January 16th 2013
So marketing didn’t like the title of the fantasy brick. After thrashing around several ideas (many, many severals), this is what we’ve come up with: Arcanum. A good Latin word, meaning a secret. And if there’s one thing the book is full of, it’s secrets.
A thousand years after Alaric the Goth crossed the Alps with his rough alliance of northern tribes and wild, spell-wielding shamans to crush the Roman empire, Europe has become an almost civilised place.
Despite the wars that wash across the continent, the little mountain kingdom of Carinthia remains untroubled and untouchable. Rich through trade and centuries of peace, it owes its success to being the home of the Order of the White Robe, whose legendary hexmasters can destroy whole armies by turning the field of battle into a glittering lake of lava.
Magic is Carinthia’s wealth, its protection and its way of life. So what does a magic kingdom do when it runs out of magic?
What indeed. Arcanum is now mostly finished. It’s the most ambitious story I’ve ever attempted. It’s certainly the longest – the first draft was over 300,000 words, and I’ve got that down to 280,000 in the second. The most gratifying part of reading the manuscript through was that when I was encountering words that I hadn’t seen for over a year, it still read well and felt like the beginning belonged to the end, despite it being so far removed from it.
The other joy was finding that, despite all the statecraft of contending kingdoms and principalities, it remains intensely (and often uncomfortably) personal for the characters involved. If I’ve learnt anything from writing the Petrovitch books, it’s this: make sure there’s always something to lose. And there is, on every page: status, wealth, power, knowledge, love, life, legacy – the whole kingdom, even.
Arcanum is due out in November. There’s still a bit of work to do. But there will be maps. I’ve never written a book that needed maps before.
December 23rd 2012
Ah, the crashing sound of silence. I’ve been ill – not catastrophically, life-threateningly ill, but for three weeks I’ve been, well not exactly ‘fighting off’ as ‘surrendering at the first whiff of grapeshot’, to every virus that came my way. And I’m still, with two days before Christmas, exhausted and having to pace the few jobs I absolutely have to do by doing a lot of sitting down and drinking tea and having naps. And I’m never – for values of a decade – this ill. At least I was well (the last day I was well, in fact) for the Thy Kingdom Come launch, which was brilliant. More on that shortly.
Firstly, it’s not long now until the fourth book in the Petrovitch trilogy is released – March 2013. The Curve of the Earth has a simply stunning cover, and the first chapter is up here to read now. To celebrate, Orbit are repackaging the original trilogy (can this sound any more like Star Wars?) into one mahoosive ebook. Depending on how things go, there may also be a dead tree version of the compendium at a later date. There’s a new cover to go with that too. In case you were wondering whether Petrovitch still has it, Lauren Panepinto (the original cover artist) has given Curve 5 stars on Goodreads. You can trust her judgement.
Secondly, to go with that, I’ll be at the (what used to be called and as everyone still calls it) SFX weekender, courtesy of Orbit, 1st-3rd March 2013. There’ll probably be a signing down at Forbidden Planet in London, and if I can pull my finger out, one up in Newcastle.
Thirdly, Ignite is go. Orbit don’t hate it, or the fact that it’s 300,000 words long. Publication date is nominally November (just in time for next Christmas!), but I’ve got some work to do on it first, which because I’ve been ill, is slightly behind schedule. Rereading something I haven’t even looked at for eighteen months – the first quarter of the book – I was gratified to realise that it didn’t suck, and was actually quite good. Ignite will have its own page in the new year, which I’ll add to as things progress.
Fourthly, other publishing news. I’ve written a short story. And I’m going to write another one. The first story was, almost inevitably, for a Pandemonium anthology: The Lowest Heaven is a collaboration with the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, and just look at that list of contributors. I’m in really very good company. I managed to snag Mars as my astronomical body of choice, which I was delighted about. My story ‘WWBD’ will hopefully be up to scratch. Later on in the year, I’m in another collaborative anthology (with an equally impressive list of contributors) edited by Gary Dalkin about plants. But not as you know them. Really looking forward to this one. And finally for this bit, the Thy Kingdom Come story (and Jared’s favourite) ‘Never, never, three times never’ is being reprinted in a Prime Books anthology (available June) called ‘After the End: recent apocalypses‘. With a contributor list that includes Bruce Sterling (I’m in an anthology with Bruce Sterling! Does the happy dance).
It remains for me to say, whether you believe in it or not, have a very merry Christmas. There will be some festive Petrovitch under people’s trees, so I’m led to believe, so I’ll leave you all with this.
October 26th 2012
I am – finally – done. With the deadline starting to loom (early December) I did more-or-less nothing but write for two months. 72,500 words later and it’s finished.
I am officially well over my contracted maximum word count. I talked Orbit up from 200,000 to 250,000 when I signed on the dotted line. Ignite was a frightening 300,470 words long when I put in that last full stop. That’s an awful lot of words, vaguely organised into sentences, paragraphs, chapters and parts. At this end of it, I have absolutely no idea if it makes a coherent whole – which is one of the problems of never plotting anything out, but one of the freedoms too.
It’s taken about 18 months from first to last word. That’s a considerable length of time in anyone’s book (hah! See what I did there…), and I’ve lived with these people (‘characters’ makes them sound a bit, well, thin) for all that time. So I had a bit of a sniffle when I finished. It’s not like I won’t be going back over their lives, but what I won’t be doing is learning anything new of their stories – which carry on after the last page. For some of them, at least.
I ended up writing Ignite in four parts, giving each part a specific beginning, middle and end, so it’s almost a quartet of books. I have no idea at this stage what Orbit intend to do with it; they could reasonably split it into two 150,000 word volumes, or keep it as one. Fantasy is supposed to come in door-step sized slices, right?
Which is another thing. It’s not actually a fantasy. Or it is, but that’s not all it is. Or at least, that’s what it starts as, an almost traditional fantasy with kings and queens and wizards and monsters, and then it begins to change into something subtly other. Playing with the tropes is something I love, and I’ve genuinely enjoyed writing this because it’s given me a whole different set of playthings from the Metrozone books.
What happens next? I’ve a whole month (woo! Go me…) before I have to hand in the manuscripts, although as the result of a plaintive email from Orbit Towers a few weeks ago, I did send them parts 1,2, and 3 to read in all their first drafty goodness. I’ll be spending November trying to work out what the hell I’ve done – there’s an awful lot of editing to do on the macro scale, without considering the individual words and punctuation.
All the same, getting the first draft down feels good. Words. We have them.
October 14th 2012
Inevitably, there comes a point in writing a book when all your energies go into writing the book. This is one of them. My deadline for Ignite is the start of December, and I haven’t finished it yet. I haven’t finished it yet because I have set fire to my agreed word limit and cackled with glee as it burnt to a crisp.
Soon, I’ll be able to get back to something resembling a slightly less frantic pace, answer some of your queries (both email and comments on here). Soon, but not now. I’ll be back.
June 10th 2012
Posted by: Simon Morden in: From the Author, Ignite, Metrozone, News and Updates
Tags: audio book | Degrees of Freedom | Equations of Life | Greenbelt | Ignite | Lauren Panepinto | Metrozone | Philip K Dick award | Samuil Petrovitch | Theories of Flight
I’ve been contemplating writing this post for a few weeks now (which is why it’s gone a bit quiet), and it appears to be the case that the only way to get my thoughts out is to just start and see what happens: which is pretty much how I write books anyway…
I’m not one for annual celebrations. I’ll be more specific: I’m not one for annual celebrations that involve me. Birthdays, having had so many of them, are something I can honestly take or leave. Cake is nice, but the fuss involved for the rest of the family is out of proportion. Christmas is important for other reasons, but not necessarily the gift-giving and mountain of food cooked. My wedding anniversary, I admit, becomes more significant with every year that passes because it actually represents an achievement that is greater than simply staying alive. But one orbital revolution is pretty much the same as the next. What matters is what’s done during it.
It’s been a year since Degrees of Freedom was published, and by extension fourteen months since Equations of Life started to savage the eyeballs of the world. How did that work out for me? Pretty well, it turns out.
I had some concerns. Chiefly, the covers and the publishing schedule. No one was ever going to argue that the cover art (designed by the hugely talented Lauren Panepinto) was neutral. Some people loved them. Some people hated them. It’s impossible to tell whether or not they boosted sales or suppressed them. They were, however, talked about in the best Wildean sense. For a Z-list author, that wasn’t a bad gamble to take.
Publishing three books in three months is like taking a writing life and smashing it repeatedly against a wall. It’s a big thing, releasing a book into the wild: there’s an awful lot of emotional energy stored up in just one novel, along with the concepts of ‘professional’ and ‘career’. To do that bang-bang-bang? I’d underestimated how draining it would be. Reception was magnificently mixed from the ‘what fresh hell is this?’ to the ‘crowning moment of awesome’. Realising that not everybody like your book and watching them say so in a public forum are different things. My skin is considerably thicker than it was a year ago, and probably a good job too.
As time went on, several good things happened. Sales, while not stellar, were good enough – Equations of Life earned a reprint in both UK and US editions, and what’s more surprising is that it’s still selling. I’m given to understand that most books sell most copies in the first six weeks after publication; not young master Petrovitch. I don’t know what that means yet, but if new people are still discovering the Metrozone while there are newer, shinier books out, then I’m happy.
The audio books of the Metrozone were a revelation, and certainly the closest you’ll get to a cinematic experience for the foreseeable future. Toby Leonard Moore has done a simply stellar job of reading them, far, far better than I could ever do.
I’ve also got fan mail, and not in the creepy odd way, either. Smart people have written to me about stuff. I’m a bit behind in my replies, but I’ll try and get around to everyone shortly. It’s fascinating to hear about where you are and what you do, and how we stumbled into each other’s orbit. And fans have also got me into tvtropes.org, one of my all-time favourite websites. The Metrozone is built on tropey goodness, played straight, lampshaded and averted, often all at the same time, and I’m delighted to find my books in there.
I obviously need to mention the Philip K Dick award. If the three-in-three months schedule has a legacy, this was it. The first time a trilogy of books was nominated, they won. ‘What does it mean to you?’ people ask. It means that every book I write from now on will have ‘Winner of the Philip K Dick award’ on the cover. It means that I probably have more artistic freedom to do other things. It means I get to write some short stories again for a couple of anthologies I’ve been invited (invited!) to be part of. It means I’m very busy at Greenbelt this year, and probably at Eastercon next.
It does mean there’s an extra weight of expectation – one I’m putting on myself – to be better still. Book 4 of the trilogy ‘The Curve of the Earth’ is already at the publishers and it’ll be out next March. It is, I think, a different book again to books 1, 2, and 3. Expect an older, more thoughtful Samuil who’s capable of even greater acts of destruction simply because he’s better resourced. There is Science! of course, and big explosions, but the real drama is in his cybernetic heart.
The work in progress is Ignite. Followers on Facebook will know this has now passed the 200,000 word mark, and I’m probably heading towards 300,000. It is a startlingly different beast, and I have no idea how it’s going to be received by my publishers when they get hold of it – the Metrozone it most surely isn’t. My agent, however, is reading it in chunks – when he got to the end of the last of the chapters I’d sent him, he wished wistfully there were more. This is a hopeful sign. I have until the start of December to finish it – leaving myself some time to revise the manuscript too. It will be done – I haven’t missed a deadline yet, but it is very, very big. I do wonder if I’ve simply bitten off more than I can chew, but if I’m going to fail, I’m going to do it spectacularly. Wish me luck.
December 14th 2011
While I’m on…
Also mentioned in the December Orbit newsletter was the little matter of me writing a fantasy. While this is entirely true, it is not completely true. Ignite (for that is what the book is called) is not just a fantasy, it is more than a fantasy: have some blurb from the synopsis…
Rome was the centre of the largest, most powerful empire the world had ever seen, but that didn’t stop it falling to Alaric the Goth, his horde of skilled barbarian tribesmen and their wild spell-casting shamans. Having split the walls with their sorcery and slaughtered the inhabitants with their axes, the victors carved up the empire into a series of bickering states which were never more than an insult away from war.
A thousand years later, and Europe has become an almost civilised place. The rulers of the old Roman palatinates confine their warfare to the short summer months, trade flourishes along the rivers and roads, aided by merchants using magic-powered barges and self-propelling wagons, and farming has – at least for the lucky few – become less back-breaking with millstones that turn themselves and ploughs that pull their own way through the soil.
Even the barbarians’ pantheon of gods has been tamed: where once human sacrifices poured their blood onto the ground, there are parties and picnics, drinking and singing, fit for decent people and their children.
But it looks like the gods are going to have the last laugh before they slip quietly into ill-remembered obscurity…
Of all the old palatinates, alpine Carinthia is the most at ease: the richest, poised between north and south, east and west; the most peaceful, having not fought a single battle for over a century; the most magical, being the home of the highest, purest expression of European sorcery – the Order of the White Robe and the feared hexmasters, whose legendary powers brought down Rome and stopped the Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde in their tracks by turning the field of battle into a glittering lake of lava.
The Prince of Carinthia shelters the Order, and gives them half the palatinate’s revenue. In return, the hexmasters guarantee that any aggressor, no matter how large their army or how many magicians they bring, end up as no more than a memory for the next generation to ponder. It’s been a very long time since someone tried.
Magic is Carinthia’s wealth, its protection and its way of life. So what does a magic kingdom do when it runs out of magic?
What indeed. And in case you think I’ve gone all hey-nonny-nonny and foresooth on you, I managed to revolt myself with something I wrote towards the end of the the first section. It’s also destined to be a bit of a beast: I’m over 90,000 words in, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve no doubt that some of those words will fall out in the editing, but currently I’m looking at somewhere close to 200,000 words, if not more. Gadzooks, as they say (actually, they don’t. These people are descended from Goths, and they tend to call it as they see it).
I’m hoping to get parts I and II out of the way by sometime in January, and see how the land lies after that. This and subsequent posts will be tagged with Ignite to keep you up to date with everything.
Search the Site
ArcanumSee all books
The Curve of the EarthSee all books
Read the Samuil Petrovitch Guide to Russian Swearing
News / Blog