A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend two bookish events in London, both amazing and unique in their own rights. Knowing that, despite many invitations, Mark can almost never make it to such gatherings, I usually try my best to report back to him after each occasion, telling him all about who was there, what happened and I even pick up a book for him when I can. I always work on the assumption that my reflections on such things would be of little interest to anyone else, but for once I decided to share some of it here and see if there’s any demand for such a thing.
Despite my original plan I’m running somewhat late writing this post, that is all down to being incredibly busy these last few weeks, trying to cough my lungs out following a chest infection, but I will try to describe the events the best I remember.
On 29th April I met up with several members of the Fantasy-Faction Book Discussion Group, hobbits, elves, dwarves, wizards… um I mean, (*turns down LOTR soundtrack*) readers, bloggers, booksellers, authors at Waterstone’s Gower Street branch. It is a formidable bookstore, also known for being Europe’s largest academic/specialist range bookshop, but it’s also cosy and full of character, occupying five floors in an old Georgian building at the heart of London’s university quarter. Fantasy-Faction, apart from its fantastic website and forum, also has a very friendly, 5000 members strong public Facebook group, which I can absolutely recommend to anyone who loves SFF.
At the event I finally got to meet and talk with Dean Clark. Dean set up his online bookshop, The Quill and Claw, following a growing number of requests from people who couldn’t make it to events and book signings, but would have liked to own signed/dedicated copies of their favourite books. I recently purchased from them two copies of the limited edition Red Sister UK hardback with black-edged pages and was very happy with the delivery.
It was also very nice to meet Shaun Rippon, one of the biggest Terry Pratchett fans I know (and also a fantastic teacher), Michael Miller, whose book, The Dragon’s Blade, won best cover in Mark’s SPFBO, book blogger Peter Hutchinson, who runs the excellent ‘Grimdark Files’, GR Matthews, fantasy author and staff writer at Fantasy-Faction.com, Mariëlle Ooms-Voges, who came to the event all the way from the Netherlands, Bridie Roman, who’s a really sweet and fun person, also reviewed Red Sister in the June issue of SFX magazine and gave it 4.5 stars, (as far as I know this being the first review of a Mark Lawrence novel in SFX) and of course, Marc Aplin, founder of Fantasy-Faction and organiser of the event. There were also many others who I didn’t really get to talk to much on this occasion, but hopefully will have the chance next time!
Following a few hours of easy chatting we headed over to the Kensington branch to watch a conversation with Robin Hobb and Peter Newman, led by Marc, himself. Peter Newman, author of The Vagrant series, also known as Latimer in the Hugo nominated Tea & Jeopardy podcast, is a fantastic speaker and it’s always a joy to sit in and listen to any panels he’s part of. Robin Hobb, who needs no introduction, was in London promoting the final book of the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, that is such a stunning looking volume, that I had to get one even if I only just recently finished Royal Assassin. She happens to very much like Mark’s books and is kind enough to recommend them to readers often on social media. Mark, also a fan of Robin’s books, had been invited to various events in the past where they could have met, but due to his difficult family circumstances unfortunately he was never able to make it. Having had to pass on this occasion, too, he sent her a dedicated and doodled copy of Red Sister with me, which I presented Robin with during the signing at the end of the event. Mission accomplished I was happy to report back how delighted she seemed with the present and couldn’t help thinking how much it suddenly felt like I’ve just Skilled to the king.
I also managed to have a few words with Jane Johnson at the event, who has worked with Robin Hobb on the series since the very first Fitz and the Fool manuscript was submitted over 20 years ago. She told me how proud she was of her and how rare a thing this was these days, when people didn’t tend to stay too long in the same jobs anymore. I also happen to know that she recently finished editing Mark’s Broken Empire short stories which HarperVoyager UK is publishing in print at the end of the summer. I’m pleased to let you know that apart from the original ten stories that were available in the electronic version, there will be four additions: ‘No other Troy’, which originally appeared in the Broken Empire Omnibus published by Grim Oak Press, “The Weight of Command”, a story featuring brother Burlow and brother Sim, “Escape”, a story about the Nuban, and a Jalan short story titled ‘Three is the Charm”!
Jane, who’s a fantastic author herself and whose novels both Mark and I tend to very much enjoy, also has a new book coming out this summer, ‘Court of Lions’, which I’m quite looking forward to.
All in all, it was a very pleasant day, but only some days later, once I saw photos and videos on social media about the long queue in the rain outside of London’s Forbidden Planet at the Robin Hobb book signing did I realise just how lucky and privileged we were. We didn’t have to queue outside, we got to sit comfortably and enjoy ourselves with sufficient book supplies for all of us. I must say, I’ve been to a couple of Fantasy-Faction events so far and was never disappointed. They always look after us.
On the eve of 4th May I attended the Spellslinger launch in the beautiful 18th century brick-vaulted crypt of the St Martin-in-the-fields Church. Spellslinger is the first book in Sebastien de Castell’s new series, featuring a young protagonist who discovers that despite expectations given his imposing family background, his magical abilities are considerably lacking. And not only is he not the chosen one, but unlike his sister or his friends he’s struggling to even pass his school exams which would allow him to take his rightful place in society. What’s more, he soon finds out that he needs to face challenges far beyond the curriculum. I have to say I almost finished reading it since and I like it a lot, it’s very good.
The event itself had to be the most stylish, coolest book launch I’ve ever been to. And not just because it was held in a crypt with historic tombstones beneath our feet. We had actors dressed as characters from the story mingling with us, acting out scenes including magic duels, and hostesses appearing every five minutes with decorative trays of delicious canapes. There were magic tricks, card tricks, a table full of promotional books and cards, and of course there was wine and candlelight providing a fitting atmosphere to the evening.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by Sebastien’s publicist, the lovely Sohpie Goodfellow, (who perhaps because of Brasti Goodbow sounds as if she just stepped out of Sebastien’s Greatcoats series) and was soon joined by Sue Armitage, who I knew from online fantasy circles, but we’ve never met before. We had a good chat, I took some photos and before long I spotted even more familiar faces as fantasy author John Gwynne and his family arrived. Despite it being only the second time I met them, (the first being the launch of Wrath last November), it felt as if I had known them for much longer than that. They are such kind, friendly and down-to-earth people, I instantly feel like I’m part of the family whenever I’m with them. In fact, and doubtless this will make them laugh when they read it, but the way they are as a family, how much they support each other and are there for each other, has always very much reminded me of how I imagined the Weasleys in Harry Potter. ANYHOW! Moving on… John is also very good friends with Sebastien and rumour has it there will be a character named after John Gwynne in an upcoming Sebastien de Castell book! Best keep an eye out for this and see if you can spot it is all I’m saying…
At the end of the event I picked up a copy of Spellslinger for Mark, too and asked Sebastien to dedicate it for him, and as Sebastien already mentioned a few times how much he wanted to read Red Sister (see his interview on Fantasy-Faction, for example), you can guess what he got from me as part of his publication day present… 😉
So… this is all from me for now. And now that I finished this blogpost I shall go and read the end of Spellslinger so I can give my full attention afterwards to Tyrant’s Throne, the closing volume of what became one of my favourite fantasy series ever, The Greatcoats! Bring it on, you glorious musketeers of fantasy fiction!