Audiobook reviews and an Event

First off, I have been asked by Amazon KDP if I’d like to be part of their forthcoming event in Edinburgh on May 23rd, to which I of course said, “I’d LOVE it!” I might have picked them up wrong but it seems they want me to be part of a panel giving advice to aspiring authors, rather like I did with them at the London Book Fair in 2014 (read about that incredible, and often humourous experience HERE). So, if you are in Scotland and can make it to the EICC on May 23rd, please come along and say hello – I will be taking copies of one of my books to sign and give away to interested parties!

Some more info HERE – I believe you need to sign up but tickets are free.

Right, enough of that. Onto some reviews of my latest Audible purchases….

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I was a spotty teenager when I first discovered The Sword of Shannara more than 25 years ago. My friend was given it as a birthday gift and oh, how I laughed at him for being a geeky nerd twat!

Until he let me borrow it and I thought it was just the best book anyone had ever written.

It was my gateway into fantasy and, although now I can see it’s basically a total rip-off of Lord of the Rings, it’s still an excellent read/listen. The parallels with JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece are blatant and legion (Flick & Shea = Frodo & Sam, Gimli = Hendel, Aragorn = Balinor, Gandalf =Allanon, Nazgul =Skull Bearers etc etc), but Brooks is, or at least was, a fantastic writer and I highly recommend this to everyone. My only reservation is the bizarre amount of times he describes characters as “lean”. It seems everyone that populates this world, from the giant druid Allanon to the lowliest goblin, is “lean”. They have lean frames, lean faces, lean figures…They could all do with a good feed from the sounds of them.

But I digress, it matters little to the overall experience, and this is one of the most enjoyable audiobooks I’ve listened to so far. Scott Brick isn’t perfect for fantasy narration – I liked him way better in Asimov’s sci-fi Foundation series – but he does a fine job here, even if his pronunciation of “Shannara” is irritating at first and he sometimes gives Flick a weird Dick Van Dyke-style cockney accent.

It’s a really long book so it represents great value for your monthly credit!

My rating – 5 / 5, easy!

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Writing Great Fiction – The Great Courses

I enjoy listening to lectures for some reason and this seemed like it would be an ideal way for me to learn a few new tricks while I drive around at work.

To be honest, and I’m not blowing my own trumpet here, I think this is probably aimed more at real beginners who’ve yet to pen a novel or publish even a short story. I found the lectures interesting although I’m unfamiliar with the vast majority of the books the professor uses as examples. They’re mostly all classics but I grew up on fantasy and sci-fi and now concentrate on historical fiction so I’ve not read The Maltese Falcon or Dickens or Melville but it doesn’t matter, you get the point of the lectures regardless.

The overall theme seems to be: “I’m not saying this is the right way or the wrong way to write because different authors forge their own path.” In other words, there might be rules most authors will stick to but they’re there to be bent and broken so, do what you like.

If you’re looking for some concrete ways to write a best-seller this isn’t for you. It IS, however, an interesting and entertaining listen and I’ve enjoyed it so give it a shot.

Rating – 3.5 / 5

That’s it for now I’m afraid. I have a few other new books in my library including the next two in the Dune series, a history of the decline of the Roman Empire, and an Aleister Crowley biography but I’ve either not finished those or not started them yet. I’ve been listening to too much AC/DC recently after buying myself a Gibson SG Standard and rediscovering my once-favourite band!

Keep it tuned here for more audiobook reviews and news on the release date of my final Forest Lord novella, The Abbey of Death which is all finished….

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The Forest Lord series – complete reading order

Rather embarrassingly, I recently said my new short story “The Escape” should be read after Rise of the Wolf, when it should actually come after The Wolf and the Raven.

DOH.

You’d think I’d know my own stories by now, but, in my defence, they’ve been written over the past four years at different times and the shorts in particular all have similar names!

So I thought I’d post a recommended reading order, along with the dates they’re set in, just to keep you (me) right.

This is how I suggest you read them:

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Knight of the Cross -1309  This one can really be read any time but I think it’s best to meet the characters of Sir Richard and Stephen in Wolf’s Head before moving onto this spin-off novella.

The Wolf and the Raven  – 1322

“The Escape” – 1323

Rise of the Wolf – 1323

Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil – 1323

“The Prisoner” – 1325

“The Rescue” – 1325     Get it HERE for FREE! This is the only place it’s available.

Blood of the Wolf – 1326

The Abbey of Death – 1328 (not released yet, but it’s due very soon!)

 

complete series

 

 

The Escape by Steven A. McKay – Review

Fab review of the new short!

David's Book Blurg

Title – The Escape: A Forest Lord Short Story
Author – Steven A. McKay
Genre – Historical Fiction
Length – 19 Pages
Publication – 3rd April 2017
My Rating – 5/5 Stars

Synopsis

All he wanted was a quiet drink…

It’s spring, 1323 AD, and John Little, notorious outlaw, seeks to forget his troubles in a Barnsley alehouse. He didn’t count on the place being packed to the rafters with drunk, belligerent Scottish mercenaries though.
The locals all respect – even fear John – but the strangers from the north only see in him the chance to claim a great bounty.
When the hard stares and furtive whispers turn into explosive violence the chase is on. Without any of his famous friends to help him though, will it mean the end for the giant outlaw?

This new stand-alone Forest Lord tale sees one of England’s favourite sons in a battle for his very life…

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The Escape – out NOW on Kindle!

My short story, “The Escape” is now available as a Kindle Single, for just 99p/99c (if it’s still showing as £1.99/$2.99 then hold off for a day or so and the price will come down)*. It can be read as a stand-alone tale but for my regular readers it is best enjoyed between The Wolf and the Raven and Rise of the Wolf.

Here’s the link –

getBook.at/TheEscape

Please share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter etc and, if you enjoy it, please leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads etc!

All he wanted was a quiet drink…FINAL

My final Forest Lord novella, The Abbey of Death is in the final polishing stage but is just about ready to go. It clocks in at over 30,000 words so a fair bit longer than either Knight of the Cross or Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil. Look out for it soon, and find out how Will’s time as a Benedictine monk pans out!

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Finally, don’t forget Wolf’s Head is FREE for Amazon Prime members in the USA for a time, so tell your friends about it!

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* As “The Escape” is part of Amazon’s Kindle Singles program I don’t have control over the pricing the way I usually do, so it might be more expensive in places like Canada and Australia. Sorry!

Wolf’s Head is FREE on Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime member in the USA? Get Wolf’s Head completely FREE then!

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I am a Prime member in the UK, hoping Amazon roll this out in the other countries as well.

Furthermore, my next Kindle Single short story, “The Escape” should be out within the next few days so look out for that! The cover art is really atmospheric.

Ian Graham, author of Monument, Q&A

I’m VERY pleased to be joined today by a really fantastic writer, Ian Graham. I reviewed one of his two new books a couple of days ago HERE, and now I get to ask him some questions about his work. Read on and enjoy!

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Hi Ian, thanks for joining me for this short interview today. I’ve been a fan of yours for years now so it’s been a joy to finally get hold of your second book. Going back to that first book, though, why did you decide to write about an anti-hero in Monument?

Hi Steven. Oddly enough, I didn’t consciously decide to write about an anti-hero. During the writing of Monument, Ballas didn’t strike me as exceptionally unpleasant at all; I suppose that I was considering more his virtues – determination, resilience, physical competence – than his vices. Of course, I wasn’t quite so oblivious as to fail to recognise that he was fairly unwholesome in many respects, but I was generally preoccupied with his admirable qualities; also, knowing that his childhood had been harrowing, I was inclined to regard him with a certain degree of sympathy.

Only when the book was released, and reviews started to appear, did I realise that Ballas appeared a much darker character to readers than he did to me, which was a great – and gratifying – surprise.

 

How did you plan it out before you started writing? I mean, Ballas is such a bastard yet, somehow, you managed to make readers empathise enough with him that they were rooting for him and reading right until the end of the book to see what happened. It must have been incredibly difficult to strike that balance so people didn’t just throw down the book in disgust at his behaviour.

Monument is the only book I more or less improvised from start to finish. I began with a handful of loose ideas: the Penance Oak, the character of Ballas, and a (very) vague notion of an artefact called the Monument (I didn’t know what its function was, only that it was a device of great importance). Each day, I’d write a scene, or part of a scene, then spend time working out what I would write the following day. Nowadays, its seems an appallingly reckless way to work, but back then it felt completely natural. As I didn’t think of Ballas as being conspicuously unpleasant, I did not foresee any real problems regarding the readers’ empathy – beyond the usual ones, at least; if I had, Ballas might’ve turned out a softer – and less interesting – character. Sometimes, perhaps, it helps to be stupidly unaware of important things!

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Now, I should say, I read Monument years ago but I’ve been waiting eagerly for the next book from you. Finally, I found it (and another one!) just a couple of months ago. You had a gap of years between your first and second books – why?

After Monument, I became paralyzingly self-conscious when I sat down to write – and self-consciousness obliterates the vital naturalness of the creative process. This led to a catastrophic drop in confidence, and a hideous loss of perspective. I became hypercritical, and everything I wrote didn’t seem up to scratch. I’d show work to friends and other writers, but when I received positive feedback, I’d assume it arose from politeness or a desire to be encouraging. It was a long, grim period; I was writing every day, but getting nowhere. Of course, I still have a self-critical streak – most writers do, I think – but it’s largely under control, thank goodness.

Let’s just make things clear for people – Monument was your debut novel, but your two recent books Path of the Hawk (Books 1 and 2) are actually prequels to Monument. What made you go down that route and are you glad you did it like that?

The publishers asked if I’d consider writing a prequel – it was that simple – and I was more than enthusiastic about the idea. I’d often wondered what Ballas was like in the period between childhood and embittered middle age. I knew, roughly, how he had spent the time – that he’d been a soldier, then a member of the Hawks, Druine’s elite regiment. But how had his personality developed? What was he like before he sank into alcoholic hopelessness? Fortunately, when I started writing Path, I found that I had an instinctive feel for the younger Ballas, and didn’t have to go through a tricky process of “reverse engineering” the character back to his former self.

What would be your suggested reading order for the series?

As Monument and The Path of the Hawk can be read as standalone pieces, there is no necessity to read one before tackling the other. If someone starts with Monument, they’ll be catching Ballas at his lowest ebb; if they then move onto the prequel, they’ll get a good – and hopefully interesting – sense of what he once was, and exactly how far he had fallen by the time Monument takes place; within Path, there are hints of the unhappy direction his life will eventually take . . . Alternatively, if Path is read first, the reader may enjoy the shock of coming abruptly face-to-face with the reprobate version of Ballas.

I haven’t read Path of the Hawk Book 2 yet, so is that the end of the Ballas series, or will there be more from him? And will there be another long gap before you publish something new again? I hope not! What are you working on now, if anything?

I’d be delighted to write another Ballas book, but at present I’m working on a story set in a different world with a different cast of characters. With any luck, the new one should be finished before too long. I won’t say anymore about it; I’m one of those writers who feels that discussing a work-in-progress, no matter how vaguely, completely kills the desire to write it. Unusually for me, though, I plotted out the entire story before starting to put down the words; hopefully, this will prevent me from crashing into dead-ends or getting lost amongst plot-tangles . . .

What about your own reading tastes – who are your favourite authors? Monument was, of course, graced with a cover endorsement by the much-missed David Gemmell, were you a fan of his?

I’m fairly magpie-like in my reading tastes. When I’m working on a book, I avoid fiction as I find myself involuntarily adopting the stylistic traits of whoever I’m reading at the time; during such periods, I’ll read a lot of philosophy, psychology and occasional gobbets of history. Novelwise, though, there are so many writers I admire. My academic background is in the Romantic poets – Keats, Byron , Wordsworth et al; they made an enormous impact on me. But so did many other writers: Graham Greene, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Goethe, Borges, Gogol, Bulgakov . . . The list rolls on, endlessly. Within the genre, though, it was David Gemmell who had by far the largest impact on me. I think there are primarily two ways in which a writer can influence an aspirant: he can either make them realise which kind of fiction they want to write or, if they already know, they can show them how to go about it. With Gemmell, it was the latter: I already had an inkling of the type of fantasy I was keen on writing – in particular with regard to the realism of the characters – and when I read my first Gemmell novel – Morningstar – I thought, Ah, this is how it’s done! It was quite a revelation.

I was incredibly fortunate to know Dave in person. In the winter of 1992, I attended a five-day residential writing workshop at which Dave was the writer-in-residence. Afterwards, we stayed in touch, and I’d occasionally go to visit. He was a fountainhead of good advice and encouragement and, of course, is greatly missed.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers, old and new?

To the old readers, I’d say, Thanks for your patience! And to the new ones, I hope you enjoy the books – and try not to pick up any of Ballas’s bad habits . . .

Thanks for doing this Ian, I really appreciate it. It was a great pleasure to finally read more of Ballas, a character who truly stuck in my brain. You created a real classic in my opinion!

Bio: Ian Graham is a writer living in the north of England. The Path of the Hawk is a prequel to his first novel, Monument.

Website: iansgraham.net

One final note – a few people asked me (Steven) where to get Ian’s books in the USA as apparently they’re not available there. I’d suggest American readers track down the paperback versions from the Book Depository or Amazon UK as they are really worth reading!

“Path of the Hawk Book 1” by Ian Graham. Reviewed!

The Path of the Hawk

Book 1

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I’ll start this review by telling you Path of the Hawk is a prequel to a book called Monument that originally came out back about a decade ago. I read Monument years ago and it was so good that it truly lodged in my mind, particularly its main character, a real anti-hero called Anhaga Ballas. The legendary David Gemmell even endorsed it fer Gawd’s sake!

I’ve spent the intervening years looking for information about any more books by this guy Ian Graham who just seemed to write that one, fantastic, book then disappear completely.

Well, finally, in January of this year I half-heartedly searched Amazon for Ian’s name again and found out, to my delight, that he hadn’t just written one new book, but TWO.

So, noticing Path of the Hawk was just 99p on Kindle I bought it and eagerly dived in. I must point out, I haven’t read a novel in over a year – I just don’t have the time these days, but I made an effort for this. I really did love Monument that much!

Anyway, I’m very glad to say Path of the Hawk did not disappoint me at all. It tells the tale of Ballas’s days as part of an elite fighting unit (kind of a fantasy SAS or Navy SEAL) and, again, he’s not your usual clean-cut hero with a fairly well defined moral compass. Oh no, he kills people out of hand in brutal ways and basically doesn’t give much of a damn about anyone although he’s not as jaded and unfeeling as he was in Monument.

He has a couple of partners along with him for this adventure, as they seek to locate the source of some outlawed books and from beginning to end the action never really lets up. There’s a little side story but even that is full of action and some of it pretty gruesome too with a rather nasty biological/magical weapon described in horrible detail!

Even that seems tame compared to Ballas though, who is really an excellent protagonist. It’s interesting to see him feeling somewhat friendly towards one of his companions and I’m looking forward to Path of the Hawk Book 2 to see how his character progresses and comes closer to the drunken, bitter, nasty bastard he was in Monument.

The writing style is engaging and entertaining, the action fast paced and imaginative, and the characters interesting and well-drawn. The world they inhabit is detailed enough to feel real but not in the boring, overdone way some fantasy writers do.

Overall, this is an excellent fantasy read and a fine prequel to one of my favourite ever books.

Now I just need to find time out from researching my own new novel to read Path of the Hawk Book 2!

I will be doing a Q&A with Ian Graham within the next couple of days, so why not load up your Kindle with his three books and check back to see what he has to say about them all? You won’t regret it!

EDIT – check out that Q&A HERE now!

Final note – a few people asked me how to find Path of the Hawk in the USA and I’ve found out it’s not available as the publisher hasn’t put it out there! I’d suggest you find the paperbacks from the UK or email Orbit, the publishers, and tell them to get it sorted as these books deserve to find a huge audience.

Forest Lord birthday cake, check it out!

It was my 40th birthday a couple of weeks ago and, as a very cool surprise, my wife had this cake made for me. Just thought I’d share it with you all, I was really chuffed with it!

 

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And look out for my latest Kindle Single, the short story “The Escape”, which should be out within the next week or so! Some of you might have read an earlier version of this, but for the rest of you, here’s the blurb. I expect it to be 99p/99c. Cover reveal in a few days!

All he wanted was a quiet drink…

It’s spring, 1323 AD, and John Little, notorious outlaw, seeks to forget his troubles in a Barnsley alehouse. He didn’t count on the place being packed to the rafters with drunk, belligerent, Scottish mercenaries though.

The locals all respect – even fear John – but the strangers from the north only see in him the chance to claim a great bounty.

When the hard stares and furtive whispers turn into explosive violence the chase is on. Without any of his famous friends to help him, will it mean the end for the giant outlaw?

This new stand-alone Forest Lord tale sees one of England’s favourite sons in a battle for his very life that will hugely entertain all lovers of action and adventure!

Final cover for Abbey of Death. Like it?

Thank you to all who voted on my new cover!

The response was really fantastic – the best I’ve had so far from you guys here and also on my mailing list, so thanks, I really appreciate your help with this. I honestly expected there to be a clear winner but in the end it was about a 50/50 split with many saying they liked the cleaner lines without the rosary, while lots really liked the interest the beads added.
So…I asked my designers to come up with something I hope will appeal to EVERYONE! Check it out below, I think it’s the ideal blend of both previous covers.

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On another note now, Wolf’s Head (book 1 in the Forest Lord series of course) is just 99c on Kindle USA for a few days, and the German edition of Knight of the Cross (Ritter des Kreuzes) is only €0.89 as part of the Amazon.de #indielesefestival promotion.

Cheers all!

Cover reveal for Abbey of Death – which is your favourite?

Here’s the artwork for the final Forest Lord novella…

I really love this art! It goes with the Will Scarlet novella, The Abbey of Death, in which he, disillusioned with a life spent as a mercenary and outlaw, becomes a Benedictine monk. Obviously, though, things don’t go quite to plan and soon he’s called back into action….

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A                                                                      B

The cover on the left was the first version (A), but I thought it might be a nice little touch to have some bloody rosary beads so my designers added them and came up with the cover on the right (B).

But I’m not sure which is best! I am thinking the simplicity of A is probably going to work well but I wanted to ask you guys, my most loyal readers, what you think? Please comment below and let me know what you think, it will be a great help.

The novella is finished (first draft), I just need my editor to go over it now and then tidy it up so I’m expecting it to be available for Kindle and paperback by March or April. Audio version will hopefully follow soon after although I’m not sure about that just yet.

My brand new book, The Druid (working title), is coming along and I’m really loving writing it. Still hopeful it will be ready to publish sometime around late summer/autum this year. I think you’re all going to love it!

Have a great weekend!

Steven

OUT NOW!

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