British Fiction Focus

The Return of The Returned

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus,’s regular roundup of book news from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

In this edition, we go underground with S. L. Grey, the shared pseudonym of the South African authors Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg, who’ve just signed a new book deal with Julie Crisp on behalf of Pan Macmillan.

Clearly, Crisp been a particularly busy bee this week, because the Editorial Director of Tor UK has also pre-empted the rights to publish two books based on The Returned by Reviver’s Seth Patrick. A match made in heaven, or hell? As with everything related to this Scandinavian TV series, it’s too early to tell.

Last but not least, in Cover Art Corner, we feast our eyes on what might be the most appealing cover I’ve seen all year. The Gospel of Loki is Chocolat author Joanne M. Harris’s first adult fantasy, and it looks ab… solutely… beautiful.

Underground, Overground, Wombling Free

S L Grey Sarah Lotz

The Mall is to my mind one of the decade’s most original horror novels, and the sequel to S. L. Grey’s debut changed things up just enough that The Ward proved a perfectly memorable successor. The third volume of the Downside series came out this week, and in the course of reading it for review for, I learned that both of the South African authors behind said pseudonym had solo books due out here next year. Hodder & Stoughton plan to publish The Three by Sarah Lotz in May, and Louis Greenberg’s dystopian thriller, entitled Dark Windows, isn’t likely to be far behind.

This is indisputably good news—I for one will read both books as soon as proofs are produced—but to turn an old phrase on its face, every silver lining comes complete with a cloud, and given that Lotz and Greenberg are independently working on solo novels now, what, I wondered, might that mean for S. L. Grey? Would they be going away? Would The New Girl be the last trip we take downside for the time being?

S L Grey Louis Greenberg

Then, I had questions. This week, answers! Per the press release I received from the publisher of Adam Nevill and any number of other horror authors:

Pan Macmillan is thrilled to announce the acquisition of two S. L. Grey novels by Julie Crisp, Editorial Director at Tor UK, in a six-figure deal with agent Oli Munson, of AM Heath, after a hard-fought pre-Frankfurt auction. Rights have already been sold in Germany, France and Holland.

Crisp said of the deal: “I’m so excited to be able to welcome such a talented writing duo to Pan Macmillan. Underground took my breath away with its pacing, brilliant characterisation and tension-filled stand-off. It’s a nail-biting read for all the best reasons.”

A high concept thriller with overtones of Stephen King, Underground takes place in The Sanctum, a luxurious, self-sustaining survival condominium situated fifty feet underground in a remote location in rural Maine. It’s a plush bolt-hole for the rich and paranoid—a place where they can wait out the apocalypse in style.

When a devastating super-flu virus hits the States, several families race to reach The Sanctum. Among them are committed preppers, people who have invested a great deal of time and money preparing for any apocalyptic scenario. All the residents have their own motivations for buying into the development. All are hiding secrets. And when the doors lock and a death occurs, they realise the greatest threat to their survival may be trapped in the Sanctum with them…

The news, then, is both good and bad. To begin with the bad, it does indeed look like our time downside is finished for the foreseeable. For one thing, Greenberg refers to Underground as “our next novel” on Grey’s Books Live blog, and it isn’t due out till summer 2015. For another, a representative of the gruesome twosome’s previous publisher Corvus could not confirm that there would be more Downside books in the future.

But you know what? If I’m honest, I thought The New Girl was the least of the series so far, so in a sense I’m glad it’s taking a break, especially to make way for a new start with a new publisher—a publisher rather more genre-oriented than Corvus has become in the years since they signed S. L. Grey.

And what’s not to love about the early blurb above? As Greenberg blogs, “we wanted to come up with something fresh, but not lose the claustrophobic thrills our readers have become used to,” and the quick description does seem to dovetail prettily with that pitch.

To boot, both Greenberg and Lotz are clearly pretty pleased about the recent agreement:

Sarah Lotz said: “We’re both thrilled that a publisher with such a stellar reputation as Macmillan is so enthusiastic about our writing. It’s a real honour to join such an incredible list.”

And Louis Greenberg said: “As a reader and bookseller, I’ve always been a huge fan of Macmillan’s classily curated lists, so it’s a dream for me to make it into their stable as a writer. We heartily look forward to our future projects together.”

So there we are.


Cover Art Corner: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

Joanne M Harris The Gospel of Loki

You’d be forgiven for having forgotten—at the time, most Brits were too busy burning the witch, as it were, to pay any attention to press releases from publishers—but back in April, Orion announced “that it had secured world rights to The Gospel of Loki and one other novel by Chocolat author Joanne Harris in a ‘substantial’ six-figure deal.”

Determined not be distracted by the poisoned chalice of Margaret Thatcher’s passing, I talked a bit about the news in that week’s edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus, but at the time, we didn’t have a whole lot to go on. Well, I dare say we do today.

First things first, SFX recently revealed the cover… and isn’t it stunning?

The jacket art is by the incredibly talented Andreas Preis with additional design by Craig Fraser. Simply tremendous work, you two! This is a book I’d be interested in in any event, even if it had a dude with a hood on the cover, but I’m ever so chuffed that it doesn’t.

And by way of Gollancz’s blog, here’s the blurb:

Loki, that’s me.

Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s at least as true as the official version, and, dare I say it, more entertaining.

So far, history, such as it is, has cast me in a rather unflattering role.

Now it’s my turn to take the stage.

With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster.

Via SFX again, Gollancz are offering one lucky person the chance to win a copy of the proof fully four months before the final book is produced and published in late February 2014.

And hey, in case you were wondering where the Joanne Harris’s familiar middle initial came from, as I was—one last note, borrowed from the author’s blog, before we move on to the next nugget of news:

I thought it might be less confusing, both for me and for my readership, if I drew a line between my fantasy novels and the rest. And so I’m now bringing out my fantasy books under a different publisher, and the name Joanne M. Harris to distinguish them from my more mainstream titles. That doesn’t mean you have to choose between one and the other. Some of you enjoy both. That’s okay. So do I. (By the way, my middle name is Michèle. I’m not just copying Iain Banks.)


The Returned Returns

The Returned

These days, I stream most of the movies I watch, and what little television I take an interest in lives a short, series-linked life on my Sky box. The very idea of putting aside some time to catch this or that live is increasingly anathema to me, and I can only surmise that my viewing habits aren’t a great deal different from those of most folks.

The idea of appointment television, then, is dying, but The Returned (aka Les Revenants) was exactly that when it aired here in the UK back in June and July. I didn’t miss an episode, and most of my friends and family felt the same way.

A stylish take on the supernatural genre that combines taut mystery with rich character-led drama, The Returned is set in a small Alpine village in the shadow of a vast dam. A group of men and women find themselves in a state of confusion, trying to return to their homes. What they do not yet know is that they have been dead for several years, and no-one is expecting them back.

Those returning from beyond the grave are determined to reclaim their places in the world of the living. The living are thrown into a state of turmoil by the return of friends and relatives who don’t understand that time has moved on.

But it seems they are not the only ones to have returned from the dead. Their arrival coincides with a series of gruesome murders which bear a chilling resemblance to the work of a serial killer from the past.

And now, Julie Crisp has negotiated the worldwide rights to turn The Returned into two books. The first, an adaptation of the screenplays season one was shot from, “will be published next autumn alongside the transmission of series two.”


I mean about series two, if not necessarily these new books. I for one would have been markedly more interested in something supplementary rather than a retread, but I can see how that mightn’t be as easy as it was with, for instance, Jay Bonansinga’s Walking Dead novels. That said, a thoughtful author could conceivably add value to the characters and narrative explored in the Scandinavian series…

Seth Patrick

Who, then, is going to be doing all this heavy lifting? None other than the Northern Irish author Seth Patrick, whose debut, Reviverreviewed here—was described at the time as “the first novel in a three book series.” We’ll have to wait and see what his commitment to turn in two books based on The Returned means for his original trilogy. That said, these adaptations are bound to be big business, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Reviver took a backseat for a few years.

Julie Crisp said of the deal: “I’m so excited to help bring this wonderful series to book form. Like many people I became completely addicted to The Returned, with its compelling storyline, brilliantly portrayed characters and stunning settings. It was like mixing Twin Peaks, The Killing and Stephen King and coming up with something wholly original and gripping.’

Meanwhile Jeremy Trevathan, Publisher of Pan Macmillan’s adult division, had this to add:

“More and more the different areas of popular entertainment are drawing inspiration from each other and delivering wonderful experiences for readers, listeners and viewers. It’s so exciting that we will be working with the creators of The Returned to extend and adapt their amazingly compelling concept to turn TV gold into literary gold.”

As to that: I’m having a hard time summoning up much enthusiasm about an adaptation, but an extension of the series would be a whole other story. Under what circumstances, I wonder, would you read The Returned?


And that’s it for the British Genre Fiction Focus this week. For the whole of the next fortnight, in fact, because I’m swanning off to beautiful Bremen for a bit of a break—and a bit of a beer, I expect—this very weekend. See you all on the other side!

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and He’s been known to tweet, twoo.


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