I first met Mark Charan Newton in Coventry, England, during a tour for one of my books from Pan Macmillan in, I believe, 2004 or 2005. Mark worked at the local bookstore, and had done a brilliant job of helping set up for the event. We had a great meal at an Indian restaurant. (If I remember right, it was Mark and George Mann and my wife Ann, editor of Weird Tales, so, present company excepted, there was quite a lot of talent in the room!)
During the meal, Mark mentioned that he was working on a novel. A lot of people are "working on a novel," so I must admit I made polite noises and didn't pay it much mind. But, then, over the years, it became clear that this guy was for real. He finished one novel, then another, kept plugging away, always improving and always fiercely determined. Now, that determination has paid off, with a multi-book deal both in the United Kingdom and North America. Nights of Villjamur, the first secondary world fantasy in Newton's Legends of the Red Sun series. The novel shares some affinities with the work of, among others, China Mieville, and will be published by Random House this week.
The novel has already received its fair share of good review in the UK, and on this side of the Atlantic, Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, writing, "Newton opens a complex epic fantasy series with this impressive debut. The ancient fortress city of Villjamur is filled with human and nonhuman inhabitants, many of them refugees seeking shelter from a predicted decades-long ice age. The untimely death of the mad emperor Jamur Johynn forces his unworldly elder daughter, Rika, to assume the throne as her sister, Eir, gains a perspective beyond her palace walls and the members of the council make their own power plays. War and religious conflicts as well as more personal matters of desires for power and immortality set the scene for acts of compassion and betrayal. Newton handles his multilayered world and diverse cast of characters with the assurance of an experienced author and balances his fantasy tropes with elements of horror and political commentary in vividly descriptive, compelling prose."
All of this week Mark will be guest blogging. Here's the first of his entries...
From bookseller to book writer
by Mark Charan Newton
Mark Charan Newton was born in 1981, and has a degree in Environmental Science. He has worked in bookselling, in editorial roles for pulp horror and medial tie-in fiction, and then original science fiction and fantasy, helping set up the Solaris imprint. His first novel isNights of Villjamur, published by Ballantine (Random House). He now lives and works in Nottingham, England.
I used to work for a British book chain, and in my particular store I had the enviable task of being the science fiction and fantasy buyer. For a fan, can there be any better job? I could parade up and down the shelves, flicking through the pages, seeing new books come in before anyone else, and talk with the passionate readers who would frequent the section.
There was one key benefit of my working in a bookstore "“ no matter how many wonderful books there were in my section, and after having my imagination spiked by reading China MiÃ©ville's The Scar, I found there was a particular kind of book that just didn't exist. It's difficult to say describe this genre lacuna. As a reader, there was a lack of true spark, be it thematically, or in the aesthetics of a secondary world. Surrounded by books, I couldn't find The One, so I decided to write that book.
Then it got rejected from numerous publishers.
With experience on the frontline, I took a sideways step from bookselling into an editorial role, first working with pulp horror and media tie-ins, and then helping to set up genre imprint Solaris. I got to chat to some amazing authors, and travel the world to conventions, meeting legends of the industry. I was in geek heaven, but I still wanted to keep it very separate to my own writing, which continually got rejected "“ I'm aware nepotism exists in any industry, but if I cheated at getting published, I'd ultimately be cheating myself.
But the one thing that working in bookselling and publishing taught me was that you're not writing in a vacuum. Publishing, whether we like it or not, is a business - and publishers have to make money, which is not to say they can't be radical, but that there are costs involved, wages to pay, and margins are tight. Publishers must be sure that they're going to sell some copies of a book, and I was writing weird stuff, too weird for many tastes.
I had a face-to-face chat with my agent, who said "If you keep writing what you're writing, you'll never get accepted."
"What kind of thing should I write about?" I asked.
"Cities," he eventually replied. "There seems to be a trend towards building fantasy novels around cities."
I wasn't too proud to ignore such an observation - I understood that if I wanted to get published, I had to restrain my out-and-out weirdness and eccentricities "“ not to sell out, but just realise that what I was writing had to please more people than just myself. It's tough out there. For new writers, you get all sorts of statistics thrown at you about the chances of getting published. You're told not to even bother trying. Even as a bookseller I knew how few new authors were published each year, and from editorial work, just how many were submitting books.
I wrote that book on cities. It's called Nights of Villjamur, which was published last year in the UK, and is about to be published by Random House (Ballantine). I'm being treated as an equal by people whose name I remember from piling their books on tables. I'm a fan who made it to the inside. But what I found was interesting: the inner sanctum of authors were all fans, too, and it's what makes the genre such a pleasure. From editors to publicists, from reviewers to booksellers "“ everyone has such a passion for these books, more than you'd get for any other genre.
So now I can walk into a book store, and see my books on the shelf, or on piles on tables "“ or I can browse online and see the cover art staring back at me "“ and feel proud that I finally made it. And also, I know to pity the poor booksellers and delivery guys who have to lug around the heavy boxes that they came in.