Monday, 18 July 2016

Crash Course VI

Welcome back to Crash Course! 

It's been a while since my last entry in this series. If you haven't discovered it before, Crash Course is a series of blog posts that explain aspects of The Bone Season and its world in more detail, so you can jog your memory between books and discover more about Scion and its inhabitants. I was prompted to do this entry by an ask I got on Tumblr a few days ago, requesting that I explain how the clairvoyant syndicate works in more detail. I realised I never did an entry on the syndicate, which is one of the more complicated elements of the Bone Season world, so it's high time I told you more about the tangled web of mime-lords, mime-queens, mollishers and mobsters in the underworld of the Scion Citadel of London. 

The London Syndicate


For clairvoyants in Scion, there are three ways to survive. You can try to hide your gift and lead a double life; you can enlist in the Night Vigilance Division and work for Scion, which will give you thirty years of guaranteed work before you're executed for unnaturalness . . . or you can try to join the clairvoyant syndicate.

The syndicate of the Scion Citadel of London, thought to be the largest in existence, was founded in 1964 on the idea of mime-crime – using clairvoyance to earn money illegally. Its first Underlord, Thomas Ebon Merritt, wanted voyants to be able to survive and embrace who they were, rather than have to get a conventional job, where their clairvoyance might be discovered by sharp-eyed colleagues or Vigiles, or sell out to the enemy. The syndicate allowed you to disappear into the underworld and find protection with like-minded people. Here's an excerpt from Merritt's famous Declaration to the Unnatural Assembly (1964): 

I have raised you to Roles of great Importance, so you shall be called the Lords and Queens of these wretched Folk; yet see that I have humbled you anew with a prefix, mime. For though you are a Monarch, remember that you are only a Mimic. The Spirits of the Dead have granted us their Knowledge so that we may whore it on the Streets for Coin, sacrificing their Secrets for the sake of our continued Existence. You, the Unnatural, can only ever imitate their Greatness. 

Merritt, who was sometimes known as ‘Good Tom’, intended the mime-lords and mime-queens to serve their people, and to ensure that all voyants were treated as equals. It was a noble cause – but when Merritt died, his beloved organisation swiftly became a breeding ground for corruption and cruelty, culminating in the ‘grey market’ scandal of 2059.

Since its early days, the syndicate's official administrative body has been the Spiritus Club, a voyant publishing house based in Grub Street. The Spiritus Club records the history and laws of the syndicate and organises official events. Even the Underlord or Underqueen is supposed to be held accountable by the Club. The Club historically communicated with the syndicate using the Victorian language of flowers, which is still used in some syndicate circles to send coded messages – most famously before a scrimmage (see Hierarchy). 

Getting your chance to join the syndicate is reasonably easy. If you're voyant and live on the territory of a mime-lord or mime-queen, it won't be long until you get a visit from one of their representatives, asking if you plan to join. If you don't, some mime-lords will still expect you to pay the syndicate rent (see Money). If you do join, you'll be left to your own devices for a while. A member of the section's dominant gang – the gang led by the local mime-lord or mime-queen – will assess you quietly and decide if you're worthy of a place in the organisation. If you are, you'll be assigned to a gang in the section. If you're not, you're left out to dry. People who are rejected from the syndicate and have no other means of income will usually join the NVD, or if they're too afraid or proud to do that, resort to begging. 

There is no official limit on the number of gangs that can operate in a section, but if you want to form a new gang, you must ask permission from both the Underlord and the mime-lord or mime-queen whose territory you mean to live and work in. Not doing this will result in punishment. Under Haymarket Hector, who often didn't reply to requests, there were numerous killings of ‘illegitimate’ gang leaders, who had asked for permission to form a new gang and never received an answer. Hector did not take kindly to discovering that they had proceeded anyway.

Becoming a member of the syndicate gives you unrestricted access to the black market. Known as the Garden, the black market is located in a secret chamber beneath the central market hall in Covent Garden, and is accessed through a mirror in a clothes shop. A lantern outside glows a slightly different shade of blue to other Scion street-lamps. The black market has many different sections, some of which focus on different kinds of clairvoyance (e.g. stalls that stock products specifically for mediums), and sells a wide range of items, including:

  • Weapons – mostly old-fashioned
  • Blacklisted music, literature, and film
  • Numa – for soothsayers and augurs
  • Antiques and curios 
  • Items and information from the free world (non-Scion countries)
  • Musical instruments 
  • Flowers – to send messages in the language of flowers 

With the friendship and respect of other voyants, and a local den to hide in, you're much less likely to be arrested. Now to climb the ladder – and earn some coin. 

Hierarchy and power

The official categorisation system of the syndicate is the the Seven Orders of Clairvoyance (see On the Merits of Unnaturalness). If you're from a higher order of clairvoyance, you'll be far more in-demand than a soothsayer or augur and will have a much easier time joining the syndicate.

Higher-order voyants may find themselves being asked by rival mime-lords or mime-queens if they'd like to do some work for them on the quiet, a practice known as moonlighting. While moonlighting allows voyants to earn extra money, it doesn't usually go down well with their legitimate employer if they discover it. Some close their eyes to their voyants moonlighting, while others forbid it on pain of banishment.

The most common form of mime-crime is doing readings for clients about their future and charging for it. This is usually carried out by soothsayers and augurs. Writing and art mediums can forge lost works and sell them. Whisperers and polyglots, who connect to the æther through playing music or singing, often work as high-class buskers. Busking is common, but not particularly respectable and not officially allowed by some mime-lords and mime-queens, as it's considered to be something that amaurotics can do as well as clairvoyants. Begging is illegal but tolerated.

The syndicate also deals in more conventional crime, such as pickpocketing and drug dealing. Nightwalking – engaging in sex acts in exchange for information from the æther – is its equivalent of prostitution. Nightwalkers may work individually, but more commonly work in groups in a night parlour. Nightwalking is a legitimate syndicate profession, and, like other voyant businesses, is taxed. 

Note: Vile augurs were forbidden from the syndicate several years after the publication of On the Merits of Unnaturalness. This rule was overturned by Paige Mahoney in November 2059. 

Voyant activity in one section is kept in check by the local mime-lord or mime-queen. Any attempts to withhold tax money, disobey local rules, or cause trouble will be met with punishment. Most mime-lords and mime-queens punish transgression brutally in order to maintain control through fear, but a small number are reasonable and forgiving. 

The hierarchy of syndicate professions looks something like this: 

Underlord or Underqueen
Leader of the syndicate 
Mollisher supreme
Mollisher of the Underlord or Underqueen
The Unnatural Assembly
Mime-lords and mime-queens
Trusted seconds-in-command of 
mime-lords and mime-queens
Dominant gangs
Gangs led by mime-lords or mime-queens
Gang leaders
Gang members
Also known as mobsters 
Train gutterlings in the arts of the syndicate
Carry out errands for dominant gangs
Carry messages between gangs
Voyant businesses and traders
Pay taxes and draw business to a section;
some are based in the black market
Footpads and pickpockets
Specialise in conventional crime
Not considered part of the syndicate by some,
but tolerated if they pay extra tax
Gutterlings and beggars
Not officially part of the syndicate,
but often exploited or forced to pay tax

The Unnatural Assembly wields much of the power in the voyant hierarchy. Mime-lords and mime-queens were originally meant to actively serve their people, providing voyants in their section with opportunities and protection from Scion (e.g. giving them dens to hide in, sending their mobsters to help fight off Vigiles) in exchange for a cut of their earnings – but by the time Paige joins the syndicate, many have become lazy, allowing their voyants to do the work while they soak up more and more money. Paige's intention as Underqueen is to give them more active roles, which will not allow them to shirk their responsibilities.  

Although the clairvoyant syndicate is largely self-sufficient, it also occasionally works with sympathetic amaurotics. Glym jacks (hired bodyguards), buck cabbies (cab drivers who will give voyant clients a significant discount) and screevers (experts in forging documents) are the most common sorts of amaurotic to engage in syndicate work. 

If a mime-lord or mime-queen is arrested or dies, control of the section is automatically transferred to their mollisher, who is the heir to their position and fortune. If the mollisher is also unable to rule for any reason, a power vacuum forms and an internal struggle begins. Voyants will fight to prove that they are the strongest candidate for the role. Members of a dominant gang will usually be involved in these fights, but are not guaranteed to win. Finally, when one person has come out on top – whether by skill or intimidation – and is no longer facing any serious challenges, they will announce themselves to the Unnatural Assembly, and the Underlord or Underqueen will declare them as the new leader of the section. 

When an Underlord or Underqueen dies or is unable to rule, their mollisher supreme takes over. If they can't, the process becomes more complex. A scrimmage – a public battle for control of the syndicate – is announced by the Spiritus Club. Candidates send the Club a message in the language of flowers to declare their intention to participate. Only mime-lords, mime-queens and mollishers are officially allowed to enter, but independent candidates may also be approved, based on how interesting the Club finds their floral messages. 

Here are the official rules of the scrimmage, from The Mime Order: 

The Scrimmage is based on the medieval art of mêlée. Mime-Lords, Mime-Queens and their Mollishers fight in close Combat in a 'Rose Ring', an enduring symbol of the Plague of Unnaturalness. Each of the Combatants fights for his- or herself, but a Mollisher may work with his or her Mime-Lord or Mime-Queen at any time during the battle. The last Candidate standing is declared Victor and is presented with the ceremonial Crown. From that moment, the Victor rules the syndicate, and bears the title of Underlord or Underqueen, depending upon their Preference.  
When there are only two Combatants left in the Rose Ring, and they are not a Mime-Lord or Mime-Queen and Mollisher duo, they must do battle to the Death in order for a final Victor to be declared. Only by using a specific invocation – ‘in the name of the æther, I, [name or alias], yield’ – can a Combatant end the last fight without bloodshed. Once this word is spoken, the other Party is automatically declared Victor. This rule was introduced by the Golden Baroness, first Underqueen of the Scion Citadel of London (ruled 1976-1980).  


The raison d'être of the clairvoyant syndicate is money. Money is earned through busking, begging, extortion, the sale of goods and knowledge, and the sale and auction of spirits – and it all flows upward by means of taxes. All syndicate voyants must pay syndicate rent and syndicate tax.

Syndicate rent is charged by mime-lords and mime-queens, who are themselves immune to it. Locations with more clairvoyant activity, and more opportunity for business, tend to charge higher syndicate rent.

Syndicate tax is paid by everyone but the Underlord or Underqueen. Every time a voyant earns money through their syndicate activities, they must give a certain percentage of it to their local mime-lord or mime-queen. Businesses pay more than individuals. That mime-lord or mime-queen then pays a certain percentage of that money, and the collected syndicate rent, to the Underlord or Underqueen, who is supposed to use it to make life better in the syndicate. Corruption is so rife in the syndicate, however, that its leaders often keep large sums for their own use. Not paying rent or tax can result in a number of punishments, from a beating to banishment to death. Flower and Dean Street in East London, where many voyants had their throats slit for not coughing up, was notorious during Haymarket Hector's reign.

Only one establishment in London is immune to syndicate tax. The Juditheon – an auction house in Cheapside – was founded by Didion Waite, and allows spirits to be sold by auction for more money than they would usually get. The Underlord allowed Waite to set up this establishment without paying any tax to his local mime-queen, Ognena Maria. The money would instead go straight into the Underlord's personal coffers.

I hope that was helpful. Let me know if I've missed anything, or if you're curious about any other aspect of syndicate culture. 

More news about The Song Rising on its way soon . . .

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

On migraine

The aching orb of eye, tuned to the thrum,  
foretells the sudden swelling of the vein.
The nerves sing to the tune. A brittle drum
booms with illumined blood before the pain.

An earthquake shakes the rigid skull again.
The bottle-cap, screwed tight, will overflow.
A sliver of the sun inside the brain 
is streaming through the spectrum, all too slow.

The vessels squeeze out loose ends of the glow
and iridescence leaves the iris blind.
A bell tolls in the bone. Chemical rain
has etherized the tissue of the mind.

Just a little poem on migraine I've been working on, line by line, for a few months. I'm not a poet by nature, but I've always wanted to try and sum up to a non-migraineur how it feels to experience one. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

New covers

Good evening!

I'll start with a piece of startling news: I haven't had coffee or tea for over a week, and I'm fine. Caffeine withdrawal, apparently, does not have the hold on me that it did while I was at uni.

Anyway, moving swiftly on to the real news of the week: If you follow me on social media, you'll know by now that Bloomsbury has unveiled a fresh new look for the whole of the Bone Season series. They've already been revealed elsewhere, but I thought I'd also post them here at A Book from the Beginning in higher resolution, so you can see them in all their glory. Without further ado, here's what the Bone Season books will look like from here on out . . .  All credit, as always, goes to the wonderful David Mann at Bloomsbury. 


Aus | UK | India

Aren't they gorgeous? I'm delighted with them – they're clean, symbolic, and powerful in their simplicity. The aesthetic is actually quite similar to the one Scion uses, with white backgrounds and hints of red and black. The first two covers, as you can see, are roughly based on the original designs: the red flower for The Bone Season, and the moth and the flower for The Mime Order. They also evoke the colours of their previous incarnations. I especially love the exploding glass effect of The Bone Season.

The spines are blue for The Bone Season, red for The Mime Order, and orange for The Song Rising

A Book from the Beginning has always been meant to explore the different phases of the publishing process, and different looks are a reality of publishing: sometimes, the design changes, sometimes midway through a series. Rest assured that publishers always do it with the best interests of the book and the author in mind. I will miss the originals, which have a special place in my heart – after all, they were my very first book covers! – but I like these new ones just as much. I've always had one hard rule when it comes to the covers for my books (in English, at least), and that's ‘no models’ – I prefer the reader to be able to imagine for themselves what the characters look like – and Bloomsbury has always respected this. The hardback spine of The Song Rising has also been designed so it goes well with those of the originals. 

We all like a tidy bookshelf.

The Song Rising's cover, of course, has been a long time coming for all of us. I can't tell you how it feels to finally have a cover for it – it's like seeing the finish line in a year-long marathon. When Bloomsbury showed me the cover for the first time, I couldn't quite believe how right they'd got it, despite how different it looked from the previous two designs. The book follows Paige's reign as Underqueen, so the crown is rightfully the centrepiece, and I love that it resembles the symbol for the queen in a chess game (♕♛). The fire burns around the crown like an aura, powerful and glowing, yet simultaneously threatens to consume it; only a thin circle keeps it at bay, and even then, the flames creep in. This could easily represent Paige's state of mind in the book, as she is forced to prove, while she strives to unite clairvoyants and deal Scion a serious blow, that she is worthy of her crown. 

Thank you so much for all the positive feedback so far. Mid-series cover changes can be nerve-racking for authors, as they're beyond our control, and I know they can be just as nerve-racking for existing readers of a series. I was in a cold sweat for days before the reveal, but I'm so glad, and relieved, that so many people are on board with the new look. It's really grown on me for the few weeks I've known about it. While understated covers are hard to capture fully on a screen, in my experience they tend to look incredibly effective on a finished book, once they've had all the little finishes added. I'm more excited than ever to see a finished hardback of The Song Rising and actually hold the book I've been working on for so long. 

The final wait begins . . .

With nine months to go until the book is released, I'm going to start dropping more hints about The Song Rising. In my last blog post, I gave you the first quote, and some time this month, I'll be revealing the name of Part 1. I'm also planning to drop a new song onto the Song Rising soundtrack on my brand-new Spotify every so often in the lead-up to publication. While they're not exactly teasers for the book, you should get a good idea of its atmosphere and the sort of thing I was listening to as I wrote and edited it. My author playlists for The Bone Season and The Mime Order, as well as all the music mentioned in the book (e.g. the songs on Warden's gramophone and Jaxon's record player), are also on my Spotify. 

I'm going to hurry back to Book 4 now – I just finished Chapter 1 – but I hope you love the covers as much as I do. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The song is on the rise

The edits are done

The song is on the rise. 

After at least a year of working on the manuscript, I am relieved and overjoyed to tell you that I have finally, finally finished The Song Rising. All that's left to do now is copy-editing, but I already know it will be a breeze in comparison to the structural and line edits that have occupied my every waking moment for the last few weeks. 

I've slowly fallen in love with this book. I've spent months agonising, writing, rewriting, being thrilled with new scenes, veering between laughter and tears, waking up in cold sweats, doubting my ability, emailing my editor, being certain of my ability, loving my new villain, and living in fear of Third Book Syndrome, if such a thing exists – but out of this emotional and creative welter, and at least five drafts, comes a book that I am really, truly proud of, and can't wait for you to read in March 2017. (Fingers crossed some of you wil be get your hands on ARCs before that.) The extra time I spent on it has been absolutely worth it, as it was with The Mime Order, and I'd like to thank you all again, a thousand times, for your patience in waiting for me to get Paige's third adventure exactly right. I've learned a lot of lessons about my creative process during this time, and I hope to use those lessons to make the first draft of Book 4 much stronger and tighter before it goes to my editor.

In case you missed it on social media, here's your first official quote from The Song Rising

"You do not believe me."  
A long breath escaped me. "I don't know what I believe any more."

. . . Make of it what you will.

I've said before that each book in the Bone Season series, while broadly coming under the umbrella of dystopia and urban fantasy, will have a different 'genre'. The Bone Season was a jailbreak; The Mime Order, at its heart, was a murder mystery. Originally, I had planned The Song Rising to be a more typical let's-fight-the-government dystopian, but on reflection, I think . . . I think it might be a heist novel. Maybe.

So, at long last, knowing that I've put my all into The Song Rising, I'm moving on to new projects – after I take a week off to catch up on my reading and do things like properly unpack my belongings now I've moved out of my parents' house. On the subject of new projects, I've just finished editing my short story for a brand-new anthology that's coming soon to a bookshop near you. 

The anthology 

If you haven't read about it yet, Because You Love to Hate Me is a villain-themed YA anthology, edited by Grammy-nominated singer Ameriie, that will bring together thirteen authors and thirteen Booktubers to create stories. In short, each Booktuber is assigned to an author and gives them a prompt, and with that prompt, the author creates a story centred around a particular villain (or villains). The Booktubers will also be contributing essays to the anthology, detailing their thoughts on good and evil. I absolutely love this subject matter, especially delving into the murky grey waters that lie between those two extremes. I was honoured to be asked by Ameriie to join in with this project, and I've loved working on my contribution over the last couple of months. Although I can't tell you a great deal about it yet, I have no doubt that Bloomsbury, who will be publishing in July 2017, will be dropping a tonne of hints as the year goes on.   

Some of the other authors involved in the anthology are Renée Ahdieh, Victoria Schwab, and Susan Dennard. You can all about it here.

The rest of the year

The rest of 2016 is going to be interesting, because for the first time in my career as an author, I'm going to be splitting my time equally between two major projects. One of those is, of course, the fourth Bone Season book. All I'm telling you at the moment is (a) that it's set in France, (b) it's the final book in the first "arc" of the septology, and (c) that the ending will change everything.  

The second task is to finish The Priory of the Orange Tree, my high fantasy novel. I don't yet have a release date for you, and I doubt Bloomsbury will choose one until the draft is finished, but I'll drop hints when I can. I'm aiming to have both manuscripts handed in by the time The Song Rising is published, if not earlier. 

But first . . . I need to catch up on my sleep, give my body a break from my near-permanent writing posture, and read as many books as I can stuff into a week. Thank you to all of you, as always, for your constant support and enthusiasm. It's kept me going for the past year, and it will fuel me for the next. 

*disappears under duvet*

Monday, 4 April 2016

Here be dragons

I have some big, big news: I SOLD A NEW BOOK!

I'll just do a cheeky copy-and-paste from Bloomsbury's official press release . . .

Alexandra Pringle, Editor-in-Chief at Bloomsbury, has bought World English rights in The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon from David Godwin at David Godwin Associates.

The Priory of the Orange Tree is a standalone fantasy that draws influence from Eastern and Western mythology. In the novel, a war between dragons has divided the world, reducing humankind to a shadow of its former strength. It is told through the eyes of four characters from very different backgrounds.

‘Samantha Shannon is a writer whose imagination and flair is evident in all her work, but in this gripping new fantasy novel she combines chivalric legends, dragons, Elizabethan court life, magic and Japanese folklore to stunning effect. It further confirms that Samantha Shannon is one of the leading fantasy writers of her generation,’ says Alexandra Pringle.

'Samantha really is an astonishing talent. This is a fabulous book,’ says David Godwin.

The Priory of the Orange Tree will be published by Bloomsbury in hardback and eBook.

It's always so surreal when you're finally able to talk about a book after months of working on it in private. Still pinching myself.  

The Priory of the Orange Tree – I'm finally sharing the title! – is a novel I've been writing for a few months now, which my agent sold to Bloomsbury about two weeks ago. I worked on it most intensely during National Novel Writing Month last year, when I wrote 50K words of it. You may remember me discussing it, albeit mysteriously, in this blog post. It's a standalone high fantasy inspired by Eastern and Western history and mythology, including the tale of George and the Dragon, which is one of the strongest influences on the central storyline. I sold the book based on a partial draft, so I now have to, you know, actually finish it . . . but I'm confident that I can divide my time between this manuscript and the fourth Bone Season book. I might have to get a coffee drip permanently attached to my hand, but I'm raring to go. 

My aim is to get a full draft of both Book 4 and Priory handed in by December. I work well under pressure. 

Note: I'd just like to reassure you, before I continue my outpouring of excitement, that this book is very unlikely to affect the publication time of Book 4, which will be published in 2018 at the earliest no matter how quickly I work on it. Because The Song Rising's publication was delayed, I have plenty of time to work on two projects. 

Before I dig into where this book stemmed from, here's a few tidbits about The Priory of the Orange Tree.

  • I started working on it while I was waiting for my editor's notes on The Song Rising
  • I finally went to the British Library and got a membership so I could research it. 
  • It's told in third-person by four different characters – two men and two women – who are all from different backgrounds, cultures, and parts of the world. One of the men is called Loth. I love them all. 
  • There are a lot of dragons in it. Talking dragons, non-talking dragons, dragon-like beasts of legend. 
  • Unlike the Bone Season books, it's set in a world that's separate from ours. However, each of the countries in it is inspired by a real country. 
  • It contains many references to real sixteenth-century world history and people. This was the period I chose as my touchstone for the setting after my little brother asked me for help with his history homework on the Spanish Armada one night. Before he did that, I'd been drafting the story, but the setting had never quite worked. Once that clicked, I couldn't stop writing.
  • The Priory of the Orange Tree is my original working title. One of the other titles I considered was A Little Season, but . . . well, I don't want to, er, over-season my ouevre. 

I'm honoured to be with the amazing team at Bloomsbury again for this book, which is the realisation of a childhood dream. 

I've wanted to create something to do with dragons since I was a little kid, when I first watched Dragonheart. My friends and I went to see it at the cinema for my birthday in 1996 – I asked my parents if I could have the celebration in the summer, rather than November, just so it would coincide with its release. When I got it on video, I recorded the whole film on a cassette tape and played it back to myself like an audiobook, so often that I pretty much memorised the dialogue. I even loved the direct-to-video sequel, even though it paled in comparison to the original. (I will eventually watch the third installment, which I only just learned about, when I decide that my soul can take it.) The theme music still gives me chills. 

After my Dragonheart initiation, I went full dragon-crazy. They came just above dinosaurs in the hierarchy of obsession. I played Drakan: The Ancients' Gates on my PlayStation 2. As soon as I heard about Reign of Fire, it joined my DVD collection. I was enthralled by Cornelia Funke's Dragon Rider, which I read over and over again as a child. Same for The Hobbit. I devoured all the information I could about the different species of dragon in Harry Potter – I made sure to buy a little pot of Hungarian Horntail dragon heartstring at LeakyCon a few years ago. I was gutted when Maleficent didn't actually turn into a dragon in live-action movie. One of my crystal-clear memories from school is of the day I discovered The Fire Within by Chris d'Lacey in the library, where I would sit for hours and imagine tiny dragon figurines stirring to life. I was the very proud owner of The Dragon Hunter's Handbook. And of course, I love Game of Thrones as much as anyone – there's a reason Dany's storyline has always been my favourite. When I was about ten, I even wrote a few chapters of a book called Inferno, about a girl named Cleo who discovers that dragons live in Area 51 and do battle with demons. (Samantha Shannon, the ten-year-old Area 51 conspiracy theorist.) And my writing ‘mascot’ is a little statue of a purple dragon hatching from an egg. 

So, in a nutshell: I have loved dragons for nearly twenty years. Inferno was abandoned to the bottom drawer, but I never let go of the idea that I would one day return to writing about them. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree is about what happens to humans when dragons exist; about the collision between cultures and religions; about love, war, survival, and adventure. As I said above, it's told in third-person, making it quite a different animal from The Bone Season, which is all told by Paige. Third-person is the style I naturally gravitated towards before Paige's voice exploded into my head, and it was quite a strange experience to go back to it after all these years, but it seemed right for this story. I've had so much fun building the relationships between them, working out where their lives intersect, bringing them together and pulling them apart. I'm thrilled that you're all going to be able to meet them.

Other news

In Bone Season news, we're very close to finally sending The Song Rising off to the copy-editor, which will conclude several months of incredibly hard work on it. I'm probably going to take a week off to catch up on my sleep, but I'll be straight to work on Book 4 after that. (And once I've finished a secret Bone Season-related project I'm working on this month.) I have a working title and a Word document all ready to go. This book, which will be set in Paris, will round off the first ‘arc’ of the Bone Season septology and sees events in Scion take an even darker turn. Paige is going to go through a great deal of change, not always for the better, so I'm approaching it with a mix of trepidation and excitement. There are some pretty gut-wrenching scenes in this one that I've envisioned writing from the very beginning. As I've said before, I think Book 4 will be the shortest of the Bone Season books, with either the same number of words or slightly less than there are in The Song Rising, which is currently at just over 126KIt's amazing to think that by the end of next year, I'll be working on Book 5, which I've always believed will be my favourite of the whole saga to write. 

To break up the wait: don't forget that you can finally buy the eBook of On the Merits of Unnaturalness this week! Pre-order links can be found here

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

10 Things About Me

I was tagged to do 10 Things About Me by Laure Eve, whose book The Graces, which comes out in September, is really bloody good. 

It all started when I went out for a Moroccan dinner with some wonderful fellow authors – Laure, Alwyn Hamilton, Katherine Webber and Melinda Salisbury – and we started talking about our lives, specifically about how we weren't really that interesting. (This was mostly me talking, after hearing about Mel's escapades.) Although we're all storytellers by profession, we insisted that we didn't have any real-life stories to tell . . . but as we dug a little deeper, we realised that all of us had something to say. So in the spirit of that, I thought I'd rise to the tag and tell you ten things about me that aren't related to my books.

1. I'm a migraineur – someone who suffers from migraines. I had my first one when I was eighteen. Both of my parents are migraineurs: my dad gets the visual disturbances, my mum gets the pain, and I get both. Lucky me. I did a big interview about how migraines have impacted my life and writing here

2. I consider myself a bit of a flâneuse. Walking through cities, especially cities I've never visited before, is probably the thing I love most in the whole world, apart from writing and reading. (I don't have the same feelings towards walking in the countryside.) It's one of the only forms of exercise I really enjoy, and I'll always choose to navigate a city on foot, rather than in a car or on public transport, so I can take everything in. I love striding into the unknown, armed with nothing more than a map and a decent pair of boots, and I will happily walk for miles every day to reach a landmark, or just to soak up the atmosphere and colour of the city. Places I've especially loved walking in are Edinburgh, Porto, Rome, Paris, New York City, Dublin, Manchester – and of course, my home city, London.

3. I royally messed up my graduation. On arrival, you were supposed to sign your name to indicate that you were, you know, actually there, but . . . I forgot to do that. The full, embarrassing story is here.

4. I'm allergic to Silver Birch tree pollen. Some foods cross-react with this kind of pollen, so by extension, I also have a mild allergy to raw potatoes and pears. I can't touch raw potatoes without my palms itching, and I can't eat a pear without getting a swollen lip. I still eat pears, but I have shamelessly used the allergy to get out of peeling the potatoes.

5. I'm severely thalassophobic and selachophobic. The phobias are naturally intertwined, and they've worsened over the years, to the point that I can no longer go in the sea and often have nightmares about it. I can trace the selachophobia's beginnings to when I was staying with friends in Massachusetts about six years ago. We went swimming and later found out that a young Great White had been spotted near the area we'd been swimming in, which really unnerved me. Although I have an intense fear of sharks and feel sick to my stomach even looking at a photo of one, I'm against hunting or culling them in any capacity. They're incredible creatures, and the sea is their territory – humans need to respect that. So I do. By not going in the sea.

6. I was the Arts & Literature representative at my Oxford college, St Anne's, during my second year of university. I was pretty shy and awkward at the time, but I wanted the role so much that I decided to go for it. During the hustings, after we made our speeches about why we would suit the position, the candidates had to do something creative. I wrote and performed a weird limerick about the college – something I never thought I'd be brave enough to do. I took the role very seriously when I won it, and set out on a year-long quest to put St Anne's on the creative map. I re-opened the college darkroom, which had been gathering dust for years; I secured a dedicated art room, which allowed an Art Club to flourish; I organised a big college trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Twelfth Night, and I ran a week-long arts festival.

7. I had braces twice: once at the usual time, to straighten my teeth, and once when I was 18, to correct my overbite. I only got them taken off when I was 20, shortly after I got my deal for The Bone Season. I still have a slight overbite, but I'm never, ever having braces again. 

8. An ancestor on my grandmother's side, whose name was George Massey, was a seed merchant. He made his fortune in Spalding, Lincolnshire by selling a new and exciting kind of potato called the Eldorado. Apparently this potato was kind of a big deal back in 1904, because the news was in the paper.  

9. I love to swim. Apart from walking, it's the only exercise I enjoy. I got the NPLQ (National Pool Lifeguarding Qualification) when I was about sixteen. It was an incredibly tough course, much tougher than I expected – several people dropped out – but I made it through it all: the timed swims, the First Aid, the constant hunger and hours of training, the retrieving of a water-filled mannequin from the bottom of the pool, and the final examination. Although I never actually worked as a lifeguard, I remain very proud of the achievement. I doubt I'll ever be that fit again.

10. I have a navel piercing, four ear piercings, and a tattoo of two shooting stars on the back of my right shoulder. I've decided to let the navel piercing close after I had my appendix removed, as it was always swollen. I don't think my body ever took to it. 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Song Rising, slowly

I'm sure many of you saw this on social media, but I wanted you to hear it directly from me, too. Time to gird my loins and have my George R. R. Martin moment. 

*deep breath* 

Okay, so there's brilliant news, and there's also some not-so-good news. Let's do the not-so-good news first. 

The new release date

The Song Rising is now coming out in March 2017.

Hear me out, Harry.

First off, I am really sorry for this delay. I know the original date of November 2016 came as a shock to some of you, after you spent a year waiting for news, and March 2017 sounds so much farther away. Two years and two months is a long time to wait between books – The Mime Order was out in January 2015 – and you've already been enormously patient. I completely understand that many of you will be disappointed. 

I've always wanted this blog to be a place for me to talk frankly about publishing a book. The highs and lows. The complications. In the spirit of that honesty, I wanted to use this opportunity to show you that sometimes, things don't go exactly as you envisioned them – but also that it's sometimes for the best. 

Various things that are out of an author's control can delay the publication of a book. Originally, I thought Bloomsbury had chosen to delay the release for some of those reasons. However, I have concluded that this delay is, in part, because The Song Rising's first draft was not as strong as it should have been. I didn't realise that at the time, but when I looked back on recently, I could see that it was lacking a strong core. There was a lot of great material, but something was just . . . not there. I felt the same reading it as I did when I read a very early version of The Mime Order, which I scrapped and never sent to Bloomsbury. It was like all the flesh and muscle and bone was there, but something was missing to bind them together. In hindsight, I think the root cause of this was simply that I rushed to send it to my publisher as soon as I'd finished a first draft – and it was literally a first draft, with minimal self-editing. It was hot off the keyboard when it landed in my editor's inbox. I raced to send it off because I didn't want my readers to have to wait a year and a half for the next book in the series. I assumed my editor would get back to me at top speed, as she did with The Mime Order. I desperately wanted Book 3 to come out in early or mid-2016. As a result, I sent Bloomsbury a draft that could have been better, which meant that my editor took longer to get through it and get back to me, which negated any time I'd saved by rushing to send it to her. Cue the long wait for notes and multiple rounds of edits that I've had to do over the past few months. I now recognise that if I'd taken a month or two to do a few self-edits beforehand, things may have moved faster. 

In short, by trying to get the book to my readers quickly, I slowed things down. Lesson learned.  

So here's what's happening now. The finished manuscript is due for April, and I'm on target, so I am nearly there. I am working around the clock, feeding myself mostly on Lucozade, to ensure I don't miss these final deadlines.

Now, you may be asking, ‘Why can't they just publish it in April or May?’ Well, they technically could, but publishers also need a while to promote an upcoming book. First, the finished manuscript has to be presented to, and read by staff at the publishing house; then it has to go out to early readers, bloggers, media, and so on – all sorts of things to make people aware that the book exists, and that it's coming out, and that they can read it soon. It also needs to come out at a time of the year when the publisher feels it will sell well; it can't just be shoehorned into the calendar at the earliest possible time. 

You can think of these in-between months, the bridge between finished manuscript and publication, as the book warming up before a race. It's preparing to go into readers' hands, and it needs the best possible start.   

On a personal level, I've come to understand that I need to accept my boundaries as an author. I pour my whole heart and soul and life into my books. When my publisher first told me that it would have to come out in March 2017, I was distraught. I had been working so hard to get the book finished, and I have always wanted to be the sort of author who could get them out on a yearly basis – but sometimes, certain stories take a while to tell. And The Song Rising has been one of those stories. Blood, sweat and tears have gone into getting this book right. It's more ambitious than The Bone Season and The Mime Order in terms of its scope, set in three different cities and dealing with many different characters and factions, so it was always going to take slightly longer to tease out and refine. It's the book that lifts the series onto the global stage, where the stakes are much higher. It's taken me a long time to accept that a larger story might take longer to get right; I equated being a bit slower with failure, and I shouldn't have. 
Something I've finally learned from this experience, which I'd like to pass on to any aspiring writers reading this blog post, is that it's okay, and usually the best approach, to take your time when you're creating.

I genuinely believe that Book 4 will take less time to write. It will almost certainly be the shortest Bone Season book before the monster-sized Book 5. But I'm not going to make any promises this time about getting the books out once a year, because I don't want to break those promises. I have to accept that these books will take as long as they take if they're going to be of the best possible quality, and I hope you guys will understand. I never want you to have anything less than my best work, and I never want to hold a book in my hands and know it could have been better, if only I'd taken a few weeks or months longer to get it exactly right. 

So, March 2017. I imagine some of you will be able to get hold of ARCs before that, but it's still pretty far away. I'll be twenty-five by the time it comes out. Fortunately, Bloomsbury and I have some plans to help tide you over to Paige's next adventure.

The pamphlet 

Oh, yes. It's happening.

On the Merits of Unnaturalness is officially coming out as an eBook! 

On the Merits is the controversial first pamphlet by Jaxon Hall, written under the pseudonym An Obscure Writer, which explains all of the clairvoyant gifts in The Bone Season from his perspective. You may remember that we did a limited pre-order campaign for The Mime Order, where the first 500 people to pre-order got a physical edition of On the Merits, which was only available to a small number of territories. 

BUT NOW, On the Merits will be available for a from all reputable eBook retailers this April. Yes, Jaxon Hall is coming to a Kindle, Kobo or iPad near you. Even better news: my publishers in other territories around the world have also been given the go-ahead to publish it, so it may even be getting translated. When and how they choose to do this is up to them, but I'll make sure I put any information up here when I receive it. I'm so, so pumped about this, and so happy I can share it with more of my readers. I had a hell of a lot of fun writing On the Merits, and I think it's a great resource for those of you who want to learn more about the world of the books. 

And one last thing

There's also another very exciting piece of Bone Season news coming later in the year. I can't give you exact details just yet, but let's just say . . . it's something else for you to read. Keep your eyes peeled for an announcement at some point. And for Song Rising teasers as we creep closer to publication.

Thank you, as always, for your endless patience, kindness, and understanding as I work through this last stretch of editing. I am very lucky to have such brilliant readers, and I hope you'll always feel as if the wait for my books has been worth it. 

Samantha x