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I Have No Title for the Next Book

Titles are a nightmare.  On the bookshelf they always look like they’ve arrived fully-formed, which neatly masks the blood, sweat and tears that sometimes goes into their creation.  They need to be short, powerful, evocative and unique.  You think that’s easy?

I normally sell my books to my publisher on the basis of a synopsis.  For the last six contracted books, none of the titles in the pitch document have ended up on the spine.  The real titles always come during the writing.  The Devil in Green was originally called Slouching Towards Bethlehem for no other reason than I like the quote (besides, Joan Didion got there first).  DiG was the title of the first novel I ever wrote (which has never been seen by anyone and never well), so I cannibalised myself.  But that book has since felt like it could never have been called anything else.

In the pitch document, Jack of Ravens was called The Land of Always Summer, the next book was called The Waste Lands (and then The Great Dominions) and the third and final was Rex Mundi.  The series itself – Kingdom of the Serpent – was The View Across Existence.

I’ve spent all afternoon writing – and baking – in the garden and the title for the next book still hasn’t surfaced from the mire.  When I finally get a hook in it, I’ll let you know.

Cornwall. Best Place in Britain.

Until I start writing about Scotland and Wales. But, look…more prehistoric sites than any other county in the UK, St Michael’s Mount, Tintagel, the Eden Project, moors, beaches and great seas and sunsets.  What more could you want?

Which is why the research trip for Jack of Ravens was about as far from work as you could get.  The most important place I visited was Carn Euny, the remnants of an Iron Age settlement that features heavily in the book.  It’s a nightmare to find, which has its pluses – it’s not swarming with tourists and you can wander around it peacefully.

And if you’re prepared to get hands-on, you can head underground into a mysterious fogou.  These are underground passageways found mainly in south-west Iron Age sites.  Archaeologists aren’t sure what they were for – some say, they’re grain stores, others that they have a ritual use. 

Whatever the answer, there’s a very powerful atmosphere in the fogou.  I spent a good while tucked into a narrow niche at the end of one branching tunnel.  It was strangely spooky and uplifting at the same time.

Fantasy? Okay… but why?

Fantasy is just escapism. A bolt-hole for woolly thinkers unable to live in the modern world. That line of thought pops up as regular as dysentery on an unlicensed Nile cruise. It’s usually either journalists, or science fiction readers (or writers) who like stories about Big Machines with no discernible human dimension.

A history lesson: in the pre-modern world, Plato defined two complementary ways of reaching the truth. Logos – from which we get ‘logic’ – was all about viewing the wider world outside of our bodies. Mythos – from which we get ‘mythology’- was the mapping of the inner world inside our head. SF is the fiction of logos. Fantasy is the fiction of mythos. It was an incisive, neatly-balanced philosophy of everything, that worked perfectly well until the Age of Reason.

In our society, logos is given more weight. Wrongly, I believe. There’s a huge and distasteful arrogance to some of the big voices in science that reminds me of Tory MPs in the eighties when they thought Thatcherism was the only game in town, in perpetuity. Or to flip the political coin, of Arthur Scargill, the old leader of the National Union of Miners who led a self-destructive strike that was instrumental in wrecking the labour movement and damaging leftist politics in the UK for a decade (some would say much, much longer). There was the same look of bafflement on Scargill’s face as the strike imploded that you see on some scientists-spokespeople when they try to comprehend why a big chunk of the world doesn’t buy into the scientific agenda. Scargill – pure ego with a Yorkshire accent – couldn’t understand why a significant proportion of the workforce didn’t follow him when he said jump. He knew the principles of the strike were right, but in his arrogance he thought it unnecessary to win the hearts and minds first before he started trying to march people up and down the hill.

Scientists (and I’m using a useless generic term here) are so secure in the tenets of the Age of Reason and basic scientific principles that they can’t understand why many people don’t buy into it. And so they spit and stamp and flounce, like Richard Dawkins does from time to time, and alienate even more people. And in that arrogance, too many are completely derogatory of the power of mythos even today.

Their position, of course, is in complete defiance of history. (In my more cynical moments, I think this is because history can’t be replicated in a lab. But it seems to me that too many of a scientific bent have a tenuous grasp on, shall we say, the ‘lessons’ of history, as opposed to the nuts and bolts of dates and events.)

For most people, mythos is still just as important as logos. They need to map out their inner world more than they need to know about, say, DNA or how quickly, or not, the universe is expanding. They need to understand their dreams, and those terrible motivations that they can’t control. They need to understand what drives politicians to begin a war that few wanted, or why child abusers do what they do, or why people fall in love, and why that love goes. In short, they need to understand about people.

And for me that’s what fantasy does. It deals with hugely affecting symbols and archetypes that still drive our psyche today. I started writing a fantasy sequence about the return of the Celtic gods to our modern world, because I wanted to see if these archetypes could still affect people today in the same way that they affected our ancestors. Because these gods – these archetypes – are the secret language of our unconscious. Images of them, used in the right way, can move us to tears or laughter or sexual arousal in ways our modern minds can’t grasp because they speak directly to the core programming of our system.

If the mail I get from readers is anything to go by, those archetypes still do affect people just as strongly today – infecting dreams, slipping into the day-to-day world by changing behaviour, and therefore affecting logos. Mythos and logos, then, inextricably linked.

I write fantasy, therefore, because I’m interested in people and how they interact with the world around us, not because I want to run away from that world. But I still can’t get through ten pages of The Silmarillion.

An Introduction, of Sorts

It’s a Sunday morning, it’s sticky hot and unpleasant, and it’s the morning after England crashed out of the World Cup with their usual display of petulance and ineptness (yeah, yeah, I’m making myself an easy target…). I’m thinking of going down the pub, but first I need to do this…

My new novel, Jack of Ravens, is published on July 20. It’s the initial volume of a new sequence, Kingdom of the Serpent. It’s contemporary fantasy. And it’s got lots of stuff in it you wouldn’t expect in a fantasy novel. There. That’s the last of me pimping the damn thing here. Life’s too short, for me and you.

What you will find here, updated several times a week, are ruminations on a whole host of stuff that interests me, the occasional rants, and lots and lots of information on, well, just about anything that catches my fancy. Plus, you’ll find here the ‘special features’ section for the novel – the background research I did (and the novel covers two thousand years of history, so there’s a lot of it), the location photos and extra story information that should make reading the thing a richer experience.

Let’s go.