Thursday, 25 July 2013

'The Sum of the Parts' A Guest Blog by A J Dalton

The Sum of the Parts by A J Dalton

When I’m doing a signing event, one of the most common questions I get asked is ‘what do you think of e-books and e-readers?’ Well, when you’re selling a signed hard copy to someone, you have to be fairly pro-hard copy, don’t you? However, there’s also the reality for the author that they get 25-70% royalty on the e-book (depending on if it’s self-published or not), whereas they only get a paltry 7.5-10% on the hard copy (not enough to buy cat food). Why such a difference? Well, with the e-book, there’s no need to pay the book shop a hefty percentage (at least 35%), no production cost, no distribution cost, no rent for premises, no air-con bills, no shop staff to pay and (drumroll) hardly a need for a publisher (and their myriad staff)!

Okay, let’s slow it down before I start getting hate mail from diehard fans of hard copy books, and book shops, and publishers... in fact, the entire book industry except other authors and e-geeks. So, a hard copy book has no real competition. It is unique unto itself. It can be read in more places than an e-reader, I would argue. I like to read in the bath, and I just wouldn’t want to take an e-reader there (unless I wanted to electrocute myself). As a physical object, the hard copy book also has a ‘living archaeology’ (my own term, but I put it in apostrophes because I know it’s a bit poncy and self-indulgent). We know if the book’s been read before. It has a particular smell. Sometimes it’s signed by the author. It has a feel, a shape, something that demands accommodation... something that is significant. On a shelf with other books, it says everything about you. When people visit your home (even if it’s just a cleaner or burglar), they will glean something about you from the physical books you have selected for your physical shelf. Through physical books, you express yourself. It’s art, not a science. Hard copy books are usable objects of art. They are artefacts.

Why bother going to see Lord Byron’s poems in the original? So that you can see the graphology of his handwriting, and see the stains from the bottom of the wine glass that he’d put down on the paper on which he was composing. You begin to glimpse the state of mind of the genius. It transports you. It is so much more than typed words on a non-physical page.

All that being said, what’s the argument for e-books? Well, like an MP3 player meaning you don’t need racks of CDs in your house anymore (you’ve given them all to charity shops), an e-reader means you no longer need to maintain the health and safety hazard of teetering piles of books in your home. In these austere times, less is more. E-books are cheaper. When it comes to holidays, airport baggage allowance means that an e-reader can reach places the latest hardback from A J Dalton cannot.

So where does that leave us? As an author, let me give you a particular perspective. I published Knight of Ages as an e-book only. To date, I’ve sold all of a dozen copies, despite it being my favourite book of all those I’ve written (What? Better than Necromancer’s Gambit? Gateway of the Saviours, even? Yes, even those.) What gives? There’s just something lacking when it comes to a work of literature that is e-book only. Something essential just isn’t there. Something vital. Some ingredient that hasn’t got to do with the words. It’s got something to do with graphology, with wine stains, with the physical. After all, our souls are not virtual. Still, I could be wrong.

A J Dalton is an international author with Gollancz. He has published five novels to date, including the best-selling Necromancer’s Gambit and Empire of the Saviours (longlisted for the David Gemmell Legend Award). There's plenty of writing advice on his website at & follow him on twitter @AJDalton1

Friday, 19 July 2013

Something for the weekend - The Bronze Horseman

I read The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons a couple of weeks ago because it was given to me by a friend for Christmas because it is his favourite book. As soon as I started it, I regretted leaving it so long before I gave it a go. I was  little put off by the size - it's 650 pages - but it's so gripping, that you don't feel like you're reading a massive tome!

The book starts on the day the Second World War breaks out in the USSR, which is also the day when 17-year-old Tatiana meets 22-year-old Red Soldier Alexander. She has been sent out to buy food but buys herself an ice cream instead and attracts Alexander's attention because in all the chaos of the day, she is calmly sitting on a bench eating ice cream. This is the beginning of a turbulent and epic romance. Things do not come easily for this couple, with a love triangle, a secret that could get them both killed and the Siege of Leningrad to contend with. I didn't really know anything about the Siege of Leningrad before I read this book, but Simons really gives you an idea of what it was like that first Winter with no food and no way out of the city. It is estimated that between 700 and 1000 Leningrad citizens died every day in January and February 1942 and Simons does not shy away from this fact, with hardship and death becoming common place for the characters.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, because as well as being a romance, this book is a thriller about how to survive in the extreme world of Stalin's Russia, which was even worse during wartime. For example, any Russian soldier who was taken prisoner during World War 2, when finally returned home, would be sentenced to at least 10 years in a GULAG for betraying their country by being taken prisoner - the idea was to die before that happened. There is quite a lot of description of the Soviet role in World War 2, because of Alexander being a front-line soldier, and I found that really interesting, because again, I didn't really know much about it.

The great thing about this gripping, fascinating novel, is that it's the first in the trilogy - so if you get to the end and like me, have to know what happens to Tatiana and Alexander next, you can read books 2 and 3 (Tatiana and Alexander and The Summer Garden). Also, don't be put off by the covers - they're not just romances, there's so much more to them!


Tuesday, 16 July 2013


Crowds queue to meet Anthony Horowitz

The Get Reading stage in Trafalgar Square. 

Saturday saw Trafalgar Square taken over by the first ever Get London Reading Festival, sponsored by The Evening Standard and Nook, as part of a campaign to promote literacy and the joys of reading to children. Thousands of people came out on one of the hottest days of the year to listen to readings by writers, actors and other famous faces including Anne Fine, Hugh Grant and Princess Beatrice. As well as readings there was face painting, balloon modelling, a parade of the Warhorse puppet from the west end show and, rather incongruously, a chap wandering around in a Darth Vader costume.

Over in the Nook Signing Tent we ran 6 hours of author signings including Anthony Horowitz, Steve Cole and Sally Gardner. A particular highlight was a group of school girls to whom Malorie Blackman was a rock star; their excitement and emotion at getting to meet her was amazing to see. So too was the kindness of Anne Fine who had to dash off from her signing to go on stage but returned afterwards to make sure none of her readers missed out.

As well as the signings we helped a team from Nook demonstrate their range of e-readers and tablets, most of which are available in store now.

Huge thanks must go to my colleagues Bea, Laura, Luke and Marianna. They worked tirelessly on what was a very long, very hot, but ultimately very rewarding day.

Lachlan Mackinnon

Competiton time - Win a signed a copy of The Crimson Shield!

 Win a signed copy of 'The Crimson Shield'

That's right thanks to Gollancz I have 3 signed copies of Nathan Hawke's 'The Crimson Shield' to give away! For a chance to win simply email with 'The Crimson Shield' in the subject line before 12.00pm on Monday 22nd of July. I will then choose 3 winners at random & send you your free, signed copy! Please include your name & address - UK only please.

To wet your appetite you can find a short story by Nathan Hawke below this post. Or visit his website

Thanks & good luck!!


Thursday, 11 July 2013

Gamebooks – not just for geeks by Michael J. Ward

A great big thank you to Michael J.Ward for this guest blog spot! 
His new book The Heart of Fire is out now. Visit his website at

I’ll always remember my first book signing. As an author I guess it goes without saying that I have a hyperactive imagination, so my visions for how this was going to play out were lofty to say the least. I was unflappable in my belief that this would be my next grand step on my march to literary glory.

And yet, as I approached the lucky bookstore, niggling doubts started to enter my mind. No queues outside, trailing around the block. No police cordon. There wasn’t even a helicopter circling overhead. Could this be right?

I entered the bookstore, preparing myself for the screams and the rush of fans. Silence. Just an elderly lady flicking through an Alan Titchmarsh, and a couple of sniggering teenagers loitering around the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ stand. I couldn’t even see my signing table or the giant banners that proclaimed my coming. Hopes dwindled as I was led to the back of the shop, to a low table set up in a very dark corner. It even had cobwebs and what appeared to be the skeletal remains of the previous author. The table had a snakes and ladders board on it. And the chair was a puffy cushion.

The children’s corner. Decked up for Halloween. And I felt like a prize pumpkin.

My immediate crowd were screaming babies and toddlers, and beleaguered mums wrestling with books, bags and prams – casting a yearning eye towards the nearby Costa Coffee. One child took pity on me and grabbed one of my bookmarks. Then proceeded to try and take the whole pile that had cost me fifty squillion pounds to have printed. I awkwardly removed the said items from the child’s hands, careful not to insight tears or a potential law suit.

Yup, this was the reality. And I had to tell myself, ‘Mike, you’re here to sell – and they ain’t gonna come to you.’ That’s when I activated Terminator-mode, my scanners sweeping across the store to obtain lock-on with a target. It was time to find the (soon to be) DestinyQuest fans. With book in hand, I extracted my knees from beneath the table, gave a warning glare to the child who was edging back towards my bookmarks, and then went on the hunt.

As I stalked the shelves, probably looking like some slightly deranged Frank Spencer, the true realisation dawned on me. Who was a typical DestinyQuest fan? You see, DestinyQuest is not like your ordinary fantasy novel. It is an interactive gamebook – where you take on the mantle of a hero and guide them through the story, making their choices, fighting their battles (yes, dice are involved – we’re going retro here) and deciding the outcome. It was influenced by my love and obsession with computer games, particularly online role-playing games like World of Warcraft. I wanted people to take a break from their screens and get back to the roots of gaming – rolling dice and imagining the action for themselves.

I’ll be honest. To my shame, I started with the stereotypes. So I turned on my geek-radar and headed to the Manga area. The cool kids there had a kind of geek chic going on. This would be good – an easy sell. They listened to my spiel and laughed. Okay. Need to work on the sales pitch. Next, a sizeable fellow with an impressively large beard. He had to be a closet geek. No, he was a history professor and not un-surprisingly, World of Warcraft did not factor on his curriculum. Okay, let’s stop judging on appearance. It was time for the cunning Plan B.

In the absence of a Plan B, I went straight for C instead. Approach everyone and anyone, and have no shame. You’re here to sell. And so, I did. Forget Frank Spencer, now I was a homing missile and nothing would steer me off course. Whoever stepped into my path would be the next target. And so I ended up face to face with that elderly lady. I glanced at the Alan Titchmarsh and knew this was going to be an uphill struggle. But I pushed on regardless. When I finished there was a heavy silence. Her expression was unreadable, a slight frown crinkling her eyes. A firm ‘no’ was coming – or worse, she was trying to remember which pocket she had put the mace spray….

Turns out she bought four copies for her grandchildren (in their early teens). Next it was a couple in their fifties who still played Dungeons & Dungeons every Friday night. A few mums bought them as presents. A fellow author bought one because he loved the concept.

I approached people who I never expected would entertain the idea of a ‘gamebook’ and their eyes would light up when I showed them the full-colour maps (difficult not to stroke and make cooing noises) and explained how the idea worked.

Fathers bought it for their sons (with a knowing wink that said ‘No, this is really for me.’). A teacher bought ten as prizes for her school. Thirty-somethings (like myself at the time) immediately recognised the format and remembered back to the ‘Choose your own’ adventure books they played as kids. They bought it too.

By the afternoon I had sold out of books. And I don’t think I sold a single one to anyone who I would have termed a traditional “geek” – the type that the Daily Mail would no doubt label a ‘gamebooker’. I was shamefully guilty of this too, but my eyes were opened that day. Trying to pigeonhole the books is impossible. I have a readership from 9 to 90. Perhaps that is why I was originally put in the children’s area through no fault of the staff – they saw the word ‘gamebook’ and assumed it was just for kids.

So, I didn’t get the queues or the police escort – or even a single screaming fan, but I did leave the bookstore with a huge smile on my face. I enjoyed the face-to-face selling, and talking about my work to such a wide breadth of people – of all ages and backgrounds.

So, if you end up coming across a DestinyQuest book (or get approached by a Frank Spencer look-alike who asks you if you’ve heard of ‘World of Warcraft’) – don’t judge on appearance. Take a closer look. You might be surprised.


Monday, 8 July 2013

Guest Blog - The Fateguard by Nathan Hawke

Introduction by Nathan Hawke

The Crimson Shield (published by Gollancz on the 11th July) is the story of Gallow, a warrior who came across the seas years ago with a host led by the dreaded Corvin Screambreaker, the Nightmare of the North. While most of his kin eventually returned home, Gallow stayed and settled, living a quiet life obscurity until. . . but that's another story, the story of the Crimson Shield itself. For those of you familiar with the fantasy genre, the Crimson Shield aims, for better or worse, to echo the likes of David Gemmell and Robert E Howard. For those of less familiar, imagine vikings and saxons with just a touch of the supernatural.

In this story, a much younger Gallow has been enticed to break into a holy temple to steal a look at the legendary Crimson Shield. Of the men with him, Medrin will one day be a prince of his people and as for Beyard . . . but that too is for another story.

For more stories of Gallow, the Crimson Shield and other characters in their pasts, feel welcome to visit the interactive story map at

4 – The Fateguard
Location – Palace of the Eyes of Time

The door shuddered again. “Open!”
    Beyard turned. “Shall we take our punishment like men then?” But Medrin was already at the window. He vanished down the rope and that was that. Gone. Craven bastard.
    “Open this door!” The roar from outside was furious this time. The other Lhosir, the blacksmith's lad Gallow, pushed an empty chest across the threshold and sat on it. Beyard sat beside him, wedging the door shut. “Open up! Beardless cowards!”
    Beyard spat. He cast a grin at Gallow. “Shall we cast the runes together while we give our noble lord a minute to make good his escape. I dare say we can hold them here for hours if needs be, but another minute or so should do it.” He glanced over his shoulder as the door shook again. “My dead grandmother could push harder,” he yelled. “Go away and find some friends with some strength in their arms. I can give you my word we'll wait if that helps!”
A roar of rage answered. The door groaned as whoever was on the other side threw themselves at it. “Whoever you are in there, I know there's more than one of you. I'll strangle you with each others guts!”
    “Only after I take out yours so I can teach you how to tie proper knots!” When everything fell quiet, Beyard pressed his ear to the door. There were footsteps and then more voices and he leaned away just in time before the the door shook hard. Two men now, and this time they forced it open a crack. An arm reached around. Beyard bit it and it withdrew with a howl. The shouts from outside gathered force, but then they fell silent. A low gravelly voice spoke instead. “Give me your axe.”
    Fateguard, and for all his bravado, Beyard felt a chill. He gritted his teeth against the fear. “I reckon we've given him long enough now, don't you?”
    Gallow nodded. “You go first. I'll hold them.”
    Beyard looked at him. Not that either of them could see much in the dark, but they'd been friends for long enough that they didn't really need to see each others' faces any more. “Truth is, my friend, whoever goes last gets caught. You know this.”
“They won't catch me.” But they probably would. And if it came to a fight, well then they could both handle themselves well enough but that was hardly much use when you were challenged by an ironskin. He glared viciously at the window. Most likely whoever stayed would lose his hand for being a thief and spend the rest of his life wishing he'd been hanged.
    “Yes they will.” The door shuddered and the axe struck its first blow. “My father will pay blood money if that's what it comes to. Yours can't. Go.”
    Gallow hesitated. “Piss poor gang of thieves we turned out to be.”
    Beyard chuckled. “Piss poor.”
    Gallow nodded. He clasped Beyard's shoulder and squeezed and then pushed off from the door and bolted for the window, throwing himself through the space between them as fast as he could. He almost fell out head first and then he had the rope, catching himself, and that was the last Beyard saw of him.
    “I will not forget,” he whispered to the moon and then he lunged
for window himself as the door burst open. Men sprawled in, lit by torches from behind, tumbling over the chest and all falling to the floor and he was half out of the window and so very close to being free when a hand clamped onto his ankle. His first kick didn't break him loose. Another hand grabbed him, and after that he stopped struggling. Maybe the other two would get away, maybe not.

They did. He slowly realised it when the Fateguard and the priests kept asking him over and over who else had come to steal their precious Crimson Shield. They didn't even know how many had been in Beyard's gang, but nothing he could say would make them believe that he and the others had only come for a look, merely to see the forbidden shield that even Corvin the Crow couldn't be allowed to carry. No, they'd come to steal it, the priests were certain and wouldn't be swayed because they'd seen the signs in the sky and omens in the entrails of dead pigs. There was a thief coming, and here he was, and so there would be consequences, and if Beyard's father ever offered to pay blood money to save his son then Beyard never heard of it.

The frost-wind of the frozen north howled over black stone crags draped and spattered with snow. It moaned and screamed like the ghosts of the ever-hungry dead and wailed like the widows they left behind. Birthed by ice-wraiths and abandoned it was a cruel wind, heartless and without mercy, a wind that flayed any thought of kindness. The sun hung low on the horizon, weak and pale and muted. Here at the far end of the world even a midsummer morning offered only ice and storms. Mountains as old as time grew in this place. Pitiless cliffs forged at the very beginning, hard as iron and bitter as juniper. No place for men, no place for life, no place for light, and yet etched somehow into this shattered landscape wound a road, steep and hostile and paved with ice. It wound among them, picking its way from the ice-choked sea as though stalking some unseen prey, hidden as best it could from that hate-filled wind; but here and there it had no choice but to break its cover to rise towards its destination. To their delight the snow and the wind found it, winkled it out of its hiding and lashed it without remorse. The air filled with their frenzy to bury it, this intruder made by men.
    Along its whole length, one thing alone travelled this road. A heavy wagon of old weathered wood and fat sausage-fingers of rust pulled by creatures that might once have carried the idea of a unicorn at their heart, but had been birthed by a vision burned and blackened and twisted. They were not alive and their hoof-beats rang on the icy road like cold black iron, four horned nightmares driving ever onward, ever upward, eager now as the end approached. They threw their burden against the howling wind, rocking from side to side, groaning wood and creaking metal hurled against the tireless icy teeth of the storm. They devoured the remorseless road and defied the savage wind until they came to a place where the mountains had been sheered by some great hand and nothing remained but a cavernous void and falling snow; and there they stopped beside an iron gate that might have swallowed a ship, and waited. They stamped their feet but no steamy breath came with their snorts for they were dead things, and even the snow and the stone shivered at their cold. In this landscape, life stopped at the edge of the sea, at the ship that even now nudged its way away from the ice floes to the shore – stopped but for the single soul inside the wagon, a chained main, huddled and freezing, his life flickering and sputtering and close to its end.
    A shadow shifted from the great iron gate to the wagon and crept inside. It spoke a word, and its whisper was like a snake across parched desert sand. It held out a crown of black iron. You didn't escape from monsters who could reach through time and space. Not once they knew who you were.
    “Beyard,” it said, and put the iron crown forever over his head.
    “I will not forget.” He clung to it and held it in his heart and spoke it out, over and over. “I will not forget.”

There were consequences for the others as well, not that Beyard heard of them until long years had passed. A lost coif – we were playing at fighting the Marroc father and it fell down the well – cost the smith's son an extra year of working in the forge before his father let him cross the sea to join the Screambreaker's war band conquering the Marroc. Medrin crossed sooner and almost died in his first battle, and when he came back half a year later, he was as weak as a newborn and it was years before he was strong again. The Crimson Shield itself left on the same ship that carried Beyard. It rested a while on the Fortress of the Fates on the island of Brek, but other thieves came before it had even had time to gather dust, the real thieves of all the omens. But whoever they were, these other thieves fell out before they even touched land and both they and the shield sank to the bottom of the sea.
    And slowly both it and Beyard were forgotten.

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