the third book of the Second Edition released

I am delighted to announce that The Standing Dead, the third book, of the seven that will constitute the Second Edition of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, is now available on any Amazon as an ebook, and as a paperback from a more limited number of Amazon stores. It was published on the 10th May, in memory of my father, on his birthday. It was meant to be published on the 11th April at Eastercon in Birmingham, but Covid-19 obliterated that convention and with it all my plans. Ho hum.

So far, this virus has not affected me too badly—I’ve been self-isolating for years! It is an anxious time, though—and likely to get worse before it gets better. Wherever you are, I hope that you and yours are keeping safe from this virus.

You will find this third volume noticeably longer than the others—a consequence of where I felt the natural break to be in the First Edition Standing Dead.

Though the Stone Dance was originally written in three volumes—unconsciously, I followed the six ‘book’ structure of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, as I (and so many other fantasy authors) did his three volume structure. Things having been otherwise, my First Edition would have thus broken neatly into six ‘books’. However, under pressure from my publishers to finish the First Edition Standing Dead, I concluded that second volume earlier than I had planned. As a consequence, the third volume of the First Edition, The Third God, ended up being a monster. Containing matter originally intended to be in The Standing Dead, it quite naturally divides into three ‘books’—and so, Tolkien’s six book structure became the seven books of this Second Edition.

I commend to you the new edition of The Standing Dead. Happy reading!

Carnelian stands up for publishing freedom

I’ve changed the cover of The Chosen, volume two of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. I was working on the cover for volume six, when I noticed that the cover for volume 2 didn’t sit comfortably with the others: the image sat too low on the page. I experimented a bit, and created the new cover you see here. Comparing the new with the old, I hope that you will agree that the new cover is a great improvement. It is as if Carnelian, who was crouching, decided to stand up.

This seems to me a good example of how profoundly different the brave new world of self-publishing is; there is no way you could have made this change in traditional publishing. For one thing, you would have a large number of books already printed sitting in a warehouse somewhere. In such a scenario, it would be utter madness to change the cover—you would have to pulp all the existing print run and go through the vast expense of doing a new one.

What this demonstrates is that self-publishing has transformed books from being static entities, to being dynamic and fluid ones. For a digital book, this is unsurprising—even though most ebooks are still produced according to the logic of traditional publishing—but for a paper book this is a game-changing consequence of the near-miraculous technological leap that is print on demand.

The various technologies enabling self-publishing, have moved the book from being a bespoke ‘construction’—whose economic logic depends on mass production—to being something more akin to a software application—and this can even be true for the modern paper book. You may not have noticed, but my Second Edition Stone Dance books have already been updated several times—The Masters is currently at version 2.0g. The corrections I’ve made are subtle, but I am gradually perfecting each book, the way software developers do their apps.

There is an interesting coda to this little tale, and that concerns the value of books. Previously, when we bought a book, it would be one of a print run of thousands. With the process I’m describing, each edition may have several ‘versions’; so that the copy of a paper book that you own is likely to be one of a far smaller number of identical artefacts. Those of you who have a copy of The Chosen with the previous cover, now own a rare edition of which there were only a relatively few ever printed—there will never be any more books identical to the one you hold in your hand.

Continuing this theme of rarity, I have selected seven names, from a hat, from the people on my mailing list, to send one of seven proofs of The Chosen as a keepsake. These seven books are rare enough in themselves—each is one of eight (I’m keeping one for myself)—but four of them are even more unique, in that the colours on their covers are substantially different. If you want to see if you have won one of these proofs, please watch the video below.

I hope the winners will understand that, given the current lockdown with the Covid-19 virus, I’m not sure when I will be able to post them to you.

Keep safe.

some thoughts on Herbert’s Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert has been, and still is, an inspiration to me. That it should still be read by so many people—more than fifty years after its publication—is a testament to its greatness. I would suggest that a major factor underlying this success is how skilfully Herbert plundered history. He did not, as so many writers do, merely break European Medieval history into a handful of pieces and reassemble them to make his story—instead he took hold of a far greater spread of history, both in time and space, and, smashing this into fragments, put together a mosaic that forms a wholly original and distinctive creation.

His noble Houses, with their Landsraad, evoke the Germanic princely states of the Holy Roman Empire; it stands in stark contrast to the rise of Paul Atreides from the desert that, in language and sentiment, resembles that of Mohammed in Arabia. This is not simply history thinly disguised. The Emperor in Dune rejoices in the Persian title Padishah, Great King—a title of ancient usage in Asia; a title adopted by the Ottoman Sultans who, with their Sardaukar-like Janissaries, were a terror to the Germanic princes of Austria, but also held sway over Islamic Arabia.

The Bene Gesserit, with their Reverend Mothers, have an odour of the Catholic Church—more specifically the Jesuits—but the esoterica of their Weirding way takes in not only the martial arts of the East, but the sublime mystical powers attributed to Tibetan Lamas and Zen Buddhists.

This heady mix is enriched by the ingenious and central fixation with spice that parallels, in its economic power, the petroleum that similarly arises from the sands of the Land of the Prophet. Its cinnamon scent betrays the two thousand year old European obsession with Eastern spices, as well as evoking Yemeni frankincense that bled the Roman Empire of its gold. That this should, as oil does, power the transport systems essential to civilization, is a brilliant subversion, especially when one considers that, in the Dune universe, the Navigators effect this through an extreme addiction to that substance. This addiction extends throughout Herbert’s world and eventually to the Messiah Muad’dib himself. Spice thus somewhat subsumes the role of cocaine and heroin in our world.

Such a brilliant restitching of history gives Dune a relevance today perhaps even greater than when it was written. Herbert could not have imagined the means by which Bin Laden and his successors would attempt to recreate the Caliphate in Baghdad, but when one weaves a tapestry with such well-chosen strands, the result can never lose its power.

This is an updated piece I wrote for a Transworld newsletter some years back.

Phamie Gow releases her Stone Dance music

In 2003, I had only known Phamie for a year, but she had already become a cherished friend. She was only 22 years old then, but had already recorded two CDs of her own compositions; in the intervening years, she has gone on to release many more albums of her own music and to build a successful touring career. She sings and plays the piano, but it was her mastery of the clarsach—the Celtic harp—that caught my ear.

At some point I got the crazed idea of asking her to write a piece for what was my first website. My initial notion was that I wanted something like the court music that the sybling Quenthas play in The Chosen. Being conjoined twins, the Quenthas played with four hands; to emulate their playing, Phamie would have had to overlay two separate tracks.

Fortunately, when I actually came to make the commission, I had the sense to let her do her own thing. I merely asked her to listen to some virginal pieces by William Byrd, some Bach and some Toumani Diabate; a genius of the kora—a now world-famous, traditional harp from Mali.

When Phamie invited me to spend a couple of days with her at a cottage she was looking after in Galloway, I arrived to find that she had composed her first impression of what she chose to name Stone Dance of the Chameleon. Though beautiful, I saw this as only a beginning. I revealed to her some of the deeper themes underlying the Stone Dance, particularly the centrality of the number ‘three’. I went off to cook dinner; when I returned she had already—miraculously—magicked up two more themes to add to the first—each having at its core a triple of notes, in which either the first, second or third are stressed.

Through several more collaborative meetings, the piece evolved to match, somewhat, the structure of my story. One day, she came to see me and played the finished work.

Now, for the first time, she has recorded Stone Dance of the Chameleon and released it across all digital platforms.

I have to confess that, early on, I lost hold of my original goal. The delight, that I derived from collaborating with such a talented musician, became an end in itself. The result is far grander than anything I could have envisaged. It was even played at a recital given for the Dalai Lama.

The single is available on all digital platforms including iTunes and Spotify. Give it a listen and, if you enjoy it, please give it a like and share it to support Phamie.

the second book of the Second Edition released

I’m pleased to announce the release of the second volume of the Second Edition of the Stone Dance, The Chosen (I hope people aren’t confused by my recycling of the First Edition titles—it’ll all make sense in the end!). I published the book on Saturday because I wanted to give it a leap year publication date. My previous experience taught me that it takes time for a new book to propagate through the Amazon ecosystem. The ebook is now available from all amazon stores, and the paperback from the majority of them. I commend the new edition of The Chosen to you. Happy reading 🙂

the Second Edition adventure begins

I am happy to announce that The Masters, the first volume of the seven that will constitute the Second Edition of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, is now live as an ebook on all Amazon stores, and as a paperback on Amazon in the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan and Canada.

The First Edition took me at least ten years to write, and the Second Edition a further two—the traditional publishing industry will consider this madness—and it certainly has not made the slightest financial sense—but it is a labour of love and, constitutionally, I seem to be incapable of doing things half-heartedly. So, from my heart, I hope that you will join me on this journey. I intend to publish all seven books throughout 2020 and have some notions for little extras that I will release here as we go along.

Roy Eastland on life drawing

a life drawing by Roy Eastland

Roy Eastland is an old friend of mine. When he put up another of his beautiful life drawings on Instagram, I asked him: “Roy, what is that you get from doing this?” I would like to share his sublime answer with you.

“Good question. Hard to answer briefly and hard to know fully. Here are some thoughts off the top of my head though. I don’t exactly enjoy drawing but there is pleasure in seeing good lines, or bits of good lines, come into play in the drawing-process. I suppose it’s a pleasure of surprise and meaningfulness. It’s to do with what hand-drawn lines ‘say’. For example, the way a single continuous line might change its function as it plays out its time to mean different things. It might designate a separation between the figure and air, and then it might continue to become a shadow (implying the presence of something solid), then a texture, the weight of a part of the body, an implied but invisible line between two points, it might also simply be the course of the line between two points on the paper or the speed of the hand drawing or its hesitancy or decisiveness (implying the presence of the person)… etc. There is something really interesting in the way drawings are the traces of ideas. I think the whole process, of carefully paying attention (through drawing) to the presence of somebody, can be quite a meditative act. It’s partly to do with noticing one’s own presence in the act of drawing too. Drawing, for me, is never about achieving a preconceived effect for its own sake or achieving a specific outcome that can be predicted. For me it’s a process of noticing things and changing my mind about what I think I am in the presence of. I think it’s also got something to do with touch, or memory of touch, and some kind of affection for the presence of people or things. Drawing generally (for me) has also got something to do with making souvenirs of moments (for want of a better phrase) and it’s got something to do with noticing the presence of time. A hand-drawn line has its ‘life story’ of beginning somewhere, of changing and then coming to its end. But we can look at the drawn line out of sequence and all at once. I like playing with ways of seeing and playing with ways of conjuring up the presence of things through drawing. These are just stream-of-consciousness thoughts btw.”

Take a look at more of his drawings on his website.

a special offer on signed Matryoshka hardbacks

As part of the process of ‘clearing the decks’—in the run up to the publication of The Masters—I want to pay a little attention to my novella, Matryoshka—with a special offer over the next two days on the limited edition hardback (see below).

After ten years working on the Stone Dance, I set out to write something considerably more modest, and Matryoshka was the result. To be honest, I overshot: it was supposed to be a novel but ended up being a novella. Don’t let its shortness fool you: it required a serious effort of world creation.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Matryoshka was to be the stepping stone between the two editions of the Stone Dance. Through countless rewrites, I developed a leaner, terser style that was a reaction against—what I came to feel was—the verbosity of the First Edition Stone Dance. I applied this new style to produce a vastly leaner and reworked Second Edition.

Matryoshka is a response to Robert Holdstock’s wonderful Mythago Wood in which, like Narnia, there is a hidden world in which time passes more slowly; so that visitors to that world from ours experience adventures that last years—decades even—and still return to our world only a short time after they left. I wondered what would happen if time in the hidden world, instead of slowing down, were to speed up: so that, like a spacefarer, returning from a long journey close to the speed of light, the traveller would find that an immense span of time has elapsed on Earth. I suppose that such a story is more Rip Van Winkle than it is Mythago Wood.

Another inspiration for Matryoshka is Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers—from which Tarkovsky made the film Stalker—where ‘rubbish’ discarded by alien picnickers has startling and terrible effects on the physical world. Such a device lies at the centre of Matryoshka—vibrating at relativistic speeds that distort time ever more violently the closer you get to it. Thus, though it appears to be a tale of fantasy, underlying it is a series of fairly ‘hard science’ conceits; those interested in puzzles may seek to decrypt the references in the story. In short, Matryoshka is science fiction. Alas, I did not make this clear to Ian Whates, my editor and publisher at Newcon, and when I received a hard copy of the book, I discovered Matryoshka had been labelled as fantasy. In truth, I may have made the sci-fi underpinnings a tad too subtle…

raffling off proofs

Following your feedback, I decided that I would simply raffle off the proofs. One of you, Tooru, suggested that I video the process and so I did—you will find it below.

If you recognise your name being called out, please send me an email with your snail address so that I can post you the book. Do let me know if you would like me to write anything in it. I will try and contact the ‘winners’… but if I don’t get a response in a reasonable time, I will get out my trusty tartan hat and pick another name as a replacement…

the dreamtime resumes

stencil art at Carnarvon Gorge (processed)
stencil art at Carnarvon Gorge (processed)

The Invaders were here for less than eleven generations. The land—especially where it nears the ocean—is disfigured by the bleached shells of their habitations. People trek there to salvage trinkets. It’s dangerous: you have to tread carefully. Children love to burn the brightly coloured plastic—that is the only way to get rid of it. The Elders warn against the noxious smoke and say its stench is characteristic of that terrible time.

The Invaders devastated the land with their unnatural power. They poisoned the sky and the ocean. Their reckless, insatiable greed provoked retribution. The land burned, not the way the Elders do it—with love and knowledge—but with such fury that it drove the Invaders away. When children ask where they went, the Elders admit they do not know. Perhaps they are all dead: there was a great dying. The Elders show the children a record of that time scratched into the rock: strange, narrow figures almost lost in the wide record of the vast, sacred time before the Invasion. What are those eleven generations in the stretch of thousands of the dreaming? Nothing but a bout of fever we have recovered from.

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