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  1. There's a book called Slow Horses by Mick Herron and in the first few pages there's a bit where a man pretends to look at his mobile phone. The author then points out that this is entirely indistinguishable from someone actually looking at their mobile phone. Now, I don't know if Mick Herron observed this, read it somewhere, or heard it and none of those things matter. What matters is he chose to use that phrase in that place in that book and the minute I read it I knew I was reading something brilliant, because it was simple, truthful and illustrated so much about what was to come.

    In Tade Thompson's Rosewater there's a passage in the first few pages where Tade points out that, when people matchmake, they are introducing you to someone who they think their version of you will like, and that it is a form of judgement. This gave me exactly the same feeling as reading Herron's book.

     

    Sometimes, there's something about a book where you just know the author has aced it: the voice, the world, the way it all works together and Rosewater rolls. It turns in on itself and grows and drags you forward to the next page. I haven't even finished this book but I want to tell you about it and I want you to read it. I mean, to be fair, you'll probably hear about it anyway but I want to feel like I told you about it right at the beginning and then it can be our secret and we can say we heard of it at the start before everyone else.

     

    In full disclosure I should point out Tade is a friend of mine, and I'm kind of very glad about it. Because he's Tade who wrote Rosewater. If he wasn't my friend he would be Tade Thompson the Author of Rosewater and I think that might make him a bit intimidating on first meeting.

     

    In short, you should buy this book. It is very, very good.

  2. Sooo, it's been a year.

    Today KING OF ASSASSINS is released in the UK and Girton, Merela, Xus the warmount and Rufra's adventure comes to a close. I'd love to write a really long blogpost about the books and the characters and what I hoped to achieve with them but it would be hugely spoilerific. So I can't, not really. If that sort of thing is your bag then check out the back of King of Assassins where I talk a bit about that.

     

    Instead I'm going to talk about success.

     

    As a reader it's been a year, for me it has been much longer since the initial six week writing frenzy that gave birth to Age of Assassins. Then there was a lot of interminable waiting while I changed agents (for very dull reasons, nothing spicy, sorry) then a shorter but EVEN MORE interminable waiting time while we decided on a title and I couldn't tell anyone OH MY GOD I HAVE SIGNED A BOOK DEAL.[1] Then waiting for release and waiting on tenterhooks for reviews. So much waiting, but the payoff was definitely worth it.

     

    Something I've been asked a lot by people is 'is it successful?' Well, look at this list of award shortlists. (I'm not just bigging myself up, stick with me here.)

     

    Kitschie Golden Tentacle.

    Gemmell Morningstar

    British Fantasy Society – Best Newcomer

    British Fantasy Society – Best Novel.

    Guardian Not-The-Booker (longlist)[2]

    And the reviews for each book (so far) have been better than the last (mostly).

     

    I guess, to an outsider that looks successful and, depending on your metric, it probably is. But that is not what people mean when they ask 'is it doing well' or whatever variant they use. They mean have you sold lots of books.

     

    That is a harder question to answer. My friend, Nick Eames, wrote KINGS OF THE WYLD and that has been HUGELY successful, sold bucket loads of books and you can unequivocally say, 'yes, that has been a commercial success. But for most writers such lines are not so easily drawn. I have access to a thing that will tell me how many books I've sold but that sort of information is largely meaningless to me so I never look. I mean, I know Age of Assassins has gone into a second printing which is lovely. I think. Also, “success” is a word that really needs put into quotation makes. Different books can sell different amounts and still be successful depending on what your publisher expects. If you're not Nick then success is a bit like a wiggly, constantly moving line and you decide your place on it by trying to place a pin while blindfolded.

     

    To really know how you're doing you need a lot of extraneous information to pin that line down, and then, when you have that information all you really have is a reason to get anxious about something that, in the end, you can do very little to control.

     

    So I ignore it. My agent is happy and Orbit seem happy so that's good.

     

    In the end I choose to measure success by the way I measure everything[4], am I happy? And the answer, of course, is yes, ecstatically happy. So I have been, to my way of thinking, wonderfully successful, beyond my wildest dreams if I am honest. Since Age of Assassins came out my wife and I have said all along it didn't matter if it bombed, we've just had an amazing time and made loads of great new friends. Being an author and meeting all the people involved, no matter how peripherally, has felt like coming home.

     

    So this blogpost is really a thank you to all the people that have not only made my dream come true but made it such a wonderful experience, my agent, Ed Wilson at Johnson and Alcock, my editor, Jenni Hill, my publicist Nazia, everyone at Orbit, the book bloggers, reviewers and writers and all the people I have met along the way and, Every. Single. Person. that has read it and enjoyed it[3]. Thank you all so very much. I am forever indebted to you all for the most wonderful year of my life.

     

    RJ. 07 August 2018

     

    1. Originally it was called The Uncrowned Heir, then All Deaths Well Intention'd (still my favourite) before Orbit suggested Age of Assassins and by that time I would have happily accepted Mr Stabby's Exceptionally Stabby Day as long as I got to tell people about it.

    2. This was a bit cheeky actually.

    3. Or not, sorry about that.

    4. And would encourage everyone to try.
  3. Oh Apollo! I offer these libations to you! I who wield the chisel in your name put down wine and place meat in the fire. I who show truth of character in marble. Who chips away the lies until they strew the floor of the workshop. Apollo hear the entreaty of your servant Blind Akakios.

     

    You must have heard them speak of me, great Apollo! And I have never asked ought of you. Only the brave, foolish or virtuous put themselves before the chisel of Blind Akakios, they say. And still they come, 'cast me in stone,' they say. 'Cast my wife in stone and lay your hands upon her body to know her.'

     

    And if not all were happy with the statue they find waiting them then that is beyond my control and I have faced mortal peril to show truth in art, all in your name.

     

    I deal in deeper truths than mere likeness and I see far deeper than eyes can. I have yet to to meet the man who, when asked to stare upon my work, can say, truthfully, they do not find something they recognise of themselves or those they love within it. Though my statues oft remain hidden, all talk of me is as the best. All know I the name of Blind Akakios.

     

    Though you, mighty Apollo, son of Zeus, know the truth.

     

    I am not the best.

     

    She is the best, she who hides in the wood. She who whispers her secrets to me in the night. She who is always naked, and yet, when she moves I hear the whispering hiss of silk on skin. Each night I visit her glade in wonderment as I did that first night. Each night I find new sculptures. Such remarkable likenesses of the body! Such realism, such form, such truth. And all achieved within a day!

     

    A day!

     

    Oh great Apollo hear me beg.

     

    The hands she places on my body are soft. As soft as her skin must be, should she let me only touch it. When we sit and talk late into the night I am entranced, held by her spirit. When we lie together as man and woman I am bound and forbodden to touch her. When I wake in the morning she is gone to her hidden workshop and I am left to wander among her works, lost and amazed and trapped by my envy of her talent.

     

    Oh great Apollo!

     

    Grant me sight for just one day, I beg once more.

     

    I would give all to look upon her work.

     

    To look upon her.

     

    Just once.

     

    Just

     

    Once.

  4. I read a really interesting thread on realism in fantasy writing. I have thoughts on this and decided I would share them. As ever with stuff like this, we are all different and one person's truth is another person's abject nonsense so take whatever you think might be useful from this and ignore anything else.

     

    In a lot of ways, realism is the enemy of fiction. Writing, is not about realism. When it comes down to it a novel is often a string of unlikely co-incidences put together to make a series of events that remain interesting so the reader doesn't wander off and pick up another book. Even formats you expect to be realistic, like historical fiction, cherry pick what they want to use and play fast and loose with actuality[1].

     

    But RJ, you say, I demand realistic armour and weapons on my men and women riding dragons and throwing fireballs at each other.

     

    Well, why wouldn't you? And in many ways you are right to.

     

    I think a move toward realism has been a good thing because it's a reaction against the chainmail bikini nonsense[2] of a some older fantasy. But what you are after is the smoke and mirrors of fiction: it's not about realism, it's about the illusion of realism and that is what makes writing fiction wonderful. If you are a writer it is good to be aware that most of your audience will neither know nor care if you have the correct type of riveting in your dragon rider's armour. So don't stop writing to research it and don't stop your AWESOME dragon fight to explain the smelting process of said rivets.

     

    If you put a thing in your book and it's not totally egregiously out there you probably don't need to explain it. Most readers will just take it as red that it's how your world works. Some people, at some point, might complain but that is going to happen anyway so don't sweat it. You don't have to become an expert on weaponry to write cool fight scenes[3].

     

    Point the second: Sometimes a thing is not a thing. Ninja were not the black clad sneaky fellows we think of now. They often dressed as peasants and used the fact no one looked at peasants to sneak in and kill people, they were all about not being noticed. BUT, if you see a peasant with a load of other peasants how are you meant to know that particular peasant is actually a super cool ninja about to flip out and kill people? You don't. That's why the image of the black clad ninja survives despite historical inaccuracy, you see it, you know what it means and what that person is about. Shortcuts like that are hugely useful in any form of art. So sometimes a sword is not a sword, sometimes armour is not armour; it's a metaphor for character. Who is the bad guy in this scene? Oh, it's probably the guy using a human skull as a helmet. No, it's not practical headgear and won't pass a health and safety check. BUT it has saved me from writing five hundred words of boring exposition.

     

    If research and stuff is your thing and you enjoy it, knock yourself out but here are my three quick tips for any writer starting out and wondering about how real they should keep it:

    We don't need to know everything.

    Don't let what is 'real' get in the way of what is entertaining.

    Ninja are cool.

     

     

    TL/DR if you can make it feel real, a reader will accept it.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Vikings is a good example of this. The gear is mostly spot on, the history is less so (I am paraphrasing a Viking historian friend here so don't @ me).

    2. If you want realism in your fantasy and you are angry about the lack of chainmail bikini wearing busty female warriors you may want to have a think about what you actually want.

    3. As quite a few bestselling books will attest to.

  5. Well, I've written myself into a corner I can't get out of.

     

    I hear that a lot, I even, maybe, think it a lot myself and – oh wait DISCLAIMER what is true for me may not be true everyone – and I'm not sure it's a real thing. I know! Contentious, right? But hear me out, I promise it may possibly-maybe-but-maybe-not, be worth your while.

     

    For me, 'written myself into a corner,' and 'writer's block' often boil down to being about the same thing. 'I don't want to do this.' I just did a thing where I had basically 'written myself into a corner.' Of course, I hadn't, what I had done was written a thing which needed put right and to do that I had to go back and rewrite a load of other stuffs and then take out some other stuffs, NONE of which I wanted to do because I am an incredibly lazy human being.

     

    So just a thing to ask yourself, before you think you're stuck. Do you really just need to make a change and you're trying to, not so much write your way out of something as think of a way to avoid doing the work? Because, the sad and annoying thing about being a writer is it's not really the writing that makes you good in the end, it's the ability to recognising the need to do the work and then doing it.

     

    So, with that I will stop doing this and go do what I should be doing and hope I cna make it good.

     

    I might complain about it on Twitter though, that's totally 100% on brand writer stuff.

     

    RJ. June 2018

  6. Awards are funny things.

     Well, writing is a funny thing, awards are just another funny part of it. I used to see people come up for awards and be amazed but how confident and professional they must be now they had got to that point. I would imagine they had craft. You know, I had this image of them sitting down and having a clear idea of their theme and what it was they wanted to achieve and who their writing would speak to and how they would do that.

    I kind of longed for that, I couldn't imagine the sort of peace that it must bring when your mind is always turning over, 'what if', 'is this good enough,' 'am I writing rubbish?'

    I mean, you kind of imagine that you get the answer to 'am I good enough' when you sell your book to someone like Orbit - but you really don't, because signing to a publisher isn't entirely about the art of writing, it's also about the commercial business of writing. And a look at what sells will tell you good writing and being commercial are really not inclusive of each other. So you are still, always asking that question, is it good?

    And let's not forget, even when your book is out and you're getting good reviews (as I've been lucky enough, mostly, to get so far) you're not writing that book any more. That book is finished. You are doing something new by the time that books comes out and if you're pushing yourself (which you probably are because, 'is it good enough?'). Then what the reviewers like may well not be what you are doing now[1].

    But anyway, awards and nominations. I am now a twice award shortlisted author (for the Kitschie Golden Tentacle and the Gemmell Morningstar.) You'd think it would bring you some sort of surety, some sort of 'yes, I am doing this right.' That was exactly what I thought all the authors on these shortlists must be thinking. Yes, here is MY VALIDATION. I AM VALIDATED.

    Sadly, not true.

    Cos what you don't see is that I am still doing exactly the same thing every day that I did before I had signed with Orbit or got an agent. I get up, take the boy to school, come home. Find a reason not to write for the first couple of hours of the day[2] drink coffee, eat crisps. Then stare at what I am meant to be doing and become filled with doubt about it. And I am lucky, because my doubt isn't about sales or things like that because I never really think of that. I'm not commercially minded and  I have an agreement with my agent that he can deal with all that and just tell me what I really need to know. But the actual material of my life has not changed. Publishing deal, reviews, award nominations these do not change the substance of my life or the way I approach what I do.

    Write, doubt, keep writing.

    I'm not entirely sure where I was going with this. Just maybe what I am saying  -in a very long way round - is for me, and maybe for most authors, no matter how well it may look like someone is doing we're still just swans; appearing to glide serenely along the top of the water while paddling furiously below in an effort not to sink.

    I'm not complaining though. Because it's still amazing, shocking and wonderful to think the things I write sat on my couch here in Leeds are being read all round the world. And I think, probably, the doubt is a better thing to have than complacency.

    Probably.

    RJ.

    Leeds. April 2018.

     

     

    1. In my case, so many people commented on how likeable Girton was in Age of Assassins just at the point I was consciously moving him away from that while writing Blood of Assassins. As an aside, this is one of the places where your editor is invaluable. When you are going, 'oh I have done that wrong'. They can be a calm voice going, 'no, go with it, It's right. (Thanks, Jenni. )

    2. Like, I dunno, writing blogposts or something?

  7. Awards.

    I thought I’d write a quick thing about awards. I’m quite reward-ambivalent*, if I’m honest. I do not write for awards and I’ve got a publishing deal with Orbit so in my mind I’ve already won. I’m also, quite embarrassed about the idea of saying ‘hey, vote for me!’ Or possibly it’s more that I think if I have to remind people to vote it’s meaningless, because people should vote for a thing they remember, not a thing you have to remind them about.