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From time to time, I am asked by readers of my ebooks for a copy of the map of the Lands of the Exile. So . . . here it is.

 

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When my son decided recently that he wanted to get into Star Wars, I was obviously delighted. I didn’t think he would enjoy the films just yet, so instead I bought for him seasons 1 - 5 of the CGI animated television series The Clone Wars. I say bought for him, but I ended up watching them as well. Just to keep him company, you understand.

CloneWarsI’m not sure what age group The Clone Wars is supposed to be aimed at, but I really liked the series. Space battles, lightsabre duels, political machinations, what more could you want? The stories are set in the time between films 2 and 3 of the Star Wars franchise (Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith). And one of the main appeals of the series was that it offered a chance to visit the Star Wars universe at a time when there were lots of Jedi.

For me, the highlight of the series was undoubtedly a new character, Ahsoka Tano. Ahsoka is a Jedi, and the student of Anakin Skywalker. At the start of The Clone Wars, Anakin is headstrong and impulsive, so naturally the Jedi Council give him a girl with the same mindset as his pupil. Ahsoka and Anakin spend most of their time trying to outdo each other’s recklessness. And there are some wonderfully humorous moments as Anakin struggles to curb in Ahsoka the same instincts he himself displays.

More than any other character, The Clone Wars is about Anakin Skywalker. We see some events that explain his growing disillusionment with the Jedi Council. Interestingly, Ahsoka herself provides one of those in season 5. There’s a great instance of foreshadowing early in The Clone Wars when Anakin fears Ahsoka has been killed. Another Jedi says to him, “When the time comes, I am prepared to let my student go. Can you say the same?” You realise that Anakin’s friendship with Ahsoka is going to cost him, and so it proves.

Another highlight of The Clones Wars was spending time in the company of characters who are seen only briefly in the films. Remember Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith? It was a poignant sequence, watching Jedi after Jedi betrayed and killed by their clone troops, but the effect was lessened by the fact that I didn’t know who these Jedi were. Having now met Plo Koon and some of the others in The Clone Wars, the same Order 66 sequence hit far harder went I watched it again.

My biggest complaint about the series was that it didn’t follow often enough the characters I am most interested in. I know this is a personal thing, but why did Yoda get only a single episode dedicated to him? By comparison, the likes of Jar Jar Binks and Padme Amidala received far too much screen time. Padme in particular was a yawn-fest, to the extent that “it's like watching Padme Amidala” may soon replace the phrase “it's like watching paint dry”.

Another thing that really grated on me was the inconsistent treatment of Jedi abilities. If you’re an all-powerful, ass-kicking Jedi, you’re an all-powerful, ass-kicking Jedi all the time. You can’t just have an off day because the scriptwriter needs your story to be more dramatic. Except you can in The Clones Wars. I lost count of the number of times a Jedi was defeated by a far weaker enemy. And as for how often a lightsabre was lost or dropped . . . well, my calculator ran out of digits.

Then there were the plot-holes. Oh, the plot-holes. Some of them were larger than the stories they were supposed to be in. For example, one bad guy desperately wanted revenge against Kenobi, so having finally captured him, does he kill him? Of course not. Instead, he taunts him just long enough for help to arrive. Then, when Kenobi flees in an escape pod, does the bad guy chase him in his much faster ship? Of course not. Better things to do, apparently.

All in all, though, I’d recommend The Clone Wars to any Star Wars fan. The episodes may range hugely in quality, but there are some real gems in there.

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First, a bit of fun.

KeepCalm17

I’m a fan of quote posters or “quosters”. I produced four for When the Heavens Fall and a further eight for Dragon Hunters, some of which you can see here. I have another eight to reveal in the days around Red Tide’s publication on 20th September, which you will LOVE. (I’ve put that in capitals, so it must be true.)

I’m busy on the self-promotion trail at present, because the next couple of weeks are important for me. Red Tide is my third book, and I’m keen for it to do well. Unsurprisingly. Since becoming a writer, I’ve met some wonderful people (both in person and “virtually”), and I am hugely grateful to them for helping to spread the word about my series. But sometimes people ask me whether there is anything else they can do to help my writing career, and I’ve never had an answer before – short of encouraging them to buy my books.

Then I stumbled across an old blog post by Myke Cole, author of the Shadow Ops series. He did have an answer, and I thought I would summarise his observations below. In a nutshell, the first-week sales of a novel are CRITICAL in determining how much a publisher spends on marketing, and ultimately (perhaps) whether it gives an author a new contract. So:

  • If you’ve enjoyed the series so far and plan to buy Red Tide, now would be an excellent time to pre-order. Oh, and look! Here are some links to help you do just that: UK / US / Canada. How did they get there?

  • Alternatively, you could buy Red Tide in the first week of publication (starting 20th September).

  • If you’ve had your eye on the series for a while and are planning to jump in, I commend your good taste – and suggest that the release week of Red Tide would be a great time to buy When the Heavens Fall or Dragon Hunters.

  • Finally, if you enjoy my books, don’t be shy about telling someone! Write it in the stars if you are so inclined. But failing that, a review at Amazon and/or Goodreads would be particularly useful.

Hope you enjoy Red Tide. It’s my favourite book of the series so far.

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*Tumbleweed blows past*

Testing, testing, one two three.

I have to admit I’ve been a little remiss lately about updating my blog. It’s not because I’ve had nothing going on to tell you about – quite the opposite in fact.

For starters, I’ve been writing a couple of short stories for anthologies due out next year. The first is Grimdark Magazine’s Evil is a Matter of Perspective. My story features Mazana Creed. It is set a few years before the events in Dragon Hunters, and Mazana has been tasked with hunting down a notorious pirate in order to win a place on the Storm Council. But being Mazana, she is obviously going to do things her way.

The second is Ragnarok Publications’ Hath No Fury. I’m still in the process of writing this story. It will feature Jenna Amary from When the Heavens Fall, but is has been causing me a little trouble. In part this is because I can’t reveal too much of Jenna’s background – that is being saved for a later book in the Chronicles of the Exile series. But things are slowly coming together.

In terms of what else has been keeping me busy, there’s the small matter of the publication of Red Tide later this month (the 20th). I’ll be doing a blog tour, and I have written a few articles in readiness. I’ve also produced some “quosters” (or quote posters). Here is an example, which gives a not-too-subtle clue about one of the returning characters.

 

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I’m delighted with how the book has been received thus far. Kirkus gave it a starred review, and you can see what they said here.

And did I mention that the book it available for pre-order? No? Of course, I would never stoop so low as to actually ask you to buy it NOW. Though if you were minded to do so, I guess there’s nothing I can do to stop you ordering it here or here.

Finally, I’ve been asked how much of books one and two you need to remember going into Red Tide. It follows on directly from the events in Dragons Hunters, but since that book only came out in February, I’m assuming you won’t have forgotten its main points – though you may want to check out again Kempis’s section in chapter 11. As for When the Heavens Fall, the following parts are worth re-reading:

  • the final section of chapter 11
  • Parolla’s and Romany’s sections in chapter 22
  • Parolla’s penultimate section in chapter 23

Hope you enjoy Red Tide.

 

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This week I’m asking five different questions to five different authors. Anthony Ryan, Kameron Hurley, Teresa Frohock and Jeff Salyards have all taken their turn. My final victim guest is Sebastien de Castell, author of The Greatcoats series. The third book in that series, Saint’s Blood, is out now.

Hi Sebastien, thanks for joining me.

SebastienDeCastell1. Let’s start with something easy. On the FAQ on your website, you assure readers that whilst Sebastien de Castell might sound like a made-up fantasy author name, it is in fact your real name. Since we’re all friends here, though, can you give us an exclusive on what your *real* real name is?

When my mother was pregnant, she and my father argued at great length over what to name me. The question proved unresolvable through reasoned debate and so my father suggested approaching the issue scientifically: since they wanted me to one day become a respected novelist, why not survey a large group of people about what name would most exemplify my future profession?

That’s why my real name is Writey McWriteface.

Maybe you could use that as a pen name if you ever needed one. It would certainly catch the eye on a cover.

2. I often see the trio of Falcio, Kest and Brasti from the Greatcoats series compared to the Three Musketeers. Did you have the Musketeers in mind when you planned the books? Is theirs a period of history that you are familiar with?

I’m thrilled when readers make comparisons between my books and those of Dumas, but I think that comes less from similarities of character or setting and more from sharing resonances with the broader tradition of swashbuckling adventure novels. Despite being a fantasy novelist, my roots aren’t so much with Tolkien or his antecedents but more with the writers of the roguish, picaresque tales that began in the 16th century and eventually wound up more in the cinema than on bookshelves.

Those influences blended naturally for me with the narrative voice of the noir stylists like Raymond Chandler and the combination of the two is where I live as a writer. Whether I’m writing about swordfighting magistrates in an Early Modern fantasy world or about weird detectives in our own, the mixture of swashbuckling optimism and noir world-weariness are always compelling for me, so they’re always at the core of my writing.

3. On your blog, you talk about how the emotional stakes for your long-suffering protagonist, Falcio, need to escalate with each new book. Did you ever worry that you might run out of ways to torment him? When other authors kill off their characters, do you feel that they are letting them off lightly?

I absolutely worry about running out of ways to torment Falcio. Despite all his heroic (and sometimes not-so-heroic) qualities, Falcio has always felt very real to me—someone who sees the world for what it is but desperately wants to believe that there’s some perfect combination of skill, wit, and decency that can change it. Purely cynical characters are easy to write because cynicism doesn’t require a lot of internal fortitude. With Falcio, though, I have to push him as far as I can without ever reaching that point where a human being would simply not have the emotional capacity to try and stand up one more time. That’s why the other characters like Kest and Brasti--but most especially Valiana and Aline—are so important. It’s only when Falcio sees someone new stepping up that he finds the strength to do so himself.

As to killing off characters, I think most writers genuinely wrestle with that decision. It’s always risky—there are readers who simply won’t stand for it. None of us want to alienate the people who love our stories, so when a favourite character dies in a book, it’s because the author truly believes that it’s a necessary consequence of what’s taken place before.

All fantasy writers are mass murderers. Except me, of course. I don’t kill any of my characters – the other characters do it, and I just write down what happened. ;)

SebastienDeCastellCover4. The fight scenes in The Greatcoats are full of great detail. I understand that your experience of duelling comes from working in the theatre as a fight choreographer. But what experience of fighting did you have before you became a fight choreographer? (Note, pleading the fifth amendment is not allowed.)

I used to fence quite a lot, but I’ve never been someone who got into a lot of fights. I think we often forget that the experience of injuring another human being is actually quite horrific unless you’ve got something terribly wrong with you.

Oddly, my career as a musician has at least as profound an effect on my writing of duelling scenes as my background in fight choreography. For me, it’s all about finding that tempo and rhythm, and making the flow of the fight and the cadence of the text come together.

5. Your forthcoming young adult series Spellsinger is described as bursting with tricks, traps and magic. What else can you tell us about the series?

If Harry Potter turned out to be a muggle and a female Han Solo decided to teach him how to survive in the world on swagger and ingenuity instead of just magic, you’d have Spellslinger.

The book is definitely full of tricks and traps and magic, but I wanted to write a novel about someone for whom those things don’t come easily. Spellslinger is really a book about that moment in your life when you discover that you are not, in fact, the ‘chosen one.’

Despite what parents, comics, and television have been promising, most of us really aren’t the smartest or most talented or even the most likable people around. We usually discover this at the worst possible time—in our teens when everything is telling us that we should be special and unique and amazing. To be ordinary in that time is terrifying, and it feels like the only choices are to keep deluding yourself that if you just keep waiting your grand destiny will reveal itself, or else to become morose and self-absorbed, convinced that the world will only allow you a mundane existence. Sometimes, though, if you’re very, very lucky, there’s someone in your life who knocks you on the head and shows you that, while you are indeed not special, if you can cleverly combine all the little vaguely interesting pieces of who you are, you can make yourself special.

When I was growing up as an awkward, non-special teenager, that was the most powerful and valuable magic trick of them all.

Thanks again for the interview!

To find out more about Sebastien, check out his website here.

 

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