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Strangeness in the UK

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.

Photo by Mike Shevdon

The Monks at Kilpeck

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.

Strangeness and Charm

Volume III of the Courts of the Feyre

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.

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Publication Day: Strangeness and Charm

Kilpeck Church

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.

The Portal

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.

Kilpeck's Sheila-na-gig

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.

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News of Book Three…and Four

Angry Robot

The news has broken, and you can read about it here and here, but since you are on my website I can tell you about it myself.

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.

 

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SciFi & Fantasy Book of the Year 2010

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

Close behind was Pink Noise by Leonid Korogodski and Amortals by Matt Forbeck (also published by Angry Robot Books)

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.

Thanks, everyone.

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Bedlam Competition Winner

Firstly, a big thank you to all the people who entered the competition to win signed copies of both Sixty-One Nails and The Road to Bedlam.  It helped me celebrate the US launch of the second book in style.

I have to say that you made selecting a winner hard for me – there was a good crop of entries and I was amazed at the detail and imagination that you put in to them. What a creative bunch you are!  Everything from using the ground for scrying, to boiling the water in your opponent’s lungs (ugh!) – well thought through and wonderfully inventive.

There can be only one winner, though, and she came up with a peach of an idea:

My elements are Water and Air, and the fey power is one of communication.It allows you to read the memory of water, which has to be interpreted as it is fluid, but you can do things like follow someone or know a bit of what they are feeling/thinking. There is water everywhere, even in a desert.
It can also be employed to influence people, sending emotions and suggestions into their minds, through air and water combined and if you’re very powerful, you can load an idea into a glass of water before they drink it. More often it is a power to use from a distance. It works better though rain. Running water, like underwater streams, can intensify it.  This is a very emotional power; unstable but also untraceable.

The winner is Anabel Portillo, from Dublin: I really liked that way she thought through the implications of her suggestion – the clincher was the idea that you could imbue a liquid with a memory, passing on ideas or thoughts, all through a glass of water. It’s a superb idea and makes Anabel our winner – congratulations to her, the signed copies will be on their way this week.

Thanks again to everyone who entered, I hope you had as much fun with the competition as I did and congratulations once again to Anabel, our winner.

Happy Halloween!

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It’s Bedlam Out There

The Road to Bedlam

Today is the release day for The Road to Bedlam in the United States and Canada and we’re celebrating here at Shevdon Manor by giving away copies of both books: Sixty-One Nails and The Road to Bedlam as a pair, in the US edition, signed and dated 26th October 2010, to be posted anywhere in the world, free of charge.

In order to win, you will need to put your thinking caps on.  In the books, fey power is an expression of five elements.  These are Fire, Earth, Air and Water and the Void, as in the early classical elements of Buddhist, Hindu and Greek philosophy.  These are not literal elements, but a way of understanding how fey power manifests, which is through combinations of these elemental aspects.  The void does not combine with other elements but underpins all, so it stands alone.

There are situations where fey power is used in Sixty-One Nails, but in case you haven’t read it yet (why not?) an example would be; Blackbird is a creature of Fire and Air and she can create a swarm of hornets by breathing into her cupped hands, releasing stinging mayhem upon an attacker.  The troll, Gramawl, is a creature of Earth and Water, and can move silently, no matter what surface he walks upon.

In order to win the books, you must imagine that you are able to combine two elements from Fire, Air, Earth and Water to express a magical fey power.  Email me to explain what the power is, how it works and, importantly, what limits it has. Note that the Void is excluded from the competition as it stands alone, and for reasons that may become clear in future books.

The most imaginative and interesting entry will win the signed copies and, potentially, may be included in book three as one of the powers of an escapee – the relevance of that word will become clear as you reach the end of The Road to Bedlam.

Send your entries by email to mike (at) shevdon (dot) com with a subject of BEDLAM COMPETITION ENTRY, including your name and contact details so that I can get in touch if you win.  You need to explain in the email which pair of elements create the ability, and what this achieves for the fey concerned.  Remember that this could end up in a book, so dream up something urban, magical and edgy – but not so powerful that it unbalances the rest of the story, otherwise I won’t be able to use it.

I may award secondary prizes for close runners-up and even post the best ones on the blog for all to see.  As usual in these matters, family members and those involved with producing or publishing the books are excluded from the competition.  The rules are as I make them, and I reserve the right to change them if I need to.

The best entries will win points, and you know what points mean….

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A Star at PW

It’s not often that I feature a review on my blog.  I keep track of reviews and sometimes copy extracts into my reviews page for those who want to browse them, but I don’t tend to post them.  When the reviewer is Publisher’s Weekly, though, it gets my immediate attention.

Sixty-One Nails Mike Shevdon. HarperCollins/Angry Robot, $7.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-199406-7

Spinning British folklore and history into a one-step-over-from-reality vision of the streets underneath London, Shevdon’s debut introduces the supernatural Feyre and their complex relationship with the human half-breeds created to maintain the fertility of the dying Feyre races. Niall Petersen, renamed Rabbit by those who know true names have power, awakens from a heart attack and finds himself in the care of the mysterious Blackbird. His previously unknown Feyre heritage has puts him in the sights of the human-hating Untainted. It also makes him uniquely suited to defending the barriers keeping the Feyre from the human world. An impressively accessible hero, Niall anchors the reader on a journey of discovery that feels constantly off-balance but never jarring. Comparisons to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere are both inevitable and erroneous; Shevdon’s grittily believable, charmingly described underworld packs a dark punch all its own. (June)

If you don’t know Publisher’s Weekly then you’re probably not in the business.  It’s an insider’s journal and probably one of the most respected literary publications on the planet.  Given that this review was June, I obviously missed it, but I found a reference to it in Locus Magazine and just had to follow it to the source.

To get a starred review is a rare privilege; they are not easily come by. Hence you’ll forgive me for front-paging a review on this particular occasion.

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