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 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.

It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas . . .

This is a cool little idea for an app: one that tells a story of Santa getting ready for Christmas, then lets you write a letter by hand to him on the screen. You can check out the ad here.

I have to confess to being biased on this one – the music for this ad was composed by my brother, Darius. A disgracefully talented and capable upstart, he’s a musician and sound engineer who has recently moved into composing and quickly established a name for himself. He’s already done the soundtracks for a number of short films. This ad is his first jingle. You can check out some of his other work here. He’s also done a piece of music for me to use on a book trailer I have planned for the Wildenstern Saga . . . when I can get my arse in gear and get the other bits done. You know how it is.

The trailer hasn’t got much further than the layout stage, but you can have a listen to the music on his site. I originally asked him to record that deliciously spooky ‘Danse Macabre’ by Saint Saens on guitar for me (no small task in itself). But he went the whole hog and composed an entirely new piece. I think it’s brilliant – and proper moody. Incredibly, he achieved this fantastic orchestral sound with only a computer, some nifty software, a piano keyboard and not much else.

On a further Christmassy note, here’s a cool little video about the Nativity – the online story. It’ll give you a chuckle.

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 . . .