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!

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.

Salon du Livre

Maedhbh and I were in Paris for the weekend, for the massive French book fair, the Salon du Livre. I’d been invited over because ‘Voraces’ (the French edition of ‘Ancient Appetites’) has been short-listed for les Mordus du Polar which, loosely translated, means ‘Mad about Mystery’. The winner will be announced on the 7th of April, but in the meantime, I’d been asked to speak on a panel of writers at the book fair.

Maedhbh and I hadn’t been away together on our own overnight since our youngest was born, so we decided to make a proper weekend of it, arriving on Friday morning, and coming back Sunday afternoon.

I’ll cover the work bit in this post, and do a separate one for the touristy bit:

After a day of wandering round Paris on Friday, Saturday was to be a very different affair. We left the hotel after breakfast and took a tram to the exhibition centre, which was enormous. The Salon du Livre only took up one pavilion, but must still have been the size of a couple of football fields. Very little was in English, of course, so there we were surrounded by stands covered in the most amazing looking books, and couldn’t read much at all (both of us muddling through with our secondary school French), but it was still incredible to experience. Unlike some book fairs, this one was at least as much for the public as it was for the trade, so there were crowds of people of all ages milling around, checking out the stands.

We met Sarah, Sylvaine, Helene, and some of the folks at the Mango Jeunesse stand (my publishers) and made our way to where I’d be taking part in a panel interview with the other authors who were up for the award: Élise Fontenaille, Marie-Aude Murail and Anne & Marie Rambach, two sisters who wrote their book together.

It was a good panel, with over a hundred and fifty people in the audience – many of them kids – and a lot of onlookers passing by and stopping to listen at the back. I was the only one who needed a translator, so the person who actually did the most talking was a woman named Sheila Pratschke, Director of the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, who basically had to repeat what everybody said. Thanks again for that, Sheila.

It was interesting to note that, once you pin writers down about their processes, the essentials don’t change from language to language. Each of us had our own very different way of going about writing, but the elements that first grabbed us about creating stories when we were young, and the need to convey thoughts accurately from your own head into somebody else’s were familiar to all five of us.

The panel went on for just over an hour and a half, with a lot of questions from the kids, as well as the inteviewer, and then we signed a few books before moving on. For the rest of the day, with just a break for lunch, I sat at the Mango stand, meeting people and signing more books. My French wasn’t up to making small talk, so I spent a lot of time doing drawings which we handed out when people bought books, with one of the gang from Mango translating for me if somebody came up and wanted to chat.

One other piece of good news came up while I was there that day – I found out I’d made the long-list (one of ten titles) for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire 2012 for the Wildenstern Saga as a series. It’s in the ‘Young Foreign Novel’ category.  ‘Voraces’ was short-listed for this award last year, but didn’t get it. The ten titles will be whittled down to five, before the winner is announced next year. The competition is pretty tough, with ‘The Hunger Games’ and Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Leviathan’ series on the same list. I’ve already posted something on ‘The Hunger Games’, and I’m on the second book of Westerfeld’s trilogy, and think it’s brilliant.

The cover of ‘Feroces’, the French edition of ‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’ – designed by Aurelien Police – is also up for an award in the cover design category. I can’t take any credit for that, but I’m happy to bask in its association. Vive la France!

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.

Les Mordus du Polar 2012

They really must like Irish steampunk in France. ‘Voraces’, the French edition of ‘Ancient Appetites’ (published by Mango), is up for a third award. Les Mordus du Polar is an award organized by librarians and focuses on mystery novels – which is interesting in itself, as ‘Voraces’ does start off as a murder mystery, but I’m not sure how long it could be said to stay in that category.

There is a shortlist of four books:

  • ‘Comment Je Suis Devenue Flic’ by Anne and Marine Rambach
  • ‘Le Garçon Qui Volait des Avions’ by Elise Fontenaille
  • ‘Le Tueur a la Cravate’ by Marie-Aude Murail

And my one, of course. As far as I know, all the other authors are French. Getting shortlisted like this is brilliant news, particularly as it’s run by librarians – a very influential network to have on your side. Last year, I was shortlisted for le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire in the Young Adult (Foreign) Novel category and le Prix Imaginales 2011 in the Jeunesse Category, but didn’t win either, so fingers crossed this time . . .

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.

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.

Satisfying French Appetites

It seems the French like Irish steampunk stories. The French edition of ‘Ancient Appetites’ – ‘Voraces’ – is up for a second award. This one is the Prix Imaginales 2011.

The prize was created in 2002 and is the first French prize exclusively devoted to fantasy writing. ‘Voraces’ is in the ‘jeunesse’ category. Here’s the shortlist for the category:

  • Fabien CLAVEL.- L’Apprentie de Merlin (Mango)
  • Alexis FLAMANT.- Le T’Sank, Le Cycle d’Alamänder, 1 (Editions de l’Homme sans nom)
  • Cornelia FUNKE.- Reckless (Gallimard Jeunesse), traduction : Marie-Claude Auger
  • Johan HELIOT.- Les Flibustiers du vent, Le Tempestaire, 2 (Baam)
  • Oisin McGANN.- Voraces (Mango), traduction : Patrick Imbert

The results will be announced during Les Imaginales convention in Epinal, on the 28th of May.