David Gemmell Remembered

As I’m sure most of the readers of Jack of Ravens will already know, the fantasy genre lost one of its most accomplished and popular writers when David Gemmell passed away on July 28th.

Juliet E. McKenna has posted links to various newspaper obituaries on her blog, and I’ve added links to a few additonal items to the article that I posted on the day, over on The Alien Online. And 418 people to-date have signed the online book of remembrance that will eventually be printed and passed to his family.

Always sad to lose an author, but particularly one who was both so prolific and so consistently good at providing his fans with exactly what they wanted to read – action, adventure, heroism, honour, love, redemption – time after time.


Fantasy vs SF Round One

John Jarrold is talking about the number of fantasy novel debuts this year compared to the complete lack of SF debuts.

He points out that fantasy has about 70% of the market compared to SF’s 30%, even though SF is performing stronger than it has done for years.

When I started reading, I picked up SF, fantasy and horror, as the mood took me.  It seems today’s readership is much more tribal.

Not Much To Live Up To, Then

Hearing some interesting things about Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley.  Orbit supremo Tim Holman has described it as the most commercial debut fantasy from a British writer that he’s ever read. 

You can’t say that many times in a career without looking foolish so I’m looking forward to getting an advance copy.  It’s out in October.

Amazon describes it like this: “It is a godless world. An uneasy truce exists between the human clans and ancient races. But now the clan of the Black Road move south, and their arrival will herald a new age of war and chaos. Behind it all seems to be one man, Aeglyss, a man whose desire for power will only be sated when he has achieved his ultimate goal: immortality.”

I’ll keep you posted…

Writing What You Don’t Know

“Magicians-in-training, genies-in-exile, apprentice wizards, belligerent fairies, plucky orphans, kind dragons, kind orphaned dragons—a reader cant enter the children’s department of a bookstore these days without tripping on a wand or falling into a portal. Has the saturation point been reached?”

Editor Terry Whalin has some good advice for people thinking about writing fantasy.

A writer has a different idea.

While Alma Alexander has a good rant about writing fantasy fiction for a living.

But if you’re thinking about carrying your royalties home in a J K Rowling-style wheelbarrow, you might like to think again.

Chocolate Chip or Cookie Dough?

The publishing world is a very strange place to be, sometimes.  It’s mostly filled with people staring into their crystal balls trying to guess what “the reader will want” in the coming 12 months to three years, desperately trying to keep hold of their jobs every time the latest round of sales figures come in, and trying to hunt the mythical new, unpublished, best-selling author.

For a long while, these arcane forces decreed that when a reader said they wanted fantasy, they actually wanted a very particular and narrow brand of fantasy.  Essentially Re-fried Tolkien.  Different map, same world.  The shelves would be full of them, and if anyone questioned why you had an ice cream store where they only sold vanilla, they would be told “it’s what the readers want”.

I’m not knocking the quality of the books – many were, and are, extremely engaging.  It’s the lack of diversity that always got me.  Fantasy is the uber-genre.  In it, you can write about anything at all in this world, the next world (after death), and any other world you could possibly imagine.  No other genre has that scope.  So to get a tiny little slice of that great potential was just a little…depressing.

Times are changing.  More and more books are reaching out from Tolkien’s well-trod patch into the great unknown.  Whether it’s China Mieville with Perdido Street Station or Hal Duncan with Vellum, the sense of some kind of change in thinking is palpable.

It helps that the people at the top of the main fantasy publishing houses know the SF/F genres and love them.  Orbit, Macmillan and my own publisher Victor Gollancz all have people with good taste and a depth of knowledge that allows them to seek new horizons.  That doesn’t mean they’ve stopped desperately trying to hang on to their jobs, of course, but there’s hope.

I only bring this up now because SF Site has branded me the “Anti-Tolkien”, which makes me think I should have some kind of number burned into my scalp.  It was meant as a compliment, and I certainly take it that way.

But one question remains: what do the readers want?