The Mountains to Sea Festival

My first book with Sarah McIntyre, Oliver and the Seawigs, won't be out till this time next year - she's working flat-out on the illustrations at the moment. (Draw faster McIntyre! FASTER, I SAY!)  But we're already getting into the swing of doing events together, and next week we'll be packing our Bratapult and travelling to the Mountains to Sea festival in Ireland, where we'll join a frankly glittering host of book-world luminaries including Marcus Sedgwick, Steve Cole, Jeremy Strong, Chris Judge, Michelle Harrison, Steve Simpson, David Mackintosh and Robert Muchamore. 

Our joint events are already SOLD OUT, so if you have tickets already I'll see you there, and if not, bad luck - although I suppose if you're going to the festival anyway it might be worth checking if there any free seats on the day.  I'll also be doing a session on Ideas, Imagination and the Craft of Writing with 13 Treasures author Michelle Harrison, for which there are still a few tickets left.  It looks as if it will be a wonderful festival, with an amazing line-up of writers for both adults and children. If you're coming, seek us out and say hello!

Impossible Podcasts

Impossible Podcasts is a website devoted to Dr Who and all things fantastical and science fictional.  A few weeks ago they recorded an interview with me, which you can listen to here on their newly re-vamped site.  We talked about my books, YA and dystopian fiction more generally, Steampunk and its discontents, and, of course, Dr Who. Readers of this blog will know that I'm not a big fan of that show - but I think the reason it annoys me so is that it's full of stuff I like, so I'm frustrated that it isn't better: I still hold out hopes that some future producer will turn out a Dr Who that I can bear to watch.  Meanwhile, it was a pleasure talking to Caleb Woodbridge and P.G.Bell. Even if you don't want to hear me burbling on, you should definitely take the time to visit their website.

Book Review: Katya's World


For the last few years I've been keeping my occasional book and film reviews separate from my personal stuff and news about my own books, by publishing them on my other blog, The Solitary Bee.  But this blog gets so many more hits than the Bee that it's a bit unfair to the authors I review to hide them away there, so in future I'll be posting reviews here as well.  If you haven't read my reviews of recent books by Tim Maughan, Gareth L Powell, Kim Lakin-Smith, Deadly Knitshade, and Dave Shelton,  you can find them all here.

Katya's World by Jonathan L Howard

I've sometimes been heard to say that science fiction will be the Next Big Thing in YA fiction, or at least that it ought to be.  There have certainly been an awful lot of more-or-less SF-ish 'dystopian' novels recently, but most of them don't seem very interested in actual science, so it's nice to welcome one which is: 

The first volume of a projected trilogy, Jonathan L Howard's Katya's World is set on a distant planet called Russalka which has been inhabited by colonists of mostly Russian ancestry.  Since Russalka has no land, only an endless, storm-swept ocean, the inhabitants mostly live in pressurised environments beneath the sea.  The prologue explains how and why this came to happen, and how the colony came to be first abandoned by, and then involved in a war with, its one-time masters on Earth.

The prologue is, unfortunately, the book's major weak point. Oh, how the heart sinks when a SF novel kicks off with a whole chapter-length chunk of exposition! And it's largely unnecessary in this case, because  all the information it contains could easily have been revealed as and when we need to know it, in the course of the action. In fact, I'd be ready to bet that that's how it was originally intended to be revealed: the prologue reads like something tacked on at the behest of an editor who thought young readers might be confused if everything wasn't neatly explained up front. But don't worry: as soon as it's out of the way and the actual story gets going, Katya's World exerts a grip which won't let up till the final page.

Russalka is a greasy, grimy, 'used future', reminiscent in some ways of films like Alien, in which mankind has somehow developed interstellar travel and anti-gravity devices but continues to build claustrophobic submarines with technology pretty close to our own, and to indulge in familiar forms of inhumanity and political oppression.  It's full of shadowy cabins, dank corridors and the dim glow of computer screens, and although Jonathan L Howard doesn't waste many words describing his settings it's all very atmospheric.

The wider backdrop is interesting too: an uneasy political situation in the aftermath of war, with growing tensions between the submarine cities and the surface-dwelling Yagizban Enclaves. Into this mix come swimming a mysterious and hugely powerful war machine, the Leviathan, left over from the conflict with Earth and connected in some sinister way with Kane, the political prisoner whom young Katya Kuriakova and her uncle are ordered to transport aboard their civilian cargo submarine.

Needless to say, their apparently simple voyage goes quickly and desperately wrong, and before long Katya is involved with traitors, pirates, and terrifying artificial intelligences.  There are quite a few chases, firefights and escapes, and several well-described submarine battles. There is plenty of awesome technology both under and above the sea, presumably all based on plausible science (I confess I can't imagine how the anti-gravity machines are supposed to work, but what do I know?) and a lot of the action is built neatly out of the way submarines actually operate. There's even a floating city called FP1, for people who like really obscure movie references.

Most importantly, the characters are engaging.  All these submarines would quickly grow dull if we didn't care about the people they contain, but Katya is a strong and likeable heroine, convincingly frightened for much of the time, but quick-thinking and intelligent enough to come up with sound solutions to most of the problems which the plot hurls at her. Kane is an intriguing figure, too  - is he a villain or not? - and the rest of the cast (mostly pirates, submariners and gruff military types) are nicely rounded out, so that the good ones have their bad points and the bad ones are never wholly bad: even the charmless Officer Sukhalev gets a chance to shine.

And at the end there is an actual ending, which is always a worry when you start the first book of a trilogy. Plenty of loose ends remain a-dangling, ready to be gathered up in the next book, but this story concludes with a proper, spectacular climax rather than a cliff-hanger. It's a highly effective, thought-provoking YA novel, and it left me looking forward to the next volume.

Katya's World will be published by Strange Chemistry in November 2012

Next Year's Cover!

This may be a wee bit premature, since I only sent off the final draft of my next book yesterday, but I had my first peek at the cover today, and it's too good not to share... Goblins vs Dwarves will be a sequel to Goblins, and it's going to be as red as the first book is green.  It will be published next spring. (Goblin and dwarf drawings by Dave Semple, as before...)

Incidentally, Goblins is also available for Kindle.

Summer Days

Sorry for the absence of posts recently, but I've busy (mostly) writing.  This week I've been editing the manuscript for the second Goblins book, Goblins Vs Dwarves, which will be out next spring and will be full of characters like this:

Last week we had a visit from Sarah McIntyre, and as well as getting lots of nice walks in we found time to discuss some ideas for the second of our books for OUP. The first, Oliver and the Seawigs, won't be out till autumn 2013, but Sarah is already hard at work on the illustrations, and you can follow the process on her blog. (There's also a bit there about a comics workshop she did in my kitchen...) The second story won't be connected to ...Seawigs in any way - in fact, it's as different as we could make it, and I'm quite excited about it.  Here's Sarah rocking the Vietnam LURP look in Wistman's Wood during one of our editorial strolls.

I was planning that Fever Crumb 4 would be my next big project, but sadly it's had to be put on the back burner for contractual reasons. I've consoled myself by starting in on a huge new story which I just call 'The Epic' for the moment. It's far and away the most science-fictional thing I've ever written,  and it also looks set to be the longest - I've done 50,000 words so far and I don't think I've reached the half-way point yet.  It's not a children's book, but whether it's 'YA' or for grown-ups (and whether anyone will want to publish it) it's too early to say.  It's a lot of fun to write, though, so I don't really care.  And as soon as it's done I'll be back to Fever 4.

And on a more practical note, we're having our shed done up to make a writing/drawing/photography studio. I'm not remotely practical so all the work is being done by our brilliant builders, Claud and Neil, but I did pop out between rainstorms to slap a bit of preservative stain on the exterior cladding...

If you're in Edinburgh next weekend I'll be appearing at the International Book Festival in Charlotte Square.  If you're in Ireland in September Sarah McIntyre and I will be doing our thing at the Mountains to Sea Festival in DĂșn Laoghaire. And if you're a fan of SF or fantasy and can get to Bristol in October I'll hope to see you at BristolCon on 20th October.

And wherever you are, I hope you're having a great summer.*

*Unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case Happy Winter.