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If you’re here for the Heart project, this is the main page.
If you’re here for the Heart project, this is the main page.
Got sent this in the post over the weekend – it looks rather smart, especially with the quotes from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus on the back. It’s almost like a real book! Clicking for bigger is virtually compulsory…
Kirkus have reviewed Arcanum*. They like it enough to give it a starred review. They also said:
“…Morden, against a gritty, utterly convincing backdrop, anticipates every consequence and wrings out surprise after surprise. An enthralling read for aficionados of intelligent, impeccably rendered fantasy.”
Which was very kind of them.
Also, the interview I did for Publishers’ Weekly has emerged from behind the pay-wall. In it, I am witty and self-deprecating.
*here be slight spoilers. If you want to avoid them, don’t click through.
Just a public service announcement: a lot of websites seem to have Arcanum‘s old release date of November 19th, 2013 (i.e. two weeks time).
It isn’t. Editing the book (did I say how big the book was? Repeatedly? Oh, okay.) was a titanic effort, and we had to change the helmet on the rider*, too. So the release date is January 28th, 2014 – everything is as perfect as we can make it now, but trying to get it out this month would have been … less than ideal. You can, of course, pre-order it from your usual outlets, and if you’re a fan of the dead-tree variety of novel, please consider your bricks-and-mortar bookstore, or even the publisher’s own website (UK here)**.
I am genuinely excited to see what you all make of this. The noises from the gallery are so far very encouraging, which is nice – but it’s when it hits the shelves that it starts to live.
* it was originally a full-face helmet, a proper high-medieval pot. Though full-face helms did exist in earlier antiquity, it wasn’t the every day killing-and-plundering northern barbarian-wear I’d envisioned. So it was swapped to a open-faced helmet of the late Dark ages.
** I even emailed the Boss of Hachette, pointing out (as I did in the essay, Money flows to the author), how mad it was not being able to buy books from the actual publisher. Plans were already afoot, and have been brought forward in time for the festive buying-spree.
It’s not a secret that I’m a Christian – those two essays on Christian fiction and my ongoing relationship with the Greenbelt festival are a bit of a giveaway – and I can’t deny my faith (here, loosely defined as what I believe my religion is telling me about the world we live in and how I ought to live my life within it) has an effect on what I write and how I write. Neither would I want to deny it. I have a PhD in geophysics: that also affects what I write and how I write. I have a political stance, which etc… Writers are people, and people are complicated.
And if anything, being a “Christian writer” should have an effect – it’d be a weird-ass religion (or I a very poor adherent) if it didn’t. It means that I should keep to deadlines, or explain early enough why I’m not so that alternative plans can be made. It means that I should honour contracts, not try and wriggle out of them if a better offer comes along, and generally behave like a professional in a professional business. It means that I should keep appointments and engagements, or give people timely enough warning that I can’t make it – and not just because I can’t be bothered. It means that my interaction with fans, reviewers, other writers, publishers, agents and such like should be polite, calm and reasonable. (Because there’s more than enough drama in real life without putting it on the internet… oh, wait…)
If you’ve read any of my stuff, you’ll have probably noticed a couple of things. Firstly, what I write isn’t exactly “Christian fiction”. This is deliberate, for all the reasons I set out in the essays. It could be said that the Petrovitch books are almost the antithesis of Christian fiction: everything that shouldn’t be in there, is, and everything that should be, isn’t. I’m more than content with that – they are the stories I want to tell. Secondly, I do write about religion. I have characters who are religious. I have plots and sub-plots involving religious practice and belief. I do it a lot.
What provokes this post is a comment left on Mike Duran’s excellent blog, deCOMPOSE, by someone attached to Lion books in the UK – Lion are a Christian publisher, now owned (I think) by Baker publishing, a big US Christian publisher. This is the quote I picked up on:
“Lion Hudson (Oxford, England) represents the Baker Publishing Group in the UK, where there is considerable resistance to ANY religious element in a novel in the ABA (general) sector”
Okay. At face value, this is a fairly sweeping statement to make. I don’t have enough time or energy to compile a statistical analysis of all the fiction published by the Big 5/6 and rank them for their inclusiveness of religion – I’m busy writing books, which takes up most of my time. What you’re going to get instead is a data point.
I have never, ever, been asked by any UK publisher to tone down, diminish or otherwise remove any single religious element in any of my books.
“Ah, but what if you had?” you ask. Well, I haven’t, but if I had, I’d consider it along with any of the other editorial suggestions that make up the give and take of the editorial process. Because I’m not perfect, and the thing about editing a book is to make it better, not worse – kill your darlings and all that. I refuse (see above for behaving professionally) to throw a wobbly because a trusted reader is telling me “Simon, this bit just doesn’t work.”
And the reason that I’m provoked by a comment that there’s “considerable resistance” to ANY (note the caps, comrades) religious element in a mainstream novel is that I’ve, if anything, made that strand more, not less, significant in Arcanum. The differences in the religions of the main characters is a significant part of the plot. It’s in the backstory, it’s a driver for the action, it’s central to the motivations of some of the protagonists, and no one remains unaffected by the interplay of those beliefs. Furthermore, the two religions I describe aren’t simply made-up fantasy-book religions (quiet there in the stalls), but attempts at actual Germanic paganism and actual Judaism.
So why do I it? Why do I describe lives that have religion front-and-centre? Simply this reason: people sometimes do. By ignoring or downplaying the importance of faith in their beliefs, their practices and their interactions – good and ill, warts and all – they’re not fully rounded characters and less believable. That’s it. That’s why. Because it’s better writing.
I’m going to finish with this thought: if publishers are resistant to the religious element in your book, it’s not the ‘religious’ they’re objecting to. They’re objecting to the fact that the way you’ve done it makes your book suck. Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer-prizewinning Gilead is currently published in the UK by Virago. A more “religious element” novel is hard to imagine, yet … well: it does rather undermine the assertion.
Publishers’ Weekly have (behind the paywall) a review – nay, the first ever review – of Arcanum.
I’m not equivocal about reviews, and I don’t think any author is, no matter what self-deprecating noises we make: we either ‘bleed in public or bleed in private’, and especially when I’ve spent something like eighteen months of my life working on the manuscript, whether or not anyone genuinely likes it outside of the people who either wrote it (me), had to read it (editors, proof readers), or read it out of familial duty (wife), assumes an importance that can be a little unnerving.
Even more so that I when I was interviewed over Skype (I have Skype now – fear me, mortals!) for PW, I was listening very intently for any hint that the interviewer hated the book, and moreover hated me for writing it and wasting rather a lot of her time. I have warned you this is a BIG book, haven’t I? Fortunately, she’d liked it, asked me lots of smart questions about the setting and the characters, and about my somewhat original writing process (‘sit down and just write the damn thing’ may or may not have been one of my answers).
So, to the review (very helpfully sent to me by Patrick Heffernan of Mysterious Galaxy Bookshop, purveyor of all your genre needs.)
Starred Review: Science fiction author Morden (the Petrovitch Trilogy) makes a masterful foray into an alternate universe where, a thousand years after the fall of Rome, Europe is divided into numerous petty kingdoms and magic is a tool and a weapon. The cunning Order of hexmasters—whose enchantments create bridges, power cities, underpin commerce, and annihilate entire armies—is the ruthless power behind the throne in the German palatinate of Carinthia. When the magic abruptly stops, enemies amass armies at Carinthia’s borders and mobs take over its streets. Under-librarian Frederik Thaler and illiterate huntmaster Peter Büber are both certain that the library holds the kingdom’s salvation. Capricious adept Nikoleta Agana may be the last remaining hexmaster. Twelve-year-old prince Felix is thrust onto the throne after his father’s death in battle. Willful, shamefully unmarried Sophia Morgenstern is determined to protect her fellow Jews from terror-fueled pogroms. An engrossing rollercoaster of a plot winds up with a solidly satisfying climax that leaves the reader craving more. Agent: Anthony Harwood, Anthony Harwood Literary Agency. (Jan.)
‘Masterful’? Check. ‘Engrossing’? Check. ‘Satisfying’? Check. ‘Craving more’? Yeah, okay. We’re good to go with this.