Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde

Never did I suspect the first book from the Hodderscape Review Project would be such a blast from the past. The cover of Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair is rather whacky with a brightly painted car bursting through the scene, tearing it like paper. I knew I was up for a joy ride, but I should have fastened my seatbelt before taking off.

The Eyre Affair is the first out of nine books about literary agent Thursday Next. What makes her different from the literary agents I know is that she is allowed to carry a gun and investigates literature related crime. I wonder if Jasper Fforde realised how much of a prediction his book would be when it was published in 2001. Copyright violations and torrent site blocking is all over the news, which granted is not quite the same back-alley deals with Keats collected works which Thursday Next investigates.

Thursday Next is a level-headed protagonist whose greatest skill must surely be the ability to remain sane in spite of all the weird shit happening. She is a tough cookie who can look after herself without it turning into an over the top Trinity clone. A modern femme fatale who can save the world but still have time for her love life.

Not sure how the best describe how wonderful and weird the book is. If you have read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams or The Laundry books by Charles Stross you might have an idea. Basically, anything could happen, and the least plausible outcome has the greatest chance of happening especially if it's funny.

It's a mad world with a mad story with an evil genius who takes fictional characters as hostage and demands a ransom. It's a world where said evil genius has a younger brother whose evil is not quite as developed and settles for placing fake bids on cars for sale. It's a mad world worth spending hours reading about.

I shall leave you with the first two sentences of the book:
My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don't mean he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who had the power to reduce time to an ultra-slow trickle. 
The Eyre Affair weighs in at 374 pages and is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The String Diaries - Stephen Lloyd Jones

The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones was off to a good start with a strong female lead, who was ready to fight with tooth and claw for her family, and a pretty damn scary antagonist. In spite of keeping me on the edge of my seat for most of the time, and nervously checking what was under the bed when it got dark, I decided to give up on The String Diaries. It was just too much.

There is an old Hungarian myth about the Hosszu Eletek, the people who are blessed with a long life, but part of the myth is also how they were brought to a brutal end by the king after a long and uneasy truce. And no, the Hosszu Eletek are not vampires, werewolves or angelic demons. They do live for very long, have the ability to alter their flesh, which means they can change appearance and heal themselves. But they are not vampires. Really.

The String Diaries is a collection of notes by the surviving members of a family of their encounter with one of the Hosszu Eletek who has spent hundreds of years hunting them. The chapters are divided between the members of the family, one for each time period, and the occasional chapter with the protagonist. Stephen Lloyd Jones does a good job of winding back the clock, you do feel the times are different, with terror as the only constant.

The String Diaries is a nerve wracking read, and I raced through the first half of the book in one long evening. Nothing invokes fear like an unseen enemy, one which can even turn out to be your best friend, or even worse, the man you love. It's almost impossible to protect yourself against a shapeshifter, and they certainly do their best, but there is only so paranoid you can be and still maintain a healthy relationship.

It's a well written book, a real fright in the night which is best read with a night light. A book about how an ordinary family has suffered tragedies for many generations but has always found the strength to survive. Sadly, it is also a book about a near immortal being who has nothing better to do with his time than hunt down the women of this family and sexually assault them. I felt I can certainly spend my time in a better way, and I decided to stop reading The String Diaries.

The String Diaries weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Headline.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Drag Hunt - Pat Kelleher

Some books are just a delight to read, a real feel good read which is both fun and serious at the same time, and leaves you with a sense of wonder. Drag Hunt by Pat Kelleher is such a book. Just the blurb left me with a smile. Coyote, the trickster god, has had something very dear stolen from him. His younger brother, his penis.

Drag Hunt is the latest book in the Gods & Monster universe created by Chuck Wendig for Abaddon books. Basically, God threw out all the other gods and mythical beings, and they now find themselves trapped on earth with the rest of us. They are not happy bunnies, and have once again cooked up a nefarious plan. A plan which involves little Coyote.

We'll follow Coyote on a merry chase looking for his lost member, but never lost for words. You cannot say the same about Richard, a mere mortal, who gets dragged into this mess when Coyote tricks him for all his money. The two form a partnership, which at the beginning might not be an equal partnership, but to Coyote's surprise Richard proves his worth.  It's a rather bonkers read where you can expect truly witty comments sprinkled with a few fart jokes, but Drag Hunt also has a more serious side to it. Coyote might favour tricks or ways of humiliating his opponents, but he is a minority. So, don't worry there is suspense and action as well.

Drag Hunt is an easy book to like for its wit, great characters and world-building, which is literally filled with wonders, and it left me with a feeling of happiness. I really hope there will be more by Pat Kelleher in this setting.

Drag Hunt weighs in at 118 pages and is published by Abaddon Books.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Unclean Spirits - Chuck Wendig

When your wife and child are burning to death in a car wreck, is there anything you wouldn't do to save them? Cason Cole does what any other man would do, he makes a deal to save his family in exchange for his freedom.

Chuck Wendig - writer, blogger and swearsmith - is back with a new novel, Unclean Spirits. I have fond memories of his Double Dead novels featuring bad boy vampire Coburn, books which surprised me with their hidden tale of the man within the beast.

What makes Unclean Spirits stand out is the setting, a new concoction by Chuck Wendig called Gods & Monsters. It's not an unfamiliar story, but one which readers of Neil Gaiman's American Gods will be familiar with. The gods are real, and so are all the monsters from every myth you have ever heard, but it gets worse. The Usurper cast them out from their respective heavens and hells, and they walk the streets with us. They might have lost most of their powers, but that does not mean they have lost their appetite for playing with their favourite toys. Us.

Speaking of Coburn, it's not unfair to say Cason Cole has a lot in common with Coburn. They are both equally stubborn with a habit of pushing people away, and saying the wrong thing on every occasion. It's hard to see why Cason Cole would do or say what he does, and it feels like he is just obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious. They also share the same fighting style, the one where you tire out your opponent by having him beat the shit out of you. Don't get me wrong, I approve of the reluctant, bastard of hero mould, but Chuck Wendig should have added some variety for a less bland protagonist.

Unclean Spirits is a book with a ruthless pace where we are hurled through the sequences of the novel. There is a lot of action in the book, and Cason Cole's past as a cage fighter comes in handy more than once. When he is not dodging fists the size of cars, he is learning about gods he never knew or cared about before. It's clear he still does not care, but I certainly enjoyed these tidbits of lore.

Unclean Spirits is a rumpus of a read in a fresh new setting brimming with potential. As a matter of fact, the next novel in Gods & Monsters, Drag Hunt, by Pat Kelleher is out later this year.

Unclean Spirits weighs in at 320 pages and is published by Abaddon Books.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Guest Post: Literary Agent - Juliet Mushens

Joining us today for the next instalment in my series of posts on writing and publishing is literary agent Juliet Mushens. She kindly agreed to an interview so we could find out what an agent does, and why you would want to become one.

Juliet Mushens is a fiction and non-fiction agent in the literary department of The Agency Group. She was picked by The Bookseller as a Rising Star in 2012 and is on the shortlist of four of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize 2013. Please email her your cover letter and first 3 chapters when submitting. You can follow her on twitter at @mushenska 

How did you become an agent?
My first job in publishing was in the fiction marketing department of HarperCollins. I loved the books I worked on but I was always drawn to the idea of being really close to the text, getting to work with writers for their whole career and championing them from the start when you pluck them from the slushpile. After 2 years I joined an agency as an assistant and after 8 months of assisting I was made an agent.

It is one of those career defining moments to be given an opportunity like that. I was terrified at the idea of building a list from nothing, and aware that I was still really young and inexperienced, but equally I was hugely excited. I knew I needed to work harder than I ever had before but I knew that the possibilities if I did were huge.

I was lucky in that lots of agents I know were hugely generous in their time and advice when I began - from suggesting editors to submit to, to handholding through an auction. I love that now people sometimes ask me for advice!

What do you like the most about agenting?
I like pretty much everything about it. I love the excitement of discovering something special, getting to work editorially with writers, the fun of seeing a book begin its journey to publication and beyond. I find negotiations exciting too, and coming up with new ideas and signing clients and... Oh everything, really.

What about the downsides?
It is really hard to love a book, work hard on it and not be able to sell it. Or to see a book struggle on publication. I work with people and their dreams and sometimes that can be a lot of pressure. I also have to reject a lot of people and that is always a tough part of the job.

What do you wish that someone had told you when you started agenting?
Trust your gut implicitly.

What was the biggest challenge when you became an agent?
Probably my age. I play that as my strength now, as I'm young and enthusiastic and don't have an unwieldy list. But I remember a very senior editor buying a book from me when I was just starting out and then meeting me for lunch. I thought he was going to cry when he saw me, and he ended up asking me what I'd studied for my GCSEs as he obviously felt we had no common ground. It was awful at the time but hilarious now.

What skills do you think you need to be a good agent?
Every agent is different. But I think charm, patience, a steady hand, a good editorial eye, strong negotiation skills and a strong work ethic. Plus unending supplies of hyperbole. One of my colleagues complimented me on how good I am at pitching in person which I 100% put down to my gap year working in a call centre. And obviously the fact I am from Essex and would probably be just as at home working on a market stall.

What is an average day for you?
There aren't any! I can do a lot in a day: from submitting a book to negotiating contracts, meeting a prospective new client to editorial notes for an existing author, a brainstorm about titles with an author and editor, looking at covers, going to a launch party, talking to unpublished writers. It is such a varied job, which is what makes it fun.

What is your advice to people trying to become an agent?
Read, read, read. Then read some more. Network. Come to industry events. A bit more reading. And don't be put off by the presumption that it is a very snobby and nepotistic industry. I knew no one in publishing when I got my first job. And you would not worry about 'snobby' if you met me. Trust.

Thank you Juliet. I expect everyone to send her loads of submissions now :)

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Good The Bad and the Infernal - Guy Adams

The Good The Bad and the Infernal is a title which is certain to capture the attention of any fan of westerns. Guy Adams, author of The Restoration House, is back with a new novel, and being a big fan of his previous work it was an easy decision to pick up the first part in the Heaven's Gate trilogy.

Let's just dive straight into the story. Every one hundred years or so, the town of Wormwood appears. Normally, no one would care, as towns comes and goes, much like the tide. What sets Wormwood apart from the myriad of other towns popping up like weed on the American frontier is that it is a gate to heaven. A phenomenon which attracts all sorts of attention, not always the right kind though.

We get the follow a delightful mix of characters on their quest to find Wormwood. A group of elderly monks, an eccentric inventor travelling with his daughter, and finally a group of circus freaks. Each with their own story to tell.

Great characters - the kind which runs up to you, shakes your hand before dragging you into the story with them - is Guy Adam's trademark. The Good The Bad and the Infernal is no different. His characters always feel so real, I wish I could hang out with them. They are just good lads really. Well, not the bad ones though, they are just creepy. Such a sense of realism is engaging, there is nothing more annoying than an out of character personality.

The other thing I have come to expect from Guy Adams is horror, and he does not disappoint this time either. It's not a fully blown gore-fest, instead you get a feeling for when something bad is about to happen, but he strings you along to build up the suspense even more, before unleashing a nasty surprise. I was pleasantly (scarily) reminded of The Restoration House, which has a similar scary feel to it without being a fully blown horror novel.

Combining steampunk and westerns works well. It's fitting to see technological wonders in the new frontier, where the gadgets are almost as dangerous as the setting. There is not an abundance, far from, of gadgets floating around, which is a good thing as too much would steal the show from the western aspect. Guy Adams captures that gritty, disheveled and grubby feel I associate with spaghetti westerns. Stubble, greasy hair, sweat and dirt.

The Good The Bad and the Infernal is an absolute stonker of a read, a perfect combination of steampunk, horror and dirt. I never get tired of saying this - and I know Guy Adams does not get tired of hearing it - Guy Adams is a great writer, and has once again written a must read.

The Good The Bad and the Infernal weighs in at 318 pages and is published by Solaris Books.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Who Won? The Lives of Tao

And it's finally time to announce the winners in my The Lives of Tao giveaway.
  • Attila Foldesi, London, UK
  • Tom Leahy, Dunstable, UK
  • Emily Pan, New York, USA
As soon as I have the address for everyone the publisher will be notified and your books put in the post. 

Congratulations to all of you, and better luck next time to everyone else.

Thursday, 18 April 2013


Hannibal Lecter is back in a new fresh format, with more than one gore covered ace hidden in its sleeve. The show, which is aptly named Hannibal, is shocked back into life by NBC. It's based on the characters first appearing in the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, but the story takes place before the events in the novel.

It's a star studded cast with Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter, and Laurence Fishburne as FBI agent Jack Crawford. The lead role is taken by British actor Hugh Dancy – a to me previously unknown actor – who plays Will Graham, a troubled but gifted profiler.

After watching the first episode of Hannibal the show appears to be a mix of Dexter and Perception. Not a bad thing at all. The FBI needs a crack team of profilers to quickly identify and capture serial killers, who appear to be sprouting like weed in spring time – and what a team they form. One psychiatrist serial killer and one empath with something resembling Asperberger's syndrome.

Will Graham has a unique ability to empathise with serial killers, letting him relive the crimes with great detail. This is not an ability which lets him rest easy at night. The production crew has done a great job capturing his ability, freezing a scene, rewinding it, then replay it with Will Graham in the role of the killer. Just like in Dr Daniel Pierce in Perception Will Graham hallucinates, but his hallucinations are far more scary. For him, reality dissolves into a nightmare. It's more than a little creepy.

Hugh Dancy does a solid role as a slightly nutty and awkward man, who is troubled by the darkness he carries. However, the show is stolen by Mads Mikkelsen's performance as Hannibal Lecter. This man has mastered creepy, and I quickly found him unnerving. Just the way he speaks is unsettling, but it it does not end there. His cultivated, impeccable, controlled manners while performing anything from the mundane to the unspeakable is freakish. Eating human organs does not help either.

If you love crime thrillers with a twist of the unusual, and a taste for the macabre, Hannibal is for you – if you can stomach it.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Guest Post: The Writing Process - John Gwynne

For this week's guest post writer John Gwynne shares his thoughts on 'the writing process' with us. If you missed my review of John Gwynne's novel Malice, you can find it here. For more information about John Gwynne and his work visit his web site.

Over to you John.

This is all pretty new to me - blogging, posts, being asked questions! When confronted with the task of commenting on ‘the writing process’ as a subject, I would not be so bold as to tell anyone ‘this is how it’s done.’ I’m still staggered that my book, which began life as a few notes on my desk, is now sitting on shelves in bookshops. And I don’t think there is any right or wrong way. It’s a creative process, sitting very firmly in the ‘whatever works for you’ department. Really all I can do is tell you about my writing process - how I have written Malice, and how it has stumbled from ideas in my head to being a real book, with pages, print, a cover and everything!

I’ve come pretty late to writing. I’ve always read. As far back as my memory functions reading and stories have been part of me. One of my earliest memories is my primary school teacher rounding us all up and opening the first page of ‘The Book of Three,’ by Lloyd Alexander. After that it was a slippery slope of Hobbits and Ring-Wraiths, giant spiders, wooden horses, dragons and minotaurs and knights searching for grails. Mixed into that came a growing love of all things historical.

Me writing came about in quite a convoluted manner. My daughter Harriett is profoundly brain injured and needs a high level of round-the-clock care. My wife was her main carer, while I laboured away at university climbing the academic ladder and teaching. Harriett's health degenerated to a point where it became clear that I was needed at home, so I stepped out of teaching and joined my wife as Harriett’s full-time carer. That’s also when I started writing - prodded by my wife and kids, who I’ve always told stories to - part over-active imagination, part big-kid syndrome. So me writing began as a hobby.

First I had to decide what I wanted to write. That was a no-brainer, really.
I love all types of fantasy, epic, gritty, urban, steampunk, sword and sorcery, but my first love is epic. Mixed in with a large dollop of historical/mythological influences. So ‘epic’ was my foundation stone.

I had no thoughts of publication at that time, I was writing for an audience I can count on my fingers - me, my wife and kids. I chose multiple point of view because that’s what I like to read most, and because I thought multiple POV’s was the best way to interest my small list of readers. I also decided very early on that I wanted a coming-of-age tale at the heart of my story - I grew up on Tolkien and Eddings and Feist, and I wanted to try and capture some of that nostalgia. But I also wanted it to be more than just the coming-of-age thing, something more character driven, adult, grittier, though not to the point of an 18 rating! Epic and intimate has always been my goal.

Up until that point I had never written anything creative, only essays and dissertations. The only way I knew how to write was how I had learnt at university - to read, read and then read some more. So I set about doing some research. Which turned into a lot of research. About two years of it, in-fact. That was no hard task, as the bulk of my research material was world mythologies and ancient history. Cool stuff. Out of that I just took notes on anything that made me a little bit excited, and occasionally I’d get the spark of an idea. I have some big files full of notes and ideas under my desk now. Notes about Celtic and Norse mythology, Greco-Roman, Gothic, Slavic and Eastern, notes about Boudicca and Attila the Hun, about Remus and Romulus and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, notes about the theories of Atlantis, about how swords were made 1000 years ago, notes about the cycles of the moon and wolf pack behavior and Komodo dragons. Lots of notes.

Then I just started writing.

My schedule at home revolves around my children - two of our boys are still at home, and of course my daughter Harriett, with all of her unique needs. After that comes work, which involves fixing and selling furniture, painting, sanding, - bills have to be paid. Writing filled the gaps, when there were any. Sometimes there were a lot, sometimes none at all for great lengths of time. Mostly my writing tended to fit into night time, when silence would descend for a few rare moments. As time went on I would try and write at other times - noisy times - and music helped a lot there, plenty of soundtracks and other stuff that contributed to whisking my head off to another world.

I mapped out the broad plot points of my story, deciding on key characters and POV’s that would be best suited to tell that story, and then just dived in. Some characters have come and gone along the way, many have changed names, but the central ones have all managed to remain.

About half-way through writing the first draft of Malice I started taking it more seriously, feeling driven to find time, my mind frequently wandering off into the Banished Lands. At some point I started trying to write every day, and also working with a daily word limit in mind. Targets can be a double-edged sword - working towards a word count every day did help me finish the book, no question, but it did add a bit of stress to the experience as well. For book 2, which I have just finished, I am pleased to say, I have worked very much to a daily word-count, and without it I would have missed my deadline, I am sure. But back in the days of ‘Malice’ I was writing primarily as a hobby, so it’s supposed to be fun, right. And just fun. Not that I’m complaining - working to deadlines and being a ‘published author’ now (still not used to that) there is a great deal of fun to be had, just with a more professional edge.

Once I finished Malice I gave it to my wife and kids to read, plus a few mates, and then put it away for a while. After a few months I went back to it and did an edit - chopping it from over 300,000 words to about 280,000.

Feedback from friends and family started trickling in, generally good - but hey, what did I expect from family and friends. Nevertheless most encouraged me to take it further, and though some of my mates do like to humiliate me whenever possible, I got the feeling this was not one of those times. So I started googling how you get a book published, and became promptly very disillusioned and resigned to anonymity. I purchased the Writers Handbook and started looking at agents that specialised in fantasy. One chap’s name kept cropping up, both in the Writer’s Handbook and in my online searches.

John Jarrold. He had worked in the business for over three decades, running fantasy imprints such as Orbit and Simon and Schuster, editing authors such as Michael Morcock, Guy Gavriel Kay and Robert Holdstock, as well as representing contemporary writers like Mark Charan Newton, Adam Neville and Stephen Deas. He became my ‘dream agent,’ the man always at the top of my list, so it was no surprise that John was the first agent that I approached.

To my surprise and very great pleasure John loved Malice and agreed to represent me. That was a good day. Drinking mead and dancing a jig was involved.

John worked with me editorially for a while, pointing out my grammatical doltishness (is that a word?), including fetishes for semi-colons and ellipses. After this the book went out to publishers, and within about a week there was an offer from Tor UK. This was just before Christmas 2010. Needless to say, there was much celebrating in the Gwynne household that Christmas, involving more mead drinking and jig-dancing, with extra mulled-wine.

Since then it has been a tale of editing - structural edits, copy-edits, page-proof edits - the amount of work and effort from Julie Crisp and the team at Tor that goes into polishing a book from its submission stage to being ‘on-the-shelf’ came as quite a shock to me - plus many cover art discussions (now that was fun, probably my favourite bit).
Also, of course, I have been writing book 2. But that’s another story...

Many thanks to John Gwynne for finding the time for this guest blog. 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Penance - Dan O'Shea

Penance by Chicago writer Dan O'Shea is one of the fist books from Angry Robot's crime imprint, Exhibit A. It's been a long wait for the first books from Exhibit A, but now they are finally here, and I hope they won't disappoint. Many thanks to Angry Robot Books and Exhibit A for providing me with a review copy of Penance.

Dan O'Shea's protagonist, Chicago police detective John Lynch, is a good, honest man in a city known for corruption and vice. The murder of an old woman, shot on the doorsteps of her church just as she was leaving from her confession first looks like a revenge killing for a business deal gone wrong. Her son, a rich and ruthless businessman with plenty of enemies, had pissed off the mafia, which could be a motive for a revenge killing. But when John Lynch finds evidence linking the murder of his father back in the 1970s to his present day case, all hell breaks loose.

I expected a classic crime book with a detective fighting crime by asking a lot of hard questions with the occasional swig off from the bottle. Instead I got secret government organisations, cover ups, snipers and mayhem. I was grinning like a toddler on Christmas.

There is a lot to like about Penance: a protagonist you can sympathise with, and even like, a solid, smoothly progressing plot, which starts out slow, but ends with a bang. If anything, there could have been a few more bumps on the road. John Lynch never gets to make any difficult decisions, the kind where beliefs are tested to the limit, nor does he have any inner demons to fight. Likeable, but could have more depth.

Having said that, Penance was easy on the eye, and I will certainly read whatever Dan O'Shea writes next.

Penance weighs in at 416 pages, and is published by Exhibit A. You have to wait until April/May 2013.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Guest Post: The Editor - David Moore

Today's guest blogger is David Moore of Abaddon Books. Mr Moore was recently promoted to commissioning editor, and as a hazing ritual his bosses made him write a this guest post for us. All I had to do was to choose a subject for the post, and after some consideration I asked Mr Moore to explain what an editor does. To me, editors appears as mythical beings wielding great power and influence within publishing. The power of an editor can usually be told by the size of his tea mug...

Over to you Mr Moore!

Whaddup Erik (and Erik’s readers at I Will Read Books)...

So now I’m a commissioning editor. It’s a big damned change for me, and a pants-wettingly terrifying opportunity (in particular since, in the interests of making an early start on my first nervous breakdown, I’m having a baby and buying a house in the same month...).

But as I’ve discovered, a lot of people don’t actually know what a commissioning editor is – or, for that matter, what any sort of editor actually does! So I’m taking the opportunity to tell you a little bit about it now: what I used to do as an original-recipe editor, what I do now as a commissioning editor, and how I got this gig.

So, basically – and as with a number of industries – the higher up the ladder you go, the earlier in the publishing process you do much of your work. When you start out in the publishing world, you’re likely to be proof-reading: you’re given a largely finished book, written, edited, copy-edited, typeset and looking more or less as it will when it gets to the printers. You pick over it with your pen, reading closely and looking for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors and generally making sure it’s perfect, before it’s sent off. What you aren’t expected to do is have any say over style or language; the book’s ready to go, pending any problems you find, and the last thing you want to do at this stage is add any new errors or make any changes the author wouldn’t like. Proof-reading is most often done by freelance proof-readers, although it’s sometimes work for editorial assistants.

Your next job is probably going to be copy-editing. Now you get your mitts on the book at its last stage before typesetting, after it’s been written and rewritten. As a copy-editor, while you’re certainly interested in simple errors when you find them, your main interest is in style; picking out word-repetition, regulating pace, giving suggestions on word-choice, polishing the story as much as possible. A copy-editor takes a bolder approach than a proof-reader, since he’ll be sending the copy-edited manuscript back to the author to look over and approve his changes. Copy-editing is the job of freelance copy-editors or staff editors, depending on the way your company is structured; at Rebellion, we do most copy-editing in-house.

The next step up is the structural edit. The editor reads the finished, unedited manuscript (what we usually call the “first draft,” regardless of how many drafts the author has gone through before sending it in), and makes broad-strokes decisions about the book: narrative structure, story logic, character development, that sort of thing. This stage – the first editorial stage – is a dialogue, more than anything; the editor and the author exchange thoughts, toing and froing for as long as needed, until they’ve settled on a final version of the story and the author produces the “second draft,” ready for copy-editing. Structural edits are always conducted in-house, usually by an editor or desk editor (which are more or less the same thing).

Finally, the top of the ladder is commissioning. This is where an editor reads a submission (either a whole manuscript or a sample and synopsis), which may be unsolicited (sent directly by the author unprompted, also called “slush”), solicited (sent by an author in response to a specific invitation or offer) or agented (sent by an agent), and makes a call about whether he (or she, very often) would like to publish the book (perhaps, again, after a certain amount of to-and-fro with the author or agent about the story), then takes it to his boss (or, especially in the bigger publishing houses, a committee) to sign off, and finally negotiates the contract with the author. Commissioning is the work of a commissioning editor.

So this is basically what I’ve done. I was a desk editor, chiefly working on copy-edits, with some proof-reading and some structural editing, and I have gradually shifted in emphasis until, at the beginning of the year, I was doing very little proof-reading and about as much structural editing as copy-editing, and already responsible for a certain amount of commissioning (for instance, I created and commissioned both the Malory’s Knights of Albion series and the upcoming Hunter of Sherwood series, and ran the open-submissions month last year single-handedly). Then, with Jon starting up a new imprint this year (Ravenstone, launching this year with John Carter Cash’s Lupus Rex) to add to the Solaris imprint, it was suggested that I take the Abaddon imprint off his hands altogether; now, my responsibilities include not only reading and commissioning for Abaddon, but actually managing the imprint from a strategic point of view. I’m already planning the entire 2014 season right now!

Did I mention my impending nervous breakdown?

So you asked how someone could get into the game? Basically, a commissioning editor is an experienced editor. Get in on the ground floor as an editorial assistant (or as an editor, if you’re lucky) and put in time, getting experience at every stage in the editorial process and getting a feel for the industry and the market. To that end:

1. Get an English degree. You don’t need one (in the way, for instance, you need an MD to practise medicine, or an LLB to practise law), but everyone going for the job’s gonna have one.

2. Read! Read all the time. Read the genre you’re keen to work in to death, then read outside the genre as much as you can stand. A cook that doesn’t eat is a crappy cook.

3. Brace yourself for a life of mediocre earning power. I’m sorry about this, but at entry-level you’ll barely scrape along, and a few years in when you’re earned your stripes, you’ll be just about comfortable. But hey, we’re doing this for the love of it, right?

4. Once you’re in the industry, keep in mind that commissioning means understanding what will sell well and what’s in demand, so keep an eye open! Go to book shops all the time, look at what’s on the shelves and what they’re put up front. Read the Bookseller, watch the industry. Go to cons, meet people.

And that’s it! Good luck. It’s the best job in the world.

Thank you Mr Moore, and congratulations to your promotion :)

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Book Giveaway: The Lives of Tao

Dear reader,

Wesley Chu's The Lives of Tao is one of my favourite books so far this year, and it's a book I want as many of you as possible to read. To get the party started I will give away three copies of The Lives of Tao, digital or paper, your choice.

This competition is sponsored by Angry Robot Books, and is open to anyone living on Earth.

1) Send an email to winabook NOSPAM at iwillreadbooks dot com (but remove the NOSPAM).
2) Make the title for your email The Lives of Tao
3) If you want a paper book include your snail mail address, but this can wait until you have won.
4) Do this before Sunday the 14th of April 2013

Good luck everyone!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The Lives of Tao - Wesley Chu

The Lives of Tao is SF thriller by Chicago writer Wesley Chu. Reading about the book and the writer gave me rather high expectations, you see Wesley Chu has a background in martial arts, and used to work as a stuntman. Surely there must be some awesome action waiting to burst out of this man? Anyway, many thanks to Angry Robot Books for providing me with a preview copy of The Lies of Tao.

We are not alone.

The aliens arrived on earth millions of years ago when their spaceship malfunctioned and they crashed straight into our beautiful blue planet. Mother Earth must have thought she had enough children as the the aliens found the to be poisonous to them, and they started dying. Luckily, there was a way they could survive: entering a host. No, they are not quite body snatchers or candiru fish. The aliens don't quite have physical bodies, and the host is still in control.

Although I do think a book about dinosaurs controlled by aliens could have been fun it's not what The Lives of Tao is about. Tao is the name of one of these aliens, and he belongs to the faction which does not want to enslave humans and drain Earth of her resources to build a ship to leave. The aliens are at war with themselves and a lot of them have human hosts with military training, but Tao is at the moment without a host, and he is running out of time.

The Lives of Tao, and Wesley Chu, have a choice to make: is the next person available an athlete with a natural skill for marksmanship and martial arts, or a fat geek whose only skill is eating pizzas. Enter Roen, a fat, beer and pizza loving IT nerd. I'm very happy with going nerd over jock. It might not be groundbreaking with shaping a chubby man into a rock hard killer, but it sure was fun. I can't help picturing Brendan Fraser as Roen, no one does loveable buffoon better than him, especially when it comes to getting hit over the head by a pretty lady, or running into trees.

The first half of the book might be a lighthearted, fun read, but the second half turns deadly serious. We go from comedy to thriller in a heartbeat, and Roen is more Daniel Craig than Brendan Fraser. No more quietly giggling to myself, only nervously biting my nails while Roen dodges bullets and leaps out of burning buildings.

Roen and the other characters are so easy to like, just like the villains are easy to hate. By the end of the books I was close to tears, which proves my emotional investment in the characters and their fates. I wish every book made me care about the characters as much as The Lives of Tao.

The Lives of Tao weighs in at 464 pages, and is published by Angry Robot Books. Should be available end of April, 2013.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Herald of the Storm - Richard Ford

Herald of the Storm is the first part in Steelhaven, an epic fantasy trilogy, by Richard Ford whose novel, Kultus, I reviewed back in 2011. Having fond memories of Kultus, and being a huge epic fantasy fan, it was not a difficult decision to put Herald of the Storm at the top of the reading pile. Many thanks to Headline for providing me with a review copy of Herald of the Storm.

The blurb promises us desperate times with five unlikely heroes, and I think Richard Ford made a good, but not groundbreaking, choice in his heroes.

The first one which springs to mind is River, the disillusioned assassin, who I like for the way the writer applies poetry to his fighting style. A young man who is trapped between the love for his family of assassins, and the love of his life, and his story is one of tragedy.

Then there is Kaira, the temple shield maiden. She is the token smoking hot girl who can kill a man with her pinky, and is obviously as hotheaded as she is beautiful. She will also question her beliefs and where she belongs. Oh and she carries more than one can of whoop-ass.

Merrick, the drunken swindler, lost his family and gambled away his fortune. A man who has lost himself in self pity and firmly set his feet on a path to self destruction. Blessed with the gift of the gap he keeps himself afloat by charming rich widows and making himself useful to organised crime, but it's really just a question of time before he drowns in despair and self loathing. Unless, he can rediscover his pride. He seems to be looking for it at the bottom of booze bottles though.

Nobul, the unbalanced veteran, finds himself once again at the mercy of the gods, and comes to regret the life he has lived. To make right from wrong he abandons his forge for a new start with the city guard, a under-funded and corrupt organisation who is respected by on one, especially not the guards themselves. Nobul's story is one of forgiveness.

Rag, a desperate thief, is a child of the streets, who lives on the scraps she and her small gang can pilfer without drawing the attention of the guild. Her dream is to join the guild, but it's really more a dream about belonging somewhere than being a recognised thief.

I'll leave out the apprentice sorcerer and the princess before I give away too much about the book, but rest assured, they too are of the highest quality. The characters are so good they steal the show from plot and world building, you could drop these guys into any setting and they would work. The plot is simply their story, a story which they write by making choices; not by being forced into situations.

Richard Ford and his Herald of the Storm certainly met, and surpassed, my expectations. Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is the yard stick I use to determine the epicness of a fantasy novel. It is a measure I expect all novels to fall short against, but Richard Ford does well. Herald of the Storm is more low key. You will not find gods and dragons roaming the street duking it out with earth shattering magic. Mr Ford instead tries to capture our attention with with well balanced characters, both in skill behaviour, and how they cope with the hand fate dealt them, and what happens when ideals and ideas goes head to head. Sometimes, less is more.
Welcome to Steelhaven… watch your back!
Herald of the Storm weighs in at 400 pages, and is published by Headline. 25th of April 2013 is the date to mark in your calendar.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Dangerous Gifts - Gaie Sebold

The Mademoiselle of pleasure and danger is back! Gaie Sebold's Babylon Steel returns in Dangerous Gifts. I Loved the first book, and you can find the review here. Anyway, many thanks to Solaris Books for providing me with a review copy of Dangerous Gifts.

The first book was about Babylon Steel's past and how she ended up in Scalentine. Dangerous Gifts is about the now. Not long has passed since the events in book one, and Babylon Steel reluctantly accepts a escorting quest. Not that kind of escorting, the one where she has protects someone! The Itnunnacklish - girl from first book who was Gudain and turned into a Ikinchli, thus proving the two races was once one - is trying to unite the two races she belongs to, but not everyone wants her to. Only Babylon stands between a young woman and certain death.

It feels like we have left the main plot for a quick side quest and a chance for Babylon Steel to do a bit of grinding on low level mobs. It's not only hack and slash though, Babylon Steel does not try and solve every problem by bashing it over the head. Not a lot of new lore is introduced, but we do get to know the main characters more.

Dangerous Gifts is the perfect book for a cold winter's day. It's comforting, just like a warm blanket, and it is raunchy enough to put a blush on your cheeks. Reading it was like meeting an old friend, a definite feel good book. Once again Gaie Sebold delivers a solid, refreshing tale full of adventure in a exciting new fantasy setting.

Dangerous Gifts weighs in at 446 pages, and is published by Solaris Books.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Following

Kevin Bacon chasing a brilliant, deranged serial killer with a cult to do his bidding. Fox had me at Kevin Bacon. The first episode of The Following was a pleasant surprise. I did not know about the serial killer's cult, so it's safe to say events did not play at out as I had imagined them. Instead of chasing a lone psycho, a chase with a lot of unlikely close calls, former FBI agent Ryan Hardy finds himself going after a whole cult of psychos. Joe Carroll, played by James Purefoy, is the charismatic spider in the web, who built a following during his time in prison.

It's funny how both men have written books about their experience, and the events which takes place now are Joe Carroll's new story. As an avid reader I can appreciate how the main characters talk about the events as chapters in a book. Things do not always go according to plan though, I have had more than one writer tell me characters have a will of their own.

A lot of the show is focused on Ryan Hardy's complicated relationship with Joe Carroll's ex-wife, the two had a brief affair which Ryan ended. This is a chink in the armour of an otherwise entertaining show. Ryan Hardy is just too much of a cliche with his drinking and complete inability to function in a relationship, and we are treated to more than one flashback where Ryan and Mrs Serial Killer yearn for each other, only to be torn apart in the next. It's not a successful portrayal of a hard, broken man who lives only for his addictions, nor is their pain interesting, it's too forced. It only serves as a pace killer and frustration while we wait for a scene where something actually happens. Less fucking longing looks and moping, let's see some action instead.

On the upside, The Following does a great job with all the wannabe serial killers. It's a fun plot twist where anyone can be a killer, and quite comical how the FBI manage to remain so clueless. I'm a couple of episodes in to the series and the writers are still adding little twists to the plot, mostly new gruesome way for people to die, but I still can't wait for the next episode.

The Following successfully resuscitates the genre with an interesting twist, but it's hard to tell if our victim will make a full recovery. Still worth watching, for now.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

House of Cards

Who would have thought a company would go from renting out DVDs to producing their own TV shows? What's even more remarkable is how Netflix decided to release all 13 episodes at once. Someone has finally caught on to the fact viewers love to binge, none of that one episode a week nonsense. The thirteen episodes of House of Cards disappeared quicker than a box of chocolate.

House of Cards is a political drama starring Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood, the shrewd party whip for the Democrats. He played an instrumental role in the last election, and now expects certain promises to be fulfilled. Alas, pacts are broken and instead of being appointed to secretary of state Francis Underwood is banished to the fringes of politics. Time to play the longer game.

We are never told what the plan is, only that there is indeed a plan, which I thought added a touch of intrigue and mystery. Without giving too much away of the plot it's safe to say House of Cards is similar to other political dramas, there is a lot of wheeling and dealing, and when it looks the worst Frank Underwood plays his hidden card to save the day. It's fun to watch him obliterate those who goes up against him, although it makes me wonder why anyone would, how can they have missed him being so ruthless and efficient?

Frank Underwood's relationship, or should we call it a pact, with his wife makes me want to compare House of Cards with another popular political drama, Boss. Two shows about two powerful men married to two beautiful women who are at least as crafty as their men, and also have their own agendas. When their wills align both couples are formidable, but when they don't things get really interesting. It's a constant battle between their lust for power and their low for each other. The fact Francis Underwood actually loves his wife is the biggest difference between House of Cards and Boss, it is also not quite as brutal as Boss. Francis Underwood might have a hand soaked in blood, but in comparison Tom Kane would be sitting in a tub of it.

It's strangely satisfying watching a political drama. I'm just a sucker for the moment when the protagonist reveal their great plan, the one which no one thought was possible, leaving their opponent dumbstruck and often reduced to a quivering fool. No one does this better than Kevin Spacey.

The first couple of episodes gently eases us in to the political life in Washington as it introduces each major player in the show. Francis Underwood is not troubled by those opposing him, and they are swiftly disposed off, but the threat against him increases as the show goes on, and the plot turns more and more intricate.

A weekend of binging has left me with a taste for more.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Steelhaven Announced

Welcome to Steelhaven…watch your back.

Steelhaven takes epic fantasy and dials the action up to eleven, telling the tale of a doomed city through the eyes of several disparate characters, all with real emotions and motivations.

Under the reign of King Cael the Uniter, this vast cityport on the southern coast has for years been a symbol of strength, maintaining an uneasy peace throughout the Free States.

But now a long shadow hangs over the city, in the form of the dread Elharim warlord, Amon Tugha.

When his herald infiltrates the city, looking to exploit its dangerous criminal underworld, and a terrible dark magick that has long been buried once again begins to rise, it could be the beginning of the end.

A Note from the author:

‘With Steelhaven I wanted to see what would happen if you took popular fantasy tropes and attacked them with modern concepts from TV and film. What if Gemmel’s Legend was mixed with HBO’s The Wire? What if you took the characters from a Tarantino movie and stuck them in a fantasy metropolis on the brink of destruction?

Recently a new generation of writers has come to the fore, pushing the boundaries of the genre and dragging it, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. Steelhaven is the latest in this new breed, a fantasy novel with not a hobbit or dwarf in sight – just character driven action and ambiguous protagonists in a world rife with danger.’

Richard Ford originally hails from Leeds in the heartland of Yorkshire, but now resides in the Wiltshire countryside, where he can be found frolicking in the Thames, drinking cider and singing songs about combine harvesters. His first novel Kultus, was published in 2011. Herald of the Storm is his epic fantasy debut.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The City's Son - Tom Pollock

Good news everyone! It's time for another young adult novel here at I Will Read Books. The City's Son, a urban fantasy set in London, is the debut novel by Tom Pollock. Now why did I read another YA novel when I made it so clear it is not my genre. Curiosity mainly, I have met Tom Pollock on several occasions, and I even joined him on one of his writing sessions. Many thanks to Jo Fletcher Books for providing me with a review copy of The City's Son.

The City's Son, or part one of the Skyscraper Throne trilogy, is a story about a young girl who discovers a secret most of us chooses to ignore. Magic is real, and London is full of mythical beasts and beings just under our noses. Tom Pollock's world building reminds me a lot of Kate Griffin's version of London, which is a good thing. It has the same romantic, but yet deadly, feel to it. Both beautiful and sinister.

The young girl who makes this discovery, Beth Bradley, is a troubled teenager who roams the street at night making her own mark on the city with her graffiti. She lost her mother, and at the same time her father, who is lost in his own grief. His grief has driven a wedge between them, and when her best friend betrays her it is no surprise she seeks refuge in the new London she discovered. Even less of a surprise since there is a prince involved, Filius Viae, the ragged crown prince of London. He is quite handsome after all.

There is obviously quite a lot of squabbling between the two youngsters, and they both wear their hearts on their sleeves. I do find them a bit annoying and trying to read about, they often overreact and throw tantrums. Tom Pollock is simply good at writing teenagers.

Anyway, an ancient enemy is back to take over London and make it into a heartless concrete and steel city. Canary wharf is already considered lost territory. Surprise surprise. It's up to Fil and Beth to stop this evil, they just have to stop bickering first.

It's the usual UF trope where the protagonists, who are strangely powerless compared to their opposition, have to strong arm others into following them. Fil's subjects are not the most loyal bunch.

The only time I have seen Tom Pollock sit still is when he was writing, the man is otherwise positively brimming with energy, which is also evident from his writing. The City's Son is a fast paced book, with a lot of stuff going on, and new things to take in all the time. The writing is bold, and straight to the point, which really suits the story. It's also way more brutal than I expected for the genre, and even scary at times.

I was able to enjoy The City's Son without belonging to the target audience, and Tom Pollock's London is a place I felt I could lose myself in. I would have to avoid any teenagers though :)

The City's Son weighs in at 422 pages and is published by Jo Fletcher Books.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Nexus - Ramez Naam

Nexus is the debut novel by mega techie Ramez Naam. It's a very impressive résumé, with two stints at Microsoft, and working with nano technology for another company, but Ramez Naam was also awarded the 2005 HG Wells Award for Contributions to Transhumanism. I don't think you will be surprised when I tell you Nexus is a SF thriller. Many thanks to Angry Robot Books for providing me with a review copy of Nexus.

Nexus is a drug based on nano technology which in its most common form allows a sort of mind sharing between individuals who are close together. A team of young scientists cracks the Nexus communications protocol which lets them run their own software in Nexus, effectively creating a operating system to run software in the human brain.

Now what would a young man, who is perhaps a tad nervous around girls, do after discovering this revolutionary technology? Why not run a simulation of Peter North inside your head to help you score with a hot lady? This is exactly what Kaden Lane, one of the scientists, decided to do. A grown man, like me, would have run some more tests first to iron out the worst bugs, but we would have missed out on some gold comedy writing.

This is just one example of what Nexus is capable of. Kaden Lane and his fellow nerds are perhaps most fascinated by the ability to share their minds with each other, in effect creating a hive mind. Ramez Naam makes these sessions fascinating, to say the least, creating an experience which is both spaced out and emotional.

Kaden Lane and his group only see the benefits of Nexus whereas other powers see the potential for abuse, and the U.S. government already suspects the Chinese are using a similar technology for mind control. The young hackers are caught between some powerful players, who are all prepared to make any sacrifice to reach their goal. Kaden Lane is black mailed by the U.S. government to spy for them, and he is being carefully watched by a homeland security agent, Samantha Cataranes. She is equipped with the latest body enhancements, and while she might look like a slim, athletic woman, Samantha could easily punch through a wall and survive gunshot wounds. I don't think Neal Asher or Richard Morgan would be disappointed by agent Cataranes.

It's an interesting world Ramez Naam shows us. It might be early days for enhancing the human body, but it is mature enough for a black market, and it is already widely used by the military and the underworld. Nexus is arguing both for and against technologies which could make us less human. The people involved are all doing what they think is best, there is no evil present, just different points of view, and possibly too much dedication to a cause.

Nexus is a terrific read, covering a highly interesting topic in a entertaining way. It's a book brimming with action and gun fights, which also has a lot of technical content made accessible by Ramez Naam's skilful penmanship. Don't miss the chapter after the novel where the author explains the real world technologies which inspired Nexus.

Nexus weighs in at 448 pages, and is published by Angry Robot Books.