British Fiction Focus

British Fiction Friction

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

I was AFK last week, celebrating my thirtieth birthday, so there’s lots to talk about today, beginning with the question alluded to in the header: is British writing in decline? Say it ain’t so! Alas, a leading academic believes exactly that.

Later on, join me in riding the Red Eye by way of a new fiction list which promises to satisfy the same itch Point Horror did, then in Cover Art Corner, a look at Smiler’s Fair—the first secondary-world epic fantasy Hodder has ever published—and our first peek at Charlaine Harris’ new series.

British Fiction Friction

Let’s start with a few facts.

The recently released longlist for the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction featured twenty texts, only four of which were written by Britons.

Seven of the eight books on the inaugural Folio Prize for Fiction shortlist were by American authors—including the winner, Tenth of December by George Saunders.

A problem?

One academic seems to think it is, warning of “a growing gulf between British writers and their more ambitious, adventurous US counterparts” in a recent article for The Guardian:

David Brauner, associate professor of English at Reading University, said British novelists were overly cautious and parochial compared with Americans, who had more nerve, more ambition and relied more heavily “on imagination and the power of language to create worlds that are unfamiliar.

“Contemporary American fiction is much more exciting and diverse and vibrant than British fiction, particularly English fiction. It has been the case for some time and I can only see the trend exacerbating—the gulf is becoming greater and greater.

“There’s a cautiousness, a parochialism, a tendency to write carefully crafted, carefully researched fiction and a reluctance to be boldly imaginative. Even the best English fiction writers—Hilary Mantel is an obvious example—are very heavily reliant on historical research.

“In too much English fiction there is a reluctance to take risks. What the Americans do so well is just to rely more on imagination and the power of language to create worlds that are unfamiliar. They have got more nerve, more verve, more ambition. Most English writers don’t have it to the same degree.”

At the very least it seems that the fears about the Man Booker—the prestigious prize which announced last year that it would open its doors to all English language writers, leading some to wonder about the fate of British fiction in the future—have some actual, factual foundation.

The professor’s premise makes a certain amount of sense, yes. That said, I’m pleased to completely disagree with his conclusions. The vast majority of my reading revolves around genre fiction, admittedly, but that has led me to believe that British writers are responsible for some of the best and boldest speculative storytelling in recent years.

I certainly wouldn’t assert that British genre fiction lacks ambition. Would you?


Ride the Red Eye

Frozen Charlotte Alex Bell

Stripes Publishing, under the auspices of Little Tiger Press—“a dynamic independent publisher” specialising in children’s fiction—has announced the launch of a new horror list with a bit of a twist: these spooky books will be for younger readers.

What? Younger readers with a hankering for horror? You’re having a laugh!

Actually, if you ask me, this is a fine idea. In my younger years there were few books I looked forward to more than a good Point Horror novel, or something like a Christopher Pike, and Red Eye’s modus operandi puts me very much in mind of these:

Red Eye Commissioning Editor Katie Jennings said, “These stories take you on a thrill ride that leaves you shaken and reeling. They’re addictive, unforgettable, jump-out-of-your-seat scary. They’ve already terrified everyone here at Stripes—and we can’t wait to unleash them on the public.

Vampires, teenage dystopia and tragic teen love stories have been around for a while, but there is a whole generation of teenagers who have been starved of good quality, scary stories. Red Eye fills this gap. Each book offers a different horror experience—they’re not simply blood and gore fests. We have stories of dark forces, possession, insanity, avenging spirits and, of course, a house of horrors. In fact, something for everyone.”

Red Eye launches in September with the publication of four short novels: Sleepless by Lou Morgan of Blood and Feathers fame, Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell—whose Lex Trent novels I enjoyed awfully—as well as Bad Bones by Graham Marks and House of Blood by Simon Cheshire.

The Morgan and the Bell are of particular interest to yours truly, and luckily, the e-books of both will be released in July, the better to build up some advance buzz before Red Eye’s paperback debut the following quarter.


Cover Art Corner: Midnight Smilers

Charlaine Harris Mignight Crossroad

Turning a blind eye to the backlash in reaction to the conclusion of the Sookie Stackhouse books, Charlaine Harris is forging on with a brand new series which we got our first good look at last week.

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth…

So, another in a long line of gen-you-wine Southern Fried supernatural narratives, or, in the words of Gollancz’s Gillian Redfearn, “a sharper, darker mystery than any we’ve seen so far”? Why don’t y’all let me know when Midnight’s Crossing is released on May 8th in the UK.

Smiler's Fair The Hollow Gods Rebecca Levene

We’ve touched on this next book in the British Genre Fiction Focus before, but now we have a better blurb, and some bloody lovely cover art by Tim McDonagh.

Smiler’s Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you’re willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler’s Fair. They say it’ll change your life. For five people, Smiler’s Fair will change everything.

Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. Eric, who follows his heart only to learn that love can exact a terrible price. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept.

In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, these people must discover how they fit into the world—and how to shape the world to suit themselves.

It’s hard to believe, but Smiler’s Fair—book one of The Hollow Gods quartet—is the first secondary-world epic fantasy Hodder & Stoughton has published in its 150 year history. Here’s hoping it’s half as superb as it sounds. We’ll see one way or the other this summer.


Odds and Sods

Tastes & Tales reading

  • Still on the Angry Robot tip, two of the publisher’s authors—namely Joseph D’Lacey and Rod Duncan—will be reading from their new books at “an evening of tasty treats and gruesome tales,” also starring Samantha Hayes, at the Delish Dish and Kitchen in Rugby on the evening of March 22nd.
  • With the second annual Twitter Fiction Festival finished, The Guardian wonders whether good writing can actually happen in 140 characters.
  • Joe Abercrombie continues to demystify the process of producing a novel with this blog post about how he handles reader reaction.
  • Orbit has acquired a book based on Welcome to Night Vale—“a cultural phenomenon” of a podcast, says the Telegraph—featuring “both new characters and beloved favourites from the show.” The proposed publication date is a ways off, I’m afraid: the novel, by the writers behind the podcast, won’t be released until at least Autumn 2015.
  • Patrick Ness has been a busy bee, hasn’t he? Amongst other things, he’s been putting the finishing touches to his script for the movie the director of The Orphanage is making based on Ness’ own novel A Monster Calls.
  • Chris Wooding is “literally likely to die at any minute” because he just turned 37, but he’s been working through the formless terror, evidently: “tapping through the first draft” of an adaptation of Malice for Sky Movies whilst “talking about an idea for a new YA book with Scholastic.”
  • Tor UK has, in tandem with its North American namesake, acquired Truthwitch and two sequels by Susan Dennard. Book sounds potentially interesting, but… silly title, right?
  • Harvill Secker has pre-empted the “bewitching” debut of Scottish author Kirsty Logan. It’s called The Gracekeepers and it’s about a girl and a bear who live on a circus boat. The Night Circus meets Life of Pi, says I!

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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