Monday, 5 October 2015

The Authenticity Conundrum

A few very kind souls who’ve said nice things about The Lazarus Gate have referenced its ‘authenticity’. That’s a peculiar word when talking about a 21st century book set in the 19th century, but it’s rather gratifying to know that the book feels authentic, as I put an inordinate amount of work into making it that way.

Victorian Google. AKA, about 1/4
of my collection of reference books.
I need help...
I’ve blogged previously on mylove of Victorian reference material, and my collection of history, topographical, sociological and political books, not to mention maps, has grown considerably since then. I also found it really important to visit many of the locations I wrote about, particularly those parts of London that have remained largely unchanged for the last couple of centuries, such as Pall Mall.

But knowing the difference between a growler and a hansom, or a bowler and a homburg, isn’t quite enough to make a Victorian tale convincing. For the two years I spent writing the first draft of The Lazarus Gate, I read Victorian literature almost exclusively – novelists such as Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, as well as a host of short ghost stories – all in an attempt to capture the Victorian literary ‘voice’. In fact, when asked by both my agent and editor about certain word choices and archaic language, I replied that the book is as close to Victorian language as possible without alienating the modern reader. (Seriously, I learned to love the semi-colon during the writing of this book, although I just can’t summon a run-on sentence quite like Dickens). In the end, there was a fair bit of compromise on the subject, and I hope the balance we’ve struck is to the liking of my gentle readers. (Incidentally, there are a few literary ‘easter eggs’ in the prose, some of which are obscure, some just truly nerdy – I’ll do a blog on those in the future for anyone interested. See what you can spot in the meantime).

The Lazarus Gate is by no stretch a historical novel, but it’s close – I wanted to conjure the idea that, if you removed the supernatural and sci-fi elements, you’d end up with a fairly authentic-feeling Victorian thriller. To this end I set aside specific stages of the editing process to remove anachronistic language, and to check for Americanisms and idioms that have changed meaning between then and now.

Lastly, one thing that didn’t quite make the final edit was the glossary of terms that I’d originally intended for the back of the book. This might be of some use to my readers, or at least of academic interest, so I figured I’d make it available here.

Victorian Vernacular: A Glossary of Terms

Afflictions: Black mourning clothes.
Air one’s heels, to: To loiter/ dawdle about.
Apothecary: A chemist. In Victorian times, apothecaries often carried out unofficial, rudimentary medical care to those who could not afford to visit a physician or surgeon.
Back-to-backs: Rows of terraced houses, literally built back-to-back. Originally built for industrial workers, and found mainly in impoverished areas.
Black-coach: A hearse.
Black Maria: A police coach, used either to transport police constables to a crime scene, or to transport prisoners to the police station.
Bobby: a police constable.
Bog-trotter: Disrespectful/vulgar slang for an Irishman.
Chiv: slang – a blade. Also used as a verb ‘to stab’.
Chive: slang – to stab.
Clubmen: Paid-up members of a gentlemen’s club.
Coffee Houses: Popular meeting places for men of various social levels to drink exotic coffee and exchange ideas.
Collar: Police slang for arrest.
Costermonger: A street seller, usually specialising in fruit and vegetables.
Dilettante: A person of independent means pursuing a specialist interest for leisure rather than occupation; usually a patron of the arts.
Down-at-heel: an unfortunate man, lacking funds; scruffy. Often applied to destitute gamblers.
Fence: receiver of stolen goods.
Fenian(s): Common name of members of the Fenian Brotherhood and Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believed that Ireland had a right to independence from British rule, and that right should be secured by means of an armed revolution.
Frowst: A smoky or ‘concentrated’ atmosphere, as in a smoking room or thick smog.
Gentlemen’s Clubs: Social meeting places for gentlemen of means, usually exclusive in their membership and restricted to particular careers, political affiliations or interests.
Gig: A two-wheeled, one-horse cart, usually for two passengers.
Growler: Colloquial term for a Clarence or Brougham carriage; a four-wheeled, two-horse carriage seating up to four passengers.
Hansom Cab: A light, single-horse carriage seating two passengers.
Ha’penny: Half a penny, or two farthings.
Ha’penny Bumper: Slang for a two-farthing omnibus ride.
Home Rule: The idea of Irish independence through a self-governing body within the greater organisation of the British government.
Illustrateds, the: One of the many illustrated newspapers available in Victorian Britain, such as the Illustrated Daily News, the Police Gazette and the Pictorial Times.
Jack-tar: a sailor.
Jigger-gin: a potent alcoholic drink; quite lethal in large quantities. Jigger is also used to describe a measure of gin.
Lamplighters/Lampmen: Men whose job is light the gaslights of the city at dusk, and put out the lights at dawn.
Long Peace, the: ‘Pax Britannica’ – referring to Britain’s peaceful relations with Europe 1815-1914. A misnomer, as Britain was engaged in many wars against non-European powers at this time.
Muckworm: Vulgar slang for a miser.
Mudlark: A scavenger, particularly of the mud-banks of the Thames.
Neck or Nothing: slang – a desperate gambit; also used to mean 'swift'. Possibly has origins in steeplechase.
Neddy: slang – blackjack; cosh.
Omnibus: A horse-drawn bus or wagonette – affordable and somewhat crowded public transportation.
Penny Dreadful: A novella of dubious quality, usually containing sensational or unsavoury content. Purchased for the cover price of one penny, hence the name.
Penny-a-liners: Derogative term for a jobbing journalist, paid pittance for his work on the gossip columns.
Pinch of the game, the: Crucial moment, the crux of the matter. Colonial slang.
Punch: A popular satirical magazine, formerly ‘Punchinello’.
Quod: slang – prison.
Rag-and-famish: The Army & Navy Club. Coined by Captain Willliam Higginson Duff when offered the infamously Spartan food at the club.
Rum/ a ‘rum do’: slang – an unsavoury or suspicious turn of events.
Sharpish: slang – quickly. also Quick-sharpish: Make haste.
Smug: slang – to arrest a crook.
Table-rapper: A medium who conducts a séance by means of ‘table-tipping’ or ‘table-rapping’, whereby the legs of the table lift from the floor and bang out a yes-or-no answer to a question.
Tokay: A sweet, Hungarian wine, often consumed in the evenings after dinner by gentlemen.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Launch Day: The Lazarus Gate!

I sensed something new and strange. The air in the room seemed to change—even now I find it difficult to describe, but it seemed to cloy, moving like a vista shimmering in intense heat. The shadows around the corners of the room began to grow thicker, and the entire room appeared to ‘bend’, as if viewed through aged glass. The hairs on the back of my hands and wrists were on end, and the velvet drapes began to rise gently, as though being pulled by some unseen force. My eyes were drawn towards the far end of the room, to where the curtains were being attracted; there I saw, as if for the first time, a closed door, which I assumed must lead to a closet of some sort. Incredible as it sounds, I cannot be certain that the door was even there before. Around the edge of the door shone a faint, golden light that spilled from every crack. Worse, as the trilling noise ebbed and flowed in horrid, ululating waves, the door appeared to distort and heave, as though it were breathing.
- The Lazarus Gate

The Lazarus Gate is out today in the US and Canada, with its UK release to follow later (October 2nd), and it represents the single most exciting product I’ve ever worked on. Largely because, unlike all my other ventures in the public domain, this represents not a product per se, but a labour of love, a very long time in the making.

The rather stonking cover,
designed by Titan's Julia Lloyd.
I can hardly remember when I started working on The Lazarus Gate. From concept to proper draft, it probably took me two years of evenings and weekends while I worked full time. It passed before the eyes of several trusted alpha readers, and went through four rounds of edits before finally I felt able to dangle it in front of literary agents like a fishing lure, hoping it was a gem-like fly rather than a mouldy old maggot. Since securing an agent (the rather dapper Jamie Cowen at the Ampersand Agency), and selling it to the wonderful peeps at Titan, the book has gone through further major revisions, which themselves have taken almost a year to complete, until finally here we are at the launch. You’d think after over three years of working on The Lazarus Gate at some stage or another, my enthusiasm may have waned, but honestly I’m like a big kid at Christmas time right now. My baby is out in the world at last!

So, what’s The Lazarus Gate all about? Well, at its simplest, it’s a parallel universe science fiction story set in the Victorian era (1890 to be exact). A cursory look over this blog will tell you why I chose that particular setting; it’s been a lifelong obsession of mine. The history, the literature, the language… I like to think that if I got sucked through a time portal right now and ended up in the 1890s, I’d fit right in (probably as a chimney sweep or mudlark, but beggars can’t be choosers).

Like pretty much all of my stories, The Lazarus Gate includes elements of horror and the Gothic alongside the weird science, and that’s something that will continue as a common thread through the series. The story follows John Hardwick, a soldier who has spent most of his adult life fighting in India and Burma, returning to London after being held captive by Burmese rebels. He’s a recovering opium addict, and a fish out of water in swirling London society, but is soon drawn into a confounding mystery involving dynamiters, psychics, high-falutin’ gentlemen’s clubs, and underworld gangsters. There’s detective work in the smog-shrouded streets of Victorian London, desperate battles of wills in a sinister opium den, a roguish gentleman thief, dashing officers and smoldering gypsy princesses, fights on the deck of an ironclad, and nefarious plots aplenty.

If you pick up The Lazarus Gate, then you have my eternal gratitude. If you like it, and I really hope you do, then you’ll be pleased to know that the second book in the series is nearing completion, slated for an Autumn 2016 release. For future developments, please do keep a weather eye on the blog; you can also follow me on Twitter, and Like my Facebook page, if you’re so inclined!

The Lazarus Gate is out now, and is available in all good bookshops and online stores.

UPDATE (2/10/2015): The UK Launch day is here! And the first review has been sighted here

Thursday, 17 September 2015

More Wargaming Forays

This week, several announcements went live with my name attached, which was all very gratifying! It’s probably worth giving those things a bit of a mention, for those interested in my games design projects as opposed to literary endeavours.

First up is Mantic Games’ Warpath: Firefight (official announcement here). This is an interesting one, because rather than design a new game from scratch, I have the tricky job of taking a ruleset that’s been developed for quite some time, with substantial input from a hard core of fans, and develop a variation on the system. Essentially, I’m taking the large-scale, free-flowing strategic game and transforming it into a smaller-scale, squad-based tactical game. The brief, however, is to keep as many concepts as possible so that it’s familiar to existing players, while introducing lots of nuances and tactical elements to scratch that smaller-scale itch. No pressure then. This game will be developed during the forthcoming Kickstarter, with feedback from fans coming in even as I write, which is a very different way of working for me!

Next up, we have two games published by Osprey, due to hit the shelves in 2016 (announcement here). The first, and the one in the best shape currently, is Broken Legions, a game of fantastical skirmishes in the Roman Empire. The idea behind the game is that the Roman Empire teeters on a gladius-edge, and has sent out hard-bitten bands of legionnaires under the watchful eye of the Frumentarii (Roman secret service) to retrieve occult artefacts of great power. This, they believe, will stop ancient, foreign gods from threatening the supremacy of Rome, and secure Roman rule for a thousand years. Of course, the servants of those ancient gods aren’t best pleased, and so everyone from Egyptian cultists to druidic warbands are out to stop the Romans. There are even secret cults within Rome who believe that dabbling in the affairs of gods is unwise, and so they too oppose the legion.

This is a fantasy skirmish game, which has at its heart a granular D10 system, with a campaign play mode reminiscent of my old Legends of the Old West game. The faction-building rules are pretty freeing, drawing upon a wide range of ancients and fantasy ranges, and it occupies an ‘alternate history’ space, allowing you to field werewolves in your band of Germanic barbarians, and khopesh-wielding mummies with your Settites. Oh, and in some scenarios, you might encounter wandering monsters controlled by a simple ‘AI’ – anything from Minotaurs to flocks of Harpies.

The other game, which is farther off, is Chosen Men. No more details on this yet, save that it’s a Napoleonic skirmish game, where you control a small company of skirmishers, either operating under their own initiative, or fighting on the advance lines of a wider army, with various rules in place to represent the big battalions that are advancing ‘off-table’.

Phew! I actually have a couple more wargame announcements to hit later this year, but for now I think I’ve got rather enough on my plate…

Friday, 28 August 2015

Opening the Lazarus Gate

Today was a momentous occasion in my writing career. I guess many people wouldn't totally understand the thrill of receiving a carton of books in the mail, and just how exciting that can be. This, however, was no ordinary parcel for me.

More than two years in the making, from sketches on the back of a notepad to getting physical copies printed, The Lazarus Gate author samples have arrived.

I feel a bit like a proud dad today. No matter how the book is received or how it sells, having a debut novel in print (especially with that awesome cover, designed by Julia Lloyd at Titan Books), really is the culmination of a boyhood dream. Sure, it's not the first time a product has been released with my name on it, but it is the most special to date by a country mile.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about future blogs, particularly because The Lazarus Gate is nearing it's October 2nd launch date (UK - the USA gets it a week earlier). I'll be presenting some blogs later this year about the writing and publication process, as well as some excerpts and outtakes from 'Lazarus'.

Fantasy Con
I'm also pleased to announce that I'll be at Fantasy Con 2015 in Nottingham, where I'll be appearing on a panel (Friday 23rd October) about writing in other worlds (i.e. franchised properties, such as Sherlock Holmes). I should also be doing a reading, possibly a signing, and hanging around the bar. Details to follow. It's my first con, so please do swing by and say hi!