Letters from Mars (Blog)

The Emperor of Mars: Book Giveaway and Sneak Peek

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In case you didn’t see it on Twitter and Facebook, I’m doing a giveaway for the so-far ONLY signed Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) of my second book THE EMPEROR OF MARS (I may sign one other ARC closer to publication, but that will be it, so one day this will be worth millions*.)

*Or not.

ANYWAY…

THE EMPEROR OF MARS is the sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON and takes place eight months later.

Here’s the blurb:

A missing Martian. A sinister plot. A French spy.

If Edward thought life was going to be easy in Tharsis City, he was very, very wrong. The moment he intercepts a thief escaping from Lady Harleston’s townhouse, he is caught up in a terrible scheme that threatens the whole of Mars.

Soon he’s fighting off vicious sea serpents, battling a small army of heavily-armored thugs, and trying to unpick an impossible mystery. Meanwhile, Putty has declared war on her new governess, a war that, for the first time in her life, Putty may be in danger of losing.

Edward doesn’t know whom he can trust. Will he make the right choice? Or will his family – and his entire planet – fall victim to the treacherous Emperor of Mars?

Join Edward and his family for a whole new, exciting adventure on Mars.

And here are some of the internal pages from the book, with art by Jeremy Holmes (who also did the cover):

See the pages in full size.

(Do note, though, that the ARC is an uncorrected proof of the book, so there may be minor differences in the text and artwork between the ARC and the final version, and a couple of pieces or artwork aren’t in the ARC. But that’s what makes it special, right? ;) )

The giveaway is on goodreads and is open worldwide from April 24th to May 11th, 2017. Go and enter right now and be one of the first to get the book.

Three Months To Go…

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Wow! It’s only three months until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB comes out in paperback, and also three months until THE EMPEROR OF MARS comes out in hardcover! (That’s July 18th, 2017 for those of you reading this in the future.) There was a time when I thought this was never going to actually happen, and now suddenly the books are going to come out after all.

Pre-order the paperback of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Pre-order the hardcover of THE EMPEROR OF MARS: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Or buy the hardcover of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB now: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

The good news is that we should be in America pretty soon after the books come out, and Steph will have her US version of THE DRAGON WITH A CHOCOLATE HEART out just a little earlier, so we’re thinking about doing a joint launch party in East Lansing for our books. Keep an eye out, and we’ll announce it when we pin down the details…

Also, I’ll be giving away a SIGNED ARC of THE EMPEROR OF MARS via Goodreads next week. Watch out for that, too.

Now, back to writing my next book. The words won’t wait. :)

The Emperor of Mars: ARCs and First Pass Pages

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The Emperor of Mars is on his way. He’s been planning this for a long time, plotting, scheming. And now he is one step closer.

Yes, he has made it to Advance Reader Copy (ARC) status and First Pass Pages.

Here are *my* ARCs looking excessively handsome.

And here is our new cat, Pebbles, tolerating (just) being put in charge of a copy.

So what does it look like inside? Well, I’m glad you asked! Here it is. This is the first page, along with a new character, George Rackham.

If you can’t read that first page, this is what it says:

Chapter 1: The Trouble with Vine-Mining

I was twenty feet underground, surrounded by glowing blue sandfish crystals, with my head jammed in a beetle-vine warren, when I realized that vine-mining wasn’t for me.

I had seen the notice pinned up outside the local office of the Imperial Martian Airship Company:

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED!
ROOT OUT BEETLE-VINES!
SAVE LUNAE CITY!
SIGN UP TODAY!
BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

Perfect, I’d thought. What a great idea.

I had never been so wrong.

You might have thought that living in the middle of Mars’s biggest desert would mean that you never got wet…

* * *

I’ll post the rest of the first chapter closer to publication day (which is on July 18, 2017, since you asked).

I’ve been working on the First Pass Pages (basically, a printout of the ARC), fixing up any last errors, tweaking the odd bit, smoothing things a little, but the ARC is pretty close to what the published book will be. There are typos and a few other minor errors, but the story is the same.

While we’re all waiting for the final, finished book, if you want a chance to win a signed ARC, keep an eye open. I’ll be posting a giveaway in a few weeks time.

Until then!

(Note: cover and the internal illustration above are by Jeremy Holmes.)

2016 Year in Review

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Apparently, this is the end of 2016. I didn’t see that coming! I’ve only just got used to it being this year. I must have done something during the year, right? Right? Right.

Here’s my writing-related stuff from the year:

Published my first novel!

Yes, at last. I’ve been wanting to be a novel-writer since I was a teenager, and despite not really writing during my 20s, I never gave up wanting, and this year, my first book finally, finally came out (I actually sold it at the end of 2012, but it’s taken this long to be published).

SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, in case you don’t know, is a “modern pulp” science fiction adventure for kids, and I love it.


Published a linked novella

I also published a novella set in the same world as SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB. THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS takes place a year before SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and features different characters, and it’s aimed slightly older, but it’s still the same mixture of humour, action, adventure, mystery, and over-the-top ideas.


Revised the sequel

The sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB will come out in July 2017. It’s called THE EMPEROR OF MARS, and it takes Edward and his family on an even more outrageous and deadly adventure. I did a pretty big rewrite of it over the summer, and then the copyedits this autumn. I’ve also seen the internal illustrations for it by the intensely talented Jeremy Holmes, and they are amazing!


Wrote a new book

The book that will be going out on submission in the new year is (currently) called THE MYSTERY OF FIRELAKE HALL. It’s set in 1932, in England. My agent, the wonderful Jennifer Laughran, described it as “A little bit Agatha Christie meets Clue meets St Trinian’s meets WW1 meets MAGIC!” It also has wolves, because, you know, why not?

I actually wrote a version of this quite a few years ago, but it didn’t work, so I ripped it up and completely rewrote it this year, which is the first time I’ve ever done that with a book, and I think it worked!

Pitched a third SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB book

To be brutally honest, this book probably won’t happen, but I have an outline and an opening in case it ever does, and the first two books tie everything important up, I think, if it doesn’t. One day, maybe!

Whew

Okay, when I put it like that, it makes it seem like I really did manage some stuff this year despite having young children (the younger of whom is only in school 2-1/2 hours a day).

Now, I need a new book or two to write in 2017!

What did you do this year?

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb – New Cover

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Hey folks. Fantastic news. SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB will have a new cover when it comes out in paperback on July 18th, 2016. I liked the hardcover version, but I think the paperback catches the book better. No need for me to waffle on about this. Here it is:










As with the hardcover, the art here is by Jeremy Holmes.

Find out more about the book here.

Book Review: Congress of Secrets, by Stephanie Burgis

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The year is 1814, and the Congress of Vienna has just begun. The Emperor Napoleon has been defeated, and the great powers of Europe have gathered in Vienna to carve up Europe among themselves. Along with them have come the powerful, the deposed nobility of old Europe, and the opportunistic, hoping to grab power and wealth for themselves. Amid glittering balls, parties, and salons, the great of Europe meet, plot, and position themselves.

Into Vienna come Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow, and charming con man Michael Steinhüller. Both of them have secrets. Caroline was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. Caroline’s father was arrested by the secret police and her childhood was cruelly stolen from her by dark alchemy in the cells of the secret police.

Michael, meanwhile, was once the apprentice of Caroline’s father. Neither has seen the other since their childhoods were shattered, and both have returned to Vienna with plans of their own, Caroline’s to save her father, and Michael’s to pull one last con before he retires. Neither of them expect to encounter the other, and when they do, both their plans will be in danger, and so will they.

I’ve said before that a really well-researched piece of historical fiction can be as full of wonder as the most inventive fantasy or science fiction novel, and this historical fantasy proves that. Every scene comes alive with wonderful, vivid, and sometimes alien detail that make you feel like you’re really there. I lived for six months in Vienna, and in Congress of Shadows, I really felt like I was back there, strolling around the first district or through the royal palaces. This is lush and all-enveloping.

The characters, too, are incredibly involving and well-conceived. From the moment you first meet Caroline, Michael, and the third main character, Peter Riesenbeck, you are swept into their stories, their fears, their desires, and their plans. But it’s not just the main characters who are so believable and enticing. There is also a whole array of historical figures – from the quipping Prince de Ligne and the paranoid Emperor Francis to the manipulative head of the secret police, Count Pergen – and fictional counterparts who leap off the page.

The story is fast paced and increasingly tense as Caroline, Michael, and Peter’s plans begin to crumble in the face of the dark alchemy wielded by Count Pergen.

This is a fantastic book and I have no hesitation in giving it five stars. I loved Stephanie Burgis’s previous historical fantasy, Masks and Shadows, but Congress of Secrets is even better.

5 stars!

Buy Now: Indiebound | Book Depository (international) | Amazon U.S. | Amazon UK

Bristolcon!

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I’m going to Bristolcon tomorrow (Saturday 29th October, 2016). This is the first convention I’ve been to for quite a few years (Rare Appearance of Reclusive Author!), due to having little kids, but our wonderful niece, Freya, is coming down from Manchester to babysit for the day, so we actually get to go to a con for once!

Here’s my schedule (I’m doing a panel and a reading):

Panel: Under the Covers

4pm – 4.45pm

We all know how important covers are to books. Whether or not you judge a book by its cover, marketers assume you will, and cover art is a key part of how a book is marketed and received. Our panel reveals the process by which cover art is commissioned, from writers and publishers selecting artists to the challenges of rendering the writer’s vision artistically, with reference to examples of the good, the bad and the ugly of cover art.

With Terry Jackman (Mod), Jaine Fenn, Fangorn (Chris Baker), Kate Turner (KS Turner), Patrick Samphire

Programme room 2

Reading: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb

4.50pm – 4.55pm

Programme room 2

The rest of the time I’ll be either in the bar, the dealers’ room, or watching one of the other panels or readings. Say ‘hi’ if you see me!

Randomly, a Recipe: Scrambled Tofu

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I don’t normally post recipes because, well, I’m not a particularly great cook. But this is my go-to for a quick (vegan) meal. It has a great flavour and it’s really, really easy (and healthy).

I found the original recipe here but I thought the flavours were a bit anaemic, so I changed it around a bit. Here’s my version of the recipe:

Scrambled Tofu

Serves 2 – 3 people

Time: 20 – 30 minutes, depending on how distractible you are

  • 14-ounce / 400g package firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder (choose heat to match your taste!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 4-6 tortillas, warmed
  • Fresh salsa
  1. Remove the tofu from its package and set down on a plate lined with paper towels.
  2. Cover in another layer of paper towels and press and blot well to remove as much moisture as you can (this will help the tofu absorb the flavours).
  3. Place in a bowl and mash well with a fork. You’re looking for a crumbly consistency.
  4. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion then, a minute later, red pepper and cook until soft, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Stir in the coriander, cumin, chilli powder and salt and cook until just incorporated and fragrant, 1 minute or so.
  6. Stir in the mashed tofu and the turmeric along with the 3 tablespoons water, and cook until the mixture is warmed completely through. 2 minutes should do it.
  7. Warm your tortillas then scoop in a generous portion of the scrambled tofu and garnish with fresh salsa, or, you know, whatever other weird stuff you like.

You could make the fresh salsa yourself, of course, but I just buy it, because I’m like that.

Music Monday: Cover Versions that are Better than the Originals (Arguably)

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Don’t you wish you could sometimes write cover versions of books, in the way that bands cover each other’s songs? I was listening to a bunch of cover versions on Youtube and all I could think was that it would be way easier to do that than to have to come up with anything original. And, yes, I am trying to write a new book. How did you guess?

Well, rather than get on and just do the new book, this seemed like an excellent excuse to write a blog post about cover versions of famous songs, and in my personal opinion, these cover versions are better than the originals. You can disagree of course. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. 😉

Nights in White Satin, by The Moody Blues, covered by Rock Goddess

Rock Goddess were one of my favourite heavy metal bands from the 80s. They never hit it really big, but they are still going and they are still awesome. This is their live cover of Nights in White Satin, done originally by The Moody Blues:

How can you not love that rough, powerful vocal?

And, for comparison, here is the original:

I’m right, right?

Diamonds and Rust, by Joan Baez, covered by Judas Priest

Of course the original is absolutely brilliant, but I love how Judas Priest kept so close to that original while making their version entirely their own. (Priest were enormous fans of both Baez and Bob Dylan, of course.)

Here’s the cover version:

And the original:

Rasputin, by Boney M., covered by Turisas

Okay, this time I’m not going to claim the cover is actually better, because I have a big soft spot by Boney M., but Turisas are, well, they’re Turisas, and I love the idea of blood-soaked Vikings covering a Boney M. song.

Of course, Boney M. were a bit of a fraud in that the male ‘lead singer’ didn’t actually do the singing because he wasn’t a good enough singer, but.

Here are Turisas:

The original:

That’s it for now. I have proved myself entirely right, and I’m glad you admit it.

Now off to write that damned book.

Header photo from Dark Rider on Unsplash.

Book Quote Wednesday

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So, some writers (including me) on Twitter have been doing “book quote Wednesday” (#bookqw), where each week we post a quote from one of our books that includes a particular word. (Thanks to Mindy Klasky for running this.) It occurred to me that not all of you actually follow me on Twitter, so I thought I should post here too. (I’ll actually do it on the right day after this.)

Here are the ones I’ve done in the last couple of weeks.

“Might”

Here’s my quote using the word “might”, which comes from my novella The Dinosaur Hunters.

“Work”

And for the word “work”, from Secrets of the Dragon Tomb:

I have no idea what the word is going to be next week, but maybe I’ll chose one of my forthcoming books instead.

Now, go check out everyone else’s quotes. There’s some fantastic stuff there, whatever type of books you like.