The Waterborne Blade: release week

Release week for The Waterborne Blade is upon us! I’m still struggling to get my head round the fact the book is really out there at last, but here’s a brief roundup of reactions so far:

“This is a well-paced, enjoyable read with characters that feel rounded and real, changing and evolving as the book goes on. […] it’s in the scheming of courts and cousins, childhood spats and splintering marriages that the writing shines.”
Rhian Drinkwater, SFX Magazine

“I have to hand it to Murray, she certainly knows when to kick in the exciting developments in plot and character to keep you on the edge of your seat. Just when you think you’ve reached the right place to set it down, you end up reading right through the night to find out where exactly the plot is about to take you. It pretty much blind sighted me and I read a lot of fantasy! […] Fast paced, enjoyable, not too heavy, not too light, just right fantasy!”
Book Frivolity

“An exciting new fantasy series with an awesome female protagonist that is compulsively readable. […] I almost missed my MAX stop on my way home because of this book. It’s totally engrossing, which makes this book go by pretty quickly, and leaves you wanting more.”
Roberta’s Literary Ramblings

TheWaterborneBlade-144dpi“This thrilling tale of sword and sorcery thrusts us right into the action.  When we meet the protagonists, we are given no background on them, or on the situation they find themselves in.  We are told they need to flee, now, and we follow.”
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Corner

“The Waterborne Blade is an intriguing and compelling fantasy woven from a fascinating story set in a vibrant world inhabited by vivid characters. Susan Murray is a consummate storyteller who fulfills everything you could desire of a book and leaves you wanting more.”
Graeme K. Talboys, author of Stealing into Winter

“This is a wonderful thing, a sweeping fantasy which somehow manages to pull off the trick of being intimate and very human at the same time. It begins with a realm in peril, and then puts its shoulders back and strides confidently towards a horizon packed with magic and love and abandoned palaces and a huge and very real evil. Susan Murray has written a debut novel of great skill and depth, and I loved it.”
Dave Hutchinson, author of Europe in Autumn

Available here:

UK:
Amazon.co.uk | Book Depository | Waterstones | WHSmith

North America:
Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | BarnesandNoble.com | IndieBound.org

Global DRM-Free Epub & Mobi Ebook
Available now from the Robot Trading Company

First sightings in the wild

Release date for The Waterborne Blade is edging closer, and this week the first copies were sighted in the wild – or, more precisely, in a backroom at a top secret location. The first reviews are trickling through, and this whole thing is starting to look real.

Featured image   Featured image

2014: The year everything changed

Except, of course, not much has changed after all.

After starting with the buzz of a 2-book deal the year’s been a strange never-quite-stepping-across-that-threshold affair as my publishers were put up for sale by their holding group. They’ve risen phoenix-like from the ashes ready to resume publication in 2015 with The Waterborne Blade rescheduled for release in May.

On the writing front, I’ve discovered the massive dose of validation from a publishing deal doesn’t do much to counter the self-doubt – if anything, it provides a near-inexhaustible supply of new food sources for the self-doubt. At this point I can vouch for the wisdom of advice to bash on with the next book once the previous one is out of the door. Maybe next time I’ll try that. As it is, the sequel has had the benefit of a long gestation period before drafting began in earnest in mid October. I’ve compiled a list of tweaks for the first novel to accommodate developments in the sequel and been mulling over the editor’s notes which arrived just before Christmas, ready to start work post-festivities.

Drafting the sequel has been an interesting writing exercise in itself, working to get the most from the elements already in place – they say creativity thrives within constraints, after all. I’ve learned more about my writing process, too, and to trust my instincts. Since I have a grown-up author contract I set out to plot like a grown-up author. The very first scene I drafted was what I anticipated would be the final one of the novel. So far, so good. With the overall shape in mind I outlined the early stages, but the further I planned, the more hazy things became. Outlines are sterile things, and I find better details arise organically while drafting. The upshot of this is I’ve stopped trying to plan too far ahead, but now aim to work in chunks of 25-30k at a time with a pause to take stock between each chunk. anticipation

On the reading front I’ve been reading more in other genres this year. Standout reads for me have been The Three by Sarah Lotz, and Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson. There was a load more stuff I’d thought to include here, but 2014 is almost done and there’s a lot of work ahead in 2015 so I’m closing now with a suitably festive pic of our dog (the household’s chief wrapping-shredder).

Wishing all the best to everyone for 2015, especially those for whom 2014 has been a particularly tough year.

The York Effect: Angry Robot Deal

Short and sweet, this one. In case anyone missed the news earlier this week: I have a 2-book deal with Angry Robot Books who’ll be publishing my debut fantasy novel The Waterborne Blade in October this year.

The York Effect? I met both editor and agent through one-to-one pitch sessions at the Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing in York. The event offers a wide selection of workshops and the opportunity for feedback on your work. Well worth attending if you have the opportunity.

Short. Sweet. Scary (in a good way).

‘Twisted Histories’ made real

Contributor copies have arrived! ImageIt’s difficult to describe the buzz from finding your words made artefact, part of an actual Thing. A gorgeously creepy Thing, at that. The eyes of that cover image have been following me round the room for a couple of days. Every so often I stop to riffle the pages and fondle the spine.

I suppose I’ll have to take the rest out of the box soon …

That was 2013, that was

I had big plans for 2013. They didn’t include my father being taken ill, rushed to hospital and subsequently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the start of the year.

Fast-forward to an enjoyable family Christmas dinner and so far we’ve been lucky. His medication’s working well. He’s still very much the man who cycled the 3 lakeland passes to celebrate his 70th birthday; the man who walked me down the aisle in 1989; the man with whom, a couple of months before, I’d enjoyed a perfect day in the hills when we walked up from the valley to climb Centurion on Ben Nevis; the man who taught me clutch control, how to change a car wheel, how to ride a bike; the man who could mend anything; the man who helped with the plastering, tiling and wiring on various renovation projects over the years. And so many more things. It’s fair to say the prospect of seeing that shared experience being eroded piece by precious piece has cast a deep shadow over the year.

So I had big plans for 2013 but the less important ones fell by the wayside. The big one, though – to Finish The Damn Novel – I made that one happen and it’s out on submission now. Huge thanks are due to beta readers Noosh and Grum for their invaluable input and encouragement.

xmasmogNo top ten lists here. Stand-out reads from the year are Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls and Sarah Pinborough’s Mayhem, while TV brought us the superb Peaky Blinders.

Plans for 2014? Keep working on the important stuff and live every bloody minute of it. I’ll work out the detail as I go along.

Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing, York, 2013

This weekend I spent 52 hours immersed in discussion of the technical (and human) aspects of writing. The Writers’ Workshop team provided an excellent selection of workshops at York, as well as opportunities to discuss a sample of your work with agents and book doctors. This year I attended sessions presented by Allie Spencer, Jeremy Sheldon, Julie Cohen, and Jo Unwin. If you get a chance to hear any of them speaking, seize it.

Packing so many thought-provoking exchanges into the weekend was head-spinning. On the Sunday a few of us who’d met at York in 2012 were discussing whether we could justify returning the next year. It was that point in the weekend where the rigours of the student lifestyle were biting, hard. We’d managed to catch the workshops we’d missed last year. We might get stuck in a loop of diminishing returns. The weather this year was cold. Our time might be better spent just getting on with the writing and taking our chances with the slushpile. For some reason we were all busy ignoring the elephant in the room at that point: preparing for the one-to-ones gives you an external deadline to work to if you’re writing on spec. One you can’t rearrange if you have a slow week.

Anyway, the elephant shuffled off to commune with the geese* while we trailed in to the very last workshop. There were all sorts of ideas being batted round the room about which POV to use for a story. My sleep-deprived backbrain was noodling away on an issue readers had raised concerning one of my characters. And someone near the back of the room asked a question about a character’s hidden flaw. Cue the light-bulb moment to end all light-bulb moments. Only bigger. Think lightning strike on a dark night: the kind that illuminates every contour of the landscape, refracts off mist in the hollows and outlines trees on the horizon. Think celestial choirs … Well, no. It was more of a head/desk interface moment. An issue I’d never quite pinned down because I’d been so busy staring at it but not seeing it. Moments of clarity like that are priceless.

The thing is, after being off-colour and getting stuck in an editing rut where I felt I was making everything worse, I so nearly bottled out of going to York at all this year. If it had rained on Friday morning that would have been all the excuse I needed. I’m so glad it didn’t, or I’d have missed an exhilarating weekend. Props to the team at Writers’ Workshop for all the work they put into organising the event.

* The fabric of space and time would be damaged beyond repair if the geese at York university campus didn’t get a look in.

Twisted Histories anthology

Here’s a rather wonderful thing: the cover image for the Twisted Histories anthology. Superbly creepy.
Edited by Scott Harrison, it’s due out in paperback from Snowbooks in November and features re-imaginings of mythical figures. I’m delighted to see one of my stories keeping such good company.

ContentsTH

01 – Gog & Magog by Kaaron Warren [Gog & Magog]

02 – Little Boxes by Gary McMahon [Pandora’s Box]

03 – Collapse by Susan Murray [Green Man / John Barleycorn]

04 – Blame The French by Stephen Gallagher [Odysseus]

05 – A Silence Between The Sounds by Scott Harrison [The Magi]

06 – Containment by Justin Richards [Werewolves]

07 – The Tides of Avalon by Jennifer Williams [King Arthur / Mermaids]

08 – Flaming Sword by Richard Dinnick [Adam & Eve]

09 – Covenants by Simon Beswick [Ark of the Covenant]

10 – The Second Coming by Wayne Simmons [The Resurrection]

11 – The Lips of Every Sleeper by Alison Littlewood [Dryads]

First Draft Euphoria

Or: Outlining? Pfft.

This week I completed the first draft of the novel I thought I’d never finish, nine months after embarking on a major rewrite. It’s rough, it’s messy, and it weighs in at a suitably epic 124k.  I’ve resisted the temptation to print it out. A whole ream of A4? Ouch. Enough paper’s been sacrificed to reach this stage, most of it dog-eared and no longer relevant:Image

A few lessons learned at this stage. All of them are highly subjective as with any creative process.

This project’s much heftier than previous novels so I’ve needed to keep track of world-building notes and plot details. Scrivener offers loads of options for keeping notes and adding meta-data and it’s taken time to fathom out which are most suited to my way of working. Hopefully for the next project I’ll be able to work smarter from the outset.

I started out with a core 50k from the previous draft. With hindsight it would have been better to ditch that and start from scratch as I spent a lot of time getting reacquainted with detail that’s ceased to be relevant as the story’s evolved.

Outlining’s been of limited use for this project. I feel like it should be some kind of magic plot bullet, but, no. Twists and turns emerge organically once I’m immersed in the writing. I’m a diehard pantser (I need a Bruce Willis-style vest* for writing first drafts). Whenever the drafting process ground to a halt it was because I’d outlined a development that didn’t tally with character motivation.

On the other hand, brainstorming possibilities and mind-mapping them has been tremendously useful. Everything gets jotted down, however daft or dull. Then you can drag them about, rearrange them, highlight the useful ones, cross things out and still have a record of where you’ve been if you need to backtrack. I’ve been using Scapple for this, it’s great value for money but Mac-only. The open source Vue is also very accessible and available for other platforms.

I’ve taken to working in 20-30k chunks, pausing to take stock and brainstorming the next section before pushing on. Freewriting’s been invaluable for pushing through the no-idea-what-happens-next moments. From feeling out of my depth working on a novel of this length I’ve stumbled on a process that works for me.

So, I finally got it written. Now to get it right.

* You already knew not to come to me for sartorial advice, right?

Shakespeare as Oracle, or Much Ado about Plotting and Pantsing

This isn’t where I wax lyrical about how much I love Shakespeare’s work. I’ve read very little of it, beyond what we had to read at school, and remember less. First there was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A character named Bottom? Really? I never quite got past that.* Later, in Middle School, we tackled Julius Caesar. In one memorable** class we had to learn a speech off by heart then stand up and recite it: Therecomesatideintheaffairsofmenwhichiftakenatthefloodleadsontobetterthings … thefaultliesnotinourstarsbutinourselvesthatweareunderlings … Dear Reader, I crashed and burned. Thanks to a crackly radio adaptation we listened to in school I do at least have a favourite line: Then fall Caesar. Gnurrgh.

Somewhere along the way we encountered Romeo and Juliet. I suspect I had mumps at the time, for I managed to keep my eyes averted as I shuffled past their tragic corpses. I can’t even remember which play we studied for ‘O’ levels alongside Lord of the Flies and Jane Eyre, although I do remember flinging poor Jane across the room in disgust upon reading the words ‘Reader, I married him.’ One day I might read to the very end, but that day hasn’t arrived yet. Despite the best efforts of the exam boards my reading choices at the time remained centred on space ships, triffids, dragons, and Jane Austen.

But there’s no escaping the ubiquitous bard. I’ll find a phrase noodling around in my mind and, thanks to the wondrous internet, I’ll discover it’s one of his. He has a way with language that makes his phrases stick, tenacious as any earworm. Hold that thought.

What has that to do with plotting and pantsing? You may already have guessed I tend towards the pantsing end of the spectrum. Once I’ve found my characters and their dilemma we launch into the unknown until we run aground 20-30k later, and then pause to take stock. After that I loosely plan the next stage of the story, along the lines of this, this and this has happened, so that, that and that will happen next. But it rarely does. Some other thing crops up, and it’s usually far more convincing than what I’d planned.

So here I am approaching the end of the story. Except the characters galloped headlong into what I’d originally envisaged as the closing scene several thousand words ago and it wasn’t the ending at all. While I was stuck an online friend – plotter to the core – commented she always knows the ending before she begins to write. That just doesn’t work for me, my process is altogether more messy. Away I trailed to delete another 5k of plot cul de sac, envying her efficient process. And the earworm began taunting me – the stupid earworm that led me into the stupid not-ending first time round – the first line from the opening scene of Macbeth. The notion of three characters closing the circle at the end still felt relevant so I went and looked it up in context.

When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

When the hurlyburly’s done, When the battle’s lost and won.

Light bulb moment! After several weeks of minimal progress this may be a beleaguered writer clutching at straws, but I like to think my subconscious was on the case the whole time. Either way, I’ve decided which direction the story takes next. Time will tell if it works or not.

This isn’t the first time the bard’s bailed me out when a plot’s stalled. The very first time it was one of Bottom’s lines, no less, rattling round my subconscious since the mid-seventies, just waiting until I needed it to trigger a few new associations:

… to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.

You’d think I’d have learned by now. Next time the writing grinds to a halt I’ll ask the oracle a bit sooner.

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* Anna J Grace-Smith has no such problems. You can find her rather wonderful extrapolation of the tale here.

** A day without a dreadful pun is a day wasted.