Tag: fantasy (Page 1 of 2)

From the Black Library: Sarah Cawkwell

Sarah is a freelance author hailing originally from the South of England, but who, after not taking a left turn at Albuquerque, now finds herself in the North East. Her first sci-fi novel, ‘The Gildar Rift’ was published by the Black Library in December 2011 and her first fantasy novel ‘Valkia the Bloody’ in July 2012. She appeared in the first Fox Spirit anthology ‘Tales of the Nun & Dragon’ with a story about a hero so inept that he makes the British Government look competent.

Her first independent historical-fantasy novel, ‘Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising‘ was published by Abaddon Books and since then, she has written another novel for the Black Library (‘Silver Skulls: Portents‘) along with a number of other short stories.

Sarah finds talking about herself in the third person incredibly hard to manage and so generally prefers to spend her ‘free’ time reading, watching films, playing computer games, running round in fields with swords and hitting people… and playing her music ear-bleedingly in the car.

When did you start writing?

I’ve always enjoyed writing stories. Even as a small child I remember making up tales that would get a smile out of my teacher. And reading… I read for England. I would read anything and everything. Things are still the same. There are a billion stories in my head – although some are much slower to get out.

Why Warhammer?

I love the Warhammer universes. There’s something so tempting about 40K, a universe where there’s no such thing as a happy ending. I started reading them some years ago and when the opportunity arise to turn my hand to writing from the perspective of a Space Marine, I didn’t so much jump as leap enthusiastically.

How did you get the opportunity to write for the Black Library?

I submitted a piece during an open submissions window and Lady Luck was on my side. My first short story was published in the first issue of ‘Hammer & Bolter’ and I was invited to submit further idea.

How do you write for a universe someone else has built? Does it lead to changing of ideas/plot as things wouldn’t fit into original lore? Has it changed the way you write?

When you are writing within an established universe, there are very definite guidelines. At times, these can be quite restrictive as you can’t just charge ‘off piste’ as it were and clash with the lore. There’s a respect that needs to exist between writer and lore. On the other hand, the guidelines could be incredibly useful to rein characters back in again. Has it changed the way I write? Yes, in a way. It requires tight planning and chapter breakdowns and that’s something I now apply to anything I write.

What is/was your process in learning all the necessary lore for the books?

Reading them! (Such a hardship). Also, reading the codices, slouching about in the local GW and listening to people talking about the lore – and asking my husband (who is a veritable encyclopaedia of knowledge on the subject).

Did you choose to write about the Space Marines or were they chosen for you?

I chose. I had read a short (literally – two paragraphs) piece in the Space Marine codex about the Silver Skulls and said ‘oh, hey, this sounds like it’s a story in the making’. My then-editor said ‘well, submit a proposal and we’ll take it from there.’ And thus, the Gildar Rift was born.

What other races would you like to write about?

Any of them. I love the 40K world. I particularly like Tau, though.

Do you play the game?

I haven’t played in a while, but I do have a Silver Skulls army upstairs waiting to be brushed off and used again.

Other then no happy endings, what excites you about the 40k universe?

The sheer size and scope. The richness of the back story (the whole Heresy situation) and the sheer, grim darkness of it all. In a world where there isn’t really any hope, what does the average citizen even exist for? Fantastic stuff.

Is there another Black Library author you really admire?

I’m a huge, huge fan of both Graham McNeill and James Swallow – their particular styles appeal to me the most.

How/where do you write? (Do you have to be in a specific place/mindset etc.)

I do have to be in the mood. Writing when you’re not in the right mood means you start to resent it and it stops being fun. Whilst writing my Warhammer stuff, I was under pretty tight deadlines and I set myself the target of a minimum 2,000 words a day. I didn’t once miss that target. I’d come home from work, make a cup of tea and just get on with it. I always like to have music on in the background (music rather than songs: song lyrics have a habit of working their way into a manuscript!)

What inspires your stories? 

Everything. The world is an amazing place and there are some crazy, crazy things out there.

What do you like to read? 

As said before, everything and anything. I largely read (surprise, surprise) fantasy and sci-fi, but I also enjoy breaking out. I love historical fiction – Conn Iggledon’s stuff is outstanding, as is Bernard Cornwell’s. I grew up with Alexander Kent books in the house and that gave me a lifelong love of seafaring fiction. It heavily influenced some of my big space battle scenes, now I come to think of it!

What advice would you give to new writers?

* Write! Sounds facetious, but it’s true. Write at least 1,000 words a day, whether it be whilst working on a story, or writing a blog.

* Plan your story carefully: freeform has its place, but when your characters get out of hand, it can be hard going to get them back on track.

* If you have a story, write it. Don’t edit as you go along. Get the words down on paper and jiggle them about afterwards.

* Enjoy it. If it becomes a chore, it’s not fun. And it should always be fun.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m writing a lot less at the moment. It’s a tough job to juggle a full time job and writing to deadlines at the same time, so something had to give in order for me not to have a complete meltdown! Having said that, I have a couple of short stories in the pipeline, one to be released shortly as part of an anthology from Fox Spirit, one which has been submitted to a new anthology and a few that are sitting on my hard drive. In fact, last night I had a faint idea for a story that wants to be written and I might just make a start on that later.



An hour with Leah Osbourne

So, could you introduce yourself please.

I’m Leah Osbourne. I call myself a writer, I figure if I keep telling myself often enough I’ll believe it. I write fantasy and horror and thrillers as Ileandra Young and I write smutty erotic, funny erotica and dramatic erotica as Raven Shadowhawk.

Any reason for the separation between the two? 

Yes, I kinda thought they’re completely different genres for starters and I think the separation makes it easier for people to follow what they’re interested in. Some people don’t want the smut, some people don’t want the vampires and killy people. If I separate the pair, it’s easier to brand then but there’s no secret they’re both me. So my blog – they share it, and it’s part of the branding overall. A gimmick that the two names fight with each other over me; Leah, cause they want brain space to get their work done. It’s just become a fun thing.

I know from trying to write myself that you can have so many ideas in your head at once, how do you pick yours with two sets to compete?

You should pick the one that keeps you up at night. Do that first. Before I published anything it used to be what kept me up at night, but now I actually have a pseudo schedule I need to pay attention to. So I try to have something coming out for each name – Ily then Raven, Ily then Raven so I have to try keep to that. And my fantasy stuff is longer so I have to spend more time working on novels than novellas. It means Ily’s are more spread out whereas Raven’s are shorter pieces – they come out a bit faster. I decide it based on what I think I can handle in the year. I decide in January and plan the year.


What’s your favourite way to write – do you have a set space or can you write anywhere?

I’m most productive at home in my study. It’s just a room at the front of the house which the kids aren’t allowed to go in. And that’s where I’ve set up my work station. But if I cannot use that space effectively, I go to a coffee shop. My favourite coffee shop is Bru, they’re independent shop, they’re all lovely. They know me quite well now so when they see me come in they know I’m going to be there for the next four hours. So they ply me with tea and shortbread!

Depending on what the children are doing, that’s how I’m guided. i continue in teh evening if I’m still concious. I’m like TIRED. SLEEPY.

It’s those evenings where you’re still up at 11:30pm staring at the screen going “why am I still here”

Well that’s happening more and more often. Imposter syndrome they call it. “I’m a rubbish writer. Why am I here. Nothing I put on this screen will be any good.” And that’s a question I get a lot. How do you work with that. How do you fight past the imposter syndrome. You just push. You write the droll. And that’s something that I’ve talked about on the podcast I do with a writing friend Wayne Kelly- Joined Up Writing. Because he’s always impressed with my output and I say that’s because I don’t care about the first draft. It’s about getting it on the page so it probably will be complete rubbish, but if it’s on the page I can fix it. If I haven’t written it then I can’t fix it and that makes it harder.

I’m part of a group called the Phoenix Writers. It’s very specifically a critique group so we meet to critique each other and congratulate each other on the good things we’ve done to improve. It’s quite informal and a lot of fun. I’ve learnt a lot from that group and it’s something I would recommend for  anybody and everybody who is interested in writing. Because I think writing is quite insular and you can get very lonely, particularly if there’s not creative people around you. Cause they can try and help as much as they can but they don’t understand. So surrounding yourself with other creatives is a good way to not fall into the well of despair. They’re people who get it. They won’t be able to help you all the time but they understand because they’ve either there too, they’ve been there, or they know they’re going there. That’s a really powerful thing. I take away a lot from that group.

How did you get into writing, and why did you decide to self-publish?

If I’d thought about it more at the time, I wouldn’t have done it because I didn’t understand the work involved. I had that “ooh shiny” syndrome and just went and did it. I’d been writing for ages and ages. I started writing when I was in school and then just kept going. But doing the trying to find an agent circus got on my nerves because everything I had was vampires and vampires were done to death because of Twilight. And I was really really upset because I had been writing these since I was 14, 15, 16 years old and it was a story which had evolved as I grew. So it wasn’t like I was hopping on the bandwagon. It was the story I had and nobody wanted it. It didn’t quite have enough to make it different – for starters there was no romance, and that was one of the problems. It wasn’t because it wasn’t different. It was because it was too different.

So I got bored of waiting for someone to accept what I had and take a risk on me so I thought “if I do it myself…maybe…”

But what I actually did instead was say if I practiced publishing the erotica and go the traditional route with the fantasy then I can do both. Except I was getting the same responses from the fantasy . I had this trilogy, Stars Legacy, that I was trying to get interest in and I couldn’t get the interest. Responses ranged from “it’s good but not quite what we’re looking for,” to “it’s not quite different enough,” or “we can’t take anymore vampire stuff right now even though it’s different.” So I thought I have to do this myself.

I’d figured out how to do it with the erotica books – there was no way I was going to try find an agent for erotica. Again, I missed the Fifty Shades wave. I was three books into the first erotica series when I noticed the fuss about Fifty Shades. That put me off trying because everyone would expect Fifty Shades and that’s not what I was producing. So it just made sense to do it myself. Because it wasn’t going to happen any other way. And I’m not a patient person., so the thought of having to wait for the magic combination of right place, right time, right person, right story etc which all brings together to get you an agent. I didn’t want to wait for it.

It’s certainly a lot of work to take on.

It is a lot of work, and like I said, if I had known what it entailed I wouldn’t have done it. With a traditional publishing deal or even a small press, you have an editor given you to work with you. You’ve got a cover artists and a proof reader and a formatter. All that stuff I’ve either had to do myself or hire out. It’s expensive and hard.

But I’ve had experience in both now. I did submit a novella to a small press in Canada and they took it on and that was lovely! I got a real editor I didn’t have to pay for and an amazing cover artist, which I didn’t have to pay for. And the backing of this well established, well known label.

Do you think this process puts off new writers?

It depends on the sort of person they are. Some new writers I have met have been so shiny eyed. Like “I’ve written the best thing ever and everyone is going to love it and I just need and agent and the first person  I send it to will be the one!” And that shine hasn’t rubbed off because they don’t realise how competitive it is. So they’re not put off but they are shocked when things take a while.

People who have been at it a while understand the magic combination that is required. And they are either happy with that or they’ll go another route or they’ll stop. But in terms of new writers just producing words, I don’t think it puts them off exactly. I think if they’ve got the burn to write, they’ll write. And that is what is important. It all depends on what you are writing for as well. If you are writing for publication then that’s something you need to keep in mind as you write. But if you are writing for the love of writing, then it doesn’t matter what happens at the other end and you can produce as much as you like, as often as you like forever and ever. If you want to write, you will find a way.

So why erotica? I know that with kindles and audio books etc it’s certainly easier to read without people knowing. 

Cause sex is cool.

It’s easier to hide what you’re reading, so people read it more. People have attributed that (kindle reading) to Fifty Shades. Because once it became known what it was about, people didn’t want to be seen reading it. But you wanted to read it. Amazon’s timing or rather E.L James’s timing matching up so neatly with the release of the kindle and the ease of reading off an electronic device helped her. It’s that luck thing again – right place, right time. I also think that there is still a stigma against it. People like sex. But they don’t want it to be known that they like sex, so e-readers and electronic reading has just made it very easy to get around that, which is great for people like me. And now because E.L James has normalised it, it’s easier producing it too. Which is great even if I’m not a fan of the books.

For me personally though, it’s and exploration thing. I didn’t want to write romance but I had thoughts and feelings that I didn’t understand. And writing it down helped me understand them. Then I thought “Oh, these aren’t just thoughts and feelings, these are stories. Oh, these are erotic stories!” It was kinda like DING. I though well, somebody will want to read them because of all the  free sites offering erotica.

The biggest thing for me right now is that I’m finishing off a trilogy – Stars Legacy. It’s come back from beta readers,and  I have a big stream of comments to go through. Some decisions to make about one of the primary relationships and the opening of the book itself and then I can release it. And it’s done. That’s my biggest fantasy project which will be finished. Then I can concentrate on my other stuff.

So what’s next? 

Well I have a serial that’s already running – Paranormal Thriller. More vampires again, because I like those but the idea is to get maybe four seasons of that down in it’s episodic format and then see which of of the three characters people like so I can give them novels. It’s two vampires and a human, and they’re all connected by various different things that keep them bumping into each other and trying to hurt each other. There is an underlying story about the underworld of vampires and demons and other sorts of nasty creatures fighting against a religious organisation called The Assassins. So that runs all the way through. And because I don’t know exactly where I want it to go I’m doing it season by season so I can get a feel for it as I go. So Season One is out barring episode six which is the last one. Season Two is written but not edited and Season three is outlined. I’m hoping to have Season Two out by the end of this year. And then I have a really big idea going all the way back to traditional fantasy. So I’m going to have some elves, some pixie things, some dwarves and vampires again because I can’t help myself.

It’s part of the gimmick thing – Ileandra Young writes about vampires but none of the vampires are the same. The Stars Legacy vampires have a very specific creation story. they’re Egyptian and they don’t called themselves vampires. They call themselves god-touched because that is how they got their power. Set gave it to them.

Any tips?

Readers – if you like a book then review it! It’s so important. Authors would chew off their arm for a review. Personally I would rather give you a book for free and have you review it publicly then have you pay for it.

Writers- Don’t be afraid of offering your book for free. Giving things away is a viable marketing tactic – if you do it properly. Don’t just give things away will nilly though. There are so many courses and tutorials to help you though – use them!

And be patient.

Keep up to date with Leah’s latest works by following her on Twitter @ileandraXraven or Facebook illyandraven, or by visiting her blog here.

To purchase her books go to either Ileandra Young or Raven Shadowhawk.


City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Second book in the Divine Cities series, City of Blades continues the story of the divine and brings the reader to the uncivilised land of Voortyashtan, once home of Voortya – divinity of war and destruction. And it seems like someone thinks she may still be alive.

Similar to the first book in the series City of Stairs; City of Blades starts with a possible murder. General Turyin Mulaghesh is brought of retirement to tour the world and solve problems for President Shara. One of Shara’s trusted intelligence agents has gone missing and so Turyin must uncover all the secrets of Fort Thinadeshi is this strange and uncivilised land in order to determine the fate of Sumitra Choudry.

A fantasy story set in a world crafted in the previous story Bennett, this second installment is brilliant for very different reasons to the first. I rant and I rave about the ability of writers to build believable characters in most of my reviews, because I think it is a key part of a good book but this book makes me joyous with the depth of background and emotion each character is given. Whilst City of Stairs amazed me through it’s story and the vast world built, City of Blades managed to connect me to each and every character in such a way that I empathised with their pain.

By the time I finished the book I was left emotionally drained. I couldn’t put the book down so I was tense, scared, amazed and confused for about six or seven hours straight. Bennett’s lack of fear of killing off key characters lends to the craft of this book. As readers we are actually forced to feel true sorrow when a character which is such an integral part of Turyin’s journey is developed only to be killed accidently and tragically; the death is particularly tragic because it came from one person deciding to be brave for once. With every ache and pain, every grievous memory of previous wars that Turyin has to suffer, I suffered with her.

As a portrayal of real life, the author recreates the emotions of not only how war affects the soldiers – as we see through General Mulaghesh and the soldiers in Fort Thinadeshi (e.g Pandey at the death of a loved one), he shows how the war affects the lands and the people involved. More poignantly he poses questions on how actions in war are identified and whether those who commit these acts can ever forgive their past, he focusses these thoughts through Turyin during her time in both the Battle of Bulikov and her time in the Yellow Company. And despite all the terrible things she has done and horrendous acts she has committed, we still root for Turyin because for all her flaws, Bennett shows the constant war in her head- trying to the right thing, and still keeping as many of those under her command alive. She treats them like her children and refers to them as such in many occasions.

Bringing his well planned espionage back into the fray, Bennett continues his themes of intrigue and corrupt deeds with the madness of Sumitra Choudry and the wishes of select few who wish to resurrect Voortya, or at least remnants of her power. Of course, bringing the divine of war and destruction is definitely not approved by everyone and here Turyin is key to preventing the end of all things. Above all, all she wants is to make things matter.

At a faster pace than the first book — most likely due to the reader already having a basic understanding of the world and it’s makeup — Bennett ramps up the action fairly fast, but carefully ensures that nothing is given away before time. Some clues are given but these are few and far between, leaving us as much in the dark as Turyin herself. Bennett makes sure we pay attention to all the details for fear of missing out on something vital later in the story – he doesn’t write fluff fillers in this book, everything leads or links to some other part of plot or reasoning, and so he creates a web of stories where vibrations bounce between lives.

If you enjoyed City of Stairs, then this book will only bring you further into the web of the Divine Cities series and you can join the eager crowd of those waiting for the next in installment in the series. By far a better book than the first, Bennett clearly knows when he is on to something good when the beautiful creation that was City of Stairs leads to a thrilling and capturing sequel such as City of Blades. Time to look up ways to start a campaign. We have high expectations and we want more!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


The Haunting Lessons by Robert Chazz Chute and Holly Pop

The Haunting Lessons follows our protagonist Tamara Smythe when she gains the ability to see the dead after the murder of her boyfriend. Drafted into a group of psychics, oracles and warriors with her gift. She is one of the Choir Impossible and she fights against the demons trying to break through the barrier into the human world.

Intially the story idea is good but all over the place, we start with Tamara’s love life but suddenty it cuts back to the past to the first live of her life. Dubbed the “love of her life”, the authors give the skewed impression that all teenage girls think about is love and living with their boyfriends. Contrary to belief, we females don’t all fall in love with our male best friends and neither do we dream of life long plans after a few years with a high school sweetheart.

Whilst some story points such as the mental hospital feel real and creative, they lack depth and rely on continuous fourth wall chatting and numerous flashbacks to provide any length. It all seems a little too thin– like a vaguely padded out plot plan although that plan is well constructed and has interesting ideas.

My main annoyance is that my curiosity and thirst for detail in the narrative is never satisfied. The plot is threadbare and doesn’t do justice to a potentially captivating book. Whilst the over-arcing theme of the battle between good and evil is the only idea explained in any length and even then I feel like pieces are missing. The authors define the good and evil sides but skips out on what we want to know – the characters and what motivates them in this ultimate war over the fate of the world.

Battles seem to last moments and the well rounded characters that we have come to know are killed off with a lingering on how and the emotions of the other characters. What should be been a penultimate event in the book, and a thrilling skirmish between the two sides turned dull as it was lacklustre in description and seemed negligent when in the longer scheme of plot is was supposed to be important.

What should have been a well crafted YA fantasy novel, instead leaves me feeling shortchanged and unsatisfied.

The Name of the Wind by Peter Rothfuss

Book one of the Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy.

When I was first given this book I was sceptical as it was given to me with the promising catch-line as the “next Game of Thrones”. For those that know me, that sets the standards very high. I trust people’s opinions when things are recommended but I’ve read enough failures branded the next GoT to err on the side of caution.

An epic fantasy in all forms of the word, it follows the life of the renowned musician, arcanist and warrior known as Kvothe (pronounced like Quothe). Little is really known about this feared man with stories unsure whether to proclaim him a hero or brand him a monster. Rothfuss begins the story in an interesting fashion, set in the present time Kvothe (or Kote as we know him to begin with) is used to introduce to us the patrons of his tavern. Mysterious events allude to Kote’s mysterious background but it takes a few chapters for us to find out that he is the king killer named Kvothe. By the end of the book, I’m still not sure which king he has killed, and I’m not sure if I’ll find out in the next book either.

On a dark, foreboding evening, the Chronicler arrives in the inn of the man previously known as Kvothe. He is there to write his story, and is informed that it will take three days for Kvothe’s tale to told. And so the real story begins on Day One.

As a young Edema Ruh, Kvothe travelled with his family of performers who are soon to be joined by Abenthy, an arcanist. Abenthy teaches Kvothe about the art of magic known as “sympathy” as well as history, science and how the world works. He is given all the tools he needs to get into the prestigious University. Accepted at 15 years old due to his quick wits and sarcastic intelligence, our protagonist makes it in 3 years younger than most. He moves through the ranks fast but manages to make enemies faster.

We follow him as he progresses in magic and falls in love, and even as he manages to talk his way out of the stickiest of situations, although we are constantly forewarned of his inability to get out of everything. Whilst Rothfuss artfully weaves his story, and allows readers to work out how each event will affect the characters, he also tries to leave us hanging in expectation of events which aren’t in this book, but will be in the 2nd or last book in the series. Although it does give a sense of the wider picture of the story, too often it leaves us wondering about things too far in the future and distracts us from the problems facing Kvothe at the time.

Rothfuss develops each character thoughtfully and carefully. As readers we become invested in them,we have times where we have to put the book down to the sheer stupidity of some actions, and tears slip down our faces at the heartbreak of others. Not only is Kvothe this god-like figure of terrifying power, he is also so full of charisma that he commands to be heard. But we see that he is human too, despairing after events long past; he is left lonely and full of sorrow from the death of his family despite the time passed.

Rothfuss’s small but complex twists on all aspects of his story make him the next genius in the fantasy scene. He appreciates his reader’s intelligence by letting them gather their own clues and creates a system of of magic (“sympathy”) that is so well reasoned it could almost be happening now. The system is based on the similarities of objects and the strength of theses similarities to build connections capable of moving, mending and sometimes setting fire to these objects. But the most powerful magic is all in the name of things, and in this book Kvothe shows us the power of the name of the wind. Full of logic and reasoning, Rothfuss gives the book depth as we learn how the laws of this world work. What makes it enjoyable it that these laws aren’t stretched beyond believability in any setting, what has been set down as possible isn’t broken in any of the events so far.


The next book in the Kingkiller Chronicles is The Wise Man’s Fear.

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