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Strange Days (or why Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell deserved better than we gave it)

We’re only just past the solstice, and yet the internet is already awash with “Best of 2015” posts, listicles (Christ) and countdowns. And as I am an easily-herded nerf, I thought I might as well get in on the act – but with one slight difference. I’m not going to talk about the 10 Best Things I Watched (one of those would almost certainly start a fight. I’ve already come to near blows with one friend about it, and I can probably do without setting myself up for a scuffle with the entire online world…). I’m going to talk about the one thing that really stuck, and to suggest that – if you haven’t already – you give it a look.

Yes, I’m going to bang on about the TV adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL.

Sorry, but as I’m the one with the metaphorical microphone here and it’s my name on the url… my rules.

To come entirely clean: when this was announced, I was… shall we say, cautious? It’s my favourite book. I remember buying the book when it came out (on the day it came out, if memory serves. In Waterstones on Gower Street. What an oddly specific thing to remember) and loving it – but I also remember that it took me months to get through, partly because I was afraid if I fell asleep reading in bed at night, the hardback would fall on my face and break my nose.

I mean, I’ve not got a great nose, but I’m kind of used to it by now.

To summarise: it’s a big book.

And it’s not just big, it’s dense. It’s a whole world, intricately bound up in real and borrowed history and its own mythology… and its footnotes.*

How the hell do you turn that into a television series?

I dodged all the promo I could: the interviews, the trailers, the production stills. Everything. I think I saw one teaser for it and then shut my eyes and stuck my fingers in my metaphorical ears and sat there shouting “LalalalalaI’mnotlisteningIcan’thearyoulalalala” until the first episode.

Whooof.

I say again: whooof.

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Somehow, writer Peter Harness managed to take this enormous, complicated, footnote-heavy** beast of a thing and unspool it, line by line. Somehow (and I can only assume this was by Actual Magic) he gave us a story which felt like being inside the novel to watch – even with the cuts and shuffles and conflations that have to happen in the process of an adaptation.

The experience was the same, even without the pineapples or Jonathan Strange’s hallucinated candles-inside-heads (which you’ll just have to read the book to understand. But when you do, know those candles are the most perfect depiction of living with manic depression I have ever come across.) It looked wonderful, too: the fairy ballroom at Lost Hope was as desperate and menacing as anyone could have hoped, and Hurtfew Abbey’s library was the library I’d always dreamed of.

Could anyone have made Vinculus as wild and as wily as Paul Kaye did? Would Childermass have been a more businesslike man-of-business, bound more tightly to his cards than to his master, in the hands of someone other than Enzo Cilenti (whose Yorkshire-ninja eyerolling was an utter, utter joy)? Doubtful.

Lord & Lady Pole, Lascelles, Drawlight, Arabella, Wellington, Stephen, Major Grant (a character drastically different from his novel-self… and yet somehow still *right*) – all felt as though they had simply strolled off the page, complete in themselves. How much work must that have taken, somewhere in the background, to make it look so easy?

Then, to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Where do you even start? Perhaps by noting that Mr Norrell seemed a lot… nicer, in his own way (sympathetic, perhaps? Although he still had his moments…) than book-Norrell***. But in the hands of Eddie Marsan, his journey from the solitary last magician in England to the wild-wigged Norrell of the final episode was a joy. The same was even more true of Bertie Carvel’s Jonathan Strange, who became – through war and loss and madness and magic – who he was always capable of being. I’ve always had a lot of time for the Strange of the novel, and so he was the one I was most nervous about. And yet… this Strange? What a Strange he was. I could go on about him, and how right he was, for days, but I shan’t. Ask me sometime over a drink.

This tremendous, sprawlingly neat (neatly sprawling?) adaptation deserved better than it got. I’ve seen a handful of award nominations, particularly in design and effects categories – and there’s another thing. It wasn’t awash with effects, but when they were there, they were good. Really good – but it should have found a wider audience. Was it because there was magic (and therefore must be one of those “fantasy things” – insert a Childermassian eye-roll here)? Was it because it was period (and therefore must involve Mr Darcy-alikes sitting around discussing a maiden aunt’s health and copious subtext)? Was it because it built, rather like the novel, enveloping you and wrapping its raven-winged world around you?

Maybe the scheduling had something to do with it: it ran through the late spring, despite feeling like it really should be something to watch in the winter, when the wind was howling outside and the rain was lashing against the windows****. I can only assume it ended up where it did so that the episode featuring (an absolutely immense take on) the Battle of Waterloo ran the same week as the anniversary of the battle itself – which is a lovely nod to the history, true, but perhaps served the endeavour a little less well.

Whatever the reason, it feels like JSAMN should have had more. More coverage, more viewers, more love. It certainly earned it. It felt like it was a labour of love – the feeling that is stitched into certain books and films and shows; a feeling that can’t be faked. I wish that had been better repaid – or perhaps I should say, more widely repaid, because as far as I can see, the people like me who loved it really loved it.

So, I’ll hang my fangirl hat back on the peg for now – as I say, ask me about everything this adaptation did right sometime, and make sure you’ve not got anywhere to be for a while. In the meantime, in this endless, grey, wind and rain-lashed winter, do yourself a favour: whether you’ve read the book or not (and I can’t urge you strongly enough to do that, if you haven’t) find the box set of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, either on DVD or Blu-Ray or from the BBC Store or wherever else you buy your media. Turn off your phone. Draw the curtains and light a candle… and watch.

And I’ll see you on the other side of the rain.

 

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*It seems pretty apt to include footnotes on a JSAMN post, so here’s something I discovered when I was re-reading the novel on a never-ending train journey through Yorkshire this autumn: if you want to find the women in the novel, look for them in the footnotes and they’re everywhere. Women as magicians, women as pupils of the Raven King himself. Women of importance; women who matter. Because, for the most part, where do women throughout history end up? In the footnotes.

** So. Many. Footnotes.

*** I suspect the hand of the author: in this case, Peter Harness. I rather wonder if he doesn’t have a soft spot for Mr Norrell and his books. Don’t we all?

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****Rather like today, come to think of it

Event: 42 Worcester, 25th June

A quick reminder: tomorrow (Wednesday 25th June), I’ll be in Worcester as part of the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe: I’m delighted to be a part of the 42Worcester festival special, talking about YA, horror, urban fantasy, writing and… pretty much anything you like. There’s also a chance I’ll be doing a secret surprise reading (I guess the surprise being that I’ve told you I’m going to do it…?)

You can find me at Drummonds, The Swan With Two Nicks, from 7.30pm.

As an added bonus, if you fancy a free signed copy of both BLOOD AND FEATHERS and REBELLION, both of which have been nominated for British Fantasy Awards, all you have to do is be the first person to come up to me that evening and say “They’re only noodles, Michael.”

(And then poke me and remind me that I told you to say that, because I have the memory of a goldfish…)

 

(This man is unimpressed by my memory…)

Rebellion and the weaver

BFS_Logo_red_SMALLI had a pretty awesome piece of news last week: BLOOD AND FEATHERS: REBELLION has been shortlisted for this year’s British Fantasy Awards, in the “Best Fantasy Novel” category.

It’s a fantastic shortlist (you can see the other nominees here, plus the shortlists for all the other BFA categories) and I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of it… and making it even lovelier is the fact that the first B&F book, BLOOD AND FEATHERS, was nominated in the same category last year. Thank you so, so much to everyone who voted it onto the shortlist – it means an enormous amount.

Other good news comes in the form of a short story: I’m delighted to announce that my story, “Death and the Weaver” will appear in Alchemy Press‘s URBAN MYTHIC 2 anthology, launching later this year. My contribution is set in an area I know very well and have a huge amount of affection for: Brittany in northern France, and is the story of what happens to a woman who moves back to the small town where she spent her summers growing up.

The idea behind the anthology (which like its predecessor, the original URBAN MYTHIC, has a great line-up) is to reinterpret myths and legends in a modern way – and there’s no shortage of myths in Brittany. I’ll talk a bit more about the story and this particular myth in “Death and the Weaver” closer to release – which should be at FantasyCon in September.

Another thank you too, to everyone who commented on the SLEEPLESS cover: I’m so pleased you like it as much as I do!

 

 

 

 

Archer’s Goon

A little while back, SFX Magazine approached me and asked me whether I’d be interested in contributing to their regular “Book Club” feature. It runs at the back of every issue, focusing on a different book each time. And you know me. I like to talk about books. I particularly like to talk about books I like, and why they’re… y’know, awesome.

So of course I said yes, and the first book I’ll be discussing is ARCHER’S GOON by Diana Wynne Jones.

Funnily enough, it turns out this will be the 100th SFX Book Club, and given the current concern about level of representation female authors receive in the SFF world, it’s a wonderful coincidence. 100 feels like a significant number, somehow: and given the context of those two (brilliant) blogposts, it’s nice that the slot goes to a book by an outstanding fantasy writer who happens to be a woman, and whose loss is still felt so keenly by the genre.

The great thing about the Book Club is that it isn’t just me blathering on (after all, I do plenty of that here). So, if you’ve read ARCHER’S GOON, get in touch! You can comment on the book – did you love it / hate it / never read it because… – on the SFX forum, their Facebook page or via their Twitter, or you can always leave me a comment or tweet!

Nine Worlds

6a00d8345295c269e201901e93506c970b-800wiNext weekend (this weekend? I always come unstuck at the start of the week. Unstuck in time, unstuck in reality… all of that. Anyway. Moving on) I’ll be at the new Nine Worlds convention near Heathrow, along with many, many awesome people.

The convention runs from Friday afternoon through to Sunday, with pretty much everything you could think of on the programming somewhere: books, games, TV, film, cosplay… the works.

There are also live-gaming streams happening and – somewhere – I’m sure I saw mention of a gin appreciation session. Now, I don’t need anyone to teach me to appreciate gin (can do that quite well myself, actually) but I may well pop in there just in case they need a professional, as it were…

The full programme’s online here.

Uh… wow.

In terms of what I’m actually going to be doing, you can find me here:

Friday, 10.15pm: NEW VOICES SLAM SESSION, in the Lobby room. I’ll be doing a short reading, along with other writers like Adam Christopher, Emma Newman and my Agency Group stablemates Liz de Jager and Jennifer Williams. It’ll be fun. Bring a drink, bring a friend.

Saturday, 3.15pm, NEW VOICES, OLD GHOSTS: REINVENTING MYTHOLOGY AND THE SUPERNATURAL panel along with Kate Griffin, Ben Aaronovitch, Barry Nugent and Jo Fletcher.

Saturday, 5 – 6pm: SIGNING at the Forbidden Planet table, along with Ben Aaronovitch. I know. You may have to nudge me…

If you’re around, come and say hi. It looks like a brilliant line-up, and it would be fantastic to see a new convention get off to a flying start.

So. Nine Worlds.

Come for the programme…

… Stay for the Loki.

 

 

 

All Un-Quiet on the Western Front

The last time I was heard from, I was about to venture up to EdgeLit 2 in Derby, wasn’t I? Did you think you’d lost me? No such luck…

EdgeLit was fun and very, very hot indeed. I got to hang out with some of my lovely writer-friends, which was brilliant, and I really enjoyed the panel on urban fantasy’s popularity, which covered everything from Buffy as the archetypal “kick-ass” female character (and the fact that she works as such because she has flaws: she may be able to put a vampire through a wall, but she still gets grounded…) to the perception that urban fantasy and paranormal romance are the same thing – and where that came from. For what it’s worth, I strongly believe that they are separate sub-genres with a hefty amount of cross-over in both directions – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to contain the other. But maybe that’s just me. Moving on.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook will probably know about the racing. As I’ve mentioned on here before (and whinge about at length anywhere I can possibly get the words out) my husband is the proud owner (and driver) of a race car, which is running in the UK Time Attack series. This means I spend a lot of weekends in the paddock at racetracks, and last weekend was no exception: that was Oulton Park in Cheshire.

This time didn’t go entirely to plan, as you’ll see from the video…

It might not look like much from inside the car – and he was absolutely fine, thankfully – but standing on the other side of the track and knowing that not only has there been a crash but that your husband’s is the only car not back in the pits (and watching the track doctors go screeching off in their car…) is a deeply, deeply unpleasant thing.

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(Photo: Togethia Media / James Young)

Still, driver fine. Car not so much, but there’s a few weeks before the next race – at which the car will have some shiny new livery.

BFR new car livery

Isn’t he pretty? Yet again, that’s the work of my fantastic cover artist, Pye Parr. (The large blank space, in case you’re wondering, is for the series sponsor stickers which have to be applied to the door of every car competing.)

Minor catastrophe aside, the highlight of the event was watching the vintage F1 cars on the track – one an old Schumacher car, and one an old Senna one. Because I’m part of the race team, I get a pit wall pass meaning I’m free to come and go in the garages and pits as well as out onto the safety wall dividing the pits and the track – and for a long-time F1 fan, being able to watch (and hear) them go past from there was something else.

F1 car

Away from motor racing, I popped in to Kim Curran and Bryony Pearce’s launch for their new Strange Chemistry books, CONTROL and THE WEIGHT OF SOULS at Forbidden Planet. It was enormous fun, and it was fantastic to see so many people turn out to support them – including a big group of teen readers. I was lucky enough to read a draft of Kim’s book, “Control” a little while ago, and thoroughly recommend it. She’s one of the most exciting new YA authors working in genre, and I hope there are many more books to come.

Speaking of new books, I’ve been popping up here and there to talk about REBELLION a little more. You can find me lurking at Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds, talking about the challenges of REBELLION (and my favourite paragraph) as well as talking about angels at Winged Reviews. And if you’re interested in the “story behind the story”, pop over to Upcoming4me to find out about REBELLION’s history.

I’ll also be doing a couple of things at the upcoming Nine Worlds convention in London in a few weeks – but I’ll post on that separately. I’m not sure I can compete with the car…

Launching the Rebellion

It’s a strange thing, launching a book. A lovely strange thing – but a strange thing nonetheless. You see, when you launch it, you take it from being something that is yours (and, grudgingly, your editor’s. Grudgingly.) to something that belongs to… everybody.

Well. I say “everybody”. More truthfully it’s “anybody who cares to pick it up”, because let’s be sensible here.

So it’s exciting and nerve-wracking and brilliant and terrifying, and ohgod will I lose the power of speech halfway through my reading and will I fall over and what if someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer and it’ll be just like that time in Maths in the 2nd Year all over again and…

You get the idea.

It still feels very special to launch a book at Forbidden Planet, because it was where I went to my own very first signing (Neil Gaiman. Predictably.) It feels like my tribal home, in a lot of ways. It means something. And this time, we brought BAKED GOODS!

biscuits

Those beautiful biscuits are the work of Mutherfudger, who not only made them and iced them but decorated every single one of them with the sigils of the angelic choirs.

Michael’s is the orange one (being of a fiery temperament…) while chilly Gabriel is blue. Raphael’s was clean white, lucky Barakiel’s was green – and newcomer Zadkiel’s was an enigmatic silvery grey.

And yes, people did rummage for their favourite angel. I certainly have fewer left of some than I do others – and as an entirely unscientific experiment, that was interesting!

Biscuits aside, I read a short chapter from early on in REBELLION called “Dancing on Pins”, which was Michael and Zadkiel on fine form, and we had a brilliant time talking about angels on book covers (Angel Dude’s Revenge!), the devil and which of them is the biggest badass of all (tricky).

And there was this:

dave badge

I don’t think there’s any doubt whose team my lovely copy-editor David is on, do you? (He’s actually made me my own badge too: I’m now an honorary member and angel-wrangler. YEAH BABY.)

Thank you to everybody who came along, and to MadNad for the biscuits and to Forbidden Planet for having me back. It meant a huge deal and I had a great time.

I ended the evening in a basement bar drinking a cocktail called “Blood of the Scribe” with Kim Curran. It felt appropriate, somehow. It wasn’t the Halfway, granted, but Mallory would have approved…

Apart from the launch, there’s several tabs which need closing, so here we go.

First: there are three signed copies of REBELLION up for grabs on Goodreads. All you need to do is pop over there and enter – nothing complicated! That’s a worldwide giveaway.

Secondly: Sci-Fi Bulletin has the first review of REBELLION (spoiler: they liked it) which makes me very happy indeed.

Thirdly: I’m on something of a blog tour over the next few days, so you may well end up seeing quite a lot of me (as it were). To kick things off, I talk about the use of scent in the BLOOD AND FEATHERS books – again, on Sci-Fi Bulletin, and let slip 5 secrets about the books over on Fantastical Imaginations.

That’s it for now. Other than dealing with those leftover biscuits. And when I say “dealing with”, I naturally mean “eating…”

And just for the hell of it – to say thank you, and because it’s one of my favourite songs (and certainly one of my favourite videos) and because I’d quite like to be even half as cool as Dave Grohl when I grow up – have some Foo Fighters.

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.

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.

BLOOD & FEATHERS: REBELLION… the playlist

Or, at least, the first part of it.

I always write (and rewrite, and edit, and all those other things…) to a playlist – and REBELLION is no exception.

The whole playlist will appear in the back of the book when it’s published on July 9th this year, and I’ll be putting it up on here too. But not quite yet.

In the meantime, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is the first track…