Light Reading

Macmillan New Writing is an imprint whose founder, Michael Barnard, wanted to create a springboard for talented, unpublished writers with work that might be overlooked by the more behemothic players. When MNW was created, there was significant broo-hah-hah and palavery. Hackles were raised and tea cups rattled home to their saucers throughout London. “It’s the Ryan Air of publishing!”

Barnard wrote a very slightly odd but informative book on his battle to create the imprint, which I reviewed on my blog here. (Note Michael Stephen Fuchs’ comments to that article.) I’ve also reviewed both of Fuchs’ MNW efforts, The Manuscript and Pandora’s Sisters, as well as Taking Comfort by Roger Morris. To make matters more complicated, Aliya Whiteley, a MNW author, served a stint as an editor for the UKA Press. There she edited my first book, Déjà Vu, for which Herculean effort she will forever be in my good books – or at least the one that is good.

Last Thursday, Aliya launched her second MNW book, Light Reading, at Goldsboro Books. Is Macmillerati a word? No? Good. It would be silly. (Macmillistas?) But it was nice to see a good turn out from Aliya’s fellow authors, as well as others in the loose network that has sprung up around her. Aliya gave a little speech and we all bought copies of the book. Goldsboro Books did a fine job of the hosting. The shop, on Cecil Court just off Charing Cross Road, seems to be part of a collection of specialist and curious book shops.

(As we were leaving the do, my cohabitual overunit spotted a tour group entering the road. Before I could stage whisper, “Stop! We haven’t paid!” she had skipped over to join the back of the throng. Directly we overheard that Cecil Court had been used in the Diagon Alley sequence for Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone. One lives; one learns.)

It was great to catch up with Aliya. One of the curious things about meeting people that you’ve only previously known electronically is that, while you know them in the sense of having lots of information about them, you aren’t really familiar with they way they talk, their mannerisms and so on.

For example, few people expected me to look like such a scruffy bastard.

A big shout out to Matt Curran, whose writing is going strong. He’s the author of The Secret War. We chatted about the perils of writing full time – i.e. I get all excited with the postman comes, and sometimes discuss plot points with my gerbils. Matt somewhat convinced me that Lulu might be the way forward for one of my novels (that gets lovely feedback from editors and then a couple of lines about how full their lists are). Roger Morris was there, too, and he’s every bit as personable as his plog suggests. As he has mentioned on said plog, we’re both struggling to write St Petersburg novels (though Roger has two in the bag already). Roger has always been quick to answer my queries on esoteric Russian things, like the name of the equivalent ‘detective’ rank in the Russian police force.

Also bumped into David Gardiner, who is now helping out at the UKA Press (the publisher that put out my first book, Déjà Vu) and the troubadour Jon Stone (and his girlfriend whose name, I’m afraid, I didn’t catch). Neil Ayres and his girlfriend (muppetly, I’ve forgotten her name as well; memory like a) were also there, and it was great to meet Neil, finally. Back in the day, he published an early short story of mine called Afterlife in his online magazine, Fragment. Neil wrote a very interesting book called Nicolo’s Gifts and is now co-writing an epistolary science fiction novel with Aliya, which I look forward to.

This industry. Nothing happens for long periods. You’re on your own when you write a book. The sense of pointlessness is sometimes overpowering. Even if you write something that you’re happy with, the fiction publishing business is so small that you need a good dose of luck to get the bloody thing actually out there. As we were making the two-hour trip back to Canterbury, my girlfriend remarked that I should try to write something really mainstream. I had to sigh. She was saying this for my own benefit; she knows that I’m losing the will to engage in the publishing game and wants me to get some motivation back. Well, I got some motivation back from talking to Aliya (she’s a good writer; publishers will buy her stuff; she illustrates that the route is possible) and the other Macmillan New Writers.

I was struck by their esprit d’corps. They are quite unique, I think, in being a group of writers published more-or-less simultaneously within the same list. They represent a cohort whose members are at the same point in their careers; there are no egos (in evidence) and the sense of a team is palpable. They have not been selected because they are journalists with media connections; or because they’ve travelled around Moldova with a minibar; or they have a tie-in series on Channel Four. No; the books they submitted for publication were just good, that’s all. MNW, for all the broo-hah-hah, is anachronistically meritocratic.

You can buy Light Reading from any bookshop, or online. Aliya has a website, a blog (co-authored with Neil Ayres), and even a book trailer.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.