Archive for category Books
In Chapter Eight of Sixty-One Nails, my protagonist, Niall, is sitting at the corner of St Martin’s Lane in London. The Chapter opens with the lines:
I sat for an hour or more before people started walking across the square, heading towards work or some other rendezvous, and it lost its privacy. I was getting chilled so I wandered back the way I had come to find the coffee shop had opened. I ordered black coffee and added sugar before taking it outside. I sat among the deserted tables in the damp air and waited for Blackbird. On the war memorial across the pavement from me I could read the words ‘Humanity’ and ‘Sacrifice’. I hoped it wasn’t an omen.
The memorial Niall refers to is a stone monument to Edith Clavell, and on each side it reads, Humanity, Devotion, Fortitude and Sacrifice. There is a stone statue of Edith at the fore with an inscription that reads:
Brussels – Dawn
October 12th 1915
Patriotism is not enough
I must have no hatred or
bitterness for anyone.
These are her words to an Anglican priest on the night before her execution.
Edith was a nurse, born in Swardeston in Norfolk, she served in Belgium in the Great War, treating allies and enemies alike because they were wounded and needed help. She did not judge people for what they did, or how they saw the world, but only offered them comfort and compassion. She helped some 200 allied soldiers, French, British and Belgian, escape from German-occupied Belgium into the Netherlands and thence to Britain where they were welcomed as refugees.
For helping people escape, she was arrested, imprisoned, court-martialled, and shot by a firing squad on 12th October 1915, 100 years ago today. She was 49. Her remains were recovered and re-interred in Norwich Cathedral, where she is still honoured today.
She was a great woman. Even today as a country we could learn from her example.
Rest in Peace.
I haven’t been doing book reviews on this site; I’ve been posting them on GoodReads and I’ve generally reviewed favorite books. There is always room for change, though, and this is a little different because (a) it’s a review of Urban Fantasy, and (b) it’s a book by someone I’ve met.
The meeting is a story in itself. Back in 2009 when Sixty-One Nails was first published I was working in London quite close to Covent Garden. The first book in the Courts of the Feyre series features that area quite strongly, partly because I knew it well. I have paced along many of the paths traced in the book, though it has changed somewhat since that time. Given that the main character in the book practically walked past the door of Waterstones Bookshop on New Row, I felt it was appropriate that they should stock the book, especially for those readers wanting something local but also something different from the usual ghost tours and old London books. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
So being the brazen self-promoter that I am, I went in and introduced myself to the staff, explaining that I wanted to speak to the person responsible for SF and Fantasy. I was politely told that he wasn’t in that day but that if I called in another day I should ask for Ben. A couple of days later I returned and was introduced to a large guy who met my enquiries with a strangely bemused look – yes, he knew what urban fantasy was, no he didn’t know about my book, yes he would accept a copy from me. It was a short meeting, but I pressed the book into his hand and felt that my work was done.
What I didn’t know was that the guy in Waterstones had just started work on his own urban fantasy, and was ten thousand words into his opener, Rivers of London. The other side of that story is here, at Ben’s website: The Folly. I have been asked on numerous occasions if I knew of Ben’s work, and had to admit guiltily that I had not read it, but having finally finished The Courts of the Feyre, I was determined to catch up on some reading and this was top of my list.
It’s a good read. If you haven’t caught up with Ben’s work by now, then you probably should. Certainly if you are here and reading this article and like the mix of history and fiction in my work, then you will not be disappointed by Ben’s story.
Like me, Ben writes in the real world, but his is the world of policemen and crime scenes, mixed with wizardry and genius loci – the spirits of place that come to embody a sense of belonging. His characters are strong and likeable – his hero, Peter Grant is someone you would be glad to meet and get to know. The character’s humour is infectious and his indefatigable optimism becomes a driving force in the story – you just can’t keep a good guy down. Contrast this with Mike Carey’s Felix Castor (another favorite) and you see two sides to the same coin – one darkly sardonic, the other an irrepressible optimist. Both work, but for entirely different reasons.
I liked the initial motivation to become involved in supernatural crime – it’s that or the case progression unit (the desk job) – this sets the rookie police officer Peter on a path that is only partly revealed in this book. There is so much left unexplained, which for me is an attraction. It left me wanting to know more about this character and the world he is only beginning to know. In this sense there is a parallel with my own work, in that you discover the world through Peter’s eyes and it is revealed as he finds it, as we do with Niall in Sixty-One Nails. We benefit from his knowledge and suffer with his mistakes. It’s a great way to expose magic in the real world and it works well.
There are now three other books in the series – Moon Over Soho, Whispers Underground and, released at the end of July 2013, Broken Homes, and while I have not caught up with the full series yet I think it’s safe to say that they will be well worth reading – I look forward to it.
A final word – thanks to Ben for being okay about the strange man who pressed a novel into his hand that day. It was good to meet you and I hope we’ll get the opportunity to renew our acquaintance soon.
Some of you may be aware that the deadlines for The Eighth Court were very tight, and an extension was needed to get the book to where it needed to be. I am immensely grateful to my Editor, Lee Harris, for his patience and understanding while all this was going on. He’s a star, and he gave me the time I needed.
Unfortunately, that didn’t leave Lee much time to get everything done for the release date, and when things get pressured mistakes can be made – in this case, the acknowledgements and end-notes for The Eighth Court were missed and the paper version went to press without them. This is not so bad in the case of the electronic versions – they are being updated and if you delete the book and reload it you should get the newly uploaded version. I’m not sure exactly when this will happen, as it’s down to the eBook Store concerned when it gets updated, but it’s being worked on and the update is in progress.
The paper version is much more difficult as it’s been type-set and it’s really difficult to change once that has happened. However, we live in the age of the Internet and there are things we can do. If you go to the following address, you will find the End-Notes and the Acknowledgements for The Eighth Court.
Apologies that they are not in the back of the paper version – all I can say is that these things happen and, through the miracle of technology, we can still make them available.
I hope they will add to your enjoyment of the conclusion of Niall’s story.
To celebrate the release of Strangeness and Charm in the UK, I thought I would follow up my previous post with some more on the church at Kilpeck. in Herefordshire.
I said in my post, Publication Day: Strangeness and Charm, that while he outside of the church was fascinating, the inside held even more surprises. The first thing of note is that the church is not exactly aligned along the east-west axis, as it normally would be, but is offset by a small amount. The reason for this is not obvious until you discover that an underground watercourse runs directly beneath the church, and the church is aligned with that, rather than the compass.
Inside, the church is in two distinct sections – the Nave is lined with dark wooden pews and is separated from the Apse, which was added later, by a high stone arch. Into the pillars of the arch are carved six monks and each monk holds a token. The tokens are: a cross, a key, a feather, a scourge or flail, an arrow, and a rod or sceptre. The carvings are quite clear and the monks do not look as if they carry their burdens with ease.
Beyond the arch, on the floor to the right hand side is a mark in the stone, normally covered by a mat or square of carpet. The mark shows a four-lobed shape, like a clover or a highly stylised cross. The origins and purpose of this mark are unknown. On visiting the site, I couldn’t avoid the impression that the monks are hiding or protecting what lies beyond in the apse, and that this duty weighed heavily upon them. Clearly, though, that protection worked, since the church and all the carvings are still there, while the neighbouring castle is not.
You might be able to discern from John Couthart’s beautiful cover that the six objects play a central part in the story of Strangeness and Charm, and that the church and the relics are bound in with the story. As a writer it led me to ask myself what it was that the monks were protecting, and why such a thing would be placed in a minor church when only twelve miles up the road there’s Hereford Cathedral.
I hope you will enjoy the discovery of what the strange mark is for, and why those particular objects are carved into the pillars of the arch.
Strangeness and Charm was released in the UK on 7th June 2012 and is available from all good bookshops.
The 29th May is the official US publication day for Strangeness and Charm, the third in the series The Courts of the Feyre, and it’s cause for celebration here at Shevdon Manor. For your delectation, the kind folk at Angry Robot Books have posted a sample for you to whet your appetite upon, which I hope will encourage you to go out and acquire a copy.
To celebrate, I thought I would share with you a little of the research that inspired the book. This is the church of St Mary and St David at Kilpeck in Herefordshire, a little south and west from Hereford itself. This is a remarkable building in many ways, not least for its age – it was built around 1140, replacing the saxon church that preceded it.
I’m not a geologist, but the archway appears to be carved from pink sandstone and is remarkably well preserved. Around the door are the most fantastic carvings – mythical creatures, angels, animals and looping vines, carved all around the doorway. You can see for yourself that it is a portal of significance.
The tops of the walls around the church are decorated with corbels – an architectural term for a bit sticking out to provide additional support – which are again carved into strange creatures, knights, animals and faces. The most rare of these is a sheila-na-gig – a female figure displaying exaggerated vulva. There are very few of these left in Europe and Kilpeck has one of the best examples still in existence.
That’s not the only significant thing about this particular church, though. The church stands next to what remains of a castle which was slighted (demolished to prevent further use) by the parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War, at around 1645. The castle is a grassy mound with a few remnants of a wall. The church, however, is untouched.
You might not think that was remarkable, given that it is a church, but these were puritans and were against the decoration and ornamentation of churches. There are any number of churches throughout England where statuary was pulled down, murals obliterated and stone carvings chiselled off.
Many of my stories begin with the questions: why and what-if, and in this case the obvious question – why was a church bearing pagan imagery and the naked and blatantly sexual image of a woman left completely untouched by a puritan army, while the castle right next door was utterly demolished?
What if the reason the church wasn’t touched was that it was protected? And what if the reason it was protected was that it held something that needed to be kept safe and hidden away?
What’s in the church then becomes interesting, but that will be the subject of my post for the UK launch on June 7th, when we will discover even more mysteries in this fine building.
I am pleased to announce that Angry Robot Books have agreed to publish two more books in the series, The Courts of the Feyre. The third book in the series, Strangeness & Charm, concerns what happens when the escapees from The Road to Bedlam are released into the wider community, and the fourth brings this series to a finale with The Eighth Court.
These books will feature Niall and Blackbird as well as Niall’s wayward daughter Alex. The stories will be complete in themselves as with Sixty-One Nails and The Road to Bedlam, but will be best enjoyed as a series following Niall’s adventures through the four-book sequence.
The reason for the late announcement on the website is that I have been on a research trip to track down a rare medieval survivor, along with some surprises that even I did not suspect. All I can say at this stage is that these fit perfectly into the stories being written at the moment and you will see the fruits of that trip presently.
Strangeness & Charm is scheduled for June 2012, with the fourth book, The Eighth Court, due for release in early 2013.
Well, the polls have closed and the votes counted and I am delighted to announce the SciFi & Fantasy Book of the Year for 2010 is: ~
The Road to Bedlam
I would like to thank everyone who voted in the poll for making it such an interesting and engaging race, and everyone who voted for The Road to Bedlam in particular for your support and enthusiasm.
My thanks and appreciation go to Ant at SFBook.com for hosting the competition in sometimes difficult circumstances and for sticking with it and sorting it all out in the end.
I am told that the poll will run again next year, so look out for twelve new books to vote for.