Put these in your ears…

Safer than Q-tips and a lot more educational and edifying, you can hear me waffle on not one, not two, but three podcasts this week!

First up, of course, is the Bestseller Experiment where I speak to the wonderful Pernille Hughes about her road to publication, why she shared a photocopier with La-La the Teletubby, and we play a game called ‘Getting to know you’ where there are no right answers. You can listen here.

Secondly, comes the second part of an epic three-part trilogy on The Hero’s Journey that I’m recording with the wise and learned Julian Barr. We look at tricky middle acts, inmost caves, and that sort of stuff with examples from The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars and The Notebook. But the best part of these is the thoughtful, polite noise Julian makes when I say something stupid… These are for our Patreon supporters, but if you’re not one of them (and if not, why not??), then you can listen to a sneaky peek here.

And third is this interview with Tim Clare on the Death of 1000 Cuts podcast. This is especially fun as Tim laughs at most of my jokes, I drop some truth bombs about marketing and publishing, and then a fire alarm goes off during the interview and Tim keeps it in. You can listen on iTunes here, or the thingy below…

 

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“Stick a bloody great sword on the front…” and other fantasy fiction cover art thoughts

To distract myself during the edit of The End of Magic, I’ve been indulging in cover art fantasies, wondering what wonderful images might grace the cover of my novel.

I’m quite old-fashioned in my tastes, so if it were down to me the cover would look something like this…

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Cover art by Geoff Taylor

Look at that! I mean look at it… You could just step through and join the adventure.

I have very fond memories of escaping into the Belgariad series in my youth and these covers for the UK Corgi editions blew my tiny young mind, but it’s not the ‘80s and I need to think commercially and not indulge in nostalgia.

But if you fancy a wallow here’s my Pinterest board…   

The key retailer for fantasy fiction in the UK is Waterstones who, along with the indies and libraries, are great for spreading word-of-mouth so my cover art will need to appeal to them. I just happened to be near Waterstones in Piccadilly with my daughter Emily and we decided to see what covers had been picked by the staff to adorn their tables. What follows is a fairly random selection of covers that caught my eye…

GODSGRAVE

Design by https://www.micaelaalcaino.com/

Illustration by https://kerbyrosanes.com/

There’s a lot going on here – there’s a wolf, there’s a crow, there’s a sword, ooh, a cat! – but it’s very striking and the combination of black and blue on white works really well, especially on a table piled high with mostly black and red covers. You want your book to jump off the table, catch the eye, and this one certainly did that. I particularly like the bold shoutline, “Conquer your fear… buy one get one half price.” It’s rare to see such brazen marketing in fantasy these days.

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A DEMON IN SILVER

Design by http://cameroncorneliusdesign.com/

Who doesn’t love a glowing sword (that’s got tangled in some curtains)?! Again, this really caught my eye, though it maybe a little too YA for my book

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THE GREY BASTARDS

Cover illustration by http://rostant.com/illustration/

Design by Duncan Spilling https://uk.linkedin.com/in/duncan-spilling-39a0a05

Ooh, he looks mean… and a bit pale and peaky. Oh no, wait. He’s an orc! Excellent. It’s a little too moody for my book and feels more of a US cover than a UK one though not too American for Waterstones, clearly…

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Here’s the US cover for the curious…

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A GATHERING OF SHADOWS

Design by https://twitter.com/julialloydJLD

There’s lots to like here: The placing of the author’s name and title could have been a right old mess, but it really works here along with the review “Fantastic”, which is exactly what you want for a fantasy book! I want to avoid swords and daggers on the cover of my book (there’s a fair amount of swordplay, but it’s not that kind of book), but I loved the combination of red, black and white.

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NEVERNIGHT

Design by https://twitter.com/ccbookdesign?lang=en

Illustration by https://kerbyrosanes.com/

Same series/author/illustrator as Godsgrave, but I can’t resist that black on white styling. Looks great on the table and we all love birds, birds, birds on the cover…

 

… okay, maybe there are too many at the moment. Maybe lay off the birds for the time being? My book has a few messenger pigeons, but not crows or ravens… Hey, maybe fantasy pigeons will be the next big trend? … No, maybe not…

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THE CORE

Bloody hell! The stuff of nightmares looking straight at you on this one.

Another illustration from http://rostant.com/illustration/ though this was based on a “Demon model” by http://millenniumfx.co.uk/ who make models for Hollywood movies.

I bet that wasn’t cheap!

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ASSASSIN’S FATE

Design: http://www.dominicforbes.co.uk/

Illustration: http://www.jackiemorris.co.uk/blog/cover-story/

Calligraphy: http://www.stephenraw.com/

Much more like it, but all those specials like gold foil cost a lot of money – only the big brand authors get that kind of treatment – and they credit a calligrapher! Pricey and most likely way out of my budget…

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THE DEATHLESS

Design: http://www.dominicforbes.co.uk/

Illustration: https://www.artpad.org/

Striking in its simplicity and memorable. I keep noticing it in stores and online. Too sombre in tone for my book, but great cover art with a sense of epic scale.

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A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS

Illustration: https://www.toddlockwood.com/

I really like the tone of this one. A classic case of I would buy this book just on the basis of the cover… and we all want a cover like that, don’t we? And the diagram points make it feel like a book that may exist in the world of its own fiction. I have griffins and wyverns in my book, but they’re not as central to my story as they are here.

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ROTHERWEIRD

Design: http://www.leonickolls.co.uk/

Illustrations: http://www.sashalaika.com/

I’m getting a Rivers of London meets The Witchfinder General vibe from this, and a great sense of location. It’s not quite right for my book, but I’m filing it away for another project.

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LADY OF MAGICK

Design: Christina Griffiths http://www.bookdeluxe.net/section216431.html

Ooh, a book with the word ‘Magick’ on the cover (albeit spelled differently). Emily picked this one out. It may be a bit too YA for me, and there’s another bloody bird on the cover, but this is simple and striking and not the usual swords and dagger stuff.

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BLOOD OF ASSASSINS

Design and images: https://the-parish.com/

I like this a lot and yes that’s the author RJ Barker on the cover! (I’ve since learned that this is a lie, but I’m going to leave it here to show the world that RJ Barker is a great big fibber!)

Again, a bit too moody for mine but I really like the design.

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Conclusions…

I’m thinking something bright and clear with a lightness of tone. Maybe a cross between Godsgrave and A Gathering of Shadows. A lapis moon plays an important role in the story, so I like the combination of blue on white, but I also really love the dragon on the Marie Brennan… Maybe I should just shoehorn a ton of dragons in….? Gah!! So much to think about.

However, fancy-schmancy covers don’t just design themselves and to get something amazing will require a budget, so if you want to help me top-up please pre-order The End of Magic here.

Of course, there are plenty more books out there by amazing designers. Which are your favourites? Let me know below…

The Benefits of Being a Squeaky Hinge (as opposed to being unhinged)

What a week… firstly I went with the Gollancz gang to Secret Cinema’s Blade Runner, an incredible immersive experience that I’m still thinking about now. You can read about what happened (including my arrest and interrogation) here!

I also had a great time at the Herne Bay Sci-Fi By The Sea convention at the weekend. Not only was I with my brothers-in-ink Kit Cox and Thom Burgess, but it had a wonderful family atmosphere and I sold and signed quite a few books. I hope to return next year.

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Some of you might understandably cry, “You jammy sod, how do you get those cushy gigs?” Well, one thing I’ve learned over the years is to be a bit shameless and make a bit of noise, and I’ve tried to apply this to every avenue of life, and generally it works. Back when I was starting out as an actor, a friend put me in touch with the film director Vadim Jean. Vadim was hot off Leon the Pig Farmer and, incredibly, he returned my call… but I was out. He left a message with my dad to call back. I had already summoned up all my courage to have left a message for him in the first place, and a weird crippling shyness and fear prevented me from calling him again, and so I never did… God only knows what opportunities I missed because I felt that I was being a needy pain. It’s something I did a few more times in my youth, and I never really remedied it until I had a bit of success and younger writers started contacting me for advice! I was delighted and only too pleased to give whatever encouragement I could to steer them in the right direction… They weren’t being a pain. They were starting out and were bold enough to ask for a bit of help. Ever since I’ve overcome any doubts and been the first to volunteer myself for all sorts of endeavours. It’s one of the reasons I’m presenting a podcast, it’s how I got my agents, it’s how I summoned the nerve to invite myself to various comic cons and pretend to be in Blade Runner.

The world will not come to me, so I need to make a bit of noise to attract its attention.

The same rule applies for my agents and work life: book, TV and film people already have far too much to do, but if you want their attention you need to be a bit of a squeaky hinge. Not too taxing, not rude or obnoxious, but the squeaky hinge that can be sorted quickly so they can get on with their other stuff. Just this week, I politely chased a TV production company for an update and, as a result, I have a meeting with a director next week that could prove to be life-changing (or it could just be a nice chat over coffee… who knows?).

As I discovered with the Blade Runner experience, the more you put into something, the more you’ll get out. Be bold!

Speaking of bold, if you haven’t pre-ordered my fantasy novel, The End of Magic you can do it right now and still get your name in the book. Click here!

And you can download a short story set in the same universe. In How Drust Krax Lost Two Fingers you meet the novel’s main antagonist and it’s all seen from the POV of a defeated warlord who awaits execution, but also really, really needs to use the privvy… It’s available exclusively for my newsletter subscribers, and you can sign up for that here!

Until next time!

Mark

Son of a Beach

It’s been a fun week with a trip to the beach at Whitstable to interview Julie Wassmer. I had hoped to get some lovely audio atmosphere with waves lapping on shingle and gulls screeching overhead, but the tide was out so I had to settle for a gentle breeze buffeting the microphone. Fortunately, Julie is great fun to chat to and she told me all about working on EastEnders, bumping off the locals in her novels, and why all writers should live in fear of a cup of tea and bacon sandwich. Listen here.

I finished the John Yorke Story for Screenwriting course. 16 weeks of pretty intense work. Was it worth it? Check out my thinkings over here…

I also got to visit Hachette’s new warehouse in Didcot. While this may not sound like everyone’s idea of a fun day out, I did get to ride on one of their pickers, which went some 25 metres in the air and the queues were shorter than Disney…

Getting a lift in the new Hachette warehouse…

A post shared by Mark Stay (@mark.stay) on

Also, if anyone’s concerned that print books are on the decline, this vast palace of storage and hi-tech distribution should allay those fears. This place was built to pump books out into the world and they’ve left plenty of room for expansion.

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I finished a short story this week. It’s a prequel to The End of Magic in which we meet our antagonist. My agent Ed read it and enjoyed it, though he did have one note: “Maybe the humour could be a little less lavatorial…? But that’s probably my shit to deal with.”

I do seem to have a thing about bodily functions… What do you say? Should I take this crap?

Also, I’m going to be on the new Dominic King arts show on BBC Radio Kent next Tuesday 12th at around 8pm. He asked me to put together a montage of voices from the podcast, which I did, but I’ve also made a “Guess the voice” quiz, which you can play here

Till next time!

Mark

Isabel Ashdown’s secrets and lies

We had the fantastic thriller writer Isabel Ashdownon the Bestseller Experiment podcast this week. Isabel is the author of bestselling thrillers Little Sister and Beautiful Liars, and she walked away from a successful career to focus on her writing and it all stepped up a gear when she entered a competition in a newspaper. I was also joined by stand-in co-host Sam Eades who is always good fun and does a mean jigsaw… You can listen to the podcast here.

Like many science fiction and fantasy authors out there, I found myself sighing in despair at this comment from Liz Thomson in the Bookseller. I am beyond proud to have been published by Gollancz, and I realise that this kind snobbery exists, but you expect better from Liz (who’s always been very chatty and friendly whenever I’ve met her) and the Bookseller, a publication that should celebrate all publishing regarding of genre. Sigh…

And a quick update on my fantasy novel The End of Magicit’s now 80% funded over at Unbound, so it’s not too late to pledge to join the adventure and get your name in the book along with some other cool extras. Click here for more info.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

Surviving your first year as a debut author with Ed McDonald

I had the pleasure of speaking to the superb Ed McDonald on the podcast this week. Ed talks very honestly about his first year as a professional author, achieving his dream of getting published, and then he asks the question, “What next?” It’s a very revealing chat and you can listen here.

I was over the moon to see my friend Deborah Haywood’s movie Pin Cushion premiere at the East End Film Festival last weekend. It’s funny, dark, and cat lady mad with a brilliant cast. Have a look at the trailer here.

And if you’re looking for a major time suck, the BBC have opened up their sound effects archives for non-commercial use. There’s some really freaky stuff available for your delight. Listen to this doll singing Oranges and Lemons and tell me you won’t be sleeping with the lights on tonight…Oh, and I’m 77% funded on The End of Magic with less than a month to go! If you’ve not pledged already, now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just click here and hit that lovely blue pledge button.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

Cavan Scott – Licence to Write

I really enjoyed speaking to Cavan Scott on this week’s episode of the Bestseller Experiment. He writes on licence – that is, he writes for some of the biggest franchises and series in the world, including Star Wars, Doctor Who and Star Trek. Listening to how he worked his way up from sending pitches to Big Finish Audio to becoming an influential writer of these beloved universes, and now writing his own fiction, was inspirational stuff. And moreso, now I’ve just learned that Cavan is bringing back Jaxxon the Rabbit, a cocky gunslinger who featured in one of the first ever Star Wars spinoff stories in the weekly comic.

It’s a fun episode, and you can listen to it here.

My co-presenter this week was the wonderful Jenn McMenemy, whose own podcast The Ancient History Fangirl, has just launched its second episode and it’s a blast. Check it out here.

In other news, I hit 60% funded on The End of Magic this week! A huge thanks to everyone who has supported the book so far. As a reward (punishment) here’s me reading from the book with another terrible “comedy” accent…

If you haven’t pledged yet, then please visit here and hit the big blue ‘pledge’ button: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/

The curious influences of Alex T Smith

We had the excellent Alex T Smith on the podcast this week. He’s one of those children’s authors who gives so much back to the community, not least when it comes to talks and interviews that are choc full of great writing tips. I was lucky enough to talk to him at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators‘ conference last year (a big thanks to the organisers for letting me crash the party!). I particularly enjoyed hearing about Alex’s influences, which included the likes of Frankie Howerd, Frank Spencer and ‘Allo, ‘Allo. Not the most obvious starting points when writing for young children, but he makes it work. It’s a fun interview and you can hear the whole thing when you click here.

In other news, my aunty Marion has a new book out! Actually, she has TWO! If you listen to the podcast regularly, you’ll know that we’ve mentioned her  a few times. Her memoir was an Irish Times bestseller a few years ago, and she’s spent the time since then working on what is essentially a fictionalised version of her life, with an added dollop of romance. I’m indebted to the tireless Andy Bowden who designed the cover art, which really looks the business…

And speaking of new books… did you know that you can get 10% off when you pledge for my new book The End of Magic? Go here, click pledge and type bestsellerxp when prompted.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

Want to be part of an epic fantasy adventure…?

Hello – I’m very excited to announce that my new book, a fantasy novel called The End of Magic will be coming soon from Unbound Publishing!

Watch this clip of me being all windswept and David Starkey to discover more…

Unbound are amazing. It’s essentially a Kickstarter model, and YOU – yes YOU! – can be a part of the book’s publication. Simply pledge and get your name in the book as a patron, or go really crazy and make yourself a character in the book (you could die a glorious death!), or get feedback from me on your novel or screenplay, or even take a trip to the coast and talk toot the whole day!

This book is a big passion project for me. It’s a combination of the kind of fantasy I loved when growing up, combined with the sort of grimdark I enjoy today. I’m calling it GrimFun (you’re welcome) and I really hope you can join me on the adventure.

And here’s the cool bit –

You can get a 10% discount on your pledge using the discount code bestsellerxp

Do please SHARE with anyone you know who loves a great read, in the meantime enjoy the book’s awesome theme tune composed by Dominic Currie…

“Therefore, but…” with Cass Green

We had the amazing Cass Green on the podcast this week and one of the things we touched on was the “Therefore, but…” rule for writers as explained by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone in this vid.

We also discussed a recent blog by Mark Chadbourn on how writers should be looking for not one, but multiple streams of income to pay the rent. It’s a fascinating piece, and could well change your life!

And we were delighted to see the podcast featured on Buzzfeed as one of the podcast you NEED to start listening to in 2018. Buzzfeed! My kids were actually impressed for about 30 seconds…

And stay tuned for some big news on an exciting new project!

Mark

PS.

Oh, and my first book Robot Overlords is in the UK Kindle half-term sale. Thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy so far. If you haven’t you can grab a copy for only 99p now!

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