British Fiction Focus

The First Confession of Claire North

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

This week, we begin with the first confession of Claire North, “a pseudonym for an acclaimed British author who has previously published several novels.” That’s what we knew. Now we know who.

Later on, a bunch of stuff about The Bone Clocks, including interactive cover art and a comment that indicates we’ll be seeing some familiar faces in David Mitchell’s exciting new novel. Stay tuned, too, for news of a live debate about gender in the genre, and loads of links in Odds and Sods, not least to two different and I dare say dismaying visions of the bookstores of the future.

The First Confession of Claire North

“An impeccable portrait of a friendship tortured by time in which masterful character and fantastic narrative come together to tremendous effect,” The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is, as I wrote in my review late last month, an extraordinary novel. Ever since—and beforehand, actually—there’s been speculation about the identity of its author, Claire North, “a pseudonym for an acclaimed British author who has previously published several novels.”

Are you ready, readers?

Kate Griffin Catherine Webb Claire North As revealed by Simon Mayo on the radio recently, Claire North is none other than Catherine Webb, whose other open pseudonym genre fiction fans such as us might be more familiar with. Catherine Webb also goes by the name Kate Griffin, author of the Magicals Anonymous novels, and the Matthew Swift books.

A lifelong Londoner, Webb describes herself as a fan of big cities, urban magic, Thai food and graffiti-spotting, and she is endlessly fascinated by such questions as who leaves copies of the yellow pages on top of bus shelters, how the hidden tunnels beneath the sorting office were built, and why anyone would ever dispose of perfectly good pairs of shoes by throwing them over the nearest telephone line.

Evidently, Webb has been having “a thrillingly malicious time” teasing followers of her blog about a series of top secret projects. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was the first of these, however “Webb has already written a second novel to be published under the Claire North name entitled Touch.” It’s due for release in February 2015.

And after that? Well, judging by the naming conventions of said top secret projects, a trilogy.

That’s all we know as of the time of this writing. But as Webb says, “a far longer explanation” is forthcoming. “Now that I’m free to do so I will post about the book, about the pseudonym, about the sequels and… well… everything.”

I for one will be fascinated to find out what compelled Webb to contrive another identity for herself, given how well respected Kate Griffin already is, so expect further confessions as the story develops.


Discussing Gender in Genre…

…is something we’ve done a fair bit in the course of the Focus. I make no apologies for that: it’s an inestimably important issue—maybe the most important issue facing the genre fiction industry today—and it’s not a problem we can solve by pretending it isn’t a problem.

Jo Fletcher Books

That said, it’s a relief that the onus isn’t on me again this week. Instead, an assortment of authors brought together by the folks at Jo Fletcher Books plan to tackle the topic at a live debate in Blackwell’s Book Store next Thursday:

On 8th May, in partnership with Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road, Jo Fletcher Books will host six authors discussing the debate surrounding the representation of female authors in genre fiction, why there is a lack of it, and the solutions that could be implemented to ensure equality in the future.

Includes authors Stephanie Saulter, Karen Lord, Naomi Foyle, Jaine Fenn and Janet Edwards, moderated by Edward James, and features the launch of an exciting display of books at Blackwell’s promoting female authors in SFF.

Attendance to the event is completely free, though I believe you do have to reserve your place.

What are you waiting for, folks?


Cover Art Corner: Click the Clocks!

Since its announcement in November, we’ve known that David Mitchell’s new novel would be called The Bone Clocks. That it would be “a work of extraordinary scope, ambition, narrative wizardry and vision, which stretches the boundaries of our world.” That it would be released this year, on September 2nd.

Now that the campaign to raise awareness of The Bone Clocks has begun in earnest and with the launch of, we have any number of new things to talk about, including the stunning interactive cover art you should find—fingers firmly crossed—embedded below:

We’ve got a proper blurb for the book too:

One drowsy summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for “asylum.” Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking…

The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly’s life, from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland’s Atlantic coast as Europe’s oil supply dries up—a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes—daughter, sister, mother, guardian—is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.

At once a metaphysical thriller, a meditation on mortality and a chronicle of our self-devouring times, this kaleidoscopic novel crackles with the invention and wit that have made David Mitchell one of the most celebrated writers of his generation. Here is fiction at its most spellbinding and memorable best.

Accompanying the press release, this comment from the author suggests we’ll be seeing some familiar faces in September:

“The number on the calendar insists that 15 years have passed since I published my first novel. Unbelievable. Here’s my sixth which, I guess, makes me an official addict. I hope that readers of The Bone Clocks enjoy their time in its world, and will maybe recognize one or two old friends and foes from earlier books. I hope it’s my best and most fully-realised novel to date, and I’m grateful we’re all still here to read and write, two of life’s great pleasures.”

Well said, sir!

Last but not least, David Mitchell will be embarking on “a two-week tour around the UK and Ireland” to celebrate the publication of The Bone Clocks, before taking to the States and elsewhere later.

I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it.


Odds and Sods

  • A new collection is coming from the author of The Haunting of Hill House and ‘The Lottery,’ amongst other high watermarks of horror. Garlic in Fiction is likely to be released next year, half a century since the passing of Shirley Jackson.
  • World Book Night 2014 looks to have been a tremendous success, with more than ten thousand individuals and institutions giving away a total of a quarter of a million World Book Night titles to those weird people who don’t read for pleasure. The appearance of some surprise guests made the evening all the more memorable.
  • Voyager has bought former foreign desk editor Sabaa Tahir’s debut for a “substantial” six-figure sum. An Ember in the Ashes is said to be “set in a fantastical world with echoes of ancient Rome,” and though the book doesn’t even have a release date, film rights have already been sold to Paramount Pictures for a pretty penny.
  • Adam Whitehead of The Wertzone has spotted Col Buchanan’s next novel on Amazon. No confirmation has come from the publishers since his post, but given the listing, The Black Dream is as good as a given.
  • “I don’t think following the law gives the company an unfair advantage,” said boss hog Christopher North, mere moments before threatening to throw his toys out of the pram if anyone dares ask Amazon to pay more tax.
  • I hate to say it, but Foyles’ flagship “bookshop for the 21st century” is sounding sillier by the minute. A conveyor belt for books? Spaces where browsers can “graze at tables of knowledge”? Give me strength…
  • Waterstones are doing things differently too. Their “first new shop in a totally new location since 2008,” which is to say in Ringwood, is accessed by way of a café. I’m sorry, but… *sigh*

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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