Month: June 2013

Goody Two-Shoes

shoes

Walk a mile in their shoes.

If the shoe fits.

Dead men’s shoes.

… We have a bit of a thing about shoes and identity, culturally speaking, don’t we?

 

That’s two pairs of my shoes in the photo. One is a vertiginous pair of gold heels which have shed so much glitter about the house as I’ve been breaking them in that it looks like Tinkerbell detonated in a fit of rage.

The other is one of my (many) pairs of Converse, all of which have been through the wars a little because they get worn so much. You should see the green ones. Talk about scruffy.

Anyway. I am fortunate enough to live in a time and a place where I can choose either of these pairs of shoes. No-one will bat an eyelid if I wear the heels (although they may have to catch me when I inevitably fall over) and neither will anyone so much as flinch if I wear the trainers. This is a wonderful thing, and a freedom that many women still don’t have. I’m also fortunate enough to be in a position to own several pairs of completely impractical shoes – again, something that we take for granted.

I am – theoretically, at least – a grown up. I used to wear heels to work back in The Dark Days When I Was Corporate (we do not speak of those times). I own dresses. I own a woman’s tux jacket, a proper white shirt and a pair of grown-up black trousers. So why do I feel like a fraud in those gold shoes? Why do I feel like a kid who’s been rummaging around somebody else’s wardrobe?

It may be that I clomp around like an ostrich on drugs in them. Possibly. Long gone are the days when I could run for a bus in my heels (mind you, long gone also are the days of pulling my hair out trying to produce statistical reports for clients and the time that I got pushed off the platform of a Routemaster bus into traffic in Hackney. Oddly, I don’t actually think I was wearing heels on that particular day. That would’ve explained a lot…). Now, breaking these shoes in, I’ve been stalking about the kitchen looking like nothing so much as a sleepwalking camel. These things add to the comedy value of me in heels, but I carry the comedy with me wherever I go, alas.

So if it’s not that, what is it?

I had been planning to wear the gold shoes to the book launch tomorrow night… but quite apart from the looming spectre of tripping over my own feet in them and faceplanting in a cloud of fairy-ash, I decided against it. I put them on and suddenly I don’t feel like me any more – particularly not when they’re paired with a dress. I feel like not only am I a kid dressing up in someone else’s clothes, I’m a kid dressing up in someone else’s clothes who’s about to get found out.

I guess I’m not a heels kind of girl. I know they’re out there: I went to university with one, and my agent Juliet is another. They can work the heels.

In my case, the heels work me. And by “work”, I mean it very much in the East End, Kray Brothers, crowbar sense of the word.

My blue Converse squeak when I walk. One of the laces keeps untying itself, meaning I have to double-knot it like a demented toddler’s shoes. The tongues always scrunch themselves sideways and won’t lie flat. They are not elegant or graceful, and they make my already generously-sized feet look enormous. But I feel like myself in them. Awkward and dishevelled and squeaky and prone to putting my foot in it… but at least I don’t have to worry about being found out.

You only have to look at my shoes to know who I am.

Guess which ones I’ll be wearing tomorrow.

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Bite the Rebellion

If you’re coming to the Blood and Feathers: Rebellion launch at Forbidden Planet this Thursday, we’ve got an extra-special treat in store for you.

Now, as well as being able to pick up a copy of the book ahead of its official publication date, you’ll also be able to show your allegiance to the angelic choir of your choice thanks to the fantastic Mutherfudger – codename @Madnad – who will be providing us with some of her amazing baked goods.

Exactly what the Mother of Cookies has in mind is a surprise for now – and I’m far too scared of her to let it slip… but come along on Thursday evening and find out.

The angels are coming. And they’re bringing biscuits.

The Lists

So, I had a bit of an odd evening yesterday. Mainly because this happened.

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The British Fantasy Society announced the shortlists for their annual awards (the British Fantasy Awards). And I was delighted to find I’ve been included in the list for the Sydney J. Bounds Award, given to a newcomer every year [insert debate about all possible meanings of the word “best” here].

I was even more delighted to see the other names on that list – partly because there are some wonderful books on there, and partly because I’m lucky enough to be able to call a good few of the authors of them friends – particularly Kim Curran, Anne Lyle and Helen Marshall. All three of them are doing very different things – something which extends to the rest of the shortlist, incidentally – but I’d be more than happy for any of them to win. (Of course I won’t win. Don’t be so silly.)

The point is that this is an exciting shortlist. I can’t claim to have read all the books on it – although I certainly will try to – but of the ones I have read, there’s an enormous amount of scope. There’s YA in there (and not crossover YA, either: solid, properly-teenage YA) and there’s historical fiction and there’s SF and there’s literary. And there’s urban fantasy peppered with angels and a fair amount of swearing. Cough. Moving on…

It’s a shortlist I’m immensely proud and honoured to be part of, because it’s completely unpredictable and reflects what’s emerging from writers working in genre right now.

That made me happy.

And then there was this.

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Which – I’ll be honest – gave me a funny ringing sort of sound in both ears and made me need a bit of a sit down. It was a shock, let’s put it that way, and I still don’t quite have the words for how I feel. The closest I can get is a sort of “Snnnngggzzztzttp” noise, followed by a high-pitched giggle and needing to sit down again.

I cannot even begin to emphasise how much I won’t win this (because come on. Seriously.) but I will enjoy seeing someone else win it (and I know who I’d like it to be…) because it’s a fantastic party to be invited to.

It’s also a lovely thing to be able to say that the Solaris Books “Magic” Anthology is also on the shortlist for best anthology (and it’s a very tough category this year) and there are appearances by friends throughout the nominations. All in all, it’s an exciting list – and I can’t wait to see what happens.

I should also point out that Blood and Feathers being there at all has everything to do with the members of both the BFS & FantasyCon, who nominated for the shortlists. And it also has to do with the tremendous trust and hard work of my editor, Jon Oliver, and everyone at Solaris. So thank you all. You’ve rendered me speechless(ish) and that’s pretty damn hard to do.

Take it away, Dean…

 

The Ocean at the End of the Queue

OceanNeil Gaiman has long been one of my favourite authors. In a funny way, he’ll be – in my mind, at least – forever entwined with my actually starting to write seriously again (well. I say “seriously”. I do very few things seriously, but you get my drift).

It was after a Neil Gaiman signing somewhere around 2007 that I wrote “The Cloth of Heaven” – the first proper short story I’d ever done, and the first thing of mine that was published.

And when I say “after a signing”, I mean it fairly literally. I woke up at 7am the next day with the whole story in my head and wrote it longhand, while lying on the first floor landing of our house in London.

It was at that same signing that I really came to understand the real purpose of queuing for an event. I’d been to plenty of gigs which involved queueing (including a Rammstein show in Berlin where the queue wasn’t so much a queue as a random collection of picnics. I’m telling you, that was a queue.) but this was different. I’d got there hours early and was one of the first six or seven people there.

It was cold. It rained. We huddled in the back doorway of Forbidden Planet and talked – at length – about Sandman and about “Neverwhere” and about… all things Neil. At one point, someone appeared from inside the shop and said: “Neil thinks you’re all entirely mad, waiting so long to see him – and he’d like to know if you want a cup of tea?”

And that was the day Neil Gaiman sent me tea. And when I finally got to the front of the queue, I did what I have done a couple of times now and lost the ability to speak (I know. Me. Quiet. Imagine!) and beamed like a lunatic and that was that. He was  lovely; I was daft. So it goes.

It was that queue, though, which meant I was undaunted by the prospect of the lengthy wait after last Friday’s event, run by Toppings & Co of Bath, which saw the very same Neil Gaiman talk for a little while about his new (and apparently entirely unexpected) novel, “The Ocean At The End Of The Lane“, read a little and sign a lot. A LOT.

Three hours after we started queueing, we were still queueing. But more importantly, three afters after he started signing and talking to people and smiling and being lovely… he was still doing it. And this was after pre-signing a teetering pile of books for people who couldn’t wait as long as we did. And on top of a full day of promotional work. And after it, both he and the team from Headline were staring down the barrel of a journey back to London before they could finally get to bed. It’s beyond admirable.

I say “we” there, when I talk about the queue because this time, I had a friend for company. Having met up with several people for drinks beforehand, including Cav Scott, Gav Pugh, Jonathan Howard, Desiree Fischer and Emma Newman, by midnight all but Cav and myself had fallen by the wayside: lured by the siren songs of their spouses or the last train home. In the meantime, Cav and I had come up with what can only be described as a mild hysteria-induced plan.

X-MEN: THE MUSICAL.

Heavy on effects, and a tad light on anything you’d call “plot”, it’ll involve a finale set in ancient Rome, with elephants, Spartans and Wolverine running beneath waves of red silk, shredding them with his claws. Oh, and Magneto with jazz hands. Yes. I’m telling you, it’s got “hit” written all over it. Well. Something that sounds a bit like “hit”, anyway.

And all the while we were mucking around, Neil Gaiman was still signing. And signing. And smiling. And signing.

He even smiled when I asked him to dedicate my book in the most baffling manner imaginable, because I’d had time to think about it.

“The Ocean At The End Of The Lane” is partly about childhood and looking back at it, and I wanted to be able to pass the book on. My son’s not nearly old enough for it – nor will he be for quite some time, and this gave me an idea. I didn’t want to just hand him a copy of it when he’s older – a book by one of my favourite authors, and one he already loves (having heard plenty of his stories from the time he was in a cot…). I wanted it to feel like a thing. Like it was special. And now, thanks to a still-smiling but no doubt exhausted author, it will be, because the book is dedicated not to me, and not to my little boy – but to both of us, to me – and then “and after her” to him. It feels like passing something on. Like the book is more than a book. Like it’s alive. Like it’s a life.

And that’s something worth queueing for.

That, and X-Men: The Musical.

 

REBELLION playlist

As we’ve long established, I usually write to playlists. And here, as promised, is Blood & Feathers: Rebellion‘s…

Bleed it Out – Linkin Park

My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark – Fall Out Boy

Iron – Woodkid

In My Remains – Linkin Park

Devil’s Choir – Black Veil Brides

Hell Above – Pierce the Veil

Professional Griefers – Deadmau5 feat. Gerard Way

iLL Manors – Plan B

Titanium – David Guetta feat. Sia

Finale (Original Mix) – Madeon

Edge of the Earth – 30 Seconds to Mars

Unknown Soldier – Breaking Benjamin

21 Guns – Green Day

Like A Dog Chasing Cars – Hans Zimmer

My Body is a Cage – Peter Gabriel

Skyfall – Adele

Jar of Hearts – Christina Perri

First Responder – Michael Wandmacher

Razors.Out – Mike Shinoda & Chino Moreno

P5hng Me A*Way – Linkin Park

As usual, all of these fit somewhere – and some are probably more obvious than others. Feel free to try and figure it out once the book hits (and let me know if you do!)

One hint, though? If Michael & No Man’s Land had a theme, it would undoubtedly be this one

A quick update: once again, the fantastic Paul (@pablocheesecake / The Eloquent Page) has been kind enough to compile a Spotify playlist of the tracks, because he’s brilliant: you can find it here.

 

Second Book Syndrome

We’re launching!

I will never get sick of saying that, I don’t think. My author copies of Rebellion arrived last week, and as I opened the box I wondered whether anyone ever could get tired of the way that feels. All those words, all those hours, all that work (and not just mine: in any book, there’s the writer, there’s editors, copy editors, artists, publishers, PR guys, printers, warehouse guys…).

And suddenly, you’re holding a book. I’ll come back to that.

Anyway. Yes. Launching.

Blood and Feathers: Rebellion is published on July 9th. However, Solaris and Forbidden Planet have been awesome enough (for which read: I’m driving them crazy with the “YAY!” and the “WOOOHOOOO!” and my generally excited demeanour) to arrange a launch event on Thursday 27th June, at the Forbidden Planet Megastore in central London. There’s also a Facebook event page, which you’ll find here.

This means that anyone rocking up to the launch will be able to get a copy well before the actual proper publication day.

Which is on the one hand fantastic, and on the other (for me, at least) terrifying. Because the other lovely thing about the box of author copies is that they’re among the first ones that exist. It’s a kind of grace period, if you like: I get to cuddle my brand-new book without yet having to panic about what everyone else will think of it.

That bit comes later.

And it will come. I’m expecting it any time now, as it happens.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe, having done this once, I thought I’d be calmer about it.

No.

(Alright, Dean. Dial it down a notch, yeah?)

I am just as neurotic about the whole thing as I was before. Possibly more so. Because I’ve done this before.

There’s something about being a debut novelist. You’re all shiny and new and untested – and you have no idea what’s coming. All this in itself is worth something, and it’s wonderful. But you only get to do it once. After that, you have to earn it. More than that, you have to convince people that not only was the first thing you did worth their time and money… the next one is too. And the one after it. And the one after that…

Daunting?

Give me a second…

Yes. Daunting.

So your grace period is not only filled with “Ohmygodwillpeoplelikethis?”, it’s now mixed in with a healthy dose of “OhmygodhaveIearnedthis?”.

Of course, not only is there the knuckle-chewing neurosis, there’s the ridiculous excitement.

(No, Dean. There is no pudding.)

Because while Second Book Syndrome is just as nerve-rending – if not more so – than the first time round, you still wrote a damn book. And someone published it, and now it has a spine and pages and a cover. A cover! Someone took your crazy and actually bound it! And then put a pretty picture on the front of it!

And maybe more even than that: you remember.

You remember how it felt when the first book was fresh out there in the world, and the first person told you that they liked it; that they got it. And it was like the best kind of drug.

Am I nervous? Yes. Am I excited? You bet.

Will I ever get tired of doing this, neuroses included?

Never.

Angels and Alligators

I had a holiday. An actual, honest-to-goodness holiday. It did, admittedly, only last five days and I managed to rack up several injuries while doing very little (including an ant bite and possibly the most ludicrous first-world wound ever: splinters of shells stuck in my finger and the tip of my thumb. Ouch, by the way) but it was a holiday.

I read books – not many, given the timeframe, but 2’s respectable: Dan Brown’s “Inferno” and Julia Wurz’s “SuperEgo” (the latter I enjoyed immensely; set in the world of F1, it’s a sort of Devil Wears Prada, but with wheels instead of heels. Marvellous.) and I went and looked at Stuff.

There was Mont St Michel (which I’ll save for another time, because I have SO many photos. Seriously. All the photos in the world. I don’t think there was a single stone of that place I didn’t point a camera at) which is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s extraordinary, looming up out of the water. Even when it’s packed with tourists (like me) which it inevitably is, it’s an incredible place.

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Like I say: ALL the photos… so, another time.

As well as Mont St Michel, I went to the Scriptorial in nearby Avranches – which is a museum dedicated to the medieval manuscripts made by the monks of Mont St Michel. The French Revolution had a not-dissimilar effect to the English Reformation when it came to medieval libraries, but the Scriptorial is a new purpose-built home for the collection.

Only a few of the books – and what books – are on display at any one time, but they’re regularly rotated to ensure their continued survival. There’s something magical about the “Tresor” room where they’re kept: it’s circular, with the cases set around the walls and one in the centre – and almost entirely dark to protect the books, which have their own lighting. It’s also surprisingly noisy: a side-effect of the temperature & humidity control systems for the display cases. I was lucky enough to get in there by myself: just me and a bunch of 800 year old books… (and the fans, obviously). I had a “moment”. I really did.

The rest of the museum is dedicated to both the history of Mont St Michel itself, and the development of the art of manuscripts. There was a huge amount of information on calligraphy, on the materials used and what went into the different inks… everything connected to the creation of a medieval book. It’s an excellent museum, and well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area.

Not a million miles away is Dol de Bretagne, with its cathedral and Mont Dol (where the Archangel Michael is said to have defeated the devil, leaving claw marks across the top of the hill. This whole region is very much Michael’s manor) and Medievalys. Another museum: this one dedicated to the construction of cathedrals, taking the one right next door as its reference point.

One of the best things about this place was its layout: it was designed to follow the “idea” of a cathedral from foundation (the architect’s studio on the lowest level) through to construction (an exhibition on the design and the actual craftsmen involved on the middle floors) through to the symbolism of cathedrals on the top floor, which had frankly terrifyingly detailed descriptions of how to read a stained glass window, and absolutely amazing projections of art onto raked sand. You kind of had to see it. Again, if you’re ever in the region – go. It’s beautifully thought out and put together.

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The cathedral of Dol de Bretagne itself is a massive, hulking thing: unusual in that it has a double well (one shaft outside the walls, and one inside, opening in the floor of one of the chapels). It also has a big, big chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael – as you might expect on his stomping ground.

And – just for a change – there was Alligator Bay. I have no idea why or how this ended up right at the foot of Mont St Michel, but there you go. It houses a lot of snakes and lizards (I discovered, climbing down a ladder between two glass cases of ENORMOUS snakes, that I’m not massively fond of them. Wish I’d known that at the top of the ladder…) and, yes, alligators. Lots of them. Including three albino alligators – of whom there are thought to be only 40 in the world. And who didn’t scare me anywhere near as much as the Mississippi alligators did.

 

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Very big, and not at all like this…

Not even slightly.

Which does kind of make you wonder: are they absolutely sure it was the devil Michael fought on that rock – and not just Louis here out for a stroll…?