Thursday, 22 August 2013


So, I'm running a POLL inviting readers who liked Prince of Thorns and intend to read the rest of the trilogy to register their age and gender.

The numbers are fairly small (235 when I looked last) which means each category has only a few 10s of votes at most, which means we can't place too much meaning on the result. Additionally, it's not sampling my readership as a whole, just my readership who pay attention to my online ramblings and like to vote in polls.

However, it's still fun to take a look.

Two things are immediately apparent and both probably have some grain of truth to them.

- Firstly that the gender divide is closer to 2:1 in favor of males than the 1:1 in the population as a whole.

- Secondly the age break-down for women is the opposite of that for men.
      - For the men the readership is shaded toward the younger groups.
      - For the women the readership is shaded toward the older groups.

Once the results are gathered the speculation begins.

Does the slant toward older female readers mean that more mature readers are better able to shrug off messages they might get from society about what they should be reading?

It should also be noted that the majority of the response here comes from reddit which _is_ known to have far more male members than female, and that my publisher (who have much better market research) tell me my readers are actually closer to a 60:40 split with female readers in the majority.

How does the gender divide compare with that of:

a) readers as a whole
     - A US study showed 62% of women read a work of fiction in the previous year and 48% of men.

b) fantasy readers
    -  I don't have stats here, so I'm gathering them with a POLL -- obviously this will be skewed toward my readers unless I manage to spread the word widely.

c) epic fantasy readers
    -  I don't have stats here, so I'm gathering them with a POLL -- obviously this will be skewed toward my readers unless I manage to spread the word widely.

[we now have a couple of hundred votes in the fantasy/epic fantasy polls - I don't think the sampling was very broad though as the numbers are similar yet we know epic fantasy is only as small corner (sales-wise) of fantasy and so with a brosd sampling of fantasy readers we would expect many fewer voters in the second poll]

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Best book of the trilogy?

Authors don't tend to like cliches but if you ask them which of their books they like best then they tend to roll out the old line about choosing between your children.

And it's true - when you're that close to a book you love its parts rather than the whole, and ranking one book over another becomes an impossibility. Instead I've turned to the readers and asked them. Many found the bald choice to be almost as tough a prospect as I did when I considered it.

Here's the poll results (only for people who have read all three books)

A dead heat between King and Emperor. When I ran a similar poll between just Prince and King it was 25/75 in King's favor. So it looks as if the result is much the same but with the people who preferred King now split evenly between King and Emperor.

Of course such choices are harsh and artificial but it's interesting to see nonetheless.

I suspect authors have a built in bias to want their most recent book to be judged the best since they like to feel they're improving, but I'm happy to see an even split myself.

 Really the books should be judged by what they're trying to achieve and the context they're in. Prince of Thorns I like for its pace and for capturing that raw, immature, bridge-burning, defiant, hurt, and dangerous younger side of Jorg. King of Thorns I like for the twisty-ness of the timeline, the interdependence of the threads, the passion of the ending, and the growth in our protagonist. And Emperor I like for its sense of focusing down: on a place, on a time, on a person, and for the fact it brought about an ending which I felt held up rather than let down what had come before.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Violence in fantasy - the horror! THE HORROR!

Me versus The Strawman

People will say it so I'm saying it for them. I don't really understand what the debate's about. Or at least I assume I don't because it seems silly and yet clever people are having it. Because nobody has challenged me on the subject or invited me into the discussion I'm talking to Mr Straw about it.

(Note: I include examples of writing that contains sexual violence)

Strawman: It's a new plague I tell you, the world will drown in blood, the youth corrupted, old men hacking each other to death with swords!

Me: What is?

Strawman: Violence in fantasy. These new writers with their dark fantasy and grim societies. They're polluting everything that's good and bringing the world to its knees so they can kick it in the face. Terrible people!

Me: Well, Strawman, you raise a point. Not a good one, but definitely a point. Violence has been a part of literature since... well... since literature.

Strawman: But it's much worse now. So much worse. We're all going to die. And for the love of GOD will nobody think of the children?

Me: Worse? In The Knight of The Swords (1971) Moorcock gives us his hero strapped to a board and having an eye put out and a hand cut off.

Strawman: Yeah but... there wasn't the level of detail in those days. It was all very cartoony.

Me: So many things to say to that.

Firstly that 'the level of detail' isn't really what this is all about, surely? Isn't the important thing the fact a person died or was hurt or whatever, not how well it was described?

Secondly... isn't cartoon violence worse? Surely it's better to know that if you hit someone in the head with an iron bar THEY WILL BREAK rather than see them fall over accompanied by an amusing sound effect then bounce back up again?

Thirdly... BOLLOCKS!

Here's what is threatened against the hero, Corum in Moorcock's The Knight of The Swords (1971) and if you click on the text you can read a detailed account of it going down.

Strawman: Yeah but... it's all sexualized violence these days. That's much worse now.

Me: People seem to think it is - but that's not the same as it being true that it is.

I read a blogger saying that this (by me 2011):

The fat girl had a lot to say, just like her father. Screeched like a barn owl: hurt my ears with it. I liked the older one better. She was quiet enough. So quiet you'd give a twist here or there just to check she hadn't died of fright.


a) an example of Lawrence humiliating a female character about her weight
b) a scene of sexual violence that makes Stephen Donaldson seem MILD in comparison.

Here's a paragraph from the Donaldson scene (Lord Foul's Bane, 1977) - click on it to see the entire page worth.

A moment later, he dropped the burden of his weight on her chest, and her loins were stabbed with a wild, white fire that broke her silence, made her scream. But even as she cried out she knew that it was too late for her. Something that her people thought of as a gift had been torn from her. 

Strawman: Yeah... but it's all part of a thing. It didn't use to be like that in the good old days.

Me: Just how old are you? Never mind... the point is that YES IT DID.

In Shakespeare's King Lear Cornwall gouges out Gloucester's eyes:

Out vile jelly. Where is thy lustre now?

An act repeated on stage time and again for countless thousands to witness. His work has plenty of violent scenes.

Strawman: But... the classics. The real good stuff. The foundations of civilized thought and philosophy... they didn't need all this unpleasantness! Shakespeare was just entertaining the unwashed masses. No literary intellectual would really take him seriously.

Me: uh...

The Iliad:

Menelaos struck him as he came onward, in the forehead over the base of the nose and smashed the bones, so that both eyes dropped, bloody, and lay in the dust at his feet before him.

Homer elsewhere:

‘So I spoke, but he in pitiless spirit answered/ Nothing, but sprang up and reached for my companions,/ Caught up two together and slapped them, like killing puppies,/ Against the ground, and the brains ran all over the floor, soaking/ The earth. Then he cut them up limb by limb and got supper ready,/ And like a lion reared in the hills, without leaving anything,/ Ate them, entrails, flesh and the marrowy bones alike…


But Meriones sent a bronze-tipped arrow at him as he retreated, and struck him in the right buttock: the arrow passed on through under the bone and into his bladder. He sank down where he was, in the arms of his dear companions, the life breathing from him, and lay there curled on the earth like a worm: and the dark blood left him, soaking the ground.

many more examples

Strawman: Look. Facts are all very well and dandy but it doesn't mean it's right does it? I mean... think of the children. We have a whole generation of desensitized violent thugs who want nothing more than to go out stabbing people and eating human flesh and it's all because they read it in the books that grim dark monsters like you write!

Me: Have you actually read my books?

Strawman: No. But I have strong opinions about them!

Me: The thing is - were society currently plunging into an abyss of violence (and statistics tell us that it isn't) then would it really be the people with the library cards leading the charge? Is it really the people sitting quietly reading a book that are going to snatch up their machetes and start laying about? It seems more credible (though still highly unlikely) that it would be the watchers of violent videos and the players of violent games. A touch more credible still it would be the fans of certain sports who gather weekly in tribal hordes and demonize the fans of opposing teams. More likely by far it will be governments driven by ideological, religious, and financial differences that haul us off to violent deaths...

But at the end of it all - I feel fairly confident that imagined brutality fictionalized on pages of a fantasy book in a tradition that was started before printing, ink, paper, the English language, or the birth of Christ, is not a major worry.

But yes, it's fun to talk about.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Trilogy Concludes

So last year I made a 'A whole year!' post on both sides of the experience of having a book out for a year. I overused the word 'surreal' and dished out a bunch of statistics.

Here are those same statistics updated, and by every measure they're a great improvement. Prince of Thorns gathered far more ratings and reviews in its second year than it did in its first and King of Thorns did far better in its first year than Prince of Thorns did in its first.

Emperor of Thorns is released in the UK and Australia today, it comes out in the US and Canada in 5 days time. Currently thanks to being Deal of the Week on UK Amazon the hardback is ranked #84 in all books and has #15th place on the Best Sellers in Epic Fantasy list with George RR Martin occupying 12 spaces above it.

click to see the detail

So, it's only been two years and already we're at the end! The trilogy is complete. I could have chosen to write another three books of Jorg, another six... and people do. Financially it would be a good idea. The received wisdom is that if you're lucky enough to find something that sells... stick to it like grim death! The chances are that every time you make a change you'll lose a huge number of readers and accelerate the downward spiral that is the typical career path of most writers - not most writers you love, they're the special lucky ones, but most writers out there start with a small *boom* and then nosedive, so if you catch an up-current... you stick with it.

Rather stupidly I held my story higher than my bank balance and have called time on Jorg. There's a power in ending things. I hope that if people ever have chats about the Jorg and his tale it won't be the typical 'which book did you read up to / give up on' that characterizes 12-part serials that only halt because sales drop past the point of sustainability. I hope that all parties in this hypothetical water-cooler convo will have read the trilogy and be glad in retrospect that I knew where to stop.

Do I wish Tolkien had written another 6 Lord of the Rings books where we follow Frodo and Aragorn on into new adventures? As much as I love LotR I'm rather glad he didn't. I'm not claiming the same grandeur for the Broken Empire, just the same desire.

Obviously long series have worked spectacularly before, but with a tightly focused single-PoV character driven story... well, in my bones I knew it was time to stop.

Taking a leaf from Tolkien and other fantasy writers though, I do have some other stories to tell in and about the world of the Broken Empire and will be telling them for a while to come yet.

So. Two years, two extra-ordinary years, and three books.

Very many thanks to everyone who has been part of the journey.

And if you want to hop on board for the next one - it starts June 2014 with

Prince of Fools - the tale of a cowardly womanizing bully whose luck runs out in the Broken Empire