And the Winner is . . .

A massive thanks to everyone who entered the ‘Merciless Reason’ Competition! And now I’m delighted to announce the winner and runners-up:

The runners-up will all receive inscribed copies of each of the three Wildenstern books. They are:

Alice Maciejowska

Rhoda McNamara

Damilola Adeniji.

And the winner, who will make a cameo appearance in my next novel, ‘Rat-Runners’ is . . .

Caragh Boland!

Congratulations to all of them, and thanks again to everyone who took part!

Merciless Reason Competition

The deadline for entering the Merciless Reason Competition has now passed! A big thanks to everyone who entered! The winner of the competition will appear as a character in my next book, and will be announced on the 15th of July. There will be three runners-up who will receive inscribed copies of all three Wildenstern books.

Thanks again to everyone who took part!

Win the Chance to be a Character in a Book!

To celebrate the release of ‘Merciless Reason’, the third book in the Wildenstern Saga, we are offering one reader the chance to make an appearance as a character in my next novel.* Like a walk-on part in a film, except you won’t have to walk. To enter, you need to do two things:

1. Simply answer this question:
In the opening chapter of ‘Ancient Appetites’, the first Wildenstern book, Nate goes hunting for a wild motorcycle in the Wicklow Mountains. What do the local people call this creature?**

2. Send us a short written description of what you look like. Include some of your interests or hobbies. Use no more than forty words – no photos or attachments please!

Send your entry by email to:
Please put your answer to the question in the subject line.

There will also be three runners-up, each of whom will receive inscribed copies of all three Wildenstern novels.

The closing date for the competition is the 15th of June.

*My next book is entitled ‘Rat-Runners’. It’s not a Wildenstern book, but will be a thrilling piece of work nonetheless.

**The first chapter of ‘Ancient Appetites’ can be found here. Hint: The name starts with a ‘B’.

The winner will be announced on or before the 15th of July at

For the Terms & Conditions, please refer to the ‘Merciless Reason’ page.

And on a final, related note, I recently did a guest post on the Falcata Times blog for their Steampunk Week. It’s a letter to Nathaniel from his father, Edgar, after Nate’s first attempt to flee from the family (before the events of ‘Ancient Appetites’). It is a note of caution from a ruthless old businessman to a son he considers gormless and impulsive. It won’t warm your heart.

The Things We Do . . .

Well, ‘Merciless Reason’, the third Wildenstern novel, is well and truly out in the shops (and libraries, of course). There are a lot of up and coming authors out there (though I still count myself as ‘up and coming’) who focus all their efforts on getting published for the first time – which is natural enough. But I thought I’d post a bit about some of the things you have to do as a writer to stay published and sell books.

Having just come back from Paris for the book fair there, I had another school event in Cortown, in Meath, during the week, and then headed south for the Waterford Writers’ Weekend. This was originally known as the Sean Dunne Writers’ Festival, and they had an impressive list of guests down for the weekend, including Brian Keenan, Martina Devlin, Tim Severin, Donal MacIntyre, Monica McInerney and many others.

I had four different kinds of events on over the weekend: a theatre session for schools on the Friday in Garter Lane, the keynote speech for the Sean Dunne Young Writers’ Awards, a writing workshop for kids in the library on Saturday morning, and ‘The Ideas Shop’ with Sarah Webb and Judi Curtin in the afternoon. In this talk/show, we take turns talking about our influences, inspirations and techniques. I’ve done this gig a few times in different places with Sarah and Judi, who are always a pleasure to work with. They speak a lot calmer and somewhat more coherently than I do on stage – and are less prone to sensationalism. We approach writing from three very different points of view, so this event gives an audience a well rounded view of the craft.

Anyway, that’s four very different types of talks in the space of two days, while trying to get some work done in the downtime. But Waterford is a lovely city centre to walk around, with a pedestrianized square and the long quays along the river. The library building is beautiful inside, although it’s somewhat echoey if you’re trying to run a workshop right in the middle of it. They do have other rooms for that kind of thing, it’s just that Sarah and Judi were running workshops at the same time and must have bagsed them first.

In case I hadn’t done enough driving over the past week, I’ll be in Athenry in Galway tomorrow, and in Belfast the day after.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to be a shortlist judge for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards (I’m doing it for the 12- to 16-year-old category), which is run by the Scottish Book Trust. I’ve judged children’s and amateur competitions a few times, but this is the first time I’ve been asked to sit in on national award for published books. I’ve just received the box of fourteen novels through, all by writers who are from or live in Scotland. I can’t tell you which ones they are – it’s all very hush-hush. I’ve got less than two months to read them all – which is just about my limit – before the meeting in Edinburgh to set the shortlist near the end of May. It’s an award that authors should really appreciate, as the winners are decided entirely by children and young people in schools and libraries across Scotland who will read, discuss, review and vote on their favourite books.

There’s so much you have to do to promote your work when you’re in this business, that getting long stretches to write can be a quite a rare pleasure. I’m looking forward to the Easter break for just that reason, but in the meantime, I’m currently designing the poster for a competition I’m going to run to promote ‘Merciless Reason’. I’ll launch it officially after the Easter holidays, but the winner will make a cameo appearance as a character in my next novel. So if you fancy seeing your name in a novel, keep your eyes peeled for the release of the details after Easter.

Finally for now, here’s a cool example of someone who got a job as a screenwriter (and went on to enjoy great success), through the skillful expression of his love of words in his application letter.

The New Arrival

I have to admit; even after twenty-one books, I still get excited seeing my latest one fresh off the presses. I get a box of author copies when the production run’s done and they’re all being packed up for distribution, but I normally get a couple as soon as my editor can send me them, maybe one or two weeks ahead of the ‘official’ ones.

It may seem odd, but it’s not the text I have a look at first in a book – it’s the illustrations. In this case, there are just the cover and the chapter icons, but I examine each one in turn to make sure they’ve come out okay. Before I can really enjoy the new arrival, there’s a short period of suspense as I search for flaws. It’s rare that I find any worth mentioning – I have the good fortune to work with people with a thorough knowledge of their business.

There were a few last minute changes before we went to print: the blurb got shortened down, I added a couple of bits to the background piece at the end, as well as a scatter of other minor alterations.

In a way, I’ll stop thinking much about ‘Merciless Reason’, as I do with all my books once they’re done. I’m about to start editing the next one, and I’m getting on with some other sideline projects, so that’s what’s going to occupy my mind for the next while. But I’ll still pick this up from time to time over the next few weeks. It still feels good.

Thanks to Lauren, Sue, James and everyone at Random for all their work.

Here’s the new, shortened blurb:

‘There’s no escaping this family. I’d have an easier time shaking the plague.’

It has been three years since Nate left Ireland, and his ruthless, feared family, behind. But the Wildensterns are not finished with him. When he discovers that his treacherous cousin is still alive, he is drawn back into their world of plotting, betrayal and murder.

At home, Daisy and Tatiana are among the few who are trying to stem the damage the Wildensterns are doing. The family has become even more hated by the people it treads upon in its thirst for power.

One thing is for certain – the Wildensterns are back. Violence will ensue.

Creating an Icon

I had a grand time in the two weeks running up to Christmas, partly due to the kids’ excitement, and partly because I got to spend most of my work-time drawing and painting. I was doing a painting for my sister as a present – both for Christmas, and for the apartment she got (after much ado) a while back. But before I could get onto doing that, I was working on the black-and-white chapter icons for ‘Merciless Reason’.

This is a kind of signature thing I do for all my novels – a small image at the head of every chapter. I figure you should do everything you can to make your books as memorable as possible, inside as well as out, and sometimes an image can set a tone or help the reader visualize something or even just act as a tease, a taste at the start of a new scene, in a way that words can’t. And besides, I’ll look for any excuse to get an illustration into a book.

The challenge with these is to find images that are distinctive and eye-catching; each one should be very different from the next and they must all work at a small size. I draw these no larger than 8cm by 6cm, but they appear at the size of a postage stamp. In ‘Merciless Reason’, there are thirty-eight of these little pictures. They’re a quiet pleasure to work on. For the Wildenstern books I do them in a classic brush-and-ink style to suit the era, though people sometimes assume they’re etchings or even wood-cuts. I’ve never done an etching, and only did a little wood-cutting in college. And due to the time involved, these types of techniques are used less and less in illustration, which is a shame really.

I originally wanted to do full-page ‘plate’ illustrations for ‘Ancient Appetites’, as you would have found in nineteenth-century novels, but the folks at Random thought that might make the book look as if it were trying to appeal to a younger audience (can’t old people look at pictures too?). They were very happy to go with chapter headers, however. Too many books just have a basic, graphic design repeated as a header. If you’re interested, you can see a sample of one of my proposed full-page illustrations here.

As the Christmas/New Year holiday draws to a close, it’s time to get back into planning for the next few months. I’m intending to hold a competition to promote the launch of ‘Merciless Reason’, and I’ve already got some events lined up over the next few months. Then there’s the production work on my next novel to get started on; ‘Rat-Runners’ – a very different story to the Wildensterns’ exploits. I’ll see what other projects I can come up with in the meantime. It pays to keep yourself busy these days.

Hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas, and Happy New Year to all of you.

The Wildensterns Are Back. Violence Will Ensue.

With ‘Merciless Reason’ due out in March, we’re on the last stretch before it goes to print. The copy edits are pretty much complete, I’m working on the illustrations for the chapter icons at the moment, the team at Random House should have the page layouts done up before Christmas . . . and the cover is finished.

I know I’m biased, but I have to say I love it. I came up with the basic concept, but then James Fraser, the designer (formerly at Random, but now working freelance) took that and ran with it, recreating it in a brilliant layout. Then digital artist Steve Stone produced the final illustration, using a mixture of artwork, photography and computer imagery.

James has done most of the design work on my books with Random House and before this, Steve did the illustration for ‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’. Check out the portfolios on their sites – these guys are among the best in the business. Here’s the blurb for the book:

‘There’s no escaping this family. I’d have an easier time shaking the plague.’

It has been three years since Nate left Ireland, and his ruthless, feared family, behind. But the Wildensterns are not finished with him. When he discovers that his treacherous cousin is still alive, he is drawn back into their world of plotting, betrayal and murder.

At home, Daisy and Tatiana are among the few who are trying to stem the damage the Wildensterns are doing. The family has become even more hated by the people it treads upon in its thirst for power.

Fresh mysteries must be unravelled. The new church is being redesigned with strange mechanical devices built into its walls. An ancient relative is given control of the family. The children of an orphanage have gone missing.

One thing is for certain – the Wildensterns are back. Violence will ensue.

Something Old, Something New

My brother sent me this and I thought it was pretty cool, so I’m sticking it up here. Somebody’s built a life-size motorcycle that looks remarkably like Flash, one of the ancient, living machines known as engimals that appear in the Wildenstern Saga. You can see Flash on the cover of ‘Ancient Appetites‘.

‘Merciless Reason’, the third Wildenstern book, is coming out early next year, and I’ll have the front cover for you to look at pretty soon – it’s all but finished and the designer and illustrator have both done a brilliant job, but there’s just a couple of tweaks to do.

I also received this bit of video, and wanted to include it too. Basically, it’s a demonstration of how a superconductor can be made to act like a levitation device, though I suspect we’re still a few years away from hover cars yet. Don’t ask me how it does it. Apparently it’s a quantum thing. The guy doesn’t explain it very well (it’s ‘locked’ there, he says). Even so, it’s excellent.

In Transit

I’m only just back from France, having attended the Etonnants Voyageurs festival in St Malo, and then gone on to take a week with the family on the west coast of Britanny. I’ll do separate posts on those two, when I get a chance.

Unfortunately, I didn’t win either of the awards I was up for; the Prix Imaginales went to Cornelia Funke for ‘Reckless’ and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire went to Arthur Slade for ‘La Confrérie de l’Horloge’ (‘The Hunchback Assignments’ in English version). Congrats to both!

Goddammit, always the bridesmaid, never the bride . . .

But no sooner was I back in Ireland, then I was heading down for three days of events in primary schools in Tipperary, organized by the library service and Poetry Ireland. Yesterday I was in Ballyporeen and Burncourt, today was Clogheen and Ballylooby (great name!) and tomorrow it’s Birdhill NS, Newport Convent and Rearcross NS. I’m back again on Monday to visit Mullinahone.

I’ve got some kind of throat infection and it’s making things really awkward – anybody who’s been to one of my sessions will know how rowdy I can get. I’m running a workshop in the Irish Writers’ Centre over the weekend too, and tomorrow night I’m attending a launch of an art exhibition I’m taking part in as part of the Pink Ribbon campaign, in Kells, and it’s hard to see when my voice is going to get a chance to recover before next week.

After a very long couple of months, I’m absolutely knackered, and really looking forward to the summer and staying put for a while. I love my car, but I’m starting to feel as if I’m becoming car-seat-shaped. I’ve got a few events lined up in July and August, but I’m finally going to get a chance to do some writing – and not talking – as well as getting on with the editing of ‘Merciless Reason’, which has been on the shelf for way too long. I’m reading back through it now, not having worked on it in ages, and I’m pretty happy with how it’s going. The designer has started work on the cover now too, so I should have something to show before too long. I love James’s work, so I’ve got high expectations. Seeing the reception to the first two Wildenstern books in France, I’m eager to get the third one out there – hopefully some time next year. ‘Merciless Reason’ is scheduled for release in Ireland and the UK in January.

Coming soon, posts on Etonnants Voyageurs, the holiday, and word from Conor Kostick on his new book, ‘Edda’, the conclusion of his epic trilogy, ‘The Avatar Chronicles’. I’ve just finished reading it, and it’s got all the winning ingredients of the first two, including some theories that are liable to wreck your head if you gave them too much thought. Thanks Conor; as if my brain wasn’t overloaded enough at the moment . . .

Making Progress

Christmas is over, the snow is gone (but threatens to come back) and I face the New Year after a great holiday several pounds heavier and many euros lighter. It was a lovely couple of weeks, centred round the family and doing sod all, though it included watching far fewer films than usual, and no lie-ins worth talking about. And now I’m stuck back into work, there is little prospect of catching up on that elusive full night’s sleep.

But I’m making progress once more. My brother and I finally got the website updated. It had fallen badly behind, and Marek (who handles the technical side) couldn’t do anything with it until I gave him all the new bits that had to be added, or even told him what needed to be changed.

After a substantial time in publishing limbo, ‘Merciless Reason’, the third Wildenstern book, is finally being scheduled for release, hopefully this year, but I’ve still got no confirmation on that.

On top of the next two Armouron books (‘The Orphan Factory’ and ‘Dead-End Junction’), due out this year, I’ve had a few other things on the back-burner, including ‘From His Cold Dead Hands’, a crime thriller with a supernatural edge. There’s also a new series for younger readers, and another crime thriller series for fluent readers/young adults, featuring a team of young professional criminals set in the near future, in a surveillance state. How and when those stories see the light of day is still at the discussion stage, but I finally feel like I’m building up momentum again, after a year with my eye off the ball.

Before Christmas, news broke that Google was to begin selling ebooks online. It’s limited to U.S. customers only for the moment, but it’s the start of something that’s been on the horizon of the book world for some time. It’s also the first real sales venture for the search giant, if you don’t count the Android app market.

Google claims that it will have more books in its catalogue than any other online bookstore — with more than 3 million titles. But only about 200,000 of those books are licensed from publishers. The rest are (allegedly) books that are no longer under copyright in the United States. Books that Google has been scanning from university and public libraries as part of its controversial Google Books project. Google Books has scanned millions of books since it began in 2004, mostly without permission from copyright holders, with the initial intention of allowing people to search their texts online, but this sale of ebooks was always part of the plan. And even that’s just the beginning.

It’s all part of their master plan to make all of the world’s information available online, and getting us all to do our computing online too. It’s ambitious – almost megalomaniacal – but at least they have a real vision of the future. It is definitely a plan I have mixed feelings about. There’s just no private company in the world that I trust with the control of the world’s information

That said, I have been enjoying the chaos caused by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Yes, there’s a cost to exposing all the indiscreet communication between all those diplomats, politicians and civil servants, but if you can’t trust the ****ers to behave themselves in the dark, you have to leave the lights on.

I wonder what he’s got on the Irish government. Not that I think any government is going to get us out of this mess we’re in. We’re going to have to sort out most of this on our own.

Happy New Year to everyone out there, and let’s hope this is a better one for the country than the last one.