“Wakey, wakey,” Alisandra said softly and I was instantly awake. I was standing spread-eagled in front of her, my legs and arms forming an X. Whatever was holding me in place was invisible and I tried to imagine it gone with no luck at all. At least I was clothed.
She stood inches from me, our faces level. Moving closer she blew gently on my face, her breath sweet, warm, and intoxicating. Then she licked me from the bottom of my jaw to the middle of my right cheek. I felt a familiar tingle as certain parts of my body responded on automatic pilot.
“You taste wonderful.” She laughed and stepped back.
She wore a toga which she undid and let drop to the floor. “It’s our time, Jake; time to fulfil our darkest fantasies.”
“Let me go.” I am not particularly good at being faithful, but I’m trying to be.
“You can get out of here simply by wanting to, Jake.”
She waited expectantly, but my best efforts to get free came to nothing.
“But you’re still here, I see. Let’s play a game where you’re my captive and I can do whatever I want to you.”
I struggled against my bonds and imagined walking free, but nothing happened. The rules of the Conference seemed to have changed, at least as far as I was concerned.
She put a finger to her lower lip and tilted her head, contemplating her next move. I closed my eyes and willed myself to Fluffy. When I opened them she was still there and I was still bound.
I was suddenly naked. A large cube of ice appeared in her hand and she rested it against my chest. It was surprisingly cold and I gritted my teeth.
“Is it cold, my lovely?” she murmured softly as she slid the cube down my chest to my belly button. “But we must quench the heat below, now mustn’t we?”
I grunted as she held the ice against the family jewels. They drew up into my abdomen in response. Strangely, this didn’t stop another part of my body from remaining as hard as stone.
“I can’t stop you. Let me go.”
“Of course you can’t,” she giggled. “I knew you really wanted me.”
Well, let’s be clear about this. For the vast majority of us it isn’t for the money. Just to give you some idea, the average income of those able to get a traditional publishing deal is less than $1000 a year. For ebook writers and the self published in general, the average is somewhat less.
Think of writers much as singers. For every Miley Cyrus there are a thousand acts in bars around the world earning just enough to pay their costs. And many are doing it for less than their costs.
We don’t write because it is easy. Writing a novel is hard work. Not only do you need a plot, but you also need to create a cast of characters. Characterisation is tough. Not only do you have to keep track of what they’ve done, you have to let them grow with the story.
Even once you have mastered Plot and Characters, you have to decide on narrative. Narrative is a medium size word for a massive stumbling block. What ‘person’ are you going to write in? Once you start you can’t go back and change it when it gets difficult. JK Rowling chose Close Third Person, past tense for HP and that means her narration could only see what Harry saw. She cunningly invented telepathy through dreams (of Voldemort and his snake) and the pensieve so she could cover backstory without boring her readers silly with ‘And then Harry read in a book…’ Though she did do ‘Harry talks to dead people’ in the final volume.
Narrative also covers how the story is told in scenes and chapters. You can tell a story linearly, linearly with flashbacks, or all over the place. Most novelists start fantasy stories in the middle; hidden and mysterious past events which must be deduced while your heroes hopefully stay alive. When you think about it, detective stories are usually about discovering the past by searching for clues in the present.
And last, but hardly least, writing takes up a lot of time. That’s time that we could have spent, reading, going to the movies, having sex, getting drunk. Or even, as a last resort, doing paid work. Put it like this, the vast majority of writers would earn more on minimum wage for the hours they put in writing their book than what they earn from its sales.
Then we charge you the price of a coffee for our work and a lot of the readers out there bitch that we are ripping them off. Authors should give their works away because it cost ‘nothing’ to download it. Forgive me if I choose to disagree.
So why do writers write? There’s a bit of ego in it. But that tends to wear off after the first book. The first book you get published is special. However few or many you sell, you can go around claiming to be a published author and every copy for which you get paid makes you a professional writer.
But mainly we write because we want to tell readers good stories right along with telling ourselves. A reviewer recently wrote that one of my books was good, but could have been better. To which I reply; That’s true of all of them. I do my best.
I don’t give my books away (except for the odd special offer) because I think that devalues them and me. If you are not prepared to pay me the price of a cup of coffee for my work, then you don’t respect me or my writing.
What I hope is that after you have paid the entry fee you get hours of enjoyment from my work. That you will laugh out loud, feel like crying, and get a sense of fulfilment, at some point in every single book I’ve written. What do you get from that cup of coffee and how long does it last?
Not every reader will like my work. That is true of every book written by every writer. I just wish a higher proportion of those of you that have read and liked my work would put a positive comment on Amazon. I can dream.
For those of you waiting for news on Wizards IV. I’ve written it, I’m currently giving it its first line edit. It will be published later this year, most likely in the summer.
John Booth 14th April 2014
***** (5 Stars) And well deserving
The thirteenth book of the Spook’s series finally concludes the first story. The author says he planned a trilogy, but it took on a life of its own.
The trouble with endings of long stories is they rarely live up to the hype. This is a good book, it is one scene short of being a great book, but I understand why that scene was omitted, even if I don’t agree with the reasoning. I would bet money it was in the first draft before the editor persuaded the author to remove it.
The Wardstone Chronicles started by presenting us with an uncompromisingly description of good and evil, if you used magic )always Dark you would eventually become a servant of the Dark and it was a Spook’s job to take those so afflicted and imprison or kill them (sometimes both, though not in that order.) But Delaney subverted that view almost from the start by showing that not all those using dark powers used them for evil. Everybody is compromised as the story progresses, even the Spook turns out to have fallen in love with one of those he fights against.
Delaney created a relationship between a practitioner of the dark arts (Alice) and Tom (our hero). This relationship soon blossoms into the beginnings of a love story. The age range the book is targeted at preventing it from going any further.
What has bound me to these stories is that relationship between Tom and Alice, its strengths and its weaknesses, as our characters discover that for the world to escape the rule of evil, Tom must sacrifice Alice and she must be willing to die. Tom is hopelessly fallible (and to be honest, not all that bright) while Alice has a resolve that burns so intensely it sometimes hurts to see it on the page.
I’m not going to say what happens in this book, but that story is not resolved unless you carefully put together all the clues the author left scattered around. For those of you who have read the book, look carefully at the prophesy made by Mab about what would happen to Tom and then Alice’s last words to him.
Buy this book, it’s well worth reading.
Some of you may have noticed I have published two Jalia novels in the last two weeks or so, so now seems like a good time to talk about her and them.
Jalia is my favourite character and I have written an enormous amount about her. She and Daniel are destined for great things.
Daniel is the last of the Magician Kings, something he doesn’t believe in the current books. He’s still a teenager, brought up on a farm until his parents died and then dragged around the Golden Triangle (a trade route) by his older half-brother. At this point in his life, he couldn’t be a king if he wanted to. What he does want to do is follow Jalia wherever she wants to go. He knows he is in love with her, even as he knows that she isn’t yet capable of love.
Jalia is the daughter of a Master Trader and was brought up in luxury among the rich and royalty of Bagdor. She is very intelligent and incredibly lucky (you’ll find out why, eventually.) Her mother was a mystery, blonde and blue-eyed in a country where no one like that exists. She claimed to come from a village far to the west, but that was a lie.
Jalia is a sociopath with nothing remotely like a conscience. She puts herself, first, second and last. Ruthless does not begin to describe her. However, she has some rules she chooses to live by, one of which is that her word is her bond. She is drawn towards Daniel, but he is still largely a travelling companion. Because she wants to keep on travelling with him, she often considers what Daniel would want her to do to avoid annoying him.
These books are about the two of them growing up. They are on a sightseeing tour around their world because Jalia wants to see things, and because many of the places they’ve been have a price on Jalia’s head. She can’t keep out of trouble as it’s in her nature. Daniel wanted a quiet life, but by the end of Jalia and the Slavers, he knows he can’t have that and Jalia.
There is an epic story rumbling away in the background as hints to their future are dropped here and there, but these books are a series of adventures caused by Jalia’s irrepressible nature. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Let me tell you about Carlotta… No wait, if I do that I’ll spoil the book for you. Let me tell you about what I’ve been doing while you are all waiting for Wizards IV.
I started writing the next wizards book in November, but then my life got complicated and I stopped. I didn’t think I was doing the book justice and my mind was all over the place.
After Christmas I decided to edit a book then called ‘The Unknown’. The reason for the title was that I didn’t have a clue what the book was going to be about. All I knew was I wanted to write a ‘film noir’ book. Detectives in raincoats and hats, mobsters and steam coming out of vents, sexy women and convoluted plots – that sort of thing.
What I ended up writing about was Carlotta, and even she didn’t know who she was as the story starts. The name was incongruous and we would soon find out that it both was her name and wasn’t. When she changes to vampire form, we discover she is something special. Her need for sexual release at the drop of a hat tells us much more about her.
She’s something special is Carlotta. I often write about strong women, but this girl’s arrogance and willingness to risk her life is something different. Of course, my noir detective story had become a fantasy, but then, it was me writing it, so no surprises folks.
Pretty soon, Carlotta is on a mission to save the world from someone who makes the mob look kind and cuddly. His mission is to remake the world in his image and he knows how to get the power to do it. Carlotta and a few hangers-on are out to stop him, if they can.
This is epic fantasy largely confined to a hotel with a few field trips.
Carlotta and the Krius Scepter is out on Kindle from the 1st of January. If you liked Wizards you’ll love this one.
(Now back to writing the next Wizards book.)
Artemis Fowl has been one of the most entertaining series in children literature over the last ten years. This is a worthy edition to the cannon though not up to some of the earlier books.
This is a claustrophobic novel, taking place over less than a day in the life of Artemis. There are so many characters to fit in to the story that Mr Colfer uses the clever trick of making many of them fill two roles at the same time. The pacing is good, but I felt I was in a tunnel most of the time. There were only a few occasions when Artemis has his head up and is scheming. I would have loved the final book to have played to the genius part, but it was not to be.
On the good side Mulch plays a major role in the plot and when he is in action this story flies (quite literally in places). The scatological jokes are flung without regard for innocent bystanders and it was a joy to behold (from a safe distance.)
I shall miss Artemis Fowl. The journey has been a great one.
Go buy this book because you wont regret it. It's still head and shoulders above most of the pack.
Just a word to those of you fond of my Wizards and Tom & Laura books.
The months May, June and July were very productive for me.
May/June I wrote Wizards III in which we find out what Jake promised the Wizards of Valhalla to get the power he needed to defeat Bronwyn. Naturally, his new wives are not amused and they decided (well, Esmeralda decided) that he should be forbidden any sex with them.
When we join the story, he has been celibate for nearly a month. This will have severe repercussions, but his main problem is that Jenny wants to come home and he doesn’t have any money in Wales. No sooner does he come up with a solution to that than he finds he is Public Enemy Number 1 across the whole multiverse, and everybody is out for his blood.
From then on, it all gets worse and much more complicated.
In June and July, I wrote Tom & Laura III and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out. I conceived Tom & Laura as an adult series, but I started the series while they were still thinking a little bit like kids (well, Tom was.)
This time they have grown up and are adults. Nearly a year has passed since the last story and Laura has been imprisoned by the army for refusing to kill people, Sir Ernest Trelawney has been fired from his post as Director of MM3 and is about to get married to his secretary, while Tom is in the army and has been posted to America as a Healer.
Wizards III has been through a second edit and should come out in the next few months. Tom & Laura III is a longer book and I haven’t decided whether to edit it now or write another book. Time is limited because I also have to work at something other than writing to live and I have recently received a couple of contracts.
But you will see them both before year end, I’m sure.
What can one say about Garth Nix? Bestselling and award winning children’s and YA author who is highly prolific and amazingly inventive. Worse than that, he has the temerity to be younger that me! I ought to hate him, but as a matter of fact I’m a big fan.
He has stepped into SF once before with Shade’s Children, but for me, this is his first major foray into the world of SF and what an excellent one it is too. I have always found the difference between ‘older YA’ and ‘adult’ confusing and if this isn’t adult SF I don’t know what is, though its protagonist is young.
A Confusion of Princes takes us through the three deaths of Khemri, a prince just entering adulthood, where being a prince is nothing like you expect. Khemri has been born (and partially constructed) into an Empire spanning a big chunk of the galaxy. Though we meet some aliens, this Empire is about humans who originated on Earth and have spread. It is run by a mysterious overmind and an emperor who is never seen.
There are millions of princes and they control the Empire on the Emperor’s/Overmind’s behalf. Every twenty years a new emperor is chosen from a thousand princes.
Khemri is arrogant and has been fed a bunch of lies from birth. Now, as he reaches adulthood he discovers that the other princes will try to either kill him or make him their allies.
I was particularly impressed by the use of science. This is a well thought out universe where biological, electronic and psionic technologies are used to enhance and control humanity. In fact, unenhanced humans are cannon fodder to be used at will as concubines and other forms of mind controlled slaves.
To tell any more would be to deprive the reader of lots of fun, so I will leave the story there and let you find out for yourself.
This book is dedicated to two groups of people, the game design industry because the universe described is also a game, and the SF writers Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton. The fascinating thing for me is that this novel is a blend of those two writers. The struggle for survival and humanity is pure Heinlein and this book could have easily been another of his novels. The use of technology and the biotech is pure Norton, as is the subtlety. By accident or design this book takes the best of both writers, while remaining very much a Garth Nix novel.
The only negative I have is that the book is a little bit too much like a game in places. I salute Mr Nix for his attempt to reel in the gaming generation to books. I do hope they come because this is very much a book worth reading. I’m hoping for a sequel.
I bought Department 19 on holiday a couple of weeks ago from one of those shops selling hardbacks cheap. I have just published a book, London Gothic, on the subject of spies, vampires, secret organisations and as this book covers those same elements I wondered how they might compare.
Mr Hill’s book was published in 2011 and there are two sequels out now. I expect he wrote the book after I wrote London Gothic, which dates back to January 2009 in first draft, so there is no way we could have influenced each other.
I enjoyed this book tremendously despite some gaping holes in character motivation and plotting (though these might be resolved in the sequels). In essence, 16 year old boy (Jamie Carpenter) discovers that his father fought vampires and died a traitor when he is flung into the James Bond style world of Department 19, dedicated to protecting the world against the supernatural. Great stuff.
Mr Hill borrows from Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley to populate his story. Using the characters from Stoker’s Dracula and the Monster from the Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein. Each to his own and those books are well out of copyright so I have no problem with this. I think it’s a great shame he didn’t use Shelley’s Monster, but I suppose the idea of using other people’s characters is that they are in the public consciousness and it is the Monster more or less in his most famous characterisation on film (complete with neck bolt) that Mr Hill uses.
One thing Mr Hill does brilliantly is write historical drama. The sections set in the past, while being backstory, positively sing. He captures the 1890’s brilliantly. Much Kudo to him for this.
Jamie is a little too wish-fulfilment for me. In the Horrowitz mould of boy agent, Jamie is just too good, too fast. I would have preferred him a little less capable and a little luckier, but the story zips along very enjoyably.
In London Gothic, Peter Craig (18) has been trained as a spy his whole life by similarly clandestine branch of the UK secret service. However, they aren’t the slightest bit supernatural inclined, economic espionage and agent provocateurs is their style. Peter isn’t quite human and he is the culmination of centuries of evolution that make him a natural at all forms of deception. But he isn’t as good as he thinks he is and I bring the whole thing down on him like a pack of cards at the end.
What Peter and Jamie do share is a supernatural girlfriend and for me, Department 19’s Larissa is the highlight of Hill’s book. Tough, sassy and a little bit malevolent, Larissa is the best character, gets all the best lines and makes the book come alive. She is the vampire with a heart, though why she is motivated the way she is, is never properly explained.
In London Gothic, Sal Dark plays the same sort of role, though she is also comic relief (and sexual relief) for the story. She isn’t a vampire though and, like everyone else in the book, most of what she tells people is a lie.
Department 19 is a straightforward good guys against the bad guys, though Hill does introduce some contrary elements that make his vampires far more than one dimensional. London Gothic is about some slightly bad guys against some other bad guys, and some other bad guys etc. Peter’s self created role is to prevent genocide and get everybody around the table to talk. In this, virtually everyone opposes him.
I liked Department 19 enough to buy the first sequel. If you like violent Vampire stories with a superb female companion helping the hapless hero, you’ll like it too.
If, on the other hand, you like violence and sex with much darker heroes and a convoluted plot, you might prefer London Gothic. I would recommend you buy both :-)
My books often contain characters who might be defined as strong women. In fact, I like a balance of the sexes in my novels, so there are very few of my novels that lack that element. I was trying to work out where my influences were the other day and was struck by how few of them came from the novels I read as a child.
The first strong female character that features in my consciousness was Cathy Gale, the original television female Avenger. I remember Honour Blackman (who played the part) giving an interview where she explained that she complained to her husband that it was the usual screaming female part and he suggested she played it as if she was a man. She went on to say that once the writers got it, her storylines became much stronger. When she left the series, Emma Peel was created in the same mould and a legend was born.
In children’s books there was ‘George’ from the Famous Five and Darrell Rivers from the Mallory Towers books, both written by Enid Blyton. After those I’m damned if many others come to mind, perhaps Monica Edwards’ books about Tamsin and Rissa. There were more such characters in children’s books published after I grew up. Phillip Pullman, for example, has made a hobby of it.
There were strong female characters in comic books and adult fiction. Wonder Woman specialised in making men look stupid as opposed to looking at her breasts. Patricia Holm in the early Saint books and the incomparable Modesty Blaise come to mind in adult novels. I have a deep suspicion that Modesty Blaise was the core model for Buffy, who essentially created the mould for all future television fantasy females. Yes, Joss Whedon, it’s your fault.
The essence of a strong woman in fiction is that she must never be a man in disguise. She acts with her heart as much as her head and is emotionally intuitive. She is more into vengeance than men, but is equally more forgiving when the crime isn’t against herself.
My writing career started in verse and it was there that I created Jalia al’Dare. Adrift in a sword and sorcery world she is perfectly adapted for it. She started killing people in her early teens and never has a moments regret about it. If someone attacks her, she will kill them without a second thought, even if the one attacking her is a child. I teamed her with Daniel, a young man always willing to give someone a second chance, but brutal when he has no choice. With time, they rub off on each other and Jalia uses the mantra ‘What would Daniel do?’ to curb her instincts. Daniel becomes inured to making terrible life and death decisions because he knows he will always be more merciful than his other half.
Women, and especially girls, need to be empowered in western society. Our stories should not portray them as weak, because if that is what they are told they are, then that’s what they will become. And it is a man’s world they live in, make no mistake. Girls are emotionally vulnerable and some men love to exploit them before they get old enough to know better. Unlike boys, they do not seek to form gangs that offer them some protection from exploitation.
So I like to create strong role models in my stories. I don’t claim it’s easy to be strong and many of my female characters have been damaged or abused in childhood. That is often the motivator that makes them strong, able to be tough because they have suffered from being vulnerable.
It seems to me that this issue is ongoing. We are all responsible for changing the society we live in. Some years ago, my eldest daughter was attacked by a handbag snatcher outside a railway station. She looked pretty weak and vulnerable as she was dressed for an interview at the time. She responded by kicking him in the back of the leg, leaving him writhing in agony on the ground while she used her phone to call for the police. They arrived promptly, and when they stopped laughing, arrested the guy. But that’s one thief who will never look at a woman as a victim again.
My kind of hero.