Just how much more literary is it possible to get? I’ve written a feature for the Granta website. About the only things I can think of with more literary kudos would be writing something for the Granta magazine or winning the Booker Prize! The artice is called ‘Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones’ and you can read it here.
For all you Warhammer 40k fans out there, I’m delighted to announce my first novella set in the grim dark of the far future (it’s actually moved on to the 41st millennium now). Lords of the Storm tells of a Reiver squad of the Fulminators Space Marines given the mission to retrieve the relics of an Imperial saint from a penitential shrine world overrun by the forces of Chaos following the Great Rift. I’m very pleased with how the story has turned out and I hope you will be too. The novella should be available for pre-order in the summer. There’s a bit more about Lords of the Storm, and lots more about other forthcoming titles from the Black Library, here.
What’s the difference between an amateur writer and a professional writer?
The professional didn’t give up.
How cool is this – I’m in a book with Ray Bradbury! The book is Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries & Lore, and my contribution is called ‘The Last Librarian: Or A Short Account of the End of the World. Ray – we’re on first-name terms now we’ve shared a book – Ray’s contribution is called ‘Exchange’ and there, he’s already shown why he’s a better writer than me: economy. A one-word title as opposed to 12 words. If you want to read the stories, the book is available on Amazon and through all good book sellers.
One of the unexpected perks of my occasional editing work is finding unintended explosions of double meaning in a piece of work. The one I found this afternoon is, however, probably the finest example of an unintentional double entendre I’ve ever read (and I know it was unintentional as this is meant to be a book for children). Enjoy!
He stretched his hand down toward that terrifying snake! The moment he touched it, his staff was in his hand, straight, and hard, and long.
Second, sustained drum roll….
Here it is, big announcement number 2: my next non-fiction book will be called Warrior: the Biography of a Man with No Name, and it will be published by Granta.
Now this really is pretty big: Granta is about the most prestigious publisher in Britain and having them publish my next book will ensure it gets noticed in all sorts of places that have previously ignored my work, including the national press (although that also opens the possibility of scathing reviews from reviewers working on the principle that a good kicking is always more fun to write and read in review than any amount of glowing praise).
As to the book itself, it is the story of one of the people excavated at the Bowl Hole Cemetery near Bamburgh Castle. While human remains provide all sort of useful archaeological evidence, their great drawback is that skeletons are mute: they tell no story. But for a variety of reasons, we can say much more about one particular man, buried within sight of castle and sea, than is normally the case, and it is his story that we will tell in this book. When I say we, it really will be a book written in the first person plural, as I will be collaborating on it with Paul Gething, one of the directors of the Bamburgh Research Project and the man who excavated the body of this Dark-Age warrior.
Warrior will be published in 2019.
I’ve finished writing my next novel. And here are the very first lines.
I looked away from my horrified regard of what was happening to the man beside me.
“Bloody, bloody Danes,” Brother Odo muttered again, staring fixedly through the slats of the sty.
“Yes, they are,” I hissed. “And it’ll be our blood they’ll be covered with if you don’t shut up.”
Brother Odo turned terror struck eyes towards me. “Where did they come from?”
“The Danes? Where do you think?” I squinted back out through the slats. “Idiot.”
There you go. Does it make you want to read more? As you can tell, this story is again set in Anglo-Saxon England, but two centuries later than the Northumbrian Thrones, during the invasion of the Great Heathen Army. But if that is par for my normal writing course, the ‘hero’ isn’t, for he is a liar, a cheat and a coward; a man whose only virtue is the fact that he knows he is completely without any redeeming virtue. The story begins with the Great Army laying waste the kingdom of East Anglia and reaches a climax at the Battle of Ashdown, taking in martyrdoms, mysteries and a very unusual place to find a bishop’s ring along the way.
The book will be published by Endeavour Ink, the paper imprint of Endeavour Press, probably in the spring of 2018. (I can’t give you a title yet, as we haven’t decided on one.)
New Myths issue 39 carries my story, The Wall at the End of the World, about a Roman officer who is called to the wall that marks the end of the Roman world and there learns just why Emperor Hadrian decided that the empire should advance no further north. Here’s a quick taste of the story:
“The painted people!” The legate shook his head and spat into the fire before reaching for the cup and taking a swallow of the wine I’d brought with me.
“I’ve spent too many years fighting them to spend my off-duty time talking about them.” He looked at the cup appreciatively. “Good Roman wine this. The stuff they make here is vinegar.”
“That’s what I heard. It’s why I took the precaution of bringing a supply.”
The legate snorted with laughter, spraying wine over the woollen tunic he had wrapped around himself. “Maxentius told me you have a whole wagon stuffed full with amphorae.”
“The previous tribune brought an amphora of British wine back to Rome. I tried some when I met him to talk about the posting.
The legate stared into the cup. “What did he tell you of me?”
“He said to bring you some decent wine.”
And you can read the rest of the story here.
See the Elephant, issue 3, Slipping Through the Cracks, carries my story, Spellman Mathers’ Travelling Show & Zoo of Ordinary Creatures, which treats of boggarts, fairies and the thin places between worlds through which the unwary and the unfortunate might slip. It’s available through Amazon in Kindle and paper formats and you can find it here. This is the beginning of the story, where we meet one of my favourite ever characters, Spellman Mathers, the master of the strangest travelling show you will ever see:
Spellman Mathers’ Travelling Show & Zoo of Ordinary Creatures was shut up for the night. Tasks completed, Spellman kicked back a chair, lit a smoke and, hands behind his head, stared up at the sky. He breathed out, wreathing the stars with smoke, then, holding the cigarette between thumb and forefinger while inspecting its glowing core, he said, “I was like you once, kid.”
In his hiding place, in the deep dark beneath the bales of animal feed, Sadhu, his skin as brown as a nut and his eyes black as the sky, all but cried out. He couldn’t have seen him, couldn’t have. In the hiding place, dark and deep, he was invisible so long as he did not move and made no sound.
“I had no home, no folks, and I snuck into the circus one night and when the circus left town, I went right along with it.” Apparently satisfied with the cigarette, Spellman drew on it again, then breathed the smoke out, and it billowed and writhed until it became a little smoke boy, hiding behind a cage while peeping out fearfully at a frightening world.
“But that was back then, when I were little, and the world’s moved on. The circus ain’t the right place for a youngster to be growing up no more.”
Among writers of historical fiction, Eagle in the Snow has achieved semi-legendary status. It was first published in 1970 and, largely through recommendation, has remained in print ever since (no small feat in itself when the author, Wallace Breem, died in 1990).
It’s the subtlety and mood of the book that gives it its power and creates its status. It’s the story of the dying of things: empires, men, armies, a civilisation. It’s the story of a man born out of time, fighting against the dying of the light. It’s a story of the end of Rome suffused with the nostalgia for fallen things that is a legacy of the northern tribes that defeated the Empire and replaced it on this island. That’s the unspoken, because never acknowledged, paradox at the heart of this book. While there were elements of nostalgia for a lost golden age in Roman civilisation, the twilight mood of Eagle in the Snow is a product of a people and a writer whose civilisation rests upon three supports: the Classical tradition of Rome and Greece, the Judeo-Christian and the foreshadowing of ultimate loss that results from the Ragnarok of the Anglo-Saxons. So this is a book of the defeat of a civilisation that is made into the work of art that it is by the worldview of the civilisations that defeated and supplanted it.