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Writing your way through the blues

We are teaming up with Anne & her publishers to give away not only 3 signed copies of her latest book (The Prince of Lies), but one lucky reader will also win the whole trilogy: The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams and The Prince of Lies! Details on how after Anne’s article!

Sad-WriterBefore I ever completed a novel, I’d heard plenty of writers talk about the “post-partum blues” – the feeling of sadness at having literally closed the book on your world and characters. I was therefore somewhat surprised to feel none of this when I finished the ready-for-submission draft of The Alchemist of Souls. I think it was partly that I was exhilarated to have finally completed a manuscript fit to be seen by agents and editors, but also because I knew I wasn’t finished with Mal’s story yet.

Thankfully Angry Robot agreed with me, and my agent negotiated a three-book deal that would see the trilogy completed within eighteen months. I therefore had no time to pause between books – I was too busy learning the hard lessons that every debut author faces. That is, how to transition from writing at your own pace and for your own pleasure to writing to a schedule and outline agreed with your editor. Of course the finished book may not resemble the outline in every detail (and my outlines usually only run to a couple of pages, so there’s very little detail in any case), but as long as the general tone and story arc are adhered to, all your editor really wants out of you is another great book!

Alarm Clock by GrahamWickhamBy the end of the trilogy I was pretty burned-out by the pace of publication and just relieved to be able to hand over a manuscript that my editor, Marc Gascoigne, was happy with. Then, as the publication date of The Prince of Lies drew nearer and I tried to simultaneously plan a totally new book whilst publicising the upcoming one, the post-partum blues finally hit. People kept asking me if there would be more books (or even just short stories) about Mal, Coby and friends, but the honest answer was no, not for the foreseeable future – and having to say that out loud (or at least online) over and over really hammered it home. I was done with Elizabethan England.

Still, being the pro I am (or aspire to be), I carried on with my plans for a new series, drawing on old projects that had been long abandoned: a short story that had failed to sell but had some interesting characters I could reuse, and various disparate worldbuilding ideas that had never had stories attached to them. I wrote a short story set in this new world for a BFS anthology called “Unexpected Journeys”, and began planning a novel or two.

Tempus fugit by damianphotoartThen publication day arrived, with both the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton and NaNoWriMo hot on its heels. Unfortunately I had a dreadful cold at the time, so although I pushed myself to write every day at first, the strain was starting to show by late November and I gave up at around 37,000 words. In my post-partum blues I hadn’t been able to summon the enthusiasm to complete an outline for my new novel, and when I ran out of outline it was just too hard to continue. It didn’t help that my day-job simultaneously became more demanding, absorbing a lot of my time and mental energy.

I’ve thus spent the last three months in recovery mode, eschewing the hubbub of social media in favour of relaxing and focusing on domestic affairs. Of course I’ve been jotting down thoughts as they came to me (I even bought a fancy new notebook to help motivate myself!) but mostly I’ve been catching up on my reading. The ideas are finally starting to gel together, thank goodness, so I’m hoping to reboot this project in the next few weeks and get back in the writing saddle once more. So, what’s the new book going to be about, I hear you ask?

One of the first things I decided, long before I finished the Night’s Masque trilogy, was that I wanted to write something not set in the “real” world. Historical settings can be both a shackle and a crutch. A shackle because although you can change history a little and even add blatant fantasy elements (such as my skraylings), you’re also restricted to historical cultural norms; deviate too much, and the period is no longer recognisable – so why bother writing in a historical setting at all? Although I love many aspects of Elizabethan England, I just didn’t want to carry on writing about the same sexist, racist, homophobic culture that I’d been mentally inhabiting for the past seven or eight years. As for the crutch aspect, there’s so much information online about sixteenth-century England, it’s almost easier to do a quick google or have a browse through Wikipedia than it is to make stuff up!

dnaSo, my new project is set in a “secondary”, i.e. invented, world, informed by my historical knowledge but not confined by it. As with the skraylings, I’m turning to my love of biology and linguistics to create some unique cultures to populate this world, but at the centre there will be the same mix of intrigue and derring-do that I so enjoyed writing about in my first trilogy.

As to when I’ll finish something worth sending out to my agent, I have no idea. It took me four years to get The Alchemist of Souls from initial inspiration to polished manuscript, and whilst I’ve learnt a lot about the craft of writing in the meantime, I’m still not sure how to shorten the overall process. One thing I do know is that I won’t get there by waiting for inspiration to strike – time to shake off the post-book blues and write!


theprinceofliesSo, in addition to Anne agreeing to stop by for a guest post, she spoke nicely to her publishers and convinced them to send us over 3 signed copies of her latest novel, The Prince of Lies, and a complete set of her Night’s Masque trilogy too! Now, I’m guessing that the three novels were not for me to read and enjoy, but rather to give out to the Fantasy-Faction community. So, how would you like to win one or maybe even the whole trilogy? All you have to do is answer the following question:

If you could travel back to any year/time period with any magical power, what time and power would you choose and why?

Personally, I’d have to choose Ancient Egypt and flight so that I could watch the pyramids being built (but stay out of the way, so as not to be captured as a slave!)… but that’s just me!

You can either tweet @FantasyFaction your answer or post it up here in the comments. Good luck! :)



  1. Johann says:

    Mmmm. I’d travel to the middle ages, with the power of summoning fire. I’d scare the crap out of the locals and be made king. Always wanted a castle.

  2. Wahyu Nurasman says:

    Friday, 17 September 1999 (4 days before my birthday), and i want to control the time (bend it, reverse it, skip it, control it) even i’m sure that great power came with great responsibilities, and great power is the greatest curse if you can handle it.

    why i chose that date is because It’s the day when my mother died.I just want to show her, person that i became and show how i deal with my life. ask for forgiveness for everything that i’ve done to her and thank to her for brought me to this world. sad enough because i didn’t saw her close her eyes and left this world.

  3. Martha says:

    Early 15th century Venice. Islam was on the verge of conquering Constantinople,.The flood of refuges and the prescious manuscripts they were bringing with them would initiate the Renaissance. Europeans’ ways of thinking were about to be changed in ways thay reveberate even into today. This was a fulcrum; danderous, but oh so exciting

  4. Miguel G. Boronha says:

    I would probably go back to the period when Islam appeared, with a shape-shifting power, so that I could experience the rise of a major religion from the perspective of the Byzantine and the Persian Empires, and from the Arabs themselves, to try and understand what it felt like at the time.

  5. Cameron Johnston says:

    I would go back to the neolithic, when so-called ‘primitive’ peoples were erecting elaborate stone circles and massive megaliths all across Europe. Nobody knows why they were erected, or what they were really used for – and they never will, beyond speculation.

    My power would be simple, to understand any language, enabling me to go back and find out the truth about why they did this and what they were really used for, and to understand those people’s lost myths and tales.

  6. Philip Thorogood says:

    I’ve tweeted it, but given the word restriction I wanted to comment it here to explain.

    I’d like to be back in Roman times, and instead of a power, I’d like to be a legionnaire in the army, not just to experience such a dynamic and pivotal age of our race, but even the lowest-ranker could climb to be general if he showed the right potential, and that equality and brotherhood is inspirational!

  7. Samuel S. B. says:

    To me the answer is simple…the middle ages just around the time of Edward IV. The power would have to be the Power of healing. Why…so as to influence the course of history and make sure the wrong people don’t die

  8. Eric says:

    I would go back to the start of the Mayan empire with the ability to teleport that way I could also travel and see every other culture during the same time period and witness their beginnings. While at the same time learning how they were so similar, but different.

  9. Riley says:

    As much as I enjoy reading novels set far in the past, I really don’t think I want to give up too many modern conveniences. I’m spoiled that way. I think I would like to go back and observe the American women’s suffrage movement as a magic wielder skilled in glamours. Sometimes I would appears as a man and sometimes as a woman. Get a feel for box sex’s side of the issue.

  10. Laura says:

    Id go back to the Pendle witch trials with the power of persuasion. Convincing the witch finder general that the women where innocent and he’d just had too much wine. Its believed now that one of the accused suffered parkinsons and dementia which is what bshe was ultimately hung for. Plus my family has ties with the area and shares a name with one of them. (Currently trying to trace family history back that far to see) 🙂

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I would like to travel back to the late 17th/ early 18th century, with the powers (1) not to get ill, and (2) to change sex, so I could see life from both perspectives.

  12. Mark says:

    I would travel back to the dawn of time. When the universe got created. Either I would face God and ask him why? (The most complex question ever). Or watch as the Universe exploded into being, see what was there before it happened. My superpower would be to survive without oxygen. I doubt there would be anything useful to breath.

  13. Ade Couper says:

    Think I would go back to the 15th Century, specifically the time of Henry VIII. The power? I’d have the power to hide Glastonbury Abbey, so it didn’t get destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries….!

  14. Aprella says:

    This is a very difficult questions because there are so many interesting historical moments and time periods. I’d love to do a journey through time and visit them all but if I have to pick just one period, I’ll pick the early middle ages and live in a nice castle in England, Scotland or Ireland. I really want to experience a ‘simplistic’ life without modern inventions and use horses to get to place and see ‘pure’ nature without a huge human influence on it.
    Picking a power is difficult… I’ll pick magic. A simple kind of magic that enables me to defend myself and that’s just scary enough that it demands respect. I don’t want to be married into a loveless marriage just for breeding and perhaps politics. Then I’d rather be an early version of Queen Elizabeth I. Maybe I’ll even write an amazing epic like Beowulf!

  15. Jenny says:

    I’d go back to April 1912 with the power of foresight, and stop the Titanic from sinking. I still think it’s the worst tragedy ever to happen!


  16. Matteo Bortolotti says:

    It’s a really good question, I don’t know.
    I’d actually be quite fine in this time, with magical powers, or taking a sneak peak of the future, but I believe those are not options, so I’ll have to discard them.
    Hence, I’ll settle between an ex equo with three options:
    Ancient Rome, the time Repubblic started to collapse (I’d say starting from Sulla leaving power, around 80 BC): it was a time full of great personalities, both politically (Cicero, Caesar, Augustus) and culturally (Catullo, Virgilio, Orazio), but I’d have to be very carefully avoid all trobule and keeping away from all the politics.
    Florence, 1470 AD: I’ll sadly give up meating Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio (still, their was another time of war, and one I definitely would like to avoid), to enjoy other great personalities such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raffaello, Lorenzo De Medici… (it’s quite showing that I’m italian, but past is a foreign country and society will be quite different from ours no matter what, so I’d rather be careful chosing something I’m more familiar with).
    But I may also settle for central Europe in, let’s say, 1875 AD: it’s not the Belle Epoque I’m interested in, but the oncoming sudden collapse of phisics, bringing out a whole new world, radically new concepts and minds like Einstein and Fermi (it’d require being stuck in World War I, alas, and I’ll make sure to run for England/America in early 30’s and hiding as deep underground as I can).

    • Matteo Bortolotti says:

      As for the power, the choice would in every chase be invisibility and mind reading: I want to be able to observe everything staying behind the scenes (the ability to charme people may also be useful, but there’s always the chance to get the wrong kind of attentions).

  17. Alex Jones says:

    I think I would go back to the first half of the 20th century with the power of healing between both world wars and the spanish flu it would be a busy 50 years.

  18. HJP says:

    Being unwiling to choose a language ability, I’m somewhat limited and would have to choose England sometime from the 1500s-1700s. My ability would be a bit of mind control to smooth over the invariable issues that would arise, although The Wheel of Time pretty well went and ruined that by taking a hard look at the ethics.

  19. Aleksandra says:

    Very tricky! There’re so many places I’d like to visit if I could go back in time. Though, if I was to choose just one it would be The Villa Diodati (at Lake Geneva) in 1817. Magical power I’d like, would be the ability to write briliant stories, so I could take part in that gotic story competition along with Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori. And to get to know them:-)

  20. Matt says:

    I would go back to Pangaea with near super telekinetic powers, even more powerful then Jean Grey’s. There are endless applications of such telekinetic power, but I would mostly want to fuse all of Earth’s land mass together permanently and change the axis of Earth’s rotation so that all of Earth’s land mass is in tropical or subtropical region. If Homeo sapiens still evolve, then hopefully the single land mass will increase communication and allow us to consider ourselves as one people as we actually are. The new axis of rotation would put all of Earth’s land mass under similar tropical conditions, hopefully reducing the competition for food since harvest should be available all year round. Also, since everyone is under similar climate conditions, all human populations should evolve similar characteristics, helping us to get along with one another.

    If I was patient enough, I would then apply my powers on a much smaller scale. Aging is caused by the buildup of microscopic injuries that your body can’t repair. I could use my powers to physically repair these injuries and reverse the process of aging. Although it would probably get boring waiting a millions of years for the opportunity to play God with humanity for a few thousand years 😉

  21. blodeuedd says:

    I like the Norman era in England but what time…let’s go early and just go to 1100 and have the power of invisibility so I could stay out of trouble (though I really should pick like perfect health or something)

  22. Erin says:

    My answer will not be creative so I wish I had a superpower that made me creative and innovative because to exist in a mind like that would probably be amazing. I think about visiting either the dark ages or Victorian era London..

  23. Juan says:

    I would travel back to Egypt in 46 B.C. with force field abilities. The culture would be interesting to observe, and I would be safe from harm. Primarily, my objective would be to save the Library of Alexandria from destruction by establishing a force field around it. Blasted Romans… 🙁

  24. Alec says:

    Hmm. I’d most like to go the world of A Song of Ice and Fire and tell all the characters what’s going in the other characters’ heads so they’d be more aware of potential allies and pitfalls, but in terms of real history, I’d like to go to the time of the American Civil Rights Movement with the power to show people true images, so that the activists would know that there’s a real better (if not yet perfect) future and the lawmakers would have proof that the country is going to pass bills that remove segregation anyway so they might as well do it years earlier and avoid all kinds of tragedy and violence, and give the whole civil rights phenomenon a kickstart ahead of how it happened in our history that might even make the present better than it is. Not to mention showing the opposition proof of what dinosaurs they are and, the big one, saving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    • Alec says:

      Huh, I didn’t even realize the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act was coming up on April 10 when I wrote this.

  25. Kieran says:

    I assume I’m not allowed omnipotence? Given that…

    Telepathy/mind-control at the beginning of 1917. I wouldn’t want to go back too far — even 1917 would be a huge culture shock; go further and you risk seeming completely alien. And 1917 would be the perfect time to start mentally influencing events — the Russian Revolution, then the early days of the Weimar Republic; both are hugely important turning points in history. I’d find somewhere safe to settle down (an English village, or somewhere in America), use my powers to avoid the draft, and start sending my mind out to influence events.

    (Plus, one power that often comes with Telepathy is body-hopping; and thus, IMMORTALITY! Hehehe…haha…MWAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!! My rule would be ETERNAL!

    Of course, my influence would be entirely benevolent. Of course.)

  26. Octavian says:

    I would go to 1460 Wallachia during the rule of Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a Dracula) and my power would be the ability to turn into a werewolf. Why, you ask? So we can have a real vampire vs werewolf fight, no cliches, no YA limitations, no Twilight references (I’m pointing at you people!), a good old fashion, till-one-draws-his-final-breath fight with a classic vampire (it doesn’t get more vintage than Dracula), so that hundred of years later after the French Revolution, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, after the world has recovered from the awesomeness that is Nikola Tesla’s mustache, no one will have to wonder “gee who would win in a fight between a werewolf and a vampire… and what would their romantic background be?”. This way vampires and werewolves will receive more meaningful stories and be treated more seriously in today’s culture.

  27. Alec says:

    When is the winner to be announced?

  28. Akasha says:

    I’d travel back in the ancient times to see how life was in Dacia. I’d choose to be Zamolxes, the major god of the Dacians and helped my people to preserve their culture and defend my land from the Roman Empire.

  29. Overlord says:

    Sorry for the delay in announcing the winners. The problem was that Twitter only keeps mentions for a few days and they all disappeared! I’ve spent the last few weeks googling, asking people, using the advanced search (which comes up with some, but not all) and trying to rescue things to no avail.

    I’ve put a Tweet out asking those who entered through Twitter to now add a comment here 🙂

    We will announce winners next week 😀

  30. ihate_00 says:

    …..I would go back to the 1490’s in South America with the power to manipulate weather or ocean, so I can make the Europeans unable to reach those lands…..btw, actually I would like to travel to various other locations also if I think about it, it is a pretty hard decision indeed…..

  31. David b says:

    I’d go back to a war where the most lives were lost and heal them

  32. sean smith says:

    I would cheat, I would go forward in time, with the ability to affect competitions, to ensure that I win this one.

  33. Anne Lyle says:


    Sorry for the delay, folks – my day-job has been busy of late, so coordinating this with Marc has been slow going. Also, it was really, really hard to pick the winners, with so many great entries. In the end I decided to go with the choices that were closest to what I would choose myself – and the coolest powers 🙂

    So, the three winners of a copy of The Prince of Lies are:

    * ihate_00, who chose going back to the 1490s and controlling the weather to beat back the conquistadors – because it’s another cool solution to the genocide that inspired Night’s Masque

    * Ade Couper, who wanted to hide Glastonbury Abbey from Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries – I’m not sure what people would make of an abbey disappearing overnight, but it would be great for it to have survived!

    * Aleksandra, who would like the power to write amazing stories so she could join Byron, Shelley and friends at their lakeside villa – because who wouldn’t want a ringside seat at what some would call the birth of science fiction?

    And winner of the grand prize of the complete trilogy, is…

    * Juan – for his heroic offer to defend the Library of Alexandria with force-fields! I would really love this to come true, as we lost so much knowledge at that time, and I like the idea of just physically preventing the Romans from getting anywhere near it.

    I will have to ask Marc to send me your email addresses that you left when you posted your comments (to ensure that we contact the real entrants!) – as soon as I have them, you’ll receive a confirmation email and we can kick off the process of getting your prizes to you.

    Thanks again to everyone who entered, and I hope you enjoy the books!

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