tshirt, put the whisky away and scrub up. They have to exchange those grey-rimmed, sleepless, antisocial eyes for sparkling friendly ones, knock on doors and become the shiny salesperson – effervescent, sociable and persistent.

“Here madam, take a look, it’s what everyone’s been waiting for. Special price, just for you. What about your husband, what does he like?”

I’ve got a sticker on my front door that the police handed out, it’s to keep people like this away, as if it releases some repellent gas or forcefield. Whenever I get one of these people trying to sell me something I point at it. Their shoulders slump in resignation and they trudge off.

Okay, the tortured genius and the pushy salesperson are extreme stereotypes but I think as I started to learn from twitter and the blogs that it streamed my way that many struggling writers don’t even consider the selling aspect of their potential career. I know I didn’t.

To a large extent there is a single person responsible for letting the world know about this book that you’ve sweated over.


Hence the desperate, pushy salesperson, getting in your face, sticking their foot in the door, giving you free samples, trying to get you to sign up for something you don’t want.

Or is there an alternative to this?

Imagine you meet a person, just like you, struggling to make it as a writer. You see yourself in them and get chatting.  You find that they’re not all that weird, they’re actually very friendly, and they’re blog is very useful and interesting too. How about that guy over there, he reads a lot of books, has he got anything to recommend? You learn something new from him, that was a conversation worth having. This lady here, she’s always got something interesting to talk about – not always about writing but she is funny. This guy – he’s into the same stuff as you, not writing, one of your other hobbies or interests. He remembers a lot of stuff you remember, you get on, there’s a connection.

When I was in Perugia, Italy, we used to sit on the steps in the piazza, us foreign students, drinking beer and smoking. It was a great time for social interaction, a real life version of the above, of twitter and the blogosphere. I remember one young guy, who was obviously foreign but his Italian was near perfect, who seemed to have more friends than anyone else. Everybody knew him and said hi, he always had a friendly word. But he was never in a group of people chatting, he would flit in and out. One time he came over to us and talked, and talked and we got on famously. He told us about a bar where he knew the staff and could get us cheap drinks. Why not? we thought. So we followed him, he got us our drinks and then said he had to go and talk to someone. Sure enough he was giving his spiel to some other couple – he was a salesman, working for the bar, drawing in the punters. He wasn’t anybody’s friend at all. I felt a little cheated by this, nobody wants to feel they’ve made a bond with someone only to have it cheapened as a sale for commission. A friend is a friend. Being charming and nice might make people buy your stuff but if they see that you are only putting on the niceties to make them get their cash out, and not because you like them then you are a fraud.

Social networking made me forget all about the pushy salesperson, the tortured genius. It showed me the friend, the acquaintance, the colleague. The key word to social networking is social. We’re here to write books and hopefully sell them, but along the way we meet people, we support one another, we talk about stuff that has nothing to do with writing and they see that you are not simply a machine bashing out words, or a jabbering sales hoarding trying to flog your wares, you are a person. They drop their guard and talk, perhaps every so often you will tweet or blog about your work, and by now people have talked to you enough to know that you are the kind of person they can get on with, who interests them and they take a look.

Nobody likes feeds that are full of  ‘buy my book’, they’ll expect it to some degree if you are a writer, but not for the majority of your posts. So maybe your cat plopped in your slipper again, perhaps you’ve bought an amazing new bike and want to share it with the world. Or maybe you’ve got some ideas about character, or want to talk about plot – share it all with the rest of us, we’re listening.

First day

It’s my eldest’s first day at preschool today, and my first day on this blog.

You may know me from Twitter, chances are that’s how you found me, but I am 32, I write SFF and I play with swords.

I’ve been writing with increasing seriousness for a couple of years now. I write mainly speculative fiction and have this past year been working on a series of fantasy noir books with coauthor David Murray.

The title of the blog reflects my writing habits. I’m at home with two kids so I take my chances to write where I can – often my car is my study.

Here is where I plan to share my writing experiences, journey towards publication, thoughts, fiction, interviews, reviews and stuff that might be useful anyone with an interest in writing and speculative fiction. Writing’s a lonely activity, so it’s good to share.

See my About page for more about me, and Where Dead Gods Lie Buried – the website of my coauthored books.