I realised this morning that I’ve known Jen Williams for something like ten years, maybe even longer, which is more than a little alarming. We met on an online forum my wife used to run for fans of the TV series Spaced – both Jen and I were writing bits and bobs, and we shared ideas on the forum, but then time marched on, the forum faded away, and I moved to the UK.
And then we found each other on Twitter, and discovered we were both still writing. So we wrote and we talked and we made big plans.
And Jen is a fantastic writer. Her short stories make me weep with envy, and her novels are just as good. Yesterday it was announced she had signed to Headline for a fantasy trilogy, starting with The Copper Promise in Spring 2014. I’m delighted her work has found such a good home!
Over to Jen…
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last few years, it’s that everyone’s path to publication is different. Some writers assail the mountain on a troupe of hardy goats, sipping buttery tea and eating elvish bread; some fly in, clinging to the gnarly talons of giant eagles; a few may burrow up from the rocky centre of the world, utilizing a team of fearsomely clawed mega-moles. And some of us trip over the mountain accidentally.
The path that led to The Copper Promise, and ultimately its hugely exciting home at Headline, started with a question:
“Do you have anything longer I could read?”
The thing was, I’d been writing and releasing a few short horror stories here and there, and they’d even attracted a few readers. The answer to the question was yes, of course; I’d written a few books, but they were all in varying stages of gruesome edits and certainly weren’t suitable for public consumption just yet.
So I started thinking about writing a novella, a quick and breezy story I could pop up online for people to read, and then I could say: “Look, I am capable of writing longer things. And it’s not all about people eating other people.” (My short stories do seem to tend towards cannibalism. Clearly it’s an issue.) I thought it would be fun to write some rip-roaring fantasy, the sort of fantasy that might have hung around with Fritz Leiber and David Gemmell in a tavern, snorting ale through its nose laughing at their jokes and generally misbehaving. I threw myself into it, gave it a title I actually rather liked, and proceeded to have a high old time writing it.
And then a strange thing happened: I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the characters – with Wydrin and her lack of table manners and her skill with a dagger – and I fell in love with their world, which was magical and odd and full of lots and lots of places I really wanted to go and look at.
The novella, I realised, wasn’t a novella at all. It was two, maybe three novellas. Or maybe it was more than that. In the end, The Copper Promise grew to be a rather sizable tome, and it was honestly the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. And it was all rather accidental.
The first part did go up online for people to read, but I was lucky enough that the novella attracted some interesting attention, and the amazing and terrifyingly wise Juliet Mushens, who I can only describe as a Super-Agent, took me on as a client. This was just before Christmas. I was over the moon, and frankly, stunned. It was supposed to be a novella, I muttered to myself over the turkey and crackers. It was a breezy little thing.
Juliet, who by her very presence tends to improve things, gave me a list of notes and I went in for another edit. Those future books, the ones beyond The Copper Promise that had previously been just a gleam in my eye, went from being possibilities to realities, and what a joy that was, to know that I would have further adventures with Wydrin and the gang. And now I know that thanks to the awesome John Wordsworth at Headline, I will be able to share them with likeminded fantasy fans. Brilliant.
So, I offer a random piece of writing advice. Not something I would normally do, mind, as most writing advice needs to be taken with giant mounds of salt, since writers are all naturally liars and infinitely varied in their ways, but I feel like it sums up my experience neatly.
Remember always that your path will be different to everyone else’s path. You might climb the mountain with the aid of a wizard and a number of amusingly named dwarves, or you might travel there on a tripped-out steampowered sky-whale; either way, the journey is your own.
Jen’s website and blog are here, and you can find her on Twitter as @sennydreadful.