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Politics in Fantasy: A Guide for New Writers by Gerrard Cowan

Posted by on Feb 1, 2018 in Voyager UK | 0 comments

Politics in Fantasy: A Guide for New Writers by Gerrard Cowan

There’s a lot that goes into worldbuilding – geography, magic, culture…. But one thing looms over all of this: politics. The extent to which this is true depends very much on the book in question. In my books – the well-reviewed and very reasonably priced The Machinery Trilogy – politics is pretty much at the core of everything. In fact, the whole world is obsessed with politics, you could say, even more than Brexit Britain or Trump’s America. In this world, a machine chooses the leaders of society. The people never see it. They’ve no idea what it looks like. They just get the names of the people it has picked. This has worked out incredibly well, on one level: their country now dominates its landmass. However, during the first novel, the Machinery begins to break, with fantasy-trilogy-spawning consequences. Fantasy obviously allows for an infinite variety of political structures. No matter the precise system, however, I think there are a few things that new authors should bear in mind. A sense of history It’s important to convey a sense of how a political system has evolved over time. This is true even if a novel focuses on a relatively new political entity – if you’re writing about an empire that was formed in the past generation, the reader is going to want to know how it came to be (at least the bare bones). The setting itself often helps: for example, a lot can be contained in a description of one event in a building’s history. Don’t stress every detail As the author, you are obviously expected to know far more about the history of this world than anyone else. You could sit down and write through the history of every royal house, including the reigns of all the rulers, how they rose to power, how they fell from grace, etc. However, I’m not sure it’s necessary to go too far in this direction. It’s much more important to just tell your story. As you draft your work, allow details to emerge naturally, revealing the history of the world through the history of the characters. Authenticity It has to feel real. I don’t mean this in the sense that every detail of the political system should feel immediately familiar to modern readers. It’s more that there is a need for internal consistency. For example, if you are depicting a tyrannical regime where it is death even to think badly of the emperor, then you can’t very well have your characters writing satires about him without making it very clear that what they are doing is beyond the pale. A contrast I find it useful to depict another regime, which can help illuminate the political structure of the main setting. For example, an early few chapters in The Machinery are set in a more traditional, medieval Europe-type context, with a king and a castle and so on, which might be more familiar to readers. This helps accentuate the weirdness of the politics in the main setting. Of course, it’s not necessary to ram in another country – you can even just type a chapter or two for your own benefit. It’s the imaginary economy, stupid. Erm, also culture. Politics isn’t just about skulduggery in the centre of power – it’s...

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The inspiration for Coldmaker by Daniel A. Cohen

Posted by on Dec 20, 2017 in Voyager UK | 0 comments

The inspiration for Coldmaker by Daniel A. Cohen

COLDMAKER came out of two burning desires (pun intended). First and foremost, I very much wanted to explore a societal structure where the currency had a high inherent value, instead of just an assumed value. Basically I wanted to explore the barter system on steroids. I wanted the reader to feel the need for a particular currency, which in this world happens to be Cold itself, coming in five varying denominations (from least to most potent: Wisps, Drafts, Shivers, Chills, and the most holy of all, the Frost). Even though the cold/hot trope has been widely explored, I’ve always found the idea of barren landscape to be simultaneously poetic and devastating. How do native peoples, desert travelers, and vagabonds survive in such harsh conditions? It takes a certain level of ingenuity (enter MICAH, the inventor protagonist of COLDMAKER) and a driving sense of survival in order to carry on. I figured a land as hot and barren as they come would give me the perfect set-up for this kind of desperate world, making Cold itself the currency, which automatically bestows that inherent value. The World Cried is scorching. Terrible. Merciless. And there’s only one way to survive. The second desire I wished to explore came from my intense interest in the power of lies. As much as we don’t want to believe it, people lie. Why people lie is up to much scientific and theological research and debate (all of which is way above my pay grade) but the simple fact is that for some reason, humans are built with this mechanism with which to escape the truth. People lie. Some people lie a lot. Some people believe their lies so much that they aren’t even part of the lying process any longer. These lies can be something small and inoffensive (“No honey, fluorescent lights are going to look great in our living room.”) something middling (“He attacked me first!”) or something grand enough to change the course of society (no example here, for avoidance of hate mail and trolls, but we all know what I mean). And a lot times, these lies aren’t questioned for multiple reasons, and are left to fester and breed. Life is perception, and I’ve always found the very nature of a lie to be fascinating. Unbeknownst to someone, a simple lie could very easily become their perceived truth. And as we all know, truth holds power. Truth grows. Truth matures. Truth builds upon itself. Shared truths can both raise and raze civilizations. Which means lies can too. As I older I’ve beginning to see how complex the world is, and how often our truths are dissolved and tossed away. For me, curiosity over lies was an important itch I needed to scratch, and scratch I did. Without going into too much detail and spoiling anything, COLDMAKER is about one of those big lies. One of those lies that has grown so wildly out of hand over time that its legs are becoming weak, that its distended belly is threatening to make the whole thing topple over and come apart at the seams. It is about a lie that has been holed up in the darkness of the past for so long that its claws, teeth, and skin have pretty much become a part...

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The Forever Ship extract

Posted by on Dec 20, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

The Forever Ship extract

Ahead of the paperback coming out next month we have a thrilling extract from Francesca Haig’s The Forever Ship – the final instalment in the enthralling Fire Sermon Trilogy…     PROLOGUE And so it did end in fire, after all: the flame bursting from its white centre. The blast opening like an eye. I’d seen that shape in my visions so many times that the explosion felt like coming home. * The water sealed over the boat’s wake, erasing all trace of us. The sea had always been good at keeping secrets. There was a song that bards used to sing, about ghosts. I’d heard it when Zach and I were children. Leonard and Eva had sung it, too, the night we met them. In the song, a man had strangled his lover and then been haunted by her ghost. He’d fled across the river to escape her, because ghosts can’t travel over water. As I sat in the prow of the boat, I knew better.   PART 1 CHAPTER 1 ‘Stop looking at me like that,’ Paloma said. ‘Like what?’ I said. I turned my face back to the fire, squinting against the smoke. I couldn’t deny that I’d been staring. I watched her all the time. Sometimes I woke and half expected that she would be gone – that she had never come at all, or that she’d been nothing but a shape we had conjured out of our longing for Elsewhere. But she had come: pale, like somebody seen through mist. Not the blondeness of Crispin, or of Elsa, who had hair with gold in it, and pink-flushed skin. Paloma’s hair was so blonde it was nearly grey, like driftwood – as if she’d washed up on the beach instead of sailing here on The Rosalind. Her skin had a bleached-straw whiteness, and her eyes were light blue – barely a colour at all. ‘Like I’m some kind of ghost,’ Paloma said. She leaned forward to prod the fire. I met her eyes. ‘Sorry.’ She swept her hand in the air, brushing away my apology. ‘It’s not your fault. You all do it.’ She was right. After we’d found The Rosalind, in the few days I’d spent aboard I’d seen how even the sailors who’d travelled with Paloma for months still paused in their conversations when she passed them on the deck, and followed her movements from the corners of their eyes as they worked on the ship’s repairs. Piper and Zoe stared at her too. And since we’d left the ship, and headed inland towards New Hobart, I found myself watching her all the time. She was a rumour made flesh. A person from Elsewhere. A person without a twin. Both of those ideas were so outlandish that it felt strange, sometimes, to see her picking out fish bones that had stuck between her teeth, or trimming her fingernails with her dagger. These were everyday things, and I wasn’t prepared for her to be so real. ‘We’re just curious,’ I said. ‘I know,’ she said, her accent making unfamiliar shapes from the familiar words. She had her own curiosity, too. As we spoke she stared at Piper and Zoe. A short distance from the fire, they were patching a water flask, using a glue...

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Robin Hobb – PIEBALDS AND PRINCES

Posted by on Nov 29, 2017 in Voyager UK | 0 comments

Robin Hobb – PIEBALDS AND PRINCES

Suppose you were born with a magical ability, but the ability was so intrinsic to who you were that you were unaware of how unusual it was. Just as a child doesn’t know what a miracle it is to be able to see colours, or distinguish the different scents of flowers and fruit, you might assume that everyone was aware of animal life as keenly as you were.  You might think that all people were aware that sometimes an animal’s consciousness might brush against your own. You would not think of it as something dirty and disgusting.  You would not be ashamed of it. Until someone told you that the Wit was a bestial magic, and you deserved to die for practising it. This is the situation for young FitzChivalry Farseer when the reader first encounters him in The Farseer Trilogy.  His ability to use the Wit endangers him, and affects his relationships with everyone around him.  Those who value him must protect him and force him to conceal his magic. Those who wish to destroy him will use it as one more tool against him. We all know the saying, ‘History is written by the victors’. When my readers first began to visit the Six Duchies, in The Farseer Trilogy, the Skill was a highly prized magic.  The training and practice of the Skill was a closely-guarded knowledge, and only those of appropriate character were instructed in it.  Although it was known to sometimes appear ‘randomly’, it was seen as the magic of the Farseer nobility. The Skill enabled its practitioners to ‘see from afar’ as well as to communicate with others talented in that magic, or to influence weaker minds.  It was both a weapon and an art.  It was certainly not appropriate to teach it to young bastards such as FitzChivalry. In contrast, the Wit was a despised magic, a loathsome practice that might lead to bestiality. Wit-users were shapeshifters who used their magical ability to spy on their neighbours.  Those who possessed it were persecuted, and it was believed that the only way to be rid of such people was to hang them over running water and then burn their bodies.  It was believed those who practised the Wit could assume the form of their Wit-beasts, or bring down sickness on flocks and herds that belonged to their neighbours. Those who practised the Wit were disparagingly referred to as Piebalds, though among themselves they might speak of being of Old Blood. In The Farseer Trilogy, readers learn that Fitz is possessed of a dangerous magic, one he does not understand, but one that might lead to his death and his dishonour. In The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince I wanted to write a tale that began in a time when the Wit was not so despised but was simply a folk magic, not so different from the arts practised by the hedge-witches of the Six Duchies.  I wanted to explore how a genetic predisposition towards that magic might have been introduced to the royal Farseer bloodlines, and to write about it from the point of view of someone who knew all the details. Someone who had witnessed it, and possibly been a pivotal player in that change. Someone who was not the victor, but...

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NaNoWriMo and What Comes Next by Christi J. Whitney

Posted by on Nov 28, 2017 in Voyager UK | 0 comments

NaNoWriMo and What Comes Next by Christi J. Whitney

November is nearly over, which means NaNoWriMo is also coming to an end – well, the writing part, at least. Anyone who has ever participated in this annual phenomenon will know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell: NaNoWriMo presents you with the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. It’s a fantastic exercise in both creative writing and determined discipline. When I wrote Grey, the first book in The Romany Outcasts Series, I had no idea what NaNoWriMo was, much less how to participate. But shortly after finishing my novel, I joined a writer’s group and heard all about it. Since then, I have participated multiple times. Have I always finished? Absolutely not! But the point is to get writing, no matter whether you make the word count or not. But let’s say you did finish a novel. What next? The temptation can be to start sending your work out to everyone. (Believe me, I’ve been there.) However, since December tends to be a slow month in the publishing industry anyway, now is actually the perfect time to begin honing that story into a finely-tuned novel. December is the perfect time to revise and edit your manuscript. I know, I know . . . it sounds impossible, right? There are decorations to arrange, presents to shop for, and you have to navigate the general bustle of the season. But the winter months also provide early darkness, cooler weather, and opportunities for cozying up in front of the fire. Which means there is opportunity for revising.  Many people find that writing new material is the easiest part of the writing process. But I’ve never felt that way. Writing on a blank page is difficult for me. When I’ve finally finished the story and it’s time to go back and dig in, that’s what I enjoy most. No more stressing over new ideas and how to get them on paper. Instead, I get the chance to make what I’ve brought into existence as excellent as it can be. What if you aren’t ready to dive into revisions? Then use December as a time to step away from your project for a while. If you can find readers to look it over during this month, that’s great. If not, don’t worry. Just take December off from your project entirely and come back to it in January with fresh eyes. Setting aside recently completed manuscripts for a bit works well for many writers. It may work for you. If you’re like me, your time away from your project might only be a few days. And that’s okay, too. Everyone approaches writing and revising differently. The point is, don’t stick that story up on a shelf. Do something with it. Nothing is ever wasted in writing. Even if you don’t end up publishing your novel, you learned from it. You revised and edited. You practiced how to discipline yourself and finish something you set you mind to finish. You reached out to other people to read your work. You aren’t hiding your writing; you’re out in the open and working diligently to improve yourself every day. My debut novel Grey was a direct result of this process. I was fortunate to...

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Coldmaker by Daniel A. Cohen: TEN TRAVEL TIPS FOR VISITING THE WORLD CRIED

Posted by on Nov 9, 2017 in Voyager UK | 0 comments

Coldmaker by Daniel A. Cohen: TEN TRAVEL TIPS FOR VISITING THE WORLD CRIED

  So you’re planning a trip to the World Cried. Excellent choice of destination. It could certainly use the tourism, as things have been a little… stifled since the Great Drought. Here’s a list of the top ten things you need to pack, know, and see in order to have a gratifying travel experience, and more importantly, not die.   Make sure your suntan lotion is at least SPF 1000. The World Cried is a little on the scorching side these days. You’ve probably heard rumors of lush lands flushed green and alive, where you can walk a hundred feet in any direction and pick fruit as big as your fists. Where the Cold breaks on mountain rocks, cooling the air and the boiling rivers, so that you could swim and drink straight from the current. Alas, those were the glory days eight hundred years ago, before the Great Drought. Now the brutal Sun has free rein over the land and will scorch you down to the bones if you don’t protect yourself properly! A good hat won’t hurt.   The Paphos Library Scrolls and scrolls and scrolls galore! When visiting the capitol of the Khatdom, learn all about the history of the High Noble houses and the great deeds of the long line of Khat leaders. (Praise be to them!) There are also lots of nifty sculptures and paintings including ‘The Cause’, the famous oil-on-boilweed canvas which illustrates all the horrible things the Jadans did to anger the Crier way back when. Those pesky Jadans! So unworthy of the Cold that the gracious Nobles dole out of their own pockets.   The Crying This is certainly the main attraction you’ll want to witness of the World Cried, and is not to be missed for any reason. Marvel at the thousands of pieces of Cold streaking through the night sky, a gift from the Crier Himself! If you don’t make an effort to see the Crying, then frankly you’ve wasted your money and you should have just gone to visit Degobah or Middle Earth instead. The Crying only happens in the Khat’s Patches behind the pyramids, so make sure to get a good vantage point and watch out for Sobek lizards while walking outside of the city. Folding chairs are a good choice if you choose to watch this natural phenomenon from the dunes.   The River Singe Witness the largest and most intense boiling river in all of the Khatdom! Just don’t try to drink straight from the water or you’ll get heat blisters along your throat for the rest of the trip. Also no swimming or diving…or you will die.   Pick up some Closed Eye jewelry from the Market Quarter. Even though the World Cried might seem ‘dead’ and ‘awful’ and ‘in a state of complete and utter suffering’ to some visitors, there are still plenty of hidden gems to stumble upon! For example, the Market Quarter of Paphos is a vibrant hub of bustling commerce. The pound-to-Cold exchange rate is pretty steep, but you’ll certainly get your money’s worth in the form of sunsilk shirts, lovely parasols and locally-sourced, organic figs. There are oodles of souvenir opportunities, so make sure to grab yourself something shiny with the image of the Closed Eye dangling from it....

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Building a magic system on memories – Gerrard Cowan

Posted by on Sep 7, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Building a magic system on memories – Gerrard Cowan

Memories can play tricks on us, fading and twisting over time and sometimes even changing altogether. How, then, can they form the basis of a magic system? That was the question I faced in developing The Machinery Trilogy. Without giving too much away, memories sit at the heart of the magic in the novels: they live forever, and are imbued with the power of an ancient god. Memories hold a number of interesting possibilities for a magic system. For a start, they are fascinating in their trickiness. I am often surprised to find that something I was sure occurred in one place actually took place in another, or in a different year than I expected, for example. Sometimes it seems that two or more memories have somehow mixed together, like paints on a palette. This presents interesting possibilities for a magic system, where each memory holds its own power, and can be combined with the power of another memory – in just the same way that real memories become tangled up over time. There is also the question of potency. It is undoubtedly true that certain memories hold a power over us, for whatever reason, good or bad. This provides a solid basis for a magic system, with some memories being particularly prized for their power. Memories are one of the major themes of the series, beyond their function in the magic system. I also wanted to consider the characters’ relationships with their own narratives of the past, and the question of how reliable these narratives are. As memories live forever in this world, it is possible for characters to walk through them again. But if we could revisit a memory as it actually occurred, would it look the same to us as it does in our mind’s eye? Would we be surprised by how it appears – would we trust what we see? The existence of an endless pool of memories raises a number of other questions. The society we are presented with is roughly Early Modern in its development. However, there are signs that other, older civilisations were more advanced than the current version. If we could access the memories of the people who lived in these older times, would it not also be possible to learn their secrets? The role of more ‘ordinary’, non-magic memories is also a major theme of the trilogy. The books are centred on a 10,000-year-old state whose leaders are chosen by a machine. However, throughout this long history, and despite the success the Machinery has brought them, the people are haunted by an ancient prophecy, which states that in the 10,000th year, the Machinery will break, selecting a ruler who will bring a terrible ruin to the world. There has been a long struggle throughout history between those who question the effectiveness of the Machinery – called ‘Doubters’ – and the forces of the state. In this way, an ancient memory is ever-present in the lives of the people: the historical memory of a dreaded prophecy, which has only gained potency as the years have gone by. The longevity of the nation creates its own questions surrounding memory – how can we be sure that the early events occurred as laid out in history? Who controls the memories of the past?...

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The Anatomy of Truth by Nancy K. Wallace

Posted by on Sep 4, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

The Anatomy of Truth by Nancy K. Wallace

From the very beginning, The Wolves of Llisé has been about truth. On my website, www.amongwolves.net there is a quotation by Mark Twain that I love: “The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” It’s an old refrain but most would agree that history is written by the victors; the losers receive much less press coverage, even in America. In Llisé, the Archives in Coreé contain the official written version of history and, yet, another version exists, no less precise and carefully guarded, in the form of the oral Provincial Chronicles. The differences between the two are blatant. The Archives intentionally cover up decades of cruelty and hate. They consistently present the provincial people as the enemy and the government as the beleaguered guardians of the empire. It’s odd isn’t it that here in the 21st century, we find ourselves wrestling with the same issues that haunt the history of Llisé? Conspiracies, deception, and lies fill the evening news. History is being written and rewritten and for most people the truth is a well-hidden, carefully guarded secret. Where can any of us go to find the truth and, once we find it, what should we do to protect its fragility? As a librarian I find myself constantly questioning the reliability of sources. I ask patrons, “Where did you read about this?” when they want additional information on a subject they may have heard about on social media. I believe that ours is not so much the age of “information” but the age of “misinformation.” Rumors are rampant and when anyone can have a website touting his or her opinion, searching for the truth can be daunting. During the recent eclipse, CBS ran special slides of “Solar Eclipse Myths.” One reported that a battle between the Lydians and the Medes in 585BC came to a halt because of a solar eclipse. The combatants were so awed that they called a truce. Considering this battle happened 2,500 years ago, how do we separate myth from the truth? Using Google, I found three reliable websites (The History Channel, NPR, and the University of Hawaii, reprinting research from the University of California, Berkley) which agreed that a truce did occur during a solar eclipse. There were slight discrepancies in the date but the main event remained the same. The information is based on what was recorded by Herodotus, a Greek historian, and what astronomers today can piece together about celestial events. Three reliable sources are generally considered enough to substantiate factual information. Can we apply the same technique to current events? Or are facts buried so quickly and so deftly that we are left clueless as to who is speaking the truth and who isn’t? If you look back at the preceding paragraph, the information for all three sites came to us from what is called a “primary source.” While Herodotus was not alive at the time of the aforementioned battle, he wrote about it, basing his opinion on the observations of those who witnessed the event. Most of us aren’t good eyewitnesses. We are usually so frightened, awed, or angry that we don’t remember all the details when something big happens. But when enough eyewitnesses are interviewed, a pattern emerges, the basic facts are presented, and the story becomes...

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Marina J. Lostetter – Alternate Yous

Posted by on Aug 7, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Marina J. Lostetter – Alternate Yous

Clones have long held a fascination for storytellers.  Before cloning was a scientific reality, there were many myths and fables about evil twins, doppelgängers, and the creation of humans “from scratch.” Copies, supernatural reflections, and Frankenstein’s monster all come from the same long-standing questions and fears: what makes us ‘us’?  And can that be taken away? A clone is a genetic twin of the source.  But what does that mean? Twins do not have exactly the same experiences, and thus do not share the same memories.  They are unquestionably individuals, with their own wants and needs and desires.  We’ve all encountered stories of clones created through replicators, where a person is copied right down to their current memories and the clothes on their back–but this type of clone is very different from both the ones I’ve created in Noumenon, and those created by modern science.  Dolly the sheep was not a carbon copy of its parent.  Using an adult’s DNA to create a baby does not mean you end up with a person who thinks and acts exactly like their original once they’ve grown. In Noumenon, I explore the concept of clones as a ‘fix.’  Early in the novel, clones are thought to be the best way to ensure an interstellar convoy’s success.  The mission planners believe if they take genetic information from well-vetted sources that it will give them more control over the many variables that could shift in the mission over the centuries. But does it offer more control?  Would populating generation ships with genetically identical crews over and over actually create stability? Our experiences are part of who we are, and an Earth-based mission-control cannot regulate every incident aboard such a convoy. It’s the classic nature vs. nurture argument: do our genes make us who we are, or do our experiences? This is a fundamentally silly question, of course.  There’s nothing ‘versus’ about nature and nurture.  The two things are both undeniably components of our personage.  So, then the question becomes, which one is more influential?  Which one is more ‘us’? But, why do we care so much?  Why have stories focused on this concept for so many centuries?  What, exactly, are we getting at when we delve into the influence of genetics and environment?  Why are we so fixated on which is ‘more important’? There’s the simple scientific curiosity of it all, of course.  Humans like to know how things work, if only for the sake of knowing.  An interest in the origins of behavior drives a good chunk of the questions. And some people explore the topic as introspection, a way to be more self-aware; If I know how I work, then I might better understand why I work, in a sense. But what’s most interesting–and simultaneously frightening–is where these questions put us socially speaking. Nature vs. nurture as a question is stuffed full of biases, especially when value judgments about certain behaviors and genetic traits come into play. We can most starkly see the dangers and limits of the question when confronted by people who look to nature vs. nurture to advance their world-view, as with those who push genocidal concepts like eugenics and racial supremacy. As much as those individuals would like to argue one aspect scientifically has more bearing than the...

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Peter V Brett – The Core Tour

Posted by on Aug 1, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Peter V Brett – The Core Tour

Please click on the links below to buy tickets:   All Waterstones events   Forbidden Planet, London   Blackwell’s, Edinburgh  ...

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