Monday, 19 December 2011

Predictions for 2012. The return of the Alpha Male.

There's always a reason for Daniel in those blue trunks. So, that's 2011 more or less wrapped up. Phew! What a year, eh? Revolutions throughout the arab world with dictators toppling like dominoes, the EU of the verge of meltdown, the royal wedding, the UK in riot mode and Minx winning X-Factor.

Where will it all end?

No idea, but I know I'll be spending a lot of it in the company of alpha males. And so will you.

After years of the metrosexual, of the 'new-age caring sharing happy to change nappies and cries at girly-flicks' type of man-boy, I smell testosterone in the air. Times, they are a-changin'.

Of course, we'll always have Bond, the very paragon of alpha-ness, but look at Driver. Ryan Gosling is rapidly becoming a fan-girl fav, but why? He's an alpha. Hardly speaks, certainly doesn't share his emotions, handy with his hands and ruthlessly brutal, and a loner. These are not qualifications for a long term relationship!

But, my oh my, we do love him. Pwerhaps in a confusing world we all hanker for someone to come along and 'sort s**t out' with his bare hands. Simple and direct. Perhaps we're weary of negotiating, trying to do the right thing, taking charge for our own destinies.

For me, the defining alpha moment was watching the opening scene of Dr. No, when Sean Connery says the immortal 'Bond...James Bond' with an almost sneer as he lights up. Now, Sean was 28 at that time but frankly, so manly he was prehistoric. It was as if billions of years of what it is to be a man had been purified down to that defining moment, that casino and those words. Come on, you still get a little thrill when he does it, don't you?

What defines an alpha male? On the most simple level, who would you like on your side in a fight? That's the ultimate role of the alpha, to protect the group, society, pack. He accepts his role as a warrior and has no real qualms about it. He doesn't do angst.

Sex appeal. His mere presence make the other males cower and the females blush. Again, this is his function, to have many strong sons to further protect the group down the generations. Chaste he is not.

A certain elequence. He says what he means and means what he says.

He is the ultimate male-wish fulfillment fantasy, as simple as that. Since the moment one big hairy ape with good hair swung down and thwacked the tiger on the head and saved the female ape in distress and the other male apes sat around thinking 'I wish I'd been ape enough to do that'. Always was, always will be. So, my list of alpha males for 2012:

1. Daniel Craig. The new Bond movie. 'Nuff said. They say it often, but they mean it here, the best Bond since Connery. Please oh please let the next movie be like Casino Royale and not Quantum of Solace.

2. Sean Bean. Ned Stark. I know it came out this year but I still haven't seen it and this is my blog. Sean's been great for years and years and years and age has only man him more so.

3. Jon Hamm. The new series of Mad Men. Certainly at the front of the queue when God handed out 'ridiculously good-lookin''.

4. Christian Bale. He will lead the superhero brigade which is frankly gigantic in the year of Avengers. Honourable mentions to Robert Downey Junior, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth.

5. Karl Urban as Judge Dredd. Karl is usually the best thing in whatever he does (Priest, anyone?) and he won't be taking off the helmet. Respect to the Law!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

This blog is NOT about religion. It's about Marmite. Honestly.

Alas, I couldn't find an image of a bottle of Marmite ANYWHERE, so, completely BY RANDOM, I found this action-packed image by one of my favourite comic heroes, Frank Miller. I've NO IDEA what it is about, but I'm sure it's an intelligent, thoughtful and non-bigotted and even-handed debate about the so-called 'clash of civilization' we've been hearing so much about since, oh, September 2001.
But I'm here today to talk about Marmite. For those of you who don't know what it is, I can't be bothered to explain it to you, because explaining and understanding takes too long and is hard, but all you need to know is it's VILE and I HATE it.
Okay, if you must know, its a vegetable yeast extract. Vegetarians love it. Now I'm not prejudiced against vegetarians, and some of my best friends are vegetarians, but, I just want to say do you know who else was a vegetarian?
Adolf Hitler.
Just sayin'.
But this is not a rant about vegetarians, it's a rant about Marmite.
But millions of people in the world love Marmite. They have it as their favourite thing EVAH. They have it in the morning, the moment they get up. They snack on it during the day and even at night. My gosh, like FIVE times a day, easy. You kind of wonder what else they can be doing with their lives, wasting so much of it on Marmite.
I don't know who invented it, maybe some guy out in the middle of the desert because that's where all the crazy ideas come from, don't you agree? Anyway, it gets invented. I bet even his wife thought it a bit odd, but she came on board and soon there were a handful of other Marmaite lovers.
Now, can you believe it, it's GLOBAL.
How can so many people be so INSANE? Marmite is disgusting! It's been banned in some countries, but that just drives it underground (I myslef, so my shame, have smuggled in pots for friends abroad who've been converted to the stuff, but because I love them, I do it). Governments are waking up to the evil of Marmite, but I don't think it's a war that can ever be one. If only there was a way of recognising Marmite lovers, then it might be easier. You know, we could get them to wear special badges, or round them up and get them to live in certain areas so we could keep an eye on them and make sure they don't spread their vile Marmite love. Surely we have a duty to protect our children from Marmite?
I say this as a concerned parent who, sadly, has lost his own two young ones to Marmite. I married a Marmite lover. I admit it. I thought she would keep her Marmite love to herself, but she INDOCTRINATED them into loving Marmite when they were very small and impressionable. How evil is that, feeding Marmite to defenceless babies! Now, it's too late. But, it made me realise, that Marmite lovers aren't that different from me, afterall. I know my kids, they're just like everyone elses kids (though by far more talented and pretty and all that and they sure tidy their rooms in the morning. Not.).
It's made me realise that I shouldn't fear Marmite. It's out there. It appeals to millions. Some good, some bad. It's certianly not to everyone's taste, but then what is?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Well, that was an adventure!

Just back from a trip to Pakistan, the ancient family homeland, and had a jolly fine time. It's amazing the bargains you can find in the local bazaars near the Afghan border.

It's been a long, long time since I was last there, 24 years in fact. It was an emotional trip in more ways than one.

Firstly, catching up with a vastly extended family. I met cousins who, back in 1987, where newly married with babes in their arms. Now, those babies have their own babes in their arms. Time has marked on and when I was the teen youngest, now I'm the aged uncle. A generation has come and gone and it stared me starkly as I saw once vigourous men now old, and how their sons had become their fathers.

Pakistan is both terribly ancient and terribly new. As a country, it's just over 50 years old, but as a culture, it's one of the oldest in the world.

As some of you may know, Ash Mistry is based, inspired by, the great ancient Harappan civilization. This existed over 5,000 years ago, and the city of Harappa is in Pakistan itself. I visited the site and will report on that seperately. But there's something profoundly moving about walking streets that were teeming with people and had merchants and products from all over the civilized world of Mesopotamia and Sumer and Old Kingdom Eygpt when Rome didn't even exist and the Trojan War hadn't yet been fought. We're talking about way way back, back when myth and history were one of the same.
Then, there is the current Pakistan, with all the bad press attached. It's (sort of) the basis on my new project. I've my hands full with Ash Mistry but think it's high time I wrote something straight, adult and historical. No magic, no vampires, but lots of intense action and my version of the game of thrones, back when Britain was playing it in the Indian Subcontinent. It forged the modern world, for better or worse, and much (but certainly not all) of the trouble we have over there now is merely a modern replay of the trouble we've always had over there. If more politicans were historians instead of lawyers, we might not be in the shambles were are right now. Lets put it this way, even Alexander the Great couldn't get out of Afghanistan quickly enough.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

News on the Devil's Kiss tv series

I often wonder if there is only a certain amount of luck in the world. I do believe there are different types of luck. One type is the old 'the more I practice the luckier I get' type, which is the only luck you can control. Then there's the 'OMG, look, someone's dropped a walletful of CASH. Dinner's on me!' which is the right place at the right time sort of luck. Then there's 'the stars aligning, the sheer forces of the cosmos coming to your aid ably assisted by quite a few battalions of archangels' type of luck. Basically the sort of luck which, in an ordered universe, really shouldn't be allowed.
So, it was in that order of things I received this email yesterday.

Gaumont embraces Devil's Kiss

Gaumont International Television (GIT), the new Los Angeles-based scripted TV arm of the French movie studio, has teamed up with The Walking Dead's exec producer Gale Anne Hurd for its latest project.
GIT, which launched in September under former NBC Entertainment executive VP of drama programming Katie O'Connell, has acquired rights to Devil's Kiss, a series of young adult novels by Sarwat Chadda from the UK.
Hurd will exec-produce a miniseries based on the books, together with Stephen Gallagher (The Eleventh Hour), who will pen the adaptation.
Devil's Kiss tells the story of a modern teenage girl raised by her father to become a member of an ancient order of knights, drawing on the mythology of the Knights Templar and the Crusades. Beatrice Springborn, who joined Hurd's Valhalla Entertainment as executive VP of production and development last year, picked up the project. The books and TV series will appeal to fans of Twilight and True Blood, according to GIT CEO O'Connell.
"We wanted to work with the incredible Gale Ann Hurd and were so happy that she presented us this novel. We read it and fell in love with the story's scope and emotional resonance," said O'Connell. "I had worked with Stephen Gallagher in the past and he had such a fresh and wonderful take on how to transition this to a television show."
GIT, which brought former Power executive Erik Pack onboard to head international sales and coproductions, will be pitching Devil's Kiss to broadcasters in the UK in the coming weeks.
Hurd (Terminator, Aliens), who is also currently developing a series based on the novels of former UK MP Jeffrey Archer - as reported by C21 recently - said of her latest project: "I couldn't be more excited to work with the Gaumont team on Devil's Kiss. We share the same vision for Sarwat Chadda's books. Bili, the central character, is a unique heroine, and her epic adventures make her ideal for a television series."
Devil's Kiss will be the third project that GIT has put into development after announcing its arrival on the scene ahead of Mipcom, where it debuted Hannibal, a one-hour drama based on Thomas Harris's Dr Hannibal Lector novels, which was picked up by NBC earlier this months.
Also in the works at GIT is Madame Tussaud, a six-hour miniseries about the famous artist and business woman who survived the French Revolution. Michael Hirst (The Tudors) will executive-produce with Alan Gasmer and Sherry Marsh.

I mean, HOLEY MOLEY, right? It's still got a few hurdles (and big ones) to jump before we have Billi on the screen but, sheesh, I never, ever thought it would get this far. Remember, I thought we'd be lucky to be able to buy a new carpet with my first book deal (which we did too, very nice, from John Lewis but, blimey, it was a chore and a half to get it fitted).
So, there are MANY people who have moved heaven and earth to get the celestial bodies in the right place to make this happen. I mean Sarah Davies (of course), Jerry Kalajian, Gale Anne Hurd (big fan-boy moment when I met her!), Beatrice Springborn and the GIT crew. You're all invited around mine for Christmas lunch. We're having the traditional Murgh Mussallam.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Guest review from my mate Cameron!

Dune. Arrakis. Desert world. Either these terms will rock your very existence or you're sitting there going 'was that the movie with Sting is silver-winged underpants?'
Well, yes it was.

I'm one of those who wished he knew the weirding way, that his eyes were blue in blue and, god-damnit, wanted to be a Fremen.

But... some time ago I got into a twitter chat with LdySkyfire and recommended she read Dune, and watch the movie. The review below is teh result. Just for fun, folks!

Cameron’s Review of Dune by Frank Herbert
From the Blog Whatthecatread.wordpress.com

Book description by Goodreads

This Hugo & Nebula Award winner tells a sweeping tale of the desert planet Arrakis, the focus of an intricate power struggle in a byzantine interstellar empire. Arrakis is the sole source of Melange, "spice of spices". Melange is necessary for interstellar travel & grants psi powers & longevity. Whoever controls it wields great influence. Troubles begin when stewardship of Arrakis is transferred by the Emperor from the Harkonnen Noble House to House Atreides. The Harkonnens don't want to give up their privilege. Thru sabotage & treachery they cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet's harsh environment to die. There he joins the Fremen, a desert dwelling tribe, the basis of the army with which he reclaims what's rightfully his. Paul is more than just a usurped duke. He might be the end product of a long-term genetic experiment to breed a superhuman. He might be a messiah. His struggle is at the center of a nexus of powerful people & events. Repercussions will be felt throughout the Imperium.

Review

I will be honest; I’ve known about this book’s existence for years, but never had any interest in reading it. In fact, I have gone out of my way not to read it because I’m generally not a big fan of straight science fiction. However, when author Sarwat Chadda told me in a tongue in cheek way to read this book else our friendship would be in jeopardy, I decided to give it a try. Generally when I get a challenge like that, I follow through on it.

So what were my thoughts on this book upon finishing it? Well it was an interesting read. While I liked various parts of it, other parts were just boring. And yes, perhaps my dislike of straight science fiction clouded my feelings and made it impossible to read with an unbiased eye, but in the long run, the book just simply didn’t do much for me.

The ideas behind the Bene Gesserit teachings and the Fremen way of life I found immensely intriguing. The Litany against Fear especially caught my eye and left me thinking. In truth it was the thoughtful, intellectual moments in the book that were the most enjoyable for me. Herbert poses some truly deep philosophical ideas within this novel and those ideas held my interest far more than the actual plot of the story. Try as I might, I just didn’t care what happened to the characters or the power struggle between political houses. And once Paul became the “messiah”, I lost what little respect I felt towards him.

At the same time, I struggled with Herbert’s writing style. To me it was dry and extremely confusing. The general pacing of events took far to long and often times I found myself wanting to scream, “Get on with it already!” Not that that would have done much good. In fact, by the time I finished with the story itself, I chose to completely skip the appendices and glossary. Plus, the inner monologues just killed me. Almost all of Herbert’s characters engage in inner contemplation to the point where it was overkill.

Yes, Herbert created a world that truly was unique, however the actual story just didn’t work for me. I’ve heard that it has been compared to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d go with Tolkien long before I’d ever choose Herbert.

Cameron’s Review of Dune (1984 Movie) directed by David Lynch
From the Blog Whatthecatread.wordpress.com

Thank heaven’s I listened to the folks who told me to read the book before I watched this movie. Had I gone the other way around, I fear I would have been completely lost. Never in my life have I seen a movie more disjointed in its telling then this one. It felt like there were no transitions between major events, and the few transitions that were there were flat and poorly explained.

The use of the inner monologues, which run throughout the novel, were poorly dubbed and did little to enhance the plot. And the portrayal of the Harkonnen Baron was disturbing to say the least. In truth, the first time he appears in the movie, I had to fight the overwhelming desire to turn the TV off. True, the actual character in the book is not entirely mentally stable, but to physically see that instability depicted in a movie is just beyond creepy. At least with Sting’s character it was more a matter of physical appearance then actions. Sting has a truly wonderful psychotic facial expression through the movie.

For a movie that was produced in 1984, the special effects were well done. Nowadays most folks would consider the quality of the effects cheesy, but the depiction of the shield-filters worked well with what I had envisioned them to look like when I read the book. I will admit that the space creature who was responsible for folding time and space made absolutely no sense to me. I couldn’t figure out what it was suppose to be and at this point, I don’t think I want anyone to try and explain it because it will more than likely just make my brain hurt.

The best bit of casting, besides Sting as the deranged Feyd-Rautha, was Patrick Stewart as Gurney. I only wish there had been more of him as I really liked his portrayal of the character.

So, if you are considering watching this movie but don’t know anything about Dune in general, I will offer the same advice that folks gave me, read the book first. Trust me, it will make more sense in the long run if you do.



Friday, 7 October 2011

Sorry for the break in service!



Okay, have to be brief today, I've got to cook supper for the kids. What to tell you?

1. Working on FINAL edits of Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress. Gosh, this has been a saga and a half.

2. The website's going to have a MAJOR revamp in the new year. Gothic is out, Indian is in. As part of the revamp there'll be a new gallery with portraits (by me!) of all the main characters in the Billi and Ash books. Here's the first work in progress, Billi herself. It's been a long time since I dusted off the old ink brushes but it makes a pleasant change to writing, I think it's the old left side v. right side brain function balancing itself out.

More later! Bye!!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rakshasas, not your average demon

Vampires. Yeah, been there, done that bought the teeshirt. Werewolves. Stock up on the silver bullets and they're TOAST. Fairies? Big problems with iron (kind of a bummer when the world's built of it). Zombies? Run fast and have a chainsaw handy.

The problem is that with most of the big bads we just know too much about them. Sure, they are scary but now come in easy to manage packages. With instruction manuals.

The fundamental attribute of any monster must be its unknown quantity. Think about the first ever Alien. Just one monster, creeping around the dark and scaring the bejeesus out of everyone. JUST ONE.

When a bad-guy is BADASS, you don't need more than one of them.

That's why I'm so excited about the new series, I'll bring you a new level of fear. The demons out of Indian mythology don't fit in boxes. They take many forms. Some haunt graveyards, others search the battlefields at night, feeding on teh dead, others are heroes in their own right and some, a few, challenge the gods. The Indian mythology doesn't play by Western ideas of good and evil. Look at Kali, the goddess of killers and the most bloodthirsty being in all creation whose dance of frenzy almost destroyed the universe. BUT she's the greatest defence we have against the forces of darkness because she's BADDER than the rest.

The same applies to rakshasas. By bringing in a 'new' mythos I can scrap all the things we know and love but (lets face it) have become blase. Can you honestly say that you don't roll your eyes a little when you see another vampire book? Be honest. Thought so.

The unknown. It's the source of all our fears. Lets have it back, shall we?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

FIGHT!

Continuing the theme I've been developing over the last few months (the nature of bad-assness) I'd like to take this opportunity to educate you on what are the GREATEST FIGHTS ever. We'll keep ourselves to those of the cinematic variety because, if you've ever been in a real fight you know that they're scrappy and relatively unartistic.
Lets see how badasses fight.

1. Achilles v Hector in Troy. Awesome movie and awesome fight. The whole movie comes down to this point and the rage Achilles has for the defender of Troy, Prince Hector. I know that snobs and purists complain that liberties were taken with the origianl text but, seriously, who wants the List of Ships on the screen? This was a battle between gods.

2. Bond v Red Grant in From Russia with Love. I think this was probably the first 'modern' fight scene. Cramped, desperate and brutal it had Bond fighting for his life like he never has before or since against a man who is in all ways his equal. Connery was the baddest of all Bonds and I defy anyone to disagree after watching this scene.

3. Martin Blank v. Hitman in corridor in Grosse Point Blank. Clearly inspired by our No.2 choice what's interesting is that the actor, John Cusack, is a notable martial artist and the guy he was fighting was a top kick-boxer (and, I think, John's tutor). Lots of fients, kicks, brawling and excellent proof that the pen is indeed mighter than the sword.

4. Bruce Lee v. the henchmen in Enter the Dragon. Unarmed, jo sticks. Bo stick and finally the iconic nunchakus. I don't care how much of a pacifist you are, even the Dalai Lama dreams of being Bruce Lee.

5. Superman v. General Zod and his cronies in Superman II. Hey, they throw a bus at him! I love this because it's supers fight as supers would; lots of flying, being hurled through buildings and THROWING BUSES.

6. Maximus taking on the gang of gladiators in Gladiator. Are you not entertained? We sure are.

7. Spiderman v. Doctor Octopus in Spiderman 2. Full 3D battlefield and the train duel was rather terrific. Again, supers taking to the other level.

8. The Bride and the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill Vol. 1. So over the top and utterly ridiculous you have to love it. What is it about katanas?

9. Tavern brawl in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That was the moment I fell in love with Zhang Ziyi.

10. Opening fight in The Brotherhood of the Wolf. The torrential rain, the mysterious men in long coats, the bad guys in dresses. Too cool and probably the most brilliant costume drama ever. And it had Monica Bellucci in it with not many clothes on.

Do check them out on YouTube.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Beards. Why men have them. Why men NEED them.

I've just finished Giles Kristian's RAVEN, a book that's got loads of Vikings in it. More Vikings that a festival of Vikings during the Viking month of Viking, in Vikingland. It's so Viking even the women have beards.
Now, Vikings liked beards. Plaits too and small bones knotted within them as they brawled and sought out glory and weak-kneed churchmen.

It's the mark of a man, isn't it? At least publically and far less likely to get you arrested.

Then I thought (so rare nowadays). Templars. Beards. Spartans. Beards. Blackbeard. Beard. Santa. Beard. When you look at the stats, nine out of ten bad-asses had beards.

It says "hey, I'm not a woman." Infact, young samurai worried about such a issue used to grow moustaches so if they were ever decapitated (head-taking an honourable tradition in that culture) their killer wouldn't have his reputation blemished by anyone thinking he'd killed a girl. Now that's manly when you're working about your own severed head.

So I'm introducing a 'Beard Rating'. It's to establish how manly a thing is. Now we're not talking about just your DNA, but MANLY. Like don't do the washing up and 'hey, I've only worn this underwear five days and it's fine.' That sort of 'out-on-the-ledge' manliness which is so rare nowadays since we've given up existing in a hunter-gather society. And they say all progress is good.

So, Raven by Giles Kristian. Beardy down to your knees it's that manly. Sorry, MANLY.

Ironclad the movie, starring James Purefoy as a Knight Templar. Ankle-length beard. He's a Templar. 'Nuff said.

Conan the Barbarian. Hmm, maybe waist length beard. Yes, he lives, loves and slays, but there's a certain lack of true barbarism. Would the new Conan expect to hear the lamentation of his enemies women? Not so sure.

Conan the Barbarian as written by R.E Howard, knee-length beard.

So, next time you read something and feel the urge to tear off your shirt and run screaming in the woods wrestling trees, that's because that book has BEARD.

Till next time, folks.

Oh, in case you were wondering about Twilight? Clean-shaven.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Acts of Faith (or how Sarwat went to Hollywood)

As some of you may know my background isn't in writing, but engineering. I point this out to remind everyone who's trying to become a writer that degrees in English Lit or a MA in Creative Writing or years as a journalist are TOTALLY UNNECESSARY in becoming a writer. Hey, you don't even need to have had an exciting life (but having one of some sort does help).
I'm not even quite sure how much talent you need, either. We've all read some truly appalling books that have been best-sellers, haven't we?
But what you need is FAITH. Now I'm not venturing into Richard Dawkins/Phillip Pullman territory here with the nature of God and all that, but more belief in what you're doing. The years, the reams of paper and the endless fustration at rejections do not matter if you have faith. If others have faith too. You'll be amazed how far such passion will get you.
You've heard much about my agent, Sarah Davies. She is first and foremost in The Faithful. If you're agent doesn't have faith in your ability, find another agent. Simple as.
But today I'm talking about Jerry Kalajian, my film agent.
Jerry read Devil's Kiss back when it was just a bundle of loose A4 sheets. Now that seems like ancient history but it was just 4 years ago. Surprising how much can happen in that time. Since then he's had faith and HUGE passion that this is a story he could sell. We had a few near misses and most people would have given up. Hollywood turns quickly and things can become old very quickly. Just look at Megan Fox's career (just joking, Megan. Dropping out of Transformers 3 was a GOOD CALL).
But Jerry had faith and believed in Devil's Kiss and Billi SanGreal.
Then, Gale Anne Hurd came on board.
Gale's the producer of The Walking Dead series, and also The Terminator and Aliens. She was married to James Cameron and is an Arsenal fan. I'm not sure how all these facts are related but she was looking for a new female action hero and Jerry sent her Devil's Kiss.
Beatrice, the VP of Gale's production company, Valhalla Motion Pictures (cool or what?) read it and then a meeting was arranged, as I happened to be heading out to LA for the book tour anyway.
So, one morning in March Jerry and I were sitting in the lobby of Gale's office. The wall is covered with posters from her career. We've got The Punisher, Terminator, Aliens, Aeon Flux, we've got the Hulk.
Remember, a few years earlier my career was based on designs of central heating systems. The only posters I saw were the layouts of kitchen units.
The world turns on faith. We need to believe in what's possible more than what's already out there. Jerry has been an amazing example of that and I pity anyone with an agent who's not even half as dedicated. Then with Beatrice and Gale championing Billi the books have now been optioned by Gaumont Pictures. There's talk of a Billi SanGreal tv series, which is insanely cool because now Buffy's retired we need a new kick-ass vampire/demon/werewolf-slaying heroine, don't we? I'll keep you totally informed should such an event happen but, hey, a trip out to Hollywood is nice and there's always the next book.
This isn't about me boasting but telling you, whatever you're doing, you have no idea where it can lead. With writing, there is no reason you can't be as big as anyone already out there. Yes, that includes JK Rowlings. Why not? I really, REALLY do believe that faith will get you further than you imagine. Yes, it must be backed up with work and more work, but believing that you can succeed and be as good as anyone else out there on the shelves is fundamental. There's an awful lot of bad fiction selling by the truckload (most of it involving vampires I'm afraid). You can write better then them, can't you? Look at it this way, even if you do only as half as well as JK, that's £250 million in the bank, isn't it?
Now, where did I put that Aston Martin catalogue..?


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Because Ninjas are COOL!

Do you remember when you first came across a ninja? I do. Eric Van Lustbader's book, the Ninja, was being passed around the class (thanks, Robert!) and we were agog at the sheer coolness on ninjas, that they could make poison out of dandelions (or something) and there were scenes with lots of exclaimation marks that, as 12 year olds, we didn't quite understand and wouldn't for quite some time (and for some of us, it would be quite some time).
Anyway, needless to say, I wanted to be one. That didn't happen but I did go through a phase of knocking myself silly trying to use a pair of nunchuks and loosing my shuriken over the fence into the neighbour's garden and upsetting his dog.

And I wrote ninja stories. There wasn't a tale that couldn't be improved by adding a ninja. How MacBeth would have been much happeir if he'd used ninjas to kill Duncan rather than do the job himself. How Romeo and Juliet was like two warring ninja clans (Kyushu and Iga, if I remember correctly) and (my masterpeice, titled 'Dressed to Kill') where James Bond fights a ninja while he's getting dressed for a party (metaphorically dressed to kill) then throws the ninja out the window but stabs himself on poisoned caltrops left on the sill by the ninja (who's literally dressed to kill). My old English teacher, Ms. Masters, despaired a little. I like to think she's forgiven me now.

Yes, but Sarwat, is there a point to this?

Well, it's about writing what you love, no matter what everyone else thinks. I still have a fond spot for ninjas and I recently found a copy of Lustbader's book and reread those chapters I didn't understand the first time around and now completely get why my parents confiscated the book.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress

Please note the following, as they may help later:
1. We have a young boy (Ash Mistry, aged 13).

2. We have a demon king (Ravana, who's age is his own business).

3. We have an Indian setting (glorious, ancient, insanely cool, at least six thousand years old)

4. We have a bad-ass punch dagger (called a katar) because, as all bad-asses know, samurai swords are for wimps.

Oh, and a golden arrowhead. Now that'll be really important.

I'm just back from a jolly nice visit to HarperCollins HQ and have a few spare copies of the arc of this here book. ONE (and only one, alas) copy will be given away this year. So, if you want to read it first and be envied throughout the land, please stay tuned. BUT (big clue) it'll help if you follow me here or on Twitter. Chums on my newsletter will score extra points. Just sayin'.

There are a few minor tweaks still to be sorted but the book's pretty ready to go, though it won't be relased until March 2012 in the UK and Fall 2012 in the US.

I know it's AGES AWAY but some things are worth the wait!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Exactly how BAD ASS are you?

There comes a time in every kid's life when they contemplate the BIG questions. Now I'm not talking religion or who's going to win X-Factor and whether Justin Beiber will have a career after puberty, but the BIG BIG BIG questions.
It struck me, yesterday, when daughter No.1 came out of the garden with half the skin scrapped off her forehead from a swing/ground interface incident. Now that's after a week of falling into a lake (surfing) and, if I remember correctly, falling out of a tree.

Memo to self: get that girl's inner ear checked.

But, as the kind man on security (don't ask) said: it proves you've had a childhood. Scar-tissue, that it.

But it's more fundamental than that. It's when you scrap your knee or get a cricket ball in the face (my particular speciality) or a fist in the mouth (long story, maybe another time) and your lower lip quivers and the tears form when you decide:

Am I BAD-ASS or not?

With my new series on the horizon (oooh, look at the gorgeous cover, soon my pretties, soon!) I've been contemplating what exactly is my book about? What are any of my books about?

They're about BAD ASSES.

Now, I've not wondered into the genre of BAD-ASSNESS by accident. I've studied it long and hard for many, many years. I like to think of myself as someone, like a alchemist, who's trying to filter through the pages of his books tales of pure, untainted and undiluted BAD ASS. Not fantasy. Not urban fantasy or gothic horror or supernatural suspense and certainly NOT paranormal romance but BAD ASS storytellling. Books about heroes who swear and bleed and suffer and never, ever, EVER give up. They would die before surrender.

Are we all clear?

Good. Especially you at the back, thought I saw you nodding off a bit earlier.

Think of this as re-establishing my writing credo. Books of bad-asses. Nothing more, nothing less.

But how do you recognise a bad-ass? Are you a bad-ass? Is your sister? So, to help you work out if you are, indeed, a member of the SOBA (the Society of Bad Assess) I've put together a questionnaire for you. Let's begin:

1. Every bad-ass has some scar. How did you get yours?

a) scrapped your knee when you fell off your bike when you were six.

b) picked at those acne spots when you were told to leave them alone.

c) got those scars on your cheeks when a spear was thrown straight through YOUR FACE.

2. Your surrounded and outnumbered a hundred to one AT LEAST. The enemy commander tells you to lay down your weapons. Do you:

a) think 'fair enough. Wasn't my fight anyway' and go home for a dish of cowardly custard.

b) Ignore him and wait for someone to have a go.

c) yell back 'Come and get them!'.

3. Bad-asses like to PARTAY. Now, you've been invitred to teh house of a handsome Russian prince with plenty of wine, food and fun. How does REAL bad-ass party end?

a) A game of charades and an early bed. After all it is a school night.

b) blinding hangover and waking up somewhere on the end of the Northern line.

c) with being shot, poisoned, stabbed and thrown in a icy river?

4. What are the best things in life?

a) A new highest score on your X-box, a slice of pizza and a marathon Harry Potter session, dressed up?

b) A swift horse, a falcon at your wrist and the wind in your hair?

c) To crush your enemies, to see they driven before you and to hear the lamentation of their women?

5. Bad-asses don't stay at home, watching the goggle-box. They're out there, fighting the good fight. They see things. Tell me, what have you seen?

a) Well, she was across the road and it was crowded BUT you think you spotted Paris Hilton down at the supermarket.

b) Your true love standing on the beach, lit by the setting sun. Aah.

c) Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.

6. The Romans have taken over your kingdom, raped your children and whipped the skin off your back Do you ..?

a) curl up in a ball in the corner and cry and cry your little heart out?

b) find someone to complain to and take your complaint to their commanding officer?

c) stick a pair of scythes to your chariot, burn Londonium to the ground and massacre its entire inhabitants?


ANSWERS

You answered c) right? Your are wise to the ways of the bad-ass, my young apprentice. Anything else and you'd best stay in bed on days where the weather's a bit clement, we wouldn't want you getting a cold now, would we? Each of the c) answers are based on a epic bad-ass from history or fiction. Anyone of them a worthy mentor to any prespective bad-asses-in-training. If you don't know them, you'll have to wait 'till next week.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Two fine gentlemen

Wouldn't it just be so much cooler if we could wear stuff like this rather than jeans and teeshirts?
These are soldiers of the Horse Artillery from the Peninsula Wars as anyone familiar with Sharpe would know.
That's back in the days when men were men, women were women and food had no additives. Yes, the week before last.
We're all just back from the Festival of History in sunny (and fequently rainy) Kelmarsh. If you're remotely interested in British military history it's seriously the place to go. Starting off with the Imperial Romans there were displays and battles galore from Normans, Crusaders (I'm sooo Team Saladin), Napoleonics, War of the Roses (and Team Richard III), tent-pegging from Prince Malik's Lancers (cannot believe the speed these guys galloped and hit their targets) WW1 and WW2. The WW2 re-enactment included an aireal dogfight and a few victory roles from the legendary Spitfire, honestly I had a lump in my throat. Awesome and incredibly moving.
Which neatly brings me to my birthday present. I'd really, really like a suit of armour please. Or a Spitfire.
Which also brings me to outline my action list, so you and my editors don't think I'm just sitting at home watching the Wire. Which I am, but that's research.
1. Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress is DONE. I've seen the draft of the UK cover, it's violent, gloriously so, and (IMHO) will offer those in search for kick-ass action a whole new standard of inappropriate behaviour.
2. Ash #2 is almost done. We're still in Draft 1 territory so a lot of work still ahead, but hey, moving forward. Plan to have that wrapped up by September, then let it stew for a few months before hitting the second draft. That should got off to the publishers end of the year.
3. NEW novel. I'm a big fan of historical fiction and what to give that a go. There's two projects, one joint with a very cool writer friend of mine where we'll be delving into a period right after the Norman invasions and a second, lone project which will be about mid-nineteeth century Punjabi politics, which, I'm sure you'll agree, the world is in desperate need of. Not a week goes by when I'm asked by some fan or editor, "Sarwat, we're in desperate need of a book about mid-nineteenth century Punjabi politics, they're the next big thing after vampires and dystopia and (insert trend of your choice)!"
4. NO Billi SanGreal book. At least not for now. There may be some interesting Billi news sometime soon though. Stay tuned.

So, remember. Mid-nineteenth century Punjabi political novels. They're the next big thing and you heard it here first.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

My agent, Sarah Davies

Now as much as I'd like to to claim my literary success is all down to ME, ME, ME!!! I'm afraid that would be a bloody, big, fat LIE!
So, let's discuss the woman behind me getting a few books on the shelves, Sarah Davies (strips on the left, the one in leopard print is Julia, her right hand woman).
Sarah and I met through a writing competition (Undiscovered Voices). She was one of the judges and I one of the fortunate winners. That was back in the day when 'Devil's Kiss' was still called 'God's Killer'. We met and chatted and soon after I joined Greenhouse Literary Agency. At that point the Greenhouse comprised me and Sarah and her dog.
Sarah took my manuscript by the throat and tore it apart, pointing out a looong series of swordfights do not a novel make. Now, Sarah knew what she was doing. Before she was an agent she'd worked long and hard as a publisher and her editing skills remain second to none. She will make your book better, much much better.
She'll be blunt when she needs to be, comforting those moments when you wonder why on earth you decided to choose this career over, say, being a bomb disposal expert. She's be the first with the good news (you have a book deal!) and first with the whip (rewrite it until it SHINES!) and pretty much everything in between.
She will make you walk the hard road but will walk it with you.
Though it's my name on the cover the books I've written have a large amount of Sarah's DNA entwined into every page. I kinda feel bad it is only my name but hey, I'm needy.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A bald, bold new look

Just went to the barbers yesterday and frankly, I'm wondering whether to bother much longer. Once, there were scissors, wax, gel, layers and shampooing and sensual combing of long silken locks and now it's about 30 seconds with a pair of clippers and a bit of tweaking around the ears.

Soon there'll be nothing to do but give it a polish.

Which got me thinking, we should not be ashamed of our folically challenged-ness-ness, we should celebrate it!

So, today's blog is to applaud the bad, the bald, the beautiful. And the not so much.

1. Blofeld. Back in the day when Connery was Bond and Donald Pleasance first appeared from behind his Ayran henchman and declared "You only live twice, Mr. Bond." Check it out on YouTube, gives me chills even now. A look often immitated, but never equalled. Yes, I do mean Dr.Evil. And seriously, what a work ethic. Base in a hollowed out volcano, world conquest, pirahna fish tank. While Bond is there lying back in his silk sheets with some blonde, Blofeld is out there, taking on the Man. Respect.

2. Thuggee Boss Man, above. Mola Ram. Enslaves children, tears hearts out from innocent locals, tosses Kate Capshaw down into a volcano and heads up the greatest assassin cult in history. And check out that tiger tooth necklace! Now I know necklaces for men are the newest metro-sexual thing but seriously, amber or those silly little beads? If you're going to wear jewellry, as a bloke, it's got to make a statement and nothing says 'BAD-ASS' like a necklace of tigers' teeth. I've no doubt Mola Ram ripped those teeth out with his own hands. So, repeat after me, "Kali Maa! Kali Maa!"

3. Colonel Kurtz. Apocalypse Now is one of the few films I can see time and time again. Especially the Bunny-girl bit. But there's so much more to it than inappropriate dancing on a helicopter! It's a quest movie, like The Hobbit but less so on the dragons and dwarves and more on the napalm (which apparently smells like victory) and blowing up villages. Which, come to think of it, is what happens in The Hobbit too! Wow, never saw that connection. I think I might blog on that later. Still, Kurtz. Out in the jungle, a man might lose perspective. Hey, haven't you been on holiday, got off the beaten track and just decided to set yourself up as a despot ruler of a bunch of jungle dwelling natives? No? Maybe it's just me then.

Till next time folks.



Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Book signing this Saturday!

I'm incredibly lucky that I've a number of amazing independent bookshops near where I live, in sunny South London. There's Village Books, Tales on Moon Lane and Crow on the Hill and then there's Dulwich Books, where I'll be signing copies of Devil's Kiss and Dark Goddess from 10am to 11am on Saturday 25th June.

I will also be talking some about my new series, the Ash Mistry Chronicles.

Dulwich Books is having a whole day of children's events on Sat, me at 10am, Sorrel Anderson at 11 and Doodle activity day from 12pm, surely the perfect solution for what will (probably) be a rainy weekend.

So, do take the train down south, it's lovely and not half as smoggy as North London and we have many delightful parks, and come in and say 'hello'. I don't bite!


Saturday, 18 June 2011

Conflict

Okay, we're now going to discuss the first, and probably ONLY law (nay, commandment even!) of stories.

THOU SHALT HAVE CONFLICT.

And to show you what I mean we're going to look at the best movie of the year, X-Men First Class.

Seriously, if you've not seen it, what the hell have you be doing with your summer? Summers were meant to spent in the cinema dudes!

Level One. Physical. Surely I don't need to explain this? This is your basic black hat v. white hat. It's your jedi v. sith. No talk, no discussion or debate over the rights and wrongs, just put two men in a room and give them a gun each. Sebastian Shaw and Erik. You know they're never going to be on the same side, not never, not no how. Sorted.

Level Two. Emotional. Should you or shouldn't you? This is (typically) internal. The character is in conflict with himself. There's the option of the easy way, or the hard way. Both will get the same result, but one is usually moral the other isn't. It could be a bloke dropping his wallet on the street, thick with cash. Do you pocket it or run after him and hand it back? This is Erik's conflict throughout, knowing he's on the path of damnation but will never permit himself off it, because that requires forgiveness and that's something he doesn't have.

Level Three. Idealogical. Professor X and Magneto are great examples of friends that can never be true allies because their idealogies are too different. Prof X believes that humans and mutants can live side by side, Magneto believes they can't, one will hunt down the other. What's interesting is their backstory provides the logic of their beliefs. Magneto been a victim of the Nazis, while Prof. X can read peoples minds (this was something that should have been made more of) so he can see peoples true intentions. I like to think that's what's led him to faith in humanity. If there's one slip in this story is that Erik's backstory is so overwhelmingly powerful (as it should be) that Xavier seems naive in comparison. Xavier's convictions should have been 'bumped' up so we're wholly behind him too.

Notice how I don't mention morality as a conflict because BOTH sides should always believe they are morally right. It's never a choice between good and evil (which is never a choice), its a choice between two goods or two evils.

So, X-Men First Class. Go see it.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Percival

I was recently contacted by someone who was DEEPLY UPSET by the death of certain characters in Devil's Kiss.
Putting aside that, actually, I'm pleased she was angry as it showed they meant something to her.
They meant something to me too.
Percy is basically the guy who raised Billi. Arthur was too consumed by his bitterness and rage to have time for his daughter so it was Percy who remembered her birthdays, looked after her when she was sad or ill, remembered that she was more that just a soldier in the Bataille Tenebreuse.
Percy met Arthur when they were Royal Marines. Percy, born and brought up in Ghana, ended up Arthur's closest friend, and conspirator. When Arthur decided to go 'off reservation' during the Balkans War, it was Percy who went with him. It was Percy who first encountered the brutal darkness in the heart of Arthur SanGreal.
Arthur didn't cope with war as well as Percy. In the end Percy was wiser than Arthur, who had ideals and a strict moral code. The qaugmire of that war broke him. Percy, more realistic perhaps, came out of that dirty little war with his sanity intact, even if his faith in humanity reduced.
They went their separate ways. Arthur soon living on the streets and Percy trying, but failing, to make it as a civilian. Some men were just born for war, it seemed.
So, when Arthur was recruited into the Templars, he contacted Percy, explaining this was the battle they had to fight, against the true monsters.
When Arthur started a relationship with Jamila, it was Percy alone who knew, and kept quiet. Perhaps he hoped Jamila was take Arthur out of the Templars, especially when they married and she became pregnant with Billi.
But Arthur felt the Templars was his calling, and no-one argues with Arthur SanGreal.
However, for a time, it seemed Arthur and Jamila would be happy. Percy saw the cracks, her desire for a quiet, family life, Arthur's need to prove himself. Percy and Jamila, while never close friends, understood each other. Both loved Arthur and who do anything for him, but both knew Arthur's greatest enemy was himself.
Percy was Billi's godfather, and closest protector. He regreted her recruitment into the Templars and did what he could to give her a 'normal' life.
Percy gave it life to the Templars, but was never obsessed by the cause teh way the others were. If things had been a little different, he would have walked away. But he stayed, and died, out of love for his best friend and his best friend's daughter.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The afterlife for books

Slowly but surely I am getting rid of my books. No more stacking them into bookshelves or piling them in corners or under desks. Once read, they go. Doesn't matter if they're signed first editions or the 'must have' YA of the season, I have to clear my shelves. In fact, if you're in South London there's a good chance you will find quite a lot signed YA novels, I've offloaded a few quite recently and some of them are BIG NAMES.
Now, if course, the only reason to clear the shelves is to put new books in there, which is, after all, the best thing about this strategy. NEW BOOKS. New, pretty packages of words with fine covers, a sensible thickness and weight. I love books.
There are specific books that I love more than others, ones I will not get rid out. The first copy of Wizard of Oz I ever bought with my own pocket money. My first Dungeons and Dragons PHB, which I coloured in myself and at some point, will finish colouring in.
My daughter's moved onto Harry Potter so we're holding onto them, but not for sentimental reasons.
After all, I do have a library down the road. Whatever book I need, I can get. For example, I recently gave away my entire Percy Jackson collection. Then, suddenly, I needed Lighting Thief. My editor and I were debating how much gratuitous sex, violence and profanity I could put into a mid-grade novel and she suggested I check out the first Percy book.
I'm somewhat amazed to discover that the answer was NONE AT ALL.
So, you'll be pleased to know my next novel will be considerably shorter than anticipated.
The only books I did feel a slight pang of pain when I gave them to the charity shop was Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights triology. But they had worked their magic on me already, so let them be freed to work their magic on another!
I love browsing for books in charity shops. There used to be loads on Charing Cross Road , now sadly converted into cake and coffee shops mainly. I still miss the Virago shop that used to be down there and the Islamic bookshop too. The main attraction is their shambolic shelving. Everything is just squeezed in, irrespective of genre or popularity. It's an adventure. You might stumble onto anything and, at 50p a pop, risk a gamble and pick up something you wouldn't otherwise try. That how I ended up reading the autobiography of Reggie Kray, Born Fighter, for example.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Devil's Kiss in Italian

Sometimes I feel a bit in awe of the publishing process, and a large part of that centres around the talent behind the bookcovers so I'm perticulary pleased with this, the Italian cover of Devil's Kiss, which has just come out.
My translater, Giorgio, contacted me to arrange an interview for his Italian website, but his questions were cool and different from what I'm normally asked, I'm uploading the interview (in English), here.

1) Billi SanGreal: a kick-ass heroine who’s not just brave and strong, but also well trained and highly educated miles away from the image of an inactive princess waiting for her prince charming to make her happy. Are you trying to tell young readers something about the role of women in modern society?
I have two daughters, so I knew I was going to write a heroine. But I wanted the books to have a mythic quality, after all we’re talking about Templars and monsters and archangels. So I based Billi on the mythic heroines like Athene, like Boudica and the Rani of Jhansi, all powerful warriors as well as being female.
Athene is perhaps the biggest inspiration. She’s the goddess of war and wisdom, and wisdom is what Billi’s chasing. How does she know she’s making the right choice? Because her father told her so? Because society expects her to be like that? She questions, and that is what’s important.
I think, even now in the 21st Century, there are still old-fashioned gender expectations which, sadly, get reflected in a lot of literature aimed at girls. I think it starts early with stories like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. What do these heroines actually do? Cinderella looks pretty in her dresses and Sleeping Beauty just lies there!
This seeps into a lot of YA fiction too, where the heroine is fundamentally passive and it’s the male love interest that holds all the power. That’s not the world I want my daughters to inherit.
2) "What is Hell? Hell is the cry of a starving infant. Hell is the begging for mercy then denied. Hell is the betrayals between man and wife. The lies between father and child. Hell is where the heart is.”
OMG! That certainly leaves not much room for Heaven! What can we do?
Remember who you’re quoting, it was the Devil and he’ll have a fairly negative view of humanity, so I wouldn’t trust his opinion on anything.
But Devil’s Kiss is a grim, dark story. It’s not your usual paranormal romance where the girl gets the boy and they all live happily ever after. I wanted the horror and brutality of the world Billi lives in to be authentic and sincere, she’s playing for the highest stakes imaginable.
Billi and the Templars are about the struggle. They know they’ll never win, the best they can do is keep the darkness at bay for a little longer. That takes a particular type of bravery, knowing it will never end but carrying on regardless.
It’s too easy to let morality and common humanity fall by the wayside as you pursue your ambitions. The Templars are heroic because they fight to defend humanity when at times they may feel humanity is no better than the creatures they face. That’s especially true in Dark Goddess when Billi realises the enemy is just as dedicated as her, and they may be right, not her.
3) As translator of your book I had to do a bit of research before starting to work on the text and I believe a book, when is well written like in this case, has the power of pushing the reader to find out and discover a lot of information he didn’t know or care about before. How important was research for Devil’s Kiss – or any other book you wrote or are about to write?
I do a lot of research for all my books, for me it’s half the fun. Firstly, they all have some historical aspect to them and they’re set in real locations, I need to get those right. Book 2, Dark Goddess, is set in Russia so I spent a week in Moscow because I knew a large part of the story would happen there. I read up on Russian history to get a few ideas, visited the museums and read some of their literature (The Master and the Margerita by Bulgakov is awesome).
Before I wrote Devil’s Kiss I read everything I could on the Templars, probably for about six months.
The new series is set in India, so again lots of reading and a trip out there to walk the streets and alleyways of Varanasi. By actually being there I get a depth of realism I couldn’t get any other way.
Remember, my first book is set in my home town. I need all my other books to have the same level of detail or else I’ve failed.
4) I would say London is not just the setting of your first book, but a real character that makes the story unique. 3 must-see places in London by Sarwat Chadda’s travel agency?
I love London. I’ve lived here most of my life and I never tire of it. I’m glad you think London had a character of its own, that was exactly what I was after.
Temple Church (of course). The entire area of Temple is great, so bring some sandwiches and explore.
Then try Southwark from Tower Bridge, the walk along the Thames through to Waterloo. You’ve got the cathedral, the Globe, London Bridge and brilliant views of St. Paul’s. I’d do that at night when the city’s lit up.
Finally I’d spend a day in Knightsbridge, visiting the museums. You’ve got the Victoria and Albert, The Natural History and the Science Museum all next to one another. There’s Kensington Palace, Harrods and the Albert Memorial.
5) Turning page after page of Devil’s Kiss I found it highly visual and often thought “Gosh, this scene would look great on a big screen!” or “I’d love to see this fight”. Should we readers get the pop corn ready for a night at the movies?
Ah, I hope to be able to make an announcement on that soon. There’s been screen interest on and off over the last few years and I’d be so happy if something like that did happen. I love epics!
6) Any tips for all the new writers wishing to make a name for themselves in the crowded children’s literature world?
Do not follow the crowd. It will serve you best in the long run. Write what only you can write and don’t try to copy someone else.
Each of us has a unique view of the world, and something we truly believe in, that is what you should write about. Aim at writing the best book you can, not something you think will sell. If your heart’s not in it the reader will know.
7) As a child, what were your favourite readings? Were you a frequent reader?
Oh, I read a lot! I loved the Hobbit and I still think it’s my favourite book. I was also hugely into the Greek myths. I had a story book about Jason and the Argonauts and spent ages copying the pictures.
I don’t read is much as I’d like. I read most on holiday when I make sure I am not working. The problem I find is when I’m reading at home I feel I should be writing. Plus I have less patience for a poorly written book nowadays, so have a tendency to stop books half-way through if I’m not enjoying them.
8) From engineer to acclaimed writer. What skills from your old profession did you take along with you?
Planning. I have some writer friends who just launch into their books, not having any idea how it’s going to turn out. Alas, I can’t operate like that. I need a clear idea of where I’m headed before I start. Now that doesn’t mean it won’t change and it invariably does, but I do plan my books and my time in quite a lot of detail.
More directly Devil’s Kiss climaxes on a building site so that’s been directly drawn from my life in construction.
9) What’s your perfect “writing habitat”?
I’ve got a fairly standard routine. After I’ve dropped the kids at school I write almost straight through until I pick them up. I aim to get 2,000 words down per day. I also work in a cafe a few days a week, just for a change of scene and I enjoy seeing people. I’ve written two books in that cafe so the locals know me well. Writing can be a very lonely profession so it’s good to work in company.
10) I know you recently toured the US. How was it? Any chance to see you in Italy in the near future to get our copies signed?
I’ve been to Italy three times in the last four years! There was Rome for my wife’s birthday, then Bologna for the book fair and recently to Naples to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum.
I studied Latin at school and have been fascinated by Roman history ever since, so going to Pompeii was a life-long ambition of mine, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. The period of the Julian Caesars is probably my most favourite period of history. Without giving too much away Mount Vesuvius and the fate of Pompeii has a direct relevance to my second book, Dark Goddess.
I’m sure I’ll be in Italy soon enough and it would be very cool to sign some of my books.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

What we could learn from Darth Vader

Firstly, check out the utterly brilliant VW advert, here, then come back, I'll be waiting.
Great wasn't it? Makes you wonder what life was like before YouTube. Did you check out the Thor advert too? Go on, it's as good. Don't be too long as I do have something important to discuss.
Seen them both? Great, let's kick off.
"Do or do not. There is no try." Yoday imparted these words of wisdom to young Skywalker in Empire when he was trying to lift the X-wing out of the swamp.
I would argue that's an incredibly damaging piece of advice to give a jedi in training, or anyone for that matter. In fact, the opposite is MORE important.
Let's say to try and build a Death Star to, y'know, rule the galaxy or something. To bring order to it and make sure everyone pays their taxes, unlike those bloody cheapskates in Naboo. Then some punk-ass kid blows it up. After all those years of effort! The ingrate!
So what, you build another one. You don't sit there moaning that it's not worth the effort, you tried once and failed, no point doing it again. No, you get out of your isolation chamber, put on the bad-ass helmet and you BUILD ANOTHER.
Which also gets blown up. Some people.
Not everyone can DO, but everyone can TRY. And the more you try, the more likely it is you will DO.
The Star Wars legacy carried a dangerous message as it expanded. First, you had Luke, innocent farmboy who, by effort and TRYING, became the hero of the galaxy. then, as the series expanded, we discovered he was the Chosen One, it was his DESTINY, to be what he was. It's all down to those bloody midi-chlorians. You can try as hard as you like, but if your midi-chlorian count is too low, forget it. Better just get behind the bar at Mos Eisley and leave the hero stuff to the CHOSEN ONE.
I hate that. I'm a republican (not in the let's go shoot a moose kind of way, after all what has a moose every done to me? but in that, c'mon, this is the 21st Century and we've still got a monarchy? WTH?). It implies status is something your born with (like midi-chlorians), that role and most of all, POTENTIAL, is not defined by effort, by hard work or by perserverence, but by pure, stupid, blind luck. It's utterly passive and the thinking of a small child, that deep down they're a prince or princess and sooner or later their real parents will come and collect them and they'll have a perfect life in a palace with servants and everything with no effort at all. What's a shame is that a lot of grown ups and people who should know better believe that too. Lottery tickets are a grown up version of that wish-fulfillment.
Look at the kid. Does he give up? No, he tries and tries and eventually, gets the car to come ALIVE. What's funniest is the dad, thinking he did it by pressing the button. Yeah, as if.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

She came, she saw, SHE KICKED ASS!

I received a very pleasant bit of news yesterday. Kirkus Reviews listed out their 12 most kick ass teen heroines and Billi SanGreal was in amongst them, hanging out with the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Dru Anderson.
The full list is:
Lady Katsa from Graceling (Kristin Cashore)
Clary from City of Bones (Cassandra Clare)
Maggie from Prom Dates from Hell (Rosemary Clement-Moore)
Katniss from Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
Eona from Eona (Alison Goodman)
Kaede from Huntress (Malinda Lo)
Ai Ling from Silver Phoenix (Cindy Pon)
Hanna from Bleeding Violet (Dia Reeves)
Jael from Misfits (Jon Skovron)
Dru from Strange Angels (Lili St. Crow)
Tally from Uglies (Scott Westerfield)
And Billi SanGreal!
So, now there's no excuse to sit there wondering where are the self-rescuing princesses of YA. They're on this list. Check them out and stop reading about those moping minnies, y'hear?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Jamila SanGreal

It remains a constant source of amazement amongst the Templars (especially Percival) how on earth someone like Arthur married someone like Jamila.
Born and brought up on the borders of Afghanistan Jamila saw a lot of war as a child. Daughter of a local teacher she spent most of her childhood amongst the refugee camps on the Pakistani-Afghani border. It was perhaps there she decided her vocation, to be a doctor.
Soon after qualifying she joined a NGO (non-government organization) that provided medical services to some of the most dangerous places in the world, helping civilians in war zones and disaster areas. Arthur joked Jamila had more scars than he did.
She spent the early 1990s in places like Somalia, Gaza, Bosnia, Iraq and Chechnya. She worked as a doctor for Medicine Sans Frontiers and the Red Crescent, one day offering advice on chest colds the next pulling out shrapnel from children's bodies.
In the mid-90's she came to London, working in a charity hoping to raise funds for one of the NGOs. It was meant to be a temporary gig before she headed out into some new war but there she met Arthur. He was like many of the war-wounded she'd helped over the years, mentally broken and terribly damaged emotionally. It was about this time he met Gwaine, and was being recruited inot the Knights Templar.
It was after a botched ghul encounter he was brought, mauled and near death, to her. She stitched him up and saved his life. That night Jamila entered the world of the Bataille Tenebreuse. Over the next few months she became close of Arthur, tending the wounds of the other knights, learning of their world, and becoming good friends with Elaine.
I think Arthur realises how lucky he was that someone like Jamila fell in love with him. Deep down he still feels he didn't deserve her, and perhaps that's why, following her death, he couldn't stop blaming himself. She'd tried to get him to leave the order, knights weren't meant to marry let alone have children, but he always thought he'd just do the next mission, then quit.
No-one in the SanGreal Chronicles casts as long as a shadow as Jamila. Arthur and Billi are defined by her. Their relationship is mirrored by Arthur's feelings of failure and by the void Billi feels by not having known her mother.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Arthur SanGreal

Half the fun is the backstory. Little of it ever appears in the final draft of a novel, unless you're writing some epic family drama, but as writers we want our characters to have 'real' lives.
What happened in their past to make them the people they are? What victories, what defeats shaped their view of the world?
Over the next few weeks I'm going to look inot teh backgrounds of each of the main players. There's stuff on Billi that never made it into the books that I feel might be fun to reveal here. But first I'll start with her dad.
Arthur SanGreal is a damaged man. Physically and emotionally scarred by what's happened to him I think he was a man who had ideals, then discovered those ideals could not be met in the real world. His attempts to keep honest, to keep moral, to keep the faith led him down a very dark path and I'm not sure he'll ever find his way back.
Arthur was a captain in the Royal Marine commandos, Percival was his sargeant. Back then, he felt he was on the side of the angels. He was a proficeint soldier, a reliable leader of men, a safe pair of hands. Not flash, but proficient.
That all changed in Bosnia.
For those of you too young to remember it was a civil war that broke out in the early 1990's in the former Yogoslavia. Ethnic and religious divisions resulted in some of the worse atrocities since the Second World War. Camps were set up, the likes of which Europe thought they'd never see again and the phrase 'ethnic cleansing' became the justification of all sorts of horrors and too many massacres to relate here.
I'm not political, but it's safe to say that the rest of the world really didn't know what to do, but make it worse. Impotent peacekeepers handed over thousands of innocents to be slaughtered and, through vain attempts to strike a deal, permitted the war to escalate to obscene proportions.
And broke Arthur SanGreal. You could say he merely joined in the madness. After standing by and allowing evil to be carried out under the flag of surrender, he took matters into his own hands. He, Percival and a few others decided to address the balance, and went off reservation. He was found out, and dishonourably discharged. Bosnia was a dirty little war and no-one came out of it well.
He went off the rails. He suffered from Post-traumatic stress syndrome and was soon living on the streets of London. And that's where Gwaine found him and recruited him into the Knights Templar.
Gwaine, for all his faults and rivalries with Arthur, was his saviour. He turned Arthur's depression (which is anger turned inwards) into an all-consuming fury, aimed at the Unholy. By discovering pure evil, Arthur was able to feed his demons, and thus find purpose in his life.
And then he met Dr. Jamila Khan...

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Enter this competition

The Undiscovered Voices 2012 has kicked off. So, if you want to get published in children's?YA fiction, this is probably one of your best chances to do so.
I entered it in 2008 and that's how I found an agent and editor. A lot of people have come the same route, so it WORKS.
More reasons?
1. Avoiding the slush pile. The judges of UV are editors and agents actively looking for new talent and you'll be able to pitch your story to a lot simultaneously.
2. Publishing is competitive, you might as well learn that now and enter a competition.
3. There are 12 selected winners, so your chances are up.
4. They're not all looking for paranormal romance and dystopia. Many of the winners have won because they weren't on trend and were writing something fresh and different. Tall Story by Candy Gourlay and Kate Dale's Someone Else's Footprints are prime examples. The judges here are looking for something fresh.
5. It's NOT about who you know. It's about the writing. It's not about attending courses, or being friends with a publisher or having family members within the industry or being good looking and charming on camera. Hey, I'm none of those things and I still got published!
Enter. You never know.

Monday, 11 April 2011

YALitChat this week!

This week I'll be joining in with this rather special event. It's being held at YAlitChat and will be over Twitter this week, 13th and 14th. It's US-based so any Brits wanting to take part will have to stay up late or get up VERY early!

Night I April 13 @ 8:30-9PM EDT: Pre-Show squee-chat!

9-11PM EDT: Nancy Holder, Jason Henderson, Coe Booth, Malinda Lo, Mitali Perkins, Melissa de la Cruz, Karen Healey, Jaclyn Dolamore, Kierstin White Giveaways: signed copy of The Guardian of the Dead from Karen Healey, goodie bags and copies of Bloody Valentine from Melissa da la Cruz, signed copy of Bamboo People from Mitali Perkins, signed hardcover of Huntres from Malina Lo, ARC of Huntress from Malinda Lo, signed copy of CRUSADE from Nancy Holder, signed copy of Alex VanHelsing from Jason Henderson.

11PM-12AM EDT: Afterparty on Mundie Moms! Post-chat mayhem, fun and giveaways. Join us with special guest authors and more fun at a literary virtual afterparty than you can imagine.

Night II April 14 @ 9-11PM EDT

: Julia DeVillers, Beth Revis, Claudia Gabel, Helene Boudreau, Cyn Balog, Brenna Yavonoff, Sarwat Chadda, Andrea Cremer Giveaways: signed copies of books from Julia DeVillers, signed copies of Romeo and Juliet and Vampires from Claudia Gabel, signed copy of Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings from Helene Boudreau, signed copy of Fairytale or Sleepless from Cyn Balog, copy of The Replacement from Brenna Yavonoff, signed copy of Dark Goddess from Sarwat Chadda, goodie bag from Melissa de la Cruz.

11PM-12AM EDT: Afterparty on Mundie Moms! Post-chat mayhem, fun and giveaways. Join us with special guest authors and more fun at a literary virtual afterparty than you can imagine.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Wings by Aprilynne Pike, Kiss Me, Kill Me Part 10!

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

Thank goodness for a brand new fairy tale. Yes, I know, we’ve got Seelie Courts and all that trouble with iron and whatnot, but not with Wings. The story’s all slow burn, a perfect contrast to all those angsty, brooding and trouble-laden YA that is filling the shelves at the moment. Laurel, the fifteen year old heroine of Wings is surprisingly well adjusted, from a stable family and, especially for modern YA, actually happy.

Aprilynne’s book comes a breath of pure, forest fresh air and a great break from the smoggy urban settings that seem to be the natural habitat for such supernatural stories. Okay, I’m not spoiling this for anyone to say that Laurel discovers she’s a fairy. It says so on the book. What Aprilynne does is give us a fresh perspective, one that’s totally original and thought-out, elegant and mythic. Her world is based wholly around nature and the cycles, with faeries and their powers dictated by the seasons. Winter fae are the most powerful and the rulers of the fae world. Spring fae are warriors (very well represented by Tamani) and then we have summer fae and fall fae, who specialize in elixirs and potions. And we have trolls. The mis-shapen superhumans and the antithesis of the fairy, basically where nature got it wrong.

The book opens with Laurel, after years of home schooling, finally joining Del Norte High. She befriends David, and a quite but deep friendship develops. The fae reveal is well handled and builds naturally, Laurel is not human and the fairy have gone a long way in protecting her and introducing her into the human world. There are tricks and deceptions, betrayals along the way and the mysterious Mr. Barnes, determined to buy the old family land and the forests beside it. The heart of the story is the secret lying in the heart of the forest. That too takes a traditional legend and turns it on its head in an exciting and surprising way.

I bumped into Aprilynne (again) while on tour around the US. There was an attempt to recruit her daughter into the Templar cause, failing miserably. Still, give it another few years and I might try again.

1. The fairy setting you’ve created is utterly unique. Can you explain how the new myth came about?

Actually, it started with a really bad idea! I was working on a different book when I woke one night wanting to write about a goth faerie who lived with three old women and couldn’t go out after midnight because there was no power from the sun… Cinderella meets Superman, I guess. It seemed like a great idea at four in the morning and did not seem so great at eight in the morning, but the idea of faeries being powered by the sun led me to ask, “Why would that be?” The obvious answer was photosynthesis. We’ve all seen flower faeries and nature faeries in art and sculpture; I just brought them into YA. This created a challenge regarding the setting, because it rooted (hah!) my faeries in science. A lot of faerie authors either write about small, winged pixies or otherworldly, almost spirit-like fae, and the usual settings for those didn’t seem to fit well with my flower faeries. It was my husband who pointed out that in Arthurian legend incorporates faeries without really exploring the exact difference between human and fae—Morgan le Fay being the prime example, but even Lord Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” is referred to as a “fairy.” In Arthurian texts, magic terms like “fairy” and “sorceress” lack the almost rigid meanings they’ve acquired in modern fiction, to the point that they are even used interchangeably at some points in history. And Avalon, a legendary island known for its vegetation (specifically, its apples), seemed like the perfect place for my faeries to live. I also wanted my faeries to feel a bit universal, so I went looking for similarities between Arthurian legend and other mythology around the world. I looked for magical islands, magical gardens, anything to do with plants and seasons and even people who live longer than humans generally think possible. For example, the Japanese tale of Ryugu-jo, the undersea palace with all four seasons at its walls, became partial inspiration for the four-sided gateway in Avalon, and Greek tales of the Hesperides and their garden also played a role.

2. There is a great contrast between David and Tamani. Both are sincere and honest guys, a stark change from the clich├ęd teen bad boys. Do you think we’ve come to the end of that road, and we’re looking for a new type of love interest?

Oh, the teen bad boy archetype existed before Romeo first killed Tybalt and will probably be going strong when all record of Edward Cullen’s brooding bloodlust is eradicated from the universe by the fiery death-throes of our worn and weary sun. Something I think a lot of people forget about YA fiction is that ten years from now, there will be a whole new audience working through the very same issues their parents worked through twenty or thirty years before, but (with the exception of a handful of “classics”) they won’t want to read about it in the books their parents read—they will want something to call their own. So no, I don’t think we’ve come to the end of that road at all. :) But that doesn’t mean every author has to take that road every time, and there are some interesting stories to be told outside that particular genre trope. When I started writing about Laurel, I didn’t want her choice to be obvious from the get-go, so I gave her two different versions of the “perfect boyfriend” to choose from. My goal from the beginning was: Book One, readers should be torn; Book Two, readers should understand why Laurel chose what she chose; Book Three, readers should see the inevitable coming; Book Four, readers should be torn again. In another year or so I guess we’ll see how successful I was!

3. I loved your descriptions of the woodland settings. As a city boy born and bred it was wholly new and fantastical territory for me. Are the descriptions based on real locations?

They are, but only in the most general sense that I am drawing from my own impressions of woodlands I’ve visited in my life. I was also raised mostly in the city—and not just any city, but in Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix is located in the Sonoran desert, home to such enchanting flora as the iconic saguaro cactus, the reportedly-edible prickly-pear cactus, and the legendary cholla “jumping” cactus. In high school my parents moved me to Driggs, Idaho, which is a very small town, but while it is greener than Phoenix (at least in the summer), it’s not exactly in the middle of an old-growth forest. I’m not sure whether this puts me at an advantage or a disadvantage, honestly. On one hand, when it comes to woodlands I don’t have a lot of experience to draw from; on the other, I suppose I probably observe and enjoy forests in ways the people who live there might take for granted. Honestly, I’m so bad with plants, the idea that there are places on earth where plants flourish spontaneously will probably never cease to amaze me.

4. Illusions, the third book is due out in a few months. Any little hints you can give us?

Absolutely! But for those who haven’t read the first two books: spoiler alert! In Illusions, readers will get to experience Laurel and David as a “comfortable couple,” see what Chelsea is like now that she’s in on Laurel’s secret, and learn what Tamani has been up to since his disappearance at the end of Spells. A new student will attract old dangers to Laurel’s school, Klea will collect on a favor, and important questions raised in the first two books will finally be answered.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Jeez, did I mention this?

With all that had been happening over the last few weeks this was announced while I was on tour, so didn't blog about it myself. This is the announcement that came out in Publishers Marketplace at the beginning of March.

Sarwat Chadda's THE SAVAGE PALACE, the first book (and sequel) in the epic, adventurous Ash Mistry Chronicles, which weaves together contemporary and mythological India, about a boy who, while staying with family in India, discovers something is very wrong with a mysterious millionaire, finding himself in a desperate battle to stop his master plan - the opening of the Iron Gates that have kept the demon king at bay for four millennia, to Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Books, in a very nice deal, in a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2012, by Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency (NA).

So, to clarify: Ash Mistry will be published in Spring 2012 in the UK and Fall 2012 in the US. I will tell you more about it later this year but it's been the book I've wanted to write more than anything, even before I dreamt up Billi. The Indian myths aren't really widely known in the West and I think that's a terrible shame. I hope Ash will be the first step in fixing this. The stories are set in the same world as Billi as I love cross-over stories. Some characters out of the Billi books will appear in Ash's adventures. But Ash is something different, and so's Parvati, the half-demon assassin he's forced to team up with. Need I tell you it will kick ass? Thought not.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Bad ass dads RULE!

Let's face it, fiction is wish-fulfilment. We authors have utterly non-exciting lives. A job you can do wearing your pyjamas is not one that is filled with thrills, high adrenaline moments and a bevvy of beauties drapped across the furniture.
Rather than going out there and, like, doing stuff, we compensate by having an over-active imagination. Anything else would involved breaking out a sweat. That's not where we writers are at. It all sounds like hard work. If I'd wanted to work hard I'd have stayed in the day job.
Now, there's nothing wrong with wish-fulfillment. Who wouldn't want to be James Bond? Harry Potter? Bella Swan or Captain Jack Sparrow? Who wouldn't want the world to turn on their desires and demands, to be feted by the bad, mad and beautiful?
We, the dads of the world, have hearts of goo. We've put aside the wild parties, the crazy nights and the dancing till dawn for nappies, school runs and sorting out picnics. But we dream, oh how we DREAM! So, this is for the brothers in arms, those who slave away at their desks, bringing in the daily wage and slowly watching their lives unwind, but still look at their kids those moments and marvel at how lucky they are to have brought someone like that, so carefree and beautiful, into the world.
This is about the dads we'd want to be, in those midnight, quiet, honest moments.
1. Tony Soprano. Now I've only just got into this series which is, I know, several years after it's ended. But last night I went througha bit of a marathon up till late (or early) session of seven episodes of Series 1. Tony takes his daughter to visit the colleges she's applying to. They have a heart to heart about how he's in the mafia, and then, while she's having her interview, he detours off to strangle a man to death. It's rough, brutal, and hard work. A man could break a sweat killing like that. Not a gun, not a knife. But a thick piece of cable. Tony, a man who likes to get his hands dirty. And wants a better life for his kids.
2. Hank Moody out of Californication. You know what I said about writers having a dull life? Well Hank is twice the wish fulfillment in one package. A writer dad who does get the party life. Ridiculously gorgeous partner, cool daughter, dedicated agent (who has no other clients, so the perfect agent, are you listening, Sarah?) who's dreams are filled with naughty nuns. If I can't be Bruce Wayne, I'd trade a kidney for a day as Hank. Just checking, I can survive without a kidney, can't I?
3. Big Daddy. If you've seen Kick Ass I really don't need to explain this any further, do I?
4. Voldomort. Okay, he's not Harry's biological dad, but let's face it, James Potter was basically a sperm donor, it's Voldy who made Harry the hero he is. Before Voldomort Harry was merely Harry Potter. After Voldomort he was Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. Legendary status established. There's a whole lot of Oedipal stuff going on here, I might save that for another day, though.
5. Any discussion of bad, mad dads must include the dark father himself, Darth Vader. Kills his wife, tortures his daughter and dismembers his son. The family therapist will need to clear all other appointments on this one.
6. Captain Hook. Like Voldomort, he's not really a father (well he is acutally, see below), but he's critical for both Wendy and Peter Pan on all sorts of levels. Typically he's the same actor playing the Mr. Darling and Hook, and that's the fundamental truth to his, to a father's, dual nature. Pan is Hook, all grown up and no longer believing in fairies. Hook hates Pan as a reminder to what he's lost, and Pan hates Hook because that's who he's destined to be. Hook's crew of pirates are the Lost Boys, grown old, grown weary, grown out of the wild dreams and games of childhood. That's why both parties are so keen to have Wendy. Again, Oedipus looms large here. It's all about having mother.
7. Cameron Poe from Con Air. Ex-convict. Ex-Ranger. All he wants to do is get home, see his wife and his daughter. With a bunny. And no amount of bad guys are going to stop him. Testosterone overload. If I'd give up a kidney to be Hank, I'd give up a lung to be Cameron. EXTREME BAD-ASSNESS.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

KIss Me, Kill Me, Part 9 with Joy Preble

Guest Post by Joy Preble, author of Dreaming Anastasia.
We writers are cyber-stalkers of other writers and frankly, why else would we all be on Twitter?
So, I'd been monitoring Joy because she was cool. Why was she cool? Because she wrote about Baba Yaga. What more reason could you possibly need?
So, as luck would have it, I met Joy at Orlando and we talked, and talked and talked. All things Russian and everyting inbetween.
So, why do you need me waffling on? Here's the woman herself. Enjoy.

Amazingly, when I finished the first draft of what would eventually be titled Dreaming Anastasia, Baba Yaga was not a character. In that first version – which actually garnered me an agent! – Anastasia was in some sort of blue light mystical holding zone that Anne and Ethan accessed by discovering a secret portal in Chicago’s Art Institute. Yes, I know – portals? Waaaay over done. But I was a newbie. I’d loved that portal in season 2 of Angel went the gang went to Pylea and saved Fred and Cordy got to briefly become royalty…Excuses, excuses.
My agent put it this way: “You need to ground the magic in something organically Russian.” I don’t know if she had any idea beyond that; in fact, I know she didn’t. But that one sentence sparked an idea in me. I needed to dig into Russian folklore and fairy tales – cause that’s where I’d find magic. And I wanted something that would fit the strong woman vibe of the novel. And that in turn led me to Baba Yaga. (okay – I was sad about the portal thing for awhile. But eventually I got over it.)
After that, I started reading – and once I did, I was hooked. Baba Yaga was – is – amazing. This primal, unpredictable woman with many fluid identities all rolled into one: maiden, mother, crone. The Bone Mother, she is sometimes called. The essence of all womanhood, of life, really. She was the perfect figure for a story that was going to be about life and love and death and second chances, about the passions that compel us, form us, and sometimes, destroy us. I loved so much about the old girl – this ancient witch with iron teeth and removable hands who lived in a hut on chicken legs so she could outwit and outrun her enemies. Her forest was a place of transformation. Once you entered, you might come out alive, you might not, but either way, you would never be the same. It became one of the conceits for the novel – both Anastasia and Anne and ultimately the other characters as well, would have to travel to Baba Yaga’s forest. None of them would ever be the same again once that journey occurred. I even loved the way she traveled; Baba Yaga flies through the skies in a mortar, stirring the air with a pestle. The idea of grinding appealed to me greatly – that this witch would desire to metaphorically grind Anne down to the bone and see what would be left.
One of the classic Baba Yaga fairy tales became Anastasia’s story: the tale of Vasilisa the Brave. In the original tale, Vasilisa’s stepmother sends her to Baba Yaga’s forest to get light from the witch. It’s a little bit Cinderella, a little bit Hansel and Gretel. Of course, this is supposed to be a death sentence and Baba Yaga’s supposed to eat Vasilisa. But the girl’s real mother had given her a magic doll before she died. And the doll helps Vasilisa outwit the witch. In Dreaming Anastasia, Anastasia has the doll her mother gave her. And like the original story, the doll talks to Anastasia and helps her survive. Like in Dark Goddess, the doll becomes quite significant. Because I decided to use a matryoshka doll – as did you! (great minds and all that-Sarwat) – the nesting aspect becomes a metaphor for much of what occurs. As Baba Yaga says to Anne, “Stories within stories. Secrets within secrets.” So that bit of folklore combines with Baba Yaga herself.
My Baba Yaga does have a different backstory than yours (that'll be me, Sarwat, unless you, dear reader, are writing Baba Yaga to, which would be insanely cool, don't you think?), but I don’t want to give all that away quite yet. Let’s just say that it’s in keeping with the romance aspect of my fantasy. But like the Baba Yaga in Dark Goddess, my witch is unpredictable, upset at some of the things that have happened to her and around her, and has some secret plans…