British Fiction Focus

Dispatches from the Digital First Front

This week, Catherine Webb, aka Kate Griffin, revealed the release date of the next books to bear the bestselling brand of her second pseudonym. I’m talking about Claire North, of course—the acclaimed author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and Touch. Her next novel proper, pencilled in for publication sometime in spring 2016, is currently called Forget Me Not, but in advance of that, we’ve got the Gameshouse to get good and excited about.

A trilogy of novellas telling the tale of the titular guild—a club whose most tenured members treat human beings as “pieces to be moved in a game too big for most people to perceive”—the Gameshouse series will be released on November 3rd. As ebooks, even!

With that to look forward to and the recent launch of K. J. Parker’s Two of Swords project—part the fourth of which so-far phenomenal fantasy was made available earlier today—what better time than now, one wonders, to take the temperature of the digital first front?

Happily, The Bookseller has done a lot of the heavy lifting for me, by speaking last week with a handful of writerly types who’ve had their work serialised similarly. Harriet Evans and Cathy Bramley didn’t have a bad word to say about the strategy between them, and the author of Nunslinger is also into it… up to a point.

Stark Holborn said she’d “love there to be more of a culture of digital serials,” though she—and how did I not realise she was a she?—added to that a couple of caveats:

I think the trick is using them for the right work. The format suited Nunslinger because it recalled serialised pulp and dime novels, like the old yellow jackets published by Hodder in the 1950s. It’s true that there is a difficulty in marketing something that has no physical presence, but in the right context that could be a strength, not a limitation. Of course, there is nothing that beats the thrill of seeing your work printed and bound as a real, honest-to-God book, but I would certainly love to explore digital serialisations further in the future.

Nunslinger Stark HolbornI’d love to explore Holborn’s further exploration of said serials further for my part, at that. Nunslinger was, after all, utterly wonderful—not least because it was one of just a few digital first fictions that felt fitting in its division as opposed to seeming like a single story cut into bits by committee.

The process of readying Nunslinger for this sort of sensitive serialisation sounds like it was a positive one for the author, if not absent a number of rather exacting challenges:

I essentially went through the whole editorial process, in miniature, 12 times: the books often went from first draft, to editorial notes, to being copy edited in less than two weeks. […] It was exhilarating, terrifying, overwhelming and damn fun. Overall, being published digitally in the first instance hasn’t only taught me to write and edit faster, it’s made me more ruthless with my own work: when you’re on a deadline, you can’t afford to defer decisions.

But sometimes the right decision is indecision. Isn’t it?

Oh, I’m kidding!

Kind of…

To tell the truth, I have mixed feelings about all this. Much as I’m enjoying The Two of Swords, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want: to read the rest of the book right now. And then there’s the Gameshouse, which will be complete—assuming I’m reading Webb’s comments correctly—the moment it’s released, as all three parts of the narrative will be made available simultaneously.

In which case, why split it?

Enquiring minds want to know, so I urge you all to take to the comments if you’ve got thoughts.

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 Tor.com. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

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