Make Me Care by Sue Thomason

First posted 9th May 2017

Writer, I have just picked up your novel, and I’m reading the opening pages. I’ve opened the door of the mind-transporter; here comes my first glimpse of a whole new world. It looks good, and something fascinating is going on over there… And then this big hairy bloodspattered guy walks casually over, sword in one hand, blaster in the other, and he smells of garlic and belches into my face, and I slam the transporter door closed and put it hastily back on the shelf because I don’t want to spend the next few hours sitting next to him. The problem here, Writer, is that I have not warmed to your protagonist.

Big problem.

Last time I critted an opening-chapter protagonist I didn’t warm to, Writer’s reply was “I’ll make him nicer.”

And I thought, that isn’t quite what I need. I’m happy to spend time with people who aren’t nice. Paul Atreides isn’t nice; neither is Sparrowhawk. Breq Mianaai isn’t nice. Granny Weatherwax isn’t nice. So what exactly is the problem here?

Then I found a quote from John Yorke’s book INTO THE WOODS: “The protagonist is… the person the audience care most about. ‘Care’ is often translated as ‘like’, which is why so many writers are given the note ‘Can you make them nice?’” And I thought YES, that’s it! Protagonist, you don’t have to be nice, but you do have to care about stuff, and you have to make me care about that stuff too. You have to show me your agenda, part of it at least. If I don’t understand what you’re doing straight away, I have to have a reason to want to hang around and find out more. We have to build a good relationship, fast; in the opening pages. You have to win my trust, to convince me that whatever you’re telling the rest of the cast, you’re being honest with me, you’re opening up to me. The garlic’s because of the ongoing vampire problem. You’re spattered with blood because you’ve just come from the field hospital. The sword is your recently-dead sister’s, the blaster is a sterile-field generator, you’re hairy because you’ve just worked a triple shift trying to save as many people as possible, with no time off for grooming. You’re sorry about the belch; coming off-shift you were so thirsty that you drank a litre of Choke. And you’ve always hated being so big. You bang your head on doorframes, your feet stick off the end of your sleep-mat, and people are scared of you because you’re big. You so hate that.

Now – too late – now I’m starting to understand. If I had known all that, or even some of that, before I met you, I wouldn’t have slammed the door on you. You’re bitter; yes, I’m really not surprised. You’re twisted; yes, who wouldn’t be, after what you’ve gone through? You’ve done some dreadful things, killing your sister for example; some people might call that monstrous, but I can see why you thought it was right, why you felt you had to do that. I understand. I empathise. I want to support you now; I’m cheering for you. You’re telling me your story, and I care about how it comes out. I hope you solve your problems. I want you to survive, and learn, and change. I want to spend an evening with you, sometime soon. I’ll buy dinner. Tell me more…

Sue Thomason

Sue Thomason lives in rural North Yorkshire, near the sea, with an ex-GP and up to 5 cats. Varied involvement with written SF has included a handful of published short stories, reviewing for both VECTOR and FOUNDATION, co-editing an anthology of locally-based SF/F stories, and being Chair of Milford.  She writes fiction mostly for her own entertainment and to find out what happens (often this surprises her). Her other interests include outdoor pursuits, gardening, classical/early/folk music, and collecting interesting or unusual paper clips.

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David Gullen – The Girl From A Thousand Fathoms – Interview.

TGFATF - Book 1Milford: Your new book is called The Girl From A Thousand Fathoms. Give us a quick rundown.

Dave: It’s a contemporary detective fantasy set partly in modern-day Brighton, and partly in ancient Babylon. Tim Wassiter, new-age private detective, uses magic to solve cases. There’s a stolen car, and a missing cat. Somehow they’re connected, and so is the action in Babylon. Also: sea monsters.

Milford: You have a penchant for unlikely character names. Do they come easily to you or do you have to keep experimenting until you find one that suits?

Dave: These days I’d deliberately try to create names that have a sense cultural unity. That might sound a bit pretentious but all I’m trying to do is have names that, when taken together, sound as if they might come from the same time and place. In the book I’m writing at the moment everyone is an alien; I’m using a limited set of beginnings and ends to (most of) their names to help give them a kind of unity.

With The Girl that process was not so explicitly conscious but one thing I did want was for everyone from the present day to have names that were somehow larger than life and a little exotic.  Adventurous names.  With the characters from the other times and places I tried to make their names sound authentic to their origins.

Milford: Humour is the most difficult thing to write because everyone’s sense of humour is different. You have some very quirky happenings in The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Did you deliberately set out to make this funny/serous? And how did you balance the two?

Dave: I wanted it the story to be light-hearted, but with a serious heart. After all, the core events and drivers of those events are not only weird, they are deeply dangerous and of global importance. Most of the characters have life and death encounters, but that’s not to say other moments cannot be funny, and one of the characters, despite their own inner anxieties, does in fact see the world as a rather funny and playful place.  I do think humour, horror, and danger can make a good mix and I hope people enjoy my take on that.

Milford: What is your favourite colour?

Dave: Green. No, blue. No, green.  There’s a specific shade of not-quite-raspberry-pink that throws me back to my childhood, to infant school when I had a toy car of that exact colour. I took it to school and of course I lost it. I can’t remember what car it was but the colour haunts me. I’ve never seen it again, not exactly, so perhaps it only exists in my mind.


Milford: What’s all this about being baptised by King Neptune?

Dave: I was born in South Africa, and when my parents decided to return to Britain in 1960 they went by ship. When we crossed the equator the captain held a ceremony to have us little ones (I was not quite three) baptised by King Neptune. I still have the certificate, signed ‘Neptunus Rex’. I don’t remember the ceremony but as a small child I believed it. Looking back I can see what a profound effect that unremembered event had on me. I grew up thinking it was real; the proof was hanging on my wall. It still is. And people say stories don’t matter.

Milford: Is that why you wrote a story about a mermaid?

Dave: Maybe. My first TV crush was Marina from Stingray.  Also, the Dr Dolittle story about the ancient turtle and the great flood kind of blew my mind.

Actually, the origin of The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms came from an ideas workshop during a writing weekend run by T-Party Writers Group. As I recall, the seed ideas came from a little online program that mashed up two random characters to make the phrase ‘ He’s a xxx, she’s a xxx, together they fight crime. Mine was something like ‘He’s a burned out detective, she’s a renegade mermaid on the run, etc.

After 30 mins writing we shared our work. I quite enjoyed the characters I’d come up with and thought it might make a short story. Somebody said this was a novel, somebody else agreed, and I realised they were right.

Milford: Your previous book, Shopocalypse was published by NewCon press. Why did you self-publish this time?

Dave: As an experiment. I wanted to learn about the process, I liked the idea and wanted to try it. Also, realistically, I’d had advice that while The Girl was a good read, it was not commercial. It came down to DIY or accept that a few years work was all for nothing, and I didn’t want to do that.

Milford: How easy is self-publishing these days?

Dave: It’s very easy. All the tools you need are online, they are decent quality, and there’s plenty of good help and advice.  However, you still need to do all of the preparative work a traditional publisher does to make your writing look good once you’ve written ‘The End’ for what you naively believe to be the final time. These include editorial readers, redrafting, copy-editing, and proof-reading. Some of these you can do yourself, the rest you need good quality help.

Then you need to lay out your interior.  I learned a great deal about layout while I prepared The Girl for publication. Fortunately I discovered I enjoyed doing it.

Also, artwork. Finding a good artist to work with on the cover art is a real joy. Seeing a skilled professional turn your laughable scribbles into a lovely piece of work is all kinds of wonderful. I’m going to blog about this process in more detail elsewhere.

Never do your own cover art unless you are an artist. I’m not an artist.

Now I’ve published a The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, I’m planning on republishing my short stories. Also, I have a ludicrously over-ambitious idea for the cover art.

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms is available on Kindle right now, with a print edition coming very soon.

gullen-dkg1-2012David Gullen’s short fiction has appeared in multiple magazines and anthologies. His SF novel, Shopocalypse, published by Newcon press, is available from all good highstreet and online bookstores, as is his recent anthology, Once Upon a Parsec: The Book of Alien Fairy Tales. David was born in Africa and baptised by King Neptune He has lived in England most of his life and has been telling stories for as long as he can remember. He currently lives behind several tree ferns in South London with the fantasy writer Gaie Sebold. He is the current Chair of the Milford SF convention.

Twitter: Dergullen

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Gilgamesh by Jim Anderson

Gilgamesh 2I have recently read two different versions of Gilgamesh. One is The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Penguin classics version edited by Andrew George, and the other is the more flowing version by Stephen Mitchell. As much as I love the story, I have come to realize that I do not yet understand it.

It’s not that I don’t follow the flow of the action. We are introduced to Gilgamesh as being a bad king, one who viewed the people in Uruk as his possessions. He abused them and took advantage of them, until they begged for relief and their lamentations were heard by the gods, who then created Enkidu, who brought some stability.

Gilgamesh then decided that he and Enkidu would travel to the Cedar Forest to kill its guardian, Humbaba, and it is here that my understanding begins to fail, as though I were talking a path that went from a paved track to a dirt track to a thin track that dwindled and disappeared into the forest.

We aren’t given a reason for why Gilgamesh decided that Humbaba must die, and at his hand. Perhaps he felt the need to do something grand and heroic, but this we don’t see. He eventually persuaded Enkidu, and they then spent the journey to the Cedar Forest alternating back and forth in the roles of persuader and persuaded.

The question that underlies my lack of understanding is one that I am not able to answer, and might never be able to answer. Why does Gilgamesh do what Gilgamesh does, and more deeply, why did the author (or authors) of Gilgamesh (through the ages) not include any discussion about the why behind some of Gilgamesh’s larger and smaller actions?


Epic of Gilgamesh

I will admit that I haven’t undertaken a scholarly investigation of the development of our definition of hero. I do believe that Gilgamesh qualifies as a hero, perhaps our first hero as far as the written record goes, committing great deeds and undertaking epic journeys, but it is also clear that our understanding of the hero’s journey has changed over time. And so, I need to do some reading.

But looking back of what writing I’ve done, and what (more contemporary) reading I’ve done, I can see that this question of why behind the hero’s actions (or the villain’s actions) is important to my understanding of the story, and my enjoyment of it.

I suspect that as I keep reading the Old Things, humanity’s first written stories, it may be that this notion of why heroes act becomes something that emerges over time, and it’s something I’ll need to keep an eye out for.

jim_andersonJim Anderson  is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.

Jim is on-line at


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Liz Williams – Comet Weather – Interview

book_comet_front_2dMilford: First of all, Liz, could you please give us a very quick introduction to Comet Weather.

Liz: It’s the only novel I’ve ever written which is set in contemporary Britain. It’s set partly in Somerset, where I live, and in London and Wiltshire. The plan, however, is to write 4 novels, all of which are set in the Southern counties of England. Although I come from a Welsh and Scots background, I feel that a lot of Celtic mythology has been mined to death and there is so much folklore and myth in Southern England – in the West Country, and counties such as Hampshire and Dorset, that it would be interesting to explore it.

Milford: In the last two decades you’ve had fourteen or so novels published, as well as a couple of novellas, short stories and short story collections encompassing both science fiction and fantasy, but this one seems to be the closest to home. A lot of Comet Weather is set in Somerset, where you live. How much did you draw on the local area?

Liz: I think it’s actually about 20 novels. As above, I draw on the local area a lot, but I’m not drawing too much on Glastonbury, which is ironically where I actually live. Again, I think it’s been overdone and some of the mythology that surrounds it has become hackneyed by repetition, so I’m focusing on other magical and folklore elements.

Milford: A multi-person rotating viewpoint story is technically difficult to pull off, how did you go about it?

Liz: so this novel was written in a completely insane way – it took 10 years to write about half of it, and then the final half was written in 5 weeks. This is because it was my ‘treat’ project, the thing I wrote to have fun (I have done other stuff over those 10 years, obviously). But I didn’t have much time, so I wrote it in short sections and that naturally fitted the different viewpoints.

Milford: How many of the supernatural elements did you pull out of actual folklore, and how much is pure imagination?

Liz: most of it is based in actual magical practice, but it’s over quite a long span of time so there are elements which are familiar to me and other occultists, but probably not to the general public. However, I always put a spin on things and play around with them: I am a bit ruthless when it comes to myth and magic, and I will change things.

Milford: What are the Behenian Stars and where did you get the inspiration for them?

Liz: The Behenian stars seem to be little known today, although they were a major part of Renaissance astrology. The names derives from the Arabic ‘ bahman,’ or root, as there was supposed to be a relationship between these stars and the planets themselves: each planet takes its power from the corresponding star. I have also seen a suggestion that the name comes from the herb Centaurea behen, or saw-leafed centaury, which was known as the ‘beekeeper’s herb’ – the dome of stars, drawn from above, resembling the bees in the hive. They have a personified spirit attached to them but this can sometimes take male form: I tinkered about with that.

Milford: The main characters are all female, with male characters in a supporting role. What can you say about the feminist elements in the book?

Liz: I wanted the women to be the ones who have the adventures and the men to be supportive: that’s quite deliberate. Some of the boyfriends aren’t, obviously, particularly supportive as that’s part of the plot, but I wanted the men to take a backseat in this. So often in fantasy the women end up shoring up the male characters and I get bored with that: even when some female characters start out as strong, independent etc, the romance gradually becomes centre stage and I don’t want that to happen. Stella, for instance, may or may not end up with anyone (male or female): she’s doing other stuff.

And I didn’t want the women in this to be the kind of female characters who have become stereotyped in fantasy: they’re not all kick ass, ‘feisty’ women. I don’t, personally, do any martial arts, I’m not necessarily into carrying a weapon, but I don’t take much crap either. There are lots of ways of being female in this world and I wanted to reflect a range of those, rather than squeezing the women into the ‘one size fits all.’ I think fantasy has become increasingly restrictive when it comes to portraying women and I find a lot of it very boring.

Milford: Two of the supporting characters who stand out are the Fallow sisters’ grandfather, and the rather wonderful Dark, two very different ghostly manifestations. How did you rationalise two such different ghosts?

Liz: I didn’t, really – they just emerged. I did, subsequently, write a short story for one of the late Gardner Dozois’ collections, called Sungrazer, which used some of the elements in CW but which featured Abraham Fallow when alive. I don’t know where Dark came from but I love him. Ward is basically a younger version of Alan Rickman.

Milford: Alys Fallow doesn’t get her own viewpoint chapter until the very end of the book and then we get a brief glimpse into her mindset. Are you setting us up for the sequel, Blackthorn Winter?

Liz: No, that may be the only point of view section for Alys. I want her to remain enigmatic.

Milford: Last but not least, how can we buy your book and how can we keep in touch with you as an author?

Liz: via my social media, mainly Facebook (I’m not on Twitter). You can find Comet Weather on Amazon or via New Con Press.

Liz WilliamsLiz Williams is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in Glastonbury, England, where she is co-director of a witchcraft supply business. She has been published by Bantam Spectra (US) and Tor Macmillan (UK), also Night Shade Press and appears regularly in Asimov’s and other magazines. She has been involved with the Milford SF Writers’ Workshop for 20 years, and also teaches creative writing at a local college for Further Education.

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Editing and Time Travel by Jacey Bedford

Editing one book while writing the first draft of the sequel is as close as I will ever come to time travel. But time travel I did, while working on the first two books of the Psi-Tech trilogy.

My first book, Empire of Dust, came out from DAW in 2014 and while waiting for editorial comments I was working on the first draft of the second novel, Crossways (2015). I put my main characters, Cara Carlinni and Reska (Ben) Benjamin, through hell in Empire, so in Crossways I dumped problems on them from loose ends deliberately left hanging. They faced up to the primary problem in the first book, but a secondary one turned around and bit them in book two. What started out as a search for survivors turned into a battle for survival. By the time I started writing Crossways, my publisher was already talking about making it into a trilogy, so even though I didn’t have a contract for the third book (which turned out to be Nimbus) I knew that I had to provide a satisfactory ending for Crossways while leaving room for the story to continue.


I confess that I am neither a plotter nor a pantser, but a mixture of both. A plotter has the whole book worked out before the actual writing commences and then she writes to the plan. A pantser works by the seat of her pants, writing to see what happens next.  I often start a book with a strong scene that sets up a basic conflict. I usually have a vague outline in my head. I know the beginning and I have a fair idea of the end, but the middle is covered by ‘stuff happens’.

When I began Crossways, all I had on paper was the one page synopsis that I sent to my publisher and there wasn’t much detail in that.

My editing process basically goes like this…

I deliver my best version of the book, i.e. one that I’ve written, polished, edited, altered and polished again. My editor reads it and we have a long conversation. Had I thought about doing this? What about that? What’s the background to this? What’s Character X’s motivation for doing that particular thing at that particular time? How does Character A figure this out? We throw ideas back and forth and I go away to make alterations and (as it turns out in Crossways) a load of additions. Then I send in the edited version. The next editorial conversation is more finely tuned. I’m still not a hundred percent sure of the ending, you need to look at this.  If that character is going to come to the fore in the third book you definitely need to deepen her character in the second.

You get the idea?

While developing characters and ideas for Crossways I was able to jump back into the first book and retrofit as needed because I was still editing. Also some of the suggested editorial changes in the first book had the butterfly wing effect and caused tsunamis in the second book.

Once I delivered the final edit of Empire of Dust to my publisher it was locked down tight.

The next edit stage, the copy edit, checks for things out of order, spelling mistakes, grammar, typos, clunky sentences. There’s no option to insert scenes, change things round and add or remove chunks.

In other words my time machine, used freely to travel between the now of my second book and the then of my first book, was taken away, locked in the basement, and powered down. From that point forward, whatever happened in the second book had to grow out of whatever had already happened in the first one. And the third book (at that stage still two years away) was similarly tied to what’s gone before.

Jacey-new hairJacey Bedford is a British writer, published by DAW in the USA. She writes science fiction and fantasy. Her Psi-Tech space opera trilogy consists of Empire of Dust, Crossways, and Nimbus. Her historical fantasy trilogy comprises Winterwood, Silverwolf, and Rowankind. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, and have been translated into Estonian, Galician, and Polish. She’s the secretary of Milford SF Writers Conference for published SF authors. ( She’s been a folk singer with vocal trio, Artisan, and has sung live on BBC Radio4 accompanied by the Doctor (Who?) playing spoons.

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Ten Easy Ways to Infuriate Your Editor by Terry Jackman

Typewriter 3My own modest experiences of being edited, both long and short, has always been positive, usually enjoyable, so I can look back at them with some fondness.

Then I got into editing, the other side of the table as it were. In the main I look back at  both sides fondly. To all those editors, and editees, my sincere thanks for the often long-distance conversations, and for making ‘working together’ exactly what it sounds like.

To a select minority, I dedicate the following. [Experience says they’ll either not read it, or sneer at it, but for others, maybe it will prompt a few nods and smiles. Even the odd giggle.]

So here we go. You are a writer. Your new publisher says you’re going to work with an editor. You say yes, for whatever reason – a general willingness to work on your script/a fear of losing your shiny new contract/sheer curiosity; what the *** is an editor?

And so it begins:

1) Your editor emails, says hi, maybe explains their approach, and says they look forward to working with you to make your story the best it can be and get the best reviews.

  • You reply curtly/ assume they know your enormous talent, and your life history/ tell them you’re very busy but will  fit them in when you can, your deadlines being more urgent than the publisher’s/ don’t reply at all, let alone try to sound friendly to a ‘mere’ employee.

2) As stated in that email, your editor kicks off with, say, a single chapter, aiming to get acquainted with what you like or need, the best way to relate to you before diving in. [Plus, they are aware those opening pages will be your first impression on the reader and how important that is.]

  • You complain you’d rather have the whole script at once.

3) Your editor queries whether the reference to a building in the very first paragraph could signal a misleading past/present/future setting. Maybe you could add two words to pin that down, to avoid sending a reader off down the wrong assumption-path?

  • You reply with ‘Isn’t it obvious?’

4) Your editor explains they really don’t think two prologues will go down well with your readers, and suggests cutting the shortest, or moving it, to get the main action started sooner.

  • You write three pages, to the publisher not the editor, on why both are absolutely essential and, as clearly the editor isn’t clever enough to see that, you’ve by-passed them. Expect support and take offence when the publisher agrees with – horror – the editor.

5) You have two, often three, adjectives attached to your nouns. A lot. The same for similes, metaphors…Your editor suggests sometimes choosing just the best.

  • You reply that every one is vital.

6) Your editor can’t work out what word XXXXXX means. It crops up repeatedly and they’re pretty sure most readers will have the same problem. They want to understand better to see how to avoid confusion. Is it, they ask, maybe an AAAAAA? Or a BBBBBBB?

  • You answer, ‘No, it’s an XXXXXX.’

7) Your editor requests you change two near-identical names, of two characters who always appear together.

  • You reply either, ‘That’s their names,’ or ‘I can’t possibly offend them’.

8) Your editor asks you to move a long discussion out of the middle of a fast-action chase scene. With guns.

  • Hey, just ignore.

9) Your editor asks you to tweak a ref on page 20 to make it clearer.

  • You tell them it’s quite unnecessary; you’ve explained it perfectly on page 50.

10) (a) Your editor uses, and explains the need for, the preferred mark-up system of both publisher and editor [ probably Track Changes but feel free to insert to taste ].

  • You reply that you don’t like/can’t work with/don’t approve of it.

10) (b) Your editor, willing to be nice and accept you really can’t deal, offers to work with coloured highlights. More work farther along for the editor but hopefully better for you.

  • You don’t reply. Instead you ignore both approaches and remove all the mark-ups before you return the full edit, telling the editor they can ‘just’ go through the edit by reading all the before and after copies and comparing them.[ Every **** word, and no I’m not talking a short story!]

Am I making all of this up? Any of it? What do you think?

Obviously this doesn’t refer to any one edit. How could it, right?  But hey, following these guidelines will definitely get you noticed. Your name will stick in the mind of both editor and publisher. So yes, you will have made a real impact on your professional standing

Sadly, it may not get you another contract with that publisher?

author pic 1

Terry Jackman began writing nonfiction, more by accident than design, before eventually tackling fiction. These days she runs the BSFA Orbit groups and edits-for-hire between writing and the day job. She also runs the occasional convention workshop, and is strange enough that she actually enjoys moderating panels.

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Committing Trilogy by Jacey Bedford

Confession: I’ve committed trilogy. Twice.

Laptop window sunshineIn all fairness I didn’t expect to write trilogies, though I hoped. When I sold Empire of Dust to DAW my original three book deal was for Empire, an unnamed sequel (which became Crossways) and for Winterwood (a fantasy and the beginning of another trilogy). It included the first novels in what became the Psi-Tech and the Rowankind trilogies.

Thus I never had a publisher’s contract for a whole trilogy at once. My contracts came in stages. Part way through writing Crossways I needed to know whether to wrap up the story arc in two volumes, or whether it would run to three. I was delighted when I got the go-ahead to write Book Three (Nimbus) to round off the story of Ben, Cara, and the Free Company.

My second book deal was for Nimbus and the second Rowankind book (Silverwolf), and then after that I got a single book deal to write Rowankind, the third book in the Rowankind trilogy. Luckily, even before I got the contract for Rowankind, I’d had an informal nod from my editor, which gave me time to plan for Book Three while writing Book Two.

If you twisted my arm to offer advice on how to write a trilogy I wouldn’t say, ‘Write one book and see what happens,’ though that’s what I did.

All this boils down to a missstep I made when I was a baby writer with only one short story sale and a head full of ambition. I set out to write a trilogy and had two books completed before my (then) agent decided she couldn’t sell the first one, so I’d spent a couple of years writing the second one and didn’t have a hope in hell of selling it without the first. (Both books are still in my bottom drawer.) After that I determined to write standalones that had trilogy or series potential while I was waiting to (hopefully) sell a book.

So what didn’t I know when I started?

I didn’t know that writing sequels is difficult and writing a sequel to the sequel is even more difficult. How much of the story of the first book do you give away in the second? How much of the first two books do you give away in the third? Many times I was tempted to start the second and third books with a chapter of the story so far, but I didn’t give in. I tended to put in way too much backstory in the first draft, and had to pare it down, sometimes relying on fellow writers in our critique group, Northwrite, to scribble: Yes! WE KNOW! In the margin of my manuscript.

Rookie mistake, but when I wrote Empire of Dust, I didn’t know to compile a style sheet which noted spellings of names and terms used in the book. When does Telepath have a capital letter? (Answer, when it’s a Telepath whose talent comes from having a neural implant.) Is it air lock, air-lock or airlock? Is it jumpdrive, jump-drive or jump drive? The answer is that it can be any of them, as long as what you write throughout the trilogy is consistent. The copy editor who dealt with Empire of Dust very kindly sent me a style sheet. I added to it as the cast of characters and the specialised vocabulary grew. By the time I got to the end of Nimbus, my style sheet was 12 pages, double columned, using 10 pitch Calibri – 1351 entries.

Blade itselfThere are different kinds of trilogy, of course. There are those which tell one continuous story divided into three books. I’m thinking of something like Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which was really one story, but originally published as three separate novels because it was so big.

And there are those which are three separate stories linked by a common thread and a common background, but might have completely separate stories in each book, and might even have different main characters. Ilona Andrews’ Edge books are a good example of this (though by now it’s a series, not just a trilogy).

Curse of ChalionLois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion books are linked but separate. That’s Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt. Curse and Paladin are related and share characters, a minor character in one becoming the central character in the other. Hallowed Hunt is set in the same world but separate from the other two.  (That ‘universe’ has since been expanded by Ms Bujold’s Penric Novellas). Kristin Cashore’s Graceling trilogy (Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue) is formed of three different but interconnected books. The second book in the trilogy is set before the first book, with a different protagonist, and the third book centres on the daughter of the first book’s wicked king.

Lies of Locke lamoraOr a trilogy might have the same characters, but in each book they face a different (maybe connected) problem. A good example is Scott Lynch’s (so far) trilogy featuring the Gentleman Bastards. (The Lies of Locke Lamora, Red Seas Under Red Skies, and The Republic of Thieves.) In each book Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are in a different location with a different problem to solve. You could read them as standalones, but you’ll probably get a lot more out of them by reading in order.

To cliff-hang or not? Let me state now that I hate trilogies (and series) that have all but the last books ending on a cliffhanger. (Rachel Caine I’m looking at your Weather Warden books, which I loved – except for the endings.) Your mileage might vary, of course. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong. In my not-so-humble opinion, if books are coming out annually, then leaving the reader in suspense might not be a good idea, because they finish Book One gasping to read on, but have to wait a whole year by which time they can easily go off the boil. I’m happy for some plot threads to dangle, but not at the expense of each book having its own satisfying conclusion.

Authors of trilogies will tell you that it’s important to retain readers from one book to the next, as new readers are unlikely to start with Book Two or Book Three. And note that some readers won’t look at a trilogy until all three books are on bookstore shelves. This is because some publishers will cancel contracts if the first book doesn’t do as well as they expected, or if the second book didn’t retain enough readers, leading to disappointing sales figures. If all three books come out within a short space of time, cliffhanger endings aren’t so bad, and might even lead to better retention. Don’t just believe me about cliffhangers, though. There’s  discussion on Goodreads where readers give their opinions, mostly against them.

What about titles and covers? I made a big mistake with my Psi-Tech books. The titles don’t really resonate with each other. Empire of Dust doesn’t fit with Crossways and Nimbus. I should have found a snappy one word title for the first book, or Something-of-Something-else titles for the second two. Also (and I guess this is down to my publisher’s cover designer) the cover of the first book doesn’t resonate with the second two. I love all the covers, but put them together, and unless you read the cover copy, you might not immediately recognise them as being part of the same trilogy.


I did much better with my Rowankind trilogy. The titles are Winterwood, Silverwolf and Rowankind, and the covers all chime well with each other even though there’s a slight change of typeface between the covers of Winterwood and Silverwolf. It’s not as glaring as the complete change of typeface between Empire of Dust and Crossways, though.


Do you like reading trilogies? Have you written a trilogy? Are you thinking of writing one? Go for it. After all, three is a magic number.


Jacey-new hairJacey Bedford is a British writer, published by DAW in the USA. She writes science fiction and fantasy. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, and have been translated into Estonian, Galician, and Polish. She’s the secretary of Milford SF Writers Conference for published SF authors. ( She’s been a folk singer with vocal trio, Artisan, and has sung live on BBC Radio4 accompanied by the Doctor (Who?) playing spoons. She lives in an old stone house on the edge of Yorkshire’s Pennine Hills with her songwriter husband and a long-haired, black German Shepherd (a dog not an actual shepherd from Germany).

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The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack

250px-B7-Logo1A hundred years ago, when I was a little girl (all right, the late 1970s), I used to draw Blake’s 7 stick man cartoons. Blake’s 7, you see, was my very favourite TV programme, and more than anything else I wanted more stories about the crew of the Liberator and their adventures. They weren’t the best stick man cartoons (I didn’t grow up to be an artist), but I enjoyed creating them, nonetheless, and mostly it was the storytelling that I enjoyed.

Flash forward to the late 90s, when I am broadly doing much the same thing, only this time without bothering to draw pictures, posting my stories to a Blake’s 7 mailing list. Here, a lively and well-informed group of us (many postgraduate students, who have time for this kind of thing) spend a lot of time hanging out together, slightly amazed to have found other people who have watched this mad old show, psychoanalysing the characters, cooking up story ideas, setting each other challenges, and having a quite splendid time. My writing was stylistically sharper (I hope), but the impulse remained the same – to spend more time with characters and settings that moved and intrigued me, and to tell more stories about them.

Fanfiction was my hobby from when I was a very little girl, and it has been my great fortune to be able to turn this passion into a career. Not long after I began posting fanfiction online, I was contacted by an editor at Simon and Schuster. My Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fiction had been recommended to him, he was on the lookout for new voices, and he wanted to know if I’d be interested in pitching some stories to him. I was interested – I was very interested – and from that exchange came commissions for my first three ST: DS9 novels, The Lotus Flower, Hollow Men, and The Never-Ending Sacrifice.

molten-heart-drwho-360x560After that, my foot was in the door. Writing TV tie-in fiction has particular pressures (you’re often very close to hard production deadlines), and once you have a demonstrable track record of delivering on time, you’re much better placed to pitch for work. With three Star Trek novels on my CV, I decided I’d like to try for a Doctor Who novel. This was around the time that David Tennant was turning into Matt Smith, and there was a change in many of the production personnel involved in the show. It was a good time to be getting in touch to see what I could do, and I’ve written four Doctor Who novels for BBC Books since then. After that – I’ve written a substantial amount for the audio drama producers Big Finish, who have the licence to produce audios based on Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, and Star Cops (among other shows), all of which I’ve written for. And I’ve written half a dozen or so more Star Trek books, including my most recent, The Last Best Hope, a prequel novel to Star Trek: Picard.


There are several questions that commonly come up when I explain what I do. People often ask whether I find my imagination constrained, working with other people’s characters and settings. The answer to this is – well, no, not really! I do see where this idea comes from, but this doesn’t seem to be how my imagination works. Stories come more naturally to me when I think of myself in conversation with a text. I may have questions about characters’ motivations, how they got from A to B; or perhaps I want to explore aspects of a show that have been touched upon only tangentially. Much of my Star Trek work has been like this: I have set many of my stories on Cardassia Prime, a world that has great significance in DS9, but which we see only briefly on screen. In a series of novels, I have had the freedom to work through some of Cardassia’s future history, tracing the collapse of an authoritarian power, and its tentative steps towards recreating itself as an open society.

way-to-stars-discovery-360x560There are huge differences between writing for a show that is in production and for one that is currently not on air. With my earliest Star Trek novels, all published after DS9 had ended, I had considerable liberty to invent. With my most recent books, for Discovery and Picard, I have worked closely with people in the writers’ room, trying to tell stories which work with the programmes as shown. This brings obvious constraints, but at the same time it’s tremendously exciting to be working with a show that’s still unfolding, and a creative challenge too.

undefeated-orig-360x560Last of all, I’m often asked, “Don’t you want to write your own stuff?” The answer to this is that I do write my ‘own stuff’ (novellas and short fiction), and I enjoy it immensely – but I still think of myself as in conversation with other texts. My novella with Tor.Com, The Undefeated, was pitched as a feminist reimagining of High Plains Drifter. I was in conversation with that film (and with other stories too, like Susan Glaspell’s brilliant short story ‘A Jury of Her Peers’). Creativity, for me, doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It’s about call and response: being inspired by something – or wanting to argue back with it. I still write a great deal of fanfiction based on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I love that book – but I don’t always agree with it, and, as a result, I have a lot to say back to it! Now, if I can only persuade someone to commission that three-book idea I have about the fall of Númenor…

una-hero-2-768x558Dr Una McCormack is a New York Times bestselling science fiction author. She is passionate about women’s writing, science fiction, and helping people find their words and voices. Her Star Trek: Picard novel, The Last Best Hope, is published by Simon and Schuster in 2020.


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That Difficult Second Novel by Jacey Bedford

First published on Jacey Bedford’s blog

This blog post was written in November 2013, after I got my first three book deal from DAW, but before any of my books had been published. My first book, Empire of Dust, was complete and going through the editing process, and I was staring my second book in the face. It had been sold on a one-page synopsis as a sequel to Empire and eventually became Crossways, the middle book of the Psi-Tech trilogy.


One of the panels I attended at World Fantasy Con was on writing that ‘difficult second novel.’ As I suspected none of the panellists had easy answers. Most of them were in the process of or had just completed their second novels and it struck me that there are no experts in this field. Writing the difficult second novel is something a writer will do only once.

So why is the second novel classed as ‘difficult’?

Most writers spend years in their first novel, which may, of course, not be the first novel written, but will be the the first novel sold and published. From concept to sale it gets written, polished, possibly rewritten (several times). It might be helped along by beta readers, critique groups, editorial comment from an agent and, once sold, it will almost certainly be significantly changed/improved by the intervention of an editor and copy editor. A published book is not the work of one person, it’s the result of teamwork by the author, her beta readers, agent and editors.

Finishing a novel is an achievement in itself; selling it and getting it published is a veritable triumph. It’s a goal so many writers aspire to and some never achieve. For those of us who do achieve it all our prayers are answered, all our birthdays come at once…

And from that point onwards our previous problem of ‘Will I ever sell a novel?’ melts away to be replaced by:

  • Will my novel be well-received?
  • Was the first one a fluke?
  • Can I really do it again?

In other words, that difficult second novel is looming. For many authors it’s pre-sold to (or optioned by) the same publisher who bought Number One, and that introduces new pressures. The first novel took years to write. This one comes with a deadline. You’re writing it in a vacuum because the first one hasn’t been published yet, so you don’t know whether it’s going to be well-received or not. You probably have to do two things at once because while you’re working on the first draft of Book Two you’re probably also working on the edits of Book One. And, OHMYGOD, you’ve already been paid half your advance for Book Two so it had better be bloody good.

In fact, the actual writing of Book Two is probably no more difficult than writing Book Four, Five or Six, but it’s the first time the pressure has been on like this. Let’s face it, it’s probably not even your second book. You’ve written several before selling the first one, right?

So relax. Take a deep breath. Stop reading this blog and get writing.

Jacey-new hairJacey Bedford is a British writer, published by DAW in the USA. She writes science fiction and fantasy. Her Psi-Tech space opera trilogy consists of Empire of Dust, Crossways, and Nimbus. Her historical fantasy trilogy comprises Winterwood, Silverwolf, and Rowankind. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, and have been translated into Estonian, Galician, and Polish. She’s the secretary of Milford SF Writers Conference for published SF authors. ( She’s been a folk singer with vocal trio, Artisan, and has sung live on BBC Radio4 accompanied by the Doctor (Who?) playing spoons.

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His Majesty’s Starship, part 3: a bloody children’s publisher? – by Ben Jeapes

Originally posted on Ben Jeapes’ blog

Slowly but surely His Majesty’s Starship approached completion … and approached it … and approached it. For a very long time indeed I was almost there, with just a couple of thousand words to go, and I simply wasn’t writing them. I self-diagnosed the problem, which was that I had a life and I was unwilling to lose it. The solution was to start getting up earlier, writing before going to work. It’s a habit I’ve kept.

Placing it with a publisher was quite atypically easy. Two friends from my writers group already shared an agent, Robert Kirby. Robert had been sufficiently tickled by their descriptions of the group to ask if he could have first refusal if any of the rest of us ever wrote a novel. I sent His Majesty’s Starship to him in August 1995, shortly before the Glasgow World SF Convention, which was my first worldcon. He finally accepted it, and me as a client, in January 1996. I had an agent! For a while I enjoyed dropping the words ‘my agent’ into conversation with friends, family and strangers.

(I recently came across an old letter from Robert thanking me for introducing him to his latest client, one Alastair Reynolds. Purveyor of retirement plans to agents, that’s me. No finder’s fee, sadly.)

And then Scholastic expressed an interest in it.


A bloody children’s publisher?

Robert’s precise reason for sending the book to Scholastic was, and I quote, “Gilmore seemed to me a sort of modern day Biggles and the level of sex and violence would not have raised the collective eyebrow of readers of Captain W.E. Johns.” As Gilmore, in the draft he read, was a divorcee from a group marriage with a teenage son, and there is an alien sex scene in chapter 16, I disputed this point of view, but it’s amazing the effect having a publisher actually express interest will have on you.

Further, I had been put off Scholastic by hearing horror stories from a friend who had had a novel published by their Point SF imprint which was systematically neutered to make it suitable for a young audience. (Or rather, one suspects, for the young audience’s parents.) The approaching middle age, divorced heroine became a teenager. At one point, in the original draft, she comes down first thing in the morning and finds the boyfriend having breakfast, with the implication he had stayed overnight; now he had to walk up the garden path first thing in the morning and ring the bell to be let in.

I don’t know who edited that book but it certainly wasn’t Scholastic’s David Fickling, a boundlessly cheery Roy Hudd lookalike and publishing genius. (All my writing breakthroughs seem to be thanks to someone called David: Fickling, Pringle, Barrett …) Practically my first card on the table when I met David was that the alien sex scene stayed. “Absolutely,” he said cheerfully. I was to learn he said a lot of things cheerfully, including his careful enumerations of your novel’s precise faults.

David was the man who had signed Philip Pullman (Northern Lights had just won the Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction) and was looking for something meatier than Scholastic’s usual teen fare for a new imprint. Robert forewarned me that David thought the book was bogged down with too much detail. I went into the meeting determined to refute this viewpoint and I left agreeing with him. I also saw how it took far too long for the story to get going, and it finished too soon – about three quarters of the way through the book, with a lot of mopping up after. I needed to rewrite it so that it ended at, you know, the end.

The kicker was: if David suspected for a moment that I was just agreeing with him to get the book published, rather than rewriting with my heart in it, he wouldn’t be interested. Not that I would have just agreed with him to get it published … but it concentrated the mind.

This began the first of quite a few rewrites: new opening chapter, throwing us straight into the action and highlighting Gilmore’s tactical ability. A space battle, a few people killed. All good stuff. I sent off the rewrite.

Early 1997: he didn’t like it. I began to see the problem: I had added more plot but left the excess verbiage in as well. David did me a huge favour for life at this point by recommending that I read Patrick O’Brian’s Master & Commander, first of the Aubrey series. O’Brian’s characters just slide into the action: Aubrey has been through some considerable scrapes prior to the novel’s opening and we only hear about these second-hand.

I applied this to the novel and I cut out anything that didn’t directly relate to the action, including (though it broke my heart) chapter 8, in which the Rustie Arm Wild interviews the crew. That chapter was the key one to introducing not only the crew but also the alien mindset to the reader. The novel was now down to 92,000 words, from its first draft of 113,000.

Back to Scholastic, and David courted death with a casual comment along the lines of: “don’t I remember a chapter where Arm Wild interviews the crew? I quite miss that …”

I restrained my homicidal impulse and learnt the lesson: anything that develops the characters is probably acceptable, even if it doesn’t contribute to the action. The interview was reinstated.

In January 1998 I sent in the final draft at 100,000 words, and it was accepted. And despite all the twists and turns over the last two years, it really was the story I originally wanted to tell.

I was struck by all the pluses of dealing with David, as opposed to the horror stories I had heard of other publishers: incompetent editors who want to be writers themselves and fiddle at every stage; who have no idea of science fiction beyond Star Trek; who bow to the High Priests of Marketing and tell you to put the sex here, the extra 200 pages there, and where’s that dragon when we need it? And all for a product that ultimately will have a life expectancy that makes a mayfly seem pensionable, because that’s how the bookselling system works. (Note: further on and many years later, I still have yet to meet any editors who match this stereotype … but I was young then and, like it or not, the stereotype exists.)

I was bowled over by an editor who encouraged me to cut. Not willy-nilly, but surgically. Cut this, yes, but expand that, because you leave off just when the reader’s getting interested … you see? And yes, I did see. David never lifted a finger to fiddle with the science fiction – that was entirely my own. He just concentrated on the story, and I came out the other end of the process a convert to the demands of children’s publishing: proper children’s publishing, not plot lobotomy as is sometimes practised. Just tell the story, then stop. That’s it. No more. Let it be as long as it needs to be. And you end with a story to be proud of: the story you wanted to tell.

I still had to stay on my toes. There were those within the Scholastic empire who clung to the old ways and David couldn’t control everything. Like, a frowning copy editor changed one character’s “Sod it!” to “Damn it!” We compromised on “Nuts!” (I had a vision of the guy wandering the corridors of their offices in New Commonwealth House muttering “Sod it / damn it / nuts / sod it / damn it / nuts …”, perhaps looking to see which of his colleagues swooned at what.) Strangely, the occasional utterance of “Christ!” caused no upset at all; a sad reflection etc. etc.

The learning experience continued right up until the end. At proof stage, I was told it was one signature too long for its price range. Books are typically printed in multiples of sixteen pages – eight pages get printed on either side of a large sheet of paper which is then folded and trimmed. That is a signature. My choice was: cut it by sixteen pages, or let Scholastic put it up by a pound. I cut the sixteen pages. It’s humiliating to realise your book has sixteen dispensable pages in it, but it was an invaluable exercise.

His Majesty’s Starship was published in December 1998. My author copies were delivered while I was at work on the last working day before Christmas, so I had to go and collect them from the depot. As I drove away from the depot, with the holidays ahead and my first novel in the boot of my car, the radio announced that Peter Mandelson had resigned from the cabinet. And then it played the third part of Vaughan Williams’s English Folk Song Suite, a piece of music I really enjoy with a triumphant trumpet fanfare.

I was pretty pleased with myself and with life generally.

Still am.

Life goes on …

It enjoyed modest success and some fairly nice reviews: I still relish the tingle when I saw SFX had awarded it more stars than the other book on the same page, a Star Trek: Voyager novel. It went out of print in 2002. A few years later I did a print-on-demand version because I was still getting a trickle of enquiries. And then I heard my friend Cheryl Morgan was starting a new e-book publishing company …

Andy Bigwood did an awesome cover for it – see above. It’s now available as both software and treeware (i.e. e-book or print).  The original Scholastic edition was also published in America under the utterly baffling title The Ark … presumably as in Ark Royal, and in deference to the United States’ anti-monarchical past, and because if you want an exciting novel about starships, obviously you go for one named after a big wooden boat. But that is out of print too, and the only edition available anywhere for new has the right title. The one God intended. His Majesty’s Starship.

Accept no substitutes.


BenJeapesBen Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be quite easy (it isn’t) and save him from having to get a real job (it didn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of several novels and short stories, he is also an experienced ghostwriter, journal editor, book publisher and technical writer. His novels to date are: His Majesty’s Starship; The Xenocide Mission; Time’s Chariot; The New World Order; Phoenicia’s WorldsThe Teen, the Witch & the Thief; The Comeback of the King; and H.M.S. Barabbas. His short story collection Jeapes Japes is available from Wizard’s Tower Press. He is now a fulltime ghostwriter, writing stuff for other people which annoyingly makes more money than his own does.

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