Sunday, 23 December 2012

Bone Season's Greetings

The above pun is duly credited to David Mann.

It's 23 December, Gangnam Style has hit 1 billion views, and the world hasn't quite ended. As you can see, my blog has had a long-overdue makeover in preparation for the Very Big Year that is 2013. The header provides a very tiny clue for the cover of The Bone Season, and is designed by my very talented friend Leiana. Watch out for a meaningful change in the lantern colour sometime in January.  

I've just discovered that Blogger does pages – this epiphany came after about two years of using it – so there's now more information on The Bone Season, links to articles and news, and a direct link to Bloomsbury's official book website. There's also a new search bar, Google Translate option, and a label cloud on the right. I hope this makes the blog easier to navigate. I had a little bit too much fun with the Google Translate app earlier, seeing how The Bone Season translates in each language. Though I highly doubt they're correct. (I love the Swedish word for "season", säsong). I will be moving my blog to my own domain next year – I'll let you know in advance when I go ahead with it.

My house is in full-on Christmas mode at the moment, so I'm going to keep this post short – enjoying the festive season vicariously through my 9 year-old brother. We're having a relatively quiet Christmas: a meal at home, unwrapping presents, and a visit to my aunt and uncle's house. For the first time ever, I'm more excited about New Year. I'm over the moon to have been invited to the ABA Winter Institute in February, which I'll be attending with the celebrated American novelist Gail Godwin and the team from Bloomsbury USA. This will be the first time I'll have to talk eloquently about The Bone Season outside the cosy Bloomsbury headquarters at Bedford Square, so I'll be frantically planning my spiel on the plane.          

How much of each Bone Season book do you have planned out? (Tyler Wahl) 

As discussed in this post, I don't like to be too rigid with my planning. I think it sucks the life out of writing if you're staring at a plan and typing out each chapter. I have a solid idea of what will happen in all seven books, with the plots of Books 2-5 pretty much all set out (as well as the end of Book 7 and a skeletal plan for Book 6), but I've left plenty of room to play around with fresh ideas. To me, writing is about having fun and experimenting as well as Being Very Serious and Literary. I like seeing where the story takes me. 

Did the plans have to change much as a result of edits made to The Bone Season? (PGW)

This is a really good question. I did have to change them, yes – but in a good way. I made some structural edits to The Bone Season that meant I had to push back some of my ideas to later books. When I first wrote The Bone Season I wasn't sure if it would be published, or if it would ever have sequels, so I crammed a lot of big ideas into the first book. With new authors, publishers tend to be more comfortable if the first book can stand alone, but with the potential for more. I did this with The Bone Season, but when I got the deal for a series, it meant bigger ideas could come in later books. I think the first book works much better with these changes, and that because of them, the series will be better paced.  

Will any other global cities be present in The Bone Season, besides London and Paris? (Mohsin) 

There are several cities mentioned in the first book. I won't give away too much, but yes, it's very likely that the action will go to other cities – it's a fairly international story. I love travelling and exploring new cultures, and I really enjoy the challenge of creating futuristic versions of cities.  

Have a lovely Christmas! My final post of 2012 will be on New Year's Eve.

Monday, 17 December 2012

L'écrivain à Paris

Did Google Translate serve me well? 

What a giddy few days. On Friday it was the special screening of The Hobbit. I rushed to drop my bags at the hotel, then hightailed it to Seven Dials to meet the lovely Claire for coffee. Cue a ridiculously long conversation about books. By the time I got there I was a truly sorry sight: my cardigan was soaked through, my makeup sliding off my face, and my hair as wet as if I'd just taken a full shower: the result of being a Shit Brit and forgetting my umbrella on a December morning. A few hours later I was sprinting back to the hotel to meet my friend Ilana and head to Mayfair.

The screening was a real treat. We got to wear very exciting iridescent 3D glasses. 

Me with Alexa and Ilana

I'm still torn over what to think of the combination of 48fps and 3D. For those of you that don't read up on Hobbit-related things as obsessively as I do, 48fps – properly called 48 frames per second – is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the new film. The standard rate is 24fps. The result is quite unsettling, almost phantasmagoric. The romance of celluloid definitely takes a hit – the scenes move like liquid over the screen, and I was always hypersensitive to the frame rate – but you can't deny that the characters are there. It looks real, which may or may not be a good thing. Some characters look better than others (Galadriel and Gollum both looked fantastic); some scenes work better than others; overall, however, it's a beautiful and immersive experience. Definitely a must-watch, even if you're not a Tolkien fan, just to check out 48 fps – The Hobbit is the first film ever to use it. By watching it you will be literally watching Cinematic History unfold, ooh-er. I'm not sure if it will become the standard frame rate in the near future, as Peter Jackson has predicted, but it has the potential to become more common – I hear James Cameron might use it for his next Avatar films. Although I think with 3D, CGI and 48fps, that might be a bit much. Not sure if I'll believe in Pandora if it's quite that real.   

Ceci est la vie.
After no sleep whatsoever – no exaggeration – I found myself on the Eurostar on Saturday morning. I don't speak a word of French, so my impending venture on French soil was nerve-racking, but I needn't have worried. My friends and I stayed in the lovely Hôtel Eiffel Saint Charles in the 15th arrondissement (cheap and convenient place to crash, with friendly staff and free breakfast). I've never been to Paris before, but I was keen to do some research for my later books. I've been toying with the idea of setting one of the novels in Paris for a while, but I wanted to know for sure that I'd feel the same kind of passion for it that I feel for London. But of course, clichéd as it is, I was head-over-heels in love as soon as I saw the Île de la Cité. My inner child was screaming when I saw Notre Dame, picturing Quasimodo singing 'Out There'. 

I bought myself a gorgeous 1948 French film magazine, Le Film Moderne, and spent a blissful few hours in Café de Flore, which is one of the absolute best places for writing I've ever come across. The café does a wonderful hot chocolate, and the staff were kind enough to let me sit writing long after I'd finished eating. Other unforgettable sights were the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées, but the Île de la Cité is my absolute favourite part. Stop and see La Sainte-Chapelle if you go there: the stained glass windows make it seem as if you're standing in a box of jewels. I'll never be quite as in love with any city as I am with London, but Paris makes for a very close second place.


On the book front, I'm overwhelmed to announce that The Bone Season has now sold in eighteen languages! Sadly I wasn't able to meet my French editor during my time in Paris, but I hope I will in the near future. I'll be announcing foreign sales on my blog and Twitter as soon as I can. I've also had confirmation from Bloomsbury that the cover release will now be in late January, just before the proofs are made up. I'm so sorry for the long wait, especially to those of you who have been following the book's progress throughout the whole of 2012. I hope you'll wait a little longer and see what David Mann at Bloomsbury has come up with.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Hobbit and the Grail

My three-week writing break ended a few days ago, so I'm back to scribbling. I couldn't be more relieved. Taking a break was much harder work than I expected – writing is so much a part of my life and my routine, I hardly knew what to do with myself at first – but it gave me a chance to get some much-needed sleep, and, after several months, read a book for pleasure. The book was Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, which was given to me as a Secret Santa gift. The blurb had a Da Vinci Code vibe – it's a Grail quest – but I liked the idea of a story set in both 1209 and 2005. The book follows two women: seventeen year-old Alaïs Pelletier, whose quiet life in Languedoc is torn apart the Albigensian Crusade, and Dr Alice Tanner, an assistant on an archaelogical dig. When Alice discovers two skeletons in a cave in the French Pyrénées, their stories come together. I found the plot very compelling – certainly more clearly researched than The Da Vinci Code. You can tell that Kate Mosse is really passionate about her subject. It's a little slow at the beginning, but worth it for the ending – it gave me chills. A good winter read if you want a page-turner.      

I've got a really exciting week coming up: I've been invited to a screening of The Hobbit with the Imaginarium team in London, with an introduction by Andy Serkis. I've been looking forward to this film all year and I can't really believe I'll be seeing it with one of the actors. After the screening I'm going straight to Paris for the weekend to do research for one of the next Bone Season books. I'm not back until Monday evening so my blog will be a day late again. I haven't been to France since I was about nine, and never to the City of Light, so it should be a great weekend. Any recommendations for things to see or do? 


The Bone Season has sold in Italian to Adriano Salani Editore.

I've had word from Bloomsbury that the cover release may have been pushed to January – not sure yet but I should know before Christmas. I know it's been a long wait, guys, but in a way I think it makes sense to have the release in 2013. I'll let you know ASAP once I have an exact date. We're nearly there!

While you wait: if you want to take a closer look at The Imaginarium Studios, which holds film rights to The Bone Season, you can have a peek in this video with Andy Serkis.


  • Is the title of the first book going to just be The Bone Season and then the rest of them will be formatted The Bone Season: Book 2? (Tyler Wahl) 

    It won't be formatted like that on the cover, but from my discussions with Bloomsbury, I believe the titles will be rendered The Bone Season: [Book Name] from the second book onward. We'll be thinking about this more as we head towards production of the second book, which should be in 2015. I don't know whether or not this will actually be printed on the books in English, i.e. on the inside pages. It definitely won't be on the cover – the design just wouldn't work with two titles, and I think it would look two cluttered. How the titles are rendered will be different for different translations.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Keep it gritty

I'm back in London! Hooray. I love Oxford, especially during the winter, but by the last week of term I'm always ready to go home. My Emily Dickinson coursework, fortunately, went well. The quote I had to respond to was 'Candor – my Preceptor – is the only wile', from one of Dickinson's letters. Turns out the word candor can mean 'whiteness' or 'brilliance', so it fit perfectly with my research on nineteenth century photography. I believe I can now call myself a Dickinsonian scholar. So, er, nerd points for me.    

Not much book news this week. I'm thrilled to be going to New York in February to meet the Bloomsbury USA team. I've been to NYC before for a day, which wasn't nearly enough time to explore the city, so I look forward to going back. In other news, I'm still waiting for Bloomsbury to confirm an exact date for the cover release. They're finalising their schedule, so I should know soon. Fingers crossed for this month!

  • Do you think genre gets in the way of good storytelling, or when embraced, actually enhance it? (virtuefiction)

    This question is in response to my last entry on genre. Generally, yes, I think genre gets in the way of storytelling. It requires people to think inside a box, and I'm not keen on that. However, genre can enhance a story if the author plays with its limits and deliberately subverts the reader's expectations. So long as you think of ways to make your novel stand out from others of the same genre, it can and does work. This is why I like 'hybrid' books: you're destabilising one genre by introducing another.
  • What pen name will you write under? (Mohsin)

    If you've read more than one article about The Bone Season, you might be scratching your head over my name. My birth name is just Samantha Shannon. My legal name, however, is Samantha Shannon-Jones. I had 'Jones' added after my mum got remarried. However, I felt Samantha Shannon-Jones was too much of a long name to write under, and I liked the alliteration of my birth name, so when I write I'm just Samantha Shannon again.
  • Will the title of the series just be The Bone Season? (Mohsin)

    Yes. It may differ between territories, but the series title is THE BONE SEASON. This means the title of the first book may be different in some languages to ensure the series title and the book title aren't the same. I've been discussing a possible new title for the first book with my German editor. In Germany there is usually an English series title followed by a German book title, so it will be The Bone Season: [German book title].  


Character development

This topic is prompted by Neil on Twitter, who asked how to make fictional characters believable. There are many ways in which to make a character a complex 'person'; it's a fine art, one that can go wrong very easily, but one that all authors want to get right – with good reason. I've tried my utmost to make every character in The Bone Season believable while holding back a great deal about them, with the view to developing them over an entire series.

Here's some food for thought. The way I approach character building is to not think too much about appearance, and to focus on the internal. I've read far too many books, YA romance especially, in which the appearance of the love interest – or the protagonist, or both – is described far too regularly. Keep appearances short and sweet. If we're told that the love interest has beautiful eyes, tousled hair or pale skin, we don't need to hear it again on every other page. If we're told at the beginning that the narrator has brown hair, don't keep describing how she "combed her brown hair". We know it's brown. A few introductory sentences will suffice; after that, leave it to the reader's memory. The same applies to what your character wears. Unless their attire is important to the scene, or has meaning (e.g. a uniform, ceremonial dress, disguise), we don't really need to hear about it. Always think, when you describe something, why you are describing it. Only describe things in detail if they are relevant. Relevance is your friend.

Try not to make your characters abnormally beautiful or ugly. The title of this blog is keep it gritty, and that's what I like to see in fiction. Think about what people look like in real life. They sweat, they bleed, they look like crap in the morning. In the cold light of day, few people literally make heads turn; fewer look like supermodels. Even supermodels don't look like supermodels without the right lighting and makeup. If your character is so beautiful that all the other characters fall in love with him or her, you'll find yourself sliding down the slippery slope towards a Mary Sue or Gary Stu. Don't give your character purple eyes or silver hair if that's not normal within the world of your book. While you want to avoid writing a Mary Sue, be just as careful with the Anti-Sue. Don't conspicuously shout at the reader that your character is so ugly and bad (s)he makes the entire world cringe. That's just as unbelievable. And don't introduce an absolute dichotomy of pretty-for-good and ugly-for-bad.

The interior is the realm of fiction. Past appearances, real people are complex and deeply flawed. They get angry and resentful. Most are inherently selfish, or at least desire self-preservation. Sometimes they're tempted by power or money or glory, even if it's at someone else's expense, and even if they are generally selfless. Ask yourself why your character is the person they are. What made them that way? 'Evil' characters should have just as much motivation for their actions as 'good' characters. No-one should just be 'evil' or 'good'. Yes, they can be sadistic and cruel, but don't make them one-dimensional. Give them some damn good reasons for their actions. This shouldn't change for non-human characters. There will probably be differences – hell, there should be differences, if this character is truly non-human – but they should still have an agenda behind what they do. When writing non-humans, question what makes a character 'human' and try to subvert it without making them one-dimensional. Be ruthless. Interrogate your characters and your story. Force it to account for itself.    

On a similar note, try to avoid self-inserts. This is when you put a character into the story, usually the main character, that closely resembles you. The presence of a self-insert means you'll be investing in the character to an unusual degree and shying away from treating them as a fictional entity. You might, for example, be less willing to kill or injure them, or to admit their flaws. 

If you're looking at this blog post and trembling with nerves, terrified by the prospect of writing such a character, don't panic. There is a massive article about how to avoid Mary Sues, but it makes my head spin just looking at it. It's unlikely that you've written one of these characters – it's far more common in fanfiction. The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test is helpful in determining those traits that some consider unbelievable, but don't get yourself too stressed over it. Picture yourself meeting your character in real life. How would you react to them? Do they fit into the real world, or are they too perfect for it?

The beauty of the realistic character is that you shouldn't have to think too much about how to make them believable. Trying too hard will make the character seem forced and self-conscious. Just write what feels natural and check it over later. And remember, if you're planning to write a series, leave room for further development.  

How do you approach character building? Are there any characters in fiction you particularly love or hate?