Category Archives: Fair Folk Series

Brian Sibley, who also adapted The Once and Future King for radio

Of Brian Sibley and Quotes

I used to think that I was a lucky person. In fact sometimes it felt like I lived on luck, that there was a steady trickle of it that would never drown me but might one day decide to leave me high and dry. But I’ve changed my mind over the past few years, in large part to that quote from Peter Dinklage.

“I feel really lucky…although I hate that word — ‘lucky.’ It cheapens a lot of hard work. Living in Brooklyn in an apartment without any heat and paying for dinner at the bodega with dimes — I don’t think I felt myself lucky back then. Doing plays for 50 bucks and trying to be true to myself as an artist and turning down commercials where they wanted a leprechaun. Saying I was lucky negates the hard work I put in and spits on that guy who’s freezing his ass off back in Brooklyn. So I won’t say I’m lucky. I’m fortunate enough to find or attract very talented people. For some reason I found them, and they found me. – Peter Dinklage interviewed in The New York Times

I’m not sure what reason helped me find Brian Sibley (or indeed, he find me), but I appreciate how very, very fortunate I am that he provided a quote for the cover of The Fey Man.

Brian Sibley is like an onion. Or an ogre. Or a parfait. It’s all layers. At first I thought him a Tolkien authority. Amongst other things, he adapted The Lord of the Rings for BBC radio back on 1981, and wrote all the Making Of books for Peter Jackson’s films. Then I learnt he’d also written books about A.A. Milne. And C.S. Lewis. Walt Disney. Harry Potter. Rev. W. Audrey. To top it off, I recently discovered he wrote a very funny piece of comedy about The Twelve Days of Christmas.

The Fey Man found its way into Brian’s hands via my dad; both my dad and Brian are members of the Magic Circle and Brian was too kind not to say no when my dad thrust a copy into his hands. (Perhaps this proves again it’s not what you know but who you know.) Brian’s written about some great authors and great works, and now he had my little novel in his hands (and a copy with the old maps too). I must admit I was a little nervous. And then I received this in the post.

The card that Brian Sibley sent meNot only had he read The Fey Man, but he sent me a card to tell me he liked it. That card immediately went up on the mantlepiece and it’s never coming down! I wrote back to thank him, and a brief correspondence led to him offering a quote. And a quote isn’t a small thing. Publishers seek every quote they can get as a form of social proof, as a way of saying “look, this famous person liked this book so you will too”. To offer one to an unknown author is a leg-up, an endorsement, and a rare gift. It was an act of unestimable kindness.

So to say I feel fortunate is an understatement. And perhaps you can appreciate why I want to say I’m lucky,even if Peter Dinklage might tell me off.

Find out more about Brian Sibley at his website, his website, or you can check out his Amazon page to see how prolific he really is!

Howard Coates created stunning maps for The Fey Man

Artist Howard Coates on The Fey Man Maps

I recently unveiled the gorgeous new maps for The Fey Man, drawn by artist Howard Coates. Here a few words from the man himself about the process of creating those maps.

I grew up loving fantasy worlds such as Discworld and The Lord of the Rings. Whilst reading I would often pore over the maps they had created, firmly believing that having a decent overworld to refer to enriched the text no end. In more recent times I have been taken by the fantasy worlds in video games such as Skyrim and Dragon Age, where the interactive maps are as much functional as they are visually arresting. I drew upon these varied past experiences as guidance and sometimes confirmation of the success of my ideas.

Howard and I both wanted to take all the best aspects of the maps we loved to create something special for The Fey Man. Howard stayed faithful to my original maps but the care he took over every detail was incredible.

The process was an iterative one, with lots of feedback from James along the way. I was very committed to getting all the details right, even down to the shapes of rocks and types of trees. Whenever I work with a fellow creative I want to make them feel as involved as possible as it is their creation after all!

The technical aspects of the job were fairly basic, I wanted it to have a homemade look so relied on Photoshop only for compiling and tweaking the sketches. Every line was hand rendered and I feel that captures the charm of the world somewhat. I reflected upon aspects of the story; Katharine has maps that are very precious to her and I wanted to make these feel like they might be the sort of maps she would want to possess. I also tried to place a few story elements within the landscape; I hope the inclusions will be spotted and appreciated by people who have read the book. My mantra was ‘the more you look, the more you see’!

This was my favourite thing about these maps. I created the world, and yet I can spend ages poring over Howard’s work and picking out details I hadn’t seen before. In fact at times I had to nix a detail or two for fear of spoilers! But there are still plenty of surprises to be found in there.

You can reach Howard on Twitter at @HowardDoesArt.

And if you want to read the novel set within these maps, download The Fey Man for free today!

New Maps for The Fey Man

One of the things I love about self-publishing is the control it affords me. I make all the calls (and thus all the mistakes) and there are very few barriers between me and the work. If a reader finds a typo, I can have it fixed by the end of the day. Need to update the back matter? No problem. Want to completely overhaul the inadequate maps I drew myself? Well, that part takes a little longer.

It wasn’t long after The Fey Man was published that I realised my maps weren’t up to scratch. They had a certain rough charm to them, but I’m no artist. So I turned to someone who’s an actual artist, Howard Coates, who created some incredible maps.

A map of Tir for the Fair Folk series

A map of Tir for The Fey Man

Glorious, aren’t they?

Ebook owners can update their copies with the new maps:

Kindle readers should go to Manage Your Content and Devices. Over the next few days, Amazon should be making a “Update Available” button available next to The Fey Man;

iBookstore readers can go to the Purchased tab in iBooks and tap Update next to The Fey Man;

Kobo unfortunately doesn’t offer an update process, but contact me directly and I can provide you with a copy;

Nook readers need to archive their copy of The Fey Man and download it again.

Paperback owners, there’s no update process for you, but you now own a first edition; if we’re all very lucky, they’ll be valuable someday!

Whether you bought an ebook or a paperback, I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you. It’s always easy to pass on a new author and I appreciate everyone who was willing to give The Fey Man a chance. And if you left a review, I’d like to offer an even bigger thank you! Contact me with a link to your review and I’ll send you a special and exclusive token of my appreciation (more on this soon)!

Self-publishing gives me both creative freedoms and freedoms to correct. Even though the text hasn’t changed, I’m thrilled to have these new maps in The Fey Man.

And if you haven’t picked up a copy of The Fey Man? Download your free copy today!

Right, back to the desk. The Unquiet Sword doesn’t write itself.

Link and Navi from the Ocarina of Time

Ocarina of Time: Unlikely Inspirations

One of the characters in The Fey Man is Dank, a boy covered in bizarre tattoos who has a little sprite living in his skin. This fay can push its way in and out of his body, at great pain to Dank, but whilst it’s within him he’s connected to the fay. He can share their thoughts, their memories and knowledge. And that character wouldn’t exist if not for Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Anyone who’s played Ocarina of Time will already know that the playable character is a boy named Link, who is accompanied by a little fairy called Navi. Navi is a game mechanic to provide hints, reminders, and to demand that you listen. Generally Navi floats around objects of interest or provides hints as to what to do next. But, when you are at rest, she will sometimes disappear under Link’s clothing. You can see it below in the animated GIF my brother made for me (thanks Chris!)

Animated GIF of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Anyway, one day, I wondered if she wasn’t actually disappearing under Link’s skin.

I know. My thoughts worry me too, sometimes.

But this thought actually became key, not just to Dank, but to the very nature of the fay in the Fair Folk series.

It seemed a given that Navi’s body wouldn’t remain intact inside Link. She’d have to dissipate inside him. And if her body was dissipated, so were her thoughts. A fairy wouldn’t endow the boy with any physical benefits by existing inside him. But mental benefits? Sharing thoughts? That made sense.

And that’s what made me think that maybe all fay shared thoughts. Because sharing thoughts with a single fay didn’t seem enough of a benefit to me. But if the fay all shared thoughts? Then linking to one would get you access to thousands of immortal memories. That sort of knowledge might be worth pain, mental intrusion, and a sacrifice of your own personality to something greater. Or, at least, something you were told would be greater.

So that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in Ocarina of Time turned out to be pretty important for the Fair Folk Series. Without it, there would have been no Dank, and the fay might not have shared a mind, which is pivotal when Tom finds the tomb of Cairnidol in The Unquiet Sword.

Oh, but you haven’t read that bit yet, have you?

Annah Wooten's incredible artwork for the cover of The Fey Man

The Fey Man Promo Codes

Reviews are great (ask me why), and whilst The Fey Man is gathering some good ones on Goodreads and Amazon, I’d love to get some more on Apple’s iBookstore.

Therefore I’ve secured 5 promo codes for readers willing to write an honest review. These codes will let you download The Fey Man for free!

Please note I’m seeking honest reviews. That means you’re under no obligation to say nice things; if you hate it, by all means say so!

Like I said, I’ve only got 5 promo codes at the moment so let me know if you want one in the comments!

An image of a stained glass window, showing an elf, fading to a sketch; deleting characters is part of writing novels like The Fey Man

An Open Letter to Arvel, A Deleted Character

Dear Arvel,

No doubt you’re wondering why you don’t exist (insomuch as any fictional character can be said to exist). After all, you were a character in The Fey Man for many years before I wiped you from the page. Only me, and a handful of beta readers who found your name in a dialogue tag I missed, know you were ever there. And what did you do to deserve this fate? Not very much at all.

Don’t mistake me, Arvel, this wasn’t personal. I actually quite liked you. As the youngest of the Eastern elfs you had a naive air to you that humanised the elfs a little. You also didn’t really know why Neirin had brought you on his quest, and your ignorant trust in your master was quite sweet. But, initially, you had only one purpose: to die.

That meant you had nothing else to do, and I forgot you for pages at a time. So I gave you more to do. Being made a sailor by trade gave you a bigger role in Neirin’s plans and made you vital to his quest. But events in The Fey Man meant you never got to demonstrate that role. So, again, I forgot about you. Nice as you were, you were relegated to hanging around in the background.

I want you to know it wasn’t an easy decision to cut you from the novel. Because I liked you as a person, I kept convincing myself that you served a purpose. I thought you added depth to the world of The Fey Man, a further dimension to the story. I thought if I could just get one thing right, find one small tweak, that it would solve the problem of you.

But ultimately I knew you added only ambience, like mood lighting. I don’t mean to be harsh, Arvel, but you were dead weight. You were dragging the novel down, another character for the reader to remember with no reason for being there. You had to go.

Being a writer is a strange occupation; who else mourns a person who never existed? Sometimes I wonder if you might come back in some way. But I think you’ve developed too much of your own baggage. And I’m afraid your best qualities were given to other characters. Brega inherited your familial shame from the poor death of an ancestor. Judge Hullworth inherited some of your naivety. And someone else died (sorry, Arvel, even you’ll have to read The Fey Man to find out who).

So I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with almost existing, Arvel. At least your sacrifice made The Fey Man a better novel so, for that, you will always have my gratitude.

Yours,

James

Want to read the novel that Arvel was deleted from? Download your free copy of The Fey Man today!

Creatures of Faerie: Robin Goodfellow and Puck

Both Robin Goodfellow and the Puck are attendant to the Queen of Faerie, acting as both fool and manservant. In outward appearance they are very similar, covered in soft brown fur, head too large and limbs too long. Robin delights in wordplay and prances and cartwheels for his queen’s, and his own, amusement. Tom is fond of Robin Goodfellow as the fay always tried to cheer him up whenever he felt lonely or homesick.

Puck, whilst looking a lot like Robin Goodfellow, is a very different creature. He might indulge in word games, but will bite you or drop something on your head while you were thinking of a response. His pranks involve pain and suffering and he crawls on hands and feet like a predator. Many a mortal has run afoul of Puck by thinking he is as kind and funny as Robin Goodfellow.

* * *

Is Robin Goodfellow the most famous fairy? Possibly. He was certainly the first fay I named for The Fey Man. In fact, as Robin Goodfellow is often known also as the Puck, he directly suggested the idea that fay have two faces: one for summer, one for winter.

Why I Spell It Elfs, Not Elves

“You’ve made a spelling mistake.” “I always thought it was spelt ‘elves’.” “Why are you spelling it like that?” I’ve had a few questions along these lines in the lead-up to publishing The Fey Man. It’s no surprise, because they’re all correct: the plural of ‘elf’ these days is indeed ‘elves’. But it didn’t used to be that way, not until J. R. R. Tolkien came along.

Tolkien is responsible for ninety percent of all fantasy tropes, or so it seems, and he addressed the question of the plural in the appendix of The Lord of the Rings, where he admits:

“…dictionaries tell us that the plural of dwarf is dwarfs. It should be dwarrows (or dwerrows), if singular and plural had each gone its own way down the years, as have man and men, or goose and geese.”

He goes on to say that he instead chose dwarves as a way of distancing his creations from “sillier tales”; he didn’t want readers to think of children’s stories of little people.

(As an aside, I would have loved to use dwarrows as a plural for dwarf. It’s a fantastic word but, alas, I think it would have been unnecessarily confusing.)

So why am I using a form Professor Tolkien (who you ignore at your peril, for he was a very smart man) thought was associated with silly tales? To put it simply: I want you to think of fairy tales when you read The Fey Man.

Many writers of fantasy follow Tolkien when they create their worlds: they draw on old mythology, often Norse but also Chinese and Christian and Hindu and so on. Mythology is a fascinating subject, but the gods and heros are so grand and dramatic they tend to overshadow perhaps the most pervasive mythology: fairy tales.

Fairy tales are interesting creatures. We all know the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, don’t we? Except we may not know that older versions of the story had the wolf bake Grandma into bread and feed it to Little Red. Or that the wolf had the girl throw her clothes on the fire before she climbed into bed. Fairy tales are such fluid things, appropriated by each generation and each new culture and modified to suit new purposes. Even now we’re creating darker versions of the tales we know. Fairy tales, in all their guises, are a big influence on the Fair Folk series and they resonate with the story on a number of levels.

That’s why the spellings Tolkien popularised didn’t seem to fit my novel. They suggested too much the fantasy worlds that had come before. I wanted something that seemed a little quaint, a little English, a little fairy tale. The elfs are still a race not to be trifled with. The dwarfs still demand respect and admiration. But they help give a little flavour of what I hope feels like a different world.

If you want to see what that world looks like, why not download a copy of The Fey Man absolutely free?

The Eastern Elfs of Tir view death as the most important part of life.

People of Tir: the Elfs of the Eastern Angles

The elfs of the Eastern Angles are, like their cousins in the West, tall, elegant and long-lived. They are olive-skinned, with a penchant for small, decorative tattoos. And they are obsessed with death; they desire above all other things, a good and honourable death. A good death can absolve a wasted life; a dishonourable death brings shame on an elf and her family.

The Fey Man begins with a visit from a small party of Easterners led by Neirin Tarian, Shield of the Eastern Angles, ruler of the elfs in the east. Privileged and arrogant, he has been Shield for only a short time by elfish standards and seeks an opportunity to step out from under his father’s shadow and win his people’s love.

Siomi has been protecting, guiding and caring for Lord Neirin since they were both children. Siomi seeks perfection in every deed, each morning reviewing the previous day and making amends for even the smallest slights.

Neirin is also accompanied by two soldiers. Brega‘s family lost a flourishing business and a strong reputation when her father suffered a shameful death. With no prospects and no future, she was forced to join the army to seek a good death and regain her honour. Brega has a sharp tongue and a unfavourable look, slow to trust and slower to forgive.

The other soldier is Draig, who joined the army out of a desire to serve. Huge even for an elf, he is strong, skilled and loyal. He is also one of Brega’s few friends; Draig recognises the pain and the decency behind Brega’s bitterness and Brega respects Draig’s unfailing honesty.

Neirin seeks to put an end to the Western advances before they reach the Eastern Angles. The libraries of the East tell him only the legendary sword Caledyr can free the dragons from the will of the West. No mortal alive knows where the sword lies, and so Neirin enlists the help of Thomas Rymour to help him find the immortal fay and therein find the sword.

* * *

Each race found in The Fey Man has had a different reaction to the legend of King Emyr that has shaped their personality and their philosophy. To the Eastern Angles, Emyr was an avatar of death that conquered them, and they grew to worship what they feared.

I also didn’t want readers to label the Easterners as “the good guys”. To that end each of them have habits, practices and ways of thinking that are unfamiliar and sometimes unlikeable. Of course it’s no fun to make a character one-dimensional, so don’t be surprised if some of these elfs aren’t what they seem.

People of Tir: Katharine, Pathfinder

Think of Pathfinders as explorers for hire, as the people who find the empty spaces in maps and fill them for coin. They establish trade routes, find people and things lost, and act as guides. It is in the latter capacity that Katharine acts in The Fey Man.

Katharine’s parents raised her with only one purpose in mind: to make her a good wife. They believed that, as a woman, she could only eat from the table rather than put anything on it. But Katharine wanted more for herself than producing a hoard of fat babies for a minor tradesman. So she ran away.

Katharine met Tom when he was sent away from Faerie. She took care of him and took him to The Heel and helped him settle down. In truth she is rather attracted to Tom and, although she is ostensibly helping him get back to Faerie in The Fey Man, she’s hoping the journey will help him realise he wants to stay, and stay with her.

You’ll recognise her, as you’ll recognise any Pathfinder, by the motley she wears. Boots from Erhenned, a cape from the East, fine leather gloves from the Heel. A Pathinder’s attire shows off how many places they’ve seen in an effort to secure more clients. Katharine’s is no different, as she is acutely aware of the important of appearances and reputation in securing her next contract and paying for her next meal.

* * *

At one point Tom was the guide to Neirin’s noble quest, but as the character evolved it became apparent he wouldn’t be very helpful; all of his local knowledge is a hundred years out-of-date. So the party needed a guide, and she was female from the start. Exploration is often seen as a masculine act, penetrating and taking ownership of the unknown. I liked the idea of a woman with a wanderlust who wanted to observe and record rather than claim and catalogue.

There can also never be too many strong women in fantasy or science fiction and I hope Katharine can join that lineup. Early reader response suggests my hopes aren’t misplaced.