So if you follow me in any fashion online you’ll know I announced a new novel yesterday. A fantasy novel no less. And it was announced on Tor.com and it’s coming from Titan Books. Aren’t I a space opera writer? An indie space opera writer? What the flying dachshund is going on Worrad? Well?
Honestly, I’m as surprised as you are my hypothetical surprised friend. I’ve been surprised at every stage of Pennyblade’s gestation. I never meant to write a fantasy novel, damn it. Can you believe that? The history of P-Blade (ooh that’s nice, I like that) is a series of freakish occurrences stitched together with several months of leisurely writing.
It’s conception lay in wanting to get away from writing. I was pooped out from editing Feral Space and decided a break from pounding the qwertyslab was in order and, like a lot of genre writers, decided to run an RPG. It had been almost a decade since I’d done that and my pal Matt, who I’d done one-player-one-GM games with had a copy of Fantasy Age. Fine, I thought, as long as it’s not Dungeons & Dragons* I’m up for a fantasy setting (*I’m morally opposed to twenty-sided dice. Won’t have ’em in the house)
So now you’re thinking Pennyblade’s one of those fantasy novels that came out of an RPG campaign. Well, no, not exactly. You see, what started as me writing out an adventure plan became me writing out a hyper-complex adventure plan, then a hyper-complex adventure plan where I, the GM, was deciding the hypothetical adventurer’s choices. If you play any RPG’s then you’ll know that last part is frowned upon, especially by the adventurer’s owner the player.
Oh shit, I told myself, you’ve roughly planned out a fantasy novel. Did I have the right to be a fantasy writer? I liked Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Ellen Kushner, RJ Barker, China Mielville, but was that enough? Sod it, I decided I’d write a fantasy novel I’d never submit anywhere, that would never see print.
And, reader, I had a fucking blast. The fastest, easiest novel I’ve ever squeezed out. For starters I focussed on the characters and built the world along the way, something I’ve never done before. But, more importantly, I wrote with zero fear. No one would ever read this. The Twitter-bird of public shame could fuck-off and do one because I was free, pal. I could be transgressive but playful, shameless and full of kind-hearted bad taste (There’s too much good taste in SFF right now, in my opinion, and it’s just not on).
Above all a very… Leicester… sensibility was coming out. I didn’t know my home city had a sensibility but here I was. The humour and outlook of my work colleagues, old house mates and the boys and girls down my local pub, a vague dark-but-cuddly something captured (better than I ever could) in the writing of local heroes Joe Orton and Graham Chapman.
And then I finished and put the book away (aside from a bit of workshopping with my writers’ group here and there). Moved on to another space opera (which, ironically, has yet to see the light of day).*
*Footnote: We *did* do the RPG in the end. Decidedly less raunchy than the book mind, but we had a great time and Matt was and is an incredible player. A lot of his choices were my characters choices, which was reassuring, and his performance added some bits to the book. It was odd, like a writing workshop crit where the critic lives the book and bumps into and smoothes out plot holes. Wish I could do that with every novel…
Fast forward a couple years. I’m at Dublin Worldcon and enjoying the maze of escalators and the many sandwiches. My pal Phil tells me there’s a book launch party down the road. There’s sometimes free wine at those things and almost always free stickers and pens. So I went.
It was held in a fancy sorta pub. They had all kinds of real ales, the barman had an Apple watch and someone asked me if I was an internet influencer. I went on the balcony to vape and met a really nice bloke. He turned out to be the acquiring editor for Titan (whose book launch this was) and he mentioned to a few of us out on the balcony that we could send stuff his way. People were eager to give their ‘elevator pitch’ and gave it well. I kept quiet and sucked the shit out of my vape.
Quiet, because I had something but was too, well, scared to speak about it, let alone submit it to any publisher. Weeks passed and Pennyblade gnawed at me. Ah, what the hell, I thought, send him it and it’ll help him remember you when you send a real book.
Imagine my surprise when a publisher accepted it. A major SFF publisher no less. Pennyblade, the shameful child under the stairs, had achieved what every other book I had written had failed to do. The lesson I’ve drawn from all this is to have more fun when I write and stop trying to write the next genre-smashing, zeitgeist-defining novel with the most intricate world building. Just write an entertaining tale.
I’m proud of Pennyblade. I’m really pleased and proud of the version of Pennyblade that’s been through my agent’s and editors’ highly-skilled paws. People don’t realise what a group effort a published book is; by the end it’s more like a band making an album than it is some lone schlub in their garret. I’m proud of everyone.
It’s a good book, frankly. The best I can do.
I think you’ll love reading it.