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Stewart Hotston

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The Fox’s Hope

Half Way

I’m half way through the Qilin’s Gambit. It’s come at a real pace (for me at any rate) and despite planning to story in more detail than anything I’ve ever plotted out before I’ve been surprised by two things.

The first is the politics in the story. The world is (obviously) the same as for Dreams of Darkness, it is book 2 after all. However, it features an entirely new set of characters set in a parts of our world and the Dream not seen before. Most notably the city of Kunlun (in different forms) out of Japanese and Chinese legend.

The structure of the world is such that the cultures within it are supposed to be ancient, living breathing societies and one of the main protagonists is a refugee who was once a very important person in the land he had to flee.

As a result I’ve found that my characters are very concerned with the threads and ties to their societies, their roles, their positions and the implications of their actions. It’s been a wonderful surprise to have to explore this and I hope it will be as interesting for readers as it’s been for me to write about power like this.

I guess this reprises discussions about power from the other trilogy, The Oligarchy. I know some people simply want action but for me the impact of any violence in what I’m writing takes its foundation from the groundedness of the world in which it happens.

The other surprise for me is how my female protagonists (book 1 had two male and one female. Book 2 focusses on two female and one male) are growing. I’m super conscious of trying to treat them as people with their own agency with their own battles and pasts but they’ve also surprised me in demanding that their responses are their own. To be honest it’s been a real lesson in dwelling on what they’re facing before simply letting my fingers get on and write them.

Anyway, I’m only half way, so I better get back to it…

Do we improve?

I’m not a fan of self improvement. I’m pretty much the cantankerous bugger who emerged out of being a clueless but unaccountably angry teenager twenty years ago. I suspect friends who know me well probably stop telling me what new diet they’re on, what new method of giving up this or that habit they dislike because they know I’ll sneer and ask them to show me the peer reviewed papers that suggest the method will work to change who they are.

It’s not that I’m some sort of essentialist about human character, it’s just that I’ve reflected on my own utterly inability to overcome (for any real length of time) my own predilections and gut responses that I simply don’t buy that a book or course can manage it – especially when the best studies show that such ideas are nonsense dressed up in respectability to fleece those who should know better via their anxieties. As Maria Konnikova would say – we’re all of us capable of being conned.

However, there are some things we can get better at. Skills being one of them.

My first book, A Family War, came out last May and did ok for itself. People bought it and, if the reviews are genuine, they seemed to enjoy it. However, at the risk of putting anyone off buying it I wasn’t completely happy.

I wrote the first draft of that book in 2005. It lived many lives, losing characters and chapters, before I believed that someone might take it seriously enough to publish it. After a long journey involved a couple of agents and a couple of publishers it got there via Matt at Alternative Realities.

However, I felt it dragged a little in the middle. I felt it wasn’t as tight as it could be. Looking back now I wistfully wish I could have led with the writing I’m delivering now because I think it’s so much better.

That hasn’t happened by accident. It’s also not largely happened just by magic, or me writing more. It’s happened by me listening to people, seeking out other, better writers to give me honest feedback. Asking readers to say what they liked but also what they found a bore, or off putting.

Writers like Adrian Faulkner, Sarah Cawkwell, Jo Zebedee, Adam Nevill and James Brogden. All of them have helped me immensely at various points – if you don’t read their books, then you should. Except for Adrian. You’ll have to wait for his proper debut – it’s going to blow your socks off.

Of the readers? I’ll spare their blushes.

I’ve also learned the rudiments of editing – which has taught me some of my own blind spots in the process.

I have always believed in the stories I’ve written but where I hope, and trust, that I’ve improved is in the character work and the tightness of the writing. Hey, I’m still at the point where entire openings or characters have to be lost or changed to work, but these days I can see them a bit clearer.

The other big change was that in my first novel I didn’t plan. I had an end I wanted my character to get to. I had a world that had been built from my own experience in tech and science. But I had not chapter plans, not character arcs already determined in my head.

I was lucky – it largely worked. But these days I plan. I look at my characters and feel what motivates them, where they’re going and what they’re going to experience along the way. I’ve found it far from being constraining (my original worry was that knowing the future course of the story would mean its actual writing was boring). Instead I’ve found it allows me to deliver something tighter, something much better connected to its own sense of purpose.

Now, you might come across Dreams of Darkness later this year (and an awesome cover reveal is going to come soon) and think this post was just me stroking my own ego. Even if you do, I think I’m more comfortable about my writing now than when I first wrote A Family War.

Part of me is saying – if you didn’t finish A Family War, don’t go away! Try Dreams of Darkness.

Part of me is saying – if you did like it? Well wait till you get a load of what’s coming!

Monthly round up

It’s been a busy month. I thought it would be useful to round up – even if only for myself.

First up, a long awaited anthology called Aliens: The truth is coming from Tickety Boo Press. It’s got some superb stories in it but I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to my own in this – it’s one that I hope will take you from left field and stay with you after you’re done.

Second is that I’ve actually sold a novel to the same publishing company. It’s called Dreams of Darkness and is the first in the The Fox’s Hope series. It’s a dark and twisted view of myths. I described it to my editor as Steven Erikson meets Grimm.

towl-ebook-coverThird is that I finally got my assorted stuff together and put a collection of my favourite shorts out. It’s called Tales of Wild Light.

I’ve done a couple of posts about this recently, so not a lot more to say here. Well…except that I can’t stop talking about the cover which was done by a friend of mine, John Haynes.

The original is now framed and on display in my library. stewart-hotston-a-peoples-war-titles

Next up is A People’s War, the sequel to A Family War and the second in The Oligarchy Trilogy. It was due out today but we’re still going through proofing for typos – it’ll be this month and before Christmas but watch this space.

There’s another anthology coming for subscribers to my mail list – sometime in January. It’s called Human Machines and will feature stories set in the world of the Oligarchy in which you’ll learn a little more about some of the most important characters in the trilogy whose backgrounds and motivations are their own and deserve some more attention outside of Helena Woolf’s story.

Dreams of Darkness

Here’s the blurb for the first of the series, The Fox’s Hope. I hasten to add that it’s a complete novel though, so don’t worry that you’ll discover a world in which you’ll be left feeling unsatisfied.

Millennia ago, man walked the Dream with creatures now dimly remembered in myths and legends. Then came the Darkness, for which all believe man was responsible. To defeat it, man was banned from the Dream, cast out into the world of dumb matter.

Chris Elkin knows nothing of this – he’s more concerned with failing his degree, being dumped by his girlfriend and losing access to the inheritance left to him by his late mother. When his mother’s best friend gives him a stone with a hole in it everything seems to change. Suddenly he’s being forced from his home and discovering that if he doesn’t deal with his mother’s legacy, both worlds will go to war.

On the edge of the Dream, Maela, a Fae ambassador, finds humanity flouting the ban. She travels home to warn her people but her news is not welcome. Maela is sent to determine if man truly is to blame for the Darkness and if he is, to unite the Fae in a war against all mankind.

Shaal, an ancient fox spirit, is a survivor who mourns the loss of his lover in the last war. He still haunts the shattered lands where they once lived. Stumbling across a deliberately forgotten memory. Shaal wants to return home and use its power to restore his land. Instead he finds the Fae want what he has and will sacrifice thousands to get it.

Chris, Maela and Shaal converge in a climactic battle against those forces who would wipe out mankind to stop the Darkness.  Even if they win, shadowing the edges of their confrontation, the Darkness is plotting its first moves.

Dreams of Darkness is an epic fantasy spread across our world and the world of the Dream, that place where all our myths, all our legends are real. It is the first book of a new Epic Fantasy series, The Fox’s Hope and asks, if all our dreams are true, what would happen if our two worlds collide?

The Fox’s Hope

I can finally come with some awesome news. As of this weekend I sold my novel, Dreams of Darkness to Ticketyboo Press. I can’t tell you just how jump around the room happy I am with this news.

Ticketyboo are a great outfit with some great authors on their lists.

What’s more amazing is that they’ve also taken the 2nd and 3rd books in the series as well. Dreams of Darkness is a standalone novel but it builds a world in which there is a much greater tale to tell and I’m delighted to get the chance to write that larger story and see it come into print. The series, in case you haven’t guessed from the title of the post, is called The Fox’s Hope.

I’ll be posting some pieces about the main characters, the world and the ideas over the next few weeks but this post is just to say….YIPEEEE!

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