What could be better than being able to read the first chapter of True Fire for free? Apart from coffee? And beer? And cats? And afternoon naps? And a guitar riff gripping your soul? And a smile from a beautiful woman? Apart from all that. And many others. Why it’s being able to read the second chapter of True Fire for free over on Wattpad. So, grab a beer, position a cat in optimal-lap position, and enjoy.
Thanks to all who entered and helped promote the True Fire Giveaway. The winners should receive their prizes in the next week or two.
For those of you who didn’t win, you can read the first chapter over at Wattpad. And there’ll be more chapters to read for free over the next few weeks.
To celebrate the first few months of True Fire‘s release, I’m giving away five copies to Goodreads members here in the UK. It’ll run from midnight on 11 August to midnight 18 August.
Megan: You know what you want and you’re not going to let anything stop you: distance, armies, rationality…
Eleanor: You might be pass the first flush of youth, but you still like to party. On your own if necessary. No one disses your friends: that’s your job.
Damon: You’ve seen many things in your short life, usually from over your shoulder as you’re running away. You may have hidden depths but, if so, you’re hiding them from everybody. Including yourself.
Silas: You’ve been cleaning up — unappreciated — after other people for years, but you secretly love it. You only share your booze on special occasions.
Father Galan: You have the satisfaction of knowing God is on your side and, if He fails, an army battalion. You like the good things in life — at least three times a day.
Lynette: You prefer to be left alone but when called upon you’ll do the right thing. The absolute minimum right thing, but it’s the reluctant thought that counts, eh?
Captain Landon: You refuse to take part in quizzes unless paid.
Gwyneth: Oh dear.
Any Other Character: You are often forgotten. Even by your creator.
It was a girl who started it. Isn’t it always? I’d been writing since my teens — bad superhero parodies — but it was a bid to exorcise the demons of a relationship that never was that inspired me to write my first serious novel. It was your usual story — boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy goes insane trying to find girl, boy meets girl again during a drug bust at a student party, boy realises he and girl were better of apart — and it was kind of boring. So boring it was almost literary. Not surprisingly, no one was interested.
This was in my early twenties, while I was doing my PhD. As time moved on, as it is wont to do, and I moved from academia to industry, I kept writing and experimenting with different forms: novels, novellas, short stories, screen plays, radio plays (never poetry, though, I never sunk that low). Sometimes this was with the intention of being published, sometimes not. The result was the same. No one saw them. Just as well, with their dullness and clunkiness and general unreadability. But occasionally, very occasionally, I received something more than a form rejection, something that persuaded me, or conned me, into thinking I might have something.
Come my mid thirties, I settled into a pattern. Every winter I’d write a novel, rewrite it over the spring, try to sell it in the summer, brood over the rejections in the autumn. Still, I felt I was getting better. I no longer had to read my own stuff through my fingers. An agent asked for a full manuscript (wouldn’t sell to women, apparently). A diversion into romance yielded the sale of a novella, though calling it a ‘sale’ is possibly optimistic, (I still have a pile of uncashed royalty cheques for embarrassingly low amounts in US dollars). I sold an adult thriller about a mentally disturbed supermodel terrorist (to a fuckwit of a publisher, from whom I had to wrestle back the rights). Then I had the idea for True Fire (née The Witch Mothers). It was a fantasy without the fantasy, with two strong female leads. It explored ideas about politics and religion and abortion and the nature of truth. It had excitement, emotion, some half-decent jokes. It couldn’t fail to garner attention.
Of course it could fail.
Then, as I was kicking my heels amidst the literary tumbleweeds, an agent requested the full manuscript. A nervous six weeks followed. A weekend in London had me wondering whether I should stalk her offices (note, this will lead to instant rejection and court orders). Not a yes, but not a no. Revisions were suggested: more description and flavour to the world I’d created; smooth out the plot; get more into Megan’s head; stop being lazy and name things. We hammered it into a sellable book, I was taken on as a client, and The Witch Mothers sent out to editors. I was unprepared for the response. I was in the unprecedented, for me, position of having to reject publishers. And after two decades of rejection I felt awfully guilty about that.
There’s nothing fantastical in True Fire. There’s no magic, no spells, no mythical beasts whose structure defies the laws of physics. There are no ghosts or vampires or malevolent spirits. No one flies, or survives fire, or comes back from the dead. As for God — or gods —whether He exists is a matter for debate on their world as it is ours. Everything is mundane, down to earth, or down to Werlavia, at least. If it wasn’t for the fact it occurs on another planet, the story could have been set in Europe five hundred years ago.
Why is this? When I first came up with the idea, the witches were indeed returned demons — strange creatures who solidified out of the ground and stalked around menacingly. This sat uneasy with my inner scientist and atheist. Why did I need a supernatural threat? Wasn’t that giving credence to the fact the supernatural exists no matter how much you shout, “It’s a metaphor!”? There’s nothing that gets my eyes rolling faster than when someone claims you need magic in your life, as if believing in religion or its feckless cousin, spirituality, automatically grants superiority. But a fantasy story needs fantastical elements. Doesn’t it?
While commentators can sometimes fail to see beyond dragons and wizards, fantasy deals with the same things as every other area of literature: people. Their needs, their desires, their interactions; who they love, who they hate; how they cope when chaos and disaster crash into their lives. The supernatural can be lurking in the background (A Song of Ice and Fire), ever present (Dungeons and Dragons), or remembered when it’s convenient (The Lord of the Rings). Strip this gilding from fantasy and what do you have? A medieval setting, when knights were bold and no one gets old. Still interesting? It is if you believe people are interesting. This still left me with a problem: I still had to find out what the witches were, where they got their power, and just whey they were hell-bent on vengeance.
The end of the medieval period in Europe brought the two Rs: the Renaissance and the Reformation. The former provided a massive leap in learning and discovery; the latter broke the grip of an overweening, dogmatic church. Here I had my themes: science and religion. Not warring — I wasn’t interested in writing a gospel either secular or theological — but lurching in tandem into the unknown. Science gives them the witches their strength but it’s religion that drives them. And Megan has to find a way to tackle both.
So why bother writing this story as a a fantasy? Creating your own world, your own civilisation, allows you to strip away the complications of real life and concentrate on what you’re interested in — metaphor, remember? — and it also avoids denigrating one section of our society at the expense of another. Plus world-building is fun, and one of the reasons we write is to enjoy ourselves (and to Create Art). This is where the fantasy lies in True Fire, but there’s nothing in Werlavia that couldn’t happen on Earth.
I should stress I’m not against the fantastical or disparaging those who write or read it. I’ve enjoyed much fantasy over the years in various media and aware it’s written by people much, much more talented than me. I just wanted to write my story on my terms, according to my beliefs. And make a few jokes along the way.