I was doing a bit of checking back in my files and found the cover copy of a book I’ll almost certainly never write – the third of the Empire of a Hundred Houses (probable) trilogy. Given it’s just sitting there, I thought I might as well post it for those who are curious. So, if you are I present you with The Army of Stolen Children:
The Army of Stolen Children
One person’s crime is another’s opportunity. You have to be special sort of bastard to believe that, but cometh the hour, cometh the madman.
The great beasts of the Empire of a Hundred Houses are stirring. After five hundred years House Dragon appears weakened to the other hegemonies – shamed by repeated failure to control the Imperial City while the ranks of their Astaren are bloodily thinned.
Investigator Narin had been looking forward to a quiet life with his new family, hoping the sanctity of the Emperor’s person would keep the city safe. But then a third faction announces itself, one whose origins are too close to home for comfort.
And this time there is no right or wrong, no side Narin wishes to choose. There is only the game of power, played by the high-born rulers of nations, but the opening move of that game is aimed directly at Narin and his friends.
The Army of Stolen Children is coming for them all.
So Wednesday was a little anniversary for me, assuming my memory can be trusted. Nope, nothing to do with meeting my wife, I dunno when that happened. Who keeps track of such things? There is, however, one date that has stuck in my mine – 16th of March, 2006 – because that’s the day I began a published author and The Stormcaller was unleashed upon the world.
Yup, my little (?!) boy Isak is ten years old.
Back then publishing had a different landscape, the interweb was a very different place, and the SFF community was almost entirely foreign to me. I’d just written a book because it wanted to be written. And then? Well it got released into English twice (three times if you count the audio edition), Russian, German, French, Czech and Polish. The English versions of Stormcaller have sold over 60,000 copies between them and just yesterday I got an email from a guy who enjoyed the series enough to take the time to write to me and tell me that, ten years on.
It’s been by far my most successful book; it’s paid a lot of bills and remains something I’m very proud of. Even when I got the chance to revise it I didn’t want to do much, just tidy up a few parts to make them easier to read. For better or worse it’s my debut book and the start of the million+ words that comprise the Twilight Reign. While it may not become a worldwide phenomenon with HBO series or movie deals, it’s still quite an achievement.
Some people loved it, some hated it. Some people wanted it to be another book by Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch (with whom I was published as a trio of debuts… I know, tough company right?), and were furious when they discovered a traditional epic instead. But lots of people loved it and I continue to feel humbled whenever I’m told someone’s read (and re-read) the idle thoughts of this modestly talented writer.
I’ve today sent the full ms of Princess of Blood to my agent and brother for first thoughts. It’ll be my ninth book to come out and this week I’ve had several hugely talented authors say humbling things about book 1, Stranger of Tempest, so tonight there will be wine. While I’ll be raising a glass to Isak, Mihn and all the others (not individually though, the cast list had approximately 500 names by the end) I’ll also be toasting two others in particular – John Parker, formerly of MBA and Zeno literary agencies, and Jo Fletcher, formerly of Gollancz now rightful queen of her own imprint, who saw something in the manuscript that made them willing to put more work in than anyone could reasonably expect.
And lastly, cheers to all of you who bought it. No refunds.
So my stand-alone novella Fear The Reaper is now on sale – the paperback edition anyway, the ebook’s listed as to be released in a week or two. It was a story I started just as a bit of practice and finished as a nice change of pace between finishing one series and starting the next, so I’m very fond of it for a few reasons and I’m inordinately pleased with how it looks now – photos don’t do the cover (by v talented artist Nele Diel, go find her on DeviantArt) justice, the proof I’ve got looks really great sitting in my hand.
So I’d be delighted if you went and bought a copy from somewhere like Amazon. They’re an unpleasant company who’re abusing a monopoly position, but it’s hard to avoid them in this game and I’d be a liar if I said I never bought anything from them so…
However, you could also place an order with me if you like. I’m going to get some stock from Kristell Ink and will gladly sign/date/scribble over them to your exact specifications, charging cover price plus whatever the postage is. If you’re interested, drop me an email and tell me where you’re based and I’ll let you know the cost. I will do drawings if people want, but I’m terrible at them and not even in a funny way, just a kinda sad scrawling way, so buyer beware there…
In case anyone’s curious, here’s what I’m up to at Dysprosium – I’ll be around from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon and available to be bought drinks throughout most of that period. You’re very welcome to talk to me too should you want, but I understand that mostly people wouldn’t choose that so don’t feel you have to.
Friday at 17.30 – Cryptids: A Modern Bestiary?
Impossible creatures as the focus of literature and art, with Peter Harrow, Seanan McGuire, Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Friday 21.15 – Apocalypse Yesterday:
The Apocalypse has come and gone: what is in store for the survivors? Are post-apocalyptic representations in literature, television and film true to current thinking? Has this changed significantly from Survivors to the Walking Dead? How does this affect people as people and their representation as characters in fiction? With John Bray (mod), Nigel Furlong, Sabine Furlong, and Sarita Robinson.
Saturday – 4.15 – Signing!
Naturally I’ll be the big draw at the Saturday signing. And by that I mean I’ll be doodling the size of the line in front of Jim Butcher… But there will also be Aliette de Bodard, Charles Stross and Adrian Tchaikovsky, so there’ll be a range of fans waiting there and idly wondering who I am.
Sunday 11.15 – Gollancz Room Party
The reprobates in the Gollancz stable will be herded out by judicious use of cattleprods to meet a crowd of people hoping to meet Joe Abercrombie
Sunday 12.15 – Reading!
John Kaiine (whom I don’t know but after a quick google looks like a cool guy, artist, photographer and writer) and I will be doing readings. I’m down as reading from Old Man’s Ghosts as it’s the new book out, but I’ve struggled to find a section short enough so I’ll be coming armed with the first scene of my next novel Stranger of Tempest too – which is brief, a bit bloody, and a little sweary, and thus sums up the book nicely.
But I have now found a scene from OMG so we’ve got a choice, depending on what people fancy and whether anyone’s interested.
So it’s been ten years this Sunday since I signed my first contract with Gollancz. Which remains somewhat astonishing to me, mostly that I’m still allowed to make stuff up when I should be working a proper job… But anyway I was going to do a giveaway of all my books to celebrate when it occurred to me that I’ve done a few of those over the years and it was maybe time to do something different.
Instead, I want your money. Or rather, I want it to go to my local charity. I’m looking for bids on a set of all my published books (that’s the entire Twilight Reign plus the two Empire of a Hundred Houses books, seven novels and one collection of short stories – plus, if someone proves particularly generous, perhaps also a promise for copies of the novella and novel I’ve written but haven’t come out yet).
The charity is Helen and Douglas House, a hospice for children and young adults with life-shortening conditions. http://www.helenanddouglas.org.uk/ – and in case you want to just throw money their way right now, the best place for that is via their website or here - https://www.justgiving.com/hhadh/ – the do brilliant work and are lovely people so well deserving of your generosity.
So put your bids in the comments here, as replies on facebook or twitter or emailed through my website even – I don’t care where, I’ll do my best to collate them and make it clear what the leading bid is. I’ll be covering postage (so kinda hoping for a UK-based winner ;0) ) and I’m open to negotiation when it comes to format, size of winning bid depending – I think I’ve got most of the ones printed – and will sign/dedicate/first line as requested so long as it’s vaguely reasonable.
I’ll leave this to run until Monday morning, get bidding!
Fatigue: you’ve probably been running on caffeine and adrenaline to finish that last chunk of the book, writing longer and harder than at any other time. Now it’s done you realise you’re knackered; you’ve burned yourself out and the chemicals propping your brain up have started to drain away. Warn colleagues and family that all you want to do is curl up and sleep for a weekend so anyone bringing their problems your way needs to use words of one syllable and be prepared to dodge flying coffee mugs.
Elation: Holy crap, you’ve actually finished the book! Sure there’s editing to do but the hardest part is over – the bulk of the words are on the page and it’s time to sink into a whisky or four and celebrate getting that monkey off your back. You’ve got a burst of energy – it’s time to fix that shelf or work in the garden, say nice things to your family and try to remember what being human is like.
Illness: Remember those weeks of marinating your brain in caffeine, adrenaline and panic? Weeks when you were too frantic to be ill? Well I’m sorry, but your body was storing all those germs from people on the tube and plague-ridden toddlers, waiting for its chance. Time to fill the bath with lemsip and stay there for a week.
Depression: Often this’ll come hand in hand with the illness. You’ve got nothing to do and feeling adrift without the book to focus on – the last thing you can summon the strength for is starting a new book and you need a break from the current one. You’re tired and ill and dammit there is a lot of editing waiting for you. The answer is probably chocolate and brainless movies or a box set. Both are excellent at quietening the (by now ingrained) guilt you feel at not working.
Hope: Finally you start revising. There’s a long way to go, but you’ve shaken the flu and can face doing some work. At some point you laugh at a character’s joke or find yourself having no changed anything for five pages because you got swept up in the story. You realise it’s not terrible, that there’s some good to be found in that first draft and the critics may not publicly crucify you. You realise that maybe, just maybe, you can do this again. Which is good, because there’s always another deadline.
Now I know very few people care about my best books of the year, I’m not that in-depth or intellectual about my reviews on top of the fact most books I read came out a while back, but since it’s the season for them I thought I’d just list the ones I though were five stars offerings since I do now record what I read on Goodreads.
In reverse order of reading, because frankly I can’t remember much so I’m running down the list, we have:
The Violent Century – Lavie Tidhar. A brilliant literary take on the superhero novel, encompassing a chunk of the the West’s darker history in this century.
Broken Homes – Ben Aaronovich – a pitch-perfect supernatural crime series – funny and such a breeze to read it feels like a cosy crime novel, but it’s also intelligent and dark at the same time. This is the series that the BBC should be filming for their prime time slot or Christmas specials.
The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane – I read most of it last year but finished it this year. Non-fiction and just an account of journeys in the last few wild parts of the country, it’s aching beautiful. Probably the best descriptive prose I’ve ever read so worth a mention here.
Leviathan Wakes – James SA Corey – intelligent space opera that still doesn’t take itself too seriously and has what most SF novels are lacking, real humanity.
The Tooth Fairy – Graham Joyce – A dark, elegant coming of age story from a master.
Honourable mentions – Son of the Morning by Mark Alder which was brilliant for the main, and The Shadows of the Apt books (I read a couple last year) by Adrian Tchaikovsky which is one of the few fantasy series this jaded old bastard continues to plough through with childish delight.
So there you go.
There's been lots of talk about publishing and Amazon and I'm not going to add to the debate (much), but I do have one thought that troubles me.
We're effectively at a situation where self-published authors have been set against traditional publishers/authors - there's a natural point antagonism there that companies (not just Amazon) have pushed for their own goals, but it's broadly ended up with self-pub authors on Amazon's side and against the traditional side.
So it's us against them, or certainly that's the prevailing mentality. What Amazon are mostly concerned with are the big five publishers, as the core of the traditional side, and the fight over terms that's going on there. If Amazon win, a lot of self-published authors are going to be pleased/smug about events. Perhaps it'll work out well for them, perhaps well for all us authors. That much I don't know. What I do know is that we'll have an enormously powerful company with a near monopoly over books in the English speaking world, standing over the broken bodies of it's only real opposition. They have no intention of putting up prices of ebooks, that much has always been clear. They believe they should be cheap for consumers and I'm not going to debate that point because there's no point. What I will point out is that, if the shareholders of Amazon have a time in mind for demanding real profits from this multi-billion-dollar corporation, that'd be a good time to do it. Once the war is one, the opposition broken and the Department of Justice still on your side.
And prices aren't going to be going up, which means there's one obvious direction they can squeeze. But maybe they'll never really want profits.
So... I’ve done something I hope none of you actually notice. I can smell your anticipation already.
You know the saying that a book is never truly finished, only abandoned? Well that’s never truer than with a first novel. At some point you have to just step back and unleash the thing on the world. You might fix a few more errors when you’re checking the paperback proofs or whatever, but over all – just get over it, move on and start your next book.
Apparently I’m not so good at that bit.
With the Twilight Reign finished, one thing I was so pleased about when Moon’s Artifice hit the shelves was simply that I had a new first book to show people. Before that point, if you wanted to get into my work there was really only one place to do it, my rookie novel. But it got me thinking about how sometimes you get to revise those first novels and it occurred to me I REALLY couldn’t be bothered to do that. Not only couldn’t be bothered, but I didn’t want to.
It’s the book I wrote and I’m very happy with it, hell – I’ll enjoy it if I sit down and read the thing as I have done before. There were bits about the book that some readers didn’t like and fair enough, but for all that I might not write it exactly the same way if I started it all over again, a big overhaul isn’t ever what I’d wanted to do.
But maybe the odd tweak. Maybe a few sentences could be a bit shorter. Maybe there’s the odd scene where the POV switches and I’ve confused the reader. Maybe Isak sounds rather more well-spoken in book 1 than he does in later novels. Little mistakes you don’t notice as much as you should and it’s not second-nature to avoid them yet. Yeah, I’d totally fix a couple of those.
And that’s what I’ve done. My new editor in a fit of inadvisable politeness failed to trot out the usual editorial line of being swamped at work (despite actually being so) so when we were having a chat about a free Tom Lloyd sampler – forthcoming, to contain a massive chunk of Stormcaller on top of a massive chunk of Moon’s Artifice and a few short stories for good measure – he failed to splutter in outrage through his pint when I asked if I could do a few very minor adjustments to make it an easier read.
For formatting reasons, that proved to be a colossal and hideous mistake on both our parts, but we only realised it too late and had to press on until the end. I now know that the road to hell is not paved with good intentions but line breaks and margin changes. Manually fixing every line of a 175,000 word document was, ah... not fun.
But we got there and lo a new e-version of The Stormcaller is born. It’s almost exactly like the old version. Fans re-reading won’t be able to tell the difference I suspect, at least I hope not. But I also hope it’ll be just that bit smoother to new readers too. You try to replicate on the page the story that’s in your head and your skill as a writer determines how well it appears to those reading it. So this isn’t a revised edition of the book, that would be over-stating things, but it is a version that is simply a little truer to the story I was trying to tell.
And so the wheel of interview turns, and in another age, called about tea time by some people, A J Dalton answered me thusly:
1. Adam, your books (Empire of the Saviours, Gateway of the Saviours, etc) are pretty hefty. How much does size matter in fantasy, do you think?
Well, when I started reading fantasy (a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) the 'big fat' 1000-page epic fantasy was the norm. I loved it - cos I find such books so 'immersive'. You never want them to end. However, tastes are changing - life is too short, time is money, blah, blah. The 'big fat fantasy' isn't selling like it used to. My publisher is asking me to go shorter. So, my most recent release (Tithe of the Saviours, April 2014) is a mere 145K words, the shortest book I've written in my 'career' (if I may use such a grandiose term for it!) so far.
2. Of all your books, do you have a favorite, or do you love all your children equally?
For some weird reason, I always enjoy writing the third/last book in a series, cos I know it's only the true fans who will be reading as far as that book. I find I have more permission to 'go for it' with that book. And my publishing editor is far less fussy/nit-picky about that book too. So, I've enjoyed Necromancer's Fall and Tithe of the Saviours most. I'm (probably) getting better with practice, so my most recent is probably the best - Tithe of the Saviours.
3. Readers always ask authors where they get their ideas or inspiration. Do you have a muse? What's your secret?
The problem is too many ideas really - and deciding which should be left out. I read a lot of fantasy and will sometimes read something and think, 'Hmm. I wouldn't have written it like that. I'd have written it like this. Oo. That's a good idea. Maybe I will write it like that!' It's like writing a photonegative really. So, that's my muse and secret in one - reading other fantasy authors. One of the UK's leading fantasy author (in terms of sales anyway) often says he doesn't read fantasy very much. I just don't get that. Doesn't he enjoy the genre he writes in?
4. Who is your favorite fantasy author now deceased? Why them?
David Gemmell. I grew up reading a lot of his stuff - you don't get better fight scenes - and they've helped me with my own stuff.
5. Who is your favorite living fantasy author and why (apart from Tom Lloyd or A J Dalton)?
Oh. Easy. Michael Moorcock. '
6. What's the best thing about being an author?
The best thing about the writing is... the writing. I enjoy the process, creativity and discipline of it. You've got to. Otherwise, you just couldn't stay motivated and inspired for the year or so it takes to write a book.
7. And the worst?
Worst thing – never having enough time for the writing. The writing doesn’t pay enough to cover your bills, you see, so you have to go out and get a day-job. Finding time to write is tricky, and the stress of that (especially when you have a deadline) really reduces the pleasure of the writing.
8. What are you currently working on that you can tell us about without then having to kill us?
A standalone ‘science fantasy’ called Lifer. Just 90,000 words, so a snip for the likes of you and me! It’s going well, and I’m enjoying it – cos there’s no deadline or anything (I haven’t looked into getting a publishing contract for it yet). In fact, it’s probably the best thing I’ve written to date (getting better with practice maybe). It’ll be the book I’m remembered for when I’m long gone, I suspect.
9. If people want to find out more about you, what sites do you maintain and what's your handle on Twitter?
My site is www.ajdalton.eu. I'm on facebook. Twitter: @AJDalton1. Beyond that, I tend to haunt the Fantasy Faction fan forum.
10. What question have I not asked you that I should have done? And what's the answer?
Maybe 'What's the trick to life as a writer and reader of fantasy?' Well, write what you enjoy reading, and don't be upset if it isn't published immediately. You're probably born ahead of your time. You have to wait till the world catches up. Or your stuff isn't currently 'in fashion' with publishers. Rejection should never be the same as dejection. Books get rejected for loads of reasons - and 'quality of prose' is really one of the rarer reasons. If you want to get published, focus on what the more common reasons are and address them.