Terrorism and the Art of Not Explaining Things

After September the 11th, the subsequent invasion of Iraq and all the crap that went on around it, I decided to sit down and write my second novel (which ended up being the first published), set in an alternate world to explain to everyone what was going on. Gods CoverI soon realized two things:

1) Writing a story so you can explain things makes for a crap story.

2) I knew feck all about Islamic extremism, the Middle East or the mind-set of the people there (Was Iraq even in the Middle East? Which countries make up the Middle East?).

I knew a bit about the circumstances that had created the conflict in Northern Ireland, and had watched Western extremism with some bemusement for years, but I had to face facts: I was in no position to explain anything. And besides, I was more interested in writing a thriller than a political statement.

But I am curious by nature and I did have a lot of questions, and questions are a good way to start a story. And when you write stories, you tend to write about the stuff that’s affecting you at the time.

So I wrote a tale about old men who could use young men and women to harness the power of ghosts. Those young people could take the violence of one unjust death and use that energy as a supernatural – and suicidal – weapon to cause other deaths (I wanted something that offered more variety than bombs), martyring themselves, so that one death constantly led to another. German 'Gods' CoverI created a world where one culture, a kind of a mix of the Middle East and the American Old West, was fighting a guerilla war with a more advanced, domineering culture, whose technology (and world view) was about the level of 1940’s Europe or America.

Years later in the real world, and the same stuff is still happening. And there still don’t seem to be any better answers to what’s going on except maybe for people to stop killing each other long enough for them to get a taste for life again, which is basically what happened in Northern Ireland. This solution, of course, was way too lacking in drama to serve as the ending for my novel, and you have to have drama for that all-important climax.

Over the weekend, I was at the Rolling Sun Festival in Westport, where Robert Fisk spoke about the recent events in Beirut and Paris. Gods US CoverHere was a man who actually could explain things, in an incredibly articulate and passionate way. And despite all the obscene violence he’d witnessed, he still seemed to have hope that we can some day stop creating the circumstances that create terrorism.

I wish he wrote for children and young adults – that’s surely where his message would have the greatest effect.

If you want to broach this twisty subject with young readers, The Gods and Their Machines doesn’t promise any easy resolutions, but I hope it can offer some questions.

And I figure a few questions is a good start.

Found in Translation

This is a weird business. Just before Christmas, I got a courier package from Random House. I normally know ahead of time when I’m due something from them, so I was a little curious when I opened this one up. Imagine my surprise (and pleasure . . . and a touch of confusion) to discover that the first two Armouron books, ‘The Armoured Ghost’ and ‘Lying Eyes’, had been translated into German. And published in hardback, no less.

This is how I found out – I opened that package to discover my copies of the books.

Now, normally when my books are sold into another country, I’ll be consulted, and there’ll be a contract to sign. Beyond that, how much input I get into the foreign editions is down to the individual publisher – some I have contact with, most I don’t. There’s none with the Armouron stuff, because I don’t own the creator’s rights, the designer of the toy range does – although I did do most of the initial set-up of the world and the characters. Even so, you’d think somebody would have sent word that they’d sold the German rights for two of my books. And my agent (who normally handles foreign rights for me) was as surprised as I was.

Not that I’m being all negative about this (well, a little more communication would be nice); it’s always cool to see your book in another language, even if most of the rights are, in this case, owned by someone else. It’s interesting that Loewe, the German publishers, kept the original covers too – those often get changed when you break into a different market. You can have a look at the covers of my other foreign editions here. I thought I’d got over the stage in my career where I found out about stuff after it was done.But this little episode just goes to show how unpredictable and disjointed this industry can be at times, even when you’re working with the most professional people.

It reminds me of my first ever foreign edition, when ‘The Gods and Their Machines’ was published by Tor in the US. I did have to sign a contract for that one, but the first time I saw the cover of the book was when it appeared on Amazon. Thanks, guys.


Here’s a first look at the cover of the French edition of ‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’. It’s going to be entitled ‘Féroces’, (‘Ferocious’), and I’m really pleased with the design. They’ve captured that ‘dark-gothic-mystery-and-violence-tempered-by-a-need-for-civilized-decorum’ feel very well indeed.

You can see more versions of my book covers in my Cover Gallery.

As I’ve mentioned before with the French version of ‘Ancient Appetites’, when your book is sold into another country, the level of input you get into how it looks can vary. With a publisher in the Irish or UK markets, I’d expect a lot of say in the cover.

In foreign markets, I have to trust the publisher there to know their business; the audience in every country is different. Mango, my French publisher, make a point of showing me the cover and asking my opinion, as they’ve done here, but the cover image is pretty much done and dusted before I see it, and I can only really get it tweaked at this stage.

Contrast that with my very first foray into a new market – when Tor published ‘The Gods and Their Machines’ in the States. The first time I saw that cover was on Amazon.

Thanks for the cover, Mango. Can’t wait to see it in print.