Category Archives: Fantasy

The fay can be tiny shining sprites or enormous, lumbering woodkin.

What makes The Fey Man a Faerie Tale?

So I’ve written a blog post about why The Fey Man is full of elfs and not elves (TL;DR the word ‘elf’ came first and it feels right). But a discerning reader on Twitter made an excellent point: in the very same post, I called the Fair Folk series a ‘Faerie tale’. Why didn’t I call it a fairy tale?

There are two possible explanations. The first is that there are no fairies in the Fair Folk series. They’re called ‘fay’ instead, and that’s because the word ‘fairy’ actually comes from the Latin word ‘fae’, the singular of ‘fata’ which means ‘the Fates’.

(This, by the way, is pretty well known to fantasy writers, so you’ll often see fairies called ‘fae’. However the spelling ‘fay’ comes from Middle English, and was also used as a word for ‘faith’, which I felt was rather fitting for the Fair Folk series.)

Faerie, on the other hand, is the land of the fay. Usually an otherworldly realm, it’s the place where the fay live. Much like England is the place where the English live, the words are similar, but not the same.

So why did I call The Fey Man, and the Fair Folk series as a whole, a Faerie tale? Well, I wanted to evoke fairy tales, largely because some of the inhabitants or stories themselves can be found in the series. It’s also a hint as to the focus of the series; there’s a lot going on in Tir, but some of it is more important than the rest.

And, last but not least, I thought it was cool. And one of the best things about being a writer is being able to write things I think are cool. Like conversations with dragons, a person with visions of the future, and forests haunted by tree spirits.

If you like the sound of an epic Faerie fantasy novel, what are you waiting for? Download your copy of The Fey Man for free today!

Cover to The Unquiet Sword, book two of the Fair Folk series

The Unquiet Sword is available for download

You’d think writing the second book in a series would be easier than the first. And you’d be right, in a way. After all, you’ve already birthed the characters, built the world, and you know where the story is heading. Sort of. But, of course, a story is a fluid thing; it doesn’t always do what you expect it to. So it changes as you’re writing, and you have better ideas, ideas that stretch and expand and challenge the story you thought you were writing.

I like to think that all makes for a better story. I hope so, anyway, because The Unquiet Sword is out there now. It didn’t take me as long to write as The Fey Man but, in a way, it was just as hard, only in different ways. And I’m sure the next one will be just as hard! But, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy my second novel. You can download it from your favourite ebook retailer now:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Kobo | Apple iBookstore | Barnes & Noble

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, don’t worry; download your free copy of The Fey Man 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.

Still from Elastic's animated map for Game of Thrones

The Best Fantasy Maps

Maps are great. Those little maps in shopping centres, the delightful London Underground map or, of course, maps of a fictional world in a book. I can lose hours looking at them. The relations between places, the names and the history inherent in them, and the human stories behind each pathway, road and town. Time spent poring over a map, even in simple appreciation, is always a pleasure. So I thought I’d compile a little list of the best fantasy maps.

Middle-Earth

Map of Middle-Earth from Tolkien's Lord of the RingsNo list of maps could neglect Middle-Earth. It is, if not the first, and if not the greatest, then certainly the foremost of fantasy maps. Tolkien was a premier world-builder, constructing languages and histories and geographies to an extent few others have even attempted. You could spend hours poring over a map of Middle-Earth. People are probably more familiar with the version in Peter Jackson’s films, but this was the copy originally published in The Lord of the Rings and thus the one we all spent hours peering at. There’s a great care and devotion in this map, and it has evoked a great devotion for the world it depicts.

The Six Duchies

Map of the Six Duchies from Robin Hobb's Fitz booksWhat I love most about this map is that it’s not necessary at all. Hobb did a marvellous job in her Farseer Trilogy of drawing a map in the mind of the reader with words. I never referred to this map out of necessity, which made it something to look at purely for the joy of it. And whilst some called it a lazy map, I quite like how sparse it is. A lack of detail is an open door to the imagination, and this is a map that allows the reader to paint huge vistas onto it.

Westeros

Still from Elastic's animated map for Game of ThronesThe maps of Westeros are a polar opposite to that of the Six Duchies, detailed with a plethora of names and places, some barely mentioned in the narrative, others never mentioned at all. You could spend hours poring over that map, wondering at the distance between Harrenhal and Banefort (Martin apparently likes to be vague with scale). They’re glorious maps, and you have to love a fantasy series that keeps increasing the number of maps in the front matter.

So why have I used an image of the title sequence to the TV show? I know it’s a bit of a cheat, but it wraps up all of the gooey awesome map stuff and perfectly translates it to the screen. The sense of scale, the relationships of places, the spaces for the imagination, the feel of the world itself. It’s all there. It’s a map come to life.

Dune

Map of Frank Herbert's DuneSome readers might point out that Dune is a science fiction novel. But not only is it far more fantasy than science fiction, it’s also a great map, too. I love that it centres on the pole, and dozens of place names scattered everywhere, not because they’re all mentioned in the novel, but because that’s just where they are. It offers hours of amusement, and best of all it’s a window into the world: names like “Shield Wall” and “Imperial Basin” tell you about this world before you even start reading, and the naming patterns of the sietches give insight into the rules and practices Dune’s people.

Marauder’s Map

The Marauder's Map from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter seriesAs with so many things in the Harry Potter series, the Marauder’s Map is a delightful twist on a fictional staple. It’s simple too: a map that shows you where everyone is. It’s what many a reader has always hoped for (tell me you’ve never read Lord of the Rings and wished someone could tell you where the hell Frodo is). Never mind that it’s a thing of beauty, nor that the incantation to open and close it never fail to elicit a smile. The Marauder’s Map may not be a true fantasy map as we all think of them, but it’s perhaps the most fun.

Four Corners of Civilisation

Map from Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the WindThe map from Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel, The Name of the Wind gets a slot on this list purely for the illustrative decoration to it. Very often fantasy maps can be functional things, something to tell readers that there’s a city here, a mountain over there, and the Valley of Eternal Doom is to the south. But look at the name of the map, written over a indulgent ribbon, or the illustration of a man in the corner. Maps don’t always have to be functional. They can be artistic too.

Mossflower

Map for Brain Jaques' novel Mossflower
Brian Jacques’ Redwall series are children’s books which is perhaps why the maps are so sparse. They convey the bare minimum of information. All of the locations labelled appear in the book and there is no extraneous information. That said, I was still entranced by this map. Having so little information makes what there is all the more important. What happened at the mountain, where the sword declares the site of Boar’s Battle? What are the flood tunnels for? And, of course, it has a decorative border, and they’re always nice to look at.

Tir

Howard Coates created stunning maps for The Fey ManAlright, I might be biased, but these are some of my favourite fantasy maps purely because they’re of the world I’ve invented for the Fair Folk series. Howard Coates did an incredible job of turning my scrawl into a beautiful fantasy world, and he’s filled it with little details and easter eggs that mean even I enjoy poring over them to see what other secrets they might hold!

You can read more about the maps Howard created, or why not download a free copy of The Fey Man and see them for yourself!

Smaug is the steroetypical treasure-hoarding dragon in The Hobbit.

Why We Love Dragons

I suspect dinosaurs are the key to why we love dragons. Aside from the superficial similarities, I think dragons and dinosaurs occupy a similar space in the minds of children. I got this idea from Jurassic Park:

“He finally decided that children liked dinosaurs because these giant creatures personified the uncontrollable force of looming authority. They were symbolic parents. Fascinating and frightening, like parents. And kids loved them, as they loved their parents. Grant also suspected that was why even young children learned the names of dinosaurs…Saying these complicated names was a way of exerting power over the giants, a way of being in control.”

Personally, I’ve always thought dinosaurs were about subverting parents rather than loving them. Dinosaurs are (perceived to be) much bigger than parents, and therefore not subject to parents’ authority. And the names themselves are convoluted and confusing to parents; they represent a secret lore, much like the names of 151 Pokemon or the myriad powers of Ben 10. Dinosaurs can slide out from under the rules and requirements of regular, mundane life. They represent something else entirely. And I think that’s precisely what we love about dragons.

Dragons are (usually) big. They fly. They breathe fire (or other things). They are not subject to parents, bosses, responsibilities, they suffer not the limitations of pocket money, salaries, bills, they don’t have school or jobs or chores. And most importantly, they don’t play by the rules. One minute a dragon is a hulking monster that can’t be harmed by any weapon. The next it’s a slender, fragile wielder of magic. Dragons not only refused to be tamed in stories, but by logic and rules and expectations.

I think that’s what delights children, and it’s what delights adults too.

Why do you think we love dragons so much? Leave a comment and let me know.

Cover to Graham Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce: Review

To be honest, I got the wrong idea about Some Kind of Fairy Tale. I got the idea it was going to be an urban fantasy novel. I don’t know how; it makes no claims to be. In fact, I’m not sure I would call Some Kind of Fairy Tale a fantasy novel at all. At first I was disappointed but, once I recovered, I really enjoyed this book.

The modern superstition is that we’re free of superstition.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale‘s premise is that Tara was sixteen when she disappeared twenty years ago. Now she’s come back, looking not a day older than when she left, and claiming she’s been living with fairies for only six months. Her family and her old boyfriend now have to try to assimilate her back into their lives, and a psychiatrist has to determine what really happened to her. Because, of course, no-one believes her.

The thing is, when everyone is trying to persuade you that a thing you know to be true isn’t actually true, you start to believe them: not because it is true but because it’s easier. It’s just the easy way out.

Joyce has a way with a turn of phrase and he writes with a charming simplicity. Not in the sense that he uses small words but that he doesn’t beat around the bush. If there’s something he wants you to know, he tells you (or shows you). If there’s something he doesn’t want you to know, he makes that clear too. So the point of Some Kind of Fairy Tale is not the mystery of what happened to Tara. This is more of a character study. The different reactions to when someone you mentally buried (in the absence if a body) reappearing after twenty years, and what that does to a person.

Sometimes that simplicity of style does offer some jarring moments, some non-sequiturs as Joyce hauls dialogue or prose towards where he wants to be, which is usually a pithy line. But, on the whole, his writing is comfortable and comforting; his surety with language lets you know you’re in safe hands.

He said he preferred to feel the earth sing through his feet, and that shoes stopped you from hearing the song of the earth.

I said that I wasn’t sure if Some Kind of Fairy Tale was a fantasy novel. It does have a strong element of the fantastic to it: Tara actually relates some of her time with the fairies. I can confirm Joyce knows his fairy folklore (he even quotes Katherine Briggs), and he paints an intriguing picture of the Otherworld. A deep connection to a natural world unknown to us, a very physical and sexual spirituality, charts and maps that reveal a comprehensive understanding of the world.

But there is a question as to whether any of this is real. Some Kind of Fairy Tale also proffers the possibility that Tara’s narrative is an invention to cover some kind of psychological trauma. This is why I’m not sure I’d class it as fantasy; our only glimpse of the otherworldly is via Tara’s recollection. And both possibilities are given equal weight and credence; Tara’s family support the psychological explanation, but her still-youthful appearance supports the fantastical.

Jack had spotted something in the woods, as had the dogs. Someone had been watching him. But to reveal who had been watching him would be to reveal who has been telling you this story all along. And, as you were advised earlier, everything depends on that detail.

The ambiguity of Some Kind of Fairy Tale is perhaps the reason I enjoyed it so much. Some people hate ambiguity, but I think it’s great. It allows two conflicting stories to co-exist, simultaneously. As Neil Gaiman once wrote, nobody remembers the secret; it’s the mystery that endures.

If you’re looking for an urban fantasy with concrete answers, this isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a well-written, character-driven story that mixes fantasy, psychiatry and ambiguity, Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a book I can absolutely recommend.

A D&D dragon guards its treasure

The Best Fantasy Dragons

Writing about fantasy books almost certainly means I’ve been writing about dragons. They seem almost intrinsic to the genre, and while a dragon is by no means necessary for a fantasy novel, they do seem to inspire a certain fascination in us.

So while there are plenty to choose from, here are my five favourite dragons. Judge me if you will.

The Stone Elderlings

Robin Hobb’s later novels did feature “proper” dragons, but Assassin’s Quest featured dragons made of living stone. When the heros first stumble upon them they are dead and silent. But when they are quickened by magic and death, the stone roars into life.

The heroes sculpt their own dragon, too. Magic users can pour their memories, emotions and finally their very lives into the special stone. By doing so they create the powerful ally they need to save their people. It’s a wonderfully original idea and is in complete service to the story; rather than forcing the narrative around traditional dragons, she created something that fit her theme of sacrifice just perfectly.

Smaug

Can a list of dragons be completed without Smaug? The real villain of The Hobbit, perhaps no dragon has influenced fantasy literature more than Smaug. Tolkien took a lot of inspiration from Beowulf so Smaug shares many characteristics with the creature of that work: his hoard of treasure, his appropriated underground dwelling, his penchant for vengeance. But where the monster of Beowulf was mute, Tolkien gave Smaug a voice and therein elevated the dragon from mute monster to delightful villain. He’s vain and greedy and his love of riddles and language make him a pleasure to read.

Dragon Quest

Dragon Quest was a role playing game that got bought and rebranded by the company that owned Dungeons & Dragons. The dragons owe nearly all of their character to Smaug (evil, hoarding, clever, love riddles, etc.) and they have no depth. They’re simply big monsters for players to defeat. But in trying to create enough variety for dungeon masters and repeated playthroughs, they created different types and breeds of dragon that fascinated my young mind. And there was some truly beautiful art in the rulebooks too.

Granny’s Garden

If you played this game you already know what I’m thinking of: those damn baby dragons!

In order to rescue a child in this BBC Micro adventure, you need to tame four baby dragons. Each dragon either loves, likes or hates each of the four items of food you have. You have to figure out what order to toss them the food so you can isolate and tame each one.

Replaying this at the wise old age of thirty resulted in two game overs and a handmade chart to keep track of the dragons’ likes and dislikes. Playing at the tender age of five resulted in two dozen game overs, tears, bitterness and possibly minor acts of temper tantrum. So whilst these dragons should barely register on a list of the greats, you can see why they had such an impact on me nonetheless.

George and the Dragon

With St George being the patron saint of England, it’s hard not to come across this story as a child. The way I was told it was a terrible, fire-breathing dragon was terrifying a local village, stealing and eating their sheep. Good St George comes along and slays the mighty beast and the village is safe once more.

Turns out, it’s a bit more interesting than that. The earliest form of the legend has the dragon bearing plague, not fire, that sickened the land. The people tried to appease it with sheep and, when that did not work, their children, chosen by lottery. It’s only when the lottery picks the king’s daughter that St George happens along. And even then he promises to slay it only if the land promises to convert to Christianity, the swine.

So from a humdrum, fire-breathing monster to a plague-carrying instrument of religious blackmail. Doesn’t get more interesting than that.

Are these the best dragons around? Or have I missed some out? Tell me about your favourite fantasy dragons!