Thursday, 29 April 2010

Chapter One

The very nice people at Puffin (my publishers here in the sunny UK) have released the first chapter of Dark Goddess, for your entertainment and delectation.
You'll find it here.
The opening is set three months after the events in Devil's Kiss, and Billi's deep into the Templar way.
Devil's Kiss was all about her trying to get out of the Templars, and the consequences of her indecision haunts her. She feels if she'd been more dedicated, she wouldn't have failed Kay the way she did.
So, this is a more focused, more ruthless Billi SanGreal. She is becoming her father's daughter, a knight who will stop at nothing to get the job done. The Unholy are to be destroyed and anyone caught up in the Templars' holy war, the Bataille Tenebreuse, well, they're colateral damage.
Chapter One links with events that were hinted at in Devil's Kiss, chiefly the werewolf attacks that Pelleas and some of the other knights were sent to stop. We pick up the action as the Templars close in on their lycanthropic prey.
For those of you who've asked, Dark Goddess is pretty intense and Billi's world is a very morally grey one. There are no clear good guys and bad guys. Billi's doesn't have days off to kick back and take in a movie, she's become a fanatic and the story touches on what happens to people that become too single-minded in their own agenda. There's horror, heartache and hard, hard decisions ahead for Miss SanGreal.
The story's about the Beast Within, our capacity for inhumanity.
It's not just the werewolves who are the monsters.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Sweden. It's so hot right now.

All of a sudden I seem to be reading nothing but Swedish books.
OMG, where has this country been all my life?*
Maybe it's the long, bleak (but beautiful) winters. The pine forests. I don't know, but suddenly I'm adicted to their flms and books.
First we had John Ajvide Lindqvist showing us what a REAL vampire story should be like- tragic and terrifying- with Let the Right One In.
Then Jan Guillou writing his Templar trilogy and giving us old school Templars and a taste of exactly how hard the old knights were. Which was very.
I'm half-way through reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Saw the film last night. It's a brutal thriller and got me wondering about Lisbeth, the femal protagonist. She's a deeply emotional disturbed young woman and bad things happen to her. She suffers but doesn't allow herself to be a victim. In fact, she becomes Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance. And she gets her revenge.
The story's an elaborate thriller and a horrific one. The monsters are truly monstrous and the evil is very real.
It's the first film in a while that's got really under my skin and if you get the chance, see it.
*I know, next to Finland. Ha ha.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Ever wanted to be a princess? I know I have.

I belong to the Greenhouse Literary Agency. It's a bit like being back at school. Remember all those anxieties about not being cool, or popular, not too bright or sporty or having the wrong shoes and fearing you'll never, ever get to first base with anyone when the rest of the school's population were running victory laps around the park?
Being a writer is a LOT like that, all over again.
The agency is like the class. There are some who are cool. Others who are bright. Athletic. Popular. Not so bright. Spotty. Will get their lunch money stolen at the school gates by the teachers.
So, where is this leading, you may wonder?
To Lindsey Leavitt.
If Harriet is the clever one, John is the one chained up at the back of the class and I'm the one without any lunch money, well Lindsey is the popular one. The glamorous one. The one every one can't help but want to hang out with.
She also saved me from prison, did you know that? TOTALLY TRUE!*
I feel pretty warm inside being able to tell people I know her, really, I do. And to prove it she's kindly - as well as saving me from a decade of solitray confinement and communal showers with large, hairy men - answered a few questions about her book, Princess For Hire.
Princess for Hire is about Desi, a young girl who dreams of a better life, then gets it. And nothing goes to plan.
She becomes a princess, for hire. Filling in for real royalty when the going gets too tough for them. It includes alien encounters, ritual mating dances in the Amazon, political upheaval and magic compacts.
All the ingredients for a thrilling boys' own adventure!
It is utterly hysterical. Read it. It'll make you a better human being.
But enough about the book, what about Lins? I sent her a choice range of questions, none of that 'why did you want to be a writer' or 'who are your inspirations' stuff, but the real nitty-gritty.

Sarwat: Pop quiz: You’re on a lifeboat and there’s just enough room (beside yourself and your Louis Vuitton monogrammed luggage) to save one person from the freezing sea out of: Christian Bale, Daniel Craig, or Taylor Lautner in a sort of survival of the abdominals type of thing. Who and why?
Lindsey: Oh, there are some land mines in this question. I know who you want me to say. I think we ALL know who you want me to say, Sarwat. But I'm going to have to (pardon the expression) jump ship on this one and go with... Taylor Lautner.
DON'T HATE ME. He is younger, argo his abs have longer to live. To thrive. And oh, how they thrive. Furthermore, CB likes to throw himself (ha ha) into his roles. Imagine the critical acclaim he'll achieve for a believable drowning. Will totally erase that terminator thing. (Oh snap. I just mentioned The Terminator Thing. Sarwat, are we still friends? Sarwat? You there?)

Sarwat says nothing but goes to his homemade shrine to Christian Bale and prays for Lindsey's soul.

Sarwat (having now recovered from the shock of anyone picking anybody over CB): Glamour. Tiaras. Pink. Audrey Hepburn. Hannibal Lecter. Which is the odd one out?
Lindsey: Audrey. The rest are things that consume you.

Sarwat: Given all the trouble you went through to rid yourselves of England and its royal family, any regrets, now you’re a republic?
Lindsey: Well, I think we can all agree that our accents are plain lame. And it's stupid that we've dropped all these letters as a way to establish this borrowed language as our own (honor? WE TOOK THE YOU OUT OF HONOUR). But had we stayed, we'd probably still be eating blood pudding, and I for one much prefer the preservative, sodium, fat-riddled food of the ol' U S of A.

S: While on the subject of royal families, any truth behind the rumours regarding you and Prince Harry?
L: How did you know I prefer Harry? I love when his face breaks into a smile. That fiery hair. His warmth. His... Wait. No comment.

S: Catwoman. Dorothy Gale. Desi. The Bride of Frankenstein. These are all major literary feminist icons. How does it feel to have your creation up there amongst them? Any inspirations you’d like to share?
L: I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this compliment. I'm honoUred. To truly delve into Desi's psyche, I spent years studying feminist theory, paying particular attention to Margaret Mead's findings on cultural traditions in the south pacific. That, or I read my thirteen-year-old journal a bunch. One or the other.

S: You bump into Steven Spielberg at the checkout. How’d you pitch P4H? You’re allowed props, but they must be readily available at your local supermarket.
L: P4H is about a girl (point to self) who gets a job (point to cashier) working as a substitute princess (point to tabloid featuring Prince Harry and his scandals with beautiful, young author Lindsey Leavitt). Sorry, I'm not even good at charades. Throw in props and it'd be a total fail. Steve would likely suffer a concussion via pineapple.

Buy Princess for Hire. You''ll thank me later.

*Okay, not completely true, but very true-ish.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Volcanoes. Not good.

As anyone in the Northern hemisphere is no doubt aware (especially those trying to get flights to Europe), we've got some volcano action coming out of Iceland, specifically from the volcano at Eyjafjallajokull.
Flights are cancelled. We're having some very pretty sunsets. Basically that's about it.
But it could get so much worse.
A few months ago I did a school visit and talked about Dark Goddess. Now I know I'm meant to be writing horror, but it was the first time the audience were really stunned into a fearful silence.
Vampires, werewolves, ghosts and ghouls are scary, until you turn the lights on. Deep, deep down, you suspend the disbelief and enjoy the thrill of beings scared, but you know it's not for real. Those monsters stay firmly locked in the cupboard or hidden under the bed.
But, when you look about what happens out there, in the wide world, you realise how close we've come, as a species, to buying it big time.
As Billi Paxton once so wisely reported "Game over, man!"
Near extinction events.
When I started research into Dark Goddess I knew Baba Yaga would represent Mother Nature, the deadly side of Mother Nature. She would be hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves, all those bad things that happen and we can do nothing about. No matter what we do. Stronger buildings. Early warning systems. Deep bunkers. But there is one truth that cannot be avoided.
Nature ALWAYS wins.
The recent eruption has caused more that significant disruption, but seriously, it's small scale. We've had bigger and far far worse. And we will again.
Baba Yaga's sickened by the pollution and destruction humanity has wrought over the planet. Species decimated and made extinct. The air and the earth we depend on, polluted and ravaged. Someone, something, must stand up for the species that have suffered under humanity's rise. And that's pretty much every species under the sun.
What have we done to make the world a better place for anything but ourselves? Or even ourselves?
If we can't fix it, maybe it's time to wipe the slate clean and start over.
That's what Baba Yaga thinks and ask yourself, is she wrong?
That's where volcanoes come in. I needed something that would be a sort of global 'ground zero' for life. Annihilation for most of life, just allowing enough to survive, more manageable numbers, to start over. But all we know would end.
And guess what?
It may well happen.
That's what froze the audience in the school. How perilous our existence is. Every single day.
Supervolcanoes, maybe you've heard of them? The last one, Toga, went a few years ago, 74,000 years ago to be exact, an eyeblink in geological timescales. It wiped out 90% of the human population. 90%. We're only here because a handful of people survived. When I mean handful, I mean not enough to fill a football stadium. So few that, given the odds, it's a miracle that we made it at all. If a few more had caught a cold, or the flu, it really would have been game over.
Now, that was the last major explosion, but we've got a very active supervolcano busy bubbling away in Yellowstone. The entire park is a volcano. So big you can only really see it from space.
It explodes every 600,000 years, give or take. the last eruption was 640,000 so you know what that means? It's overdue.
Dark Goddess is the wrath of nature. It's what can, will happen. Some of it is our - humanity's - fault, some of it isn't. Baba Yaga is the vengeful spirit of the Earth Mother, and she's got every reason to feel very pissed with humanity.
Nature always wins.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

TV Appearances

One of the most unlikely events in my career so far was my one and only TV appearance. This was all part of the US tour last year and I've only just dug it up.

Prior to this I'd been warned by a friend who does some tv stuff the following rules:

1. Get some powder on the bald patch. Studio lights can be bright and we don't want to blind the audience.

2. Keep your head still.

3. Ditto with the arms. No matter how small it may seem to you, the gestures are magnified and we don't want hitting the cameraman or looking like a monkey on acid.

I can safely say all the above suggestions went straight out the window the moment I sat down on the couch. Then, on reviewing what I'd considered an Oscar worthy performance, I noticed a few other things, much to my dismay:

1. The double-chin thing. I'm booking my appointment at Dr.Nip/Tuck. What exercise won't cure and diet won't mend, you always have the scalpel.

2. Wig. Is there anyway I could transplant some of that luxuriant chest hair on my head? It seems such a waste, and a cruel irony. That or I start combing the hair from my ears acrossways.

3. Black. It's slimming, but not slimming enough. What I need is Black Hole black.

4. Sunglasses. The wide-eyed 'Where am I? Who am I? What country is this?' look just isn't good for marketing. No wonder I got stopped by homeland security.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Why 'SanGreal'?

Given that Devil's Kiss and Dark Goddess are both set in the modern world one of the questions I'm asked pretty frequently (apart from 'what car do you drive'?) is why all the Arthurian names and the SanGreal references?

Well, here's my answer.

1. I wanted the story to have a mythic, legendary atmosphere, even if it was
set in 'today's world'. For this reason (and others) I wanted the Templars
to have unusual names, hence they're all named after the King Arthur and teh
Knights of the Round Table. What I like is the conceit, in my world you can
have someone called Arthur SanGreal (or Gwaine, or Balin) and no-one
notices. It's all part of building a slightly 'heigthened state'. SanGreal
is taken from Holy Grail which is one of the main Templar myths, so
particularly suited. You know you're in the story and the story is taking
you to a different place. For the same reason the weather in most stories
and the location are actual mood enhances. Ever wondered why it's always
raining and overcast in funerals? That's why. It's also why no-one realises
Clark Kent is Superman, the glasses is a sort of shorthand to suspension of
2. Billi's French background gives her and her father and additional 'alien'
quality. The SanGreals have been warriors for a long, long time. They fought
for Napoleon and this is something I might develop one day, the earlier
3. Plus it's cool.

Hope that makes sense.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Knights Templar- Mordred

For those who've read Devil's Kiss you will know that the Order's ranks were somewhat diminished by the end of the book. So, Dark Goddess brings in a few new faces and the first is the new squire, Mordred.
All my knights (with the exception of Billi) are named after the Knights of the Round Table. There is a reason for this which I may explain at some point but be warned, it's not particularly big and it's not particularly clever and certainly not going to change your life in even the smallest way.
Mordred in Dark Goddess is the new squire. He's an illegal immigrant the Templars literally picked up off the streets. He's young, Ethiopian in orgin, and has just completed his ordeal, with Billi as back up. You know I mentioned those short stories I've got lurking in the desk drawer, this is one of them.
Making Mordred Ethiopian wasn't just on a whim. There are very strong connections between Ethiopia's mythic past and King Solomon, and hence the Templars. The Queen of Sheba was said to have originated from there and her son by Solomon was king. And get this, the Queen of Sheba's name was Bilqis.
The Ethiopian connection is something I hope to explore in the future, and Mordred gives me (and the Templars) a very useful link into that civilization. I don't need to remind you that the Ark of the Covenant is said to be buried there, do I? Good, just checking.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

There is a WINNA!!

Following the competition back in January I was lucky to have a wide range of recommendations of 'books I should get into'. There were a lot of votes for Shiver, a few for Sookie Stackhouse, Terry Pratchett and some well off the radar like Einstien's Dreams.
But I've picked this, The Changeover by Mahy, as recommended by Rose.
Congrats, Rose!
I'll be posting you the signed front cover of Dark Goddess in the next week or so, just drop me you address via the Contact Me bit on my website.
Meanwhile, I have a few recommendations of my own.
1. The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan. I must admit I've not been a fan of Shan until now. The book's got a great Arabian nights flavour but it's subject matter is pretty serious, the nature of belief. It follows the trials of a mis-fit son as he goes on a quest to gain supernatural power, and instead gains enlightenment. It's like Pilgrim's Progress but with decapitations.
2. Mortlock by Jon Mayhew. I've chatted about this one already but so good I'll chat about it again. If you love Victorian Gothic, Phillip Pullman and tales macabre and gruesome, this is the one for you. Jon is destined to be BIG. My signed copy of his book will be on eBay soon. I'll need to pay off that mortgage somehow.
3. Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve (aka God). The latest book in the utterly awesome Mortal Engines series has just come out (I'm collecting it form my local bookshop later) and I defy anyone who has read the first series to read Chapter 32 and not feel the most terrible chill run down their spine. It's all in the last sentence.