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February 2011
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PK Interview: Mark Charan Newton (Part 3)

Our week's worth of interview with Mark Charan Newton is, sadly, coming to an end.

Previously, we discussed his start as a writer and Nights of Villjamur (Monday) and City of Ruin and The Book of Transformations (Wednesday). In the final portion of the interview, we moved the conversation to something near and dear to both our hearts: the blogosphere.

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Bentham's Panopticon You’ve got a close relationship with the UK genre “blogosphere” - five minutes on your site (or the dedication to City of Ruin) gives it all away. Just so our definitions are straight, what do you mean by the term “blogosphere”?

And back to our original discussion about starting out as a writer - what sort of support can a new author get from it?

Blogosphere: basically, the bunch of folk who champion fantasy fiction to a wide online audience. They’re more important than review sites because they’re based around community, and that’s what the internet (and championing books) is about. Review sites are worthless in terms of enthusing about books and communicating with readers (they’re niches of niches, talking to a specialist audience). By all means they can do their things – and I am interested, often, in what they have to say, but it’s the bloggers who are dynamic, engaged, having conversations in many places, get off their arses to book launches or just to have fun. They’re talking (as a hivemind) to a vast audience.

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New Releases: Romanitas by Sophia McDougall

RomanitasRomanitas was first published in 2005 with the sort of ominous photographic cover that's normally reserved for thriller novels starring feisty coroners. Plus, it was written by a woman, so obviously it wasn't genre fiction.

I clearly wasn't the only one that got confused. I wound up picking it up in an airport bookshop - one of those "Hudson News"-type stands that only has a dozen titles (mostly business books and the latest ghost-written autobiographies). If I'd told the bored gum-chewing clerk that he was stocking science fiction, he would've... well... continued to ignore me. But maybe his manager would've called the head office in a panic. Who knows?

Anyway, Romanitas came out in 2005, but, in one of those bonkers situations that only happens in publishing and 3-D films, Romanitas got repackaged this year in advance of the new novel (Savage City, out this May!). Not only did it get a new, ominous, illustrated cover), but it also got re-edited by the author.

Romanitas takes place in a world where the Roman Empire never fell. The Romans don't quite span the entire world (damn Nionians), but they're certainly doing their very best, and it makes for an entertaining sort of background - North America is pretty much a continent-wide DMZ.

While there's been an impressive amount of scientific progress (zippy trains, helicopters ("volucers"), television, a sort of telegraph/video-phone) a few of the familiar Roman institutions are still in place. That is, it is an Empire, complete with Emperor, and slavery is still thriving. Gladiatorial combat, crucifixition, togas, olives... all your standard Roman fare, but with the niceties of the 21st century. Imagine a world with both orgies and dental care. 

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PK Interview: Mark Charan Newton (Part 2)

We were extraordinarily pleased to capture a few words with Mark Charan Newton.

Previously, we discussed his start as a writer and Nights of Villjamur.

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As much as I respect what you did with Nights of Villjamur, I’ve already gone on record saying it was “rough around the edges” and, curiously, you’ve also suggested that "if anyone was going to read just one book of mine, I’d like it to be [City of Ruin]”. What happened between the two? Was it the progression of the story? Something in the process? Or something entirely within you?

City-of-Ruin I’ve looked back at Nights quite a bit and wondered what the difference was. I think – and still maintain this is the key point where it differed – that I tried to do too many things to please too many types of perceived audiences in my head. I tried to cater for the traditional fantasy audience with some more traditional characters; I tried to be a little too clever with dialogue that I think it fell flat for some. Also there was a lot of editorial work – I had to reduce the novel by a quarter, which was quite a challenge.

When it came to City of Ruin, I had my foot in the door and could do what I wanted. So I wrote what I wanted to read, not what anyone else might want to read. I just let go. If I wanted to mention porno golems, I was going to write about them. If I wanted a confrontational gay or a domestic abuse scene or a serial killer, I was going to do that. If I wanted half-vampyr gang lords, a huge monster made from the body-parts of the recently killed, or a giant spider, or whatever, I was going to do that. Plus I thought there were areas I wanted to improve – my depiction of females for one: I wanted them to – you know – not be walking, talking vaginas.

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Underground Reading: Legend by David Gemmell

Legend I have a theory... (that's your cue to skip the next few paragraphs) it involves the mid-80's and the fantasy scene. I'm not sure exactly what was in the water, but there's a two-ish year period between late 1983 and early 1985 that generated some of the most amazing sf/f. The sorts of books that broke new ground, proved immensely important and still dominate shelves.

(I'm also aware that fifteen minutes of research could probably prove the same point with any three year period. But indulge me, will you?)

The Colour of Magic, The Mists of Avalon, Ender's Game, The Name of the RoseNeuromancer, The Dragon Waiting, The Anubis Gates, The Armageddon Rag, The Digging Leviathan, The Tomb, Hawksmoor, The Wasp Factory, The Damnation Game (& "The Last Illusion"), The Belgariad, The Pliocene Epic, Fionavar Tapestry, Mordant's Need, The Dragonlance Chronicles, etc. etc. etc.

The total is pretty impressive. And I suspect, the internet being what it is, you could probably add a few more. From alternate history to urban fantasy, high fantasy to low fantasy, cyberpunk to steampunk, cross-over-literary-slipstream or flat-out-commercial - whatever your subgenre poison of choice, its genetic line runs right through this slice of time. Or possibly even begins with it.

David Gemmell's Legend (1984) belongs in the ranks of these immortals. When all is accounted for - when the great Horn of Asimov sounds and all dogs go to heaven - Legend will step up and take, if not its throne, at least a comfy footstool.

There. Now that I've acknowledged its importance, let's get to the fun part, shall we?

The thing is, just because a book is important doesn't mean it has to be any good. We all figured that out when suffering through Ralph Waldo Emerson in high school or, perhaps more recently, when doing a frantic re-read of A Game of Thrones. Legend is vastly significant for a lot of very legitimate reasons. But it also really sucks.

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PK Interview: Mark Charan Newton (Part 1)

We were extraordinarily pleased to capture a few words with Mark Charan Newton. As well as being the author of Nights of Villjamur, City of Ruin, The Reef and the upcoming The Book of Transformations, Mr. Newton is a prolific blogger and an insightful member of the UK's online sf/f "scene".

Once we captured him, we didn't want to let him go. What follows is the first of a three part interview.

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Starting at those distant pre-Villjamur days... Before Nights of Villjamur was released, you were already involved with books - first as a bookseller, than as an editor with Black Flame and Solaris. From my own time in a bookstore, everyone had a novel they were working on. Any advice on how to make this dream into a reality?

Nights of Villjamur-US Heh, yeah there were a lot of writers. Those were pretty good days though – I mean, I was surrounded by people who just wanted to talk about books and writing, so it was a creative environment to nurture those thoughts about doing it myself. I read a lot (we could borrow books at the time) and got a real flavour for new and interesting stuff.

Personally, I tried to write the kinds of things I couldn’t find on the shelf – and I hear a lot of writers do that. I mean, not so wild that it would be un-publishable, but I wanted to scratch my literary itch. At the time, that meant writing new weird-ish novels – which landed me an agent, but publishers weren’t interested in that kind of thing.

So, I think what I’m saying is – read and spend time in bookstores. Read because it’s good and healthy and useful to your own writing; get in to bookstores because that’s the business end of things. I was lucky enough to be able to watch the new titles come and go, as well as having an idea of what sold and bombed. Once you do that – just write and keep on writing.

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The Week that Was

Here's what happened this week on Pornokitsch - plus a few sneaky previews of the week to come:

And a huge congratulations is due to Lauren Beukes, whose Tentacle-winning Zoo City has been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke.

Next week we've got loads going on: more review, more Monsters & Mullets, more Robert Chambers (contain yourself) and the first of a set of interviews with some amazing people. 

Finally, on the super-exciting admin front you may have noticed that the site got a bit of a facelift. We've also made good on last week's promise to remove all the Amazon affiliate links & numeric rankings from our books. We'll be delinking the graphic novels reviews this week as well. Fight the power.